New Mexico

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Albuquerque International Balloon FIesta

Early October every year the International Balloon Fiesta goes down with a bang in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  This event is pretty amazing and should be something on the bucket list.  The event runs for 8 days and is the biggest event that happens in Abq all year so the whole town shows up.  You can even pull up your van and camp starting at $35 a night.  

The two easiest and cheapest ways to get to the park are by bus via the Park and Ride or Bike.  The Park and Ride is a good deal it's $15 per person, they get you there quick and you don't have to pay to park which is around $10.  If you go this route get there early before the crowds.  Biking is my favorite way to get to the FIesta.  Hit the street early in the morning and catch the sunrise at the park watching hundreds of Balloons take flight.  Your best bet for the goods at the Fiesta are on the Special Shapes Rodeo days

There is also a night glow event with fireworks.  I'm personally more of a fan of the Morning event but it's something worth checking out.  Don't forget your camera they claim this is one of the most photographed events in the world. 

Although I've never done it.  I bet the best way to experience this event is from the air in a balloon.  I'm sure in town there are plenty of outfitters.  There's more on balloon rides here on their website.  

Santa Fe's Aspen Vista

If you are able to be in Santa Fe in the autumn then you are in for a treat.  The Santa Fe National Forest has one of the largest Aspen Tree arrays in the Southwest.  Grab your camera and head up Hwy 475.  There are plenty of roadside stopovers and trails.  I recommend the Tesuque Creek Trail right above the Aspen Vista Picnic Area.  

Southern New Mexico Road Trip

We are both native New Mexicans, but we have not been back for quite some time. And on our inaugural trip in the new van we wanted to stay close to home and explore before we blasted off from New Mexico again. There were a lot of really awesome places in New Mexico that we may have overlooked when we were young, but we were ready to see them and experience them now. 

Socorro and the Very Large Array

First stop leaving Albuquerque, we headed for the Very Large Array, just outside of Socorro, New Mexico. This is apparently the largest array of satellites. We originally wanted to get some time lapse footage of them moving, but we arrived late and weren’t able to scope out the place and plan our shots. There was a security guard that came over to us and told us that the visitor center and area was closed. So, we packed it up and planned on coming back after we scoped out the distance we would need to walk from the side of the road parking lot to the closest array. We definitely plan on coming back when the moon isn’t stealing the show anyways. 

We camped on some National Forest Service land about 10 miles away from the array. The description on freecampsites.net said “True Boondocking” so we headed towards it and were the only on around for miles. 

TorC

In the morning, we headed towards I-25 and over to Truth or Consequences to photo a couple properties but to also check out their hot springs. We’ve never really explored TorC, but once we realized this little town really revolves around the various hot springs in the area. There are Air BnB’s with hot springs in their back yard or with in walking distance. We opted to check out the Riverbank Hot Spring resort. It is $12 for one hour for showers and there are 8 different pools with an entrance to the Rio Grande river as well. We went at night and there were heaps of laser lights shining into the pool and across the other side of the river bank. It really made for an awesome experience. Whispers were appreciated as it was a spa and hotel. There are private pools for $14 per hour, but you only get the one pool. With the $12 pass, you can go from their hottest 109 degree pools to their 104 degree pools. 

Gila National Forest

Gila National Forest Cliff Dwellings

After soaking in the TorC hot tubs, it reminded me that there was a cute little campsite near the Gila National Forests with hot springs. So we headed in that direction. I believe the campsite is called Gila Hot Springs Campground. There are three hot tubs steps from the campsite, potable cold and hot water, composting drop toilets, fire pits with plenty of wood, and about 10 secluded campsites. It is $5 to soak or $8 to camp (camping includes soaking). 

The hot spring tubs and campsites are right on the river and behind some farms, homes and other properties. When you turn off the road, you head thru some goat farms, follow the signs for the campsite. I believe you turn left on west fork lane, which goes along the river and the back side of the private property. Then, you got thru a gate to the right. If it is closed, you can still go in. You just need to pay your fees at the little hut near the first hot tub. The owners are a lovely couple. They come by every morning and night. They check the envelopes and say hello to everyone. So don’t go trying to skip your honesty box dues. They will not hesitate to make you pay. But at $8, this site is a bargain. I don’t know if you read the amenities and secluded campsites part, but I hope I had you at 3 hot springs steps away from your campsite to convince you that this is well worth every penny. If this were in New Zealand, it would be $40+. But, it is in New Mexico, so it’s a bargain at $8 per person. We stayed here twice. We didn’t plan on it, so we were a bit short money wise on second night, but the lady remembered us from the first night and let us slide and was glad we enjoyed it so much as to come back for a second night.  

