Is there anything better than pitching a tent and sleeping underneath the stars?

The fresh air is invigorating, and New Mexico’s rugged beauty serves as the perfect backdrop for a camping trip.

Amaris Feland Ketcham’s new book, Best Tent Camping: New Mexico, catalogs dozens of the most scenic campgrounds across the state. In a telephone interview, she discussed how the book came together. This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Question: This is the third edition, but the first two editions were authored by someone else, correct?

Answer: Yeah, I definitely know the last edition was authored by Monte Parr.

Question: Why did you decide to do it that way?

Answer: Well, AdventureKEEN contacted me to write the third edition. So it’s a very substantially different book than the first two editions were. ... They contacted me because I used to write for an arts and literature blog with one of the editors at that press. So he knew I could write, and then we were friends from this blog on social media. And so he could also see that I was camping a lot and hiking many weekends and just out and about. So that’s sort of how they found me. I did say yes right away. I thought it sounded like a really fun opportunity to kind of do a deeper dive and see more of the public lands across the state. ... For this one I was able to explore places I hadn’t been to before.

Question: How many campsites did you visit while you were researching the book?

Answer: I visited probably 70 campsites. I visited all the 50 that were originally in the second edition and then additional ones as well. I swapped out maybe 10 or 15 campgrounds.

Question: Over how long of a period?

Answer: About a year and a half.

Question: Would you spend a day and then camp overnight or would these be longer trips?

Answer: For most of them, I camped overnight. Some were right next to each other. In Cloudcroft there are, I think, five campgrounds total. ... So I just stayed at one campground and then walked to the other ones.

Question: Which campground did you decide to go to first? Which ones did you leave till last?

Answer: The first one I went to was Chaco Canyon. ... But then after that I went to Red River. I just sort of let the seasons and also the fire closures determine what campsites I was going to go to next. So in the winter, I spent most of my time in the south of the state, whereas in the summer I would go north and into the mountains.

Question: How long did it take to write the book?

Answer: The research and writing happened simultaneously. After doing all of my notes and taking my photographs, the week after I would spend several hours usually researching reports written by [New Mexico Game and Fish] or the [state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department]. And federal reports, too, in order to get a better sense of what some of the changes to the land were.

Question: What was the most surprising thing that happened or what was something that you learned while you were researching the book?

Answer: A lot of surprising things happened — positive and negative. For example, my husband and I went down to the [Gila Wilderness] to investigate some of those sites, and we blew out one of the tires on the car. So we put the spare on, the doughnut, and we blew that one out, too. Luckily, one of the few mechanics in Reserve when we came rattling down the road heard our car and was able to help us patch that tire and put it back on. And so that was really a wonderful experience. I’m really grateful to that family for helping us out in Reserve, and I thank them in the book as well.

Some of the surprising things that I learned while doing research were about how, for better or worse, we change our environment. I wrote about some of the Superfund sites in the state that are very close to campgrounds because it’s part of public land usage. One of the more surprising things that I learned about that kind of land usage was at Quemado Lake, there’s a goldfish explosion in the lake. So they were pulling out ... tens of tons of goldfish, dragging them out of the lake. Whenever they would stock the lake with trout, the goldfish would just eat the trout. In order to kill the goldfish, they introduced tiger muskie to eat the goldfish. ... Now when they troll the lake, they pull up fewer and fewer goldfish. So that’s how they know it works, but it’s only a matter of time before the tiger muskie will eat the trout. It almost starts to sound like a children’s book at that point. ... The book’s got lots of facts like that from different reports that I read. So even if people are familiar with areas, they might still learn something I hope.

Question: In the preface, you mentioned there were campgrounds you wanted to include but couldn’t because some campgrounds could not be accessed.

Answer: Some of them were being renovated during the entirety of doing my research. ... I wanted to check out Redondo Campground, but that one was being renovated. And so even walking through there, it wouldn’t have been the same campground at all by the time the book came out. Morphy Lake is undergoing substantial renovations as well, so I look forward to seeing those campgrounds after they’re renovated and seeing what they’re like.

Question: So a fourth edition might be in the works?

Answer: Yeah, I’m already dreaming up the fourth edition. I’m already thinking of sites that can be combined so that maybe there’s other sites that are represented. There’s Navajo Lake or there’s some nice sites outside of Cuba that I think could be included as well.

Tony Raap

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