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Free campgrounds

For all of our cheapskate travel, we don’t often spend time in truly free campgrounds.   We seem to either be in paying situation or staying off the established campground system, in private driveways, parking lots, and county parks. Free campgrounds are widely available but generally they are also scattered far off into the boondocks. The US Forest Service maintains a lot of free campgrounds in national forest areas, and the Army Corps of Engineers also has developed quite a few.   The Bureau of Land Management has many, which they divide into short-term and long-term visitor areas.

navajo-nmon-campsite.jpgIf you are looking to really get away, these are great options.   We tend not to use them because they are often too small for our rig, too rugged to get into, or too far from services that I need for work.   But on occasion we have, and they’ve always been nice spots, often located near rivers or open recreation areas.

One nice thing about free campgrounds is that there’s no rush to get out before “check-out time.”   They usually have a 7- or 14-day limit, but there’s often no need to register at all, so you can just pull in at your leisure and you’re left alone.

On Thursday we were all set to go, since we’ve explored most of Navajo National Monument, but then in the morning a few work tasks came up that I needed to deal with, and we decided it was smarter to just stay for the day and get things done.   The sun was shining brightly all morning and so we had plenty of solar power for the laptop, and if I stood on the picnic table and faced a large juniper tree to the east, I could reliably make phone calls.   That gave me the full complement of technology I needed to get my job done.

Being in a free campground there was obviously no cost associated with this extra day’s stay, and in fact we were saving money by not moving.   To top it all off, the campground is undeniably pretty.   If we’d moved we might not be in such a nice spot, so why rush away?   When you find a nice free campground, stick around and enjoy it.   With gas prices as high as they are, it makes sense.

Our extra day has yielded a few unexpected perks.   In the afternoon a bit of weather moved in, to our great surprise, and we actually got an hour or so of light desert rain.   It is is so dry here that we were able to stand out in the rain talking to neighbors without actually getting wet.   Since desert rain is scarce this time of year, it was sort of a treat.

Our neighbors a few sites away turned out to be a couple from FL with two homeschooled children, who had previously spotted us in Grand Canyon and Page.   The kids were six and eight years old, so Emma was completely engaged all afternoon. They are going to do the Betatakin hike today.

This morning we really are going to move on.   The plan is to try to find some place to do laundry in Kayenta or Chinle (both rather small towns, it’s a long shot), and then proceed to Canyon de Chelly National Monument for the weekend.   The camping at Canyon de Chelly’s Cottonwood campground is free, too.   I am told that there is little chance of me getting online this weekend, but I’ve been told that every step of the way in the last month and yet somehow we managed to do it most of the time.

But first, we have one more surprise from the desert.   We hear long rumbles of thunder in the distance.   At 7:30 a.m. in late September (and a 10% chance of rain in the forecast) we didn’t expect a thunderstorm, but there was clearly one out there to our south.   It threw a few sprinkles our way, and now has moved on, so we will too.c