Along the banks of the Arkansas River as it winds through the Southern Colorado Rockies, one landmark stands tall, a testament to the mining days of the past. Ruby Mountain now acts as a host to campers, hikers, fishermen, and more. A member of the Arkansas Headquarters Recreation Area’s designated campgrounds, Ruby Mountain rests nestled into the snow-capped mountains and right on the shore of the river, full of popularity. The area bodes as one of the best river rafting locations in the country.
Situated between Nathrop and Buena Vista, Ruby Mountain holds the legend of small rubies often discovered on its slopes. However, the truth is garnet crystals were mistaken for the stunning red gems. Along with garnet, topaz and several other minerals filtered through the sand and dirt of the mountain. Once, hopeful miners could try their luck for a small fee. Now a private owner shares the fortunes with only him or herself.
Some wonder if the mountain’s name stems from its belief rubies existed or instead for its beautiful red sands swirled with yellows and oranges and smudges of darker hues full of vibrant intensity. Sunrise bathes these remarkable colors in even more brilliance as campers greet daylight’s first rays while listening to the raging current of the Arkansas River. Horseshoe Basin also enthralls the visitors with the remnants of the old mining days and perhaps the ruins of a settlement here and there.
While exploring the campground one takes in the stunning scenes of the Rocky Mountains and their snow-capped wonders. The river twists and turns through the basin, with some sites for tents only along its banks. A ramp allows rafters and boaters to come and go as they please as the occasional site of a kayaker or white-water rafter floats by. Several times through the day the noise of cattle crossing the river wafts into the air as they moo on past. A fisherman in his revelry could find total solace and peace while casting his line. Two trails lead hikers up the slopes to gaze out and over the landscape.
We went in April, enjoying our Easter weekend. The nights remained pretty cold, requiring the need for long underwear. But the smell of stoves cooking pancakes and the sound of sizzling sausage made the cold worth it. The occasional thunderstorms rolled through, splattering the tables with light drizzle. Campfire smells of long burned embers filled the scene.
The tent only sites were a bit close together, which worked well in our case as our neighbors were our other travelers who joined us. The park ranger who checked in on our first day was warm and generous in information about the campground’s use. Our only complaint resulted from a group using their quads over and over throughout the campground and also allowing their dog to roam freely into our site. Perhaps when we go back, which we probably will, we won’t take the first site sitting right on the ramp to the river. It certainly made for some fun things to watch, but did not help for commotion. It was Ms. Bailey’s first camping trip and she appeared to love every minute, even running to the tent entrance as we sat by the campfire only to find herself bounced off the screen.
If you plan to journey to the region, reservations are accepted online. However, be mindful of the fees as we were made aware. There is a day use fee of $7/vehicle in addition to the $14/night for camping. Plus another $10 exists for a reservation fee. Of course, the sites don’t need to be reserved but one gambles a lot if it’s a busy weekend.