Tag Archives: Bureau of Land Management

10 Fundamentals for Boondockers

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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 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 the FreeCampsites website 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.”

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.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

 

 

Reconnoitering in the Desert

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Last week my friend and I walked around the desert, looking for a place to make a good camp on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. While we were walking around, I took photos of some of the things I saw.

This photo shows the old car we found in the wash. It’s very rusty.

The most unusual thing we saw was the rusted remains of an old automobile. Believe me, the car was not in a place it could have easily been driven to. In fact, it was in a place that seemed impossible to drive to. It was high up in a wash, in a place I think no motorized vehicle could go.

How do you think that car got here? I asked my friend.

I dunno, he drawled.

I think it was washed here in a flood! I said. How else could it have gotten here?

The car seemed old, not just because it was rusty. The design of the car seemed old. I think the car had been sitting there for years, decades even. I don’t think anyone is going to drag the car out of the wash. I think the car is going to sit there until it becomes one with the earth.

This is the front of the car we found in the wash. It looks really old to me.

Wow! Look at that bug! I said when I saw a beetle sunning itself on a small rock. I like to see creatures hanging out in nature.

We poked at the beetle a little, just to see it move, then we felt bad about disturbing it. It tried to hide in the shadow of the surrounding rocks. I tried to move it back to the sun where I’d first found it.

Later, I almost stepped on it as I skidded down from a higher level where I’d climbed.

Watch out for our little friend, my friend said to me, but I thought he was talking about the dog. Luckily, I didn’t step on the beetle, although I was pretty out of control at the moment, waving my arms and trying to get down the steep, rocky incline without falling.

Here’s the rock formation I’d climbed up to look at more closely:

I stood at the base of it and looked at the openings in the rock. I think it was full of packrat nests. I saw what I thought was feces, and got away from it fast. I don’t need any New Mexico plague, thank you very much.

I think the formation was made of sandstone. It felt gritty to the touch, and seemed as if it could easily disintegrate or wash away. Although at first I thought camping up against it might make for a good campsite, we ended up deciding it was too unstable to trust with our lives.

After a couple of hours of walking around, we found a spot my friend liked. It was mostly flat and mostly secluded. He set up his tent and hauled his things over while I reorganized the van.

As I left in the late afternoon, I saw the sunset in my sideview mirror.

It was a lovely end to a lovely day in the desert.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

Abandoned Mine

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Before I got to Quartzsite for the Rubber Tramps Rendezvous (RTR), my new friend Iggy told me about the hikes he’d taken the year before near the site of the RTR and the abandoned (and not so abandoned) mines he’d discovered out on that BLM land. It sounded cool and interesting, and I said I wanted to see an abandoned mine too. Iggy and I went on a hike the day after we both arrived, but we had to turn around to beat the sunset before we ever got to a mine. After that, I was always too tired or too busy to go hiking with Iggy, and then the RTR ended and we went our separate ways.

I went to Ajo, AZ next and spent a few days boondocking on the BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop. One morning, as I was driving down the loop, headed into town, I saw a sign that said Abandoned Mine. What? I thought about Iggy of course, so that afternoon after parking the van in my spot, I walked down the road to see the mine. I didn’t have to hike or climb or avoid cacti to get to the mine. It was right next to the road. I took a couple of photos, and that was that.

The most interesting thing I learned was that Arizona has a state mine inspector. Who knew?

Before I wrote this post, I decided to do a quick Google search on abandoned mines on BLM land. I learned a few things on a couple of BLM webpages too.

According to a Bureau of Land Management webpage (http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/more/Abandoned_Mine_Lands.html),

BLM maintains an inventory of known abandoned mine lands on public lands. Most of the sites are abandoned hardrock mines. As of April 18, 2014, the inventory contained nearly 46,000 sites and 85,000 features. Approximately 23% of the sites have either been remediated, have reclamation actions planned or underway, or do not require further action.  The remaining 80% require further investigation and/or remediation. [Emphasis theirs]

Here are some pertinent questions and answers from http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/more/Abandoned_Mine_Lands/frequently_asked_questions.html:

What is an abandoned mine?

