Tag Archives: Camping

Generator Justice

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The people camped next to us ran their generator all night.

The Man and I were camped at Bluewater Lake State Park between Grants and Gallup, New Mexico. We’d used my New Mexico State Parks Pass to get a developed campsite, which in this instance meant a picnic table and a fire ring. We’d taken a site next to people in a popup camper. Usually we wouldn’t take a spot right next to other campers, especially when there were many empty campsites throughout the park, but the site we chose was flat and had a tree providing afternoon shade. It was the best unoccupied site in all the camping areas.

A tree stands above a body of water. In front of the tree is a wooden cross surrounded by stones.
Tree and cross, Bluewater Lake State Park

I pulled the van onto the asphalt parking spur nose in. The side doors opened toward our picnic tables and away from our next door neighbors, giving us all a bit of privacy.

The Man and I spent the afternoon relaxing. In the evening we cooked dinner, cleaned up after ourselves, then got into the van for bed.

We were awake later than usual. At some point we realized we were hearing the motorized hum of a generator. The noise was coming from the site next door.

The Man asked me what time it was, and after consulting my watch, I told him it was a little after ten o’clock.

Quiet hours start at ten, he grumbled.

The park brochure clearly stated that generator use is prohibited during quiet hours. The generator was not supposed to be running, but continued to hum in the night. Despite the noise, I went to sleep with no real problem.

The Man and I both woke up early, and nearly the first thing we noticed was that the generator next door was still humming.

That thing’s been on all night! The Man grumbled.

Maybe they have a medical need, I suggested generously. Maybe one of them uses a CPAP.

The Man countered by saying the people should have stayed at a site with electrical hookups if they needed to use electricity all night.

Well, yes. There seemed to be empty electrical sites when we drove through the park. Maybe the couple didn’t want to pay the extra $4 for a site with electricity, although I think doing so would have been less expensive than buying the gasoline it took to run the generator all night. Maybe the people thought because they took a campsite in a side loop away from other people, there would be no problem if they ran the generator all night. However, if they wanted to be sure they didn’t bother anyone, they could have gone to the sparsely populated primitive camping area by the lake and parked far away from everyone else.

It’s not like we had pulled up on remote booondockers and camped next to them; we were both in designated developed campsites.

Usually I’m the complainer and The Man is the voice of reason, but on that Sunday morning our roles were reversed. The Man couldn’t let his problem with the generator next door go.

They ran it all night…It’s againt the rules…I’m going to report them to the camp host…or the ranger…I’m going to knock on their door…

I reminded him that it was Sunday. I told him the people next door were probably leaving that afternoon. The thought of them leaving comforted him a little, but he was still irritated.

People like that…They think they can do whatever they want…It’s not right…I’m going to report them…

He asked me if I thought he should report them.

I considered the question, then asked him if the generator had kept him awake the night before. He thought a moment, then admitted it hadn’t .

I told him it hadn’t kept me awake either. In fact, I had slept just fine. I told him if the generator had kept us awake and the people next door were staying another night, I would consider reporting them. But if the noise hadn’t kept us awake and they wouldn’t be there another night, what was the point in reporting them?

The Man thought about what I’d said, then nodded. He agreed.

Usually I’m the person complaining (in my head, even if not aloud) because something just isn’t right or that’s not fair.I have a strong sense of justice, of fairness, of wanting people to do what’s right for the greater good. However, I’m trying to learn to stay out of other people’s business, to stay away from drama, to embrace the attitude of live and let live. Maybe it’s not my place to be a crusader for generator justice when the generator didn’t really bother me in the first place.

A Guide to Winter Camping : Stay Warm, Have Fun (Guest Post)

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A travel trailer sits in the snow near a leafless tree. A lake is in the background. The sky is blue with grey clouds up high and puffy white clouds down low.

It’s February–the height (or some would say the low) of winter in the northern hemisphere. If you’re longing to camp, but you’re worried you’ll be miserable out in the cold and the snow, read this guide!. You don’t have to wait until the warmth of spring melts the snow to stay overnight in the great outdoors. Just use some of the following tips from Danny Smith, CEO and Founder of Xtend Outdoors, to stay warm and have fun while winter camping.

