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Old 10-05-2020, 06:43 PM   #1
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Camping outside of legal area

This post is probably gonna be long, so I apologise in advance.

Last Wednesday evening, my girlfriend and I were driving through Grand Teton National park, headed south down U.S. 191. The sun was setting and we were driving a bit below the speed limit, in awe of the beauty surrounding us. The foilage was brilliant, greens, gold's, and oranges, the mountains were towering and majestic, the lake between us and the mountains, when it peeked out from between the trees, was glass still, a perfect mirror for everything surrounding it. I stopped on side pullouts so she could take some photos, here and there. As we drove around a slight right hand curve, I spied a dirt track road leading off towards the lake. It was surrounded by aspen and pine, and didn't look like it was used much. But there was no where to pull off and inspect. Driving a crew cab f250 with a 23 ft jayco baja edition TT isn't huge, but you can't just pull off on the itty bitty shoulder with all the blind curves, or go barrelling down some unknown road not knowing what the terrain is like or if there's a spot suitable to turn the rig around. So I blew it off and kept driving. A few bends later and we come across a stunning meadow with aspen and oak, all ablaze with color, but the pull out is on the other side of the road, I have cars behind me, and the room to pull a u-turn is iffy at best, so I proceed ahead, with a disappointed gf, who really wanted to take pictures. Another mile or so up the road, there's a pull out large enough to turn around. Wanting the GF to be happy, I bust a u and head back. We pull off at the colorful meadow, she shoots a few pics, and then I'm faced with the issue of not being able to turn back around and head south, so north we go, looking for another turn around. Again, I pass the spot with the road going off towards the lake, thinking how awesome it would be to pull in there and just spend the night, but on I press, finding a place to turn back around, a few miles up the road. Heading back south, we again pass the little dirt road, slowing down this time to see what I could. No signs, definitely a road, but some small deadfall laying across the tracks. Maybe it fell there, maybe someone put it there... Oh well, on we press, except now GF says how great it would be to pull off there and spend the night, so about a quarter mile up the highway, there's a pull off. I stop, grab a walkie and walk back up the highway to the little road, to inspect. At this point it's getting dusk. Light enough to see, but getting dark quick. Cars are whizzing by, with their headlights on, I'm sure, wondering what the heck this guy is doing, wandering up the shoulder on the highway, as they keep their eyes peeled for wild life. Yes, this is also the magic hour for all the wild animals to come alive, and play in their forest. I can hear them, as I'm nearing the little road. Specifically I can hear the bugling and grunting of an elk. It's growing louder, and a bit more disconcerting as I get closer to my destination. The forest is so dense here that you really can't see more than a few feet off the road, so every noise got my pulse up a bit, as I also remembered I am in grizzly country. Probably wasn't the smartest thing to only arm myself with a walkie talkie, no gun, no bear spray, not even a phone or flashlight... Oh well, undaunted, I press on. I get to the little road, it is indeed a road, that leads back quite a ways, complete with multiple sets of relatively fresh tire tracks. I look for signs. Nope no signs in sight. Nothing saying what the road is, or that I can't camp there. The grass is high in the tracks, telling me the road sees light use. I walk back on the road a little ways, and see that there's a place large enough to turn around, and so I head back to the truck, contemplating whether or not we should spend the night there. I come back across the deadfall bisecting the tracks. Pretty sure someone layed it there, but it's broken and starting to rot. Perhaps someone layed it there trying to hide the road?... It's been there a while and has tracks easily going around it. It's not very big, and I easily pick up the two pieces and move them to the side. I get back to the truck, still undecided about going back and staying there. Mostly concerned about bears. We keep a clean camp and I really don't intend to spend much time there outside. Still we have a little dog that needs walked and I would hate for my beautiful GF to get gobbled up taking him out ;D. But to get to listen to wild elk bugle all night, and maybe wake to see them around us in the morning, it took me back to my childhood, camping with my family in secluded places, surrounded by untamed elk herds. When GF said we should do it, I couldn't resist, so back we went. Pulled off the road, it was steeeep! Bent the step cage coming off the highway. I couldn't really take it at an angle for fear of tipping the trailer. Anyway it was dark. We went down the road a bit less than 1/8 of a mile, you could just barely see the cars as they drove past, but we were fairly hidden. Didn't even disconnect from the truck. Planned to wake up first thing the next morning and head on to our next destination. Set the stabilizer jacks down, the steps down, and went in for the night. Ate a quick dinner, and fell asleep to the sounds of the wild, thrilled to be where we were.

