Saturday, September 15, 2012

Car camping in Colorado

This is from Elevation Outdoors, a hip climbing, BPing, cycling, etc., magazine out of Boulder. The original article with some photos is here - along with other good stuff. This is a good mag. Check it out at
"Colorado has one of the biggest menus of campgrounds in the country, but too many of those spots are overrun, poorly planned or filled with fume-belching RVs. To help you plan, we rounded up 10 of the best campgrounds across the state. Some are small and private. Others are better for rowdy groups, trailers and kids. But all are set in drop-dead gorgeous locales with adventure nearby. (Photos were taken in Colorado, but are not related to car camping, Underlined places were given further positive review by my internet friend SWT.)  
Campsite in Rawah Wilderness
1. The Crags – Colorado State Forest, southeast of Gould Colorado State Forest is often overshadowed by its more popular neighbor, Rocky Mountain National Park. Yet, the scenery here is almost equally jaw-dropping, and the wildlife nearly as abundant. What you won’t find in the forest are the bumper-to-bumper windshield gawkers. The Crags Campground is wedged among rocky peaks at the southern end of the forest. A rough access road and small spaces make this best for tents and small trailers—and keep the crowds at bay. All the sites except No. 6 are reservable, but you probably won’t need a reservation except on busy weekends. Call ahead to be sure. What to Do: Climbing at Nokhu Crags and hiking the surrounding chain of 12,000-foot peaks are the choice pursuits, with several routes accessible from the campsite. Cast a fly in the bordering American Lakes for cutthroat trout. CONTACT: 970-723-8366;
2. Mueller State Park Campground – Pike National Forest, south of Divide
Mueller is a popular spot, and once you set foot here, you’ll immediately see why. The park’s 5,121 acres of aspen and conifer forests are home to black bear, elk, deer, fox, coyotes and hundreds of bird species. Pikes Peak is in full view to the east, and a long stretch of the Continental Divide to the west. For walk-in tent sites, head up Revenuer’s Ridge to Prospectors Ridge. A dozen sites are (a short) walk-in only and spaced about 100 yards apart for privacy. Turkey Meadow sites are also a short walk in and provide the best views of Pikes Peak. What to Do: Access more than 85 miles of biking and hiking trails directly from the campground. Four Mile Creek provides stream fishing for trout. The south end of Mueller has the Four Mile Day Use Area where you can set off down the popular hike up to Dome Rock. Look for bighorn sheep. Have the family along? Sign up for a ranger-led nature program. CONTACT: 719-687-2366;
3. Camp Dick – Boulder Ranger District, near Allenspark
One of the Rawah lakes
Small groups, dog lovers, and wilderness buffs will feel right at home at Camp Dick Campground, which is situated in a glacial valley adjacent to Middle St. Vrain Creek and borders the Indian Peaks Wilderness. While many surrounding sites (including Rocky Mountain National Park) don’t allow four-legged hikers, they’re welcome (on-leash) at Camp Dick and in the wilderness area. Try to nab one of the sites that borders St. Vrain Creek—the sound of the water adds privacy and offers the chance to take a dip on hot summer days. The camp is normally full for the weekend by early Friday afternoon, so arrive early or reserve ahead. What to Do: Trails leading into Indian Peaks leave right from the campground. Horseback riding, biking and fishing are also available here. Campground full? Peaceful Valley Campground is approximately one mile east of Camp Dick and offers another 17 sites.
CONTACT: 303-541-2500.
4. Long Draw Campground – Roosevelt National Forest, west of Ft. Collins
Most Fort Collins visitors stop at Poudre Canyon and Red Feather Lakes, but if you keep heading west, there’s much more to discover. At 10,030 feet in elevation, Long Draw is the ideal base camp to escape the heat and explore. All the sites are first-come, first-served, so get here early to stake out your ground. Twenty-one sites accommodate RV camping and four are more suitable for tents. Most of the sites are heavily wooded, providing shade and privacy. Local rangers say that once people visit Long Draw, they keep coming back year after year—a true testament to the area’s hidden beauty. What to Do: Fish for trout in Long Draw Reservoir, La Poudre Pass Creek, and Corral Creek. Hike the nearby Corral Creek and Poudre River trails. Nonmotorized boats are permitted in Long Draw Reservoir. CONTACT: Canyon Lakes Ranger District, 970-295-6600
First campsite in the Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop 
5. North Rim Campground – Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, near Montrose
Photos don’t do justice to the deep, narrow drama of the Black Canyon. You really must come and see it for yourself. There are many places to access the gorge, but the north rim offers the most solitude. The campground is arguably the most scenic in the area, set on the rim’s edge in an ancient piƱon-juniper forest. Instead of looking up at snowy mountains—the quintessential Colorado view—you will be looking down into the nearly 2,000-foot-deep canyon. Campsites are on the small side, which discourages trailers and RVs. No reservations are accepted, so arrive early on busy summer weekends. What to Do: Hike along the rim or down into the gorge itself, where the fly fishing is unparalleled. At the end of the campground loop, set foot onto the Chasm View Nature Trail for amazing gorge views. The North Vista Trail leaves from the ranger station nearby and goes along the North Rim of the Gunnison to a high point on a nearby ridge. Climbing the “Black” is a unique adventure too (but not for the inexperienced). CONTACT: 970-641-2337;