The AML [Abandoned Mine Lands] program addresses hardrock mines on or affecting public lands administered by BLM, at which exploration, development, mining, reclamation, maintenance, and inspection of facilities and equipment, and other operations ceased as of January 1, 1981…with no intention of resuming active operation.

For many abandoned mines, no current claimant of record or viable potentially responsible party exists.

What are examples of AML hazards?

  • Physical hazards: Unsecured AML sites pose a risk of death or serious injury by falling down open mine shafts.
  • Human health hazards: Exposure to toxic gases and chemicals, cave-ins, explosives, and water hazards endanger human health.
  • Environmental hazards: Water contaminated by mine tailings threatens nearby communities and destroys habitats.

Which types of sites become cleanup priorities?
The decision is made on a site-by-site basis, but typically the following factors are taken into consideration when determining priorities.

For physical safety sites:

  • Safety: Death or injury has occurred;
  • Public use: Have high public visitation;
  • Accessibility: Are easily accessible;
  • Population: Are located nearby populated areas;
  • Cost: Have cost-effective partnerships available.

What are some of the ways BLM addresses hazards at abandoned mine sites?
BLM addresses physical safety hazards associated with abandoned mine sites by:

  • Posting warning signs and fencing off access to dangerous areas;
  • Closing horizontal opening (adits) to keep people out. Where bats are present, BLM uses bat gates that allow them to use the adit for habitat;
  • Closing vertical openings (shafts) either by filling them, or by covering them with little roofs (cupolas); and/or
  • Removing and properly disposing hazards such as mining and milling equipment, oil and chemical drums, and other debris.

This aforementioned webpage also says that as of January 2, 2015, the number of known abandoned mine sites in Arizona was 6,229.

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I took this photo from outside the flimsy material fencing off the mine. (You can see said flimsy material on the far side of the hole.)

Homestead

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Along the Ajo Scenic Loop, I saw what appeared to be an old homestead.

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I interpreted this sign to mean, you can be in here, but don’t touch, damage, or destroy anything.

Going west on Darby Well Road, almost to Scenic Loop Road, there was a fenced off area on the right. Although there was a fence, there weren’t any “No Trespassing” signs, and there was an opening in the fence (more like a purposefully made entrance than like a place where fencing had fallen or been pulled down) where an adult could easily walk through. Near the entrance opening, there was a sign. I interpreted this sign to mean, you can be in here, but don’t touch, damage, or destroy anything. Ok. I knew I could handle that.

A brochure about the Ajo Scenic Loop I got from the Ajo Historical Society Museum says,

Junction of Darby Well Road & Scenic Loop Road. This intersection is unmarked but it is obvious. Parts of deserted buildings are on the right–this is Darby Well.

I walked around and didn’t see any signs naming this place or any evidence of a well. What I did see was a lot of rusty metal and a lot of broken glass, much of it green. IMG_4608

IMG_4609This site looked more like a dump than a homestead. There wasn’t a trash pile, no single area where broken glass and rusty metal was heaped. Broken and rusty things were spread out all over the place.

In New Mexico, people love to make “art” from rusty metal. I call this “tetanus art.” This place would have been a jackpot for a “tetanus art” artist, if all of this rusty metal had been up for grabs.

It was a bit hard for me to imagine any of this junk being “fragile or irreplaceable.” I suspect I felt this way because this trash was relatively modern. I know trash can tell archaeologists a lot about a society, but because this trash didn’t look terribly old, it was easy to think there was nothing going on here more than this was a place where people who didn’t pick up after themselves lived.

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The remains of an old car (truck?) sat on the property. I thought this old automobile body was interesting. We can see from the dashboard that this vehicle was made by Chevrolet. IMG_4624Anyone have any ideas about the model or the year?

As I do whenever I walk through abandoned places where people once lived, I wondered about the people who had lived here. Who were they? Why did they leave? Where did they go? Are they dead now? Where are their descendants? Do those descendants ever come here and look at the trash of their ancestors and think, My grandfather may have drunk from that bottle of Sprite. Did my grandmother wear that shoe? 

