An arch near Aztec, New Mexico

An arch near Aztec, New Mexico

Between work and finances (and the weather, see: work), this is going to be a summer spent close to home.  Last summer, though, we spent two weeks in New Mexico.  There were a couple of things I wish we’d done differently.  If you’re planning to travel to New Mexico, maybe my regrets will help you have a better trip.

Capulin Volcano elevation sign

Did they forget a decimal?

I wish we’d taken longer to acclimate.

The day we got there, we hiked the rim of Mt. Capulin, which is at about 8,000 feet.  The day before, we were at sea level, and neither of us is a spring chicken.  Even after four hours of driving, I grabbed my stopwatch to check my pulse.  It hovered at about 150 that entire night, and didn’t drop below 130 for days.  Yes, I’ve been to the cardiologist about it.  The ticker’s fine.  Next time we’re in New Mexico, I’ll just take it easy for a day or two before I challenge it.

Curious Mule Deer doe

Curious Mule Deer doe on NM 72

We should have camped at Sugarite Canyon State Park.

It’s a picturesque little park, and cheaper than the hotel we stayed in.  We saw a lot of people fishing off the dam when we did our drive-through, and the whole area just teems with wildlife.  Next time, Sugarite.  Next time.  Bonus: the park road leads to a Colorado state park, but the road gets a little rough.  It might be better to stay on the New Mexico side.

Next time, we’re staying up ’til the stars come out.

Bandelier National Monument is amazing during the day, but at night?  One night, my bladder woke me at 2 AM.  As I made the (short) trek (we picked a good spot) to the toilet, I looked up.  The Milky Way stretched across the sky from treetop to treetop.  For a second, I forgot what it was that had dragged me out of my tent in the middle of the night.  It really did look like the photos you see on the internet.

Sunset at Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Sunset at Chaco Culture National Historical Park

We’ll be ready to take the New Mexico heat.

When we return to Chaco Culture National Historic Park, we’re taking an RV.  That’s just all there is to it.  From about 10 AM until around 6 PM, the sun was just murder.  We found brief respites from the heat in the visitors’ center, but there’s only so much time you can spend loitering there for the air conditioning.  We didn’t have this problem with any other park, but after three days of getting the crap beaten out of us by the sun, it put a little bit of a damper on the rest of our trip.  If you’re going to tent camp, be sure you keep your head covered, and try to bring your own shade.  There is none to be found in the park.

Sun setting at City of Rocks State Park

Golden Hour at City of Rocks SP

Did I mention the stargazing?

We love City of Rocks State Park.  It’s one of the state’s hidden gems.  They don’t get much traffic in the early summer, so they almost always have spots available.  The rock formations look like they belong on another planet, or the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  They change colors as the sun sets.  The shadows create interesting effects.  And the sky is wide-open and dark when the sun goes down.  Just don’t freak out if you hear screaming bobcats.

So, there you have my list of 5 things I’d do differently if I was going to plan a trip to New Mexico today.

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