Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Short History of Boondocking

This is a short history of boondocking.  A history of boondocking??  Well, yes; but mostly it's about the reasons why each federal agency treats boondocking differently.

If you are saying to yourself, "What in the heck is boondocking?" I'll explain. This is a term coined by rv'ers who like to camp in secluded areas away from campgrounds and rules (ie. dogs on leash at all times). You may notice these places while out exploring. Boondocking areas are where you see a rock fire ring and a large enough level space for a truck and trailer, usually not far off the dirt road.

The National Park Service was founded as an economic development tool early in the 20th Century.  The federal government and the railroads built the park system to encourage tourism in the West by linking the parks with railroads, and building grand lodges for the rich and famous.  Now high class tourism is about being feted, wined and dined.  Is is not about boondocking on your own.

As the vacationing American public discovered the National Parks in the 1950's, the Park Service rapidly started constructing campgrounds and adopting rules and regulations to "protect" the Parks.  People accepted the Parks as different, special, and places where you PAID to visit.

So boondocking never got established in Parks, with a few exceptions, primarily in the National Recreation Areas that are managed by the National Park Service.  But otherwise, be prepared to huddle with the masses in the campgrounds, if you can find space large enough to accomodate your rig.

The National Forest has a totally different history:  Founded to provide sustainable economic development for small rural communities.  Most of it revolved around mining, grazing, and timber harvest.  Recreation was an afterthought in the view of Congress.  The visitors were also different. They were primarily hunters and fisherman that did not need or want much handholding from the Forest Service. 

However, as use increased and areas became overused, the Forest Service started building campgrounds.  But the agency never lost sight of the fact most of their users are fairly independent and experienced in outdoor activites.       Campgrounds are expensive, so in the late 1970's the Forest Service decided to emphasize dispersed camping or boondocking.  It became official agency policy to encourage boondocking. Now, the Forest Service is slowly moving away from the policy, but it is still part of the agency culture.  In most National Forests it is accepted and, in some, even encouraged.

The Bureau of Land Management came to the game in the late 1970's, when Congress finally gave them their Organic Act.  But they have the same money problems as the Forest Service has.  Congress gives all the MONEY to the Park Service.  On many BLM lands, the public was there using the lands before the BLM had much of a presence, so they were playing catch-up.

The Long-Term Visitor Areas were a response to overuse on BLM lands.  The boondockers were well established and BLM came up with a system to protect those lands.  The interesting part is that the LTVA's were designed by fairly low level BLM employees.  So keep talking to those folks working on public lands when you meet.  Give them your ideas.  You never know which one will get "legs" as the say goes.

We will talk more about state wildlife areas in the future.  These are great boondocking spots, particularly for large rigs.  If you are a hunter and fisherman you already know about these areas, but birders, rock climbers and hikers are also finding these lands.

My goal is to provide information and support to all users of our public lands. Pass it on.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Zion National Park, Utah

Out on the backroads the most scenic spots are the National Parks.  There are National Forests and BLM lands that come close to the scenery in the National Parks.  Unfortunately, as these spots get better known Congress tends to declare them National Parks. 

I have worked for the National Park Service, Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Managment.  They are have fine people working for them. But.........

The National Parks have LOTS more rules and regulations than the other two agencies.  Boondocking or dispersed camping is just not allowed in the Parks and extremely limited in the other units the Park Service runs.  Dogs are not allowed on almost all trails.  The National Parks are not on Bugaboo's favorites list, but they should be on yours.  If you are close go visit the Park particularly if you have a Age or Access Pass.   Parks are very expensive otherwise.

I first visited Zion National Park over thirty years ago in the summer time.  I enjoyed  Zion, but thought is was a "second tier" Park.  Definitely not in the league of Yellowstone or Yosemite.  During summer the leaves blotted out many of the views and the overhead sun lessened the contrast between rock and sky.

The time to visit Zion is after a snowstorm.  The red rock and snow make a very special combination.  We were rushing from Sedona back to Wenatchee when we decided to go through Zion National Park.  It had just snowed and it was spectacular.  I missed the first pictures as we drove through the tunnels and into the park.  Oh yeah, if you have an RV read the web site on taking an RV through Zion.  It is expensive!!

Zion National Park and RV entrance.

