Southwestern Deserts: How to pick a boondocking campsite

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September 17, 2011

By Bob Difley

boondocking_desert2Getting mugged, having your rig burglarized, or late night visits from would-be thieves are not the areas of most concern for boondockers. Most thieves and other nefarious characters would rather prowl places where there are multiple and easier options to pick from than lone boondockers out in the boonies where options are few.

In last week’s post I wrote of the many options for desert camping for snowbirds, from manicured RV resorts to true boondocking spots where you have no amenities and few–if any–neighbors.

And those neighbors that you do have will not be of the nefarious persuasion. However, what boondockers in these locations do have to be concerned about are those natural–not man-caused– situations that could get them into trouble.

This is how to tackle those “natural” situations:

Don’t get stuck

When picking a boondocking campsite, the first characteristic to look for is the make up and condition of the access. If you’ve been to Quartzsite or any of the BLM’s LTVA dispersed camping areas you will notice how firm and compact the road surfaces have become from all the heavy vehicle traffic. On this type of surface you won’t find much soft sand that your wheels could sink into.  Look for the same type of road surface in areas less traveled. Usually a short walk along an access road will reveal whether it is solid enough for you to drive on.

DesertPavementBut you need to take it a further step if you plan on staying longer and prefer to get further off the highway than you would for a one or two night stop. In this situation, it is best to unhitch and drive your tow or toad along the access road looking not only at the surface, but also at potential campsites.

Do the campsites have the same packed earth composition of the access road? Better yet, is the surface composed of  “desert pavement” (photo – a surface covered with closely packed, interlocking angular or rounded rocks like small tiles)? Is the campsite large enough to enable turning around? Is the campsite at least several yards off the access road so you won’t be bothered by others driving by or by dust kicked up by them? Are there any oil-pan-gouging rocks on the access road or turn in to the campsite?

Once you have given the campsite passing marks, retrieve your rig and set up camp. The rest is easy. You have a choice: set up so the best view is from where you want it to be from–the dinette, couch, bedroom, or patio. Or you can orient your rig so that it is broadside to cooling afternoon breezes, or if you are in a cooler area, position your rig so that your patio is protected from the wind.

sunset_desertWhen you leave your rig for shopping, exploring, hiking, etc. be sure to close even the louvered windows that are facing the direction the wind comes from. Desert winds can come up fast and blow sand and dust into any open window coating everything with a fine layer. Then sit back, enjoy a glass of the bubbly, and watch the sun set into one of its magnificent desert sunsets.

Check out my website for more RVing tips and destinations and for my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public LandsSnowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts (now in Kindle version), and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar.

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  18. Tara Nix

    We have to know….was that saguaro sunset shot “photoshopped”? It’s absolutely incredible!

  19. Geoffrey Pruett

    Having been a back country type back during the 50’s even locking up seems almost an invasion of those with poor upbringing. Leaving your place open to those in need of shelter was just courtesy and seldom caused any losses beyond some canned food. Have sort of decided this is the “blue jeans” effect as the decline in public manners followed on the heels of people wearing work clothes to places other than the hardware store or the gas station. When you left your property in the past you cleaned up and combed your hair. Times have changed, not always for the better.

  20. Dee F

    Where was this spectacular picture of sunset taken?

  21. butterbean carpenter

    Howdy Bob,

    Thank you, for all the good info on desert boondocking… It’s a pleasure to go places with you…

    Smooth roads, clear skies & balmy breezes !!!!!!

  22. ltva near quartzsite is $180 for whole season between sept 15 and april 15, other times outside those dates is `100 per month. plenty of room to get away from others or for circling the wagons like many do. please lock your ground based genny’s up with lock and chain, been a rash of genny thefts the last few years.