San Rafael River Camping Trip

In late May, after a snowy and wet late winter, I was looking forward to some sunshine and some time-off from work.

Click on any photo for a larger version.

Before starting any adventure, it’s best to get your bearings and know where you are. I am here.
Requisite shot of skeletal remains in the desert landscape.
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Vacation(?)

I couldn’t wait to get away. I felt I really needed it. Camping. Living for a week in nature. Where everything makes perfect sense to me. I was feeling pretty over-full of dealing with other humans, especially the mass of humanity from all over the country that has decided to vacation in (clog up) Colorado.

Yes, the pandemic has made it the year of the road trip. I went to REI to get some freeze dried meals and a flashlight, and after I waited in line to enter, the shelves were nearly bare. Everybody’s going camping this year. I began to have doubts I’d be able to escape civilization as much as I wanted.

I didn’t have a specific plan for this trip, only some general ideas. I packed and prepared for most anything.

The first 24 hours were nearly bliss. I ended up in northern New Mexico, near the old steam train tracks for the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. I hadn’t been in that area for 8 years. It was only to be a stop on the way to the Weminuche Wilderness near Durango. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky which was perfect for getting some photos of comet NEOWISE, which was fading more with each passing night.

Grassy Hill

I parked the car and backpacked my camping gear up to the top of a grassy hill where I would have a nearly unobstructed view of the sky all around. I got some pretty good photos, but Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites were getting in the way.

Comet Neowise. I walked over to the trees so there would be some perspective. Click for larger.
Comet Neowise with SpaceX Starlink satellite going through the photo (thin line). Click for larger.

I watched directly overhead as a straight line of them passed, one following exactly the same distance from another. And this is with only 450 of them launched. The final total is supposed to be 12,000? What’s the night sky going to look like in a few years?

That night I slept better than I had in a long time, and usually when I’m camping I don’t sleep well.

I decided there must have been an alcoholic cowboy managing herds of cows in the area back in the 1960’s and 1970’s. There were all of these old beer cans from before they had the permanently affixed pull tabs, They were imprinted with Do Not Litter, which was a 70’s campaign. I’d see them where ever I went, even if only to take a pee.

Please Don’t Litter

My scheme was to get an early start and head to Durango. But, it was so quiet and calm with so few people around, I decided to linger another day. “Let’s photograph the train when it comes around.”

Train video. 11 minutes. Best to view on a larger screen. Click the 4 arrows in the lower right to go full screen. Shot with phone.

Shortly after the train left I decided to explore some of the area I hadn’t before. I headed down the 4×4 road to Rio de Los Pinos. I thought maybe I’d be able to head up-canyon to the Toltec Gorge. No such luck going up-canyon. There was a gate with private property signs. Down canyon there was lush and verdant growth along the river. It was quiet there too. Only a few campers. Perhaps because it was raining, I decided to head back up to the drier views of the chaparral and ponderosa.

Chippy

When driving on 4×4 roads, there are a lot of rattles in the 18-year old XTerra. But this time there was a rattle that didn’t belong. After thinking about what it could be, I decided to ignore it for the time being. But then a smallish rock which should have easily passed under my car, didn’t. That’s weird. So I stopped and had a look.

Broken shock absorber

A broken shock absorber that I had only installed 18 months earlier. A Monroe shock absorber. After looking at the weld where it broke, I concluded it was a piece of shit. Don’t buy Monroe. So what did I end up doing? I bought Monroe because nobody had any stock of anything else.

That was the end of the good part of the trip.

I headed home the next morning to repair the car. There were a lot of factors in the decision, a primary one being I didn’t want to spend a night in a motel while a more local repair shop did the repair. I could do it myself the same day, and then sleep in my own bed. Which I did.

Headed out the next morning to continue the trip, but with the distance back to southern Colorado, decided to stay within a few hours of home. I headed over to the Grand Valley area on the other side of the divide.

Ugh… more problems

The mass of humanity that I was trying to escape was over there. I headed to the Devil’s Thumb Park trailhead. It was packed. But I didn’t see any backpackers; all day-hikers. I figured it would clear out by evening. So I geared up for a day-hike intending to come back in the evening for the backpack of camping gear.

The hike was unpleasant. Everybody I encountered on the trail was bickering with their spouse or other family members. After a couple of miles I headed back to the trailhead. I encountered a quiet pond with water beetles in it and decided to head up the canyon beyond it. There was no trail, but it was just what I needed. Instead of bickering humans, I saw wildflowers and heard birds, both of which were lacking on the previous trail. The going was slow but I was in the moment. The best kind of hike.

By the time I got back to the trailhead, I was literally exhausted and it was dark steady rain. There was no way I would have carried my camping gear back up the trail. I thought about camping at the trailhead, but there was already someone doing that. Plus the trailhead stunk from so many people using the bushes as a bathroom. I made dinner and felt better after eating. I decided to find a place to car camp, but as I searched, every available place was full. I decided to head back home. It is not the year to go camping.

It turned out that most of the campgrounds in the valley were closed, as were some of the main forest service roads. It forced a lot of people into the area I was in.

Hopefully better luck next time.