Tag Archives: boondocking

Free BLM Camping (Southern New Mexico Edition)

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The Man and I found ourselves in Roswell, NM. When he mentioned he’d never visited Carlsbad Caverns, I said we had to go. I’d been once before, six years ago, with my boyfriend who turned out to be not very nice. Carlsbad Caverns changed me in ways I cannot describe because I can barely understand it all myself. When I realized we were less than 100 miles from a natural wonder The Man hadn’t experienced, I insisted we go.

As soon as we decided to visit Carlsbad Caverns, I got on FreeCampsites.net (https://freecampsites.net/) to try to find us a nice, free place to spend the night.

When my ex and I visited the National Park, we spent the night before our adventure in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart in the town of Carlsbad. I didn’t want to do that if we could help it. First, I haven’t met a Wal-Mart parking lot that wasn’t hot, noisy, and too bright. Why spend the night in a parking lot if we could be out in nature instead? Also, the town of Carlsbad is about 20 miles from the famous caverns, meaning we’d have to start the day with a half hour of driving if we stayed in town. Better, I thought, to drive in the evening and park for the night in a quiet, dark, natural spot.

On the Free Campsites website, I found several options for free camping on BLM land near Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The place I picked doesn’t even have a name; on the website, it’s simply referred to as “Public Lands near Carlsbad Caverns.” (To read more about the camping area, go here: https://freecampsites.net/#!22041&query=sitedetails.)

I used the FreeCampsites.net free app on my Android phone to search for promising camping areas. When I decided on the spot where I wanted to camp, I clicked on the “Get Directions” link on the page with the information about the camping area. This link is near the GPS coordinates for the site. When I clicked the “Get Directions” link, it opened up Google Maps which told me how to get from my location to the road where I wanted to camp. The Man taught me it’s better to click the “Get Directions” link than to put in the GPS coordinates myself because I might make a mistake transferring all those numbers. Once Google Maps opened, we let the spokesmodel (I named her Mildred Antwerp) guide us into our spot for the night.

Without Mildred Antwerp to talk us through, it would have been a bit difficult to find the place. I would have had to keep a close eye on my odometer in order to figure out where to turn because the road onto the BLM land not only doesn’t have a street sign, it doesn’t have a name! Google Maps just calls it “Unnamed Road.” There wasn’t even a sign announcing we were on BLM land.

When directed to, we turned off US-180 W/US-62 W onto a fairly well-maintained dirt road. The road was bumpy, but I’ve certainly been on worse New Mexico roads. I didn’t feel as if the van was in any danger.

It wasn’t long before we saw a pull-off–a wide dirt area–on the left side of the road. Farther ahead, we saw other vehicles parked on the left. As indicated in the description of the camping area, we saw a fire ring in the pull-off, not BLM issue as far as I could tell, simply local stones someone had gathered and arranged in a circle. We knew we had arrived.

This pipe snaked on the right side of the road, across from the free camping area.

We didn’t want to park in the first open spot because we like privacy when we can get it, so we continued up the gently climbing road. As we went up and saw other people parked in pull-offs, I worried there might not be a place for us.

All of the camping spots were on the left side of the road. On the right side, I saw a thick, dark pipe snaking across the land. Once we stopped, I was able to read a signpost near the pipe: natural gas. The government owns the land, and somebody’s making money from the sale of the natural gas being pumped out, so I guess the least they can do is let the people camp there for free.

We found a spot, the first unoccupied one past an old pickup with a slide-in camper. The Man backed in the van next to our stone fire ring. We hadn’t brought any wood and there wasn’t any lying around to gather, so we didn’t have a fire that night. We did, however, have a nice view from the back doors.

We were quite far from our nearest neighbor, and we didn’t hear any noise other campers might have made. We were also quite far from the highway and didn’t hear any sounds of traffic. The whole time we were there, only two vehicles passed our camp. Soon after we arrived, a truck drove up the road and not too long after, drove down the road and away. In the morning, a woman who must have been camped above us drove past the van as she left. Otherwise, it was easy to imagine we were the only people in the area.

