Photographs

I’ve just set up a Flickr account to help you find the photos of trips, Land Rovers, and the critters. 

But…

Does anyone know how I add a copyright to the images though? I couldn’t work it out. Thanks, s

 

Year End Lists

It’s the end of the year, a time for us to look back at what we did or didn’t do. Those lists and resolutions from last winter haunt us. I’m a wanderer who settled for the last eight years to build a home for myself, a home-base that is. My goals had included writing and traveling again. Goals met. I’m going to list mine in the hope that it’ll inspire you to look at your year behind and the one ahead. It helps me to see things written down by making my ideas more tangible somehow, more solid.

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Articles published in MAQ, Classic Land Rover Magazine, LRO Magazine, the Examiner, and on a couple of online small forums. Not bad, but I want to publish more, focus more on sending out and finding outlets for my storytelling.  I sent out two more travel articles this week. It’s a start. One step at a time, day by day, I aim to keep going.

Books published include two travelogues Bring a Chainsaw and Van Life.  There are also three photo books, photo essays if you like, taken from our travels around the States. Van Life and Dirt Roads And Dogs, the last one calledLittle Stevie’s Travels is in review. Oh, and one of my novels won Best LGBT Fiction in the 2016 NM/AZ Book Awards.

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It doesn’t feel like it, but we drove around a lot this last year. Here’s a list of the States we got to visit while looking for campgrounds, lakes, books and breweries. Passing through some of them a few times, we took backroads, found rivers to paddle in, and set up camp for three months over summer. Some of these places are one’s I kept returning to while based in New Mexico such as the Jemez Mountains in NM, Pagosa Springs in CO and down through Tijeras, NM on the way to other places!

  • Colorado
  • Arizona
  • Wyoming
  • Montana
  • Washington
  • Oregon
  • Idaho
  • New Mexico

Now though, it’s time for me to look ahead even as I write up my notes from the last year. If you  have any specific questions for me, let me know. I can give routes, campgrounds, and local information for many wonderful off-beat rural towns.

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The next post will be a few of my top ten picks. Top Ten Destinations. Top Ten Campgrounds. If you have any suggestions, again, let me know. Take care and Happy New Year!

 

Modifying the van for the pets.

It was a random conversation, a chance meeting and a joke that led me to buying this van four days before I was heading out to Arizona. A 2003 Dodge Conversion B1500 van is now part of my ever-growing stash of vehicles, one for each occasion! I know, I know, but I don’t have kids so why not, eh?

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I drove the van home and opened up all the doors, side and back, then let my dogs and cat out of the house. All three ran over, jumped inside and sniffed around. I folded down the backbench seat into a short bed, threw over a thick blanket, grabbed a cold beer, and sat down. Rosie claimed the front driver’s seat. Harold lay on the bed with me, his tail thumping as he sighed, looking out the window. And Stevie, well, Stevie purred and explored under the bed, around the other four seats, and then the shelf above the bed. I could hear his happy loud wanderings and then the little cat found a spot on the bed next to Harold and I. I sipped my beer as the critters all fell asleep that first afternoon. Naptime.

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A week later and I’m back after Phase One of my summer’s adventures. I’d left Stevie at home with the neighbors checking in on him and had taken the two dogs to Overland Expo West, a huge gathering of some ten thousand travelers, those who love extended vehicle dependent explorations of new places. I’d camped in Coconino NF near by and driven in each day, parking in the corner with windows open. The dogs happily walked with me as I checked out vendors, participating as a panelist on some roundtable discussions, and presenting a class on traveling with dogs in the backcountry. Yep, it was a good trip. We even got to see the Grand Canyon on the way home, of course I broke down within 50 miles of the park, but that’s what happened five years ago too so it came as no surprise.

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We’re home now, and I’m modifying the van for all three pets. Living in a van with pets, yes, that’s the goal for summer. There’s really not much online so I thought I’d write about how I’m doing it incase it helps someone else with ideas. We’ll all do it our own way, but this is mine.

