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Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts

By Bob Difley

This information and tips on desert RVing, camping, and boondocking on the desert's vast public lands will enable you to quickly learn the desert's bag of tricks and make your desert experience efficient, comfortable, and most of all--fun. This 43-page eBook is crammed with searchable links to additional sources of information and has photos of desert locations to explore and several locations to boondock.

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Following is an excerpt from the book.

Frozen in time, like a real-life statue, the coyote stood motionless, muscles taut, eyes focused on his target. I followed his gaze, but could not see what had captured his attention. Suddenly he shot forward while almost simultaneously a wide-eyed jack rabbit exploded out of the brush, and a nearby cottontail sprinted for his burrow and disappeared into the darkness of a hidden tunnel. Foiled from capturing his prey, the coyote stopped, eyed me with suspicion, then loped away to try his hunting techniques on another potential meal.

Ever since my inaugural desert camping trip, when my motorhome still had that factory fresh look, the abundance of life in the desert has amazed me. I can still see vividly my first desert coyote, standing out on the bajada a few hundred yards from Death Valley's Stovepipe Wells campground, delivering a lengthy tirade of yips, barks, and howls, as if announcing his presence to the collection of RVers watching from the campground.

And the roadrunner, that watched secretly from the dense foliage of the tamarisk tree that shaded my picnic table, until I moved the right distance away when he would jump down onto the table, snatch a goodie, and run off into the safety of the brush.

My previous impressions of the desert had been that of a dry, lifeless, blazing hot, uninteresting, and bleak monotone expanse of sand and rock. How effectively the coyote and roadrunner proved how naive I was. Now as a snowbird, I've traveled, hiked, and camped in all four American deserts of the Southwest, each with its own characteristic birds and wildlife, wildflowers, trees, shrubs, geology, craggy mountains, winding arroyos, and hidden oases.

The American Deserts

Dryness alone does not define a desert. It must also have a high evaporation rate, as well as less than ten inches of precipitation a year. The sparseness of plants also typifies a desert, since the inadequate moisture will not support dense plant colonies.

All four of North America's deserts lie in the Southwest between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. They can be divided into the hot deserts (Mojave, Sonora, and Chihuahua) and the cold desert, the Great Basin, covering most of Nevada, southeastern Oregon, southern Idaho, and western Utah, where more than half the annual precipitation falls as snow.

joshua_tree_5156.jpgThe Great Basin's climate does not attract a lot of snowbirds. I spent parts of a couple winters in the Great Basin, at Valley of Fire State Park north of Las Vegas. It snowed once on Christmas Day and my heater ran constantly.

The Mojave of Southern California, the smallest of the four deserts, owns the record for the highest temperature (134 degrees) and the lowest elevation (282 feet below sea level) in the US, both in Death Valley.

Photo left - Joshua Tree NP

Some authorities also identify the Colorado Desert, an area between the Mojave and Sonora as a separate desert, though both the Mojave and the Colorado are transitions between the Great Basin and Sonora Deserts.


The Sonora Desert occupies the southern part of Arizona, with two-thirds of it in Mexico, and is characterized by the saguaro cactus that grows naturally only in the Sonora. This sub-tropical desert also contains more diverse and a greater quantity of plants and animals than the other deserts.

Photo left - Beavertail Cactus

The Chihuahua Desert lies mostly in Mexico, but also in New Mexico and the southwestern corner of Arizona where it extends like fingers into the basins separating the mountain ranges. It reaches also into southwestern Texas at Big Bend NP and between the cities of El Paso and Pecos. The Chihuahua is mostly a high desert, consisting of many mountains that extend to 6500 feet in Mexico. Its lowest point at 1000 feet lies along the Rio Grande River in Texas.


lake_havasu_5092.jpgJust as the deserts vary in their climate, plant life, and wildlife, so do snowbirds vary in the types of places that appeal to them as winter retreats. An RVer from the wet, cold winter climates of Washington, Canada, or the mid- western states may be perfectly happy in the Great Basin.

The snow that falls doesn't stay long, and the days are usually dry and sunny, free of the cloudy, dreary, wet and cold of home. Daytime temperatures are comparatively warmer, with highs reaching into the fifties and low sixties.


Photo above - Lake Havasu, below - Quartzsite

Most snowbirds, though, head for the warmer deserts, to the popular--and more crowded--wintering areas in the Coachella Valley around Palm Springs in Southern California, to Yuma, Lake Havasu (upper photo), Quartzsite (lower photo), Phoenix, Casa Grande, and Tucson areas of Arizona, and to South Texas along the Rio Grande River to Brownsville and up the Gulf coast to Galveston.

Easterners head for south Florida, which is not a desert, but rather a tropical and sub-tropical climate that is wet, warm, and humid and has bugs and alligators.

Follow the directions below to order the eBook and have it downloaded in PDF format directly to your computer. And if you have any questions, don't hesitate to email me.


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When I had a real job, I was general manager of Northern California for an RV rental and sales company. I have now been a fulltime RVer for seventeen years, am a freelance writer, photographer, hiker, kayaker, runner, mountain biker, snowbird, and boondocker. My travel, destination, environmental, and nature articles and photos have been published n MotorHome, Trailer Life, Good Sam's Highways, Coast to Coast, Woodall's Regional Publications, Woodall's online, Better RVing, RV Life, and RV Journal magazines. I wrote the Backroads & Boondocking and The Green RVer columns for Western RV News & Recreation, and have written articles for general interest publications. I am a seminar presenter at RV Rallies and for ten years taught seminars and classes at the Life On Wheels RV Conferences. I write a weekly blog for (an affiliate of the Affinity Group), Camping and Boondocking on our Public Lands, and am a contributing editor for RV Boondocking News, a part of the RV Travel network. I have also been an interpretive program presenter for Arizona’s Lake Havasu State Park and for Lake Havasu City Library. My wife, Lynn, and I spend our free time exploring the nation’s deserts, mountains, shores, forests, national parks, and wildernesses.

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