Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Saturday, December 09, 2023

Colorado 2022: Day Sixteen and Seventeen, Great Sand Dunes and the Trip Home

After the last few days of misery, we were glad to finally be heading home. The last leg of our trip was supposed to be a return to Great Sand Dunes National Park. We had stopped there before, but just a quick drive through and continuing on our trip. For this trip, we had reserved a campsite at Pinon Flats for two nights. The hope was to do some hiking, hopefully including a trip out upon the dunes, and also maybe some night time astrophotography. Due to the ongoing rainy weather and clouds, I hadn't spent much time behind the lens at night since early in the trip at Rocky Mountain National Park.

By some miracle, when we woke up on our last morning at Gateview Campground, it wasn't raining. The air was chilly, but the sky had hints of nicer weather ahead. The only thing keeping the day from being better was that Little Bit was still miserable from having a cold. That lingering cold would be just one of several motivating factors sending us hurrying on our homeward way.

After packing up camp, we headed out to highway 149 and headed south towards Lake City. Still hoping for some great fall colors, we pushed higher and higher towards Slumgullion Pass. The best colors of the day were between Lake City and that pass, although we saw plenty of beautiful golden aspen further along our drive as well. Here are just a few pictures from our frequent stops. 

Highway 149 winds through golden aspen south of Lake City Colorado

San Juan Mountains and golden aspen

As you can see, the clouds were really breaking up nicely and the fresh snow on the higher peaks added a nice touch to the autumn scenery. We had packed some damp gear upon leaving Gateview. As we descended the Rio Grande Valley, we eventually stopped for lunch at a roadside pullout just beyond Creede. Wagon Wheel Gap had some interesting history, but we were also thankful for the bright sun and dry conditions. The various pieces of our tent dried quickly in the low relative humidity and gusty winds. Before long, we were fed and headed down the road towards our goal for the night. 

We had been actively discussing if we even wanted to stop. Little Bit was running a fever and seemed genuinely miserable. We wanted to get home quickly in case it developed into something requiring a trip to the doctor. However, as the day was beginning to grow late and we had to drive right past the Great Sand Dunes National Park anyway, we decided to go ahead and stop for the night. That turned out to be the right call, or at least I think it was. We were all tired, and driving deep into the growing dusk was probably a bad idea. Lots of critters were liable to be out wandering the roads at night, so getting some good rest before traveling further made sense.

In the dying light, I snapped a few pictures of the sand dunes. Under the circumstances, I didn't get to do all the photography I had hoped for. Yet another trip will have to be planned for sometime in the future. However, I did have some reasonably good light for the little photography I got to do. 

Great Sand Dunes National Park at sunset

The next morning, it was obvious that we should go ahead and pack up to head home. Even though our reservation had one more night, Little Bit was miserable. We hiked briefly out on the dunes, but strong down sloping winds off of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains made it miserable. With sand stinging our faces, we quickly retreated after climbing the first prominent high point or ridge. After getting in our car, we decided it was time to go home. I pointed the car homeward, and we started making haste. 

Leah at Great Sand Dunes

Making good time, we arrived in Amarillo that night and the next morning, decided to make it home in one big push. Traveling with a sick toddler isn't a recipe for quick trips, but we just wanted to get home. We arrived in the wee hours of the morning, worn out but having had a great trip. 

Even though the last few days were rough, the overall trip had been a big success. We had also learned some important things. First and foremost, toddlers don't like being cooped up in a kid carrier for hours at a time. Before this trip, we had tentatively planned on another big Glacier National Park trip for 2023. By the end of this trip, both Leah and I had come to the conclusion that another big road trip with a toddler wasn't a great idea. So, we'll wait until we can all enjoy hiking the trails of that amazing park. If you're curious why we are dying to get back to Glacier, check out this post from our last trip there. 

