We took off Friday afternoon after DF got off work. Our plan is to get under a huge cottonwood next to the Gila River tonight, set up the quick dome tent and get an early start in the morning. It is more than a twelve hour drive to the Orient Land Trust and its hot springs in south central Colorado. This way we can save three or four hours this evening, giving us time to more leisurely cruise through the back roads near Reserve, New Mexico, a place that I had been curious about for years.
We have a 16 year old road map with us. It is discovered too late, that it is outdated and that we have misplaced the entire Gila River. We sit in the car naked at a remote and quiet intersection in a parking lot of a closed commercial building, the overhead light is on, as we look at what information that we have. It is dark out there. We would be notified with headlights in enough time to adjust to any traffic. It has gotten too late to turn around and drive the distance to find our intended camping spot. I know that there will be pine tree covered Federal Forest somewhere around the border and probably at least a safe place along the road to rest the night. Even better we may find a camp ground. Other places to stay are out of our way. We decide to push on.
After traveling up the incline of this dark road, the smell of pine wisps through our nostrils. A sign marks a camping ground. We pull in, attempting to find our way with headlights in a thick ponderosa pine forest. We notice a truck and a man walking his dog across a clearing, as our headlights graze them. Wishing to avoid others in order to stay nude, we continue to explore. There is a good level site not very far from public toilets. No one else seems to be around. Perhaps the facility will attract others in the morning, but getting some rest precludes concerns for the perfect campsite. We set the quick dome tent and bed down smelling the tall red pines into our sleep.
The morning brings a welcome revelation. We have the entire campground to ourselves. We have remained naked, but for our camping quilt cover and are comfortable climbing out of the tent nude to be embraced by the day. The plan is to quickly break camp and get down the road to a mom and pop restaurant breakfast.
We have posted ourselves in an ant community. The tent is covered in them. Everything must be shaken off; least we wander off into the next state with lonely members of the tribe.
Oh Fair New Mexico!
Crossing the border into New Mexico, I have to respect a personal tradition. As a kid in school in New Mexico, I was required to learn the New Mexico State Anthem, “Oh Fair New Mexico.” I break out into some of the corniest lyrics ever. DF cringes, waiting for my joke to end. I notice this and switch to my best Groucho Marx rendition in the last stanza, waving my arms and grabbing at my heart’s chest as if to embrace this vast state. I do love New Mexico.
This scenic route is very much that. We travel through pines and fields of crops, stretches of grasslands and scrub. All along the way there are typical adobe structures from years ago.
All is rustic, with that special New Mexico flare. There is much wildlife. Thistle sporting lavender colored flowers, black eyed Susans and yucca in full bloom are popping up along the route.
DF spots a coyote sitting atop a hill. Comical Ravens hop to safety as we approach. A group of wild turkeys jump off of the asphalt and into the cover of bushes. A badger slowly limps across the road; its front paw raised from some kind of injury. We slow down with sympathy to give the unhappy beast safe passage.
Along the way, we spot the old bridge over a green canyon. We decide to stop and take some pictures of the rusting rustic old hulk with its taste of old New Mexico below it.
The new bridge is wide with good visibility. I decide to forgo the clothing option, but carry my kilt under arm, just in case, giving me even more safe passage to explore freely nude.
The morning air that flows through the canyon and across this bridge feels great. There is a sense of liberation.
The restaurant that we imagined appears in Reserve. It is called Ella’s Café. In the parking lot in front, I wrap my camo kilt around me and slip into a black t-shirt, as DF slips into a light summer dress. The decor has an extensive chicken/rooster knickknack collection. Some of it reminds me of my grandma. One year, for Christmas, she received some ceramic chickens from a relative. She liked them and told them so. The next year, she was given more from those people. Then someone got the idea that grandma was collecting chickens and she received more, until inadvertently, she had a collection that was overwhelming her entire kitchen. With this down home ambiance, we indulge in veggie cheese omelets, toast and a tall OJ.
After breakfast, we immediately take a wrong turn and end up on a Forest Service back road. Rather than turn around, I keep going further, thinking that it may be the road we wanted, or it may be another road seen on the old map to famous Pie Town. We blow an hour’s driving time going this way and decide ultimately to back track. I suppose that the cute adobe town, country side and fresh forest was worth it. We were certainly given a sense that there is a great deal of backcountry in New Mexico.
Back on track, crossing the continental divide, these roads out of the mountains are just plain straight.
The roads can be seen diminishing as they flow over hills far to what would be a horizon, to be stopped by another mountain range.
