Makoshika State Park, Montana

So I arrived late – just in time to snag one of the last available sites in this 18 site campground. Actually there may be a whole nother loop, I didn’t check, I was ready to be camped. I paid for it, even! It’s gorgeous like the badlands and Sedona Arizona. There’s a nearly full moon.
So, more details after a days exploration: the park has a hadrosaur fossil, badlands, grasslands, and ponderosa trails, a disc golf course and several additional campsites with more privacy outside the main loop. 

Nez Perce National Forest, Idaho

Geese flew along the river as I arrived
Geese flew along the river as I arrived

There was a post for this – it got lost in WordPress Android app upload. Basically it involves fishing in that river. There was also a cute photo of Buffy waiting outside the tent while I wrote the post on my Android from my tailgate.

the field I camped in
the field I camped in

Boise, Idaho

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Beer, potato dishes, and hot summer days.  Postmodern Brewers will start the review because well I’m here by myself and this is a tasty experience. Sal-tot-dos (orange glazed tater tots with pork and delicious) and a flight of 6 beers including hard root and hard ginger beer are pictured. It’s 5 PM on a Thursday and I’ve been sitting on their patio by myself for awhile, getting the happy hour special.  I get the feeling they’re new? Also they’re quite close to the university so probably busier during school year.

Boise is a dry heat – shade makes a huge difference.  Very bikable, moderate walkable, but nice dense downtown for drinking and walking. A bunch of breweries and the standout Bittercreek Alehouse make it a great beer town.

Postmodern Brewers was good but my faves there were the hard ginger ale and hard root beer. Boise Brewery was friendly and more my stereotype of a brewery bar, and had good beer, although as it was my last stop, hard to fairly judge. 10 Barrel was meh, corporate feeling and the bartender couldn’t give me good advice on which beer to try first. Lots of athletic well dressed(for an outdoorsy town) customers. I loved Bitterroot, which had friendly knowledgeable bartenders, good food, friendly patrons and a great atmosphere. Oh and competitive with anywhere taplist. I had to struggle not to just stay there the whole time I was in Boise.

The Boise Bike Project also seemed very cool, although as an educational program they don’t fix bikes unless you help/learn. Quite frustrating for me after I walked my bike with 2 flats for half an hour to get there and just wanted a beer while I paid someone to fix it.(I can change a flat usually, but my tires are super stiff and my thumb strength weak, so these tires are a pain in the ass to get back on after replacing a tube). They also said bikes left in front of the shop overnight are considered donations, which I felt was a bit shady.

Ooh also another bar I kind of want: Spacebar Arcade. 6 old pinball machines and a selection of other classic arcade machines, as well as classic systems connected to a big screen from the seating area. A good selection of local micro brews and interesting events.  Upstairs there is a restaurant with Indian and Sushi I think? Something to combine and take the rest of my money.

Forest outside McCall, Idaho

I’m once again on the tailgate writing this on my phone. I was hanging peacefully in my hammock when the occasional rain drop began to hit me.  I waited a while, but thunder grew louder in the distance. So I took down the hammock, put the rainfly on the tent, moved stuff under cover.. and the storm has been sitting slightly to my northwest looking fierce for 45 minutes.
I’ll have to rush away if the rain really gets here, I’m currently taking advantage of the truck bed electrical outlet to charge my phone and laptop. I’m also testing out a new to me tent – we’ll see its rain proof quality if the storm hits. At this point I’ll be disappointed if the rain doesn’t arrive.

The whole aspen quaking thing, by the way? It’s true. They make a very distinct sound in the forest. Ooh, this reminds me of a song I only know from Rock Band: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZwTH15qBQ . No oaks here though.

Sego Canyon – Thompson Spring, Utah

Pictographs are etched in the cliffs behind and next to me. A sunset has peacefully spun through the rainbow, framed by a U of red Utah cliffs. A distant mesa forms a flat bottom, barely hinting at its more detailed beauty.  Moab is that way, so is Colorado.

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Interspersed among the pictographs and historic Ute art vandals have scrawled new names and graffiti. The nearness is the main reason I object – there are miles of blank walls in these canyons and you must nearly obscure and definitely impact the existing art?  Well and that just writing your name is lame. If you’re going to be monumental be admirable too.

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I’m sitting on my tailgate. My back’s against the cooler, my bare feet dangle over gravel. A citronella candle burns next to me and a beer on the other side.  Buffy sits in her dog bed water dish and food bowl beside her. I’m writing this in the twilight to dark on my phone with no service(also using Twilight App to minimize night blindness and sleep cycle disruption).

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I’ve just taken a sunset dinner break which has gone too long. I painted and photographed and got nerdy with my laptop. Buffy and I did a brief walk and practiced some tricks.

