I had to buy a case of beer for this trip; it was my first camping trip ever: a five day, four night trip to Jemez Falls, NM--a trip that was nothing short of an adventure.
For John and me, the adventure began the night before we left, at 10:00 p.m., two hours after we had gone to sleep. That was when Janice (John's sister) called us to tell us that we didn't have to stop by her place first. While I talked to Janice, John rolled over and turned off the alarm clock, which had been set for 4:30 in the morning (because we had to meet his parents at 5:30).
Needless to say, we did not wake up at 4:30. What woke me up was John's "Oh shit, we're late!" at 5:20. We dashed out of bed, and John called his parents to tell them, "We're on our way out the door!" as we scrambled to get ready. Ten minutes later, we were in the car, racing towards Paradise Valley to at least be there by six o'clock. Upon our arrival, we passed the blame off on Janice then loaded our things into the motor home.
About two miles down the road, Bill (John's father) realized that he had left the garage door open, so he sent Janice and her boyfriend, Danny, back to the house to close it. Meanwhile, we continued on towards I-17 North; Janice and Danny would meet up with us at the last rest area before Flagstaff...or so we hoped. We stopped at the rest area and waited; ten minutes later, we saw Janice and Danny drive right by us!
But those were minor incidents compared to what happened next. Around ten o'clock in the morning, as we were approaching Holbrook, one of the tires on the trailer (which had been towing Erika's car) blew out. John pulled the RV off to the side of the highway to inspect the damage: the tire was shot, and the cover had been destroyed. Anybody else would have called for AAA - or, if they didn't have AAA, they would have admitted defeat - but not the Verleys. I came to find out that, for this family, disaster was a way of life while on vacation, but they never let that stop them.
After the tire (or what was left of it) had been removed, Bill took Erika's car into Holbrook to buy a new one, leaving the rest of us (Erika, John and myself) on the side of the highway. What else was there to do but start drinking beer...at ten o'clock in the morning! We opened up three cans of Miller Lite, poured them into plastic cups, and toasted the flat tire. It was then that I pointed out that the situation could have been much worse: we could have been at work.
Forty minutes later (or less), Bill returned with the new tire, and soon we were on the road again. The problems, however, didn't end there. The RV began to overheat several times, so we had to stop to put water in the radiator. We formed an assembly line, pouring water from the sink into pitchers and delivering them to John, who poured them into the spout. We also ran out of gas at one point and barely made it to the service station to fill up. Finally, we reached Albuquerque; just outside of Albuquerque, we stopped to unhitch the car so that Bill could do some repairs on the motor home. He sent John and me to True Value several times before telling us to continue on ahead to the campground; they would catch up to us later. Our mission was also to find Janice and Danny, who were at least an hour ahead of us, after having left us behind when we blew the tire. We were also to meet up with John's Aunt Lotte and Uncle Richard, who would be joining us at the campground in Jemez Falls.
Along the way, we encountered construction (road rage) and heavy traffic (road rage). At some points, we were traveling at thirty miles per hour on State Highway 85 (road rage). By the time we reached the turn off for Jemez, John and I were exhausted and starving, so we stopped at the T-Freeze (not to be confused with the Tastee-Freeze) to get hamburgers and French fries. As we gulped down our food, we started up the Jemez Mountains.
At first, we were still in high desert, but as we ascended the mountain, we began to see a lot of deciduous trees and red rock, which reminded us of Sedona. "But where are the pine trees?" John asked himself. We were told that we would be camping at an elevation of 8,000 feet and that we would be in tall pines. His friend Glen, who had been to the Jemez Mountains, told us that, yes, there would be tall pines. "Damn Glen," John said out loud. "He lied to us! He must be on drugs or something."
Of course, we were without a map, so we didn't know that we still had much further to go before we would reach the campground. In other words, we were lost. When we reached the village of Jemez Springs, John stopped at the local bar to ask for directions. Lucky for us, the forest ranger had just finished his shift and was in the bar, enjoying a drink. He told us that we still had about twenty miles to go, and he gave John directions on how to get there.
Finally, at five o'clock in the evening, we arrived at the Jemez Falls fee area campground, only to find that we were the last to arrive; even the motorhome was there before us. (We're not quite sure how that happened, but we think that they passed us while we were waiting for our food at the T-Freeze.) I was introduced to Lotte and Richard, and later I was told of a recent bet between Erika, Lotte, and their mother. The three of them had placed bets on which grandchild (John, Janice, or Richard) would be the first to get married. Lotte had picked John...or actually, had gotten stuck with John by process of elimination. Seeing that John had a girlfriend, Lotte became optimistic -- to which John muttered under his breath, "Jesus Christ, we just met two months ago!"
