Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico
Summer trip of 2012
click on any of the thumbnails for a larger view of the photo
Getting started on one of these trip reports is always the hardest part for me to do. I have always admired the way that Snoopy, in the Charlie Brown cartoons, started his books, “it was a dark and stormy night,” etc.
This past summer was our summer to spend in Western Colorado and in the planning of the trip during the spring time, our two grandsons, Zach and Gage, 9 and 7 Y/O respectively, decided they wanted to go with us. So while we normally take our truck camper and tow our Jeep Wrangler to Colorado, the extra people on this trip caused us to take our 31 ft bunk room 5th wheel and leave the Jeep in Florida. Our 2002 Dodge 2500 pickup was getting tired at 140,000 miles as well. The Cummins diesel was doing fine but everything around it was wearing out. LOL So a week before we departed, I saw a new one ton dually Chevy crew cab, on our local dealer’s lot. It followed me home and we had to take a few extra drives to get the required 500 miles on it before towing as specified by GM in the owner’s manual. This is the first Chevy pickup I have ever owned, always Fords, Dodges and Jeep J series pickups, before they stopped making them.
We got the new truck ready to pull and set June 3 as our planned departure date. About 8 AM that day, we were loaded and heading out to Colorado. We only set a general idea of where we are going before we leave home. Our route took us up to Fort Pierce, on the Florida Turnpike to Wildwood, then due west to Crystal River and north on Hwy 19 to the Tallahassee area
While at the Tallahassee RV park we checked the weather and it looked least stormy for us to stay south on Interstate 10. The grandsons had never stopped in Mobile to see the battleship there. It was a nice hot day but we all enjoyed seeing the ship. After a few hours touring it, we headed on west to the Baton Rouge area to spend the night of June 4.
Battleship Park in Mobile Alabama. They have a large collection of military equipment from all branches of the service. Many volunteers maintain the facility as they were trained to do when they were in the military. A volunteer I talked to, was working on the wing of the B-52 bomber that day. He said that was his military job as well when he was active duty years before. Just good to see the care being taken of the place and the history being kept alive for the younger generations. Very hands on, walk under, etc. type of place.
The next morning we headed NW to Shreveport and on to Terrell Texas, where we spent the night. Stayed hot this day with the outside temperatures running in the 102°F to 104°F range. The truck had no problems with over heating which was good to see. Spent the night of Jun 5 in Terrell, TX.
June 6 - found us headed west on Interstate 20 to Dallas-Fort Worth. In the past I have mainly gone on west of there to the Abilene area and cut north to Amarillo Texas but this time we decided to take the shorter way, Hwy 287, up through Fort Worth, to Wichita Falls to Amarillo. It was a very good decision as the road was excellent, as are most highways in Texas, very little traffic. That night found us staying at the Amarillo Ranch RV Park, a very nice place. The boys had a great time at the swimming pool there.
In a group discussion, it was decided that we would all like to put in a long day’s drive and get to Colorado Springs the next night, instead of breaking that segment of road into two shorter days. So the evening of June 7 found us at the Garden of the Gods campground in the Springs, with a week long reservation. My wife grew up in the area of Colorado Springs now known as “old Colorado City.” Then she went to high school in Woodland Park after her family moved there. So a week in the Springs was like old home week for her.
We had stayed at the Garden of the Gods campground in Colorado Springs, on a previous trip, for a couple of nights and hadn't been too impressed with it. However I had heard they had recently sold and the new owners were making many improvements, including new sites in places. Turned out to be true and was a very good spot to stay, close to everything in town that we wanted to see and do.
We spent a day or two at the North Pole Santa Claus Land which is a favorite of our grandsons, age 7 and 9.
The next day it was out to the Flying W Chuck Wagon Show. (this attraction was destroyed by the forest fires of 2012, in Colorado) This originally was a working ranch and was changed over many years ago by the owners. It featured a western music show in the evening with dinner, seating for 600 + people. The grounds were covered with old buildings that had been moved in, Native American singers, dancers and items used by them in the past.
