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.  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 the  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 🙂

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 my  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 my  hike plus hundreds more!

For your enjoyment I have also created a library of multimedia videos for my YouTube channel! Feel free to watch and be sure to subscribe to my channel  if you would like to see more of my adventures! Also feel free to follow my Instagram page where tons more of my images are displayed!

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!

Vaya Con Dios my Feathered Friends

A cold quiet sunrise greeted me at Eleven Mile Canyon. One of  my favorite places for wildlife photography was formerly teeming with life through spring and summer but on this crisp autumn morning the river was silent. There were no herds of deer gathering in the clearing on the opposite bank of the South Platte River, no beaver hard at work in the reeds and no birds chirping. The only sound was that of the gurgling river on it’s journey through the Rocky Mountains and across Nebraska to join the Mighty Missouri.

Sunrise on the South Platte River

As the sun arose to greet the icy pristine water,  plumes of steam swirled around and combined with the fog forming from above. It was a beautiful tranquil scene, a fitting greeting to the changing seasons, autumn and the relentless approach of the Rocky Mountain Winter. As the morning sunlight conquered the darkness a lone bald eagle greeted me from far above, intently watching over the scene from her perch in the treetops.

Bald Eagle in Eleven Mile Canyon

Eventually I decided to venture deeper into the canyon hoping for signs of life along the roaring whitewater, or perhaps near the placid pool above that.  Only the sound of the rushing water greeted me as I strode past the home of the peregrine falcons, perhaps they have already embarked upon their annual southward migration.

As I neared the osprey nest the incessant chirping of the juvenile osprey was conspicuously absent, the nest high above cold and empty. The two young raptors had been spending a lot of time watching over shallow waters in a meadow upstream so I just American Dipper  in Eleven Mile Canyonkept walking, hoping for one more chance to photograph the majestic creatures.

Finally, a lone American dipper greeted me at the prime fishing spot… Hopping around on the rocks, occasionally jumping into the ice cold water in search of sustenance. I whiled away the time observing the shenanigans of the energetic little bird, trying over and over for the perfect capture as I awaited the return of the osprey.

Osprey Soaring and Fishing

I repeated scanned the valley above and  below for the osprey hoping to see their triumphant return from a fishing trip, prey firmly in the grasp of  their mighty talons. But the moment did not come, the treetops remained silent,  the river in sole possession of the tiny birds of autumn. It appears that the cold snowy weather that enveloped Colorado earlier in the week has convinced them that it was time to begin their odyssey southward to the warm waters of Central America where they will spend two to three years maturing and gaining in strength and skill before once again venturing north in search of a mate and suitable breeding ground.

Osprey Fishing in Eleven Mile Canyon

Vaya Con Dios my beautiful feathered friends, may He watch over you and keep you safe in your travels. I look forward to your return to this magnificent canyon someday.

For your enjoyment I have created many short multimedia videos for my YouTube channel! Feel free to watch and be sure to subscribe to my channel  if you would like to see more of our adventures!

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!

Houston We Have Lift Off


Osprey Chick Learning to Fly

Well that’s it… all the osprey we have been watching all summer are officially in the air 🙂 About a week ago the older chick took his first tentative flight from the nest over to the top of a nearby cliff, after which he took the leap and soared high into the clear blue Colorado sky. Today the younger fledgling hopped up and down, wings flapping furiously in a sustained test flight above the nest.  Papa osprey took up his usual perch overlooking the area as he kept a watchful eye out for any danger to his family while mama left the nest  for a nearby perch to give the young one space to take the plunge out of the nest. The older offspring soared high overhead as if to give the nest bound chick the confidence to take the leap.

Osprey Chick First Flight

Anticipation was high as the entire valley knew something big was up… Then it happened, the nest was left behind with a flight that swooped low at first and then gained altitude as the exuberant raptor flapped his wings and soared high above the pristine waters of the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon. After a couple of triumphant fly by’s the young bird found a landing spot and took up a perch in a tall dead tree high on the canyon walls.

Osprey Chick First Flight

We watched for a long time, the young aviators joyfully taking turns soaring over the canyon to practice and show off their new skills. For a while the siblings actually flew simultaneously and perched side by side on a tree limb to celebrate the moment together.

Not much attention was paid to the nest on this day, it appears that the summer home as a social gathering point has become secondary as the new flyers learn to soar and hunt for themselves. It is with a twinge of sadness that I realize our task as photographers to document this momentous occasion may be complete for this breeding season, although I may journey further into the canyon to see if I can discover the best fishing spot in hopes that I may capture the victorious moment a meal is snatched out of the water.

