Tag Archives: rest area

The Last Rest Area in New Mexico


The Man and I were in Las Vegas, NM, and we decided to go to Trinidad, CO. We got on I-25 and headed north.

It was late afternoon by the time we got started, and I was tired of driving well outside of Raton. I knew we had the Raton Pass ahead of us, and I didn’t want to make that mountain crossing in the dark. I’d looked at the map before we left Las Vegas and seen the last rest area in New Mexico on I-25 was less than twenty miles south of Raton. I needed to pee anyway, so I decided to stop at the rest area and check it out.

I knew there was a Wal-Mart in Raton, and we could probably park there overnight. However, I wanted to cook dinner, and I always feel weird cooking in the parking lots of stores. Even if we decided not to spend the night at the rest area, we could certainly cook dinner there. No one tends to blink an eye at people having a picnic at a rest stop.

I pulled into the reast area on the east side of the highway and found a spot to park. I walked briskly to the toilets while The Man took the dog out. The restroom was really clean, with flush toilets and sinks complete with running water for hand washing.

When I went back outside and had a better look around, I realized everything in the rest area was really clean. There was no litter on the ground and no graffitti.

In addition to the building housing the restrooms, there are several covered picnic table there.  The picnic pavillions have low stone walls to block the wind and there are many trees throughout the rest stop, making the area pretty and providing shade.

As I looked around, I saw The Man and the dog in a flat, treeless area at the back of the rest area, so I walked out to meet them. Beyond the flat area were train tracks. As we stood there, we heard a train a comin’. It got closer, and I saw it was an Amtrack.

It’s a people train! I exclaimed. I stood tall and waved vigorously as the train passed. I couldn’t tell if anyone waved back–or if indeed there were passengers on the train–but I had a great time waving and imagining  passengers wondering who I was and why I was there.

We walked back to prepare our dinner of eggs and cheese and onions and zucchini on tortillas. We decided to cook next to the van instead of hauling all our supplies and equipmemt down to one of the picnic pavillions. In minutes, we had a table and our stove set up, and onions were sizzling in our cast iron skillet.

After eating and doing my share of the cleanup, I didn’t want to drive anymore. Let’s stay here tonight, I suggested, and The Man agreed.

While the rest area is developed and well-lit, it seemed better than a Wal-Mart parking lot. Maybe the trees helped. Maybe it wasn’t quite so hot because there wasn’t so much asphalt. Maybe I was just dog tired. In any case, I slept well, despite the idling big rigs parked rigth behind us and the comings and goings of drivers who needed to stretch their legs or take a bathroom break in the middle of the night.

In the morning, I snapped a few photos. I’ve noticed there’s often at least one historic marker at New Mexico rest areas. This stop has a marker with information abouth the nearby Clifton House site. According to Wikipedia,

The Clifton House was an important overnight stage stop on the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail. It was located in Colfax County, New Mexico about six miles south of Raton, New Mexico, on the Canadian River. The site is located at mile marker 344 of U.S. Route 64, just off of exit 446 on Interstate 25.


The other side of the marker shows a “Points of Interest” map of the area, and I saw we were quite close to the mountain branch of the Santa Fe  Trail. Neat!

When I finished taking photos, I found The Man and the dog were ready to go. I climbed into the driver’s seat, and we headed to Raton in search of coffee.

We crossed the Raton Pass and stopped at the scenic overlook on our way to Trinidad.

I took all the photos in this post.


Picnic Pavilion


When I was homeless, I lived in a picnic pavilion at a rest stop for two months. By lived in, I really mean slept in. The rest area attendant arrived at 8am, so I left well before he started work. I usually woke with the first light of the sun, rolled up my sleeping bag, put on my shoes, and walked out on a nearby trail. The trail went past a tree, all alone in the high desert. I usually stopped at the tree, rolled out my sleeping bag on the ground under its branches, took off my shoes again, and stretched out to nap for another couple of hours.

Not only did I not want the rest area attendant to find me, accuse me of living there, and call the cops, I didn’t want any civilian bystander to call the cops on me either. Best to not have anyone see me in the rest area during the day, which is why I left as soon as I had enough light to see the path.

