How to find Free Campsites

How to find free campsites

In the United States alone, there are over 100,000 squares miles of federal land, and a good portion of this is land you can camp on. There are easily over a million places you could camp. Finding and getting to the ones you’ll like the most takes some work, and in this post I’ll explain how How to find free campsites – beautiful wonderful fun ones.

How to find free campsites [Campsite example]
Camped on an OHV area in the middle of Utah
First – a note. This is a long and detailed post about how to find campsites yourself. If you are lazy or in a hurry, don’t read this. Just go to www.campendium.com and you’ll probably find plenty of sites good enough for a lazy person.

 

Scope of this Post

The focus of this post is finding campsites within a certain area. There is a set of related posts I’m expecting to make:

  • Choosing a general area to go to
  • Finding campsites  (this is the post you’re reading)
  • Using My Maps and Google Maps to plan travel
  • How to be prepared when you go out camping
  • How to not die while you’re out camping

So this post will start with the assumption that you have selected a general area or region where you want to go camp, and shows you how to find a great campsite in that area.

How to find free campsites [Campsite example]
Found this nice place to camp not far from San Diego
 

Resources

ARC GIS Maps – shows all federal land in the U.S.

Other maps showing federal lands. They are split up into states and the files ate PDFs. So you can save them on your computer and/or print them off

Google maps

 

How to find free campsites [Campsite example]
A wonderful free campsite at Lake Mohave
 

Dispersed Camping

Dispersed Camping is the name used for camping outside of official or improved campsites. Meaning these types of campers are dispersed throughout the area rather than gathered at a campsite.

That means there will be no bathrooms or picnic tables or running water. There will often be fire rings in the places you dispersed camp

Regardless of price, dispersed camping is usually better than camping in official campsites. You can go where you want instead of just to the campsite, you can get better views, and you can get much more space from other campers and have peace and quiet.

 

How to find free campsites [Campsite example]
Camping in Utah under an amazing night sky
 

Land types and where you can camp

These are the main ones.

  • National Parks – Camping is generally only allowed in paid campsites or in hotels. Backcountry camping is an option in some parks (where you park your vehicle and hike in to the park with your camping gear) but you still have to pay for it.

 

  • National Forests – The rules vary by forest and even districts. In general, most National Forests allow you to camp wherever you want. But you must not be messing the place up. For example, it’s nearly always ok to drive into an established campsite where there’s already a road or path and a spot to park, but it’s usually now not ok to just pull off a road, drive through a meadow, and stop to set up camp right in the middle of it.  Some Forests only allow camping along certain roads. Some only allow camping in small designated areas. Some only allow camping in paid camp sites. It varies widely. Camping in one spot is allowed for up to 14 days, and then you’re expected to move 25 miles or so

 

  • BLM – Other than wilderness areas, BLM land is the least managed type of federal land. BLM camping rules are usually similar to National Forests, but BLM often has fewer rule and guidelines. In general, you can do what you want, as long as you don’t cause any damage, scare/hurt wildlife, and so on. As always, it’s still best to check the rules early on, and you’ll get more used to it over time. National Forests and BLM make up the vast majority of all Public Land. Camping in one spot is allowed for up to 14 days, and then you’re expected to move 25 miles or so

 

  • National Recreation areas – The rules can vary a lot. In some you can dispersed camp. Some recreation areas have free campsites with some amount of improvements

 

  • National Wildlife Areas – Some do allowed camping, but the rules for these vary widely.

 

  • National Wilderness Areas – These areas are intended to be left to the plants and animals. You can hike through them, and you can hike in and camp, but you can’t drive in and camp – and there aren’t roads to drive on anyways.

 

  • National Monuments – They vary a lot. Most are managed by the National Park Service.Some are  just one small point of interest and there is no camping at all.  Some are managed by the BLM and are very similar to BLM land – and you can camp all over.

 

  • State parks – The rules in most State Parks are similar to National Parks – meaning you’re only allowed to camp in improved campsite that you pay for. You also have to pay to get into most State Parks. A National Parks Pass gets you a discount at some State Parks, but won’t get you in for free.

 

  • State forests – There aren’t a lot of state forests. The ones I’ve encountered had camping rules like National Forests

 

How to find free campsites [Campsite example]
Camping on BLM land in western Arizona. The land isn’t all that exciting, but I believe this area has the best sunrises and sunsets in the U.S.
 

Locating Federal Land

Do not use only Google Maps! They can be horribly inaccurate in showing National Forests, and they do not show BLM at all.

The ARCGIS map is the best maps I’ve found for locating federal lands. It shows all federal land, but it does not show state land, so you won’t see the State Parks or State Forests.

[[ Update 10/20/2017 — It looks like the ARCGIS map is switching to a paid model, and will stop working for free fairly soon ]]

The Western U.S. is mostly federal land. It’s all ours! It’s an incredible place for nomadic outdoorsy people. All those orange and light green areas are BLM and National Forests. That means you can camp for free in most of the entire western half of the country. Wow!!!

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

Here is a closer view, looking at southwestern Colorado

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

Note that the cities and towns are not very visible on this map.  You’ll likely need to look at this map along with another one to sort out exactly where places are.

Now, let’s say I’m in Durango (I actually am as I write this), and I want to go camping up in the mountains nearby. Here’s where Durango is:

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

That purple land to the south is Indian Reservation. To the north is some National Forest. So, let’s check out that National Forest.

 

What National Forest is that? 

The ArcGIS map doesn’t say. Let’s look at Google.

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

It does show. That’s the San Juan National Forest. Ok. We’ll need to know that for finding a Motor Vehicle Use Map later on.

But sometimes, well, actually often, Google does not show the National Forest names. Or the names may be shown but it’s not clear enough because you can’t see borders. Here is part of Utah, with no National Forest names at all.

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

You can find out quickly with a search. Here’s the image search result for “national forests in Utah”

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

Looking closer, I can see that the area I was looking at on Google was Dixie National Forest

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

It may not be super clear from this picture, because of the shapes of the forests, but it’s pretty easy to match them up when you’re looking yourself.

 

Finding MVUMs

Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs) are maps made by the Forest Service. They show where it is legal to drive vehicles. Some MVUMs also show where you are allowed to dispersed camp.

It is important that you adhere to the MVUMs. The rules in Forests are enforced in a very wide variety of degrees. In some Forests, you’ll almost never see a Ranger, and in some parts of other Forests, the Rangers enforce the rules strictly and give out tickets with fines to those who break the rules.

And the rules can be a little tricky. In a city, where there’s a road, it’s commonly understood that you can drive on it. The only reason you wouldn’t is if there’s a big “road closed” sign and barricades blocking your way. There are a lot of roads in National Forests, and generally, you can drive on all of them. But there are times where the Forests close a road. They generally do put up a gate and sign blocking it. The problem is, these are remote areas, a few jerk faces here and there decide they want to go down these road, so they take out the signs and toss them behind some bushes, and then if a ranger confronts them, they’ll say “I didn’t know it was closed, there was no sign when I came through”. So, the rules are that you must follow what’s on the map. There are, at times, roads that you can drive right onto and down, but that are actually closed and it’s illegal to drive on (and there either never was a sign there, or some jerk face removed it). The MVUM is what shows where it’s legal to drive. It is the only official document. If you’re driving your vehicle in a place that isn’t shown as a road on a MVUM, it’s possible for a ranger to come ticket you. It doesn’t matter that you were ignorant about it being closed, it’s your responsibility to use the MVUM and know where you are.

Now, don’t get too worked up. It’s not nearly as complicated or risky as it sounds, and if you use common sense, you’ll probably never get a ticket, much less have a ranger tell you you’re doing something wrong.

Since an MVUM is the main source of driving and dispersed camping laws, you should always get copies of the them for the areas you’re planning to go. Here’s how to get them:

  • Go to a National Forest building. This is the easiest method if you end up near one. They have different names, generally starting with the N.F. name. Sometimes they are called Ranger Stations, sometimes Visitor’s Centers, and sometimes other things.  For our example, we were looking at San Juan N.F. in Colorado, so you could search in Google Maps for “San Juan National Forest” and the results may show the Forest buildings. When you go to one of these, there’s going to be a desk or table with a person present to talk to you. They’ll have paper copies of their MVUMs, and they are always free, plus they’ll usually have other types of maps, some books about hiking or animals in the area, and so on.
  • Download them from the National Forest Website. This is the way to do it if you’re not near one of their offices. You can generally search for the forest name and the official website will come up first. Go to the website and click on “Maps and Publications” on the left side. Then look for the MVUMs. The layout of the maps page can vary by forest. The Forests are divided up into Districts, and there is typically one separate MVUM for each district. You should probably just download them all. To sort out what district is in what part of the forest, look at the vicinity maps on the MVUMs, or do a Google image search for Google search “[National Forest name] ranger district map” and you’ll probably find a map of that forest showing it’s districts.

 

Ask the Forest Employees Where to Camp

If you go to get a paper MVUM, ask the employees for advice. Often, they know the area very well and can help you find the kind of campsites you enjoy. The expertise of the person working at the front desk varies though, sometimes you may get a person who doesn’t even know what a MVUM is, and sometimes you’ll get a person who knows the whole forest district like the back of their hand.

Ask about these:

  • Dispersed camping rules for that forest / district
  • Get paper copies of MVUMs, if you want, ask if they have MVUMs for nearby districts and forests.
  • Is there a fire ban?
  • Are there any current wildfires?
  • Tell them what kind of campsites you like, what type of vehicle you have, and if you’re also looking for hiking or water stuff near where you camp, and ask them which areas would work well for you.
  • Ask them about areas you’ve already researched (sometimes it works well to already have places in mind, and then you can ask them about those specific roads and areas), and ask if there are better areas to go than these ones
  • Ask about road conditions for getting to these

Even if you do a very good job scouting out roads and campsites on your own, sometimes the rangers will be able to tell you about recent occurrences  – like how a road just washed out last week and you won’t be able to get past this certain point, or about a big gathering of Jeep lovers happening in that area you were looking at, and if you go there it will be really crowded.

 

Using MVUMs

  • The very upper left corner of the MVUM will show the Forest and District name (Upside down).
  • The left side of the map has information such as the road symbol key, notes about when roads are closed, and notes/rules about dispersed camping.

To use the map, first orient yourself using the little vicinity map that shows the outline of this map with in the whole Forest. It will be over on the left side.

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

Here’s a closer look at the vicinity map

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

Ok. Now we’re going to look at the map and see if it shows where dispersed camping is allowed. In some Forests, you’re only allowed to dispersed camp off of certain roads. For those forests, the roads that you can camp near are usually designated on the map using little dots along each side of the road. Like this:

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

So this means you could drive along that road and if there are some sites established, you can camp in them. The dots do not correspond to actual campsites being where each dot is. The dots are always in that same pattern/spacing.

