Camping at Fort Stanton

By Patty Wilber

Me and three friends went horse camping at Fort Stanton-Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area April 23-25. I haven’t been there since…a long time!

I am here to tell you it is a fine place for horse camping, with a few caveats.

The Rob Jaeger campground has 27 sites with electric and water, in a big open field.  Not super scenic, and while we were there it was pretty windy.  In the summer it would be really hot, and in bad weather, it could be really cold. But! Water and electric! And only $20 per night (or $10 if you have a federal park pass).  There are also corrals at some sites, but only a maximum of one corral per site, so with four horses, we used a pen that was not associated with our campsite. The corrals are big, and could fit two animals that really like each other.  There are no covers on the shelters.

Mary Ann’s Rosebud in her corral.

There are two vault toilets, and we camped near one, because Mary Ann has no toilet in her trailer.  It was lucky, for us, too, as Patty S.’s toilet seal started leaking on the last day and she and I then needed that vault toilet, too!

The campground was not crowded. On Tuesday the 23rd there were four day-riders and on Wednesday the 24th, two horse women from Lubbock came. They come every year they said. There were a few other non-horse campers.

There are MANY trails and all the rides we took had trails that we thought were pretty easy.  The map shows horse water troughs marked on the trails but of the four we rode by, only one was actually working, so that was a bit disappointing.

Day 1.  We caravaned for the 2 hr 45 min drive that took closer to 3 hr 15 min due to road construction.  But, we got there in time set up camp and get in a nice afternoon ride of five or six miles that turned into 10.  Maybe because I missed a turn (it came too soon)…

Our treks and some sloppy notes.

Day 1 is in yellow and we covered 10.7 miles.  We took Kit Carson to Capitan Overlook to Outlaw to Pariah to Ft. Stanton North. There was no water in the water tank that was marked on the map. The way out was mostly climbing up (but not too steeply) and the way back was mostly descending with a few sort of steep areas but nothing treacherous, according to our seasoned ponies (or our seasoned selves, either!)  There were some nice views!

Mary Ann in back, Amber in front. Sierra Blanca (the mountain) in the distance.

Day 2 is in green on the map. 13.7 miles. We went out to the Cave Creek Trail, which is a trail but mostly actually on a dirt road.  We did not see any vehicles, but we would still have preferred a trail.  We rode Cave Creek to the park boundary, which is just past East Mesa trail.  There was supposed to be water.  But a) the water tank was mismarked on the map.  It was on the East Mesa Trail, but the other side AND it was dry and b) the East Mesa Trail had no trail sign.  But we figured it out anyway and continued on.

We ate lunch at a very nice spot on the East Mesa Trail with a great view.  I wanted to get a picture of the gang.  I took three shots.  Good thing because only one person and mount per picture was decent!

Where East Mesa met East Tank Trail, there was water!  Our steeds were pleased!

Leo and Zima. “Ahhhh!” they said.

East Well also followed a road, but there was more trail alongside the road than there was on Cave Canyon, and it left the road towards the end.  There was also a nice section of ponderosa!

We crossed Rio Bonito and took Trail Access trail back to camp.

Zima, Patty S.’s horse was thirsty!!

There was a nice sunset!

On Day 3 we thought we’d ride to the Fort because there is a museum there that is interesting.  Our route is orange on the map.  We took Ft. Stanton North out of camp and got fairly close to the fort.  Mary Ann kept questioning when we were going to turn and I kept telling her not to worry…and we rode right on by.  We made a big loop 11.7 right around the museum area.  We thought about driving up there after our ride but we were tired…

Nevertheless, it was a really pretty ride.  We rode right by one perfectly well-marked turn, so did have to backtrack at one point.

We got to ride in the Rio Bonito bosque a little and that was a nice change of scenery.

Into the Rio Bonito bosque! Penny’s ears!  Penny was fantastic. Does everything, goes everywhere, fast, slow, front, back, middle, travels well, eats, drinks and is really steady. She was a trooper and I was glad to take her and have such a carefree time on horseback!

As we climbed out and around the end of our loop, we had some nice views of Sierra Blanca.

Patty S. and Zima with Sierra Blanca in the back. I cut off Zima’s head in favor of the mountain, apparently.

A short while later we heard a dog that seemed to be crying for help.  We heartlessly rode on for a little bit, and then we all decided we had to go look for this dog.  We bushwhacked across deep arroyo, but as we approached the area where we’d heard the canine, we could hear that it had moved over the hill, though it was still bark-howling.  Since it clearly was moving and not trapped, listened as it got further away, and we returned to our trail.  We figured it might have been a lion dog.  They range far and wide with their handlers and pack.  They usually have a radio collar on, too, so they can be found if they get separated.

I am not sure how we would have gotten an injured dog back to camp if we had found one, so it was probably a good thing we didn’t have to find that out!

It was a lovely trip!

Three days later, Patty S. took Zima to a horse show.  Guess what?  They won the walk/trot rookie ranch trail and ended up highpoint rookie rider walk-trot ranch horse. From a show ring perspective they are just starting to neck rein, so it was pretty darn cool. Monica got high point western horse, Gette earned high point green ranch horse.  A couple other highlights: Colleen’s new horse, Stella, took a blue in halter and they got a first in showmanship at halter! Deets and Christy won amateur ranch riding (I think I got that right) and western trail and probably some other stuff I missed, and Gino and Christy won ranch conformation, nailed their lead change in ranch riding and got second in W/T ranch trail. Joey (the horse) (and me) bombed his trail classes by freaking out over the rope gate even though he mastered rope gates years ago.  He pulled a second in open ranch riding and open ranch rail, though!

Horses are fun and even more fun combined with wonderful people!!



About BlogPatty

Here's the skinny: I have a thing for horses. They make sense to me. I have a small horse training business (it's a "boutique" training business, not because it's super fancy, but because the horses get a lot of personal attention). I also go by Dr. Wilber, and teach biology full-time at a Central New Mexico Community college.
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1 Response to Camping at Fort Stanton

  1. dorannadurgin says:

    Ahhh, I am living vicariously and it is good!

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