June–July, 2007
   Some would say we had a date to do volunteer work at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah and we found and visited interesting places both going and coming. Some would say that we are masochists looking to experience extreme summer heat—and what better place to go than to southern Utah? Others might think we wanted to test our compatibility by living in a 19’x7’ space with two dogs for four weeks. As it turned out, all are true and we returned to tell the tale.

Colorado Nat. Mon.

Colorado National Monument. The evening we left Nederland we camped at Colorado National Monument on the western edge of the state just off I-70. This under-used park features  massive sandstone formations that surround a steep-walled canyon. We found excellent hiking and a very scenic (and recently repaved) road for bicycling.

       We entered the monument from the east side through Grand Junction. As a result, we drove the 23-mile Rim Rock Drive that leads to Saddlehorn Campground, which is on the other side of the park just inside the west entrance. The drive is spectacular for the views down into and across the canyon and out to the valley of the Colorado River.

       If we had worried about getting a camping site for the two nights we’d planned to be there, we needn’t have worried. Few of the sites were taken and by the next morning fewer than half the 80 sites were taken. There are no facilities, except for water faucets and flush toilets, and no reservations are taken. We wedged the RV among some pinon trees and did our best to level the vehicle. We walked the dogs to an overlook area in the campground, took some photos, returned for cocktails, dinner, some gin rummy (we kept a running score for the entire trip), and TV(!).

       We turned on the TV in the morning to get the weather and within a couple of Biking Rim Rock Road9minutes, the picture and sound quit. We decided either the TV died or the two “house” batteries (the ones in the living area, not for the engine) were too weak. A call to Winnebago directed us to an RV dealer in Grand Junction to check what needed help, the batteries or the TV. Our appointment was for the late afternoon. So, after breakfast, Judy went for a morning run while Hughes made some more calls. When she got back, we rode our bikes out on the Rim Rock Road, a fairly level ride along the canyon rim. We stopped at several trail heads that led us down into the valley. By 11:00 a.m. the sun turned up the heat: we had biked only about five miles, but we turned around at Artist Point planning to ride the rest of the the road the next day.

       That afternoon we went into Grand Junction to Humphry’s RV and Trailer. After a quick inspection, we were told that the TV was probably a goner and the batteries were weak but could be charged by driving Judy and Dogs at Fruita SP(which we’d been doing) and by plugging the unit into electricity for a couple of days.

James M Robb-Colorado River State Park. We paid Humphry’s for the information and decided we’d better plug in and start charging the batteries. So, we spent the night at the Colorado River State Park on the south side of nearby Fruita. At the Fruita campground we had great views, a level site, showers, lots of shade, a dump station, and water and electric hook-ups. It’s a lovely state park with a swimming area, fishing, access to the Colorado River, and very clean facilities. The cost with a season pass was a bargain at $9! We certainly needed the electricity, not only to charge the batteries but to run the much needed air conditioner. We biked into town for pizza, logged on to some free wi-fi to check email, and lounged on the courthouse lawn for a free bluegrass concert as the sun was setting. In the morning, Judy ran along the Colorado after breakfast while Hughes got us ready to be on our way. (He took this photo of Judy and the dogs after her post-run shower.)

Capitol Reef NPCapitol Reef National Park. After leaving Fruita (Colorado), we spent a night in Green River, Utah at Shady Acres RV Park, advertised as “The Cleanest RV park in Green River.” As we were driving the 100 miles along I-70, we tried to remember what Green River was like, and what we might see or do while we were there in the afternoon/evening. What we’d forgotten was what a sad looking and forlorn town it is! We knew we had stopped there in the past for the delicious melons that grow in the area; we had visited the John Wesley Powell River History Museum; and we’d probably eaten a meal there. But this was some years ago. What we saw on this trip was a dying town, with gas stations on either end of the business loop off the interstate and a scattering of motels (some of which have lost their dignity along with their coat of paint and smooth parking area). A sure sign of the town’s demise is that the once proud stone bank building on the central corner in “downtown” Green River now houses a T-shirt store. Very sad! It would be tough to tell others you were from Green River. However, Shady Acres had electricity, so we charged the batteries, ran the A/C, and stayed indoors to avoid the 100° temperatures.

