Over the years we’ve often joked about how RV life has prepared us for escaping the madness when/if “the shit hits the fan.” I mean, think about it. We have our own power supply, we carry around tanks filled with water, we have wheels to move to safer areas, and we’re well-practiced at spending long times in isolation.
Except the truth is that we’re not really all that prepared. Sure, living in an RV outfitted for boondocking means we can live off-grid for a while, but with our small trailer and holding tanks, we’re not set up to make that work for more than 12-14 days at a time without making a trip into town to dump tanks and take on more water. The bigger issue is that using our wheels to get away from it all means utilizing public lands. And as more and more of the national forest and BLM land around the west closes to public use, our options for places to hide out began to dwindle.
I find it somewhat funny in an ironic way that for most of my life I’ve thought nothing would be more boring than living in a house in the suburbs. Well, let me tell you, in these crazy times, a boring house in the suburbs with a fenced-in yard is looking pre-tty good right about now (you have to read that in a Larry David voice – “pre-tty, pre-tty good”).
But we don’t have that. We made the choice to live an unconventional lifestyle and the trade-off for all the wonderful places we get to visit and the freedom we enjoy is that in times like these we might have to scramble to find a safe place to call home. And it might mean making sacrifices and hard choices. Such is life.
Let me back up a bit though. We left Palm Springs the first weekend of March and headed out to an area of BLM land between Quartzite and Yuma. Originally, this was supposed to be a transition week as we moved closer to Phoenix so we could hop on a plane and join our family for a 4-day trip at Disney World. It was still early days of the pandemic, but things were escalating fast enough that by the time we left Palm Springs we knew the Disney trip was not happening. Still, boondocking in the desert seemed like a good plan for the next few weeks so we stocked up with food, filled every jug we own with extra water, and set out for some good old fashioned desert distancing.
In some respects, being out in the desert was glorious. Bright sunshine, views for miles, endless hiking, a landscape bursting with spring flowers, and more than enough space for everyone to spread out.
We ended up on King Road which is off AZ-95 almost smack in between Quartzite and Yuma. We’ve spent a lot of time in this area, but in the past, have always stayed farther north on Palm Canyon or MST&T Rd. In an attempt to try somewhere different, we decided to check out King Rd. And I am so glad we did. Not only was the scenery better than what we’ve found on the roads to the north, but it was less busy in terms of both RVs and OHV traffic.
Tim had taken some time off work for the Disney trip that didn’t happen, so for six glorious days, we had ourselves a little stay-cation that consisted mostly of hiking around the desert.
The spot we stayed on was BLM land and just past where we parked was the boundary of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. This 550,000-acre refuge is open to camping (restricted to areas close to the road only), driving on designated roads, hiking, and not much else. While there are no established hiking trails outside of the one in Palm Canyon, most of the land is not accessible by a vehicle, leaving endless opportunities to hike for miles without encountering a single person.
We enjoyed exploring the wide-open plains, tree-filled desert washes, and occasional rocky peak. On two separate occasions, we saw groups of bighorn sheep from a distance.
A couple of times we drove into the refuge to hike, but more often than not we simply set out from our house and wandered around for a few miles or hours, whichever came first. We even created a 5-mile loop that stated at our door, wandered around and over some hills, traveled through a wide valley, and looped back to our home. We hiked this one a couple of times in both directions.
Of course, in the midst of all this glorious scenery, solitude, warm weather, and endless hiking, we were also freaking out about the global pandemic that was quickly taking over our world. We may have found a remote area to call home for a bit, but that didn’t mean we were cut off from the world. Far from it, in fact. We’re both online for good portions of the day, and like everyone else, found ourselves obsessively reading, watching, and listening to the news. As a result, the constant worry, stress, and uncertainty often overshadowed any joy were finding in our surroundings.
Initially, we were mostly worried about our older family members – especially those with health issues. I found myself constantly spiraling down a rabbit hole of what-if situations with no reassuring answers to be found. We were also worried about our own situation. Campendium started compiling a comprehensive list of campground and public land closures several weeks ago. Every day when I checked the list and saw more places added, I freaked out a little more. As of right now, over 30% of campsites on Campendium are closed due to Covid-19.
