The first time I camped in New Mexico, I pitched a borrowed tent near Chama, between a small man-made lake and the Colorado border. I spent my days wandering among ferns and aspens; my nights, watching the stars while the coyotes sang. At the edge of the lake, a boy proudly showed me the big rainbow trout he had just caught, and I walked, admiring the wildflowers as monsoon clouds gathered in the sky. of the afternoon.
The forests held many surprises: I stumbled across a herd of turkeys one day and an old hunting blind the next. While toasting marshmallows over the campfire to make s’mores, I decided to add a roasted green chili and found a favorite instant decadent dessert. I was a teenager, new to camping, but Chama got me hooked.
I couldn’t wait for my next adventure sleeping under the Milky Way. New Mexico has so many places to explore – badlands, canyons, mesas, mountains, prairies, sand dunes, salt pans, valleys and volcanic escarpments – that you could plan a lifetime of weekend getaways. In addition to placing you in a landscape of geological masterpieces, camping here also puts you in touch with history and the many cultures that live throughout the state.
I came across fossils, ancient pottery shards and secret and hidden petroglyphs. Once, camping in the Gila, it was so cold that I shivered most of the night instead of sleeping. In the morning, I saw my breath rise in a small cloud, condense, freeze and fall back on my face – I had created my own miniature weather system in my tent. It was such a beautiful moment, and I had never seen or even imagined anything like it.
Another time I was walking out of my campsite at White Sands National Park when a storm started blowing. The sky turned light gray and the wind lifted the sand. The sky became indistinguishable from the dunes in these whiteout conditions; the world was white. But our long morning shadows persisted in showing us the direction of the sun, and fortunately the landmarks also remained visible. Again, I had never seen anything like it.
This is part of what draws me time and time again: wanting to share these experiences with others has fueled much of the research and writing of this book.
Perhaps that’s why I had such a hard time answering the question that everyone asks after learning that I was researching campgrounds: “What’s your favorite campground? ” I have many favorite campgrounds for different types of camping experiences – some for stargazing, sleeping under tall pines, exploring archaeological sites, or hiking trails.
People camp for many reasons; others might have their own campgrounds for preferred activities and settings. Whether you like to fish for trout in a rushing river with your tent hidden behind low growth, a lively campsite where the kids can make friends in the playground, or pitch a tent among eroded boulders of volcanic tuff that look like a decor The Flintstones, you will find a good campground in this guide. You’ll also find lakeside campgrounds, secluded mountain campgrounds, and campgrounds near hot springs and rock climbing routes. I have visited dozens of campgrounds in New Mexico and have tried to include a variety of the best in this guide.
This article is an excerpt from a recently published book, Best tent camping: New Mexico.
Amaris Feland Ketcham is an associate professor at the University of New Mexico.