Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to Start a Campfire

Backroads Information--How to Start a Fire

When I became a Professional Forester there were three things the public expected from you.  First....That you know the name of every tree.  Second...Never get lost in the woods.  Third....Know how to start a fire.
Of course, on my first professional job the first "request" my employer had was to rewrite a computer program that checked tree measurements!!!

I was working for the Forest Service inspecting a campground after a rainy night and a lady walked up to us and asked how to start a fire.  I almost started laughing out loud when the District Ranger pulled a small can of lighter fluid from his pocket and said "I use this".

I generally pass on campfires.  Watching the cost of a forest fire over several days will do that to you.  Fires are dangerous in dry, summer conditions and they take much more effort to get DEAD OUT than most people realize.

However, if your determined to have a fire the question becomes do you want to start a fire via the Boy Scout method, or just use lighter fluid?

If your into the Boy Scout method my recommendation is ALWAYS assign the job to small kids for starting a fire.  That will teach them of getting everything together prior to lighting the fire and the patience to do it right the first time.  It is a good lesson and they always feel very adult when they finally get a fire started.

The next trick is to find dry wood.  I assume you will probably be starting a fire under wet, damp conditions.  Well, here is where you find dry kindling in the west.

On most National Forests you can gather wood outside of campgrounds for a campfire.  Yep, those branches do not accumulate snow or moisture and are much drier than the wood laying on the ground.  Dry wood is the trick.

Another trick is to buy a small electric chainsaw and throw the generator into the back of the truck.  Drive way outside of a campground and look for dry wood to saw for a campfire.   This beats carrying and mucking around with a regular chainsaw!!

So what do I do for campfires?  Well, I generally pass.  However, when camped with families with children or sometimes in wet, cold weather everybody just wants a campfire.

As a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley Forestry School I would NEVER use such a cheap trick as lighter fluid to start a fire.  With lighter fluid, you still need small dry kindling and then progress to larger pieces to insure that you get a good campfire.  That is almost as much work as building a fire from scratch.

Nope, when I start a fire I get one of those sawdust, glue and started fluid soaked fake logs!!

Yep, some brands are better than others.  But it really does not matter.  Just follow the easy lighting instructions and pile you firewood around the "fire log".  Of course, all rules still apply about getting oxygen to your fire, etc. etc.

I tend to carry one or two "logs" with me for those emergencies.  Campfires by the professionals.  Easy, quick and efficient.  Isn't that the definition of a Professional?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Traveling and Boondocking in the "Disputed Territories" of Arizona

Backroads Information--Traveling and Boondocking in the "Disputed Territories" of Arizona

I have been traveling, working and exploring the backroads of America's public lands for well over 40 years.  In all that time, my personal safety was compromised only ONCE.  However, today's public lands are changing rapidly with cultivated marijuana gardens,  the mentally ill homeless in campgrounds and increases in rural crime.  The reality in southern Arizona, New Mexico and Texas is law enforcement and federal officers are dying to protect America.

In southern Arizona, the Federal government admits in signage that your personal safety is at risk. Quite frankly, they recommend NOT traveling or camping in these areas.

Here are some of my observations and hints for traveling in the "disputed territories of Arizona".  First, recognize the checkpoints and Border Patrol scattered 50 to 100 miles north of the Mexican border are there to protect U.S. Citizens; and, second, understand the danger posed by smugglers and illegals crossing the border.

If you have not been through an "internal" border check-point it is a sight to behold.  Various sensors line the roadway for almost a quarter-mile before you even reach a Border Patrol agent!!  By the time you reach him you probably have been scanned at every known frequency and checked against every known database. 

Some tips:  If you have had radiation scans or body tests done recently, bring a physician's report.  These radiation remnants can trip the sensors, and both you and the Border Patrol have to go through all the hoop-la to let you continue your travels.   Yes, those scanners are sensitive.

