Finding Campsite Part 2: Understanding and Using the MVUM

This is our current campsite. You can see my van in the upper right corner.

This is our current campsite. You can see my van in the upper right corner.

In today’s post we are going to continue looking at how to find a great boondocking spot. I suggest you go back and read Part 1 if you have not already. Picking up from where I left off, here are the remaining steps I take when searching:

Read other peoples Blogs: There are many people who have been boondocking for years and blogging about the beautiful campsites they found. To me it only makes sense to take advantage of their hard-won experience and follow their blogs. One of my goals for this blog is to make all of my campsites available for you. One day soon, when I have time, I will create a page with maps to them. Here are some blogs I follow

RVSue and Crew: http://rvsueandcrew.com/

Techno-Viking: http://techno-viking.com/maps/socal-map.html

Wheeling It: http://wheelingit.wordpress.com

New Age Nomad: http://www.newagenomad.com/

Another site I find invaluable is owned by some very good friends of mine who are actually living this life:

http://freecampsites.net/

Google is your friend! It’s astounding all the information available on the internet, so take full advantage of it. Whenever I am getting ready to move I do a Google Search for “dispersed camping” of my chosen area. So when I found my latest campsite I Goggled “Dispersed camping Prescott National Forest.” It isn’t always helpful, but at least it will take you to the Web Page of the Prescott National Forest official Website. Google Maps is a great tool to find the best route to the area you want to go to and the distances along the way.  Google Earth is a free download that lets you access satellite views of your location. It is an invaluable aid! A difference of only a few miles or few hundred feet of elevation can make a huge difference in what your new campsite might look like and Google Earth really helps to visualize it. At the end of the post I have some pictures I snipped from Google Earth of our campsite. Here is the site to download it:

http://www.google.com/earth/download/ge/agree.html

Photographers Guidebooks: Since one of my priorities is finding beautiful places, I have a collection of Photographers Guidebooks that help me find especially beautiful places. I can’t tell you how many times I would have driven right past a gorgeous spot if I hadn’t had ta photographers guidebook. They’re easy to find, just go to Amazon.com and type into the search bar “photographers guide Arizona”. Of course you would substitute your area for Arizona. Here is an example of one I find invaluable:
Photographing the Southwest: Volume 2–Arizona (2nd Ed.) (Photographing the Southwest)
MVUM Map: The Forest Service has started a new program to gain more control over where and how we use the National Forests. At first that sounds like a very bad thing, but I don’t think so! I can’t tell you how many places I have seen torn up by ATVs and Jeeps and covered with their trash. They love to wait till it rains and run around in the mud creating deep ruts and destroying the land. On a regular basis both the Forest Service and BLM have to do “Emergency Closures” to keep out all motorized vehicles so the land can heal itself. The new MVUM is an effort to prevent the damage before it happens by creating a map of every road under their control which clearly marks them as open or closed to vehicle travel. Appropriately it is named the Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM). But that’s not all it does, it also clearly shows where we are allowed to disperse camp and where we are not and gives the rules for dispersed camping. They are easy to find, all you need to do is a Google search. For example, I searched on “MVUM Prescott National Forest” and found the one I needed. They come as PDF files so you can download and print them. This is one of those times where a picture is worth more than a 1000 words, so I will show you the details in a picture at the end of the post. Here is a link to a central Forest Service website where you can find all the MVUM maps:

http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/ohv/ohv_maps.shtml

You might find some roads are too difficult for you to handle. If so, you need to improvise.

You might find some roads are too difficult for you to handle. If so, you need to improvise. Our vans had no problem with this road, but if it rains hard or snows, we will be trapped until it dries.

Make the Move, But be Ready to Improvise. Even with the best preparation, sometimes you get to an area and it just isn’t what you want. One of my all time favorite spots is Pahrump, NV, but after being there for a while I discovered the wind is simply unbearable and winter can be quite cold. Another example is a spot I had picked out at Yuma, AZ but it just was not going to work. So we searched around and found one nearby that would. Also, don’t be fooled by first impressions. At our current camp we started to settle in but discovered that while we had 3 bars on the internet, it simply would not come in. So we moved a mile away and had great internet. The lesson is: don’t be too hasty in setting up camp. Take a good look around the whole area before choosing your spot and even then spend a few hours or even a night there before completely unpacking and settling in.

Putting it all together: Here are the steps I took to find this campsite.

