Thursday, April 29, 2010

Go Ask Alice.....

photo courtesy USDA Forest Service

Backroads: Information Sources

The federal agencies do not know the term boondocking.  Ask for information on boondocking and, in most cases, you will get a confused look.  The agency term is "dispersed camping".  Always use the term dispersed camping.  Right away, it tells the employees that you "know the ropes".

But where do you look for information and who do you ask?

The person at the front desk of local BLM or Forest Service office is the receptionist.  For some reason, they are also there to provide information to the public about their lands.  Well, in some cases, you will get somebody that knows the public lands and, in some cases, you will get someone that just hands out information.   

Usually pretty poor information, at that.

So if the “receptionist” does not seem to know much about the area, elevate your questions.  At the Forest Service Supervisor’s Office ask for the Recreation Staff or Recreation Program Manager.  For the Ranger Districts the person to ask is the Resource Assistant or Recreation Staff.  The same positions in the BLM are called Outdoor Recreation Planners.  If these folks are out of the office ask to talk to someone that RV’s or camps on the public lands.

When I was working, I always told the front door staff to refer folks needing more specific information to me.  It was a lot more fun to talk and serve the public, rather than fill out budget spreadsheets, answer questions from the Regional Office, or a myriad of other tasks that seem to pass for work.

Don't forget to talk to employees you find out in the woods or desert.  In most cases, they are more than willing to help.  Ask about their jobs.  You will learn a lot about the land you own when you show an interest and talk to the folks on the ground.

Most Forest Service and BLM employees backpack, fish, hunt, mountain bike and do everything but use an RV.  As soon as they retire they generally do buy an RV, but at that point it's too late for them to provide public information.  Well, this book is the exception to the rule.

Once you get someone talking to you the next step is to ask the correct questions.  This is particularly important if the person does not have a clue about RV’ing.

For example:  DO NOT SAY…"Can I turn my trailer around at the end of the road?"

SAY…."I need a flat, drivable area the size of a tennis court to turn my trailer around.  Is there a flat area that big at the end of the road?"  Emphasize flat…without rocks... drivable…swamps don’t count.  Tennis court…THAT BIG!!   

Many people do not have a clue about the turning radius required to turn around a truck and trailer combination.

When asking about campgrounds and how long the camping spurs, the answer you will get is
probably just a wild guess.  Most ranger districts have never measured the camping spurs.

Things get much more difficult, when you ask about slides.  The answer you will likely get is, "What is a slide?", along with a puzzled look.  It is better to ask how many trees are in the campground and how close they are to the campground spurs.

I am not aware of any National Forest campgrounds designed with slides in mind.

It is tough to get good information about RV’s on National Forest or BLM lands.  Keep at it.  Eventually they will get the message.

And odds are, eventually, one of your visit will give you the gem that makes all those frustrating times asking questions at the front desk worthwhile.

My personal method is to talk to everybody I encounter and always ask questions.  Sometimes I even ask questions when I already know the answer.  This establishes the person's creditability and makes it easier  to judge the quality of the answer on a real question.

My favorite stops are in small towns where I usually find people with lots of local information they are willing to share.  It might be at the tire shop, post office, or the local diner.  Just keep asking.

Have your maps handy to make notations.  At this point in my life, I remember everything.  Unfortunately, it's not usually at the time I need it!!

This guy knows some of the coolest, out of the way spots on public lands.  Unfortunately, he tends to keep the information to himself.

It is possible to find those special spots with a little help from friends.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Blue Lake, Loomis, Washington

Boondock Destination:  Blue Lake

Once fishing season opens in the lowlands of Okanogan County we start camping up north towards the Canadian line.  This weeks boondocking location is Blue Lake, just south from the town of Loomis and west of Tonasket.  Heading up 97 you can stop at the Wal-Mart supercenter to stock up on supplies and then head east to Fish Lake and a few miles north to Blue Lake.

Here are the Google or GPS coordinates:  48 40 18.62 N  119 41 20.70 W
The official directions can be found here:

Blue Lake is located in the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area so you need that $14 parking permit or a state fishing license that will give you that parking permit.  This wildlife area was established as critical winter range for deer, but currently has a healthy bighorn sheep population along with other wildlife species.  There are five lakes located the 14,000 acres of wildlife area.  