You might wonder why anyone would want to camp in the winter. Some folks like winter camping because camping areas are too crowded in the summer. Some campers want to feel the serenity of a perfect winter wonderland. The season of ice and snow is certainly visually amazing with stunning landscapes, such as ice-covered rivers and lakes. Some people really do love winter camping.

If you love to chill in the hills, be it cold weather hiking, playing in snow, or admiring the beauty of the snowflakes, camping in winter is worth a try.

Cold weather camping is an adrenaline-charged experience if you enjoy the thrill of extreme cold and lots of snow. However, if you are not prepared, winter camping can be end up being less than fun. Cold weather camping is challenging. To set yourself up for a successful winter campout, you’ll have to have knowledge of seasonal changes. You’ll also have to get some winter equipment to survive in cold temperatures. If you’re a beginner winter camper, then choose a location that’s easy to get to and plan a trip of only a few days.

Follow these winter camping tips and tricks to make your winter camping adventure a success whether this is your first cold weather trip or your fiftieth!

Essential winter camping equipment

How do you avoid being cold? You’ll need to do some preparation before you go camping in the winter. Having the perfect winter camping clothes and equipment can reduce the hassle that cold temperatures bring. The level of planning will be one of the critical factors in the success of your adventure.

You have to think sensibly about the weather condition you will be in. Buy the camping gear that suits you properly.   Read up on selecting the right gear for you.  Don’t rush in and buy something without knowledge, or you may end up with equipment that won’t suit you and your camping style. 

I suggest you have the following equipment before you go off on your winter camping adventure.

1) Bivy Sack or Tent  Having a waterproof bivy sack can guarantee you a warm, good night’s sleep. If you’re hiking to your camping spot, it’s much more comfortable and lighter to carry compared to cold weather tents. But if you’re a bit claustrophobic, then a winter tent is probably more suitable. You can also bring a tarp for additional shelter or cover.

2) Boots  A sturdy pair of boots will work as a shield in freezing weather condition. Moreover, it will protect your feet from the serious threat of frostbite. Protecthing your toes should be a high priority while camping in winter.

3)  Communication Device  When you are in hills, your cell phone network may be limited or possibly nonexistent. One of the best ways to communicate with others in your group is by using a two-way radio. Using  a satellite phone with GPS features would also be quite helpful if you already have this device or can afford to buy one.

4)  Navigation System and Paper Maps How will find your route when your batteries run out? It will be best to have a compass and a paper map in your hand to help you navigate in the wilderness.

5) Sleeping Bags Having a good and reliable sleeping bag will keep you warm and protected while you sleep. Choose a sleeping bag that is water-resistant and offers exceptional insulation.

In addition to equipment you would take on any camping trip (sanitation supplies, food and cooking supplies), other pieces of critical cold weather camping gear you need are  wool pants, fire starters, ski mask, insulated water bottles, warm jacket or coat, and socks made for winter wear.

Winters Camping Hacks

Make a Hot Water Bottle. Sleeping when you’re cold is not easy. Before getting into your cozy sleeping bag, warm it with a hot water bottle. Heat snow to the boiling point. Fill your bottle with the boiling snow water. Wrap the bottle in wool clothes, then zip it into your sleeping bag for fifteen minutes. The hot bottle will warm up your sleeping bag and ensure you don’t start the night shivering.

Fire is your friend. Fire is going to be your best friend. After spending the whole day playing in snow, make sure to bring enough of wood, paper, matches, and fire starter to get a good fire going so you can warm yourself.  It is better if you bring wood unless you’re sure you can find some near your camping spot. You don’t want to get out to the wilderness and find you can’t get a fire going.

Use Portable Power Packs.All electronic products drain the battery at a faster pace in the cold, so be prepared. Have a power bank or use lithium batteries. They perform effectively and will last three times as long as your regular ones.

Plan your Meals. Cooking at camp is simple and delicious. New campers sometimes fail to think about meal planning. Be a smart camper, plan your meals.To survive and to maintain the energy level of your body, you need to eat the right amount of calories, proteins, and carbs. Avoid buying munchies. Two days before departure, buy food from the grocery store so it will be fresh when you get to your destination.

Essential Extras

Candles As long as you put it in a safe place, a single candle will warm your tent and cut back on condensation.