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Colorado 2022: Day Fourteen and Fifteen, From Bad To Worse and Our Last Fish of the Trip

Yes, it is hard to imagine, but things can get worse. If you haven't read it already, find the backstory HERE. When we woke up the next morning, we hadn't caught many more mice. They had learned fast. But, they had exacted revenge for their lost friends. Our car was destroyed. Even worse, it was raining again. And it was cold. Very, very chilly. Little Bit had developed a cold. Probably a result of one of our stops for breakfast, eating out was easy, but also was exposing her to germs that she hadn't been exposed to. She was definitely miserable, and with the cold weather and rain, it seemed like a logical day to travel to one of my all time favorite places: The Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

First, we had to clean the car as best as possible. Mouse turds were everywhere along with lots of chewed up stuff. Paper towels, napkins, our food would have been destroyed except I've developed a system when I camp out west. All food is stored in rodent proof containers. That usually means coolers. I have one that is for cold stuff, and one that is for everything else. The key is that mice can't get in. 

They had a heyday in Little Bit's carseat. I'm sure there were lots of tantalizing smells there, but it seemed like the mice had tried extra hard to mark it as their territory if that's a thing. Either way, they had spent lots of time in it. Cleaning it out with Lysol wipes while the rain poured down was something I hope to never have to do again. We carefully sorted through everything and wiped it all down, hoping all the while that Little Bit wouldn't contract any deadly viruses or other diseases. I was at a loss for any other solutions to the problem. Never had I had mice figure out the glue traps so fast. Our defenses had been solved far too quickly. Not only were there lots of mice, they were also smart mice. 

Determined to leave the cold, soggy campsite behind, even if for a few hours, we packed into the car and started heading up towards the Blue Mesa Cutoff. I knew it would cut an easy hour out of our trip, but what I hadn't planned on was how bad the road was. The snow level had been just a few hundred feet above our camp apparently. No wonder the rain felt so cold. We started slipping and sliding across the muddy dirty road, our small Toyota Corolla looking out of place compared to the few trucks and 4wd SUVs we saw. By some miracle, we made it through deep mud, snow and ice. 

On the far end, we found highway 50 to be in very similar condition. Our trip had apparently been timed to coincide with some intense roadwork going on between Montrose and Gunnison on highway 50. Dirt and gravel lanes stretched on for a while. It wasn't until we were finally zipping up Blue Mesa Summit that a now familiar stench hit us. With rain pouring down, we had our third blowout in four days. Seriously. It is funny now, and probably funny to anyone reading, but at the time we were completely over everything. The rain, the mice, the blowouts, everything. The best camping trips are usually the ones that leave you wanting more. This was probably the first time I've ever seriously been ready for a trip to end. 

Thankfully, there was a NPS picnic pavilion at Cimarron. We were able to get out of the rain to change this diaper and clothing. Now, our day's plans were significantly changed. I probably should have seen this whole thing coming. Little Bit had decided the most comfortable place to do the morning business was in the car seat. At this point, I knew the drill. Ever since, I've always expected these bad things to happen. One silver lining was that we had been keeping a changing pad in the car seat, so cleanup was easier than it could have been. Still, we needed another town trip. I wasn't going to unnecessarily haul poopy clothing around stinking up the car. Imagine how the mice would have liked that!

We headed on into Montrose. That was probably a good idea anyway. Showers continued rolling through the area, and with Little Bit obviously fighting a bad cold, I couldn't get out and fish the Gunnison anyway. The last thing she needed was to get soaked and chilled. 

The best part about our plan change was lunch. While I sat at the laundromat for what felt like the umpteenth time, Leach ran over to Qdoba. By the time she got lunch and brought it back, we were almost ready to roll again. A quick trip to Walmart for more mouse traps and a couple of food items, and we were on the road again. 

The clouds were starting to break, and we got a pleasant hour or two at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Surprisingly, the fishing was very tough. I've always had an exceptional time on this stream, but I've never hit it late in the season with low flows and clear water. After a few smaller fish, it was obvious that I wasn't going to find any monsters. With a few more hours to experiment......maybe??? But it was getting late and we either had an extra hour of driving OR and to drive over the Blue Mesa Cutoff again. We also needed time to fight mice. So, back we headed.

