Paonia State Park – June 15th to 18th, 2020

Paonia State Park is a great little reservoir for small water craft. We don’t have any boats, but there was plenty to see and do in the area for us to enjoy our three nights in the state park.

On the way to Paonia, heading up Floyd Hill, our Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS - paid link) alarm went off. The passenger front tire pressure was reading high. The driver rear tire was also a little high. So we pulled off the interstate and let some air out of both tires. Due to the sensors located on the valve stems, we had to take off the hub caps and use a special tool to remove the TPMS sensor to let the air out. We stopped to eat lunch at the Vail Pass rest area. Because the rest area was pretty busy, we ate in the van. It’s times like that when we appreciate having a comfortable camper van to picnic in instead of a car.

We drove by something that looked interesting along the side of the road, so we turned around to check it out. It was Redstone. There is a couple long rows of coke ovens used to make coke (pure charcoal) out of coal from back in the early 1900’s. The coke was then shipped to Pueblo to use in the steel mills. We walked down the main street of town. Redstone is a cute town with cute houses, the wonderful historic Redstone Inn, and funky shops.

The drive down to Paonia State Park from I-70 is beautiful. From Carbondale, Colorado 133 takes you south alongside the Crystal River with views of snow capped mountain peaks. After passing through Redstone, the highway goes up and over McClure Pass before reaching Paonia State Park. Paonia Reservoir is long and skinny, butting right up against highway 133.

Our camp site reservation was in Hawsapple Campground, at the north end of the reservoir, so we didn’t even see the water until after we set up our campsite. Hawsapple Campground is pretty small, with only about 7 or 8 camp sites, no water, and vault toilets. We had about the only site without a view. Only one site can really see the reservoir. There is a moutain peak beyond the reservoir which makes a nice reflection on the water. We believe it is Marcellina Mountain. Mosquitos were bothersome as we sat outside after dinner, despite bug spray and a citronella candle, so we retreated inside the van with the skeeter beaters bug screens on the siding door and the back doors. The camp sites are rather close to the highway, so you can hear the traffic. Luckily, it is not that busy of a road.

The following morning was cool. Right Buddy (RB) wore a sweatshirt, jeans and her puffy coat while sitting outside with breakfast of hot oatmeal and hot chocolate. We warmed up as some of the clouds disappeared and the sun came out. We both worked outside until lunch. After eating lunch at our campsite, we went for a hike. Earlier Left Buddy (LB) talked with another camper who was riding a mountain bike and asked what the road was like. He said it was steep with loose gravel. Doing it with a hybrid bike might be a challenge, so we opted for a hike instead. There are not really any trails within the park nor around the reservoir, so we headed up the road.

The road is County Road 2. We counted this as hike #33 of our 52 Hike Challenge: five miles, two hours, with a 700 foot elevation gain. The road starts out heading south towards the reservoir. There is a boat ramp with a few picnic tables, vault toilets, and a boat inspection station. There were a couple of kayaks at the boat ramp, but we did not see any boats out on the reservoir all day. One of the picnic tables was tucked up in the trees alongside a small stream. It looked like a great place for a picnic. We had nice views of the reservoir looking down from the road.

Not far after the boat ramp, the road makes a turn to the east, following a small stream. However, the road is much higher than the stream and the stream is small, so we couldn’t really see it. As we turned the corner, more mountain peaks became visible in the distance. We could hear all the grasshoppers making a mad dash for the sides of the road as we came by. Butterflies danced among the wildflowers on the side of the road. There were a couple of picnic shelters near the end of the road, just before reaching the gate of private property. At the second picnic shelter, a trail heads off to the south into the woods. A hawk was making loud calls as it flew from tree top to tree top. Was he talking to us?

We sat down at the first picnic shelter on the way back for a water break. A couple of birds in the bushes next to the shelter were being rather noisy, dancing from branch to branch, chirping up a storm. Then one of them flew into the nest in the corner of the roof of the shelter. Oh, they were trying to scare us off! Along the trail there was what looked like an upside down evergreen tree, with branches near the top longer than the ones near the bottom, with the trunk broken off at the top. At first glance we assumed the tree had toppled over, but then we saw the top of the tree that had broken off laying on the ground below it. The only people we saw on the road from the boat ramp to the private property and back was when the van that was parked at the trailhead drove by, followed by a mountain biker, as we sat at the picnic shelter.

We got back to our camp site in the early afternoon at about 2:30 pm and we started working again after snacking on some granola bars. The temps were in the 70’s and breezy. For dinner we had pizza on tortillas with peppers, onions, cheese, and pepperoni. LB thought that RB didn’t put enough pepperoni on his pizza, so he added more on top after it was cooked. Next time, we thought it would be better if we put tomato sauce on it. The mosquitos came out again, so we retreated to the van around 7 pm. A mouse visited LB in the vault toilet, two separate times!

We spent most of the next day at the Maroon Bells, but we’ll save the details of that for our next blog post.

A deer greeted us as we returned to the campground that day. The campground was not full again for the second night. It was only full the first night. A couple of women were in site #1. They were wondering why the tent pad was raised off the ground a couple of feet. The only reason we could think of was that it was a handicap spot and the raised platform makes it easier for a person in a wheelchair to get out of their chair and into the tent. Later they borrowed a lighter from us to light their campfire, using 2x4’s as their firewood. We sat and watched a cedar waxwing gather nesting material in the tree next to our campsite.

Our last morning at Paonia State Park was relaxing. The was no rush to leave. It was not quite as cold as the previous morning, but RB’s fingers were cold as she worked a little on her laptop outside. A hummingbird came by a couple of times and hovered in front of each of us to check us out. It looked like a ruby throated hummingbird as it hovered long enough in front of us for us to see its red patch on its throat. As we drove out of the campground, two deer were crossing through.

As we were leaving, we drove through the Spruce Campground, just a quarter of a mile down Highway 133. It’s on the west side of the creek, shaded, and in the trees. It was a pretty drive next to the reservoir. We meant to check out the day area at the south end of the reservoir but we didn’t see any signs for it. It’s possible we missed it as we went through a construction zone.

We were a little disappointed that there wasn’t a way to walk around the reservoir to enjoy it without a boat. If we come back again, we’ll be sure to have some sort of watercraft so that we can fully enjoy the reservoir. What is your favorite non-motorized watercraft? If you own one, we hope you are taking the opportunity to enjoy it since watercraft seem to be one of the items that is in short supply during this pandemic!

Check out our related video: Paonia State Park

(RB)