Tuesday, July 3, 2012


As you may have noticed, I haven't posted on here in a while, and there's good reason for it. We now have our brand new online magazine up and running - The Lemonade Digest! We have articles on topics such as ATVs and dirt bikes, camping and RVs, hiking and kayaking, cooking and crafts, and much much more. You'll also find TLDTV, our own "TV station" with exciting videos about places we've visited across America. Also be sure to follow us on Pinterest, subscribe on YouTube, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. There's plenty to watch, read, and enjoy, so click on the logo below to begin!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mesa Verde and the San Juan National Forest

Picture a thick aspen forest, with the leaves all bright yellow and golden, and the trunks completely white. Now add beautiful snow-capped mountains in the background, with green, brown, gold, and yellow colored treetops all blending together on the slopes. The weather is perfect – clear blue sky and a temperature around 70. Now, to top it all off, imagine you’re riding through this aspen forest looking at all the scenery, and enjoying the perfect weather.
If you can picture all this, you’ll have a basic idea of our trip to southern Colorado’s San Juan National Forest!
But before I tell you all about the ride, let me give you a less dramatic description of this incredible area…

The San Juan National Forest is located just north of Mesa Verde National Park, in the southwest part of Colorado. It’s exactly 1,878,846 acres in size, reaches into 10 different counties, and covers almost 3000 square miles! Roads and trails vary from amazing, to more amazing, to most amazing. Elevation (in the area we rode in near Mancos) ranged from about 7600 feet to almost 10,000 feet.
Nearby towns are Cortez and Mancos – Cortez being the big one with all the stores, and Mancos being the little tourist type town just a few miles down the mountain from the San Juan National Forest.

We ended up deciding to stay at the San Juan Bible Camp, located north of Mancos at the edge of the San Juan National Forest. It was a perfect location – right at a crossroads of forest roads that zigzag all across the landscape, with an maze of trails connecting them. My dad and I also enjoyed helping out the camp manager with cleanup from some logging that was going on. It worked out good on both ends – the manager got help with some stuff that needed to be done, in exchange for a free campsite for us during our stay.

We started small with our rides – only going 15 or 20 minutes away from the camp. Even within that distance we were able to ride to two small lakes, an ancient Indian cliff dwelling, and beautiful spots to see the mountains. At that elevation (7600 feet), though, there aren’t hardly any aspen. The forest roads are mostly lined  with ponderosa pine and some sparse oaks. Once we began venturing farther and farther away, and into higher elevation, the landscape and scenery changed drastically.
On my birthday we went for our first long exploration deep into the National Forest. I felt like a traitor leaving my Honda 250EX behind, but just for the day, I drove everyone around in my parents’ new Kawasaki Mule 4010. After riding for about 30 minutes, we finally got up into the edge of the aspen forests, and it sure was pretty! I think we probably ended up doing more hiking around that day than we did riding. There were three places I pulled over at, and each one seemed more amazing than the last. We rode about 45 minutes one way, not including the almost two hours we spent between the three places we stopped, before turning around and heading back.

The Indian cliff dwelling was somewhere we rode to a couple times, and it was equally as interesting each visit. The only thing really visible from the road is what looks like a small rock wall. After hiking over to look at it, we found the remains of some kind of structure on top of a rock ledge (about 15 feet tall). Further down the rock face there’s a small cave, and that’s where we found the actual “cliff dwelling”. Unlike the ones at Mesa Verde National Park, which we visited twice, this one only looked big enough for one family, and was completely in ruins. Next to the piles of rubble, there are two small drawings on the side of the cave that looked similar to some at Mesa Verde. Of course, alongside them were more recent, less Indian-like, writings such as “ANGELA WAS HERE 1987”, or something like that. We were very careful the whole time not to disturb anything or add our own “artifacts” to the area. All of us should try to help preserve any remote historical site we may find on public land. Just because there isn’t a park ranger looking over our shoulder doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want out there!

Riding about an hour up to around 9000 feet elevation, we finally got into the beautiful forests of aspen trees I was describing at the beginning of this. There were literally areas where the woods were solid white and golden yellow  (the aspen trunks are white and the leaves are yellowish gold in the Fall) – no pine or oak trees at all. At certain places up on the a ridge we could see through the trees and look at the snow-covered San Juan Mountains. Up in this area the road started getting rougher. At a couple spots it was only one lane, and with the sharp corners we had to be careful of other people that might’ve been exploring as well. We stopped at several meadows to hike around and take pictures, but usually didn’t stay long so we could see what was just around the next corner, or just over that next ridge.
Finally we came to the well known Transfer Campground and the Aspen Guard Station, way out in the middle of nowhere. At the Aspen Guard Station were several RVs that apparently the rangers stay in. If I worked for the forest service, this is somewhere I’d definitely want to be stationed at – way up in the mountains, surrounded by big pine and aspen trees, and miles away from the nearest town or paved road!