For the MVUMs that do not use this designation, you will either be able to  camp off of any road in the forest, or only in a few specific designated dispersed camping areas. If it’s the latter, it is usually explained on the left side of the map and then there is a certain symbol on the map where these areas are. If the map doesn’t have the dots and doesn’t say anything about dispersed camping, you’re probably allowed to do it anywhere, but check with the rangers just to be sure.

Let’s look at the map near Durango:

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

There are’t a lot of roads in the forest close to town. There’s that one almost straight north (that 204 leads to), and some others over to the west. Let’s look closer at that area to the west:

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

Wow. There’s a lot going on over there. We have those 6 campsites, plus dispersed camping on a handful of roads.

One thing to note here is that those white areas you see near the bottom are private property. Don’t camp there. Sometimes there are signs and fences marking private property, and sometimes there aren’t. The main thing is: don’t go over the fences and past private property signs. Some private property looks no different from the rest of the forest and even has established dispersed campsites. You shouldn’t camp in those, but it seems like the owners are unlikely to freak out about it.

Sometimes the official/improved campsites are free.

For the area we’re looking at as this example, we could look up those campsites to see whether they are free. We can just search for them in google and they’ll come up. (Search for “Bay City campsite” or “Bay City Campsite San Juan”).

Ok, I see that Bay City is a free campsite. But, uh oh, people don’t have very good things to say about it on the internet:

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

So I’m not going to plan on staying there. And, assuming Douglas Tooley is correct, all those other campsites along the road are not free, so I won’t bother looking them up.

Now, let’s look at those roads. First off, they are shown using a strange road symbol. The map key shows that this road symbol means the road has a special designation:

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

We can look up the designations on the map. They’re in a table over on the left side of the map, like this

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

Looks like most all the designations say that these roads are open from June to December. It’s now August, so we’re good.

Ok. So we’ve found some roads that we’re allowed to camp on. I highlighted them on the MVUM:

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

Now… let’s go check those out on Google maps and see how they look.

 

Google Maps brief overview

Ok, first, for those not familiar, Google Maps has a handful of different views:

  • Normal map
  • Satellite view (the 2D Picture)
  • Satellite view (the crappy 3D rendering)
  • Terrain view (a topo map)
  • Street view

In this post, I’ll use the normal 2D satellite view and the terrain view.

Here’s how to switch between them. To switch between the normal map view and the satellite view, you can click the little square box in the bottom left corner.

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

To turn on the terrain view, you click the button in the top left corner with three horizontal lines, and then click terrain

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

If you’re not familiar with how topo maps work, here is bit of an explanation. The terrain (topo) map shows the elevation, or altitude of the land. There are lines on the map corresponding to specific altitudes. A line that says 7,000 means that everywhere on the map where that line is shown is at 7,000 feet altitude. If you were to walk along that exact line, you would walk a flat path. A line next to it for 6,950 means that spot is 50 feet lower, and thus, there is a hill going upwards from the 6,950 line to the 7,000 line.

We can use this view to see what the lay of the land is like, where the hills are, where the low points are, whether a road is going uphill or downhill or is going on a flat path along the side of a hill. We can learn the kind of things that I’ve noted on the map below.

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

If you’re in the satellite view and get stuck looking at a crappy 3D rendering, here’s how to switch to the normal 2D picture: click the button in the top left with three lines, then click “3D On”

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

 

Using Google Maps to Find Campsites

Ok, again, here are the areas we identified on the MVUM:

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

Let’s look at road 171. I’ll pull it up starting at the bottom of that circled area.

 

Examples of places to camp

I see a few potential spots out there. Right where the dispersed camping starts being allowed, there is this trailhead:

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

The main trailhead parking lot is to the right of the horseshoe bend, and then there’s short a path/road going north, and it looks like you could go camp up there. I recommend we find another spot. If the hiking trail is very popular, that main lot will fill up, and then cars will park in that other path to the north.

Moving on, this might be a spot to camp:

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

Here’s one that looks more promising

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

Zooming in, we can see what’s likely a fire ring. That’s a very good sign

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

Ok, here’s another one. Looks like some people were parked or camping there when the picture was taken

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

Here’s a spot. There’s a fire ring down there, but it looks like maybe you can’t drive all the way in to that clearing where the fire ring is.

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

Areas with the most trees are the most difficult to find campsites using satellite view. In places like the PNW where there are way more trees than this, it is more difficult and you almost have to go drive the road. Of course, if you know you need a campsite where you’ll get sun for your solar panels, then you’ll just be looking for clearings in the trees and those are easy to spot on the satellite view.

Finding campsites on satellite view is probably the easiest in drier areas. Here’s a look at a spot near Sedona, Arizona, which is extra easy because it’s a popular area to camp so you can see vehicles and tents in many sites:

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

When you are looking for places to camp, you’ll want some way of keeping track of what you saw. Here are some methods:

  • Just get a general idea of a road and if it looks ok, go there. Relating to the example I’m using, now that we’ve seen there are some camp sites along road 171, I know that’s an ok place to go look for a spot to camp. If I’m going to head out soon and I’m not looking at many different roads, it’s easy enough to remember one or two roads that look ok.
  • Put markings on a paper map (A MVUM or road map)
  • When you find a spot on Google Maps, click the map so a marker comes up and then write down the GPS coordinate

Here are two more methods where we’d record the campsite locations on an online map:

  • Record spots in Google Maps
  • Record spots and/or highlights areas in Google’s My Maps

Using these allows you to mark spots exactly, and have those markings on a map that you can use later in the future without having to save a ragged old MVUM or papers where you wrote them down. Once you’re accustomed to updating these online maps, it’s easy. It does take a while to explain and show with pictures, so I’ll do it in a separate post.

 

Examples that are not places to camp

Here are a few examples along this road that might initially seem like places we could camp, but they probably aren’t.

In this first one, there’s clearing of trees and there’s dirt/rocks. That’s just a hill. It’s probably steep, so we’re definitely not going to camp there.

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

Here’s a road or path we could drive on, coming down from the upper right corner. But.. then the path sort of disappears and comes back again. It’s a path that is rarely driven on. It’s likely not a good place to plan on traversing. It might end up being very bumpy.

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

These things below are from road graders. While grading the road, they push excess dirt and rocks off to the side. Those little slanted paths going off are often very inclined (at a sideways angle) and they aren’t a place to camp

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

 

Examples of Road Conditions

It is important to know the capabilities and limitations of your vehicle, and to assess roads so you know what you’re getting into. Roads in these remote areas exist in many different conditions. Some are well maintained  and you could drive any vehicle on them, and some are never maintained and are rocky and perilous. Here’s a few simple examples to get you started on assessing roads:

A paved road:

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a road is paved. If Street View is available, it’s obvious:

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

A very well maintained gravel/dirt road:

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

 

A dirt road that looks a bit rough:

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

 

This road looks very rough; I wouldn’t expect to drive on that

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

It can be tough to assess roads using only pictures from high above. You can’t be exactly sure what you’re seeing, but they can give you a general idea.

If you’re really doing a lot of exploring, Books showing 4×4 roads and trails, like the ones  Charles Wells and Matt Peterson write  can be very helpful. They have a road difficult classification system – something like easy/moderate/difficult/hard. If roads that I’m thinking about driving on are classified by them as easy or moderate, I can expect to drive them. If they’re classified as difficult or hard, I won’t bother trying.

A few of the National Forest maps have a system for classifying the road conditions that gives wonderful clarification on which roads you’ll be able to travers with your vehicle. This is really handy, but it exists on very few MVUMs

 

Finding campsites with good views

Everyone has their own preference on what makes a good campsite. I like having a nice view, where I can see far and wide. Here’s an example of a spot with a good view, and how you can get an idea whether spots you’re researching will have nice views.

If there are many trees where you’re looking, you’ll need to find spots that have fairly large areas free of trees. Here’s one.

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

Generally, you’re more likely to have a good view when there’s a downward sloping hill in front of you and you can see a long ways. Here’s what the terrain map shows for this spot:

How to find free campsites [map explanations]

So from that spot, the hill goes downward in most directions. When we compare the two maps together, it looks like many of the downhill directions also have no trees for a while down. That means we’ll be able to see at least past the edges of what’s shown in the terrain map. We could also zoom out on the terrain map and compare the nearby area. If it’s all lower than 10,000 feet, we’ll be able to see a long ways.

Here’s how it looks in person at that site:

How to find free campsites [map explanations]
Yeah – it does have a nice view

Once you go out there – choosing a site

Once you’re off a main road and driving along a back road, if you pass a vehicle coming in the opposite direction, wave at them and ask about the road condition and whatever else you want to know

When you get to where you’re seeing campsites, take one of these strategies:

  • As you see sites, check them out. When you find sites that are quite nice, mark their location somehow (on Google Maps, on paper, record the coordinates, write down what your odometer was at and be ready to do the math, or just remember it in your head). If you really like one spot, stop there and camp. If you’ve driven enough and decide you don’t want to drive further, go back to the best spot you found
  • As you see sites, check them out. Once you find the first acceptable site – where you wouldn’t mind camping, stop there. Don’t get totally settled in. Just get situated enough to go on a hike or a bike ride to check out other camp sites. Bring your phone along so you can mark spots on the map or write down the GPS coordinates. Find the best damn camp site in the area. Then go back to your vehicle and drive it to that campsite. Now you got some exercise and the best campsite around. You win.

 

How to find free campsites
Wyoming has some incredible back-roads

  

Finding Campsites from Online Resources

I’ve described how to find campsites on your own. Another option is to check resources where people have shared campsite locations. You can look at mine, of course, and find some wonderful campsites like you’ve seen in these pictures. There are also public sites with contributions from many people.

I don’t use these a lot, so I probably don’t know about all of them. Here are some:

  • Campendium.com – I’ve found this to be the best one
  • FreeCampsites.net – Most entries are from folks with big trailers and RVs. There are way fewer entries than on Campendium
  • Allstays.com – Looks like it’s just RV Parks and paid campsites. I think this is aimed at truck drivers and RVers.
  • My map of campsites. Most sites on the map are in Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. (Available on Patreon for $1/month Partrons)

When you use these resources, you should still look at the area on maps. See where it is, what the roads are like, if there are other campsites nearby, etc.

If you know of more campsite location resources, particularly ones that you find useful, share them in the comments and I’ll add them to this list.

A reminder – the federal lands in the western U.S. are incredibly huge – over 100,000 square miles, which is almost 30% of the United States. Don’t just look at these campsite resources and limit yourself to what’s on them. Go out and explore. Find new places and soak them up.

