Tag Archives: LTVA

Free Camping near Quartzsite, Arizona

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Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Long-term Visitor Areas (LTVAs) located along the Colorado River in Arizona and California. La Posa (North and South, on either side of Highway 95) is the LTVA closest to Quartzsite, AZ. As I stated in the LTVA post, it costs $180 for a seasonal LTVA permit, good from September 15 to April 15. If you just want to stay at an LTVA for two weeks, you can get a permit for $40. (To learn a whole lot more about LTVAs, read my post about the Long-term Visitor Areas.)

Wait a minute!  you may have thought when you read the LTVA post. I heard there was free camping on BLM land near Quartzsite.

Well, you were right about that! There is free camping on BLM land all around Quartzsite. Sometimes people get confused because both LTVAs and free camping are on BLM land. The difference? After paying the permit fee, one can camp at an LTVA all season (or move among the LTVAs at no additional charge), while camping is allowed on the free spots for only 14 days within a 28 day period.

According to the Free Campsites website, free camping locations on BLM land in the immediate Quartzsite area are Plomosa Road, Hi Jolly, Dome Rock Mountain, Scaddan Wash and Road Runner. In addition, there are other free camping areas on BLM land within 20 miles of Quartzsite in Ehrenberg, AZ, as well as within 40 miles near Bouse and Parker, AZ. If you want to go a little further (about 75 miles), there’s also free camping on BLM land near Lake Havasu City, AZ.

Although there is no cost to camp on the BLM land near Quartzsite (other than La Posa North and South LTVA, of course), a permit is required. Getting the permit is no big deal. Each camping area has a camp host who issues permits. Simply stop at the camp host’s campsite and ask for your permit. The camp host may ask to see your driver’s license or ID. The camp host will write your name, address, and license plate number on the permit. You will get one copy to adhere to your windshield and the host will keep the other copies for the BLM’s records.

A BLM ranger might hassle someone camping on any of these free camping areas without a permit. I believe a ranger could even issue a ticket to someone camping without a permit, but I don’t know anyone this has happened to. But why risk? The permits are free and easy to obtain.

Once you get your permit, you are allowed to camp in the area for which the permit was written for up to 14 days. In the past, people have stayed on free BLM land near Quartzsite for much longer than two weeks, but in the last few years rangers have started cracking down on these long-term stays in the short-term camping areas. After two weeks, some people simply move to a different free camping area near Quartzsite and get a new permit, but technically, doing so is not permissible.

One can camp in for free on most BLM land that is not an LTVA for 14 days within a 28 day period at no cost. One can move 25 miles away and camp on BLM land for free (if allowed) for 14 days. One can return to the original camping spot on the 29th day since the first day of camping. A BLM website explains it in detail this way:

Dispersed camping is allowed on public land for a period not to exceed 14 days within a 28 consecutive day period. The 28 day period begins when a camper initially occupies a specific location on public lands. The 14 day limit may be reached either through a number of separate visits or through 14 days of continuous overnight occupation during the 28 day period. After the 14th day of occupation, the camper must move outside of a 25 mile radius of the previous location until the 29th day since the initial occupation.

(Camping rules for BLM land may vary according to the ranger district. Always check the camping rules for the particular BLM ranger district in which you want to camp.)

The free BLM camping areas near Quartzite are totally undeveloped. Like on most other BLM land in the Southwest, these public lands open to free camping require boondockers to provide for their every need. (If you don’t know the first thing about boondocking, see my post on the “10 Fundamentals for Boondockers“.) You may find a fire ring made of stones left behind by previous campers, but otherwise you are on your own. You will not find a trash can or dump station in any of the free BLM camping areas in this part of Arizona. Plan to pack out anything you pack in. Don’t look for picnic tables, pit toilets or electrical hookups because there are none. The lack of running water means you can forget about flush toilets or hot showers. (To find out where you can find a hot shower and other amenities see my post “Where to Go for What You Need in Quartzsite.”)

All sorts of folks camp in the free BLM camping areas in Quartzsite. I’ve seen plenty of RVers in motorhomes, travel trailers, and fifth wheels of all different sizes and conditions. There’s no shortage of vandwellers out there either, in everything from Roadtreks to minivans, converted cargo vans to old-school conversion vans. Skoolies make an appearance too, both full-size and short buses. Travelers stay there in truck campers, and I’ve witnessed literal car camping out there too. Some hardy souls brave the wind and chilly night to camp in tents.

