I’ve been camping and doing road trips in my old Sienna van for the past two years. It’s gone through several iterations in that time. I started with a cot. Then Alan and I decided to try sleeping in it together, so I built a full-size bed platform. When we decided it didn’t work as a couple (a failure due to extremely loud snoring—not mine!), I took out half the platform and left the part right behind the front seats. That wasn’t long enough (I had to sleep diagonally), so I took it out and put the cot back in. But the cot has a few problems. It sinks in a bit, creating a little trough down the middle that I settle into, playing havoc with my bad lower back and hips.
I’ve been searching for a narrow bed frame that will give me a solid platform, but with room underneath to store all my camping gear. I found a “narrow twin” metal frame that’s exactly the same size as my tri-fold mattress. I even found sheets that are the same size as my mattress. I got the frame yesterday and put all my stuff back in the van. There’s a ton of room under the bed, and because I added some bed lifters I can slide even my large plastic bins underneath it. I have a ton of items under the bed: my 4’ roll-up table, a smaller roll-up table, two large bins, several smaller bins, my big two-burner stove, two chairs, two Jackery power stations, a 100W solar panel, a seven-gallon water container, and other items. On one end next to the bed, I have a little plastic chest of drawers and behind it is my cooler and another large water container. I still have room for my porta-potty and to get dressed.
I couldn’t wait for a camping trip to try it out, so I slept in the van on the driveway last night. I finally have the right combo. I woke up this morning without even a twinge in my back. I’m really happy. I won’t need to reconfigure the van ever again.
Tuesday, July 20. We had breakfast in Buffalo, WY, at a great little diner and then headed toward the Bighorn Mountains. David has camped and hiked here one time before—five years ago with his nephew from England. He remembered that there were lots of free campsites along the road that leads to the trailhead for Cloud Peak. David hiked Cloud Peal with his nephew, and after the disaster that South Dakota was, being here in these beautiful mountains is heaven. The weather has been perfect all day. It’s cool—probably about 70 degrees—and it’s been sprinkling off and on.
We walked down the road to the lake, just a one-mile jaunt. Before we left we had made some margaritas and put them in my two Otterbox insulated cups. We sat on a log next to the lake and had our drinks. Pure bliss.
The road is quiet except for cars driving down to the trailhead and campground about 1/4 mile from us. At night it’s wonderfully silent. The campground has water and an extremely clean pit toilet. We can use those facilities even though we’re in a free site. It’s perfect.
The paid sites are fabulous. With my senior discount, I could stay there for $8.75 a night. But we figured our spot is better, since it’s so private. And the walk to the toilet is only about 10 minutes. I have my porta potty, but David has been making the walk.
Wednesday, July 21. We had a peaceful night. I’m boiling potatoes right now and reconstituting the dried green chile. After breakfast, we’re going for a hike. Tomorrow David will do a three-day hike up to the top of Cloud Peak while I stay here in camp and paint rocks. Ain’t life grand?
We’ve had a visitor to our site several times today. A beautiful doe. At first she kept her distance and peered at us between the trees. But each time she returned, she came a little closer. It’s wonderful to watch her bound off through the woods. I wasn’t really prepared to take her picture each time she visited, but tomorrow I’ll have my phone at hand to try to capture her up close.
Thursday, July 22. After another breakfast of fried potatoes, green chile, and eggs (and mimosas!), David set off to hike Cloud Peak. It’s a challenging hike, which is why I didn’t go with him. I’m not in great shape. The advantage of this area, though, is that there are trails all over. I can hike several times a day while maintaining the campsite. It’s so nice not to have to break down camp and move every day like I would have had to if we’d done one of the through hikes. We’re both so pleased that David thought of this. It’s beautiful here, and the weather is absolutely perfect.
I’ve been using my Garmin InReach Explorer. It’s not perfect, but it allows me to send messages to my family and, more importantly, to David. There’s no signal whatsoever here, and we would have had no way to communicate with the outside world without the devices. Plus, I’d be worried about David up on the mountain, not knowing whether he was OK. I’ve sent my location to my family back home, too. I’m also tracking my hikes, along with using my Apple Watch to record distances.
Tonight will be my first night alone since I left home. I enjoy David’s company immensely, but it will also be nice to be on my own for a few days. I’ll be happy to see him come back to camp, though.
Friday, July 23. I had a quiet night in the van without a single worry. I haven’t closed the curtains once because this site is so private. Meanwhile, David was roughing it at the lake he hiked up to. Interestingly, it was hotter up there at night than it’s been down here. We’re at 9,000 feet, and David camped at 11,500 feet, and it wasn’t as cold.
I spent the morning working on charging my two Jackery power stations. I have two solar panels. One is a 60W panel that folds up and has to be suspended from something. The other is my newest purchase—a Jackery 100W solid panel that folds in half and has a built-in handle. It has little easel-like extensions that open so you can tilt it toward the sun. I set up both of them to charge both Jackerys. It was a challenge during the morning because this site has so many trees. I had to keep moving everything from one patch of sunlight to another until finally the parking area was in full sunlight; then I left them in one spot. The new 300W power station I bought right before this trip charged pretty quickly with the big panel, but the little folding panel was basically shit. I’m going to get rid of it. I can use one panel to take turns charging both Jackerys.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with the Jackerys. I got the second one (and the panel) because Jackery was having its annual sale. Now I’m glad I did.
David came back from his hike a day earlier than expected because he had forgotten a few vital items. I was happy to see him walk into camp. He said the trail was incredibly busy. He must have seen at least 100 people and he had some interesting discussions with people on the way up to the lake.
The hike consists of three segments. Day one you hike up to a lake, where you make a base camp. The following day you hike up to Cloud Peak and back down to the lake again, where you’ve left your tent. Then it’s back home again. So David didn’t do the segment up to the peak, but he still had a great time. At this point, he’s debating doing that hike again, but this time paring down his pack so it’s much lighter. He took a lot of cold-weather clothing he found he didn’t need.