6. Cold Springs Campground – Routt National Forest, southwest of Yampa
Here, solitude is absolutely guaranteed. Farther off the beaten path than most car-camping spots, this is the uppermost campground along FR 900. It sits at the eastern edge of Stillwater Reservoir and only offers five sites and no RV access. No reservations are accepted, so arrive early to nab a spot. Your backdrop is a knife-edge ridgeline of 11,000–12,000-foot peaks, and there’s a waterfall and small pond on-site. The trailhead to the Flat Tops Wilderness is nearby, as are several other trails leading to the small lakes atop the mesa. Steamboat Springs isn’t too far away by car if you want to break up your wilderness experience with mountain town life or a dip in the springs.What to Do: Hike. Stillwater Trailhead lies just beyond the campground and offers access to the Flat Tops. Smith Lake Trailhead leaves from the campground and is an easy stroll to Smith Lake—great for an after-dinner walk or hike with small children. You can also fish on the reservoir. CONTACT: Routt National Forest, 970-638-4516
On the Four Pass Loop
7. Parry Peak – West of Twin Lakes, near Leadville
Anglers who want to save money on hotel fees and have easy access to the best holes should stop over at Parry Peak Campground. This lightly forested campground on Lake Creek makes a great stopover on a fishing road trip or a great destination in and of itself. The campground was recently rejuvenated, including some reforestation of pines that were destroyed by beetles. The sites are a bit close together, but the campground typically only fills up on the busiest summer weekends. For the best sites, stay left after crossing the bridge. What to Do: Lake and stream fishing are the biggest draws here. You can also launch a canoe or hike in and around the campground (access to Mount Elbert is close by). Surrounding Leadville you’ll find amazing white-knuckle singletrack for mountain biking. Climbers can access Monitor Rock, Outlook Rock, Black Slab, Dump Wall and more. CONTACT: San Isabel National Forest, 719-486-0749
8. Bear Lake Campground – Sangres, near La Veta
This isn’t the same Bear Lake you think it is. Located in far southern Colorado, the granite domes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains border a forest of spruce and fir. This in turn gives way to an open meadow and Bear Lake, where you can enjoy tent camping in the most southeasterly slice of national forest land in Colorado. The campground is well placed along the dense forest and alpine meadow above Bear Lake. Along the gravel loop, several wooded sites are spaced out with obscured views of the lake. More open sites are in the center loop as the road swings around into a grassy meadow. Reservations aren’t accepted, but sites are usually plentiful if you arrive by early afternoon. What to Do: Dozens of trails offer hiking within minutes of the campground, or make a side trip to the Spanish Peaks. Indian Creek Trailhead starts just beyond site 9. A foot trail circles Bear Lake, fed by the streams above and home to trout. A mile up trail is Blue Lake, with more fishing. CONTACT: San Isabel National Forest, 719-269-8500
9. Saddlehorn Campground – Colorado National Monument, near Fruita
On the Four Pass Loop
Until recent years, the canyon country southwest of Grand Junction was largely overlooked by outdoor junkies who only had tunnel vision for Moab. But the crowds are discovering Fruita’s trails and the forests and rock sculptures of the Colorado National Monument. Saddlehorn Campground is an ideal jumping off spot for exploring the monument, and the campground is a destination in and of itself. Loop B has a few sites that are especially private. For the best weather and least amount of bugs, visit here in early September through November. All sites are first-come, first-served. What to Do:Some of the monument’s best day hikes are accessible from the campground. The Window Rock Trail is a nice short loop with views. Canyon Rim Trail travels on the edge of Wedding Canyon for more views. For a longer hike, take off down the Monument Canyon Trail for 6-8 miles and tour the natural rock sculptures. Or try the Ottos Trail, which drops down toward the Pipe Organ and overlooks the depths of Monument Canyon. Drive or road bike the 23 miles from one end of the park to the other—numerous overlooks provide wide vistas over the canyon. CONTACT:
10. Vallecito Reservoir – Northeast of Bayfield, near Durango
Vallecito is one of the few large reservoirs in Colorado that marries the tranquility of camping with the bustling fun of water sports. For that reason, it’s an ideal destination for groups and families. Several campgrounds surround the reservoir, but we recommend Old Timers and Graham Creek on the east side, which is less developed. If you like fishing, visit in early fall when the water skiers are gone. Anglers can pursue rainbow and German brown trout, Kokanee salmon and northern pike. What to Do: Boating and water sports are the big ticket here. Several hiking trails are located near campgrounds, leading along streams and into the high country. You can take short walks to scenic overlooks or long treks into the Weminuche Wilderness. CONTACT: San Juan National Forest, 970-884-2512"

