We spent last week alongside the Arkansas River in Salida. While barely a two hour drive from Crested Butte, Salida might as well be in a different country- or maybe a different planet. Gone was the lush green meadows, snow-capped peaks, deep blue lakes, and refreshing mountain air. Instead we were surrounded by brown hills dotted with scraggly junipers, fields of sage brush and dry grass, and a HOT, dry climate.
When we arrived on Sunday the air was hazy with smoke from the numerous nearby wildfires, and a strong wind was blowing around a distinctly smoky scent. We didn’t know if we wanted to stay in these conditions, but decided to at least have lunch and go from there. After lunch the decision was made to stay for the night and then maybe go check out some spots farther north. The next day the smoke cleared out and we decided to stick around for the week as originally planned. The sanity of this decision was questioned a few times during the week as the temperatures climbed into the mid-90’s, but by then it was too hot to think about packing up and going somewhere else.
While the dry climate and hot weather was not ideal, we did manage to enjoy ourselves in Salida. Adding to the enjoyment was the fact that we found a pretty cool place to stay for free. Just a few miles from town is a free camping area called Bighorn Canyon. It’s located on BLM land and is basically a slice of land between the Arkansas River and Hwy 50 with room for around fifteen campers. There are some actual sites with fire rings (and one with a picnic table), but much of the area is a free for all, where you just find your own spot wherever you can. We lucked out and scored a nice pull-thru spot with a river view. The biggest downside to this spot was that the road down to the boat ramp went right past us. At certain times of day, and especially on Friday and Saturday, there was a good amount of traffic passing by on their way to and from the river. The other downside was the lack of shade. When the temperatures reach the low-90’s outside, they climb up into the high-90s in the Airstream, even with both our MaxxAir fans running at full capacity. In this scenerio a tree or two would have been greatly appreciated.
Lucky for us, and even luckier for our hot brown dog, the Arkansas river was right out our front door. The bank down to the river was pretty steep, so we ended up walking over to the boat ramp for our twice daily river soakings.
The swift moving waters of the Arkansas River are perfect for rafting and kayaking, but not so great for old dogs with hip issues. For safety sake Phin stayed on his leash in the shallow water on the edge of the river so he didn’t get swept away. He didn’t seem to mind though, and had a great time hunting for rocks and splashing around in the chilly, yet refreshing, water.
Bighorn Canyon was conveniently located only a few miles east of downtown Salida. The downtown district of Salida is touted as the largest historic downtown in Colorado. The streets are lined with old Victorian buildings filled with shops, restaurants and galleries.
We visited the downtown district a few times during our stay. The streets were visually appealing with lots of old buildings covered with old advertisements and cool signs.
Salida has a ton of restaurants, but somehow we managed to limit ourselves to trying just two. First we ate at the Boathouse Cantina right on the banks of the Arkansas. It was a great casual place with covered outside seating, tons of Colorado beers on tap and really good burgers made with local beef. We also had a night out at Amica’s Pizza and Microbrewery with some fellow full-time RVrs, Brent & Christine of Horton’s Travels and Jim & Julie of Imperfect Destiny. Both of these couples were part of our inspiration before we went full-time, so meeting them in person was pretty exciting. Unfortunately, I took not a single photo of this occasion. I guess we need to meet up with them again so we can capture their smiling faces.
I did get some pictures of our third night out in Salida. This time we brought our own food for a picnic in park. Every Thursday during the summer months Salida hosts a free concert at Riverside Park. Even though it was in the mid-90s that day, by the time the concert started the weather had cooled considerably and we found ourselves a nice patch of grass under a big tree to enjoy the music and some people watching.
Our final foray into downtown Salida was to attend the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market. It’s still a little early in the season around here for a wide variety of produce, so the market consisted mostly of crafts and baked goods. We did find a nice head of red leaf lettuce, some greenhouse grown tomatoes, a large jar of local honey and a loaf of multi-grain bread.
Despite the hot weather, we managed to get out and explore some of the hiking trails in the area. Right across the street from our camping spot was the Methodist Mountain Trail System. This is a huge network of trails for hiking and biking that winds up through the high mountain desert landscape with views of the town below. One afternoon we hiked a small loop, enjoying the cooling breeze that swept across the mountain top and the view of the town in the distance.
Finally on Saturday, our last day in town, the heat broke and we set out for what we hoped would be a spectacular hike in the mountains south of Poncha Springs. The Starvation Creek Trail meanders through the forest up to the Continental Divide. The first thing we noticed upon arriving at the trailhead was just how green everything was. The second thing we noticed was that it was raining. Dark clouds had rolled in during our drive, and just as we parked the rain started. So we sat in the truck for a few minutes waiting for the storm to pass. When it seemed like the rain was letting up we decided to risk it and headed out on the trail.
The distance to the Divide was 6.5 miles, one way. With our old man dog in tow we would never make it the entire way, but had hoped to hike a total of four miles which is about Phin’s limit these days. The weather had a different idea. After less than one and half miles the sky became very dark, thunder rumbled not far away, and we reluctantly turned around. Not soon enough though and for about ten minutes the rain soaked us while we quickly retreated back down the hill to the truck. By the time we got to the truck the rain had stopped, but there was still lots of dark threatening looking clouds around so we decided our hiking adventure was over for the day. The trail was just as nice as we had hoped, and if we’re ever back in the area we would definitely go back and try it again.
Even though our hike was cut short, the drive to and from the trailhead was beautiful and added to our adventure. From Poncha Springs we headed south on 285 and then west on CR 200 and CR 203. Both these roads travel through the national forest and are full of prime dispersed camping sites. That is if you don’t need cell service and you have a high clearance vehicle. When we passed through on a Saturday afternoon both roads were busy with tents, vans and the occasional brave (or crazy) RV. We’ve taken our Airstream on some seriously questionable roads, but even we wouldn’t risk coming down these roads. It was very, very scenic though.
When we weren’t gawking at other people’s campsites, we also enjoyed the scenery and wildlife along the road.
Okay, so these cows aren’t exactly wildlife, but they were free roaming, so that makes them more wild than their fenced cousins. This bunch decided to congregate in the road right where we needed to drive, and were in no hurry to move. This one gave me the eye as we slowly inched our way past.
That’s it. Our one week in Salida. Despite our initial assessment it ended up being a pretty good, if hot, week. Another Colorado town successfully explored. Up next we head to Leadville for a stay at Turquoise Lake.