First Time Alone in the Desert

Although the word “boondocking” is used interchangeably, there are many different types of experiences that fall under this category.  You can boondock in a parking lot, or in part of a campground, or in the middle of nowhere.  None are more or less valid than any of the others, but they are all very different experiences because of location and how close your resources are.  When we first started talking about becoming full timers, Lee always talked about boondocking in the desert.  Although Quartzsite was the desert, it wasn’t exactly what he had in mind because there were lots of people around and resources were relatively close. Probably why I liked it more than I thought I would.  But for Lee, the number one thing he has wanted to do since we went on the road was find a little piece of isolated desert and camp.  He had this vision in his head, and as fun as La Posa south was, it wasn’t the vision.  So I went to my  Ultimate Campgrounds app to look at the nearby BLM land.   There are several major BLM areas in Quartzsite and we took a drive and checked some of them out.   Some were near the mountains and others were a bit more isolated, but none were exactly what he was looking for.   Since we had to head north to Vegas anyways, I started to look around the Lake Havasu area and finally settled on “Standard Wash”.  This BLM land allows a 14 day stay free of charge and is right off 95.  It also has the benefit of being reasonably close to Havasu which has water and dump stations.  So after doing some minimal research and then saying goodbye to everyone, we packed up and went down the road.

This was our very first time driving to an unlabelled “spot in the road” and predictably it was a little rocky at first, both literally and figuratively.  There is no big sign saying “Stop Here” and even thought the GPS coordinates were pretty accurate we still missed the turn.  So we drove to Havasu City (about 5 miles north) and turned around.  Then we missed the turn off a second time, mainly because you are going 60 mph on 95 North and the turn-in is literally a dirt road, with no slow-down lane on the approach, and no left turn lane coming from the other way, and no space on either side of the dirt road to ease in. Lee was pretty uncomfortable making that turn without solid information, so we stopped at a little industrial company parking lot a few hundred yards down the road, and asked the security guard at the gate.  Yes, we were in the right place.  So we went back on the road one more time and turned in at GPS coordinates (Latitude 34.420426 Longitude -114.199165).

Right about then a second vehicle would have been a huge advantage. I walked up to a very small BLM sign and yes, we were in the right place.  Lee walked up the hill the road disappeared over to make sure it did indeed continue to be a road. It was, so we started down the track. We could have dropped the trailer and continued on with just the truck, but that is a pretty major pain, so we decided to drive slow and check it out with RV in tow.  I’m not sure if this was the best idea or not, but that’s what we did, and the road, although rocky and narrow, was passable.  It does have some deep dips though, so slow and careful driving is definitely called for.

We kept passing up spots that weren’t that great and finally settled on a spot exactly one mile back.  GPS coordinates were 34° 25’53″N, 114 ° 11’29” W.  (It’s a good thing we stopped when we did because about 100 yards farther, the road completely deteriorates into a narrow track impassable even by just the truck, much less the truck and trailer) The view on three sides was amazing and the large hill behind us would provide a bit of a wind break.  Best of all, totally deserted…and quiet.  Someone had even built a large fire pit there so we were sold.  It took a few minutes to position ourselves perfectly for the best views and then Lee just smiled.  He was happy and I was happy for him, plus curious about how we would do being so isolated.  Well not that isolated.  We have solid ATT 4 G and town is only 5 miles away, but the most isolated we have been. But judge for yourselves, here’s the pictures and a drone video Lee made.  At the very end of the video look in the lower left corner.  You’ll see Lee trip and fall as he walks down into a wash.

Close-up

Medium Shot

Long Shot

See us in the back…teeny tiny

Amazing views right?  I absolutely agree, but as Paul Harvey used to say, “And now for the rest of the story.”  It’s equal parts cool and creepy.  Keep in mind this entire account is 100% subjective and depending on your personality you might absolutely love this.   I found all the lonesomeness unsettling and my unease seems to be heightened by the fact that the desert itself is inhospitable.  No big sagauro cacti I am so fond of and you really have to watch where you step because things can hurt you out there.  So no casual walks in this place. Even Lee admitted it was a bit weird and for the first time since going on the road I seriously wished I had a gun. Not for the animals, although we have heard coyotes a couple of nights, but for potential human wanderers.  I know it’s extremely unlikely, but I haven’t been sleeping well and Lee is double checking the doors at night so I know it wasn’t just me.  Still it’s a cool picture right and the kind of place we all dream about going before becoming full timers.   Fair enough, but I do think you deserve to hear about the things you don’t see in the picture.

  • There is quite a bit of trash. Shell casings, beer and water bottles, an old TV, wood stands.  It’s not dump yard trashy, but it was disappointing how much there was. I walked around to pick some of it up and filled a tall kitchen hefty bag in less than 10 minutes.  I could have done more, but frankly the level of trash was a bit overwhelming.

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  • There is some road noise.  Not much, but it is so quiet that some highway noise did travel at night. Oddly that made me feel better.
  • Driving in and out was a pain.  We went to town twice and both times it was a bumpy ride getting to the highway.  We weren’t crazy about leaving the rig alone when we went into town either.    The area is used by ATVers and cyclists every day, so it wasn’t completely without traffic, but since our little spot couldn’t see the road, the road also couldn’t see us.  Nothing happened, but we did feel a bit like we were rolling the dice each time.
  • I never knew what time it was.  We are close to the California border and when we went into Havasu City it was mountain time, but out in the desert our phones changed to pacific time.  Took us two days to figure out what was happening, and apparently I am ok with not knowing what day it is, but I really do need to know the time!
  • It’s very windy.  Despite the hill behind us the wind was gusting almost constantly and it was pretty chilly wind.  Only on the last day did I think it was nice enough to take a walk in the desert.
  • The walk in this patch of desert was tense.  I started out with a geocache heading which was 1.2 miles away.  As soon as I went past the first hill and lost sight of the camper I ended up turning back. The desert is not empty.  There are lots of little scuttling things that you catch out of the corner of your eye and the plant life itself of course is often dangerous.  The rock/soil combination is loose and you really have to watch your footing, especially when going down a hill.  Maybe if I had a dog I might have felt more comfortable.   Did get a few good shots though.
  • It’s kind of boring.  With no ATV that leaves walking and since the walking was out for me, not a lot to do.  I don’t mind just chilling with a book for a few days, but when Lee started to look to me for entertainment I knew we were in trouble 🙂

