Jim and I always have ambivalent feelings when it's time to leave one of
the places we've enjoyed visiting. But even though we had a great time in
Silverton and it's a little sad to go, we're usually ready to move on after three
weeks in any one place.
Itchy feet, indeed!
It didn't rain much the last three weeks, but when
it did, the sky was dramatic.
Before we leave Silverton I want to tie up some loose ends.
entry includes some information, stories, tips, and miscellaneous photos
(antique modes of transportation, dramatic scenery, interesting
vignettes) that I haven't
shared yet about our three weeks in the area. It concludes with a
summary of Jim's training here.
Although there are several free dispersed national forest camping areas along South
Mineral Creek (SMC) Road -- and others in Cunningham Gulch and
along CR 110 between Silverton and
Eureka -- the campground where we've hung out the last two summers is the only one where we can get a Verizon
signal for phone calls and internet broadband service (we travel with
two computers and no satellite dish).
If we want a WiFi connection,
we go into town. That's how Jim watches some TV shows. Without a
satellite dish, we don't get TV reception in the campground, either.
A vertical view of the same scene
Most of the times we've visited Silverton it's been to volunteer at the
Hardrock race the second weekend in July. We've learned to time our arrival well before the
Fourth of July holiday in order to secure a good spot in this popular
campground. This year the first week of July was even more crowded in the camping
areas along SMC Road than we've seen before.
When we got here
on June 22 there were plenty of suitable spots available, including what
has become our second-favorite site -- right by the entrance to the
campground (next photo below).
We learned on our second visit here last summer that this site has one big disadvantage: dust from all the
vehicles coming into and going out of the campground, as well as dust
from S. Mineral Creek Rd. if the wind is blowing our way. We had less
rain this time than in previous years we've visited the area. Every
afternoon I crossed my fingers for some rain to dampen the road --
unless we were out on the trails! Don't wanna be a lightning rod.
This site has more advantages than disadvantages, however, including convenience to
the road, the inability of anyone to crowd us when the place gets
over-run during the Fourth of July (the snug little spot in the trees is
definitely a onesy) . . . and being able to see who's coming and
That's fun, albeit distracting; Jim's computer table, AKA
the dining table, and my desk both face the entrance. We like to think of ourselves as the "gatekeepers" when we have a
site with a vantage point like this.
"THAT'LL BE 20 BUCKS, SIR"
One day before the holiday rush was upon us but the place was
starting to get filled up, a big Class A motorhome with a "toad" (towed
vehicle) pulled in about a hundred feet off the road and stopped. The retired fella
who was driving the handsome rig came over to Jim, who was doing
something outside our camper, and started asking him questions that
indicated he assumed Jim was the campground host. That was reasonable
for a newcomer to the area, as campground hosts often occupy the spot
closest to the entrance.
Jim was friendly and answered all his questions, including how much
it costs to camp in this campground.
That question made Jim hesitate just a few seconds, considering the
possibility of messing with the guy's mind just a little. It's free, but
this guy had obviously never been here before. What would happen if Jim
told him he needed to pay us $20/nite to park here??
View from my window: an
incoming storm obscures the mountains to the west.
Since Jim wasn't sure how good a sense of humor the man possessed, he
decided against pretending to be the campground host and trying to
collect any money! He advised the fella that it was free (if you don't count
the taxes he paid to Uncle Sam for the privilege) and no, there is no
We got a laugh out of it when Jim came inside and told me, however.
As if we could get away with pocketing money that way! (Even if
someone tried that, the victim would soon find out and demand his money
"YOU MEAN *YOUR* SITE DOESN'T HAVE HOOKUPS??"
It reminds me of a joke we'd like to pull on folks but just
haven't done yet -- making a fake electrical post and/or water
spigot to put in the ground next to our camper at boondocking AKA dry
camping sites like
this without any hookups (except maybe the campground host)!
We read about that on someone's RV blog and
think it would be funny as all get out to pretend be the only one with
"hookups" in a big campground like this, or better yet, some place like
Quartzite, AZ, where hundreds (thousands?) of sunbirds flock to the warm
desert every winter.
It would be quite amusing to watch people's reactions and see if they
figure out the hoax -- or even notice the difference!
Another afternoon storm approaches our
valley (four of these storm photos were taken on one day).
