Free dispersed camping across the road from Sawtooth Canyon!

I want to show you some pics of the neat boondocking area here.

If you’re traveling through southern California in the Barstow – Victorville area, free camping is available at Sawtooth Canyon Campground (as I write this in November 2012).

It’s not going to remain free forever though.

However, free dispersed camping is available directly across from the campground entrance, across route 247, in the “limited use” area.

Yesterday I have a long lean-on-the-pick-up conversation with Ranger Jim.

Limited use, I learn from Ranger Jim, is the term for an area designated by the Bureau of Land Management for camping and Off-Highway Vehicle riding, while at the same time protecting the plants, wildlife and character of an area.  People are allowed to camp and ride OHVs on those roads within that area that have a post at their beginning which states “open route.”

Dispersed camping area in the Mojave Desert.  This is not an “open route.”

“The trouble is people won’t stay on the open routes,” Ranger Jim tells me with exasperation.  “So for people like you (meaning people who camp and don’t OHV ride), that’s great.”

Ranger Jim sees my confused look.  “Because if they keep tearing up the desert over there, it won’t be limited use any more.  The OHVers won’t be allowed at all.”

Then Ranger Jim shares a little history about Sawtooth Canyon Campground, which he’s been associated with since its creation. 

“This used to be an OHV place.  One weekend there was a big bunch of OHVers in here, tearing up the vegetation.  It was a mess.  The district director had an emergency closure declared and, that very same day, the OHVers were shut out of here forever.  Now the plants and wildlife are coming back.  People from Los Angeles can bring their kids out here and see coyotes and chukars and desert tortoises.”

Today the crew and I wake up to a cold morning and grey sky with heavy cloud cover.

By afternoon some blue sky returns.

I fire up the PTV’s engine, turn on its heater, and pop Bridget and Spike inside.  Soon it’s warm and toasty inside.  We head into town to do laundry, pick up a few groceries, and fill a propane tank.

This is the first time in the fifteen months I’ve been on the road that I remove the propane tank from the BLT and take it somewhere to be filled. Up until now I always needed to dump or fill a tank in the BLT at the same time, so I drove the BLT to the propane place.  I don’t need to dump or fill any tanks right now, just need propane. With this cold snap, I don’t want to be running out of propane for our little Wave 3 heater.

Driving around Barstow, I look and look and can’t find a gas station that sells propane!

Then I see a big propane tank sitting in the parking lot of the U-Haul place.  I didn’t know U-Haul sells propane!  I zip right in there and buy 4.2 gallons at $3.33 a gallon.

I’m getting ahead of myself here, so let’s back up a bit . 

Driving out the dirt, campground road to the paved highway, I stop, bring the window down, and listen to the coyotes.  A jackrabbit dashes across in front of the PTV.

I’m beginning to fall in love with the wildness of this place.  Hmm  . . . This would be a good time to take a look at the dispersed camping area across the road.

The dirt road is narrow in places, but it wouldn’t be hard to maneuver a big rig over it.

Here’s a boondock site with plenty of room.

I find some great campsites suitable for a rig of any size. There’s a section where you can look out over the immense valley to the north, to Barstow and the mountains beyond.  I try to photograph the view but in this gloomy light, my photos don’t do it justice.  I turn the PTV around before we get to the end of the road, but I can tell the road goes a long way back into the desert from the highway.

Three cacti on a dark and gloomy morning in the Mojave Desert in November.

If it weren’t for the possibility of OHV riders, I’d consider this a perfect boondock area.  I’d pick a spot next to a tall pile of boulders for shade and a windbreak, but close enough to the open area to set up a chair and enjoy the wide-angle view.

Today I don’t see one OHV, probably because it’s windy.  (I take the photos from inside the PTV to protect the camera.)

The road takes you around and between hills of rocks. I only saw two cholla plants, so it’s dog-friendly (well, excepting the coyotes!).

This is good-to-know information.

If for some reason you don’t want to camp at the Sawtooth Campground or it grows in popularity and is full when you arrive, the dispersed camping across the road is an excellent second option. (I no longer recommend this area for dispersed camping.  See note at end of post.) Both places are about fifteen miles south of Barstow on Route 247.

The road to Sawtooth Canyon Campground just as you turn off the highway.  I took this when we returned from Barstow and the sky is turning blue again.

Ranger Jim told me a desert tortoise is over in the sand of the playground area.

I go over there to take a look and a photo, but I don’t see it.  I hope my luck at viewing a tortoise isn’t like my luck viewing elk!

Bridget and Spike sleep a lot when we’re in cold weather.

Right now they’re in dreamland in the middle of the afternoon.  Last night I enjoyed my first hot chocolate of the season.  A cold wind still blows, which is not very good weather for weekend campers and rock-climbers.  Fulltime vagabonds like me and my crew, however, will hunker down and see it through!


