Wow! The Apache Creek Campground in the Gila National Forest is one of the nicest places I’ve ever camped, and there were no fees!
In September 2021 I was traveling from northern New Mexico to southern New Mexico. Temperatures were still high in the southern part of the state, so I was taking my time and seeing the sites in places where temperatures were pleasant.
I was looking for a place to stay between Datil and Silver City, New Mexico. I’d been camping in the Cibola National Forest, but my spot wasn’t ideal. I was literally miles from the pavement and it had been raining off and on for almost 24 hours. I was nervous about the road to civilization becoming too muddy to navigate. I was afraid more rain would make it difficult to get out of the forest, so I left while the road was still solid.
I checked my paper road atlas and found a town called Reserve between Datil and Silver City. I put “Reserve” into the search bar on the Free Campsites website and found Apache Creek Campground in the Gila National Forest. There was no charge to camp in the campground, its description sounded nice, and the reviews were positive, so I started heading that way.
The scenery on the drive was pretty, but nothing jaw dropping. Honestly, I was excited to see a new part of New Mexico. I really enjoy seeing new places, even when they’re regular gorgeous and not stunningly gorgeous.
Apache Creek Campground is located approximately 12 miles northeast of Reserve on the south side of New Mexico Highway 12. Just past mile marker 19, turn south onto Forest Road 94 (Cox Canyon Rd.). Apache Creek Campground is located on the right side of the road.
I was really pleased when I pulled into Apache Creek Campground. The road through the campground is dirt, but hard packed and not likely to wash away unless a true natural disaster strikes.
The campground, at 6575 feet elevation, is surrounded by trees. There are trees at each campsite, sure to provide some shade. Tree identification is not one of my strengths, but I definitely saw pines and other evergreens as well oaks and other trees with leaves changing from green to yellow.
When I visited, there were 10 campsites in the campground. Each site was flat and quite spacious. It seemed to me an RV 30 feet and under should be able to find a spot to park at Apache Creek Campground. Any campsite should be able to accommodate a couple of vehicles and three or four tents. When I pulled in, I saw only two occupied sites. One was being used by tent campers, and the other was occupied by a pull-behind trailer and the big truck that towed it.
While some sites were visible to other sites, there was a good amount of space between sites. Even if the campground was full, everyone would have enough distance between themselves and other campers to not feel as if they were constantly sitting in their neighbors’ laps. Also, the trees on and between sites helped increase the feeling of privacy. Campsites aren’t lined up in a row or around a central area. The road through the campground meanders, giving the entire camping area a less civilized and a more natural feeling.
In addition to the campsites being large, each one had an old-school wood and metal picnic table and a manufactured metal fire ring. Most of the sites also had a bench made from logs.
A pit toilet in one of those concrete, Forest Service-issued buildings was at the front of the campground. Thankfully, the door on the building closed properly and locked. The restroom was also stocked with plenty of toilet paper. It could have used a cleaning, but it was by no means disgusting. (The campground has no host, so whoever cleans that toilet has to drive in to do so.)
What the campground doesn’t have: hookups of any kind, running water, drinking water, or trash pickup. Come with everything you need, and pack out your trash. Even without trashcans, this campground was very clean during my visit. It would be wonderful to keep it that way.
The night I spent at the Apache Creek Campground was absolutely quiet and peaceful. Even though there were other campers nearby, I never heard even a peep out of any of them.
I considered staying at this campground a few nights, but the complete lack of cell phone service there sent me on my way. I hadn’t told any of my contacts where I was headed, and by the time I arrived at the campground, I was out of the range of my service. I didn’t want my people to worry about me, so I left in the morning and moved closer to Silver City. I was glad to have phone service later in the day.
I dream of going back to Apache Creek Campground and spending a week or two in nature with few distractions and lots of trees.
There’s a television in the breakfast room where I work. During training, my coworker told me he keeps it tuned to the morning news. He had it on the station that plays Good Morning America, but on the second day of my training he flipped the channel to the New Mexico CBS affiliate. I never changed the station. I like the CBS Mornings program that comes on after the local news, and I like The Drew Barrymore Show on in the background while I clean up after breakfast
I keep the volume turned up pretty loud so old people (like me) can hear it from across the room. No one has ever complained about the volume, although I did once come back into the breakfast room to find someone had lowered it substantially while I was gone.
The hotel had gotten really busy again. February had been really slow, but in mid March, lots of people were staying at the hotel. I think families were visiting and traveling through because of Spring Break. In any case, I’d been hustling to keep the coffee flowing and the steam table stacked with eggs and sausage.
I’d left the breakfast room to boil eggs. I boil eggs on a hotplate in the dish room which is in a building separate from the hotel. When I returned to the breakfast room, there were maybe half a dozen people eating or preparing their plates.
I was at the sink washing my hands when I heard the volume of the television decreasing. My back was to the TV, so I had to turn around to see what was going on. An older man was standing next to the wall-mounted television, messing with the controls on its side. I figured the sound was too loud for him, and we could all just live with a lower volume until he left. I suppose I could have told him to leave the volume alone, but since one of my goals at work is to engage in as little conflict as possible, I didn’t say anything.
