Damn the torpedos

Coming back into Denver from our Canyon Country trip last May, we became stuck in stop-and-go, bumper-to-bumper traffic on the interstate as we tried to make it through Denver.  My lovely wife studied the situation and announced in no uncertain terms, “That’s it.  We’re moving to Grand Junction!”

[Dianne insists that she merely “suggested” we move to Grand Junction, but after 40 years of marriage, I know it’s best to take her suggestions as commands.]

Grand Junction is a place we’ve long longed to live.  We checked it out years ago when Dianne was still working as a nurse, and I was still shooting photos on film.  She’d have to start at a new hospital, and I’d have to find a suitable photo lab.  I’d also have to get from the Junction to Denver to fly anywhere.  We chose not to do it at that time.

A week after Dianne’s edict/suggestion, we went for a hike in Staunton State Park, which lies in the foothills west of Denver.  There, we chatted with a volunteer couple who lived in a patio home nearby and loved it.  With everything taken care of by the homeowners’ association, they could leave anytime they wanted and be gone as long as they wanted.  The patio home idea sounded perfect.

The next day, I Googled “patio homes” in Grand Junction.  Mixed in with all the conventional homes for sale that had patios, I found a link to a patio home community for folks over 55.  A few days later, we drove over the hill to check it out.  The quiet, cleanliness and friendliness of the community impressed us, so put our names on the wait list for a future home.  It was a long wait list, we were told.

Maybe next year we’ll get the call, we hoped as we planned our summer travels.

Two weeks later, we got an email asking if we would be interested in one of the units currently under construction.  We drove back over the hill to check it out.  These patio homes are front and rear duplexes, with a pair of duplexes sharing a common driveway.  Ours would be a rear unit at the edge of what will be a grassy cul-de-sac.  We agreed to buy it.

Even though our new home would not be done for months (only the foundation had been poured), we decided to take advantage of a hot sellers’ market in Denver and immediately put our house up for sale.  We contacted a few realtors, chose Pamela Meyer, whom we had contacted a decade or two ago when we first thought about moving to Grand Junction, and signed all the necessary forms. 

Our summer trip to the Left Coast would have to wait.  Paraphrasing Admiral Farragut, it was “damn the deadlines, full speed ahead” time. 

We had a few weeks to box up and remove 37-years of accumulated belongings from our house.  Friends gave us some boxes to use, and we bought many, many more.  We visited Lowe’s so often, they gave us our own reserved parking spot.

To hold everything before we could move into the new place, we rented a 10×15-foot, climate-controlled storage unit.  We figured that would be more than enough room to store our belongings.  Eleventy-seven truckloads later, it was filled wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling.  We rented another. 

We rented a third storage unit, this one 10×20-feet, for just our furniture and hired a five-man moving crew to haul everything out there, including our 300-pound log table.  With the furniture gone, we spent a week sleeping atop a leaky air mattress on the bedroom floor.  It was like camping, but without any of the pleasures of camping.

Deadlines approached.  We had a cleaning crew scheduled for September 1st and needed to get everything out of the house so they could do their thing.  We moved into our trailer and began camping out on our driveway. 

On September 2nd, the staging furniture arrived, turning our now empty house into something resembling a model home.  It looked so pretty, we considered rebuying the house from ourselves and moving back in.

On September 3rd, the photographer was scheduled to shoot a portfolio of images for the online listing.  Before he arrived, we hooked up the trailer, drove over the hill and bunked down in a state park campground in the Grand Junction area.  Finally, we were really camping.

We had two offers for the house even before it officially went up for sale on the 7th.  A slew of showings were scheduled over the weekend.  By Monday morning, we had more offers, one of which we accepted.  Pamela was able to get us $36,000 over our asking price, more than enough to cover all of the commissions and title fees. It was time to sign more forms and wait for the closing date to arrive, hoping nothing happened to derail the sale.

Having a house built

One of the exciting things about buying a brand-new house is the ability to have it customized just the way we want.  We spent countless hours on Google researching flooring, countertops, water heaters and the like.  We made a room-by-room list of modifications we wanted.  Then the work began.

Instead of just going through a catalog of options, customizing our house meant physically visiting individual vendors.  The first was the cabinet vendor who would be building the kitchen cabinets, bathroom cabinets and full-wall entertainment center. 

“Anything but oak,” the cabinet lady said as we arrived.

Dianne poured over the non-oak wood and stain samples, finally deciding on what she liked.  She ordered the pull-out shelves and optional spice rack she wanted.  I got to redesign the entertainment center to include a wine cooler, stereo cabinet and pull-out drawers for our CD collection.

Two hours later, we made our way to the countertop vendor.  Rather than granite which needs to be periodically sealed, we opted to go with quartz.  Dianne wanted something that would show dirt, so she picked out a nice, light-colored, dull plain pattern.  That only took an hour.  We took a sample with us so we could make sure it worked well with everything else.

