Our Enchanted Circle Vacation

Our first RV trip to this beautiful area

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We enjoyed a nice vacation in the mountains of northern New Mexico last week, our first time to vacation in this area in our RV.  Northern New Mexico is a further drive for us than southern New Mexico, but we wanted to spend some time in that area in our RV.  I’m so glad we did!

We certainly visited this great area to just relax and enjoy being out in our RV again, but we also wanted to check out RV campgrounds for future trips back here, too.  I will share a bit about what we found as far as RV options in this post, after first giving a little background on why we no longer attempt to camp in another part of the state.

We love visiting the mountains of New Mexico for a cool break when the weather is hot at home, but since we started vacationing by RV five years ago, we have only visited the mountains of southern New Mexico in our RV, specifically the national forest campgrounds in the Cloudcroft area.

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The Cloudcroft area is beautiful, but, unfortunately, we’ve found it is not really a great place to visit in the RV in summer months.

 

While it is a pretty area and closer to home for us, we’ve found that the mountain area of southern New Mexico just does not seem to work for us in our RV for a few reasons.  The national forest campgrounds are definitely the best campgrounds in the forest, but we cannot reserve a site in them ahead of time.  Also, all but one of these campgrounds are closed after Labor Day, which is actually the best time of the year to visit this area weather-wise when the daytime temperatures are more moderate than in summer months.  We’ve also looked into most all of the private campgrounds in this area, but none of them are appealing to us, and most are usually booked on weekends anyway.  To sum it up, it is very hard to find suitable sites in this area in our RV.

We’ve decided to just pass on visiting the southern New Mexico mountains area in our RV for now until better options are available.  We have always loved visiting Ruidoso and Cloudcroft and have done so for decades, staying in cabins or lodges there.  It’s just not a good option in our RV and with our dogs, which is sad.  We love this area a lot, but we don’t love taking our RV there right now.  The folks that run the national forest campgrounds in this area need to keep their campgrounds open longer, since they definitely have a monopoly on the good RV camping options in the area.  They also need to allow some sites to be reserved in advance.  Shutting these lovely campgrounds down on Labor Day is just ridiculous.

After visiting northern New Mexico and the camping options there last week, we found some nice options for our RV.  Unlike the national forest campgrounds at Cloudcroft, some sites in the national forest campgrounds at Red River can actually be reserved online.  However, just like the national forest campgrounds at Cloudcroft, most of the campgrounds are closed after Labor Day.  I just do not get this at all.  The campground that was open, Fawn Lakes Campground in the Carson National Forest, seemed to only have sites for smaller RVs and probably could not accommodate ours.

There are two private RV parks on either side of town in Red River that we would consider, and both sit on the river not far from town.  Our first choice would be Roadrunner RV Resort, and our second choice would be River Ranch.  Both are pretty nice parks but experience high demand in the summer months with people reserving far in advance, and once again, sites are pretty close but do-able.

The other possible downside for us to the Red River area is Highway 38 into Red River, which is a pretty steep climb both ways (almost 10,000 feet) to cross Bobcat Pass, the highest elevation pass in the state of New Mexico.  We encountered a long road construction delay on this stretch of road, which delayed us over twenty minutes.  We were also forced to creep up and down the pass behind a lead truck, and we were very glad that we were not in our RV.  We certainly smelled hot brakes when we finally arrived in town.  Fortunately, they were not ours.

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Following a lead car far ahead of us down Bobcat Pass into Red River, we were delayed 20 minutes in arriving there due to road repairs.

 

I suspect this is the time of year for road repairs in this area before winter sets in, as we ran into a similar delay on our drive over the pass to Taos on another day.  While the drive to Red River in our RV is do-able for us, we may just opt to base camp elsewhere and make this a day trip on future trips to the area, just as we did last week.

