A Land of Extremes – Death Valley

A Land of Extremes – Death Valley

I’m sitting in our climate-controlled truck on a cushioned leather seat watching the scenery unfold in front of me. The land is vast, harsh, barren, and the road free of traffic. I can’t fathom the life of Pioneers who first explored these lands via horseback and wagon. Complaining about the lack of cell or internet coverage seems so petty on my part. However, the thought of a flat tire or other breakdown has me feeling somewhat uncomfortable. No calling AAA out here. We’re on our own!

Our Route – February 22, 2012

We pulled out of our campsite in Lake Havasu City bright and early that morning. We traveled north on Highway 95 to Interstate 40 west. After studying the map the day before, I thought it would be interesting to drive through the Mojave National Preserve.

The Mojave Desert is an arid rain-shadow desert and the driest desert in North America. And just like I imagined, the views are miles upon miles of sparsely vegetated land … harsh land that deserves respect if one is to survive. After our turnoff from Interstate 40 onto Kelbaker Road, I think we saw less than a dozen other vehicles, if that. Fascinating terrain!

Once in the town of Baker, we top off with fuel. We realize, the further we get from civilization, the more expensive fuel costs will become. Our journey continues toward Death Valley National Park and Furnace Creek.

Campground

The Furnace Creek Campground was currently undergoing a renovation and therefore closed for the season (Feb. 2012). Signs directed us to the Sunset Campground where we quickly found a level gravel site to pull into. The Sunset Campground was pretty much an organized gravel parking lot with no services, but at $12 a night, we weren’t complaining. We made a quick note of the generator hours to assure we kept our batteries topped off.

We loved watching the sunsets!

Sunset Campground is aptly named. Every evening, we found ourselves sitting outside to watch the sunset. Once the sun had disappeared, the sky would turn into fantastic shades of colors ranging from pinks to reds and purples. Then the sky would slowly darken to the most incredible deep, deep midnight blue. The stars were bright and the crescent moon stunning. Al and I would just sit quietly in awe watching the show unfold.

Although we lived in a community with a dark sky policy (Pueblo West, CO), I think this was the first time we truly understood light pollution. There was none here to detract from the beauty of the sky, and we were appreciative observers. Each night was a little different but equally spectacular. There are some things in life that can’t be captured via a photograph and must be experienced first hand. Admiring the night sky in Death Valley National Park was definitely one of those special moments … a vision etched in my memories.

Exploring Death Valley

Established in 1994, Death Valley National Park is a beautiful but challenging landscape where unique wildlife have developed ingenious adaptations to the arid, harsh environment. Located in both California and Nevada, it’s the largest national park in the lower 48 states and has nearly 1,000 miles of roads that provide access to both popular and remote locations in the park.

After reviewing the Death Valley National Park map, Al and I discuss our plan for the day.  National Parks are not usually pet friendly and Death Valley is no exception. So Al and I plan our day keeping our dog, Bear, in mind. Fortunately, the weather would be in the 60 degrees Faherenheit range allowing us to leave Bear in the RV alone for a few hours. Since he was over thirteen years old, Bear was showing his age and could use a little extra rest after a rather exciting, fun-filled five days in Lake Havasu.  So, he didn’t mind being left behind to catch up on some much-needed rest. 

Our first stops were Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View.  Dante’s View is considered the most breathtaking viewpoint in the park. The overlook is more than 5,000 feet above the floor of Death Valley and overlooks Badwater Basin. We were extremely glad that we wore our sweatshirts considering the temperature was only around 52 degrees Fahrenheit that morning and extremely windy at this high overlook.

Al reading information about the area – Dante’s View
The expansive scene from Dante’s View – overlooking Badwater Basin

On our return to the RV, we took a side trip and ventured down a dirt road known as Twenty Mule Team Canyon.  This is a one-way 2.7 mile drive through badlands.  The history of this road dates back to the days of mining for Borax in the Valley.  It was a fun little side trip even though there were points I wondered if our large truck would fit through some of the tight corridors in the canyon. If it weren’t for our growling stomachs beckoning for lunch, I would’ve loved stopping more frequently along the way. Yes, more photo-ops would’ve been nice, although Al might disagree.

A Jeep rounds a bend on Twenty Mule Team Road – the perfect vehicle for exploring Death Valley NP.

Upon our return to the RV, we find Bear still fast asleep and needing to be coaxed for his walk. He is one tired little guy and doesn’t mind being left behind the rest of the day.

After lunch, Al and I head over to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Badwater Basin is a vast landscape of salt flats. From a distance it looks like snow.

Al and Ingrid at Badwater Basin
Exploring the salt flats
Interesting patterns formed by salt deposits.

We ventured out onto the salt flats taking in the fascinating landscape. Badwater Basin was once the site of a large inland lake. The lake had no outlet, leading to the accumulation of sediment and salt over time. When the lake eventually evaporated, concentrated salt deposits were left behind. Today, captivating geometric salt polygons form on the flats as groundwater rises up through these deposits and evaporates.

A 53 year old Ingrid is awed by the landscape.

After more than thirty minutes of walking around the salt flats and marveling at the unique and surreal environment, we returned to the truck where we noticed the salt residue had stuck to our shoes and was now leaving a fine coating of salt residue on our truck floor mats.

A Golf Course that isn’t a Golf Course

Just north of Badwater Basin is a side road that took us down a bumpy dirt road to a parking lot. We found ourselves surrounded by craggy boulders which are really meteorite like sharp crystal formations of salt. Imagine an immense area of rock salt that has been eroded by wind and rain and turned into jagged spires and boulders. The sculpted salt formations form a rugged terrain that is simultaneously delicate yet dramatic. Rocks are so serrated that only the devil could play golf on such rough links. Hence, the name Devils Golf Course.

The Devils Golf Course

The terrain looks daunting and can be dangerous, thus best viewed from the parking lot. We had the place to ourselves and it was so quiet that we could actually hear the salt formations cracking. It was like tiny little pops and pings. The sound is literally billions of tiny salt crystals bursting apart as they expand and contract in the heat.

The next stop on our tour was driving the scenic, one-way, nine-mile paved road known as Artist’s Drive. A photo-op stop at the Artists Palette is a must. Artists Palette consists of multi-hued volcanic hills, best photographed in the afternoon. Known for its variety of rock colors, it’s no wonder where the name came from. The various colors are caused by the oxidation of different metals. Iron compounds produce red, pink, and yellow. The decomposition of mica produces green, and manganese produces purple. Once again, we are left speechless and perplexed by the terrain.

Artists Palette
Death Valley National Park – Vast large land worth exploring!

After two full days of exploring this southern section of Death Valley, it was time to move north. Al and I never realized just how enormous this national park is; 3,373,063 acres.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

On day three, we move camp to the Stovepipe Wells Campground.  Upon arrival, we realize its remoteness.  With the exception of Furnace Creek, all of Death Valley is extremely remote and vast. We park the RV with the backend into the wind. The wind is blowing and dirt devils are twirling.

Our campsite at Stovepipe Wells National Park Campground – no services.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Once settled in our new location, we head on over to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes nearby which is the whole reason we moved to this new location. Al and I hike the dunes being sure to keep our eyes on the ground for critters; snakes, scorpions, etc. We occasionally stop for photos or to marvel at the landscape.  These dunes rise nearly 100 feet from the Mesquite Flat and are in a constant state of change due to the winds.  It appears wind is the norm in this part of the park.

The winds continue to blow and Al and I are covered in a fine layer of dirt and sand.  We return to the RV for dinner in hopes of enjoying another gorgeous sunset. We were sorely disappointed with the sunset in this location.  However, the night sky and the crescent moon made up for any lack in sunset color. If we had it to do over, we probably would have stayed at the Sunset Campground and just driven to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes for the day. 

exploring the dunes
Ingrid dumping the sand out of her shoes after exploring the dunes.

Although I feel we barely touched the surface of this awe-inspiring terrain, the constant extreme wind was irritating, and we decided to leave the next day with the promise of returning to Death Valley another time. 

Throughout our entire Death Valley explorations, we were intrigued by the landscape and felt like we had stepped back in time; Jurassic time. With each bend in the road, it would not have surprised us to have encountered a dinosaur or perhaps see a pterodactyl fly overhead. Or perhaps it wasn’t another realm but rather another planet. Regardless, we were awed, mesmerized, and perplexed by the incredible landscape. We left with the realization that another visit to Death Valley National Park would be warranted. Four days and three nights were definitely not enough time to explore this expansive and special land.

Al and Ingrid near Artists Palette – February 24, 2012
Death Valley National Park

This post is part of my “Blog to Book” series where I step back in time and share our journey to full-time RV living, share the RV lifestyle, and the places we visit. As I rewrite older posts, I plan to add more details and personal content … new tales never shared before. For more information about my goal for this blog series, please visit this post. And if you’d like to start from the beginning of the story, you’ll want to start with this post. I share new posts every Sunday morning and occasionally Wednesdays.

Thank you for shopping my affiliate links. ❤As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.


Merrell Men’s Moab Waterproof Hiking Boot
Merrell Women’s Moab Hiking Shoe

It all started …

July 2010 – With my signature complete, I slide the paperwork back over to the salesman. It’s official. Al and I just bought a new RV. Since it’s still on the Keystone assembly line in Elkhart, Indiana, we’ll have to wait a couple of months to take it home. Perfect, that’ll give us a great opportunity to get in one or two more trips with our underutilized truck camper before trading it in.

