Just a few of the sights along the trails at Datil Well campground.
A low growing cactus that the dog doesn’t always see.
And the nicest surprise – a rider, two horse , and a dog.
Just a few of the sights along the trails at Datil Well campground.
A low growing cactus that the dog doesn’t always see.
And the nicest surprise – a rider, two horse , and a dog.
Datil Well campground is west of Socorro, New Mexico, off Highway 60. It’s about 140 miles from home for me. That’s a 3 hour drive in the RV.
We stopped at The Box just out of Socorro for a break. This is a popular area for rock climbing, hiking, and ATVs.
Highway 60 goes from Virginia Beach, Virginia to Santa Monica, California. This little stretch goes across the San Augustin plains home of the Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescopes.
Datil Well is a BLM campground with a history of being a watering hole for cattle being driven to market in the 1800s. There are about 20 campsites, three with electricity. And only $5 a night – half that with a pass. The sites are large and well spaced among the piñon and juniper trees.
There are miles of hiking trails on which dogs are allowed. This is one of my favorite nearby camping sites.
Short camping trip to City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico. I camped in the Pegasus section, but not the best site (15a). It wasn’t level near the picnic table, so I camped a few yards away. It’s so nice here, it really didn’t matter.
Explore. This trip was planned to be exploration. Where could I find high altitude Forest Service roads? High altitude would get me out of the southern New Mexico heat. What do the campgrounds in the area look like? I’d take notes and then have more places to choose from.
There were two limiting factors that I resented a little. One was the upcoming Labor Day weekend. I wanted a quiet area to spend the holiday. And one of my choices, Trujillo Meadows, closes after Labor Day. This hampered my scheduling. Not that schedules ever work as planned.
My first stop on most trips north is Cochiti Lake, a COE campground. It’s a four-hour drive from home – plenty for me. But it’s not high altitude, so I get a site with electricity so I can use the air conditioning if necessary. Hot and smoky – couldn’t see the mountains. But just one night here.
My neighbors had a skoolie outfitted with a deck. Great place for watching sunrises and sunsets.
I left the next morning for Tres Piedras. Stopped for a few photos. It not easy in the RV – hard to make U-turns and often no shoulder to stop on. But I am happy when I do stop and get a photo or two that I like. Even an elk skeleton.
I couldn’t get the paper Motor Vehicle Use Map that I wanted for this area – Carson National Forest. I do have it on my phone, but that’s not so useful for me.
I chose FS road 84G that had been recommended. It has big granite boulders and acres of flat rock to walk on. And Ponderosa pines.
I found a spot with a little shade and tall trees to the west for shade later.
Many birds here – Bluebirds, robins, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and a new one for me, Clark’s Nutcracker.
I started reading “A Perfect Red” by Amy Butler Greenfield about cochineal. Fascinating.
Met some neighbors – both solo women full-time campers. One is 65 and one is 82. The 82 year old is a woodworker who designed and built the inside of her van. Very skilled.
There were lots of mushrooms in the forest – boletes and many I can’t identify.
Light rain fell mist afternoons, very light. I walked a couple of times everyday, but nothing strenuous. Once it took me about two hours to walk less than two miles – meandering, taking photos, and sitting! Beautiful morning.
After a few days I started having tooth trouble. Decided to go home and have it taken care of (trying to be an adult). So I cut this trip short, but I will come back here.
Does it bother you when someone enters your RV or home without an invitation? And then has a good look around. It happened to me on this last camping trip as I was sitting at the picnic table. A bold Bewick’s wren hopped into the RV, checked out the cab, and then spent about 10 minutes in the main room. Didn’t leave any calling card. But it sure was cute.
Most folks go to Bisti Wilderness to hike. Not me, not this time. Bisti is just a place to stop for the afternoon and night to avoid driving the RV in wind and rain. It’s only a gravel parking lot, but a popular trailhead. There are a dozen vehicles when I arrive, but it’s getting late in the afternoon; most people have returned from hiking and are getting ready to leave.
Two small SUVs come in together. Six German tourists. They get out quickly, unload some suitcases, take out tents and packs. They are quick to set up the tents on the packed dirt just off the parking lot. Shouldering their packs, they are on their way to the badlands.
