Camp Hunting II
A day trip into Chino Valley for assorted necessities was needed after a week of camping miles east of town, so I decided that I may as well find a new campsite at the end of it – because I now can. I’ve hopefully outfitted the Intrepid for 1-week stays, and that was technically pulled short a few days when I failed to keep tabs on breakfast items. I was having soup or kippers for breakfast, which works, but it just felt…wrong. So wrong. Water was holding out fine after 7 days out, being somewhere between 1/3rd-2/3rds full, thanks to a simple menu that doesn’t require much cooking or cleanup. And I’m still waiting to run out of the first tank of propane despite running the furnace for minimum temperature each night.
So, I made a late start and spent the day picking up packages, buying sundries, mailing off a failed memory stick at the Post Office, refilling the Intrepid’s water tank, doing laundry, buying groceries, disposing of waste bags, and of course enjoying breakfast out. I generally don’t eat any meals out because the expense adds up, but when a great place for breakfast is available and cheap, I’m a sucker for it.
By the time that was all done, it was after 5 PM and I had some scrambling to do if’n I was to locate a new camp and get the Intrepid’s roof up before dark. Looking around for an isolated campsite along a dirt trail is not the same as hitting the Old Same Place or choosing an RV park on a main drag. In this case, I wanted to stay east of town off of Perkinsville Road, and had a couple of new areas to check out. Those two new-to-me trails were about 12 and 14 miles east of Chino, and Perkinsville Road turns to dirt and ranches soon after leaving town. Don’t hit any cattle.
Of the new trails, FS900U and FS164 turned out to be either a flood-prone area or diving across a deep and soon-to-be-active wash. They suddenly represented time lost, and I headed back to my former sites off Haystack Road with all possible dispatch. It was now very near sunset, and to make the rocky, rolling pass further on up FS368 less so, I applied the Coyote tire deflators, the first of which was ready to be removed almost by the time I put on the last one of the four. But I had a few slow miles to go to reach the end of the FS368A branch, and the sun had just set by the time I reached it. No grounding-out sounds along the way, which was good, though it helped a lot to have at least some sky light to pick my way over the challenges. Roof was raised, propane was turned on, and groceries and fresh clothing were packed away by the time it got dark. Camp accomplished. Verizon signals are between one and two bars, but it works, albeit a little slowly. No need to break out the signal amplifier. Helpful factoid: Since there were no steep climbs, I was able to get from Perkinsville Road to the campsite in 2WD. There was no tire slippage, so a limited-slip diff is not required, at least with the weight of a camper in back. The “campsite” image is here on Google Maps, and the GPS coords are 34.826738, -112.360496. Elevation 4,905′. Have fun.
Asked how I find new trails and new campsites, the answer is easy but the doing of it is not. I consult the MVUMs (Motor Vehicle Use Maps) of the area I’m in. The Forest Service makes these special interactive PDF file maps available for download, and paper versions can be ordered or picked up at the nearest Ranger’s office. Due to the problems caused by ATVs and basic overuse, the Service has eliminated motorized travel and dry camping on many trails. The result is that only certain trails are now available, and you want to be careful to camp within the prescribed distance to any designated trail. Time limits for your stay apply as well, so it pays to go into each National Forest with some awareness of the rules and level of enforcement, which ranges from kindly/generous to an assumption that you are a budding perpetrator. The good type starts with your encounter occurring on an approved trail.
Me, I prefer to download and view MVUMs on my old iPad, using a free app from Avenza called PDF Maps. Avenza’s “store” then offers a ton-and-a-half of maps for various purposes, at nominal cost. The MVUMs are free, however. When viewed from a mobile device, the store presents only maps associated with your area, unless you tell it otherwise.The only real drawback is that MVUMs can change from year to year, so it pays to download any newer ones in areas you’ll be visiting, just in case.
