We’re just back from our first Covid camping trip to the Grand Junction area of Colorado. It proved to be something of a Jekyll and Hyde sort of trip.
On the plus side, over our seven full days in camp, we were able to get out and hike 20+ miles on trails in Colorado canyon country. When not stomping down trails, we covered over 60+ miles on bikes, pedaling through parks and wildlife refuges along the Colorado Riverfront Trail.
On the downside, our campsite left much to be desired. It sat a few dozen yards from Interstate 70, treating us to a constant din of passing truck noise. There was little shade available to shelter us from the 90+ degree sun, but at least with full hookups, we could run the vent fans and/or air conditioner when we needed to cool off. To top it off, the pesky no-see-ums were beginning to come out, which made sitting outside a skin-swatting experience.
In the pre-Covid days, I always looked forward to stopping at Dos Hombres Mexican Restaurant in nearby Clifton for their spicy, green-chile smothered burritos. Dianne, on the other hand, maintained a burning desire to go to Enstrom’s Candies for one of their toffee and fudge ice cream sundaes. Taking advantage of curbside pickup, we were able to get burrito dinners to go. With takeout service and outside tables at Enstrom’s, my lovely wife was able to satisfy her craving for ice cream. (She even got one for me.)
We’re already looking forward t the next trip in two weeks. We’ll be heading to a Colorado State Park campground tucked in the cool conifers and miles from the nearest highway.
Unfortunately, we’ll have to do without burritos and sundaes.
The longer I linger in Grand Junction, the more I long to live here. Within a short drive, Grand Junction residents can visit their choice of cliffs, canyons and crags. It has minor league skiing (1,600 skiable acres at Powderhorn) and minor league baseball (Grand Junction Rockies). Hiking trails begin practically right out one’s door.
Today we explored another Grand Junction treasure – its bike paths. We drove to the other Robb State Park unit that has camping, this one in the town of Fruita at Grand Junction’s western end. From there, we bicycled five miles west to the start of the Kokopelli Trail, a grueling, 142-mile mountain bike route to Moab. We started the trail but didn’t make it all the way to that famed Utah hot spot before turning around and heading back to Fruita.
From there, we bicycled the Riverfront Trail along the Colorado River to the Walter Walker Wildlife Area, a place we learned that the resting fowl are active. Like the trail to Kokopelli’s Trailhead, the bicycling surface was wide, nicely paved in concrete and dotted with benches along the way for those in need of a rest.
Skiing. Hiking. Biking. The only thing missing in Grand Junction is a Mazda dealership. For now, we’ll use that as our excuse to stay planted in our domicile on the sunrise side of Denver.
Unlike many Americans, my wife and I are taking this pandemic seriously. We support the mandated shutdown restraints, we don mask when we go to stores and we practice social distancing. We gather with friends on Facetime and Dianne attends church services on Zoom.
We are also, finally, out camping.
We cancelled a long-anticipated trip to Arizona in March when Colorado shut down the state park campgrounds we planned to visit on the trip south. We sweated whether we would be able to make a previously reserved camping trip to a Colorado park in late May. Fortunately, the state park campgrounds reopened on May 12 and we were able to make the trip.
Like everyone, we want to return to 2019 when the threat of contracting a potentially deadly virus didn’t loom in the air. Clearly, a lot of people think those days are here now. We stopped for a bathroom break at a truck stop where folks were packed belly-to-butt in line to pay for their snack purchases.
At the campground, the young man manning the entrance station only donned a mask when he saw that we had ours on. The custodians and campground hosts have masks around their necks, but I seldom see them on. Large groups of campers seemed to intermingle freely without even attempting social distancing.
On the other hand, social distancing was practiced on the trail into a wilderness study area we hiked yesterday. We and everyone we met backed off the trail to let other hikers pass by. It was a simple and safe thing to do.
For us who stay put at our campsite, social distancing is pretty easy. We’re farther away from the nearest fellow camper than we are from our next-door neighbor at home. While I’m not ready to cram into a bar or restaurant or pack elbow-to-elbow into a ballpark yet, I feel safe camping at a state park site where my nearest neighbor is 30+ feet away.
As long as some don’t ruin it for others, we’ll continue camping.
To celebrate our first full day in the Grand Junction area, we hiked the Main Canyon Trail in the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range and Wilderness Study Area. We ended up covering six miles, three miles up the canyon and three miles back. For a canyon lover like me, it was great to be back, once again walking between the folds of the earth.
As Willy Nelson might say, “we’re finally on the road again.” We hitched Whitey to Tighty and drove to Colorado’s Grand Valley near Grand Junction for a week of camping at Robb State Park’s Island Acres unit.
The campground sits between the Colorado River and Interstate 70. For most of our trips, I try to make reservations as far in advance as each site allows, but this trip came about long after the six-month advance window opened.
Last February, the Covidemic had not hit yet and we decided, “hey, wouldn’t it be fun to attend the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction.” Our favorite campground in the area is Robb State Park’s Fruita unit, but since this is Memorial Day week, sites there for the week were unavailable. So, we settled for our second choice, where the only full-hookup sites available were close to the freeway.
