We hooked Charlotte to the Invader and pulled out of Storrie Lake SP and headed for I-25 south towards Santa Fe, NM. Our Garmin must be a learning computer because she took us on the newest of three ways to cross between Storrie Lake and I-25. We stupidly followed the directions given by the foul, vindictive device and were rewarded with a cruise through all the streets of Las Vegas that have bumps, potholes and red lights.
There are loads of uphill pulls and downhill runs on I-25 as you slowly climb from about 6100′ to 7200′ elevation in Santa Fe. We pulled off the interstate and checked into Rancheros de Santa Fe Campground. We have no discounts available to us here so it costs around $40 a night but they have cable TV and wi-fi. They also had the largest ad of all the local campgrounds in the Good Sam directory which means absolutely nothing.
We asked Mary at the desk where she would suggest for good Mexican food and ended up at a place called La Plancha de Eldorado close-by. Peggy and I were both ready for some great Mexican food because of unavailability in the locales we have passed through in the last six months. Regrettably, the food at this place was utterly disappointing but the service was good. We both had enchiladas, mine beef and Peg’s chicken. The almost microscopic beef component of my enchiladas seemed to consist of tiny cubic pieces of overcooked rubber augmented by two flat flour tortillas afloat in a sea of mild green chile sauce. Peggy had similar complaints about her chicken enchiladas. Peggy said she could easily find the chicken in her enchilada because it was the hard pieces while the other components were gooey. We agreed the rice had something red and slightly flavored covering it and the refried beans were uninspiring. They apparently do not serve chips when they give you beans as a side dish here which is unfortunate since the beans could use a borrowed taste from almost anything, including fried tortillas. While we always appreciate good service, lousy food has a tendency to reduce repeat customers and we will not be going back.
Today we were fortunate to travel in spectacular country with very agreeable weather but the skies are now starting to darken and we can occasionally hear the distinctive racket made when precipitation his the thin fiberglass shell of our travelling home. The skies here in Santa Fe are delightful to look at but right now they are making some ominous rumbling noises. Only tornadoes frighten me in this part of the world. Do they have tornadoes here? I may just be paranoid.
Today was devoted to pure dumb luck exploration. We pulled out of Storrie Lake campground and turned left up NM-518. Just a few miles had passed under Charlotte when we had a mutual brain fart and turned west on NM-94 headed for a place called St. Ignacio. We had no rational nor clearly definable reason for doing this. NM-94 is almost paved with only some terrible, tire-wrecking potholes cleverly concealed throughout the road surface because they know you will be looking elsewhere and will drive right into them.
The trip up this road takes you through some gorgeous pastures, forests and unique geology. The rocks around here remind me of what I remember in Monument Valley but that was long ago and my memory is easily tricked at my age. Up on 94, the gigantic rock formations are cloaked in forests and/or parts of some magnificent palisades. After being foiled by a few dirt roads that scrambled our careful lack of planning, we drove back down 94 from St. Ignacio to Las Tusas where we turned north on NM-105 headed for a place called Mora.
More good scenery presented itself as we covered the stretch from Las Tusas to Mora. In Mora, we got back on another section of NM-518, turned east on NM-422 back to I-25 for the run back to Las Vegas. Peggy and I both noted that this was an excellent sightseeing tour and we were both underwhelmed to discover that neither of us expected what we were fortunate enough to see as we passed through this gorgeous state.
The sections covered by prairie are very….uhhh….prairie-like. There are loads of antelope grazing along the road, just out of rifle range. There are loads of very colorful birds everywhere. The sections of forest we drove through were lush and bright green. The rock formations that constitute the terrain are spectacular and of rarely-seen colors. I don’t know what this state looks like most of the time but since we have been here we have been dazzled by the scenery.
We pulled back into Storrie Lake SP and were deprived by being forced to eat steak for dinner. It was tragic.
Today was a travel day but the distance was easy. We loaded up our stuff and departed Trinidad Lake in Colorado and drove through the strange circuitous route in Trinidad back to I-25. We took I-25 south over Raton Pass at about 8,000′ before descending into the prairie of New Mexico. Along this road you can see the Rockies on the right and to the left is plains all the way to the horizon. On both sides of the road are big crowds of pronghorn antelope along with a few cattle grazing in some pastures visible from I-25. If there are so many pronghorn visible from the road, I wonder how many are not in view. They are gorgeous animals. They are also smart enough to stay out of the range of men’s guns. They split when we get anywhere near them.
