On the Road Again (2022)

Where Shall We Stay Tonight?

How do we decide where to stay? This is the real magic of nomadic travel.

Colin is the genius here, scoping out possibilities on websites sites like freeroam and freecampsites.net. He knows what works best – BLM land, forest service, water district reservoirs, recreation areas, national grasslands, a rare few wildlife refuges and national monuments that allow both camping and leashed dogs.

He’s chief concierge and attractions seeker too: this trip’s somewhat unexpected theme turns out to be volcanic activity – Capulin Volcano, Valley of Fires, Devil’s Post Pile. Colin does his homework, defining a loose framework, flexible to what unfolds when we hit the road.

We spend the days meandering, exploring the day sites he’s researched – and plenty of others we discover along the way. Butch Cassidy’s childhood home, Three Rivers Petroglyphs, Pecos National Historic Site, Las Vegas (NM) pretending to be Roswell, Montezuma Castle National Monument, a date farm in Death Valley, the world’s largest pistachio.

Come late afternoon, we seek a campsite from his mental reference list. The tell-tale signs appear as we get close – a cattle guard, a sign board, a 14-day limit notice – and as the sun heads toward the western horizon, we switch drivers. Colin does most of the miles, but the last 50 feet are mine to finesse Rocinante’s perfect fit into the spot. I’m always in awe of the places he finds. Beautiful, isolated, dark skies, unspoiled, quiet, scenic, free, and with pit toilets. He can usually bag five out of seven of these attributes.

Another key ingredient is travelling in April. The weather can be unpredictable, especially heading out of Denver – and over the high mountains. As late as the morning of departure we might decide to head to Utah – or New Mexico. Phrases like “flee the cold” and “did you pack your down jacket and flip flops?” feature regularly in trip prep conversations. Midday in shorts can have us troubleshooting the possibility of frozen water lines that night.

But the upside is that hot places are cooler, cold places are warming up, and it’s off-season. Get past Spring Break, and the roads, the volcanoes, and the off-the-main-grid campsites are yours. Your neighbors, if you have any, are nomads like you.

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