The Manzano Mountains wilderness is a great place to explore during the autumn season when the outdoor temperatures start cooling down. The busy summer tourism season for the most part is over and done by this time, so there is plenty of elbow room to be found. Just about the only people to be found in this neck of the woods after the summer season mainstream tourists go home is hunters and the early snowbird RV campers that head south for the winter. For those who seek some peace and quiet, the Manzano Mountains are a good choice this time of year.
The campgrounds in the Manzano Mountains region are perfect for setting up a basecamp when exploring the neighboring Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. There are three separate Pueblo Mission locations near Mountainair and each can take several hours to experience. There is quite a bit of driving time involved between the Salinas Pueblo Mission locations, which must be considered when making plans. A good touring plan is to visit two of the Salinas Pueblo Missions on the first day, then campout in the neighboring Manzano Mountains before tackling the third Pueblo Mission. A plan like this will present much more quality time that can be spent at each Pueblo Mission. This kind of agenda will also create opportunities for doing a picnic in this National Monument, which has some cozy spots with great views.
There are two campgrounds located uphill in the Manzano Mountains that are just a few miles west of the Quarai Mission Ruins. One campground is located in the Manzano Mountains State Park, while the other is in the Cibola National Forest. The State Park is a developed campground with gravel pads, which favor RV campers and trailers. Potable water and a dump station can be found in this campground, which is good to keep in mind. The Manzano Mountains State Park Campground is manicured to the point of looking like a city park, so the level of comfort is high in this place.
For those who seek a more natural deep woods setting, the better choice will be the Red Canyon Campground, which is just a couple miles further uphill in the Cibola National Forest. This campground has vehicle size restrictions, so it is not favorable for large RVs, but there is a corral for horse trailers. There are some campsites with large parking slips, but most are designed for car and tent style camping. The campsites have fire rings, picnic tables and the tall pines provide plenty of shade. A pit toilet facility is on site and there is no running water in the Red canyon Campground, but potable water is available right next door in the State Park.
The winds do whisper through the towering pine trees in the Red Canyon Campground, so this is a very relaxing place to be. Because the forest is so thick, there are no panoramic views to be found, but this forest is so full of life that natural entertainment is easy to find. Two good hiking trails start in this campground that go further up into the Manzano Mountains and horseback riders certainly are welcome. The New Mexico pine forests are by far some of the most aromatic in the entire west, so the camping experience here surely will be invigorating!
During my autumn season visit, there was not one solitary other camper to be found in the Red Canyon Campground, while the Manzano Mountains State Park Campground was nearly at full capacity. After touring the Salinas Pueblo Missions all day, the National Forest Campground definitely was the better choice for finding some stress relief. The campsite fees at the rustic Red Canyon Campground are a real bargain when compared to State Park prices, which was like the icing on the cake.
The Cibola National Forest Red Canyon Campground offers a natural deep pine forest setting that definitely spells out sheer relaxation. This is a great little spot to keep in mind when setting up a basecamp for adventures in the Manzano Mountains or when doing a Salinas Pueblo Missions tour. This deep pine forest has a way of making a visitor completely lose track of time, so be prepared to just relax in the hammock for quite a spell while listening to the gentle whispering winds!
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