Category Archives: Van Life

Brantley Lake State Park

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After a long, hot day in the city of Carlsbad, NM, The Man said he really needed a shower.

Isn’t there a state park around here? he asked.

I got on FreeCampsites.net (https://freecampsites.net/) and had a look. Although staying at state parks isn’t free, it’s often cheap, so parks with campgrounds are sometimes listed on the Free Campsites website. The closest state park that showed up in the search engine was at Brantley Lake.

I don’t remember why we didn’t look for a community or rec center with a swimming pool, as those are often good places to shower for a couple of bucks. In any case, we were soon making the 20-mile drive to the state park.

When we pulled up to the entrance to the park, I read the information board, trying to figure out where we should go. It looked like the price for primitive camping was $8 and the price for developed camping was $14. I was sure the Free Campsites page said the cost of camping in the developed area was $10 Where was the $10 option?

While I was trying to figure things out, a truck pulled over behind us. The Man backed out of its way, but it didn’t go around us and into the park as we’d expected. The truck had some sort of official looking emblem on the door, and the driver looked at me expectantly.

Go talk to him, The Man urged.

Turns out, the man in the truck was the camp host at Limestone Campground, the park’s developed area.

I confirmed that the primitive camping area had no showers. There aren’t even porta-potties down there, the camp host said. I realized later I should have asked if we were allowed to camp in the primitive area but take showers in the developed campground, but it didn’t cross my mind at the time.

At other New Mexico state parks I’ve been to (Caballo Lake, Elephant Butte Lake), primitive camping costs $8, a developed campsite with no electricity costs $10, and a campsite with electricity costs $14. I was confused when I got to Limestone Campground in Brantley Lake State Park because I couldn’t find the $10 non-electric campsites. It finally dawned on me that there was no $10 option there because all sites offered electricity. As I thought more about New Mexico state parks where I’ve stayed before, I remembered Percha Dam campground offered no primitive camping. All sites at that campground were considered “developed,” and I had to pay $10 per night when I stayed there. I learned a lesson at Brantley Lake: Every state park in New Mexico is different, and I need to do a bit more research than FreeCampsites.net to find out if a particular park offers the kind of camping I want.

Brantley Lake is beautiful and large. According to http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/spd/brantleylakestatepark.html, it is the southernmost lake in New Mexico. Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brantley_Lake_State_Park) says the lake is

a man-made reservoir created when Brantley Dam was built across the Pecos River in the 1980s… It has a surface area of approximately 4,000 acres (16 km2), but that varies due to the inconsistent flow of the Pecos River and the arid climate in which the lake is located.

Brantley Lake is beautiful and large. This photo shows only a small portion of it.

The Limestone Campground is divided into two sections: one has sites that can be reserved and the other has sites that are nonreservable. We pulled into the section for folks without reservations and found several empty sites to choose from. We were visiting on a Thursday in early May, and there was plenty of room. However, if I wanted to stay at Limestone Campground on a summer weekend and I hadn’t reserved a spot, I would be sure to arrive early in the day to secure a site.

Apparently, campsites have a bar-b-que grill too. I guess I didn’t notice the one on our site.

Each site in the nonreserveable part of the campground has a flat area for parking a camper and/or a vehicle and a covered picnic table. Each site has an electrical box too, but since we didn’t need to plug in anything, we didn’t even look at the box. We took a spot next to a trail leading to the lake, but we were too tired to walk down there.

Like the rest of the campground, the women’s restroom/shower house was very clean. A woman was leaving the shower house as I arrived, and no one else came in, so I had the place to myself. I had a couple beefs about the shower, complaints I’ve also had at the other two state parks in New Mexico (Percha Dam and Elephant Butte Lake) where I’ve showered.

First, I had to press a button to start the water flow. The water ran a few minutes (3? 5?) then shut off automatically. I understand managers of state parks wanting showers to shut off automatically to cut down on pranksters or just plain forgetful people leaving the water running and flooding the place or wasting resources. However, having the water shut off during my shower harshes my mellow. Certainly, it’s not a huge problem, as I can simply reach out and push the button again, but I’d prefer a continuous water flow while I’m washing up.

