Looking for something new to do on your next outdoor adventure? Why not consider renting a Forest Service cabin for a touch of nostalgia, history and better access to the backcountry’s beauty.
For example, just across the state line in southern Colorado one can rent a cabin in the old mining town of Platoro, located on the Conejos River just below the big reservoir.
The facility is an old forest service work camp with two recently remodeled cabins sitting next to each other on a large piece of property on the edge of this small, summer vacation community.
First made available this year over the Memorial Day weekend , a visit to one of the cabins revealed propane heat, plenty of hot water, a modern bathroom and a kitchen with an electric stove, refrigerator, a table, chairs, and cooking utensils.
The bedroom was equipped with two bunk beds featuring a futon mattress on the bottom and a traditional spring mattress on the top. The mattress proved to be the more comfortable of the two.
What the cabin lacked in ambiance - the interior was painted a bright, Government Issue, mustard color and the floors were covered in cold linoleum tiles - it made up for in location, historical intrigue and scenery.
Guests are within walking distance of the excellent fishing on the Conejos River and at several nearby high mountain lakes including Platoro Reservoir and Mix Lake. The area offers abundant hiking opportunities, spectacular scenery and plenty of wildlife to view.
A fox made its way through the property on a regular basis and the swallows nesting in a neighboring barn were a joy to watch with coffee in the morning as they swooped and dove about in mass flight.
On the property are several interesting outbuildings which upon exploring might prompt one to wonder about their previous use.
One of the other aspects of renting a Forest Service cabin is the special feeling that comes from occupying a public space for a weekend. Visitors are entrusted with its care and expected to clean up after themselves. One might experience a feeling of communal responsibility and special pride while sitting on the porch, waving at the passing neighbors.
The Platoro cabins are just one of many cabins available for rent within a day’s drive of Santa Fe, including the highly popular, incredibly rustic, Elwood cabin located at 11,000 feet near the old, gold mining town of Summitville.
This cabin is high in the mountains above Platoro and provides the kind of solitude and scenery one can only dream about at lower elevations.
Reservations for Elwood go quickly due to its spectacular setting, says Mike Blakeman, Public Affairs Officer for the Rio Grande National Forest.
But many other Forest Service cabins remain available even through the height of the summer.
Visitors can find remote line camps in the forest between Saguache and Gunnison or rent a cabin near the summer resort town of South Fork or even an old, fire lookout tower near the town of Mancos.
The lookout tower is operated by the Jersey Jim Foundation and is a 55-foot tall tower equipped with propane stove, refrigerator, heat, kitchen utensils and a double bed. The cost is $40 a night and visitors will find fishing and swimming at nearby Jackson Lake State Park or can tour the ancient Indian ruins at Mesa Verde National Park.
Those interested in renting the tower need to telephone the organization directly starting on the first working day in March as they only book a year at a time, says Clara McNeil, reservation clerk for the group. The telephone number is 970-533-7060.
The lookout tower is booked for the 2010 season which typically runs from late May through mid October. However, those interested can call and ask to be placed on the waiting list in case of a cancellation for this season, she said.
More information about these and other rental opportunities can be found on the Forest service’s website at www.fs.fed.us while rental information, availability dates, fees, directions, etc. are managed through the government’s reservation contractor www.recreation.gov.
Blakeman said one of the primary benefits of renting a Forest Service cabin is that 95 percent of the rental fees go back to the local ranger district’s coffers for improvements to the facilities. The reservation company only collects a $9 fee above and beyond the rental fee, he said.