  1. I’ve camped near Prescott before and loved it! It is an amazing, beautiful little town but big enough to have every kind of shopping, so I wanted to be close to it. As always, the first thing I did was look at my Benchmark Atlas to narrow down the search to National Forest land at about the right elevation for the temperatures I was looking for; in this case 5000 feet. I knew that highway 89 was heavily traveled and would have strong Verizon Internet signal so I wanted to camp within a few miles of it.
  2. I remembered that RV Sue had camped on 89 the year before, so I went to her blog and found her posts about it. She had camped further up 89 almost to interstate 40. But from there the closest shopping was at the little town of Chino Valley which had a Safeway. So I wanted to learn from her mistake and camp as close as I could to Chino Valley and yet still be in the Prescott National Forest.
  3. I did a Google search of “Dispersed Camping Prescott National Forest” but found very little. However, it did take me to the MVUM map of that specific area. From it I narrowed my search down to a tiny area, and we drove straight to it. Logically, we thought the closer to 89 the better the internet signal, but that wasn’t true in this case. When we discovered the poor signal, we searched for a better one and found it another mile away from the road, but on a slight ridge that gave it a better line-of-sight to the cell tower. The extra elevation also gave us a much better view. That taught me a valuable lesson I will add to my bank of knowledge and in the future I will specifically look for ridge lines. A topo map will help you find one.
This is a shot of the road to our camp. On the right you can see the number of the road on the signpost. All FS roads are given a number, but over the years most of them end up without a sign giving it.

This is a shot of the road to our camp. On the right you can see the number of the road on the signpost. All FS roads are given a number, but over the years most of them end up without a sign giving it. They run cattle here, that’s why it is fenced.

This is a close-up I snipped from the FS MVUM. I've highlighted our exact location. You can see it gives the number of each road. Notice also that the roads have a blocked marking with dots along the side. In the snip below I will show you a snip of the legend explaining exactly what that means.

This is a close-up I snipped from the FS MVUM. I’ve highlighted our exact location. You can see it gives the number of each road. Notice also that the roads have a blocked marking with dots along the side. In the shot below I will show you a snip of the legend explaining exactly what that means.

In the MVUM legend I've highlighted what the marking means on the map above. It tells me that every road marked that way is open for legal dispersed camping.

In the MVUM legend I’ve highlighted what the marking means on the map above. It tells me that every road marked with the dots are open for legal dispersed camping.

This portion of the MVUM lists every road that is open to dispersed camping. I've highlighted the road I am camped on so I am 100% certain I am legal. To the right are the rules of where I can camp on a legal road. In this case I can be as far away as 300 feet from the center of the road. This rule is different in evry National Fores so you must get an MVUM for each one. You can download them form the link I give above, or you can go by any Ranger Station and pick one up.

This portion of the MVUM lists every road that is open to dispersed camping. I’ve highlighted the road I am camped on so I am 100% certain I am legal. To the right are the rules of where I can camp on a legal road. In this case I can be as far away as 300 feet from the center of the road. This rule is different in every National Forest so you must get an MVUM for each one. You can download them from the link I give above, or you can go by any Ranger Station and pick one up .

Next we will look at shots from Google Earth so you can see just how incredibly useful it is.

This is a wide shot from google Earth of our campsite. Below is a zoomed in close-up

This is a wide shot from Google Earth of our campsite. In this snip it is hard to read so I added the red highlight and road numbers. But it is easy to see when you are using it. In the shot below is a zoomed in close-up of our campsite.

A close up of our exact campsite from Google Earth. If this shot was taken today, you could easily identify us. It is much greener and denser with foliage now.

A close up of our exact campsite from Google Earth. If this shot was taken today, you could easily identify us. It is much greener and denser with foliage now than this appears. Notice also that at the bottom of the screen it gives the latitude and longitude of our site.

 

 

 

Bob
About

I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

Posted in Camping Locations
40 comments on “Finding Campsite Part 2: Understanding and Using the MVUM
  1. stan watkins says:

    A million thanks Bob.

  2. randy(livinfree 1964) says:

    Really appreciate the info/instructions=}Thank you!!!!

  3. Very fine explanation, Bob. Hope you are having fun.
    Charlene Swankie recently posted…North to Alaska–postponed til AugustMy Profile

  4. Billiam says:

    I appreciate your truly helpful blog, Bob. I read your book and it’s been an eye opener. At 71 I have wondered is I still have what it would take to live and travel as you have done, but after reading your book and following your blog I am convinced I do. I love the west, traveling, solitude and appreciating the earth. Can’t tell you how much your blog helps me.
    ThanksBill

    • Bob Bob says:

      Bill, I know many people about your age and some even older who live the free, mobile life. Only you know for sure, but my guess is you can do it!
      Bob

  5. Dennis says:

    Very good info BoB. Much appreciated.

