Pony Express Lake Conservation Area

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As far as camping areas go, Pony Express Lake is downright SWANKY! The campground had a paved lot and bathrooms, and if you wanted to wander off, there are nice bushhogged paths.  Not only that, it was a great trip for photography!  Some of the pictures rank into my favorites.  So maybe I’ll just start out this post with some of the best pictures I’ve taken before I start in the story.  

Good weekend for bug photos apparently.  The thistle was right next to the path I was walking on, it seemed ready to have its photo taken.  Honestly though, its a tie between the sunset on the water and dragonfly for photo that surprises me most.  I took both shots expecting for them to be blurry, or dark, or any number of awful things which make a photograph not-that-great.  But I got the details of the dragonfly’s wings and the colors on the water’s surface.  Just those two things would have made the trip worth it.  All in all the whole trip was amazing, not just because the campground was swanky or the photos were good.  It was just an all around great trip  (minus getting off-course during a hike).

I got there late-afternoon/early-evening to set up camp and get a quick hike in.  Camp was easy to set up and other campers (which is a novelty nowadays) were very friendly.  I met a gentleman named John who was driving “Minnie the Winnie”, it seems like rv-ers and car campers have a secret pact sometimes. Next to camp in a small grove of trees I found cemetary, first great find of the trip!  So after camp I decided to take a quick hike to get some pictures in.  Even though there are only two official trails, hiking is easy due to a plethora of service trails.  I took one of these around to a different curve of the lake.  

Getting back to camp, I pulled out the “art studio” and got some painting done, which was a nice thing that I’ve  still been adjusting to working on while camping.  I painted essentially until sunset then wandered through camp once again to get more dusk pictures.  The moon the night was incredibly bright, to the point that I thought someone was shining a flashlight into my car until I realized that it was too consistent.  So I attempted (night shots are incredibly hard to get) to capture it.   

The morning was bright and cool, perfect for a few more hikes.  After taking another service trail around a large notch of the lake, I decided to check out the actual trails.  While the service trails were incredibly well-maintained, the actual nature trails were hard to follow.  The trails had an odd habit of disappearing and reappearing.  The first trail was another picture goldmine, with a lovely variety of flora, and a view of the lake occasionally. 

Since I had to drive to the second trail, I made a quick stop at Jesse James Lake before I continued.  It wasn’t necessarily scenic, but I did not walk around very much due to wanting to get on the trail before the day got too hot.  After the next trail I was grateful that I did.  I should have known there would be trouble on the second trail when I could not find the entrance at first (in hindsight I’m not necessarily sure that there is one) I hiked over the the other trailhead to begin the journey.  The second trail was warm, descending into downright hot.  Most of the trail that I was able to hike wnt along the banks, just outside the cover of the water’s edge, and so it was mostly a walk in the sunny edge of a large grassland.  At some point after leaving the waters edge I was hiking along a forested area, where the trail would dip into and come out on the other side of the lake.  The trail didn’t dip.  I tried three times, the forest was a solid mass with some trail-esque looking entrances which eventually terminated in the middle of it.  I believed that if I could continue to follow the treeline I would eventually find that magical portal that would take me out of the sun.  This is where I was wrong.  If I had noticed on my lovely little black and white map (which by the way are absolutely awesome to pick up in conservation areas, always look for the little brown boxes underneath the map signs) I would have found that the very light gray area which indicated forest continued up through the whole section of grassland.  My hopes of finding the trail ended at the point when I hit a road, a road which was entirely nondescript in both directions.  The kind of road a protagonist gets left on when nearly beaten by the antagonist.  The kind of road which no one drives down.  It was the kind of road which would easily make you discombobulated.  And it did.  The sun was high enough that I could guess only a little at the direction. So I turned right and hoped my directional assessment was correct enough.  Eventually, this road met another road which also had no road signs and was completely nondescript.  By this time I assumed that just continuing to turn right would eventually get me back to the lake and thus my car.  I hadn’t possibly walked that far off track.  Luckily I was right, the road eventually took me back to my car, which had been parked in full sun and cooked as much as I had.  I didn’t care, I had become so thirsty from the sun, the grassland, and the dusty road the I pulled out my canteen and drank nearly the whole thing.  I still was content with the walk since despite the slight off course I had still managed to snap some pictures of pretty flowers along the way. 

After that hike, it was time to go home.  All things considered the camp was wonderful, even with a hiccup at the end there was nothing I would take back.  I highly recommend this area for beginning campers (just not necessarily the trails) because it is comfortable and scenic with good little areas to trompse around in.

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