Look down about halfway down the page for specific information.  I would just enter the Park from the Hurricane, Utah side and bypass the tunnels.  Save tunnels for your toad or tow vehicle.

There is a nice campground at the entrance to Zion from Hurricane, Utah.  It was just opening as we were leaving.  I would visit Zion in March.  Wait for the magic that comes with a snowstorm.  The roads clear fairly quickly and it is gorgeous.  Otherwise, wait for the fall color.  Leave summer for kids.  There are plenty of high elevation spots in Utah to explore during the summer.

Here is the view of the Park Service campground.  Nice location.  We will be back there next March and planning on staying for more than a few hours.

The wildflowers are starting to bloom in Washington and the fish are jumping.  We will have both in the next boondocking location.  Oh, waterfront camping to boot for free.  Well, almost free.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Backroads Safety and Cell Phones

IMPORTANT UPDATE:  Cell phones with external antenna jacks are history.  Please click on this link:  Wilson Sleek Cell Phone Amplifier.  This is my update on current amplifiers.  Things are changing rapidly I will try and update as much as possible.  This update is Feb. 2013.

Do read the article below.  It does introduce and cover safety topics not addressed elsewhere in the blog.  Thanks for reading.

Out on the backroads it is unlikely to see a Forest Service or BLM presence, other than signing.    National and State Parks are just the opposite, with personnel highly visible and more people in the area. This assures that in an emergency situation help will come quickly. While traveling in secluded areas, here are a few things you can do to make it easier for emergency responders like the local Sheriff and EMT's.

First, be prepared with a first aid kit and other necessary items such as blankets, water, energy bars.  If you need emergency help, in many locations, it will be hours before help arrives.  Ask for help from people in the area. 

Emergency responders will NEED to know where you are!  It is difficult to find people on the backroads of our public lands.  You need to know your location and be able to tell 911.  This is an important reason to have a GPS unit with you.  All GPS should have a Latitude and Longitude reading.  Usually found under "where am I".  Find that on your GPS before you need help.  If possible, have someone meet the emergency vehicle and escort it to the emergency location.  That will save time.

If you see a Forest Service or BLM vehicle, get emergency help from them.  With their radios they can contact the Sheriff and make things much easier.  But in most cases, you will have to rely on your cell phone.

Before you travel backroads, program your cell phone so it beeps as you go in and out of service.  You always want to make note of where you last had cell phone service.  That way, in an emergency, you can head straight for the place where you last had a signal.

It is very likely it will be a poor signal once you get there.  Remember, in most cases going up in elevation will get you a better signal.  If you only have a poor signal, turn on the speaker phone and lay the cell phone where it gets reception.  Do NOT move the cell phone.  Moving a phone with a poor signal will cause the signal to go in and out of service. 

An external antenna will increase the stability of your signal and help your cell phone make a connection in remote areas.  Here is the antenna on my truck.  It is a Wilson cellular truck antenna, the most popular brand on the market.  

You will also need an adapter for your phone if it has an external phone jack or a "patch" adapter to wrap around the antenna.  Here is a picture of the adapter and external antenna jack on my cell phone.  There was no mention of the external jack in the manual, but the cell phone provider did know that the phone had one and its location.
Cell phone companies do not like external antennas and amplifiers.  There are currently on-going discussions about limiting their use while providing some mechanism for using them in back country areas.  So do not plug in the antenna unless you have to use it in a remote area.  In areas with good cell phone reception,if you use the antenna you will bleed over into other phone calls. Be kind to other cell phone users or your right to use them in emergencies and remote areas may be taken away from you.

You can purchase the Wilson Trucker Antenna through Amazon.  It is a great price, plus it comes with the mounting bracket.  Don't forget that you need to find the specific cell phone adapter for your phone or order the Velcro phone patch, if your phone does not have an external adapter.

Here is the link for the phone adapters for specific phones.
amazon phone adapter link

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Driving Backroads!

RV'ers complain that Forest Service and BLM roads are narrow and unsuitable for RV's.  Now, I can understand this since almost ALL Forest Service roads and MOST BLM roads are designed for this rig.  So, if your rig is larger than this, I can understand your concern.

