Third stop – Ridgway

For the third stop on our triple-header camping trip, we headed to Ridgway State Park for a two-week stay.  Our campsite is two spots down from where we camped last year and three down from our 2018 site.  I guess we’re fond of this loop.

Located just off the San Juan Skyway, about a dozen miles north of Ouray, the park attracts a lot of visitors from the Lone Star State (and elsewhere) who arrive in their gargantuan motor homes and fifth-wheel trailers.  So long was our current neighbor’s trailer, he couldn’t pull it through the curving pull-through site and had to back in.  It makes us happy we bought small.

Ridgway State Park surrounds Ridgway Reservoir, a good-sized pond behind a dam on the Uncompahgre River.  When we were here last July, the reservoir was full.  Kids frolicked at the swim beach and folks fished from a shoreline gazebo.  Not now.  There’s no water at the now closed swim beach and the shoreline gazebo now towers high on the slope, far from the water.  A ranger lady says it’s like this every year.

When we arrived here a week ago, the air was clear and the scenery spectacular.  Our first hike was to Lower Blue Lake at the base of Mt. Sneffels.  Dianne and I looked down on Lower Blue Lake and its upper sibling from the top of 14,157-foot summit of Mt. Sneffels a few years ago.  This time, we gazed up at the far away summit from the pond below.  Sensing movement atop the mountain, I pulled out the binoculars and saw at least two climbers looking down.  I waved.

A few camo-clad hunters parked in the Blue Lakes Trailhead parking lot reminded us that it’s bow and muzzle loader hunting for elk and bear.  Bow hunters need to get close to their targets before firing, we were assured, so they would know we weren’t prey.  Still, we decided to take no chances.  We drove 20 miles into Montrose and bought flame-orange caps and vests to wear on our next hike into the woods. 

After two days of clear skies, the California smoke discovered our new location and blew in to obscure the landscape.  Distant views looked like they were wrapped in waxed paper and the sun set as a ball that was more glowing orange than our don’t-shoot-me caps and vests.  The smoke has been constantly fogging the views since then.

Our next hike took us up the Dexter Creek Trail, a long, continuous ascent up a valley northeast of Ouray.  The scenic views were hazy, but we did encounter some early fall color and passed by a pair of old mines holding the rusting remains of abandoned machinery.  We wore our vivid orange vests, but only saw one hunter on his way out.  He didn’t shoot.

Today, we drove into Ridgway on a goose chase.  Galloping Goose #4 has been moved from Telluride, where it wastes away on a downtown street, to the Ridgway Railroad Museum where it will spend the winter under cover.  Before heading back, we stopped at the market for a few emergency supplies, such as more microwave popcorn packets. 

While Dianne was shopping, I photographed a street-side Trump rally.  There was nary a face covering to be seen. 

Back home again

When we left home, we set a goal of both hiking and biking a minimum of 100 miles.  We achieved both, covering 101 miles on foot (not counting walks around the campground) and 124 miles atop two wheels.  In addition to the fun of pedaling and perambulating, I had work to do.

Just before leaving on our trip, I received an assignment to do a series of short features for Colorado Life magazine covering scenic, out-of-the-way campgrounds in Colorado.  The rustic, no-hookup campground at Mancos State Park fit the requirements perfectly.  We’re hoping the editor will run this in the May-June issue.

Another campground that fit the bill Jumbo Lake Campground on Grand Mesa where we camped last year.  Although we were stuck down at Robb State Park Island Acres, we spent many days up on the mesa exploring and photographing the area for the magazine.  Jumbo should be perfect for the July-August issue.

For the September-October issue, I wanted a campground surrounded by fall color, and there’s no better place to catch the green and gold of a Colorado autumn than along the San Juan Skyway.  The 236-mile highway loop runs from Ridgway to Silverton and on to Durango.  From there, it goes to Cortez and back to Ridgway, passing the bygone mining towns of Rico and Telluride.  Instead of a single site, we plan to feature a half-dozen small campgrounds along the way where leaf-peeping campers can bunk in Midas-touched splendor.

At our campsite at Ridgway State Park, we met up with some old climbing friends and fellow authors, Charlie and Diane Winger, who live in nearby Montrose.  On our last Thursday in camp, they led us on a hike out of Ouray. 

On the way back, we went to see the new Ouray Via Ferrata.  Here, participants clip into steel cables for safety as they traverse Ouray’s box canyon gorge using ladders and steel-rod steps anchored to the sheer rock faces. 

Charlie and Diane graciously agreed to be photo models for us on Friday.  We shot from the cliffs while they traversed the route below.  We’ve now added the Via Ferrata to our “must do” list for next year.

Instead of going directly home from Ridgway, we made a one-night final camping stop at Cherry Creek State Park, which lies about five miles from home.  It’s tough to back the trailer into the driveway during periods heavy traffic volume.  It’s much easier on Sunday mornings when traffic is minimal.

An added bonus of camping at Cherry Creek was that we could get a full-hookup, pull-through site for the night.  With electricity, water and sewer connections, we could enjoy all the comforts of home before we actually got home.