Our trip to Colorado began on a Sunday afternoon. WanderVan is now to the point of having all systems operational – electrical, water, heating, cooling, sleeping – so this 6 day trip would be a good chance to try out each of these systems to see that everything works while out away from home. Shawn had also done his homework on Campendium (a website that shows campgrounds or camping areas around the US) and had found our options for free or low-cost camping. So, on that Sunday afternoon, we headed for Borger, TX, where there is a city park that offers one free night of camping. Huber Park in Borger is a nice little park and we discovered that there is a bird sanctuary in the park with peacocks, black swans, a variety of pheasants, and other birds, in the enclosure.
On Monday, we took a short walk around the park before heading out of town and towards northeastern New Mexico. We arrived at the Capulin Volcano National Monument around the middle of the morning. We were able to buy our National Park Pass for the year at the visitor center (it was actually open!) and then we drove up to the top of the volcano. At the top, we hiked the 1-mile Rim Trail, then ate our lunch in the van, and then hiked to the bottom of the vent and back up to the parking area.
We got off the Interstate in Trinidad (one of our few times on the Interstate during the trip) to go to the Colorado Visitor Center, unfortunately, it was still closed due to COVID-19. We arrived at Great Sand Dunes National Park around 3:45. The visitor’s center was closed, but a ranger was at the door, giving out maps and, on request, a sticker which had the current day’s National Park Passport stamp. We wandered around the creek area a bit and took a few pictures, but we did not go out into the dunes. Actually, the park was a bit of a let down after seeing White Sands National Park in March, which is much more impressive with its shimmering white sand. We went to the picnic area in the park and ate our Asian salad with grilled chicken.
We drove to Del Norte, CO, to stay the night in the city park. There were two different areas that RVs could use, and we chose to take the street parking that was closer to the Rio Grande River. There is a wooden deck and a paved walkway running alongside the river, which we took advantage of that night and the next morning to stretch our legs.
Tuesday had us driving up to and beyond Creede, CO. It was a beautiful drive along the Rio Grande. Our furthest point was North Clear Creek Falls, an impressive waterfall in the national forest. It is a very short drive off of Highway 149, with a paved parking lot and a vault toilet. There is a nice observation area for viewing the falls, and there is a short path up the hill to the right of the parking and observation areas, where we could see out over the valley to the mountains beyond. The only drawback the day we were there was the cold! The strong wind made the 40 degree temperature seem much colder. We wore our down coats and beanies and saw snow in the shady areas.
We then turned back toward Creede and found Rex Falls, a cascade falls that is tucked away in the woods about a quarter mile from the road. At the Rio Grande Campground we stopped and had our picnic lunch by the river. Back in Creede, we stopped and chatted with the lady at the visitor center, walked up Main Street to the end of the business district, and shared an affogato – a shot of espresso poured over a scoop of ice cream. It’s my new favorite treat to look for while travelling. (I’d better not get into the habit of it at home!)
Continuing south, we stopped at the South Fork Visitor Center for WiFi and maps. The Big Meadow Reservoir, a little further south, has several hiking options. We chose to do the 3 mile trail around the reservoir. Most of it was good, easy trail, but there were some downed trees which made it more difficult to find where the trail we wanted split off from the main trail and headed back toward the campground.
We found the dispersed camping spot that Shawn was hoping to find along Pass Creek on a forest road. I tried out my new cookware and electric hot plate that evening, making macaroni and cheese, sautéed veggies, and warming up some pre-cooked meatballs in the microwave.
Our campsite was at an elevation of around 9000 feet, and Wednesday morning was a chilly 24 degrees, but the sun warmed things up quickly. While cleaning up after breakfast, we watched Colorado chipmunks eat dandelions right outside of the van.
