Breaking Blogging: OMG FIRE!

June 15, 2012 at 6:56 am

Remember back in May when I was complaining about a little 7,000 acre fire? Ah, those times seem so quaint and naive. In the last week, our worst predictions have been put to shame by the High Park Fire, a 52,000 acre monster that has devoured the forest just west of our town.

Map of the High Park fire from Thursday Morning 6/14

On Saturday afternoon, Mark and I put together our summer container garden and watched a huge plume of smoke rise over the distant foothills. Since then, we have had a week of hot, breezy days with no possibility of rain in our forecast, and the fire just keeps growing and growing.

Smoke from the High Park Fire on Saturday night

Smoke from the High Park fire on Sunday night

There’s no real way to tell what damage has been done to homes, trails and lives until the flames die down and people can return. So far, estimates are at well over 100 homes burned and one confirmed fatality – a woman died as her mountain cabin was consumed by the fast moving fire on Sunday.

A lot of houses in danger and full view from my office

Fire fighters have been working to save these homes for three days straight

The view of burnt hillsides on Monday morning

This time around, it’s not just the smell of distant smoke that is aggravating us. There is the devastation of watching your local hillsides burn to a crisp, and the ever present fog of dense and unrelenting smoke. My office is just below the reservoir, less than a mile from one part of this fire, and the smoke there is so terrible sometimes that it makes me ill. This morning, I woke up with a sore throat and clogged sinuses and determined I probably won’t be going back into my office to work until next week.

How close the fire is to my office at the Foothills Campus

It’s now Thursday night, and there are over 1,300 people working on containing this fire. They announced 10% containment on Wednesday morning but have barely been able to increase that. There are helicopters and heavy air tankers flying over town all day long, a huge tent city of firefighters across the street from my office, and we’re hearing things about how “we’re in this for the long haul.” “This is just the beginning.” and “We know that more area will continue to burn before this fire is put out.”

The wind kicks up a bit and the fire takes off

I’m not sure how to wrap-up this post because it seems we are completely in the middle of this disaster. Mark, G and I are all thankful that our own home is safe, but our hearts break when we look out into “our” mountains and see our second, metaphorical mountain “home” going up in smoke. Hopefully, this fire will leave enough behind for the forests to recover quickly, and hopefully it will rain soon. Hopefully.

Summiting Crosier Mountain!

June 12, 2012 at 7:51 am

Let the 2012 Summer of Summits begin!

Kate on the summit of Crosier Mountain!!

Last weekend, we climbed Crosier Mountain, which is a relatively small peak about 10 miles east of Rocky Mountain National Park. Crosier Mountain tops out at a respectable 9,233 ft (2814 m), and of the three possible routes to the summit, we chose the easiest, with an 8 mile round trip.

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View Crosier mountain 6/10/2012 in a larger map

This was the longest trail that we have ever hiked with G, and it was a success on many levels. The first was a beautiful day in the mountains with our kiddo (and out of the smoke from the High Park fire). The second was ticking a summit that I’ve wanted to see for a long time off of our list. And the third was that we made really good time, going at more than 2 miles per hour up the steep hillside.

G stylin' in his julbo's

Of course, we had our share of issues, most of which were technical in nature. To start the day, I realized in Loveland that I had completely forgotten my camera! Bummer. So, we used the cruddy phone cameras to document this beautiful hike (this just makes me sad). In the same vein, we decided to try using Google Tracks and the embedded GPS in my phone to track our hike. This worked pretty well all the way up until the battery conked out. As you can see on the map above, our track stops abruptly about a mile and half from the trailhead. No, we did not quit there, the phone did.

This shot would have been so much better with my nice camera!

The people, however, did great! We managed to hike the 8 miles (possibly more) in about 5.5 hours total, with probably an hour and half of stop/rest time. G did really well sitting in the backpack all day. For a kid who screams when we buckle him into his car seat or a plane seat, I’m always amazed at how eager he is to get into that backpack. He laughs and talks and sings along the hike. He likes to play with the sunshade, eat lots of snacks, and kick Mark in the back while we’re on the trail.

Mark can grab feet and sing "Old MacDonald" at the same time - MAD SKILLZ

Even the dog surprised us. Liv is now 11 years old, and by the end of the 8 miles, she was really tired. Mark and I were coming up with contingency plans about who would carry the baby and who would carry the dog if she just gave up. But Liv made it all the way up and down too!

