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Adventures Of The Boondocking Photographer: Rocklahoma

I recently became an empty nester and was looking for a change in my life that would maximize my time left on this great planet. So I sold my house, bought a Ford F-350, an Arctic Fox 990 truck camper, and hit the road. This is the story of my adventures with travel, photography, and RV tips designed around living the boondocker lifestyle.

Rocklahoma

The focus of this boondocking adventure is traveling from Denver, Colorado to Pryor, Oklahoma for the four day, rock festival known as Rocklahoma. Previous boondocking articles have featured semi, remote destinations, but this article features living off the grid in state parks and a crowded, rock festival campground.

Rocklahoma, “America’s Biggest Memorial Day Weekend Party”, is a four-day, rock and roll festival held five miles north of Pryor, Oklahoma each May. The festival has four stages and offers live music from noon until 2:30 a.m., Friday through Sunday. There were 75,000 people in attendance and has been held for 12 years.

The festival offers a few electric sites, but mainly basic sites measuring 20 feet by 40 feet on grass. There are showers, porta-potties, and a water service. In the campground are several food trucks and small stores carrying the basics for a weekend of rock and roll.

Travel Tips

Going south out of Denver on I-25, I spent the first night boondocking at Trinidad Lake State Park. I camped just north of the border of New Mexico because I had to attend court in Raton, New Mexico early the next morning for hiking in a National Forest area that was closed for elk calving. I did not see any signs closing the area to hiking. I would not have been hiking in the area if I had known there was a wildlife risk. However, when living the boondocking lifestyle, stuff happens.

Be sure to book you campsites before you leave home. Oklahoma and eastern New Mexico do not offer a lot of public land, so state campgrounds are often the only option for scenic boondocking.  Both states offered online, campground reservations.

Trinidad Lake State Park

Trinidad Lake State Park is four miles west of Trinidad, Colorado on Highway 12. The state park is close enough to I-25 to offer a convenient, boondocking experience after a long day of traveling.

The state park is surrounded by beautiful scenery and the lake provides fishing and boating opportunities. The state park and camping fees were under twenty dollars. My only knock is that the camping spots where clustered very close together.

For more information about Trinidad Lake State Park check out: http://cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/TrinidadLake

Capulin Volcano National Monument

After appearing in court in Raton, New Mexico and relieving myself of $175, I headed east on Highway 87. Capulin Volcano National Monument is an extinct volcano that allows a boondocker to drive around the outside of the volcano to the rim. The road is narrow and the parking lot is small. My F-350 and Arctic Fox 990 just barely fit in the parking lot. If you are pulling a trailer you must leave your trailer in the visitor center’s, parking lot at the base of the volcano.

There is a trail along the rim of the volcano that offers amazing views of the surrounding landscape. A great place for a picnic and chance to hike among old, lava flows.

For more information about Capulin Volcano National Monument check out: https://www.nps.gov/cavo/index.htm

Clayton Lake State Park

Continuing east on Highway 87 past Capulin Volcano National Monument, the landscape becomes flat, dry prairie. After reaching Clayton, New Mexico, head north on Highway 370 for 12 miles to the prairie oasis of Clayton Lake State Park.

Clayton Lake sits in a rock-lined ravine that is absolutely beautiful. The campground offers full hookups or basic campsites. I had an amazing campsite close to the water for easy, kayaking access.

The lake is fairly small and has a no wake policy, which is perfect for floating a kayak. At the end of the lake, kayakers can paddle for another ¼ mile up a small creek lined with red, sandstone cliffs. The lake offers a variety of fish species.

Clayton Lake is really a reservoir. On the north side of the dam is one of the best-preserved and largest number of dinosaur tracks in the world.

I stayed at Clayton Lake for two days, but could have easily spent a week enjoying the area. The campground does fill up during the summer, so be sure to get reservations before going. Also, the area is riddled with rattlesnakes so stay out of the tall grass and watch your step.

For more information about Clayton Lake State Park check out: http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD/claytonlakestatepark.html

Boiling Springs State Park

Heading further east, my first campground in Oklahoma was Boiling Springs State Park near Woodward. Boiling Springs is a large park with several campgrounds offering both full hookups and basic campsites. This park sits in a lovely, forested area with lots of hiking trails.

For more information about Boiling Springs State Park check out: https://www.travelok.com/state-parks/672

Alabaster Caverns

Near Freedom, OK is Alabaster Caverns State Park. Alabaster is a rare form of gypsum. These gypsum caverns are the largest in the world and worth a look. They are not filled with formations are sparkling gems, but still very cool.

I would not recommend staying at this park. The campground sits on rolling prairie exposed to the elements.  There are two other state parks near by that are more scenic and protected from harsh Oklahoma winds.

For more information about Alabaster Caverns check out: https://www.travelok.com/state-parks/110

Great Salt Plains State Park

Great Salt Plains State Park sits next to Great Salt Plains Lake that is half as salty as the ocean. The lake is large and offers miles of shoreline to explore and a large wildlife refuge.

There are several campgrounds in the state park offering full hookups and basic campsites. The park offers miles of trails and is sheltered from the harsh prairie winds. When I was there, the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River was teeming with pelicans and other bird life.

For more information about Great Salt Plains State Park check out: https://www.travelok.com/state-parks/3204

Osage Hills State Park

Osage Hills State Park is located just west of Bartlesville, OK and only 1 ½ hours drive from Rocklahoma. I spent two days at this park, but could have easily spent a week. The park offers full hookups and basic sites and is surrounded by lush forest. There is a nice lake to kayak and miles of forested trails to explore. Next time you are in northeast Oklahoma I would highly recommend camping at this state park.

