A taste of New Mexico; April 2024.

FAW3

Adventurer
With Spring in the air, I decided to make a month long run from Northern Virginia out to New Mexico. My New Mexico target area would be generally North of Albuquerque and include Santa Fe and Taos with a focus on exploring the National Forests of this region. I desired an easy driving route and also wanted to explore some interesting spots on the way out West. These stops would break up the drive and tend to keep my mindset properly balanced between making time and making great memories. Being fairly early in the season I knew I would see a range of weather and temperatures and some higher elevation areas would still have significant snow.

The rig is a '05 Ram 3500 4x4 with a FWC Hawk slide-in camper on an aluminum flatbed with storage boxes. I also brought along my RAD5 folding e-bike. The bike easily stores folded behind the driver's seat. Having a e-bike along has proven to be a real enhancement to my travels. This trip would also be my first extended use of my new toilet system, a BOXIO waste separating unit. I posted up a review on this system in the Camping Gear section. I'll just say here I bought it, used it frequently, and am completely a fully satisfied overland traveler.

Once again OZY, my now 5 year old ACD/Blue Heeler, would be my primary travel companion. I would be joined by my adult daughter mid-trip who would fly in/out of Albuquerque and ride along for 5 days.

The rig and the dog. Cabala's Bristol, TN:
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I departed from home and headed South on I-81. For my first night on the road, I choose a quick overnight spot I've used before just off the interstate in Bristol, TN. The Cabala's/Bass Pro Shop has a welcome mat out for camper/RV's and I enjoyed a quiet night in the far reaches of the parking lot. I also shopped here and found a new harness for OZY and selected a few flies to restock my fly fishing kit.

Once on I-40 Westward my first notable stop was in Little Rock, AR. I set up at the Downtown Riverside RV Park. This is an urban RV park that puts you right in the heart of Little Rock. There is an extensive bike trail system along the Arkansas River and I gave the RAD a good workout here. I also hit up two of my favorite Little Rock restaurants while visiting: Gus's Fried Chicken and Mr. Cajun's Kitchen. I found great parking behind Gus's at the waterfront park. If you get there before about 09:30 you can get a spot and enjoy the nearby shopping/art areas. It's paid parking but very reasonable rates. Later in the day OZY and I made a visit to the MacArthur Dog Park and had a good time of Frisbee chase.

Parked behind Gus's Restaurant in Little Rock, AR:
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The next planned destination stop was Amarillo, Texas. I lived here as an “AF Brat” way back in the day when Amarillo Air Force Base was active. This Strategic Air Command base was deactivated decades ago but the housing area is still in use and our old house was still there. Base facilities such as the huge hangers, water towers and other support structures still remain and brought back a range of memories. I recall my dad coming home and after dinner taking us out to an observation area at the end of the main runway...when they scrambled the B-52's. Watching and listening those huge bombers with the 8 jet engines trailing smoke and screaming to get airborne was an experience. The interval between each plane was like 15 seconds! I also saw Highland Park Elementary School where I went to school. I was one of the “flag boy's” who raised and lowered the flag. The old flag pole is still there!

The final stop in the general Amarillo area was the fabulous Palo Duro Canyon State Park. I enjoyed two nights here and had a good time hiking and biking the area. OZY found the stream running through the canyon to be a great wading and just splashing around venue. The scenery here to include the night star field is really breathtaking. This is a popular destination spot...I had checked several times for open sites online, thankfully a few days before my arrival a few sites opened up due to cancellations.

Palo Duro Canyon, TX.:
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Here and there as I continued Westward, I took interstate breaks along the old Route 66. The slower pace and great sightseeing along this historic route were really enjoyable. I started snapping photos of neat buildings and old neon signs as I passed along. It's great to see some of these neat places well preserved and maintained by folks, but a bit melancholy to see some just falling into ruins.

Sights of Route 66:
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(More Coming...)
 
