Exploring the Southwestern deserts on the cheap

October 28, 2011 by Bob Difley · 17 Comments 

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By Bob Difley

Thursday’s stock market rally–in fact the whole month of October–have been good for investors. However, for most of us buy-and-hold investors, we still have a long way to go to get even, let alone get ahead. Fortunately, as RVers–especially if you are a fulltimer or long-termer like a snowbird–there are ways we can keep expenses down while waiting for our portfolios to recover.

Here are some ideas for keeping expenses in check heading into snowbird season:

  • If you are heading soon for your winter snowbirding roost, take time to plan your trip so that you are able to spend your travel nights without paying for a campground. Get a list of Walmarts, Kmarts, and other stores that permit overnight stays, or plan to arrive every afternoon in public lands where you can camp free. You could save almost enough in campground fees to pay for your fuel.
  • Once in the desert, plan to camp in central locations, like the hub of a wagon wheel, where you can leave your rig by day and explore out the spokes of the wheel with your tow or toad to save fuel.
  • Buy a couple guide books so you don’t have waste time and gas. Mike and Terie Church’s Southwestern Deserts book is among the most informative. And buy a desert places-to-go-and-things-to-see, wildflowers and plants, and birds and wildlife handbooks as well.
  • Unless you particularly like big cities, avoid them for camping destinations. Yes, they have lots of entertainment options, but so does the natural desert–and the city locations will be a lot more expensive.
  • Entertainment that is either cheap or free includes mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, searching for petroglyphs and Native American ruins, birdwatching, wildflower walks, star gazing, visiting historic mining sites, ghosts towns, and cattle ranches, tracking wildlife, and visiting state and national parks.
  • Don’t be in a hurry. Drive 55, accelerate slowly, reduce speed by coasting, keep tires properly inflated, and perfect hypermile driving.

Learn to enjoy the desert for what it is, and not just a place to escape the rain and cold. Like everything else, the desert will be much more interesting the more you learn about it.

Check out my website for more RVing tips and destinations and for my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands (or the Kindle version), Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts (Kindle version), and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar (Kindle version).

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Spring in the Desert

January 8, 2011 by Bob Difley · 14 Comments 

By Bob Difley

buenos_aires_nwr_campsite2Before my wife, Lynn, and I became homeless and unemployed (the definition of a fulltimer) we stoically endured the interminable winter rains, piercing cold, dark nights that lasted too long and the hours of daylight far too brief. Toneless gray skies and leafless trees had us longing for spring even before the last of the autumn leaves had fluttered away.

We joined the growing ranks of fulltimers on a gray November day, now almost eighteen years ago. Before you could say “continuing rain and high winds” we had flapped our proverbial wings and joined the migrating flock of snowbirds heading south for the dry, warm, sunny desert.

Though we escaped most of the rain and cold, the colorless grays and browns of the desert floor took their place. Sunlit days were still too short. The sun never seemed to rise overhead and started to set before I really got going. Even though the blue-skied days more often than not reached into the 60s, we still looked forward to Mother Nature’s reawakening from her winter slumber.

apricot mallow2

When spring eventually grabs a foothold the desert transforms itself into multiple shades of green as lifeless, woody plants sprout tiny leaves. Miniature yellow blossoms erupt on the creosote bushes. Chuparosa, brittlebush, and indigo bush burst with red, yellow, and purple blooms.

My winter eyes were rewarded when delicate wildflowers, like the showy, white Ajo lillies, appearing frail and defenseless, awakened and tentatively poked their heads out into the sunlight. Soon the brilliant orange California and Mexican poppies, bright yellow desert marigolds, soft blue lupine, and red Indian paintbrush turned the desert into a kaleidoscope of living color.

Fortunately for us dedicated boondockers, backroads and public open lands enable us to venture out and enjoy the solitude of the desert and to pursue the visual treats of its spring rejuvenation.

This is when we shake winter’s cobwebs from our heads, flush and fill and charge and stock and take off to the boonies where we can camp out on the vast expanse of the desert floor. New life explodes all around us, carpets of sand verbena, birdcage evening primrose, and prickly poppy carpet the rolling dunes and creep up bajadas on the slopes of craggy gray mountains.

Beds of blue phacelia hide in the shade of palo verde trees, and cacti proudly display their colorful, neon-vivid flowers. The red-tipped spines of the barrel cactus are easily spotted, but it takes a keen eye to find the little fish hook cactus that often hides close to rocks or in crevices.

