San Isabel National Forest and Leadville, Colorado


Mountain views from San Isabel National Forest in Colorado

Late June in northern Arizona brought the start of monsoon season. While a break from the unusually warm weather was welcome, camping in the forest during weeks of rain is a prescription for being stranded. Forest Service roads are often little more than unimproved dirt tracks, and rain quickly turns marginal roads into an impassable mess. It was time for a new location.

The Colorado high country provided the opportunity for cooler weather, proximity to Wyoming for several planned trips, and a change of scenery (always welcome for nomads). The area around Leadville was highly recommended by many rubber tramps, and a small group of us migrated from the Flagstaff area to the San Isabel National Forest.

San Isabel National Forest

The San Isabel National Forest encompasses 1.1 million acres in central Colorado. The forest includes 19 of Colorado’s peaks that are above 14,000 feet, including the highest peakin in Colorado, Mt. Elbert.

The difference in weather was obvious immediately. The temperatures dropped from a high of 104 F in the desert to 52 F in the Colorado high country. The highs while I was in Colorado averaged 60s to low 70s, with nighttime lows averaging 30s to low 40s. Pretty comfortable weather for July.

The scenery around the San Isabel National Forest is quite lovely. The mountains and forests are beautiful, though it can be surprisingly hard to find wide open vistas. Perhaps I have been spending too much time in the Plains and the desert, but I expected more open meadows in addition to the forests and mountains.

The U.S. Forest Service describes the Pike and San Isabel National Forests & Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands as a “busy urban national forest.” They are not kidding. I typically gravitate to remote areas with as little traffic as possible. My idea of a good camping spot includes not seeing anyone else for days at a time. The amount of traffic in the San Isabel National Forest was surprising and annoying. The difficulty in escaping motorized vehicles contributed to my time in Colorado being cut short.

Leadville, Colorado

Leadville is an interesting little city. At 10,152 feet, Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the country (cue the jokes about a Colorado city being the “highest” in the country). Leadville is an old mining town with a population of only 2,600.

Despite the small population, traffic in Leadville rivals that of much larger cities. The area has a lot of tourism, and there are few places to resupply. Aside from nearly being killed in a grocery store parking lot (literally - I leapt to safety with no time to spare), the traffic would kill me due to hypertension if I had to deal with it regularly. The roads and parking lots in the city are simply terrible and not designed for the volume of traffic during summer.

I always try to find something good to report about the places that I visit. So far I am drawing a blank on Leadville though. It is just a crummy little city that I plan to never return to again. Plenty of other nomads love it though, so you will need to be your own judge of Leadville’s potential merits.

Moving On

In the end, I spent only about two weeks in the Leadville area. In reality, I spent about half of that two weeks in Wyoming over two separate trips. The days that I did spend there were largely frustrating, but I did at least enjoy some wonderful scenery and cooler weather. (We did eventually find a camp in a quieter location with less motor vehicle traffic.) Still, I was glad to see Leadville in the rearview mirror.

Nomadic Reflections

Colorado was an interesting experience. While I may explore more of western Colorado in the future, I doubt that I will return to this area again.

Opinions

People take to the road for a variety of reasons, and have different needs or objectives. An area that is ideal for one person may not suit another person. The Leadville and San Isabel National Forest area serves as a good example. Similary, be careful about avoiding an area just because other people were not impressed.

Cellular Access

Digital nomads like myself require a fast, reliable data connection in order to work. The first part of this equation is finding locations with good cellular coverage. The other part of the equation involves coverage that is actually usable. While there is Verizon coverage in the area surrounding Leadville, the tower is so overloaded that the network is hardly usable much of the time. Not only did I have difficulty accessing the Internet, but I often could not even send or receive text messages. Finding locations with fast and reliable data coverage contines to be one of my primary challenges working on the road.

Digital nomad, minimalist, writer, photographer, and videographer. In my spare time, I like to hike, read, or study maps for ideas about where to visit next.


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Terri Ann Witham

Terri Ann Witham
Loved by all who knew her



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