We stop at Socorro for Mexican Food. It is good. I have a quest to find the best of the chili relleno burritos in New Mexico, whenever I travel there.
The interstate highway should get us to Santa Fe at 82 mph within just a few hours. The path is wide. one can see at great distance and carnuding is a breeze. In Santa Fe, we take the scenic route that is on my old map. In sixteen years this scenic road has become urban. It stops us at light after light. Time is wasted. I resolve to get an updated navigation device.
The wide Rio Grande Valley has been a constant companion as we cruise through its foothills. Now as we come through the clutter of suburban Americana and patches of lovely Santa Fe style buildings, the river gets more intimately closer. There is the occasional tributary, and road stretches along the side of the green oasis-like valley. The road has ceased its four lanes. We are back to the wide two lane back country feel.
Carson National Forest:
Near Tres Piedras we take a forest Service road into the Carson National Forest. I had scouted the area by google satellite. There looked to be a great potential for a camp spot and another quick dome set up. We could walk off into the forest, off the side of the road a bit, to abide in privacy. There appeared to be an interesting off shoot into a rock walled canyon with hiking potential. We had planned to arrive earlier, but dawdling, getting lost in the forested mountains, and losing an hour from a time zone change, have stopped the hiking plans. The sun will set somewhat soon, so we need to find our spot.
We soon come across a previously used campsite. It is atop a peak, which could make for a nice sunset. It is too close to the dusty road and we are thirsty to explore the area more.
Wandering further, there are few flat spots and few places to park the rice rocket. The narrow road is thin enough to have to slow down to a crawl when coming across other vehicles. There is a ditch on each side. There are few other vehicles.
We eventually find a suitable spot. It is easy to carry the shelter, the bedding and two folding chairs out to what might be a stream during a flash flooding rain storm. It is far enough from the road that nude privacy should be easy. We can hear any cars coming and sit in chairs, or simply stand behind things until the road is clear. The track to the site that we have created is surrounded by several species of meadow flowers and grasses. There are a couple of flat places where the sheeting flows of rains have built up a good camping surface by burying the rocks under a sandy loam.
As we sit snacking on wild smoked salmon, a Jarlsberg cheese, yogurt and fruit, we continue to see very few vehicles up on the road. Then, groups of them appear, some returning, some going both directions. Perhaps beer runs, perhaps they are looking for a campsite. The sun sets. We watch silhouettes of pine against a pastel mass of puffy New Mexico clouds. We hear the bray of an elk high on the ridge above us.
The time is late, maybe 8:30 as it gets dark and the stars come out. We are tired and climb into our shelter to sleep, but there is a distant thunder, a rhythmic pounding. Someone is playing techno music down the road. It is very loud with those new efficient speakers. It is annoying, but we hope that it will end politely around ten-ish. Our fatigue is greater than the sound and we both quickly drift off.
As I do when I fall asleep too early, I awake around 12:30am to the distant redundant drumming. I climb out of the tent to have a leak and appreciate the stars, for a while.
Then, at 5:00am, they are still pounding.
At 6:30am, I jump out of the tent, pistol in hand. A black pickup truck is parked next to our car and I had heard a loud noise, as if something was breaking. I find that they are just getting ready to head up the 4×4 trail across the road. I walk over to inspect and see no clue evident of the loud noise. We begin to break camp. Practice makes a big difference. We are done in record time.
We had resolved to teach the probably hungover partiers a karmatic lesson. Out of the case of old CD’s that we had brought we searched for Led Zeppelin to no avail. Jimi Hendrix will suffice. Windows down, stereo at ready to blast a hail of noise at their camp, as they sleep it off, we begin to head down the road to seek revenge with grins on our devious faces. We both want to explore that canyon down the hill and a quick mischievous volley would be a fun way to start the day, or so we think.
We search along the road. There is no sign of anyone. A mile of more passes by. We’re thinking that the campers must have an incredible sound system. We begin to speculate that they may be over the ridge on another forest road. I wonder about the acoustics of the canyon walls and the forest canopy. Then, there it is, a large clearing with maybe 40 or more cars and tents. It had been a rave in the remote forest. We were out gunned and outnumbered probably 40 to 1 or more…oh well….
A Pleasant Surprise:
The turnoff materializes, and slowly, we drive through a scattering of dilapidated buildings, overgrown old appliances and rusting old cars nestled around a heavenly natural setting. It is fields and trees in a cute valley. Across the way, one cluster has a small adobe church.
This is probably the remnants of a maybe homestead community in the heart of the national forest.
