September 23, 2013

Headed east on Hwy. 50 towards Blue Mesa Reservoir. Just before reaching the reservoir, we cut south on County Road (CR) 25 (Blue Mesa Road). CR 25 is a dirt road that runs through part of the Southern Ute Reservation and we followed it for 15 or so miles to Hwy. 149. Then south on Hwy. 149 through Slumgullion Pass, where we finally saw a good bit of snow from the recent storm. Then on to Lake City, Creede, and on over to South Fork. Then south on Hwy. 160 to Big Meadows Reservoir where we camped at Big Meadows Campground for our last night on the road. Elevation at the campground is around 9,300 feet.

Camped free, again, but this time we didn’t have to endure a noise penalty. Other than a couple of people fishing the reservoir, we were the only ones at the campground. A little later, a van pulled in to spend the night but other than that, we had the place to ourselves. So finally, we had some peace and quiet in a public campground! πŸ™‚

We made certain to bring our winter gear, just in case but really hadn’t needed it. That was about to change because things started getting really cold right after the sun went down. After making camp, we both changed into our cold gear. I brought the layering system I intended to use while backpacking just to try it out. Did it work? I was freezing, so guess not! We scavenged the other campsites for left-over firewood and the fire made things bearable, but I really didn’t warm up until I crawled into my 20-degree, 850-fill, down sleeping bag for the night. Even then, it took wool-blend socks, a light base layer, an additional long sleeve cotton top, and a skull cap to stay warm, so it must have gotten pretty cold that night.

Woke the next morning to frost all over everything. If you check out the full-size picture of my tent, you can see the frost. At 8 am, the temp gauge in the truck indicated 25 degrees, so it must have dropped into the low 20s that night. Sun didn’t get up past the ridge until late morning, and with no more firewood, I layered up all over again. Still I couldn’t get warm. My layering system while stationary just wasn’t working. If I had been on a backpacking trip, I might have been in trouble.

Had to admit I didn’t know as much about layering as I had thought but felt fortunate to have found that out before I did any spring or fall backpacking (don’t do winter backpacking). As soon as I got back to Albuquerque, I had to start researching layering all over again. Found five articles that proved to be the best primer on layering I have ever read. I now have a new layering system to use while stationary and just tested it the other night after dark in 32 degrees. Just stood out there for 30 minutes with minimum movement and was very comfortable. I think I got it now! πŸ™‚

After breakfast, and after everything dried out, we continued down Hwy. 160 through Wolf Creek Pass to Pagosa Springs. Then Hwy. 84 to Chama, Santa Fe, and back to Albuquerque.

Once we arrived back in Albuquerque, my friend realized he didn’t have his hearing aids. What? How can you go all day long and not realize you are having trouble hearing!? Anyway, he was pretty sure he left them laying on the corner of the picnic table.

Here is where I have to give major props to the folks at the National Forest Service (NFS). My friend called the main office of the Rio Grande National Forest in Monte Vista, Colorado, which is not too far from the Big Meadows Campground. He explained his dilemma and gave them the site number where we had camped. The NFS made a special trip out to Big Meadows from Monte Vista, checked the picnic table at the campsite, found the hearing aids laying right on the corner of the table, brought them back, bubble-wrapped them, and mailed them to my friend… all at “no charge” and “happy to be of help“!! Awesome people. I’ve never run across a NFS ranger who wasn’t pleasant and helpful but this was above and beyond. A big “Thank You” to all the folks at the Rio Grande National Forest’s Monte Vista office. Bravo Zulu!!! πŸ™‚

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