Ingrid in front of the truck camper Taos, New Mexico.
Boondocking in Westcliff, Colorado

September 2010, we make the one-hour drive from our home in Pueblo West, Colorado, to the RV Dealership located in the quaint Colorado mountain town of Poncha Springs. We drop off our beloved truck camper and return home with a new 2011 Keystone Laredo 5th wheel in tow.

The drive between Pueblo West and Poncha Springs is a beautiful scenic drive. However, Highway 50 just west of Canon City, turns into a two-lane road that meanders along the Arkansas River. There are lots of curves, rock walls, and narrow spots with no shoulder and no room for error. Al was a little nervous navigating this stretch of road while pulling something as large as our new thirty-one-foot 5th wheel for the very first time. There was no opportunity for him to practice or get a feel for the RV on a wider or more open road before taking our new toy home.

Little did we know what RV adventures awaited. A mere two years later, driving this same stretch of highway was no longer a big deal and just another typical travel route in our RVing world.

Our shake down trip

In the RVing community, it’s highly recommended that owners of a new (or new to them) RV take their RV on a “shakedown” outing. This means camping near home at the nearest RV Park or campground and staying for at least a couple of nights to try out all the mechanics. This is a great opportunity to get comfortable with how everything works, make a punch list for warranty issues, and review gear.

Fortunately for us, at the time, we lived just three miles from the Lake Pueblo State Park making our first trip conveniently close to home and perfect in the event we needed any tools or forgot to pack something. With that said, it should’ve been uneventful. It wasn’t.

Our first overnight in our new RV – Lake Pueblo State Park

On our second day of camping, I accidentally locked myself out of the RV. While Al went to one of our job sites, I took the dog for a short walk. (We ran our own custom home building business.) Since I wouldn’t be gone long, I left my phone and keys in the RV. When I returned from the stroll, I was unable to open the door. Fortunately, one of the neighbors noticed my distress and came over to see if I needed help. He lent me his phone so I could call Al, only to find out, he too had left his set of RV keys on the dinette table.

Turns out, this helpful neighbor had spent twenty years working in the RV industry. He suggested two choices; call a pricey locksmith or this seasoned RVer could grab his tools and pry the door open. However, he first looked around the campground for any other Keystone brand RV. Why? Because various brands are usually keyed the same. Unfortunately, he owned a Forest River Wildcat, but had there been another Keystone in camp, chances are those keys might have opened our door. Crazy, huh! (Note to self – change the locks.)

After about 15 minutes, our Good Samaritan had pried open our door leaving behind a little bent metal door frame which only Al and I notice. Serves as a reminder to never fiddle with the door lock lever on the inside prior to exiting which caused the door to lock behind me.

The education continues …

The rest of our Pueblo Reservoir stay was uneventful and enjoyable … kind of. Lists were made. Al needed tools and I needed to outfit the kitchen better. We both needed more practice hitching, unhitching, and leveling the RV, but that would come with time.

Eventually, our stay came to an end, and we headed off to the campground dump station. Al unpackaged the new sewer hose and prepared to connect it to the RV pipe. With a slight hesitation, he unscrewed the pipe cap and was immediately met with a flood of “yellow-tinged water” spilling everywhere and soaking his tennis shoes. Apparently, our new RV was delivered to us with the tank valves open, and being such a newbie, Al failed to double-check the tank valves were closed before unscrewing the cap.

After a few choice words, Al and I busted out laughing. Thank goodness no one else was around to witness this nasty mistake. Oh well, nothing a bunch of soap and water couldn’t fix. No harm done. Another lesson learned with plenty of more lessons to come.

No walls yet, just the floor of our new home under construction with our sold custom home in the background. Yep, moving across the street.

Back to Storage

After our short camping trip, it was time to return the RV to storage. Three months earlier, we had sold our large custom home and moved into a rental while we built a smaller home. Our friends were kind enough to offer us a place to store the RV until our new home on an acre of land was finished, complete with a place to park the RV.

Our friends also recently purchased a new RV. With the RVs comfortably stored alongside each other, the four of us discussed plans for future Colorado RV adventures together with our new toys.

A couple of weeks later, our friends wanted to reposition the RVs on their land. No problem! Al and I headed over to their place. While the wife and I sat in the house talking about places we wanted to camp, the guys were outside dealing with the two RVs. About an hour later, the guys walked into the house, and with a dejected look, Al glances at me and says, “I’m sorry, but I crunched the RV.” Say what? “What exactly does crunch mean?”

Seems the landing jacks wouldn’t engage meaning the RV could not be raised up in order to hitch it to the truck. These two handy MacGyvers made a critical error on where to place the car jack while manually jacking up the RV resulting in a little accordion-style body damage. Oops! And she’s less than thirty days old.

Okay, now that’s she’s broken in with a little bent metal from the lock situation and a slightly smooshed front corner from the faulty jacks, let’s take this less than new RV out on the road and have some fun with it. Adventure awaits!

This post is part of my “Blog to Book” series where I step back in time and share our journey to full-time RV living, share the RV lifestyle, and the places we visit. As I rewrite older posts, I plan to add more details and personal content … new tales never shared before. For more information about my goal for this blog series, please visit this post. And if you’d like to start from the beginning of the story, you’ll want to start with this post. I share new posts every Sunday morning and occasionally Wednesdays.

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Thank you for using my affiliate links. ❤As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Oh My Gosh, I hurt all over!

Oh My Gosh, I hurt all over!

Stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something you’ve never done before can be both scary and gratifying. For many of us, this summer has been chock-full of new experiences and that is certainly the case for Al and me. Aside from dealing with a pandemic, he and I have been working on RV repairs, and let me just say, that has been mentally and physically challenging.

RV Tanks – the good, the bad, and the ugly

One of the reasons this summer has been a record-breaker for new folks embracing the RV lifestyle is the ability to vacation while social distancing. Camping looks a whole lot different this summer due to some of the restroom closures at many campgrounds. Thus the banning of tent camping in certain states is just one of several reasons there’s been an increase in people using RVs.

Al and me working on the RV underbelly. This is serious stuff, ya know!

RVs allow the user to stay remotely at a national/state park or in the backcountry totally self-contained. No room service here! Hmm, self-contained? For those of you unfamiliar with RVs, allow me to give you a quick overview regarding RV holding tanks and why the term “self-contained” is used.

Most RVs come equipped with a kitchen sink, bathroom sink, shower, and toilet. Anytime you use water, that wastewater has to go somewhere. The kitchen, bathroom, and shower wastewater drain into a “grey tank“. The toilet waste drains into a “black tank“. And depending on usage (lots of variables here), most tanks can hold up to a week’s worth of waste at which point a visit to a “dump” facility is necessary. Some RV parks have a sewer/waste connection right at the campsite while others offer a “dump station” that you’ll need to drive to.

The good thing about these RV waste holding tanks, along with an onboard fresh-water holding tank is the ability to be self-contained and vacation distanced away from other people. Therefore, this kind of travel is perfect for social distancing during a pandemic. You sleep in your own bed, use your own towels, and cook your own food. There’s very little interaction necessary with anyone else or anyone else’s germs.

The bad thing is the need to rid (dump) the RV of stinky waste. In reality, it’s not all that bad or difficult especially when you get used to doing this regularly. However, the really ugly thing is when something goes wrong with one of those holding tanks as did with our RV earlier this the summer. Pee-yew! Talk about a stinky mess that’ll stress even the most Zen of people.

roses
Smells like roses around here … one can hope!

The RV repair

Ok, I won’t gross you out with the smell of saturated insulation from a week’s worth of kitchen sink wastewater. Let’s just say, thank goodness a dumpster was nearby when Al and I removed the front half of the RV underbelly covering.

We were really scared and unsure of our abilities to fix the RV ourselves, but we had to figure it out because we were in a part of the country where the nearest RV dealer was a 45-minute drive away and their service department was booked at least two months out. 😕 We had to put our fears aside, pull out the tools, and dig in.

We fixed the leak a little over a month ago but left the belly exposed to make sure everything was in good working order with no potential for a future leak. We tested and retested, and once we were confident in our workmanship, it was time to cover up the exposed belly with new clean material. Easier said than done!

Imagine a large 6 foot by 12 foot area rug that needs to be installed with an exact reveal on all sides. Now imagine that rug to be somewhat ridged and installing it on the ceiling. How do you hold it in place while drilling in the screws? Sure clamps might work … to an extent. Therein lied part of our dilemma. Al struggled with the install. The plastic-like material would slip, sag, and cause the cumbersome sheet of material to repeatedly move which impacted the overall reveal on the metal framework which was totally unacceptable.

This looks wrong 🤣 Me assisting the clamps holding the underbelly material in place while Al installs the screws.

This was definitely a two-person job. Ingrid to the rescue! The photo above was taken near completion. I used my feet to smooth out the material while Al installed clamps further down. By me continuing to hold the material up, the clamps did their job and Al was able to do his. Try laying in that position for hours 🥴

Al’s brother-in-law happened to step out of the house when Al and I were in one of our many awkward positions and insisted on snapping some photos. He was duly entertained by our antics but also impressed by how well Al and I worked together.

Admiring our work – Teamwork – High Five!

The underbelly install took us two days to complete. And believe me, these 60 and 70 year old bodies were feeling it! We were hurting all over from all the unusual positions and movements that were required to get the job done. We feel so relieved to have this project behind us. Now if only the body aches would subside.

