Exploring Mueller State Park

Finally after all these years of wondering what was up the dark road in the trees along highway 67 I have taken the plunge ๐Ÿ™‚ Drove up to the ranger station and paid my daily pass fee. The nice lady gave me a map of all the attractions and trails available in the park and off I went!

I decided to first just drive all the way through and get the lay of the land before delving into any trail exploration and the winding road took me a few miles back into the vast park, past picnic grounds, campgrounds, horse facilities, an RV park and finally to the turnaround at the north end.

Forest of Mueller State Park ColoradoI was most intrigued by the Ridge View Trail so I opted to hike that one. It looked pretty rugged and I’m no expert mountain biker so tackling that one on foot was my only option. It wasn’t a long walk before indeed there was a stone outcropping and an overlook. Unfortunately there is so much haze and smoke in the air these days that there wasn’t much of a view, just some close by hills in the Pike National Forest.

Finally the turnaround came into view at about 1.5 miles in and there was another

Golden Eagle in Flight

overlook with a little better view than the first spot… I think I would have been able to see the Sangre were it not for all the stuff in the air. As I was preparing to take a picture some kind of eagle soared majestically toward my position so I switched my camera to wide area focus and tried for a couple of captures. At first I was thinking this was a golden eagle, but now I’m not sure what it is, possibly even just a turkey vulture. Don’t know and I don’t feel like trying to find out, I simply don’t have the patience to be aย  bird photographer. Then I was trying to decide whether to go back the way I came or to continue on into some more rugged terrain hoping for a loop back to the trailhead… by the way, the map that they give you at the park entrance, bring it with you on your hike… those trail numbers may come into play later on. Eventually I did the smart thing and just went backย  the way I came. As it turns out the trail I was on came to and end right where I was and there was a possible loop back but it would have involved two additional numbered trails, which of course were on the map that I failed to bring with me ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Mule Deer in the Wilderness

I was also interested in exploring the Elk Meadow trail, sounded like a good place to find some elk to photograph! Not so much… but I did see a fine specimen of a mule deer buck who just stared at me so I could photograph him. After a few shots I went back to my truck for the 1.4x lens extender and the tripod, but by the time I was ready again the huge buck had disappeared into the woods.

When I got to the Elk Meadows trail I could see where it went, right through a large meadow and there simply were no elk there. I had also read that there might be more elk on the north end of the park along the old Cheeseman Ranch Trail so I went to check that out. You have to drive all the way through all the camping areas including the tent sites to get to the trailhead, which is also the trailhead for the Grouse Mountain Overlook. It’s a seven mile trail through the meadows at the north end, which seemed longer than I wanted to hike at that point so I just walked a few yards along the wide path to see if I could see anything. There was another trail off to the left with a sign so I went to check it out. No bikes it said…. hmmm well that must mean that there are bikes allowed on the trail I was on!

Wonderful, with my bike I was going to be able to explore that trail after all! I climbed on my bike and began a long enjoyable glide along the well maintained artery through the woods. I became a bit concerned when after a while I realized I had not had to pedal for a long time… approximately four miles of long time ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Eventually the trail gave way to an unmarked jeep road with a couple of signs that said “emergency exit” and I was getting a little nervous that I had made a wrong turn somewhere. But I fought the urge to chicken out and turn back and finally the trail veered to the west and then made a turn back into the park through a marshy area just behind the ridge. There were a few tough inclines followed by long flat cruises that I was easily able to handle so I took hope that the designers of the park had found a way to get back to the beginning without any killer hills!

In the marshy area I spotted something in the brush moving around so I stopped and dismounted while

Wild Turkeys

gazing intently into the ground cover. I soon discovered that there was a flock of wild turkeys scampering around near a pool of water so I slowly got out my camera and inched my way towards the little group. Unfortunately they spotted me and made their way into a thicket where I couldn’t see them very well. I did get off a couple of not so good shots in poor lighting as they popped in and out of the branches on their way to safety at the top of the ridge.

