Full time RV life is a great adventure, but, adventure isn’t always fun. The highs are amazing but, unfortunately, so are the lows. You have to be ready to adapt and make the best of bad situations. We’ve had to learn this lesson, mostly the hard way.
Labor Day began bright and early at Great Sand Dunes Oasis, a store just outside the gates of Great Sand Dunes National Park, where we rented sand sleds for the day. A sand sled is made of plywood with an upturned front and a small cushion near the rear to sit on. Along with the sled you get a block of wax that you rub on the bottom of the sled then polish by rubbing the sled on sand before you make your run. After we got our sleds, we drove a couple miles to the parking area, gathered our sleds, sunscreen, and hats and headed for the dunes.
Walking on sand dunes is not easy, for every step forward you fall back at least a half step. Walking on sand dunes at 8000 feet of elevation quickly becomes a slog because there is less oxygen to breath. It felt like it took forever to walk the mile from the parking area up the first, and smallest, dune because we had to stop more than once to catch our breath.
But, everything changed once we were on our sand sleds. We had an absolute blast sledding down the dune! We both wiped out spectacularly and repeatedly but, once we got the hang of it, we wiped out even more spectacularly in between a few good runs. The downside, of course, is that each good run down was followed by a long slow walk back up the dune. After a few hours we were covered in sand and close to exhaustion. We each made one last run down a steeper slope. Carolyn wiped out, rolled a few feet then stood up, laughing, and got back on her sled to finish the run. My final run went through a patch of soft sand and I ate a lot of it. Completely exhausted now, we slowly made our way back to Belvedere and dumped the sand out of our shoes (and shorts). Then our luck began to change.
The weather forecast for the next day was a surprise early winter storm that would bring lots of snow and freezing temperatures across a large portion of Colorado. We made a decision to cancel our reservations at the campground inside the park and head somewhere that wasn’t expected to freeze. That led to some quick research to find a place that wouldn’t have sub freezing temperatures. We decided our best bet was to head to lower elevation about three hours away in Montrose, Colorado. Decision made, we headed out to fill up on diesel and start the 4 hour drive.
Thank Goodness For Our TPMS
There is absolutely nothing but open land for about fifteen miles between Great Sand Dunes and the town of Mosca. On a desolate county road about five miles from the gas station , the alarm on our tire pressure monitoring system went off. It showed us losing pressure in one of our rear tires at an alarming rate! With no room to pull off on the side of the road, we had no choice but to limp to the gas station in Mosca. Once there, I asked if there was anyone who could help us with our tire. The very nice lady pointed me to a truck and tire company just six miles down the road. I filled up our tire and we limped to the little town of Hooper and pulled into the tire place.
Did I mention it was Labor Day? The tire place was closed and our tire was now down to 14psi, so we called roadside assistance and they dispatched help. When they arrived and got the tire off we could see that the valve stem had cracked and broken off on the way to Hooper, taking the TPMS cap sensor with it. While I was unhappy about losing the sensor, I also realized we were VERY lucky that the tire did not blow out.
It had taken about an hour for help to arrive, and once they arrived and got the tire off, they decided to take the tire back to their shop, repair it there then bring it back. A process that ended up taking another three hours. That’s when we learned that being broken down is a very different experience in an RV. We were parked in an empty parking lot, not on the side of the road. So, while we waited, we made lunch and settled down to watch tv while eating ice cream. Carolyn even took a nap. Except for the road noise it was kinda nice to have a quiet afternoon after such an active morning.
Finally, we were able to get back on the road. But, it was now five o’clock and we still had a three and a half hour drive ahead of us on winding roads and the smoky sky meant darkness would fall earlier than normal. We decided not to stop for anything else and get as far as we could before dark. In fact, we were so intent on getting over the mountains that we barely noticed the sign when we drove over the Continental Divide for the first time ever. There was simply no time to stop for pictures.
After all the twists and turns on dark roads we finally pulled into Centennial RV Park outside of Montrose. I’m very grateful to the campground owners for meeting us at the office when we rolled in. We were also both thankful for the long hot showers to wash all the sand off before we climbed into bed. It’s not a large park, but it’s very nice. In different circumstances we would definitely stay there again.
The next morning, Tuesday, was the day the storm would be rolling in and, while no snow was predicted for Montrose, there would be plenty of rain. Since we had booked at the last minute, we only got to stay at Centennial for one night. We unhooked and moved to a another campground that had a spot for the next three nights. The rain was just beginning to fall as we got hooked up. I opted to not hook up the water hose in case it got down below freezing. Fortunately, it never did.
Until the storm forced us to change our plans we had not intended to come to the western side of Colorado on this trip. But, I’m so glad we did! Our new campground, Riverbend RV Park and Cabins became one of our favorite places we stayed on our trip. It sits on the banks of the Uncompahgre River in Montrose, Colorado. The sites are gravel, but they are very level and the office is a brand new building with a new laundry room and nice showers. The staff was incredibly friendly and helpful. We could not have asked for a warmer welcome and even though we had to move sites after our first two nights we couldn’t complain because our new site was right beside the river. We truly were lucky to have found them.
When there was a break in the rain, we walked to the Ute Indian Museum and spent some time exploring their exhibits. It’s a small, but very well done, museum with a great story to tell and some beautiful artifacts. Ute are the only Native American Tribe that doesn’t have a relocation story. Though they lost most of their land, the Ute reservations are on a very small portion of their ancestral land. The museum sits on land that had once belonged to Chief Ouray a chief who was chosen by the US government to be the spokes person for the tribe and for whom the town of Ouray, Colorado is named.
Just outside the museum, we discovered the city trail that went right past our campground and continued all the way to the city center. A short walk down the trail brought us to a bridge that led to a shopping area with a Target, a Natural Grocer, and other stores.
Since we were settled at Riverbend for a few days I contacted Borg, the valve stem manufacturer, to see about getting a replacement. They were incredibly nice about it! I sent them a photo of the valve stem stump and they FedExed me two replacements, one for the missing stem and one just in case it happened again (spoiler alert; it did!). The replacement stems arrived Thursday afternoon and Friday morning we had the new stem installed and with the return of warm sunny weather it was time to hit the road again. This time toward the San Juan Mountains newly covered in snow.
Neither of us can believe how fast things changed from a fun day of sand sledding to being broken down and fleeing a winter storm to discovering wonderful new people and places. But, we’re learning that this is what full time RV life is. It will test you and reward you and test you again. The only thing you can do is keep your sense of humor and in the darkest moments and celebrate the good times. Like the first sight of beautiful snow covered mountains.
Where We Ate:
Since we were on vacation the week after Labor Day and the weather was fairly bleak we decided to find a different restaurant for lunch each day. These are the places we tried.
Camp Robber: This very nice casual restaurant has been in business since 1994. It’s unusual name is the name given to the Canadian Gray Jay because the birds have a habit of swooping in and stealing food from campsites. The staff was friendly and the food was very good. We started with Green Chile Chicken Potato soup, then I had Green Chile Pistachio Crusted Pork Medallions. A favorite dish that has stayed on their menu since they opened. It was a nice treat on a cold rainy day.
Himalayan Pun Hill Kitchen: This unassuming restaurant occupies a small building tucked between a liquor store and an auto parts store north of downtown. But, inside you are a world away. There is an extensive menu of Nepali and Indian dishes so we took time to study it before making our choices. Portions were generous so we ended up taking home half of what we ordered.