By Bob Difley
In last week’s post, Where are the hookups? Camping off the grid, I clarified the difference between dry-camping and boondocking. But to be a boondocker, you have to learn dry-camping first–surviving overnight without water, sewage, or electrical hookups.
The most important feature to understand about your rig, assuming it was built within the last 30 or 40 years, is that it was built to dry-camp. You already have a built-in tank for fresh water, two waste tanks to hold your gray water (shower, sinks) and sewage (toilet), a propane tank and delivery system for heating water (hot water tank), cooking, and running your refrigerator, as well as a house electrical system (house battery/ies in addition to your engine starting battery).
Now what you need to know to dry-camp is how to use these self-contained systems. First: Unplug all hookups currently attached to your rig–water hose, dump hose, electrical cord. Turn on the faucet. Voila! Water! Watch the water drain into–yes—the gray water holding tank. Flip a switch. Light! If you can accomplish all this the next morning, you have successfully dry-camped–even if you are parked in your own driveway
You have discovered that dry-camping is not hard. But–and it is a BIG but–spending one night without appendages does not a boondocker make. The trick is how to line up successive nights dry-camping, without having to press the reset button (i.e. retreat to a campground to recharge, dump, and fill). And that trick takes only three skills: (1) Understanding how your support systems work and their resource capacities, (2) Monitoring your rate of usage of these resources, and (3) A combination of conserving those resources and altering wasteful habits. Your capacities in (1) will be in your owner’s manual. Perfecting (2) and (3) just takes practice.
So, just how do these RV systems enable you to camp without hookups? First, the water from your sinks and shower flow directly into your gray water waste tank, whether you are hooked up with a dump hose or not. The dump hose just empties your tank. So without a dump hose connected, you just leave the dump valve closed until you are ready to dump. Same with the black water waste tank from your toilet. For extended dry-camping or boondocking, knowing your tank capacities and reading the levels determines how many days it will take to fill your tanks. In a coming blog post I will go into the details and tips of how to control and conserve how much water you use and how to extend the fill limit of your waste tanks.
You are unlikely to use all the water in your fresh tank, fill either of your waste water tanks, or drain your propane tank with just a night or two of dry-camping–unless your family likes practicing their operatic arias while taking lengthy hot showers. But you can use up all the electricity in your house battery in one night if you leave your forced air furnace on all night, fall asleep with the TV and all the lights on, or have a series of high octane AC appliances plugged into your inverter sucking up 120-volt amps from your 12-volt battery.
Since electricity can be the most critical limiting factor to extended boondocking, that will be the subject of next Saturday’s post: how to get the most out of your electrical system, how to upgrade, and how to use alternate power sources.
For more RVing articles and tips take a look at my Healthy RV Lifestyle website, where you will also find my ebooks: BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands (PDF or Kindle), 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang for your RV Lifestyle Buck (PDF or Kindle), and Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts (PDF or Kindle), and my newest, The RV Lifestyle: Reflections of Life on the Road (PDF or Kindle reader version). NOTE: Use the Kindle version to read on iPad and iPhone or any device that has the free Kindle reader app.
NOTE: It appears that the “Comment” section of the blog is not currently working and the blog management has so far been unable to fix it. If you would like to comment directly to me you can use my website email address: hrvlcontact at gmail.com (you know how to write it correctly). I would enjoy hearing from you.
By Bob Difley
If you haven’t made it a priority to check out the Scenic Byways in the areas you travel or are headed to, you are missing some of the most exciting parts of what makes up America, and you have the best way to see them–your RV.
The National Scenic Byways Program is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, in collaboration with other public and private agencies, and since 1992 the National Scenic Byways Program has funded 2,926 projects for state and nationally designated byway routes in all 50 states.
Many of America’s most scenic drives wind across and through remote public lands managed by the National Forest Service (NF) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Though not receiving the same publicity as our National Parks and Monuments, the National Scenic Byways (NSB) and the especially notable All-American Roads are mostly low-traveled, two-lane roads that showcase the historic, scenic, and cultural treasures that define America.
