Hiking the Pony Gulch Trail

I’ve lived here three years, always looking for new trails to hike and I just recently found out about the Pony Gulch Homestead Trail only a couple miles from my house! It’s not well known and if a few people hadn’t commented on it in the Alltrails app I would have never found it.

Pony Gulch Trail

Turns out it’s a fairly difficult four mile trek in the remote mountains southwest of Cripple Creek. I was a bit doubtful of the description at first, calling for almost 1000 feet of elevation gain in such a short hike, especially since I know the area and could not imagine a 1000 foot mountain higher than what I can already see. Well, maybe there is a hidden peak back behind that I can’t see I wondered!

Well it didn’t take long to find out the how the elevation gain was going to be accomplished… the very first thing you do once clearing the first ridge is to descend about 750 feet to the bottom of the gulch! Once there you do a bit more climbing to reach the end of trail at the Pony Gulch Homestead in another mile or so.

Pony Gulch Trail in Autumn

A dirt road leads to the trailhead, I recommend using the Alltrails GPS directions to find it, where you can see a jeep road heading up a hill leading to the southwest. At the top of the hill you will be able to see a couple of cairns, which is all you are going to see… There is no trail through the first part of the rugged BLM land.ย  Once again, turning on the GPS in your phone to lead you through the first half mile is a good idea. Once into the BLM area about a couple of hundred yards there is a noticeable four wheel drive road which goes the wrong way… don’t take it, veer to the right and look for the gulch. Once you find the gulch there are more cairns and a discernible trail to follow.

Pony Gulch Trail in Autumn

The first three quarters of a mile or so is a steep decline down slippery scree in places, my trekking pole got a workout here! There is some nice scenery along this part of the trail, especially in the fall with beautiful golden aspen backed by rugged pine covered cliffs.

Pony Gulch Trail in Autumn

Finally at the bottom of the incline the forest opens up to a nice view of the bottom where I imagine a creek flows in the spring. The trail winds down to the dry creek and crosses and earthen dam where the descent ends and a climb begins which takes you another mile to the summit and the Pony Gulch Homestead. The end of the trail is marked by an iron gate marking the entrance to a ranch on private property I presume.

Pony Gulch Trail in AutumnFrom there I climbed another hill of mostly big chunks of quartz nearby to get a view of the valley below and also the Sangre de Cristo Range in the background. Unfortunately there wasn’t much to see with all the smoke these days. I Found a nice place to sit and have some food and water and to rest up for the return trip. I put on my 24-105 with a polarizer and took a few pictures to mark the far end of the journey :) I also went down to the homestead to investigate and snap a few more pictures.

Pony Gulch Homestead Trail in Autumn

Finally the time came to begin the return trip… I checked my GPS to make sure I was headed the right way and it was a good thing I did since there was a forest service road that was more prominent than the actual trail back! A short adjustment in direction and I was on my way. After about a quarter of a mile I came to the southernmost cairn and strode on by… The GPS map showed me straying from the route again on a dotted line that looked like it should be the trail but more careful observation revealed that the cairn marked a left turn down a more faint forest road. So another slight adjustment in direction and I was making the short climb past the high point on the section south of the dam.

Soon I was back to the dam and the mile long climb back up to Lookout Point loomed before me. I have to admit, I took quite a few rest stops to catch my breath on the nearly 1000 foot climb in one mile! Eventually I made my way to the end of theย  gulch and found myself in search of the cairns that lead the way through the bushwhacking section of the route. Once again, the Alltrails GPS directions come in handy ๐Ÿ™‚

I highly recommend this trail to more experienced hikers in a little better physical condition than some. This is not an easy trail and should not be underestimated. I also recommend on this one to let someone know where you are going, it is a very lightly trafficked route and phone signal is iffy at best in the gulch. You might have a long wait for help if you were to twist an ankle or something.

These were myย  favorite pictures of the dozen or so that I shot along the trail. Please feel free to visit and follow my Instagram page for the rest of myย  hike plus hundreds more!

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As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal!