Vaseline & creamRubbing it all over the body will help you avoid frostbite and windburn.

  
Wherever you’re going this winter, make sure to leave directions with a friend so that other people know exactly where to find you if you don’t get home when expected. Winter camp activities come with particular challenges, but if you’re well prepared it is no more dangerous, and certainly no less fun, than sleeping under the stars in the summer.

About Author:           

Danny Smith is CEO and Founder of Xtend Outdoors Australia which manufactures and sells caravan annexes, awnings and accessories. He just loves caravan holidays and frequently blogs about caravanning trips, parks and tips.

Please remember that neither Danny Smith nor Blaize Sun is responsible for your health or safety if you go winter camping. Only you are responsible for your health and safety. Please educate yourself about the danger and challenges of winter camping before you go. Use this article as a starting point for your research.

Photo provided by the author.

Willow Flat Campground

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When we were planning our visit to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, The Lady of the House suggested we spend a night in the Park’s Willow Flat Campground. Sunset at the Green River Overlook was a big deal, as was sunrise at Mesa Arch. Camping in the Park would make it easier for us to get to the viewing points at the appropriate times. Also, living in a major metropolitan area means The Lady doesn’t get nearly enough dark sky. The International Dark-Sky Association named Canyonlands an International Dark-Sky Park, so she wanted to camp there to get a good look at the stars in the heavens.

During early April when we visited Canyonlands, campsites were not reserveable. We were on a strictly first come, first served basis, so we wanted to get there early to improve our chances of getting a site.

When we rolled into the Park, no one was staffing the admissions booth, so The Lady said she’d have to go inside the visitor center to show her Southeast Utah Group Annual Pass. As we went past the admissions booth, we were dismayed to see a large wooden sign declaring the campground was full. We’d woken early and emerged from the van into a frosty morning to eat a quick breakfast and get on the road. Could the campground really be full this early in the day? The Lady said she’d double check on the campground’s status when she went inside to show her pass.

I stayed outside to check the transmission fluid level in my van. The Lady returned to the parking lot triumphant. There was space in the campground! The woman in the visitor center said they never removed the sign that said the campground was full, but that morning they’d received no report that all of the campsites were occupied.

(Excuse me, but what’s the point of a sign that’s supposed to report the status of a changeable situation but is never removed?)

The Lady and I hopped into the van and drove directly to Willow Flat Campground. We pulled in and saw a site that seemed unoccupied. We certainly saw no personal belongings anywhere on the site. There was a piece of yellow paper clipped to the sign pole in front of the site. Upon examining the yellow paper, we found written on it that day’s date. It appeared that the folks who’d stayed on the site the night before were scheduled to check out that morning and had in fact already left. Score! We had our site!

I pulled the van onto the flat asphalt parking pad. We got out of the van and looked around. Was there a camp host we should see? Should we look for a self-pay envelope and an iron ranger?

Across the paved road that ran through the campground, an elderly couple was bustling around on their campsite. They seemed to be packing up, so I supposed they could tell me the process to go through to pay for a campsite.

Hello! I called out to them, or perhaps I said, Excuse me, as I walked into the street and approached their site. Is there a camp host here? I asked once I had their attention.

A what? they both asked, not quite in unison.

I thought the problem was one of hearing, so I repeated, A camp host? a bit louder.

A what? they both asked again in utter confusion.

A camp host, I said once again, then added, the person you pay for your campsite.

You pay with an envelope, the old man said, pointing. He and the woman continued to look at me as if I were a very strange person using an obviously fabricated term to confuse them. How was it possible they’d never encountered the term “camp host”? Was this their first camping trip? Obviously, not every campground has a camp host, but these people seemed unaware of the very concept. However, they had answered my question about where to pay, so I thanked them and moved on.

The Lady and I walked in the direction the old man had pointed and found self-pay envelopes and the iron ranger.

Our campsite in Willow Flat Campground

The camping fee was $15, as expected from what we’d read online. For our money we got clean pit toilets with toilet paper, trash cans, a flat space to park the van, a fire ring, and a picnic table under a shade structure. The grounds of the campground were very clean and well-maintained.