Everybody is dogging on mile 7 of 8

We didn’t get to spend any time on the summit for this hike. I had a ranger eating her lunch snap a quick pic of me on the summit as Mark turned around and hiked back down. G had fallen asleep about 45 minutes earlier, and he started to rouse right when we hit the top. Mark had to turn around and try to get him back to sleep through the movement of the ride. Ah well, I’m sure there will be plenty of summits to enjoy this summer.

View of the Continental Divide and Rocky Mtn Nat Park from the summit

Crosier mountain was a beautiful hike on a beautiful Sunday. The trail was not too crowded, but well used. We were passed by many mountain bikers, several other hikers, and saw evidence of horses through out our day. The summit views were amazing, but the views along the trail were breath-taking as well. Here’s hoping for a summer full of gorgeous summits!

Testing Airplane Travel Advice with an ACTUAL Toddler

June 8, 2012 at 5:25 am

Watching planes while waiting to take off!

Even though G is only a year and a half old, he’s already been on 8 airplane flights, and we’ve got another trip scheduled for the beginning of next month! It’s not that we’re so desperate for travel that we’re dragging our baby back and forth across the country; this is simply the result of a spread-out 21st century family and a lot of work-related frequent flier miles.

I’d love to say that after all of his time in the air, we’ve gotten a system down and things run smoothly. This is absolutely NOT the case. Every time we travel, I work hard on preparing for the task ahead. I look up advice and shop for products on the internet. I carefully consider ways to make travel easier on G and the other airplane passengers. I remember seeing all of those other happy, quiet families on the plane and try to figure out what they did and I did not do. I usually come up with a beautiful plan that should work great – only to be smashed to pieces by the reality of toddlerhood.

So, for all of you parents who have traveled with babies or are considering it in the future, here’s my breakdown of how all that travel advice works with a REAL kid!

Advice: Time the flight to your child’s nap or sleep schedule.

What happens for other people: When those big jet engines roar up, the baby drifts off to sleep and spends a quiet two hours napping in Mom’s lap.
What happened for us: The plane arrives late, and boarding happens a full hour after his usual nap time. Toddler is exhausted and running on adrenaline, causing tantrums and screaming in the airport. Once the plane takes off, he cries for another half hour while we work to get him to sleep. He takes half a nap and wakes up cranky and confused. This results in him throwing goldfish crackers at the people in the row in front of us.

Advice: Try bringing a car seat if your baby sleeps well in one.

What happens for other people: Parents buckle child into seat for a safe and secure flight. Sometimes they jiggle a toy in front of the baby and she laughs playfully. After a few happy minutes of flight, baby drifts off to dreamland for the remainder of the trip.
What happened for us: Baby is so excited about getting on the plane that he refuses to get into his car seat. After some wrestling, we strap him in and he commences howling. Then he discovers that he can reach the seat in front of him with his foot and starts repeatedly kicking the back of the poor woman in front of us. Every time I grab his foot and tell him to stop, he starts screaming. We discuss if it’s better to have one unhappy person getting kicked and a quiet baby, or nobody getting kicked but an entire plane annoyed by the screaming baby. We still haven’t found an answer to that question.

"Ooooo! Plane!!"

Advice: Make sure babies drink during take-off and landing to help clear their ears.

What happens for other people: Mom happily nurses baby during takeoff or a toddler sits and sips on her little pink cup of water. Child is happy and pain free, yey!
What happened for us: This has been an important part of our airplane flights, but rarely goes smoothly. If my baby is tired or sees us putting together the bottle of milk before take-off, he will cry and cry for it. This usually happens as the plane is sitting 12th in line for take-off, and I have passengers giving me dirty looks for denying my baby what he clearly desperately wants. I actually had a woman ask me once “Why don’t you just give him the bottle?” Well, honey, when you can’t take more than 3 oz containers through security, this milk is precious stuff! And I’m going to save it for when he really needs it… 20 minutes from now when we finally get to take off! Also, just a note, if you let your kiddo drink and eat as much as he wants during the flight, getting him to choke down more for landing is NOT easy. Yes, this is the voice of experience speaking.

Advice: Bring lots of healthy snacks.

