Free Camping Granby Colorado

Time for some play time!  We’d planned our travel schedule, so that we’d get to Granby well ahead of our start date at the resort.  Our reasoning:

  1. Traveling with older cars, we wanted to allow time, in case we had any trouble on the road.
  2. We didn’t really want to be on a firm schedule for the road trip.  That just adds stress!  This gave us some wiggle room so that we didn’t have to feel pressured in our drive.
  3. We wanted some vacation time before we started our new jobs at the resort
  4. We wanted a little time to acclimate to the new area before starting our new jobs also.
  5. One of our goals with this new lifestyle is to have time to play between gigs.

Free Camping in Grand County, Colorado

Pioneer Park, Hot Sulphur Springs Colorado

hot sulphur springs camping site

View of Colorado River from Free Campsite

Before we left Florida, Hubby researched and planned out a list of free camping possibilities.  (You never know what’s going to be available or comfortable, until you get there.  It’s good to keep a list of several possibilities available, so that you’re not stuck without a place to set up camp.)

Turns out his first choice was just lovely, and had open camping spots.  It’s actually a public campground that’s owned by the local town (Hot Sulfur Springs).  You couldn’t have asked for a better camping spot.  The campground is right on the Colorado River.  Our camping spot had a river-front view and fire pit.  It was also within a very easy walking distance of a hot springs.  http://www.hotsulphursprings.com

There’s a diner style restaurant within easy walking distance of the campground.  Also, the town of Granby, CO is only maybe 20 minutes drive away.  Granby has a grocery store, Ace hardware, thrift store, auto-parts store, restaurants, and a few other odds and ends stores typical of a small tourist town.

As with most free camping, it was “dry camping” (meaning there’s no running water).  But we have a big (potable) water jug, and the town provided a place to get water in one of their nearby parks.  Also a bonus:  There were a several porta-potties in the campground.

Downsides to this location:

  • It bordered the train tracks.  There are few routes for the trains to take up in the Colorado mountains, so this was a bit of a train thorough-fare.  It did take away from the serenity of the location, but it was still worth it, and the price was right.
  • Also, weekends were a bit of a nuthouse there.  Not only was every campsite full, but some thoughtless people came up for a weekend party and stuffed 6 cars and tents to each campsite.  They then subjected everyone in the campground to their fiesta party.  They trashed the campground as well as the latrines. I suppose that could happen anywhere – and probably does.  Sad.  Don’t know that there’s much to do about it.  So the moral of the story there is to plan to enjoy your quiet time at the camp during the week.  When the weekend comes, plan to either just hunker down or  else to be away from the campsite as much as you can.

Even still, we had a decadent two weeks of relaxing by the river, campfires, fishing, and soaking in the hot springs.

browntroutfromcoloradoriver_10-2016

Hubby with Fresh Caught Brown Trout while Van Camping in Colorado

It doesn’t get much better than that!

PS.  We actually camped here a couple of times, we liked the location so much.  Here are a few other photos:

oct-8-2016-co-river-picnic-spot

sept-16-2016-hot-sulphur-springs-co7

 

Finally There! Granby Colorado

I always love crossing state borders.  Somehow, the invisible lines on the map become real with the “welcome” signs and give a satisfying sense of accomplishment.  Today, we crossed from KS into CO.  Frankly, the welcome sign is about the only way you know that you’ve actually crossed over into Colorado.  (It still looks just like Kansas for about a half a day’s drive into Colorado.)

colorado welcome sign

Still, it was a sign of progress and that we were nearing this particular journey’s end.  Although, there were mixed emotions, particularly as that stretch of road always makes me nervous.  For whatever reason, Limon CO seems to have a propensity to attract automotive troubles.  (Have you ever noticed that sometimes, for an unexplainable reason, there are certain stretches of road that always have broken down cars on them?)  I can’t begin to imagine why that would be.  Probably best not to even think about it!

Limon is one of those places: I can personally vouch for it, having had several automotive encounters with it of my own.  Every time we get past that area, I breath a huge sigh of relief.

