We have now been Boondocking for 3 months in the Arizona desert. Boondocking is camping without electric or water hookups. I’ll tell you how we are doing and give you a few tips on what it takes to camp long-term off the grid.
We got to Quartzsite, AZ in early November and set up our site in LaPosa South BLM LTVA. One of the first things we started having problems with was battery power. After a few days we noticed our 2 deep cycle batteries were starting to show low on our display.
I had already replaced most of our light bulbs to high-efficiency LED bulbs, so I’m guessing the tv was draining us down too much. I would run our RV’s built-in generator every so often for cooking and to charge our laptops, tablets, phones, and other electronics but I guess it wasn’t enough. For the next few days I ran the generator a lot to try getting the batteries fully charged again. After a few days of this and still having problems, I did some reading online about charging RV batteries from your generator. I learned that most RVs come with what is called a single stage converter charger. I’m not going to get into the technical aspects of it all, but with this type of battery charger built-in to the rv it would take about 20 hours of generator runtime to charge my batteries from being down to about 50% charge. Click here for a great website with a short video explaining the problem I had.
So after some research I upgraded our converter to a Progressive Dynamics 4 stage charger. This type of charger is much faster and conditions your batteries much better so they last longer. It was a bit intimidating to change out, But I had the old one out and new one in after a few hours. I could tell right away after running the generator the first time that my batteries were actually now charging rapidly.
I also ordered a solar panel to take advantage of all this sun in the Arizona desert. I have been looking at this Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Foldable Solar Suitcase for some time now. I really like that its foldable and has a storage case for protection when travelling. It gets good reviews and is priced well, so I got it.
After installing the 4 stage converter/charger , a few days later my solar panels arrived. This little thing is great! Now, most days by noon my batteries are charged 100% full by solar. Instead of running our generator when we need to charge our electronics, we use our built-in 12v power inverter that provides 120v power from our batteries. We try to do all our power inverter recharging in the early hours of the day so our solar panel has enough time to keep our battery system charged. We still have to be aware how we are using our power, but this problem has been solved. Most sunny days I even have enough solar that I can turn the tv and satellite dish on for a few hours and still have my batteries at 100% at dusk.
Another item we use all the time is a mophie Powerstation Duo that I got as a gift from my daughter. This little thing is awesome. You can charge up to two devices at a time and you get a good 4 charges out of it before it needs recharging it self. It recharges pretty fast and is nice and portable, about the size of a deck of playing cards. We use it al the time in the evening to charge our phones or tablets and then recharge the Mophie in the day via solar.
We have gotten pretty good at conserving water by using paper products as much as possible so we have less dishes to wash. We can go about one week in between dumping our waste water tanks and refilling the fresh water. Little tricks like washing dishes in a tub and then dumping that water down the toilet instead of down the drain. Our “gray” tank gets full much faster then our “black” tank. Gray tanks hold the shower and sinks water and black tanks hold the toilet waste. So adding water that would go to our gray tank to the black is a simple trick of adding time before having to dump the tanks.
Our fridge, stove, furnace and hot water heater run on propane. Our propane tank (24 gal.) has been lasting us about 1 month between refills. We don’t use the heat much right now being in southern Arizona. The fridge uses very little so it’s mostly used for heating water for showers and dishes and for cooking. A trick on stretching your propane is to turn off your hot water heater earlier then it is set to auto turn off. Our water heater is plenty hot after 15-20 minutes of heating, but would run for about 30 min on auto and be way hotter than needed to shower. I thought of adding a digital thermometer to the water tank, but I think I got the timing down good enough to just watch the clock.
So, As you can probably see, Boondocking is a bit more complex than your normal camping with hookups, but after you get used to it you don’t even think about it. It’s a trade-off that I think is worth it for getting a camping spot with amazing views and as spacious of a campsite as you want.
If you do any boondocking camping and have some tips or tricks to share, or some favorite camping spots, let us know.
RV living in Quartzsite, AZ – BLM Off Grid Winter Camping.
We made it to our winter destination in Quartzsite, AZ. It’s located about 2 hours west of Phoenix and is known to be the boondockers, snowbird capital. Every year this small town of 3,600 people grows to around 250,000 people with all the rv snowbirds trying to keep warm for the winter. Quartzsite hosts a large gem and mineral show in January with many swap meets, RV shows, and vender booths going all winter long.
