When I decided to vacate the premises along Peru Creek Road near Dillon, Colorado, I had it in mind to head south and drop elevation, if possible. That was for both temperature and health effects reasons. I have plenty of 10,000-foot campsite on my Travel Itinerary, but elevation is not one of those things that are noted on some “find a campsite” websites. To get lower meant that I’d have to forego Leadville, which is a primo town with a few camping possibilities, but at the same elevation. All along the trip down I was impressed by the number of side roads marked as reaching one mountain peak or another, all of them exceeding 14,000 feet. My earlier errands in Frisco had taken way too long, owing to destination location errors in both my GPS and iPhone nav system, and the absolutely congested “five pounds in a three-pound bag” nature of touristy and uber-stylish Frisco itself. No worries though – the Hollywood carrier and Evelo e-bike up front tend to act as a cow-catcher for pedestrians.
I settled on a mystery stop further south called Arkansas River, just north of Buena Vista. Buena Vista itself is at 7,943′ elevation, and this BLM campsite is just a very few miles away. How bad could it be? I’d followed the Arkansas River beside the highway for much of the trip down, and there are many vantage points for stopping to take a look. When you say “river” in Illinois, what you mean is a flow that at best just inches along, and at worst breeds mosquitoes. In Colorado, “river” means a flow of water that really moves. This particular campground is reached by diving down a rough, single-lane quarter-mile trail to get to river level. God forbid you should meet another vehicle coming in the opposite direction! Once down, you’re on a broad flatland with some impressive rock formations jutting up here and there. When I reached it, I was greeted by two rather excitable pit bull canines off-leash (an extremely common practice here and at Peru Creek) along with their owners, locals just out for a long end-of-day walk. Oh well, they’d be gone before too long. The campsites here are plentiful and offer good privacy, and I toured the possibilities until I asked my iPhone for my current elevation. As best I recall, that was 10,100′. It was 6 o’clock and the sun was getting low, but I didn’t really want to simply overnight and then move the next morning.
As far as you’re concerned, the Arkansas River campsite (at GPS: 38.8754, -106.1477) is pretty good and a fine pick for most folks. It was nearly deserted when I arrived late on a Wednesday, though for some reason I had one camper waiting to exit when I came down the access trail, and one waiting at the top when I exited.
Consulting my Travel Itinerary, a drive of perhaps 15 miles would get me to a campsite labeled Lenhardy Cutoff, elevation unknown. My guess was not too much above Buena Vista’s. This is in an ORV (off-road vehicle) area where ATVs are alleged to roam, which often causes dust and noise issues for those of us not so equipped. However, the 38.8568, -106.0533 coordinates for a specific campsite were recommended by Two Happy Campers on Campendium.com for the spectacular views there, so off I went. Good people. The road in is gravel in fine shape overall, and there are many places where it’s wide enough to pass other rigs. The campsite itself is gorgeous, surrounded by overhanging trees for shade. You overlook a broad valley miles away. Thus the photo at the top of this post.
By this time, the sun was in full retreat, and not wanting to shade my solar panels the next day, I went just a little further to the loop dead end of the spur, stopped and checked elevation. 9,344 feet. Better, but not good enough. Turns out they had noted that in their blog, but I hadn’t researched it that far, and Campendium has no means of indicating elevation outside of the writer including it in the brief description. My bad. I really wanted to settle in somewhere in the 8,000s, but what a great campsite! This was no time to improvise however, so I set up camp and grudgingly planned to explore the possibilities the next day. Again, for you hardier folks, this campsite is a keeper.
And what a day the next day was! I went further in, cranking a Louie at the real Lenhardy Cutoff Road, and proceeded past a generous wood rail-fenced area suitable for unloading a mass of toyhauler trailers. Another left turn some distance down looked promising, since it looked to be working its way steadily downward. As is common with dirt trails on slopes, the trail becomes a major water flow channel and this one was no exception. It wasn’t rough so much as shaped oddly across its width, providing occasional opportunities to display your vehicle’s suspension articulation. But steadily downward it went, and after some distance I was impressed to pass a fifth wheel toyhauler with a few lawnchairs set out in addition to a couple of dirt bikes. Good times. As it turns out, that was about as far as it could go, because the trail immediately dropped down and showed impressive erosion.
I settled the Mighty Furd down into 4WD-Low, since a lot of braking isn’t good and the engine had yet to even warm up from the utter lack of effort coasting downhill. This extension of the trail is do-able by a lighter-weight, 2WD hardside truck camper without dual rear tires, but it had better do so in completely dry conditions. In any case, off-road tires with a generous tread wrap to the sidewalls is recommended for protection against the occasional sharp-edged rocks and weird inclines caused by the erosion. On and on I went, as much for the “where does this go?” as for the quest for perfect solitude. It was not without its make-or-break point, a severely washed-out spot that had me out and guessing how to get past without grounding out something I needed to stay on the truck. This is one trail that should prove interesting to climb back out of in the wet, even with 4WD. An experienced trail runner with a big-tire rig wouldn’t give it a second thought, but it had a high wow factor for this ex-suburbanite in an overloaded stock pickup truck. Adventure!
I wound up at one of two nice little pull-offs, GPS 38.840018, -106.090775. Nice views, a walking/biking trail starting very nearby, and a nasty section of road down there that dips before it rises back up higher than my campsite. My elevation: 8,749′. I can live with that, and my lethargy factor is already noticeably better because of the relative abundance of life-giving oxygen! One bar of cellular on the iPhone, and two bars on my un-amplified Jetpack cellular modem. It works fine. This is a superb campsite in my book – if you can get to it.
This is one trail worth a dashcam or otherwise, and when I depart, I’ll take some footage. Rain is currently forecast in the entire window that I would normally be leaving, so that may amp-up the adventure factor a bit!