Curious Herd

Cute Mule Deer Herd

The minute my eyes popped open this morning I knew that it was going to be a good day to go hiking. Cool crisp mountain air, clear skies and lots of sleep ๐Ÿ™‚ It was barely light by the time I cleared the ridge but I could see the tell tale movement of their perpetually alert ears, my furry friends were on the mountain ๐Ÿ™‚ They were a bit spread out and were on their way to greener pastures I suppose but fortunately I was able to snap off a few shots before they meandered deeper into the woods.

Today was going to be a test of my new custom functions setup so I was really happy to have seen the furtive critters. I have C1 set to aperture f8, auto ISO, +1 exposure compensation to limit noise causing low light… and a couple other things that slip my mind at the moment.ย  A quick check of the playback

Cute Mule Deer Herd

indicated that the camera had selected ISO 3200 but there was only enough light for a shutter speed of 360 so I was a bit concerned about camera shake at the 400mm of focal length I was using to bring the beasties in close. The images looked pretty good on the playback screen though so I completed my hike in high spirits eager to get back to the computer and view them on the big monitor!

Well anyway, I think they do look pretty good for ISO 3200! One image I felt was good enough to put on my website so that one is now available for purchase as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional framing and matting.ย  Tons of cool gift items and handy household goods are also available including Covid masks, coffee mugs, stationary, beach towels, blankets and pillows and much much more! I didn’t catch this on video, but be sure to visit the bighorn sheep and elk from past hikes on my YouTube Channel! Don’t forget to subscribe if you like!

Cute Mule Deer Herd

 

Getting Easier

Climbing the big hill to the top of the ridge seems to be getting easier every day now. In fact its getting to the point where I’m actually looking forward to it again ๐Ÿ™‚ I have to admit for a while there it was a major undertaking to get out of my chair to get dressed in the morning! Sitting in my chair again this morning… my mind turned to the woods and I began to imagine the wildlife I might be missing out on, and that’s all it took.

Bunny Rabbit

Soon I was dressed and on my way to the trailhead with high hopes of catching a glimpse of my deer friends. Of course there is always the hope of seeing a black bear, but I’ve not seen a bear in the area in the three years I’ve been frequenting this trail. haven’t seen the elk in a while either and unfortunately all I did see was a glimpse of the Three Amigos, my three favorite buck mule deer that always travel together. They were moving fast down the mountainside ahead of me on their way to the watering hole I assume, and I had no chance of photographing them moving through the forest.

I took note of where I saw them cross the trail hoping that maybe they didn’t run too far past that point, but they were nowhere to be found when I finally arrived at that location. Much to my surprise though was the presence of this little cottontail casting a sideways look at me while I was scanning the hillsides for deer and bear. He was backlit and not in position for a detailed photo but I thought I’d give it a try, cute animals of all sizes are not a thing to pass up!

 

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˜‰

 

Sometimes I Impress Myself!

Now I was not impressed at all later on in my hike when I discovered that at some point I had inadvertently turned off the Image Stabilization (IS) on my big Canon lens, which sent me from a point of elation to the depths of despair just like that. I really wanted that shot! We had cleared the ridge to find ourselves about 50 yards from a curious trio of deer peering at us from the brush near the summit in perfect morning light. I could not believe my eyes! I fired off a few shots, but as you might imagine the sight of Big Dog was causing quite a bit of consternation in the herd. No matter, I was pretty sure I had nailed the shot and we walked around the other side of the mountain from where the deer had gone in order not to disturb them any further.

Trio of Rocky Mountain Mule Deer

As we strode along I was looking forward to getting on the computer and processing those images and creating a good seller! That is until I noticed that the IS was off. Then I figured it was all over, the likelihood of getting that shot without the IS with a 400mm lens was about as good as threading a needle with a climbing rope. But I consoled myself with the idea that I would probably get a good enough shot to show on my Instagram account.

It was a beautiful morning… there is nothing like a trek through the high country at first light, before anyone else is up, before the wind starts blowing, when the mountain air is still cool and crisp with bright sunshine to warm my old shoulders. It was very quiet this morning too, only the sound of the birds happily chirping, my own breath and the clanking of Big Dog’s harness to break the silence of a perfect mountain morning.

