Tag Archives: New Mexico State Parks

Camping Basics

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When I asked for suggestions for topics for my Wednesday posts of special interest to vandwellers, vagabonds, rubber tramps, nomads, and travelers of all kinds, my friend Laura-Marie of the dangerous compassions blog suggested I write about the basics of camping. Good idea! Camping season is upon us, so today I’ll share the steps for finding a camping spot, setting up your equipment, having a great time, and packing up to go home.

#1 Decide where you want to camp. Do you want to camp close to home, or do you want to visit a different region? Do you want to camp in a campground or hike into the back country? Do you want to camp at the beach or on top of a mountain? Do you want to camp in a forest or in a desert? Do you want to be in a remote, quiet location or close to civilization? Answering these questions will help you decide where to camp. (If you decide to camp in a forest, desert, or on top of a mountain, see my blog posts “How to Stay Safe and Healthy in the Forest,” “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Dessert,” or “Managing in the Mountains” for more tips for a pleasant camping experience.)

If the mere thought of using a pit toilet makes you gag, this might not be the right campground for you.

#2 Decide on the amenities you need a campground to provide. Do you want to rough it in a place with no amenities or stay some place with running water, electricity, hot showers, and flush toilets? Do you want to stay in a yurt with real beds? Will you be pitching a tent or staying in your motorhome, travel trailer, or 5th wheel? Do you need to take a hot shower every morning? Do you gag at the thought of using a pit toilet? Do you want to hike, fish, or collect rock specimens during your trip? The answers to these questions will also help you choose the right camping spot for you.

#3 Do research online before you hit the road. If you want to camp for free, check out both the Free Campsites and Campendium websites. These websites list free and cheap campsites across the USA and include reviews from people who’ve actually stayed in those places. Many of these camping spots are in primitive camping areas on public land, so be ready to boondock and meet all your own needs. (Not sure what it means to boondock? See my post “10 Fundamentals for Boondockers.”)

National parks, forests, and monuments often offer developed campgrounds. You can get information about and make reservations for your stay at these campgrounds at Recreation.gov. National forest campgrounds typically do not offer showers but often do offer pit toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings. Campgrounds in national parks tend to be a bit fancier and may include running water, hot showers, and flush toilets.

If you want to camp at a state park, do an internet search for the parks in the state you’re interested in that have campgrounds. State parks often have amenities like hot showers, picnic tables, fire rings, flush toilets, and even visitor centers with educational exhibits. If you need some comforts of home while still enjoying time out in nature, a state park campground may be the right choice for you. (New Mexico has fantastic campgrounds in its state parks. You can read my posts about camping at Elephant Butte Lake State Park, Brantley Lake State Park, Rockhound State Park, and Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. You can also read my post about the New Mexico State Parks Annual Camping Pass.)

Another camping option is a private campground. Some private campgrounds cater to Rvs while others have spots for tent camping too. Some private campgrounds prohibit car camping, so if you’re a vandweller, you may want to carry a small tent for just such occasions.

No matter what sort of campground you decide to camp in, make sure it has the amenities you need before you make a reservation or pay a fee. Get as much information as possible online before you make a decision.

#4 Pack everything you need. Where you camp will help determine what supplies you will need. If you’re not bringing an RV, at the very least you’re going to want a tent, food, and water. If you want even a bit of comfort, bring a sleeping bag. For extra comfort, bring a sleeping pad or air mattress to go under your sleeping bag. If you’re going to cook, you’ll need a portable stove, fuel for the stove, pots and pans, utensils, plates, ingredients, cooking oil, spices, etc. If you’re in a spot with no drinking water, you’ll have to bring your own. If there’s no water at all where you’re camping, you’ll have to bring water for washing too.

Other basic necessities: flashlight or headlamp with fresh batteries (it’s dark out in nature, even in a campground); tarp to go under your tent; rain gear (just in case); pillow (you can get small ones especially for travel and camping); strong stakes to help hold down your tent; small shovel, hand soap, and toilet paper if you are going to be primitive camping.

(For a very complete list of items useful for camping, see my Checklist of Things to Take on the Road.)

#5 Once you arrive at your general camping destination, find your campsite. If you’re staying in a campground, the camp host will probably assign you a site, or maybe you already picked your site when you made a reservation. Ask the camp host for help finding your site, check your reservation confirmation for your site number, or look for a placard with the name of the person who made the reservation on it. If you’re in a first-come, first-served campground, look for a site that’s not too close to the (possibly stinky) pit toilets and not on an obvious incline.

If you’re boondocking, find a spot that’s been camped on before. Look for a place where the groundcover has been disturbed or where there is a fire ring made of stones.

No matter where you are camping, you want a nice flat spot for your tent. (Creeping downhill all night because your tent is pitched on uneven ground is a special kind of hell.) Make sure you aren’t pitching your tent on top of bumpy tree roots. When you find a spot that seems workable, look up. You don’t want a branch falling on your tent in the event of high winds Once you’ve found a flat spot with no dangerous branches overhead, clear away any sticks and rocks. (Another special kind of camping hell is finding you’re sleeping on top of rocks, sticks, and roots.)

#6 Pitch your tent. For a complete step-by-step guide (with pictures!) to setting up (and taking down) your tent, see the WikiHow article on the subject, but for your convenience, I’ll hit the high points here.

  • Practice setting up your tent before your trip. This step is especially important if you won’t arrive at your camping spot until after dark. This will also allow you to make sure all of the tent components are present.
  • Once you’re on your campsite and have picked a place for your tent, unpack and lay out all the items you will need to set up the tent. These items include the tent itself, rain-fly, ground cloth or tarp, tent poles, stakes, guy lines, and a mallet or rock for pounding in stakes.
  • Lay out the tarp or ground cloth where you want the tent to be. The ground cloth will help protect the tent floor from tears and punctures and keep it dry. This bottom layer should be as big (or nearly so) as the bottom of your tent.
  • Lay the tent over the ground cloth.
  • Assemble all the tent poles.
  • Put the poles through the sleeves on top of the tent. Beware: With some tents, poles of different sizes go into specific sleeves.
  • Once the poles are in place, the bottoms of the poles must be attached to the bottom of the tent. Look for pouches at the bottom of the tent the poles can fit into or metal pins attached to the tent that slide into the hollow end of the poles. As the poles go into place, the roof of the tent should lift off the ground
  • If the tent has clips used to hold its fabric close to the poles, snap the clips over the poles.
  • The bottom of the tent should have loops through which the stakes go. Put the stakes through the loops, then pound the stakes into the ground using your mallet or a rock.
  • Stretch out your guy lines and stake then down. You want your guy lines to be taut but not overstretched. Staking the guy lines will help the tent stand properly and will help the zippers slide smoothly.
  • Attach the rain-fly if your tent has one. You may want to leave the rain-fly off on a clear night, but if there is any chance of rain, put it on. Trust me, you do not want to go outside in a thunderstorm to attach your rain-fly.

