Lake Pueblo State Park – August 16th to 19th, 2020

Lake Pueblo State Park was where we made our maiden voyage of our new inflatable kayak. Spending three nights in the Arkansas Point Campground gave us two full days to enjoy kayaking on the lake. The excitement of the new experience overshadowed all the other issues we had to deal with.

We were home for two days resupplying before heading out to Lake Pueblo. We made it home in time from our previous trip to receive our shipment of our new inflatable kayak, a Sea Eagle 370 (paid link). We had been patiently waiting for its arrival all summer. We inflated the kayak in our living room that first evening to check it out. There was some minimal assembly required. The nine valves needed to be installed. Three were for the hull, one for each skirt, and two for each seat. The hardest part was stretching the retainer ring over the valve base. It was a very tight fit. The tip in the instructions was to stretch the retainer ring with your fingers first. Well, either one was defective or Left Buddy (LB) pulled a little harder than they intended us to and one of the retainer rings snapped. We think the only purpose of the retainer ring is to keep the valve from being lost when the valve is opened, so we’ll try to use it and just have to keep track of it. It took us almost an hour to get all of the nine valves installed. The inflation of the kayak and seats went much faster than that. We left the kayak inflated overnight, just to make sure we had no leaks.

The following morning the kayak was still inflated, so we assumed everything was OK. We deflated it and rolled it up. Everything packed into the bag provided. Now we just had to figure out how to store it in our van. Right Buddy (RB) went to Home Depot and bought a 38 gallon HDX tote (paid link). It was a little too small to put the whole kayak bag in it with everything in it. The next larger size tote would not work for us because it was longer than the width of the gear slide in the van. By leaving only the kayak itself in the bag, so it wouldn’t unroll, we were able to get everything in the tote, including the life jackets. The tote fits perfectly across the gear slide just forward of our drawers and water jugs and behind the camping toilet and laundry basket. The tote we already had back there which holds our water hoses, electrical cords and leveling blocks fits on top of the new tote with still plenty of space above it to see out the rear windows while we drive. The only thing we really had to give up was the ability to use the camping toilet under the bed platform. There is room for the toilet, but no room for our legs when we sit on it. We’ll just have to pull the toilet out to the main living space to use it. We don’t use it very often, so this should not be much of an issue.

The smoke in Broomfield from the wildfires was very noticeable. It was smokier in Broomfield than in Crawford, where we ended our previous trip, even though Broomfield is much farther from the fires. However, Crawford was south of the fires and the prevailing winds come out of the west and head east. Broomfield is directly east of the fires in Grand Junction (Pine Gulch Fire) and Glenwood Springs (Grizzly Creek Fire). There is also now a third large fire further north, west of Fort Collins (Cameron Peak Fire). Most of the two days seemed overcast with the haze of smoke overhead. In the late afternoon and evening the sun turns an eerie orange as it tries to reach the ground through the smoke. RB could smell the smoke in the air when she woke up in the mornings. Our daughter said her eyes would sometimes sting and burn. After dinner on Saturday, RB walked over to the open space near our house to check out how bad the smoke was. It seemed like a patch of blue sky opened up over Broomfield at that time. The mountains in the distance were still behind a thick haze and the sky to the south was a solid smokey cloud. She waiting for the sun to dip behind the mountains before heading back home. She enjoyed the color of the sunset, but did not enjoy the reason for all the color. RB normally has mild pollen allergies and the smoke in the air was irritating her sinuses. She was sneezing and blowing her nose most of the day.

While we were gone on our previous trip, the kids said it was pretty hot. They tried to use the air conditioning in our house, but it was not getting the house cool. They chose to just use the whole house fan which did a pretty good job at bringing the temperature in the house to a tolerable level. It helped that the temperatures were still dropping down into the 60’s at night. We were home for only a couple of days, so we didn’t have time to figure out what the issue was with the air conditioner. Not running the air conditioner meant that we were breathing the smokey air all the time. The news reports were indicating that the air quality in the Denver area was unhealthy. There was an ozone alert and they were advising everyone to exercise indoors.