More RV projects!

Oh and as if my body didn’t hurt enough … I decided to tackle another project which required me to climb on top of the RV and give the old gal (referring to the RV) a good cleaning while Al worked on other honey-do items. My brother-in-law’s ladder wasn’t tall enough for me to reach beyond the name Laredo. So I needed to work from the top down scrubbing off all those wonderfully juicy Midwest bugs. Once she’s washed, she’ll need to be waxed. Are we having fun yet?

When a ladder isn’t tall enough to get to the top – work from the top down!

Laying down on the job 🤣 This worked better for me than using our scrubber with the extendable pole.

Next on our maintenance list is replacing some RV slide-out rubber seals. That Arizona sun can be brutal on our equipment and considering, we spend more than half our year in Arizona, this won’t be the first time that we’ve replaced the rubber seals and doubt it’ll be the last.

Gratifying

Near the end of the year, we’ll celebrate our RV’s tenth birthday. We bought her new and were such RV newbies at the time. Everything about the RV intimidated us and somehow seemed very complex. And here we are, almost ten years later, no longer newbies, considered seasoned RVers, performing all our own maintenance on the old gal. (It’s sad that ten in the RV world is considered old.)

There’s something very gratifying about doing the work ourselves and learning the ins and outs of how the RV operates. Even though we may still have doubts, we’re no longer intimidated or afraid to tackle RV repairs. The three of us (Al, me, and the RV) have grown and aged together, and although the RV will require a few more updates, Al and I feel confident in our abilities to tackle those projects … now if only our bodies would agree. Where’s that bottle of Advil?

“And in the end it’s not the years in your life that count; it’s the life in your years.” – Abraham Lincoln

Unspoiled Beauty – Apostle Islands

Unspoiled Beauty – Apostle Islands

After a very stormy night, we awoke to an eerily calm, fog-covered morning. Lake Superior’s water was as smooth as glass; a rare treat to behold. Even though the campground is located on Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay, creating some protection from the open waters of this Great Lake, a mere few hours earlier, she was showing her true personality with large whitecaps, waves crashing over the shoreline, and ominous clouds swirling overhead. Lake Superior is a force that demands respect.

As we sat in the comfort of the RV enjoying the view while sipping our morning coffee, Al and I discussed the plan for the day. There was still a heavy layer of cloud cover blocking any sight of the sun rising. Thus, when I suggested we take a scenic cruise of the Apostle Islands, Al thought I wasn’t thinking clearly and proceeded to fill my coffee cup in hopes more caffeine would improve my logic.

I was serious though and thought the day would be perfect for a three-hour Apostle Island cruise on Lake Superior, not that I didn’t have my doubts considering how the visibility was currently poor and the overall feel was very gloomy.

Kreher Campground
Our view of Chequamegon Bay from the RV. Lakefront site at Kreher Campground in Ashland, Wisconsin

Visiting the Apostle Islands had been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved looking at maps and am intrigued about places the more I study a map. That little passion of mine has lead us to explore some beautiful locations and this part of northern Wisconsin fits that bill.

As many times as we’ve driven along Lake Superior’s Northshore, her south shore eluded us until the summer of 2019. And believe me, she did not disappoint … Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands

Visiting the Apostle Islands

The picturesque little town of Bayfield, Wisconsin, is the gateway to this national lakeshore. The Apostle Islands consists of 22 coastal islands in Lake Superior that feature lighthouses, sea caves, hiking trails, camping, sailing, and amazing kayaking. It’s said that the area offers some of the best kayaking in the world allowing kayakers to weave in and out of dramatic archways of sea caves.

Tent camping is allowed on several of the islands, but you’ll need to hire a water taxi if you don’t have your own watercraft. There is a vehicle ferry available for visitors interested in touring or camping on Madeline Island. Voted as one of the coolest small towns in the U.S., this Apostle Island is not technically part of the national lakeshore but worthy of a mention. (Personally, I feel the ferry is a tad pricey. Vehicle price is based on length with an additional per person charge.)

During the winter when the waters along the lakeshore freeze over, hikers are able to hike to these ice caves that are adorned with windswept icicles. Although northern Wisconsin winters are no longer something I feel a need to experience, I might change my mind in order to photograph these ice caves. It looks like a really stunning sight and adventure.

(In reality, I’ll stick to viewing pretty images of that winter wonderland from the comfort of my desert located RV. I don’t think I could handle the thirty plus below wind chill conditions anymore 🥶 I’m definitely out of practice.)

Our Tour boat!

Cruising the Apostle Islands

Visiting the town of Bayfield is enjoyable, but in order to really see the beauty of the National Lakeshore, you’ll need to get out on the water. Apostle Islands Cruises offers a nice variety of tours to choose from. We loved our cruise and would definitely recommend.

During our visit in the summer of 2019, we chose to take the Sea Caves and Lighthouse Tour. I was really looking forward to taking another one of their cruises this summer, specifically the Lighthouse Tour, but the cruise company ended up canceling that specific tour during the 2020 season in order to accommodate Covid-19 safety guidelines, and thus, tours and schedules were rearranged.

Things to be aware of when cruising on Lake Superior …

  • Temperature – don’t dress for land, dress for the ‘sea’. Temps can be as much as 20 degrees colder once your away from land and the weather can change drastically in mere minutes. Thus, bring a sweatshirt and/or raincoat regardless of what the weather is like on land.
  • Open Water – the lake can get rough. Even though this is a lake, view it as a sea.
  • Wind – we enjoyed sitting on the top deck, but it’s windy as all heck and the wind is always cold. All that wind makes for great sailing though.
  • Camera and info – it’s beautiful so plan on taking lots of photos, and the captain shares fascinating information on the islands and happenings.

Raspberry Island Lighthouse on Lake Superior, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Raspberry Island Lighthouse – Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Lighthouses

The lighthouse on Raspberry Island has long been known as the Showplace of the Apostle Islands. At scheduled times, the Park Service provides a narrated historical dramatization to tourists. In addition to the lighthouse, boaters often anchor about a mile away along Raspberry Island’s shoreline at one of the more scenic sand spits in the Apostle Islands, and hikers who arrive by boat can follow the trail between the lighthouse and the sandspit to explore.

Sand Island Lighthouse

A kayaker’s delight!

Perfect Day

We couldn’t have picked a better day for our tour. Since the morning’s weather was gloomy, misty, and less than optimal for a three-hour scenic cruise, our boat was barely half full that afternoon. Glancing at the sky while boarding the boat, there visually appeared to be more weather rolling in, but according to my weather app radar, it was looking good. The captain concurred that we should have a lovely day for a boat ride.

And what a lovely August afternoon it was! Aside from Captain Mike’s informative narration, he interjected his excitement regarding the rare optimal lake conditions as well as personal lake life tales and experiences. He hails from a generational seafaring family and his passion and love for Lake Superior and the Bayfield Pennisula was obvious.

He and his crew appeared to be enjoying their time out on the lake every bit as much as the passengers considering we were all experiencing a rare treata very calm Lake Superior.

According to Captain Mike, the lake is rarely that calm … happens maybe ten or twelve times a year… a year … and we were fortunate to have experienced it. The afternoon weather was gorgeous combined with the calmness of the lake made for a magical day. I don’t think we could repeat those conditions even if we tried. Luck was definitely on our side that day. A bucket list memory for the books! ⛵😎❤

Where to stay!

The charming town of Bayfield, Wisconsin, offers a unique variety of accommodations; small hotels, historical Bed and Breakfasts, and vacation rentals. The nearby towns of Washburn and Ashland offer additional lodging options.

RVing – There’s a variety of places to camp throughout the Bayfield Peninsula. We stayed in Ashland at the Kreher Campground which is a first-come-first-serve campground and is big rig friendly. Our second choice would have been at the town campground in Herbster purely for the sunsets. The Herbster Campground is also a great spot to stay if your goal is kayaking the sea caves which are accessed via Meyers Beach in Cornucopia. FYI – kayaking tours start in Cornucopia.

We also checked out the county campground in Washburn, and although workable, we thought the sites were pretty close together and the abundance of trees with low branches could be problematic. This CG is better suited for travel trailers, Class C’s, and tents, although we did see a couple of 5th wheels.

The Legendary Waters Casino in Red Cliff is an option for larger RVs, but expect close neighbors and unlevel sites, but the beautiful views might make up for the cons. The national forest campgrounds that we drove through we’d consider best suited for tents, vans, or popup trailers.

Obviously, we weren’t able to explore all the camping facilities in the area. So, for additional RVing options and more detailed information, please check with your favorite app. Our favorite apps are Allstays and Campendium. Happy trails!

Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the tradewinds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. — Mark Twain

Bayfield, Wisconsin

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Summer’s Last Hurrah

Summer’s Last Hurrah

This is Labor Day weekend here in the United States which usually marks the end of the summer camping season for many. Fortunately for us, we get to continue RVing and head south for the winter. I’m extremely grateful that I’m able to follow my feathered friends and migrate with the seasons, but I’m not ready to move on … just yet.

Prior to this summer, it had been years since I’d spent any time in northern Wisconsin let alone stay this far north into September. And this past week has served as a reminder as to why the camping season comes to an end after Labor Day Weekend in the north woods. It has been downright cold at night. I’m talking in the 45 degree Fahrenheit range with daytime temps struggling to hit 70 degrees F. Plus, the leaves are already showing signs that fall is just around the corner as they tease us with hints of gold and red. And it’s only the first few days in September! That said, there is a raw beauty to the landscape and a clean crispness to the air that I’m absolutely loving. Bring on the sweatshirts!