The trail leading to the lake,

The second complaint is more difficult for me to shrug off. The water in New Mexico state park showers never gets hot. Yes, the water is warm. Yes, a warm shower is better (to me) than a cold one. Yes, hot water uses precious resources and opens the park to a lawsuit if someone scalds him or herself. I understand all these factors, but I love me a hot hot shower, and I can’t seem to get one at a New Mexico state park.

Of course, I was happy to get clean, even if I got a little chilly in the process. To this van dweller, a shower is always a luxury. However, I’d rather take a hot shower for $3 at a rec center instead of my paying my half of $14 or even $10 to take a warm shower at a state park.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

 

Free BLM Camping (Southern New Mexico Edition)

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The Man and I found ourselves in Roswell, NM. When he mentioned he’d never visited Carlsbad Caverns, I said we had to go. I’d been once before, six years ago, with my boyfriend who turned out to be not very nice. Carlsbad Caverns changed me in ways I cannot describe because I can barely understand it all myself. When I realized we were less than 100 miles from a natural wonder The Man hadn’t experienced, I insisted we go.

As soon as we decided to visit Carlsbad Caverns, I got on FreeCampsites.net (https://freecampsites.net/) to try to find us a nice, free place to spend the night.

When my ex and I visited the National Park, we spent the night before our adventure in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart in the town of Carlsbad. I didn’t want to do that if we could help it. First, I haven’t met a Wal-Mart parking lot that wasn’t hot, noisy, and too bright. Why spend the night in a parking lot if we could be out in nature instead? Also, the town of Carlsbad is about 20 miles from the famous caverns, meaning we’d have to start the day with a half hour of driving if we stayed in town. Better, I thought, to drive in the evening and park for the night in a quiet, dark, natural spot.

On the Free Campsites website, I found several options for free camping on BLM land near Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The place I picked doesn’t even have a name; on the website, it’s simply referred to as “Public Lands near Carlsbad Caverns.” (To read more about the camping area, go here: https://freecampsites.net/#!22041&query=sitedetails.)

I used the FreeCampsites.net free app on my Android phone to search for promising camping areas. When I decided on the spot where I wanted to camp, I clicked on the “Get Directions” link on the page with the information about the camping area. This link is near the GPS coordinates for the site. When I clicked the “Get Directions” link, it opened up Google Maps which told me how to get from my location to the road where I wanted to camp. The Man taught me it’s better to click the “Get Directions” link than to put in the GPS coordinates myself because I might make a mistake transferring all those numbers. Once Google Maps opened, we let the spokesmodel (I named her Mildred Antwerp) guide us into our spot for the night.

Without Mildred Antwerp to talk us through, it would have been a bit difficult to find the place. I would have had to keep a close eye on my odometer in order to figure out where to turn because the road onto the BLM land not only doesn’t have a street sign, it doesn’t have a name! Google Maps just calls it “Unnamed Road.” There wasn’t even a sign announcing we were on BLM land.

When directed to, we turned off US-180 W/US-62 W onto a fairly well-maintained dirt road. The road was bumpy, but I’ve certainly been on worse New Mexico roads. I didn’t feel as if the van was in any danger.

It wasn’t long before we saw a pull-off–a wide dirt area–on the left side of the road. Farther ahead, we saw other vehicles parked on the left. As indicated in the description of the camping area, we saw a fire ring in the pull-off, not BLM issue as far as I could tell, simply local stones someone had gathered and arranged in a circle. We knew we had arrived.

This pipe snaked on the right side of the road, across from the free camping area.

We didn’t want to park in the first open spot because we like privacy when we can get it, so we continued up the gently climbing road. As we went up and saw other people parked in pull-offs, I worried there might not be a place for us.

All of the camping spots were on the left side of the road. On the right side, I saw a thick, dark pipe snaking across the land. Once we stopped, I was able to read a signpost near the pipe: natural gas. The government owns the land, and somebody’s making money from the sale of the natural gas being pumped out, so I guess the least they can do is let the people camp there for free.

We found a spot, the first unoccupied one past an old pickup with a slide-in camper. The Man backed in the van next to our stone fire ring. We hadn’t brought any wood and there wasn’t any lying around to gather, so we didn’t have a fire that night. We did, however, have a nice view from the back doors.

We were quite far from our nearest neighbor, and we didn’t hear any noise other campers might have made. We were also quite far from the highway and didn’t hear any sounds of traffic. The whole time we were there, only two vehicles passed our camp. Soon after we arrived, a truck drove up the road and not too long after, drove down the road and away. In the morning, a woman who must have been camped above us drove past the van as she left. Otherwise, it was easy to imagine we were the only people in the area.

