My Own National Park

ColoradoI love maps.  I always look forward to studying an atlas or trail map and plotting out our journey for the next adventure.  Hubby and I seem to have a curiosity….. “What’s around the next bend?”  It doesn’t seem to matter if we’re driving or hiking, a map piques a curiosity within us.  We have to explore, we have to see what’s over the hill or around the corner.

During our first day camped at Blue Mesa, we visited the Elk Creek Visitor Center.  We obtained maps on the Curecanti National Recreation Area Colorado and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  Al and I peruse the maps and a few brochures we picked up.  We set aside a day for explorations.

Blue Mesa
East end of Blue Mesa Reservoir; water level low

We start at the east end of Blue Mesa Reservoir and work our way westward.  We drive through campgrounds making notes for future visits.  We stop at picnic areas and scenic overlooks… photo ops, of course.

By the time we reach the far west end of the reservoir, we’re confronted with a decision; do we turn around and return to camp or turn onto Highway 92.  Highway 92 has been a road of particular interest to me for several years.  Every now and then, when I stare study a map there’s a road that eventually I just have to drive.  It’s that curiosity; what does the scenery look like?  Is the grass really greener on the other side?  Would this be some place I’d like to live?

It was still morning.  We’d packed a cooler with lunch and beverages.  With the day young, onward we traveled.  We agreed to go as far as Hermits Rest, a scenic overlook with picnic tables and restroom.  At that point we’ll reassess the day’s travels.Gunnison

As we turn off highway 50 onto highway 92 we cross the Blue Mesa Damn.  On the one side is the Blue Mesa Reservoir and on the other is the Gunnison River – sitting at the waaaay bottom of a deep canyon. This is the beginning of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  Highway 92 is a well maintained paved road and although assessable to trucks, RV’s, and trailers it can be slow going with all the twists and turns.  And then there’s the tourists constantly pulling over to take photographs….I can’t imagine.Gunnison

Ok, I’ll admit, whenever there was a gravel pull-out, yours truly was jumping out of the vehicle to snap a photo; quite often with hubby yelling out of the window, “Would you please stop getting so close to the edge!” GunnisonGunnisonOur favorite spot the entire day was Pioneer Point.  This beautiful scenic overlook was in the process of being improved with a series of trails leading to various canyon ledges.  Pretty stone pillars and railings were being installed.  Most of the other areas we stopped at offer no safety to the canyon below.  This is certainly not a place for kids to get silly….. it’s very much like the Grand Canyon on a much smaller scale.

GunnisonFrom Pioneer Point one can hike and camp down near the river’s edge.  Although the water traveling through the Black Canyon is the Gunnison River, at this point the water is called Morrow Point Reservoir.  The hike down and back to the water is considered strenuous due to the severe elevation change.  If I didn’t have a hidden agenda, we may have tackled the hike down to the river, but there’s a place I have been dying to visit for years….there’s that curiosity thing again.  However in today’s adventure, hubby does not share the same curiosity.  This calls for a little batting of the eyes accompanied by the look and tilting of the head.  You know he can’t resist 😉Gunnison

We continue down the road toward Hermits Rest.  There’s another trail head down to the water along with a campsite.  This trail is longer and once again deemed strenuous.  We’ll pass.  Although the views at Hermits Rest are pretty, the views were still nicer at Pioneer Point.

At Hermits Rest, we stand at the rail in silence admiring the view, there’s a light breeze blowing amidst a gorgeous Colorado blue sky.  Here’s my opportunity….. In an ever so sweet voice, I say, “You know hon…… we’ve already traveled this far, we might as well go to the north Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison”.  In mid sentence, I attempted to remove my sunglasses so the tilted head, batting of lashes, and sweet tone would be difficult for Al to resist, but I was quickly blinded by the blaring sun.  The move was more comical than attractive.Gunnison

As it was,  Al wasn’t even looking at me, he was looking at the bottom of the canyon.  He was however listening and questioned, “How far is it to the north rim?”  “Hum, I’m not sure.  Probably less than an hour.  Wouldn’t it be silly of us to have already traveled this far and not go just a little further to see the north rim”, I comment.Gunnison

Al says, “That was your plan all along, wasn’t it?  And you thought I didn’t know what you were up to.  You’ve talked about going to the north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison ever since we visited the south rim seven years ago”.  Ah….ain’t that sweet?  He actually listens to me and he remembered.  So off we go, further into the hinterland toward the town of Crawford.

