Dry camping — it’s a boon (dock)!

When we first starting considering getting an RV, Al was quite excited about the possibility of dry camping, i.e., living ‘off the grid.’

I wasn’t so sure. All I could picture was Little House on the Prairie: brushing my teeth with a twig, beating my dirty clothes on a rock (while it’s raining, of course), combing baby powder through my hair every week or so, and dragging myself across the dry desert in search of an oasis.

You get the idea.

Will Al REALLY make me do this?

“It’ll be fun!”
“It’ll save us money!” and
“We can DO it!”
just didn’t cut it for me.

Last year, after we’d made our purchase, but before we had taken ownership of our RV, we flew out to Arizona for one last time sans RV. Al had read extensively about a wide variety of dry camping locations, most of it land owned/managed by the US government: Bureau of Land Management (BLM), US Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers (COE), and lots more. We wanted to explore our options.

Think of it as ‘shopping for land’ if you were building a house. Kind of.

It was late winter/early spring. We drove through some US Forest Service mud sludge wetlands logging roads woods. We spotted a couple of campers set some distance off the road beaten path. I couldn’t see a soul. I was convinced that those RVs were set there as a come-on for would-be camping enthusiasts.

Too isolated for me.

We couldn’t find any COE areas near us. We did drive along a stretch of the Colorado River where we saw quite a few campgrounds. RVs were literally inches apart from each other. So close that you could borrow a cup of milk from your neighbor by leaning out the window — never having to leave your rig!

Too crowded for me.

We had read about Quartzsite. An RV mecca in the winter. Snowbird country. Home of a HUGE RV show (the BIG TENT) each year. Rock Capital of the World.

And desert. LOTS and LOTS of desert.

Lots and lots of empty desert!

Not that Lawrence of Arabia kind of desert with blowing white dunes. No oases either. And actually a bit more vegetation than I expected.

We had read about the BLM land in Quartzsite where many snowbirds park their rigs and boondock (dry camp) for most of the winter. We stopped at the small brick building at the entrance to LaPosa West; there we found a very friendly host couple volunteering their time to answer questions and register newly-arrived campers. They couldn’t say enough about what a fabulous time they’d had in Q during this, their second winter onsite.

I remember peering out the small window. There were RVs but they were spaced at quite a distance from each other. And I saw people! In a few spots, I could see a group of 3 or 4 campers near each other—a neighborhood!

The hosts encouraged us to hop back into our rental car and drive through the area to check it out. It turns out that this Long-Term Visitor Area (LTVA) is one of a network of seven winter LTVAs across southwestern Arizona and southern California. They pointed out that the BLM area in Q comprises four large areas (LaPosa West, North, South, and Tyson Wash). AND…(drum roll please!) that there are actually a dump station, waterfills, and trash dumpsters at LaPosa South!

Maybe my teeth and hair could possibly be very happy here.

We drove into “town” and it seemed fairly peaceful quiet deserted. Turns out that it was late in the season and many of the snowbirds had left for points north. Knowing all too well about the craziness of ‘tourist season’ (summertime in Acadia National Park), we had a hunch that Q might be just the right spot for us. And all that desert!

Fast forward seven months. We get our eight solar panels installed on the RV (details in this earlier post) along with all of the thingamabobs that will sustain us electrically while on the desert.

Fast forward another six months. We recently left LaPosa South where we spent just over four months. And…WE LOVED IT!

How did we fare? Just great! We learned that:

  • Having nearly four acres of desert all to ourselves is AMAZING! There are literally miles of land available for camping. Having stayed at so many campgrounds with TIGHT spaces as we came across the US, camping on the desert was a dream.
Desert twilight
  • Paying $180 for an entire SEASON of camping is a sweet deal. You can park on an LTVA — and move from one LTVA to another within the system in SW AZ and SO CA — from Sept 15 thru Apr 15 for just $180.
  • Navy showers aren’t so bad. Short and sweet.
  • If you are careful, you can easily go a week before needing to refill your water tank and dump your black/grey tanks.
  • Wiping off dishes with a paper towel just after eating greatly reduces the amount of water you’ll need for dishwashing.
  • Pouring your dirty dishpan water down the toilet helps to maintain the black tank.
  • Eight solar panels can sustain you every day! We only ran our generators 2 or 3 times across the four months we were there (and that was when we’d had two cloudy/rainy days in a row.
  • You can NEVER get tired of desert sunrises and sunsets.
  • People are very trustworthy. You can LEAVE your camper on the desert (while you fly to see your kids and grandkids over Christmas) and not a thing is disturbed.
Not our site; this one was like this for well over a month. Their gear was never touched!
  • The desert can be VERY windy and dusty; I became quite proficient at wiping down counters and windowsills frequently.
  • It’s easy to meet new people on the desert.
  • The rattlesnakes don’t reappear until very late in March.
  • Many, many people who spend the winter on the desert own and ride their side-by-sides, jeeps, or ATVs all over the desert.
  • Bicycling on the desert works best if you add an extra-thick gel seat to your bike. It’s also a good idea to wear a stretchy nylon cowl or bandanna over your mouth and nose in case a side-by-side passes by and kicks up dust.
  • Following the desert bloom is thrilling!
  • Rockhounding in the Q area is a nearly full-time hobby for many snowbirds. The Q Gem and Mineral Club has so many resources available for novice and experienced rockhounds and lapidarists including classes, use of equipment, rock/gem shows, and lots of rockhounding field trips.
Quartzsite quartz!
  • Quartzsite is a hub for so many fabulous things: an incredible public library (large supported by snowbirds); a very active quilting club (my peeps!); welcoming churches; one of the best game stores we’ve ever seen; an amazing number of fairs, festivals, rallies, concerts, hobby clubs, gatherings; and best of all, some fabulous new friends who are certain to be traveling companions.

