Tag Archives: Carson National Forest

How to (and How Not to) Approach a Camper

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This is one of my favorite places to camp in Northern New Mexico.

I pulled into one of my favorite boondocking areas in the Carson National Forest in Northern New Mexico. As I drove down the dirt toad and approached the spots with picnic tables and fire pits, I saw a couple of tents already pitched in my favorite place to camp. Since I couldn’t go there, I chose the place where in the past I’d had the most luck getting internet access on my phone.

I parked in a flat place, hauled out my table, unfolded my chair, and called myself all set up.

I hadn’t been there long when two vans and several passenger vehicles came into the area, parked near the tents, and disgorged about two dozen people, most of them substantially younger than I am. I tried to look at them without looking like I was looking at them. Where they high school kids? College students? A church group? I was unsure.

Everyone in the group scrambled to unload the vans and vehicles and pitch their tents.

I heard a young man shout, I’m going to take off my underwear now! I sincerely hoped this was a church group.

Dylan, I heard a woman say, that person’s not with us. Let’s give them a little more space, ok?

Was she referring to me? Had Dylan been encroaching upon my territory?

After the group had adequate time to set up camp, they assembled near the two tents I’d seen when I first rolled in. The owners of those tents must have been the vanguard who had come early to stake their claim.

Was the group going to eat a meal together? Would there be a prayer before the meal? If there was a prayer, I’d feel confident they were a church group.

There was no prayer, at least nothing loud enough for me to hear.

The whole group started walking on the dirt road behind where they were camped, heading east.

I wondered who they were and where they were going, but didn’t give them too much more thought. I was hungry and needed to prepare my supper.

I’d cooked some food and eaten it and cleaned the dishes and was in the process of putting my leftovers in the cooler in the back of the minivan. Some months ago, the hatch door stopped staying open when I lifted it, so I had to use my walking stick to prop it up while doing anything in the back. With the stick holding up the door, I had just enough room to get between the door and the body of the van. That’s where I was when the car pulled up on me.

Maybe it was a Prius because I don’t recall hearing the car. I came out from between the van and the hatchback door, and there it was, about half a car length behind my minivan. I though maybe it was a forest ranger. Was I parked in a place I wasn’t supposed to be? Had the people in the tents reserved the whole area and a ranger dispatched to give me the news?

I scanned the door of the car for Forest Service insignia. There was nothing.

I looked at the driver of the car.He was a dude probably older than I am . He had longish white hair and wore a fancy straw hat and a black tank top. He certainly wasn’t dressed like any Forest Service employee I’ve ever met.

When I still thought he might be with the Forest Service (because who else would have the nerve to come into my camp and park so close behind me?) I’d called out a hearty Hello! By the time I realized he was just some civilian dude definitely encroaching on my territory, his mouth was off and running.

Have you met the campers? he asked, gesturing to the temporarily unoccupied tents.

They’re a bunch of kids, I said, not even wanting to talk to him. I was becoming more outraged at his nerve. He’d come into my campsite just to shoot the shit? What if I didn’t want to shoot the shit with him? He hadn’t even asked. He’d just barged in. In fact, I did not want to shoot the shit with him. I didn’t want to talk to him at all.

Damn my Southern woman upbringing! Why couldn’t I just tell him I wanted to be alone? Why couldn’t I just say the words, I want to be alone now?

I know they’re kids, he said impatiently. They’re college kids. The vans are from a college. But are they geologists or rock climbers?

They took off walking that way, I told him, pointing, then shrugging. Then I walked off to continue my after-meal cleanup.

Moonlight over Carson National Forest

Did the fellow in the car get the hint? Did he realize I didn’t want to talk with him or listen to him anymore? Hell no! He just kept talking. He talked about the name of the place where we were. He talked about why it had this name. He talked about having a cabin nearby where he stayed in the summer. He said he left in the winter though, because winters there were too cold. He asked me if I was going south for the winter. He asked me if I was going to Faywood and if I ever went to some other place whose name I’ve forgotten.

I told him I wasn’t going to Faywood and I’d never heard of the other place. hHsaid it was near Deming. He said he had been there in the past and picked up some turquoise. I asked him whose land it was, and he said, It’s public land! It’s our land. They he said some weird stuff about how Joe Biden owned everything now and how we didn’t own anything.