When The Lady and I read the information boards near the iron ranger, we learned about the procedure for disposing of grey water. We were either supposed to strain all food out of wash water, then sprinkle the de-fooded water on the road or dispose of nonstrained water by pouring it into one of the pit toilets. I’d never heard of this sort of cleanup, but I suspect it’s to keep wild animals away from campers.  I suppose even the smallest food particles on the ground attracts critters, so this is a way to keep the campground unappealing to unwanted visitors.

After dinner, The Lady and I went to the Green River Overlook to watch the sun set. Unfortunately, the sunset was a non-event, but we were still glad to have our spot at Willow Flat. We were in the van soon after dark, early to bed with plans to rise early for sunrise at Mesa Arch.

 

 I took all the photos in this post.

How to Find The Friends You’re Going to Camp With

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Many camping areas in remote locations have no cell phone service or internet access. Lots of folks are accustomed to having instant access to communication and are totally surprised when they arrive in their remote camping location and realize they can’t make or receive phone calls, send or receive texts, or update their social media. This lack of phone service can enhance one’s ability to hear the birds sing and to engage in uninterrupted conversation with friends and loved ones.

Lack of cell phone service can also mean it’s more difficult to find the people you plan to camp with if you come up in different vehicles at different times. Plan ahead so you can find your group. Here are six tips to help you meet up with your people once you leave civilization.

#1 If you’re meeting in a campground and have reservations you didn’t make, know the first and last name of the person who reserved the site. For example, if your brother’s girlfriend booked the site under her legal name, Elizabeth Brown, and you only know her as Liz, the camp host may not be able to direct you to the right site.

#2 Make sure you know what region, state, and county you are going to. The United States is a big place, and campground names are sometimes repeated throughout a state, region, or even throughout the country. For example, the same region of California has two Wishon campgrounds. If you’re supposed to be at the Wishon Campground at Bass Lake and instead you end up at the Wishon Campground off of Highway 190 in Tulare County, well, your weekend has started off on the wrong foot. You might have a similar problem is you’re supposed to be at the Giant Sequoia National Monument but end up in Sequoia National Park or you confuse the Sequoia National Forest with the Sierra National Forest.

#3 Know the exact name of the campground or camping area you’re going to. When I worked on the mountain, there were three campgrounds within a five mile stretch of highway that all had the word “meadow” in their names. There were also two additional meadows in the area where folks could boondock, as well as a road with the word “meadow” as part of its name.  That’s a lot of meadows! If a person didn’t know exactly what meadow to look for, it might be difficult to get to the right place.

#4 Your GPS system nay not work in a remote location either, so use a good paper map of the area to find your way around. Get your paper map and study it before you leave home. Have a good idea of where you’re going and how you’re going to get there before you start driving. If you’re traveling with other people, designate someone with good map-reading skills to be the navigator.

#5 Plan for folks to meet at the camping spot before the sun sets. Sure, folks with jobs might want to leave work at five o’clock and get on the road so they can start the camping fun on Friday night. Maybe you’re a boondocker who likes to sleep until noon and not start driving until 3pm. If you get a late start, then get stuck in traffic or lost, you might find yourself looking for your campsite in the dark. Get on the road as early in the day as possible so you’ve got plenty of daylight to help you find your camping spot.

#6 Designate a time and place for your group to meet if everyone doesn’t show up at the camping spot. Make the meeting place a prominent location and the meeting time before dark.

Bonus Tip Meet at a location within cell phone service and caravan to the remote location together. At least if you get lost, your whole group will be lost together.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

How to Be a Good Neighbor While Camping

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Six Camping Tents in ForestWhether you’re boondocking or paying to stay in an actual campground, certain behaviors fall into “good neighbor” and “bad neighbor” categories. Wouldn’t you rather be remembered as a good neighbor instead of being cursed for being a bad neighbor?

I touched on some of these good neighbor tips in my post on the Fundamentals of Boondocking, but they are important enough to bear repeating. None of these behaviors are difficult, so please take a few extra minutes to do things to make the camping experience positive for everyone in the general vicinity.

#1 Give people space. As I said in the boondocking post, people go out into the wilderness for quiet and solitude, not to be under the armpit of another boondocker. Of course, there’s not much you can do to give your neighbors more space if you’re staying in a campground and you’re within the boudaries of your site. Just be sure you don’t overflow your site and move into someone else’s territory.