Something I’m not used to, being from southern Missouri, is all the free-range cattle roaming around the National Forest. In Missouri, it’s not very common to see anything but wildlife out there, while in Colorado I’ve found it’s very common to see big herds of cows on almost every ride. Most of them seem to be used to off-road vehicles, but occasionally there’d be one that apparently didn’t like us riding past. Bears and mountain lions are something to be careful of in this area – both have been seen in or around the camp where we stayed.
Another creature we encountered during our ride were hornets. We found two of their cone shaped nests while on our way through a thick patch of woods on a trail connecting two forest roads.

Once hunting season started, that ended any riding for several days. The San Juan National Forest, at least the part we saw, was full of deer! If you enjoy riding AND hunting at the same time, then this might just be a perfect place for you to come visit.
Once hunting season ended we went for one last ride before it was time to load up and head out. Day by day, Winter seemed to slowly be creeping in, and Fall ending. With one last longing look at the snow-covered mountains, golden aspen trees, and green valleys, we left the camp and headed back east.
Actually, as I’m typing this, we’re driving through miles and miles of flat road, cactus, and scrubby cedar trees – Colorado’s less appealing far eastern part. But, before I’m fully reminded of how much I can’t stand the desert and flat plains, we’ll be back to the forest again, somewhere on the other side of Kansas.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Riding in the Rio Grande National Forest

We were between 10,000-11,000 feet elevation, so the rain was ice cold and the temperature was dropping as the last rays of sunlight were disappearing behind the mountains.
We had already rode about 60 miles in beautiful weather and were only several miles from camp, but apparently nature didn’t want us to get off easy this time! Monsoon season was in full swing, so random showers and thunderstorms could be expected almost every day. Water was coming down so hard and fast that soon the mud puddles filled, then overflowed, and then started running down the trail in little streams.
We were soaked to the bone, I could barely move my fingers, the trail was slippery, and flashes of lightning could be seen occasionally – but, if you can believe it, there’s nowhere else I would’ve rather been!

If you’re ever wandering around the San Juan Valley in southern Colorado with a trailer of off-road vehicles looking for a good place to ride, look no further than South Fork and the Rio Grande National Forest. This little patch of off-road paradise is where we spent almost five weeks this Summer. Now, “little” isn’t really accurate, though, as the Rio Grande National Forest is nearly two-million acres! Forest roads and trails almost cover a NFS map of this area, and nearly all of them are open to OHVs. Theoretically, according to a local, someone could ride from South Fork, CO, all the way down into New Mexico by staying on the almost countless forest roads and trails!

We picked the Ute Bluff Lodge, on Hwy 160 a couple miles out of town, to stay at while we were there. Amenities include a laundromat, hotel rooms, cabins, RV sites with full hookups, a rec. room, hiking trail, and a tipi to go relax in. It also has very close National Forest access on both sides of Hwy 160, the closest is within about a mile. And once you get into the Rio Grande National Forest, you won’t need to worry about having to turn around any time soon – the network of trails and forest roads is MASSIVE, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen! A map is definitely a “must have” item, and can obtained at the visitor center in town.

We kind of stuck to one area during our rides, but expanded the list of new trails we tried almost every time. The trails and roads south of town (which are the ones we stayed on) range from about 8100 feet elevation, to over 11,600 feet! And they go from easy roads that a car could drive on, to tight rocky trails that wind up and down steep slopes, and everything in between.
Starting out near the trailhead, at 8100 feet, in about 30-45 minutes we could be up around 11,200 feet near the base of Del Norte Peak (which is over 12,000 feet at the summit). Up there is a nearly panoramic view of the San Juan Valley, Rio Grande National Forest, South Fork down below, and Great Sand Dunes National Park in the distance.

I found out quickly that the weather can change really fast up there on the mountains, and even more so during the rainy season, which we caught in full force. It might be sunny and 75 degrees when we left for a ride, but then two hours later be raining hard and near 60 degrees. I discovered that wearing layers is a must if you’re going to enjoy riding in the mountains!

