Friday, June 29, 2012

The San Juan Skyway to Silverton



Yesterday we took the 50 mile drive on Hwy 550, also known as the San Juan Skyway, from Durango to Silverton. We wanted to check out some other places to camp, and see if we thought we’d be comfortable driving the motorhome on it. It was clear and sunny when we left Durango, but there were dark clouds looming over the San Juan Mountains to the north. It is quite a scenic drive, with plenty of places to pull over and soak in the views.



Along the way we climbed from 6,660’ in Durango to cross Coal Bank Pass (elevation 10,640’) and then Molas Pass (elevation 10,910’). We checked out Haviland Lake and Little Molas Lake, two Forest Service campgrounds, which were both nice, although there were lots of mosquitoes at Haviland. We took a  hike on the Colorado Trail at Little Molas, but it started thundering and raining so we had to cut it short. It was really pretty there, but hiking at 10,000’ is not easy for us.



It was raining off and on and only 63 degrees when we got to Silverton, at 9,300’. Quite a change from the 80’s in Durango, but we actually prefer the heat. Silverton, although a cute town with old western charm, is just another tourist trap, since the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad stops here.



We decided to continue along 550 to Ouray, which is called the Million Dollar Highway, and is the portion of the road that makes a lot of drivers uncomfortable. We detoured on South Mineral Road, where there are several Forest Service campgrounds and dispersed camping opportunities. They were putting down gravel and grading the road so we didn’t get too far past the developed campgrounds, but it looked like an interesting area and there were some nice spots along the Animas River.

We drove farther up 550 until we crossed Red Mountain Pass, at 11, 018’, where we decided to turn around. The road has lots of switchbacks, hairpin turns and no guardrails, but wasn’t quite as bad as we had heard. Of course we were in a small car and not an RV, but we saw plenty of semis, Class A’s and huge 5th wheels along the way.


We still haven’t decided where we’ll go next, but if we do head up the Million Dollar Highway, we won’t be quite so intimidated by it after our ride today.

We had to move to the nonreserved sites a couple days ago, but so far have been very pleased with Junction Creek campground. We are in loop E, which is the last loop, so there is very little traffic, and the holiday crowd hasn’t arrived yet. I’m sure that will all change this weekend, though.

If you heard about the Lightner Creek Fire near Durango, we are not experiencing any smoke and aren’t in any danger of having to leave, since it rained some and they have gotten it under control. Campfires and charcoal grills have been banned in the campgrounds, and Durango and many other Colorado cities have cancelled their 4th of July fireworks displays. Better than burning down the state!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Jack Got the Better of Jim


While we were at Eagle Nest Lake, NM, we noticed our neighbor had a sleek looking TV antenna on his trailer. Jim talked to him about it, and how difficult it was to install (Wayne did it himself), so he and Debbie decided we needed to get rid of our old rattling batwing antennas and get a Jack.


We ordered a couple from PPL, who had the best price, and they were delivered last week at Herron Lake. Jim does not have a good history with do-it-yourself projects, but he found some You Tube videos and studied the installation instructions carefully. On Monday he and Debbie decided to work on hers first, since her roof had more shade, so up they went. Since I can’t work up the courage to climb the ladder and get on the roof, I was the gofer.


For those of you who are not familiar with Lazy Daze, they have a reputation for building a quality motorhome at a reasonable price. If you ever try to remove or replace anything the factory installed, the most difficult part is getting off all the screws, nails, glue and caulk they use. This turned out to be the hardest part of the job, since the old antenna was not only screwed down to a piece of wood under the aluminum roof, but it was glued and caulked extremely well. It took them much scraping and heating the adhesive with a hair dryer before the old antenna mount would come off. And to make it even more fun, it had the consistency and stickiness of taffy, which got all over their tools, clothes, and hands. At this point Jim told me he was sending the other one back and keeping what we had. Our neighbors with kids probably didn’t appreciate the obscenities bouncing off the roof, either.

Prying up the old mount.


Now all this glue had to be removed.


Luckily, we had some Lift Off adhesive remover, which worked fairly well.


Fast forward a few more hours, after a break for lunch, and the new Jack antenna is nicely installed on Debbie’s roof. If anyone is interested in trying this themselves, just email Jim for more details. I didn’t even have to make a trip to the hardware store, just borrowed some bigger drill bits from the camp host, which they didn’t end up using anyway, so I had the easy job.