View from the back of the van

Staying on this BLM land was a true boondocking experience. There was no water, potable or otherwise. There were no toilets of either the pit, the flush, or the portable variety. There were no garbage cans or electricity. It was totally a case of bring in everything you need and take out all the waste you produce. The fire rings were the only indication people had camped there before.

Ocotillo plants and clumps of grass

I did have service for my Net 10 phone the entire time we were on the BLM land. I was even able to post a picture to Facebook and view updates from friends.

I’ve stayed in prettier free camping spots, but this place was not completely lacking beauty. We were in a sort of deserty area with clusters of grass, small cacti, and ocotillo plants growing from rocky ground.  Below us, flat land with no trees stretched as far as my eyes could see. What the area lacked in beauty, it made up for in silence and darkness.

It was also in a great location. In the morning we woke up, ate our cereal and milk, then drove about five miles to the entrance of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Spending the night on this BLM land beat staying in the Carlsbad Wal-Mart’s parking lot on every count.

The night we stayed on the BLM land, we were blessed with a red moon above us.

This campsite is located at an elevation of 3,650 feet. Its GPS coordinates are 32.204698, -104.334665.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

 

 

I’m Cold

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It was another night in another Wal-Mart parking lot after another day of driving. It was already dark when we arrived, and I didn’t even care about getting something to eat. All I wanted was to sleep.

This Wal-Mart clearly allowed overnight parking. It looked like a combination of a truck stop and an RV park. There were three 18 wheelers in the lot, at least as many Class C RVs, and even a couple of Class A motorhomes. Of course, there were several obvious van dwellers, as well as people sleeping in cars, trucks, and jeeps. This Wal-Mart welcomed the weary traveler.

We’d spent a couple of nights in this parking lot the previous week, so we went to bed confident no one–no cop, no store manager–would knock on the van in the middle of the night.

It was probably eleven o’clock–maybe even midnight–before we lay down. I fell asleep immediately and slept well, but The Man was suffering from a bought of insomnia. He told me later it was two or three o’clock in the morning before he succumbed to sleep.

I was awoken from my deep slumber. The Man was awake too. The dog was barking.

What’s going on? I mumbled.

I think someone knocked on the van, The Man told me.

I listened. Nothing. I looked at my watch. 4am.

Who’s there? I asked loudly. No answer. I was convinced The Man and the dog and I had shared some sort of auditory dream hallucination. There was no one there. I dropped my head back onto my pillow.

Then…clearly…I heard a knock. It was a gentle knock, not a cop knock, but still, someone was knocking on the van at four o’clock in the morning.

Who’s there? I asked again loudly. I did not sound friendly, even to my own ears.

I’m cold, a female voice said. Do you have a blanket?

Are you fucking kidding me? I thought, and The Man verbalized something similar.

The Man is a very giving, generous person. I try to be a giving and generous person too, but this was too much for either of us.

No, I said. We don’t

I’m cold, the woman said again. Do you have a blanket? she asked, as if she hadn’t just asked the question and been told no.

No, I said again. Go ask someone else.

The woman went away, and while The Man and I were able to doze for another hour or so, we never got back to the place of deep sleep she’d interrupted.

In the light of day, The Man was remorseful. Maybe we should have helped her, he said. Maybe we should have let her sleep on the floor of the van.

I felt justified in our initial decision to turn her away, and I explained my reasons to The Man.

First of all, I didn’t have an extra blanket to give her. I live in a van with another person and a dog. Space is at a premium. I don’t carry around a stack of extra blankets. For a while I had an old sleeping bag with a broken zipper I wrapped around my cooler for extra insulation, but when The Man moved in, it was jettisoned with other nonessential items. I would have given her that if it had still been around, but she was too late. It was gone. If The Man wanted to give her some piece of bedding he owned, he should have spoken up.

Secondly, I don’t open my doors to strangers after dark, much less at 4am. Even with The Man and the dog to protect me, I don’t think it’s safe to wake from a deep sleep in the middle of the night–even in a well-lit parking lot–and open my home to someone I don’t know.

Third, the woman was in the parking lot of a store open 24/7. If she was cold, she could have gone into the store to warm up. She could have walked the aisles. She could have taken a nap in a restroom stall. She didn’t have to stay outside if she was cold.

