A winging success: Surviving the deserts, near-perfect camp

  • The endless road through the Mohave Desert.

When you’re winging it, all camps are relative. It’s a balancing act between weather, availability, hiking access and routing.

After camping at Roosevelt Lake, we moved to Pine, where we parked on a U.S. Forest Service road on the edge of town, bumpy, but withing walking distance of Tom’s last leg of the Arizona Trail for this trip.

Then we needed to cross the Saguaro, Mohave and Great Basin deserts to the eastern Sierra to find cooler weather, requiring one HOT stop along the way.

Tom originally thought we’d hole up in Death Valley, but as the day got longer, and we got more tired, we decided to stop short, turning in when we saw a sign for Cottonwood Campground, on the Colorado River, near Searchlight, Nevada.

With this type of winging it, there’s always a question of whether there will be an open campsite, but we’re less anxious than in our earlier years. We know that we’ll be able to park somewhere to sleep, even if it’s not a spot where we can get out our chairs and sit outside.

It was about six when we pulled into Cottonwood, and still more than 100 degrees. The camp-host spot was the only one of the 40-plus spots occupied, and the host was gone. A sign said spots 1 and 2 were first-come, first-served, all the rest had to be reserved and paid for on Reservation.com. We parked in 1, got out our chairs, and beers and tried to catch a few breezes off the water, which we could see across the parking lot.

When the camp host returned he said the campground is nearly full on weekends, but mostly deserted during the week. Lucky for us. We paid our $10 (half-price with a senior pass) and sat until after dark to let the temperatures and The Epic Van cool down.

The next morning, we did a Death Valley drive-by, enjoying the Mohave-desert wonderland from the air-conditioned bubble of The Epic Van. We’ve camped and hiked here in cooler weather, and enjoyed basin and range as we kept rolling to more hospitable territory.

Using Tom’s new, $70 detailed map of California from the U.S. Forest Service, we quickly located Tuttle Creek Campground in the Sierra foothills, with campsites scattered nice distances apart and gorgeous 360-degree views over the sagebrush of the Sierra and Inyo mountain ranges.

Only about a third of the sites were occupied, and we chose one at the end of a loop near the top of the slope.

We hit the jackpot. This campground has almost everything: water, dump, space, connectivity and amazing scenery. The only ding: no hiking access. Cost: $8 a night, $4 if you have senior pass like me. We’re staying four nights.

And today, nature treated us with a storm that sent snow and clouds down the slopes of the Sierra behind our camp. Dinner and a show.

Crack a beer, and toast to the joys of a winging success.


  1. Reply
    Mary Clark May 25, 2021

    That new map sounds good. You’ve described a beautiful outing in “the Mohave-desert wonderland.”

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols May 25, 2021

      Thanks, Mary. The map is great. Tom says it’s the most expensive map he’s ever purchased, and worth every penny. It’s the Inyo National Forest Atlas, published by the United States Department of Agriculture (7 1/2 inch quadrangle topographic mps)

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