The drive to get from “desert” to “canyon” was lengthy. Some of that was distance, some of that was winding roads…little to none was traffic. We didn’t see a ton of wildlife, save for a group of buffalo in an open area near the trees. There were some pull-offs at various points for “primitive camping” or hiking, and other gravel roads just heading off into nowhere. We stopped off at a general store near the buffalo for a bathroom break and then headed further in.
The main camping area is separate from the visitor center, though it’s within walking distance (about a mile by trail). The main lodge is by the visitor center, so it’s quite populated and parking is somewhat challenging, though nowhere near as bad as Rocky Mountain National Park was a few years ago.
There are entirely “primitive” camping sites, many of which intended for tents, and others alright for campers. We saw more than a few with solar panels set up to give them some juice for the night, though most folks just went to bed when the sun went down.
Our site ended up being among the best in the area. Brooke did a great job with the reservation and had us for 3 consecutive nights with the view below.
Seriously. You can’t beat that.
There’s actually a trail near the edge, so people would walk past our campsite frequently. It wasn’t a big deal, but there’s technically “something” between us and that view. The campsite was relatively close to where we parked the car, but the designated parking spot was kinda off to the side from where I would have put it. Oh well. The bathroom building was also pretty close, as well as potable water, so while we’d have to go fill up sometimes, it wasn’t a huge deal. Meg was able to go to the bathroom by herself, even at night, but Calvin still needed some help with the door sometimes. The bathrooms were clean and well-lit, though for some crazy reason, they were cleaned every morning from 8:00 until ~8:40. It was arguably the worst time of the morning for such things, as it’s right before people are ready to go out for the day.
The general store was also close, though a bit more of a walk. They had camping gear, fruit, ice cream, beer (yay!), coffee, some toys – just about anything to keep you satisfied for a few days. They also had “WiFi,” but the speeds were horrendous after 10:00 am when more and more people showed up to use it. I tried getting some work done one afternoon and it was unbearable. We actually got halfway decent LTE service on our phones from various spots around the park, but it was still slow. At least we could send and receive messages and e-mails, if necessary.
That first day, we mostly set up the campsite and explored our surroundings. It took a few hours to get everything going and organized and the kids wanted to run around, and we were tired of driving, so we mostly just took it easy. We zipped up to the visitor center after we set up to check it out and get our Junior Ranger information for the kids. Other than that, we enjoyed the nice weather and high elevation.
The first night was cold. Like, down to 39 F cold. Thankfully, we prepared better this time around and wore sweatshirts and sweatpants, or in the case of the kids, wore two sets of pajamas. I can’t saw we all slept well, per se, but the kids did, so that’s what matters.
The next morning, the sun came up relatively early (like, 5:15 am early…), but it still took until the 7:00 hour for the temperature to rise above 50 F. In the grand scheme of things, that wasn’t too bad, and it heated up rapidly enough that we could get moving, get cooking, get coffee, etc.
We gave the kids the option of the “long hike” being on Day Two or our series of “short hikes and overlooks,” and they went with the long hike. If we were to do the whole thing, it would be upwards of 9 miles, but we found out that a program was being held that likely wouldn’t go that far, so we joined the hike with the other folks on Widforss Trail.
Ranger Nina did a solid job with the 17 or so of us that went along for the hike. She mostly went through the associated brochure while filling in some gaps along the way, focusing on different fossils along the trail as well as the history of the original folks who settled the area. Others on the hike were from England, Australia, and other parts of the United States, so we had a good smattering of different people to expose the kids to (not sure they’ve met people from Australia before…).
The hike was gorgeous, of course, but took a good hour and a half to go only a few miles. By the time we were done with the program, the kids had Ranger Nina sign their Junior Ranger books (they had to get a signature from one Ranger) and we continued on for a bit more. Ultimately, we only did 4.5 miles over 3 hours because we were tired and, frankly, had been out there long enough.
We returned to the campsite for a few hours that afternoon. I zipped by the general store for a few minutes to try to answer e-mails, then returned to the tent to try and nap a bit, but it was bright enough from the sun that it wasn’t happening. We ended up going to the other nature program on California Condors, which we didn’t need to do, but hey, the kids were interested. It ended up being a neat program, though we sadly didn’t get to see a real condor (there are only 446 in known existence…). The kids got to see a life-size wingspan and participate in the program a bit with the other kids.
After the program, we went back and did dinner and played some card games before bed. We stayed up pretty late that night relative to the central time zone and the kids stayed in their sleeping bags accordingly the next morning. We all slept a bit better that night, despite the cold weather again.