We left Denver on Saturday morning, the first day of the three-day weekend. Normally, I would expect traffic to be heavy heading out of town, but it was little more than moderate. Gas stations and rest areas were all open, so there were plenty of bathroom stops available. Some folks, including us, were wearing face masks, but most were not.
We checked in for the campground at the entry gate where the attendant did not have a mask on. He asked us what our site number was, disappeared for a minute or two and came back, this time wearing a mask, and said we were all set. We drove to our site, leveled the trailer and set up our camp for our eight-night stay.
The campground is full, largely with families with kids all ecstatic to be out. I feel their pleasure. I doubt we’re the only retired folks equally ecstatic to finally be out!
I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited about an upcoming Micro Lite camping trip.
After having our eagerly-anticipated April expedition to Arizona cancelled, it appears the Colorado State Park campground for which we have late-May reservations will finally be open. We booked the spot months ago with plans to attend the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction.
Because of the Covid pandemic, there won’t be any baseball to watch. We’ll just have to be content with bike rides along the 22.1-mile-long Colorado Riverfront Trail system and doing some hikes in Colorado National Monument and the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area.
We won’t be making our usual burrito stop at the nearby Dos Hombres restaurant and my wife will have to forego her toffee sundaes at Enstrom’s in downtown Grand Junction, but at least we’ll finally be out camping!
I’m a planner. When it comes to activities, I’ve always liked to plan ahead.
As a hiker/climber/backpacking tent-camper, I’d sit down in the spring and map out every weekend and vacation adventure through the end of autumn and beyond. The need for preplanning got worse when Dianne and I bought a trailer.
In the old days, any place we could park our truck became a potential campsite. Other than an occasional national park stay, we had no need to bunk in formal campgrounds. That’s tougher with the trailer.
These days, we need a nice flat spot to park our motel on wheels, ideally with water spigot nearby. With solar panels and/or a generator, we can go without a power hookup, but a dump station for draining the holding tanks is a handy amenity if we’re staying more than a few days.
We’re not big fans of RV parks where “campers” are parked elbow-to-elbow like cars in a Costco parking lot. We prefer state parks, where sites are typically spaced farther apart and often cloaked in vegetation. For most state parks, ensuring a site requires making a reservation sometimes up to a year in advance.
The problem with planning one’s life that far ahead is that as Forest Gump pointed out, sometimes “stuff happens.” Take the latest pandemic, for example. By the end of 2019, I had our camping for 2020 totally scheduled, with campsites reserved through late September.
We’re now rebooking things. We had a long-planned trip with friends to an Arizona state park in April, timed so that we would be there for their annual wine and food tasting event. We had to cancel one week before departure when Colorado was put on a shelter-in-place lockdown. We rescheduled our reservations for October.
This week, another trip bit the dust. We were planning to meet some friends at a trailer rally in South Dakota in mid-June with stops at a Nebraska state park on the way up and a week-long retreat in the Black Hills on our way back. That trip will now be held next year, virus-permitting. Instead of South Dakota, we found a site still open at a Colorado state park and booked it for the same time period.
A late-May trip to Robb State Park in Grand Junction, Colorado, is still on our calendar at this point, although the scope of the trip has changed. As baseball fans, we originally planned to attend a few games of the Junior College World Series while we were there, but that event has, of course, been cancelled. If the campground reopens, we’ll still go and just do a lot of hiking instead.
Beyond that, we still have campsites reserved for July in Colorado. In mid-August, we have reservations for a six-week swing down the Left Coast with stops at state parks in Oregon and California with couple of weeks camped in the redwoods. before continuing on for our rescheduled Arizona trip.
While we may not be camping in the trailer, I am taking the time to “improve” our motel-on-wheels. In the next few weeks, I’ll be installing an upgraded toilet, reinforcing the bumper, moving the spare tire to below the frame and bolting on a receiver for a bike rack. I’ll probably be replacing the refrigerator thermistor with an adjustable version, installing a pair of solar panel inputs at the rear of the trailer and adding a sliding silverware drawer.
I’m also thinking about spending our covid-incentive on upgrading my factory power center converter/charger with a Progressive Dynamics unit and replacing a pair of anemic, lead-acid batteries with a 200-amp lithium-ion unit. That will allow us to boonie-camp for longer periods without needing to pull out the solar panels or fire up the generator.
Now, if we could just solve the need for a dump station, but unfortunately, Dianne is too excited about using that new, upgraded toilet for that ever to happen.
We had planned a camping trip to Arizona, but alas, a certain nasty virus got in the way. While camping might be a good way to practice social distancing, getting there and back would involve a fair amount of social interaction. While our intended campground remains open, there’s no telling when state-wide or national quarantines might drop into place.
Problem is, by staying home we have no excuse not to finally get around to cleaning 35 years accumulation of crap out of the laundry room.
After four nights at Dead Horse Ranch, we drove south to Apache Junction for a two-week stay at Lost Dutchman State Park, which lies at the edge of Superstition Mountain.
For those of you not familiar with the area, the “Lost Dutchman” name does not refer to an inexperienced guy from the Netherlands who ventured into the rugged backcountry without a map.