Since he was back early, we decided to drive into Ten Sleep to get a few supplies. Ten Sleep is a tiny town. It doesn’t have a real supermarket, just a tiny market where we picked up a few items, and we bought our beer and liquor at a smoky bar full of bikers. That was fun. I chatted with a couple of them. We also stopped at the Ten Sleep Brewery. Then it was back to our lovely campsite, where it was at least 20 degrees cooler.
I made us a burrito dinner from dried refried beans with my dried green chile in them, fried potatoes, and chipotle sauce from a packet that turned out to be really good. We watched Popeye, which I had downloaded to my tablet, before turning in. Another wonderful day.
Tuesday, July 27. I’m a few days behind because we’ve been busy. On Sunday we decided to go back to Buffalo and spend the night there. We wanted to be able to take showers, sleep in regular beds for a night, have some meals that someone else prepared, do our laundry, etc. We got back yesterday but I was too lazy to update my blog.
When David and his nephew Henry visited this area five years ago, they found a great Mexican restaurant in Buffalo. David wanted to go back there. But the original restaurant wasn’t there any longer. People told us there was another Mexican restaurant in town that was owned by the same family, so we wanted to try it. But the restaurant hours are crazy. Closed some days. Open on the days they *are* open from 11-2 and 5-8. We missed them last time we were in Buffalo, and we wanted to try again on this visit. But they’re closed on Sunday—naturally, so we went to the same restaurant we visited last time. Both times we sat at the bar and chewed the fat with the bartender and whatever poor sod happened to be sitting next to us. So we had a nice, leisurely dinner and watched the Olympics on the bar TVs.
The next morning we wanted to wait until 11 to try the Mexican restaurant again. But the check-out at our motel was 10. We were hungry so we decided to just go back to the diner and get breakfast. The diner was closed. Argh! Closed on a Monday morning. I don’t understand the logic behind that decision. But there was another diner across the street that was open so we went over there.
Worst service I’ve ever had. We went in and sat down and waited and waited. Finally, one of the servers noticed us and asked if we wanted coffee. We did. We waited and waited. She never came back with the coffee. After about 15 minutes we got her attention (which wasn’t easy), and we finally got our coffee. The breakfast was good, but our server either needs to find another line of work or (I’ll give her the benefit of a doubt) get more training. Three men came in and sat next to us, and she did the same thing. She finally got their orders, but she delivered their food and they still didn’t have coffee and water. Yikes. We left there and decided to go see if the Mexican restaurant was open. It was. But we had just eaten. So we ordered margaritas. If you know David, you know that this is just the kind of thing he would do. LOL We also got a tamale dinner to go, and last night we warmed that in a skillet. It was good. So we never had the full restaurant experience we had hoped for, but that’s OK.
Today we want to find some other trails in this area we can hike. It’s difficult to find them. I had prepared for South Dakota and had a Benchmark recreation map for that state. But I had no idea we’d be in Wyoming, so we don’t have any maps that show trails, and we’re in the middle of nowhere, so we don’t have access to our phones’ Google maps. It’s been lovely not having any contact with the outside world, but there are times it’s really handy to be able to use your phone.
Wednesday, July 28. Yesterday David and I took a four-mile hike around the lake up to the point where you ford the stream and enter into the wilderness area (where he hiked last week). It was an easy, pleasant hike. I walked into the stream (I was wearing my hiking Tevas), and it felt so good. I’ve had one knee replaced, and the other has quite a bit of arthritis in it. But I’m happy with how well I’m doing. As long as I have my trekking poles, I believe I can hike just about anything. I would have trouble if the trail was just rocks (although I can scramble with the poles if I have to). But I’m stronger than I thought I was. I didn’t train for hiking before this trip, but I did do a lot of walking. Apparently, that worked.
On the way up, we ran into a wilderness ranger. His job is to hike the huge loop around the lake, over and over. He looks for trail-maintenance issues, polices unruly/messy hikers, educates hikers, etc. He was really nice. We also met a couple from Pennsylvania at the stream. They had the biggest packs I’ve ever seen. We were impressed that they could hike with them! They were grandparents, so no spring chickens. They come west every year to hike and visit the National Parks.
Last night we watched some episodes of Flack that I downloaded to my tablet. What a great show! Very witty and funny. Whenever I go on a camping trip, I download videos before I leave home. The nights in the van (or a tent, in David’s case) can get long, and it’s nice to have something to do other than read before you go to sleep.
I’m covered in mosquito bites (and some fly bites), even though I’ve been slathering repellant all over myself. David has a neat trick of spraying your hat with repellant. It keeps them off your face, and you don’t have to put the repellant on your skin. Works great!
Thursday, July 29. What a night! We went into David’s tent to watch a movie. Since it was getting cold, I pulled my two blankets from the van into the tent. It was a clear night—the first night we could actually see the stars (the moon had been too bright the previous nights). Then, suddenly, we heard thunder and lightning and heavy rain began to fall. It didn’t seem to be coming into the tent, and we were enjoying it. So David didn’t zip up the rain fly. Big mistake!
We heard the thunder move around from the left of us to the distance, and we thought the storm was over. Wrong! It then moved around to our right. It poured all night long. I didn’t exit the tent, even to go to the bathroom, because I knew it would be a muddy mess out there.
A couple of hours after the rain started, I noticed that my feet were wet. The rain HAD been coming in, although you couldn’t tell by putting your hand on the window. We zipped up the rain fly but it was a little too late by that point. In the morning, we pulled soggy blankets out of the tent and then faced the mess that was our campsite. It rained so hard that mud splashed up on everything that was outside. I tried to wipe things on the wet grass to clean them but it was pretty impossible to get anything clean. We could tell it was going to continue raining, so we decided to break camp and try to go to Deadwood early.
We worked in a drizzle and in the mud, trying to separate everything. My van had been beautiful organized when I left home. Not any longer. I just threw everything in, and many of the items, like my blankets, were dripping wet. What a mess!
We were sad to leave our peaceful campsite early, but we also didn’t want to camp in the rain and mud. So we reluctantly headed to Buffalo, where I could get a phone signal to call the motel in Deadwood.