We are not sure how the bighorn sheep  feel about all the humans, but a couple of times we have been in Loomis when they came down and had their "own critical mass" demonstration blocking traffic in town and generally being obnoxious.  There are not many places left in the country where bighorns wander into town on a regular basis.

The wildlife area has an excellent gravel road that can be traveled in large rigs.  No size restrictions on finding boondocking areas here.  You can bring you large motorhomes and trailers into this area.  The gravel road can get washboardee (is that a word??) so go slow.

The downside is that the area is popular in late April and early May due to fishing season.  Here is the view on part of the lake on opening day.

But as can see by the first picture on this blog entry, later in the season you can be the only camper on the lake.  Avoid the area in mid-October during the deer rifle season.  Every camping spot will be taken and the fields and forests are full of people dressed in orange.  With the exceptions of those two times you will have plenty of room to roam.

The area is popular with residents of western Washington, but the distance from urban areas limits the number that make the long drive over the mountains.  They are easy to spot since they almost always bring their drift boats for fishing.  It is always looks odd to see a drift boat on an eastern Washington lake.

There is a newly constructed hiking and bicycle trail from the northermost lakes to the north end of Blue Lake.  This trail is not well known by the public yet as it is still being contructed, but the northern portion is complete. 

"The trail leading to an ADA view blind and and ADA fishing pier are located at Conner Lake. An ADA trail is located to the northwest of Blue Lake leading to a viewing blind on the west side of Blue Lake. There is about 8 miles of trail from Headquarters and Conner Lake to about 1 mile north of Fish Lake - Hunter Camp Access Site. These trails are available to hikers, horseback riders with portions for ADA use. Additional trail features include 2 Kiosks, 2 interpretive signs, and 6 view blinds. Bird and butterfly watching opportunities exist all along the trails. Wildflower enthusiasts will also find subjects to interest them."

Most Americans will be arriving from the south and driving through the town of Omak.  One of our favorite lunch stops in Omak is the Breadline Cafe:

Closer to Blue Lake is the Loomis Country Store.  Basic food and fishing supplies, plus good hamburgers and hard ice cream.  The basics of life.

Blue Lake is less than a dozen miles from the Canadian border, so do not forget to bring your passport if you visit this area.  The area in Canada is much more urban and crowded than Okanogan County.  But then the Canadians have always considered their Okanagan Valley to be the Palm Springs of Canada.

There are millions of acres of public land to explore in this neck of the woods between Canada and the United States.  It is a part of America, most people just plain never get to see.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Columbia National Wildlife Refuge and Potholes Reservoir, Moses Lake, Washington

Boondock Destination:  Columbia Wildlife Refuge and Potholes Reservoir

Right next door to the wonderful boondocking sites at Seep Lakes is the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge and Potholes Reservoir.

The wildlife refuge offers interpretive and hiking trails, and a campground.  There is no dispersed camping on the refuge.

The Columbia Wildlife Refuge has the absolute worst campground that I have ever seen in my nearly 40 years as a Forester.  The picture above shows the only sites that are somewhat functional.  However, the campground fee is only five dollars for which you get a toilet and a shaded picnic table some distance from your rig.  With the discount passes the price drops to $2.50 a night.  I would rather stay next door on the Seep Lake sites.

There are nice hiking trails and lakes to fish.  There are fewer people using the refuge so it is a nice spot to get away!  Lots of areas to canoe or kayak also.

Here is the link to the refuge website: .  Be sure to click on the Recreation tab for a list of trails.

Potholes Reservoir is an interesting area to visit and camp.  There is dispersed camping available at the Fish and Wildlife boat launches, but you need that $14 parking pass or buy a fishing license.

The north end of Potholes Reservoir near I-90 has a wonderful sand dune area.  Here is a Google Earth image.  As always, click on the picture to bring up the full screen version.

That is water between the sand dunes.  If you take you canoe or kayak in there, be sure to have a GPS that can leave a breadcrumb trail so you can find your way out!!