I suppose I could have spent my nights under the tree, but I was afraid I’d encounter a rattlesnake or an unsavory human out there. I felt safer in the civilization of the rest area, with its lights and flush toilets. In retrospect, I don’t know how much safer I was in the rest area Babylon.

The rest area attendant got off work at 5pm. Sometime after that, I’d go to my “apartment,” the picnic pavilion which opened toward the natural attraction tourists came to see. The other pavilions opened toward the roadway running through the rest area. Anyone sleeping on the concrete floor of one of those pavilions would be easily spotted by cars driving through at night. Because my pavilion didn’t open toward the roadway, I could sleep between its low stone back wall and the back bench of the concrete picnic table, and no one driving through would see me.

affection, art, backlitThe rest area was open all night. People could go there to look at the natural attraction 24 hours a day, any day of the week. It wasn’t unusual for people to sleep there in their cars. Others pulled in to use the restrooms in the middle of the night. Sometimes people partied there, drinking alcohol and taking who-knows-what drugs. And I’m pretty sure couples came there to “smooch” (my euphemism for anything from making out to oral to full-on intercourse).

Lovers were attracted to “my” pavilion for the same reason I was: it offered just a little bit more privacy.

I never rolled out my sleeping bag before dark. I didn’t want to be spotted sleeping (translation: living) there. I’d read a borrowed book or a newspaper fished from a trashcan and wait for darkness to descend. Often, I’d simply look out at the spectacular view. Once it was adequately dark, I’d roll out my sleeping bag, position my backpack on the ground within arm’s reach, take off my shoes, and snuggle down for sleep. Once I lay down, I didn’t pop my head up to see what was going on, for fear someone would notice me and wonder what I was doing on the ground behind the picnic table.

I don’t know how late it was the first time a couple invaded my space. It was dark during a time when days were long, so it had to be after 9pm. I had been on the brink of sleep when the people sat on the picnic table. Of course, they didn’t know they’d invaded my space. I was so discreet, they hadn’t even realized I was there.

I didn’t know what to do. I’d heard from several single sign-flying and hitchhiking women that sometimes people worry about women in such situations and call the cops to do a welfare check. I didn’t want these people to call the cops because they were worried about me. I wasn’t running from the law, but I didn’t want to be hassled by the police, didn’t want to be told I couldn’t sleep at the rest area any longer or that I needed to move on out of town. Better not to interact with the cops at all.

I knew the longer I waited to say something to the couple, the more awkward it was going to be when they discovered me. (I never doubted one of them would notice me eventually.) I suppose I could have pretended to be asleep, but what if they started making noise impossible to sleep through? Then I’d have to “wake up,” and what if they had their clothes off?

So I sat up and said something like Hi. I’m just sleeping here. (I don’t remember my actual words, but I was trying to convey I’m harmless. I’m fine. I was here first.)

The woman screamed. It was a loud, piercing, blood-curdling scream. So much for discretion.

I started apologizing. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.

Then one of my worries came true. The woman started asking me if I was ok. Are you ok? she kept asking me.

I tried to assure her I was fine. I told her I was just sleeping. I told her everything was good.

Are you ok? Are you ok? she asked again and again.

I wanted to say, I was ok, before you woke me up. I was ok before you screamed. Instead I just assured her I was currently fine.

Finally they left. I don’t know where they went to have sex (maybe the car they’d arrived in?), but the cops didn’t bother me that night, so I guess I’d convinced them they didn’t need to worry about me.

The next time a couple tried to use my picnic pavilion for their shenanigans, it was truly the middle of the night, and at least the guy seemed drunk. When I sat up and told them I was sleeping there, neither of them seemed worried about me or upset in any way or even vaguely surprised. These people had obviously seen a lot in their lives.

I could tell they didn’t want to leave, but they also respected the fact that I’d gotten there first. So they left, but they didn’t go far. They simply walked out of the picnic pavilion and sat down on the ground right next its wall. I could hear every word they said! (If only I could remember their every word. If only I had taken notes.)

