May 6 – May 12, 2020.
The first surprise of the day was the naked man. We were walking down a disused road deep in the forest at about 6:30 in the morning when we saw him. From a distance, I thought he wore odd colored clothing – kind of flesh-colored. But as we got closer, I saw that his clothing was hardly any clothes at all, just a pair of socks and shoes and a sack he thankfully carried at waist level in front of him. He stopped. We stopped. And then he stepped off into the woods. When he returned to the road he had on a pair of shorts and we all preceded to walk towards each other. We bid him a good morning as we passed.
In retrospect, I worried that we should have asked him if he needed help. I mean it was pretty chilly out and he didn’t have the normal physique of a hiker. But then again, if he was aware enough to stop, leave the road, and put on clothes when he saw us, certainly he was cognizant enough to ask for help if he needed it, right?
The second surprise awaited us when we returned to our campsite. Under a rock, about five feet from the van door was a piece of paper. Hesitant to touch strange objects we find on the ground any more, we walked up to it and looked. It appeared to be a brochure and map of the camping areas in the forest. I picked it up. The words “7-day camping limit” were highlighted with a yellow marker and the area we were currently camped in, the Prescott Basin, was circled with the same highlighter. It was the beginning of our 8th day in the Basin. Greg thought the brochure meant that the powers that be knew we were about to overextend our stay and that we needed to leave. I suggested that maybe they just leave brochures in the campsites every Wednesday.
We knew about the 7-day rule before we arrived in the forest. But things didn’t go as planned when we actually got to the area. Perhaps you may remember from our last post that one of the reasons we came to Prescott was to buy things. There was a sporting goods store that carried the exact hiking boots I wanted, but when we went to buy them we found that they didn’t have them in stock. So I ordered them. We were given an estimate of a maximum of 11 days before they’d arrive at the store. Next, we found out that Amazon wouldn’t deliver the replacement part we needed for our vent fan to an Amazon Locker location. Greg called around and luckily we found a local RV store that could order the part for us but we had no idea when it would arrive.
I thought we could cheat the 7-day limit by moving after five days from a campsite on the east side of the Basin to one far far away on the west. I thought that this would fake “them” out. I mean we never even saw a forest ranger during those first five days and many very early mornings we had driven out our campsite and didn’t return until late morning or early afternoon. And, you know, there are tons of white vans parked in the forest these days. And furthermore, to get our license plate number you would have had to drive completely into our campsite and turn around directly in front of the van. We were camped at the very end of a road in the very last campsite and many people did just that and every time it happened it was impossible not to notice. So how did they know we’d been in the forest for seven days? Did they have an eagle eye in the sky following our every move? Did they know about the hours we spent in the Lowe’s parking lot “borrowing” their internet? And if so, didn’t they see we were good campers who filled up bags with the trash we found strewn around our campsite (including used toilet paper and a plastic tampon applicator) and clearly deserved to be able to bend the rules? But at least, I thought, if they did have some covert tracking system, surely they knew about the naked man and we were off the hook for not offering help.
Despite my doubts about what the highlighted parts of the brochure meant to us, we decided to be good public land users and leave. But I was totally unprepared for this and had no idea where to go. Our internet at our campsite was poor so I grabbed the phone walked into the woods until I found a higher spot where I could get a connection. I opened all my usual apps and maps and started searching. Although dispersed camping was allowed not far from where we were along roads still inside the forest but outside the basin, the satellite view of those locations didn’t show any actual camping spots. My iOverlander app yielded nothing so I went to the internet to a camping website called Campendium. There I found our answer, a road with lots of dispersed camping sites in the Prescott National Forest East. It was a bit further from town than we’d hope to be and up a long scary bumpy dirt road but it would allow us another 14 days in the area.
We picked up my boots that afternoon as we passed through Prescott to our new campsite but would return to the city twice after that, once to get our fan part, do laundry, and reprovision for another two weeks off-grid and again because there was an amazingly beautiful lake I just had to kayak.
A few days after we got to our new location in the Prescott National Forest East, our suspicions that we were being evicted from the forest were confirmed. It was the weekend and every site was taken. Holly*, another van dweller pulled up in our spot and asked if she could share for the night. Of course, we said yes. Ends up that she was home in her van in the Prescott Basin when a ranger came by with a highlighted brochure which he politely handed to her before asking her to leave.
But I don’t mind being evicted. I totally understand that the people of Prescott don’t want grubby vandwellers like us living in their forest. It’s just, besides not being prepared to leave and having unfinished business in town, we just weren’t done enjoying the forest. There were more trails to walk, birds to see, and flowers to photograph. I mean if the powers that be really didn’t want people overstaying their welcome, they should just make the forest a little less interesting – or perhaps just set more fat naked guys loose in the woods.
* We really enjoyed meeting Holly. She has a cool blog too. You can find her at Road Quill.
** Just like they usually are, all pictures are click to enlarge. And honestly, some of these pictures look extra cool when you enlarge them.
Prescott Basin – Prescott National Forest
Prescott National Forest East
Willow Lake in Prescott, AZ
As always, we love to hear from you. Leave us a comment below about anything our pictures or story may have inspired you to think about. And, of course, if you have ever seen a naked man walking in the forest we want to hear about that too!