Back to Nature: Camping at the Valley of Fires Recreation Area

A much needed break from crowded RV parks.

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It was January 24 and we had a couple days until our next reservation. The night before we spent time researching places to camp along the route from our current location in Roswell to the RV Park in Rio Rancho.Map

On the map, we saw a dark area labeled ‘Valley of Fires.’ After staying at RV Parks in the city for the past several months, we were more than ready to camp in nature again. Only 96 miles northwest of Roswell, the Valley of Fires Recreation Area was exactly what we needed. The lava was an added bonus.

Leaving Roswell at 11 am, we drove west on U.S. 380, passing through several small towns and beautiful countryside. The Visitor Center was closed when we arrived early in the afternoon. We located the self-pay station next to the main restroom. Taped to the bulletin board next to the pay station, we saw a sign indicating services were not being provided due to the government shut down. We pulled a registration form to complete after selecting our site. The nightly rate was $18.00, very resonable for 50 AMP and water.

We selected one of several drive-through spots along the main campground road and started setting up. There was only one other RV in the campground.  

Our front window view

After a quick lunch, we walked up the hill to the Malpais Nature Trail. Malpais is Spanish for badlands or bad country. It is often used in the southwest to describe rough, barren landscape consisting of lava fields. This lava flow is the youngest in the continental US.

Malpais Nature Trail trailhead

There is a viewing area at the start of the 3/4 mile paved trail. Looking through the telescope, you can see the Little Black Peak. The peak is the origin of at least one major lava flow and it has some intact lava tubes radiating from it.2F7A6729

History of the Malpais can be found along the trail.

The lava surface is extremely rough and broken. Hikers are advised to use extreme caution if they leave the paved trail to explore across the lava. We walked a short distance off the trail, never leaving sight of it.

Paved trail through the lava
Cactus and other vegetation growing through lava

The air was a bit cool, but the sky was sunny and we had the entire trail to ourselves. We did not see any of the wildlife the signs along the trail and the brochures mention. It would have been exciting to see a golden or bald eagle. Perhaps they were perched off in the distance, watching.

400 year old juniper


Plants growing on the lava flow

We also found an unpaved trail that branched off from the paved nature trail. 5-2F7A677112-2F7A6804

After completing the nature trail, we walked up the road past our campsite to the Hilltop Vista. This winding trail to the top is not paved. At the top is a concrete platform with a viewing telescope and another fantastic view of the Malpais and the Little Black Peak.

The RV section of the campground

Returning to our RV, we relaxed, cooked dinner and watched the sun set over the basin.

This cat sat at our campsite most of the evening. 

When the stars were visible in the sky, we bundled up against the cold and left the warm RV. Andy wanted to take pictures of the stars and I just wanted to see them. If it had been darker at our campsite, we would have taken out our telescope and viewed the stars from there. However, the lights from the rest room and the camp host site were a bit too bright. Binoculars and flashlights in hand, we walked up the dark trail to the Hilltop Vista.

Main restroom, looking toward Hilltop Vista

The brightness of the first quarter moon made it difficult for us to see the fullness of the Milky Way. The binoculars provided a good view of the moon and allowed us to see more stars than we would have without them. If it hadn’t been so cold, we may have gone back up to the vista in the early morning hours between moonset and sunrise.2F7A6575 (2)

The next morning, we took the dogs for a long walk through the campground. All the tent sites have a level spot for the tent. Like the RV spots, they have covered tables and fire rings. At the end of the tent camping loop, there is a large picnic area, with a volleyball court and restrooms.

Tent site next to the lava
Picnic area and volleyball court

On our way back to our site, we noticed the Visitor Center was open. Putting the dogs in the RV, we went to the center to see the information they had for the surrounding area.

One of the brochures we saw described the historic town of Carrizozo. Based on the recommendation of Trish in the Visitor Center, we decided to check it out. After lunch, we drove the four miles into town.

In our next post, we will share our visit to historic Carrizozo with you.

For more information on Valley of Fires Recreation Area, check their website:

This cactus reminded us of Sadie, standing on her hind legs.

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