Whose grandmother wore this shoe?

It was easy to forget–when I didn’t see or hear another human being–that this had once been a place where people lived and worked and laughed and cried and sang and cooked and loved and hated.

Someone built the house that was now only a wall, probably several someones, probably without power tools or other fancy equipment. What was left of the house held the sweat and probably the blood and the tears too of the people who built it and the people who lived there.

Who slept on these mattress springs? Who ate the food out of these can? Who cooked on that stove? Who lived in that house?

Who slept on these mattress springs? Who ate the food out of these can? Who cooked on that stove? Who lived in that house?

Who’d lived in that house? Had people made love there, birthed babies there, died there? Who’d cooked dinner on the stove now sitting in the sand, slept in a bed whose springs were now abandoned and rusty, awoken in this place each morning?

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_4619How much longer will the house stand before nature reclaims the land?

Nature wants to reclaim the land.

Nature wants to reclaim the land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ajo Scenic Loop and BLM Land

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Afternoon sunlight on the Ajo Scenic Loop

When Coyote Sue told me about Ajo, I was excited to hear there was plenty of free camping on BLM land right outside of town. Between what Sue told me about Darby Well Road and the brief write up on the Free Campsites website, I found the BLM land with little problem.

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Beyond these two saguaros, one can see the giant wall of earth. Beyond the wall of earth is the New Cornelia Mine.

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“Property of Freeport Minerals Corporation–No Trespassing”

Freeport-McMoRan owns the land across from the BLM land.  Freeport-McMoRan’s land is fenced off, with “no trespassing” signs affixed to the fence. Beyond the fence, are massive walls of earth. Beyond the walls of earth is the New Cornelia Mine.

Later, when I read the brochure for the Ajo Scenic Loop, I realized that Darby Well Road is part of that picturesque 10 mile drive.

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This photo shows the view I had when I opened the side doors of the van.

The first couple of nights I stayed in the area, I kept my camp fairly close to Highway 85. On the third day, I drove the whole Scenic Loop and saw how much public land was available for camping. From that night on, I parked the van in a spot where I was surrounded by nature.

IMG_4591At the intersection of Darby Well Road and Scenic Loop Road is a sign warning people that smuggling and illegal immigration may happen in the area. I didn’t see anything that even vaguely resembled smuggling or illegal immigration, although I did see Border Patrol trucks zooming way too fast down Darby Well Road. The only other people I saw were boondocking on the BLM land.

Like on most BLM land, there is a 14 day camping limit here. However, there was no camp host in the area, and no IMG_4646permit was required for camping. I did not see any BLM employee during the time I  spent in there.

Camping in the Darby Well/Scenic Loop area is definitely primitive. There’s no running water, no drinking water, no picnic tables, no shade structures, no trash cans, no dumpsters, no showers, and no pit toilets. Nothing is provided and anything packed-in certainly needs to be packed-out.

This was the view from the other side of my van.

This was the view from the other side of my van.

What I liked best about camping on this BLM land is that even though Ajo is just a couple of miles away, I couldn’t hear the low roar of vehicular traffic in the distance. I couldn’t see the lights of the town. The only signs of civilization I saw were the RVs belonging to the other folks camping out and the occasional automobile tooling along Scenic Loop Road.

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This organ pipe cactus is visible from the Ajo Scenic Loop.

There is a lot of organ pipe cactus, as well as other varieties of cacti on the Ajo Scenic Loop. A brochure from the Ajo Historical Society Museum states,

Essentially all Sonoran Desert plants, for this elevation, are readily spotted on this easy self guided tour. Many say there are more Organ Pipe Cacti here than in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Saguaro, Organ Pipe, Hedgehog, Barrel, Prickly Pear and Cholla Cacti, Ocotillo and Jojoba, Mesquite, Iron Wood, Palo Verde and Elephant Trees, Fairy Duster and Brittlebush all are well represented or in abundance as are many more desert varieties.