But since they are often remote, it can sometimes be difficult finding private campgrounds with typical amenities and hook-ups. Along the way you may have to cover the whole route in one shot–from an RV resort at one end to one at the other. Unless, of course, you have honed your boondocking skills and are comfortable dry-camping either in primitive (no hook-up) government campgrounds or boondocking in the open forest or desert.
Your boondocking skills enable you to take your time, stopping often, even for a couple of days at a nice forested campsite, and exploring the area more fully. And boondocking, like the byways themselves, are free. Some, with hiking and biking trails, waterfalls, scenic overlooks, and hot springs you would have to skip if you weren’t able to boondock along their routes. Or you would spend a lot more time and fuel driving in and out of the forest from a developed campground at its extremities.
Scenic drives, like Idaho’s Payette River NSB, follow wild and scenic rivers where you can spend from a few hours to a few days rafting the exciting adrenaline-inducing rapids with a river rafting outfitter, or stay a couple days in a forest service campground along the Salmon River within walking distance to hot springs that flow through bathing pools and into the river.
At the National Scenic Byways Program’s Web site you can request a free map and guide to the more than 150 scenic byways to help you plan your summer adventures through some of America’s most exciting landscapes.
Check out my website for more RVing tips and destinations and for my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands (now available in a Kindle version), Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts, and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar.
By Bob Difley
Just knowing that you can legally boondock almost anywhere on public lands, such as those managed by the forest service and BLM, as I wrote in last week’s post, does not tell you exactly how to find these dispersed campsites (meaning not within the confines of an organized campground).
You won’t find any signs saying “Campsite Here” or numbered posts designating campsites. No hosts in golf carts will lead you to an open site. No, you have to find them for yourself. Since finding dispersed campsites is more difficult than finding campgrounds, it is one of the features that makes boondocking attractive–there won’t be a lot of RVers competing for the same campsite.
First, become alert so that you notice when you enter public lands. You will recognize national forests or national recreation areas by their familiar brown signs (photo below). Seldom, however, will signs identify BLM lands. Much of the land in the Southwest used by snowbirds in winter is BLM land.
Maps are available from visitor centers in states that contain public lands and on the Public Lands website where shaded areas define lands managed by the BLM, Bureau of Reclamation, National and State Forest Services, Fish and Wildlife Service, Indian Reservations, etc. However, the BLM and some other agencies do not necessarily post signs so you can determine when you enter and leave. Sometimes the only way you can recognize when you are on public land is the absence of “No Trespassing” signs, mailboxes at side road junctions, and locked gates.
Lacking these, go for it. Even if you see a gate, but it is not locked, it is OK to enter. The gate is to keep cattle from straying off the land. Just be sure to close it once you enter. Many of these public land side roads were originally built to support logging and cattle trucks, and are therefore substantial enough to support your rig–as long as they have been maintained.
Train yourself to focus on spotting side roads when crossing public land, even if you are not currently looking for a campsite. Save the location (photo left) to your GPS or indicate it on a paper map for next time you pass through and may need a campsite. Not all roads will yield acceptable campsites, but by spotting certain characteristics, you can make an educated guess whether you will find one.
Pass by roads with these features: narrow or winding road; overhanging tree branches; deep ruts; soft, sandy, or muddy road surface; debris on road; road soon climbs a hill or drops into a canyon; cattle on road; bears picking blueberries. Look for these signs: wide, level road (photo below); clear overhead; evidence of use by large vehicles; turn around room; large, level parking (potential campsites); other boondockers.
You may not be able to spot all the positive signs from the main road. If not, walk in a ways (the walk will also stretch out your stiff joints from sitting too long) to see how it looks. If it looks like it has potential, I highly recommend that you unhitch and drive your tow or toad in to locate a spot. Once you find one, return to retrieve your rig and move to the site.
This may seem like a lot of work for a single overnight spot, but with a little experience you will begin to recognize those roads that are likely to have campsites, and walking in a hundred yards or so will often find you an acceptable overnight spot. Then make a record of the spot for the next time through. You may think you will remember it, but short term memory is an indicator that you’re not getting any younger.
