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Campsite Photo Trip - 2011

Crawford State Park, Vega State Park, and a Little Bear

The latest from Greg – still taking photos of campgrounds in Colorado:

Monday I was going to leave Jimmy State Park and drive to Crawford State Park. My initial plans were to camp there and take photos. I did not stay there as it was just too hot. I will tell you where I went later. Let's take a look at the two State Parks first.

Crawford exhibits the classic features of the western slope – rugged beauty and outstanding views of geologic features like Needle Rock, surrounded by mountain valleys and ranchlands. In fact, the town of Crawford is the center of the cattle industry in the North Fork area. You can often find hundreds of tacos being herded down main street, chased by tortillas and salsa. Best in Spring and Fall as it gets warm in the summer.

Below is a photo of the lake and a campsite:

Crawford Iron Creek 20 Crawford View

Vega and the meadows that surround it are rich in history and natural beauty. The area was originally a mountain meadow where cattle ranchers grazed their herds of tacos from the late 1800's until 1962. "Vega" is actually the Spanish word for "Meadow". So you learned something today. It is about 1500 feet higher than Crawford, but there is no real shade here.

Below is a photo of the lake and my campsite under the towering pines:

Vega Campsite Vega View 1

I stayed in Vega on Wednesday night, so let's go back to Monday. I decided to drive CO 65 up to the Grand Mesa National Forest. It turns out that this is another Scenic Byway:

Byway Sign

Grand Mesa is the world's largest flattop mountain. It gets its tabletop appearance thanks to a cap of volcanic basalt it acquired over nine million years ago. As the basalt flowed from cracks in the earth's surface, it filled a wide flat valley. Eventually, the soft rock around the basalt valley eroded away, leaving a mesa high in the air. More recently, about 14,000 years ago, ice caps scoured rocky debris into troughs that caught the melting snow forming more than 300 lakes across the mesa top. At least that is what I remember from school.

Near the midway point of the byway, a spur of the main road leads to an impressive vista known as Lands End. I plan to check it out.

My goal in heading up this route was to find a tree-filled campsite on the shore of a lake. And I found it! Meet Little Bear campsite #18 on Island Lake:

Little Bear Campsite

At over 10,000 feet high, it was at least 35 degrees cooler than Crawford in the valley below. Here are some more photos of the lake and my campsite:

Island Lake Little Bear Sunset

On Tuesday I drove to Lands End. I stopped first to check out the Visitor Center about a mile away:

Visitor Center

It was a very informative place with a lake on either side of it. Everywhere you look there are lakes: Lake 1 Lake 2

Four miles North of the Visitor Center is the twelve mile road to Lands End. The first half is gravel, the second is paved. Go figure. You can see the dust in my mirror:

Dusty Road

On each side of the road I found meadow after meadow teeming with wildflowers in full bloom. It was just amazing. I also found a herd of the very rare and elusive wild tacos. They were feeding on the flowers:

Meadow 1 Meadow 2 Wild Tacos

The first 10 miles was easy, the last two were a different story. A mesa is like a brick set on the ground. The sides are nearly vertical. The road started getting very close to those sides and I'm 6000 feet above Grand Junction and looking down at it while I am driving. I parked at the old observatory and slowly walked to the edge. There was a three foot rock wall and then nothing. And it was windy:

Old Observatory Lands End 1 Lands End 3 Lands End 25

Grand Mesa National Forest was my kind of camping. With no hookups, vault toilets, and a max trailer length of 16', Little Bear was perfect. There are other campgrounds in the immediate area that can handle big rigs and trailers, but what I think would be a great experience for a family would be to stay in one of the many lodges up here. I checked out a few of them. With waterfront cabins, restaurants, boat rentals, etc., a week or so up here would be a most excellent adventure. Fly into Grand Junction, rent a car, and you will be at your cabin in 90 minutes:


I only stayed one night at Vega because there was no shade, and it is still a little warm. My next campsite is at Stagecoach State Park, about 240 miles away, so I will find something on the way or maybe just arrive early. We shall see…

Regards, Park Ranger


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