The newest hazard of boondocking in our national forests

author image

July 2, 2010

By Bob Difley

marijuana-leafWhen I started fulltiming almost twenty years ago, my main concerns when boondocking were getting stuck, hitting over-hanging tree limbs, difficult access roads, not having enough room to turn around, and indigenous critters raiding my campsite. None of these was serious, especially if I was careful and used common sense. But, oh how times have changed. For instance, the following headline that appeared on the internet this week.

Pot Farm Uprooted in Angeles National Forest

“LOS ANGELES—More than 11,000 marijuana plants have been uprooted in a sophisticated pot farm in a remote area of the Angeles National Forest.

“Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Forest Service and Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators participated in Thursday’s eradication and clean up operation. The 11,249 marijuana plants had an estimated street value of more than $22 million.

“Sheriff’s Capt. Ralph Ornelas notes forest marijuana grows destroy and poison public lands.

“Some 1,560 pounds of trash, including fertilizers, pesticides, food, propane tanks, camping equipment and irrigation lines were also removed in the Knapp Ranch grow area northeast of Santa Clarita.”

Twenty years ago, if one wandered onto a clandestine pot patch, you simply turned around, went the other way, and forgot about it. But now it seems that pot patches have grown to pot plantations, such as the one in the article estimated to be worth $22 million on the street. If somebody was protecting an investment of this size, what would they do to protect it and keep it hidden from drug agents? Would there be trigger-happy armed guards? Would you be threatened or harmed if you wandered into it? Are those of us who boondock in the national forests putting our safety at risk?

Actually, from the information that I have read, you will likely never have to make the decision of what to do when confronted with armed pot patch guards, as large scale growing areas are well away from camping areas and hiking trails. What these pot growers want least–besides getting caught by the authorities–is some hikers or campers stumbling onto their gardening project, so they will be well off the beaten path or trampled campsite.

However, if you are boondocking, stick to the maintained forest service roads and don’t go off four-wheeling (especially in your RV) down low grade tracks or trails. Since growers must access their farms somehow, it would likely be over little used, rough roads, by 4-wheel drive SUVs or trucks. Stay on established hiking trails. That overgrown side trail that looks like an animal trail may just be the way in to where you don’t want to go. The good news is, I haven’t heard about any RVers accidentally coming across a guarded pot patch.

So don’t let stories like the one above discourage you from boondocking in the pristine forests of our public lands, one of the more enjoyable and satisfying aspects of RVing. Instead, use common sense, stay within commonly used boondocking and hiking areas (check with area rangers), and you will avoid getting into trouble. But if you do wander onto a pot patch, avoid the temptation of picking a few sample buds–or leaving them a nasty note about trashing the environment.

When you have a chance, check out my ebook on camping in the national forests, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands

Leave a Reply


  1. Thanks for a marvelous posting! I truly enjoyed reading it, you might
    be a great author. I will make sure to bookmark your blog and definitely will
    come back later in life. I want to encourage you continue your great job,
    have a nice day!

  2. Pingback: cigarette electronique

  3. Pingback: ניסור בטון

  4. Pingback: url

  5. The Longmont (Colorado) Times-Call reported this story on Thursday, Sept. 2 (excerpts).

    RAYMOND – About 30 law enforcement and U.S. Forest Service personnel took two days to completely harvest and clean out the largest illegal marijuana growing operation in Boulder County history.
    On Wednesday morning, a Colorado National Guard helicopter hauled out load after load of tarps packed to the brim with the harvested plants from the sophisticated operation. . .
    Drug officers — some masked — hefted the tarps into a Boulder County Road Maintenance dump truck, which took the plants to an undisclosed location to be incinerated . . .
    Investigators are still looking for a Hispanic man who fled from the area of the growing operation . . . as drug officers approached on Monday. A search did not turn up any clues about his whereabouts.
    The loads brought out by helicopter included the remains of the marijuana farmers’ campsite and a dismantled irrigation system that had been rigged to draw water from the South St. Vrain River up the rugged and isolated terrain to two separate growing operations that covered 6 acres and included about 7,500 plants.
    . . . the growers would have had to hike in with the camping equipment and irrigation infrastructure. Whoever was tending the crops apparently was living at the site and did not appear to have been mixing with locals . . .
    A hiker found the first crop, but . . . the man did not realize how big it was because he reported finding 25 to 30 plants. That portion of the operation had 3,000 when officers found it. The plants were 3 1/2 to 5 feet tall . . .
    Here are slides of the SWAT Team’s raid.