Potholes State Park offers upscale camping complete with full hookups for $28/night.  The non-hook up sites, I believe, are $14 a night.  Nice park with lawn and playground for the kids.  You might want to call for reservations if you want to stay here during summer.  888-226-7688.  In the Google image the State Park is just south of the waterway entering from the west (Frenchman's Wasteway).  It is the funny green spot with the X's and O's!

For more information see Washington State Parks site for Potholes:

The tab on the left under Potholes will give you additional information on the Park.

There are many more areas to explore in the neighborhood.  Rather than listing them I will let you discover them on your own.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Image Stabilized Binoculars

Boondock Product: Image Stabilized Binoculars

Every once in a while a product is improved to such a degree that it forever changes that product.  Remember film camera's?  With the advent of digital film camera's have become a very small market.  And Paul Simon's protests not withstanding they did take his Kodachrome away.

Well, binoculars are undergoing that same revolution with Image Stabilization built into the optics.  Now there are binoculars costing thousands of dollars with fancy names like Zeiss.  Unless, they have image stabilization you will get a much, much better image with a $350 pair of Canon 10X30Image Stabilization Binoculars.

In binoculars what you see determines image quality.  Now the high end fancy named binoculars have better optics, but once you start holding them their advantage disappears.  Holding binoculars steady is impossible unless you attach them to a tripod.  With the new Canon Image Stabilization Binoculars the binoculars hold themselves steady for you.

The difference in what you can see is astounding.  The image is sharp and steady.  You can see much more detail.

The Canon's require AA batteries and a push of the button to activate the image stabilization.  One look through a pair of stabilized binoculars and you will never go back to regular binoculars.

You have to carry spare batteries since you get about four hours of stabilization time.  You have to press a button to hold the stabilization on and it shuts off when you release the button.   They look “different” than regular binoculars.  They are water resistant rather than water proof and like all binoculars that should not be dropped or roughly handled.

So why do you need a pair?  Well, as we get older it gets more and more difficult to hold binoculars steady.  These take care of that problem. 

When driving that GPS unit reviewed in a previous blog warns you about exits and which lane to take.  With the Image Stabilization binoculars your co-pilot can read the highway signs as you roll down the road to confirm the GPS unit.  Yes, those 10% percent times when the GPS is wrong can be avoided with these binoculars.

Your birdwatching, sky watching, and  concerts and plays will be much more enjoyable.

The Canon Image Stabilization Binoculars come in various sizes.  Like all binoculars the first number refers to the magnification and the second the size of the front lens.  Rather than get into a long discussion on optics, buy the 10X30 binoculars.  These are small enough and light enough to be comfortable for everyday use.  Unless you have a specific need, buy these rather than the larger sizes.

Also Amazon still has the great price on the Wilson Cellular antenna previously reviewed.  The cell antenna, GPS units and binoculars make for a fine kit to have next to the driver as you drive the backroads of America.

As always we appreciate your support by clicking on the ads and purchasing through Amazon via this blog.  We get a small commission from Amazon that does not affect the price you pay.

If you enjoy the blog please share the link for your friends.  Thanks.

Sorry for the delay in publishing Friday's blog, but we were out of EVDO range.  Look for future posts about these special locations!

Here is the link to the Wilson Anntenna.  That is a great price!!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Kindness of Locals.....

Those of us that travel find our most memorable trips are because of the kindness of locals.  Yes, the scenery may be spectacular and the history life changing, but it is the kindness of the local people that makes the memories of those special trips.

We were packing up for a week's vacation on the Idaho/Montana divide.  Our journey would take us up Highway 12 along the Lochsa River up to Lolo Pass.  From there, the plan was to go a few miles south to Packer Meadows.  Now, Packer Meadows is not well known today; but in the early 1800's it was one of Lewis and Clark's favorite campsites.  They were rather favorably impressed with Packer Meadows and camped there both coming and going.  It was one of their favorite campsites along their long journey.

