"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood... And sorry I could not travel both. I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference." --Robert Frost

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Favorite Campgrounds of 2019 & 2020 Plans

When looking for campsites, we prefer privacy, easy access, gorgeous views, on or very near water for fishing and kayaking, nearby hiking and biking trails, not too far from towns for amenities, entertainment, good food and water/dump.  We also love areas with history, breweries and other fun things.  Since Steve works from the rig, all of these spots have great Verizon cell signal unless otherwise noted.

Here are our favorite camping spots of 2019 (in no particular order):

1. King Rd, Kofa Mountains NWR, AZ  
The nice thing about this boondocking site is that it is in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge bordering the BLM.  You can go back about 1 1/2 miles and still get super fast, 5 bars of Verizon LTE.  It's free to camp here but there are no facilities.  It is fairly close to the border inspection. station.  I like it better than the LaPosa South area of Quartzsite because it is so quiet and much prettier as it sits at the base of the Kofa's.  Plenty to do.  You're fairly close to Quartzsite, Yuma, Palm Canyon, the Yuma Proving Grounds, old mining towns, etc.  We always spend time in Q with friends, but this is a nice spot to be in for a week for the peace and quiet.
                              Great place for some unwinding after the crazy holidays.
2. Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction, AZ   
Beautiful, sparkling clean campsites, nicely spaced with a spectacular view of the Superstition Mountains and great hiking!  $30 to camp with electric and water ($20 with no utilities).  This is an all-time favorite and is always on our list! An annual stop for us.  If you get lucky being here at the perfect time in March/April , you may hit the peak bloom.  Spectacular!
                                                           So much hiking!

3. Lone Rock, NV
$14 no hookups but there are some outhouses and a dump/water station. This National Rec Area has some great boondocking down on the beach with a great view of Lone Rock in Lake Powell on the Utah side. Hardpack sand, with kayaking, great views and much to do in the Page, AZ area. 
           As beautiful as it is, it's not so fun when the wind kicks up! Think "sandblast".

4. Goblin Valley, UT 
If you drive around the mesa from the State Park there is some unbelievable free boondocking!  You do have to drive back a ways on a long bumpy dirt road, but WOW!  Just a few miles from this boondocking spot is the amazing Little Horse Slot Canyon hike. Read about it on my blogpost.  You can pay a day fee and still visit the amazing park itself or camp inside the park. Absolutely no cell reception here.
  Incredible scenery and privacy.  Our group found our own slot/cave behind the trailers where we had our campfires. Slot hike is on the above right.

5. Green River BLM, Daniel, WY  
This free BLM boondocking spot is right off the highway down a decent dirt road.  There are at least 12 separate drives that lead down to the river.  Some, including the one we chose, require driving down a fairly steep dirt/rock road.  Our 4x4 truck pulled us up/down with a little effort.  I can't imagine how gorgeous this would be if there wasn't still ice on the river and the grass and bushes were lush and green.
                  Such beautiful views, right on the river and fishing with no one around!

6. Rocky Point Rec Area, Belle Fourche, SD
$22 for water/electric right on the lake with very private sites.  So much to do in the area including kayaking, fishing, day trips to the town of Spearfish and the Loop Drive to Deadwood.   
                                                  Long, well spaced sites right on the lake.

7. Carbella Rec Area, Gardiner, MT   
This is free BLM boondocking just outside of Gardiner and right on the Yellowstone River.  It's right off the main road and down a dirt road with large rocks.  Just go slow and you'll be fine.  Great fishing with nearby off roading and within minutes to town and the Roosevelt Gate into Yellowstone National Park.
              Our spot on the river.                    Great evenings!             That's our spot down on the river.

8. Clarks Canyon BLM, Dillon, MT    
Another BLM winner!  This developed campground had bathrooms but no utilities.  It is FREE though.  Across the lake is a campground with water/electric and dump for $5.  Nice spots with gazebos right on the lake.  Fantastic fishing on the lake and the river.  Great 4wheeling too.  The town of Dillon has a nice historic downtown with dining and breweries.  The ghost town of Bannack is nearby as well as a drive to Lemhi Pass for gorgeous scenery and the headwaters of the Mighty Missouri River.
         Lots of room between sites.                 Great fishing!               River fishing & 4wheeling too.

