Tag Archives: Camping

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/.

I Just Got Here

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The day had been frustrating. The cash register computer wasn’t working, and we’d had to write information about each item purchased on a paper receipt and do all the math with a calculator. It was hot, and I was tired and looking forward to shutting and locking the doors to the mercantile very soon. That’s when the old lady walked in.

She had totally white hair, but it wasn’t styled in some old lady way. It fell straight to several inches above her shoulders, and she had wispy bangs.

She wasn’t dressed in old lady fashion either. She wore sporty-casual clothes in solid colors. She looked as if she had come to hike or camp, definitely to enjoy the outdoors.

Her face was tan and wrinkled, and I noticed during our interaction that her head trembled frequently. I wondered if Parkinson’s disease, which made my grandmother’s head shake late her life, caused this woman’s tremors too.

The old woman didn’t say greet us. She didn’t waste time with any niceties. She simply launched in, demanding in her pronounced German accent, Vere is de campground?

You’re in the campground, I told her. This is the campground.

Vere are the sites? she demanded further.

The mercantile is at the front of the campground, the sites laid out on either side of a loop with a paved road in the middle. If a person didn’t know she was in a campground, I could see how she could be confused. I thought I was being nice when I explained the layout of the campground to the woman.

I assumed (and assuming makes an ass of u and me, my dad would say) she had a reservation, so I asked her, What site are you on?

I thought she’d give me a site number, and I could send her on her way. Instead, she snapped at me with venom and disdain I felt in my heart, How should I know?!! I just got here!

Oh. Ok. I understood. She was interested in maybe camping in this campground, but she certainly didn’t have a reservation.

Then she fluttered some sheets of paper at me and demanded I show her where we were on the map. I looked at the pages and saw they represented the nearby national park and some northernmost portion of the national forest. I had to inform the woman we weren’t on either page of her map.

I grabbed one of the mercantile’s maps showing our area of the national forest. I opened it, spread it before us on the counter, and pointed to our location. The map was for sale, but I never suggested she buy it.

I don’t need this map! she sneered, although I don’t know how she was going to find her way around since her map didn’t reflect where she actually was.

Next, she wanted to know the fee to stay on one of the campground’s sites. I told her since the camp hosts had the day off and I wasn’t 100% sure of the campground’s fees, she’d have to check the information board near the restrooms. However, I said I thought a tent site cost $24 or $25 a night. I thought she might fall out when she heard the price.

She wanted to know where she could camp for free.

At this point, I was pretty tired of her interrogation tactics, so I shrugged and said, It’s the national forest. You can pull off the road and camp almost anywhere.

She had other questions and complaints. Why weren’t the trails here marked like they were everywhere else? (I hadn’t even formulated an answer before she’d moved on.) Did her card get her a discount? I asked if her card was a senior pass and she said yes, but I don’t know what she actually had. She didn’t show it to me. If it’s a senior pass, you get half off camping fees, I told her.

I pulled out the campground’s daily arrival report and determined which sites were not reserved. You can check out sites 1, 4, 7, and 14, I told her. If you want to stay on any of those sites, get a self-pay envelope from the information board, put your payment in it, and drop it in the iron ranger.

Finally, she left the store.

I turned to The Man who’d silently watched my interaction with the woman.

Is she alone? he whispered. I guess he was worried she was lurking outside the yurt we work in. She’s really old, he continued. What’s she doing out here? Did she come out here to die?

I shrugged again. I didn’t know the answers to his questions, and I didn’t much care. I’d done my best to be nice to someone who hadn’t been one bit nice to me. It wasn’t my job to determine if she was fit to spend time in the woods.

Las Petacas Campground

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I’ve never spent the night in Las Petacas Campground, but I did walk through it in mid-May of 2017 before the gate was open and while the waters of the adjacent stream were high.

Las Petacas (which means “the flasks ” according to Babelfish.com) Campground is located at an elevation of 7,400 feet, next to a stream called Rio Fernando de Taos on US Highway 64. This scenic highway is known as the Enchanted Circle and connects Taos, Angel Fire, Eagle Nest, Red River, Questa, and Arroyo Hondo. According to http://enchantedcircle.org/, the Enchanted Circle is an

the 83-mile loop through mountains, valleys, mesa, and national forest… all unique to Northern New Mexico.