This might not seem like a big deal if you are a weekend camper – in fact, it shouldn’t affect you at all because there is absolutely no reason to be camping for recreational purposes right now. But if you are part of the over 1 million full-time RVers, it is a big deal.
We consider ourselves to be in a better situation than some because we are set up for boondocking which gives us more options as campgrounds close. But not everyone has solar, or even a generator to make their own power. Some people need to stay in parks for health reasons, and others just don’t feel comfortable living on public land. On the flip side, there are many RVers who exclusively boondock because campgrounds are expensive and shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars for a monthly spot at an RV park is not an option. That means the closure of campgrounds and shut down of public lands is leaving a lot of people with nowhere to go.
At first, we thought we could boondock our way through this crisis. It is for sure a good way to practice social distancing. We spent three weeks on King Road, never had contact with another person, and only drove into town once. We brought the RV, dumped and filled with water, got groceries and gas, and then drove right back to our spot. In theory, we could have continued that cycle for another few weeks. Even though BLM has a 14-day limit we never saw a ranger, and since this was not an area known to be overrun by RVs, I doubt anyone would have asked us to leave. What would have driven us out was the heat. And then what? California is off the list, southern Utah is closed or closing, and while some of the national forests in northern Arizona are still open for dispersed camping (all developed forest service campgrounds are closed) that would put us closer to small towns where we know our out-of-state license plates are not welcome.
And here lies the other problem for full-time RVers right now. No one wants us in their town. I get it, I really do. The last thing we want to do is unknowingly carry the virus into a small town, or take away resources from those who live there. However, we need to be somewhere.
My biggest fear about continuing to boondock was that by the time it got too hot and we had to flee the area, there would be nowhere to go. Many private campgrounds are either closing outright, closing to new people, or only allowing those with 30+ day reservations to stay. If we waited two or three weeks would we even be able to find a place that would let us in?
Eventually, the stress of the situation got to the point where we needed to make a decision. Stay and take our chances with the heat, go to an RV park in Yuma where it would inevitably get hot but we could suffer through with our AC, drive all the way to VT where we have several places to park the RV, or find a campground to the north where we could potentially stay for months?
In the end, we picked the last choice. Even though it meant traveling almost 800 miles across several states which we didn’t feel great about. We are both of the opinion that if you can stay home, you should, and the only travel should be necessary travel. But we also know that we are able to travel in the RV and have little to no contact with others. So we did it. Last weekend we left our little slice of desert paradise and drove to Grand Junction, CO where we are settled in an RV park for the foreseeable future.
Our site backs up to a bluff overlooking the Colorado River and we have access to full hook-ups, a nearby grocery store that offers pick-up and delivery, plus a very clean, small laundry room at the RV park. That last one was a welcome relief. There was no way we were going to a public laundromat (which are questionably clean on a good day) and the last time we did laundry was a month ago. Good thing it’s just been the two of us :)
For now, we have decided to self-quarantine since we arrived from somewhere else and don’t want to take any chances. It hasn’t been too difficult since we don’t know anyone around here and everything is closed anyway.
I sincerely hope everyone reading this is safe at home. If you are an essential worker, please know how much we appreciate and think about you. If you are an RVer, stay safe and do your best to follow the common-sense guidelines for travel at this time. I am going to share a few links below that might be helpful to our fellow RVers and a few more for our fellow humans. Despite how it feels at times, we are all in this together and we will get through it. Stay safe, stay strong, and stay home.
Guidelines for Full-Time RVers During Covid-19
State by State Campground Closures
Resources for RVers Weathering COVID-19 Related Concerns – Escapees RV Club
Truck Camper Magazine Petition to Keep Campgrounds Open
How to Shop & Eat Safely Now – The Splendid Table Podcast featuring food scientist Kenji Lopez-Alt
That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief – Some good advice on dealing with those overwhelming emotions as this time