Days 6-10: Heron Lake State Park, Chama, NM

Friday, August 6, 2021

We left the Oasis RV Resort and Cottages site in Durango, Colorado around 10:00 AM for the 118-mile drive to our next destination. The drive through the mountains of Colorado was absolutely stunning. It was really hard to restrain myself from pulling over to the side of the road to snap pictures at every turn.

We stopped at Walmart in Pagosa Springs, CO to have lunch and restock the pantry with a few things. Pagosa Springs looks like a really neat area with a lot of tubing and rafting opportunities on the river that flows right through town. There looked to be a lot of shops and eateries open, and the place was buzzing with activity.

Hummus and veggie wraps in the Walmart parking lot

We arrived at our next site, Heron Lake State Park, in the early afternoon, where we had reserved site #42, a nice pull-through spot with electricity, water and a picnic table under a shade tree. The elevation here is about 7,200′. As we got everything set up, we noticed right away that there were no bugs to contend with, which was nice! Back in 2019, we had met some campers on the road who had told us that they had stayed here, and had been really bothered by no-see-ums. I think they were here in early September, so maybe the one-month difference worked in our favor this time.

Site #42 in the Blanco Campground at Heron Lake State Park

There were lots of rabbits in the campground. Every time I walked from our site up to the bathhouse, I would see at least one, most often two or three, all cottontails. So cute!

I spent the afternoon getting caught up on some bookkeeping and personal business, and then we got a good night’s sleep.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

After a leisurely breakfast, we drove over to the Visitor’s Center to get a little more information about the area. Heron Lake is formed by the 125-foot-long Heron Dam. When water is needed downstream, it is released into the Rio Chama, from which it flows to the Rio Grande. Heron Lake is designated as a “quiet lake” where motorboats are limited to trolling speed. Summer fishing yields both trout and salmon, and there is ice fishing in the winter. There is also great hiking on the nearby trails.

Rio Chama below the Heron Dam. Zoom in close and you’ll see trout fishermen standing in the water.

The park ranger we spoke to gave us lots of great information, and also encouraged us to visit nearby Chama, where there is a local pizza place called (appropriately) LOCAL, that makes “the best” wood-fired pizza around. We made plans to visit there the next day.

Later in the day I went for a hike and found my 70th geocache at a spot overlooking the lake. I tried out the showers in the bathhouse, and can report that they have the hottest water that I’ve ever experienced in a state park bathhouse. It was great!

Swipe right above for my 70th geocache pics

After dinner we set up the propane firepit and roasted marshmallows under gorgeous skies. No bugs, cool temperatures, it was perfect!

Sunday, August 8, 2021

We slept a little later, and then, per tradition for our first Sunday morning on a road trip, I baked cinnamon rolls for breakfast. I only do that when we’re in a location where the temperatures outside are cool enough to offset the heat produced from the oven, and this morning it was a chilly 48° outside. Perfect!!

Around 2:00 we made the 25-minute drive up to Chama, which is a small town at 7,860′, best known as the western terminus for the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. If we hadn’t just taken the train ride from Durango to Silverton, we would have been really tempted to try and get tickets on this one, but we’ve added it to our bucket list for a future trip. We spent about 30 minutes walking around the small town, checking out the small shops (which had some surprisingly expensive merchandise), and then we headed over to LOCAL for pizza. We had been advised to get there when they opened at 3:00 in order to beat the rush when the train came back in around 4:00.

Downtown Chama with the train station in the background

Unfortunately, we found that they were closed for a special event, so there was no LOCAL pizza to be had. We started walking back up the street toward the car, hoping to find another dining spot. Some local guys struck up a conversation, and they recommended we try the Boxcar Cafe, just a block up the street. We asked if they were open on Sunday, and they assured us that they were, so we checked it out. Nope, they were closed that day “for maintenance”.

We were about to give up and head for Subway when we spotted Foster’s Hotel, Restaurant and Saloon just up the street. It looked intriguing, so we checked it out. When we went in the front door, we found ourselves in the saloon portion of the establishment where there was a bar, a pool table, lots of TVs playing sports, and several booths and tables. We seated ourselves at a booth, and were soon enjoying a great New Mexican meal and some local craft brew. Who knows if the pizza would have been better, but we weren’t disappointed with Foster’s.

