Tag Archives: boondocking

How to Save Money While Visiting Tourist Attractions

Standard

If you live nomadically, you have more freedom to visit tourist attractions across the U.S.A. From Arcadia National Park on the coast of Maine to Disneyland in Southern California, nomads can spend their days basking in natural beauty and having fun in amusement parks and at roadside attractions. Since fun often comes at a price, and nomads aren’t the only people on a tight budget, today I offer tips on saving money while visiting tourist attractions. The tips are aimed at nomads, but will be helpful for anyone trying to save money while on vacation.

#1 Visit in the off-season, Peak tourist season is usually Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend  when lots of kids are out of school, but some places (I’m looking at you, Southern Arizona!) have the opposite peak season because of the ultra-hot summers and the mild winters. Some places (like Taos, NM) have two peak seasons—one during family vacation season in the summer and another during ski season in the winter. Do some research on the places you want to visit to find out when they’re less likely to be busy.

Not only are attractions less busy in the off-season, you may find nearby accommodations and activities deeply discounted.  Some amusement and theme parks offer better deals on admission during slow times.

#2 Sleep cheap. Find free or super cheap camping near the places you want to visit. You can save a bundle by camping instead of staying in a hotel or motel. I’ve found free camping close to several national parks (Arches, Canyonlands, Carlsbad Caverns) using the Free Campsites  and Campendium websites. On occasions when I couldn’t find a free campsite, I’ve found campgrounds listed on those sites (like the Super Bowl campground right outside the Needles District of Canyonlands) with a nightly fee under $10.

If you want to splurge on a night out of your rig, but don’t want to spend a wad of cash, look into staying at a hostel. Available in both mega cities (several in  NYC, three in San Francisco, and the Phoenix Hostel and Cultural Center in Phoenix, just to name a few) and in smaller towns near ski areas (the Lazy Lizard in Moab, UT; the SnowMansion northeast of Taos, NM; the Santa Fe International Hostel in Santa Fe, NM) hostels offer budget rates on a place to get a shower and a bed for the night. Cheapest accommodations are usually in dorms, but some hostels offer private rooms with private baths and cabins.

#3 Keep your food cost down. Bring your own snacks and drinks into the attraction if you can. Most national parks and monuments allow visitors to bring in food and beverages, so stock up before you arrive and don’t pay gift shop prices for granola bars and trail mix. Many amusement and theme parks do allow visitors to bring in a limited number of bottles of water, small snacks, and medically necessary food.

If possible, cook for yourself instead of eating out. If you’re boondocking or staying in a campground, cooking for yourself will probably be part of your normal rubber tramp routine. If you’re sleeping in a hostel, use of a community kitchen is often included in the nightly fee. If you do stay in a hotel or motel and the room includes a microwave, take advantage of it to make a simple meal. Also take advantage of any free breakfast the hotel/motel offers, as well as any free coffee or tea available to start your day.

Remember: food will usually cost less in supermarkets than in convenience stores or small grocery stores, so stock up on food before you hit the road or you might end up spending a lot of money on food in a remote location.

#4 Buy all your gear before you head to a tourist attraction. Similarly, supplies are going to cost more in remote locations. Avoid paying gift shop and small town prices for sunscreen, insect repellent, propane, fire starter, and batteries by planning ahead. Save money by getting supplies before you leave civilization.

You may also find better prices on fuel for your rig if you buy it in a place where several gas stations compete for business. If you can even find fuel in the middle of nowhere, you’re going to pay more for it. Top off your tank before you leave civilization.

#5 If you’re going to visit several attractions in one area, look for a bundle pass that offers access to multiple places for a one-time price.

When my host family visited Utah in the summer of 2017, they planned to visit Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Natural Bridges National Monument. Admission to each park costs $15 to $30 per vehicle, but the Southeast Utah Parks Pass was only $55 and allowed unlimited access to the three attractions the family wanted to visit, plus Hovenweep National Monument. Because the pass was valid for 12 months, The Lady of the House used it again in April 2018 to get us into those places during our epic Arizona-Utah road trip.

#6 If the price of admission allows you to enter the attraction for multiple days, take advantage of this option. Most national parks are expensive to visit, usually $25 to $35 per vehicle (and probably more in some places), but most national parks I’ve visited have allowed visitors to enter for five days to a week after paying the admission fee. Spending $35 to visit an attraction seven days in a row is a much better deal than spending $35 to stay in the place for just a few hours. Especially if you have a free or cheap camping spot nearby, slow down and get your money’s worth by exploring a place for as many days as your admission fee allows.

#7 Find out if the place you want to visit offers birthday discounts or freebies. Out of Africa wildlife park in Camp Verde, AZ charges between $18.95 (for kids 3-12) and $33.95 (for adults, with discounts for seniors and active duty members of the military and veterans) for admission, but offers folks free visits any day during their birth month. While such birthday gifts may not be typical, it’s worth checking into at privately owned attractions.

#8 If you’re eligible for a federal senior pass or access pass, get it! The access pass is available for free to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are legally blind or permanently disabled. The senior pass is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents 62 years or age or older. The senior pass now costs $80, but that’s a one-time fee, and the pass is valid for the pass holder’s lifetime.

Both of these passes admit the pass holder and passengers (in a private, noncommercial vehicle) to national parks and other federally managed lands. These passes also provide 50% off camping fees in many campgrounds on public land. Even at $80, the senior pass could pay for itself after only a couple of visits to national parks or a few nights in a campground.

#9 Participate in activities included in the price of admission. When my friend and I visited Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Southern Arizona, we found ranger-led van tours were included in the cost of admission. We rode in a passenger van driven by a ranger while another ranger told us about the desert scenes we saw through the windows. On another day we returned to the monument and went on a hike led by a ranger. The ranger drove a group of us to the trailhead and we hiked together while the expert shared information about the plants and animals we saw.