Crawford, Colorado
Crawford, Colorado

The north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is very under developed.  As a matter of fact, the park entrance is eleven miles off highway 92, the last six miles being gravel.  There was no ranger in sight.  There’s a station to self pay and pick up a brochure.  The campground is big enough for tents and pop up trailers.Gunnison

Since this is actually a National Park and with Al’s “old fart’s card“, our admittance fee is zero.  So we bypass the Iron Ranger and proceed to tour the park.  I stop at every designated scenic overlook while Al stays in the car for the most part.  We’ve been viewing this canyon from the moment we turned off of highway 50 onto highway 92.  So it’s been about three hours of looking into the canyon.  Al’s had his fill…. “Yeah, yeah, yeah it’s pretty.  Do you have enough photos yet?”Gunnison

I’m amazed how desolate it is on the north rim.  This is a National Park after all.  We spent maybe an hour touring the park and saw a total of three other vehicles.  Wow, this was like having my own personal National Park.  We barely had to share the place. Some of the designated overlooks required a short trail and others were near the gravel road.

Sure looks crowded !

Most of the overlooks and trails had no rails.  One trail in particular made me rather uncomfortable…. the trails are dirt/gravel, dry and loose.  Railings are few and far between.  This trail was sloped toward the ledge and with the loose rock underfoot, it  presented a heart stopping moment as my right foot started to slide.  I caught myself but the heart was pounding ….. an almost p*ss my pants moment.  Ah…the call of nature.  Hey, no one’s around.  I can squat and hover to my hearts content….and the view, oh what a view!  In my hover position I admire the view and glance over to the south rim.

Looking toward the south rim visitor center

The south rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is the popular side of the canyon with a large visitor center.  I quickly stand, rearranging my shorts and wonder if they have any of those binocular viewing things that tourists pump quarters into.  Feeling confident by privacy wasn’t breached and quite frankly none too concerned, I walked near the ledge.  This is so cool.  There’s a beauty I can’t put into words.  The beauty is extremely difficult to capture on film.  The lighting presents a challenge, as does the depth and width of the canyon.

I actually walked out toward the boulders then carefully retreated – probably not one of my smarter moves of the day.  Can you see the river down below?

With my thrill of the day behind me, I returned to the vehicle and a patiently waiting husband.  No need to worry him with any of today’s antics…..let’s have lunch.  It’s 1:00 and we’re starving.  There’s no picnic areas with the exception of the campground at the other end of the park.  There’s no shade and the sun is strong and hot.  So we decide to eat our sandwiches on the go as we meander our way back to highway 92.

I don’t know why, but I’m fascinated by Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  I would love to revisit the south rim, but I think I’d better wait awhile before I bring up the subject to hubby who by this point is saying, “Ya seen one canyon, you’ve seen’m all.  Yeah, it’s rock all right….ooh, ah, ooh, ah”.

there’s a National Park around here somewhere !

Would I recommend visiting the north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison?  No, unless you’re out traveling near Crawford anyway, but it’s not worth going out of the way to visit.  I would recommend the south rim.  It’s easy to get to off highway 50, but the road does have length restrictions.  If you’re only interested in a quick glance, I would highly recommend visiting Pioneer Point.  Even Al says he’d go back to Pioneer Point and even consider taking the Curecanti Creek Trail down to the river.  I’ll remember that 🙂

All in all, it was a fabulous day.  We both had a great time.  Yep, I’d say this RVing lifestyle is pretty darn sweet thus far!

one happy camper !

Blue Mesa Res

After our month long stay in Grand Junction, hubby and I were ready to escape the heat and head to higher elevation and hopefully cooler temperatures.  When our long time friends from Pueblo West suggested we meet up near Gunnison, Colorado, Al and I jumped at the invitation.Gunnison

With all the RV projects behind us (at least for now), we hook up the shiny, clean rig to the shiny, clean, blue truck and hit the road.  It wasn’t but a mere ten minutes into the drive, when Al and I caught ourselves smiling.  It felt good to be rolling down the road again to a new destination and new home even though this wasn’t uncharted territory for us.Gunnison

Years ago our friends bought into one of those campground membership organizations. They made arrangements for us to be their guests at the Blue Mesa Ranch RV Park.  We arrived shortly before our friends and were quickly set up in a nice site.   Not long after, our friends arrived and set up in the site next to ours.  It was a great four days filled with explorations, dining, fun, and general catching up.