Osprey Chick First Flight

I also wonder what next summer will bring, will the young ones find a mate and return to the canyon to nest and raise a family of their own? Or from their vantage point high above the bonds of earth will they spot a better location to continue the circle of life? Time will tell…  as my thoughts turn to autumn, changing colors and cooling temperatures, and the rut season for the big mammals… the bighorn sheep, elk and deer.

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!

Eleven Mile Winter

Eleven Mile Canyon in Winter

Something I’ve always wanted to do… See the headwaters of the South Platte River flowing through Eleven Mile Canyon in wintertime. Shouldn’t be that hard to do but I never seemed to have the right tires or brakes or time or whatever… But yesterday it finally all came together and I made the journey! I was kind of thinking about leaving my truck at the entrance but that idea was quickly abandoned when I got out to pay. Dang it’s cold in that canyon! Apparently the canyon walls are quite good at holding in the cold!

The road was snow packed and icy in places as I entered the canyon but as the road

Eleven Mile Canyon in Winter

turned to the west bare dirt greeted me and it looked like the journey should be doable even in a two wheel drive truck. As I drove past the roughest part of the river, a place where I usually climb down to the riverside for some shots and video of the roaring whitewater it became apparent that climbing on the banks was going to be out of the question in winter. Oh well I thought, I was sure the riverside would be accessible in other places.

Eleven Mile Canyon in Winter

And it was in a few places but mostly a riverside visit in the Rocky Mountain winter is a pretty treacherous endeavor 😦 In some places there was just deep snow to go through, but in others it was ice so solid that my Ice Trekkers were not even enough for traction. And in other places there was an icy shelf over the river bank so that it wasn’t possible to tell where the bank ended and the river began. One wrong step and one might find himself on an unpleasant winter swim in the icy waters of a raging Colorado river!

So getting pictures turned out to be a very difficult proposition. In summer you can pick

Eleven Mile Canyon in Winter

yourself right down to the waters edge to get past the vegetation that lines the entire bank for an unobstructed view of the river. But in winter so many good views are ruined by a bush or a tree or just bramble sticking up from the riverside. Getting just the right angle on the view is so important but I was simply not able to do that yesterday.

But I certainly enjoyed myself and had a great morning along the beautiful river. The canyon is always a beautiful sight to behold with it’s magnificent cliffs and eagles soaring overhead. Unfortunately the times I saw an eagle I was equipped with a wide angle for shooting the river. When I put on my long lens I could not find an eagle anywhere!

Well anyway, I did manage to get a few pictures I like, some of which are up on my website for purchase as wall art on  glossy metal or acrylic sheets and I also was able to put together a nice movie called Eleven Mile Winter on my YouTube site 🙂 Don’t forget to subscribe if you like the video and want to be notified each time a video is published!

Also note that I was not sponsored by Ice Trekkers, I purchased them with my own funds because I think they are a good product and frequently find them useful on my winter adventures! I also recommend using a trekking pole or cross country ski poles for safety as you climb the banks of the river in snow!

Eleven Mile Canyon in Winter

Where I’m Most at Home

Autumn on Trail Ridge Road

The alpine tundra, high above the treeline… that’s my favorite place to be. Never have been a big fan of hiking in valleys or dense forest. I like to be up high, above the treeline where I can see stunning peaks and valleys! It’s not always the most hospitable place to be, the winds and weather can be ferocious here and this day was one of the worst! It was a nice toasty warm day down in Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park, but up here, at the summit of Trail Ridge Road, the winds must have been blowing at least 50 mph. And it was cold too, can’t imagine what the wind chill was!

These were also difficult conditions for photography, the wind was blowing so hard I could barely open my eyes which were watering profusely from the horrendous draft. It was difficult to steady the camera and it was too uncomfortable to be messing with the tripod which would have probably blown over anyway. I tried to steady the camera on boulders where possible, guard rails when present, anything I could find. From the

Autumn on Trail Ridge Road

look of some of my images I was not always successful, even though I was using my 18-55 wide angle lens with image stabilization turned on.

But it was so beautiful up here, rugged peaks, aspen and tundra turning to gold before the onslaught of the harsh Rocky Mountain winter. There was no question about it, weather notwithstanding, I was going to get the pictures of this magnificent place!