I woke up around 6, and spent the next hour listening to the elk. They were a ways off from the sounds of their calls. I watched it get lighter. I got up and opened the blinds so I could see any wild life happen by, from my cozy spot in bed. Around 7 my GF gets outa bed and heads to the bathroom. Upon her return to bed, she's looking out the window, and then startled and a bit fearful, proclaims, "There's someone out there!!!" She tells me there's a man outside, looking at the truck. I figure it's some camper who made it down the road a bit further than we did, looking to get out, and we're blocking his way, and I hurriedly get up to put some pants on and apologize to this guy. Then she says it's a ranger... Hmmm. Ok she jumps back in bed to cover her naked, and I, now kinda bent some ranger is sniffing around our rig, open the door in nothing but my boxer briefs. Low and behold, there's two rangers! Primary ranger immediately says "are you armed?"... I look down at my near nakedness and laughingly say, "um, no..." To which he replies, do you have any weapons in there. Suddenly, this seems a while lot more serious than what it should be. I reply, "yes" he asks what, and how many. I reply 1, and a 9mm Glock. He asks if it's loaded and chambered, to which I reply yes. He asks where it is in the trailer, I nod to my left, saying it's on my bedside table. He then asks me to get dressed, while leaving the door slightly open and not to move in the direction of the gun. I dress, but before I finish, he interrupts and says "sir, I would feel more comfortable if I can come in and secure the firearm. Can I enter and get the weapon?" I hesitate for a moment. This is the United States. Wtf is going on here. I have done nothing wrong and this guy is acting like I'm a suspect of some sort. I think about declining his offer, and telling him no. My mind then flashes to ruby ridge, and to Jack Yantis. I had just come from Idaho a few days prior and had been reading about both those incidents. I thought about where this situation could go, and that it just wasn't worth risking losing my life over at this point. I looked at my girlfriend, who has the covers pulled up to her eyeballs (because she was cold and naked, not because she was scared. Hell the gun belongs to her and she knows how to use it) and ask what she wants. She says let him come in. So, reluctantly, I oblige, and I let the officer know, it was against my better judgement, and I didn't appreciate it, but to keep him happy, he could come in and retrieve the gun. He did, and once out of the trailer pulled out the clip, and cleared the chamber. Then he said "come outside and let's discuss all of your violations.." WTF!

I get outside and he informs me that we are illegally off road, and camped. Says nothing further about the firearm. To be fair, I'm not up on my legally possessing a loaded firearm in a national park, but I believe it is illegal. I'll have to look that up. Anyway. Back to my multiple violations. I point out the road, and say, I'm not off road, this is clearly a road. He asks if I moved the logs that were blocking it, I say yes, but to be fair, I could've driven over them, they look like deadfall. Where I come from, blocked roads have large logs, boulders, barricades, and or signage informing me that I am not allowed to go down said road. He then says we are illegally camped. That we aren't allowed to camp anywhere but designated camp sites put up by the park service. Again, I argue. See, the previous evening, when my girlfriend and I were sitting a quarter mile down the highway, we had cell service. I asked her to look up if it is ok to camp in a national park. She plugs that into Google and the response that comes back is this: you can camp anywhere around the park in the national forest or blm land (we misread what it said, to mean we could camp anywhere in the park and national forest surrounding it.)
Now, unbeknownst to me, this was the Dyrt website, not the national parks website, or Grand Tetons website. But we tried to do our due diligence and were acting on information we thought to be accurate. We were wrong, and I conceded the point to the ranger, but letting him know that we didn't just drive down into some random meadow without a care in the world and tearing up the terrain. Anyway, there was much back and forth between us. Eventually he excused himself and went back to the vehicle where he, his partner, and someone he was on the radio with conversed about us and our situation. He comes back, letting me know he appreciated our due diligence, and was "only ticketing us for illegally camping"!!! So again, I argue back, knowing it wasn't going to change his mind, but not just gonna stand there and take it either. IMO, his job is to protect the park. We were in no way harming it. He didn't come upon a fresh made track, nor did he come upon a trashed campsite. We didn't spend any time outside, no fire, no trash, nothing. He could easily see we were upstanding citizens, just out camping, responsibly, and we made a mistake. Educate me on my error and let me off with a warning, but no, got to get that revenue.
What do you all think?
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Old 10-05-2020, 07:36 PM   #2
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I've been to several national parks and know that one can only camp in designated areas so I'm with the National Park Service Ranger on this one. We all have to be diligent in our efforts to protect and conserve our public lands and national parks for future generations. The next person may not as diligent as you and your girlfriend in keeping a clean site or making efforts to not damage such.
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Old 10-05-2020, 08:20 PM   #3
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Well that's a bummer! But as for the gun, see the attached. It's not illegal to have a firearm in a national park since 2010.
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Old 10-05-2020, 08:23 PM   #4
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I've been to several national parks and know that one can only camp in designated areas so I'm with the National Park Service Ranger on this one. We all have to be diligent in our efforts to protect and conserve our public lands and national parks for future generations. The next person may not as diligent as you and your girlfriend in keeping a clean site or making efforts to not damage such.
^^^Agreed^^^