         The next day we drove south to Hanksville and east through the eerie desolation of Utah’s central moonscape that seems devoid of any life except where cottonwoods, tamarisk, and willows announce the presence of water. Among the steep sandstone canyons formed by the Fremont River are the remains of the town of Fruita, a welcome oasis of orchards and farms established by Mormon settlers in the late 19th century, now abandoned and part of Capital Reef National Park. The Orchard at Capitol ReefFremont creates a narrow ribbon of green in this otherwise dry, isolated area, a lifeline for those who lived along its banks. The Fremont Culture thrived here as early as 700 C.E. alongside the Anasazi who lived to the south. Like the Anasazi, the Fremont people disappeared about 1300 C.E. leaving their pictographs (painted images) and petroglyphs (chipped/scraped images) on many canyon walls. 

       Mormon settlers planted fruit trees—apricots, cherries, apples, pears, and peaches—that can still be seen and their fruit eaten by visitors. In addition, they raised cows and kids. When they moved away in the late 1930s, they left behind log houses, their school, and other buildings scattered in the valley, all of which can be visited.

       The Fremont River continues to attract a wide variety of animals: mule deer are a common sight in the campground area, as are a wide variety of birds and the occasional mosquito. Cottonwoods, ash, and other mature trees provide a thick canopy of shade that made staying there very comfortable, even on the warmest days of summer. We had no qualms about leaving Sophie and Bella in the RV for a few hours each day while we hiked or biked. They knew it was hot: they slept, drank a lot of water, panted a good deal, and were not Capitol Gorgevery much interested in what was going on around them. Our campsite was just a few yards from the river and we spent the hottest parts of the day soaking in the cool water. We brought Sophie and Bella down to cool off and to rinse some of the road dust out of their coats.

       We spent our first full day in the park biking south to the end of the pavement along the Waterpocket Fold, an uplift of rock layers that, along with the forces of erosion, created spectacular cliffs, domes, spires, arches, and twisting canyons for 100 miles across the middle of the state. We watched for jackrabbits, Gamble’s quail, and other signs of life, though the farther from the river you go the less animal life there is. When the pavement ended after ten miles, we rode east on a dirt road down Capitol Gorge, which was, amazingly, the route of the original road through this region of the state. But the narrow roadway often flooded and often filled with boulders and rubble, and was abandoned when the current State Highway 24 was completed in 1962. 

       When the dirt road ended, we hiked another few miles through the gorge where we could see the signatures of 19th century explorers who left their marks in the red sandstone. We searched out “bowls” scoured out in the rocks where rainwater collects to quench the thirst of animals and humans who know where to look. The heat was building and we shortened our hike because of it. On the way back, Judy’s rear tire exploded! Both the tube and tire weakened in the heat and gave way suddenly to a rock in the road Hughes and Marinusnearly 12 miles from camp. Fortunately, some folks in a pickup were going her way and took her and the bike back to the campground, while Hughes continued on alone. He met and talked with a couple from the Netherlands, Marinus and Hanneke Verhulst, who were touring the west. They were not planning to go through Denver, and therefore would miss Nederland, so they stopped by the campground on their way out. Hughes gave them the Nederland T-shirt right off his back as a souvenir.

       We spent the afternoon chilling out in the river, reading, and relaxing. We knew we’d have to get a new tire for Judy’s bike, but not anywhere close by. We were due at Kodachrome Basin State Park in two days. However, we liked Capital Reef: Judy could run, we could hike, and we could drive the RV anywhere on pavement. That evening we attended a ranger campfire program on the history of the Fremont Culture in this area, and then slept comfortably in the cool night air.

       In the morning, we discovered the battery charge indicator on the systems panel showed we had virtually no power from the batteries, the same batteries that were supposed to be charged by driving and by plugging in to outside power. So, while Judy ran, Hughes biked to the Visitors Center and called Winnebago and Interstate Batteries. Everyone on the phone was quite pleasant (Is this because “this call will be monitored for quality control?”), especially Annie at Interstate who eventually Arch in Capitol Reeffound a dealer in Richfield (90 miles west) who had two in stock and they would swap them out for new ones. No charge under warranty. We just had to go out of our way to get to Richfield.

