“Boondocking”: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly…Part 1: The Good

Well, I’m finally back from the depths for another long post. In truth, we’ve had such an amazing couple of weeks just west of Tucson next to Saguaro National Park, that posting has been kind of far from my mind. Sorry if in some cases I speak in past tense, and in others the present. In starting off with the “Good” of our very first boondocking, experience, I hope to have captured most of it below. In case you aren’t familiar with the term “boondocking”, no worries, I had no thought of it other than growing up “in the boondocks” and the name of one of my (earlier) favorite films called “The Boondock Saints”. Ok, it’s probably still high on my list!

Anyway, boondocking essentially refers to truly living “off the grid”, or in our case in a travel trailer with no direct access to electricity, water, or other utilities, also known as “dry camping”. It’s more like camping than being in an RV park or campground with electrical, water, and sometimes sewer (yuck!) hook-ups. Kitty and I relocated to the “remote” Buckeye Hills Regional Park from Lake Pleasant, a campground with water and electrical hookups. I went from only having to worry about when to dump the tank(s) in the trailer to now having to manage living 100% on solar for any power needs, as well as managing water and wastewater. What a leap! In this new experience, here are some of the “Good” I (and later we) found in this way of living…

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1)      Peace and Quiet! When I first set up here, the nearest neighbor was ¼ mile away. Now we’ve since had two other rigs locate nearer to us. There really aren’t that many dedicated spots, especially good ones, and it’s nothing like being at a campground or RV park where you are typically side by side. Also, our first neighbors are great folks with lots of years of RV and boondocking experience who have already passed on some of their great knowledge about RV’s, future spots, and have even bought us some parts for our portable heater and given us a propane bottle to try out. Even though I barely know them, they are great, great folks from Iowa with open minds and hearts. Kind of inspiring for us to know how many great folks we are going to meet on this journey!

2)      On that note, we got a GREAT spot for our first one. We’ve got a great level site, which is a big deal for boondocking. It’s also mostly surrounded by some craggy peaks, but with a nice opening between them to the west to allow longer daylight, and amazing sunsets!

3)      Our site is really an entrance to what appears to be a dirt road back to multiple (no longer used) campsites. The road has had fencing installed across it, so now it acts as a nice path to the stellar secluded meditation spot.

4)      We are on what is a dead-end dirt road. I say effectively because if you like driving off-road like me, it’s no dead end, but rather another opportunity to go and play. Robbins Road dead-ends into a dirt path barely wider than the Toyota. I’ve explored via this route several times now by bike and by truck.

5)      Proximity to town: this is mostly good, depending on exactly where we need to go. The airport is about 45 minutes away unless we are driving during rush hour, which we did. It’s also about an hour to any of the stores we really like. There is a cool (Buckeye) town center within 15 minutes from here, but as I’ve found, it’s very limited what any of those stores carry…normal stores like Walgreens, O’Reilly’s, NAPA, etc, they all tell me they can order it and have it in a day…but I want it today! So alas, I began to understand why people in these smaller, remote communities just go to Wal-Mart. They have everything, even stuff for RV’s! Nevertheless, we are close enough to “normal” things for it not be an extreme burden to head into town.

6)      Our rig: We will have to try a post of either a video of some of the technical details or just blog about it too, but really in so many ways I can’t believe how well thought out our trailer is. It makes me wonder if the tiny house designers and builders have anything over this manufacturer, really. Appliances are awesome. Fridge so far hasn’t let us down for size or function. It runs on both electric or propane, awesome when you are living 100% on solar for power. Gas range is great and honestly better to cook with than the electric solid surface ones we’ve had for some time. It is small, but so far we haven’t needed it to be larger. The “slide” is a portion of an RV or trailer that enlarges the space by sliding out in one direction from the rig. In our case, our “short” queen bed slides out the back. This is a feature that numerous other RVers have commented on when I was staying at Lake Pleasant. They, having new 40’ rigs, complemented this 12 year-old small travel trailer, and honestly I think they were jealous because of the simplicity and uniqueness of it. For us, it’s like we’re sleeping in a loft or treehouse every night. It has a window at our feet and one in the back. Emily can look up at the stars as she drifts into sleep every night, cool! What’s almost as cool is that the slide offers space below that is somewhat protected from the elements, so we store the bikes under there, where they can also be cable locked to the steel bumper. Another key aspect of the slide is that it is operated manually. Nearly every RV or travel trailer that has a slide uses an electric or hydraulic system to move the slide, and they notoriously for breaking. The overall design of this trailer to me is excellent. In general, I like how efficient it is to operate inside, whatever you’re doing, it’s all close, well thought out, and convenient. Even though it is small, we’ve minimized our stuff to the point that things aren’t crammed, we actually have empty space, quite a lot, really. We use the bunks in the front for storage as they are easy to access and are the best place for weight during transport. There is more storage that we have access to and simply don’t need. How did that happen!? The propane system is designed for what we do: there are two oversized tanks with a regulator that automatically switches to the back-up tank when the primary runs out of gas.