Speaking of crowded campgrounds . . . our campground did indeed get crowded before/during the Fourth of
July holiday period but no one could crowd us in our cozy niche. The
main problem was avoiding the pit toilet for several days -- just
didn't want to go in there after so many people used it. Otherwise it
was kept pretty clean by the rangers.
A secondary problem was having so many people to watch -- very
distracting. It's a tough job to be the gatekeeper! (just joking)
It was very pleasant when most folks left and we could
more easily access the beautiful creek again this past week. We learned last year that it's not in
our best interest to park next to the creek in that campground because
people will park their rig a foot away from our windows if they get the
When the place isn't crowded, it's an el primo location to camp. I love the views of the creek
and mountains from there and Cody loves playing in the water:
Our favorite spot has remained illusive and we've never gotten it.
It's sort of near the creek but back in a little driveway where only one RV can
park. Our ham radio friends Roy and Laura occupied that spot most of last
Neither they nor we were ever able to get into it this year, however.
It's fun when one or more of the other sites are occupied by friends
of ours. This year we were able to spend more time with Roy and Laura,
as well as ultra
runners Bill H and John and Marcy B, because they were all in the
campground for several days before and/or after the Hardrock race.
Anyone who owns a house or a vehicle, including an RV,
knows there are constant maintenance jobs and repairs to be done. You're
in great shape if you either know how to do a lot of those jobs
yourself, thereby saving a lot of time and money, or you are married to
someone who does!
I can do a lot of things around a house and yard but I
don't have mechanical skills. Fortunately, Jim's one of those handy guys
who can figure out how to fix or jury-rig almost anything,
including vehicles. If he can't (or doesn't want to) fix
something, he knows when to seek help.
He also has fun helping other folks figure out how to do
things, like rig up generators or solar equipment on their RVs. Since
he's done that on our Cameo he often gets questions from other RV owners
who want some advice.
Glad our truck's a little newer
than the one advertising Silverton's brewery.
While we were in the Silverton area Jim was able to complete several
routine truck and camper maintenance chores like washing and waxing both
vehicles, changing the oil in the truck, and checking the brakes and
tire pressures. We had to take the oil to Durango when we were unable to
find anywhere to recycle it in Silverton.
Jim also found the source of a brake problem we had on the
way to Silverton. Turns out, it was "just" a severed wire
under the camper. He was able to repair it fairly easily without having to jack up the camper to work on it as he
Isn't it nice when a problem isn't as problematic as we
Above and below: there are lots of examples of
older modes of transportation in Silverton.
Whenever Jim does need to jack the camper up, the hydraulic
Big Foot leveling system will come in very handy (it's already very handy for
leveling the camper every time we move -- best convenience
feature we have on the Cameo). The whole camper can be raised up off its
wheels with Big Foot to do repairs or maintenance.
Cool. No dangerous jacks to mess with, on the camper anyway.
Another problem we had is one I haven't written about yet. It's a
long saga, but to make the story short until I have a chance to explain
it in an entry by itself (for the benefit of other Cameo owners), the bottom line is
that we had to reattach a ~30-pound, 11-foot long piece of cherry wood
fascia to the interior of the slide-out over the table and desk.
We nailed that sucker in for eternity so it never falls off again.
One of us could have been killed if it had fallen on our head instead of
coming off in transit. We're lucky it didn't do any more damage to the
interior than it did. (This was the fault of an RV dealer where we had
some warranty work done on the slide in April, not the way the Carriage
factory originally installed the trim.)
ANOTHER MR. FIX-IT
We had one little annoying problem, however. We were frustrated
trying to get the tiny finish nails perfectly recessed into the fascia
without banging it up. Thankfully, ultra runner John B, who is handy at
that sort of thing and more patient than us, volunteered to use our nail
setter to get the nails in professionally. Thank you, John! Then I was
able to finish the job with matching wood putty so the holes and nails
That's what I mean about knowing our limits and seeking help when
needed. If we can't do a job right, we try to find someone who can.
Thank goodness for handy friends.
I bet Jim and John could fix
John also pointed out that the replacement trim Carriage sent to us
under warranty was the wrong height but will fit the other two
slide-outs . . .
