Head in the Clouds – A Spring Vedauwoo Trip Report

May 25, 2012 at 9:30 am

I guess all it takes is one blog post about wildfires and droughts, and the next thing you know, it rains all weekend!

Brave climbers on the Nautilus in the rain

I should not complain about rain at all. It helped contain the fire and saved many homes. But last weekend was the first time that we were able to round up some climber friends for a trip to Vedauwoo this year, and of course the rock was too wet to climb on Saturday.

Happy to be out in Vedauwoo

So, we went for a little hike instead. Vedauwoo is still quiet in May. There were a few brave climbers out on the wet rocks, but many of the popular campsites were sitting open and the trails were relatively empty of people.

Carrying the babies back to camp

We had many great wildlife sightings this weekend, even with our two-dog, one-baby, four-people circus. Rachel and Ben had two moose sightings, and on Saturday night we had a moose walk right through our campsite! Mark and I saw a HUGE marmot up in the rocks on Saturday, it probably sat 4 foot tall as it scanned the valley from that high perch. And there was a rare Bob Scarpelli sighting as the legend of a man hiked in to climb at the currently under-utilized Nautilus.

Of course, I didn’t get any pictures of them. But I did get a bunch of the kiddo!


So, Saturday was a quiet, chilly day for us. We started a huge campfire in the wet ring, but ended up with pouring rain at about 8p that night. There was some talk of playing games in the trailer, but we were all ready to turn in early.

"Yeah, that just BLEW YOUR MIND."

Sunday dawned bright, sunny, with the ground covered in a nice layer of frost! We let the world warm up for a few hours as we made breakfast and packed up camp.

Our nice trailer!

By the time we were parked at the Reynold’s Hill lot, there were more clouds moving in. We walked over to Tiny Town (as Mark and I had scouted it a few weeks previous), and set up to climb.

Mark climbing little rocks in Vedauwoo

Tiny Town is a really fun, little, bolted 5.8. Mark had a fun lead on it, and Rachel remembered all of her awesome belay skills. This was Ben’s first outdoor climb, and he did great! He said his feet hurt like mad in his new shoes, but he really enjoyed standing on top of that giant granite boulder.

Ben starts out with some Vedauwoo body-jamming sweetness

While everybody was climbing, G played a bit in the bushes, had his lunch, and then I tried out some advice from CragMama and took him for a walk in the backpack to get him to sleep for his afternoon nap. It actually worked! He zonked for at least 45 minutes in his little blue tent while rain showers blew by and we all enjoyed the crystal-y goodness of a sport climb in Vedauwoo.

Napping in his little blue tent

After I finished cleaning the route, the Gabinator woke up, and a bigger storm blew in. We packed it up after the one nice climb, and headed back to the cars. Even though we were rained on for two days, and only got in a single route, it was still a REALLY fun weekend. You can tell I had a great time, because there are 26 photos attached to this post!

Feels so good to be up in the clouds!

Sometimes camping is more about friends and relaxation and not the epic conquests that we hear so much about. And that is totally fine with me!

RVing in Colorado – Coyote Camping

May 23, 2012 at 5:33 am

Mark and I have been tent campers for as long as we’ve known each other. When we dirt-bagged our way between climbing areas for a summer in 2004, we actually tent camped for the whole summer. But when the baby was born, I knew this part of our lives was about to change.

Up all night with the baby - but the RV made it a lot easier

I could write an entire blog post about why we bought our travel trailer, and I might get around to doing exactly that one day. But for now, I’d like to write a series of posts that I think might be more useful to visitors of this blog. This is simply going to be a little guide to some of the best campgrounds we’ve seen for RVs in Colorado.

People look for different things when it comes to camping, and it seems the variety of options available to RV camping is even wider than your tenting options. Do you want a plush RV park, with hot tubs, full hook-ups, and around the corner access to Denver night life? Or are you looking for a completely free, undeveloped back-woods site in the depths of the Rockies? Well, Mark and I have seen both and many in between. Each one of the posts in this series will cover a different ‘class’ of campgrounds, divided up by amenities.

