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
My daughter (a nurse at St Mary’s) & son-in-law live in Grand Junction. We’ve camped there several times. A nice place to be during this situation. Be safe.
Thanks Carolyn! And thanks also to your daughter for being on the front lines of this crazy situation.
A few years back, my husband had a stroke while we were vacationing near Gunnison. Life-flight took him to St.Mary’s. They could not have been nicer to me as I waited for him to be able to go to Houston. I will forever be grateful to the staff of St. Mary’s.
I was wondering how you guys were doing. So glad to hear that you’re settled safely in a good spot to ride this out. I know it was a difficult decision. This is challenging for everyone, with a unique twist for all of us who are full-time RVers. We never expected to be staying put in Apalachicola for who-knows-how-long…but we’re incredibly grateful that we have a place to be (I’ll let you know how I’m feeling once summer hits, LOL).
Despite our challenges, I know that what we’re going through is nothing compared to what people in NYC and other big cities are suffering. Our hearts go out to them, and our gratitude to all of the incredibly selfless people on the front lines. Great post, Amanda. Take good care, both of you.
I think a lot of RVers hit pause and are now dealing with the unique circumstances of where ever they ended up. We’re feeling fortunate that we had options and the financial means to get ourselves somewhere stable for a bit. Glas that you have a safe place to ride this out. Hope it doesn’t get too unbearably hot down there. And yes, I too think about the people who live in big cities and those on the front line of this tragedy. We have several healthcare workers in our family and I am simultaneously proud of them and also scared for them.
A very insightful post. Glad you left SoCal before it closed parks, beaches, campgrounds, public lands are off-limits for the near future. The Colorado Western Slope is among our favorite places – good food, good wine and lots of trails – both for the boots and the bikes. We’re in good shape except for a bit of cabin fever and being under ‘house arrest’. Glad you have all you need and in good shape to wait this out.
Yup, the timing for leaving SoCal was spot on for us. We’ve previously only spent a small amount of time in this area, but so far the nearby hiking and beautiful scenery has been great!
We went through much the same analysis recently, trying to figure out where to go and what to do. The one thing we didn’t do that I think you were really smart to do, was go north. I think a whole lot of people currently hunkering down in these snowbird spots – Florida, Texas, Arizona, etc, are gonna be hating their lives in a couple weeks, but this all came on so fast and with options disappearing quickly, it just made sense to stay put. Anyway, we’ll undoubtedly be jealous of you guys in a couple weeks.
In the meantime, we’re glad to hear people are finding safe landing spots and making good, responsible decisions. Hopefully this will be over sooner rather than later. Fingers crossed. Stay well!
By the way, your last link (the grief one) links to the wrong page.
I just read your most recent post. I think you made a wise decision to stay in the AirBnB. Having an outside space of your own right now is worth more than gold! Renting is something we are seriously considering in a month or two since we don’t foresee living at the RV park forever and I don’t think this is going to be a normal summer for traveling. You’re right about the oncoming heat. I think a lot of RVers who normally move north are now stuck where it’s going to get uncomfortably warm soon. Of course, the flip side of going north is that we had a mini snowstorm a few days ago!
Beautiful photos! I’m a hardcore boondocker, too and decided to leave public lands and get into a private RV park this week. Safety, security and a little luxury (running water!) during these stressful times is a good thing. Can’t imagine how it’s all going to go this summer…
So many resources for closed parks, the following crowd-sourced list is for parks that are OPEN, updated daily:
Thanks so much for sharing this link. All of these resources are valuable to RVers right now. Glad you found yourself a park to stay in. I agree 100% that the security of staying in one place right now is a good thing. I’ve been very much enjoying the luxury of endless water and not having to manage tanks.
Glad you found a safe haven. Did you know our last foray out into ‘public’ for a beer was with the two of you? Our Airbnb in Tucson has turned out to be a great choice. Off-season prices equal what it would be for an RV park. A washer/dryer that doesn’t require quarters is amazing, and the decrease in stress has been worth it. Of course, we aren’t hot yet — so that could be an issue.
Same for us! The last time we went anywhere besides the grocery store was out with you guys in Palm Springs. So happy that you’re safe and settled into your Airbnb. Even when the heat comes I think you’ll be in better shape than those in hot boxes – I mean RVs. I am very much looking forward to the day when we can go out for beers with you two again. Sending hugs to you both!