Shortly after that, we decided to hop off the freeway (namely because we wanted to skip Denver’s traffic congestion).  So, we took a country-road detour.  It really didn’t add much mileage and was well worth it.  The scenery was gorgeous, and even saw antelope grazing along the way as we made our way westward, and up into the mountains.

As a side note if you’ve never seen Colorado’s antelope (also called Pronghorn), watch for their white backsides as you’re passing wide open grazing land.  They’re such curious animals – I’m always delighted when I spot some and feel like I’ve won the jackpot for the day.  Borrowing a picture of one, for your enjoyment here:

220px-Antilocapra_americana_male_(Wyoming,_2012)

Yup.  That’s really what they look like.  You can learn more about them by clicking on the photo.

Mountain Driving Tips

Also, an important driving tip for anyone that’s new to driving through mountain passes.  Keep an eye on your car’s gauges and don’t let them cross over into the “red” zone.  It’s probably no surprise, but most folks drive just like they do in the city (even when traversing mountain ranges).  Aside from clearly identifying yourself as a city person to everyone else on the road, this puts an incredible strain on your vehicle’s motor.  We’re not talking about driving over a little hill here either – mountain passes are a whole ‘nuther story.

The truth is that it’s very common for city drivers to blow a motor beyond the point of reasonable repair.  Better to put your pride aside, get in the right lane, and just take it easy on the way up the mountain.

Also, when going down steep grades, put the car in lower gear.  The car will slow down and you won’t have to use up all your brakes getting down the mountain side.  (Save your brakes for when you really need them!)

Anyhow, it wasn’t long before we were up over the continental divide, down the other side, and searching for our camping spot for the evening.

Rest Areas: Van Camping in Kansas

After a few days of rest and visiting family, we were ready to continue on our journey.  Only really 2 days of driving left to go.  Up to this point, we’d been doing nice easy driving days.  But, we were starting to get a bit antsy about getting to Colorado (our destination), and wanted to make some time on the road. At least, as much as we could, with two vehicles fully loaded.

We considered stopping and checking out a free camping spot in Kansas for our last night on the road.  But, in the end, we decided that we really just wanted to get as far as we could through Kansas.  So picking a destination for stopping for the evening didn’t fit what we wanted that day.  We figured we could always find a rest area, a truck stop, or a 24-hr Walmart along the way somewhere.

kansas rest stop

And so, we drove long and hard across Missouri & Kansas, making it almost to the Kansas/Colorado border before we were too tired to go further.  We found a clean and quiet rest stop there.  (We weren’t the only ones who thought so, as there were other cars and trucks sleeping there already also.)

Not all rest stops are ones that I’d consider safe, but this one was.  For starters, it wasn’t near a city.  In fact, that’s a bit of an understatement.  This one wasn’t near anything (which was probably why there were so many other people sleeping over in their vehicles there).  This rest stop was well-lit, to the point that it felt very safe.  It was also pretty quiet, so it made for a restful night’s sleep.

I also liked this rest stop had covered areas with picnic tables.  We didn’t end up using them, but I like having them available.  More than once, I’ve set up a picnic on a sunny day on a picnic table at a rest stop, for a meal that’s much more enjoyable (and healthy) than anything you’d get in a restaurant.  If you have your camp stove with you, you can even do hot meals if you choose (whether breakfast, lunch, or dinner).  Sometimes, I just set up the camp stove and brew a pot of coffee for the road.

(Note:  As true for any place you stop – take a minute to observe your surroundings, and trust your instincts.  If something doesn’t seem right, keep moving on.)

One other plus for us was that we were now 1,000+ miles into our journey and away from the squelching heat of summer in the south.  We didn’t mind a little time in the heat, but it had been a very long summer of extreme summer temperatures with no reprieve (remember, our journey started in Florida).  This was the first cool night we’d had in a long, long time and it caught us a little by surprise.  The change in temperature (from what we were used to) was exhilarating.  It sounds silly, but sometimes it’s those little things that remind you that you’re alive!  The cool night was so comforting – it felt like a tall cool glass of water on a dry day.  We slept like babies and woke up refreshed and ready for our new day!

