Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Last Colorado Camping

Got air? We do. After four months living near sea level, we found the Colorado mountains were lacking in air. We felt the lack of oxygen as we hiked and tried to do our three-mile runs at 7500, 8000, 8800 feet above sea level. But here in Fruita, at less than 5000 feet, we found it easy to run. The problem here is the heat—it was 96 our first day in town.

We are staying at the James Robb-Colorado River State Park. It is one of Colorado’s newer state parks. The sites are long and paved, with level concrete pads in the center. We have full hook-ups and 50 amp service—really good in this heat. All this costs only $11 a night, Sunday through Thursday, with our 50% off Aspen Leaf Pass for residents 64 and older. What a great deal. We have a great view of the Colorado National Monument, just down the road.

We are about to end our month-long camping trip through southern Colorado. We spent five days at Ridgway State Park, one of our favorite spots in the state. This was our fifth stay there in the last nine years.

It is a great place for biking—we rode the Uncompahgre Trail into the town of Ridgway and also biked around the state park. Our hummingbird feeder has never been busier—the broad-trailed, ruby-throated and rufous hummingbirds are drinking over a cup of sugar syrup a day. It is such fun to watch them fighting each other for a spot at the feeder. Our cats are very frustrated with all the birds right outside the window and no way to get to them.

On Friday we found our 50th geocache and our first travel bug. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out
www.geocaching.com round trip. By the end of the day, my pedometer had over 17,000 steps recordedto find out. We found it by biking five miles and hiking three miles . The pedometer is our way of maintaining our weight—10,000 steps every day, if possible.

For many years, we spent most of our time off camping in the Colorado mountains. For three of the years we lived in Grand County, we camped two nights almost every week of the summer in the nearby forest campgrounds. Since 2003, we have spent no time in these mountains because of our travels throughout North America. It has been very special to spend a month in Colorado in our RV this year.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Southwestern Colorado

How things change in four years! Since July 16 we have been in southwestern Colorado—a real tourist area at higher elevations, which attracts a lot of visitors from Texas and Arizona, especially. Since we were last here in 2003, the number of RV parks has grown exponentially. We even found a large RV sales lot along Hwy 149 between South Fork and Creede. People from states where summers are hotter and more humid have been spending one to three months in the Colorado mountains for many years. They used to build or rent cabins. Now I think most of them come in motor homes and large 5th wheels. At 30 feet, our 5th wheel looks small. As we drove through Pagosa Springs and toward Durango, we saw yet more RVs. Then again, between Cortez and Telluride, they seemed to be the favored form of transportation and residence. Now we know why we don't see many of them in state parks and forest campgrounds—there are so many full-hookup parks for them.

Creede is a small community at 8800 ft, once the site of numerous silver mines. As we drove into town we discovered the Creede Wood Carvers Rendezvous was in progress. What a treat! John was able to see the many different ways to carve and buy some wood to do his own work. He had used up all the pieces he brought from the house. The rendezvous was set up in caves (or mine entrances) in the hills at the edge of town.

From Creed we drove over 10,850 ft. Wolf Creek Pass to Durango, a college town and tourist location in the far southwestern corner of the state. At 6600 feet, we found it easy to resume our three-mile runs. And the Animas River Trail in town was a great place to do it. We know we are in Colorado when we see lots of fit people walking, running, biking, kayaking and hiking. We had lots of company during our morning runs. The United Campground is right along the Durango and Silverton Railroad-–the main tourist attraction. While we were there, four trains a day were running up and down the tracks. We joined lots of other campers in watching them mornings and evenings.

We also took a five mile hike on the Purgatory Flats trail down to the Animas River. It was a pretty hike, but we didn't enjoy the jog back to the car through thunder, lightening and rain. That is always scary. We had a good lunch at the historic Strater Hotel in Durango and toured the many shops—but we didn't spend much money.

Next we were on to Mesa Verde National Park, just 32 miles west along US 160. We stayed at AA RV Campground just across the road from the Park entrance. It was a good campground where we felt we were staying on somebody's ranch. We had a great view out our windows. We drove the Mesa Top Loop Road to tour the ruins of pit houses and pueblos. We also hiked down to the Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling. The next day we hiked 5.8 miles of the Prater Ridge Trail. It was quiet and peaceful on the Mesa. We saw two young buck mule deer with their antlers in velvet. At one point we looked over the mesa rim and saw a small cliff dwelling. How many are there in the park?

The next drive, over 10,222 ft. Lizard Head Pass to Telluride, then over Dallas Divide to Ridgway State Park, was easily the most beautiful part of our travels this year. We followed the delightful Dolores River Valley. We could see the river was very muddy, meaning they had had lots of rain. The next day we learned it had rained again that night and Hwy 145, which we had driven, was closed by mud slides. We were lucky—the other route to Ridgway through Silverton and over Red Mountain Pass—is even more difficult with a trailer. The rains had put a dusting of new snow on the mountains surrounding Telluride—in July!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Dog that Drove Us Out to Lunch

This sweet, loyal, huge white dog followed us through the campground on Sunday. He would go ahead and lay in the shade, then follow us as we passed. We couldn’t shake him. We rode on the tailgate of the camp manager’s pickup and he trotted after us. We walked him to the river, where he waded out and drank thirstily. We ran up the hill and walked away, but he galloped up the hill after us. We couldn’t go back to our campsite—we knew he would stay there with us. What would PC and Partner do then? We had been headed to the nearby commercial campground to determine if they had a dump station we could use the next morning. We couldn’t have him go there with us.