Kreher Park Campground in Ashland Wisconsin
Kreher Park Campground, Ashland, WI

We really enjoyed this town!

So, with summer weather clearly in the rearview mirror, my thoughts drift back to some great finds that Al and I discovered this season … one of which was Ashland, Wisconsin.

Located in northern Wisconsin along the shores of Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay lies an interesting little town called Ashland. It was once a center for lumbering, mining, and Great Lakes shipping but today Ashland is a popular destination for tourists and anglers and is known as “The Historic Mural Capital in Wisconsin”.

This community of around 8,000 has eloquently preserved its history by painting murals on many of the downtown buildings creating a fascinating walkable history book. In fact, it may have more murals per capita than any other place in the Midwest.  There may be large cities with more murals over a wider area, but Ashland packs a concentrated punch of murals in the town’s center.

The murals in this south shore town are special to locals because they portray folks who once lived in this small community.  Some of these people had an influential role in the town while others were merely everyday people who contributed to everyday life. You could easily take in most of the murals on foot in about an hour depending on how long you spend at each mural and how quickly you walk.

Images of Ashland … to enlarge photos, click on any image

10 Things to do around Ashland

  • Go on a Mural walk downtown
  • Bike or hike the trails
  • Fish
  • Visit a waterfall
  • Cruise the Apostle Islands
  • Kayak
  • Shop the historic town
  • Take a scenic drive
  • Birding
  • Visit an orchard and pick your own

Wonderful Bike Trail

We really enjoyed walking around the downtown area and admiring the murals, but we also discovered the town’s amazing bike trail. We don’t have bikes anymore so we stuck to hiking portions of the trail system. Sigh … this was one time I truly missed my bicycle. This bike trail is perfect for my kind of biking; paved and gentle hills.

The bike trail even passed right by our awesome Lake Superior lakefront campsite.

Campgrounds

Al and I have been spending the summer on private property at his sister’s lakefront home near Hayward, Wisconsin. Not wanting to overstay our welcome, our plan all along was to do some out and back trips over the course of our three-month summer stay. We enjoyed a great trip down memory lane when we visited the north shore in Minnesota in July and we were hoping for an equally fun trip.

I had spent hours mapping out our journey into Michigan’s Upper Pennisula. Blog posts and campground reviews were read. Stops, sites, things to see and do were clearly noted in my notebook. We bid farewell to sister and brother-in-law with the intent of returning in 7-10 days.

Our first stop was in Ashland; only an hour and a half drive away from the family. This would be merely an overnight …. or so we thought. The drive to Ashland was scenic, well as scenic as the same lush forest on a two-lane road gets. Once we arrived in town, we quickly found and drove through the county park campground where I had planned on staying. Kreher Park Campground is a first-come, first-serve kind of place and we missed snagging the last site by mere minutes.

The other option was the small county park at the opposite end of town also first-come, first-serve. After talking to the camp host at Kreher Park, we didn’t have high hopes for finding an open spot in town that night but we decided to drive through Prentice Park Campground just to make sure there weren’t any openings.

Great campsite at Prentice Park Campground

Luck was on our side and we snagged the one and only open site which was also one of the best. Prentice Park only has a total of seven sites. One for the camp host and a couple of others were taken by monthly RVer’s leaving only four sites that rotate. So yeah, we sure got lucky.

The next morning, we returned to Kreher Park CG just as an RV was pulling out of a lakefront site. Score! Someone was doing a happy dance. Can you guess who? 😁 The previous folks also left behind a stake of firewood … more happy dancing.💃

That evening as the sunset over Lake Superior, Al and I enjoyed drinks while a lovely campfire kept us warm. Ah, life is good! That’s when Al asked, “Where are we going tomorrow?” “What do you mean?”, I quizzically responded. “Well, don’t you have a whole trip planned out for us to explore the U.P.?” “Oh yeah, that. How about we just stay here? And on that note, the plans were quickly changed!

The view from my campsite at Kreher Park

So all those hours of trip planning were canceled in mere minutes. Ah, no regrets on my part. Camping along the shores of Lake Superior was a goal of mine since we pulled out of Phoenix at the end of May. All the notes are saved and archived for next summers excursion. Yeah, I have a feeling we’ll be back next year.

A note about Kreher Park Campground: it is a first-come, first-serve CG with E/W only and an onsite sloped dump station. Most sites are unlevel, mixed sizes, and gravel/grassy. There are local construction workers renting sites on a monthly basis which makes this small campground even more difficult to find an open site. Have a backup plan and Walmart is not it (no overnighting at the Walmart). There is boondocking at a boat landing near the power plant for $20 a night but the air smells from the plant. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of camping options around here for RVs of a larger size. Small travel trailers and tents rule in the north woods.

The Best Drinking Water

One of the many reasons I wanted to camp near Lake Superior was for the drinking water. I grew up near Chicago and most municipalities in Chicagoland get their drinking water from Lake Michigan. Lake Superior and Lake Michigan are cold and deep and the water is clear and delicious.

These days, we find ourselves spending most of our time in Arizona and the local drinking water for most municipalities comes from the Colorado River … rich in minerals; minerals that cause calcification in our RV plumbing AND in our bodies. Intense filtering is necessary.

The moment we were set up at the Prentice Park Campground, Al opened our freshwater holding tank to let it drain (it was only a quarter full anyway). We then filled up with the excellent water at our campsite. Later, we were told the water came from an Artesian Well. This was the clearest and tastiest water that we’ve seen come out of a spiggot in years. It’s hysterical how Al and I are treating that fresh water in our tank as a precious commodity. “NO, you can’t use it to flush the toilet”, we both scream! 🤣

Artesian Water – We filled every empty container we had.

Turns out, there’s actually an Artesian Water fill-up station (not for RVs – you’ll need a campsite) at Prentice Park as well as at the Maslowski Beach along Highway 61. We filled up any empty or half-empty water containers we had in the RV. Seriously, this is the best water I’ve tasted in years and I’m so glad our freshwater tank is filled with this stuff.

A Cruise on Lake Superior

Our five days in the area were not only very relaxing but provided some fabulous sightseeing. High on my bucket list was a visit to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. My previous visits to Bayfield (gateway to the Apostle Islands) were either filled with other adventures or the weather was somewhat inclement. Once again, we lucked out and enjoyed a perfect day for a cruise around the Apostle Islands. But I’ll share that in another post!

Bad weather was rolling in – time to lift the jacks

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The Happy Hooker and Getting Loonie

The Happy Hooker and Getting Loonie

Our five days in South Dakota were over before we knew it, and before long, the RV wheels were rolling down the road heading toward our summer destination in northern Wisconsin. It was the third week in June and with severe storms coming and going throughout the Midwest, we opted to move quickly and not linger along the way. We also decided to stick with Interstate roads where feasible. We were on a mission to get to our summer home as soon as possible and avoid getting caught on the road in one of those nasty storms.

Whenever we travel through a major city, we try to plan on doing so on a weekend morning in hopes of avoiding any rush hour traffic or other heavy traffic. Although the drive through St. Paul, Minnesota on a Saturday morning was uneventful, I think the next time we drive through the area, we’ll take the truck/bypass route (494 to 694 back to 35E).

Driving I-35E through St. Paul, MN

Once we made it to Hayward, Wisconsin, Al’s sister met us at the local Walmart so she could help direct us to her and her husband’s place, our home for the summer. We were really glad we followed her to the house because our GPS was just a smidgen off. Normally that’s not a problem with just our truck, but when pulling an RV things get a little more difficult especially when the roads are densely wooded and there’s no spot big enough for us to turn around.

(To enlarge a photo in a gallery, simply click on any image)

The Happy Hooker

After a relaxing first day at our new RV campsite, it was time for some summer fun. High on our agenda was visiting the Happy Hooker. A few miles down the heavily tree-lined road from our RV site on private property is a cute little store called the Happy Hooker Bait and Tackle shop which is like an old fashioned country store that has a little bit of everything.

In addition to a large selection of fishing tackle & bait, they have gasoline, ice, beer, liquor, clothing, gifts, groceries, and most importantly … bug repellent. Just about anything you might need in a pinch with the convenience of not having to drive the thirty-minutes into the town of Hayward.

It was here that Al and I purchased our Wisconsin fishing licenses for the summer. Yep, the Happy Hooker is all about fishing. What did you think I was talking about?

That first week back in the Midwest took a bit of adjusting. First off, the bugs. Boy, I’d forgotten how annoying mosquitos are and as much as I tried to stay away from the harsh bug repellent, that first tick bite had me grabbing a can of spray-on Deep Woods Off. Yeah, bring on the “Deet“.

How many lakes does Wisconsin have?

Water recreation during the summer in northern Wisconsin is huge and the state is home to more than 11,000 lakes. With approximately 1 million acres of lakes to choose from, it’s no wonder that folks from the Chicago and Milwaukee areas flock to their favorite lake for a summer vacation, or better yet, they actually own a second home on lakefront property for regular weekend getaways. Who doesn’t dream of owning lakefront property? (Ok, maybe those of you who prefer oceanfront property 😄)

Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, our family summer vacations were always spent at a campground on a picturesque lake, usually in Wisconsin. One of our family favorites was on the Chippewa Flowage just outside of Hayward, Wisconsin. We had a popup trailer at the time and my dad had a fishing buddy that would regularly join us so he could bring up our boat.