And just as I was starting to feel pretty good about a quick return to the trailhead, there it was… the price of an easy four mile downhill ride. A trail pretty much straight up the side of the ridge… I quickly shifted into low and powered up the mountain, sweat pouring down my face and stinging my eyes. I could hear the blood pumping through my ears and the sound of myself sucking wind. I thought I was going to spit out my lungs when I finally gave up and decided to stop and catch my breath. Eventually I got back on and promptly had to jump right back off when I couldn’t get going ๐Ÿ˜ฆ At that point there was nothing left to do but push the bike up the hill, a long hard two mile slog to the top of the ridge.

Finally the trail leveled out and I was looking forward to some more pleasurable riding when immediately I came across the sign for the trailhead and that trail was done, just like that!

By then my day was nearing an end and I began the drive back out of the park, hoping to see some stray wildlife in the meadows along the main road. Now that I have some idea of what the park has to offer I’m sure I’ll be back, if for nothing else some nice training rides along the long Cheeseman Ranch mountain bike trail!

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Riding Waterton Canyon

As it turns out I was awake at 4:00 a.m. this morning with nothing to do but stare out the window at the darkness. Or… I could jump in the old Dodge and head for Waterton Canyon in hopes of arriving just after sunrise. Been watching with envy as the Denver photographers post all those great shots of the bear and the bighorn sheep on the canyon Facebook group!

Platte River in Waterton Canyon

Well the first part of the plan came together just fine, I arrived at the trailhead parking lot just after sunrise, jumped on my mountain bike and headed into the canyon. Bypassed some deer that were feeding on the leaves on the riverbank, they were pretty much in the dark anyway. Soon I arrived at the usual location where the animals come down and unfortunately there were no bighorn sheep today. So I thought, well I’ll ride up the river for exercise and look for the bear.

Six miles I rode up the dirt road hugging the South Platte River on it’s way down from the Rockies and onward to Nebraska where it meets up with the Mighty Missouri. I watched the banks of the river and the cliffs behind intently for any sign of the wildlife I so wantedย  to photograph. But alas, today was not going to be my day, there was no wildlife to be found. If I had time I suppose I could have made the ride again this afternoon but not sure my legs would have been too happy about that!

Eventually as I neared the end of the ride I saw a small group of people staring at something high on the canyon walls… so I stopped to see what the attraction might be.

Golden Eagle in Flight

Turns out there was a golden eagle perched on top of a rock high on the cliffs overlooking the canyon. I snapped a few shots of him sitting there and then waited to see if he would take flight. It wasn’t too long and he began to rustle around so I readied myself for the shots. Soon his giant wings spread and the big raptor took flight. I had my camera on high speed for the occasion so I rattled off about 20 pictures in the few seconds I had before he flew off out of range along the river.

So the day wasn’t a total loss, and how could a beautiful mountain bike ride along a pristine blue Rocky Mountain stream ever be a failure! Heck, when I lived in Denver I rode the canyon all the time just for the pleasure of the exercise! So, there will be another time soon when I get the chance to find the sheep and the bear. Not tomorrow though… think I might explore Mueller State Park a bit ๐Ÿ˜‰

 

Bucket List Gold Camp Road

Gold Camp Road Scenery

Well I finally did it… I drove the length of Gold Camp Road from Victor to Colorado Springs, something I have always wanted to do but never quite worked up the nerve to actually do! I wasn’t planning on it… The plan was to test out the GPS on the phone by driving in a couple of miles to Almagre Mountain and hike a couple miles to the summit for some exercise. The GPS worked splendidly, taking me not a couple of miles, but five miles to a turn off and then three more on a rugged forest road to an unmarked turnout, at which time it told me I had “arrived at my destination”. There were no trail markings, no real hiking trail, just an ugly jeep road heading right up the side of the mountain ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Rugged Gold Camp Road Colorado