There are some nice state park options available, especially at heavily wooded Cimarron Canyon State Park.  While this state park only offers boondocking options, like the national forest campgrounds, the park is open year-round.  In the summer months, some sites can also be reserved online.  It’s a beautiful place, even though Highway 64 runs through the middle of the park.  The park stretches for miles on either side of the highway along the Cimarron River, and in our 38′ RV, we would fit in the Ponderosa Campground.  We pulled into this campground to check it out on Saturday morning, and the camp host could not have been nicer to us, giving us some helpful information for a return trip someday.  He wanted us to stay there that night, but we needed to start our drive home.  I didn’t take any pictures while we were briefly stopped there, but photos can be found online.

Eagle Nest Lake State Park is another option in our RV.  Again, it is boondocking camping only, but many of the sites sit on the edge of scenic Eagle Nest Lake, which is quite beautiful with mountains just across the lake.  The colorful wildflowers were especially pretty there, too.

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Overnight camping sites at Eagle Nest Lake State Park, no hookups but very pretty!

 

There is no tree shade at these overnight sites, but the weather is typically cooler than southern New Mexico, often at least fifteen degrees cooler.  We also found a private campground with full hookups just outside this park that we would consider if sites are available, Angel Nest RV Retreat, since the state park is within easy walking distance.  I believe this park is open until sometime in October, too.  In the tiny town of Eagle Nest, we would also consider Lost Eagle RV Park, which sits in the middle of town within walking distance to businesses there, probably just for a night.

We also checked out Coyote Creek State Park, which is deep in the Carson National Forest on Coyote Creek south of Angel Fire.

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Reservation RV sites near the river at Coyote Creek State Park

 

This park offers some hookups, including electricity, and it was pretty much empty on the day we visited.  RVs need to drive to this park from the south, though, as there is a six mile stretch of road from Angel Fire to the park that prohibits vehicles over ten feet in length, and for good reason!  We even joked as we drove to the park that this road reminded us of driving the epic twisting road to Hana on Maui.  I might avoid this park if there is a chance of flooding, but otherwise, it would be a nice, quiet place to camp for a few days.

One thing we noticed at some of the state parks on this trip is that they seemed to have no paid staff on duty when we were there, which is not a good thing in our book.  We are spoiled to well-staffed state parks in Texas, I guess, but this fact definitely was noticeable to us.

We actually opted to base camp at Angel Fire RV Resort for the week, and while it is fairly expensive for RV camping, we found it to be well worth the price we paid for the high quality facilities there.  Sometimes we opt for a non-RV trip for a week of vacation each year, but this year, we opted to make our vacation week a RV trip, bringing the dogs along.  Not boarding our two dogs saved us $60 a night, which is about the nightly cost of sites at this park.  They gave Hubby a discount on his round of golf since he was a resort guest, and we also received two free tickets to ride the chair lift to the top of the Angel Fire ski mountain, a $24 value.  These little perks helped to justify the nightly rate a bit.  Hubby really needed Wi-Fi for some business needs on this trip (unfortunately), and the Wi-Fi service was excellent at our site.  I thought that this park was in the town of Angel Fire, but happily, it actually sits about three miles out of town, and the views from our site were just beautiful.

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Evening campfire at Angel Fire RV Resort

 

RVs need to avoid Highway 434 to the south of Angel Fire, the road to Coyote Creek State Park, so we drove into Angel Fire via Highway 64 from Cimarron and Eagle Nest.  The staff at the resort will ask RVers to send photos of the RV if it is over ten years old for pre-approval, and this was not an issue for us, as they sent us an immediate approval once I sent our photos.  We even saw a pop-up camper there during our stay.  Given the fact that most private RV parks with full hookups in this area are not cheap, we would have no issue paying just a little more money and staying at this park again.  I think on future trips, we may opt for a brief stay at one of the beautiful state parks, in addition to some nights at Angel Fire RV Resort, to enjoy a more traditional forest camping experience, too.

One more thing we noticed on this trip is the dog-friendly experience we had in the Angel Fire area.  Unlike southern New Mexico, there are some dog-friendly trails and businesses available, and it was nice to take the dogs on a two-mile hike in the forest, something we cannot do at Cloudcroft and Ruidoso, as dogs are forbidden on those trails.  The camp host at Cimarron Canyon State Park also told us that the trails there are dog-friendly trails.

