We made an online reservation ($20 for a site with no electric and no water, plus an $8 reservation fee—grrr). Many parks have gone to a reservation system, which is fine if you know exactly when you want to be somewhere, but this doesn’t really lend itself to a more relaxed mode of travel. The penalties are stiff for canceling, so for the most part, we’ve stopped making reservations, unless we’re traveling to a popular park in the peak season. Instead, we plan where we’re going a few days at a time, and call ahead to inquire about availability. We figured Goblin Valley might be full because of the recent National Park closures, and given that it only has about 20 campsites, we didn’t want to take the chance of driving all the way there and not having a place to stay.
Let’s just say that Goblin Valley State Park wasn’t exactly what we expected. We arrived to find the small campground packed with vehicles, tents, and people—apparently, we were the only ones with less than eight people in our campsite. At least two-thirds of the campers were under the age of 10. We realized that although it was only Thursday, people were taking extra time for the Columbus Day weekend. It was a free-for-all, with kids shrieking through the campground until long past the 10 p.m. quiet hour. They were having a wonderful time, but it wasn’t the peaceful out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere camping experience we were anticipating.
We took off for an early morning hike on the primitive trail through a narrow canyon to Goblin Valley, certain that not many other people would attempt the trail. No one else attempted the trail, probably because about a half-mile in, the trail turned to slick, deep mud. We slogged and slid another mile until we finally arrived in the midst of the goblins—along with about a hundred other people who had driven to the area from above and unloaded their kids to run screaming through the rock formations.
This was the impetus that finally pushed us into our first real boondocking experience. Although we’ve camped many times without water or electric hook-ups (which some people define as boondocking), we’ve always camped in designated campgrounds. But there are many places—especially in the West—where you can camp in undeveloped areas, primarily on BLM land and in national forests. As long as there isn’t a sign posted that says “No Camping,” it’s fair game. We decided to give it a try, figuring that it couldn’t possibly be worse than the state park. And boondocking is FREE, with no penalties if you should change your mind.
We eased into boondocking with a location just a few miles outside of the state park on BLM land—there was a handful of other RV’s already parked there, and we were welcomed with waves and smiles as soon as we pulled in. It turned out to be a beautiful, peaceful spot. We hiked in the gorgeous slickrock wild area directly across from our campsite and relaxed around a blazing campfire that evening with our neighbors. We’re already searching out more boondocking areas for the future.