After a day of exploring my limitless surroundings what better way to end the day than to watch the setting sun paint the evening sky’s whispy clouds with hues of yellow deepening to orange, and burgundy. No intruding lights dim the galaxy’s star show, and until the moon sets, it hangs like a universal night light illuminating the floor around me in its soft natural glow, with only the yipping of coyotes to break the sound of the desert silence.

Check out my website for more RVing tips and destinations and for my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public LandsSnowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts, and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar.

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Snowbird destinations: Arizona

October 24, 2010 by Rex Vogel · 326 Comments 

As we brace for winter’s grip, arctic winds and shortening days are speeding the departure of Snowbirds for the Sun Belt. To the south, warm temperatures and sunny skies beckon as we examine a sampling of southern destinations.

Saguaro cacti cover the rolling hills at Saguaro National Park near Tucson. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro cacti cover the rolling hills at Saguaro National Park near Tucson. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For many Snowbirds from Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest, winter means a migration to Arizona. The Grand Canyon State receives this attention due to its relatively close proximity and because the southern part of the state has a reputation for mild and dry winters. This doesn’t mean there will never be a cold day. The air can get a bit chilly, but cold snaps are usually of short duration. If you stay south of a line about 70 miles north of I-10, you will seldom be concerned with the temperature.

As a winter destination, there are few places more inviting than the Grand Canyon State.

Like many of the other western states, Arizona is a land of paradoxes. Deep canyons give way to rugged mountains. Ponderosa pine forests melt into arid deserts. Native American reservations dot a state with major metropolitan areas like Phoenix and Tucson. Oh, and did I mention the natural wonders scattered throughout the state?

Yes, Arizona has much to offer the RVing Snowbird.

Hollywood created perceptions for the movie-going public, and television continues to perpetuate them. Arizona has been portrayed as harsh, unfriendly terrain where John Wayne fought the Indians. Arizona was merely inhospitable desert—a land of sand dunes, tumbling tumbleweeds, and dry washes—between the Golden State and the Land of Enchantment.

My perception was little different when we first visited the state over twenty years ago. My initial reaction: How can anyone live in this dry God-forsaken wilderness?

Chiricahua National Park with its eerie rock formations is a hiker's delight. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chiricahua National Park with its eerie rock formations is a hiker's delight. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Within days we fell in love with the Sonoran Desert and have since returned a dozen times, often in spring to witness the wildflowers as they flood the desert floor with broad swaths of yellow, green, and violet.

Arizona is a Snowbird destination like no other. From eroded red rock formations to large urban centers, from the Grand Canyon’s stunning vistas to small mountain towns, from Old West legends to Native American and Mexican culture, and from professional sporting events to world-class golf—Arizona has it all!

Along Arizona’s southernmost region lies the 91,000-acre Saguaro National Park. Here visitors get a firsthand look at the well-preserved Sonoran Desert, a vast expanse that takes up much of Arizona’s southern region. The rolling hills are covered with Saguaro cacti (Arizona’s official state flower), as well as a wide variety of other cacti, desert shrubs, and animals unique to the desert southwest.

Several hours to the southeast, unique rock formations and unusual landscapes can be explored at the Chiricahua National Monument. Eons ago, lava flows covered the region, creating a dense layer of lava rock. Over the years the rocks began to crack and wither away with moisture. The result is truly spectacular—startling rock formations that today make up the Chiricahua Mountains.

Along the state’s southern border lies Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument which marks the northern range of its namesake. Amid the saguaro, ocotillo, cholla, and over 20 other cactus species, the organ pipes complete the desert landscape, like the firs that dot the Ponderosa forest in Arizona’s High Country.

And no trip to Arizona would be complete without a stop at Lake Havasu, with its more than 45 miles of shoreline. Here water enthusiasts of all kinds—canoeists, skiers, boaters, and anglers—bask in the area’s more than 300 days of sunshine per year.

To continue reading, click here.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.

Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip “south”.

There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also wish to read

Snowbird destinations: Arizona, Part 3

Snowbird destinations: Arizona, Part 4

Hoover Dam Bypass Project: An Update

Quartzsite 2011 RV show dates announced

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What you need to know for desert boondocking

February 8, 2010 by Bob Difley · 5 Comments 


By Bob Difley

If you follow the rest of the snowbirds to the southwestern deserts in winter, you will find that most of them stay in he same RV resort or campground for the entire season. A small number of RVers decide to so some boondocking in the open desert to really experience the desert in its wildness and beauty.

