Thanksgiving: Turkey in the Dirt

Yes, you read that correctly. For the last several years we have celebrated Thanksgiving in the California desert.

But don’t think we skimp on the feast just because we are dry camping in the middle of nowhere. We go all out!  It’s a traditional Thanksgiving feast with all the trimmings.  

Just Like Sticks-and-Bricks






To start the day off, we begin making all the food — just like we would if we were at home.

However, instead of breaking up the day with parades and football games, we hop on the dirt bikes and jump in the RZRs for rides (Read about our ATV adventures on the Paiute Trail here.).

Also, like home, the feast is one giant potluck.  Mark’s mom and step-dad, Gail and Dave, take care of the turkey, mashed potatoes, paper goods, and table decorations.  The rest of us contribute appetizers, side dishes, and wines. 

I am a busy bee on Wednesday morning making pies which are carefully transported for Thanksgiving dessert.  Check out my fancy pie carrier made by a talented uncle.


Plus, I make Aunt Loretta’s candied yams for our Thanksgiving feast. I have not been given permission to share the recipe yet, so I’ll just tease you with pictures and tell you they are ah-mazing.Thanksgiving

Gail does a great job with the decorations.  Last year, there were candles, little pilgrims, pumpkins, and Indian corn down the center of the table. She found Thanksgiving tablecloths, plates, and napkins to complete our festive look. 


Our mismatched camp chairs are the perfect seating around our table. It reminds me of family gatherings where the dining room chairs match, but the rest of the chairs are a conglomeration of office chairs, metal folding chairs, or whatever else the host could get their hands on. I find it charming. 



Because it’s often windy at our destination, Ocotillo Wells, the buffet is set up inside Dave and Gail’s trailer.  It’s actually very efficient. We walk in via the ramp, pile our plates high with fabulous food, and walk out the side door to our decorated table.


It’s All About Turkey

 The star of the show, like everywhere else, is the turkey. It’s even been so windy some years that we have cooked the turkey inside the trailer (vented, of course).

Dave is the turkey master. He dutifully and meticulously tends to the turkey on the Weber BBQ.  There is a science to it.  Meanwhile, Gail preps and stuffs the turkey just the same as she would for roasting in the oven.  First, Dave starts with 40 briquettes in the center with the grates removed. 

After they turn slightly ash-looking, he separates them to 20 on each side and places an aluminum foil pan between the piles to make a drip pan. Next, he puts the grates back in place and puts the stuffed turkey upright on the grates. He then closes the lid.  Next, he adds five coals to each side every 30 minutes throughout the cooking process.  He opens the upper and lower vents during cooking to control the heat.Thanksgiving

Cooking time is generally 10-15 minutes per pound unstuffed and 20-25 minutes per pound stuffed. He then uses an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh and cooks until 170-175 degrees. 

Finally, the last part is allowing the turkey to rest for 20-30 minutes and to allow the temp to rise 5-10 degrees before carving.  It is a mighty pretty bird when done. After dinner, the leftovers are packed into our refrigerators for tomorrow’s dinner. 


Then — Yippee! — it’s time for dessert!  I told you we don’t skimp on the food.  I usually make two pumpkin pies, one apple pie, and one chocolate cream pie. There may also be an ice cream dessert, cream puffs, or an assortment of cookies.  Calories do not count this weekend. It’s all about food, family, and fun.  A perfect Thanksgiving for us!

What are some of your favorite foods on Thanksgiving? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below. Happy Thanksgiving!

Meet the Family
I’m Maureen Milne, F446881 . I’m a mom of two (now grown-up!) boys, ages 26 and 24. My husband, Mark, and I have been married 30 years. We are an adventurous family; our friends call us “X-Games.”  We are avid hikers, cyclists, and skiers (both snow and water). Mark does triathlons and we run in 4-5 races a year.  We’ve been RVing together since we were teenagers in 1984.  I’m a three-year thyroid cancer survivor, which has given me a new perspective on life.  I share our RVing adventures on my blog, M&M Hit The Road. I also post stories and pictures on Facebook and Instagram.

3 Comments on Thanksgiving: Turkey in the Dirt

  1. We usually spend thanksgiving in Ocotillo Wells. We cook three turkeys, one on a Weber, one deep fried, one in a trash can! This year, we are off to Sonoma to spend Thanksgiving with our college Son. But, we will be in Ocotillo for new years with the Weber grill. We will cook up some pork butts, some Tri-Tip and the New Years day Prime Rib roast! It is hard for some people to grasp the concept of a nice dinner in the middle of the desert. But, my family loves it. We have about 13 families and each family brings their favorite family recipes to share with the group! Best food ever!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.