Finding a Boondocking Rhythm

Boondocking has a different rhythm from other types of RVing, one I’m still getting the hang of. While I expected it to be more spontaneous, I actually find myself planning more.

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Climbing out of Tonto NF on Monday, was hazy in the valley

Spent Monday night at Tonopah RV to dump, shower, and use my microwave!

Spent Monday night at Tonopah RV to dump, shower, and use my microwave. First night with full hookups in 6 weeks

Routes and routines greatly influenced by the weather. The temperature has to be within a certain range to be comfortable without hookups to rely on. Having a small battery bank necessitates a schedule that follows the rising and setting of the sun. Extensive computer work happens on sunny days when solar power is abundant, but during the warmest part of the day it’s often too hot to work inside Cas and that’s the ideal time for reading outdoors or taking a ride in the truck (with the AC turned on naturally).

Since the good free sites are generally out in the middle of nowhere, it’s most cost efficient to stock up on water, food, gas, and propane ahead of time, and empty the waste tanks.

Then upon arriving at a dispersed camping area it’s not as simple as plunking down the RV any old place. As the weather warms up it’s best to show up in the morning, so that walking to scout out a site doesn’t have you dripping with sweat your first day on limited water. And yes, walk in first before driving in in case there’s no place to turn around or the road isn’t in good shape. Arriving during the evening is not recommended, even though it’ll be cooler then too there’s a risk there won’t be any descent sites available and then you’re stuck finding somewhere else to spend the night in the dark.

Spent Tuesday night at Ehrenberg, then entered California Wednesday morning, these are maybe the Big Maria Mountains just west of Blythe

Spent Tuesday night at Ehrenberg, then entered California Wednesday morning, these are (maybe?) the Big Maria Mountains near Blythe

Before scoping out sites, check to see if there’s rain in the forecast. If there is, make sure the road in has no evidence of erosion that could get worsened in a flash flood. Find a spot that’s on high ground and firm underfoot and be sure you can face the RV in the direction you prefer. Bonus points if the site is level enough to stay hitched up the first night in case the vibe isn’t right or someone else vacates a better site before you’re settled in.

Sites I’ve used to find my boondocks:

WithΒ these pearls of wisdom, I arrived at the BLM dispersed camping area just outside the south entrance of Joshua Tree National Park on Wednesday the 9th, stocked up and prepared bright and early in the morning. Okay, it was about 11 am, but for me that’s early. Using the above parameters I located an acceptable spot and settled in.

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I have a tree! So happy

The topography of this area is really neat. I10 runs through the low point of a valley, the sides sloping up to rumpled looking brown mountains to the north and south. The mountains to the north start not far from my campsite, and are located within the park. I’m about a mile from I10 but higher enough in elevation that it feels like I’m looking down on traffic. Across the interstate other small roads are clearly visible climbing away from the interstate towards the mountains on that side. On a partly cloudy day, shadows play over the ridges.

Mountains south of camp across I10, my feathered friend is a crow or raven who stopped to see if I had food

My feathered friend is a crow or raven who stopped to see if I had food

This is a well-known boondocking area, and it fills up as the weekend approaches. I was a bit daring in choosing my spot, far enough back not to be visible by traffic heading in and out of the park, and on a little spur road that to be honest isn’t in the best of shape. Had my rig been any longer or heavier I wouldn’t have attempted it.

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As it is, it’s a sweet spot and I’m about 95% sure I’ll be able to get out again without a problem. That 5% comes from the fact that there are two spots on the spur road where the sand is a little soft and I’ll be going up a slight incline heading out. It’s worth it for the privacy I’m afforded here.

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No, I haven’t made it into Joshua Tree yet. Well I almost did accidentally when I arrived as I missed the turnoff into the boondocking area. Luckily there was a big turn around in front of the entrance sign.

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There’s a wind advisory this afternoon so I’ll likely stick close to home. Hopefully within the next day or two I’ll go explore!

First sunset in CA, not bad!

First sunset in CA, not bad!

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Becky

At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.

61 Comments

  1. Bill Thibodeau on August 23, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    Do u find blm camping crowded ever, I seen pictures of slab city. it’s looks too crowded for me.



