By Bob Difley
This is one of the best times to be in the Southwestern Deserts. When the New England states are trying to cope with single digit temps and the south and mid-west are experiencing record cold, the mid 60-degree readings in the desert bring us out in T-shirts and shorts.
But it still is only mid January, and though the nights are dipping into the mid forties, the day time sun not only triggers our Spring genes, it also begins tickling the genes of Spring wildflowers.
By Bob Difley
The threat of early winter snows, sometimes arriving as early as October in the higher elevations of the Sierras, Cascades, and Coast Ranges, snowbirds, along with the feathered version of migrating birds, are starting to make plans for heading south. However, with daytime temps still topping 100 degrees in the lower desert snowbird roosts like the Coachella Valley in California, and the lower Colorado River, Phoenix, and Tucson areas of Arizona, you might want to consider heading for one of the high deserts for a month or so.
By Bob Difley
Boondocking around Quartzsite and on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) LTVAs (described last week in Desert Solitaire II) is an easy and effective introduction to desert boondocking and snowbirding. Support services and supplies are plentiful, and the great gathering of veteran boondockers, akin to the mountain man rendezvous of 200 years ago, stand ready to help out if needed.
By Bob Difley
Spring suddenly blossomed into an early indication of the summer to come, with temps soaring this weekend in Northern California to the mid-eighties along the coast, and high 90s inland. Desert temps are driving the last of the snowbirds onto their northerly migration as temps soar over 105 degrees.
When that kind of weather hits suddenly, without much time to acclimate, many RVers fire up their air-conditioners and stay inside, hoping the heat will not last for too many days. Boondockers are different, though, heading up in altitude rather than in latitude because of what is known in weather circles as “lapse rate,” the increase or decrease in temperature with the change of altitude.
To complicate things, the rate of change varies with the moisture in the air–the humidity, just as the temperature spread between day and night at the same altitude varies with the humidity. You’ve all noticed that in humid areas, the mid-west and south for instance, in summer the variance between day and night is minimal. Remember trying to sleep after a 90-degree day when it cooled off to only 80 degrees overnight. Or how nice it was in the desert after a 90-degree day to have the night cool down into the 60s.
In dealing with altitude, though, the amount of change for desert–or dry–air is called the “dry adiabatic lapse rate” and is equivalent to 5.4 degrees fahrenheit (3 degrees celsius) for every thousand feet of altitude. What that means for boondockers is that instead of (1) having to run the noisy smelly generator for hours in order to operate the air-conditioner long enough to cool–and keep cool–your RV’s interior, and (2) having to stay inside where the air-conditioning is just to be comfortable, we just head up. Staying clositered in a tiny house-on-wheels instead of being outside is not a consideration in my book.
One April a few years ago we had just left our winter digs along the Colorado River in Arizona and were heading east on US 60 with the intent of visiting the fine Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg. Though we got a fairly early start, by noon when we pulled under the shade of a cottonwood tree for lunch, the thermometer had registered 100 degrees. We shelved the museum idea with visions of the Ponderosa pine forests surrounding Prescott, so we made a left turn and within an hour and a half had climbed from a hot desert elevation below 2,000 feet to the cool forests of Prescott at 5,300 feet, and a decrease in temperature of more than 20 degrees. It felt positively cool.
So now, when conditions get too hot, we head uphill. Not only does the change in altitude kick in our natural air-conditioning system, but as a boondocker we are not restricted by the positioning of a campsite pad, and can angle our rig so that we are broadside to the prevailing breezes. We then open all the windows on both sides, and let the natural cooling breezes do their work, while we go out and enjoy a hike, the trees, birdlife . . .
Oh, by the way, this boondocker’s air-conditioning system doesn’t work so well in those humid areas I mentioned, for two reasons. One, the “wet adiabatic lapse rate” for moist, humid air, is only half that of dry air areas–a mere 2.7 degrees for every thousand feet of altitude. And in the mid-west and south there just aren’t that many mountains where you can climb up a few thousand feet in an hour and a half.
Note of (hopefully) interest: I am working on an ebook on boondocking. When it’s ready I will let you know here in my blog.
