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Old 09-23-2020, 08:48 AM   #1
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Driving to the Southwest for Winter-- Crazy and Reckless?

Hi everyone,

I am not yet an RVer, and am a newbie in this forum. In fact, this is my first post. I'm really glad to see that there's a Covid section here, as this pandemic weighs somewhat heavily on my wife's and my minds.

We've booked (for the first time) a rental through Outdoorsy for five days (4 nights) in mid-October. We are recently retired and living in a condo in coastal Maine and thought we'd check out the RV way of camping to see how we liked it. So we'll take the 25' Winnebago Fuse over to Vermont and spend the first night boondocking at Quechee State Park. I plan to spend the other nights at HipCamp sites, where you can stay on the land of people's private homes and farms (sometimes with hook-ups). This sounds more appealing than commercial campgrounds, and I understand that the odds of running into psycho killers is relatively small.

If this experiment goes well, my vision would be to buy a small MH, Sprinter or Transit-based, and head to the southwestern states in late November... possibly spending the entire winter touring Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. But, there's obviously a pandemic going on. My wife in particular is concerned that the national parks may all shut down again and that the most interesting and attractive places to visit will be inaccessible. Moreover, she's concerned that if there are significant Covid outbreaks, interstate travel may be shut down and all campgrounds closed. We might still be able to find HipCamp sites or Boondockerswelcome.com sites... but who knows?

I think it unlikely that highways, campgrounds and national parks will all be shut down, but I guess it's possible. On one hand, I don't believe in basing life decisions on far-fetched worst-case scenarios... but on the other hand, the pandemic is real enough and the course it will take and the federal and state decisions that will be made are pretty unpredictable.

So... I would be most interested to hear the thoughts of you experienced RVers. Perhaps many of you at this moment are on the road and camping out all across our expansive country. Do you perceive traveling now to be risky, reckless or even crazy? Or is it a completely manageable risk?

Obviously, there are advantages to traveling by RV during a pandemic. You avoid restaurants and motels and the exposures they include. But if draconian restrictions are imposed on travel, and if most of the key national parks and monuments are closed along with campgrounds, that would be a deal-killer... wouldn't it? I know you can boondock on BLM land and some of that land might be gorgeous, but I don't know anything about how to find attractive BLM land to camp on. I have this mental image that oil well digging and strip mining are proceeding full-steam-ahead on public lands under the current administration and that camping there would be akin to staying in downtown Newark... but perhaps it's not as extreme as that.

Anyway, please share your thoughts. Would you head out west this winter or not?


Andy Mazer
Yarmouth, ME
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Old 09-23-2020, 10:38 AM   #2
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We just got back from an 87 day trip and are heading out again in 10 days. We traveled thru 18 states in the SE, central and mountain states with no problem at all.

Your itinerary of TX, NM and AZ may have one problem state that being NM. Their state parks will open 10/1 but only to NM residents. The state is still in semi lockdown. TX and AZ will both be open in all respects for campers. I'm not sure what the status of private campgrounds are in NM. Federal parks usually follow the same rules as the state that they are in.

Even if you need to skip NM you can easily transit the state from TX to AZ in one day especially if you start from west Texas, maybe visit Big Bend National park and then follow I-10 up thru sw New Mexico into sw Arizona. You can even cross the northern part of NM but it will be a long days drive.

In other states most Federal parks are open for visitors, some have closed their visitor centers some have them open. Camping is by internet reservations only no on site walkups.

The vehicle you seem to be describing is what we call a Class B RV. One based on a van. In my opinion they are cramped and very expensive for what you get. You may want to think more about the Class C RV type which is what you are renting. That's just my opinion but I suggest you think hard about it. Living in an RV is a lot different than spending a couple of days in one.

Just a minor point, camping in some place like a State Park usually known as dry camping. No hookups but a prepared campsite. Not all state parks are like that BTW some provide full hookups (FHU). Boondocking is camping out in the boondocks, in a forest or desert where you just pick a spot and camp there. Sometimes you might find a firering that someone left. This takes much more preparation than dry camping where you have a rest room, paved roads, showers and water close by. And often a dump station to dump your tanks into.

BLM land generally allows boondocking, officially called 'dispersed camping' anywhere that is not marked 'No Camping'. US Forest Service (USFS) allows dispersed camping only in places that they designate on their Motor Vehicle maps (MVUM). Their is a MVUM for each forest distinct and you can download them. National Parks (NP), National Monuments (NM), Corps of Engineers (COE), and most state parks (SP) ban dispersed camping tho they may have what they call primitive camping which is dry camping. Big Bend is unusual since they do allow boondocking is designated spots.