He told me he could sell showers at his place to the young people camping. I said, Yeah. Maybe. and allowed for how most people shower every day and get uncomfortable if they can’t. He said he had hot water showers at this place, then qualified that they were solar showers. I’m not exactly sure what he meant and didn’t request clarification. If he had one of those five gallon shower bags, he’d probably only be able to sell one shower to one college student (maybe two if they were conservative shower takers) before he ran out of hot shower water. I didn’t tell him all that though. I didn’t want my attempt to burst his entrepreneurial bubble to encourage him to talk more.

He started backing up his car, and I thought the intrusion was finally over. No. It wasn’t over. There was more.

He stopped the car and leaned out of his window. I’m going to get my camper so I can camp out here. Not right next to you…he trailed off.

No. Of course not, I said dryly. At least he had enough sense not to try to park his camper right next to me.

He back up then, pulled out onto the dirt road leading to the highway, and was gone. If he returned with his camper, he didn’t park it next to me, and I never saw him again.

Once he was out of my sight, my first thought was Fucking extrovert ! Thinking people want to talk to him, but now I wonder if there might have been some drug use involved in his boldness and bravado.

It wasn’t long after the talkative fellow left that the tent campers came back. I was sitting outside my van, trying to solve a puzzle from a Dollar Tree crossword book when I saw a woman with short grey hair walking in my direction.

Here we go again, I thought, but in fact we weren’t going there again.

Can I enter your camp? the woman asked.

What? Now that’s the way you do it!

I said yes, and she continued over.

I thought you might be wondering what’s going on here, she said and gestured to the tents.

The group was composed mostly of grad students from a conservation class. She was their professor. They would be camping here for a couple of nights. She thought everything would be mellow since grad students are older, but if anything they did disturbed me she said I should let her know. She pointed to her tent, and we chatted a few more minutes about where I’d been and where I was going, about the university they were from and where it was located, their itinerary, and how Aldo Leopold was connected to this place where we were staying. It was a conversation, not a monologue, and it was quite pleasant.

The two situations left me thinking of Goofus and Gallant. Do you Remember them? I encountered the boys in the issues of Highlights magazine I’d read as a child at the dentist’s office and occasionally at school. Poor old Goofus didn’t know how to take turns or speak softly or pet the cat gently while Gallant knew how to help old ladies cross the the street, share his toys, and let other people take a cookie before grabbing one for himself. I always thought Goofus would grow up and learn to do better, but I wonder if he just grew up and grew old without changing much at all.

I took all of the photos in this post. These photos were taken where this story took place.

Free Camping in the Carson National Forest Near Tres Piedras, New Mexico

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I camped near these rocks in September 2021.

I’ve camped off of Forest Road 64J near the Tres Piedras rocks several times, first in late August 2020, again in early May 2021, and on two occasions in September 2021. Before I camped there, The Man and I visited a few times to hike around the rocks and get some time away from home during the pandemic locked down spring and summer of 2020.

This camping spot is about 40 miles from Taos, NM and just outside the community of Tres Piedras. Don’t get too excited about the town of Tres Piedras because it’s tiny. There’s a post office, a meeting place for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Chili Line Depot which offers food and lodging. There’s no fuel for vehicles for sale in Tres Piedras, and if you’re looking for a major supply run, you’ll wan to go to Taos or Antonito, Colorado (31 miles away).

What Tres Piedras does have is a National Forest Service ranger station, cool giant rocks that folks who know what they’re doing can climb, and free camping.

The free camping area is off Highway 64. If you’re coming from the east, you’ll pass the ranger station, then look for a sign on the right that say “64J National Forest.” The next road on the right (a dirt road) is the one you want to turn onto. f you’re coming from the west, directly across from the road you want to turn down is a brown sign that reads “Carson National Forest Information Visitors Welcome Ahead.” The sign is quite weathered. One way to know you’re on the right road once you turn is the ginormous green water tank. If you’re coming from the east, you can definitely see it before you turn.

About that sign that says “Visitors Welcome…” As of September 2021, the visitor center at the ranger station was still closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were several bulletin boards outside the ranger station offering lots of information about the surrounding area, but I couldn’t pick up a map or say hi to a ranger while I was there.

Some of the plants growing in the area.

