It is time to say good-bye to Colorado’s Western Slope. We’ve been here nearly three weeks. The days are turning noticeably shorter, the nights cooler. The multitude of travelers are beginning to dissipate. We love this area. It’s so beautiful. A hint of fall color is beginning to emerge. I wish we could stay to witness the change.
A weather alert chimes from my phone. An early season cold front is approaching. Several inches of snow is forecast for the mountains. Freeze warnings are in effect. It’s a remarkable change of events as we had record heat the past couple days. I decide it’s best to go over the mountains or risk being stuck here in Olathe for several days.
We watch the old town vanish in our mirrors as another weather warning chimes over the phone: High Wind Advisory with 50 MPH gust. This could get interesting. We tow the camper across U.S. Highway 50 toward Pueblo crossing the continental divide at Monarch Pass (elevation 11,312 feet). It’s slow going as a line of traffic plods along the single eastbound lane. We are not troubled by the pace as we are captivated by the breathtaking beauty.
We arrive at Lake Pueblo State Park, our home base for the next four nights. Smoke from the fires in California create an ominous sepia tone to the sky. An eerie, unsettling feeling emerges as we drive into the deserted campground. Are we the only fools here? Alas, I see a couple of other fools and the feeling subsides…but only slightly.
We unhitch the camper and go to the local Walmart for some supplies. The parking lot is nearly full. I drop Grammi at the door and drive off to the outer edges of the lot. Soon, Grammi appears carrying a single bag. I pull toward the front and she gets in. She said “the place is a zoo.” That’s what she calls a place that is busy with lots of people. It’s not that they’re acting like animals, but then again…maybe they are. She said the shelves were wiped out. Just like at home when a hurricane is approaching, store shelves were emptied by people preparing for the snowstorm. “There wasn’t any bread”, Grammi said, “we’ll make do with what we have.”
The wind howled during the night rocking and shaking the camper. I imagine this is what an earthquake must feel like. Sleep was intermittent. Grammi added a couple of blankets to the bed. Our little electric space heater worked overtime keeping us warm. We only recently bought it. Thought it would save us from using our propane to heat the camper.
The next day with temperatures struggling to get out of the 30’s, we stay inside our cozy camper. We have good phone service, four bars of LTE. We stream a couple of movies, play some games, do some reading and work on the blog. Grammi seemingly spends hours on the phone talking to each one of our kids.
After the sun goes down, I’m ready to crawl in bed for the night. I notice for the first time a calm silence. The wind has stopped. I turn on the outside light to look out the window and there it is…falling snow. Flakes the size of nickels floating to the ground. It’s not sticking to the ground. It melts as soon as it lands. With the quieter night we sleep soundly.
I can hardly believe what I see in the morning. I open the door and look out to a landscape covered by a blanket of snow. Like a typical Floridian, I slip on my flip-flops to go out for a better look. The snow is piled high on the steps and I have to kick it off. Holding tight to the grab bar, I carefully step out. The snow crunches below my feet. A few steps out I turn around to look back.
An early morning sun obscured by clouds cast a blue-gray light across the newly fallen snow. A layer of fog lies across the lake. A quiet and uncanny stillness hovers over the campground.
Tree limbs sag toward the earth from the weight of clinging snow. The top of the camper and the truck are covered as well. It’s a rare sight for my eyes. Even though my toes are getting cold, I walk around to take some pictures.
How much snow did we get? I grab a tape measure from the truck. Wow, three inches! That’s a surprise. I don’t think they were expecting that much here. The snow didn’t stick to the blacktop roads though, but everything else is white.
By the afternoon, most of the snow is gone. Temperatures rise to mid-forties. Feeling eager to get out after being confined, we explore the state park. It feels good to get outside.
Lake Pueblo is a 4,500 acre manmade reservoir on the Arkansas River and is a popular location for all types of water sport. We walk to the South Shore Marina to see a variety of private watercraft from small fishing boats to large house boats moored to the docks. Pontoon and jet ski rentals are available at the marina as well. We don’t see any boaters on the lake today.
We drive past the dam to the other side of the lake to check out the North Shore Marina and see the other two campgrounds. It’s a large park encompassing 10,000 acres of land. There are 400 campsites located in three campground in the state park, but not all have hookups.
The next day we drive north toward Colorado Springs to see Garden of the Gods. The day has warmed , but snow still covers the distant mountainsides. The sky is still gray and overcast. I’m not sure if it’s caused by the smoke or the weather. We stop at the state-of-the-art visitor center to get a trail map and learn about the history of the park through a variety of exhibits.
The land was given to the City of Colorado Springs in 1909 by the children of Charles Perkins, a railroad baron, with the stipulation it remain a free public park. They were fulfilling their father’s wish to “Keep forever free to the world” the place he adored. Now encompassing over 1,300 acres, more than 2 million visitors are lured to the towering red sandstone rock formations each year. Activities include hiking, biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, picnicking, birdwatching, and more. With camera in hand, I partake in an activity not listed in the brochure and add to my growing portfolio of “pictures of rocks”.
There are 21 miles of trails to explore. We hike Perkins Central Garden Trail, the main trail in the heart of the rock formations. It’s a paved accessible trail winding and criss-crossing between rock formations with names like Cathedral Spires, Pulpit Rock, Sleeping Giant, and Kissing Camels. We find a spot to climb up some boulders to the top for a grand view. It’s possible to see nearby Pike’s Peak on a clear day, however this was not a clear day.
We drive past Balanced Rock on our way out of the park. This iconic rock is a symbol of the park. It’s image is displayed on signs and advertisement literature. Precariously perched above the road, I couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy as we pass by.
Ten minutes away from Garden of the Gods just off of U.S. Highway 24 is Manitou Cliff Dwellings. It’s listed as one of Colorado Spring’s recommended places to see. There is an admission fee to see the exhibit. We paid $9.00 per person for a senior ticket. From the parking lot we see the cliff dwellings. We follow the signs to some steps where we began a self-guided tour. We walk inside the structure. There are information signs displayed throughout explaining what the various rooms were used for. We peer inside the round tower. We climb wood ladders to another level to see inside more rooms. It takes less than thirty minutes to see the entire exhibited. We’re routed through a small museum displaying artifacts from the time period then through a large gift/souvenir shop.
The experience feels very touristy. The intent, I think, is to sell souvenirs. In fact, the dwellings are not original to the site. They were relocated here over one hundred years ago from McElmo Canyon near Mesa Verde. However, with that being said, the price was reasonable. I would of been very disappointed had I paid more. I did enjoy getting an up close look of the inside of a cliff dwelling after being denied that opportunity last month while visiting Mesa Verde National Park. You can read about that adventure here. I wouldn’t make this a destination but if you happen to be in the area I recommend a quick stop.
We’re trying to find a campground to move to tomorrow. We had reservations at The Great Sand Dunes National Park, but I just received an email notifying us the reservations were canceled due to winter storm damage. We still want to go to the national park so hopefully we will find another campground nearby, but that will be the subject of our next blog.
So until next time…happy days and safe travels.