Friday, May 9, 2014

Reflections on Public Land

"The west is the best
 The west is the best
 Get here, and we'll do the rest"
     - The Doors
       "The End"
One of Jim Morrison's finest efforts and the ultimate buzz-killer song. If I owned a bar, that would be my choice to clear the place out after last call each night.

When it comes to dispersed camping for free on public lands (AKA Boondocking), the west is definitely the best. Some people hate the term "boondocking" (you know who you are Boonie), but it's much easier to type than "dispersed camping for free on public lands".

Boondocking is "free" but the real allure for us is finding those special, secluded spots in unexpected places. It makes life one big Easter egg hunt. We spent the first year of our fulltiming life east of the Mississippi River. It was almost impossible to find nice boondocking sites and we paid dearly for the privilege of camping in the heat, humidity, insect and weekend warrior-infested environs of the east coast. Since then we've been in the west, and the world has completely changed for us. This graphic published by the GAO really helps to visualize the differences between east and west for hardcore boondockers.

Some observations spring to mind when we look at this graphic.

1. There's so little federal public land in MI, ME, FL, LA, and TX that we may have camped on it all during our first year on the road.
2. NV is one of the best kept boondocking secrets. We love it, but rarely run into other boondockers who have spent much time there (other than around Lake Mead). The 84.5% of federal public land there is the nation's highest.
3. AZ has more quality federal public land to camp on than the 48.1% would imply.
4. CA has less quality federal public land to camp on than the 45.3% would imply.
5. The percentages are exaggerated because each year there seems to be more and more of this land being closed off to the public either through private leasing of the land, use restrictions driven by idiots abusing the land (that topic deserves its own blog post), and bogus "budget cutbacks".
6. This graphic doesn't include state-owned lands, so the actual percentages of public lands in each state is actually higher. In the case of Idaho, a total of 68% of the land is held by local, state or federal agencies.
6. We feel very fortunate to own 100 acres of the 32% of Idaho that is still available for private ownership.

Being heavy users of public land, the annual cost of camping for us is almost non-existent. In addition to any daily fees paid at campsites, we include our Idaho property taxes (it is a boondocking spot after all), annual dues for our Elks membership (after trying them all, we've dropped all the other RV memberships), and propane costs. In 2014, these add up to $250 so far. Our budget for the year is $450 and only $80 of it has been and will be campsite fees. I suppose you could add the capital cost of a solar system and generator to those boondocking camping fees, but for us, the cost of those systems is all about independence rather than being frugal about camping fees.

We'll be spending the Summer and early Fall boondocking in Idaho, Montana, and possibly eastern Washington. When we leave this Fall, it will be to head straight back to some remote corners of Nevada before migrating to Arizona again for the Winter.


  1. Yes, AZ is better than that graphic indicates. In large part that is due to some fine AZ State Trust Land.

    But the "freeness" issue is over-rated. Much of it is just cost-shifting towards higher transportation and rig-depreciation costs. The real reason for dispersed camping is to get away from the noise of other campers. The worst is the car-camping door-slammer.

    1. We've had this discussion a lot. Considering a decent cheap RV park costs at least $20-$30/night, finding a free boondocking site is a huge money saver over time. There is no cost-shifting for transportation costs. No matter where you camp, if you want to explore an area you will put in some miles driving. Even some of the best fee-charging campgrounds are far from civilization and require driving. If you are boondocking far from civilization, you're probably there because you want solitude anyway. You won't be driving into town each day. That's why we've set up our rig to go 30+ days without needing to go get water, food, fuel, etc. We do our shopping while we're driving between boondocking spots. As for rig-depreciation, I think you mean rig repair costs. Depreciation is an accounting methodology designed for businesses to plan replacement costs for capital equipment over a aet period of time. Rig repair could in theory occur if you damage your rig trying to get into a tough boondocking site. We've never done any damage to our rig boondocking. We've had costly damage done to our rig two times. Both times occurred in private campgrounds, not boondocking. We can buff out a lot of boondocking tree scratches on our rig for the $3,000 to $4,000 per year we save on campground fees. Discussion to be continued in some remote boondocking spot next winter!