Whatever one’s living situation, there are rules to follow while staying on the public land. Be quiet during quiet hours, typically 10pm to 6am. Comply with any fire ban and do NOT gather any native wood lying on the ground. (Hopefully I don’t have to tell you not to cut down or in any way damage plants growing on BLM land.) Keep your pets leashed and under your control. (This is for your pet’s safety, as coyotes in those parts have been known to snatch unattended dogs.)

If your rig does not have toilet facilities, it is allowable to dig “cat holes” for your elimination needs. According to the Tread Lightly! website,

Human waste should be disposed of in a shallow hole six to eight inches deep at least 200 feet from water sources, campsites or trails. Cover and disguise the hole with natural materials. It is recommended to pack out your toilet paper.

However, there’s hardly any privacy on the BLM land set aside for free camping near Quartzsite. You’re in the desert out there, not the forest, so it won’t be easy to find a tree to hide behind. You can set up a privacy tent, but be aware that the winter wind can be fierce out there. I recommend you set up some sort of elimination facility in your rig. (If you have never camped in the desert before, check out my post “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert” to get more advice on doing it right.)

If you don’t mind being a little farther away from Quartzsite, you have a couple of other options. According to the Free Campsites website, there is dispersed camping on BLM land on Gold Nugget Road east of Quartzsite. It doesn’t seem like a permit is required to stay there. You can also camp for free in the Crystal Hill area of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, about 8 miles south of Quartzsite on Highway 95 at milepost 95. Camping there is limited to 14 days during any 12-month period.

What if you don’t want to camp on the public lands near Quartzsite? Do you have other options? The answer is yes!

There are two truck stops in Quartzsite, a Love’s and a Pilot. I have stayed overnight at both Quartzsite travel centers. One year after the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) I wanted to stick around for a few more days for the PowWow gem and mineral show. I’d already reached my 14 day BLM limit, so I stayed in my van at the Love’s for a couple of nights with no problems. On another occasion I stayed in town using the internet to schedule blog posts until after sunset and didn’t want to try to find my campsite after dark. I spent that night in the Pilot parking lot, again with no trouble. I’ve seen plenty of other vans and truck campers parked overnight in those travel centers too.

So yes, it’s true, you can camp for free on BLM land near Quartzsite, but technically only for two weeks before you have to move down the road, at least for a little while.

I took the photos in this post.

Long-term Visitor Area (LTVA)

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seguaro cactus stands in foreground, scrubby land behind it, rugged mountains at the back
BLM land near Quartzsite, AZ

Fall is here, and it’s time for nomads, rubber tramps, vagabonds, and vandwellers to start planning for winter. One possibility for folks who want to live cheaply and escape the worst of the cold rain and snow is spending the winter camping in one of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Long-term Visitor Areas. Each of these areas is commonly called an LTVA.

An LTVA is a large plot of public land set aside by a BLM ranger district for long-term camping. According to the BLM’s brochure “Long-term Camping on Public Lands,” all of the LTVAs are located in

the Arizona and California deserts…along the lower Colorado River.

(If you do decide to spend the winter in an LTVA, be sure to read my blog post “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert.”)

LTVAs are administered by BLM field offices in Yuma, AZ; Palm Springs, CA; and El Centro, CA. In all, there are seven LTVAs: Hot Springs (in California, Latitude/Longitude: 32.76734444, -115.2703056) , Tamarisk (in California, Latitude/Longitude: 32.70812222, -115.1271), Pilot Knob (in California, Latitude/Longitude: 32.74273889, -114.7554806), Mule Mountain, Midland (in California, Latitude/Longitude: 33.7296, -114.661), La Posa (in Arizona, divided into La Posa North and La Posa South, Latitude/Longitude: 33.65165, -114.2169), and Imperial Dam (in Arizona, Latitude/Longitude: 32.901256, -114.495431).

