South Meadows Campground, Colorado

On July 14, 2017 we departed Trappers Lake, Colorado and headed towards the Pikes Peak area. Without Internet connectivity we simply headed back down the canyon on Highway 8 and hoped to get connectivity before we had to make decisions with serious consequences. We travelled back through Meeker, Colorado and gained connectivity soon afterwards. We headed south on Highway 13, east on I-70, and then south on Highway 9 through Alma and Fairplay, Colorado.

The route we chose had a tremendous amount of beautiful scenery. The Colorado Rockies are quite amazing. We wound our way up and down passes and at Hoosier Pass, on the Continental Divide, we reached an altitude of 11,539 feet above sea level. We passed through Alma, Colorado which is the highest incorporated town in the United States at 10,355 feet.

After passing through Alma, Fairplay and a few very small places we headed nearly due east to Woodland Park. We arrived about 7pm, started looking for campgrounds and realized our tactical error of arriving on a Friday night. We began this adventure with the plan of moving on Mondays and Thursdays, but here we were a couple of hours from Denver, in July, on Friday night, looking for a campsite. We tried a few places northeast of Woodland Park and found them full. We headed north towards Denver and came across the South Meadows Campground. We expected it to be full, but just as we were headed up the highway the campground host popped out of the woods at the entrance of the campground on her golf cart. My wife rolled her window down, while driving, and yelled to the host inquiring about availability. The host yelled back that she had one left and it was just the right size for our rig, we pulled in.

We arrived at site 49 about 9pm and found it to be a bit tricky to back into. A couple of men from a nearby campsite came to our rescue, jumped in the cab and put our trailer in the spot. I’m sure they were being helpful, but I also think they were trying to get us settled so the rest of our neighbors could get settled as well. One of them made the comment that it was a pleasure to drive my wife’s truck, we get that a lot. We ate dinner about 11pm and called it a day!

When we awoke Saturday morning we indeed found the campground full, but the sites were well spaced and wooded. We headed to the Laundromat and poured an amazing number of quarters into washers and dryers. While washing clothes I made arrangements to take the Pikes Peak Cog Railway to the top of Pikes Peak. We were very fortunate to get a few of the last tickets for the 4pm trip; there was no other availability for over a week. Before our trip up the mountain we went grocery shopping and did a few other errands.

We’ve driven to the top of Pikes Peak before, but we’ve always wanted to take the cog train. From the platform you take your assigned seats in one of several railway cars. The three of us faced uphill and we sat across from three others. There wasn’t a lot of room, but it was tolerable.

Most of the trip up is quite steep and well in excess of what traditional trains could climb. This is made possible by the cog rail in the middle of the track the entire way up. The diesel engine engages on this rail and literally pulls the rest of the train up. This is not a speedy process and the train seems to go up and down at about 10 mph.

The trip begins in a forested narrow canyon with a stream and a couple of little waterfalls. It then climbs onto the mountain and the views into the distance begin to appear through the trees. The climbing continues beyond the tree line into tundra covered meadows. Beyond this you come to boulder fields near the top before the trip terminates at the peak. At the top you get a chance to get out, stretch your legs and spend money at the gift shop. At the top you are at 14,115 feet above sea level and the views are spectacular. The clear refreshing air makes the whole trip worth the money, time, and effort. After just a few minutes at the top you are requested to board the train for the return trip down the mountain. It’s unfortunate that you don’t get to change seats to the other side or even face the other direction on the return trip. What you see on the way down is precisely what you saw on the way up. This makes the return trip a bit boring, but the time goes pretty quickly and is tolerable.

On Sunday morning we attended the Woodland Park Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After church we spent some time in a Woodland Park park to plan the remainder of our trip and decided to reserve some cave tours at Carlsbad Caverns.

When we returned from worshiping the campground was nearly deserted and remained so for the remainder of our stay. We really enjoyed the campground. The few neighbors we had were quiet, the hosts were great and the sunsets filtered through the tress were inspiring.

On Monday we drove to the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. It’s interesting, but quite small in comparison to other cliff dwelling such as those in southwest Colorado or New Mexico.

We also drove through the Garden of the Gods Park. We decided that for those traveling from the east this park would be a lot more interesting. This would be a great introduction for those new to red rock. The red rock is beautiful, but for those of us from Utah, Arizona, Colorado or New Mexico there are lots of other places with a lot more majestic red rock. We’ll skip these last two attractions in the future.

On July 18th we left South Meadows Campground and headed south to New Mexico. Our next stop was Agua Piedra Campground northeast of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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Trappers Lake, Colorado

On July 11, 2017 we left Starvation State Park at about noon and drove nearly due east. We drove through Meeker, Colorado and headed up into the Trappers Lake area on Highway 8. We eventually turned right onto Highway 8a. Just after the turn we took a dirt road to the west and found a very nice spot for a few days of camping. This was the first time we had truly boondocked rather than staying in a campground.

We arrived at our private spot about 6pm, cooked dinner, fired up a generator and watched the latest Power Ranger movie as a family. Beautiful drive and an easy to get into spot. For an exact location of the places we have camped see the Where We’ve Been page. I have made my best effort to drop the pins on this page in exactly the spots we’ve camped. While this area had several great spots, we only saw one other car during our stay and they headed down the dirt road to the trailhead. It was quiet, peaceful and beautiful.

