Touring N.M.

Escape From the Summer Heat

Lush meadows and towering ponderosa pines make for a cool weekend getaway at the Rio de las Vacas Campground.
Jon Knudsen, August 2017

It was late morning when my grandson Robert Bennett and I left his mother’s driveway. The plan was simple: tent camping for a couple of nights in the high country of the Jemez Mountains. I knew the perfect place to escape the summer heat, a place where one doesn’t need to run an air conditioner to feel comfortable.

Rio de las Vacas Campground, 12 miles east of Cuba, was our destination. At an elevation of 8,160 feet, the campground offers temperatures that are typically 15 to 20 degrees cooler than the Rio Grande Valley. In the middle of July, the temperatures averaged 77 degrees during the day and 48 degrees at night.

However, there are only 15 campsites, four of which are first-come, first-served. The rest are part of an online reservation system, which can be accessed at Weekends are heavily booked for a month in advance, but the campground is pretty empty on weekdays.

Robby and I could only get a campsite for one night. “Don’t sweat it,” I told him. “I’ve got a great idea! We’ll get a motel room in Shiprock and then see the Four Corners Monument tomorrow morning.”

Note to self for future reference: There are no motels in Shiprock. We drove up to the Four Corners site, enjoyed ourselves among the crowd of people from all across the U.S. and spent the night in Farmington. We had a great time.

When it comes to monuments, a possible inaccuracy is not as important as a photo opportunity. You should have seen the people twisting to touch all four quadrants simultaneously. Would they care that some say the actual “Four Corners” is 1,800 feet to the east? Would they rather be photographed spreading themselves out in between prickly pears and centipedes at the “real” four corners? What do you think?

As it turns out, in 1875 a government surveyor erected a sandstone shaft where the present monument now stands. This point defined the four corners, the intersection of the 37th parallel north and the 32nd meridian west of Washington. Later surveys found the marker to be off by enough that legal clarification was sought. But in 1925, the Supreme Court ruled that the original survey marker took precedence over the written description.

Jon Knudsen is a contributor to and teaches about New Mexico at UNM’s Department of Continuing Education. Email him at


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment
Something to sell?
Place your ad right now —
It's free and easy!
Write a headline
Write an ad

Current Issue Click to view