#7 Set up your kitchen. Your kitchen will be one of the mostly highly trafficked areas of your camp. If your campsite has a picnic table, that’s a logical place for your kitchen.

If you’re camping in bear country, you’ll need to take some extra precautions. In the book Bear Aware, author Bill Schneider offers an entire chapter detailing camping in bear country. One of the most important tips he shares is to separate your sleeping and cooking areas. If food smells attract bears, you want them as far away from sleeping people as possible.

“The sleeping area and the cooking area must be separated by at least 100 yards,” Schneider advises.

Also, he says be prepared to “hang everything that has any food smell” or store those items (including trash, toothpaste, sunscreen, lotion, etc.) in bear canisters.

#8 Keep a clean camp. Food and garbage lying around can attract flies, rodents, raccoons, ravens, and bears. Of course, you don’t want to tangle with bears, but even smaller animals can create a huge mess by dragging food and garbage all over your campsite. Flies carry disease, and no one wants to get sick while they’re supposed to be enjoying trees and birdsong. For more information about dealing with wildlife while camping, check out the great article “How to Keep Animals Out of Your Campsite” on the Camping Cooks website.

If you’re in a campground, dispose of trash in garbage cans or dumpsters regularly. Be sure you close garbage containers securely. If you’re camping in a place with no trash containers, tie garbage bags and stow them securely in your vehicle until you can pack out what you’ve packed in.

#9 Once your camp is set up, you’re going to want to relax and enjoy yourself. Most campers love to sit around a campfire, maybe roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories. Of course, before this fun can begin someone has to build a campfire. If there’s already a fire ring on your campsite, use it. Otherwise, build one with stones. Do NOT start a fire on bare ground. Also, you need a source of water, a bucket, and a shovel on hand at all times during your fire building and enjoyment.

If you are allowed, gather wood from around your campsite. Sort your wood according to size. Even if you’ve brought firewood, gather small sticks and dry leaves and needles for tinder if you are allowed to do so.

Place some tinder in the middle of the fire ring. Use sticks less than one inch around to build a teepee-like structure over the tinder. Shove balled up paper in between the sticks. Once the framework is built, light the balled up paper. You need to start your fire small, then add larger pieces of wood. Once the fire is burning strongly, you can add larger pieces. You can get more information about building a safe campfire from Smokey Bear.

Had your campfire fun and now you’re ready to go to bed? Make sure your campfire is DEAD OUT. Any time you leave your campsite, any fires must be DEAD OUT. Smokey Bear can tell you how to do this too, but briefly, pour lots of water on your fire or stir sand or dirt into the embers to bury the fire. Smokey says,

Remember:
If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.

#10 When it’s time to go home, break camp.

Make sure any rain or dew on your tent has dried completely before packing. If your tent is damp when you put it away, you will have to set it up again at home so it can dry, or you run the risk of unpacking a stinky, moldy mess next time you go camping. Pack up the tent in the reverse order of setup.

Clean up your campsite. Practice the leave no trace rule of camping where you remove every hint of your presence. Pick up all trash, including microtrash. Put all trash in trashcans, or if none are available, pack out what you packed in. Don’t leave any trash in fire rings. Be a good campground steward and leave your campsite cleaner than you found it.

If you piled up rocks, sticks, leaves or pine cones before you set up your tent, spread those materials out over the big bare patch where your tent sat.

If you built a fire ring, take it apart after you have determined that the fire is DEAD OUT. Disperse the rocks and ashes so their presence cannot be detected.

Don’t leave any belongings behind. Get everyone in your party to do a final walk through of the campsite to make sure everything brought has been packed up.

I hope you had a great camping experience! What did you learn that I left out? Share your camping tips in the comments below.

There’s no way to imagine or prepare for every situation one might encounter on a camping trip. Remember, Blaize Sun can’t prepare you or protect you from every danger you might encounter in nature. You are responsible for our own self! Research the problems you might encounter in the area you plan to camp before you get there. If you plan to camp on Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service land, call the field office or ranger station responsible for that place and ask about hazards in the area. Think before you act. If something you’re about to do seems potentially dangerous, don’t do it!

I took the photos in this post.

In Which I Admit Ways a Travel Trailer Is Better Than a Van

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Chevy G20 high top van in the forest
I lived in this Chevy G20 for almost five years.

I was a vandweller for nearly a decade before a travel trailer came into my life after the death of my father. I enjoyed being a vandweller. I enjoyed taking my home with me wherever I went. I enjoyed a life without rent payments. I enjoyed being a renegade and a nomad.

To be honest, if I were single, I’d probably still live in my van. I was resistant to the whole idea of living in a travel trailer. My van had always been enough for me.

However, living in a van with my sweetheart was not easy for either of us. I especially need a lot of alone time, a lot of quiet. My guy likes to talk a lot and play guitar and move around. Also, he is six feet tall and simply needs room for his body. He bought a minivan in order to spend less money on gas, but can’t sit comfortably in it to carve or make jewelry.

Life was a little easier when we each had our own rig to hang out in and sleep in, but we did still suffer lots of discomforts. I was tired of cooking outside in the wind and the dust and the cold. I was so tired of constantly buying ice for the cooler and dealing with the water that always managed to accumulate in the bottom of it. Sure, I could deal with those annoyances (I think I’m a little bit tough), but I didn’t really want to.

