Cloudcroft, Clouds, and Silver Linings

I reached the breaking point with the Central Texas summer heat. Literally. Every breaker was breaking. My rooftop AC went out, and the portable AC my cousin loaned me was too much for my power supply, having to make the long 30amp journey from its hijacked junction in the equipment shed. I couldn’t sleep at night in spite of the mosquito net I hung like a shroud around my bed. My internal breaker was tripping.

I did as much as I could to get Mom caught up. She is now on her own, with the help of Amazon, grocery curb-side, and my adorable niece and kind cousin who visit her regularly. I looked at the map to figure out the shortest distance to the highest elevation where I could get some relief from the heat, but still get back to the farm within a day in case of emergency.

I remembered a post Tim and Amanda of Watson’s Wander wrote long ago about an idyllic spot in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. I wrote to ask if they would be willing to share the coordinates, and Amanda was kind enough to respond right away. I promised to keep her coordinates a secret. Sadly, it’s too late for that…

Never a good sign when you see a U-Haul rental van on the Forest Service road. These guys laugh in the face of “social distancing!”

This boondocking spot is so packed, while out for a walk I had a young man stop and ask me “Where is the office?” Another two young girls asked “Where is the restroom?” Easy to see how this area could be mistaken for an official campground, though even campgrounds don’t get this crazy.

These guys even brought their own port-a-john! By the middle of the weekend, they added a sign “Not a Public Restroom.”

It’s not just tent campers. I counted five generators in this one area. Thank goodness for the nimble Winnie, who was able to climb further up the narrow rough mountain road to escape this madness!

I’ve boondocked in just about every state west of the Mississippi, and I’ve never in my life seen anything like what manifests each Friday evening in the Lincoln National Forest. It’s bad. Really bad. Is this due to COVIDity? Or is this the norm? It’s like a train wreck, hard to look away. And they all have Texas plates when NM has a quarantine mandate for out-of-state visitors.

I stopped by the Ranger Station to get a map and hiking info. The head ranger was there, so I asked him what was up? He said he had been stationed at this post for 25 years, and had never in his life seen anything like it. Certain areas (hike to the waterfall) had been closed off because they were being completely overrun by campers, and they don’t have the resources during COVID-19 to deal with it.

El Paso is only 108 miles away, he tells me, and they come to escape the heat. Would the last person leaving El Paso please turn out the lights? Oh, wait. No need to turn out the lights, because they brought the lights with them! Check out the construction sized light pole! Nearly every group has a generator. Why do you need a generator when camping in a tent? And there’s always a car among the group equipped with trunk speakers….I guess to drown out the generator noise. Nothing says “a weekend away in a quiet forest” like a giant sub-woofer.

And of course there are ATVs, UTVs, Polaris RZRs and dirt bikes, all buzzing up and down the forest road until long after dark. But never fear, they are equipped with roll-bar mounted spotlights, neon LED whip antennas and giant flags waiving out the back.

Grainy phone photo snapped from a distance, but check out this construction-style “spotlight tower!” (slightly left of center) Bet you’ve never seen one of those camping in the forest!

So much for “Leave No Trace.” This bag was left 2 miles up the FS road from the highway.

At least they bagged the trash up and hung it in the tree. Others were not so tidy.

I just cannot understand the mentality of leaving things like this in the forest. It’s not like the raccoons need a place to hang their coat.

While I am enraged by the mess left behind, I can’t begrudge them for coming. They are all escaping the same triple digit misery I left behind. But what about social distancing? It’s a big forest, yet they congregate in tight-knit groups. I guess their idea of a “quarantine pod” is a little bigger than mine. So what about New Mexico’s quarantine mandate? There is a State Law requiring anyone with out-of-state plates to quarantine upon crossing the state line for 14 days or the length of their visit, whichever is shorter. As long as they stay in the forest and don’t go in to town, I suppose they consider it a legitimate quarantine?

So why on earth would I stay, one might wonder? Well, this “cloud” in Cloudcroft has a silver lining. Come Sunday afternoon, the place folds up and empties out. I have the place pretty much all to myself, save for two other “regulars.” During the week, there is an average of three rigs tops along the entire FS road. I have kind neighbors who have my back, look after the rig while I am hiking, and always ask if I need anything from town. We three moved up the mountain away from the madness.