The visitor centers at most national parks and monuments—and at some state parks too—have educational exhibits and movies. These exhibits and movies are offered at no extra charge and allow visitors to learn about the area at their own pace.

The visitor center should also have information about upcoming ranger talks or ranger-led activities. The last time I was at Sequoia National Park, I attended a free ranger talk about woodpeckers. It lasted about half an hour and was fun and informative.

#10 If you must have souvenirs, buy small, less expensive items. At only 51 cents each, pressed pennies come for a price that’s hard to beat. At the Utah national parks and monument gift shops I visited, quarter-sized tokens depicting famous landmarks were going for 99 cents each. I also found strips of six postcards at the same gift shops for $1.99 and individual postcards for about the same cost per card at a supermarket in Moab. Not only were these items the least expensive souvenirs, they take up very little of the limited space in my van.

If you’re attracted to larger (and usually overpriced) souvenirs like sweatshirts, water bottles, and coffee table books, ask yourself these questions before you buy: Do I need it? Where am I going to put it? Will I really use it? Can I really afford it? What will I have to give up in order to bring this into my life?

#11 If you’re visiting with kids, set spending limits before you walk into a gift shop or step up to the snack shack.  Offer options within the set price range, such as You can spend $5 on lunch, which means you can have a slice of pizza or a hot dog and fries. or You can spend $10 on a souvenir. Do you want the flashlight or the Smokey Bear compass?

If you and the kids are visiting national parks, collect all the Junior Rangers freebies available and do your best to convince the children the free stuff is better than anything for sale in the gift shop.

Being on a budget does not have to stop you from having fun. By planning ahead and using skills you already have as a rubber tramp (such as knowing how to find free camping and cooking for yourself) you can have fun and see gorgeous places without breaking the bank.

Blaize Sun has been a rubber tramp for almost a decade, but has been a tightwad for a lot longer than that. Blaize comes from a long line of tightwads, including a grandma who could squeeze a nickel so tight the buffalo would groan. Blaize knows how to have a good time on the cheap and firmly believes if she can do it, you can too!

I took all the photos in this post.

How to Be a Good Neighbor While Camping

Standard

Six Camping Tents in ForestWhether you’re boondocking or paying to stay in an actual campground, certain behaviors fall into “good neighbor” and “bad neighbor” categories. Wouldn’t you rather be remembered as a good neighbor instead of being cursed for being a bad neighbor?

I touched on some of these good neighbor tips in my post on the Fundamentals of Boondocking, but they are important enough to bear repeating. None of these behaviors are difficult, so please take a few extra minutes to do things to make the camping experience positive for everyone in the general vicinity.

#1 Give people space. As I said in the boondocking post, people go out into the wilderness for quiet and solitude, not to be under the armpit of another boondocker. Of course, there’s not much you can do to give your neighbors more space if you’re staying in a campground and you’re within the boudaries of your site. Just be sure you don’t overflow your site and move into someone else’s territory.

#2 Stay out of other people’s campsites. Go around other campsites instead of walking right through them. Teach your children to walk around other people’s campsites too.

#3 Keep control of your dog. Don’t let your dog wander through other campsites either, or anywhere in a Young woman walking with her dog on the beachcampground or boondocking area. A USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture, the governmental agency responsipble for the Forest Service) document states,

National forest guidelines require that dogs be on a six-foot leash at all times when in developed recreation areas and on interpretive trails.

Most privately owned campgrounds are also going to require dogs to be leashed, especially if the city or county the campground is in has a leash law.

Even if you are in an area that doesn’t require your dog to be on a leash, you still have to keep it under your control. Don’t let it wander out of your camp, and for goodness sake, if your dog defecates in a place where someone may stop in the mess, clean it up!

animal, animal photography, bear#4 Speaking of cleaning up, keep a clean campsite. You might wonder why anyone else would care if your camp is clean or dirty. Campsites strewn with food and/or garbage can attract insects, birds, raccoons, bears, and who-knows-what other critters. Scavengers aren’t going to end their foraging on the dirty campsite; they’ll make the rounds to see what other foodstuffs they can scare up. Don’t be the bad camper who draws pesky animals into the camping area.

(If you’re worried about bears in particular getting into your food, you might look into getting a bear canister.)

#5 Clean up some more before you leave and pick up all your trash. If there are garbage cans or dumpsters in the camping area, deposit your trash there. If you’re in an area with no receptacles for garbage, pack out all the trash you’ve packed in. Don’t leave trash (even partially burnt trash) in your fire ring; if no one removes your trash from the fire ring, it’s going to be an eyesore and a nuisance for the next campers. Pick up micro-trash! Twist ties, plastic bread bag clips, bottle caps, cigarette butts, and plastic bandages are trash too and need to be removed!

A true steward of the earth will pick up trash left behind by others.

#6 Don’t make a mess in restrooms. Learn how to use a pit toilet before you encounter one. If you do make a mess clean it up. The vast majority of camp hosts and fellow campers do not want to deal with urine and feces that don’t belong to them.

#7 If there are no restrooms in the area and you have to resort to burying your feces, do not bury your toilet paper! It doesn’t decompose as fast as you think it does. (I’ve read it can take a year or more for toilet paper left in the woods to break down, but the author of that blog post does not say where that information comes from.) It’s gross to encounter other people’s toilet paper if it’s dug up by animals or uncovered by rain or wind. When it comes to toilet paper, you should pack out what you pack in.

#8 Drive slowly. If the road is unpaved, driving slowly will cut down on dust. Even if the road is paved, drive Photo of White Bmw E46 slowly for safety’s sake. If a kid or an unleashed dog or a wild critter darts out in the road, you want to be able to stop in time to avoid a catastrophe.