Even tho NP and NM ban boondocking they are often surrounded by federal lands that allow it. We boondocked 15 minutes outside Yellowstone NP for example, this summer.

I suggest getting a Emergency Roadside Service(ERS) like the ones offered by Good Sams, Coachnet and lots of others. Read their terms carefully before handing over your money.

Anyway welcome to the forum and have a great time. Expect minor problems and disasters as part of the learning process. There is a tremendous amount to learn about this as you will find . But that is what these forums are for.
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Old 09-23-2020, 10:47 AM   #3
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FWIW - my opinion and lifestyle only - I'm much more exposed to Covid at home, living a normal suburban life, than I am when on the road.

And I'm heading SW from Minnesota for several months as soon as the temps here start to get painful.

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Old 09-23-2020, 11:41 AM   #4
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Many travel in Class B's but really think it out as they can be very cramped, particularly if you run into days of rain or cold. Also, some campgrounds have showers/bathrooms closed during this virus so make sure you'll have a RV that you can use these with minimal space issues. Spending a couple weeks in a small van could be nice but for us, definitely not long-term.

No one knows what the winter will hold regarding the virus. However, we've had a rough 6m already and there have been a lot of RVers out there still traveling and doing their summer vacations as planned.

Highways haven't been closed the past 6m so chances are they won't be closed in the future. There have been a few Indian reservation roads closed to outsiders but that's it.

You'll need to plan your stops and check the area you plan to stay to see if any closings. It will probably be a day-by-day thing so you can't know this early.

Each national parks has an awesome web site giving lots of good information on COVID and what's open/closed. They also give things to do, camping, maps, road information and special alerts. Check them out before going to them so you're not disappointed.

State parks and private RV parks have been open for the most part. New Mexico and Oregon state parks are an exception and are only allowing state residents in at this time. It may change due to the virus stats.

There are many places to boondock in Arizona - lots of BLM public land.

Here's a general national park site for some information but do check each park individually before you go.


Hope you enjoy your first camp trip. It's an awesome lifestyle and a relaxing way to see the country. Mix up the parks... boondocking, public campgrounds (national park, national forest, state parks, county and city parks). Especially if you wife has reservations about going... add in some amenities at times... electric hookups, a clubhouse to meet people, park activities, etc. Your first winter and spending it on secluded land might not be the way to go. You're going to need some social interaction and it can be done safely.
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Old 09-23-2020, 12:11 PM   #5
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At Amazer:
For the most part we have been using our 30’ RV throughout the pandemic. Yes, we have run into restrictions and closings of campgrounds and state parks. Currently in California many national forests and Yosemite is closed for high fire risk and heavy smoke.
With that said, we have travelled locally and just did some internet homework to determine what is open or not. Some state parks that have been close since mid-March, on the central coast have opened for reservations. As you said Boondockers Welcome and many boondocking areas are open. Texas is well Kansas, Oklahoma etcetera have many Army Corp of Engineers camping options. New Mexico has just opened camping for New Mexico residents, so I’d avoid for the moment. Grand Canyon is also open, and for unknown reasons, has not been hit with maxed-out camping like Yellowstone For example.
Besides checking out the vast resources here on IRV2.com, you may also want to checkout RVTravel.com They have a weekly electronic newsletter that covers campground openings and the alike.

Good luck with your first trip and choosing a rental to make this important decision first.
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Old 09-23-2020, 02:16 PM   #6
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Thank you, everyone gain for your comments!

Agesulis, thanks for pointing out NM has closed its state parks; I wasn't aware of that. If we undertake this trip, I will make a point to plan stays in advance as much as possible. When we rent the Fuse next month, we're planning to spend the first night in a VT state park with no hook-ups. But our MH will have a furnace, large enough water tank and house batteries, so I'm not worried about doing dry camping-- in fact, that's what I'm looking forward to! It will be a luxury to stay in an RV instead of a tent.

I'll also check out those MVUM maps you mentioned. BTW, are US Forest lands essentially the same as BLM lands?

Twogypsies, I know exactly what you mean when you write that Class B RVs can be cramped. My neighbor has a 2011 Sprinter Airstream that's very tight inside, as most of them are. I would love to pick up a used LTV Unity, which are Sprinter-based, but wider behind the cab to give a bit more room. I do like the idea of going smaller rather than larger, driving a vehicle that's more manageable on the road and easier to take off the beaten trail.

The Winnebago Fuse we're renting is even bigger than the Unity-- a foot longer and certainly wider too. We'll see how that space feels soon enough.

D_ Gardiner, I just found RV Travel the other day-- great resource-- thanks!
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Old 09-24-2020, 07:55 AM   #7
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I'll also check out those MVUM maps you mentioned. BTW, are US Forest lands essentially the same as BLM lands?