[The overzealous capitalization in the above quote is thanks to the writer of the brochure and not to me.]

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Cholla–pronounced \ˈchȯi-yə\–cactus.

Saguaro in the afternoon light.

Saguaro in the afternoon light.

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The BLM land on the Ajo Scenic Loop is definitely one of my favorite places to boondock. It’s quiet, it’s dark at night, and the scenery is fantastic! IMG_4641

Saddle Mountain

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IMG_5146I first heard about the Saddle Mountain BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land at the 2015 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. I ran into a guy I’d previously met in New Mexico, and he told me about the BLM land surrounding Saddle Mountain, but I didn’t make it out there before I set out for my summer job. In early winter 2016, my friend Coyote Sue took a trip to the area, and I decided I REALLY wanted to go there.

IMG_5179One reason I hadn’t gone sooner was because I didn’t have very good directions. The guy who first told me about the place pointed to it on an old Arizona map, but he wasn’t able to tell me what roads to take. I was a little worried about going out there and getting myself lost. Before I set out on my trip, I did some research by searching “saddle mountain free camping Arizona” on Google. I got a hit on the Free Campsites website.

On Free Campsties I found the GPS coordinates (33.458626, -113.055023) and plugged those right into Google maps.  (Thanks Google!)

I’ll just go ahead and give directions so nobody has to do all that work him/her self.

From Interstate 10 in Arizona, take exit 94 toward Tonapah. Turn left onto 411th Avenue. Keep  going south for almost three miles, passing Osborn Road and the Saddle Mountain RV Park. You’ll get to a T in the road. Turn right onto West Salome Highway. (If you go left, you will end up in Buckeye, AZ.) Drive for 5.2 miles, then turn left onto Courthouse Road. Both West Salome Highway and West Courthouse Road are paved and both have official street signs. After 1.8 miles on West Courthouse Road, turn left onto the Saddle Mountain BLM land. IMG_5172

Like a dumbass, I had not written down the distances I was supposed to go on each road. I found Salome Highway easy enough (411th Avenue ends, go left or right, no big deal), but I’d gotten a little worried after a couple of miles that Courthouse Road wasn’t signed, and I’d missed it. I kept going, then saw the sign for Courthouse Road and breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn’t lost. However, because I didn’t know how far I was supposed to go on that road and my last direction was simply “turn left,” I didn’t know where to turn onto BLM land.

I drove slowly and kept an eye to the left, hoping to see a sign. I didn’t see a sign, but I did see a kiosk. IMG_5132Although I couldn’t read the words Saddle Mountain on the top of the kiosk, I suspected I was in the right place and turned down the road. When I got closer and read the words up there, I knew I’d made it.

The kiosk didn’t have any information on it, other than one sign saying this is a pack-in/pack out area. (There are no amenities in this area, not even a trash can or a pit toilet.)

I drove south on the road, which I later found out is Route 8211. IMG_5169This road is not paved, but is what I would describe as a “good” dirt road. My conversion van had no trouble getting down it.

As I drove down Route 8211, I saw one RV, an older, medium size motor home which was about to pull out of its spot. The people in it waved to me as I drove by. During the time I was there (Wednesday afternoon to Saturday morning), I didn’t see any other folks camping in the area.

As I was trying to find a spot, I realized I could see bits of civilization to the north. Sure, I wasn’t looking at a metro area, but I could see vehicles (including many 18-wheelers) driving past on I-10. I could also see a couple of large industrial operations between my location and the interstate. I decided to park the van so my side doors opened to the south, which offered a view of mountains and cacti, not the trappings of humanity.

IMG_5137Once the sun went down, I could see a good number of ligths to the north and the northeast, which also detracted from the sense of being alone in the wilderness. Sure, Saddle Mountain is well out of the city, but I didn’t feel as if I were in the middle of nowhere. IMG_5142

That situation might have been remedied if I had driven farther down Route 8211. On Friday evening, I went for a walk to the south on that road and found many other places where folks had obviously boondocked before. There were plenty of flat spots to park a rig, and I saw fire rings made from rocks obviously gathered in the area.  I didn’t move the van; I was much too lazy for that. However, next time I stay there, I will drive to the end of the road and try to find a place where I can’t see one bit of civilization.