As always, these pictures and more are available on my website as wall art on glossy acrylic or metal sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Cool gift, household and tech items are also available with one of these images, including t-shirts, coffee mugs, battery chargers, stationary, greeting cards, blankets and pillows and much more!

Autumn on Trail Ridge Road

Bighorn Break

Caught a break today… my fall photography hasn’t been going too well thus far, a fierce wind is blowing the leaves off the trees and unfortunately there is a huge fire burning out of control near Salida. Between the smoke and the wind and the heat it really isn’t turning out to be much of an autumn.

Autumn and the Bighorn Sheep

Today’s big break was the bighorn sheep sighting… I was on my way home from buying supplies for my Rocky Mountain National Park camping trip tomorrow when an approaching car flashed it’s brights at me, a sure sign that there were either sheep or state patrol in my future. As I rounded the bend I saw the telltale gathering of people with cameras looking intently at the mountainside and sure enough, there were the sheep standing by the road.

I found a place to park and jumped out with the camera and my 400mm lens. The closest ones were on the rock and dirt hillside which is OK, but I hoped they would move further up into the changing aspen leaves. As I gazed intently into the leaves I discovered that there were a few of the nimble creatures up higher with the leaves in the background. A little bit too far for my 400 so I went back

Autumn and the Bighorn Sheep

to the truck for the 1.4x which turned out to be just about perfect, 560mm not including crop factor.

Patience was rewarded as all the animals eventually got tired of gleaning the salt out of the rocks and made their way up the mountainside into the more colorful foliage of autumn. The little herd was made up of ewes and lambs, the big boys continue to evade me on this side of summer 😦

I don’t leave for Rocky until tomorrow but I already have the pre-game jitters. I imagine I won’t sleep much tonight and the butterflies won’t leave until the first pitch is thrown, baseball analogy 🙂 I know we will see some big bull elk and some awesome scenery in the park… hoping to round out the trip with bear and moose too!

Autumn and the Bighorn Sheep

Autumn Wildlife

Buck Mule Deer Autumn

You can really feel fall in the air on these Rocky Mountain mornings the last few days… and the leaves are starting to change as well. I could not resist an early morning trek and it appears that the wildlife were enjoying it as much as I was! I imagine there is a bit of apprehension as well in the animal world as the long harsh high country winter will not be far behind.

I almost didn’t notice these three buck mule deer that were almost invisible in the dry

Buck Mule Deer Autumn

mountain grass of autumn. Fortunately I did spot them before I stumbled into their midst and frightened them away! I stopped moving and crouched down behind the tall grass while I set up my gear, hoping all the while that they wouldn’t move before I was ready. My efforts were rewarded with a bit of curiosity on their part rather than fear and I was able to get off quite a few shots of different combinations before they began to meander into the dense forest.

Buck Mule Deer Autumn

As I continued along the trail I felt eyes upon me and as it turns out the little stag club had not gone far and were peering out from the trees at me to see what I was up to. Unfortunately by this time though they had moved between me and the morning sun spoiling the excellent lighting that I had been enjoying. I snapped a few more with the deep blue morning sky in the background but I’m not too sure whether I’m going to be able to use those exposures. I’ll bring those up in Photoshop another time.

As always these pictures and more plus my recent bear and cub pictures are available on my website for purchase as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional framing and matting. Many cool gift, household and tech items are also available with a beautiful picture of the Colorado Rocky Mountains by S.W. Krull Imaging!

Over the Hump

Read an interesting factoid the other day… Apparently August 2nd is a significant day in Colorado, it is the day that marks the beginning of the rapid falloff in temperatures in the slide towards fall and winter. The chart below from the U.S. Climate Data site shows in dramatic visual form the steep curve of change in temperature and precipitation as the heat of summer loses it’s edge to the receding light of the sun.

And to me that means I am over the hump of my most Screenshot_2019-08-04 Climate Colorado - temperature, rainfall and averagedifficult time of year 🙂 For a landscape photographer, the harsh direct overhead light of the summer sun is death to an image. The bright sun drains out all the color and shadow that can make an image compelling. For a Colorado wildlife photographer, stifling heat by 8:00 a.m. means all the animals are lying down in the shade in the dense pine forest well out of view. Sunrise at 5:00 a.m. means a 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. start to the day if you want to catch the best light, a difficult goal when you are up until 12:30 trying to make a living the night before. For Big Dog, the heat of the summer sun shining through the truck window means he has to stay home a lot more often, and without my hiking buddy along my weekend excursions a lot less enjoyable.

