As a child, my mom, dad, and two brothers used to travel by RV from Washington State to Southern California. I have vivid memories of stopping at inspection stations southbound.
The inspector would question my dad about what produce we had in the RV, sometimes they even asked my dad to open the travel trailer and have a look themselves. If they found suspect fruit, my dad, not wanting it to go to waste, would hand it to one of us to eat.
For those of you that have never RVed through the agricultural portions of The Golden State, California Border Protection Stations (aka inspection stations) are checkpoints located on popular routes entering California where state inspectors check vehicles with the hopes of stopping the spread of invasive species that could decimate local crops.
In my adulthood, California inspection stations have continued to be part of my RV travels as my wife and I, having raised two children and now as empty nesters, frequently travel through California each fall. After years of stopping at the stations, we have been well trained to answer the normal regiment of questions. Where are you coming from? Do you have any produce? Where did you purchase it? Can we inspect your RV?
One time, as we entered Blythe, CA, via westbound I-10 on a recent excursion, we came upon a sign informing us that there was an inspection station ahead. I started thinking about what produce we had with us and where we had purchased it (many times we have been allowed to take produce items across that had been recently purchased in a neighboring state. So keep that in mind if you ever travel to California.)
Stopping at the station and rolling down the driver’s window, I was greeted by an inspector. However, rather than asking the standard questions, the first words out of the inspector’s mouth were, “I want to see your firewood.”
I was taken aback from the normal regiment of questions. What was even more disturbing was he didn’t even ask “If I had firewood?” Either they had gathered intelligence ahead of time or I looked like a campfire kind-of-guy, but either way, she was correct. I did have firewood in the back of my truck. Inspecting my scant supply of wood, she stated, “It isn’t enough to worry about” and sent me on my way without ever asking about any produce we had.
First they wanted our fruits and vegetables, now my firewood. I can only guess what they will ask for next! Negotiating the ever-changing world of pest carrying vegetation, this was just another adventure in RVing.
See also: 7 Reasons To Drive California’s Highway 120
Dave Helgeson’s many roles in the RV industry started before he even had a driver’s license. His grandparents and father owned an RV dealership before the term “RV” had been coined, and Dave played a pivotal role in nearly every position of an RV dealership. He and his wife Cheri launched their own RV dealership in the Pacific Northwest. The duo also spent 29 years overseeing regional RV shows. Dave has also served as President of a local chapter of the Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), worked on the board of advisors for the RV Technician Program of a local technical college, and served as a board member of the Manufactured Home and RV Association. Dave’s reputation earned him the title of “The foremost expert on boondocking,” bestowed by RV industry icon, the late Gary Bunzer (The RV Doctor). When he’s not out boondocking, you’ll find Dave in the spotlight at RV shows across the country, giving seminars about all things RVing. He and Cheri currently roam in their fifth travel trailer, with Dave doing all the service, repair and modifications to his own unit.
Gerry Brown says
I’m terribly sorry you feel put out by the inspection. As a California resident, I applaud our state government protecting our trees and vegetation from pests including emerald ash borer, gypsy moth, imported fire ant, chestnut bark disease, pine shoot beetle and others.
We are in the middle of a draught which has weakened the tree’s defense. Next time you enjoy Yosemite, understand that the pines are dying from beetles. Sudden Oak Death is destroying the oaks in California.
Remember that California’s largest industry is agriculture. Enjoy our cotton, almonds, wine, table grapes, avacados and lettuce.
But you go ahead and feel bothered.
Maybe it’s not the fact of the stop, but the tone of the agent. Sarcasm doesn’t help.
Suzanne F. says
Wow, even Gerry Brown was snippy about it. Why the need for the flippant remark? Your explanation was great….and then you had to make sure the person knew YOU were affronted by their observations. Chill out!
Bob W. says
This is primarily because of the pests found in firewood. If the pests are not local, there are no natural checks and balances & the pests can decimate a forest. Many states have active laws about bringing in firewood. You can read about it here:
Dave Helgeson - Adventures in RVing says
I totally understand the need for inspection stations and am not bothered by stopping at them. I just found it interesting that as a RVer they assumed I was carrying firewood yet it was too little to be a concern. My goal was to alert other RVers, in a lighthearted manner, that the stations exist and plan accordingly.
