Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Back to the High Country (Mueller State Park)

View eastward toward a ridge extending from Pike's Peak
Overnight, Kali and I got over our tiff about not hiking the previous afternoon (see previous post).  The next morning, after breakfast, I proposed a hike at Mueller State Park, back in the high country west of Woodland Park, Colorado.

Mueller State Park is a relatively new Colorado state park, having been cobbled together from several ranches.  The park road turns west off of the north-south state highway south of Divide, Colorado, travels about a mile into the heart of the park, then turns sharply north to provide access to campgrounds and trailheads.  The beautiful new Visitor Center is located on a high point at the sharp bend in the road.

We stopped at the Visitor Center to get oriented and to ask for hiking suggestions.  I jokingly approached the ranger with the question, "Can you recommend a 5-mile hike with great scenic views and waterfalls?"  To my amazement, she replied, "I sure can (sort of)!"  She sketched out a route that included several scenic viewpoints and the canyon of the only perennial watercourse in the otherwise high, dry and arid park.
Kali at Raven Ridge Overlook looking southward
View eastward toward the northwestward shoulder of Pike's Peak
Another view southwestward from Raven Ridge
One downside to hiking at Mueller State Park is that the park access road leading to the trailheads is located on the crest a high spine that runs north-south through the park.  As a result, every trail starts off heading downhill (some for quite a distance).  Hikers have to pace themselves because the end of every hike is going to be an uphill climb to return to the trailhead.  This is especially important for hikers who haven't yet acclimated to the 8,500-foot elevation.
Geer Pond, where we were greeted by a pair of Mallards
Kali on the trail below the Geer Pond dam
Between Geer Pond (above) and Rock Pond (below), we made our way downward through the steep canyon of the only perennial stream in the entire park.  In terms of volume, it wasn't much of a stream, but it had carved a small canyon lined with gigantic boulders.  At the bottom there was a very modest waterfall where the creek spilled over one of the boulders.  Most of the birds we heard in the park were concentrated in the canyon.

Rock Pond - aptly namedAll of the numerous ponds in the park are old ranch ponds behind dams
Through an aspen grove
Elk-gnawed aspens
The ranger at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument the day before had told us that elk gnawed the bark of aspens for the aspirin precursor chemical the bark contains.  He said that elk cows were especially prone to gnawing the bark in advance of labor to dull the pain.  He certainly may be right, but I suspect that elk gnaw the bark during the winter for food, too.  

Nearly all the trails through the park are located on the ranch roads that used to criss-cross the land that is now park.  However, the state parks folks have done an excellent job of converting the roads to trails and of maintaining those trails, which, for the most part, are more like wide pathways than old roads.  In addition, all of the trails are very well marked and corresponded exactly to the trail map.
Dead wood
Kali loves to make images of photogenic dead wood.  She took several image of this log before turning the camera back to me.  This image is actually one of mine (not hers).  It's not the best of images, but it's satisfactory, in my opinion.  Unbeknownst to me, earlier in the hike I had inadvertently hit a button on the camera that made the self-focus sensor use just one point in the visual field for a focus; as a result, most images of the log were not worth saving.

Our hike at Mueller State Park was actually the most pleasant hike we completed during our visit to Colorado this year.  The trails were well-maintained, were not too steep (because they were old ranch roads), and were well-marked.  The scenery wasn't "national park" spectacular, but we enjoyed the abundant wildflowers, the ease of walking, and the cool breezes sighing through the evergreens.

We returned from our hike just as the skies opened up with a torrential mid-summer mountain downpour.  Great timing!


packrat said...

Beautiful images, Scott. The one of Rock Pond looks like a good candidate for a painting--watercolor, perhaps.

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

It looks to be an excellent hike.

Scott said...

Packrat: The image of Rock Pond was the best of the bunch that I took at Mueller; thanks for the compliment. It's a bit ironic, because I made that shot almost as an afterthought because it had started to sprinkle when we got to the shore of the pond and Kali and I were scrambling to put on our raincoats, and I though, "I'll just get this quick snapshot..."

Scott said...

John: I almost felt guilty enjoying this hike the most during our nine days in Colorado because it was not challenging or extraordinarily scenic--just a very pleasant walk in the coniferous woods and meadows.