Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life-and travel-leaves marks on you.
----Anthony Bourdain

Thursday, April 18, 2024

The Great West Trip: What Wasn't Said

In closing this series, there are a few things I left unsaid while writing these posts. If you personally know us, then most of these won't be a surprise.
1964- November 11, 2023

1. This trip almost didn't happen. Robert was diagnosed with colon cancer on January 27, 2021. While he did fantastic with chemo, the cancer began to catch up with him in May of 2023 when he began to undergo paracentesis to relieve fluid in his abdomen. While we were at my sister's house at the beginning of the trip, he didn't feel well and we discussed going home so he could undergo the procedure and we would start the trip again. He was insistent that we continue. I think he knew this would be our final trip with Maeve Anne. 

2. Robert spent most of the time in the van. I know we missed out on a lot of things because of his inability to get out and walk around. I was unaware of how badly he felt during the trip. That just means I need to go back out west and do those things in his memory. This was also a factor in the decision to travel from Billings to Yellowstone and not continue on to Banff. It was also a factor in why we didn't boondock as much as I thought we would. Looking back, I'm sure he wanted to make sure we were near a highway/interstate and had cell service in case of an emergency. If you look back at Part 5, you'll notice that I glazed over our day in Salt Lake...that's because we spent the day in the ER so Robert could have a paracentesis. 

3. I sold Maeve Anne. She did great on the trip and I wasn't having any trouble with her, but the thoughts of "what if" and not knowing how to take care of her caused me great anxiety and stress. Without Robert, I knew I would not need the 4-wheel drive; I don't need a van of that caliber when I won't be boondocking or going off-grid. I looked at an Entegra Arc online but decided against it since 2024 is its first year. If I feel the need to camp I have the Gazelle Tent and Gazebo, along with my comfy cot. 

4. This doesn't mean the end of "Flyin' the Coop". I plan to keep my promise to Robert by traveling and seeing the things I've only dreamed of. He nurtured my adventurous side; the side of me I didn't even know I had! So stay tuned for more adventures.

This was a gift from a group of friends. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

