This past weekend we had a three day adventure that included a trip around the enchanted circle, some stealth street camping, live Blues music, and an afternoon of rain. It all began on Friday morning when we left Taos and headed east on the Enchanted Circle Byway. This 84 mile scenic route begins in Taos and travels up and around the Taos Mountains passing ski resorts, mining towns, an alpine lake, a ghost town, and some gorgeous scenery. Our plan was to only travel part way around the circle, stopping in the tiny alpine town of Red River for the weekend Blues & Brews festival, followed by an entire week of fresh mountain air and small town charm. We left town and within only a few miles found ourselves driving though a forest of dense trees.
We reached the high point of the road and began our descent through the trees to the Moreno Valley below. Soon we passed the town of Angel Fire and spotted ski trails carved into the mountain off in the distance.
The valley floor was lined with lush green meadows and soft, rounded mountains that reminded me more of southern Colorado than New Mexico.
Soon we came to the town of Eagle’s Nest where we took a short detour down main street with the intention of finding a suitable spot to stop for lunch.
I think this will do.
We ended up on the shores of Eagle’s Nest Lake where we parked at the state park day use area where we enjoyed a view of both the lake and a snow covered Wheeler Peak.
Eagle’s Nest Lake State Park was one of the places that I originally had on our list of NM state parks to visit. But then I read several accounts from other travelers who stayed there and reported that the cell service was pretty much non-existent. I also checked the Coverage? app which confirmed the lack of connectivity. Well, as it turns out there is in fact a little bit of cell service in the town of Eagle’s Nest – but only a little bit. We actually passed the cell tower on our way through town. It was one of those tiny towers that probably only has a ten or so mile range. We checked the signal at lunch and it was fairly slow, so it’s probably a good thing that we didn’t try to stay there. In any case, it was a very nice spot for lunch, and if they ever get a bigger tower we would love to come back and stay for awhile.
Leaving Eagle’s Nest we continued through the valley and then began to climb up into the mountains again. This time we climbed all the way up to Bobcat Pass, which, at an elevation of 9,820 is not even close the to highest pass we have driven over with our home in tow (top honor goes to Red Mountain Pass in Colorado – elevation 11,018′). It was still exciting. I don’t know if the thin air at high elevations makes me giddy or what, but I always get excited by these mountain crossings.
Soon we were rolling down into the town of Red River.
We knew ahead of time that it was going to be a challenge for us to find a suitable spot to spend the week in Red River. Not because there’s a lack of campgrounds in the area, but because there’s a lack of cell service. If you look at the coverage map you’ll see a very small slice of red (indicating Verizon service) over the town. That’s it. Even a little ways outside of town and it disappears. I know, I know…more talk about cell service. But it really does play a huge factor in where we can and cannot stay. Tim absolutely has to have a strong, steady signal for work. He also has the type of job where he’s expected to work 8 hours in a row, which means unlike many travelers we have met who do freelance work, the option to spend a few hours here or there sucking up free wi-fi at coffee shops or libraries is not an really an option at all. So we live by the rule that if the signal isn’t there, neither are we. Which means that in the case of a town like Red River we’re gonna have to do some searching. The first thing we did was find a parking lot where we could unhook and leave the Airstream while we went exploring. We chose a large lot near the ski area.
We drove up a few roads looking for boondocking spots. These roads, while part of national forest land, were only a mile or two from the main part of town. Unfortunately, we failed to find a spot with any service. Next we drove through town to check out the national forest campgrounds on the far west side. There were four of them, and at least the two closest to town got an okay signal. One had a really nice site right next to the river that we thought might work for us. At the very least we figured we could try it for the weekend and then go from there. So we drove back to town to pick up our house. On the way we passed two private parks. One was downright depressing looking, and the other was not terrible, but not good either. Especially considering I already looked online and saw they were both $30+ per night. As we rolled back down Main St. Tim said, “We should just park on the street for tonight.” He was either joking or testing me to see how I would react. It’s not something we’ve ever tried before, and I think I surprised both of us by saying “Sure, why not.” Since we planned to come back in town for the Blues & Brews festival the next day, and it was already mid-afternoon, we figured why pay $17 for a night at the campground when we could (hopefully) get away with a free night right in town.
The spot we picked was on a side street next to the town park. We didn’t see any no overnight parkings signs, and we weren’t parked in front of any houses or businesses, so it seemed like our best bet. And just look at that gorgeous green lawn right outside out front door!
Once settled we walked around town. Red River is one of those mountain towns that has tried to adapt a kind of Swiss Alps style of architecture. For some towns it works, but in this case it looked more forced and fake than anything. Maybe I’ve just seen so many towns try to pull off this style that to my eye it just seems unoriginal and inauthentic. I mean we’re in New Mexico for pete’s sake. I can understand what they were going for though, especially considering that the economy of Red River is based solely on the ski area and the tourists that it pulls in. Despite my criticisms, it was actually a cute town full of shops, restaurants, rental condos, and Inn type places, which leads me to believe that they must have a successful skiing season in the winter.
Back at the Airstream we spent some time on our computers and eventually came to the conclusion that we weren’t going to be able to stay in Red River for the week. Even in town the signal was slow and sometimes unusable. If that was the case so close to the source (we spotted the cell tower less than a block from where we were parked) then it was going to be even worse at the national forest campground, or one of the private campgrounds on the outskirts of town. We decided not to dwell on it and enjoy the rest of our weekend. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. Much to my relief (I was a little nervous) we successfully made it though the night without a knock on the door in the middle of the night. Not surprisingly, Red River is a very quiet town, and we barely heard any cars go by past ten o’clock. In the morning we drove over to the ski area parking lot (the same one where we left the Airstream the day before) and hung around for a few hours before the Blues & Brews Festival started. The first act was scheduled for 10:30 and when we saw other cars pulling in we headed out with our blanket and chairs to settle in for a day of listening to music, drinking beer and enjoying the scenery. Or so we thought.
There was probably less than two dozen people there when we arrived, which wasn’t too much of a surprise since it was still early. As time went on more people arrived, the second band came on, we ate some tasty pulled pork wraps for lunch, and the weather took a turn for the worse.
What had started as a party sunny day with temps in the 60s, turned into a dark, threatening sky and a drop in temperature that had people piling on the coats and hats. We held out until about one o’clock when the weather radar on my phone showed a huge blog of green and orange coming our way. At this point other people were starting to leave, and we decided to get out of there before got wet. Good thing because about 10 minutes after we got back to the Airstream it started raining.
It rained, and rained and rained for a good three hours. We didn’t mind too much since we were warm and cozy in our house. We both took naps and did some reading to pass the time. Finally the rain stopped and we decided to go back out and see if the music was still going on. Nope. They had moved the last act to a bar in town. We went back and forth for a bit and finally decided to risk another night in town. Once again it seemed silly to pay for a night at the national forest campground since it was already past 5:00. This time we chose a spot on different street near another RV.
The music in town turned out to be a bust. There was nothing going on at the bar where we were told it had moved to, but we did hear some music next door. So we went in and found a restaurant with a tiny bar area packed with people and two guys playing music. Neither of us felt up to squeezing our way to the bar for drink and then standing in the corner all evening. So we called it a night and went back to our street side home. In the end we didn’t find a place to stay for the week, we didn’t hear very much blues, and we didn’t drink any beer, but we did have an awesome adventure filled weekend!