Coyote Camping in the Southwestern Deserts

author image

September 12, 2009

By Bob Difley

BLM undesignated campsites near Why, AZ

BLM undesignated campsites near Why, AZ

Boondocking around Quartzsite and on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) LTVAs (described last week in Desert Solitaire II) is an easy and effective introduction to desert boondocking and snowbirding. Support services and supplies are plentiful, and the great gathering of veteran boondockers, akin to the mountain man rendezvous of 200 years ago, stand ready to help out if needed.

However, plenty more snowbird/boondocking possibilities exist outside the LTVAs of Quartzsite in the Mojave Desert of Southeastern California (including some LTVAs in California just west of Yuma) and the Sonora Desert of Southwestern Arizona. After you have tested your desert mettle in an LTVA you might want to try one of these lesser known snowbirding opportunities. You will find the main mid-winter snowbirding locations at the lowest elevations: around Yuma on both sides of the Colorado River, in California west along the Mexican border, up the Colorado River including the Parker Strip and around Lake Havasu, east toward Phoenix and down to Tucson. Low elevation desert camping is also available around Deming in New Mexico. The rest of Mexico is higher elevation, over 2,000 feet, and therefore colder, as are the northern and southeastern parts of Arizona, though many snowbirds gather around Benson and Willcox.

To make your job of finding dispersed boondocking campsites easier, visit one of the regional offices of the BLM where they can provide you with both designated and undesignated camping areas. You may find the designated camping areas buzzing with ATVs, especially on weekends, and decide to try elsewhere. You can camp anywhere on BLM land where you have access to an appropriate campsite. The access roads, mostly of mixed hard sand and rock, vary in their condition and are not regularly repaired or graded. But wherever you are not blocking a road, and where you are not expressly prohibited from camping by signs or fences, go ahead and stake your claim.

I suggest that you at first pick one of the boondocking areas where other boondockers are present, as this will tell you that conditions like access roads and a hard and level parking surface are available. Though these locations tend to be more crowded, you may find a nice quiet spot and you may feel more secure with others around.

When your confidence—or the noise level from ATVs and generators–rises, then go seeking your own back road and explore for your secret boondocking spot. You will find dirt roads heading off into the desert almost anywhere you are driving. And if you look close enough you may spot an RV or two sitting out there in the distance under a mesquite tree. Also, ask your neighbors and other RVers where they have found good quiet and uncrowded spots. They may even tell you.

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

Leave a Reply


  1. Richard Denton

    North of Lake Mead in Nevada, 6 miles south of overton, is a large area where many people have set up boondocking. Beautiful area. I was impressed.

  2. Fred

    Just some facts;

    According to maps of the National Park Service and Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, the Sonoran desert in Arizona is roughly bounded on the north by latitude 34, on the east at longitude -111. It extends west across the Colorado River into Southern California just past the Salton Sea and south into Mexico and nearly all of Baja California.

    The Mojave desert is roughly just north of the Sonoran desert bounded on the east by a line from Lake Mead Nevada to Kingman Arizona and extends west into California’s San Bernadino Mountains.

    The human population in both deserts has increased ten-fold just since the 1950s. That population has been supported in part by the waters of the Colorado River. The Colorado riverbed just across the Mexican border from Yuma is bone dry. It has succumbed to a tangle of canals from Yuma into Mexico for crops.


  3. Beverly Gilmore

    BOONDOCKING, once you have done it, its GREAT. Started out 10 years ago full timing. winters spent in the desert. The “Slabs” in SE CA are great place to start and for singles be sure and look up the LoWES. Have an area there. Quartzsite last year and now. There is a company that does provide WiFi in the immediate surrounding BLM, but not sure what the name is. Snakes, haven’t even seen 1, only 1 scorpion, hmmm, lucky I guess. Quartzsite is great for entertainment, the QIA has all sorts of activities going on there, the Seniors Center is great, activities and mmmm scrumpious lunches. Us snowbirds all love to eat and boy does the varied fare abide here. Mine greatest thrill is the “Jam Session”, seems every park puts on one. Check out the visitor center on Central St. And of course there is January, won’t even try to describe the fun that brings. As the saying goes, If you can’t find it in Q, in Jan. is doesn’t exist. Geared to Rvers, check out the website and see pictures, the differance between Jan and March will make you laugh. Now of course the SUN, who wants snow , yuck that ugly s word when you can have snow. Yup we have about a mo of “winter” to use the term loosely. Dec. maybe some of Jan. And of course churches abound in Q., we have a great attendance, at least at the Assembly of God where I am a member. No I am NOT on the chamber, just a satisfied full-timer, lovin the life I live. Gypsy blood perhaps???? Happy camping ya’l, eh .

  4. Johnny G...AKA The NYC Castaway

    Dear GMAs,

    I just want to let you know I enjoy reading your posted comments to the main article. You don’t hold any punches, and your straight to the point.

    (Just wondering why you don’t post a picture of yourself).

    I was a tent camper (still tent on occasions) since Cub Scouts (Troop 24, Yonkers, N.Y.) since 1966. I have been a RV weekender for 6 years and a full timer for 1 year. Remembering my 1st trip was a blast. Even on my 1st trip I had enough common sense not to hook up to a private generator for any reason.

    GMAs, keep posting your helpful hint’s. It’s good to hear from the other side.

  5. Drew


    Do you have pix of the area? We have a pad in Havasu, but I’d like to explore Southern Az. sometime.