Drawing of blue canned ham style travel trailer with yellow sun and the words Home Is Where You Park It.

If I weren’t with The Man, I would not be pulling a travel trailer. I think it’s more work than I want to do alone. However, in less than a month living in the travel trailer (when I wrote the rough draft of this post), I was already spoiled by the amenities it offered.

The number one luxury of life in the travel trailer is probably the head room. I don’t know how many times I hit my head while living in my van, and I’m not even tall! The Man hit his head even more. Ouch! It sure is nice to stand up to cook, put on pants, or simply move from one spot to another. Even with cupboards above our bed, we can both sit up comfortably. I’m sure both our brains are glad to no longer get bumped around so much.

Another perk of  travel trailer life is more storage space for our stuff. We have lots of cupboards, cabinets, and drawers. The kitchen boasts four drawers and six cabinets. There is storage under the dinette’s bench seats. The living area has four overhead cupboards. Between the sofa and the bedroom is an armoire with four shelves behind two doors and four large drawers down below. There are two short cabinets over the bed and two tall ones on each side. There is even a storage compartment under the bed! Finally, we have room for the things we own.

In addition to space for stuff, we have space for people! Coyote Sue was our first visitor. She stopped by to see our place when we were all at Elephant Butte Lake State Park using our New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass. It was nice for each of us to sit in a comfortable spot while we chatted.

We could even have overnight guests if we wanted. The legs come off the table and the tabletop sits between the two bench seats to make a platform that becomes a bed when the cushions from the seats are arranged on it. The couch folds down into a (lumpy but functional) bed. Guests here might not have the best sleep of their lives, but at least we can offer places to lie down for the night.

My favorite part of having more space is having a separate bedroom. The bedroom is at the front of the trailer and has an accordion door to hide it from the rest of the living space. (I wish the bedroom had a solid door like the bathroom does, but a folding door is better than nothing.) While The Man (and Jerico the dog too) do sleep in the bed with me (thankfully the RV queen size mattress provides room for all), the bedroom is my domain. When The Man wakes up before me in the morning (which is usually the way it happens), he can leave the room, close the door, and go about his life in the other part of the trailer. When I wake up, I can sit in the bed and write with few distractions.

I’m quite relieved to have sturdy screens over all the windows. We even have screen doors on both entrances! I know how miserable it is to live in a van and have to choose between being hot with the windows closed to keep bugs out or opening the windows to let in a breeze and fresh air and also letting in a squadron of mosquitoes or flies or no see ‘ems. I fashioned some window screens during my days as a vandweller, but my DIY efforts always fell short (and often fell down). I’m glad to have properly fitted, professionally installed screens with no holes on all the windows and doors so we can have airflow while keeping bugs out.

Blue sky with full of white puffy clouds. Tree in foreground. Lake in background.
Tree at Elephant Butte Lake State Park.

Having electricity in our home is really awesome. During a week and a half stay at Rockhound State Park, , we only had to splurge on an extra $4 per night for a campsite with electricity since we had the annual camping pass. We were quickly spoiled by being able to flip a switch and have light. It was also convenient to be able to charge our electronics by plugging into an electrical outlet in our home. We missed these luxuries when we moved to Elephant Butte Lake State Park and opted for a campsite with no hookups. When we finally got the travel trailer out on our own property, we charged our house batteries each night by running our generator for about an hour. Now we have a complete solar power system, and we get our power from the sun. The Man got our solar electric system up and running as soon as possible because once we got a taste of having electricity in our home, we didn’t want to give it up.

Most of the other advantages of living in the travel trailer have to do with the kitchen. I’m not a gourmet cook, but I do feed myself and The Man a couple of times each day, so I like to be comfortable when I prepare meals.

Cooking out of the elements is a huge perk. Cooking outside is not entirely unpleasant if the weather is nice. However, cooking outside when it’s raining or snowing or sleeting or hailing or just plain cold is a real pain in the neck.  It’s also difficult (sometimes impossible) to cook in a strong Southwestern wind. Working outside in a steady wind of 20 to 30 mph (with stronger gusts) is difficult enough, but add in the dust that is always part of a windy situation, and I just want to grab some food from Little Caesar’s or Taco Bell. Being in the trailer and out of inclement weather has been a game changer when it comes to cooking meals.

Sure I could have cooked in my van during bad weather, and at times I did boil water or heat up some leftovers. Since I’ve read the warnings on my camp stove about the dangers of using it in enclosed spaces, I always worried about using it in the van. The stove and oven in the travel trailer were professionally installed at the factory and are (ostensibly) vented properly and pose fewer risks.

Having an oven is a huge perk. I missed baking for all the years I lived in my van. When The Man and I moved into the fifth wheel and found it had a working oven, I was overjoyed. I baked pizza, cakes, brownies, treats for the dog, and cornbread from my father’s recipe. When we sold the fifth wheel, leaving the oven behind was a sad moment for me. Now that I have an oven again, I’ve enjoyed baking yummies for the whole family.

I haven’t had a working refrigerator in my home in years, since the one in the fifth wheel didn’t work and was used as a pantry. Having refrigeration in the travel trailer is a huge convenience. I no longer have to buy ice. I no longer have to deal with melted ice water. I no longer have to deal with the water that always ends up at the bottom of the cooler no matter what I do to avoid it. Can I live without refrigeration? Yes. Is life a lot easier with a working refrigerator in the house? Also yes.

Colorful drawings of travel trailers and camper vans surround the words Home Is Where We Park It.
My dear friend sent this to me. I love it! I hung it over the kitchen sink.

While some aspects of living in a travel trailer are challenging (I’m looking at you, hitching!) the advantages currently outshine those challenges. I feel so fortunate that my dad’s death has brought this travel trailer into my life.

I took the photos in this post.

Off the Cliff

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The Man and I and Jerico the dog took my New Mexico State Parks Pass and went camping at Bluewater Lake State Park between Gallup and Grants, New Mexico. We were staying in the Canyonside Campground near the trailhead for the Canyonside Trail.

