By Bob Difley
Days become shorter, nights crisper, and the sun lacks the warmth of summer days. Like migrating birds, RV snowbirds are feeling restless, anticipating the annual migration to the warmer and drier winters of the southwestern deserts. If you haven’t tried it before, spending a month or more boondocking on the open desert can turn out to be the maiden voyage that launches a lifelong love affair with the desert environment.
The low elevation of the Sonora and southern Mojave deserts can seem like another planet, at first barren, lifeless, monotone. Maybe what you notice first are the long views, unfiltered by humidity and air pollution, or the way the colors of the sunset linger long after light has faded.
Arriving in late fall, you may think that stories of explosive wildflower blooms, cacti with impossibly bright neon flowers, and the stumpy desert trees bursting with actual green leaves are all just fantasies of a sunstroke victim.
And recollections of wildlife surely sound like those of addle-brained miners in search of the Lost Dutchman‘s mine. What animals or birds could possibly live in such a bleak, dry environment?
But, as any experienced desert boondocker will tell you, take a second look. The desert is, in fact, chock-a-block with life. It is just different than what you may be accustomed to in the pine woods of the Pacific Northwest or the deciduous forests of the northern plains and eastern states. Shrubs and other desert plants hibernate in winter, losing their green leaves and flowers to await the conditions needed to bloom in Spring. Cacti hoard whatever water they can find, anticipating the return of bird, bee, and bat pollinators that bring hope for the continuation of their species.
Snakes, desert tortoises, and scorpions also hibernate in winter, while jack rabbits, coyotes, kit foxes, burros, and big horn sheep blend to near-invisibility within the landscape, or sleep during day to hunt or forage after the sun dips below the horizon.
This is the living desert you will see once you have settled into your boondocking campsite, away from the paved-over desert of the cities, away from night lights that dim the spectacular Milky Way, away from the cacophony of civilization, that covers the scratching of a foraging kangaroo rat, the yipping of a coyote calling to its mate, or the graduated whistle of a cactus wren perched on a saguaro snatching insects on the fly.
Check out my eBook, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America's Public Lands at RVbookstore.com.