When Free Camping IS Just Like the Picture

Do you recognize this place? It’s another angle of view from the campsite in our header and our first free camping experience.

After our busy day at Living Desert Zoo and Carlsbad Caverns we were ready to settle in and relax for the night. We heard there was camping available at the National Park and inquired at the visitor center. It turns out there is camping, but it’s backwoods and you need to hike out. Although we did have our tent with us and plenty of freeze dried rations we decided a swollen knee probably didn’t need any more aggravation and asked if there was a place locally where we could park and camp in our SUV. The ranger directed us to a local BLM called Means Road and we were on our way. But first we made a stop in Carlsbad for some awesome BBQ at a place called Danny’s. Mr. McGee joked about starting our day at Denny’s and ending our day at Danny’s. I suppose when we return to Carlsbad this is going to be our thing.

Now Mr. McGee was stoked. Free camping on BLM was something he has always wanted to try. I on the other hand was not very excited. We don’t really have BLM land here in Florida. What we have for free camping are Wildlife Management Areas and Water Management Areas (WMAs). Inside the WMA areas are campgrounds often used for staging hunts.

There is a lot that goes into managing a healthy forest and controlling the animal populations is a large part of it – hunting is encouraged. Eco-tourism, fishing, hiking and other approved activities are also allowed as long as you note the warnings to check if it is hunt season and take the appropriate precautions. During the cooler months you can expect to see a lot of guns, dogs, 4 wheelers and the kind of guys that won’t take any (fill in the blank) from people that are trying to push them out of their space for a free place to live. Florida has a very large homeless population and so this is an actual problem in all of our city parks and public lands.

We aren’t hunters but we appreciate their function in managing the health of our forests. We don’t try to use these places during the October-May camping season as it also coincides with hunting season. The rest of the year it’s just too darn hot for us! With that said, you can understand why I would think BLM lands would attract a similar group of people and be used for relatively the same purpose. Yet another area where I found I was wrong.

Although similar, it turns out that BLM land in the southwest (Slab City excluded) is a little different than WMA’s here in the southeast. Here is the mission statement from their website.

Congress tasked the BLM with a mandate of managing public lands for a variety of uses such as energy development, livestock grazing, recreation, and timber harvesting while ensuring natural, cultural, and historic resources are maintained for present and future use.

http://www.blm.gov/about/our-mission

So we finished our meal and with a smile on Mr. McGee’s face and a deer-in-the-headlights look on mine we headed to Means Road to find a place to park for the night.

This is one of those times when having a 4WD came in handy. The road was steep, rocky, rutted and definitely not RV or travel trailer friendly. A higher clearance vehicle would be advised. I was a little nervous about slicing the sidewalls on our tires. Investing in a set of good 10 plys is definitely in our future. We passed a few other adventurous types and about half way up the hill found a nice place to pull off. The view was outstanding!

Notice how the road disappears. From there down it was steep, rocky, and rutted from use and runoff.

The campsite was free of trash and the pull offs were well separated. There was a really nice fire ring. Sadly all of New Mexico was under a burn ban so a campfire was out of the question. There was a natural gas pipeline running along the opposite side of the road and you could see the small flames burning at the extraction points which dotted the landscape, but these things weren’t really much of a distraction. All-in-all we had that alone in the wilderness feel.

The desert is a deceptive creature. It’s not as flat as I had imagined. There are rolling hills, steep drop offs, and a wide variety of plants and animals. One of these desert animals kept us entertained for at least half an hour.

As we were setting up camp we kept hearing this noise. We’d see the cactus paddles move on occasion and then there was silence. After this happened several times I was a little concerned. Did we have a rattlesnake moving around our campsite? We spent some time investigating and finally found the source. It was some kind of desert mouse living beneath the cactus. The noise was him coming out for a nibble.

Mr. McGee explored for a bit and I rested my tired feet. We watched the sunset and retreated to the SUV. Because the road was rough we didn’t have a problem with cars climbing the hill after hours. The night was quiet and peaceful. If it weren’t for being exhausted from a full day of exploring this would have been the perfect place to stay up all night stargazing. But after hearing the first howls of the coyotes we were both fast asleep.

It was the best nights sleep ever! If it means we can travel more often I’d live like this forever. The sunrise was gorgeous. The temperatures perfect. The campsite was not dangerous or dirty. Getting back down the road was a little tricky, but we made it without incident. The perfect start to another incredible day.

Next up the Lincoln National Forest, spring fed waterfalls, and why you probably shouldn’t smell like BBQ if you want to hike in the desert.

Until next week – take care and enjoy the journey.


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