Red Rock Park, Revisited

The free campground just outside Santa Fe was fine. I could’ve stayed the full 14 days I’m allowed to. But I didn’t feel drawn to stay. I felt like I’d seen what there was to see. My research revealed no historical district or museums that caught my eye.

Instead, I felt drawn to get back to familiar territory. I was less than an hour from Albuquerque, which I’d visited during last year’s Route 66 trip. Getting there meant I’d completed an enormous loop of the western US over the past year. With the exception of Cottage Grove, Oregon, which was a conscious choice in order to receive Starlink at a known safe address, this was the first repeat visit in my travels in the western half of the country, and certainly my first in the southwest. That feels like a big milestone for me.

Before leaving, I dug back through my old blog posts from last year, while I was still doing Route 66. After Albuquerque, we’d stayed at Chateau Walmart in Grants, then proceeded toward Gallup. Birgit had seen these amazing giant red rocks that she wanted to explore, which led us to discover Red Rock Park. It has a cheap campground, and we decided to stay for a couple of days.

“I can see myself coming back here,” I wrote back then. “While motorcycling anywhere off-pavement is strictly prohibited in the park (and rightfully so), there are probably many places I could go ride both on and off pavement nearby. This stop was a complete surprise, so I was unprepared to explore the area. It’s ok. It’s just one more reason why I need to return to New Mexico later. I could see myself spending a week, or even a month at their extremely affordable $400 monthly rate that includes everything.”

After reading what I wrote then, I decided to spend the weekend there. I booked a pull-through campsite, without hookups, online for three nights, and only got charged $33, or $11 per night. By Grabthar’s Hammer, what a savings.

Once hit the road, I soon realized that I was in a race against the clock. While the campground has bathrooms, with showers, I needed a key to get in, and the park office closed at 4:00 pm. After work, work meetings, and endless questions from people after the meetings, I finally hit the road just before noon for what Google said was a three-hour drive. Google also assumed that I’d be driving the 75 mph speed limit, which I wouldn’t be. My van simply can’t maintain those speeds while towing. There would be no Route 66 sightseeing on this drive, just highways to get there as soon as possible. Fortunately, I’d already seen what I wanted to see in Albuquerque during last year’s trip.

There was a fair bit of traffic through Albuquerque, including a massive slowdown in a construction zone for absolutely no reason. That didn’t help. Once past the city, though, traffic cleared up. It was pretty much just me and the truckers on I-40, both of us suffering the same struggles up hills, so our relative speeds to each other were always consistent. It also helps that 99% of truckers are excellent, courteous drivers. I’ll roll with truckers over four-wheelers any day.

I made two quick stops along the way — one for lunch on the go, and another at Walmart in Grants, to pick up a couple of groceries that Albertson’s in Santa Fe didn’t have. Both of these stops were about as quick and easy as I could hope for, and directly on and off the highway.

As I approached Gallup, Google showed me a route that would take me straight to Red Rock Park rather than going into town, then backtracking several miles. I took that route and soon regretted it as it turned into a bumpy, badly rutted dirt road. I had to go another half mile before I could find anywhere to turn around and head back to I-40. Thanks for nothing, Google.

I can say that my new Bilstein shock absorbers worked amazingly well. My only fear was that the motorcycle and everything else in the trailer had fallen over, but I had no time to deal with that right now. The side quest wasted about 15 minutes. It was down to the wire.

I went down to the next exit, backtracked, and drove to the park office almost by memory. It looked very closed, even though it was about 3:45 pm. I asked someone I saw working outside (and not to be racist, but it helped that he looked Native, as they run this place) and asked how I might get a key. He saw someone inside the convention center, where the park office is located, and suggested I go ask her. So I did, and while the office had closed early, she let herself in, looked around, and found me a key. I thanked both of them profusely. I’d won the day’s race.

I settled into my campsite. It wasn’t as scenic as the one I’d stayed in last year, but my rig is much bigger now with the trailer, and I wouldn’t fit into the previous campsite now. It’s still most impressive, with a wonderful view of the red rock cliffs. The short trees are positioned just wrong to prevent me from using Starlink, but the campground WiFi is just as fast and reliable. This will also save me some power, which is useful since I didn’t splurge for power or water hookups.

I met the next-door neighbor, Victor, a recently retired Army vet who’s enjoying taking some well-earned time off for himself. He and his wife were taking his in-laws, visiting from Germany, for their first RV camping trip. We all talked a bit, and they shared some moonshine with me. I sipped sparingly. They left the next morning, but they were excellent, friendly neighbors for the night.

I unloaded the bike (which had not fallen over inside the trailer), and plan to explore the area over the weekend. I also intend to plan the rest of my route to the Grand Canyon. Honey Badger (we’re talking again) gave me some suggestions off the interstate. Considering my mad dash down I-40 to get here, I’m inclined to consider a more circuitous route, just so I don’t have to push the van so hard to maintain highway speeds. I can’t imagine how much more difficult it would be with the standard 4.6 V8 engine instead of my larger 5.4.

I don’t want to wait too long to hit the Grand Canyon so I can be out before nights get cold — the reason I skipped it last year. But the weather is almost perfect right now, and taking an extra couple of days to get there won’t change that. Honey Badger’s suggestions across Idaho and Colorado made for an excellent trip, so I’ll start by investigating her suggestions “on the way” to the Grand Canyon. We may not have worked out in a relationship, but her route planning has never led me astray — more than I can say for Google Maps.

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