Travel Trailer Adventures Close to Home in New Mexico

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.

Goodbye Motorhome, Hello Travel Trailer!

Many moons ago, we started out as tent people…young and dumb in our late-20s, braving the snow, rain, and mosquitoes under a thin layer of fabric. In 2015, we went out on a limb and bought a tiny pop-up camper off a dude in Georgia via Craigslist. This one random decision led to us deciding to ditch the sticks and bricks to hit the road full-time in 2016. After seven months, the lifestyle was appealing but the accommodations were not, so we made a massive upgrade to a 33-foot, Class A motorhome in the snowbird capital of Yuma, Arizona. But after traveling non-stop throughout the west and parts of Mexico and Canada, eventually falling for New Mexico and buying a house here, and introducing a tiny human to the world during a pandemic, our travel needs changed and priorities shifted. But we still longed for the open road and the kinds of adventure we knew well and wanted to introduce our baby son to.

This long-winded recap is all just backstory to announce that we got a new camper!

Our last photo with our old Class A motorhome, all masked up for safety at the dealership

Since buying our house almost a year ago (eek!), having this glorious beast (pictured above) parked outside seemed a bit like overkill. It was a perfect full-time residence for a while but definitely more than what we needed for part-time travel with occasional weekend trips and half-cross-country jaunts to visit our families.

Aptly named Dragoon-a-Saurus-Rex de la Mantequilla, this motorhome served us well during full-time camper life, but it certainly didn’t come without it’s issues. The gas mileage was abysmal, it shook and rattled so loud while driving that you couldn’t even have a conversation or hear the radio, and navigating it through gas stations/winding roads/parking lots was a chore-and-a-half. Yet it was so comfortable inside and felt more like home than pretty much anywhere else I’ve ever lived.

It was a bit sad to let the big guy go, bit it was time to move on and make new memories in a camper that makes more sense for us right now. So after checking out several models at three different dealerships in Albuquerque and Bernalillo, we rolled home in this new Pacific Coachworks Tango 26-foot travel trailer!

I thought it might be easier to park the new camper on our property….WRONG!

Although the listing says the trailer is 26 feet, it’s more like 29 feet when you factor in the outside components for the actual length. By comparison, our previous motorhome was listed as 31 feet but more like 33 feet in total. So, I guess you could say we downsized, but not by much. This trade-in was more about switching up the camper type without making ourselves feel crowded as a party of four.

Broke out the tripod for a little group shot

There are a few reasons why we finally settled on this particular set of wheels. First of all, it can be towed by our Jeep Grand Cherokee. It’s at the top of the weight limit but still considered safe, so we maximized our capacity with this Tango. It also offers a safer driving situation with a baby car seat in the back of the SUV rather than the front of a motorhome.

Wide angle view of the kitchen, sofa, bedroom in back

Inside, it has a layout that feels spacious with some separation between the main sleeping area and living area. Compared to other models we looked at, there’s more floor space for a travel crib, plus bunk beds for Monkey right now and for little Chikoo when he’s a bit older.

Wide angle view of work station, kitchen, bunk beds, bathroom door

The kitchen’s pretty nice and even has an oven – something that our last camper didn’t have. Helloooo homemade pizza and cupcakes! The only thing seriously lacking is counterspace, but the crafty husband has already ordered supplies to make himself a cutting board extension area between the sink and the sofa.

It also has decent storage cupboards for part-time living. The storage really doesn’t compare to our old motorhome, but then again, we’re not trying to cram all of our worldly possessions into now that we have a legit house.

Monkey making herself at home

Perhaps best of all, Monkey still has her very own room in the new camper – the bottom bunk with plenty of room to spread out and play with her toys.

Many travel trailer’s bathrooms leave a lot to be desired, but we were particularly into this one because the sink is separate from the toilet and shower and because there’s a mini bathtub. I can’t really imagine myself taking a soak in that little thing, but it seems pretty ideal for little kid baths to wash all that future camping dirt off our little man.

Otherwise, there’s an awning outside for chilling out, indoor/outdoor stereo speakers, and air conditioning to keep cool on these sauna-esque New Mexico days. Unlike our last motorhome that had three TVs, this camper has none. But we’re more internet streaming TV people than on-air cable TV people anyway and can totally make do watching stuff on a laptop or iPad.¬†Better yet, we got a great deal on the trade-in so this is a more economical option as well.

All in all, we’re pretty pumped for our new part-time home on wheels and can’t wait to try it out. In a week, we’ll be testing it for the first time at a nearby campground to check out a part of New Mexico we have yet to explore. In this era of sketchy coronavirus travel, being fully self-contained and stocked up in our own space feels like the safest way to go right now. It also sounds like a fun way to celebrate this little guy turning three months old while avoiding going too stir-crazy at home.

Bring on the next round of adventures!