View from the back of the van

Staying on this BLM land was a true boondocking experience. There was no water, potable or otherwise. There were no toilets of either the pit, the flush, or the portable variety. There were no garbage cans or electricity. It was totally a case of bring in everything you need and take out all the waste you produce. The fire rings were the only indication people had camped there before.

Ocotillo plants and clumps of grass

I did have service for my Net 10 phone the entire time we were on the BLM land. I was even able to post a picture to Facebook and view updates from friends.

I’ve stayed in prettier free camping spots, but this place was not completely lacking beauty. We were in a sort of deserty area with clusters of grass, small cacti, and ocotillo plants growing from rocky ground.  Below us, flat land with no trees stretched as far as my eyes could see. What the area lacked in beauty, it made up for in silence and darkness.

It was also in a great location. In the morning we woke up, ate our cereal and milk, then drove about five miles to the entrance of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Spending the night on this BLM land beat staying in the Carlsbad Wal-Mart’s parking lot on every count.

The night we stayed on the BLM land, we were blessed with a red moon above us.

This campsite is located at an elevation of 3,650 feet. Its GPS coordinates are 32.204698, -104.334665.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

 

 

Traveling Kids in Flagstaff

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We left the Sonoran Desert and headed north on I-17. Three hours and an almost 5,800-foot increase in elevation later, we were in Flagstaff. The 68-degree air sure felt better than the desert heat.

Our plan had been to spend a couple of days in Sedona, spend a couple days in Flagstaff, then go to the Grand Canyon during one fo the weekends when National Park visits were free. I hadn’t seen the Grand Canyon since I was a teenager, and The Man had never visited the natural wonder, so we were both excited.

We ended up bypassing Sedona, itching to get to Flagstaff, but things didn’t turn out quite the way we’d hoped.

When The Man had been in Flagstaff a few months before, he’d stumbled upon the Whole Foods dumpster. He’s been telling me about all the delicious “made fresh daily” food that had been thrown out because the day was over. Sushi–sandwiches–wraps–I’d been salivating over tales of those delicacies since we met.

We’d been at McDonald’s using the free WiFi, and it was dark when we set out for Whole Foods. Several roads came together in a weird way (thanks for that, city planners!), and I missed a turn. We ended up in some dark residential area, and The Man said, Let me drive! so we switched places. But I didn’t know how to use the GPS function on Google Maps, and we ended up switching places again. It was as close as we’d come to having a fight.

For me, it was like so many other nights when I’d gotten me and my ex lost in the dark and my ex yelled at and berated me. Of course, The Man was neither yelling at nor berating me. He was exasperated but not taking it out on me, but tell that to my brain. My brain had gone to a dark place where memory and current reality are all intertwined, and it’s difficult to remember then is not now.

A combination of what The Man remembered from his previous time in Flagstaff and the Google Maps GPS lady guided us into the Whole Foods parking lot. I pulled the van into a space and killed the engine. Here we were!

We looked over at the dumpster, clearly in view on the left side of the store. We were disappointed–nay, dismayed– to find the dumpster was now barricaded behind locked gates. WTF? We knew good food–delicious food!–was going to waste back there.

We walked over to the dumpster area anyway. The Man sized it up. He could step there and jump over the wall…but my heart wasn’t really in it, and I don’t think his was either. By the time we made it back to the van, he was asking if I really wanted to do this.

Maybe we should wait until the store closes, I said.

Maybe we should wait until all the employees go home, he said.

The store wouldn’t be empty for another couple of hours, and frankly, I was just tired. Then The Man muttered, I don’t really want to go to jail over this tonight, and the endeavor was called off as far as I was concerned. When people start worrying about going to jail, all fun’s gone out of an activity for me.

We decided to go to Taco Bell.

From there we used the GPS lady to try to find Forest Service land right outside of town where we could stay for free. We got close, but the GPS was a little off and sent us down a private driveway. We ended up pulling off on the side of the highway and switching places again. The Man found the spot, which was little like a campground (no toilets–flush or otherwise, no trashcans, no nothing) and more like wide spots on the side of short, narrow paved areas near a trailhead. The Man parked the van, and we went to bed. I slept poorly, waking up multiple times in the night feeling frustrated and useless, wondering if anything about my life was a good idea.