  6. Thousands of pot plants seized in Humboldt County
    The Associated Press
    Posted: 08/14/2010 06:03:40 PM PDT

    EUREKA, Calif.—Authorities in Humboldt County have been especially busy this week in finding marijuana gardens.

    Sheriff’s officials say during a series of raids between Monday and Thursday, deputies and officers from other agencies discovered more than 60,000 marijuana plants.

    The biggest find of the week came on Wednesday when authorities seized a little more than 30,000 marijuana plants on U.S. Forest Service land near the community of Orleans.

    More than 20,000 plants were seized during a raid Monday in the Redwood Valley, while another 7,500 marijuana plants were found on Bureau of Land Management and State Parks property Tuesday.

    Officials wrapped up their raids for the week by seizing about 6,400 plants on Bureau of Land Management property near Garbeville on Thursday.

    No arrests were made in any of the raids.

  7. TF

    Portugal’s decriminalization of all illegal drugs (10 yrs ago) has led to amazing decreases in addiction and HIV rates.
    “LISBON, Portugal (Aug. 14) — Ten years ago, Portugal had some 100,000 heroin addicts — about 1 percent of its entire population. HIV infections from injecting drugs were among the highest in Europe.
    Now the addict count has been cut nearly in half. HIV infections from drug use have fallen more than 90 percent. And the policy shift responsible for such a dramatic improvement in Portuguese life is something U.S. lawmakers — watching an escalating drug war on their southern border — might consider worthy of some attention: decriminalization.”……..
    “Last week, former Mexican President Vicente Fox criticized his country’s military-led, U.S.-backed war on drugs, which has left more than 28,000 people dead since December 2006. Instead, Fox said Mexico should consider legalizing the production, distribution and sale of drugs.
    “Legalizing in this sense doesn’t mean that drugs are good or don’t hurt those who consume. Rather, we have to see it as a strategy to strike and break the economic structure that allows the mafias to generate huge profits in their business,” Fox wrote on his blog.
    Portugal wasn’t trying to choke off cash flow to drug cartels as much as it was trying to extend drug treatment to the huge proportion of its citizens who were hooked on illicit substances — an economic drain on the country’s free public health care system. Decriminalization is also different from legalization: Drugs in Portugal are technically still illegal, but the penalty is voluntary treatment rather than jail.”

  8. TF

    The AP reports today 07/24/10:
    “Medical Marijuana to Be OK in Some Veterans’ Clinics”
    “WASHINGTON (July 24) — Patients treated at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics will be able to use medical marijuana in the 14 states where it’s legal, according to new federal guidelines.”
    So, Federal regs and 14 State regs are now becoming more in alignment.
    This is good news for our National forests! Eventually the Big $$$ incentive for illegal grows will become obsolete.
    And thank G*d the temporary cap on BP’s blown-out well is holding.
    Hopefully hydrocarbons will become obsolete someday soon, as well…

  9. Constance

    I had to sell my vacation cabin because the pot growers would break in and use it while I was away. They grew pot on my land. They are dangerous and Bob’s original post was correct. Use caution and common sense while going off into the wild.
    Also, meth brewers use old motor homes as labs, so watch out for them too.

  10. Wow I think if I stumbled upon a pot farm like that I would leave brown stains in my pants and go into serious hiding … I cant wait until I can spend more time exploring the road less traveled though …

  11. TF

    Just had to add one more tidbit that supports my position – guess why there are still homegrown stills in Arkansas?
    “Arkansas alcohol laws are extremely harsh because of the number of dry counties in the state.”

