Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Campground Review: Burraston Ponds Wildlife Management Area Mona, UT

Mona, UT is a tiny little town along I-15 about 60 miles south of Salt Lake City.  Just to the southwest of the city limits lay the Burraston Ponds Wildlife Management Area that is administered by the Utah DNR.

Someone really banged the side of this metal sign hard!
I traveled to the Burraston Ponds shortly before the Memorial Day weekend after spending my first night in Utah at an indifferent RV campground in Price, Utah that at least allowed me to dump tanks and replenish the Tank's fresh water.  Getting to the Ponds a little ahead of the Memorial Day crowd allowed me to snag one of the best spots in the whole Area.

I had to "stretch" the 3-day stay limit a tad after seeing this site.
The three large spring-fed ponds that make up Burraston Ponds were discovered in 1776 by the Escalante Expedition out of Sante Fe.  Father Escalante mapped the area and named the ponds Ojo de San Pablo or Eye of Saint Paul.  The Burraston family settled the area in 1865 giving the ponds their current name.  The family donated the Area to the state of Utah in 1901 to celebrate Utah's new statehood.

Just past the entrance there's this plaque that tells the history of the ponds.

Here's the site data for Burraston Ponds:

Hookups:                                None (bring the fresh water you’ll require)
Fire ring:                                  Yes
Water Access:                         Yes
Dump station:                          No (there ARE trash dumpsters)
WiFi:                                       No
Level sites:                              Yes
Laundry:                                 No
Store:                                      No
Pool:                                       No
Shade:                                    Yes
Verizon reception:                   4G, 2 out of 4 bars
Millenicom reception:              2 out of 4 bars
Cost:                                      Free, 3 day limit (relaxed enforcement)

View from the Tank's back door.
I really regretted having left the kayak in storage back in Houston as the ponds would have been perfect to kayak in....oh well!  Being spring-fed the water is very clear and well stocked with fish judging by all the feeding ripples on the pond at morning and sunset.  Also the ponds teem in dozens of different species of birds, so much so that at times it seemed like air traffic control would be required to avoid mid-air collisions.

Mt. Nebo....still snow capped in late May.
The one ding to the outstanding camping experience at Burraston Ponds is that there is a fairly active rail line that skirts it's eastern edge with trains sometimes as early as 6 am but they seemed to stop after about 10 at night.

I took this after the 6am train woke me up...sunrise over Mt. Nebo.
The Burraston Ponds Wildlife Management Area, with it's three ponds, is a tremendous free camping experience and I can't give it enough stars!  It DOES get understandably crowded on holidays like Memorial Day so I wouldn't plan on rolling in Friday after work and finding a great camp site but after the holiday it wasn't at all crowded.  Bring a float or a kayak!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Campground Review: Rabbit Valley Recreation Area Fruita, CO

If you drove a half hour west from Grand Junction on I-70 and exited on Exit 2 right before the Utah border, two miles south you'd come across the McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area that the BLM administers.  In the upper northwest corner of this gigantic 123,000 acre preserve is the Rabbit Valley Recreation Area where the BLM allows 14 day camping in 3 "official" campgrounds that have campsites with tables and fire rings and also designated dispersed camping areas.

I didn't see one rabbit my whole stay here.

About a quarter mile past the first campsite area along side an increasingly rough road I came across this sign:

I was actually glad the Tank DOESN'T have 4WD so I wasn't tempted.
So I took this "somewhat" scenic site back at the first campground.

No "Beware of Falling Rocks" signs anywhere.
I got into Rabbit Valley on a Wednesday and there were only two other of the 30 sites occupied but that all changed Friday when the whole place filled up with mountain bikers, dirt bikers and ATV owners eager to ride the miles of trails through the area. 

This was about a half mile past the sign warning about high clearance.
Here's the Rabbit Valley data sheet:

Hookups:                                 None
Fire ring:                                  Yes
Water Access:                         None (No water available, bring in what you’ll need!)
Dump station:                          No
WiFi:                                       No
Level sites:                              Mostly
Laundry:                                 No
Store:                                      No
Pool:                                       No
Shade:                                    No (Rabbit Valley is semi-desert, summer months are hot.)
Verizon reception:                   4G, 4 out of 4 bars
Millenicom reception:              4 out of 4 bars
Cost:                                      14 days free camping

Like you I wondered how in the Heck could there be 4G cell reception out there 35 miles away from Grand Junction?  And 4 out of 4 bars?

