Days 2-4: Boondocking at Saul’s Creek, CO

Monday, August 2, 2021

We pulled out of our overnight spot in the Coronado Campground in Bernalillo, New Mexico around mid-morning in a light rain. We really enjoyed that little campground and will definitely use it again for our return trips to Colorado and Northern New Mexico.

Our destination for the day was the Saul’s Creek dispersed camping area in the San Juan National Forest, about 20 miles east of Durango, CO, near the town of Bayfield. It was a driving distance of about 210 miles for the day. Our route along Highway 550 took us through an area that was beautiful, but dotted with oil/gas wells and with very few services for travelers. We pulled off the side of the highway into an open lot at the entrance to a gas plant equipment depot for lunch, where we enjoyed a delicious salad while we watched the traffic go by.

After stopping in Bayfield to top off the rig’s gas tank, we arrived at Saul’s Creek around 2:30-ish. It’s a beautiful wooded area down a couple of gravel county roads surrounded by mountains. The area is dotted with gas wells, so the gas producers have added additional gravel roads, and they are all very well maintained, easy to travel even in my low-slung Prius. The roads branch off in all directions, and there are well-defined dispersed camping spots all along these roads. There’s plenty of separation between the spots for privacy. We found a great spot at the end of FR 755A and were able to get level with little problem.

It looked like it might rain that afternoon, with dark clouds gathering in the distance, but it never did. I took a walk up the road to the top of the hill to check out the surroundings, and the higher altitude had me breathing hard by the time I got back. One thing we noticed about this area was that there were very few birds. Not sure if it’s because of the gas wells in the area, but as wooded as it was, we expected more bird life. I saw signs of rabbits and other animals, but the only wildlife we saw up close was mosquitoes–a little repellent took care of that issue.

We had a nice dinner of some corn chowder and rice that I had cooked and frozen before we left home, and then turned in for a good night’s sleep in the total silence of the forest.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

We woke from a great night’s sleep–it was DARK out there, and the cool temperatures made sleeping so comfortable. I took a short morning hike up the hill above the rig after breakfast, and was treated to some epic views of the surrounding mountains. Later in the morning we got in the car and drove down every Forest Road in the area to scout out other spots where we might want to camp in the future. There were a good many campers in the area, more than I expected to be honest for a Tuesday, but there were still some good empty spots to be had.

After lunch we were “treated” to a nice thunderstorm. It took it a couple of hours to build up, but then it finally rained for about an hour, leaving our spot pretty muddy. Fortunately, the soil easily absorbed the moisture and an hour later there was no standing water around us.

About 100 yards from our site was a gas well with a pumping unit. On this particular day they were doing some sort of maintenance on the wellsite, so there were seven or eight pickup trucks as well as some heavy equipment moving dirt and gravel. We could hear the beeping whenever the dirt-movers backed up, as well as the sound of the blades scraping across gravel, but it wasn’t overly annoying.

I took a second hike later in the day after the clouds cleared, and then we enjoyed another quiet evening.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

What a weird day.

I started the day by finding out that my Discover card was not in my wallet. The last place I remember using it was in Bernalillo at the Bosque Brewery where we had dinner on Sunday night. I decided to call them later to see if they had found it.

In the meantime, I decided to take one last hike in the area and chose the Ridge Trail 807, which appeared on the map to be a nice-sized loop branching off of the road I had already been hiking. I filled my water bottle and took off after letting Andy know exactly where I would be. Hiking up the mountain in higher altitudes is pretty strenuous for a 62-year-old out-of-shape person like myself, but I was taking my time and enjoying the view.

After about 30 minutes I came to an overlook that was absolutely stunning. There was a clear 270° view of the surrounding mountains and valleys, and I stood there for awhile soaking it in.

By my reckoning, this was the far end of the loop, and so continuing down the trail from the overlook should eventually take me back to my starting point. I first had to go down some pretty steep trail, and then I came to a long flat section where I was passed by a guy and his young son on motorbikes. I was watching and listening for a gas well pumping unit that was near where the trail started out, and eventually I saw the head of a pumping unit bobbing up and down through the trees and thought, “I’m almost there!”.

At this point I checked Google Maps satellite view on my cellphone, and it was then that I figured out that this was NOT the gas well where I had started out. It was a different well, and it was pretty far from the one I was looking for. By this time I was starting to get tired and I wasn’t confident that the trail I was on would take me where I wanted to go, so I decided the best course of action was to turn around and go back the way I had come. That meant I had to go back UP that steep section of trail to the overlook.

I started on my way back, taking it really slow up the steep portion. When I reached the overlook at the top, I stopped under a shade tree to rest and check my heart rate on my Fitbit–around 170 beats per minute. Yeah, it was tough! I stood there until my heart rate returned to around 130, and then continued my hike which was mostly downhill from that point.

By the time I reached the rig, I had hiked about 4.25 miles, and was exhausted. But the day was just getting started! We still had to get ready to move to our next site!

We broke camp around lunchtime and drove out of the woods, westward toward Durango, to the Oasis RV Resort & Cottages. That’s where I’ll leave things for this post, but stay tuned for details of our time in Durango and Silverton, including a trip on the famous Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad!

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