  12. TF

    Yay, another reasonable person (Denise).
    Even though your position is different from mine, I welcome the exchange because it is well-thought-out and logical.
    I would say in response to your comments that there are always snake-oil salesmen out to make a quick buck, no matter what they’re selling.
    And I think you give the “against” voters too much credit for thinking ahead to such a scenario. As we have seen, this particular subject seems to bring out the knee-jerk reactions in many. An amazingly polarizing subject!
    I’m sure before Prohibition was lifted, there were many people who predicted similar scenarios against legalizing alcohol. Now it is something taken for granted everywhere, even highly valued in certain wine-gourmet circles.
    To each his own……..

  13. Denise from ARk

    We have a good friend who is a ranger with the forestry service in Ark. Understand, in this case, “rangers” are not law enforcement officers. More like liaisons between the Forestry Service and the the forest users. Nevertheless, this puts him directly in the line of fire. He has found both pot patches and stills. These are often booby-trapped, and the bigger the operation, the more sophisticated the protection of the operation. The issue at hand isn’t “well then if it was legal it wouldn’t be a problem” (although the stills are still out there…) The issue is that it IS illegal and presents a real and serious threat to others who would use this taxpayer funded land. Therefore, this article is timely and helpful.

    As to CA’s legalization of “medicinal marijuana,” I can share this personal experience we had at Venice Beach last summer. We were accosted no less than five times within the first half hour we were there by people who were passing out flyers advertising docs who worked out of clinics right there on the boardwalk. They were encouraging us to think of “problems” that we might be having – from cancer to depression – and assuring us that if we had any kind of medical issue, we could see the clinic doc, who practiced upstairs from the marijuana dispensary, and he’d fix us right up in no time. Our conclusion: The objection of most of the voters who voted AGAINST legalizing medicinal marijuana probably had more to do with that exact scenario than with denying medicine to people who needed it. And likely most of those who voted FOR this legalization had far less concern for those few unfortunate individuals than they had hopes of easing their own access for recreational purposes.

    So if we feel like that experience kind of screwed with the credibility of the pro-marijuana group, I think it would be easy to understand why.

  14. TF

    Yup, my outrage was also repeated several times and diluted along the way.

    Carl, your logic is fatally flawed. No doubt about it.

    And my whole point was that in California, the VOTERS have spoken and allowed it in small quantities and for medical use, with laws that restrict its use to only certain situations (just like with alcohol now). It’s only a matter of time before the lure of big $$$ will be taken away for the cockroaches who ruin and feed off our lands (just like with alcohol now).

    Let the voice of logic and reason prevail – the voice of the VOTERS!

    Then we will reclaim what is rightfully ours, our entire wilderness, from the scumbags who desecrate parts of it for $$$.

    In the meantime we will all continue to enjoy what is ours to enjoy – our freedoms and our wilderness. Long live freedom and wilderness!

  15. TallGuy

    Oh, and I forgot; anyone who wants to change a law, quit whining and get off your duff and work to get it changed! Until then, it’s the law.

  16. TallGuy

    Carl C, I read your post #3, and you sound like a stand-up guy. We really need more like you who have a bit of spine to stand up for enforcing our laws. The ones that are on the books and the ones that we pay people to enforce. Some people actually pull their own side of the wagon with their fees and taxes, time and effort, and backbone. Freeloaders, cheepskates, cons, scams and stiffs don’t!
    Glad you spoke up, my friend!

  17. Carl C

    Where’s my outrage? Post #3 on this thread. It got diluted along the way. LOL

    I agree with you TallGuy, 100%. It wasn’t my intent to get involved into a protracted debate. Sorry for the distraction.

    What’s the saying, “Freedom isn’t free!” We have to fight for our lands or it will be taken away.

  18. TallGuy

    With respect for your thoughtful and persuasive arguments, truly, but you guys are just worked up about the wrong issue here.

    It’s not whether the cockroaches are growing cannabis; it’s that they are engaged in an activity for their own profit on our public lands that is just plain and simple illegal. That’s like still against the law, right? Plus they are trashing the place to boot. Bob tells us that these particular cockroaches’ latest harvest would be worth $22 Million, but they are poisoning our public lands and polluting it with fertilizers, pesticides, food, propane tanks and who knows whatever else cockroaches leave behind when they are trying to be stealthy and use our land for free. THAT’s where the outrage belongs, my friends. Even in Mexifornia, or Califexico, where some things seem to be taken as semi-illegal.