When my sister-in-law and her husband moved up to Hayward, Wisconsin, from northern Illinois, I couldn’t wait to visit them and revisit some of my childhood stomping grounds.

This was the campground beach where my brother and I spent most of our time playing when we weren’t learning to waterski. Still looks like a ton of fun today! Our little sister was too young to join us without mom nearby. Revisiting was rather emotional for me as thoughts of fond childhood memories flooded my mind. Oh, how I wanted to call my dad to let him know where I was, but that wasn’t possible. It has been just shy of a year since his passing.

Getting Loonie

All that water not only provides a great deal of recreation, but it also provides a water source to an abundance of wildlife. When Al and I decided to spend our summer in northern Wisconsin, high on my wishlist was capturing a nice image of a Loon, one of my favorite birds. Not only are they a beautiful bird, but their sound is so unique. There’s nothing like a quiet morning on the water in a canoe listening to their calls.

Although we no longer own a canoe, we do have a pontoon boat at our disposal this summer … perfect for lake cruising and fishing. During one of our boat rides, I noticed something white in the tall grasses near the shoreline. Initially, I assumed it was a plastic (Walmart) bag and directed Al to get near so we could retrieve it and dispose of it properly. Before getting too close to shore and possibly getting the boat prop tangled in weeds, I used my camera’s lens to zoom in and confirm that it was indeed a plastic bag.

Surprise, surprise, surprise! It was not garbage but rather a nesting Loon. To say I was giddy with excitement would be an understatement. Al turned the boat so we wouldn’t get near the nest and disturb the beautiful Loon. Loons only have one or two chicks and the last thing we wanted to do was stress the mama and cause her to leave the nest.

Al slowed the boat and for the next ten minutes, we cruised by her a few times. With my 600mm zoom and a little crop in processing, I was rather pleased with a few of my images. For the first couple of weeks in July, every outing on the boat included a slow cruise past Lily the Loon.

We knew hatching time was near when her partner was easy to spot. Normally loons dive when a boat gets near them, but one evening, it appeared Papa Loon was becoming very protective and refused to dive or get out of the way of boat traffic (which is thankfully rather light around here). This forced boaters to go around him to avoid potentially hitting him. Most boaters, like us, slowed down to capture a few photos of this rare treat. Guess I’m not the only loonie one around here.

It was thrilling to have Mr. Loon swim right alongside our boat.

Trivia; The $1 Canadian coin is nicknamed the “Loonie” – derived from the picture of a solitary loon on one side of the coin. Canadian’s have the coolest currency. Eh!

More wildlife sightings

Although my encounters with the Loons have made every mosquito, fly, and tick bite worth hanging out in the northwoods, I encountered another wildlife first. I’ll save that for a another post.

For the latest and most up to date info on our travels, be sure and follow me on Instagram @ livelaughrv

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Visiting Steamboat Springs in the Summer

Visiting Steamboat Springs in the Summer

When I think about the high-altitude mountain town of Steamboat Springs, I think of picturesque ski slopes and stunning mountain views. Although this beautiful mountain town does indeed offer powdery slopes, there’s an abundance of summer activities not to be missed.

Steamboat Springs, Colorado offers an Old West vibe rich in history. It’s about a three-hour drive from Denver and a bit out of the way but so worth the drive.

Continuing with my Top 5 Must-Visit Colorado Mountain Towns

In no particular order, these are my top 5 favorite picks for must-visit Colorado Mountain Towns … towns that I have returned to time and again because they’re too much fun not to.

Steamboat Springs is last on my list partly because one of these mountain towns had to be last, and secondly, it’s the town we’ve visited the least. However, it is the first place in Colorado that we traveled to with our new 5th wheel back in 2012, and we have very fond memories of that trip … well, except for the RV flat tire on our return home, but that’s another story.

camping Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Steamboat Lake State Park, #visitSteamboat, #campinginColorado

15 Things to do this summer in Steamboat Springs

1. Camping – Camping options around here are awesome. We loved camping at Steamboat Lake State Park which is located 27 miles north of town. Not only were we surrounded by stunning views in all directions, but it also made a great home base to explore the neighboring area. Anytime I can park near the water, I am one happy camper.

This state park can accommodate most RVs and offers both dry and electric sites. Al and I chose to camp on the peninsula where the sites have no hookups, are definitely smaller, and there’s a large area designated for tents only.

Stagecoach State Park is another big RV friendly campground and is located 17 miles south of town and is a very popular boating lake. I recommend making a reservation for a campsite anywhere near Steamboat Springs. For a full list of campgrounds in the area, here’s a list with a breakdown of all the amenities offered.

Out of all the mountain towns we’ve visited, Steamboat Springs offers some of the best camping options. Frisco (around Lake Dillon) comes in at a close second.

RV camped at Steamboat Springs with mountains in the background

2. Go for a paddle – With numerous lakes in the area and the Yampa River running right through Steamboat Springs, kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding are popular and fun activities. No problem if you don’t have your own water vessel, there’s plenty of rentals around.

Several outfitters even offer rental tubes, so you can relax and float on Steamboat’s natural waterway and then catch a shuttle back to your car.

3. Soak in hot springs – Looking for more relaxation? Old Town Hot Springs is in the heart of downtown Steamboat and is one of the reasons the town is here. Strawberry Park Hot Springs is a bit more of an adventure located on the edge of the Yampa Valley. Both offer a relaxing soak and a dip into Steamboat’s colorful history.

4. Alpine Slide – The first time I ever road an Alpine Slide was on a trip with my daughter to Winter Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. I had never heard of an Alpine Slide before, and let’s just say, one ride is not enough. So much fun! Nothing like taking a chairlift up the mountain and then shooshing down it on a sled like contraption. It’s a thrill!

I’ll admit, I was a little scared and timid the first time, but you can control the speed of your sled as you fly down the mountain. Did I mention how much fun this is?

Steamboat offers two exhilarating slides. The Outlaw Mountain Coaster is the longest coaster in North America at more than 6,280 linear feet. The track near Christie Peak Express descends more than 400 vertical feet and features dips, waves, turns, and 360-degree circles. The Howler Alpine Slide will wind you down a 2,400-foot track through the bends and curves of the natural landscape of beautiful Howelsen Hill. You’ll love the scenic views of downtown Steamboat as you ride the chairlift to the top.

5. Take a hike – I fell in love with the alpine forests, open meadows, beautiful aspen groves, lakes and streams around Steamboat, and my favorite way to enjoy these surroundings was via hiking. Numerous options range from a pleasant stroll along the Yampa River Core Trail, a short jaunt up to roaring Fish Creek Falls, or a couple hours on the Spring Creek Trail. For those more adventurous, you’ll be able to hike a full day or multi-day adventure in the Mount Zirkel or Flat Tops wilderness areas.

A trail at Steamboat Lake State Park, Colorado

6. Mountain biking – The area boasts more than 500 miles of singletrack. There are so many different places to go biking that it can be hard to narrow down. For casual cruising, the Yampa River Core Trail is a 7.5-mile paved multi-use route connecting the mountain and downtown areas.

Scenic road-riding options range from easy pedaling along River Road or Twentymile Road to a challenging hill climb up Rabbit Ears Pass. Then there’s the Emerald Mountain trail system accessible from downtown or the Steamboat Bike Park, which boasts better than 50 miles of gondola-accessible trails on the ski mountain, with rentals available at the base. You can mix and match the area’s various trails to make the right length and challenge for your personal needs.

7. Fishing – The Steamboat Springs area is renowned for its world-class fly fishing. Beginners can take a lesson with any number of outfitters and learn about fly casting, knots, entomology and more. In addition to the Yampa River, there’s an abundance of streams, lakes, and reservoirs for the more experienced angler to check out.

fishing boats at a mountain Lake

8. Shopping, art galleries, concerts, and events – Browse fine art. Steamboat is a creative and artsy town. A leisurely stroll through shops and art galleries is always entertaining. You’ll find paintings, sculptures, blown glass, jewelry, and more. Usually, in early July there’s an art event set at the base of the ski area; Art on the Mountain.

The town is also host to events, concerts and theatrical performances.

9. Visit a museum – Steamboat Springs is known for its great appreciation of cultural heritage. The newly expanded and renovated Tread of Pioneers Museum offers something for everyone. The heart of the museum is a 1901 Queen Anne-style Victorian home with turn-of-the-century furnishings. The Western Heritage Exhibit, home of an extensive firearms collection, traces the areas agricultural history and the story of an infamous outlaw, Harry Tracy. The Tread of Pioneers Museum collects, preserves, exhibits, and shares the history and heritage of the Steamboat Springs area.

10. Golf, Mini Golf, Disc Golf or Sporting Clays – Steamboat Springs has three 18-hole golf courses that challenge every club in your bag. Then there’s mini golf, disc golf, and even golf with a gun aka Sporting Clays.

11. Visit the Yampa River Botanic Park – Go for a walk in the park while enjoying beautiful flowers, trees, and more.  Every garden has a different focus with a unique setting … its own slope, sun exposure, soil chemistry, trees and shrubs which determine what will grow. Since 1992 the Yampa River Botanic Park has grown from a flat, horse pasture into a six-acre gem of over 50 gardens with ponds, benches, and sculptures.