  6. GMAs

    Rattle snakes are a part of the desert… but, most of the time they don’t like people as much as people don’t like them… and so will avoide human contact… The RV provides shade… drip’n wate draws other creatures to it.. and the snakes feed on the creatures… sooo keep it dry.. and you shold not have any problem… Rattle snakes come with built in alarms… (rattles) they do that to let you know they feel threatened… most when discovered… will .. given the chance .. move away .. as people are too big to eat… so the snake goes into the defensive mode… thinking your going to eat ’em… and that his how people get nailed… Most can’t lunge at you unless they are coiled… either… and about 1/3 of their length is all they can anyway… (rattle snakes are pretty much mis-understood and we suggest that you go to look ’em up on the web … I think it may help to dispell your fear about ’em a little)

    We found that if you look before you step… you will be fine…and if you hear the rattle .. stop… look and listen… (rattle snakes have bad eyesight and depend on the Infrared signature it detects with its flipping the tong in and out.. higher heat source the more distance kinda thing it can detect) ….

    besides its not the snakes we found are the problem.. its them little spider looking things with a stinger on the end… that you really have to watch out for… (scorpions) .. they are everywhere… and when hit with one of them … about the same as a bee sting… but hurts just the same… and then their are the ants… which send out invitations to their cousins about what has arrived on the menu…

    We found that no matter where you go something is out their lurking… but not to fear… snakes are in the mountans as well as deserts… setting up a primiter is the best defense… and keeping a dry camp…

    By the way.. we don’t kill the rattle snakes anymore when we find ’em in camp… instead we capture ’em … and take them out further and let them go… so as to have a natural balance… in nature.. kinda thing…

  7. Liz Bard

    My first thought when you mention desert is snakes – especially rattle snakes. I think I will keep more to civilized area until I can get my nerve up to boondock in the desert.

  8. Julie

    We found a place that we do Boondocking and just love it .. It is around Pearce, Az – Dragoon, Az and Ash Creek Ranch area .. It is so beautiful just to name a few things there are the Chiricahua Mt’s ,- Coronado National Forest , -Apache Peak are outstanding , and lots of things can be and are grown here the weather is much better also and lots of Wide open spaces .. It is only about 45 min drive to Tucson, AZ a 15 to 20 min. drive to Benson , Az & Wilcox, AZ .. You don’t have to go to those cities cause in Pearce , Ash Creek Ranch has everything a person would want .. We have been to Quartizsite, AZ and for the life of me can’t figure out why anyone would want to be there when they could be over here ..?? But guess everyone is different .. Thanks

  9. Thanks GMAs! That was all very helpful information. Can’t believe people just up and plug in without asking?!?!?

  10. Floyd Hardy

    What is a LTVP?

  11. GMAs

    Yes it is their but spotty… further out.. nada… unless you have a booster and antenna pointed at the source…

    Yep first thing a newbie does when they get their is use all the water in the tank.. and you know where that goes… sooo the water truck and honey dippers are their to help you out.. of course for a fee…

    then the next thing is they run out of electric power… and with extension cord in hand go looking for a empty plug…

    Now we don’t recommend you go just plugging into a box on the ground that has a empty place… no their is no free public power… some of the campers know each other.. thus one fires up the gen set and the other plug in… but the gen set is limited in how much it can put out.. they all know it.. the newbie comes along and .. says oh wow look a place to plug into…

    Then goes back and the other half turns on the AC or elect heater… which blows the gen set to kingdom come… when THEY find out you STOLE their power and blew THEIR gen set.. get ready for some fireworks… one Fithwheel owner that had his running for two other family members…that were also camping and using his power… found out that a third party plugged in…causing the gen to overheat and blow up… not only did he go take a ax to the third party’s power cord .. cutting it into 3 ft pieces but also flattend the jerks tires and broke both the tail lights in the trailer along with a back window…

    Then he knocked on the door and proceeded to ask for the money to get a new gen set… which the low life newbies didn’t seem to understand it was private power… and wanted to know when it was going to come back on so they could run the AC again… wrong question… and the newbie got his nose clocked big time…

    So I don’t recommend that you just go plug in… I know I had it happen to me…also… and I did about the same.. cutting the jerks cord into little pieces.. and the waited for him to show up… finding his nice 100 ft. 10/3 cord cut up… pissed him off.. not to mention so was I… but, when he saw my 6 friends he suddenly got civil again and left… Folks…its stealing power from others.. and that you don’t want to do… ASK first… and be ready to chip in some money to make the gen set run.. and yes its going to cost more than shore power… about twice as much per KW…

    … and

    don’t expect sheriff John to be right their.. if you call ’em they will be about 20 to 30 min away most of the time unless they are in the area…

    Be friendly if your a newbie… ask, talk and listen to what the more experianced people have and do… and don’t get upset if its hot and you can’t plug your AC into someone elses gen set… the didn’t bring it for you.. huh…

    As to propane for the refrig, heater and all… again a truck comes around almost daily.. you set up a account with the driver… (credit card) and then he gives you a little card to put in the window if you need it… stops and does all the work for refil’n the tanks.. or will leave you a 100 lb pig bottle .. and exchange it about once a week…and leave you a note that he billed your card on the door or front window… good services

    Same with the water truck.. either bottled or your tank refilled… and the honey dipper hooks up to the RV outlets and cleans out the tank… about every other day…unless you call

    Cell phone works.. but CB is what most use out their… and a good CB in both the Vehicle and RV is what works best… and the service vehicles that come around daily can be contacted and services solicited. Ham radio is also used out their too if you have it.

    Lots of info meetings to help the newbie as well as experianced.. last one we went to was on solar power presentation.. and how to put it on your existing RV… most of those are free attendance…

    Lots of fun… lots of new friends… just don’t step on others toes or ….. as the saying goes.. we all can get along.. with just a few simple rules… learn well grasshopper….