What happens for other people: After take-off, Mom unveils a reusable container full of organic apple slices! Child squeals with joy and sits happily watching her DVD and munching away.
What happened for us: Well, once we got to the airport two hours early, flew through security, and then had a ton of time to fill before getting on the plane. I revealed the location of the snacks early, and my baby ate them all before the flight. Then there was the previously mentioned trip where he woke up angry and confused from a too-short nap and decided to entertain himself by throwing his snacks at everybody around us. Warning: even organic apple slices can be a dangerous projectile! On our last trip, I was sure I brought enough (soft, not pointy) food for all possibilities, but this time my husband declared all of the snacks to be “for the baby” and refused to eat them. This left HIM cranky and unhappy. Sigh.

Advice: Airplane entertainment options abound!

What happens for other people: Parents buy little baby earphones, and little baby airplane sticker sets, and drawing boards with markers attached, and DVD players, and many other wonderful toys and bags. Kids are so happy to have new things to play with on the plane that they don’t even notice what’s going on around them!
What happened for us: On a normal day at home, my kiddo spends most of his waking hours running around. He loves to “go for walk” which means we go outside and play in the grass or walk over to the playground or throw rocks in puddles. We don’t let him watch TV (he’s less than 2 years old, and our Dr said to avoid it). So, plopping our kid down in front of a DVD player just does NOT work on an airplane. I say “Ooo, G, look, let’s watch Cars!” and he looks at me like I’m bat-@#*~ insane and clearly do not understand how much greater his life would be if I just let him stand on the armrest of his seat again. We can get him to play with toy trucks if he’s allowed to stand on the floor and push them across the seats. MegaBlocks actually worked pretty well on the last flight, until they all got tossed too far away to reach while the seatbelt light was on. Sometimes we can read books with him and sometimes we can play with his squishy-light-up squid thing. But if people really wanted my kid (and every other one on the plane) to be entertained, they’d let us open a window and chuck organic apple slices into the engines!

Entertained by MegaBlocks for a little while

Advice: If all else fails – Benadryl.

What happens for other people: Total baby zonkage.
What happened for us: A low dose resulted in a pretty calm happy kid for two hours of a flight home once. He still crawled all over the floor and generally annoyed the nice man sitting next to us, but there was a lot less screaming. So I tried it on the next flight with a full dose. He conked out nicely and slept for the first hour, and then woke up yowling like a wounded puppy. Ever see David after dentist? We had something very similar for the rest of our three hour flight to Cleveland.

My Advice: Just relax and go with it

You can bring all of the snacks and toys in the world, but the only thing that will really make a difference is your attitude. If you’re freaking out, more than likely, your kids are going to freak out. Though, sometimes, they just freak out anyway. But if you’re happy regardless, at least the people around you can soak in your positive energy.

One thing I refuse to do is apologize for my kid. In an age of high childhood obesity rates and zombified kids playing video games all the time, I’m actually proud of the fact that my child is curious about the plane and people around him, and that he does not like to sit still for three hours. Seriously, who actually enjoys being sedentary for that long? Not me, or my baby.

So, if you’re ever on a flight and you see me running down the aisle after a half-naked and soaking wet toddler with apple slices in his hair, maybe you can smile and laugh with me! Some baby noise during a few short hours of travel isn’t going to kill anybody, and if you get up and play with us, you might actually have a more fun flight!

Happy flying!

The surprising kid-wonderland of Fort Wayne, Indiana

June 5, 2012 at 8:29 am

And We’re Back!
…from an epic trip around the Midwest last week. We managed to visit all four of G’s Grandmothers (two regular and two Great, I’ll let them decide who’s who), a plethora of other relatives, my college roommate and her adorable daughter, and even my little brother at his beautiful house in Chicago.

The purpose of this trip, though, was to visit Mark’s parents at their home just east of Fort Wayne, Indiana. This was G’s first trip to their house, and I was a little afraid that we were going to have trouble entertaining our little toddler. He’s an outdoorsy kid, and I was not expecting to be able to keep up our usual level of Colorado adventure!

But, I was (very happily) wrong! Even in a town surrounded by a sea of corn, you can find great outdoors adventures. Here are our favorites from last week!

G climbs the little ladders at Taylor's Dream Playground

Tayler’s Dream – A Boundless Playground

Playground are always an easy way to spend the afternoon outside, especially with G. He does pretty well for a 1-and-a-half year old, and loves running up ramps, flying down slides, playing with knobs and levers, and going “whee!” in the baby swings. In the last year, we have all become playground aficionados, and we know a good one when we see (and stomp on) it.