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Some fire ant hills

Some fire ants

Even the dead stuff on the ground can hurt you

Even the dead stuff on the ground can hurt you

To be clear not all desert is the same, and not all BLM land is either.  This is the most ill kept piece that we have ever been on, which is maybe why it was so deserted.  I really miss the large Saguaro cacti which I think are beautiful, but there are none of those here.    I would definitely be up for trying someplace this isolated again,but maybe that will never be my thing.  I have been low level tense since we arrived here and despite my best efforts that feeling has really not gone away.  Not the greatest way to live.

It wasn’t all bad though.   I caught up on blog work I needed done and it was perfect for Lee to get some editing work completed.  And the sunrises and sunsets were beautiful.   I just wanted to take this opportunity to say life itself is not always like the pictures portray. I understand why that annoys me.  I want the picture, but the reality is there are often things not shown in the pictures that can changes the experience. Then again there are the sunsets, which don’t suck.

Sunrise in Standard Wash

Sunrise in Standard Wash

Sunset

Sunset

Not photo enhanced in any way

Not photo enhanced in any way

We also celebrated our 27th wedding anniversary in Lake Havasu and that was really fun. I looked on YELP  for someplace to eat dinner, but nothing really seemed right.  Finally I decided to have an anniversary lunch instead.  There is less pressure on lunch, less cost for one thing, and I think in general we have lower expectations and are more willing to try something different.  Turns out this was a good call as we drove down to the London Bridge area of Lake Havasu and found a tiny place called Splash Grill that was only open for breakfast and lunch.  It only had eight tables inside and four out on the little deck.  So we asked for a seat outside and had a great lunch and lovely views (in the sun but out of the wind) for only $20.08.  Score!!

The bridge was purchased by a real estate developer from the City of London and transported here brick by brick

The bridge was purchased by a real estate developer from the City of London and transported here brick by brick.  It was one of four London bridges and obviously not the one with the watchtowers.

They built a man made canal which created an island the bridge could go to and the island has a golf course and upscale homes

They built a man made canal which created an island the bridge could go to.  The  island has a golf course, resorts,  and upscale homes

Gateway to London Bridge Waterfront

Gateway to London Bridge Waterfront

They did a nice job with the surrounding architecture

They did a nice job with the surrounding architecture

In the warmer months this looks like a party place

In the warmer months this must be a party place

Loved this pontoon boat

Loved this pontoon boat

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The restaurant we found was on the third level of a building along the waterfront. Accessed from the top of the hill

courtyard at the top of the hill. Weird to see fountains, but I suppose the Colorado makes it possible

Courtyard at the top of the hill. Weird to see fountains, but I suppose the Colorado makes it possible

Lunch spot

Lunch spot

Lee's fish and chips were very good

Lee’s fish and chips were very good and reasonably priced.  Plus look who ordered water and used the lemonade pack!!

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They also have a free ferry to a casino on the California side of the lake. It only ran on the hour out and half hour back so we didn't go, but many folks were taking advantage of the free service.

They also have a free ferry to a casino on the California side of the lake. It only ran on the hour out and half hour back so we didn’t go, but many folks were taking advantage of the free service.

After lunch we went to the 99 only grocery store.  Yes you heard that right, there is a grocery store where almost everything is 99 cents. They have produce, dry goods, and a freezer section.  Many of the products are off brand, but they also have plenty of name brands in smaller sizes.  For example, I got a box with two name brand corn dogs for 99 cents.  We also found shredded cheese at 99 cents, some dole shredded cabbage…oh tons of stuff.  We ended up getting 5 bags of stuff for $34.  A pretty good deal.  Then we went to Safeway and Lee bought a couple beautiful rib eyes.  Since we were not having dinner out, Lee decided to cook me one at home and it was really lovely, plus less expensive than the restaurant alternative.

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So our time alone in the desert was a mixed bag.  Would absolutely do it again, I wold just be a lot more selective about where we stayed.  Still, it was a good learning experience and Lee got to experience the picture he has been carrying around in his head, which is no small thing.

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10 thoughts on “First Time Alone in the Desert

  1. Trace – I just have to say (repeat) that I LOVE your blog and look forward to all your entries. I relate to, or learn so much from them. You have a great writing style and great photos as well. Thanks for all the effort!

  2. Happy Anniversary!! Did you ever think when you got married that one day, 27 years later, you would celebrate your anniversary in the middle of a desert all by yourselves;o)) Way to go you two!! It really is all about the journey:o))

  3. We stayed in that area for a couple days last year although we stayed in a location that had a couple other rigs in the area. There is something comforting in knowing there is someone near by even if you don’t know them and never talk to them.

  4. You made me laugh out loud! I’m exactly the same, many times don’t know what the day is, but the time is important❤️ You are much braver than me!

  5. Sorry the whole “alone in the desert” thing wasn’t what you hoped for! Bill and I want to try it also, but will probably not be so far out. I am also very disappointed to learn about the garbage. That is not nice! Tell Lee – love the drone video!

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