Camping at Valley of Fires in New Mexico

Wow, This Looks Cool!

We were making our way north on highway 54 in New Mexico and had turned left onto highway 380 at the little town of Carrizozo. In a few miles we saw a sign for Valley of Fires National Recreation Area and to our left perched up on a ridge were many great looking campsites. All around us was a huge black lava field and tons of bright green Sotol plants with their stems shooting skyward.

The landscape was so bizarre and the camping so inviting we just had to stop and check it out. This is one of the perks of flying by the seat of our pants without a firm schedule, being able to totally change our plans because we see something really cool.

Valley of Fires Camping area

Turns out this beautiful campground is run by the BLM (Federal Bureau of Land Management) and is one of the nicest BLM camp areas I’ve ever seen! The campsites are huge and each comes with a picnic table on a cement slab, metal shelter, BBQ, etc. The RV spots are even paved and they have water and 50/30 amp electric available.

Also, there was a sewer dump on the main road in. I laughed and joked with Anne that this dump station has the best view of any I’ve ever seen at a RV dump. For those of you with accessibility issues I noticed there was one site dedicated with the blue wheelchair sign. It had extra cement pathways and a high water spigot for easy connection.

Dump station at Valley of Fires

On site are a small visitor center, camp host, bookstore, restrooms, and showers. Each of the campsites includes a terrific view of the unique landscape and access to the lava fields for the very reasonable price of 18 dollars. 9 dollars if you have a Senior Pass. Further down the road are also some no hookup sites and tent sites for a little cheaper.

We settled in for a 3-day stay. The first day a cold front was moving through so it ended up being windy and cloudy, but that made for a magical second day. As the cold front cleared out the sunny, blue sky filled up with soft puffy white clouds. We and our cameras loved it. Inside the campground is a viewpoint on a knoll. A very short hike gets you up there to be rewarded with panoramic views of the valley and nearby Sierra Blanca Mountains. We could see for a hundred miles or more of this gorgeous landscape.

Anne and I check out the awesome view

As the day warmed we headed down into the lava fields to get a close-up look. There is a nice wheelchair accessible paved walking path looping out into the lava. All along the paths are plaques and numbered markers providing details on the lava field, plants, animals and history of the region. They figure the field was born around 5000 years ago and covers an area roughly 20 miles by 4 miles. Man, it must have been quite the site for the ancient peoples living in the valley at the time.

Valley of Fires recreation area is located immediately adjacent to the Malpais Lava Flow. Approximately 5,000 years ago, Little Black Peak erupted and flowed 44 miles into the Tularosa Basin, filling the basin with molten rock. The resulting lava flow is four to six miles wide, 160 feet thick and covers 125 square miles. The lava flow is considered to be one of the youngest lava flows in the continental United States. – http://www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/recreation/roswell/valley_of_fires.html

Because the lava formations are full of holes and crevices that can trap water and over time soil, the terrain is full of life. Many different plants and animals call the lava field home making for a very vibrant ecosystem. While walking the path I spied a few squirrels, several little lizards, and many small birds.  All the greenery on the black lava rock contrasted with a blue sky provided a very uniquely beautiful scene.

Beautiful landscape down on the lava flow

The most striking plant on the black lava is the Sotol, a type of yucca with a green bushy bottom and a long stem. The lava field was loaded with them. I learned while visiting Big Bend NP that the stems can be used to make walking sticks. We even picked up a few when visiting the Mexican town of Boquillas. They make for a very light weight but a strong stick.

While out exploring one day I came upon a tree in full flower covered with bees. The tree literally seemed to be vibrating. As I got closer I noticed in among the buzzing bee activity was also a few butterflies. I carefully jammed my camera lens in there and lucked out with a perfect shot of one. I believe the butterfly is called a Painted lady.

Butterfly in the Valley of Fires

Another interesting spot to explore is back about ½ hours drive down south on highway 54 from Carrizozo called the Three Rivers Petroglyphs. Here you’ll find a huge quantity of petroglyphs, some 21,000 have been recorded. The trail takes you up a ridge line of jumbled boulders which have all sorts of interesting designs scrawled on them. I noticed too that there were a couple RV sites off to the side of the parking area. Not a bad location with nice views of the mountains.

Three Rivers petroglyphs

I loved our short stay at this off the beaten path BLM site in New Mexico. Valley of Fires Recreation Area treated us to a few very interesting days and some magnificent scenery. I can see this is a region that would be worth coming back to for a longer stay and more extensive exploration. I saw signs proclaiming this as the gateway to Billy the Kid country.

Video Highlights of Our Visit to Valley of Fires

Valley of Fires Photo Gallery

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