Are We Having Fun Yet?
text and photography by Ryan Stikeleather
In Need of a Recharge
Hiking takes time, effort, and some stamina. It’s not for everyone. But, for those who enjoy it, it’s addictive. I’ve not yet convince my daughter in the splendor of hiking. When she was a little thing—riding on my back—she loved it. I mean, how couldn’t she? It was a free ride, for several hours, with little to no effort involved. However, when she reached middle school age, her eagerness changed. I’d persuade her to suffer through one or two trips during the summer. About this time, we started asking her to “share the load” and carry her own pack. I think you can see where this is going. Once she reached high school…no dice. Hiking was boring. Hiking was not cool. Hiking meant the opposite of fun. Like I said, it’s not for everyone.
Have you ever started something, a book, DIY home-repair, or something more mundane (I’m talking about you laundry) and gave up on it. You couldn’t spend another minute, hour, or entire weekend, trudging through the same routine…again. You’ve tired of the process, or other things have become more important—finishing the newest season of Orphan Black is very important! The newness has worn off. The once bright, shiny focus of your attention is now gone, replaced with apathy. You’re done.
Whenever I'm tapped out, drained, or any other metaphor for how I'm feeling, I rely on a good hike to recalibrate. Sure, it’s a lot of work, but the natural recharge more than makes up for the effort.
Just The Facts
- Trail: Mueller State Park (lots of trails all at once)
- Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
- Elevation Gain: 700 ft (loss) 700 ft (gain)
- Distance: 7 mi. (loop)
- Trail Use: Hiking (Mountain Biking and Horseback Riding on some trails)
- Trail Condition: Maintained, and clearly marked
- Bring Your Dog: No (Pets are prohibited)
- Access: All Four Seasons
- Trail Map: Mueller State Park Recreational Trails
- Entrance fee $7 per day ($70 annual State Park Pass)
Bustin’ Out the Shorts
It’s been a month since my last hike. I know, it seems impossible and unacceptable…I agree. But, I’ve been busy with life-stuff. Life-stuff is a technical term, by the way. Life-stuff refers to all the “stuff” you must maintain in your daily “life”. This could include:
- Broken fences
- Replacing sprinkler heads
- Vehicle maintenance
- Massive fallen tree branches
- Mowing the grass
- Grocery shopping
- A day job
All these things distract me from hiking. It’s important to keep focus on your “life-stuff”—because ignoring them is very bad. But when the opportunity to hike is available, take it. So, yes, I’m eager to lace up my boots and hike.
During this month-long absence, the weather changed from winter to spring, trees decided to have leaves again, and flowers noticed the world needed some color. I’ve also gone from bundling up (so I can brave the elements), to shorts and a t-shirt. Shorts reveal how unnaturally white my legs are, so I’m not sure this is a positive thing or not.
I’ve not hiked Mueller State Park for a very long time. An embarrassingly long time. I don’t even remember which trails I’ve been on. “I’m sorry, old friend…I’ve neglected you for far too long”. Well, like a true friend, Mueller State Park forgave me, and welcomed me back.
Since I’ve no reliable memory of the trails, I decided to start at the beginning. I headed for the visitor center parking lot, and made my way to #5 Rock Pond trailhead. The trails in Mueller State Park use numbers instead of specific names. Well, they all have a “name”: Rock Pond, Geer Pond, Lone Eagle Overlook, but you’ll only see a number while on the hike.
There are a lot of trails to explore and a paper map is available. So, I’d recommend taking one…you might feel extra adventurous.
Here A Pond, There A Pond
The trail to Rock Pond is wide…I’m mean really wide. Wide enough for a car? Sure. Can you drive to Rock Pond? Haha! No. No you can’t. The trail is only open to horses, mountain bikes, and pedestrians. I’m sure on a warm, summery day the trail would be bustling with activity. The wide, gravel path helps keep all participants from running into each other, which is always a good thing.
If you aren’t a fan of immediately hiking up a hill, then you’ll love the start to Rock Pond…it’s all downhill. The only problem; it’s all downhill. The broad, sweeping trail (which seems so effortless going down) will be a long, slow climb back up. Never fear, there are lots of sturdy benches placed along the way—usually located at the start of a switchback. So, don’t stress it too much. Take your time and enjoy the views.