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wind Rivers 2012

Taken standing in front of my tent - sub-alpine paradise
(Written in a vast mountain meadow called Miller Park) When I was in my teens I would look at maps and see an area called the Bridger Wilderness and I would wonder what that was like. Now I know. This place, the Wind River Mountains in the Bridger Wilderness, must surely be one of the most beautiful places in North America, if not the world. I’m grateful I’ve been here.
In one of the basins between two of the passes in the Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop (Colorado) I came across some alpine tarns and granite domes and I thought, “This is it. This is what I’m looking for. I’ll be back.” Then I found the Winds – a mountain range full of tarns and granite domes, and jagged peaks, glaciers, snowfields, waterfalls, tundra – really an amazing place.
On my last night out, a prayer of deep gratitude that I’ve known some small part of this incomparable place.
I didn’t get as far or as high as I planned. I got to about 10800, partway up Indian Basin on my third day and was having to stop every 50 yards or so and taking a long time to recover. A man on the trail had said to me, “It’s a wise man who’s willing to change his mind.” As soon as I got down to ~10000 I started feeling better. I camped at Island Lake, on the way out the next day I camped at Seneca Lake, and the last night in the meadow.
Next to my last campsite
I’m camped next to a grove of about 8 large pines. In the morning as night fades the wilderness awakens – the nocturnal animals settling in and the sky purple over the mountains, rising to pink, fading into blue and the clouds white and some tinged with pink and a jay screeching, answered from around the meadow by other jays, some cheeping, some rapid warbles, cawing, and what sounds like a squirrel chuk-chuk-chuking and a woodpecker going to work. I’m having oatmeal and coffee on this last morning on the trail.
I’ve pushed it pretty hard backpacking, with the pinnacle being the 2009 loop along the Highline Trail, over Knapsack Col, and the long glissade down Twin Glacier, and on out through Titcomb Basin. The vision now is smaller. I think easier treks, no glaciers, no epic. I found myself thinking about Big Bend. The following is from the Thanksgiving 2007 Sierra Club Big Bend trip.
Island Lake
When I got up the next morning I walked into the woods to urinate and as I unzipped I heard a sound off to my right. I looked and about 30 feet away (I later paced it off – 10 paces) was a mountain lion standing sideways to me, looking at me. Big, beautiful tawny, big eyes. I flashed on Juana, a Mexican woman I know who has power over animals and I did what I thought Juana would: I said “Hello, how are you” and went ahead and peed. Meanwhile the cougar watched me, sneezed a few times, sat down and licked her chest. I finished, zipped up and said something like “I hope I see you later” and walked away. When I looked back she was still sitting there, watching me. A little while later at breakfast I told the people in my group what had happened and several of the men went to see if they could see it (they assumed it was a male, I thought it was a female – we later found out which it was)…
That night I slept warm with the wind rushing high above (but it was not windy where we were) and I heard the patter of rain or sleet on my tent. In the morning several people said they had heard something that sounded like cats, but not lion-sized….
I left Amarillo before sunrise and here it comes
In the morning the tents were covered in (granular) ice >1 inch thick in some places. The plan was to break camp and hike to the lodge for breakfast (mmm, bacon) and then hike out of the mountains. Taking the tent down was soooo slow, with so much ice (inside the tent, too) and my fingers icy cold and then numb and kind of hot feeling – how many times long ago climbing had they felt that way – knocking the ice off and untying lines and then the lion returned and began to scream. I saw it again, about 40 feet away, watching us. It stalked our camp, screaming and hissing 5-10 times as we broke camp. Our theory, zoologists that we are not, was that she had cubs nearby and had basically just had it with us being so close. Who knows.
As I was falling asleep one night I sat up laughing out loud, realizing that the commitment to live fully beginning when I survived a war has resulted in me living at least 1.5 lifetimes, so far.

I think of what I want to do in my life now… a little travel and being home with Leslie, being around David, a little backpacking, journeys with Jeff, but mainly what I look forward to is being with/taking care of Leslie.