Pretty desert sunsets, campfire circles and free camping on public lands are daily rewards for thousands of winter boondockers in the Southwest. As the rest of the country turns cold in the coming weeks, dry camping nomads stay comfy by making the most of their self-contained homes on wheels.
If you’re tempted to join them, don’t go just yet. Take time to understand the biggest desert boondocking hurdles and you’ll have a great time escaping winter.
Many RVers choose to only stay in developed parks because they believe there’s safety in numbers. These campers assume that dispersed desert boondocking in isolated areas is risky. But take a look at recent news headlines about RV park bomb scares and campground crime; you’ll find that bad people aren’t only in the boonies. You’ll sleep better at night in the desert if you remember:
- Crime happens anywhere. Odds are good that a majority of folks camped nearby are just as decent as you are.
- Use common sense RV crime prevention tips. Keep your valuables discreet. Use locks for your expensive generator. Don’t open the door to strangers.
Only fools go desert boondocking in summer. Seasoned RVers know that the best time to go is between December and late March. Drive anywhere between Southern California and the Big Bend region of West Texas and you’ll see more RVs than saguaro trees.
Experienced RVers know that even in winter, deserts can experience hostile weather. The smartest desert boondocking RVers always prepare for:
- Severe wind storms. Severe winds can happen in winter. The gusts can be so bad that visibility is almost zero and you’ll have to stay inside all day long. Install impeccable weather stripping and seal all RV cracks to keep dust outside where it belongs.
- Flash floods. Vicious flash floods can tear deserts apart any time of year. At best these floods will sink your wheels into the sandy desert floor. At worst, they’ll send your RV home to the Pacific Ocean. Watch weather reports. Take care to avoid parking in low lying spots or sandy areas. Always scout potential campsites on foot, before pulling in with your RV.
Water conservation is the number one challenge for desert boondocking. You will be shocked when you see how fast a 55-gallon water tank disappears. Learning how long you can go without replenishing your supplies is a never-ending game. Among many other desert water conservation tips, expect to to:
- Wash dishes with as little water as possible. Reduce water usage by first wiping dirty plates, pans, and utensils with paper towels.
- Take fewer showers. Baby wipes, sponge baths, and dry shampoo all save gallons of water. Don’t worry about odor. Your fellow boondockers smell just as bad as you do.
Another challenge is energy conservation. Whether you already have the best RV solar system or you rely on a generator when you’re off-grid it’s tough to balance your electric needs.
Untying from hookups always requires how to keep your home comfortable on a stripped down energy supply. Before heading out remember:
- Generators are assets and liabilities. Carry adequate fuel but run the generator sparingly. RV generator noise kills the solitude of the desert and if you run yours without discretion, your neighbors might toss a bomb under your RV.
- A good system is not cheap. Ask experts to help you discover how much solar power can keep you comfortable, then invest in a system for your specific needs.
Master these desert boondocking challenges and you’ll flee the chill in comfort. For more boondocking tips, read this article.
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.
Some common sense advice. I’m fairly new to rving and plan to try the “boondocking” experience when I retire in a year. I put this advice in the memory banks.
ed smith says
A great place to start would be Quartzsite. Plenty of helpful people around you and most jumpat the chance to show of their expertise in the “Boondocking Mecca ” of North America
Another thought. Keep a goodly supply of water when traveling deserts. You never know when you might break down or end up in an accident, unable to move your rv. You should have two gallons of drinking water per person per day, for at least 10 days. Remember your air conditioning probably won’t be available. Sounds like a lot? It is only 16 eight ounces glasses per gallon in what could be up to 140 degree temperatures.
Even in summer there are deserts where nighttime temps drop dramatically. I have been in Nevada when it was ninety plus at 1 p.m. and at 1 a.m. it had dropped to 29 degrees. Winter can be worse sometimes. Check for general weather conditions in the area where you will be. Also, keep an eye out each day you are there.
I prefer paper plates, cups, bowls, no washing. As far as water, it is possible to find potable water almost anywhere, even in most deserts – but I quit telling how because no one would believe me. So, if you want to know, do your homework. Solar, fine, however, I prefer 1 or 2 small wind turbines also, wire the vehicle battery to charge the camper batteries, and as a backup, a diy generator – still not sure on powering one, gas, gasifier, steam, think can use solar, still doing the homework on that one. And found out many years ago I can sleep with just a fan, no A/C, and actually think that I slept better with just a fan.