The view from the windshield of the trees that helped me breathe.

The next morning was a brighter day. The Man and I were tentative with each other, careful, but no one was issuing ultimatums or asking to call off the romance.

The spot where we’d parked was beautiful. We were surrounded by tall, tall evergreen trees, the first I’d seen since I left California six months before. Those trees helped me breathe a little easier.

We went back to McDonald’s to use the internet again to try to figure out our next moves. Nothing was clicking. Nothing seemed right. At some point, we admitted to each other that we both really wanted was to go back to New Mexico.

You realize the Grand Canyon is only 75 miles away? I asked The Man.

The Grand Canyon will always be there, he said. Let’s go home.

We decided to go downtown first, check out the library lawn where traveling kids and others proper society sorts tend to view as riffraff congregate. No one interesting was hanging out there, so we started walking through the “cool” part of town where college kids go at night to drink in bars. We came upon Heritage Square, where some folks were drumming and a man and a woman were sitting out with the kind of cases traveling kids use to carry their handmade jewelry and shiny rocks. Sure enough, when we got up close, we saw each of them making beautiful, intricate pendants from wire and stones. The four of us started talking about shiny rocks and Quartzsite and drugs and traveling and selling handmade jewelry. Either The Man or I mentioned we were soon heading to Northern New Mexico. Within five minutes, the traveling man asked if they could go with us.

They both had gentle, peaceful energy. Neither of them had said a single sketchy thing. I quickly decided I wouldn’t mind having them in my van. The Man and I glanced at each other and silently communicated yes.

Sure, y’all can come with us, one or the other of us said.

We sat there a while more, talked rocks more, listened to more drumming, decided to leave in fifteen minutes, at three o’clock.

The kids had been crisscrossing the Southwest on foot, hitchhiking, driving when they’d had a vehicle. They’d had a car, but they’d traded it. They’d had a van, but the engine had seized. I cried when that happened, the fellow admitted to me.

We’d all been in Quartzsite at the same time, but neither The Man nor I had run into them. They’d made it to Truth or Consequences, and we may have overlapped there too. They’d been riding with a couple of heavy drinkers and had gone to Sedona with them, but the day before they’d decided they were done with the drunken antics and had hitched to Flagstaff. They were enjoying Flagstaff but were excited to go to Northern New Mexico where they had never been.

It was closer to four o’clock by the time we put gas in the tank and headed east on I-40. I drove and drove and drove while The Man and the passengers (mostly the guy) talked. He was 26 (a lot younger than I’d thought) and had gorwn up in foster care. He’d only met his father once.

His best story was how he was kicked out of the Army for “failure to adapt!” Failure to adapt! Sounds like the story of most of my life!

The view when we passed from Arizona into New Mexico was so beautiful in the early evening light. I should have stopped and taken photos, but at the time I was hellbent on getting us home.

It wasn’t quite dark when we got to Gallup. I navigated the strange exit and got us to the Wal-Mart where The Man and I were getting hummus and crackers for dinner, and he was looking for a knife to replace the one he’d lost to the Sonoran Desert. We grabbed the food, and he found a knife he wanted locked in a case in the sporting goods department, but we had to wait an eternity for the one employee in the area to unlock the case and accept our payment. We had a great time waiting in line, dancing to the 80s music playing over the PA system and laughing together. It was as if the struggles of the night before had never happened.

When we finally got out of Wal-Mart, night had fallen. The traveling kids had gotten some dinner at Carl’s Jr. I drank deeply of the iced tea in my bottle, then got us back on the road.

I drove and drove and drove, then had to stop at a casino outside of Albuquerque for a restroom break. I still thought I’d get us north of Santa Fe that night.

I made it through Albuquerque, but the long, dark stretch of Interstate 25  between that town and Santa Fe really took its toll on me. I was tired. I started thinking it would probably be ok for me to close my eyes and rest for just a little while.

I pulled into the casino between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Couldn’t we sleep here for a few hours?

Well, there wasn’t room in the van for all of us to sleep, and while the traveling kids were accustomed to rolling out their sleeping bags and spending the night in the bushes, casinos were not very good places for that. We get kicked out of casino property,  the traveling woman said.