#9 Don’t play music loud enough for others to hear it. Many people go camping to get away from the sound of civilization, including recorded music. If you’re camping, especially on public land, let the sounds of nature prevail.

#10 Don’t fly your drone over other people’s campsites. If you really want to be a good neighbor, don’t fly your drone while other people are around. Remember, many people who are camping want to hear the sounds of nature, not the buzzing of a drone. If you must fly your drone while others are around, at least have the courtesy to fly it away from campsites.

What do you do to be a good neighbor while camping? What do you wish other campers would do to be good neighbors? Leave your comments below.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/six-camping-tents-in-forest-699558/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/young-woman-walking-with-her-dog-on-the-beach-6359/https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-animal-photography-bear-big-213988/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-bmw-e46-under-cloudy-skies-707046.

Tire Disaster (Part 1)

Standard

2018, celebration, colorfulThe Man wanted to get back together. I was skeptical, but I agreed to meet him when my dog sitting gig was over on New Year’s Day. It was good to see him. We talked, then decided to camp on nearby BLM land.

I’d brought black-eyed peas and kale so we could eat for luck and money in the new year.

The tire on my van wasn’t entirely flat when I took this photo, but it wasn’t in any condition to roll down the road.

While I was preparing dinner, The Man looked over at my van and asked, Is your tire flat?

We investigated the back tire on the passenger side. It was not entirely flat, but it was definitely too low. It was getting dark, so The Man said he’d put the spare on in the morning and we’d drive the 25 miles to the nearest Discount Tire to have it repaired. In the meantime, he used the jack to lift the van off the rim so it wouldn’t be damaged from having too much weight resting on it.

I was in the van when I heard The Man cursing outside. When I asked him what was wrong, he said he had a flat too, also on the back passenger side. What are the chances of that happening? we asked each other, then went to bed.

We discovered the flat tire on the back of The Man’s minivan first.

In the morning, we lingered in the van until the sun camp up and the temperature rose. The Man was outside first. When I came around the front of my van, I saw him standing on the passenger side of his minivan, looking down in disbelief. The front tire on the passenger side was flat too! The chance of having three flat tires on two vans in less than 24 hours has to be exceedingly low.

We discovered the flat on the front of The Man’s minivan in the morning.

While the back tire that went flat on The Man’s minivan was old and in need of replacing, my tire and the one on the front of his vehicle were both only about two months old. As we realized later, all three punctures were in the sidewalls of the tires. In one of the flat tires on The Man’s van, we found small pieces of wood protruding from the puncture. WTF? We’re still not sure what caused the flats, but we ruled out roofing nails since none of the punctures were in the treads.

At this point, we decided after breakfast the first order of business would be for The Man to take the flat tire off my van and put on the spare. However, when the time came, he couldn’t get the spare tire off its mount. Two years ago when I bought new tires and asked the folks selling them to me to save the best of my old tires for my spare, they’d put the spare on the mount attached to my backdoor. I’d had no need for the tire since then, so I didn’t know the bolt holding on the tire was cross threaded. Nothing The Man did would budge that bolt.

We put on our walking shoes and headed to the nearest town—about twelve miles away—in hope of buying a can of Fix-a-Flat.

Fix-A-Flat S60430 Tire Inflator with Eco-Friendly Formula, (20 oz), 1.63

We were on a road with very little traffic, but when vehicles approached, we stuck out our thumbs. Most of the vehicles we saw were commercial trucks, which I never expected to stop, but the infrequent passenger cars we saw just rolled on by too.

Finally a young guy in a really clean, sporty car stopped for us. The Man and the dog got in the backseat, and I sat in the front. I tried to make friendly chitchat until I realized the young guy barely spoke English. I took a careful look around the car and found it extremely clean—no dust, no fast food wrappers, no cigarette butts. I did see a beverage can in the holder between the seats. I couldn’t quite see the can’s label, but something about it whispered beer. I glanced into the back and on the floor behind the driver’s seat was a twelve pack of Modelo. Our boy was a morning beer drinker. I hoped he wouldn’t crash the car.

Thankfully, he drove us safely to the Shell station by the interstate. He went on his way, and I thought about how angels sometimes drink beer for breakfast.

I asked The Man to go into the Shell station and choose the proper product for my flat tire while I stayed outside with the dog. Once he used his mechanical expertise to pick out the best product available, I’d go in with my debit card to pay. He wasn’t gone long. He said he’d left the can on the counter by the register and told the lady working that I’d be in for it shortly.

When I went in, the can of Fix-a-Flat was indeed on the counter. I told the lady working the register I’d take it, and she rang it up. I almost passed out when she told me the total was $17 and some cents! I suspected the stuff wouldn’t be cheap, but $17 seemed excessive. But what could I do? I needed the stuff, so I paid up. (I found out later, the same can of the stuff cost under $8 at Wal-Mart.)

So now that we had our Fix-a-Flat, we started our long walk back to our vans. Every time a passenger vehicle passed, we stuck out our thumbs, but it was a long time before anyone stopped.

This post turned out to be a long one, so I’m going to make it a two-part saga. Don’t worry, you won’t have to wait too long to read the rest; the conclusion will run tomorrow. On Wednesday, I’ll share what I learned from the experience and give you 10 Ways to Avoid and/or Prepare for Tire Disasters.

Image of fireworks courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/sky-lights-night-new-year-s-eve-66277/. I took the photos of the flat tires. The image of Fix-a-Flat is an Amazon associates link. If you click on that image, I’ll get paid a small advertising fee on anything you put in your cart and buy during your shopping sessession.

