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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Colorado National Monument (with video) - Sept 2016

The fourth part of our loop took us from Streamboat Springs, Colorado to the Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction.

The Colorado National Monument is spectacular!!!!  We were mesmerized. This is a gem that you rarely hear much about.  (National Monuments in general are under-appreciated.)

Courtesy Google Maps

[This is actually Vlog #3]

After another great breakfast at Freshies Restaurant in Steamboat Springs, we drove four hours to the Saddlehorn Campground in the Colorado National Monument.

We love this park. The views are incredible. The hikes are along straight edge cliffs (watch the kids here closely). We had a fantastic time.

The Saddlehorn Campground is nice. It's an older campground and has lots of un-level spots. The farthest loop ("B") is the nicest loop. You can reserve the sites on loop B.  If a site is marked "open" on loop B, you can stay one night without a reservation. There are a few sites with great views. It's $20 bucks a night (standard rate). There is a fee to get in the park without a "America the Beautiful" pass / card. There are tables and fire grills. Water is available from a few spigots in the area. There are nice bathrooms with flush toilets. I thought I saw that the bathrooms were heated, as many national park managed bathroom tend to be.  You can get large rigs up here. We saw 5th wheels and large buses in some sites. There are walk-in sites for traditionalists and youngins.

I believe we were in site 47, which was relatively flat (I did put a flat rock under one tire) and had a great view if you walked a few steps down towards the site table.

We toured the visitor's center that is within walking distance to the campground. We watched the informative geology movie. We walked from the campground to the nearby Window Rock overview site. WOW what a view!

The next morning, we ate our oatmeal, packed up and took the incredible scenic drive south through the park. The views are unbelievable. If you are a fan of the Grand Canyon, you will likely love this place too.

We then drove south to Orvis Hot Springs (commercial) near Ridgeway, Colorado where we soaked and read our books. We spent a restful night there. The next morning we drove over the million dollar highway to Durango. The aspens were in full color and spectacular.

We continued to Farmington, New Mexico and to our favorite Tequila's Restaurant there. This family Mexican restaurant is very pleasant with great food.

After a great meal we headed the rest of the way uneventfully home to Los Alamos. What a fun trip!

Our Saddlehorn Campground loop B sites. Colorado National Monument.

There's a Monkey!

Karen getting the shot.

A fifth wheel headed up to the campground.

The tunnel said 10' 4".  We are taller than that and we had plenty of room. Weird.

Hard work to build the road up here.

They are not kidding. Watch those kiddos closely!!!

A great meal at Tequila's in Farmington, New Mexico.

Greg's plate. So good!

Outside Tequila's in Farmington New Mexico. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Steamboat and Strawberry Hot Springs

The third part of our loop took us from O.C. Mugrage Campground to Steamboat, Colorado. After the rain and light snow at the beginning of our trip, the weather had turned perfect.

The drive was only about two hours. We arrived at Steamboat in the late morning and decided to have breakfast at our favorite local restaurant, Freshies.

Freshies has gluten free pancakes with blueberries! We actually went to Freshies twice on this trip. We went the second time after leaving from our two nights at Strawberry Park Hot Springs. At the first meal Greg ordered eggs, hash browns and four pancakes. The cost of Greg's meal came out to 20 bucks!!!!  Karen ordered off a special weekday deal menu and her's cost $7. Greg got smart the second meal and ordered off the $7 menu and then added a side of two gluten free pancakes, much cheaper and it was still plenty of food. The pancakes are HUGE, HUGE and AMAZING, as Trump would say!!!! "You will love them - I promise! Believe me! Believe me!"

Strawberry Park has only one vehicle camping spot. You can get a tall van sized vehicle in there. I don't think you could get anything larger than a van in. I don't think they would allow anything bigger. (The website says NO RVs.) Certainly not a travel trailer or a C class. (You can always call them and check.) There is not much room to turn around. It is a very tight road up there. It takes a bit of doing to get the van in correctly.

We arrived at our check-in time of 3pm. The road up was extremely ruff. It's a potholed dirt road with some really steep and scary sections. In winter, you are required to have four wheel drive. (There is a 4x4 shuttle that will take you up from town for a fee.)

We had a great time soaking often during our two night stay. It is fantastic to see the sparkling clear night sky from the warmth of the pools.

You can hike to the hot springs from a hiker's parking lot near town. It's about a two and a half mile hike in. Greg took the hike down and back to get some exercise. It's a nice hike with a good bit of elevation gain.