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FAW3

Adventurer
Entering into New Mexico I set my sights toward Tucumcari and the Ute Lake/Reservoir located northeast of the city. The spirit of old Route 66 still runs strong here along what is now the I-40 Business Spur. I also saw several interesting restaurants that would deserve a visit, old motels with a couple nicely restored, and a decent selection of other stores that would make this a good place to stop and enjoy the scene. Over several days I visited the town touring around either in my truck camper or parking “downtown” and roaming around on my e-bike, typically grabbing a great lunch and exploring about. Great New Mexico food was enjoyed at La Cita and Loretta's Burrito Hut and Del's Restaurant offered good eats with a broad menu of Tex-Mex and American fare.

Tucumcari, NM:
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I found an ideal camping area for three restful nights along the shoreline at Ute Lake State Park via the Mine Canyon entrance off of Route 54. The area named “Mine Cove” provided a number of great campsites along the lake. There are vault toilets and trash containers provided in the area. Camping was as I recall $8.00 per night. The terrain and roadway at this location were suitable for almost any vehicle in dry conditions. Ideal for vans & truck campers and even smaller trailers/teardrops. Note that the actual “Mine Cove” is a bit of a day attraction/destination. The several gravel roadways adjacent lead to several good campsites that are removed from the daytime visitors.

Ute Lake SP; Mine Cove area:
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Departing Tucumcari on Route 104 to the Northwest I enjoyed the drive on this peaceful state highway into the typical combination of New Mexico terrain: a bit of flat plain, some rugged canyons and some impressive mountains.

I explored the Conchas Lake State Park area and found that there was a range of camping options. It was fairly early in the day so I passed on camping here, but the Central Recreation Area seemingly offered a range of dispersed camping sites that would have been wonderful. Although I did not stay the night, I found a neat spot near the shoreline and popped up the FWC for a good lunch break.

Moseying on OZY and I headed up to Las Vegas (NM). Arriving in late afternoon the weather had turned a bit and the wind was just ROARING! I checked out Storrie State Park just North of town and grabbed a site that included a nice stone enclosed picnic table area. This stone shelter gave an area to sit outside, and I was able to position the rig so that we got some decent protection from the howling wind.

The next day the wind had calmed down and we explored the town a bit visiting the central downtown square. Had some NY Pizza and took some photos of the restored building in the square. As the day wound down, we headed out of town on Route 65 to some public hot springs just North of town. OZY was ready for a truck nap, and I was ready to soak in some hot water. The Montezuma Hot Springs were a wonderful treat. The small pools ran from hot, AKA “the lobster pot” to pools more to my liking a bit further from the source. This was a really relaxing interlude to the day and a wonderful way to reset my old body.

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As late afternoon came, we continued North on RT 65 and entered into areas of the Santa Fe National Forest. Much of this area off of RT65 had suffered a wildfire and we found many of the established campgrounds closed, many warning signs about tree hazards/flash flooding. I found a nice secluded dispersed area and set up camp for the evening. We had a quiet enjoyable night and I slept like a rock after the hot soak earlier.

The following day we did a bit of additional touring around Las Vegas and then I decided to explore the National Forest areas North of town via Route 283 leading to FR18. Up in this area the fire damage was much less visible, and we found a very nice open camping area in the forest. A great spot sheltered from wind, good sky view, and trees to hang a hammock from. The perfect spot to set up and basically just enjoy the moment. I felt like cooking a real dinner, so I grilled up some steak, peppers & onions along with a side of rice and made some great street tacos.

The next day OZY and I broke camp and ran over to Santa Fe via Interstate 25. Santa Fe I knew was going to be on my daughters “must see” list so this was just a quick reconnaissance as we would be coming back here in a few days. I found plenty of good safe parking near the historic area on West De Vargas Street and also near the REI store at the S.F. Railyard area. I enjoyed checking out the secondhand store Double Take on Aztec Street too.
 
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FAW3

Adventurer
With my daughter Laura's arrival scheduled for the next day I ran down to Albuquerque and staged up at the Coronado Campground North of town in Bernalillo. Great campground & facilities. Got a site in the back section (R-4) that had water & a restroom/shower nearby and a nice picnic shelter. These sites are right next to the Rio Grande River basin, and you can walk down to the river easily. After sundown we occasionally heard responding fire/ambulances running down the highway...and the sirens of the fire/rescue apparatus got the local coyotes singing right along!

