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  1. #1
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    North Fruita Desert / R18 Trip (camping) Report (May 2014)

    Road 18 North Fruita Desert Trip Summary

    NOTE: Please feel free to correct or add to my observations and assumptions. My goal is to relate to others my experiences and help the community.

    I have been avoiding R18 stuff for a number of years now, mostly because of what a pain in the ass it’s been trying to camp there or generally in the entire area. For those of you not familiar with the area, there is James Robb State Park camping area just outside Fruita, a really horrible RV park, Colorado Monument, or BLM at Book Cliffs / North Fruita Desert / R18. Here are my experiences with each.
    • Colorado Monument – you can’t mountain bike there, just camping. It’s crowded. You are next to a road (or nearly on one). It’s in the wrong direction…. It’s worth seeing, but if you are there to mountain bike the awesome trials, it’s not convenient.
    • The RV park off exit 19 – Packed in like a tin full of sardines, it sucked. We pulled in there one time a few years back, looked around, and left. Literally, so packed then if you walked out of your camper you nearly walked into the next one.
    • James Robb State Park – What a great place to camp. Showers, grass, playgrounds… The trouble is that it’s nearly always full. People book it 6 months out. Unless you can plan accordingly, or you show up Mon-Wed to snatch a first come first served, forget about it.
    • NFD / R18 BLM – I honestly have not been here since 2005 ish, when it was undeveloped and uncontrolled ‘disbursed’ camping. Since then, NFD has been developed by the BLM with their ‘restricted camping area’. Many people complain that it’s now not free, but $10/night to maintain pads, toilets, and fire rings is a pretty small fee. Unfortunately, this place fills up, and unless you are there by noon Thursday, you are SOL (S%#T out of luck).

    So last weekend, my wife and I went out to GJ / NFD to ride over the weekend, the weather pretty much ruled out anything on the front range from Cheyenne (we wanted to go to Curt Gowdy) to Taos (Angle fire opened next weekend… bummer). Since it was a no camper and no kids trip, we went for it. Here are my observations and suggestions for anybody else looking to hit NFD / R18.
    I called the BLM office in Grand Junction and asked if the NFD campground would have space. I was told that since we were coming out Thursday and no big events were going on, we should have no problem. As a backup, I did call the James Robb office too; we missed the last first come first served spot by a few hours…
    We rolled into NFD around 8:00 Thursday night and where greeted by a line of cars exiting the campground. It was full. Coming up the road, I did notice cars packed down the valley towards Fruita, but was not sure if it is the OHV trailhead parking or the lower lot (it was dark and like I said, it’s been years since I last visited). Reviewing the NFD map at the campground entrance, I found areas that were ‘disbursed camping’ outside the restricted area but staying there involved a few caveats.
    1. All fires must be in a fire pan or designated fire pit, firewood collection is prohibited (because there really is not a lot of wood in the desert…), ok no fire tonight…
    2. Permanent or portable toilets must be used, ‘no crapping in the woods’.
    Ok, so we headed west on V.7 road, past Western Zippity Do Da and camped on the unrestricted BLM land. There was another small party out that way, otherwise it was a quiet camp, no fire, and if you need to go to the bathroom, we would drive the two miles back to NFD campground and use their facility, at least that was what we would tell the Ranger.
    North Fruita Desert / R18 Trip (camping) Report (May 2014)-1a.jpg

    The next morning we broke camp, drove of the lower parking lot and had a great day of riding. We did edge loop, zippity, PBR, Prime Cut, Vegetarian, Chutes and Ladders… Our persistence and willingness to deal with a small camping inconvenience was rewarded with just great riding…

    North Fruita Desert / R18 Trip (camping) Report (May 2014)-1.jpg
    During our ride, we notice a great deal of cars and campers just to the East of the lower parking lot down in a small valley. We approached a group and asked them about camping here. They said this area was just outside the restricted area and dispersed camping was permitted. I did notice there were lots of fire rings made of stone, but not fire pans. Not sure if these were approved by the BLM, but there were plenty of fires out there. Also, the close proximity to the NFD provided toilets took care of the bathroom issue, although there were substantial lines at times during the mornings after coffee took its toll.
    My wife and I found a spot, set up camp, and proceeded to enjoy a TGIF happy hour. As we relaxed, more and more campers continued to wander into the small valley. Everything from families with RVS to groups of riders, to solo campers. Next to us was a group of 6 people with 6 dogs.

