Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Camping at Mueller State Park, Colorado - Peak View Pond Hike

From August 18, 2014

After finishing my job interview in Colorado Springs, I rolled out of town and up into the Front Range to Mueller State Park for three more nights of state park camping. Mueller is located on the northwestern side of Pikes Peak. Most of the park is above 9,000 ft. above sea level so it's a fairly high, cool place to hang out. The park features pine and fir forest as well as some prairie with numerous ponds, mostly left over from old ranches that were acquired to form the park, and spectacular views of Pikes Peak. The facilities of the park are lined up along a ridge so that when you drive into the park you drive up, and most of the trails descend away from the ridge requiring a downhill outbound trip followed by an uphill return.



Pikes Peak from the "back side." Normally Pikes is seen from Colorado Springs, which is at a lower elevation, and consequently the mountain looks much larger. Mueller State Park is mostly above 9,000 ft. above sea level, so the vantage point is much closer to the treeline.

Pikes looks a bit different from the western side, so I didn't entirely recognize what I was seeing at first. Consulting with the maps clarified things and when I put on my glasses I was able to see bits of the road and traffic that ascend to the top of the mountain. The bald, rocky top of the mountain looked deceptively close due to the high elevation of the park compared to the view of Pikes from Colorado Springs, which is more of what I'm accustomed to.
Campsite at Mueller. It's a pretty nice campground but the very open forest made me wary that a large predator might sneak up me while I was reading a book by the campfire. Note the "bear box" on the left. Even though it latches, I was too nervous to store food in it for fear it would draw a bear.

Despite it being my third day in Colorado, I still found myself losing my breath while packing in my gear to my campsite and setting up. I have usually found that I do not acclimatize until at least the fourth day and the unusually high elevation of the campsite around 9,200 ft. probably did not help. The air was palpably thin. It's a peculiar sensation if you are not used to it. I got things setup in time to go find a short introductory hike to the park.

I chose to drive over and park my truck at the Elk Meadow trailhead and hike to the Peak View Pond. As promised by the layout of the park, this required a descent away from the parking lot through fir forest with a sparse understory. I started on a gravelly double track trail surrounded by sparse ponderosa pines and shortly took a side single track trail that was well marked downhill into the fir forest. The trail descended somewhat quickly with a series of switchbacks. It was a steep downhill hike that had me wondering how difficult the climb back out would be.

The view from the trailhead at Elk Meadow. It's a fairly promising start.


I recently read some sections of a book I picked up a decade or so back that discussed how biodiversity is related to precipitation. Although Mueller is on the western side of the Front Range and gets more rainfall than much of Colorado, it still receives much less than the mountain forests of the Southeast that I am used to, and the contrast in biodiversity could not have been more obvious. There were far fewer species of plants visible, with the trees being fairly uniform and consisting of only about three species that I could see and the forest floor dominated by just a handful of plants, mostly sparse grasses. It was still beautiful and provided superior visibility when compared to eastern forest.

Another view slightly further down the trail.

The short hike turned out to be a perfect choice because it is a beautiful little pond. I was wowed by the pond but did not realize just how beautiful it truly was until I continued past the pond on the trail and looked back to see how it got its name "Peak View Pond." From uphill of the pond, Pikes Peak could be seen looming over the pond and the forest. It was an amazing place! The difficulty of the hike out turned out to not be that bad due to the short length of the hike and the fact that I stopped to take several pictures. It might be the best short hike in Mueller and I recommend it.

The payoff. Peak View Pond, with a view of the peak, of course. Amazing scenery. I could sit in a lawn chair all day and look at this.
Bonus Photos:
This little dude acted suspiciously like he had been fed all summer by tourists. I did not give anything. There was another chipmunk there that was the fattest chipmunk I've ever seen but I didn't get a photo. It looked like a miniature ground hog. I guess they were prepping for winter.

I was amused by this sign in Woodland Park, where I stopped for lunch after my job interview on the way to Mueller. I guess this is now a double entendre since Colorado's liberalization of drug laws. 

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