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.


Len Surprenant said...

Just found your site via Hitch Itch and really like what and how you give us your info. How can one search your blog for a specific area of a state?

Little Toot 2

Vladimir Steblina said...

I posted the summary pages for that reason last week. As I get more blog entries I will probably have to move to a different format.

However, if you have a specific questions just post in the comment column or e-mail me at

When I started the blog I quickly listed over 50 sites and areas that I intend to feature in the blog. The issue is that I do not have pictures of the all the sites or they are buried in my slide collection!

But you can short-cut the process just by asking me questions and I can try and find an area that matches your interests.