Bossier City, La – Greenville, TX – Sacramento Mountains via Weed, NM – Alamogordo, NM - Capitan Mountains via Capitan, NM
Day 1 So, where to begin this quick escape into discovery and solo travel. Let’s start at home. Another week of sitting at home while the rest of the world is in a pseudo state of quarantine/social distancing, I found myself with a long weekend and needed to figure out what I was going to do. My kids were busy, my friends(very small group), couldn’t clear their schedules on such short notice, so I was going solo. I first looked to head back into the Ouachita NF and/or the Ozark NF as I had done just a couple weeks ago. Remembering the struggles with cell signal my last trip, I on a whim asked if anyone had a WeBoost system I could pick up in person before heading out. I’ll save the details on the WeBoost for another write up when I have tested it further. Ryan Hitchcock of CB Adventure Supply had one inbound on Friday the 22nd at his Ft Worth store. This is where my adventure started to take shape. After changing my direction of travel from North to West, I figured I would keep moving West for this trip. I was extremely eager to get moving and didn’t want to waste a day, so Scott Phillips graciously offered me a place to crash for the night of the 21st. Being in Greenville I figured a quick trip to Ft Worth to grab the goods and be on my way. I packed the 4Runner in record time and got on the road to Greenville and a dinner date with the Phillips family minus his two boys. After a very short evening of great conversation and a pretty good fajita dinner it was shower, sleep and get ready for the long Friday ahead.
Friday morning was a quick flurry out the house and a stop with Scott for some IHOP. After breakfast, Scott shuffled to work and I headed for the Ft Worth area in an attempt to locate the hidden gem CB Adventure Supply. A little trial and error but I found the shop and was met by Libby Hitchcock, who was expecting me and told me no luck, Fed Ex had not arrived. I knew from previous conversation I would be waiting for the FedEx delivery to get to the shop before I could be on my way again. Libby was busy organizing the amazing storefront, which for adventuring guy like me, I would equate it to a kid in a candy store. I must have browsed the shelves a dozen times, convincing myself I needed a Garmin InReach then talking myself out of it amongst other things(Maxtrax). I had a few goodies picked out and ready for when the WeBoost arrived. After bugging Libby for a while, the big white truck showed up and just like that, my toy pile got larger and bank account smaller. It was now around 1pm and I had to get on the road and out of the Texas heat. I pulled up Waze to get me out of the concrete jungle and West I went.
Ok, time for a quick proclamation… I do not sit and study areas for weeks to plan routes, stops, camp sites and bathroom breaks. I prefer to let the adventure unfold before me, I strive in chaos and feel extremely trapped and bottle up by schedules and timelines. Please do not confuse this as I don’t want to go with you on your fully planned and prepped trip, I will gladly follow. Now with that out the way, I programmed Weed, NM into Waze and the journey was on. As the miles clicked on and the sun began to set, I was gifted with another hour when I left Central Standard Time for Mountain Standard Time crossing the border into New Mexico. Traveling in west Texas along US 380 through some one stoplight towns, leave a lot to the imagination. I mean why doesn’t someone paint those pumpjacks and windmills different colors, maybe a glow in the dark windmill, now that would brighten up the drive in that area. Tired and ready to get out of the saddle, I arrived in Weed, NM and Waze let me know, “you have reached your destination”, oh how I wished that were true.
Into the Lincoln National Forest I pushed, cattle guards and gates lined the roadway as I piloted higher and higher, finally at 8236ft of elevation, I found a spot where I wouldn’t be surrounded by cattle in middle of the night. This forest very different from the Ouachita and Ozark I had recently visited, not only were campsites not well marked, it was silent, not a cricket, a frog, nothing. I swear it was so quiet, I could hear the saliva bubbles in my mouth bursting. I fell quickly asleep as it was near midnight and a crisp 48 degrees.