Pretty soon another four wheeler pulled up and saw me looking up the mountain and asked me skeptically I might add, if my truck had 4wd. No, I replied… my plan was to hike the short route on foot to the summit. Looking relieved he responded, well it’s about two miles up this jeep road to another jeep road at which time you turn left to another jeep road and it will take you to the summit. Apparently there is another trailhead up yet another jeep road a couple of miles up Gold Camp that is supposed to be shorter but I wasn’t able to locate that route. Having already climbed Grouse Mountain earlier in the day I decided to abandon that plan and head for home…

Gold Camp Road

However once I got back to Gold Camp Road I got to thinking it might be fun to check off that bucket list item and complete the drive down to Colorado Springs. So I turned the old Dodge left and went for broke. Lol… now for my description of Gold Camp Road… It is a stupendously bad washboard riddled, pothole filled, rocky, curvy narrow road traveling through numerous single lane sections between rocky walls that don’t always stay in place and some allegedly haunted tunnels. Several times I had to maneuver around minor cave ins, large rocks in the road and huge holes. My truck was rattling, my teeth were rattling and everything passing by in the other direction was rattling! And that was the good part… when I got closer to the Springs the ride got steeper, rockier, and even more filled with holes!

Gold Camp Road Scenery

That being said though, the scenery was spectacular, especially the steep part near the Springs. There were a few places where it was possible to look back on the rugged mountains of the Pike National Forest and even though it was mid day by then some of my pictures are kind of nice, at least I think so anyway ๐Ÿ™‚ Also the road is lined with aspen groves from end to end so I would highly recommend this route to autumn leaf seekers! I think the colors will be spectacular in late September and early October this year!

Finally I arrived at the end of the dirt road and wound the rest of my way down to the city on the paved portion of Old Stage Road, which I think is what Gold Camp used to be called. According to Westside Pioneer Online, the road has a rich old west history with it’s beginnings as a railway to transport gold ore between Cripple Creek and Midland. Now it popular with four wheelers and ATV enthusiasts and I also saw a few mountain bikers negotiating the steep ascent from Colorado Springs.

Don’t think I’ll need to make that trip again, unless maybe I finally get the jeep that I have been wanting my entire life… but that’s a whole ‘nuther story! As always a couple of these images are available for purchase as wall art and gift items on my website! The traffic and the heat down in the city were horrendous so I think I’ll just sit out the rest of the holiday weekend and wait for the tourists to go home. Next week when the mountains aren’t so crowded I may visit Waterton Canyon again and I have hopes of hiking to Continental Falls near Breck ๐Ÿ™‚ Stay tuned!

 

Brown’s Canyon National Monument

Brown’s Canyon National Monument is another one of Colorado’s hidden gems… almost too well hidden! I’ve been wanting to visit this place for years, ever since I missed the day of hiking with the Sierra Club. Well I finally did it ๐Ÿ™‚ I was in the area photographing rafters on the Arkansas until finally I found myself in Salida. What the heck, the park is just on the other side of Salida so I consulted my phone for directions and headed up 291 in search of the entrance… piece of cake ๐Ÿ™‚

Arkansas River in Brown's Canyon National Monument

Not a piece of cake. You would think that being a national monument there would be huge signs everywhere. But no… no signs anywhere ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Totally passed it by, drove all the way up 291 until I finally hit Johnson Village and had to turn back around. At that point I decided to let my GPS guide me in and managed to find the place, County Road 191 to the east from 291 will take you right in… after a couple of miles on a curvy dirt road over a ridge. When you finally do get there you will be greeted by a big sign with some of those fee envelopes and a $8.00 per day use fee. So I paid my fee, dropped the envelope in the box and went on in.

There is a large parking area and a campground along the Arkansas River where the

_MG_2737

rafting companies were all ready to pick up rafters. I grabbed my camera and trusty trekking pole and headed down a trail along the river towards the south. The original plan was to mountain bike back in but it didn’t take long to ascertain that the trail was above my meager riding skill level so I just hoofed it in a ways. The trail and the river are amazing and the area is vast. I imagine you could easily hike for days and not see it all.