Us and our friends


GunnisonThe Blue Mesa Ranch RV Park sits across the road from Colorado’s largest body of water.  At an altitude of 7519, the Blue Mesa Reservoir is 20 miles long (32 km) and offers 96 miles of shoreline (154 km).  It was created in 1965 when the Blue Mesa Dam was built along the Gunnison River.

Blue Mesa Reservoir is part of the Curecanti National Recreation Area and is managed by the National Park Service.  There are several park campgrounds, picnic areas, and boat ramps.  Although hubby and I have visited this part of Colorado before, we never had the opportunity to survey the various camping options.  Our friends wanted to run into Gunnison so that gave us the perfect opportunity to do a little exploring on our own.

We checked out quite a few of the campgrounds and found the Elk Creek Campground the only one assessable for larger RV’s and offering electric hook-ups.  The cost is $18 per night, but since this is a federally run park, it’s only $9 for those in possession of the “Senior Pass” otherwise known as “the old geezer’s pass” or “old fart’s card”.

For those of you unfamiliar with this pass and not yet 62 years of age (moi included), for a one time $10 fee one can purchase this lifetime “pass”.  It allows FREE access to all National Parks and ½ off camping fees within federally run campgrounds.  Hum….I guess there are benefits to marrying an older man…. 😆

We did discover a great spot for a night or two at the Lake Fork Visitor Center located near the Blue Mesa Dam.  This paved parking lot is set up for camping complete with picnic tables.  No hook-ups so you’ll be dry camping, but there’s plenty of room for any size rig including those pulling a car or boat.  The cost is $12 a night or $6 for those of you who qualify.  The views are also pretty nice and the location is convenient, just off highway 50.

the view as we drive Soap Creek Road

Our favorite little discovery was when we took Soap Creek Road at the far west end of Blue Mesa Reservoir.  This well maintained gravel road is located along the reservoir and weaves in and out of private and federal land.  Gunnison

We stumbled across the Ponderosa Campground and quickly checked it out.  Al and I like to explore out of the way campsites without the rig in tow and make notes of places we really like.  We thought with a little strategic maneuvering, it’s possible to get our 31′ fifth wheel parked in a site or two at the Ponderosa campground, but probably not a good option for us.

Soap Creek Road

Moving on down the road…..the two lane gravel road becomes more like a one or one and a half lane the closer we got to the Soap Creek Campground.  And then there’s the pine trees that could easily leave some damage on an unsuspecting oversized rig.  We pulled into the Soap Creek Campground (end of the road) and “oh, man”……the views and setting are beautiful.  This was one of those times, Al and I had wished our RV was much smaller.  I guess it’s true, “size does matter”.  For anyone looking for solitude surrounded by scenery, this is it.

Soap Creek
Soap Creek Campground – the creek is on the other side of the low bushes
Now is this a great boondocking site or what? Notice the fire ring?

The Curecanti National Rec Area is the perfect Colorado location for camping, boating, and fishing, but if you need to be connected, this is not the place for you.  We had no internet service our entire stay with the exception of the rec center at the RV Park using the park’s Wi-Fi.  Cell service was spotty at best with one or two bars.  The RV Park had a gazebo that was titled “the cell phone gazebo”, as that was the one location within the RV Park with workable cell reception.

With plenty of notes for a future visit (yes, we would definitely come back), we return to the RV and have dinner with our friends.  What shall we do next?

Coming up……Crested Butte and Black Canyon of the Gunnison.Gunnison

Time for a Break

As the looming snow-capped mountains come into view, I feel a sense of excitement.  It feels good to be back on the road, especially after the past few weeks.  Weeks of cleaning and preparing the house for sale has gotten old real quick.  I need a break.  I need to get away.  It’s Friday, May 17th the weekend before Memorial Weekend; the official kick off to summer fun in Colorado.  A perfect time to hit the road.

Highway 50 west of Canon City meanders along the Arkansas River

I leave Al and Bear behind and hop in my little red Toyota Tacoma bound for Grand Junction, Colorado.  Within a mere thirty minutes from home, the road begins to twist and turn as Highway 50 meanders along the Arkansas River.  This particular stretch of Highway 50 can be stressful when there is a considerable amount of traffic.  This morning I practically have the road to myself and thus drive at a relaxing pace allowing myself to take in the scenery.

