Robert Witham

Nomadic minimalist, writer, and videographer

Tag: Colorado

Heading Back to Wyoming After a Great Trip to New Mexico

After a great week in New Mexico, it was time to head back to Wyoming. The plan was to camp in southern Colorado, stop in Denver to see a friend, camp in southern Wyoming, and finally finish the trip back to Wyoming. The trip did not work out quite as planned, but still was an good trip with some memorable adventures.

This video covers the journey back to Wyoming from northern New Mexico. I hope you enjoy the video!

Camping in San Isabel National Forest

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 peak in 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. Similarly, 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 continues to be one of my primary challenges working on the road.

Visiting Mesa Verde National Park

Walking in the footpaths of the ancients and viewing the remains of their humble (and sometimes impressive) homes is one of the great joys of wandering this country as I do. Mesa Verde National Park proved to be the perfect follow-up to Wupatki National Monument several days prior.

Mesa Verde National Park is located in southwestern Colorado. It is probably not on your way to anywhere (unless you are relocating from Flagstaff, Arizona to Leadville, Colorado), but it is well worth the detour if you happen to be in the region. Visiting Mesa Verde has been on my list of essential places to visit since my sister-in-law, who spent her career with the National Park Service, showed me photos of the park last fall. It immediately became a stop-over destination when we started trip planning to Colorado in late June.

Mesa Verde is Spanish for “green table,” a reference to the many mesas that are interspersed with the stunning canyons in this area of Colorado. Mesa Verde National Park is home to nearly 5,000 archaeological sites, including about 600 ancient cliff dwellings. The pit houses and cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde were built and inhabited by Ancestral Pueblo peoples between about 600 and 1,300 A.D. Around 1,300 A.D. the inhabitants disappeared without a known trace.

Having the opportunity to visit ancient ruins like this is an absolute thrill. Being able to visualize how people lived for many centuries is fascinating. It did, however, prompt a discussion about how vandwelling is positively luxurious by comparison. It is all in one’s perspective.

Visiting Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park is a bargain at only $15 during the summer season and $10 during the winter season. You would spend that much watching a movie at a theater or buying a DVD – and the return on investment is immeasurably better with a national park. An annual pass for this park is available for $30.

There is one large campground within the park. Most of the sites are tent or dry RV sites, but a few sites are available with full hookups. Dump stations and potable water are located in the campground as well. A cafe, store, laundromat, showers, and bathrooms are all available in the campground. Bathrooms with running cold water are also available throughout the campground. Verizon phone service ranges from barely usable to nonexistent, but free wifi is available in the campground. Camp near one of the bathrooms for the best wifi signal.

Nomadic Reflections

Mesa Verde National Park, like many of these wonderful sites, is worth visiting. Plan at least one day, but it is worth staying for a few days and camping in the park. There is so much to see and experience that you will want the time. Visiting the sites early in the morning will allow you to have the park mostly to yourself.

History is fascinating

History really is fascinating. If your only exposure to history is boring textbooks in school or college, you owe it to yourself to get out and experience history firsthand. There is no replacement for experiencing history for yourself, and it will prove to be both informative and enlightening.

America the Beautiful Pass

The annual National Park pass is a bargain if you plan to visit a lot of national parks. Visiting these treasures has actually become one of my travel hobbies, and I have made back the $80 I spent on my annual pass at least twice over – and it is still valid for two more months.

I recently met someone from Texas who is traveling around visiting every national park in the lower 48 states. That would be an amazing journey of discovery for anyone in a position to spend a full year traveling.

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