Snowbirders set off as early as October for the snowbirding climates of Southern Arizona, and especially the popular areas around Phoenix, Casa Grande, Tucson, and for those who eschew these more populated areas, along the Colorado River. Though there are several nice RV resorts, county parks, and an Indian Reservation on the California side, the Arizona side is more popular, more developed–and more crowded.
The main drawback of the California side is that you can only cross the Colorado River at Laughlin and Needles in the north and at Parker in the south to access what locals call the Arizona’s West Coast that stretches along three-quarters of the Arizona border, but for RVers more realistically from Davis Dam just above Bullhead City south to Parker. You cannot cross the river over Parker Dam, as RVs are not allowed, though the town of Parker is only 15 miles to the south.
Known as the RVers Las Vegas, Laughlin is on the Nevada side of the river across from Bullhead City. Several of the casinos provide camping for RVers and across the bridge from Laughlin and within walking distance, Davis County Park has riverside dry-camping sites, partial hookups, and a full hook-up section on a bluff with super night views across the river to the lights of Laughlin. Bullhead City also has several RV resorts.
Continuing south, Needles also has several RV resorts as well as Moabi Regional Park with full hook-up sites and 2 1/2 miles of partial and no hook-up river side camping as well as monthly snowbird rates.
Interstate 40 crosses the river twelve miles southeast of Needles and ten miles later Highway 95 turns south toward Lake Havasu City (LHC) twenty miles further. This last stretch is all Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and you can boondock anywhere on the many dirt roads that turn off into the desert. You won’t find too many boondockers along this stretch as most stay closer to LHC.
Just as you come out of the low hills above LHC and at the north end of the Airport, which your will see off to your left, is a BLM designated campground called Craggy Wash. There are no facilities but dispersed campsites are stretched for about three miles up the canyon, some of which you can snuggle into with no immediate neighbors. As with most officially recognized bondocking campgrounds, the further you go away from the entrance, the fewer neighbors you will have. From here it’s about ten miles to town, two to three miles to the nearest gas station which also has a dump station. You will find Craggy Wash an eclectic mix of always friendly Canadians (some in 40-foot Country Coaches), to latter day hippies in psychedelic buses.
The 40-mile stretch from LHC south to Parker is called the Parker Strip and is the most popular area along the river for RVers. LHC itself has several RV Resorts in town as well as Lake Havasu State Park campground just a mile from London Bridge and shopping, restaurants, and services, yet offers a very camping experience with large spaces, lots of trees and shrubs, birds, and wildlife, and it is on the river–but no hook-ups as yet, though plans are in the works.
South of LHC on the east side of the highway in the area known as Standard Wash and extending south nearly to Parker are several areas where you can boondock well off the highway. There is no camping or boondocking on the River side of the highway. One of my favorite boondocking spots is back a dirt road just opposite the View Point pull off just below mile marker 170. About three-quarters of a mile off the highway, a level hard-packed area provides a good campsite with a view across the desert to the north. Just past the campsite, the road dips into a wash with soft sand, so stay out of there unless you have a 4WD toad, but there is plenty of hiking and exploring up the canyon and into the many side canyons.
Below LHC, three more state parks–Cattail Cove, River Island, and Buckskin Mountain–provide both no hook-up as well as full hook-up campsites and have river access for canoes and kayaks as well as a boat launch. The state parks have a two-week maximum stay per month though Cattail has a few longer term spaces. Between Parker Dam and Parker, La Paz County Park campground has full hook-up to no hook-up sites on the river. If your cross the river at parker and turn north along the river there are a couple primitive county parks on the river also and there is dry camping on the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) Reserviation northwest of Earp. Tribal information, a museum, and camping information is available from the tribal office in Parker at 26600 Mohave Road. For a list of Parker area RV campgrounds go here.
One of the interesting things about a park ranger’s job is that just when you think you’ve exhausted most of the list of weird situations, you encounter one that’s totally off the map. That was the case for me one day at Willow Beach, Arizona, a popular fishing spot in Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
If I had learned there was trouble lurking in the depths of Black Canyon and decided to round up the usual suspects, my list would probably not include … a beaver. After all, this was the Mohave Desert. Read more