Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tour of Colorado - August 9-17, 2010

The timing worked out well to combine the annual trip to a friend's cabin in Colorado with the pick up of the new camper. The plan was to get the camper a couple of days early and then to drive around a bit and spend some time getting the feel of it. If anything was drastically wrong I could then swing back by the dealer to get it fixed.

August 9

The inital stage was easy - drive to a spot near Henderson, Colorado where the camper dealer is located. I choose to drive up via Taos, Fort Garland, and Walsenburg for a change of pace from the normal route up I-25. I had plenty of time which was a good thing since this is not a quick route. The winding road from Espanola to Taos combined with the heavy traffic in Taos, itself, made for a slow trip at times. I stopped in Colorado Springs and had dinner with my brother and his wife and then found a motel near the dealership.

August 10

Camper installation day. The install went pretty quickly. The truck needed to have the camper tie-down system installed as well as an electrical harness. The dealer provided a thorough walkthru of the camper's systems and I was ready to go by about 2:00 PM.

The first drive seemed quite odd - I could tell I was hauling a lot of weight that made the truck seem top heavy. I drove aropund a bit and then headed out of Denver toward the east. The goal was a KOA campground in Strasburg which was 20 miles or so east. I got my spot allocated and made the first newbie mistake. I headed in nose first to the spot thinking that would give me good shade in the afternoon. I got out and discovered the power outlet was on the opposite side and was out of reach. I had to pull out and back into the spot to make the cord reach. (will need an extension cord, I think).

I got the thing plugged in and started up the air conditioner which worked fine. I then decided to try to get the water system working and discovered my second newbie mistake. I didn't have a water hose to connect to the outlet. There also wasn't any water in the tank to start with. Fortunately, the campground facilities were close so I put off the water issue temporarily.

Everything else seemed OK. I unloaded some of the furnishings that I had brought with me - mainly the bedding and a few cooking utensils. I watched a movie on the TV/DVD and hit the sack.

The new camper:

August 11

This was Wednesday and I had until 3:00 on Thursday to travel around before meeting my friends at the cabin. I started the tour of Colorado by heading east on I-70 which surprised me by heading uphill for quite a bit. I stayed on the interstate until Limon and then headed south/southeast to Kit Carson, and then hit US-50 near Lamar. The elevation dropped off gradually and the land got a bit drier. East on US-50 between Las Animas and La Junta was Bent's Old Fort which was my destination.

This is a US National Historic Site - it is a recreation of the original trading post from the 1840's. One of the two Bent brothers (Charles) became the first territorial govenor of New Mexico. The fort was the only place along the Santa Fe Trail that wagons could be repaired and supplies could be had.

The folks who work there dress in period costumes and act in character. I missed the beginning of one of their tours but caught up part way through. The tour leader was showing how the wood working shop was set up and asked for a show of hands of those who experienced a shrinkage of their wagon wheels on the way west with the dry climate and had their steel rims come off. That was one newbie mistake I didn't make.

After seeing the fort, I headed farther west. A stop in La Junta for lunch and a visit to Walmart satisfied my hunger and my need for a water hose for the camper. I stayed west on US-50 through Pueblo, Canon City, Salida, over Monarch Pass to Gunnison. The pass went pretty well - I didn't seem underpowered or anything. I took the sharp corners carefully, and had no problems. Camp that night was at another KOA, this time with water.

Bent's Old Fort - it sits above the Arkansas river.

The woodworking shop inside the fort.

The tour guide operating a foot controlled vise while he shapes a table leg.

Looking down inside the fort from the second level. There were a few bedrooms up above while the lower level was mostly workshops and trading areas.

August 12

I had originally thought I could make it to the Black Canyon of the Gunnsion National Park and have time to get to the cabin but the slow speed of mountain driving was not going to allow that to work out. I did drive west a bit to see the Blue Mesa Lake, which is Colorado's largest body of water. I then headed back east over Monarch pass to Poncha Springs, then north to Buena Vista for gas. The road to the cabin goes over Wilkerson Pass which has a nice visitor center that describes the area known as South Park. There is a good map of the mountain peaks you can see out to the west (of which there are 20 shown - mostly 13-14 thousand feet high).

The cabin crew met at the gates of Landis Ranch and we drove on in. While deciding how to get my camping rig in the drive, we decided to have the other guys back out so I could get in a fairly flat spot. One of the guys backed his car right off the edge on the embankment and nearly took out the cabin's water system (not to mention nearly messing up his car). We were able to get the other car (a truck) in front and use my tow strap to pull him back up. Afterward, I backed my rig up and used my homemade leveling blocks to get close to level.

A view of Blue Mesa Lake - there had been an early morning thundershower but it was clearing out by this time.

At Monarch Pass - shortly after this picture it started raining with tiny pellets of ice mixed in.