Now back at home in front of the computer is where I am quite impressed with myself ๐Ÿ™‚ I did get a salable capture from the set, hand held at 400mm, no IS, 60 years old, heart pounding from the climb, and all while holding on to a very exuberant 90 pound dog who very badly wanted to go play with the deer! I think maybe the shot could have been a little better with the IS turned on, but I am truly amazed that I was able to get this capture ๐Ÿ™‚ Of course now in front of the computer, after I have done all my titling and keywording, I see that there is a fourth deer in the image, peeking out from behind one of the others, oh well, the more the merrier!

As always, this shot and more are available on my website for purchase as wall art and tons of cool gift, household and tech items!

Fresh Powder

Fresh Powder in the Colorado High CountryTen degrees, wind blowing, face frozen, drifting snow, complete solitude… It doesn’t get any better :) Perfect day for snowshoeing. Most of our trail has been buried by the drifting snow from yesterday’s storm but most of the time I could ascertain where the packed trail probably was. Sometimes not though, but the feel of the fresh powder beneath my snowshoes was well worth the extra effort. Big Dog seemed to be better at finding the trail as he charged ahead, I suppose he could locate by smell! Good companion to have along :)

Was hoping to find that the elk had gathered at the edge of the forest near the summit so I could get some good wildlife photographs,

Snowshoe Tracks in the Powderbut I saw little sign of life anywhere on the frozen mountain. Looking back at where we had come from all there was to see was our trail in the snow over the top. Thought it made for kind of a neat scene though! On our way down I did find elk tracks leading up a different trail around the other side of the ridge, so maybe tomorrow we willย  go investigate.

 

Dumb and Dumber Photography

That scene in the movie when they were headed back across Nebraska going in the wrong direction… “I thought the Rocky Mountains would be much higher”… “Yeah, that John Denver is full of sh*t!”. Lol, that’s about how I feel right now after a previous blog post. I was looking at the google map on the weather site a couple of days ago when I realized I was no where near the mountains that I thought I was. At the Royal Gorge I turned north on Highway 9 assuming that I would be driving along the Sangre de Cristo Range… thinking, “I thought the Sangre would be much higher!” Well it turns out I was no where near the Sangre de Cristo Range… there was an entire ridge of smaller mountains between me and them and the Sangre were not visible at all from the valley I was cruising up ๐Ÿ˜

Mule Deer Bucks

Oh well, that just means I still have a road trip to look forward to! Not today though, feeling very tired and was even going to forego my planned hike with Big Dog. But he was having none of that so I relented and we got in a couple of miles in the high country before the heat was too much for him. Saw a pair of awesome looking buck mule deer off in the distance that I got these nice shots of. Was kind of wishing I had borrowed the 1.4x lens extension from my buddy, but still, a nice shot and a great experience. After I got this capture in the brush they kind of moseyed towards me in the prairie grass a bit before disappearing into the dense pine forest on top of Grouse Mountain. I will put a couple of those in the wildlife gallery on my website when I get the chance.

Also had this red sunrise… I have never seen the sun look like that before. It took a little bit for me to convince myself that it was the sun and not the moon due to it’s subdued brightness. Kind of weird, had me wondering if maybe it was one of those biblical signs or something.

Red Sunrise

Picture taking was followed by a nice cheese omelet and a frosted donut. Looking forward to processing my pictures to include with this blog post!

These pictures and more are available for purchase as wall art on my website! Available on glossy acrylic and metal sheets, wrapped canvas, traditional framed prints, plus many cool household and gift items!

A Little Exploring

My original plan for the day was to just stay home and give these tired old legs some rest… Lol, in my case, the flesh is willing but the spirit isn’t, I’mย  just not good at resting it would seem! So once again I decided to load up my backpack, get on my bike and see where the day would lead me. First off I noticed that I could still get down to Bronco Billy’s in time for the cheap breakfast, so down the hill I coasted for some French Toast while I pondered my next move.