The woman (who seemed significantly younger than the man) talked and talked and talked, mostly about her unhappy life. (It’s just as well that I don’t remember the details. She probably wouldn’t want me to repeat her stories, although I wouldn’t feel too bad about doing so, since she knew I was right there the whole time.)

The man? Well, what he said (in drunken repetition) to the woman boiled down to this: I want to be your friend. But I also–if you would like–want to make love to you.

She didn’t fall for his line while within my hearing. Maybe she was hoping her litany of woes would cool his ardor. Maybe she simply needed someone to listen.

As for me, I was wishing I couldn’t hear them. I really just wanted to go to sleep, not listen to an unhappy woman and a horny man.

I thought about calling out, I can hear you!

I thought about calling out, Shut the fuck up! I’m trying to sleep!

In the end, I said nothing. I didn’t want an altercation, especially with someone who was drunk. I only wanted to sleep. I comforted myself with the knowledge that I could sleep for a few more hours under my tree in the morning.

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/affection-art-backlit-couple-556662/.

Roadside Table




Milepost 55

Previously, I wrote about the Gunsight Wash BLM camping area. I explained that Gunsight Wash is located on Arizona Highway 85, just past milepost 55, across the highway from a roadside table. Now I am going to write about the roadside table.

First of all, I think the term roadside table is unappealing. I understand not calling it a rest area. When people in cars see rest area, they think restroom. It would be cruel to call this spot a rest area because there is not a restroom here, not a pit toilet, not a porta-john. But roadside table sounds so bleak to me, probably because I imagine a lonely table stuck by the side of the road. Why can’t we call it a picnic area? Picnic area sounds so cheerful. Doesn’t everyone like a picnic, especially when there’s a table involved?

Secondly, there is not just one table in this picnic area. Oh, no. There are two tables in this picnic area. To be accurate, the sign should read roadside tables.


Roadside tables, trees, and trashcan

There’s more than just a couple of tables going on here. There are also trash cans and trees. Trees are a pretty big deal in the desert. I think the area could get some attention if the sign read, Roadside Trees.

There’s also a sign in the picnic area which makes it pretty clear that people are not supposed to camp here with the IMG_5674roadside tables and the trees. I wonder why the sign doesn’t direct wanna-be campers to the BLM land of free camping across the street?

The trashcans at the picnic area are a bit controversial. I read a couple of notices on the sign board across the road on the BLM land and learned a few things. The roadside table/picnic area is managed by the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT). ADOT is responsible for hauling away the trash left in the trashcans at the picnic area. ADOT does not want pesky BLM campers crossing the highway and leaving their trash in the ADOT trashcans. It sounds like when trash generated in the BLM area is left in the ADOT  trashcans, ADOT is ready to declare all-out turf war. I know I’m making light of the situation, but disposing of trash really is serious, people. If there are no trashcans where you camp, pack that trash OUT!

One part of the deal with your trash notice at Gunsight Wash that caught my attention was where it said the workers who remove the trash from the ADOT roadside table area have expressed disgust at some of the things filthy BLM campers have crossed the road to leave in pristine ADOT trashcans. Items mentioned were jugs of urine and used motor oil. Jugs of urine? Jugs? Who’s out there with jugs of urine? Are we talking one gallon jugs? Five gallon jugs? I pee a lot, but I never have to dispose of jugs of urine. If you’re out in nature, people, discreetly sprinkle your urine on the outskirts of your camp (not in the same spot every time). And while I suppose some do-it-yourself types will change their oil while boondocking, is an Exxon Valdez amount really being dumped in ADOT trash cans? Who are these ADOT workers who are disgusted by urine and motor oil? Perhaps if such things make one squeamish, one should have a job which does not involve emptying trash cans.

The final interesting aspect of the roadside table/picnic area is what I can only guess is a gate to let people pass in and out of the area, but exclude cattle. IMG_5675If that is what the contraption is for, I suppose it was doing its job, as I saw no bovines picnicking at the roadside tables.

I took all of the photos in the post.