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A beautiful dog-friendly trail in Angel Fire

 

We put 1300 miles on the car on our trip, and we saw so many great sights in the area.  I’m working on photos and will try to share more about our trip here soon.  We can’t wait to return to this beautiful and mostly uncrowded area!

Author: DK

Blogger at My Five Fs (Faith - Family - Food - Fotos - Fun) and Animal Wonder. Empty-nester that now shares life with my hubby and our two standard poodles. Enjoys camping in our RV, taking and editing photos, trying new low-carb recipes, baking pretty decorated cookies for special occasions, walking daily, spending time with family and friends when we can, playing with the dogs, and is grateful to God for every single day of this blessed life and for the opportunity to share and connect with some great people here.

9 thoughts on “Our Enchanted Circle Vacation”

  1. One of the reasons I want to get to the desert SW is that I’ve heard such good things about NM state parks.

    At elevation it’s not surprising that campgrounds close early in the year, even in WI many of our low elevation parks close at the end of September.

    When you mentioned the absence of paid staff in the parks do you mean it’s not good from a security standpoint, or just informational? I’m curious about the unstated meaning.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There really is no reason for the national forest campgrounds at Cloudcroft to close until at least mid-October and maybe even the end of that month. It is far enough south that even at elevation, the temps are still mild on most days. Today, the high will be 71 and the low will be 50 there, which is absolutely perfect weather for that area, unlike summer temps that are often in the upper 80s and 90s. I think they even came close to 100 a few days this summer. I know Ruidoso had a really bad stretch of heat in the 100s. At two state parks we visited in NM, the visitor centers / welcome areas were completely locked up, and we didn’t see anyone “official” while we were in the park. I don’t think it necessarily good for the park staff to not be present at all during fairly regular daytime hours. They have some nice facilities that are not available to guests when they are locked up, and I do feel better camping in parks that are staffed in case we, or other campers, have an emergency. We had no cell or data service at Coyote Creek, so if we needed help, we would be stuck. We didn’t see a camp host either place, too. On occasion, we’ve seen park staff in our own state parks have to confront a few rowdy campers with unleashed dogs, overly loud music and too many people in one site… as in 20+ people in a site that is not to have more than 8 people. As a camper looking for a nice getaway that plays by the rules, I appreciate the staff trying to keep order when needed. So, yes, I do appreciate a staffed park with good camp hosts…. like you and Peg!

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      1. Ahhh…. come the dawn… I wasn’t thinking. USFS campgrounds are another world, it seems. We might have spent only 10 months with them but that was long enough to realize that there are underlying issues there.

        The Dunes (where we were) had over 1 million visitors a year and yet they did virtually nothing to maintain their campgrounds other than fixing whatever broke. There were gates that were so rusted that 1/2 of the hinges were disconnected from the gatepost; there hadn’t been any kind of maintenance in the campground other than trees cut for safety and shrubs cleared to keep the roads passable. They had no interest in making the campgrounds better, only in keeping what was there producing revenue. Where we were there wasn’t really a Recreation staff. One guy was responsible for fee collection. One guy was called the Rec Staff Officer but he hardly ever left the office. And they had a volunteer volunteer coordinator over 35 volunteers who got little support from the staff. Clearly recreation wasn’t a primary goal. There was far more staff dedicated to fish & animal life as well as forest management than human campers.

        I agree about feeling better when there is staff present — particularly in this day and age. We don’t normally camp in USFS campgrounds — they haven’t been part of our regular visits because the facilities are often too small for our rig and quite often non-electric only. When we can find a Corps location there’s no question about which to choose.

        We all have such different ideas of what a “good campsite” is that I have taken to inquiring further when people express opinions about campgrounds because the rating is sometimes an extremely personal reaction, as opposed to any kind of objective consideration. I thought you’d have more reason so I’m glad I asked.

