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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.