The Crestone Eagle, August 2006:
Car camps, scenic loops, and ways to find your own
by Thomas Cleary
The Eagle and I received great responses to the suggested car camps and short-hike camps of the last few months’ articles. This month I will expose another handful of camps (only those to which I was not sworn to secrecy!) and some others that I have discovered through experience and by pouring over maps. This last month my family was to meet with another family from Denver. Collectively we wanted a camp that was non-crowded (4th of July weekend), was an established campground (with toilets and picnic tables), and had access to fishing, rafting, biking, and dirtbiking. Does this sound like a tall order? Have you been asked to meet someone on their way from Pueblo; half way from Sante Fe; near a group of Colorado 14ers? This article will also provide some tips for choosing your own camps.
This week I am planning a trip to California. We all know how to do that, right? We grab the roadmap and look for options. When we determine likely areas to spend the night, we look more closely at the blown up, detailed, inset maps of the city, or a likely fishing hole. The same process happens when seeking a camping location except the map to reach for is the DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer (delorme.com). These map sets are available for all 50 states at $19.95 each or groups of 5-6 for $74.95. The scales range from 1:77,000 (1” = 1.2 miles) to 1:400,000. The majority of Colorado is at 1:160,000, and if taped together as a wall map would be 9 by 11 feet! These maps include primary roads, dirt roads and trails, elevation contours, lakes and streams, boat ramps, public vs. private lands, land use, land cover, trailheads, all public and many private campgrounds, and hunting and fishing spots, among other features. While they don’t provide the detail of USGS 7.5 minute maps (1:24,000, http://store.usgs.gov/), they do provide a great overview.
To find a spot to camp with my kids and their cousins last month, I filed through the pages looking for campground symbols that met my criteria. I found two possible campgrounds up Hayden Creek, above Coaldale on the Arkansas River. Upstream from Coaldale is a takeout for a relatively mild section of the Arkansas, the fishing turned out to be good on both the Arkansas and Hayden Creek Middle Prong. The camps are at the junction of the Rainbow Trail and the Hayden Pass road (that goes over the crest of the Sangres and down into Villa Grove), both open to bikes and dirtbikes.
Another nice camp I have used is on the east side of La Veta Pass. Drive past the Mato Vega fire site, over the pass, and down Hwy 160, leaving it to follow signs to the town of La Veta. Take Hwy 12 south towards the town of Cuchara (pronounced Cu-char-a), passing through the magnificent volcanic, radial dikes coming off of Spanish Peaks. After the town of Cuchara, but before the pass of the same name (and about 12 miles from La Veta town), turn up Cuchara Creek to the last of three nice Forest Service campgrounds, complete with creekside campsites and lake with fish, as well as nice hiking.
To meet someone from Albuquerque or Sante Fe, try the Conejos (Co-ne-hos) River by heading south from Alamosa on Hwy 285 and turning west at Antonito onto Hwy 17. This road follows the Cumbres and Toltec narrow-gauge railroad; check it out for a great day adventure, cumbrestoltec.com. Many private and several public campgrounds can be found in the first 20 miles of Hwy 17, but then that road climbs away from the river towards Chama, New Mexico. To find a string of beautiful camps, instead of heading up towards Chama, continue to follow the Conejos by turning right onto Forest Service road 250 toward Platoro Reservoir. Find your way home by winding up past the Summitville mine and abandoned townsite and dropping down to South Fork or Del Norte.
That reminds me of another scenic loop that goes from South Fork, up Hwy 149, past Creede to Slumgullion Pass and then back northeast on Forest Service roads through Saguache Park on the west side of Cochetopa Pass, and back home on Hwy 114, but you will have to buy your own Gazetteer to figure out all the twists and turns and camps of that route!