The Great West Trip Part 8

As I mentioned at the end of the last post, I wasn't quite ready to leave Colorado yet. There were two places that Robert wanted to show me and only 1 of them was a bit out of the way. 
Como, Colorado
Como is not quite a ghost town but there are only around 200 people living there. Its heyday was during the Gold Boom when it became a railroad town. There is little left in this town. It made me a little sad that this once-thriving town is so run down.
Once a Catholic Church, the white building in the background is a privately owned residence.
Street in Como
Railroad Crossing in Como
View of the train depot (R) and the Historic Como Hotel (L)
We started up the road through Boreas Pass (which goes to Breckinridge). Robert said he thought there was a campground there but we had no guarantees there would be a spot. After about a half mile of "washboardy" road, we decided to head back through town and go to the next place he wanted me to see.
Every conversation we had about Colorado included Tarryall Reservoir. Robert hoped we would be able to camp in the same spot he and some friends camped but things changed over the years. No camping is allowed right on the reservoir anymore. A quick look at an app gave us some BLM options. The first place we pulled into was...interesting. There were steep hills in the road and Robert questioned whether or not we could get over them. Robert said these hills are to keep the road from eroding. So we tried. After the first one, we decided we shouldn't try anymore, but we were kind of stuck since there was no place to turn around. A very nice couple who appeared to be around our age came by in an ATV and offered to help. The 2nd bump we went over was in, Maeve no longer had 4 wheels on the ground. It made me extremely nervous that something in the undercarriage was going to break. Robert worked his magic and managed to get over it. There was a turn-around shortly after that so we were able to turn around and head back down the hill. It was much easier going down than it was going up. The couple told us about the place where they were camping and suggested we try there. It was just down the road a couple of miles. We never did find them, but we had an okay site for the night. We were only staying one night so it was more important that we felt we were in a safe spot. I didn't take pictures of it since it was pretty non-descriptive. No amazing views, just us out in a field. We did, however, pass the Historic Tarryall School:
Tarryall School is a one-room schoolhouse that served the area from 1921-1949. There is also a "teacherage".
We're not done with Colorado just yet! Still traveling west, we needed another "rest day" before leaving Colorado and heading home. I found a Colorado State Park on the way and we were able to reserve a spot by going to the Visitor Center in Mueller State Park
When we drove into the park, we noticed right away how nice the roads were. This was the first state park we've been to where you have to buy day passes when you camp. That explains the nice well-kept roads! All of the sites are pull-through and are flat. 
After securing our spot, we went into "town". Divide, Colorado consists of just a few businesses. There is a grocery store where basic supplies can be purchased. We decided to eat at the restaurant right beside the grocery store. 
I didn't realize what kind of restaurant it was until we sat down and looked at the menu. Then I looked up at the wall. 
As I look back, how fitting is it that our Irish adventure started our search for a camper van? And here we were, in Divide, Colorado, eating at an Irish restaurant!
We spent our "rest day" doing laundry and just resting. We were both extremely disappointed with the pay showers. There was no way to adjust the heat (and the water was way too cold!). When my time ran out, I hadn't rinsed the soap off (thank goodness my hair was washed & rinsed!) so I put a couple more quarters in. At previous pay showers, we were able to put a quarter or 2 in and it would give us more minutes. Nope, not here. You had to put in the whole beginning amount, and I didn't have enough. I don't remember what the initial cost was but it seemed like it was more than it should have been. We did laundry one last time. The facilities are in need of upgrading their machines but the money goes to a good cause, I just don't remember the organization that benefits from them. 
Vault toilets are available throughout the campground but the shower facilities (and flush toilets) required a short drive. There are numerous trash receptacles throughout the campground; of course, they are bear-proof.
The views from the campground were well worth the disappointments:
Since we rested on our full day there, we didn't take advantage of all that the park has to offer. There are a lot of trails and wildlife within the park. It is an absolutely beautiful park that you shouldn't miss if you have the chance to go. 

After our stay, we decided it was time to start heading back home. We drove through Colorado Springs and spent the night in a hotel in Hays, Kansas before making it back to my sister's house in Missouri. We spent the last night in Paducah, Kentucky. While it was cooler, the humidity factor made nights unbearable without air conditioning, so we stayed in a hotel. We made it home, safe & sound, that next evening. What a trip!!!

Thursday, April 4, 2024

The Great West Trip Part 7

I was excited about our next leg of the trip: Colorado. We went to the Steamboat Springs area 8 years before this trip and I loved it. I wanted to see different parts of Colorado on this trip. We had more decisions to make: exactly where to go. Robert had been to several places in Colorado so I left it up to him as to where to go. I just had one request (which I'll get to further in this post). We looked at going to Durango or Telluride, but taking the heat into consideration, we opted to not go that far south. We stopped at a BLM office in Grand Junction to look at dispersed camping options with higher elevations and discovered there really weren't any. Or the employees didn't really know of any. Yeah, they weren't that much of a help. We ended up driving to Montrose and staying at a KOA there. 

At first, we had a tent site but this whole campground had a weird vibe to it. It was (again) in the middle of a neighborhood, but this one (as opposed to the one in Billings) appeared to be in a not-so-great neighborhood. The tent sites faced some run-down houses and didn't feel like they were actually part of the rest of the campground. We were able to change to a pull-through site. This KOA wasn't very big, but the laundry facilities worked well. The showers were decent as well. I didn't take any pictures of the campground because it was just a usual campground. The pool was out of service which was a real bummer because the temperature was very warm. This was the warmest night we had in the van; even the Maxxair didn't cool the van down like it did the rest of the trip. We knew it was just for one night so we suffered through it. After around 11:00 pm, it did cool down to a comfortable temperature to sleep.

