When Travel Gods Smile – Part 1

I had lunch with a friend last week, and she asked me, “How was your summer?”  Without hesitation, I enthusiastically responded, “I had the best summer”.  Initially I was surprised by my exuberant response, but as I continued to share our summer adventures, it became clear what made the summer so ideal for me.Grand Tetons

First off, I visited some places that have been on my must see list for a super long time, and second the travel Gods smiled upon us each stop along the way.  Quite frankly, our travels couldn’t have gone much better.  Sure, we were faced with some unexpected situations, but with cooler heads, solutions were easily achieved.

Bumble BeeI usually don’t like winging our travels during the most popular travel months of the year (July and August), but circumstances had us doing just that.

The upside – without the commitment of reservations, we were able to change direction and plans on a whim, which we did a lot.  We lucked out in so many ways. This post is about our travel route and the places we camped.  We snagged some fabulous campsites that helped make this summer one of our best since going full-time in the RV four years ago.  I’ll write up the things we did at each location in separate posts.

Jackson, Wyoming – From Ririe, Idaho, our easterly trek took us back to the stunning Grand TetonGrand Teton National Park in Wyoming.  Our first visit to this beautiful National Park was in the early part of the summer, and one visit was not enough… I hungered for more!

During our previous visit, we camped at the Gros Ventre Campground, and although it was very workable, I had concerns that we wouldn’t find an available site large enough for us during peak tourist season. I also wanted something with a view.

This was my home for 5 glorious days
This was our home for five glorious days. Photo taken the day we arrived. Two days later, the place was packed with fellow campers. One night we even had a tent pitched right behind our RV.

And oh my gosh, did we have a view.  After doing a little bit of research on Campendium.com, we decided to scope out the boondocking (free camping) sites in the area.  Normally, we like to explore back country gravel roads without the 5th Grand Tetonswheel in tow, but Al and I were in serious winging it mode and threw caution to the wind.

We arrived at the Teton National Forest on a Tuesday morning with no other campers in sight with the exception of one small domed tent.  Someone was doing a happy dance!

The gravel road was well maintained until we reached the designated camping area. We navigated slowly through some very deep rutted road before deciding on a little slice of land to call home.  Later that evening, we enjoyed watching the sunset as more campers arrived.Grand Teton

There continued to be a steady stream of new campers arriving well into the night. Most were tent camping or sleeping in their cars. We didn’t realize how lucky we were snagging that site or having the ample room to maneuver until we woke the next morning amongst a dozen new neighbors.

Many campers would move on the next morning while others stayed a few days, and by the time Friday night rolled around every square inch of available designated camping land was taken up either by tents or small RV’s. We even had a young man knock on our door and ask if he could pitch his tent right behind our RV. We didn’t mind and even enjoyed visiting with the him.  We were all there to savor the majestic landscape.

Each morning, I sat in bed drinking coffee while watching the sun rise. This was the view out of my bedroom window.
Each morning, I sat in a warm bed drinking coffee while watching the sun rise. This was the view out of my bedroom window.  Free camping at its finest. It was 32 degrees Fahrenheit outside in mid July!

Yep, we got lucky snagging that site when we did and were able to call it home for five glorious days (five day max stay is posted and enforced).  Had we shown up a day later, we would’ve had difficulty maneuvering and wouldn’t have found a spot big enough for us.  Our good fortune snagging great campsites continued throughout the rest of our travels.

During travel days, we occasionally stop at historical pull-outs. History abounds!
During travel days, we occasionally stop at historical pull-outs. History abounds!
Interesting historical site - note the animal bones bottom left.
Interesting historical site – note the animal bones bottom left. Life in the west can be rough.

Since we did have a time obligation requiring us to be in Denver in early August, we ended up two stepping across Wyoming and Colorado….  quick, quick, slow, slow or other times it was more like quick, slow, slow, quick 😉

We did a quick overnight at the Yampa River State Park in Colorado
We did a quick overnight at the Yampa River State Park in Colorado

Craig, Colorado – Reluctantly we bid farewell to the Grand Tetons, and embarked on a long seven hour travel day.  As much as we wanted to linger in Wyoming, that time commitment loomed.  We arrived at the Yampa River State Park in Colorado on a Sunday evening and had plenty of nice sites to choose from.

