Winter in the desert is very fun and a huge departure from when we were here in the summer with temperatures in the upper 90s or low 100s. The loop for this campground is a rough gravel road and is quite long. So if you want to drive around and look at sites before you pick one, it’s going to take a while. Based on how tippy many of the sites were last time we came, we took the first empty site that looked level. It was a nice one on the lower side, away from the canyon walls, that offered space from other campers and gorgeous views, including a brief Roadrunner sighting.
We arrived after both sunset and moon rise, so we got a beautiful show along the road. It’s impossible to capture the hugeness of the moon on the horizon from an iPhone pointed out the car windshield. Neither can you capture how the whole landscape looks when it is bathed in full moonlight. I tried, and deleted all but 4 photo attempts. Suffice to say, it was really beautiful and we took some moonlight walks sans flashlights.
Sunday we went on a sketchy hike. I say sketchy because the only map we had to go on was a paper map showing some actual trails, and a bunch of pen marks made by a ranger in the visitor center as she was saying, “Yeah, it’s not marked on this, but you can go all the way around the back of the ridge and it’ll join up on the other side to make a loop.” Seemed legit. We hiked around 3 miles along a well established path, with occasional rock borders or even sign posts, but I could tell from the map that we needed to be careful or we’d end up going way farther than we meant to. Plus, there were multiple spur trails that were not signed but had enough footprints that they looked official. I have a pretty good sense of direction when I’m paying attention. I also have a strong resistance to turning back and giving up when I’m thinking we just need to go a little farther to find the right way. But even I got to a point where I doubted the pen marks and doubted there really was a way to go around unless it meant another five miles. And I didn’t want to wander too far on spur trails and get into trouble. So we doubled back. It was the right call because that out and back was already a six mile day and it turns out (by talking to a different ranger the next day) that the “just go around the back” way would indeed have been about ten miles all told. Too much for our feet. He even mentioned he’d tried it and turned back several times, so that is reassuring.
This is a beautiful park, especially for a stopover to break up a long day of driving. It is first come, first served, but there are lots of sites and plenty were available on a Saturday night. For trailers, the pads get pretty tippy and hard to level between sites 14 and 39. There are many sites large enough for big rigs. And wow, the stars are amazing out there.
Total miles from San Luis: 264.5, 16.1 mpg, 6 hours 4 min. Nice and level sites: 5, 13, 14, 39. Dump, but the rinse water spigot did not have a hose. Vault toilets in the campground, nice toilets in the Visitor Center (when it’s open). No service for either down in the campground, but we used the booster to get 2 bars of LTE. Good service just outside the park on the highway.