This post is all about Coyote Camping – free, undeveloped camping that is RV compatible. All of these sites are without hookups, fire rings, picnic tables, level concrete pads, and price tags! These are rough camping areas that work well for tenters too, and would be best for smaller RVs, camper vans, and truck bed campers. If you want to really get away from it all, here are some good places to do it.

1. Pingree Park Road, west of Fort Collins
Check out Pingree Park Road Camping in Google Maps.

The Poudre Canyon isn’t as dramatic or as popular as some of the other mountain access roads along the Front Range, and that gives it a lovely, quiet, charm. There are a number of dirt, 4-wheel drive roads that access the Roosevelt National Forest lands from this canyon, but Pingree Park Road is the best for RVs. This road runs south out of the canyon, and offers lovely views of the northern parts of Rocky Mountain National Park and the Mummy Range. From this road, you can access trails that take you into the Comanche Peak wilderness, over Mummy Pass, or up to the amazingly beautiful Emmaline Lake.

Hiking around Comanche Peak - accessible by Pingree Road

There are a number of large dirt pull-outs and spur roads from Pingree Park Road that lead to nice, free, dispersed campsites. Mark and I often drive this road in the fall to see aspens fill the hillsides with their bright gold, and there are always a lot of trailers and RVs camping along the way.

Fall Aspens along Pingree Park Road

To get there, take 287 north out of Fort Collins to Ted’s Place (a gas station) and turn left on Co-14. Drive 26 miles through the canyon and turn left on Pingree Road, or Co Rd 63E. The first mile or so is pretty steep, but once the road levels out, you can start looking for campsites all along the way. There is some private property in the area and it is usually well marked.

2. 18 Road, Fruita
Check out 18 Road Campsites and Trails in Google Maps.

As rock climbers, Mark and I used to camp in a style influenced by mountaineers – light and fast, ready to bivy or head for the summit at any minute! Ok, not really, but at climber’s camps, small tents are the way to go. Mountain bikers, on the other hand, do it RIGHT. I have never seen more beautiful RVs in a remote desert setting than I did the day we rode the 18 Road trails.

This network of trails lies about 10 miles north of Fruita, Colorado, on the vaguely named 18 Road. I think this is like 18th street, but more deserty. Wherever the name came from, this road starts in Fruita and heads north towards the sandstone mesas visible from town. The mountain bike trails are awesome, with over 40 miles of well signed and beautiful single track in every level of difficulty imaginable. We visited with my brother a few years ago, and we all three rode the “Kessel Run” at least 3 times that afternoon.

Favorite trails at 18 Road

While we were there, we checked out some of the great camping. If you take 18 Road north from Fruita, there is an unnamed dirt road that breaks left just before the trails and then heads north parallel to the main road. There are probably 15 or more campsites along this road, all open, very nice, and free. This land is part of the North Fruita Desert Special Recreation Area, managed by the BLM, and dispersed camping is allowed. There is a pit toilet, but no water or any other amenities.

Mountain Biking in Fruita!

Even if you’re not into mountain biking (but can put up with mountain bikers around), this would be a nice, free place to park your camper in Western Colorado. The surrounding areas of Fruita and Grand Junction have great recreation possibilities, especially along the nearby Colorado River, and among the many lovely fruit orchards and wineries in the area.

3. Buena Vista surrounding areas
Check out Buena Vista Dispersed Camping in Google Maps.

This area is the one that I have the least familiarity with of the three. While Mark and I have visited Buena Vista a number of times, it’s been five years since we last camped there. At the time, we did not have an RV, but we saw quite a few camping out in dispersed areas of the San Isabel National Forest. If you have a rugged RV and a taste for adventure, this is an area where you will find some beautiful free camping.

View from the free campsite along Co Rd 390

Buena Vista is an awesome small, mountain town in central Colorado. It is primarily known for the amazing local rafting on the Arkansas river. However, the town sits at the base of the Collegiate Peaks, part of the Sawatch Range that contains several of the tallest peaks in Colorado (known as 14’ers). Mark and I have camped for free along two different roads in the area, and saw trailers and RVs along both of them.