Back in camp, the rain was setting in again in earnest. We sat in the car for a while, debating what to do. Finally, it was determined that we were there for the night. A peanut butter sandwich for Little Bit and then we crawled into the tent. That night, the mice had their biggest hurrah yet. The car was destroyed yet again. Leah was not happy about it either. 

Normally, I sleep like a rock. Even when we go camping, I generally get a lot more sleep than she does. Somewhere in the middle of the night, she insistently woke me up. I don't remember much, except seeing a mouse run across the top of the mesh on our tent as she said, "There are mice running on our tent" with lots of exasperation in her voice. The next morning, when confronted with questions about it, I just asked, "What did you want me to do about it?" In the end, it was clear that while I couldn't do much, it was important that I know just how bad things had gotten. Yes, things had gotten miserable. 

So, what to do? It was cold and damp out. Low clouds were hanging on and we didn't know if it would clear out or not. "Let's drive in to Gunnison and get breakfast somewhere warm," I suggested. That was a big winner with everyone. Little Bit, while sick, was still enjoying having someone else bring us food. A warm environment out of the rain and cold would cheer us all up. With luck, the weather might even change by afternoon and let me fish one last time. 

We drove into town and somehow avoided the now expected blowout on the drive in. The Back Country Cafe was our destination. Over the years, we have eaten there twice and enjoyed it immensely both times. While menu prices were higher than ever, it was still worth it to get out of the cold and eat something we didn't have to cook on the camp stove back in camp. The food was still just as delicious as we remembered. We'll definitely be back again when in the area.

Sitting in the warmth, we noticed the clouds starting to break. I had checked the weather, and it looked like we might avoid rain for the afternoon. The storm system was starting to move out, and while the rain was ending, it also meant colder air at night. After a brief discussion, we decided to tough it out one last night. After all, we had one other part of our trip that we wanted to include if at all possible. So, we headed back out to camp and have one more day of fishing. 

Canyon walls at Gateview Campground

The sky looked surprisingly clear when we got back to camp. Maybe, by some miracle, we'll avoid any more rain I thought. No such luck, but we did have a nice afternoon. Little Bit wasn't feeling good, so resting in the pack on my back wasn't terrible. We bundled her up more than normal, and donned our waders, then headed down the trail to try our luck once more. We took lunch just in case we stayed out longer than expected. That turned out to be a good choice. We wandered far downstream towards the lake. Eventually, things got too rough and we turned around, but I had explored further than I had ever been before. 

Lower Unit along Lake Fork Gunnison

Behind one large rock, we found evidence of other visitors. Someone had lost a lower unit from a boat engine. It was about that point that the clouds started to gather again. By the time it was spitting on us, the best idea seemed to be to hang out under a slightly overhanging boulder and have lunch. Thankfully, this shower didn't last long, but it was obvious that the rain was returning for one more night. 

We got a decent amount of fishing in. The afternoon was highlighted by Leah standing in one spot and catching eight or ten fish in a row while Little Bit shouted her delight louder with every catch. Mama is a real good angler!!! Thankfully, Daddy found a couple for himself, finally finding some nice rainbow trout to compete with the big one that Mama had caught the day before. By the time I got my second big rainbow, it was clear that Little Bit's patience for the pack was wearing thin and rain was starting to seriously threaten again. 

Lake Fork Gunnison Rainbow trout for me

Quality Lake Fork Gunnison Rainbow trout

We wandered back towards camp to spend one last cold, damp night under assault by rodents. I think we were all glad to have moving day the next day. I was more than a little sad that this part of the trip to my favorite part of the state had gone so lousy, but now it just gives me a reason to come back. It might have to be a non family trip, however. I don't know if Leah will ever willingly camp anywhere we suspect there might be mice ever again. Somehow, I'll have to figure out a better game plan for dealing with them in the future.