Although I could see vehicles on the interstate, thankfully, I couldn’t hear them. I didn’t hear much human noise out there. The sound  of a car engine passing on the road in front of the van did wake me up on Wednesday night. When IMG_5171I looked at my watch, I saw it was 11:30. I thought it was a weird time to go exploring, but whatever. I heard the car pass by again, headed to the main road, before too long. On Thursday morning, a couple and their dogs walked on the road in front of the van; the woman and I waved at each other. Several hours later, they walked past again, going back to their vehicle, I assume. On Friday the sound of a man and a little boy walking by caught my attention, but other than those situations, maybe two other cars driving on Route 8211, and a few aircraft flying overhead, I only heard the sounds of nature.

I absolutely enjoyed my time in the Saddle Mountain area, and hope to stay there again.

 

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I took all of the photos in this post. They were all taken in the area around where I camped near Saddle Mountain.

Lingo

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lin·go
/ˈliNGɡō/

noun

informal humorous
the vocabulary or jargon of a particular subject or group of people

from https://www.google.com/search?q=lingo+definition&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

I hate lingo. When folks use specialized language, it feels like a separation to me–us vs. them. If you understand the specialized words I use, we have something in common and we are insiders. Those people over there who don’t understand what we’re talking about? They must be outsiders, and good riddance!

I know lingo also makes communication easier for people who share knowledge. Like pronouns, lingo saves us from having to use full descriptions every time we talk. But lingo is often exclusionary, even if folks don’t mean to use it that way. In the interest of sharing knowledge, I will now explain some of the lingo I’ve encountered while living my life on the road.

Airstream–A brand of travel trailer made from distinctively shiny metal, with curves instead of corners.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)–Government agency that administers public land, especially in the Southwest. There is so much BLM land where folks can boondock/dry camp for free.

Boondock–Staying somewhere (often public land) for free. Some people use boondock interchangeably with dry camp, while others differentiate between the two and use boondock only in relation to public land.

Canned ham–(I just learned this one a few days ago.) A trailer, usually vintage, in the shape of a can of ham on its side. (http://www.theladyisatramp.net/definitions/)

Casita–Brand of a particular style of lightweight travel trailer. (http://casitatraveltrailers.com/)

*Class ARV that looks like a bus with a flat front nose; motorhome.

*Class B–A van with the comforts (shower, toilet, kitchenette) of an RV.

*Class CRV with a van nose and an overhead cab with a bed.

CRVL–I saw this twice at the RTR and had no idea what it meant, until I saw it spelled out in tiny letters at the bottom of a sticker. CRVL stands for Cheap RV Living, the website, as in http://www.cheaprvliving.com/.

*Dispersed camping–Camping on public land in places other than official campgrounds; sometimes called primitive camping.

Dry camping–Camping with no hookups, sometimes used interchageably with boondock.

*5th wheel–Trailers which hook to a hitch in the bed of a pickup truck.

Full-timer–Someone who does not have a sticks-n-bricks house; someone who lives on the road.

*House battery–A deep cycle battery used to run household items in a rig.

Mr. Buddy–a brand of heaters which run on propane and are very popular with vandwellers and rubber tramps.

Part-timer–Someone who has a sticks-n-bricks house where s/he lives at least sometimes; someone who lives on the road sometimes, but also lives in her/his own conventional home sometimes.

Popup–A type of towed RV that can be collapsed for easy storage and transport. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popup_camper)

Primitive camping–Camping on public land in places other than official campgrounds. In primitive camping areas, there are no water, sewage, or electrical hookups and usually no toilets of any kind, no water, no ramadas, no picnic tables, and no metal fire rings. Primitive camping is sometimes called dispersed camping. Folks boondock or dry camp in primitive camping areas.

