Heading home at the end of our two-week escape to southwestern Colorado.  We hiked about 38 miles through incredible Colorado scenery.  I read at least three books, we photographed several sunsets over the reservoir and we finally got to visit the Rio Grande Southern Railroad Galloping Goose Museum in Dolores. 

We loved the Mancos State Park campground.  Shady, quiet and rustic – just the way campgrounds used to be back in “the day.”  Shady, however, presented a problem.  We never got enough sun to fully solar charge our trailer batteries.  After 13 nights of camping and despite all our panel-moving efforts, the batteries’ state of charge was down over 20 percent. 

Lesson learned.  We will soon be replacing our anemic lead-acid batteries with top-of-the-line lithium batteries with far more reserve capacity.  I used a lot of data bytes researching options on our “move the solar panels back into the sun” days in camp.  Orders will be placed Monday.

In addition to experimenting the with using solar panels in shady campsites, we also did a refrigerator experiment on the way home.

One of the big controversies among trailer owners is whether to run the refrigerator on propane when traveling down the road.  One school of thought says to turn the propane and refrigerator off.  It will stay cool, they say.  The other school says if it wasn’t safe to run them on propane while traveling, manufacturers wouldn’t make that the automatic option. 

With Dianne packing the freezer full of ice cream and meat, we’ve always left the fridge on, running on propane while traveling.  We have an automatic emergency cutoff installed on the gas line if something were to sever the propane hose, so we feel relatively safe doing that.

Coming back from Mancos, we turned the fridge off.  The freezer was -3 and the refrigerator about 35 degrees when we left.  When we reached our final campsite eight hours later, the fridge was an acceptable 42 degrees, but the freezer had warmed to 35.  The beer was still cold, but any ice cream in the freezer would have turned into a melted mess.

Lesson learned.  Since we normally travel with lots of frozen food, we’ll be traveling on propane in the future. No need to risk melting our dessert when camping.

Hold Still, Mr. Sun

I love camping in the woods.  Unfortunately, bunking amongst the trees creates a little problem when trying to recharge the trailer batteries with solar.  It seems the sun keeps moving.

[Note to my seventh-grade science teacher:  Yes, I know it’s the earth that moves, not the sun.  But from the perspective of our campsite, it’s the sun that’s arcing overhead.  My X-chocked trailer hasn’t budged an inch.]

We’re spending two weeks in a state park campground without hookups.  Normally, keeping the trailer batteries charged with solar is easy.  Find a clear spot with a southern exposure.  Put one solar panel facing the 10:00 a.m. sun, another at the noon position and the third facing the 2:00 p.m. sun.  The batteries, which can be down 20+ amp-hours in the morning, will be fully charged well before happy hour.

That doesn’t work in the woods.  I place the panels in a spot where fresh sunlight bathes the ground.  Faster than cops racing to a doughnut truck accident, the sun moves, and shade soon smothers my solar output. 

There are two solutions to our predicament.  We could just fire up the generator to recharge the batteries.  But in the week we’ve been camped here, I’ve not heard any of our fellow campers running a generator.  I don’t want to be the first.

The other solution is to go out every second day with a pot of fresh coffee and a good book. We just sit back, relax and move the panels as the sun migrates across the sky.  After lunch, we merely substitute a different sort of brew and continue the charging task.

Two Weeks with Nary a Hookup

Back when Corona was a beer, not a virus, we had planned to head out on a three-week camping trip in the Black Hills of South Dakota where we would hook up with some of our old A-frame trailer buddies.  When that trip got Covid-cancelled, we quickly booked space in a state park in southwestern Colorado.

The park sits beside a small, wake-free reservoir surrounded by scrub oak and ponderosa pine.  Pit toilets serve as restrooms.  We have no electrical hookup, no sewer hookup and there are only three water spigots shared by the entire campground, none of which are accessible by car. 

Most of our fellow campers are in tents or small trailers like ours with nary a big rig in sight.  Quiet and rustic, it reminds me of the campgrounds I frequented back in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

We’re here for 14 nights, the maximum allowed by park rules.  In seven years of trailer camping, this is only the fourth time we will be spending a full two weeks in one campground.  In the previous three, we’ve had a 30-amp electrical hookup and in two we had our own private water spigot.

Here, we will be recharging our batteries with a trio of 100-watt solar panels and filling our freshwater tank with water hauled in a jerry can, five gallons at a time.  Used water will be carted to the dump station in our 25-gallon Barker-brand sewer tote, which we’ve named “Bob.”

After spending eight nights camped in a full-hookup site next to Interstate 70 a few weeks back, the remote quietness of this park is a refreshing change. 

Back home

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.

Pedaling on

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.

Covid Camping

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. 

Horsing around

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. 

And yes, we did see some wild horses.

We’re finally on the road

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!

Going Again

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!

2020 Planning and Replanning

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 a 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.