 

By this time it was really hot and dry and I was not at all prepared for a long hike so I just turned around and vowed to hike up the other direction for a while but quickly abandoned that idea too and chalked the whole visit up to a successful scouting mission for a longer visit on another more prepared day.

On my way back through Salida the Soulcraft Brewery looked like the perfect answer to my parched throat and worthy of a stop ๐Ÿ™‚ Tried the Dopple Bock brew and it was delicious. Being short of time I didn’t try any food, and didn’t really see anyone else eating either. I assume they have food there, but would have to be something for another day as well.

Cute Doe Mule DeerWas hoping to photograph some more rafters along the Arkansas on my return trip, but by the time I was passing by again the rafting was all over for the day. Nothing but the long drive home to look forward to at this point.

If you are a fly fisherman the trail along the river is an awesome place to visit! For hiking though, I’m not so sure. There are no high peaks to scale and except for along the river it appears that there are a lot of miles of parched land to explore. It appears to me that the Continental Divide Trail passes through there on it’s way to the Collegiate Peaks near Buena Vista and there are miles of fun to be had for moderately skilled mountain bikers and a lot of rocky cliffs for rock climbers to hone their skills on! And I didn’t see many in the heat of the day, but I imagine there would be a ton of wildlife to photograph early in the morning.

 

 

Whitewater and a 10 Stop ND Filter

Borrowed a 10 stop ND filter from a buddy for the weekend to shoot the whitewater of the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon again. Set out early in hopes of finding a bounty of wildlife in the canyon before all the people arrived, but came up empty with that effort ๐Ÿ˜ฆ The plan was to drive all the way to the end of the canyon in search of wildlife and then try out the ND on the way back down.

Eleven Mile Canyon and the South Platte River

On the way up the canyon I scouted out a few good spots where I thought an ND would work well and hit each one along the return trip. I will say this, using a 10 stop requires a lot of concentration! Fortunately I downloaded a neat little app for my phone the night before called simply “Exposure Calculator”.ย  To use it I just set my camera to A mode at f8 and ISO 100 to get an exposure readingย  and plugged that info into the app as theย  base exposure. Then for the new exposure I plugged in the same data and selected 10 as the ND factor and wala, the app gives me my new shutter speed ๐Ÿ™‚

I forgot my cable release so in order to successfully execute a long exposure I set my drive mode to two second timer, camera to maunal exposure mode and lens to manual focus at the same focal length and focus as the shot prior to installing the 10 stop. I also switched over to live view mode to lock up the mirror and then took the shots. Playback showed that I indeed got the correct exposure and I could see that the water was smoothed out as expected ๐Ÿ™‚

Satisfied that I had captured the scene,ย  I returned the camera to all the normal modes and continued down the river. Then of course I

Eleven Mile Canyon

repeated this entire process at each location, getting both motion blur and regular images of each spot. Very time consuming and the big dog didn’t appreciate all the standing around the tripod one bit ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Don’t think I would have the patience to do this all the time like I see some photographers on YouTube doing. But I do really like these two images and may actually get myself a 10 stop someday!

Of course these images and more are available on my website for purchase as wall art on glossy metal and acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional framing and matting.ย  Tons of cool gift, household and tech items are also available with a picture, including, apparel, coffee mugs, phone battery chargers, phone cases,ย  blankets and more! Just click the link to visit the site!

Adventure at the Royal Gorge

This was supposed to be a mountain bike adventure along the River Walk Trail in Canon City… and it was for a while, at least until the trail soon became Ditch Walk Trail. I was intending to ride up the river until I found something interesting, but the ride only lasted about a mile before it turned away from the river and up a drainage ditch before dead ending at the college. So I just turned around and rode back to the truck. Tried to think of other things I could do, but already too much time had been wasted so I just headed for home.

