March 24 through May 3, 2020

By Annie Lindgren

I set out on March 9, for a road trip to desert country, and spent two weeks in Texas before getting to New Mexico on March 24. I spent six weeks in the Land of Enchantment, leaving it for Arizona on May 3. Below is a summary of my time there. There is more of the story to tell, and over time that story will be told. At the end of this blog you will find a link to photos from my time in New Mexico.

The Land of Enchantment caught me by surprise. When I arrived, I was distracted by worry about Stay-Home orders and how that might impact my trip. My boss sent me press passes and a letter that stated my job working as an essential worker working for the newspaper. I found a place in Carlsbad where I had to call a number on the door, place the order over the phone to laminate and print these items, pay with a credit card, and then collect my ordered items 15 minutes later when the person delivered them from the back door. Times had changed so quickly. But I decided to remain on the road.

I started in the Carlsbad area, finding a BLM spot that had views for miles in all directions. The service was excellent. Safety was constant monitoring as to whom was around. Some people traveled the road for recreation, and others stayed for a night. There was one other long term stayer in the area. I found an area nearby where I could get water, fuel, and basic supplies. Carlsbad had resources for other things that came up, like an oil change and my press pass.

No place is perfect- it becomes more about finding locations with the right ingredient of things in spaces where the weather is tolerable during that time. Things got hot and windy in my Carlsbad BLM homestead, which was literally in the desert, and signified my time to move on. There were many things to love in the uniqueness. I grew especially fond of the company of a tall spiky-haired desert plant that filled the landscape like zombies. The terrain filled with caves had gaping holes that opened up in random places. I kept my dog tied so he would not disappear into one while chasing a rabbit. The sunsets and sunrises were stunning.

I moved west towards Lincoln National Forest, and 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 reminded me of 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. Service was bad, and I spent the day blanketed in my car, writing in a peaceful space. It was too cold still for comfortably camping in the mountains.

I moved on to Ruidoso Downs, where I found a hotel with zero guests in five days, and me as their only during the two days I was there. The owner offered me a squirt of hand sanitizer whenever I left the lobby. It felt like a clean and safe space, in a county that had no cases yet, and allowed me to explore the beautiful area while also having a warm bed to come home to at night. This town, which relies on tourism from mountain adventure, the race track, and casinos, looked like a ghost town when I rolled in on a Saturday night. It was a good place for resupply, laundry, and some exploring.

Ready for the warmth of desert again, I headed south and west, hoping to catch a glimpse of White Sands National Park, and finding it not only closed, but locked in on all sides by a Missile site, Airforce base, and NASA. I instead made a beautiful discovery in the Organ Mountains. A higher elevation desert country filled with jagged peaks, different trees and plants, and perfect sunset and sunrise views. The days cool enough, in the 70’s, and the night’s perfect in the upper 40’s. The recreational area and campground closed down the day after I arrived, allowing me to enjoy the pristine beauty of the eastern side of the ridge that separated Las Cruces from White Sands.

I moved on to the West side of the ridge, and after a few days of shuffling campsites, I was able to set up home at a perfect site, with views of the whole valley, the ridge background, and hundreds of acres of wilderness to explore. Nearby Las Cruces had ample resupply options, including my favorite grocery stores. There was a water spigot on BLM land ten minutes away, with excellent water. I could stay in this space for up to 14 days, so I decided to do this very thing, staying put like so many others were having to do during this pandemic (it was early April). During my morning coffee, I was joined by birds who live amongst the shrubbery. Morning and afternoon walks explored terrain filled with desert plants I had never seen before, beneath mountains that reminded me of home. Evenings were filled with watching the sunset over the valleys and peaks to the west. The temperature perfect for reading and writing at camp. It was a peaceful off-grid oasis to call home for a few weeks, as I hunkered down and saw what happens with the continually changing world.

During a daytrip, I visited Truth or Consequences and Elephant Butte Lake State Park. All closed down. On my way back, I took a scenic drive west Lake Valley Backcountry National Byway. It was hard to tell which towns were actual ghost towns, which were closed down right now. It was sad to see so many closed businesses.

I had to leave this space quickly one morning, after 11 nights, as I had neighbors fighting on one side, and bullets whizzing through camp on the other side. People target shooting off target. I decided to scope out an area a BLM officer had suggested to me, Cookes Canyon north of Deming. I found a similar flower-covered terrain, with wide-open spaces, mountain backdrops, old buildings, and not a soul around. I stayed the night and was the only one out.

Next, I moved north to Gila National Forest, which I had also heard good things about. I was surprised to stumble upon the Gila Cliff Dwellings, open to the public. A beautiful historic site. I also found hot springs and was able to take a hike out for a soak in them, at 3:00pm on a Saturday afternoon, with absolutely no interruption. My most memorable hot springs experience to date. I had enjoyable encounters with humans, showing such a contrast in how everyone is coping with the pandemic and restrictions. A teenage boy turned around and hid behind his parents after not knowing how to safely cross paths with me on the trail. I met another solo traveler, with an interesting story that I would have stuck around to hear had the timing felt right. Park rangers hard at work educating on new rules. Visitors had to wash their hands at a sink with running water, before and after the Cliff Dwellings hike, which I gladly did (and thanked them for). I found a beautiful camp along the way and notified my contacts that I would be out of cell range for the night, from wi-fi at a general store (all done from my car in the parking lot, based on a sign hung in the window and an owner that came out to see if I needed anything from inside). I had reached a point in my trip where I stopped expecting to find things open, and instead found gratitude for what I was able to find. This felt like a perfect day.

