Way back in our first winter of RV travel ten years ago, a guy Nollind talked to in an RV park in Las Vegas told him about boondocking, or dispersed camping. This was two months and many RV parks into our journey, and it opened us up to a whole new world.
Our very first dip in the boondocking pool was at the Kelso Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve. We could hardly believe we were the only campers at such an awesome place. For the humans, the scenery was spectacular, plus it was quiet, dark, and … FREE! For the canines, we had our first experience of running up and down sand dunes and some much-needed off-leash time.
We returned to Kelso in 2015. Logan was eleven by this time and not quite up to the full climb with his bad elbow, but we climbed a good piece of the way up the largest dune and did some hiking on the smaller ones.
We didn’t plan to go to Kelso this year. We left our last stop near Parker aimed for the Joshua trees of a place called Stouts Well. When that didn’t pan out, due to many miles of rough road to get there, we turned west toward the Mojave Preserve and a campground called Hole in the Wall.
We climbed far up and into the Mojave from the highway, and despite the big drop in temperature at Hole in the Wall’s 4200 feet, the place was packed. No room at the inn for Sid. Even the dispersed camping spots in the area were full of people (or inaccessible with our rig). So we found ourselves outbound at sunset, headed for the other main road into the Mojave and a place called Kelbaker Boulders.
It was dark by the time we arrived, but a short walk with a flashlight provided the bad news … Kelbaker Boulders was also full. The ranger at Hole in the Wall told us he’d never seen the preserve so busy in March. Just our luck. The ranger also gave us a backup plan if nothing else panned out– the day use parking lot at Kelso Dunes. Because it’s day use, we weren’t really supposed to park there overnight, but he told us to give his name and cite “safety reasons” if anyone gave us grief.
So there we were, well after dark, bumping along the gravel road toward the Kelso Dunes. What had started out as a couple of hours to our next destination when we set out that morning, had turned into a ten-hour travel day. Unless you know an area really well, it’s hard to arrive at a dispersed camping area after dark as there are no lights, developed sites, numbered posts, or even reliable roads. So the sloped day-use lot it would be. With a little help from our levelers, we were parked, fed, and into bed. And Kelso lived up to its reputation. It was quiet, dark, and … FREE!
Early the next morning, we drove the last mile of the road to reach the dispersed camping area. The last part of the road was the worst in terms of washboards and bumps, but it was such a short drive compared to the previous day of failed destinations that nobody minded.
I probably don’t have to tell you we didn’t climb the tallest dune in celebration of ten years of boondocking. Nollind carried me up to the top of the Coral Pink Sand Dunes back in December, but Kelso is a whole other magnitude of dune. The highest one is over six hundred feet high, and steep, with footing that moves when you step on it. It was a young dog’s playground, but I’m no young dog anymore.
Of all the places we travelled this winter, Kelso was the only boondocking place we returned to from that original journey of 2011/12. All the others have been discoveries we’ve made on trips since. Ten years of journeying. Ten years of stories. Ten years of discovering new places.
Whoever you were, guy in Las Vegas who told us about boondocking … THANKS!