Camping in a LTVA is not free, but it is less expensive than any RV park I’ve ever heard of. Most LTVAs do offer some amenities. Amenities vary by location, but may include trash receptacles, running water, dump stations, and restrooms. Where trash receptacles and dump stations are available,

[g]arbage and sewage [including grey water] must be transported by visitors to the nearest disposal site,

according to the BLM brochure.

LTVA camping areas are going to look a lot like this BLM land near Quartzsite.

It is important to note that no LTVA is a developed campground. LTVAs offer open desert camping with the possibility of the few amenities mentioned above. Potential LTVA campers should research each area to find the one that best suits individual needs. For example, while both LTVAs at La Posa and Imperial Dam offer restroom facilities,

[c]ampers must be 100% self-contained for waste and gray water in order to utilize [Midland LTVA] since vault toilets are not provided.

The BLM brochure mentioned before states,

[s]ince only minimum facilities are available at most of the sites, visitors should plan to arrive in a self-contained camping unit. Self-contained units are those with a permanently affixed wastewater holding tank of a 10-gallon minimum capacity.

Furthermore, in the supplementary rules governing everyone who enters an LTVA at any time of year,

BLM does not consider port-a-potty systems, systems that utilize portable holding tanks, or permanent holding tanks of less than 10-gallon capacity, to be self-contained.

Can someone in a rig without a minimum 10 gallon wastewater holding tank stay at an LTVA? Yes, but only at Mule Mountain, Imperial Dam, or La Posa. For example, La Posa LTVA has 10 ADA accessible pit toilets available for public use. Folks dwelling in rigs that are not self-contained are required to camp

within 500 feet of a vault toilet or rest room.

Campers can get either a long-term or short-term permit for access to the LTVAS.

The cost of the LTVA long-term permit is $180. According to the BLM informational webpage dedicated to the La Posa LTVA, the long-term permit

allows use of…LTVAs continuously from September 15 to April 15…or for any length of time between those two dates.

For folks who don’t want to stay at a LTVA for quite so long, there is also short-term permit which costs $40. According to the aforementioned website, this permit

allows use of…LTVAs for any 14 consecutive day period from September 15 to April 15…The short-visit permit may be renewed an unlimited number of times for the cost of the permit.

Please note, the BLM website specifies

[b]ecause LTVAs are special permit areas and not developed campgrounds, the Golden Eagle, Golden Age, Golden Access Passports, and America the Beautiful Pass discounts DO NOT apply to LTVA permit fees.

This means you will NOT be able to use your Golden Age/Senior Pass or Golden Access/Access Pass to get half off the price of a camping permit at a LTVA. Nor will any other pass get you any other sort of discount at an LTVA. If you want to stay at an LTVA, you have to pay full price.

A BLM webpage about LTVAs says,

Campers may obtain permits at LTVA host entrance stations, or by contacting…[the overseeing] BLM offices in Arizona and southern California. Permits are not available through the mail.

The contact information for the aforementioned BLM offices are given at the end of this post.

Both the long and short-term permits are valid in any of the LTVAs. Permit holders can move from one LTVA to another without paying any additional fees. Be sure you really want to camp at a LTVA before you lay your money down because according the Long-term Visitor Area Supplementary Rules, the BLM will not refund permit fees. Permit holders cannot reassign or transfer a permit.

Also according to the LTVA Supplementary Rules, when the long or short-term permit is purchased, the permit-holder is issued permit decals. A decal must go on the windshield (“bottom right hand corner”) of each transportation vehicle. Each permit allows for two secondary vehicles to be used within the LTVA. A decal must also be placed “in a clearly visible location” on the camping unit.

The rules also say that rigs in any LTVS should be parked no more than 15 feet from any other “dwelling unit.” No rig or campsite in an LTVA should be left unoccupied for more than five days unless a BLM officer has given permission. Finally, all wheeled vehicles must remain mobile during a stay at a LTVA. “Wheels must remain on all wheeled vehicles.” However, trailers and pickup campers may be set “on jacks manufactured for that purpose.”

You won’t find a metal fire ring at a LTVA, but you can have a campfire in a rock fire ring constructed by a previous camper.

Other rules deal with wood and campfire. Campfires are allowed, but must be in compliance of all local, state, and federal rules. That means if there is a fire ban in the area, you won’t be able to enjoy a campfire. Neither are you are allowed to collect firewood nor possess native firewood within LTVAs. This means you must purchase firewood in the nearest town (or sometimes from the camp host) if you want to enjoy a campfire.