No, completely different. BLM lands are managed in part for recreation including camping. They get funding for recreation and road maintenance. Almost all BLM land is open for camping.

FS lands are managed for timber harvesting and any recreation is an after thought and not funded. This becomes very obvious when you see the quality of the roads and campgrounds. Some of the worst roads we've ever been down are FS roads. And camping is restricted to defined area.

If you have any problems it will probably be near your starting point in Maine, the NE and Atlantic states have a lot of restrictions right now. But since you have Maine tags those will probably be minimal. Once you get outside those states it should be clear sailing so to speak.
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Old 09-24-2020, 03:47 PM   #8
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To each their own, but I would personally not consider a small class B for such travel style, the tans (water, waste water and propane) are just too small on most class B's and the cargo carrying capacity is too low (often under 1,000 pounds OCCC which includes the weight of the passengers, and all your stuff (clothes, pots, pans, bbq grill, camping chairs, etc.) to do any significant off grid camping or long term travel in my opinion unless you are a true minimalist. Instead I would suggest looking at a small class A, they are only slightly less maneuverable being a bit wider, taller, and a few feet longer, but often have much larger tanks and much higher carrying capacity. Compare my 28 ft class A (29'5" bumper to bumper) to a 20 ft Winnebago (really 21 ft).

Mine just under 3,000 pounds OCCC, with 80 gallon fresh water tank, 40 gallon black, 40 gallon gray and 32 gallon pronpane
vs Travato 1,902 OCCC (one of the higher ones for a class B), 18-25 gal fresh (depending on model year and floor plan), 11-13 gal black tank, and 13-15 gal gray and a 6.5 gallon propane tank. With those sorts of numbers you will find yourself searching for a dump station every couple of days with 2 people onboard, maybe every day.
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Old 09-25-2020, 05:06 PM   #9
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@amazer -- I'd say not a crazy idea at all. The ability to stay in your own 'bubble' is certainly one of the strengths of the RV lifestyle if you want it to be.

In our experience, we interact with people less when on the road than when at home (although my wife and I both wfh already, so there's little social interaction required for us). Especially now that we've upgraded to a Class A from a TT -- now, we no longer even have to go inside anywhere we don't feel like it, as we have our own restroom with us all the time.

As a quick bit of background: My wife and I are from Oklahoma, and have been probably somewhat more concerned with the virus and its effects than most people in our state, although that's just my gut feeling as I read various Nextdoor and local FB posts where people seem to still think the virus is a hoax in many ways.

Interestingly, while being out on the road over the last couple months, we've observed people in various places (OK, MO, KS, AR, TX, NM, CO, UT, AZ).

The vast majority of people seem to have been following whatever sort of directives are in place and common for their region. What this actually means is that in places where there are strict mask mandates and rules, people are wearing masks extensively. Where there are few (if any) rules in place, next to nobody is wearing masks, no matter if they're inside or out. We wear them no matter where we go, because it's a hilariously simple thing to do, especially if it did actually keep someone safe. Do we get funny looks in the places where no one is wearing them? Sure, but idgaf what goons think anyway.

To your wife's concerns -- most of the National Parks have been open enough to enjoy for us (since mid-July, anyway). Most of the National Monuments likewise. While the campgrounds are open at some of them, they're not open at others, so checking ahead will help.

So what's weird is I find myself having a hard time worrying about what things are going to be open or closed for the rest of the year, given that it seems much of the country is 'open' or 'opening back up' for business. I'm a little surprised people are being so cavalier about things we took for granted before Covid -- shopping, eating at restaurants, going to church, and other relatively high-risk activities. Those seem like kind of just asking for trouble, but to each their own, of course -- if they want to do those things, and value what they get from those activities more than they worry about catching the virus, that's totally their choice. I'm certainly not going to try to change their mind or tell them what to do.

Do I worry there will be additional outbreaks and hotspots etc? Yeah, kinda, I guess, but since when we're on the road it's pretty rare that we're closer than 30' to another human for longer than 30 seconds, I guess I'm doubtful the virus will be transmitted that quickly/far. Do I think things will be shut down heavily again? Nah, prolly not...I kinda doubt people will go for that anymore, long-term. Thus, unlikely that we'll see interstates or state borders shut down imo. At this point, probably relatively unlikely that we'll even see the NP / NM / NF shut down again, although I could of course be wrong. It all sort of depends on the prevailing thought at the time in that region, so it's a bit of a crap shoot for all practical purposes.