    It’s not about Marijuana! Shoot, if growing the weed were legal, I might even put a few plants out back next to my tomatoes. But Bob went on a rant a few issues back about having to pay additional new fees for our legal use of some public lands and didn’t understand why. But now he’s telling us that some of our national property is commandeered and overrun by armed pot growers who are just flat out trashing and wrecking everything. Connect THOSE dots.

    Where I’m from, illegal is illegal. You can’t set up your own stand to rent out the City’s softball diamonds and tennis courts, you can’t help yourself to the new sod they laid in front of City Hall and sell it off, you can’t even go stake our your own potato patch in front of the Library to sell tubers at Farmer’s Market. That’s illegal, and if someone were simply allowed to do any of those things, there would be some outrage. So how come we think that until later on when some legislature makes it legal, it’s ok for some trash-dumping, “trigger-happy, armed-pot-patch-guard” (Bob’s words), who are not paying fees or federal taxes for the use of our land to grow any kind of weed?.

    Where is YOUR outrage, my friends?

  19. Carl C

    I tried to exit gracefully, folks. Look TJ, JT, or whatever you want to call yourself. The nature of your question about what I would do about alcohol is irrelevant. As is your argument. Pot is illegal. Period.

    (From your first reply to me)”Following your logic,…” and (more recently) “The “sky is falling” logic means you think…”

    “Sky is falling”? Again with the strawman arguments? You continue to conject using your flawed logic as to what I would do when you don’t know me from Adam. Please, stop.

    Let it die, already.

  20. TF

    LOL! Normally a ? means a question, not a conjecture.
    Following neutral logic does not require knowing someone.
    The “sky is falling” logic means you think we should be overrun by those who impose their alcohol vices upon everyone else – which of course is not the case, since there are laws enforced aganst this.
    I’m sure during Prohibition, the gov’t realized they could make alot more $$$ from regulating and taxing alcohol than fighting a losing battle going after distillers. Notice there simply are no more homegrown distilleries ruining our forests.
    Similar logic can be extrapolated for pot.
    Hopefully soon our forests will no longer be ruined by illegal pot grows.
    The first steps have already been taken in California – just depends on which region you’re in, as to how the new laws are interpreted and enforced. They actually do have a taxing system already in place, it will just take time to be more accepted and become a fact of life here, just as alcohol has become nationwide. In the meantime, the regular citizen certainly needs to be fully aware, just like in any other environment where any other people are.
    We can’t let this ruin our enjoyment of the wilderness. It belongs to all of us.

  21. Carl C

    “…Following your logic, this means you would completely outlaw currently-legal alcohol?…”

    1) Don’t conject to what *you* think I would do. You don’t know me.
    2) That’s a strawman argument.

    “…we will always have violators no matter what the controlled substance is….”

    You’re absolutely correct there. I do not see how making pot legal is going to “make things better”, like there’s some magical place in the future where America’s drug problems have gone away since making pot legal.

    We’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one.

    Back to the point though, if you happen to stumble across a pot farm in the woods talk to a Ranger back at the Ranger station. DON’T mention it to anyone EXCEPT the Rangers at the Ranger’s station. It could be that someone is out walking the area (“play hiking”) to find out if anyone has stumbled into their pot patch. Keep the info to yourself until you’re speaking to a bonafide Park Ranger.

  22. TF

    Carl, I looked up the laws earlier today because I got curious – California didn’t exactly legalize pot but now allows small amounts, especially for medical purposes. They also do keep DUI or smoking it in public illegal.
    Following your logic, this means you would completely outlaw currently-legal alcohol? There are also strict laws against DUI and public consumption of this as well – we will always have violators no matter what the controlled substance is.
    California also has strict 2nd-hand smoke restrictions – even in public outdoor areas. I completely agree with not imposing your own unhealthy vices upon anyone else – blasting everyone’s eardrums for blocks around with outrageous thumping car stereo is a big pet peeve of mine, as well…yup way off topic but hey it’s a great blog 🙂
    Escape to the true wilderness and go boondocking to get away from it all!