Lorraine Harrietha says
Hi I am from Toronto Canada and I will be travelling by RV in the fall. Thank you for giving me heads up. I have read about not taking vegetable, meats and wood into the United States. I didn’t know about California Inspection Stations.
I guarantee they won’t be tougher than Canadian Customs and Immigration officers (not sure of the correct title). I’ll never forget the one in Winnipeg a few years ago when I went there on business. Perfectly nice and polite guy, but I swear he must have X-Ray vision. He can make an honest and respectable person such as myself, with nothing to hide, feel completely unnerved with a just a stare. I’m sure he’s very, very good at his job. If he ever wants to come down here and work for us instead, we should absolutely snap him up 🙂
One of my friends is from Vancouver and he makes a road trip home every summer. He says the inspectors at the crossing from Washington into BC are pretty tough, too.
Yes those vivid childhood memories of being inspected. Us two kids stuffed in the camper shell and Dad pulling that 16 foot Shasta. These guys wanted your fruits and veggies! So one year in the mid 60s, we brought a chipmunk across state lines from Oregon that we trapped. Yes we had fruit and veggies and we gladly gave it up as a diversion tactic so we could keep our new chipmunk friend. Poor Alvin escaped in Susanville, but we were able to catch 3 more to transport home to the hih desert. And the rest is history.
Billy Bob Thorton says
Guess that was then, and now your getting to the capacity point. I think soon the Canadian people will wake up, and see what their gov’t has done to them.
Christie McMillan says
Thanks for the resource.
Bill E says
Passing through the CA inspection stations on a regular basis, I’ve learned a couple of things. Depending on the time of year, and the location of the station, they are interested in different things. Also, at the station, they have a list of what they are looking for and will give you a copy if you ask, Sometimes you will even find that they just wave you through. You just never know. Ag pests and forest pests are a problem everywhere out west and I think California’s approach is a good one and more states could benefit from doing the same thing.
Dave Helgeson - Adventures in RVing says
Well said. Thanks for sharing
A different perspective. I am a California resident, but my business is in Arizona. So I travel from Arizona to California on a regular basis arriving at the Inspection Station at the border at irregular times during the day or evening. It doesn’t bother me at all to be stopped and asked about produce or firewood. (I can’t recall in recent times being asked about produce) At least my tax dollar is being used for a beneficial purpose, I hope. However, it has been the many, many times that I have passed though the Inspection Station that no one was in the Kiosks, but I could see people and lights on in the office. Waste of tax payer dollars? Other times I have observed only one inspector in a kiosk with multiple lanes were open. This makes no sense at all. So either do the job or don’t. If not, close the inspection stations down and save taxpayer dollars.
I can understand that at least the original intention was to limit bugs in fruit, but not so sure now. Some inspections are closed after hours and some roads don’t even have them.
I pass through one on 395 regularly between Nevada and CA. They either wave me through or ask where I’m coming from and then wave me through. One day I was in a testy mood and asked him why it mattered where I was coming from as I traveled legally on US highways. Why did he stop me? He replied that it was his job to ask. I replied that that wasn’t a reason, why did he need to know and why did he stop me or why did I need his permission to proceed. What was the official policy? All of this in a civil tone out of curiosity, of course. Finally when repeatedly pressed for an answer, he said he did it because his boss told him to. That was all I could get out of him and he waved me through. Nothing about pests or fruit or firewood. Just that his boss told him too. They are doing there job of stopping, but unable to give a reason why it’s legal or necessary or what they may be trying to stop from entering.
While there may be reason to attempt to block pests, they are doing it in a way that is unlikely to actually stop them. And now it is an established bureaucracy that will be there forever, needed or not. I’m uncomfortable with being stopped for no reason and having to answer questions to proceed while not being able to actually get a straight answer as to why. I don’t consider that a good use of my tax dollars at all, unless they can actually demonstrate that they have prevented some bugs from entering.