The Enchanted Circle is centered around Wheeler Peak, the highest point in the state.  Culture and outdoor recreation are abundant around the Enchanted Circle…

This is the bridge in Las Petacas campground that spans the Rio de Fernando de Taos. Can you see the water only inches from the bottom of the bridge?

When I say the campground is next to the highway, I mean it is right next to the highway. Although I’ve never stayed the night in Las Petecas, I’ve slept in my van in other pullouts on the same highway. There wasn’t much traffic during the pre-Memorial Day times I stayed in the area, and vehicles virtually ceased traveling down the road by nine or ten o’clock at night. Highway noise is probably pretty low in the campground after dark.

The campground is small–only nine camp sites–and is sandwiched between the highway and a stream. In the middle of the campground, a small footbridge crosses the stream. Sites 3 and 4 are located across the water and are accessible via the bridge. Most of the sites are visible to the highway, but the two end sites and the sites across the stream offer the most privacy. Because of the water source, there are many trees on the river side of the campground.

The sites on each end of the camping area could accommodate a van or a small pull-behind camper or a small-to-medium Class C RV. While a pull-behind camper or vehicle couldn’t make it across the bridge to take one of the sites across the river, the parking area for those sites could accommodate a van or a small Class C. About half of the sites in the middle of the highway side of the river have large, flat parking areas adequate for a van or small-to-medium Class Cs, but other sites offer barely any room to park, which might make camping out of a vehicle tricky.

The stream–Rio Fernando de Taos–was quite high when I visited the campground. While the water was not flowing over the bridge, it was flowing just a few inches below. People who’d lived in the area for years were surprised at how high the water was. It flowed rapidly; I wouldn’t have tried to ford it, even if it hadn’t consisted of icy snowmelt.

The waters of the Rio Fernando de Taos were quite high in early May of 2017.

This is the building which houses the pit toilet in the Las Petacas Campground.

There is no camp host at Las Petacas Campground, but it does boast a pit toilet in one of those little Forest Service restroom buildings. The restroom was unlocked the day I was there, even though the campground wasn’t yet officially open. The restroom was stocked with toilet paper and appeared clean, although since I didn’t actually use the facility, I didn’t lift the lid to see how clean or dirty the risers and seat were. However, because there was toilet paper on the roll and the floor wasn’t filthy, I knew someone had been coming around to service the area.

Las Petacas Campground is a fee area. It costs $6 per night to camp there. Payment in on the honor system, with pay envelopes provided at the info board. A campsite may be occupied for 14 days. (I’m not sure if that means a campsite can only be occupied for 14 consecutive days or 14 days within a certain period of time or what.)

I think $6 is a fair price to pay to stay at a campground with a pit toilet in a busy tourist area. (The campground is only four miles from the town of Taos.) Of course, free would be better, but cheap is sometimes ok too. I would stay at this campground if I had a few dollars to spend and wanted to be close to Taos. I think it would be a pretty, tranquil place to hang out during the day and to sleep at night.

I took all the photos in this post.

The Forest Service website (https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/carson/recreation/camping-cabins/recarea/?recid=44098&actid=29) gives the GPS coordinates of Las Petacas campground as Latitude : 36.382 and Longitude: -105.5214

 

Indian Bread Rocks Recreation Area

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I heard about the Indian Bread Rocks Recreation Area from Coyote Sue. She knows so many great free camping spots in southern New Mexico and Arizona, and  I’m so grateful for her willingness to share her free camping information with me.

I was traveling with The Man before he became The Man and was simply a new friend, a fellow with whom I’d decided to go to New Mexico. His dog was with us too, of course, and ALL of The Man’s possessions, since he’d sold his car in California and planned to pick up a van in Oklahoma in April.