Ha! Jim and I got a good laugh out of that. We'd been carrying around the
long pieces of wood for several weeks and hadn't even noticed that! We just knew
it was easier to replace the original, slightly damaged fascia than glue
together several pieces of the new one they sent us. (I told you it was
a long story, and this isn't even the best parts of it yet.)
If you don't inspect it too closely the trim looks as good as new. Now we just hope
it never has to come off again for any
repairs to the slide or weather seals. We'll keep the replacement pieces
at our house in Virginia in case we need them in the future for one of
the other two slides.
AND ANOTHER ONE!
Two other running friends here for Hardrock, Mark and Margaret H,
came by one evening to visit and gave us some good tips re: our
solar system (panels, not planets!). Although we've known them for ten
years or more, this is probably the longest we've ever talked with them.
That was fun!
One of Mark's suggestions will make boondocking easier for us.
When we don't have an electrical connection and are using the
generator/inverter system for power, we've always turned the generator
on to run the microwave because it surges initially and continues to
suck up a lot of power while it's on. If we look at the voltage monitor
we can see the numbers plunge. There's a certain minimum number we try
to keep it above.
Mark said we could probably use the microwave with the generator off,
as long as the batteries are charged up pretty well first. Jim tried it,
and lo and behold, it worked! The voltage plunged but returned to the
same number when we turned the microwave off.
That's great! Not only does it eliminate some trips outside to turn
the generator on and off, it also saves gasoline, prolongs the life of
the generator, and cuts down on noise. Thanks, Mark!
WARNING FOR FOLKS VISITING SILVERTON
We love most everything about visiting Silverton in the summer but
there are some things other visitors need to know before they go. The
"warnings" I will mention here
apply whether you're camping or staying in a hotel, motel, B&B, or
Nancy and Gerald Swanson,
proprietors of the Villa Dallavalle,
tool around town in a newer
older truck . . .
One of the problems of being in a very small, isolated mountain town
is the lack of certain goods and services.
When I had my bike wreck last summer, for example, the local
ambulance service rescued me but had to transport me over sixty miles to
Durango. Just my luck the hospital is at the far end of that
city. If I'd been more seriously injured I could have died in the time
it took to get me there through the mountains. Silverton has only a
This dry-docked train won't get
you to Durango any faster, either.
Fresh, affordable food is also an issue, even in the summer.
There are several nice restaurants in Silverton. If you want to eat
all your meals out, you're in pretty good hands.* But if you're cooking
most or all of your own meals, you have just one small grocery in town
Items are very limited and cost more than even an upscale food emporium
in a big city.
That's the second big problem with shopping in Silverton --
Businesses have a fairly captive audience, after all, and have to
truck everything over those same mountains from Durango to the south or
Montrose to the north. It's even worse for the locals and visitors after
the snow starts falling. Those mountains get a LOT of snow.
Even something as simple as finding fresh produce (summer or
winter) requires an hour-plus drive to either Durango or Montrose. It's
not just us; locals will tell you how often they have to make
that drive to get the items they need, too. For reasonable prices
and any kind of selection of food, household goods, anything, you
have to go elsewhere.
Relevant sign on a roof in
Silverton; I took this picture in July, 2009.
Gas and diesel are available in Silverton but they are both about 30¢
more per gallon than in Durango or Montrose. Guess where we buy our
diesel fuel -- in Montrose on the way to Silverton from the north, and in
Durango when we're down there purchasing what we can't/won't buy in
Silverton. We have to be pretty desperate to pay ransom for it in
There is a propane dealer in Silverton
that is very reasonable, however, so we buy our propane there.
Cute propane "pig" at the AB RV
Resort; that's not where we buy our propane, though.
Bottom line: every time we visit
Silverton, we also visit Durango!
That's not so bad; Durango's
pretty cool and it's faster to reach than Montrose (you have to drive
through Ouray and Ridgeway to get to Montrose). We do try to limit the
drive to once every seven to ten days to save time and fuel, and we make
several stops when we're down there to make it more cost-effective --
WalMart, Auto Zone, car wash, gas station, Subway, etc.
It's hard to keep fresh produce fresh
that long so we use more frozen fruit and vegetables when we're camping
in Silverton. Milk will keep a week or more but our refrigerator is too
small to hold more than two gallons at a time. We go through two gallons
in four or five days, so we have to replenish milk at the little
Silverton grocery. Sometimes they don't have any skim milk or don't have
it in the less expensive gallon size and we end up spending double what
a gallon costs at WalMart.
