Boondocking 101

We drove around the Kingman, AZ area and found the local BLM office. They provided a map that showed the areas that were open for “dispersed camping”, commonly known as “boondocking” in the RV community. This type of camping is very loosely regulated, usually free with no amenities or hookups. No water, no sewer, and no electric. At large, regulated BLM sites for RV camping, like the Long-Term Visitor Areas (LTVA’s), a season pass can cost a up to $300 or so but provide some toilet/dump facilities. You can stay put for months without having to move camp sites. Normally, most BLM land is free but you have to move 25mi every two weeks. Here’s a site that explains the whole concept in detail with prices, time limits and other considerations.

The first site we found was impossible for us to get into with the size of our rig. Steph’s Mustang would not have made it either. We explored the rural roads in the area looking for the tell tale signs of BLM land. All the sites we found were ridiculously tiny, had rugged roads or had too many people there already.

We found a small area just off of I-40, east of Kingman. There was a minivan there with what looked like everything they owned in the world in a pile on the ground. They were loud and arguing. They seemed less like campers and more like involuntarily homeless people. We stopped as far away from them as we could, put out our slides and ran our USB fans. We settled down for one of the most restless, hot and uncertain naps of my life. Steph and I were agitated and bickering. The air was hot, stifling and not helping our mood at all. Many times new people pulled up near our rig, stayed for a while and then left. Eventually, when it got dark, we decided to push on to colder climes near Flagstaff.

Honestly, at this point, everything felt like a mistake. Starting with being born and all the way up to that moment. They only thing that made me feel any better was being in the cab of the truck and going down the road. We were both super stressed and highly demoralized. It was late and Steph was trying to find BLM spots in the Flagstaff area, where it was easily 25 degrees cooler.

We reached the outskirts of Flagstaff and the temps were in the 60’s. Nice. The first spot we tried was a Naval Observatory road. Far from being a typical desert area that Arizona is known for by most, here there were pine trees making woods as thick as anywhere in WA or OR. We slowly made our way up the well paved road, occasionally passing Class C RV’s and vans of other people who were obviously camping off to the side. There were spots here and there, but it was around midnight now, dark as ink, and very difficult to see a spot large enough. We got stopped by a gate that marked the observatory grounds themselves. I had to turn around. There was an enlarged paved area before the gate, but where there weren’t trees there was a cliff to God knows how far down. I made a 35 point turn, got out at least a half dozen times to see, but eventually got the rig turned around. Backing down the road for the length of time I would need to was unthinkable. But hey, that cliff beckoned almost as invitingly. The front bumper of the truck was over the cliff more times than not. Some of the sketchiest driving I’ve ever had to do.

We got out of there, went down I-40 some more to another site and had a similar experience. Tons of people here and there, I couldn’t see shit, and everything had a “do you hear banjos?” kind of feeling to it. Frustrated and full of rage, I told Steph that enough was enough. We’re driving all the way to Phoenix, about three hours away, and we’ll spend the night in someone’s parking lot. Around 4am we got to the Cracker Barrel in northern Phoenix, off of I-17 and slept a only a few hours. Steph and I were barely talking at this point. We had had it.

We jolted awake, the metal shop next door to the Cracker Barrel liked to cut and grind steel quite a bit, and quickly stowed everything away and left. We drove to the other side of the metro area in Sun City to the only Harbor Freight I knew of by memory. It was very close to my mother’s house in Sun City West, but now was not the time to visit family. I bought a ladder, to fix the vent on the roof, and some other odds and ends. Harbor Freight is awesome. I know many of their items are just Chinese pieces of garbage, but even if something only works a few times, those were really the times we needed them. We got back on the 303, hooked up with the I-10 and headed west toward Quartzite.

We got to Quartzite a couple hours later. We found our way to the two lane road that headed south to Yuma and a mile or two later were at the gates of the fabled La Posa Long Term Visitor Area. We were feeling good at this point since this was a goal of ours to do someday. We watched all the youtube videos by Bob Wells of CheapRVLiving. We rolled up to the gate, pulled past into a parking area and walked back to the office. An old guy met us there and we had a very pleasant conversation about who we were, why we were there, what do you mean there are no passes yet, and things like that. Wait, what?

The regular season for the Arizona LTVA’s (the others being in CA), is Sep 15 to Apr 15. The date was Sep 12. Not only were we early, but if we wanted to stay, there was a $40 fee for two weeks that we would need to buy. Sigh…. The site is THOUSANDS OF ACRES in size and we only saw three RV’s, including his. He said to come back later to settle up if we decided to stay. He was super nice and laid back, looked ex-military by his tattoo’s, and it was cool of him to let us figure out our situation later.

Setup at La Posa LTVA with genny’s and portable dump tank at the ready.

We figured out a spot and started to set up. We figured out very quickly what the difference between the LTVA’s and regular boondocking fairly quickly. For one thing, there was plenty of room to do just about any kind of maneuvering desired. Another was how deathly quiet it was. Almost no noise at all from vehicles, wind, animals, bugs, or other people. Eventually, we figured out how to run both generators at the same time so as to facilitate working air conditioning.

Ah, a god damn miracle of science!