The BLM “Long-term Camping…” brochure mentioned above explains why certain sites were chosen for the LTVAs.

The areas designated as Long-Term Visitor Areas were chosen because of their past popularity with winter visitors and because access roads have been developed and facilities are available nearby.

That brochure is also a great resource for seeing the location of each LTVA and the amenities offered each one.

The information I’ve shared today was accurate as far as I could tell when I was writing this post. Blaize Sun is not responsible for any out-of-date information posted on the internet. To double check the information shared in this post, you can call, write, or email the BLM field offices in charge of each LTVA directly.

The Yuma Field Office oversees La Posa LTVA and Imperial Dam LTVA.

Phone: (928) 317-3200

Email: BLM_AZ_YFOWEB@blm.gov

Address: Yuma Field Office
7341 E. 30th St., Suite A
Yuma, AZ 85365

The El Centro Field Office oversees Hot Springs LTVA, Tamarisk LTVA, and Pilot Knob LTVA.

Phone: 760-337-4400

Email: BLM_CA_Web_EC@blm.gov

Address: El Centro Field Office
1661 S. 4th Street
El Centro, CA 92243

The Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office oversees Mule Mountain LTVA. All of the official websites concerning Mule Mountain LTVA seemed to be down when I was researching this post. PLEASE contact The Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office before setting out for Mule Mountain LTVA.

Phone760-833-7100

Email: BLM_CA_Web_PS@blm.gov

Address: Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office

1201 Bird Center Dr.

Palm Springs, CA 92262

I took the photos in this post.

10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert

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So you’re going to escape the worst of winter by heading to the deserts of Southern Arizona (the Sonoran), Southern New Mexico (the Chijuajuan) or Southern California (the Mojave). Maybe you’re going to Quartzsite to attend The Rubber Tramp Rendezvous or to stay in a Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA). Congratulations!

While you probably won’t face seemingly unending days of ice and snow, a desert environment can pose its own challenges. If you’ve never been to the desert before (or you’re a desert dweller who needs some reminders to shake you out of your complacency), here are ten tips to help you survive and thrive in the desert.

#1 Drink plenty of water. Even if your winter desert isn’t hot, it’s still extremely dry. Even in the winter, it’s important to stay hydrated. Drink before you feel thirsty.

#2 Alcohol can dehydrate you, so limit your consumption. The desert environment has probably already dehydrated you, and alcohol can make things worse. Take it slow with the alcohol until you determine how your body is reacting to the dry environment. If you’re drinking alcohol, up your water intake.

#3 Don’t get too much sun. Yes, you’ve escaped the harsh winter and the sun feels good on your skin, but don’t overdo it. Be sure you have some shade to escape to during the hottest part of the day; yes, even in the winter, a desert can get hot. Wear long pants and long sleeves made from light cotton to protect your skin, and wear sunscreen on any parts you leave uncovered. I use sunscreen on my face, and I wear my hat with the wide brim to further protect my face. My hat also provides a barrier between the sun and my head.

#4 Deserts can get cold too, so have appropriate gear. Even if a winter day in the desert is sunny and relatively warm, the night can get cold. Especially if you’re going to be out and about in the desert night, be prepared with long pants, a long sleeved shirt, and a warm hat. If you tend to feel cold and depending on the temperature, you may also need a jacket and gloves. If your ears are sensitive be prepared to protect them from the wind. Check the weather forecast before you head to your desert destination so you know what clothing you may need.

#5 Watch for Critters. You’re less likely to see a rattlesnake in the winter than the summer, but the snakes are still around. Especially on a warm and sunny day, rattlers may be on the move. Don’t stick your hands or feet into any crack or crevice you haven’t first visually inspected. If you do encounter a rattler (or any other snake) give it a wide berth so it has plenty of room to escape. Don’t poke or prod it, and let it be on its way.  If you are bitten by a nonpoisonous snake, clean the wound and get a tetanus shot if you need too. If you are bitten by a poisonous snake, get to an emergency room ASAP.