Fortunately, the motel let me move my reservation up to that night, so we headed to Deadwood.
Friday, July 30. We arrived at the Deadwood motel, and I was embarrassed to go to the desk because I was a filthy, muddy mess. It was so great to be able to shower!
Deadwood has a trolley that carries people around town. It came to the front door of our motel, so we took it downtown to walk around and get some dinner. I couldn’t believe how many people were in town. I knew we were getting close to Sturgis bike week, but it was still surprising to see the streets full of tourists. Then we realized that it was the annual Days of ‘76 event. We walked through downtown so I could show David some of the famous sites, such as the saloon where Wild Bill Hickok was killed.
We walked to the south end of town to a nice restaurant and had a lovely dinner. Almost every bar, hotel, and restaurant in Deadwood now has a casino, which I found disappointing. But it is what it is. As David was paying the check, the waiter told us we got $10 vouchers to play in the casino, so we went and collected our “credit cards” and played a couple of slot machines. David immediately lost his money, and although I did lose a bit, I also won several times. I cashed out when I had $10.50. Winner! 🙂
Saturday, July 31. We didn’t want to go back into town because there was a parade and rodeo that day, so we decided to go up to the cemetery and then drive through Spearfish Canyon.
I went to Mount Moriah cemetery when I visited Deadwood two years ago, and I wanted David to see it. Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are buried there, as well as Seth Bullock and other early Deadwood settlers. It’s a beautiful site—up on the hill above the town.
We then drove through Spearfish Canyon, a beautiful, short drive from Deadwood. To get there, we drove through the town of Lead, site of the Sanford Underground Laboratory, where they research neutrinos and dark matter—right up David’s alley. We had no idea the lab was there, even though David has a friend who works there. The lab is in an old mine, and being deep underground is necessary for neutrino research. If we’d had more time, we would have gone to the visitor center and maybe toured the old mine. Next time.
And then, suddenly, our trip was over and it was time for me to return to Colorado and David to Utah. What a strange but wonderful trip. Our original plan for David to hike the Colorado Trail morphed into a through hike of the Centennial Trail, which morphed into a week and a half of camping in the beautiful Bighorn Mountains. It wasn’t what we had planned, but we still had a wonderful time.
David got to do some hiking, as did I. We also spent a lot of time just sitting around the campsite, yakking and cooking. The past year has been so horrible for me, and I needed the weeks of peace and calm. But all good things must end.
We traveled together until we reached the tiny town of Lusk, Wyoming. We had a final breakfast there together and then went our separate ways. We decided to go back to South Dakota in the late spring or early fall so David can hike the Centennial Trail. The Black Hills are beautiful, but they need to be hiked when it’s not so hot. We’ll be back!
We got to the Sturgis area Friday night and spent the night at a motel. We had planned to camp nearby for the weekend, to give us time to organize and plan. We had a great campsite, but it was hotter than hell. When we were planning last week, the forecast for this week called for temperatures in the high 80s. That’s hot for hiking, but not unbearable. Now the forecast is saying that it will be in the high 90s and up to 100 this entire week. David got heat stroke on a training hike two weeks ago, and neither one of us thinks it’s worth the risk.
So we decided to hightail it to the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming. The altitude alone will help ensure lower temperatures. There’s no through hike for David there, but there are some good, challenging hikes he’s done in the past, and he knows of several great campsites. And I won’t have to move camp every night and try to find him each day.
So we drove to Buffalo yesterday and spent the night here. We’re getting ready now to leave for the Bighorns. I’ll be able to fully set up my camp since we’ll probably be there for at least this week. If the temperatures go back down in South Dakota, we’ll go back there next week so David can hike at least part of the trail. Either way, we have two days planned in Deadwood at the end of this trip, so we have to go back. It’s a bit of extra driving, but I think it’ll be worth it.
We most likely won’t have data access in the mountains, so I doubt I’ll be able to post until we get home.
Well, it’s not REALLY the unknown. But for most of my hiking/camping trip over the next several weeks, I won’t have any idea each morning when I wake up where I’ll be camping that night.
The Centennial Trail is difficult in that respect because some of the state parks allow camping only in their campgrounds. And I fully expect those to be full. Most of the spots are reservation-only and, of course, when we started planning this, there were no reservations available. They do have a few first-come, first-served spots at each campground, but I can’t count on being able to actually get one. David will be OK because they’ll make room for through hikers, who only have a tent. But they’re not going to let me park my van when there are no open spots. I’ll have to look elsewhere.
So each morning I’ll need to move and try to find another place to camp somewhere close to the trail where David will be stopping each night. Our hope is that I can set up camp somewhere David can meet me and we can camp together (most nights; some nights he’ll camp on the trail) so he can have a hot dinner, maybe a shower (or at least a good wash), and a hot breakfast the next morning before he sets out again. Whether this will work is another matter. Fortunately, we both have Garmin satellite communicators so I can give him my location each day. Some days I might set up camp and then have to go pick him up at the trail head, then drop him off again the next morning. I have absolutely no idea. And that’s part of the fun.
I’ll be using all the apps I have, plus my paper maps. There are a lot of great apps that help you find dispersed camping, and I’ll be relying on those. Also, as long as I’m in the national forest (which will be most of the time), I can park anywhere unless there are signs saying specifically not to. So I can drive down forest roads and look for spots to pull off onto. I need room only for my van and David’s tent. The only real question is how far I’ll be from the trail, especially around areas like Mt. Rushmore. But I guess I’ll find out.
I leave tomorrow morning, so I’m getting ready to finish packing the van. I’m gassed up and have washed the van, which will be filthy right away, but at least I’m starting out with it clean.
I’ll try to post blog updates as I can, but I don’t really have any idea how often I’ll have Internet access. I’m going to try to write and prepare the blogs often so I can upload them whenever I have a chance. At the worse, I’ll upload them all when I get home.
After all the planning we’ve done over the past year, David and I have decided to abandon the Colorado Trail and go to South Dakota instead. It’s been so incredibly hot here, and the fire season is going to be awful. We could still run into fires in South Dakota, of course, but it isn’t as likely.
