Dispersed camping is an option in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and there are several scenic boondocking spots to choose from. This recreation area covers a vast amount of land around Lake Mead, Lake Mojave, Colorado River and the Virgin River basin, so there is plenty of Mojave Desert wilderness to explore. There are a few developed campgrounds near the marinas that are busy during the winter season and back country camping is allowed at existing sites. In between these extremes is the official dispersed camping areas, which offer basic facilities and plenty of elbow room.
Each dispersed camping area at Lake Mead has its own character and just like anywhere else, the ones that are closest to civilization tend to be local weekend warrior destinations. The Boxcar Cove Dispersed Camping Area is located near the east Las Vegas entrance gate, so there is a fair amount local traffic on the weekends, but during the weekdays this spot is as peaceful as can be. Boxcar Cove is located in a wide dry wash surrounded by ancient ocean bottom mud hills, so this area is a natural playground for high ground clearance 4x4 vehicles. In fact, four wheeling is the primary reason this big cove is so popular with the weekenders and the Striped Bass fishing is pretty good too.
Camping is allowed on existing bare spots in Boxcar Cove and old fire rings can be found throughout this big dry wash. Driving or camping on virgin ground is taboo, just like anywhere else. On the downside, this is a dry wash, so if rain is in the forecast it is best to head for the high ground. Even worse, this area actually is a vast gypsum silt deposit and when there are high winds the dust storms can be brutal. Everything will literally be covered with a thick layer of gypsum silt powder after a dust storm in this place. In order to avoid breathing disorders, wearing a dust mask is necessary and sheltering inside a vehicle is the best option.
As far as the four wheeling is concerned, there are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore in Boxcar Cove and the dirt road trails go in every direction. Some trails even connect with the neighboring Crawfish Cove and several trails go to hidden cozy lakeside beaches. There also is a downside with the four wheeling, which once agains involves the gypsum silt. There are several big silt pockets in this landscape that are deep enough to bury a standard 4x4 vehicle. Even Jeeps and 4x4 pickup trucks get stuck in the powdery silt, so it is best to avoid these soft areas altogether. For this reason, it is always best to carry a long tow strap in case the vehicle gets stuck. Somebody will come along sooner or later, so it is best to stay with the vehicle.
During weekdays and when the hot summer rolls around, very few people go to Boxcar Cove and this is when the environment returns to being a wilderness area. The grassy dry wash is a good place to watch the raptors hunt and Bighorn Rams can occasionally be seen grazing in the late evening. Coyotes sing at night in the hills and they are bold enough to stroll through occupied campgrounds. Plenty of Kit Foxes can be seen in this area too, but they tend to only come out after the sun goes down. None of these wild animals are dangerous, but it is still best to give them plenty of room.
As far as the Boxcar Cove camping goes, this place can be a pure boondocking paradise or it can be a real dusty nightmare, especially if you are a photographer. Gypsum silt dust has a magical way of sticking to camera lenses and practically everything else, so be sure to seal up all of the electronic equipment at the first sign of high winds. On the plus side, a strong data signal bounces across Lake Mead from Boulder City, so it is easy to catch up on communications. During times of cool fair weather, visitors can go four wheeling, hiking, nature watching, light craft boating and fishing, which is a classic great escape venue. For this reason, it is well worth stocking up for a week long excursion when planning a trip to Boxcar Cove!
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