We drove to Wolf Creek pass and were planning to drive up to Lobo Overlook, but the road to it was closed. The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) crosses the highway there at Wolf Creek pass, so hikes there are fairly common. We headed south on the CDT toward Alberta Peak. It is about a 5 mile out and back trek which runs along the back side (uphill side) of Wolf Creek Ski Area. Even here on the 10th day of June there were still snow-packed areas on the trail. There were lots of beautiful views and not as many people as I was anticipating. After a rock scramble to get to the peak, we visited with a family from a small town near Houston at the summit, ate a snack, and exchanged taking pictures of each other. We saw two or three marmots on the way back down, but not much else in the way of wildlife.
Back at the van, we ate some lunch, rested for a bit, and cleaned up. We decided to head on into Pagosa Springs, stopping by Treasure Falls along the way. Treasure Falls is pretty, but it was packed with people. And even though the trail was clearly marked and signs were up to keep traffic on the path, lots of people were short-cutting the trail and causing damage to the understory of the forest.
Once in Pagosa Springs, the cool temperatures of the morning were forgotten. We parked in a lot next to the San Juan River and went out in search of an affogato. Our search was unsuccessful, so we opted instead for nachos and cokes at a Mexican restaurant overlooking the river, watching people play in the river below. Walking back to the van along the river trail, we saw one of the hot springs feeding into the river. We each had to feel the water to verify that it could be considered a “hot” spring!
We camped that night in a dispersed campsite on Jackson Mountain Road. The next day was Shawn’s 50th birthday, so he got to choose the itinerary and food. After a breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, and coffee, we drove out to and hiked the Piedra Ice Fissures Trail. The ice fissures were not extremely exciting, just crevasses in the ground from my point of view, but beyond the fissures were the bluffs, and the view from the bluffs was definitely worth the 2 mile hike.
We drove back into town, parking again by the river, and showered in the van. We had lunch at The Lost Cajun restaurant. Who would have guessed that you could get delicious gumbo, crawfish etouffee, beignets and café au lait in the mountains of Colorado? And New Orleans jazz music playing in the background! After lunch we walked the San Juan River Trail through town and along a conservation area. We picked up an Italian Cream Soda at a coffee shop in town and then started weighing our options. It was fairly busy in town and all of the shade near the river was taken, so we decided to get a few hours down the road so we could get home earlier on Saturday.
We dropped down into New Mexico and drove through old town Taos. We had thought we might stay in the parking lot of the casino outside of Taos, but it was closed, and even the road to it was closed. We kept driving U.S. Hwy 64 past several forest service campgrounds all of which were closed due to New Mexico’s COVID response. We found a place to camp for the night on a forest road near Angel Fire, NM. I made white chili and we opened the back doors of the van and sat on our bed to eat our dinner. Shawn’s birthday cake was a microwave cake-in-a-mug.
Friday was a long driving day, but we had a nice little diversion seeing Philmont Boy Scout Ranch that morning. Shawn has fond memories of his scouting days and the 10 day trek they did at Philmont, so we took pictures of him at the front gate and some pictures of the “Tooth of Time,” a mountain in Philmont. The camp is closed to visitors and to campers this summer, so we couldn’t do more than that. Under ordinary circumstances, we would have checked out the gift shop and visited the nearby National Scouting Museum. We saw a few jack rabbits near Philmont and many pronghorn as we made our way across New Mexico on Hwy 412. We crossed the panhandle of Texas that afternoon and stayed the night in Elk City, OK, at their city park. We paid for an RV slot that night ($15) so we could have electricity to run the air conditioner.
Shawn here… It was a great trip and overall the van performed well. We made a list of a few things we need to do before the next trip, but nothing major. We used the diesel parking heater on three nights, usually for 4 or so hours when it got coldest. Our total diesel usage was about a quart, so it was quite efficient now that the van is insulated. We drove 1,700 miles and averaged over 17.5 mpg. I was quite pleased, since this was after the roof AC and solar panels had been installed. We camped six nights with a total camping cost of $15. Our tanks lasted about 5 days. We used 44 gallons of fresh water and needed 28 gallons of grey and 23 gallons of black holding tank space over the 6 day trip. I have more cabinets to build and storage to complete, so I will get back to work on the van soon.
Jana & Shawn