Cherry Creek State Park, Aurora, CO
April 14 - 16, 2015
A blustery day
Our travel from Wilson State Park near Sylvan Grove, KS, and Aurora, CO, was punctuated by very strong winds throughout the day. Towing Rocinante, who is normally pretty much immune to crosswinds due to her low profile and aerodynamic design, was a bit more of a challenge this day. We finally realized just how strong the winds were when we looked at our average gas mileage. All day, our truck had been slurping down gasoline at an epic rate, dropping our lifetime average MPG well below 9. It normally hangs out around 11 or so, which is still bad for a normal vehicle but not bad for pulling an extra 6,500 pounds.
Then, when I-70 took a turn to the north as we approached Denver, our dash said the instant MPG was 25 - on a flat road - and it stayed that way until we turned west again. That is completely unheard-of, and speaks to the strength of those winds.
We decided to stay at Cherry Creek State Park because it has good reviews (well deserved, BTW) and because I camped there with my family for several weeks when my brother and I were kids. Dad, an NCO in the Air Force, had been temporarily assigned to Buckley Air Force Base for electronics training. Our parents didn't want to move the family for a short-term assignment, so we spent the summer camping in the general area. It was a great season of tent camping, and Cherry Creek was one of our favorites.
By the time we arrived at Cherry Creek, the weather had turned...interesting, to say the least. Little did we know, it was a foreshadowing of things to come.
We saw lots of deer at the campground, which was kinda cute. Unfortunately, lots of deer also means there's a potential for ticks. Sure enough, one of us was tackled by ticks while we rode our bikes around the park. We sent a couple of ticks to the County Extension Agent in Ft. Collins. They told us one was a Rocky Mountain tick and the other was a Lone Star tick. The first is a carrier of both Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Human Granulocytic Ehrlichosis. Eww. Yep, nasty stuff.
Our victim developed a rash around the bite within 48 hours after the tick was removed and had to take antibiotic treatment for two weeks. It was very handy to have a pair of tweezers and a small container of alcohol based hand sanitizer in our first aid kit. The small hand sanitizer bottle, which killed and preserved the tick, was a good way to ship it off for identification.
Is Winter Coming?
The next morning dawned sunny and bright, and temperatures again climbed quickly to a comfortable level - in the low 60's. However, as we tuned in to look at the weather forecasts, thinking about our planned journey for the day, we had to re-assess.
The forecast called for rough weather all across the Rockies. There were dust storms in Salt Lake City, and winds from there to the east, on both I-70 and I-80. Even worse than what we had driven through the day before. Following those winds were warnings of serious quantities of snow, expected to blanket both highways.
So, despite the locally pleasant weather, we decided to take the forecasting folks at their word and stay put for another day. After all, total accumulations were expected to be 3" at worst, despite the blizzard-force winds. We spent the day goofing off and riding our bikes enjoying day and waiting for the alleged snowstorm to blow over. After all, we'd not towed Rocinante through the snow before, and we didn't want to take unnecessary chances.
Seriously, dude. Winter. Coming.
Later Wednesday evening, things took a marked turn for the worse as we finished our ride. Our last couple of miles across the park followed the main road, which runs along the highest ridge toward the campground on the east side of the reservoir. The winds came up with a vengeance, bringing rapidly dropping temperatures as we struggled to get back to Rocinante. We had left one of our smaller awnings out to keep things cool for Skipper inside, and now all we could think of was that awning ripped off and flapping away in the chill winds.
We finally made it back, and were fortunate enough to find the awning in good shape. So, we quickly furled the awning to keep it safe from the coming storm, put away the bikes, and retired inside. We were happy to be camped far enough away from any trees that none would likely fall on us.
Thursday morning, we awoke to a couple of inches of snow. No worries, we thought. The forecasters are calling for all that stuff to turn into rain by 9:00, so we'll be out of here in no time. It was still snowing by 9:00, 10:00 and then 11:00. So, we slogged over to the office and extended our reservation one more day. We had to leave on Friday, even with snow, because the park was full for the weekend. Something about a walleye fishing tournament with actual prize money. We weren't too worried, though. Despite the slight delay in the weather change, the roads were looking clear and we believed the forecasters. That belief would prove to be a mistake.
By this time, we began to look more at road condition reports instead of watching the forecasts. We figured that even if forecasters couldn't tell us what would happen next, at least road reports could tell us with some accuracy what's happening right now. Every forecast we heard had been wrong to some degree, especially regarding timing and severity of this storm. It was just sitting and spinning over Denver and Cheyenne.
Here are two road condition resources we began to reference:
* Colorado road conditions - which you can see in the picture here. Those blue and red roads? Not good!
* Wyoming road conditions - for which I-80 had now turned red in many places, indicating closures for serious winter conditions and winter emergencies, especially between Cheyenne and Laramie, WY.
About this time, we began feeling well and truly stuck in Denver. Snow everywhere, I-80 was now officially a disaster, and I-70 was trending poorly. We could detour to the south (Santa Fe, Flagstaff, Vegas, etc.), adding another 1,000+ miles to our trip home, but now the road condition reports to the south of us indicated that snow was falling down there as well, sometimes more heavily than right here in Denver.
Given we had to go somewhere because our campground would allegedly be full of fishermen, we made plans to move to a campground in Golden on Friday despite the snow.
It began to seem we might have to spend a week in Denver before the Interstates would clear enough to resume our westbound journey. Not good, because we had things to do back in the PNW and needed to get home.
What would we do? Would we get home in time? Would we strap skis onto Rocinante and go for it? Tune into our next blog post to find out.