Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Camping at Villanueva

We've just returned from a few days of camping at Villanueva State Park, which is located on the Pecos River, about two hours north and east of Albuquerque. This was my first time camping here, and my first time visiting this area of the state. It's a very interesting place. The park is tucked in beside sandstone cliffs that run all along the river, which is quite shallow and slow-moving. I was intrigued to learn a little about this history of this area; it was an ancestral Zuni pueblo, eventually explored by many Spanish conquistadors, starting with Francisco Coronado in 1540. I came across an interesting PDF detailing Villanueva's history; it's here if you'd like to have a read

The park is beautiful! It's a desert environment, very dry and hot during the day, but it gets quite chilly at night. The sandstone cliffs were just behind our campsite, as was the river. The kids often played in the water (it's only knee-deep in most areas), getting very muddy in the process. They, and the Bear, did some fishing too, but they only caught tiny ones which they threw back. In the mornings, the sun is behind the cliffs until about eight o'clock, leaving the campground in wonderful, cool shade. I really tried to savor it, since it got brutally hot in the afternoons. There are good shade trees everywhere, though. Lots of cottonwoods, many of which are absolutely enormous, and lots of juniper and cedar, which give the whole place a fresh, woodsy scent. It was windy most of the time, especially at night (when it became almost a little too windy for comfort) but the afternoon breezes were most welcome in the heat; it hit the upper nineties every day.

The water was only a few yards behind our campsite, but I didn't get very close. We could see the kids where they played, which was nice, and the Bear did go over there to play with them a lot, but I was too worried about mosquitoes. I have particularly bad reactions to them and I wanted to try to avoid bites. I got bitten about a million times anyway, so I should have braved it.

We liked our campsite. We had a nice three-walled shelter with a roof, almost like a little house, good for cooking and eating, and getting out of the wind. There was a fire pit, which we couldn't use because of fire restrictions. There were plenty of nice trees, so we were able to set up both tents in relatively shaded areas behind the shelter. We have been using two tents since last summer, one for us and one for the kids. We had a tiny, old tent for the kids before, but we were very kindly given a larger, nicer tent by a friend who no longer needed it. The Bear and I have started using better air mattresses and bringing our pillows from home instead of using inflatable camp pillows; what a difference!

Our first night in the campground was actually kind of awful. There had been an all-day picnic going on just up the road from our site, with lots of motorcycles in and out and much rowdiness. Some of the party-goers were also camping overnight, and a large group was across the road from us, just a few feet away. They stayed up all night long, screaming and yelling, driving in and out, generally just being disruptive and annoying. I think I slept for about an hour between the time they finally stopped making noise, around four o'clock, and the point when the birds started waking up. We were all dragging the next day. The second night was much more peaceful, thankfully; all the rowdies left and the campground was about half-empty.

In the afternoons, we moved ourselves behind the shelter to hang out. Once the sun moved around to the front of the shelter, it was much too hot to sit inside it. We hung our hammock, taking turns using it, and brought our chairs around. It was only slightly cooler back there, but at least we were out of the sun. I love sitting around the campsite in the afternoons, once we've tried different things like wading and fishing, played in the playground, taken walks, and everything else. The work of cooking and cleaning up will start again soon with dinner, but it's nice to have a lull when nothing much is going on.

I cooked everything on the Coleman stove, since we couldn't have a fire or a charcoal grill due to state park fire restrictions. I'd made a huge pot of vegetarian chili (recipe is here) at home, then frozen it in containers to transport in our cooler. This worked really well. The chili was delicious (I've used this recipe for a while and I love it), but it was too hot to be eating chili. We really should have brought cold pasta salads instead. Not being able to cook there is really kind of a hassle - hot dogs, foil packs, or shish kebabs cooked at the site would have been much nicer. It worked, though - there were very few dishes to wash, and I can't complain about that.

Every time we camp, I try to scout out wildflowers. Disappointingly, there were almost none in this campground! I think it must be because of the dry, desert environment there. We have mostly camped in the woods, which are always filled with many species of flowering plants. I came across only three here, though. The lavender flower is a type of thistle, which was rife in the campground. The yellow one is an aster, and then there's the white one, which I can't identify. Some sort of weed, I think, but the flowers were pretty enough.

One really great thing about this campground was the showers and flush toilets! There were latrine huts too, which were exactly like you'd expect them to be (and we did use the one right across from our site many times), but just a short walk away were real toilets, sinks and fairly decent showers. That was a nice change of pace. My shower refreshed me for only about an hour, but what a nice hour that was. Oh, and we unexpectedly ran into people we knew at the campground. We spent a nice couple of hours chatting with them before they needed to pack up and go home. It's a small world.

All in all, this was a nice camping trip. I don't think I would camp there over a Saturday night again, if the wildness of our fellow campers was any indication, but maybe that's unusual. I would also prepare for much hotter and drier weather than I'd been given to understand we would encounter there. But it was a nice time and everyone had the chance to explore, seeing and doing some new things, and of course, and most importantly, we spent lots of good family time together.


  1. It sounds like a good weekend, and somewhere a bit different to explore. I am making a note of your chilli recipe, it sounds really good, you have reminded me that I used to put cumin in chilli all the time, but recently it's fallen by the wayside. Glad you had a good weekend away, except for the rowdies. It all sounds very organised and well set-up. Glad you're enjoying your summer hols so far. Four weeks until ours begin. CJ xx

  2. We've camped with rowdy neighbors before too and it's no fun. So glad they left after one night!
    I love the shelter. I've never seen anything like that. It looks like a great place to camp!!

  3. What a great shelter and the spot looks like a great place to camp. Sorry about the rowdy people. We have a few new people at the lake like that too. Luckily they’re mainly only there on the weekends and we like weeknights there. It’s a new problem and I hope it’s fixed soon.
    I’m glad that overall you had a good experience.

  4. It looked like a great place but not the noisy ones and yes thank goodness only 1 night. Love your hammock too. We are about to go away briefly with our van and here winter so going to be super cold at night lol Love the look of your chili xo

  5. I am glad you had a lovely time away, despite the noisy first night. Here, most campsites have a silence rule from about 11 pm, which is nice because it is ok to complain and make the noise stop. I guess the drawback is that these are not as wild and beautiful as yours. I can't quite imagine the intense heat you experienced, it must be like having a hot hair dryer maybe, particularly with the wind. Vegetarian chilli sounds nice. It might taste nice cold, too? x

  6. It sounds lovely, apart from the rowdy neighbours, but at least they packed up and left the following day. I've never camped but I love reading other people's experiences, it always sounds idyllic.

  7. It sounds like you had a great time, except for the first night with noisy neighbors. I had no idea that mosquitos were so bad in New Mexico. I didn't think they could survive there since the climate is so dry. They are horrible where I live with all the humidity we have. I have to light a citronella candle in the evenings and spray myself with repellent just so I can water my plants.

  8. I love reading your camping posts because the breaks you describe are so different to the cool, damp English style of camping where I'm always freezing cold and it usually rains. It sounds like it was a break away that you all needed.


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