10 Ways to Save Money on the Road

Standard

Living on the road is certainly less expensive than paying rent or maintaining a sticks-n-bricks, but living on the road still costs money. Lots of rubber tramps and nomads survive on a fixed income and would like to see their money go farther. Today I offer you ten tips for saving money while living on the road.

Obey the speed limit and don’t waste your money paying a speeding ticket.

#1 Obey the law and avoid costly fines. I don’t like authority figures telling me what to do either, but getting a ticket is expensive. Don’t exceed the speed limit. Feed the parking meter. Don’t park in a spot reserved for folks with disabilities unless you can display the proper paperwork. Don’t park in any spot your rig isn’t supposed to be in. Don’t drive in the carpool lane (aka High Occupancy Vehicle or HOV lane) if you’re the only person in your vehicle.

#2 Improve your gas mileage. Keep your tires inflated to the correct pressure. Don’t overload your rig with unnecessary weight. Change your air filter regularly. Driving the speed limit (or slower!) will help you in this regard too. (See Car Bibles for more tips on improving gas mileage.)

#3 Use gas price apps to find the lowest cost per gallon in the area you’re in. I’m not a big fan of driving across town to save 20 cents, but maybe you can plan your route to save on fuel. A 2014 article from CNN Tech suggests GasBuddy, Gas Guru, Waze, Dash, and MapQuest Gas Prices.

#4 If you boondock in remote areas for weeks at a time, don’t make daily trips into civilization. Go to your camping spot with supplies to last a week. Do a supply run (paired with fun town activities, if you like) at the end of the first week, and get enough of everything to last until you’re ready to move to your next destination. You’ll save money on fuel, and you won’t have as many chances to make impulse purchases.

#5 If you’re in the market for a rig think about gas mileage. A minivan will probably get better gas mileage than a conversion or cargo van. A Class B motorhome will probably get better gas mileage than a Class A. A small Class C will probably get better gas mileage than a large Class C. A Prius will probably get better gas mileage than anything else.

#6 Do regular maintenance. It will probably cost less to have something maintained than repaired, and a breakdown may require a costly tow. Even during a routine oil change, mechanics usually look around for obvious problems.

#7 Learn how to do your own routine maintenance and make basic repairs. Check and top off your fluids. Change your oil. Replace your brake pads. Change your air filter. You’ll learn more about the mechanics of your rig and you won’t have to pay someone else for the cost of labor.

#8 Compare insurance rates. Does one company offer lower prices than another? Just remember, sometimes lower cost means less protection.

Can you get a better rate by using a different address for your domicile?  I saved about $200 a year by using the address of one family member over another as my permanent residence.

Can you eliminate options to save a few bucks? I pay a little extra for roadside assistance through my insurance, but if I had AAA or God Sam Club coverage, I’d probably drop the roadside assistance option on my insurance policy.

#9 Invest in a large propane tank rather than the green one-pound tanks. I resisted this tip for a long time because those small green propane tanks are just so convenient. However, now I’m a believer in using the bigger tanks. They’re a better deal than the one-pound tanks even if you do the Blue Rhino exchange (available at Wal-Mart, Walgreens, supermarkets, hardware stores, and convenience stores). You save even more if you refill the tank at places like U-Haul, Tractor Supply, AmeriGas refill and refueling stations, and RV parks.

#10 Seek out free and inexpensive entertainment. You really can have a lot of fun for little money, especially in cities and town.

This is public art stands on Main Street in Mesa, AZ.

Look at public art. I especially like murals, but sculpture can be fun too.

Public libraries often offer free admission to movies, concerts, and public speakers, and they sometimes have galleries where patrons can look at art for free. Most libraries also offer free internet access, and even if you don’t have a library card, you can sit around for hours reading books and magazines at no cost to you.

Many museums offer free admission on a designated day once a week or once a month. Plan your trip to an area to coincide with free admission to a museum you want to visit.

Parks are nice free places to hang out. Cook a meal at a picnic table. Walk around the park for exercise. Sit under a tree and read. Especially in the summer, parks often offer plays, concerts, and movies at no charge.

If you’re more of a boondocker and less of a city dweller, get out and enjoy the natural beauty where you are. It’s free to hear the birds sing. Go for a hike or a brisk walk. Watch the sunrise or the sunset. Heck, watch then both. It won’t cost you a dime.

Blaize Sun has been mostly on the road since 2009. She’s traveled the U.S. with very little money, so she’s had to figure out ways to make every penny count.

Please share your favorite money saving tips in the comments.

Blaize Sun took the photos in this post.

10 Places for Blacktop Boondocking

Standard

Boondocking is also known as dry camping (or primitive camping when folks are out on public land). My friend Coyote Sue calls it blacktop boondocking when she’s dry camping in a parking lot. Blacktop boondocking is what folks do in a city or town so they don’t have to pay to stay over and see the sights. People who’ve been on the road for a while may have already heard of all the options I’m going to give, but for folks who are new to this life and aren’t sure where to stay for free in or near urban locations, here are ten places you might want to consider for blacktop boondocking.

#1 Wal-Mart  By now surely everyone on the road knows that Wal-Mart is often an option for overnight parking for van dwellers and other nomads. Be aware that not every Wal-Mart allows overnight parking. Each store sets its own policies, and some city ordinances prohibit blacktop boondocking anywhere in town. Call ahead and ask permission before you set your heart on overnighting at Wal-Mart.