The winds pick up a little, stirring the dust – Spring in New Mexico. And the sky darkens to the southwest – the storm that was predicted.
The young couple next to me start out hiking with their Chihuahua in a backpack.
As the storm gets closer, the winds pick up. I bring Cassie inside – it is dusty. The tents are still upright, but taking a beating. After the dust comes the rain, heavy rain. And the temperature drops. The couple with the Chihuahua are running back. Before they can get to their van, it’s hailing – pea-sized hail and then back to rain.
Although the parking lot is mostly gravel, there is some dirt. Now mud, very fine, sticky mud. It gets light in the southwest, so maybe the storm is over. I hesitate to let Cassie, my dog, out for a necessary break because of the mud. I’m glad I wasn’t driving my small, but high-profile RV in this brief, violent storm.
It’s 5PM and one solo-hiker returns to his truck. Soaked. It’s definitely cooler now and breezy. Hypothermia is a danger in this weather.
Still no sign of the six tourists – everyone else is accounted for. The man in the Maine truck camper has come out – I didn’t know if he was out hiking or in his truck. Turns out he hiked early in the morning because of the storm forecast. He’s concerned about the missing hikers. Says they were not prepared properly. It’s very easy to get lost at Bisti, even in good weather.
I have to let Cassie out – just around the gravel parking area. We still track in lots of mud.
Another storm comes through about 6:30PM. No sign of the hikers. Their tents are battered, but standing. Standing in 2 or 3 inches of mud.
The Solo Hiker and the Maine man are looking for movement on the trail out from here. Almost 8PM before we see people walking in. But they are not on the trail and head straight for their tents – not the gate. They will have to cross a barbed wire fence and a gully with running water. The loudest man is wearing only shorts, carrying his shirt. Others have jackets, one even has rain gear. The Maine man is trying to guide them to the gate, but they don’t seem to understand. They also don’t appear to be upset or frightened. They quickly disappear into their soggy tents.
I cannot imagine how miserable it is to sleep in those small tents in the mud. We all call it a night.
This morning there’s a car parked next to me – I didn’t hear it come in. It’s dark in the west and getting light in the east. It’s 6:30AM and another car arrives. A young man hops out, grabs a water bottle, a hat and a small pack. He’s wearing a long sleeve shirt, but no jacket. He’s off to explore.
It starts to sprinkle – the darkness in the west is another storm. Now rains start in earnest and the young man runs back, jumps in his car, and leaves. How early did he start his day to get here at 6:30? Normally that’s a great time to start hiking, but not today.
The rain lessens and I step out to meet the woman in the car next to me – Clara, from Arkansas, an adventurous young woman. She came in at midnight looking for a place to park for the night. She was happy to see other vehicles here. She’s a photographer and has visited many places in the area in the few days she had available. No drama here, but an interesting person to know. We will stay in touch.
We watch the six tourists emerge from their wet tents and pack them into the cars. I never saw them cook or heat water or anything. I would love to hear their version of their Bisti trip.
Time to leave – after all this was not a hiking stop, just a rest stop where watching people kept me intrigued. I don’t have a television, but this was like watching one day’s episode of a soap opera – never knowing the before or the after. Most folks come away from Bisti Wilderness with photos and blisters. Not me, not this time. I came away with stories.
I figured on two driving days to get from Hovenweep National Monument (Utah) to El Morro (New Mexico), with a stop at Bluewater Lake State Park to check on the eagles (see Part 1). I don’t like driving two days in a row, so I might stay a couple of days in between at Bluewater.
I set off early and took the road to Aneth, Utah – the one I should have come in on. Left Utah, drove a short way in Colorado to Four Corners. I’d been there as a young adult, when it wasn’t so commercial. Didn’t stop this time.
Took in a bit of Arizona before turning east into New Mexico, heading for Shiprock. I think Shiprock is as impressive as anything in Monument Valley.
Turned south in Farmington. I was starting to race the clock a little. Rain was forecast for the afternoon and I wanted to be in Bluewater before that. And in time to get a good site. Would I make it in time? Would I get a good, level spot? Could I avoid driving in the wind and rain? Should I go faster? This is NOT the way I like to travel. I decided to stop at the Bisti Badlands trailhead. It’s a three mile drive on a good, gravel road into a gravel parking lot. No amenities, but I knew I could get out safely if it rained. It was a relief to stop pushing. And it would be an easy drive the next day to Bluewater.
