Cottonwood, Arizona – BLM Boondocking

Cottonwood, Arizona BLM Boondocking
Cottonwood, Arizona BLM Boondocking
Our stay at Alamo Lake was great, lots of kayaking, fishing, ATV tours and of course, sunny and warm every day, evening campfires and gorgeous sunsets. By mid-march temperatures are rising into the mid 90’s in the lowlands, it’s time to seek higher ground and cooler temperatures.
Cottonwood, Arizona is about 2000 feet higher than Alamo Lake providing cooler temperatures, otherwise, a large generator probably 3500 watts to run the RV air conditioner or an RV resort with 30 amp service would be a necessity.
Lynda and I boondocked at Cottonwood once before two years prior. The route from Alamo Lake takes us back to highway 60, north through Wickenburg and southeast to Morristown, then east on highway 74 past Lake Pleasant, north on highway 17 to highway 260 west.
Our boondocking destination is about half way to Cottonwood from I-17 on the access road to Big Notti day use area. Turn right at the Thousand Trails sign. There are three distinct boondocking areas the last and furthest from the highway is the largest. A flat area of scrub grass on a hill overlooking the Verde River.
Highway I-17 climbs from the lowlands to 4000 feet before descending into the Verde River Valley. We arrived at our destination in the early afternoon to very pleasant low 80’s temperatures and brilliant Arizona sunshine.
Boondocking near Cottonwood Arizona
Boondocking near Cottonwood Arizona
The area was surprisingly full, it took us awhile to scope out a suitable area for our two rigs. Kris and Mike were worried our choice was on an access road and we may be breaking some rule. I explained boondocking on BLM land has almost no rules, my explanation received raised eyebrows at first.
We parked and set up camp, the sun set and the temperature cooled. We were in need of a campfire and a glass of wine, dinner, and bedtime.
The next morning, Friday, we woke to coolness, 50 degrees, out comes the clay pot again to take the chill off.
Time for my morning walk with Buddy and check out the area. There was probably 50 RVs in the area of all shapes, sizes, and dollar values. Many high-end diesel pushers and many at the other end of the spectrum, looks like some may have been towed in.
Many RVers camping here waiting for their turn at Thousand Trails. Thousand Trails is like a timeshare for RVers. A membership is required and a maximum stay of 2 weeks then you must leave for at least 7 days is the basic information.
After my morning walk, time for breakfast a treat today as we are heading to Cliff Castle Casino for the breakfast buffet ($14). The casino is located a couple of miles north of highway 260 turn off on I-17. After breakfast, we decided to check out the old mining town of Jerome.
Jerome, Arizona
Jerome, Arizona
Jerome, Arizona
Jerome, Arizona
An interesting town built precariously on the side of a mountain high above Cottonwood. We spent the morning wandering the streets of Jerome reading placards describing the history of the town and the old buildings. A stop in this unusual town is a great way to spend a couple hours or a couple of days, many restaurants and souvenir shops to explore.
Kris & Mike overlooking Cottonwood
Kris & Mike overlooking Cottonwood
Lynda, Buddy & I, Jerome mining shaft behind.
Lynda, Buddy & I, Jerome mining shaft behind.
Saturday was an errand day after more than 2 weeks boondocking it was time to restock the shelves. The trailer holding tanks are good we took advantage of the free water and $6 RV dump on our way past the Wayside Inn after leaving Alamo Lake.
Sunday Mike and I took advantage of the cool morning air and set off for an ATV ride through the trails on the south side of highway 260. Lynda and I rode these trails a couple of years back with a couple we met from Minnesota. One of our destination was Cherry, a tiny village high in the mountains. A great destination for an ATV ride.
Mike, Verde River Valley behind
Mike with his special rock, Verde River Valley behind
This day, however, Mike and I were not feeling adventurous, besides the afternoon temperature was predicted to climb into the high 80’s. We decided to stick to the foothill trails heading west towards Cottonwood.
We were enjoying our ride along a moderately rough trail when I came around a corner to a cattle guard, if it wasn’t for Mike’s screams I would have run straight into a coiled RATTLESNAKE.
Rattlesnake, Cottonwood, Arizona
Rattlesnake, Cottonwood, Arizona
I swerved and hit the brakes avoiding the scary reptile. I hopped off my ATV and fumbled through the carry bags for my camera. By the time I was ready for a picture the snake had lost interested and slithered into the brush.
What a rush, this was the third encounter with a rattlesnake I’d experience since Lynda and I began our snowbird travels more than ten years ago.
Mike and I took a minute to catch our breath and for the snake to put some distance between us and it before continuing. I took advantage of our interlude to don my leather chaps stored in my carry bags. I’m thinking leather is probably good protection against a rattlesnake bite.
Needless to say, the rest of our ATV ride was tense and a relief arriving back at camp and an underwear change. Lucky the women weren’t with us!
Guess what the campfire talk was about that evening?
Sedona, Arizona
Sedona, Arizona
The next day on tap a trip to scenic Sedona, one of the most picturesque towns in the world. This popular town has many enjoyable outdoor activities, hiking, biking, ATV rides, fishing, swimming and waterfall sliding at Slide Rock State Park.
Sedona, Arizona
Sedona, Arizona