The Park is free and open to the public from May to October. It serves as a place of serenity, as a venue for a summer music and theater festivals, as a site for weddings and similar events, and a resource for individuals. The Park sits at 6,800 feet above sea level, but through the use of carefully developed microclimates supports plants from the entire Yampa River Basin, which runs from 12,000 feet in the Flattops Wilderness to 4,000 feet where it enters the Green River.

Colorado wildflowers #Bokeh #wildflowersinColorado

12. Horseback Riding – Single-day horseback trail rides and multi-day pack trips are an everyday event for local cowboys around here. Visit the Flat Tops Wilderness, Mount Zirkel Wilderness, Routt National Forest, or Howelsen Hill on horseback or ride for two hours or an all-day photo safari or dinner on the trail. You can even ride a horse-drawn wagon for dinner on a ranch.

13. Farmers Market – Fill up on food and fun when you shop, eat and browse at the Main Street Steamboat Farmers Market. This will give you a great taste of the local culture and unique personality of Steamboat. The farmers market runs from 9 to 2 on Saturdays starting in early June through mid-September.

It’s also a great place to pick up a meaningful souvenir that’s not just regular tourist trap kitsch.

14. Go on a scenic drive

Al and I love exploring the backcountry. So, a scenic drive is a great way for us to take in the surrounding beauty. During our stay, we didn’t venture down any 4×4 roads but did explore the different lakes, campgrounds, and small towns.

One day, during our return to camp, we witnessed a sheepherder and his flock. I asked if it was okay for me to photograph him, but he spoke no English. If I had to guess, I’d say he was probably from South America. I did take a couple of quick snapshots and offered him a cold bottle of water which he seemed thrilled to receive.

You never know what you’ll see when you go off the beaten path exploring.

Shepard, sheep herder, herding sheep in Colorado

15. Dining – The dining options are endless. You’ll find everything from breweries to coffee shops to casual dining to fine dining.

Conclusion

This concludes my posts on my top 5 favorite mountain towns. I assure you, one visit to Colorado is not enough. The Centennial State’s crisp air, endless walking trails, inimitable Western culture, and stunning mountain beauty are just a few reasons to return time and again. I feel very fortunate that I was able to call Colorado home for over twenty years.

Do you have a favorite Colorado mountain town?

camping at Steamboat Lake, Colorado, #Coloradodreaming #RVingColorado #Steamboatliving

 


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Change of Season & Must-Have RV Accessories

The changing of seasons can be an exciting time for many of us in the RV community, but it can be a sad time, too. For part-time RVers, this time of the year might mean the last summer camping trip is over, and it’s now time to winterize and stow the RV until next season rolls around.

For those of us that full-time RV, it’s time we keep those wheels rolling with a keen eye on the weather. You never know when you’ll get caught in a freak storm!

snow in Tucson Arizona
An unusual snowstorm in Tucson, Arizona. What a rare encounter!

September is one of my favorite months for RVing. The weather is usually agreeable throughout most of the United States, including the high country. Sure, you have to pay attention to overnight temperatures in the mountains to avoid freezing waterlines, and you might even encounter a light dusting of snow here or there, but most winter conditions won’t begin to set in until sometime in October or November.

Colorado goldPlus, this time of year, the kids are back in school (yay!) leaving plenty of room for the rest of us to find open campsites.

Oh, and have I mentioned the leaves? Who doesn’t enjoy fall colors?

Yep, September is a great month to travel in an RV, but it’s also the perfect time of year to check that our important RV accessories are in perfect working condition. After all, there’s no sense in storing cracked hoses or damaged electrical cords, let alone carry them on to our next destination.

Top 3 Must-Have RV Accessories …

So whether we’re getting ready to put our RV into storage or we’re heading south to a warmer climate for the winter, we should check (closely) our RV gear … especially the necessary and most important gear like sewer hoses, electrical cords/adapters, and drinking water hose. (This post contains sponsored content and affiliate links.)

Al and I spend a great deal of our time traveling around the southwestern part of the United States where it’s not uncommon to enjoy as many as 300 days of sunshine per year. Yeah, we won’t complain about that! All that sunshine is great, and we love it, but that doesn’t mean that sunshine plays well with our equipment. In reality, sun and heat can play havoc with our equipment, especially anything plastic or rubber.

Sewer waste hose

One of our neighbors here in the RV Park in Prescott Valley, Arizona, just replaced his RV waste hose the other day. The hose looked fine to Al and me, and being somewhat nosy neighbors curious, we walked over to ask him why he was replacing the seemingly perfect waste hose.

RVingHe went on to tell us how every time he dumped his tank, he’d smell a bad odor. There were no visible leaks on the ground, just the odor. So upon closer examination of the waste hose, he discovered it was split on top in numerous places. Ah yes, that sun!

By inspecting the hose and then replacing it with a new one, he averted a potentially crappy situation 🤣… a situation that he nor his neighbors would have found humorous, but rather, quite disastrous.

Being able to empty our tanks with ease is crucial in the RVing world. Al and I travel with two waste hoses. It’s always a good idea to have an extra hose in case your existing one is leaking or in the event one hose isn’t long enough to connect to the dump site. I can’t tell you how many times having that second hose averted an inconvenience or even a potential disaster.

Electrical extension cord and fittings

Seeing the country in an RV can be an amazing adventure, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges. In an ideal world, we could just pull our RV up to an electrical pedestal at any campsite and plug-in and connect. Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy, and the use of an  extension cord might be necessary.

RV parks and campgrounds do not always offer the best layout for us to hook-up. Way too many are poorly designed and might even leave us perplexed and scratching our head in bewilderment, wondering, “Whatever were they thinking?” Therefore, being prepared for any scenario is advisable.

RV electrical gear
RV electrical gear by Road & Home

Not only do we need to be concerned about ample electrical cord, but we also need to make sure we check which type of hookup is available and if we have the correct connection. Some campgrounds or RV parks have a 50 amp connection on the electrical pedestal while others may have only a 30 amp connection. If you’re lucky, the pedestal will have both, but in the event it doesn’t, having various electrical RV adapters on hand will make your RV adventure that much more enjoyable.

Electrical adapters are a must if you ever intend to plug your RV into a standard household outlet. Whether you’re at a campground, RV park, or residential home, make sure you understand the various electrical hookups/outlets before plugging in to any outlet to prevent damage to your RV electrical system.

Drinking water hose

Access to fresh water is important when traveling in an RV, and a hose designed and designated specifically for drinking water is an absolute must. We always travel with two 25′ long hoses. First, you never know how far away a water connection will be, and second, you never know when a hose will fail. Yeah, there’s that whole damaging sun and heat subject again.

must have RV gear
It’s the little things that make our life easier … using a Y connector.

Extras we keep on hand

Now that I’ve covered the top 3 must-have RV accessories, allow me to share a few other little items that are great to have on hand. Sometimes it’s the little things that make our RV life a little easier.

  • Water Hose Y connector – this connector allows us to turn a single hose outlet into two outlets.
  • Water Pressure Regulator – this is a must. It protects our equipment, prevents pipe damage and increases equipment longevity.
  • Waste Hose couplers – these come in handy in the event we need to join two hoses together. We also keep a couple of hose clamps in our tool kit.
  • Waste Hose adapters – we replace these fittings from time to time due to use and sun damage. It’s always a good idea to keep an extra around.
  • RV waste cap – this is another item that we like having a spare on hand. A couple of years ago, after staying in an RV park for a month, Al went to disconnect our waste hose and attach the waste cap, but he couldn’t find the cap. We think a critter may have taken it.

chipmunk

A change of season – preparing your RV for winter

If you’re storing your RV for the winter, winterizing it properly is crucial. It’s no fun pulling your RV out of storage and getting it ready for your first camping trip of the season, only to realize you have damaged lines and/or equipment. You’ll want to consult your owner’s manual for instructions specific to your RV or seek professional help in winterizing your particular RV.

If you decide to RV in winter conditions, there’s some precautions to take to avoid waterlines freezing. Al and I do our best to avoid RVing in freezing temperatures, but sometimes, it’s unavoidable. This is how we’ve handled winter RVing … we go into “self-containment” mode.

  • Disconnect the RV water hose and waste hose.
  • Have your fresh water tank full for usage.
  • Use your RV furnace to keep the RV warm. It’s okay to use another source of heat like a Mr. Buddy, but do not use it exclusively. The RV heating system usually has heat runs to the lower compartments, keeping waterlines and the water pump from freezing.

camping in Tucson Arizona
Gilbert Ray Campground, Tucson, Arizona – February 2013

So, are you ready for the change of season?

I know we are, and as we prepare to hit the road along with the impending weather changes, Al and I remind ourselves of our favorite quote ….

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – Ben Franklin

RV Extended Warranty – Should I get One?

With all the repairs Al and I have done lately on the RV, we’ve asked ourselves many times if perhaps we should have purchased an extended RV warranty. It’s an important question every RV owner should ask themselves. Some RV repairs are easy, but many are difficult and expensive.

extended RV warranty and why you need oneRVing is at an all time high and with higher RV demand, the manufacturers are cranking out production at a record high number.

With RVs being rushed down the assembly lines, the quality of the product has slipped and so has customer service.

Once that one year manufacturers warranty is up, RV owners are left to their own devices dealing with failing components.