Rig–What one drives and lives in. My rig is a conversion van. A rig can be a cargo van. A rig can be a pickup truck with a slide-in camper. A rig can be a car or an SUV. A rig can be a motorhome. A rig can be a Class A, a Class B, or a Class C. A rig can be a combination of a travel trailer or a converted cargo trailer or a 5th wheel or a tear drop or a popup and a tow vehicle.

Rubber tramp–A person who travels and lives out of their vehicle (normally an RV, van, bus, etc.). They stop and stay wherever they choose for however long they want, but eventually, so as long as there’s a way to put gas in their tank, move on. (from Urban Dictionary, http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Rubber+Tramp) Not all folks at the RTR would consider themselves rubber tramps.

Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR)–A winter gathering in Quartzsite, AZ for folks who live on the road (either full-timers or part-timers) or who want to live on the road. At the RTR there are seminars about living on the road, group meals, and opportunities to meet people and hang out with friends. I’ve written quite a bit about my experiences at the RTR; see those posts here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/21/the-rubber-tramp-rendezvous-week-1-2/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/24/rubber-tramp-rendezvous-week-2-2/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/27/thoughts-on-the-rtr-2015/, and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/01/23/report-on-the-2016-rubber-tramp-rendezvous/. Also see http://www.cheaprvliving.com/gatherings/ for more info about the RTR.

RV–Recreational vehicle. RVs include motorhomes, 5th wheels, travel trailers, and Classes A, B, and C.

Shakedown–a practice trip taken before a longer trip. (According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakedown_cruise, this term comes from “shakedown cruise,” which “is a nautical term in which the performance of a ship is tested.”)

*Snowbird–Someone who lives in cool places in the summer and warm places in the winter, traveling as the seasons change. Snowbirds can travel north to south or from low elevation to to high elevation and back again.

Solo–Traveling alone, usually said in regards to a woman. The assumption that most women travel with a man is often made, so a distinction is sometimes made when a women travels alone. I’ve never heard anyone asking a man if he is solo or hearing a man describe himself as solo.

Stealth parking–Living in one’s rig (especially in a city) without others knowing one is living in one’s rig. For more on stealth parking, see http://www.cheaprvliving.com/blog/bobs-12-commandments-for-stealth-parking-in-the-city/ and http://www.cheaprvliving.com/blog/stealth-parking-locations-part-2/.

Sticks-n-bricks–A conventional home, although it doesn’t have to be made from wood and bricks. A sticks-n-bricks can be an apartment or a manufactured home, or a house made from adobe or stucco or straw-bale. A sticks-n-bricks isn’t mobile.

Teardropa streamlined, compact, lightweight travel trailer, which gets its name from its teardrop profile. They usually only have sleeping space for two adults and often have a basic kitchen in the rear. (https://www.google.com/search?q=teardrop+trailer+definition&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8.)

Toad–(This was a new one to me at the 2016 RTR.)–A vehicle towed behind an RV. I guess because the vehicles are towed, people started calling them toads. People in big motorhomes often pull a vehicle behind the motorhome so they can park their rig and use the smaller vehicle to drive around for errands and exploring.

Tow vehicle–What one uses to tow one’s travel trailer.

*Travel trailer (TT)–Travel trailers hook up to a hitch and are pulled by a tow vehicle. Travel trailers vary greatly in size. Most people use the travel trailer as living quarters and don’t live in the tow vehicle.

*Vandweller–A person living in his/her van who wants to be there.

Vault (or pit) toilet–Non-flushing toilet sometimes found on public land.

*All or part of starred definitions come from How to Live in a Car, Van, or RV by Bob Wells. I highly recommend this book to anyone contemplating or starting life on the road.

What lingo dealing with life on the road do you know that I have not included in this post? Please leave a comment with other terms you hear rubber tramps and van dwellers and RVers toss around.

Mr Heater A323000 Buddy Heater

 


The Rubber Tramp Rendezvous: Week 1

Standard
Rubber Tramp
A person who travels and lives out of their vehicle (normally an RV, van, bus, etc.). They stop and stay wherever they choose for however long they want, but eventually, so as long as there’s a way to put gas in their tank, move on.

