Our First True Boondocking Experience
Ironwood Forest National Monument is in the Arizona desert northwest of Tucson. It's a quiet, easily accessible place to boondock with killer sunsets.
After moving into a 5th wheel in May of 2020, we spent the first few months getting our feet under us and learning the ropes of living a mobile life. After installing solar power, we spent a few weeks at campgrounds without hookups, staying in progressively longer stretches to see how long we could make our freshwater last and learning to rely on solar power as much as possible.
But, our recent trip to Ironwood was our first true boondocking experience. Everything in life involves tradeoffs and when we settled on a 43-foot 5th wheel, we knew we were restricting our options simply because of the size of our rig.
The smaller your rig, the easier it is to find a place to park it. If you're in a sprinter van, you can show up pretty much anywhere and find a place to land. That's simply not the case when you're in a 43-foot toy hauler.
When we first started looking for an RV, we had 4 non-negotiable requirements:
- It had to have decent size kitchen with a large oven.
- It had to be a toy hauler because there was no way we were going to give up the motorcycle.
- It needed to have enough room for both of us to live and work inside the RV every day.
- It had to have space for our young adult daughters to stay with us whenever they wanted.
So far, we don't regret our decision one bit. BUT, a larger RV coupled with our requirement for a decent internet signal so we can do our jobs means a bit of caution is in order when choosing boondocking locations.
All that to say....
Ironwood Forest National Monument was a fantastic boondocking location for us.
Ironwood Forest National Monument makes up a 129,000-acre section of the Arizona desert northwest of Tucson. The forest is named after the Desert Ironwood tree which grows throughout the area.
There's a long stretch of BLM land that runs along the eastern edge of Ironwood Forest National Monument with plenty of room to accommodate campers of all sizes. We rolled in at the crack of dawn on a Monday morning and found a place to park right away. It's a wonderfully quiet area with great cell signal. In fact, our internet speed was faster out there than it has been in many RV parks in the middle of cities.
After a busy holiday season, parking ourselves in the middle of the Arizona desert was a chance to get some uninterrupted work done. The weather was nice enough to work outside during the day, which I did almost every afternoon. I took a couple of long meandering walks through the desert, and we sat outside and watched the sunset every evening.
Because, let me tell you. Those Arizona sunsets are not to be missed.
We also spent a couple of hours late one afternoon driving through Ironwood Forest, enjoying the experience of exploring an area of the world we'd never seen before.
This time of year, the nights in the dessert are quite chilly, dipping down to 25 degrees. We ran our furnace every night and bundled up for the first few hours of the morning. But, the days were sunny and mild, reaching into the mid-60's before cooling down again. Having left Colorado a few days earlier in a snow storm, neither of us were complaining.
We spent a total of 6 days in Ironwood and would have happily stayed longer. As we worked our way from Colorado to Southern California, it was a great stopping point. I'm sure we'll be back.
If you're interested in finding out more about boondocking in Ironwood Forest National Monument, there's a lot of great information on Campendium.
Camping meals: Cooking in Ironwood Forest
Sheet pan dinners are quickly becoming one of my favorite things to make when we're in an area without hookups because they dirty so few dishes - just one bowl and one pan. And, the pan doesn't even get dirty if you line it with foil or parchment paper.
Once we get settled into an area, we like to stay put and spend our non-working time enjoying the area. We try to avoid having to refill our fresh water tank and dump our waste tanks until we are ready to move on to the next place. This means conserving water as much as possible.
Our oven and stovetop are propane, and we make sure to bring several full tanks with us. So, meals that use few dishes and cook in the oven are where it's at.
I generally follow this recipe for The Ultimate Sheet Pan Dinner because it allows me to cook up whatever veggies, poultry or seafood I happened to bring with us. Before we left Colorado, I picked up some house-made Italian sausages from a market in Lyons and they were absolutely delicious cooked with cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and red peppers and smothered in Chimichurri Sauce.
I also made a batch of homemade tortillas to go with our sausage and veggies because.... YUM. I saved the leftover tortillas to make Enchiladas Verdes later in the week.
I also made a handful of other recipes that are quick, easy, and require very few dishes:
- Roast Chicken with potatoes and quick sautéed veggies. I saved the leftover chicken for enchiladas verdes and tortilla soup. I used the bones to make Simple Homemade Chicken Broth which I also used in the tortilla soup.
- Simple Enchiladas Verdes. The sauce for this recipe is made from a jar of salsa verde and the filling requires just a couple of ingredients and one bowl.
- Cheese Enchilada Casserole. The one-pot sauce for these enchiladas starts with frozen chili puree and only requires a few minutes of hands-on time. Layer sauce, tortillas, and cheese in a baking dish, pop it in the oven, and you're done. Reheated, it might be even better the next day. We ate it for lunch more than once.
- Quick and Easy Chicken Tortilla Soup. This one-pot soup is light and flavorful and used up the leftover enchilada sauce from Cheese Enchilada Casserole. It made enough for dinner one night and lunch the next day.
- Cherry Shortbread Crumble Bars. This was a new recipe I was working on for my other blog, Of Batter and Dough, so I made these twice. Neither of us was mad about it.
Where we're headed next:
As I write this, we are in Desert Hot Springs, CA, a small town just outside of Palm Springs. We'll be here this week and next and then head to San Diego for a couple of weeks. It's bright and sunny and gorgeous, and we're thinking January in California just might be the best idea we've had in a while.