I think it was Wednesday when we left Quartzsite, where we’d met. We spent our first night on the road at a free campsite in the Buckeye Hills Recreation Area. (Read about my prior experiences at the Buckeye Hills Recreation Area here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/04/12/buckeye-hills-recreation-area/.) The man set up his tiny tent (which he returned to Wal-Mart the next day, as it turned out to be too tiny for him and the dog, much less him and the dog and his stuff), and I slept in the van.

The van was jam packed with all my stuff and all The Man’s stuff, and there was no path from the front of the van to my bed. The only way to get into my bed was through the back doors, which don’t open from the inside. I was too claustrophobic to get in the bed and close the doors completely, which would have given me no way out of the van in the event of an emergency. I had to get into the bed from the back, then close but not latch the doors. My main concern was rolling over in the night, pushing the doors open, then falling out the back. Thankfully that didn’t happen. If I had been traveling alone, I wouldn’t have slept with the doors partially open, but I felt entirely safe with The Man and the dog sleeping right outside my walls. (If I had been traveling alone, my van wouldn’t have been overloaded with the worldly possessions of two people.)

On our second night on the road, we ended up at the Indian Bread Rocks Recreation Area.

It was dark when we exited the I-10 in the little town of Bowie, AZ, which is almost to the border with New Mexico. The town seemed deserted as we drove down the main drag. We joked about the zombie apocalypse, but the complete lack of any sign of human activity was unnerving.

I missed our turn onto Apache Pass Road because I didn’t see the street sign in the dark and ended up on the far side of the town, close to I-10 again. I was pretty sure we had gone too far, so I checked my phone to see if Coyote Sue had texted me better information than I’d gotten from Google Maps. In fact, she had. Her text said to turn at the sign for Fort Bowie. Sure enough, after I made that turn, I saw the sign for Apache Pass Road.

I drove through the dark and looked for Happy Camp Canyon Road where we would make a right.

On the right side of the road, we saw pale, leafless trees growing in neat rows. It was an orchard of some sort.

Are those pecan trees? I asked, but The Man was unsure.

Then I saw a street sign that read Pistachio Lane, and we decided it must be a pistachio orchard.

The dog saw a bunny through the windshield and The Man egged him on by telling him to get it! The dog went berserk and lunged at the windshield, cleanly removing the glued down guardian angel statue from her perch on the dash. The Man had to grab the dog and hold him down amid much barking and excitement.

In the light of morning, we saw the recreation area’s picnic tables and pit toilet.

We finally saw Happy Camp Canyon Road and made our turn. It wasn’t long before we saw the recreation area’s picnic tables and pit toilet. A group was setting up near the picnic area, and there were a couple of popup campers in the vicinity, but we decided to go further out before we made a decision about where to spend the night.

We found our spot and I parked the van. A million stars popped out against the incredibly dark sky. A strong wind made the air cold, but The Man set up his (new, bigger) tent by the light of his headlamp while the dog ran around, glad to be free from the confines of the van. I opened the back doors and climbed into bed, closing the doors behind me just enough so I could still come flying out if necessary. I snuggled under my down comforter and soon fell asleep, again feeling safe because The Man and the dog were nearby.

Other than the howling of the wind, it was a very quiet night. I didn’t hear a peep out any of the other campers in the area.

Since I’ve been traveling alone, I don’t typically arrive at my destination after dark. I like to arrive and settle in before the sun sets. I feel safer that way, but arriving in the sunlight robs me of the pleasure of waking up to beauty I couldn’t see in the dark. I awoke to such pleasure at Indian Bread Rocks.

When I popped out of the van in the morning, I literally let out a yell of pleasure. This place was gorgeous!

We were surrounded by mountains that looked to be composed of piles of loose, round, tan rocks. There were cacti and small trees throughout the large, flat valley where I’d parked the van.

One of the mountains in the distance had snow on it. That was exciting! The wind had died down in the night, so it wasn’t as cold as it had been, but we were early morning chilly, and I think seeing snow in the distance made us feel a little bit colder.

The Man asked me to walk out to one of the rock formations with him and take his photo with his phone. By that point, I already had a little crush on The Man, even though I knew he wasn’t interested in getting into a relationship or even just having casual sex. My little crush made me very happy to go on a nature walk with him. My little crush made me very happy when he took my hand to help me up rocks. My little crush made me very happy just to be with him.