9.  Hope Valley NF, Hope Valley CA   
This is a free boondocking area along Highways 88/89 in Hope Valley outside of South Lake Tahoe.  This is one of the most gorgeous areas.  So much hiking in the Sierra Nevada, many lakes to fish and kayak, near Lake Tahoe and you now get 5 bars of very fast Verizon LTE thanks to a new, nearby cell tower.  There is only a central outhouse but you can get water at nearby campgrounds.  There is light, distant highway noise during the day.  It's one of our favorites and we always camp here when we can.  There are limited areas and it gets busy on holidays.
                So much hiking, kayaking and fishing all around.  20 minute to Lake Tahoe.

10. Carson City Regional Park, Carson City, NV   
A county run park in the forest.  It is much cooler than across the lake at Washoe State Park but there are no electric sites here.  Just water and dump.  $25 a night.  Plenty of hiking and much to do in nearby Carson City. Limited cell.
           Cooler spots under the pines with a nice view from our spot overlooking Lake Washoe.

11. Elks Lodge, Gilroy, CA 
This is one of our favorite Elks Lodges so far.  Far from any busy road and very quiet.  On the golf course with lots of spacing between rigs.  Water & Electric $25.  Mt. Madonna State Park nearby.
Not too far from the Southern Bay Area or the coast and close to hiking.

12. Silver Springs SP, Silver Springs, NV
$5 for a State Park!  Central water and garbage, no electric.  Many spots right on the lake.  This was a nice quiet place in October.  It was going to be just a stop over but we ended up staying 4 nights.
                   We enjoyed the downtime and walking along the sandy beach.  Lots of birding. 

Honorable Mention:
-Elks Lodge, Boulder City, NV: Small park, very campground-like.  Clean, quiet, great location.
-Elks Lodge, Merced, CA: A few miles west of Hwy 99 makes this cute, small campground very quiet.  Train is quite a distance away and muffled.  Nicely landscaped, spaced, clean and long sites.

For those that might be interested, here's a breakdown of the places we stayed, and the costs:
StaysNightsTotalAVG (per night cost)
Private Parks939$1276.00$33.00
State Parks731  $684.00$22.00
State Rec Area14    $88.00$22.00
National Park519  $382.00$20.11    
COE5  $100.00$20.00
Thousand Trails*426  $470.00$18.01
National Rec Area13    $42.00$14.00
County Park611  $135.00$12.28
National Forest317  $192.00 $11.30
BLM622  $104.00$4.73
* We bought a Thousand Trails membership for $470/yr in September. For my purposes I chose to divide the number of nights we actually stayed at TT parks in 2019 into the membership fee to get my "price per night".  The rest of 2020 will show as $0 per night through the remainder of the membership until it ends on September 30, 2020. 
** Boondocking for us is anywhere we stay for free which is not an organized campground.  It includes time at family and friends. Also one night each at a Burger King and a Gas Station/Truck Stop. Some of our boondocking will be at BLM, National Forest, etc, but I give them a separate category because we generally spend a lot of time at them and I like to keep track of that.  Sometimes there can be a small fee to camp at them but most of the time it is free.

Yearly Comparison
2014 - (need to add)
2015 - (need to add)
2016 - Yearly Campsite Total: $3494.50
            Daily Average: $9.57
2017 - Yearly Campsite Total: $5090.50
            Daily Average: $13.94
2018 - Yearly Campsite Total: $4038.00
            Daily Average: $11.06
2019 - Yearly Campsite Total: $5530.00
            Daily Average: $15.15      

What was different?
We boondocked less and stayed at more Elks Lodges due to our sons wedding in California.
We don't care for memberships or private parks but we needed a back up place to stay since the Placerville, CA Elks Lodge has been full on more occasions so we bought the Thousand Trails Membership as we are "back home" for 6 weeks.

Plans for 2020:
We will spend January and February in Arizona as usual, but we'll be heading back to Monterey, CA in March for the birth of our first grandchild!!  We also have another son's wedding in May and a close friends wedding in June. Because of this we decided to stay mostly in CA to visit our grandson several times, spend more time with my parents and get our money's worth out of our Thousand Trails membership.  We'll be staying at the other 14 of 16 TT parks in CA to check them out.  Camping in California is very expensive so besides TT I have chosen all the Elks Lodges that have camping along the coast and we will stay at those as well since they are usually only $25 - $35.  Much better than the almost impossible to get into CA State Parks that are well over $50.  This will make up the majority of our camping.  We will sneak away to our favorite CA & AZ boondocking spots but I doubt we'll get much boondocking in this year :-(   It will be interesting to see how this affects our camping fee totals.  We will get back to Arizona for Sep/Oct before returning once again to CA for the holidays.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The "Other" City of Rocks - Idaho