        I wonder about closed campgrounds and safety — I’m sure the Agency looks at the possibility of someone being stranded / losing their life in areas where they do not have the staff to provide regular patrols. For example: The entire Siuslaw Forest was budgeted for 6 Law Enforcement personnel to handle the entire forest 24/7 — they rarely got into any of the campgrounds at all because there were hosts there, but so few people to patrol so much territory simply exceeded the limits of what their staff could do. I can see why they closed areas to use rather than have even more emergency callouts and fatalities. I’m not saying that’s a good thing. But I suspect it’s a bigger part of the closing strategy than we might like to admit. We have huge federal lands and not a lot of staff to cover them.

        Doubt the situation will get better either. Sadly.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The national forest campgrounds in NM have no hookups of any kind that I’m aware of, at least in the areas we’ve checked so far, including up at Red River. We don’t have an issue with that unless the weather is really hot, which is the case so often in southern areas of the state. It would be nice to just have 30 amp electric available in some of those sites, but I don’t see that happening unless they come to realize the market they are missing out on with non-summer RV travelers and how that market is growing. They could even raise their rates in non-summer months and still have plenty of takers. I think they are still of the mindset of serving tent campers for the most part, not RVs… and certainly not travelers that go outside summer months. Last year, a business owner in Cloudcroft expressed this same frustration with them, too. Travelers in non-summer months could help support that community, for sure. He indicated that he thought the forest folks just don’t want to deal with keeping the campgrounds open any longer than necessary, but that’s his opinion. I have no clue why they don’t consider this option.

          We would gladly visit more Corps campgrounds if we had them within an easier reach of us. The one we visited a couple of years ago was very nice with great hookups. It’s about four hours away, though, and it is the closest Corp campground to us. However, when we visited in April, there was no one present. We reserved our site online and just pulled in, never seeing anyone else while we were there. That was the first time we encountered that, and it felt very strange.

          We would probably still camp at Eagle Nest Lake SP even without any staff present. It’s not in a remote location, there are places nearby where we could seek help, if needed, and we both had cell signal there. That’s definitely not the case at Coyote Creek, though. It is way out in the sticks… really nice for camping but could be dicey if help is needed for some reason. The one we are most likely to return to camp is Cimarron Canyon, I think. They were fully open. We were impressed with it and that delightful camp host in Ponderosa. It is also the first state park we will come to on the drive to that area… a perfect stop for a day or two, if we want to do that. It was packed over Labor Day when we first drove through, but on our return trip this past Saturday, the campgrounds were I drove through were about 3/4 full. It was also 20 degrees colder that day in Cimarron Canyon than it was in Cloudcroft. Go figure. Pretty much makes my point. 😀

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I hear ya!

            I don’t see the USFS changing easily or soon — but they don’t answer to me. 😀
            In the meantime we’ll just keep looking for interesting places ot stay. sometimes repeat visits, otehr times new adventures. Whatever — it’s all good when you’re RV’ing. Right?

            Liked by 1 person

  2. A lot of good info here… thanks for sharing. We’d like to spend more time exploring NM so I’m always interested in first hand experience. I’m with you, don’t quite understand why the Cloudcroft area shuts down so early.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know why they shut down so early either, but it is what it is. If you can get a spot during cooler weather in the summer, it’s a great place. But, it can also get very hot during the afternoons, especially when you are forbidden to run your generator and A/C, and we had that issue on every trip. Cloudcroft is still so cute and quaint, and we love the little town and the area. Ruidoso has grown so, so much since we first started going there as kids, and the traffic alone can be very frustrating in summer months. A big fire at Bonita Lake campground a few years ago pretty much put that out of commission, so campers are now spreading out to other campgrounds in the area. It’s just not a good situation for RVers right now. We’ve always known that northern NM is very nice. It’s just a further drive for us, but we will definitely go back. Base camping at Angel Fire or Eagle Nest makes day trips to Red River and Taos very do-able by car, too. There is also one more RV park in Angel Fire, a bit closer to town… Monte Verde RV Park. It’s nowhere near the facility that the resort RV park is where we stayed, but to just use it as a base camp would certainly be an option. We know an older couple that stays there over the summer, and they like it. Same people returning each year, etc. If you ever head that way, I can give a few more tips. I’m also planning to write a little more here soon about the area sights.

      Liked by 1 person

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