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(Continued from the last page.)


If you're retired and/or into RVing you've probably heard of "snowbirds" and "Winter Texans." You might even be one yourself!

There are some nice sites in this little cul de sac in the lower section of our campground.

Snowbirds are folks from colder northern climes in Canada and the U.S. who flock to warmer southern states or Mexico during the winter.

Many travel and live somewhere warm in their RV for several months, then head back to their stix-n-brix home in the summer. Some either have a home up north and one in the south and split their time between them, or rent someplace during the winter in Florida, Arizona, etc. and return to their house in the summer.

"Winter Texans" are simply a sub-species of snowbirds -- they winter in southern Texas to avoid the ravages of winter elsewhere. (Why haven't I heard of "Winter Arizonans" or "Winter Floridians?")

Sky drama

Jim and I are another sub-species of the snowbird.

Not only do we dislike extreme cold, we aren't real fond of the heat, either. As extended RVers (not yet quite full-timers) we head to the Southwest in the winter and the cool Rocky Mountains in the summer -- what I jokingly refer to as the Dandelion Time Warp because there are usually dandelions in bloom wherever and whenever we are camping in these places.

We aren't the only ones who try to escape hot summers. So do a bunch of Texans, who are especially suffering with high temperatures and a severe drought this summer.

I'm going to start calling folks like us "Summer Silvertonians" even though Jim and I don't spend all summer here. We prefer to move around to different places every few weeks.

Some people do spend the entire summer in Silverton, though. The town's population soars in June, July, and August with folks who have second homes here. Because of Silverton's severe winters, these folks live someplace warmer the rest of the year.

Other Summer Silvertonians rent out a house for several weeks or months when it's nice at 9,000 feet elevation. It would get very expensive to stay in a hotel or B&B for the summer but some people probably do that, too.

The least expensive way to spend the summer in Silverton is to camp in your own RV, particularly if you are equipped (you, personally, and your camper) to boondock for long periods of time.

Signs of an experienced boondocker:  solar panel, satellite dish, and generator under a tarp.

I don't know if the three private campgrounds in town have weekly, monthly, or seasonal rates but that would be less expensive than paying a daily fee for the privilege of having hookups and nearby conveniences.

We prefer to boondock for "free" on Forest Service or BLM land. (I've expounded before on why "free" camping is never completely free.)

This is the fifth summer since 2006 that we've camped in one of the dispersed areas along South Mineral Creek Road, each time in June and July in the weeks preceding the Hardrock race. In 2009 we returned for a second visit after the race. (We also visited one time in September but stayed in Charlie Thorn's house that time.)

Another NFS dispersed campground farther out S. Mineral Creek Rd. (photo from 6-27-06)

For each of those June-July trips we arrived about three weeks prior to the race and were able to remain at our chosen dispersed campground on South Mineral Creek Road until after the race, then headed farther north to run and/or work other ultra-distance trail races in beautiful mountain settings.

The Forest Service has never hassled us about staying longer than two weeks at a time in a campground, although that is a widely-practiced rule out West on Forest Service lands. We rarely saw any rangers in the campgrounds unless they were cleaning out the pit toilets.

Our current site

Well, times certainly have changed.

This year someone in the San Juan National Forest district has decided that the 14-day rule will be enforced, by golly. There are new signs to this effect along South Mineral Creek Road and in the dispersed campgrounds.

It's also one of the first things Roy mentioned to us when we arrived. His shorts are in a bunch, too, because he and Laura want to stay here even longer than we do.


Here's where we get to the topic I alluded to at the beginning of the first page of this entry (finally!). We like our spot and we don't see why we should have to move after two weeks.

If we play strictly by the rules we have to move to another campground on July 5, three days before the Hardrock race begins. We're safe through the holiday (that's why we chose to arrive when we did) but after that we'll probably be forced to find another spot until July 11, when we plan to move on for the North Fork race west of Denver.

Our ham radio friends Roy and Laura don't want to move either. They are even bigger "Summer Silvertonians" than we are. They've been known to camp here the entire summer without being told to move. You can guess how they feel about the rule being enforced this year!

Since they got here before us, they may have to move July 4 or earlier. That's nearly impossible during the holiday when the entire area is packed, including the pull-offs along the sides of busy US 550 south of town.

We have not learned the reason why the 14-day rule is finally being enforced in this district. Our experience has been that the dispersed campgrounds on South Mineral Creek Road are completely and totally packed only on the 4th of July holiday, then half full or less the rest of the summer. Even on Labor Day weekend they are nowhere near this full (or so we've heard from reliable sources). The place is often still snowed in at Memorial Day and not even accessible yet.

So what's the problem??

Perhaps the Forest Service is afraid that in this dismal economy homeless folks will want to stay here all summer. We've never observed anyone "homesteading." No vagrants appear to be living in dilapidated vehicles or leaving messes.

If someone complained that they can't find a place to camp near Silverton on the 4th of July this rule will not help them one bit. It isn't the few RVers who want to spend several weeks or months that are taking up all or even most of the dispersed campsites. All anyone who wants to spend the holiday (or all summer) has to do is time their visit so the Fourth fits within a 14-day window of time. That's what we always do -- time our arrival to get here well before the holiday crowd, but not more than two weeks ahead. 

Already crowded by the creek a week before the Fourth;  that's why we don't park there.

