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.