Most RVers who camp in the desert fall into two groups: those who love it and those who don’t quite understand why others love it.
Camping in the desert is completely different than camping in other environments. The weather can be extreme during every season, the lack of water is very prevalent, and many deserts are located far from amenities and towns.
There are also different types of deserts. From the far southern deserts such as the Sonoran and Chihuahuan to the high deserts of the Mojave and parts of Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho. Each of these deserts has its own beauty and challenges.
However, even with the challenges, RVers flock to these wide-open areas for sunny and dry climates (perfect for solar panels) and the chance to see some stellar night skies.
So, are there some downsides to long-term camping in the desert? Sure, most of the downsides are for your RV, but some can be for your tow vehicle and your gear.
How Extreme Temperatures Affect RV Camping in Deserts
The Thermal Rollercoaster: Day-to-Night Shifts
Contrary to the popular belief that deserts are always scorching, these environments have a Jekyll and Hyde complex when it comes to temperature. While days can be hot, nights often turn frigid—sometimes even hitting freezing levels. This isn’t just for high-altitude deserts; temperature swings happen across the board.
Van Systems: Battling the Elements
The constant shift between hot and cold doesn’t just mess with your comfort; it can wreak havoc on your van’s systems. From water tanks freezing overnight to batteries calling it quits, the desert’s temperamental climate can be tough to manage.
Pro Tip: Keep an eye on the daily and nightly temperatures. A reliable weather radio can be your best friend out here. When temperatures plummet at night, ensure your water tanks are either heated or emptied to avoid a frosty disaster.
Dealing with Desert Critters and Bugs While RV Camping,
Wildlife Wonders: The Unseen Inhabitants of the Desert
The desert teems with hidden wildlife—ranging from kit foxes and javelinas to tarantulas and stink beetles. These critters are most active during early morning and late evening hours, making them fun to spot during these times.
Beware of Nuisance Neighbors: Rodents in Your RV
When parked for extended periods, watch out for pack rats and other rodents. These critters aren’t just adorable; they can be problematic. They have a knack for setting up cozy nests in RV and van engines, and they’ll bring in debris like cacti and sticks for construction.
Pro Tip: To discourage these furry invaders, keep your engine hood up and run the engine periodically. Rats also hate loud noises—so consider playing music in your vehicle to keep them at bay.
Pest Control: Guarding Against Insects
Though mosquitoes and other biting insects are generally rare in arid settings, some deserts—like the Mojave—have biting flies. Referred to as “bombers” in Death Valley, these insects can turn outdoor living into a misery fest. Keep your screens in good condition and make sure windows and doors are closed to minimize the nuisance.
Managing Sun and Wind Exposure While Desert Camping in an RV
The Desert’s Double Whammy: Sun and Wind
The desert isn’t just a battleground of fluctuating temperatures. Oh no, it’s the persistent sun and sudden gusts of wind that can really do a number on your van. From causing rapid deterioration of your roof and awning to messing with the seals, Mother Nature doesn’t pull punches.
Sun Protection Strategies
The sun might be great for those solar panels, but it’s less kind to other parts of your van. Periodically inspect your window seals and roof for any cracking or splitting. Proactively rotate your van’s parking orientation every few days to distribute the sun exposure evenly. Shield your windows with either an awning or Reflectix for added protection.
Windproofing: Don’t Get Blown Away
Especially during spring, desert winds can arrive out of nowhere, turning your neatly arranged outdoor set-up into airborne projectiles. Strong gusts can lift and slam down anything from satellite dishes to lawn chairs. Keep outdoor items securely stored when not in use, and always retract your awning if you plan to be away.
Dust and Sand
The Inescapable Dust Factor
In the desert, dust is the uninvited guest that overstays its welcome. It infiltrates every nook and cranny, even if you’re just parked for a day. Forget about evading it; your best bet is to confront it head-on with a vacuum or dustcloth.
Sand: Not Just for Beaches
While sand is generally less invasive than dust, it’s far from harmless. Usually arriving as uninvited guests during storms or swirling in with the dust devils, sand can literally sandblast your van. The best defense is a good offense: keep your doors and windows sealed, particularly in the afternoons when winds are notorious. Opt for less sandy locales and make natural windbreakers like hills or rocks your new best friends.
The Silver Lining: Space and Solitude
Sure, these elements may seem like drawbacks, but they keep the crowds at bay. For the true desert aficionado, the lack of congestion is a fair trade-off for a little grime and grit.
As long as you are prepared with a little more water, fuel, food, and patience, long-term desert camping can be even more rewarding.