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I have had some wonderful experiences while RVing around this country and I have had a few odd experiences as well. One of the odder experiences happened one summer while I was boondocking and work camping in Colorado several years ago.
As many of you know if you follow my columns, I love boondocking and living off the grid. However, I follow the rules. If I am on public lands such as national forests or BLM properties and they say I can only stay for 14 days in that location, then that is as long as I’m going to stay. Others choose to ignore the rules and that’s why I remember Dave the self-proclaimed homesteader as well as I do.
I was working at well known resort near Vail, Colorado as a shuttle bus driver that summer and I decided that to keep my costs of living down, I would stay in the Arapahoe National Forest that surrounded the Vail and Summit County areas. You’re allowed to stay up to 14 days in one location then you must move on to another section of the forest or a private campground for another set period until you can return to the site you stayed at earlier.
I found a beautiful site that summer that was less than two miles from the resort I was working at and it was elevated by another 600 feet above the Vail Valley area, giving it a great view overlooking where I worked. The first time I stayed there I knew that I wanted to stay there all summer but that wasn’t allowed so I played by the rules and kept returning to that spot when the National Park Service rules allowed me to do that.
The rules in this part of the forest allowed me to stay in one section of the forest for up to 14 days straight and then I had to move on for another 14 days before I could return to the first spot. I would have preferred to stay in one spot all that summer, but since there is plenty of national forest land as well as BLM in that area it was easy for me to move around and still be a short distance from where I was work camping that summer.
My first day in this favorite spot I spent unpacking and setting up camp and after an hour or so, my dog started to bark at an approaching person walking down the primitive road with a hand-crafted walking stick in his left hand and a raggedy old backpack slung over his right shoulder. This would turn out to be the first of several encounters with a guy I now refer to as “Dave the Homesteader”.
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At first glance, it appeared that Dave was a few years older than me, but in my opinion he hadn’t aged well. His clothes were unkept, he was unshaven, and his hair looked as if he hadn’t had it cut in a couple of years. That said, he introduced himself to me and seemed very well-spoken as well as polite and friendly. We had a very cordial conversation and after a few minutes he bid me farewell and continued walking up the road.
The next day, I was walking my hound dog in the evening and I too took that road further up the side of the mountain where I encountered Dave for the second time. He must have seen me coming because he greeted me out by the road at his campsite and again, we spoke for some time about the weather and the beauty of the area when he looked at me and said, “Hey, check out my site.”
I agreed and we walked into a small wooded area about 50 yards off the access road that had a small clearing with a couple of tents and a small Toyota pickup truck that he used for transportation. There seemed to be quite a bit of trash such as old lawn chairs, a rusty gas grill that he poured charcoal into to cook his meals, and a lot of wooden pallets laying around his campsite.
After a few moments of me taking in his campsite Dave turned to me and said, “Well, what do you think? I homesteaded this spot.”
“Homesteaded?”, I replied. “You do know this part of the Arapahoe National Forest and it’s not the 1840s, right? I’m pretty sure you can’t just move in here and homestead this land.”
Dave looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and then offered to cook up some hot dogs and asked if I had any beers. I very politely declined his dinner invitation and for the next several days he and I would cross paths and I did share a couple of my beers with him while I was out walking the pooch. He was actually a very nice person that clearly had a screw or two loose and during all of my visits to his campsite I would see some added “improvement” he had made and he would ask me what I thought about his recent upgrade to his homestead.
After my time at this campsite had come to an end, I moved on for a couple of weeks and then returned to this area to find the same site I had liked so much the first time I was there to be open and available again. I set up camp and took the dog on a hike up the road and discovered that Dave had amassed enough pallets and illegally cut down trees that he had built himself a makeshift cabin or lean-to and that’s what he was calling home. I was a bit surprised that the park rangers hadn’t discovered his “homestead” and chased him out of the national forest by then, but I also understand that national forests can be vast and it’s sometimes not possible to be in all areas at all times to properly enforce the rules.
The last time that summer I came to that area to camp for a couple of weeks, I set up camp and decided to go check on Dave. I won’t say he was a friend of mine, but by this time I was curious as to how he was progressing on his makeshift homestead and life in general. So, it came as no surprise to me that he and most of raggedy belongings were gone.
Dave left behind a lot of trash and over the next couple of weeks I took it upon myself to pick up most of the garbage he abandoned and haul it off to dispose of it properly. By the time I left my last stay at that location that summer, I had disposed of most of the trash Dave had left behind.
To this day I still wonder what happened to Dave the Homesteader.