I guess Verizon had an extra cell tower so they stuck it here?
The mid-May weather at Rabbit Valley was days in the mid-80's and nights in the mid-50's, humidity was very low so it didn't seem that hot although I was warned by fellow campers the place gets too hot in June-July-August.  A couple days it got really windy in the afternoon with my camp chair going for a "walk" until I was able to chase it down.

This canyon was about a mile hike from my campsite.
I was running low on food after a week so I wasn't able to take the BLM up on their 14 day free offer.  I need to work out putting my first few days meals on ice in the Tank's cooler and have the later days food be stored in the frig and freezer, that would extend my "stay ability", I guess.  Anyway Rabbit Valley is a great camping experience and if you have a dirt bike or ATV it's even more fun.  Mountain biking and hiking was a blast for me!

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Trail Head Park Montrose, CO

After fleeing the snow storm I stayed a night in Curecanti National Recreation Area just west of Gunnison where there's a RV loop with electric hookups.  I didn't do a campground review of the area because of my short stay and the fact that it was so cold (19 degrees in the morning) I didn't get out of the Tank long enough to do the area justice.  Traveling further west on Highway 50 I came to Montrose, CO which is a town of about 19,000 on the West Slope of Colorado and, more importantly, below 5000 feet of elevation so temperatures there were in the mid-70's.  The city of Montrose has a small park called Trail Head Park that allows RV'ers to stay overnight free one night every 14 days.  I took advantage of their hospitality and enjoyed hiking through Cerise Park which sprawls along the bank of the quick Uncomphagre River.  Uncomphagre is a Ute Indian word that roughly translates to "dirty water" although the river seemed pristine to me.

The sign warns that bear and mountain lion have been sighted in the park.
Trail Head Park is basically a parking lot with some trees and plants landscaped in but the overnight price is right!

Cerise Park has several miles of sidewalk/paths through it.
The town has several guide companies that outfit rafters and kayak enthusiasts for sampling the white water along the Uncomphagre.

Rapids right in Cerise Park.
More white water.
I enjoyed the park in Montrose and left the next morning for some BLM boondocking outside of Grand Junction after I restocked the Tank with food and water.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What the.....?

As this is a family-friendly blog I'll let you fill in the blank in the title but I definitely did when, after going to bed Mother's Day evening in the Tank on BLM land outside of Salida, CO....

Sunny and low 70's....what pretty blue skies!
...I awoke in what seemed like January 12 to some hellish landscape.

Poor Wally!  He never signed up for THIS.
The Tank's wall thermometer informed me that it was 38 degrees....INSIDE the camper.  I willed myself to get out from under the bed covers and turn on the propane heater (boondocking so no electric hookups.)

The Snow Tank.
Speaking of electric I noticed a curious thing...the solar charge monitor was showing the Tank's solar panels were charging the battery even though...

The "bumps" towards the front are the solar panels.
...the panels were under 3 inches of snow.  Diffusion?  Delusion more likely.  I was camped next to the Arkansas River which couldn't have been much above 32 degrees as it flowed by.

The fast flowing Arkansas River.  Probably makes Grape Creek seem like a warm bath!
Being mobile I quickly concluded the best course of action was to "mobile" west on Highway 50 and try to get out from under the nasty front, but I still could appreciate the beauty around me as I packed up the Tank.

Christmas trees!  Except it's May 12th.
I made for a National Recreation Area west of Gunnison, CO that has electric hookups which took me over the Monarch Pass and down a 6% grade that had curves that appeared either wet or icy.  Fortunately the Colorado DOT trucks were out sanding Highway 50 and the wet spots were indeed wet, not icy.  The Tank got filthy from all the dirt spray from the sanded spots but filthy beats the heck out of "no traction" on a 6% downward curve in the mountains!

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Hiking Temple Canyon Canon City, CO

From the west side of Canon City, CO take 1st Avenue south out of town and you'll soon come to Temple Canyon Road.  Washboard is putting it mildly for stretches of the road but reducing speed to about 15 mph allowed the Tank to make the approximate 7 mile trip into Temple Canyon Park which is maintained by Canon City and allows free up to 14 day camping.

Good shocks are needed for the road in!
Upon entering the park there is a fork in the road to available campsites.  I went right along Prospectors Ridge and snagged the first site I came to as it was a Friday and I was aware there were only about 6 "official" camping sites in the park.