#2 Truck stops/Travel Centers  Truck stops (sometimes known as “travel centers” in an attempt to avoid an image of shadiness) are by far my favorite places for blacktop boondocking. Truck stops have everything a nomad needs: gasoline or diesel, restrooms, coffee, snacks, showers, soda, sometimes even WiFi. People come and go all day and night and even hang out for hours at a time to get some rest or wait for their appointed pickup or delivery time. A van or RV parked at most truck stops overnight is not going to look weird at all. If you’re nervous about blacktop boondocking at a travel center, call ahead and get permission. I’ve stayed at truck stops across the country and only a handful have said no when I asked to stay. I’ve never once been asked to leave a truck stop.

addiction, bet, betting#3 Casinos  I don’t stay in casino parking lots very often, but Coyote Sue does frequently. Not only does she have an actual Class C, while I only have a van, she goes in and does a little gambling and maybe eats at the buffet. I don’t enjoy gambling, so I don’t go to casinos for fun. I could probably blacktop boondock in at least some casino parking lots, but I usually find another place to stay. However, if you enjoy what casinos have to offer, why not spend the night?

Some casinos offer actual RV parks and do charge for overnight parking with all the amenities. If you want to stay in a casino’s parking lot and not pay for hookups, call ahead to make sure you will be allowed to do so.

#4 Rest areas  Interstates offer rest areas, as do some major highways. You can look at a map of interstate rest areas online or look for the symbol for them on your paper atlas. Different states have different laws concerning overnight parking and length of stay at rest areas, so do your research before you plan to blacktop boondock at a rest stop.

#5 Cracker Barrel Restaurants  I’ve never stayed overnight at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, but it’s mentioned as an option often enough to make me think the corporate office is ok with travelers blacktop boondocking in their parking lots. Again, individual restaurants may make up their own rules, and local ordinances may vary. Call ahead for permission when you’re planning your route. If you need dinner anyway, and it’s in your budget, go in and eat.

#6 Bass Pro Shop and Cabela’s  Both of these chains of huge sporting goods stores are mentioned as places were RVers can stop for the night. I’ve never stayed at either. The same caveats I gave for Cracker Barrel apply here: rules at individual stores may vary, possibly because of local ordinances. Call ahead.

#7 Motel Parking Lots  I don’t frequently blacktop boondock in motel parking lots, but I have done it in a pinch when I was too tired to drive farther and had no other options. If you’re going to sleep in your rig in a motel parking lot, I recommend you pick a chain, but not a fancy one. You want to find a parking lot that’s big enough so your rig doesn’t stand out. Don’t park right in front of a room and consider staying out of sight of the office. Don’t get in anyone’s way, and the sleepy desk clerk is less likely to bother you. You could also try asking permission and/or slipping the desk clerk a few bucks.

art, beverage, black and white#8 Denny’s Restaurants  Again, this is a place I have parked overnight before but only in a pinch. I wouldn’t count on every Denny’s in every town being an option. Once I had luck parking between a Denny’s and a 24-hour supermarket with the thought that if anyone was paying attention, they would think I was either in one place or the other. Another time, I caught a few winks at a Denny’s that had a parking lot big enough that I was able to park on the outer edges and not call attention to myself. In both cases, in the morning I went inside and had breakfast, or at least a cup of coffee.

#9 24-Hour Grocery Stores  I don’t know of any supermarket chains that have a corporate policy of allowing travelers to park overnight, but stealthy boondockers might be able to get away with spending the night in a grocery store parking lot depending on the climate of the town. I’d suggest parking on the outskirts of the parking lot so anybody paying attention will think the vehicle belongs to an employee on the graveyard shift.

Cars in Illuminated City at Night#10 Residential Areas  While you probably won’t be in a parking lot if you’re spending the night in a residential area, you’ll still be on the asphalt, so I think it counts as blacktop boondocking. The trick to overnighting in a residential area is to find a spot where other vehicles are parked on the street. If you are the only vehicle parked on the street, nearby homeowners may get suspicious and call the cops. Also, don’t block any driveways. I know from experience that it’s not a good idea, even if someone else who lives on the street says it’s not a problem.

If you’re in a college town, try parking on an off-campus street where parking is legal. You may have to park early in the evening or afternoon to get such a spot, and it may be easier to blend in if you’re in a car, minivan, or passenger van.

Try parking on the street near a large apartment complex. Often large apartment complexes don’t have room in the official parking area for all residents and visitors, and people end up parking on the public streets close to the complex. If you can’t find a large apartment complex, look for duplexes or four-plexes where even some of the residents can’t fit in the driveway. In a perfect scenario, you’ll find a street with enough vehicles parked so yours doesn’t stand out but not so crowded that you’re taking a coveted spot from someone who actually lives there.

The Rubber Tramp Artist is making suggestions here, but is not responsible for your well-being and safety. Only you are responsible for your well-being and safety. When in doubt about where you can blacktop boondock safely and legally, call ahead and ask permission.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/addiction-bet-betting-casino-5258/https://www.pexels.com/photo/art-beverage-black-and-white-breakfast-266174/ and  https://www.pexels.com/photo/cars-in-illuminated-city-at-night-257711/.

10 Fundamentals for Boondockers

Standard

So you want to save money by camping in a place where you don’t have to pay? Perhaps you want to see natural beauty that might not be present in a private campground. Maybe you need a little more elbow room than you can get in a commercial RV park that’s more like an RV parking lot. For free camping in scenic locations with plenty of space between you and the next rig, you might want to try boondocking (also known as “dry camping” or “primitive camping”).

If you’ve never been boondocking before, it might seem complicated. Where can you camp legally and safely? How can you find the good spots? Should you stay in a town or venture into the wilderness? Have no fear! In this article, I’ll cover ten fundamentals of boondocking so you can make decisions about where to go. I’ll also give you suggestions that will help you have a great time once you get where you’re going.

#1 Before you head out, determine how long you want your boondocking experience to last. An overnight stop on the way to somewhere else will be different from a relaxing two-week stay in nature.