How to find free campsites
This has been my favorite campsite so far. It’s in Northern Arizona, next to the Colorado River.

 

Conclusion – Get Out and Explore

Americans have a colorful history of moving west across the continent, of exploring, of trailblazing, of finding rugged and beautiful places to camp and call home. We’re incredibly lucky to still have all this land belonging to all of us, so join in on the tradition. Peruse your maps, load up your supplies, and set off.

And while you’re out enjoying the views and forgetting about the hustle and bustle of the world, read a book that helps you connect with this great American past. Here are two of my favorites, they’re both continually entertaining and also both include great descriptions of the huge and wonderful landscapes, the plants and wildlife, and many stories and details about the other people they encountered.

Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose – About the Lewis & Clark Expedition, with many excerpts directly from their journals.

Roughing It, by Mark Twain – About Twain’s adventurous travels through the western U.S., including attempts at mining and the kind of hi-jinx you expect from Twain. It has such tall and colorful tales that it’s hard to guess which are true and which are legends or jokes. Sometimes I found myself wondering whether he made the whole thing up, and then when he shared some story or details that I could check to confirm, I’d look them up, and they’d be true. It’s a wonderful read.

Also, if you use a different method in general for how to find free campsites, share it here in a comment.

Stumbling Into Greatness (August Travels Part 2 – Utah)

I spent the second half of August meandering around central Utah, and found myself luckily stumbling into greatness on and near the San Rafael Swell.

Map of Travels

Stumbling Into Greatness

Stumbling Into Greatness

I was traveling west along I-70, just minding my own business, intending to go over to a National Forest further down the road. I saw an area to the north of the interstate that looked interesting. There was a nice plain of grass, and off in the distance, some striking canyon walls lit up in glorious warm oranges and reds.

A great thing about Utah is that almost all of the state is federal land. And you can go almost everywhere. When you see a place that looks good, you can go explore it without having to wonder if you’re allowed to.

Stumbling Into Greatness

I took the next exit and pointed Ranger towards that cool-looking area. I thought I’d go in a few miles and camp for a few days. But, “ahead” just kept looking better and better, so I kept going.

First spot – on the Bluff

Eventually I got up on a bluff, and saw a fun-looking seldom-used side road. There seemed to be a good chance of it going over to the edge of the hill, and having the kind of nice views I like, so I headed down it.

After a few miles, I came to the first established campsite. It was indeed at the edge, with a nice view, but it was occupied. Very occupied. There was an old trailer – beat up, but kept up – and still obviously in use. The resident had, probably over years, build a bunch of very nice rock benches around a fire pit. And there was something going on with cowboy boots, but I can’t remember exactly what. I couldn’t tell if anyone was home. It looked like the kind of camper that is left here year-round.  I headed on down the road to look for my own spot.

A couple miles later, with not a single established spot on the way, I got to the end of the road, and at the last possible place, there was one.  It was out at the narrow tip of the bluff. I parked by one edge and had a good view, but when I wanted a different view, I’d walk the 50 yards over to the opposite edge.

Stumbling Into Greatness

Stumbling Into Greatness

This campsite contained an uncommon improvement – a clock. Someone had built a 15 foot diameter sun dial. And it was accurate. It was off by an hour. Who knows when it was last adjusted for whatever the daylight savings status was at the time. But it needed it now,  so I moved the labeled rocks around by one spot each, and had myself a nice clock

It seems good practice to make a big sun dial, but ironic to build one so far from any place a person needs to know the exact time.

Stumbling Into Greatness

Off a bit in another direction was a curious arrangement of rocks. It made me wonder if there is a body buried underneath. Not like a murder victim that a person needed to get rid of,  but an intentional, planned burial. It probably wasn’t, but who knows. It’d be a pretty good place to be buried. No pictures of that one.

Stumbling Into Greatness

I didn’t see a single sign of another person for the three days I camped here.  No people, no cars. Well – the one thing I could see was some kind of tower that I could spot with binoculars, maybe 50 miles away. There was a road on the other side of the river, but never any traffic. Days later, I tried riding my bike down that road and found out why – it’s really sandy.

I had no internet up here, and I was pretty productive. I think I did a lot of photo editing.

 

Stumbling Into Greatness

 

 

 

 

I drove back out to the road and went on an exploratory bike ride continuing further in the direction I was heading to get out here. It crossed the river a few miles later, and traveled through a wonderful canyon (not the one that contains the river). I passed many places to camp along the road in the canyon. So, I headed down there with the van.

 

In the canyon:

Heading off:

There are a bunch of nice campsites. I stayed in a couple and made my way through the canyon over 4 days.

The river. Indians lived in this area, either over a long period of time, or at a couple different times long apart. They made a LONG panel of rock art on a wall a few miles from this river. If I recall correctly, some of the art is from about two thousand years ago, and some of it is from about one thousand years ago.

The van looks like a tiny little speck out near the center of this picture

I finally actually tried turning my passenger seat around. I’d decided long ago that it wouldn’t work because the bolt pattern is not square. But one day out here I decided to turn it around anyway and see.

It works. Sort of. I have two of the four bolts in. It’s not totally secure. I had to remove the armrest in order to close the door – and that was a good deal of work. Those arm rests are NOT meant to be removed. Many of the bolts were welded in place after assembly. So I had to take out a lot. Even without the armrest, the seatback is in the way of operating the window crank, and rolling the window up or down requires opening the door first.

But, hey, see how cool I look?

I went on a couple bike ride through this canyon – it’s 8 miles like this – all beautiful sandstone walls and glorious green plants. The indian rock-art panel is a third of the way through. How about that – a museum stop on a bike ride out in the middle of nowhere! I didn’t take a picture of the rock art. There are some decent ones here.

This canyon is a perfect place for a bike ride. The road is smooth. The views are spectacular. I had one of the best rides of my life here.

 

 

 

While I was down in here, I recognized a van as it rambled by. It was someone I follow on Instagram. So, while on a bike ride, I saw where they were parked and stopped for a chat. I asked about nearby place – the “little grand canyon” and they confirmed it’s a good place to camp.

I was about out of food and water, so I headed into the nearby small town about 20 miles away, and then went up to the canyon edge.

 

Little Grand Canyon

And – it was another home run. I’m on a roll!

Stumbling Into Greatness

I like this better than the, uh, big Grand Canyon. You can camp right on the edge. And you can see the river. And there aren’t a bunch of loud people.

Stumbling Into Greatness

 

Stumbling Into Greatness

There’s good hiking along the edge of the canyon. It appeared pretty easy to walk down to the river, but I didn’t do so.

Stumbling Into Greatness

 

Stumbling Into Greatness

There was a strong Verizon signal up here. I even watched that one big boxing match. Live!

Stumbling Into Greatness

 

 

 

Here’s some of the Utah disappearing rain. It evaporates before it touches the ground. Seems to happen a LOT out here.

 

 

 

These camp plates are nice. I got them from Kelly Kettle. I like them because they function well as either plates or bowls. So, when I got them, I gave away my plates and bowls and just kept these. The plates are a little bit thin compared to other stainless steel plates/bowls I’ve used. They aren’t flimsy, but they aren’t the most sturdy either. That keeps them light for hiking and stuff I guess.

If you want to buy something from Kelly Kettle  you can get 15% off of anything they sell by using this coupon code I got for you: wild15. Awwww yeah.

They sent me one of their water filters – and I tested it out in Colorado. It works well, and was super handy up where there are lots of streams.

The timing of getting this filter from Sagan was nice. While in Utah, I was planning a trip deep into Escalante, including a 2+ day hike down into a river canyon that has some awesome natural bridges. I was talking to a guy at the info station in town, and I asked him how much water would be in the river. I was asking this to help me decide what type of footwear to bring. He responded “oh yeah, there will be some water in the river, so bring along your water filter and use it there”

I nodded as if that’s why I was asking, and made a mental note that I should probably get one. Then a couple weeks later, someone from Sagan emailed me asking if I wanted one of theirs. Niiice.

I like this thing. It’s small and easy to carry. The tube makes it comfortable to use – a lot more comfortable than some of the other survival water filters where you have to get your face right down by the water. It doesn’t take much  sucking to draw water through the filter and straw, so it’s really easy to use.

It filters out all kinds of nasty stuff – including arsenic, which some of the natural water sources in Utah contain (and if you drink from them without filtering it out, you’ll be in big trouble). As far as I can tell, this filter will make basically any source of water safe to drink.  It’ll be good knowing I have it in the van so that in a some case of dire emergency where I run entirely out of water, I’d have this to make it safe to drink whatever water I can find.  Plus I’ll take it along on some hikes along water sources instead of carrying a ton of water.

 

Ok – back to Utah

It was hot. It had been hot down in the canyon.  And it was still hot up on the canyon edge. So I searched for higher ground nearby, and found some 50 miles to the west.

Off I went.

And… it was another great place!

This was on the way up – going through the trees – it was getting nice and cool.

On my way up. Going through the trees. Getting nice and cool

And – starting to get up above the trees:

I messed up while moving files around and deleted most of the pictures I took up in this place, so you’ll just have to believe me that it is really nice up there.

I was up above 11,000 feet, and it was cool and crisp. Really hot weather can be draining in the van. Other than relocating, there’s no escaping it. The cool air up here felt super refreshing. Ohhhhhh man it felt good.

And, I had company. Sheep. And a sheep dog!

This dog had a vicious sounding bark from a distance, but then when he came up to me, he was more like “HAAAAYYYYY! What’s up buddy!?”

Sheep can sound odd in the distance. A big pack of them produce a lot of bleating, and it’s in a tone that can sound like people talking loudly.

They were fun to watch. It’s immediately obvious that they are very social animals. They talk to eachother a lot, The little kids call out to another and then run over to them. Groups of of family or friends hang out together. They share some similar body language with us humans.

I hung out up here with the sheep and the wind for 3 or 4 days. Then, I had a couple packages waiting for me to the south. I’d had them mailed to Springdale, the little down at the entrance to Zion, thinking I’d be down there around this time.

SOOOOO HOT

I drove straight down to Springdale in one day. And I got the packages. I’d made a huge mistake with one of the shipping addresses, sending a package to SpringVILLE Utah instead of SpringDALE. I had actually been up pretty close to Springville without knowing the package was there, and drove 200 miles south to Springville. The post office had it transferred along for me (which is something I think some/most post offices wouldn’t be willing to do), and it was there for me in Springdale the next morning.

And, it was HOT down there. SO HOT.  I searched around for higher altitude. There are some decent hills north of St George, so I was thinking about going there. But, there was a good deal of smoke rolling into the area. I checked and saw that there was a fire up north – actually also near where I had been. And a lot of smoke was making it down this way.