That evening, I received my first lessons in camping. First, I learned how to pitch a tent. Second, I learned how to inflate an air mattress. Third, I learned how to zip two sleeping bags together. Fourth, I learned the concept of "white man's fire" ("white man build big fire, sit back and freeze"). And finally, after I had consumed large amounts of alcohol, I learned how to get my shy bladder to pee in the woods. It didn't take me long to perfect this precious skill; several hours later, at one o'clock in the morning, while the rest of the campers were asleep, I crawled out of the tent, naked as the day I was born, to take a leak...and I didn't care! John followed to do the same and was amazed with what I had done. (Of course, he was also naked -- hence the title Naked in the Woods.) After we had done our duty, he took me into his arms, and we gazed up at the stars...until it became too cold to continue doing so, at which time we scurried back to the tent and to the warmth of our sleeping bags. The next morning, John proudly related the story to his family, telling them that if a bear shit in the woods, he would have seen my bare ass.
We were awakened early that morning by the sound of elk, so John and I took Erika's car to go exploring in search of wildlife. Now that I knew about John's fascination for unpaved and often unnumbered roads, I was prepared for the bumpy ride. A few miles up the road, he found a dirt road and abruptly turned onto it. Then, all of the sudden, he stopped. "Look!" he exclaimed. "Wildlife!"
"Where?" I asked, and with that, John opened up the car door, revealing a dead rabbit. I called him a sick bastard, and, gloating, he continued onwards. We traveled down side roads and side roads of side roads, but by that time, all of the elk had gone into hiding and we returned to camp in disappointment.
Later that morning, we all decided to go hiking. From our campsite, it was about a third of a mile to the trailhead, from which you could take two trails: the Jemez Falls Trail, which was a quarter-mile trail leading to Jemez Falls; and the Battleship Rock Trail, a five mile trail that was mostly downhill, leading to the McCaulley Hot Springs and to Battleship Rock (a descriptive name). We did this trail as a two-car shuttle; Lotte and Richard parked their truck at the trail's end so that we would only have to hike it one way.
The trail was very scenic; it began in the tall pines and began to descend as we approached the creek. The creek led us to the hot springs, where we all stopped to take a swim. The water was wonderful; the temperature of the springs must have been eighty degrees, for it felt like lukewarm bath water. It was very refreshing.
Later, the trail began to wind its way into more deciduous trees and red rock as we neared the Jemez River and Battleship Rock, which could be seen in the distance, as we began to hike down a series of switchbacks. By this time, John and I had gotten separated from the other hikers - Erika and Bill were ahead of us, and the rest were behind us.
We regrouped at the trailhead; but instead of returning to camp, we drove into town to get some more supplies - more specifically, beer and sodas, because we were almost out of each. While at the store, John and I found tubes of crushed and dried habañeros and cracked Cajun pepper. However, John had forgotten his wallet, so we agreed that we would return later to buy some.
During the afternoon, we took a drive to the "Brain Cave", as Janice had called it. Actually, it was called Soda Dam, a natural rock structure with a waterfall and a cave that looked like brains, according the Janice. Inside the cavern could be found a small pool of water, the sides of which looked like the scales of a fish; and the walls of the cave were the same colors as those on the tie-dyed T-shirt John was wearing: bright greens and blues.
The adventurer in John grew bored of the cave quickly; he decided that rock climbing would be more enjoyable. He climbed to the top of the rock structure, jumped over the waterfall, and sat down to watch the water rush by. It looked like fun, so I did the same thing and eventually joined him at the waterfall.
After returning to camp that evening, Janice and I were sent to get firewood; then, I asked John to help me wash my hair - something that had not been done in days (I meant to do it Thursday morning, the day we left, but we didn't have time to shower that morning for obvious reasons). I was much happier after my hair was clean. John then pointed out to me that I was adapting to camping life better than he expected and that he was proud of me. I told him that camping wasn't so bad and that I was actually enjoying it. He was happy to hear that.
The next morning, John and I decided to hike to Jemez Falls; Janice and Danny and Danny's fourteen year-old cousin Brian (who was with us on this camping trip) joined us. The trail to Jemez Falls is a quarter-mile long trail with lots of ups and downs; it ends up at a low brick wall overlooking the waterfalls, but if you continue on a little further, the trail cuts through boulders and goes down to the Jemez River. We found a group of children swimming there. This section also gives a much nicer view of the waterfalls - from the very top of them.
