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Primitive Camping at Brantley Lake State Park

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I’d gotten a New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass. It was The Man’s idea. I’d thought about getting the pass before, but The Man said this winter we could each get one and spend the season in New Mexico State Parks. He’d wrap stones with copper wire to make pendants, and I could write.

We met up at Leasburg Dam State Park after a month apart and stayed there a couple of nights. The Man thought he might be able to make some money in Carlsbad or Roswell, so we took off to that part of the state, planning to camp at Brantley Lake State Park.

Brantley Lake is between Carlsbad and Roswell, off of Highway 285. It’s closer to Carlsbad (about 12 miles) and is about 70 miles from Roswell. We’d stayed in the park’s Limestone Campground once before, when we’d been in the area the previous spring, after our visit to Carlsbad Caverns.

I remembered two important things about the park.

#1 All of the sites in Limestone Campground have electricity, so they all cost $14 per night instead of the regular $10 per night of the developed, non-electric sites covered by our camping passes. If we wanted to stay in the campground, we’d have to pay an extra $4 per night for our site.

New Mexico & Arizona State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide
#2 The park offers primitive camping. I remembered the camp host taling about the primitive camping when we’d been there in the spring, and I confirmed primitive camping with my guidebook, New Mexico and Arizona State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Don and Barbara Laine. Primitive camping only costs $8 per night and is covered by our passes.

It was dark when we pulled into Brantley Lake State Park, but we followed the signs to Rocky Bay, the primitive camping area. We parked our vans in a spot just off the road and a short walk from the lake. That’s where we settled in for the night.

In the morning, we got a better lay of the land. The primitive camping area has no designated camping spots, but

I parked that close to the water.

there were several flat areas next to the water where people had obviously camped before. During the days before and after Thanksgiving, there weren’t many primitive campers, so there was plenty of room for everyone to spread out. (We could see our nearest neighbors on both sides, but all we heard of them was the enthusiastic drumming of the people to our right. The sound was quite faint, merely background noise, which was good because the drumming went on well after dark and started again between 4:30 and 5 in the morning.)

Like most primitive camping I’ve encountered, this area had not amenities. It was a leave no trace kind of place where campers must pack out what they’ve packed in. However, the trash doesn’t have to be packed out very far. There are several dumpsters in Limestone Campground, and no one complained about us throwing several bags of trash into one. I suppose they’d rather have the trash from the primitive camping area deposited into the dumpsters rather than having it left behind to be blown into the water.

Day use area at sunset

While there are no restrooms in the primitive camping area (not even portable toilets, the camp host had said to me in the spring), we made ourselves at home in the restrooms in the day use area and the campground. Again, no one seemed to mind. The day use area was closer to where we camped, so we used the restrooms there more frequently than we used the ones in the campground.  The restrooms in the day use area seemed to be unlocked 24 hours a day and had flush toilets and sinks with running water, but no showers.

The showers are in Limestone Campground, and The Man and I utilized them twice during our stay of a little over a week. Nobody challenged our use of them. I think anyone in the park (probably even folks doing day use) could have a shower with no questions asked.

The Man says he had two great showers with plenty of hot water in the men’s shower house. Of course, having to press the button repeatedly so the water would flow was a little annoying, but that’s the way it works in New Mexico state parks. Overall, he enjoyed his shower experience.

Me? Not so much.

I like a hot shower, but the water in the stall I picked the first time was barely warm. I chose a different stall for my second shower, but the water was no warmer. I thought maybe the problem the first time was that because the shower head was so high and I’m so short, maybe the water cooled by the time it hit me. I brought a cup with me the second time, and even when I put the cup right up to the shower head, the water that filled it was barely warm.

Why did I have a cup in the shower with me? Because the shower head was mounted so high and because the water came out of it in a diffused spray, it had been impossible for me to rinse the soap from my privates during my first cleansing episode. The second time I brought a cup so I could rinse.

By the time I finished my first shower, I was literally sobbing. I was so cold, and I couldn’t rinse, and my whole life seemed like a rotten mess. I was a little more stoic the second time because I knew I wasn’t going to get a piping hot shower, and I had my cup, so I could rinse. I was in and out in a flash. Wash and rinse my hair–wash and rinse my pits–wash and rinse my privates–done!