(from Urban Dictionary)

Rendezvous
a place appointed for assembling or meeting

(from Merriam-Webster)

The 2015 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) was held at Scaddan Wash, a short-term camping area about five miles north of Quartzsite, Arizona  on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land in the Sonoran Desert. It’s free to camp there. There are no campsites, so folks can camp wherever they like. There are also no amenities in Scaddan Wash. There are no toilets (pit, flush, or otherwise), no showers, no drinking water, no running water of any kind, no trash cans, and no trash pick up. In Scaddan Wash, it’s just wide open sky, rocky ground, scrubby plants, and a scattering of tall cacti.

 Although there were no features of civilization in the camping area, there were reminders that we were not so far from civilization after all. At night, in the distance, we could see the lights of Quarzsite twinkling. (The year-round population of Quartzsite is 3,600, but that number swells between January and March as snowbirds-and vendors trying to make a buck off the snowbirds-move in.) We could also hear the traffic on I-10, which was only about a mile and a half away. At first the motor noise was annoying, but after I told myself it sounded like the ocean, it wasn’t so bad.

While there’s no charge to camp at Scaddan Wash, campers do have to get a permit from the camp host. The length of stay is limited to 14 days in a 28 day period. (Learn more about camping at Scaddan Wash.)

I pulled into the RTR camping area in the late afternoon. I didn’t know anyone there, and I didn’t know where anything was. Where should I park? I had no idea.

I saw a spot with room for my van with shade provided by a palo verde tree. Shade is a hot (or should I say cool?) commodity in the desert, so I figured it was a good spot to choose.

I made sure I left plenty of space between me and the camp next to mine. As I parked, the woman in the next camp waved, so after turning off the van, I strode over to say hello. That’s how I met the Divine Miss M. Well, no it wasn’t Bette Midler, but a woman just as cool and funny. (I never did find out if she could sing.) Miss M and I hit it off immediately. She was friendly and welcoming and no-nonsense and interesting. It was her first RTR too, and we quickly became buddies.

The next day, the Welcome Seminar was at 10am. The highlight was finally meeting Mr. B, author and webmaster, the driving force behind the RTR. Mr. B talked about the upcoming schedule, permits, and campfires, as well as things we might want to know about goods and services available in Quartzsite. Others chimed in with tales of free pancakes and free showers, as well as scratch and dent grocery outlets.

During the welcome seminar, Mr. B announced that women’s meetings would be held both Sundays of the gathering. He said the meetings needed a facilitator and asked for a volunteer. No one offered to do it. I knew I had the skills to facilitate the women’s meeting, so later in the day, I approached Mr. B and said I would do it. He seemed pleased to have one less thing to worry about.

After the seminar, we were free for the day. That was the end of the structured activities.

Later that night, there was a community campfire. With the idea of being social, I hauled my chair over to the campfire and sat down. No one said hello or asked my name. I didn’t ask their names either. I couldn’t even see people’s faces. Turns out, campfires are not actually great places to meet people. There was a whole lot of dude going on at this one too. Although there were women enjoying the fire, all the talking was being done by guys. The entire time I sat there, I wondered how soon I could leave without looking totally awkward. Finally, I was able to escape. Although there were community campfires every night, I did not return.

The next day’s seminar was about going to Algodones, Mexico for dental work, prescriptions, and eye glasses. I wasn’t planning on doing any of those things, but thought it couldn’t hurt to sit through the presentations. It doesn’t seem very difficult for American to get their needs met in Algodones. There’s a casino on the U.S. side of the border where people park so they can simply walk into Mexico. The pharmacies and dental and optical offices in Algodones catering to Americans are in one small district right over the border. It is easy to find English speakers there. If I had a passport, I would have seriously considered going to Algodones for my recent dental work.

The other big event of the day was that a woman was cutting hair for donations. I really needed a haircut and had been planning to get one before the Rendezvous, but ran out of time. I walked over to her camp to find that several people were already waiting. I put my name on the list, then sat on the rocks reading my book. While sitting there, N. struck up a conversation with me, leading to a nice friendship.

