Colorado 2016

More truck camping!  In Fall 2016 Sara and I drove out to Colorado to meet up with a buddy traveling and living out of his 4Runner for the summer.  We started at the Hoxeyville Music Festival in Hoxeyville, MI and then headed out west to stay with some friends in Fort Collins, CO.  From there we took the “scenic route” down to Jefferson, saw a show at Red Rocks and stayed with another friend.  We slept on BLM land most of the time, with a few notable side trips – the Great Sand Dunes National Park,  Rainbow Lakes Campground, and a hike up the easy 14ers, Grays Peak and Torreys Peak.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Being from Michigan I’ve seen my share of sand dunes but these blew me away – they compare in beauty to the Michigan dunes but blow them away with their size and backdrop.  The park itself is the dunes, most of the area behind it and our primitive camping site was in the preserve.  There’s a fun 11 mile ORV trail that you can camp along – Medano Pass Road.  It has a few stream crossings, but nothing was more than 1-2′ while we were there in the late summer.

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You can imagine how good this feels on the feet.
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As a Michigan native it’s weird seeing dunes at the foot of a mountain range.

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Campsite off the Medano Pass Road.
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Great Sand Dunes National Park from Zapata Falls.

Rainbow Lakes Campground

Just outside of Nederland, CO, after a thirty minute drive down a rocky dirt path, sits Rainbow Lakes Campground.  This is one of the more remote but most meticulously maintained campgrounds I’ve been too.  The pit toilets are spotless and each campsite is raked after visitors leave.

There’s an easy 3 mile hike to the Rainbow Lakes starting from the campsite.  Each of the lakes have fairly easily followed game trail around them.

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Reflections mmmmm.
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Technically this picture is from a spot we camped on some nearby BLM land.  However I had to include it in this post – this bull wandered within a dozen yards or so of us.
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A rocky path down to one of the drier Rainbow Lakes.

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Grays Peak and Torreys Peak

While these are two of the easier 14ers Colorado has, they still kicked my flatlander ass.  After a few hours of sleep we started the hike around 5:30am, reaching the summit of Grays mid morning and Torreys a half hour or so later.  The summit views were spectacular as expected and surprisingly calm.  Microspikes would have been useful for the descent but sliding on my ass worked pretty well too.

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Looking back at the valley we hiked up.
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Clear skies for Grays summit at 14,270ft.
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Skies still clear.
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Torreys summit at 14,267ft and afternoon clouds rolling in.
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Northwest Roadtrip Spring 2015

In April of 2015 I had been working as an IT Field Engineer doing all sorts of high stress system/network troubleshooting.  After the third Saturday in a row of on call night work, I could see this work/life imbalance was just going to continue.  Around that same time I visited an old coworker at the paddle shop I used to work at, she asked what I’d been up to.  The conversation went something like this:

 “Work.”

“That’s it? No trips or anything interesting?”

“Yup.”

Followed immediately by me thinking about how I hadn’t had a vacation in two years.  And noticing just how boring it is if all you have to talk about is work.  So I put in my two weeks notice, the company ended up getting me to work another four weeks to finish up projects and then I’d do something.  I’d never been further west than the Ozarks in Arkansas so I decided to drive around the lower 48 for a while.

My goals for this adventure were:

  • Sleep in the truck when possible to save money
  • Visit friends and family
  • Make it to Colorado, Oregon, and Washington
  • Not return home for at least a month

The Route

I had a rough idea to drive out to Colorado as fast as I could, stay with a friend there, then make my way over to the Pacific Northwest to stay with another friend.  From there I’d take a northern route back to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to end the trip.  While I didn’t end up recording my exact route, I did stick pretty close to my plan.  Below are most of the places I stopped on the trip, with friends places removed for privacy.

Gas was cheap that summer and my Ram 1500 has a V8 gasser in it, so the fuel economy was relatively low, but for the truck I was satisfied.  It was especially fun driving manual in the mountains.  I tracked the gas in a Google Sheet for no particular reason.

Photos

Favorite photo from the trip:

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Wreck of the Peter Iredale at Fort Stevens State Park, Oregon.

Other photos from the trip, grouped by location:

Garden of the Gods

Colorado

 Lucky Peak State Park

Ecola State Park

Crater Lake National Park

Smith Rock State Park

Fort Stevens State Park

Misc. Oregon/Washington

Hoh Rainforest

Cape Flattery

Olympic National Park

Glacier National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Grand Tetons

Black Hills National Forest

Mount Rushmore

Badlands National Park

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And finally back home to Lake Superior.