Fourth, there were plenty of other people overnighting in that parking lot. We were not her only chance for survival. If we couldn’t help her, there were other people to ask.

Finally, I’ve been homeless (as in, with no van, as in, living under bridges) in that city at that time of year. While it might have been chilly outside, it wasn’t deadly cold. The woman was in no danger of dying of exposure.

If I’d had a spare blanket lying around, I would have handed it to her through a window. If we had been in a remote campground or wilderness area, and she’d had nowhere else to turn, no place indoors to go, I would have tried harder to help her. If it had been winter–snowing, freezing–I would have tried harder to help her, maybe even invited her to sleep on the floor of the van. But I didn’t think it was my responsibility to provide for someone who didn’t think about wanting a blanket until 4am.

 

 

 

Picnic Area

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We’d left Truth or Consequences later than we’d planned. Then we’d made a couple stops in Las Cruces (breakfast, guitar strings), so the sun was low in the sky as we drove through Tucson. When we turned onto Highway 86 West (also known as Ajo Way), I was disappointed to see a sign declaring we were still

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over 100 miles from Ajo. Not only was I tired of driving, but I was afraid driving in the dark would mean we’d miss the two crested saguaros Coyote Sue said were visible from Highway 86.

The Man and I discussed what we should do. Push on and drive into the night, missing the crested saguaros? Find a place to park for the night and see the saguaros in the morning? We decided we wanted to find a place where we could park the van and sleep until first light.

We were soon on Tohono O’odham land. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tohono_O%27odham,

The Tohono O’odham (/tˈhɑːnə ˈɑːtʊm/, or /tɑːˈhnə ˈɑːtəm/)[2] are a Native American people of the Sonoran Desert, residing primarily in the U.S. state of Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora. Tohono O’odham means “Desert People.” The federally recognized tribe is known as the Tohono O’odham Nation.

The Man kept pointing out places where he thought we could park the van for the night, but I was hesitant to park randomly on the reservation. Although we had nothing to hide from the police, nothing spoils a good night’s sleep like a cop knock in the dark. (If we were ever parked somewhere and a cop knocked in the night, I would simply tell him or her that we were too tired to drive safely, and we’d move on at first light.) Also, I didn’t want to be the white person who thinks she’s entitled to do whatever she wants on native land she knows little about.

Picnic Area on the south side of Hwy 86

I kept driving, and I really was getting to the point of feeling as if I just couldn’t go much father. Then, between mileposts 136 and 137, on the south side of the highway, I saw a picnic area. I pulled in and saw no signs prohibiting overnight parking or even camping. Here it was! This was our spot for the night!

There wasn’t much to the picnic area. There were a few picnic tables there, a shade cover over a few of them. There were no restrooms and not a single trash can. No problem! We only needed to stop for the next six or eight hours.

A fence separated the picnic area from the reservation, but we were too tired to even consider crossing. All I had on my mind was sleep.

When we first lay down, we heard a lot of traffic on the highway, It was a Friday night, and I think people were heading home from their jobs in Tucson, while others were heading to Tucson to party. As the hour grew later, we heard fewer cars on the road, and we slept peacefully.

In the background of this photo, one can see the fence separating the picnic area from the reservation.

The next morning as we stretched and brushed our teeth, The Man noticed an observatory on top of a nearby mountain. Within an hour we passed an entrance road and a sign declaring it the Kitt Peak National Observatory. We didn’t stop, but according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitt_Peak_National_Observatory,

The Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) is a United States astronomicalobservatory site located on 2,096 m (6,880 ft) Kitt Peak of the Quinlan Mountains in the ArizonaSonoran Desert on the Tohono O’odham Nation, 88 kilometers (55 mi) west-southwest of Tucson, Arizona. With 24 optical and two radio telescopes, it is the largest, most diverse gathering of astronomical instruments in the world.[1] The observatory is administered by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO).

At the very peak of the mountain, something related to the Kitt Peak Observatory is visible.

Roadside America (http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/46336) says the Visitor Center is open daily 9-4 (call 520-318-8726 to verify). Admission is free, but one-hour guided tours cost $8.00-$10.00 per person. According to bobebob on 01/25/2015,

The best views of the complex are from the outdoor catwalk around the Mayall telescope, whose 15-ton mirror is housed in a dome 18 stories high. Daytime visitors are asked to keep their voices low, as most of the astronomers (who live in on-site dormitories) are asleep.