So why stay with all that mayhem? Because come Sunday afternoon, the place empties out, and I have peace and serenity until the next Friday afternoon.

Come mid-week? These guys are the only ones raising a ruckus.

I left the Tracker in the foreground to give you an idea of just how close these elk come to my campsite.

They are such majestic creatures. I love hearing them “bugle” at night!

This guy’s gonna have no trouble attracting the ladies.

At 9,000 ft, the temps are just about perfect. Highs in the low 70’s to high 60’s, just right for hiking, while the lows are great for sleeping. There are hiking trails literally steps from my door. Winter cross country ski trails, officially marked hiking trails, or just deer and elk trails that meander down through the valleys and up over the mountain ridges. I can wander till my heart’s content, smelling the butterscotch of the Ponderosa pines and the Christmas tree scents of the Douglas and white firs, while watching the aspens quake nervously at the prospect of impending autumn.

Come nightfall, the elk “bugle” from the ridge right above my rig. I love hearing “the call of the wild!” Sunday through Friday at noon, it’s blue skies, blissful silence, and big white puffy clouds floating overhead, showing off their silver lining!

Meet my new hiking buddy, Jake! (Actually, I wish he was mine. He is on loan from my forest neighbor.)

As with all my former hiking buddies, I can’t keep up with Jake. He’s too fast for me. However, unlike my former hiking buddies, he willingly pulls me up the hill like my own personal sled dog.

There is never a question as to who is the leader of this “pack!”

Jake’s favorite hobby is rolling in a fresh pile of horse poop. Here he is gleeful, even though I have dragged him by the throat out of the pile! (He thinks he’s still rolling in it.)

His other hobbies are ferociously finding squirrels. He can’t be bothered with chipmunks, birds, deer, or elk, but let a squirrel cross his path, and you’d better grab the reins, as you are in for a ride.

Jake is a lovable wonder-dog and loves hiking even more than I do. It’s impossible to be in a bad mood with Jake around! If he goes missing, his owner knows where to look. 😉

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” ~ Aristotle

36 thoughts on “Cloudcroft, Clouds, and Silver Linings

    • Hi, Linda. I feel the same about the PNW! Too bad we can’t trade places for a couple of weeks. Can’t believe how things have changed since I just saw you there last year. Hopefully you are doing okay, and got my email. I think of you often.

    • Thank you. for sharing ! Iam new to camping again. As I finally have the time (newly retired )I am looking forward to traveling. I have always loved hiking with its peace of just being where the view is not a parking lot or mall or traffic jams.I’m reading blogs to find places to discover and enjoy that are worth the drive. Your pictures and blog about Clouldcroft (week days) was lovely. I look forward to seeing and reading more. Again thank you

  1. Love this post ! I was hoping to get away up 395 for a bit but with half the Sierra on fire the smoke is horrible and they closed all campgrounds and BLM land. The last time we tent camped in the Grand Canyon a herd of elk walked through at sunset. I love them and their bugling too. Enjoy your time .

    • Annie, you and me both on the 395 hopes! I had hoped to be there along 395 this past summer also.

      Two years ago, I booked a reservation for a hut-to-hut hiking trip through the High Sierras. It was cancelled because of the monumental snow pack that year. They rolled over my reservation to this year, which was cancelled due to the COVID. I am not sure what next year will hold. After the fires, I am not sure the huts are even still there. Meanwhile I am growing too old to do that hike! Hope we both make it there one day soon, and find some beauty still remains!

  2. Much of Mission Bay has been taken over by those displaced by the heat, smoke and fires. It’s beginning to look like your Forest Service Road, but these squatters don’t leave during the week.
    Enjoy your pictures of the quiet hike thru the forest under blue skies.

    • Yeah, We have the same here in San Luis Obispo County. You should see the beach area on the weekend. You would never know it’s supposed to be social distancing! Talk about crowded!

      My father used to say “there are too damn many people in this world!” (and the last time he said this was in 2000)!

      • Emjay, I would have to agree with your father. That’s one of the downsides of getting older is that we can now look back at benchmarks 50 years ago, and it’s rarely ever good!

