A tree fell behind me, heavy footsteps approached, the dogs ran to the truck. I sat at the firepit, writing about how I want to live in a camper van, sipping a beer. The dogs ran. Ollie sat on the tail gate and barked at me. Then Harold and Rosie barked at me. They peered around the corner at me and barked again. I looked up just as I heard another branch fall behind me. I stood up quickly, grabbed the beer, and walked oh so calmly to the truck. I flipped up the tailgate, closed the window, and clambered in the side door of the 4Runner. Calm. Kind of. I turned off the headlamp, hoping to see what creature was approaching. I saw nothing. Three dogs lay down and fell asleep. I waited. Nothing. I settled back in the bedding and carried on reading. Yep, life is good with dogs.
I recently came across Williams Creek Reservoir and fell in love with the place. Incredible blue small lake surrounded by high snow covered peaks, I’m still in love with everything about the place, the silence, the roads, the wildlife, and the lake itself. BUT! There is only one small campground next to the lake with twenty sites and no reservations. I wasn’t lucky. I’d hoped to find a spot to stare at the lake and daydream for a few days but it was packed even in the last week of September. RV-ers filled each of the twenty sites and I drove away frustrated.
I parked at the near by boat ramp and had a picnic of crackers and cheddar as the dogs went swimming before we headed up hill to find some dispersed camp spots in the area. As the sun started to drop behind the snow capped mountains, I drove FS 644 towards Poison Park, a graded forest road that took us up and above the lake. Unfortunately there is a big and well known trail further up so twice a day four-wheelin’ traffic headed up and downhill past our little hideaway in the trees. The dogs learnt not to be too bothered luckily. We settled in for a few nights, set the tent up, chainsawing down enough fire-wood, cooking up some dinner around the campfire. I spent the nights reading by flashlight, writing up my daydreams of being a travel writer some day, and warming myself at the firepit.
In the mornings we had a few guests for breakfast. A cattle herd strolled up and sniffed the tent and firepit, huge shaggy beasts that wanted to know us intimately. The dogs weren’t exactly sure what to do so Ollie chased one until it stopped and looked at him. Ollie ran back and jumped in the back of the truck, wise boy. This happened each morning.
One day was spent exploring, leaving the tent set up and campsite claimed as ours. This was a change as usually I get too restless and keep on moving but I’d decided to explore the national forest roads in the area though so that’s what we did. We found a huge open meadow looking towards the reservoir but we couldn’t quite see it. I missed the view to be honest. However, where we were camped was free, the dogs could run wild safely, and we were alone with no RVs, generators, or neighbors. Pretty good for me.
Another day was spent looking for water, hanging out at the lake before following the creek for a while before getting hungry. I’d had a mug of coffee at the firepit before we hit the road. The dogs were just happy to be in the truck again. We took our time and drove slowly off the mountain. It was early in the morning but a few fishermen from Germany were setting up for their own day’s activity in the valley. We chatted about the creek, the fish, all the stuff I know nothing about since I don’t know how to fish. But, it was a great way to start the day for sure. The dogs had a blast running up and down in the river, soaking themselves and each other before shaking themselves dry next to me. I even stripped off (away from the fishermen) and had a very quick skinny-dipping plunge in the freezing cold river.
The afternoons were spent back at camp at we’d fall asleep on the blankets under the trees, reading, napping, drinking a beer or two, and finally deeply relaxing. The views were incredible. I dreamed of living here. I looked up camper vans for sale on Craigslist. I wrote out a budget. Could I afford to give up my job and focus on writing and traveling full time? Yes. So what is stopping me? Fear.
We drove into Pagosa Springs for an early dinner one afternoon, heading back to the PS brewery with their huge shaded yard. Beer and burgers, or rather, beers and a burger hit the spot after a week of one-ring burner meals around a campfire. It helps that the brewery welcomes me and all three dogs, offering them a bowl of water for them and a sweet corner in the shade to watch the world go by. I hooked into their Internet and carried on my search for a perfect vehicle. The dogs slept at my feet peacefully.
I had heard of some waterfalls near by but had to really inspect my maps to find directions. I decided to wing it. The road we took was graded, empty, and had numerous dispersed campsites off to the sides. I took one road that ended in a valley. Just as I’d let the dogs run, a man on an ATV in full hunting gear appeared. A friendly man, we ended up chatting for a while. Mike comes out every year in September to explore and hunt bears, but he didn’t concern himself with the hunting part. He told me how the day before a bear had walked past his camp as he drank his coffee. He simply watched it amble up the road. For that, I liked him. He told me which road to take to find the Falls. FSR 634 got us there, and as I look at the map now, it was not the most direct route. Oh well, it also took us ages because I kept stopping to walk around in the tall silent trees. (As I do.) I wouldn’t like to drive that road in the rain or snow, as sections were pretty narrow and steep. The valley taking us to Four-mile Falls was stunning, with huge craggy cliff faces hanging over the road, mountains hovering in the distance and creeks off to the side of us. We finally pulled up at a fairly huge parking area, and I was glad it was the middle of the week in the off-season, empty but for five other trucks from different states. We followed the sign posted footpath to the Falls. The waterfalls themselves were deep in shadows, and not very photogenic so I didn’t bother…we played in the river instead. For an early morning, it sure was busy. I passed atleast four other couples, all slightly intimidated to see three big dogs on leashes on a narrow mountain path.
The rest of the week consisted of more beer, more naps, and yes, more hikes around Williams Creek reservoir. I soaked, took it easy, and planned how I could hit the road full time. I sipped at the cold beer, pulled out my maps and wrote out my ideas. Finally I unwound. I dreamt of another lifestyle.
But then we finally had to pack up and head home to New Mexico. To my job in town, to weather-proofing the house, and to pulling out the chainsaw once again. Winter is coming after all.
I took a short cut down this forest road, one not on the map. The sign warned it was for 4wd vehicles only, that’s fine, the 4Runner is a solid four-wheeler. The road instantly descended into a deep and steep valley, falling off to the right. The dogs stuck their heads out the windows. The rocks fell away. I slipped into low range and we crept around the corner. A dead pinon covered the dirt road ahead. I stopped, pulled on the parking brake and let the dogs out. Walking to the blocked path, I wished I had thought to bring a chainsaw. Ollie took a nap.