Picnic table and tree

On Saturday, we spent time with the Diving Miss M, and sometime during our conversation, she mentioned the Arizona Department of Transportation has a 12-foot easement on either side of Highway 86. The land past the easement is part of the reservation. Being left alone at the picnic area made sense. The picnic area is on the easement, which means ADOT maintains it. Surely no ADOT employee was patrolling the area at night to run off sleepy travelers. Tribal police probably aren’t very concerned with what happens at the picnic area since it is technically the ADOT’s jurisdiction. I suppose someone from the Pima County Sherriff’s Department or the Highway Patrol could have questioned us if a complaint had been lodged or if we’d been causing trouble, but we were sleeping, not drinking or yelling or even littering. If an officer of the law saw us parked at the picnic area that night, s/he decided we weren’t worth stopping for. Personally, I was grateful for uninterrupted sleep.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

 

Indian Bread Rocks Recreation Area

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I heard about the Indian Bread Rocks Recreation Area from Coyote Sue. She knows so many great free camping spots in southern New Mexico and Arizona, and  I’m so grateful for her willingness to share her free camping information with me.

I was traveling with The Man before he became The Man and was simply a new friend, a fellow with whom I’d decided to go to New Mexico. His dog was with us too, of course, and ALL of The Man’s possessions, since he’d sold his car in California and planned to pick up a van in Oklahoma in April.

I think it was Wednesday when we left Quartzsite, where we’d met. We spent our first night on the road at a free campsite in the Buckeye Hills Recreation Area. (Read about my prior experiences at the Buckeye Hills Recreation Area here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/04/12/buckeye-hills-recreation-area/.) The man set up his tiny tent (which he returned to Wal-Mart the next day, as it turned out to be too tiny for him and the dog, much less him and the dog and his stuff), and I slept in the van.

The van was jam packed with all my stuff and all The Man’s stuff, and there was no path from the front of the van to my bed. The only way to get into my bed was through the back doors, which don’t open from the inside. I was too claustrophobic to get in the bed and close the doors completely, which would have given me no way out of the van in the event of an emergency. I had to get into the bed from the back, then close but not latch the doors. My main concern was rolling over in the night, pushing the doors open, then falling out the back. Thankfully that didn’t happen. If I had been traveling alone, I wouldn’t have slept with the doors partially open, but I felt entirely safe with The Man and the dog sleeping right outside my walls. (If I had been traveling alone, my van wouldn’t have been overloaded with the worldly possessions of two people.)

On our second night on the road, we ended up at the Indian Bread Rocks Recreation Area.

It was dark when we exited the I-10 in the little town of Bowie, AZ, which is almost to the border with New Mexico. The town seemed deserted as we drove down the main drag. We joked about the zombie apocalypse, but the complete lack of any sign of human activity was unnerving.

I missed our turn onto Apache Pass Road because I didn’t see the street sign in the dark and ended up on the far side of the town, close to I-10 again. I was pretty sure we had gone too far, so I checked my phone to see if Coyote Sue had texted me better information than I’d gotten from Google Maps. In fact, she had. Her text said to turn at the sign for Fort Bowie. Sure enough, after I made that turn, I saw the sign for Apache Pass Road.

I drove through the dark and looked for Happy Camp Canyon Road where we would make a right.

On the right side of the road, we saw pale, leafless trees growing in neat rows. It was an orchard of some sort.

Are those pecan trees? I asked, but The Man was unsure.

Then I saw a street sign that read Pistachio Lane, and we decided it must be a pistachio orchard.

The dog saw a bunny through the windshield and The Man egged him on by telling him to get it! The dog went berserk and lunged at the windshield, cleanly removing the glued down guardian angel statue from her perch on the dash. The Man had to grab the dog and hold him down amid much barking and excitement.

In the light of morning, we saw the recreation area’s picnic tables and pit toilet.

We finally saw Happy Camp Canyon Road and made our turn. It wasn’t long before we saw the recreation area’s picnic tables and pit toilet. A group was setting up near the picnic area, and there were a couple of popup campers in the vicinity, but we decided to go further out before we made a decision about where to spend the night.