Well, if Lewis and Clark thought it special, we figured it would be great to to spend a week there.  It was close to Lolo Hot Springs.  A river does not flow through Lolo Hot Springs, but the creek does and it played an important part in the famous book about Montana.  From Packer Meadows we could easily get to Indian Post Office Lake and the route Lewis and Clark took down to the Snake River.  It was also where I spent the summer of 1972  working on timber sales along Gravey Creek for the Forest Service.  The Lochsa Lodge provided the special dinner out,which my wife insists is a necessary part of a camping trip.  Elk Summit and Big Sand Lake were also on the agenda for a hike that had been almost 30 years in the waiting.

But the morning of our departure, as I was waiting for my wife and daughter to finish packing, I gave our new puppy a belly rub. She promptly flopped on her back to get the full effect of my scratches.  It felt like her belly was full of rocks!!  My wife confirmed that, "Yes, it feels like her belly is full of rocks."  About an hour later are vet said,  “ Her belly is full of little red rocks”.  Those little red rocks that we used for our landscaping!

The vet was rather specific in his instructions.  Here is a pill.  Do NOT give it to the pup, until you are camped at Packer Meadows. 

The drive to Packer Meadows was rather uneventful.  But it had been raining all week at Packer Meadows.  The “road” to our campsite along the meadow was downhill.   What are the chances of it continuing to rain for another week?

So I took the tent trailer down to the campsite.  It would be no trouble getting out once our little road dried out.

That night we could see the elk across the meadow from our campsite.  My daughter caught her first fish on a fly.  And our new puppy got her worming pill to cleanse her body of worms and red landscaping rocks.   The wisdom of our vet's instructions became very evident as we saw the results of that little pill.

The next week we visited the hot springs, watched the moose on Elk Summit, and generally had a great time while it rained every day.  And each day I watched for clearing skies, but if they appeared it was only a brief tease.  It continued to rain.

Finally it was time to leave.  It did not look good.  I figured I had one good shot at getting out.  If I started slipping and sliding it was going to get ugly.  So I found all the wood I could and laid a path back up to the gravel road.  I dropped the tent trailer and hooked it up to the truck. 

It is in moments like this, that you always wonder... “What made me think I did not need 4-wd on this truck?”.
I stalled, waiting for some help to drive down the gravel road.  We had seen at least one truck a day on the road, so the possibility did exist.

I heard the truck coming up the road and scrambled to flag it down.  The truck had Montana plates and was driven by a woman in her 40's.  Riding shotgun was her mother.  Well, I flagged them down and asked for their help.  My wife and the woman took the rear end of the tent trailer.  I took the back of the truck.  That nice lady's mother from Montana took the wheel of my 2-wd 5 speed truck.

I told the nice older lady to keep going and don't stop until she hit gravel!!  With everybody pushing the wheels started spinning and mud started flying.  The wheels were going round and round and the truck was barely moving.  More mud started flying around and the truck started picking up speed.  Pretty soon I dived out of the way as the tent trailer shot past me. 

I ran after the truck and trailer and caught up with them on the gravel road.  As I approached the driver's side I could hear laughing.  So I asked “Well, what's so funny?”.  She looked at me and said “Honey, I haven't driven a car in almost twenty years.  That was a lot of fun”. God bless Montanan's!

My daughter is a woman now.  That puppy hunted with me for thirteen years, and, yes, there were tears when she died.  And the memory of that laughter from a stranger still brings a smile to my face. 

It is hard to forget the kindness of locals. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Seep Lakes, Othello, Washington

We are continuing our tour of the desert areas of eastern Washington while waiting for the snow to melt in the mountains.  In the 1880's this area was know as the Columbia Desert.  But the wheat farmers discovered that wherever there was bunchgrass wheat was grow.  Then in the 1930's Grand Coulee Dam was built as a "make work" project and the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project came into being.  Quickly, over two decades the desert became farms.  And the Columbia Desert disappeared from the maps so much so that most people do not recognize the desert of Washington state. 

Here is the google earth link for a satellite view of the area:,-119.18468&spn=0.058619,0.154324&z=13

It is worth exploring this area with google earth.  It is a very interesting landscape.

As you can see in the picture.  There is an awful lot of water for a desert!!  When the Irrigation Project started pumping water through the rock lined canals they leaked.  And areas lower than the canal had lakes appear from the seepage, hence the name seep lakes.  So there you have it.  A desert full of lakes.  The first half created by God, with the floods of 15,000 years ago and the second half by the US Bureau of Reclamation.  An unlikely pair of land managers. 