One difference between your rig and this logging truck is that the logger knows exactly where he is going and who he is likely to meet along the road.  Oh ya, he thinks he's a better driver than you; but that is open for debate.
When I started working for the Forest Service in the early 1970's they actually taught you how to drive on mountain roads.  So, I will share a few tricks with you.

When my wife and I moved to Washington state in 1980 the dirt road to our house was posted with a large sign stating "PRIMITIVE ROAD NO WARNING SIGNS".  Now the sign is rather funny; but it has an underlying truth to it.  On paved roads, engineers put up speed limits, advisory signs, and even warning signs.  They also use neat tricks with designs and landscaping to slow you down.  Your driving reflects those conditions and you can drive faster or slower depending upon what is ahead.

All those signs and design features are missing on most BLM and FS roads.  You are alone and need to make those judgements.  Not a big deal.  Drive slow enough to stop before any hazard can occur.  DO NOT try to drive through snow.  Snow, down trees, and soft shoulders can cause real navigation problems; but we will leave them for later.  The important part is to drive slow and be aware of potential  hazards.

For several years, I did presentations for Life on Wheels in Moscow, Idaho and I would always ask the question  "What is an inter-visible turn-out".  Nobody knew.  But almost every FS and BLM road is designed with inter-visible turnouts.  Look at this picture.

This is not a parking area, it is a turnout to avoid head-on collisons!  Basically, on FS and BLM roads you are driving from turn-out to turn-out.  The Honda is in one turn out.  Look way down in the distance.  See that indent in the right side of the road?  That is the next turn out.

Next time you drive a backroad look for the turnouts.  They will usually be on the downslope side of the road, constructed of fill material.   They are not parking areas they are PASSING areas on one lane roads!!  Drive from one turn-out to the next turn-out and you will safely reach your destination.

Once you get use to driving on one lane roads with turn-outs life will becomes much easier.  What if you're too big to fit in a turnout?  No problem, as long as the other guy can; and in most situations this is the case.

Scout your roads before you drive them with your big RV, if possible.  Knowing about turn-outs will also make you more comfortable when driving in new areas.  On most backroads, there is little traffic and nearly everyone passing by will be willing to help you out when you have a problem.  Start slow, pay attention to turnouts and soon you will be driving the backroads like a pro, maybe better.

Take advantage of backroad travel. Roads like this are out there waiting for you to find them.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Tuzigoot and Montezuma National Monuments, Sedona, Arizona

There are three National Monuments within minutes of Sedona managed by the National Park Service.  Now the first time we were in the valley I passed on these little gems.  I though that they were just one of those units in the National Park system that were established to help bring tourism dollars to the local economy.  Just like Santa Monica National Recreation Area which is really a county park managed by the National Park Service with federal dollars.

It  was not until we were leaving Sedona that I noticed that two of the monuments were established by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 and the last by his cousin in 1939.  The monuments and parks established after 1970 tend to be ho hum in many cases,  but find a monument from 1906 or 1939 and you have something special.  Be sure to visit these sites.  I was not going to miss them this time around.

Montezuma's Castle National Monument was established in the very first round of National Monuments way back in 1906.  The picture above is the view of the "lodging" from the trail.  The fee for admission is $5, but with an Access or Age pass it is free as with all National Parks.

Montezuma's Castle has Beaver Creek flowing by the visitor center.  It is a very pretty area, well worth a longer stay than most folks give the area.  So pack some walking shoes and a picnic lunch to see more of this monument.

Just north of the Castle is Montezuma's Well.  Imagine finding a 74 degree lake in the middle of the desert.  Lakefront property was popular even in the 12th century when the Southern Sinagua's lived here.

There is a nice, very short loop trail that goes up and around the lake and parking area with a short spur down the water.

The lake reminded us of the Seep Lakes of eastern Washington.  Our lakes were carved out by floods of biblical proportions about 10,000 years ago.  However, it took the Bureau of Reclamation and Grand Coulee Dam to fill them in the 1950's.  But that is a story for a future blog.

The well is kept full from seepage up from the underground springs.

If you are from eastern Washington and homesick Montezuma's Well will make you feel right at home.

The last National Monument is Tuzigoot which was proclaimed by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939.  It is just north of Cottonwood and next to Dead Horse State Park.  Which has a campground and is worth a visit in its own right.