We found our spot and I parked the van. A million stars popped out against the incredibly dark sky. A strong wind made the air cold, but The Man set up his (new, bigger) tent by the light of his headlamp while the dog ran around, glad to be free from the confines of the van. I opened the back doors and climbed into bed, closing the doors behind me just enough so I could still come flying out if necessary. I snuggled under my down comforter and soon fell asleep, again feeling safe because The Man and the dog were nearby.

Other than the howling of the wind, it was a very quiet night. I didn’t hear a peep out any of the other campers in the area.

Since I’ve been traveling alone, I don’t typically arrive at my destination after dark. I like to arrive and settle in before the sun sets. I feel safer that way, but arriving in the sunlight robs me of the pleasure of waking up to beauty I couldn’t see in the dark. I awoke to such pleasure at Indian Bread Rocks.

When I popped out of the van in the morning, I literally let out a yell of pleasure. This place was gorgeous!

We were surrounded by mountains that looked to be composed of piles of loose, round, tan rocks. There were cacti and small trees throughout the large, flat valley where I’d parked the van.

One of the mountains in the distance had snow on it. That was exciting! The wind had died down in the night, so it wasn’t as cold as it had been, but we were early morning chilly, and I think seeing snow in the distance made us feel a little bit colder.

The Man asked me to walk out to one of the rock formations with him and take his photo with his phone. By that point, I already had a little crush on The Man, even though I knew he wasn’t interested in getting into a relationship or even just having casual sex. My little crush made me very happy to go on a nature walk with him. My little crush made me very happy when he took my hand to help me up rocks. My little crush made me very happy just to be with him.

After our nature walk and photo shoot, we headed back to the van. We packed up, and drove up to the front of the recreation area to use the pit toilet, which was mighty disgusting. As a former camp host, I could tell the toilet hadn’t been cleaned in quite a while. The seat was so nasty, I broke my own rule and perched instead of sitting both cheeks on the seat. (Read more of my advice for using a pit toilet here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/08/27/how-to-use-a-pit-toilet/.)

Overall, I enjoyed my stay at the Indian Bread Rocks Recreation Area and would stay there again, maybe for several days, but certainly any time I’m driving on I-10 between New Mexico and Arizona.

The Man took this photo of me at Indian Bread Rocks Recreation Area in Arizona. I took all the other photos in this post.

The Free Campsites website (https://freecampsites.net/#!5545&query=sitedetails) gives the GPS coordinates of Indian Bread Rocks Recreation Area as 32.238617, -109.500099. The elevation is 4183′.

 

 

 

Gunsight Wash

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During my first trip the area around Ajo and Why, AZ, I did not camp on the Gunsight Wash BLM land. I was enamored with the free camping on the BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop and didn’t have much motivation to move my butt anywhere else. But since I like to see new places (and write about them!), during my second visit to the area, I decided to spend a night at Gunsight Wash.

During my first visit, the Divine Miss M and I had pulled into the camping area on our way to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and had a quick look around. Although the area has no amenities (no running water, no trash cans, no toilets–pit or otherwise, no showers, no picnic tables, and no shade covers), it does have several desirable features.

First, if one wants to visit the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, this camp area is in a great location only twenty miles from the Monument’s Kris Eggle Visitor Center. Gunsight Wash would be a great free area to leave a travel trailer or 5th Wheel while visiting the Monument.

Second, the main road was in good condition when I visited (April 2016). There are many spots accessible to vehicles with low clearance. While friends in a minivan and a Prius had trouble finding sites for their vehicles on the Ajo Scenic loop, I think most anyone could find a workable spot in Gunsight Wash.

Third, there is a lot of room in Gunsight Wash. Unless this place gets super crowded in mid-winter, there should be no reason for people to camp on top of one another here.

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I was facing south when I took this photo. The roadside table is on the east side of the road. The camping area is on the west side of the road.

Four, it’s really easy to find. The Gunsight Wash camping area is on Highway 85, just south of milepost 55. Right before the camping area is a sign for a roadside table. (The sign also shows accessibility for folks with disabilities.) The roadside table is on the east side of the road.  The entrance to the camping area is on the west side, directly across from the entrance to the roadside table area.