Don Ree says
On our first trip with our new unplated rig, we went thru the inspection station on the I 15 coming from Vegas.
Inspector asked if we had any fruit and where we were coming from. After answering that we werecoming from Vegas, he stated he had to inspect for himself.
We open the door, he steps in, looks around and all he said was “Nice rig, Have a safe trip home.
And that was it.
Dave Helgeson - Adventures in RVing says
The agent must of been making sure you didn’t have cases of fruit stacked in your rig. 🙂
As a former resident of Calif., 1960 to 2002, I have a lot of experience with the check stations. The one on I10 used to have an insecticide bath that trucks and some RVs were required to drive thru. to get “hitchhiker bugs”. Now that the gun laws in Calif have gotten totally out of control they may soon use the stations to ask about weapons and ammo. Just a thought. As for the agent asking to see the firewood, have you noticed the video cameras and other sensors along the approach to the stop? I bet they saw the wood in the bed of his PU and knew what he had before the stop.
I used to go into Az on day trips on business and always got a charge out of the agents double takes when asked where I was coming from and I told them “Corona, Ca”.
Dave Helgeson - Adventures in RVing says
Ron, I suspected “Big Brother” was watching me as I approached the station as well.
I too think this is a stepping stone to further inspections. Not to be too paranoid, but with their mandatory stop of all vehicles and refusal to answer why they are stopping people and the fact that they have a huge border style gate and a lot of uniformed officers at many locations, it just seems like soon they will be asking about guns or papers as though CA is a separate country. Just as the International inspection stations in CA ask if you have anything to declare, but are also looking for anything that may tip them off. In other words, there is more to the story than they reveal.
If agricultural check points are only about bugs they should make that clear and actually ask about bugs, but they don’t.
California gun laws were tightened by then Governor Ronald Reagan with the blessing of the NRA. It’s called The Mulford Act.
“There’s no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons,” – Ronald Reagan
There is a very good reason to carry a loaded weapon in CA. The state is full of fruits and nuts
Which one are you?
Deep South East Deplorable one
So, you thinks you can threaten to shoot people on the other side of the country that you don’t understand or like?
More trumpster diving, yours is a typical brain dead comment.
My right to self defense is a threat to you? Typical snow flake????????
No. Your threat to shoot people you don’t know is the real threat to gun rights. Too easy to hide behind your keyboard and make threats. Jokes about shooting people aren’t funny or productive, but totally predictable from your type. Too bad. You hurt the cause far more than help it. I know that’s hard to understand, but think about it for a minute, if you can.
I am a california resident and also pass through these checkpoints regularly. What bothers me is that there is nothing posted as to what is banned. One person mentioned there is a list available if you ask so I will ask next time I am stopped. No problem stopping, just want to know the rules
Steve Fennell says
Try visiting the California Department of Food and Agriculture (https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/) as a good starting point. Thanks for your interest.
Lorraine Harrietha says
Thanks for the link, Lorraine from Toronto Canada
Matthew Ross says
When we went into California last year with our RV, the inspector checked us for gypsy moth egg pouches under the RV. Or was very clean underneath, so we had no problem. Took all of 20 minutes, if that, and we were happy to oblige! If you have ever seen what gypsy moths can do to a forest of oak trees you would understand.
I too was stopped for the gypsy moth inspection on 101 . Was asked if we had driven the coach from Ma. When I stated yes, I was told to pull to the side by a very stern young lady. I have been to all the lower contiguous states and was never put through anything like this with her on a creeper under my MH. Maybe it is because I am a North Easterner with a quick wit but when I asked if this was our Welcome to California she was not amused. I was actually given a certificate of clearance for a two year period. We too have experienced the effects of the gypsy moth population in our own back yard. Not pretty at all, so agree we do not want to infest other states, but a little smile from the inspector would have been nice.
Tom Bargeron says
This and the speed limitation on tows to 55 mph are good reasons for staying out of CA.
