Real life, out in the wilderness camping. Some people call it “wild camping” or “boondocking.” The official US Forest Service term is “dispersed camping.” But it all means the same thing: camping no more than 300 feet from the side of the road in a National Forest or on BLM land. We headed to the Guadalupe Mountains of Southern New Mexico in Lincoln National Forest, the first national forest we have visited that allows dispersed camping. We were super excited.
To get the scoop, we stopped in at the Guadalupe Ranger District Office in Carlsbad. The ranger, Dennis, gave Wayne a Motor Vehicle Use Map that shows all the forest service roads and where dispersed camping is allowed, and he recommended an area near Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area. So basically you just drive out there and pick a spot. There’s no electricity, water, picnic table, nada. There will probably be a stone campfire ring a previous camper made, and that’s it. What there will be is peace and quiet, stars galore, and freedom for Missy to be off leash.
Wayne also got a detailed topographical trail map with notes by Ranger Dennis about cool things to look for along the trails and also a little green book with all the info on all the other Southwest National Forests and Grasslands.
After hitting the grocery store, we headed into the national forest. We picked a gorgeous spot and Missy did her off-leash fast running thing she does when she’s FREEELEEEE. And then she rested.There are wild cows here and they’ve left us some evidence. Missy is enjoying the all you can eat poop buffet. EDITED: She wasn’t actually eating poop. I later discovered that she was finding leftover scraps from previous campers. I only thought she was eating poop. Yay Missy for not actually eating poop!Wayne declared that he was going to climb the mountain that we were camped at the bottom of. But not today. He didn’t get a chance the next day either, because it rained and at one point even snowed a little bit. We fixed up our alcove shelter with the wind walls right next to Snuggle-Inn and were quite cozy. The Forest Service volunteer who lives up at Sitting Bull Falls stopped by. His name is David Bell and he and Wayne got along great. They both have impressive beards. David and his wife have been living there for 10 months and said he’ll stay as long as they let him. I don’t blame him!
The following morning we woke to clear skies! Just as I was making coffee, four white SUV’s came up the road and turned in to our spot. They were coming in fast, closely spaced, like they were on official business. My first thought was border patrol because all through West Texas there was a big border patrol presence. Turns out they were geology students from the University of Texas out on a field trip. About 20 people got out of the vehicles yards from us, one apologized for disturbing our peace, and they went out hiking to look at rocks. We headed out shortly after coffee to climb that mountain Wayne kept talking about. And we did. Well, Wayne did.
Missy and I went about three-quarters of the way up and decided we’d just wait right there.After making Timmy’s famous Greek Salad for lunch we went up to Sitting Bull Falls. Well worth it. There’s a hiking trail up to the top of the falls and there are pools you can get in. Wayne and Missy jumped in. Missy mostly to rescue Wayne from perceived danger, but at least she cooled off a little.To round out our afternoon, we drove to the secret cell phone reception spot David told us about, tried out Sue B. Anthony’s all wheel drive on a rough and steep gravel road, had dinner, and passed out. Great sleeping when it’s cold.
That trail map that Ranger Dennis gave to Wayne was eating a hole in my pocket. Sure, we had climbed a mountain and seen a beautiful waterfall. But the trails needed to be hiked. I mean, consider this, from the Forest Service website:
Last Chance Canyon is an unbelievable, natural gem that is as exceptional, rare and unusual, as nearby Sitting Bull Falls. Resembling the famous McKittrick Canyon in Guadalupe Mountains National Park to the south, the canyon has sheer limestone cliffs several hundred feet high with two impressive overhangs, and a deep canyon with distinctive riparian areas. A small portion of the canyon floor includes clear pools and wide areas of flat, often step‑like, slickrock up to 70 feet in width, with meandering streams and occasional small waterfalls. As a result of the canyon’s environmental diversity, an incredible variety of vegetative species and wildlife make their homes here. Plan to spend a full day exploring this magnificent hideaway of nature.
So we stayed an extra day. We did about 6.5 miles and it took 6 hours. We don’t hike for speed, we hike for comfort. These trails were strenuous. We did a one-mile section that was entirely switchbacks. Killer. But so worth it because it was incredibly beautiful.
At one point on Trail 217 (White Oaks Trail) nearing the junction with Forest Road 525, I turned to look back and saw in the distance a rock wall and a fireplace made by simply stacking flat rocks on top of each other.
Of course we had to go explore it. It’s still a mystery. We couldn’t figure out why it was there or who built it, and there’s nothing on the Internet that I can find. There were two very very old tin cans in the fireplace. It didn’t look like anyone had built a fire there for a very long time. Part of the area around Sitting Bull Falls was a cattle ranch until 1967, so maybe some bored cowboys felt like building some stuff. Who knows?
On our last night, we retreated early to the wind-free interior of our tiny camper. Some of the wild cows decided to graze right at our campsite. I named a few of them. This is One-horned Lucy and her nephews Brownie and Blackie. Lucy gave me the eye as I visited the potty, but otherwise they could have cared less that we were there. Good night, cows!