We set our GPS to Brantley lake state park, New Mexico to take showers and possibly stay, if we liked it because it was only $8 for primitive site, $5 day use. The road took us by a dam with a very low river. We approached Brantley lake state park and it looked like it was last in line for funding. We kept driving until we reached the primitive camping but it didn’t look appealing. The showers were OK, ‘free’ with the $5 per vehicle day use fee with a two second pushbutton. Ahh, it drove me crazy! I’d picked the handicap stall for a little more room and at least the handheld showerheads stream lasted a little little longer. While I waited for Travis, I saw a jack rabbit with reallyyy long legs. A couple in an RV told us they been road tripping across the US and had a similar future route and that this was one of the worst places they’ve stayed. We decided to continue, did some research on freecampsites.net and found a place at roughly 8000 feet elevation in Cloudcroft, 45 minutes from White Sands. We climbed from scruggly (scraggly, shrubby) desert to high fir forests. I was hoping against sleeping in the desert and was incredibly excited to see so many trees again. We saw aspen trees and then an elk, and another elk! on the side of the road. Travis was super hungry and we weren’t looking forward to either cooking or setting up in the dark so we decide to stop if we saw an affordable looking diner. We passed a couple fancy looking places before finding one that looked reasonably priced. I ordered steak fingers and fries that came with gravy and Travis ordered a burrito with rice, beans, chips, and salsa. I had a few left over fingers for lunch tomorrow. Feeling satisfied, we set our sights towards finding a home for the night. We reached our gravel road turn off and continued up. This was our only second time using free dispersed camping. We parked near a few other vehicles and tents and start walking towards a clear area. A man’s voice gruffly yelled out, “Hey, what are you doing!?” We replied we were looking for a dispersed campsite. He angrily yelled again, “Get out! This is taken!” Even though there were plenty of tenting areas with car spaces. We hurried back to the car. I was both upset and frightened; I sure didn’t want to camp near those kind of people. The next group we saw had a fire and Travis was more confident in approaching them to inquire about the free camping. They were indeed nice and told us just to keep looking, that there were plenty on down the road. Just about when we couldn’t see much because it was getting dark, we found a pullover spot next to a large field. We made sure it was flat enough, set up our tents and got in because it was pretty cold!
I was hoping to wake up to elk grazing in a meadow but alas, it was just us. It was just 45 minutes from White Sands through the town of Alamogordo. Occasionally the interstate we were on closed for military missile testing. The White Sands visitor center was styled like an old Adobe pueblo. I gathered some maps and information on the 8 mile loop drive and short quarter mile and half mile hikes. There were longer hikes but I didn’t want to hike far in the real desert. Our national Park pass got us in for free again ($10/vehicle) and we drove off into the dunes. At first it looked like normal sand dunes, with a few bushes and grass clumps on them, but soon turned into all white bare sand. We pulled off onto a sand parking lot to hike a boardwalk discovery path with lots of informational signs. It’s actually gypsum sand.
As the pavement ended, we finally found a parking area to be able to walk on the dunes. I took my shoes off and started climbing. Wow, it was cold sand! I fully expected it to be hot under the glaring sun. We watched as other people slid down on the dunes on their sleds. You could buy or rent a slide to sled down the dunes. I guess it didn’t hurt the dunes much. We soon collapsed onto the sand, playing with it like at the beach, burying our feet. Ooh, the ocean. This much sand should have an ocean or some body of water. Instead there were mountains, which were cool…but not an ocean.
Back at the visitor center we washed our dirty dishes, filled our water containers and ate lunch. I had my leftover steak fingers and gravy and Travis made a Vienna sausage taquito. We bought our patch, what we decided to collect from every place we visited. We saw the same guy we’d seen at Carlsbad Cavern asking about the camping fee. We told him we were camped on a nice mountain up the road and about the website we’d been using but he replied he liked it here. The dunes were great and all but temperatures were still rising and soon they’d be like a sauna. But to each his own. We drove back through Alamogordo, picking up a few items at Walmart and getting gas. We stopped at a few touristy gift shop and I really liked the store with lots of colorful pottery and metal work. Travis pet the store dog and leaned in a little too close so the dog jumped and bared its teeth, making contact with Travis’s nose and lip. I was probably more scared than him. I really liked a metal mountain silhoette and Travis said if I still liked it the next day we would get it on our way out. I really wanted to hike at least a short trail in this area because it was much cooler and to walk because we driven around White Sands. We pulled over to an old railroad valley crossing. The railroad used to bring people up to the mountains for cooler weather and the trestles were still standing. Travis researched a roughly 2 mile hike that actually began super close to where we spent the night. Soon we looked up and saw the old trestle from above. The trail wasa nice mixture of dirt, rocks, and roots and looped around to a beautiful meadow. If it were later in the day we probably would’ve seen elk or deer. We headed back up to our site but the whole mountain was full. We continued down the gravel road, found an ok site but it was filled with shotgun shells, crushed beer cans and general litter so we ultimately decided against it, opting to drive closer to Las Cruces, our next destination. We drove down into the desert, winding around the city to its south eastern side, next to the mountains. I was worried it would be hot at night but there were no roads leading up the mountain. The GPS coordinates were a little off but we eventually found a spot near trailhead parking. I was paranoid about the possibility of fire ants all around our site until we scuffed up a few ant mounds and they were normal black ants. The sun was setting as we set up our tents and Travis started making pizzas. We didn’t take time to enjoy them thoroughly though they were still amazing. I enjoy ed the sun setting over the city with the mountains glowing behind us. The sun said hello bright and early, heating my tent into a sauna, forcing me to get up and moving. Lots of beetles found shade under our tents as morning came and we chuckled as they scurried from our disappearing shady spots. My coworker used to live here and had given me tips on where to find a cheaper native rug/blanket and with the best frozen custard was. It was a Sunday so everything opened later, around 10 or 11 AM. We made our way to the historic downtown Mesilla area, admiring the desert architecture. We found a cozy little café bakery to drink smoothies and wait for shops to open. After washing dishes and mailing postcards, the doors began open. I was eager to check out all the stuff, hoping for some bargains, but everything was still over my budget. Travis found a cool blanket and I bought some Christmas gifts, plus a set of colorful earrings for myself. Satisfied with our finds, we set off for Caliches frozen custard. Travis got a vanilla with sprinkles and I had a brownie caramel sundae. Mmm, this was yummy and so worth it!!