Been a road tripper since I was a little kid (I think both of my parents were born that way), Most common case: waved through without even being asked anything. Next most common case: carrying any fruit or vegetables? Answer is normally no, since my kids don’t usually go for that much on the road. If I do, it was acquired in a supermarket, and recently. No inspector has ever asked to verify that I really don’t have any produce, or to see it if I said I did – on the few times that we weren’t waved through without a question.
No sure what can be read into it, but have never been asked the question in my MH. Always just waved through, even though an MH is more likely than a passenger car to be carrying fruit (I’d suppose, since they have fridges). Maybe it’s the California plates?
Al Boldt says
Here in Michigan, it’s now illegal to transport firewood, even within the state. The reason is that the Emerald Ash Borer has decimated forests, They do not reside in just ash wood. And yes, there are other pests that create huge problems for yet-to-be-infected forests.
Thankfully, for those in the know, there are (or used to be) permits so you can collect dead or down wood in government-owned national forest land (but not state parks / national parks, etc).
Lorraine Harrietha says
I am from Toronto Canada. Campers are not allowed to bring camp wood from outside our Provincial Parks. We had the emerald beetle decimate 75% of the trees in one particular provincial park a few summers ago. It was devastating to say the least to go camping and have trees that had to be cut down. Our campsites were bare.
Doug Smith says
You nailed that one Lee. LOL!
Lee Ensminger says
Thank you, Doug. Apparently I nailed it a little too well for someone, because I see my comment has been removed. Censorship is apparently alive and well on this site.
Walter Drummonds says
The inspector explained to me while I was stopped at the Needles inspection station, California has a closed ecosystem from east to west and to keep the invasive species out they need a o keep on there toes to protect the state. I applaud the efforts and I was held up for 12 hours because they found 1 ant on my trailer. Once it was identified as a common ant I was allowed in. I happy they are doing there job.
Pretty soon they will be asking to see any guns and ammunition you have in your possession.
Mike Waller says
As a former Ca. resident, I used to pass through the ag stations in northern California at Hilt, on I5 at the Oregon border and on US 97 at Dorris, just below Klamath Falls, Or. For a period of time, the ag stations were closed due to state funding issues and guess what … Ca survived any critter or veggie brought in state. What I find most interesting in passing through these stations though, is the oxymoron of what is or is not good to ring in state. If I purchase fruit or veggies at a Safeway, in Oregon, I cannot bring it into Ca. Oddly enough, often the same distributor services the stores in Norther Ca. with the same items as I cannot bring in. Never did understand that, or could get an answer to the question. Truth is, you never know exactly what is going to happen when you approach a ag checkpoint station. Not an issue for owe anymore as I left Ca 6 years ago and have no reason to go back. Even more interesting….go through the checkpoint with livestock and hay. In for a real treat then!
These are CA Department of Ag people, they are not going to ask about your guns. they will post CHP or State Police if it goes to that. However, I have noticed that some stations are closed, after a certain hour or on some days, with no rhyme or reason. So, what happens to the bugs on THAT day? Also, wood cutters coming from one part of CA, to another part of CA, have to go through the station. Are they stopped? Do they go around (There’s a way around most of these stations)?
Finally, seems like they do pay attention to the RV’s, and that is where most of the imported bugs come from .
Many states are now inspecting any water craft for bad hitchhikers. Oregon has a station manned only during the day, and if you bypass it, or go through when closed, you still have to stop somewhere and get a sticker/permit.
I don’t think this was “Jerry” Brown Governor of California who made the remark. However, it does sound like the kind of thing he would say unfortunately.
Bob Cooper says
I found that although they will not allow firewood, they will allow pressed firewood like presto logs that is bought in stores.
Art Green says
The first reply to the firewood inspection tale was so sanctimonious as to be funny. Plus he was dead wrong about. the author being bothered, he was just commenting on the state of things,not complaining. Oh well I was glad to see similar comments from other readers.
Now how about border agents and inspection agents in general. Would it hurt them to smile and engage you in a friendly if professional manner? So many times my friendly “hi there” is greeted with unfriendly stares and terse questions.They otta have a secret shopper grading them I’d say.
