First Time Boondocking in Colorado

As bummed as we were about missing Moab, we were crazy excited to be seeing our friends in Colorado, and since we only had a three hour drive we headed out bright and early.  We made one quick stop first and picked up a Mr. Heater. We first learned about these when we were boondocking in Quartzsite and many of the folks who boondocked a lot swore by them.  They are small propane heaters that you can put inside your rig, and then you put a hose through a window (leaving it open a little for fresh air to get in) to the propane tank outside.  They are so popular because they “sip” propane and are much more efficient than a regular furnace, but neither Lee or I was ever that crazy about having a propane heater in the rig.  And let me be super clear here, this is NOT something you should try unless you are familiar with all of the risks, but in our case with a broken furnace and heading to near freezing temperatures at night we decided we would give it a try.

Thankfully they had 1 left and we actually already owned the hose we would need so only ended up spending $68.  Plus Lee has been participating in a Walmart Savings program  that Cori told us about where you download their app and scan your receipts and the computer knows when you are paying more for an item than somewhere else locally and refunds you the difference.  Yep crazy right, but it seems to work and we had $35 sitting in an account.  Unfortunately , we couldn’t figure out how to get it out of the account, and Lee spent over 20 minutes at Walmart with associates and ultimately on the phone with tech support before we could get the money.  Hey, I admire his stick-to-it-ness, but I really just wanted to get on the road and was really happy when they finally figured it out.  Plus, $35 is $35, and that took the purchase down to $33 in our minds.

Finally we were back on the road and headed towards Poncha Springs and the drive along Highway 50 was really pretty.  We love using secondary highways and this definitely gave  us a chance to do that, although it was slow going in spots due to construction taking the road down to one lane.  Still it was pretty, the sun was mostly shining, and the stop we made for a quick lunch was absolutely breathtaking.

Rolling hills and big sky

This single arch McDonald’s caught my attention. Don’t think I have ever seen that before. I think it was because we were so close to the Rockies

Huge reservoir with lots of places to camp

This was our lunch spot. And yes, it looked exactly like this. Could be a pic for a car commercial!

The forecast called for rain and the closer we got to Monarch Pass the cloudier it was, but thankfully it only sprinkled a little.  Plus the higher we climbed the more trees were in fall color and the aspens were really lovely.  Everything was good until we got close to the top of the pass and then it was total fog.  Lee was amazing, driving carefully along a ten mile stretch of highway with numerous 35 mph curves and a 6% grade and although I have absolute confidence in his driving it was nerve wracking.  It was the difficulty of the road as much as how long it was, and the terrible visibility at the top didn’t help.  Oh, and did I mention the gas light came on when we were coming down and I was crazy nervous about that?  When we pulled into the gas station in Poncha Springs it said we had 9 miles left, but we actually had 4 gallons in the tank.  Extreme grades can do funny things to your mileage calculations, and Lee felt pretty confident based on the mechanical line gauge we were fine.  When we got to the bottom a local came and talked to Lee and told him it was the second worst pass in Colorado.  That made us both feel a little better, and it really felt like we had accomplished something!

Clouds started rolling in

Beautiful aspens in color

It was clear until we hit the wall of fog

This was at the height of the pass and I guess there are beautiful views and a nice gift shop at the top on a clear day. Our views were so poor we didn’t even know a gift shop was there until I saw a little corner of the building as we were passing it.

On the way back down we passed back out of the fog. As you can see here it was a pretty clear line where it ended

And I should say here that our Rand McNally RV GPS was a lifesaver. I know some people travel without them, but numerous times we have found them invaluable.  There are lots of low bridges in New England where we started out and we never had an issue.  We also used it as our main navigation tool (along with a map) when traveling through Canada, and we really like the warnings for curves and steep downgrades when traveling in the mountains.  We also used the Mountain Directory which is a $10 app that gives detailed instructions on passes and other dangerous road conditions.  It rates pretty poor in design and doesn’t get updated often, but you can trust the information in it because it is specifically written for truckers and RV’s. Sometimes what we consider tough conditions don’t rate a mention on the Mountain Directory and that’s where having real-time cautions from the GPS comes in handy.  I really like it, because I am a less experienced driver and it allows me to slow down in advance of a situation rather than waiting until I see the sign and am right on it.