There is a trail that goes from the side of the ranger station and crosses road 64J and picks up on the other side. I walked the trail from the ranger station to 64J once during my evening constitutional. It was not very exciting. The most exciting thing I saw while walking the trail were some animal (cow?) bones. I did not take the trail after it crossed 64J, so I don[‘t know what it’s like over there.

Once you turn onto road 64J, find a flat and empty dirt spot off the road and among the pine trees to camp on. There are spots to pull over all along the road. If you go all the way to the end before the road splits, you will see a couple of sites with picnic tales and three or four fire pits constructed from rocks. These are sort of designated camping spots, but everything is quite informal back there.

64J is a pretty good dirt road. The last time I was on it, there were some ruts and wash boarding, but I was able to easily navigate it in my Toyota Sienna minivan.

If you make a very sharp left turn onto the less defined road right before you come to where the road Ts, you can follow it back and find places to camp right next to big rock formations. Picturesque! While these rock formations are big and cool, when you see these, you haven’t really seen anything yet.

If you take either of the more well-defined roads to the left at the T, you will find more places to camp, and before too long come to the Tres Piedras rocks. Calling them “rocks” is something of a misnomer. These are not just a few little rocks or even some boulders. This is a massive rock formation. Rock climbers climb these rocks. They are very, very big!

Jerico and I contemplate the Tres Piedras rocks, summer 2020.

The access to the rock formation is on private property. I’m unclear as to how the far the private land extends, but the land owner allows folks on the private land in order to get to the rocks. However, there’s a fence, so you’re not going to be able to drive your rig right up to the rocks to camp or for a photo opp. Park or camp elsewhere and walk through the access gate to get to the rocks.

This area of Carson National Forest is grazing land for cattle. When The Man and I spent a week right off road 64J in the travel trailer in late August of 2020, there were cows all over the place. If you see cows here or on any public land, don’t harass them. The cows have every right to be there. In fact, the cows are the paying customers, as someone has bought a permit from the forest service to graze them there. Also, you don’t want to get between a mamma and her calf. Cows are typically calm and docile, but they’re also big and protective of their young. If you don’t hassle the cattle, they’ll likely leave you alone.

I’ve seen wildlife in the area too. Peregrine falcons nest in the crevices of the rock formation during some parts of the year, and The Man and I saw some flying around the first time we visited. In the camping area where the fire pits and picnic tables are, I’ve seen woodpeckers and robins and bluebirds and bluejays and other birds I couldn’t identify. Although I’ve heard coyotes yip and howl in the distance, I haven’t seen any while camping near Tres Piedras. While I was writing the rough draft of this post from the comfy warmth of my bed, I saw something in my peripheral vision. I looked out of the van’s side window and I saw two deer off in the distance walking among the trees.

Travel trailer camping in the vicinity of the Tres Piedras rocks.

I’ve never known the camping area to be crowded. (Of course “crowded” is a subjective idea. My “not crowded” might be your “too much.”) Even on Labor Day weekend of 2020, the place was mellow. There tends to be a mix of folks sleeping in tents, vans and minivans, small motorhomes, and pull-behind travel trailers. I’ve not seen any really big Class A motorhomes or 5th wheels parked nearby.

I think it’s not crowded because it’s quite a ways from Taos, where most of the action in the area is. Also, I’ve noticed campers tend to gravitate to water, and there’s no stream or lake near the Tres Piedras rocks. That’s ok with me. I’d rather have peaceful bliss with few neighbors over a crowded body of water any day (or-especially-night).

My cell phone signal (provided by Verizon) was weak in the area and sometimes disappeared entirely. When I tried to have a voice conversation, I could hear the person on the other end fine, but after a few minutes, she said my voice was breaking up. Outgoing texts were sometimes delayed, but eventually went thought. Internet access was best in the early morning. I didn’t try to stream anything.

Other than a few picnic tables and fire pits, camping in this part of the Carson National Forest is a true boondocking experience. There are no hookups and no toilets. There’s no running water, no drinking water, and no showers. There are no trash cans, so prepare to pack out all your trash.

Camping area with picnic table sand fire pits.

On 64J road, you may find yourself–like I did the morning I wrote the first draft of this post–alone with the breeze, the trees, the gentle tapping of a woodpecker, and deer in the distance.

I took the photos in this post.