Destination Las Cruces: This Was NOT In The Brochure
When we reached Brigham, Utah, Courtney and I realized we hadn’t done any real boondocking since leaving Wayfarers in Montana, so we decided to do just that on the next leg of our trip to Las Cruces.
“Let’s have an adventure” says Courtney.
“Let’s! I’m in!” exclaims I, enthusiastically.
We decided that Dixie National Forest (“Dixie NF“) would be an ideal boondocking choice for the night. It’s about four hours from both Brigham, UT and Flagstaff, AZ (which was a planned overnight stop along the way to to Las Cruces, NM.) Very convenient…
Courtney called the Dixie NF ranger station about an hour before hitting Dixie Forrest to get information on any dispersed camping (another term for boondocking).
Courtney was sure to clarify that we are 50+ feet long in a 5th wheel heading into the forest, Westbound on Hwy 143.
The ranger told Courtney there’s plenty of dispersed camping available in the Dixie NF (good, because it’s now around 6P – 630P and we are “done driving for the day”, we’re tired and losing daylight.)
I only heard Courtney’s side of the conversation, but there seemed to have been some confusion between camping being off Hwy 143 or off National Forest Road (“NF”) 50 (look at this map and you’ll, erm, understand. Courtney did say later that there was a lot of confusion in that regard.)
From Hwy 143 we turned left onto FR 074 (across from a place called “Tubbs Farm”).
Courtney got out of the truck and went about 100 yards to check out the area’s potential for boondocking and it looked “okay“, but once we drove in with the trailer, we discovered the ground was so uneven that we would never be able to achieve any kind of ‘levelness’ in the trailer, assisted by blocks or not.
I got out of the truck to guide Courtney (via Walkie Talkie) back out, but quickly realized there wasn’t enough room to angle the rig back the way we came, so we made the decision to continue on, as the road appeared to have a loop that would take us back to Hwy 143.
The loop turned out to be FR 3053.
FR 3053 has a 90 degree turn down a steep hill into very low branches. Also, it was approximately 1/2 the width of our current nightmare.
Fuck. That. I climbed back in to the truck.
We reach a steep turn that, as we slowly made our approach, Bessie spun her tires and refused to climb.
I got out of the truck again, thinking that at this point maybe we can ever so carefully and slowly “reverse traverse” our way back. I radio Courtney instructions to “…come back, bring the rear left a bit…okay, now bring the trailer to the right…” and not even 1/2 way through my second instruction, Courtney has another idea.
Courtney, Bessie and the trailer go racing up the hill, tires spinning, rocks, dirt and tree branches going everywhere, leaving me in the dust.
“…or you could just do that” I said in to the radio, amazed (and admittedly a bit irritated that I now had to hike several hundred yards uphill to reach Bessie.)
I huffed and puffed as I jogged up the hill to rejoin Courtney. She told me she had done enough turns already and did not want to do them again backwards. We mutually agreed that all we wanted was to find the shortest, non-suicidal semblance of a road and get back to Hwy 143.
[insert Mother Nature laughing maniacally here].
That road was a left turn on to FR 269.
After a brief drive we came upon FR 1049.
We were still holding on to the idea that we if we could get ourselves turned around, we could get back the way we came. A 3 point turn (Courtney does a 3 point turn with a trailer attached like a boss) and we’d be back in business. After about 15 gruelling and futile minutes we accepted the fact that it just was not going to happen due to the width of the road prohibiting any useful turns in a truck with a 35 foot trailer behind it.
Forward on FR 1049 it was going to be then.
To quote Courtney, FR 1049 was “the hairiest and flat out scariest fucking road I’ve ever driven. Let alone with a trailer in tow.“
The skies are now nearly pitch black. The road has leveled out and we can see lights on the horizon.
We have reached the top of the hill (Meh. Probably a damn mountain!) and now we just need to survive and make it to the bottom on the other side.
Yeah, about that…
At one point, in the midst of a very steep left turn, Courtney tells me, in a very desperate tone, that through the blackness, outside her window she can see the trailer is only on 2 wheels.
(Courtney later confided in me that in that in that moment, her only thoughts were that if the trailer rolled over completely, our only hope was that the king pin would sheer from the hitch and not take the truck with her and that at some date in the future, an ATV rider — on a machine built for the terrain — would come across our trailer at the bottom of a ravine and be absolutely baffled as to how a 35 foot trailer found its way there.)
