Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

NF 445 in the Cibola National Forest

This is a bit of okay!

As far as campsites go, I finally found a winner that meets my needs. Just three miles east of Bernalillo, New Mexico are two unmarked turnoffs for NF 445, which is a fairly compact loop that borders the Sandia Mountain Wilderness. 445 is a rough, rocky trail that just about any vehicle can ascend (with care) in dry weather. Wet weather may stop the show for 2WD, but rather than getting stuck, you’re more likely to have to back on down. The sheer amount of rocks here makes forging long, deep mud ruts likely only in certain spots.

This is looking in the opposite direction, down the trail. More to the left, the town of Bernalillo can be seen at night, looking like a gigantic lighted Christmas tree.

And slope it does. Not aggressively, just persistently. With two days and three nights of rain coming on quickly, the forecast is for more than 3/4-inch in total. I remember camping on a slope near the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, watching a mini-tsunami rolling down the road. This trail has a lot of water diversion cuts in it, which are intended to discourage just such a scenario, the problem being that square miles of slope – not square acres – can capture a heap of water in a short time. Such a flash flood can do much naughtiness to dirt roads and anything else in the way, the main problems being severe erosion and deposited debris. With any luck, there will merely be a stuttering series of moderate rains rather than a big dumperoo. That’s obviously what’s most likely. It’s just that when you’re driving past so many diversions per any given distance, it makes you think about whether your existing priorities in selecting a campsite need a temporary change-up in order to accommodate upcoming weather forecasts.

A short distance further up, and this is the view of the mountains.

My campsite is the fourth one in on the east-most entrance to 445. Elevation: 5,937′, GPS: 35.287674, -106.476982. I use the word “campsite” loosely, since most are very compact pull-offs on the way around the 6-mile loop. Not a campfire ring or evidence of a charred spot anywhere. With many of the pull-offs being not particularly level, you may need to address your rig’s resulting tilt. My own wheel chocks can’t compensate fully, but what’s left is just fine with me. The campsite’s surface here is a smooth mix of dirt, pea gravel and sand. I’d expect mud to be a problem for tracking into the rig, but nothing like the nightmare silt where I overnighted previously. After scouting around on the e-bike, I can say that other sites vary considerably for levelness and surface composition. The third site I stopped at on the way in had one bar (of four) of Verizon signal. Number four, being higher up, has two bars. In trade for better Internet reception, my chosen site is closer to some high tension lines going through. Most sites are far from them.

There are many walking/biking trails and several trailheads here.

Bernalillo is right along I-25 and is packed with franchise restaurants, so it being some seven hours past breakfast, I thought I’d stop at a cafe in historic Placitas, a town in the center of an original Spanish land grant. Turns out, in spite of the Chamber of Commerce listing businesses one after another, most are actually back in Bernalillo, 6 miles west. Thanks. Vicarious businessing. It became easier to just set up camp and eat something at Rancho Begley. The main drag through Placitas shows absolutely nothing but quiet residential side streets. Once home to hippies and other “turn on, drop out” individuals, it’s now home to high-upscale folks seeking a less urban approach to employment in Albuquerque. What a shift! There are still reputed to be a few descendants of the original San Jose de las Huertas land grant in Placitas, reminding me of a similar situation in Wickenburg, Arizona. Not sure about the hippies, but since none of the residential spaces in Placitas looked like abandoned junkyards, I suspect they’ve moved to the area a few miles south of the technically impressive Earthship Community near Taos. (Don’t assume that the Earthship Community itself must be populated by hippies. “Alternative lifestyle” does not infer a choice of just one approach or one set of values. You can reference this article to help gauge who and what’s there.)

No reason for this shot other than I like the view!

Bernalillo turns out to be the secret winner of a camping source of replenishment. Once camped and online, I was able to locate several large supermarkets, a couple of well-rated laundromats, and some likely sources for propane and a hot shower. I’ll have to hunt down a potable water source by asking around. Honestly, if the weather remains workable, I may just stay a couple of weeks here instead of progressing further southeast after one. It’s that nice, and that practical.

A picture of an outhouse? Well really, it’s a potential camping site at an unusual trailhead that’s on a spur at the halfway point of the loop. The outhouse is for day use only. Normally I don’t recommend using trailhead parking for camping on, but this trailhead appears to be oversized for its usage. There are much better campsites on this loop, however.

In order to find out just how nice, I unloaded the bike carrier. As you may recall, that beautious Taos Junction campground had loaded both bike tires with goathead thorns, deflating both completely over time. I had the idea that if I could now re-inflate and ride on the tires awhile, that they may well self-seal because that’s what the Michelin tubes are supposed to do. So, first step, I pulled out what few remaining thorns I could find.

Another trail. Joggers and some cyclists use 445 itself, but trails like this get plenty of use as well because of their proximity to town.

But how to re-inflate them in the finest Lazy Man way? The hand pump on the Evelo’s frame would eventually work, but also violate my principles. It’s for adding a few pounds, not taking two tires up from scratch. The Viair pump that I use for airing up the Mighty Furd’s tires at the end of its off-roading adventures would certainly do, but that’s a significant deal to set up just for two lousy little bike tires. Then the clouds parted, a bright light shown, and I dimly recalled that hey, I’d invested in an Antigravity Batteries Micro-Start XP-10 lithium battery at the Overland Expo West this year, and had also taken advantage of their tiny light-duty air pump for something like $16 more as a “Show Special!!!” One can’t expect too much from such deals, but it was in the truck cab waiting for just this type of task.