I think you should pay the fine and move on. Consider it a lesson learned.
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Old 10-05-2020, 09:26 PM   #5
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Most all national forests have designated camping areas and rules. It is your responsibility to know them and follow them. If you don’t your subject to a citation and fine. If you run a red light you get a cite and pay a fine.
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Old 10-06-2020, 01:16 AM   #6
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What is the fine!
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Old 10-06-2020, 05:23 AM   #7
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What is the fine!
He mentioned in another post that it was $130. Easy peasy. I'd pay and move on. No biggie; not like a $500 fine.
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Old 10-06-2020, 05:40 AM   #8
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^^^Agreed^^^I think you should pay the fine and move on. Consider it a lesson learned.
I also agree.......
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Old 10-06-2020, 06:38 AM   #9
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not much of a barrier but obviously didn't fall there. I would have done the same.
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Old 10-06-2020, 06:44 AM   #10
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He mentioned in another post that it was $130. .
X2 on the fine and I would include 130 lbs. of trash that other inconsiderate campers leave behind.
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Old 10-06-2020, 06:56 AM   #11
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I think he should have given you the warning. And then his job for the day should be to put up a suitable barrier that makes it clear to the public not to use the road. A sign. It's not a lot to ask.
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Old 10-06-2020, 08:02 AM   #12
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My initial reaction was to fight the ticket, but I am starting to agree about just paying the fine and chalking it up as a lesson learned. My research into dispersed camping in National parks has turned up a lot of vague information. I have found nothing saying that you can't. I have found quite a bit saying to you can, but referring to tent camping and backpacking, which generally require a permit. So even if it was allowed, I didn't have a permit, and I wasn't tent camping/backpacking.

My thought is to pay the fine, but include photos and request the fine be used to put up a nice, "no camping" sign at the location. I'm sure they won't, but had there been one, I would've just gone on my way. As I said in my initial post, it was worth $130 for the story, and to just camp in the forest and listen to the wild life. I will add that after the rangers left, I figured I didn't need to be in any hurry to leave, so my girlfriend and I went out and tracked the elk and got within 20 yards or so of the bull. Watching his breath unfurl from his nostrils in the cold crisp autumn air, as he grunted and bugled, was awe inspiring. I've seen it before, and we had just seen elk back at the Albright visitors center in Yellowstone, but this herd was wild. It never gets old. As soon as he caught a whiff of our presence, he grunted some warnings to his cows and the whole herd stampeded through the forest. Put a nice end cap on an otherwise unexpected and disappointing in-the-moment morning.
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Old 10-06-2020, 08:10 AM   #13
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I think he should have given you the warning. And then his job for the day should be to put up a suitable barrier that makes it clear to the public not to use the road. A sign. It's not a lot to ask.
I agree. I hope they do put up some sort of signage, something simple and obscure, but visible. Or a more natural barrier, like logs and bolders. The ranger said they've been having problems with people coming down into this area. It's obvious that the road has been there for quite a while. Probably should do something about it if they don't want anyone in there. IMO, it's public land, and they should let anyone in there, but people are douchie and surely someone will come down there and tear it up and or leave it a dump. So I get it.
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Old 10-06-2020, 08:19 AM   #14
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not much of a barrier but obviously didn't fall there. I would have done the same.
Right?!
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Old 10-06-2020, 08:24 AM   #15
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X2 on the fine and I would include 130 lbs. of trash that other inconsiderate campers leave behind.
Not sure if you're saying part of my fine should've been having to clean up others trash?...