Castle Rocks State Park
Almo, Idaho

City of Rocks, Idaho
Our very last stay in Idaho brought us to another spot on the map we knew nothing about.  Castle Rocks State Park outside of Almo has loads of history.  We stayed at Smoky Mountain Campground in the park.  It's a very nice campground.  Very spaced out, private sites with long drives,  50amp and a dump station with fresh water fill.
#9, our site.
Nice paved sites with a large patio area with table and fire pit.  Lots of low shrubs and trees for privacy but not tall enough to provide much shade.  It was in the 90s again so having 50amp was perfect.  Idaho has some state parks where they charge more if you are Non-resident.  I don't really care for this practice as it seems rather non welcoming to me.  And why not round up the prices?  Kind of makes it difficult to pay in cash when the price is $33.62 per night.

Hurley loved the site and settled right in.
This picture is from up on our roof to get above the shrubs.
My brother's site next to ours.  I took this picture while I was up on the roof.
My brother and I took off on a ride to explore a nearby dirt road.  It was pretty rough but took us through some pretty area.  We're pretty sure no one has been on this road for some time as it was quite overgrown in areas.  We hoped it would take us on a shortcut to the valley where The Rocks are.
Nope.  It eventually fizzled out so we turned around and decided to take a drive south to the Utah border which was just a few miles away.  We hoped to find a geocache hidden on the border.  After a very long dusty drive we both got tired of the blah, hot, dusty trail and turned back.
In town we filled up with gas and read this sign of the area.  Good info here.
The all purpose, gas station, post office, grocery store in Almo, population 270.
On the way to the Valley, we came across some residents.  At least they oil the dirt here so it's not so bad driving on.
Commute traffic.
It was so cute to see this family working the herd.  The youngest son was about 8 or 10 years old.  He was a pro up on that horse, herding the cattle.
We drove a bit out in the valley but didn't want to see too much before Steve and Diane could join us the next day.  We were looking for some off-roading but couldn't find much.
We found a promising road but it ended behind the rocks.

It's really cool out here.  I wonder how many have visited this little known park.  It's definitely worth a stop if you come by this out of the way corner of Idaho.

We found one other spot that I wanted to hike out to.  Until I saw this sign:
Nope.  It's time to head back, cool off and start the BBQ.
After dinner we took the dogs for a walk in the nearby park/pond so they could swim and have a little fun.  Hurley and Ruger gave it Two Tails Up.
The next day was a bit cooler and clearer out.  The four of us took a drive back through the City of Rocks to investigate.  We stopped back in town to get some munchies at the gas station and saw this wagon behind it.
They call this area Circle Creek Basin.  It was an important stop along the 2000 mile trail for the emigrants as it had water, grass and fuel.  After weeks on the flat, dusty plains, they were fascinated by the rocks and enjoyed the break.
Here is Signature Rock where many of the old time passers by would carve their names or stories.

Even the swallows liked to stop here too.
Steve, Diane and Steve.
They call this Elephant Rock.  I didn't see it at first.  The head is on the top, right.
There it is!
The area is also very popular for climbers.  If you can get your small, high clearance vehicle up here there is some gorgeous back country camping.  Mainly tenters and campers although we did see some brave RVers with small rigs.

 The remnants of an old homestead.
A small trail leads up to Window Rock. (above)  View out the window, below.

The moon was rising over the jagged rocks.

 It's a loooong drive from Almo to Oakely, through the valley on the dirt road.

Steinfells Dome
Last of the Rocks before we cross into the other side of the valley.  Long and sometimes bumpy drive.
We eventually made it into the bigger town of Oakley, Idaho.  With a population under 1000, the town was founded by Mormon immigrants in 1878. Today it is on the National Register of Historic Places and is known for its collection of old stone and brick buildings in the area, which date back to 1883.  Oakley stone, an Idaho quartzite, is quarried near here.
We had a great meal at Judy's Café, a nice place with great food run by a friendly family.
The downtown doesn't have much going on but there are some very cute homes in the historic area and some larger ranches on the outskirts.  I didn't get a picture but there is a very cute small campground (maybe run by the city/county?) here for free if you are in this area for some reason.  It was late and we didn't want to drive back on the bumpy road in the dark through the Rocks, so we took the hour plus drive up and around to get back to camp.

Thanks Idaho for some more fun!  Next we do a hit and run in Utah in an even smaller town before entering Nevada.