Royal Gorge Colorado

As I climbed the hill out of Canon I saw the sign for the Royal Gorge… What the heck, might as well drive back in there and see what I could see was my thought. So I turned left and took the windey paved road back to the gorge. Noticed a small parking lot at a trailhead for some mountain bike trails but pressed on. I wanted to see the gorge, have been in Colorado over 30 years and have never been. Also noticed an interesting dirt road to the left, something about a picnic area and overlook. But again I pressed on to the visitor center figuring that’s where the best experience might be.

Finally there… parked and walked to the visitor center hoping there would be some kind of observation deck, but no… just a bunch of souvenirs that I can’t afford. Looked all around there for a view but there wasn’t much. All I could see was the other side of the canyon wall, no way to look down without paying for the gondola ride or a trip across the bridge.

Well there was still the overlook and picnic area so I got back in the truck and headed for

Royal Gorge Colorado and Sangre de Cristo Mountains

the dirt road. The road wasn’t bad, a few bumps and twists and turns but nothing that couldn’t be handled by any passenger car. Some of the picnic areas were full so I didn’t find a parking place until almost the end, which as luck would have it is where the overlook actually is located. Not only was there an overlook, but a whole trail system surrounded the area. Some visitors were getting out mountain bikes to ride on a trail that would at times come uncomfortably close to the 1000 foot or more drop off the edge into the river. Not for me! In fact after a short distance I went back for my trekking pole! The area is filled with cactus and I had no desire to face plant one one of those devils, plus I was feeling extra clumsy today ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

I was expecting to see only canyon and river on this outing, but I was pleasantly surprised to see some excellent views of the snow capped Sangre de Cristo across the canyon in the distance ๐Ÿ™‚ Storm clouds were already forming over the majestic peaks and it was an amazing scene to be sure ๐Ÿ™‚ Finally, satisfied that I had seen all there was to see I loaded up the camera and headed for home. Thought of going back into town for a micro brew at a new place called the Worlds End Brewing Company but already too much time had been spent. I was tired and ready for the drive home.

Probably won’t go back there, although maybe sometime the train ride might be fun… but not on one of my usual solo adventures. That doesn’t seem like a solo activity. Well as always these images and more are available for purchase as wall art on my website on glossy metal or acrylic sheets plus tons of cool gift, household and tech items! My site has been redesigned and might bear some explaining. There is a row of buttons near the top of the landing screen where you can choose the type of product you are interested in. This then brings up a page with all of my collections, or galleries. These two images can be found by clicking “more collections” and then the “Colorado Rocky Mountains”. Or you can just look below the collections on the landing page where my most recent images are displayed.

Signs of Spring

Elk Herd in the High Country

Signs of Springtime in the Rockies were everywhere this morning… the sun was shining, the wicked sting of frozen air was absent, the snow is rapidly melting, birds were chirping and there were critters everywhere! We saw two different herds of mule deer, a herd of elk, a ton of those cute little Rocky Mountain Jays, and a coyote! Unfortunately the coyote saw us too and quickly disappeared into the trees before I could even lift up my camera. I’m sure he wanted nothing to do with Big Dog this morning.

Elk Herd in the High Country

It was a good hike, still a few places where there are hard packed snow drifts to negotiate but most of the trail is dry. I have to say, even I am finally tired of winter and content to put away the snowshoes for the season. It was a good long winter and Iย  got to do more snowshoeing in one season than in the entire previous decade.

My big 400mm lens came in handy today as the critters are pretty wary as they first Mule Deer in the Rocky Mountain Springtimeventure out from the dense wilderness where they have been hiding all winter. The little jays were too quick for me though, even with the long lens they sensed my presence and would not sit still long enough for a portrait. It didn’t take the elk long to see me and head into wilderness either, but I did manage to get in a few very distant shots before they vanished.

Tomorrow the forecast is calling for snow showers and cold, but for today spring was upon us ๐Ÿ™‚

Mule Deer in the Rocky Mountain SpringtimeMule Deer in the Rocky Mountain Springtime