Volcanic Forest Camping

Wednesday, May 8: Santa Fe National Forest

Soundtrack: “Mountain Song” Jane’s Addiction

It’s a chilly morning. We pack up camp, making sure to leave no trace, and head to nearby Jemez Springs, a historic town along the Jemez Mountain Trail Scenic Byway. One of the first places we see is a delightful looking cafe with an outdoor pen full of goats and chickens, so we stop there for breakfast. Now that we’re off the high mountaintop, it’s already warmer in the sunshine, and we sit outside on the patio and listen to the goats bleat at each other. I order blue corn blueberry pancakes and coffee, and they are heavenly.

if you are ever in Jemez Springs, go to Stage Stop Cafe

Today is our last full day in New Mexico (*sobs*) and we don’t have any plans other than to leisurely explore the national forest.  On our drive back into the wilderness, we stop at Soda Dam, a spot where water from underground hot springs bubbles up over a mineral deposit rock formation. The Jemez River meanders along the road, and this little nook of land is astoundingly beautiful with the mountains and sky as backdrop. I love exploring it and climbing over the rocks and sticking our heads into little caves; how can we do this every day for the rest of our lives?

Soda Dam, Jemez River

We drive up to the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The road winds around a large grassy bowl that’s actually the 15-mile-wide crater left behind from a dormant volcano. There’s a small visitors center, so we stop inside and chat a bit with the ranger. We’re planning to do dispersed camping a second night, and he confirms that the spot on the map we’re looking at is a popular site in the summer. He mentions the black bears in the area, and shows us some photos taken by recent hikers. “How can you tell bear scat?” he asks us, then delivers the punchline “It smells peppery and has bells in it.” I love a sassy park ranger.

We do one more short hike, leaving the van at a picnic area to walk the trail to Jemez Falls. A light rain sprinkles down on us, and the strong scent of pine reminds me of being in Yosemite. At the falls, Kurt of course wants to scramble up and down some rocks to get closer. I feel my anxiety kick in, but I tell myself, it’s OK. He will be fine; he’s not dumb. Eventually, I work up the bravery to climb closer also, and get a better vantage point. I guess this is the key to dealing with phobias–trying to think rationally instead of imagining every possible worst case scenario, taking things one slow step at a time, and remembering to breathe.

Jemez Falls

Kurt is a Gryffindor

It’s time to find a place to make camp, so we drive back up the rambling forestry roads, up into the mountains. Among the thick pines, we find a nice large clearing with the remnants of a few fire pits; it’s obviously a party spot in the summer. This early in the season, however, there’s not many other campers out and about, so we park and begin to settle in. We’re just in time; a heavier rain rolls through. We hang out in the van, eating snacks and drinking wine with the van door rolled open so we can enjoy the smell of the rain.

It’s-a me!

After the weather passes through, Kurt starts to work on building a fire. I’m standing next to the van with my pink sparkly “I’m 40, bitches” wine cup. For the first time, a vehicle ambles up our road. Instead of continuing on, the Jeep makes a sharp turn into our clearing and drives all the way up to our campsite, about 100 yards off the road. The driver rolls down his window and calls out a greeting. He and the woman sitting in the passenger seat chat with us a bit; they are locals and they’re camping further down the mountain. It strikes me as a little odd that he drove all the way up to a stranger’s site so aggressively like that. He asks Kurt’s name; he doesn’t ask me for mine. Finally, he and the woman wave and tell us to have a good time, and they drive away.

“That was weird,” I say. Kurt’s guess is that they spotted the van and thought that they might know us, or that maybe we were friends of a friend. I listen to a lot of true crime podcasts, so MY thought is that they were scoping out our van and plan to come back in the middle of the night and axe murder us.

Kurt goes back to working on the fire, and I stroll around the area with my wine cup. In the grass, I notice a bunch of shotgun shells not far from where we’re parked. A little further into the woods, I see a pile of bear poo (no bells in it). Still, I’m convinced that we’re more likely to be killed by a Jeep-driving axe murderer than a black bear.

As the sun sets, it turns into a beautifully starry night. We enjoy the warm fire and the wine, and eventually climb into the cozy van. Nobody gets murdered overnight.





Camp Colorado

I’ve been pretty sporadic about blogging on this page, but it’s funny looking back to see that that the times I jumpstart activity again are right around the changing of the seasons. Nature has always been one of my biggest inspirations, along with pop culture, which makes it a little tricky to figure out my ‘brand’ for this blog. Do I write about hiking or TV, my favorite campsite or my opinions on Kanye? Obviously, it doesn’t matter. This blog is really just a place where I post rambling stories, observations, and lists in order to keep myself writing regularly. Come for the pretty pictures of mountains, stay for the geekery.

IMG_7861On to my most recent camping experience! Over Memorial Day weekend, Kurt and I went on our first outdoor adventure of 2016. It was a destination trip to Boulder, Colorado, where we visited some good friends who moved out west. We arrived minutes before a hailstorm, which pounded onto the tented roof of the Denver International Airport like experimental noise rock. Dodging pebble-sized ice balls, we hopped into the shuttle to the care rental place which gave us a Nissan Altima instead of the Kia Rio we booked online, so sadly, we did not get to drive into Boulder like cool hamsters.

After hanging out in Boulder for a night, we drove to Golden Gate Canyon State Park for a few days of camping. In typical high-altitude Colorado fashion, the weather alternated between 70 degrees in the sun to 55 and raining when the clouds rolled in, then back again in minutes. We learned upon arrival that the state park does not allow anything to be attached to trees (#hammockfail) and we did not bring a free-standing canopy, so the guys erected a makeshift shelter using fallen branches, rope, and water jugs as anchors, after an amusing tarp-measuring contest. The next few days were heaven: cool mornings with delicious coffee from our friends’ café in Boulder, days spent climbing rocks and hanging out near lakes, afternoons and evenings relaxing around the campfire, cooking cans of chili, playing card games, drinking local craft beers, and watching the stars come out.

On Sunday, Kurt and I packed up our tents, said goodbye to our friends who were camping another night, and drove into Golden to shower because we had tickets to see My Morning Jacket at Red Rocks. I’ve been dying to see a show there, and it lived up to my expectations (though I’m glad I received the pro-tip beforehand to pee right when you enter because climbing the stairs over and over is brutal). The view of the stage is breathtaking (literally, I was dying after all of those stairs), with a backdrop of Denver’s lights in the distance.


Stop! Pano time

MMJ put on a memorable show, playing for three hours and covering Prince, Creedence, and the Commodores’ Easy Like Sunday Morning, my weekend coffee-and-donuts anthem. The one misstep for the entire trip was the fact that we booked our return flight home at 6 a.m. Monday morning, which meant that after getting back to the hotel from Red Rocks around half past midnight, I had to set our alarm clock to go off in two hours. Oh well, I’ll sleep when I’m dead, right Bon Jovi?

It was a fantastic little trip, and it was great spending time with our friends who had pulled up city stakes and moved west. May all our future hangs have equally pretty backdrops.