Thankfully, while the mice were as thick as ever, it seemed that our car was getting boring for them. They didn't destroy it as badly as previous nights, although there was still plenty of cleanup the next morning. As we drifted off to sleep, the sound of rain pattering on the tent started in earnest yet again. I fell asleep hoping it would quit long enough to pack up our camp at least.

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Colorado 2022: Day Thirteen, Fishing One Last Nice Day and Battling Rodents

While the overall Colorado trip was great, the end was definitely a slog. This was because the weather turned sour for an extended amount of time. I had made the mistake of bragging to my wife about how, while it might rain, it would be nice a few hours later and definitely no later than the next day. This set us up for the obvious result: days and days of dreary weather that was increasingly colder by the day. And yes, I'm still reminded about how much fun that part of the trip was. Deservedly I might add...

When we woke up, it was fairly chilly. That was to be expected. The canyon we were camping in was sheltered by high walls to the east and west. That meant the sun wouldn't hit the campsite until at least 9:30 or 10 in the morning. With the late season, we were already pushing our luck by camping, so we hoped it wouldn't snow. After sleeping late to stay warm, we finally got up and fixed breakfast. While Leah and Little Bit were busy in camp, I grabbed a rod and fished just a few steps away. The camp pool had been kind to me before, and I was hoping that might be the case now. Sure enough, a couple of good brown trout were ready to play. Nothing huge, but it got me excited by the prospects. 

Lake Fork Gunnison Brown trout at Gateview Campground

Lake run fish ascend this system from the large reservoir below. Kokanee and large brown trout move up in the fall. I was hoping for both. Unfortunately, there were no signs of the salmon, and we saw very few brown trout over the next couple of days. I'll have to return another time to try again. What we did find were rainbow trout and plenty of them. 

After breakfast, we all got ready and wandered down the trail to fish. Naturally, the day progressed as one would expect. Leah caught the big fish and Little Bit got bored quickly. That meant back to camp to play and enjoy what would feel like our last glimpses of sunlight for the trip. 

Lake Fork Gunnison rainbow trout at Gateview Campground

As the sun dropped below the canyon walls for the day, the temperature started dropping quickly. We bundled back up, and I hit the camp pool once more. One more brown trout came to hand. While I expected to find fresh fish in this pool every day, that wasn't meant to be. This would be the last fish I would find in the camp pool, although we would find more fish downstream on future days. 

Late Day on the Lake Fork of the Gunnison at Gateview Campground

lake fork gunnison streamer eating brown trout

As the shadows lengthened, we started getting supper ready. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for the scope of our problems became abundantly clear. I had never had problems with mice at this campsite, but it had become obvious the night before that at least a couple of the critters were around. Not to worry, I had come prepared with lots of sticky glue traps. I had deployed them effectively around and throughout our car. When I had found two that morning, I had hoped the problem was solved. Apparently I just made them all mad. 

It got darker and darker. While we were eating supper, mice were running around everywhere. It appeared that this campground shared the fate of some of my other favorites in Colorado. I'm unclear on how these things get around, probably in people's cars. The fact remains that they are almost EVERYWHERE in Colorado now. I've had big time problems in Elevenmile Canyon and the Black Canyon. Now I can add Gateview to the list of campgrounds I'm paranoid of staying at.

The worst part about the mice (other than the fact they absolutely destroyed our car every night in all ways imaginable) was having a toddler along. In an environment that already wasn't super sanitary, trying to keep Little Bit safe from rodent borne disease suddenly became priority number one. Leah was less than thrilled about the whole deal. I deployed more sticky traps, hoping for the best. As we crawled into our tent for the night, mice were running all over. I knew we already had some in the car. I had seen them through the rear windshield. Not knowing what else to do, I finally crawled into the tent. It was too late in the day to pack up and start home, so we would spend another night and hope for the best. We had plans to stay two more nights, so time would tell how that would work out.