Re-living Summer for Christmas: July Road Trip blog

Dear Maia and Isaac,

What happened to my blog posts? I had plans to blog about every camping trip and many of our hiking adventures. I love to blog when my mind is clear and I have time. Neither has happened much this year. COVID-19 exhaustion happens.

Road trip ready!

July came 6 months ago, and with it I loaded up Sazi and Kachina for an epic road trip through Northern Colorado. Maizzy stayed at Black Canyon Animal Sanctuary because she doesn’t travel as well as she once did and with Sazi being disabled – it just felt better to leave her where she could nap this year.

Maizzy with Santa 2018

We started later in the day so I could do some work first, so I planned the first stop fairly close to home – Rifle Gap and Rifle Falls State Parks. We got there late afternoon with our new tent. It was a walk-in site, which I try to avoid when I can. After I got the new tent pitched, we headed for Rifle Falls. It is a pretty place that I haven’t visited for a long time.

Rifle Falls State Park

It didn’t feel like the trip started until the first full day off. Then it was like a step-back-in-time as we drove to Dinosaur National Monument Gates of Lodore. I remember camping here from the time I was a teenager. It use to be a handful of tent sites and most of those were vacant. It hasn’t changed that much – but the river rafters now come in droves to sail down the Yampa River from near the campsite.

Relaxing on the swim beach at Gates of Lodore

We got there mid-afternoon and it was hot. I was glad Maizzy was spared because I had to find shade under a bush for Kachina and Sazi while I pitched the tent. After that, we went down and cooled off on the beach . . . my dogs hate water but I guess they hate heat worse.

Sazi and Kachina also enjoy the beach at Lodore

The next day started with us watching several launches from the raft ramp. It was fun to see everyone so excited – but they were not social distancing or wearing masks, so we kept a distance. I have no desire to raft but it is part of the culture of the modern-day Lodore.

Rafters at Gates of Lodore pose for a picture

Lodore and Nothern Moffat County also remind me of my Hartt grandparents. My grandfather had a sheep ranch headquarters not far from Gates of Lodore in Powderwash. He hired Butch Cassidy’s men to help with sheep when they weren’t robbing trains.

Kachina, Sazi and I on a short hike in Irish Canyon

The whole day was spent in the vast, rural area where my ancestors once lived. First to Irish Canyon to see some petroglyphs, take a hike, and have a picnic. I got a life-changing text while I was there – and every time I see these pictures, I think of the darned test message. How on earth to phone calls even go through in the middle of nowhere?

Petroglyphs in Irish Canyon

The next stop was about 20 miles down the same road to Sandwash Basin Wild Horses. Although I have come to this area many times, I didn’t know about the horses until Facebook came around. We drove on the dirt road through the range land looking for the horses – someone at the last trailhead said you rarely see them so I wasn’t optimistic. We drove as far as my Honda Fit could go and then turned around and headed back. It was then that we saw several of the mustangs. They were so beautiful and graceful. I imagine my grandfather on his horse a century before this day and I would guess his views were similar.

Wild mustang at Sandwash Basin in Moffat County

After that stop, we headed to the Yampa River State Park in Hayden, CO. We stayed there two nights so that we could go visit my Grandma’s Lake, Pearl Lake State Park – named for her. My mom and I both spend our childhood summers here at grandma’s house. So, that morning we drove up to the Lake and had a picnic. We hiked to the Pearl Lake Hike sign on the dam and back. It was super crowded – I think everyone from Denver was trying to escape the pandemic by going outside.

Pearl Lake Hike sign on the dam at Pearl Lake State Park
Mount Farwell (my mom’s favorite) and Pearl Lake State Park

I decided I wanted a break from the tourists, so we headed up to Wyoming on the dirt road. We saw the sheep herders who were working in the same area that my grandfather was active in the sheep business. I’ve hiked up in here before – it is really beautiful and rugged. My Aunt Pearl and I use to take that road when I was a teenager.

Dirt road from Columbine, CO to Wyoming near Whiskey Basin

The next day is where I goofed up my original trip. I was planning to drive over Trail Ridge to Estes Park, our next stop. Well, because of the pandemic, we needed tickets to drive through Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge, so we took the north route over and I got tickets to come back on Trail Ridge. We turned north after Rabbit Ears Pass and up to Walden.