Now, one of the rules of the LTVA was no loud noises after 10pm and that included our generators. This meant getting the trailer and cool as possible and hoping that would be enough to get us through till 7am where I could crank it up again. The first night we ran till 11pm, not realizing how late it was and the next morning I got a knock on the trailer door. It was a short, rail-thin, older guy who introduced himself with a smile saying he was a caretaker for the LTVA. In fact, his rig was the closest to ours about two hundred yards away across the main dirt road from us. We had a good conversation and before he left he said,”Oh, btw. Quiet Time here is 10pm. Not 11pm like last night.” I apologized and said it wouldn’t happen again. He said OK, waved with a smile and rode off on an ATV. We weren’t there to piss in anyone’s cornflakes and didn’t want to cause any problems.

Cutting out window coverings made out of Reflectix.

After of day of being there with not having to move and at least one night’s rest under our belt, I started to do some math. We ran the generators all day long and they would run through their fuel in about four to five hours. Each one holds about a gallon and I’d have to fill them up three times each day to keep the generators and AC going. That would be $20 a day or about $600 a month. Ouch! I did not count on that big of an outlay for our “nearly free” camping. We had researched RV parks in Phoenix itself and many of them were between $500 to $700 a month, with sewer, water and electricity hookups. If we were going to work, the Phoenix metro area with it’s 4.8 million people made that easier than Quartzite’s fifteen thousand people. Sure, when things get rocking out there, 1.5 million people in RV’s will show up, but what would that do to our chances of employment.

Kitties staying cool in their enclosure while at the LTVA.

After three days at the LTVA, Steph and I decided that getting a spot in Phoenix was the right thing to do. We were going to have to work real jobs and that would simply be easier there. We packed up and headed back to the big city. We stopped at my mother’s in Sun City West first. It was a good visit. We told her what had happened and all our adventures up to that point. I’m sure she was horrified. She herself had spent the better part of a decade living in a RV north of Phoenix and knew what it was like. We decided to stay at the same place she did all those years out at Lake Pleasant Reservoir.

Pleasant Harbor RV Park is in the city limits of Peoria, but it’s really on the edge of what is commonly considered the Phoenix metro area. It’s a nice place and I had stayed there before when my mother lived there. When we got there it was slammed. The spot they wanted to give us would only last a couple of weeks. We’d have to move to another spot in the camp and then a few days later move again. The cost was insane too. Over $900/mo. My mother offered to pay, but I don’t lean on people unless my situation is dire. We got there and it was packed. The spots looked tiny and I had no idea where I was going to park the truck. There were kids running around screaming and playing. A woman didn’t like where I was with my rig and drove around me with a huff. I’m 57 feet of “holy shit, what the fuck am I doing”, but let me get out of YOUR way. I’d already had it. Everything added up to me not wanting to be there at all. I drove off in my own huff and left the park without even stopping at the gate. In truth, I didn’t know I was supposed to stop when leaving, but in the end it didn’t matter. We paid a $45 cancellation fee, lmao, and we went to go improvise, adapt and overcome.

While at the Golden Corral in Sun City West, Steph got to work on her phone finding us a place to exist. Steph is my rock. Without her I’d be living under one. Mullified and full of mediocre cuisine, Steph told me she had found a place in the middle of northern Phoenix. The park had a 55 or older policy, but we found out with most of those parks is that they just don’t want small kids or younger adults around. She had explained to them who we were and why we were there. They had a spot and we could stay month to month till at least April. PERFECT. Even better, it was only $630 or so a month till November when it would go up to around $750 due to higher demand. Snowbirds drive a lot of the economy down here. After Thanksgiving the area really fills up, as we would figure out in due time.

We went to leave the buffet, but a real dust storm blew in. I just hoped the trailer was still on it’s wheels when we got out there. After a while, the weather calmed down and we hit the road for the 25min or so drive to the middle of town. We got on one of the ring roads, the 303, and headed north and east. As if by magic, the sky turned black very quickly and some of the hardest rain and most prolific lightning I’d ever seen accompanied us on our voyage. I got some video and pics, but they don’t really do justice to the storm. The winds were moving me all over the road. Definitely a “both hands on the wheel” situation. We made it to I-17 and headed south down to the RV park, very close to where the interstate intersects the 101. We pulled into the park. The office was closed but there was a note taped to the door that had our names on it. It told us to pick a pull through spot in the gravel and we’d settle up come Monday. Fucking nice! Pull through? Count me in! We parked, leveled, hooked everything up, turned on the AC and went to sleep. We just slept all weekend and went to my mother’s to hang out. Now all we needed to do was find jobs.

Editor’s Note: I’m writing this on 12/31, but the date we’ve gotten to at the end of this blog post is around 9/15. I have the next three days off from work so there will be more posts, but I’m also taking a Python boot camp on Udemy. There will be at least one more blog post to catch up to the current time. I plan on a very small series of posts explaining a few philosophical points I’ve held before and during this adventure. How do I feel about HP, high tech work, the current political climate, homesteading, regenerative agriculture, our relationship with family and friends, etc. I’ve categorized each post so you can figure out which ones may interest you or not. The fucked up thing is that the last few months aren’t even the most tumultuous or gut wrenching. Not even fucking close. I’ve thought about putting all this in a book, but it seems ostentatious and arrogant to think anyone would care. But for my friends and some family, it’ll explain why I’m the way I am. Hopefully, someone will be able to use this information to benefit themselves or their loved ones. My life is like one of those frozen assholes on Everest, a cautionary tale of what not to do. lmao…. BTW, Happy New Year!!!! Can you believe the world isn’t like Blade Runner, The Running Man or Akira? All set in the year 2019. 2020! Woot!