I didn’t want to sit down in the heat. And I didn’t want to go up higher and still have a bunch of smoke.

The next option was to carry on in my general direction – southwest. For this to work, I’d need to go all the way to the coast, because it’d be even hotter everywhere between Zion and L.A.

So, I pointed ranger southwest. And that was the end of August.

 

A question

If I made it so people could order prints of any picture on this website, do you think anybody would buy one? I’ve been doing a side project out here in California that I’d like to sell prints to people of. So I’m considering ways to do this, and one of them would be to do it through a different part of this website, but I could use the print-selling capability for the whole site. This blog doesn’t get a lot of traffic (and it’s hard to tell how much is real people vs. bots), so I’m doubting I’d sell any or many. (Other than maybe for the specific type of projects I’m doing, which would be totally different and separate from blog posts like this)

 

 

 

 

 

 

August Adventures – Part 1 – Colorado

Colorado

For the first three weeks of August, I moved southwest through Colorado from Denver. I’d done a ton the previous month Utah – lots and lots of hiking, exploring, landscape photography, and waking up at night to shoot stars. Then the family trip I went on in July that included a TON of driving also kind of wore me out. All this adventuring and traveling can wear a guy out :-D. I was ready to take it easy. So I didn’t do a lot of photography or hiking in Colorado.

 

Map of travels:

 

Frisco:

One of my friends got arrested many years ago in Frisco. He said the jail had a window with a nice mountain view.

Leadville Library

whoaaaa baby. Fancy.

Camping near Independence Pass (On the way from Leadville to Aspen)

This was the first place I stopped to camp in Colorado outside of cities. It was so rich and fertile – with plants, water, and animals all over. Lots of trees, grass, flowers, strawberries,  deer, marmots, birds,  and streams in every canyon. Once the snow melts away up here, this land provides an incredible surge of life.

It was also pretty cold up here! I’d put on more clothes or take off clothes every hour or two.

I found a beautiful place to camp. Just spectacular.

This place filled me back up – with energy, wonder, creativity, and new ideas.

 

Spot near Ouray

Ouray is a cool town. It is touristy, but it’s good. There are really steep rocky mountains shooting up on three sides of the city. I guess there’s some hot spring pool on one end of town that I didn’t check out. The downtown strip is nice. There’s a bookstore there with a very good selection of  books on outdoors subjects.

There’s also a road just outside Ouray with places to camp within walking distance of town. I found myself one and set up there for a week. It was great being able to stroll into town when I felt like it. That gets me the best of both worlds – I can stay put camping somewhere and not have to move the van, I can go for hikes from there, but I can also go into town to get food, get rid of trash, and go to the library if I want to use my computer on a very cloudy day.

I’d been looking for some books on foraging edible wild food. They can be hard to find in bookstores, but a store in Ouray has many, so I bought a couple. Now I need to forage $60 worth of food just to break even on the 3 books I’ve bought.

There were a lot of plants with berries out where I was camping. Here’s the first plant I identified: Serviceberries. They’re tasty.

 

At age 35, I’ve started drinking Coffee

There was really no need to. I’d been perfectly happy without it all my life. I always like how it smells but don’t like any of the bitterness that a lot of coffee has.

Sometimes in coffee shops I’d get tired of drinking tea, because the tea they have is often crappy, or they don’t know how to make it right, and coffee smells so damn good. So I started trying lattes. And man, they can be nice. Of course, if you know me, you know that if I’ve started drinking coffee, I’m certainly going to start making it myself.

 

So, here is one of my earliest attempts at making a latte. I’ve started out using an Aeropress, some old (Expired!) Starbucks coffee that I ground at the at a tiny grocery store in Ouray,  and frothing milk by shaking it in a jar.

Over the next few months I’ll be trying out some different equipment, and seeing if I can make real and good espresso myself in my van in the middle of nowhere. I’ll let you know how it goes. I know a lot of you will need to have your precious coffee while traveling 😃. (as I write this, on 9/8/17, I’ve gotten a nice grinder, a manual espresso maker, and a stovetop milk steamer. I’m halfway through my first bag of coffee using these, and I can make a latte significantly better than Starbucks. I still have a lot of testing and learning to do.)

If you know of really good coffee roasters in the southwest corner of the U.S. (CA, AZ, UT, NV), please tell me about them.

 

Another Campsite:

I hung out in Durango for about a week. It’s a nice town. Then I camped a bit to the west off of highway 161, but didn’t find a great spot:

Patreon Account:

When I was visiting and talking with my family in July, some of them urged me to start up a Patreon account and see how interested people were. For those not familiar, Patreon is a platform where folks who enjoy the creative output of people can give them a few bucks per month or per podcast or whatever, and sometimes the creator gives those supporters access to extra material.

So, I’m trying it out. You can see my Patreon profile here. I’ve enjoyed sharing my travels and photography here and on Instagram, and I will continue doing so just the same.  On Patreon, I will be sharing more:

A map of all the places I’ve camped:

  • It shows every place I’ve camped, outside of cities. These are nearly all completely free places to dispersed camp. They are spots where you’ll have spectacular views and likely have your own space, away from other campers.
  • I update this each month with the new places I’ve camped. I’ll be exploring more parts of the western U.S and filling in more areas with awesome places to camp.
  • For each campsite, I share these details:
    • A subjective rating of how good it is (x/5)
    • A picture of the campsite or area
    • The type of land this site is on (BLM, National Forest, etc.)
    • Notes and details describing the site and the area
    • Whether it has a Verizon cellular signal
    • The altitude
    • Road conditions on the way to the campsite
    • If I’ve made a blog post containing pictures or details of this site or area, a link to it.
  • There are currently over 50 campsites documented on the map (as of August 2017). Most of them are in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. Here’s what it looks like:

How-to articles for living and traveling in a vehicle or camper:

  • These are thorough and detailed articles showing you how to start traveling, and how to live very well on the road.
  • Most posts are over 3,000 words and have many pictures.
  • Here is a link to a free post, so you can see what they are like:
  • I expect to publish one new How-To Post each month
  • These are the posts I’ve published so far:
  • List of future How-To posts:
    • Using My Maps and Google Maps to save locations
    • Logistics of Full Time Travel – Getting Mail and Packages
    • Logistics of Full Time Travel – Residency
    • Exercising anywhere, without a gym
    • How to live well and have fun while spending little money
    • Vehicle Type choice for living and/or traveling in
    • How to deal with the police
    • Cooking and eating healthy and tasty food in a van
    • How to drive – for better fuel mileage and longer life
    • Finding WIFI in cities
    • Making Money while Traveling
    • Avoiding Trouble in Cities
    • Key Lessons for van interior building
    • How To Be Well-Prepared when Going Camping
    • How Not to Die While Camping
    • (and I’m open to requests and suggestions)

 

I’ve posted about it a couple times on Instagram and have a few patrons so far. If you’d like access to these extras, or if you’d just like to throw a couple bucks my way per month because you like what I share, here’s where to do it.

Moving on – into Utah:

I never got excited about the eclipse to make sure I was in the right part of the country for it. The moon blocks the sun for a bit and it gets sort of dark. Ok. That seems a lot less spectacular to me than a nice sunset or seeing a lot of stars. The eve of the eclipse, I did look at the coverage map compared to the direction I’d be traveling, anyways, and decided to move on earlier than I would have in order to get a bit more north where there would be a little more coverage. So I went up to Moab the day of. I think there was about 85% coverage there, which, it turns out, is quite underwhelming.

 

 

June 2017 Adventures

June

I spent June exploring the wonderful state of Utah. It’s full of inviting deserts, lush high altitude hills, wide and deep canyons, river washes, cozy slot canyons, arches, hoodoos, and so on. SO MUCH STUFF!

I shot a TON of pictures in June, and this post will be full of them.  I’m also experimenting with dumping in some of the captions I’ve written over the last month for my Instagram posts.

 

MAP OF TRAVELS

I started out June down in the southwest corner of the state, in Zion, and ended in Grand Junction, just across the Colorado border.

CEDAR CITY

Wow! So many fucking kids. What’s in the water here!?

TOWARDS BRYCE CANYON

I camped for a few days in Dixie National forest between Cedar City and Bryce Canyon. It looks like there are many good places to camp around here.

 

This nest was only about 15 feet from my van, so I got to watch the parent(s) come and go.

I shot these pictures in Dixie National Forest, east of Cedar City. It’s not that far from Bryce Canyon National Park – which looks incredibly different.

From where I camped for only one day, I saw 5 or 10 deer out of my van windows. There’s a meadow nearby that I walked over to in the evening, and there were a few different groups of deer there – about 40 in total.

I had wonderful songs from birds. And I had wonderful sunlight shining in through these aspen trees.

I met a Peruvian guy up here while looking for a campsite. He lived in an old style wooden trailer – basically a covered wagon. The wagon appears to sit there full time (he had no vehicle). He works up there, herding sheep. He’s been in the U.S. for 10 years, but doesn’t know much english, because he’s spent those ten years alone in places like this. I saw a video once about these sheep herders on Youtube, and it was really interesting. The herders are basically all guys from Southern America. They stay up in the National Forests full time, in these old style trailers, or sometimes in cabins. The sheep owners bring them food and water, and move them and the trailers to other locations.  I would’ve taken a picture of him and his wagon, but he didn’t want me to. .

I love this kind of forest

Aspen trees all over the place. Some old dead trees that have been on the ground a long time

Lush grass

Free of thick plants or bushes, so you can walk everywhere

Birds singing their songs, flying around, and keeping their eggs warm

Deer meandering through and looking relaxed

Sunlight filtering in through the Aspen leaves

The air clean and a little bit sweet smelling

A breeze blowing through and making nice white noise as it filters through the leaves

Nowhere else to go. Nowhere else to be. No worries. No crowds of people, or traffic, or noise, or work deadlines, or chores to do.

The world simplified down to this area and it’s beautiful balances of plants, animals, sunlight, and weather. 

Thoughts while driving on a road like this and looking for a campsite:

The day is full of possibilities…

Will I find a wonderful place to camp?

Will the roads be good for riding my bike?

Will there be nice sunsets?

Will I see deer, pronghorn antelope, elk, BEARS?

Will be it windy, rainy, cold, hot, cloudy?

Will there be birds singing songs for me? (well, not for me, but I’ll still get to enjoy them)

Will there be a cell phone signal to keep me connected to the parts of the world I wish to be?

How long will I feel like staying before I have the urge to move on?

 

DRONE SMASHED TO PIECES!

While I as on my way to the campsite above, I stopped to fly my drone. And while flying, it turned over past 90 degrees sideways and dropped like a sack of rocks. It fell from about 80 feet in the air and crashed into the ground really hard. As soon as I saw it tip over like that, I figured that was it – no more drone for me.