The smoke seemed worse the morning we were leaving. When RB went out on the deck to eat breakfast, she noticed some flecks of white ash on the red cushions of the deck chairs. As she sat there eating, she could see fine specks of ash floating down from the sky. We headed south to Lake Pueblo State Park, hoping that the smoke would be lighter down there. On the way out of town, we weighed the van at a Catscale in Wheatridge just to make sure the weight of our van and its contents are within the limits of the van, especially now since we have the kayak. We had 330 pounds to spare before reaching our max GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating).

For lunch, we stopped at Palmer Park in Colorado Springs. It was a little ways from I-25, but that was the only thing that popped up when RB googled for picnic tables in Google Maps, other than Seven Falls. Seven Falls is a tourist trap, so we wanted to avoid that. Palmer Park looks like a nice network of mountain biking and hiking trails. There are a couple of picnic areas. The picnic area  that Google Maps took us to had a restroom, but it required reservations since it was a group shelter. We saw a picnic area on the way, so we went back to it. However, it did not have restrooms. We eventually found a port-a-potty at a trailhead, so all was good.

Riding for a couple of hours in the air conditioning made RB’s sinuses feel a little better. Even though we arrived at Lake Pueblo in the middle of the afternoon, RB didn’t feel like doing much. She drank another cold Coke and then we walked around the boat ramp and marina areas to check them out. Since this was going to be our first time boating, we wanted to make sure we knew the rules. We talked to one of the staff at the boat inspection station. According to them, as long as we didn’t have a motor on our boat and can hand carry it to the water without putting any parts of a boat trailer or vehicle in the water, then we don’t need to have it inspected. We’re not sure if these are the same rules across all of Colorado or not. We’ll figure that out as we go.

As it was a Sunday afternoon, the boat ramp was a traffic jam of vehicles with trailers waiting in line to get their boats out of the water. There was also a crowd of boats out on the water, waiting for their trailer to make it to the boat ramp. We’re glad we don’t have to use the boat ramp.

At the South Shore Marina, there was a general store. It had basic grocery items, but, most importantly, it had ice cream novelties. RB had a turtle ice cream bar and LB had an ice cream sandwich. We are so predictable! Out on the dock at the marina, there was an area with gas grills that were available to use for people with boat slip rentals. The smell of hamburgers grilling made us drool. We walked back to our camp site and made gazpacho soup for dinner. It wasn’t a hamburger, but it was very refreshing in the heat.

The air quality was a little better at Lake Pueblo than back at home. Even so, there was enough of a smokey haze that created some nice color in the sky as the sun set. RB walked part way up a nearby trail to get a better view. It was probably cool enough to not run the air conditioner, but we had electrical hookups and the thought of not breathing smokey air all night sounded appealing. So we ran the air conditioner and slept really well that night.

The next day was the day of our maiden voyage in the kayak. Right after breakfast, we drove our van down to the rocky beach next to the boat ramp to launch the kayak. We managed to get the kayak inflated, assemble the paddles, attach our water bottles and dry sack with our van keys inside to the kayak, don our life jackets, and push off from shore in less than half an hour. We seemed to get the hang of paddling fairly quickly. We have never kayaked before, but we have done a little canoeing and white water rafting. The concepts are pretty similar. We would pick out a heading on the opposite shore and start paddling towards it. Keeping our paddling in sync with each other was the responsibility of the person in the rear. RB was a little surprised at how wet they got while paddling. We didn’t get soaking wet, but the paddles dripped and splashed quite a bit of water on us, despite the drip guards. Getting wet felt great since it was a hot day, but if we want to go kayaking on a cool day, we’ll probably want to wear rain paints and a rain jacket.

