Dinner Station Campground, Gunnison National Forest, Almont, Colorado
I am finally HERE! After 50 years of remembering and longing, I’ve finally arrived at Dinner Station campground. I park in my reserved site and head for the pit toilet immediately. Although pit toilets smell the same everywhere, this one is in exactly the same place and smells exactly the same way that it did 50 years ago.
Walking back to my campsite I can hear the camp host at my site calling for me. This has got to be the friendliest man on the planet. Thirty seconds into the conversation we’re old friends. Almost literally, since it turns out he spent his summers here as a child, just as I did, and he’s about the same age, so chances are very good that even though we don’t specifically remember each other, we played together as kids. Turns out there’s another couple camping here that was also around as children. I’m immediately at ease and comfortable here, with these people. I’m home.
The picturesque triangular split rail fences have been replaced with modern barbed wire, but the river looks just as it always did. Of course the vegetation has changed, it’s a little more overgrown in places, some trees are larger, some trees are gone. But the water and the rocks and the cliff behind the river and the mountain range in front are all the same. My campsite is way at the end of the drive and I don’t think we ever stayed here before. The next morning the host lets me move to site #7, which I’m pretty sure was the site about which mom wrote the lines, “so all day long it was back and forth from the tent to the campfire, through the rain and the mud and horseshit, to fan the fire and stir the beans”. Thankfully this is no longer a horse camp!
The old hand pump has been replaced with a new one, but it looks just the same. Water supply was MY job! I pumped many a milk jug here, lugging the gallon jugs up the bank to my bicycle with a 4 gallon milk crate strapped to the back, and hauling them back to camp.
It takes about 5 strokes to get it primed, then you’re rewarded with the coldest, freshest, best tasting water this side of Heaven. It comes straight from the river 10 feet away and is tested monthly for safety. I brought no coolers or ice, knowing I’d have access to icy water on demand. Several times a day I dash down to refill my insulated bottle, which keeps it cold for several hours.
As a kid the river was my focus. Daddy’s, too, as a fly fisherman. We stayed on the mountain-view side a few times, but I always considered that bad luck. I wanted to be on the river.
Today I speak with people on the mountain side of the campground. They come year after year, staying the entire 14 days allowed. Most of it they spend in their camp chairs, watching the ever-changing light on the mountains. It’s mesmerizing, and I understand why they sit there. Left 1969, right 2019.
Sunset photography here is very different. The campground nestles up against the river, and the river nestles against a ridge on the west side of the valley. The sun drops behind the ridge around 4:00 pm, long before the glow of sunset. The camp is plunged into blessedly cool shadow for hours before the mountains in the east light up with the reflected glow of the sunset in the west.
I planned to spend two nights here, hopefully getting acclimated to the 9600′ altitude before hiking up to Taylor Pass at 12,000 feet Monday morning. As it turned out, I spent most of my week here, but that’s a story for another post. The photos below are the product of days spent watching the mountains glow and change.