“Hauling Back Home to My Mountain Hideaway”: Episode 17 of The Rocky Mountain Rubber Tramp. The Final Chapter.
Getting out of New Mexico was tougher than I thought. But I did it.
After spending six months bouncing between Storrie Lake State Park Campground, Vegas RV Park and the side lot of a 10-bedroom house being renovated in East Las Vegas I finally hooked and hauled my little, vintage camper behind my recently acquired Ford F-250 pickup truck — The Beast — and throttled over Raton Pass and into Colorado, dropping down to Trinidad and passing all the billboards for legal weed dispensaries before heading off onto the prairie, following the Old Santa Fe Trail toward La Junta, beside the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site — nearly a quarter-million acre Army training ground for Fort Carson in Colorado Springs — along the Purgatoire River and across the Comanche National Grasslands, just balling that rig north by northeast through ghost towns and past prisons, the setting sun glistening off razor wire parapets of the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility near Ordway, then a restless streetside sleep before the final blast due north toward Wyoming — muscling the burly V-8 engine over roads that froze me cold in fear on the trip down a half-year earlier. But now, behold: A new Lord of the Plains.
“Well, we made it here to Crow Valley Campground in the Pawnee National Grasslands outside of Briggsdale, CO. Beautiful, green and full of birdsong. Rambeaux is running amok. In an hour or so we’ll head to Red Feather [Lakes Village] where I have a site reserved for a day or two at Dowdy [Lake Campground], so CJ and I can drop Gus [a tall tree on the verge of falling] before putting the camper on the property. FEELS GREAT!”
— Journal entry: Tuesday; June 4th, 2019; 9:56 am. Absorbing the quietude of cottonwood trees in tall green grass before heading up the mountain.
It’s so peaceful here that I want to find an angle of repose and recharge my body before climbing the final peak, to ponder the journey behind me, thankful that I made it over the barren plains on elevated roads with no shoulders, just as I hesitated here last year after making it down the mountain before going out to face the unknown dangers of the prairie, heading south. But the land was holding brown then, and now it has the release of green — and green, dear reader, means go!
I can’t help but wonder what it was like for the earlier pioneers in their ox-drawn Conestoga wagons navigating the Oregon Trail, whose ruts are still visible not far to the north, the bleached bones of animals and humans who fell along the way scattered into the loamy soil, regenerating the prairie.
But the sun is shining and the wind is stilled. This is no moment for delay. There will be ample time to look back once I make it up the mountain to Red Feather Lakes. So, I lock and load Cochise for the last leg and head west, off the flatland, through the foothills and up toward my homestead in the forest, over a mile and a half above sea level in the northern Colorado Rockies. Bring it!
“Beautiful morning at Dowdy Lake, as I drink my coffee at the picnic table looking out over the flat, mirrored surface of the water, kayaks and belly-boats dotting the view. CJ should be on his way up here. We’re going to drop Gus (the tree) and hopefully put the camper on the property.
It’s been — to me — a long couple days of travel to get here, but we’re almost home, Rambeaux and I. It feels somewhat surreal being back up here, everything so lush and beautiful. No wind. No mean, loud streets. I feel in my place here. At peace. It’s been a while…”
— Journal entry: Saturday; June 5th, 2019; 8:27 am. Back on the mountain at Dowdy Lake Campground, Red Feather Lakes Village, Colorado.
I lingered, longer than I planned. Snow still held its ground in the higher elevations, and my property was not spared. I was fortunate that a camping spot opened up when someone left their reservation early. The camp host told me I could have it if I paid the remainder of the fees, otherwise he would list it as available on the website that services national park campgrounds and it would be snapped up quickly. I knew he was probably right and paid $24/day for a couple more nights, hoping that would allow enough time for the roads to dry out heading back to my land and giving me a few more mornings waking up to sunrises over this breathtaking lake.
National park campgrounds are not cheap during “the season”, and reservations are taken only online. New Mexico state parks were much less expensive (especially with an annual pass), but were switching to online reservations for the summer as well.
