We’ve been camping in Colorado for more than two decades. Most years, we head up north before the end of June, but this year my book project kept me busy well into July and we hit the road 7/10 for 14 nights away.
This year, our travel plan was vague: head north until we encounter rain and cold. We assumed we’d have to go at least as far as Wyoming. Ironically, our first night just south of the NM-CO border was both cool and rainy. We never made it to Wyoming. In fact, it rained every day for the first 11 days. Most nights, the temperature got down below 50 degrees (20+ degrees cooler than Albuquerque nights right now).
Most trips, we jack-camp, a term that brings a blank look to faces. The official term is “dispersed camping” and we’ve heard “dry camping” – camping outside of a campground, as is allowed in US forests and BLM lands. (I encountered cognitive dissonance when we reached a campground for “dispersed camping only.” Er, um, they must mean there aren’t any established sites in this CG? Well, the fire rings made that unlikely. Moreover, this was one of two campgrounds maintained by volunteers.) Jack camping means we won’t have any neighbors and we won’t pay for the privilege. Nor will we have outhouses, water, or trash pickup.
This trip, not only did we stay in campgrounds, but they were more expensive than ever before: $18 per night in one well-worth-it CG; $36 per night in the Ouray KOA (includes hot showers – and lots of inconsiderate neighbors).
I’ve kept a journal sporadically since college and regularly on these trips since 1998, when we drove to Hinton, Alberta, Canada (a round trip of more than 5000 miles). Each night on a trip, I read older journal entries to Merri before she goes to sleep and then I write until I’m done (sometimes, all I have to say is where we are and what we ate). On this trip, I read the 1998 journal first. Then I skipped to the journal for 6/2002 because 10 years ago we were travelling the same area of Colorado. In fact, at times, it was uncanny how unintentionally close we were to previous locations and experiences. It’s remarkable to think “this is so beautiful and we’ve never seen it” and then read that, in fact, we did see it a decade ago and thought it was beautiful then. Of course, the unreliability of memory is one of the reasons I journal – we forget, and we are often amused to be reminded. Not surprisingly, many journal entries include “it rained today” or some discussion of how we tried to deal with, avoid or escape the relentless rain. This is how desert dwellers vacation.
Every trip has its doldrums and its peaks. Highlights of this trip include:
- looking out to see a bear sauntering within 20 feet of the camper – “where’s my camera?!”
- most of the 4 nights in Lost Lake Campground (we’ve never stayed anywhere 4 nights in a row – no driving at all)
- watching a chipmunk explore Luke’s well-sealed food bin (we saw more chipmunks than ever before, but fewer hawks than we see in Albuquerque)
- numerous hikes (vistas, wildflowers, cool bugs, wildlife), including the Cannibal Plateau (after Alferd Packer)
Not to dwell on the lows, but they include
- ATV & dirt bike riders
- heat (worst in Montrose)
- a broken vent cover that left a 14”x14” hole in our roof with rain imminent (fixed easily and cheaply in Montrose)
From my journal for Friday, 7/13/12:
We came to the turn toward Taylor Reservoir, still a dozen miles beyond that point. We went straight and pulled into Mosca Campground. As we drove through, the host pounced. Eventually, we got his name as Jean or John — I wasn’t quite sure. He was a cross between a mountain man and Jack Black. He was barefoot with beads around his bicep. Above a thick salt and pepper beard, his piercing blue eyes skewered my soul and asked silently, "are you the one?," making me hope I was not. Jean would like to host that remote CG for the next 30 years. He said the previous hosts had done so for 30 years. The husband died a few years back and the wife went on hosting until she fell on the dam and showed signs of Alzheimer’s. Jean went on and on, overloading us with details – which birds are around (he’s an avid birder) , such as the Williamson’s sapsucker, which drills an interesting pattern in trees, as we could see just next to site something or other; what wildlife (a black phase gray fox and a red fox with a kit; a possible muskrat hole at water level; beavers; his own nemesis, the chipmunks (which seemed against his wild child air)). He told us this turn and that turn and this road that soon gets too crappy for our vehicle and on and on. He was a famous wood carver of realistic birds, but now draws with pencil — he loves to show his work, which he refuses to sell. I would not want to sit through a show in his yurt. (Actually, he has a van. I bet he sleeps on the ground, covered with leaves.) In fact, Jean is quite an interesting character, just a little too intense, a guy made gregarious by isolation, perhaps. Probably a great host for his highly rated CG. He said "I’ll talk you to death," to which I replied, "then we’re getting away just in time," which made him pause a moment. I liked him but reached my limit in the 10 or 60 minutes we chatted with him. He deserves to be a character in a novel and he might say his living that novel, having left Idaho to migrate between this CG in the summer and Taos, or was it Tucson or was it Las Cruces. A wilderness hippie, I say with some affection.
We drove on to the next fork in the road. All around us were clusters of campers, every single camp sporting multiple ATVs and dirt bikes. Somehow, it felt crowded. Even before the first deer fly bite, we knew this area wasn’t going to work for us. We walked up one road to a potential site only to look down to see a lower road with two dirt bikes. One could not walk in this area without looking over one’s shoulder the whole time. There would be no chance for real quiet. Ironically, Mosca CG is the only space that might be a bit civilized and we couldn’t face more Jean time.
We pulled into the parking lot for the reservoir and setup up our chairs for lunch using the back porch as our table. As we ate misc, Jean descending from the CG with binocs and did not look our way — he knows we are not the one. He marched over to a family and we heard some snippet of familiar details. I was in a hurry to leave, but Jean went on away, no doubt to walk barefoot through the muck at the top of the reservoir, sinking to his knees, plugging into earth and water, becoming part of the land, raising his arms to heaven and returning to his tree form, mink running around his trunk until the next visitor enters the CG. Perhaps they will be the one.