Our favorite was a free campsite just off of Co Rd 306 (aka Cottonwood Pass Road). We drove out here to hike Mt Yale, and when the National Forest campground was full, we found a nice little site just off the road. Just next to us was a little class C RV, and its owners were enjoying the aspen forests, big mountains, and free camping just like us.

We also found some nice, wide-open, free campsites along Co Rd 390, which heads west of US-24 just north of Buena Vista. We tent camped here when we climbed Mt Belford, but I’m pretty sure there are RV-compatible sites in the area too.

Buena Vista Campsite - we needed an RV!

Finally, an area worth checking out is the desert-scrub areas north and east of town, accessed by Co Rd 375. There is some bolted rock climbing in this area, and Mark and I have explored it a tiny bit. There were a lot of ATVs and some rougher roads, but lots of open space and free camping in the area. Here, what you miss in lack of shade you make up for in amazing views of the Collegiate Peaks.

Awesome views from Co Rd 375 - NE of Buena Vista

The Verdict
Beautiful, dispersed, no-amenity camping abounds in Colorado. Many of these sites are right off of a main road, and very accessible to RVs. But it will take a sense of adventure and a bit of courage to go beyond the trailer park and explore these mountains to find the best spots. Have fun!

What are your favorite spots for free camping in an RV? What places did I miss on this list?

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blogging for… FIRE!

May 18, 2012 at 5:46 am

Greyrock mountain is on fire. So far, more than 7,300 acres have burned, and only 5% contained. Luckily, few homes are in imminent danger, and only a couple neighborhoods have been evacuated. But, this fire is HUGE.

Hewlett Gulch Fire Map - 05/17/12

Don’t worry, we’re not in danger here at ColoCalders HQ. All we’ve had to deal with so far is the smoke – and there’s plenty of that. We’re under air quality warnings this week, and keeping G inside when it’s so warm and sunny out is not fun! But, I’m very thankful that the smoke is all I have to complain about.

View from my work building on Wednesday, 05/16/12

The CSU atmospheric Science Department, where I work, is much further west, though. It sits just below Horsetooth Reservoir at the edge of the foothills. And the views of the giant smoke plume were incredible yesterday. Today, there’s so much smoke and haze in the area that you can’t see up into the plume. And every time the wind shifts to a more northerly direction, it gets dark down here below the smoke.

Watching the smoke cloud in the foothills

As a student climatologist, I have to get a bit geeky here. Every year, we have wildfires sprout up in the mountains, and it is a natural process that actually helps keep the forests healthy. But, we have a few other issues this year.

US Drought Monitor Map - 05/16/2012

Wildfires in May aren’t unheard of, but it is pretty early in the year for it. The US Drought Monitor Map shows that much of the western US is back to drought conditions, and this fire is located in a tiny blob of severe drought area in extreme north central Colorado. We’re also at 18% of normal snow-water equivalent in the Front Range drainage, and we’ve had a dry, warm winter and spring.

Basin Snow Pack Percent of Normal

Drought stressed plants are crispier (that’s the technical term, I’m sure), and more easily catch fire, but there is ANOTHER issue on top of that. When snow has disappeared and the rains have diminished, there’s less water on the surface to evaporate and moisten the air. Plants that are experiencing drought conditions also tend to release less water into the air (through transipration), which reduces the low level moisture content. This creates a difficult feedback loop, and drought leads to more drought. And we’re definitely seeing dry conditions in the atmosphere and the surface around here.

Relative Humidity This Week

When relative humidities get low, our afternoon rain tends to evaporate on the way down, reducing the amount on the surface and increasing gusty downdrafts. Drier air leads to less rain and more wind, perfect conditions for fire weather.

We’ve got drought, we’ve got a missing snow pack, we have warm and very dry weather, and we’ve got one MORE fire danger to worry about on top of that. The Bark Beetle.

Pine trees have been dying off in huge swaths over the last few years. In some parts of Colorado, all you can see for miles and miles are dead pine trees. So far, the northern Front Range has escaped the worst of this, but we have started developing patches of beetle-killed trees on all of the local hillsides. It’s a terrible thing to see, and really scary when you imagine what could happen if these dead forests dry out and catch fire.