#2 For an overnight stay, decide on the town where you want to take a break and look into what businesses in the area allow overnight parking. Businesses to check into include Wal-Mart; truck stops (Flying J, Pilot, Love’s, TravelCenters of America, Petro, and Bosselman, plus independently owned truck stops); Bass Pro Shop; and Cracker Barrel. Always call a business ahead of time and ask if overnight parking is allowed. If you’re going to be told no, it’s better to know ahead of time than to wake up to a knock on your rig at 2am.

If you can’t find a business that will allow you to park overnight, check for free camping in town or county parks. I’ve camped for free at the county fairgrounds in Blue Earth, Minnesota and the town park in Vermillion, South Dakota.

If all else fails, look online or in your atlas (you are traveling with a paper atlas, right?) for highway or interstate rest areas. Some states have limits on how long folks are allowed to stay in rest areas (when I was traveling in California in 2012, it was eight hours), and there may be signs saying “No Camping” (which I interpret as “don’t pitch a tent”) but as their name states, rest areas are there so drivers can rest and avoid accidents from falling asleep at the wheel. (The Interstate Rest Areas website has a complete state-by-state breakdown of overnight parking rules.)

There are also apps available so you can find out on your phone what rests stops will fill your needs. The free USA Rest Stops app helps find rest stops on interstates as well as U.S. and state highways.

#3 If you’re staying in a business parking lot or at a rest area, know parking lot etiquette. Keep bodily fluids out of the parking lot. Keep your pet(s) under control and clean up after them. Dispose of trash properly. No yelling or honking in the middle of the night.

Most National Forests offer plenty of places for boondocking.

#4 For longer stays, do plenty of research before you set out. Read blog posts written by other boondockers. There’s lots of public land in the United States where people can camp for free. Look for Bureau of Land Management areas, Bureau of Reclamation land, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, and Corps of Engineering land where boondocking is allowed.

Gazetteers show public land and the roads that will take you to remote, secluded locations. Benchmark Atlases show elevation, and DeLorme Atlas & Gazateers are also highly respected. 

#5 For both overnight and extended stays, the Free Campsites website is your best friend. This website allows you to search for free and cheap campsites by typing a location into a search bar. Once you have a list of camping areas near your destination, you can look at the details for each area. Folks who have actually camped in the area can leave reviews and photographs. Once you pick a spot, you can click on a “get directions” link which will take you directly to Google Maps to help you navigate to your destination. I’ve camped in free campgrounds across the United States that were found through Free Campsites; I can’t say enough good things about the website

#6 If you’re boondocking on public land, be prepared to have no amenities. Boondockers must be ready to provide their own electricity from solar panels or generators or to do without. Boondockers must carry in their own water for drinking and washing. Most boondocking areas offer no showers, no toilets (pit, flush, or otherwise), no dump stations, and no trashcans. Before you set out, prepare to take care of all your needs while on public land.

I left nothing but footprings.

#7 Practice “leave no trace” camping while on public land. Camp where others have camped before you, not on pristine land. Pick up your microtrash, and don’t leave trash in your fire ring. If you pack it in, be prepared to pack it out. Leave nothing but footprints.

#8 Research fire bans and fire permits while you’re still in civilization. If you plan to have a campfire, find out if it’s legal to do so before you get out of internet range. If you need a fire permit, get one before you go out into the wilderness. A ranger might not be sympathetic to ignorance of a fire ban or need for a fire permit while writing you a ticket for your illegal campfire.

#9 Don’t park too close to other boondockers. Give everyone plenty of elbow room, especially if you have pets or a generator you’re going to be running a lot. People go out into the wilderness for quiet and solitude, not to be under the armpit of another boondocker. If you’re scared to be out in nature alone, park where you can see other people without being right up on them.

#10 If you’re out in nature for an extended period of time, don’t forget to have fun. Watch a sunset. Take a walk. Relax and enjoy your free camping experience.

I took this photo while boondocking on public land.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

Free Camping Near Kingman, AZ

Standard

I was making the trip from Las Vegas, NV to Phoenix in early December 2016, and I considered an overnight stop somewhere in between. I got on the Free Campsites website to look for a place and found a listing for a spot on Highway 93 east just before Kingman. The listing didn’t say who administered the land. BLM? Forest Service? Department of Transportation? No clue.

I ended up getting an early start the morning I left Vegas. Even with a stop at the Taco Bell in Boulder City for coffee and breakfast burritos, I was still on target to hit Kingman early in the day. I decided I didn’t really want to boondock just for the sake of boondocking. Besides, I was wide awake from the coffee. I knew I could easily make it all the way to Phoenix well before dark.

However, since I was passing right by the free camping spot, I thought I’d stop there and see how it looked.

Just as I’d seen during my Google Maps research, there is a turn lane with giant arrows leading right to the camping area. It’s the only big turn lane with arrows I noticed that wasn’t either in a town or leading to some business. This turn lane must often make drivers wonder, Where the heck does this go?

When I pulled in, I saw a small sign saying the area is a  Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund Project. I saw no signs saying people couldn’t camp there or park overnight.

According to the Arizona Heritage Alliance web page,

Formed in 1992, the Arizona Heritage Alliance is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is guided by a Board of Directors drawn from a broad base of outdoor sports, environmental conservation, and historic preservation organizations that helped pass the 1990 statewide voter initiative creating the Heritage Fund.

Our mission is to preserve and enhance Arizona’s historic, cultural and natural heritage.  We accomplish our mission by actively:

  • Protecting the integrity and voter intent of the Game and Fish Heritage Funds.
  • Monitoring state legislative and agency activity.
  • Pursuing sustainable and dedicated funding sources for Arizona’s historic, cultural and natural initiatives, programs and activities.
  • Educating people of Arizona about the benefits of Arizona’s wildlife, open space, parks and historic and cultural resources.