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I started off by taking out one of the seats behind the front passenger but I did leave the one behind the driver’s seat. Some friends think I should remove it for more storage. I did consider that but here I am, sitting at a table in that very place. A comfortable leather seat, a folding lightweight table, and a window with a ledge for my cooling coffee, yep, this is perfect.

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The week in Coconino Forest was a week without writing; it was disconcerting. I worried that I’d not find a comfortable creative place within the van in the coming months. Outside was so incredibly windy that I wasn’t inspired to sit at the table next to the fire pit and write. Two days ago though, I looked around my property and found a small shelf, about 18” x 24” as well as some chains. I rigged up a hanging table, one that could be set up and taken down easily. It was heavy though, awkward. I liked how it looked but that was all. I still didn’t sit down at the table with the laptop and write. I took photographs instead. Not a good sign.

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Now though, I’m happy.

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Yesterday morning I had a sweet surprise from REI. I’d recently got a credit card from them for emergencies on the travels. After using it just once, as thanks, they send out a $100 gift card for their stores. Oh sweet…I drove to Santa Fe to meet Alexis for a late lunch, stopping by REI on my way. I found a very lightweight-folding table for $40. I got it. I’m using it. This is perfect, the right height, the right depth, and easily stashed out of the way when we’re driving. Yep, it’s a winner already. And here I am writing again.

Another consideration for me has been Stevie, the cat. No, he’s not gone anywhere yet. I’m building up his comfort in the van. I leave the doors open as much as possible. I set his bowl of dry food on the wide dashboard. There is a bowl of water for dogs and cat on the floor near the side door. I’ll want to get one that has a non-spill lip at some point, but for now, a regular water bowl is what we have. We hang out in here. I drink my coffee in here even my home is only a few hundred feet away. I read, nap, and even sleep in here with all three critters of mine.

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I have a small carrier for Stevie, a soft one with a strap. I mostly got it for emergencies; if I had to walk away from the van, say at a mechanics or something. I wanted to know that I could bring him with me as needed. For now though, it’s where I’ve stashed his litter box, in the carrier with the front and top doors open, and hidden behind this jump seat. It’s out of the way but accessible for a cat but not Rosie’s tongue.

There is also a large soft canvas crate, meant for medium sized dogs, but a perfect home for Stevie as needed. Again, when it arrived by FedEx yesterday, I set it up, threw in one of our blankets and put it on the bed in the back of the van. Rosie and Harold sniffed it. Stevie stepped inside and claimed it as his, purring all the while. The plan is that whenever I stop for gas or shopping along the way before arriving at a campground, I’ll pop the boy inside, zip him up, and not worry about him skipping out when the doors are open. Hopefully.

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We’ve been sleeping in the van together, all four of us. Rosie still prefers the driver’s seat. Harold likes to be on the bed near me, and Stevie purrs up and down, changing spots every few hours, but even on the first night he didn’t try to escape, just settled down, and purred the whole nightlong. He’s a happy boy. He’s coming with us. I even took us for a short ride. I didn’t zip him in his tent, I just started the engine. Stevie sat up. I drove off. Stevie climbed onto the shelf. That was that. I see us all camping and hiking together. I’m scared of losing him, my little cat, but I have that fear every day at home too since he comes and goes like the wild child that he is.

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The windows, doors, and building screens for the van are next. I’ll let you know how I do that project. I have some ideas and will pick up materials today.

Travel with dogs – #1 prepping the truck!

Yikes, I started thinking about packing today – for a three month trip with two dogs to the Northwest from the Southwest. I drive an older 4Runner and bring tent camping gear and no, not the trailer I’d mentioned over winter. I sold it, partly to fund this trip, but mostly because it was simply too heavy for one person (me) to move around. Since the dogs just licked their feet free of cactus thorns and watched me huff and grunt, I soon realized they would be no assistance. Off went the trailer, or atleast I have a deposit and the fella is coming back in two weeks time with the balance. I have 7 weeks 5 days until I leave. Not that I’m counting. I’ve also just published my fifth book, BRING A CHAINSAW (and other stories from my solo travels) so I’ve been keeping myself busy you could say.