Van Camping – Arkansas Continued

By the time we left the unfriendly Arkansas casino, it was the end of the day.  We’d already spent the better part of the day driving, and we were tired.  Now we had no place to sleep, and no backup plan.  So we drove until we found something that would work (aka: was safe, hassle-free, relatively quiet).

Rest areas are sometimes good in those kinds of situations, but the rest area we passed was full.  We were exhausted and having a hard time staying awake.  Thankfully, we found a truck stop.  Most truck stops are open 24 hours.  While busy, well-lit, and a bit noisy, the plus to that is that the restrooms are available to you when you need them.  You’ll usually find a spot where the trucks (18 wheelers) park off to the side that’s a little quieter.  (They sleep there in their big fancy rigs.)  Truckers sometimes get a bit of a bad rap, but (like everyone else) for the most part they’re good people.  When car or van-camping, as long as you’re quiet and leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone.

So we parked in the truck stop and camped overnight next to a bunch of semi-trucks that were sleeping there also. We were so tired that the noise and lights didn’t bother us one bit.  We were surprised to find that it was actually fairly comfortable, and very convenient.

Showering while on the road

It turned out to be a great find, with a wonderful silver lining to the experience (after our frustrating experience with the Arkansas casino).  As it turns out, truck stops have cheap coffee (bonus!).  But the best part about this experience was our discovery that you can buy a private shower for ~$11 at the truck stops.  We totally indulged.

I have to say that it was the best $11 we’d spent in a long while.  For that bargain price, you get a huge private bathroom (not a locker-room style shower, but an entire bathroom as a separate and very secure room with a locking door that you have the key to).   It was big enough that we could share it.  They provided clean towels and a wonderful and seemingly endless supply of very hot water.

It’s definitely a road-travel tip that we’ll take advantage of another day.  With all the road trips we’ve taken in the past, I’m surprised we’d not come across it sooner. There’s nothing like a clean, hot shower as the perfect start the new day.

And we were just a short drive to St. Louis to stay with family for a couple of days. A nice easy driving day, and a clean hot shower.  What a great day!

Casino Camping – Arkansas

The Drive – Night # 3

Well, we had such a good experience with casino camping the night before, we decided to try it again.  We selected another casino that was the right driving distance in Arkansas and was along the way.  But, this one didn’t turn out to be such a great experience.   Actually, it turned out to be one of those experiences that you sort of laugh at a little (later), but definitely not so much at the time.

For starters, this was a small casino in the middle of nowhere. (The one the night before was a large casino on the outskirts of a large city.)

In all fairness, we brought the majority of the trouble on ourselves.  We were traveling with two vehicles, fully loaded.  We were camping in the van, and using the toyota to haul the kayaks and whatever else wouldn’t fit in the van.  We needed to get to some things that were buried deep in the van.  So that meant emptying, and reorganizing the van.  In so doing, we weren’t particularly discrete and probably made a bit of a spectacle of ourselves.  The parking lot was pretty empty, so we weren’t bothering anyone, but security must’ve taken notice.

Once we were done, we walked up to the casino to check it out (planning to spend a little time there over the evening). On our way back, we noticed two sets of flashlights investigating our vehicles.  Well, it seems that the old retiree security guard and his brand new recruit wanted us to leave.  I suspect that, had the old security guard not been showing off for his new recruit, things might have turned out differently.  But, as it was, he made the most of the opportunity to be the rooster in the barnyard.

He seemed particularly concerned about our having cars that were so full.  I’d like to think that perhaps he was concerned about our safety, due to having all of our belongings in the cars.  We explained that we were moving across country, thus the full cars and the kayaks on top.

I guess that answer wasn’t satisfactory, so he then proceeded to insult us and accuse us of begging from the patrons at the casino.  Hubby and I are pretty clean-cut, college-educated, middle-aged professionals (or at least we were before embarking on this new life adventure). Begging from patrons is the last thing we’d have ever done.  Frankly, that we would even be treated this way, caught us both totally off-guard.  But, it was a good lesson.

In the end we decided to move on, and leave the country cop-wanta-be to his tiny Arkansas-kingdom.

But, this presented a new problem:  We didn’t have a place to sleep.

Casino Camping Experiment – Alabama

The drive: Night #2.

