Our last week in Denver was a whirlwind. We sold a large portion of our belongings in a yard sale and gave what didn’t sell to Brian’s daughter, Rachel. What she didn’t want, we threw away. What we weren’t willing to part with was packed into a moving truck and sent it on its way to KY.
Before we get started on our day-to-day, we’d like to take a moment to thank everyone who helped move our remaining worldly possessions (including our three motorcycles) off of the moving truck and into the storage unit. Bob, Brandon, Jason and Chuck, you guys are seriously awesome and we love you. Thank you for always being there for us. A special shout out to Jason who drove the moving truck aaaalll of the boring long way from Denver to Kentucky. We really can’t thank you enough. Rachel and John, thanks for taking all of the stuff we forgot to put on the moving truck. We love you guys, too!
Now, let’s see what we’ve been up to!
The plan was to leave on Friday. Friday turned into Saturday…Saturday became Sunday. Finally, we left Denver on Monday evening and, after making one final stop at Illegal Pete’s for a delicious burrito, drove about an hour or so south and stayed at a campground outside of Colorado Springs just to get the trip started. At last! We were on the road!
Though we don't technically count it as a part of our "great adventure", that first night was perfect. We sat around the campfire and had one of those conversations that come only after smoking some of Colorado’s finest and drinking wine, about how cavemen might have figured out that they could cook meat over fire.
The next morning, we hiked a short trail and saw a few bunnies, a couple of deer and a baby rattlesnake. We took a few pictures while trying to keep our distance. After a few cups of coffee and tea, we headed out to find the Trans-America Trail near Trinidad, CO. As soon as the Jeep tires hit the dirt road, we high fived and laughed about how exciting it is that this is now our life. The giddiness was tangible.
Day 1 on the trail was perfect. The Colorado landscape is beautiful; even at it's least scenic. The weather was great and we each got some sun on our window arms (Brian's instantly turned tan. Carley’s, a bright lobster red). After a few hours of following the blue line on our GPS through county roads and private property, we found a spot to set up camp just off the side of what we think was a State Trust road (whatever that means). As we drove back behind the trees to hide out from anyone who might tell us to leave, we noticed that there was at least a few dozen dried up cow patties scattered around our makeshift campsite. We shrugged our shoulders and tried our best not to step in them. Brian joked about us waking up surrounded by cows. Luckily, they kept their distance, mooing throughout the night. After a delicious dinner, Brian gathered some rocks to build a fire ring and we watched the sun set behind a snow-capped mountain. In the morning, feeling a little anxious about our slightly less than stealthy location, we made coffee and tea to-go and headed back out on the trail.
Day 2 on the trail was fun!…and then boring. The GPS offered a secondary route (easier/paved roads) for the next leg of the trail. Agreeing that we didn’t want to cheat ourselves out of the adventure we were after, we continued on the questionable route and got exactly what we asked for. The Trans-Am Trail took us off of any discernible road and onto farmland with only faint tire tracks to follow. At one point, we came to a closed gate with two beautiful wild horses standing guard. We could tell right away that they wanted inside. Assuming they were locked out for a reason, we moved quickly. Carley hopped out to unlock the gate and as soon as they saw where she was headed, they darted for the entrance. Brian honked the horn to spook them and it worked! They backed away just long enough for Brian to pull through and for Carley to return the gate to it's locked position. We snapped a quick picture of them before we continued on our way.
The trail quickly turned into a winding rocky mess that led down into a canyon. This was by far the most technical portion of the trail that we had seen. A washout almost prevented us from making it through but we slowly inched by narrowly escaping a rollover.
A few miles later we realized that what had we assumed was an optional bypass on the map was in fact a mandatory re-route. We had come to a dead end. An 8 ft. fence had cut off the trail and we couldn't find an opening. After assessing the situation we realized that our options were limited. We could try to disassemble the fence and repair it after passing through, although that option might get us shot, or we could backtrack past the washout and cross our fingers that we were as lucky the second time through. Neither option sounded promising. There was another trail that obviously headed in the wrong direction but we felt that following it was still probably the best option we had, hoping that it led us to civilization. The trail followed the fence line and dumped us back onto the Trans-America. Luck was on our side!
The sections of the trail through northeast New Mexico and the panhandle of Oklahoma are flat and boring and we found zero quality options for decent camping or RV parks. Each “RV Park” that we rolled past seemed to be more of a permanent living/temporary meth lab type situation than what we were looking for. Keeping mostly on the trail, we pushed on to Elkhart, KS to seek shelter. Checking our atlas, we found a campground called Cimarron National Grasslands Park. From the entrance sign, we drove for about five miles through a couple of cow pastures before we came to the campsite. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the campsite was shaded, clean, and empty, we would have it all to ourselves. The only problem we had were the approximately one million tiny bugs dropping onto us from the trees that shaded every campsite. They were harmless other than the fact that they were annoying as hell. Luckily they all but disappeared as soon as we started our fire. Daylight turned to dusk and the sunset lighting turned camp into an even more beautiful space. We had dinner, some wine and a solid nights sleep.