Everything else about the primitive camping experience was fine, except for the number of flies that invaded my

The vegetation of the area

van each day. It’s nature though–there’s going to be bugs! The Man thought the area was ugly, and he said he could smell the stench of refinery and lake pollution, and I believe the word shithole was spoken. I thought the area was pretty enough, in its own way. Shade trees would have been nice, but the fall temperatures were cool enough not to desperately need shade. (I wouldn’t want to camp out there in the summer with no shade.) Also, it being New Mexico, the wind was quite strong on some days. Anyone planning to set up any sort of tent out there should weigh it down well.

I enjoyed my time in the Brantley Lake State Park primitive camping area. We had plenty of privacy and weren’t bothered by any other campers. It was cool (literally and figuratively) to park near the water, and I saw a roadrunner and a great blue heron quite close to our campsite. Also, you can’t beat a New Mexico sunset, especially over the water.

New Mexico sunset over the water

I took the photos in this post. The book cover is an Amazon link. If you click on it, I get a small advertising fee on any item you put in your cart and purchase during that shopping session.

 

 

Long Night on the Beach

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I don’t know why I thought it would be fun to camp on the beach on Labor Day weekend. I hate the beach–the sand, the lack of shade, the crowds–but Sheff and Kel talked me into it.

It was hot as Hades in Texas that summer, so I supposed they were hoping for some cool relief. Also, Sheff and I were meeting Kel in the middle, halfway between her home and ours, and the Texas Gulf Coast fit the bill.

I don’t remember it being crowded out there. We had plenty of room for a camp near where Sheff’s truck and Kel’s Jeep were parked. Since we arrived late in the afternoon, the sun was low in the sky and didn’t beat down on us so terribly. There was nothing to do about the sand, so I just tried to pretend I wasn’t up to my ankles in it.

Let’s set up the tent, I said soon after we arrived.

Let’s play in the water! Kel and Sheff said, so we did. The water was a relief, even though it was bathtub warm. The waves bounced us as we talked.

Let’s set up the tent, I said when we got out of the water. The afternoon shadows were long, and I knew darkness would surprise us with its swiftness.

Let’s eat dinner! Sheff and Kel said, so we cooked our veggie burgers. (Did we build a fire? Did we use a camp stove? The memory is lost.)

Let’s set up the tent, I said when the food was gone.

Let’s drink a beer! Kel and Sheff said, and I cautiously agreed one beer would be ok.

Let’s set up the tent, I said halfheartedly when my bottle was empty.

Let’s have another, Sheff and Kel said, and I knew all was lost. I knew we weren’t going to set up any tent that night.

During our beer drinking, the sun went down, and the mosquitoes came out. At some point during my second beer, I got my hands on a can of insect repellent and accidentally sprayed its foul contents into my mouth. (Thanks goodness I hadn’t sprayed it in my eye!) My mouth was tingly for a while, then numb the rest of the night.

Where are we going to sleep? I whined when the beers were gone. We had some concern about Alligator Headalligators (not an unfounded fear on a Texas Gulf Coast beach), so Sheff suggested we throw our sleeping bags in the back of his truck and stretch out there.

Earlier in the day, Sheff and I had talked about mosquitoes. He claimed they never bit him. I don’t know, he shrugged. I guess they just don’t like me.

The mosquitoes certainly liked me that night. Despite having the taste of insect repellent in my mouth, mosquitoes were attacking me with vigor.

I got fully into my sleeping bag in an attempt to discourage the bloodsuckers. Unfortunately, I had a winter bag rated for about 45 degrees. It was probably at least 85 degrees out there, even after dark. I spent several hours trying to stay completely covered by my bag so the mosquitoes couldn’t bite me, but that led to me growing unbearably hot. I’d throw off the sleeping bag until I could no longer stand being eaten alive, then I’d get back into the bag. It was an uncomfortable cycle that didn’t allow for much sleep.

Kel gave up first. She abandoned the back of the truck and sought refuge in her Jeep. Later Sheff admitted he was getting bitten, so he scooped up his dog and his sleeping bag and retired to the truck’s cab. I thought I’d tough it out, although I’m not sure how I thought I’d be about to stay outside if Sheff was suffering so much he had to leave.

I didn’t tough it out for long before I was in the Jeep with Kel. She’d already claimed the passenger seat, so I squeezed in behind the steering wheel.

I thought the night was never going to end. I was exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep. I was hot, and I was itchy. My body was uncomfortable, my neck at a funny angle, and I was cramped because I couldn’t stretch out. It was one of the longest nights of my life.