The previous nights camp was a good spot for a weary traveler, but not exactly where I wanted to stay. I packed camp early, skipped breakfast and was on trail by 7am, and I am so glad I was. Using Gaia GPS with MVUM (USFS), NatGeo Trails Illustrated and Gaia Topo layers turned on I was knocking off trail after trail and finding the beauty of the forest I wasn’t able to see driving in at dark. Wow, truly a breath-taking forest. In total I had to have mapped more than 30 miles this day, all while spotting wildlife around every turn. Elk, deer, turkey, fox and coyote were either crossing the road in front of me or grazing quietly just off the roadway. Another intriguing thing about this part of the Lincoln is the number of pull behind RVs folks had drug down into the woods. Albeit, these were on maintained Forest Roads, guess I just wasn’t expecting to see so many. I stopped scouting and mapping at nearly noon to have lunch and install my new WeBoost cell signal booster and to give the map a good look to see where I would camp for the night. Post lunch and with new found cellular coverage, I reached out to a friend John, who happens to live in the area and was super helpful with trail information and an offer to meet for a beverage and dinner. John also asked if I wanted to join him in scouting a trail which he only knew as to be described as a “hard” trail, of course I wouldn’t turn this down. But first, I needed to find camp for the night. During conversation with John he recommended for me to take Forest Road 90, known to the locals as the “West Side Rd”, north to the city of High Rolls, NM. I was at a half tank of fuel and needed to emerge from the woods so using this trail, I was able to work backwards and complete a route to put me on trail and ready to meet John the next day. I found camp on the West Side Rd easily and was sitting at 7500 ft elevation for the night. I set up camp around 4pm, lounged around in the hammock for a while and even dozed off for a few minutes. Dinner that afternoon was a burger with chips as well as a Feisty Blonde courtesy of HOP Fusion Ale works in Ft Worth. It was either the fatigue of travel, disrupted sleep or the 8.27% alc/vol, but I was in bed at 7pm. Man, I’m showing my age, old man needs his sleep.
Mmm, a delicious breakfast and coffee this morning, now that’s how to start a day on the trails. Anxious to see messages from John about our meeting for the day, I packed up camp and started north again on the West Side Rd. John had made mention that there would be some great views along the way, including White Sands National Park. Have to be honest right here, I had no idea White Sands was in this area… Like I said, I am not the guy looking beyond the windshield. News from John came in via text and wasn’t great, his coworkers that wanted to meet and run the trail with us hadn’t responded to a meet up time. No worries, it was early and I had plenty of time. One thing I didn’t have plenty of was fuel, now creeping under a half a tank I needed to get to town. John told me the town of High Rolls were the trail met with the highway had fuel station but he believed it to have closed down. The next closest town was Cloudcroft, but Alamogordo was about the same distance and the direction of the trail we were going to run. Into Alamogordo I went, beautiful small town with a population just over 30K in 2018. I fueled up and called John, he wanted to wait until “later” to hit the trail. Well, later to me, the guy roaming around a new city meant, “time to check out White Sands!!” Let me tell you, the excitement was short lived... Damn you Covid-19... White Sands National Park was closed. As I cruised the highway looking out into the vast openness, I realized I couldn’t see a darn thing lol. I did find and open gate that had markings like, “Keep gate closed by order of State Police”, “This area monitored by Holloman AFB Security Forces”, that second one and I was thinking to myself, ‘”I am going in this gate”, so I did. Turns out it leads to the overlook for Holloman AFB waste water lakes. Only now while typing this did I learn the state of New Mexico was/is preparing to sue the Air Force to force closure of the publicly accessible lake due to “high concentration of hazardous chemicals”, good thing I just snapped a few pictures and left.
