Ice cream anyone

My first time here we arrived a week before our friend group to secure a good location before the busy thanksgiving weekend and we were the only ones out by the dunes, but the ice cream truck still managed to find us! 😂

There are a lot of regulars who come to the dunes for group camping, and some of them have incredible set-ups, our neighbors rolled in with an 18 wheeler filled with side-by-sides, a flatbed filled with quads, and a hauler filled with bikes, along with 6 big rig RV’s.

This place isn’t actually free you need to buy either a weekly or season pass which runs from November to April ($35 or $150) and the longest you can stay is two weeks without moving your set-up. You can buy a pass at any ATV store or shop, but there is no way to buy one once you’re out here. Rangers and border patrol make the rounds to make sure everyone has a pass, and obeys all ATV rules on the dunes and sand drags.

There is trash at the entrance, slightly inside are toilets. Cell phone service is 5 stars (we work from our RV and had no issues), you can pay to dump and fill up water at the RV park a couple miles from here. The sand is soft, heavy rigs may need to air down.

This is not only a beautiful place, it is also a way of life, and a must do for anyone with a way to get out into the dunes.

They have a Bar!

We have solar so choose Arroyo Secco at first. We live/work out of the RV during the Covid pandemic, so we bought a cell booster and WiFi relay, but even they couldn’t make any use of the provided WiFi.

We moved up to Chardonnay Bluff and were able to work with no issues. There is a huge difference in how much love KOA puts into each section. The top (Chardonnay Bluff) is beautiful with green grass and lovely well cared for trees, and full hookups. The bottom (Arroyo Secco) is dry, dusty, and many old trees with the tops loped off or otherwise poorly maintained. The sites at the bottom are slightly larger, have water and sewer, just no power.

We arrived on a Monday, the bottom was empty—literally had the place to ourselves. After we moved up top, we had many neighbors, many kids, many kids ATV’s. It felt like a suburb 😂

We had to go back down for the weekend because the top was booked, by the weekend the bottom was just as packed as the top. It actually felt kinda like a concert parking lot.

This was our first KOA, and did expect the population of kids, but I wasn’t expecting all the amenities—like a hoppin bar! I complimented the bar to the bartender and was told that this is the only KOA in the nation that has a bar. She told me that it had been around for decades under a different name, Buttercup I think. It has an established rotation of regular guests that come for access to wine country. She said KOA inherited the bar and it’s regular loyal following.

Funnily, we learned that KOA raccoons have impeccable manors, and leave very little trace after delicately choosing dinner from the bin, unlike the wild raccoons we encounter on BLM land. I’ll post a video of them.

Another thing they offer is propane, and at reasonable price.

We will return, but we personally enjoy a bit more wild and a bit less suburbia. It is a nice place to get some laundry done after a stretch of primitive camping. And, of course, socially distanced outside bar, deli, and coffee shop, convince store which sells a nice selection of wine, beer, setters, etc. the shop also has branded items that are worth peeking at.


I expected to be miserable here. Not one tree and no grass. But, we ended up staying the entire summer.

The morning after we arrived I was able to take in the majesty of the landscape over morning coffee and I was hooked. There is grass, but the kind you find in grasslands, the river is home to an entire ecosystem bustling with life.

This is in the heart of BLM land and open range cattle wander by nearly every day. They even wander through the camp now and then. At night you will hear the coyote pack celebrating a meal a couple times a week (sad for the little calf’s, but such is life)

If you have off road toys and/or love to fish you will be at home. The trials just go on forever.

There is a general store with a lot of what you need in a pinch. We went to the vons in mammoth weekly for shopping and to load up the truck with logs to cut into firewood.

The cell service here is AMAZING. We were spoiled and able to work from here without one glitch.

Curfew is enforced for generators, but some spaces are pretty big so late night talking around the fire is totally oaky.

I don’t think I would have ever left if they didn’t close for the winter in September. We did encounter one of the strangest rainstorms I’ve ever seen! Peep the video to see for yourself.

We were here during the creek fire, so some of our pix and vids are fairly Smokey

Oh! Can’t forget, there is a beautiful geological site nearby too. Must see.