       We used the rest of the morning to pack and drive to the trail head for a last hike in Capitol Reef: a short hike to a natural arch named Hickman’s Bridge. Two hours later we drove through Torrey and Loa to Richfield and pulled into Jorgensen’s mid-afternoon for what we thought would be a quick swap-out. Jorgenson’s, however, had to verify to the Interstate home office (Annie?) that the batteries were no good (Note: They were installed in our RV that was built in the fall of 2005 and sat on a sales lot in rural Ohio until we picked it up in the winter of 2007. It’s no wonder they didn’t last. Who knows if they were kept charged or fresh?) But the deed got done, we thanked Chuck and Skeeter for taking care of the warranty transaction, and headed out of Richfield intending to spend the night in the mountains at nearby Fish Lake State Park.


       About 15 miles outside of Richfield, the turbo resonator failed and we went into what owners of RVs built on a Dodge Sprinter know so well as the “limp home mode:” without warning—no lights, bells, whistles, or thumps. The vehicle lost so much power that we barely made it up slight grades and could go no faster than 35-40 mph on the flat. We knew what it was; we almost had been expecting it. We returned to Richfield, the nearest town of any size in the area. We set up at the Richfield KOA, an excellent campground with all hook-ups, free wi-fi, plenty of grass and shade, a laundry, showers—and a very clean swimming pool! Considering what we faced, we were lucky. If we had to wait for repairs—and we did, for two days—we knew we were in a good place. From this comfortable campground we could bike to a Wal-Mart and Kmart, a great health food store (Tree of Life Health and Wellness), the town library, and all the services we could ask for.

        After several phone calls to Winnebago and Dodge, we learned that there were only three dealers in all of Utah who were authorized to Turbo Resonatorwork on a Sprinter (the one six blocks away in Richfield was not one of them), and the dealer who would consider looking at the problem before the end of the week was 200 miles north in Ogden. So, two days later, Jack Hansen, a helluva nice guy from Jorgensen’s Towing, arrived in the morning with a platform tow truck and carefully winched the RV on the back, made Judy and the dogs comfortable in the back seat of the truck, hopped in the front with Hughes, and, with as much dignity as we could muster, drove us four hours north to Hinckley Dodge in Odgen. There Jack gently lowered the RV off the back of his truck and turned us over the Hinckley, who said they might be able to look at the problem before the close of work that day. In the meantime, they called the nearby pet-friendly Comfort Suites who had room available. We spent the night (at our expense): we read, checked email, and watched watched some TV, we walked the dogs on their well watered grass, enjoyed free drinks during their one-hour happy hour, ate a great dinner at Cactus Reds, and generally stayed inside to avoid the 104° weather outside. In the morning, after a great complimentary breakfast buffet at Cactus Reds, we got a call saying that the problem was identified: a failed turbo resonator (the black object on the left). They did not have a replacement in stock and someone was on their way to Salt Lake City to bring one back. We could expect the repair by early afternoon.

         At 2:00, we got picked up at the motel and brought back to Hinckley Dodge to reclaim the RV and head out of town. Since we had already missed our reserved dates at Kodachrome Basic we decided we needed to head more directly to Kanab, which was our ultimate destination. So, we drove back down to the Richfield KOA in time for dinner. That evening, we walked the dogs over to Rotary Park to watch a softball game and we happened to pass by a familiar tow truck parked alongside the driveway of a house in the neighborhood. Looking over the fence we saw Jack Hansen working on something in his back yard and called out to him. He remembered us (it was just a day ago) we and spent some time chatting with him. He was friendly and talkative on the drive up to Ogden, and he was just as friendly that evening. A really nice fellow. We told him, of course, what had happened and he hoped that our trip would be smooth sailing after this. And not to keep anyone in suspense, we did have smooth sailing for the rest of the trip. [Two weeks after we returned home, Hughes ordered and installed the aftermarket “turbo resonator eliminator” (see above) that removes the worry of ever having problems again with this part failing. If you own a Dodge Sprinter and wonder if you could replace this yourself, remember that Hughes, who’s never even changed the oil in a car, was able to accomplish this within an hour.]

Antique Fire Engine
        In the morning we headed south on US 89 knowing that we had a night to spend before arriving in Kanab, though we had no place in mind. We drove along the scenic Sevier River through Circleville, where Butch Cassidy grew up, and arrived in Panguitch, which we learned was holding a hot air balloon festival and motorcycle rally that day and the next. They even advertised a 5K race in the morning. This sounded like a good place to stop.

