Friday, September 27, 2013

Picket Wire Canyonlands La Junta, CO

I headed into Southeastern Colorado in a continuing effort to dodge the rainy weather.  Contained within the Comanche National Grasslands in southeastern Colorado, Picket Wire Canyonlands offer great hiking and photo opportunities to the adventuresome.  Some 350 feet deep and rimmed by substantial cliff faces of sandstone, these canyons offer truly great hiking opportunities where access is permitted. One such place is the Picket Wire Canyonlands area, located about 11 miles south of La Junta.  There is a small six campsite spot at the trail head to
Picket Wire where I camped for three days for free.
The Tank at the Picket Wire trail head campsite.
There is no fresh water or facilities at the trail head campsite beyond a vault toilet so it's necessary to pack in everything you need.
Picket Wire Canyon from the top rim.
There are about 17 miles of trails through the Canyonlands so my original thought was to ride Wally the mountain bike until I saw this sign at the beginning of the trail.
"Beware of flats!"
So I decided to hoof it.  The initial trail down into the canyon from the trail head was really rough with a lot of loose rocks just waiting to turn an unsuspecting ankle.
One false step and you're on crutches.
There was a helpful sign that listed the mileage to the three main attractions in the canyon.  As it was 94 degrees I chose to visit the Delores Mission.

The trail to the mission was basically a two-track that was easy to walk along.
The path to the Delores Mission.
The Dolores Mission and Cemetery was built between 1871 and 1889 by Mexican pioneers settling the Picket Wire valley. Partial remains of the Mission and Cemetery are still visible. This site is about 3.7 miles from the trail head.
The remains of the Delores Mission.
 I made a planning mistake by only bringing a one liter water bottle for the hike.  I had a backpack back at the Tank that I should have loaded up with at least two more liters.  The instructions at the trail head said to bring one gallon per hiker and it's good advice.
8.42 miles round trip! 
I recommend Picket Wire Canyonlands both as a camping site and a great hiking location.  You'll love it!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Campground Review: Lathrop State Park Walsenburg, CO

All of the rain and flooding last week occurred in the north-central part of Colorado, primarily around Boulder and north west of it.  Utilizing the big advantage of living in the Tank, mobility, I slid south of the weather front to Lathrop State Park near Walsenburg for a four day stay.  Lathrop SP lies on 1594 acres of high plains grassland dotted with pinion pine and juniper that is typical of southeastern Colorado.  To the south of the park lie the Spanish Peaks, 13,610 and 12,699 feet respectively.

The Indians named the Spanish Peaks Huajatolla which means "Breasts of the World"
There are two small lakes within Lathrop, Martin and Horseshoe Lakes, that are stocked with trout, catfish, bass, walleye and bluegill.  Fishing is year round and each lake has a boat ramp.

Martin Dam which creates Martin Lake.
Swimming is permitted in Martin Lake's 180 surface acres but only off the day use area's sandy beach.

The Martin Lake beach area.
There are two main trail systems within Lathrop, Hogback and Cuerno trails, I explored the two mile Hogback trail which winds you through sandstone formations then climbs the Hogback Ridge along the northern boundary of the park.

There's a informative self-guided brochure that you take on the trail.
In addition to the two main trails there are paved walking trails that circle the two lakes with occasional picnic areas along the walking paths.

Walking/biking trail around Martin Lake.
 It's $20 per night to stay at one of the 83 electric-only Pinion Campsites.  There are bathroom and shower facilities and a dump station in each of the three sections in Pinion. Verizon 3 G came in at 2 bars and Millenicom Internet also came in at 2 bars.

Lathrop SP is a much smaller park then the others I've stayed in but the weather was perfect and the park was only lightly occupied.  If you were driving up from Texas Lathrop SP would be a worthy initial stop-off for campers and fisherman.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

"Yeah, but how do you....?"

I got a question from a reader that came in probably because I didn't do a good job of explaining the Tank's solar power setup in my most recent blog post.  The reader asked if I hooked my cell phone up to my solar panels to charge it when I'm boon docking.

The Tank's hard working solar panels.

The easiest way to conceptualize the Tank's solar setup is to think of the house battery as a "sun dollar" bank account.  The difference between the battery and your bank account is that the battery can only hold 100 sun dollars max. (I hope your bank account has more!)

