Cool clouds and golden grasslands...what a view!

Cool clouds and golden grasslands…what a view!

I imagine it might have looked like this thousands of years ago. In fact I imagine most of the southwest probably looked exactly like this. Long, rolling grasslands swaying and wrapping the hills with their golden fingers. Mesquite trees spotting the landscape with curves of brown as far as the eye can see. Shadows and coulds rolling over the grass leaving patches of bright and dark from brilliant yellow at mid-day to a deep orange glow at dusk. This is the way it once was and still is right here. What a place!

We’re boondocked at Las Cienegas National Conservation Area (NCA) and the only living thing we’ve seen in 4 days is a Pronghorn.oh and one cow. It’s been near-perfect weather…perhaps a few more clouds than we normally like, but otherwise mostly bright, sunny days, a slight breeze and a cool 70 degrees (~21°C).

Afternoon glass by the rig

Afternoon glass by the rig

Sunset from the rig

Sunset from the rig

This 45,000 acre preserve is truely a capsule in time. It contains five of the rarest habitat types in the American Southwest: cienegas (marshlands), cottonwood-willow riparian forests, sacaton grasslands, mesquite bosques, and semi-desert grasslands as well as roaming herds of Pronghorn and Black-Tailed Prarie Dogs (recently re-introduced)….oh and some cows.

All alone in the boonies....lovely!

All alone in the boonies….lovely!

The old Empire Ranch

It's the real deal here at the ranch!

It’s the real deal in these old rooms!

It also just happens to have a bit of wild west movie history. On-site historic Empire Ranch was the setting of several western classics including “Red River,” “Duel in the Sun,” “Hombre,” “Winchester 73” and “The Big Country”, amongst others. The ranch has been preserved as an open museum and the NCA still has a working cattle ranch on the grasslands (thus, the cows you see) that allows you to walk your nifty Keens where many well-worn cowboy boots have previously tread. So not only do you get some pretty cool nature, but you’ll get to pretend you’re a cowboy too.

A rare "fire rainbow" on a cloudy day

A rare “fire rainbow” on a cloudy day

So what have we been doing? Well apart from the visit to the Empire Ranch (which is well worth a gawk and gander) we’ve been doing absolutely nothing…nada…not a thing. This is one of those areas that is sooooo very remote and sooooo very relaxing that it’s really best just to throw off your inhibitions and go with the flow. We’ve gotten into the habit of taking our morning coffee with an east view of the Whetstone Mountains, our afternoon lounge by the shade of the RV and our evening glass over the sunset of the Santa Rita Range. Plus a few bike rides and walks across the grasslands thrown in. Simply wonderful!

The time off has also allowed me to map out most of our Apr-June travels. If all goes to plan we’ll be boondocking our way through Eastern Utah all of April, heading off across Idaho in early May and arriving at the Columbia River Gorge in Northern Oregon by the second half of May. Then we’ll take a leasurely pace along the Gorge and down the Oregon coast to our jobs at Bullards beach in July. The only month I’ve booked out is June and that’s purely so we can get the sites we want at the spots we want on the OR coast during summer vacations (I’m very particular about where we stay). The rest of the time we’ll be free-flowing our sites along the way…we’ll see how it goes.

So there you have it. We’re headed next to Patagonia Lake State Park, and then probably coming right back to the grasslands for another break before we go north. See ya at the next stop…

Might be a rabbit out there?

Might be a rabbit out there?

"The beast" in her element!

“The beast” in her element!

Grassland views

Grassland views

Interior of the old ranch

Interior of the old ranch

Spectacular coulds

Spectacular coulds

And relaxing with the cat

Another tough day for Taggart

More old ranch views

More old ranch views

An beastly view

An beastly view

I just LOVE these grasslands

I just LOVE these grasslands

Polly scans her territory

Polly scans her territory

A Cienegas wildcat?

A Cienegas wildcat?

Afternoon shadows

Afternoon shadows

43 Responses to Glorious Grasslands – Las Cienegas National Conservation Area

  1. Sue says:

    Paul, what a good “dad” you are, giving Taggart your chair and taking the broken one……We always knew you were a good guy!

  2. I’m so glad your posting your future itinerary. I’m learning how to map out a RV route for our future first year of RVing. Your blog is filled with places to stay, things to see. Thanks, its very helpful

    • libertatemamo says:

      Mapping out routes is something that takes a bit of experience, at least it took us a few years to figure out exactly how we like to travel & where we like to stay, plus how much planning/booking we actually have to do. These days we travel (as much as we can) with the weather and like to stay (as much as we can) in public parks, plus we don’t really like to travel more than ~150 miles in a day, then we stay for a while before we move on. So we try to map our routes around those priorities. I tend to book-out summers (just to make sure we get a spot), but leave fall/winter more open.