       Panguitch is about as big as Nederland (1,400), but there was a lot of public enthusiasm, noise from the motorcycles, a short but colorful parade featuring a remarkable antique fire engine that they run in the parade every year, a good dinner to be had at the Cowboy’s Smokehouse Cafe. and a Lions Club pancake breakfast in the morning after the balloons ascended. The runners in town couldn’t get their act together so the 5K race was canceled to Judy’s disappointment. We biked all around, window shopped, talked with folks, and visited what used to be the town library which, like the one in Richfield, is a Carnegie Library. It had been sold to Balloon Festivalan antique dealer and the books moved elsewhere. After dinner, we listened to a young girl gamely give a harp concert on the main street, competing with juiced up bikers showing off their hogs, and with semis hauling freight through town. We think the trucks and bikers won, but we gave the girl gold stars for sticking with it for an hour. What a tough gig!!

       Our “campground” that night was the parking lot of the Garfield County Courthouse—shady enough, level, and in no one’s way. At 6:00 a.m. we got up and walked half a mile to the field on the edge of town where we watched about 30 balloons ascend over the valley: a beautiful sight in the light of sunrise. We ate our fill of pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon, orange juice, and good coffee for $5 apiece, thanks to the Lions Club. Then we headed south on US 89 for Kanab.

       We had enough time, we thought, to take a quick look at Kodachrome Basin where which we’d heard so much about and where we had planned to camp if the turbo resonator had held up. The park was just a short 30 miles down State Highway 12. However, we had not gone ten miles off the highway when we approached Red Canyon Pass near the entrance to Bryce National Park. We stopped at a pull-out to take some pictures of the red sandstone formations and we noticed a Judy Bikingnewly paved bike path paralleling the road and a trail head. We pulled into a shady spot and set off for at least the top of the pass about six miles away. It was a nice break and a good bit of exercise for us both. We’re not sure how far the path extends; we will look for it when we pass this way again.

        Back on US 89, we drove through Mt. Carmel, gateway to Zion National Park and home of the Thunderbird Foundation that honors western artists Maynard Dixon and Edith Hamlin; we must visit  there when we return to Kanab. We passed two entrances to Coral Pink Sands State Park which we will visit again, but only during a cooler season. We went by the popular tourist attraction Moqui Cave just outside Kanab, another place to visit when we come back. We checked in at the Kanab RV Corral, found a shady spot, plugged in and got the A/C going for the dogs, took a swim and read by the pool until the sun set and the temperatures relaxed into the 70s.

       We biked through Kanab looking in the store windows (would you believe we saw bagpipes for sale in the window of a music store?), finding out where things were, and what was going on the coming week. In the morning, Judy ran before the heat of the day made it impossible, and then we checked out and headed for our home for the next five days: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Our experience there was so rich and varied that we created a special web page with details and photos of that portion of our trip.


ld Paria. Our time at Best Friends was rewarding and very satisfying, and we’ll do it again, but not in the summer. The hot weather continued to dog us, and we figured we needed to get to higher elevations to find any Hughes in Paria Riverrelief. We had one stop we wanted to make as we left Kanab: tracking down the ghost town of Old Paria. The maps showed it to be about 30 miles east of Kanab and another six or so miles off US 89 to the north. The six miles of washboard gravel was rough in some places, shaking the contents of drawers, the refrigerator, and storage compartments. We passed the burned out remains of “Paria,” a replica of a western town used to film movies and TV westerns. About two miles past the Pahreah Cemetery, as isolated a resting place as we’ve seen, the road became safe for 4-wheel drive vehicles but not for a 5-ton RV.

        We parked under a shade tree, turned the dogs loose to romp through the shallow stream, took our water bottles, hats, and sandals and began hiking in the direction of the tracks, hoping to find where the gold miners built the camp they called “Pahreah.” Two miles up Paria River we decided that the 4-wheel drive tracks we followed would take us to Salt Lake City if we followed them long enough. The heat, the biting flies, and the hunch we missed a significant landmark combined to encourage us to return to the RV and save the hunt for another trip. Our dashboard thermometer showed 110°. On the way out to the highway, we met up with a photography group led by a fellow who knew the area well. He confirmed that walking upstream led nowhere and that if we had simply crossed the creek where we had parked the RV we’d have found the pitiful remains of the old mining camp. Next time.
Cow Canyon Trading Post
Bluff. Continuing east on US 89 we drove past the Vermilion Cliffs, dipped south into Arizona to the Glen Canyon Dam at Page, crossed the northern section of the Navajo Reservation through Kaibito, Black Mesa, Kayenta, Monument Valley, back into Utah, crossing the San Juan River at Mexican Hat. We finally arrived in Bluff, a town made famous by the Mormon settlers whose efforts to reach and tame this fertile valley for Brigham comprise a memorable chapter in Utah/church history. We like staying there because we know we are going to dine on gourmet cooking—surprise!—at a restaurant that has the appearance of a deserted, derelict structure from out of the past: the Cow Canyon Trading Post (whose web site is the most succinct of any on the web). The rusting truck and early 1950s Buick haven’t moved for years, and the weeds growing up around the tires confirm that. Hughes discovered the place a few years ago when he and grandson Griffin ate there before rafting the San Juan River. How they’ve stayed in business in this location is a testament to good management and great food.

