Doors were not just simply shut. Doors were slammed shut in our faces. With the consequences of Covid, travel plans fell like dominoes, cascading down the calendar. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we had made plans well in advance for multiple trips. They were to begin in March 2020 with a vacation to Alaska to see the Northern Lights. As Pandemic news grew more foreboding, we grew more anxious. Did we want to fly to Alaska via a layover in Seattle where Covid was running amok? Days before we were to leave, the tour operator canceled. We rescheduled our flight and tour to 2021.
April was scheduled to take us to Texas, with an overnight stop at a campground in New Mexico. We were going to camp in our RV and rendezvous with my cousin at Big Bend National Park. The New Mexico campground turned off its vacancy sign for us because New Mexico closed its borders. Big Bend closed its gates. We were still at home.
May was to take us to the Needles district in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park over Memorial Day. Friends had invited us there to join them in a group site. Then we were going to camp at the Grand Canyon National Park with the group for a few days with reservations for the first few days of June. First Canyonlands closed, followed shortly by the Grand Canyon. Both then reopened camping for the second week of June. Existing reservations were honored. We didn’t have an existing reservation for that week, so that didn’t help us. Getting reservations for popular places like Canyonlands and the Grand Canyon was never easy. If you didn’t book a campsite for six months prior as soon as the parks allowed, it is likely that the campsite reservations would fill completely for the rest of the season within days. There were no campsites left at either place. Campers had already booked all the campsites months earlier for the second week of June and beyond.
We felt frustrated, cheated. We had come so close. As soon as we learned that due to the pandemic our reservations had been cancelled, we got reservations closer to home at our own local Hermit Park. This Larimer County Open Space, just outside of Estes Park, had once been owned by Hewlett Packard and was now available to the public. We found a campsite for the second week of June. We had camped there before many times, so we knew which spot we wanted and were excited to get it.
On Sunday, June 7th we pulled into Hermit Park at noon, which is check-in time there. We drove by campsite after campsite that was filled. Any other year, they would be half empty because many campers are there just for the weekend and leave at checkout, which is 11:00 a.m. at Hermit. We set up camp at our site and wondered how long it would be before the “others” would arrive at the few vacant sites left around us. Before the afternoon was over, a camper filled every spot. This wasn’t unusual. Campers driving from a long distance rarely get to a campground precisely at check-in time. They often arrive hours later.
Our closest neighbors were young people with children. They were friendly and did not wear masks. When they talked to us, they kept their distance. After two days, another friendly family replaced them. They did not wear masks either. We left the morning of the 4th day, went to the dump station where we waited for another camper to dump. The man with the camper did not wear a mask. We did not wear masks all the time either. It depended on the situation. Gathering at the dump station was one situation where campers could get physically close. You would want a mask. You would want others to wear one as well.
This was also true for hiking on trails where others were hiking and passed close to you. A hiker can avoid one or two other hikers on the trail simply by getting off the trail. When we hiked up to Kruger Rock at Hermit, we encountered a large tour group. We had masks with us. The density of hikers on that trail is usually low. We not only got off the trail, we waited for them to pass, hike the rest of the way to the rock and come back down. There is not room on the rock for a large group to “socially distance.” What we neglected to calculate in our hike was that Hermit Park is not just a campground. It is Open Space and the public can visit for an entry fee and not camp. Rocky Mountain National Park, which is 30 minutes away, was on a timed entry with limited reservations. Anywhere close to the park where you could hike was getting hikers that would have hiked in RMNP.
Camping at Hermit Park whet our appetite for further adventures in Colorado. We wanted to get away to the Western slope. In 2019, we had camped at Pearl Lake State Park, in Routt County, close to the town of Hahn’s Peak. This year other campers got there before us and booked it almost solid by the time we tried to reserve a spot. We reserved two nights beginning on July 10th. It was a long way to drive for two nights, but Stagecoach State Park was not far away. Both state parks are close to the town of Steamboat Springs. Pearl Lake is to the north of Steamboat, and Stagecoach is to the south. There was still one campsite available at Stagecoach. We reserved it for the next two nights after we camped at Pearl Lake.
Pearl Lake was as we remembered it. The lower loop has splendid views of the lake. We were in the upper loop and somewhat separated from the others. Weather was beautiful and views of the lake were just a short walk away. The two of us did not interact with other campers. We were intent on socially distancing. This is easy in an RV where you are self-contained with your own kitchen, bathroom and water supply.
When you camp in Colorado, social distancing can mean more than just not getting physically close. If there is not a town in the vicinity, there is probably no Wi-Fi and not much cell phone service. This distances you from your family and the rest of the world. We continued to camp across Colorado for the rest of the summer and into the last of September. Outside our RV bubble, people were struggling with the disease, and losing the battle we were trying to avoid. News trickled in of friends and relatives who had lost their connection with the physical world. There were accidents, cancer, treatment complications, lung disease but only one of Covid. In all, we lost eight loved ones. Five were family members that included my brother. I learned of him when we stopped in Pagosa Springs, when I finally had cell service on the way to another campground. It was the afternoon of the same day he passed.
A week later, I discovered there was an old voice message on my phone that I hadn’t retrieved. It was from my brother. He had left it in March when I called him and had left a message that our Alaska tour was cancelled. He responded we would get there some day. In February 2021, we flew to Alaska via Seattle and saw the Northern Lights.