Dispersed Camping – Winter Park Private Pond

(This is now private, so don’t try to find this spot) The summer days were perfectly warm as Mary Helen and I sat in our cozy back yard one evening sipping cold beers listening to the exciting sounds of the city. Ambulance sirens, dogs barking, and the occasional gunshot. Suddenly it dawned on us that these warm peaceful days were, in fact, numbered. It was still plenty hot in Denver, but we’d started to notice the decorations in Target were changing to a fall theme. That made us panic a little realizing the short summer was almost gone and there would be five months of cold, unfriendly to camping weather quickly following it.

Kids ready to get the hell out of the car.

The next day we dumped the dogs into their tiny nook in the back of the Durango, strapped down the girls and hopped on I-70 West. This is always the most exciting part of the trip for me. Watching the smelly Purina plant fade in the rear view as the engine roars our caravan to higher, cleaner elevations, and hopefully to a great camp site. The anticipation, like Mary Helen says, is the best part.

If I had to pick a spot to disappear, this might be it.

Although I had looked at the DeLorme Atlas & Gazeteer off and on that week, I was indecisive as usual as to exactly where we should even look in this vast wilderness. We had a few great spots in our back pockets but I took a right towards Winter Park on a whim hoping my risk would pay off. I recalled camping with nephew HJ and then Mary Helen in this area years ago before kids and beetle kill. There was a campsite we had seen that I couldn’t shake from my memory as nothing short of incredible. I had no idea where it was and my memory has become less than dependable.

When we topped Berthoud Pass and gazed at the giant mountains all around us and the deep valley below there was a little more excitement in the car. Even Charlie our lazy Miniature Schnauzer had woken up. The views alone would have excited us but the moose crossing sign was the icing on the cake. As we wound down the walls of the mountain we were all rubber necking hoping for a lucky glance of this once elusive creature. Lo and behold a mature black bull moose was wading belly-deep in a beaver pond, moss and water dripping from his jaws, just off the highway. We only saw him for an instant as we continued towards our unknown destination and the pine trees consumed the view. There were people pulled over taking pictures of the beast but I elected to keep driving in fear that the good spots could be taken by the time we found them.

I took a right on a familiar Forest Access road and we headed higher into the forest. This time around things look totally different from what I had remembered of our past trips to this area, not just due to my crappy memory. Acres and acres of forest of been ravaged by beetle kill and large swaths of ancient forest had been cut down and hauled off or burned in house-sized piles. It was now a scarred land. We eventually came to a fork in the road that went three ways. Always a tough decision because a wrong turn could lead to an hour of wasted searching which Mary Helen and I knew all too well. We decided to go straight. Why the hell not? We sped past a small rutted road that lead into the forest and I slammed on the brakes. I threw it into reverse hearing the dogs smash into the camping boxes.

Just as my pot-stunted memory had imagined it.

We climbed onto the rough two-track road and both strained our necks trying to see around the next bend hoping for a flat spot or anything that looked suitable, or better yet amazing. We jostled the car through potholes for about a mile until we saw an obvious dead end ahead. There was a makeshift fence in front of us constructed of beetle kill pine logs and I hoped that whatever was up there was going to have some promise or at least be wide enough to turn around. As we crept into the clearing, there it was. THE campsite. Just as I had remembered it. Clear pond, running stream, trout, footbridge, total seclusion. And better yet, vacant. I couldn’t believe it.

The tepee in the forest.

I awoke the next morning with the twilight, started the coffee, and threw everything I had in my fly box at those stubborn trout who were obviously stupid or fasting. Disgusted and confused I poured myself some coffee in a Best Made cup and started the sausage.

Just next to the campsite is a trail that is used by hikers and mountain bikers so we spent some time wandering. On our walk we ran across several ancient log cabin ruins. They’d been picked over for artifacts by a thousand hikers and bikers and forest service people, but the foundations and walls were there, slowly returning to the earth. We pondered on why were there, scattered about the forest. Maybe they were an old homestead or a small logging company a very long time ago. Either way it ended up being a good place for Phyllis to pop a squat.

The next morning, I slept a little later and got up when Pearl started wiggling around too much. Breakfast was served and we lazily packed and piddled around in no hurry to get back to the city. I walked past the pond with every load, casting here and there, wondering what I was doing wrong. In between loading gear and not wanting to leave, I grabbed my fly rod one last time and tied on a tiny black zebra midge and chunked it out toward the school of probably starving fish. I let it sink to their level and started retrieving it slowly. A second later I had a little greenback cutthroat in my hand snapping a picture for proof. Mary Helen could no longer give me shit for not catching anything, and that’s what it’s all about.

Directions: From Denver, take the exit off I-170 towards Winter Park and Granby on Hwy 40. Enjoy the climb over Berthoud Pass. Take the first road after Midland Campground. Forest Road 128. Pass by all the new houses on your left. The road turns in to 81 on the map then back into 128. There is a very indiscreet road on the right as you head back east past the “T” in the road. See map below. It’s the tepee on the right, not the left. That’s the Cemetery Campground. Follow this tiny road all the way back to the dead end. You’ll have to hike your stuff in about 30 yards across a little bridge. Worth it.

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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