Likewise, a huge issue is the massive quantities of "recreational" drugs being smuggled into the country.  So DO NOT travel with them in southern Arizona!!  Even Willie Nelson got busted at an internal check-point for carrying six ounces of pot in Texas!!!  Here is the story:  Willie Nelson Drug Bust.   If they're gonna bust Willie at a check point, what do you think your odds are of avoiding a bust??

Get one of those new bio-metric passports.  For years I crossed into the US with a smile and wave from the Federal employees manning the border.   Then there was a revolution in the country of my birth, and I got to see the inside of every small interrogation room at every border crossing I visited!  At one they even wanted TWO picture ID's, in ADDITION to my US passport.  Thankfully, at that time I was still a federal employee so I could show them my Federal employee card.  It got so bad that friends refused to ride with me when we approached a border crossing.

All of that stopped when I got one of these new bio-metric passports.  I don't know what's in it, however, when I die and meet St. Peter at the pearly gates I suspect he is going to start reading from my bio-metric passport!  So, carry your new passports to Arizona so they can easily be scanned.   If you are lucky enough to live in the state of WA, this will be extremely important, because state legislators have opted to be the last state to offer drivers licenses to illegals. No wonder our insurance is so outrageous!

I am sure there are other tips, but these are the ones I consider essential.  Considering all the stops and questions I have encountered, I must say I have ALWAYS been treated with respect (with the exception of one bad joke), at border crossings and internal check-points.  So make it easy on everyone, follow the rules.

It appears current Federal government policy is to try and stop illegal immigrants and drug smugglers within so many miles of the border.  This is the reason for the blimps, sensors, border patrols, and mandatory road check-points.  However, once past the "disputed territories" enforcement is pretty lax.  Everyone trying to cross the border illegally knows this.  Once they get past southern Arizona, they are home free.

This is what makes encounters with drug smugglers and illegals so dangerous.  Think about it. They have paid a year's wages for a coyote and traveled for months to get this far.  And if they perceive you might be responsible for stopping them this close to their goal, things will get out of hand fairly quickly.

Daytime roads are full of Border Patrol trucks. You will see them everywhere, including trailheads and rv parks.  Sometimes you will see people moving north during the daytime. Nighttime is the most dangerous.  The astronomy clubs around Arizona have stopped having night star parties in remote areas, for this reason.  It is much harder to discern motive in the dark.

My recommendation  when confronted is to always leave as quickly as possible.  Do not let anger, pride, ego, etc. get in the way of safety.  I never know whether to feel safer or worried when I show up at a trailhead and there are several Border Patrol vehicles parked there...but I do feel thankful for these unrecognized heroes who put their lives on the line every day without much support from the flacks and politicians. 

I will only camp only in larger Federal or State campgrounds in the "disputed territories".  Boondocking outside of campgrounds is banned in most by BLM and Forest Service areas because of the inherent danger.  There are a few areas where boondocking is still possible, but talk to the management agency and the Border Patrol if you plan to camp in an area for the 14 day limit.

I know there is a lot of discussion about self-defense and staying in these areas.  I do not believe in self-defense as a strategy to avoid trouble.  I don't have a problem with self-defense, but I think NOT putting yourself in a dangerous situation is much preferable.

This issue has been escalating for nearly 25 years.  Hopefully, one of these days we will be able to hike, camp and explore the beauty of southern Arizona without concerns for our personal safety.  But until then, be careful out there!

As the National Park Service says below "your safety is YOUR responsibility".

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Snake River, I-84 and Highway 201, Oregon and Idaho

 Backroads Destination--Snake River, I-84 and Highway 201, Oregon and Idaho

After Jackpot we were looking for another stop about 200 to 250 miles.  I focused on the Snake River area that forms the border between Idaho and Oregon.  We looked in the Passport America Guide and found two RV parks in Huntington, Oregon.  Now if you click on the Wikipedia link for Huntington, Oregon you will find that it was once famous ........ "as "Sin City", a rugged frontier town having its share of saloons, Chinese opium dens, and gunslingers."   In 1912, the Governor of Oregon sent in the "troops" to clean-up the town.  He must have done a good job since in 2011 all we found were a couple of catfish fisherman.