The nice thing about the Jack is you don’t have to raise and lower it, so that’s one less thing to think about when getting ready to leave. Also there is a built in signal finder with cute little LED lights so you can easily see which direction the antenna needs to point to get the best signal. And the ceiling mount is nice looking.


I thought a nice dinner out and lots of beer would help Jim’s spirits after this long, trying day, so we went to downtown Durango to the Steamworks Brewing Co. Although we had to wait about 20 minutes for a table and the service wasn’t the best, the beer was excellent, and our Quinoa burgers and garlic-rosemary potato mash was so good we may have to go back again while we’re here.

Our table with a view of the brewery.


After a half pitcher of Backside Stout, Jim was reconsidering sending back the other antenna. I think he will tackle ours after a few days of rest, since Debbie is willing, and now they know exactly what they are getting into.

The finished product on left with it’s sleek profile. They did good!


Monday, June 25, 2012

Junction Creek Campground Durango, CO



We had planned to stop near Pagosa Springs, CO yesterday but it was 90 when we pulled into Ute Campground, and there are no electric sites. Way too hot to leave the pets and go exploring, although it looked like a nice area.

We decided to go on to Durango and check out Junction Creek, another Forest Service campground just 5 miles north of town in the San Juan National Forest. At an elevation of only 7,300’ we knew we weren’t escaping the heat (the bank we passed in Durango showed 95), but we also knew there were some sites with electric, and we hoped on a Sunday afternoon we could get one. Lucky for us we got a huge double site with power that was available for 3 nights. With the senior pass we are paying $26/night for this double site, but since we’re splitting it with Debbie that’s not too bad.

If we decide we want to stay longer, there are only 2 non-reservable electric sites that are supposed to come open the day we have to be out of here. Although it looks like the highs will remain around 90 for the next 10 days, we may just stay here until after the 4th. There is lots to explore around this area and we wanted to be near Home Depot, Wal-Mart, a pet store, laundromat, microbreweries, etc.

It was a really scenic drive from El Vado Lake to Durango, and not long after we entered Colorado Debbie called on the radio to tell us she just saw a bear. We thought she was mistaking it for a big black dog or something, but wouldn’t you know about 20 minutes later, while I was up trying to track down a rattling noise that was driving Jim crazy, he started yelling at me to get the camera and come back to my seat because there was a bear in the road in front of us.

I did get to see it waddle off into the woods, but couldn’t get a picture. It’s amazing all the miles we’ve hiked in bear country and have never seen a bear, to see one crossing a highway in the middle of a hot afternoon. We’re hoping that’s a good omen that we may actually see some wildlife in Colorado.

Maybe even in these woods behind our site…


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Rio Chama Trail



The last of our packages arrived at the Heron Lake visitor center Friday afternoon so yesterday morning we left at 8:15 to beat the heat and made the trek from El Vado Lake to Heron Lake via the Rio Chama Trail. It is a very nice 5.5 mile hike, a gradual climb to a ridge, then a descent down to the Rio Chama.

The worst part was the many steps up to get to the end of the trail. But Debbie was waiting for us in her air conditioned car, a welcome sight. And also in the parking lot was a Canadian couple we met at Eagle Nest Lake.


As far as trails go, this one has it all. Trees, cactus, big rocks, views of the lakes, the river, and even a suspension bridge. We were happy we didn’t have to turn around and walk the 5.5 miles back, though.





One of the packages we received was our Nikon camera that was in for repairs under warranty. They had it for 2 months awaiting parts and It appears to be working properly now but that remains to be seen.

The other packages contained a new project for Jim, which I will report on later when he does the installation.

We’ve enjoyed our spot on El Vado Lake in spite of the heat and bugs. The scenery is great, there are lots of birds, opportunities for long walks and interesting sunsets.




The plan is to be in Colorado this afternoon but looks like it’s hot there, too.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

El Vado Lake State Park, NM



We left Columbine Campground on Sunday and drove west from Taos across US Hwy 64 to Heron Lake State Park, near Chama. There was a warning in the Mountain Directory West for 64 between Tres Piedras and Tierra Amarilla but since we didn’t actually go over a pass, the elevation wasn’t given. It warned about 30 mph curves and 6% grades. We didn’t realize we were going from 7,000’ up to 10,500’ along the way. We normally unhook the car and I drive it separately to make it a bit easier on the Lazy Daze at those kinds of elevations, but we made it just fine. Wondered if anyone can recommend a guidebook, website or map that gives the elevation of highways so we can do a little better job of planning in the future.