  23. Carl C

    Ordinarily I would agree with TF. “Live and let live” is a motto of mine. If people want to smoke pot, that’s fine by me – as long as I don’t have to smell it or be directly affected by its effects.

    Also, let’s imagine for a minute and fantasize that pot became legal. I do not want to smell people’s smoke from cigarettes let alone smoke from pot. Driving down the road and some a-hole is smoking a joint….altering his conception of time…so he creams some mom and infant crossing the street. Yeah, sounds like a great idea!

    Someone’s right to smoke cigarettes STOPS when it encroaches upon my right to breath fresh air. If someone wants to damage their own brain cells by smoking pot, that’s fine by me. However, subjecting me to someone else’s pot-smoke without even the slightest consideration of whether I’m even interested, man, is like, rude, man. The dude does not abide!

    Seriously, if people, not just current pot smokers, could be trusted to stay home and do their drugs, I’d be all for it. But it ain’t gonna happen. You know it. I know it.

    Anyway, we are so far off topic! 😛

  24. Thanks all for the great comments and contribution to a good conversation.
    And to TF (“Boondocking sounds like such fun – I hope to try it some time.”). That’s a perfect cue for me to plug my Boondocking eBook. Look for the link at the bottom of the main article.

  25. TF

    Hi, I posted last night July 3rd, 2010 7:58 pm.
    I just had to follow up, there’s nothing like a good healthy, intelligent conversation – rare to find in the blogosphere!
    I agree with hoppe, mac and tom.
    The only reason this has become such a large, organized activity protected by force is the lure of big $$$ – which would be instantly removed if pot was made legal.
    Yup, Arnie and California’s next Governator would do well to use some logic (for once) and legalize pot so the State can make big $$$ on taxes, which this state desperately needs right now. They need to get past that knee-jerk anti-drug reaction and look past it to the very lucrative alternative for raising badly-needed tax revenue, and getting rid of the bad elements ruining our forests.
    Boondocking sounds like such fun – I hope to try it some time.

  26. Gardoglee

    There was a time when rather than finding pot farms, you were more likley to find a distillery. Pot farmers aren’t the only bad guys who like to find isolated areas, from militias to bootleggers to perverts,and so on. The important thing is to pay attention to your surroundings, whether you are in the wilderness or in Times Square, and to be aware that the bad guys are out there. You are also more likely to run across a drunk driver going the wrong way on the Interstate on your way to your next campground than a drug lord in the national park, but just be aware that either one can happen and be careful.

  27. Tom

    Legalize all drugs. Takes away the drug lords means of existence, provides tax dollars to the state/fed, and kills off a bunch of losers.

    Sounds like a plan to me.

  28. Of course, all this would be solved if growing Marijuana was legal.

  29. Bob and Julie

    To be reminded again that, in this present time, there are serious dangers in our national forests is good advice.
    I like good advice.

  30. hoppe

    Once again: demonstrating that we create more problems than not. If it weren’t ‘illegal’, they wouldn’t even consider trying to grow it way out there.

    Watch out for that Killer Weed!

  31. TF

    This type of activity is fairly common in the mountains of the Central/Southern California area. We always read or hear of pot grows that the local law enforcement agencies find and report.
    They also report suburban houses in normal neighborhoods found to be outfitted with all kinds of pot-growing technology.
    The only difference between back in the day and now, is the scale of operations. Back then, it was individual hippie types more interested in being left alone, presenting no potential threat to anyone. Now it is much more organized and protected by force. Sad but true.
    Just be aware of your surroundings and the people around you. It’s too bad we need to be this way even in the wilderness, but it’s just a fact of life, especially in states with higher populations. True wilderness requires truly scarce human populations. I’d much rather be dealing with the rare bear or cougar than the all-too-common weirdo or criminal type, any day.

  32. Carl C

    Bob, I’m not faulting anyone for bringing up topics that concern people’s safety. Bravo, I say.