The view from Wilkerson Pass showing the region known as South Park.

August 13,14

These two days were spent at the cabin doing the normal cabin things. Some went fishing - I tried it on the first day but my back didn't cooperate at all. I only lasted about 15 minutes and had to give up. The other guys wanted to try something new - tubing on the Platte river (which was only a few miles away). I did the driving for them. The second day my back felt better so I had another go at fishing. I waded into the river since there is so much brush that you can't easily fish from the bank. I only fell once and got wet up to the chest. This time I lasted maybe 45 minutes but had to call it quits again with no fish to show for it.

I got the camper fairly level up next to the cabin.

The fly fishing stream in front of the cabin.

Two intrepid fishermen - I couldn't get them to catch a fish on cue for a good picture.

Only four of us on this trip - a different crew was at the cabin a few days before this.

August 15

The last day at the cabin saw us doing the clean up and we got out the door by 9:00 AM. The rest of the guys head back to Albuquerque but I headed west to Hartsel, then north to Fairplay, Brekenridge, and then I-70. Brekenridge was quite crowded with their summer tourists. My goal was Rocky Mountain National Park and I had figured I would go back through Denver and up the east side of the mountains to Estes Park but that was going to take a long time. I-70 through Eisenhower tunnel was at a crawl with all the traffic so when I saw a sign that said the Park was thataway, I took it. That turned out to be at the town of Empire and the road led to the South entrance of the park. From there, I drove over the Trail Ridge Road to Estes Park where I got my souvenir fridge magnet and tee shirt. I then headed back over the pass to a campground I had seen coming up.

The pass itself was fairly slow due to a lot of traffic (this was a free weekend for the National Parks so there was probably even more traffic than normal). The parking areas along the way were jam packed so I couldn't get many pictures. There were a few white-knuckle spots along the road where a small mistake could send you a couple thousand feet down before you stopped bouncing.

The campground had restrooms but no electric or water hookups. I fired up the stove for the first time and heated up a can of chili. It worked great. Cleanup was interesting since I was trying to conserve water but it went OK. The campground had cut down all of its pine trees due to Pine Beetles which have killed off large numbers of trees all around the area.

Rocky Mountain National Park - southern entrance.

Still some snow at the top.

A nice view from above the tree line. The Trail Ridge Road tops out at about 12,200 feet.

A quick snapshot out of the truck window. I didn't see much in the way of wildlife - just a few small herds of elk.

The campground - notice all the dead trees on the hillside - casualties of the Pine Beetle.

August 16

An early start saw me on the road through Steamboat Springs, Craig, and then Dinoasur National Monument which is nearly on the Utah state line. I was disapointed not to see the quarry visitor center where they have an entire rock wall complete with over 1500 fossils preserved. The building apparently had a big crack in the foundation which caused part of the building to shift 4 inches. They had to close it down and are building a replacement. Since that was closed down, the only other thing to do was take a scenic drive up into the hills above the main visitor center.

The drive wasn't hard but the weather started turning south. A big storm was brewing and moving my way. I stopped at the first two scenic overlooks and got a couple of pictures but the wind was getting so bad I couldn't open the truck door against it, so I headed back down. I did see a nice badger along the roadside, the first one I've seen in the wild. It scrambled into the bushes before I could stop and get my camera out.

From there I headed south to Grand Junction. I got in some of the rain from the big storm but missed the heaviest part of it. The road went over Douglas Pass which isn't overly high but had bad roadways and very tight curves. The speed limit the whole way was 25 MPH with a lot of corners posted as 10 MPH. It was also open range and I had to dodge cows in the road a few times.

The camp that night was at a KOA. This spot had a sewer dump with it so I figured I would try that operation. However, when I thought about it I had no hose to use to clean things up other than my new drinking water hose. I figured it would not be good to use that near the sewer stuff so I didn't dump the tanks.

A view on the scenic drive in Dinosaur National Monument.

August 17

The original plan was to stop by the Black Canyon of the Gunnison but I couldn't find the road that was supposed to lead into the north end of the park. I was feeling a bit under the weather so I decided to drive on home and leave the park for another trip. The area south of Montrose was quite nice - I wouldn't mind living there - nice green grassland with mountains all around, not far from Montrose and Grand Junction. The road leading out of Ouray was another white-knuckle ride. After Silverton, I had to stop several times at flagmen due to repaving that part of the road. Once past Durango, the road was almost all 4 lane the rest of the way to Albuquerque. I got in about 4:30 which gave me time to get the camper unloaded into its parking spot.

A view along the road south of Silverton while waiting for a flagman to clear the way for us.

Total trip: 2250 miles
MPG - before getting the camper: 14.8
MPG after the camper: 10.2 (about as expected)