This trail is much shorter than the CT, so we don’t need to take as much time. I won’t have the worries about finding water or having access to ice, so that’s a nice benefit of our change in plans. The scenery looks beautiful, and David will get to see some things that are new to him: Mt. Rushmore, Deadwood, Spearfish Canyon, etc. I introduced him to the Deadwood series, and he’s a big fan now. So that part of the trip will be really fun for him.
As of right now, our plan is to leave July 16. We’ll spend the first night outside of Sturgis, then camp that weekend in the Spearfish/Deadwood area before heading up to Bear Butte State Park on the 19th to start the hike. Since we’re meeting in South Dakota (David lives in Utah) and won’t have a chance to work on our gear together ahead of time, this will give us time to consolidate our gear to fit into my van (we’re leaving David’s car at the BBSP visitor center), make sure everything works, look over our food (and alcohol!), and shop for anything we might have forgotten.
It’s a little more difficult to plan camping on the Centennial Trail, since some of the state parks allow camping only in state campgrounds, which will probably be full. (I tried to make reservations, but that’s no longer possible. The campgrounds do have a few first-come, first-served spots that they don’t reserve, but I’m not holding my breath that I’ll be able to get one. Best be prepared for the worst.) From what I’ve read, the campgrounds will make room for a through hiker even if they’re full, but I won’t be that lucky in my van. Once we get out of Bear Butte State Park and into the Black Hills National Forest, though, I can camp pretty much anywhere, so I’ve been scoping out potential dispersed campsites on iOverlander, freecampsites.net, and other sources. I think we’ll be OK.
After David finishes the hike, we’re going to camp for the weekend down near Hot Springs and wait for the high weekend motel rates to drop. Then we’ll spend Monday and Tuesday nights in Deadwood. I got us rooms at a great resort right next to a creek. We can hang out, have someone else cook for us, walk around Deadwood, etc. It’s a good way to finish off our trip. We’ll head home on Wednesday, August 5.
So watch this space for posts about the trip and pictures. It’ll be a new experience for both of us, and we’re really looking forward to it.
Last year I suffered a huge loss that’s knocked me off balance. My son, Chris (aka Topher), died in July. Although I’ve done some road trips since his death, I just haven’t had it in me to write blogs about my travels.
I plan to start blogging again, though. Next month a good friend, David, and I are going to spend a month on the Colorado Trail. He’ll be through hiking. I’ve tried that before and discovered that I couldn’t handle the backpack weight across my lower back and hips, even though I made every effort to be an ultralight backpacker. Through hikers have to carry everything with them—food, water, fuel, dishes and cooking equipment, clothing, tent, etc. I learned in my one aborted attempt at the Colorado Trail eight years ago that it just doesn’t work for me, given all my arthritis and bursitis.
So David suggested that I go with him but that I not try to through hike. Instead, I’ll drop him off at the first segment (hiking with him for five or so miles, then turning back to the van while he continues on), then I’ll take the van to the end of that segment. We both bought Garmin InReach Explorer devices so we can track and send messages to each other even when we have no cell signal (which will be most of the time). My hope is that I’ll know when he’s within four or five miles of my campsite so I can hike out to meet him. The next day, I’ll hike out with him again when he leaves, then return to camp, then move on to the next segment. Repeat for each segment of the CT until I pick him up at the end, in Durango.
This plan has quite a few advantages. David can through hike without worrying about carrying so much water, food, and fuel. I’ll be able to hike every day but will only have to carry my Camelback and a few small items. David will have a camp to return to at the end of each segment, where I’ll have a hot meal waiting for him and he can take a hot—albeit short—shower with my fancy new shower setup (which hasn’t been tested yet; I hope it works!). He can have a hot breakfast before setting out. He won’t be in camp every night, since many segments will take several days to hike. And there are particular segments that I can’t get to, in which case I won’t see him for close to a week until we can meet up at the next vehicle-accessible segment. We’re going to play it by ear. Our hope is that he can hike all the segments from Twin Lakes down to Durango. And while he’s hiking all day, every day, I’ll be doing my own hikes where possible, painting rocks, reading, and just enjoying the peace of the beautiful Colorado mountains.
For those segments that will take him several days, I’ll drive to the nearest town (sometimes that’s quite a distance) to resupply food and water. I have water containers that hold a total of 32 gallons, but since I’ll be washing clothes and we’ll be taking occasional showers, that isn’t going to last. So I’ll have to get water whenever I can.
We’ve been planning this for 3/4 of a year, and I’ve been investing in some items I wouldn’t typically use on my solo trips. I made a shower curtain setup that attaches to the side door of my van, and I bought a solar-heated shower bag to go with it. I also bought an awning so that I’ll have shade in those areas where trees are sparse. I bought a good-sized table that rolls up compactly and two study camp chairs. I borrowed my son’s two-burner propane Coleman stove. I’ve added more storage to the van and got a new solar-powered fan and a small USB-powered evaporative cooler for those hot nights. I also bought a rooftop carrier bag because I just don’t have room in my van for all the items we’re going to need for such an extended time away from home. I’m prepping food, too. I’ve been dying green chile in my dehydrator because neither David nor I can live more than a few days without chile.
Our biggest fear is that the fire season will be so bad this year that we won’t make it all the way through. The year of my aborted attempt, David and his friend Keith, who were with me on that trip, were only able to continue on for about a week after I stopped, due to severe fires that closed a lot of the trail segments. I’m trying to be optimistic, but with the severe drought conditions in Colorado, they’re predicting that the fire season will be worse this year than in previous years. We’ll just have to see how it goes.
We have a backup plan, though. We’re both big fans of Deadwood, and if we have to abandon the CT, we’ll head over to South Dakota. I was there two years ago and loved it, but David has never been. There’s a lot of camping and hiking in the area of Deadwood and Spearfish, and in the Badlands, so we’ll spend some time doing both there. I hope it won’t come to that, but you have to be prepared for every eventuality.
