Boondocking near Santa Fe: Let’s Go!

Boondocking near Santa Fe

Boondocking near Santa Fe, New Mexico is easy and free! That means more money in our pockets to enjoy the arts, the shiny things and the exceptional food. Boondocking for the win! Noelle here, by the way.

We left Taos on a Sunday with no plan beyond going to Santa Fe’s Farmer’s Market the following Saturday. Farmer’s Markets are our jam. We frequently stock up on more vegetables than we can possibly eat and then frantically search recipes for the next two weeks to use up all the goodness before it goes bad. Yep, that’s us. Fresh vegetable shopping addicts.

So we drove down Hwy 68 on the way to the spot we picked for boondocking near Santa Fe. You’ll pass Black Mesa Winery on Hwy 68, which looked like a great place to stop, but was closed when we passed by. We found this particular BLM spot on the phone app Campendium, although I can’t seem to find it on there now. Campendium and iOverlander are probably the apps we use the most. Sometimes we find the spot on one of the apps, then we go to Google Maps satelite view to see the land’s layout. It makes it fairly easy to know if the site is a good fit for us. You can also switch Google Maps to “biking” and it tells the elevation gain/loss and the road grade. That information comes in handy more often than you can imagine!

After our trip up to Sauk Mountain Trailhead in Washington’s Northern Cascades, we’re a bit more careful about checking road grades! Our brakes were sure smoking on that trip down.

Boondocking near Santa Fe

We settled on a BLM road near Chimayo, New Mexico for the first part of the week. Right off Highway 285 is a huge dirt “lot” where folks leave their trucks and trailers to offload four-wheel drive buggies. What are those really called? When I was a kid we called them dune buggies, but I’d imagine there’s a newer, sexier name for them nowadays. Anyway we saw lots of trucks and empty trailers. But honestly, the area is so vast that we didn’t see as many off roaders as we expected. We did however, see a ton of beer cans and empty alcohol bottles along the road. What’s the matter with people that throwing trash to the side of the wilderness is okay?

This area caught our fancy, so we stayed four nights. We hiked to the top of a nearby hill when we needed/wanted cell service, now that’s a bit of exercise! We wandered all over the 4x roads, even meeting the only people who live down here. A couple and their dogs live on a self-sustaining ranch. It’s a beautiful and huge homestead. She told us all about the area and it’s history. Now that’s the kind of experience we’re looking for…a wonderful local willing to share all the best hiking spots!

boondocking near Santa Fe
Hiking for cell signal

On one of our nights, the moon was so bright and full that I could literally see my shadow from it. I tried taking some pictures, but it didn’t really capture the awesomeness of being in the desert, in the warm night and dancing around with my shadow like a fool. So much fun! Sometimes we do have great experiences, which words and video can’t really capture.

Down time means Cooking Time!

While boondocking near Santa Fe in this spot, we made a broccoli and wild rice salad, which ended up being enough food for way too many meals. And we also prepped a ton of fruits for smoothies. We got this cool little 12-volt blender. It only makes one smoothie at a time and you really can NOT overfill it, but when we follow the directions, it works great. We prepped spinach and pear drinks, kale and peach, and strawberry and coconut. We freeze them in small packages for easy breakfasts. In fact, I just found a forgotten package the other day when searching for dinner food. It’s a small freezer, but we sure do lose stuff in there. I was a bit disappointed by all the healthy food though, because it means my vodka doesn’t fit in the freezer right now. What kind of crap is that? haha.

boondocking near Santa Fe
Brocoli salad makings

Heading into Santa Fe

Late in the week, we headed into Santa Fe for a day of exploring. The city is similar to Taos, in that it’s artsy and kind of cool. We wandered through art galleries, chatting with the artists. That alone is fascinating. Then we wandered into a big Christmas store. I’m not kidding, everything you can imagine for Christmas decorating is found within these walls. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that.

The Shop – A Christmas Store

We also toured the Cathedral Basilica of St Francis Assisi, where I discovered who I’ve adopted as our patron saint. Santo Nino de Atocha is the patron of children, the sick, prisoners, travelers and victims of crippling diseases. I’m not entirely sure how travelers got lumped into that group, but I’ll take it! The church celebrates St Francis of Assisi and and also Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American promoted to saint. Both their statues in front of the cathedral are beautiful.

We ate lunch at a yummy restaurant…oh my word, the chiles here are to die for. Red or green or Christmas (a little of both)! We love all the combinations. We’re going to need to leave New Mexico soon at risk of blowing up like ticks!