After making the turn into the camping area, look for a couple of tall saguaros and a small sign that says “RVs”. Follow the sign’s arrow to the right.

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Drive a very short ways and look for the cattle guard on the left. Cross the cattle guard. You are now in the camping IMG_5663area!

To the left of the cattle guard is one of those signs warning about smuggling and illegal immigration. During my day and night at Gunsight Wash, I saw no one who seemed to be smuggling or immigrating illegally.

IMG_5664From reviews I read of this camping area, I expected to see a camp host. In fact, I’m pretty sure there was a camp host there in January (2016) when Miss M and I popped in for a quick look-around. On that day there was a rig parked not far over the cattle guard and to the right. Also on that day, there was a sign-in sheet on the sign board. In April, there was no camp host and no sign-in sheet. There were, however, signs saying there is a 14 day limit on camping in the area.

IMG_5662While Gunsight Wash is by no means an ugly area, I don’t think it is a pretty as the BLM free camping areas adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop. (That my be why one place has “scenic” in its name and the other doesn’t.) While Gunsight Wash does include a few saguaros (some very large, which means very old), I saw no organ pipe cacti or any type of cholla out there. Gunshight Wash has a lot of creosote bushes and even some trees, which is nice in the desert. If one went far back and to the right on the main road (which is actually little more than a wide dirt trail), one would find a large tree offering some shade. I think it would be nice to camp with the tree.

IMG_5706Throughout the day I spent in the area, I saw critters moving. There were so many quail, I felt as if I were at a Partridge Family reunion. Sometimes little rodents dashed out into the open as they moved from one hole in the ground to another.

The most exciting animal I saw all day was a coyote. I must have noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. When I looked over, I saw a full-grown coyote standing next to a bush. I looked at it and it looked at me, then it moved on.

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The cow in the trees.

When I read the information at the sign board, I noticed a note written by the camp host. It said campers should be nice to the cows in the campground because they are “paying customers.” Apparently one or more ranchers lease the land for grazing. I definitely saw fresh signs of bovine presence. While taking an early evening walk, something up ahead moved in the trees. I thought maybe it was another coyote, but it was a cow (or maybe a steer).

I only saw one other rig (a big 5th wheel) parked in the area. After dark, I could hear the generator humming over there, but I was far enough away that it was a quiet hum. I could hear vehicles passing on Highway 85, but the road wasn’t very busy, and I wasn’t disturbed. I think by camping farther back, one could eliminate some of the noise I encountered.

I think this is a fine camping spot. However, since I don’t need to be close to the National Monument and my vehicle has decently high clearance, if I were in this area, I would probably choose to camp on the BLM land right outside of Ajo.

The Free Campsite website (https://freecampsites.net/#!4448&query=sitedetails) gives 32.238056, -112.751396 as the GPS coordinates for this camping area.

I took all of the photos in this post.

Buckeye Hills Recreation Area

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I’d heard of Buckeye Hills Recreation Area (sometimes called Buckeye Hills Regional Park), and it sounded like an ok place to stay. The Divine Miss M stayed in the recreation area on her way to Ajo. She said it was fine, had pit toilets, and best of all, was free. The park had also been discussed in a couple van dweller and boondocker Facebook groups I belong too. I was passing through the area and decided I would camp there.

However, I wanted to confirm it was truly free before I arrived. I got online and did a search. The information I found grew more and more confusing.

The VisitPhoenix.com website (http://www.visitphoenix.com/listing/buckeye-hills-regional-park/5636/) says,

Park hours are Sun-Thu: 6am-8pm and Fri-Sat: 6am-10pm, 365 days a year.

How can people camp in a park that closes?

The azcentral.com website (http://azcentral.com/thingstodo/events/Buckeye_Hills_Regional_Park_735692500728) does not mention a thing about camping being allowed in the park.

The Free Campsites website (https://freecampsites.net/#!9956&query=sitedetails) showed plenty of reviews by people who’d camped at Buckeye Hills Regional Park, but I wanted something a little more official. I wanted to be sure there was no camping fee. I didn’t want to pay to camp, and I certainly didn’t want some authoritarian dude knocking on my door in the middle of the night telling me I couldn’t camp where I was parked or that I had to pay money to do so.

