Camping in the Clouds

Well, I finally ran out of clothes.

Don’t worry, I chose the re-run option when this scenario happened. Now I’m searching for a laundromat in Gunnison, Colorado. Gunnison? Yep. I called an audible on this unscripted trip and chose to skip the Wet Mountain Valley in favor of taking a more western route. Today I’m heading to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and heading south towards Ouray.

My plan is to stay at Ridgway State Park, located in an area called the “Switzerland” of America. I can’t wait. Assuming this happens, of course. As my journey goes on, I’ve found that planning is pretty much worthless. Part of this is circumstance. I can’t predict which stores/attractions decide to close or which roads go over an impassible pass. I also can’t count on a campground without being there. So I have to have a plan B, C and, sometimes, D.

Yesterday I chose plan C. After two wonderful days at Eleven Mile State Park, I wanted to visit the Buena Vista valley and ghost town of St. Elmo. So I did. But my plan of staying at Arkansas River Headwaters State Park changed when I discovered that the “campground” was really “campgrounds” spread out over dozens of miles. With no paved roads and no electricity, I nixed this option. My second option was to go to Westcliffe and stay at a Forest Service campground at the base of the Sangre de Cristos. But at Salida I had a tough decision. Part of me wanted to go west, to visit the national park and southwestern Colorado. Another part wanted to stay a few days in Westcliffe. But there wasn’t much to do in Westcliffe. Six hundred people and a bowling alley. So I headed up 11,000-foot plus Monarch Pass in search of a small campground I saw on my state map. It had no name on the map. With no cell reception and bad weather moving in, I had to make this work. Plan D was the Wal-Mart parking lot in Salida.

After climbing to about 10,000 feet, I saw the campground sign. Monarch Park campground. Down a dirt road into the valley was a remarkable Forest Service campground, sandwiched between the mountains, next to a series of beaver ponds, and with a great view of 14,000-foot peaks. Despite some highway noise from US 50, I settled in during a driving rainstorm. The clouds descended. The temperature dropped. But the air was crisp, the trees majestic, and the ambiance unbeatable. I was camping in the clouds. Literally.

I’ve taken a lot of video and photos on this trip, as you might imagine, but getting them on the web has been very difficult. WordPress doesn’t allow video uploads without signing up for their video service (it’s expensive). And getting my camera connected to my laptop involves multiple power outlets. Last night I didn’t have power. Tonight I hope to. Logistics are always tricky when you’re a camper. So I’ve uploaded cell phone pics so far.

Here is a brief timelapse video of a sunrise at Pueblo Lake State Park and a sunset at Eleven Mile State Park. It’ll finish converting around 3:00pm Mountain Time. I’ll have another treat tonight if I get electricity and adequate cell phone reception.

Off to live life… on the edge! (of a canyon)

— John