As you can see by our clothes and the clouds that pesky El-Nino weather kept following us around Arizona!

This community in it's day was a thriving condominium complex.  It would have been interesting to sit in on the condo meetings from the 12th century!

Here are the web sites for the monuments.  Visit the web site prior to seeing the area in person.  It will make your experience much richer and meaningful.

For Tuzigoot:

For Montezuma's Castle:

For Dead Horse State Park:

Don't forget those boondock sites in the previous blog!

Our goal is to expand this blog into a full blown web-site with much, much more information on exploring our public lands and small towns.  We are going to start publishing on special places on Monday.  Wednesday we will shift to posts similar to our previous wildflower post.  That is useful information that is not tied to one area, but will provide information on how to find your own special spots.  On Friday's we will post information on "stuff" that will make exploring your public lands more interesting.  We will review items such as binoculars, telescopes, maps, GPS units, fishing gear, etc. etc. 

Drop suggestions on the blog comment or e-mail us at  We hope this is the beginning of a long journey with many friends that we have met along the way!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

When is the Best Time to Visit a National Forest or Park?

The answer for most people is when the temperature is in the 70's, with blue skies and puffy white clouds.  Well, keep an eye on the temperature map in USA Today.  The scale on the map makes it difficult to pick the perfect location out west, since temperature here is dependent on elevation.

So how do you find those spots "where the climate suits your clothes".  Particularly, if your goal in life, like mine, is to never wear long pants again.

The answer is always go during the peak of the wildflower season.  If you prefer temperatures in the lower 70's, go a bit before the peak display.  If you like warmer temperatures, go just after the peak.  Now in a place like California, wildflower season starts along the coast in February and ends at 10,000 feet elevation in the high Sierra's sometime in August.  In Washington state, wildflowers start in April in the desert areas of eastern Washington and end high in the Cascades mountains sometime in late July or early August.

Most Forest Service or Park Service employees can tell you the peak of wildflowers in the areas where they work.  It is a much easier question for them to answer than temperature!!  There are even web sites that track peak wildflower displays.  Here is a site for California:  This is BLM's California site:

For the Forest Service the national site is:  You will enjoy  exploring the Forest Service site.  Many of the areas mentioned allow dispersed camping.  So there you go!  From February through August you can easily find that perfect spot, just follow the flowers.  This is what you're looking for.

Now some may say, "Fine.  This gets me to August.  What about the rest of the year?"  Well, same rules apply after August.  But now, pay attention to the fall color change.

Same rules, except now reversed.  If you want warmer temperatures, go just as the colors start to change.  For cooler temperatures, hang around for peak color and after.  Do not wait too long or the dominant color will be white; and you do not want to be there if you are wearing short pants!!  Here is the Forest Service site for following the fall colors: .

This is what you're looking for.

So now we are left with parts of November, December and January, in most cases.   Time to head down under and repeat!!  Enjoy the best of Chile, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia.  Sorry, I can't help you with shipping the RV.

The advantage to following the wildflowers and fall colors is temperatures will be comfortable during the day in most of the United States.  Both wildflower and fall color season will also have peak activity for wildlife.  The beautiful scenery of our public lands become spectacular during wildflower and fall color seasons.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Coconino National Forest, Sedona, Arizona

The Sedona area and the Red Rock country of the Coconino National Forest has become a vortex of spiraling spiritual energy in the Universe.  It has also become the vortex of jokes about people searching for meaning in their lives.  My personal vortex favorite is the purple egg house as you enter town.

Susie lived here in the late 1970's prior to the discovery of Sedona as a vortex of spiritual energy in the Universe.  Try as she might she could not convince me to visit Sedona.  Been there, experienced that at Berkeley.  Well, I finally agreed to visit Sedona a couple of years ago.

The black and white cowboy movies filmed by Hollywood in Sedona do not give the landscape justice.

The Red Rock formations and Oak Creek are something special.  Even the buttes in the distance are different in Sedona.

A simple horse pasture in Sedona takes you right back to the old west and all those Hollywood movies.  It is a good thing that most of those movies were in black and white.  The colors in Sedona would have made most people think that the landscapes were faked! 

So ignore the vortex stuff and visit your public lands in the Sedona area.  It is a special part of the west. 