I did some research on the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation website (http://www.maricopacountyparks.net/). When I  clicked on “Buckeye Hills Regional Park,” I went to that park’s page (http://www.maricopacountyparks.net/park-locator/buckeye-hills-regional-park/). The page said nothing about camping, so I decided to call the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation main office. The woman who answered the phone in that office said I’d have to call the office at Estrella Mountain Regional Park to get more information about Buckeye Park. I was beginning to feel as if I were descending into some sort of bureaucratic limbo.

The woman who answered the phone at the Estrella Mountain Park office was very…crisp…just bordering on being rude. I asked if camping were allowed in Buckeye Hills Regional Park. She said yes. I asked if there were a fee to camp. She said yes. She said there was a $6 daily per car fee and a $12 per night fee for primitive camping. I asked her if that meant it cost $18 a night to camp. She said no, it only cost  $12 a night to camp. I asked her if there was a self-pay drop box, and she said yes.

Well to hell with that, I thought as I ended the call. I wasn’t going to pay $12 a night to camp.

Buckeye Hills Regional Park was on my way to where I decided to go, so when I saw the sign pointing the way to the entrance, I decided to go in and have a look around. I figured I could share my findings even if I didn’t sleep there.

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View from near the entrance of Buckeye Hills Regional Park.

I saw no sign saying there was a fee to enter the park. I saw no sign saying camping was or was not allowed. I saw no sign saying there was a fee for camping. I saw no self-pay drop box.

I saw the shooting range (signs of the fence proclaimed it as such) to the left of the entrance road. Past the shooting range was a road leading to some buildings. There were no signs saying visitors needed to go to those buildings to check in or pay a fee. I did not drive near those buildings. I followed the dirt road to the right and drove around the loop.

I saw a couple of windblown tents. As I drove deeper into the park, I saw a few travel trailers and 5th wheels parked far apart. I saw some fire rings and a few picnic tables with shade covers. (Most of the picnic tables did not have

One of the few and far between saguaros at Buckeye Hills Recreation Area.

One of the few and far between saguaros at Buckeye Hills Recreation Area.

shade covers.) Campsites were not numbered or officially designated in any way. It was one of those campgrounds where one could tell someone else had camped in a spot in the past, so one figures it must be ok to camp there today.

I can’t say the view was breathtaking or even all that pretty. There were a few saguaros around, but like shade covers, they were few and far between.

There were only a couple (maybe three) restrooms in the whole park. No signs labeled the restrooms,

This is the building housing pit toilets. Notice the lack of a sign.

This is the building housing pit toilets. Notice the lack of a sign.

so when nature began to call–and then shout–I hoped I was in the right place. I parked the van and went into the rather stinky, rather dirty little building housing a couple of pit toilets in stalls.

When I got back to the van, I almost immediately locked myself out and had to ask a family in a nearby converted school bus to help. (Read that story here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/03/30/good-samaritan/.)

While waiting for the son to bring tools, I told the father about my conversation with the woman in the office of Estrella Regional Park. He grinned and said there was no self-pay drop box and no one paid a fee to camp at Buckeye Hills. He said the campground is patrolled by sheriffs deputies (especially because of the shooting range on the grounds), and none of them ever collected fees. He said a person might get hassled for camping in the park for more than two weeks, and then in practically in the same breath told me about someone who seemed to be hunkered down in the spot he liked. He also suggested I not camp near the front restrooms, as he’d camped there a couple of nights before and 39 of the four dozen Easter eggs he’d stuffed with quarters and hidden for his kids had been stolen.

After I was reunited with the keys to the van, I drove around the rest of the park. I didn’t see anything that would make me want to pay $12 to spend the night, but for free, it looked ok.

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If you are interested in staying at Buckeye Hills Recreation Area, it is located at 26700 W. Buckeye Hills Drive in Buckeye, AZ. Free campsites.net gives the following GPS coordinates: 33.293172, -112.642783. There is no running water or electrical hookups in the camping area.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

Good Samaritan

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I broke the first rule of van life. I didn’t know where my keys were.