We stayed within Bogg’s Creek Cove. The cove starts at the South Shore Marina and heads south away from the main Lake Pueblo reservoir. It is a no-wake zone so there are mainly kayaks, SUP boards, sailboats, and fishing boats in the cove. The cove is only a small fraction of the whole lake, but it was plenty big enough for us. It took us close to an hour to paddle down to the other end and back. For some reason, the boat seemed to track to the left. We’re not sure if it was bent skegs, the wind, the water current, or the way we paddle. After about an hour, we headed back to the van for a break. As we were heading in to the rocky beach, RB noticed that her seat cushion was leaking air at the valve. It was the valve with the broken retainer ring.

While we were taking a break by our van, we decided to put the awning out. As we brought it out, the one corner was sagging extremely low. Looking closer at it, we discovered that the awning had popped out of the mounting bracket closest to the front of the van. Uh oh! We brought the awning back in. It’s not even safe to drive down the highway with that out of its bracket. We’ll have to fix that somehow before we leave. For the time being, we got out the Moon Shade (unpaid link) and mounted it with the magnets. It was not windy enough to pull the magnets off the van.

After eating some lunch, we took down the Moon Shade and went back out in the kayak. Before we got back in the water, we inflated RB’s seat cushion and tightened the valve, hoping the leak was just due to the valve not being tightened all the way. RB was in the front the first time, so we switched spots the second time. When RB was in the front, she could stretch out her long legs all the way, but her feet were wedged together in the narrow bow. LB could stretch out his legs by wedging his feet on the outsides of the back of RB’s seat. This time, when RB was in the back, she could not stretch her legs out all the way. We only stayed out on the water about half an hour the second time. On the way back in, RB’s seat was leaking air again. Perhaps the retainer ring is needed to make a complete seal. We’ll keep an eye on it.

We hosed down the kayak and seats with our outdoor shower hose and set them out in the sun to dry. While we were waiting, we got the Moon Shade out again and got some work done. We don’t have a ladder with us, but LB was able to step up on the back of the van to peer at the roof and the awning. There are three mounting brackets that attach the awning to the roof rails. Not only was the awning out of the front bracket, it was out of the middle bracket as well! So only one bracket was holding it on to the van! LB found a bungee cord the right length to secure the front end of the awning to the roof rails. That will work for today, but we’ll have to work on that some more before we hit the highway.

In less than an hour, the kayak was pretty dry, so we wiped it down with a rag and a chamois to get the last remaining moisture off before deflated it and rolling it up. Getting the kayak and all its gear back into the van went pretty smoothly. Back at our camp site, we plugged the van back in and started the air conditioner. It was a pretty hot day.

RB took a shower to get the lake water off of her. The showers were free, no quarters needed! As an added bonus, you can adjust the temperature. You do have to keep pushing a button since the showers turn off after a short while and the water pressure is not very high, but you can’t have everything!.

We walked down to the South Shore Marina to the General Store to see if we could find something else to help secure the awning to our van. We bought a strap with a plastic buckle, not an ideal solution, but it should help. More importantly, we bought ice cream again. For dinner we had roasted beet salad. This time RB climbed up the Staircase Trail to the top of the rock outcroppings, Arkansas Point, next to the campground (part of the Conduit, Steep Tech, Arkansas Point, and Staircase Trail Loop on AllTrails). There is a fantastic view of the reservoir from up there, but the sun set was not that spectacular. Oh well, at least RB got some more exercise in for the day.

The second full day at Lake Pueblo was pretty much a repeat of the day before. We paddled around the cove for about an hour and a half in the morning and ate lunch under the Moon Shade along the shore. LB made sure the valve on RB’s kayak seat was tightened well. It held up all morning with no leaks. After lunch, LB stayed on shore to work and RB took the kayak out by herself for about an hour. The kayak was much harder to maneuver with just one person in it. Having most of the weight in one spot made a perfect pivot point for the wind and current to swing the bow around as they pleased. RB was able to handle it, but it was definitely more work. She developed a nice blister on her right hand. After she brought our kayak, the SS Little Buddy, back into shore, it was the same routine as the previous day: hose it down, wait for it to dry, wipe it down, deflate it, and pack everything back up.