The Red Rocks area has many, many trails for hiking and mountain biking.  If you enjoy day hiking you can spend a lifetime hiking all the trails in the area.  And since this National Forest land your well trained and well-behaved dog can enjoy them with you.  You need a Golden pass or one of those new-fangled Intergency passes with the pretty pictures for the trails or you can buy the Red Rock pass:

See even a person named Vladimir starts speaking western after a few days in Sedona!

The Coconino National Forest has a no camping zone around town, but just a short distance away are thousands of acres of Forest Service and BLM land that is open for camping.

Here is the link to the Coconino National Forest map on areas open for camping:

The Coconino National Forest has one of the shorter stay limits for National Forests at fourteen days.  Must have been a BLM staffer that got a job on the Coconino!!  Here are the official rules for dispersed camping:

The Forest Service is very helpful in posting signs.  If you see this one is means that boondocking or dispersed camping is allowed behind the sign.

 Be careful with picking your camping spot.  The soils in the area have a lot of clay and turn slippery when wet.  The technical term according to a soil scientist is "slick as snot". 

When we entering Sedona we saw a motorhome pull into a turn out and promptly sink up to the axles.  I think the tow bill is proportional to the size of the tow truck.  In which, case that must have been one hell of a bill.  So keep one eye on the weather and make sure you have your exit path  identified before you need it.

Use your toad or tow vehicle to find those camping spots before you pull your RV into the area.  This spot is less than ten minutes from Sedona along the Cornville-Camp Verde road.  There was a barb wire gate that you had to open to access literally tens of thousands of acres of land that you own in common with the American people.

Do not wait thirty years to visit Sedona like I did.  It is a unique and special area in the West.  Next posting we will visit that National Monuments around Sedona that are managed by those "other" guys known as the National Park Service. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Puerto Penasco, Mexico

Mexico.  Sunshine, beaches, and seafood.  For us the el-nino event brought rain, wind and clouds to California and Arizona.  Now winter in eastern Washington usually means clouds and some snow.  So while it was sunny and warm in Wenatchee we were in California with clouds, wind and rain.  So why did we leave Wenatchee?  There was only one solution and that was a run for the border to find sunshine!

It worked!  While Phoenix got rain we got sunshine!  It was great watching the weather on the TV for a change.  We rented a condo on the beach at Los Conchos just east of Puerto Penasco. 

Why go to Mexico instead of California?  Well, gas is cheaper in Mexico and more people speak English than in California. 

But Mexico is well Mexico.  Travel is an adventure with all sorts of hidden costs.  It was a hundred plus dollars for the Mexico vehicle insurance for one week. 

The dog required all sorts of exams, vaccinations and papers to cross into Mexico.  We followed the letter of the law and spent almost three hundred dollars for Bugaboo to visit Mexico.  We were waved into Mexico.  Returning to the US they just ignored Bugaboo.  A "local" from Phoenix pointed out the US has to keep the dog in quarantine for 30 days while their status is sorted out.  So maybe that is why Bugaboo was not even asked for identification!!

You need passports to return to the US. 

Violence in Mexico is in the news today.  We have never felt threatened in Mexico, but we have generally stayed in areas rural areas with large populations of Americans.  Mexico's justice system leaves a lot to be desired and I have several friends that just refuse to visit Mexico as a result their experiences. 

Read the blogs.  Read the news and make your own judgement on travel to Mexico.  The good news on Puerto Penasco is that you can make it a day trip from Organ Pipe Campground. 

Puerto Penasco is the ocean front property in Arizona.  Actually it is on the Sea of Cortez which in our opinion is better than than a location on the Pacific.  It is a more built up and tourist oriented than we like, but then that weather!

Here is the view from our condo.  Yes, it was a tough and difficult week, but somebody has to do it.  Even with the perfect weather the beach was virtually empty.  The economic tides have hit the tourist business hard in Puerto Penasco. 

As we mentioned we much prefer outdoor activities to city pursuits.  If you stay in Purerto Penasco, be sure to visit the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans (CEDO) located in Los Conchos.  They run kayak and birding trips out into the desert for a modest fee.  Be sure to inquire early about the kayak trips since they are tide dependent.  When we tried to book a trip it was to late since the tides were not going to be favorable until after we left.  They also have an interesting museum gift shop.  CEDO is a joint project with the University of Arizona.

