Taos Junction Recreation Site
[This post is photo-heavy, so if you’re on a very limited cellular plan, exit right now and go to the home page or anywhere else.]
The drive down from Buena Vista, Colorado via Alamosa to Taos Junction, New Mexico was scenic, to say the least. Broad, sweeping valleys bordered by high, rugged mountains were the order of the day. Just don’t run off the highway staring at them. Alamosa, Colorado is a good-sized town with much to recommend it in the way of supplies. When 2 o’clock rolled around, I stopped at an improvised burger palace in a section of a repurposed city building, where I got a good hamburger, perfect onion rings, and perhaps the best chocolate shake I’ve had so far. The shake came with a straw large enough in diameter to pass as plumbing pipe, and it worked admirably. Due to their running a special and providing a 10% senior discount, I walked out with a loss of under $7. Yes, that’s no typo. Even the Safeway in town had unusually low prices on most food items, and with the fuel credit they give to regular customers, I was able to top off my tank at their station for just $2.29/gallon, which was a lot better than the $2.98 stations I’d passed on the way down. People in the Safeway parking lot greeted me with a friendly hello as we passed. My kind of town, Alamosa. Nirvana for cheapskates.
I had three sets of GPS coordinates for my next potential camp, all hopefully between 6,000’-7,000’ high. All are in extreme northern New Mexico. The first was a “recommended” campsite most appropriate for an overnight stay due to its basic location just off US-285 and tree shading. The second was a possible site I spotted on Google Maps, fairly near the Rio Grande River. The third was a small parking lot – with vault toilets – close beside the same river in what appeared to be a recreation area. I had spotted that on Google Maps as well. That was my first preference, but was camping allowed in it?
This last potential site was a half-hour farther than the first, and I wondered if I had made an error in noting down the GPS coordinates, since I hadn’t figured on that kind of distance from the first site. But in the end, the coordinates were correct. The final trick was to take a long, winding path down, down, down to the Rio Grande. The parking lot turned out to be for day use only, but on the way there I had passed what purported to be a camping area called The Taos Junction Campground, within the Taos Junction Recreation Site. Its existence was not a complete surprise, so I doubled back to check it out, dreading that it would be the usual $18/day state park scenario. I’d written it off during my Google Maps gazing, for just that reason.
Nope. It was run by the BLM at just $7/day and, as a decrepit old curmudgeon clutching an America the Beautiful Pass, I would get 50% off. Hmmm. I didn’t have to mull that over for long. Very little angst involved. Fully acceptable, in fact. I can hack $3.50 a day. For that, there are plumbed restrooms with cold water only, dumpsters galore, a water spigot in one location, and rather impressive concrete, rock and wood shelters in the New Mexico style, with picnic tables on a their concrete platforms. They are large. There are just four of these overnight sites available, and I took the only one left. However, the very pronounced slope of it made situating the Intrepid problematic even with the two wedges I carry. The camp host, a nice and very laid-back guy, came by and noted that the site next to me would be available before long, since they were only there for day use. So I blew some time wandering about, imagining how I could somehow make this slope usable if worst came to worst. No way. Virtually everything on a table or counter would still be sliding right off.
Much to my surprise, a lady from the day use group wandered over to offer that we swap spaces, since they were there for the mini-pavilion, not the more level parking. With the sun about to disappear behind the ridges towering overhead, they weren’t going to be there much longer anyway, she said. How gracious! After a token protest, I offered my profuse thanks, and we exchanged spots. By the time I got the Mighty Furd up on wedges to make it truly level, then got the roof up to get access to my checkbook, they departed and waved. I walked to the entrance to deposit my $21 check for 6 nights, and packed away the groceries that had not required refrigeration. Settling in, there was not the least pretense of a cellular signal, but this was not surprising, since the Rio Grande and camp are effectively in a very deep and abrupt hole. That prevents me from researching Taos as a supply source at the end of my stay, so I’ll just have to wing it from here on in. And I’ll have no clue as to upcoming weather. Oh, well. Some hardships are easier than others to deal with, and these are two of them. I’ve never seen the Rio Grande and, it now being less than a hundred yards away with a walking path right to its edge, I’ll be able to walk down and see it real good!
The GPS coordinates of this camp are 36.335474, -105.736895. Elevation is 6,148’. The in-the-hole nature of the site shortens sun exposure quite a bit, but unless you can tilt your solar panels to eke out every last watt, this doesn’t affect much in a practical way. My ground panels are deployed, just in case the limited sun exposure is paired with overcast at some point. Should you like to use a bicycle where you camp, be aware that goathead thorn plants are moving into the shelter area of this particular camp. Armor tire belts and self-sealing inner tubes are advised. As for rig size, I wouldn’t pull in here with a 40-foot motor home, nor with even a mid-size trailer, due to the compact quarters once in the overnight camping area. Cars, truck campers, and teardrop or mini trailers are about it. Having said that, there is a mid-size TT parked here in what would normally be a Day Use area lot and turnaround loop. No shelter for him. Despite the cellular signal issue, this campsite is yet another great option for appropriate rigs. Just have a Plan B available if the three usable sites are already taken.
Plan B could be any one of several comparable campsites along New Mexico 570, which runs alongside the Rio Grande on the south end of the Taos Junction Bridge. This curvy little paved two-lane offers places to camp as well as day use (river access) options. None have a camp host on site, and the fees seem to vary with whether a water spigot is present at the site or not. If so, the rate is $7/night (like my camp), or $5/night without. The camps vary in nature, some with plentiful shade, some with longer sun exposures, some without shelters, some with impressive views, some with hiking trails nearby, and one with a boat launch/retrieval ramp. The degree of solitude varies as well. Most all of them have vault toilets. The camps I visited being within a five-mile stretch, they are all worth a tour to best accommodate your camping whims. As far as I could determine on a weekday afternoon, all are deserted or nearly so at the same time that my camp is being lightly used. Again, smaller rigs only. Small loops are often (but not always) provided in case your rig is on the edges of fit, and two parking spaces per site are the norm, allowing a small TT to be in one and the tow vehicle in the other.
And if you’re into video, the 12-minute clip below is a short dashcam of curvy and scenic New Mexico 570 before the long climb up out of the gorge on switchbacks, with a panoramic sweep of what’s below at the top of the gorge. There’s no tedious crawling on this one, since the dirt road out is, I’m told, in the best shape it has been for years.