I thought about seeing if I could ride clear to Victor but the sound of the Cripple Creek / Victor train whistle reminded me that I had yet to explore the abandoned mines on the mountainside visible from my bedroom window. There aren’t any obvious roads going up there and I have been wondering for almost a year now if I could get up there for some images. Well… today was the day as I began my journey by pedaling east through town towards the dirt road that leads up to the narrow gauge train tracks. I always figured that it was private property beyond the train tracks because there is a sign posted beyond there along the dirt trail. However as it turns out the sign is just a notice of the Cripple Creek mine reclamation project boundary, so the area is fair game.

Cripple Creek Train

The first hill was wicked and I was not able to pedal up it, but I didn’t mind pushing the old 21 speed for a few feet to the top. As I neared the top of the first ridge I could hear the train whistle getting louder and also saw the most beautiful view of the tracks that I have ever seen. The train tracks can be seen winding out of the forest against a backdrop of a magnificent valley with the rugged Sangre de Cristo mountain range in the background. Only today you have to look very close to see the mountains, unfortunately it appears the Arkansas River Valley is filling with smoke from the distant fires in the southwest corner of the state. Took a few shots of the train and some abandoned buildings located in the vicinity before looking around to see if the trail would continue.

Abandoned Gold Mine

There did appear to be some sort of access road leading along the ridge toward the big mine so I thought I might give that a try on the bike. It was nice road for mountain biking, but it only went about a half a mile back into the woods before coming to an end at another mine reclamation sign. At that point I got off the bike to look around for a possible composition or maybe a foot trail, neither of which seemed to be available. There was a steep berm created for the reclamation project leading up to the top of the next ridge, not something that looked like it was wanting to be climbed but I was curious what kind of view might be possible from the summit. So I found a climbing stick for myself and headed up the steep hillside. Unfortunately the top was a false summit and proved to only be the bottom of another even worse climb that I was not in the mood to tackle. However there did appear to be a trail leading around to the south that looked well worth checking out but only ended up at the base of the big mine in view of the massive trucks hauling ore.

On the way back down the hillside I hoped I would spot a two pound gold nugget just laying out in the open… No such luck but I did find a giant rusty iron spike weighing about five pounds. Although I would have liked to add it to my collection of useless junk it was far to heavy for me to want to carry on my bike all the way back to town! It appears that gold and riches will have to wait for another day.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sangre_de_Cristo_Range

The ride back down was much easier than the ride up, although there was once place where the downhill on rocky gravel was so steep that I thought better of it and got off and walked. I have never forgotten the harsh lesson of an endo that I experienced on the White Ranch Trail system over 20 years ago! Riding a bike is something you never forget, so they say… but flying off a bike upside down onto a rocky mountain trail is something you never forget too!

So… calling the day a success, I got a little exercise that I really didn’t need or want and a few nice images of the failed mining endeavors attempted by my Cripple Creek predecessors for my website if you would like to take a look ๐Ÿ™‚ Wall art on metal and acrylic is available as is more traditional framed and matted prints. Cool household and gift items are also available, including coffee mugs, t-shirts, yoga mats, blankets, beach towels and more! Just above the images on the site there is a button for galleries, which are how I divide my work up into categories if you would like to explore my site a little more thoroughly ๐Ÿ˜‰

 

First Light

Did three things before first light today that I was not planning to do… The first was to get out of bed before first light. I had the day off and was planning to sleep in and catch up on some shut eye, but apparently I am used to arising at 4:30 a.m. now and that is just the way it is. I was also not going to take any pictures and the third thing I was never going to do again, ever… was to ride my mountain bike! After I tried it last week for the first time on these hills that was going to be it forever. My legs were quivering when I got done ๐Ÿ˜ฆ The reason I was not going to take any pictures is because I am tired of shooting from the same location all the time and also I watched a Youtube video where the title and theme were, “Nobody cares about your photography.”, which is probably true but just the same, a very discouraging thought.

