September 7 -12
Twin Lakes, CO
Well, we did it. After nine weeks of sitting still in one place, followed by 14 weeks of sitting still in another place, we are finally back on the road. Our biggest takeaway from all this time spent living in an RV while not traveling is that living in an RV while not traveling kind of sucks. There’s a reason why these things have wheels!
Going back to full-time travel in this time of global pandemic (not to mention the forest fires, smoke, political unrest, and the general feeling that the world is collapsing around us) is not a decision we took lightly. That first day when we pulled out of the driveway in Idaho Springs and drove three hours to Twin Lakes, it quickly became clear that this was not going to be business as usual. As we rolled through downtown Leadville on the afternoon of Labor Day, the streets were full of masked patrons ambling around town. With temps in the high 70s and a new-to-us brewery at the edge of town tempting us with her frothy brews, during normal times we would have almost certainly found a place to park the rig and joined crowds. But instead, we kept on driving.
The motto we lived by this spring and summer was “chill”. When one of us got antsy, or bored or frustrated by forces out of our control, the other would put out a reminder that this was a time to “just chill”. Even though we’re on the move again, we’ve kept that same motto. We won’t be strolling around every small town we pass through, we won’t be seeking out new breweries, visiting quirky attractions, or gathering in large groups for any reason. This is the season of chill travel.
That’s not to say we don’t plan on never dining outside, or going to an outdoor farmer’s market, or even occasionally visiting a store in person. But we absolutely won’t be doing that with the regularity we once did. Our personal belief is that traveling around from town to town patronizing small businesses and potentially spreading germs because we could be asymptomatic without knowing it, is irresponsible behavior.
Fortunately, our type of RV travel leans heavily on the nature side of things. And while outdoor activities are more popular than ever right now, it is still possible to get away from the crowds. For example, if you decide to arrive at one of the busiest boondocking spots in Colorado on a day when the sky is obscured by smoke, the temperature is expected to drop 40 degrees, and up to a foot of snow is predicted to fall, you might just have the whole place to yourself.
This was our first time visiting Twin Lakes. We have previously spent time in Leadville but never made it south to the tiny town that looms in the shadow of massive mountain peaks. The town of Twin Lakes basically consists of a general store, a small lodge, and a smattering of houses. Surrounding the town are two lakes, the aforementioned mountain peaks including Mount Elbert, the tallest in Colorado, and acres of national forest land.
The boondocking around Twin Lakes is plentiful and popular. I’ve heard that it is usually very busy in the summer and can get rowdy with locals and college kids cramming into the woods on the weekends. But there are lots of options for spots, including for bigger rigs if you know where to look. After scouring the listings on Campendium and reading all the reviews, I had my heart set on a spot at the top of the ridge overlooking the lakes. In light of the impending weather, there were only two or three other RVs around and we easily pulled in and claimed the very spot I had my eye on. Here are the GPS coordinates where we parked. It was easy to access and not far from the paved road.
Later that evening a van showed up and parked on the road above us. It was a younger couple with two dogs who promptly unpacked their bikes and set up camp. At some point, we heard the guy chopping wood and remarked to each other that he better not be planning to start a campfire. In addition to the thick smoke currently blanketing the sky, Colorado has been under a statewide fire ban for at least a month. Interstate 70 is full of large blinking signs stating this fact, and every time you cross into a new county there are signs about fire restrictions. And yet, sure enough, this guy starts a fire.
So Tim goes up there to tell him about the fire ban and he says they just drove up from Texas and didn’t know about it. Argh! This kind of stuff makes me so mad. I don’t think he was trying to break the rules on purpose, and of course, he wasn’t planning to set the forest on fire, but why not educate yourself even the tiniest bit before visiting another state? The west has been on fire for months now and you didn’t even think to check in regards to a fire ban? Idiot. Thankfully, he put it out and we didn’t have to take farther action.
The snow started on Tuesday afternoon. It was not that early season, wet snow you expect on September 8th (not that anyone really expects snow on September 8th). With temps now firmly in the 20s and the wind howling, the snow that came down was more along the lines of the fluffy stuff you get in January. In the early evening, we bundled up in all our winter gear and went for a short walk. It was hard to get an accurate reading because the wind had blown it around so much, but after measuring in several spots, we determined the snow total to be around 6-inches.
Tuesday night the temps dropped down to 20° and there was a fierce wind that would not quit. More than once, I regretted my push for us to park in this exposed spot on a hill. Eventually, we parked the truck as close to the door side of the trailer as we could to block the wind. It helped some but the furnace still got a good work out for a few days.
I don’t think it got above 34° or so on Wednesday, but the sun made an appearance for a little bit in the afternoon and the wind stopped, so we ventured out for a short hike on the Colorado Trail.
Thursday brought more clouds, wind, and cold. I think it barely got above freezing and I am not ashamed to say that I didn’t step foot outside once all day. In the afternoon it snowed again and we got another 4-inches!
