12 Tips to Boondock Safely in the Desert

Boondocking in the desert isn’t for everyone, but thousands of people enjoy it. A few tips for more comfortable and safer desert living are listed below.
1- Deserts cool down rapidly at night and warm up quickly in the sunlight. Take the necessary clothes with you, and be prepared to change them according to the temperatures.

Chainfruit Cholla

2- In the winter time you are not likely to encounter nasty slithery creatures. Most of them are holed-up waiting for real warmth. Just the same, in case they haven’t read the rules, watch where you walk, and don’t reach into holes, or turn over rocks without being extra careful. You might even empty your boots before putting them on.
3- Don’t camp in creeks and washes. Distant rainstorms can turn them into fast flowing streams of mud.
4- Camp in sheltered areas to keep you out of dust kicked up by a windy afternoon.
5- Arrive with your water tanks full, and your holding tanks empty. Some Boondocking areas are visited by mobile sewage trucks, and potable water trucks, but not all. With full water tanks, and being very water frugal, we can manage for over 10 days before having to head for civilization.
6- Try to camp near other people so if you have a problem you will have someone to ask for help. But don’t camp so close you are neighbours. They are likely boondocking to get away from being really close to others.

Desert Vegetation

7- Desert plants usually protect themselves with needles and thorns. Carry tweezers to help you remove them from your skin. The teddy bear cholla is a friendly looking plant until you get close then you can see its protective needles. If one latches onto you, don’t try to pull it off with your other hand. You’ve been warned! Instead, use a comb or a pair of sticks to pull it away from your skin. It’s very sharp!
8- Don’t go away and leave your awning up, unless it’s very well secured. Desert winds come up fast, and can move anything not fastened down.
9- If you plan on driving into the desert on the trails, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. Have a good map, and take water and food just in case the car has a breakdown. If that happens, stay with the car. A car is a bigger target to find than a human.

The Beautiful Desert Sunset

10- Install a house alarm system in the RV. Set it up so you can press a button to turn on the alarm. Noise will usually scare away prowlers.

11- Have outside lights on all sides or your RV, so you aren’t walking around to the back in the dark.

Desert in Bloom

12- The most important suggestion is to use common sense. Anytime you are out in a large wilderness area there are hazards. You can fall, get lost, or a host of other calamities can happen to you. There are a few more hazards here than at home. You have to make careful decisions. Your life depends on it.

Happy RVing!

For more than four decades James Stoness has travelled the roads of North America, photographing and writing about what he has seen. His travel articles and beautiful pictures have been published in several magazines and newspapers. He is also the author of five western novels.  Visit his website at:  www.stonesstravelguides.com

The Magnificent Desert

Desert View

More and more of the snowbirds who have been frequenting the coasts of Florida and Texas are spending their winters farther west. They have discovered the beauty of the desert. Low humidity, sunny skies, and long picturesque views have won them over. Of course, winter is the best time to visit the deserts. Temperatures range from cool to comfortably warm. Most crawly creatures are sleeping away their ‘winter’ and the weather is great for visitors to get out and walk among the strange desert vegetation.
One of the very scenic drives is found in eastern California passing from Death Valley NP south through the Mojave Preserve to Joshua Tree NP. It’s a drive filled with a variety of desert scenery.

Desert Dunes
Desert Dunes

The bajada is a feature not observed where there is a lot of vegetation. It is a broad apron of debris accumulated around the cliffs and the resulting view is that of a sea of small mountains surrounded by sloping oceans of sand.
This route roams across desolate flat lands and up and down numerous small mountains. There are always mountains in view and as you approach the tops of the ridges you never know when you will be entranced by a wonderful jumble of blue mountains and hidden valleys where you can see wave upon wave of purple ridges rolling to the horizon.
Normally, we would take this trip south from Furnace Creek, in Death Valley NP but the summer of 2004 arrived with deadly floods that have closed many of the roads in the south of the park. Instead I suggest going west from Las Vegas to Shoshone and heading south from there.
Many highways do not have installed culverts. Instead there is a dip in the road where the water crosses. Most have warning signs that tell you not to enter when water is flowing. You might wonder if water ever flows there but a careful look at the erosion at the end of the dip, or at the sand and stones strewn across the pavement might change your mind. Cars do get carried right off the highway from the force of the water in these flooded dips.

Salt Beds

The Amargosa River drains a vast area to the east and eventually the highway crosses the several branches of the river. It’s strange to see so many culverts in a row under the highway with not a drop of water in sight. After the river rounds the southern end of a mountain range it then swings north to drain into Death Valley where it forms a lake for a while, and eventually evaporates leaving the white salt pans that are first to catch the eye of the visitor to the park.
In the Mojave Preserve, a long descent through cacti and creosote bushes takes you to Kelso Station, an old railway station of beautiful Spanish architecture that is the new park

Kelso Depot Visitor Centre

visitor centre for the vast Mojave National Preserve. The nearby Kelso Sand Dunes rise to over 600 feet above the desert floor in a profusion of shapely curves that extend far down the valley. Although difficult to climb it might be worth the effort just to slide down one of the steeper faces, or to listen to the music of the sliding sand.
Eventually, you make another winding climb before rolling down another long slope to Amboy where the flow from an ancient volcanic cinder cone left a streak of black lava across the dry sands toward dry Bristol Lake. On the lake, sand dikes surround evaporation ponds used to collect salt.
For miles the vegetation changes from lowland desert plants to highland varieties and back again as the roller coaster ride continues, taking you to the top of the Granite Mountains where erosion is creating strangely sculptured pillars and scattered piles of massive boulders.

Sunset in Joshua Tree NP

In the town of Twentynine Palms artists have painted beautiful murals with western themes onto the sides of buildings. In nearby Yucca Valley, Hollywood has captured the beauty of the surrounding area on film in ‘It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World’.
For more desert scenery head south into Joshua Tree NP which has a fantastic variety of eroded mountains, huge boulders, and a couple of cactus patches.

Happy RVing!

For more than four decades James Stoness has travelled the roads of North America, photographing and writing about what he has seen. His travel articles and beautiful pictures have been published in several magazines and newspapers. He is also the author of five western novels.  Visit his website at:  www.stonesstravelguides.com