Friday, October 28, 2011

Cheap, human-powered washing machine perfect for boondockers

Here's a cheap, easy way to wash your clothes while boondocking. All you need is a five gallon bucket with a lid, a toilet plunger, some water and laundry soap. This device does not plug in, but is powered by "you." So forget driving off to the laundry or firing up your generator to power an on-board washing machine. This system will do the job just fine. The fellow who demonstrates it in this video works darn hard to do the job, but we think that with a tweak in the size of the hole in the lid he could save some of his energy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Eureka Dunes: The eerie twilight zone

If you are not a boondocker and don't like weird, out-there locations, you need read no further.

However, since you are still reading, let me suggest a place where there is only one campground, a really primitive, no-hookup, barren and desolate spot, where there are only ten campsites, not all of them with picnic tables or fire rings. 

You have to drive about ten miles over a rough gravel road (4WD not required). There is no water. No restrooms. No gas. No supplies. No smiling campground host. No internet or cell phone coverage.

The only other living species you might see are beetles and the occasional jack rabbit. And it's dark--very, very dark--and quiet. You might hear a mournful coyote at night. And you will hear something else.

A low rumbling sound. Unidentifiable and strange, like the deep, penetrating bass note of an organ, or the moaning of a sleeping giant.

This is Eureka Dunes, in the northernmost part of Death Valley National Park, hidden in the enclosed Eureka Valley at a 3,000-foot elevation. The dune formation is about a mile wide and three miles long and rises about 700 feet above the valley floor. It is other-worldly and strangely silent--except for the noises.

Scientists do not know for sure what makes these sounds, but speculate that it comes from avalanches of dry sand tumbling down the steepest faces of the dunes, the sand grains grinding against each other creating a strange, low, booming echo.

The dunes are closed to all off highway vehicles, and horseback riders, and sandboarders. That's good. And you can walk to the top of the dunes, and follow the ridgeline to the highest point, and that's good also.

There are only about 35 locations in the world that make these strange sounds. All of them are in the desert. Several lie in the United States: The Panamint Dune--also in Death Valley, Kelso Dunes, in California's Mojave National Preserve, and in Nevada, Big Dune the Amargosa Valley, Sand Mountain near Fallon, and Crescent Dunes near Tonopah. And if you find the sleeping giant, for your own safety, don't wake him up.

Check out Bob Difley's Boondocking, Snowbird Guide, and saving money on the road eBooks at RVbookstore.com

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Boondockers flock to Quartzsite LTVAs

It's snowbird time again when we RVers leave the cold rainy weather behind for the sunny and warmer regions of the country. And snowbirds, like all RVers, have different ideas on how and where to spend the winter.

Arizona is one of the most popular destinations for Western RVers, with Yuma, Tucson, and the greater Phoenix area among the most popular.

For boondockers, however, Quartzsite is the boondocking champion and a "must see" for RVers at least once before hanging up their wheels. You can visit Quartzsite and stay at one of the town's hook-up campgrounds, but to really get the flavor of the place, head to one of the Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVA) instead.

The BLM has authorized LTVAs as designated camping areas for seasonal visitors with rates of $180 for the entire season of September 15 through April 15, with the added perk that you can move around between LTVAs for the one seasonal fee. This is a great deal for new visitors to the desert who do not want to stay in one place but would rather see other parts of the desert as well. You can also buy a 14 day permits for $40 if you do not intend to stay for the season.

The LTVAs offer no hookups, but do have onsite trash containers, a water station, camp host, ranger patrols,  central restroom area, and dump station. It is a good way to learn and practice boondocking, since the services you normally need are nearby. You will also find that LTVAs are near enough to supply centers--groceries, restaurants, RV repair, etc.--to make life easy.

There will be plenty of experienced boondockers around you also to help out if you have problems or questions. And as you know, RVers are quick and eager to offer advice and help when you need it. You might even end up invited to a potluck, music jam session, or campfire gathering of RVers--especially at one of the Quartzsite LTVAs where more than half a million RVers pass through during the winter.

So looking at the bottom line, if you decide to stay at an LTVA for the season instead of at a medium to hi-line RV resort, you could save enough in camping fees in one season to pay for a roof full of solar panels, a Blue Boy portable waste tank, and a water bladder--three of the serious boondocker's additions to his rig--and by the end of the season you would be a member of the boondocker's fraternity. And that's a pretty neat--and independent--place to be.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

More national forests weigh in with their Travel Management Plans

As the new Travel Management Plans (also called the Travel Management Rules - TMR) are being implemented in the national forests, it is becoming apparent that each individual forest supervisor is approaching the plan differently in his forest.

