This a past issue of Weightshifting, a newsletter documenting overland travel and the American West by Naz Hamid and Jen Schuetz.
We find ourselves sitting by a heated pool in autumn temperatures at 7,200 feet. Santa Fe has been home for two nights, where we luxuriated in a king-size bed with our own pillows (we don’t leave home without them).
Since the last missive, we parted ways with friends Mandy and Tyler and their two dogs after a lovely shared night and next morning in Bishop, California.
We endured the arduous 8-hour drive to Flagstaff, Arizona, and got in relatively late (i.e., in the dark). We found ourselves without the intended dispersed spots we had planned on — the intel was old. Incidentally, it was Sunday, the Overland Expo (West edition) had just concluded, and lo and behold, it was held at the very park where the now-defunct public lands were. Ironic.
We were tired, and the weather was damp and cold. When this happens and you don’t (yet) have auxiliary lighting on the rig to go campsite hunting, you opt for a nearby dog-friendly hotel. La Quinta to the rescue. On our last trip, we had to do this twice, both times in St. George, Utah, because the summer heat was in the upper 90s with no shade and rolling thunderstorms — a recipe for misery for all campers, including Barb, our senior dog.
This time in Flagstaff, it was pure weariness and what I call “transactional.” This is when utility prevails and a warm, clean bed with free parking and no questions about your beloved furry friends is all you need.
Something we’ve learned since getting the rig: The best hotels for you and your truck are the chains in smaller towns. La Quinta, Hyatt Place, Fairfield Marriotts, Tru by Hilton, etc. No, they’re not boutique hotels, but for around $100–140 you actually get a load of value — free breakfast, quiet rooms, low pet fees, and easy parking out front, so you can keep an eye on the rig. Also, most chains have remodeled or created new concepts, so they’re all newer and clean. They’re the kind you usually find close to some other attraction: St. George, for example, is near Zion National Park, an hour or so drive, but for those with families is well worth the monetary savings.
After leaving Flagstaff the next morning, we knew we had a shorter day with six hours of drive time to make it to Albuquerque, New Mexico. We stopped for lunch then went to find a free dispersed campsite spot just outside of town in Cibola National Forest.
One of the beautiful yet intimidating aspects of being self-supported is simply the unknown. With the dispersed approach, the risk–reward payoff can be high, and at other times, you just settle for something that works. Transactional.
The spot we eventually found in Cibola NF was interesting. There was one real gem overlooking the mountainside, and then a strange dense pocket in the middle of a loop-like curve on the forest road where a range of occupants was staying. These people had clearly been there for weeks — the rule is that one must move on from a spot after two weeks, even just to an adjacent spot. This area seemed like a ragtag of people we didn’t expect, with two sites in particular feeling sketchy. Trash, hammocks, makeshift shelters, and such.
We pushed on and kept exploring. We didn’t get too far when we found a very quiet, isolated spot away from potential neighbors. From a personal safety aspect, we felt secure about this spot because you needed a high-clearance 4x4 vehicle. A few small rock gardens and very tight brush (hello, pinstriping!) made the tracks difficult to get to for the casual camper.
We saw no one else all day and night until we left the next morning. I put in a few hours of work at the rear dropdown table.
There’s a bit of anxiety with dispersed camping depending on where you are. Will you have neighbors? Will there be a lot of noise, either people or vehicular? Will you be remote enough to feel alone? Do you want to feel all alone or know that a quarter mile away are some neighbors? Are they cool? Does the pitch black dark make you nervous? The dark is dubious.
Or are you just realizing that nature demands and deserves respect? That we have cushioned ourselves from so many things that are natural?
Note to selves:
To come: more about our time in New Mexico and where we’ll be by then.