Well, back to packing. I started going through my lists, notebooks, maps, and camping gear this afternoon, until the winds hit 20 miles per hour just as I was about to unroll the tent and respray with a waterproofing layer. I gave up and came inside. I’m not overwhelmed, today anyway, no today I’m excited.

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I’ve been going back and forth emotionally about taking such a long road trip as it’s been a while since I went away for that amount of time like this, camping in the boonies, finding dispersed camping sites, lakes, rivers, free camping in the mountains and ocean beaches. Sounds good, right? Yep, it does to me.

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The truck is my priority. It’s a 95 4Runner, kind faded from the sun here in New Mexico, but solid and since I bought it, we’ve replaced the tires, shocks, coils, and transmission and transfer case. It should be good right? Yep, that’s what I’m thinking but to be safe, I’ve set up an oil change this week and in a month a full check up including brakes and to look for any possible issues that would derail my trip.

For the truck, I started with a tool kit.

  • Gerber knife
  • electrical tape
  • splice connectors
  • 2 types of screwdrivers
  • metric wrench set
  • ice scraper – well, you never know! I am heading into some mountains first.
  • large adjustable wrench
  • vice grips
  • fuel filter
  • pair of latex gloves
  • basic socket set
  • blue silicone gasket goop
  • extra spark plugs
  • zip locks
  • duct tape
  • bottle jack and all the parts. (Note: make them accessible. Once I had a flat, the back of the truck was filled with camping gear, the dogs were restless and the traffic relentless. Now I have all the flat tire accessories in one compartment I won’t be blocking.)
  • Quart of oil
  • brake fluid
  • coolant
  • ATF transmission fluid
  • power steering fluid
  • jumper cables
  • a handsaw
  • WD40
  •  and an air compressor. (Again, it’s now an essential as last summer when camping near Stunner Pass in Colorado, I had a super low tire one morning and having the air compressor made all the difference.)

I’m not sure what else I should pack? Any suggestions? Please leave a comment below, thanks!

 

 

Video! Oh well, more of a slideshow…

I’ve spent the last few weeks going from ecstatic at the coming three month trip to feeling overwhelmed by all that needs to be done. Somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, I took the time to create a short video of our adventures last year. Camping with dogs is the only way to go, in my opinion that is. Looking at all the photos of the weeklong trips, the overnights, the weekends away, I see how much area we covered. No wonder I get asked advice these days. I’m flattered and inspired to carry on. But then my dreams overtake me. I end up (in my dreams) renting the house, quitting the job, getting a camper van, and living on the road. I wake up smiling. The next night, that same dream leaves me exhausted and sad. I have Little Stevie.

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As much as he likes to hang out in the 4Runner, he’s not been anywhere. Yet. I know friends who’ve taken their cats on the road but I never have. I’m scared to. But didn’t I commit to the boy when he came to my family at four weeks old and weighing less than a pound? Yes. I did. I have to do what is right by him as well as the dogs and myself. So now I’m in a conundrum. Dreams, fears, guilt, happiness, money, home, vehicles, work, writing, traveling, all demand my attention. All demand I make a choice but I can’t. I’m immobile. I’m stuck. And I also have to say I love my home, I built it myself, it’s all I could wish for so why leave? I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m stuck. In my head. In New Mexico.

What I do now for sure is that I am leaving May 16th to head to Overland Expo and from there head to Oregon and Washington. I have a good solid truck, an okay tent, and dogs who want to come with me. I’ve saved some money and should be good for a few months. Other than that, it’s all up in the air.
Something needs to change, to inspire me, to motivate me to the best that I can be.
In the meantime, here’s a video to remind me of happier days.

 

Explore those back roads, why not??

Are you an armchair traveler? Or do you like to get out with the pups and discover new campgrounds and forest roads to explore?

For the last twenty years I have lived in New Mexico and as much as possible I have explored the Southwest, pouring over maps, driving down dirt roads, camping with my dogs, and then writing and photographing my experiences for others to enjoy and be inspired by.


Follow this blog, join the FB group, and you can even follow our travels on Instagram .