Arkansas River
Arkansas River east of Salida, Colorado; known for white water rafting

The Arkansas River between the towns of Canon City and Salida, Colorado, is a popular tourist destination for white water rafting.  The rafting season hasn’t begun just yet, therefore no rubber rafts in sight, but that will change in the next week or so as the snow melts in the high country making for some fast moving water.  Canon City and Salida both offer plenty of rafting outfitters to accommodate the various levels of adventure seekers.

Salida Colorado
The Continental Divide looms in the distance

As I get closer to the town of Salida, I sense a rise in elevation.  Perhaps seeing the Continental Divide in the distance is a reminder of the change in elevation necessary to cross the Rocky Mountains.  My journey started in Pueblo West at an elevation of 4,900 feet and I have been gradually climbing as I approach the town of Salida at 7,000 feet.

Just west of Salida, the road climbs more aggressively toward Monarch Pass and the Continental Divide. Monarch Pass sits at an elevation of 11,312 feet and is the high point of Highway 50.  I’ve been on the road a couple of hours now and could use a break ….. photo-op.  There is still plenty of snow but it’s a sunny, warm 60 degrees at 11,312 feet.

Monarch Pass
My little red truck and I stop for a break at Monarch Pass 11,312 feet in elevation

What goes up, must come down.  Once on the other side of Monarch Pass, it’s all down hill, as evidenced by the “runaway truck ramp”.  I often wonder how the driver of a semi-truck feels racing down a twisty, curvy mountain road with brakes not functioning.  It’s not as if a guard rail, when there is a guard rail, would stop a semi from tumbling over the edge.  That kind of excitement, I assure you, I do not need to experience first hand.

Continental Divide
surrounded by beautiful scenery
Continental Divide
I’ve crossed the Continental Divide; it’s all down hill from here

I’ll stick with my little truck.  I coast down the western slope of the Rocky Mountains with the help of my brakes here and there.  Traffic is light.  I’m really enjoying the drive.  I stop for lunch in Gunnison before stopping at the Blue Mesa Reservoir.  I can’t believe how low the water level is at Blue Mesa Reservoir.  The past few years of drought have taken a toll on Colorado’s reservoirs.  However, it should fill considerably as the snow melts in the high country…..I hope.

Blue Mesa Reservoir
Highway 50 crosses Blue Mesa Reservoir
Blue Mesa Reservoir
Blue Mesa Reservoir; the water level is low due to drought
Rocky Mountains
Blue Mesa Reservoir
Montrose Colorado
A perfect day; Highway 50 east of Montrose, Colorado

I continue on the journey enjoying a perfect day…..oops….spoke too soon.  I come to a screeching halt about fifteen minutes east of the town of Montrose.  Construction!  Did you know Colorado only has two seasons?  Winter and construction.  I knew this day was too perfect.  Oh well, with no place to go we all shut off our engines and enjoy the perfect weather and scenery.

Rocky Mountains
Construction has us stopped east of Montrose
Rocky Mountains
My view to the left as traffic is halted for construction

With plenty of time to day dream, I glance out the rolled down window and wonder about the folks living on this ranch in the above photo.  They are probably cattle ranchers.  Pretty common in this area of Colorado….cattle country.  Could I live here?  Would I want to live here?  Probably not….. most likely not.  The winters are long and hard in this neck of the woods.  Come on, it’s the end of May and there’s still snow on the ground.  You should see this part of Colorado in the winter…..beautifully white in all directions covered deep in snow AND it’s cold….the air and the snow 😉

Highway 50
After thirty minutes of sitting, we’re finally moving again
Highway 50 just east of Montrose, Colorado

After thirty minutes of waiting, traffic finally starts to move and it is once again smooth sailing the rest of the way.  6 1/2 hours and 383 miles later I pull into my brothers driveway in Grand Junction…..right behind his new travel trailer.

Brother’s new travel trailer

My brother and his wife camped in Moab the previous weekend.  Knowing I was coming for a visit, brother postponed stowing the trailer so I could see his new toy.  We spend the evening swapping RV stories over cocktails and catching up with life in general.  Tomorrow we’ll visit The Monument.