The next day we drove up the canyon to Trappers Lake Lodge where they helped us buy two Colorado fishing licenses. It turns out in this Internet age, small stores no longer sell fishing licenses because there is no margin and you can buy them online. They did let us come behind their counter, use their computer and print our temporary licenses. The folks at the lodge were friendly, sold the basics you may need, served food, organized horseback trips, and rented boats, toys and cabins.

From the lodge we drove a short distance to the Trappers Lake Trailhead. There are no roads to the lake because it is in a designated wilderness area. We hiked a quarter of a mile to the lake through sunshine, rain and hail. Yes we experienced all that in just a quarter of a mile. We arrived at Trappers Lake which was stunning. The lake is located at high altitude, in a wilderness area and surrounded by lovely mountains.

Walking around the lake a bit led us to the dock where the lodge’s rental boats were tied up. While at the lake we tried fishing from the shore with no luck. We decided that we’d rent a canoe the following day and try again.

At about 10 am the next day we repeated our trek up the canyon to Trappers Lake Lodge, collected a couple of paddles and life jackets and headed to Trappers Lake. The three of us got in a canoe and I set my fly line out the back trolling while my wife and son fished as I paddled slowly around the entire lake in a counter clockwise direction. I ended the day having caught two fish. My wife had two on and brought one all the way in, but it was the biggest fish of the day, a 16 to 20 inch Colorado Cutthroat. It was not only long, but it was fat and well colored. A beautiful day of fishing.

We returned the canoe at about 3pm after surviving quite a bit of rain, lightning and thunder. I’m always a bit concerned with 10 foot fly poles in a canoe out in a lake with lightning all around, but we survived yet again.

After fishing Trappers Lake we drove to a pretty little lake called Scotts Lake and gave it a try. We had no success at all. We could see lots of small fish jumping, but not even a bite for our efforts.

We returned to our trailer and cleaned up. While washing the dog under the outside shower we found a dead mouse in the wash basin. Later in our trip we found his best friend chewing on stuff inside the trailer and had to buy traps. We’ll keep a few traps on hand in the future. Evidently these little guys like trailer camping as much as we do.

We spent some time in the evening contemplating our next move. We decided to leave this area in the morning and head southeast towards the Pike’s Peak area. We didn’t have any connectivity in this area so we decided to go in that general direction and fine tune our decisions while driving with connectivity and the availability of Google Maps.

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5 States, 31 Nights, and 4200 Miles

On June 29th, 2017 our family of three hitched up our trailer and took off on an adventure. We travelled to 5 states, camped for 31 nights and put 4200 miles of road behind us. My wife and I thought it was great and our 11 year old son thought it was “good”. However, I view a “good” rating from him as a positive sign. It means he liked many of our activities and likes us, both good things!

We travelled to Idaho, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. We learned a few things along the way:

  1. We’re glad we didn’t select a trailer larger than the one we did, 27′. Small trailers have fewer campground limitations, they’re easier to pull up steep mountain passes with tight switchbacks, and into and out of tight gas stations. When we buy another trailer, we’ll purchase the smallest one we can be comfortable in.
  2. We love having a solar panel on our trailer and are now glad we purchased only one. When the sun is out, the one panel fully recharges the batteries by early afternoon. For fall or winter camping another panel would be nice, but the cost of a second panel is equivalent to the cost of a generator, which is mandatory even in the summer when you might experience multiple days of cloud cover. One solar panel means you’ll seldom need the generator, but when you do you have one.
  3. While camping in a trailer you have several scarce resources: electricity, propane, fresh water, and limited holding tank capacity. With a solar panel and backup generator electricity is not very scarce. In the summer propane seems to last forever. Our trailer has two 30 pound tanks that hold 7 gallons of propane each. In 31 days of camping we went through both bottles. We have an 80 gallon fresh water tank and it lasts three of us nearly a week. Our experience has been that the gray water holding tank is the most limited resource. Nearly all of the fresh water we use goes straight down the sink and shower drains and fills this 40 gallon tank in 4 or 5 days. We could of course be more conservative, but …
  4. We chose to purchase two 2kW Honda generators that can be connected in parallel to generate enough power to run everything in the trailer, including the air conditioner.  One of these generators is sufficient to run everything but the AC and we never used both on our adventure. We did connect one of them periodically to watch a movie or play a video game on the large TV. The generator was quiet enough that we locked it to the front of the trailer and it never bothered us inside. While we chose the Honda, I later found that Costco offers a very similar Yamaha generator for half the price; I should have looked!
  5. We’re glad we chose a trailer over a 5th wheel because I really utilized the bed of our truck for extra water, fuel for the generators, firewood, etc. I’m sure we would have loved a 5th wheel, but any fear we had about towing a trailer has dissipated.

When we left we had some trepidation about traveling in New Mexico and Arizona in July. However, both states have significant mountains and associated national forests. We stayed above 5000′ in elevation nearly all of the time and enjoyed reasonable temperatures, seldom if ever exceeding 80 degrees. The one exception was our three day stay in Carlsbad, New Mexico. While there we chose to stay at the Carlsbad RV Park and Campground, and while this isn’t our idea of camping, the facilities were clean, the staff was friendly and helpful, the pool was simple and refreshing, and most importantly we had electric hookups that allowed us to run the AC nearly 24 hours a day.

Our adventure was amazingly fun and relaxing. As we headed home on the last day we passed the I-70 East ramp and I just wanted to take it and continue our summer fun. The next few posts will describe each of the places we camped and the fun things we found to do there.