We covered the 160 miles or so from Trinidad to Las Vegas, NM, pretty quickly so we arrived at Storrie Lake State Park near town around noon. The cute little Ranger at the gate took some money from us and directed us to the locations of water and power hookups in campsites. We initially selected a nice one and completely set up our Barbarian Invader before finding out that the 30 amp breaker in the site’s pedestal was henshit. We decamped, moved and set up in a new location where the power pedestal was not so cantankerous. That burned some valuable fooling around time. When I mentioned that site 8S had a wonky main breaker to the park staff, the guy who apparently doesn’t take care of maintenance issues stated that he had problems with the very same breaker the day before. What an asshole – he could have labelled the pedestal so ignorant Californians wouldn’t completely set up their RVs before discovering he was a poor electrician. He also stated that he would have to call an electrician. I doubt he scored well on his SAT test.
We turned on the air conditioning, drank a drink and both took short naps but after a bit we were seized by a startlingly frightful idea and drove down the road to Scab-Mart. Despite this particular Wal-Mart being about the size of an ordinary metropolitan football stadium, they don’t have cashews or sunflower seeds unless they keep them in the sporting goods sections. We retreated to our second choice spot back at Storrie Lake SP where Peggy performed some wonderful magic and produced a chicken Caesar salad that I greedily consumed in record time.
Today required no trailer towing or maintenance so we decided to go exploring. Breakfast and fortified coffee consumed, we hopped into Charlotte and I directed today’s driver, Peggy, to what I was convinced was the park visitor center even when she calmly informed me the visitor center was elsewhere. Peggy dutifully obliged me and drove to where I directed her and parked. We both got out and walked in the nice double glass doors to find ourselves in a large and very nice restroom and shower facility. There were no displays with pamphlets because the visitor center was elsewhere.
We then went to the real location of the visitor center and Peggy scooped up a pamphlet about CO-12 from Trinidad to Walsenburg and it looked nifty so we departed. We took a little side trip to the south side of Trinidad Lake where I photographed some of the nicest and most colorful slag piles I have ever seen. No shit! They were neat; black slag on top over a white layer and a red layer of natural formation. From the slag piles we took off going west on CO-12. We had no idea it was going to be so spectacular.
CO-12 initially climbs very slowly and passes through Cokedale where we saw the arch things we saw yesterday but now we knew they were the door side of the old coke ovens that ran in this county back in the day. 12 continues along through very pretty country through Segundo where there was a moby coal processing facility some time in the past and then continues to Vigil where you can see where some guy built a small house spanning a creek. The next big item on the highway is Stonewall where there were some contentious and deadly battles between heirs of land grant former owners and new settlers. It is plain to see why the town has it’s name because there is an enormous rock shelf on edge that towers above the town, both sides.
We turned north at this point and continued our drive through some high alpine lakes (actually reservoirs) before beginning the steep climb to Cuchara Pass at 9995′ elevation. We stopped in the pass. The view back into eastern Colorado is stunning. We descended down from the pass passing through the Blue Lake / Cuchara River Recreation Area and into the town of Cuchara. Cuchara is a very scenic little burg with businesses that mostly cater to tourists. The main drag is very skinny and gravel.
Continuing on CO-12 West (which is actually running northeast from Cuchara) we next came across Goemmer’s Butte and The Devil’s Stairsteps. Goemmer’s Butte is a beaut and Devil’s Stairsteps is a truly impressive flat-sided rock wall tilted at about 80 degrees from the horizontal that runs about 4 or 5 miles across. It is almost the entire skyline until you gaze into the distance and realize the road taken has circled the Spanish Peaks which fill the horizon with jagged, rock-tipped giant mountains. CO-12 continues through the towns of La Veta and Walsenburg before hitting I-25 where we turned south and headed south back to Trinidad.
Peggy and I were both dazzled by this terrific loop road. We both think this road may be better than driving through Rocky Mountain NP although they are both pretty stunning rides. CO-12 is bucket list grade scenery in our opinions.