Then a day at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. This is one of our favorite zoos in the country. It is built on the side of Cheyenne Mountain and has a chair lift to take you to the top or you can ride a tram up to the top and walk down seeing all the animals along the way. Nice old fashioned amusement park there as well.
The day before we were to leave we had reservations on the Cog Railroad that runs from Manitou Springs to the top of Pikes Peak and returns. First time any of us had ever taken the ride. My wife climbed Pikes Peak many times with her dad, when they lived in the area. Probably well over 50 climbs for Pat, many before she reached high school age. So the weather forecast was for below freezing temperatures on top so we all bundled up and boarded the train. The train climbs grades too steep for a regular train to use so has a cog system and a gear on the train that engages the cog as it climbs.
I normally don’t care for campgrounds in large urban areas but we had a great week. For a family stay, the Garden of the Gods worked well, great swimming pools, one for families and one for adults only, an arcade room and lots of room for bike riding.
But on June 14, we headed out of the Springs/Manitou area to the west on Hwy 24. The fires were just getting started in this part of Colorado and we could see the smoke and flames from the fire at Lake George as we drove by. We were headed for the KOA campground in Grand Junction, on the west slope of the state.
Arrived in Grand Junction, after a stop to ride the chair lift at the top of Monarch Pass, still snow at the top of the lift, to Montrose and north on Hwy 50 to Junction. We had lived in Ouray for about 10 years, after leaving Alaska, so getting back to Montrose was a good feeling, to both my wife and me. It was hot and dry in Junction, not that we would expect anything else there in the summer time. Temperatures in the 106°F range but would cool off at night into the 70°F range. During the day, our single AC in the trailer was running constantly to keep the rig livable.
Monarch Pass Chair lift. Still snow on the top to impress a couple of Florida kids.
We stayed at the Grand Junction KOA, which is on the south side of town.
The Math and Science Center was a big hit with the boys. It is run by volunteers as a part of the local school system. Well worth half a day or more.
Then we were out to the Dinosaur Museum. This is in Fruita, just a few miles west of Grand Junction on Interstate 70. Some of the exhibits are animated and many "hands on" items for the boys to use.
Then a day was spent out at the Colorado Monument, which can rival most national parks in scenery. It too is just west of Grand Junction and operated by the National Parks Service.
After 3 nights, it was time to head south for a week at the Ridgway State Park. We arrived there on June 18 and had reserved a full hookup site at the Pa Co Chu Puk Campground. It is more level terrain so the boys could ride their bicycles. We made day trips out of there to Montrose, to Ouray and to swim in the hot springs pool there, to Silverton, etc. It is our favorite state park in Colorado. Cell service is not the best in this area for any carrier, IMHO. We have both AT&T and Verizon and both needed help to get a usable data signal. I use a Wilson Sleek booster system with an outside antennae mounted on the slide out, works fine for data and voice. There are some "dead" areas that nothing will work for cell service around here.
One day we decided to drive south to Silverton. It had been a few years since we had been to Silverton and the changes we saw were most welcome. Lots of restoring of the old homes and building in town. It is becoming a summer residence for many people with enough money to keep up their property. Local jobs, year around are not easy to get since the last of the big mines, the Standard, closed and laid off about 250 employees a few years back. We then drove up to Animas Forks, an old mining community north of town and found that a new campground had been put in at Eureka, where before people just boon docked. Last photo is of Silverton, looking south on our return from Animas Forks. The two photos of Red Mountain south of Ouray on the way to Silverton. When we owned a gift shop in Ouray, tourists would often ask how often the Red Mountains had to be repainted. After a while, we just made up some answer, such as every 5 years, and that seemed to make them happy. The same folks often asked at what age do deer turn into elk? As I rememberr we normally told them between two and three years of age. LOL
On June 27, we moved to the Ouray KOA campground for the rest of the month. Our oldest daughter, the boys mother, flew out to Colorado to join us in Ouray. She graduated from the Ouray High School so she likes to spend the 4th of July there. My wife’s sister and her husband arrived in Ouray as well. They were the couple we went with to Alaska with, in 2009. We try to meet up with them for some family camping every summer, somewhere in the western US as they live in Portland Oregon.
