Railroad Grade Road (FS-568) Dispersed Camping near Mancos, CO – 8-18 to 8-24-19
This year has seen our camping costs run the gamut from $50/night to free. As you know from following our blog we try to stay away from destination style campgrounds. However due to circumstances we may find ourselves near a popular town because we need to dump, fill and do laundry or because we are exploring boondocking possibilities and need a base to operate from.
Due to the huge number of recreational vehicles being sold, 483,000 in 2018 and 504,000 in 2017, campgrounds are in high demand. This means that it is nearly impossible to find campground availability on weekends when making short term plans. Many campers are now making weekend reservations up to a year in advance to secure a spot. Life changes, who can plan that far ahead?
Another thing that exacerbates the problem of lack of availability is that the penalty for not showing up for a weekend reservation in a federal campground is often only $9, or the service charge for the reservation service. Often we will travel through a Forest Service campground on the weekends only to find several spaces empty. But you cannot occupy these spaces because they have been reserved.
In a perverse way this works out to our advantage because we don’t like crowds anyway so dealing with fully booked campgrounds forces us to seek out lesser known towns and campsites that are away from popular spots. This means several things: 1) you have to look at camp sites more than 2 hours away from a major metropolitan area to minimize the “weekender onslaught”; 2) you have to seek out less popular areas; 3) you have to visit areas in the off season; 4) you have to travel far to get beyond the “comfort zone of most RVers” which will also mean fewer camping opportunities and fewer camping services.
We’ve been experimenting with fine tuning our techniques this year. We have imposed a limitation on ourselves to not be more than a 3 day drive from San Angelo, Texas for family reasons which makes this challenging.
Our first major stay was in Cloudcroft, NM. We found a nice National Forest Campground with paved sites that did not accept reservations. But it was only 1.5 hours from Las Cruces/El Paso and it was too close to Texas. Anyone in Texas seeking cooler weather was coming to Cloudcroft. On the weekends, the campground was overrun by folks from Las Cruces/El Paso. Unfortunately the camp hosts were instructed to not make waves which meant that many of the campground rules were ignored. For example, sites were limited to one camping unit and one vehicle. On weekends no attempt was made to enforce this rule. As a result the noise and amount of people created quite a disturbance.
The site you see was a double site meaning 2 cars and two camping units or tents were what was expected to be on this site. There ended up being 5 cars and 6 tents, squalling kids and partying going on well after the 10pm quiet hour. We were formerly in the empty site next to them, but when it became apparent the rules were not going to be enforced we moved.
So that is where we learned our lesson about being too close to major population centers.
While there we talked to several full time or near full time RVers. Red River, NM was mentioned as a possible destination. It seemed to fit the criteria. Over 3 hours from the nearest major population center, no discernible popular activities and cool temperatures.
What we didn’t realize we had to take into consideration was the proximity to Texas. Once again, it appeared that every Texan that had wheels was in Red River. Also the town had no uniqueness, no soul. It existed solely to serve the tourists. Obviously it was successful in that endeavor.
We chose to stay in another National Forest Campground where we found once again that rules were the merest suggestion and not subject to any enforcement. We had what we thought was a secluded site flanked on 2 sides by single unit campsites. Then this happened right next to us.
This is a small single family site. The occupants are squeezing in 3 cars, one travel trailer, 4 tents, 3 shelters, 8 adults and 3 screaming kids. The two cars are partially blocking the interior road. The camp host is at a remote location and comes by once a day to collect money from the iron ranger. Apparently he too, had been instructed to not make waves about the rules.
For RVers like us that seek out nature and peacefulness, it appears that National Forest Campgrounds may not be the answer. Usually they are peaceful and quiet Monday through Thursday, but come the weekend they more resemble a wild animal zoo.
So, what are a couple of campers to do? In our search for tranquility, we have stayed at several lessor known commercial parks. While they are pleasant, and not horribly overpriced, they lack personality. We still want the mountains, forests and views.
We had been reading a lot about boondocking up around Silverton, CO. That’s in the mountains, right? Plenty of camping opportunities in the wilderness right? We picked a spot in Durango (after being turned down by two other campgrounds because they were booked). It was fifty bucks a night for a site with the utilities installed backwards. We had to park with our front windshield pushed up to a tree so we could connect to the hookups. But we had air conditioning and since it was hot we were gonna use the heck out of that electricity. The only reason we were staying in Durango was so we could scout out some off the grid camping spots near Silverton or Ouray to spend a few weeks at cooler altitudes.
Boy were we shocked. All of the spots we checked were either to dangerous to take Miss Mosey, or packed like a commercial campground on a 4th of July weekend. Any place accessible by Miss Mosey looked like this.
What’s is the point of going boondocking if your neighbor is 10 feet away from you. Free camping is nice, but at what sacrifice? So, disappointed, we returned to Durango.
We know that in the summer, you have to find a spot at 9,000 feet or above to have cool daytime temperatures. We weren’t ready to go all the way to Telluride, so we picked a spot near Mancos, CO but it was only at 8,000 feet. We ended up in a spot with a great view and no neighbors.
Because of the lack of elevation, it gets a little too warm during the day. Our solar system is handling 95% of our electrical needs and it is so peaceful here. However, because of the low to mid 80 degree daytime temperatures, we will soon be moving to either higher elevations or somewhere with an electrical hookup. Oh and one more thing, you can actually see the Milky Way from here.
So what have we learned from all this? If we are honest, a lot of camping is hit or miss. Social media has ruined a lot of boondocking spots. Everybody wants to brag about the great spot they found and where it is. And so they become crowded. Also the shear number of RVers out there are competing for a limited number of spots. Think of Musical Chairs on steroids.
Sometimes you have to suffer a lot of thorns to find the rose. We continue to learn and adapt about how to find wonderful places to camp while trying to avoid the crowds. More remote spots seem to help. Our style of RVing, “winging” it is becoming more and more difficult. But if it was easy, everybody would be doing it, right?