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Road Trips 06: From Colorado Springs to Wichita Falls, Texas (in RV)
Route Highlights, Trip research suggestions
FEATURED (WITH PICTURES): Volcanoes and Mountains, Camping in and near the Mountains, Wichita Falls, Raton Hot Air Balloon Rally, Old Colorado City, Garden of the Gods, Chuck Wagon Ranch Dinner and Show, Large Butterflies & Bugs (mounted), Mountain Vistas, and, Dinosaur Tracks.
FEATURED (OTHERS): The Raton area, the Colorado Springs area, and "Bear Country".
Several other sights and diversions will be suggested based on our past trips.
ROUTE HIGHLIGHTS: We will begin at Wichita Falls, Texas, and take the run up to Amarillo. We will drive the scenic, mountain route to Texline, then Clayton. We will drive the highway behind the north side of Capulin Mountain Volcano in north-eastern New Mexico. We will celebrate the 2006 "Independence Day" weekend at Raton, New Mexico. After crossing into Colorado, we take another (off the beaten track) loop, west. We want to check out the rural, Mountaindale Campground near Royal George. We will visit a few places in the Colorado Springs Area and return by Capulin Volcano and stop at Clayton, New Mexico, and visit Clayton Lake State Park. We will camp at Amarillo and eat at the "Big Texan Steak House".
Touring is a great way to see the country and a RV or Camper is a great way to experience it. We loved our Casita Trailer and its' size and versatility served us very well on this trip. I recall us occasionally sitting in the kitchenette in some oversize parking lot eating lunch. We became amused at folks peering at us as they passed by. There were other similar occasions and advantages too. On occasion we would stop in a small town and park in two (end to end) parking places at an intersection that we could pull out from. Note: This trailer should be covered when not in use. The sun will destroy the glossy gel coat on the white finish.
Our favorite campground finder was the Good Sam Club. Their "Parks and Campgrounds Directory" was a very valuable guide finding the services and quality that we wanted.
History Buffs might want to check out the following on Wikipedia: Comanche, Towns, and Places.
Chapter 1A: Wichita Falls,TX to Raton, NM - (Going) Texas segment of the route, with points of interest.
Video on YouTube: Animated Slide Show for HDTV (for Chapter 1a and 1b)
We have made this run several times and there are stretches that get a little boring, mostly in West Texas. Then, about the time boredom sets in, there is a change in the geology that is very unusual.
There are many towns that are still on our "to do" list along this route. I have listed many of them and encourage you to research a trip you are going to make and set priorities for your itinerary preferences.
Wichita Falls, Texas
Our family pictures were taken at the Wichita Bend RV Park.
A footbridge connects it across the river to the expansive and relaxing Lucy Park.
We have "poked around" Wichita Falls and dined in some locations. The Asian buffets we have tried are good and I am told the sushi bars are good. For the slowest service in the west, go to the IHOP on Southwest Parkway. If you are in a hurry and want some IHOP, go to the one at 1004 Broad Street.
The Wichita Falls Railroad Museum is a good one and you actually get to go inside the train cars.
Trails along the Wichita River are well kept and the routes are a mini city park unto themselves.
Lake Arrowhead State Park is near and has signs clearly posted on US Highway 287/82. It is east of Wichita Falls. It contains the first publicly accessible prairie dog village (that I am aware of) traveling from the East. The fish were jumping shortly after daylight when we were there. I hooked (but did not land) "the big one". Ha!
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is north of town about 80 miles. Hike and camp "on the wild side" and expect semi-wild critters (including buffalo) to visit your camp site, especially at night.
This is a progressive little town where the North Texas oil boom began in 1911.
This is a progressive big town with a very significant western history.
The town was named for the legendary Comanche Chief, Quanah Parker. They are also dedicated to preserving his legacy and a visit is high on my "To Do List".
Don't blink your eyes or you will miss this historical community on the way through. You may also miss the turn to the Ole Towne Cotton Gin RV Park. We admired their ability to turn the gin into a viable RV park and we enjoyed the continental breakfast that nice folks provided.
We almost always stop at Dawson's Family Restaurant on the way back home. It is usually near lunch time and their down home cookin' buffet has some good selections to pick from. Look for it on the south side of the highway.
Estelline is fairly easy to miss (if you blink) but, there is a travel choice to make.
Do we want to turn on State Highway 86 and tour the Paladuro Canyon cliff area? I highly recommend at least two days for this diversion. That being said it is a good destination. BEST KEPT SECRET: Just 44 miles on this same route is Caprock Canyons State Park.Note: Caprock Canyons is just north of Quitaque, Texas.
