Where to start learning about desert camping

Where to start learning about desert camping

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

Hi Bob,
My wife and I are from the St. Louis area and are currently visiting our son in Seattle. When we head back home we would like to visit the Southwestern deserts and also try some boondocking, but we haven’t a clue where to go and what to expect. Can you direct us newbies to a good desert experience?  —Victor

Hi Victor,
The Southwestern deserts are truly magnificent and vast areas to explore by RV, but since you have to start somewhere I would highly recommend Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, east of San Diego in the lower Mojave Desert. Even with California’s extensive state park system, nearly half of all the state’s park land – 600,000 acres – falls within Anza-Borrego State Park. It is the largest state park in the contiguous United States and was named for Juan Bautista de Anza, who explored the area in 1774. Borrego is Spanish for the bighorn sheep that can be seen throughout the park.

Palm Canyon Trail, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

The beauty of Anza lies in the varied terrain in the park, which serves as a hands-on school for learning about the desert. Not only does it have broad expanses of low desert, but also mountains and valleys with wide elevation changes which display different weather patterns. You can also follow the blooming season of the wildflowers and cacti, with the first wildflowers appearing at the lower elevations proceeding up as the weather warms to the mountain tops. Birds and wildlife are surprisingly varied and abundant.

You can also find remote, quiet, isolated boondocking campsites as well as full hookup campgrounds in the town of Borrego Springs – which sits right in the middle of the park and where the mostly underground visitor center can serve as your base of exploration. The center can provide maps (a necessity), bird lists, wildflower brochures (including estimated bloom times), weather, road conditions, camping information, wildlife and bird sightings, a large selection of books, as well as slide shows and naturalist programs about the park. On the short nature walk around the visitor center, the tagged and identified plants and trees will get you off to a good start in recognizing desert plants. Groceries, fuel, restaurants, post office, a library and other services are also available in the small town.

Only a small part of the park is accessed by two-lane paved roads, though they are in good shape and adequate even for large rigs. A network of hard-packed dirt roads is easily driven with an RV and regular passenger cars. Check the visitor center for road conditions and vehicle suitability. [Editor: Check here for current road conditions.]

You can find a developed campground without hookups at Tamarisk Grove on the west side of Yaqui Pass (a good base camp for birdwatching at the nearby spring-fed oasis, Yaqui Well).

Be sure to take the easy three-mile round-trip hike from the visitor center up Borrego Palm Canyon to a palm-tree circled, spring-fed pool – one of the nicest hikes in the park. Bring your binoculars and watch for bighorns, frequently seen on the steep, rocky hillsides of the canyon above the trail.

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 .

##RVT817

 

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6 thoughts on “Where to start learning about desert camping

  1. Deb

    That’s western Arizona on I 10 about 120 miles west of Phoenix. Lots of activities and friendly people

  2. Deb

    My husband and I love Quartzsite in Jan/February. It’s boon-docking on BLM land. Many people stay for the entire winter season. Jan has massive RV show and Gem and Mineral Show. Lessons are available at GEm Club to learn jewelry making. We roll onto the desert, find a spot to park, lower the tailgate and take off on the ATV. Check out blm.gov and rv-camping.org

    1. Chuck Woodbury

      I did a video on camping at Quartzsite and on other public lands in the area. https://youtu.be/nEuLRrz6690

  3. Ron Schulz

    Great article with the exception of one correction. Adirondack Park is bigger.

    “6 million acres
    Of the Adirondack Park’s 6 million acres, 2.6 million acres are owned by New York State. The remaining 3.4 million acres are privately owned. Within the Adirondack Region is the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States.”

    1. Chris Potter

      But, as a former New Yorker, I would note: there really aren’t that many free boondocking opportunities in the Adirondack Park – Particularly for larger RVs. The Adirondacks lacks a large network of dirt back roads that many of Western areas have, and the last few years the camping regulations have become increasingly bureaucratic. There are a few place where you can camp for free in the Adirondacks with a big RV, but the locations are pretty limited, and you have to know where they are.

  4. Suka’s Mom

    Excellent suggestion, Bob. We spent time there last winter, and it was just as you describe. There are numerous places for boondocking in a variety of terrains.

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