The thing I like about MVUMs is that on any mobile device with GPS capabilities, it shows exactly where you are on the map. It does this as long as the device can get a satellite signal, not a cellular signal. You can zoom in, or out. This helps immensely when you are looking for an unmarked trail entrance or a side trail. In an area where other non-approved trails exist, it separates the wheat from the chaff. I may choose a basic area to stay in by recommendation, from freecampsites.net, from a Forest Service homepage about that forest and camping rules, or pick a town and then look online for camping areas near it. But, when it comes to finding a trail, it comes down to the MVUM and usually, viewing in on Google Maps to look for any visible problems at first blush. It’s a bit risky to go by endorsements and turn-by-turn directions alone without consulting a MVUM, since that favorite campsite may or may not be valid.
This site-finding was quite an ordeal when I hauled the Defiant TT around with me, since it was heavy and low to the ground. Given its limitations for ground clearance and turning radius, simply turning off the roadway onto an unfamiliar trail was a commitment hesitantly made. The Ford/Grandby combo nearly eliminates this – emphasis on nearly.
When I was first starting out, I naturally assumed that any trail marked as approved for vehicular travel and/or camping was passable for at least a significant fraction of RVs. After all, what would be the point of approving a trail that was A] impassable at least by more nimble rigs and B] had no places to pull off beside it to make camp? In truth, I quickly found that a large number of “approved” trails on the MVUM were hazardous even for the unladen Ford pickup running solo. It’s not just an issue of wet weather and mud, but of the terrain itself being too rough. So I, even I, in the Mighty Intrepid, must leave a significant number of trails to those with short wheelbase, extra-high clearance vehicles with extraction equipment able to deal with deep sand and gravel. As the character Dirty Harry once muttered in one of the series, “A man’s got to know his limitations”. That’s true for off-road camping as well.
Part of the problem is being able to pull off to create a campsite, if there are none available along a set trail. The Ford can certainly do that, but the issue I find worrisome is ground cover, which often consists of dried out tall weeds. It’s not like the Ford is throwing sparks out of its exhaust, but that exhaust system is hot, the weeds are bone dry, and weed stalks also serve as helpful overnight ladders for mice and insects. Ask me how I know that. So you keep going to search out low ground cover or none at all.
The other problem is weather, of course. Many trails are composed of dusty dirt with deep ruts and crossings that will turn to deep goo in the occasional rain of the Southwest. Sure, it’s mostly dry weather, but when it does rain, it’s not a good time to figure out that you’ll be out of beans and water by the time it dries out. Integral to that is weather forecasting that is both ever-changing and inaccurate. After checking it and finding it confidently predicting a full-sun day and zero-percent chance of rain, you notice rain on the roof and check it again. You’ll find it either unchanged, or it will predict some rain that will end soon. Predicted deluges blow past, expand to several days, or consolidate into one big dumper on one day that either comes true or disappears by noon.
Weather is a crapshoot, but it’s vital in the way I now camp. Example: here in my new campsite at the end of FS368A, it’s a pleasant and quiet campsite on a ridge that descends into a canyon floor below. The soil is a kind of quasi-loamy dust mix that will make a nice mud overshoe if it rains, but overall area drainage is good. The trail getting here seems well-compacted, much of it with a stone base. But I’m pretty unlikely to make it all the way out should I need to move the camper for any reason before next week begins. There are enough deep water channels and flat dust areas to back this up.
That’s the other reason for the supplies trip. It’s all about forecasts and timing. Significant rain is due in during the oncoming days, in ever-changing forecasts. As of yesterday, some rain was due tomorrow and the next day, Friday, with big rain on Sunday. As of this afternoon, tomorrow may suffer a little rain, with 0.1″ on Saturday and 0.41″ on Sunday. A half-inch of rain over a couple of days out here is impressive, as it means that all those dry water channels I crossed to get here will be in full form. Of all the alternatives in this entire area, this may be one of the best spots to ride out a heavy rainstorm. I’m aware of only one potentially better campsite north of Paulden, and that’s usually occupied. My hope is that the forecast does not extend the rain much further than Sunday. If that proves so, the trails should once again be dry by the time I resupply or depart per normal schedule. If not, I should have at the least another half-week’s supply of water, Tang, and eclairs to ride it out. It’d rather be marooned in this metal and tarp cocoon than stuck axle-deep on a greasy mud trail. Ain’t much can be done until it dries out completely. The unpredictability is part of the adventure, I figure. But, when it’s all over, risk management is the way to massage the odds in your favor when you want to camp in the outback.