National Park-a-palooza in Colorado

In Fruita, Colorado, they tell you about Dinosaur Hill, where someone found a huge dinosaur skeleton in 1901. What they don’t tell you until you’ve hiked to the top of the steep hill is that the skeleton and everything else interesting was shipped to Chicago. Congratulations on walking up the hill, though.

The rest of Colorado, however, lived up to the billing. As a matter of fact, Kansas and Nebraska also lived up to their billing. Here goes.

Colorado National Monument

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From Moab, Colorado National Monument is not a far drive and it came highly recommended from an outdoorsy buddy of mine Jeremy. He knew what he was talking about, because, while small, it was another great example of the wild western land.

We hiked several trails, looked unsuccessfully for bighorn sheep, saw some pinyon jays, drove the Rim Rock Road and learned about the interesting history of the park. This park was basically created and maintained by one very determined guy John Otto. I’m very thankful for the work put in because Colorado National Monument is a special place.

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The overlooks, trails and gnarled pinyon pines are a must-see if you are ever passing along I-70.

Our campground, Monument RV Resort was not far from the the park and walking distance to Dairy Queen. It’s a good thing we only stayed one night.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

IMG_1020Going through Colorado, we have four spots we really wanted to see: Colorado National Monument, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Mesa Verde National Park and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We really only had time for three of them. Since Mesa Verde was mostly closed for the season and for construction, we went for the Black Canyon, even though it still had a lot of closures for snow.

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 11.26.08 AMWe camped at a nice little campground in Montrose, Colorado called Cedar Creek. It had a fun mini-golf course that included the toughest hole I’ve ever seen. Putt-putters were required to put their golf balls into the shallow crater of a 24-inch tall volcano. I think it took us about 17 or 18 tries each to get the balls in there. That will wreck a scorecard pretty quickly.

We stayed one night there and got up that morning to head over to the Black Canyon, while the snow was piled up everywhere and only a small section of the park road was drivable, I’m really glad we went in the winter because the white snow on the black rock of the canyon walls was really pretty. The canyon was steep and deep with the violent, winding Gunnison River snaking through the bottom.

We had worn shorts and t-shirts to play putt-putt the day before, then put on three layers plus jackets to go into the mountains for the park.

Braden was also thrilled to play in the snow, but quickly got very cold and wet. We made it our goal to get him some waterproof gloves after that. He flopped into the snow, threw snowballs and was generally just thrilled to play in it.

Curecanti National Recreation Area

IMG_1135I was less excited to drive in it and we were fortunate to be coming through right after the “Snow chains required” signs were taken down. As we left Black Canyon, the sides of the roads were covered in snow, but the roads were clear. We could look out and see people ice fishing on the frozen rivers and lakes. I’ve always wanted to try ice fishing, but today was not the day. Some of the lakes had open water only a few hundred feet from where people were fishing through the holes in the ice. Seems a little risky to me.

Great Sand Dunes

IMG_1168After all of the fun we had at White Sands National Park in New Mexico, we were excited to check out the Great Sand Dunes National Park. One of the songs on Braden’s Junior Ranger CD we’d been listening to since South Dakota last summer referred to Great Sand Dunes as a “beach party at high altitude” and “America’s sand box.” I had also seen a film about sand-boarding at that park from our very first Lookout Wild Film Festival. The park itself was great. The dunes were bigger than we ever imagined and the snow-capped Rockies made for an incredible background. We rented a sand sled and cruised down the slopes before a slightly controlled crash at the end. The sand was very … invasive and got into everything. We put our buffs over our mouths and noses to keep it out. If the wind blew, you had to just close your eyes and mouth until it stopped.

IMG_7504When asked if he liked the dunes at White Sands or Great Sand better Braden said White Sands because the sand there was “more comfortable.” But the dunes were much bigger here, making for longer, faster sled rides. This led to me lose a chunk of skin from one finger when I held on to the sled a little too long, but otherwise, the sledding was safe and fun. Because it’s all sand, the dogs were allowed in the park, where as with most national parks, they’ve had to stay behind in the RV.

Outside of the park, however, we were not impressed with Eastern Colorado. Jess noted that they paint this nice upscale picture of Colorado, but we clearly found the underbelly. We observed a man standing on the roof of a badly leaning shelter that seemed to be supported primarily by a dead tree.

“That doesn’t look safe,” Jess said. 

“Eastern Colorado doesn’t look safe,” I replied.

The KOA near the park was closed for the season, so we stayed at the Economy RV park in Alamosa, Colorado. The review I posted of the park on the AllStays app we use to find campgrounds sums it up pretty well:

“You found it! The worst campsite in America! Parking lot of 16-18 sites packed very close. So close we had to share a pedestal and since my neighbor was already using the 30amp, I used an adapter to plug into 50. Gravel lot looks like the surface of the moon with the ruts and craters. Savage sounding bully-breed dogs in the permanent residents’ RVs. Verizon cell service works in the road, but not at the park. Kids on go karts or four wheelers right behind the park. Oh, and the roosters get up early! Worst of all it was $30 which is the most overpriced $30 you will ever see. In 300 days on the road, this was the second time I’ve ever locked my storage doors under the RV. It’s that sketchy. The only reason to stay here is if you want to say you’ve stayed at the worst campground in America!”

The fierce sounding dogs next seemed to be three pit bulls. And they exploded into a trailer-shaking rage anytime we opened our door. Jess never left the camper the 18 hours we were there.

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Aside from the lousy campground, from March 12 to 20 we saw seven units of the National Park system in eight days:

  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Arches National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Colorado National Monument
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
  • Curecanti National Recreation Area
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park

That’s certainly a part of this trip we will always remember.

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