What happens when the perils of the wilderness go beyond the forces of nature?

The wilderness outside Nederland, just 30 minutes west of Boulder, holds some of the most beautiful land near a major urban area in Colorado. Pine, aspen, and spruce trees dot the hillsides, and rock promontories provide ample scrambling opportunities from which to view the Continental Divide. Everywhere there are animal tracks, including those from moose, deer, foxes, coyotes, bears, and, on rare occasions, mountain lions.

People from around the country come here—to savor the solitude and beauty, to escape the chaos of their busy lives. They might hike or mountain bike, snowshoe or fly-fish. And if they’re looking to spend the weekend away, they can head to any one of dozens of campgrounds located across the Front Range, like, for example, the Gordon Gulch Dispersed Camping Area tucked just off the famously scenic Peak to Peak Highway north of Nederland.

There, they’ll find designated campsites where they can set up their tents, build fires in fire pits, and roast marshmallows as the stars emerge in the sky above them. It is an idyllic setting where groups of friends, couples young and old, and families with school-age children can let their workaday lives go for a few days and simply relax.

At least, that’s how it seems upon first glance.

If campers explore just a little beyond their picnic tables, though, their reverie may dissolve into an unwanted dose of reality. In this particular campground, just past the borders of the designated sites sits an orange-and-white trailer. The tires are bald, the windows busted. The area surrounding the trailer looks more like a dumping ground than Colorado’s famed wilderness, with scavenged items that seem incongruous in a forest. There’s a stovepipe, van seats, and a stack of screen doors. The old trailer looks as though it might be abandoned, but… Why so many people are camping illegally on Colorado’s public lands is not a simple question to answer.

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