The fellow continued to mess with the controls and the picture disappeared and was replace by the “snow” TV screens show when there is no signal. What was this guy doing?
Noise, commonly known as static, white noise or static noise, in displayed devices, VHS tapes, analog video, radio and television, is a random dot pixel or snow pattern of static displayed when no transmission signal or being weak is obtained by the antenna receiver of television sets, flat screen televisions, radio televisions, smart televisions, CRT television sets, VHS sets and other display devices. The random pixel pattern is superimposed on the picture or the television screen, being visible as a random flicker of “dots”, “wavy vertical lines” or “snow”, is the result of electronic noise and radiated electromagnetic noise accidentally picked up by the antenna like air, cable, TV or CATV. T
Can I help you sir? I called from across the room.
I was trying to change the channel, he answered gruffly.
The nerve! The audacity! Didn’t he know this is my breakfast room? I control the TV here. But what could I really say to a guest who took it upon himself to change the channel? I was committed to no conflict, remember.
What came out of my mouth was, Well, all you got now is snow.
Snow is better than what was on before, he retorted.
Unfortunately I was not paying attention to what was on the television before the man became so offended that he had to take matters into his own hands. I wonder what CBS Mornings was showing that was so upsetting to him. The ongoing invasion of Ukraine? The first trial of Capitol rioters? The “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida?
I just left the snow on the screen. I decided I had better things to do with my energy than fight an elderly man about television programming. If he didn’t want to see the news, he could look at the peaceful, silent static pattern.
The breakfast room was very, very quiet with no sound coming from the television. The other guests barely spoke. When they did talk, it was in hushed tones. The old man who’d tried to change the channel sat alone, so he talked to no one.
The channel changer stayed in the room for another 10 or maybe 15 minutes. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry to finish his meal.
When the elderly man left the breakfast room, I went to the television to get the news back. No matter what buttons I pushed on the TV or its remote control, I couldn’t get the screen to change. We were stuck in the snow! Sometimes the screen showed “analog 3” in the upper left hand corner, but I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know how to fix the problem. This was probably a job for Gary, the nice, calm, quiet man who was working the hotel desk. I had yet to present Gary with a problem he couldn’t solve.
Gary pushed a button on the side of the TV near the buttons the guest had pushed hoping to change the channel. A few different options appeared on the television screen, and Gary navigated through them. Soon we were back to CBS Mornings. Gary saved the day!
I learned later–on a Tuesday morning after finding someone had set the TV to Disney Junior and everyone in the breakfast room was subjected to several hours of shows starring Goofy–that the channel button on the side of the television does not work. Touch that button like the antagonist in this story did, and you’ll end up with nothing but snow. The only way to change the channel is with the remote control, and to use it, you have to walk right up to the TV and point it at the back of the monitor. You now know the secret, but please don’t tell the guests. I want to be the only one who changes the channel.
In the little over a year since I bought my Toyota Sienna, readers have asked me to share photos of how I set up the living space. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to do so, but today is finally the day! I hope my setup can give folks some ideas for setting up their own vehicle for living and travel.
An important thing to keep in mind as you read this post is that I am NOT a full time vandweller. I was a full time vandweller for many years, but now I have a small travel trailer that stays in a small RV park in a small desert town. The travel trailer is my home base and home for part of the year. During the hottest part of the spring, summer, and fall I house sit and/or travel to cooler places. If I were living in a van full time, I would not have chosen a minivan as my van home. I have known people who lived full time in minivans (and even a few who lived full time in a Prius), but that life is not really for me. Where would I put all my art supplies?
The first thing I did to set up the living space in my Sienna was to take out most of the seats
For a while I left in one of the seats in the back row. It folded down completely flat, so I used it as part of the floor. I thought it might come in handy if I ever had to transport two passengers. The Man and I jokingly referred to it as “the punishment chair.” It would have been a pretty miserable place to sit on a long road trip. No one ever sat in it, and when The Man offered to build me a bed, it came out.
Taking out the seats was a bit of a struggle, even though the seats in the second and third rows were designed to come out and go back in. I read the manual repeatedly and tried following the directions, but I really struggled. Of course, there were tricks that the manual didn’t spell out. Thankfully, kind souls who’d figured out the tricks made YouTube videos showing how they removed the seats from their Siennas. I will be eternally grateful to those YouTubers.
The seats in the second and third rows of seating were latched into the floor in such a way that they could come out when desired and later go back in. This system makes it possible for seats to come out for hauling big items or in the case of vandwellers, creating living space in the back of the van. Unfortunately, the latching system leaves gaping holes and chunks of metal in the van’s floor. To solve this problem I ordered two packs of the 1 inch ProsourceFit Exercise Puzzle Mat. I chose bright blue to give my space a pop of color, but the mats also come in black. The mats are available in both 3/4 inch and 1 inch thickness, but I chose the 1 inch thickness so I could pad the floor well and protect myself from both the deep indentions and the metal pieces.
