Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Mancos State Park For The Summer

Let's get something straight right from the start, it's Man-cuss, emphasis first syllable, not Man-cose. I know what it looks like, and it doesn't matter. Mancos. Gateway to Mesa Verde, halfway to Durango, and pretty easy to miss if you're not paying attention.

We had been through the area twice before, in 2005 and 2007, and in both cases, we were headed somewhere else, probably Durango to ride the train, smell the coal smoke and coffee, and start our way back to Kansas City.

This year was different in so many ways. Mancos was our destination, at the invitation of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, as we have put Kansas City well behind us. There is no home in Kansas City to return to.

Our time here is to be as Campground Hosts, volunteers in service to the park. Our function here is largely janitorial, cleaning restrooms and getting just-vacated campsites prepped for their next occupants.

Mancos State Park sits astride Jackson Reservoir, with campgrounds on both sides, and the La Plata mountains as the backdrop to the east. The campgrounds are nestled in among tall Ponderosa Pines, accented with low scrub oaks and the occasional cottonwood and aspen tree. Mancos State Park is high on a ridge overlooking the Mancos Valley and Mesa Verde National Park. The added elevation, coupled with the dense forest setting means that the park, in the dead of summer, is ten to fifteen degrees cooler than the Four Corners region. The net result is a constant parade of Arizona and New Mexico license plates into the park, some on vehicles bearing campers, some with anglers looking for trout in the lake.

The park is a jewel, operated to the highest standards by a small but dedicated team of rangers, staff and volunteers. If we had doubts about other parks in Colorado, this place put them all to rest. There are few things here that eat you - no ticks or chiggers, a few mosquitoes that don't seem to care for human blood, and non-aggressive black bears.

The quiet here is palpable, to the point of distraction. The skies are dark at night, probably a  couple of orders of magnitude this side of the darkest skies in North America.

Then again, there's the dust. Many of the streets in the Town of Mancos are not paved, the same with the road into the park, the park roads and the county road across the dam. The locals defend against the brown patina by buying white trucks. I am not a local. I have a black truck. It hasn't been clean since we got here. A small price to pay, I think.

The area is as varied as it is beautiful, from desert landscapes in the Four Corners, where Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona all meet, to the winding mountain roads of the backcountry in the National Forest and the stunning Million Dollar Highway between Durango and Montrose. All-terrain vehicles are as common as bicycles here, and much more practical for backcountry outings than your basic mini-van.

If your camping style runs to aluminum slums with huge rigs all plugged in, this isn't your park. Except for two high-country-style yurts, the thirty-two campsites are without hookups of any kind, and the west side doesn't even have water spigots. Tents, small trailers, and a few self-contained rigs are the order of the day here.

Camping here is a mere eighteen dollars a day, plus the standard seven dollar Colorado day pass.

We said at the beginning of this adventure that some place might speak to us, might encourage us to again put down roots. This place has already made our short list of candidate destinations. You should come see it. If you come next summer, we'll be here again.

Here are a few visual highlights of the park and the area around the Four Corners:

Our time here is almost up. We leave soon for The Monument Valley, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas for the winter. We have friends to see in Galveston, then we'll backtrack to a park near Austin for November and December. There are bathrooms that need cleaning, and we know just the people for the job.

Stay tuned.

Finally, A Road Report

Note: This is way overdue, and as we're getting ready to move yet again, this report is rushed and truncated. If you have questions about anyplace we stayed along the way, or questions of any kind, for that matter, leave them in the comments.

Our cross-country jump is complete. Here are the places we stayed in Kansas and Colorado on our way to the Mancos Valley in Colorado and the Four Corners area.

Cross Timbers is in Woodson County, Kansas; smack between Yates Center and Eureka. The area where we stayed had full hook-up pull-through sites, and the campground was nearly full, even in the middle of the week. Granted, several of the sites were occupied by members of the same family group, each with their own large trailers and a number of boats.

It is a nicely maintained park, with camping options ranging from primitive tent sites - some with stunning lake views - to full services sites like our own. Our camp hosts have been in place at Cross Timbers for sixteen years, and treat the park like it was their own. Good people.

Boats. Lots of boats of all shapes and sizes - pontoons, speedboats, bass boats. These boats are almost always on the move through the campgrounds because there's no place to dock overnight. Put the boat in, do your boating thing as long as you want, take the boat out, drag it back to your site. It's like a parade of floating floats floating by. I'll get back to you on that analogy.

The towns of Yates Center and Eureka can supply most of what you'll need here, though the grocery prices are a little steep compared to chain stores elsewhere.