Become a sponsor or patron as if you were paying for Netflix, cable, or simply a good book. You will receive regular email updates, plus more detailed routes, trip reports, and I offer  personal email consultation as you wish. I’m here to be a source of information and inspiration!

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So between us, let’s bring these stories, photographs, and inspiration to a wider audience and your friends can also take the dogs on their next adventure. Thanks so much. 

Sarah

dirtroadsanddogs@yahoo

 

Off Road Trailers anyone?

Yep, I fell for an off road trailer. All this time of camping on the backroads with three dogs and carrying everything in the 4Runner has become tiring in some ways. It might be that this last big trip in Colorado kept us holed up in the truck for a few days and nights of rain.

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Waking up

Beautiful mind, but wet. The tent leaked. That didn’t help. The rest of the trip I changed tactics slightly. It used to be drive a few hours, find a campsite off in the National Forest and pull out the stuff of life and sleep in the truck. This year changed.

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This summer we’d drive a few hours, find an even better spot to set up camp for at least a couple of nights with tent, chair, a rubber container of cooking gear and another of dog food. A slower travel style for me made me relax more. It also made me think about 2016’s travel and life plans.
What makes me happiest? Exploring mountains, rivers, and meadows. Camping. Driving. Reading and writing. Creating and producing new projects, whether finishing my home in the hills, or starting another book. Something physical and mentally challenging both.

I came home relaxed and refreshed from a few weeks alone in the mountains. What would be my next project then? Pulling all these random thoughts and desires into one outlet? Is that even possible?
I began to talk about my restlessness and boredom with my close friends. They all suggested I find a new project.

It took a while but after evenings spent online, researching vans, trailers, vehicles, cabins, moving across country, building another structure here in New Mexico, I finally came across something. A trailer. A 1985 M416 military trailer to be exact, one with an aluminium lockable lid, tires to match both the Landy and 4Runner in height.

With the help of a friend, we drove up to Colorado to pick it up.

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A snow storm, fog, rain and hail on the way home made me forget that I was towing a trailer for the first time in my life!
Since then, I’ve done more research and yes, I am happy with the type and condition of this trailer I’ve named Little Red. Perfect size for my vehicles, not too heavy nor long. The lid lifts on little gas powered shocks and I can reach in easily. I’ve stored all the camping gear and can even carry more water and food for the dogs as we ran out a few times in summer after spending a few days in the back country. There is only so much stuff the 4Runner would carry! Now though, the trailer has all that we need, ready to go, tent included, and the back of the 4Runner will be the bed ready for a nap or a rainy night without getting the tent up. And now camping with three dogs in the Land Rover seems much more doable!

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It will be the best of both worlds I hope, with some simple camping in one of the trucks and also a chance to set up a base camp and explore in comfort. I’ve even set up a solar powered rope light that charges all day long, attached to the platform at the front, and lines the inside of the lid so as I lift it, the light is on so no more fumbling in the dark. Bear proof dog food. I’ll sleep well whether in the tent or truck. That’s the goal. I’m enjoying my mid-life crisis. It’s not so bad after all, I’ve got the best toys to show it…

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For another article on owning an off road trailer, follow this link. I read it this morning and agree with the challenges and hopefully the positives of my new travel style for the dirt roads and dogs. http://expeditionportal.com/off-road-trailers-the-top-reasons-to-buy-and-the-top-reasons-to-run/

Poison Park, Colorado in the San Juans again!

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This time last year I finally came across Williams Creek Reservoir and fell in love with the place, and I’m still in love. BUT! There is only one small campground next to the lake with only some 20 sites and no reservations. You have to be lucky to get an opening as locals and RV-ers come and camp out for weeks at a time and that’s not my way. This year I wasn’t lucky. I’d hoped to find a spot to stare at the lake and daydream for a few days but it was packed even in the last week of September.

Instead i parked at the boat ramp and had a picnic with the dogs swimming before we headed up hill to find some dispersed camp spots I’d seen on other trips to the area.

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I turned up on FS 644 towards Poison Park, a graded forest road that took us up and above the lake. Unfortunately there is a big and well know hikers and trail riders’ path further up so we had quite a few trucks go by. The dogs learnt not to be too bothered luckily. We settled in for a few nights, tent up, gathering wood, cooking up some dinner around the camp fire.

