Get a Jeep, they said… it’ll be fun, they said

As usual, I’m well overdue for updating our blog, but that’s because earlier this summer, hubby and I did a thing. We got a Jeep! We’ve now spent over a dozen weekends taking our new wheels over big hills and through the woods, but first, let me explain how we ended up here.

After 11 long weeks of house arrest due to the pandemic, and good weather finally here to stay after several late-Spring snow storms, hubby and I were ready to sneak off to the mountains for the ultimate social distancing activity – camping!

Hubby and I have always avoided improved campgrounds and prefer primitive camping instead. Improved campgrounds usually have convenient toilets, picnic tables, running water, fire rings, and cleared, flat spots to set up a tent on, but also usually have a lot of [noisy] people in close proximity, which we feel defeats the whole point in escaping to nature. Primitive camping is simply setting up camp (where allowed) in the backcountry without all the improvements that most campgrounds come with. A huge bonus is that primitive camping is free and doesn’t require reservations that some popular campgrounds require.

Primitive camping is typically allowed along most forest service roads, so our method of finding a primitive campsite usually involves picking a somewhat random forest service road on a map and driving around until we find something suitable for camping. When I say “suitable,” what I actually mean is “perfect”; and what I mean by “perfect” is that the campsite not only have the basic requirements of being already established (to reduce unnecessary impact on the land) and have a flat spot for the tent, but also either have a scenic view or be close to water (since we love the sound of a running stream). This method and preference inevitably results in hours of driving around to find the perfect spot.

As if the task of finding the perfect campsite isn’t hard enough in “normal” times, during the early months of the pandemic when many places were still in lockdown, we found it was nearly impossible! During our first camping attempt on the Memorial Day weekend, many forest service roads outside of Denver were closed to reduce the spread of the virus to small, nearby towns that had few resources to handle the virus if it got out of control.

After getting bamboozled by several closed roads, we were about to give up and head back home when we finally came across an open forest service road. The road seemed promising at first, with incredible views of mountain peaks in the distance, still topped with late Spring snow, but there were hardly any viable spots along the road for camping and the one or two campsites we did come across were already snagged by other campers.

In a desperate search to try to find even just a mediocre campsite, we soon found ourselves crawling up a narrow, steep, rocky “road” that we probably should have never started up to begin with, especially given the fact that we passed signage at the start of the road that specifically stated “rough road ahead”. It wasn’t long before we realized we were way out of our league trying to drive on this tricky terrain, despite having an all-wheel drive vehicle.

Signage on the way to Pennsylvania Gulch warning “rough road ahead”. While we should have taken this sign seriously, in Colorado you never know whether these signs are meant for the amateurs that are out driving their Honda Civic to find a campsite in the backcountry or if they’re warning even those driving AWD vehicles.
A sampling of the beginning section of Pennsylvania Gulch. We turned around shortly before this and it’s good thing, because it only got worse…
This is the reason Pennsylvania Gulch is rated as one of the most difficult backcountry roads in Colorado. Even the dachshunds had to put it in four-paw drive to get up these boulders!

Hubby managed to back down the hill, and since it was late in the day, we immediately settled on pitching our tent alongside the start of this steep hill on what was possibly the worst camp spot we had ever had. While there was a small running stream nearby, the ground was extremely slanted and it was a bit of haul down a hill just to get to the spot. We were pretty sure no one had been desperate enough to try to camp on this spot previously.

We had intended to camp two nights during the Memorial Day weekend and due to rain the entire next day, we ended up getting stuck at this campsite another night. Although we didn’t mind the rainy day and vegging out in the tent all day, the slanted ground left a lot to be desired.

Our subpar campsite, down the steep hill.
Another view of how steep the hill was to our campsite off the road.
Impossible to tell from this photo, but the ground we pitched our tent on was so slanted and rocky that we awarded it the worst campsite we had ever had, but we still managed to have some good laughs about how hilariously terrible it was.
On the bright side, our campsite was next to this small stream, one of our campsite preferences.
Our second day camping was rainy all day, but we didn’t mind! We hid in the tent most of the day watching uploaded Netflix shows and when the rain let up for a short while, we took a walk up the road we were unable to drive. The fog was magical.
The dachshunds reluctantly tag along for all of our questionable adventures… as if they have a choice.
No camping trip is complete without some happy hour libations. One of the positive things to come out of the pandemic are specialty bottled cocktails from local restaurants that are all too convenient to pack for camping trips.

All in all, it actually wasn’t a bad weekend camping, but we left this experience thinking perhaps we should consider getting a more capable vehicle in order to be more prepared for the uncertain terrain we often encounter on backcountry roads. As it turns out, the road we had attempted to drive on, Pennsylvania Gulch, is a very technical road that “adventurists” with much more capable off-roading vehicles take for a “fun” challenge. Also unbeknownst to us at the time, was that there is a whole community of off-road vehicle enthusiasts that actually seek out these types of roads and there are even websites, books, and apps dedicated to providing great detail on backcountry roads to drive for “fun”. As if!

While it seemed obvious in hindsight that this off-roading world existed, what was shocking to us was that in all of our years seeking out campsites by aimlessly driving around backcountry roads, somehow we had luckily avoided getting ourselves into a pickle on some of these more difficult-rated roads. However, if we really wanted to have all the primitive camping spots to choose from that are sometimes tucked away on these more difficult roads, getting a better equipped vehicle was going to be our ticket!

Hubby immediately got excited at the prospect of getting a “fun” vehicle and began researching Jeeps, while I hesitated big time. We had been a one-vehicle household (if we didn’t count hubby’s motorcycle) for over six years after moving to Denver and we loved the minimalist lifestyle of only having one vehicle to store in the garage and relying on public transportation for work commutes. We hardly even needed the one vehicle as it was and although I don’t excited over vehicles, I have always loved driving our current SUV. I wasn’t ready to trade in our pretty Volvo for a boxy Jeep. And furthermore, would getting a more capable off-road vehicle just mean that hubby would be more apt take us on hairy backcountry roads that I didn’t want to be on anyway?

Well, obviously, we ended up getting the Jeep (and for now, we have still kept the Volvo) and while the jury is still out on whether I like the Jeep and the technical roads it enables us to drive on, hubby LOVES it! In my next blog post, I’ll tell you one reason why I started to like the idea of the Jeep… while still hating it.

We test-drove several used Jeeps and had a tough time deciding which one to get, but we have been pleased with the 2019 Jeep Wrangler JL that we settled on (pictured in the far back).

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