This campsite is about a 10-15 minute drive to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. There is no way that you should miss this place if you are in the area. It is mind blowing. Apparently they are the best preserved dwellings in the US. They are 80% original preserved dwellings, with only 20% minor restorations. A lot of dwellings are reconstructions. This one is original. 

Apparently, back in the 90s this place was much less regulated, and you could camp anywhere inside or near them. When we went, there seemed to be more rangers than visitors, but they all were able to answer any questions we had checking out different areas inside the caves. The dwellings hike is about a 1 mile loop. 

City of Rocks State Park

After a late start at the campsite, we headed towards the City of Rocks. It was a half way point in-between Gila NF and Las Cruces, it was a place I had never heard of and it looked super cool from the pictures. 

Camping is $10 per site. There are trash cans and picnic tables at each site. It really looked like a little mini city of rocks; like Joshua tree or Alabama Hills type of random boulders, which made for some cool secluded campsites. There are both powered and unpowered sites. 

A lot of people were wandering thru the different walk ways the random rock piles seemed to create. Or climbing on the boulders. In the morning, we went out on a bike ride around the campsite and up the mountain. It was an 8 mile loop. It was gravely where it was easy and where it was more technical and hard, it was chunky and questionable if it was really a bike trail. Maybe one day I will be that good :)

Las Cruces/ Organ Mountains National Monument- Sierra Vista BLM Camping

Organ Mountains Las Cruces

After we cooked up some lunch, we headed towards Las Cruces to grab some groceries at the co-op and gas-up. Then, we set the GPS towards the BLM land just outside of Cruces, near the Organ Mountains National Monument,  Sierra Visa Trail head parking. There are hikes and biking that are reminiscent of Elena Gallegos or Bear Canyon on the foothills of the Sandia’s in Albuquerque.  

There are about 4-5 spots and they are usually taken. At the very end there is a larger parking area and a lot for about 3 medium size rigs parked efficiently down below. This is where the overflow late arrivers usually park up. 

Please stay on the roads or designated/ all ready established areas. Since the popularity of freecampsites.net, the rangers that maintain this area have really had to make this spot a priority. We had a really funny and pleasant conversation with one of the rangers calling the site, “camp free anywhere .com or something” he said that they have to come buy many times throughout the day, early in the morning,  later in the afternoon to make sure people are not creating more spaces. He said it is BLM land and you are allowed to camp over night, but you can not create your own campsite anywhere, which is what people are doing when they pull up and see that there are no spots. They figure if no one is there to tell them no, then why can’t they. This type of unchecked behavior is what will threaten these awesome places for overnight stays. Which means, gate closing times for spaces like this. 

There are no facilities at this spot. Please come prepared as a self contained or a shovel and a ziplock bag for your pee paper. No one likes to see where you marked your spot. 

White Sands National Monument

White Sands New Mexico

There are 10 backcountry permits available to campout at White Sands. It is $6 per person and the campsites are first come, first served. If you have a National Parks pass, you only have to pay $3 per person for camping. 

It is awesome to camp out and share the park with about 10-20 other campers once the park closes down. You get to see the sunset, moons, stars, and sunrise. And all four of those are some of the most magical parts of White Sands. Cotton candy magic hour skies and pearl white sand dunes all to yourself. The harsh white light during the day is usually short lived by visitors unless they have kids playing in the sand. Usually about the time White Sands turns on the magic, it is time to go home for day visitors. 

Backpacking White Sands National Monument

The temperatures at night drastically change; bring warm clothes and a warm sleeping bag. If there is no moon, it is very dark; so, bring a head torch. We went during the super, blue, full moon and it was as bright as dusk the entire night. The moonlight was lighting up the inside of our tent. We really didn’t even need a head torch at all. 

This place is pretty awesome. If you are taking a southern route thru New Mexico, you don’t want to miss White Sands, it is pretty mind blowing. 