    • Hi, Jeff. That’s surprising to me, as I thought San Diego had really cracked down. I heard from a local that the rangers here in the national forest were “looking the other way” now due to the COVID. Perhaps it is the same in Mission Bay during the fires. Sad situation. I hope the smoke clears soon!

  3. With the way the temps have been the last couple months, it’s hard to find a place cool enough! Glad you got a spot even if it does come with weekend people-watching entertainment. (And yes, I’ll try to get some reflections for you.)

    • So true, Terri. Something about waking up to find a dog sitting on your step wagging his tail eagerly waiting your door to open makes it hard to have a bad day!

  4. I am stunned. I am old and haven’t been on the road in a long time. Very glad you found (finally) what you were looking for. Always used to go traveling/camping in late April, early October, but maybe that wouldn’t work anymore. So many, many people. All different, and all looking for something.

    • Hi, Judith. Don’t despair, as there are still opportunities. I’ve got a friend who is boondocking in southwestern Colorado now, and he can’t see another person in his 360 view. The further west you go, the easier it is to find solitude (at least until you hit CA.)

      Cloudcroft’s problem is that it’s only a 90 minute drive from El Paso, a hot town rapidly approaching a million people.

      • I’ll bet your friend in SW Colorado is one of those who have made our idyllic neighborhood more crowded. The NMs come flooding over the border every weekend, in spite of their own quarantine, and the Texans started pouring in last Spring. There are restrictions all over and everyone thinks they don’t apply to them., especially the RVsrs. Colorado has been particularly overrun this year and we are not happy about it. The atvs from NM are thick here too on the weekends. Our little paradise is being invaded, and now there’s trash we’re finding too. Colorado did nothing about out-of- staters coming into the state, but we citizens were restricted to 10 miles from home. Our numbers spiked as soon as others started traveling here. Whatever happened to respecting the rules?

  5. Nice post, maybe you should get a “Jake”.

    Litter is everywhere, its so sad. Being confined to our County because of lockdown I’m cycling all the little lanes I can find and also finding lots of litter dumped in these quite places. Disgarded face masks and rubber gloves are the litter of choice at the moment.

    • Thanks, Dave. I sometimes think I would like a smaller version of Jake, but then I spend a lot of time in national parks, and pets are not allowed on 90% of the trails. And always a concern with temperature controls inside a poorly insulated rig when in places where pets are not allowed.

      I wonder if you are familiar with one of my favorite authors, David Sedaris. He became obsessed with the litter on those country lanes in West Sussex. He picked up so much litter there that they named a garbage truck after him, “Pig Pen Sedaris.” LOL!

  6. Well I’m glad i didnt ask where you were boondocking! I think i’d almost rather be in a Walmart parking lot! At least your photos didnt show any campaign signs! I hope the trip gets better!

    • Hi Jim, you did see where I said it was only the weekend, right? Really just Saturday night, because they arrived late on Friday and left early on Sunday. The rest of the time has been sheer bliss. Otherwise I wouldn’t still be here. 🙂

  7. The search for coolness is a strong drive. Thanks for sharing yours in this age of climate denial, wild forest fires, pandemics, incompetent leadership, and failing air conditioning. Makes our basement home a few miles from the northeastern Atlantic seem idyllic. Wish we could be searching for that social distance in our favorite parts of northern Maine, but the Maniacs do not want us Mass-holes in their state this summer. Thanks for the great pictures on the elk. They are so majestic. I was amazed when out west how thy varied between the areas we saw them. Love dogs, don’t own them. Good to see that you are still getting out and about, and enjoying the prose and pictures

    • “Mass-holes.” Wow, you too, huh? I had one New Mexico local tell me to “Go back to Tex-ASS.” (Never mind, I haven’t lived in Texas for forty years!) Never had that happen to me in 8 years of traveling coast to coast, border to border. Sad that our country has not only excommunicated itself from our international allies, but now we have extreme divisiveness across state lines. It’s a country I don’t recognize these days. Take good care, Allen.

  8. We just left the north rim of the Grand Canyon with temps of 32F this morning.lots of boondocking but we loved De Motte USFS . I could hear you say ahhh! As you arrived. Cloudcroft is so cool.