My Garmin device will track me every 10 minutes while we’re gone, and I’ll share that information on Mapshare. But I don’t want to make it public. If you’re a friend and want the URL and password to keep track of where we are, send me a message and I’ll give it to you. We will be starting out sometime between the first of July and the 15th. Whenever I have a data signal, I’ll try to upload my blogs, which I can write when I’m sitting around camp. David is a fantastic photographer and is going to take his good camera equipment (he won’t be hiking with it, though!). We hope to have some nice photographs when it’s all said and done. I’ll be posting my typical cell phone photos with my blogs, but after we get home, I hope to have some higher-quality photos to share.
Every winter I swear I’m going to get away from the cold and go to Arizona, where I have quite a few friends. This year I finally did it.
I planned to camp for the first five days, but after that I’d be staying with friends until the last part of my trip, when I would leave Tucson for Carlsbad Caverns. So although this was a road trip (3,000 miles), it wasn’t really much of a camping trip.
Originally, I had planned to just go to Arizona. But then my BFF John found out I’d be in Phoenix, and he talked me into meeting him and his partner Joe in Tecopa, California. So I added that to my plan, with Tecopa first on my list of stops. Then my friend Jan found out I’d be in Tecopa, and she talked me into going to Palm Springs, where she and her wife Sue were spending a month. My friend Ranae lives in Arizona, and because Ranae, Jan, and I are old friends who hadn’t all been together since the early 2000s, Ranae decided to join us in Palm Springs. So my trip expanded, which turned out to be great.
I left Berthoud on Monday, February 3. For the previous week, I watched the weather forecasts carefully because I had to drive over Raton Pass that first day on my way to the California desert. Raton Pass is deceptive-looking. When the weather is good, it doesn’t seem like much of a pass. But when it’s snowing it can be deadly. I wanted to avoid that. I saw that it was supposed to start snowing in Berthoud about 4:00 a.m. on Monday and that the storm would move south, so I decided to leave quite early in the morning. I had planned to get up at 3:30, but as usually happens the night before a trip, I couldn’t sleep. I decided to just go ahead and get on the road. I went out to my van at 3:00 to find it covered in ice and the driveway slippery. I’m thankful I got an early start. It was sleeting in Berthoud and north Denver, but by the time I got to south Denver, the weather cleared up. Raton Pass was dry and sunny. Whew!
I had scoped out a place to camp the first night near Grants, NM, west of Albuquerque. The Joe Skeen campground is in the El Malpais National Conservation Area. I arrived there in the late afternoon, after stopping in Santa Fe for lunch. It was sunny when I parked. I made some dinner in the van and settled in for the night.
In the morning I woke up to this. The temperature in the van got down to 32, which wasn’t all that bad. I had left the windows cracked, so there wasn’t any condensation inside. My combination of wool and down blankets works great in the cold.
It wasn’t as bad as it looked, though, and once I got to the interstate the roads were dry. My plan for that day was to drive up to a truck stop south of Las Vegas, where I was supposed to meet my friends John and Joe the next morning. I passed a quiet, if cold (32 degrees inside the van again), night there and then drove to a Walmart in west Las Vegas, where I met up with John and Joe. Our plan that day was to drive through Red Rock Canyon on our way to Tecopa, California.
I had never heard of Red Rock Canyon, but John and Joe had spotted it the other times they’d gone to Tecopa and had always wanted to visit it. I’m glad we did. It’s a beautiful canyon.
Then I followed the guys in their rental car to Tecopa (if I’d had just one more seat in the van they wouldn’t have had to rent a car). I’d never heard of Tecopa until John mentioned it. There’s nothing there. Nothing except mineral hot springs. Lots of hot springs. There are several RV parks, but John and Joe always stay at Delight’s Hot Springs, which also has small cabins you can rent. They rented a cabin, and I slept in my van.
I love how Delight’s has set up the hot springs pools. They have individual rooms that lock. Each has a shower. This is great for privacy, since I doubt anyone wears a bathing suit in the pools. You have a time limit of 30 minutes, which is more than enough. They empty the pools and clean them every night. Since there’s nothing anywhere near Tecopa except desert, it’s great for stargazing (no light pollution). The pool rooms don’t have roofs, so it’s great to relax in them after dark.
All the available water in the park comes from the springs. I brought a lot of water from home (I always carry a lot of water when I camp), and we used that for drinking and cooking. John said that you definitely don’t want to drink the mineral waters.
While we were in Tecopa we took a couple of road trips. The first one was to Death Valley, somewhere I’d never been. It was incredible.
The next day we drove to a nearby canyon called China Ranch that has a palm date grove. The canyon itself is really pretty, and I had my first date shake.
On February 9, John and Joe left to fly back to Santa Rosa, and I drove to Palm Springs, where I was meeting my two best friends from high school: Jan and her wife Sue, and Ranae and her husband Mike. Jan and Sue live in Vancouver, BC, and Ranae and Mike live south of Tucson. Ranae, Mike, and I rented an Air B&B, and Jan and Sue were doing a month-long home exchange in a condo. We all contributed to a great Mexican dinner that night. I brought Millberger Farms pinto beans and green chile (which I managed to keep frozen all that time), and Ranae brought tamales from Tucson. We had a nice dinner together, not knowing that Jan was already sick that day but not yet showing symptoms of what would be, for her, a very serious bout of flu.
The following day Mike and Sue went hiking, and Jan, Ranae, and I walked around Palm Springs. What a great place! About 40% of the town’s population is LGBT, and I really liked the vibe. We stopped at a restaurant Jan likes to make a reservation for dinner for that night, but by the time we got back to Jan’s place, she already wasn’t feeling well. We decided to skip dinner that night.