There were nine cars and three RVs already – everyone was out hiking. I was not prepared to hike here, so we took only a short walk. The wind picked up and along with it, dust. Several people returned to their vehicles. Cassie was shaking, so I knew thunder was nearby.
Suddenly the wind gusted so hard I had trouble closing the door against it. Dust filled the valley. So glad I wasn’t driving my high profile RV. And then it rained for a little while, but not enough to settle the dust. The dust and the rain dueled in a strong wind. It was so nice to be inside. Rain, with thunder and lightning, won out before giving way to pea-sized hail.
There was a break in the rain so I took Cassie out for a quick pee walk (very necessary). Even in the gravel parking lot, we got muddy. Fine, sticky mud. We tracked a lot into the RV. Good thing we will be home soon.
One more storm passed by. And then we had a quiet night. Got the necessary walk in the morning and then waited out another patch of rain before leaving.
It was only two hours to Bluewater. We chose a new-to-us site (#23). I liked it. Many bluebirds around. It rained a little, but we still walked to see the eagles. Still two chicks, bigger – maybe feathered out now.
I stayed two nights – lazy, relaxing days. There was a prescribed burn in the Zuni Mountains to the south. Looked like any wildfire I’d ever seen, but it was under control.
Often there are many wild horses here. We saw only one mare and foal – quite content to meander among the campers.
I was pleasantly surprised when Bill and Kimberly, friends from home, walked by. Nice conversation about camping – she and I agree on many things. We like the solitude of camping.
In the morning smoke covered the campground and nearby valleys. Thick. I was happy to be leaving.
It was only about two hours to El Morro. For the first time in three weeks, I had hook-ups and, best of all, an excellent, hot shower. Another reason for liking this RV park is it includes Ancient Way Cafe, an outstanding restaurant. The spaces here were a bit pricey for me ($32), but there’s no other places close with full hook-ups.
I’ve been avoiding sugar and being careful with carbohydrates to see if it would make a difference. It has. But at the cafe I had a Reuben sandwich with potato salad. Outstanding! Also had a fine dinner there later with friends.
Because I was headed home in the morning, my mind was already traveling there. I had a to-do list for home going. I found it difficult to work with my photos on my laptop. I needed the keyboard and mouse, but don’t usually bring them. Photos will be the first thing to do at home.
It was just over five hours to get home and a pleasant drive. I saw a herd of elk along the way. No photo, but a nice bonus for the trip. My best trip yet.
21 days, 1311 miles.
It was a leisurely drive of 85 miles from Navajo National Monument through Monument Valley, with a quick stop at Mexican Hat, to the campsite at Goosenecks State Park, Utah. Monument Valley is spectacular, but then formations like those can be found all over this part of Arizona. I stopped often on pull-outs to take photos.
Another photographer and I were leap-frogging, and taking photos at the same places. We finally got to talk. He and his wife are from Switzerland and this is their third trip to the U.S. They’ve seen more of this country than most Americans. We took photos of each other at the ‘Forrest Gump’ section of the highway (remember the scene where Forrest is running and decides to stop).
I stopped at Mexican Hat, but it’s not a place I wanted to camp as I originally thought. It was very dusty. Worth seeing, but that’s it.
Of course, I wasn’t sure about Goosenecks either. I paid for one night there ($10). It’s hot, no trees, no shelter (a few sites have a metal shelter, but not mine). I parked right on the edge with a incredible view to the San Juan River 1000’ below. Decided to stay a few more nights. I wanted to see the light on the canyons at different times of day and different weather.
The Connecticut couple came by – I finally know them as Denise and Scott. They had been at Monument Valley for a few days – hook-ups there. They came here because I had mentioned it as my next stop. Another part of that shifting community of campers.
Cassie and I walked to the point. You can camp out there, but the road was too rough for me. Nice walk though.
My mornings here: sitting on a rock at the canyon edge with my cup of tea and Cassie on her lead, watching the sunrise. The last-quarter moon reflected on the riffles in the San Juan River a thousand feet below. Monument Valley can be seen from here and the first rays of the sun hit there. Light changes all the shapes. Nothing lasts. Except geology. If we destroy life on earth, the rocks will remain.
