With all the cold weather at my 9500 foot camp, I was determined to find a place where I could sit in the sun and bake. In the morning I drove east on Route 50, and as soon as I crested the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass and started down the other side, the sun came out and the air had a more gentler feel. With the sun on my face and optimism that summer would last another week, I turned north at Salida and drove to Leadville.
Leadville is over 10,000 feet high, and in a hot summer, the perfect place to be. I rationalized that it would be good to explore the area for a few days and mark down future camps. As long as it doesn’t get way below freezing, I should be okay.
From other blogs I knew where a good dispersed camping place was. I followed a road called Half Moon up into the San Isabel National Forest, found a perfect spot, and set up camp.
The sun was warm so I jumped on Honda to explore the forest road past my camp. As I drove the road I found three forest campgrounds and two trailheads that hikers use to climb into the 14,000 foot peaks. I stopped at one trailhead and walked a half mile to where it joined the Continental Divide Trail, just to say I was on it again.
On the way back I pulled into one of the forest service campgrounds to check it out. I first stopped to read the board and see what they charge. I was a little surprised to see it was $16. The sites were tight, the road was in bad need of grading, and I couldn’t see any water spigots. As I drove the loop a pickup chased after me and flagged me down. I turned Honda off and said, “Hi.”
“You can’t ride that in here!”, was the first thing out of his mouth.
“Sure I can. This is licensed for highway use.”
“It doesn’t matter! “, he shot back. “This is a private campground.”
“Isn’t this a forest service campground?”
“It is run by a private concessionare. We get a lot of off road people driving through here with their noisy machines. Campers can’t even sit outside and enjoy their dinner.”
I explained to him that I was just looking for possible places to camp while I was there. I told him that I drove slowly through campgrounds and was respectful of people camping. He kind of softened then and agreed that I was being respectful. It probably helped when he realized I was the same age as he and not some smart-allic kid on a dirt bike.
I asked him why with all the beautiful dispersed campsites along the road would anyone spend $16 to camp here?
“Well, you have the outhouses”, was all he could come up with.
I have run into the concessionare campgrounds before. The forest service doesn’t have the time or resources to take care of campgrounds and they must be having trouble getting camp hosts. This guy said he takes care of three campgrounds and I’m sure it is a paid position. I’m afraid the next change that will come with turning forest campgrounds over to private companies is the end of discounts for seniors.