Thursday, September 15, 2016

Summer Staycation Sock Monkey Trekkers Style

Sock Monkey Trekkers at Jemez Falls Campground in New Mexico
We had two big trips planned for this summer/fall camping season. The first whirlwind trip was in May when we went to the Overland Expo, Lone Rock, Grand Canyon, Bryce, Mystic Hot Springs and Hite. Our next, week long trip will be through Colorado in late September. 

What happened in between, you ask? Since we aren't retired (yet), we have to jam our trips into vacations and long weekends. Greg and I would best describe our summer as a staycation, but Sock Monkey Trekker style. Which means - lots of weekend getaways, hikes and exploring the nearby mountains. We are amazingly lucky to live where we do. Los Alamos, New Mexico is in a location with many, many places to hike and camp that can easily be done in a two or three day weekend. 

By fulltimer standards, we had a long staycation, but if you ask our friends and coworkers - they think we are "always out exploring somewhere" and never stay home. It is all based on your perspective. 

In June, my brother got married in Los Angeles. Greg stayed in Los Alamos and I flew to Ontario and took the train back. It was a really great extended weekend and so much fun to see my family. I also got to spend time with my brother's daughter and meet my new sister-in-law which was great fun. 

We also had some wonderful hikes and adventures during June at Pajarito Mountain and at Bandelier National Monument which is only ten miles from our home.

Hiking with a friend on Pajarito Mountain
Rainbow on our hike at Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamos

Rainbow over Bandelier National Monument
Los Alamos has a reservoir that has been out of commission following the two devastating fires (Cerro Grande and Las Conchas) and the subsequent flood. But, the County has been working hard to restore the reservoir and reopen it to foot traffic. We took several wonderful hikes from our house, down past the ice rink to the reservoir.

Butterflies gather near the reservoir
Rope swing at the Los Alamos Reservoir
We had such a great time last year enjoying the fourth of July at Pagosa Springs that we took an extra day off for the Fourth of July holiday and headed back to Pagosa Springs. We decided only a week before that this would be the plan. I jumped on and snagged the very last spot for Friday through Monday at Westfork Campground. The camp host had some type of medical emergency, so it was a bit of the wild west at the campground. One person set up a tent in the wrong site because they said someone else was in their site. Then a large group with an A class showed up and had to boot the tenters. Everyone kept it pretty civil, but it was interesting. Our site was right next to the fishing access parking. So, it had a wide open feel. There is a small path leading down to the river. Westfork has water and pit toilets. Caution: the dirt road into the campground gets really sloppy after a rainstorm. That was a rainy weekend, but that we didn't get stuck and the weather didn't stop us from having several campfires, hiking down to the river, soaking at the Overlook Hotsprings, walking around Pagosa, watching the 4th of July parade and, of course, the fireworks. 

Site 14 at Westfork Campground

A true cowgirl - Pagosa 4th of July parade

The San Juan River was a very short walk from our campsite
We made a wonderful discovery on this visit to Pagosa. We were going to hike to a natural hot spring that is near the river. But, thunderstorms turned us back. While exploring the area near the hike, we found a beautiful spring fed pond. As you are driving on Forest Road 621 (behind the Chimney Rock Store) toward the campground, the pond is on your left and the Piedra River is on your right. The water is shallow with a very silty bottom, but the color and temperature were great. We spent an afternoon hanging at the lake/pond with other folks. It is the perfect spot for SUPs or blowup kayaks.

Pond near Lower Piedra Campground on Forest Road 621

There is always a huge traffic jam following the fireworks at Yamaguchi Park. This year, we decided to not get back to our campground at midnight. So, we got the park early, had a lunch and a walk and stayed overnight. We made it through the night without anyone asking us to move. So, all was good. It was a really good getaway. 

