The weather in Colorado this spring is unusually wet and wild-so the locals say. One of the main reasons we moved to Colorado from Washington was to escape the months of grey skys and soaked earth. Of course Washington is an amazingly beautiful state and those months of rain create beautiful flora, but we could only take so much. We were expecting a bit more sunshine here, and found it somewhat ironic that the local news had taken to highlighting the difference between Seattle weather (sunny) and Denver weather (rainy) for the past few weeks. I admit we were a bit envious seeing four Seattle friend’s social media posts with clear, sunny, skies and warm weather, while the view out our window was grey. Nonetheless, we were determined to bust out our camping gear and explore our new state. After a diligent search for locales with at minimum a decent forecast and within 4 hours drive, we discovered Palisade. We headed out mid-week and planned on coming back on Saturday to beat the crowds and get back for the Bolder Boulder race on Sunday.
Palisade is a small town on the western slope of the Rockies about 3.5 hours drive on I–70 from Denver. The drive was beautiful, passing by the big ski resorts and driving through canyons. I think most people view Palisade as a stopover on the way to Fruita or Moab, or a break before hitting the Rockies, but we were glad we spent a couple nights there and could have spent more had it not been Memorial Day weekend and had we reserved a campsite. In the end not having made a reservation (sometimes not planning works great!) worked out because we ended up finding another state park on the mesa and camped there.
We set up camp for the first two nights literally just a stones throw from I–70 at Island Acres State Park. Since it was the week before Memorial Day the campground was pretty empty so we had lots of options to choose from-well at least those sites that weren’t submerged in water. Since we were tent camping we pretty much had the whole tent area to ourselves since other campers didn’t show up until Friday. The campsite was great with access to the Colorado river, a nice fire ring, plenty of space for our 6 person tent, and close to the amenities. The only downside about this campground is the noise from being so close to the highway. Our visual and physical surroundings felt like we were camping, but our brains were confused by the auditory input from traffic-wait am I in the city or am I camping? Being close to the freeway had it’s upsides though because we had easy access to the wineries in Palisade and BLM hiking trails with wild horses only a couple exits up. Always an optimist.
After setting up camp we drove into Palisade to check out the little town and get a glympse of the wineries and pick up some firewood. Yes-Colorado makes wine, and good wine! We had no idea Colorado had wineries and I think many Coloradans also are clueless (based on multiple conversations with locals who have no idea about the wine industry here) to the little industry popping up on the Western slope. If you live in Colorado and drink wine, Palisade is a must. The wineries are small and unpretentious, the staff are interesting and friendly, the wine is tasty and affordable (all the tastings we had were free), getting around is easy, and the scenery is gorgeous. After our hike the next day we felt right at home walking into the tasting rooms unshowered and still in our hiking clothes.
The first night at our campsite was very relaxing and we had our first campfire of the season! We had been in Santa Fe a couple weeks prior but couldn’t have fires because of the high winds. We have mixed feelings about having campfires due to the impact of cutting down trees and burning them, but there is just something about sitting by a campfire that makes everything just right. There were a couple of mild echos of thunderstorms and slight rain but nothing too major to disrupt our sleep.
One of my favorite activities of car camping is waking up to a good cup of coffee and plopping myself into a campchair with a good book. Both Ravi and I spent the better part of the morning reading and sipping on our coffee before we headed out for a hike in the afternoon. My book of choice was “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up,” which I promptly finished the next day. Having traveled the last year and a half, moved all our stuff a couple times, and downsized this book hit home and resonated with me in so many ways. My relationship to “things” has evolved this last year and I’ve realized de-cluttering, using only what really is useful or makes me happy, and having less stuff and more experiences is what matters to me. I am by no means minimal and I still have a ways to go, but I’ve made progress. I read this book like I binge watch a good series on netflix. Seriously-buy it.
Around lunch time we decided it was time to get moving. We headed up to the Book Cliffs BLM land to check out the wild horses and do a little hiking. I’ve never seen wild horses hiking before and we were lucky that they happened to be in the vicinity. A local at the trail head told us where they were. We watched the beautiful creatures munch on grass, play or bully each other-not sure, and generally frolic around. This was a highlight of the trip.
What a better way to wrap up watching wild horses than to do some wine tasting. We headed back into Palisade and checked out three wineries; Maison La Belle Vie, Garfield Estates, and Red Fox Cellars. The wines at the first too were delicious and the cider at Red Fox trumpted their wine. Red Fox is a new trendy/hip winery and cidery. They have some work to do with their wines, but the cider was tasty. Maison La Belle has a french inpsired theme and the tasting room staff happened to be from France here on an internship. She was very pleasant and the wines were good. Garfield Estates looks like you are walking into someone’s home, but again the woman who helped us was interesting and again the wine was very drinkable. We headed back to our campsite with a couple bottles of wine and very satisfied with our day.
The next morning we woke up and after having a mishap with our coffee maker, and another mishap with our neighbor’s coffee maker, and a burned neoprene coffee holder, we packed up our gear and headed out to find a campsite. We had asked around as to where we might find an open campsite for the night and a couple people told us that Vega Lake State Park was likely to have a spot and had a nice lake (aka reservoir as I realize folks in colorado use these interchangeably for the most part). Luckily, when we arrived we did find a spot and set up camp just in time for the next round of rain to roll on by. We had a lovely view of the lake and a spacious campsite free from the sound of the highway. Since it was later in the day we opted for a long walk around the lake, some reading in the tent as it rained, and an early campfire.
Eventually the weather cued us as to when to head in for the night so we let the rain put out the campfire and headed to bed. When we woke the next morning we enjoyed a liesurely morning before packing up our stuff and heading home.
All in all the getaway turned out to be better than we expected and we will definitely be back to the area as we still have lots of exploring to do at the nearby Grand Mesa and Colorado National Monument. Oh yeah, and explore a few more wineries and perhaps meet some other ponies.