Robb Retreat

We had originally planned to head west for a six-week trip that would take us across Utah and Idaho to the Columbia River, then down the Oregon Coast to the California redwoods. 

We were going to attend a Mini Lite trailer rally and visit Dianne’s parents in California followed by a visit to her sister in Nevada.  We would then camp in Denver for a few days before heading south to Arizona for a two-week camping excursion with friends in the desert east of Phoenix.

Because of the Covidemic, all of that was cancelled.  Although some places graciously didn’t charge their normal fees, we still ended up absorbing $188.12 in campsite cancellation fees.

In place of relatives and redwoods, we are doing a Colorado Covid Compromise trip. We were able to book a trio of two-week stays at Colorado State in the western part of the state.  First stop is Robb State Park Island Acres Section, which lies 18 miles east of Grand Junction.

Getting here presented a challenge.  A huge wildfire broke out in Glenwood Canyon that closed the Interstate highway through the canyon.  Alternative routes were required.

We chose to go north through Steamboat Springs and then south to Rifle.  Other than a few miles of road construction that coated the front of the trailer in mud, it was pretty much uneventful.  It only took about two hours longer than normal.

We arrived and set up camp in pleasant 100-degree, one-percent humidity warmth.  On went the air conditioner.  It’s good to not be tent camping.

Hiking Grand Mesa

Some camping trips are truly memorable.  This looks to be one of them, but for all the wrong reasons.

While the name may sound exotic, Robb State Park Island Acres section lies sandwiched between the cliffs, about 18 miles east of Grand Junction.  There’s no island.  On one side of the campground lies the Colorado River and the Union Pacific railroad tracks.  On the other lies Interstate 70, a major transcontinental truck route.  Even though we’re about as far away from the interstate as we can get, it’s still noisy.

The sites are nicely spaced with grassy lawn between them, but shade is at a premium.  Our site does have a canopy over the picnic table.  We have full hookups (electricity, water and sewer), which means we can use as much water and power as we want.  That’s handy because with temperatures only a shade under 100, we’ll be showering frequently and will have the air conditioner running pretty much all afternoon.

Then there’s the smoke.  Another major wildfire, the fourth largest in Colorado history at last count, is burning north of Grand Junction.  Smoke from that conflagration blankets the area, making distant views appear as if we’re seeing them through waxed paper.  The air smells of burning wood and ash settles on everything overnight.

The one saving grace is that Grand Mesa lies about a half-hour drive away.  At 10,000 feet, world’s largest flat-topped mountain offers a cool, relatively smoke-free place to escape for hiking.  The first day, we did a short, six-mile hike through glades of aspen and spruce to a series of small lakes and creek-fed reservoirs. 

Yesterday we hiked eight miles from a set of roadside fishing lakes near the campground where we stayed three nights last July.  I think we each lost over a liter of blood to the ravenous mosquitoes back then.  We saw nary a mosquito on this trip. 

After four miles of relatively flat walking, we reached the top of a chairlift at the Powderhorn Ski Area.  The steep, black-diamond ski trails look far more frightening when they don’t have snow on them.  If we can do it in Covid-free conditions, we may come back this winter on a ski vacation.

Dianne is still having issues with her replaced knee, so we’re limiting hikes to every second day.  On off days when the air is good, we’ll do some more biking.  On the bad days, we’ll probably hang out in our trailer’s air-conditioned luxury and catch up on reading.  There are some definite advantages to “camping” in our summer cabin on wheels (SCOW).

Phase one comes to a close

We just completed our last active day at Island Acres with a 40-mile bike ride on the Riverfront Trail.  From Las Colonias park in Grand Junction, we pedaled 14 miles out to the Robb State Park in Fruita.  From there we continued nearly to the Kokopelli Trailhead in Loma.  At the 20-mile point, we turned back.

Heading downriver, the first half of the trip was predominantly downhill, and we had a nice tailwind.  Going back was uphill, pedaling into a stiff breeze.  At Dianne’s insistence, we ensured success by stocking up on calories at Enstrom’s with triple-scoop ice cream sundaes before facing the final 14 miles of trail.

This was our fourth day of bicycling over our 14-night stay at Island Acres.  We also enjoyed five days of hiking up on Grand Mesa.  In all, we covered nearly 94 miles on bikes and over 32 miles on hiking trails.  Monday was a shopping and laundry day, and tomorrow will be the same as we prepare for departure.  We also had two photo days up on the Mesa (not retired yet) and a stay-in-the-trailer day when the smoke from the Pine Gulch fire blanketed the valley and beyond.

Saturday, we begin the second leg of our Covid-escaping, getaway trifecta.  After enjoying full-hookup “camping” here at Island Acres, we will be staying at Mancos State Park near Mesa Verde where water fill-ups will have to be carted in jerry cans, the battery will be recharged with solar panels and the gray- and black-water tank contents will be hauled to the dump station using Bob, our 25-gallon, Barker four-wheel sewer tote. 

At Mancos, we’ll be boondock camping in the whispering pines.  No din of the interstate.  No freight trains rumbling by.  I’m really looking forward to spending the next two weeks ensconced in rustic quiet.

On to Mancos

We left Island Acres and arrived at Mancos State Park on Saturday afternoon.  The route from Grand Junction to Mancos took us over two mountain passes (Dallas Divide and Lizard Head), most of which was done with a fierce headwind.  We arrived at Mancos in calmer conditions, set up camp and kicked back beneath the ponderosa pines and enjoyed the sounds of silence.

Sunday was flake-out day with just a 3.6-mile hike around Jackson Gulch Reservoir, the park’s central feature.  The water provides a great backdrop for savoring the sunset.