#2 Stay out of other people’s campsites. Go around other campsites instead of walking right through them. Teach your children to walk around other people’s campsites too.

#3 Keep control of your dog. Don’t let your dog wander through other campsites either, or anywhere in a Young woman walking with her dog on the beachcampground or boondocking area. A USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture, the governmental agency responsipble for the Forest Service) document states,

National forest guidelines require that dogs be on a six-foot leash at all times when in developed recreation areas and on interpretive trails.

Most privately owned campgrounds are also going to require dogs to be leashed, especially if the city or county the campground is in has a leash law.

Even if you are in an area that doesn’t require your dog to be on a leash, you still have to keep it under your control. Don’t let it wander out of your camp, and for goodness sake, if your dog defecates in a place where someone may stop in the mess, clean it up!

animal, animal photography, bear#4 Speaking of cleaning up, keep a clean campsite. You might wonder why anyone else would care if your camp is clean or dirty. Campsites strewn with food and/or garbage can attract insects, birds, raccoons, bears, and who-knows-what other critters. Scavengers aren’t going to end their foraging on the dirty campsite; they’ll make the rounds to see what other foodstuffs they can scare up. Don’t be the bad camper who draws pesky animals into the camping area.

(If you’re worried about bears in particular getting into your food, you might look into getting a bear canister.)

#5 Clean up some more before you leave and pick up all your trash. If there are garbage cans or dumpsters in the camping area, deposit your trash there. If you’re in an area with no receptacles for garbage, pack out all the trash you’ve packed in. Don’t leave trash (even partially burnt trash) in your fire ring; if no one removes your trash from the fire ring, it’s going to be an eyesore and a nuisance for the next campers. Pick up micro-trash! Twist ties, plastic bread bag clips, bottle caps, cigarette butts, and plastic bandages are trash too and need to be removed!

A true steward of the earth will pick up trash left behind by others.

#6 Don’t make a mess in restrooms. Learn how to use a pit toilet before you encounter one. If you do make a mess clean it up. The vast majority of camp hosts and fellow campers do not want to deal with urine and feces that don’t belong to them.

#7 If there are no restrooms in the area and you have to resort to burying your feces, do not bury your toilet paper! It doesn’t decompose as fast as you think it does. (I’ve read it can take a year or more for toilet paper left in the woods to break down, but the author of that blog post does not say where that information comes from.) It’s gross to encounter other people’s toilet paper if it’s dug up by animals or uncovered by rain or wind. When it comes to toilet paper, you should pack out what you pack in.

#8 Drive slowly. If the road is unpaved, driving slowly will cut down on dust. Even if the road is paved, drive Photo of White Bmw E46 slowly for safety’s sake. If a kid or an unleashed dog or a wild critter darts out in the road, you want to be able to stop in time to avoid a catastrophe.

#9 Don’t play music loud enough for others to hear it. Many people go camping to get away from the sound of civilization, including recorded music. If you’re camping, especially on public land, let the sounds of nature prevail.

#10 Don’t fly your drone over other people’s campsites. If you really want to be a good neighbor, don’t fly your drone while other people are around. Remember, many people who are camping want to hear the sounds of nature, not the buzzing of a drone. If you must fly your drone while others are around, at least have the courtesy to fly it away from campsites.

What do you do to be a good neighbor while camping? What do you wish other campers would do to be good neighbors? Leave your comments below.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/six-camping-tents-in-forest-699558/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/young-woman-walking-with-her-dog-on-the-beach-6359/https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-animal-photography-bear-big-213988/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-bmw-e46-under-cloudy-skies-707046.

Rockhound State Park (NM)

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I’d been hearing about  Rockhound State Park near Deming, NM ever since I’d started hanging around rock people in Taos. It was a state park, they’d tell me with wonder in their voices, where you could mine for New Mexico minerals. Maybe I’m just a Negative Nelly, but I doubted there would be many shiny rocks left in the park after thousands (tens of thousands? hundreds of thousands?) of visitors had already taken home all they wanted.