      One day I’ll have to write a more detailed post on planning. It’s definitely a topic alot of folks want to hear about, esp. when they first start RVing.

      Nina

  3. Lee and Shelia says:

    Another awesome edition of the life and adventures of 12 Paws, 40 Feet, plus 4 Humans Feet(s)……. Thanks

  4. Delightful, as always!

  5. Gunta says:

    Looking forward to seeing you at Bullards. Will you be doing the Lighthouse?

    • libertatemamo says:

      Yup. We’re booked for lighthouse duty at Coquille River July/Aug. looking forward to meeting you too!
      Nina

  6. Janet says:

    Great pictures…..as usual. The pace sounds very appealing. Did not realize the grasslands were so beautiful.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Something about grasslands and moving light of the day just entralls me. When the weather is right, these areas are just beautiful.
      Nina

  7. Sheila says:

    We’re also going to be going to Oregon shortly from Arizona. I’ve been running into problems finding places that are open yet or not already booked.

    • libertatemamo says:

      The OR state parks are open now, but most of them are first-come-first-serve until May. So if you’re not seeing sites on the reservation system that’s why. There’s plenty of spots! We love the OR state parks and you can’t go wrong with any of them. Hope that helps.

      Nina

  8. Rowanova says:

    There are some large National Grasslands areas in Montana, Wyoming, both of the Dakotas I believe, and others as well. If I’m not mistaken they are under the jurisdiction of the National Forest Service, and some of these natural preserves are very large. Have you ever been to any of these areas? If so, any thoughts to share?

    • libertatemamo says:

      We’ve seen some of the grasslands in the Dakotas (Custer State Park comes to mind), in the mid-west (we came across grasslands during our tip across Iowa in the Loess Hills) and even in Kentucky (there’s a small preserve in Land Between The Lakes). They’re all wonderful and different! Arizona is rather unique is that you can boondock right in the preserve (plus, they are dog-friendly), but I’m sure there are other gems around the country we haven’t found.
      Nina

  9. sierrasue123 says:

    Hi, This place and the last place you went look so lovely and free !!
    Couple questions. I see you let your cats out with no leash. I lived in an rv for 2 years in mid 90’s and did that as well. I only had one cat at the time. Do your cats stay pretty close? Have they ever tried to climbe a cactus?
    Another question is about your upcoming gig which I see it lighthouse duty? Can you tell more about that?? What do you do at that job??

  10. Melissa says:

    We just missed you!!. Left yesterday and are now at Ajo. We were there for over 10 days (bonus that the ranch has water) This is like home to us. You might want to look at Parker Canyon Lake State Park rather than Patagonia. If you are heading west in Arizona, check out Darby Wells Road in Ajo.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Oh my! Can’t believe you were in the same place! We were at the Road Canyon site. I guess you must have been camped at one of the other areas nearer the Ranch? We saw an Alto and a Class C when we drove through Cieneguita camp area…was that you?

      We reserved our spot at Patagonia SP so we’re stuck here for the weekend, but next time I think we’ll try Parker Canyon instead. It looks a little more remote and more our kinda place, so cheers for the tip.

      Nina

      • Melissa says:

        Yes, that was us!! We are now full timers and while in Mississippi met a lady from Quebec (the Alto). She decided to met up with us at Empire and has since moved over with us to Ajo. Check out Sonoita (the olive oil and balsamic vinegar store is great). Also the Elgin winery area is pretty. Although, only five months into full timing, we are loving it. We have to head back to Canada by April 15th but plan on taking your tip for Borrego Springs, once we leave Ajo and also Cape Blanco. Thanks for all the great tips and too bad we couldn’t have met up. That would have been great!!. Melissa

        • libertatemamo says:

          Well what an amazing coincidence. We literally drove right by you. I even took a pic! So glad my tips are helpful and thanks also for yours!
          Nina

  11. You can move the “Beast’s driver’s mirror to the driver’s side window for a better view. Best place and easier to view down the side. deSanford

    • libertatemamo says:

      No moving the mirrors on this beast…they’re stuck where they are. And they’re part of the charm anyway :)
      Nina

  12. LuAnn says:

    Looks like a lovely place to kick back and relax. Great post Nina and your photos are fabulous. :)

    • libertatemamo says:

      I had so much fun photographing this area. Talk about some really “sweet light” at dusk…the grasslands just glow golden!
      Nina

      • Rowanova says:

        I’m looking forward to seeing the photos of your return to the area. Maybe spring will have sprung in the grasslands? Open grasslands when completely green, and with the scatterings of spring/summer wild flowers, can really be a sight to behold. They’re something special and different from all of the other beauties of nature. Nice you could post this for all to see, maybe more will appreciate grasslands too. Great job.