For longer boondocking stays, find a suitable spot for the first night, even at an organized campground, then explore the next day (pick up maps from the local office of the management agency) so you can find a spot far enough off the access road that you can’t hear the traffic, or beside a stream, or in a wildflower covered meadow. For several days of camping, it is worth expending a bit more time and effort to find the perfect campsite.
Check out my website for more RVing tips and destinations and my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands, Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts, and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar.
By Bob Difley
The activity we RVers refer to as boondocking is made pleasurable by a combination of learned skills, adjusted or changed habits, a desire to stay out in the wilderness as long as comfortably possible, and a curiosity about out-of-the-way places, nature, wildlife, and what is around the next bend.
But not all boondockers match this profile. Some of the differences can be attributed to the semantics of the words “boondocking” and “dry-camping.” They are the same in that both refer to camping without any hook-ups–water, electricity, or sewage. With even one of these appendages, we would have partial hook-ups. But the difference is in where we do it.
Dry-camping can be at an RV rally, Wal-mart parking lot, highway rest stop, or a primitive campground where there are no hook-ups. True boondocking is camping away from civilization, out in the boonies, where no camping amenities exist. The word “boondock” comes from the Tagalog “bundok” meaning “mountain.” Answers.com gives the definition “rural country; the backwoods” while MSN Encarta also includes “place remote from civilization.” A reader suggests that the word boondocking has become synonymous with dry-camping and there should be a new term “wilderness camping” for camping in the boonies.
Whatever you want to call camping without hookups, where you do it and why is the driving force for practicing boondocking skills. For instance if your style is “blacktop boondocking” in Walmart and Cracker Barrel parking lots, you will have little need to perfect skills and change old habits in order to stretch your stay for an extra two or three days. Every modern RV has enough house battery power and waste storage tanks to camp without hook-ups for a night or two.
Fortunately, you break the bond to tethers by starting with trying a night or two blacktop boondocking and graduate through myriad steps to the extreme boondocker with a 4WD truck camper with a roof full of solar panels miles back an old jeep trail or logging road where you can go for days without seeing another human being, what I sometimes call “coyote camping.”
Somewhere in the middle you will find the perfect fit for your style of boondocking. And that will be determined by your likes and dislikes–whether you like to be on the go and only spend one or two nights at a time in any location, or you like to venture beyond the interstates staying in one location long enough to to explore the area. And each step you move beyond blacktop boondocking requires new or improved skills and tips to make it enjoyable. And that’s where we’re going to next week–what you need to know about one-night blacktop boondocking and progressing through rallies, primitive campgrounds, dispersed camping areas, to coyote camping.
Check out my website for more RVing tips and destinations and for my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands, Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts, and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar.
In my opening two years I tremendously enjoyed boondocking and dry camping in my Lance Camper and learned first hand that once self-reliant camping gets in your blood, it’s hard to shake it. Inspired by a Bob Difley seminar at The Rally last year in Albuquerque, I decided to create my next generation RV.
In creating this example of mobile independence, I relied on the cutting-edge engineering and expertise from the best manufacturers and suppliers in the alternative energy and RV industries who push the sustainable energy envelope. I have created a one-of-a-kind RV that exemplifies energy independence and self-reliance. The tandem rig is designed to go off road and off the grid. Engineered with eleven solar panels capable of collecting over 1250 watts of solar energy, three wind turbines generating over 450 watts of wind power and the ability to collect hundreds of gallons of rainwater every month that can be heated by the direct energies of the sun, the SRMR is also equipped state-of-the-art suspension, towing, tires, bumper/winch, LED lighting and navigational equipment.
A lot of people have home offices. For me, I now just tow my home with my office.
Please join me on Facebook for exclusive photos and engineering mock-ups of the SRMR. Stay tuned to my Facebook page for details on the upcoming video on building the SRMR.
Gear to Get with Brian Brawdy
One of the necessities of Green RVing, boondocking & dry camping is the ability to generate power. By tapping into the free and ubiquitous energies of the sun, I’m able to go off road, off the grid while staying out longer.