    North Fruita Desert / R18 Trip (camping) Report (May 2014)-2.jpg
    We are all familiar with the stories of camping with the masses. Here are my notes from that Friday night.
    • Our neighbors were fairly nice, but after they got their ‘bud on’, they lost awareness and let their dogs bark incessantly. Seriously, this guy was holding his dog on a leash, chatting away for at least an hour, and it just sat there and barked. Not a big deal, but WTF?
    • Cars came and went all that evening and night, all looking for a place to crash. Not a big deal either, just sweeping headlights and concern that somebody may run us over if they are not careful…
    • Two car alarms went off between 10-11:30 pm, that was cool
    • The ever present loud music and partying was off in the distance, we managed to pick the lucky side.
    All in all, it was not that big of a deal, but I could see how some obnoxious *******s could really make for a stressful evening. We were fine. We left Saturday morning and headed east to get our hot soak on in Glenwood springs, donating our wood to our neighbors. Like I said earlier, there is no wood out there, so our neighbors were quite grateful for the donation.
    To summarize my points
    1. The campground has only 34 spots and on any good weekend, they will be full. Its first come first served, $10/night, with good clean toilets.
    2. If you can’t get a spot in the campground, don’t despair, there is plenty of room outside the restricted area, but you have to deal with the occasional *******.
    3. There is no water out there, so bring plenty of your own
    4. There is no wood, so bring your own, also bring your own fire pan too if you have one. This allows you to have a camp and fire away from the crowds if you choose.

  2. #2
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    I never camp in the $10/night spots. When you have an area as popular as 18rd, then combine that with no good camping in the area other than 18rd (except rabbit valley) around there you get a crush of people on the weekends in the dispersed areas. Dirt bag ski bums from the western slope towns, front rangers, ect. Don't expect solitude or to be not much partying going on. Last time I was there maybe a month ago, there was a party of 10 people with 6 dogs next to us and just down the way there was another party of 20 people having a bachelor party there. If you have the right attitude it will be a good experience, otherwise there are other places to camp.

    I'm just waiting for the next entrepreneur to establish a pay campground close to there with real bathrooms/showers...they'll make a fortune

  3. #3
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    We ended up camping at the national monument. We were only in the area to ride Mary's area stuff and the lunch loops in GJ. Camping there sucked. $30 for park fee and campin fee, neighbors literally 25 ft from our tents and a camp host that was not very friendly or helpful. However, it does have great views and is only a short drive to Mary's.

  4. #4
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    Haven't camped at 18rd in a few years. Usually camp either at Rabbit Valley or Westwater. Too many obnoxious drunks. It's probably not too bad mid week, but it's a s**t show on weekends.

  5. #5
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    Sounds about right the valley below the trailhead is popular now that the BLM campground is $10.

    My favorite story is the guys stone-rapping & playing bongos all night long in the BLM campground highlighted around 1:30 am with "I was banging her in the bathroom and her head was hitting the toilet."
    Followed by his buddy saying "Dude you're my hero!" The next morning the girls next to them left early cranking their music as pay back at 6:00 am. That BLM campground is always an experience.

    Maybe an entire thread dedicated to funny Fruita camping stories is necessary?

  6. #6
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    Has anyone checked out Highline State Park: Colorado Parks & Wildlife - Highline Lake

    Seems like it's on a lake, has camping, has facilities, and is pretty close to 18 rd. Just wondering if it is worth checking out. Wouldn't mind going for a swim after a day of riding. It could also be a shitshow with boaters and such.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by bipolarbear View Post
    Has anyone checked out Highline State Park: Colorado Parks & Wildlife - Highline Lake

    Seems like it's on a lake, has camping, has facilities, and is pretty close to 18 rd. Just wondering if it is worth checking out. Wouldn't mind going for a swim after a day of riding. It could also be a shitshow with boaters and such.
    I've been there a couple of times April and May. I like it, the sites are decent sized, it's quiet, showers, green grass, lots of trees. The 18 hours of fruita race course trail is right there for an after dinner spin. It *might* get busy with watercraft folk when it gets hot, but April and May have been pretty quiet.
    I'm looking forward to regretting this.......

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by johnnyspoke View Post
    I've been there a couple of times April and May. I like it, the sites are decent sized, it's quiet, showers, green grass, lots of trees. The 18 hours of fruita race course trail is right there for an after dinner spin. It *might* get busy with watercraft folk when it gets hot, but April and May have been pretty quiet.
    This. It's way better than camping at 18-Road *or* James Robb State Park on the interstate. The big cottonwoods are the clincher. Especially good if you've got a family in tow... the trails around the res are very kid-friendly.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by johnnyspoke View Post
    I've been there a couple of times April and May. I like it, the sites are decent sized, it's quiet, showers, green grass, lots of trees. The 18 hours of fruita race course trail is right there for an after dinner spin. It *might* get busy with watercraft folk when it gets hot, but April and May have been pretty quiet.
    Sweet, thank guys. Might have to hit it up in a few weeks when we head that direction.