Tall, tree-covered canyon walls in the distance. Shallow creek in the foreground.
Bluewater Creek down below

As you may have guessed from the name of the campground and the trail, we were camped on the side of a canyon. Specifically, we were camped above the canyon, but trees and vegetation blocked the view of Bluewater Creek down below. It was easy to forget the land dropped dropped dropped right across from where the van was parked.

It was late September, late in the camping season, so we had the campground loop mostly to ourselves. Some folks in a popup camper were in the area when we arrived on Saturday, but they left late the next day. An elderly couple camped catacorner and across the road from the site we had chosen, but they moved to a spot with a shade cover in a different part of the park after a couple of days when the weather forecast called for rain.

Because the area was underpopulated, The Man felt comfortable throwing the ball for Jerico. He threw the ball away from other campers and kept it pretty close to home.

As I’ve written before, Jerico loves to play ball. He loves for us to pet him, he loves Rachael Ray dog food and any sort of yummy treat, but most of all, he loves to play ball. In the last year, it has become possible to throw the ball enough to wear Jerico out. After fifteen to twenty minutes of chasing and retrieving the ball (depending on the temperature outside) he has to lie down and rest, but in another fifteen or twenty minutes, he’s raring to chase and retrieve the ball again.

A man and dog stand on a rock overhang. Both look down into a green canyon.
Jerico and The Man look down into the canyon.

The Man has thrown the ball for Jerico for countless hours in the last seven or so years. He’s usually very careful to never throw the ball anywhere dangerous because Jerico doesn’t have the sense to stay away from danger. All Jerico cares about is the ball. Jerico focuses entirely on the ball. He doesn’t think about where the ball is going or the relative safety or danger of going after it. Once the ball is thrown, he simply takes off after it.

The Man is usually very careful about where he throws the ball, but this day something went wrong. Whether he was distracted and didn’t think about where he was aiming the ball or if the ball bounced and went off in the wrong direction, I don’t know. Suddenly I heard The Man yelling No! and Stay!

I’m sure you’ve guessed what happened. The ball went toward the canyon and Jerico was not going to hesitate to follow it. Luckily, The Man intervened in time and kept Jerico from blindly giving chase.

The Man put Jerico in the van and searched the area around the drop off in hopes of finding the ball stopped by a large rock or fallen tree branch. No such luck. The ball was gone. No doubt it had rolled and bounced its way down to the canyon floor.

Jerico was not happy about the loss of his ball. He looked at The Man expectantly and barked.

In the past, when the Man was done playing, he sometimes took the ball away from Jerico and put it out of his reach. I think that’s what Jerico thought had happened. He settled down after about ten minutes of barking and expectant looks. However, later in the day, he got more insistent inhis looks and barks. We knew the signs. He was ready to chase the ball again.

A dog plays with a popped soccer ball that's bigger than his head.
Oliver will chase and retrieve any ball, even if he’s popped it, even if it’s bigger than his head.

The Man usually travels with a supply of the blue racquetballs Jerico likes to chase. (Of course, Jerico will chase and retrieve any ball, but the racquetballs are light enough for him to bounce off his nose and catch in midair.) The Man looked all over the van and couldn’t find a single blue racquetball. He realized he’d left the extras in his van which we’d stored in a friend’s backyard over 300 miles away.

Jerico grew more insistent. He really wanted to play ball.

Look dude, The Man said to him, we’re not going 30 miles to Wal-Mart just to get balls.

Jerico obviously didn’t understand.

We had to keep a close eye on the dog. He kept trying to go near the drop off to sniff around. He’s part beagle, so I have no doubt he could have picked up its scent. We were still concerned he would jump off the cliff fof the ball with no concern for his safety.

A dog in an orange harness stands among rocks and tree.

By the next morning, Jerico was being a huge pain in the neck. He would look at us and bark, toss his head, and prance around. We knew what he wanted, but had not way of giving it to him. The barking just went on and on.

I guess we’re going to have to go to Wal-Mart, The Man grumbled.

We had some things to do at the public library in Grants, then The man and I had a lunch date at the local Pizza Hut. It was mid-afternoon by the time we arrived at Wal-Mart. We made a beeline to the sporting goods department, only to find there wasn’t a single racquetball to be found. There wasn’t even an empty space on the shelf where racquetballs should have been.

The Man said we’d have to get tennis ball, but we couldn’t find any of those either.

The Man went to the nearby toy department and asked for help, but the associate he brought back to sporting goods with him couldn’t find racquet or tennis balls either. She shrugged, said she was new, and wandered back to the boxes of toys she’d been unpacking.

Another worker we cornered said to look for tennis balls in the pet department. We found some there, which we purchased, but we wondered where the tennis and racquetball players of Grants get their balls.

Once back at our camp at the state park, The man pulled out one of the new especially-for-dog tennis balls out of the package and played a game of fetch with Jerico. You can bet he was super careful to throw the ball well away from the canyon.

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park

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Sign reads Oliver Lee State Park Self Pay Station.

It’s been well over a year since I spent a night at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park near Alamogordo, NM. It was autumn of 2017 when I stayed at the park, and I was sad because The Man and I were in one of our off-again phases. This post will not be the most in-depth of my reports on a New Mexico state park, but I’ll tell you about the basics.

I’d left the primitive camping area at Brantley Lake State park with a final destination of Truth or Consequences, NM. I decided I’d visit White Sands National Monument on my way since I’d never been there before and always heard it was a magnificent place. My New Mexico State Parks Pass was firmly attached to my windshield, so I could camp in any developed site in any New Mexico state park with no out of pocket expense.

Chihuahuan Desert scene with blue sky and whispy white clouds, rugged mountains, and desert plants.
View of mountains surrounding Oliver Lee Memorial State Park with the visitors center visible on the middle of the left side.

I knew Oliver Lee Memorial State Park was a bit out of my way, but I didn’t realize it was quite so far out of my way. I didn’t mind the extra miles I drove to get to the park since my pass got me in at no additional cost. Also, I like to see new places and was enjoying my tour of New Mexico state parks. However, if I didn’t have the annual camping pass, I wouldn’t necessarily to go out of my way to spend one night at the Oliver Lee campground.