Colorado sounds like a wonderful place to stop for however long is necessary. We’ve been staying in AZ state parks for 3 weeks but I don’t expect those to remain open much longer so this weekend we’re heading north and will stop in Utah for a month or two and then determine next steps. Wishing you the best!
We’ve always loved Colorado and I agree that it’s a good place to be for as long as needed. Happy to hear that the AZ state parks are still open. Have you found a place in Utah yet? I wasn’t having much luck finding monthly spots in southern UT and now the state parks are only open to county residents. Stay safe out there!
I really appreciate this post. We are also full timers. We have a spot for the month of April in Florida. But it’s already getting hot here. We THINK we can get into the Airstream Park in Georgia for the month of May. The idea being that it will be a bit cooler up there. It is a worrisome time with closures every day and an unknown future. Thank you for sharing. Yes, we are all in this together. Stay safe and healthy.
I hope you get a spot at the park in GA. I can’t imagine staying in FL in an airstream through the summer. Sending good thoughts for a cool summer spot your way!
Excellent post! We have been holed up in an RV park in Washington – not in Seattle, thanks – but our summer gig in Montana is definitely in jeopardy. We may be able to ride it out here, but if we have to move June 1, things could get pretty dicey. The burrs under my saddle are the reports of people in high-infection areas filling up their RVs and heading for the hills. They have perfectly good homes, with access to all the goods and services, but they head out into poorly served areas, stretching resources thin. If, God forbid, they do become sick, they add to the strain on small towns and rural counties. Keep up the excellent posts, stay safe and well.
I hope you’re able to stay in one place and ride it out. One of the reasons we moved now is because we don’t know what our options will be in a month or two. The Colorado mtn towns are experiencing some of the issues you brought up. On one hand, I can understand how people living in cities would be tempted to head for the hills, but that’s a really self-serving attitude and not one that will help any of us right now.
Old Jewish Proverb: I felt sorry for myself, for I had no shoes, till I met a man who had no feet. Fast forward to 2020: I felt sorry for I have stay home (on two rural acres, large house, full larder and Netflix) till I heard of two strangers stuck in a 25 ft Airstream.
Don’t feel bad for us! We’re safe at home, have access to everything we need, still have jobs, and just discovered some great hiking trails within walking distance of our RV park. Also, we have been practicing the whole “two people stuck in a 25-ft Airstream” thing for the past 8 years! Stay safe.
Your pics are absolutely beautiful! We’ve thought so much about all the issues you raised (we aren’t set up for boondocking for any length of time) and thanking the stars that we bought this winter base when we did! And we would have only had four rolls of TP because that’s all I ever made room for at one time :-)) Glad you moved north when you did and found a place you can stay as long as needed! Given how many people are learning they can work remotely, I wonder is we’ll see another surge of fulltimers when we get to the other side of this crisis?
Yeah, keeping a large stock of TP in an RV is not practical. We were lucky enough to obtain a 6 roll pack a few weeks ago and are currently rationing. I just read your most recent post and was happy to see that you have some family staying with you. It must be a delight to have your grandson there at this time! We too have been wondering about how the full-timing number will change after this. I suspect a lot will depend on the state of the economy.
We are very glad to hear that you made the smart decision to find a safe and relatively permanent place to ride this out. We can tell you from personal experience that Grand Junction is a recognized regional hub for health care (one of us was almost sent there by Medevac last year) though of course we hope that won’t come into play. But you really know you’ve hit the big time when there is grocery delivery! Try to make the most of the luxury of having hookups. We have started on deep cleaning the AS both inside and out because, weirdly, the one thing that our current RV park actually allows is washing the rig. Stay safe!
As strange as it sounds, we actually did some research on the area hospitals before coming here. Not something that has ever been part of our RVing criteria and I hope we don’t have to find out just how good the medical situation is first hand. So far I’ve been taking advantage of the full hook-ups mostly for cooking and baking purposes but I predict some deep cleaning in the future. Enjoy your park and keep sharing those ocean view photos!
You sure do pick the best spots. I LOVE the high/low deserts. Low in the winter, high in the summer. 4 years left until I retire at 50 years old and boondock for the rest of my life (solo) with my kitty and dog. These photos you take get me all hyped up and wanting to leave sooner hehe.
Really cool post. Thanks for sharing.