It only took about twenty seconds of not knowing where my keys were for life to begin to unravel.

I’d pulled in to a potential boondocking spot to check it out on my way somewhere else. As I drove around the main loop, nature called, then began to shout. I pulled into a spot near a pit toilet restroom and hustled inside. Once out, I slapped some hand sanitizer on my palms and climbed into the driver’s seat. Then I thought, I should take a few photos here, grabbed my camera, got out of the van, and slammed the door behind me.

Snap! Snap! I took the photos and turned around to get back in the van. The door was locked. I reached down for the cord around my neck on which my keys usually hang. No keys. That’s when I realized I didn’t know where my keys were.

It didn’t take me long to find the keys. I looked through the window on the driver’s side door and saw them, one sitting in the ignition, the other hanging on the ring. I cursed under my breath.

Maybe another door is unlocked, I thought. I walked around the van checking doors. Every door was locked. Every window was latched. There was no getting in.

This is what I think happened. I unlocked the van and got in the driver’s seat. I hit the power lock button, but didn’t close and latch the driver’s side door. I put the key in the ignition, but didn’t start the engine. I decided to take photos and grabbed my camera. At that moment, I thought I knew where my keys were, but in reality, I didn’t. I got out of the van, not realizing the door was going to be locked when I slammed it behind me.

So. I was locked out. My keys were in the van. My phone was in the van. All helpful phone numbers were in the van. Everything was in the van, except for me and my camera, and the camera was not going to do me any good.

Down from where I was parked was a school bus. It had a nice, conservative, professional looking paint job. When I’d first pulled in, I’d seen a man and a young teenage boy cooking at the fire ring. (Roasting marshmallows is what it looked like they were doing.) When I saw the man (thin, mid 30s, with short brown hair) come out of the bus, I walked over and politely asked him if he knew how to jimmy a lock. He grinned and said he didn’t have the right equipment, which made me think he could jimmy a lock if he had the right tools.

When I told him I’d locked myself out, he and his boy (about thirteen years old, lanky, short hair, and with a machete strapped to his side) walked over to the van.

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This is the back window that was open.

The man walked around the van, checked every window, tried every door, found it was locked tight, except for a window on one of the back doors. Unfortunately, there’s no way to open those back doors from inside even if one of us could have gotten an arm through the small opening at the bottom of the window.

The man and his son discussed different tools they might have that would work to jimmy the lock on one of my doors. Nothing the boy named seemed right to the dad.

At one point I asked if they had a coat hanger, and the man laughed and said, I live in an RV. I guess those marshmallows I thought I saw hadn’t been skewered on a coat hanger.

The man thought he could take the bolts out of the piece holding on the back window and remove the whole thing. He sent the boy to get tools. The boy came back not only with wrenches, but with two younger kids, a girl of about eleven, with long blond hair slung into a ponytail, and another boy, this one about nine with short, dirty-blond hair.

The man couldn’t get the bolts off. He sent the boy to get crescent wrenches. Those didn’t work either. The man tried the boy’s machete in the gap between window and body on the passenger side door, but that didn’t work either. The girl produced a Swiss Army knife with a tool the older boy thought might work, but that tool too proved inadequate.

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This photo shows the hinges holding the door to the van.

Just when I thought the man was going to admit defeat and tell me there was nothing he could do to help me, he wondered aloud if he could remove the pins from the hinges on the side door, thus enabling him to remove the door. He banged on the top pin, and to everyone’s delight, it moved. He sent the big boy to the bus for a hammer and chisel. It didn’t take long for him to remove the pins and take the door off its hinges. Some wires (electrical, probably) connected the door to the van body, so the man held the door while I tried to snake my (frankly, too fat) arm into the gap between the door and the van’s body. Then the man had the idea to open the latch on the window of the unhinged door. Once I stuck my hand in the open lower portion of the window, it was easy enough to reach under the cloth organizer hanging there and slide open the lock.

It didn’t take the man (who when it was all over introduced himself as Tim) long to get the pins back in the door’s hinges, at which point, I was on my way.

Thanks Tim (originally form Philly) for not giving up and leaving me stranded. You’re not just a good Samaritan, but an angel too, I think.

I took the photos in this post.