The area does have a pit toilet in one of those Forest Service style buildings (known as a CXT in the pit toilet business), but I didn’t get out of the van to check on cleanliness and toilet paper availability.

There are no actual campsites in this area. There’s a strip of road to drive on, and it seems people can park their rigs anywhere off the roadway. When I passed through, there was one camper parked to the side of the roadway near the entrance, so yes, people do boondock there.

I don’t remember seeing a water spigot or a trashcan in the area. If I were going to stay in this spot, I would plan to bring water and pack out trash.

This photo shows a view from the camping area.

The area is not super beautiful, but it’s pretty for a desert region right off a highway. Because it is a desert, there aren’t many trees, which means not much shade. This spot would probably be nice in winter, but hot as hell in the summer.

This spot would be good for boondocking if a driver wanted to stop overnight on a trip between Vegas and Phoenix or if someone wanted to explore the Kingman area.

I thought maybe next time I traveled on Highway 93, I’d actually spend the night in this area, but an April 2017 review on the Free Campsites webpage says it is “is soon to be made into day use only.” I’ll check it out next time I pass by, then issue a full report.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

Free Camping Along the Rio Hondo

Standard

The best free camping in the Taos, New Mexico area is tucked between the Rio Hondo and the Ski Valley Road.

Turn east at the stop light locals call “the Old Blinking Light.” Follow Highway 150 to the village of Arroyo Seco. Pass the Taos Cow on the right or stop for coffee, sandwiches, or locally made ice cream. Right past Francesca’s Clothing Boutique, follow the road as it curves to the left. Pass the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, then the road will curve to the right. After the post office, the road straightens out. When the choice becomes left, right, or off the mountain, go right. When you start seeing water flowing on the right, you’ll know you’re close.

There are three official campgrounds along the Rio Hondo: Lower Hondo, Cuchilla de Medio, and Italianos. Lower Hondo and Italianos have pit toilets, but I’m not sure about Cuchilla de Medio. When we stayed at Italianos Campground in June 2017, the inside of the toilet was filthy, and no toilet paper was provided. All of thes campgrounds are free, but offer no amenities other than pit toilets and the occassional picnic table. There are no trashcans and no water other than what’s in the river/stream/creek. The stay limit is 14 days within a 45 day period. The camping spots aren’t designated, so don’t look for numbered poles or timbers separating campsites. Just find a place to snug in a vehicle and/or a tent or a camper and leave the roadway open.

Campers who don’t need the pit toilets don’t need to limit themselves to the signed campgrounds. There are camping spots all along the water. Look for driveways going off into the trees and firerings constructed from stones by previous campers.

It’s amazing to me that I can be up in the desert, surrounded by sage and precious little shade, then drive 15 miles and find myself surrounded by tall pines and cottonwoods. Even on the hottest summer day, the Rio Hondo is icy cold. When I’m hot, I tell myself I”m going to strip down to my underwear and stretch out in the water, but in reality, I’ve only ever managed to go in ankle deep. In less than thirty seconds, my bones ache from the cold water, and the rest of me feels cool and refreshed. If I get hot again while I’m there, my feet go back in.

On Saturday afternoon in June, The Man and I were looking for a camping spot along the Rio Hondo. As we drove up toward the Ski Valley, we saw spot after spot taken both in the official campgrounds and in the boondocking areas. I was beginning to lose hope when we saw a poorly maintained dirt driveway leading down to the river. I pulled the van off the road, and we peered through the trees. No one was down there!

I slowly nosed the van down the rutted, potholed driveway. At the bottom of the driveway, we found two stone firerings and a nice, flat area to park the van. We had our own lovely, secluded waterfront campsite.

I took all these photos in this post.

 

 

The Last Rest Area in New Mexico

Standard

The Man and I were in Las Vegas, NM, and we decided to go to Trinidad, CO. We got on I-25 and headed north.

It was late afternoon by the time we got started, and I was tired of driving well outside of Raton. I knew we had the Raton Pass ahead of us, and I didn’t want to make that mountain crossing in the dark. I’d looked at the map before we left Las Vegas and seen the last rest area in New Mexico on I-25 was less than twenty miles south of Raton. I needed to pee anyway, so I decided to stop at the rest area and check it out.

I knew there was a Wal-Mart in Raton, and we could probably park there overnight. However, I wanted to cook dinner, and I always feel weird cooking in the parking lots of stores. Even if we decided not to spend the night at the rest area, we could certainly cook dinner there. No one tends to blink an eye at people having a picnic at a rest stop.

I pulled into the reast area on the east side of the highway and found a spot to park. I walked briskly to the toilets while The Man took the dog out. The restroom was really clean, with flush toilets and sinks complete with running water for hand washing.

When I went back outside and had a better look around, I realized everything in the rest area was really clean. There was no litter on the ground and no graffitti.

In addition to the building housing the restrooms, there are several covered picnic table there.  The picnic pavillions have low stone walls to block the wind and there are many trees throughout the rest stop, making the area pretty and providing shade.

As I looked around, I saw The Man and the dog in a flat, treeless area at the back of the rest area, so I walked out to meet them. Beyond the flat area were train tracks. As we stood there, we heard a train a comin’. It got closer, and I saw it was an Amtrack.

It’s a people train! I exclaimed. I stood tall and waved vigorously as the train passed. I couldn’t tell if anyone waved back–or if indeed there were passengers on the train–but I had a great time waving and imagining  passengers wondering who I was and why I was there.

We walked back to prepare our dinner of eggs and cheese and onions and zucchini on tortillas. We decided to cook next to the van instead of hauling all our supplies and equipmemt down to one of the picnic pavillions. In minutes, we had a table and our stove set up, and onions were sizzling in our cast iron skillet.

