After two beautiful weeks in Texas, county-wide lodging closures nudged me north into New Mexico, where my itinerary revised. I was in for a change of pace, in the ‘The Land of Enchantment.’ My trip, no longer about traveling to new locations daily, became more about finding resources and safe places to stay.
That definition of ‘safety’ changing as the pandemic spread. National and State parks were closed, and camping confined to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or National Forest land. Places with backroads and roadside camping, but no facilities, electricity, WiFi, or water (unless you camp near some). To sustain in places like this, you have to have everything you need. You also have to be more aware of your surroundings in spaces that house far more animals than humans.
I could have returned home, knowing states were issuing stay orders, including Colorado and New Mexico. But for me, having to ‘stay home’ meant being confined to a space that often felt suffocating, even without the stay orders. I am happiest outdoors in wide-open spaces. At home, I would be confined to an existence where hundreds of people and vehicles filled my mile radius, a noise and air inescapable. Out here, I may be the only human in that mile radius, and I get to enjoy the sounds of birds and the sights of nature living vibrantly, oblivious to pandemic. I have more to gain in ‘staying gone’ than I have to lose.
I started in the Carlsbad area, finding a BLM spot that had views for miles in all directions. Safety was constant monitoring as to who was around, some people traveling the road for recreation, and others staying for a night. I found an area nearby where I could get water, fuel, and basic supplies, and as other needs came up, I was able to take care of them in Carlsbad. I stayed in the area for three nights, enjoy the 360-degree views of sunsets, sunrises, and star-filled skies. The terrain, infused with underground caves, opened up in places with gaping holes in the desert floor. There were unusual plants and flowers in bloom. I grew especially fond of the company of tall spiky-haired yucca plants that dotted the landscape like zombies, startling me at first but then becoming friendly and humorous. When high winds and temperatures in the upper 80’s moved into the forecast, it was time for me to move on.
Moving west towards Lincoln National Forest, I found much camping in the mountains, with water sources nearby. The mountain landscape, with its pine-filled terrain, rocks, and views, reminded me of Colorado. A night spent out there felt like Colorado too, as I woke to ice in the dog’s water bowl, and a chill in the air that did not pass until early afternoon. I spent the day writing in the warmth of my car, indulging in the peacefulness. Service was not great, and I was ready for warm again, so I packed up and moved on.
In Ruidoso Downs, I found a hotel that had had zero guests in five days, with me as their only during the two days I was there. The owner offered a squirt of hand sanitizer whenever I left the lobby. It felt like a clean and safe space, in a county that had no COVID-19 cases yet, and allowed me to explore the beautiful area while also having a warm bed to come home to. This town, which relies on tourism from mountain recreation, the race track, and casinos, looked like a ghost town when I rolled in on a Saturday night. It reminded me of Estes Park, including elk resting peacefully around town. I enjoyed a few days of the luxuries a hotel room provides.
Ready for the warmth of desert again, I headed south and west, stumbling upon the Organ Mountains, and better understanding the reference behind New Mexico’s ‘The Land of Enchantment’ nickname. Magnificent colors flooding the terrain, filled with flowers, jagged peaks, desert plants, birds, breathtaking sunsets and sunrises, and perfect timing for cool-enough days and warm-enough nights. I found a safe and beautiful place, with plenty of nearby resources, and miles of trails and open space for my dog and I to explore. A peaceful well-distanced oasis to call home for a few weeks, as I hunker down and see what happens with the continually changing world.
I have decided to ‘stay gone’ during this time of pandemic, taking this opportunity to explore the many wilderness areas sprinkled throughout America, where distancing from humans is easy, and opportunities for outdoor time abundant. Stay tuned for more stories from the road, and check out previously posted articles about my time in Texas.