Making my way down (with morning sun filtering through treetops) I’d catch glimpses of smooth, exposed rock ridges. Outcroppings of Pikes Peak Granite are some of the hallmarks of Mueller State Park. Raven Ridge Overlook, Red Tail Overlook, and Lone Eagle Overlook are visible during the hike to Rock Pond. You can't miss them.
Choose Your Own Adventure
As you near Rock Pond, the trail splits. If you stay to the right, you’ll end up at Brook Pond. Well, I was there, might as well go check it out. It’s a short trek, less than a quarter mile, so worth the quick detour. The path was still covered in deep, crusted-over snow. I could walk on most of it, but I did break through several times, sinking knee deep into the old snow. Since I’m in shorts, this wasn’t ideal. The edges of the trail were clear of snow. So, I changed tactics and stayed off the snow—no more crusty-snow in my socks.
Brook Pond begs for you to sit, stay, and relax. The pond has borders of enormous granite boulders, balanced by hillsides thick with evergreens. I sat in warm sunshine, next to the still, blue-green water which glistening in the morning light. I ended up not being the only visitor. I disturbed some nearby deer—looking to catch a cool drink. They gave me a few “chuffs”, nothing aggressive, more like “Hey, buddy, ya wanna move along anytime soon?” Well, you’ve got to be kind to the wildlife (I was in their backyard, after all) so I got back to hiking.
Back at the trail junction, I covered the short distance to Rock Pond. One side of Rock Pond is shaded by a wall of smooth rock—I’m guessing that’s how it got its name. I’m not sure, but Rock Pond seems deeper than Brook Pond, but also smaller, and has a similar blue-green hue. You could end your day hike here and turn back, but the best part is around the bend. So, I’d recommend sticking with it and continuing on.
Rock Pond trail changes from wide, and obstacle-free, to a more narrow, single-file track. Trail #15 Rock Canyon is definitely my favorite part of the this hike. As the name would imply, giant rocks and boulders fill Rock Canyon. There are flat rocks, buried in the earth, and then some are stacked one on top of the other. There is a small stream flowing around the base of the huge stones. The cool water forms tiny waterfalls and collects into clear pools.
Get ready to exercise those leg muscles, it’s a steady climb from here until Geer Pond. But, again, some strategically placed benches are available.
The Home Stretch
As I completed my ascend through Rock Canyon, I crossed over a grassy field. This field isn’t very wide, but it's already starting to turn green with new life. Clusters of grey and subtle orange rocks decorate the hillside to the North. Exposed to the warm sun, smoothed by wind and rain, they sit watch over Geer Pond. A small waterfall washes over a granite boulder, and drops a few feet to the stream below. A soft wind shakes the brittle grass and breaks the silence. The warm air swirls around me before fading into the trees and canyon below.
The trail returns to its wide form as I navigate past Geer Pond. It’s another consistent climb all the way to Lost Pond. Lost Pond, about a half mile from the main road, lets me know I'm getting close to the end of my hike. Close to the Lost Pond trailhead, I found a good picnic spot. Plenty of picnic tables dot the area. Begging for exploration, kids will love all the rocks and fallen trees. If the visitor center parking lot is full, there is another parking lot at the Lost Pond trail head.
I took trail #1 Revenuer’s Ridge, and finally, trail #8 Raven Ridge Overlook—which I saw on my way down to Rock Pond. Raven Ridge Overlook provides unobstructed views of snow capped peaks to the West, and Dome Rock State Wildlife Area to the South. If you’re less interested in hiking up and down hills, the trek out to any of the overlooks is pretty easy. You’ll get a good walk, a little exercise, and some of the best vistas in the park.
Time Well Spent
Escape to the mountains and spend the day, or even just the afternoon, at Mueller State Park.
- Easy access to picnic areas
- Hiking trails for beginners, or for those looking to explore a farther from the parking lot
- Ponds and streams
- Overlooks with stunning vistas
The list goes on and on. It’s a great destination any season of the year, and a perfect starter for spring hikes…even for non-hikers.