I arrived at the state park late in the afternoon, after eating at an Asian buffet in the White Sands Mall in Alamogordo. I drove the 17 miles not really sure where I was going but following the instructions of the Google Maps lady who lived in my phone. I didn’t realize until the next morning that to get to the park, I passed the turn off onto Highway 70, the road that would take me to White Sands National Monument. I typically hate backtracking, but I didn’t stress out too much about it since doing so allowed me to visit a new-to-me state park.

Campsite post in foreground has number 32 on it. Mountain and blue sky in background.
Site #32 Can you see the moon to the right of the mountain?

When I arrived at the campground, I drove around the two loops looking for a developed site with no hookups. I settled on site #32.

I knew I should go to the visitors center and learn something about the area, but I just felt blah. I really only wanted to stay close to my van and digest all the food I’d stuffed down my gullet at the Asian buffet.

I did hang out at the van for a while, then decided I should go for at least a short walk. When I’d arrived at the campground, I saw a sign pointing to Frenchy’s cabin. I wondered who Frenchy was and why s/he had a cabin in the park. I decided to walk over there and investigate.

The remains of Frenchy’s cabin. If I remember correctly, the rock wall is original, but the brick wall has been rebuilt where Frency’s house once stood.

According to a New Mexico website,

In the mid-1880s, a Frenchman named Francois-Jean “Frenchy” Rochas started homesteading at the mouth of Dog Canyon. He built a rock cabin…

Frenchy mysteriously met his end just after Christmas in 1894, when he was found dead in his cabin, a bullet in his chest. Although the local authorities determined it was suicide, historians believe it was more likely that someone murdered him in a dispute.

It sounds like the first chapter of a Tony Hillerman novel or a Western movie starring Clint Eastwood!

After I checked out the remains of Frenchy’s cabin, I took a walk to visit the shower house. I found the facilities clean and well maintained. After using the flush toilet and washing my hands, I went over to one of the showers and turned on the water to determine if it would get hot enough for my comfort. Yet again, I found a New Mexico state park with no hot water in the shower house. While there was NO WAY I was going to take a cold shower, I wasn’t too sad because I was headed to the hot, hot water in the bathhouses in Truth or Consequences.

You may be wondering who in the heck Oliver Lee was. According to the aforementioned New Mexico website,


Oliver Milton Lee, [was] a famous local rancher, who raised both cattle and horses, and was instrumental in the founding of Alamogordo and Otero County. Lee established his ranch south of Dog Canyon in 1893 and lived there until 1907…

During this period, Lee was involved in a controversy involving the disappearance of prominent New Mexico Lawyer, Albert Fountain, and his eight-year old son, Henry. The bodies were never found, the case against Lee and others was circumstantial, Lee was acquitted, although the mystery remains.

Oh boy! Sounds like another Tony Hillerman/Clint Eastwood plot. I guess the wild, wild West was no joke!

Apparently Oliver Lee built a ranch house too and folks can visit it, but only with a guided tour. You can call the park (575-437-8284) to find out when you can take the tour.

Blue sky and mountains and tiny half moon.

Those are the Sacramento Mountains you see in all the photos. They look pretty rugged, don’t you think?

After I determined I would not be taking a cold New Mexico state park shower, I went back to my van and hung out until it was time for bed. I wanted to get to bed early so I could wake up before the sun and head out to White Sands National Monument. Before bed, I decided I should visit the restrooms. Luckily I grabbed my Luci light because it was DARK out there. Some of the RVs had lights on their campsite, but there were no streetlights lighting the way to the restroom. I actually appreciated the lack of light pollution so I could get a good luck at the night sky.

I did go to bed early and I did wake up before the sun. Before I hit the road, I was rewarded with the beautiful beginnings of a sunrise coming over the mountains in the east. Oliver Lee Memorial State Park was a lovely place to wake up.

Brilliant wide yellow swath of sunrise over silhouette of mountains
Sunrise over Oliver Lee State Park.

I took all the photos in this post.


New Mexico State Parks Annual Camping Pass

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The New Mexico State Parks Annual Camping Pass, is a great deal for anyone who wants to spend more than month exploring the state and staying in the campgrounds of its state parks. The Man and I both bought New Mexico State Parks annual camping passes in the fall of 2017 and camped at several of the state parks campgrounds separately and together.

I’ll tell you everything I know about the New Mexico State Parks Annual Camping Pass (abbreviated to NMSPACP in the rest of this article) so you can decide if it’s right for you.

As of late November 2018 when I’m writing this article, the fees, permits, and rentals page  of the New Mexico State Parks website gives the following price breakdown for the pass:

Sunset in the day use area at Brantley Lake State Park.

New Mexico Resident (Proof of New Mexico I.D. and Vehicle License Plate Number are required at time of purchase.) $180

New Mexico Resident *Senior, 62+ (Proof of Age and Vehicle License Plate Number are required at time of purchase.) $100

New Mexico Resident *Disabled (Proof of disability required.) $100

Out-of-State Resident (Proof of I.D. and Vehicle License Plate Number are required at time of purchase.) $225

If you lose your annual camping permit, no problem! You can get a replacement for only $10.

If you are a resident of New Mexico with a disability, there are several things you can use to prove  your disability to the satisfaction of the folks at the New Mexico State Parks. See the aforementioned fees, permits, and rentals page to find out what documents you need to get your reduced-rate permit.

Primitive camping at Brantley Lake State Park

Permits for seniors and folks with disabilities can only be purchased at the New Mexico State Parks’ Santa Fe Office, located at 1220 S St Francis Drive #215 or at any  New Mexico State Park Visitor Center. The passes for New Mexico residents and out-of-state residents can also be purchased online. I purchased my pass in person at the visitor center at Leasburg Dam State Park, so I don’t know if there are any extra charges for buying the pass online.

If you have a NMSPACP, you can camp in any primitive camping area (usual cost: $8 per night) or on any developed camping area with no hookups (usual cost: $10 per night) in a New Mexico state park for no additional charge. According to the aforementioned fees, permits, and rentals page,

Primitive campsites offer no special facilities except a cleared area for camping. Sites may include trash cans, chemical toilets or parking.

Primitive camping also offer no designated sites. You’re basically boondocking when you camp in a primitive area at a New Mexico State Park.