Checking out a new Camping spot

Then we headed back out of town for another spot boondocking near Santa Fe. This site is much closer to town, only half hour. It may be called Santa Fe Ranch Recreation Area. You might also find it listed as Caja Del Rio Dispersed Camping. Either way you find it on Google Maps, it will tell you the wrong way to get there. Instead of listening to it, just take Exit 6 off Hwy 599 and it’s easy to get to. For some reason, Google wants people to take BLM roads for miles, when there’s a perfectly good paved road. Way more RV’s are at this spot, but we’ve learned that if we just keep going down the dirt roads, we can find solitude. And so we did!

Cooking and eating, what else?

We spent the next several days hiking around, editing videos and doing a little more cooking. I made this cucumber gazpacho that is so delicious and also a raw butternut soup with pine nut crema. Both soups turned out better than I could imagine.

Cooking while boondocking near Santa Fe
Raw butternut squash soup

We wandered around exploring this area and felt disappointed to come across this huge shooting “range”. Which really means it’s a big hill, where people bring all kinds of objects to shoot and then leave. I was stunned by the amount of bullet casings and sheer garbage. Literally it would fill a garbage truck! Way too much for anyone to pick up. The clean up would require heavy equipment to scrape the ground, there’s so much crap. We thought our last boondocking site had garbage, but it was nothing compared to this.

We’re all for shooting ranges. In fact, our son Matt and his two boys took us shooting last summer and we had a blast! But he was excellent at having the boys pick up not only their empty casings, but also one small bag each of other people’s garbage. He’s raising Hunter and Carter right!

Boondocking near Santa Fe means proximity to the city, but it also means lots of people use the area. And not all of them are very good about cleaning up after themselves.

Santa Fe’s Farmer’s Market

Anyway, once Saturday rolled around, we headed back to Santa Fe for the Farmer’s Market. Steve went to it 15 or so years ago and remembered it being amazing. Well, now we’re in the times of Covid, so only 1/3 of vendors can set up shop. Also it’s pretty early in the growing season, so the vegetable selection is thin. However, it was still a fun trip into town. We ate lunch near the market at … which was delicious. The chiles and the sopapillas. Oh my word.

Historic Loretto Chapel

After exploring the Railroad Section of town, we headed back to the historic downtown for a visit to Loretto Chapel. This is a small chapel that’s best known for its choir loft staircase. It’s called miraculous due to its two complete spirals without center or side supports and due to the legend of its construction. This chapel costs $5 to get in and it’s basically a tourist destination, so it’s crowded. People sort of social distance, but everyone wants their picture with the staircase, so there’s some congestion in a relatively small space. It’s a beautiful building and certainly worth parting with a few bucks to visit.

So here’s the deal on those stairs. Three mysteries surround the spiral staircase: the identity of its builder, the type of wood used, and the physics of its construction. Now don’t go getting all technical, because yes, I’m sure someone’s figured it all out. But some things are better left as mysteries. So let me tell you the story. Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878, but somehow they built a choir loft with no way to access it.

The mysterious stairs

No carpenters wanted to build a staircase, so they said use a ladder. (I know there are many holes in this logic, but anyway.) Legend says the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man rode up on a donkey, with his toolbox, looking for work. Months later, the staircase was completed and the man rode away without pay or thanks.

It really is a beautiful staircase, no matter whether its building was devine or not. The design itself was innovative for its time. It has two 360 degree turns and no visible means of support. It’s said that the staircase construction uses only wooden pegs, no nails. However it came about, I enjoyed seeing the chapel and the staircase.

We ate some more of the amazing New Mexico food and then began heading back to Colorado Springs. Boondocking near Santa Fe offers the best of both worlds. Steve and I enjoyed hanging out in the desert. We love daily hiking and seeing the stars at night. We also enjoyed going into the city for all it offers. It doesn’t get much better than this combination for us. Good food, people when you want them, solitude when you want it and so much beauty to see. Both in town and in the desert, we were surrounded by beauty. If you get the chance to experience both these worlds, we highly recommend it!

Save me for later!


  1. Liz Gliha

    We were in that chapel once. Dick & Irene took us there when we visited them in Albuequerque. You’ve described it quite well! It is a fascinating story and a beautiful spiral staircase in a relatively small place. The area is quite amazing and we both love the desert.

    • mcgarveysan

      Hi Liz! It is a beautiful chapel and staircase. I didn’t realize Dick & Irene used to live in Albuquerque. How fun to visit them there. We love the desert too but honestly I’m getting a bit weary of sweeping up sand! 🤣 Hugs, friend!


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