Mueller State Park – August 4th to 7th, 2020

Mueller State Park is another gem of Colorado that we thoroughly enjoyed. The wonderful layout of the campground gives most of the camp sites gorgeous views. The web of hiking trails provides plenty of miles to explore. We spent three nights in the park and didn’t move our van from our campsite the whole time.

On the road again after a short resupply at home, our destination for the first day was Mueller State Park. It is not far from Eleven Mile State Park (Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument – July 6th, 2020), so we took a similar route to get there. From US 285 in Conifer, we again took S. Foxton Road. However, this time when Foxton dead-ends into county road 97, instead of turning right onto SW Platte River Road, we turned left onto W Platte River Road. The road started out paved, or at least paved at one time. Some sections along the way were so narrow that when we met a car coming the other direction, one of us had to back up. The kind gentleman that we met along one of these sections graciously backed up a little ways to a point where we could comfortably pass one another. Thank you, sir!

The road is mainly through US Forest Service land (South Platte River Corridor) and is a popular fishing area along the North Fork South Platte River. There are several parking areas, picnic areas and campgrounds along the road. We stopped at one picnic area along the river to have our lunch, until we saw the fee area sign. To use any of the parking lots or picnic areas, there was a $7 per day fee. Well, $7 for a twenty minute picnic lunch seemed a little pricey, so we waited until we reached the state park to eat.

Before we reached Twin Cedars, the road turned to gravel/dirt. The speed limit was only 20 miles per hour along the whole road, so the dirt road did not really slow us down. Despite the bumpy, narrow, and winding road, it was a pretty drive. We’re glad we took it, but don’t take it if you’re in a hurry to get somewhere.

Once we got on county road 67, the rest of the drive was pretty similar to our previous drive, except we turned off of US 24 a little earlier, in Divide, to reach Mueller State Park. The kind ranger at the entrance station gave us a campground map with our camp site highlighted on it, along with a map of all of the trails within the park. We stopped at the first picnic area on the way in to have lunch, Preacher’s Hollow. The picnic tables were set back among the trees, a very pleasant spot for a picnic.

We stopped at the Visitor’s Center. It was open, but was limiting how many people were in the store at a time. We just wanted to use the flush toilets which were just inside the building. There are several trailheads at the Visitor’s Center along with some panoramic views.

We like the way the campgrounds are arranged. There are no rows of campsites. The main road has several branches, along small ridge lines, with the campsites on both sides of the road. In places along the road, it splits into a boulevard with vegetation in the middle between the two one-way sections of road. Being set among the trees, there is a fair amount of privacy between camp sites and almost every camp site has a view away from the road, sloping down from the ridge, with no other sites blocking the view.

We also noticed that the park has a 5 gallon bucket hanging next to every water pump. We're assuming they are there to help put out camp fires as part of their wildfire prevention strategies. Now no one has an excuse not to put their camp fires our completely. The bucket is conveniently located to grab if anyone sees a camp fire that has gotten out of control. Smart!

We spent the afternoon working from our camp site. The cell signal was pretty good, especially when coupled with our Weboost (paid link). The signal was good enough for Left Buddy’s (LB) conference call after dinner. Dinner was Thai peanut curry chicken with red pepper and onion over brown rice.

While we were eating breakfast the next morning, a deer pranced across the meadow below our campsite. After breakfast, we went for a hike. We walked to the trailhead from our campsite, which added about 1.5 miles to our hike. This was hike #43 of our 52 Hike Challenge: 8.2 miles with an elevation gain of 1006 feet in three hours and 47 minutes.

We started out on the Cheeseman Ranch Trail and went in the clockwise direction around the loop. The trail starts out in the woods, but then most of it is exposed, across open meadows. Surprisingly, you cannot see any mountain peaks from the trail despite the openness of the trail, because it drops down lower than the surrounding ridges. After passing Cheeseman Ranch, the mountain peaks near Pikes Peak are visible again. We’re not sure how old the Cheeseman Ranch is, the roofs on the buildings looked pretty new.