Finally, the sky lightened a little, then there was a bit of pink. The sun rose a perfect red ball in the sky. I unfolded myself from the driver’s seat and went for a walk along the water’s edge. The last few hours had been awful, but I’d survived.

Body of Water Near Brown Soil Under Blue Sky during Sunset

Photo of aligator courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/alligator-head-151354/. Photo of beach by Robert Villalta from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/body-of-water-near-brown-soil-under-blue-sky-during-sunset-128458/.

Half-Wild Beach Cows

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When I was in middle school, my parents went on a camping kick.

I suspect it was my dad who decided the family should go camping. Why would my mom want to camp? It only made extra work for her: making sure everyone in the family had packed everything s/he needed for the weekend; packing every ingredient for every meal, as well as appropriate pots, pans, and utensils; listening to the children complain; gathering and packing necessary bedding and towels; washing sand out of everything when we returned from the beach.

It was to the beach we went on our first few camping trips. This beach was not a white-sand beach in Black White MosquitoFlorida or the ruggedly beautiful coast of Oregon. No, the beach we frequented was the nasty oil-slicked beach of the Louisiana Gulf Coast where the water was brown, trash washed up on the sand, and the mosquitoes were huge. This beach was ugly, but it wasn’t very far from home, and camping there was free.

Our first camping shelter was an old-school canvas tent. I suspect my dad got it, like so many items from my childhood (scratchy wool blankets, BAND-AID® brand adhesive bandages in bulk, Mercurochrome) from a discard pile of mythic proportion from his days in the National Guard.

After a few trips to the beach, my dad liked camping so much, he decided to buy a tiny camper to pull behind the family truck. He bought the camper from an old couple, and it was only after he got it home that he discovered the pressboard it was made from was mostly rotten. My father dismantled the camper down to the frame, then replaced every bit of wood and every scrap of insulation before putting it all back together again.

As far as I was concerned, he could have saved his energy. I had no desire to camp. There were no showers at the beach, no hairdryers, no flush toilets. To young teenage me, the beach was barbaric.

I can’t remember how many times my family went camping at the beach in our refurbished camper. I only remember the night of the half-wild beach cows.

A friend of the family had come with us. She was in her 60s, flamboyant, liked board games, and was patient with my sibling and me. I have not idea why she wanted to spend her weekend at the beach.

The family friend was supposed to sleep in the screen ten, but my dad built the campfire too close to it and melted the screen. No way could she sleep in a tent with a huge hole in it; the mosquitoes would have carried her away. Instead, she had to sleep in the camper with us.

It was already tight quarters in the camper at night. The kitchen table folded down into a double bed; that’s where my parents slept. My younger sibling slept in a bunk that folded down from above the table. (My mother was afraid my sibling–a tween at the time–would  roll out of bed and meet death on the camper’s floor, so she crocheted a huge net to stretch across the bunk.) I usually slept on the cushioned bench across the front of the trailer, but on this night I was relegated to a pile of blankets on the floor so our elderly guest could have what barely passed for a twin bed. If I was uncomfortable–and I was–I wonder how our rather large friend managed to stay on her narrow bed.

animal, black and white, cattleNo one was sleeping well when the commotion started outside, but we were soon wide awake. We heard animal noises and hooves hitting the ground, and it was all very close. It was so close, we began to hear and feel thumping on our camper. The camper swayed and rocked as one or more big somethings bumped it.  In the distance we heard humans yelling. What could possibly be going on out there?

My dad must have grabbed a flashlight and shined it out the window in order to report: cows. They were half-wild beach cows, let loose to graze, I suppose, although there wasn’t much in the way of tasty grass where we were parked. It must have been open range out there, and the cows were allowed to move about freely on the beach.  We had come into their territory, and they seemed none too happy about it.

I don’t remember how long the attack lasted, but we couldn’t get back to sleep after the cows moved on. I don’t think any of us got much sleep that night.

In the early daylight of the next morning, when we emerged from our little trailer, we saw the aftermath of the visit from the cows. Tents and temporary clotheslines had been knocked down. People must have spent a long night in cars to escape mosquitoes and marauding bovines. What else can you do when half-wild animals knock your tent on top of you while you’re sleeping in it? My family had been lucky to have a sturdy camper to keep us safe.

 

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-white-mosquito-86722/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-black-and-white-cattle-close-up-551618/.