It was just right. And we’re going back next fall.

Big Mountains, Giant Trees

We’ve left our winter home of Quartzsite, AZ, and are headed north—initially to Vancouver, BC, to visit our daughter Beth’s family. Can’t wait! As much as we enjoyed being in the desert in Quartzsite (thank you BLM!), it is good to be on the road again and seeing new things.

Our second stop was in Three Rivers, CA, just outside the southern entrance to Sequoia National Park, the second National Park (what was the first???). Nestled in the western flank of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the scenery was gorgeous!

There is a downside to being surrounded by mountains… No cell signal. Nada. Zilch. Zip. It made us long for the very slow connectivity in Quartzsite! However, the campsite had a poor WiFi signal—I think through a satellite—so we could occasionally check our mail / Facebook messages. Sigh. We’re addicted to the net.

The restaurant we went to for breakfast was using dial-up to tie into their credit card system. When was the last time you heard the dulcet (!?) tones of a dial-up modem?

The reason for being here was to go into Sequoia NP, so let’s get to it!

The major attraction here is the trees, of course. In terms of volume (mass), the giant sequoias are the largest living trees. Coastal redwoods can grow taller, but they have a smaller diameter, and don’t retain that diameter at higher heights as much as sequoias do. The sequoias are limited in height due to limits on the capillary action which brings water and nutrients up from the root system. The redwoods can take in moisture through their leaves more efficiently, and thus grow higher than capillary action by itself would allow. (The ranger giving the talk accused the redwoods of “cheating!”—he must be a sequoia fan)

Note the building for scale!

We went up into the mountains to see the tree named “General Sherman,” the largest known living tree in the world, in terms of volume. The diameter at the base is greater than 36 feet! And the volume of its trunk is more than 52,000 CUBIC FEET. It is up at around 6,900 feet elevation; getting there was fun. Vehicles over 22 feet long are prohibited from making the drive. Our truck is exactly 22 feet; we can see why longer vehicles are excluded!

Unfortunately, I forgot to dump the dashcam that evening, and the video of the drive got overwritten. However, here are a few pics showing the road.

I don’t want to think about the effort it took to create the road! The designers did an excellent job of siting it; with very few exceptions the road above you is invisible. Looking down (way down), you can occasionally see the path ahead of you.

Yes. That’s road WAAAY down there!
All those sections of road that you can see are one road, back and forth and back and …
A portrait of the artist.

We were particularly taken with this roadside wall construction; it is so different from what we were used to at Acadia!

Smooth, flat walls, with a precise 90° corner to the smooth, flat top.

What were we talking about? Oh, yes. The trees!

General Sherman. World’s largest living tree
Can you find Kathe?

There are 75 known groves of giant sequoias in the world. The adjacent Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks protect “over 30” (NPS statistic) of those groves. (Three more groves are protected in nearby Yosemite NP.) General Sherman is in the grove named Giant Forest, an apt name if ever there was one. It contains 2,161 sequoias with a base diameter of over ten feet.

The sequoias live for a very long time. The ages of General Sherman and “The Sentinel” (near the museum in Giant Forest) are both estimated to be 2,200 years (“plus or minus 600 years,” according to one research article, we were told by a ranger). A page in the Yosemite NP site refers to a sequoia 3,266 years old, but is written in the past tense, so it may not still be living. Yes, you can buy giant sequoia seeds in the gift shop, but you’d better will them to your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren!

The Sentinel—at least, a part of it!
The base of The Sentinel, showing fire damage.

Giant sequoias require fire to reproduce! The fire does two things. It causes the seed cones (should these be called “sequoia cones,” like “pine cones?”) to open and release their seeds, and it removes the debris covering the forest floor so that the seeds can reach the soil and take root. A decades-long policy of complete fire suppression resulted in unhealthy groves with dense underbrush of other trees. That policy has been reversed, allowing some fires to take their natural course; the groves are regaining their health and there are now immature giant sequoias of different ages growing in the forest. There are few trees in the Giant Forest that do not bear signs of fire. Fortunately, they are able to withstand the fires, in part due to a bark that is up to two feet thick.

With a person for scale.
Amazingly, still alive!

A good portion of the park is still closed due to snow. It is hard to believe that only a few days ago we were in the desert, with the temps in the high 80’s. When we drove through the park gate, the ranger told us, “You can’t go through to King’s Canyon. The road is closed due to last night’s avalanche.” Never been told that before!

Speed limit…. BLANK? Let’s go fast!

In addition to the trees, the park has high mountains, deep valleys, and fast flowing streams.

Do they really need to say this?
We’re really both still traveling together!

Before Europeans discovered this area, indigenous people were here. There is at least one site with pictographs; quite possibly more that they don’t tell visitors about.

Pictographs at Hospital Rock

And we found this “community kitchen” fascinating.

Grinding holes worn into the rock in the kitchen
Can you get acorn flower at Whole Foods?

We enjoy visiting parks “out of season;” not only are the crowds thinner (sometimes non-existent), but it also forces you to come back again to see the parts that are currently closed! Lots more to see here.

Our next post will probably be from the Oregon coast… See you there!