I knew there was a rest area just before we got to Sant Fe. Surely the kids could find some bushes to sleep in there. The problem would be keeping my eyes open.

I powered on, forced myself to stay awake. Just a little further. Just a little further, I told myself.

Finally, there it was–the rest area–our home for the night. We’d made it.

The kids grabbed their packs and tumbled out to find their spot. I brushed my teeth under the harsh parking lot light. Then The Man and I climbed into bed, snuggled, slept.

The Man and I are early risers, so we were up before the kids. They were still dead asleep when I walked over to let them know we were ready to leave. We were on the road again shortly. It was much easier to drive in the daylight.

I drove those kids right out to the Bridge, told them how things worked out there. They said they’d go back to sell their pendants of stoned wrapped in wire.

Back in town, we parted in the supermarket parking lot. I was sad to see them go, but one thing I’ve learned is that a traveling kid can’t be held onto.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Cold

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It was another night in another Wal-Mart parking lot after another day of driving. It was already dark when we arrived, and I didn’t even care about getting something to eat. All I wanted was to sleep.

This Wal-Mart clearly allowed overnight parking. It looked like a combination of a truck stop and an RV park. There were three 18 wheelers in the lot, at least as many Class C RVs, and even a couple of Class A motorhomes. Of course, there were several obvious van dwellers, as well as people sleeping in cars, trucks, and jeeps. This Wal-Mart welcomed the weary traveler.

We’d spent a couple of nights in this parking lot the previous week, so we went to bed confident no one–no cop, no store manager–would knock on the van in the middle of the night.

It was probably eleven o’clock–maybe even midnight–before we lay down. I fell asleep immediately and slept well, but The Man was suffering from a bought of insomnia. He told me later it was two or three o’clock in the morning before he succumbed to sleep.

I was awoken from my deep slumber. The Man was awake too. The dog was barking.

What’s going on? I mumbled.

I think someone knocked on the van, The Man told me.

I listened. Nothing. I looked at my watch. 4am.

Who’s there? I asked loudly. No answer. I was convinced The Man and the dog and I had shared some sort of auditory dream hallucination. There was no one there. I dropped my head back onto my pillow.

Then…clearly…I heard a knock. It was a gentle knock, not a cop knock, but still, someone was knocking on the van at four o’clock in the morning.

Who’s there? I asked again loudly. I did not sound friendly, even to my own ears.

I’m cold, a female voice said. Do you have a blanket?

Are you fucking kidding me? I thought, and The Man verbalized something similar.

The Man is a very giving, generous person. I try to be a giving and generous person too, but this was too much for either of us.

No, I said. We don’t

I’m cold, the woman said again. Do you have a blanket? she asked, as if she hadn’t just asked the question and been told no.

No, I said again. Go ask someone else.

The woman went away, and while The Man and I were able to doze for another hour or so, we never got back to the place of deep sleep she’d interrupted.

In the light of day, The Man was remorseful. Maybe we should have helped her, he said. Maybe we should have let her sleep on the floor of the van.

I felt justified in our initial decision to turn her away, and I explained my reasons to The Man.

First of all, I didn’t have an extra blanket to give her. I live in a van with another person and a dog. Space is at a premium. I don’t carry around a stack of extra blankets. For a while I had an old sleeping bag with a broken zipper I wrapped around my cooler for extra insulation, but when The Man moved in, it was jettisoned with other nonessential items. I would have given her that if it had still been around, but she was too late. It was gone. If The Man wanted to give her some piece of bedding he owned, he should have spoken up.

Secondly, I don’t open my doors to strangers after dark, much less at 4am. Even with The Man and the dog to protect me, I don’t think it’s safe to wake from a deep sleep in the middle of the night–even in a well-lit parking lot–and open my home to someone I don’t know.

Third, the woman was in the parking lot of a store open 24/7. If she was cold, she could have gone into the store to warm up. She could have walked the aisles. She could have taken a nap in a restroom stall. She didn’t have to stay outside if she was cold.

Fourth, there were plenty of other people overnighting in that parking lot. We were not her only chance for survival. If we couldn’t help her, there were other people to ask.

Finally, I’ve been homeless (as in, with no van, as in, living under bridges) in that city at that time of year. While it might have been chilly outside, it wasn’t deadly cold. The woman was in no danger of dying of exposure.