When we drove back to our campsite, there was a vehicle sitting in our site with people in it. As RB started to speak to them out the van window, they started to pull out of the spot. Behind the vehicle at the camp site was the camp host in his golf cart. He was already talking with them, trying to explain that the site was reserved. We were talking with the camp host later that day about it. The people were giving him a hard time because they said “no one is here”. That is one issue with a camper van. When you leave your site during the day, it does look like no one is occupying the site. We used to leave something, like our camp chairs or a table cloth on the picnic table. However, that just looks like we forgot about them and left them behind. When we had our camp chairs stolen at Grand Canyon, we stopped leaving things at our camp site during the day when our vehicle was not there. In this case, we had a reservation and it was only 3 pm and all of Colorado State Park camp sites must be reserved online. They are not first come/first serve camp sites. Thank you camp host for handling the situation for us.

To continue the repetition, RB took a shower and we walked down to the marina for ice cream. Dinner was Asian slaw: red cabbage, carrots, red bell pepper, green onions, and cilantro tossed in a dressing of peanut butter, rice vinegar, brown sugar, fresh garlic, ginger root, canola oil, and soy sauce. Our original plan was to both hike up the Staircase Trail in the evening, but neither one of us felt up to it, so we skipped it and just worked some while watching the sun set from our camp site.

In the morning on the day we were leaving, we chatted with the two people in the camp site next to us. They are riding their bikes across the U.S., following the TransAmerica Trail. Lea (learits on Instagram) started in Virginia and Sam started in Ohio. They were impressed with the generosity of most of the people they have met along the way. We wish them well along their journey and hope the smoke wasn't too bad as they passed through the Rocky Mountains.

LB was not satisfied with how we had the awning secured, so he tied some rope around each end for extra measure.

Since we didn’t hike up Staircase Trail the night before, we did it in the morning before we left. It was a great way to stretch our legs on a driving day, although we didn’t have very far to go.

For lunch we drove into Pueblo to the Riverwalk. Back when we would take family road trips with the kids, there was a pizza place in Pueblo that we always stopped at if we were passing through. We discovered it years ago when it used to be on Union Street and followed it when it moved to the Riverwalk, when the Riverwalk opened in 2000. Angelo’s Pizza Parlor makes a great New York style pizza. We each got the lunch special of two slices. RB had our family tradition of pepperoni, sliced tomatoes, and roasted garlic. LB had the same minus the garlic. They put the garlic under the cheese, so we had a hard time figuring out which slices had garlic and which did not. However, one bite into the slice was all it took to figure it out. We could only finish a little more than one large slice each, so we boxed up the rest and had it for dinner.

It is one mile around the whole Riverwalk. It has been built up even nicer since the last time we had visited. It was inspired by San Antonio’s Riverwalk, but being in a smaller city, it is on a smaller scale. There are some restaurants, such as Angelo’s, along the Riverwalk as well as just nicely landscaped areas with plenty of statues and fountains. At the other end is a nice, peaceful, shaded park. As we were completing the loop, guess who we run into…Lea! She had biked into town to get a tattoo and was sitting along the Riverwalk eating her lunch.

Before we left Pueblo, we headed over to a home improvement store so LB could look for some better tie-downs to secure the awning. He felt better once the tie-down straps were in place.

Life happens when you travel. Traveling teaches you to roll with the punches and to be creative to solve the problems that pop up. We had a great time kayaking in Lake Pueblo State Park despite the smoke, the heat, and the broken awning. It’s the things that go wrong that help create the memories and give you stories to tell later. What great stories do you have about a trip that didn’t go as planned?

Check out our related video: Lake Pueblo State Park

(RB)