The exercise mats I used on the floor are pricey. The mats come in packs of six which are currently going for $49.99 at Walmart. The six mats cover 24 square feet which wasn’t quite enough to cover the whole floor of the van. I had to buy two packs. If you can’t afford to spend that much on floor covering, you could try other things like rugs, blankets, memory foam, or polyurethane foam from a mattress topper cut to size. Figure out what works for you to meet your needs without going over your budget.
My first bed in my minivan was made from two heavy duty 40 gallon tubs. I had one already, so it made sense to buy another one and put them together end-to-end to make a sleeping platform. I then put a piece of memory foam on top and called it a bed. The upside was I had plenty of space for storage inside the tubs. The downside was that sleeping on top of the tubs wasn’t always very comfortable. I had to carefully position my body over the gap between the two tubs, and the two inch memory foam wasn’t nearly as supportive as a real mattress.
Late last year when The Man was around for a visit, he offered to build a bed for my van. I bought all the wood, and he built me a very sturdy bed with room for storage underneath. It’s more narrow than a regular twin size bed so I can maximize space in the back of the van. It’s barely wider than I am. Instead of a mattress, I sleep on an piece of 3 inch Allswell brand memory foam mattress topper that was cut to size. (I bought this mattress topper for the bed in my trailer but when I was given a larger topper, I repurposed the Allswell one for my van.)
Because I wanted an area for storage under the bed, it’s too tall for me to be able to sit up in it. This detail would be difficult to deal with if I lived in the van full time, but it’s I can handle it since I’m only in the van part time. I bought a low-to-the-ground folding camping chair I can use in the van for when I want to sit up to read, write, or work on art projects.
Even with storage under the bed, I knew I’d need a place to keep things I use everyday and need to get my hands on quickly. I bought a plastic three drawer storage unit. Unfortunately, the choice that best fit my needs at the one and only place to buy something like this in the town where I live had wheels. Thankfully, the wheels sink into my exercise mat floor cover, and the storage unit does not roll around in the back.
In the top drawer I keep underwear, socks, masks, soap, face cleaner, washclothes, the case for my eyeglasses, my sleep mask, and other odds and ends. The middle drawer holds cooking and eating necessities like silverware, fuel for my stove, a cutting board, snacks, small spatulas, and other utensils. The bottom drawer holds items for creating collages and other art supplies.
When I slept on storage tubs, my cooler fit perfectly in the back of the van, on the floor created by the folded down “punishment chair.” When The Man built the bed, I had to lose that folded down seat and the floor it created. The cooler had to move up front and now sits between the front passenger seat and the bed.
I love, love, love pockets for organizing in the van. One of the best gifts I’ve been given for my minivan is a large set of pockets my sibling found at a thrift store in a large city. The 10+ pockets made from sturdy fabric allow me to store toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, zip ties, garbage bags, scissors, wipes, air freshener, clothes pins, incense, lotion, and other essentials neatly and close at hand. This pockets are so great! If you can’t find anything like mine, a shoe organizer with pockets might do the trick.
When I need some privacy in the van, I hang curtains. The curtains in the front are on a curtain rod that stretches across the car, but the other curtains hang on bungee cords, or I pin them with clothespins when I need them. I find it easier to hang the curtains when I need them instead of leaving them up all the time.
The front curtains were bought new. They are heat and light blocking curtains. I bought the least expensive black heat and light blocking curtains at Walmart, and they work well. I couldn’t find curtains that were short enough, so I did have to cut them to the appropriate length. All of my other curtains came from thrift stores. Half of my curtains are not curtains at all but large pieces of fabric that do the job.
You may have noticed that I don’t have my stove set up in my van. I seldom cook in the van. If I’m going to cook when camping, I set the stove up on a picnic table if I’m staying on a developed campsite, or I set up either my large or small folding table to use as a cooking area. If I set up the big table, my cooking table also holds my seven gallon water jug with dispensing spout. (The photos in this post were taken while I was on an overnight trip, so I brought water in a one gallon jug and left the seven gallon container at home.) I don’t like cooking in the van because I’m concerned my clumsiness is going to cause everything inside to go up in flames. I have used my stove to heat water in the van during inclement weather, but if I can’t cook outside I rather eat snacks than try to cook in the van.
I have more storage at the rear of the minivan, in the depression left when the folding back seats were removed. I keep my stove (shown in case with unfortunately placed upside down stickers), sleeping bag (in black compression sack), bucket, puppy pads (in green pouch), and tote full of handmade hats for sale under the bed. On the other side (not shown) I have my tote full of items for sale, my suitcase display of hemp necklaces, tall folding camp chair, small folding table, and sunshade umbrella. The low-to-the-ground folding chair fits between my camp stove and the hatchback door.
I think that’s everything I have to say about the set up of my minivan. Was there something you wanted to know about that I missed? Feel free to leave questions in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Thank you for reading. I hope this post was worth the wait.