Canyon Route Choices
To continue to Amarillo on US 287, we across the Red River. As we approach the long, long, low lying bridges we get our expectations up. Where is all of the water?? With a little luck we will see some pools somewhere on the wide sand flats. NOTE: There is a good overlook on the south-west side that is easier to access on the return trip.
Welcome to the "Other Memphis". It is not as big but it is the seat for Hall County.
Note: It is not too late to take the "Canyon" loop. We could still turn west on SR256.
Just before reaching Hedley we stop at the Donley County Rest Stop and Museum. It is a very nice rest stop with ample parking for big rigs. It's "sibling" rest stop is on the southbound side is equally worth checking out on our return journey.
This is the county seat for Donley County (good web site). Apparently "Western Skies Motel" is a good, cheaper alternative for staying in town (according to TripAdvisor).
The Armstrong Museum might be worth checking out.
Note: the movies "The Sundowners", "Hud", and "Sunshine Christmas" were reportedly filmed here.
A very worthwhile stop on the east side of Amarillo is the Texas Welcome Center. A little further west, at Exit 74, is Amarillo Ranch RV Park. It seemed to be good for one night (or for a week) when in the area. In fact, just up the service road on the north side is the Big Texan Steak Ranch. They do a pretty good job of living up to the hype and everyone needs to visit there at least once.
NOTE: There were no services on the north side of Amarillo, on either highway. Gas up and freshen up before leaving the down-town area.
Amarillo to Dalhart - Scenic (alternate) Route
LEAVING AMARILLO we choose alternate route, highway 1061. It is more scenic than the Dumas highway. It also carries a big "however". Highway 1061 is winding, fast, and has very few pull-over spots. This makes it not RV friendly.
This is a very small western town and the best internet site is by the Independent School District. They give a good, short rendition of the District History.
Near the west end of Texline is the New Mexico border.
Chapter 1b: Wichita Falls,TX to Raton, NM - (Going) New Mexico segment of the route, with points of interest.
Welcome to New Mexico (Official Web Site)
At the western edge of Texline, Texas, you come to the "Welcome to New Mexico" sign. I absolutely must stop and take another picture (every trip). In the distance is one of the many volcanic formations that dominate the corner of the state. How do they manage to keep most of them inside of New Mexico??
We have spent time in the north, the south, and in the middle of New Mexico and have really enjoyed every bit of it.
Attention newbie visitors to New Mexico:
Diners may be asked if they want "red chili" or "green chili". Both will "light your fire". One waitress could not tell me which one was the hottest. Ha! Ha! The cultures of Native America, Mexico, and Caucasian Immigrants tend to merge in the food offerings throughout the state. Indeed, dining is a fun adventure there.
State Highways can become very narrow and crooked. Do not expect them to measure up to "eastern" standards.
We have frequented the cafes, fueled, and done overnight stays in Clayton over the years. The best way to define Clayton is that this is part of "The Land of Enchantment" (New Mexico Motto). (more about the Clayton area on the return trip)
NOTES: 1. Check your fuel gauge before leaving Clayton. 2. We like the Clayton KOA.
Immediately after leaving Clayton, you will get a sense of “dropping off” into another (moon like) world. It took a few trips before realizing that in places you are driving on flat lava flows covered with a thin layer of soil. By now you have become used to tufts of grasses tenuously trying to hold themselves in place in this arid region. As you start crossing the wide expanses, expect to see wild antelope to your south.
By now we have passed the ghost town of Mount Dora. Grenville fairs little better. Still, they seem to fit this open country setting.
About twelve miles further down the road will be a no frills Rest Stop and information station. Do stop and check it out. It is worth the effort. Sierra Grande will be dominating the volcanic features in the area.
NOTE: At Grenville we have reached the "magic altitude" of 6000 feet. This means pleasant mornings and warm (summer) afternoons. In fact, much of Interstate 25 in Colorado and Northern New Mexico is near 6000 feet.
About one mile east of town is a Sinclair Gas Station, Gift Shop, and Restaurant. The food and service is always good.
It is route planning time again.
We will take the longer, northerly route on SH 325 this time. We will discuss the more direct route (US 64) and Capulin Mountain on the way back.
We did not tarry in Folsom but it looks like a fun half day to explore. The Museum Web Site hints at other "goodies" in the vicinity.
