It was the best of summer. It was the worst of summer.
If you are a camper during a weekend in the middle of June, you will discover various types of campers you rarely see during the spring or fall; those who camp once per year and come completely over-prepared with every tool, inflatable raft, and cooking utensil. Or those completely underprepared; without jackets at high elevations, without bug spray by the water, and without a lighter to start their campfires. And you will find the camper who, despite being surrounded by other campers, is completely oblivious to their loud music or voice and is incapable of following campground rules. Unfortunately for us, we were surrounded by the latter during our shortened stay at Colorado Campground outside Woodland Park, Colorado.
As an organized person, I made a reservation at Colorado Campground months in advance. I had camped across the road (and down a few miles) at South Meadows last summer and found it to be a welcoming, quiet experience with abundant trees and large sites. While neither campground has any hook-ups, they both boast forested sites that sprawl in every direction. There is plenty of room for the camper looking to spread out for a game of frisbee without hitting their neighbor’s tent. I had selected site 45 purposely because it is a short walk from this site to Manitou Lake, a small day use lake with views of Pikes Peak, picnicking areas, and an opportunity to try our new inflatable kayak. I thought that it would be similar to South Meadows, since both were operated by the US Forest Service.
We arrived in time to set up camp and make dinner. Driving around the entire campground to find our spot, which was located on the corner of one of the small loops, I noticed the spots were not as large as those at South Meadows, though they offered ample space. Despite being in a Stage 2 fire ban county-wide, the park host was selling fire wood and several campers were already building their fires for the evening. We pulled into our incredibly unlevel spot, leveled the camper, unhooked, and prepared to make dinner. As we busied ourselves with food preparation, the perpetual drone of our neighboring campsite’s generator drowned out any sound from birds or wildlife. Though they were sizable sites, the generator had strategically been placed on our side of their rig, pointed toward us and away from the front of their own site and picnic table. Two dogs were attached to long leashes tied around trees, and if we exited our camper, they would bark until an owner yelled something at them- we couldn’t hear exactly what since their generator hummed on.
I wondered if there were generator-specific hours, but in my heart knew that quiet hours were the only time I could be assured that this contraption would cease its senseless sound. As it turned out, on my walk around the campground after dinner, we were approached by a friend of the campers next to us. She said she was sorry about the loud sound, but her friend had been placed on oxygen that week and had to run the generator all the time to re-charge her oxygen. They had made these reservations (at 8,000 foot elevation) months ago and didn’t want to miss their annual camping trip. I was understanding and torn; my weekend listening to birds had just switched to a weekend listening to what sounded like a large air conditioning unit at close range. The woman assured me that while it would run all day, they would turn it off at quiet time (10 p.m.-6 a.m.).
I returned to my campsite to find the neighbors on the other side, an odd mix of extended family in a van conversion, listening to an eclectic music assortment much too loud for their space, mostly to drown out the hum of the generator on the opposite side of me. Despite the loud noises coming from both directions, we were determined to build a campfire and make smores. With the many fire bans in place, it had been weeks since we had enjoyed a campfire. We began building our fire with wood purchased from our camp host when, despite both the hum of the generator and the eclectic music, I heard what sounded like a swarm of bees. I looked to the trees nearby and saw nothing, then looked up into the tall pines to find a drone hovering above the campsite across from ours, but being flown several campsites away by a group of people who apparently could not read the list of unallowable objects in this campground.
We were outside to enjoy nature, this new campsite, the amazing sunset, our second campfire of the summer despite numerous nights camping, and we were surrounded by more noise than we hear at 6 p.m. at our home. Apparently, the camp host informed the drone flyers that this was not a legitimate place for flights. At some point, the music ceased (probably when the people piled into their van and turned off the lights). And at 9:58 p.m., as promised, our neighbor turned off their generator. I think there was some peace for a few hours. And in those hours, I decided to find a new campsite during a peak summer weekend in the mountains of Colorado.
The next morning, we asked the camp host if there was any other spot available; perhaps someone canceled at the last minute, left in the night, decided they wanted to go home to peace and quiet. But the campground was unfortunately full. We were stuck in the noisy spot that was again humming with the loud generator pointing toward our site. More music from a truck parked several spots away was somehow permeating the entire corner of the campground. I had one more option that was a long-shot before calling off the trip. We drove our Explorer to South Meadows a couple miles down the road.
The sign on their entrance said “Campground Full”, but like the drone pilots, we decided to pretend we couldn’t read and drove in to see the camp host. Luckily, we didn’t drive far before we recognized the host driving around in the golf cart with the American flag on the corner. She was the same host we had last year and was patrolling the campground. She immediately was sympathetic and said she could help us! Someone had reserved the whole weekend, but had to leave that morning, and had just checked out. We could have their spot which was surrounded by tent campers and unlikely to have a buzzing drone, a generator, or music nearby. We immediately switched campgrounds, checking out of Colorado Campground and setting up at South Meadows before heading to the lake to try our new kayak.
South Meadows is a sprawling campground with spacious sites that offer abundant trees and several sites near the back have views of open fields. The camp hosts offer assistance and require adherence to campground rules and they keep the campground very clean. We have stayed at this campground in the past and while site 43 was not necessarily my favorite, it was definitely an oasis compared to our loud stay at Colorado Campground. If I stay at South Meadows again, I would definitely choose sites 37, 35, 34, or 24 which back to meadows and not the road, have large shade trees, and are generally situated for easy access to the water spigots that dot the campground. Again, there are no hook-ups here, but vault toilets are clean and the hosts are excellent. And our new campground neighbors were a group of college student women who asked to borrow a can opener. We were happy to help.