Explore the Southwestern deserts – but don’t try to see everything

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Here’s a question from a reader of RVtravel.com about boondocking. 

Hi Bob,
I didn’t realize how really HUGE the landmass of the Southwestern deserts is until I looked at some maps and checked the mileage between destinations. It’s mind-boggling to my wife and me, who are from Massachusetts, to realize that it is farther to drive from Yuma to Phoenix than clear across our entire state. We’re going to take a three-month trip to the desert – but where do we start? Help! —George and Bessie

Hi George and Bessie,
You’re right about the size of the West. And a lot of that is public land that y0u can boondock on. Wikipedia says, “The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is an agency within the United States Department of the Interior that administers more than 247.3 million acres of public lands in the United States which constitutes one-eighth of the landmass of the country.”

Most of the public land in the desert is managed by the BLM. It’s a lot of territory to cover – and don’t try to cover it all. I suggest this: Decide what are the most important locations of the West you would like to visit, for instance, National Parks and Monuments like the Grand Canyon, Arches, Zion, Bryce Canyon and Death Valley. Then decide what specific activities or places are of interest, such as Native American pueblos and cliff dwellings (Mesa Verde, Canyon de Chelle), Wild West historic sites (Tombstone), old mines, ghost towns, Arizona birding trails, and Wildflower viewing areas.

Do this for everything that sounds interesting. Enter these keywords into a Google search – include the state if you like – and you will get your ready-made list. Download Google Earth and locate each location you’ve listed on the digital map. The end result will present you with a bunch of dots that you can connect to make one or more routes.

I suggest you also look at some good websites for touring the Western Deserts like Desert USA. And two California locations worth the mileage to get there are Joshua Tree National Park and Anza Borrego Desert State Park (you can see bighorn sheep here).

Last but not least, the navigator should search while you are on the road between locations for what else you might want to see that is on your route. Try the Lonely Planet or Rough Guides also. But don’t be tightly bound by an itinerary: Be adventurous and go where your discoveries take you. Happy Travels.

Read more about boondocking at my BoondockBob’s Blog.
Check out my Kindle e-books about boondocking at Amazon.

Do you have a question for Bob? Email him at bob.rvtravel (at) gmail.com .

 

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Connie

A word or two of caution for our friends, George and Bessie:
I LIVE HERE in the desert. Please be aware that visual distances are deceiving! Please don’t set out for any drive at all, without extra water in your car or RV. Summer heat is dry, yes (really!) but it can feel like you’re in a convection oven when it’s windy. You’ll feel the moisture in your skin sucked right out if you go outside from air conditioning.

All survivable – even pleasant, and enjoyable! – if you handle it right. Prepare yourselves, and your RV! Get everything checked before you start out on a long drive across rural desert! PLEASE!!!

The deserts in the winter are NOT warm. Maybe Phoenix (I’m in southern Nevada), but not everywhere else. There are mountains with the same ecosystems and temperature changes as any mountains anywhere.

Even the desert valleys are generally windy in the winter (from the NORTH) and can be very rainy. COLD rainy. Wind whips around desert valleys like it would in any other giant bowl. (Sometimes I think it will NEVER END!)

There are beautiful vistas, plenty of photo opportunities, and abundant wildlife to be spotted. Don’t HESITATE to cross a desert – summer OR winter – just be prepared. Too many set out and are shocked by conditions they meet with.

I don’t want to cite statistics – that sounds scary. It IS scary. Just don’t start out casually…take it seriously.

If your RV stalls in the daytime during the summer, and rescue is nowhere to be found (cell service is ALSO very sketchy and nonexistent in a lot of rural empty desert)…. DON’T WALK AWAY. Roll underneath under nighttime, then attempt rescue by flagging down other motorists. Most desert rats (that’s what we call ourselves) are friendly and helpful. Just maybe not chatty. Tell them what you need and they’ll likely help you out.

To go from Las Vegas to Reno or Salt Lake City to either Reno or LV requires crossing about 8 hours’ worth of empty desert, 2-lane highway most of the way. Check your maps. There are towns certainly along the way, but long stretches in between. Same with the California Mojave Desert. An overnight somewhere will be necessary. Boondocking is indeed allowed, and expected… find a rural road if nothing else, but stay in sight or at least walking distance to the highway.

There are coyotes and wild horses, but be most wary of rattlesnakes and scorpions. Gun laws differ from state to state…. and I’ll just leave that there. Be sure of what you’re doing.

Please heed the weather, and your personal and RV conditions. And STAY SAFE, but enjoy your time in the desert. It’s something you’ll never ever see anywhere else. I LOVE IT!

TravelingMan

Question…

Do you know how much of the Fed land is actually accessible to those with motorhomes and fifth wheels? I’ve seen Google maps showing the boundaries of such lands but have to question if there are “roads” to get to any of it. We’re looking forward to finding out, but since you have a good handle on this area, maybe you know?