Ramblings of a Techno-Viking

Free Camping

This is expanding on my answer to David Thoreau's blog comment. (The picture is of where I'm staying tonight, I'll blog about it soon.)

There are many places you can camp for free in the western United States. While the 14-day limit is very common, what you need to do to reset the counter varies. In some places, like the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, it's 14 days per year for the entire Refuge. On the 14-day BLM camping areas near Quartzsite, it's move at least 25 miles for 14 days before you can return. Some places the rules are posted, others you need to research.

Most BLM land that is not otherwise restricted allows 14-day camping. (The rules vary somewhat by BLM office.) Some areas are "open" where you can drive or camp anywhere, others are "limited" where you can only drive on established roads and park/camp near them, others are "closed" where no driving is allowed. In general, if there are BLM signs or it is marked BLM (and not wilderness or ACEC) on a map, you can assume limited unless otherwise posted. BLM roads tend to be unmaintained dirt roads, even where they are signed. Some places disallow camping but allow other uses. The BLM has several LTVAs (long term visitors areas) near the Colorado River, where you pay a $180 fee for October through April, and can stay at any of them for the entire season. Some have dump stations, trash bins, water, and porta-potties. Alternatively, you can pay $40 to stay at an LTVA for two weeks. In some areas, BLM has campgrounds which may charge. There are other BLM fee areas, but I have not found out the rules for them. BLM offices have maps for sale as well as free handouts, and most of their employees are helpful.

In many National Forests, you can distributed camp for free. The rules vary, you need to check the forest you are interested in. The 14-day limit may be per ranger district or forest, so you may be able to move a few miles down the road and stay another 14 days. Some National Forest campgrounds are free, but most charge. Frequently they are maintained by a contractor, I'll be working in one this summer. A few forests charge to park, the $80/year America the Beautiful pass covers this.

Most areas operated by the National Park Service do not allow camping other than in designated campgrounds that charge for the privilege. (There are some exceptions.) The America the Beautiful pass covers then entry fee to the park but not camping.

The (Army) Core of Engineers (CoE) operates a number of campgrounds near dams they have built. They do not normally allow distributed camping.

A good source for places to camp is Freecampsites.net. This is run by Hitek Homeless, and allows you to comment on and rate existing listings as well as add new ones.

Some retail businesses allow overnight parking, WalMart in many places allows this but I've found it disallowed in most of the places I want a place to stay overnight. There is a yahoo group walmartrving that has a listing in their files section. Some Casinos allow overnight parking, see Casino Camper.

Posted Wednesday 04 April 2012 01:36 UTC
Last edited Wednesday 04 April 2012 01:36 UTC

Saddle Mountain

About halfway between Quartzsite and Phoenix is Saddle Mountain. Friends of Saddle Mountain helps the BLM manage the area. Verizon and T-Mobile signals were good, TV was marginal. I found some interesting (but probably not valuable) rocks, apparently there is petrified wood in the area as well. There are portions where the BLM does not own the mineral rights. Other than the traffic on the paved road and the freeway in the distance, I pretty much had the area to myself. (Perhaps it is busier on weekends or other times of the year.)

Posted Thursday 05 April 2012 23:03 UTC
Last edited Monday 10 December 2012 04:16 UTC

Leprecon and Casino Arizona

Leprecon is a Science Fiction convention with about four hundred members. This year it was in the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel on Easter weekend. In celebration of Easter, they did zombie panels and zombie makeup on Sunday. Parking was a bit of a problem in my motorhome. Fortunately I was able to find the required four spaces together in the far end of their lot across the light rail tracks all three days. Helping with running the Con Suite was how I spent a lot of the convention. Friday night the local artist guest did a body painting sushi demo.

Jeff and Maya Bohnhoff were the music guests and performed to their usual high standards. They do parodies of rock songs and some great original material. The picture of them is from the open filking, the ones I took of their concert did not turn out. Midichlorian Rhapsody is their biggest youtube hit, but it is too complex to perform live.

Since the hotel would not allow me to sleep in my motorhome on their parking lot, I used the parking lot at Casino Arizona to sleep in. The casino allows three nights of parking in their lot at a time, more if you gamble heavily. I had steak and eggs in their Willows Restaurant for breakfast Saturday ($8), and had the lunch buffet ($10) Monday. Both were a little fancier than my normal eating, and the buffet was very good.

