As we broke out of the expanse of west Texas, we felt the landscape rise and change, taking it in like a breath of fresh air. We love entering the National Forests of New Mexico.
Last year Lincoln National Forest took us by surprise, an oasis between the deserts of Carlsbad and Alamogordo. Cloudcroft stopped us for two days and left us enchanted with giant dandelions, murals painted on dumpsters, and fairy gardens. We found nothing we had planned for and all that our little family could have wished for. We relaxed fully into the moment.
This year our path directed us through Carson National Forest as we drove toward Red River, New Mexico. We were early for the summer season, missing a chance for their famous Cowboy Evenings by a couple of weeks, but not the charm of the quiet mountain town. The children rode a mechanical horse for the first time. We ate bison kolaches and heart-shaped muffins. We sat on ski-lift porch swings. We crossed wooden bridges over the rapidly flowing Red River.
We learned that the backcountry Jeep tours are best taken in the morning or at 1 p.m., because almost every day at 4:30 p.m. (when we took our tour) rain threatens, and often comes. Thankfully, the open-topped trucks have canvas covers for just the occasion, and wool blankets aplenty to protect from the encroaching cold.
And what happens when an afternoon rain comes in the mountains? The clouds come down to say, “Hello,” and we found ourselves wrapped in their mist, even climbing above them as we bumped along toward the mountain peak.
Panning for gold goes by the wayside when it is raining, but caves can still be explored, so we scampered up the granite mountainside—only about 10 feet, not a perilous height—and ventured down into the cave. Theo was visibly shaking as we walked into the darkness. “Hey buddy, are you cold or scared?” I asked. “Scared,” he replied as he held my hand tightly. Julianna and Elijah proceeded fearlessly to the cave’s end, then rushed back out to the waiting Jeep for the jolting ride down the mountain and back to town.
Our early summer arrival afforded us another unexpected sight in the Carson National Forest: snow. The long, cold winter left banks of snow in the higher altitudes. No planned activity could have provided the same interest or entertainment to our kiddos than the chance to play in a lone snow bank in the midst of a verdant, green ski run.
With Houston heat very present in our memory, we all struggled to believe we were seeing snow, and all around! The only snow our children remember was an inch dusting in 2017 that closed our schools for two days. The memory is delightful, but incomparable to the snow banks of 6-7 inches that remain on the ground like scattered, wind-blown blankets.
Seeing our little ones play and revel in the newness of it all added the whimsy to the mountain town visit we’d hoped to capture again this year, and happily achieved.