View of Engineer Mountain from US
550 on the way to/from Durango
In the past three weeks we went down to Durango only one time.
John and Marcy picked up some perishables for us one time they
went down, and we returned the favor when we went down. That was
a win-win for both couples.
You'd think we'd face a similar scenario in Leadville, but it
has a larger population that supports more goods and services.
Leadville has a chain grocery store with a good selection of
items at more reasonable prices, fuel is about the same as in
Buena Vista or the towns along I-70, and we rarely feel the need
to go to elsewhere to shop for basics when we're there for two
or three weeks.
Despite Silverton's inconveniences, however, I like hanging out
there a little better than Leadville. The San Juan Mountains are
just so special!
Another shot of Engineer Mountain out the
* This trip we ate out only three times in Silverton --
twice at the Brown Bear (Greene Street) and once at the Stellar
Bakery & Pizzeria (Blair Street). We've enjoyed tasty,
reasonably-priced meals at the Brown Bear several times
previously and they were just as good this time. We especially
like the warm loaf of wheat bread that comes with each meal and
we've been known to purchase a second one to take home with us.
Last night was the first time we've eaten at the Stellar Bakery
and Pizzeria, where we enjoyed a delicious veggie pizza in the
company of Marcy and John. We highly recommend both places.
JIM'S TRAINING RUNS
< Sigh >
Since I'm not running races any more, I guess I can't say I'm
"training" for anything. I'm still walking and hiking 30-40
miles a week or more (plus cycling, etc.), but now it's for
health and enjoyment, not competition.
Jim's still running trail races, however, and he's got a
50-miler coming up in just a few days. His workouts in the
San Juans have been tailored to prepare him for that race and
subsequent events he may do this summer and fall. I've already
shown photos from most of those long or more difficult
Heading into a storm on US 550 between
Silverton and S. Mineral Creek Rd. (ditto for next photo)
The training run he did most frequently was up to Clear Lake,
often including the three miles out and back on South Mineral
Creek (SMC) Road from our campground to the Jeep road up to the
lake. Round trip is about 15 miles. He did that several times.
Although he mostly walked as fast as he could on the road up to
the lake, he was able to do faster and/or more sustained running
coming back down that narrow road and on flatter SMC Road.
of this was easy, however, because the lowest elevation is about
9,500 feet at our campground; the lake sits at about
Even after being here for three weeks and getting up to about
13,000 feet elsewhere, Jim doesn't feel acclimated yet. It's
still an effort for him to do any kind of sustained running at
these altitudes. Fortunately, none of the races he is
considering this summer or fall get much over 10,000 feet high.
I have noticed more of an improvement acclimating than Jim has,
but that's probably because I'm not putting forth as much effort
since I'm not running much (yes, I sometimes do a little uphill
running to get my heart rate up higher than I can get it while
Jim's other long runs/hikes included the Mineral Creek Trail to
Rolling Mountain Pass, the Bear-Cataract-Porcupine-Ice Lake
Creek section of the Hardrock course, a 21-mile run on Segment
25 of the Colorado Trail (CT) from Molas Pass to Rolling
Mountain Pass and back, and a 21-mile point-to-point run/hike
from Cunningham Gulch up to CT Segment 24 on the Continental
Divide, down to the Animas River through Elk Canyon, and back up
to Molas Pass. The latter was his toughest run here because of
the significant elevation change and rough footing through the
Jim interspersed these longer runs/hikes with shorter ones on
parts of the Hardrock course, Kendall Mountain, Clear Lake, and
CT Segment 25. He also did some speed work on South Mineral
He feels reasonably confident he can finish the North Fork
50-miler this weekend. It will be his longest race since the
Rocky Raccoon 50-miler in early February.
He'll make more solid plans regarding any races in August and
September after seeing how he does at North Fork. He's
vacillating about entering the Bear 100-miler in late September.
After a good training run, he's guardedly optimistic about it.
After a less than stellar run, he's more pessimistic.
FAREWELL TO SILVERTON
Now it's time to go and we leave Silverton with mixed emotions,
wishing we could stay longer but needing to move on down (or up)
the road . . . the next entry will be from Kenosha Pass,
which is our staging area for the North Fork race.
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil