I TOOK THE RIGHT ROAD
Some time ago I wrote about New Mexico’s state parks having an environment for every camper. So now it is time to take you to a lakeshore camp and show you exactly what is at the end of the right road for me.
Here is the road. Not exactly a super-highway, is it? It is sometimes slow going over dirt, rock and sand, especially when the road has little washboard ripples and a sinkhole or two. The sides are soft, but the road center is firm.
The lake is Elephant Butte where I have enjoyed many camping trips. This is my favorite New Mexico lake, conveniently close to one of my favorite little towns, Elephant Butte, which is semi-connected to the town of Truth or Consequences. They tell me it was named for the old game show. Hmm!?
Just before the turnoff to Elephant Butte State Park there is an up-scale RV park, all concrete with loads of modern facilities including a pool and spa. It is part of the Elephant Butte Inn which is across the street featuring an excellent restaurant and ‘premium’ cocktail lounge where they pour from the well what most lounges only serve as ‘call’ drinks. They also have an impressive selection of beers, fish and chips that will make you start calling everyone ‘matey’ and the friendliest staff in town. So why would I venture out a dirt road to the end of nowhere, leaving all that crunchy, sweet goodness behind?
This is why. Solitude and beauty.
To steal and torture a bit of poetry:
I think no one shall ever make,
A concrete pool, to match a lake
A lake that in its waters cool,
Are not the chemicals of a pool.
A lake whose shore is home and nest,
For egrets, herons and all the rest.
A lake where stars at night can twinkle,
And only little fishies tinkle.
This lake is at the southern end of the Rio Grande rift, a valley oriented north/south that is a product of the first Laramide compression and then volcanism. The butte which the area was named for is actually a basaltic intrusion from that event. The famous K-T (Cretaceous-Tertiary) boundary is evident where Cretaceous sandstone beds line the west bank of the Rio Grande. That boundary is famous because it is about 65 million years old marking the end of dinosaur era.
In June 2014 another bit of fame came into view when the lake was lowered. Some bachelor partying campers came upon one of the most complete fossils ever found of a stegomastodon, a 3.2 million-year-old larger version of a modern elephant. Personally, I find the present day pachyderm to be quite large enough; not sure why we would want a bigger one. They weighed about 6.5 tons, and most of us think we have weight problems. No one had yet invented zumba or aerobics, so you can imagine that bikini season was a fright (quite possibly this writer needs to spend more time with humans).
When the stegomastodon lived New Mexico was warmer and wetter and the large fellow had some interesting neighbors including giant tortoises, giant camels and even a species of rhino. However, the small, hairy, grunting bipeds that would have been its only predator had not yet arrived from the northwest. Humans would not be here for about another 3.18 million years; lucky stegomastodon.
Today I am also lucky because where I am going is very remote, on the east side of Rattlesnake Island. Yes, island. The water is low enough to connect the island to the west shore of the lake by a spit of dry land. This is sort of like what happened during the last ice age (Wisconsin-Würm) when the bottom of the Bering Strait, only about 320 feet deep, became a dry land bridge allowing people to cross from Asia to North America. Those were some seriously hearty folks. As adventurous as I am, I will not go twenty miles without AAA roadside insurance. You guys should imagine trying to talk your wife into a little holiday jaunt like that one. Maybe next spring you should use that sort of adventure as a lead-in to the fishing trip you ‘really’ want to take. Sometimes starting with absurdity cushions reality.
Driving a sandy road like the one ahead of me requires a bit more concentration than driving on a highway. Well, unless you are in New York or southern California. An 18,000 pound RV is not really the ideal vehicle for such a trek, but carefulness and experience are good partners to travel with. Besides, this road is better than some of the red clay roads in the Appalachians Dad and I drove in deer season when I was a kid. Town Hill and Greenridge Mountain were a maze of them. Also, this is a short road going down to the shore, across the land spit, over a little rise and then around behind the island. The GPS tells me it is only 1.14 miles, as the crow flies.
To be so close to civilization and have no awareness of it is almost unworldly. From the place I chose as a campsite there is not a sight or sound of development, save the weekend boaters which pass by without stopping, though they wave when close enough.
During the week there is not a soul in sight. Tiny wavelets splash on the shore rocks, birds call and chirp and coyotes, but no other sounds carry on the wind to disturb my solitude. Even being an avid music lover I do not turn on the stereo to disturb the peacefulness and stillness of this soporific setting. This is one of those places where you put your toes in the sand, sip something cold and consider the woes of the world to be incapable of entering. When wistful minds conceived unicorns, Middle Earth and magic rings, wizards with pet owls and talking dragons they must have been in a place like this. They must have known this peace.
Then, in the evening, the quietness is shattered by a howling wind. It is fierce. The RV rocks like a small boat in heavy seas and the lake surges up beneath it. Perhaps I am too close to the edge of the lake, but it is not the time for moving. If the sand under the wheels is saturated they could sink with the slightest movement. Shapes of the distant mountains are veiled in the storm. White caps cover the lake, so smooth and sleek only hours before. I know exactly what I need, a cup of tea.
The storm begins
Time passes slowly in a storm. Every noise seems important. Things outside that bang around, hit the sides and roof are all suspect. There will be some damage, but hopefully very little. Sometimes a light cover is cracked or broken, and the folding chair you forgot to fold goes bouncing away, but serious damage is rare.
Occasionally a person who is unaccustomed to the desert will leave their awning down. The only reason to do that is if you are tired of the color and have really good insurance.
As it is with most sudden desert storms it subsides in a few hours. To the north a strip of light gray sky emerges just over the mountaintops and the cosmos comes alive once again, bright with stars as the thick, moist ceiling dissolves into vapor. And then the sky is clear; a clean black slate covered with shining, twinkling bits of enchantment, which New Mexico is definitely the land of.
Heron at lunch time