We are staying in the La Posa Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA) BLM Land. This BLM is approximately 11,400 acres for campers and is just a few miles from town to restock on supplies. A recreation permit is required and cost $180 for the entire season September 15th – April 15th. A short term permit is also available at $40 good for 14 consecutive days from date of purchase. For that fee you get a fresh water station, dump station, a few vault bathrooms, and trash dumpsters. There are also free BLM areas here for short term stays of 14 days or less, they don’t include water or a dump station and you would need to pay to dump in town for a fee when needed.
You have to provide your own power. We have a generator with a few good deep cycle batteries plus a solar panel. That has been working well for us so far. Some people have some pretty crazy large solar setups out here!
Right now we have lots of room from our closest neighbors, but that might change in January as more people pile in. You pretty much just pick a spot anywhere you want and set up camp.
Doris bought us a hummingbird feeder for our yard. We have two that hang out every day that we get to watch and sometimes have to duck when they zip by us. The rock landscaping was already here for us from people that camped here in the past. I guess they get bored sitting in the desert and start decorating the yard to make it feel like home.
Hummingbird rapid still shot at feeder. - YouTube
Here is a short video of our hummingbirds that I made from rapid shot still pictures.
Every evening, we get to watch the sunset. They are just amazing most nights, with the sky filling all around you. After dark, you can hear the coyotes start to howl. Quite a peaceful and serene place to spend the winter!
Near the small town of Carrizozo, NM on Hwy 380, we found Valley of Fires National Rec Area. What a great place to stop and camp!
It is a lava flow from an eruption about 5000 years ago from nearby Little Black Peak. The lava flowed 44 miles into the Tularosa Basin and now it’s filled with molten rock. It was amazing to see vegetation sprouting everywhere in such an area when you would think it should be barren.
We saw such picture perfect examples of desert plant life. Agave plants, sotol, tree cholla, prickly pear cacti, juniper trees and lots of yucca plants
The campground here was small, about 19 sites, not all with electric and water, but they did have water and a dump station available. There is also a shower house, a small visitor center and a camp host if you need any assistance. Campsites are first come, first serve only, but we didn’t have a problem this time of the year arriving in the early afternoon. The campsites are well spaced out, paved and mostly pull-thrus, with a sheltered picnic table, fire ring, tent pad, grill and garbage can. We paid $12 for a non-electric site, and the electric/water sites were only $18 a night. Great deal for some great things to explore.
There is a handicap accessible trail through the lava flow to get up close to this odd looking landscape. The trail is about a mile long, completely paved and was a great little hike.
Rich got some great shots of the rough terrain, lava rocks and remnants of lava tubes. We could only imagine what was living in there.
Besides battling some heavy winds the day we were there, this was a favorite stop on our journey and one we would recommend if you are coming through the area. We finished our hike just before sunset…such beauty everywhere and a perfect way to end the day!
Hunnewell Conservation Area, Missouri – Some of the best things in life are still free!
With a little research you can find some pretty nice free camping areas. I found this one using a website called allstays.com. You click on the state you want to search and then click on “view statewide map” right above. You can use map filters to narrow down the options of what type of site you are looking for. Click on the campground to show more information about each place. The Apple and google free apps actually work much better and have better filter options such as, “free sites only.”
This campground is a real hidden gem. The campground is ran by the Missouri Conservation Department and has a fish hatchery operating on the grounds. You can camp free for up to 14 days. It offers real nice sized sites that include a picnic table and fire ring. They don’t have electric onsite, but do offer a free dump for your holding tanks and fresh water station on the grounds. When we pulled in the campground was empty except one lonely tent with no one around. Perfect!
There is also a beautiful lake for recreation with free boat use and a fish cleaning station. They don’t allow you to put your own boat in the water, but they have over a dozen boats they will let you use for free. There is also a nice covered fishing dock for your use. They also have 2 sets of bathrooms.