In the end, I'd say you'll be glad you went on the adventure. Will there be issues? Sure, that's life. Will you get through them? Of course. Will you see things you otherwise wouldn't? Definitely. Will it be worth it? You bet.
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Old 09-26-2020, 08:06 AM   #10
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If you want to see the tourist sites, be aware that many of them are closed now. We had planned a NM, AZ trip this fall to see a number of Native American sites, but the vast majority of reservations are closed, and many of the other sites like museums are also closed. We decided to do it another year. And I will echo the previous posters who mentioned a Class B can be very tight for prolonged trips. They are great for traveling, but what do you do when it is cold and rainy for days and you have to stay in 100 square feet? You can’t take many hobbies with you, and while reading is nice even that can get old during a 3 month trip. Winter days are short and the nights much longer, so you are inside more than during summer.

ETA: We are heading to Arizona this winter right after Christmas. However we stay in the desert, mostly boondocking, in a Class A. We will enjoy the natural wonders, do a lot of road trips, and see friends (at a distance). No resort activities or indoor sites this winter.
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Old 09-26-2020, 08:08 AM   #11
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Thanks @Agesilaus and @Isaac-1 and @R E Z for your comments!

Now I get the difference between BLM and FS lands. Also, I haven't made any decisions yet about what model of RV we'll settle on... or even if we'll make that commitment. I'm sure our 4 day trip to VT in mid-October will help us decide.

@R E Z, thanks so much for your detailed response! I read it aloud to my SO Karen this morning and she thought it was really well-honed. I think you nailed it succinctly-- there are things we can control and things we can't control in life. With sensible precautions and mindfulness, we can still have great adventures and experiences while staying reasonably safe.

It's funny how so many people takes their cues from local and national leaders despite the wilding differing approaches found among our many states. It's not like there isn't a lot of information out there about the virus and how it's transmitted. I'm really not that concerned about keeping safe from the virus while we're on the road-- we pretty much know the precautions to take.

Rather, I was contemplating the likelihood of parks, monuments and campgrounds closing up all around us. But as you pointed out, that's not likely on a national scale... so there'll always be someplace we could go.

Anyway, I've been thinking about starting a local Flat Earth Society chapter-- it seems like an opportune time to do this, given the mood of the country!

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Old 09-27-2020, 08:01 AM   #12
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Great fun. But a couple of considerations,

Cell phone service isnít universal. AT&T has horrible service rural areas of AZ and NM. We always used a burner, throw away phone from Walmart that used Verizon for emergency use while there. There are other areas Iím sure where Verizon is dead and AT&T is best. You donít want to be out in the boonies without service, especially during fire season, all year anymore out west.

Be aware of fire restrictions. Back in the day during fire season in California smoking even inside your car was banned in the forests. I suspect itís still the same if not more restrictive now. Donít plan on being able to use an outdoor grill in the forest

It sounds counter intuitive but out in the desert on BLM land you can be kicked out for not having your pet on a leash. Wide open spaces and the same rules as when youíre in the middle of the city.

And the more people that show up the more the restrictions. Some of the areas around Yuma that used to allow boon docking have now banned it. Make sure your information is current. The same is true of the old free overnight spots like truck stops and Walmarts.

Itís different now but still fun if you are prepared.
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Old 09-27-2020, 08:15 AM   #13
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Everyone talks about how bad AT&T is in the west, yet I have not really seen it, maybe I have just not been to the right parts of the west. Last October we did a month long loop from Louisiana to the Grand Canyon and southern UT, heading out mostly on I-40, and back on I-10, as well as a good bit of driving on 2 lane highways, and never had much issue with AT&T. We carried an AT&T hotspot (Mobley unlimited account), and a T-Mobile (data cap limited account) hotspot, only twice did we find that we could not get signal with the AT&T account, the first was inside the Grand Canyon NP at Mather campground, where we had no AT&T signal, and very week, marginal T-Mobile (think text email, not streaming, web pages would barely load). The second time was in the Gila national forest in, NM where there was no AT&T signal, and great fast T-Mobile.
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Old 09-27-2020, 08:41 AM   #14
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First off, Welcome to the forum, there are a lot of good folks and advise to be had here.

One note for you test run, personally I would look for a campground with at least water and power so you dont have to worry about running a generator or pulling the house battery of unknown capacity down. Also if you have any questions (you will) there may be a helpful campground owner to assist.

As for traveling during covid, sure some places, and activities have been curtailed, but overall most areas are accessible. We have been camping since Georgia re-opened in May and just came back from looping through Colorado and South Dakota. We avoided NM due to tighter shutdown restriction If your age or health puts you in a higher risk group, then you need to take additional precautions of course.

Last item, there is no perfect RV, they all have some compromise. Make a list of must haves, and deal breakers and take your time to find the right unit. We looked for close to a year before each purchase we made, but avoided getting in a hurry or settling for less. Lastly good luck and enjoy getting out and seeing the country!
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