IMPORTANT NOTE:  ONE YEAR LATER . . .  The OHVers wrecked the road, smashed vegetation, and turned the campsites into parking lots.  I no longer recommend the area across from Sawtooth Canyon Campground for dispersed camping.


About rvsueandcrew

Fulltime nomad
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28 Responses to Free dispersed camping across the road from Sawtooth Canyon!

  1. mockturtle says:

    It’s a shame that OHV-ers have to screw up their own recreation like that. I’ve heard them complain about ‘losing’ their ‘rightful’ riding areas—small wonder why! There are probably a lot more responsible OHV-ers who do not tear up the landscape by going out of bounds but those who do ruin it for all of them, as is so often the case. 😦 Personally, I’d rather not see nor hear them but my idea of fun is not theirs.

  2. Geri says:

    Grin 🙂 I am like Bridget and Spike in the winter….. I sleep alot. No, I guess if I were to be honest I would have to say I hibernate like the bears. Give me a good cup of hot chocolate or spicy chai tea and a good book in the winter and you won’t see me until Spring! We are told to expect the possibility of snow tonight. Sheeeeeeesh! Love the photographs as usual, you do a great job! Thanks for sharing!

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Snow? And I thought that surprise blizzard the week after Thanksgiving last year was early for New Mexico.

      • earthdancerimages says:

        😦 It is just the POSSIBILITY of a snow storm! But just thinking about it makes me groan! Oh well, maybe it will bring me an idea for my blog! But why does it have to snow on our days off ???

  3. Chuck says:

    SouthWest NM under a high wind warning for tonite !!!!! We’ll prob only get rain, but the Black Range(tween here and T or C) will get some. But we need the rain soooo bad.

  4. Julia G says:

    Thanks so much for putting the calendar list back up!! I’ve read the entire blog, but started over reading it to my husband. We’re both roadies and could not be prouder of you! We have enjoyed this blog so much. Your such an excellent writer that when I read your blog, I don’t hear my voice reading it to myself, I actually hear your voice…freakishly weird isn’t it :0) Give Bridet and Spikey puppy smoochies…and yourself a big pat on the back for cleaning the desert as you go! My gosh your the best!! :0)

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Wow! What a great bunch of compliments! You’d better not meet me in person; you’re sure to be disappointed. I think that it’s cool that you hear MY voice. Actually it’s kinda creepy, if you think about it too much. 🙂

      Seriously, thanks for reading my blog.

      • cinandjules says:

        I have to agree…about hearing your voice…………Spike and Bridget’s voice also. It’s the way you write…almost like we are right there with you. You often have me laughing…in a good way!

  5. cinandjules says:

    I hope the tortoise didn’t wander off too far and you get to see it before you leave. Curious to hear Spike’s reaction.

    It all comes down to that word again,”respect”. Whether it be OHV’s, ATV’s, jetskis or snowmobiles some operators don’t care or think about the destruction they are doing…while having, what they percieve, as fun. Mwah? Call me a party poop….as I don’t see the thrill of it at all!

    Wind is your friend………hah…remind you of Wyoming? Wind equals peace and quiet…from noisey campers/OHV’s and a chance to take in the sounds of nature.

    Enjoy your night Desert Woman!

    PS: your picture on the sidebar was right after the crew exited stage left as you waited for timer on the camera to go off……absolutely priceless!

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      I do admit I was hoping for rain or wind or cold. It’s Saturday morning now and so far, so good — no one is in the one site that’s next to us. Your P.S. gave me a chuckle remembering the moment .. .

  6. Carol says:

    talk about excitement, try sharing a trail on a green horse with An oHV,whoops

  7. Gayle Cooper says:

    Hot chocolate and books … just been thinking how fun if you had a BLT Book Nook. I’d love to read a few (teacher-produced) book reports. After all, reading is what we all dream doing lots of, and your choices and reviews would be interesting and useful. How ’bout it?

  8. Jack says:

    Ive learned that Uhaul is one of the most expensive to buy propane. But if no other choices are at hand what can a person do! Great blog! Keep it up!

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      When the rent is zero, I don’t mind paying a little extra for the convenience. I’m glad I have the propane now. It was cold last night, but I bundled up, and this morning the percolator is taking the chill out of the BLT. Any colder than this and I’ll turn on the heater.

  9. Penny says:

    I dont know what I’d do if you ever stopped blogging. Every few days I look forward to popping in here just to find out what you’re up to (or into 😉 You’re addictive lady!! I have learned so much about boondocking in the western states from you. Your writing is like reading one of the BEST camping (boondocking) books available EVER! You have a way with words & phrasing that draws me into where you are every single time. Your photos are always interesting as well as beautiful. And as creepy as it is, I, too hear your voice..well someones other than my own when I’m reading along. You’ve surely made me laugh out loud as well as tear up. I will often come back to read several of your post/replies a second time, dont want to miss a thing. You’ve had some really great adventures so far!