We got here on a Friday afternoon and were kind of worried that the place might be full for the weekend. Well, it was just us and 2 other guys in a tent the whole stay. There was fisherman and hunters coming through, but my guess is people just don’t like camping without the power and water hookups. This was the first week of October so I’m sure its busier in the summer. If you don’t mind off grid camping, this place is definitely worth checking out.
If you are going to camp near the Badlands National Park of South Dakota and you don't mind dispersed camping, we found the perfect spot. It is free camping in the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands less than 1 mile north of the Pinnacle entrance to Badlands National Park. You will not find any amenities here like water or electric hookups, but the pure beauty just outside your door will more than make up for that. This is public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and I believe you can stay at this place for up to 14 days and the cost is free.
From I-90 in Wall, SD go south on Hwy 240 about 6 miles. You will want to watch for the two cell towers on your left then start looking for the dirt road that leads to the towers. The dirt road was in pretty good condition and we had no problems even pulling our car on the dolly behind us. Once you get to the towers, the road splits left and right. To the right there will be a half-dozen or so sites and seem to be where most people choose to camp. We went to the left where there are many more sites and much more spread out. The sites are basically just pull offs into the grass next to the ridge that show signs of a fire pit with small rocks around it from past campers. The site we picked had plenty of length for our rv and tow. Our first view over the ridge was breath-taking, and felt quite surreal. We just couldn't believe that this is the place we will be calling "home" for the next week.
This was such a great spot that we ended spending 5 nights. We could have stayed longer if not for the winds that would get a bit intense at times, especially at night. Maybe next time we will park a little farther away from the ledge. Most days we had 1 or 2 other campers out there with us, and at times none even in our eyesight. When the weekend came it got a little more traffic, but still way better then any campground.
We seen some bighorn sheep, mule deer, and bison while we were there. A lady we spoke with said she stayed in the spot we were camping in the prior week and had over 50 mountain goats walk thru the site one morning on her stay, but we didn't get that lucky.
This was our first test on how we would do dry camping with our new rig. We ended up doing pretty good. We had about 1/4 tank of fresh water left and plenty of waste tank space to go at least another 3 days. We did run low on battery power and had to run our built in generator for a few hours every day to recharge. A solar panel or 2 on the roof may be needed in the future.
It was a pretty special place and we hope to be back some day.
The Black Hills area in South Dakota is quiet a special place in the country. It is full of history, adventure, classic scenic drives, and lots of wildlife. We love it there and had to go back for a second visit!
We really love scenic drives and the iconic Needles Highway is one not to miss. It has some great rock formations, winds through tunnels and woods, and takes you up to amazing overlooks. One great stop along the way is the Needles Eye.
Your drive ends with a great view of Sylvan Lake, where you can take a hike around the lake, climb some rocks or have a picnic to break up your drive.The wildlife loop also is a must see at the park. You are pretty much guaranteed to see some kind of animal along the way. We saw buffalo, pronghorn, elk and lots of prairie dogs…I love the prairie dog villages!
You will also run into the donkeys somewhere along the road, and they will come right up to you, beg for treats, and hold up traffic. Years ago, they had donkey rides in the park and when that was discontinued, they let the donkeys roam free in the park, so they are quite tame and fun to interact with.
Another great highway to drive in the area is Iron Mountain Road, which you can get to on your way out of the east entrance of Custer State Park. When traveling up the highway in this direction, you get to see a couple of pretty impressive views of Mount Rushmore as you go thru the tunnels. So glad we decided to tow our car, no way to see these cool routes in the RV. Make sure to check out our previous dash cam post of the area!
We took a day to revisit Deadwood also. We spent a whole day there our first time and saw Wild Bill Hickock’s and Calamity Jane’s grave in Mount Moriah Cemetery, toured the Adams House, and walked through the downtown area. We were lucky enough to see the guys from Ghost Adventurers filming downtown at the old Fairmont Hotel. We really didn’t know much about Deadwood on our first visit, but as we learned more through the day, we understood why they chose Deadwood as their Halloween special that year! While walking into the downtown casinos and old hotels, you definitely got some strange vibes…quite creepy at times! I wouldn’t recommend playing the slots there though…we had no luck!
We ended up spending a couple more weeks here this time around at a few different RV parks using our Passport America membership. It’s just a beautiful and fun area of the country!