If you want to go to Strawberry Park, there are some things you must know. They do not take credit cards!!!!!  Let me repeat: N O   C R E D I T    C A R D S.

We always have cash on hand ready to go when we arrive here. Don't bring alcohol, glass or pets. If you come for the day, you MUST leave by 10 pm, when an employee announces that day-use folks must head for their cars. The county requires Strawberry Park to have an empty parking lot after 10pm. The pools area is clothing optional (and no kids) after dark. You can't see a thing so it doesn't really matter what you wear. If you rent a spot overnight, you can soak until 12 pm. It's nice when the typically noisy day people are all gone!

Some folks refer to the Strawberry Park attendants as the "Spa Nazis." If you remember the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld, you will recall that you must follow the proper procedure to get your delicious soup.

It's like that here at Strawberry Park. If you pay correctly with cash and acknowledge (and follow) all the rules you will have a deliciously spectacular hot springs experience.

If you don't go with the program, you are likely to hear, "No Spa For You."  Not a few people have been brusquely expelled for ignoring the rules or for being difficult. The staff here do not suffer fools lightly.

We have never had an problems with the staff and have found them to be helpful. We read the rules ahead of time and are prepared. We ask few questions. We have always enjoyed our stays.

My theory on why the customer service at Strawberry Park is considered, by some, to be lacking is that they are trying to maintain a rustic springs atmosphere and not a resort atmosphere. They want to take your money and let you have a great experience without a lot of hand holding and interference. They have to deal with a lot of pain-in-the-ass people who don't come prepared, who think it's some sort of resort where they will be pampered. It's not.

Over time, I believe the staff has developed a bit of a thick skin and aren't willing to put up with stuff that other places might be more equipped to handle. There are very few staff at Strawberry and so prices are kept very reasonable ($15 for adults).

I like the attitude. I would hate to see it become a foofy type place like Ojo Caliente has become, in New Mexico. Ojo caters to people with a large staff and foofy facilities and so prices have gone sky high.

Read the rules before you go: Strawberry Park Hot Springs Website.

If you go, check out the bathrooms. They are incredible. They are made with different types of wood, stone, glass and metal.

The glass windows in the lower bathroom.

Amazing crystal rock work in the lower bathroom.
The outside of the lower bathroom. The guy that owns this place is really into rock work big time.
Strawberry Park Hot Springs. A heavenly spot.

You can also rent a couple cabins or these gypsy trailers to stay overnight. There are also a few walk-in  tent camping spots.

The table at our vehicle camping spot.

The view from our table.

The vehicle camping spot is on a big slope. It's kinda of a weird spot, but we enjoyed it. Technically, this is called a tent camping site where you can sleep in your vehicle. The website says: NO RVs.

Gluten Free Blueberry Pancakes at Freshies. This is what they serve in Heaven.

Friday, October 14, 2016

O. C. Mugrage Campground and Radium Hot Springs

The second part of our Colorado loop took us from Matchless Campground on Turquoise Lake near Leadville to O.C. Mugrage Campground near Kremmling. Part of the trip was on Interstate 70. We really dislike driving on Interstate 70. The highway is curvy and goes up and down a lot and has a million crazed truckers trying to get their loads from A to B as fast as possible. It's a hairy drive and we try to avoid it when possible.

O.C Mugrage is a small free campground that has no facilities other then one vault toilet (which was surprisingly clean). It has about 8 or so sites. It's in the Radium State Wildlife Area. There are rock fire pits spread across the area. 

There was a small, older class C there. It might be a pain to get a big Class A in, but it could probably be done with some effort. There is a nice creek through the area. A trail to Radium Hot Springs begins on a very steep hill from the campground. It's about a 20 minute hike to the springs. Hot spring location: 39.959908, -106.540713. You can hear trains as they go by, but it's not super loud. We enjoyed hearing them. There are some beautiful trees and grass. 

We enjoyed our overnight here and the soak at the hot springs. The hot springs are very popular with rafters and there are hike-in campsites just above the hot springs. The road in to the CG (New Trough Road [CR 1] is well graded because there appears to be fracking trucks traveling the area. CR-11 is good also.). There was no cell coverage on Verizon. Pack your trash out - people trash the hot springs and if it keeps up, the forest service will take action and ruin it for everyone.

O.C. Mugrage signs.

Our campsite. It was near a creek.

Beautiful trees here.