Lots of dead trees - near the CO/WY border in July 2009

So, we’re keeping a close watch on fires this season. And since the beetle epidemic isn’t getting better, and western droughts are more likely due to climate change, it’s likely that our mountain ranges are heading for a major transformation in the next few decades.

You can find up-to-date information about the Hewlett Gulch Fire at the following sites:
InciWeb: http://www.inciweb.org/
The Coloradoan: http://www.coloradoan.com/
Larimer County Health: http://larimer.org/news/

Fold-up Camping Baby Gear Review

May 16, 2012 at 8:53 am

G’s Nana (Grandmother) has a secret super power. She has the amazing ability to locate the most unique fold-up camping baby gear that has ever been made. Some of this gear she bought for us, some of it we bought ourselves, all of it got tested out in real-world situations on our family camping trips over the last 18 months.

Hanging in the Go-Pod

KidCo Go-Pod
From the makers of the ubiquitous PeaPod, comes another fun piece of outdoor kid gear. The Go-Pod is a collapsable stand-up play area, with a seat for the kiddo, two cup holders, webbing attachment points for toys and a heavy-duty nylon floor below it. It does not have any springs or bouncy-ness to it, but it does have an adjustable height, and is rated for babies “from 4 months to walking.” The Go-Pod folds up into a bag about the same size and weight of a normal camp chair as well.

I liked that the chair had a floor below it, so baby need not be wearing shoes to play here. G really enjoyed putting things in the cup holders and generally messing around with the seat itself more than anything attached to it.

We did have a few issues, though. There is no support between the table-area and the seat, so the whole thing tends to sag down in the middle if the baby is not standing. When we first put G in there (around 5 months), the Go-Pod just seemed HUGE and it looked like it swallowed him whole! And since he was a pretty active kid, by the time he was crawling (10 months), he was not thrilled with being kept contained in the chair.

So, for us, the Go-Pod had a pretty short use-window. I stuck G in there this weekend for the photo (above) and while he did fit great, I got the “Get me out of here!” sign pretty quick. Looks like it’s time for our Go-Pod to move on to another camping baby!

Lucky Bums Moon Chair

Lucky Bums Moon Chair
For the first of I’m sure many small camping chairs for G, his Nana brought us Lucky Bum’s Moon Chair. This is a pretty cool little seat with a papason-like design. We actually had this in our living room for most of the spring, and we’ve gotten it out for G on our last two camping trips. It has a very sturdy ring around the seat, and folds up to about half the size of a normal camp chair.

Having Moon Chair Issues

However, even with all of the playtime G gives it, he still hasn’t figured out how to climb in and sit down with out the thing tipping over on him. If he wants to sit in this chair, we pretty much have to hold it in place while he climbs in. This could be a coordination issue, and I’m interested to see if he gets a hang of it later this summer. But the seat design is pretty inherently unstable, and might be better for older kids to relax in.

Ciao! Baby fold-up camp high chair

The Ciao! Baby Portable High-Chair
This is the most recent addition to our camping gear, and already I love it. The seat is sturdy, locks down with metal latches, and includes buckle straps to keep your kiddo in place. The tray area is covered in easy-to-clean plastic, and kept tightly in place, so seems to be able to support a decent amount of food. G had his breakfast al Fresco at our campsite last weekend, and he really dug this high chair.

G in the camping high-chair

This is just a well designed piece of fold-up camp furniture that I have been really amazed and impressed with. I have very little negative to say about it, except that it is the biggest and heaviest of the furniture when folded up (see comparison below) and is a bit expensive at $67.99. But, since it is rated for up to three years old, we will probably get A LOT of use out of this one.

Right to Left: Moon Chair, Go-Pod, Ciao! Chair, and a regular Walmart Adult Camp Chair

So, there you have it. Three pieces of interesting, stylish, and very useful camping furniture for your adventure kiddos! Check them out, and enjoy!

My Life in Nine Months at a Time

May 13, 2012 at 7:34 am

G turned 18 months old last month! The transition from 1 year old to 2 year old has been amazing to behold for this guy. He’s talking up a storm, running me in circles, and eating all the food he can get his little hands on.

18 months is a milestone for Mark and I as well. We’ve now been parents for exactly twice as long as the pregnancy. It’s amazing how fast life can change. Based on the lovely post from my friend Anna, here’s a look at how far we’ve come in slightly more than two years!