If I’d had a spare blanket lying around, I would have handed it to her through a window. If we had been in a remote campground or wilderness area, and she’d had nowhere else to turn, no place indoors to go, I would have tried harder to help her. If it had been winter–snowing, freezing–I would have tried harder to help her, maybe even invited her to sleep on the floor of the van. But I didn’t think it was my responsibility to provide for someone who didn’t think about wanting a blanket until 4am.

 

 

 

No Overnight Parking

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We’d been on the road almost all day, so when we pulled into the Wal-Mart parking lot, I really only wanted to eat some dinner and go to bed.

As I drove through the parking lot, I gave a cursory look for signs prohibiting overnight parking and saw none. I pulled the van to the perimeter of the parking lot, on the edge of an embankment. A metal barrier kept cars from rolling down into the trash-strewn gully, and there were certainly no signs there telling folks they couldn’t park overnight.

While cooking and eating dinner, we saw several people walk up the embankment on a well-worn path between the railroad tracks below and the Wal-Mart parking lot. About one couple, The Man said the fellow seemed a little twitchy, but the woman was clearly methed out. More people came and went within 30 feet of the van, but no one approached us to start a conversation.

The Man watched people come and go and saw some of them walk out into the field beyond the tracks. Then he saw a light bouncing around in the field and concluded people were living out there. While we got ready for bed, we saw a new-looking car rolling next to the railroad tracks. Only railroad vehicles are allowed to drive next to the tracks, The Man said. What is going on down there? he wondered. We decided night time was not the right time to go down there to explore.

We’re locking the doors tonight, The Man said before we crawled into bed. He’s not usually one for locking doors, even at night. Heh’s confident he and the fiercely barking, protective dog are capable of scaring off any bad news that comes around.

I might sleep with my knife, he said, referring to the giant knife he uses to peel the bark from wood before carving it. We laughed about what he might shout at anyone who messed around our van in the middle of the night.

We went to bed around nine o’clock. I was exhausted, and I think The Man was too. I fell asleep quickly and slept deeply.

The Man said I woke screaming. Someone had knocked on the van and dragged me from a wonderful place of oblivion. Was it someone high on meth? Was it the police?

Who is it? I said loudly as I moved to the side window.

Wal-Mart manager, a male voice said. There’s no overnight parking here.

Oh. Sorry, I said. We’ll leave. We didn’t see any signs.

There’s one on the pole behind you, he said,

Ok. We’ll leave, I said again as I groped in the dark to find my clothes.

When we had pulled in, I’d noticed the lack of RVs, 18-wheelers, and van dwellers in the lot. In New Mexico, Wal-Mart parking lots often look like truck stops or RV parks, but I just figured not many people wanted to stay overnight in this not very scenic part of Colorado. Frankly, I was so tired, I hadn’t given it much thought.

Before we’d gone to sleep, I had seen another rig parked a couple rows behind us. It was a nice-looking pickup with a fancy slide-in camper. The camper’s stabilizing poles were down, so I figured the driver was in for the night. However, when we left, the pickup with the camper was already gone. I don’t know if the people in that rig were asked to leave or took it upon themselves to go.

There was still one rig parked in the lot when we left. A shiny, new-looking camper trailer was hooked up to a shiny, new-looking (matching) pickup truck. No lights were on in the trailer, and no one was in the truck’s driver seat looking like I felt–sleepy, disheveled, and a little bit frantic. I didn’t see the Wal-Mart manager knocking on the camper door, and I wondered if he’d done it so quickly that he’d been able to make it back into the store in the time it took me to dress and climb into the driver’s seat. Maybe shiny new rigs get to stay overnight. Maybe it’s not considered overnight parking if folks roll in after midnight. Maybe the people in the camper hadn’t answered the manager’s knock and could truthfully say they hadn’t gotten the no overnight parking message I’ll never know.

Luckily, on our way into town, I’d seen a billboard advertising a Love’s travel center only a few interstate exits from the Wal-Mart. The Man and the dog never got out of bed, but I managed to stay awake long enough to drive us to the truck stop. As I drove through the Wal-Mart parking lot to the exit, I saw the one no overnight parking sign I’d managed to miss on the way in. That store might want to invest in more signs so the night manager doesn’t have to go out into the dark to knock on vehicles.