The haircut turned out great. However, no matter what I do, I can’t get my hair to curl. I wonder if the desert has simply sucked all of the curl out of me, or if I’ve had some hormonal change that’s done away with my curl. I guess I won’t know if I don’t ever leave the desert.

On Friday, the morning seminar was about gadgets, but I skipped it to go into town.

On Saturday morning, the seminar was about solar power. I attended it, although I had (and have) no plans to hook up solar power in my van. I need four new tires before I can even think about spending money on solar power. A lot of the information presented was over my head, but the seeds of solar power knowledge have been planted.

That afternoon was the first of three group meals, a chili dinner. Here’s what the Cheap RV Living website said about the chili dinner:

The chili…dinner [is] a group effort. Everybody needs to bring a can of chili… to contribute to the pot before noon… That doesn’t sound good, but it always turns out great! We also welcome fresh, diced vegetables and cooked (or canned) meat. Cans of tomato products also work well. If you bring a vegetable, it needs to be cleaned and diced, or meat (like hamburger) it need [sic] to be cooked and ready to [sic] into the pot. We won’t have time to dice or cook those when we make the chili or soup.

There was a Cook among us, and he took responsibility for the chile dinner. I did not participate in the cooking, but I did participate in the eating. The cooks (under the supervision of The Cook) made a vegetarian chili, a turkey chili, a hot, and a medium beef chili. I had the vegetarian chili and it was delicious! Other folks brought corn bread, which made the whole meal even better.

The group meal was a really good place to socialize. It was easy to strike up a conversation about the food. I enjoyed getting to know people while eating together.

The morning seminar for the next day was described on the schedule as “Tin Can Seminar (Questions and Answers.)” Mr. B described it as an opportunity to ask questions about anything and everything. It was moderated by a (male) poet who seemed very pleased with himself. I had asked a question about how to make sure my battery didn’t die if I were parked in a remote location for several days, and he skipped right over it! I saw him. I recognized the paper my question was written on, and I saw him read the question and discard the paper. Instead, he read aloud questions such as “Do women like men with long hair?” and “Can people tell what kind of sexual activity is happening inside by the way a van is moving?” Mr. B had told us that the answers would represent “community wisdom,” but folks just sort of shouted out whatever they wanted to say in response to each question. This seminar was a complete waste of my time, and if I attend the RTR again, I will NOT sit through such malarkey.

On Sunday afternoon, we had the women’s meeting.

The Monday morning seminar was on cooking methods for rubber tramps, but I skipped it and went to town that day.

Most of the seminars I was really interested in happened at the end of the second week of the RTR, so I spent the first week hanging out, meeting people, writing postcards to friends, and making hats from yarn. I tried to take a walk every evening as the sun was setting.

On the first evening that I took a walk, I strolled all the way to the end of the line of rigs. There before me was a really cool old motor home. The folks who own it are pretty cool too. After a few minutes of chatting, Ms. Dee asked me if I wanted to see the inside of her home. I really did, but would have never said so if she hadn’t offered. “I thought you’d never ask!” I squealed.

It was awesome to be around people who were so open, who wanted to share their knowledge and let me take a peek into their lives.

The sun was usually down by the time I finished my walks. It was dark out there by 6:30 or so, and I was ready to go to bed by 8pm. I’d try to stay awake reading or making hats until at least 9pm, but some nights I was asleep at eight o’clock. Early to bed often does mean early to rise, even if it was still nighttime dark outside. I sometimes was wide awake by 5:30am, although the sun didn’t make it over the mountain until after seven o’clock.

I think it was the first week we got some on and off drizzle. Once the drizzle moved through, the weather was simply lovely, sunny, but not too hot. Days warmed up nicely and nights were chilly, but I was never cold when I was trying to sleep. It seemed like I was in a constant state of adding or subtracting a layer during the days.

At the end of the first week, I was really glad to be rendezvousing with the other rubber tramps.