I had reached a point where I needed some things. I didn’t have a way to charge devices when I stayed at camp for longer stretches. All I had was two small battery packs. I had to turn my car on and let it run to recharge. I had no way to charge my laptop from my car. I also needed a better system for showering and bathing, as the bucket bath was not entirely doing it. There were other things I would have brought from home, like sunshade and a mosquito net, had I known I would be out indefinitely. I shattered the screen on my Ipad, which was what I did my writing on while at camp in the Organ Mountains. The tags on my car had expired, and the new tags waited for me at home. I ordered replacement items and planned for a quick trip to Colorado when they were all delivered. My brother, who I rent a house with, kept me posted as to when things were delivered.

Knowing I needed to head north, I decided to stop and visit a family friend in Santa Fe. I drove east through the historic town of Pinos Altos, and more of the eastern half of Gila National Forest along my way. It was nice to see a familiar face. The shower, clean laundry, internet, and comfortable bed were divine. It was lovely having fresh home-cooked food. We went for drives to see the empty Plaza and various sites of Santa Fe. We explored the areas to the north, Abiquiu, the Chama River, and Taos, and found spaces for me to return to for camping. After four nights, it was time to mosey on. I found it hard to be indoors, after so much time outdoors.

I had tried to visit Bandelier National Monument, but it was closed. I stayed in a beautiful spot north of Abiquiu near Ghost Ranch in Chama River Wilderness. I found a tree-filled camp wrapped with river and views of the colorful rock all around. With no service, I was able to disconnect and focus on creativity. If I hadn’t needed to run home, I would have stayed, but the next morning I headed north.

I was home for two nights, taking care of responsibilities and gathering the things I needed. Then it was back on the road south. I stopped to visit my son and his girlfriend in Monument, CO, and then returned to Northern New Mexico for a night of camping in Carson National Forest. It was still cold camping at higher elevation.

I now had solar panels and a generator for charging devices while at camp. I could plug my cooler in to it, and also my laptop. I had an adaptor for my laptop to plug in to the car as well. I had a sunshade, a mosquito net, and a few different shower options (a shower bag and a battery powered on). I also had a few different mattresses to try, as I had two blow out on the first leg of the journey. 

My goal was to return south, to the Gila National Forest, on the west side, that would eventually cross over into Arizona. Heading South from Grants, I stumbled upon El Malpais National Monument and Conservation area. A bizarre terrain that was easy to imagine lava creeping its way across the landscape. We hiked on and around the lava, and explored the open parts of the area. Continuing South, I found camp in Pie Town, which was not open for pie, and had no one else out camping. We again woke to ice in the water bowl.

There were several times during my travels through New Mexico, that I stumbled upon hikers along the Continental Divide trail. Having obsessed over wanting to do this trail myself, I was in awe of the ones out during this pandemic. I saw signs that the community that surrounds the trail was still there to support the thru-hikers. I hope to return when the time comes for me to see the CDT for myself.

Continuing south, I headed back towards Gila National Forest. As I looked for camp with service, I saw a sign for ‘Cosmic Campground’ and remembered having read about that location as being a National Dark sky area. It was closed, but there was dispersed camping along the road to and beyond it, and I found a great spot just beyond. The views and area were stunning. We stayed there for nine days. I found a Trading Post in Glenwood where people were friendly, and I was able to get water, fuel, unload trash, and pick up a few food items.

The heat crept in, and afternoons became quite hot, in the low 90’s. I had shade shelters out. The gnats moved in with the heat, and Maverick and I both getting harassed. The mosquito netting came in handy. Some days we could bear it, and other days we went for drives or hikes to rivers. We visited a ghost town called Mogollon, went on forest drives, and hiked a catwalk to a river where we both swam. This area had an extreme rural feel to it. When I needed more beer, I had to drive 45 minutes south to the nearest liquor store, which appeared to mostly serve the locals, run by an older couple who were a treat to talk to. One day I stumbled upon a trailhead for a beautiful canyon hike in the Cooney’s Canyon area. When the Cosmic Campground area camping would become too hot and gnat filled, we would move our camp to the trailhead of this canyon hike for a few nights, where there were big cottonwoods providing shade and water nearby.

The chord on my cooler melted, and after twelve days of eating the same old foods, I needed a resupply. I went to Silver City, and found a Walmart where I wore my mask and waited in line to enter. I didn’t find a replacement cord, but I found food, ice, and beer to get excited about. I ordered a replacement chord online, had it shipped to Santa Fe, where I could pick it up without having to drive home. I took care of a couple of other things while in town, and decided it was time to head to Arizona. I drove south, and spent one last night in another part of Gila National Forest, near the Continental Divide Trail, and then we crossed over into Arizona on May 3, 2020.

I did stop back through New Mexico again, three weeks later on May 19. I grabbed my power chord from Santa Fe, and camped north of there along 285 on BLM in Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument. The drive there was stressful, as I was having car trouble. I notice that even though Arizona was lifting some restrictions, New Mexico seemed to have still a pretty locked down approach to handing COVID-19 restrictions.

I never expected to see all the beautify I found in New Mexico, and I look forward to returning to the places I missed or were closed at the time. I have much more to see in Northern New Mexico. I also grew a lot during my time in this state. I started on shaky ground and ended with confidence and determination to keep going. I learned a lot during these six weeks of managing work, relationships, and responsibilities while also living out of a car with my dog during a pandemic. 

Here are photos were taken from that leg of the trip: