Escape to Colorado's backcountry cabins.
San Isabel National Forest
The sun set less than 20 minutes ago, and like clockwork I have to use the facilities. The problem: There are no facilities. It’s as if my body knows I’m in the middle of the wilderness, and it thinks it’s funny to send me out there alone. I sigh at the inevitable and slide into my shoes. As soon as I close the cabin door and flip-flop my way to the outhouse, the crushing blackness overtakes me. It’s only a 20-foot walk, but the remoteness suddenly becomes very real. Except for my headlamp, there’s not a light. Except for my footfalls, there’s not a sound. For a quick moment, I imagine what it was like to be stationed here as a forest ranger in the 1920s. The thought—or maybe it’s the cool night air—sends a chill down my spine.
Back inside the cabin, my husband has the potbelly stove roaring. The heat has easily permeated the small, one-room log structure. He also has the blue, speckled-enamel kettle we found in the cabinet warming on the stove. Hot chocolate with marshmallows is our dessert after a dinner of canned beef stew over instant mashed potatoes.
We had hoped to be eating river trout for dinner. We fly-fished most of the afternoon, trolling the public sections of the Arkansas River for browns and rainbows. We got lines wet at the easy-to-access Granite State Wildlife Area Hardeman Parcel and at the Railroad Bridge Access, but we had the most luck at the Champion State Wildlife Area. (You can pick up a fisherman’s map at the South Park Ranger District in Fairplay.) Unfortunately, “luck” simply meant we got a few nibbles—nothing we could actually throw on the fire.
As I slowly stir my stew, I think about James Frame, the U.S. Forest Service ranger who lived in this cabin in the 1920s and ’30s. I doubt he had canned stew as a backup plan when the fish didn’t bite. According to the scrapbook we found in the cabin, Frame and his wife, Irene, spent their days doing what the Forest Service required them to do: learn intimately the geography and the natural resources they were responsible for protecting. And Frame did it in style: No matter what he was doing—felling trees, riding a horse, digging a ditch—he was nearly always pictured in a tailored vest and hat.
The next morning, we are not quite as sharply attired. Although the days are warm, the morning air is chilly, and we have on pilly fleeces and dirty jeans. We make a quick batch of pancakes—Bisquick’s Shake ’n Pour mix is a camping godsend—and, using water from the hand-pumped well, brew a steaming pot of camper’s coffee. As we warm ourselves around the fire pit, we take in the stand of fluttering aspens near the cabin, which are just starting to take on the yellow hues of autumn. Another few days and the meadow around the cabin will be awash in gold. But our two-night stay—a significantly shorter tenure than the Frames’ months-long residence—is at an end. We drink the last few sips of warmth from our mugs and begin loading the car.
If you go
Year built 1920
Sleeps 2 (room for tents outside)
Utilities No electricity or running water
Amenities Double bed (no linens or pillows), wood-burning stove, propane cooking stove, some pots, pans, and plates, indoor table and chairs, well-water pump, vaulted outhouse, outdoor picnic table, fire pit with grill rack
Around the Cabin The land surrounding Bassam Cabin is crisscrossed with county roads perfect for jeeping or four-wheeling. Take CR 187, 188, or 86 from just past the cabin and hold on for dear life.
Wildlife Deer, elk, bighorn sheep (pictured below), and wild turkey
Going to Town Salida is about an hour drive from the cabin; however, the “Best Chicken Strips Ever” at the Boathouse Cantina on North F Street are well worth the journey. Plus, if it’s warm outside, the eatery opens its garage doors, giving you an airy view of kayakers, boaters, and fishermen on the Arkansas River.
Directions to the Cabin From Denver, take U.S. 285 South toward Buena Vista. About seven miles beyond Antero Reservoir—just as you see the Collegiate Peaks ahead of you—turn left onto County Road 307. (There are two entrances to CR 307; either one will work.) Go 1.5 miles; turn south onto County Road 187. Go seven miles to Forest Road 186 (right fork). Then drive one mile to Forest Development Road 186A, turn left, and go 100 yards to the gate. When you make reservations for the cabin, the Salida Ranger District (719-539-3591) will give you the code to the lockbox.