It’s not a matter of if your RV will need repairs, it’s a matter of when. The first time we blew a tire on our 5th Wheel Trailer, it took out our waterlines and did some body damage. Oh, what fun that was!

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Buying a RV Extended Warranty is Like Buying Insurance

An Extended Warranty is very similar to purchasing an Auto Insurance Policy. We never plan on getting into an accident. As a matter of fact, I think we’d all agree that we’d prefer not using that insurance. Yeah, no one wants to get into an accident, but when we do, thank goodness for that insurance.

replace a RV toilet
A new toilet – June 2018! Our 3rd one in seven years. First one replaced during manufacturers warranty

RV components will fail, and when that happens do you have the knowledge, tools, and ability to fix your RV yourself or do you need to seek professional help?

Al and I are extremely handy and quite capable of working on our RV ourselves, but then again, we own a basic RV with few bells, horns, and whistles.

Even with that said, there are some things beyond our capabilities, and we know those more difficult fixes are expensive ones that will need to be addressed by a professional.

Having an extended RV warranty can offer peace of mind just like any other insurance policy … we hope to never need it, but when we do, we’re very glad we have it.

camping at Lake Powell

Reasons to buy a RV Extended Warranty

  • Complexity of the RV – The bigger and more expensive the RV, the more difficult and more expensive the repairs will be.
  • Big dollar repairs – RVs are full of many specialized components that can quickly add up to thousands of dollars in replacement costs not to mention the cost of labor.
  • Peace of Mind – having an RV repair emergency fund is crucial but knowing that account wouldn’t be depleted during a major repair offers peace of mind.
  • Resale Value – If you aren’t sure how long you intend to keep the RV, a transferable warranty may make your RV more marketable.

RV Extended Warranties and why you need one

Should I buy an Extended Warranty for my RV?

Depends! We’ve spoken with many RVers via our travels and via this blog who have shared their horror stories with us about big dollar repair costs on their RV … RVs that are less than five years old. Imagine the cost of things like failing slide outs, cracked waste tanks, bent/broken frames, refrigerators and A/C units that won’t cool, and the list goes on.

Full-time RVing costBefore we bought our new 5th wheel, we owned a truck camper that we also purchased new.

Shortly after the manufacturers warranty ran out, the camper fridge stopped working. The repair and replacement cost was over $1000. Yeah, over a grand for a little RV refrigerator in a simple truck camper.

Another costly situation happened to our 5th wheel when our waste tank cables broke during year two of ownership. Amazing what will break shortly after the manufacturers warranty expires.

So, should you buy an extended warranty? Again, depends! How big is your emergency fund? Do you have the wherewithal to service the RV yourself? We have several RV acquaintances that swear by their extended warranty and have said the warranty paid for itself. Knowing what I know now, we’ll definitely consider buying an extended warranty when we purchase our next RV. Isn’t 20/20 hindsight wonderful 🤔

RVing Grand Tetons National Park

Dealer sold warranties are money makers for the dealer

Many RV dealers will try to sell you an extended warranty when you buy your RV from them. Be sure you shop around before buying any warranty. Some dealer warranties are backed by the dealership itself and require you to get all the repairs done at that very shop … not very convenient when traveling across the country. Dealer-sold warranties are usually more expensive and less comprehensive than any warranty you can get externally. So, you’ll definitely want to shop around.

Some things to keep in mind when shopping for an extended RV warranty –

  • Understand transfer and cancellation policies
  • Know who’s backing the warranty
  • Are you able to use any repair facility
  • Verify any restrictions or limitations
  • Check the reputation of the warranty company
  • Understand deductibles, claim procedures, and term limits

Who do most RVers recommend?

A name that keeps popping up with positive reviews is Wholesale Warranties. We have several friends who’ve purchased an extended RV warranty from them and have been extremely pleased and more than one has said the extended warranty paid for itself.

What makes Wholesale Warranties a leader in the industry

Wholesale Warranties is dedicated to education and customer service. Their RV Warranty Specialists are fully trained on helping customers find the best policy for them, how to buy RV extended warrantyat the best price. With access to several different warranty companies, levels of coverage, and payment plans, they seek to educate the customer on the options available to them, and eventually help them narrow this down to the perfect policy to suit their needs.

Wholesale Warranties always provides customers with a full copy of the terms and conditions of their contract prior to accepting payment for a policy, and is dedicated to transparency. They want their customers to know exactly what they’re getting into, and this includes what they can expect to be excluded in their policy.

Wholesale Warranties does not simply disappear after the sale of a policy. They have a dedicated internal claims staff that is available to customers at any time during the life of the policy. Their claims specialists are happy to assist customers with any questions they have during the claims process, including facilitating communication between the warranty company and the repair facility, and addressing any questions about approval or denial of a claim. They stand behind the products they sell, and want customers to get the most out of their policies.

RV friendly roads or not
Oops … Not an RV friendly road, huh! 🙄

Wholesale Warranties is more than just RV Warranties!

They recently launched an RV Repair Facility directory called RV Repair Direct, where customers can find and rate mechanics in their area. This site also allows Wholesale Warranties customers to submit their information if they experience a non-emergency breakdown, and their internal claims staff will find a reputable repair facility or mobile repair technician that is able to complete that repair for them.

Final thoughts about an extended RV warranty

Steamboat Lake ColoradoWhen shopping for an extended RV warranty, you’ll want to evaluate where your concerns lie. Are you mostly concerned about a catastrophic failure or concerned about the whole RV?

Knowing what type of RV repair bills you can and cannot afford will help you choose the best coverage for your personal needs.

If you are worried that RV repairs might blow your travel budget, or are just interested in getting a bit more information, you can click here and a warranty specialist from WholesaleWarranties.com will be happy to assist you. Mention that you are a Live Laugh RV reader and use code D-LLRV for the best price in extended warranties. Happy trails!

RV extended warranties

(this post contains sponsored and affiliate links)

1,000 Places to See in the United States and Canada Before You Die
The Mountains are Calling and I Must Go

A Visit to Crested Butte, CO

Some places we visit will always hold a special place in our hearts and Crested Butte, Colorado is one of those places. We moved to Colorado in the mid nineties when our children were young, and the first Colorado mountain town we visited was Crested Butte.

This former flatlander from Illinois was awe-struck with the majestic snow-covered mountains surrounding Crested Butte. Our family of four was immediately smitten, and subsequent visits to this lovely Colorado mountain town ensued over the years.

wildflowers in Crested Butte ColoradoAlthough our first visit to Crested Butte was during the winter, Crested Butte is every bit as much fun during the summer as it is in winter. The town may be known for its awesome skiing and winter fun, but summers offer a whole slew of other activities. As a matter of fact, Crested Butte is considered the birth place of mountain biking. Although, I’m sure there are plenty of folks that might disagree with this statement. There’s an ongoing debate about where mountain biking originated 😏

This quaint little mountain town is also considered the Wildflower Capital of Colorado and home to the Wildflower Festival held each July when the mountain meadows are covered in blooms. Once Al and I became empty nesters, we skipped the winter excursions to the mountains and focused on embracing those summer get aways.

Lake Irwin Campground Colorado Crested Butte Keebler Pass
Lake Irwin Campground, near Crested Butte Colorado and Kebler Pass

A memorable trip

July 2012 – It’s three o’clock in the morning and the dog is shaking and can’t seem to get comfortable.  He’s laying in the tent on a blanket near my side of the air mattress and he is clearly cold.  I grab my hoody and cover him, and he falls back to sleep.  I’m glad one of us can fall asleep so quickly.

After tossing and turning for a bit, I decide to step outside for a moment.  I reluctantly throw off the two layers of sleeping bags and scurry to the foot of the air mattress to put on my shoes.  No need to throw on clothes, since I’m already fully clothed in sweatpants and sweatshirt.  It’s cold at three in the morning camped at 10,000 feet in elevation …. as in 36 degrees Fahrenheit cold and this being mid July 😯

I’m not sure whose idea the tent camping excursion was considering we had a new 5th wheel sitting on the side of our house. Okay, it was my idea! We were such newbies at the time with the RV that we weren’t comfortable pulling it to the Lake Irwin Campground near Kebler Pass. Plus, there were only a couple of first come first serve campsites that we felt we would comfortably fit into.

camping near Crested Butte, Colorado at Lake Irwin
Our campsite at Lake Irwin near Crested Butte, Colorado

I quietly unzip the tent and crawl out. I’m immediately awestruck with the most incredible vision while my face is assaulted with a blast of cold air.  The stars and crescent moon are so vivid and bright that I have no trouble seeing around the campsite.  I stand there taking in the incredible beauty surrounding me before I’m reminded as to why I’m standing outside the tent at three in the morning …. and shivering.

Hmm, I contemplate the walk to the restroom down the road. This is serious bear and mountain lion country.  Since I have no inclination of being some animal’s midnight snack, I quickly take care of business at the edge of our campsite. I continued to linger outside admiring the sky before the cold has me crawling back into a nice warm bed.

After what felt like only thirty minutes of sleep, I’m woken by a very restless Brittany Spaniel. It’s only 5:30 in the morning and I’ve decided to rename my sweet little Bear…..”damn dog”.  (ya know, I love my Brittany Spaniel and wouldn’t trade him for the world, but he wants a walk at fricken 5:30 in the morning in the fricken cold while it’s still dark outside). Al remains sound asleep …. grrrr!

camping at Lake Irwin near Crested Butte Colorado
tent camping at Lake Irwin near Crested Butte, CO – July 2012

Damn dog and I go for a stroll, not venturing too far from our campsite.  I’m the only two-legged creature out and about.  Did I already mention we’re camped in bear and mountain lion country?  I’m on alert!  “Hurry up, damn dog”.  Finally with his “business” complete, we return to the warmth of sleeping bags and try to catch a few more winks of sleep.

