I wanted to spend the night in the van in the mountains to work on my courage without being too far from home. It will also give me the chance to work out issues so the first adventure trip won’t leave me unhappy and glaring at the van with a blazing torch in my hand. Buying my van late in the fall has left me with few good days to get to high altitude without freezing my hiney off. Finally found two mostly calm, warm days the Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving. The long weekend campers should be packing up and heading down. Go. Go. Go. Perhaps I’ll get there right after they leave.
I leave Margo with a list of four places I might stay. Bailey Canyon Road is closer, thereby less gas to get there. Two places on Pumphouse Road, but I was there last week. So I’ll go over to Bluff Springs. Good walking trails, beautiful scenery, vault toilets, and moving water. There’s also multiple fairly flat camping spots along the river. The campsites themselves are nothing more than a row of big fairly flat rocks preventing vehicles from crowding the flat spots and fire pits a little bit too close to each other.
I need a relatively level spot to park because I don’t have levelers yet. (Add that to the list.) Yee-haw, the campsites are empty. I drive past judging the camp road and hoping the further perfect travel trailer spot is available. Nope. A comfortable camp is arranged around a travel trailer. Not sure of what is farther down, I do a 180 and get a second look at the camp road. It looks totally different when you have to look with the eyes of a rear wheel drive. The eastern exit is a jumble of big loose rocks and two deep trenches. I could get down if I was willing to jerk loose everything in the van — including my teeth. I would never, ever be coming back up it.
The western entrance looks much better, and I pull in to a safe place and stare at the minefield before me. The sites are ten feet lower than the county road, and I have forty yards down a leaning slope. I must consider the top heaviness of my van. Tips of gallon sized rocks must be navigated around. Monsoon has cut a tire trap chasm and a tiny spring makes sure it’s muddy. To my right the loop back up is off limits to my van. Vehicles have cut ruts so deep that a lifted vehicle would be left sitting on the oil pan. I’ll have to go down and up the same way. Done with care, it will be a breeze for this woman who has been crawling these mountains for six years. Barreling in just won’t cut it. I visualize my line beginning to end and back out. When satisfied I can safely get in and out, I thread slow and steady through the obstacles with barely a sweat.
I throw open the van’s barn doors. Camp is set up. Then I see this. It’s a small spring, and it’s frozen. I also find a fine pile of ice cubes near a fire pit. Uh-oh. It’s been cold here. I palm plant my forehead. Of course, I checked the weather for Cloudcroft. The farther south you drive, the colder it gets until one gets to the foothills. I should have checked Sunspot weather.
What is it about the color white that attracts flies? Within two minutes, a dozen are kissing my van.
I’ll give it a try. If it’s too cold, I’ll cut my losses and go home. Right now I’m desperate for food. I missed breakfast and am willing to chew on an old cow bone if HappyDog would bring me one. Instead I get out my little propane stove and heat up some canned stew.
The first distance photo of my sweetie van amid a great view.
Time to get in a good walk. Ol’ HappyDog loves running about the forest, but I know something today that she doesn’t — it’s elk hunting season.
I put on a hunting orange cap and red plaid jacket. I strapped HappyDog, who is close to elk color, into her orange backpack and she, of course, acted soooooo insulted. I had to PULL her with the leash for the first ten feet. Once the four feet got moving, she tried to unsuccessfully rub the bag against my legs. I was ready because she does it every time. Had my bad dog voice ready. So she accepted the torture and did her darndest to get it muddy or shake it off center. Here she is with her orange finery on taken from long distance. I see orange. Don’t shoot.
HappyDog was the happiest nose dog in the forest wearing a most insulting backpack. She catalogued the top of the bluff while I walked up to the head of the spring. I recently saw a blogger fill a bottle and drink without filtering it. I almost squealed “no” then realized it was as pure a water as you will ever drink.
And boy was that water cold! It bordered on freezing. I filled two empty bottles and used the water to rinse the mud off HappyDog. She wasn’t happy about it. Followed it with a brisk rubbing from a dog towel which is a necessity when you have a dog that attracts mud as much as mine.
Back at the van I looked for a good place to tie the 10-foot dog cable. Hmmm. Add to the list a hammer and a heavy duty tent stake. I clipped the cable to the tow hitch safety chain holes. She proved this is a great place for mischief when she ferociously barked at people who had parked nearby to take a walk up the hill. I didn’t see them when they came back in the car, and they didn’t see she was tied. Everybody’s eyes got a little wide.
I had gotten comfortable. A good chair and a good book. It was comfortable while the sun was overhead, but as it set behind the mountains suddenly it got cold. I went indoors and layered on clothes and a throw. Things weren’t going as well as I planned. I didn’t bring a heating device other than the little burner I used to heat the stew. With no insulation on my windows, I doubted it would do the job and when I tested it the night I stayed in the van the fumes forced me to turn it off.
The hour before mountain sunset was a mental fight to ignore the cold. Was I going to spend the entire evening and night under blankets? Fourteen hours to daylight. The temperature dropped to 40 which was the lowest I expected. I guestimated a drop to below freezing. I could stay here and be miserable while toughing it out, or I could drive an hour to a warm house and bed. Well, another lesson learned. I’ll be fishing in the mountains and sudden cold spells will be the norm. I must carry some way to heat the inside. I packed up and almost forgot the dog cable. Another reason to tie it to the door hinge so I can’t miss it. I must get in the habit of making a complete 360 around the vehicle before leaving to search for forgotten items.
I should have pulled up into the better parking area and waited for it to get dark. Instead I headed west with the golden glow half blinding me. In the waning light I had to keep a sharp eye out for elk, mule deer and hunters parked on the side of the road. I was definitely glad to turn on the lights. I made a quick circle through Cloudcroft to enjoy the Christmas decorations and lights. They made everything look so cheery and festive.
In the western foothills I experienced a second glaring sunset and had to peel out of a layer.
I surprised Margo when I knocked on the door, and she was happy to have me home. She worried about bears eating me. There’s no snow so the bears haven’t hibernated yet. Sometimes they don’t hibernate at all. No bears, Dear. No heat either.
I learned more valuable adventuring lessons. Take levelers and a heater that doesn’t have to run on electricity. Take a hammer and a big headed tent stake for the dog. Look at the right weather location.
Boy, I’m definitely a camping newby.