In 2017 our, for lack of a better term, adventure group drove around the western half of Oklahoma’s “Oklahoma Adventure Trail” and for New Years Eve stayed in a weird B&B that was also a winery. In 2018, we drove out to Big Bend and spent New Years Eve in the literal middle of nowhere. Both were awesome. So for 2019 we had to do something cool!
That said... we’d just finished a major cheap car challenge (which I should really get around to doing a write up on) and Taylor and I had just been laid off from our respective positions, so we... didn’t have a ton of give-a-fucks to spare.
While going through the list of potentials (New Mexico, Big Bend, Louisiana, Arkansas, etc...) New Mexico was the only one that really intrigued us. We did a little exploring back in 2018 and noted that we very, very much needed to come back.
Because of the aforementioned joblessness, though both of us have since found gainful employment though we haven’t started yet, doing this one “on the cheap” was important. Taylor has had some good luck sleeping in the back of his XTerra, so George and I thought we’d give camping in our cars a go to save money and also because camping
is can be fun.
Also, George was weirdly insistent that I bring Dog A, my now 10 year old pupper who went off-roading with us in April, along for the ride. Never one to miss a chance to be with my pup, I “begrudgingly” acquiesced and we planned to bring him.
Preface over, we did that thing.
Day 0 was a slightly grueling drive from our respective start points to Lincoln National Forest. I drove 10 hours from Tulsa and Taylor drove about the same from Austin. George had headed out the day before so that he would be close enough to pick out a camp site early.
Either way, from my perspective 10 hours later I arrived in the middle of nowhere to a very pretty but very cold campsite. We had a little fire, a little food, a lot of booze, and called it an early night so we could be warm in our sleeping bags.
We awoke the next morning not dead from hypoxia, hypothermia, or alcohol poisoning. We were cold, stiff, and a little hungover.
That said, the car camping was a success!
We spent the rest of the day meandering towards our next overnight stay in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. I say “meandering” because the drive out was rocky, snowy, not all that fun, and took all day.
But very... jiggly.
This is really my least favorite type over overlanding/offroading. The road wasn’t technically difficult, there were very few sports we were concerned about damaging the vehicles, but slow going and lots of lurching about. Basically the worst parts of offroading with none of the fun technical challenge.
It took us about four hours or so to clear the trails, after which we stopped for “lunch” at the home of Smokey Bear, and then drove to White Sands National
Monument Park, which was neato.
And then headed to our
shit hole budget AirBnB, had some cheap food and good beer, and crashed for the evening.
The next morning, we had one goal: Secure a camp site for New Years Eve. We knew we were heading to San Lorenzo Canyon, which has some epic camping, but we had one specific site we wanted.
Because it is the best.
So we took some back roads to Socorro, stocked up on food and firewood, and got gas. It... took a lot longer than expected, tbh... Around 3PM we found ourselves retracing our steps back into San Lorenzo Canyon, excited for what lay ahead.
Soon enough we were nearing the camp site we wanted. Was it occupied?
It was not!
We parked the cars, picked up about 2 pounds of broken glass and another couple pounds of nails (people are awful) and then went for a hike!
It was on this hike we discovered the dog does not like heights. This comes as somewhat of a surprise as we’d always known he is a bit of a mountain goat, capable of picking a good line and climbing rocks with ease.
Unfortunately instead of mountain goatness we got a lot of back talk and shouting from the irate pup. Really showing that he might be a Husky mix here...
I carried him through the parts he didn’t like.
It may look cruel, but I assure you no doggo was hurt in the making of these photos. Once he was back on the ground he was a happy pupper once again.
We hiked around the canyon, taking photos and wishing we’d thought to bring beer.
Darkness eventually descended on the canyon, so we made out way back to camp, set up, and got the fire going.
The rest of the evening was spent cooking food, drinking beer, and Taylor taking excellent night pictures.
It was a good time.
Since it had been a long day, we decided to call it a Central Time New Years, pop the champagne early, and call it a night.
The next morning we awoke in a canyon.
It hadn’t been a dream.
And what a place to wake up!
I was the first to wake up so I packed up, trying to
slam as many car doors as possible be as quiet as possible, then took the pup for a little walk in the morning light.
Eventually Taylor emerged and we went for another hike. About an hour after that George emerged from his cocoon and we finished packing up and hit the road again.
Tonight we were going to be sleeping at a wolf sanctuary -yes you read that right- but the last tour of the season was at 3:30, so we needed to book it over there.
After a brisk lunch in Socorro, we motored to the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary. The drive wasn’t long, but thanks to New Mexico’s crazy low speed limits we didn’t make very good time. Still, we made it before the tour.
