Heading East Across Colorado, Kansas and Arkansas

15th - 25thOctober 2012

Headed back towards Florida, our route through central Colorado took us back through our favourite fishing corridor.

First, we made a stop on the Gunnison Canyon, to fish at the Pine Creek access. We'd tried this once before but a thunderstorm had put paid to that excursion. This time, all geared up for deep water, the big fly rod rigged with streamers, we descended the 232 steps to the river. At the bottom, we discovered that the river had been switched off at the dam! All that remained was a small stream of crystal clear water with the odd deep pool, where the large trout could be clearly seen and, of course, could clearly see us.

Undaunted, despite having the wrong fishing set up, Phil scrambled down the rocks that had been submerged on our last visit, to reach the water. He tried valiantly to entice one of the large trout, which were observing us, for an hour or so. The lack of sunshine at the bottom of the canyon slowly froze us and eventually we decided it was time to climb back up the 232 steps, just to warm up!

Who turned the river off? Gunnison River.

Back on the Arkansas

Later we moved up the Gunnison River, to the other end of the Blue Mesa Reservoir. As we arrived, the wind began to howl, making casting tricky. However, a streamer did land a nice rainbow trout, but Phil soon gave up and returned, half frozen, to Harvey-the-RV. Traversing Monarch Pass (11,312 ft) for a third time, we arrived in Salida to set up camp at our friendly Walmart store.

Despite the howling, cold wind, a day and a half of fishing on Phil's beloved Arkansas River near Salida brought success, however it was definitely time to start heading towards Florida, we were wearing nearly all our clothes at once by this point! Before leaving Colorado, we wanted to visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park, near Alamosa and when the wind finally made the fishing too annoying, we set off southwards.

What we hadn't taken into account, was that visiting sand dunes in a howling wind possibly wasn't a good idea! As we descended in Harvey from Poncha Pass southwards towards the park, we entered the dust and sand storm. Driving through the dusty murk, we were regularly bombarded tumble weeds crossing the road. At this point, we abandoned the plan to stay at the camp ground near the dunes and headed to the town of Alamosa instead, hoping that the next day would, as forecast, prove less windy.

Fortunately we were close enough to arrive at the Great Sand Dunes National Park by its 9 am opening time, allowing us to make the exhausting 750 foot scramble up the steep dunes to a high ridge, giving us a wonderful vantage point over the whole dune area, before the wind picked up again. It was a tough climb up the deep loose sand at high altitude and with a bitterly cold wind but the surreal surroundings made it worth the trek. To make the trip in high summer, when the sand reached temperatures up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit by the afternoon, would have been quite an ordeal.

Approaching the Sand Dunes

Scrambling to the top

One of the main draws to the park was the possibility of dune boarding. Effectively this was sledging down the steep dunes on a specially designed dune board. A snow sledge or, as we discovered, a car sun shade, just wasn't as effective, although we did managed a couple of good runs!

Driving through the deserted highways of eastern Colorado, we continued "Wally-hopping" (camping in Walmart's parking lot) eastwards, entering Kansas early the next morning. In the past the drive through Kansas' miles of agricultural land, interspersed with the many, stinking cattle feed lots had proved tedious. This time we resolved to break up the journey by picking a couple of interesting spots to visit.

The quick way down.

Dodge City - Boot Hill Museum

We had selected the notorious Dodge City as a first stop. In its heyday, it was a rowdy cowboy town and the fascinating Boot Hill Museum was filled with tales of the outlaw gangs and law men who had made the town famous for it's rowdy saloon brawls and shoot outs. The name Boot Hill originating from the fact that people were buried so quickly, their boots were often left on!

Genuine old western buildings had been lovingly restored and used to create a wild-west style main street as the centrepiece of the museum.

On leaving the museum, we found Harvey had made a friend and spent a while comparing notes with Stacey and Joella, proud new owners of another Toyota micro-mini-motorhome, similar to Harvey.

Long Branch Saloon, Dodge City immortalised by the TV show "Gunsmoke".

Harvey makes friends in Dodge City.

The next destination on our flying tour of Kansas was in the city of Hutchinson. After trying out their Walmart for the night, we headed to the city's "Cosmosphere" early the next morning. Our expectations weren't high, after all we'd already visited the world famous Kennedy Space Centre and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museums in Washington DC. How could a space museum in the middle of Kansas, originally created by a local housewife with a fascination for space travel, possibly compete.

However, our tour of the Cosmosphere's Hall of Space Museum left us impressed by their stunning exhibits, including the genuine Apollo 13 capsule and the detailed walk we took through the history of space travel. We didn't even have the time to visit the Planetarium or Dome Theater.

Apollo 13 capsule, which finally made it's way safely back to Earth.

Moon Suit

Naturally, veterans of sea heads were particularly fascinated by the selection of curious devices on display which allowed the astronauts to manage their "waste products". The high tech space shuttle toilet was a major improvement on the urine collection bags prone to leak and the plastic bags you literally stuck to your backside for no. 2 collection!

Space Shuttle Toilet

Entry to Kansas Cosmosphere

Harvey outside and original Walmart!

The well selected stops on the way through Kansas, made the trip fly by. By evening we found ourselves almost at the Missouri border in the town of Parsons, where for $10 the town provided a campground in a peaceful park, with water and electricity, allowing us a welcome quiet night.

Next morning, we crossed the corner of Missouri and arrived at Bentonville, Arkansas, site of Walmart's head office. In the pretty town square, we visited the Walmart Visitor Centre, which was located in one of Sam Walton's original 5 & 10 stores and learned of the history of the company and its philanthropic founder.

That evening we arrived in Flippin at the home of our Welsh friend Davy Wotton and partner T-Bird. Christine was put to work on a Venison processing production line!

Christine and Davy at work vacuum bagging venison.

The following day, Davy had a rare day-off from his fly fishing guide business and kindly spent it taking us fishing on the White River.

The fishing trip quickly developed into a fishing competition, with Phil and T-Bird being neck and neck in the race, both having landed two nice trout, when Davy joined the competition. Of course, having a professional advantage, he quickly took the lead with his third fish, despite having to guide the boat in the swift river flow at the same time.

T-Bird wanted to introduce us to the dubious delights of tomato beer and there was much speculation about whether this would be the prize for the winner or the losers!

It seemed we had our winner, the boat was pointed to the shore but Phil wasn't to be beaten so easily, hooking his third nice fish, on the way back to the boat ramp causing much amusement. The competition was declared a draw and it was decided everybody would be lucky enough to have the chance to sample the tomato beer!

The competition gets serious.

Phil's sneaky third fish!

We spent several wonderful days with Davy and T-Bird, staying up late into the night chatting and being woken at the crack of dawn, or earlier, by their collection of roosters! Davy and T-Bird gave Phil pointers about where and how to fish in the area and even tied him some flies to use, and we kept ourselves amused exploring the White River.

Handsome Mr Turkey!

Phil practices his casting at Davy's pond.

Rival Fisherman on the White River

Before we left Arkansas, Davy and T-Bird took us to their impressive Twin Lakes Gun Club to watch them in a Five Stand Backup clay shooting competition. The shooters were randomly paired and shot four rounds of 25 targets which flew from 8 different directions. Impressive, especially when Davy's pair were the winners, hitting 87 out of the 100 possible targets.

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