Posted Wednesday 11 April 2012 22:35 UTC
Last edited Monday 10 December 2012 04:16 UTC

Congress Cemetery BLM

Leaving Scottsdale, I headed about 75 miles northwest to Congress.
The BLM area I camped in is off of Ghost Town Road, and has two Cemeteries in it. The newer one closer to the road appears to still be in use, and has graves as old as 1903 in it. The older one has a sign dating it to 1887, and the newest grave I saw is 1939. Some of the engraved stone markers were for young children, which I did not think was common practice over a hundred years ago.

This area is greener than the other Arizona public land I have camped on this winter and spring. I saw rabbits (both cottontail and jack), squirrels, dear, and a cow as well as many birds. There are houses on the other side of Ghost Town Road less than a mile from where I camped, and trains and what I think were mining explosions could be heard occasionally. Verizon and T-Mobile signals are strong, and many TV channels come in strong as well. Hills are close in every direction but south. There is lots of old rusting trash and some newer trash. Other than one old building foundation, I did not see any signs of a ghost town.

Posted Saturday 14 April 2012 20:30 UTC
Last edited Monday 10 December 2012 04:16 UTC

Hoover Dam

After staying a few days with a friend (who does not live in nowhere, the store in Nowhere is boarded up) I crossed the Colorado River on the new bridge just south of the Hoover Dam, then took the first exit and crossed back into Arizona over the dam. To cross the Dam you need to stop and get inspected, they did a quick look in my motorhome then had me open all the compartments for them to look in. The RV parking for the dam is on the Arizona side, but the dam road no longer goes through. The parking areas closest to the dam on both sides are pay, as are the visitors center and the tours of the dam. I just walked across, took pictures, and used the rest room on the dam. Lake Mead was well below the high water level, and I saw a paddle-wheel boat from the dam.

From the dam, you could see the road used for launching canoes for a trip I took long ago. Even in 1993 a police escort was needed to use the road. (It's a one-lane road with a bridge over itself.)

Posted Monday 23 April 2012 22:11 UTC
Last edited Monday 23 April 2012 22:41 UTC

Boxcar Cove on Lake Mead

There are a few places in Lake Mead National Recreation Area where camping is free. There is a fee to get in the recreation area, but it was covered by my America the Beautiful pass. Boxcar cove is on the north shore of Lake Mead, with several miles of unpaved road that alternates between washboard and loose gravel. There are dumpsters close to the paved road, and a vault toilet a mile or so from shore. The lake level was way below its maximum, but it has also been lower recently. Swimming, fishing, and boating are allowed. The lake bottom is loose mud, and the shore is mud, gravel, and a few sandy patches. I saw two pickups that had become stuck, one trying to pull the other out. A third managed to get them unstuck. On the weekend, there was quite a bit of noise at times from the power boats and some people who played music loud. Most people stayed only a few hours, even the campers tended to arrive late and leave in the morning. On Monday, it was much quieter. Verizon internet and T-Mobile cell phone signals were good, and I got several TV stations but not the one I wanted to watch.

Posted Friday 27 April 2012 19:07 UTC
Last edited Monday 10 December 2012 04:16 UTC

Palmetto Ghost Town

High in the mountains of Nevada, near the California border, is a historical marker and the remains of some stone buildings. I spent a night in the parking area beside the lightly used highway. Palmetto was a silver mining community, with a peak population around 1906. There are dirt roads on both sides of the highway, but no signs to say if they are BLM or not. (Nevada BLM does not seem to put up as many signs as the California and Arizona offices.) Being high desert, it got pretty cold at night. Even with my antenna and amplifier, I was not able to get a Verizon signal to get online.

Posted Sunday 29 April 2012 16:13 UTC
Last edited Monday 10 December 2012 04:16 UTC

Buckeye Creek

Distributed camping is allowed allong most of Buckeye Road in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. There are some nice sites not far from Buckeye Creek, and a pay campground about a mile away. Hot water flows from the side of the hill over the creek in several places, and over a boulder into several volenteer-built pools beside the creek. The day I arrived was apparently the first day of fishing season, and there were many people around. It got much quieter by Monday.

Posted Monday 30 April 2012 19:29 UTC
Last edited Monday 10 December 2012 04:16 UTC