For more on the floods click on this link:

The end result is an area that would be never be found in nature and does not seem to make ecological sense.  My first view of the Seep Lakes was in 1972 while still a Forestry student at UC Berkeley.  I had no knowledge of the floods, the desert and the irrigation project.  I just kept looking at the landscape wondering "what is going on here?"

The Seep Lakes are worth the visit for camping, fishing, hiking, duck hunting, mountain bike riding, horseback riding, and other outdoor activities.  The desert wildflowers are just starting to bloom.

The Meadowlarks are calling in the sage with their nests well hidden.  But as the weather warms keep an eye out for ticks and the rattlesnakes.  The only time a rattlesnake struck at me was duck hunting in the Seep Lakes in October.  What a marvelous landscape with ducks and rattlesnakes!!

Lots of places to boondock in the area.  You need the $14 parking permit or a fishing license to camp here.  See the post on Quincy lake last week for additional information.

Here are what the campsites look like in the area.

Try these coordinates for campsites:  Susan Lake 46 57 26.43 N 119 11 58.20 W

Windmill Lake 46 55 49.77 N 119 10 47.23 W and Lyle Lake 46 55 35.55 N 119 11 57.25 W

There are other campsites in the area, but these are the ones I like the best. 

The cool weather in Arizona has followed us back to Washington State.  It has been cloudy and cool since we have come back.  Fortunately, Seep Lakes is one of the warmer places with usually clear skies.  It has not been really cloudy, but more of a hazy sunshine.  We are ready for 75 degrees and full-blown sunshine.  It should be here any day now. 

Next week we will cover the Columbia Basin National Wildlife Area and Potholes Reservoir  which are next door to the Seep Lakes area.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Buying Maps

If you hike, fish, hunt or just like walking in the outdoors, topographic maps are your ticket to finding great places.  In the past, you had to buy these maps individually at outdoor stores and they were pretty pricey.  Now in the computer age, maps are relatively easy to generate and the cost has gone down.  The National Geographic society has taken the public domain maps produced by the United States Geological Survey and put them in an easy to use program.  These are available for each state.  Still expensive, for covering the west but much cheaper than those old paper maps.

For those of you not needing that kind of detail in a map, I recommend the Back Roads Explorer program by National Geographic.  I have.  I know the Amazon reviews were not too flattering, but I have not had issues with the program.  It is a smaller scale than the state series and users were disappointed.  But, if you do not need the level of detail provided in the state series this is a good compromise.

With both products you can attach a GPS unit and it will give you current location.  This is really handy for traveling back roads.  Mapping is good in some areas and rather poor in others.  It appears that they used the Census maps plus some other sources.  Just be careful when traveling out on the backroads.  NEVER substitute your own judgement for what you see on a map!! 

The National Geographic map series appears to be on the verge of being discontinued.  There are rumors that National Geographic will start selling maps individually.  EXPENSIVE.  Anyway, I am sure that someone will repackage the topographic maps into a computer program.  Hopefully, it will be as easy to use as the Topo! programs.

The other big player in computer maps is DeLorme Company.  This is their national edition.  They also split this program into a Western and Eastern US edition.  It appears this map series is based on the DeLorme  Gazetteer paper maps.  So they offer the entire country in a computer program.

Again, you can connect a GPS unit to these computer programs.  I do not like the DeLorme interface, mileage information was often inaccurate.  The National Geographic interface is much simpler and easier to learn.  However, this is the lastest version from DeLorme; and it looks like National Geographic is exiting the field!

Of course, I can't forget paper maps.  Well, you can buy the DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer for each state.  These appear to be based on the Census maps.  Great detail in rural areas, very poor detail on National Forest and BLM lands.  Many people carry these.  They are handy in areas of public land that are intermixed with rural areas.  Benchmark Press also makes a similar series of maps.  Take a look at both and see which you prefer.

