After our stay at The Ranch and our visit to Carlsbad Caverns, it was time to move on to more to see in Southern New Mexico. We had seen a lot of our fellow RV-ers raving about White Sands National Monument, and we knew we had to go! My friend Gina suggested that we stay at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park in Alamogordo, NM because it had great hiking and was close to White Sands. Sold! So we made our way to Alamogordo from Carlsbad..but it wasn’t quite as simple as it sounds.
The Route – Over the Sacramento Mountains
We were warned (both in person and online) about the mountain range between Carlsbad and Alamogordo, the Sacramento mountains. Some RVers told us to go around them (it would have added an hour to our drive), other people said it wasn’t a big deal. People warned us because driving a big rig down a large mountain range is very stressful, and can be dangerous if you aren’t careful. It can be a harrowing experience, especially if you’re not used to it. The grades were 6% downhill for about 13 miles with a 4,300 foot descent.
Tim and I had done some awful, near death (or so I thought – Tim was more confident) downgrades in the mountains of West Virginia, 9% grades for miles. Those few percentages of grades make a large difference, making the WV mountain drive far worse. So we decided to brave this route, commonly referred to as “Cloudcroft” – the name of the town at the top of the mountain. Those who encouraged us that it was doable also told us how beautiful it was, so we decided to settle in for some mountain driving again after not doing it for months!
We watched the temperature drop as we made our way to Cloudcroft. Leaving behind 75 degrees for…snow! There was snow all over the ground in Cloudcroft. Apparently there is a ski resort there. It was so odd to us how the landscape and weather could change so much in a couple hours of driving. We certainly didn’t expect to see snow in New Mexico. There were also tons of pine trees, green cow pastures, trickling streams – it looked like a scene out of the Colorado Mountains.
We ran into one small snag on the way down. The road (the only road down) was closed due to a fire. We had a stressful time trying to pull off the road and figure out where we could park Trudy considering there was nothing nearby except farms. We had to unhook the toad in haste and figure out where to go. Nothing like a line of cars behind you to put the pressure on. Once we found a spot, we sat there until the road was re-opened. Not exactly easy to find alternate routes in a 38 foot rig so we waited it out. We had no issues after that and arrived at our destination safely. We were really glad we took the Cloudcroft route so that we could see such how diverse the New Mexico landscape is.
Oliver Lee Memorial State Park
Oliver Lee – our first taste of the New Mexico State Parks system! Every state runs their parks so differently, but New Mexico State Parks actually worked really well for our travel style. A lot of their sites are first come, first served. This works well for us since we never make plans far in advance, and we can be flexible when we arrive and leave, allowing us to snag a spot. This time, we had to park in dry camping (no hookups) for 3 days before we were able to move to a spot with water and electricity.
New Mexico State Parks are very cheap – $10 a night for dry camping, $14 a night for water and electric. They all use a self pay station, so you put your money in an envelope and drop it into a metal box. None of the staff members handle money except to give you change. If you buy a pass (I think it’s $200 some dollars for a non resident) you can dry camp for free and pay $4 for hookups. We weren’t going to be in NM long enough to make the pass worth it, but it is a great deal if you plan to stay within the state parks system in NM for a long time.
Although New Mexico state parks are cheap, we had a slight sense of “you get what you pay for”. Our electricity was very spotty over multiple days – it came and it went. The dump station was also closed with no warning, and there is no sewer hookup at the site, so we had nowhere to dump our tanks. The camphosts were very unapologetic about this, so it left a bad taste in our mouths. We were just glad it was inexpensive enough to offset the lack of amenities.
We had trouble fitting into sites at Oliver Lee. Not many of them were big rig friendly. If you have a big rig, either make a reservation for a site that you know will fit you (however, I believe only 10 of the sites are reservable) or arrive on a weekday to ensure you can get a site that will fit you. We did find one, but it didn’t have hookups. And then we had to wait for a large enough site with hookups to open up, which took 3 days. We also had a lot of trouble getting level at this state park because the sites were just not made for big rigs. I’ll summarize it by saying the park is worth the effort, but that it may take some work to get a level spot with hookups at Oliver Lee!
Things To Do
The namesake of the park is Oliver Lee. You can tour his ranch-house, which is located off-site from the park. I saw some signs about this, I believe tours are only offered on Saturday and they offer a shuttle from the park to take you there. We didn’t do this, so that’s all I can say about that!
There is a Visitor’s Center at the park that has some activities for kids and information on wildlife and geology of the Sacramento mountains. It was enough entertainment for about 30 minutes. I always like learning everything I can about the places we are staying, but a toddler’s attention span is pretty limited!
The main thing to do at Oliver Lee is…hike! We did a nature trail hike with Calla which was nice because it was short (only about a mile) and was right along a trickling stream (which flash floods during rain, so be careful – but you probably won’t find rain there anyway). The best trail is called Dog Canyon. It’s not for the faint of heart and is definitely not something where you’d want a 30 pound child on your back. It was very steep, but the views were beautiful. I believe you can do a very long hike on this trail, all the way up the mountain, until you are in the pine forest. If memory serves me right, it’s about 8 miles one way, and it’s VERY steep. Hiking it would take you an entire day. We didn’t go that far, but we still tremendously enjoyed the trail and each of us hiked it multiple times. Here are some pictures from our hikes.
The big draw to the area is White Sands National Monument. I’ll blog about that in a separate post- lots to say and show you!
Date Visited: February 2018