Friday, June 24, 2011

Cheyenne Mountain State Park

Cheyenne Mountain State Park, just south of Colorado Springs, is a wonderful place to stay if you are interested in hiking, mountain biking, or observing the wildlife of this transitional habitat, where the plains of Colorado meet the eastern edge of Cheyenne Mountain’s peak.  Cheyenne Mountain is Colorado’s newest state park, and the campground is designed to accommodate the modern RV.  Be forewarned, there is no shade in the campground, so it could get hot during the summer months.  But the views are lovely, and we’ve arrived to a week of perfect temperatures. 
The state park sits in an interesting location:  just below NORAD’s road to THE Mountain, and just above Ft. Carson.  The location has the negative of road noise from Ft. Carson.  But I kind of like the bugle calls, with Reveille calling me to hit the trail to hike and bird.  I do not know the names of all the calls we’ve heard, but after dawn’s Reveille we also hear a bugle call at noon, 5:00 pm, and then Taps, at dusk.  I greatly appreciate the rigor and discipline of the routine, not to mention the order, which these calls represent.  And, as a birder, I just kind of like the sound of the bugle call.
The state park’s location has the positive of looking up at our nation’s center for air defense, allowing the camper to ponder the extent of infrastructure within The NORAD Mountain.  Of course we Stargate fans know exactly what goes on inside the mountain.  I keep expecting to see the SG-1 crew go by on their way to work. 

For me, this park is all about hiking and birding.  We are spending four days hiking the park, and have quickly returned to our routine of getting up early to hit the trail, usually before 7 a.m.  We hike and bird for 4-6 hours, then return to the Airstream for a first meal of the day and relaxing at our campsite for the early afternoon.  Late afternoon will bring about a short hike, before dinner and evening shower.  I tend to spend my early afternoon reviewing bird sightings, downloading photos, and attempting some writing.  The rick-man updates his bird list and then sits in the shade of the trailer to read or make lovely music with his Martin backpacker guitar.  The below trailhead connects to our campsite:

The main draw of this park is its twenty miles of trails, available to both hikers and mountain bikes.  The trails are in fantastic shape and range from the flat grasslands with prairie dogs, to the more rugged terrain of mountainside slopes, forested with Ponderosa Pine. My favorite trails are the upper woodland hikes in the ponderosa and scrub oak forest:

The birding is excellent, even though I have NOT seen my hoped-for species: Townsend’s Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, and MacGillivary’s Warbler.  I have added two new lifers, both hummers:  the Broad-tailed Hummingbird and the Rufous Hummingbird.  Sighting hummers “in the wild” is a completely different experience that watching them feed on sugar-water feeders.  I’ll hear them first—then whoosh, they go past, and sometimes delight with landing on a nearby tree limb.  One of my favorite observations this week was watching a female Broad-tailed dive bomb a Common Raven, perched in the top of a pine.  If you aren’t familiar with a raven, think of an American Crow—then think larger.  The Raven must have perched too close to mama hummer’s nesting neighborhood.

This trip I’ve committed myself (due in part to the gentle but persistent coaxing of a sibling) to more field photography.  Carrying a day pack, binoculars, and camera body with 400 mm lens, four to five hours on semi-challenging terrain deserves, I believe, its own bugle call. 

The birds on my list to chase would be found in the forested uplands of the park.  This means looking up, and shooting through branches.  I do not have the camera equipment or the dexterity for manually focusing on warblers, vireos and the like.  So using my auto-focus, and shooting “up” most often gives me a focused view of a branch, and little else.  Or sometimes, a good shot will look something like this:

This underside view of an Ovenbird, gleaning food for young, is sometimes as good as it gets.  Occasionally a few focused shots come out to give me a more full view, in this case of the Ovenbird:

A Western Bluebird:

A House Wren:

And after many hours of chasing the tree-top species, it can simply feel good to get a nice shot of my mother’s favorite bird, the American Robin, in its summer habitat:

The photographic miss of the week was of a turkey hen moving across the trail and into the woods with her brood of five or six youngsters.  I didn’t get the photo or the exact count of juveniles as I caught sight of a bobcat within twenty yards.  The bobcat instantaneously turned me from hiker/birder into Chicken Little.  I moved slowly away rather than taking photographic opportunity, making more noise than usual.  The bobcat headed away into the upper terrain, and the mama turkey and brood moved along further below.  I missed photos of both.  Mama turkey did give a look backwards toward me, as if to say thanks.  I’m always thrilled to know a habitat is healthy enough to support natural predators.  I’m also just as happy not to be close enough for a great photo.
An interesting subset of the species sighted this week:
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Wild Turkey
Western Wood-Peewee
Black-billed Magpie
White-breasted Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch
Warbling Vireo
Plumbeous Vireo
Virginia’s Warbler
Western Tanager
Black-headed Grosbeak

And now we head north to the great national parks of Wyoming.  I’ll have no internet coverage during our two weeks inside the national parks so it will be after that, when we stop at a commercial park on our way to Idaho, that I’ll post my next blog.  I’m extremely excited about two weeks inside the national parks and hope to write and capture photos of the experience.

So for now, I’m off for two weeks of birding, hiking and wandering around—and frequently wondering about the complexities of Mother Nature.  


  1. Looking forward to seeing what you write and the photos you post. It looks like a wonderful trip--I'm so glad!

  2. Glad you are hauling around your camera gear; I really enjoy seeing your photographs. Now get back out there and find that bobcat!

  3. Celia and I are finally heading up to Huntsville State park at the end of July - need to use the little RV so we don't forget how (posted by Susan).


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