Welcome to the morning view from our most recent camping trip:
Yeah. Not a bad way to wake up, huh?
Once again, we had limited time to get out of town. Matt looked up a few camping areas outside of Red River. We packed the truck, the dog and the essentials and took off for the mountains, despite the fact that there was a 50% chance of rain. The nearer the trees became, the darker the clouds grew. (See this post for photos from the road) We didn’t care. I hadn’t been to the mountains all year and I was itching for some fresh air and starry skies.
In New Mexico, you can camp for free in the national forest. Matt swore he found an out-of-the-way place on Forest Road 134A. It was pouring rain by the time we hit Red River (and realized he forgot to pack anything with long sleeves!). We stopped in the tiny mountain town to pick up an extra tarp and firewood, then headed for a higher elevation.
We drove into Questa and turned east on NM 38. Directions told us to turn left on Kiowa road. We eventually turned right onto Forest Road 134. There was a sign that marked Cabresto Lake a few miles up the road. This drive was very windy and rocky. If you don’t have 4 wheel drive, it will probably be OK, but we don’t recommend it if you can avoid it. There was some funny/cool housing along the road before we turned up toward the lake:
The best campsite (as far as we could tell) was the one on the left side of the road as we entered the “campground.” The Forest Service calls it a campground. I call it a parking lot by a lake with a few picnic tables thrown around. The other “sites” were basically in the parking lot. We arrived on a Thursday evening. The grounds were deserted, with the only indication of other people being their vehicles parked in the lot. It appeared everyone was there for fishing or backpacking, so we landed the best campsite for ourselves.
We made camp the best we could in the rain, enjoyed a fire and played Scattergories in the tent. Sometime after we had drifted to sleep, I was awakened by a distant roar that was almost immediately followed by a gunshot. (This is bear country people. Take a shotgun in case you need to scare them away!) It took me a while to get back to a slumbering state, and even then, it was a light slumber…
The next morning greeted us with clear skies and a beautiful walk around the lake. We chatted with an early bird couple who were trying to beat the fishing crowd that appeared later that morning.
As we packed up our gear mid-morning, backpackers re-appeared from the bowels of the mountains and ATV’s swarmed the lot with families ready to catch their next dinner. Although Cabresto Lake looks remote on the map, it seemed to be quite the happening place. Apparently it is one of the few places in New Mexico for catching Brook Trout!
A few things to remember if you want to camp here:
- Take extra rain gear (tarps, ponchos, etc.); it can rain a lot in this neck of the woods.
- Pack a gun for protection
- There aren’t any trash cans at this location, so tie it up in a tree and pack it out when you leave.
- There is one pit toilet in the center of the parking lot that has a lot of traffic with the fishermen. Contemplate taking a portable toilet for your personal campsite.
If you are considering a camping trip in this area, I would suggest going mid-week to avoid the crowds. If that isn’t possible, backpack into the wilderness or make it a day trip for fishing. The whole loop of the enchanted circle is not to be missed. Years ago we stayed at Columbine Canyon Campground and it still remains one of my favorite camping memories (but maybe that’s because we were on our honeymoon?!) Here’s a great blog with an in-depth review of Columbine.