Free Camping: San Jon City Park(NM)
Everyone has the feeling on a road trip where your eyes start getting heavy, your Red Bull is wearing off and you can only sing “Don’t Stop Believing” so many times before it fails to keep you attentive. You might even venture to explore the rumble strips on the side of the expressway. This is a no-judgement-zone, we have all been there. This is one of those times.
Over the years I have developed this extremely low level of “give a crap” when it comes to camping. Once I am done driving, hiking, or generally doing anything, my next move is to find somewhere to sleep. My poor friends are looking for flat campsites or their girlfriends are looking for a cheap Air BnB or hotel room and I am over here trying to fold down the seats in the car and somehow fit my 6’3″ frame in a 6′ trunk. I guess I have accepted the inevitability of discomfort that comes with camping and backpacking. Your back aches from using a 1/2″ thick blow-up sleeping pad that has a slow leak and your neck is sore because your stuff sack filled with your rancid clothes doesn’t feel quite the same as your pillow at home. This is why God created fly-over towns. In most of these tiny dots on the map you can get by with laying your feet out of the window of the car and catching a few hours of shut-eye behind the truck stop or near a church parking lot.
Sometimes you get lucky and find a town that knows what you are shopping for and delivers! Enter San Jon, NM.
San Jon (pronounced “San Jone”) is a village in Northeast New Mexico that has a city park specifically designated for camping and overnight parking. The city’s population is around 300 as of 2000 and since I40 bypassed the town, most every business has died off and left town. However, dirtbag camping is alive and well in San Jon.
We arrived around midnight on the Friday night of Memorial Day Weekend and were greeted by an 80’s Class A motorhome on the South side of the park and the rest of the place to ourselves. We found the bathrooms to be nearly spotless and they had running hot water, score! We freshened up a little and setup the tent for a short stay. Due to the wind, we staked our backpacking tent down and enjoyed a mostly uninterrupted sleep. Another vehicle showed up in the middle of the night with an a-frame bumper-pull in tow and we were none the wiser. We awoke to light that only really happens in the desert and we were packed up in a matter of minutes.
While walking around, you could tell that this town used to be something. It seemed like we were walking the streets of a town from a “Cars” movie where the entire town had lost it’s identity when the interstate came through. I half expected to see a rusted dump truck parked on the corner of town. Instead there are vacant service stations, boats on blocks, and one lonely hotel that somehow stays in business.
Our time in San Jon was short, but memorable. I recommend a visit to this town if you are passing through, especially if you are needing a place to crash for the night on I40 between Oklahoma and Arizona. A huge thanks goes out to the town of San Jon for looking out for us budget campers that would rather spend our money on gas and food for the next adventure than on camping. Your facilities are great and I can’t wait to stop in your town again soon!
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