Deciding where to park our rig every night has been a struggle. We love the idea of just figuring it out as we go. But this has led to some dissapointing nights in Walmart parking lots when there isn’t anything else nearby. After a few failed attempts, our poorly planned wanderings finally paid off on our first night in New Mexico. We ended up finding the perfect option for RV camping near Carlsbad Caverns – complete with mountain views and tons of wildlife. Best of all, we had it all to ourselves.
Finding the Perfect Spot
“If we drive around much longer we might as well pay for a night somewhere,” I jokingly told Buddy as we did a third circle on our search for a free camping spot. We had researched a few options for parking overnight on public lands near Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. However, nothing was panning out. We did have a back-up spot. But we were hoping for a scenic area that we didn’t have to drive on rough roads to get to.
After tiring of our boondocking mission, we decided to follow a sign to Rattlesnake Springs – a picnic area within the National Park. It sounded like a nice place to take a break. However, we never made it. Not long after turning we came to a fork in the road and a sign for Camp Washington Ranch. Listed as one of the offerings was RV camping. Feeling a bit hopeful, but mainly curious, we turned. How did this place not come up during any of our research?
The Desert Oasis
When we reached the small RV camping area at the top of the hill we were greeted with gorgeous mountain views. And, although the office was already closed, there was a self-pay station. Since we were the only ones around, we wondered if they were closed for the season. But we decided if the electric and water worked we would just stay. It was only $30 a night with full hook-ups. And despite being much more than the $0 we planned to pay for BLM parking, the views were worth splurging a bit.
After confirming that the hook-ups did indeed work, we walked around the property. A short stroll led us to an idyllic pond lined with weeping willow trees. The sun danced between the blowing branches. Birds sang and flew around above us. It felt like heaven. And I’m not entirely convinced it wasn’t.
When we walked over to the pond, we noticed a group of wild turkeys gobblin’ around in an adjacent field. We laughed at this strange sighting. But apparently these weren’t the only wild visitors. Eventually we ran into another person who told us about the other wildlife we might see. The area is home to many, many more turkeys, some javelinas, bobcats, mountain lions, dozens of bird species, and a family of deer that visit nightly.
Not long after we ended our chat, the deer made their nightly appearance. They ducked under or dove over fences as they went up the hill to the mini-oasis. Of course they scattered at the sight of us (as did the group of turkeys). But it was still a treat to see them!
Afterwards, we sat on the picnic table to watch the sun hide behind the mountains. Our hearts were so full. This place was indeed an oasis – just the respite we needed after a long month of struggling to adjust to life on the road.
Exploring After Dark
Once the sky began to darken, we took some much-needed showers and ate dinner. Although we were joyful, we were also exhausted. Our camping plans for the night before didn’t work out so we ended up at a very loud Walmart off the interstate. After half a day of driving on half a night’s sleep, we were struggling to stay awake even at 8pm.
Buddy was starting to doze when I ushered him outside. This was his ideal situation: Alone on a mountain with lots of wildlife to photograph. He couldn’t just go to sleep.
I know sending my husband out alone at night in an area that may have mountain lions sounds crazy. And it is. But, that’s what he loves. He lights up at the chance to capture a shot of an unknown animal whose eyes he happened to see reflect off his flash. And he will happily wait hours for this chance.
However, I’m not so patient. So I usually hang back until he finds something awesome. Also, one of us has to be able to call 911. 😉
Fortunately, on this night, the glowing eyes he saw belonged to a small fox-ferret-cat hybrid. We still aren’t exactly sure what it was. But it was freaking adorable. Unfortunately, Buddy ended up following it way further than I thought he would. Which meant I was left alone in our RV.
After not hearing from him for a while and not seeing him outside anywhere, I sent a frantic “Where are you?” text. I was ready to lock myself in so his murderer wouldn’t kill me too. Then, as I was about to close our door and prepare for the worst, he came trotting up like a dog that just found a new ball.
He couldn’t wait to tell me about the fox-like creature and point out it’s glowing eyes next to our RV. Apparently after Buddy stopped following it, the little guy began shadowing him! We laughed as we tried to research what the heck it was with no luck. Then we fell asleep with the windows open and stars up above us. THIS was that life we had been dreaming of.
The Cherry On Top
We woke up the next morning to turkeys gobbling outside our window, a pink-tinted sky and enough wind to make us sea sick in the RV. But we were so blissed-out from our heavenly camping experience that we just let it rock us back to sleep for another hour.
Eventually we got moving so we could make the short drive over to Carlsbad Caverns before the crowds. Since the office opened at 7a.m., we just went inside to pay in person before we left. Half-expecting them to tell us we weren’t actually allowed to park there, we entered cautiously. However, we were met with a smile. She told us it was fine that we showed up after hours and was happy to tell us all about the area we stumbled upon.
According to the history pamphlet she gave us, the ranch originally belonged to Bill Washington – a wealthy rancher known for double-dealing. After plans to create a tourist destination at the ranch fell through, he eventually lost the land.
Now Camp Washington Ranch is owned by a non-profit called CARC, Inc. Some of the other buildings on the property are homes for developmentally disabled individuals (so we weren’t alone after all). The proceeds from renting out the property for camping, lodging, weddings and other events go to help further CARC’s mission. How absolutely wonderful! Not only did we get to have a secluded campsite with scenic views, our payment goes to helping others.
We raved about it all day and probably will for a long time to come. Thank God things don’t work out the way we plan sometimes. How else would we end up making such amazing, unexpected discoveries?
Things to Know Before You Go
There are currently only three RV spots. It can also be very busy when events are booked. To experience the same solitude we did, try visiting on a weekday outside of wedding season.
Calling ahead to make a reservation is also ideal. Since we just happened upon this, we didn’t have that option. However, it would be unfortunate to show up and see all the spots are full. Tent camping as well as a few lodging options are also available.
The ranch is about 15 minutes from the entry to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. And about 30 minutes from Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
As mentioned above, this area is a full-time home to others. It is extremely important to be respectful of the residents of the property – as well as the local wildlife. You are a guest in their beautiful desert oasis.
P.S. – If you are up for a treasure hunt, legend has it that Apache treasure was buried by Geronimo in a cave at the head of the nearby Black River (which is currently dry). But with more than 300 caves to search, it is yet to be found.
For more stories and tips, check out our other New Mexico blog posts. And for a list of where we stayed overnight during our trip, take a look at our RV Camping Reviews page.