The day after the Fourth of July holiday ends and the entire rest of the summer there are plenty of camping spaces available around the Silverton area, including the popular campground we are in. That's why we think it is stupid to enforce this rule in this particular area.

Either we're missing something here or some government drone hasn't thought this through very well.

Lots of folks tow Jeeps or other 4WD vehicles to play in the San Juans.

People who camp here for more than two weeks are not depriving anyone of a campsite. In fact, they are doing a public service by helping to improve the local economy (maybe the Forest Service doesn't care about that?). They buy groceries and fuel in town. They patronize the restaurants and theater. They rent Jeeps and take train tours. They buy everything from junk to expensive art in the stores, whether they need it or not.

They do all this even if they have a "free" campsite.

Correction -- they likely do more of this because they have a "free" campsite and more money to play with. I'm guessing most of the business owners in town (except private campground owners) are quite happy if boondocking RVers stick around all summer.


Our new friend Barry is smart. He figured out the system and arrived early enough this year to take advantage of it.

Barry is the closest thing to a campground host that we have. He's a retired biologist who lives in his RV all summer (don't know about the rest of the year), preferably in Silverton.

Last year he was able to remain in one spot most of the time but this year the rangers hounded him to move on after two weeks. He found a way to beat the system -- as a volunteer with the Forest Service. (Kinda the same way we "beat the system" and saved money at Brazos Bend SP in Texas the last two winters by being CG hosts.) We don't think he's being paid, just allowed to stay all summer in this campground.

Sounds like a pretty good deal to us!

We met Barry the first day we were here; his RV is parked next to Roy and Laura by the creek (two of the motorhomes in the photo above). He's a personable guy and "one of us" -- a retiree with an RV who simply found an inexpensive and acceptable way to indulge his desire to be a Summer Silvertonian.

As far as we know his only campground duty is to keep track of license tags by date and report it to the Forest Service. Rangers clean the pit toilets and pick up any trash. Barry also volunteers several days a week in the Public Lands Center in Silverton.

Groups like this site by the pit toilet; there are likely to be more RVs here soon.

I don't know how many hours he has to work each week to maintain the privilege of staying in the campground all summer. He enjoys helping visitors in the Public Lands Center and seems to have adequate free time to do whatever he wants. Roy's even convinced him to help out at Hardrock this year!

We haven't had the guts yet to ask Barry when he first officially recorded us in the campground. Nor has Roy. Roy thinks he didn't start counting either of us until yesterday, the first time we saw him going around with his clipboard.

If so, we're good through Sunday of race weekend. If not, Roy thinks he can talk his way into a longer time to cover the Hardrock race ("public service") and beyond.

Jim and I aren't that optimistic. We don't think the Forest Service gives a hoot about whether we're working the race or not. Nor do we want to get hit with a $200 fine so we're scoping out other places to move if we have to.

Mountain avens near Clear Lake

Late this afternoon a grumpy ranger came around to take stock of who's in our campground. Jim was outside and tried to start a conversation but Mr. Ranger was in a hurry and not very talkative. Again, we don't know when our presence was first noted and it's not like we can just come out and ask!

Gotta be discreet about this. Hopefully, we'll get some warning if we bump up against what they deem to be our 14-day limit.

From what Barry has told us, after the 14 days we have to move at least three miles away. That rules out using the dispersed campgrounds farther back this road. The ranger confirmed that we can go over to the dispersed spots near Eureka that are on NFS and BLM lands.

Barry said he thinks we can leave this campground for a couple of days and then return for another two weeks but that's a hassle with a trailer.

Not sure what these are but they caught my attention.

Roy has another idea that may work out for both of us since we're working the Hardrock race July 8-10 -- maybe we can park near the new race HQ at the ski area if we have to leave our sites at South Mineral Creek before the race.

Folks are allowed to camp there for the 4th of July for a fee; Roy has heard through the grapevine that runners and volunteers can camp there for the race.

We don't see anything about it on the Hardrock website or in the runners' manual, probably because this is a new situation this year. The high school gym is being renovated so race HQ and the start/finish will be at the ski lodge and Rodger Wrublik's humongous tent, which was formerly used at ATY.  We'll have to confirm setting up in that area with the RD or volunteer coordinators.


Meanwhile, since Barry isn't parked near the entrance and doesn't have a CG host sign, some people think Jim is the campground host. They did last year, too, when we were on the other side of the entrance to the campground.

OK, we'll play host even if we aren't the hosts.

When Jim's outside folks sometimes ask questions about camping here, including the cost. He jokes that hed be rich by now if he could convince them they need to pay him $10/night for a site. I told him he needs to erect a CG host sign and see how long it takes that humorless Forest Service ranger to come knocking on our door!

We also joke when were boondocking that we should put up a fake electrical post, water spigot, and/or sewer connection and see how many people do double-takes. There are no hookups in dispersed campgrounds like this.

That might garner a little more attention than we want from the Forest Service, however. Gotta fly under the radar . . .

This was in a recent RVTravel.com  e-newsletter.

I'll keep you posted on the 14-day rule and how well we comply with it.

We know our friend Bill H. would say that we wouldn't have to worry about things like this if we lived in a compact motor coach like he has. He can move easily from one spot to another every day. We aren't ready to take that step, though.

Next entry: if you liked the Clear Lake photos, you'll love the ones from the Ice Lake Basin and Grant-Swamp Pass!

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil