Let’s Talk About it: BLM Camping Etiquette

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Let’s Talk About it: BLM Camping Etiquette

A few weeks ago I had a terrible experience while camping on BLM land in Ten Sleep, Wyoming. I was pretty upset about it, but my husband pointed out that it was BLM land and therefor public land open to, well, the public. I knew he was right, but that didn’t stop me from thinking about it and in the end wondering, what is BLM Camping Etiquette?

I’m going to tell you my story, how everything went down and what I think was wrong. I’m going to tell you how I feel it should be handled, but I get that others may have varying opinions and really, I’d like to start a dialogue on it. So, please feel free to start a discussion below.

Savannah hanging out at our BLM campsite with the Adventure Van.

My BLM Camping Story

My husband and I decided to head to Ten Sleep over the Fourth of July weekend. We knew it would get busy, as it always does over the Fourth of July, so we arrived on Thursday afternoon and secured a campsite. It was a large campsite, so we talked about it and decided that we’d be happy to share our campsite with others, as long as they could meet a few requirements.

The first one is that they didn’t have a dog, because our dog is kind of an introvert. She needs her down time in the evening or she gets very cranky. The second was no fires. I have some severe allergies and camp fire smoke puts me in the emergency room. I’ve been to the emergency room in Buffalo, WY at 4 am. Trust me, you don’t want that experience. The last was that they weren’t loud and obnoxious because my husband and I like to be well rested for climbing.

Friday night, we had three cars pull into our site while we were sleeping. Two of them just parked for the night, but one of them took over. They didn’t ask, they just did it. So much that we eventually had to abandon our own site. On Saturday morning, they staked up their tent. They pulled out their table and pulled their car in. They seemed to be oblivious and even completely blocked in one of the others cars. When we arrived back at camp, they had invited a few more friends to stay at our camp site. There were now three tents. We talked to them about the dogs and campfires and even put notes on the campfire ring explaining why. We were polite and they said they totally understood.

My husband and I went out to the climbers festival for a few hours  on Saturday evening and when we came back we were shocked to find that our sites now had two more tents. Now a total of five tents. There were people everywhere and there was even a tent WHERE WE PARK OUR VAN.  They had completely pushed us out. On top of that, they were using our camping equipment that we had left out to reserve our spot and the campfire was loaded up with firewood.

We pulled our van into the site, in the only place left, an awkward, uneven location right next to the road. And even then, this party just stood right next to our van talking loudly for a good half hour before having the decency to move on. It was a rough night of uncomfortable sleeping with headlights blasting us in the face.

The next morning we packed up and left.

I wanted to say something, but I really didn’t think it would help. I tend to come off as confrontational when i’m tired and pissed off.  And these people obviously didn’t have any respect for other’s personal property or the decency to respect other’s personal space.  Why would they listen to me? Part of me feels like they knew what they were doing the entire time. But there’s a little voice in the back of my head saying “some climbers are just assholes”.

I discussed this with my husband and it bothered him too, but he did point out that this was BLM land, not a private site. And I know he’s right.

BLM Camping Etiquette

The Bureau of Land Management does have some rules for dispersed camping, but it’s mostly things like you can only stay for 14 days, must not mess with the livestock and to put your fires out. There’s nothing about sharing or respecting other campers. But this is where BLM Camping Etiquette comes in. What is it?

Personally, I feel like maybe we were asking for a bit much feeling like it was “our site” because we claimed it first. But on the other hand, we at least claimed stake to a portion of the site, right? So why would anyone feel like it was okay to have their friend set up a tent in our van parking space and then to actually use our stuff? This can’t be the etiquette. If it was, what would stop someone from going into a site that’s already taken by a large group and just talking over? Human decency I suppose.

And I do think it was a pretty huge asshole move to decide to have a campfire knowing it would physically endanger someone. I know, it sucks, but sometimes life sucks and I personally wouldn’t put someone’s life at risk over a campfire. If they weren’t okay with that, I feel like they should have said so, and maybe found a different site.

Maybe I should have been clearer, maybe we should have asked them to leave. But would it have mattered? And do I even have the right to kick someone out of a site on BLM land? There’s no enforcement. It’s meant to be shared, respectfully.

So then I ask you, what is BLM camping etiquette and how should something like this be handled?

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