State Forest State Park/ Cameron Pass area with a mountain storm

We then took Cameron Pass, which is the area that the big Cameron Peak fire started about a month after our visit. The pass goes through State Forest State Park, where we had camping reservations coming back. We, then headed down to Glen Haven – all of this area was near the Cameron Peak fire. I never dreamed it was that dry when we drove through.

Glen Haven, CO – home of famous cinnamon rolls and (formerly) my dad

Glen Haven is my dad’s old town. He lived there for several years after he and mom divorced. I learned to ride horses at a little stable there called Buckskin Bo’s and my horse was a big palomino named Bambi. It is beautiful countryside to ride a horse through and also much more of a tourist attraction than the Sandwash Basin that we visited a couple days before. Of course, we stopped for cinnamon rolls in Glen Haven because they are a famously good treat. We then headed for the Mary’s Lake Campground in Estes Park, where we pitched our tent for the night.

Our new tent at Mary’s Lake Campground – before the storm.

The night weather turned wild. The tent blew like it was going to cave in. The dogs looked scared but we made it through in one piece. Well, almost. The new tent was in rough shape and I had to fix it with Maizzy’s leash.

Summer sunset at Mary’s Lake, Estes Park

If you are in the middle of a spike in a pandemic, going to downtown Estes Park in the summer is not a good idea. I grew up there and my folks owned a store on the main street – I know Estes in the summer. So, the next day, we took Highway 7 to Lyons. I lived in Lyons before I moved to Montrose and I have fond memories of the red stone and quaint downtown area. We walked around until the weather warnings started coming – then it was back up to Estes for another night in our tent. Another storm came and our tent was in shreds by morning.

Saint Catherine Chapel on the Rocks – on Hwy 7 between Estes Park and Lyons
Redstone structure at the park in Lyons, CO

The next day was the day we had a ticket to Rocky Mountain National Park. The weather settled but our tickets weren’t until 2 PM. So, we hiked around Mary’s Lake until our time came – it was raining hard before we left but settled as we climbed the mountains. I was determined not to be afraid – the last time I drove this (5 years ago), I really got scared IDK why because I learned to drive on this road that is the highest paved road in the US. I did my trick and played tourist with my camera – I really enjoyed the drive!

Rocky Mountain National Park, Trail Ridge Road

We got to the other side – Grand Lake (Where the East Troublesome Fire burned about a month later) – then headed north. This is where I had to backtrack through State Forest State Park to get to the campsite. We were back on the Western Slope and it was a much more rural drive to get to the campground. We got there at dusk and it was gorgeous. I wished I had been able to get there earlier. And, we used the spare tent because our new tent was trashed in Estes.

View from our campsite at State Forest State Park
Nature Hike at State Forest State Park

The next day, we started the trek home in earnest after a nature hike at State Forest State Park. We drove south to Walden, then almost back to Steamboat, then South to Stagecoach State Park. It wasn’t a long drive today, but too hot to do much when we first got there. Eventually, we took a stroller hike and enjoyed the cool evening temps.

Stagecoach State Park, CO

The next day came our trip home. We headed through another land from my childhood. You see, I use to take the train from Craig to Denver to the orthodontist. I also took the bus sometimes and it went through this area, as well. Yampa, Oak Creek, etc really brought back the soggy sandwiches we picked up in Bond on our way to Denver. The Moffat Tunnel was amazing – just total darkness for what seemed like an eternity. Maybe I got my love of road trips from all those trips through this area.

Near Yampa, CO

Once we passed through there, we had our little run on the interstate, but only for a few miles. I decided to get off in Glenwood and take McClure Pass home. It was a pretty drive with a little rain here and there. It is interesting to drive from the well-to-do Aspen-Vail culture to Delta. It seems like an eternity should separate them, not just a high altitude ride for an hour or two.

View from the summit of McClure Pass

We brought the rain back to Montrose with us – which we needed. This trip is probably the last time I really unplugged from work. COVID-19 has made my job 3 times as difficult and I don’t have enough help. Remember the text I got in the middle of nowhere near Irish Canyon? Well, it was one of my two faculty resigning her position. I really didn’t want to come home because I knew what I was in for. And, so now it is Christmas Eve and I am finally telling this story. Fun to re-live heat right now. I’m glad the fires are out.

Next summer – I am taking a set of solar lights and decorating a tree at my campsite to celebrate getting through this crazy year!

Merry Christmas,

Grandma Hartt

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