We took a break at the ranch and ate a snack while sitting in the shade of the house roof overhang while leaning up against the front door. Just a short distance further along the trail was what looked like a low barn and/or root cellar, with a picnic table nearby. The picnic table would have been more comfortable for our snack, but the scenery was better back at the ranch house. After passing the Rule Creek Pond, we took trail #36 (Moonshine Trail) and then trail #34 (Cahill Pond Trail) so we could swing by Cahill Pond and the Cahill Cabin. After the ranch, along the section of the trail that goes by the Rule Creek Pond, you can see and hear highway 67. The pond was not really anything special.

Along the short section of the Moonshine Trail, we passed three dead mice on the trail, within the same quarter mile section of trail. That seemed rather odd. A short while later we came across a sign that said there are barn owls in the area. Could barn owls have dropped the mice? If so, why didn’t they go back for them? Did they not taste good?

In addition to the pond along Cahill Pond Trial, there is also the Cahill Cabin. The cabin is in disrepair and falling down, but it is interesting to see. The land that became Mueller State Park in 1991 was owned by Wyman J. Mueller who had bought up 17 of the area's ranches to form Mueller Ranch in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  (Pikes Peak Courier article) He sold the land to the Nature Conservancy in 1977. For more information about the history of Mueller State Park, “A Guide to Historic Sites in Mueller State Park” is available at the Visitors Center.

When we made it back to our camp site, we relaxed with our after-hike ritual of drinking cold Cokes and snacking on chips and salsa. The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent working. It was a game of trying to work outside between thunderstorms. The thunderstorms won and we retreated to the van while the rain and hail beat down on us. To our surprise, our MaxxFan Plus shut off due to the rain sensor. We’ve never had that happen before, probably due to the fan being located under our solar panels. Apparently, enough water managed to get under our panels during the storm to trigger the sensor. When the rain finally stopped, we could see the white snow that had fallen on the mountain tops near us. Fresh snow in August!

Dinner was roasted beet salad with romaine lettuce, feta cheese, hard boiled eggs, oil and vinegar. We normally have pecans on it, but Right Buddy (RB) forgot to pack the pecans. While RB made dinner, LB was lucky enough to witness a fox run by, just a few yards from our camp site.

Again, our breakfast entertainment the following day was deer in the meadow below us. Then we went on another hike. This one was a little more difficult than our hike the day before with a little more elevation gain and some narrower trails. Even though it was a little more taxing on our bodies, we enjoyed it better than the day before. There were more scenic views with more interesting landscapes to look at. Within the first mile, RB caught a glimpse of a fawn crossing the trail in front of us. She lost it quickly in the thick trees so she proceeded slowly down the trail with her camera ready. LB noticed that the fawn laid down and tried to get a video with his cell phone before the fawn bolted away.

The route we took was a little more complicated, but the park trail map helped out a lot. We roughly followed the Rock Canyon and Homestead Loop route from AllTrails. However, we were starting from our campsite again, so we started at the Black Bear Trailhead near the Camper Services building. From the Black Bear Trail (#13), we turned south on Revenuer’s Ridge (#1) down to the Homestead Trail (#12). Then we began a large clockwise loop: Homestead to Beaver Ponds Trail (#26) to Rock Canyon (#15) to Rock Pond (#5) to the Visitors Center, then back north on Revenuer’s Ridge (#1) back to Black Bear (#13) to return to Black Bear Trailhead. Near Rock Pond, we also took the spur trail, Brook Pond Trail (#24). Along the way there were views of the surrounding mountain peaks, narrow trails through the woods and alongside a stream, several ponds and interesting rock formations.

Just after we past Geer Pond and were crossing a small foot bridge over a stream, we came across a handful of hikers coming the other way. We stopped and chatted with them a short while. They were from Colorado Springs and just came up for a day hike.

