One of my favorite dependable winter haunts is along Vulture Peak Road in Wickenburg, AZ.Pure desert, tons of sand, and most if it along a series of washes, with epic landscapes of desert shrubbery and the iconic Vulture Peak rising above.
Technically not *totally* free... the front area is actually State Trust Land, which requires a $20 permit for limited camping throughout the year at any State Trust Land site with permit displayed. But if you drive to about the 2 mi point, you'll cross through a fenced area and cattle guard marked by old tires. Beyond that point, you'll be on BLM land, which *is* totally free to camp on, and there are a few notable campsites back there -- which I'll "leave as an exercise to the reader" to locate.
Vulture Peak Rd is fairly convenient to town at the "usual average distance" of roughly 7.5 miles to downtown Wickenburg with it's small assortment of fun western shops, cafes, small movie theater, grocery, and fast food. There's also a Safeway within 4 miles on the way back to town at the corner of Vulture Mine Road.
The AT&T coverage isn't particularly good at camp... sporadic at best, and non-existent at worst. There is SOME type of tower overlooking camp however, so if it's yours, you might be in luck.
As noted above, the Vulture Peak camping area contains two different sections. The front section, from the intersection at Vulture Mine Rd to about the 2 mile point, is State Trust land. The road in passes through sandy desert wash - thankfully packed well enough that it shouldn't ever require 4WD - and you'll pass a small variety of camping areas on either side.
At around 1 mile in, you'll come to a huge wash area with lots of space to camp, if you have your State Trust camping pass. This is a popular place for horse-owners to day camp with their horses and hub out to different horse-trails. Most of the wash opens to the right, but you can also turn left and find some more isolated areas to camp.
Driving up the road a bit, you'll come to a small parking area before the road cuts sharply to the left and right again. There's a road to the right that is impassable to regular vehicles, but if you walk out that way, you'll find some awesome hiking areas beneath Vulture Peak.
Continuing to the left and through the cattle gate, the road will turn to gravel and hard-pack and reveal a few really nice and remote camping sites before swerving down to the left and continuing into more sandy 4x4 territory, and revealing a few more desert hiking areas.
Worth mentioning: One tip that always leads to me finding lots of great hiking areas I never would have discovered otherwise is to install the Geocaching.com app and seek out the geocaches in the area. The hike below Vulture Peak is quite beautiful and if you hike out far enough, you'll get some amazing views of Central Arizona wilderness from the peaks.
Of course if you're interested in Totally Free Camping In Wickenburg, it does exist. In fact it's close to town on the north side, out Constellation Road. I'll have a separate post about this really interesting area -- with a chute canyon, geodes, and tons of trails and campsites -- in the future.
- Mobile Rik