We originally wanted to Elkovernight at the Walmart in Craig, but there are signs all over posted ‘No overnight parking’.  Al even confirmed with a store manager.

This northwest part of Colorado is known for excellent Elk hunting.  We even passed a herd of Elk grazing near the side of the road.   Could be too many hunters were trying to set up camp at Walmart and thus they ended any RV overnighting. Fortunately, the Yampa River State Park had plenty of room for us.

Rifle, Colorado – The next day was a quick travel day to a Colorado State Park I’d been curious about for years.  As many times as we’ve traveled Interstate 70 through Colorado and stopped at the excellent rest area near the town of Rifle, we never took the time to visit Rifle Falls State Park.  Now was the perfect opportunity to check out this lovely state park.

Rifle State Park - Rifle Gap Campground
Rifle State Park – Rifle Gap Campground. We’re by the water on the left.

Of course, I wanted to camp as close to the falls as possible, but wasn’t sure if that was possible.  There are two campgrounds at the Rifle State Park.  We stopped Rifle Fallsat the main park office for the Rifle Gap Campground where I was able to ask all my questions.

Turns out the Rifle Falls Campground, located further up the road, was full. Had we gone there first, we might have found it somewhat challenging to turn around.  Although the sites do seem large enough to accommodate most RV’s, they do not have a convenient turn around road set up.

Also, the paved road to the campground is a little narrow in spots.  Therefore, it turned out to be more ideal for me to drive just the truck to see the waterfalls.Rifle Gap Campground

We were given a very nice pull-thru campsite near the water at the Rifle Gap Campground. The camp host gave us the option of driving against the one-way so our door could face the picnic table, but due to winds we opted to park with the door to the south.  The next day I drove to the waterfalls for a little hiking and photography.  Stay tuned for photos on that hike!

Our next stop would be Grand Junction, Colorado.  The James Robb State Park Fruita Section is a regular stopping point for us.  It’s the perfect location for me to visit with my brother as well as get in some fabulous hiking.  Without a reservation, we knew snagging a campsite at this popular state park over a weekend would be highly unlikely, but we figured a couple of weeknights shouldn’t be a problem….. wrong!

Our good fortune led to us spending five nights here.
Our good fortune – we were able to spend five nights here.

We were able to get a site for only one night.  Apparently there was a fundraising concert being held the following evening in the day use area, and thus the campground was all booked up, but the ranger did recommend stopping by the next morning to see if there were James Robb State Parkany cancellations.

That morning, we hooked up and were ready to roll, but before doing so I stopped in at the office, just in case.

While the gal was checking the reservation book, I made polite small talk.  And then I heard the preverbal, “Sorry, no cancellations”.   Just as I turned slowly to exit with my head hung in a dejected feel sorry for me stance, the gal said, “Wait one second”.  She then radioed one of the rangers, and I overheard her ask, “Did we decide to open the group campground to the general public because of the concert?”

Our awesome site backed up to the pond.
Our awesome site backed up to the pond.

As my ears perked up, I was told, “If you don’t mind not having a sewer connection, you can stay in the group campground through the weekend”.  YES!  We even got to pick out which site we wanted.  Sweet!  Turns out this was indeed a rare situation proving once again, lady luck was certainly on our side.  We not only had a great campsite at the James Robb State Park, we enjoyed a nice concert.

Montrose is a great place to camp to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Montrose is a great place to camp to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison

After a wonderful six night stay in Grand Junction, it was time for us to move on down the road to Montrose, Colorado.  This would be a quick two-night stay so we decided to give the Elks Lodge a try.  We snagged the last electric site available.  Maybe we should’ve bought a lottery ticket (we didn’t).  But our luck didn’t end here……

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