Battery and solar controller (silver thing) from above.
The two solar panels on the roof of the Tank "deposit" sun dollars into the battery until the battery gets to 100 (percent capacity) then the silver solar controller in the picture above cuts the circuit from the panels to the battery to prevent overcharging the battery, which could boil off all the liquid in the battery and ruin it.  One other thing the solar controller does is to convert the 18 volt DC current that comes our of the solar panels down to about 14.5 volts DC.  The battery is a deep cycle 12 volt DC battery but you need more than 12 volts DC to charge a 12 volt DC battery thus the need for conversion to 14.5 volt current by the solar controller.  From the battery going into the Tank the voltage is now 12 volts (out of the battery) and the next point of concern is how do you run 120 volt AC appliances (like your cell phone charger) off 12 volt DC power?  The answer is a device called an inverter.  The inverter converts 12 volt DC power to 120 volt AC power like you're used to in your house.

The Tank's inverter.  Note it can plug into a cigarette outlet in a vehicle.
On the left end of the inverter pictured above is a normal three pronged outlet that devices can plug into.  When you plug into the inverter sun dollar "withdrawals" are taken from the battery bank account and it dips below 100 based upon the electric current the appliance plugged in draws.

With-drawers: LCD TV, laptop, tablet, phone, music player.....
The silver solar controller constantly monitors the charge in the battery and when it dips below 100 the solar controller reestablishes the circuit to the solar panels and new "deposits" of sun dollars go into the battery until it gets back up to 100 again.  This process continues throughout the day with no owner (me) oversight whatsoever required which is very cool!

So, yes, I charge my cell phone with solar energy sun dollars from the solar panels but there are a few additional steps involved.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Campground Review: Antero Reservoir Hartsel, CO

I have officially found my favorite (so far) camping area in Colorado -- Antero Reservoir just west of Hartsel, CO along CO HWY 24 in Park County.

Camping is only allowed on the South side of Antero.
Take the second Antero turn in off 24 which gets you to the South side where camping is allowed after a bumpy 1.5 mile drive along the gravel road.  Antero (derived from First in Spanish) was the first reservoir created by the first dam on the South Platte River.  It's owned by Denver Water and supplies drinking water to Denver, 140 miles away.  The dam was built in 1909.  In 2005 the reservoir went completely dry due to drought but was resurrected in 2007 and restocked with several species of trout.

Antero from the South Shore.
At an elevation of 8942 ft the temperature here is mid-70's during the day and mid-40's at night, quite a change from the mid-90's last week at Pueblo!  There are 38 campsites distributed on a first-come first-served basis at NO CHARGE.  Campers are allowed to stay up to 14 consecutive days then must vacate Antero for at least 7 days before returning.

The South Shore boat ramp and a pier you can fish from.
I got to Antero on Friday at noon and it was already filling up.  I was lucky enough to get the last campsite backing up to the reservoir.

The Tank taken from the water's edge.
Each campsite has a steel picnic table and a fire ring.  No hookups at all, this is boondocking so bring everything you'll require, including fresh water.  Ironically, even though you're camping next to a reservoir, there is NO potable water at Antero.  There are several vault toilets in the camp ground and plenty of trash bins which get emptied frequently.

Several sites have this handy storage structure included.
The Tank's solar system has been working great.  Each morning from a 50% charge state the solar panels get the battery to 100% in about 90 minutes even while at the same time charging up my cell phone.  The system has no problem keeping up to laptop useage during the sunny days.

This solar lantern is a great way to take load off the house battery.
Verizon 3g comes in at 2 out of 5 bars and Millenicom Internet comes in at 4 out of 5 bars.

14 consecutive days of FREE quality reservoir camping is an incredible deal, I almost kept this review to myself!  The weather at Antero is such a welcome change for the better you'll want to bring enough food and water to last as close to 14 days as you can.  I've witnessed many fisherman exiting the reservoir with 12-14 inch brook trout on stringers.  When I kayacked on the reservoir the water is so clear you can actually see trout!

