Why I don’t boondock

Why I don’t boondock
My definition of boondocking.

By Chuck Woodbury
To me, boondocking means staying in a beautiful place, away from a designated campground. There are no utility hookups and the nearest neighbor is a mile or more away.

When I think of boondocking I think of the desert Southwest — mostly Southern California and Arizona. There are millions of acres of land just waiting for anyone in a self-contained RV. With an adequate water supply and a couple of solar panels, a person or couple can easily stay a week or two (or longer) in wonderful solitude, never bothered by all the issues that come with holing up in a crowded RV park. And in most cases, it’s free.

Boondocking, according to most definitions, is not about staying at Walmart. It’s not staying at truck stops or in casino parking lots. That’s “pavement camping.”

I love to boondock but rarely do it. I stay in RV parks. I do it because my RV is my home, not a “camper” that I use to have a meaningful experience with nature. I like to take a shower every morning, and on a hot day I like to use my air conditioner to stay cool. I also like to be close to civilization and cellular service. I am not a nature writer. I’m a guy who travels from place to place and writes about what he experiences, always looking for the RVing angle.

If I wanted to write about being “one” with nature, like Edward Abbey and his wonderful book Desert Solitaire, then I would boondock, probably for months on end. But I like to be around people, to observe them. And lately, with the huge influx of new RVers and the crowding that’s bringing, I need to be where I can better observe what’s happening. I can’t do that alone in the desert.

One of the 20 percent of “nice parks.”

Yet every time I write about staying in RV parks, the boondocking crowd pounces. “Why do you even stay in those places?” they write. I understand what they mean. The state of RV parks in America is terrible. Twenty percent are nice places. Sixty percent are okay. Twenty percent are dumps. And increasingly, the decent ones are booked solid most of the year, or at least in the busy tourist season.

And the fact is, many of the 11,000 Baby Boomers retiring every day are buying RVs to travel with, even live in full-time. Only a fraction want to camp off the grid. Just look at the RVs they’re buying — monster motorhomes and fifth wheels with every convenience — king-sized beds, washer/dryers, sophisticated entertainment systems, heated floors, wine coolers — some even have two bathrooms. They’re homes, for Pete’s sake! And they need 50-amp power to run everything!

Typical crowded RV park.

Many of the newest models, perhaps even most of the high-end models, now come with residential refrigerators. They don’t even operate on propane like traditional RV refrigerators. These RVs are meant for living, not camping in the middle of nowhere.

I cannot boondock on public lands except for brief times, and still do my work. And I love my work. It’s what I do. I’d be lost without it. So I stay in RV parks and put up with noise, the occasional rude neighbor and RVs lit up like sleazy motels with their built-in outdoor lighting systems.

I think of myself as an unofficial cultural anthropologist studying the North American RV subculture.

That’s why I don’t routinely boondock. So hold your letters, those of you who cannot fathom why anyone would stay in an RV park. Some of us, me included, have our reasons.

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13 thoughts on “Why I don’t boondock

  1. Eric Eltinge

    I dove and quail hunt along the CA and AZ borders in my B-class Winnebago ERA motorhome. With its tiny tanks, I can boondocks 3-4 days. With all the marijuana growers and illegal aliens, I recommend having a firearm. Help from a 9-1-1 call is a long time. With my Customs and Border Patrol manager friend, in Yuma AZ, we stay in a good motel and eat dinner at Outback’s Steakhouse. I’m in the Coast Guard. Do not rely on the good will of your fellow man and the forbearance of reptiles when boondocking.

  2. Bob Warfel

    Boondocking is not just out west in the desert but at houses and farms, we have met a lot of nice home owners. We also let people stay at our place in Illinois near Chicago and have met a lot of people this way.

  3. John T

    I’m glad most people don’t want to boondock. That leaves the desert empty for me. Right now, I’m sitting 200 feet from the shore of Lake Mead, with only two other RVs in sight. Meanwhile, the campgrounds around the lake are packed like sardines.