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

If you are in Southern New Mexico, this is something you don’t want to miss, as well, equally mind blowing. Make sure you do the walk down and through the caverns. It takes a while to walk the entire system of caverns. So, make sure you go to the bathroom. I seem to remember there was on at the beginning and one at the elevator, at the end. (Just a little tip for all you guys that try to stay hydrated, but end up peeing all day, like we do.)  If you are there when the bats are there (Mid Summer to late October), make sure you stay for the bats exit of the cave in the afternoon. The bats are how they found Carlsbad Caverns. Apparently, like clockwork, these free-tailed bats, would fly out together every summer afternoon. And, because they are somewhat blind, they stick closer together. When one dips, they all dip together, looking like smoke rising in the air. The original people that found Carlsbad Cavern’s thought it was a fire every night. So, they finally went to it and realized the smoke was hundreds of thousands of bats exiting an enormous underground cave. 

From the Ranger’s Intro talk before the bat’s exit the cave, they first told us they had a strict ban on electronic devices during the bat flight program. No cameras, video, phones… everything emitting a signal must be turned off. They are super sensitive to electronic devices.

It is really a crazy experience from start to end. 

ABQ to Burningman Road Trip

Mono Lake Camping

After getting the Subaru all rigged up for the road with a fold out bed and other accessories (Check it out here), we took it out to Black Rock City for our annual pilgrimage to Burning Man.  We don’t stay in the Subaru at Burning Man. We build a hexayurt, although we have tried the car and it was miserable.  (More info on hexayurts here)  We’ve only traveled to BM from California and Washington, so coming from New Mexico was going to be a mission. We figured we would break it up into a road trip.  So all you New Mexico burners out there, we found a pretty awesome and fun route with multiple stopovers on your way to BRC.

Sedona

Sedona Devils Bridge

Our first stop was a five hour cruise over to Sedona. Being our first time in Sedona, we had no idea what to do. So, we headed to the Dry Creek Area for some exploration.  We wanted to see Devil’s Bridge, but we knew it would be swarmed with people since it is one of the top hikes and easiest in Sedona. Plus, it has jeep trail access. So you already know the Pink Jeeps are blowing this spot up.  So, we explored the surrounding exotic red rock territory until sunset and then headed up to Devils Bridge after sunset.  Per usual, on our way up everyone was heading down, we got to the bridge and had it to ourselves once the stars were coming out.  We shot a few photos, watched the stars, and had a drink.  We were getting very comfortable until we saw a few scorpions, so we decided to head down.  We drove to Forest Road 525, off  HW-89, for some free camping.  We drove past the first few occupied pull offs and found our own exclusive spot and set up for the night.  We woke up, cooked breakfast, and headed out towards our next destination. 

Trona Pinnacles

We made the long haul from Sedona to the Trona Pinnacles in Death Valley.  It’s best to arrive at the Trona Pinnacles later in the day, around sunset, because the late summer daytime temperatures are boiling.  It was about 102 degrees at 7pm, when we pulled up.  We braved the heat and shot some magic hour photos and set up the rig for another night.  Thankfully, for us, it cooled down at night and we slept without the rainfly to have an amazing star show that night.  If you’ve never heard of the Trona Pinnacles, it's a pretty cool place to stop over for a night of camping in Death Valley.  We woke up and headed for HWY 385 that heads up the heart of the Sierra Nevada.  

Highway CA 385

This is some of my favorite stretches of highway, for life on the road.  There are so many amazing and scenic spots throughout this area.  We stopped in Lone Pine for some supplies. If you have extra time, you must camp at Alabama Hills, outside of Lone Pine, it’s one of our all time favorite campsites.  We headed up the 395 for some hot spring action.  There are plenty of hot springs out here, you just have to find them and it’s not very hard. Whitmore Springs area is just one area with multiple hotsprings, some you can camp near. After soaking in three different tubs in the area, we found a campsite around June Lake. We stayed at a free site that wasn't anything special, but it was free and in route!  The next morning and headed towards Yosemite. 

Yosemite - Tuolumne Meadows

We’ve been to Yosemite many times, but we've never been to Yosemite from the East Entrance.  We thought it would be a better to head to Tuolumne Meadows during peak season since the Valley is a nightmare in late August.  Unfortunately for us, there was some serious smoke from a forest fire and we had to bail on hiking Clouds Rest.  So, we headed to the info center to get some tips on where to find something that would have better visibility.  We debated an overnight, but decided with all the smoke we should just hit a day hike and get out of the smoked out valley.  We chose Lembert Dome which ended up being a great hike considering the conditions and it was relatively short and easy for the awesome reward. We were actually really stoked on Tuolumne Meadows, on the backside of Yosemite. It’s really nice with half the crowds and you are able to get an amazing perspective of the Yosemite Valley from fairly easy hikes, and roadside pullovers .  