  10. #10
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    Actually, I just spoke to a friend about Highline and he said that they stayed there once, and the park rangers confiscated all of their booze. About $300-400 dollars worth. Since it's a state park, you aren't allowed anything but 3.2% beer.

    So scratch that one off the list.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by bipolarbear View Post
    Actually, I just spoke to a friend about Highline and he said that they stayed there once, and the park rangers confiscated all of their booze. About $300-400 dollars worth. Since it's a state park, you aren't allowed anything but 3.2% beer.

    So scratch that one off the list.
    Are you sure this didn't happen in UT? I've lived here 20 years and camped at many state parks and never heard of anything like that. As far as I know, the only rule about 3.2% beer is that it's all grocery store and convenience stores are allowed to sell.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bipolarbear View Post
    Actually, I just spoke to a friend about Highline and he said that they stayed there once, and the park rangers confiscated all of their booze. About $300-400 dollars worth. Since it's a state park, you aren't allowed anything but 3.2% beer.

    So scratch that one off the list.
    that is 100% incorrect. the 18 hours of fruita is done at highline, and there is more beer openly consumed there than anywhere. At the last one, people were doing beer hand ups with Dales pale ale. New Belgium has set up a tent in the past. also, just on regular days, people drink beer there all the time. your friend is mistaken or lying.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by cobi View Post
    Are you sure this didn't happen in UT? I've lived here 20 years and camped at many state parks and never heard of anything like that. As far as I know, the only rule about 3.2% beer is that it's all grocery store and convenience stores are allowed to sell.
    Nope, definitely in CO at Highline State Park. Maybe not all, but many CO state parks limit alcoholic beverages to 3.2%. Cherry Creek is another that I can think of, as well as many others that I have been to, especially the ones with water.

    My friends said that they were just hanging out, making a few cocktails after a ride, had a shitload of booze because they were on a 2 week trip, headed to UT and had stocked up. The park rangers had been watching them with binoculars from a distance. Approached them and made them dump out all of their booze. $300-400 worth.

    Moral of the story, don't camp in CO state parks if you like to drink anything more than 3.2%

  14. #14
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    Colorado State law prohibits anything more than 3.2% on any state property. I'm guessing that it's rarely enforced on beer as the people enforcing it cannot tell what the alcohol content is from a distance, however my friend was drinking liquor, which is clearly over 3.2%.

    If you observe this flyer, which is specifically for Highline, you will see on the bottom left of the second page, "Only 3.2% alcohol allowed".

    Here's another flyer for a mtb camp at Highline that also specifically states the rule: https://s3.amazonaws.com/USACFlyers/FL_2011-878.pdf

    Just because people have done it before doesn't mean that it's legal. I'm not trying to spread bad info, and my friend certainly is not a liar. I really have no reason to argue about this on the internet so feel free to prove me wrong with any actual facts that you can find.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by bipolarbear View Post

    Here's another flyer for a mtb camp at Highline that also specifically states the rule: https://s3.amazonaws.com/USACFlyers/FL_2011-878.pdf

    .
    well, according to that flyer, i am 100% wrong, so there is that.

    i can tell you, we've drank hard liquor, out of a bottle, in the open, as a ranger passed us, and they didn't say anything. perhaps when they confiscated the beer they invoked the jackass rule : if you act like a jackass we will enforce the rules.

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    Your name fits you well.

  17. #17
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    Love Highline State Park. Can't believe it wasn't listed as a great place to stay if you want to ride the 18 Rd area. Shady from the giant cottonwoods, quiet, pleasant, grass, nice bathrooms, a little lake with a swimming area and far from the Interstate. Close to 18 Road and a quick drive over the Mary's /Horsethief trailhead. Unfortunately, it was too wet to ride the trail around the lake when we were there.

    It was probably half full when we were there mid week in late May a few years ago.

    In terms of alcohol, I'm sure the park rangers thought they might as well take care of it pre-emptively, rather than deal with a bunch of loud drunks at whatever hour of the night. When people are drinking, they don't get that they get louder and louder as the night goes on.

    99% of the problems at any campground, without fail, are caused by alcohol, noise (loud music), followed by people not being responsible about dogs and often all three at once.

  18. #18
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    Highline is awesome... Hard to beat the shade, and great bathrooms with showers. Nothing beats a warm shower after a great day riding. Went there last year and openly drank a lot of micro brews, obviously not 3.2. Also drank a moderate amount of hard stuff. We were not hiding it, but we weren't advertising either. Never saw a Ranger, and the camp host guy who drives the golf cart around didn't seem to care. Going back in a couple weeks for more riding, and can't wait. It's going to be hot, but still awesome.

