Under the stars, close to home
By Marissa Bond
The Las Cruces Bulletin
The percussive fireworks ringing in the summer have exhaled into smoke, and the bright, dogstar days have settled in. Despite the heat, the season brings a gravel- hunger for traveling and being outside. In southern New Mexico, residents and visitors don’t have to travel far to be able to appreciate sleeping in the great outdoors. Even with only a weekend or a single night, the Mesilla Valley and surrounding area offer plenty of locations for a quick camping trip to fill the long summer days from horizon to horizon with memories.
Leasburg Dam State Park offers both shade and spring — it is located right next to the Rio Grande River. The park has opportunities for swimming, fishing, kayaking and canoeing. It is also popular, however, for its star watching, unburdened by most light pollution and featuring its own observatory. For camping, the park doesn’t skip the creature comforts — it has 31 developed sites, 16 sites with water and electric hookups for RVs, a dump station, restrooms and showers. Picnic tables and a playground offer entertainment for all ages.
Due to ongoing construction of the bridge on NM 157, visitors parking for day use must take a different route than those staying to camp. For day use, travelers headed northbound on Interstate 25 must use exit 9, Doña Ana, and follow the detour signs. Campers must take I-25 to exit 19 and then take a left on Fort Selden Road.
One of the closest locations for camping is on the other side of the Organ Mountains, in Aguirre Springs Recreation Area. Aguirre Springs is nestled high in the lean shadow of the Needles — the sharp, canine peaks of the Organ Mountains.
The campground is well-suited for group excursions to the outdoors, with 57 campsites available and two group sites scattered among the rough boulders and yucca plants. Restrooms are available, but no showers or running water, nor sewer and water connections for those traveling with RVs. Picnic tables are available at the campsites and for day use. To get to Aguirre Springs Recreation Area from Las Cruces, travel on U.S. Highway 70 for 14 miles east of where it intersects with I-25. Turn south on the Aguirre Spring Road, which will be on your right a little over one mile past the San Augustine Pass.
For those who only have a little time but want a little more grit in their camping trip, the Baylor Canyon Pass trail permits primitive camping. There are no fees, but also no designated campsites or facilities. The trail can be accessed from Aguirre Springs Recreation area in the east and off Baylor Canyon Pass Road from the west. Three-quarters of a mile from the pass on the western side there is a fire ring and a bench marking a recommended camping space, but it is only a suggestion.
To hike up from the Baylor Pass trailhead, take the Baylor Canyon Road exit from U.S. Highway 70 and travel south on Baylor Canyon Road for approximately two miles, until you see the trailhead parking lot to the left.
While there are no accommodations available for those who want to camp overnight in an RV or another vehicle, White Sands National Monument also permits backcountry primitive camping.
Ten backcountry camping spots are available in White Sands on a firstcome- first-serve basis. You cannot reserve a spot ahead of time due to unpredictable closures for testing in the nearby missile range. In order to obtain a permit, ask at the visitor’s center at least an hour before sunset on the day you intend to camp. Like other primitive sites, no water or bathroom facilities are available.
July is a blue moon month, so though the earth’s shadow may be winking dark the night sky, the end of the month will provide another opportunity to enjoy the snowy glitter of mooncast gypsum.
White Sands National Monument is located approximately 52 miles east of Las Cruces off of U.S. Highway 70.
Whether camping within reach of your vehicle or hoofing it to high and lonely places, be sure to research the regulations of each campground. Depending on location and recent rainfall, some places may not allow campfires. And wherever you are, leave it as you found it if not better — pack out all your trash and make sure all fires are out. Many places don’t have running water, so be sure to bring at least a gallon per person per day.
Marissa Bond can be reached at 680-1845 or marissa@lascrucesbulletin. com.