If activities are not your thing a drive through the countryside is enjoyable. The contrast between the sculpted red rock mountains and the green forest is breath taking. Parking can be an issue near hiking trails. We were able to park and take a short hike. It was early afternoon and already too hot for a long hike, besides it was almost lunch time.
Lunch, Sedona, Arizona
Lunch, Sedona Arizona
Montezuma’s Castle is also a side trip worth taking. Lynda and I waited while Kris and Mike visited the cliff dwellings. Lynda and saw them last time we traveled to this area.
Montezuma's Castle, Arizona
Montezuma’s Castle, Arizona
The next morning Buddy and I took our usual morning walk down the hill towards the Big Notti day area, not sure how it got its name one can only guess, maybe a place for watching submarine races.
On the way back to camp an amazing site as several hot air balloons rose from the valley bottom like giant Christmas tree balls emerging from the ground. Unfortunately, Buddy was not enjoying the site. I picked him up shielding him from the giant fire-breathing noise as I quickly made my way back to camp where he immediately ran for protection under the table.
Hot air Balloon, Verde River Valley, Arizona
Hot air Balloon, Verde River Valley, Arizona
Hot air balloon
Hot air balloon scares Buddy
Poor little guy, took his mommy several minutes to sooth his shivers.
The next day Mike and I tried our luck fishing in the Verde River just down the road from our camp. A decent size river, swollen and muddy from the spring run off, but we, (I), did manage to catch 1 small fish.
The following day Mike and I took advantage of the cooler day and headed to the Cottonwood’s Coyote Trails Golf course. A great little 9 hole course we played two rounds. We couldn’t help but notice several rattlesnake signs.
After golf, we returned to camp for a relaxing afternoon. While sitting in the shade enjoying the afternoon several vans, cars, vans pulling cargo trailers and old motor homes pulled in to the camp as though they were traveling together.
Full-time RVers/homeless people, Cottonwood, Arizona
Full-time RVers/homeless people, Cottonwood, Arizona
We did find out that this was a group of single full-time RVers who gathered in Quartzsite, Arizona. After spending much of the winter together the group traveled here to escape the 100-degree temperatures.
What was interesting was the ages of this group, some looked as young as 30 while others looked retirement age. Talking to Rachel, a retirement age woman and a victim of the 2008 housing crisis has been living on the road for 8 years. She described the group as victims of some unfortunate situation, compelling them to adopt the nomad RV lifestyle.
You wonder how people can live full time on the road in a car or a van, especially boondocking, no facilities? Many complications come to mind, refrigeration, cooking, bathing, or the simple chore of using a toilet. The four of us discussed at length why and how people would live like this?
Young lady living out of her car
Young lady living out of her car
Checking out the group’s accommodations I noticed many ingenious modifications to their RV/homes, for example, Rachel lived in a van and towed a cargo trailer. Her companions are 5 cats they live in the cargo trailer.
The cats enjoy an outside caged area accessed via a chute through the side of the trailer. Rachel had the trailer modified to resemble an RV, complete with sink, holding tanks, stove, bed etc.
Rachel on the right with her converted cargo trailer.
Rachel on the right with her converted cargo trailer.
Some of the other RV’s were equally modified to reflect the owner’s taste or necessities, such as solar panels permanently installed on the entire side of an older motorhome.
The next morning, Wednesday brought a drastic weather change. Heavy rain on our camp through the night and snow on the hills to the south and a temperature of 40 degrees F., Friggin cold, especially after enjoying 80+ degrees for the past month.
Our first rain in 6 weeks turned the red dirt camp roads into thick heavy mud. A group discussion and a decision if the rain continued we would make a dash for the Cliff Castle Casino and spend the night, otherwise we may be stuck for days waiting on the ground to harden.
Snow on the distant hills, Cottonwood, Arizona
Snow on the distant hills, Cottonwood, Arizona
Occasional light showers and sunshine through the morning, late afternoon dark clouds and heavy rain in the distance. We’d been casually preparing for departure most of the day, so when the dark clouds and rain appeared in the distance it was time to escape.
The gumbo was slick, Mike and I shifted into 4 wheel drive mode on our trucks which helped propel us through the worst areas. We made it to pavement just in time as the skies opened dumping torrents of rain. I don’t think any other RVs could have made it out after the latest downpour.
We turned onto highway 260 our tires hurling mud in all directions as we increased speed. A short trip to Cliff Castle Casino parking lot. Happy hour in our trailer and another treat, dinner at the casino buffet.
We locked up and caught the casino shuttle to the main entrance. Our group’s routine when staying at a new casino, apply for the player’s card. The casino usually applies free play money to the card and maybe a dinner discount.
The four of us applied for the card and received $5 free play money which we all lost quickly except for Mike who won $70. Congrats to him. We enjoyed the $14 buffet while the rain pelted on the restaurant window.
After dinner back to the rigs and early to bed after a stressful day.
Cliff Castle Casino, I-17 Arizona
Cliff Castle Casino, I-17 Arizona, a good place to spend the night
 If you would like to read about our Snowbird RV Tour from the beginning click this link.

Thanks for visiting.

Gord B.

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