Sangre de Cristo Lake of Fog

So unfortunately I was awake at 4:00 and Big Dog as eager to go for a walk. So without the camera we headed down the trail for his morning duties. Saw some deer in the darkness running towards the hills and then I noticed that there was an odd white glow coming from the direction of the Sangre de Cristo range. In the darkness I couldn’t tell if it was a new mantle of snow or clouds or fog or what. I could tell the sky was clear though and that the red band of alpenglow was descending upon the mountain range. So I thought, well… I’d better not miss this, it could be good!

Took the dog home, grabbed my backpack and jumped on the bike. I was not going to make it back there in time on foot and the mountain bike was the only way I was going to make the show. Fortunately my legs seem a bit stronger this week, maybe my decision to quit the bike riding was a bit premature? As I neared the overlook to the mountain range I could not believe my eyes, the fog bank and cloud action was some of the most amazing that I have seen in the Arkansas River Valley at the base of the Sangre.

Sangre de Cristo Lake of Fog

I sat on a rock at the best spot and watched it all unfold. The alpenglow effect descended upon the mountains and the fog began to blow around building into tall spires almost as big as the mountains they were obscuring. I put into effect all the information I have been gathering about the best way to photograph this valley at the base of the Sangre, trying various shutter speeds and even my B&W circular polarizer for a bit. Finally the sun crested the mountains behind me and the fog began to burn off. As the mist turned to vapor in the air the Sangre became too obscure to get good pictures and I headed for home.

Lol… as it turns out though, my bike riding was not yet done for the day… Big Dog saw something he wanted to chase and snapped his wire cable in a bid for some temporary freedom. It wasn’t long before he had me on mountain bike along with two of Cripple Creek’s finest circling the blocks in their black and white SUV’s. After about an hour of chase he finally blundered into a fenced yard and decided to visit the people having a hitherto relaxing morning on their deck. Knowing him he was probably hoping for some burgers and fries, but they corralled him and I was able to give the police a thumbs up and they too went about their business.

Now I’m working on the pictures… have to say the scene was pretty amazing! Hope you enjoy them too ๐Ÿ™‚ I will soon be putting these on my website for sale as wall art and RF stock so stay tuned!

Hard Ride

Well, that didn’t go as planned… in my mind was an enjoyable ride, maybe out to the overlook on 67 near Victor, some awesome pictures and a joyous ride back down the hill to town. The reality turned out otherwise ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Two years ago I was in great riding shape, but haven’t had a lot of time for myself or for exercise since then. I knew the hills in Cripple Creek are formidable, but in trying to ride them on my mountain bike, they went from formidable to simply wicked!

Fox and KitsThe morning started out fine… a nice ride down the hill to Bronco Billy’s for a cheese omelette. Breakfast was awesome :) Then I began the ride to Victor which lasted about three minutes before thinking better of that idea. It wasn’t so much the hill up there at that point as it was the gloom of the day. The main reason for riding to the overlook was to get pics of the Sangre, but it is just so dusty and gloomy that successful photography was just not going to happen.

So instead I decided on the dirt roads south of my house. Thought that might be a place to test out the old legs and see what is left after two years of much less beneficial physical struggle. The ride up the hill from Bronco Billy’s pretty much answered that question. I made it about halfway before I had to resort to standing on he pedals for more leverage… That is when I found that the old legs were already too tired to stand, nothing left to do but get off and walk.

But I was not about to give up until I at least did some riding on the dirt! I was encouraged by the first hill, steadily climbing the mountainside to another vista point I enjoy. Once there though, the hills once again became too steep for me to negotiate on wheels so I just turned around and headed for home. Very discouraging ride, but I think I’ll try to stick with it and see if the aging legs will bounce back and make it possible to do some pedaling around this area.

Didn’t get picture one today, but I did get one processed last night from the little fox family that I found a couple of weeks ago.ย  I don’t know, maybe I’ll head down the trail with Big Dog this evening and see if there might be a nice sunset to photograph. Other than that, it looks like the end of the road for picture exploring for a while ๐Ÿ˜ฆ