The plants weren’t all that crazy thick where this happened, but it still took me a while to find the drone. As expected, it was smashed really bad. The camera and gimbal broke off entirely and I didn’t find them. One of the arms was bend really bad. The body was all smashed up and cracked open. I’m sure a bunch of the electronic connections inside were broken. I gathered up all the pieces that I could find and threw them in the trash in the next city.

So – what went wrong? I didn’t crash it into a tree or anything, it just turned over and fell from the sky. I had made some adjustments to the controls sensitivity recently, but I thought they seemed conservative, even within the ranges available. The drone had been drifting more than usual during this flight – downwards, and I probably should’ve stopped flying it to recalibrate it. I’d been flying it for about ten minutes, and when I pushed the control knobs to have the drone turn and fly quickly, it tipped.

There are many different things that could’ve gone wrong, but I don’t know which did. It could’ve been that my controls adjustments were actually too much. It could’ve been that it got too far out of calibration. One of the arms was bent from crashes that occurred while the previous owner had it and it’s propeller blade often hit the arm while flying. That propeller could’ve broken. A motor could’ve failed. There could’ve been a short in one of the many wire and connections. Who knows. But… no more drone.

Daaaaang. I really would like to get another – a Mavic Pro, which are small enough to carry on hikes. Flying the drone and editing the videos was a lot of fun. But…. I don’t like the idea of spending ~$1,300 on something that can suddenly fall out of the sky and smash to pieces. There is crash replacement insurance available at a reasonable cost. I just still don’t feel like spending the money on it right now.

For a couple weeks after, it sucked  when I saw a place that would be awesome to use a drone. But, you know, this kind of “sucks” is entirely imagined in my own head… It’s someone thinking “oh man, damn it, it would be so cool to drive a Ferrari right now, this sucks!”

 

Another Campsite:

 

I dipped my toes, or, maybe my whole leg, into astrophotography. I have a bunch of other shots I’ll share soon in a separate blog post.

        

ROVA sent me a copy of their second issue. For those interested in living and/or traveling in a Van, RV, or camper, you may like this magazine. There were good articles in this one.

    

BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK

I spent 4 or so days in Bryce Canyon. I don’t like it anywhere near as much as Zion.

In Utah, there are many striking landscapes. Many of them are from water carving out rocks and dirt into beautiful landscapes and shapes.  Zion has hard sandstone rock, and Bryce has a softer, more dirt-like material. So in Zion you have these flattish edges of hard rocks that I find beautiful. In Bryce, it looks more like dirt that has eroded, and I think it’s ugly.

I grew up in the midwest, where plants can grow everywhere. If a yard or some land has bare dirt that then erodes, it is a sign that the land is not cared for, or that it’s owner is incompetent, and his precious topsoil is washing away.

 

 

GRAND STAIRCARE ESCALANTE NATIONAL MONUMENT 

Excalante National Monument is huge. I mean HUGE. Zion National Park is 230 square miles. Escalante is 2,900 square miles. Plus, it’s surrounded on all sides by federal land for hundreds of miles. And basically no one lives permanently in Escalante N.M. This is the most remote part of Utah, and maybe of the entire lower 48 states.

There are some awesome places in Escalante, particularly along a road called Hole in the Rock Road. There are arches, slot canyons, big interesting rocks, and a wonderful hike down a canyon through what’s called Coyote Gulch.

Mormons

Hole in the Rock Road  follows a trail taken by Mormons on their way to found a new city on the east side of the Colorado River. 200 people set out with 83 wagons and 1,000 head of livestock. Crossing the river turned out to be very difficult. The river has cut a ~1,000 foot canyon through the rock. They  found a place where the canyon wall was cracked and spent months blasting it open and making a very rough and very steep path down to the river. They went on and formed a town called Bluff, where now about 300 people live.

Plans

I really wanted to go to Coyote Gulch, which contains the Jacob Hamblin Arch. Coyote Gulch is basically at the end of Hole In the Rock road, 40 or 50 miles south of the highway. There was a big forest fire nearby, making a lot of smoke, and I was concerned that the smoke appeared to be going down that way – basically straight south along the road. At the visitor’s center in Escalante, I asked about it. The guy said that the smoke clears out about a third of the way down the road.

Slot Canyons – Tunnel and Zebra

After setting off town the road, the first place I stopped was where a trail leads to two slot canyons. These were fun.

        

While I was exploring and photographing these slot canyons, it got really, really smokey. It was clear that the guy at the visitors center was either wrong or has very perceptions of smoky vs clear. I could also see all the smoke floating straight south, in the same direction as the road, and too all the areas I wanted to go camp and hike and photograph. I don’t like the smoke, and it basically ruins any landscape pictures of things more than 20 feet away. So I decided to head back up to the highway and go northeast and get out of the smoke. I expect that I’ll come through Utah again and that I’ll make it all the way to the bottom of this road.

DRIVE THROUGH THE REST OF UTAH

It was getting really hot in Utah, and I decided to get over to the rockies sooner rather than later. So I drove a couple hundred miles from Escalante to Colorado in 2 or 3 days.

I drove through Capital Reef N.P., and it looks good. I was considering going down to Moab and Arches, but decided that I might as well go up into the mountains and leave those places for some later and cooler time.

Various Driving Pictures

 

This is the Escalante Canyon, seen from along hwy 12. Wow! Some day I want to come back and hike along and inside this canyon. Also, hwy 12 south of Boulder is an INCREDIBLE road.

Hike near the Escalante River

I hiked up along some creek that meets the Escalante right by hwy 12. There are two neat things there: various native rock art, and a big arch.

I believe some of this is recent/fake (probably the ones on the outsides)?))

A hundred handprints. These were up along a rock wall and were visible from quite far away if you knew they were there.

And here’s the arch:

Hey where are you camped? … Nowhere..

  

April 2017 Travels

April 2017 Travels

I spent most of my April in Arizona. A few incoming packages took longer than expected, and kept me near Phoenix longer than I wanted. I camped up north of Phoenix along Highway 87, and also near Sedona. Then I headed over into Nevada to meet some friends in Vegas.

Here’s everywhere I went in April (starting in Phoenix)

April 2017 Travels

SPOT WEST OF 87

(33.94633,-111.45529)

There’s a nice little group of spots to camp just a couple miles off hwy 87. I’ve camped here three different times. This last time, I went down to a spot that’s a bit off of the road and behind a hill. I’d never seen until midway through my second time camping there when I noticed that a few people went back there. It’s a little hairy getting there (the road is slanted sideways), and it’s really hard trying to find a flat spot down there.  But it’s nice though.

April 2017 Travels
You can see the van down there near the middle of the picture

April 2017 Travels

April 2017 Travels - Camping north of Phoenix April 2017 Travels - Camping north of Phoenix

April 2017 Travels - Camping north of Phoenix

April 2017 Travels - Camping north of Phoenix

PHOENIX AGAIN:

I drove back into the city to pick up a package, and stayed for a few days. I watched the last few hours of the Paris-Roubaix bicycle race online. That’s always a fun race to watch.

SEDONA

During two of my three vehicle living test trips, I spent time in Sedona. It was one of the places where I decided I wanted my current lifestyle. I’d been looking forward to going back. I tried to go camp in the exact same place I did the first time there, but it was occupied. I ended up camping in three different spots

1 – Southwest of Sedona: (34.68848, -111.86182). 

This is one of the spots that a guy at the visitors center recommended. It was ok, but not very good as far as campsites near Sedona go.

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

 

2 – West of Sedona – Forest Service Road 525c. (34.879, -111.94486)

This was close to the where I’d camped on the test trips.

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

It’s close to the Robber’s Roost – a cave overlooking the way into Sedona. Robbers and bandits, used to hide out here when they had some heat. From the cave, they could see people approaching from far away. Also, while in the cave, you can hear people from below very well.

Robber's Roost

Robber's Roost

 

3 – “Base Camp” – Forest Service Road 525 (34.82324, -111.90566)

I went into town in the afternoon, and didn’t leave until it was starting to get dark. I didn’t want to sleep in Sedona, so I came out to this spot – just about the first place you can camp on 525 when coming off the highway. Many people stop here and then find another more secluded spot somewhere along 525 or 525c and move to it.

I stayed here one night. Some balloons landed nearby.

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

 

4 – Forest Service Road 525 (34.8682, -111.90365)

Near the north end of where you can camp on 525 is closer to the hiking and biking action. A lot of the spots on 525 can hold many rigs and end up being communal spots. There were 3-5 other groups present while I was there.

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona
My campsite is in this picture, over towards the right

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

The weather was absolutely perfect in Sedona and I was enjoying being there. After about a week, I was getting itchy to move on though. I had plans to meet some friends in Vegas at the end of April, so I found a place to camp on the way there.

LAKE MOHAVE – Telephone Cove

(35.23068, -114.59371)

Telephone Cove has free camping. And others, I believe. It’s a pretty nice stretch of beach. The pictures below don’t show it, but it was a bit crowded here because there was some kind of boys’ camp going on at the other end of the beach.

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

Then I got itchy feet and drove to Vegas early.

LAS VEGAS

Parking lot behind the LINQ – (36.11835, -115.16655)

Street with parking near the Link/Ferris Wheel/Westin/Cromwell (36.11631,-115.16643)

I went out to Vegas 9 days before my friends would getting there. I’m not entirely sure why I went so early other than that I felt like moving on from where I was previously. I spent the first weekend at the strip and it was fun. I’m very used to going places and doing things by myself, but I’ve only been to the strip when it was with friends. This time, on my own, it wasn’t quite the same.

Camping on the Las Vegas Strip
This was a good place to park the van. It’s a big parking lot for the LINQ casino/hotel. It’s temporarily free until after they do some kind of construction project. There is a ton of security patrolling the lot and it’s well lit. You have to not make it obvious that you’re sleeping in a vehicle though or security will tell you not to.

After 3 or 4 days at the strip, I went and hung out around other parts of the city. Vegas isn’t all that nice. The UNLV Library is really really nice though. I go to a lot of city/county libraries, and sometimes there are too many bums there. Really stinky ones. At this library on UNLV campus, it was only students. Everyone’s clean. Everyone’s nice. The wifi is good. And it’s beautiful – I mean, just look at this place:

April 2017 Travels - UNLV Library

I think I’ll start hanging out around campuses more when I’m in cities.

