By Bob Difley
One of the many joys associated with boondocking is finding those pristine, backwoods campsites or forest service campgrounds that have a minimal connection with civilization. Lots of birds, wildlife, trees, canyons, wild rivers and tumbling streams. And along with those amenities comes difficult access, no cell phone signal, no TV or radio reception, and little, if any, presence of authority. Just the way we like it …
… Until a natural emergency like the flash flood that swamped the Albert Pike Forest Service Campground (now Albert Pike Recreation Area) in western Arkansas back in 2010 comes along. The rapidly rising river — as much as eight feet of rise per hour — from a torrential rainfall and funneled through a steep-sided canyon with nowhere for the water to go but up, with only one access road in and out and the Weather Service’s flash flood warning coming at 2:00 a.m. — in the middle of the night when all were asleep — are a formula for disaster.
But that’s not all. The nearest authority that could physically go and wake up campers was an hour away, there was no cell phone tower anywhere nearby, no warning siren, and broadcast warnings were no more than static on the out-of-signal-range radios — if anybody was listening at that time.
It may seem like a lot of what-ifs had to line up for such a disaster to happen, but think back on some of the locations you’ve probably stayed in — and enjoyed thoroughly — that could have lined up the same kind of scenario.
As boondockers we are not likely to give up finding and camping in locations such as Albert Creek, or even more isolated locations (I know this from personal experience). But what we can do is take our safety as our personal responsibility and not rely on warning systems, authorities, or other methods that may not work, such as:
- Don’t take needless chances if storms are predicted — as summer storms often are in mountainous areas — by camping by a river that flows through a steep-sided canyon.
- Avoid entry roads to campgrounds vulnerable to flooding, washout or fallen trees if a storm is possible — the aftermath of which could prevent your departure.
- Check that your campsite is not over-hung with heavy tree limbs that could come crashing through your roof in the event of heavy winds, or nearby dead trees that could topple.
- Get the latest updated weather forecast before entering the forest, since reception of all your communication devices will be limited or non-existent by the terrain.
- Have alternative plans or options if your first-choice campground appears too vulnerable.
Editor’s note: Years after the Albert Pike tragedy, court cases continue that allege the federal government was negligent in its responsibility to campers. Still, Bob’s comments hold true — look out for yourselves: No amount of financial awards will bring back what was lost that terrible day.
You can find Bob Difley’s RVing e-books on Amazon Kindle.
I believe you only need a license for ham radio if you want to transmit. Not needed just to receive. As well, I have a CB radio with weather channels that even if it’s turned off, as long as there’s power going to it, will receive an alert and give me a long sharp tone telling me to turn it on to get NOAA weather information.
You can preach common sense every day of the week; and still, the Darwin recipients will line up to show their intellect.
The one thing that every person should have at home an in the RV is a dedicated Weather Alert Radio. This radio operates on a frequency unaffected by natural disasters short of an all out nuclear attack. The signal will reach most places 99% of the time, unlike cell phones which refuse to operate unless they are located with x number of miles of a cell tower. If the one you pick can get the WX service broadcast, it will pick up any alerts, yes, you might have to move it around the RV to find it’s best spot. Yes, you will go to amazon to get one, but read the reviews on all the ones you choose before you purchase, some are not worth the paper the information is written on. Some are great. Had folks had those it’s possible, the alert would have been heard by someone and he/she would have notified the rest of the folks. Remember, as RV’ers were are in this together, and most often, it’s us who take care of us.
This is great advice, thank you!
Can you offer some brands that are worth purchasing? I have often considered buying one but like you said, the offerings can be a tad overwhelming without knowledge.
Many of your in dash radios come with weather channels built into them. That’s what was in my Georgetown and when it died I replaced it with another stereo with NOAA channels. Got it from Crutchfield. And I know many CB radios have weather channels as well as ham radios. You do not need a license for cb but you do for ham. Also if you get your ham operators license usually they will work where cell phones don’t. Not many people use cb anymore. Research all your options to stay safe.