No, it refers to a 19th century prospector from Germany (Deutschland) whose supposedly rich gold mine was “lost” in these desert mountains. Over the last 130+ years, hundreds (thousands?) have tried to find this misplaced treasure trove. “Dutch Hunters,” they’re called.
We’re “Jack Hunters.”
Instead of searching for the elusive mine, Dianne and I are hoping to photograph the rare and endangered Superstition Mountain jackalope. This is a rabbit-like creature with antlers. We found a stuffed one at the Tortilla Flat restaurant and giftshop, so we know we were on the right track.
Our hunt, so far, has been just as successful as the decades of searches made by Dutch hunters. While we’ve spotted numerous cottontail bunnies on our walks to the restrooms, none with the distinctive jackalope rack. We did, however, see a regal horned lizard and numerous sunsets from camp, so all is not lost.
From our site, we look directly at the towering cliffs that form the southwestern face of the peak. With the possible exception of our site at Devils Tower National Monument a few years ago, it’s the most scenic view from a campsite we’ve ever enjoyed. Unfortunately, during the weekend, our unobstructed view is slightly diminished by the motor mansions parked in the loop above.
While the views from camp are spectacular, the campground itself has one annoying fault. There are only two restrooms serving 104 campsites. If the campground were all RVs with sewer hookups, that might not be a problem. But without sewers and given the large number of tent campers here, it’s best to not be desperate for the facilities, especially on weekends when the campground is rife with families bursting with offspring. At least the Wallys are friendly.
But hey, we’re in the Superstitions, my favorite Arizona mountain range. Over the 18 years I lived in Arizona as a youth and young adult, I logged hundreds and hundreds of miles traipsing her trails. I still enjoy venturing into the Superstition backcountry, but as a geezer with a wife suffering from foot, knee, back and shoulder issues, the hikes are now considerably shorter.
In the past two weeks, we’ve logged dozens of miles hiking Superstition Wilderness Area trails. We’ve hiked to springs, scaled ridges, crossed mesas, wandered up and down canyons and crossed a few passes. At a maximum of 10¾ miles per day (Dianne’s medically limited to less than 11 miles per day), we’re not covering the amount of ground we would have logged three or four decades ago, but we’re still able to get into and enjoy the backcountry.
Now If we could just find one of those Superstition Mountain jackalopes in the wild!
We’ve camped just under 400 nights over the past six seasons, nearly every one of which was in some sort of formal campground. Nearly every one of them had a “campground host” on duty. The only places we’ve ever had issues with these park volunteers (we call them “Wallys”) have been in Arizona state parks.
Two years ago, we were camped at Kartchner Caverns State Park in southern Arizona. Our site had water and electric hookups, but no sewer. That’s not a problem since we don’t have a bathroom in the trailer. But we do wash dishes in the trailer sink, which produces “gray water.” We catch the sink runout in an 11-gallon tote, which we can wheel to a drain site.
Our Kartchner campsite was across from the campground restrooms. It had an outside sink where folks could wash dishes and dump their dirty dishwater. We used similar sinks at a national park to drain our tote of dishwater, so we figured that would be the proper thing to do there.
Not so, said the Wally who intercepted me on my way to the sink. You must dump your dishwater at the trailer dump station. We discussed the issue and I agreed to tote my tote across the campground to the RV sewer dump.
I thought the issue was settled, but apparently it was not. She had one of the park rangers drive over to tell us that if we were to so much as even thinking of dumping our sink water anywhere but the RV dump station, we could be subject to a $5,000 fine.
“Why are you telling me this?” I asked. “I already told the lady we’d wheel it to the dump station. Did she think we might smuggle our dishwater into the dishwater sink when she wasn’t looking?”
The second incident occurred on our current visit to Dead Horse Ranch State Park located in the Verde Valley near Sedona. The park is beautiful, the restrooms clean, the hiking trails plentiful and the ranger staff at the Entrance Station/Visitor Center friendly and helpful. We hiked an eight-mile loop trail from our campsite and explored and photographed three nearby national monuments preserving centuries-old Sinagua Indian sites.
On our way back from one of the sites, we decided to take a look at the park’s group campsite facilities. We belong to the Aliner Owners Group (yes, ours is a Rockwood but the club graciously lets SOBs–Some Other Brands—join). They are always looking for regional rally sites, so we thought we’d scope out the group site here.
There were no signs, cones, closed gates or anything else saying the group site was off-limits. We drove in, made a quick loop through the area and headed out. An angry Wally flagged us down as we were leaving.
She told us we were not welcome in the group site and began scolding us for violating some unwritten, do-not-enter protocol. We explained why we were there, apologized profusely and promised never to ever enter the group campsite again. Her scolding and our apologizes continued for a good five minutes. Finally we were allowed to exit. I half expected to receive a ranger visit that evening, but fortunately none followed.
I’m sure the two volunteer hosts were just ordinary people trying to do their job as they best saw fit. Maybe we were the 15th incident in a stressful day and suffered accordingly. I love Arizona State Parks and will continue to visit them.
I will just make sure to never enter a group campsite or tote my dishwater to the dishwater sink.