I’ve camped in primitive camping areas at Caballo Lake State Park, Elephant Butte Lake State Park, and Brantley Lake State Park. In both of those parks, primitive camping was lakeside. I also witnessed primitive camping next to the lake at Bluewater Lake State Park. Although the primitive areas offer few or no amenities, campers are welcome to venture into other areas of the park and use the water spigots, restrooms, showers, and dumpsters if such facilities are available. (To find out what amenities are at each park, take a look at the printable New Mexico State Parks brochure.)

The developed camping areas typically offer a fire ring and a picnic table. Sometimes the developed areas offer

This is what the developed campsites look like at Brantley Lake State Park. Beware: At this park, ALL developed sites have electric hookups, so if you plan to stay in the campground, you’re going to have to pony up $4 a night, even if you have the NMSPP.

shade covers too.These campsites tend to be in campgrounds, closer to toilets (either flush or pit, depending on where you are) and sources of potable water. I’ve stayed on developed sites at Brantley Lake State Park, Percha Dam State Park, Elephant Butte State Park, Rockhound State Park, Leasburg Dam State Park, and Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. The Man spent some nights at City of Rocks State Park; while I have visited that park during the day (and think it’s a gorgeous place), I’ve never had the pleasure of camping there.

Your NMSPACP does NOT provide for free electric or sewage hookups. If you have the annual camping permit and want an electric hookup, it will cost you an additional $4 per night. A sewage hookup if you have an annual camping permit will also cost an additional $4 per night. If you have the annual camping permit and you want both an electric and sewage hookup, that will set you back $8 per night. New Mexico State Parks do not charge for water hookups where they are available.

According to the New Mexico State Parks page devoted to camping,

Sunset over Oliver Lee State Park.

Campers may reside in a park for a maximum of 14 days during a 20 day period. Campers shall completely remove camping equipment and gear from the park for 7 calendar days during the 20 day period.

Here’s what that means if you have a NMSPACP. You can stay in any New Mexico State Park for up to 14 days, then you have to leave that park. However, you can go directly to another New Mexico State park and stay there (for free if you camp in a primitive area or on a developed site with no hookups) for seven days, then turn around and go back to the park you left a week ago.

If you wanted to save money on gas, you could stay in an area where there are state parks not too far from each other (such as Elephant Butte Lake State Park, Caballo Lake State Park, and Percha Dam State Park or Rockhound State Park, Pancho Villa State Park, and City of Rocks State Park) and go in a circuit from one to another, staying two weeks at each.

This was my view of Caballo Lake when I stayed in the primitive camping area of the state park.

The NMSPACP is good for only one vehicle per site. I called the New Mexico State Parks main office to make sure I understood this point correctly. I was hoping that even though The Man and I have separate vehicles, we could share one pass. No go! However, when we were camping together at Leasburg Dam State Park, there was only one developed campsite with no hookups available, and we were allowed to have both of our rigs on the site with no problem. (Note: I had a Chevy G20 and the man had a Honda Odyssey, so both rigs fit easily on the site, facilitating our sharing of the space.)

I bought my NMSPACP early in November 2017. When I bought it, the park ranger gave me a sticker to attach on my windshield. This sticker showed that I was a pass holder and it gave the expiration date of my pass. At the time I purchased my pass, there was space for the month and the year the pass expired. (The passes may be configured differently, depending on when you read this post.) My pass said it expired 11-18 (November 2018). I didn’t think to ask at the time, so I again called the New Mexico State Parks main office to find out if that pass expired on the first day of the month noted on it, or the last day. The answer: the last day! So even though I’d bought my pass early in November 2017, it was good through the last day of the month in 2018.

The campground at Rockhound State Park near Deming, NM.

I think that’s everything I know about the New Mexico State Parks Annual Camping Pass. If you have questions on topics I didn’t cover, I strongly encourage you to call the New Mexico State Parks main office at 505-476-3355. I’ve called the office several times with questions and the woman who answered the phone was always exceptionally pleasant and helpful. Talking to her was always a joy.

The information included in this post is subject to change, especially the information on prices. Blaize Sun is not responsible if the information she gave you is no longer applicable when you read this post; this information is a starting point. Everything was correct to the best of her knowledge when the post was written. You are strongly urged to call the New Mexico State Parks office or check internet sources for updated information.

So much cool at City of Rocks State Park.

I took all of the photos in this post.

Primitive Camping at Brantley Lake State Park

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I’d gotten a New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass. It was The Man’s idea. I’d thought about getting the pass before, but The Man said this winter we could each get one and spend the season in New Mexico State Parks. He’d wrap stones with copper wire to make pendants, and I could write.

We met up at Leasburg Dam State Park after a month apart and stayed there a couple of nights. The Man thought he might be able to make some money in Carlsbad or Roswell, so we took off to that part of the state, planning to camp at Brantley Lake State Park.

Brantley Lake is between Carlsbad and Roswell, off of Highway 285. It’s closer to Carlsbad (about 12 miles) and is about 70 miles from Roswell. We’d stayed in the park’s Limestone Campground once before, when we’d been in the area the previous spring, after our visit to Carlsbad Caverns.

I remembered two important things about the park.

#1 All of the sites in Limestone Campground have electricity, so they all cost $14 per night instead of the regular $10 per night of the developed, non-electric sites covered by our camping passes. If we wanted to stay in the campground, we’d have to pay an extra $4 per night for our site.

#2 The park offers primitive camping. I remembered the camp host taling about the primitive camping when we’d been there in the spring, and I confirmed primitive camping with my guidebook, New Mexico and Arizona State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Don and Barbara Laine. Primitive camping only costs $8 per night and is covered by our passes.

It was dark when we pulled into Brantley Lake State Park, but we followed the signs to Rocky Bay, the primitive camping area. We parked our vans in a spot just off the road and a short walk from the lake. That’s where we settled in for the night.