When we reached Rock Pond, RB needed to sit down to remove a pebble from her hiking boot. Rock Pond did not have much vegetation around it, but there was something that looked like it might be a beaver lodge. Naw, this didn’t look like an inviting pond for a beaver. Well, while RB was tending to her boot, the beaver came out of his lodge and put on a show for us just to prove us wrong! That was the first time either of us has seen a beaver in the wild.

Brook Pond was more full of life than Rock Pond. There were tree stumps from beavers cutting down aspen trees in the area, but we did not see any beavers there. We found a shady spot near the pond to lay down a tarp to sit on and have a snack. We could see fish swimming in the pond, dragon flies hovering in the reeds, and fish jumping every now and then. We thought we also saw some frogs jumping out of the water, but we did not see any frogs along the shore or swimming in the water. Just as we were leaving Brook Pond, a couple of older gentlemen came along. They were from Manitou Springs. The one man said he knew someone who used to live on Mueller Ranch and work for Mueller before the area became a park.

The trail from there to the Visitors Center was all uphill, a steady and relentless climb. Our bodies were starting to feel it, but there were several benches to relax on, strategically placed along the incline. When we were between a quarter of a mile and a half mile from the Visitors Center, we passed an elderly hiker who looked like he was struggling because he was walking at about a half a mile an hour pace. He was using a walking stick, wearing a hat, and had a water bottle swinging from a small backpack. We asked him if he was doing OK as we passed him. He said he was.  He also said he had plenty of water with him when we asked. We hope he made it back to the trailhead without any problems.

This hike was #44 in our 52 Hike Challenge. It was about 8.5 miles with an elevation gain of 1200 feet in about four and a half hours. A very rewarding workout.

The ritual when we made it back to our camp site was the same as the day before: cold Cokes, chips and salsa. What was different this time was the weather. No rain! A few somewhat dark clouds passed overhead, but silently went on by without dropping any moisture. We were able to work outside that afternoon and evening along with eating dinner outside on the picnic table. The chipmunks, ground squirrels, and deer kept us company. RB was amused by the ground squirrel who was doing its daily stretches on its favorite spot at the top of the retaining wall of our campsite. The squirrel was stretched out flat on its belly in the sun, reaching up in the air first with one front paw, then the other, then a back paw, and then the other back paw. RB could almost hear it thinking “ahhh, that felt good”.

Dinner was lemon cream pasta.  For the sauce, RB sautéed onions in butter, then added heavy cream, the zest and juice of a lemon, parmesan cheese, and fresh parsley from our home garden.

Before we left Mueller State Park the next day, we stopped off at the camper services building to take showers. They were coin showers with temperature control. The showers started out cold and took a little bit to get hot, so the first minute of your time is spent trying to adjust the temperature to your liking. RB remembered that she had plenty of time to shower at Sylvan State Park (Sylvan Lake State Park – July 28th to 31st, 2020) with just one dollar for four minutes, so she only put a dollar’s worth of quarters in. She doesn’t know if the shower at Sylvan went longer than four minutes or the one at Mueller went less than four minutes, but she ran out of time at Mueller. The shower shut off before she had rinsed her hair. She quickly tried putting another quarter in, her last quarter, hoping that the shower would start again if it hadn’t been off for long, but no such luck. It is a minimum of $1 to get the shower started, which means if you want a longer shower, you have to decide to put in more money before the shower turns off. Of course, there is no indication that the shower is about to turn off, so it is just a guessing game. Oh well. RB used distilled vinegar as a rinse for her hair, so it should evaporate quickly. She just combed it out and went on her way.

Mueller State Park is our style of state park. We appreciated setting up our Red Tail Lodge at a beautiful camp site, enjoying the nature and wildlife that surrounded us, and hitting the hiking trails without having to drive to a trailhead. What is your favorite type of campground?

Check out our related video: Mueller State Park

(RB)