After our nature walk and photo shoot, we headed back to the van. We packed up, and drove up to the front of the recreation area to use the pit toilet, which was mighty disgusting. As a former camp host, I could tell the toilet hadn’t been cleaned in quite a while. The seat was so nasty, I broke my own rule and perched instead of sitting both cheeks on the seat. (Read more of my advice for using a pit toilet here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/08/27/how-to-use-a-pit-toilet/.)

Overall, I enjoyed my stay at the Indian Bread Rocks Recreation Area and would stay there again, maybe for several days, but certainly any time I’m driving on I-10 between New Mexico and Arizona.

The Man took this photo of me at Indian Bread Rocks Recreation Area in Arizona. I took all the other photos in this post.

The Free Campsites website (https://freecampsites.net/#!5545&query=sitedetails) gives the GPS coordinates of Indian Bread Rocks Recreation Area as 32.238617, -109.500099. The elevation is 4183′.

 

 

 

Reconnoitering in the Desert

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Last week my friend and I walked around the desert, looking for a place to make a good camp on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. While we were walking around, I took photos of some of the things I saw.

This photo shows the old car we found in the wash. It’s very rusty.

The most unusual thing we saw was the rusted remains of an old automobile. Believe me, the car was not in a place it could have easily been driven to. In fact, it was in a place that seemed impossible to drive to. It was high up in a wash, in a place I think no motorized vehicle could go.

How do you think that car got here? I asked my friend.

I dunno, he drawled.

I think it was washed here in a flood! I said. How else could it have gotten here?

The car seemed old, not just because it was rusty. The design of the car seemed old. I think the car had been sitting there for years, decades even. I don’t think anyone is going to drag the car out of the wash. I think the car is going to sit there until it becomes one with the earth.

This is the front of the car we found in the wash. It looks really old to me.

Wow! Look at that bug! I said when I saw a beetle sunning itself on a small rock. I like to see creatures hanging out in nature.

We poked at the beetle a little, just to see it move, then we felt bad about disturbing it. It tried to hide in the shadow of the surrounding rocks. I tried to move it back to the sun where I’d first found it.

Later, I almost stepped on it as I skidded down from a higher level where I’d climbed.

Watch out for our little friend, my friend said to me, but I thought he was talking about the dog. Luckily, I didn’t step on the beetle, although I was pretty out of control at the moment, waving my arms and trying to get down the steep, rocky incline without falling.

Here’s the rock formation I’d climbed up to look at more closely:

I stood at the base of it and looked at the openings in the rock. I think it was full of packrat nests. I saw what I thought was feces, and got away from it fast. I don’t need any New Mexico plague, thank you very much.

I think the formation was made of sandstone. It felt gritty to the touch, and seemed as if it could easily disintegrate or wash away. Although at first I thought camping up against it might make for a good campsite, we ended up deciding it was too unstable to trust with our lives.

After a couple of hours of walking around, we found a spot my friend liked. It was mostly flat and mostly secluded. He set up his tent and hauled his things over while I reorganized the van.

As I left in the late afternoon, I saw the sunset in my sideview mirror.

It was a lovely end to a lovely day in the desert.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

Knock in the Night

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I’ve been living and traveling alone in my van since the Fall of 2012. I’ve been through at least ten states and have stayed in cities and on public land. On only two occasions has anyone bothered me while I was sleeping. Once it was a cop harassing me (read about that experience here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/09/07/cop-knock/), and the other time–well, I’m still not entirely sure what that was all about.

I was staying at a free National Forest campground in Northern New Mexico. I’d stayed there before. It was basically primitive camping, but there were a couple of pit toilets there. I liked the place, mostly because there was no charge to stay, but also because it was next to a river, lots of tall trees grew there, and the temperature was cool.

I arrived late in the afternoon of the night in question. I’d been selling jewelry and shiny rocks all day. I was tired. I wanted to eat dinner, then crawl into my bed with a book, probably go to sleep early. I was scheduled to sell jewelry and shiny rocks the next day, so I planned to get moving early.

