A last minute trip for sure. We were going to be gone the whole week, but the kids wanted to come back on Wednesday for their Master Clubs Ice Cream party! ANY time my kids want to go to church, I'm all for it! So we started making preparations for Cimmaron Canyon State Park in New Mexico. It was one of the only places with decent weather. Meal plan made, and things packed up, we eagerly awaited Monday morning so that we could hit the road!
We started by traveling south on I-25 towards New Mexico with an ultimate goal of arriving at Raton, NM and going west young man. Well, actually kinda south...by southwest.. or something like that.
We stopped in Raton because we forgot to pack our lunch (oops), and then headed on down the road. After we passed through Cimmaron (the town), we headed through some narrow canyons on our way to the campground. It was very obvious that there had been a fire there recently, as most of the trees were either torched or brown from the damage. We wondered if we had made a mistake with our choice, but no research that we came across mentioned a fire. As we got closer, the fire damage became less prevalent, eventually leading to green trees and minimal damage. Whew.
We arrived at the campground and got our pick of spots, as there were no other occupants, except for the deer high on the hill overlooking our activities. It looked like a tornado had hit the campground, there were fallen sticks, twigs, and trees everywhere. Oh well, let's just make the best of it!
We got setup and night fell. I had made some spaghetti sauce prior to the trip and put it in a vacuum seal bag in the freezer (NOT a Ziploc like our mistake in Day One of the Trip of A Lifetime!) so that we could just boil and serve! I have really been trying to make things less laborious and more enjoy-ious. We have been taking our leftovers and vacuum sealing them, marking them as "CAMPING", and tossing them in the freezer. That way, when it's time for camping, we just open the freezer, find what we want to take, and pull it out. We have found that this method of freeze and store, then boil and serve works extremely well for just about any type of food. We have even frozen corn dogs on a stick as a test, and it worked great! The only cleanup for this method is washing the serving spoon and other utensils! The added bonus is that the water you boil the food in can be used as wash water; by the time dinner is served and over, the water has cooled down enough to use to wash the utensils.
Back to the trip. After we cleaned up, it was time for bed. It was supposed to get a little chilly that night, so I turned on the furnace that we unable to coerce into proper operation properly during the Siblings Trip, turns out that if we would have tried it just one more time.....it would have lit up, just as I found out while prepping for this trip. I was packing up prior to this trip and decided to flip the switch on, and then walked off to get some tool. I noticed that "burning dust in the vent" smell, and rejoiced when the fan was blowing out HEAT! I wasn't sure what our first night camping would bring, but I cranked it up to about 60 just to keep the cold away. I have no idea how much propane is in the tank I stole from the grill....we'll see!
Well, I was in and out of sleep most of the night, which is typical for me on first night. It was not chilly at all. It was downright COLD. The heater stayed on all night long, and even though the thermostat was set at ~65, it was literally just enough to keep us from freezing to death. Ok, it wasn't really that bad inside, but our water jug outside developed a 16" icicle overnight! We were going to make cereal, but the milk froze solid due to being next to the salt ice block. Note to self: When setting up camp for the night, transfer groceries to the fridge so they don't freeze... So, we boiled water and had oatmeal for breakfast instead, much to the disappointment of several previously happy campers.
We took off to explore nearby Eagle Nest, NM, a small town close by. We also forgot to save the ketchup packets from our Raton stop, which were supposed to be kept and used for the hotdogs for dinner. We filled up the tank in the truck at the local gas station, and got free ketchup packets to boot!
This is the town where a street has "No Name". Literally, check out the pictures!
As we headed back to the camper, and as I am often accused of doing, we hit a 4X4 trail "just to see where it goes". We ended up on a series of switchbacks that eventually ended up at a cell tower. We were trudging along through snow, and on each southside slope, we were greeted with spotty snow about 6-8" deep! About 1/4 mile from the top, we speedily rounded a corner on another southside slope and were abruptly stopped by a 4' snow drift. Left a nice a Warn Winch imprint in it, so I guess it was time to turn around. The ENTIRE way up the mountain, poor Corey was scared that he was going to fall out of the truck and fall down the mountain! We did hit our share of snow on the way up, I must admit, but hey, that's what 4WD is for, right? No problem at all going through all of it, until we hit a wall (of snow). We headed back down and hit the local park office that was now open. The kids had a blast with the park ranger, and got a lot of stickers that they love to put on their water bottles!
We left and looked for a hiking trail, and found one, but Claire stepped in the icy cold waters with her little tiny weeny feet and didn't have a spare pair of shoes.. or socks.... so no hiking until these can dry out. Another lesson learned! Bring spare socks! We had lunch and set her shoes and socks in the sun to dry for a couple of hours, and played games and such. Once they were dry enough to actually chance hiking (and a blister!) we headed out to east side of the park. There are two decent size ponds there where they stock fish once a year. So we took off on the trail that leads around them....when someone in my hiking party had an "accident" of the number 2 kind. This day just keeps getting better!
We got back to the shower house, which is closed for the season, and were forced to use a portapotty. Not ideal, mind you, but perhaps sufficient. I sent the older sister in to assess the damage, and to my surprise it wasn't as bad as it seems. Then things turned from bad to worse, as when they were taking off pants to clean up, they were soiled too. I got a microfiber bath towel from my backpack and went in to rescue my little girl. We put clothing in the back, and a towel wrapped little one in her seat, and then headed back to camp for a bath. We never did get to hike :-( We just stayed around camp and explored the stream and other camp sites. We found some interesting items from lighters to tent pegs, but the kids were more interested in cleaning up the trash that was left behind by others. Ah, my good little campers.....