Coronado CG:
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With my daughter Laura along for a few days now the “Great Race” began. Over the next few days, the leisurely retired old man pace would be adjusted “UP” to enable us to see and explore as much as we could. The weather was perfect, the truck was ready & the camper was fully stocked up...time to GET MOVING!

We departed Albuquerque and headed North on Route 550. Our initial destination goals were the Valles Caldera National Preserve and then camping overnight at the Juniper Campground within the adjacent Bandelier National Monument. The drive along Route 550 was very pleasant with varied terrain features, but after crossing some impressive mountains we entered the stunning beauty of the vast open plain of the Valles Caldera. The contrast was breathtaking. We drove the valley area and saw our first Prairie Dogs...followed by a couple of Coyotes that were the fullest bodied, well furred and well fed I've ever seen. Apparently, a diet of “PD” is very fulfilling. As the sun began to go down, we ran over to the Juniper Campground and got a nice site. I cooked up a nice hot meal and after sitting around a bit admiring the stars we hit our beds. In light of the great weather and soft ground I grabbed and used my REI Clipper tent, Thermarest pad and my Exped down bag and let Laura & OZY enjoy the FWC camper for this first night.

The next day was soon with us and we had some pecan pancakes for breakfast and hit the road for the nearby Bandelier National Monument. We stopped at the Visitor Center to get orientated and then did a nice easy walk around the ancient native dwellings carved into the volcanic rocks and laid out in stone on the floor of the gorge.

Bandelier National Monument:
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After completing this visit, we moseyed down the road and visited the city of Los Alamos, the Atomic City of WW2. The town center had a great walking tour and a small history museum. One could only imagine the isolation of this area in the early 1940's...if you wanted to keep something secret, this was a good choice! Lunch was had at El Parasol...Excellent! We simply could not enjoy this New Mexico style cooking more! The day finished North of Los Alamos in the Santa Fe National Forest. We grabbed a nice, dispersed spot and set up for another enjoyable quiet night.

The old boys ranch main building at Los Alamos:
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Dr. Oppenheimer and Gen. Groves:
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The following day took us down into Santa Fe. With my prior “scouting visit” a few days prior I easily grabbed some prime parking along W. De Vargas Street in the historic district and we grabbed my day bag and began walking around the hitting various art shops and boutiques. OZY made quite a few friends as we toured around the area. We grabbed a New Mexican food lunch “to go” and back at the camper set up on a nearby picnic table at De Vargas Park. After lunch the camper was well shaded by a tree and so OZY was put in for a nap and we walked over to a neat secondhand shop named “Double Take”.

Santa Fe sights:
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Soon it was time to scoot over toward our next destination. The lure of the Montezuma Hot Springs was calling to us, so we set up at a campsite near Las Vegas for the evening. The next morning it was time to soak in the hot water pools! After a good soaking we visited the Pecos National Monument and enjoyed seeing more of the ruins of the ancient native and Spanish communities and then started our mosey toward Albuquerque taking scenic Route 14, the Turquoise Trail. We hit the little village of Madrid just at the beginning of lunch time, so we hit the Mine Shaft Tavern & Grill. The hamburgers looked great on the menu, so we ordered them, and they were great. The service was also excellent here. A bit of a walkaround and then we were back on the road toward Albuquerque. I'll note that this village was featured in the movie "Wild Hogs", and this is played up quite a bit.

Pecos National Monument:
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Madrid; the Mine Shaft Tavern:
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In Albuquerque we grabbed a motel room not too far from the airport and a dog park...our real priorities after all. After a nice food truck dinner along old Rt. 66, and taking more photos of classic neon signs, we hit the motel and turned in for the night.

The next day got an early start to tour around the city a bit and check out the many wonderful petroglyphs at the Petroglyph National Monument on the West side of town.