Ok, so now we are down to Forest Service maps.  You can purchase these from various stores or on-line at Amazon.  Our recommendation is that you buy them from the Ranger Stations or Supervisor's Offices.  The prices are generally better, they carry the Firemen's maps, if available, and you can ask questions and pick up brochures.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Maps....the tool for exploring backroads

Notice that I said MAPS, plural.  Unfortunately, there is no single map source useable for exploring the usbackroads.  Almost all maps are produced by federal, state, or local governments.  Private mapping companies take these government maps and repackage them for various purposes.  Unfortunately, there is no federal office of boondocking on federal lands.  Although that might be a good thing.

As a professional Forester, maps are the most important tool in my vest.  And I have lots of them!  My collection includes aerial, satellite photos, and multi-spectural images, as well.

All maps are drawn to show and convey specific information.  Once you know the information that  the map shows, it is easier to interpret and read the map.  For example, the US Census maps the roads throughout the United States for the purposes of conducting the census.  They match the address on the census form with the address on their maps.  This how they know to send out a census worker to remind you to return your census form.  The Census is looking for homes.  So those roads without homes on them are basically ignored by the Census.  If you use a "private" map or mapping program that is based on the Census "Tiger" files, the backroads without homes are going to be marginal in their mapping.  The backroad portions of these maps will be more general, lacking in detail and many omissions.

Let's start with the grandaddy of all maps, the United States Geological Survey 7.5 minute series topographic maps.  Most hikers use these maps and I am quite sure many of them think they were made just for them by USGS.   Not so. The USGS made them for building roads, subdivisions, powerlines, factories, mines, timber sales, and other economic development.  The key factor for designing all these projects is topography.  USGS maps are accurate with respect to topography.  The cultural features such as roads and trails are secondary and could or could not be correct.  So if you need topography information look no further.

The United States Forest Service prepares a several different sets of maps useful for boondockers.
The first of these is the Visitor Map.  Costing anywhere from ten to sixteen dollars, the visitor map is usually comprised of one National Forest and shows many roads, campgrounds, and other visitor activities.  Some Forest maps show other public land ownership, as well.  These are especially good for boondockers since it shows many dispersed camping area possiblities on and off National Forest land.

The Forest Visitor Map displays developed areas where the Forest Service thinks you want go and ALSO where THEY want you to visit.  There is nothing wrong with this, but sometimes I just want to explore on my own.

The Forest Service also makes what they call "Firemen's maps".  They are also sometimes called Ranger District maps, but check to make sure they are based on the fire maps.  These maps show all roads and associated road numbers that show up on the ground with those brown plastic posts along the road.  They show nifty items such as lookouts, emergency lookouts (view site!), fire camps (hey, you can get a big rig into these.  Of course, after a lighting bust you might have a LOT of fellow campers dressed in yellow camping with you),  seaplane landing spots, rock sources, portable water pump sites, and of course, heliports and helispots.  They generally sell for about six dollars for each Ranger District.

I love the disclamer on these maps:  "This administrative use map was constructed by the USDA Forest Service.  This map does not comply with National Map accuracy standards.  There are many roads shown on this map which are NOT maintained for passenger car use".  Hey, this sounds like my type of map!!

The Forest Service sometimes publishes one more map and the price is right:  NO CHARGE!  It is not FREE since you pay for it with your tax dollars.  It is called the Travel Management Map.  These maps show which areas are closed and open to motorized travel.  That includes your RV!  In the near future, all Forests will have to have these maps available to the public.

If you are boondocking on Forest Service managed land stop by their offices and take a look at all three maps.  In many cases, the Travel Management map might be all you need.

The BLM also produces maps.  Their base series is called the Surface Management maps.  The BLM manages the Federal mineral and oil and gas resources.  Pass on these maps.  They do not show enough roads and you probably do not care about mineral rights on federal land.

The BLM in several areas of the country has joined with the Forest Service in producing joint Visitor Maps.  These are worthwhile.  In some areas, the BLM also produces their own visitor maps and in some cases, they produce specific maps for small areas.  These are great and in many cases free.  The BLM does a good job of using their in-house data sources for producing very useful maps.

Google Earth is a great tool for checking out specific areas where you have an address or latitude & longitude.  No, Google did not send a satellite in orbit to take photos.  Again, these are government sources that Google packaged into their software.  A few years ago the resolution was rather poor, but has improved significantly in recent years.  You really do need a photo-interpretation class to best use Google Earth.  If you find one, sign up for it.  You will learn a lot.