We will continue west on State Highway 72. Up in the hills we took a picture of the volcanic south. We continue further west, down, off the plateau. Snow is still covering the mountains west of Raton (in the distance) but they did not produce a good picture.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Highway 72 was in good condition (but slow) when we traveled through that Summer. You can always make Folsom a side trip, then drop back down to US Highway 64 on the other side of Capulin Mountain.
Ahhhh! What is not to like. This seems like a heavenly oasis after traveling the arid regions from the south, and east. Accessed from State Highway 72 only, it is safe and secure.
Camping accommodations for a small rig is relatively easy to come by during weekdays. If there is a problem Raton is a mere 13 miles away.
The upper campground is more open and is accessible by a steep road. I highly recommend a towing option equipped vehicle be used to pull anything up there.
You will note from the pictures That the lower campground sites are separated by shrubbery, you will occasionally see some form of wildlife, and there is a short guided tour that is informative.
On one trip we saw a black bear. The lady "next door" assured us that we had not seen one (because she never had). HA! HA, Ha, ha. NOTE: Ask the staff, and keep the answer under your hat.(;~)) More about bears is to come in the Colorado segments.
From Sugarite State Park we take highway 72 a few miles west and cross Highway I-24 into Raton.
Goat Hill dominates the horizon on the west edge town and on top we see the large letters
The Raton weather is pretty much ideal during the summer months, especially for us folks from the sunny south traveling to escaping the heat. We have eaten at a few of the popular places in town and spent time touring the city. There was never a hint of anyone about to run over us in a desperate rush to "get there". My wife asked; "Why do you want to go back to Raton?" I replied "I don't know. I just like Raton".
On US Highway 87 immediately east of I-25 we turn south on Cedar Street and drop off into the valley below. Summerlan has a small stream in its middle and resembles a city park with a country store. The highway noise seems to be directed upward and is barely noticeable to a weary traveler.
Chapter 2: Raton Baloon Rally, 4th of July - 2006 Independence Day, Weekend Celebration
Video on YouTube: Animated Slide Show for HDTV (for Chapter 2)
We planned the trip to celebrate the Independence Day weekend (July 4) in/around Raton, New Mexico. This would be our first time to attend a hot air balloon rally and we looked forward to it with much anticipation.
Whoa! Those things ARE big. I ask the crew if it was OK to get some pictures up close. Surprise! They said it was fine to do so. Still, I was careful not to get in their way. I explained that this was our first balloon rally. The guy said invitingly "The first one is free but next time you have to help". I must say it is tempting to get involved.
The problem with balloon rallies is that you need to be there at daylight. They must catch the early morning air currents. Ideally another air current will bring you back. On the other hand "early" is not too bad. They also served breakfast for a small charge. One balloonist brought his rig back in just over our outlying parking lot for a pin-point landing. I dubbed him "Mr. Expert".
Independence Day Celebration
The locals go "all out" for the Fourth of July weekend and we enjoyed the carnival and eats very much. They have a long parade made up largely from the National Guard, home decorated trailers, old cars, etc. The evening brings a spectacular fireworks display.
NOTE: None of the outside events charge admission.
Chapter 3: Raton, New Mexico to Colorado Springs - (Going) COLORADO segment of the route, with points of interest.
Video on YouTube: Animated Slide Show for HDTV (for Chapter 3)
We are going over historic Raton Pass and looping out by Penrose, Colorado. We want to check out a new (to us) campground off Highway 115. We will then continue our trip to Colorado Springs. Featured photographs are of Mountaindale RV Campground.
We take Interstate 25 North out of Raton, New Mexico and start climbing the ever steeper incline into the mountains until we top the hill at Raton Pass. There is an easily accessible parking area on the pass that should be taken advantage of for sightseeing.
The Colorado border sign is one that begs to be photographed every time that we make the trip.
Fisher Peak is better viewed further down from a pull off on the shoulder of the road. The views of the peak only hints at the flat plateau on top that was once part of an ancient plains.
Exit 11 is the first access to Trinidad and is clearly marked for the truck weigh station. From the exit (east side) we turn south on the access road to our (must eat) oasis, Tequila’s Family Mexican Restaurant. It’s location then “jumps out at you”. Wal-Mart is on the west side of the Interstate (across the overpass) and is accessed by crossing the bridge and turning north. Another good view of Fisher Peak is visible from the parking lot.
Trinidad proper is better accessed from the next exit. We took a quick exploratory tour of the town and it looks to be the quaint mountain town that they “bill” themselves to be.
Warning: The Colorado Welcome Center is in downtown Trinidad and there is no parking for vehicles larger than a SUV.