The road begins to be more appropriate for a 4×4, or high clearance truck, than a packed Honda Civic. We park, getting our basics together within view of one of the old houses. Initially planning an exploratory stroll, expecting the signed warning of dead end. We begin to hear the sounds of a stream. This one claims the status of a rio.
The diversity is amazing. It is a shady lane. The sound of wildlife is plentiful and diverse, a pristine sound, clear and rich.
To our right rise large rock formations, reminding me of the now ancient TV series “Bonanza.”
To our left, we glance through trees into the little valley and its meadow. I have divorced my kilt. DF rolls down and up her sundress tucking into a large green donut’s shape around her waist.
The temperature is perfect. The air is morning fresh.
We come to the creek as it crosses the road.
This is deep enough to be unavoidable.
We dip and slosh through in our five-toe shoes and socks, knowing that they will dry out well. Our time is to be short. Any time spent here would mean less time lying about in the hot springs. We have already paid $60 bucks for ground fees and that day is disappearing. The thing is, this is promising to be worth the delay.
The dead end never comes. Our stroll in this natural park and its wondrous treats is definitely worth it. Everything changes as we strolled on, seduced by its magic. We are engulfed in beautiful scents over and again. Pines, grasses, wild roses, and unidentified fragrant mysteries are intense.
Realizing that we have come much further than we anticipated and that this will empty out into another ranching valley, we eventually turn around. We want to come back into here with the 4×4 and camp a day or two, at another time. We make that decision to return that some other time.
This place, by itself, would be worth the long nude drive.
After driving through fields of florescent yellow flowers, and waving to a hawk posing on a fence post on the side of the road, we are off on the highway again heading north. We encounter mostly recreation vehicles, trailer followed RV, followed roof rigs on top of high clearance vehicles. We are in the territory of the abundant Colorado tourist industry, with its high peaked mountains and rich forests. The terrain is mostly flat, with a sage brush covering, and an occasional small town with their mass of shady trees. A dark green mountain usually breaks this up this flat realm, many of these peaks holding lingering masses of white snow in July.
The towns are dolled up for tourists, yet slow and sleepy in their airs. In one, we lumber through a 25mph zone at 15 mph, trapped behind several cars following someone’s grannie. She slowly turns left down the street that I suspect she has lived on for many years, setting us free to go the speed limit.
DF is hyped up about visiting the Great Sand Dune National Monument. This oddly contrasting huge pile of tan colored sand, dunes several hundred feet tall, a desert at the base of snowy 13,000 foot tall mountains, is just off of the absolutely straight highway 17.
We deviate from the route to our destination. I am reluctant by this time. I have done so many long hours of driving and want only to just sit in hot water in a natural setting at OLT. I’m resolved to follow the desires of my partner and take the extra hour’s side excursion. I defer the helm with her at the wheel.
I figured that there might be a spot to get away and stay nude, but the place is filled and kids, everywhere. It has a beach at its base. A wide flow of refreshing shallow water stretches over the sand. The parking lot is full of patrons that have paid the $15 day fee. Everywhere, families are gamboling in various swimming attire. Grandma in her one piece rolls in the wet sand, hugging a child. Excited kids yell at one another, buckets and pails, and rubber toys are seen across the distance. Across this divide, the mountainous smooth dunes rise up and there we see little black specks get smaller and fewer, until there are no more. Out there would be a place to find a nude solitude and sunning.
High on those distant dunes, clothing law would be unenforceable, but the time and effort just doesn’t add up, today. The soft dry sand where we sit is already hot on our feet. Our ankles are itching from the bites of unseen bugs. It just would not be enough fun for the effort.
We pass fewer RV’s as we continue up highway 17, passing strangely, an alligator farm. Land looks cheap out here. There is no apparent enforcement of building codes. I see many strange conglomerations of unorthodox, bird’s nests of unprofessional sheltering off of the road, as we pass by. Finally, the sign for Orient Land Trust appears, the final seven miles up a dirt road and up out of the valley. We are over three hours late for our noon arrival target, but we know that the sun sets late.
I have planned ahead, left contingencies and been alert throughout a nearly 700 mile drive. Before leaving, we checked online for gun laws and nudity statutes in each state. I’ve found the Naturist Action Committee’s (NAC) site to be the best up to date resource for legal help:
New Mexico has plenty of beautiful wild and country regions. Population is concentrated into just a few centers. Out in these grand vistas there seems to be an almost infinite possibility to roam with minimal risk in a more natural state.
To be continued at OLT….