Creeping along a rocky ledge with Tetilla Peak on the horizon
Car camp home
Car camping 101
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has made it clear that we all
need our own personal disaster-management plan. While hurricanes,
tornadoes, and earthquakes are not likely to cause widespread damage
here in New Mexico, we can still worry about forest fires, nuclear
accidents, pipeline explosions, power outages, societal breakdown,
martial law, and the elusive weapons of mass destruction. The cavalry
is probably not coming to the rescue. Even if you don’t share
my visions of the apocalypse, you might consider taking steps to
be prepared, especially if these same steps can add to your quality
I’ve found that the requirements for car camping are the same
as those for river rafting and surviving a disaster—food,
water, shelter, and a fun escape plan.
Barb and I keep our “kitchen box” stocked and ready
to go even after the rafting season. It is a sturdy plastic box
that doubles as a chair and a table. It contains pots and pans,
dishes, silverware, matches, stoves, lantern, propane, Swiss army
knife, and few cans of beans.
We keep a couple of six-gallon jugs of water full in case of a
power outage. Tents, sleeping bags, cooler, fold-up chairs and table,
sleeping pads, etcetera, line the shelves of the garage. A first-aid
kit stays in the car.
With all this gear prepacked, the car can be loaded and we can
be on our way in less than an hour. Prime car-camping destinations
can be found within an hour or two, driving in any direction. No-fee
primitive camping is allowed on BLM and national forest land. And
there are plenty of developed camping areas which, for a small fee,
provide water, toilets, and electricity, if required.
Fall is actually a great time to stay in paid camping areas—with
the kids back in school and the nights getting cooler, they are
generally deserted. This means no boom boxes, screaming kids, drunken
adults, RV generators, or the other drawbacks that keep us out of
the public domain.
We usually go for the wilderness experience—like last weekend
when we drove up to Cochiti Canyon after work. Even though Cochiti
has long been a favorite, ever since a brief period of time when
the car camp was my home, it has been fifteen years since we camped
there. Last time we were there, a kind of tornado called a microburst
tore over the canyon in the dark of the night sounding something
like a booming locomotive within an arm’s reach of our tent.
It felled the forest’s hugest ponderosa pine lengthwise onto
the road, trapping us the next day until somebody showed up with
a chainsaw in his survival kit.
The owners of Dixon Apple Orchard have removed their Don’t
Come Here for Help sign, but another sign advises that the road
is unsuitable for passenger cars. This is probably true if you don’t
straddle boulders and find the shallow part of the creek that you’ll
drive through a dozen times.
When selecting a primitive site, it’s important to find
one that is free of pieces of toilet paper and disposable diapers.
An excellent reference book, How to Shit in the Woods, by Kathleen
Meyer (www.tenspeedpress.com) should be required reading before
anyone is allowed in the wilderness. That’s all I have to
say about that.
We found a nice campsite next to the creek and well away from
the road. Firewood is usually pretty scarce in public camping areas,
but we managed to get a pretty good fire going as the full moon
rose over a Nefertiti-looking spire. The sun rose over the same
spire as we broke camp and drove upstream, me on my bike. Along
the way we noted campsites for next time at trailheads leading deeper
into the Jemez Mountains.
The road was fenced off when it reached Pines, a community of
cabins surrounded by tent rocks and No Trespassing signs. It used
to seem like the ideal mountain getaway, but that was before we
realized that we had one already waiting in the garage.
Some people are constantly refining car-camping techniques, moving
on to vans and campers, eventually arriving at the forty-foot behemoth
that cost too much and misses the point. I think it’s best
to keep things simple, using only the stuff you need for your disaster-management
It’s tempting to just stay home after someone else’s
disaster, happy and secure to have a roof overhead, but we all know
that roof might be taken away. Another kind of security comes from
the knowledge that one can live with the basics.
—JESSE WOLF HARDIN
Much has been made about the phenomenal photographs of the Earth
taken from outer space. One shot or another decorates the cover
of the largest “alternative” consumer catalog, is featured
on decals sent out with environmental fund-raisers, once topped
the letterhead of a space-warfare agency, and brightens the nylon
flags sold through magazines to promote world unity.
The intended message is that the Earth is not so immense as we
thought, unscarred by anything as tentative as national borders,
and a veritable lifeboat in a hostile, airless sea of stars. We
are “fellow passengers,” it’s said, on a revolving
life-support platform, on what some call Spaceship Earth.
The blue-and-green planet with its wispy beard of clouds is shown
suspended against a background of infinite black, an independent
entity, an almost cartoonish image of an interstellar vehicle lacking
only a visible steering wheel.
There is some value to such pictures, to the extent that they
help us in recognizing the finite nature of this drifting globe,
perchance encouraging us to pull together with the forests and rivers
and our fellow creatures for a common good.