For instance I received a report from Doug that he had just downloaded the MVUM (Motor Vehicle Use Map) for the Coronado NF in Arizona, and that they have included wide dispersed camping corridors with camping allowed up to 300 feet on either side of the many roads. He also says, "Needless to say, all the various campsites I have visited in past years remain accessible. This is in stark contrast to the Kaibab NF, where its 30-foot limit eliminates most existing campsites."

I received the following information from the San Juan NF in Colorado:
"Setting up your own campsite away from developed fee sites, also known as dispersed camping, is allowed on most of the national forests. For comprehensive information on dispersed camping opportunities, contact the San Juan Public Lands Office at 970-247-4874."

It appears, however, that there are variations across the forest, as on the website for the Pagosa Ranger district, there is a MVUM (Motor Vehicle Use Map) available on which a block titled "Dispersed Camping" states: "Motor vehicle use off of designated roads for the purpose of dispersed camping is permitted for up to 300 feet from the centerline of the road, allowing the same vehicles as the road allows and the same season as the road is open. This applies to all roads with the Dispersed Camping symbol."

I then looked a another national forest, taken at random, the Umpqua NF in Oregon and read:
MVUM will not be available until June 2012. At that time the forest supervisor stated that: "The federal rule requires designated roads, trails and areas be identified on a motor vehicle use map that is available to the public free of charge and is updated annually. Using the map, it is the responsibility of individuals to know where and when they can legally operate a motor vehicle on national forests. "

So, the best advice seems to be that before you enter a national forest for bondocking, look online for a MVUM or visit the forest's ranger station or district office and find out if their TMR has been implemented and what their specific rules are and specifically where you can camp.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Jackson Hole campgrounds to install park model rentals

You may discover more boondockers crowding into the area surrounding Jackson Hole south of Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks next summer.

The Jackson Hole Daily reports that the Teton County planners approved a plan where campground owners could place manufactured housing units (defined as recreational park trailers) in their campgrounds and rent them out.

This will bring more income to the campgrounds, but will reduce the number of campsites available to RVers in this popular summer destination.

Though the county says it will monitor each campground case-by-case to determine how many trailers to allow, the rule would permit up to half the available spaces in a campground to be filled by these rental units. If all the campground owners chose to go this route, the number of campsites in the area could be reduced by half.

The rule will allow the trailers to be rented only on a short-term basis--for no more than 30 days in any 60-day period.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fire restrictions lifted in Northern California

Thanks to the capriciousness of Mother Nature--the un-seasonal cool weather and rains in Northern California--the usual tinder-dry, wildfire-prone wild lands do not represent the fire danger usually associated with Fall.

This has prompted the BLM to lift all fire restrictions that have been in place since mid-summer. Specifically, campfires are again permitted outside of developed campgrounds, but you must still get a free fire permit. Restrictions on smoking and internal combustion engines off-road and on trails have also been lifted.

These lifted restrictions apply to the Arcata and Redding field offices in Humboldt, Mendocino, Del Norte, Trinity, Siskiyou, Shasta, Butte, and Tehama counties.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Keep current with these BLM camping and boondocking rules


The Idaho Bureau of Land Management (BLM) posted the rules for camping and boondocking on BLM land in Idaho (photo).

These rules generally apply to camping on any BLM land in any state, and will likely change as the BLM develops their Travel Management Plan as the Forest Service has, but for now these are the official guidelines.

BLM Camping Guidelines

Developed Campgrounds

  • When camping in a developed area, please use the specifically marked sites.
  • If you are camping in a developed site and are in a group with more than two vehicles or 10 people, please use a group site or two campsites.
  • Money from fees charged at developed campgrounds are used to maintain these areas for everyone's enjoyment. Avoid a citation or fine by being responsible and paying your share.
  • Please respect other campers and keep quiet hours of 10 p.m. until 6 a.m., or those posted.
  • Always build fires in the stove, grill, fireplace or ring provided in developed campgrounds. Don’t burn trash or material that produces toxic or hazardous material. Never leave a fire unattended.
  • Use the designated spots for your tent, trailer and other gear. If you leave personal property unattended for more than 24 hours in a day-use area, or 3 days in other areas, it may be considered abandoned and disposed of by BLM.
  • Horses, llamas and other livestock are not allowed in campgrounds or picnic areas unless BLM has provided facilities for that use.
  • Most BLM sites are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Dispersed Camping in Undeveloped Areas

