Saturday, August 1, 2015

Ghost Town Boondocking at Alta Lakes

I love fields of flowers in the shadow of beautiful mountains
[By Karen]

Because of working full-time, we have to grab time to escape to the mountains whenever we can. I took off last Friday through Sunday and we headed off to Colorado from our home in New Mexico for a little adventure.

We keep our camper van loaded with all the things we need to head out quickly. It usually takes us less than an hour to load up the food, clothes, get ice and gas and be on the road. We left early on Friday morning last week.

PJ's Gourmet Market, Durango Colorado
We drove via Farmington up to Durango. We planned two food related stops while in Durango before heading up the Million Dollar Highway to Ridgway. Our small hometown doesn't have many restaurants, so when we travel we like to eat out. Our first stop was near the Walmart to have lunch at the Mongolian Grill. Very reasonably priced, delicious and packed with veggies! Our second stop was at PJ's Gourmet Market [67 Trimble Lane] (across the highway from Trimble Hot Spring resort). We bought gluten free cupcakes and veggies for Saturday's dinner.
Million Dollar Highway loopty loop 
One of our favorite spots to soak and camp overnight is Orvis Hot Springs which is between Ouray and Ridgway. We also really like the hot springs at Ouray, but it is much more crowded on a summer Friday. Orvis is not really kid friendly as it is clothing optional. But, what we love about Orvis is the beautiful surrounding mountains and when we camp, we are able to stay in the pools all night if we want.

It is so relaxing to sit in the main pool late at night and watch the stars. Usually the pool is crowded in the daytime and early evening, but once the day soakers leave at ten, the pools clear out and it is very quiet and peaceful. No electronics (cell phones, cameras, tablets or e-readers) are allowed in the pool area. Friday was the perfect night for soaking due to the cooler temps and misty rain.

The campground is mostly suited for tents and smaller camper vans. But, the parking lot is also available for larger campers/RVs. The cost is $37 per person for camping/soaking. This gets you two days of soaking from 9 am on the first day to 10 pm the second day.

Sunset at Orvis Hot Springs
We went for a walk before soaking, but cut it short when we were
attacked by swarms of mosquitoes biting our uncovered legs
Jeep with roof tent next to our NV camper
James Baroud Offroad Tent
We were intrigued by a jeep parked next to us with a James Baroud offroad tent on the roof. Even when closed, they were able to keep all their sleeping bags and pillows in the rooftop tent. It looked very comfortable and perfect for easy camping and offroading.

After soaking, stargazing and a great night's sleep, we were up early to head to our boondocking spot next to a ghost town. But first, we drove the short distance to Ridgway to gas up and have breakfast. We looked up Ridgway's favorite breakfast spot, Kate's Place, and we were not disappointed.

Huevos Rancheros and Veggie Omelet, Kate's Place, Ridgway Colorado
Greg found a boondocking spot near Alta Lakes about 5 miles south of Telluride off Highway 145. When we reached Forest Road #623, we were stopped by a woman at a bike race pit stop. It turned out there was a big 100 mile mountain bike race. She said the road wasn't closed, but it was single lane and 75 mountain bikers were flying down the road. We decided to go for it. On the tight turns, Greg honked the horn and we kept our eyes peeled for bikes.

Forest Road 623 on our way back down to Highway 145
At a narrow part of the road while we were going up hill, we encountered a large truck coming down hill. Greg stopped. The driver of the truck stopped too and then went into reverse. He seemed rather flustered as he flew back up the road way too quickly and much further than necessary for us to pass him. He barely missed hitting a mountain bike racer. Got our hearts racing. 
A wider section of the road to Alta Lakes
At the top of road we came to the mining ghost town of Alta. Above the ghost town are Alta Lakes and about 16 dispersed camping spots around the main, larger lake. The road to Alta was no problem for our Nissan NV. But, the road to the lakes beyond the ghost town really requires 4x4.

We found an awesome boondocking spot below the ghost town [37.885059, -107.855556]. We got all set up and watched a number of mountain bikes flying down the road. We decided to walk up to the lakes. There was a second pit stop right at the townsite. We stopped and chatted for a few minutes with the woman and her son manning the stop. They told us that this was approx. mile 65 of the 100 mile race. The walk to the lake was very pleasant. We were surprised how many people were camped around the main lake. It was stunningly beautiful. Many people were either fishing or enjoying the lake on their SUPs. 

The largest of the three Alta Lakes
We weren't sure if the hammock or the fishing looked more relaxing. 

The smaller Alta lake with the stunning mountains in the background
We had a very fun hike around the lake. We stopped and talked to several families who were fishing, but they said the fish weren't biting even though we all could see them in beautiful clear mountain water. We found an alternate way back down to the ghost town. We also saw many mountain bikers struggling up one of the steep inclines. We cheered them on and got both laughs and smiles. We found about 3 or 4 more boondocking sites that were closer to the ghost town than the lake itself. Two were occupied. Right next to the ghost town was a beautiful meadow that had a rock fire ring and a fantastic view of the buildings of Alta and the mountains of Lizard Pass. So, we decided let's move! New spot: 37.886264, -107.851864

This new spot is inside of a gate that was open. We are not sure if the gate is always open and unlocked, but for the bike race it was this weekend.

After we moved, a man and woman drove up and parked nearby. The woman took off on the trail toward the lakes with her two dogs and the man came by to talk. He asked if we minded if he sat in our camp while he waited for his wife to come back. So, we offered him a chair and the three of us sat in our campsite and talked about boondocking and camping spots. They were staying in a tent trailer up on Lizard Head Pass and live in Taos. They were surprised how packed it was at Lizard Head Pass and agreed with us that we found a perfect spot.

Mountain view from our campsite. Lizard Head Peak is to the left

The perfect, private camping spot. 

We really are enjoying cooking on our Camp Chef gas campfire. We also found the Camco 58033 Little Red Campfire Cook Top works really well to raise up the level of our pan just far enough off the lava rocks but close enough to the heat of the fire. We cook on it and then use it as a quick and easy campfire at night and to warm up on those cold mountain mornings. For boondocking, we also have a small folding table with a cooking extension on it. The perfect dispersed camping kitchen! 

The flowers were in full bloom on our hikes to and from Alta Lakes

Can't get enough of fields of wildflowers

The ghost mining town of Alta from our camp spot.

Reminders of the mining life of Alta
The Alta ghost town has an interesting history. According to a sign on the large boarding house we were camped near, Alta was a hub of mining activity in the Alta-Gold-King area from 1877 to 1948. Most interesting to us was that Nunn, Tesla and Westinghouse worked at this site with the first industrial use of alternating current electricity. A long distance electric transmission line was completed from the Ames power plant on the San Miguel River below Alta on June 21, 1891. A mill was operated at the Alta site from 1917 to 1948. 

The weather on Friday had been overcast and misty. When we woke up Sunday it was to rain. But, Saturday was beautiful and sunny and just perfect for our numerous walks to and around the lake, exploring the ghost mining town of Alta and through the fields of wildflowers. It really was a perfect three-day getaway.

To give some perspective to the height of the flowers along our hike to Alta Lakes from our campsite, Greg is 6'1"
Can't have an adventure without a monkey or two.

Another good and very large boondocking site is just south of Rico at: 37.639283, -108.058992. It's right on the very pretty Dolores River.

1 comment:

  1. Love your wild flower pictures. The flowers are so beautiful this year we just can't get over them. Thanks for the tip on where to go for hot springs, and the tip on where to eat next time we're in Durango.


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