Saturday, September 20, 2014

Return to Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Colorado

From a visit to the park August 16-18, 2014

I made another vacation to Colorado last month and returned to my usual stomping grounds at Cheyenne Mountain State Park on the fringe of Colorado Springs. It's a good point to stop if you are travelling from the east to Colorado and has the best camping facilities I've ever seen. In addition it has thousands of acres of prairie and mountain slopes on the beautiful Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Most of the trail is open to mountain biking and it is a good place to spend a few days getting acclimated to the thin air of high elevation. Upon arrival I made camp, took some photos, and then headed out for a short but fairly easy hike to test my fitness. I found that I was able to hike with a bit of heavy breathing. The park sits generally around 6,500 ft. above sea level depending on where you are in the park exactly. I'm not sure if the breathing was entirely due to the elevation or due to all the extra weight I'm carrying around.

Cheyenne Mountain from the southeast. In my book there is nothing like a view from the prairie to the Colorado Front Range. Photo taken from atop my bike helmet with a GoPro 3+.

Cheyenne Mountain is a 9,564 ft mountain (source: Wikipedia) on the Front Range and faces out onto the Great Plains. The mountain famously hosts an Air Force station within it's granite, the former NORAD command center. The NORAD center has been moved above ground nearby but the facility is still maintained in a ready state in case it is needed. In addition, at the foot of the mountain on the plains is Fort Carson Military Reservation, a U.S. Army facility and current post of the 4th Infantry Division. If you sleep in you will hear Reveille playing early. If you keep sleeping anyway, eventually you may wake to the sound of explosions and gunfire. It's actually not that bad but do not mistake Cheyenne Mountain for a wilderness park.

Barely visible is the road leading up to the arched green tunnel entrance to the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, a hardened nuclear shelter beneath the mountain, made famous by the 1983 movie WarGames starring Matthew Broderick and the Kurt Russell sci-fi Stargate and subsequent TV series Stargate SG-1. Photo taken on a previous trip in 2010.
My campsite. I have yet to find a better campground anywhere. The sites are awesome and the rest of the facilities match. All state and national parks campgrounds should be as beautiful and well equipped as Cheyenne Mountain.

The trails at Cheyenne Mountain are for the most part extremely smooth and provide easy walking or mountain biking. There is little shade since most of the park is on the lower slopes of the mountain and has only scrub oak forest with a few stands of short ponderosa or pinyon pine. In between are the prairie grasses. I normally have no allergies in Colorado but it had been raining, and rained virtually every day I was there, alternating with sunshine, so the prairie grasses were growing and making me sneeze for the first half of my vacation. This probably did not help with my breathing issues, especially since I was recently diagnosed with asthma and was told it was probably brought about by allergies.

Velvety smooth Colorado Front Range singletrack meandering through the prairie. The trails are graveled with natural pink granite pebbles. Photo created with iPhone 5s panorama.

There are 20 miles or so of trail at Cheyenne Mountain and I have not hiked or biked all of them yet so I made a point of riding my mountain bike out onto the southern part of the park to explore some new terrain. The trails took me past numerous prairie dog colonies and onto some ridges and small mesas with good views of the mountain and the Colorado Springs area. I had to get off and push a few times due to being short of breath or leg strength.

Unfortunately I had only two nights at CMSP and I had a job interview on the last day there. This somewhat messed up my visit since I had gotten the interview on very short notice and did not have time to go to the dry cleaners or anything before leaving. I ended up having to spend a good bit of time shopping to buy clothing for the job interview and generally worrying about things. Anyway I finally got that out of the way and managed to fit in a nice bike ride and a short hike before heading up to Mueller State Park on the western slope of the Front Range for three more days of camping.

GPS track of the ride and photo Dump below with commentary.

Mule deer buck. Photo enhanced from iPhone 5s image. There is a lot of wildlife in the park, some of it semi-tame.
This is another enhanced photo of a bobcat with a rabbit hanging out of its mouth (directly above the road sign). Unfortunately I drove up on it and could not get my phone out in time to get a great photo. It's one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. It trotted right across the road keeping an eye on me.
Rainbows and unicorns over my my happy place at Cheyenne Mountain State Park. Actually that is the Fort Carson Military Reservation below on the Great Plains so the pot of gold is being guarded by the 4th Infantry Division.

Enlarged photo of parts of the United States Air Force Academy with the football stadium at center and the Rampart Range behind. I rode a mountain bike trail that is just beyond those peaks in 2011 at Rampart Reservoir, still one of the best mountain bike trails I have ridden anywhere.