Arkansas River Headwaters Recreation Area: Not Actually in Arkansas

We arrived at Hecla Junction Campground at around 5pm, greeted by a sign announcing “Hecla Junction Campground Closed” in construction-orange lights. Blinking the disbelief from my eyes I spluttered something along the lines of “But I had reservations…”

I wish I had said something a little less whiney at the time. Next time I’ll say something pithier.

County Road 194 is a dirt road that the internet advised me to take caution on as it involves 12% grades. I have learned to respect steep grades, and the steepest labeled grade I’ve driven with the trailer was 10%. That road was paved, with guard rails and what not. And although I wouldn’t hesitate to take that road again, I did have a tiny touch of concern about going steeper. Not to mention the fact that I was of the impression that the road was 12 miles of unpaved steep narrow dirt road leading to the campground. Only 5 miles previously we had seen a fairly cute bed and breakfast with a name invoking something cute about goats.

Our other choices? Well the GPS had decided that it didn’t want to navigate in Colorado. Something about not having the maps blah blah blah, and not having service to download them. Interestingly I could trace the line perfectly well using the road map in the GPS. So I knew the way to this campground. But I knew not a lick about the next one. Sure, I could have gotten it off the internet, had there been any. But there wasn’t. And unlike this campground that I had reservations to, I did not to the next so I didn’t have the convenient confirmation email telling me how to get there.

So a goat themed B&B or 12 miles down a dirt road to an uncertain fate? The dirt road it was.

The road was well graded with only minimal stretches of washboard. I had previously been informed that washboard is better at higher speeds. True this may be, but gravel strewn dirt roads with precipitous drop offs perhaps merit the additional vibrations incurred by lower speeds.

The 12% grade was actually fairly easy. Our brake controller allows the brakes to be boosted with a push of a button. I simply set the brakes to “lock up almost immediately” and used the trailer as an anchor.

And then we were at the campground. I looked at my odometer which showed just under 2 miles. A silly grin came to my face – 12 miles. From where we turned onto Hwy 285N. Not on the county road! But this didn’t eliminate the fact that previous signs had proclaimed the campsite closed. Wren and I scanned the fee information bulletin for information. Coming up short, other than we needed to pay a day use fee if we camped we decided to check out the campground. There was a group of pedestrians milling in the road in front of us and I approached slowly. Luck would have it that one of the pedestrians was a park ranger! We desperately inquired about the status of the campground. The ranger gave us a winning smile and told us happily that there was construction but they had just finished and the sign needed to be taken down.

Rarely have I heard more beautiful words spoken. Thank you ranger whose name I never learned. You really made my night.

I don’t know how the campground looked before the construction, but I can say how it looked after: Really damn awesome.

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Sure, this is a fairly bare bones facility. Camping amenities include:

Vault toilets.

Fire Pits/Grills*

Picnic Tables

And….

That’s it.

*It is important to note that these are probably the nicest picnic tables and fire pit/grill combos I have ever seen. Brand new steel cooks so well. And not having to scrape the rust off the grates is such a pleasure!

So what features might you want that aren’t present?  No electricity, no dump station, no full time staff, no laundry, no shower, no water.

But, really. Bring water. Or at least a filter/purification tablets. The river is not 100′ (30 for you metrickers) away and looks like you could drink it straight. That said, a sign specifically advised me not to do that, and as I’m not terribly keen on giardia or crypto I didn’t try it. We drag around 5 gallons of water at all times. Why? Well, because we have 10 gallons of jerry can capacity and about another 10 gallons of onboard capacity in the trailer, so carrying less than that seems to be a failure of preparedness. Today we were dragging around another 5 gallons of fresh, because the internet tells you everything I told you.   So anyone coming here not knowing the facilities didn’t do their research!

That under construction sign by the way? Still up as I write this 25 hours after our arrival. The campsite? Empty save us. Coincidence? You decide.

Update for posterity:  I hadn’t had any espresso when we departed this morning.  Thus I forgot to pay attention to whether or not the sign was still in place.  Oops.

Will it be up by the time you read this? I hope not. Partly because I don’t have internet service here. Verizon finally let me down. Their online projections have been spot on about where I would and would not find service. Here? Nada.

That said there is inconsistent 2G around. So those who only need their aether to carry SMS and voice need not be concerned.

The views are beautiful, craggy ….err hills? Its hard for me to call them hills as they are so large, but compared to the mountains that serve as the backdrop I’m not so sure. The campground is at about 7,500′ (no internet access as I write this metrickers, so I’ll get back to you on this!) and the mountains that loom in the distance are nearly twice that. Two of the mountains are over 14,000′ and another is within 50′ of the 14’er designation. The mountain pass that takes one here from Grand Junction area climbs to a paltry 11,000′. For those of you towing 2,000lb trailers with a BMW X1 xDrive28i, need not worry. Your boat has ample power to laugh at the speed limits. That said, laugh at the speed limits at your own peril.

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There isn’t a ton of hiking at the campground itself. Along the river is about 1.5 miles of trails. Several sections include boulders or at least very large rocks. Walking the trail end to end took us an hour twenty, and although we weren’t rushing, neither were we traveling slowly. Apparently the river is big for rafters. I can see why. Lots of water moving at a high speed over rocks and such. I’m not too well versed in such things, but I do know the river includes up to class V. Which sounds like something I’d sooner avoid – but for those of you more foolhardy than I help yourself.

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For those of you who are budget conscious, there is a stretch of free camping off of Country Road 194 (if the sketchy hand written sign is to be trusted) on “Dan’s Land.” For some reason Dan chose to enclose a bunch of pines in fences made from old pallets. Not sure why, but it is a pretty good landmark. For my money I’d sooner pony up the money to get these beautiful sites. Oh, and for you guys camping: The sites are paved with gravel, but they used a finer gravel on the tent pad. Attention to detail my friends.

I’m not sure how I’m going to end up sticking pictures into this, so if they seem haphazard call Verizon to complain.*

*Please don’t do this. The places I’ve been able to get online have been absolutely mind blowing. I’m just giving V a hard time!

3 thoughts on “Arkansas River Headwaters Recreation Area: Not Actually in Arkansas

  1. Hi there! We are going to check out Hecla Junction this spring and we are from out of state completely! Just wondering if there is somewhere near by to buy firewood? I noticed on the site you aren’t allowed to collect and obviously you should never bring firewood from another state. Just wondering if you noticed anything near by?

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    1. I bought firewood at a gas station in Salida. I can’t recall which one – but it was stacked outside.
      Overall gas-stations are always a pretty safe place to check for firewood. If you can’t find any there, check the Walmart in Salida. Usually they have it in their outdoor section.

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