After eating and doing my share of the cleanup, I didn’t want to drive anymore. Let’s stay here tonight, I suggested, and The Man agreed.

While the rest area is developed and well-lit, it seemed better than a Wal-Mart parking lot. Maybe the trees helped. Maybe it wasn’t quite so hot because there wasn’t so much asphalt. Maybe I was just dog tired. In any case, I slept well, despite the idling big rigs parked rigth behind us and the comings and goings of drivers who needed to stretch their legs or take a bathroom break in the middle of the night.

In the morning, I snapped a few photos. I’ve noticed there’s often at least one historic marker at New Mexico rest areas. This stop has a marker with information abouth the nearby Clifton House site. According to Wikipedia,

The Clifton House was an important overnight stage stop on the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail. It was located in Colfax County, New Mexico about six miles south of Raton, New Mexico, on the Canadian River. The site is located at mile marker 344 of U.S. Route 64, just off of exit 446 on Interstate 25.

 

The other side of the marker shows a “Points of Interest” map of the area, and I saw we were quite close to the mountain branch of the Santa Fe  Trail. Neat!

When I finished taking photos, I found The Man and the dog were ready to go. I climbed into the driver’s seat, and we headed to Raton in search of coffee.

We crossed the Raton Pass and stopped at the scenic overlook on our way to Trinidad.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

Elephant Butte Lake State Park

Standard

One day when I was in the computer lab, The Man and Jerico walked over to Wal-Mart. Once they got there, The Man needed a place to leave Jerico while he went inside to do his shopping. He attached Jerico’s leash to a tree and told the fellow in the RV parked nearby that he’d be back for the dog shortly. That’s how The Man met Mike.

I met Mike a few days later when The Man and I returned to the Wal-Mart. Mike seemed like a nice guy, but he was one of those talkers who seldom quiets long enough for anyone else to squeeze in a word or two. He was in his late 50s, maybe early 60s, and chain smoked while he talked. As far as we could tell, he stayed in the driver’s seat of his old, battered motorhome all day and watched the world of the Wal-Mart parking lot unfold.

On a subsequent visit, Mike told The Man he was waiting to be able to go back to Elephant Butte Lake State Park. The park allows campers to stay for 14 days, after which they must leave for at least a week. Mike was waiting out the time he couldn’t be at the park.

Mike had a New Mexico State Parks Pass. For $180 a year, New Mexico residents can buy this pass allowing them free developed (non-electric/no sewer) camping at any New Mexico state park. (The cost of the pass for residents of other states is $225.) The pass is good for 12 months from the month of purchase. (Learn more about the New Mexico State Parks Pass and/or order one here: https://newmexicostateparks.reserveamerica.com/showPage.do?name=common&commonPath=/htm/NM_AnnualPasses.html.)

Pass holders can stay at any New Mexico state park for up to two weeks before they have to leave, but they can go directly from one state park to another. I asked Mike if he ever went to nearby Caballo Lake State Park (15 miles from the Wal-Mart) or Percha Dam State Park (23 miles from the Wal-Mart). He said because of his motorhome’s poor gas milage, he couldn’t afford to drive to these parks. Instead, he sat at Wal-Mart in the days between his weeks at Elephant Butte Lake.

A couple days before he was to go to Elephant Butte Lake, Mike invited us to visit him there. He actually had two pass cards, one for his motorhome and one for a passenger vehicle. The second pass would go to his buddy who shared the campsite with him, but the buddy wouldn’t be in town for a few more weeks. In the meantime, we could use it to get into the park.

Mike really wanted us to camp on his site with him for two weeks. We considered the option, but ultimately decided not to take him up on his offer. The Man really didn’t want to pack up his entire camp, nor did he want to leave all his belongings unattened on BLM land for one night, much less for two weeks. I know Mike was disappointed when we showed up and said we were only going to stay a few hours. We could tell he was a really lonley guy. We hoped he thought our short visit was better than no visit at all.

According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant_Butte_Reservoir),

Elephant Butte Reservoir is a reservoir on the Rio Grande in the U.S. state of New Mexico, 5 miles (8.0 km) north of Truth or Consequences. This reservoir is the 84th largest man-made lake in the United States and the largest in New Mexico by total surface area…The reservoir is also part of the largest state park in New Mexico, Elephant Butte Lake State Park.[1]

The name “Elephant Butte” refers to a volcanic core similar to Devils Tower in Wyoming. It is now an island in the lake. The butte was said to have the shape of an elephant lying on its side.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park offers primitive (dry) camping on the shores of the lake, as well as developed camping with and without electric and sewer hookups. The sites in developed areas include a covered picnic table, and drinkable water is available throughout the park. (To learn more about the park, go here: http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD/ElephantButteLakeActivities.html.)

There are multiple restrooms in the park, some with pit toilets, some with traditional flush toilets. In addition to restrooms, there are shower houses throughout the park. The way things are set up, I don’t think anyone would notice (or care) if someone from the primitive camping area used the facilities when necessary.

After visiting with Mike and some other Elephant Butte Lake campers for a couple of hours, I drove the van over to the nearest open showerhouse. (Our visit was in February 2017, before all the showerhouses were open for the busy summer season.) The Man went to the men’s side of the building, and I went to the women’s.

It was a standard New Mexico state park shower. I had to push a button on the wall to make the water flow. After a few minutes, the water stopped flowing, and I had to push the button again. The water was warm but never got hot. I was chilly the entire time I was in there.

It wasn’t a great shower, but it was a free shower, and to this van dweller, a free shower means a lot.

Panoramic view of Elephant Butte Lake

I took the photos in this post.