Here in Cripple Creek it was a beautiful cool morning, the birds are chirping happily and

Trio of Autumn Bighorn

the Teller County Fair is over, the legion of trucks and campers are pulling out and making their way home. I’m tired today, the sun is already shining brightly and I think I’ll take a day off from hiking and shooting to just sit here and enjoy the peace that the end of the hustle and bustle of summer brings with my favorite time of year just around the corner. Autumn… and I have wisely scheduled two weeks off so that I can make the most of it 🙂 Teller County has some of the best aspen color viewing in the state and this year I will be able to enjoy the Fall Color Festival, something I bitterly missed last year because I was working through the entire thing.

By autumn the sun has traveled significantly to the south, it’s low profile in the sky creating a much more friendly lighting scenario for photography. The leaves of the great aspen stands will be in full glory and the crisp clear mountain air sets an inviting stage for hiking and mountain biking in the back country.  The animals will emerge from the dark of the forest, the elk, deer and bighorn sheep in full glory for the autumn rut and the bears all out in their determined search for enough calories to nourish them throughout the long Rocky Mountain winter.

So today I rest in the knowledge that I am over the summer hump, my mind turning toward the joy of autumn, my laptop trained on topo maps of the great Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Ahhhh….

Crystal Creek Autumn

 

Lot of Catching Up

Not much happens in the world of stock photography between Christmas and the new year… But in January the publishers will go back to work and begin their ad campaigns and projects for the new year. So I am spending the time catching up. I still have

Historic Mine in Autumn Aspen

hundreds of photographs from throughout the year that I have not yet processed and uploaded.

I remember this photo shoot well, just as the leaves were reaching peak color in the Cripple Creek area. I did load a few of these into the autumn gallery on my website, but for the most part any images I work on now will be uploaded to my stock agencies where they will be on sale for commercial purposes.

Do Over

Well, for whatever reason, yesterday’s fall picture trip was a bust. I failed to notice power lines in a lot of the images and those things are really time consuming to remove with Photoshop. Also it was too windy so the blowing leaves just made the images look blurry. And the wasted time… yesterday I decided that it would be a good idea to drive up Rampart Range Road  which I just noticed has made the most dangerous roads list, and photograph the Peak behind the golden aspen of autumn. However, the golden aspen are still green up there, the road is absolutely wretched and the Peak just looks like a big brown rock. Outside of Kansas, it was just about the ugliest scene ever.

Historic Gold Mine Colorado

So as I was pondering what adventure today might bring I was thinking a do over was probably the most profitable remedy possible. The autumn leaves around Cripple Creek seem to be the most magnificent that I have seen anywhere and the loop is an easy one to complete. So I arose early this morning and loaded up Big Dog for a hike. Fortunately we were able to beat the wind this morning so the leaves were behaving nicely on the trees and as luck would have it there were the coolest cirrus clouds hanging around high in the bright blue Colorado sky. They reminded me of angels… perhaps there were angels helping me today 🙂

After our little hike we headed south to Victor in hopes of getting some images of the mines and the north face of the Peak… without power lines :-|I was thinking that maybe the polarizer was to blame for some of yesterday’s failure but I could see the colors were so much more saturated with my sunglasses on that it was going to be necessary to use the dark blue glass again. Today the effect was amazing… it really brought out the blue sky and the angel clouds! To account for the one stop of light loss I was just extra careful to steady the camera on the hood of the old Dodge or on handy fence posts. Now that I’m back home in front of the computer I can say I am extremely happy with the results. The images are clear and sharp, the blue sky magnificent, and the colors deeply saturated just as I had hoped.Pikes Peak in Auutmn Aspen

Now I’m ready for tomorrow… truck all gassed up and maintained, pictures backed up, memory chips cleared, camera equipment ready to go… and with a clear head from our nice hike today I think tomorrow’s destination is going to be Twin Lakes. I have seen some images from there lately that make me confident that the leaves have achieved  peak color, the water should be awesome, the sky clear and the temperature amazing! I made that trip a decade ago and ruined the day with a bad choice. When I rolled into Leadville I went out to Turquoise Lake first only to discover that there really isn’t any autumn color there, only pine trees. By the time I got to Twin Lakes it was an ugly cloudy gray day… the trees up Independence Pass were beautiful, but the gray skies and wind made the water choppy and murky and with no light on the color it was a total bust. It has been a long wait for my return to that location, but it should be worth it!

These images and more are now for sale as wall art on my website, including glossy metal and acrylic sheets, wrapped canvas and with traditional framing and matting!