But in another way this kind of a photo is a lie, leading us to
feel that the parts are subsumed by the whole, as if each part were
and interchangeable and not differentiatable, as if one continent
or watershed could serve us, fill us, define us in the same way
as the next. As if even the planet were interchangeable with other
suitable candidates, or could be replaced by a floating space station
of our own making once we’ve depleted its resources.
In many ways, those NASA photographs are simply taken from too
far away. The colors of meadow and tundra have faded into a solid
brown, the songs of each distinct part blending into a muffled roar.
To know the Earth, to know life, we need to focus on one of those
brown continents until the myriad hues of the mountains and swamps,
the wildflowers and hummingbirds stand out one against the other.
What we need is to zoom in on a particular section, such as the
wild Gila, where I live and teach, or north-central New Mexico,
where this article is being read. Then deeper, into a certain watershed,
a special river, a select grove, a specific meadow ... to the Sandia
Mountains, Sandoval County, and the Cibola National Forest. The
Jemez or Rio Grande Rivers, or Las Huertas Creek. Palomas Peak,
Cedar Mountain, Sandia Man Cave, or Tunnel Springs. Canyon Del Agua
or the Ortiz. The local park and our own backyards. Then, still
nearer, an exact section of grass beneath a solitary majestic tree,
down in the clover on our hands and knees, or gazing into the universe
of stars sparkling in a single inch of New Mexico sand.
Recovering our sense of place requires personal reimmersion in
the tactile immediacy of our formative years, demands our unstudied
reentry into always familiar “childscapes.” Such landscapes
not only contain but embody us, merging, blending the lines between
bush and boy, grass and girl. They are always small, with openings
easier entered once we’ve learned to be little again. Once
inside these microworlds, we may find their boundaries near enough
to touch. We are comforted by the encircling branches of weeping
willows, protected by the close wooden walls of a playhouse, cradled
in miniature caves, touched on all sides by the circumference of
hideouts and nests, drawn to those downscaled environments that
evoke a sense of intimacy and safety.
Take a child to any scenic vista and they’ll quickly turn
their attention from the distant sunset to the ground at their feet,
following scurrying stinkbugs on their hands and knees, collecting
pieces of quartz-studded gravel or chalky animal bone, uncovering
any nearby places of concealment and hence, the potential for magic.
Take your eyes off them for more than a minute, and they’ll
likely have uncovered the head of a deer trail or hobbit run winding
away from the vista and down into the bowels of a more intimately
realized reality. As adults we are likely to seek out those postcard-perfect
views of great heights and wide expanses, but a child will look
instead to those things up close, those things that can be experienced
with more than the eyes, those that can be handled, arranged, tossed,
rolled—or rolled about in!
Place may be best understood up close, in microcosms nestled between
hillocks, inside the hollows of lightning-struck trees, in the overgrown
corner of the school playground, or between waving rows of sky-clad
corn. What we call “place” is made up of little worlds
inviting us to be little again within them, enlisting our patience
and attention, enticing our sensual exploration. It insists that
if we’re truly to experience it, we must first slow down.
Slow down and smell the flowers. Behold the blooming present. Sample
the unfolding miracle of life up close, and intimate.
Jesse Wolf Hardin is the cohost for wilderness
retreats, quests and internships at The Earthen Spirituality Project
& Women's Center, four hours southwest of Albuquerque: www.earthenspirituality.org,
P.O. Box 820, Reserve, NM 87830.
Cerrillos turquoise researched
On October 11, at 7:00 p.m., William Baxter, local historian,
editor and author, will review the natural and cultural history
of the blue-green stone of north-central New Mexico. Mr. Baxter
will draw upon his ongoing research toward a comprehensive history
of the Cerrillos region, focusing especially on nearby classic and
early-historic pueblos, the curious schizophrenia of the Territorial
miners toward the stone, as well as newly uncovered material on
the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century turquoise mining
operation at Cerrillos on behalf of Tiffany & Co., and the associated
conflicts with the Native American “Turquoise Takers.”
The program will take place at the Sandia Ranger Station in Tijeras.
For further information or directions, call 281-3304.
New Mexico State Parks opens doors to assist hurricane
New Mexico State Parks announced on September 23 that it has waived
camping fees for evacuees fleeing Hurricane Rita.
New Mexico State Parks Director Dave Simon says the State Parks
Division will waive the normal fourteen-day stay limit, campground
fees, and electrical hookup fees for evacuees of the hurricane.
State Parks had previously offered the same free camping benefits
to evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. These benefits will continue
indefinitely during the crisis.
New Mexico State Parks is a place where evacuees can find a warm
welcome, comfort, and safety in this time of need,” said State
Parks Director Dave Simon.
On September 22, State Parks welcomed two families to Sumner Lake
State Park who had evacuated in advance of Hurricane Rita.
Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, State Parks has
also maintained donation boxes at all thirty-two parks, with donations
going directly to the American Red Cross.
State Parks has completed an inventory of other resources available
to assist hurricane victims, such as vacant facilities, should that
assistance be requested.
For more information, contact (888) NMPARKS or www.nmparks.com.