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In the morning we had a few guests for breakfast. The dogs weren’t exactly sure what to do so Ollie chased one until it stopped and looked at him. Ollie ran back and jumped in the back of the truck, wise boy.

The day was spent exploring. It was a change to have a camp set up for a few nights as usually I get too restless and keep on moving. I’d decided to explore the national forest roads in the area though so that’s what we did. We found a huge open meadow looking towards the reservoir but couldn’t quite see it. I missed the view to be honest. However, where we were was free, the dogs could run wild safely, and we were alone with no RVs, generators, or neighbours. Pretty good for me.

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Another day was spent looking for water, hanging out at the lake before following the creek for a while.

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We took our time. It was early in the morning and I came across a few fishermen from Germany. A great way to start the day for sure. The dogs had a blast. Look at those happy faces.

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I even stripped off (away from the fishermen!) and had a very quick plunge in the freezing cold river.

The afternoons were spent back at camp at we’d fall asleep on the blankets under the trees, reading, napping, drinking a beer or two, and finally deeply relaxing. The views were incredible.

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We did drive into Pagosa Springs for an early dinner one afternoon, heading back to the PS brewery with their huge yard. Beer and burgers, or rather, beers and a burger hit the spot after a week of one ring burner meals around a campfire. It helps that the brewery welcomes me and all three dogs with a bowl of water for them and a sweet corner in the shade to watch the world go by.

I had heard of some waterfalls near by but had to really inspect my maps to find directions. The road was graded, empty, and had numerous dispersed campsites off to the sides. I took one road that ended in a valley. Just as I’d let the dogs run, a man on an ATV in full hunting gear appeared. A friendly man, we ended up chatting for a while. He’d come out every year in September to explore and hunt bears, but he didn’t concern himself with the hunting part! He told me how the day before a bear had walked past his camp as he drank his coffee. He simply watched it amble up the road. For that, I liked him!

He told me which road to take to find the Falls. FS 634 got us there, and as I look at the map now, it was not the most direct route! Oh well, it took us ages because I kept stopping to walk around in the tall silent trees.

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I wouldn’t like to drive that road in the rain or snow as there were sections narrow and steep. The valley taking us to Fourmile Falls was stunning. We pulled up at a fairly huge parking area, and I was glad it was the middle of the week in the off season. We followed the sign posted path to the falls.

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The falls themselves were deep in shadows, and not very photogenic! I didn’t bother…we played in the river instead.

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The rest of our time in the area consisted of more beer, more naps, and yes, more hikes around Williams Creek reservoir.

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And then we finally had to pack up and head home to New Mexico.

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Boggy Draw and the dispersed camping near McPhee, CO

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I took the road north back to Ridgeway and we stopped at the river so the dogs could run free for a while after being tied up the whole time at the campsite. Wet, muddy, exhausted they ran back to the truck and settled down for another day on the road. I pulled back on to Highway 62 heading west but noticed rows of local Colorado vehicles parked at 8 am. Why? A diner, one that the locals love. I parked in the shade, grabbed my wallet and reading glasses and wandered back to Kate’s place.

I fell in love with Ridgeway over bacon and eggs. Ridgeway hides quietly in a sweet open valley only ten miles from the much more famous Ouray. Everything about breakfast that day makes me think in superlatives, too much to be credible but I challenge you to look for Kate’s place on a Sunday morning and settle in for an hour or two, you won’t be disappointed.

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In all honesty, I get scared taking the back roads like I do. I have a pretty stock vehicle, good tires, an air compressor, some food and water and three dogs for company and protection. I’m much more aware of what could go wrong on some days and this trip was one of them, that is until I remember myself and stop the truck, get out, and walk and breathe in the views and fresh cold air.

I really didn’t want to drive through the one lane construction on Hwy 550 to Durango, an hour and a half at the best of times over a pass reaching some 13,500 feet high. Nope, not for me, not in Faith my 4Runner.