We returned to Trinidad’s McDonald’s for another stab at electronic communication. We were pleasantly surprised when we found RPI had responded to our reservation attempt made yesterday. We are in for Albuquerque starting 9/25 and departing 10/8 at Hidden Valley RV Resort. Yippee!
Reluctantly leaving Starlite Classic Campground in Royal Gorge we scooted down the hill through Canon City and on to Pueblo where we turned south on I-25 and slowly climbed up to Trinidad, CO. We exited the freeway following the signs to Trinidad Lake State Park and found possibly the most circuitous route feasible to get to the park. We actually were required to turn left more than four times in rapid succession and ended up almost exactly where we started but no closer to the lake. After some more zigzagging we escaped downtown Trinidad and headed west on CO-12. After just a few miles we pulled into the state park and made the obligatory stop at the Ranger station where we parted with $54 for a two-night stay.
The Rangerette working the desk sold us a spot that was allegedly 65 feet long but there are retaining walls with curb stops they assume you will butt your trailer tires against. Our beloved Barbarian Invader trailer has axles about mid-length so if you back our trailer in so that the tires touch the curb stops, the access door at the back of our trailer would only be about 6′ off the ground. Watch out, honey! Ahhhthump!
We only took two hours to travel the required distance today so we had time for exploring before dark. We popped down the hill to Trinidad and found some very nice historic buildings situated right next to city sections in their death throes. We drove down Main Street and we had gone about 4 blocks before it got ugly. We ended up in a giant graveyard where we drove around a bit to fulfill Peggy’s morbid and disgusting yearnings to observe the final resting places of complete strangers. There were a bunch of dead strangers all over the place. Nobody we know.
We went to a McDonald’s to get wi-fi access because this part of the world has no bars or G’s over the air and state parks don’t have wi-fi. We finally were able to establish rudimentary, sloth-like communications through Mickey D’s wi-fi where we found out we cannot make any New Mexico state park reservations because they insist they need 14 days previous notice to allow the state park system to give notice to all interested parties in case anybody wants to start a filibuster. We will arrive in New Mexico in two days. We were able to make an RPI reservation for a park near Albuquerque 9/25 to 10/8/15. They will notify us by email if the reservation works out within 72 hours. Unfortunately, as soon as we left McDonald’s, we were back in incommunicado mode so I suppose we will be required to return to Ronald’s weird house if we wish to receive any emails. I hate the horrible phone service we have. It renders the phone a brick.
We took a short side trip to a place on CO-12 called Cokedale. It is rumored to be an historic town and, if having a bunch of old buildings makes a place historic, then we were in the right spot. As we left Cokedale after our 5 minute reconnaissance we spotted long, curved lines of connected archways made from concrete. We speculated about what they might be and ended up confused. We’ll ask around.
Breakfast just seemed better if we bought it and let someone else do the work so we drove into Canon City and pulled up in front of the Waffle Wagon. I can state, for a fact, that they have pretty good chicken fried steak, hash browns, eggs, biscuits and gravy. Peggy’s omelet was just what she asked for. All of this was also very reasonably priced and we left with a bill around $20.
We wandered about town for a bit and made a stop at the Chamber of Commerce visitor info center. They had good local maps but we found there were no roads or no paved, viable roads going where we wanted to drive so we settled for a spin south on 1st Street. There is a beautiful roadside public walkway here that runs between the highway and the edge of the creek where Peg and I sat around for a while. We met a tiny dog named Fritz who was very nice and let us know we could pet and scratch him. He had his owner in tow who told us some neat stuff about the local area before continuing her trip with Fritz alongside. After passing some spiffy wood houses and some country road, we turned southwest on County Road 3 / Temple Canyon until we were finally flummoxed by the road turning to a surface more appropriate for 4-wheel drives with big knobby expensive tires than for an enormous Ford F-250 two-wheel drive king cab with highway tires. We turned around and headed back to Canon City and US-50.
We voted unanimously (2-0) that we wanted to try another road for exploration so we drove through the back streets of Canon City, getting another glimpse of the gorgeous architecture of the small commercial and residential buildings. We emerged onto Field Avenue on the east side of town and turned north. This city street turns into County Road 9 which allegedly ends up in the Victor / Cripple Creek area. We ascended through a valley with bunches of birds and stunning geology on both sides of the road until we came to a fork near Sand Gulch campground where the paving and our courage petered out. We returned again to Canon City, filled up with diesel and headed back for happy hour at Starlite Classic.
