One of the joys and honestly a big reason for living in the North Fork Valley for my family and I are the vast amount of choices for the Weekend Getaway. First let’s define The Getaway. As far as I’m concerned the weekend getaway can be no further than a 3 hour drive away if car camping is involved. Now if we are talking about an all inclusive, fall into your semi- luxury hotel room/cabin, walk to dinner down the block type getaway, that drive could possibly be extended an hour…but no more! (We don’t backpack anymore so those travel parameters will not be covered) Living in Paonia we are within strategic distance to some fabulous two or three day getaways. These include some truly classic Colorado mountain ranges, high end resort towns (good for a night on the town!) Utah canyonland country, world class mountain biking, and a number of hot springs to name just a few attractions. The picture above illustrates our accommodations for this particular August getaway. Yes we sleep in a van…preferably down by a river or creek or lake. If you are nostalgic or just a VW geek this vehicle is a custom Subaru powered 1974 VW Transporter (bus) which we refer to as “The Van”. Its been a part of our family for 16 years and will likely be a recurring character on The Nutshell. (If you would like to geek out on this conversion performed by my good friend Chris Myles and myself check it out HERE.) Because of strict personal moral codes I cannot divulge the exact locations that we choose for our Getaways unless by prior polling I have determined the locations to be “well known”. Because 3 out of the 4 people I polled for this story have never been to this particular site I am about to share with you I can only describe it as being north of Paonia less than 2 hours by way of antique Volkswagen. By the time you finish this travelog most who are well traveled in this region will know of where I speak.
I should note our 6 year old son Edan is conspicuously absent from this particular “getaway” having gone to “Grandma Camp” in Arizona. Due to his absence our (my wife Amy and I) trip consists of long silent pauses whilst we stare at the lush green mountainsides surrounding us, each other, and many times nothing in particular. We amble along the bubbling, rushing creek that bisects the canyon and eat better than average cheese and salami and wash it down with cheap mexican beer and North Fork Valley hard cider. That’s about the extent of our itinerary. This claim we have staked for a couple days is a bit different than Paonia and the North Fork. The climate is sub alpine, its wetter, cooler and of course there are fewer people and lots of public land to roam willy-nilly across. But there ARE people and herein lies a perfect place to transition to the description of the “community” we have planted ourselves in for a couple days.
You could certainly call where we have landed a campground but its not a common interpretation of one. Its just a hand full of well worn dirt spaces along the banks of a creek occupied both long and short term by a varied slice of humanity. A fire pit is provided, a picnic table, and a bear locker to keep food in. (On our last day a frantic hiker came running down the trail reporting the siting of a bear. “Cool! we think to ourselves. But we never see it.) Its clean and relatively well kept but very used. It needs a bit of love. Interestingly there is no required fee to stay here. Its a donation system as our super friendly camp host explains. Also within the first 2 minutes of conversation with Mr. Friendly we learn that his heart has been broken by a woman and coincidentally that is the reason he sold his last car for only $300 although it was surely worth 7 or 8 thousand. I recognize his mid 70’s Winnebago parked in the same place down the road when we were here last fall although back then he was nowhere to be found. He offers to imbibe a recently legalized herb with us but we decline as we were already set up in that regard. There is a certain type of people that warm up to you rather quick when you travel in a vintage Volkswagen. Similarly but on the other side of the coin there are folks that are convinced that since we travel in a vintage Volkswagen we are surely the reason for the decline of modern civilization. Thankfully MOST folks in Colorado are on the friendly side of the coin. Keenly aware of the fact that our vehicle has a very high profile in the contemporary world of boring automobiles I try not to adhere to or perpetuate stereotypes, which leads me to the descriptions of the various folks we share space with in the “campground”.
In space #1 are a young couple (boy- girl) who look like a somewhat cleaner rendition of Woodstockers from the Summer of Love (1969). Patchwork clothing, unkempt, dreadlocked hair, they resemble Raggedy Anne and Andy if you remember who those characters were. I guesstimate them to be in their early 20’s. In their parking slot sits a brand new orange Jeep Renegade. The girl has a pink hoola-hoop and twirls it compulsively, not just traditionally on her hips but in all directions on all parts of her body. She seems talented in this skill. Over the 48 hours we are parked I never see the hoop at rest. Not that I spied on her the whole time I was there, I just found myself trying to see if she ever put the thing down. She did not. Her counterpart hunts for firewood much of the time and she follows all the while twirling and encouraging him I suppose. Curiously the Jeep was always running while parked.
In space #2 is a dusty, 80’s era Toyota recreational vehicle covered in solar panels. In front of that a similarly tarnished and patina’d black Harley Davidson chopper motorcycle of similar age. It has the look of home. I surmise its occupant may be working up valley and taking advantage of an economical summer living situation. Or he may not be working at all. Come winter though this place will be deserted as the snows close the road off to cars and trucks. The scene (along with the hoop twirler next door) reminds me of the Clint Eastwood movie “Every Which Way But Loose” ( a childhood favorite of mine). Unfortunately I never did see the occupant of this space emerge or make his or herself known.
On the first night Spot #3 contained what seemed from the outside, or at least from my vantage point a hundred yards distant, a more average example of campground occupants. The middle aged couple endeavored intensely on your typical campground activities. Building the tent. Starting a fire. Making dinner. Arguing about the how and why and where.
Other things worth mentioning…The location of this Getaway also happens to be a backdoor trail head for a popular wilderness area. A small trickle of day hikers in high end day hiking garb, extended families looking to enjoy some fresh air, and fishermen filter by. I get the feeling this place is definitely on more of the local radar than the community at large and certainly off the radar of the average summer tourist. For this reason I vow to not spread the word too widely (internet) about too many details of this place. Too often I see these types of places, once wild, scenic, and special become overused, abused, and in turn over regulated and monetized. Much like Paonia and the North Fork Valley this place is off the beaten path at the end of a narrow windy road. This certainly helps protect the relative anonymity of the place. I feel like its still a bit of a secret and covet its existence, not selfishly but for the sake of the place itself.
On our final morning we wake early to a black sky in the west. Thunder rumbles from far away and as the sun rises it becomes darker rather than lighter. The thunder and the blackness loom closer and I decide its time to wake up The Van and try to beat the storm down the five mile forest service road back to the main highway. (This place is notoriously prone to flash flooding, mudslides, and washouts.) Not in spite but because of the pending weather our plan is coming together quite nicely. Our exit strategy for this Getaway had always been to end strong and we’ve made a reservation to soak at a nearby hotsprings. For us nothing beats soaking in steaming lithium rich mineral water under a cool, misty summer storm. In fine form Colorado comes through with an outstanding ending to this particular North Fork Valley weekend Getaway. (and no we did not break down once in the Volkswagen….this time.)