We finished up the night with a hot dog dinner and then made S'MORES! After we were all sugared up, we said prayers and hit the bed. I was hoping that the heater would last another night! I had charged the battery with my little 13 watt solar panel that just clips onto the battery. Hope that was enough of a charge to keep the heat going!
Several times during the night the heater failed to fire, so I had to turn the system off and back on again. Each cycle takes about 30-60 seconds to turn off, then 30-60 seconds to fire back up. It wasn't quite as cold this second night, so we stayed much warmer in the camper. As we finished up breakfast (sausage biscuits, heat and eat!), we emerged to find we had neighbors! I had noticed that a couple of people had setup camp: one tent and a Jeep with another popup. The tent campers greeted us on their way to the potty, I offered coffee, which they eagerly accepted. You can tell a coffee drinker by the eyes. Normally, it's the look of "I'm not awake yet, don't talk to me or I might kill you because I haven't had my morning coffee" that gives it away. Being a coffee drinker, I recognized right away that these campers needed some love in a cup. Found out that they were just traveling through on their way back from some "alternative medical treatments", although they didn't expound on what the issue was. We talked to them some more, and as they left, we told them we'd pray for them and said our goodbyes. We started packing up and left a little after noon. The trip was uneventful, and we made it home in record time! We made it to the kids Ice Cream night at church, and they had a blast! We discussed where we would like to go for the rest of the week, but inclement weather in the forecast for the rest of the week made the outlook grim. In looking at the surrounding areas, the only area that didn't seem to be affected was around Cañon City. We decided just to stay home and go bike riding on Thursday.
Thursday morning was gorgeous here in the Springs! A great day for bike riding. We woke up and had breakfast, then loaded the bikes up after getting tires aired up and chains oiled. On our way to drop off the camper, the kids all started the "Man, I wish we could go camping instead of bike riding..." manipulation tactics. It worked. I asked if they would just like to go camping instead, knowing that the Cañon City area was the only one not forecasted for bad weather. So we happily turned around, trudged back to the house to get clean clothes, grab the pantry box, and put some things in the cooler. We were out the door in literally 15 minutes!
Before we headed out of town, we hit the local US Forest Service office for the Pikes Peak Ranger District that is located in downtown Colorado Springs. It was kind of strange to see the familiar wooden Forest Service signs in an urban area! We entered into the facility and were greeted by Anthony Costa, a Visitor Information Services employee. My kids also spotted the copious quantities of US National Forest paraphernalia and were soon sporting stickers and becoming a walking billboard for the US Forest Service...... much to my horror. Anthony told the kids to take whatever they wanted, they had thousands of stickers and swag because they don't see very many kids in the office. So, as I got information on camping, they gladly stocked up on stickers and Smokey Bear swag! One interesting thing I found out from Anthony is that a popup camper is considered a tent, so we can use the dispersed camping areas just as if we were setting up a tent! This is BIG news, as it opens up a greater selection of camping spots for us! He e-mailed us a map of the mountains west of Pueblo, and some information about downloading the Avenza Maps application so that we can use the map off grid (which much of the National Forest lands are). I downloaded the app and loaded the map, and presto! It is a live tracking system on my phone, even off grid! It uses GPS technology from the phone, and markers in the file to track your position, no cell tower needed! Upon our exit from the office, our camper and water bottles were immediately adorned with US Forest stickers a plenty.
Since we have a Colorado Parks & Wildlife Annual Parks Pass, we decided to hit one of the State parks that was supposed to be in the no-bad-weather-zone, Pueblo Lake State Park. Now I'm not opposed to water, when it is a stream or river, but I'm not a big fan of large bodies of water, like big lakes or the ocean. My wife on the other hand is the complete opposite. Loves the beach, loves the ocean. I like canoes, and kayaks on a river or stream. I like fishing in that environment better than shore fishing. Anyway, we pulled into the state park, and looked around for a spot. If you are not familiar with Pueblo, it's pretty desert-ish, not mountainous and does not have many trees. So, being completely exposed with no protection from the wind is not a situation I like to be in, especially since our roof is only supported by four tiny little square tubes! I prefer to be sheltered if at all possible. Once we had decided on a spot, and as we were backing into said slot, a large gust of wind rocked the rig, and blew sand into our eyes (we had the windows down). No. No. No. No. Even the kids didn't like that event.
So once again, we headed west to the mountains, to our "comfort zone". We made our way through Wetmore, stopping only to take a picture of a church that a friend pastors, and then headed up the mountain. We had plans of going to the Davenport Campground, and proceeded up the long and windy road and found out that it was closed for the season. It would have been nice to have the dates of the "peak season" on the USFS page for this campground.
After a disappointing end to our journey, we decided that with our newly discovered information that we didn't need a campground...we could camp pretty much anywhere, so we headed back down the mountain to a pulloff we noticed on the way up that was near Hardscrabble Creek. When we got there, I pulled in and unloaded the bikes for the kids, but we quickly identified the storm that was rolling in and about to hit us. Much to the kid's disappointment, I made the executive decision to pull anchor and head home. Even in the protected cover of the trees, the wind was starting to get stronger, and I didn't want to chance being caught in a rainstorm, near a creek that has a potential to flash flood, with four kids. Not my favorite set of risks to take. So, we loaded up the bikes and headed home, traveling back through Wetmore, then Florence, Penrose and eventually Colorado Springs, all the while fighting the wind and light rain. We arrived back at home around 9:30PM, the kids were exhausted and went directly to bed while I unloaded the things that I didn't want to get wet or stolen.
We awoke to nearly 3" of snow on the ground! We all realized that God had protected us from what was to come. Each step of the way, we were told "No, not here" until we arrived at a place where we would be safe.
Praise Lord for His mercy and goodness!