My friends arrived the next weekend. While waiting for them in the airport cellphone lot, I did the following:

  • Ate dinner
  • Moved water from my big reserve jug to my smaller jugs that I normally use
  • Repaired my sandals (Sewed part of the velcro back on one)

Once my friends arrived, I drove them to their hotel on strip, and we hung out at the strip that night. The next day we went to their pool, walked around the strip, went to the pool again, and then went to Fremont Street to gamble a bit and walk around. I think we had more fun at Fremont street than on the strip. It’s smaller and sort of simpler. You don’t have to spend 10-15 minutes walking to go from one place to another like you often do on the strip. We also walked past what’s probably considered the normal end of the Fremont street area (on the east end) and continued. There are some fun weird/hipster type places there.

Downtown Las Vegas - Fremont Street - Zoltar Machine
On Fremont Street. (Downtown Vegas)

 

Downtown Las Vegas - Fremont Street - Zoltar Machine
My friend is a champion of making stupid faces

 

Downtown Las Vegas - Fremont Street - Gold Digger

The last day they were there we went over to a thrift store (a Buffalo Exchange north of the strip – it is a good one), and then back to some casino where we had lunch. Then they headed back home, and I was ready to get out of that city.

Wow. When I put all the places I went in one month into one post, it sure looks like a lot.

PLANS FOR MAY

  • Go meet my brother and his girlfriend in Sedona
  • Go to Grand Canyon
  • Go through Northern Arizona and into Southern Utah

Exploring Arizona 4 – New Friends

New Friends

I went back to camp at the same area as two trips ago – the place where it rained for two days while I was there. This time, I had 6 days of absolutely perfect weather there. Also, I met some new friends.

I had been wanting to find a place near Phoenix to camp – somewhere still down in the desert but not all messed up with trash, noise and shooting. I asked on the CheapRVLiving.com forums and members there recommended a place just southwest of Phoenix. I was excited to go there.

My mom visited Phoenix for over a week, and I stayed in the city then. After she left the city and I was ready to go camping, it was hot in Phoenix, so I decided to go up in elevation rather than the hot desert spot.

Campsite:

New Friends

 

Mom’s Advice:

My mom said I should post more pictures of myself here. I’ve been taking a lot of pictures, but never of myself. When I looked at my Instagram Feed after she asked, I noticed I hadn’t posted a picture of myself for many months. I suppose some pictures of me would make it more personal and more interesting. So, I took a few of myself on this trip. More coming in the future. My grandma once told me I could be a male model. She’s probably the most biased person in the world, and that was like 15 years ago.. Anyways,… here’s a start:

New Friends

New Friends

New Friends

The Weather

I don’t see how it could get any better:

  • ~75 degree highs
  • ~55 degree lows
  • Slight breeze
  • Sunny nearly all day every day

Bike Rides

I went for two bike rides along the Forest Service Road I was camped by. The road goes about 8 miles into the forest, eventually hitting a wilderness boundary and hiking trailhead. I rode out and back both times  and it was fucking amazing. I recorded some more footage with the GoPro. It really doesn’t do the views justice.

Someone recently asked if I record any different views while riding so I tried turning the camera around. It works pretty well, and now you get to look at my crotch a bunch 😛

 

New Friends from Instagram

I met a couple name Dan and Cindy and they camped with me for two days. Dan had sent me some messages on Instagram. Him and Cindy live in Tuscon and had a trip planned to go to Havasapai falls at the Grand Canyon. I was pretty much on their way, so they stopped to hang out a while.

You can find out a bit about them at:

I’m just going to post a picture of my journal entry from the day after we parted. My handwriting has really went downhill since I stopped working. I used to write a lot by hand at work, and since I quit, I’ve done very little. If I start posting journal tidbits like this regularly, that will give me a good reason to improve.

New Friends - Journal - Handwriting
The blurred part is nothing bad. It’s just something about them that I’m not sure whether they want shared publicly.

New Friends

 

New Friends

 

New Friends - Journal - Handwriting

 

New Friends

 

New Friends

Exploring Arizona 3 – Road to Four Peaks

Road to Four Peaks

For my third trip out of Phoenix, I went up Hwy 87 again, and explored some back roads that go up over a pass right by Four Peaks.

On my second trip, where I got rained on a ton, I had a challenging time finding campsites down in the desert, due to, as I call it, the “Party Zone” surrounding the city. So I did more research before embarking on this third trip. I used My Maps on Google, which works well for this. My Maps allows you to add many markings and notes to a version of Google maps. You can add a pins and other shapes with names and notes, you can highlight a certain route of road, and you can draw shapes you want to highlight areas. You can switch quickly between views – including the normal map, ‘satellite’ view, and ‘terrain’ where you can see topography.  You can access and update your map on a computer or your phone. The only bad thing is that you can’t access or update the maps offline (I need to check that for sure though). 

Google My Maps

Google My Maps

 

Google My Maps

 

Road to Four Peaks

I found a lot of areas that I highlighted and want to go explore in person.  One of those areas have some Forest Service roads going all the way up over a pass right next to Four Peaks. The roads traverses 30 or so miles from Hwy 87 over to Hwy 188 near Roosevelt Lake.  It looked like it has many good camping spots along the route. I did already know that there’s an OHV area there. And that this close to the city, many of the campsites would be occupied by shooters or littered with their mess. I expected that I may have to go pretty far up the road to find nice campsites, but I was sure that I’d find some before the pass.

I drove about halfway to the pass before I found a camping spot I liked, and settled in for a handful of days. The path up to Four Peaks is a great drive. It’s one of those cool Arizona drives where you can go from 2,000 foot elevation desert up to 6,000 foot or so where you have pine trees. It’s also popular for people driving around in SUVs, trucks, side-by-sides, and dirt bikes.

Road to Four Peaks

One odd thing happened up there: on Saturday evening, I heard a police car siren. I looked around and spotted a Sherrif’s SUV coming down the road quickly. He was obviously in a hurry. Two more Sherrifs followed within 10 or 15 minutes. I wondered whether they were responding to an incident along this road, or if they were using the road to get from Hwy 87 to Hwy 188. 

Road to Four Peaks
My home for this trip

 

Road to Four Peaks
My van is down there in the middle

 

Hiking

Road to Four Peaks

 

Road to Four Peaks

 

Biking

“I’m glad these people have to go to work on Mondays”

I drove up and found my campsite on a Saturday.  There was quite a lot going on out there. Just people driving around and shooting (not at the same time).  Sunday morning as I awoke there were two guys on ATVs at the road who appeared to be thinking about coming up the little offshoot where I was camped. They did, parked, looked around the area with binoculars a lot, and then walked off with their guns, binoculars, and tripods (for the binoculars). An hour or so later, a group of about 25 people traveling in a 10+ side-by-sides took a pit stop in my camping area. They hung out, talked, and drank beer for an hour before moving on. I heard gunshots all day long in sporadic bursts.

Monday morning I had peace and quiet for hours at a time. I wrote in my journal:

Sometimes I’m happy that other people work every week. Out where I’m camping, over the weekend I’ve heard a steady stream of noises from OHVs and guns. Now, Monday morning, it’s just me and the singing birds

Road to Four Peaks

 

Road to Four Peaks
When I start putting stuff down instead of putting it away, I have a mess like this really quickly

 

Road to Four Peaks
But it only takes about 5 minutes to get it this clean again

Tea Time

Road to Four Peaks

 

Road to Four Peaks

Two more trips near Phoenix, and then where?

I’ll be around Phoenix for a few more weeks – until the end of March. After that, I’ll meander north. I expect to spend 6 or more weeks in central and northern Arizona.  I’ve been to some wonderful places in this area that I want to go back to, but I’m sure there are a lot of other places I should go. So, if you know the area, tell me! 

Where should I go? 

Road to Four Peaks

Here are some places I’m expecting to go or thinking about going:  (The ones with question marks are places I haven’t been and am not sure about)

  • Apache trail / Lake Roosevelt again. Maybe see the cliff dwellings there
  • Montezuma’s Castle ???
  • The Meteor crater east of Flagstaff ???
  • Camp along the way to Payson. Maybe same spot as I went before
  • Camp up along the Mogollon rim just north of Payson. 
  • Sedona area
  • Grand Canyon.. (south rim??) 
  • Horseshoe bend??
  • Three Monuments??
  • Stuff in the Navajo Reservation? What/where??? (need to research visiting/camping there)
  • Hang out in/near Flagstaff

What else???

 

Exploring Arizona 2 – Rained out near the Beeline

Rained out near the Beeline

For my second trip out of Phoenix, I wanted to find a place to camp in the desert – at lower elevation, and fairly close to Phoenix. As of February, it’s still pretty cold at middle elevations in Arizona. I like the low altitude desert near Phoenix. There are a lot of cool saguaro cacti. I wanted to find some nice places to camp in the desert, at low altitude, fairly close to Phoenix. I expected that might not be so easy….

The Party Zone

A big city like Phoenix has over 4 million people. Any city with 4 million residents will include a lot who like to go out into the nearby National Forests, and many of those will like shooting their guns, driving loud dirt-bikes, ATVs, and Side-By-Sides (those sort of off-road go carts with motorcycle engines that are super popular now), and/or taking a few cases of Bud Light and a mattress out to a camp site and leave everything behind minus the liquid beer. Some people seem to think a National Forest is some kind of black hole where no one else goes and where the trash they leave behind doesn’t matter and won’t be seen by anyone else because surely no one else goes to such a remote place 20 miles from the city, right? Ok, I don’t like to judge other peoples’ ways of enjoying nature, but I definitely judge the litterers.

With surely a large number of people as decribed above existing in any city, many National forest areas within 40 miles of the city are likely to have a some or a lot of these folks. I’ll call this ring around a city the “party zone”. This makes finding a nice desert area to camp challenging because the National Forest areas north of Phoenix all seem to increase in altitude the further north you go. So by the time I get out of the range of the shooters, partiers, and ATVers, I’m up at 4,500 feet. Around 3,500 feet, the plants change from cacti to shrubs that are thorny and also really thick in some spots.

The Plan:

I decided to go out along Highway 87 this time, which is known as the Beeline. I took a look on Google Maps and found some areas that looked like they may work. There are quite a few roads going off from the Beeline, and a quick look on the satellite view** showed a lot of potential campsites.

** The “satellite” views on maps are shot from airplanes

Strike One

The first place I went to, shown as “A” on the map below. Once I got there, it was clearly a serious OHV area (there were signs). So I went back to the highway and continued north, looking for other roads.

Rained out near the Beeline

Strike Two

The second place I went, shown as “B” on the map below, has a bunch of places people could camp. People have done a lot of shooting there, so some parts are littered with casings, empty shotgun shells, broken glass, and the occasional old TV or computer monitor that’s been shot to pieces. It was also really close to the highway, and right under a busy flight path.