The two RV parks were similar and we chose the Oasis RV Park simply because they had the WATER TURNED ON!!!  Our campsite faced the Snake River.   There were only three or four other RV's in the park.

What we did not realize is that right next too the RV Parks was a BLM boat launch area.  The stay here is limited to 14 days and I suspect it might be very popular during summer and fishing season.  This is where we encountered the infamous catfish fisherman.

This is Oregon Trail country.  Farewell Bend State Park, Oregon is where the settlers left the Snake River for the difficult traverse of the Blue Mountains.  The state park keeps 10 sites open through the winter season with electrical and water hook-ups for $17 a night.

If you are traveling in this area be sure to stop and visit the National Oregon Trail Interpretive Center managed by the BLM outside of Baker City, Oregon.  This is worth a stop.  Oh, and here is how the Blue Mountains got their name.

We have posted previously on Anthony Lakes which are close to Baker City.  There are lots more stuff going on this corner of Oregon and Idaho.   Hopefully, we will get the chance to return this summer to explore more of this corner of the west.  But do not wait for us.  Go it is some of the best backroads country around.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Jackpot, Highway 93, Nevada

Backroads Destination--Jackpot, Highway 93, Nevada.

I first went through Jackpot sometime in the 1970's.  I distinctly remember the one room, wooden shack that passed for a casino.  After a long drive across Nevada running in to that shack was another reminder how far apart communities were in Nevada.

Then sometime later in the late 80's or early 90's I started receiving packets of information about time-shares in Jackpot.  The new airport.  Of course, the casino's and night life that went along with it.  It was then that I decided I needed to return to Jackpot.  It was one reason that we chose 93 rather than I-15 for the dash home on this trip.

Well, there is more than one casino in Jackpot now.  We counted three, but we were not counting very hard.  I almost tried the Siberian Tiger slot machines because of my 1996 Forest Service trip to Vladivostok to save the Siberian Tiger.   Since organized gambling is a tax on people who never had a statistics class we passed on the gambling.

However, we were quite willing to try the seafood buffet for $20.  After our fond memories of brunch at Win-River Casino in Redding, California.  Well, Nevada is not the place for seafood as most of it was overcooked.   Guess we should have stayed with the roast beef and potatoes part of the dinner buffet. I suspect we will continue our tour of casino dinning places in the future.

Here is the free boondocking at the Casino.  Notice that it is right next to the upper campground.  There were trucks in here at all times and it was crowded.  I suspect you will hear the truck noise boondocking here.  We suspect you will be able to access the free Wi-fi from the Casino, since we were able to do it next door in the campground.

We paid $18 for the campground spot.  This included access to an indoor pool and spa.  However, given Susie's rash we would have cleared out the entire pool and spa area if we had showed up.  Electricity and a sewer hookup at the campspot, but the water was turned off!!  However, the campground manager was kind enough to make two trips in his golf cart so that we could fill our fresh water tank.  Even though the wi-fi was only in the cafe, we were able to connect in the upper campground.

There is also a quieter lower campground unit some distance from the Casino.  This was where the potable water hookup was and the bathrooms and showers.  The manager stated that there was no wi-fi available at the lower unit, but we did not try to confirm.  If you have dogs there is a field next to the upper unit that makes it handy for larger dogs.  The lower unit is totally fence in with only lawn.

This is the upper unit campground with pull-through sites.  Level and easily accessible.

There are three casino's in town but only one small grocery store.  So I would plan on shopping in Twin Falls or Ely instead of Jackpot.  But hey, since those days of boarded up shacks Jackpot now has a stoplight.  Rapidly moving out of the ranks of backroads status!!
Next stop, Idaho.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ely to Jackpot, Highway 93, Nevada

Boondock Destination--Ely to Jackpot, Highway 93, Nevada

Montana is Big Sky country, so this means Nevada must be Sun and Sage Country.  There is plenty of both  of both in Nevada.  Leaving Ely we started heading north to Jackpot.