Waiting for the fireworks display in Pagosa at Yamaguchi Park
View from the top of Reservoir Hill - Pagosa
The most beautiful carved bench from a fallen tree. Top of Reservoir Hill
Like many communities, Los Alamos has Tuesday and Friday night concerts. Ashley Pond is about a four minute walk from our house and the main location for the concerts. If you ever get a chance to experience Igor and the Red Elvises - GO SEE THEM! They are a really fun band. They always draw a huge crowd in Los Alamos. 

Igor and the Red Elvises at Ashley Pond in Los Alamos, NM
Great turnout for a town of less than 19,000 people

Ashley Pond in Los Alamos
No summer is complete without at least one visit to Orient Land Trust - Valley View Hot Springs. We took off early on a Friday and spent two nights. This time we stayed in campsite Y for the first time. It is near the massage teepee and right next to the stream in a stand of trees. Although you don't get the full sweeping view of the valley that you get in other sites, we really liked Y.  The challenge with Valley View is its popularity. They have a limit on how many people can be at the springs each day. So, lately, we have found that we have to plan at least 1-1/2 to 2 weeks ahead to get a spot. Here is a link to a prior post with more details about Valley View/Orient Land Trust

Views from Valley View Hot Springs

Greg at campsite Y
This summer, some of my work pals wanted to all get together and have a camping weekend with our families. So, five families gathered together at an awesome boondocking spot near Hopewell Lake. We were down the dirt road from the Hopewell Lake Campground in Northern New Mexico. Our gathering included a pop-up tent trailer, a C class, a travel trailer, a fifth wheel and our van camper. There were nineteen of us (nine kids and ten adults), yet our spot was very spacious and we all had a blast. It brought us all much closer and we plan to make it an annual event. One warning - if you are looking for a fishing lake - this is it. If you are looking for a swimming/boating lake - not so much. But, there is an abundance of boondocking spots as long as you don't mind off-road vehicles. Also, the Continental Divide trails runs through the middle of the campground and boondocking area. Greg and I were able to go on walks each morning and evening along the trail. Really, really nice trails. 

We had an abundance of food. 

Part of our circle of rigs

With five families - there were a lot of off road toys

Continental Divide Trail almost adjacent to our boondocking spot

Hopewell Lake - New Mexico
Greg's sister and nieces visited and we took them for a drive to explore the Valles Caldera National Preserve and for a hike. We also visited the award winning cooperative brewery here in Los Alamos - Bathtub Row Brewing Coop. 

Greg enjoying a gluten free home brewed beer at Bathtub Row Brewing Coop

Valles Caldera National Preserve - 15 miles from our house
Another reason we have taken it easy this summer is due to a knee injury. I've been battling a couple of tears in my knee. I've done the cane, brace and physical therapy routine. I'm now down to home exercises and I think (fingers crossed) that I will be able to avoid any surgery. It actually still felt better to walk than to sit. So, we have continued (almost every day) with our 10,000+ steps a day. But, the knee injury has limited my ability to do harder hikes.

Hiking near our home
We found out that Ingrid and Al were camping at Cochiti Lake which is not far from Santa Fe which is only a 40 minute drive from where we live. Live, Laugh, RV is one of the earliest blogs I discovered. I have been an avid follower ever since. Ingrid has been very generous with advice and being willing to answer this newbies' questions. We met Ingrid and Al at one of our favorite local restaurants in Santa Fe - The Pantry which is aptly known as Santa Fe's Meeting Place. The great thing about The Pantry is the variety of food. Our group had fish tacos, chicken green chile sandwich and the meatloaf/mashed potato plate. Great variety, friendly down-home atmosphere and they didn't mind that we stayed around chatting for several hours. Next time we meet, we've both said it will involve a campfire. Thanks Ingrid and Al!