    Bridgett & Spike have to be the best camping buddies anyone could have, they seem content just about anywhere you put them. I love the Canine Corner, that Bridgett is a mess 😉 and Spike is a handsome little devil :p

    I, sometimes wish that I could be in some of the neat places you’re in, but far around the corner or down the road so that you wont disturb my peace & quiet 😉

    Keep safe, travel on & enjoy your ventures 😀

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Gee, it’s fun to wake up and read how wonderful my blog is! 🙂 I’m glad you’re enjoying my writing, Penny. Many days I look at what I’ve written and think, well, they can’t all be good, and then someone compliments me. Thank you.

      I certainly do have the best camping buddies. They adapt to different homes and whatever I throw at them. When I get out the black harnesses, Spike’s little tail wags and Bridget hops up and down. Warms my heart. Even when I’m mad at Spike and exasperated with Bridget!

  10. bythervr says:

    Hi Sue,
    Another great entry by RVSue. Now, if I were near California I would check it out but… I’m in New Brunswick, looking out my living room window, listening to the wind as I view the first ‘stay on the ground’ snow of the season. Brrr… You make the desert sound so inviting. A year ago if you had stopped at a place where you could hear coyotes you would likely have been motivated to drive on but not now; they’re neighbors after all.

    All the best!

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hi Barrie!
      As a former upstate New Yorker, I remember sitting at the window, listening to the wind, and watching the snow fall sideways. I don’t think I could handle that kind of weather again, after so many years in Florida, Georgia, and now the Southwest. Now that you mention it, the coyotes are more pleasant than some neighbors I’ve had!

      Stay warm and wear your mittens!

  11. Hi Sue, I am boondocking in an Open Route area just to the SouthWest of you (between 395 and I15 just north of Victorville). Every weekend we get ATVers and motorcycles but they are quite well behaved. They avoid the road I am camped on and don’t seem to do any damage. I think the reason is it is just locals, and they seem to care more for the land.

    The area you are in is famous among the ATVers and they come from far and wide and congregate. It seems like when they “pack up” their behavior gets much, much worse. I think the whole country (and California in particular) is suffering from a “Rural-Urban Divide” and this is a classic example of it. Bob

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Nice to hear from you again, Bob. Just this morning I thought of you and wondered if my last reply to you was too abrupt. (An ongoing problem of mine!) You graciously invited me to your boondock area and I as much as said, well, I may not feel like it. I need an Extreme Etiquette Makeover!

      I’m glad you’ve found a place that is frequented by well-behaved people. It’s been good over here. I think the bad behavior was “nipped in the bud” with the closure of Sawtooth Canyon Campground to OHVers. That sent a powerful message.

      I wonder if the internet contributes to the chaos of pack behavior. Someone writes on facebook or somewhere that they’re going to go to such-and-such a place to ride their OHV or go camping or climb rocks or whatever, and they inadvertently invite 500 people of similar interest whom they’ve never met. I worry that I’m doing that to prime camping spots by writing this blog.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hey, I read on your blog that you encountered a rattlesnake! I hope this cold sends all of them underground for several months.

  12. Bill says:

    Hi SUE- Most of the weather that you endured one year ago will not materialize. All of the ‘fronts’ are North of NM. In fact, those ‘experts’ are predicting a dry winter for NM. Not good but probably true.

    The only time I’ve heard of rattlesnakes coming out in winter is in wet weather when flooding conditions occur.They will not in your path, usually on rocks or formations that hold heat during the afternoon sun. They come out at night, seeking rodants but the cold abaits this a bit. They also like warm things like CAR ENGINES! I use to put a spinkle of AJAX around the front of our cars (they don’t like the smell)!

    The best advise is to wear boots. Doesn’t help with dogs or other animals but it does help YOU! Sleepy snakes, esp young rattles are the worst case I can think of. K almost got nailed by a 12″ rattlers when opening one of our storage garages! It woke up and stuck her coat!

    I use to think they were all part of GOD’s great plan, but NONONo. They have an attitude problem, like all wild animals, reps and ect! haha. Stay safe, you and crew! Bill

    • earthdancerimages says:

      Not sure what front Bill is talking about! A front blew through here yesterday with 25mph+ wind gusts, rain and cold. Woke up to 25 degrees this morning and it’s 9:30am and the thermometer just nudged past 30 degrees! brrrrrrrr !!! We are only 80 miles west of Bill and Kathy! But as cold as it is today, the wind is gone and the sun is out! Front has passed through!

  13. carol says:

    in thrWillamette valley it’s been belw freezing for a week, and ;ohgy,nasty weather!!

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