Now Jackpot has always been one of those places that I knew I would visit again.  In 1978, leaving the Park Service job at Lake Mead and heading to the Idaho Panhandle to work for the Forest Service I passed through Jackpot.  I looked forward to seeing it again, but that is the subject for tomorrow's blog.

We kept heading due north through McGill and then the towns just stopped except for Wells,  Yes, there is a whole bunch of country without very many people.

Then we hit the Schellbourne Rest Area.  It was a great stop for several reasons.  Here is the sign that gives the history of the area.  But also Nevada Rest Areas allow you to stay there for 18 hours.

So as an overnight stop the Rest Areas out in the middle of somewhere are definitely an option.  In Schellbourne there is a bar and motel across the street for liquid refreshment.  This is Nevada, were you expecting a church??

People forget that Nevada was the state with gambling and prostitution and NO speed limits.  Of course, the Federal government could not stand the lawlessness and finally came down hard on Nevada and forced them to set a speed limit.  So 75 MPH it is.

Meanwhile, the rest of the states legalized gambling and escort services!
Why do I miss the good old days?  Must be age-related.

Schellborne is also famous for another reason.  Remember our blog posting on the Butterfield Stage Coach.  
Yes, these folks the Pony Express, put the Butterfield Stage Coach out of business.

Bugaboo ran around and tried his best to get the Pony Express rider to play with him.  He got down on his front paws and wagged his tail.  No response.  He even tried a few playful barks, but again no interest.  So after a bit we just started driving north again.

Shaded tables.  This country must get hot in summer.  Next stop.....return to Jackpot.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Las Vegas to Ely, Highway 93, Nevada

Backroads Destination--Las Vegas to Ely, Highway 93, Nevada

We left Boulder Beach Campground and headed north on Highway 93 to Ely, Nevada.  I was a little concerned since I last drove this road in 1978.  At that time, I went for three hours without seeing another vehicle.  This and the possibility of snow had me considering I-15 as an alternative route.

Several friends recommended 93.  They were right.  It is a great road to drive, with little traffic and plenty of gas stations along the route.  Even more important lots of places to stop.  Unfortunately, for us we are still looking to get to Wenatchee by Tuesday of next week.

We did stop and stretch our legs at several places.  The Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge sign is framed by a desert landscape.  But it is the ponds and marshes that made it a National Wildlife Refuge.  For more information on US Fish and Wildlife land click on this Link.

Rules, rules and more rules.  Ah, for the freedom of BLM and Forest Service lands.  What caught my eye, however, was the no generator requirement.  I have not seen that before, but I suspect it will start showing up more and more in the future.

Click on the picture to enlarge the text so you can read the regulations.  Actually, given that it is Fish and Wildlife managed land it does appear like a small list!  There are nice campsites overlooking the marshes, however, it required doubling back for several miles so we just made a pass.  If you have the time, it definitely looks like a worthwhile stop.  There were several rigs in the sites that we could see from the highway.

Bugaboo was ready to head over to the ponds to visit the beaver, but we decided to turn around and keep heading north.

 The farther north we went the softer and mushier the side roads became.  However, there were a couple of sites that looked interesting.  The Key Pittnam State Wildlife Management Area does not allow camping, but looks like an interesting stop.  More information at their web site:  Key Pittnam Wildlife Management Area.

A few miles off 318 is the Kirch Wildlife Management Area.  It was several miles on a gravel road off in the distance so we did not go there, but there is camping available.  Here is that info:  Kirch Wildlife Mangement Area.  We will have to stop here in the future.

Further on we hit the Humboldt National Forest.  It is very early spring and all the roads leading from the highway were very soft.  So we took a pass.  I hate digging out rigs.

Headed in Ely looking for a place to stop for the night.  The Silver Sage Travel Center just south of town had diesel for the truck, benadryl for Susie's rash, and some neighbors for company!  I guess Ely does not have a Wal-Mart otherwise he would have been in their parking lot!!

