I love being a snowbird! For the past 7 years I’ve left the grey and rainy pacific northwest behind in late fall to follow the sun down to the American Southwest to explore and photograph the stunning landscapes until spring.
I’ve seen some truly remarkable places, but to become an all-time favourite, a location has to meet a few criteria:
- The most important thing is that there must be room to explore. I love to hike around and find unique subjects and perspectives. If a location only has one or two shots, it wont make this list.
- I have to be able to get there in my truck (which is not a 4 wheel drive high clearance vehicle) or on foot (and I’m not an athlete). If you have to have a 4 wheel drive, or be a rock climber, then I haven’t been there.
- I like to be able to camp nearby or right in the location. There are lots of places that are worthwhile day trips, but if I can’t camp there, it’s not likely to be a favourite. That means I also have to be able to tow the RV there (so if there is ice or freezing temperatures, it’s not an option).
- I hate crowds. And cities. Especially crowded cities. Wilderness is my thing. If a place gets crowded, then it only makes my list if it’s possible to go in off-season. Believe me, I’ll never make the mistake of trying to visit Zion and not being aware of spring break ever again!
These are in the order I would likely visit them during my snowbird trip from November to the end of April. I start in the southern most locations since that is where it is warm during November – January. Then, depending on the weather, I like to move up to higher elevations if it’s possible.
I never run out of places to explore in Joshua Tree. There is a lot to see including a cholla garden, massive piles of interesting boulders (jumbo rocks), hidden valleys and of course the famous Joshua Trees.
This is one of the best locations to see an incredible desert sunset.
Where to camp: Belle Campground is a gorgeous spot, big enough for the RV, and puts you right in the action for sunrise.
This is a love it or hate it place. I love it or it wouldn’t be on my list. Some people are put off by the layer of dead fish on the beach and the fact that what appears to be white sand is really barnacles. But it’s so unique, there are tons of birds to photograph, and it’s another location where you can count on amazing sunsets.
Where to camp: Corvina Beach or Salt Creek.
On one side of the road is Imperial Sand Dunes where all the duners go. Its fun to watch them, but of course they leave a ton of tracks on the dunes. On the other side of the road is North Algodones Sand Dunes which is a wilderness area that is closed to ATVs. That’s where you want to photograph.
Where to camp: You can stay in Glamis, but there will be a lot of people with ATVs who like to party all night. I prefer to stay on BLM land on Ogilby Road, which is about a 30 minute drive.
A small but stunning wildlife refuge that is the winter home for flocks of snow geese and sandhill cranes as well as many other species of birds. The snow geese tend to all fly at the same time, filling the sky a few times as day as they move between the field and the pond, cackling all the while. It’s quite the sight! The only drawback is that you have to stay in your vehicle which makes it a little more difficult to get a good angle on the action.
Where to camp: BLM land right across the street from the visitor’s centre.
The most lush desert I have ever seen and one of the only places you’ll find the Organ Pipe Cactus in the USA. The park has lots of hiking opportunities, but make sure you carry a comb or some tweezers for your inevitable encounter with the cholla cactus.
Where to camp: Twin Peaks Campground in the park. Or, there is BLM land outside the park at Gunsight Wash or Ajo Scenic Drive.
An otherworldly location with hoo doos, “dinosaur eggs” and other remarkable rock formations. It’s very easy to get lost here so make sure you take a GPS. I actually bought an eBook about this place that directed me to go down a private road, ignore some no trespassing signs, and scoot under a fence to get to the best photo locations. Bullocks!!! Just go to the main parking lot. You can walk to the very best stuff in 20-30 minutes, but it will take you longer because theres a lot to photograph along the way.
Where to camp: We asked a ranger. Yes, you can camp right in the parking lot.
Stunning scenery, incredible hiking, mountains and river, Zion has it all. That’s why it’s so popular. The only time I would go here is in early March before spring break (or before if there is no chance of snow and I can tow the rig up there). From mid-March to mid-April, it is spring break in one of the nearby states and there will be tons of people in the park which sucks the magic out of it.
You don’t have to be one of the photographers that stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the bridge for the iconic shot of the Watchman. There are plenty of opportunities for unique images elsewhere in the park.
Where to camp: Zion Canyon Campground and RV Park about half a mile out of the park.
This little known treasure has recently become part of the new Gold Butte National Monument, so I expect it to get more popular. But hopefully the long bumpy road will still keep the crowds away. I love to just wander off into the wilderness to find interesting rock formations with amazing colours.
Where to camp: Free BLM camping.
I’ve never seen such colourful rock as what you will find in this incredible park. There are some named rock formations that you will find on the park map, but you can also just wander around and find some really cool things of your own.
Where to camp: There is a campground in the park or there is free camping about 20 minutes away on BLM land known as Snowbird Mesa.
Another one of the otherworldly landscapes that make you feel like you’re on another planet, there is a lot to explore here and many hiking trails. I could easily spend months exploring this gorgeous landscape.
Where to camp: Free BLM camping.
As you can see, there’s nothing I like more than stunning wilderness landscapes with very few people and free camping. What more could you ask for? The sun? It’s there too 🙂
If you want more information about exactly where to camp or logistical details about any of these locations, visit Ray’s blog at loveyourrv.com.
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