Dispersed Camping – French Creek

You wanna know how to blow $1,000 bucks real quick like? Start a campfire during a Stage II Fire Ban in the Arapaho/Roosevelt National Forests, that’s how.

Unauthorized flame.

Colorado. As I sometimes like to point out in the right company, the Colorado Rocky Mountains were once considered the northern portion of Texas. I sometimes have a hard time abiding by the rules being from such a wild state such as Texas. Laws there are a mere suggestions in some circumstances such as minor trespassing or poaching small game. After 80 combined years of breaking with societal conformance, Mary Helen and I figure we know the limits and how to stretch them.

Camp is Home.

Our story begins in 2018 during a dry year at a very high altitude forest west of the tiny town of Jefferson, Colorado. We drove the long dirt road past llama farms and beautifully sparse log homes until civilization was only a memory and the only people we saw were mountain bikers and fellow campers searching for that perfect spot to pretend to be homeless for the weekend. The location we found was one of the prettiest we’d ever seen. Huge mountain views, an emerald green meadow, and an ice cold mountain stream. The ranking on this site was going to be outstanding.

Not sure the names of these mountains, just glad we didn’t set them on fire. I wouldn’t fair well in prison.

We started a beautiful campfire. Peace at last. Sort of. This was also our first weekend of renting our house on AirBnB. With no service we were a little panicked. Hence we drove down the mountain to South Park a few times to check in with our renters.

French Creek and three ornery little girls.

The second day we hit Jefferson Lake a ways down the road. We let the wind blow us around the lake and we caught a few stocked Rainbows. There was snow everywhere up at the lake but the rafting was fun and the weather was perfect.

S’mores and flannel.

We got back to camp that evening and lit a fire to warm up. While we were settling in, a wind came up that made me a bit nervous. I began to douse the fire since we were about to turn in for the evening anyway. As soon as I had the fire out, I noticed headlights pulling up behind the pickup. I also noticed a Forest Service logo on the door. That’s when an image of the small sign along the highway leaped into my mind. ‘No Fires’ is what it said, if I remember correctly. A very muscled, very bald, very tattooed ranger met me immediately near the pickup door. I won’t make the story too long, but he asked me if we had a fire. Impossible to lie while smoke curled behind me in glow of the headlights, I said yes, but we had put it out. He told me that there was a fire ban and asked me if I knew what the fine was for having such a fire. I replied No, while trying to read the tattoo that ran from the back of one of his ears across his freshly shaved dome to the other. “This is gonna hurt,” he said flatly. “Yes sir, I understand.” The number 500 painfully went through my head. “It’s a thousand bucks,” he said. I almost threw up.

Jefferson Lake snow pile.

There went every bit of our first AirBnB money. Straight to helping firefighters fight fires started by unlawful Texas implants like ourselves no doubt. He said this was his back yard and that he had handed out four other tickets before getting to us. That didn’t really make me feel better and I don’t think he was trying to.

Addictive queso fundido.

After that incident we were a little, no, a lot defeated. We forced smiles for the camera and the girls didn’t really seem to care that we had just lost almost a month’s mortgage to a campfire. Being a kid is the best. Not a care in the world. After the shock wore off a little due to the brilliant stars, pristine landscape, and amazing queso fundido we forced ourselves have a good time and even taught the girls how to play cribbage. Everyone beat Dad as usual. Maybe I was a little distracted.

Directions: From Denver, drive 285 to Jefferson, CO. Turn right on Michigan Creek Road 35. Stay right onto 54 at the “Y” in the road. Take a left towards Michigan Creek Campground staying on 54. Stay on 54 and start looking for a spot. We had the best one, at the French Pass Trailhead. Check fire restrictions here.

Published by willbarch78

I grew up in the middle of nowhere Texas. The nearest Walmart was a full two hours away. My family still runs a ranch back home that I grew up on, but at some point in my treasured youth I hung up the idea of becoming a cowboy, and pursued my passion for architecture. Today I still find myself trying to fit in to a life that has treated me with the average ups and downs one can expect after a certain number of years. My wife and I moved to Denver after attending Texas Tech School of Architecture in Lubbock as we needed a grade change from the Llano Estacado. We camp with our three growing girls all summer and into the fall while I write and create and fly fish to maintain sanity. Life is moving fast as our careers and children progress in all areas, so being outdoors with each other keeps us mostly grounded.

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