Tag Archives: freecampsites.net

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Saddle Mountain

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IMG_5146I first heard about the Saddle Mountain BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land at the 2015 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. I ran into a guy I’d previously met in New Mexico, and he told me about the BLM land surrounding Saddle Mountain, but I didn’t make it out there before I set out for my summer job. In early winter 2016, my friend Coyote Sue took a trip to the area, and I decided I REALLY wanted to go there.

IMG_5179One reason I hadn’t gone sooner was because I didn’t have very good directions. The guy who first told me about the place pointed to it on an old Arizona map, but he wasn’t able to tell me what roads to take. I was a little worried about going out there and getting myself lost. Before I set out on my trip, I did some research by searching “saddle mountain free camping Arizona” on Google. I got a hit on the Free Campsites website.

On https://freecampsites.net/#!2777&query=sitedetails, I found the GPS coordinates (33.458626, -113.055023) and plugged those right into Google maps.  (Thanks Google!)

I’ll just go ahead and give directions so nobody has to do all that work him/her self.

From Interstate 10 in Arizona, take exit 94 toward Tonapah. Turn left onto 411th Avenue. Keep  going south for almost three miles, passing Osborn Road and the Saddle Mountain RV Park. You’ll get to a T in the road. Turn right onto West Salome Highway. (If you go left, you will end up in Buckeye, AZ.) Drive for 5.2 miles, then turn left onto Courthouse Road. Both West Salome Highway and West Courthouse Road are paved and both have official street signs. After 1.8 miles on West Courthouse Road, turn left onto the Saddle Mountain BLM land. IMG_5172

Like a dumbass, I had not written down the distances I was supposed to go on each road. I found Salome Highway easy enough (411th Avenue ends, go left or right, no big deal), but I’d gotten a little worried after a couple of miles that Courthouse Road wasn’t signed, and I’d missed it. I kept going, then saw the sign for Courthouse Road and breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn’t lost. However, because I didn’t know how far I was supposed to go on that road and my last direction was simply “turn left,” I didn’t know where to turn onto BLM land.

I drove slowly and kept an eye to the left, hoping to see a sign. I didn’t see a sign, but I did see a kiosk. IMG_5132Although I couldn’t read the words Saddle Mountain on the top of the kiosk, I suspected I was in the right place and turned down the road. When I got closer and read the words up there, I knew I’d made it.

The kiosk didn’t have any information on it, other than one sign saying this is a pack-in/pack out area. (There are no amenities in this area, not even a trash can or a pit toilet.)

I drove south on the road, which I later found out is Route 8211. IMG_5169This road is not paved, but is what I would describe as a “good” dirt road. My conversion van had no trouble getting down it.

As I drove down Route 8211, I saw one RV, an older, medium size motor home which was about to pull out of its spot. The people in it waved to me as I drove by. During the time I was there (Wednesday afternoon to Saturday morning), I didn’t see any other folks camping in the area.

As I was trying to find a spot, I realized I could see bits of civilization to the north. Sure, I wasn’t looking at a metro area, but I could see vehicles (including many 18-wheelers) driving past on I-10. I could also see a couple of large industrial operations between my location and the interstate. I decided to park the van so my side doors opened to the south, which offered a view of mountains and cacti, not the trappings of humanity.

IMG_5137Once the sun went down, I could see a good number of ligths to the north and the northeast, which also detracted from the sense of being alone in the wilderness. Sure, Saddle Mountain is well out of the city, but I didn’t feel as if I were in the middle of nowhere. IMG_5142

That situation might have been remedied if I had driven farther down Route 8211. On Friday evening, I went for a walk to the south on that road and found many other places where folks had obviously boondocked before. There were plenty of flat spots to park a rig, and I saw fire rings made from rocks obviously gathered in the area.  I didn’t move the van; I was much too lazy for that. However, next time I stay there, I will drive to the end of the road and try to find a place where I can’t see one bit of civilization.

Although I could see vehicles on the interstate, thankfully, I couldn’t hear them. I didn’t hear much human noise out there. The sound  of a car engine passing on the road in front of the van did wake me up on Wednesday night. When IMG_5171I looked at my watch, I saw it was 11:30. I thought it was a weird time to go exploring, but whatever. I heard the car pass by again, headed to the main road, before too long. On Thursday morning, a couple and their dogs walked on the road in front of the van; the woman and I waved at each other. Several hours later, they walked past again, going back to their vehicle, I assume. On Friday the sound of a man and a little boy walking by caught my attention, but other than those situations, maybe two other cars driving on Route 8211, and a few aircraft flying overhead, I only heard the sounds of nature.

I absolutely enjoyed my time in the Saddle Mountain area, and hope to stay there again.

 

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I took all of the photos in this post. They were all taken in the area around where I camped near Saddle Mountain.