The drive was beautiful but we thought the aspens were all dead, then realized it was still too cold at those elevations for the leaves to have come out yet.


It was in the mid 80’s when we arrived at Heron Lake, so we pulled into a couple power sites and drove around in the car to see if we could find any spots with lake views. None of the campgrounds with views have hookups, but we’ve been so spoiled by views of lakes, streams and mountains lately that we were not impressed with the power sites. All of the dry campsites that we would have fit into were taken or reserved, so we went back to set up and plug in the power for some AC. We were unable to run the air due to low voltage, so Jim went to talk to the camp host. They had an electrical issue last year, which had been repaired, but it left the park with lower voltages, so we couldn’t use the AC or microwave. There were some campers running their air but they had something called an Autoformer, which boosts your power by 10%. That is something we don’t have, and although with our NM state parks pass we were only paying $4, it was the principle, since the AC and microwave are the only two things we can’t run off solar. We decided to spend the night and check out nearby El Vado Lake the next day.


Debbie and I went to Chama to pick up a few groceries, and Jim was in charge of finding us a new spot. Since nobody would answer the phones at El Vado Lake, he drove the 25 miles over to see if there were vacant sites and whether the power was adequate. Our temps have risen to near 90, so we wanted to be able to run the air if needed.

He found a double site right on the lake, with water and electric, and talked with the park manager and a couple other campers about the electrical situation. No problem with low voltage, so he called and told us to drive on over, which we did. It was definitely worth it, as we have fantastic views and we are nice and cool during the heat of the afternoon. Also the showers are great and there is a dump station.


Plus we are loving our new backyard.




The only downside is there are lots biting gnats, probably the same thing the ranger at Wild Rivers warned us about. When the wind blows hard enough, though, it keeps them away.

Since we had our packages sent to Heron Lake, we will have to pick them up over there at the end of the week. There is a 5.5 mile trail from El Vado to Heron, so Jim and I plan to hike over and Debbie will pick us up. At least she says she will! I don’t think we’re up to an 11 mile hike, especially in this heat.

Today we took a ride to the other side of the lake to look a the primitive area. We crossed El Vado Dam and the Rio Chama.


There is a warning sign before crossing the dam about the 10’ width. It says if you hit the guardrails don’t continue on over the dam. Duh! We made it fine in the car, and continued along the dirt road. The state park has several primitive areas for camping and picnicking on the other side of the lake. There was nobody there. You can barely see our campground looking across.


It’s very nice here, but also very remote, the closest town for supplies being Chama, 35 miles away. We debated on just hanging out here for our 21 day limit, which would get us through the week of the 4th of July, but we decided to live on the edge and head to Colorado on Sunday. Hope we can find a cooler spot early next week where we’ll stay put until the holiday is over.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Exploring Around Columbine Canyon


A Columbine flower from the trail.


The Columbine campground is located about 5 miles from Questa and 7 miles from Red RIver, NM. When we passed through Red RIver on the way, we were looking forward to going back and exploring what appeared to be a very cute town. Upon closer inspection, it was just another tacky tourist town with a small ski resort. We couldn’t even find a place to eat that served anything vegetarian, unless your idea of vegetarian is fried catfish or refried beans and cheese enchiladas.

We did take a hike there on a forest service road, the Pioneer trail, that started next to the ski resort and passed through old mining country. They have some tubing runs to make a bit of money during the summer but the slope was so tame it looked like they were barely moving down it.


The road ran along a stream and there were some nice boondocking spots, although it got a bit too rough and rocky after a short distance.

One of the so called adventure tour trucks went by us. Not our idea of fun.


But we got to see some nice rocks.


Another day we drove to Questa and then northwest of there to Wild Rivers, a BLM recreation area along the Rio Grande Gorge. This was actually going to be our next spot to camp, and since we were only about 20 miles from there we decided to check it out ahead of time and be sure there were sites we could fit into.


It is quite a spectacular area, and we found several sites overlooking the gorge. A couple problems, though. It was much hotter there since it’s lower in elevation, and we were warned at the visitor center that biting no-see-um bugs had arrived about a week before and would last about 3 weeks. We took a couple short hikes to take in the views, and decided we’d come back in late September on our way back through New Mexico.

One of the trails to the river. There are miles of hiking trails but no shade.