Transfer Campground. We left Bluff early, aiming the RV east toward Colorado. We crossed over at the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, filled with diesel at the casino at Towaoc, and cruised into Cortez, which looked much more prosperous and up-and-coming than we remembered from the last time we were through. Another 20 miles east took us to the Mancos Valley where we turned north toward Mancos State Park, once known as Jackson Lake before the state took it over. We were turned away! They were full for the weekend, but another five miles up the dirt road was Transfer, a national forest campgroundMount Hesperus with a few sites left, all of them good. As it turns out, we were glad the state park was full: they had no facilities except a boat ramp for all the power boats that would be zipping around the lake all weekend—not our idea of a great place to camp, plus they wanted $19/night for the privilege. Transfer, on the other hand, offered good shade, lots of good hiking, wildlife and wild flowers, and incredible views of Mt Hesperus, one of the four mountains sacred to the Navajos. Dry camping in an aspen grove for $6/night seemed a bargain. We took the dogs down the “Big Al” trail, a flat, smooth, wheelchair accessible trail named after a firefighter who was injured and disabled fighting the Yellowstone fire in 1988. We saw deer and plenty of birds, and the dogs chased squirrels. At the end of the trail the view of Mt Hesperus and the Mancos River valley was fantastic. Later, we left the dogs in the RV and hiked to bottom of the valley, a steep descent, and then a couple of miles along the river before making our way back up to the return trail to the campground. At 8,500’ elevation, we finally found the cooler temperatures we were looking for and our stay at Transfer was delightful.

Teal Campground. We debated staying another night at Transfer, but when Judy returned after her morning run, we decided to push on to the Pagosa Springs area where we could enjoy the 4th of July festivities. We packed up and drove through Durango and into Pagosa Springs to the Pagosa Riverside RV park, just two miles east of town on the banks of the San Juan River. We wanted shade, utilities, and to be within biking distance of town. They were pretty full, but we were able to make reservations for two nights, July 3-4. Having that in place, we backtracked through town and turned north on Piedra Street for 23 miles, past some pricey suburban Williams Lakedevelopments and some expensive trophy homes on acreage, past a few remaining ranches, and into the San Juan National Forest ending at the trailheads that access the Weminuche Wilderness Area. This is a gorgeous area in a state where there are lots of beautiful areas.

        Michael and Cindy had camped at William Creek Reservoir last May and came back with glowing reports and enticing photos on their web site. Teal is a national forest campground with large sites along the west shore. The views across the water to the high mountains to the north are as pretty as any we’ve seen in the state. Cimaronna is a small (11 sites) attractive campground two miles further north at the trailhead for the Cimaronna Trail. Both campgrounds have vault toilets and water spigots, no utilities, and very quiet. The lake/reservoir is a popular fishing area; boats are permitted but speed boat folks seem to go somewhere else. We set our folding chairs in the grass beneath a stand of shady trees, put the dogs on long leashes, and did a lot of sitting and looking for two days. The temperatures were warm and the direct sun was pretty hot, but nothing like the heat of the past two weeks. However, between lunch and dinner, we spent time in the shade reading and relaxing—cocktails a 5:00 of course. Even Sophie and Bella were happy to lay quietly next to our chairs in the tall grass.
Dogs at Williams Lake
       We biked up to the end of the dirt road, checked out the Cimaronna campground and a mile further the campground restricted to folks with horses. We hiked portions of both the Williams Creek Trail and the Cimaronna Trail while we were there, but neither of them long enough to reach a “destination” (lake, mountain pass, etc.). We walked to the south end of the William Lake and across the dam and turned around when the trail on the other side petered out. On our last day, on our way back to Pagosa, we stopped to hike on the Piedra Trail along Williams Creek below the reservoir only to discover it was overgrown with poison ivy, so we turned around after less than a quarter of a mile. There was a nearby picnic area along the creek, which was a perfect place to dunk the dogs to clean off as much dust and dirt as possible and cool them off at the same time. Our two days at Teal have been pleasantly relaxing. The unexpected mid-day heat did slow us down but we found it easy to relax.