Hubby picked up a book on casino camping and was intrigued.   The book is Casino Camping by Jane Kenny.

(https://www.amazon.com/Casino-Camping-8th-RV-Friendly-Casinos/dp/1885464665/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1489488424&sr=8-2&keywords=casino+camping )

To catch you up, “casino camping” can mean a couple of things.  Some casinos actually have campgrounds where you can rent sites.  Others will allow cars and RV’s to stay overnight.  My guess is that it’s sort of a public service on their part – better to have folks sleep over in the parking lot than have them drive after drinking.

Generally speaking, the benefits to “casino camping” are:

  • Casinos have free admission, and often, free parking.
  • They’re considered a safe place to park and sleep.  That is, at least the casinos with security patrols are.  Their security patrols make frequent rounds throughout the parking lots and property to make sure their patrons are safe and discourage any riff-raff.  So, as long as you’re not the riff-raff, you’re protected too.
  • (Usually) open 24 hours, so you can use the restroom, get a cup of coffee, etc.
  • Entertaining!  If you think about it, they have affordable beverages and meal buffets, people watching, and of course gambling for your enjoyment!

For our second night on the road, we picked a casino near Montgomery Alabama that was (sort of) on the way.

This particular casino had a huge and very well-lit parking lot.  The security cars patrolled by us about every half an hour.  There were a lot of people (and cars) coming and going, and the parking lot lights were bright.  So, I wouldn’t say that it was a peaceful experience. However, it did feel safe.  Surprisingly, neither one of us had a hard time sleeping (thankfully, we have blinds in the van and tinted windows).

We weren’t quite ready for sleep when we got there, so we spent a little time enjoying the bar inside, and taking our chances with the slot machines.  Plus, we felt like it was only fair for us to spend a little bit while we were there as a courtesy to the casino for providing the camping spot.  Alas, lady luck wasn’t with us that night, but it was still entertaining.  It’d say that particular experience was a “thumbs up.”

The Drive: Night #1 (FL)

Camping in Florida

We gave ourselves 2 ½ weeks to travel – and what a gift that turned out to be.  Our initial intent was just to avoid the crazy rush of “civilized” travel and not be confined to a schedule.  Plus, we wanted to allow time for car repair (hoping and praying it wouldn’t be necessary).  With two old cars with lots of miles on them, better safe than sorry!

For our first night, I’d picked a spot that was only 5 hours drive away.  I wanted something that would be quiet and cheap.  We camped at a small private campground near Ichetucknee Springs State Park, FL.  It couldn’t have been more perfect.  Since it was mid-week, we practically had the place to ourselves.  The campsites were wooded, with lots of space between them (so you didn’t have to listen to your neighbor snoring!), had a fire rings and picnic tables.  The campground itself had clean bathrooms, hot showers, a game room with tv (which we didn’t use), firewood for sale, floating tubes for rent, and a friendly campground host.   The nightly rate for primitive camping (no water or electricity at the campsite) was only $15.

camping at ichetucknee state park

http://ichetuckneespringscampground.com/pb/wp_8251e5c2/wp_8251e5c2.html

It also happened to be the end of a very, very hot and humid summer.  So much so that the ocean at home felt like bath-water and provided no relief.  The thought of soaking in cool fresh water springs (without alligators) was more enticing than you can imagine.

Although, Ichetucknee Springs State Park turned out to be not quite what we thought it would be.  Still, it was worth the visit.  The “Blue Hole” spring was very small with limited access.  Unfortunately, there was a small group of college-age boys there who were boisterously dominating the pool at the access point, and didn’t seem particularly interested in sharing.  But the other headspring, while small, was lovely and much easier to access.  You can also rent tubes and float the cool water river, but soaking was enough for us that day.

ichetucknee-springs-head-spring

https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Ichetucknee-Springs

After an afternoon of soaking in the cool water, we settled into our campsite.  This was our first night camping in the van.  After living in a noisy area with neighbors so close you could hear their conversations, that first night of sleeping in the forest was pure bliss.

The next day, we enjoyed an extended lazy morning of coffee and breakfast prepared on the camp stove.  While a lazy camp breakfast is always relaxing, this one was downright decadent, as we savored our newfound freedom.