This was a last minute trip after realizing that the kids were not in school on Friday, so I very quickly threw some things together, with really no destination in mind. This was to be the "dry run" of the Trip Of A Lifetime, testing out the theories and day to day setup and tear down of the camper and general testing of the planned plan for meal planning.
We loaded everything up and at the last possible minute, headed out the door with the mindset that we would find someplace easy to setup for the first night, just as we would be on the the big trip. We were planning on staying pretty close by, just in case we needed to jaunt home or to a store for something we missed, and as we headed south, we decided that we would try Cheyenne Mountain State Park.
It was, after all, Labor Day weekend, the last hoorah for camping in these parts for the most part. The park was full. So, with no other place to go, we continued to head south, until the "Check Charging System" light came on in the Pilot. Uh Oh. I promptly told the much disappointed kiddos that the weekend's festivities would have to be called off because of the alternator issue. With no auto parts store in site (or within 40 miles), I decided to continue on and try to find someplace to get an alternator. I texted a friend of mine who knew the area pretty well, and was told that there was an AutoZone in Canon City, so we headed that direction. It was getting dark by that time and when the headlights auto-magically came on, the dash lights quit. Oh dear.
We made it to the store, and I left the car running with the lights off. Was afraid that if I shut it down, I wouldn't get it started again. I bought a new alternator to the tune of $197, and that was with core charge, a price match from an online dealer, and a generous discount from the store manager after hearing about our not-quite-yet-but-soon-to-be-ended-too-soon camping trip, and the kids' utter disappointment. He pointed me to a KOA just down the road from Royal Gorge, dialed the number and handed me the phone. I made a reservation on the spot, then got directions from the manager. Told me that if I needed tools to install the alternator, to come on back and he'd help however he could. Such nice folks.
We made it to the KOA around 10PM and setup in the dark, most likely as we will be when we take the trip next month, although I hope it's not this late when we arrive. Got the kids all wrapped up and tucked in bed, then I slipped out to grab a quick shower, as we were right across from the shower house. Feeling refreshed, and dreading fighting with an alternator the next day, I turned in for the night.
We got up pretty early due to all the noise of being right across from the shower house. While I was getting things ready for packing up, the kids enjoyed themselves on the KOA playground. I don't really like RV parks for the most part, I'd rather settle into a campsite at a state park or a USFS site as they are normally a little farther apart and more private. For the purposes of our trip, and the circumstances, I suppose this time we'll allow it :-)
The kids had a good time on the playground while I packed up the car and the camper. After loading up the kids, I got in and put the key in the ignition....Only to remember that we had an alternator problem the night before. Sigh. The car started right up with no complaints. (Edit: And would continue to do so for the next two weeks...) We all shrugged our shoulders and decided that we would go to see Royal Gorge since we were here, and happily headed out to the attraction. We arrived and took several pictures before heading to the main building. After we got to it, the sticker shock hit. They wanted nearly $100 for our family to go see the bridge ($27/head and a little cheaper for the kids), but I decided since we lived close, we could always come back later. A few more pictures and then we were headed on to the next unknown destination. We headed out pretty early to see if we could get any spot, but were quickly realizing that with no advanced preparations for any sites, the pickin's were slim and it would probably be next to impossible to land a spot. We stopped at a trading post, bought the kids some souvenirs, and headed on through the Springs to Woodland Park, which is where we thought we'd have a good chance at another spot. I made a phone call to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and they pointed me to some sites, (both full), and as a last ditch effort, we pulled into the last one on our list. Not as easy as it sounds, we are talking M-I-L-E-S between all of the sites.... As we were attempting to communicate with my wife about our whereabouts, we pulled over at the entrance of the last site, desperately tugging at the last resemblance of a cell phone signal. While we were failing at our communication attempt, another vehicle pulled in front of us. I was getting nervous about not getting a spot, so we pulled in behind them, grabbed our paperwork and jumped back ahead of them. They decided to talk to the camp host, giving us just enough time to go around look at the sites.....and back into the last possible spot in the place! Oh the looks we got as they drove by.... Ya snooze, ya lose.
After we dropped the camper, we went back to the top of the hill, searching for a cell signal to relay the campground information to my now impatiently waiting wife, she wanted to come visit with the kids. We let her know where we were, and how to get there, then headed back to the site to get the camper setup. On our way back in, we bought some firewood from the camp host so that we could roast a dog and some Smore's for dinner.
Lisa came, and we spent a few hours enjoying the views, the kids, and just being together as a family in God's great creation. Lisa doesn't like to camp, so she headed back after we ate and cleaned up. The kids and I continued to hang out by the fire, it was nice. The newly wed couple next to us was having a hard time getting their fire started, so I offered to help. Well, they were having issues keeping the fire going.....they had bought 6 bundles of firewood and split every one of them into kindling wood, so their fire would flare up and then die down due to the very quick consumption of the wood the guy made toothpicks out of. I gave them a full bundle and what we had left because we weren't going to use it, and then taught him about firewood. They had a nice fire for the rest of the night, while ours slowly died out. We made preparation for prayers and bed, and we slept very well.
We got up pretty early, and packed up while the kids played in the woods near the site. We knew the day would be short, as we had to get back, get unpacked, and put the camper back in storage by night fall. We don't miss church services because we are camping, so we always come back on Saturday. We did, however, want to go hike down to Rampart Reservoir and check it out, so we packed up and headed out. We grabbed our hydration packs, some trail mix, granola bars and hit the trail. It was a beautiful hike! All downhill to the reservoir too! The kids enjoyed watching the water rush down the little creek to the lake, and looking at all of the wildlife that was around. Squirrels, rabbits, deer, and of course...a skunk. We decided to look at him/her from a safe distance... We headed back up after enjoying the lake, drove around to the dam, got denied crossing the dam by the rent-a-cop, so we just decided to head on back home. We were going to go back through Woodland Park, the way we came, but I had heard from a friend that the Rampart Range Road that we were on would actually spit you out at the Garden of the gods (little g), so we decided we would take that route instead...pulling the camper....with no idea where we were going....or the condition of the roads....Hey, you only live once :-)
I must say that the views were incredible coming down the graveled, twisting, and hairpin turn filled road. Some places were rougher than a cob, but all in all, it wasn't that bad. We stopped at a few overlooks for photo opportunities, and when we got in cell phone range, even Facetime'd with Aunt T in Texas (you know, just to make her jealous). The looks we got as we finally pulled down into the Garden of the gods park were somewhere between "Where did those people come from?!?!" and "You people are crazy!" We then hit the trading post for some ice cream, and headed home.
All in all, it was a great trip. Last minute. Full of surprises. Full of spontaneity. And lots of memories.
(Edit: For some reason the pictures in the photo gallery are in reverse order. I'll have to fix that at some point, but for now...enjoy our trip..in reverse!)