Courtney was teetering on the proverbial ledge.
All I could do was encourage her, cheer her on and keep her from stepping over that ledge:
“We’re doing fine.”
“You’re doing great.“
(showing her the map and GPS track) “Look how far we’ve come. We’ve only got a little bit further to go to the main road.“
We did make it back to Hwy 143.
We were panicked, more than a little scared many times but we made it.
Once we got back on to Hwy 143, we drove until we found White Bridge Campground.
Off-season camping is half price: $8.50.
That was the best $8.50 we’ve spent all year, if not ever.
We parked Bessie and the trailer in the easiest-to-get-out-of campsite we could find and psyched ourselves up to go inside, fully expecting to find an absolute disaster area once we opened the door.
I can’t recall where, but I’d heard/read that RV trailers are constructed to withstand earthquake-like conditions (they’d have to be, considering road conditions, improved or not improved, etc).
Much to our relief, the inside was NOT that bad.
The only broken plates were a couple food dishes for George and they had already been on the floor beforehand.
The TV was still on the wall mount.
No smell of propane (no leak!)
While their contents were strewn about, almost all the cupboard doors were still closed.
Except for the “liquor cabinet”. That’s the one across from my desk.
The bottles survived, stayed in the cupboard, save for one bottle of Peach Schnapps. It fell out of the cabinet, the cheap plastic cap broke and Schnapps sprayed the wall, my desk and the floor. My desk area smelled like “Ladies Night” at a local dive bar.
Seriously, though, it could have been much, much worse than it was.
We spent less than an hour cleaning up, then put out the slides, powered on the generator for a few hours to warm up via electric space heaters and slept — albeit very restlessly and not very soundly.
The next morning, after two very strong cups of coffee, I stepped out in to the chilly October air to survey the damage, expecting the worst.
The hitch was fine.
Bessie? Fine! Dirty as Hell, but unscathed.
The trailer? Looked like we took it off-roading, understandably. Mud everywhere.
It also looked like The Forest Beast of Darkest Utah ran its claws all along the sides.
The underside of the trailer? Fine! No punctures, nothing bleeding out.
My T-Valve? Gone. Damn it. Fortunately, it was twisted off, not sheered, so all I had to do was attach the cap to the bare pipe, just as if there never was a T-Valve in the 1st place.
The back of the trailer was a mess, though. The already bent ladder (previous owner backed in to something) looks like half of a DNA strand.
The bikes on the rack on said ladder? Yeah, we’re gonna have to get the forks on both bikes straightened and a new bike seat for me.
The “generator cage” was undamaged (as was the generator enclosed in it, obviously, or I wouldn’t have been able to run it the night before, right?).
I took down the bike rack and prepared myself to see what kind of wreckage awaited me up on the roof.
When I got to the top of the ladder, the AC was intact!
The only damage on the roof genuinely surprised me — the shower skylight outer bubble was obliterated, the inner bubble untouched and the seam next to it was punctured, likely by the same low hanging branch(es) that destroyed the skylight.
I climbed down, got a roll of duct tape from the toolbox, climbed back up and on to the roof then MacGuyvered the hell out of that puncture.
Courtney was in bed waiting for horrible news and was relieved when I told her about the shockingly minimal amount of battle damage.
We closed up and got back on the road (Hwy 143 again) as quickly as possible.
We turned down Forest Hwy (FH) 50 and you know what we saw?
Glorious side roads off of FH 50 to camp.
Big open fields. Big flat open fields. Big flat open fields with plenty of room to turn even the longest RV trailer around and make it to the road safely.
Every. Single. Side Road.
I stopped counting after at the first two dozen.
After all this, Courtney and I agreed on several things:
- We stick to Rest Areas along the interstates as often as possible.
- When we do boondock, if we can’t see the main highway, hear traffic, or it’s not otherwise easily accessible, we find somewhere else to go, even if it is a campground that requires a fee.
- If Courtney complains about the cost of a campground fee, all I have to say is, “8 fucking 50“.
I’d been contemplating whether or not I go in to greater detail in this post as to how Bessie and the trailer fared after of our off-roading adventure and then what happened the NEXT day as we got in to Flagstaff.
I decided it’d be better to do that in a separate blog post…so you’ll just have to wait for the next installments of “Destination: Las Cruces”.