Friday, April 13, 2018

Campground Review: Disbursed Camping along Thumb Butte Loop, Prescott National Forest

The most prominent feature southwest of the town of Prescott, AZ (Pop: 42,513) within the Prescott National Forest is Thumb Butte, a mountaintop that kind of looks like a thumb I guess.  Thumb Butte Loop is a forest road that winds around the Butte in a large circle and there are 21 disbursed camping sites along it.

A distant view of Thumb Butte - Prescott National Forest

Driving up the Loop many of the sites were either occupied or had a "placeholder" tent or vehicle in them meant to reserve the site for future occupation and use.

A camper left in a campsite to reserve it.

Thumb Butte Loop's road quality varied from hard packed gravel/dirt to really pot holed barely drive able at more than 5 mph.

A "good" portion of Thumb Butte Loop

Because Prescott National Forest is a "Wildland-urban-interface" (WUI) campers are limited to only a seven day stay vs. the normal 14 day limit in most National Forest.  A ranger who stopped by my campsite said the WUI designation is because Prescott is a fairly large town compared to the small towns that usually abut National Forests.

Here's the data sheet on Thumb Butte Loop:

Hookups:                                             None (dry camping)                                                   
Fire ring:                                              Yes                                                                 
Water Access:                                     No                                                      
Fresh Water:                                        No                                          
Trash Service:                                      No (pack in / pack out)                                              
Toilets:                                                 No                                          
Showers:                                             No                                                      
Dump station:                                      No                                          
WiFi:                                                    No                                                      
Level sites:                                          Yes                                                     
Laundry:                                              No                                                                  
Store:                                                   No                                                                              
Pool:                                                    No                                                      
Shade:                                                 Yes                                         
Verizon reception:                               4G, 3 bars                                           
Internet reception:                               3 Bars                         
Cost:                                                    Free for up to 7 days

The sites along the Loop, which are designated by metal poles the Forest Service has put up, vary quite a bit in size and big rig accessibility.  Not that the Mini really qualifies as a "big rig" but the first two sites I tried to squeeze into didn't fit very well but I finally found a suitable campsite at pole 9.


Campsite 9 -- even among the tall pines solar was adequate.
Forest Service campsite marker pole.

On the way up the Loop you drive past what look like campsites that even contain stone fire rings but lack a campsite pole like the one in the above snap.  If you attempt to camp in them rangers will evict you and, depending on if it's the weekend or not, you may have a problem finding a legit unoccupied campsite so be forewarned.

I did most of my walking along the Loop as it's relatively traffic free at least during the weekdays.  There were some paths through the pine trees that in some cases were a little challenging, especially since you're at 6400 foot altitude.

Hiking path through the pines.

Unlike some of my recent Arizona camping experiences the section of Prescott National Forest that Thumb Butte Loop runs through was virtually litter-free.  As you can tell from the photos the weather was sunny and low-80's during the day and high-50's at night -- perfect camping weather!

By early April the temperatures in southern Arizona start hitting the 90's, making boondocking without AC challenging, at least during the day.  A good way to beat the heat is to gain altitude at camping areas like that along 6400 foot Thumb Butte Loop and I hope to be back again next April!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Battle of Thumb Butte

When you boondock for an extended period of time your RV, being stationary for a long period, can become the target of small gray furred hitchhikers.  Back when I was still in the Tank a field mouse had invaded it's interior spaces and it took me 4 days to trap it.  So, after I moved north from the BLM land I had been on for 14 days to the Prescott National Forest outside of Prescott, AZ (review coming) you can imagine my dismay when the first night camping I heard the pitter patter of little feet inside the Mini's lower cabinets.  I've unfortunately become adept at identifying the sound of a field mouse within an RV so I knew I had to get to Walmart and buy a mouse trap -- by now you'd think I'd be carrying a supply!

Mouse traps have changed in design since back in my day.  (Build a better mouse trap?)  The ones I got from Walmart looked roughly the same as the old days but had the addition of a yellow plastic pressure plate that, when depressed by the animal going for the bait, releases the spring loaded bar that zaps the mouse.

Put the bait on the back of the pressure plate, mouse steps on it, blamo!

I was successful using crunchy peanut butter as bait against the Tank's mouse so I went that route again and upped my game by pushing a half a walnut into the peanut butter to make it more irresistible.  Since I heard the mouse scampering all over in the Mini's lower cabinets I placed the baited trap into a bottom drawer and waited in anticipation to hear the tell tale snap that would announce my hitchhiker was no longer of this world.  I finally got tired and went to bed having not heard anything from the trap drawer however once in bed I heard the mouse running around for most of the night.

Getting up the next morning to silence (mice are nocturnal so I'm sure it was sleeping) I opened the trap drawer AND...


