It’s too late in the season to be talking about camping at 10,000 feet now, but let me tell you about a place you’ll think of fondly as the temperature in the lowlands rises next summer. We found this place by accident, looking for a Forest Service campground a little further down the road, and stayed the two week maximum. It was quite an experience.
Silverton is an old mining town in the San Juans up the Million Dollar Highway (US 550) from Durango, in southwest Colorado. We had always enjoyed driving this stretch of highway back when we were still vacationing by car, and it was one of the many places we vowed to return to once we had our Roadtrek and could spend some serious time there. In 2011, during our first complete calendar year of fulltiming, we had spent the spring in New Mexico, and were waiting for the snow to melt so we could go waaay up into the mountains for some serious solitude. After Memorial Day, we headed up to Haviland Lake at 8700 feet for a week or so about halfway up from Durango to Silverton, and by mid-June we were ready for the high country.
To find Mineral Creek dispersed camping area, go north on US 550 about 2.1 miles past where US 550 and State Road 110 (CR 2) join on the southern outskirts of Silverton. You will see a brown US Forest Service camping sign. Turn left (west) on this gravel road, which is County Road 7, and go about 0.7 miles to a Dispersed Camping sign. Go left until you hit the creek – maybe a hundred yards or so. The South Mineral Campground, which is what we were originally looking, for is about four miles further west on CR 7, but I didn’t see the advantage of paying $5 a day for a picnic table and fire ring, and plenty of neighbors, dogs, children, and other introduced species. GPS coordinates of the dispersed camping area are 37.819050 N, -107.714400 W.
We found a beautiful creekside spot with no neighbors, set up the satellite dishes and lawn furniture, and were just astounded by the beauty of the place. The creek runs roughly west to east, and downstream you can see Kendall Mountain. Upstream is US Grant Mountain, but there are mountains in every direction. Trees are Englemann spruce and a few firs, there are hummingbirds all over, and probably some other larger visitors, judging from the burrows Fiona and I found on our walks in the forest. Steller’s jays, ground squirrels, and gray jays kept us (and Fiona) entertained with their antics.
Weather is warm and sunny during the day, but quite cold at night for late June – we actually got snow flurries overnight on Midsummer’s Eve, which was fine with us, since this was our first summer out of the Gulf coastal plain’s oppressive heat and humidity. Since we had gradually increased our elevation over the previous several weeks, we didn’t suffer much in the way of altitude sickness – just a shortness of breath with sustained exertion, which I avoid anyway now that I’m retired.
Our idyllic stay got a little less idyllic as the Fourth of July weekend approached and all these huge fifth wheels started showing up, trying to stake out a spot alongside the creek. Our two weeks was running out anyway, so we just packed up and left the increasingly urbanized environment for some BLM land further into the forest, and did another two weeks there. Silverton is only a few miles away, with fresh water, a dump, gas, propane – everything you need. The store there is a tad understocked and pricey, but despite the scarce shopping opportunities we managed to get along with our stocked food supply plus local supplements of bread, milk, eggs, etc. for a month before heading north on 550 to Montrose to restock at a real grocery store. It’s the best way to spend the middle of the summer if you’ve sweated through as many southern Julys as I have.