    1. Phil McCraken

      hey John,

      Where exactly are you?

      1. RV Staff

        😀 —Diane at RVtravel.com

  4. Moaboy

    As the cliche goes “different strokes 4 different folks.” All I can say Chuck, is u might try a little more boondocking once in a while to better understand (maybe value) that side of it. I for one do both as each has their charms, but I don’t have ur responsibilities either.
    As always, enjoy ur perspective.

    1. Bill & Kitty

      We boondock mostly but do the RV parks for long showers and shopping as well as cultural attractions. But I have had almost as many ‘bad’ experiences boondocking as in an RV park, to wit: The folks who REALLY wanted to share their outdoor entertainment speakers with everyone and anything within a mile or more (Blue Tank area near Wickenburg was the latest of this all too common experience). Also those wonderful million candlepower light setups do their magic in the otherwise welcoming night desert too (near Paisley, Oregon). (common also). Oh, and I can’t thank enough the owners of ATVs roaring within yards of our ‘remote’ campsite west of Phoenix for what must have been 5 or 6 passes over a 4 hour period. Then lets not dwell on the evidence of dumped holding tanks and almost buried trash prevalent throughout the Southwest!
      Still love to boondock over all else though!

  5. Sean Phillips

    Time flies! I’ve been a motorhomer for nearly 30 years. Started late. I’ve had a few motorhomes. I live in my 36’ Safari Sahara. Had it for 15 years. Bought it used. I love this thing. I’ve put about 80,000 on it. Not a massive amount but pretty good amount of travel. At the same time I’ve owned a few smaller units.
    I’m not a destination camper. I do have a pattern but I can’t travel with restrictions such as reservations and in and out dates. Unfortunately the Safari requires too much planning. In order to satisfy my need for freedom I’ve downsized all the way to a minivan. I don’t mind a shower at a campground and my travel pattern is with the weather so I don’t use AC much. Like everyone else I have cell phone and tablet for entertainment. All I need. I love spending my time outside. I fumble around with my camera so I enjoy the morning and late afternoon for hiking and snapping photos. Best light and wildlife are at those times. I drive during the middle of the day. At this size I rarely had a problem with finding a spot and over crowding. I use all the pavement spots along the way. I do miss the past with its camping interaction. Meet new folks, have great conversations. Doesn’t seem that way anymore.
    I guess what I’m saying is I’m lucky to be able have this lifestyle and will do whatever it takes to be a part of this great experience.
    SIZE does matter…..

    1. Sean Phillips

      Sorry, I got off topic. I do boondock with this set up. I can find spots out of the way. I must admit I only do the BLM thing on a limited basis. A few days at a time. I’m in the area for a while I do move around quite a bit.

  6. Bob Godfrey

    Remember Chuck, you might be a “monster motorhomer” to those in a tent!

    From a 40′ 2000 Mountain Aire driver.

  7. Darrel

    We have a 40′ 2003 2 slide motorhome. Have 1440 watts of solar, 115 gallons fresh water, 115 gallons grey tank, 56 gallon black tank, 10KW generator.

    We are capable of dry camping. in our “monster motorhome”.

    1. Bill T.

      Hi Darrel, I have a 32 foot motorhome and would like to know what areas you boondock in? Some areas I have seen through Google maps and such, I am curious as to the road conditions to get back in there. How do you find spots that can support the weight of you rig and not get it shaken to pieces on those rough roads? Thanks for any input you have.

      1. Rory

        Hi Bill T, From the description I would think that Darrel has a DP with air suspension and he has a toad, that he scouts the roads and campsites before he drives his RV to the location. I would think he uses Google Earth and other apps to locate a campsite first, then scouts it. There is no magic. If the road is too rough, you move on and find another one. Just because you are boondocking doesn’t mean you have to be a zillion miles into the outback…….

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