    • I still have yet to make it to the north rim. I’ve heard there is lots of good boondocking there, so I need to get there before it’s too late! Your recent post makes me long to return to Escalante as well. Thanks for the comment, Deb.

  9. Glad you are well and found some cooler weather. That weekend scene is unbelievable. People are crazy! Probably all Trumpers!!! Glad you had quiet come Sunday afternoon. Love, love those bugling elk.

    • Yes, Pam, I suspect you are right. I guess they think “Don’t Mess with Texas” means it’s okay to litter once you cross the state line. It’s shocking to me that the USFS does not even bother to put up a “Leave no Trace” sign. Not that it would do any good, but if a monetary fine was referenced, maybe people would at least look around and realize there wasn’t a dumpster so they needed to pack it out!

  10. Wow! That was quite the weekend scene you came upon. Looks more like a music festival than a national forest. Happy that the crowds cleared out and you were able to find some peace and cool temps. We just left Crested Butte, Co where the popular boondocking area on Washington Gulch Rd. has gotten so popular that they are now turning it into designated camping with actual sites and have installed pit toilets. I am all for the free use of our federal lands, but since more and more people have decided that common sense and respect for the land are not important, this kind of regulation seems inevitable and necessary. Glad you stuck it out though and were rewarded with what sounds like a fantastic stay in the forest.

    • Thanks again for your generosity in sharing the info, Amanda. I am saddened to hear about Washington Gulch. When I was there, I shared the entire meadow with only one other RV and a tent camper. I am glad I got to experience it “back when.” Seems like I say that a lot these days.

      I have heard rumors that the area outside of Zion and Moab are both going the same way, with designated camping. It’s good that there will be infrastructure and toilets, but I know realistically the number of sites won’t near meet the demand, and then where does everyone go? It’s like I experienced outside of Sedona where they blocked off all the turnouts and “corralled” everyone into one tiny cul-de-sac so tight that a fight broke out.

      “people have decided that common sense and respect for the land are not important.” You nailed it.

      Hope you and Tim enjoy a quiet fall.

  11. We saw some of the same here this summer. Sad to say the messes left behind (and I hear in other states as well) in the forest service lands/blm etc. are going to result in them being shut down to all of us at this rate. I do not blame them. People have no respect and are lazy. I am glad you found some relief from the heat!

    • Yes, Sherry, it’s true that given some of the abuse I have seen lately (like the couch dumped on the BLM land outside Zion last fall) a shut down is justified. In the past, I always tried to “leave it better than I found it,” but during the time of a pandemic, who wants to pick up someone else’s trash??!! Sorry to hear it’s reached MT.

  12. Hi Suzanne! We feel your anguish. We’ve planned an Alaska trip since October 2019 while living in Australia. We returned home to Washington in February this year to a virus feared society. When the boarder remained closed we shifted gears and headed East across the top of America to Maine with no itinerary. All across this land, we’ve seen so many out and about boondocking, State Park camping, Resort camping, and everything in between. ATVs, UTVs, motorcycles, off road vehicles galore. Weekends jammed yet weekdays not so much. We made it to Maine unscathed and have survived beyond Labor Day. After that last hurrah of Summer, the families return home, college kids go to school, and the wilderness returns to sanctuary. We visited Acadia just a week ago, and it was mostly civil yet busy.

    We’ll be traveling through June 2021 and hope that life returns to something more normal looking especially after early November. We’ll keep tabs on the road and drop in periodically for updates. We’ve started our blog but haven’t been so active. Yours gives us the inspiration to get busy.

  13. Astonishing, we kept seeing more and more of this in the last few years of full-timing. Our last trip to boondock near Virgin we found it was overcrowded and stayed that way through the traditional workweek which I assume was due to the close proximity to Zion.

    Sales of RVs have skyrocketed since Covid so the problem must have gotten worse.

    Glad it worked out during the week for you.

  14. I live in New Mexico and will not go camping in S. NM because of the crowding herds from Texas, Like you, I understand the need to beat the Texas heat and head to the mountains but that is not a reason to trash our forests. Same thing happens at Elephant Butte Lake, lots of vehicles, no respect for the land or noise in the evenings. That’s not just Texans but NM people too.

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