While we tested our new-to-us camping trailer for a long weekend back in March, we pulled her out west for a two-week challenge in July. And, I must say, she passed with flying colors.
And, most importantly, my wife Kathy and I were still speaking to each other following the trip, and our marriage is still intact. Which is not to say we did not discover a few adjustments we will make for next time out—to the camping, not the marriage.
We started with a few days in the Red River, N.M., area. This is a ski town, and it is a bustling place in the summer as well. A tourist can ride the lift to the top of the mountain, venture up some of the old mining or forestry roads around town, or wet a fishing line in the stream or some of the stocked ponds. People were definitely landing nice rainbow trout.
My first regret was that our private campground offered free, no-license-required fishing in a pond, but the catch (see what I did there?) was that anglers were not allowed to throw back any trout, so we would have been forced to clean and keep anything brought to shore. We honestly just weren’t prepared to do that, so I passed on the opportunity. I should have taken advantage. Chances are, I would have been skunked anyway.
Speaking of wildlife, every campground where we stayed had signs posted that warned of bears in the area. Unfortunately, we never saw one. We did, however, come across plenty of mule deer, a small herd of bighorn sheep and innumerable ground squirrels.
Once we put up a feeder, we were also besieged by hummingbirds within minutes. We soon learned that one particular type, the rust-colored rufous, is by far the most aggressive and will bully away all the pretty little ruby-throated visitors.
Interestingly, the Colorado state parks have banned the feeders because they tend to attract bears to the campgrounds.
We dined at the famous Shotgun Willie’s burger shack, a popular joint on the main street. The crowded cafe offers unlimited free forever soda refills if you return with one of its plastic cups.
We visited the village of Taos, located a half-hour’s drive from Red River. This is not my favorite place. It is crowded and often hot as it is located on the high desert. Admittedly, the temperature was probably only about 75 degrees, but the high altitude sun can fry Caucasian skin in a heartbeat.
We asked a local shopkeeper where a person could find street-style tacos in town. She pointed us to a cryptically named restaurant called “Jalapenos and Beer.” While the proprietor fixed us up with some tacos, his establishment was so new he didn’t have his cereal malt beverage license yet. Jalapenos? Yes. Beer? No.
We drove north through the San Luis Valley, through Alamosa, Colo., and on up to Salida, Colo. We had made reservations at the Monarch Spur campground on Monarch Pass. It is located a few miles above Poncha Springs.
Those who are familiar with the area will know where we were. This was a “resort” that needs some attention. In fact, it was difficult to find because the sign was covered by trees. The clientele here was much more, shall we say, down-to-earth. The RVs were generally older, and signs in the bathroom warned of possible issues with the sewer system.
But, we liked the scenery and had some fun hiking trails around the campground. The other campers were approachable and friendly, which was good considering we were fairly tightly spaced.
Two nights later, we were set to venture up the road to Mt. Princeton, west of Nathrop in the Buena Vista area. By the way, if you are interested in that sort of thing, the locals pronounce the town “Byoona Vista” or just “BV.”
In Salida I had noticed a strange wobble in one of the tires on my camper, so we stopped at a local shop to have it checked out. It was a good thing we did. The tread had separated, and a blowout was imminent. Two hours and about $130 later, we were back on the road.
I mentioned earlier that we might have done some things differently. One was the length of time we stayed at each campground. We moved about every two or three days. That’s a lot of time setting up and tearing down. It’s not like we were tent camping, but it was still a lot of work. Next time, we will probably remain put for a minimum of three or four nights.
Another lesson learned was that we over-packed. When camping, we found that we didn’t need to change clothes as often as if we were staying in a motel in a town. It is important, however, to have layers of clothing to add or remove in the changing weather. It rained part of every day except one, so raingear is also a plus.
Temperatures ranged from a low of 41 degrees one morning to highs in the upper 80s. This was during the stretch when Kansans were suffering through dog days in the 100s, so we didn’t complain about our situation.
Finally, our last four days were spent at Mueller State Park on the west side of Pike’s Peak. My sister and brother-in-law now live in Colorado Springs, so they brought their camper up to join us. This place is camper paradise. The sites have electricity, and there is a modern shower house and laundry facility on the premises. The campground sits atop a ridge at 9,600 feet of elevation, and there are hundreds of miles of hiking trails inside the park as well as a breathtaking view of the mountain to the east. We had deer and foxes meander through our camp on several occasions, but still no bear.
Another lesson I learned was how to cheat at starting a campfire. I caught my brother-in-law using tiki torch fuel to get his blaze started. Unfortunately, I didn’t see how much he used. On my first try, I naturally doused the wood with far too much and created an inferno that towered about 5 feet above the kindling.
We stopped for one more night at a private campground in Woodland Park before heading back to Kansas. The toughest part of the trip was battling the buffeting crosswinds of the plains on the 10-hour drive back home.
There was no rest for me as driver because, though Kathy is a fantastic traveling partner and a great help around the campsite, she was not at all interested in getting behind the wheel with a trailer in tow. Maybe next time.