Oh, the paved lot has a considerable slope.  Just behind is the gravel lot, but it looked really soft so we and everybody else stayed to the pavement.  Thanks to Sinclair and the Silver Sage Travel Center.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Boulder Beach Campground, Lake Mead, Las Vegas, Nevada

Backroads Destination--Boulder Beach Campground,  Lake Mead, Las Vegas, Nevada

This campground has been on my list to visit for almost 30 years.  When I was working at Lake Mead National Recreation Area in the 1970's the Landscape Architect invited me to attend a  meeting with the campground designer from the Denver Service Center.  The Landscape Architect wanted longer spurs with pull-throughs in most of the campground.  The campground designer favored a "more traditional" Park Service approach that is short spurs for tenting.

It appears that the outcome was a draw.  There are a few pull-throughs at one edge of the campground, but the spurs are much longer than those typically found at National Park Service campgrounds.  So this is one of the few Park Service campgrounds that a longer RV can actually get into a spur!!

I am not sure how those trees got that tall.  It seems that meeting was just yesterday.

Boulder Beach Campground is just outside Boulder City and a short drive to Las Vegas.  For $10 a night and only $5 with a pass it is a deal.  The Park Service was hoping that by constructing the campground they could displace the rowdy folks using Boulder Beach and get a "more" mannered crowd.  So help them out by staying at the campground and being on your best behavior.

The campground is starting to fill up with spring weather, but we were able to find a spur to fit all 47 feet of us thanks to the campground host.  We were even able to remain connected for a quick getaway the next morning.

The town of Las Vegas is now a big city and it has moved all the way to the boundaries of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.  In another 30 years will the public lands be the only natural landscapes left in the west??

In the southwest, there is the problem of water.  When Boulder Beach Campground was designed it was to be a BEACH campground.  The water was just below the campground.  Well, check out this picture from 2011.

It is a long walk down to the beach.  If that lake level keeps dropping the lights might start going out not only in Las Vegas, but Los Angeles and other places as well.  Nature has it own plans all we can do is react to them.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is 1,495,665 acres in size.  There are plenty of places to explore.  Boulder Beach is one of the more "urban" areas in the National Recreation Area.  The Lake Mead National Recreation Area website  has more information on the other areas of the NRA.  If you are looking for a more backroads experience there are plenty of areas that will meet your needs.

It appears that the Park Service has removed all information on boondocking or dispersed camping at Lake Mead National Recreation Area so you will have to contact them and talk to them in person or on the phone.  Remember ask "Where can I disperse camp?".  The Park Service does not know the term boondocking.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Boondocking at Thousand Trails, Cottonwood, Arizona

boondocking site off Highway 260 and Thousand Trails Road, Prescott National Forest

Boondocking at Thousand Trails, Cottonwood, Arizona

We were planning on spending a week in the Sedona and made a reservation for a week at Thousand Trails Campground in Cottonwood.  Sure it is expensive, but we wanted to live it up before we started heading through Nevada.  From the Google satellite photo it looked like a nice location.

Susie went to the doctor on Monday and found out that there appears to be a reaction to her ankle prosthetic.  She has an artificial ankle that has worked well for almost seven years, but now there appears to be an allergic reaction.  The news was head home and see many doctors.  In the meantime, take two showers a day and clean and bandage the area.

We decided to head for Thousand Trails for a couple of days anyway since we needed the water hook-ups.

We found out the Murphy lives at the campground.  We got to the campground and found out 1) the heated pool  and lodge is closed due to "cold" temperatures.  2) the Wi-Fi is only available at the store.  3) no cable TV.  This was a disappointment but we can handle it.  Nothing is perfect.

After setting up in  A section a slip of paper falls out of our registration packet.  In A section, your water will be turned off for the entire day and night for repairs.  Wait, the only reason we stayed here is for the WATER!!  I just got the fresh water tank filled just before the water was shut-off.  Then the electrical service decided to work for awhile and then not work for awhile.   So for $37.50 we get a boondocking site!!

