Vacationland: Stay awhile in nature camping

Amber firelight dances on lodgepole pines. Wood smoke swirls in the crisp, cool air like incense, then disappears in the darkness. A silvery moon rises above the ridge, turning the black sky to midnight blue.

Reach for the clouds and stretch it out. Wipe away that smudge of melted milk chocolate and marshmallow cream, then snuggle into a sleeping bag. Feel muscle tension fade. It must be time for sleep. There will be chores at daylight.

That’s one way to end a day of camping at the state parks and national forests surrounding Grand Junction. There are many others.

Area camping experiences are as varied as the terrain.

Want to splash in the Colorado River? Try Island Acres campground east of Grand Junction in the James M. Robb-Colorado River State Park.

Prefer to scale sandstone monuments for amazing views? Saddlehorn Campground in Colorado National Monument is the place.

Enjoy fresh-caught trout cooked over a campfire? There’s hundreds of camping spots atop Grand Mesa where about 300 lakes are stocked with fish waiting to be hooked.

All the beauty and wonder of nature has to offer can be found up and down the Western Slope, where hunters armed with cameras might bag a bighorn sheep, mule tail deer, bear, antelope and even a cougar during a single outdoor adventure.

Family togetherness is another benefit of camping, said Brenda Win-frey, visitor information specialist for the U.S. Forest Service’s Grand Valley Ranger District.

“Normally, on the Grand Mesa, you don’t have any cell phone service so you’re not going to be using your computer or your smart phone,” Winfrey said. “We’re ATV riders. The grandkids love it. Personally, I just love hanging around the campfire. There’s more talking and more communicating around the campfire and sometimes it’s just like, wow.”

There are hundreds of established campgrounds in the area with a variety of amenities and even more outside the developed sites where dispersed camping in the back country is popular. It makes sense to select a destination based on level of experience and willingness to “rough it.”

In addition, the weather changes quickly in Colorado, even in the summer months. To stay comfortable, it’s best to wear layered clothing, Colorado State Parks officials say.

Depending on location, you may be required to purchase a pass or permit and make a reservation. Plan ahead by reviewing the government websites listed with this story and especially the information posted at campground entrances.

Keep a close watch on the campfire and follow all fire safety rules. A drier than normal season is expected this year and extra precautions should be taken to prevent forest fires, Winfrey said.

Another serious issue that has become more common on Grand Mesa in recent years is the interaction between unleashed dogs and wild moose, she said. A moose will attack and can kill an out-of-control dog, Winfrey said.

“I tell people that to be on the safe side, they should leash up their dogs even when they’re in the back coun-try,” she said.

Another thing to note is that many camping areas at higher elevations remain snow-covered until late June or early July. So until then, consider opportunities at lower elevations.


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