Supply struggles to meet demand for those wanting to spend time in the serenity of wild places, away from the madness of cities and the Rat Race — what Edward Abbey referred to as Rattus Urbanus. I can understand that. I just wish there was more public getaway space for the average Joe(anne). Not everyone has the ability to build or buy their mountain retreat up here, which can easily cost several hundred thousand dollars — and more. Henry David Thoreau wouldn’t be able to afford his spot on Walden Pond in the 21st Century. He’d probably be living under a bridge, and eating out of dumpsters.
I’m more fortunate. I have my secluded piece of dirt in the woods, a cozy little camper to park on it, and a shed with a desk, workbench and storage lofts that’s wired with electricity — a hack-shack with studio and shop: the Shtudiop. My getaway hideaway.
CJ, my son, comes up and we drop Gus, the leaning lodgepole pine overshadowing the flat spot on my property. I safely park Cochise, leveling him up as best I can to grant a well-deserved rest. He’s earned it.
I melt back quickly into a state of tranquility, wind flowing through the canopy of trees, an invisible river — a hum — as though the spirited force that sculpted this land now blew its mantra upon it, bearing the quiet for me alone, no neighbors within the reach of sound, and I find myself surrounded with nothing that doesn’t grow wild. Silence is free.
I fall back into a regimen of sunrise walks with Rambeaux looking for moose tracks, coffee in a camp chair facing the wooded rise as grey jays and pine squirrels come squawking and barking to life, and reading and writing at my desk, still struggling to get a solid internet signal through my cell service signal booster and mobile WiFi hotspot — the dichotomy of getting away from it all but trying to take a connection with you in the Digital Age, looking for answers from algorithms, often ending empty-handed.
When the head work is done, my body looks for labor, most often it will be cutting branches and brush, thinning the forest around me for better critter visibility and wildfire mitigation, trying to hold the threatening forces of nature at bay as best I can. Or I’ll move dirt and rocks in 5-gallon buckets from upslope benches to downslope embankments as I endeavor to level a livable space on a mountainside. But if I’m just feeling particularly decadent — I’ll go fishing. Water flowing of its own volition is one of the reasons I moved to this place.
The Panhandle Creek streams east out of the Laramie Mountain Range and fills the Crystal Lakes below my property, joining in confluence with the North Fork of the Cache la Poudre River as it wends its way north, then south through various draws to create Seaman Reservoir before branching into the Poudre and joining the trunk of its larger namesake — given by French trappers for “Hide the Powder” when they found themselves stuck in a snowstorm in the 1820s and cached their gunpowder in a cave at the mouth of the canyon.
“Well, I’m back on the property, and have been for over two weeks. I don’t want to leave. So, I won’t. Now I’m a mountain man, and my rubber tramp days are over for the moment. That’s fine with me. Hauling my home over prairie roads and mountain passes was not a relaxing undertaking — I must say. I love this part of Colorado, it’s scenery, and these wonderful mountain folk.
Soon, CJ will be here and we’ll fish. The rivers and creeks are running high, moose calves are out in abundance, and I sit here at my desk with a hardwired overhead light for the first time. This is where I now belong, where I believe I was meant to be. So many other things that needed to happen first, but now this — forever, I hope. I’m back in a routine I can’t imagine leaving. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep it. Whatever it takes…”
— Journal entry: Thursday; June 27th, 2019; 6:58 am. Sitting at my desk in the Shtudiop, envisioning the embrace of the River. Happy. Not yet wet.
We catch more fish than we’ve ever caught before. Bigger. More colorful. Fat, healthy Rainbows, and Palomino Trout the color of the sun. We see moose along the water’s edge and step over coyote scat to get to the primo fishing spots — the honey holes.
New Mexico seems so distant now…The air smells different here. Not better necessarily, just different. Alpine forest as opposed to high desert, each with its uniqueness and reason. One to make the other stand out more, but both to be enjoyed - in equal measure.
The scents of the West, under pillowed blue skies as wide as can be imagined and beyond, going back unspoiled into time past and forward to times unknown…so grab it now, dear reader, and take nothing for granted. The adventure is in the moment. I truly believe that.
And…I believe this is the moment, my friends and fellow vagabonds, that I feel we must leave this rubber tramp adventure, here beside the mountain stream. And dream of what great things there are to come…
From the Land of Enchantment to the northern Colorado Rockies, and further in all directions at once…
Orale, Amigos! And Hoka Hey!
For previous episodes of The Rocky Mountain Rubber Tramp please visit