A small island off the South Shore of Antero.
Make plans to camp on Antero Reservoir's south shore, you'll never regret it!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Campground Review: Lake Pueblo State Park Pueblo, CO

After dropping my daughter off at Denver International I headed south about 120 miles to the Pueblo, CO area.  Lake Pueblo State Park, at 4900 feet, lies in a geography markedly different from the high mountain park we had just vacated.  Lake Pueblo State Park is on the High Plains which seem to stretch endlessly to the east while the Greenhorn and Sangre de Cristo Mountains form a backdrop to the west.

Sangre de Cristo range under darkened skies.
The centerpiece of the park is, of course, Lake Pueblo.  Buttes and limestone cliffs rim the lake's irregular 60 mile shoreline around which are 4 separate camping areas and two marinas.  The 11 mile long lake is fed by the Arkansas River and was created by the massive Pueblo Dam which is 10500 feet long by 200 feet high.  The huge park comprises 12,900 acres around Lake Pueblo.

The limestone cliffs of Lake Pueblo.
There are over 400 campsites within the 4 areas, I stayed in the Northern Plains Campground which, given the fact that it was post-Labor Day and school time, was almost deserted and very peaceful.  Unlike our high altitude campground, temperatures during my stay were in the 90's, necessitating use of the Tank's AC from noon until dinner time.

The Tank at Lake Pueblo...not a lot of trees.
The terrain in the campground was scruffy vegetation intermixed with dried grass and gravel, almost desert-like.  After seeing this guy I refrained from hiking through the vegetation.

I rolled a small stone against him and he moved into the grass.
Because of the steepness of the limestone cliffs surrounding the lake it is really only accessible from the marina's ramps which is too bad for folks who carry kayaks on the roofs of their RV's (me) because you'd have to literally pack up camp, drive to the marina and then set camp back up after returning from the marina...nah.

Northern Marina....3 hour cruise anyone?
Campsites come with 30 amp electrical hookups, a sheltered picnic table and a fire ring.  Mine was close to being level and cost $20 per night.  Spacing of the campsites was very generous and the restrooms (no showers at mine but a couple of the other campgrounds had them) were kept very neat.  Park rangers patrolled the campground roads multiple times a day.  Verizon 4G comes in at 2 bars and Millenicom internet was 3 out of 4 bars.

View from the back door of the Tank.
I enjoyed my stay at Lake Pueblo State Park and it's wonderful post-Labor Day solitude but confess to having been spoiled by Stagecoach State Park and would have to rate Lake Pueblo a not so close second place.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Campground Review: Stagecoach State Park Oak Creek,CO

My daughter Nickelle flew in from Dallas and I picked her up at Denver International Airport for 4 days of camping in Colorado, her home state.  Back in June I made camping reservations for 4 days at Stagecoach State Park in Northwestern Colorado and it was a good thing because campsites become almost unavailable for the Labor Day weekend if you wait much later in the summer.

The park gets it's name from being a stop on a stagecoach line that ran from Toponas to Steamboat Springs, CO that was discontinued in 1907.  Stagecoach Reservoir, which fronts the park, was created in 1989 as a water preservation project by the state of Colorado.  It's about a 3 hour drive through Dillon from Denver.

The reservoir from the top of Pinnacle Peak.
One of the 8 miles of hiking trails, this one NW of the reservoir.
There are four campgrounds at Stagecoach State Park. The Junction City and Pinnacle campgrounds border the reservoir and feature 30 amp/125 volt electrical hookups, water, showers, flush toilets, and a dump station west of Pinnacle campground. The Harding Spur campground is a basic campground with water and the McKindley campground has primitive sites with vault toilets. All campsites have a picnic table and fire ring/grill. Site spacing was moderate to close. Virtually every site was occupied during our visit.  A small camp store offers wifi connectivity but Verizon and T-Mobile offered 0 bars of cell connectivity.

Boat and canoe rentals are available from the Stagecoach Marina, we rented a canoe for 2 hours for $25.

The Stagecoach Marina.

We had a little "weather" come in Saturday afternoon so the awesome awning my friend Becky gave me came in very handy!

Picnic table shelter!
We had an excellent experience at Stagecoach State Park, even given the fact it was at capacity.  All the employees were particularly friendly and helpful.

Smiles all around!
 You won't regret making the drive up to Stagecoach!

Thanks for reading!