When I complained paying $37.50 for a boondocking site I got to hear that the electrical was fixed last fall and that was that.  I guess they did not want to hurt the electrician's self esteem by asking him to fix it again.  They did not seem to think it was odd to charge $37.50 for a boondocking site.  Everybody said the manager would talk to us, but I guess he is too busy to talk to his guests.  UPDATE:  The manager showed up as we were pulling out and apologized.  Thanks.  But we still paid $37.50 for a boondocking site.

I should have asked if the camping fee included the services mentioned in their web site!!  Don't make that same mistake!!

But the good news is along the same road to Thousand Trials  (I think they should change their corporate name) is a boondocking site managed by the Prescott National Forest complete with host with a 14 day stay limit.  Now that's a good deal.  From Highway 260 from Camp Verde heading into Cottonwood turn at the sign for a Thousand Trails and in less than a 1/4 mile from the highway turn left here.

 Friendly host.  And hey, you own this land!  It is yours to use and enjoy.  Any size rig will fit in the area.  No water or toilet.  Just a flat place to park with a great view.  

In wet weather it looks a little slick, but it is a short stretch of road to the pavement.

 From the camping area it is less than a mile to the Verde River.  Heading towards Cottonwood three miles will get you to a Super Wal-Mart and Fry's Grocery Store with  diesel at the station.  Their loyalty card will get you a 10cent a gallon discount.

For more information on Sedona see our posting from last year.  For us, we are headed north through Nevada on Highway 93 then west to Wenatchee.  The forecast shows snow flurries along the route.  Spring must be around the corner.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Living in the Cameo

Backroads Product--Living in the Carriage Cameo

We have been on the road for over two months now and living in the Cameo that entire time.  Here are some of our impressions and comments on the 5th wheel.  For an initial impression here is the cameo link to the blog entry from last fall. 

The 5th wheel is 30.5 feet long by actual measurement.  It came with a closet across the front in the bedroom and two large recliners in the back.  Everything but the living area TV and four drawers in the bedroom are accessible when the slides are closed.

At first I thought the front closet would be a great storage area and we would use it a lot.  Turns out we hang clothes in ours.  We have plenty of empty storage throughout the trailer so we have not used the closet.  In fact, our solar panel which we were to store there turned out not to fit.  So what we originally thought to be a great feature is hardly used.

In the bedroom, the mattress rests on a thin sheet of 3/8 inch plywood.  This is starting to sag in the middle.  When we get back home, it will be replaced with a sheet of 3/4 inch plywood.   Not sure if Carriage was trying to save weight or what, but we like a firm, flat bed!

The other problem has been the sliding door between the living area and the bedroom.  It broke going down to Eugene, so we had it fixed in Benson.  Well, driving up to Cottonwood the door broke again.  Now this is on pavement driving 55 MPH.   We have not driven any washboard roads with the trailer, but that door does look like an issue.

The bathroom has the toilet in its own room, with the sink and shower outside.  We like this arrangement as it keep morning rush hour well separated.

The pantry was a very pleasant surprise.  It was nice to have item when we were looking at 5th wheels.  I think it really needs to move up into the must have category.

Previously in the tent trailer it was always a chore looking through the cabinets for cans and boxes of food.  The slide out pantry and having the refrigerator right next to it means that everything is there easily accessible and visible.

Fixing a meal consists of quickly taking out only the items you need at the moment.  It really does make a big difference in the ease of preparing meals.

This is a great design feature.  Every trailer needs to have a slide out pantry!!

The next feature was the TV area.  Originally, it housed a tube TV that was about 24 inches on the diagonal.  It was heavy, bolted down and took up lots of room.  It also was NOT digital.  So we got rid of it.  Now we are thinking about putting an IMAC in this area and using it for a computer worktable.  A TV tuner on a USB stick hopefully will make it function also as a high definition TV.

We thought that we would be using the slide-out keyboard area for our computers.  However, notice that this turned out to be Bugaboo's dinner area.  The keyboard area has turned out to be a handy storage area for books that we are reading and other such items. 