Even without the photo-interpretation class, lots can be learned from Google Earth images.  For example, you can determine the aspect of a slope.  If it is a north facing slope with lots of trees, in the spring time it may be difficult to drive this road due to lingering snow and trees falling across the road.  A road on an open grassy slope facing south is probably going to be free of snow much sooner.  There, you just did some photo-interpretation even without a class.   Look at Google Earth and see what you can learn from it.

This covers the major map sources I recommend for boondocking.  In the next segment, I will show you how to build a library of maps without going broke!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Quincy Lake, Quincy, Washington

Your computer has probably been to Quincy, Washington even though you probably have not been there.  The vegetable farms around Quincy are still there, but new farms, called "server farms" built by companies like Microsoft and others have started in the area due to cheap electricity and favorable climate.

For those not familiar with Washington state, much of it is desert.  Now you can see why we so enjoyed Montezuma's Well outside of Sedona.

When my daughter was four we were coming back from Oregon when she read the welcome sign to Washington.  She only had one question "why do they call Washington the Evergreen State when it is always brown?"  It isn't always brown.

Wildflower season is now bringing the desert abloom with the yellow of balsam root, pink and white phlox and green grasses.  Shortly, in less than two months it will be brown.

There is a small portion of the state west of the Cascade Mountains that stays green due to the relentless rain.  We will visit there in late July and early August when the rain abates for a month or so over there.

Fishing and camping is the draw in the Quincy Lake area.  Camping is free with a state Fishing License or you can buy the parking permit for just $14.  The non-resident fishing license is only $48 and includes the camping and parking permit.  Non-resident fishing licenses don't came cheaper than this.

You can find a rock to fish from.

Take your rowboat and best friend fishing with you.

Or buy a bad, cheap cigar and take your float tube to paddle around the lakes.

The fishing is good in the area.  There is one lake with Tiger Muskies named Evergreen.  I suppose it really should have been named Everbrown, but whatever.  One lake ,named Stan Coffin, offers catch and release for bass.  Other lakes with bass and warmwater fish are also available.  Quincy and Burke Lakes have rainbow trout; while Dusty Lake is a selective fishery (no bait, single barbless hook for trout).  There are also other bass and trout lakes that require a short hike.

Here are the coordinates for Google Earth.  Just copy and paste in Google Earth.

47 08 27.44 N, 119 55 33.32 W

This is your waterfront boondock.  There are other waterfront campsites in the area and big rigs will fit in all of them.  It is very busy in March when fishing season opens and then use and camping declines after this.  In April, you might be the only camper in the area.  This site is only ten miles north of I-90, four miles from Quincy, and thirty miles from the metro area of Wenatchee.

In the spring, there are ticks, rattlesnakes and wind.  The wildflowers and fishing make up for those minor issues.

Until this year there were few rules or regulations.

Well, here they are for 2010:

and here is the link for the camping and parking permit:

Now the deserts of southern California and Arizona have their charms and attractions.  The desert areas of Washington have all that plus WATER.  Thanks to Grand Coulee Dam we have fishing, hiking, boating, camping and just plain fun in eastern Washington.  Come and explore the Washington nobody but locals know!

Wine Update......Just south of Quincy is Royal City.  Remember way back in our Napa Valley posts we were surprised to see a Royal City Winery have the second best wine according to Wine Enthusiast magazine.  We were worried about Royal City becoming another snooty wine place.

Our fears are unfounded.  Here is a brief sketch of the winemaker in Seattle magazine.  Oh, he won winemaker of the year for Washington state.   Royal City is in safe, sane hands. 

Particularly, since Royal City wines are made in Walla Walla.  As we said you should visit the Napa Valley since it is the Walla Walla of California.  However, if you live anywhere close to south-east Washington a trip to the real thing is in order.  We will cover that in a future blog.

