September 15. We hate to leave but it’s time to move on. For one thing, there are no showers here, and we really need to shower. The plan is to move about eighty miles south to Ridgway State Park where there are full services. We’ll have to pay $29 per night there but that’s completely reasonable for what they offer.
There’s no big rush to leave but we want to get to Ridgway fairly early to have a maximum choice of available campsites. We have to drive through Grand Junction. I hadn’t been here in over twenty years, and a town had grown into a city. The passage of time can be a scary thing.
Ridgway State Park is perhaps the best park in Colorado and arguably has the best campground. The park is built around a large reservoir with many recreational opportunities and is almost like a resort. The first and best campground, Elk Ridge, was built here in the 1980s, and they got it right. For example, every site has electricity so no one has to worry about RV generators. Camper services include showers, Laundromat, campers’ sink, vending machines, etc. Each site has a fire pit and a charcoal grill. This park is at higher elevation than Colorado National Monument so there are more and bigger trees. However the environment is still semiarid and the ground cover is desert scrub and grasses. Many of the sites have great views of either the lake or the mountains.
We know the best sites here from past experience and grab the largest site in the campground. You can barely see your neighbors but the view of the lake is excellent. There is even a large tent pad where we can set up the dog comfortably – he can lie on the gravel instead of the dirt.
After getting set up we head into the town of Ridgway and do a little shopping. Then it’s back to the park for more R+R (and a nice, long shower). At sunset we move our chairs about a hundred feet down the slope where the views of the lake are even better.
September 16. We take our time getting started today. The mornings are a bit brisk due to the 7,000-foot (2134m) elevation. We quickly decide to stay another day. After breakfast, I take a walk down to the visitor center to renew our permit. It is about a mile there with a steep downhill grade – great exercise on the return walk. The weather forecast becomes bad at the end of the week so our plan now is to go home to Phoenix on Friday. Meantime we’ll continue to recreate at this fine place.
September 17. It is about the same drill as yesterday. We start late and then decide to stay one more day. You can’t ask for anything nicer.
September 18. Another casual start to the day. However we will be moving south today. We want to cross the mountains and leave an easy drive home tomorrow. Our plan is to stay in the forest service campground at McPhee Reservoir near the town of Dolores.
Our drive through the mountains on the San Juan Skyway is quite scenic. The fall colors are just starting to show. We make a stop at Telluride, the historic mining town, now resort. It’s a picture perfect day there: no clouds and temperature around 70°F/20°C. Further on, the foliage is even better in the Dolores River valley.
McPhee Campground is well off the beaten path and from the looks of things, its season is just about over. One campground loop is closed, and there are a handful of campers in the open loop. Still it’s not a bad campground. The sites are paved, some sites have electricity (ergo, no generators), and there are flush toilets and sinks. I pay my $8.50 (!) to the camp host who is also from Arizona. Turns out tomorrow is his last day for the season.
The environment is similar to the previous places, yet also slightly different. It is semiarid and moderately wooded but with a lot of scrub oak and lusher ground cover. It is a very pleasant and quiet place with very few people around.
For dinner we head over to the Dolores River Brewery. We’ve been there before. They make their own beer which is excellent. Also, terrific pizza (and an excellent spinach salad, too). They allow you to taste their beer before deciding what to order. Later, we go to the grocery across the street where they are stocked up on Colorado fruit from Palisade. I buy a bunch of it to carry home.
September 19. We are off to an early start today for the drive back to Phoenix. The weather has become a little unsettled. There was a little rain shower over the Navajo Reservation which resulted in a very rare full rainbow.
After having almost no rain in all the mountainous states, we finally get plenty back in Arizona. We got the full blinding, monsoon on the interstate just south of Flagstaff. After that, it was an uneventful drive back home, a mundane ending to an exciting trip. Too bad, at this point we were getting quite comfortable with day to day life on the road. Even the dog liked it. If we didn’t have things to do, it would have been easy to keep on going. Maybe next time we will.