It seems the spirit of exploration and discovery has been part of the American psyche since the landing of the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. We have always looked to areas and lands beyond what was already inhabited in our constant push west.
Today, it seems that spirit has been lit in the hearts of new generations. RVs are no longer your grandparents toys. We are seeing young couples and young families choosing the nomad lifestyle. The lifestyle requires planning and staying on top of the weather, thus making the western states (Florida if you’re in the East) very important to RVers who flock to the warmth (commonly called snowbirds) during the winter months.
Snowbirds across the country either know about or have been to Quartzsite, and those who haven’t been there likely have it on their RV travels bucket list! How could this quiet little town just east of the Arizona-California border with a population of approximately 3,000 year-round residents become so well known? This tiny town explodes into a gigantic outdoor mall every winter with vendors, dealers and individuals selling and bartering their wares and merchandise at buying-selling exchanges ranging from swapmeets, sports, vacation and RV shows, arts and crafts shows, to four fabulous rock and gem shows. From November through February every year about 3,000 vendors from all across the country come to Quartzsite — the heaviest traffic in January — to sell virtually anything and everything, including serious dealers (about 500) of rocks, minerals, gems, fossils and jewelry.
Most show and swapmeet “shoppers” who make it to Quartzsite simply lodge in their RVs. It’s hard to fathom that a town the size of Quartzsite would have close to fifty RV parks, but that’s a direct reflection of just how huge and popular this event is! Many thousands of RVers take advantage of the comfortable amenities afforded by the RV parks, but many others prefer another form of RV “lodging” during the Quartzsite shows: Dry camping (also referred to as boondocking). Thousands of visitors each year choose to dry camp — RV camping without hookups; no electricity, water or sewer connections — on the “BLM” land across the I-10 freeway.
And this is where I want to direct our discussion. The rest of this article might be old-hat info to some readers who’ve been boondocking for years, but for those who’ve never tried it, and to others who want to, here’s the dope on dry camping that might spur you on to (or possibly even turn you off from) the rough and tumble world of dry camping.
When and where you can dry camp
A few U.S. National Parks allow overnight RV parking and boondocking, but generally camping is restricted to established campgrounds. USFS (United States Forest Service) and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) high popularity areas often have restricted-access camping areas. For instance, the area around Mammoth Lakes, Calif., is extremely popular with tourists, and many areas allow camping only in designated campgrounds. Information about camping restrictions are available at USFS Ranger District and BLM Resource Area offices.
Generally speaking, you can stay fourteen continuous days for free, but subsequent camping days must be 25 miles away. This rule applies to most BLM and USFS administered lands, but there are exceptions. For example, Inyo National Forest in California allows 42-day stays at designated camping areas, while the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming has areas where only three-day stays are allowed. BLM LTVA’s (Long Term Visitor Areas) allow stays of several months for a nominal fee.
The BLM in Arizona has created winter LTVAs. Thousand of snowbirds and RVers flock to them every year. All but one are located south of I-10, which makes for warm winter temps. Many of them are located in prime rock hounding locations. No tents. All RVs must be self contained.
With virtually everything you need for boondocking, you’ll find that Quartzsite is equipped to welcome many campers beyond what their RV parks can hold, with water, RV dump, fuel, food, and RV camping supplies. RV camping enthusiasts looking for a remote desert setting will find a variety of locations on the surrounding BLM administered lands.
For a complete set of maps see your local BLM office or peruse the valuable resources on www.rv-camping.org/quartzsiteaz. For a complete list of rules and best practices visit www.rv-camping.org/boondocking. And for a helpful search tool to locate free campsites near you visit www.freecampsites.net.
The Golden Rule of boondocking: Pack it in, pack it out.
These isolated areas rarely receive clean-up services. Please do not put glass or aluminum in the fire pit, it is unsightly and the next user just has to clean up after you. All food scraps and trash should be taken home with you, or take it to the nearest landfill if you are on a long journey. It is best described on the PublicLands.org site:
“While care of one’s own health is an individual responsibility, the health of our public lands through stewardship is a collective responsibility. Public and individual participation in management decisions is our forum for meeting this obligation, while keeping in mind that such participation must be based on a spirit of cooperation. Many people who return to public lands again and again do so because of the solitude, and the power of solitude for spiritual renewal. These are places where we can contemplate, perhaps comprehend Chief Seattle’s wisdom: ‘The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth.’”
— From the “Geography of Freedom” by the Public Lands Interpretive Association, Inc.