By Karl Moffatt
New Mexico’s long, hot summer is finally over and abundant monsoon rains have created a lush landscape for us to play in this fall.
Many would argue that autumn is the best time of year to get outdoors and enjoy all that the state has to offer.
The days are pleasantly warm and sunny while nights are crisp and cool. Gone are the summer’s tourist crowds and it is a time locals savor.
And with the drought officially over for the first time in 18 years many of the region’s lakes, rivers and streams are primed for outdoor recreational pursuits.
So whether it’s hiking, camping, fishing or sightseeing there’s plenty of great places to visit and enjoy during northern New Mexico’s most spectacular season.
One great fall destination that provides all of the above in a remote, backcountry setting is Lagunitas campgrounds in the Carson National Forest just outside the Cruces Wilderness Basin.
The remote campgrounds feature a couple of small, well stocked trout ponds surrounded by open meadows and stands of aspen and pine trees.
The 25 mile drive on Forest Road 87 to the campgrounds is worth the trip alone. It’s found just off U.S. 285 about 10 miles north of Tres Piedras.
The well maintained road winds its way along San Antonio Creek before climbing to a plateau offering panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
Note the intersection of Forest Road 87A as this is the turnoff to the Los Pinos River and an alternative return route that comes out near Antonito, Colo.
Proceed into the woods and proceed to the lower campground to find a cinder block outhouse and campsites amid the pines by the ponds.
Visitors may be curious about the charred remains of a building back in the trees and a concrete slab where a U.S. Forest Service once stood. See Otter Olshansky: A Lonely Death on New Mexico’s Continental Divide Trail to learn more about what happened here.
Visitors to the campgrounds in the fall may encounter cattle roundups, continental divide trail hikers and bikers, wildlife, hunters and spectacular fall foliage.
The campgrounds are officially open June through October but remains accessible year round depending on the weather and road conditions. Anyone venturing into the backcountry to during the off season is asked to check in at the Tres Piedras Ranger station and let them know. Dispersed camping also is available throughout the area. For more information try contacting the Tres Piedras Ranger District at (575) 758-8678.
When traveling through Tres Peidras on your way to Lagunitas Lakes visitors can support the local economy by stopping at the Chile Line Depot. They serve great burgers, breakfast burritos, coffee and baked goods and are providing travelers a valuable service on what is otherwise a very long, lonely stretch of rural highway. We love this place, check them out at www.chililinedepot.com.
Travelers who stop here also can see from the road the preserved U.S. Forest Service home that Aldo Leopold built while serving as District Ranger here in 1911. Leopold is considered by many to be the father of the nation’s wilderness conservation movement and New Mexico lays claim to being home to the nation’s very first designated wilderness area.
For other suggestions about where to go in New Mexico to enjoy fall camping and scenery see some of our previous articles at Fall is a Great Time for Camping in New Mexico and Visit the Valle Vidal for Great Fall Scenery and Throw a Cruise by the Brazos for Best Fall Colors.