Beginning to feel like I was losing a day of exploration, I decided to drive around the small town of Alamogordo and see what life is like for the locals. Well, that didn’t take long now did it lol. I texted John and asked if he was up for a visit as I was running out of things to do in town. I rolled up to John’s place and we chatted for a while as we hadn’t seen each other since last September and a lot of stuff can happen in that amount of time. All caught it up, it was time to make tracks. John took lead and we headed off road onto the most difficult trail of the trip, I mean I actually had to engage 4wd. We jumped off highway 82 and proceeded to climb a ridgeline trail up to just over 7000ft with the most amazing view of Alamogordo and White Sands. This place was to be my camp site for the night, I mean 100yds from my camp was a launch site for hang gliders. It was pretty awesome sharing this experience with John as he had never been to this point before as well. We decided earlier to take a late lunch in Cloudcroft and I reluctantly drove away from the camp site thinking to myself, “this will be occupied by the time I get back”. With the current state of affairs due to Covid-19, New Mexico has not yet opened restaurants for dining in, all services are take away only. We decided on the Old Apple Barn Wild Game Bistro & Market and convinced the ladies inside to let us eat on John’s tailgate and not chase us off the property. The Bison burger and Mountain fries were a belly filling serving after the last couple days of small camp meals. We talked more than we ate, we spoke on life, dating after 40, employment struggles, financial stability and overall, how we were finding our way. This talk was one I didn’t take lightly, it was profound as in that moment I felt, good, with my decisions in the past. Decisions that have up till now have given me everything from happiness to heartache and everything in between. It was also in this moment I realized my camping and off-road adventures were not what I did to escape from people or go “off the grid”, what I was doing was finding answers, seeking opportunities vs running from them. John and I parted ways, him to work on his dryer and me to grab my epic camp site. We left with a commitment to meet again on yet an even greater scale as we conquer a trail farther west.
I quickly made tracks back to the camp site and to my surprise it was empty. A little further up the ridgeline trail was a couple in a 4Runner out metal detecting, for what I have now idea, but I did over hear him state he had found a lot of bottle tops. Just a little further was a group of hang gliders perched and ready to take off. I’m guessing the wind was never how they needed it, as the never launched. I leveled out my 4Runner and set up of the evening. The site had good cell signal so I FaceTimed my daughter in Florida to see how she was doing and to let her know I was good and looking at one of the most spectacular sights I had seen in a while. We chatted while I set up my GoPro for a time-lapse of the sunset, which sadly I started it too early and the GoPro battery gave out a bit early. I was able to get some great photos and learn a little about shutter speeds and ISO settings while trying to get the best shots I could with an iPhone and a GoPro. Once settled in to camp for the night, I took advantage of the cell signal and watched a couple episodes of Tales from the Loop on Amazon Movies. I went to sleep feeling confident in where I was on my journey and knowing there was more to come, but where?
Around 3am the winds up on the ridgeline took a turn and came in from a different direction than I had situation my tent for. I was now taking wind gust of around 20 mph, broadside. After weathering the wind for a while, I decided my highly anticipated sunrise wouldn’t happen on the ridge. Disappointed but enjoying the ever-changing dynamics of the trip, I loaded up and headed down the trail. I returned to Alamogordo to study my maps, top off fuel and grab a coffee. John had pointed out a peak the day prior while we were on the trail, he pointed and said that over there is Sierra Blanca. I grabbed the iPad and opened Gaia GPS, I notice another section of Lincoln National Forest northeast of Sierra Blanca called the Capitan Mountains, I identified a route and set off. This route I quickly found out, traversed the Mescalero Apache Lands. I was greeted by signs listing certain roads that were closed to non-tribal members. I verified my route was clear and continued on passing through more amazing areas which reminded me of Sedona, Arizona. The temps were in the lower 40’s, deer grazing in front yards and relatively light traffic, made for a great drive.
Driving through the small town of Capitan I noticed lots of signs for the famous Smokey Bear, as I was nearly out of town, I saw a sign identifying Capitan as the birthplace of Smokey Bear. Sure enough, a quick internet search and the information is there about the rescued bear from the Capitan Gap Fire. To me this wouldn’t have been so cool had I known about before passing through. While I didn’t make note of what time I arrived at the National Forest, it was still early in the day, around 8:30 on a WAG. Being back on gravel roads, I aired down to keep the ride as comfortable as possible. Airing down proved to be a wise choice later in the day. This area had suffered a fire recently as there was signage posted advising to use caution for falling trees, rocks and debris. In 2019 the Pine Lodge Fire burned a good bit of the Capitan Mountain range and areas were still recovering.