•Pagosa Springs. When we got back to Pagosa Springs, we shopped for groceries and returned to the Riverside RV park, checked in and were assigned a spot right on the river, though with no hook-ups, at least for that night. So we drove into town to find out the schedule for the holiday activities, and walked the dogs along the riverwalk where an arts and crafts fair was spread out through the downtown area. There was not much of interest to us,, but we got the schedule of July 4th events, and returned to the shade of the campground, hot showers, a late supper, some more gin rummy, and then to sleep.
Pagosa Springs 4th of July
       The parade in the morning was quite a surprise. It lasted an hour and a half, featured a marching band, lots of horses and a 4-wheel drive club, one old car (a Model A) a couple of fire trucks and an ambulance, floats from various groups including the library, and individuals like the Jicarilla Apache beauty queen and princesses, the mayor who seemed to be running for re-election, and veterans from wars dating back to WWII. There were upwards of 10,000 spectators who lined Pagosa Street (US 160) seeking shade under trees and umbrellas. For a town of 1,500 people, it was an amazing turn out. It made the parade in Nederland (population 1,400) seem a very local affair by comparison. After the parade, we bought another tire for Judy’s bike (we had discovered in the morning that now her front tire and tube had large holes in them) and we returned to the campground to move into our new site with hook-ups. We turned on the A/C, ate lunch, mounted Judy’s new tire and tube, and then stayed inside while the thunder boomed and a strong but brief rain fell (as did the temperatures). We fed the dogs and rode our bikes to town to catch some real rodeo, had a fantastic Mexican dinner at Tequila’s (don't miss this place if you're in town), and headed to the high school football field for a lively bluegrass concert that preceded the fireworks. We biked back through town and along the highway to the RV park in the dark with only our headlamps to guide us (not too smart, but we were careful enough and the traffic was thankfully light).

       Of course one of the main attractions in Pagosa are the hot springs. In the morning, while Judy did her morning run, Hughes packed the RV for the road, leaving out clean clothes and towels. The facility at the hot springs is very clean, organized into different pools at different temperatures, accessible to the San Juan River for the occasional cold soak, and very scenic. It’s one of our favorites among the several dozen in the state we’ve visited. All day admission for two seniors including lockers was $28.50 We spent two hours in pools ranging from 98°–107°. The post-soak shower cleaned us completely, and Big Meadows Reservoirwe left town relaxed, refreshed, and smelling good.

        We loved Pagosa Springs! It is scenic, small enough for comfort yet with all the services and retail opportunities a person would need, and there are lots of outdoor activities, which add up to a great place to visit.

Big Meadows. Wolf Creek Pass tops out at 10,800' and is a good pull for any vehicle. The RV pulled right up without hesitation—even passed a car and a truck on the way up. As we came down the north side we headed for Big Meadows, a national forest campground on the shore of a reservoir just a two miles from the highway. We didn’t know anything about the place and were prepared to move on to one of the several other campgrounds in the area if this wasn’t to our liking. However, the setting was beautiful, campsite #8 (the prettiest one in the park Bobbie Chapman, our camp host, assured us) was empty, and we pulled right in with great access to the water and a view of the lake and the mountains surrounding it. There was a floating dock folks were fishing from, as well as trails to fishing spots around the shore and several quiet boats in the water from sunup to sundown. Hughes was even moved to toss a line in the water and try his luck—and he didn’t get skunked! We walked the dogs along the water and on a short trail within the campground area that led to Cascade Falls and a cluster of columbines on the slopes. On the way we spotted an elegant 8-point mule deer with the healthiest coat of any deer we’ve seen in a long time. He was wary but not frightened by our presence. By the afternoon, the Campfiredark clouds got together and watered the dust. The dogs napped and we read. By evening we had our first campfire of the trip and at 9,300’ we appreciated the warmth.