This section of Colorado is absolutely gorgeous and I would love to return here. The Starlite Classic Campground owners and park were terrific, the scenery is delightful, local small building architecture is varied and classic, the food where we ate was tasty and inexpensive and the weather here, including the night skies, has been superb. It is tough to find a lot to complain about here.
We slept pretty well last night. There were very few truck noises loud enough for me to hear and I suspect the trucks I heard might have been Dodge pick-ups driven by short persons with substandard-sized genitalia who have customized their suspensions and exhausts so everyone within earshot can hear and hate them. My sleep may have been sounder than normal because I had such a wonderful time at last evening’s park get-together. The effects of the setting sun illuminating the scenery visible from the porch were magnificent. The vistas here are stunning.
We cooked and devoured breakfast, took showers and departed on an adventure, sort of. Initially we drove a couple miles back east on US-50 where we turned off on Skyline Road. The road is one-way, very narrow, and offers spectacular views of the surrounding countryside from a long way above. It was built with very little cost to the taxpayers since prisoners from the local pen did the work. It is a pretty amazing road to be built by hand since large sections pass through nasty formational rock but an abundance of free labor kept scheduling concerns to a minimum. Peggy is not overly enthusiastic about roads built on narrow, serpentine ridges with death-dealing abrupt drop-offs on both sides so she elected to abandon the truck and walk along behind for about a half mile. I bravely and cunningly navigated through the ridge sections in Charlotte and parked at a pullout without being killed.
Skyline Road switchbacks down the Canon City side of the ridge and lets travelers out on residential streets lined by historical dwellings of multiple architectural styles. There are stone, brick and ashlar masonry buildings right next to Victorian, Tudor and Craftsman wood structures that are in great shape and very pretty. We slid along all the good residential streets at about 10 miles per hour with frequent stops to gaze at the gorgeous buildings. We did so much of this that we soon drew the attention of a local cop who followed us until he realized we were old, boring and unlikely to do anything interesting. We ultimately emerged from our architectural showcase trance directly in front of a terrific downtown liquor store where we parted with some cash to replenish our dwindling Irish Cream and porter stocks.
With our loot in hand, we headed back west toward Starlite but instead of turning into the park we continued south on County Road 3A to a county picnic area that overlooks Royal Gorge. The gorge itself is spectacular and from the picnic area you can overlook the Royal Gorge Bridge with cars that look like bugs creeping across. I understand the bridge deck is nearly 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River at the bottom of the gorge and looking down between the bridge planks is harrowing for those unaccustomed to heights. There is a bunch of pucker factor at work here.
After giving the gorge a sniff, we headed back to the Starlite Classic Campground and gathered up some porter to consume at the park’s 4:00 PM happy hour on the porch. There were dogs there. I was happy. We finally broke away from the fun and returned to the trailer for a bit of grilled steaks, corn and beans. This retirement stuff is tiring.
Today was a travel day so we got up late, prepared in a very leisurely manner and departed Goldfields RV Park in Colorado Springs and took off for a change of scenery. We drove east on US-24 to southbound I-25 to CO-115 south through some really gorgeous terrain. We merged onto US-50 westbound and, after about 10 miles arrived in Canon City, CO. As we passed through town, we noted there was a Chinese restaurant with the name of “Fu-King” which we will certainly return to in order to check out if their food is as funny as their name.
We continued through town past a myriad of Federal, state and local prison facilities and started up a pretty steep incline to an area called Royal Gorge where we turned south on County Road 3A and into our destination, Starlite Classic Campground. Some earnest, but small-minded, individuals might be scared away by the initial appearance of this treasure. Those expecting an outdoor, jungle-like park will certainly be disappointed because this little oasis is perched at about 6,000′ and those kinds of parks just don’t exist here.
Those of us that think like me (and I am always right, some of the time) and blindly charge ahead will be rewarded with a stay in a old-fashioned park, complete with vintage trailers and automobiles that have been restored by the operator of the park. Those who neglected to bring their own trailer are in luck, as well, because several of the restored vintage trailers are available for rent.