Puerto Penasco has a "downtown" perched on the rocky point where the town was first established.  North of this area is the current town with "normal" shops.  Grocery shopping is best done at Lei's grocery store.  This is the only supermarket in town.  Fish and shrimp are best bought at downtown rather than the grocery store.  There are some good restaurants and bars in the area.

The Wikipedia entry is well worth reading if you intend to visit:

There are RV campgrounds in town that you can google and get phone numbers.  We did not visit them so have no recommendations in that area.  If you have stayed at them, please enter a comment in this blog for others.  Thanks.

Well, there are many reasons for visiting Mexico.  For us this is one of the best.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

San Pedro Riparian Area, Tombstone, Arizona

Water in Arizona is something special and the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area is worth a visit.  The area is 56,000 acres and ranges for 40 miles.  It provides habitat for well over 350 birds.

It is a area also rich in human history from 11,000 years ago to the present day.  The Indians, Spanish, miners, and cattle operations followed.  The BLM has restored the town of Fairbank which was the closes train depot to the town of Tombstone.  Today Fairbank is not the busy town it was once was, but it is still popular with visitors.

But what caught our eye is the extensive trail system that is open to hikers and mountain bikes.  There are well of 50 miles of trail in the area. 

The downside is that the area is a day use site only.  It appears there is little BLM land available for boondocking in the area.  There are plenty of RV campgrounds in St. David and Tombstone. 

There is a border check point just north of Tombstone and when we went on our hike there were two Border Patrol vehicles at the trailhead.  There is a campground host in Fairbank.  You might want to contact the Sierra Vista Office of the BLM or the Border Patrol for information on how safe the area is at night.

Tombstone, Arizona is just a short drive away from the riparian area.  It is a charming, tourist town.  Worth the visit.  There is a fee for visiting the OK Corral and we did not have the time to stay for the shootout!  This town is best visited with friends and a few beers so you can get into character.  For us it was an ice cream cone.  Hardly, the stuff you need to get into character in a town like Tombstone. 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Tucson, Arizona

On the road to Tucson.  Our reason for going to Tucson was to see how effective their dark sky ordinance was in preserving the night sky.  I also wanted to see the Center for Creative Photography that Ansel Adams set up on the University of Arizona campus.  So we drove through Saguaro National Park and Tucson Mountain Park run by Pima County.

Just driving the roads you can see where Tucson still feels part of the old West.  Must have been all those cowboy movies that we watched as kids!

Yes, driving in Tucson will have you searching for those Roy Rogers and Gene Autry recordings on your IPOD.

We visited Ted DeGrazie art museum.  An interesting stop that will give you an idea of old Tucson.  The paintings are also interesting, but they are just paintings.  It has free admission. 

Here is the link:

After stopping here we put in lunch spots close to the museum on our GPS.  What a surprise!  Moderately expensive lunch spot, with great setting, good service, good food.  What more can you ask for?

This is where we ended up for lunch:

We drove into Tucson on a Sunday morning as headed for the University of Arizona campus.  The photography gallery did not open until one o'clock, so we had to make do with the University Art Museum for one hour.  Admission is five dollars and well worth the visit.  Even for someone like myself that feels one good photograph is worth a thousand paintings!

The Center for Creative Photography is free.  It always has a small rotating display of Ansel Adams photographs.  You can also make an appointment to see specific photographs in their collection.  So if there is an obscure Weston or Adams photo that you want to see
you can make an appointment on weekdays. 

Here is their website with more information:

Go on Sunday if you can.  Parking is free and easy to find.  Weekdays on campus might be much more hectic.

Tucson has a few BLM boondocking sites in the area, but we did not go searching for them.  Instead we found Gilbert Ray Campground that is located in Tucson Mountain Park.  It is just over the hill from Tucson.
Here is the campground website:

Here are the important highlights:  $20 for RV's, no discounts, no reservations, 7 day limit, 30 amp electrical service only, centrally located water and dump, no generators.  Nice looking campground, with limited availability for rigs over 35 feet according to the front desk, but when we looked at the spurs there seemed to be plenty of room.

The Tucson area is one of our favorite areas of Arizona.  We intend to spend more time here next winter.  Hopefully, we will get here earlier and stay later.

