An hour away from the city of Denver sits a forest with a magical river that runs white. The mineral release from somewhere turns the rocks white and river’s water a beautiful turquoise that stands starkly against the Colorado landscape of deep blues and greens. White River National Forest, as it’s known to the locals, is our favorite place to escape the city and immerse ourselves in nature. So much so that we took it a step further and tried our hand at tent camping.
As a child, I went camping once. One time for our family to realize that we weren’t camping people. Maybe it had to do with the fact that my mother and I bought a tent for $5 at a garage sale that didn’t stand up against the torrential rainstorm that hit our campsite that night. Or maybe it was that we just weren’t outside people…yet. Whatever the reason, tent camping hasn’t been on our to-do list. But like all things 2020, we’re changing that.
White River National Forest
The benefit of camping in a national forest is that there are no reservations that need to be made or passes that need to be bought. There are however limitations to your trip like needing to be 100 feet away from the roads or rivers and that you must follow state-mandated fire restrictions. You also can’t camp for more than 14-days. Other than that, your free to go wild. (As long as you clean up after yourself, no rock band attitudes here).
Once we found a spot to set up camp we spent the day hiking up Argentine Pass, getting lost in the wildflowers, and losing our breath to epic views. It’s a spot we’ve ventured a to a few times in the past. The trail is no easy one, but the views and the accomplishment are more than worth it. The best part of hiking around White River National Forest is that there is no limit to the number of trails that this place has to offer. Even hiking the main trail will lead you to different options to explore and points of view to examine.
With a late start to our hike, we had hoped for better weather to hang out on top of the mountain longer since we didn’t have to rush home when we got down. However, the Colorado thunderstorms had different ideas for us and sent us packing at 2:00 pm back to our site.
What most visitors don’t know about Colorado is that the afternoon storms are deadly on top of a mountain. Especially when you are climbing above treeline (12,000 feet). As the tallest ting on the mountain, you are the perfect lightning rod. This is where the most mountaintop death occurs. When you see rainstorms coming, you get below tree line and in this “forest” there are actually very few trees in the area we like to hike.
Enjoying The Campsite
Once back down the mountain and back at the site it was time to cook dinner. A fire ban had been placed meaning we’d be sticking with the Coleman propane grill.
I had brought fresh ingredients to create a Caprese sandwich from a recipe I found in my favorite magazine, Adventure Journal. Easy to cook, limited ingredients but high in fat and protein to refuel after a long day of hiking. Add to that the s’mores we had for dessert and that my friends is what you call a perfect meal.
Similar to my one-time camping trip as a child, we found ourselves in an epic strom. Rain coming down like a monsoon for over an hour with thunder and lightning in our campsite. It looked like someone was holding a flash up to our tent every time the thunder, would hit. The continued chaos that went on outside kept us awake and praying that we would stay safe through the storm.
Sitting at the base of the mountain in White River National Forest we feared where the water would pool and if we needed to worry about flash floods. It didn’t help that about 20 yards away was a river too.
But like all storms in our lives, it grew slower until it stopped altogether, and we fell asleep. Our tent wet on the edges, and sleeping bag soaked at the foot, were enough to keep us somewhat comfortable for the rest of the night. At least until the sun finally came over the ridge and flooded the valley with golden light and warmth.
The Adventure At Hand
It wasn’t the camping trip I had imagined. I had hoped for a clear sky in the middle of the night to capture nightscape photography. I had dreamed of s’ mores by the campfire. I thought about being able to feel my toes when I woke up in the morning. But that is why you go camping. Not to live out your expectations but to embrace the challenges that come with it. To learn to lean into the unknown and embrace the beauty that is there right in front of you. Don’t hold onto the beauty you dreamed up in your head.
Even though I didn’t get the shot I had in my head, I got some pretty amazing ones I’ll cherish. Ones with golden light and fields of wildflowers that I had no idea I would see. And now, I have a reason to go out into the unknown again. For the chance to grab that perfect nightscape shot I’ve been dreaming of.