It was time to move towards Hovenweep National Monument. The drive was beautiful. I’m fascinated by Comb Ridge and want to return to explore it someday. Did not take even one photo of it. I stopped in Bluff for a few supplies. I had miscalculated how much canned dog food we would need. This is a critical supply. I bought two more cans to get us home. And I bought ice, the first I’d had since the first day. That is some record. I do like my iced tea.
I took the Bluff/Blanding road north and then turned east towards Hovenweep. Terribly pot-holed road and when it was gravel, it was washboarded. Turns out I should have taken the road from Aneth – it’s a good one! Possibly should have asked in Bluff and not relied on my old map.
The Hovenweep campground is pretty, but there are few RV sites, most are for tents. I was lucky to find the last level site that was not parallel-parking on the road.
I walked to the visitors’ center. Bought a book on local geology. I’ve bought at least one book at each place that offered them. I’m reading the one I got at Navajo National Monument, “I’ll Go and Do More,” by Carolyn Niethammer, a biography of Annie Dodge Wauneka. It’s an excellent introduction to a Navajo woman I hadn’t heard of.
There are two trails here – dogs welcome on both! The Tower Ruins trail is near the visitors’ center. It’s a two mile loop with many ruins. We went early one morning and saw no one else on the the way.
The other, Holly Trail, is four miles one way. We walked a short way on it, but an 8-mile hike is beyond my abilities now. Unless I wanted to take all day.
Talked with a friend who has a cabin near El Morro (New Mexico). She wants to meet there for dinner a few nights from now. It sounded good. El Morro RV Park has hook-ups and strong, hot showers. I’m ready for both. And the Ancient Way Cafe is excellent. Yep, time to start towards home.
With my best preparation so far, I set off for Navajo National Monument. I had not heard of it until I pulled out the AAA Indian Country map – my favorite map. I highlighted places, wrote notes on the map – dedicated it for this trip.
Navajo National Monument is on the Shonto Plateau; its ruins tucked into cliffs of Navajo sandstone. It’s a beautiful drive through rock, juniper, and piñon. The monocline reveals acres of bare sandstone.
There are two campgrounds, but the folks at the visitors’ center said RVs shouldn’t go in the more primitive Canyon View. So I went to Sunset View Campground. All camping here is first-come first-served (no reservations) and is free.
I found a nice site – good view, but all asphalt (hot for the dog) and close neighbors. On a walk I met a fellow, Russ, who had just spent 12 years sailing the Pacific and was adjusting to land life again. He suggested that I try the other campground. He was going to move there – more room and no problem getting my rig in. Sounded good to me. When I got back to my site, the Connecticut kayakers (neighbors at Canyon de Chelly) were driving by. They too recommended the other campground. They had been here a couple of days and were leaving for Monument Valley. I told them I was going to Goosenecks State Park (Utah) next. And I changed campgrounds.
Canyon View Campground was wonderful. Gravel/dirt sites, views of the canyon, shade, and quiet – only about a dozen spaces. Such a different feeling. Even with my short stay at Sunset View, I thought I would stay only two nights (my usual minimum), but here I decided to just stay. No reason to leave.
There were many places to walk, but I was disappointed that dogs weren’t allowed on any of the trails, not even to overlooks. I understand not allowing dogs in the ruins, but not letting them be on the trail to cliffs above the ruins didn’t make much sense.
I spent a lot of time sitting at the picnic table writing. Or just listening – raven wing beats or wind in the trees.
Once I got settled in and relaxed, I realized the people who were moving in next to my Sunset View spot as I was moving out, were the Wisconsin couple who were next to me at Canyon de Chelly! And I didn’t speak to them. I messed up basic camper courtesy. I planned to walk over and talk with them.
There was a huge, military looking rig a few hundred yards away from me. The tires were almost 4’ high! The owners are a delightful couple from Europe. They started in Nova Scotia 11 months ago and plan to travel another 5 or 6 years.
I spend the days walking, writing, reading, taking photos, and watching the canyon and birds. In the mornings there was the sound of dogs and sheep to remind me this is Navajo country.