After fueling up we went to the Poncha Springs Visitor’s Center which has a dump ($7 but takes cards) and potable water for a $5 donation.  It also has a huge parking lot and this is a good place to drop the trailer or unhitch your Toad and scope out the area.  There are numerous boondocking spots in the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area which is all around Poncha Springs, but we were lucky because we had friends waiting for us who came and showed us the way.  We drove a few miles up on 285 and they took us to their spot.  Even though they were with us, we still got out of the truck and walked our route before deciding where to park.  We knew it was going to rain so we were extra careful to pick a spot that was hard packed and had lots of vegetation to hold in any rain we got.

Here’s our spot

View from the door of the rig

Canyon right down the way was really beautiful

As soon as we arrived we started to set up quickly and our refrigerator/stove slide decided that was the moment to completely die. The good news is we have other service work scheduled in Columbus already anyway so we added that to the list and the fridge and stove still work in the in position. (If you’re going to have a slide die on you, in is better than out. – Lee)  The bad news was our coffee maker was completely blocked but I was able to get to everything else. (We keep our stovetop percolator in another place, so we were able to have coffee. We’re not animals. – Lee) Don’t get me wrong, it was a major bummer, but honestly the excitement of being with our friends completely washed it away.  These rigs simply aren’t made for what we put them through, and things break sometimes.  (I’ve actually had this same issue on two other slides, and I even have the spare part to fix it, but I didn’t want to waste our time with the gang tinkering with it, and I also didn’t want to start to fix it, and run the risk of having something go wrong and have it stuck in the out position. I’ve been able to push in the other slides with help when they’re broken, but the fridge/stove slide is much bigger, and much, much heavier. – Lee) It isn’t a case of if, but rather when, and you just have to learn to deal with it.  My first thought honestly was thank God it didn’t break in the out position, because that would have been a huge deal.  Instead we can limp along until we get to Columbus and if we can function, we can deal with it. (It only blocks the cabinet with the coffee machine, everything else is accessible. And the fridge and stove can still be used. – Lee)

Plus, Greg had taken his role as host very seriously.  Cori had a last minute work trip and she wasn’t there our first day, so Greg cooked us a brisket and made all the food arrangements.  Our group learned about cooking for other people on their travel days in our first RV-Dreams rally and we all take it pretty seriously.  The idea is to save the incoming travelers the hassle of worrying about food, so they can set up quickly and everyone can start spending time together right away.  Greg was really excited about trying out the new Junior Elite smoker he bought (sometimes I really envy them the storage they have in their Class A) because it uses almost no electricity, and is great for boondocking.  Sharon chipped in some amazing bacon wrapped green beans.  Seriously, they were totally awesome and I got her permission to include them in my next recipe book.

We also got to meet some friends of Greg and Cori’s that they had met at an Xcapers rally at Joshua Tree.  Dave and Mairead (rhymes with parade) are Irish, and both full-time RVers.  Mairead works as a programmer on the road and they love boondocking as they travel.  I loved meeting both of them and instantly felt super comfortable and we had a great time getting to know each other and talking about working on the road.  (I liked them too, but they talk funny. – Lee) Heather and Paul (their RV was down by the canyon) also stopped by and soon Cori and Greg’s”party bus” was full of folks.  It really was a great evening and Greg did a wonderful job, even if the brisket wasn’t served until almost 8pm :P. (Greg and Cori’s rig is amazing. We once had a sit-down-at-tables dinner in there with 14 people! Book it for all your special events and parties. – Lee)

Mairead and Dave

Finally we all went to bed, and the Heater Buddy worked really well.  It was cold and rainy that night and the heater raised the temperature from 50 to 60 degrees pretty quickly.  We decided not to leave it on all night, better safe than sorry, but after running the generator for 10 minutes and using the electric blanket to heat up the bed we were nice and toasty warm.  Cori ended up getting into Denver well after 10pm and she wanted to see us so much she drove down from Denver in the dark and snow, getting in after 1am  to make sure she was there in the morning.  I can’t even express how humbled I was that someone would go to that type of trouble and it really shows how deep and special all of these friendships are.

Around 9am she texted to say she was awake and we went down right away and that’s when I gave Hobie his present.  Lee wanted Cori to be there to experience the magic moment, but all of us were surprised when he absolutely hated the rubber oinking pig I bought him.  Yes, I knew it was obnoxious, that’s part of the fun of being Aunt Tracy, but I was at a bit of a loss when Hobie started barking angrily at it.  Eventually he calmed down and I am happy to report it has become one of his new favorite toys.  Cori is very happy with me 🙂

Initially not a fan

But eventually the tail started wagging


So we hung out all day, just catching up, and I ran into Salida at one point with Dave and Sharon.  That is a cery cool little town, and Dave was nice enough to fill me in on the history. Definitely would like to come back and spend some more time there, but we needed to get back so Dave and Sharon could start their chili.  I didn’t expect two meals, but I was happy to have chili, and I made some garlic biscuits to go along with Cori’s cornbread.  The coolest part was they cooked it in a cast iron pot that has been in Sharon’s family for many generations, and it was cooked over a campfire on an iron tripod that Dave had picked up when someone gave it away at a campground he was hosting at.  Let me just say that was some damn good chili, and since it had stopped raining we all sat around the campfire and had a wonderful time.