7)      Nearby sites: While in Buckeye Regional Park, I’ve gotten out to explore a little bit on bike, on foot, and driving. The great thing is that on these treks, I haven’t seen too many people. It is not like riding standard bike/hiking trails or going to a typical Denver Front Range Regional Park. It is peaceful and remote. Through the experience of hiking (trekking is more fitting) and biking around this park, I realized how much I appreciate the solitude of these experiences. Also, in the case of the hiking, there are no dedicated paths, so you simply pick your own destination (like a craggy peak) and head toward it. The pair of carbon trekking poles I bought a few years ago are now mostly free of house dust from sitting unused for so long, and they are my best friends when trekking. Being that the park is without beaten path, there are jagged rocks everywhere that, if you take even a moment to look around at the beauty, you’ll be face first on the ground before you know it. The poles act as another pair of legs to allow for better balance, and some additional grip for ascending and descending. I’ve also found the best use for my rigid mountain bike, my savior and loyal steed on the Colorado Trail adventure I experienced three years ago, in riding on gravel and dirt roads as well as power line and gas line roads that no one would ever think to pedal a bike on. Serenity!

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So back to the nearby sites. Nearest us as far as what we could call a site is Robbin’s Butte. From a distance and at the right angle, it looks like a poop emoticon! But on much closer inspection, and thanks so much to our wonderful boondock neighbors Dennis and Linda, after two treks up there (and again, no trails!), there was spectacular uniqueness and beauty to behold. I say two treks, because the first one was by bike, ok it was carrying bike, with (shattered) hopes of a real trail to descend once I summited. Alas, it was not to be, but as Dennis and Linda had indicated, I was not at all let down by the history found up there. Evidently this butte was a coveted space by Native Americans, though I’m not at all certain which tribe. I may have to research this, because these kinds of places really pique my curiosity. On top of this butte were numerous flattened out and tiered spots with a considerable number of petroglyphs and grinding holes. There were also incredible views in all directions, a great spot to keep an eye on rival tribes…and just enjoy the panoramic views while grinding corn!

Check out some of these photos:

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Another great spot, though not terribly close by, is White Tanks Regional Park. I’m sure I happened to hit this spot on just the perfect set of conditions to see it in an amazing light, but I’m not complaining! It’s about a 35-minute drive, but well worth it! My trips there were for mountain biking. I knew they were going to be technical, and that was my reason for going there. I first went on a Sunday and realized when I arrived that everyone else had the same idea, well maybe not to bike, but for sure to be there for something. There was a long line of cars at the entrance, and as I was told by the gentleman at the entrance, it had been that way since 6am (it was now 10:30). He also indicated that it was likely due to the nice weather. I learned that day to Arizonians a nice day is one without oppressive heat, and today was to be a high in the mid-fifties, cloudy, and windy. Hmmm.

As I drove into the park I was amazed at the sheer beauty. You see, since I’ve been in Arizona, and even since I’m moved to the boondock spot, there has been a respectable amount of rain. I guess it’s the same stuff that California’s been blessed with to help them recover from a six-year drought. Well, the change that comes about after rain in the desert is a transformation from the typical (mostly) dull brown into emerald green with amazing wildflowers. It’s really something to see. I remembering attempting a trip to Death Valley during a rainy year a the height of the wildflower season in which I found I was horribly allergic to at least one of those beautiful plants, and spent the whole weekend tracking down allergy meds, sneezing, rubbing my eyes, and trying to tame the Niagara Falls that was running out of my nose.

Well, I did actually go there to bike, so I found a spot to park and started pedaling up a steep and rocky trail called Mesquite. The conditions were absolutely perfect for biking, so I was making great time and more than enjoying my time going up this trail. Yes, I do like going up, especially difficult, technical terrain. It’s half the fun to me, really, I like to be challenged in that way. I had a plan to ride up Mesquite at a minimum and head down Ford Canyon. Since I was feeling great, I kept pedaling up a trail called Goat Camp. It is labeled a double black diamond, but it was up and initially all rideable, so I figured I’d keep going until it didn’t make sense anymore.