Yesterday, we hiked a beautiful trail in the national forest that is on neither the Trails Illustrated nor San Juan National Forest maps.  We had no idea where it was taking us, which was exciting.  We ended up in a familiar canyon and followed a trail we took last June back to camp.  

Today, Tuesday, is flush and fill day – the day that we drain the gray- and blackwater holding tanks and top up the freshwater tank.  The “used water” I tote to the dump station in Bob, our 25-gallon Barker tote tank.  It’s a two-trip operation – one for the black followed by another for the gray.  While I can tote the tote from the hitch of the truck, I’ve just been hand-pulling it here because the dump station is only a couple hundred yards away.  Hand-pulling gallons of sewage to the sewer builds character.

Dianne carts the freshwater in five-gallon jerry cans from the drinking water spigot about 25 yards away.  By carrying a pair of jerry cans with us, she can be refilling one while I’m using a portable water pump to load the water from the other.  It took five jerry trips today to replace the liquid we’d used since our arrival on Saturday.

We’ve got a nice long hike planned for tomorrow followed by maybe a bike ride past some nearby summer homes on Thursday.  Friday will be flush and fill day.  Once again I’ll be dragging Bob up the road to the dump station.  I can’t wait.

Smokey’s back

It’s Monday, Labor Day, and our old friend, the smoke, has returned with a vengeance.  It’s been nearly crystal clear around here until today.  I’m wondering if we’re going to have enough solar power penetrating this cloud of smoke to charge the battery.

Apparently, smoke from the California fires combined with smoke from the Grand Junction area has arrived here in southwestern Colorado.  AccuWeater says it’s sunny outside, but we can’t even see Ol’ Sol through the thick, foggy cloud of smoke.  Cold temperatures combined with rain and/or snow is predicted for tomorrow and Wednesday, which hopefully will clear the air.

We really love Mancos State Park.  Even over the three-day weekend, it’s been relatively quiet and peaceful.  We’re now watching everybody departing.  By midweek, the campground should be virtually empty.  We’ll love it even more then.

Since leaving home, we’ve pedaled over 100 miles and hiked over 60.  Yesterday we did a 12¼-mile hike out of the park with 1,600+ feet of vertical.  Thirty years ago, we would have done that with 40- and 50-pound packs on our backs and declared it to be an easy day.  Returning to camp yesterday, just climbing the steps into the trailer to fetch the beers took an effort.  This getting old sucks.

Fall color is just beginning to hit the mountains.  Scrub oak leaves are turning a rusty orange and the golden finger of Midas has begun to touch the aspen.  We’re hoping for spectacular color when we hit Ridgway next week.  We’re also hoping the smoke will be gone so we can see (and photograph) that color.

Thanks to Covid, we’re setting a record on this trip.  We’ve now been camping for 23 consecutive nights and have not once dined in a Mexican restaurant.  We haven’t gone that long without a burrito and margarita since we spent three months camping across Canada. 

Yes, we all have to make sacrifices during this pandemic, but this is truly roughing it.

Boonie camping by the numbers

We’re on the last day of our 14-day retreat at Mancos State Park.  Our longest stay at a campground with no hookups, it has proven to be an excellent experiment in water, sewer and electrical usage.

As for water, we’ve used a bit over 100 gallons, all of which was hand carted in five-gallon jerry cans from a spigot located about 25 yards away.  We fully filled the trailer’s 50-gallon freshwater on our arrival and topped it up twice more.

As for the “used” water, I’ve made four roundtrips pulling our sewer tote to the dump station – two carrying black water and two with gray.  We’ll dump all our tanks directly into the dump station drain when we leave the campground tomorrow morning. 

Last time we were at Mancos (a 13-day stay) we had the pair of anemic, lead-acid batteries that came with the trailer.  Each was rated for 75 AH (amp hours).  The general rule with batteries like these is to never let them go below 50% of capacity.  With lights, water pump, furnace fan, computers and camera charging, we found that we were using over 40 AH daily. 

That meant we had to fully recharge the batteries daily.  We spent every second day stuck in camp moving solar panels around to keep the batteries happy.  We even pulled out our generator (I hate generators) and ran that for a few hours one day trying to recharge the batteries.

Immediately after that trip, I installed a 200-AH lithium iron phosphate RV battery, a converter/charger specifically designed for lithium batteries and reset our solar controller for lithium charging.  What a difference.  A few hours of direct sunlight and our new battery was charged to 100% capacity.

Of course, that requires the sun to be out, which it was for the first 10 days of our stay.  Then the rains came and for three solid days, we didn’t see the sun.  Instead of kicking in 225+ watts of power into the solar controller, our combined trio of panels sucked in less than 10 watts from the leaden sky. 

On the middle of the third day, our battery monitor indicated we had used over 140 AH of battery power.   Our former batteries would have been virtually dead.  The new lithium battery was still kicking out a comfortable 13 volts of power.  We didn’t need to worry about dipping below the 50% threshold because that restriction doesn’t apply to lithium RV batteries.

Tomorrow morning, we move to Ridgway State Park where we will have an electrical hookup.  With a nearby water spigot, we should be able to refill our freshwater tank with a hose.  There’s no sewer, so we’ll still have to tote our “used” water down a long hill to the dump station.  But with thirty-amps of 120-volt power feeding in, we won’t have to worry about battery charging and solar panel placement.

This is why we camp…

The skies cleared and on our last night at Mancos, the moon hadn’t yet come up and we were treated to a black velvet sky diamond-dusted with shimmering stars.  From our campsite, we could see the Milky Way streaking between the towering Ponderosa pines.  It’s nice staying in a campground with fewer sites and with no electric hookups feeding bulbs, emblazoning the sky with artificial light.

The view looking toward the dam from the north end of the reservoir was equally appealing.