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Our perfect trip was the opposite of what I had originally hoped for.  I will admit that I am a planner.  I like the perceived stability that details provide.  When I plan a trip, I plan for miles traveled, hours spent visiting places, food eaten, and energy levels.  I try to leave no stone left unturned.  I tend to think that if I micromanage (not healthy, I know) details that it will ensure happiness, success, and amazing memories.

This is the story of our perfect trip from beginning to end. 

Planning Our First Camping Trip Of The Year

We plan on eventually visiting every Colorado State Park as part of Our Bucket List.  This camping trip was to be the first trip to a state park since developing our bucket list.   It was also to be the first trip since creating Our Fun Pass.  I had a vision.

First, I figured out where we could go.  We wanted to get away from Denver but not too far just in case there were any hiccups in our trip.  I discovered Jackson Lake Colorado State Park in Orchard, Colorado.  The park was about two hours away from our home. 

Jackson Lake Colorado State Park

The park was recently certified as the first park in Colorado as a Dark Sky International Park. What is a dark sky park?  It means that the park takes proactive steps to reduce and eliminate light pollution.  The International Dark-Sky Association defines it as “land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment.”   I was very excited about the possibility of photographing the Milky Way.  

We also bought fishing poles and learned about fishing to prepare for our perfect trip. We first stopped at Walmart for help but had a tough time finding anyone in the fishing department. We then went to the Sportsman’s Warehouse for some much-needed help. The manager of the fishing department was beyond helpful. He explained to me the different types of baits and lures. He even took our fishing poles in the back of the store to tie the line the way it needed to and then explained what I needed to do to have a successful fishing trip. By the time we left the store, I felt educated, confident, and ready to catch some fish.

There were many sites and campground loops to choose from at Jackson Lake State Park. I picked out a waterfront site. It seemed like the best way to easily fish, capture photographs of the stars, and see a beautiful sunset. The campground website mentioned it was a walk-in site which means you do not park right at the site, but you have to walk about 75 yards. I figured that distance was still close with our gear. After all, I had some helpers with me.


Starting Our Journey To Jackson Lake State Park

We loaded the car up with all sorts of camping gear.  We had our propane grill, firewood, pots, camping chairs, tent, and a bunch of miscellaneous stuff.  We had everything we could need and some things we didn’t.

I set the GPS to “avoid highway” mode so that we could take the scenic route. We passed many horses, cows, and farms.  We talked about what it would be like to live in a rural area and how we often take conveniences for granted.  

We were excited as we got closer to the campground area. The road was closed, so we followed the detour signs. We – I became confused about where exactly we were heading. We saw a Colorado State Park SUV and thought maybe he was traveling to the same place. We followed him for a while until he turned off to a construction site. It turns out he was not heading to the park as we thought.  We continued straight ahead.

Looking back, I guess we could have stopped and asked for directions. I am happy that we chose to remain determined and a little lost.

Perfect Trip - Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

We went around the reservoir down a dirt road. The entrance was not there. We decided it was time to make a U-turn. We headed the other way thinking there was that sign about the park. We found an entrance, but it looked like it was going to someone’s driveway. I decided to stop to see if there was a number to call the campground for some clarification. I didn’t have service on my phone unless I stayed in one specific area on that part of the road. I slowly inched up, then backed up. I told myself that I had this.

My kids were so awesome! They were very supportive of the whole adventure.

We Found The Campground - And Campsite

We eventually found the campground.  I will admit I was a bit relieved we found it before it got dark.  We went through the loop and found the campsite.

We decided to walk over to the site to check it out.  The campsite was the closest to the water.  It had a picnic table, fire pit, and view just like the pictures showed, but there was one difference. The photograph in the online brochure showed a sunny day with what appeared to be no wind.  There was wind, not the gentle breeze kind.  It was more like the I cannot see anything because sand is going into my eyes kind of wind. My vision of how camping was going to be split apart at the seams – not literally, thank goodness.

We went back to the car to get our brand new tent out. The tent we had previously was tough to put up by myself, so we decided to go for a quicker and easier option. 