Ouray was where we moved to upon leaving Alaska after just over 25 years. It too has changed some but not like Silverton has done. When we first moved to Ouray, we lived in our motorhome at the 4J Campground in town for about 6 weeks while we shopped for a house. Found one up on 5th Street which we bought, it was built in 1891 and had been added onto several times. So we spent the next 10 years remodeling it. We have also stayed at the Riverside CG, just north of town. This was our first stay at the KOA about 5 miles north of town. Very nice place. It is a seasonal campground and gets real busy during the summer months, reservations advised. The boys soon flew home with their mother and we continued vacationing with Pat's sister and her husband.
One day the four of us decided to drive out to Owl Creek Pass, which is east of Ridgway and comes out east of Montrose on Highway 50. This is an easy gravel road to take, and not at all difficult to navigate with small to medium RVs. Several government type campgrounds on this road. The scenery to the east of the road, last photo, is referred to as the Chimney Rocks area locally.
Photos around the KOA and around the town of Ouray including the Bachelor Syracuse Mine tour just north of town. The white house on the top row is the one we did the remodel on, the grey one next, was at the end of the block, and it was owned by a good friend, Frank Massard. Frank was born and raised in Ouray and was the only World War I vet I ever knew. He died at the age of 102. The main street in Ouray does slope about like the photos show. The east side of the street is about 3 to 4 feet higher than the west side. Makes for interesting driving and walking in the winter time with the snow and ice on the ground. Ouray averages about 144 inches of snow a year in town. (12 ft) Deer can be a problem as well as they come into town to eat and flowers and shrubs are a favorite with them. Black bears also come into town but not as numerous as the deer. The last photo of the Ouray County court house was used in scenes from the John Wayne movie, True Grit.
Then the time was over in Ouray and the campground was full so we couldn’t extend our stay as we wanted to do. Next time we will do a month in Ouray at the KOA. So it was off to Montrose KOA (formerly the Montrose RV Resort) Same ownership and excellent management of the campground but is now affiliated with the KOA chain. In past years we have stayed a month or two at this campground and run day trips out of there. Montrose is a real nice town, not too big, but has everything we generally need. When we lived in Ouray, we did much of our shopping in Montrose, about 35 miles apart. At times, once a month or so, we would head up to Grand Junction to shop, as it is much larger than Montrose.
Rod and lei, my BIL and SIL, also came up to Montrose KOA for a two week stay then they had to get back to Portland. We stayed a few days longer and one morning my wife and I decided it was time to move on, perhaps even start heading back home. Our grandsons and their mother had flown back to Florida a few days after the July 4th celebration in Ouray.
Fun to have others to share our travels with as we have each summer for many years. My wife's sister, Lei and her husband, Rod.
We drove over to Telluride one day.
Then we drove up toward Grand Junction and at Whitewater, we turned west to head for the town of Gateway, taking us through the Unaweep Canyon, a favorite motorcycle ride for us when we lived in Ouray. Found out our grand dog beagle, Rookie, seemingly has no fear of heights so we were glad we had him on a short leash. The town (wide spot in the road) of Gateway is being developed as a golf resort, major complex being built there, hotel, golf course, airport, restaurants, car museum and who know what else. So far I haven't been able to force myself to take a photo of it, perhaps some day when I get over the shock of it being there, I will.
One day out to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP. There are the two roads, the one on the North Rim and the one on the South Rim. The North Rim is more developed, park buildings, etc but our favorite is the South Rim. Much less crowded, more remote type campgrounds, just more natural, fewer guardrails though. We tend to do the South Rim, which I think of as being the east side of the canyon, and then we continue on to come out up by the Paonia Reservoir and back to Delta and south.
We hadn't been over to Tin Cup for probably about ten years so we drove over to there the day before our family headed back to Portland Oregon
To get to Tin Cup, an old mining town, we headed east to Gunnison and beyond by 15 or 20 miles to the community of Parlin, there we turned north coming first to the old town of Ohio City, then on north to the top of Cumberland Pass and over it to the semi ghost town of Tin Cup, from there on to the Taylor Reservoir and back home. When Pat was just a young child growing up in Colorado, Tin Cup was often a destination to go to for a family vacation, camping out for a week or two as her dad would climb the mountain in the area. Her dad, Jess Kauffman, wanted to have climbed all the 14,000 ft peaks in Colorado before he died but he ended up two or three short of climbing all of them, but still quite a feat to accomplish what he did.
