Tent Camping in Canyon Country

We had so much fun on our previous tent camping experience, I was able to convince my lovely wife to allow me to buy a tent.  Our former Korean-made, Walmart special given to us by the in-laws was replaced with a Big Agnes Big House four-person tent.  It’s spacious and tall enough we can stand up inside.

Of course, we had to test the tent out in the wild.  For that I booked four nights at Colorado National Monument in western Colorado near Grand Junction.  We loaded up the truck and set out with our local weather gal promising 70-degree highs and lows in the 40s.

One of the things we discovered on our August tent camping trip was how much harder the ground has gotten over the years.  To mitigate that, we decided we needed fatter pads under our sleeping bags. 

Years ago, at some travel writer gathering, I was given a Big Agnes Q-Core insulated air mattress.  I never used it.  In fact, I never took it out of the stuff sack it came in.  After all, we have a real mattress with a 2½-inch memory foam topper in the trailer.

It was in the Covid-cleanup, donate-to-charity box when I looked it up online and discovered it was a $100+ pad.  We pulled it out and decided to give it a try on this trip, with Dianne being the designated guinea pig.  She loved it so much, we decided to order another, now 50% more expensive.

Our reserved site at Colorado National Monument was ideal for tent camping.  We had a flat spot for the tent with piñon and juniper trees sheltering the site.  We erected our new camp tent, set up our folding camp kitchen, pulled out the camp chairs and in less than three hours, we were kicking back, downing a couple of camp beers.

That night we discovered one of the major drawbacks to tent camping in a formal campground.  Motorhomes all have generators, and for some reason, they need to run them constantly.  The site next to us, a good 20 or 30 yards away, was occupied by a succession of motorhomes, each with progressively louder generators.  It was like we were once again camping next to the interstate.

Four nights in camp gave us time for three full days for hiking.  Our first day’s hike was up Monument Canyon from the bottom to the base of Independence Monument.  We spotted several groups of bighorn sheep on the way up.  A longtime resident of the area we met along the trail said they were common in this canyon.  She was a park volunteer (not on duty), and as we chatted (at the proper social distancing distance), she told us about several other off-the-beaten-path hikes we should try.  We didn’t take notes, and of course at our ages, we don’t remember a single one of them.  But they sure sounded good.

The nice thing about the Monument Canyon to Independence Monument trip is that we could make it a loop trip by hiking back on the Wedding Canyon Trail.  At the bottom, on Nebraska-flat ground not far from the truck, Dianne somehow tripped over a flat rock fully buried in the dirt.  She lurched forward only to be saved from mashing into the ground by her loving husband who flung his body between her and the great beyond.

In the process of staggering forward, she managed to badly tweak her hamstring.  She was only able to mitigate the subsequent pain, she insisted, by downing a three-scoop ice cream sundae at Enstrom’s in nearby Fruita.

With Dianne unable to hike on her injured hammie, we spent our second day playing tourists.  We drove Rim Rock Drive stopping at every viewpoint along the way.  Dianne did manage to hobble down few short overlook trails, but it was clear she wasn’t going to cover any major ground the next day.

Unable to hike, Dianne became my third-day Uber driver.  She dropped me at the upper end of the Monument Trail along Rim Rock Drive.  I hiked down past the Coke Ovens formation and along the cliffs back to Independence Monument.  With towering redrock on one side and a canyon on the other, I burned up a slew of digits shooting photos along the way. 

Not wanting to duplicate my wife’s tripping on a flat rock, I chose to forego the Wedding Canyon option and trudge down the trail we had taken up the first day.  Along the way, I cautiously passed a carnivorous rock and spooked a gaggle of bighorn rams. 

Dianne was waiting by the truck at the bottom.  In the backseat sat our 12-volt cooler, chilled to 39 degrees.  Liberating a cold brew from its clutches, I unfolded one of our chairs and kicked back.  It was the perfect ending to a fun hike.

Our next tent trip is already inked on the calendar.  Because of the ongoing Covidemic, we decided not to get ski passes this year.  As a partial consolation, we booked campsites for two weeks in February at a pair of hiker-friendly, county parks in the Phoenix area.  Instead of towing the trailer over mountain roads in the winter, we will take the tent. 

Not only will we have flush restrooms and showers available at the campground, but we’ll be in tent-only campgrounds where generators are totally banned.