Easier at this point for an ‘undocumented’ immigrant to cross the border than a banana. CA is a beautiful state, I don’t miss living there that much anymore.
Living in MO our regulations state that we cannot transport firewood from county to county or from outside of the state. I’m sure it happens on a regular basis because it is pretty much in the homie system. Traveling to Colorado many times in my life I have seen what the pine borer beetle can do to a forest, not a pretty site. My point is I don’t like government bureaucracy anymore than anybody but if they are truly trying to prevent unwanted pest then I’m good with it. My concern is as with some of the others why closed at times and not open all the time? I do agree that most government agents could be a bit friendlyer or at least crack a smile. I have been into Canada three times hunting and fishing two of which were pretty much uneventful the third not so good. They dumped everything we had out in our truck and trailer and then said you good go. What a couple of butts. Bad enough to keep you from wanting to cross the border and share your money with them.
Just my two cents worth.
Eric Eltinge says
As a native Californian I can assure you we prefer inspecting fruits, vegetables, nuts, and guns to illegal aliens, criminals, and narcotics.
I would prefer that California put more money into its roads and less in to its inspection stations. California has the highest gas taxes and the worst roads of any state I drive in.
James Hamilton says
I am surprised they do not ask about citizenship of passengers in the vehicle before allowing entry to CA. I-10 and other major highways in Texas also have mandatory inspection stations. And like the “big brother” watch comment above, there are many scanners and cameras before entry into the checkpoint. I suspect heat sensors can detect people and dogs inside an RV. With a little more work, CA could detect the contents of an RV frig in a scan.
There is no existing technology that could do very well on detecting the contents of your fridge. Millimeter band radar might give some idea (it’s useful for radar-guided counter-battery artillery fire) but you don’t really want to be blasting radar at people. Thermal scanning would be useless, for obvious reasons.
WRT citizenship, they are not authorized to check that at an ag. inspection station. Immigration enforcement is a function of ICE, and most of the time, they just look into my vehicle and wave me on. Somewhere last summer (maybe AZ or NM, I forget?) they were actually speaking to the driver of each vehicle. They just asked me how many people were in the vehicle and if everyone in the vehicle was a US citizen. I said “yes” and they waved me on. That was it. Didn’t check, didn’t ask to see anybody, etc. They may have already known how many people were in it, depending on how well a thermal scanner works when the sides of the vehicle are so much warmer than anything inside, but I think they main reason they talk to you is to see if you look nervous or in any way suspicious. If you do, then you probably go to secondary inspection.
Hi… I’m a bug. My whole family are bugs… we come from a long, long line of bugs. When we approach the California borders we have been trained to stop… mid-flight, if necessary, and check our natural GPS so to avoid any/all California air traffic space and landing places….. that is until California voters make a decision whether or not they will become a Sanctuary State for my family of bugs or not.
Should they decide to become a Sanctuary State I will immediately tell all of my family and friends to fly, crawl or piggy back to get there. BUT…. but if the voters decide to not to allow us to migrate into their lovely State, we are preparing to sneak in under the cover of darkness or take routes where there are no AG stations.
In short, we bugs, will just fly, crawl or piggy back our way anyway. Go ahead, call the bug police, get a flyswatter, get Monsanto on the phone, order in the Insecticide patrol, put bug-screens up all around your beautiful State…. you go ahead and do whatever you think you have to to protect yourselves.
In turn we will just retain the services of the ACLU (Ants, Cockroaches, Lice and other Universal bugs) to fight against your unjust cause. WE WILL WIN BECAUSE WE ARE BUGS!!!
Yours Truly…. Dr. Bah Humbug P.h.D. (Important Person)
Landon Cox says
The summer of 1950, my mother (a single Mom with three kids) took us from Kentucky to Southern California via US 66 to visit some college friends. When we got to the California Agricultural Inspection Station and she was asked if she had any fruits and nuts; she replied, only the three here in the car! The Inspector just laughed and waved her through.
That was back in the day of “kindness and laughter” with Gov. employees.