South San Juan Wilderness – Trail Magic!

Painting on canvas at Audrey’s camp site. Both the kids and adults were participating. I thought this was a great idea for a weekend camping trip!

Before I post my trip report, I want to post about the day before I started my hike. I was going to cover this in the trip report, but once I started typing it up I realized it would be enough for its own post.

I have been listening to a lot of podcasts about thru hiking over the last few months, and one of the topics often discussed is trail magic, which is someone (referred to as a trail angel) helping out thru hikers in some manner (giving a ride, providing food, etc.). There is also a phrase often referenced among thru hikers: the trail provides. Although my San Juan Wilderness trip wasn’t a thru hike, I got a taste of both of these on the day I drove up to Colorado. To give a little bit of background, I’ll start when I got to Dalhart, TX.

When I got to Dalhart, TX I decided to stop for gas and lunch. I stopped at a gas station, and the first pump I tried seemed to freeze after swiping my card. After a couple minutes it went back to the original screen and I decided to try another pump. That second pump had the same problem, so I decided to move on to another gas station. Just past this first gas station there had just been a wreck, which caused a little bit of a delay in getting to a second gas station.

At the second gas station, I pulled up to a pump, and after getting out of the car, realized that someone had apparently spilled some gasoline on the ground. I didn’t really think much of it. I ran my card, pulled the handle out to put it in my car, and at that point realized that the handle leaked. So I put it back, cancelled the transaction, and moved to a second pump. I finally got my car filled up at this pump. After my car was filled up, I went to use the restroom in the McDonalds that was part of the gas station, only to find out that it was doing drive thru service only and I couldn’t access the bathroom. At this point, I decided to go ahead and eat my lunch that I had brought. The line for the drive thru was blocking the parking spots in the shade, so I had to wait a couple minutes for that to die down before I could park in a spot to each lunch. After eating lunch, I hopped back in the car, stopped at a third gas station to use the restroom, and then finally left town. I was quite glad to finally get out of that town.

Then came finding a camp spot for the night, which turned out to be a similar experience. I had hoped to get a spot at the Elk Creek campground, since it was closest to the trailhead I was using. I drove through the campground, and the only open spots were the overflow spots, which I didn’t think were worth the $26 fee. The host told me about a meadow up the road that had dispersed camping, but I decided to try a couple other campgrounds down a different road. Based on how much stuff was down this road, I figured it had to be a decent road. It turned out to be much rougher than I thought. Haha. It was passible with my sedan, but quite rough, and I had to take it slow.

I eventually made it to another campground. I drove around and settled on a spot. As I was backing in, despite having a rear view camera, I managed to back into a large rock. Thankfully it was slow enough it didn’t do much damage, but I was still quite frustrated with myself. I went to go fill out the fee card, and realized when I got there I didn’t get my license plate number, so I had to go back to my camp spot. As I was filling out the card at my camp spot, someone turned on some loud music. I didn’t feel like listening to loud music for the rest of the evening, so I hopped in my car and decided to try the next campground just down the road.

I drove through this third campground and decided on a spot. When I stopped and got out of the car, I realized the person camped across the road had a generator running. I didn’t feel like listening to that either, so I went and found a second spot, which ended up being the spot I stuck with. I was quite glad to finally have a spot. I ate dinner, got camp set up, and got stuff ready for the backpacking trip. After that was finished I did some reading.

As I was reading , one of the people camped next to me (Audrey) brought me a plate of homemade tacos and sides, and invited me to come eat with her and (if I remember correctly) her daughter and grandchildren. It turned out there was a group of about 20 immediate and extended family members camped at that campground for the weekend, and I slowly met the family as different groups came over. Another group brought some goulash over, so I had some of that also. I was quite full at that point. Haha. We stayed at their site for a while and chatted. I got asked a lot of questions about my trip. After a while they all went over to a different camp spot for a campfire and s’mores, and invited me go join them, which I was happy to oblige.

As we were walking back to our camp spots afterwards, one of the grandchildren handed me a small stick on which he had sharpened one end. I kept that with me throughout my trip as my lucky stick. It was a great experience after a long day, and a great reminder that there are still great people out there. Audrey, if you read this, a huge thank you to you. On one of the podcasts I listened to at some point, someone made the comment along the lines that the best trail angels are the ones who don’t realize they are trail angels. I’m pretty sure that was the case here. Haha. It was great getting to talk to the kids about my trip. There were a couple of them who seemed quite interested in backpacking, so hopefully I was able to give them a positive experience with a backpacker, and maybe plant a seed that will eventually grow into them at least giving it a try.

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