  • Minimize disturbance to BLM land's indigenous creatures, please do not park or camp within 300 yards of any water source (guzzler or water trough) used by wildlife or domestic livestock.
  • To protect your public lands, campers must not dispose of any refuse, hazardous materials, sewage, or gray water, in any manner that would pollute the surrounding area. PACK IT OUT.
  • Whether in a developed campground or at a dispersed site, you may usually camp in an area for up to 14 days before having to move at least 25 miles from your original spot. You may not return to that area for 28 consecutive days.
  • We ask you to follow a policy of Treading Lightly! By picking up litter, avoiding travel that could damage the land, observing signs and posted areas, leaving all gates as you found them, and asking permission to enter private lands, you will enhance the public's opportunity to enjoy these lands in the future. We hope you enjoy your camping experience on BLM lands.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fulltimers can be cited for "living" in a National Forest

A new meaning for "stealth camping" may be emerging out of the lousy economy and budget shortfalls for public agencies.

In the  past, stealth camping generally referred to the attempt to keep a low profile by appearing to be just a parked vehicle when camping in your RV within city limits where laws prohibited sleeping in your vehicle on the streets.

In a previous post I wrote about the fulltimer that was ticketed for "living" in his RV in a National Forest. The actual Federal regulation they were cited under was 36 CFR 261.10(b) - no one may “possess, occupy, or otherwise use National Forest System lands for residential purposes . . . " 


The fine can be hefty and if wielded ruthlessly could bring much needed revenue into public coffers. On the good side, none of us wants to see the national forests turned into squatters camps and this rule is meant to address that issue. However, when a fulltime RVer, whose rig is his residence, is cited is it pushing the rule too far? 


Consider that ALL fulltimers, even when obeying the law and spending time camping or boondocking in a National Forest, could be cited under this regulation--even when adhering to the established ruling that two weeks of camping was the maximum, then you had to move at least 25 miles away and could not return for another 14 days. 


When I asked for a clarification of the regulation, the response given was: "Our law enforcement officers have interpreted this regulation to mean that people who are using the forest as a residence are violating this regulation. This doesn't necessarily contradict the 14-day camping rule."


As ambiguous as this explanation may be, will fulltimers have to provide proof of having another residence, or remove any stickers that indicate they are fulltimers, or outright lie to a ranger who asks if they are fulltimers? And just adhering to the two-week rule may not protect you if it is up to the ranger's interpretation. 


If you are nervous about this rule--and are a fulltimer--it may be prudent to clarify to the local rangers that yes, you are a fulltimer, but you do not intend to "live" in the forest and will not stay longer than tow weeks and find out if this is acceptable before you set up camp. The alternative of a $250 fine should be worth the trouble.   

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Grand Canyon NP outlines dry-camping options for Earth Science week

Earth science Day kicks off at Grand Canyon National Park this Sunday, October 9th, and extends through next Saturday the 15th. Several educational programs are scheduled throughout the week, including evening ranger-led programs.

The daily programs last about an hour and cover geology, caves, weather and other geosciences and there will be special programs for National Fossil Day on October 12.

The park outlined camping information for dry-camping and boondocking for the week as follows:
  • Mather Campground, just off South Rim Village. Reservations are likely necessary; go through the recreation.gov website or call 1-877-444-6777 to check availability. Maximum RV or trailer length is specified as 30 feet but they point out that only a limited number of sites are big enough for 30-foot rigs. Sites cost $18 ($9 with an Interagency Access or Senior Pass, or older equivalents) and have no hookups, though water and dump are available.
  • Desert View campground costs $12 ($6 when discounts apply). It is 26 miles east of South Rim Village. This primitive campground has two water faucets and bathrooms, but no dump or other hookups. First-come first-served only and check to make sure the campground is still open, as it's slated to close “mid-October.”
  • Ten X campground in Kaibab National Forest, two miles south of Tusayan. Cost is $10; passes mentioned above make this $5.
  • Kaibab National Forest: You can boondock off a forest road in Tusayan Ranger District. According to park spokespersons this district has not yet implemented its Travel Management Plan but I would verify this.
The Grand Canyon shuttle buses will link the campgrounds and parking lots with the ranger programs. Remember that the park's high altitude can produce near freezing temperatures at night, so check the weather forecasts regularly and dress in layers as conditions can change rapidly.

Check out Bob Difley's Boondocking, Snowbird Guide, and saving money on the road eBooks at RVbookstore.com