Next stop was the flooring vendor.  I was hoping to go with real hardwood, but the flooring guy advised against that.  Something to do with the climate and care, I think.  Instead, we chose a high-quality laminate.  We needed to make sure the flooring and countertops would look good with the cabinets, so we took flooring samples and our countertop sample and headed back to the cabinet lady.

“Ughh,” she said.  The countertop choice was an abomination. 

She pulled out a sample of granite and it looked far better.  Although the pattern in the rock would hide dirt, Dianne agreed to go with it. 

We went back to the countertop guy, found a similar slab of granite and ordered that for our countertops.  He assured us that his products could be coated with a no-care, 10-year sealant, and unlike quartz, we could set hot pans directly atop the granite, although he didn’t recommend it.

Then it was back to the flooring guy to pick out tile for the bathroom floors, showers, entryway and kitchen backsplash.  I think we were there for over four hours, the final hour of which was spent with Dianne laboring over the grout color.

Back with the developer, we went over electric and plumbing issues, planning the lighting, ceiling fans, plug configurations, water heater style (gas on demand) and laundry area configuration (stacked washer and electric dryer).

With all that done, it was finally time to head onward.  We still had some camping to do.

Off to New Mexico

With the house under contract, we could finally relax and enjoy one final fling into the mountains.  The A-Liner Owner’s Club (we still belong even though we no longer own an A-frame trailer) was having a rally in the mountains outside Santa Fe.  It would be a good chance to see old friends and once again answer the New Mexico state question – “red or green” (chili).

We planned a leisurely, three-day trip to get there from Grand Junction.  Instead of going through the San Juan Mountains, we took the slickrock route through Gateway and Dolores. 

Our first night was spent at Mancos State Park, one of our favorite places to camp.  The state spent a few bucks on park improvements since we were last there including water spigots at the dump station.  Dianne no longer had to cart five-gallon jerry cans from a faucet 50 yards away.

Our second night was spent at Trinidad State Park, a place we’d never visited before.  While the campground was nice, it was a bit of a chore winding through town to get there.  Complicating matters was the need to refuel the truck.  Finding an in-town gas station suitable for a truck pulling a trailer proved to be challenging.

From Trinidad, we headed down the interstate to the Santa Fe KOA, which is located ten miles east of town.  It lies along the highway, so the noise level was high, and there was no Verizon cell coverage.  Other than that, it was a typical RV park.

We spent three nights at the KOA, enjoying the opportunity to rest, relax and not have to fill, tape, label and lift boxes.  On the single day we spent in the city, we mostly just ate, drank margaritas, walked the streets and shot a few photos.

From the KOA, we pulled the trailer through Santa Fe and up to the Black Canyon Campground, which lies along the road to the Ski Santa Fe ski area.  It’s a Forest Service site tucked in the trees.  The campsites are wide, and many display CCC-like rockwork along their perimeters.  Dianne loved the peace and quiet of the place.  We’ll be back.

We visited with our old friends and met some new ones at the rally.  With the exception of a short, 2½-mile hike out of the campground, we mostly just hung around camp enjoying the tranquility while moving the solar panels from spots of sunlight to spots of sunlight. 

On our last full day there, we joined two other couples for a drive to Angel Fire, Eagle Nest, Red River and Taos.  Dianne and I detoured to Taos Ski Village.  I hadn’t been there since the Blake’s sold the place and Dianne had never been there.  We became so impressed with the new layout (the skiing’s not bad either), we decided to put it on our 2022-2023 ski destination list.

The Black Canyon campground does not have a dump station, so we booked a full-hookup night at a KOA located 60 miles to the north in Las Vegas, New Mexico.  I didn’t want to carry 400 pounds of wastewater over Raton Pass and into Colorado.  Like its Santa Fe cousin, this KOA lies right along the freeway, so we were treated to the night-long din of truck traffic.

All that noise got us prepared for our next stop at the KOA Denver East Strasburg, which is located next to I-70 on the plains, 35-miles east of Denver.  We’ll be here for 41 days before we move on for a four-month stay in an RV park near our under-construction home in the Grand Junction area.

At least, that park is a mile off the freeway, so it should be quieter.

Tenting at Turquoise

A few nights of tent camping can make one appreciate the luxuries of bunking in a recreational vehicle.

Somewhere between buying a new house in the Grand Valley of Colorado and selling our existing house in Gridlock City, Colorado, we decided we needed camping escape.  I was able to reserve a last-minute site for three nights at a Forest Service campground at the far end of Turquoise Lake near Leadville. 

It didn’t make sense to drag the trailer up for such a short stay.  Instead, we packed up the tent, filled a cooler with beer (and food) and headed for the hills.

Naturally, it rained before we got there, and it was still sprinkling as we set up the tent.  We brought along a fold-up sun canopy, which served as a rain umbrella over the picnic table and kitchen.  The campground wally came over with a broom and swept water from a depression in front of the campfire ring.

The soft, overcast light made the wildflowers glisten.  Chipmunks scurried around grabbing seeds from low-hanging plants.  They were soon joined by a bevy of jack-style rabbits.  I threw a telephoto lens on the camera and shot dozens and dozens of photos, hoping to capture the perfect pose.  Unfortunately, the critters proved to be more than a bit camera shy.

