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  • J.F. Rowan

Carson National Forest Encounter

We wind our way (or should I say unwind) up and out of the Rio Grande gorge and back on to the main highway heading southwest. Now, with better reception, it was clear that New England does not have the corner market on the countrie's erratic changing weather. As a matter of fact, this Connecticut Yankee thinks we’ve actually had it pretty tame compared to this part of the country. Yea, well sometimes the truth is a better pill.

Rio Grande Gorge, Orilla National Recreation Area

Leaving the Rio Grande Gorge. A bit more refined than our entrance.

As we’re driving, the sleet has changed back and forth from sleet to snow to rain a dozen times. Nothing major and the ground was well above freezing but one has to be aware of bridges etc. Mind you, Mr. Cheap here has been trying to formulate in his head the correlation between the price of fuel and factors such as relative distance to cities, highways, populations, elevations, distance to ports etc. It has occurred to Mr. Cheap that there could possibly be an algorithm that might exist that he (me) could crack and buy fuel in the most cost-efficient manner. No, really, I’m sober when I think like this. Scary right? So, as it turns out, I’ve passed at least a half dozen filling stations and my fuel gauge is reading somewhere around a third of a tank (okay, maybe less). Now, let’s make things interesting. Another thing I’m trying to do is get out of the “drive-by-everything" mindset where I see something interesting, and I simply drive by. Maybe out of habit from working out of my truck for 14 years, or perhaps driving to and from work for another 13 years but whatever the case is, I have passed a few places that I wished I had stopped and experienced. But not today. Not when I’m relatively low on fuel and the weather is a bit sketchy. “Wow, did you see that honey?” I said as I got on the brakes, “That's a forest road that would most certainly have some nice boondocking sites on it,” I continued while making a u-turn that would cringe even the most seasoned driving instructor. The Carson National Forest Road # 122 and no one in sight. Pinch me.

Carson National Forest

The beginning of Forest Road #122, Caron National Forest. Approx Elev. 6800ft.

A bit higher now, some snow appearing, temp about 33 degrees.

Parked in a turn-around, 7.5 miles in, elevation is about 9200feet. Light snow and some accumulation.

Ten, maybe fifteen miles per hour is about as fast as I dared travel on this road. A bit rutted at times it was still better than Sand Hill Road (Shutesbury, MA) is in the spring. Initially, I figure we’ll explore about a mile of this scenic wonder and turn around and get back on our main route. But this giant Spruce and Ponderosa mistress pulls us in deeper and deeper and before we know it, we’re in about seven and a half miles and our elevation is close to 9000 feet. It’s a little after 12:30 pm when I spot a place to turn around which also looks like a great place to have lunch. We hop in back and take note of the outside temperature. Our thermometer shows 33 degrees and it begins to snow lightly. “Maybe we should stay the night,” I suggest. My suggestion was not well received, though to be honest, perhaps wiser minds prevailed. We finished lunch and headed back down to the main highway. After about ten minutes, the snowfall turned from light to not quite moderate. I actually enjoyed the idea of having it snow so hard, that we would be forced to pull over and wait it out, isolated from the rest of the world. But, the ground was plenty warm and there was very little accumulation. For the record, this is my kind of space. This is where my mind, and perhaps my body, is most comfortable. I've always been somewhat conflicted having taken about a dozen of those personality tests in my life, half of which labled me as an introvert and the other half, an extrovert. Go figure. But here, I consistently find my "sweet spot". Who wouldn't?

Starting back down to the main road. It would have been interesting had we stayed overnight.

Even though we didn’t stay put, the off-road detour was a simple exercise, an introduction perhaps of how we will deal with the unknown as it realtes to the art of boondocking. A mild exercise at best, but still it gave us a sense of how the National Forest system exists, at least here. State park systems seem to be very consistent at least within each state, whereas National Forest, National Parks, and National Monuments seem to be structured the same across the country, at least from what we’ve seen so far. “Consistent” in that we can expect relatively the same facilities, payment procedures, rules etc., from one park to another. Integrating what we learn on the road coupled with experience and in accurate map interpretation will better allow us to eliminate the unknowns as we strive to extend our time off the grid.

Seven and a half miles later, we are back on the main road and headed to our original destination, Storie Lake State Park located just outside of Las Vegas New Mexico. We encounter more snow and sleet. It is rather slow going through the mountains but soon the temp begins to increase and the clouds begin to break up. I reluctantly stop for fuel, suck it up, and pay the $3.19 per gallon for fuel…at least $50 worth anyway. What? Cut me some slack, I’m still working on my algorithm!

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