I just finished a couple of weeks camping up at 7,200 feet in Manzano Mountains State Park, maybe an hour south-southeast of Albuquerque. We stayed until we hit the two-week limit because it was just what we always look for in a camping location – wonderful weather and seclusion in a beautiful setting.
Even with its proximity to Albuquerque, there were rarely more than three or four other campers in the park, so all of us were able to spread out and get some elbow room.
The Manzano Mountains are a north-south range on the east side of the Rio Grande Rift Valley. Manzano is Spanish for apple, and nobody really knows who planted the apples around Manzano Lake, but there they are. It probably wasn't the original 17th century Spanish missionaries as local legend has it, but they're from the early 1800s, and probably some of the oldest apple trees in the country.
This area was where the Fransiscan friars set up shop in the 17th century, and a few miles south of the park is the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. It's really amazing to contemplate the dedication these friars showed to trudge up the Rio Grande and start building these massive buildings (or, more accurately, convince the Pueblo Indians to help them build them), but the ruins are still here, over three hundred years later.
The rich cultural heritage of the area even includes legends of lost Spanish gold, and a persistent rumor of the lost Sanchez gold mine. As with most lost gold mine stories, no less than three different people have stumbled across the lost Sanchez mine far up in these mountains, and all described a old rawhide ladder leading down into a pit where you could pry big chunks of gold out of the wall with your pocketknife, but all somehow met misfortune and died before they could cash in. I didn't spend much time looking for it, myself.
Of more practical but equally fascinating interest is the geology of the area. I have found this nifty website which details the geology of all of New Mexico's state parks, and lost no time reading up on the Manzano Mountains. The bedrock at the campground is the Abo sandstone, but limestone with fossils from New Mexico's inland sea days is just uphill, and the ridgetop is 1.7 billion year old metamorphic stuff. All types of rocks have been brought down to the campground area by erosion, so you don't really have to hike around much to see every layer of the stratigraphy here.
As I discussed in my last blog post, this is Ponderosa pine forest, interspersed with other trees, like Gambrel oak and alligator juniper, so named for the peculiar bark resembling an alligator's hide.
The Manzano Mountains are very susceptible to forest fires, and the park was closed for several years after a big one nearby in 2007-2008, but it reopened last April and people are now drifting back in. Not too many people, though, which is fine with us. This time of year, highs are around 70, lows around 40, and nearly every day is sunny. Also fine with us. Park staff are very friendly and laid-back, and it's just a nice place to be.
The park has both electric and non-electric sites, and excellent drinking water, as you would expect at this altitude.
There are no showers, but with plenty of water and a dump station it's no big problem just to shower in your rig. Groceries and a laundromat (and a bakery with GREAT cinnamon buns) are available in Mountainair, NM, 15 miles south on Highway 54, where we went to resupply after our first week here.
This park is a great place to spend some time, if you like sitting up in the clean pine-scented air with squirrels and birds for company, enjoying the nice weather.