In the morning, we got a better lay of the land. The primitive camping area has no designated camping spots, but

I parked that close to the water.

there were several flat areas next to the water where people had obviously camped before. During the days before and after Thanksgiving, there weren’t many primitive campers, so there was plenty of room for everyone to spread out. (We could see our nearest neighbors on both sides, but all we heard of them was the enthusiastic drumming of the people to our right. The sound was quite faint, merely background noise, which was good because the drumming went on well after dark and started again between 4:30 and 5 in the morning.)

Like most primitive camping I’ve encountered, this area had not amenities. It was a leave no trace kind of place where campers must pack out what they’ve packed in. However, the trash doesn’t have to be packed out very far. There are several dumpsters in Limestone Campground, and no one complained about us throwing several bags of trash into one. I suppose they’d rather have the trash from the primitive camping area deposited into the dumpsters rather than having it left behind to be blown into the water.

Day use area at sunset

While there are no restrooms in the primitive camping area (not even portable toilets, the camp host had said to me in the spring), we made ourselves at home in the restrooms in the day use area and the campground. Again, no one seemed to mind. The day use area was closer to where we camped, so we used the restrooms there more frequently than we used the ones in the campground.  The restrooms in the day use area seemed to be unlocked 24 hours a day and had flush toilets and sinks with running water, but no showers.

The showers are in Limestone Campground, and The Man and I utilized them twice during our stay of a little over a week. Nobody challenged our use of them. I think anyone in the park (probably even folks doing day use) could have a shower with no questions asked.

The Man says he had two great showers with plenty of hot water in the men’s shower house. Of course, having to press the button repeatedly so the water would flow was a little annoying, but that’s the way it works in New Mexico state parks. Overall, he enjoyed his shower experience.

Me? Not so much.

I like a hot shower, but the water in the stall I picked the first time was barely warm. I chose a different stall for my second shower, but the water was no warmer. I thought maybe the problem the first time was that because the shower head was so high and I’m so short, maybe the water cooled by the time it hit me. I brought a cup with me the second time, and even when I put the cup right up to the shower head, the water that filled it was barely warm.

Why did I have a cup in the shower with me? Because the shower head was mounted so high and because the water came out of it in a diffused spray, it had been impossible for me to rinse the soap from my privates during my first cleansing episode. The second time I brought a cup so I could rinse.

By the time I finished my first shower, I was literally sobbing. I was so cold, and I couldn’t rinse, and my whole life seemed like a rotten mess. I was a little more stoic the second time because I knew I wasn’t going to get a piping hot shower, and I had my cup, so I could rinse. I was in and out in a flash. Wash and rinse my hair–wash and rinse my pits–wash and rinse my privates–done!

Everything else about the primitive camping experience was fine, except for the number of flies that invaded my

The vegetation of the area

van each day. It’s nature though–there’s going to be bugs! The Man thought the area was ugly, and he said he could smell the stench of refinery and lake pollution, and I believe the word shithole was spoken. I thought the area was pretty enough, in its own way. Shade trees would have been nice, but the fall temperatures were cool enough not to desperately need shade. (I wouldn’t want to camp out there in the summer with no shade.) Also, it being New Mexico, the wind was quite strong on some days. Anyone planning to set up any sort of tent out there should weigh it down well.

I enjoyed my time in the Brantley Lake State Park primitive camping area. We had plenty of privacy and weren’t bothered by any other campers. It was cool (literally and figuratively) to park near the water, and I saw a roadrunner and a great blue heron quite close to our campsite. Also, you can’t beat a New Mexico sunset, especially over the water.

New Mexico sunset over the water

I took the photos in this post. The book cover is an Amazon link. If you click on it, I get a small advertising fee on any item you put in your cart and purchase during that shopping session.

You can also read about our experience in the campground at Brantley Lake State Park.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park

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One day when I was in the computer lab, The Man and Jerico walked over to Wal-Mart. Once they got there, The Man needed a place to leave Jerico while he went inside to do his shopping. He attached Jerico’s leash to a tree and told the fellow in the RV parked nearby that he’d be back for the dog shortly. That’s how The Man met Mike.

I met Mike a few days later when The Man and I returned to the Wal-Mart. Mike seemed like a nice guy, but he was one of those talkers who seldom quiets long enough for anyone else to squeeze in a word or two. He was in his late 50s, maybe early 60s, and chain smoked while he talked. As far as we could tell, he stayed in the driver’s seat of his old, battered motorhome all day and watched the world of the Wal-Mart parking lot unfold.

On a subsequent visit, Mike told The Man he was waiting to be able to go back to Elephant Butte Lake State Park. The park allows campers to stay for 14 days, after which they must leave for at least a week. Mike was waiting out the time he couldn’t be at the park.

Mike had a New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass. For $180 a year, New Mexico residents can buy this pass allowing them free developed (non-electric/no sewer) camping at any New Mexico state park. (The cost of the pass for residents of other states is $225.) The pass is good for 12 months from the month of purchase.

Pass holders can stay at any New Mexico state park for up to two weeks before they have to leave, but they can go directly from one state park to another. I asked Mike if he ever went to nearby Caballo Lake State Park (15 miles from the Wal-Mart) or Percha Dam State Park (23 miles from the Wal-Mart). He said because of his motorhome’s poor gas mileage, he couldn’t afford to drive to these parks. Instead, he sat at Wal-Mart in the days between his weeks at Elephant Butte Lake.

A couple days before he was to go to Elephant Butte Lake, Mike invited us to visit him there. He actually had two pass cards, one for his motorhome and one for a passenger vehicle. The second pass would go to his buddy who shared the campsite with him, but the buddy wouldn’t be in town for a few more weeks. In the meantime, we could use it to get into the park.

Mike really wanted us to camp on his site with him for two weeks. We considered the option, but ultimately decided not to take him up on his offer. The Man really didn’t want to pack up his entire camp, nor did he want to leave all his belongings unattended on BLM land for one night, much less for two weeks. I know Mike was disappointed when we showed up and said we were only going to stay a few hours. We could tell he was a really lonely guy. We hoped he thought our short visit was better than no visit at all.