We opted to skip the next couple sections of the trail since the view from the pavement seemed identical to the view from the dirt. Both the roads and the trail were flat and straight, and the wear and tear on the jeep from washboard and potholes didn’t seem worth it. Once again, we turned to the atlas for guidance and found a campsite at the Great Salt Plains Lake right next to the water. We rolled in around sunset and hurried to set up camp and make dinner before sundown. There was a burn ban in the park, so Brian hung our LED string lights on the awning, thus attracting every single bug in the vicinity. Bug spray was no help. We battled the June bugs dive-bombing our faces and the billions of tiny white flies for a short time before realizing that we could simply move from under the awning and still enjoy the lights without being constantly attacked. Because we were camped right on the lake, and didn’t have a fire, it wasn’t long before we had some furry visitors as well. A possum, a very large skunk, and a couple of kangaroo rats visited us. All in all, it was a pretty entertaining night.
Wake up, shower, shave, and back on the road. As the landscape changed from gold to green, and the terrain from flat to rolling, we decided it was time to get back on the dirt. Within only a few miles we passed three “bridge out” signs. Luckily, all of them had been recently repaired and no re-routing was necessary. These roads were nice rolling hills, through pretty country. You could see by the ruts though that rain could easily change the driving conditions.
We decided to find camping at Kaw Lake in OK, knowing that such a large recreation area would have some decent camping. We made camp early at Mcfaddens Cove and settled in for a relaxing evening. We hadn’t really considered that it was a Friday and with the weather being beautiful, how many people might decide to go camping/fishing for the weekend. It’s summertime! We quickly found out that Kaw Lake draws in a lot of the “noodling” community. I’m sure you’re familiar with the fishing sport popularized on television, where the fisherman (generally a large fellow, loud, and with a thick southern draw) sticks his/her arm into the murky water under rocks and ledges with the hope that a giant catfish might bite onto their arm.
As we sat sipping Bourbon, playing Scrabble, and looking like a couple of uppity Yankees, (despite being Kentucky born and raised) the campsite was flooded with the “hootin and hollerin” of said noodlers. Trucks were doing burnouts, babies were screaming, and the cheap beer and loud music were flowing. We had picked the wrong campground, and the sun was starting to set.
The only remaining campsite in the joint was less a few feet from ours and, just as we had feared, a gaggle of young party-time types rolled in and set up shop. Don’t get us wrong, we were 20-something’s once and could (maybe still do, on occasion) get loud and wild with the best of em’. However, that wasn’t the scene we were looking for on this particular night. We debated for a few minutes whether or not to abandon our already-paid-for-non-refundable-spot in search for something a little less rowdy. Realizing that we were definitely posted up at Party Central, we opted to relocate to the family friendly Washunga Bay. The tent sites toward the back of the campground were empty and fairly secluded despite being right on the lake. YESSS!! We each gave a sigh of relief as we cracked open a cold one and proceeded to enjoy this low key evening; sun fading behind the trees and water lapping on the shore.
In the morning, dark clouds and strong winds had us convinced that rain was eminent. To our surprise, the clouds quickly gave way to the blazing sun, but left behind a slight breeze to keep us cool. As we sipped coffee, Brian kept a watchful eye on the lake, pointing out turtles, brightly colored birds and the like. We even got to watch a blue heron eat its breakfast as we ate ours. Since the weather was so nice and camp was already set up, we decided to take a day off and stick around for another quiet night by the lake.
Another gloomy morning, coffee and tea and we’re back on the road. Today’s portion of the trail really took us through some beautiful country. Winding dirt and gravel roads split the lush greenery of eastern Oklahoma. It also brought us to another bypass that we opted to continue down instead of go around. This portion presented us with our first water crossing, the only portion of the trail thus far that had serious mud, and only the second time on the entire route that we have had to use 4wd. Nothing too sketchy or serious but we definitely couldn’t have done it in 2wd. Capturing video was unsuccessful due to user error. Technology is hard sometimes.
Needing a shower, clean clothes, and WiFi so we could send this trip report out over the wire, we opted to drive a little out of the way (actually, way the hell out of the way) to a KOA in Sallisaw OK. Which is where we’re currently sitting, typing away, at a tent site in the far corner, with the computer plugged into the ant infested electric hook up, sipping a 3.2 Coors Banquet Beer due to poor planning. Apparently Oklahoma doesn’t allow the sale of proper beer (or liquor) on Sunday.
And things couldn’t be any better!
p.s. Thanks to the super friendly family who run this place, for going out of their way to make sure we have enough bandwidth to post this update.
Turtles helped across the road: 14 (and counting)