Jeffery Pine Camping

We headed out and talked with someone at the visitor center in Lee Vining that recommended Jeffery Pine Forest for a nice overnight camping stop over.  After about and hour + of adventuring around this area on the dirt roads, thank god we were in the Subaru,  we finally stumbled across one of our best campsites of the trip.  We were able to get lucky and find a pretty rough road along a ridge to our own little hilltop camping spot.  We set up and enjoyed a smoked out sunset cooked and slept in the car that night because it was a bit cold still in the high country.

Mono Lake 

After our camp at Jeffery Pine, we headed down to Mono Lake to see the famous Tufa formations in the morning before a bunch of people showed up. There were some kayakers on the water, but there was no one walking around yet. If you have not been to Mono Lake, this place is crazy. It's actually hard to explain, but it is worthy of taking 30-45 mins to pull over and check out how crazy the earth is. Although we missed both magic hour's at this spot, I am sure that Mono Lake would be pure magic for sunrise and sunset.

Panum Crater 

After Mono Lake, we stopped at Panum Crater, after seeing signs for it exiting the South Tufa area of Mono Lake. So, we decided to take the dirt road and check it out. The trail head starts out on a rough pumice trail that leads to the rim.  0.2 miles of further hiking will take you to the spectacular obsidian core of the volcano that erupted over 600 years ago. Fun fact we learned on the trail, dependent on how rapid the cooling process is, lava becomes Pumice or Obsidian. It is crazy the cooling process can change the look and feel of a rock so significantly! 

Camp Happy Hour Burningman

Tahoe - BRC

We headed out that morning to soak in the Travertine Hot Springs.  After a nice mud soak, we headed out to the Tahoe area to meet up with a good friend of ours.  We had great timing, as we arrived he was at an art car fundraiser for Burning Man, so we got to get in the groove and even got our first gift at the event.  From here, you could head to Reno and skip Tahoe however, we had to begin the prep for our camp “Camp Happy Hour” based in Auburn, California. So we headed out to Auburn to begin the prep and the final haul to the Playa.  

Jemez to Taos, Hot Springs and Mountain Bike Tour

Jemez New Mexico Hot Springs

White Mesa - Mountain Biking

We packed up the newly remodeled road-trip-ready Subaru and headed out for a northern New Mexican adventure.  Our first stop was Jemez, just about an hour and thirty minute drive from Albuquerque.  If the weather was cooler and it wasn't the peak of summer, I recommend stopping at White Mesa (photos below) for a very unique mountain bike experience. 

Jemez Hot Springs

Our first stop in Jemez was Spence Hot Springs, while we waited for a friend.  The pools at Spence aren’t incredibly warm, but they are worth the short hike and they have an amazing view from the pool.  Our next stop was San Antonio Hot Springs, off of Highway 126.  We arrived to a closed gate and had to walk over five miles, one way to the hot springs, but it was well worth the walk.  These are some of the best hot springs I’ve been to in New Mexico.  It consists of about 5 pools with a high pressure source pumping out into the top pool.  We left in the late afternoon and were soaked on the hike out and slept in the Jemez Falls parking lot that night.  

Taos - Mountain Biking and Hot Spring

The next day, we drove highway 4, easily one of the New Mexico’s most scenic roads, passing through the Valles Caldera and then through Los Alamos, where there is more mountain biking.  The next stop was Taos Ski Valley to ride the Northside Trails.  With a climb of over 2,100 feet, this trail is a big climb and the only alpine riding in New Mexico.  The Climb is worth the effort and the views of the Carson National Forest are epic.  Get ready for a steep ride down.  I don't know if you've ever been to TSV, but they say Taos is a four letter word for steep.  

After the ride we had a beer and snack at the Stray Dog Cantina and headed down the valley to Taos Mesa Brewery.  We stayed a few days out on the mesa with a good friend and relaxed and explored Manby and John Dunn hot springs in the Rio Grande Gorge.  One afternoon we headed back up to TSV to hike to Willams Lake. The lake sits below New Mexico’s tallest point, Wheeler Peak.  Later that week, we rode Horse Thief Mesa and the Rift Valley Trail before heading back to Albuquerque.  Before arriving to Albuquerque, we stopped at our favorite trail, Bobsled, in Palcitias.  Upon Arrival, we were really stoked with our spur of the moment trip and another trip in the Subaru.