In this video, I look at the cutting edge technology of the PowerSource 1800. A uniquely designed solar powered generator.
For more information on Brian Brawdy or Greening your RV, please visit BrianBrawdy.com
by Brian Brawdy
In my opening 18 months as an RVer, I have learned that the attraction, at least for me, is one of self reliance and nomadism. The places that I have explored and the people I have encountered have only reinforced the sense of independence one cultivates while bringing the far away to their own front door.
Early on I began to feel, not that I was learning this philosophy, but that I was remembering it. That adventure and exploration are latent in the human being. Today it is my great pleasure to share with you an hour long podcast with author and fellow RVer Bob Difley.
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.
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.
After reading my blog about repairing a broken radiator hose on our MCI bus conversion earlier this week, a soon to be fulltimer e-mailed to ask me what basic tools I carry in our rig to keep us out of trouble.
Obviously this is a brand new reader, because anybody who knows much about me at all knows that in my case, the more tools I have available, the greater the opportunity for me to create disaster. For me, less is better.
Keep in mind that when we were in the early stages of converting our bus, I set fire to it with sparks from an angle grinder. That I once fried our inverter when I fired up the big air compressor we carry in one of our bays while we were dry camping and overloaded the circuit. And then there was the time I decided to polish our stainless steel with a rotary buffer. The pad flew off and hit me in the mouth, I stumbled backward and tripped over a toolbox, and knocked a nasty hole in my skull on a rock. I think the rock fared even worse.
That being said, the only power tool Miss Terry allows me to play with is a small Dremel tool, but she hides all of the cutting wheels and wire brushes that come with it, and only lets me have access to tiny little cotton buffing wheels.
As for hand tools, forget it! Saws and screwdrivers have sharp edges, I would probably snap a pair of vise grips on some part of my anatomy that wouldn’t respond well to the sudden intrusion, and I can scrape several layers of skin off my knuckles trying to use the wrong size wrench on a stubborn bolt.
Even something as simple as an aerosol can is a tool of destruction and mayhem in my hands. Our old bus has an oil bath air cleaner, which means that the metal air filter sits in a big canister of motor oil, and the oil is supposed to catch the dust and grit that would otherwise get into the engine. Periodically, the oil needs changed and the air filter needs washed out. In an RV environment, this should be done about once a year. It’s actually a pretty simple job. Yeah, right.
A couple of years ago I decided to tackle that chore, and in the process, I discovered a thick layer of crud and gunk that had built up on the inside of the big canister. By the time I scraped it all out with a putty knife, I was black from head to toe. I knew Miss Terry would have my hide if I tracked that mess through the bus, so I looked in the bay and found a can of engine starting fluid. I thought that should cut the grease and get me cleaned up in no time at all, so I pulled off my shirt and commenced to spraying.
Have you ever been on fire? I never have, but I think I came damned close to it that day! A minute or two after that stuff hit my skin, I felt a burning sensation that cannot be described. It was like a million fire ants were eating me alive. So there I am, outside the bus screaming my head off, Terry ran outside and grabbed a water hose and sprayed me down, which did little to dilute the chemical burning its way through my skin, but did help to spread this homemade napalm to other places on my body it had not yet reached, by way of the trickle down effect, if you get my drift. It was not my finest hour.
But, I have finally found a tool that even I can master, and so far, I have not been able to get into any mischief with it. And I have my pal Rick Lang from the Recreational Vehicle Safety Education Foundation (RVSEF) to thank for telling me about it.
My new Blackberry Storm smart phone has hundreds of applications, called apps, that can be downloaded, many of them for free. One Rick showed me is an electronic level, just like the levels many RVers use to be sure they have their jacks down properly and their refrigerators will work okay. Except now, instead of having to use some mechanical device to check our level, I just hit a button on my Blackberry and there I go. Isn’t technology a wonderful thing?
I just checked, and according to my Blackberry, I’m at least half a bubble off.
Nick Russell www.gypsyjournal.net