Note: Highway 12 going west out of Trinidad, loops back north to Walsenburg and is very scenic.
North of Walsenburg, the Rocky Mountains will again come into view to our west. If we are lucky, a "flying saucer" shaped cloud can be seen above Greenhorn Mountain.
To the east we see Huerfano Butte (picture) which stands out in stark contrast to its relatively flat surroundings. A convenient pull-out appears on the east side of the road to stop and take pictures.
Note: US Highway 160 (going west out of Walsenburg) is the ”gateway” to south-west Colorado. Except for the Great Sand Dunes National Park, this run is uneventful (but scenic) until you reach the continental divide and Wolf Creek Pass. Then “Spectacular” becomes the norm in every direction. The sand dunes are another “must see” place.
At Exit 74 is a nice rest area on the west side of the Interstate highway that is worth checking out at least once during your travels.
At Pueblo we turn West on US Highway 50 for Penrose. We want to take this loop and turn back toward Colorado Springs to check out a "new" campground.
We turn north on Highway 115 and drive about 16 miles to Mountaindale Campground. Talk about "laid back", this is it. Barb thought it was entirely too remote for her. I really liked the place. They even have hound dogs to keep the black bears run off. Hey folks! We want to photograph those bears.
Note: Just down the road, west of Penrose is Royal George. This is a “must see, full day,” place to add to your itinerary.
Leaving Mountaindale, we go through a scenic red rock area and pass the "statue" of a giant bug (more about the statue later). On the east side of the road toward the plains is sprawling Fort Carson. The western mountains begin to be dominated by Cheyenne Mountain. We leave the hills and enter Colorado Springs.
Chapter 4: The Colorado Springs Area - Featured: Garden of the Gods and the Flying "W" Ranch
Video on YouTube: Animated Slide Show for HDTV (for Chapter 4)
Some folks prefer exploring with no set itinerary. This works well in the area because there is so much to discover. Our first priority is a fairly good map showing points of interest which are mostly on the west side of the city. We can also pick up some brochures and say "Hey, lets go see this". You may be picking attractions to see on a second trip before leaving for home. It's that kind of place.
Note: We will also review other places visited on previous trips.
Turning west in Colorado Springs on US Highway 24 and driving for a few miles brings you to this quaint suburb. It's proximity to many of the fantastic attractions makes it a great staging area to make "day trips" from. This is also a good place to browse, eat, and hang out. The little shops are good to browse in, and near a very nice little city park. The Mason Jar restaurant is popular and served up good food. The fast food places are so-so.
We settle in at Goldfield Campground and make it our home for a few days. They had renovated the park since our previous visit and were "lookin' good". Their sign is visible on the south side of highway 24 just before you get to "Old Colorado City". Above the RV Park Pikes Peak begs to be photographed.
Beginning this visit we head out to "The Garden of the Gods". It is one of our favorites and is good for a great half day for touring. For the hiking and climbing enthusiast it is not that big of a place and a full day gives one a good chance to connect with the park. It is indeed a showplace for Colorado Springs and hey, it is free. The park visitors center is a "must stop" for first time visitors and a great place to get a birds eye view of the area.
The Flying “W” Ranch is good for an afternoon of browsing and people watching. It was our first visit and we stayed the evening for the Chuck Wagon Supper. It was adequate and about what one should expect. A sample of the evening entertainment is included at the end of the slide show. All in all, it is a nice family oriented experience and was very enjoyable.
A visit to the famous Pikes Peak is very much in order. Our run via the Cog Railway found it to be very interesting (we're flatlanders) but a little boring in spots. Some background music would be a help for the "quiet times". We were amazed at the Pikes Peak Road. It is by far the safest of the steep drives that this writer has made. The wife will vouch for me when I state that we have been up "bunches" of mountain roads.
At the foot of Pikes Peak is Manitou Springs. We found it a good place to spend a day browsing, sight seeing, eating, and "hanging out".
Worth a tour is Seven Falls. We found it to be a little overdeveloped but interesting.
This brings us to North Pole Home of Santa's Workshop. Firstly, let me say that "back when" our little children enjoyed it. For us adults, it was a tourist trap manned mostly by bored young adults, waiting for ski season to resume again.
Chapter 5: Colorado Springs to New Mexico - (Return) Big Bugs. Butterflies, Bears and Mountain camping
Video on YouTube: Animated Slide Show for HDTV (for Chapter 5)
Retracing our route that we drove into Colorado Springs, we drive about 12 miles south on State Highway 115. The Giant Bug Statue comes into view as we top a hill and that is our signal to "turn here". There are lots of signs to guide us the short distance into the canyon to the Headquarters and Museum.