The next day, Mike, Ranae, Sue, and I visited Indian Canyons, where we hiked the small one-mile loop of Andreas Canyon, which was formed by the San Andreas Fault. What a gorgeous place! I think we had the slowest hike in human history. Poor Ranae had her knee replaced last year, but it hasn’t healed well. It’s an easy hike, but there are a few places that are steep enough I was glad I had my cane (I left my trekking poles at home and brought the cane instead, which worked out well for this trip). Mike had to help Ranae quite a bit in these spots (she’s a trooper!), and while we waited for them, I sat on rocks to give my back a break. I had been taking a lot of photos with my phone, and rather than keep pulling it out of my purse, I put it in my coat pocket. One of the times I sat on a rock, I slipped (it had quite a tilt to it) and landed on my side—hard. My poor phone. The glass cracked, but the phone still worked, thankfully. I was able to get pictures of this incredible place.
Jan didn’t go on the hike with us. She was feeling pretty sick that day. We dropped off Sue, said goodbye to the gals, and went back to our place. The next morning, I got up very early because I wanted to stop at Joshua Tree National Park on my way to Fountain Hills, AZ, my next stop.
It was dark when I left. We were staying in a gated community. I had only driven in once (following Mike and Ranae–after dark), and after that Mike drove whenever we left, so I hadn’t paid much attention to how he got out. Combine that with the darkness, and I got lost getting out of the community. I saw someone leaving through a gate, so I followed them, but then the second gate closed (I don’t know why there were two gates), and I was trapped. Turns out you had to have a transponder to open those gates. After about 15 minutes of me feeling like an absolute idiot, the security guard showed up (he saw me on the camera) and put me out of my misery by opening the gate for me. Sheesh.
I got to Joshua Tree early. The wind was blowing so hard I could hardly open the van door and it was really cold. I took some pictures but didn’t stay in the park all that long.
I arrived in Fountain Hills at the home of friends Dawn and Virginia, and by that time I was starting to get sick. I had a cough, felt weak and ill, and wheezed. Ranae and Mike reported that they were also sick. And poor Jan. Sue called Ranae in a panic because Jan couldn’t speak and kept passing out. Ranae told Sue to take her directly to the emergency room. It turns out she was dehydrated and needed some IV fluids. She went home later that night but was quite ill for the next week. Sue never got sick at all!
Virginia and Dawn had taken a day off work to spend with me, but I was too sick and spent most of the day in bed. So I didn’t do any sightseeing around Fountain Hills (I’ve been there before), but it was good to spend time with the gals, who are warm, lovely women. I met Dawn through my Kawasaki group, and we had some fun times together on our bikes.
I left Fountain Hills and drove to Gilbert to see an old friend I hadn’t seen in about 20 years—Kate, a gal I met when I lived in Oregon. We had a great time catching up. Her poor son’s ears were worn down by the time I left. I spent the night there and then headed to Green Valley, Mike and Ranae’s home, for the last part of my trip.
Mike and Ranae have a beautiful home. They live close to the Mexican border. As I drove into Green Valley, I wasn’t too impressed until I drove over a big hill and the view opened up. The mountains are beautiful, and their yard has an amazing view.
While I was there (only a couple of days), Ranae and I made a little road trip to Tubac, a colony that’s famous for its galleries. So many beautiful things from Mexican craftsmen to buy there. On our way back home, we stopped at a lovely little park where Ranae often walks. Everything in the park, including all the benches and artwork, is donated by local residents.
I chose to go to Ranae’s last because I figured I could wait it out there for a clear weather window. That was a bit complicated. I could see that a storm was coming to Raton Pass and southern Colorado, but I thought that if I drove close to Carlsbad Caverns, camped that night, spent the next morning at the caves, and then camped for the night afterward before heading home, I could miss the storm. I camped that night at a little state park about 40 miles from the caverns. I took the scenic route from Green Valley. It takes you past White Sands National Park and up over the mountains. Much better than driving through El Paso.
The drive from my campsite to the caverns was only about an hour, and I got there about 9:00. Carlsbad had a strong effect on me. I’ve always wanted to go because mom and dad went there for their honeymoon. It’s just far enough away from northern Colorado that you need two days to drive down, which is probably one reason I never went. So I was pretty excited about seeing the caverns.
I took the elevator down to the Big Room, which reminded me a bit of the time I took the elevator to the top of the old World Trade Center. The elevator displays how far down you’ve traveled as you go. When I first stepped into the Big Room, a wave of emotion flowed over me and I started to cry. Part of it was being overwhelmed by the cave. If you haven’t been there, it’s impossible to describe, and my inadequate photos do nothing to show its splendor. So that was part of it. But I also couldn’t get out of my head the thought of mom and dad at 19 and 20 years old, just married, madly in love, walking along the same path I was walking. (My parents had been married 62 years when my dad died. They had rough spells over the years, but they had a solid marriage and loved each other.) I couldn’t stop crying. Thankfully, there were few people in the Big Room while I was there. In fact, there were times when it felt a bit creepy because it was so dim in the cave and many times I couldn’t hear or see anyone else. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in there with no electric lights and only a kerosene lantern, as was the case for the first people who explored it. I was thankful for the railings and for my cane because it was difficult to see the ground at times, and it was wet in spots, of course.
I had planned to camp that night, but being in the cave made me feel more sick. I think it was the mold and stuffy air. By the time I got out of the cave, I was having trouble breathing. So I drove to Roswell and got an inexpensive room. It was small, but it was clean and warm. I felt thankful to have a place to sleep and relax for a few hours.
I didn’t get as much rest as I had hoped, though, because it turned out that my room was a few hundred yards from a hospital’s helipad. There must be a lot of sick and injured people in Roswell because that helicopter took off and landed at least half a dozen times, the last time at 3:00 in the morning. I can’t describe how loud it was in my room. But the room was warm and cozy, for which I was grateful because I felt so sick. I wasn’t looking forward to the drive home in that condition.
So the next day I took my time and drove north to Raton and got a room at a motel, thinking that I would wait out the storm that was expected that night and drive over the pass the next day. As I got nearer and nearer Raton, I could see huge black clouds looming over the mountains. My timing was perfect.
My motel also had a Mexican restaurant. It turned out to be a good decision to stop there. I still wasn’t feeling well, so having a big warm room to rest in was a great thing. I had dinner in the restaurant. By the time I left the restaurant to walk back to my room, it was snowing pretty hard.