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With a full belly, some extra bacon for the pups, we set off on Hwy 62 with the rest of the detour drivers except at Hwy 145 I took a right and they all turned towards Telluride to head to Durango. A sign to the south led me onto County Road M44, “Narrow Road, steep inclines and 4WD only.”

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Well, I don’t like to turn back. I took a breath, checked the tires, well, kicked them, took a pee break and we headed off into the Uncompaghgre National Forest.

Some two hours of slow driving took us up higher onto a bluff that opened up with a lingering view of rivers, trees, and little sign of ‘civilisation’, perfect. I made sandwiches as the dogs played and explored for an hour.

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M44 turned into CR 44z after zigzagging through the hills and down into a wide valley. Without any modern GPS or satellite phones I just used the sun and shadows to make sure i was heading south, my goal being to find a dispersed campsite near McPhee Reservoir on CR 31.

The dogs suddenly all stood up in the truck and stared off the the left of the dirt road. There stood a mama bear and two cubs, all on hind feet, watching us drive by. Silence in the truck, the dogs knew to keep to themselves. They settled back down.

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I had thought to check out a side road, off the main dirt road, I know it sounds silly but…Forest Road 259 would take us near the reservoir, according to my map. We started off quite happily, passing a few dispersed campsites with open areas and firepits only to drive to an ever narrowing track. I stopped to check at one point and I’m so glad i did. Around the corner a ten foot long mud pit with deep ruts blocked the way. I walked back giving up on seeing the reservoir from the campsite.

We found the perfect spot within hundred foot tall pines. Someone had even left a pile of firewood next to the firepit. The dogs ran free and I didn’t worry.

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We spent a couple of days here, relaxing with numerous naps, hikes, campfires and the last of my beer! The afternoons were a love fest with the blankets on the grass under the September sun, cuddling and sleeping with the pups. Yep, simple.  Just witness to the landscape, no need to conquer or prove myself with kayaking, hiking, biking into the unknown, I’m happiest appreciating the landscape and critters.

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Then one morning, we ran out of water for the dogs and so headed off towards Pagosa Springs for a few days.

Ouray, Colorado in September.

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Ouray, famous, beautiful, deep in the mountains of Colorado left me cold. I just didn’t get it, that magical feeling that everyone talks about. It’s incredibly dramatic with the small old mining town tucked in a steep valley with the mountains to the south towering above us. I had planned to stay a few nights at the campground on the south-side in a natural amphitheater but that didn’t happen.

We drove in from the north through Ridgeway and in hindsight, I wish we’d pulled into town and found a campsite there. Oh well, now I know. September in Ouray is a time of road construction. The pass ahead to Durango was closed during the day and only open after five pm with one lane at a time for drivers to pause, wait for the flag and slowly make their way through one of the most intensely steep and narrow highways that I have ever experienced. The news must have been spread as the main and only road through Ouray was empty. I could only imagine what it was like on a normal busy work day or in tourist season. I had good timing for once.

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I settled us in for the night, worrying about the roads through the mountains but then I had a beer and relaxed. The campground hangs onto the edge of the mountain, narrow one lane switchbacks and small pull-ins. Not for the weak hearted or big vehicles. I was happy to be in just the 4Runner.

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I took the dogs down into town. Since I didn’t want to go four wheelin along dirt roads nor soak in the hotsprings, I was kinda bored. We walked the ten blocks, holding on tight to the leashes as deer wandered through yards and streets driving Rosie crazy.

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I had an early dinner at the Ouray brewery. They had a patio bar on the second floor with a great view of the town and mountains. The food wasn’t anything special but I had planned on treating myself so I did.

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Back at camp, I secured the box with the camp kitchen and food. The park ranger had warned of very active bears in the hills. The tent stayed in the bag. We set up a bed in the truck. I made a great fire, grabbing dead and down branches to add to my firewood stock and drank more beer as I checked my maps.

I had a plan, I’d take a HUGE detour west of Ouray and avoid that damn 12000 foot mountain pass. Yep, I think I’d found a way with only some 50 miles on a paved road and the rest on dirt. Perfect. I watched the sun drop and smiled in relief.

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