27 Months Ago

Pregnant in Thailand and I didn't know it yet

18 Months Ago

New Baby G heading home from the hospital

9 Months Ago

Drooly baby hanging out at the crag

And Now!

Now a toddler playing in Vedauwoo!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the awesome Mom’s out there!!

Super Moon and Tiny Town in Vedauwoo

May 6, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Last weekend we snuck out on Saturday night for an evening of windy camping and grilled steaks in Vedauwoo. Since it was the very end of the semester, we couldn’t get any friends to come along for climbing. So, our goals were more modest: 1) Photograph the Super-Moon Rise in Wyoming, and 2) See if we can locate an interesting new area with a few bolted routes.

Mark using the crash pad as a grill windscreen


I had hoped that with the wide-open prarie in Southern Wyoming, I might be able to get an awesome photo of this supposed Super Moon rising. Of course, as we drove up in the afternoon, the skies clouded over with storms and the prospect was bleak. I held out hope that the storms would move off before sunset, but they never did.

Hiking to a moon watching spot on a cold, windy evening

Later in the evening, I was putting G to bed and the trailer started to glow with a weird silvery light. I looked out the window and saw the edge of the bright, full moon peaking out over the distant cloud tops. So, I handed the baby to Mark and ran outside with the camera!

Super-moon rise over storm clouds

It wasn’t quite the photo that I was hoping for, but the moment was very nice for me. Sitting out in Vedauwoo with the wind whistling by, I watched the distant storms light up with lightening and the full moon surf the cloud tops. It was a peaceful and lovely time to be outside in Wyoming.


A little searching on Mountain Project turned up some interesting new information about bolted routes in Vedauwoo. Apparently, some development has happened on a boulder just past the Reynold’s Hill pull-out. Mark and I were hoping to go check out these climbs, but, again, I forgot all guidebooks or directional printouts.

Hiking back to the Reynold's Hill parking

So, we went with the classic ‘Voo formula and just walked off into the woods towards some rocks that looked promising. Shockingly, we found the area right away!

Tiny Town (5.8) a new bolted line in Vedauwoo

The routes are on a smallish boulder about half a mile from Vedauwoo road. There is a cow trail that one can follow from the tree line in towards the rock – which Mark decided looked like a boob (nipple and all) from a distance.

Currently, there are two fully bolted routes, Tiny Town (5.8) on the west-ish side and When it Pours, it Rains (5.10+) on the north-easterly side. There’s also a third set of anchors on a clean looking wall, which is probably Small Steps (5.12-), set as a project on TR.

The SE side of the Tiny Town boulder (Anchors but no bolts - yet)

The area is very kid-friendly with a nice flat base and short, easy approach. Mark and I are excited about getting back here to work these routes soon – Who wants to come with us?!

The world's longest, most ghetto stick clip next to the 5.10 route

Adorable Climbing Babies

May 1, 2012 at 8:13 am

There is very little in this world that I like more than seeing photos of babies born into adventure. Images of little ones enjoying beautiful wilderness, or rock climbing fun, make me giggly and happy and hopeful for all of our futures. In the last few weeks, I’ve run across some really great ones, and I just had to share!

Our good friends recently welcomed their first daughter into the world, and their amazing newborn photographer Raven Banning got creative with their climbing gear. How awesome is this!

Newborn Climber Baby

Newborn Climber Baby

This is my favorite shot of our little G-man playing with our gear last summer. I was sorting out the Vedauwoo rack (aka WIDE GEAR) before our first trip of the year. Yeah, that cam is as big as he is, and he loves it!

Babies and Big Cams - Love!

Babies and Big Cams - Love!

This little beauty is the daughter of some friends who camped with us in Vedauwoo the summer I was pregnant. She had never seen climbers before. As Mark started getting racked up for the first climb of the morning, she walked right over, grabbed herself some slings, and started getting ready too! Ohmygosh it was so cute!

Climber Baby Ready For Trad!

Climber Baby Ready For Trad!

Do you have any favorite shots of kiddos climbing or enjoying nature? Share in the comments!