A covered table, trash barrel and view, what else do you need?
Because the park is so large and the campsites so few there is excellent privacy at Temple Canyon Park.  As in all of southern Colorado there was a complete burn-ban in effect (including charcoal) so the fire ring at the site went unused and all my cooking was done inside on the Tank's propane range.

The site came with a nice little flower garden behind it.
Why is it called Temple Canyon you ask?  There's a temple in the canyon, but first you have to hike down a narrow path that cuts back and forth, some times steeply, to get to it.

The start of "Temple Run:.

Canyon seen from the rim just beginning the descent.
There were no degree of difficulty signs at the beginning of the trail into the canyon which I found somewhat surprising because there were several stretches of the hike that would have given more than a few folks second thoughts about proceeding.

The narrow path down into the canyon.
Swift running Grape Creek cuts through the canyon and I'd bet you couldn't hold your hand in the barely above freezing water for a minute.

The clear waters of Grape Creek.
Another thing they forgot to tell me about the hike was that the trail makes you ford Grape Creek to get to the Temple.

That's the trail continuing on the other side of the creek!
Fortunately, Grape Creek is only about 18 inches deep but I can't tell you how cold on the feet it was.

After fording the creek you come to the "front door" of the Temple.
There was also about a 15 foot vertical section of rock you had to climb to get up into the Temple.

There were actually pretty easy handholds to get up it.
Finally I reached the Temple.  It's described as a "natural amphitheater" first noticed in the 1890's.

I don't think it was used as an actual Temple but who knows?
 This was one of my favorite hikes so far and even though I passed 3 teenagers RUNNING down the path on my slow way up I still had a sense of accomplishment for at least not slipping and falling into Grape Creek during the ford.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Campground Review: Lake Meredith National Recreation Area Fritch, TX

Northeast of Amarillo and just west of Fritch, TX lies the giant Lake Meredith National Recreation Area administered by the National Park Service.  I traveled to the area to do some boondocking at one of four camping areas the recreation area possesses, the Fritch Fortress Campground high on the bluffs overlooking Lake Meredith.

I checked out McBride Canyon but opted for Fritch Fortress campground.
The 10,000 acre Lake Meredith was created by the construction of the Sanford Dam across the Canadian River and has been, historically, a major source of drinking water for the cities of Lubbock and Amarillo.  Due to the lasting drought in the state withdrawals from Lake Meredith stopped in 2011 after the lake hit an all-time low depth of 26 feet -- as opposed to a depth of 102 feet when the lake was created.

That peninsula in the center is supposed to be an island in "normal" times.
Here's the Fritch Fortress Campground data sheet:

Hookups:                                 none
Fire ring:                                  yes
Water Access:                         yes
Dump station:                          yes
WiFi:                                       no
Level sites:                              yes
Laundry:                                  no
Store:                                      no
Pool:                                       no
Shade:                                     no
Verizon reception:                   4g, 2 out of 4 bars
Millenicom reception:              3 out of 5
Cost:                                      Free – 14 day limit

With the exception of one lone tent camper, who moved on a day after I got there, I had the Fritch Fortress Campground all to myself!  Probably due to it being off-season and the low level of Lake Meredith discouraging water sport and fishing.  The weather was in the mid-70's but winds, particularly at night were really strong, rocking the Tank even after I extended the lift poles as quasi-stabilizers.

The Tank's windy perch high up on the bluffs over Lake Meredith.
 After experiencing a somewhat scary windstorm my last night at Fritch Fortress I ran into a park ranger who let me know a lot of people choose to camp in the less scenic canyon campgrounds around the recreation area, like McBride Canyon, to avoid the high winds Fritch Fortress Campground often receives....good to!  Still the views from my campsite were pretty spectacular and would be missed down in the canyons:

View out the Tank's "picture window".
Just like my time at Lake Abilene State Park my stay at Fritch Fortress was partially depressing with the realization that this tremendous National Park is only experiencing a fraction of it's normal visitation due to water shortage.  The ranger I talked to expressed concern that if things continued there would inevitably have to be staff cutbacks at the recreation area...guess they were glad I was there or they would have been staffing a completely empty campground!

At some point, when the great drought is over, I'd like to return to Lake Meredith Recreation Area and see it like it's supposed to be.  Also, I might try the canyon camping areas to avoid the hurricane winds on the bluffs, but hey, I sure can't complain about what it cost me to have a National Campground all to myself!

Thanks for reading!