AmeriCorps 2020: Campground Pirates

This post continues the tale of my AmeriCorps service term in Colorado in 2020. The rest of this series is located here.

A view of the moon from our campground near Nederland, Colorado.

One of the most unexpected things that happened during my time in Colorado was that I reconnected with multiple friends from high school. I already wrote about my friend Kristyne, but there’s another friend that I met in a more dramatic way: Mark.

Mark and I had been friends since our first year in high school. After we graduated, Mark ended up in Denver, Colorado, which is just over 30 minutes from Boulder. We connected via Facebook once I’d arrived in Colorado, and planned to go camping.

Now, camping in Colorado isn’t always easy. There’s plenty of land on which to camp, but also oodles of people who like to spend time outdoors. That should set the scene for how our first day of camping went.

Mark picked me up from the Joder homestead around 5:45 PM on August 7. We’d decided to camp near a town called Nederland, because it’s a gorgeous area. To get there, we drove to the end of the long Joder driveway, turned left, and embarked on one of the most scenic drives of my time in Colorado.

As we headed towards Nederland, we passed through lush, winding canyons with rivers or streams at their bottoms. Almost everywhere I’d been in Colorado until that point had been high desert or scrubland, so this burst of green was a relief to my eyes. The closer we got to Nederland, the more beautiful the scenery became.

What the roads by Nederland looked like. Rte 7, between Nederland and Raymond, CO., by jilmw. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The catch was that, since this was such an incredible area, everyone wanted to camp there.

Unfortunately, some people in Colorado can be quite rude when it comes to camping: those that have the time will set up tents in the best camping spots during the middle of the week, and then just leave them there. That way, when the weekend rolls around, they’ve effectively stolen all of the good spots. This practice of “campground pirating,” combined with the general popularity of camping in Colorado, meant that Mark and I had a very difficult time finding a campsite.

The first campground that we pulled into had exactly zero spots open, and some campsites had the characteristic empty tents that clearly weren’t being used: the trademark of campground pirates.

Having struck out at the first campground, Mark and I then turned down a Forest Service road.

Forest Service roads are gifts from Heaven for the weary camper. In the U.S., anyone can camp along roads maintained by the U.S. Forest Service, so long as they stay within a certain distance of the road. Thus, when we found this road, Mark and I got our hopes up.

Despite our initial optimism, as we drove down the Forest Service road, it seemed that every conceivable spot had been taken. Defeated, we turned around, and began heading out.

Some parts of this road were difficult to fit a vehicle down, and it was disappointing to drive down it only to find nowhere to camp.

When we had almost left the Forest Service road and rejoined the highway, Mark noticed an offshoot of the road that ran to our right. There was a large dip in the road: large enough that we couldn’t see beyond it.

Mark decided to see what was on the other side of the dip. He traversed it – slowly – in his Jeep, and there we found a beautiful camping spot that hadn’t been claimed. This campsite was perfect. It was secluded, full of trees, spacious, and at the very end of the Forest Service road. This would contribute to some amazing wildlife encounters later on!

Since it was getting dark, Mark and I hurriedly set up camp; we pitched out tents and basically went straight to bed. The next day, August 8, would be the best day during my time in Colorado.

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