It would not take much too add a slide-out keyboard to an existing TV area and it would defintely increase the functionality of this area.  TV is not big on our list so we temporarily parked our 19 inch flat-panel in this area.

At the rear of the 5th wheel there were two LARGE recliners that we have replaced with a smaller recliner and a work table.  It has been handy to have an area where the laptop stays hooked-up and available all the time.  I am thinking that the table could be smaller by a foot or so thereby giving more room for the rear recliner.  We are still looking for a recliner where the foot-stool stores underneath the recliner when not in use.

The overhead compartment have been used for storing the laptop bag, books,  and other computer items when not traveling.  That has helped keep the area neater looking.  I think we will look for a desk that is more functional and slightly smaller for this area.

After two months plus of living in it we still have plenty of room available for storage.  Of course, that will be taken up with my fishing gear and telescopes!!

It is comfortable for living.  I wish I had just bought a trailer like this while I was in school.  Hell, in the long run it would have been much cheaper than all that apartment rent I paid!! 

The disadvantage is the 47 feet towing package.  I might have to buy a pop-up camper for those special trips into the back of the beyond on public lands and keep the 5th wheel for front country trips.   This makes the process of finding backcountry boondocks even more important.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Riverview Campground, Gila Box Riparian Conservation Area, Safford, Arizona.

Backroads destination—Riverview Campground, Gila Box Riparian Conservation Area, Safford, Arizona.

Unfortunately, for us we drove up to the Gila Box from Benson for just the day.  The way to best experience areas like this is to camp within them.  The BLM provides the Riverview Campground with 13 units with tables, shaded armadas, grills, and restrooms.  We did see water faucets and I assume that they were on, but check with the BLM office in Safford  (928-348-4400 )  to make sure!!  The price is only $5 per night which is cheap for a campground with potable water.

The picture above is of the host sites.

The campground is accessed by five miles of washboard gravel road from the edge of the pavement.  There is a BLM sign at the start about the city of Safford maintaining the road!!  So I think it might be an issue.  You should have no problem unless you are towing.  The road is one lane, with some inter-visible turnouts.  See this usbackroads entry about inter-visible turnouts.

Portions of the road are steep with washboards so it would be helpful to be towing in 4wd during these portions. 

If you look at the host site picture on the top of the blog you can see they managed to get their fifth wheels into the campground.

The campground has several pull-through sites.

 But for those that are good at backing up their trailers.  Well, just check out this long, long spur.  

 Oh, just one problem when you get to the end you probably will not be able to turn around your trailer.  So you must back it in.  Also walk the spur first.  Off to the sides are several different species of cactus that might or might not be a problem for your tires.  But hey, that just adds to the spirit of adventure on backroads.

There is a day use site along the river just below the campground.
The campground provides a great base for exploring the surrounding countryside.  From the campground many of the areas are just a short walk, while others as best accessed on the dirt road system within the conservation area.  The tracks in the sand along the river explain why Bugaboo was so interested in exploring the riparian vegetation along the Gila River!

Unfortunately, we are running out of time for our stay in Arizona.  But this area, will be on our short list of places to return too in the future.  It should also be on your list.  One of these days, people will discover this area and it will be crowded with birders and other recreationists.  Go now in winter when you can have this area to yourself.  When we were there on a Tuesday the campground was totally empty.  We did see a couple of people out exploring for the day.  

Friday, March 4, 2011

Gila Box National Riparian Area, Safford, Arizona

Backroads Destination—Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area

This is the second Riparian National Conservation Area we have visited in Arizona.  The first, the San Pedro is a broad, riparian flat wandering through the desert floor.  The Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area features the Gila River cutting a canyon through desert highlands.  The river is actually big enough that float trips are possible.

This area features unique geology, history, and wildlife.  It has plenty of area to explore for a day or a couple of weeks.  We only explored the lower reaches of the area that are easily accessible from Safford.  You can also approach the eastern portion of the area by driving in on the  Black Hills Back Country Byway.  There is a good brochure for the Gila Box Riparian area as well as the Balck Hills Back Country Byway.

