Winter’s coming: Try low-cost camping in the Southwestern deserts

Winter’s coming: Try low-cost camping in the Southwestern deserts

by Bob Difley

With winter’s chill just around the corner, many RVers are looking toward a season spent in the Desert Southwest. And why not? Wintering there offers some of the most frugal camping and boondocking opportunities available to RVers in the nation.

What makes it possible are: (1) the abundance of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the desert areas, and (2) the privately owned land outside of congested cities is cheap by comparison with other parts of the country, which enabled entrepreneurs to build campgrounds with a much lower investment, which translates to lower campground fees.

But the most economical way to camp is boondocking in the open desert outside of the BLM’s Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVA), which are cheap enough with rates of $180 for the entire season or $40 for two weeks. You won’t find rates like that for campgrounds anywhere — even though they are primitive with no hook-ups. But in the open desert, the cost is $0 (zero).

You can camp anywhere on BLM land unless expressly prohibited by signs, fencing or the new Travel Management Rules that are becoming more prevalent. But even with those miniscule restrictions, there are still millions of acres open to free boondocking.

There is one other rule (other than the obvious ones of not dumping sewage, trash or old TV sets, and not shooting endangered wildlife like desert tortoises) — and that is that you cannot stay in any one place for longer than 14 days out of every 28. After 14 days you must move at least 25 miles away. You can return, though, after another 14 days.

That is no problem if you are spending the winter exploring the desert, but if you find a place you like and want to stay, do what RVing boondockers do in Lake Havasu City. If you are staying in Craggy Wash, just north of the airport at the north end of town, after 14 days you move down to Standard Wash on the south end of town.

The only costs you will incur with your free boondocking campsite will be the gas you use to drive back and forth to the nearest town for supplies, eating out, or for entertainment, and the cost to drive to a campground or other facility where you can dump your holding tanks and refill your water tank. But a portable holding tank and a couple water containers can extend your staying power beyond your built-in tanks.

You can find Bob Difley’s RVing e-books on Amazon Kindle.