Cori showing Lee her frozen alcohol pops. (Freeze pops for grown ups!!! – Lee) 

Lee declared them excellent

Cool way to cook chili

Lee, Sharon, Greg, and David hanging out

Beautiful skies when the sun cleared on the second day and the ground thankfully was just fine.  We put the propane tank on a little stool outside of our kitchen window and the heater buddy was just inside.

All group campfires are special, but once in awhile you hit conversation gold.  Dave and Mairead both have wicked senses of humor and Lee and Greg were in fine form as usual.  I haven’t laughed that hard in a really long time and at one point had to move physically away from Mairead because she was cracking me up so much my sides hurt.  (If it doesn’t hurt at least a little bit, it’s not that funny. – Lee) It was so much fun and we all had a wonderful time, and any care or concern I had just went away.  Plus, we definitely felt like we earned our state sticker which was pretty awesome, and the next morning I put Colorado on the map!! We like to have a special memory associated with every sticker and this one will definitely stay with us.

Greg, Sharon, David, Cori, Dave, Mairead, and Lee

We really hated to leave everyone and got a very late start (for us) of 10:30am, but we knew we were headed to see Deb and Steve some that was some consolation.  And just in case I didn’t miss them enough, David sent me a picture they took a couple hours later because finally all the clouds had cleared.  They kept saying they wished we could see the mountains, but truly we were having so much fun it wasn’t a big deal.  Here’s what we missed though, and it did take some discipline not to turn around, because WOW I wish I could have seen that.

That empty space to the right is where we were parked! We just couldn’t see the mountain because of clouds. Oh well, definitely have to go back!

One last thing.  I am sure you are all wondering where this spot was, and I get it, because I would have wanted to know the same thing.  The etiquette around sharing the exact location of these coveted spots is a little delicate, because lots of people (ourselves included) don’t like to share our exact location when we are boondocking, for many reasons, not the least of which is safety. It’s one thing to advertise your location in real time when you are surrounded by people, but being alone and away from “help” out in the middle of nowhere is a little more unsettling. For us it’s a safety concern, and although we have left our friends are still there. I will say there are LOTS of cool spots in this area, so spots just like it aren’t hard to find. Our friend Deb is absolutely the campground whisperer and she finds amazing spots whether by exploring or reading many other blogs and noting the locations.  Since she is so great at finding places, many of us copy off her paper 🙂 and  I think it’s fair to say if you want to camp this way you should definitely read Deb’s really great travel blog.

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19 thoughts on “First Time Boondocking in Colorado

  1. So glad you were all able to spend time together. RV Buddies are the best and that crew is exceptional:o)) Laughter is the best medicine and from the photos, we could tell you had a blast!! Safe Travels and Happy Trails….

    • We talked about you guys too!! we are finalizing our plans for Charleston and I promise to reach out once I have the dates firmed up. Would love to see you and Dave and Sharon miss you guys!

  2. I was going to get the Mountain Directory App, but read the terrible reviews and passed. So far our Garmin 760 has served us well in the mountains. Jealous of you guys! Wish we had more time to spend with Cori and Greg, but that one afternoon was a lot of fun. Safe travels.

    • Lee is a big fan but he really likes to prepare. He even google mapped the pass prior to going over it to get a feel for the terrain. Hey we did something your jealous of…usually it’s the other way around 🙂

  3. I wonder if one could walk over to those mountains in the back ground and just start climbing. Cool photo with the snow line.

    Steve and Debbie left Kansas City a few days ago. They said they were heading north to meet with you guys. What a cool couple.

    • So sorry we had to fly right by you Mark..but glad you got to meet Deb and Steve! We are with them now and they really enjoyed meeting you both. We are definitely coming back through to see Kansas City and Dodge City so next time for sure…or better yet we will meet on the road!

  4. Until the 70s, McDonald’s had two single arches, not connected into the “M” like now. I remember fondly eating at one with my grandmother in Whitehall, and it kept it’s original sign for a long time.

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