August 14, Sunday
It’s been a quiet, pleasant three nights at the Foote Access Area along the Platte River just north of Saratoga, WY. Mature cottonwood trees provide ample shade and a safe haven for all manner of critters. Twice I catch deer walking through camp, nibbling at grass still green beneath the leafy boughs. Two of three evenings I hear owls hooting shortly after sunset.
All three days, a camper comes in late in the afternoon, and leaves early the next morning. I have the campground to myself the rest of the time. I sit out and read my Kindle, poke about on my computer, watch the chipmunks and birds, and generally have a good time.
This morning I hitch up and leave bright and early (hey, for me 9 am is an early departure), and mosey into Saratoga, which is pretty quiet, maybe everyone’s at church. Works for me.
Saratoga has a public hot springs, open 24 hours and free of charge. It’s too warm during the day to enjoy, but coming in the morning like this is perfect. There are a few people about but it’s by no means crowded.
The small, rock-lined pool is closest to the source of the spring and is quite hot, too hot for me. The concrete-lined pool around it is about 104 degrees, and just about perfect. The bottom is sand and slabs of rock, and little bubbles pop up where the spring feeds it.
It feels great. I get to talking with two friends from Colorado staying in a hotel here, one of them is fixing up a class C and is interested in full-timing once it’s road worthy. We talk about what I do and how I do it until I feel ready to go, I give her my business card on the way out so she can find IO and read more.
I fix up lunch in the parking lot in front of the Saratoga’s city hall/police station and then continue south on 130/230. Just outside town truck and trailer crest a rise and my experienced eyes pick out a column of smoke against the hazy sky in the distance, directly in the direction Bertha’s nose is pointing. My first thought is oh no, not again. My second thought is while traveling in the dry western states at this time of year, it wouldn’t be a horrible idea to check for wildfires along my intended travel route ahead of time. Naturally I have no signal out here to check for road closures now.
Well, nothing for it but to keep going and see. The smoke smell becomes noticeable near Riverside/Encampment and the billowing plumes of white and gray more visible, and there are no caution signs about road closures on 230, so I continue southeast.
I find the leading edge of the fire near the Colorado boarder. It’s burning in the conifers to the west, far enough from 230 not to be a hazard, although the smoke is blowing across the road and there are signs about reduced visibility. Gravel roads granting access to the national forest have naturally been closed down, and I am passed several times by pickup trucks with firefighting equipment.
Behind the leading edge, much of the woods is reduced to acres of blackened matchsticks, stretching almost all the way to Cowdrey, CO where the fire trucks turn down a road with an orange sign proclaiming “Incident headquarters”. I later look it up online and learn that this is the Beaver Creek Fire, which has been burning since June 19th. 57 days, yikes.
Fortune smiles upon me, and the part of Routt National Forest I’m intending to camp in is in the clear. At the town of Walden I veer onto 14 until it meets up with US40, then I climb westward into Rabbit Ears Pass (9,426′).
Forest Road 302 is located centrally in the pass off the south side, a little west of the highest point – it’s relatively easy to pick out from the ramp of dirt needed to connect it to 40, and possibly the most hair-raising part of the drive. After the ramp, 302 proper is actually (at the time of this posting) in pretty good shape and is traversable with almost any vehicle.
I drive two or so miles to where 302B splits off to some dispersed camping sites. I’ve heard that the very end of 302, another two miles or so down the road, is where the best sites are located, but it’s on the top of a hill and the last couple hundred yards of the drive are described online as a “nasty, mean, rutted, rocky, dangerous path”, not something I want to tackle late in the day on an empty stomach. So I settle for one of the sites on 302B tonight and resolve to come up with a further plan tomorrow.
August 15, Monday
As it turns out, it gets pretty cold at night at 9,500 feet, even in the middle of August. It takes an extra dose of effort to drag myself out of my comfy warm bed.
Once I do, I’m faced with a dilemma. The forecast looks pretty wet and stormy. It’s going to be quite exposed on top of the hill, and over 10,000 feet. If the last section of road is bad now, it’ll be even worse when muddy.
The smartest thing to do would be to unhook Bertha from Cas and drive the truck alone the last two miles to scope it out. But that’ll waste time. The sun is shining now and I want to get the solar going before it clouds over this afternoon.
So I take a chance and tow the Casita up without scouting it out first.
It could have ended badly, but it doesn’t. There’s no one camping at the top, and the last 1/8 mile of road, while rocky, rutted, and narrow, isn’t horrible. I take it at about 2 mph and manage just fine. The online reviewer had a trailer ten feet longer than mine, and that makes a difference. It’s so much easier getting into tight boondocks with a smaller rig. The trees at the top are tall and straight, which lets me know that the wind up here can’t get too bad.
And the site itself is, well, I’ll let you decide. What do you think?
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