Setting Up The Campsite

My kids were helping me with pulling the tent into a locking position.  The tent was fully up, but then it started going up in the air.  I told my kids to hold onto the tent and do not let go of it for any reason.  It looked like a giant kite that wanted to be in the clouds.

They ran around staking the tent ropes.  The tent was caving in from the sides because of the wind.  Did I mention we were the closest site to the water?  My worst-case scenario mode went into overdrive.  I’m not saying my fears were rational, but they were there.  I imagined us sleeping in the tent with water splashing over and blowing away into the middle of the reservoir.

The kids were eager to make smores and get everything else out of the car.  I told them to go in the tent and check it out.  They explained how there was no problem with the tent, as they laid down with the top of the tent pushed in. We headed back to the car for a brainstorming session.

My thoughts were – is this safe?  If is this going to be the worst night ever? We voted on a solution. There was one vote to sleep in the car and one to find a hotel. I was the tiebreaker.

Forced Spontaneity

My vote was for a hotel.  I wanted someplace safe and warm.  I also didn’t want to be wandering around in the dark.  We ran back out of the car to take the tent down.  This normally simple task was about as tricky as getting the tent up.  I threw the tent in the backseat.  I figured I could put it back in the box some other time.  My oldest son went to get the stakes when his hat started blowing through the wind.  He caught it just in time.  I was able to get enough cell phone coverage to figure out where the closest hotel was.  We started heading that way.  We made car smores on the way.

What are car smores? It’s what you do when you want smores but have no fire and can only reach some of the ingredients. The graham crackers were somewhere under the tent we had quickly put in the backseat. My youngest son took pieces of chocolate and put them inside the marshmallow. I ate these marshmallow masterpieces as I drove to our surprise hotel.

We pulled into the parking lot for the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott in Fort Morgan.  We left everything in the car and went into the lobby to book a room.  We were able to get a room for the night with two queen size beds.  Perfect! 

My youngest son was excited about the little coffee maker in the room.  He eagerly learned how to use the one-cup coffeemaker.  It was pretty late already, so I let him make a cup of decaf on his own.  It was at this moment that he discovered his love for decaf.

Looking back, the hotel far exceeded our expectations.  We went there with the initial goal of intending to sleep.  The Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott at Fort Morgan won my heart with their customer service, amenities, and comfort.  

The Realization

The plan was to go back to the campground in the morning since we had a reservation.  I ran out to the car to get some of our clothes when I discovered the wind and drizzle.  What should we do?  There were not many things to do close by in Fort Morgan, Colorado.

Wyoming? We had never been to Wyoming. There seemed to be a lot of history in Cheyenne. The plan was to head that way without an actual plan. For all the planning I had done, this is when I started questioning the use of the word “plan” in my vocabulary. I decided to embrace the concept of the unknown. To this day, I make a concerted effort to go with the lesser-known option even when it is a bit more uncomfortable for me.

Cheyenne Depot Plaza

We ended up stopping at the Cheyenne Depot Plaza, Cheyenne Depot Museum, and Wyoming State Museum.  There was so much history to learn about in so little time.  One of my favorite things about Cheyenne was the signage, the compact area that everything we saw was in, and how much more there was to do.

Welcome Back To Colorado

We ended our day by heading back to Fort Morgan, Colorado.  We decided to stay another night because we enjoyed the hotel so much.  We made a trip to the pool and exercise room.

The following morning we decided to rest before our trip back home.  We had continental breakfast, visited the pool, and relaxed in the room.  We checked out around noon for our return home.

Gratitude and The Perfect Trip

This perfect trip ended up being the opposite of what we had planned. We kept our sense of adventure throughout, as well as our sense of humor.  We enjoyed exploring the plains of Colorado and Wyoming.  We learned a lot on our spontaneous trip to Cheyenne.  

I am grateful for everything that went wrong.  I will look back on this trip with fond memories of the tent almost blowing away, car smores, and smiling faces (hidden under a mask part of the time).

Cheyenne-Depot-Museum Interactive Train Exhibit

Have you ever had a similar experience?  A trip that was perfect because of all the twists, turns and surprises that you couldn’t have predicted?  

Share your perfect trip with us!

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