Turn your shoes upside down and shake them out before you put them on. This will help prevent your toes from meeting any unwelcome spider or scorpion visitors. Check out these tips from the Mayo Clinic about what to do if you’re stung by a scorpion before you need them. Maybe print out the tips and include them in your first aid kit.

Coyotes aren’t likely to attack an adult human but it does happen. They’re known to snatch cats and small dogs (even in broad daylight!) and lure larger dogs to their deaths. Don’t leave your pet unattended in the desert! Stay with your dog when it’s outside and keep it in your rig when you can’t watch it.

#6 Don’t get too close to cholla. Pronounced [chaw-yah], there are more than 20 species of this cactus in the deserts of North America. The joints of this cactus are attached very loosely and will easily attach to a person or dog who brushed by. The joints are full of spines, and if you touch them, you’re likely to be full of spines too!

Keep inquisitive dogs away from cholla. When a dog tries to sniff cholla, it usually ends up with spines in its nose. The dog then tries to use its paws to scratch at the spines in its nose, thus getting spines in its paws. The situation can quickly escalate into a full-blown mess.

According to the 2013 articled “How To Remove Cactus Spines From Your Perforated Body,” by Chris Clarke

Many desert rats accustomed to living in cholla country will carry a large comb with them: it’s an excellent tool for prying cholla stems off yourself.

#7 Be ready for wind and the dust it can bring. I grew up in the Deep South where the wind was nothing to get upset about unless we found ourselves in the midst of a hurricane. I began to learn about real wind when I moved to the Midwest, but I really didn’t know wind until I spent time in New Mexico and Arizona. A desert wind is quite a wind. It can blow hard for hours or days on end and whisk away folding tables and chairs and other gear you may have outside your rig. Any tents or easy-ups must be held down securely so the wind doesn’t blow them away and mangle them in the process.

Without moisture to hold it down, desert dust is easily blown around, sometimes leading to poor air quality. Be prepared to stay in your rig with the windows closed when the dust is at its worst.

#8 Don’t camp in arroyos or other low-lying areas. An arroyo (pronounced [uhroi-oh] and also known as a wash, gully, gulch, or ditch) is a place where water flows when it rains. (Yes, it rains in the desert, sometimes in the winter.) Even if it’s not raining where you are, a flashflood caused by heavy rain upstream can fill an arroyo with water suddenly and unexpectedly. I’m not talking a trickle of water; I’m talking enough water to wash away your camp.

In a footnote to a 2016 the Scientific America article “Instant Peril: Flash Floods (and How to Survive Them)“, author Dana Hunter offers some advice.

I can tell you from bitter experience that even though that flat, sandy wash bottom makes a bonza place to pitch a tent, it is horrible if there’s a thunderstorm in the night. At worst, you’re swept away and drowned. At best, you’re awakened in the middle of the night by the stream that’s now flowing through your sleeping bag, and you have to haul your soaked self and belongings to high ground. In the dark. In the rain. And you’ll do a terrible job pitching the tent. Where you won’t be able to sleep because you’re too wet.

#9 Be careful when driving through or parking on sand. It’s easy to get stuck in sand. Bob Wells has an excellent article about getting stuck and how to get unstuck on his Cheap RV Living blog. I suggest reading his post “Getting Stuck: How to Avoid it and What to Do if it Happensbefore you encounter desert sand.

#10 Old mines are dangerous; don’t go in them! There are thousands of abanoned mines on Bureau of Land Management sites throughout the deserts of the Southwest. I saw one while camping on BLM land outside Ajo, Arizona and did some research, leading me to write a blog post about what I disovered. The the BLM’s FAQ on Abandoned Mine Lands says such mines can lead to physical and human health hazards.

  • Physical hazards: Unsecured AML [Abandoned Mine Lands] 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

If you see any signs like the one pictured here, stay safe by keeping your distance.

Don’t be discouraged! Being prepared for the challenges of the desert can help you avoid the environment’s pitfalls and increase your chances of enjoying yourself. I was in my 40s before I grew acquainted with the desert, but now it’s my winter destinations of choice. You might find you grow to love it too!

Remember, Blaize Sun can’t prepare you for or protect you from every problem you might encounter in the desert. Only you are responsible for you! Do your research before you head to the desert, use common sense, and think before you act.

I took all the photos in this post.