Kat found internet mention of an improved campground (tables, fire rings, vault toilets) on the Arkansas River a mile or two east of Salida, Co. It is entirely walk-in (no reservations), completely free, and has minimal gravel roads to bounce over. To boost our chances of getting a spot, we drove halfway there from Cuchara to camp at our traditional July 4th park, a WalMart. The next morning we were up and rolling by 9:00 a.m. We found a so-so spot in the Bighorn Canyon campground. A day later we improved locations, this time securing a high site near the river, close enough to hear its music after dark.
White water rafting is big on the Arkansas and the camp’s boat launch gets a lot of that traffic. But the rafts are paddle and river current powered, making them seem natural as the trees and almost as quiet. We have a few fly fishermen; right across the river from our site is one of the fly hotspots. They’re able to keep their lures airborne until they’re over the perfect spot, and then they drop that fly on a dime. Well, the guides can do that. The typical fly angler is satisfied with any cast over water — Kat saw one try for perfection only to fly his line and bait into a tree behind him.
The long-term weather forecast shows a good chance of thunderstorms on each of the next nine days. We already enjoyed one, although the pea-sized hail brought a few moments of concern. Most days here start out sunny with clouds gathering in early afternoon, bringing visible rain and rumbling thunder to some distant mountain. Highs are in the mid-80’s usually with a breeze and low humidity. We have arrived in Colorado at the beginning of what the locals call “monsoon season”. But that’s fine with us ‘cause we sure love thunderstorms and neon signs.
Salida is Kat’s kind of town. Downtown is old but well-kept, a mix of cafes, galleries, offices, shops and bars. The river runs right through old downtown, and the City of Salida operates two shady, manicured parks right there on the river.
To get here take Highway 50 east toward Salida. Watch for a brown sign on the right “East Salida Rec Area”. Come in and pick your spot. It’s officially known as Bighorn Canyon, but nobody we’ve talked to has seen those big ol’ sheep, not even campers who’ve been here half a dozen times. But around 5:00 p.m. our third day the luck changed. A herd of bighorns, including a big ram, calmly came down the mountain to the water, drank, grazed along the river half an hour and then slowly climbed out of sight.