  19. #19
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    Yup, being moderately discreet and mellow goes a long way towards keeping park rangers happy.

    I just looked at the Highline Lake State Park Web site and brochure (pdf) and don't see any notes on alcohol use in the park; I also looked at Colorado Parks and Outdoors regulations and alcohol use is not addressed. Glass containers are prohibited in swimming areas, though. Were your friends under 21, by any chance?

    Website for Highline Lake State Park is here.
    The actual address for the park is Loma, Colorado. You get to it on county roads through a lot of sagebrush.

    The 31 campsites are probably full on weekends, but there is a good chance you could get a campsite during the week.
    Check the Website on how to reserve your campsite.

    That park on the Interstate is just awful. Highline is your refuge and oasis in the sage and a thousand times more pleasant.

  20. #20
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    I always camp at Rabbit Valley, I get a spot somehow every time. Sometimes too quiet, no other human in sight, you can hear animals roaming around at night with strange noise and gotta wonder what that is inside the tent. Now that's the camping :-)

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by June Bug View Post
    Yup, being moderately discreet and mellow goes a long way towards keeping park rangers happy.

    I just looked at the Highline Lake State Park Web site and brochure (pdf) and don't see any notes on alcohol use in the park; I also looked at Colorado Parks and Outdoors regulations and alcohol use is not addressed. Glass containers are prohibited in swimming areas, though. Were your friends under 21, by any chance?
    Actually, this was a group of people in their mid to late forties who are generally mellow. They had RVs and were on their way to Moab, just riding Fruita for a few days.

    As I stated before, and I don't really care if you believe me, anything over 3.2% is prohibited on CO state property, including parks. It is the law, whether it is enforced or not is at the discretion of the park ranger. BTW, this is also the rule at Cherry Creek Reservoir for instance. It's posted on signs there.

    I'm sure that Highline is a great spot, but I won't be camping there anytime soon due to the issue that I mentioned. Having acquired a new RV that is more prepared for "off the grid" camping, I've found plenty of nice spots around the area to camp without any issue.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by bipolarbear View Post
    Actually, this was a group of people in their mid to late forties who are generally mellow. They had RVs and were on their way to Moab, just riding Fruita for a few days.

    As I stated before, and I don't really care if you believe me, anything over 3.2% is prohibited on CO state property, including parks. It is the law, whether it is enforced or not is at the discretion of the park ranger. BTW, this is also the rule at Cherry Creek Reservoir for instance. It's posted on signs there.

    I'm sure that Highline is a great spot, but I won't be camping there anytime soon due to the issue that I mentioned. Having acquired a new RV that is more prepared for "off the grid" camping, I've found plenty of nice spots around the area to camp without any issue.
    You're right and I finally found the official pronouncement hidden away in the middle of the Frequently Asked Questions section of the the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Reservation page. If it is posted anywhere else on their Web site, I couldn't find it.

    Can I bring alcoholic beverages?
    Only alcohol containing 3.2% alcohol is permitted on park property. Possession of alcoholic beverages by anyone under 21 years of age is prohibited.

  23. #23
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    Good post. Thanks. Headed up there this weekend. Probably similar conditions in the fall as in the spring. Now I know what to expect.

  24. #24
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    I have camped at James Robb SP many years without too much of an issue. I do plan my trips months ahead of time which is to be expected when you go to a location that has high tourism. From April - September, Fruita is hopping with all kinds of folks so if you wait to the last minute, you tend to be hosed. On holiday weekends, if you wait til the last minute and that goes for Moab too, you are screwed. I found that out last Mem Day weekend, last minute I thought I would go to Moab/Fruita, couldn't find any hotel or campsite at all.
    I don't use Strava. Don't need an application to tell me I am slow because I already know.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lawson Raider View Post
    I have camped at James Robb SP many years without too much of an issue. I do plan my trips months ahead of time which is to be expected when you go to a location that has high tourism. From April - September, Fruita is hopping with all kinds of folks so if you wait to the last minute, you tend to be hosed. On holiday weekends, if you wait til the last minute and that goes for Moab too, you are screwed. I found that out last Mem Day weekend, last minute I thought I would go to Moab/Fruita, couldn't find any hotel or campsite at all.
    James Robb is really nice if you're in a camper. The tent camping sites can be OK, or not so much.

    There's some kind of poo-water treatment pond just north and west of the campground, on the side where they have the tent camping sites. Was there once with some people and it was warm with the breeze blowing in just the right direction. It was hard to drink enough beer (3.2 or otherwise) to forget that you were constantly catching whiffs of a$$.

    Back when I was rocking a hardside camper though, it was nice. Showers, laundry, close to stuff...
    Tom Purvis - Salida, CO - http://teamvelveeta.tom-purvis.com

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