       The thermometer read 41° in the morning, quite a change from the past three weeks. Judy ran and Hughes biked to Shaw Lake, a small fishing lake another three miles above Big Meadows at 10,000'. There were already several folks along the shore with their lines in the water. Even so, it was quiet, still. Later in the morning we took the dogs on a hike around the lake through tall grasses, small feeder streams, and the spruce and fir trees that give off a thick aroma like the small sachets of balsam fir needles that folks of another generation used to keep in their drawers of linen or clothing.  That’s how the forest smelled. It was intoxicating.

       Like Teal campground up on William Creek, this has been “real” camping (though an RV with lights, running hot water, flush toilet and shower, [broken] TV, etc. is not the same as sleeping on the ground in a lean-to): no highway noise, but the constant sound of water from a small creek that feeds the lake. Kids are fishing, running around, crying occasionally, and multi-generational family groups sit around campfires in the evening talking, telling stories, or just being quiet. This is not an RV park, which is fine, though we do miss the electric hook-ups and wi-fi. But that’s the trade-off, isn’t it?

Mt. Princeton Hot Springs. We got an early start heading to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, 200 miles north between Salida and Buena Vista. We hoped for a spot in a national forest campground within biking distance of the hot springs. These often have some first-come, first-served sites, so the sooner we got there the better chance we’d have of getting something we’d like. We had done pretty well so far.

       Our route took us through the heart of the San Luis Valley, home of the best potatoes you can buy. Sorry, Idaho. Sorry, Maine. Colorado’s are tops. We grow whites, yellows, reds, purples; mashers, bakers, or boilers. Don’t pass them by when you see them in the stores. It is no surprise, then, that we drove a few miles out of our way to the tiny town of Center where potatoes are boxed ready for shipment. We stopped at Pepper’s Potatoes and talked with Rod about buying a small quantity. The potatoes are usually packed in 50-pound boxes, but Rod showed us 15-bags he assured us were fresh: “We just made them this morning,” he said proudly. Five bucks for 15 pounds of premium Colorado potatoes is a good buy anytime, especially when they are “just made.”
Florissant Fossil
       We drove west off US 24 at Nathrop (between Salida and Buena Vista) as though we were headed to St. Elmo, a well preserved ghost town just below the Alpine Tunnel. We followed Chalk Creek past the hot springs, several miles further past the first campground that was full and finally to Chalk Lake Campground which had several sites available. The setting along the creek was lovely, the hike across the road up to Angie Vaille Falls was a welcome surprise, but the distance to the hot springs seemed too far to bike in the time left in the day. So we decided to put that off until the morning and planned to leave this area, as we did Pagosa, clean and fresh smelling.

       In the morning Judy ran from the campground to the hot springs, about 5 miles. Hughes packed up and drove there with the dogs. We did spend time at the hot springs, which did not compare favorably with the facility at Pagosa Springs. The hot springs facility consists of two swimming pools with temperatures in the mid-ninety degree range, plus informal places along Chalk Creek where you can build a little sit-down place to trap the hot water as it seeps out of the riverbank. You can heat your bottom and freeze your feet (or by turning around, reverse the situation), but no way can the hot and cold water really be mixed to create a uniform temperature. The rest of the facility looks in dire need of remodeling and refurbishing. It’s approaching dingy. We didn’t stay all that long, though we did shower and clean ourselves up so that we would be “presentable” when we met up with Judy’s cousin Carol and her husband, Ken, at Mueller State Park.

•Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. We stopped in Buena Vista for some groceries, drove over Trout Creek Pass (a mere 9,346'), and across the lower end of South Park (for those of you from out of state, there really is a South Park, though the resemblance between the cartoon show and the real place is a giant stretch). It rained seriously for much of the trip and the wind did its best to knock our RV over. We stopped at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. We went into the Visitors Center and, because it was threatening more rain, watched a video about the fossils and the development of the national monument, and asked some questions about what we might do when we returned the next day. We were encouraged to take the ranger-led hike at 10:30 in the morning. It turned out this was two hours well spent. The walk was informative and leisurely across the open fields where the fossilized redwood tree stumps are exposed. We sorted through some shale outcroppings for leaf and insect fragments from the Eocene Epoch (therefore, Hiking at Mueller SPno dinosaurs). We learned a good deal about the wildflowers and the plant life in the area, which are a lot like Nederland. And we learned about why the monument was finally created in 1969: to save the fossils and the area from developers who intended to sell parcels so that each home could have a fossil tree stump in its yard! In addition, over the years, stumps were sold (Walt Disney personally purchased one for Disneyland) or stolen during various midnight requisitions.