Well, I finally found the kind of trail I’ve missed since leaving Southern California, what we call a “backcountry” trail. Backcountry trails rarely have bikers or hikers on them. This is due to how far they are from a trailhead or from another trail or road. They are also often somewhat overgrown due to the remoteness and difficulty of carrying in tools for maintenance. What I love most about them is the sense of adventure I get from being away from the crowds, in the quietness that surrounds me, and in the difficulty in getting to these areas. I believe that my favorite places are the remote ones, even if they aren’t as beautiful as the Yosemite’s or Yellowstone’s, the sense of peace I find out in “the wild” in itself is a greater sense of beauty.

After riding out and back on this remote trail, I’m back to the intersection of the trail I rode up and another trail I intended to go down. My logic was go up the easier black diamond (the one I rode up), and cruise down the more difficult double black diamond, but my logic was flawed. I don’t often trust trail ratings, but in this case I should have read more of the trail description and the reviews. I had a few hikers look at me funny and even say I hope you have great skills. Again, I don’t always trust hikers, as I feel more confident riding down most technical trails than hiking them, but again my logic was flawed.

Already long story short, about 1/3 of the way down I encountered 2.5 to 3 miles of mostly large, or huge, granite slabs, many with no way around them. I essentially bouldered down them with my bike on my shoulder or sliding it down, however I could to “safely” manage my way down. Now this was a “trail” I would love to hike, but not with a bike and wearing cycling shoes, and already being pretty worn out and unprepared for this much extra time. Nevertheless, I enjoy adventure, so I made the best of it. You wouldn’t have known from my incessant whining to myself and to others after, but I blame my low blood sugar for that!

Here’s an idea of what it looked like:TheGood7

Now it has been quite a while since I started this post, and now we are three campsites deeper into our experience, so I’m cutting this off here. But, since the last two sites were official an official campground and RV park, we had access to power and water. The one we are at now is our second boondock site, and I can’t wait to post on it, or to hear Emily’s. It is amazing! Also, I since I used much of my time over the last couple of weeks to take care of some of the critical items on the trailer that were really bugging me, I am feeling relief and finding more time to write some more. Next, I intend to write about the “Bad”…

Hoping all is well with all of you!

10 thoughts on ““Boondocking”: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly…Part 1: The Good

    1. Hi Ali! We really miss you and Ralph, thinking of you often. Thanks for being with us via blog. Kitty says hi! Much love, Jeff

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  1. Hey Jeff! Thank you for the very kind words. You take great photos! We are back in Iowa in the dreary, gray, damp, cool weather. Makes it hard to get back into my routine of riding my recumbent on the local bike trails. Miss the Arizona sunshine so much! We are looking forward to hearing about your new boon docking locations. Safe travels!

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    1. Hi Dennis, I am blessed to see so much beauty and have the camera in hand with which to capture it (somewhat). Sorry to hear you’re back in the gloomy weather, but it will improve soon. We had some heavy winds and rain here last night that translated into snow on the peaks to the west that I was hiking near last night! I will hope good weather for you so you may keep blood in the legs! All the best, Jeff

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      1. Hi Jeff, If you like the petroglyphs and are intrigued by their history, I have a suggestion for an author, if you are not already familiar with him. His name is Craig Childs. He grew up in Arizona and now lives in Colorado. He’s an adventurer, scientist , anthropologist and environmentalist. I think he’s an amazing person. One of his books that is probably my favorites is “House of Rain”. Fascinating stuff about the ancient Puebloans or Anasazi. I’ve read most of his books. Just thought you might be interested. Safe travels! Dennis

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      2. Thanks Dennis. I am interested. I donated a book after holding onto it forever (and never reading it) called “1491” about the time before our “alien” arrival on this great land. I am and have always been fascinated by the American Indians, especially their connection with Mother Earth, the sun, and even the cycles of the moon. My grandfather at one time had the largest Native American relic collection in the Midwest, so I guess that may be partially where I get it. I hope to return the large frame of arrowheads I have to their rightful owners one day. One winter I made a trip to Southeastern Utah and hiked back to some remote cliff dwellings. I can’t get enough of those or the petroglyphs, fascinating!

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