As you roam around and talk to other boondockers you will find more desert boondocking locations than you ever imagined. Many are just places where an RVer has pulled off onto an unnamed, unpaved desert track and found a nice spot behind a hill, overlooking a wash, or hidden in a grove of desert willow or mesquite trees.

Others become popular simply because one boondocker spots another and decides to join and soon there are half a dozen RVers, though they space themselves apart from each other, but still enjoying the proximity of other boondockers. Iff you would like to try this open desert camping, here are some of the basic rules and tips you need to know.

  • The BLM allows free camping for up to 14 consecutive days out of every 28 days on open land.
  • After 14 days, you must move at least 25 miles away from your current location and cannot return for another 14 days.
  • Camping is legal except where specifically prohibited by signs or fences.
  • No camping within 300 feet of a man-made watering hole or tank to allow wildlife access.
  • Use existing routes and trails.
  • Camp at previously used sites.
  • When there is no danger of rain or flash flooding, camp in washes where signs of camping will wash away.
  • Pack It In, Pack It Out: Pack out your trash and any that was left by others.
  • Leave What You Find: Protect cultural resources by leaving all artifacts as you find them.
  • Leave natural objects and avoid damaging vegetation. Pick a spot that has been camped in before.

Check out my boondocking ebook, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands

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Boondocking the Mojave

November 21, 2009 by Bob Difley · 12 Comments 


 This is a test for those heading south for the winter. I will ask some questions and I want you to raise your hands if it applies to your RV Lifestyle.

  1. When I’m traveling I have a destination and drive long days until I get there. 
  2. I never get distracted or stop to explore places I pass through on the way to my destination.
  3. When on the road I stop overnight at the campground or Walmart that is closest to the freeway so I can get going fast in the morning.
  4. After I settle into my winter RV resort/campground I stay put until I leave to head back north.

Read more

Where do Snowbirds Go Between Summer and Winter?

September 26, 2009 by Bob Difley · 38 Comments 

By Bob Difley

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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.

Read more

Coyote Camping in the Southwestern Deserts II

September 19, 2009 by Bob Difley · 7 Comments 

By Bob Difley

In last week’s blog I described how to find dispersed boondocking campsites (coyote camping) in the American deserts. Now that you know how to find coyote camping spots, the following tips will help to enhance and expand your desert boondocking experience:

  • The best way to find dispersed campsites in the desert is to explore first in your tow or toad, checking the road surface for soft spots, lethal potholes, and muffler-killing rocks.
  • Try to find roads that follow the less-eroded high ground rather than up a wash, where the surface could be sandy and soft. You can often find “desert pavement” on the higher surfaces, a naturally occurring tile or cobblestone-like surface that is very hard and supportive of even heavy rigs. And you are likely to have better views from the higher ground.
  • Choose a spot, if available, that has been camped in before, rather than destroying desert plants in creating a new site.
  • Haul as much water in Jerry Jugs or inflatable blatters (available at Camping World or RV and boating supplystores) with you as you can carry. Dump these into your fresh water tank as it goes down to give you extended staying time.
  • Buy the type of sewer cap that has a fitting for a garden hose, which you can then lead off away from your site for your gray water to drain into (dig a deep hole and cover outflow with a layer of sand after each use). Never dump your black water except into an approved dump station).
  • Solar panels work great in the desert, even with the shorter winter days and lower angle of the sun. Try to situate your rig so that the panels aim toward the south to about where the sun will be at noon.
  • When you go exploring, be watchful for cacti (with nasty thorns), acacia (also called devil’s claw, tear blanket, and wait-a-minute bush–you’ll understand if you brush against one of these), and mesquite trees—all with pesky thorns, and hidden underground small animal burrow networks that can trip you up when you collapse into them.
  • Also mark your trail, either with arrows drawn in the sand, GPS coordinates, or rock cairns, so you can find your way back. You will be surprised how easy it is to get turned about when you start following dry washes and narrow arroyos. If you do get lost, climb the nearest knoll and look for your rig or other landmark to orient yourself. But by all means, explore. It is one of the most enjoyable activities while boondocking out in the open desert. You will be amazed at the bird life, jack rabbits, cute kangaroo rats, near-sighted javalinas (a pig-like mammal whose real name is collared piccary), coyotes, kit foxes, and other critters that live there, not to mention the cacti, wild flowers, and flowering shrubs that paint the desert in vivid colors in the Spring.
  • If you are a snowbird (winter resident), remember that just because it is the desert does not mean it will always be warm. Desert nights can drop close to and below freezing, but the days warm up rapidly. Wind will be a factor also. Close your windows that face the wind when you leave your rig or you may come back to find a layer of sand covering every available interior surface.
  • Have fun. Once you get used to the desert, it is a wonderful place to explore, and the long views, blazing sunsets, and clear star-filled nights will constantly remind you why you came to the desert rather than spend the winter in Minnesota or Saskatchewan.