Antigravity Batteries jump starter products are favored by overlanders and remote campers because they perform. Excellent reputation. Their tire inflator is to the left.

The Micro-Start is an emergency power source in the event that a jump start is needed and no second vehicle is around. It doubles as an emergency flashlight with its LED bulb and reflector, and it ought to be able to stay on for an awfully long time. The XP-10 is the largest version (think of an old laptop battery on steroids), made to turn over the Mighty Furd’s 6.4L diesel a few times. But if you can’t leave well enough alone, it can also be used to supply 12VDC (& 16V) power to gizmos like laptops and little air pumps, AA battery chargers and cellular modems. It comes with an excellent case holding all manner of hookup and adapter cables & jack fittings, as well as a cigar plug recharge cable and a 110VAC power adapter. The only extra I bought was a female cigar plug outlet, which I suspect they don’t include because of the other adapters, and because that style of plug is a crappy way to transfer even modest amounts of power to devices. Popularity doesn’t guarantee that something is good or works well. The Micro-Start’s standard recharging cord uses a good-quality male cigar plug so that you can recharge it via your vehicle’s power port or cigarette lighter socket on the road, but its power draw is minimal.

Handy tip: if you are planning to invest in one of these XP jump starters, do not buy it from Amazon or similar, as many of their sellers offer look-alike Chinese knock-offs whose prime function seems to be either as a paperweight, or an incendiary device. You may also get no storage case or the right accessories. Save money at your own peril. Micro-Start does not warranty the imitations, of course. That upsets some people who can’t imagine that anything could ever go wrong with buying a “genuwine” Micro-Start at a big discount from their trusted Amazon. Missing cables, no case, dead when you finally need it 6 months later, and not really a Micro-Start product. Still a great deal? I don’t think so, but many people continue to opt in to the cheap fakes, and reap the consequences.

Now past the “top” of the loop, I’m not seeing anything wrong with this pull-off for pleasure camping! No extra charge for the view!

I was frankly surprised with the Micro-Start Tire Inflator & Air Pump. It was small and well thought-out, it worked, and its little pressure gauge was usably accurate, too! Sure it was noisy, but it didn’t rattle and each bike tire took just a couple of minutes to get to 35 pounds. It also came with a 12V cigar plug cord as well as a dedicated cord that plugs right into the Micro-Start battery. There’s even a weak little LED light to help deal with the tire valve attachment in the dark. I was done before I knew what hit me. It was a triumph of laziness. All there was to do now was ride!

During that ride, I found a heap of trailheads, and some more campsites, several even better than mine in some way or other.

Oops! The western half of the loop is more problematic in spots. Most people just park at the entrances and start walking or biking down there.

Further down, the road gets more challenging. Odd, how the only trapped water is on the western half of the loop. And the rocky sections are fewer there, too.

Looking back uphill, this looks like a welcoming entrance gateway!

Then take a few steps back, and here’s your next camping spot! This one allows for significant vehicle length.

Another pull-off, further down.

I’m not sure about the origin of this large area, but it should be accessible for larger rigs with decent ground clearance. Just don’t try to depart in the rain.

This large area is more level and less damaged by redneck-style antics.

Several very old impromptu trails are blocked off, to limit the erosion damage they cause, or at least not make it any worse. As far as off-road vehicles are concerned, NF 445 is all there is.

Small, but nicely situated!

This looks like a small trailhead lot, but I didn’t notice any trail starts nearby.

You enter via the west entrance, and you will eventually cross this wash. (You also pass through a smaller wash on the east road, too.)

This is a mini-rat’s nest of trails that allow camping privacy of sorts. It’s very close to the west entrance. There was just one vehicle camped in here, and one further up on another good pull-off.

This not being a really remote area, this reminder of proximity to an urban center is also a reminder that there are good people and bad people. The bad ones contribute to misery instead of contributing to anyone’s welfare.

Starting up the east entrance in order to complete my loop…

Campsite #1, an elongated pull-off.

Campsite #2 allows a little more room to the fence.

A rocky trail and a nice view.

Campsite #3 had very poor cell reception, but you may fare better.

Speaking of electricals, once back at camp, I found that the Four Wheel’s twin 12V outlets were both dead. Hmmm, I need those! A look at the fusebox with its label showing the functions of the numbered fuses, and it was obvious that the outlet’s fuse had blown. Fortunately, I packed a 15A replacement, and put it in. That blew in a heartbeat, however, the second I switched on the outlet that holds one of those dual USB charging cigar plugs. This is the second failed USB plug I’ve had, and instead of simply dying, they short out the circuit. That’s a poor way to fail. The closest fuse I have left is a few 20-ampers, so that will do until I eventually go into Bernalillo on errands. Fortunately for me, I had a spare dual USB adapter in the cab of the truck, so I’m back in business. I’ll pick up another when I buy the proper fuses. Camping adventure!

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2 thoughts on “NF 445 in the Cibola National Forest

  1. Full of awesome!

    • Indeed, Allen! Plus, this place seems to max out at just 25 degrees for the difference between daily high/low temperatures. It’s not the common “bake, then freeze” location.

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