  6. Dixie says:

    Hi Bob, Much appreciate all your excellent info and experience. It sure does make it easier for all the rest of us to understand how you navigate this lifestyle. Hope you are enjoying “The Cruise” with your Mom!!! Sincerely,Dixie

  7. Tina says:

    Thanks Bob! Another informative post. Enjoy your cruise.

    Tina

  8. Cyrus Palmer says:

    I use some of the same techniques to find parking spots in the city. Google maps is invaluable. But nothing beats the boots on the ground recon. And in the city, every spot you look at is close enough to drive by and inspect for yourself and decide if it will work or not.
    Cyrus Palmer recently posted…My new artMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Right you are Cyrus! When I lived in the city my box van got 5-8 mpg so I planned a route close to work and my gym to minimize driving. So that was a very similar type of planning. But out here in the wilds safety is not even a factor, but in the city it is. Nothing will ever compare to the gut feeling you get about the safety of an area when you are actually there. Those ancient instincts are still there and need to be listened to.
      Bob

  9. Patty says:

    As a fairly new person to boondocking, I found this post info very helpful. I have the Benchmark maps but still had trouble understanding how they worked. Your info has helped me so much.
    Thanks,
    Patty

  10. Diane Kirkendall says:

    great info. Thanks 🙂

  11. Bodhi says:

    I always enjoy your posts and quite often I learn something that I don’t know where else I would/could learn it… and… there are times when I am just blown away by what you are doing (both living your life and sharing your life with us). Today you have topped the charts on all three of these areas! Thank you so much for sharing this. I try to live in THE NOW but my current now is being use to dream of a tomorrow out there with you… outside the Varmit-Go-Round! Beyond the Rat Race!

    Much Love and Admiration for you.

    Peace Out!
    Bodhi

  12. christine says:

    You’re a wealth of information, Bob. Thanks for putting the time in to write all this down.
    christine recently posted…It’s HugeMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Chrisitne, I am an information Junkie and I just suck it up wherever I can. But my poor brain can only hod so much, so I am dumping it out on you all!
      Bob

  13. Linda Sand says:

    I looked at Benchmark maps and got confused. Now I know that’s because they are just a starting point. Thanks for helping me learn how to do this better. I hope to see you again next winter–I’ll be following one of your maps.
    Linda Sand recently posted…Chasing the 70sMy Profile

  14. Hunter says:

    Hi Bob
    How about a day in the life of narrative detailing how you spend your time from wake up to bed time including the mundane eat, dress, wash, bathroom etc. on a moving day?
    Hunter

    • Bob Bob says:

      Hunter, I think it would be easier if you just took a sleeping pill! Really, my life is pretty boring! Moving day, on the other hand, is generally pretty busy and I wouldn’t have time to do it. Plus, most of you don’t have trailers and so much of it wouldn’t apply to you. But I will keep it in mind for a future post.
      Bob

  15. Al Christensen says:

    It’s encouraging for a city boy like me to learn cell service can still be had (with limitations) out in the boonies.

  16. DougB says:

    Bob, big mistake giving the exact details of your relocated campsite! I’ll be pulling the Rolling Wreckage in there in a day or two, and will find the primo spot you vacated and hog it (until you come back, or the others there drive me away with sticks).

    • Bob Bob says:

      Ah Doug, there is nothing to worry about, we both know there isn’t a chance in h*ll of your trailer making it that far!! And if by some miracle you do make it I left my viscous guard dog Homer to watch my spot until I got back. And you know what that means; he will keep licking you until he gives you a rash! So there!

      Seriously, I’m delighted you will be joining us. The camp is now co-ed with both Charlene and Cheri there. You know the road is pretty rutted, but I don’t think it will be a problem. Bob

    • Bob Bob says:

      Doug, don’t top off your tanks before coming up here! Gas is 30 cents a gallon less in Prescott than Wickenburg and I assume that is true of diesel as well. You definitely want to go south and come up I 17 and then 69 to get here. 89 between Wickenburg and Prescott is very curvy, but I think you could make it, but it is also very steep and dragging your trailer up here would be a real haul!
      Bob

  17. cozygirl says:

    from someone just beginning our new journey…a thousand thanks!!!!
    cozygirl recently posted…FOR SALE – the sign is up!!!My Profile

  18. wheelingit says:

    What an excellent post on how to use the MVUM! Cheers very much for the linkup too. I’ll be referring back to this for sure.
    Nina
    wheelingit recently posted…Boondocking Site Review – Comb Wash BLM, Trail Of The Ancients, Blanding, UTMy Profile

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