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Adventures Of The Boondocking Photographer: Colorado Springs

I recently became an empty nester and was looking for a change in my life that would maximize my time left on this great planet. So I sold my house, bought a Ford F-350, an Arctic Fox 990 truck camper, and hit the road. This is the story of my adventures with travel, photography, and RV tips designed around living the boondocker lifestyle.

Colorado Springs

The focus of this boondocking adventure is things to do within 50 miles of Colorado Springs, CO. My last two blogs have been about areas that are remote and many miles from large cities. However, there are plenty of boondocking adventures to be had in and around large cities. Colorado Springs has a lot to offer in the city and is close to the mountain fun Colorado is famous for providing.

RV Tips

Boondocking around metropolitan areas in regards to finding a place to camp on the cheap can be challenging. Most of the usual places a boondocker can camp are restricted by city ordinances because of population issues.

Generally speaking rest areas, truck stops, and Walmart parking lots are fair game for camping, however the two Walmart parking lots I checked out had signs stating, “No Camping”. My understanding from chatting with fellow boondockers is that Walmart loves campers in their parking lots, but the city has ordinances prohibiting camping.

I did however, roll the dice one night and camped in a remote section of a Walmart parking lot and had no issues. I did not find out what the repercussions of getting busted in the parking lot would be, but I can’t think the crime would warrant more than a tap on the camper and warning to move or at the very most a small fine. One nice thing about Walmart is that they do have an RV section in the store for hard to find boondocking supplies like RV toilet paper, toilet pods, or grey water, tank refresher.

There were a lot of RV campgrounds on the west side of Colorado Springs on Highway 24 as well as a lot of National Forest campgrounds in the mountains west of Colorado Springs. However, the National Forest campgrounds were all closed when I visited the area in February. Generally speaking the Colorado State Parks were open.

As a native of Montana I was shocked to see most of the Pike National Forest areas I visited were peppered with no camping signs. In Montana a camper is free to camp in most National Forest lands for up to two weeks without moving. I am assuming Pike National Forest restricts random camping because of the close proximity to Colorado Springs with a large population base.

I was able to find a Pike National Forest area west of Lake George, Colorado on Highway 92 that did offer a large piece of forested land with multiple camping areas with no signs restricting camping. To find areas like this to camp a boondocker must dig out their topo maps and find National Forest lands and roads away from established campgrounds or populated areas.

Boondocking on the cheap in or around metropolitan areas will require map skills and some searching. If all else fails a boondocker can always stay at an RV park or Colorado State Park. It may cost around $30 dollars to camp at these sites, but the availability of dump stations and water spigots may make a $30 camping fee worth the expense every so often.

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Photography Tips

Taking photos in winter conditions with changing weather can be challenging. A photographer needs to protect their gear, but have it accessible at all times.

I wrote an article about using a plastic, grocery bag as a camera protector. That article is accessible by clicking here: http://thethrillsociety.com/plastic-bags-dont-leave-home-without-one/

The main point of that article is that a photographer should always keep a couple of plastic, grocery bags in their backpack for rainy or snowy conditions. If a photographer really wants to get fancy they can pack a couple rubber bands to secure the plastic bag to their lens or tripod. Sure there are products out their to cover a camera, but you can’t beat the price of a plastic, grocery bag.

A photographer will need to be able to manipulate the controls of their camera. This is very hard to do with heavy gloves. I really like thin, tight fitting gloves with rubber on the fingertips for gripping.

At some point a photographer will have to take their gloves off to get to the exact control they need and should have a free pants or jacket pocket readily available to receive their gloves. A person doesn’t want to accidently drop their gloves and get them dirty or wet in the panic of grabbing for the camera controls when Bigfoot steps out of the woods.

Be sure to carry a small, lens cleaning kit with a couple of small, cleaning cloths in your backpack. If you are faced with a light rain or snow showers you may have to clean your lens frequently and will need your cleaning clothes at the ready. A camera can take some moisture, but if it is really raining hard you may want to forgo clicking before you cause permanent damage to your equipment.