Then to the Taylor Reservoir, to the top of Cottonwood Pass and back on the pavement headed for Gunnison again. The Taylor river, flowing out of the reservoir is a prime wild trout stream, catch and release for the most part.
But before we departed Montrose for the trip home, we wanted to make the route of north to Delta, east to Paonia, then to Marble and Redstone. The area around Redstone and Marble have become "art" areas with many shops and artists living in those areas. At one time Redstone was a major coke producer for the steel mills in Pueblo. Coal was heated in the "beehive" coking ovens to purify it and then it was shipped by train to Pueblo for firing the furnaces to make steel. The large "castle" is now a "resort" and you can only go to it if you have reservations to stay. In the past we could drive up there to have lunch, etc. bummer...We stopped at several of the wineries in the Paonia area and hit the tasting rooms. Paonia was and is, a large producer of coal that is shipped to power plants throughout the west by train. Several of the mine operations are right on the highway as a couple of the photos below show. The road goes under the conveyer belt at the one mine as the railroad is on the opposite side.
With just the two of us and our grand dog Rookie, Pat and I decided we needed to move on and see some more of the west before we headed back to Florida.
My wife, Pat, mentioned there were a couple of places she wanted to visit, on the way home to Florida from Colorado. Sounded fine to me, but I was somewhat confused when she mentioned wanting to visit Capitol Reef NP, Zion NP, Bryce NP and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. To her, this was on the way home, to go through Utah and Arizona before we started heading south east toward Florida. So as we often do, we reached a compromise and did it her way. Any guy that doesn’t think that sounds like a compromise, probably isn’t married. LOL
So on July 23, we hitched up the trailer and headed for Torrey Utah, next door to the Capitol Reef National Park. We had called ahead for a reservation at the Thousand Lakes Campground, just west of Torrey for 3 nights. Sorry about the color of the grass, but I was playing with my new camera and got a bit carried away with the "vivid" color enhancement settings for this shot.
For as much time as we have spent in the mountain west, we had never been to Capitol Reef. It is one of those places not on the way to anywhere, you have to be going there to see it. LOL
Beautiful, not crowded and our new love for a place to spend time in Utah. The campgrounds in the area were clean, well run and priced reasonably. Hard to ask for anything more.
Then after checking the road conditions out for Hwy 12, we headed south with the 5th wheel. Probably the most spectacular scenery we have ever seen. That highway cold be a national park in it’s self. There is a section of the highway, called the "hogs back" that runs down the ridge top, just wide enough for the two lane highway to fit. Major drop offs on both sides. There are several nice videos on Youtube if you search for "hogs back highway 12" Some steep grades, 12 and 14% in places but we had no problems pulling our 31 ft fifth wheel up and down them.
On July 26th we arrived in Kanab Utah, as we had planned to use it as a base to visit Bryce, Zion and Grand Canyon NPs. Campgrounds in Kanab don’t leave a lot of choice, IMHO. All appear to be older ones, with RV Corral Campground being the best maintained from what we could tell. It fronts on Hwy 89 and a lot of highway noise is generated from that road. But at night it does get less truck traffic and with the AC running all night, it was tolerable for sleeping. We chose a full hookup pull through site, but after being there for a day or so, came to realize that the back in sites on the east side of the campground were much larger, away from the highway and just nicer. Next time we will request a back in site. The pull through sites are somewhat a mishmash of locations, the sites are not necessarily parallel to each other so if one rig pulls too far forward, they can block their neighbor from getting out of their site. The site we were in was too close to our next door neighbor as well.
