Thursday, July 9, 2009

Passing gas on BLM land

We are parked on a large turn-out
for a natural gas wellhead, off a dirt road on BLM land just west of the Carson National Forest (map). This spot has been used by campers before -- there is a stone fire ring about 150' from the wellhead.

While having a wellhead, condensate separator and tanks, and containment berm more or less in our campsite (where we catch the occasional whiff of sweet condensate vapor) is less than ideal, this is otherwise a perfect spot. We are on a hilltop with a 270° panoramic view of the forest and the valley below for Gobernador Wash. 100' from camp is a rock outcropping from which we can see the whole valley, with US-64 running through it. Other than the road, and half a dozen distant wellheads painted forest green, there are no visible signs of civilization. It was incredibly quiet last night, with only bright moonlight dispelling complete darkness, and the occasional sound of gas from, I think, a relief valve someplace.

The only traffic on this road has been a handful of trucks belonging to the pipeline and wellhead service folks, and this morning a tanker came by this very site to collect the separated water. We've seen fleets of these trucks all through the valley -- I'm guessing this is a very wet reservoir, and they need to collect condensate and water frequently. The entire region is rich in gas -- we remember seeing wellheads and condensate tanks from Angel Peak, and the only thing Stewart & Stevenson in Farmington was working on, besides our bus, was a selection of giant Waukesha natural-gas engines used to run field compressors (the engines run off their own well or pipeline gas).

Notwithstanding the giant tank of inflammable hydrocarbons 50 yards away, we made a small campfire last night, and cooked our steak on some of the juniper that is in abundance here. We mostly sat outside during the daylight -- here at 6,500' the outside temperature was very pleasant, perhaps 80° or so, while the relentless sun on the bus made it somewhat uncomfortable to be inside. After the sun went down, and outside temperatures dropped into the 60's, it was easy to keep things cool just with the fans.

It has been a pleasant stay, but we are ready to move on. We are grateful to ConocoPhillips and their service companies for putting a road here, without which we would have no access to this beautiful spot. Natural gas extraction, at least, is a resource usage with minimal impact on either the scenery or the recreational opportunities on public land.

Yesterday was an early morning for us, rolling back into the shop at 7am. At least we had turned in rather early Tuesday night, after a tasty dinner at Bernardone's Italian restaurant a short walk from Wal-Mart -- an order-at-the-counter affair with a nice dining room, a selection of wines, and attentive service from owner Mario Bernardone and his staff. A great recommendation from our mechanic, Micky, at S&S.

Speaking of whom, once on the lifts he quickly found our transmission fluid to be leaking from the speedometer sensor, and only a few minutes and a new O-ring was required. He then spent the next hour or so sitting on that very transmission, through the hatch under the bed, to fit a new gasket behind the air compressor. We found nary a drop of oil in the wet tank, and so decided to simply replace the gasket without changing compressors.

S&S billed us for a little over three hours, plus the gaskets. The exhaust clamp was a take-off from a used engine they had in the shop, so they didn't bill us for it. We were out of there by 10:30 or so, only $350 poorer, which is, I think, the least I have ever spent at a Detroit distributor. It was a much more causal and relaxed place than their cousins down in Albuquerque, and next time we need service in New Mexico, we will keep them in mind.

Thus obviating the need to continue to Albuquerque, we opted to continue east on US-64 rather than turn south on US-550. We will take this all the way to Tierra Amarilla, where US-84 will take us into Santa Fe.


  1. Sean and Louise,

    You guys are SO CLOSE to us, we'd love to meet up and see the rig. We are currently camphosting at Ghost Ranch, you will drive right by. You could stay at Echo Amphitheater, Abiquiu Dam or come on in to Ghost Ranch (although it may be a bit more than you want to pay).

    Any way, please get in touch

    Kate at cholulared dot com


  2. @Kate: I think we are closer now... check our DataStorm map, we are in the Carson forest just south of Cebolla.

    The folks at the visitor center in Charma told us there is no overnighting anymore at Echo. Do you have a different understanding?

    We'll probably be here a couple of nights... it's a perfect spot.

    Drop us an email with your schedule and we can figure out a way to connect.


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