After this last stop...it was time to drop Laura off at the airport for the flight back to Washington. She flew back home, and I decided to hop back up to Bernalillo to the Coronado Campground for what I knew would be an enjoyable quiet night at a close known location with access to a laundromat and food store for the next day.

Note: post image limit is 10, additional photos on final page.

(More to follow...)
 
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FAW3

Adventurer
With Laura now departed, it was just OZY and me and we headed north out of the Albuquerque area in search of interesting areas offering dispersed camping and good fishing opportunities in and around the Santa Fe and Carson National Forests and some of the BLM lands in north central New Mexico. Roaming through this area of fantastic terrain, wonderful forest areas, neat little towns, and being free to just checking the map and following on whim any interesting squiggly line into the mountains was a great way to live in the moment and get the most from a day.

Our primary destination for these days was simple: a remote campsite, a bit of grass for the OZ, and the beauty and peace of our national public lands.

Enjoying Carson National Forest:
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As we roamed through the region over a couple of days, we found ourselves heading in the general direction of Taos. Heading up Route 68 I saw some campground opportunities north of Pilar on RT570 and as it was late afternoon I decided to check the area out and found that strung along the Rio Grand River there was a beautiful gorge and 6 different BLM campgrounds. Some of the campgrounds were set up for RV's and some for simple camping. Sites had a sun/rain shelter, access to water, trash bins and vault restrooms, and one had hot pay showers. I found a great campsite at basically the end of the road just past the Taos Junction Bridge. A single site tucked into the side of the road facing a tall mountain with a small side stream that fed into the Rio Grand River. In the late afternoon I spotted a group of Big Horn Sheep working their way around the mountain grazing and occasionally keeping a watchful eye on me. We enjoyed this spot over two days and had fun hiking and fishing.

The view along RT570:
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Campsite past the bridge:
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Big Horn Sheep:
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The following morning, I packed up camp and headed toward Taos to explore it over the day. Taos was a interesting stop and I enjoyed a couple of the local art/jewelry shops. But the find for the day was a set of well-made and well-fitting protective dog booties for OZY that I bought at Taos Mountain Outfitters. He has been having a rough time with cactus and grass burrs and the rough gravel...especially when we play with a ball or Frisbee. Later I grabbed lunch at the La Cueva Cafe...and it was outstanding.

OZY chillin' with his new BOOTS:
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Lunch:
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After Taos the plan was to head further north into the vast public lands in that direction and do some more dispersed camping. Once up a bit into the mountains snow was fairly plentiful in the shady areas and the high alpine scenery was just wonderful. Exploring random marked Forest Roads I was turned around by mud or fallen trees a couple of times, the rewards were the finding of good fishing and good camp sites.

A group of deer wondering what the hell I'm doing in their neighborhood:
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The next move was to cross the border into Colorado where we visited Trinidad and enjoyed the Cinco de Mayo celebration the city was doing in the downtown district. OZY does well in crowds and is a very friendly dog and loves the attention he gets at these events.

Starting to turn East toward Virginia I choose RT160 out of Trinidad and aimed for the Comanche National Grasslands for an overnight stop. At the intersection of RT160 and County Road 185 I saw a marked entrance into public lands on the North side. An old derelict stone house is about 200 yards off the roadway. I followed the ruts and found a good flat section next to the old house. This made a great overnight stop; traffic was negligible on the highway and the mooing of the cattle and later the calls of the Coyotes set to tone for a quiet peaceful night. The stone walls made a nice windbreak.

Comanche NG:
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Something worth mentioning: just before sundown I observed a pickup truck head off the highway and head toward our location. A couple of light horn beeps and it pulled up and I met a local rancher who introduced himself as a lessee of the area for his cattle. A most friendly gentleman he was intrigued by my camper rig and just wanted to say hello, and I'm sure just check that I was not someone out to bother his cattle. He kindly offered that I could stop by his ranch if I needed water. We had a great conversation and enjoyed meeting him.

This encounter just shows that public lands can be shared and enjoyed by all, if we all do our part to be responsible and respectful of the land and people we meet.

