Tag Archives: Arroyo Seco

Free Camping Along the Rio Hondo

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The best free camping in the Taos, New Mexico area is tucked between the Rio Hondo and the Ski Valley Road.

Turn east at the stop light locals call “the Old Blinking Light.” Follow Highway 150 to the village of Arroyo Seco. Pass the Taos Cow (http://www.taoscow.com/) on the right or stop for coffee, sandwiches, or locally made ice cream. Right past Francesca’s Clothing Boutique, follow the road as it curves to the left. Pass the Holy Trinity Catholic Church (http://www.visitseco.com/arroyo_seco_catholic_church.php), then the road will curve to the right. After the post office, the road straightens out. When the choice becomes left, right, or off the mountain, go right. When you start seeing water flowing on the right, you’ll know you’re close.

There are three official campgrounds along the Rio Hondo: Lower Hondo, Cuchilla de Medio, and Italianos. Lower Hondo and Italianos have pit toilets, but I’m not sure about Cuchilla de Medio. When we stayed at Italianos Campground in June 2017, the inside of the toilet was filthy, and no toilet paper was provided. All of thes campgrounds are free, but offer no amenities other than pit toilets and the occassional picnic table. There are no trashcans and no water other than what’s in the river/stream/creek. The stay limit is 14 days within a 45 day period. The camping spots aren’t designated, so don’t look for numbered poles or timbers separating campsites. Just find a place to snug in a vehicle and/or a tent or a camper and leave the roadway open.

Campers who don’t need the pit toilets don’t need to limit themselves to the signed campgrounds. There are camping spots all along the water. Look for driveways going off into the trees and firerings constructed from stones by previous campers.

It’s amazing to me that I can be up in the desert, surrounded by sage and precious little shade, then drive 15 miles and find myself surrounded by tall pines and cottonwoods. Even on the hottest summer day, the Rio Hondo is icy cold. When I’m hot, I tell myself I”m going to strip down to my underwear and stretch out in the water, but in reality, I’ve only ever managed to go in ankle deep. In less than thirty seconds, my bones ache from the cold water, and the rest of me feels cool and refreshed. If I get hot again while I’m there, my feet go back in.

On Saturday afternoon in June, The Man and I were looking for a camping spot along the Rio Hondo. As we drove up toward the Ski Valley, we saw spot after spot taken both in the official campgrounds and in the boondocking areas. I was beginning to lose hope when we saw a poorly maintained dirt driveway leading down to the river. I pulled the van off the road, and we peered through the trees. No one was down there!

I slowly nosed the van down the rutted, potholed driveway. At the bottom of the driveway, we found two stone firerings and a nice, flat area to park the van. We had our own lovely, secluded waterfront campsite.

I took all these photos of the Rio Hondo and my feet in the Rio Hondo.

 

 

My First Bear

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When I was in college, my friend BH tried to teach me to smoke cigarettes. I was having trouble inhaling. He told me to imagine I’d seen a bear. He demonstrated the sharp, shallow intake of breath that seeing a bear would generated, then followed the inhalation of breath with the words, “I saw a bear!” I guess the “I saw a bear!” part was supposed to get me in the proper state of mind to breathe in the cigarette smoke correctly. I don’t know. I never did learn to smoke cigarettes (thank goodness!) but I did find out many years later that seeing a bear did indeed make me gasp.

Between Arroyo Seco and the Taos Ski Valley, there are several free camp grounds along the Rio Hondo.

I pulled into one of the camping spots late one afternoon. I had maybe a couple of hours of daylight left in which to prepare and eat dinner.

I’d managed to back my van into a spot so that in the morning (and by “morning,” I mean around 4am), I could pull straight out onto the gravel entrance/exit and then onto the highway.

Across the highway from where I was parked, trees had been removed to make room for a large electrical transformer. This configuration made for a break in the forest and a sort of flat open area around the transformer. I was standing near the front of my van, texting Nolagirl when movement across the highway caught my eye. I looked up and saw a very large creature lumbering past the electrical transformer and into the trees.

“That’s a weird fucking horse,” was my first thought. My second thought (after a quick inhalation of breath), was, “that was a BEAR!”

The bear didn’t actually look anything like a horse. “Horse” is just what my brain told me until it could make sense of what it had actually seen.

(Gasp!) I saw a bear!

My immediate first reaction was to want to follow it. It was so cool, so wild, so interesting. I wanted to know more about it.

My second reaction (which occurred about two seconds after thinking I wanted to follow it) was me asking myself, Are you out of your fucking mind?!?!? Following a bear is a REALLY bad idea, so I didn’t do it.

I  wanted to watch the bear from a really safe distance, but it was already out of sight. The bear was not going to be my entertainment for the evening.

I grew up watching movies and TV shows  like Gentle Ben and Grizzly Adams where bears and humans are pals. Some part of me wanted to believe that I too could befriend a bear. I’m glad my logical side prevailed and kept me on my side of the road.