Rained out near the Beeline

I arrived in late afternoon and spent the night there. A couple guys drove into the area together and hung out for a while. One of them is from Phoenix and knew a lot about rocks and the area. The other has a house in Hawaii. He built a really small home out in the back yard, and lived in that while renting out the main house. Now he’s bought a truck and camper, and is in the process of renting out the small house to a friend for while he drives around the continental US in his truck camper for the next year or so.  He’s in love with the friend who is renting his small house. They are good friends and she just wants to be friends. He said “we’re perfect together, soulmates, she just doesn’t know it” a two or three times.

He has plans with a string of different women to come join him at times. In one case of plans overlapping, he’s going to have two women joining him at the same time at his condo that he bought on a whim while in a ski town in Utah. It was interesting talking with a guy who really really wants a travel companion. He is certain he’ll feel unsatisfied traveling by himself. In my case, I don’t mind traveling alone. There are many things I’m missing out on by not having another person along, but there are also many ways that traveling alone is easier and simpler. I do wonder a little bit whether the difference in my preferences and this guy’s are entirely personality based, or how much of it is me being more content with simpler things.

Strike Three

I got tired of hearing the traffic and airplanes, so the next morning I headed further north. I got up to higher elevation, and out of the “party zone”, and found a nice spot (in area C on the map).  It was up at about 4,500 feet.  I had a wonderful view out the windows. The spot was pretty close to the highway but with enough elevation difference and a big hill in-between to block all the noise. I did have a direct line of sight to cell towers across the highway, so I had a nice data connection.

Rained out near the Beeline

The first day there, the weather was wonderful. I went for an exploratory hike down the road to see what the road is like and if there were other good campsites further back.

Rained out near the Beeline

Rained out near the Beeline

I’d checked the weather before leaving Phoenix and saw two rainy days in the forecast. I looked closer while camped up in area C, and saw the forecast was non stop rain for 48 hours. Uh oh. I figured I’d just stay put through the rain and then enjoy  a couple nice days after before heading back down to the city.

Once it started raining, the clouds were thick.  They were also low and I was literally in them. This meant I didn’t have power for charging my computer or whatever else. I’ve now gotten in the good habit of letting only my fridge and MIFI device charge as needed, and only charging or using other devices when the sun is providing enough power for them on top of however much the battery can take at that moment. This way, the battery is always getting as much as is possible.

So… the first day, I read a book. This may be the first day in my life that I read all of a normal-sized book in one day. It was good. It’s called How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. As the title suggest, it’s about how to make money by entrepreneurial means, but it’s written as a novel in the first person – from the perspective of you being the main character. It’s a really good book.

It rained almost every minute of the day. And night.

Rain itself doesn’t bother me much. But it was also about 40 degrees, and I don’t like just sitting around in the van when it’s also cold. The second morning of rain, I got impatient. I’d already read an entire book, now what the hell am I supposed to do? :-P.

The road up to my campsite was very nice. Most of it was a nice well graded gravel road. The spot I was camped in was dirt, and now really muddy, and slightly uphill to get back on the road. Then the road was all downhill. I figured if I could get back on the road I could probably make it all the way down.

The mud had gotten saturated a few inches deep. It was really slippery. I made it out though. I started down the road. There had been a big camper in a spot about 1/8th mile before mine. I saw they had left, and saw tracks in the road that were probably theirs from leaving the previous afternoon or evening. About another 1/8th mile down, I got to a reeeeaaally soft and muddy spot. The trailer had made it down through this, and it looked like about 3 or 4 vehicles had been in it and tore up the road a bit.

Rained out near the Beeline
This is “the bad part”, looking uphill

I got through that part, but just barely. I almost inched off into a small ditch, which would’ve been an annoyance rather than a problem, as I could’ve just waited there in the ditch for it to dry and then easily driven out, but, the van would’ve been at an annoying angle. My van was sinking into the mud quite a lot. The mud was really soft, and my van is fairly heavy and the tires aren’t especially wide. I’d traveled up that section of road a couple days ago and it was flat and smooth. Now it was getting all torn up and I felt bad about doing some of it. I decided that I’d rather stop and wait it out rather than tear up any more parts of the road, so I went just far enough past that bad spot to get to where the road was wide enough and flat enough to the side for me to just stop right there on the road with plenty of space for others to drive by.

Rained out near the Beeline
Where I stoped to wait it out. Really, not a bad place at all to be ~stuck waiting

Two other vehicles did drive by, coming up the hill. Both of them went a bit into the bad section but turned back right away. I got out and walked around a couple times, but spent most of the day in the van.

The  next morning, the rain stopped. And the sun was shining about half the time. The clouds slowly cleared out.

Rained out near the Beeline

I waited until after noon. Then I walked the road all the way to where it’s paved, and it wasn’t bad.In the afternoon, after walking the road,  I drove the rest of the way down and headed back to the city. I probably could’ve driven the rest instead of waiting. Turns out the only tricky spot was the turn right in front of where I’d parked. It was banked inward pretty heavily, and past the outside edge of the road is steep downhill. When I watched one of the vehicles that came up and turned back, they did a pretty aggressive 4 wheel powerslide to make it through the turn to without sliding down the banking. I didn’t want to attempt something like that.

I suppose I should’ve checked the weather a closer before heading up. If I’d seen exactly how much it was going to rain, I probably wouldn’t have went up there. But I saw that the rain would only last two days, and that it wouldn’t be snowing or freezing, and I was camped maybe a mile’s walk from the highway, so there was not really any safety risk of being stranded up there too long or in too bad of conditions.

I decided I’d definitely do more research on lower desert areas before heading out next time, so I’d have much less chance of being up in the cold rain.

All-in-all, a “rained out” trip didn’t turn out so bad. I had two and a half days of really nice weather, a nice hike, read a really good book, and found a nice campsite are mid elevation easily accessed from the highway.

Exploring Arizona 1 – Apache Trail and Roosevelt Lake

As I mentioned in my post about test trips, I drove the Apache Trail a couple times when I used to visit Arizona for work.  I’ll quote myself to share a relevant part of that post:

About two years passed between my first test trip in California and quitting my job to travel full time. Over those two years I imagined, many hundreds of times, being free of work and moseying around North America. I imagined being able to settle in to camp for a week or more at a time. I imagined sitting around relaxing, reading, writing, hiking, watching the stars, and so on. In many of these daydreams, I was in Arizona. I was out near Sedona. And, most common of all, I was along the Salt River.

There are more beautiful places for sure. And there are countless places as nice as along the Salt River. But because I had been here on a test trip and because of how I felt while driving the Apache Trail, those feelings had me thinking back to it, and looking forward to it.

Arizona – Excursions from Phoenix

At the end of 2016, I’d just crossed the border from California to Arizona. I spent a couple weeks near the border, by Ehrenberg and Quartzsite, and attended the RTR, where I did a fun little “Rigs of the RTR” photography project.

After the RTR, I came to Phoenix. I had decided to make Phoenix my home base for the rest of winter.  I’ll to spend about 10 weeks in and near the city. I expect to spend half the time inside the city, and half on excursions of about a week each. Most of these will be within 50-80 miles of Phoenix.  As the weather warms up in the spring, I’ll go further north and stop coming back to Phoenix.

Ok… on to trip 1:

Apache Trail

My first excursion, as you’ve likely guessed – included driving this beautiful stretch of gravel and dirt. The Apache Trail is a 40 mile stretch of Highway 88 from Apache Junction to the dam at Roosevelt Lake. The southern half is paved, and the northern half is a well-maintained gravel road.

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

There are some tall tales about this area. When I told my Grandma who lives in Phoenix that I’d be going on camping trips, she said “ohhhhhhhhh, don’t go out in the Superstition Mountains!”. The Apache Trail passes through them. The tales are mostly centered around gold mines, buried treasures of which old mysterious maps give vague directions, and murders of miners, treasure hunters, and some of the original teasure owners. The biggest of these tales is about the “Lost Dutchman’s Mine”. This is the most talked about and most searched for lost mine in North America. There are over 100 books and maps about the mine. Adventurous go-getters have been searching for the mine for over 120 years, with as many as 8,000 people searching in some years. Many have died while doing so.

There are numerous fascinating stories and tales all wound together. Some of them are definitely fact. Some are fantasies and deception.

A few excerpts:

From Wikipedia:

The legend of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine centers around the Superstition Mountains. According to the legend, a German immigrant named Jacob Waltz discovered a mother lode of gold in the Superstition Wilderness and revealed its location on his deathbed in Phoenix in 1891 to Julia Thomas, a boarding-house owner who had taken care of him for many years. Several mines have been claimed to be the actual mine that Waltz discovered, but none of those claims have been verified

 

But – a warning – if you’re searching for treasure out here, you might wander into Hell:

Some Apaches believe that the hole leading down into the lower world, or hell, is located in the Superstition Mountains. Winds blowing from the hole is supposed to be the cause of severe dust storms in the metropolitan region

 

From a website about Tortilla Flat (a little outpost of a town along the Apache Trail)

Cabeza de Vaca was a Spanish explorer in America in the early 1500’s. During an expedition to Florida, he was shipwrecked on a Texas island in 1528. There he was enslaved by the Indians. He escaped and made his way into the Southwest and eventually into Mexico by 1536. His wanderings brought him in contact with the Pueblo Indians, and his later reports in Mexico gave rise to the legends of the Seven Cities of Cibola, — or the Cities of Gold. These legends were the catalyst for bring Spanish explorers and prospectors into the Arizona territory. As part of the Coronado expedition into Arizona for the Seven Cities of Cibola, Marcos de Niza traveled westward along the Gila River as far as what is now the Phoenix metropolitan area. He may have been the first Spaniard to see the Superstition Mountains.

What has all this to do with Tortilla Flat, you ask? Because of it’s location, Tortilla Flat, even presently, is affected by the search for gold in the Superstitions. Each Spanish expedition inspired other expeditions looking for the vast wealth in gold. In the late 1600’s through the Mid- 1700’s, Jesuits priests were located throughout the Southwest. Allegedly, the Jesuits had amassed a fortune in gold and didn’t want to share it with the King of Spain. The king, convinced of treachery, ordered the deportation of all Jesuits in 1767. However, before their departure, they supposedly hid their treasure in various places throughout Southwest and according to legend, the Superstition Mountain region was one of these hidden places.

In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain, and an influx of Mexican prospectors poured into the Superstition Mountain region. Don Miguel Peralta was a wealthy landowner and miner from northern Mexico. Reportedly, his expeditions recovered immense quantities of gold from the Superstitions in 1847 and 1848. All but one member of the expedition was killed in a battle with the Apaches at a site commemorated as Massacre Grounds, located at the west end of the mountains.

If this sounds interesting, here are some links to get you started:

 

My Searching Expedition

I was on a search alright. But not for gold. I was searching for a perfect campsite along the Apache Trail. For the campsite I’ve daydreamed of hundreds of times. I did little research, figuring I’d go by memory and probably just find the right spots.