By seven o’clock, the sun is rising and I hear other campers in the distance.  Al awakes and informs me how great he slept (damn husband).  In a not so pleasant voice, sleep deprived wife tells damn husband and damn dog, “We’re going into town for breakfast.  I need a cup of strong black coffee”.

McGill's Crested Butte, Colorado for great breakfast and coffeeWe drive aimlessly around Crested Butte looking for a place for breakfast.  Eventually, Al has me pull to the side of the road and stop. He jumps out of the truck and walks over to a pretty blonde lady watering flowers.

He and blonde lady chuckle in a flirtatious engaging way (do I really care? NO … need coffee).  When Al hops back in the truck, he proceeds to tell me to drive up Elk Street three blocks.  “Blonde lady says McGills serves a great breakfast”.  It was indeed a good breakfast, BUT the coffee was amazing and just what I needed.

A full tummy and two cups of coffee later, we’re back to “dear husband” and “adorable Bear”.  I love my boys! Al and I discuss exploratory options for the day, but first I need a little retail therapy.

Crested Butte ColoradoWe enter a T-shirt shop. Al and Bear head over to the counter where Al strikes up a conversation with the young man behind the counter. We love the fact that this town is so dog friendly that Bear is able to go with us everywhere except inside restaurants. 

We’re the only ones in the store and during the course of idol chit-chat with the shop clerk, he notes we drive a Toyota Tacoma. He drives a Toyota 4-Runner, sister to the Tacoma lol, and immediately recommends a backcountry scenic loop drive that we must experience.

We’re given a complimentary map along with a few pointers and warnings from this knowledgable local. Two t-shirts later, we hit the road heading into the backcountry … ready to explore.

dog friendly Crested Butte Colorado
Crested Butte is very dog friendly. Bear went everywhere with us.

A scenic drive

We head up Slate River Road, just north of the town of Crested Butte.  As expected, the pavement ends quickly.  We pass some beautiful homes early in the journey.  As we start to climb in elevation and the road starts to narrow, we see campers , ATVer’s as well as local wildlife.

Slate River Road Crested Butte Colorado
Slate River Road, Crested Butte, Colorado

Crested Butte backcountry 4x4
local wildlife – Moooove!

mountain homes near Crested Butte Colorado
Beautiful mountain homes dot the landscape near Crested Butte

A little further into the remote landscape, I finally start seeing some wildflowers.  Up to this point I wondered, “Wildflower capital of Colorado”?  Say what?  The drought conditions severely affected the display of wildflowers during the summer of ’12. Even though the wildflowers weren’t impressive, the scenery was spectacular.

I usually drive during these exploratory excursions to maintain marital bliss, but more importantly to control photo-op stops. Yeah, I can go a little overboard with the photo-op stopping which can get a tad annoying for a non photographer 🤗 Besides, Al says he likes being chauffeured around by a pretty lady.  Awe, ain’t that sweet!

Slate River Road Crested Butte Colorado
Slate River Road – two-way traffic on this one lane road

We continue up Slate River Road.  It’s narrow but in good condition. This one-lane road is meant for two-way traffic which is why we like driving the Tacoma in lieu of the F-250 while exploring mountainous backcountry.

We pass the turn for Washington Gulch Road and continue toward Schofield Pass.  The road gets narrower and more precarious. I can’t imagine two vehicles fitting on this road.

As we come around a blind switch back, we encounter a truck loaded with people heading toward us.  The pickup truck is colored lime green and set up kind of like an open air safari vehicle with bench seating in the rear. “Oh dear! We are going to need to pass each other!”

I need to back up and get us as close to the side of the mountain as possible (thank goodness, I have the inside).  The other truck and I both pull in our outside mirrors and we slowly pass each other within inches. He’s the one on the outside edge and I can see his tourist passengers are wide-eyed and a tad nervous. One slip, and down the mountain they roll.  Once we successfully passed each other, the driver waves and comments, “Thanks, we got’er”, and the passengers started clapping.  Since this is Wildflower Festival week, there are all kinds of additional tours, vehicle traffic and activities planned throughout the week.

Schofield Pass Mt. Baldy Crested Butte Colorado
Near Schofield Pass and Mt. Baldy – over 11,000 feet in elevation

We’re on the other side of Mt. Baldy now and we stop for a much-needed break.  The scenery is breathtaking.  Al checks his phone and is shocked.  “It works!”  No cell reception at the Lake Irwin campground, but it works up here.

This stretch of road is tame and easily navigated. Wish it had all been like this.

After a few photo-ops near Schofield Pass, we retrace that ledge of a road back to the Washington Gulch turn, all the while I pray I won’t have to pass anyone.  That would put me on the outside edge … yikes!  Fortunately my prayers are answered, and we don’t meet another vehicle for quite some time.

Washington Gulch Road Crested Butte Colorado
Washington Gulch Road – we saw more wildflowers along this stretch

Washington Gulch Road does present its own challenges with a small creek crossing, but nothing the little truck can’t handle. We also noticed a few RV’s boondocking off Washington Gulch Road.

(We were such RV newbies at that time, that we couldn’t imagine pulling our brand new RV to any of the boondocking locations we saw. Now? Piece of cake and we wouldn’t give it a second thought. But then again, our RV ain’t so new anymore … as evidenced by the dings and scratches and as one person recently referred to us …. we’re “seasoned” RVers 😏)

backcountry roads near Crested Butte Colorado

What a great Day!

We had such a fabulous time exploring this stunningly beautiful landscape that I would highly recommend this excursion to anyone with a high clearance vehicle. However, please check at the local visitor center in the town of Crested Butte for up to date road conditions, and do note, there are some areas where the road is literally cut into the side of a mountain causing severe drop-offs. Thus, I don’t recommend it for anyone with a fear of heights.

For a more tame backcountry excursion, we enjoyed driving Route 12 from Crested Butte to the tiny town of Paonia. Paonia is a small community with wineries, lavender and agricultural fields. No four-wheel drive needed when we took this drive in July of 2012. Please verify and double-check road conditions before embarking on this remote stretch of road over Kebler Pass.

Quaking Aspen at Kebler Pass

As Al and I continued to explore Colorado’s backcountry near Crested Butte, we take in the sights and sounds of the stunning terrain.  We travel from open mountain meadows, through scented pine forests, and pass through densely populated aspen groves.

Aspen Trees Keebler Pass near Crested Butte Colorado
Kebler Pass – forest of Aspen trees

The unique sound of quaking Aspen Leaves lures us in. The sound has us wondering  if there’s a gentle waterfall in the distance or is it merely the fluttering of aspen leaves?

This particular grove or colony of aspen trees along Kebler Pass is aspen treederived from a single seedling and spread by means of root suckers.  New stems in a colony may grow as far away as 130 feet from the parent tree. It’s kind of like there’s one mommy tree and all the rest of the aspen trees are children. Fascinating!

An individual tree can live  40-150 years above ground, but the root system of the colony can live for hundreds of years. Legend has it, the aspen tree can drive off evil spirits.  An aspen stake was believed to be one of the few weapons suitable to kill a vampire🧛‍♂️

Colorado is synonymous with this famous white-barked tree, adorning golden leaves in the fall.  Colorado gold comes in many forms. Beautiful golden leaves dotting the landscape and the peaceful sound of quaking leaves are just a couple more reasons to love Colorado!

Aspen grove at Keebler Pass Crested Butte, Colorado
driving through an Aspen groove at Kebler Pass

Colorado gold
Colorado Gold in the fall.

For Coffee Lovers

After three days and four nights of tent camping near picturesque Crested Butte, it was time for us to break camp and head home, BUT first, we needed (or rather I needed) to have breakfast one more time at McGill’s to drink up some more of that yummy coffee.

breaking camp at Lake Irwin campground Crested Butte Colorado
Al breaking camp – it was fun, but I missed the comforts of the RV

Al is not normally a coffee drinker and when he does drink coffee he sticks with one of those designer concoctions like a macchiato or mocha, but after trying my cup of black coffee, he ordered a cup for himself 😲

Camp 4 Coffee Crested Butte ColoradoWhile the waitress was refilling our coffee mugs, we mentioned how good the coffee was. She was quick to share the name and location of the local coffee roasters and the blend McGill’s uses.

With that said, we couldn’t possibly leave town without a visit to this coffee roaster. Camp 4 Coffee is a locally owned Crested Butte business and has a cute little shop  just down the road from McGill’s.

There was no way I was leaving town without a bag or two of Camp 4 Coffee.  I purchased a couple of pounds of the Sledgehammer roast and a pound of the Blue Mesa blend which is the blend McGill’s serves.

Can you believe, after thirty plus years of marriage, I turned Al into a coffee drinker thanks to Camp 4 Coffee. He still prefers those designer coffee concoctions, but when I splurge and buy a special roast, he’ll join me in drinking his coffee black. Wonders never cease!

Yep, Crested Butte, Colorado remains one of our favorite mountain towns and holds special memories for our family!

Monarch Pass Colorado

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