By Bob Difley

In last week’s blog I described how to find dispersed boondocking campsites (coyote camping) in the American deserts. Now that you know how to find coyote camping spots, the following tips will help to enhance and expand your desert boondocking experience:

  • The best way to find dispersed campsites in the desert is to explore first in your tow or toad, checking the road surface for soft spots, lethal potholes, and muffler-killing rocks.
  • Try to find roads that follow the less-eroded high ground rather than up a wash, where the surface could be sandy and soft. You can often find “desert pavement” on the higher surfaces, a naturally occurring tile or cobblestone-like surface that is very hard and supportive of even heavy rigs. And you are likely to have better views from the higher ground.
  • Choose a spot, if available, that has been camped in before, rather than destroying desert plants in creating a new site.
  • Haul as much water in Jerry Jugs or inflatable blatters (available at Camping World or RV and boating supplystores) with you as you can carry. Dump these into your fresh water tank as it goes down to give you extended staying time.
  • Buy the type of sewer cap that has a fitting for a garden hose, which you can then lead off away from your site for your gray water to drain into (dig a deep hole and cover outflow with a layer of sand after each use). Never dump your black water except into an approved dump station).
  • Solar panels work great in the desert, even with the shorter winter days and lower angle of the sun. Try to situate your rig so that the panels aim toward the south to about where the sun will be at noon.
  • When you go exploring, be watchful for cacti (with nasty thorns), acacia (also called devil’s claw, tear blanket, and wait-a-minute bush–you’ll understand if you brush against one of these), and mesquite trees—all with pesky thorns, and hidden underground small animal burrow networks that can trip you up when you collapse into them.
  • Also mark your trail, either with arrows drawn in the sand, GPS coordinates, or rock cairns, so you can find your way back. You will be surprised how easy it is to get turned about when you start following dry washes and narrow arroyos. If you do get lost, climb the nearest knoll and look for your rig or other landmark to orient yourself. But by all means, explore. It is one of the most enjoyable activities while boondocking out in the open desert. You will be amazed at the bird life, jack rabbits, cute kangaroo rats, near-sighted javalinas (a pig-like mammal whose real name is collared piccary), coyotes, kit foxes, and other critters that live there, not to mention the cacti, wild flowers, and flowering shrubs that paint the desert in vivid colors in the Spring.
  • If you are a snowbird (winter resident), remember that just because it is the desert does not mean it will always be warm. Desert nights can drop close to and below freezing, but the days warm up rapidly. Wind will be a factor also. Close your windows that face the wind when you leave your rig or you may come back to find a layer of sand covering every available interior surface.
  • Have fun. Once you get used to the desert, it is a wonderful place to explore, and the long views, blazing sunsets, and clear star-filled nights will constantly remind you why you came to the desert rather than spend the winter in Minnesota or Saskatchewan.

For the complete guide to boondocking, check out my eBook, Boondocking: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands on my Web site.

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  3. William Fincher

    Coyote camping can be allot of fun, however, pullin a 30 foot toy hauler in the desert needs to be done in a carefull manner.When we are really out, I send my son ahead on the mountain bike or an offroad vehicle to pre run the sand etc.Wow, what a great way to spend a few days in the wilderness using the inverter, generator to keep up on moms a/c voltage.Radio shack has a cheap satallite finder to dial in our direct t.v. dish.Man life is good.

  4. Fasthauler

    I had to laugh at gmas’s comment on the guy trying to back a 34′ Airstream out of the woods. I watched a guy trying to back a cargo trailer into a space. His poor wife was trying to guide him in. He kept pulling out and then back in several times and kept getting madder and yelling louder at his poor wife. All he would have had to do was straighten out his wheels virtually every time he backed in and it would have went straight in. I was really feeling sorry for his wife so I went over to try to tell him to just straighten out his wheels and he told me in no uncertain terms to get the blank out of here, that he had all of the help he could handle. A few minutes later he pulled out and I saw him heading up the road and he never came back. Some people really need to take a driving coarse before going out on the road towing.

  5. gmas

    I find it amazing that someone spends 70,000 bux for a airstream trailer and then goes and complains about a wal mart parking lot that they stay in for free.

    We had lots of entertainment watching a guy try and turn his 34 foot airstream around in the woods.

    When asked if we could help … we were met with a lot of anger and mis-management. Whine whine whine was the sound of the gent. He finally backed it into a tree limb and now we know how those kinds of trailers get dented in back. Big OWIEEEE.

    Bound and determined to get his toyota to wheel the thing around we just couldn’t watch the abuse anymore. Lucky he got the PU stuck (even thought it was 4×4) and finally had to quit.

    Look some people should not head out into the woods or back country without first scouting the place out. This Newbie clearly had no business being back in the woods back country booning with a 34 foot airstream trailer that had his whole life’s possesions in it. Full time’n is not boonie camping in our book. Under powered and over rated PU trucks for pulling such are also a NO NO…

    Now this guy is going to be writing BOB that he doesn’t know what he is talking about.. shortly … if .. and ..when .. ever he gets home. Big dent in the back of his airstream matches the first tree on the left of the trail…

    Boonie camping does not mean taking a street vehicle and trailer or camper off roading… it will turn into a bad adventure real quickly.

    Most of us have been doing this from years of experiance. Going from a PU truck with a camper cap on it to now a PU truck with a camper… that is useable off in the boonies.

    Sand and mud are two of the worst things you can find traction in… thus we recommend that you carry a mat so that you can put it under the wheel and get some traction to go forward with…

    If you ARE pulling a travel trailer and get stuck in the sand… you have two options.. one.. stay connected and hook two or three 4×4 tow vehicles in line to help pull you out of it… or…

    If you are by yourself… un hook the trailer… and get the tow vehicle free first… then work on getting the trailer back on… we have a winch and used it one time to pull the trailer (using a skid on the front) to pull it past the soft spot… ) Either way its slow going.

    Someone asked about 4×4 vs 2 wheel drive PU trucks… and boonie camping… well we went to the 4×4 years ago… but thats not to say you can’t have fun going with a regular PU truck or van… lots of VW’s have gone where it was thought only 4x4s could go… and they are 2 wheel drive…

    It depends on the weight… PU’s are heavy… especally with the big diesel engines.. so the front wheels are the critical ones to watch so they don’t sink in and stick… doesn’t matter if its a 4×4 as backing out… the rear wheels just don’t seem to have the traction one would think they should… and so most newbies will dig in the backs just as bad as the fronts have gotten… best practice here is to have the guy behind you hook up the snatch strap or winch and do its thing…

    One would be wise to seek out the adventure 4×4 club or in some cases their are now State parks that will give you adventure training on off roading (boondocking) driving… for the price .. its good training and will start you in the right direction for “how not to get stuck” and introduce you to off road driving .. before you hook up and head off into the wilderness to go boondocking.

    Last thing I will expand on… when your out in the wilderness… your on the menu… so pack approprately… and get to know well/invite six or 8 peacemaker friends along… as the life you save may be your own… this also will require you know how to use tools of the wilderness correctly … before you head out… and of course you hopeful that you never need to call on ’em but…. .

  6. Jim the Tucson Traveler

    Beware of the illegal alien smugglers, drug smugglers and gun runners! They are out there trust me, I’ve seen them!

  7. Don Eyre

    I love spending my winter in AZ and I am from Saskatchewan. I joined the Yuma 4×4 club and do a little touring around in the desert with my Jeep which I tow. Haven’t tried coyote camping yet but sounds interesting.