Monday, February 7, 2005

Tonight we are camped at a primitive spot near Coronado National Forest (map). We turned down this dirt road hoping to find a primitive (or "dispersed") camping spot in the forest, however we ran into a local who directed us to this site. It is a good spot for Odyssey, and clearly many people have camped here before us (good for two reasons: it usually means camping is allowed, and re-using a site means less environmental impact than creating a new one). We realized we were not quite into the forest yet, but our map indicated we are probably on BLM land, which also permits dispersed camping. Now that I've zoomed in on the map coordinates while preparing it for the blog, it seems we are even a bit outside of the BLM quadrant as well. The map says it's "state" land (as opposed to private) so we're probably in good shape, though we don't have the Arizona state rules with us.

One of the things we like so much about the west is this type of camping opportunity, virtually unheard of east of the Rockies. For the uninitiated, both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management permit camping anywhere within their boundaries, with certain posted exceptions, subject to a handful of rules. Rules vary from forest to forest, but generally include keeping at least 100' from water sources, one mile from developed campgrounds, and 1/4 mile from paved roads. There is also a schizophrenic "leave no trace" ethic that says, for example, dismantle and scatter any fire ring you build. It's schizophrenic because, in most cases, forest managers prefer you build your fire in a fire ring you've found from a previous visitor (implying that someone, somewhere did not "leave no trace"). We generally leave the site as we found it -- if there was a fire ring, we use it and leave it, and, if not, we either build no fire or dismantle our ring and return the area to its natural state.

Before anyone runs off to camp in the boonies, remember to check local rules with the FS or BLM district office. Also, while most dispersed camping is free, many national forests near heavily developed areas such as Los Angeles now require a fee to be paid in the form of an "Adventure Pass" (we have a "Golden Eagle" pass, which covers us) before camping (or any recreation other than simply driving through). Lastly, some states require a (usually free) permit before building a campfire, or even using a camp stove, outside of developed campgrounds. We have a campfire permit for California and Nevada, for example.

In any case, we chose this particular spot because we are visiting someone in Vail (near Tucson) tomorrow, and we wanted to be fairly close by.

Today we drove the remainder of NM-9 west to NM-80 south, which crosses into Arizona to become AZ-80. That took us into the border town of Douglas, where we stopped for lunch. From there we headed north through the former mining boomtown of Bisbee, still very much alive, and into Tombstone, which, expectedly, is a cheeseball tourist trap. For the record, we passed the OK Corral, but did not stop there. From there we headed west past Fort Huachuca and then north to our present location.

Interestingly, we saw what appeared to be a US Army/Border Patrol joint training exercise along the southern edge of New Mexico as we traversed NM-9. It was either that, or we've declared war on Mexico and I didn't get the memo. Every half a mile or so was stationed an armored personnel carrier, complete with manned gun turret and a squad of M16-toting grunts in desert camo. This went on for perhaps ten miles. Periodically, a Border Patrol truck would be parked with the APC, and, eventually, we ran into the support group with radio shacks and antennae, a military ambulance, and a bunch of humvees and deuce-and-a-halfs loaded with gear. Generally, the army guys waved at us when they saw Odyssey approaching. The Border Patrol has been proven to have no sense of humor, and they did not wave. (For my in-laws the army colonels: I did not recognize the APC's, but they were wheeled, not tracked -- maybe the new Stryker?)

Tomorrow we will be in the Tucson area. Not sure if they do anything for Mardi Gras there, but I'm ready with my beads...

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