    • Becky on August 24, 2016 at 1:27 pm

      Sometimes Bill. Weather, day of the week, holidays, time of the year, it all makes a difference. A place that’s full-to-bursting over 4th of July weekend may be completely empty the next week if it’s cold and rainy. You never really know what it’ll be like until you arrive. I’ve never been to Slab City so I can’t comment on that place specifically.



  2. Jerry on March 17, 2016 at 10:55 am

    Hi Becky, Received your email and down loaded another web browser as you suggested. Problem solved. I have been dry camping at Imperial Dam LTVA since Nov which has afforded me a “sheltered environment” in which to make friends and gain some knowledge. Have to leave for a scheduled event now but I will follow up later Thanks Jerry



    • Becky on March 17, 2016 at 8:28 pm

      Glad it worked for you Jerry! I’m sorry that IE is being so difficult lately, I’m not sure why. I’ve heard Imperial Dam is nice, hope your event goes well!



  3. Jim on March 15, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    It’s interesting to read your thoughts on “boondocking”. Have you ever read “desert solitaire” by Edward Abbey? Yoy might find it interesting.

    Jim



    • Becky on March 15, 2016 at 8:44 pm

      Haven’t heard of it JIm, I’ll check it out.



      • Stephanie on March 25, 2016 at 1:25 am

        I am in the middle of reading Desert Solitaire. It is excellent. Edward Abbey is very opinionated about human exploitation of natural resources, but his writing style makes you feel like you are there in the Utah desert with him.



        • Becky on March 25, 2016 at 10:37 am

          Thanks for sharing Stephanie.



  4. Deborah on March 15, 2016 at 10:50 am

    Hi Becky, great post. Hopefully a year from now my partner and I will be boondocking around there too. I’m sorry if I asked you before — But how is your cat in the desert? Does he/she enjoy walks? Get overheated? Chase scorpions? We have an older cat. I want him to have the freedom to roam but a little worried about his health, safety and cooperation (like when we want to leave). It’s something I’ve given much thought to, I would love to hear any insight you have.



    • Becky on March 15, 2016 at 8:43 pm

      Deborah, the cat belonged to Julie who traveled with me for six months, he’s not with me now. I responded last time you asked me this question but I can’t remember what post it was on now. He never went outside and Julie traveled with me in winter when heat wasn’t a problem. You’ll just have to watch the weather closer and maybe stay at an RV park on the hot days for the AC.



      • Deborah on March 16, 2016 at 4:54 am

        Okay. Sorry about that. Seems I’m losing my mind these days. We are looking at 35 days left until we hit the road and we aren’t done rebuilding our rig yet… So let’s just say keeping track of things isn’t coming naturally. Thanks for the response again. πŸ™‚



        • Becky on March 16, 2016 at 7:41 pm

          That’s okay Deborah, I remember how hectic things were leading up to my first day on the road, haha. I wish you two the best and hope your cat adapts well to life on the road!



  5. Steve on March 14, 2016 at 11:05 pm

    Interesting to read your adapting to boondocking. You are right, there is much more planning involved and with a Casita I’m sure that is a factor also in the distance, and time to dump your tanks and add fresh water. With El Nino this winter, movement based on weather had to be very hard for some fulltimers.



    • Becky on March 15, 2016 at 8:39 pm

      I’ve got conserving my tanks down to an artform already, I can go 3 weeks and my Casita does not have the optional larger holding tanks, but most people want to shower in their own bathroom, haha.

      Yes, El Nino did make it challenging the first couple months, it was cold in Quartzsite. It sounds like it’s broken up (dispersed? Over?) now and the weather has been more “normal” for the area. Now it’s almost getting too warm…



  6. Rochelle Furtah on March 13, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    Hi Becky

    We’ve boondocked in this same spot. We have a 33 foot Class A and there are some spots that are very sandy, so you need to choose carefully. We had a great time in the park. Very interesting due to the fact that it includes two desert environments. Be sure to spend some time in the park.



    • Becky on March 14, 2016 at 8:02 pm

      Fun Rochelle! I had friends get stuck out here and need to be towed out, so luckily I knew what I was in for before I arrived.

      Yes, JT is a pretty neat place! I went on a ranger led hike on Saturday, will be going in again once my work on Cas is done.