No camping allowed here and it’s getting quite dark for finding a wilderness campsite. Luckily I saw several small BLM roads nearby and I’m equipped to sleep in the back of the truck.

Now I’ll wait for the moon to come out- here’s hoping it’s not a moonless night- and head down this nearby BLM dirt road to the first legal pull out. Then I’ll sleep.

The night has gotten darker and brief flashing lightning has come closer brighter. Thunder rumbles. I’m camping here after all. I passed through sudden fierce storms earlier on the highway. It makes the chance of accidentally parking in a wash too risky. A cool wind blows from the West bringing gusts and the premonition of storms.

A link to the Sego Canyon BLM site if you want to visit yourself.

Hopewell Lake, New Mexico

Atlas Sounds Logos provides a perfect soundtrack. Wildflowers surrounding a perfect little lake with families fishing all around. Picnic tables and bathrooms complete this little slice of heaven. Camping is also available nearby.

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The interspersed meadows and woods of this area of New Mexico has magic.

Wilderness Campsites – the Cheapest Roadtrip Option

truck in the desert with cactus and windmills
a truck  in the desert
wilderness camping in the desert

So I am a seasoned traveler. Mostly backpacking internationally, but also in the wilderness and camping and road trips and weekend warrior flights or ski days. I have got to say road trip camping is so much easier than any other form of travel I’ve tried. I don’t have to be on a schedule, I don’t have to worry too much about what will be available in the next spot or even what the next spot will be. It’s more challenging on the East Coast but still possible – there are many open forests, deserts and such where I can just camp.  Those random dirt roads off of remote highways? They lead to camping – legal and free. Often these wilderness campsites come with established fire rings, though I often don’t have a fire.

truck in a spring forest
my campsite outside Flagstaff

This most recent trip I had a “America The Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass” – $80.  This got me free entrance to any National Parks or Monuments and counted as the Adventure Pass necessary for certain forests in Southern California. It’s the “Interagency Annual Pass” described on this forest service page.  If you know you’re going on a trip far enough in advance, I’d recommend getting the volunteer time in and get the volunteer pass.  A lot of the volunteer programs will also show you some wilderness skills and introduce you to cool people.   The passes generally let you park and adventure pretty widely, but the more amenities at a given campsite, the more likely you’ll have to pay.  You don’t need a pass at all for camping in most National Forests or BLM lands.

Wilderness Campsites

A rule of thumb: running water = additional payment.  Pit toilets are often available at free campsites, as well as fire pits and picnic tables but don’t forget your own water and you’ve still got other campers around.  Another alternative for free is to just drive out into National Forest or Bureau of Land Management land on the established dirt access roads – generally labeled with some obscure 3 or 4 digit number and look for a good spot.  The legality of fire will differ depending on the forest and weather conditions, often researchable from your phone or posted along these rural roads, so be sure to check that out.  If you have an iron fire ring you are pretty safe in having a fire, if it’s stone… well check it out. These are wild places so also be sure you practice fire safety – there’s no one else to clean up after you.  You’ll also have to pack in and out everything you need – eg bring enough water, bring good trash bags and take out your trash, a shovel for digging your own ‘cathole’, fire wood…

a campsite with the picnic table partially submerged in swamp
a flooded campsite in Delta National Forest

Also, something to be aware of – these campsites are somewhat off the grid(hence ‘wilderness campsites’) and unevenly maintained.  Often the maintenance is by volunteer groups, and as there are no camp hosts there is no one to make reservations with, or check the conditions with. As I drove through the Delta National Forest in Mississippi most of the campsites(and forest roads) were submerged by the delta. This was actually one of the drier spots, and notice the picnic table is still partially under water.  Relatedly, the mosquitoes were numerous and fierce, the snakes were out on what dry land there was in abundance, and I pretty much stayed in the truck. I ended up going to the higher and drier Holly Spring National Forest to camp. Don’t get too committed to any spot until you’re there – and even then I’ve ended up moving a few times.  For example, a rainstorm can make the mud factor difficult for the truck – so that campsite near Flagstaff had only a short occupancy.

dawn colors viewed through a screen of trees
Primitive campgrounds at county parks are another good option

Other, slightly less wild, options – county parks & other organizations

In many small towns there are county parks which offer primitive camping – this generally involves a nominal fee and is in a multiple use space.  Pictured above is some lake near Wesson, Mississippi with a primitive campground and disc golf course in the same space.  Yeah, better listen for anyone yelling ‘fore’.  I actually discovered several campgrounds set up like this in Louisiana and Mississippi, so be aware.  Other ‘sorta’ spaces I sometimes camped in were Wildlife Management Areas – not sure of the rules for these because basically this is hunting space.  I didn’t wander too far from the road, or go on hikes, and kept my stays in these spots pretty short, but they had some beautiful territory.

