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.

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