The rain stopped and the next day we went for a hike.  Our destination was Timberline Lake, located a few miles away in the Holy Cross Wilderness.  Other than one stream crossing where we had to strip off hiking boots and wade across, the route was scenic and easy to follow.  Unfortunately, smoke from California wildfires smothered distant views.

Along the way, my fungus-loving wife noted a preponderance of mushrooms growing beside the trail.  She bemoaned not bringing her mushroom book and knife.

One of the nice things about camping is the willingness of fellow campers to share information and experiences.  The couple camped directly across from us had come specifically to harvest the fungus and invited Dianne to join them on a short mushroom-harvesting hike.  My lovely wife came back with over four pounds of tasty Boletes mushrooms.

Besides providing a sanity break, a second purpose for our camping trip was to gather material and photographs for my Colorado Camping column in Colorado Life magazine.  We spent our second day driving around Turquoise Lake, shooting shots and checking out alternative campgrounds.  This travel writing is tough work, but somebody’s got to do it.

After the traditional camper’s breakfast of bacon and eggs on our final morning, we packed up the tent and cooler (no beer in it now) and headed for home.

No More

As fate would have it, this would be the second and last time we would use this Big Agnes tent. 

All our tent camping gear (and everything else from our soon to be sold house) was placed in climate-controlled storage lockers at Extra Space Storage in Aurora.  On the night of August 25-26, someone drilled out the lock to our unit and stole a few thousand dollars’ worth of our possessions.  The missing items included our tent, sleeping pads, cooking gear, a portable Coleman grill and our Yeti and RTIC coolers (fortunately with no beer inside). 

Hopefully, the insurance company will come through and we will be able to replace the camping gear.  Until then, we’ll only be camping in the luxury of our trailer.

Winter Camping in Comfort

There once was a time when Dianne and I loaded tent, sleeping bags and cooking gear into backpacks and traipsed into the Colorado high country to camp atop snow.  Those days are long gone.

Still, we miss the beauty of awakening, ensconced in the snow-covered wild.  One relatively painless way we’ve found to do that is to reserve a yurt at one of the Colorado state parks.

A yurt is a tent-like structure that has been used by the nomadic people of Central Asia since before Marco Polo.  They are round with a conical roof, which makes them look like a straight sided cupcake.  The Asian yurts consist of layers of felt stretched over a wooden latticework.  Roof rafters connect the frame to a circular crown where a hole lets smoke and cooking fumes out. 

Many improvements have been made to the original Mongolian design.  Space age fabrics replace felt with foil laminates helping to retain 97% of all radiant heat.  Acrylic domes cap the top opening.  Cheaper than cabins to construct, they’ve become quite popular in state parks from coast to coast.

In the past, we’ve gone with friends up Poudre Canyon to Colorado State Forest State Park where Never Summer Nordic rents out yurts in the backcountry.  On snowshoes or cross-country skis, we’d carry or sled our gear (sleeping bags, clothes, beer, wine and food) out to the yurt for multi-night stays.  We’d gaze at stars shimmering in the cold night air and look out at moose dining nearby in the morning.

With close distancing with friends out this year due to Covid, Dianne and I decided to hit a different yurt by ourselves.  We opted for Golden Gate Canyon State Park located off the Peak-to-Peak Highway west of Golden.  Unlike the State Forest’s backcountry yurts, here we could park a few feet away.

Located in the Reverend’s Ridge Campground, the yurt features two bunkbeds with full-size mattresses on the bottom and twins on top.  There’s a circular table with six chairs and a taller counter to one side.  A gas/stove fireplace plus a pair of baseboard heaters provide warmth.

One thing we quickly discovered was how far away the bathroom is.  Our backcountry yurts have outhouses located a few feet away.  At Golden Gate Canyon, we were in Yurt #2, which lay a couple hundred yards from restrooms in the campground office building.  At least they were flush toilets located in a heated environment.

We booked a two-night stay, which meant we had one completely free day to get out and enjoy our surroundings.  We decided to hike the Racoon Trail, a 4-mile loop that goes from the campground to an overlook known as Panorama Point before looping back.  There wasn’t enough snow to warrant snowshoes, so we donned hiking boots.  A pair of Nano-spike traction aids turned our boots into the footwear equivalent of studded snow tires.

The day was clear and the wind, which had howled during the night, had diminished to a light breeze.  We hiked the wide, easy to follow trail through conifer and aspen glades, listening to snow crunch underfoot. 

At Panorama Point, we stood on the decking platform and gazed out at the snow-covered peaks along the Front Range.  The return trip took us past the log cabin of Reverend Donald Tippit, the man for whom the campground is named.

Back at the yurt, we kicked back in 70-degree warmth, brewed up a pot of tea and scooted up next to the fireplace.  That’s a pleasure we couldn’t experience back in the days when we loaded tent, sleeping bags and cooking gear into backpacks and traipsed into the Colorado high country to camp atop snow.