 

Big Tesuque Campground

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The Man and I were going to be in Santa Fe for a few days, so I got on the Free Campsites website and found us a beautiful, free campground on the outskirts of the city.

If you’ve never used Free Campsites (https://freecampsites.net/), you should check out the website the next time you need to stay somewhere overnight. Whether you want to boondock one evening or plan a multi-stop vacation, Free Campsites can help you find what you need. The website moves beyond Wal-Marts and truck stops and focuses on public land.

According to the site,

Our community provides the best free camping information available. Free campgrounds can be hard to find. Freecampsites.net makes it easy. We give you a simple, map based search engine to find free and cheap camping areas. Community reviews and ratings provide you with up to date information and help you select the best camp site for your next camping trip.

We believe that free camping areas are often the most beautiful and peaceful camp sites. Our focus is on public lands. You own these lands and you are entitled to use them. We especially like camping on Forest Service land, BLM (Bureau of Land Management) areas, WMA’s (Wildlife Management Areas) and county or city parks.

Contrary to the name of the website, not all camping spots listed on the Free Campsites websites are actually free. Some sites included cost up to $15 or so, which is still quite a bit less expensive than the average RV park. Of course, I’m cheap (like my mawmaw, about whom my father said more than once, she could hold onto a nickel so tight the buffalo would moan), so it’s a rare penny I spend to park my van and sleep. However, Free Campsites gives the option of inexpensive campgrounds to travelers who like the extra amenities offered and have a bit of spending money to put down.

I’ve used the Free Campsites listings on my laptop quite a bit but recently installed the free app on my (Android) phone so I can use it on the go. The app is a little slow, but I blame that on my 3G phone.

This photo shows NM Hwy 475, aka the Santa Fe Scenic Byway, as it snakes up the mountain.

When I looked at the options for free camping near Santa Fe, I found several spots on Highway 475, aka the Santa Fe Scenic Byway. (Read more about the Santa Fe Scenic Byway here: https://www.newmexico.org/things-to-do/scenic-byways/santa-fe-national-forest/.)

We chose to stay at the Big Tesuque (pronounced [tuh-SOO-key], according to http://encyclopediaofsantafe.com/pages/words/tesuque.html) Campground. It’s part of the Santa Fe National Forest. The campground’s GPS coordinates are 35.76917, -105.80861, and it’s located near milepost 13. It’s small but does include two pit toilets and bear-proof trash cans. There is no drinking water available there. (Learn more about the campground at https://freecampsites.net/#!13966&query=sitedetails.)

The campground is really intended for people in tents; there’s no space to park vehicles at the camp sites. The parking area has room for about a dozen vehicles. Campers are meant to park in the small lot, then carry their equipment and supplies up to the sites to unpack and set up.

We simply parked the van in the parking area. When we were ready to cook, we unfolded one of our tables next to the van and set up our stove and equipment. Only four or five cars pulled into the campground’s parking area during our stay, and nobody else spent the night. Even during busy times, I think it would be fine for a van dweller to take an empty parking space and stay there for the night.

Even if we had been tent campers, the entire campground was covered in snow while we were there! It was May 1, but there were several inches of snow all over the camping area. I guess at over 9700 feet in elevation, snow can come late into the spring. Despite the snow, it wasn’t too cold out, at least until the sun set. After dark, we hunkered down in bed and got to sleep early.

I was quite impressed with the cleanliness of the restroom I used. It even had plenty of toilet paper! (Were I a better campground reporter, I would have checked both restrooms for cleanliness and toilet paper.) Although Big Tesuque Campground has no camp host, someone was cleaning, restocking toilet paper, and scrubbing the pit toilet, even during the slow season.

My favorite feature of the campground was the brook/creek/stream/river (one of these days I am going to learn what makes those bodies of water different) running alongside it. There were even two small waterfalls of sorts where the water tumbled down to lower levels. The sound of flowing water helps me sleep peacefully, and I had a very good night in the parking lot of the Big Tesuque Campground.

Snow! Trees! Waterfalls! All at the Big Tesuque Campground, less than 20 miles from the Santa Fe Plaza.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

 

 

Another Cop Knock

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The Man and I had worked at the Bridge during Spring Break, then went off on an epic adventure in Arizona. On our second day in Flagstaff, we decided to end the Arizona trip and head back to New Mexico.

Let’s go home, we looked at each other and said.