      • nikita on June 5, 2016 at 2:43 pm

        Ever thought about adding a winch to your truck? (assuming there’s something around to hook it to… ) I’ve always wanted one, but my brother (the engineer) says the good ones are heavy and can really decrease your gas mileage.



        • Becky on June 6, 2016 at 9:37 am

          No Nikita, for me the cost wouldn’t be worth it, I’m on a budget. I’m a careful driver and have never needed one yet.



  7. patricia Leonhardt on March 13, 2016 at 8:29 am

    Hi Becky, my second post! I was curious about solar energy. You mentioned that it was the best during the high heat of the day but not so you would want to stay in Cas to work, because of the heat. Is that how solar works? You could use more of it in the day time because it gets replenished faster? On a cloudy day do you not get as much energy as a sunny day? Dumb questions I guess but I do have difficulty actually understanding how solar power works. Patti in Co



    • Becky on March 14, 2016 at 8:00 pm

      Yes Patti, when the sun is directly overhead is when you get the most from your solar panel, so at noon on the summer solstice is when it’s working optimally, haha. Even just a little bit of shade drastically reduces solar output, so having a corner of the panel shaded by a tree or the occasional cloud overhead can as much as cut your power in half. On an overcast day, you don’t get much at all. I reduce my power usage when the sun is down because nothing is coming in and sometimes the weatherman is wrong about the forecast, you never really know how sunny a day will be.



  8. Linda on March 12, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    Becky…for women who want to travel in their small trailers in a group, they should check out “Sisters on the Fly”. This might be something for those who don’t want to go it alone. They have a website. We ran in to them at a campground in San Diego county, CA. They were a great group of women from all walks of life who love to travel and camp. They were having so much fun!
    All the best,
    LINDA



    • Becky on March 12, 2016 at 8:24 pm

      I’ve seen them before Linda and yes, very neat group and I went online and looked into joining myself! Sadly, membership costs $60 annually. Still, for those with the money I bet it is a lot of fun. πŸ™‚



  9. Dave on March 12, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    Becky, You mentioned security about being so far out in the middle of no where that no one would bother you, so I was wondering do you ever leave your RV out at your campsite and run into the local town when you need something? Ever had any problems? Lawn chair ever disappeared or anyone ever tried to break into your trailer? I remember your ebook mentioning being a single lady regarding security, but nothing about the security of your site when unattended.



    • Becky on March 12, 2016 at 7:59 pm

      Haha, the lady two comments above you asked the same thing Dave. Absolutely I leave my RV parked while I run into town, that’s one of the big benefits of having a towable instead of a motorhome. I’ve had no problems, probably helps that my camp chair is cheap and old and my RV isn’t waxed and doesn’t look expensive. I do have a hitch lock on it and pull in my solar suitcase before I go.



  10. Diane on March 12, 2016 at 11:45 am

    We cannot wait to get to Joshua Tree! Glad to know about the free camping.

    We travel with 100w portable solar panels that keep our ‘fridge and lights powered. I can’t recall if you use solar. We are boondocking in Sam Houston National Forest, in Texas in a grassy spot surrounded by pine trees. It’s a beautiful place we found and no traffic on the dirt road.

    Great article in Escapees magazine!

    Happy trails!
    Diane
    birderdiane526.blogspot.com. Teardropping in Paradise.
    Diane recently posted..Sam Houston National ForestMy Profile



    • Becky on March 12, 2016 at 7:46 pm

      It’s a beautiful place Diane, plenty to see. I have a portable 100 watt suitcase kit for my energy needs.

      Sounds like a winning location, not too many boondocking options in Texas so that’s great you found a good one.

      Thanks, and glad you liked the article!



  11. Martha on March 12, 2016 at 11:14 am

    We are also in a travel trailer and was curious about your thoughts. I have only boondocked once with a group in Quartzsite. With a travel trailer, people can tell if you are away from the site in your vehicle as there is no vehicle left behind. Curious if you have heard of travel trailers having more issues than motor homes when boondocking. Are there any special considerations you have taken?



    • Becky on March 12, 2016 at 7:43 pm

      Haven’t heard of any issues and I take no special considerations other than pulling in my solar kit and locking the door when I leave. It’s my opinion that you’re less likely to get hassled boondocking in the middle of nowhere than dry camping in a city for instance, the criminal element would have to leave their neighborhood to find you and people who come out to the desert to camp just want to be left alone.