I finally got to visit Rockhound State Park in December 2017. I was heading west from Truth or Consequences, NM, and I had a state parks pass, so I decided to spend the night in the park’s campground. I arrived late in the day, so I didn’t stop at the visitor center. I didn’t go to the visitor center the next day either. I can’t remember exactly why. I remember I was sad because of recent relationship troubles, so I guess I was content to stay close to my van home.

When I pulled into the campground late on a Sunday afternoon, most of the developed campsites without electricity were occupied. I didn’t want to pay an additional $4 for electricity I didn’t need, so I was happy to get what seemed to be the last available basic developed site. My site was close to the day use parking area and the adjacent trail. My site was also within walking distance of a clean pit toilet. I was grateful to have a flat spot to park my van.

This photo shows the view of the campground from the beginning of the Jasper Trail. I was camped next to the first ramada on the left in the foreground of the photo.

The campsites are quite close together in the area where I found my spot. During my first evening there, I very clearly heard my next door neighbor’s side of a phone conversation. He was sitting outside near his large rig, but I could hear him so easily, he might as well have been sitting at my picnic table. By the sound of his accent, he was from Wisconsin or Minnesota, and he wasn’t too impressed with the campground we were in. He and his wife preferred Oliver Lee State Park, he told the person on the other end of his conversation. I would have preferred silence, but I guess we were both destined to be dissatisfied that night.

I drove around the campground while looking for a site, but once I found my place, I didn’t venture away from my loop. I just didn’t feel motivated to walk around the campground. I suppose I wanted to stay close to the security of my cozy home. I certainly didn’t want to experience yet another cold New Mexico state park shower, so I didn’t seek out the bathhouse.

The loud Midwesterner and his lady left in the morning and I had a few hours of quiet early in the day. I cooked some breakfast, then tidied the van. I planned to leave the next day, and I wanted to be rested upon departure.

In the afternoon I decided to go for a walk on the nearby Jasper Trail. The trail started just across the pavement from my van, so I didn’t have far to go to get to it. I wasn’t so interested in the trail itself, but I did feel like I needed some exercise. I wanted to stretch my legs and get my blood circulating.

I walked for maybe half an hour. I saw scrubby bushes, cacti, and some rock formations, but no cool shiny rocks. I wasn’t really looking for shiny rocks, and I didn’t get off the trail, so I’m not really surprised that I didn’t find anything I wanted to load into the van. I’m sure a lot of people had walked that trail before me and any nice rocks were long gone from the immediate vicinity.

This photo shows a view of the jagged rocks I saw from the Jasper Trail.

The State Parks website says of Rockhound State Park,

Located on the rugged west slope of the Little Florida Mountains, Rockhound State Park is a favorite for “rockhounds” because of the abundant agates and quartz crystals found there.

I suspect folks who are interested in collecting rock specimens in the park know where to look to increase their chances of finding what they want. Perhaps the workers at the visitor center advise rockhounds on where to dig for the minerals they seek.

Not long after I returned to my camp, a loud, slightly dilapidated, medium-size motor home pulled into the campground. I noticed it right away. It circled the campground, then chose the site right next to mine. To be fair, the site right next to mine may have been the only available one in the place.

After the loud conversation from next door the night before, I was hoping for a quiet evening. Unfortunately, the man who disembarked from the noisy moter home was not a quiet man. Fortunately (for me at least), he latched onto the couple on the other side of him. The man was loud and animated and quite possibly on meth. There was just something about him that made me want to avoid eye contact.

The motorhome man built a campfire and convinced his other neighbors to sit around it with him. I avoided eye contact with all of them by keeping my head down while I cooked dinner. When my meal was ready, I ate it in my van. Once the dishes were washed, I got in my van and locked the doors. At some point the newcomer settled down and went into his own rig, where he was quiet enough not to disturb me for the rest of the night.

I was out of the campground the next morning before check-out time. I had a list of thrift stores I wanted to visit before I left Deming, and I was on a schedule, so my time of lingering was over. The motorhome man didn’t bother me, for which I was thankful.

I would stay at Rockhound State Park again, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to stay there. It was a fine campground, but not spectacular in any way I noticed.

I took all the photos in this post.

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/.

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. 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 gives the GPS coordinates of Las Petacas campground as Latitude : 36.382 and Longitude: -105.5214.