These are some of the new necklaces I’ve made recently.

We spent a week on the land of a friend who lives ten miles from the nearest town. The Man carved wood spirits, and I made new hemp necklaces, and we took turns cooking delicious food we shared with our friend.

On our first day back at the Bridge, I got us there early. By early, I mean around 4am. I admit it: I’m a bit obsessive about arriving at the vending area early and getting the spot I want.

As we approached the vending area, I noticed something a bit strange. An old SUV I didn’t recognize was parked in the vending area. That wasn’t the strange part. The vehicle could have belonged to a new vendor I didn’t know or it could have been the new vehicle of someone I did know. What was strange about the vehicle was the way it was parked. Instead of being parked parallel to the highway as vendors usually situate themselves, this SUV was parked perpendicular to the road.

As I pulled off the highway and into the vending area, I noticed something even stranger about the way the SUV was parked. Just beyond where vendors park their vehicles, the land drops. I can walk up and down the incline if I concentrate on my movements, but it’s rather steep. The SUV was sitting at a strange angle because the back tires had rolled beyond the drop off of the land.

Because Northern New Mexico is full of drunk drivers, I assumed someone had been driving drunk and had backed up beyond the point of safety. Of course, the driver maybe wasn’t drunk at all and simply hadn’t seen the drop off in the dark.

In any case, I parked my van and crawled back into bed. The SUV didn’t seem to be damaged in any way that indicated a violent crash or injuries, so I wasn’t worried about anyone being hurt. I didn’t want to disturb anyone who was sleeping it off inside the vehicle because I really wasn’t in the mood to deal with a possibly drunk person in the dark.

The Man and the dog were sleeping peacefully, but I was wide awake. Once in bed, I tried to lie still so as not to disturb my companions. I heard at least one other vendor arrive. I heard voices, but couldn’t understand the words being said. I was maybe drifting off when Bam! Bam! BAM! someone knocked on the van.

The dog sprang from the bed, barking fiercely. The Man sat up from a dead sleep, shouting incoherently. I untangled myself from the blankets while trying to calm The Man and the dog, asking them to let me find out what’s going on.

I pulled the curtain aside and saw a young man in a uniform standing outside the van. I popped open the window, and the young man said, I’m with the sheriff’s department. The knock had sounded like a cop knock because it was a cop knock.

The officer asked me if the SUV had been there when I arrived. I said it had. He asked what time I had arrived. I said I’d gotten there right around four o’clock. (It was now 4:30, according to my watch.) He asked if I had seen anyone in the vehicle or walking around, and I said no. The officer then dismissed me, but I don’t think he thanked me for my time or apologized for waking me (and The Man and the dog, whose commotion he must have heard).

I was awake for a while more and heard chains being attached to the SUV to pull it up to level ground. After that, I managed to fall asleep.

It was after 7am and full daylight when I woke up again. The Man was still snoring, but the dog was awake and whining to go out. I dressed quickly, then harnessed and leashed the dog. After he attended to the call of nature, we walked down the line of vendors, saying hello to our friends.

Dee told me four cops had arrived shortly after she did. (She said she hadn’t called them.) They questioned her about the SUV, but she knew nothing. A tow truck arrived and took the SUV away, then the officers left. Sometime after the cops left, a man walked up to Dee and asked her what had happened to his vehicle.

Did he get dropped off? I asked Dee. Or did he crawl out of the sage? She said she didn’t know, hadn’t seen where he’d come from, but she’d told him his vehicle had been towed.

I walked farther down the line of vendors, and Mr. Leather asked me about the morning’s excitement. I told him about the cop knocking on my van and questioning me, and I told him about the stranger asking Dee where his SUV was.

I guess the moral of the story is stay with your vehicle so it doesn’t get towed, I said to Mr. Leather.

Actually, he said, if you’re drunk, it’s better to leave the vehicle so you don’t get charged with DUI.

I hadn’t thought about it that way. I’ve never once driven after drinking alcohol, so I’d never given any thought to what I should do if I got my vehicle stuck somewhere and risked failing a field sobriety test if the police showed up.

I’m not positive the man who belonged to the SUV was indeed drunk, but if he was sleeping it off in the sage that probably saved him from getting charged with a DUI. I hope getting stuck saved him from getting into a worse accident and possibly ending his own or someone else’s life.