      • Carlene on March 12, 2016 at 8:06 pm

        Thanks Martha for bringing this topic up, and Becky for your great insite. I’m a solo but also volunteer at wild life refuges. I have not boondocked because I’ve had service provide mostly when volunteering. I too have had concerns about leaving the motorhome behind when scouting and view local areas in my “towed vehicle”. Becky your outlook on the criminal element is very good… and most are not willing to leave their own more available victims. Great blog enjoy your spring time travels.



        • Becky on March 12, 2016 at 8:27 pm

          Glad this helped settle your fears Carlene. If you have nice outdoor furniture or ornaments might want to pull those in too, but my camp chair was $10 at Walmart and it’s rusting and falling apart so I doubt anyone would want it. πŸ˜‰



          • nikita on June 5, 2016 at 2:36 pm

            Sorry if I’ve missed you talking about it elsewhere, but do you have a trailer lock or security setup of some sort for when the Casita sits alone? Thanks!



          • Becky on June 6, 2016 at 9:39 am

            Yes I have a trailer lock Nikita, cheap insurance.



  12. Jeff on March 12, 2016 at 9:42 am

    Hi Becky – Kelsey is right that is a nice drive along the fault lines with high sheer walls. Just before Mecca is Painted Canyon off tot he north. A real nice hike, I call it ‘Shoots’n’Ladders’ as if you go up a box canyon it’s ‘Ah Shoot’ the ladders are there to help hike up to the next level.

    How are the blooms in J.Tree?



    • Becky on March 12, 2016 at 7:41 pm

      Haha, funny Jeff.

      The Yucca are in bloom, some smaller wildflowers. Because of the elevation spring comes here a little later, it’s just starting.



  13. Kelsey on March 12, 2016 at 8:52 am

    In your exploring, if you haven’t already, drive through box canyon. It’s on the other side of I 10 from The first Joshua Tree exit heading toward mecca. Very pretty



    • Becky on March 12, 2016 at 9:00 am

      I’ll keep that in mind Kelsey.



  14. Jerry Minchey on March 12, 2016 at 6:48 am

    Cas looks content there by the tree. What a great picture.

    I finally received my March/April issue of the Escapees magazine and got to read your feature article. It was a wonderful article, and I loved the pictures.

    Congratulations on getting it published. With 50,000+ circulations, that’s some awesome exposure. You are going to have a lot more readers/followers now. Way to go.



    • Becky on March 12, 2016 at 8:58 am

      Glad you enjoyed it Jerry! I sent the magazine three pictures from every park I worked at, they took two from the Badlands and one from Zion. I’m surprised they didn’t use any from Yellowstone but maybe they figured everyone expects Yellowstone and the other two were less common places to work-camp.



  15. MB from VA on March 12, 2016 at 5:43 am

    Good morning from VA. As I told you before, I follow two blogs. Yours and another single woman’s who is retired. She boondocks with her two dogs. I am somewhere in between your age and hers. And I will have dogs and a cat. But, I came to her blog after she had it mostly figured out. She has a lot of information to share and it is a good site for me. BUT, it is also very helpful to “ride along” with someone who is new to boondocking and solar ect. It gives me a feel for what it will be like for me. I can learn along with you πŸ™‚ Thank you! And I love the pictures. I can imagine myself walking along those paths and roads…..or looking at those mountains…..and it keeps me energized for my own journey. Have a great day! MB, Wyndy (hound/retriever) Bella (Chihuahua) and Sissy (cat who is learning to walk on a leash).



    • Becky on March 12, 2016 at 8:54 am

      You must be talking about RV Sue, she inspired me to look into a Casita as my home on wheels. πŸ™‚

      I’m glad that these posts are helping and inspiring you MB! When I was still in the planning stage for full-timing I’d do the same thing you are now: visiting blogs like Sue’s and imagining what it would be like. I’m happy to report that it’s everything I’d dreamed of and more!



      • MB from VA on March 12, 2016 at 2:55 pm

        Yep…..it’s Sue. πŸ™‚



        • Auntlordy on March 12, 2016 at 6:02 pm

          Does she still have a website?



  16. Auntlordy on March 12, 2016 at 4:50 am

    Looks so peaceful πŸ™‚ thanks for the update!



