Colorado was never really my home, except for one year, 1974-75, when I attended Western State College in Gunnison, CO. After my divorce, I decided my boys and I needed a real change of pace and environment. As a child, I always dreamed of the West, and horses, cowboys, prairies, mountains and valleys. So, with hardly a penny to our names, we headed for Colorado. We lived in a trailer court. I think the boys had mixed emotions. I can not find the photos I am looking for and think they have not yet been digitized.
I had been studying Parks and Recreation at a junior college in Maryland at the time of my divorce. I had heard Western State had a good Recreation degree program and I thought such training as a single mother of two boys would be a good career choice. (I was wrong, as I was wrong about many things back then.) After a year, I was disappointed in the program in Colorado and in discussing this with my Fencing instructor, she commented that Indiana University in Bloomington, IN had the best Recreation program in the country. What? 45 min from my beloved Grandmother and the boys could grow up with cousins and other relatives. Was it a sign? It didn’t take long for me to decide we were going to Indiana. And so we did that, had relatives around, I got my B.S. degree… and life went on and on… for decades, and I still didn’t have a penny to my name. Now the boys are grown and have pennies, my youngest just listed his house for sale at 1.5 million. (pinch me)
In 2011, I returned to Colorado to kayak Jackson Lake, near Orchard, CO, the 39th state I had kayaked to date. I paddled there on my granddaughter’s 20th birthday. Hard to believe my kids are all grown and that she turned 20 that day. Best surprise of that paddle was a flock of white pelicans coming in over my head very low, and landing on the lake. Read all about it… very exciting. Leaving that location I saw Pheasants and Wild turkeys. It was a very special day for me.
At some point after I decided to vandwell fulltime, about 2008, I began to visit and camp near Quartzsite, AZ in the winter. There Bob Wells (of CheapRVLiving.com) talked a lot about his camp hosting jobs. We have a vandweller gathering there each winter, timed with the Big Tent event in Quartzsite. Quartzsite is a haven for Snowbirds who flock there by the thousands. Vendors who manage all kinds of campgrounds and recreation facilities come to the Big Tent to recruit camp hosts and other workers. Bob took me and introduced me to his CLM contacts and I was hired for the summer of 2012 to camp host in the remote Meadow Lake Complex, White River National Forest.
So, thirty-seven years after I first came to live in Colorado, I found myself back in Colorado working for California Land Management (CLM) in the White River Forest near Rifle, CO. Read about the first month there (Colorado-First Month).
My children were grown up and gone, and I needed to do something. I blogged about that experience. It was mostly a good experience, especially working with my supervisor, Judith Cottrell. There were some management issues with the company and the Forest Service that I was not happy about, but overall, the experience of being high in the mountains in a remote area made for some very good memories.
Meadow Lake… it took me 11 min to kayak from one end to the other, not a huge lake.
There was National Feed Charlene Day. There were the flocks of thousands of sheep being tended my Columbian Shepherds and watched over by magnificent white Guardian dogs and sometimes just plain old sheepdogs, and then there was the day that “Smokey Ate Lamb Chop.”
A young Guardian dog in training. He was tied near the horses at this point.
And cattle, herds of cattle coming through the campsites, pooping on everything and eating all our signs.
There was the black bear that came out of one campground, swam across the lake and when up the other side. I didn’t get a photo of that.
Swankie Camp, 2012
And there were the campers, good, bad and indifferent. Unfortunately, my time there was cut short by a forest fire (250 acres burned in 24 hrs.) which caused the Forest Service to close the campgrounds and evacuate everyone.
