Road Trip to Bag 10 Southern National Park Sites of New Mexico and Arizona || VLOG
Southern New Mexico and Arizona while on contract in Fort Defiance Arizona (staying in Gallup, NM)
CAIRN TRAVELER VLOG || EP41
Join me on a rambling road trip to southern New Mexico and Arizona to bag 10 amazing National and State Park locations. LET’S EXPLORE!!
Be creative and find your adventure this week!! ✌️😎
Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument | New Mexico
(Abó Mission, Quarai Mission, Gran Quivira Mission)
New Mexico constantly surprises me. It’s so different, with so much variety within driving distance. It’s one of the reasons I’m done with the East Coast for now, it’s all the same. I love those naked open hills in the Southwest!
This group of three missions about a hour southeast of Santa Fe in Mountainair is a lovely and worthwhile visit if you are in the area. They sit like old fallen castles on peaceful grassy hills with the wind gently sweeping the high desert grasses in waves. Originally a confluence of Spanish Catholicism and Native cultures, these sites became abandoned due to illness, migration, and safety concerns. Walking trails are dog-friendly here.
Overnight Camping at Alamogordo and Holloman Lake Wildlife Area | New Mexico
My third 14 week dry-camping stop when I left my staff job and hit the road with the RPOD was Lake Holloman in Alamogordo - which is actually a rather dodgy polluted waste water runoff from Holloman Airforce Base but nonetheless lovely.
I originally intended to find camping in Lincoln National Forest which is situated in the Sacramento Mountain Range just east of Alamogordo. This would have provided high elevation and cool temperatures. However, night was falling and I did not know the area well enough to find a good camping spot in the dark. Trying to find camping in the dark without knowing an area when you are tired from driving is a sure way to get frustrated. So I recalled that I had stayed at Holloman Lake camping previously (generally open to the public though I’m not sure it’s actually manage through the Bureau of Land Management).
It had been almost three years and with the pandemic, I wasn’t sure what had changed but I found the gate open and drove in to find I was the only one there and (I think) the same site where I camped with the RPOD in 2019. I had purchased a cheap blow up twin mattress from Walmart (turns out I didn’t have the batteries to use the inflater pump so lots of breath work) and I brought my 0 degree sleeping bag. Hiker slept in the truck while I slept on top of the bed cover.
A Mountain House biscuits and gravy breakfast in the morning hit the spot and we were off again to the next site.
Chamizal National Memorial | Texas
Chamizal is a National Memorial commemorating the Treaty of 1848 with Mexico and agreement on the Rio Grande as the border between the US and Mexico (as well as including some revisions based on the shifting course of the Rio Grande itself). All in all this site is a bit underwhelming - nestled in the bustling center of El Paso, this has more of a feel of a city park than a National Parks Site but it’s still worth visiting if you are close. The border wall, customs, and the “Welcome to Mexico” sign are all visible beside the walking trails. The trails here are dog-friendly and you are welcome to bring your best friend on-leash.
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument | New Mexico
This NPS site is quite a bit out of the way, tucked into the Gila Wilderness and about an hour and a half from Silver City, New Mexico (the nearest city). You gain quite a bit of elevation going into this area with the desert yielding to Ponderosa Pines and a few mountain lakes. Hiking from the parking area to the cliff dwellings is a short endeavor and you are rewarded with one of the largest cliffside ruins I have ever been to that you are actually allowed to walk up, into, and explore.
Because of the wildlife, fragile nature of the site, and the archaeological importance; dogs are not allowed on trail here. This brings us to some of the complications of traveling with your favorite guy or gal. To hit these kind of sites where dogs are not allowed (or even to go into a store to get groceries), specially in the hot summer months, I just leave the car running and locked and hope for the best. Hiker rarely barks except in these occasions where he wants to come and sees me walking away. I have found that using the reflective fold out windshield cover to block the view of whichever direction I am walking away is helpful. Another complication of traveling with Hiker is that because he is quite the shedder, rolling down any of the windows would turn the truck cab into a snow globe, so I’m afraid I haven’t had the pleasure of rolling down my windows and enjoying the air while driving in quite some time.