Finally, on Friday the skies cleared, the mountains came into view, and it warmed up enough to go for a hike without getting frostbite. Tim had taken a short vacation from work which had started the day before when the weather was crap. With one day of vacation already wasted, we were determined to get out and enjoy the area.
The blanket of snow covering the mountain peaks eliminated the really high elevation hikes. Instead, we chose to hike the Bartlett Gulch Loop which starts at the East Elbert trailhead, travels up through the Aspens for two miles, and then returns on a jeep road. With the sun out and snow sparkling on the ground, it was a magical hike!
After our hike, we drove to the top of Independence Pass. Noted as the second-highest paved crossing of the Continental Divide in North America, the road travels between Twin Lakes and Aspen and reaches an elevation of 12,095 feet. We only drove to the top and then turned around but it was a worthy trip with mountain views and some pretty impressive road work to admire.
Saturday was another nice weather day with the temps climbing into the 50s and a cloudless sky helping to melt the snow. We picked out a longer hike this time. One that traveled up a gulch and offered up mountain views without requiring us to summit a peak or spend much time above tree-line.
We had guessed that the Big Willis Gulch trail would be sparsely used on a day like this with a chill in the air and snow still on the ground. We guessed right. On the way up we passed four people before arriving at the junction of the Colorado and Big Willis Gulch trail. Until then, the trail had been snow-covered but well packed down and easy to navigate.
As soon as we turned on the Big Willis Gulch trail, the footsteps we had been following dwindled to two sets, and then a quarter mile later those footprints stopped and turned around. From there on out we would be breaking a trail through the snow. It was only a few inches deep, but it was melting and slushy and made for some really, really slow hiking.
After what felt like 10 miles of steady uphill through the snow, but was really only around 3.5 miles, we finally exited the trees and got our reward. Look at those mountain views!
The trail continued for a few more miles, but since we had gotten a late start and it was already mid-afternoon we decided to turn around. In retrospect, this trail is probably better suited to a warm summer day when you want to cool off in the forest than a 50-degree day when any amount of sun would have been appreciated. Still, those mountain views made it all worth it.
We left Twin Lakes the next day with a vow to return to the area someday. There are many hiking trails still to explore, plus two lakes for kayaking. Aside from the wind and cold that lasted three days too many, I would classify our first real RV outing since the end of March to be a success. Stay tuned to see if we can sneak in a little more Colorado hiking before it decides to snow again.
Twin Lakes was PACKED when we were there in August. Sometimes no crowds is a worthy trade-off for crap weather! We only got about an inch up in Kremmling. Last weekend we were up in Steamboat and the number of trees that came clear out of the ground, roots and all, from that storm was a bit unsettling. So glad you guys found a good spot to ride out the storm and didn’t incur any damage. (Also, tell Tim THANK YOU for doing his part to prevent another wildfire)
Absolutely! We often put up with all kinds of weather just to avoid crowds. There’s no way we could have snagged a spot with such an amazing view in the middle of summer. What a strange storm it was in terms of snow totals. Several people mentioned over a foot in Salida which I would normally consider warmer than Twin Lakes.
Sitting out the storm may not have been much fun, but what a payoff once it pasted through. Beautiful photos of the Rockies with their snow caps.
We hoped the payoff would be worth it and it certainly was! With no snow in our future this winter (unless things get really crazy in southern AZ!) it was fun to experience a bit of early-season snow.
It’s a little hard to process these photos of snow while we are still sweltering in Florida. One thing we have definitely learned is that it is MUCH easier to manage cold weather in the Airstream than hot weather. I have no shame about wearing a fleece (and other layers) inside, and there’s always the handy trick of baking bread and cooking soup. I know you guys are well equipped for the cold so you were able to have a good, not-crowded experience in a beautiful location. Can’t wait to see if you manage a few more Colorado hikes!
I can imagine that even the photos of snow and cold must seem like a distant dream! Our 25 year-old trailer with crappy windows and air leaks in every corner is not so good at regulating temps in hot or cold. But we managed for the week (and used an entire 30# bottle of propane while doing so). If anything, it gave me a great excuse to fire up the oven on a daily basis!
What a magical place you found!! Glad your idiot neighbor put out the fire with one intervention. It’s so easy to check on what the rules are for everywhere you travel. The pics of the Aspens in the snow are beyond beautiful. I can feel the cold on my face and the brisk air in my lungs. I’m envious of those who can tolerate those higher elevations and grateful that you share their beauty. Definitely a great place to social distance :-)
Magical is the right word! As someone who grew up with long winters that I always disliked, it surprises me how delightful I find the odd snowstorm now and again these days. I guess it’s more fun when you don’t have to deal with it for 6 months!
Happy to see you back on the road, tho it makes me green with envy. Our days boondocking are over. We are giving our trailer to Salvation Army, to in turn will give it to a California fire victim.
While I am sad that you will no longer be boondocking, it warms my heart to know that you are so generously donating your trailer. :)