Thursday, December 1, 2016

Ghost Ranch RVing - Kitchen Mesa Hike

Greg points to our hiking destination: The top of Kitchen Mesa.
A couple of weekends ago we went overnight to Ghost Ranch and took the Kitchen Mesa Hike. What a great hike! If you haven't been to Ghost Ranch in Northern New Mexico then you need to update your "Places I Want To Go" list.

Ghost Ranch is near Abiquiu Reservoir. The scenery is spectacular. Famous artist, Georgia O'Keeffe, had a home here and created many of her amazing paintings here. Karen and I have been to Ghost Ranch a few times. We've taken the Chimney Rock hike a few times and love it. Our plan for this trip was to stay overnight in our camper van, which we have never done at Ghost Ranch, and hike the Kitchen Mesa Trail.

It was spectacular. I think it's my new favorite New Mexico hike. Ghost Ranch is run by the Presbyterian Church. They do a lot of retreat programs at the ranch and they have a campground. There are quite a few campsites in the camp. They have about four spots for large RVs with electricity and water (and possibly sewer). Many sites have 15AMP electricity. It was going to be cold so we wanted to have electricity for an electric heater and our electric blanket. We ended up being one of only three RV campers in the entire campground so we had the pick of sites. We chose a site way in the back away from the others.

 The campground is normally closed after October but they have decided to keep the campground open all year. However, the bathroom/showers closest to the campground are shut down for the winter. (Call them to make sure that this is still the case if you go in the winter.)

Climate change has made our region very much dryer than it use to be just ten years ago. We get very little snow now, so all year camping makes total sense in our region now. The fee for our electric site was $30. There is a $5/person visitor fee that is included with the $30 camping fee.

You start your hike a short ways from the Welcome Center after you check in. The coordinates for the beginning of the hike is: 36.336300, -106.469175. You can park at this location. You can see a Google Map of the hike route HERE.

The hike is two miles long (one way) and climbs at least 600 feet. Here is the description from the Ghost Ranch Website:

Entrada Cliffs above the Dining Hall-The marked trail begins just past the chain across the road at Long House (see Box Canyon guide). The trail goes behind Kitchen Mesa before it ascends to the top. This more difficult hike includes a 15-foot chimney through a cleft in the cliff. The 3-4 hour trip climbs from 6,500 to 7,100 feet. (Round trip – 5 miles).

There is a short stretch of climbing at the "chimney," but it is not that bad and doesn't need ropes.

We went about five miles as we took a few side trips to see different edges of the mesa.

The views from the top of Kitchen Mesa are outstanding. We could see down to the main Ghost Ranch campus and farm area. We could see Abiquiu Reservoir and Cerro Pedernal (where O'Keeffe's ashes were spread). What a fun and scenic hike. We highly recommend it.

After our hike, we were pretty tired and decided to eat in the Dining Hall. Ghost Ranch provided all meals to their retreat guests and campers are welcome to pay $14 for a meal. (Breakfast is cheaper I believe.)  We enjoyed a salad and BBQ rib dinner with other sides. Dinner was pretty good.

The retreat guests and volunteers tend to be fairly religious. We sat next to a couple who told us about their volunteer activities. The couple from Ohio were at Ghost Ranch for a year as volunteers. They were unpaid but received free room and board. Their Ghost Ranch house was pretty nice. They were very friendly and we had a nice conversation. Karen's Dad and step-Mom are both retired ministers, so that was a topic of conversation as the gentleman was also a retired minister.

We were invited several times to come to a harp concert after dinner but we were very tired and headed to our camper van instead.

It was cold, but we plugged in our 1200 watt electric heater and got our van up to about 60 degrees. We turned down the heater to 800 watts and plugged in our electric blanket to heat up the bed. We slid into our bed and had a great nights sleep.

We headed home after a nice homemade oatmeal breakfast at our campsite. We could have had breakfast at the Dining Hall, but it was some sort of egg casserole, which didn't sound appealing to us.

We saw no ghosts on this visit. There was some cell phone connectivity at Ghost Ranch, but it was weak (verizon).

Here is a video of our hike:

Photos from our trip:

Our campsite.

Water was shut off for winter.

200 million years ago, New Mexico was part of the Pangaea super-continent and was tropical being near the equator.

Near the dinosaur quarry.

Hiking up the "chimney."

A view from the top of Kitchen Mesa.

Cerro Pedernal in the distance with Abiquiu Reservoir below.

The bare top of Kitchen Mesa. It sounded hollow when you tapped on this surface. Scary!!!

Karen and Cerro Pedernal.

Some other folks enjoying the mesa.

Karen coming down the Chimney.

Tree under the mesa wall.

Sunset at the end of the hike.

The Ghost Ranch Dining Hall.

The food at the Dining Hall - Buffet Style.

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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