    However, telling people not to go into the woods because of ‘bad guys’ just doesn’t stick well with me. What’s next? Metal detectors before you enter the woods. I’m more afraid of running into a bear or cougar than meeting up with ‘bad guys.’

    I *would* boil it down to this, though: Back-country folk (hikers, mountain bikers, etc…) are dressed in a certain way. Drug growers will probably be dressed ‘differently.’ Common sense should prevail in a situation where someone would be approached in the woods. How many times have other hikers confronted you in the woods? Questions like, “What are you doing here?” and “Where you going?” from someone other than the Park Ranger would be very out of place.

    Bottom line: If you think you’ve run into one of these patches, like the article says, get out. Report it to the local police and park ranger. Movie tactics get people killed.

  33. catchesthewind

    Reply to tall guy. Whoa there dude. Hes not saying ignore it. He said that 20 YRS ago thats what most people did. I expect that nowadays if you stumble into a pot plantation you will have more problems than deciding if youre going to turn around.

  34. Alexandre Tarcitano

    It may sound strange for you that a brazilian guy like me sticking my nose in this subject but I agree with all of you. Each one has exposed different points of view and is correct. This post is very concerning regarding sefety for RVers and Mr. Difley is right calling your attention. On the other hand, comments from Tallguy, Carl C and photodude also demonstrate that the right of going back and forth along the country should be respected and these outlaws should face law enforcement. Of course, being cautious is a must and if someone experiences a situation like this it´s prudent go back and warn any authority for actions.
    Unfortunately it´s not unusual in my country our equivalent DEA break some pot farms in remote places from time to time and this is very sad because drugs corrodes family, social and ethical values.

    Best regards from Alexandre Tarcitano Rio de Janeiro Brazil

  35. Tallguy – What you do AFTER you get out of there is up to you. My point was that you might be in a bad place, just like you might be if you stumbled onto a gang’s turf, recognize it for what it is, and to get away ASAP. Besides, after the states start legalizing pot growing–as some are moving toward now–and regulate and tax it, these illegal pot farmers with either have to go legit or pack it in.

    Carl C. – I, too, like to explore those places, and being a runner, have jogged throughout the forests and have never run into a pot patch–but I am also alert to the signs of where I am and what I am getting into. My article is to alert those who may be unaware that such activities exist, and if a place or trail looks suspicious, consider the circumstances and maybe go the other way–quickly.

  36. photodude

    Most likely the reefer growers might shoot and ask questions later. I would go the other way and find a ranger to turn in the pot patch. I value my life a heckuva lot more than a pot farm(provided I live to tell about it).


  37. Carl C

    “…stick to the maintained forest service roads and don’t go off four-wheeling (especially in your RV) down low grade tracks or trails. Since growers must access their farms somehow, it would likely be over little used, rough roads, by 4-wheel drive SUVs or trucks. Stay on established hiking trails. That overgrown side trail that looks like an animal trail may just be the way in to where you don’t want to go. …”

    I will NOT avoid areas like this! Why? Because I will NOT be corralled by criminals. Period. Nor will I be corralled by people spreading FUD. I spend a lot of time exploring areas off the beaten path for the simple reason of being off the beaten path.

    The only thing the above comment does is place fear, uncertainty and doubt into the minds of people who would otherwise explore the beauty of America and its forests.

    I would agree that if you did find one of these places….beat feet. But don’t look like you’re rabbiting. That only draws attention to yourselves.

    Just now I read ‘TallGuy’s’ post. Exactly. Putting one’s head in the sand doesn’t make the problem go away.

  38. TallGuy

    So are you saying to just ignore the blatantly illegal pot plantation as if it never existed and go on about your lovely experience with nature??

    Where’s your OUTRAGE with the cockroaches who desecrate our land and their crappy way of using it? Don’t you have any pride in favor of preserving our country for those of us who want to continue its legal use?

    If you don’t speak up against the encroachment when you see it, the cockroaches will take over and make your paradise into a poppy field not unlike they do in Afghanistan and other places that don’t respect laws.