Like the treasure hunters, I came up short. But I didn’t die! There aren’t many nice camping spots along the road. A couple are right near the bottom of the big cliff that you drive down if you’re traveling northwards. They’re down at the bottom of this picture:

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

Ok.. look at the front of the van up by the windshield. Then track just a bit to the right. See that little branch off from the road with a white and red speck? That speck was a pickup with a camper and his hood up – a sign that he was settled in camping – putting the hood up is a method to try to prevent rats from nesting in the engine bay. Further north on the road, maybe 100 meters, is another good camping spot that had a car in it as I passed. They were likely out hiking or treasure hunting. Or maybe down in hell.

These two spots are the best free campsites along the Apache trail. That’s just according to my opinion right now, which is based on limited understanding of the area. Next time I drive this road going north, if one of these spots are open, I’m definitely stopping there.

This is a shot of the road as it continues down:

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

See how the road sort of disappears in the distance, and turns back around? There’s something cool down there right at the horseshoe turn:

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

Did people used to live in that cave/overhang? It would be a decent spot, with that river right below.

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
This place calls out for me to hike back along the river. Next time I drive the Apache Trail, I’m going to.

I continued along, hoping to find a spot on or overlooking the salt river. Further north, on the last few miles before the dam, the road parallels the river pretty closely. I’d seen campsites during my test trips when I was just passing through this road and daydreaming. Now that I was looking to actually stop and camp, what I found is:

  • The campsites off the west side of the road – towards the river, are all sites where you have to pay (I don’t stay at those)
  • There are a few roads going east off of 88. Everything on the east side of 88 is all just normal (free) dispersed camping. The one I explored wasn’t so great. Lots of hill walls would block the sun this time of year (a problem for my solar electrical system), and there weren’t any good views for as far as I walked up it.
  • There are spots right along the road where you could stop and camp. Some of them have nice views. There’s a lot of traffic on this road though

I made it all the way to the dam without finding a spot that felt right. So I continued up past the dam and went to the Tonto Basin Ranger Distric Office. It’s a really nice visitor’s center, as nice as most National Parks have. I got some information and a bunch of free maps/papers, and headed over to the only free campsite along the lake (Bachelor’s cove). I stayed there for a few days, and then moved up to a Forest Service road that climbs the hills overlooking the lake. I stayed up there for a few more days.

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
My campsite for the second half of the week. My van is one of the specks down towards the lake. (I was still about a half mile from the lake)

I went on a few bike rides and hikes. My first trip up the road I camped on was on my bike. But past a certain point the road is so steep that I had to get off and walk a lot of. Later, I hiked all the way up. I also went on a bike ride over to and back down the Apache Trail. I remembered to take my GoPro! You may want to watch it at 2x speed to make it less boring.

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
Some parts are a lot steeper than they appear here

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
Lunch at the top of my hike: a sardine sandwich and an apple.

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
Those mountains you keep seeing in the background are the “Four Peaks”. They’re the highest mountains in this small area, at about 7,500 ft. (Roosevelt Lake is 2,000ft)

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

Bonus – Ever wondered what’s inside a cactus?

I had assumed it was all just a wet mass. Sort of like a melon. Well, no. Inside some cacti are a system of sticks/trunks/branches:

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

 

 

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

After leaving San Diego, I camped for a few days a the south entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. It was wonderful to get out of the city again and slow down.

Joshua Tree

 These were really simple days. I didn’t do a whole lot and I don’t have much to say about it. I have some pictures to share though.

Joshua Tree

It’s super easy to camp right by the South entrance of Joshua Tree. I believe it’s BLM land. There are many camping spots. I imagine it may get busy there during other parts of the year. It smelled funny where I camped. Not exactly bad. Just weird. Maybe this was from Mesquite trees?

WEB-LIGHTER_DSC1554-Edit
I swear there’s an oasis just through the middle and to the left

 

 

Joshua Tree
Gotta have a good hearty cowboy cuisine meal before a hike

I went for a hike on Christmas Eve Day, to Lost Palms Canyon. It is an oasis containing over 70 palm trees. Wow!  The hike was extra interesting because it had rained overnight. The trail followed some creek beds. In some, there was flowing water (usually about 1/2” deep). I wondered what kind of rain it takes to fill the whole width of those creeks. Probably a ton. I can’t imagine that happening often, but obviously it has at some point(s) in the past. 

Joshua Tree
Oasis! YESSSS!!!

 

Joshua Tree

Most of the action in Joshua Tree (hiking trails and such) seems to be in the north half of the park. The guy at the visitor station said this is because it gets hotter in the south half and they don’t want people dying out there in the summer.

There are much more interesting plants in Joshua tree than what I’ve seen in most desert areas. I didn’t see any full size Joshua trees. Just tiny little baby ones that were half dead. I  guess there are more in other parts of the park. The park consists of an area where two separate deserts meet each other. One on the south side of the park, and the other on the north.Joshua Tree

 

Joshua Tree

I went on a bike ride one day. The road into the park has a very nice gradual climb, but also an annoyingly rough surface.  It was so foggy I in certain spits that I turned back early. It was still a wonderful ride.

Next up, I’ll go camp near Ehrenberg with some people, and then on to the Rubber Tramps Rendezvous.

Get the hell out of the city: Camping near San Diego

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

I’ve been traveling down the California coast for the last few months and have spent a few weeks in San Diego. The coast is wonderful. But it’s not very good for (free) camping. Especially right when I passed through, with the entire National Forest area at Big Sur closed due to a fire. So even though I’ve been driving down that coast and seeing wonderful places, I spent every single night in a city. Curtains up. Peeing in a bottle and dumping it out on people’s lawns. Driving multiple times each day. These are slightly annoying details of a way of living that is still very easy. But being in cities so much fed a longing to get the hell out of the city, go camp/hike/bicycle, and stay parked in one place for days at a time. So I found a nice place to go camping near San Diego.

 

Where?

I was in San Diego. There are numerous options. Extremely nice ones if you’re willing to drive a few hours. But I wasn’t. I looked at the big chunk of Cleveland National Forest that is directly east of San Diego. It looks nice, but the places that look good to camp are at a fairly high altitude (~3,500′) and in December would be colder than I like. There is a smaller part of Cleveland National forest to the north of San Diego (and a bit east) – just directly north of Ramona. It’s at lower altitude and looked promising on the maps.

I went just a few miles north of Ramona, and then up a hill. There is a Forest Road, or as they call it here, a “Truck Trail” that follows the top of a ridgeline. This meant I got nice views in at least two direction. WOO HOOOO!

Get the hell out of the city. Camping in Cleveland National Forest near Ramona and San Diego

Driving up:

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

Here is the first spot I camped:

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

What do you do up there? Do you get bored?

Here’s what I did over 6 or 7 days.

  • Hiked a couple times
  • Bicycled on three or four days
  • Took a lot of pictures
  • Recorded video of driving the van along the ridge top, and of bicycling (For my friend to use in a video that he’s making)
  • Watched a football game (Yep, I had internet up there)
  • Wrote a bunch of blog posts (to get caught up on my travels to date)
  • Played a computer game
  • Read a book
  • Read and watched stuff on the internet

Nope, not bored.

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

After a few days, I moved to another spot where I could walk just a little ways to take really nice pictures and fairly good video to give to my friend.

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

If you want to go here:

The coordinates are 33.123648,-116.879194. This was the first places I went in the part of the National Forest, so for all I know, there could be way better places to go.

The good:

  • Great views from the ridge
  • Great Verizon signal (for 3G at least)
  • Good hiking/biking along these truck trails
  • Not very far from San Diego
  • Fairly low elevation (less than 2,000′), so it’s not all that cold

The bad:

  • This area used to be designated for gun shooting. There are casings and shells all over the ground in many places. And a lot of broken glass. There are signs warning about high lead content. Don’t lick the ground here!

zweb_dsc1111-edit

 

 

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

This really doesn’t do the view justice, but here you go

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

After a 4,000 mile trek through what is now the United States, and being attacked by and killing many grizzly bears, and fending off attacks and thefts from some natives, and receiving lifesaving help from others, after 862 days after leaving St. Louis, the “Corpse of Discovery” team lead by Lewis and Clark set eyes on where the Columbia river meets the Pacific ocean. Clark wrote in his journal: “Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy!”. Actually, he wrote:

Ocian in view! O! The Joy!

Surprisingly, none of the 59 total members of the Corps of Discovery died from the journey. One of them did die, but it was probably from appendicitis. I bet he would’ve died wherever he was. No one died from bear attacks, boat crashes while navigating rapids, indian attacks, or falling off cliffs. That’s incredible.

I ended up following a similar route. I went from St Louis out to Astoria on a meandering path. And I didn’t die once! My meanders were to see wonderful places, to travel by back roads instead of the straight interstates, and to stop to see friends. Even with most of my days committed to leisure, it only took 90 days. In just a couple hundred years, man has created amazing technological marvels: roads, internal combustion engines and vehicles, refrigerators and little propane stoves, handheld computers with maps of the entire country including satellite images and elevation profiles, etc. etc. Wow!

Astoria

I drove out west from Portland to go on a hike with a guy I know from the internet. He took me along a river he fishes regularly. We did quite a bit of wading through the river and got back to a waterfall that is only accessible by doing the wading. Then I continued west to the coast and stopped first at Cannon Beach. I did very little research and was heading down towards Oswald West State Park, but I saw the huge haystack rock from highway 101 so I stopped in Cannon Beach.

I also went up to Astoria. These are near/from the Column in Astoria:

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

A Chinook canoe. The natives out here had figured out how to make canoes much better than were used in much of the world. 

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

Corp of Discovery Winter Camp

While in Astoria, I went to the place where Lewis and Clark’s Corp of Discovery spent a winter. They built a fort here but the one in the picture is a recreation. There is a small museum there with info, movies, and some period or recreation objects similar to what the expedition team had with them. I suspect not a single thing is from their actual trip because they didn’t make any effort to save any of the gear and actually sold or gave much of it away.

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

A picture of one of their journals

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

They carried powder to make ink with

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

Manzanita

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

Unfortunately for the Corps of Discovery, they arrived in November and the weather was absolute shit up until they left the following spring.

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

 

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

 

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

 

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

 

Camping With Friends

My friends came out for the weekend.

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

We went to the beach near the campsite in the morning, and my buddy didn’t change from the warm clothes he’d slept in. 😀

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

Hiking

We went for a hike in Oswald West State Park – on the Falcon Cove trail. It was a pretty nice trail with very nice views at the end.

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)

Then we went to the beach! There’s a really nice beach in Oswald. Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy!

Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy! (Northern Oregon Coast)