Foster’s Hotel, Restaurant and Saloon in Chama, New Mexico. Good food & drink!

Since we had such a late lunch, we didn’t bother fixing anything for dinner. Andy was starting to develop some sinus drainage and a cough, so we skipped the fire pit and marshmallows and went to bed early.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Andy woke up feeling worse, with a really bad cough, sinus drainage and low energy. I drove about ten miles to the nearby village of Tierra Amarilla to the Family Dollar store to get him some over-the-counter meds, some Bigelow Lemon Ginger tea bags, and another box of tissues.

While he was self-medicating and hacking up a lung, I went on a long hike and located three more geocaches, including the Diamond Anniversary cache that each New Mexico State Park has hidden on their property. These caches were placed in 2008 in honor of the 75th anniversary of the New Mexico State Park system. I think it’s really cool that the parks participate in the geocaching hobby, and that they allow geocachers to place caches of their own in the park for others to find. It’s lots of fun, great exercise, and a perfect family activity.

Scroll right above for pics of the cache contents and location

Before we left on this trip, I did some batch cooking, making a pot of curry with rice, and also a pot of corn & potato chowder, served over rice. I froze enough for two meals from each batch, which made making dinner tonight super easy–I just thawed out a bag of the curry with rice, divided it into two bowls and nuked it in the microwave. Voilà, dinner is served!

By this time, Andy was really coughing pretty bad. Not sure if it was allergies or maybe a reaction to the haze of wildfire smoke in the air, but it was obvious that he wasn’t going to sleep well, so he decided to make use of the dinette that turns into a bed so he wouldn’t disturb me with all his coughing. It’s the first time we’ve actually made use of the convertible dinette, but by the time we pulled out the cushions, lowered the table and made up the bed for sleeping, the kitties were pretty freaked out, thinking we were about to start moving again.

Converting the dinette to a comfy bed, using a few extra throw quilts we had on hand

In fact, Molly got so upset she wound up peeing on the bed in the bedroom, which meant I had to strip the bedspread off the bed, leaving me with one less blanket to keep me warm overnight.

We were due to drive to our next location the next day, so we went to bed hoping that things would get better.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

We got up fairly early after a restless night. We considered trying to extend our stay at Heron Lake to allow Andy time to feel better, but he said he felt well enough to drive.

Since we had plenty of time (checkout wasn’t until 2:00), I decided to take the soiled bedspread and the rest of our dirty laundry to the Speedy Queen laundromat in Chama about a 25-minute drive away. For such a small town, this was a really nice facility, one of the nicest laundromats I’ve seen on our travels. It was staffed by a young guy who was busy doing laundry for a customer, and he was extremely nice and polite. An hour later all the laundry was done, and after making a quick stop at the Family Dollar store for some cough suppressant, I was on my way back to camp.

Speed Queen laundromat in Chama, New Mexico. Highly recommend!

While I was gone, Andy had started getting things stowed away outside–the firepit, camping mat, lawn chairs, etc. We got the clean laundry put away, and by 11:00 we were ready to pull out of our site. On the way out of the campground we stopped to dump the tanks, and while I was waiting in the car, I noticed my tire pressure warning light had come on. What great timing (eye roll)!

So as soon as the tanks were emptied, Andy got out the air compressor and checked all my tires (wouldn’t it be nice if that warning light told you WHICH TIRE needed attention??). The right rear tire was about two or three pounds low, so he used the air compressor to pump it back up, and we were finally on our way.

Our next stop: Eagle Nest Lake State Park.

Did we make it? Is Andy feeling better? Is it COVID?

Watch for our next post to find out!

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2 thoughts on “Days 6-10: Heron Lake State Park, Chama, NM

  1. I wondered (and suspected) what you meant in your FB post about Mollie thinking you needed to wash bedding. 😁 Sorry Andy’s not feeling really well. I hope it’s not Covid or at least that it’s a mild case. He may be putting the vaccine to the test. —— On my way to NJ with a friend to visit a couple Hispanic churches and interpret for him to make a missions presentation. Already spent several hours translating 3 PowerPoint presentations to use this weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Days 10-13: Eagle Nest Lake SP, COVID test | Just Call Us Nomads

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