A few days out here and the rest of the world recedes. I can hear myself and ideas come well formed. A sense of something comes with a subject and a verb, not just a fleeting hint. Hints are so easily missed in a busier setting.
This was a most restorative few days. On to Monument Valley and beyond.
It’s a scenic drive from Gallup, through Window Rock and Ganado, to Chinle and Canyon de Chelly. For the first time in almost four years I had reservations for a campground. I don’t like the obligation to be a place at a set date. When I arrived at Spider Rock Campground, there was no one around, so I just found a space. It had rained here recently and the roads were rutted and muddy. It wasn’t a good fit for me. The only hiking/walking was around the campground and there were several loose dogs. But I settled in.
The guide book says to tour the south rim, where I was, in the afternoon. The light is better on Spider Rock, but I was too tired to go out again. By morning I had decided to leave and go to Cottonwood campground near the mouth of the canyon. And I would stop at all the overlooks on the way. So I left at 8AM. The light will be good on something. In all fairness, people I talked with later had truly enjoyed camping at Spider Rock and found the owner to be delightful.
Every overlook was spectacular. I even like my Spider Rock photos in the less-than-perfect light.
Cottonwood campground has 92 spaces, but they are not crowded together. The namesake cottonwood trees were just leafing out. It is $10/night (no hook-ups) and there’s potable water and a dump station.
It is a short walk to the Canyon de Chelly visitors’ center, where they had a wonderful image of the canyons. Alas, not for sale.
This would become a different way of camping for me. Previously I’ve gone to one place, stayed several days, not moving the RV. Now I’d go sightseeing almost every day. I still like those days of rest and reflection. It’s certainly easier now to stow everything and go. I remember when I first started, it seems like a big task. Now it’s an easy routine.
One of my early neighbors was a couple from Wisconsin in a travel trailer. They tour from February to May every year. Sounded like a good plan. On the other side of my site, a couple moved in, but other than greetings, we didn’t speak. They are from Connecticut and carried bicycles and kayaks.
A big contingent moved into the group site. Seventeen people with several tents and boxes of gear. Quite an operation. And to my surprise, the next morning they were packing up. I stopped to talk with the man doing most of the work to tell him I hoped he didn’t have to do that every day. Turned out they are part of an REI tour that will spend the next several days camped in the canyon. That’s a tour I would like.
The north rim overlooks took a morning to view. I like to go early, but light is an issue when you’re looking into a canyon. I had almost every stop to myself. Only a few kindred folks out early. At the Massacre Cave site, I didn’t see the cave. I later went to the visitors’ center and asked to see a photo. The overhang has collapsed so it doesn’t look like a hiding place any more. I went back on my way out to see it again.
I met the new neighbor across the road, a retired veterinarian from Vermont. He and his wife travel for months in their car and teardrop trailer.
And now for that occasional day of rest. Reading, napping, and hanging out in the campground. I seem to need these days. I watched ravens long enough to see that they flew to a certain place – there is a nest there. Not a great photo, but fun to watch them. I think the ravens were smart to make their nest in a campground – lots of snacks available.
I also like watching people (thanks Mom for that habit), especially those arriving in the afternoon influx. Campers are part of shifting communities – overnight or for a week here. Then shuffled to new places, some to meet again. Tents, truck campers, vans, RVs, fifth-wheelers, and travel trailers. Full-timers v. vacationers; older v. younger; friendly brief encounters with strangers and occasionally tense words between traveling companions.
I decided to stay two more nights.
I had been sitting outside on a warm but windy day. Suddenly it cooled and the wind was ferocious – and dusty. I moved inside quickly. The wind was hitting the RV broadside, really rocking it. I was uncomfortable enough to move it slightly to put the back-end into the wind. Much better. And then it rained for a few minutes. And then still. It all lasted about 30 minutes. Glad I wasn’t driving in it.
On my last full day, I checked out some of the north rim overlooks again. Antelope House ruins are at the base of a southeast facing cliff – definitely needed later light to see it.
I stopped in town for a few supplies, filled up the gas tank, filled the fresh water tank, and dumped the waste water tanks. These are things I usually do on my way to the next place. It felt so good to have all that done. Nothing left for the next morning, but stowing a few things and just leaving. I must remember this.
Part 1 is here.