If your driving from Phoenix to Tucson or vice-versa be sure to travel through Florence.  For all the guys, you can INSIST on stopping at this outlet store.  She NEVER wants to pass up an outlet mall, so this is your opportunity to stop on your own!

Many Arizona folks are proud of their gated communities.  The best buy at the store is a tee shirt for $10 that states Florence State Prison......A Gated Community. 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Organ Pipe National Monument, Ajo, Arizona

We have left rain and emerging wildflowers of coastal California for the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Mexico.

Organ Pipe National Monument was one of the most dangerous places in America just a few short years ago.  A National Park Service Ranger was killed by illegals using this as a route into the United States.

Now you will encounter Border Patrol checkpoints a 50 miles north of the Mexican border.  Every fourth vehicle is a Border Patrol rig.  The hillsides have towers and vehicles draped in camo to "maintain the scenic quality" of National Park Service Managed land.

We are not sure how dangerous this stretch of country is these days.  Probably a call to the Border Patrol or the National Park Service can give you a better idea.

It is however, a very special part of this country.  There are lots of reasons to visit this corner of America.

Organ Pipe National Monument is your typical National Park Service operation.  But what first caught our eye was a free boondocking spot just south of Why, Arizona on BLM land.

The site has plenty of room for large rigs and was complete with a campground host!!  Google Earth the following coordinates:  32 degrees 14 minutes 55.38 seconds NORTH and 112 degrees 44 minutes 47.36 seconds WEST.  The site is on the west side of the highway just south of Why, Arizona.  The following sign:

The sign gives you a graphic understanding about the difference in funding by the Federal Government for the Park Service versus the BLM.  The good news is the BLM site is free and your dog can go off-leash!!  Freedom might not be free, except maybe on BLM lands.  The BLM 14 day stay limit applies.  There were plenty of folks camping in the area when we visited.

The campground at Organ Pipes National Monument also has a 14 day stay limit.  It is, however, 12 dollars a night.  Half-price with the age or disability discount passes.  All camping spot had the concrete spurs.   Pull throughs could accomodate large rigs.  It is one of the best designs I have seen that incorporate RV vehicles.  Though I did wonder about making the turn from the spur on to the access road!  Maximum trailer size is 40 feet for both fifth wheels and motorhomes without the tow vehicle.

So in this part of the country you have a choice between free camping on BLM or those fancy spots provided by the National Park Service. 

Lots of country to explore in this neck of the woods.  See the National Park Service site for additional information:

This area is also on a direct route in Mexico.  More on this in our next posting!  Ah, Mexico sun, sand, beach, beer and shrimp.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sunset State Beach, California

The state parks of California's central coast are special.  Unfortunately, with the fiscal crises is California it appears that the state government has made the decision to state parks must be self-supporting.

The flaw in this argument is that the state parks, national forests, national parks, and the public lands managed by the BLM were never designed to be self-supporting.  They were designed to provide a quality camping experience for the typical American family. 

So now we have a situation where it costs more to camp in a state park that rent a motel room or a vacation home for an extended stay.

Here is what $35/night buys you at Sunset Beach State Park.   You get a picnic table and a fire pit.

No water, no hookups.  The toilet is down from the campsite.  It was clean.

The wildflowers are pretty, but I believe they are an invasive species!!  So much for the natural environment of our state parks.

If your over 30 feet you will have problems fitting into these sites.


Talking to the campground host use is down in the state parks.  The host noted that people are still showing up, but staying only three or four days instead of the usual seven.  This year the price is the same.  

Forget the private campgrounds.  The local KOA was $75-100 per night for a campsite. 

The Los Padres National Forest has some campgrounds up Chews Ridge that can accomodate small rigs.  Also Pinnacles National Monument has a campground just off Hwy 101, but that will require a drive to the coastal areas.  Still this part of the coast is pretty special and you should experience at some time or other.

The other alternative is to rent a vacation home in Carmel for $2,000 month.  For two couples that is cheaper than staying in a California State Park!!  What in the world!!

We have just returned from a short side trip to Mexico.  We will continue posting on sites in Arizona.  Then it is back to Washington State for the start of spring wildflowers and fishing season.   And most importantly, FREE CAMPING!!