Winemaker of the Year
Charles Smith
A powerhouse in the Washington wine world, Charles Smith (509.526.5230;, K Vintners’ owner/winemaker, has been admired and vilified for his no-nonsense approach to wine—“It’s just booze, drink it!”—and his ability to create a buzz around whatever he touches. His Modernist Project is a collection of wines that show “varietal typicity” (i.e., Merlot that tastes like Merlot), as well as being affordable and approachable while young. The names of his wines are irreverent—Old Bones Syrah, Kung Fu Girl, The Velvet Devil Merlot, Boom! Boom! Syrah—and the wines themselves are just as in your face, or rather, in your mouth, with full-flavored fruit and an earthy and oaky intensity that have become synonymous with the dynamic changes constantly in play in Washington wine.

Friday, April 2, 2010

GPS and Backroads

GPS & Backroads

GPS have gone mainstream, but they haven't gotten to the backroads.

So, should you get one for backroads travel?  Absolutely!

In a previous article, I talk about cell phones and their use in contacting help in an emergency.  At some point, we are all found in this type of situation. The first thing the 911 operator will ask you, besides your name, is your location.  The quickest, easiest and most accurate way is to read the coordinates from your GPS. Your phone GPS will work if it gets its' location from satellites, rather than cell towers.  Check it.  In the backcountry, cell towers are rare.

Another reason for getting a GPS is they are handy while driving interstates, state highways, and county roads on the portion of the trip before you get to the backroads.  In areas without data, the GPS unit will still drop a breadcrumb trail showing the way you are driving into the area.  That will then show you how to get out the same way you came into the area.

Ok......convinced?  Which one should you buy?  GPS units now come with lots of bells and whistles.  You can get photo viewers, MP3 players, bluetooth for your phone, and on and on it goes.  My recommendation is to skip all that stuff, and focus on the items that will help you while driving.

Get the 4.3 inch wide unit or larger.  Measure the distance from your eyes to the windshield where you will place the GPS unit.  Usually it is placed on the left side of the windshield, or in the middle.  Now, while in the store look at the screen from that distance.  Does it work for you?

Make sure you can input Latitude and Longitude as a destination.  Your backroads destinations do not have mailing addresses!  Look deep in the instructions for this feature.

Spoken street names are important.  The unit will say "turn left on Burch Mountain Road", instead of turn right now.  The reassurance of the spoken street names will help you find your destination and make driving easier and safer.  When streets are very close together it is easy to turn early or late; and you won't know you made the wrong turn until the unit says "recalculating".

I really like the option which displays the speed limit on the road your driving.  No more speed traps for this kid.

Points of Interest is a handy item.  Make sure your GPS has this feature.  It will give you gas stations, motels, restaurants, shopping and everything in the yellow pages.  It will show address, phone number and distance from where you are.  Pressing GO will immediately start the GPS unit and give you directions.  Handy, very handy for travel.   I use it for all travel stops.  Backcountry points of interest are very limited. 

Almost all GPS units will give your time of arrival, computed without stops or breaks.  It is almost always on target in predicting when you will get there.  This is a very handy feature for campground reservations, friends, and other times when you need an ETA (estimated time of arrival).

All the GPS companies get their information from government sources.  The original files were based on the Census Bureau Tiger files.  The Census maps the entire country to verify return of census forms, so these maps are really poor if there are no homes along the road.  Seems like backroads are not mapped by the census.  The GPS companies also get data from state and county sources.  Backroads are not county roads or state roads.  You get the picture.  We will cover maps for backroads in future articles.

But for now, remember all GPS companies get their maps from the government.  They probably update them for urban areas on their own, but otherwise forget it.  They do not reveal the dates of the source maps in the GPS units, so you can only guess when they were last updated.  Some people will argue one company's maps are better than another.  I'm skeptical about these claims.

So what do I recommend?  After a long and painful analysis I bought the Garmin Nuvi 255W.  It offers all the important features, but is missing all the bells and whistles.

Amazon has it.  Good price.  Good unit.

Get a GPS unit. You will not regret the purchase.  Next to cell phones, it's the best thing for travel in a long, long time.

During hunting season I follow this guy, Bugaboo, a German Long Hair Pointer.  The rest of the time I use my GPS,  computer mapping programs, Forest Service and BLM maps on the backroads.

The next chapter will cover how to use your GPS and how it compliments working with paper maps and other information.