It's the only one in the nation that I know about – other states have annual day passes, but nobody will let you move in and hang out like the New Mexico system will. For out of staters it's $225, residents pay $180, and resident seniors pay $100.
Obviously, if you're just passing through and can only stay a week or so, the regular camping fees of $10 a night are the way to go, but people like your humble narrator with time to spare can buy one of these passes and give that sucker a beating. I spent over 100 nights camping on my 2011 pass and have spent at least 50 already on my current one, so I am definitely getting my money's worth.
New Mexico has three season camping because of the terrain – by late February the lower desert is habitable for RVers, and you can hang out in Leasburg Dam just north of Las Cruces or Rockhound and City of Rocks near Deming, down on I-10.
If there has been any rain at all, catch the desert poppies in Rockhound. These three southernmost parks have beautiful weather in March. The only downside is the brisk spring breeze every few days as fronts blow through, and there may be flying dust – and flying lawn furniture if you aren't careful – once a week or so. Humidity is scary low and a welcome change from a dank winter back east or up north.
I have seen dewpoints of -10 F. Eat your sandwiches fast or the bread will be dry on the far side before you get to it. As the weather warms up in April and daytime highs creep up toward 80 F, move on up to the parks further north and higher in altitude. I like Villanueva on the Pecos and Conchas Lake near Tucumcari. Many of the parks on reservoirs have low water levels – Storrie Lake was nearly gone when we went by there this spring. Rivers are better.
May usually finds us up in the northern stretches. I particularly like Navajo Lake State Park east of Farmington, which is on the San Juan River draining down out of the Colorado Rockies. I camp downstream from the dam in Cottonwood Campground, although there are plenty of campgrounds up around the reservoir as well.
The downstream section is some of the best trout fishing in the nation as cold clear water is released downstream. These riparian environments have some of the biggest hummingbird concentrations you have ever seen – bring a feeder and you'll have plenty of company, and a fulltime job. I remember their tiny voices squawking at me early in the morning, telling me the feeder is empty -again. I kept protesting that I was retired, but they were relentless.
The population when I was there in May was almost all females raising nestlings – the males had already moved north to set up shop in the mountains and sweet-talk a new crop of gullible females, the bums. Deadbeat dads, every one of 'em.
In the heat of the summer, there are parks up at 7000 feet, like Cimmaron Canyon and Eagle Nest. You can spend August fishing for trout in comfort if you want to. In the fall, catch the aspens turning in the mountains, then head downhill and south as the weather cools, ending up back in the desert around Thanksgiving. There's usually a two week stay limit in each park, but with 33 parks…
The pass is good until the end of the month that you buy it in the following year, so you can get 13 months by buying it on the first. I will be able to use mine some more next spring when I come back out. Electricity is an additional $4 a night when available, which you can pay for with cash or check in the drop envelopes. There's a New Mexico-only version of ReserveAmerica that will reserve a spot for you for the exorbitant fee of $9.75 flat rate per reservation, but I have found that it's only necessary if you show up on Friday night or some other high-demand time. Half the sites in each park are non-reservable and first come first serve.
Here are some links you may find handy:
- the state park website, with a map of the parks – http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD/FindaPark.html
- information about all New Mexico State Park passes, including the annual camping pass – http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/
- the New Mexico version of ReserveAmerica – http://newmexicostateparks.
- a listing of information about all 50 states' park passes – http://usparks.about.com/od/usstateparks/tp/State-Park-Passes.htm