None of us really knew what to expect but, as it turns out, this place was pretty cool. To quote Taylor:
The Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary is primarily a rescue organization for wolves, coyotes, and a few other species. Most of their animals came from bad exotic pet situations, breeders who had to shut down for operating illegally, or accidents involving wildlife that could not remain in the wild. They provide life-long care for these animals because they cannot be legally released into the wild, but other organizations would likely euthanize them because of that. Also there are a lot of particulars to caring for wolves that many places aren’t set up for. If you’re so inclined, consider supporting them.
I hate that a place like this has to exist, but I do honestly believe these people are doing the best they can with the resources they have available and really want to do right by the animals under their care.
The tour was cool, showing us their more socially inclined animals and explaining the particulars of how they came to the organization and why they were the way they were. A lot of their animals get anxious around new people, so for the good of the animal aren’t on the tour, which is good.
The overall takeaway is “don’t try and make a wild animal a pet” and “you can’t shortcut thousands of years of domestication.” I gotta say it is a wise one. These things are super cute (even the dingos!) and I can see why people would want them. That said, even the “low content” wolf-dogs sound like a handful, so I think I’ll setting for looking at these cute doggos.
After the tour was over we settled into our cabin for some stew and a video games. Not a bad night!
The next morning we headed out laaaaaaate (thanks soup beans) and motored to El Morro National Monument. Luckily we were the only people there when we pulled up. After touring the gift shop, we did some historying.
It was neato... but not very... car-related.
Then we headed to some ice caves.
Wait... sorry. A cave with ice in it.
And an ex-volcano.
It was... not worth $12.
But also cool.
Oh and there was an Alfa Spider hiding in a garage there.
Then we headed to Chain of Craters Backcountry Byway. We did not make it far.
After seeing the sign we remembered seeing some horror stories online. We weren’t sure if “snowy” and “wet” were the same, but... We... opted to not, and instead went for a series of forest service roads on the other side of the continental divide.
It was epic.
As we drove along the road went from snow kissed to snow covered to virgin(ish) snow.
Did I mention it was epic?
The Land Rover’s new tires killed on the snow, with both excellent traction and abysmal gas mileage. ... you take the good with the bad.
Despite some missing or snowed in roads, we had a ton of fun and made it to Grants just in time for dinner, drinks, and some car spotting at our cheap motel.
The next day we headed out decently early. Unfortunately for us, today was a bit of a mishmash. We knew we needed to head to Santa Fe, but not the best way to get there. Ultimately we opted to take scenic, backcountry roads to get to to the Gilman Tunnels.
The drive was very pretty, if a bit boring, and thanks to New Mexico’s speed limits it took quite some time. Eventually we reached the tunnels, only to be informed that the road is closed. That didn’t stop us from walking around and getting some great pictures, but it did stop us from getting epic car photos.
Next up we hit the Soda Dam, actually totally by accident. We’d meant to see it, but I just happened to see something cool off the side of the road and decided to stop. Turns out that was the Soda Damn.
It was neat, but, like the tunnels and ice cave, a little touristy and not something to spend a lot of time at.
Last stop was the Valles Caldera National Preserve, which was another thing that looked cool from the road and turns out it was where we were heading. With a little more daylight at our disposal we might have given this one a go, but instead we made out peace with taking some photos and hitting up the visitor’s center.
Despite getting close to dark, we were determined to try out a couple of the backcountry roads we’d planned to do today.
They were all closed due to snow.
Than again at over 9000 feet... we get it.
Unfortunately, this kills the road trip. We motored into Santa Fe, checked into our hotel, made dinner reservations, showed up at the wrong restaurant, drank a bunch, had a very good sleep with a very stinky dog, and headed home the next day.
Despite some mishaps and a few more paved roads than we would have liked, this trip was everything we were looking for and more.
We definitely proved the viability of car camping on these trips, so you can pretty much guarantee we’ll be doing that again in the future.
While I certainly have my complaints about New Mexico (speed limits, crap roads), this only being our second time out there I think we’re all quite smitten. The variety of scenery, good food, and lots of outdoor recreation make it a great spot for the off-road/overland enthusiast.
The 9-10 hour drive out is... a lot, but we’d be driving the same to get to Big Bend, and New Mexico has a lot more variety of recreation and we actually managed to get gas and people food every night without having to fight the crowds.
I’d be shocked if this were our last trip out here and, in fact, not the least bit surprised if we don’t spend next NYE out here as well. The state gave us everything we wanted and more, and we’re all looking forward to next time.
All photos are by myself if uncredited or by Taylor if credited. Please do not reuse or reproduce without express permission. Please contact me via comments for attribution information and/or contact info.