The owners, Larry and Sylvia, have introduced to me what should be SOP for RV parks. Instead of large scenic ponds, marginal quality restrooms and all the sales offices inside nifty recently-built rustic buildings infesting the park, these folks have chosen to provide a big porch with numerous chairs and a free juke box during pot-luck happy hour or maybe two hours. This excellent and enriching ritual seems to kick off at about 4:00 PM. Good conversation with locals or travelers is available on the porch and right behind the porch is the office and store.
The store has some objects that I am not familiar with like an electric Jiffy-Pop hotplate that even provides the required pan shaking, a phone / singing figure of an Elvis with great thrusting hips and games of Trailer Park Wars, including bonus packs. The owners have embarked on a mission to revitalize a dead weed lot and turn it into a unique park with excellent service, ample RV site size, fully-functioning water, electrical and sewer systems complemented by a pool, a currently evolving gorilla mini-golf course and big, squeaky-clean restrooms. The easily frightened will need to cowboy up to come here but once they get used to the place, their personality defects will probably go away.
Ohhh! I stupidly forgot! The view from the happy hour venue / porch is absolutely stunning with tip-top views of the Sangre de Christ mountains on the horizon, the top and part of the deck of the Royal Gorge Bridge accenting the foreground and everything else in between looking very spiffy in the changing afternoon light. The porch is available for guest use I imagine 24 hours a day as long as you pipe down when folks sleep. Staff is onsite 24/7. We spoke with Sylvia when we checked in and she got us squared away with good answers about stuff to do and good places to eat before making sure to tell us we were cordially invited to the evening get-together. We went. It was great. Nobody got hurt and they had dogs. This is my kind of place.
We were so dazzled by the drives through Garden of the Gods Park yesterday that we decided to return today to hike around a bit. It was pretty hot today and we hoped for shade along our route.
The park has a few parking areas strewn about the loop road and we picked one and bailed out of Charlotte. The contrast between the superb temperature inside Charlotte’s air conditioned cab and the outdoors was immediately evident. We moseyed down the first trail we found and were almost instantly rewarded with gorgeous scenes inside this Colorado Springs gem.
After a few hundred yards, we approached a little plaza right next to a formation they refer to as Sentinel Rocks. Several other visitors were there and I stupidly struck up a conversation with a former Marine from Michigan who was visiting his son here. The Marine whipped out his cell phone and sat down next to me to show me numerous tiny pictures on his phone of animals he had killed utilizing a sniper’s blind near his house. He had pictures of dead skunks, dead opossums, dead deer and also was generous enough to show me pictures of his death blind where he apparently spends his winter in a dedicated attempt to kill all the fur-bearing vermin near his home. When he asked if I wanted to see more of this gore, I declined but that didn’t stop him from continuing on about all the little inedible creatures he had blown to bits with his guns. When I made a half-hearted attempt to get away, I thought he was going to grab me so I wouldn’t miss any of the carnage shots. Finally Peggy came and rescued me from the suffering and I was delighted she did so.
Escaping down one of the loop trails led us to absolutely stunning views of the salmon meat colored rock formations that appear to be sedimentary but turned vertical. There are big holes throughout the rocks that make them look like enormous Swiss cheese pieces. There are also some almost white formations that erosion has treated differently so they look like they have secret writing on them. This park is pretty neat, especially since it is free. Free stuff around here is extremely rare. Seven Falls at the Broadmoor Resort is $14 a head. The cog railway to Pike’s Peak is $37 a pop. The May Museum of bugs is $6. Even the visitor center at Garden of the Gods cost $8 but they reward you with an 18 minute movie in which alleged experts speculate on how the rock formations were formed although they are not sure.
From our hiking expedition through the park we returned back to Manitou Springs where we checked out the possibilities regarding non-resident marijuana purchases under Colorado’s enlightened reefer laws. We selected a very affluent-looking outlet and headed inside to browse. They checked our identification and ushered us into an impressive showroom with numerous dope varieties and vehicles for getting well. They offer buds, edible products, oil products for vaporization and even some sprays and rubs with alleged fantastic pain-killing properties.
