Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park: I Am a Wuss

From motel to campground

I spent two nights in a motel in Alamogordo, then hied off to Oliver Lee Memorial State Park to camp until I found an apartment. Do the math: $10 per night at the park versus $50 per night at the motel.

Site selection

Site selection. Oh, so many variables that one must weigh: 
  • View from site
  • Proximity to toilet - not too far and not too close
  • Proximity to water and, less important, trash containers
  • Shade
  • Level ground for tent
  • Site prettiness
  • Site privacy
  • Proximity to neighboring campers

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, Alamogordo, New Mexico

I did a few turns around the campground loops before settling on a site with a magnificent view of the valley below the park's highlands, in addition to the view of the mountains on the opposite side of the valley. My chosen site faces west, for a front row seat to sunset theater.

An important factor in the Oliver Lee campground is that some sites have shelters and some do not. It was essential that I have a shelter site, and that took priority over all else.


Before I set up camp, I went over to the pay station, popped money into the envelope for my campsite, then went into the park visitor center.

First thing I saw: A sign warning that cougars are active in the area and how to (and not to) react if one should come upon a cougar. And to not hike around dawn or dusk. Or run. Because that might attract them.

I tucked that information away for future reference.


Walking into the visitor center, I remembered Jessica Terrell, who worked with the New Mexico State Parks agency after she left Missouri. I considered asking the park employee at the center if he knew her, but didn't. Maybe I will before I leave the park.

Setting up camp

My tent isn't difficult to set up, but it's painstaking, so I got to it. I tried to fit it unerneath the shelter for maximum shade, but it wouldn't quite fit, so I settled for it being next to the shelter in a way that the doorway opened into the shelter.

My campsite, Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, Alamogordo, New Mexico

Blood! Cougar! Chacha!

And then, of all things, while I was in the midst of setting up the tent, my nose began to bleed. Not a little bit, but a lot. Holy shit! What the hell? I think the air has been so dry it just did a number on my nose.

But it was bleeding so profusely, there were actual drops of blood on the gravel in the shelter!

Human blood! In a place where "cougars are active"!

So I took time out to deal with this crazy nosebleed, even going so far as to stuff kleenex up my nostril (TMI?) so I could finish with the tent business. But it soon became sodden with blood. I uttered the F word numerous times and took time out to let the damn thing subside. 

Finally, it did, and I finished setting up the tent.

And, now, what to do about the blood? Right near my tent? In a place where "cougars are active"?! And I'm the only camper who actually has a tent because everyone else has a camper or an RV?  And will they even hear me scream when I'm attacked by a cougar in my tent, while they're watching TV in their impenetrable RVs?

Scuffing gravel over the drops surely wouldn't foil the scent. No, I needed something stronger.

Got it. I pulled out my Georgian chacha and poured some on each drop of blood. This would work, wouldn't it? I let the chacha soak in thoroughly, then dry, and then I scuffed gravel over the drops.  

Front row seat of sunset from my campsite, Oliver Lee Memorial State Parks

The wind! Outside my tent!
The moon was so bright and almost full, I didn't need a lantern at my site. Beautiful. I listened to music. 

Came time to go to bed, and I snuggled into my tent with my kindle.

It was very windy outside. The tent shuddered and flapped and whooshed. Under the shelter, various things made small noises as the wind ruffled them. The zippers on my tent door shook loudly. I tried to ignore them, tried to stop imagining large animals huffaluffing and snuffling about outside.

I tried some cognitive reality mumbo jumbo on my head, to no avail. The wind was freaking me out. Really, it all started with the cougar thing. 

I said, "I will not go sleep in my car. I will not go sleep in my car. I will not go sleep in my car."

But then I said, "I'll walk up to the bathroom and then think about sleeping in the car, but I'm not going to sleep in the car."

So I climbed out of the tent, and began walking up to the bathroom, around the bend an up the incline, when "Huff!" I heard, like a deep cough. A couger cough. From the brush. And I heard the movement of the brush. And then something move back into the brush.

I turned around, and walked quickly back to my site ("do not run") and got into my car, and drove up to the bathroom, relieved myself, drove back to my site, retrieved my sleeping bag and pillow from my tent, and slept in my car.

They say that the most intelligent and imaginative people are the most susceptible to phobias. I can take comfort in that.

My campsite view at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, New Mexico


Unknown said...

i came across your blog and read this post. IDK if you had heard, but it was heartbreaking and tragic that Jessica died this way on her way to conduct training in northwest New Mexio.

Mzuri said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts about Jessica. You may not have checked out the link I had on this post, which takes you to a remembrance of her. I thought of her often when I was at Oliver Lee, and I have thought of her regularly since.