City of Rocks State Park | New Mexico
Between Silver City and the Gila Cliff Dwellings lies City of Rocks State Park. I did not originally have this on my itinerary but I recalled having seen this in top lists for tourist destinations in New Mexico so I decided to stop by on the way back from the cliff dwellings. I found this an absolutely magical site - flat grassy plains with several grouped upheavals of stone formations. There is a visitor’s center and small full service campground here as well as dry camping with designated sites (picnic tables, fire rings, etc.) within the rock formations. I would HIGHLY recommend this lovely spot to anyone passing through. AND, dogs are welcome here on leash throughout the park.
This is one of my favorite things about an open-ended road trip, just letting things evolve along the way, and finding the most interesting things by serendipity.
Coronado National Memorial | Arizona
Coronado National Memorial on the Arizona-Mexico border was a bit of a bust. First of all, I broke my own rule about trying to find camping at night. The original plan was to do truck-top dispersed camping in Coronado National Forest. Little did I know that I had to go through several rural neighborhoods before I could find the Forest Service access road. Upon entering, we passed the sign to the right which caused more than a little concern in the dark. I did find an appropriate place but I knew I would get no sleep with warnings such as these running around in my head. I first headed to Coronado itself to try to find an overnight camping spot but was unsuccessful and passed a border patrol vehicle that I was sure would not look kindly on the overnight parking, so we headed out and to the nearest Walmart parking lot.
We slept well enough in the Walmart parking lot - with the sun reflector up over the windshield, however it became VERY stuffy (even at night) so I turned the truck on to run the A/C and it ran overnight with minimal gas usage. I just happened to have bought (and keep in my glove box) an airplane neck sleeping pillow - for those long drives home from work in Arizona where a pull over and quick cat nap are needed. I discovered the drawstring bag containing this compressible pillow also held a sleeping mask and earplugs. While I didn’t need the earplugs (the A/C providing adequate white noise), I found the eye mask very helpful though it was a bit disconcerting to cover ones eyes and try to sleep in a Walmart parking lot - it felt a little vulnerable.
When I awoke, the sun was fully up so it was time to grab some Starbucks and head back to Coronado to check out the place.
Coronado National Memorial sits at the base of a mountain in a sunny field of desert flowers. This was originally intended to be an international park in cooperation with Mexico - a mirror of the International Peace Garden on the North Dakota-Canada border which I have also been to. But it seems these plans fell flat and Mexico never followed through with extending the park to their side of the border and thus the park came under the management of the National Parks Service. There was little to see here really, the peak trail had been closed - again due to border safety concerns which sounded ominous. On top of that the summer bugs (mostly just large flies) infested the area nonstop so taking any kind of walk did not seem pleasant. So once we gave the place a look over, I decided to move on to the next stop.
Chiricahua National Monument | Arizona
After driving through green farmlands, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Chiricahua but I was utterly surprised. The drive starts by heading into a valley where a historic farm house resides beside a small creek. As the drive progresses, the valley walls start to tower in great pillar formations on either side. Winding its way to the ending overlook, one can look out over a field of hoodoo rock formations. Trails go down into these for an amazing hike but unfortunately dogs cannot go so we were relegated to the sidewalks of the overlook parking area - I took a short hike down to the overlook itself but didn’t want to leave Hiker (and the truck running for long). Nonetheless, I cannot recommend this site enough and if you’re in the area, check it out and try to do some hiking.
Fort Bowie National Historic Site | Arizona
About another 45 minutes North of Chiricahua lay my last stop - Fort Bowie. The last 8 miles to the parking area is on a rough dirt road which can be impassable in wet conditions. After arriving at the Fort Bowie Trailhead parking area, it is another 3 miles to the Fort Bowie ruins. Dogs are welcome on trail. There is a visitor’s center but this was closed by the time we arrived. We wandered in and around the ruins for a while - the signage and explanations are well done. I was shooting video with my iPhone but this kept overheating in the summer temps. After a loop through the ruins and then a quick hike to the overlook, I decided to head back to the truck and A/C for Hiker.
We headed back to Gallup and home as the night fell.
I LOVE roadtrips!! ✌️😎
More photography from this and other trips is available both on Instagram and here on the CAIRN Traveler Gallery Page (both color and in the Western Shadows Galley in black and white).
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