(...a bit more is coming)
 
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FAW3

Adventurer
Leaving the Comanche Grasslands behind I continued the journey back East. OZY and I would be traversing and spending our next night in...

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As we ran East on Route 400 our goal for the evening was Greensburg, Kansas. This town had a very modern looking downtown area and offers free overnight camping at a local park just a block off the commercial district. Water and even 15 amp. AC power is provided. Finding these small town free or low cost camping options is one of the greatest "hunts" I enjoy during my travels. Never been disappointed at these locations. A good source for these is of course the website iOverlander.

Greensburg, KS, at the free camping area:
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After setting up and doing a bit of exploring I learned that the next day was the seventeenth anniversary of the town essentially being wiped off the map by a F-5 tornado. The reason that the downtown area looks so modern and new was that it had to be rebuilt.

This sign in town had me thinking quite a bit as the sun went down and the NWS was forecasting heavy thunderstorms for the night:

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The history of Greensburg and the severe weather forecasts over the next couple of days as I crossed the Midwest plains gave me pause to think through some things about severe weather as significant thunderstorms, hail and tornado activity were called for.

I think these thoughts might be valuable for our community. Here is how I address severe weather:

1: For planning and routing I like the NWS Severe Weather Forecast. It looks out 1-3 days and provides a national map of regions where severe weather is expected. Being vehicle mobile I try to avoid critical areas to the degree possible. Often a one or two hour drive can move you away from a localized weather hazard.

2: My cellphone is set to receive NWS weather warnings and alerts. These are dependent on having cell service.

3: I monitor live weather radar as needed. Again, dependant on having cell service.

4: I have a small portable battery powered radio in the camper and a 2 Meter ham radio in the truck cab that receive NWS broadcasts and weather alerts. These are not dependent on being in a cellular service area.

5: I’m committed to monitoring the weather AND knowing of close possible shelter locations when needed. Having this mindset in place is crucial – have some options already in your mind before the sun goes down. You do not want to wake up to an NWS active tornado alert and have to start thinking about what do or where to go.

My camper, a lightweight pop-top is no shelter whatsoever. My truck is a bit better, but not much. A Motel 6, a Holiday Inn or any other masonry structure beats them both hands down. If I can’t drive around or away from a weather threat, my “Plan B” is a motel room, a rest area building, a park service cement vault toilet or any available suitable building that would allow me temporary access and shelter. Possible examples include hospitals and police stations that are typically open all hours, every day.

With Kansas and the Midwest behind me, I did a night at the Virginia Point Park Campground in Huntington, WV. A nice site was $10. The Virginia Point references that this park is on the shoreline of the Ohio River. It was neat watching the tugboats and barges be worked up and down the river.

My final camp night was at Blackwater Falls, Davis, WV. OZY and I love this park and the easy hiking and lush grassy areas. It puts us about 2 hours away from home and gives us a chance to put things away, get cleaned up and ready for getting home.

(Edit add: to fix some photo issues I've added some after this post)

That's it for this trip...thanks for joining us!
 
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86scotty

Cynic
Excellent TR! I picked up a few Easter eggs for sure. I was recently in Los Alamos for a quick visit and enjoyed the historic buildings and lunch at El Parasol.
Unfortunately I was out of time and didn't get to check out Bandelier or the Caldera.

I came down from Wolf Creek Pass/Pagosa Springs and also checked out the Chama/Cumbres Pass area just north of Los Alamos. Definitely worth adding to your next trip.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

Markal

Member
Thanks for sharing this trip report. Reminds why I joined this forum. Looks like a fantastic trip and at a great pace to really take things in.

We’ve taken two trips to that part of NM in the last few years and visited a lot of the same sites. Love that region.
 

FAW3

Adventurer
Additional photos:

Valles Caldera National Monument:
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Female Big Horn Sheep; North of Pilar, NM:
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Comanche National Grasslands; West of Kim, CO.:
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Beautiful meadow in the Carson National Forest:
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The decent into Palo Duro Canyon SP, TX.:
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