Trail to Radium Hot Springs. The first 100 feet are very steep with loose rocks. 

Greg standing just above the Hot Springs.

There is a shoot from the top you must scrabble down to reach the Hot Springs.

Headed down.

One of the other soakers.

Radium Hot Springs on the Colorado River.

Two soakers paddled to the Hot Springs.

Karen and Greg in Radium Hot Springs, Colorado.

Looking down at the Hot Springs from the cliff above. Some folks jump into the river from here. Seems dangerous to us.
We were so mellowed out from our Soak that we forgot to do another video.

Next Up: We head for Steamboat Springs and Strawberry Hot Springs.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Matchless Campground on Turquoise Lake near Leadville Colorado - VBlog #1

In late September, we went on a week-long van camping vacation. Our trip was a loop from our home in Los Alamos, NM through Colorado. First, it was up to Matchless Campground on Turquoise Lake near Leadville, Colorado. Next, we continued up to an area near Kremmling where we hiked to and soaked in a cool natural hot springs right on the Colorado River. We then went to Steamboat Springs and stayed a couple of nights at the amazing Strawberry Hot Springs resort. Next, we headed to the fabulous Colorado National Monument west of Grand Junction. Finally, we spent a night at Orvis Hot Springs and then trucked over the Million Dollar Highway to home.  It was another great trip.

We decided to try a video blog for this trip. Here is the first part: Matchless Campground. The video is a bit rough. I (Greg) have done video production in a former life, but I'm really rusty and need to get back into the workflow of it all....

The first part of our trip. Courtesy Google Maps.

The Golden Burro Cafe in Leadville, Colorado. 
Karen at the Golden Burro Cafe counter. Good service and food, but a little drafty.

Booths at the Golden Burro Cafe.
 We had a nice breakfast at the Golden Burro Cafe in Leadville, Colorado. The place is a little drafty so bring a sweater or a jacket, but the food and service are quite good.

Below are some of the sights from our walk in downtown Leadville.

The Moose is Loose!

We found Food Trucks here. (I wish Los Alamos had some.)

Really? Can I hire a Sherpa to carry it?

The bike shop here had mountain bikes in the window for six grand. We will walk, thank you very much. 

"Best Wild West Saloon in America" in historic Leaville, Colorado.
Beautiful Turquoise Lake near Leadville, Colorado at sundown.

The first night was stormy, windy and cold at Turquoise Lake. The weather was great after that.

Enjoying an easy dinner in the van.

More sights in Leadville. I guess this race is an actual thing!

10th Mountain Division training - painting.

Camp Hale (north of Leadville) is now a nice boondocking area, apparently.

Outside a place that serves low priced steak deals. We've heard from others that the steaks are delicious.

Overlooking Leadville from the historic mining area. Turquoise Lake in the background.

A 360 degree view.  You can more around in the Google Photosphere.  You can't really see it here, but there is an old train trip that leaves from downtown and takes you on a tour up a ways into the mountains. We want to return and take the train at some point. There is also a really nice paved bike path that circles the town and goes up into the mining area.

Mining area.

Abandoned Mine

Flat enough to boondock here: 39.238587, -106.237171.

Turquoise Lake

Monkey Love. The love graffiti was already there. 

An outstanding view!

The campgrounds on Turquoise Lake
After a nice breakfast at the Golden Burro in Leadville, we drove the van up to the old mining area. The roads are well maintained dirt roads. We had no trouble going up quite a ways to get great views. There is some good boondocking up in this area to the east of Leadville like the spot at: 39.238587, -106.237171.

Matchless Campground, normally in the summer months, has a fee ($20), but after Labor Day the company that runs the campground concession for the forest service lets folks camp for free until about Oct 2nd. (check before you go as the rules could change.) There was one open vault toilet in the upper camping lot. There are tables and fire grills in the upper lot. You can also RV in a lower lot that is just a big parking lot. Don't camp in the boat ramp lot as they lock the gate to that lot at about 7 pm and they get pissed if you are still in that lot when they close the gate. There was a guy working the boat ramp to inspect boats and spray them off if needed to remove nasty invasive water creatures. This CG is first-come first-served.  It's designed for big rigs and fishermen pulling boats, but you can camp here in most any type of setup or tent. It's popular for fishing.

We took a hike along the shore and to check out the campgrounds, which are nice.

We enjoyed our stay here and would return.

Next up: Radium Hot Springs and Mugrage Campground on the Colorado River.

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