The biggest downside of the remote location was the lack of communications with the outside world and with my supervisor. I could not even tell her I was being evacuated, all I could do was drive to her location and give an update. The lack of communications was the BIGGEST issue I had with the job as the promised “satellite phone” never happened. If not for the fact that I had in my possession the SPOT device, I would not have stayed after the first week. I knew I could get help for myself if I was hurt, but I was not sure if I could call for help if a camper was hurt. (SPOT fines you $250 an hour for up to 2 hrs. if you use the 911 feature erroneously.) It worried me a lot especially when an older camper began having breathing problems. But he was with friends, I helped them break camp, and they got him down to a lower elevation quickly. He was o.k. Two days later after the fire evacuation, the company terminated my employment and decided to close the two campgrounds I was taking care of early. By the way, after the fact, I did check with SPOT and learned if anyone I am with is in a life-threatening situation, I can use my device to call 911. Good to know.
So, there I was laid off and back on the road again. One of the main reasons I took the job was to be able to draw unemployment when they laid me off. Turns out I could not do that as I had not worked enough quarters prior to this job. Darn.
My Swankie Camp in 2016
Each year, since 2012, CLM has asked me to return. I kept asking about the communications situation, and finding it the same, I declined. 10,000 ft. elevation and over an hour to drive down 20 miles of mountain road and then another 1/2 to a hospital, nope, not doing it. I told them, if someone died up there on my watch, even through that is not our responsibility, it is something I would have to live with the rest of my life, and I just wasn’t willing to do it.
This spring I was working on my newest adventure, that of planning to hike the 800 mile long Arizona Trail. I was struggling to get funds for gear and equipment and posted that on my Facebook. Next thing I knew, my ol’ supervisor from CLM was calling to offer me a job again, but this time, I would be camped at her camp and helping her. I would have internet and access to a phone land line if need be. I would not be alone in the wilderness. And so, I came back home to Colorado.
When the suitcase solar comes out, you are home again.
Now, in 2016, I am located at North Fork campground. I don’t like the location as well as the Meadows Lake Complex, but am enjoying the wildlife here. Moose, deer, chipmunks (millions of them), a tiny little weasel, and a coyote (that might be having young soon).
I have the use of a refrigerator and freezer. And I have a brand new truck at my disposal. (In 2012, I had two campgrounds over a mile apart to take care of and no vehicle at all. We had to fight for CLM to get me a used golf cart so I could haul cleaning supplies and trash between the two locations, and service seven bathrooms, empty about 10 bear trash cans, clean out 30 fire pits, and pick up and rake 30 campsites, plus all the paper work that goes with registering all those campers. At first I was expected to use my personal vehicle to do that…. camper trash in my living van??? Nope, not happening.) But now I have that same golf cart, 28 campsites, and a brand new truck and I am not alone and only 30 minutes from a hospital on good mostly level roads. It’s all good.
First day driving my new truck, it is the last one in line to gas up. Ken’s first, then Judy’s, and lastly mine. Tee hee.
And best of all, I found a lake 10 miles from North Fork, that I am paddling today. I am most at home on water and it will feel good to be home again today.
OK, time to launch my boat. After: I had a good paddle, saw some large birds (Crane or Great Blue Herons? I could not get a close-up photo of them, saw Red-Winged Blackbirds, and a herd of sheep. Also saw some horse-back riders, and I believe one of the horses was spooked by my big yellow boat and did not want to came any closer to the shore. When I realized this, I began to back paddle away from the shore. Not sure I was the problem, but he sure was spooky.
The Western End. I tried to get upstream but it was impassible.
A happy kayaker. A happy kayak.
A Red-wing Blackbird. A lamb calling for mama.
A flock of sheep on the shore. The Spillway of Lake Avery.
A critter lodge of some sort???
My time off ended with a trip to Meeker to wash the sap and pollen off the van, wash my clothes and uniforms, and hit the Rec Center for a nice long hot shower. It was very hot outside so I spent the rest of the afternoon in the Rec Center lounge, finishing this blog post.
This week, we (the rest of the CLM crew here) return to the Meadows to open those two campgrounds for the season. So glad it is the crew and not me alone. I am eager to see my old home again. I wonder what it will be like, what will be different?
I believe the summer of 2016 will surpass 2012 and I look forward to every minute of being “back home again in Colorado.”
If you follow me on Facebook, there are photo albums there too of my Summer of 2012.