The next morning, I started checking road conditions about 5:00 a.m. I wanted to get through Denver before rush hour but I also didn’t want to drive on an icy pass. I had my free breakfast in the restaurant, then went back to the room and waited a while longer. By 10:00, the reports looked good, so I set off over the pass. The pass wasn’t icy in the right lane, so that’s where I stayed. The road was still wet, and the sun made it steam, which made visibility pretty poor. I drove past an accident that had just happened (police and ambulance were just showing up). Some poor woman had gone off the road and overturned. I saw a lot of cars that had gone off the road the night before, and I was thankful that I’d had the option to wait it out for the night. I took my time, and by the time I got to Trinidad, the roads were in good shape. I made it home by about 2:30, and the Denver traffic was fine. My van was absolutely filthy, though. As my son Topher told me, if it weren’t filthy, it would be a sign that I hadn’t had a good trip.
I’m glad I finally got away to the desert during the winter. This February has been one of the snowiest in our area for a while. It was great to be in the desert, wearing flip-flops, instead of wading through snow and dealing with the bitter cold. I plan to do this every winter for as long as I can.
A few days ago, I took out the rear bed platform and trimmed the mattress to fit the front platform. I’ll be sleeping sideways, and the mattress is about eight inches shorter than I am. It’s wide, though, and since I’m a side sleeper who curls up, I don’t think it’ll be a problem. Before I did this, I marked off the size of the new platform on my bed and stayed in that space for an entire night. It works.
Since that was done, I decided to build a cabinet for the rear of the van. I need some shelves and some countertop space. I need some sort of a night stand for my phone, tablet, water, lights, etc. I need some floor space, too. I sketched out plans for a little cabinet that would give me everything I need.
I’m cheap–plus this whole experience has been designed to travel as inexpensively as possible. I had some plywood left over from the bed platform, and I had some odd pieces of wood, like the top of a buffet that got broken during our last move. I decided to use only materials I already had, no matter how ugly.
The plywood is really rough. I thought about painting it, but it’s just too splintery. Then I remembered some self-stick linoleum tiles I had left over from a project, and I decided to cover the outside of the cabinet and the shelf with that. Of course, it doesn’t stick very well to rough wood, so I got some finish nails and tacked it down with those. It isn’t pretty, that’s for sure, but at least the tiles won’t fall off and I won’t get splinters when I rub up against the cabinet. 🙂
I put a towel bar on one end, and I screwed a bamboo serving tray to the top. This is where I’m going to keep my stove so it won’t slide around. I attached a couple of little baskets at the ends of the shelf and screwed on the fire extinguisher bracket.
I’m going to use some picture wire to create a barrier in front of the shelf and down near the floor so things can’t slide out when I’m moving. And then I’m going to cover the front with a curtain to hide my potty bucket.
I’m pretty happy with the results, even though it’s not very attractive, and the fact that I did the entire thing myself. The only thing I’m not happy about is the state of my back. I broke this project into two days to pace myself and had to stop every 30 minutes or so so I could sit down until the pain let up. I took a bunch of kratom yesterday, which usually helps my pain. But it didn’t do a damned thing. Today, I took a Norco before I even started, but by the time I finished I was in so much pain I could barely move. I’m going to pay the price for this tomorrow. This is the last building project I’m ever going to attempt. I just can’t do these things any longer. But I’m glad I got this one last thing done.
Here are a few pictures of the almost-finished project. I’m glad I got it built and in the van so I could get the car back in the garage before it snows. Hard to believe that we’re in for the mother of all storms this next week. It was 75 degrees today!
This is the first trip that Alan and I have taken together in the van—and the first for me since I built the bed platform.
First of all, the bed is comfy and plenty big enough for us both, but the lack of headroom takes some getting used to. The first night I hardly slept. Alan’s snoring was pretty bad. But the second night I took a sleeping pill and had a weed gummy, and it was better. But the night after that, not a good night. Sleeping in the van with Alan gets mixed reviews. 🙂
One night I head my ear plugs in, as always when I sleep in the same room with Alan, and I heard a sound that I thought was either a helicopter overhead or a motorcycle. So I took an ear plug out, and I realized it was just Alan’s snoring, which was vibrating through the bed and sounded like an engine of some sort. Yikes!
So, anyway, about the trip itself…
We left Berthoud and headed toward Gunnison. We took a lot of pictures along the way. The aspens, even though not at peak that week, were fabulous. I found us a great campsite right next to a little creek. We were the only people there.
The next day we headed for Creede. Alan wanted to see that region because of the La Garita Caldera. That region experienced one of the largest volcanic eruptions in earth’s history.
I have a history with Creede. When I was a kid, some family friends of ours who had moved to Texas like to come up to Colorado in the summer and rent a cabin. A couple of summers we joined them. They loved Creede, so that’s where we met them.
Creede is a tiny little town. At one time it was a huge mining area. We decided to drive a loop road that would take us into an area of old mines. We didn’t realize that an active silver mine was up there—the Last Chance Mine. We stopped there, but it was toward the end of the day and there weren’t any more tours. So we decided to come back the next day. On the way back down the mountain on the long leg of the loop, we ran into a huge thunderstorm that included huge clumps of sleet that weren’t quite hard enough to form into hail. The picture below is from that loop road. All the mine buildings are part of the Last Chance Mine.
We camped that night right on the Rio Grand River. It got pretty cold that night, but then we were at 9,000 feet. The next morning everything was covered with frost. I still managed to wash my hair outside, though.
That morning we headed straight for the mine so we could take the tour. What a great decision that was! It was a clear, beautiful day. The mine is incredible, and the owner Jack gives the tours himself. The story of the mine’s history, its fabled amethyst vein, and how Jack acquired it is too long to go into here, but I highly recommend you read the story here:
I was blown away by the experience of going down into the tunnels and seeing where the early miners excavated. There’s still as much silver in the mine as has been extracted in its history, but until the price of silver comes up, it’s not worth it economically for Jack to start mining again. Jack is not just a miner. He makes jewelry from the minerals that come out of the mine. It’s an amazing place. If you ever get to that part of Colorado, go visit it!