•Mueller State Park. We had been in contact with Carol and Ken who were suffering from some pretty good heat at their home in Milliken, near Loveland. We knew that Mueller was a popular state park, it was on the back or west side of Pike’s Peak, and sat at about 9,000’. It would be cool. Both of us were able to make reservations which were necessary at this time of the year. We arrived a day before they did and spent the first night between visits to the National Monument. Ken and Carol arrived the afternoon of our second visit to see the fossils. They gave us an update of the heat we had missed at home while we were in Utah. Both Colorado’s Front Range and Utah sounded too hot to be enjoyable. Mueller offered us relief.

        Mueller State Park is 5,000 acres of lush meadows and spruce and aspen forests, a terrific place not only to find relief from the heat, but also has excellent hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The park has a well marked 50-mile trail system that goes through fields of wildflowers, aspen groves, small ponds, and rocky overlooks. The campsites offer only electric hook-ups; we saw many folks walking from the water faucets to their trailers/fifth wheels/RV with 5-gallon containers refilling their water tanks—a mild inconvenience. The roads to the sites are paved, as are the parking pads, which keeps the dust down. Dogs, however, are not made to feel welcome: they are not allowed on the trails and must always be on leash only in the campgrounds—a major inconvenience for those of us who like dogs, and most folks camping there had dogs. There is regular patrolling of the area by the ranger watchdogs looking for violators (i.e., loose dogs). On some days the same guy drove by every 10 minutes. Come on folks, lighten up. Hughes at Mueller SP

       Nevertheless, we hiked a good deal, Hughes biked several routes, and Judy ran several days while we were there. We walked much of the six-mile Chessman Ranch Trail that skirts aspen groves and across fields over wide, smooth, well-maintained trails, stopping to look at the wide variety of wildflowers. Our pace was leisurely; our objective was not to make time or make miles, but rather to enjoy the incredibly nice weather, the scenery, and our company. When we got back, we built a fire and got a good bed of coals ready so we could treat Ken and Carol to a Colorado potato dinner topped off with cheese, chopped green onions, butter, some Mrs. Dash plus a salad and a bottle of red wine (though we were prepared to swear it was cranberry juice if stopped by the alcohol watchdogs). Judy cooked the potatoes in the oven and we finished cooking them in the coals wrapped in foil. Delicioso! We continued to feed the campfire until about 8:00 when it was clear we all needed to go to bed. After three nights at Mueller, we packed up in the morning, looking forward to sleeping in our own bed that night. We’d been on the road for a month and visited some beautiful and interesting places. While we enjoyed our trip, there’s nothing like your own bed. We arrived home with two new functioning batteries, a new turbo resonator, and a dead TV.


         We’ll leave with this photo of the west or “back” side of Pikes Peak taken from Mueller State Park. The dark areas on the aspens are the result of elk eating the bark, a common Mueller State Parksight throughout this park. This area is not so well known to those folks who hurry up and down the interstate between Pueblo and Fort Collins. Getting on the other side of the Front Range opens up a views like this everywhere you look. It’s the Colorado of the calendars, the tourist bochures, of small towns, large ranches, and forests of pine, spruce, fir and aspen. Mueller State Park, like so many of the camping areas of Colorado, opens a door to the scenery and serenity of our state.

        We are planning to do more and more of this kind of travel. We’ll still do an occasional foreign trip—the Galapagos, Scandanavia, Ireland, and even a third trip to New Zealand are just a few places we’ve talked about in the future. But we’re thinking two or three 4–8 week road trips a year in the US (including Alaska) and Canada are about right for us. There are places we want to see again or for the first time, and there are Dogs at Dinettefriends in all parts of the country we want to visit. RV travel seems to be comfortable for us and we enjoy the company of Sophie and Bella while we’re on the road. 

        For those of you wondering, here’s the cumulative score of our on-going gin rummy game: Hughes won 5,825 to 4,874. We played 293 hands (roughly 10/night). We’ll start a new game of gin rummy on our next big road trip in the early fall. We’re heading to Washington/Idaho for a family visit and then down to Ojai, in southern California, for Hughes’s 50th high school reunion. Where we’ll go on our way to Washington or going home from Ojai is still in the planning stages. But we’re pretty sure we’ll have a great time on the road. Dogs, too.   

Judy and Hughes Moir
Home Email H&J Letters USA Travels Foreign Travels