In mid-October, we decided to get one more camping trip in the books (our 12th of the year!) before we put our camping gear in hibernation for the season. Although the trees in our own yard had not received the memo that it was fall, in the mountains, it was a different story. We knew that it was past peak fall color in the mountains, but the weather seemed mild, so we decided to get out and enjoy the crisp fall temps while we still could.
As we were packing our camping gear in the late afternoon, we noticed some dark, stormy clouds building in the distance. This was strange because not only had we begged for rain all summer and not received any at a time when we desperately needed it the most, there also hadn’t been the slightest chance of rain mentioned in the weather forecast.
We continued to pack our gear and hoped the random storm would just blow through, but it became apparent in only a matter of minutes that these were not storm clouds, but instead it was a thick, apocalyptic smoke plume blowing from a wildfire north of us outside Estes Park, Colorado called the Cameron Peak fire. This fire had started in August and ended up burning until early December. It became the largest fire in Colorado history, burning over 200,000 acres of land. With those kind of horrifying stats, it’s no wonder we witnessed this huge plume blowing over Denver.
We couldn’t decide whether it was a good idea we were leaving town to try to escape the smoke or whether it was a bad idea to be putting ourselves outdoors with the possibility of breathing this smoke with no filter or barrier.
Ultimately, we reasoned that if the thick smoke plume followed us down south and the air quality was too unbearable to camp outdoors in, we would just retreat back home.
Due to the fewer daylight hours of the season, we only made it an hour outside of town before we had to concede to the dimming skies and find a camping spot for the night. Fortunately, even though the skies were getting dark, they were void of the wildfire smoke that enveloped the skies over Denver.
Soon after turning down a forest service road to find dispersed camping, we spotted two large moose grazing on dry twigs and brush right beside the road. It was our third sighting this year in Colorado and a fun sight to see! Even the pups were curious about these large creatures and gawked out the vehicle window before eventually scaring them away with their bossy barks. As if!
We settled for a less-than-ideal campsite on sloped ground that would have likely been a coveted camping spot a few weeks prior when the neighboring aspens were adorned with quivering golden leaves. While we were grateful to get away from the wildfire smoke in town, we were definitely questioning why we chose to sleep (or lack thereof) in the middle of a cold forest on sloped ground when we had a comfy and flat bed at home.
We packed up camp the following morning and headed south of Buena Vista to a tough 4WD road that leads to a 14er, Mt. Antero. This road was probably one of the most bumpy roads we had experienced all season in our Jeep, but we ended up finding some expansive views at the top, and eventually a much better campsite with the most blissful view overlooking a stream and mountain.
When it takes several hours for us to relocate all of our essential belongings and then set up a thin bed over uneven ground in the middle of a cold, windy forest, it’s easy to forget why we even choose to camp. But in between sleepless nights and the long, bumpy drives to find the perfect campsite, we are graced with peaceful moments in nature where we can forget about the wildfires taking over our state, social media taking over our lives, and political drama driving us crazy. That’s why we camp.