Clean, spacious and well maintained campsites

Very well maintained campgrounds with quality facilities located throughout. $20 a night, they have water spigots shared between campsites (if you bring a “y” you can stay connected, otherwise fill tanks and disconnect). Self pump out (free) and good rubbish collection points throughout. Campsites are located on a relatively busy road, so you can hear road traffic but nothing that bothered us. Good cell reception, fire pits, charcoal bbqs, nice tree’s etc. I liked it here. Campsites seemed to be largely pull thru’s which is nice too. Neighbour are close but not too close.

Trees and a creek

Site 38

There are power and water hookups at this camp but we stayed on a dry site because we have solar.

The sites range in size. All of them good for RV’s but plenty of people only use them for tents. Each site has grass and backs into a little creek. It’s a very busy place, and while the sites aren’t ‘tight’ you will hear your neighbors and they will hear you. The 10pm curfew is enforced by the owner who lives on site.

There is a little general store but, not as plentiful as the other campgrounds owned by this family. The best thing about this campsite is the pump out service offered by Bishop RV rentals, even to trailers he hasn’t rented out.

Surprisingly Beautiful

Site 57

We tried camping down by the river, but chose this spot in a rush for need of WiFi to work the following day. At first blush pit fees barren and desolate, but the vast beauty looking across the dessert ground and mountain ridge is simply stunning to wake up to and watch the sunset. We stayed weeks when we thought we’d only stay a couple nights.

This is primitive camping. No hookups or water. There is not a bit of shade to speak of, great for our solar and love of the sunshine, but not for shade seekers.

There are less flying insects than at the campground down the hill on the river, but many ants, bees, wasps. Also, no critters.

We have a quad and were happy to see so many trails leading out right from camp.

It’s $5/night. For that you have access to a trash bin with a bear lock and an ADA approved bathroom. That’s all. But, it is near a large play land for off road seekers of all kinds. We explored the area and found a historical petroglyph site.

There are many campgrounds nearby with amenities available, but if you don’t need them this is a surprisingly peaceful look over the flatlands at the foot of the Eastern Sierra range.

Hello mosquitoes

Site 17

This is a nice spot along the river if you’re set up for dry camping. The sites are spacious and most of them are right along the river. It is for this reason the mosquitos are so out of hand. I highly recommend preparing for the sheer volume of them if you plan to stay here.

You can reserve through reserve America, but I think most people drive in and look for a place not reserved and then go online to reserve that space.

We had a funny raccoon come to steal our trash right in front of us, and he could not be bothered to notice us ‘scaring him away’ with typical ‘psst get-out-a-here’ attempts.

In the end it was the lack of cell and WiFi which turned this into a one night stay. We are both working from home and this valley isn’t capable of giving our we boost or WiFi relay what it needs to get us up and running. It’s also bad for solar due to the sun setting behind the mountain.

It is close to REALLY GOOD ATV trails!

Pretty run down

We were looking for a place near the caspers wilderness preserve because we couldn’t book the place we had through the weekend and needed to kill some time before heading to our next location. We took a drive by before booking and were VERY glad we did.

It’s not maintained regularly, debris all around landscape is over grown with many dead branches.

No room for an RV, maybe a camping van or pop top, but no room for a truck and trailer of any size.

If you need a place for tent camping in a pinch for a night it will do. But, I recommend the wilderness preserve down the road several miles (15-20 or so)

Ortega Flats

Lovely campsite with all sites on 30a + water spigot. Rangers at entrance to check for pets (not allowed) and where you can buy bundles of wood for $5 if you want. Technically not allowed to bring in outside wood. Sites are pretty level, gravel and of a good size. My 24’ + truck can fit lengthwise with room behind and plenty to the side. They have the “site” and then they have like a lounge area beside it where you have your own table, fire pit and charcoal BBQ. Plenty of squirrels, bunnies, the occasional deer and coyotes at night, signs warning you are now in mountain lion territory. Rangers do the rounds to keep an eye on everything. I really liked it here, only downside is that there is a road quite close and you get some road noise which may bother some - we were both fine. Lots of trees to segment the sites, so even though the neighbors are 30’ ish away… you are quite secluded.