  13. Doug says:

    Your timing is impeccable, because your particular camping area is closed April 1 through June 30 for pronghorn fawning season.

    • libertatemamo says:

      You know I noticed that when we were there. Very happy we managed to squeeze in before the closure date. We’re going back next week for another few days of solitude before we head back to the maw of Phoenix.
      Nina

      • Doug says:

        I’ve never been able to camp in (or even visit) Road Canyon because of the seasonal closure. You are so lucky!

  14. Doug says:

    Since you’re in the area, one of my all-time favorite mountain bike rides follows nearby Gardner Canyon Road up to the Arizona Trail—then north along a really cool century-old water ditch/pipeline to Kentucky Camp, a restored mining camp where I’ve volunteered several times. Its road takes you back down near the start of Gardner Canyon Road.

    • libertatemamo says:

      We made that drive in the car the other day! Lots of lovely views on the way, but the last part to Kentucky Camp was closed. We weren’t sure how far away it was so turned around at that point, but I’m hoping to go back and see it. Lots of neat boondocking spots down both those roads too!
      Nina

      • Doug says:

        To visit Kentucky Camp you have to park by the locked gate then walk (or bike) the last quarter mile. Yes, terrific boondocking sites nearby, but the washboard road is very rough on RVs.

        • libertatemamo says:

          Ahhhh OK! I saw that parking area, but wasn’t sure. Now I know exactly how to get there. Awesome!
          I did notice the road to the site was pretty rough. We figure we could get “the beast” into some of the sites near the start of the National Forest, but not further up the hill. Lovely views up there, but a bit much for our size.
          NIna

  15. Oh, BABY! That SO looks like our kind of place.

    I was inappropriately attired outside (don’t try to picture it) drinking a hot beverage (safe to imagine), and I lamented that it would be a while before we found anywhere remote enough for me to be this inappropriate again.

    [It wasn’t THAT inappropriate, stop it.

    Is this that kind of place?

    • libertatemamo says:

      It is VERY almost that kind of place. In fact Paul and I frolicked in abandon for several days before we saw our very first car (the Ranger stopped by to visit us just 2 hours before we left the park…and thankfully we were decent). This park has “designated” camping areas so you do risk some interaction, but it’s a very, very lightly used place.
      Nina

  16. Gaelyn says:

    Those lands full of grasses looks peaceful enough to rejuvenate a bit.

  17. Allen says:

    Federally owned lands to camp on are a great resource. Is there a single source list of federally managed land available for dry camping? The ability to boondock is a key part of our future economic future as we plan to go fulltime next year. Meanwhile I continue to enjoy your full time adventures.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Well, each federally-owned resource has their own website, but they can be a bear to sort through. I’ve found a few “consolidated” places where I search for places to camp:

      1/ http://www.uscampgrounds.info/ – An awesome website for all public land campgrounds (National, Federal, BLM, Forest Service, State Park, COE, etc.). This is our #1 go-to for developed public campgrounds.
      2/ http://freecampsites.net/ – A fabulous resource for free campgrounds across the US. Use it and contribute to it!
      3/ Benchmark Maps – Good old-fashioned paper maps, but what I LOVE about them is that they show ALL public land resources (in color) so you can instantly see if there’s BLM or Forest or any other type of public land in the area you’re planning to go. Well worth the investment in my mind. We’ve used our Arizona map alot this winter.

      I have more info in this post too:
      Finding Cheap & Natural Campgrounds

      AND a little different twist, but here too:
      Free Overnight RV Parking = Finding “Freebies”

      Nina

  18. Looking forward to your tips on planning and routing, esp out west. Love the reviews, thanks.

  19. Steve Weeks says:

    I am not sure how far east you mean in Utah, but if you are headed up to the Monument Valley area be sure to linger in the Bluff/Blanding area. Valley of the Gods and Gooseneck State Park have dispersed camping. Things to see are Bridges State Park, House on Fire ruins and you must do the Moki Dugway just not in the beast. For local fare try the Twin Rocks Trading Post for stew and fry bread. All mentioned are Googleable.
    Stock on libations wine or stronger before Utah as they may be hard to find in the small towns.

    • libertatemamo says:

      YES!! Those are exactly the sites I have marked as stops on our route in Eastern Utah. We plan to spend several days at Gooseneck SP and then hop on over to Blanding for more boondocking. From there we’re going to Moab for even more BLM land. So very excited. Cheers for the tips on wine & spirits!!
      Nina

  20. […] ← Glorious Grasslands – Las Cienegas National Conservation Area […]

  21. […] undisclosed boondocking spot** near Green Valley, AZ, just 20 miles south of Tuscon. Last year we boondocked on the eastern side of the impressive Santa Rita mountains, but this time around we were looking to spend a few days […]

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