Kanopolis State Park, Kansas

June 5, 2016 - After we left Cross Timbers, we made our way to Kanopolis State Park. It was about 170 miles, not including a short grocery run in McPherson, Kansas. This is a bit shorter than some of our hops, but that's okay. We like to keep our trips under 250 miles, so we can do grocery and other stops alongthe way and still keep our total road time under six hours. Pulling a trailer the size of Highlander isn't necessarily difficult, but it requires more mental energy and long trips cease to be enjoyable.

At any rate, Kanopolis seemed a bit shabby. The campsite was okay, but the surroundings - grass areas, parking and other parts of the park - just seemed a bit neglected. Our campground wasn't at all crowded on the warm June Sunday when we arrived. The host was friendly and engaging, and we settled in for a two day layover.

We took a closer look at a couple of interpretive trails at the park, and again, were disappointed by the park's level of neglect and the lack of attention to what could have been a nice nature trail. All it was was hot, and tick-infested.

Nearby is the town of Lindsborg, Kansas. Lindsborg is thriving, partly due to its healthy arts and gallery scene and its celebration of its Swedish roots.

Kathi is not Swedish.
National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson and his wife Kathy (IbisWoman) operate Small World Gallery in Lindsborg. Jim's photographs and Kathy's jewelry are worth the trip to Lindsborg. Nice people.

Cedar Bluff State Park, Kansas

June 7, 2016 - Cedar Bluff State Park is near Wakeeny, Kansas. We had been close to Cedar Bluff State Park before. Some years back we attended "Th' Gatherin' Festival O' Beltane", a May Day festival combined with an informal highland games, a dinner, and music. The park that we saw at that time was just a corner of Cedar Bluff that adjoined a farm field where the event was held.

At the edge of the Flint Hills
The park is large and well-maintained. Our large, pull-through site was near the turn for the boat ramp, and there was a steady parade of boats headed for the lake. It was never an issue regarding the peace and quiet of the campsite, and we had a relaxing couple of days at the park. The park is well-staffed, and the hosts, while quite new at their jobs, were friendly and eager to accommodate. The park office was able to switch our reservation when we realized that the pull-through site we had reserved was simply too small for our white whale.

Cedar Bluff Reservoir at sunset.
One interesting thing - the sites up near the lake have gravel drives. Not your garden-variety driveway gravel, but huge baseball-size chunks of granite. Not a deal-breaker by any means, but tough to walk on, if you're so inclined.

We took walks down the lakefront, and the bike rides and walks stretched out into the other campgrounds and all the way around the access road.

Cedar Bluff State Park
John Martin Reservoir State Park, Colorado

June 9, 2016 - This was our day to cross the state line into Colorful Colorado. This was to be a bit longer slog - 220+ miles, but our options weren't that plentiful west of Cedar Bluff. The thing I've known after all these years of driving back and forth across Kansas is that eastern Colorado looks just like western Kansas. Same held true for John Martin Reservoir.

An operational note - when we were laying out our itinerary, we relied heavily upon Google Maps, Google Earth and Street View to help us locate parks, roads and even campsites. This isn't always enough information.

Here is what our campground looked like from Google Earth:

This is where we were situated on the left loop:

John Martin Dam
San Luis State Park, Colorado

San Luis State Park is situated about fifteen miles west of Great Sand Dunes National Park. It would seem that this is the main function of the park. While there is a lake at the park, it would appear to be seasonal in nature. The boat ramps were closed while we were there, and it didn't seem to be a fishing destination.

The roads heading into San Luis State Park were rough, to say the least. Road signs warned of rough conditions, and roadside stakes and flags marked out hazards along the way.

There are three camping loops in the Mosca Campground. We stayed in the top loop, Loop C, and were rewarded with an unimpeded view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the vast expanse of the sand dunes in the distance.

The Campgrounds at San Luis State Park.
All the time we were there, we never saw a ranger or camp host, and while the restrooms weren't too bad, the showers and other facilities could have used some TLC. The showers, like John Martin, were coin-op, and allowed plenty of time for the money.

Our view from Loop C at Mosca Campground. The Sand Dunes are at the bottom.
Close proximity to the Sand Dunes is enough reason to stay at San Luis. If you've never visited, we highly recommend spending the day there. Wade through the cool waters of Medano Creek, and climb the seemingly endless dunes. The dunes are hard to describe, but this is always a high point for us of any trip through southern Colorado. 

With any luck at all, we'll recap our stay here at Mancos State Park before we head out, but time is tight, and there's a lot to say about this amazing part of the state. We'll get caught up soon, I promise. Then we have another fifteen stops before we roll into Galveston next month.

There's lots more to come. Stay tuned.