    • Becky on March 12, 2016 at 8:49 am

      You’re welcome, it is a very relaxing place!



  17. Wendy on March 11, 2016 at 10:47 pm

    What a thought-provoking post, Becky. Your lifestyle seems so carefree and spontaneous, but the reality is more considered and cautious. Your photos are wonderful!
    Last summer I tent camped alone on a 7000 mile tour around the West–Oklahoma to Washington State and back. I visited 9 National Parks and had a blast! I traveled Hwy 395 northbound and loved the scenery. The area around Lone Pine, Ca is particularly beautiful. Do not miss the Manzanar Relocation Camp, 10 miles north of Lone Pine. It is free!



    • Becky on March 12, 2016 at 8:47 am

      Thanks for the advice Wendy and I’m glad you enjoyed this post! It’s hard to take a bad photo around here.

      That sounds like it was a great trip. I’ve had other people recommend the Lone Pine area so I’ll definitely keep it in mind.



    • Dawn in MI on March 12, 2016 at 11:49 am

      That sounds like a great trip! I am considering doing longer tent camping trips this summer, my 2nd summer of retirement. How many days did you stay in any one spot? The putting up and taking down of a tent makes me think at least 3 nights?
      Dawn in MI recently posted..In a boxMy Profile



      • Wendy on March 13, 2016 at 11:56 pm

        Three days sounds ideal, Dawn, but that was not the norm. I don’t like reservations to rush me, so I took what I could get. This usually meant that I could only stay one night because the campsite was reserved the next night. I visited the National Parks, and with the exception of Grand Canyon, I didn’t have any reservations.
        On the positive side, I became a whiz at putting up my tent and setting up my campsite in about 30 minutes. Tear down took about 20 minutes. When I reached my ultimate destination, Olympic National Park, I stayed for a week in one place. Heaven!
        Since this was my first trip alone in a tent, I stayed only in National Park or Forest Service campgrounds. It cost about $20 per night. I am taking notes on Becky’s boondocking experiences and hope to try it this summer.
        A wonderful resource for long-term camping is https://thetentsoloist.wordpress.com/. Liz doesn’t post regularly, but her earlier material has been invaluable in “teaching” me how to camp alone.



    • Auntlordy on March 12, 2016 at 5:24 pm

      7,000 miles! That is amazing! I wish there was an active forum for more women that are doing this — I realize there are some clubs, but I continue to look for a website or resource site where we can exchange ideas, tips, insight, and safety practices. I am not on the open road yet, but aspire to be, and would really like to launch into conversation and research before starting πŸ™‚ Congrats to you both ~~



      • Becky on March 12, 2016 at 7:38 pm

        I’m a member of two women RVer Facebook groups that are helpful and inspiring Aunt, “Women Who RV” and “Solo Wild-Women RVers” – the second one is rated R for language and innuendos so it’s not for everyone.



  18. Dawn in Mi on March 11, 2016 at 6:03 pm

    Sounds exciting and fun and a tiny bit scary.



    • Becky on March 12, 2016 at 8:44 am

      Just a tiny bit, about 5% or so. πŸ˜‰



      • Dawn in MI on March 12, 2016 at 11:48 am

        And that % will go down with more experience I’m sure. I am secretly (OK not secretly) envious!



        • Becky on March 14, 2016 at 7:53 pm

          Someday soon Dawn!



  19. Linda Sand on March 11, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    You’re getting it, girl. You are a fast learner. Wish I was there–but not too near. πŸ™‚



    • Becky on March 12, 2016 at 8:43 am

      Haha, thanks for respecting my privacy Linda, even if we’re just speaking theoretically. πŸ˜‰

      Where are you traveling these days? Hopefully you’ll get to come out to the desert soon if that’s something you want to do.



  20. RonL on March 11, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Thanks. This is useful. Pinterested it.



    • Becky on March 12, 2016 at 8:40 am

      Glad you found it helpful Ron.



  21. Bob and Cindy on March 11, 2016 at 11:48 am

    We are following your travels as we plan on a trip west after DFW7 next year.
    Have fun!



    • Becky on March 12, 2016 at 8:39 am

      There’s a lot to see out west Bob and Cindy, I bet you’ll love it. Thanks!



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