The terrain of Southern Utah is surely from another planet. I-70 follows an old Mormon trail through land 300 million years in the making. It wasn’t our first time circling the Utah Big 5 so we put some serious miles behind us at a high rate of speed. We had a weekend rendezvous with our newlyweds living outside of Denver, so no time to venture off of the interstate.
I-70 runs along the 40 degree line of latitude in the United States. In April, that can mean some Spring days, but it can also mean the end of winter. We hoped for spring days but hope is a poor strategy, which especially true in the higher elevations out west. Unfortunately, winter weather is what we got.
By the time we hit Colorado’s capitol of the west-side of the Rockies, Grand Junction, a freezing rain was falling as temperatures hovered in the mid-30’s. We made camp at an otherwise picturesque Colorado State Park on the banks of the Colorado River which was raging from all of the snow melt Colorado had gotten that year. The east-west cross country freight line paralleled the river and passing train whistles added to the acoustics that night. Just like in a Louis L’Amour novel, lonesome train whistles go nicely with shivering in the night chill.
Too cold to cook, we downed some luke warm coffee and noshed on a frozen muffin before breaking camp. We were going to have to figure out this cold weather camping if we were going to survive future excursions in the north. When you think about it, very little of the United States is tent camp-able in the winter, and that winter can last into May. Sleeping in the cold is actually the easy part. It is all of that camp life outside of the mummy bag that is frigid and painful.
As if to punctuate the cold weather statement, Mother Nature launched a full blown blizzard centered on the 10,600 feet MSL Vail Pass as we crossed on the following day. Trucks were required to roll with chains and the normally 75 mph speed slowed to a single land crawl in deep slush and ice. Having hung out in Florida for the past two years, the shock to our system was real.
While the Rocky Mountains blocked the snow from crossing into Denver to the east, they did little to stop the cold temperatures from blanketing the city. Like a couple of fools who don’t know when to cry Uncle, we pitched camp in Cherry Creek State Park, a large nature retreat smack dab in the middle of the Denver/Aurora metro area. It was surprisingly full considering the weather conditions. Note, it was not surprisingly full of tents.
Fortunately, much of our time was spent with the newlyweds stationed at Buckley AFB in Aurora. We made sure that it was dark when returning at night to our nylon abode so that we could move immediately from warm cab to mummy bags. Unless we planned to only tent camp where we had relatives nearby with a warm residence, we were going to have to figure something out. Until then, our first order of business would be to head south in the morning.