We took several hikes from the campground on the Columbine trail. It leads to several other trails and follows the creek. It is a beautiful trail, with the constant sound of rushing water, mostly shaded except for a few open meadows. On Saturdays a local guide leads a hike up the trail with llamas carrying supplies. They only went 2 miles and stopped to set up lunch for the group. Our new friend Barbara in the old VW told us he is an excellent naturalist and a wealth of information about the area, so it might be a good learning experience, but much too slow of a hike for our taste. We never did find out how much he charges.

It was fun seeing the llamas and he told us we could pet them as we walked by.


We passed them again relaxing in the meadow at their lunch break. They are very cute.




Someone we met on the trail pointed out there was an old gold mine, which we would have missed. We didn’t have a flashlight so Jim just held the camera in the entrance and used the flash so we could see what was there.


We’ve had a good time exploring the Enchanted Circle and would definitely come back to this area, but have moved on to Heron Lake State Park near Chama, awaiting a few things we’ve ordered. The NM state parks are kind enough to receive UPS and Fed Ex packages for people staying at the parks, so we are taking advantage of it.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Things Aren’t Always As They Appear



On the way to the trash yesterday morning I got to meet the mystery woman in the old VW Beetle. She asked me if I had room in the freezer for a few of her Blue Ice packs. Sure, I said, bring them over. Well, she has her routine. She wanted to wait until later in the afternoon, then come back and get them 24 hours later. No problem, and that’s what she did.

I asked her if she was just traveling through, and she said no, she was spending the summer at higher elevations to avoid the heat. She winters at a friend’s property just west of Tucson, and finally had to leave by the end of April when temperatures were nearing 100. She plugs an extension cord into her friend’s house to run a lamp and fan, but basically lives in the car. Her friend is now in a nursing home, and she is concerned that her friend will die and the property will be sold.

She told me about going to college, living in Cambridge, MA, then moving to Oregon. She got sick from environmental sensitivities, and was a teacher living in a co-op house. The co-op dissolved and she had to find someplace else to live. She couldn’t find a place with no carpet, drapes, etc, that would be good for her allergies, so she started living in the VW. This was in 1983 and she’s been living in the car ever since!!  She bought the red Beetle new in 1968 after a friend gave her a ride in his and she fell in love with it. She said she doesn’t feel good when she stays in one place too long, and likes traveling around out west in the low humidity. I can relate to that.

She asked me where we were going and I told her Colorado. She wanted to know if we could recommend any forest service campgrounds with water. She buys drinking water, but likes a campground with water, a bathroom, shade, and hiking trails. She doesn’t require much.

I told her we were going into Red River and did she need anything from the store. She said she stocked up at the health food/organic grocery in Taos on her way so she had plenty of food. She was running low on D batteries, but that could wait until she got to a Wal-Mart somewhere.

She seems happy and spends a good part of her day hiking. When she brought over the Blue Ice she said she had taken two hikes already and was going back home for breakfast. This was 3 pm! Probably why she looks so emaciated.

I’m glad we got to meet. She obviously lives this way by choice, and yes she is probably mentally ill, but appears content, and isn’t that all that really matters in life?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Columbine Campground, Questa, NM



We found another great spot at Columbine Campground in the Carson National Forest, between Red River and Questa, NM along the Enchanted Circle. It is run by a concessionaire, but they honor the senior pass so we are paying $7.50/night, half the regular rate of $15. No hookups but there are several threaded water spigots and vault toilets. No dump again but the camp host came by as were were setting up and said we could let our gray water drain out on the grass. That is a first for us! Nice that we don’t have to wait until dark to stealthily pour out our dishwater, since most places don’t even allow that. Our Verizon phone even works and we have a slow internet connection with the amplifier.

Columbine Creek runs through the campground, and although you can’t see it in the pictures, it runs right behind our huge site, so we have the constant sound of rushing water. The only downside is there are lots of flies, but at least they don’t bite!


There is also a many miles long hiking trail at the back of the campground which runs along the creek. We walked a couple miles last night and it’s lovely. I think we’re going to like it here.


As we were walking through the campground yesterday we spotted this beat up old VW covered in windshield heat reflectors. It appears to be an older woman living out of her car. Jim wanted to get her story but when we walked by she was talking to someone else so we didn’t stop. If she is still here today we may go by and see if she needs anything. Who knows, perhaps she is just traveling and sleeps in the car. Although the days are near 80, it’s been in the upper 30’s at night. It wouldn’t a pleasant way to have to live.