Headquarters Level: This is our absolute favorite campground in the Colorado Springs area. The lower canyon level contains the headquarters and museums. The creek runs through this level and there are opportunities for walking and hiking here. The entire complex is large as measured by any campground that we have been in and rivals most state parks.
Campground Level: Immediately back of the headquarters, the road climbs a short, steep hill to our absolute favorite campground in the Colorado Springs area. Perhaps one of the most amazing features is its proximity to town, yet it is immediately out of the view and noise associated with the city. The campground has a large recreation field near the center that opens up to the small lakes (all within the complex). It is a great area for short or long walks, at your leisure.
The Viewing Area and Upper Trail Head: Climbing a steep rough road about 400 feet brings you to smaller flat area. It gives you a commanding view of the slope of Cheyenne Mountain. and the edge of town. More interesting is the view of the valley to the east and sprawling Fort Carson. Almost all of the campground and ponds can be seen below. It is also the trailhead for hiking the rugged hill area to the west.
Bear Country: Maybe the reason we like this place so well is because it is where (after several trips to the West) we finally "caught up with the bears". In fact, we learned to be very wary when outside of the camper. We later learned that during drought years the bears come closer to humans in search of food. unfortunately for our picture taking, it had been very rainy and they had plenty to eat in the wild. We only stayed two nights due to the weather but did see bear tracks and "sign" where they had been in the campground at night.
Note: This is Sonny's favoite bear picture that Barb took on a previous visit.
The best, shortest route to access Interstate 25 is to drive back to South Colorado Springs and take Academy Blvd. east. We turn south and drive back to Raton, New Mexico.
Chapter 6: New Mexico to Texas - (Return) Volcanoes, Lava Flows, and Dinosaur Tracks
Video on YouTube: Animated Slide Show for HDTV (for Chapter 6)
Featured on the way home is the prehistoric north-east corner of New Mexico. We will go where volcanoes blew, lava flowed, and dinosaurs roamed. All are well preserved until this day.
REMINDER: Be sure to watch for wildlife, especially south of the highway
Capulin, New Mexico
It is a nice little town with not much to offer except Capulin RV Park. Ask the friendly, helpful staff about the volcano and exploring the area.
Capulin Volcano: This is a "must see" at least once. It is easily recognized from the highway several miles away when traveling in either direction. First: It is cone shaped with a spiraled highway to the top that is very visible. Second: Everyone should take the easy walk down into the crater and look "into the mouth of the beast". Third: Be sure to check out the displays in the visitors' center.
Note: On this trip, we only drove up to the park entrance and took a few pictures to show the beauty of the area.
The Clayton KOA is very good. I likely took too many pictures but it was outstanding. They even had a tent set up and offered a variety of breakfast items (for a good price) to start you off on a great day
REMINDER: Chapter 1a contains our comments about the town.
Clayton Lake State Park (day trip)
Highway, NM 370 takes you 12 miles north across the prairie. Look close and you will discover that most of the way the road is on an ancient lava flow that is thinly covered with grass and soil. Suddenly you wind around a bend and the park entrance sigh sits before a very large canyon. As you wind down to the lake the greenery begins to take hold.
The Dinosaur Tracks are down a nice and fairly level trail and to the far end of the earthen dam. This was my first time to see tracks and they left a lasting impression (pun intended).
We took the faster route which brings you east on Highway, US87 and then down to Amarillo. We have found Yerbys RV Park to be a good priced overnighter over the years.
Loop 335 on the north side of town is the easiest way to get to Interstate 40 going east. It brings you to the Interstate at Exit 74 and Amarillo Ranch RV Park.
Now it just so happens that the world famous Big Texan Steak Ranch is a few blocks west on the service road. They even offer to pick you up in a yellow limo with big horns for a hood ornament. In short, everything is BIG about the Big Texan Steak Ranch. If you heard "it" about them, it is probably true.
The Texas Welcome Center is large and full of traveler information.
Donley County, Texas
This is where we will choose to close this tour since it was the last
picture taken. The south side, visitors’ center compliments the north side, center very well and both have ample Truck and RV parking.
We hope this tour has been helpful in planning your trip.
HAPPY TRAVELING, Sonny and Barb
Note: Sonny has been to all of these states. Barb has been to almost all of them. Our longest trip was to Jasper, Canada.
visited 22 states (44%)
Create your own visited map of The United States or website vertaling duits?