July 3, 2020
It is only a 2.5 hour drive from Blue Mesa Reservoir to Colorado National Monument, where I was booked for three nights of July 4th weekend. The speed limit is 65 on much of this section, but it’s curvy. I couldn’t do it in the truck yesterday, much less with the Airstream today. It is a very pretty drive, up over the big mountain, past the Cimarron River and a long descent into a dry valley.
I stopped for gas and refilled propane in both tanks in Montrose. Turning north, Rt. 50 follows Uncompahgre River in a high desert. A sign welcomed me to the Gateway to the Canyons. Million Dollar Highway turns south from Montrose, but no time for that on this trip! There is Canyons of the Ancients National Monument to the southwest, and of course Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. The list goes on and on, but I followed 50 to Colorado National Monument.
I arrived at the south entrance to the park, which I knew nothing about. The office was closed, but a sign stopped me: “Tunnels. Clearance 18’ in the middle and 10’6” on the side”. Most of you remember I tore the air conditioner off the roof in New Hampshire going through a covered bridge. It’s all Kelly’s fault really. I can get away saying that, because he can’t figure out how to comment. I did not want that experience again! 10’6″ is my clearance at the air conditioner, so probably would be OK.
I read the map, describing a winding climb up a huge mesa and a one-hour drive winding along the edge to the visitor’s center and Saddlehorn Campground, where I was staying. Several people gave me irritated looks for blocking the sign, but I wasn’t moving. I walked back down the road to reread the sign. Yep, 10’6” on the side. I’d probably make it. I walked over to a building with park service cars parked. A park service lady drove up, rolled down her window, asking if I needed help as she put on her mask.
“Can I drive that trailer through those tunnels?” “Probably” she said. “I am amazed how people drive those things on that road. Personally, I wouldn’t do it.” I thanked her and went back to the trailer. GPS told me it was only a 20-minute drive to the north entrance, so I turned around and went that way, winding through beautiful houses with incredible views.
No one was at that gate either, but you still have to go through two tunnels. I reminded myself there was a campground up there as I navigated the narrow, winding road with drop-offs of increasing heights. I hate heights. I couldn’t help but borrow more than my share of the yellow line. Fortunately there was little traffic. I drove through the middle of the tunnels, very slowly. With a sigh of relief, I found the top and a turn into the campground. I found A19 to be just a pullover. A huge Class A camper with slide-outs and all was across the street, where a lady sat in the shade reading a book.
The elevation is 5,500’. It was full sun, 88 degrees with 18% humidity. I couldn’t level the camper, even after trying 20 times. I imagined the lady peering over her book, laughing at me. Sweating and tired, I gave up with 3.5” slant to the starboard. I was afraid to open the street-side awning and windows, but with no hookups, it had to be done. I imagined some drunken person taking out a window, or all three of them. Later the big rig would open his slide-out, further narrowing the road.
I ate lunch and took a monster nap with both fans blowing full bore. I woke up groggy, putzing around searching for some energy. At 4:00 I thought I would take a short drive and see what this place is all about. My map said there was an overlook in the campground. Perfect!
It was a nature trail. OK, I need some exercise, so I headed out, tripod and camera in hand. I didn’t have to go far before the trail led to the edge of a canyon. With a gasp of hot, dry air, I woke up. It was a spectacular view of “The Heart of The World”. The Utes treasure this as a sacred place, doing the spring bear dance every year.
It is on a grand mesa on the west side of a big valley, the Rockies on the other side with the great Colorado River running through it.