Licked clean!

the trap was completely clean of bait, including walnut, and was still set!  Round one to Mickey!  Having almost taken my finger off several times due to the hair trigger nature of the pressure plate the only thing I could theorize was that the mouse had approached from the side of the trap, completely missing the pressure plate and enjoying his free meal at my expense -- it didn't even leave a tip!

I re-baited the trap and put it back in the drawer thinking how lucky the mouse had been to unwittingly approach the trap from the side and assuring myself it couldn't do that twice.  About 3 am that morning I was awoken by the trap going off and thought my problem was taken care of.  I was too lazy to get up and check the trap figuring it'd wait until the morning but instead experiencing silence a bunch of thumping started coming from the trap drawer.  The mouse was still very much alive and seemingly dragging the trap around the drawer bumping into barbecue utensils I had stored in it.  I reluctantly got up, turned on the interior lights, armed myself with a steak knife and opened the drawer.  Instead of finding a partially trapped mouse it's fur was stuck in the trap and, upon seeing me it clanged the trap against a barbecue spatula got free and turned into a gray blur jumping out of the drawer into the back of the cabinets.  This guy was good!  Mickey takes round 2!

The next morning I re-baited the trap for the third time ( running low on walnuts) and, to speed up this story, Mickey's luck ran out.  This time he must have stepped squarely on the pressure plate and it looked like a very clean kill, ending things without too much suffering.  I have a picture of his demise but as this is a family blog I'll refrain from including it in this posting.

Thus the three day Battle of Thumb Butte (where the battle took place) came to a conclusion.  I'm now carrying a trap as part of the Mini's standard load out although I know I'll never be able to keep walnuts in stock because I'll eat them myself.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Campground Review: North Little Grand Canyon Road, BLM Land off Table Mesa Road New River, AZ

Trying to maintain my "Goldilocks" camping environment (not too hot, not too cold) I drifted about 30 miles north of Phoenix along I-17 to BLM land off of Table Mesa Road.  North Little Grand Canyon "Road" turns north off Table Mesa.  I put road in parenthesis because it's really a rock-strewn one lane clay path that leads past several obvious camping sites before it turns into a off-road vehicle only path.

There's a hiking trail called Black Canyon trail just to keep it confusing.

Having boondocked on BLM land for a number of years I've learned (the hard way) not to blindly drive down one lane dirt paths so I parked the pickup and Mini at a wide open area about a quarter of a mile into North Little Grand Canyon Road to search on foot for a good campsite.  Right before the spot where the road becomes too tough for bigger RV's was a really nice site with great views -- and it was vacant!  I almost ran back to the Mini fearing someone else would drive by me and take it, but I got there first.

The Mini's desert campsite.

Here's the data sheet on North Little Grand Canyon Road:

Hookups:                                             None (Dry camping)                                                  
Fire ring:                                              Yes                                                                             
Water Access:                                     No                                                                  
Fresh Water:                                        No                                                      
Trash Service:                                      No (Pack in, pack out)                                               
Toilets:                                                 No                                          
Showers:                                             No                                                                              
Dump station:                                      No                                          
WiFi:                                                    No                                          
Level sites:                                          Yes                                         
Laundry:                                              No                                                      
Store:                                                   No (Walmart 11 miles away)                                     
Pool:                                                    No                                                      
Shade:                                                 No                                          
Verizon reception:                               4G, 3 bars                               
Internet reception:                               3 bars
Cost:                                                    Free for up to 14 days


The temperatures were probably a little on the cool side for the second half of March, mid-70's in the day and high-40's at night, which meant pretty optimal.  My campsite had really great 360 degree vistas of the mountains and what I assume was North Little Grand Canyon.

The view from my lawn chair.  Note one of the few trees in the area.

While you can appreciate the natural beauty of the area from the photos, what you can't see is the litter that folks have decided to deposit in the area.  Every day when I did my walks I'd take a plastic Walmart bag and pick up beer cans and empty plastic water bottles until the bag was full but I'm afraid I didn't make much of a dent.  It's just really disheartening that people do this.  I don't know if it would help if Arizona instituted a 10 cent can deposit like in some other states but certain areas I've camped in this year are in real trouble.

There's an official shooting range about a mile and a half from where I camped so there is fairly steady gunfire on the weekends and occasionally during weekdays so if that would bother your camping experience be forewarned, it doesn't really bother me.  Also, on the other side of the canyon is a working mine but it hardly makes any sound at all although there is some truck traffic on Table Mesa Road during the day.

First time I've camped with a mine in the area.

Some one who had previously camped at my site had an artistic bent:


It's about 3 ft in diameter.  The green is beer bottle glass.

I've always enjoyed my times camping on BLM land and, to be honest, I liked my experience AT MY SITE along North Little Grand Canyon Road after I cleared my area of litter.  Whoever gets it after I leave will have the nicest campsite in the area, hopefully they'll read this review and fill some Walmart bags of their own.  As to returning I'll really have to think about it next year, the litter is kind of depressing and diminishes the camping experience.

Thanks for reading!