Robert had some concerns about the engine temperature. There was a group discussion in Facebook for our van that mentioned a place in Montrose that is a go-to. Robert called them and they said we were welcome to come by their new place and have a look around. On the way there, we saw a statue by the name of "Bad Decision" by Vic Payne.
This is one of 3 sculptures in the town by the same artist. This one can be found at "Cowboy Corner".
We also saw more beautiful mountains in the distance:
The people at Adrenaline Vans were incredibly nice. We talked with one guy for quite a while and he assured Robert that the temperature reading for the engine temperature is normal. We pushed the engine for several days straight in 100+ temperatures, going up hills. I told him that Maeve was doing what she was supposed to do: the temp would go up but then go back down. If it didn't go back down, I would have been concerned.

We had a nice visit before we were on our way and saw this really cool van. I wanted to see inside but someone owned it and we weren't invited to look in it. It was so new, it still had the plastic on it!

With assurances that the van was working as it should, we headed toward a little town that is in Robert's heart: Leadville. We found a campsite at Turquoise Lake Recreation Area (part of the US National Forest), specifically at the May Queen Campsite. We looked at a couple of the other camping areas that had openings and decided to go around the lake to see if we could find a site. May Queen is in the middle of the loop road on the other side of the lake, which may be why there was a site open. 
Simple site with no electricity or water available in the campground
Vault toilets are available in 2 areas of the campground
View from campsite
While sitting in my chair, I felt what I thought was a bug right next to my ear. I swatted it away and then realized it was a hummingbird. This happened a couple of times. We also had this little guy visit:
With an elevation of 10,000 feet, it was fairly chilly overnight. We ended up turning on the heat for a while. The next morning when I woke up, my head was killing me and I was nauseous. I ended up laying in bed for a couple of hours and then felt well enough to get up and move around. We talked with the camp host about altitude sickness. Had I known there was medicine for it I would have made sure I took some just in case. Robert spent most of the day sleeping and I spent the day reading a book and getting my body acclimated to the elevation. By the end of the day, I was completely fine and could enjoy the views from the lake.
The town of Leadville is in the distance
I think it's so amazing to see snow in mid-late July!
After a very nice "rest day", we headed to Silver Dollar Campground still on Turquoise Lake to fill up our water tank. The camp host tried to convince us to stay another day, but we were well-rested and ready to move on. While filling up with water, the camp host at this campground also tried to convince us to stay the night. The only campgrounds we saw that had openings were parking lots. Literally. Asphalt parking lots with lines outlining the campsites. I feel we were extremely fortunate to have found a spot in May Queen. It is definitely a place I would recommend.

The camp host suggested a hostel in Leadville for a shower. What a gem! It sits on the top of a hill with amazing sights. For a minute I forgot I was in the US and thought I was in Germany. They have a variety of rooms available: Dorm, private with a private bathroom, and private with a shared bathroom. We were there during the day so it was quiet. I didn't take any pictures of the hostel but check out their site. There was a "For Sale" sign in the yard but the website is still up so maybe they sold it?

I've heard about a restaurant in Leadville for years. Literally...years. Anytime we talked about Colorado, Leadville and The Golden Burro would enter the conversation. Robert spoke with the May Queen Camp Host and was very disappointed. We were told that the restaurant changed hands over the past few years and it is now vegan. The camp host said he ate there once; or, rather, he ordered once. He said he took a bite and didn't eat the rest of it. A look at their website doesn't match what he said. It could be that they tried to go vegan and switched back, but the menu looks pretty good to me. Looking at it, I wish we had checked it out because after that all I heard was how disappointed Robert was that the Golden Burro had changed so much.
The Deleware is a historic began in 1883; the hotel is thought to have at least 1 ghost
Leadville is a quaint little town. It is the highest city in the US at 10,152 feet, which further explains how I felt the day before. (Alma is the highest town in the country at 10,578 feet.) We found a place in town to empty the cassette toilet and finish filling up our water tank before we left and decided where we were going to go next.
There were some quaint, colorful houses
What a view as we left Leadville!
We weren't 100% sure where we were going next, but I knew I wasn't quite ready to leave Colorado yet.

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