As I traveled up to Capitan Pass on County Road C001, I opted to not take the pass, but to use FSR 56 to climb the mountain up to highest point one could reach by vehicle. This road was mountainside and rough with a great view straight down the mountain lol. I managed the road easily in 4H but it could very likely be done in 2WD. I annotated several campsites will traveling the road, but several were very near a vista with little protection from wind and after the night prior I was not wanting to deal with that again. I met a couple in a Sand colored Tacoma from Texas, the flagged me down as the y were heading down the mountain after spending what they called an amazing night in an Aspen filled meadow. They told me where I could find the site and with a quick word of thanks and well wishes they were headed down the mountain. I got back on the trail, found the amazing meadow and dropped a pin in Gaia. It was still early and I wanted to map as much of the area that I could before calling it a day. I worked my way in and out of off shooting trails that were blocked or just simply ended. When I reached the end of the road there was a sign for a hiking trail to the true summit of Capitan Peak at 10049ft, although my GPS showed me at 10145ft at the end of the road. The area was filled with antenna, solar panels, a couple buildings and generators roaring. Most of this was label for telecom and such but it wasn’t very tidy. Filled with trash from years of work and repairs in the area, old pipes, rebar, broken solar panels were amongst the normal trash people tend to leave behind. While there is a campsite here, I opted to avoid the hum of the generators and headed back down the mountain to the meadow.
Arriving back at the meadow I made camp and settled in for a great day, or so I thought. I found the altitude was kicking my butt, shortness of breath just doing the simplest things. I also realized I wasn’t very hungry and had been fighting a headache most of the morning(I attributed to lack of sleep), to add fuel to the fire, diarrhea was trying to join the party. Now, I am a frequent flyer for work and never leave home without over the counter meds to address all these issues. I took my meds and decided to watch a little more Tales from the Loop and maybe take a short nap. After two trips down the ladder to dig a hole, I realized a nap wasn’t going to happen. I was curious as to why I was feeling ill, as I normally have a great appetite. Turns out, Altitude sickness fits the bill, coming from sea level and camping near or above 8000ft for the past couple days and now at 9600ft was taking its toll on me physically. The weather was changing quickly, one minute I was in a cloud, the next it was sunshine. I was even sitting in BB sized hail for a few minutes. I have heard about high altitude weather and how quickly it could change but I had checked the weather report earlier and was only 20 percent chance of light rain. Figuring that was my luck and I’m getting the full 20 percent right then. I climbed back into then tent once again and this time had actually dozed off. 7:20pm, a loud and clear boom of thunder woke me like I had never woken before. There was no rain so I thought maybe that was all it would be, then it happened again. Boom. I was able to find one bar of cell service to get a weather update and slowing the map updated to show a couple of thunderstorms had formed northwest of my location and were looking to just pass to the north, hopefully. I made the decision to err on the side of safety and leave my amazingly peaceful campsite and head down the mountain.
This decision also meant my adventure was coming to an end. I made my way down the mountain second guessing my choice, wondering if it would clear and be the most breath-taking morning view with Elk grazing in the meadow just a hundred feet away from my camp. I didn’t turn around, go down the main highway and aired up my tires ready for the journey home. It was once again time for Gaia GPS to step aside and allow Waze to get me home safely. I stopped in Brownfield, TX at a Holiday Inn as I was physically drained and need sleep before pushing the last 8 hours back to Bossier City, LA.
The wrap up… Just your normal eight-hour drive where you can see the vastness that is west Texas. I used this time to process my adventure and things I learned along the way. A few notes to take away from my adventure:
People; I don’t like social distance, I enjoy people, but at controlled doses.
Technology; I enjoy it and will use it to enhance my adventures. My cellphone doesn’t tether me to a world I can’t turn off, I mean it comes with an option to turn it off, do it.
Gear; I over pack and know I do. I am OK with it.
Semper Gumby; Always be flexible.
In closing, I had an amazing trip covering nearly 2000 miles, I made memories, said hello to old friends and enjoyed discovering so many cool things about the world we live in. Beyond all the photos and video, beyond this journal of my trip, the things that are most impactful are the things not visible. The internal works of self-discovery are different for everyone but when you can find yourself or even small answers to those questions you don’t normally speak about, it is powerful and uplifting. I haven’t answered all my questions, not by a long shot. I will continue my trips, or adventures I like to call them, and I will continue to avoid over planning and enjoy the trip for what it is. But what about the things I missed on this trip that I could have seen or done? Well, I guess I’ll have to go on another adventure until I find the things I missed…