Autumn is Here
Autumn camping arrived in short order a bit like a switch was clicked! Knowing that weekend traffic can be heavy at higher elevations during the explosion of fall foliage, we “rested on our wheels” (not laurels) at Denver’s Chief Hosa Campground in Genesee Park and left on Tuesday, September 25 to experience additional golden beauty! Because the September truck issues threw a tire-wrench into our reservations at Rocky Mountain National Park causing us to cancel, we were determined to score a stay at one of the national parks in Colorado. Dinosaur National Park and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park were too far and the Great Sand Dunes National Park is extremely popular during autumn. Instead we opted for Mesa Verde National Park in the southwest corner of the state.
Our campsite budget has been higher than what we prefer, so en route to Mesa Verde we were anticipating some boondocking (no hookups and free camping) in the Rio Grande National Forest. We took U.S. 285 from Morrison and down to Buena Vista. We needed to locate a dump station to empty our black and gray tanks and also were low on water for our fresh water tank. The KOA in Buena Vista had a dump station, which cost us something like $10-15. They weren’t in a position to offer potable water since we weren’t camping there, but directed us to the Buena Vista Public Works, where we could purchase water at their fill-station for a per gallon charge. We just hooked up our water hose and filled the tank! In fact, we did the same thing nine days later when we passed through Buena Vista again.
From Buena Vista, we made our way down the San Luis Valley, over Poncha Pass, and experienced the beauty of the Valley with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on one side and the San Juan Mountains on the other. Upon arriving in Del Norte, we visited the Rio Grande National Forest Divide Ranger District office to obtain detailed maps and recommendations for boondocking. With information in hand, we followed U.S. 160 to South Fork and then explored one of the National Forest areas for dispersed camping. Campgrounds were closed, so the ranger also suggested that if dispersed camping was full, to just park in the parking lot at Upper Beaver Creek Campground.
Bingo! That’s exactly what happened. As dusk quickly fell, we pulled into the campground lot within earshot of Beaver Creek and boondocked using power from our battery and LP gas for the furnace and stove top. We didn’t unhitch the trailer as we had two other potential boondocking areas to explore the next day. The forecast called for a 25 degree low, which was the coldest we had experienced thus far in the trailer. According to our thermometer, it did reach 25 degrees that night and we managed fine.
The next morning we returned to route 160 and headed down the road a spell to the Tucker Ponds Campground turn-off. As we drove this bumpy gravel road, we noticed dispersed camping in several locations. We were after a view that included the changing aspen! Finally, the road opened to a beautiful vista that screamed gold! This is where we chose to boondock for two nights.
We set up camp in quick fashion. Wanting to take advantage of the sunlight, Steve attached our Zamp 100 watt portable solar panel to our two deep cycle batteries. Without electricity, it’s important to keep the batteries charged so that we have power for our LED lights, water pump, opening/closing the awning and slide, and turning on the furnace blower. Due to our 9,500′ elevation, the LP gas option on the refrigerator didn’t work. We knew this so placed a bag of ice in the frig the day before that kept everything chilled. The one challenge of camping out in the open is that we had some pretty stiff winds, so we kept our awning closed. On the first night we braced ourselves for even lower temperatures.
Our trailer is a 2018 Nash 26N made by Northwood Manufacturing. Sporting a 4-season package, we have thermal pane windows, higher R-factor insulation in the roof, walls, and floor, a covered underbelly, and furnace ducts that surround the three tanks. Of course, for the furnace ducts to keep the tanks from freezing, the furnace needs to run. True to the forecast, the first night we experienced a 19 degree low! It was p-r-e-t-t-y chilly! We set the inside temperature at 54. Once up the next morning, the ample sunshine and boosting the thermostat to 60 degrees, warmed us nicely in no time.
Two nights at that location made for a relaxing stay. Having a 4WD Super-Duty truck made for a fun drive back into the wilderness area until we came to a hiking trail. This trail would soon connect to the Continental Divide Trail and some extraordinary views of the valley beyond Wolf Creek Pass.
Mesa Verde National Park, A Magical Visit
Our time in the Rio Grande National Forest flew past. Before we knew it, we were chugging up Wolf Creek Pass with our sights on Mesa Verde. Within a few hours we arrived at Morefield Campground, just four miles into Mesa Verde. Here we dry camped (not boondocking), so we relied on solar and battery power, LP gas, and a full water tank. We located a campsite that was partially shaded, which we needed the first couple of days with warmer temps and no electric to run the AC. Also fantastic was our campsite was only $15/night thanks to our National Park Senior Pass. We stayed four nights, which flew past too fast!
Between scenic drives, walks to vistas of Montezuma Valley, tours of ancient cliff dwellings, and hikes on a variety of trails, we were tuckered out each evening, slept quite well, and found Mesa Verde a magical and sacred place. The night sky was loaded with stars and the brilliant Milky Way! What a blessing to be away from urban light-pollution! This was Steve’s first visit to Mesa Verde and my third one. It certainly didn’t disappoint us. The benefits of visiting in late September/early October included cooler daytime temperatures and less visitors. The downside was not all of the tours were open as it was late season. When I visited Mesa Verde in July of 2005, the temperatures quickly climbed to a stifling 100 degrees by noon. I definitely recommend visiting in Autumn.
Back to Denver Yet Again
Just when we were getting into a nice groove, it was time to return to the Denver area. (We’ve returned to Denver three times in five weeks). Our truck topper was due back from the manufacturer in California after receiving an unanticipated warranty repair (fortunately they completely covered the freight and repair). Additionally, the necessary “key” used to unlock the spare tire to the truck had been shipped to our daughter. It was finally time to get the new spare back into place under the truck. We also returned to our storage unit to retrieve the items that we typically keep in the truck bed beneath the topper. Progress! Appointments and errands were needed: dental, haircut, and obtaining our election ballots.
Fun and enjoyment with family and friends was desired including our first Punkin Chunkin in Aurora, Colorado with our daughter and son-in-love and special visits with family and friends over several meals.
Cold & Gray Weather Arrives
This week the temps have stayed rather moderate for Denver in the 40s and a thick layer of clouds has replaced the ample sunshine and bluebird blue sky. Needless to say, we have been shivering more. We’re taking measures to stay warmer.
We’ve switched out summer clothes for fall and winter clothes. Awaiting a tape measure and scissors is a 4’ X 25’ roll of Reflectix insulation that we’ll cut to size and place between the windows and blinds during colder spells. Steve also discovered that our furnace had some places where it was leaking air, so he taped those areas with HVAC foil duct tape. What a HUGE difference it made. The furnace runs more efficiently with more warm air blowing through the ducts.
Trekking Out of Colorado
By the weekend, we will be on a trajectory out of Colorado. We’re keeping close tabs on the weather, knowing that we have a couple of mountain passes to negotiate and fickle weather forecasts. While most people are quickly heading to Arizona, New Mexico, or Texas, we’re off to Utah, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon, and California before heading to the southern states.
We’ll fill you in on more details as we travel those states. While we LOVE Colorado with our family, friends, and its beauty here, we’re ready to hit the road and leave knowing that several truck issues have been resolved. Flexibility and patience have been necessities!
Living “Life at the Speed of Sanity” as best as we can!