For more information about Osage Hills State Park check out: https://www.travelok.com/state-parks/5595

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Photography Tips

During this boondocking adventure I used several different photography techniques to capture some photographs I was happy sharing with the readers of this blog. Since I had my camper available at all times, I was able to pack all of my photography gear.

When shooting the Capulin Volcano National Monument photos I carried my tripod on the trail along the rim of the volcano. When shooting landscape photos, setting up a tripod is well worth the effort to get crystal, clear images.

When hiking I retract the legs of the tripod, leave the camera attached, and carry it over my shoulder. For short distances, under three miles, carrying my camera is very doable. For hikes over three miles I would consider carrying my camera and tripod in my backpack.

To edit the Capulin Volcano National Monument photos I used the Color Efex Pro 4 plugin for Lightroom 5. Specifically, I used the Detail Extractor filter to make the photos have a slight HDR effect for an extra pop. I used about 25% contrast and 15% color saturation. There is a fine balance between adding pop to a photograph and making the photograph too HDR enhanced. This balance will be up to you the photographer and part of the fun of editing photographs.

During hiking trips in Boiling Springs State Park and Osage Hills State Park I walked around nine miles each day in hot temperatures. I elected to forgo carrying my DSLR camera and went with my pocket size Lumix. The reduction in weight helped my fatigue level dramatically and I was still able to capture decent images.

Rocklahoma, as most concert venues, restricted camera size to pocket size cameras. My Lumix does have a digitally enhanced 700 mm zoom lens, but with the relatively flat concert grounds, and the lack of ambition to get closer to the stage I was not able to get decent concert photos of the performers.

To really get photographs worth publishing I would have had to work my way closer to the stage or get a press pass to use my DSLR. In the heat of Rocklahoma I elected to view the concert from a folding chair far from the stage.

While boondocking at Great Salt Plains State Park I was treated with the opportunity to shoot pelicans as they floated on the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River during the evening hours. I used a variable, ND filter to enhance the images with a slightly softer, yellow hue.

When shooting wildlife, if possible always use a tripod. The pelicans were floating right on the edge of my 300mm lens and the tripod really helped sharpen the images.

It is impossible to get wildlife to pose properly, so I took a lot of photos of the pelicans and hoped I would get a few that captured a desirable pose. I select a CH (continuous high), mode on my Nikon, which gives me around six frames per second, if I have the proper exposure.

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RV Tips

Rocklahoma Boondocking

Boondocking at Rocklahoma offered unique challenges. The first challenge was getting into the venue without waiting forever in line. Luckily, the festival allows campers into the park five days before the concert starts. I arrived at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday morning and there was no line into the campground. I would estimate that 15% of the campers were parked when I arrived. On Thursday the music started at 6 p.m.

Rocklahoma did offer a water service, however I would highly recommend arriving at the campground with full water, propane, dumped, and plenty of food and beverages. I filled my water and dumped before leaving Osage Hills State Park. Campers were allowed to leave during the festival and there were camp stores for forgotten items.

The campground did offer showers, but talking with tent campers, the showers got increasingly dirty as the festival progressed. The temperature were in the 90’s and taking a cold shower in the afternoon and evening provided a great deal of relief.

If camping with a group, water conservation would come into play. Shorter and fewer showers would become a necessity if campers wanted to avoid paying for water at the festival.

Solar panels mounted on top of my Arctic Fox 990 were a lifesaver. Under the brutal Oklahoma sun I had plenty of solar power. During the festival it became very apparent that it was time to install an inverter to run an A/C fan and charge my computer.

Even in the hottest, mid-day sun, by opening all the windows in the camper, closing the sunroof blind, and running the D/C powered Fantastic Fan, it was tolerable in the camper. However, a mid-sized A/C fan would have been much appreciated.

A lot of boondockers ran a generator during the entire weekend. I have a propane generator on the Arctic Fox 990, but I had a tent camper literally 10 feet away from the generator exhaust and could not bring myself to ruining their experience by blaring generator noise at their tent. So I did not utilize by air conditioner, however if it had heated up another ten degrees I probably would not have had a choice.

My side mounted grill was perfect during the festival for a tasty lunches and dinners. I would highly recommend a Flame King, side-mounted grill for convenience in use and setup. The Flame King uses your camper’s, propane supply and comes with the necessary mounting brackets. I did have to buy a quick disconnect, 10-foot, propane hose.

Be sure to stock your fridge with food and beverages for Rocklahoma. There were a lot of food trucks, a campground store, and the ability to leave the festival, but it is nice to drink good cocktails and eat good food to keep charged for all the amazing, live music.

In the heat my Norcold refrigerator did struggle to keep things cold and frozen on my travels across Oklahoma. When I am traveling I do not feel comfortable running the propane refrigerator. Instead I like to turn off the propane for travel. This means the refrigerator is off for several hours during the day. I did not feel I was in danger of spoiling food, but the frozen products were not rock hard like they were during colder, outside, air temperatures.

I love ice-cold beverages, so before I entered Rocklahoma I purchased a bag of ice and broke it into smaller plastic bags so I could get the entire bag into my freezer. The ice seemed to help lower the temperature of the freezer. Finally my freezer items were rock hard and the refrigerator temperature were lower as well.

Conclusion

When boondocking in areas without a lot of public land like Oklahoma or eastern New Mexico be sure to reserve your campsites in advance.  Boondocking at Rocklahoma is a unique, camping experience filled with hours of great, live music. Instead of boondocking in remote destinations for every adventure, consider taking your boondocking machine to a music festival this summer.

Please remember to always boondock without a trace! 

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