According to Wikipedia,

Elephant Butte Reservoir is a reservoir on the Rio Grande in the U.S. state of New Mexico, 5 miles (8.0 km) north of Truth or Consequences. This reservoir is the 84th largest man-made lake in the United States and the largest in New Mexico by total surface area…The reservoir is also part of the largest state park in New Mexico, Elephant Butte Lake State Park.[1]

The name “Elephant Butte” refers to a volcanic core similar to Devils Tower in Wyoming. It is now an island in the lake. The butte was said to have the shape of an elephant lying on its side.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park offers primitive (dry) camping on the shores of the lake, as well as developed camping with and without electric and sewer hookups. The sites in developed areas include a covered picnic table, and drinkable water is available throughout the park.

There are multiple restrooms in the park, some with pit toilets, some with traditional flush toilets. In addition to restrooms, there are shower houses throughout the park. The way things are set up, I don’t think anyone would notice (or care) if someone from the primitive camping area used the facilities when necessary.

After visiting with Mike and some other Elephant Butte Lake campers for a couple of hours, I drove the van over to the nearest open shower house. (Our visit was in February 2017, before all the shower houses were open for the busy summer season.) The Man went to the men’s side of the building, and I went to the women’s.

It was a standard New Mexico state park shower. I had to push a button on the wall to make the water flow. After a few minutes, the water stopped flowing, and I had to push the button again. The water was warm but never got hot. I was chilly the entire time I was in there.

It wasn’t a great shower, but it was a free shower, and to this van dweller, a free shower means a lot.

Panoramic view of Elephant Butte Lake

I took the photos in this post.

Brantley Lake State Park

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After a long, hot day in the city of Carlsbad, NM, The Man said he really needed a shower.

Isn’t there a state park around here? he asked.

I got on FreeCampsites.net and had a look. Although staying at state parks isn’t free, it’s often cheap, so parks with campgrounds are sometimes listed on the Free Campsites website. The closest state park that showed up in the search engine was at Brantley Lake.

I don’t remember why we didn’t look for a community or rec center with a swimming pool, as those are often good places to shower for a couple of bucks. In any case, we were soon making the 20-mile drive to the state park.

When we pulled up to the entrance to the park, I read the information board, trying to figure out where we should go. It looked like the price for primitive camping was $8 and the price for developed camping was $14. I was sure the Free Campsites page said the cost of camping in the developed area was $10 Where was the $10 option?

While I was trying to figure things out, a truck pulled over behind us. The Man backed out of its way, but it didn’t go around us and into the park as we’d expected. The truck had some sort of official looking emblem on the door, and the driver looked at me expectantly.

Go talk to him, The Man urged.

Turns out, the man in the truck was the camp host at Limestone Campground, the park’s developed area.

I confirmed that the primitive camping area had no showers. There aren’t even porta-potties down there, the camp host said. I realized later I should have asked if we were allowed to camp in the primitive area but take showers in the developed campground, but it didn’t cross my mind at the time.

At other New Mexico state parks I’ve been to (Caballo Lake, Elephant Butte Lake), primitive camping costs $8, a developed campsite with no electricity costs $10, and a campsite with electricity costs $14. I was confused when I got to Limestone Campground in Brantley Lake State Park because I couldn’t find the $10 non-electric campsites. It finally dawned on me that there was no $10 option there because all sites offered electricity. As I thought more about New Mexico state parks where I’ve stayed before, I remembered Percha Dam campground offered no primitive camping. All sites at that campground were considered “developed,” and I had to pay $10 per night when I stayed there. I learned a lesson at Brantley Lake: Every state park in New Mexico is different, and I need to do a bit more research than FreeCampsites.net to find out if a particular park offers the kind of camping I want.

Brantley Lake is beautiful and large. According to http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/spd/brantleylakestatepark.html, it is the southernmost lake in New Mexico. Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brantley_Lake_State_Park) says the lake is

a man-made reservoir created when Brantley Dam was built across the Pecos River in the 1980s… It has a surface area of approximately 4,000 acres (16 km2), but that varies due to the inconsistent flow of the Pecos River and the arid climate in which the lake is located.

Brantley Lake is beautiful and large. This photo shows only a small portion of it.

The Limestone Campground is divided into two sections: one has sites that can be reserved and the other has sites that are nonreservable. We pulled into the section for folks without reservations and found several empty sites to choose from. We were visiting on a Thursday in early May, and there was plenty of room. However, if I wanted to stay at Limestone Campground on a summer weekend and I hadn’t reserved a spot, I would be sure to arrive early in the day to secure a site.

Apparently, campsites have a bar-b-que grill too. I guess I didn’t notice the one on our site.

Each site in the nonreserveable part of the campground has a flat area for parking a camper and/or a vehicle and a covered picnic table. Each site has an electrical box too, but since we didn’t need to plug in anything, we didn’t even look at the box. We took a spot next to a trail leading to the lake, but we were too tired to walk down there.

Like the rest of the campground, the women’s restroom/shower house was very clean. A woman was leaving the shower house as I arrived, and no one else came in, so I had the place to myself. I had a couple beefs about the shower, complaints I’ve also had at the other two state parks in New Mexico (Percha Dam and Elephant Butte Lake) where I’ve showered.

First, I had to press a button to start the water flow. The water ran a few minutes (3? 5?) then shut off automatically. I understand managers of state parks wanting showers to shut off automatically to cut down on pranksters or just plain forgetful people leaving the water running and flooding the place or wasting resources. However, having the water shut off during my shower harshes my mellow. Certainly, it’s not a huge problem, as I can simply reach out and push the button again, but I’d prefer a continuous water flow while I’m washing up.

The trail leading to the lake,

The second complaint is more difficult for me to shrug off. The water in New Mexico state park showers never gets hot. Yes, the water is warm. Yes, a warm shower is better (to me) than a cold one. Yes, hot water uses precious resources and opens the park to a lawsuit if someone scalds him or herself. I understand all these factors, but I love me a hot hot shower, and I can’t seem to get one at a New Mexico state park.

Of course, I was happy to get clean, even if I got a little chilly in the process. To this van dweller, a shower is always a luxury. However, I’d rather take a hot shower for $3 at a rec center instead of my paying my half of $14 or even $10 to take a warm shower at a state park.

You can also read about our experiences with primitive camping at Brantley Lake State Park.

I took all the photos in this post.