For the complete guide to boondocking, check out my eBook, Boondocking: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands on my Web site.

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Coyote Camping in the Southwestern Deserts

September 12, 2009 by Bob Difley · 13 Comments 

By Bob Difley

BLM undesignated campsites near Why, AZ

BLM undesignated campsites near Why, AZ

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.

Read more

Desert Solitaire II

September 7, 2009 by Bob Difley · 5 Comments 

By Bob Difley

desert_camp_307Last week in Desert Solitaire I said I would write about how to boondock in the desert, in both communal locations like Quartzsite, and in solitary sites under a lone desert willow. Either way, camping in the open desert on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, rather than in a designated campground, is what lures many snowbirds to the desert in winter. Most RVers call this camping boondocking, though in Quartzsite, you could end up even more crowded than in a hook-up campground. But the choice is yours. The options offered by boondocking allow for groups of friends to circle the wagons much like the early pioneers did on the Oregon Trail. Though the pioneers chose this method mainly to protect themselves from marauding Indians, today’s RVers seek social camaraderie instead, putting tables, chairs, and a communal campfire in the “hub” of the circled wagons. Here again, you can choose to camp in close to town and have neighbors, or move further out and have your group area all to yourselves, a definite advantage if you are nudists or practice strange rituals or ceremonies. Quartzsite RVers also can make the decision of choosing a dispersed campsite, which is essentially any open piece of desert land that fits your personal requirements, that is close to town–which will contain the most RVs–or one that is further away and therefore more solitary. A unique aspect of the Quartzsite area is that there are several hard compacted dirt roads leading off into the LTVAs as well as broad expanses of hard “desert pavement,” which resemble tile or cobblestone surfaces capable of supporting even the heaviest rigs. But it is still best to walk your selected site first to make sure it is solid and compacted. Camping in any of the seven LTVAs in California or Arizona costs $180 for the season, September through April, or $40 for two weeks. You can move between LTVAs within the time period. The other option is to avoid the designated LTVAs and find your own campsite. If you do, you will not have to pay the LTVA fees, though the BLM limits your camping period to two weeks, then you have to move at least 25 miles from your previous location. You can take your chances on staying longer but you risk getting a $50 ticket (maybe more since the last time I was ticketed). You have to be a little more careful with this type of camping as the roads, which receive lower use than those on the LTVAs, may not be as high quality, may have more exposed rocks or soft sandy spots, washouts, etc. so look ahead before you venture forward. Plenty of desert pavement spots are still available, though, and you will be able to find as solitary a campsite as you want, whether it be on a knoll with a long view of the distant mountains, or hidden in a grove of willow and mesquite trees. Next week, finding desert boondocking campsites outside of the Quartzsite area, in Southern California and Southwestern Arizona. Check out my ebook, Boondocking: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands, on my Web site for the complete guide to boondocking.

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Where Do Extended Term Boondockers Get Their Power?

October 25, 2008 by Bob Difley · 10 Comments 

In response to my Snowbirds Quartzsite post last Saturday, Fred asked what you do for power if boondocking in Quartzsite for weeks at a time. I thought the question was good for a post of its own (I’ll return to Snowbird roosts next saturday.
Boondocking (camping without sewer, water, or electrical hookups) is a skill you learn more about the more times you do it. If trash disposal (dumpsters), a drinking water tap, and a dump station are nearby, handling these boondocking limitations is just an inconvenience–having to pack up, hitch up, and drive, even if only a few hundred yards, then return and make camp again. This, for experienced boondockers, is just part of the experience and is handled in short order and with little fuss and difficulty. And every boondocker learns to conserve supplies and resources and limit waste in order to extend time between such moves. Read more

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