The forests of the West are still more open than the East – but there are still plenty of forests. They tend to be more developed so you do end up paying slightly more, though I was told to track down the Army Corp of Engineer campsites and Civilian Conservation Corp sites for good free spots along the Appalachians.  In the Southwest there are the “Lower Colorado River Association” campsites, also cheap and easy.  Generally for tent camping I tended to avoid RV campgrounds unless they explicitly mention tent camping, as the sites will often just be gravel…  So with that, I recommend you go camping – and don’t bother with reservations or paying for a campsite.

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Texas Hill Country Wildflowers

small dog in the bluebells in the texas hill country
Buffy in the Bluebells at Lake Buchanan, Texas Hill Country

 

So Easter weekend was spent in the Texas Hill Country.  I cruised around the small Texas town of Llano, a cute place with just what you need and not a lot more – one coffee shop, one bakery, two restaurants, a few shops and for some reason a whole bunch of banks.  One of those shops in Llano was the very cute “A Rosy Outlook”, which among many cute things not captured in their Etsy store had a bangle and necklace bar where you could assemble charms and stones and different types of metal linking for the stones and easily assemble your own cute bling necklace.  Llano was celebrating their annual Fiddle Fest on the same weekend and I was luckily able to hear some of the practice sessions while sipping an excellent coffee at Fuel Coffee House – a mixed use coffee shop, music venue, and community meeting spot.  In the few hours I lingered I think I saw about 3 different groups meet to organize something or other – a food for seniors program, something involving architectural plans, and I’m not sure on the other one.  They were also a non-profit themselves, raising money for a church. I wouldn’t do a church as my charity, but the overall coffeehouse was inspirational.  If I have a coffee shop, I want it to have a stage, a cause and a community….

I then headed over to the Black Rock Campground on Lake Buchanan.  This was run by the Lower Colorado River Authority and treated me excellently. The lake was quite low which led to even larger fields of bluebells as they took over the available space usually below the waterline. The campground itself had all the basics, picnic tables, firepits, bbq stands, and places to set up a tent as well as well maintained bathrooms and showers. The hosts were friendly and sold me both ice and wood, always a nice convenience. Lake Buchanan still had plenty of boaters and fishermen although some rough weather sent the timid home and left more space for me.  I expect that without reservations I would have been out of luck if the weather had been as beautiful as the landscape.

There were fields of wildflowers throughout the hill country, mostly the bluebells pictured above(which I know as lupine at home in California) and the little pink grassy ones I’m completely unfamiliar with.  People were very emphatic – the bluebells of Texas are a _thing_ apparently.  One of the many things they take pride in.

lonely road with wildflowers and dawn
dawn over the highway in the Texas Hill Country

 

Camping at Sonora Desert National Monument

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Today I drove from Prescott National Forest to tonights’ camping in Sonora Desert National Monument, with a long detour around Phoenix. Between Prescott NF and the next town was a glorious mountain blooming with wildflowers. Tall pale pinkish orange ones, bright yellow poppies, purple lupine and yellow daisy like sage bushes, then curling flowers of another shade of purple.  The mountain road was twisty and wellused so no good place to pull over for flower photos. Prescott itself was nice enough, but pine forest doesn’t impress me much. The creek was very nice though, and I think I might have seen my first modern in use mining claim.

The Sonora blows it away though.

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My camp among the wildflowers. Tall cacti, chirping birds and bats and scurrying creatures abound. Also better weather here makes me a lot more comfortable. There was a cautionary sign that this is a smuggling area and subject to law enforcement actions, but I didn’t go that deep and hopefully I go unnoticed by those crowds.

Ocotillo Desert (I think)

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4 jets flew by breaking an amazing quiet sunset in this desert.  I believe it is the Ocotillo Desert(that was what Instagram suggested, and the name of a nearby town). I do know I am several miles up a dirt road towards the Coyote Mountain Wilderness, and Buffy and I will hike to Wind Caves tomorrow morning. I believe I’m on BLM land, so it should be all legal. A few other cars are scattered within the surrounding mile.

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Above is a picture of the road in. I wouldn’t have tried it in wet conditions, although it seems unlikely to be a concern here. A Prius is among the other campers, hardily enough. Many of the bushes are in bloom though no carpets of wildflowers around here – instead tiny blossoms on tiny bushes or large ones on spiny tall needled plants very far from my plant knowledge. I’ll post some of that after the Wind Caves hike.

For now, from an inflatable mattress in my truck bed, with the stars just coming out overhead, goodnight.