Photos of Bryce and Red Canyon
On July 28th we pulled out of Kanab Utah and headed south on Hwy 89A, drove through the government campground in Jacob Lake, and will consider staying there the next time, if the weather (temperatures) would let us dry camp without AC. At Jacob Lake, the side road heads south to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, which we had visited the day before. The park campgrounds were full and they had no excess parking available for trailer parking, to allow for exploring the Park in your tow vehicle. So we were glad we had left our trailer in the Kanab campground where we were staying and just made a day trip to the park the day before leaving the area.
We were headed to Flagstaff and the roads varied between good to terrible on that run. Once we got far enough south to the intersection of the road going to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the road improved greatly. We just passed through Flagstaff as we planned to spend the night at the Holbrook KOA. Got to Holbrook, set up the trailer in the gravel parking lot type of campground, that is showing signs of too much deferred maintenance. A person in a weeks time, with some paint and a few hand tools could make the place look much better. A well run campground but maintenance, needs to become a priority with the owners, IMHO.
We spent two nights at the KOA and the second day we drove south to visit the Petrified Forest NP. It had been many years since we were there and not much had changed. Most of the petrified wood/trees are close to the south entrance, not the north entrance off of Interstate 40 where the Painted Desert NP part of the joint park is located. If a person just got off the Interstate and visited the north entrance, they wouldn’t see any of the petrified forest areas. Apparently much of the petrified wood/trees found in the area, is on private land, so the selling of petrified wood is a big part of the economy in the area. The last photo on the right is at the north entrance, the Painted Desert. Two different parks combined into one it would appear.
From the Holbrook area, it was headed home to Florida for us. The route was on west on Interstate 40, the next night was in Tucumcari New Mexico, where we stayed at the KOA campground. Another KOA in dire need of maintenance it appeared. Well run but appeared to be a one person operation. The next day on to Amarillo Texas, we turned off of Interstate 40 onto Hwy 287, for Wichita Falls , to Fort Worth to get on Interstate 20 to head west to Dallas and the night’s stop at Terrell, Texas. We stayed at the Blue Bonnet RV Park, one of the best laid out, maintained and run campgrounds that we visited this summer. It could be used as a model for anyone wanting to build a new campground. Nice large sites, long, not close to the neighbors, level and everything worked. There was the large silver building in Memphis Texas, obviously built before the highway was made into a 4 lane as one of the corners of the building had been cut off and filled in. Hwy 287 is a good way to get from the Texas Panhandle to the Dallas/Fort Worth part of the state. Not much to see, some beautiful farm and ranch land with several good looking small towns along the way. As you can see from the shot of our navigation (gps) screen, set for Dallas when we were not too far out of Amarillo, headed to Dallas. The next turn was going to be about 142 miles down the road. Easy stress free driving on this section of the highway. I tend to set the cruise control between 60 and 62 mph which gets us about 12 miles per gallon on flat ground pulling the 5th wheel trailer. Anything faster and the mileage drops quickly. The engine is happy sounding turning about 1,500 rpms. The Chevy diesel is sure quiet, compared to the older, 2002 Dodge Cummins diesel we did have as a tow vehicle.
From Terrell it was on west to Shreveport then SE on Interstate 49 to Breaux Bridge, Louisiana for the night. Poche’s RV Park and Fish Camp was our choice again, as we have stayed there before. A ways off the Interstate, 6 miles, but clean and great scenery and quiet. The only drawback was no cable TV at the sites and our over the air antenna didn’t pick up any watchable stations. (It was during the Olympics so we wanted to watch the games) We will often stay at the Lafayette KOA and should have that night but it is a few miles to the west of the Interstate 49 and 10 junction. That KOA is one of the best, in the franchise, that we have visited and we use lots of KOAs for one or two night stops.
The following night found us stopping at the Pensacola KOA, actually located in Milton Florida, and it was a first time for us there. Very nice and will be where we stop in the future, if in the area at stopping time.
Mileage for the trip – 8668
Average miles per gallon – 12.25 mpg. We purchased the Chevy one ton diesel truck, one week before we departed on this trip. Mileage started off at 9 mpg and increased throughout the trip to about 12.5 on flat land.
Avg. price per gallon of diesel - $3.728
Total fuel – 720.93 gallons of diesel
Total fuel cost - $2,687.63
Trip time was about 60 days