While we were hiking, the older folks had left for Santa Fe, and we were to meet them there at 11:30 that afternoon. Once we returned from Jemez Falls, we quickly cleaned up and put on nice clothes for our trip into civilization.
I rode shotgun during the drive to Santa Fe, and John put me in charge of navigating (but only because he almost got us killed when he tried to read the map while driving!). While studying the map, I happened to find an unpaved and unnumbered road that would provide us with a shortcut to where we wanted to go. However, we could not find the road! Most of the dirt roads in that area led into private property and were gated. The others that we tried were very bad roads and were definitely for four-wheel drive vehicles only (and since we had Erika's car, we decided not to do it). So, a bit discouraged, we stuck to the paved roads all the way to Santa Fe.
During the trip, we came to the conclusion that New Mexico drivers were, by nature, the worst drivers, because John's road rage was nearly at its peak. The New Mexican driving skills became worse in Santa Fe -- that, along with poorly planned and confusing surface streets, made John very frustrated. It took us nearly a half an hour to find a parking space, and when we did, it was in a fee area because we were in the very heart of a tourist trap. Frustrated, John led us to the appointed meeting place; then, we went off alone to have lunch.
Once John and I were alone, he began to calm down - and once he had eaten lunch, he seemed to be much happier. We had lunch at a trendy, moderately priced restaurant that served southwestern cuisine - kind of like Carlsbad Tavern without the bats. As an appetizer, we were served green chili and cheese corn muffins that were surprisingly delicious! We spent most of our lunch trying to figure out the recipe so that we could make them at home.
After lunch - and after window-shopping - we met up with the others. John was in a hurry to leave that godforsaken city, and since he was driving, we were leaving. During the trip, we tried once again to find the dirt road shortcut to no avail. However, we did find a road that took us over an earthen dam - one of the largest in the world - and we drove over it twice. From the dam, we got some great aerial views of the Rio Grande (which we crossed a total of fourteen times during the trip; we kept track).
We had been told to meet John's parents and Lotte and Richard at a bar near our campsite, so the five of us stopped there and had a few drinks while waiting for them to show up. Then, we returned to camp. Wine was already being served; Lotte and Richard had opened up several bottles of Old South wine, from South Carolina, and John and I graciously accepted it. After several glasses, John lay down on the picnic table, his head in my lap. Within minutes, he was sound asleep and snoring like a buzz saw. At first, his snoring was hilarious, but after a half an hour or so it was a nuisance, so we made him go to the tent to sleep.
The next morning, when I woke up, I felt like death warmed over. I had one hell of a hangover, thanks to the Old South wine (or so we say). I tried to drink some coffee and take some aspirin in hopes that it would go away, but I was so miserable that I could only crawl back into the tent to die.
Hours later, I was fine. By that time, all of the others had gone hiking (and Janice and Danny and Brian were getting ready to leave) so John and I went off on our own hike. While on the Battleship Rock Trail, we had found a side trail that looked to be a deer trail, leading back to camp. We decided to take this trail back to the Battleship Rock Trail and then continue on towards Jemez Falls. That morning, John tried to find a way to get to the bottom of Jemez Falls, but it was too dangerous even for his adventurous spirit, so he gave up.
We hiked back down the Jemez Falls Trail to the trailhead; from there, we found another trail to hike: a 1.5 to two mile long trail that follows a river. Most of this hike was pretty level. It began as a series of switchbacks leading down to the river. We followed the river for some time; then, as we reached the end of the trail, we gradually climbed out of the gap, through a lovely meadow, and up to the highway. We found Richard's truck parked across the road, at another trailhead; and we waited for them in hopes that we could hitch a ride back to camp. After a while, we gave up and returned the way we had come.
Later that day, we went exploring with John's parents - and I learned that John did indeed learn how to drive like that from his daddy! We also drove into Jemez Springs for lunch at the local bar and eatery; and for dessert, we got ice cream from a little mom-and-pop café across the road. We returned to Jemez Springs that night for dinner, this time with Lotte and Richard.
Monday morning, it was time to go, so we dropped camp and said our good-byes to Lotte and Richard. Then we hit the road. It was already rush hour by the time we arrived in Phoenix ("Welcome back to civilization!"); and, of course, when we arrived at the Verleys' house, we had one more disaster waiting for us: John's car had a flat tire!
And so, I survived my first camping trip...and I even enjoyed it! In fact, when we got home, I told John that I wanted to do it again. I liked roughing it -- and I loved being naked in the woods. John was happy to hear that, so later that week, we bought our first tent...
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