There is one campground in the lower half of the unit and dispersed camping is allowed where not posted as closed.  However, we would recommend the campground at only five dollars a day for garbage, water, toilets and a campground host.    That is $2.50 with a discount pass!  More on the campground in our next posting.

The Gila Box area incorporates some of the new Riparian management strategies that are being implemented by all Federal agencies.  That is, the river is now fenced to prevent motorized vehicles from driving down to the river.  There are access points to the river, but they are generally DAY USE only.  The campgrounds, such as Riverview, as now placed on benches above the river corridor.  We did drive around the campground looking for the Riverview, but we could only see the river corridor without water.  Get use to it this is the future of camping on Federal land.

The day use access spots provide great access to the river and Bugaboo appreciated the opportunity to cool off in the cold waters of the Gila River.  Being German, Bugaboo is a cold weather dog.  I am not sure that he appreciates the warm, sunny days that are winter in southern Arizona. 

At Bonita Creek there is a historical cabin that has been restored.  Here Bonita Creek flows into the Gila River.  This alluvial fan has large cottonwoods that provide welcome shade in the summer.  They are just starting to break bud now, so as the temperatures creep into the 80’s the cottonwoods will once again make this a cool oasis. 

There are birds and other wildlife in this area including big horn sheep.  There is a watchable wildlife stop just above the day use area that is probably worth visiting early or late in the day.   A mourning cloak butterfly did accompany us as we explored the area.

The area is accessible via a five mile good gravel road.  Any vehicle can easily negotiate the road into the campground.  If you are towing you might want to drive the road first to scout it out.  It is a good one lane road on the washboard sections you might want to put it into four-wheel drive to help keep you on the road.

The Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area is well worth the stop if you are in the Safford area.  Next posting we will cover the campground and other facilities.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Roper Lake State Park, Safford, Arizona

Backroads Destination-Roper Lake State Park, Safford, Arizona

The Safford area of Arizona looks rather interesting on a map.  It has hot springs, the Gila River, Coronado National Forest, BLM Gila Box Riparian Conservation Area, and tons of BLM and state of Arizona desert lands.  We started out looking for the hot springs and other attractions when we drove past Roper Lake State Park.

It is an attractive very developed state park complete with campground, picnic area, swimming area, fishing area, and even a natural stone hot tub.  The lake is the star attraction at 30 acres.  There is also a boat launch, but boats are limited to electric motors only creating a quiet environment.  The lake is stocked with largemouth bass and rainbow trout during the winter months.

The campground is fairly attractive and the spurs easily fit large vehicles.  Sites have electric and water, but no sewer hook-up for $23 a night without a shaded ramada at your campsite.  If you want a shaded ramada the price goes up to $25 a night.  So the price of shade in the desert is $2 a day.  I suspect around August people will be more than willing to pay the extra two dollars.  In March most folks opted for the sunshine.

The park is located in a great birdwatching area.  There is another unit of the park Dankworth Pond located three miles south that is a day use site only.  It has fishing for catfish and probably better bird watching than the park.

There is a hot spring and tub at the park right above the upper campground spur.  Water temperature is at 105 degrees, but it looks like it has limited seating!  Given that this is a state park the rules and regulations are clearly posted right next to the tub.

This is clearly the place to go if you want to avoid naked old people!!  There are several hot springs in the Safford area on BLM and other ownerships, but we found most of them closed or out of commission this winter.  Here is a LINK discussing the hot springs, but way out-of-date since it was posted in 1997.  But it will give you a starting point for asking questions from the BLM and others.

Here is the official link to Roper Lake State Park.  Be sure to click on the photo's section.

There are plenty of BLM sites to boondock.  See the BLM link here:  BLM Camping Arizona.  As you can see from the map there are plenty of camping ground just north of the Interstate towards Safford.   

There is much more to do around the Safford area.  We were surprised to see very few snowbirds exploring this area.  It is off the beaten track.  We will be back.  I suspect that this area will not remain off the beaten track for long.  Next posting will be on the BLM lands.