The playground at Kreager Park just east of Fort Wayne was AMAZING. This is Indiana’s first “Boundless Playground” which means it is entirely wheel-chair and handicap accessible. From their website: “Boundless Playgrounds is the leading nonprofit developer of truly inclusive playgrounds where children of all abilities gain the important developmental and physical benefits of unstructured play.”

Aero-glider love

This amazing play structure has an incredible story behind it as well. It is the result of tireless fundraising and work over three years by a young girl named Taylor Reuille. She raised over $10,000 herself, and then helped pull in corporate sponsorship for a grand total of $1.5 Million dollars to build this beautiful playground.

The playground has three main areas (or “Pods”, named Alpha Pod, Beta Pod, and Gamma Pod) each with a different target age range and type of play. G really enjoyed the slides and ramps on Alpha Pod (for ages 2-5 years), the big slides and Aero Glider on the Gamma Pod (ages 5-12 years) and spent nearly a half an hour squealing with joy on the springy seesaw in the Beta Pod (all ages). The park is capped by an awesome splash and sprinkler park that was great on a really hot Indiana afternoon.

A great day for some water fun!

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo

I had heard about this zoo before, and based on my experience with other Children’s Zoos (i.e., the small kid’s section of most large zoos), I was expecting this to be more like just a small petting zoo in a downtown park. Boy was I wrong!

At the Zoo

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is an entire, huge, zoo completely devoted to children! Every ride and exhibit is geared towards learning, with lower easy-to-read signs, bright colors and great interactive areas. We started at the huge “Africa” section with all of the savanna birds and animals, and a neat pavilion where kids can feed giraffes! Next up was the “Australia” area, where G played in a splash fountain for half an hour, and we toured a beautiful aquarium.

Playing in the fountain at the Zoo

By this time, G was nearing his nap threshold, so we cruised through “Indoniesia” (where there are at least 20 types of monkeys hanging around) and got him a spin on the “Endangered Animal” carousel! This was probably the highlight of the trip. He loved every second of it, and Mark had to peal the poor kid of his Sloth Bear kicking and screaming at the end of the ride.

The Endangered Species Carousel

We tried to get to the huge “Indiana Family Farm” area on our way out, but G passed out in his stroller before the first cow, so we headed home without even getting a chance to see about half the zoo! I’m sure we’ll be back soon, though.

One thing to note, the Children’s Zoo is deceptively expensive. Adult admission is $13.50 a person, and kids are $8.50 each at age 2. Then there’s plenty of nickel-and-diming inside. You can expect to pay $1-$2 for most rides and activities, there are expensive snack food and restaurants scattered around, and, of course, some very awesome gift shops.

Gentle touch!

The Botanical Conservatory

When Mark’s mom suggested going to the Botanical Conservatory one day, I was like “Really? We want to take an energetic toddler to the Botanical Gardens?!?” Every botanical garden I’ve ever been to has been full of old people, weddings, and, well, plants. But, we went with it, and again I found myself pleasantly surprised by the kid-friendly-ness of Fort Wayne.

Our main goal was the Butterflies of Malaysia exhibit. This is a traveling show presenting butterflies and flowers specifically for interaction. You go into the tent full of butterflies and watch as they flutter from flower to flower or land on your mother-in-law’s head.

Butterflies and Babies

I was not sure how our rambunctious toddler would like this, but he ended up enjoying it thoroughly. We had some discussion and examples of “gentle touch” and then he did really well with a one-finger poke of the butterflies instead of the dreaded fist-full grab that has left so many bugs squished and lifeless at home.

From there, we explored the rest of the greenhouses and discovered some wonderful exhibits. Between each greenhouse is a kid’s play area, full of information and interactive exhibits about plants, bugs, and biospheres. There was a huge butterfly pillow, a talking tree, and a 100ft long tunnel “root” culminating in a fun little slide.

Gentle touch on the flowers too!

Even the gardens themselves were interesting for G. He “ooooooh’d” at the big waterfall in the jungle house, and threw mulch in the swirling river. He poked creosote bushes, gathered rocks, and climbed up and down wood stairs in the desert house.

In the end…

By the end of the week, I felt like I had just taken my kid on a world-wide outdoor adventure! We had petted giraffes in Africa, touched butterflies in Malaysia, and bounded over playgrounds in the middle of an Indiana corn field. That’s about as great as a vacation can get!

Fun at the Botanic Conservatory

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:
The Coloradoan:
Larimer County Health:

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!