Indica and sativa varieties are arranged on tables in little bins that you can see into with magnifiers and also that have little sniffing ports so you can sample their odors. It was marvelous. Since this was not a “medical” dope shop, the prices are higher than those catering to those miserable bastards with true or imagined afflictions requiring marijuana to alleviate the pain, boredom, anxiety or other crises pervading their fogged-out minds. If I lived here, I would almost immediately contract some ailment that could only be remedied by frequent and dedicated application of reefer cures.
We finished up our drive for today by checking out CO-115 which is the road from Colorado Springs to our next destination in Canon City, CO. It looks like that’s the way to go tomorrow instead of taking the interstate. The road runs along the foothills and also has unique and beautiful rock formations on both sides of the road.
We had a nice surprise last night. US-24, which passes within about 75 feet of our RV space here at Goldfield RV Park, is not heavily used by noisy traffic at night. It was almost nearly sort of quiet last night and we were able to sleep without the ear-splitting racket, rail traffic and tire whine that we encountered at the Bison Ranch in Wyoming. Whoda thought that a place in downtown Colorado Springs would be quieter than an RV park in rustic rural Wyoming? Our RV site is still skinnier than Twiggy and the wi-fi is almost slug-like for data transmission rates but we only stay here at night so we are okay.
We saddled up for some exploring today and decided to start by going to the local park called Garden of the Gods. Right after we left the RV park, we crossed US-24 and noted an interesting little store advertising some goods unique to this area. Due to the wisdom and efforts of Coloradans, marijuana sales and possession are legal here and the cute little store was offering eighth ounce units for $18 and full ounces for $110. The progressive laws here even allow non-residents to take advantage of the sales, with certain volume restrictions, which seems infinitely realistic and very reasonable unless you are among those that believe in the archaic, regressive and stupid former laws. Let’s see….we have no fixed agenda and we certainly have $50 or $75 to spare….uhhh….more on this later, perhaps.
Garden of the Gods Park access is free and we almost could not believe it. This park has spectacular red and white rock formations set in a magnificent garden with ample spots to park and hike within the park. We slowly crept along the few miles of roads admiring the varied views of the fantastic geology for about an hour and then vowed to return later in the day when the light would be different.
From Garden of the Gods we hopped back on US-24 westbound to make a return trip to Cripple Creek, a small community located at about 10,000′ elevation on the west side of Pike’s Peak. The drive there climbs rather steeply from our park in Colorado Springs and the roadside scenery is beautiful passing through conifer forests with big groves of Aspen trees that are beginning to turn colors as autumn approaches. Peggy and I went to Cripple Creek in 1979 and, at that time, it was a small town with about five streets, three of them paved, and some funky touristy stuff to do like buying shot glasses and panning for salted gold in a small wooden box attended by a ginger dressed up like a 19th century miner complete with embarrassing hat. In ’79 we stopped at a gift shop called the Brass Ass and purchased a souvenir shot glass. The main drag then was pretty cute.
Cripple Creek has changed rather dramatically in 36 years. There are many more streets, tract houses abound, all downtown business now seem to be casinos with entry alcoves reeking of cigarette smoke and there is no such thing as free parking. We found the Brass Ass again but the former tourist trinket shop has transformed into a large casino and we had to ask around to find out where to purchase a newer shot glass. It turned out that shot glasses were available in a small snack bar downstairs in the casino where we picked up the new, revisionist version of the old-style unit. The glass may be an bona fide old western authentic Chinese-manufactured specimen with cheap paint.
There were some gorgeous old cars cruising around town and we scoped out a few before departing town and heading for Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument which is only about a dozen miles away from Cripple Creek. Although the area scenery is dramatic, no fossils can be seen at this monument except in the visitor center where I was fortunate enough to be able to snap a nice picture of some fossilized fish puke. Using our federal access pass we got in free, saving another $10. We ate our picnic lunch near the visitor center surrounded by great scenery, colorful birds and the sound of the breeze passing through the trees.
From the fossil beds, we drove back east on US-24 and re-entered Garden of the Gods. We did right this morning vowing to return later in the day. The light had changed and the scenery had changed right along with it. This park is gorgeous and Peg and I are going back in the morning for some leisurely strolling on the trails between the rock pinnacles.