When I’d pulled into the campground, I’d found the most desirable spots close to the pit toilets had been claimed. I looked around until I found a spot to park the van farther out. There was a tent pitched in the general area, but I gave it plenty of space.

I went about my business of cooking and eating dinner. While I was outside, I saw at least one large dog and several young men around the other tent. A small pickup truck arrived, then left. I kept to myself, didn’t try to make conversation, but I noticed it wasn’t a family camping over there. I saw no children, no mother figure, just guys.

When the sky darkened, I got in the van, locked the doors, and closed the curtains. I read my book, then turned out my light. The night was going according to plan.

Suddenly I was jolted awake by knocking on the van’s exterior. It took me a moment to figure out where I was and what was happening. I’m in my van, I remembered. I’m parked next to the river.

The knocking came again.

Who is it? I yelled. Even to my own ears, my voice sounded grumpy and gruff.

The side windows were open to let in the cool night air, so apparently my voice was audible. I didn’t even move a curtain to peek outside, much less open the door.

A male voice outside the van identified itself as one of the neighbor campers. If their vehicle needed a jump start in the morning, would I help them out?

What the fuck? I was thinking. Who knocks on a stranger’s dark van in the middle of the night to ask for a jump start if the situation is not a full-blown emergency? Apparently this guy.

Sure, I told the guy, if you need a jump in the morning, I’ll help you out if I’m around.

I knew good and well that I planned to be out of there early. I’d likely be gone before the sun was up.

The guy seemed to wander away (I wasn’t trying to peep out the windows), but now I was wide awake. (If you’ve ever felt the burst of adrenaline that comes with waking from a deep sleep to the tune of someone knocking on your van, you know it’s not easy to drift off after.) I started wondering what was really going on. Why had the guy really knocked? He must have suspected I was asleep since it was the middle of the night (around 2am when I switched on my light to look at my watch), and there hadn’t been a single light on in the van.

As I lay there wondering if I were safe, wondering if the man would come back, I tried to remember the vehicle situation at the nearby camp. I didn’t remember seeing a vehicle parked near the tent when I arrived. I did remember the small pickup  pulling in, but I was mostly sure it had left. I hadn’t heard another vehicle arrive after dark, but I could have conceivably slept through a car or small truck’s arrival. Could I have slept through the noise of someone discovering a dead battery, discussing the situation with others? Maybe. But I was almost certain the man had asked for my help if the battery were dead. Did he not even know the status of the battery when he asked for my help?

I finally slept again for a few hours more. I woke early, but didn’t get out of the van. When I looked out of the windows, no one seemed to be moving on the other campsite. As I maneuvered my van out of my spot, the van’s engine noise awakened the large dog who barked and barked and barked. I felt satisfaction that perhaps the dogs’ barking would awaken the guy who’d disturbed my slumber.

As I left the camping area, I looked around for a vehicle that belonged to the nearby campsite. I didn’t see any vehicles–not a car, not a truck, not a motorcycle or even a bike. Did a vehicle start and leave sometime after the man knocked on my van? Maybe. But I doubt I would have slept through any noise after the knocking interrupted my sleep and shot adrenaline through my body.

I’ve often wondered what was really going on that night. I don’t think those guys had a vehicle at all, much less one that maybe had a dead battery. As I said before, barring a complete emergency, good manners and common sense dictate that one does not knock on a stranger’s dark van in the middle of the night.

I think the man just wanted to know what I would do if he knocked on my van in the wee hours. Maybe he’d acted alone. Maybe the other man had dared him to knock. Maybe they were drunk. Maybe he was hoping I’d open the door or step of the van so he could what? Rob me? Rape me? Did he just want to know if I’d agree to help? Did the men not want a camping neighbor and were hoping to scare me off?

I suppose I’ll never know what the intentions were that night, but I’m glad there was nothing scarier that night than a knock in the dark.

I took this photo. It is not the river I slept next to the night of this incident, but you get the idea.

I took this photo. It is not the river I slept next to the night of this incident, but you get the idea.