While we were there my aunt and uncle from Denver came down to visit again, and my uncle of course brought his Kawasaki KDX250. They only had one full day with us, so the main agenda was a long ride up into the mountains for the day! My uncle and I left after breakfast and headed up a familiar road (345) that I’d already been on several times. The weather was perfect, with the sun shining and the sky just slightly overcast. We stopped at a big beaver dam holding back a creek alongside the road to walk around some and wait for my dad, who had to do a few things back at the camper, to catch up. After he caught up and we kept going, the road (350) took on more “trail-like” characteristics – getting narrower, steeper, and rockier. We finally came up onto the top of the mountains (at about 11,300 feet), and had to stop and decide which way to go next! We ended up riding on a big loop (898, 345, and 350.2 B) all the way around Del Norte Peak, before taking an EXTREMELY rocky trail (898) back down the side of the mountain to Beaver Creek Reservoir, where we rode around and peered down into the ravine on the other side of the dam.

Next, we continued on up the valley, and back up to higher elevation. It was a drastic change of terrain, as we were now riding on a smooth forest road (360) winding its way up the valley. There were lots of tight corners, so going fast is NOT an option, unless you’d like to end up over the edge! We kept going for a long ways before finally veering to the right onto a road (360) that led to Poage Lake. The lake didn’t look more than 10 acres or so in size, but is at the base of a huge cliff face, which can actually be seen from miles and miles away as we found out later.

We then backtracked and got on the “main” road (332.1D) once again, then onto a trail (359), while slowly climbing higher and higher up the side of the mountain, as the trail that we were now on got steeper and steeper. Free-range cattle watched us intently as we rode by, trying to dodge the little “cow patties” they had left for us. My dad, who has a lead thumb and can’t keep his Suzuki LTZ-400 lower than fourth gear, had a very hard time dodging the “cow patties” going as fast as he was, and ended up having to wash it all off his fenders later!

At last, we crested the top of the mountain, at 11,630 feet, and stopped to take a look around. There was an almost 360 degree view of the landscape around us – looking west back down into the valley where Beaver Creek Reservoir is, looking south across into the mountains where Poage Lake is, back north over towards Del Norte Peak, and east across the mountain tops that we were level with into unexplored territory (at least by us). The view was stunning, and we took 10 or 15 minutes to really soak it all in and get plenty of pictures. Then, the lightning striking the mountains east of us caught our attention, and we figured it was time to head back down into the valley.

As we began our descent (on 350), we were also riding right into a rainstorm! But we knew it could last for hours, and besides, the campground was only about a 30 minute ride away if. This is what I was describing at the very beginning of this article – we were quickly drenched with cold rain, the trail became slippery, and it started getting cold (something I, unfortunately, was not dressed properly for). We kept pressing on, but taking it slow to avoid losing traction and sliding off the trail. My uncle had to be especially careful, with only having two wheels under him instead of four!
I had already quit trying to stay out of the mud a LONG time before this, so by now I was almost totally covered in a layer of dirt and mud, along with my Honda 250EX as well. Several times the puddles were deeper than I thought, and mud splashed all the way up over the top of my head, which also helped complete the head-to-toe mud bath I got.  I had to take off my goggles not long after it started raining, because I could barely see through the mud and water that continued to splash all over them. Maybe this sounds miserable, but for us it was a blast, and we never even thought about turning back!

At last, we got down off of the mountain, and back to the trailhead. By then the rain had stopped, although we were still soaked. We got back to the camper, my uncle went back to his hotel room (on the camp), and it didn’t take long for us all to get cleaned up and in some dry clothes! Thankfully, my mom and aunt had a spaghetti dinner waiting for us, and between bites we told them about our adventure up on the mountains and unveiled some of the beautiful pictures we’d taken.
Although we didn’t keep track the entire way, a pretty accurate figure is that we rode between 60 and 70 miles that day! I think it’s the most any of us have ridden at one time, and it was one of the most fun rides I’ve ever done.

I have dozens of other stories I could tell, about all the dozens of other rides we went on during our nearly six week stay in South Fork, but this was one of the highlights and definitely the biggest ride we did!
If you ever get the opportunity, please visit South Fork and go riding in the Rio Grande National Forest. You won’t be disappointed…

If you have any questions about riding in the South Fork area, please leave a comment and I’ll answer as best I can. After riding at least every couple days for the month that we were there, I got the know the trails pretty well!
Or if you’ve ever been there, leave a comment and let me know what you thought of it and your experience riding in the Rio Grande National Forest.