I will just say that it was very clean down there. No sign of trash whatsoever. Only sign of humans being down there was the road.
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Old 10-06-2020, 08:32 AM   #16
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The firearm thing kind of irks me a bit, but I understand it. That guy just wants to make sure he gets to go home to his family at the end of the day, and knowing what I know about the general public, I wouldn't have trusted you either. It's not personal, it's just an unfortunate reality these days.

As for the fine, you were in the wrong, you deserved the fine. Ignorance of the law is not a defense, even if you tried to comply. Sure, it kind of sucks, but it is what it is. I'd look at it as a "donation" to the NPS. Kind of an expensive camping fee, but it's not so bad... And you got to spend the night in a pretty awesome spot.

Perhaps if enough people acted responsibly as stewards of our great outdoors, as you seem to have, areas like this could be open. Unfortunately, people generally aren't that way these days, so authorities really have no choice to protect these areas but to prohibit access. A sad state of affairs indeed.

I totally would not have moved that log. LOL!!
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Old 10-06-2020, 09:03 AM   #17
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Not sure if you're saying part of my fine should've been having to clean up others trash?...

I will just say that it was very clean down there. No sign of trash whatsoever. Only sign of humans being down there was the road.
I’m sure your one of the good ones that leave no trace but over the years ( and lately it seems to be getting worse) places with no services are being dumped on with everything they don’t want to bring home. Many of these Rangers could write a book about it. If people would just leave no trace and not steal, poach or destroy we wouldn’t even need fines and you wouldn’t have had a knock on your door as he would have left a welcome sign.
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Old 10-06-2020, 09:53 AM   #18
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I used to be connected to law enforcement, so this is from experience... Two things to understand here:

1. Arguing with a law enforcement officer, ranger, etc., is always a good way to escalate from "polite chat" to "stern warning" and then to "ticket". Unless you have done something particularly egregious, they will almost always give you at least a hint at an easy way out, simply because they don't want the paperwork associated with a citation or, worse, the time wasted in court if you decide to dispute it.

Very often, they'll open with something like "Did you know that you're not supposed to park here?"
They're setting the tone of the conversation, and looking for your response. "I'm sorry, I didn't know that, thank you for telling me", will always be better received than "Yeah, I knew that, so what?"

2. Officers are trained to identify and make safe any firearms, as a matter of priority. This is is not to infringe on your rights or to bully you, it's for their own personal safety.
Even though you may have all the permits and be fully law-abiding , church-going, tax-paying citizens, without even a library fine to your name... to the officer you are a total unknown, and it's a sad fact that officers are shot during the simplest of interactions.
So, until they determine that you are not a major criminal, international gangster or *gasp* politician, they will feel a lot safer if they are certain your weapons are secured. (Having a round chambered is always a red flag, by the way)

And, since a safe cop is a happy cop, and a happy cop is more likely to be a nice cop, that brings me back to point 1. Be nice to them, they'll be nice to you, and everyone's day will be a lot happier.
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Old 10-06-2020, 10:04 AM   #19
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I’m sure your one of the good ones that leave no trace but over the years ( and lately it seems to be getting worse) places with no services are being dumped on with everything they don’t want to bring home. Many of these Rangers could write a book about it. If people would just leave no trace and not steal, poach or destroy we wouldn’t even need fines and you wouldn’t have had a knock on your door as he would have left a welcome sign.
I completely agree. It is getting worse. Seems like you can't go anywhere without seeing toilet paper at the base of tree groupings. Like no one knows how to dig a hole... It's getting bad and it is such a conundrum for me. I hate that I can't go where I want, knowing I will leave it like I was never there, but understanding that the next guy very well may trash it. Feels like the camping of my youth is a bygone era. I do not envy the rangers job when it comes to dealing with bad campers. This among other things played into my interaction with him, and tempered my responsesnto him when I felt like he was pushing a bit to far. Any way, it all ended well. Thanks for your response
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Old 10-06-2020, 10:26 AM   #20
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From the length of the original post, I imagine the conversation with the ranger was a lot more than, "Yes sir. What do we need to do to resolve this?"
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