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Mueller State Park: Werley Ranch Loop

September 16, 2004

Werley Ranch Loop Hike
Round-trip distance: 8.3 miles

What a beautiful day to go for a hike! Lee, Ben, Evelyn, Rod and I all crowded into Lee’s car and I took my heavy jacket along, just in case. We entered Mueller State Park about 8 o’clock and parked at the visitor’s center, the only ‘visitors’ there. As soon as I stepped out of the car, I realized I would not need that heavy jacket. The sun was shining and the air was crisp but calm, and we were ready to go!

‘Trail 5,’ the Rock Pond Trail, is actually an old dirt road, and very nice for walking. It is, in fact, much nicer than most of the dirt ‘four wheel drive’ roads I have driven on elsewhere in Colorado. We followed the trail downhill, through waves of brilliant-colored aspens and evergreens, and we had the area all to ourselves.

After a mile or so we came to a split in the trail, where one path continued straight and slightly uphill, and the right branch took a moderate downhill turn. The latter is what we followed, all the way downhill to yet another split in the trail. We took the right branch of the trail first, and it was probably less than a quarter of a mile of walking to arrive at Brook Pond.

The air had been calm the whole morning to this point, and I was ecstatic to be able to photograph some perfect reflections in the still water of Brook Pond. We also noticed a number of trout flopping about in the water.

The scenery at Brook Pond was neat. Rolling hills of slabbed rocks and boulders were interspersed with golden aspens and dark green spruces and pines. The backdrop was a clear blue sky and a bright sun, already warming us up considerably.

I made my way up the steep hillside behind the lake to get a better view from the boulders, and the others were quick to follow. Seeing another, more challenging boulder farther uphill, I went ahead and climbed it as well. There was a neat “milk bottle” shaped rock just above this that I got a good picture of from atop the rounded boulder I was on. Getting down was a lot harder, and I had to jump the last several feet to make it safely to the ground.

After the very worthwhile detour to Brook Pond, we completed the short walk down to our main destination, Rock Pond. This was a small and scenic lake with some steep slabs of rock forming a sort of cliff behind it. We only stayed a few minutes to take a few pictures and then we were moving on again, along the now grassy road (trail). At this time we entered the Dome Rock State Wildlife Area, where we would be for much of the remainder of our hike.

We next stopped to look at a cabin, called “Turkey Cabin,” which was basically an empty old structure out in a meadow next to the dirt road.

The walking was simple and easy, following the dirt road downhill through open fields and meadows, with great views of the woods all around. We passed the unimpressive Werley Ponds without stopping, and finally made our next stop at the Werley Ranch. Lee went around exploring the old abandoned buildings of the ranch, while Ben found a snake. This live snake (not sure what kind) was only a couple feet long, and the first I’ve seen in Colorado. When Lee joined in on the fun, she tried to catch it, but to no avail, as it slithered away in the grass.

Just down the hill from the ranch, the trail took an abrupt left turn off the road we had been following all morning. We walked down through the grassy field without the aid of a beaten trail, until we got to the dam beyond the third of the sickly “Werley Ponds.”

Crossing the dam, it was just a short walk to be back in the woods again, and onto another (albeit older and less-used) dirt road. This was the first steep uphill of the day, and as we took a left fork partway back into the woods, the road became even steeper, angling to the left up a large hillside.

At noon we stopped for lunch, with a great vista before us and several boulders and colorful trees in the foreground. After eating, I went over to explore some of the boulders, and in the process found a bear den. Fortunately no bear was annoyed by my presence; I didn’t see any.

This “Fourmile Overlook” trail continued steeply around the other side of the hill and up to its eventual crest. Then we had a steep downhill, and for the rest of our hike we were going up and down, up and down, but most of the walking was up.

Eventually we arrived back at the Rock Pond Trail, but there was still a good bit of uphill to make it back to the car. When we came to the split at trail 4 (Preacher’s Hollow), Lee and I decided to take the (longer) right fork, which looped around to the visitor center instead of going straight to it, while the others returned the way we had walked this morning.

Lee and I made our way steeply downhill to the bottom of a pleasant forest area, complete with trees and steep boulder-filled hillsides. This was one of the few places we were actually on a ‘trail’ instead of a ‘road’ today. Our objective was to see Never Never Pond, but when we got there we were greeted by an algae-filled puddle about ten feet across. ‘Never Never’ indeed! Still, this little loop added some more scenery to our hike. After the ‘pond’ it was all uphill, but we were both surprised at how well-made and easy the trail was to walk all the way back to the visitor’s center. It was a simple, gradual uphill through pretty forest.

So, our requirements for today were pretty-much fulfilled. Wildlife was still lacking somewhat, but Lee had her lakes, I had my reflection and tree-color, and Rod had his skull popsicle (don’t ask). And once again we had great weather!