Al, Karen and Ingrid at the Pantry in Santa Fe 
It has been a number of years since Greg and I have gone to San Antonio Hot Springs (again up in the Jemez). So, on Labor Day, we drove up to Forest Road 144 which has an abundance of awesome boondocking sites that are very popular with locals. The more direct and traditional way to the hot springs is down Forest Road 376. But, this road is not well maintained and definitely needs four wheel drive. Many people park at the start of Forest Road 376 and hike the 4.5 to 5 miles to the springs. The coordinates for where we started the hike are 35.9607286, -106.6360588. We were able to drive our Honda CRV (all wheel drive) easily to the starting point of the hike. We also plan to boondock on this road and are confident we can get our Nissan NV down Forest Road 144. Our Nissan is two-wheel drive, but fairly high clearance.

The hike is more vertical than the traditional route, but at only 2.5 miles one way - we think this is the better route. It was a beautiful hike and for the vast majority of the hike before hitting the hot springs we were totally alone. We saw one biker, two fisherman and a family having a picnic. The downside of going to the hot springs on Labor Day is once we got to the hot springs - it was super, super crowded. But, even with the crowd, we had a great soak. We are planning a winter hike to the springs for sure. It is possible that part of the hike might be in the Valles Caldera National Preserve. There weren't any specific signs, but we had our national park pass with us - just in case.

Start of the hike to San Antonio Hot Springs

Favorite kind of hike - no people in sight

Yeah - we made it! 

There are multiple pools. This is the most crowded we've ever seen at this natural hot spring. 

Here is a quick video which gives a great view of the area surrounding the natural hot springs.

Last weekend, we wanted to go camping, but wanted to stay close so we could maximize our time camping and minimize our time driving. One of our favorite nearby campgrounds is Jemez Falls Campground. It is a US Forest Service campground. The fees are $10 per night and the half price discount if you are lucky enough to have that apply. The campground has 52 campsites, vault toilets and water, but no dump station. Adjacent to the campground is the very popular picnic area and trail head to the actual waterfall. We suggest arriving in the early afternoon if you are going on a weekend. The campsites are first-come first-serve and fill up fast. The first day did a long cross country hike and the second we hiked from the campground to the falls. It was really relaxing although there was someone who ran their generator for many, many hours each day. They were far enough away that it was just background noise, but I wouldn't of wanted to be parked right next to them. The sites are generous in size. It was one of the most relaxing weekends we've had in a long time because it is less than an hour's drive from our house to the campground.  A real gem!

View out our window of our campsite. 
Jemez Mountains hike

We've had a great monsoon season and the wildflowers are blazing

Campfire at Jemez Falls campground
We saw a LOT of horney toads on the trail 
There are two falls at Jemez Falls. This is the smaller of the two and you
can easily go into the water although it was hella cold.  
So, there you have it! Our staycation summer. We managed to still pack a lot into the summer all within a half hour to no more than four hours from home.

There were lots of local hikes and we had a really fun day taking Greg's Mom to the Cleveland Roller Millfest. The Cleveland Roller Mill Museum is located in a flour mill built at the end of the 19th century. It was operated until the early 1940's in the Mora Valley. We took the tour of the mill and Greg was in heaven seeing the machinery operate. 

We really like Campendium - great resource for finding campgrounds and boondocking locations. If you sign up, they send a top 5 campsite review email each week. 

Speaking of great campsite resources - Greg has been busy updating his awesome campsite review map. He has found some wonderful gems. When we walk at night, he tells me about the places he has discovered. Check the map - because he is continuing to add locations and is up to over 4,000 spots that are mostly free or low cost! 

Thanks for coming along on our adventures. 

Artist Road in Santa Fe



  1. Staycation? I think not! You two manage to get around to some very lovely places. And you are indeed lucky to live in Northern NM. We loved our time in the area and are already discussing a return to explore more of NM. It was wonderful meeting you two and we look forward to another get together :-)

  2. Wow,for non-retired people you sure had a busy and fun summer!
    Thanks for the map updates.

  3. Greg's map is great! Yes, for non-retirees you do get around.


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