The next day we drove to Durango and camped a few miles outside of town. We decided to spend the next day driving the loop from Durango up to Telluride and back down the Million Dollar Highway through Ouray. I’ve ridden over Red Mountain Pass on my motorcycle and been a passenger in a car driving over it, but I hadn’t driven the pass in a car myself until this trip. All I can say is that it’s far easier inside a vehicle!
That night we decided to get a motel room in Durango because we had to be at the train station at 8:00 the next morning. I was also exhausted from lack of sleep. So I got a good night’s sleep that night, and we were able to take showers and take our time getting ready for the train.
This was my first time on the Durango-Silverton narrow-gauge railroad. I’ve lived in Colorado most of my life, but I’d never taken the trip. It was a lot of fun. We did the round trip, staying in Silverton for a couple of hours until the train trip back to Durango.
On the first leg of the trip, a couple who sat next to us pointed out a campground as we passed and said that was their tent. I asked for the name of the campground (which was actually an RV park). We had planned to go to a dispersed site that night—the closest one I could find which was a 45-minute drive from Durango. But it was already 6:00 when the train got in, and I didn’t want to be driving around looking for a camping spot in the dark. So I called the RV park, and we got a tent site for the night.
The next day we headed to New Mexico, on our way to Arizona to see the Petrified Forest National Park and then Meteor Crater. Alan has wanted to see Meteor Crater since he was a child. He’s been an astronomy buff his whole life and started building a telescope when he was a teen. So this had been on his bucket list for a long time.
On the way to the Petrified Forest, we passed through Aztec, NM, which I had never heard of. We saw a sign for Aztec Ruins National Monument. It seemed strange because it was right there in the middle of town, but we thought we might as well check it out. I’m glad we did.
We decided to drive to the first part of the Petrified Forest National (the Painted Desert) and save the petrified forest and Meteor Crater for the next day. The Painted Desert is beautiful and reminds me of other similar parks I’ve been to (like the badlands in South Dakota).
We decided to get a room in Gallup because I was pretty exhausted. I did all the driving until part of the last day so Alan could take pictures as we drove. It was a good choice to get a room. Gallup is inexpensive, and we had some great Mexican food there for dinner. We decided to drive to Meteor Crater first, then stop at the petrified forest on the way back to Gallup. There isn’t much at Meteor Crater, but the crater itself is impressive.
We headed toward the petrified forest stopping in Winslow, AZ, just long enough to get the iconic picture on the corner. I tried to take a selfie, but I couldn’t see the screen so it didn’t come out. 🙂 Alan took a picture of me standing next to the statue, but he hasn’t downloaded his pictures yet.
Again, we decided to spend the night at a motel in Gallup because we planned to drive all the way home the next day, and I needed sleep! We had another delicious meal (NM food is SO good) and went to bed early.
We didn’t take the usual route home (up I-25) because we didn’t want to hit Denver at rush hour. And who wants to drive up the interstate through a bunch of cities after being surrounded by nature for a week? So we decided to drive to Santa Fe (where we stopped for lunch) and then take 285 the rest of the way home. This route took us near Salida, where we saw the Decker fire burning and watched helicopters drop water and fire retardant on the fire. After we got home I read that the fire was only 5% contained. It’s been so dry and windy in that part of Colorado that it’s almost impossible to fight it. I hope they can contain it soon.
We hit Central City at dusk, which meant that we had to drive over Highway 72, a twisty road, in the dark. It was spooky. I was worried about deer, and we did see a huge elk at the side of the road at one point. I need to spend more time polishing the headlight covers on the van (or replace them). They’re not that bright, so we were definitely at a disadvantage. Thank goodness for brights! We took it slow and got home about 8:30, more than 12 hours after we left Gallop.
All in all, it was a great trip. We saw a ton of amazing scenery, and the mine and train were the highlights (for me, at least). But I’ve learned that we need to make some changes before I can travel for any length of time with Alan. I’m working on him to lose weight because I think that will help his snoring. I’m not sure what else I can do. Having to get motels so I can get some sleep defeats the whole purpose of having the van!
My next trip will be solo—to Arizona to visit four groups of girlfriends, then on to Tecopa, CA, to meet my old friends John and Joe at a hot springs there. I have to time this trip carefully because I have to drive over at least one pass. I have to pick the least potentially dangerous pass–probably La Veta. It definitely won’t be Raton or Wolf Creek!
I’ve also decided that for solo trips, I’ll take out half of the platform–the narrower part toward the end of the van. I measured off the size of the larger platform on my regular bed and realized I can easily sleep in the amount of space. And it will give me half the van’s interior to use the porta potty, get dressed, etc. I can put the other platform back in when it’s time for a couples trip. I’ll just need to get a twin mattress (probably not as high as the mattress that’s in there now) and trim about 12″ off the end. Easy peasy.
We’ve decided to leave on Thursday. We have no idea how long we’ll be gone, which is the beauty of these kinds of trips. The only thing we have scheduled, when we have to actually be somewhere at a particular time, is the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge RR, which we’re doing on Monday.
We’re going to head to Blue Mesa Reservoir/Gunnison first and do some exploring in that general area. Alan’s excited because that whole area is covered in volcanic calderas. Alan’s an amateur geologist, who reluctantly decided not to study geology in college because he knew that the field he ended up choosing (electrical engineering) would provide a better living. But he’s still obsessed with geology, and most of our trips include some sort of geological adventure. http://coloradogeologicalsurvey.org/colorado-geology/igneous-rocks/volcanic-rocks/calderas/
After our day in Silverton and Durango, we’ll head east toward the Petrified Forest National Park and Meteor Crater. And who knows what we’ll do after that?
I’ll be taking my laptop with me so I can blog but I have no idea what sort of reception we’ll have on this trip. If I can post updates and pictures while we’re on the trip, I will. Otherwise, it’ll have to wait until we get home.
Thanks to my fabulous son Topher for holding down the fort while we’re gone.