Most of what I’ve written about on this blog from the beginning has been about travel, which is something that often feels like a distant memory these days. Between the the pandemic and the arrival of our little “Chikoo,” I’ve spent more time at home this year than any other time I can remember in my adult life.
Here’s a little recap of the sweet new places we’ve been able to explore close to home lately in our new(ish) travel trailer camper.
Ruidoso, New Mexico
As far as New Mexico towns go, Ruidoso is a sizable one with a population of over 7,000. Ruidoso was on our must-visit list for quite a while because of what we’d heard about its lovely forest, lake, mountain town vibe. We had actually planned to be here in the summer for a trail running race and had booked an Airbnb here (pre-pandemic and pre-baby). Obviously, the race was cancelled and a camping seemed like a better option, but we still made it here in a different way.
Ruidoso is a little over three hours from where we live, which ends up more like four hours when you consider “camper time” – i.e. striking out at gas stations looking for a propane fill, having to drive no more than 67 mph, and mandatory pull-overs for baby meltdowns. It was our first camping trip with the travel trailer and second camping trip with a baby, so we booked a private campground with full hookups for convenience that was honestly not so great. It was like no one in the entire campground was aware that there was a pandemic going on or had ever heard of a face mask. Although the tall pine tree scenery was pretty, the sites were close together, and the other residents had no qualms about coming up to you to breathe on your baby because they missed their own grandkids.
The close quarters and intrusive people made it impossible to spend any time outside our camper to enjoy the outdoors whatsoever, which is pretty much the whole point of camping. However, the hikes in the area were pretty great. With “Chikoo” in a carrier, we knocked out quite a few miles on the hiking trails in the area and also checked out Grindstone Lake. I was super glad we got an early start on the hiking trail around the lake because this place got crowded as the morning crept into afternoon. Swimmers in the lake had no intentions of social distancing, forcing us to rush through the rest of our lakeside adventure to find less-crowded spaces.
Ruidoso had a cute downtown area with lots of shops and restaurants, and a lot of things were actually open. There were some other people walking around town but it wasn’t too crowded overall. The only place we stopped into was Noisy Water Winery, which has multiple locations but a couple tasting rooms in this downtown area. We did a wine tasting outside on a back patio where we were the only people and had a wonderfully sleeping baby, so yeah, that was pretty much a perfect afternoon. We even bought a bottle of our favorite cabernet to bring back to the camper and definitely made use of a those pumped bottles I’d brought along for “Chikoo” for untainted milk!
Valley of Fires Recreation Area
The Valley of Fires Recreation Area was an impromptu stop on the drive home from Ruidoso and exactly what we needed after finding ourselves in more crowded conditions than expected. This is a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) area by the Malpais Lava Flow, where a volcano erupted about 5,000 years ago and left behind a bunch of black molten rock.
It was a super-chill place where we were the only people camping as far as the eye could see. There was one paved travel that went through the lava rocks and desert terrain, which was perfect for pushing a stroller and walking a dog who has a tendency to get cactus spines stuck in her paws. Although I’m glad we checked out Ruidoso, this empty BLM spot was exactly what we were actually looking for in a little camping getaway and well worth extending our outing for an extra day.
Eagle Nest & Angel Fire, New Mexico
While the Ruidoso/Valley of Fires trip took us Southeast of home, our next travel travel camping trip took us Northeast to the Eagle Nest/Angel Fire area of New Mexico. This was another place I’d wanted to check out for a long while because we’d never been further than Taos in that direction.
I went into this trip expecting beautiful mountains and forests, but what I didn’t expect was how colorful the fall foliage is. Largely covered by desert sand and sagebrush, New Mexico isn’t known for its fall foliage in the way that say Vermont or even Oregon is. But I was absolutely floored with how stunning the bright yellow aspens were here, strategically tucked among the dark green pines and exposed rugged rocks. On the way back home, we took a longer scenic route down to Las Vegas, New Mexico and got to see some amazing oranges and reds along the roadside.
Unlike Ruidoso, nothing we experienced in this area was crowded, and I could count on one hand how many people we ever saw on any hiking trails combined during the trip. It certainly doesn’t hurt that when we plan these mini camper getaways we always do them on Sundays to Wednesdays to avoid weekend crowds. A perk of being self-employed. We stayed at a campground in Eagle Nest that was wonderfully empty, with no one around us at all and nice views of Eagle Nest Lake. It really made me wish we’d packed the SUP to take out on the lake, but this trip was more about trying out our brand-new baby hiking backpack among the fall leaves. Just before the trip, we picked up an Osprey Poco Plus from REI.
We had to wait until little “Chikoo” was strong enough to hold up his head before we could use it, but he did pretty well overall here at just over five months! We could get in a few miles before he had enough of it, although sleeping sitting in such an upright position was a bit of a challenge for him. We had perfect fall days here with chilly mornings and hot afternoons that involved stripping down from winter-wear to summer-wear as the hours ticked by.
We also walked through the town of Eagle Nest to check things out but absolutely everything was closed on a Sunday evening, so that was a quick endeavor.
Red River, New Mexico
On this same trip, we headed up a bit to the mountain town/ski resort area of Red River, which was an instant favorite spot for us. We went hiking in the Enchanted Forest cross-country ski area, which we basically had all to ourselves. Then we headed to the adorable little downtown area which was way more established than I was expecting for a town with a full-time population of just over 400 people.
It’s a resort town and touristy, but also obnoxiously quaint and with a nice brewery/distillery in town for beer/spirit flights. As a souvenir, I bought a fun winter hat from a local shop, although it’s been around 80 degrees back at home every day since we’ve been back so that poor winter hat is getting the shelf treatment for a while. A future wintertime ski trip to Red River is definitely in the cards.
Visiting all of these places has really been helping me get to know the different sides of New Mexico better while preventing me from going absolutely insane in homebody mode. Little “Chikoo” is proving himself to be quite a decent travel baby, and we’ve found our COVID comfort zone for getting out and about…at least for now. Although we haven’t yet decided on our next destination, we’re already looking forward to another New Mexico camper trip in November sometime between Election Day and Thanksgiving. Yes, times are tough, but it’s also a great time to be in a place that you love and still have so much more to learn about.