Tag Archives: Rio Hondo

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.

 

 

The John Dunn Bridge and Blackrock Hot Spring

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SDC10006The John Dunn Bridge is located in Arroyo Hondo, Taos County, New Mexico.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dunn_Bridge, The John Dunn Bridge

crosses the Rio Grande near the confluence of the Rio Hondo.

[It] is located about three miles west of Arroyo Hondo on a gravel road that parallels Rio Hondo.[1] The road, off of NM 522, runs through Bureau of Land Management property, [and] is known as John Dunn Bridge Road and County Road B-007.

In or after 1893 John Dunn bought a bridge that crossed the Rio Grande and established a business taking passengers and freight from the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad at Tres Piedras to Taos. The bridge burned down and he rebuilt it in 1908.[5]

He operated the bridge until 1912 when he sold it to the Territory of New Mexico who made it a free bridge.[5]

Black Rock Hot Springs are located off of a dirt road on the western side of the Rio Grande after crossing the bridge.[10]

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This is a view of the Rio Grande flowing through the Rio Grande Gorge, taken from the trail to Blackrock Hot Spring.

According to http://www.gorp.com/parks-guide/blackrock-hot-springs-outdoor-pp2-guide-cid402419.html,

Few of northern New Mexico’s bounty of hot springs have escaped the hands of developers and remain in a primitive condition. Blackrock Hot Spring has two characteristics that kept it from development: It has low flow, and it is located on the west bank of the rugged Rio Grande Gorge.

In 1900, John Dunn of Taos purchased the bridge at the Rio Hondo with money he won at the poker table. It turned out that owning a bridge on the Rio Grande was quite a gamble, too, for the next spring, flood took the bridge with it into the rugged gorge below. Dunn was a tireless man who quickly rebuilt the bridge and then expanded his business interests by starting a stage service running over the bridge from Taos to Sevilleta, a whistle stop on the railroad.

Said to be a fugitive from the Texas Rangers, Dunn was full of brilliant if somewhat shady ideas. He built a small hotel at his bridge and made the crossing an overnight stop on his stage line, an arrangement that forced passengers to pay for food and lodging before continuing to Taos the next morning. With the crossing securely his, Dunn eyed the hot springs a half-mile below, wondering how he could exploit them. He probably took a few guests over the rugged walking trail along the river to the springs, but the low flow of hot water, plus the fact that the springs were frequently covered by the runoff-swollen Rio Grande, kept Dunn from taking further advantage of the spring.

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View of the Rio Grande and the eastern gorge wall, taken from Blackrock Hot Spring.

Far from isolated today, Blackrock Hot Spring is New Mexico’s most accessible primitive mineral spring. From the parking area at the hairpin turn above Dunn’s bridge, a well-developed trail dives from the road and heads downstream. The trail descends quickly to the river, reaching the spring in less than a quarter-mile.

The pool is small, and the volume of hot water is low. The mineral water issues from the base of the thick pile of black lava in a narrow drainage in the wall of the gorge. Boulders that have tumbled down the watercourse have completely covered the spot where the water bubbles up from the surface.

I’ve visited the John Dunn Bridge and Blackrock Hot Spring many times. In fact, Blackrock Hot Spring was the first natural hot spring I ever soaked in.

In the summer, visitors and locals alike enjoy swimming or floating in inner tubes in the Rio Grande just below the John Dunn Bridge. Blackrock Hot Spring is popular for soaking year round.

There are actually two pools at Blackrock Hot Spring, one warmer than the other. The cooler one is right next to the Rio Grande, and I’ve seen strong swimmers jump right into the river for a quick cool-down. The less adventuress can achieve a similar effect at a slower rate by taking a dip in the cool pool.

There’s no closing time on the hot spring pools, and although folks are not supposed to stay overnight in the small parking area, I’ve done it with friends a time or two. Because I prefer to soak in the hot water when the air is cool, my favorite time to utilize the pools–especially in the summer–is around 2am. It’s usually (although not always) empty then, and other middle-of-the-night soakers (if they’re not drunk partiers), tend to be quiet and respectful of the sacredness of the spring. A friend and I once sat in the hot water with no one else around and watched a meteor shower. That was a sweet night.

Blackrock is one of my favorite undeveloped soaking spots. Clothing is optional as far as the hippies who soak there are concerned, and I’ve never heard of a ranger hassling anyone for being naked there. The water is full of lithium (so the locals say), and it’s not only relaxing, but mood-lifting as well. The view is fantastic, and if there are no stupid rich people around talking about their real estate investments, it’s a wonderful place to rest and rejuvenate.

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View of the John Dunn Bridge from the trail to Blackrock Hot Spring.

 I took all the photos in this post.

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.