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  • J.F. Rowan

Santa Fe National Forest, El Porvenir Campground

I remember the first time I heard the joke that goes something like this, “Hey, what did you spend the money on?” The first person asks. The second person then responds, “What money?” and the first person comes back with the punch line, “The money we gave you for charm school!” Or whatever school seems appropriate at the time of a semi-vicious ribbing. So it goes with the state of New Mexico. Do they actually have a budget for their state park system? If so the money only seems to be going toward floating their park system to keep it from imploding…barely. Their web site for their park system is in dire need of refurbishment and streamlining. And whoever updates the website information, needs to do it more often. Their literature is sub-par and at times can be inaccurate. The parks themselves are all in need of a facelift both from an aesthetic point of view and in terms of functionality. Perhaps we’re being too picky after all this is camping right? However, as a state competing for tourism among surrounding states such as Colorado and Texas; New Mexico, in our opinion, really needs to step up to the plate if it wants to draw more players.

Storie Lake State Park, Las Vegas NM

Storie Lake State Park, Las Vegas NM. Someone needs a makeover.

And so it would go when we arrived at Storie Lake State Park just outside of Las Vegas New Mexico. Even though it was about 3 PM in the afternoon, no one was manning the visitor center. The sign on the window informed us that the visitors center was closed during the offseason. We don’t need electric or septic for amenities so we were planning on parking in one of their primitive campsites. But for the same reason the office was closed, the loop that contained the primitive sites was closed as well. We were left with the choice of full hook up sites closer to the road which also seemed to be filled to about 60% capacity. We would also be forced to pay $14 a night for things we didn’t need. Maybe we’re asking too much, but we could almost get the same aesthetic experience from a Walmart parking lot in the middle of Trenton New Jersey. We elected to pass through without even stopping.

Sante Fe National Forest, El Porvenir Campground

Santa Fe National Forest, El Porvenir Campground. Our idea of a campground.

Sante Fe National Forest, El Porvenir Campground

Our rig nestled among the Ponderosa.

We get back on the highway and continue on to Las Vegas (NM) where we stop off for coffee and a “re-group” meeting at the local McDonalds. One of our Benchmark maps reveals a National Forest primitive campground located about 20 miles north of town. Taking advantage of the rare presence of the web, Yvette does some quick research and off we go. The trucks navigation takes us through some gorgeous, though somewhat nail-biting canyon roads as we climb our way to our destination. Along the way, we pass through some gorgeous high meadow areas before ending at a remote, 12 spot campground. Initially, there only seems to be one other camper. As we round the wooded loop, I spot a site that looks perfect for our rig. As I back into the spot, I notice there is a sign that has fallen flat onto the ground, “Campground Host”.

We were not the hosts, but other campers didn't know that. Helped keep things quiet.

Not a second later Yvette says, “Is that an electrical box?” Sure enough, we had backed into a spot that was normally reserved for the “Campground Host”, a person or couple who volunteer to basically babysit at a park for an extended period of time. Volunteers are sometimes given some amenities to make it worth their while to help out such as free firewood, waived camping fees or in this case, electricity. This particular campground had recently opened for the season and had no host, at least as of yet. For us, it was nice to be able to have the electric if we needed it like when it was too cloudy and the solar wasn’t pulling it’s weight. But there was still the issue of water, we still had no water in the trailer for washing dishes and cooking and the fresh water supply in the Tiger was down to about 14 gallons. We could live on what was left of the fresh water in the Tiger, but it sure would be nice to have some water for other uses in the trailer.

El Porvenir Christian Camp

El Porvenir Christian Camp, they were kind enough to give us some fresh water.

On our way in we passed a Christian retreat facility just outside the campground entrance. We decided that with a small donation, perhaps they might let us partially fill our trailers tank. Since the retreat was within walking distance, off we went. We found the manager of the retreat, gave him a small donation and partially filled the trailers water tank. Problem solved. We now had water for washing and cooking and could extend our stay, giving us some time to plan our next move and take advantage of a gorgeous remote area. Good luck didn’t just shine itself on our water situation either. While driving into the park, 2 forestry personnel looked like they were just finishing up some tree trimming work, dropping several trees marked for removal. As we stopped and asked if it was okay for us to camp, one of them told us we could help ourselves to all the cottonwood we could carry. And it was dry, and already cut to length! We would later split enough wood to keep us in firewood for the duration of our stay, and enough to take with us to our next destination as long as it was within the confines of New Mexico. (You can not transport firewood over state lines.)

Visiting Fire Fighters from the state of Oregon stop by and give us some tips if we ever get out that way.

Dedicated National Forest Fire Fighters. A nice group of guys, could have talked to them for hours.

On about the second day, my wife went off to use the restroom located near our campsite. At some point, she came across 4 Forest Fire Fighters and struck up a conversation. One of the guys asked if the "Tiger" rig was ours, Yvette sent them back to our camp where yours truly gave them a quick tour. I’m pretty used to it by now, she does this a lot. Once she was back to camp, we learned that they were detailed to New Mexico from Oregon. Detailed due to the “Extreme Risk” of forest fires, they were there to lend a hand in the event a fire broke out. We also learned they would rotate out when their two-week detail was up. We also discussed wherein the state of Oregon it might be advantageous for us to visit if we ever got around to exploring their great state. They were a wealth of information and soon we got the maps out and they helped us highlight various areas of interest. After all, was said and done, they had to excuse themselves so they could continue their work day, surveying other campsites for forest fire potential. These men were exceptional people. Dedicated, hard-charging individuals that were also very well grounded, well mannered and the salt of the earth and I felt humbled in their presence. I didn’t have to hear their stories of tragedy and triumph, I could read it in their faces.

Hermits Peak.

A typical camp day with us is anything but typical. We might hike one day, stay in camp to do small tasks around camp the next. I sharpened our knives one day while Yvette got up on the roof of the Tiger and cleaned and inspected the solar panels. We’ve discovered and chronic problem with our “WiBoost” antenna. The antenna bracket is about 3mm too thick for the retaining nut to properly grab and tighten the antenna to the bracket. It would become a constant problem that I will deal with a later date. Its cost-benefit factor is waning and it will be something I’ll have to deal with sooner to later. On a positive note, I discovered a way to use the drone when cellular service isn’t present. Even though we had neither reception through my phone, nor the truck, the trucks hotspot could still be activated and act as a router (I’m not an I.T. guy so excuse any misuse in WIFI theory here.) between my phone and the drone. Not entirely sure as to the laws governing drone use in National Parks, I simply took the drone straight up and straight down for an op’s check. I also searched the area for possible fires.

We spent the next 5 days at the El Poveier Camp Ground located in the Santa Fe National Forest. Did some hiking, and exploring. Yvette even hung out a Hummingbird feeder and a few hummers entertained us during our stay. In a way, we were able to overcome an otherwise crappy situation by regrouping and doing a bit of digging but only because of a state park that wasn’t very appealing, to us anyway. My mom has been gone over a year now, but I can always hear her voice in my head especially in times such as these. “When one door closes, another one opens.”

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