Mar 172017

By Patty Wilber

Last Friday, my camping “group” spent 14 hours scouting for horse-friendly campsites in the Magdalena Ranger District, NM.

We found a two and a half.

I tried to search by normal means–the Internet–and while the Forest Service website gives information such as number of camp spots and potable water for developed campsites, it does not say if there are horse pens and livestock water…which seems like basic info…

So, I called the ranger district and spoke to a super helpful Range Technician.  She was a fount of information on good non-campground spots with possible water, so, I picked a few and off we went, without the horses, to reconnoiter! Good thing we did not take a trailer. We would have still been out there, stuck.

We tried a spot called Monica’s Cabin, first.  There is a stream (which may be dry in May when we go), a metal water tank full of water and a nice area suitable for camping, in the oaks.  The horses could be high-lined or we could set up electric fence pens.   The road to get there is in very good shape. There are not a lot of trails but there are a number of forest roads that would make for good riding and it is right next to the Withington Wilderness Area.

That is Monica’s Cabin!

Not far from Monica’s Cabin is Bear Trap Campground, so we thought we’d check it out, even though it was not on the “has water” list.  It is up at 8000 ft, and has two or four camping spots, depending on which article you read. The sign from Monica’s Cabin said “narrow winding road”.  I thought I was fine with narrow and winding, but this road, from the view of my newer, larger truck, seemed only marginally broader than the vehicle with a sheer drop off on one side and a cliff face on the other. Some of the curves were sharp enough that I had to crank it to get around.  No way would I drive a trailer up that.  It would certainly have a tire or two hang-tenning it at multiple points. We were almost all the way to the top when the road (barely wider than the truck with sheer, death defying drops-offs, just to remind you) became covered in ice.  Not going there, even with 4WD.  So I backed up to a place that was slightly wider, and with my spotter crew, made a multipoint turn and we crept on down.

Next we drove past the town of Datil to Forest Road (FR) 6 with the idea that we’d go over Monument Pass and check out a couple of windmills that were purported to have water, about 10 miles in.  The road was dirt, not gravel, but in pretty good shape. Within the first mile or so there was a small earthen stock tank with water and a nice camp spot under some ponderosa pines off the side of the road. We kept going through a strange private compound with lots of loose dogs and people sitting on the porch watching us.  Right after the dogs, the road became very deeply rutted and we all agreed that we were not interested in rattling our horse’s teeth loose driving over that in May.  Turned around.  Ate lunch at the stock tank.  That would be a nice area to camp, except for the nearness of the compound.  We scored it a half-site.

We headed back past Datil and took a little jaunt on FR 100, where we dead ended at private land with water, fenced off.  No camp spots that struck us.

The last place I had picked out was pretty far away and was on another dirt, not gravelled road. We scratched it off our list and decided to try to get to Bear Trap Campground from the other side.  That road was supposed to be gravel, and started off going through Sargent Canyon.  Sargent Canyon was in my notes from the Range Tech as a place with water, so double benefit!

About four miles in, there was a wide spot in the canyon with a narrow creek, grassy flats and tall ponderosas.   Some folks with a big 5th wheel camper were there (so horse trailers ought to be able to get in just fine). Nearby is a big pond.  There is plenty of room and we saw two beautiful elk.

I wanted to keep going to see the elusive Bear Trap Campground, and my pals gamely agreed, so we drove and on and on and on…at least it seemed like that. The road became rutted but not as bad a FR6, and was dry, so no problem in our tough high clearance vehicle (which is a 2004 Dodge, with 4WD, but since we haven’t owned it that long, it still seems novel).  Finally, at about mile 10, the narrowing track took a sharp downward turn (at a rather skinny, steep, and yes, winding, spot) and…was covered in ice!  Not sliding down ice, possibly off the road, only to discover I’d have to try to come back up.  So, thwarted again in our quest to reach Bear Trap.  Backed up and did another multipoint turn, with spotter help…

It was past dusk by the time made it back to Road 52 (a 50 mph gravel road–so easy), and we decided to try one last spot in the dark.  Water Canyon Campground, which is off Hwy 60 between Magdalena and Socorro.  We knew there was no water there, despite the name, but the map showed it was four miles of paved road to the spot.  Whizzed over there.  Alas, the actual site is off on a short stretch of steep and washed out road not very conducive for trailers.  The campground is not for horses either, and is closed until later in the year. Right past the campground, the road becomes….narrow and winding!  Did a four point turn in the dark (with spotters and the cargo light to help).

And we headed home.

If the weather is dry around the time of our trip, we are thinking Sargent Canyon…


On Sunday, I took the bald-flanked girl to the New Mexico Buckskin Horse training show, all by herself!  She showed a few moooves on a cow, and handled the entire day much better than last time! Success!  As a side benefit, she won three of the four trail classes we entered and got 2nd in the 4th one! Yay!  I enjoy trail and LT hated showing it, so it will be fun to compete on a horse that likes trail, again (Penny did well in trail). Indy placed high in a big ranch riding class, as well.  I talked to the judge about her better-than-it felt placing and got nice feedback on her happy expression!

Happy Friday!