Watch your steps very carefully when shooting in winter conditions. The last thing you want to do is slip on an icy or wet surface and drop your camera. Your camera hitting the deck could be the end of your shooting day, weeks of camera use lose while it is getting repaired, and lots of cash.

To combat slippery conditions I recommend the use of spiked rubbers to put on the bottom of your boots. I don’t like the coiled, metal rubbers. On icy surfaces the coiled, metal rubbers can become very treacherous by not digging into the ice. Be sure to check your rubbers occasionally to make sure you still have spiked protection. Rubbers do have a tendency to slip off.

To stay in the field in winter conditions be sure to have the proper clothing. The bottom line is that if you get cold you will probably not stay in the field. Good, warm, waterproof boots are a must. Top your boots off with a warm jacket, silk undergarments, a waterproof hat, and comfortable, warm pants.

Winter shooting can be very rewarding. However, to get the great shots you must first be able to protect yourself and your gear from the conditions to stay in the field long enough to get the great shots.

Travel Tips

Colorado Springs is a very, cool city that is home to the Air Force Academy, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), and the United States Olympic Training Center. All three of these unique attractions offer tours.

Colorado Springs is also right at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Pikes Peak (14,115 ft), and a gateway to high altitude fun. Listed below are just a few of the must see destinations in the Colorado Springs area.

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods is located in the northwest part of Colorado Springs, literally right in town and at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. This park is filled with amazing views of red rock monoliths and nearby Pike’s Peak. The park has a visitor’s center, a vast labyrinth of hiking trails, and cafes. You can’t camp at in the park, but the park is free and must visit if you are in the area.

For more information check out: https://www.gardenofgods.com/

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is located 37 miles west of Colorado Springs on Highway 24 near the town of Florissant, Colorado. There is no camping in the National Monument, but there are a bunch of hiking trails, a great visitor center, and stumps of petrified, giant, red wood trees.

For more information check out: https://www.nps.gov/flfo/index.htm

Mueller State Park And Surrounding Area

Mueller State Park is located 28 miles west of Colorado Springs on Highway 24 near Divide, Colorado. This park has a lot of campsites, hiking trails, and great views. Campsites can offer electrical hookups or no services. The campground sites on top of ridge and many of the sites offer great views of the backside of Pike’s Peak or the surrounding mountains. Mueller State Park is open year around.

Across the road from the entrance to Mueller State Park is the access road to The Crags Campground and trailheads. The campground is not open in the winter months and does not offer any services except pit bathrooms, fire pit, and picnic tables.

The campground is a short walk from a popular trailhead that offers a couple different hikes. The area is beautiful and offers rugged, rock views, and alpine vistas.

For more information about Mueller State Park check out:

http://cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/Mueller

For more information about The Crags Campground and surrounding area check out:

https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/psicc/recarea/?recid=12623

The National Museum of World War II Aviation

The National Museum of World War II Aviation is located at the Colorado Springs airport and is filled with WWII era airplanes, memorabilia, and an aircraft restoration shop. There were several retired pilots on hand to answer questions and provide tours when I visited this awesome museum.

For more information check out: http://www.worldwariiaviation.org/

Cave Of The Winds

Cave of the Winds is located on the west edge of Colorado Springs on Highway 24. The drive off the highway to the cave is very steep and windy so be sure your boondocking vehicle has great brakes and the power to make the ascent.

Cave of the Winds is a pretty cool cave if you have never visited a cave before. The cave is not very colorful or filled with formations that make other caves like Lehman Caves in Great Basin National Park or Jewel Cave in South Dakota stand out. However, if you have never been in a cave, this destination is worth your time. Cave of the Winds offers several different types of tours such as a lantern tour or a Caving 101 tour that can spice up your spelunking adventure.

For more information check out:

http://caveofthewinds.com/tours-and-attractions/

Conclusion

When you are thinking boondocking consider metropolitan areas as well as remote areas for your adventures. Colorado Springs offers a lot of fun for the boondocker at a reasonable price. With the mix of museums, tours, and natural wonders Colorado Springs and the surrounding area offers must see destinations.

Please remember to always boondock without a trace! 

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