Continuing down the highway about 1.5 miles, opposite some abandoned white buildings on the left, (if you're traveling with a GPS, it's N32o34'523" and W115o44'676"), we turned south into a wide ramp leading across the dry lake, stopping briefly to air our tires down. Several tracks crisscrossed the mud flats, but most of them go to the same place. Taking the smoothest and most worn set of tracks, we proceeded at a steady 60 mph. There were occasional signs for Canon de Guadalupe, so we knew we weren't lost.

After about 20 miles, the dusty track wound through desert scrub brush for a short distance to intersect the aforementioned washboard. Again following the signs, we jogged south and then west for about seven miles on sandy corduroy, passing a fledgling olive grove and eventually winding into a canyon. At this point, there was only one road, which grew progressively narrower and rougher as it twisted through cacti and scattered mesquite trees. Paying attention to the road here is most important. Menacing rocks reached for our differentials, and skidmarks left the trail made by those who weren't paying attention. Our Dodge Dakota with its Four Wheel pop-up camper was the ideal combination, but any van, truck, or SUV with good ground clearance can make the trip. As long as the weather stays clear, four-wheel drive isn't needed.

Arriving at Canon de Guadalupe proper, we came to an information sign where we parked and walked in. We could have driven, but it was early, and we wanted to check things out. We learned that there are actually two campos, or campgrounds. Campo I is in some ways the nicest--and the most expensive. During the week, it's easier to find available sites, but reservations are a good idea for weekends (www.guadalupe-canyon.com). Several sites overlook the canyon and can accommodate two, three, or even four vehicles.

Campo III, (also called Arturo's Camp), is reached by driving through Campo I or by taking the sandy road up the arroyo to the left of the information sign. It had some beautiful sites and was generally much less expensive. There's no way to make reservations at Arturo's Camp, so you can bargain if it's not busy. Depending on the campo, the site, the day, the season, the demand, and the number of vehicles in your party, daily rates run from $15 to over $100. Weekends are popular.