Finally, John stayed with him and I walked back to get the truck. I even retraced our steps till I was walking where he first started following us—hoping he wouldn’t find the way to our trailer. When I drove down the fishing access road to pick up John, I found them standing together in the shade.

As much as we felt sorry for him—he was shaggy and needed brushing and was probably hungry--we could do nothing for the sweet old thing. He had either run away from his owners and they had to leave before they found him (that is the charitable explanation), or he was abandoned along the Conejos River. How could anyone do that? But once in the truck, we decided to drive down to check on the dump station, then go on into Antonito for lunch, hoping he might give up waiting for us.

When we returned to the campground, the dog was nowhere in sight, thank goodness. But we wonder how he is doing and if he found a new home.

Colorado Camping

Last Monday morning I walked out the door and smelled pine and cedar and knew I was in the mountains. It was wonderful. In years past, we have spent so much time in this environment. Now it has been several years since we have camped in Colorado. And this is really camping—a US Forest Service campground with no hookups, but large, well-spaced sites and few campers. We see wildflowers in our front yard. Rufous hummingbirds come regularly to the feeder attached to the window—to our delight and Partner’s. We went on a 2 ½ hour hike to 9500 ft above sea level. We passed one couple hiking and two groups on horseback. We were headed for First Meadow, but didn’t reach it. So two days later we repeated the hike, going the extra ½ mile or so to the meadow—absolutely spectacular. We had such a good time and were delighted to find that, after nine days at 6000 ft and above, we have adjusted to the altitude fairly well.

We parked for at eight days at Mogote Campground, west and north on Colorado 17 from Antonito in the Conejos River Valley. We have stayed at two different commercial campgrounds south of here in the past. But this year we wanted to CAMP, so we came to this Forest Service campground. We were delighted to find it had numerous vacancies on Sunday afternoon and about half of the sites cannot be reserved. So we can stay as long as we wish (within the 14 day limit). Normally, we describe what we are doing as RVing—meaning we live in an RV and have electricity and often water and sewer hookups. But this is camping—using our batteries for light, heat and to pump water. We have no TV, no internet access. We have a generator to recharge the batteries and use the vacuum. But it doesn’t provide enough power to use the air conditioner. That is why we were at that altitude—it cools off quickly in the afternoon.

One day we drove 26 miles to Chama, New Mexico, over La Manga and Cumbres Passes. Numerous times we have ridden the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, which runs from Chama to Antonito. This year we didn’t ride the train, but we did stop and take some photos as it went by. Chama is a small town, but seems to have some growth and more businesses catering to the tourists.

We spent three nights at the KOA in Alamosa—two days were work days for laundry, groceries, reservations for future stays and arranging to have cat food shipped to us for Partner. Then we rode the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad over the LaVeta Pass Route from Alamosa to LaVeta and back. We had ridden the train a year ago in May, within a week of its inaugural run. They have greatly improved the equipment and the service—including a snack car. And this year the train is pulled by a steam engine on weekends—a great improvement over the diesel used last year.

We had great weather and the fields were filled with wildflowers on July 7. It was beautiful. We saw deer and later a herd of elk bathing in a beaver pond. What a treat! We rode in an old baggage/post office car with open doors. Two other couples, one about our age and the other younger with children, shared the car. We had a good time together.

Monday, July 02, 2007


Finally, we are home! Colorado—where we can see mountains in the distance. We are parked at Lathrop State Park in Walsenburg. After having our neighbors’ slides within 4 feet of ours in Garden City and LaJunta, we are enjoying a huge site screened by Pinion Pine and Cedar where we can’t see any RVs out of the living room or dining room windows. We were here back on February 28-March 1, on our way out of the state. Then the temperature overnight was 14 one night and 19 the next. This time, the high has been 91.

Lathrop has two lakes, so many people come here either to fish or water ski. Most of the campers are from Colorado, though a few are from Texas and other states. The park was full over the weekend, but has vacancies. It is a very quiet place.

We haven’t had a mountain trail to hike on for so long, we went out at 7:30 this morning to hike the 2-mile long Hogback Loop in the park. The cactus and other wildflowers were blooming and we had rocks to climb over. It was wonderful. Even Partner is grateful to be back on Colorado dirt in Colorado sun. We have been traveling all over North America the past few years. Our only stays in Colorado were on the way out of the state or back in. So we are really looking forward to 4 to 6 weeks of Colorado camping before we report to Kodachrome State Park in Utah in August.

We had planned to visit the Grand Canyon North Rim on our way to Utah. But last night I discovered that all the reservable sites in the campground there are full the days we would like to be there. So we have decided to go there the first week of October, when we leave Utah. That will give us even more time for Colorado camping and hiking.

The Santa Fe Trail and mountain men seem to come to life when you visit Bent’s Old Fort National Historic site outside of LaJunta. The reconstructed fort is really well done. We only went there because we had never been and we know we can always learn something from a National Park Service site. We were delighted to discover how interesting the self-guided tour was, reading the booklet carefully and examining each room in the fort. If you have ever read James Michener’s book, Centennial, you know most of the story of the fort, with a merchant from back east and a French trader forming a partnership to promote trade between Mexico, the Indians, and the United States. He closely patterned his story on William Bent and Ceran St. Vrain.

We were fascinated to see that windows and doors had weather stripping made from buffalo hides and most people at the fort slept on the floor on thin mats and the same hides--only the physician and clerk had beds or cots. How did they ever get a billiard table onto the second floor of an adobe fort? And the peacock was a surprise. We were told the Bents really did have a peacock.