Since about the 10th of November, I have been “boondocking” near the Yuma Proving Grounds in Southwest Arizona, 20 miles NE of Yuma. “Boondocking” means basically camping without any amenities. I’m not hooked up to electricity, and I have to drive about a mile to dump my tanks, refill with water and get rid of trash. I do this about once a week. I am on BLM (Bureau of Land Management, i.e., federal) land, in an area where many “snow birds” come and stay in their RV’s and trailers for six to seven months each winter. Because it’s such a popular place (read, “warmer and sunnier than just about anywhere else”), BLM manages it a bit differently. Instead of offering free camping for up to two weeks which you can do on most BLM land, they charge a small fee ($40 for 2 weeks; $180 for 7 months) and provide a dump station, water supply and garbage service. It’s a great deal!
When I arrived, there were maybe 150 rigs spread out over several square miles. Not crowded at all. It’s still not crowded, but there are probably closer to 400 or 500 rigs now. Before the economy tanked, I understand this area had a lot more people coming for the winter.
Many of the folks who come to this “Long Term Visitor Area”, or LTVA, have been spending their winters here for a long time. They’ve created a nice community. There’s a “liberry”, a small trailer that has books you can borrow or trade for. Folks monitor Channel 12 on CB radios and have a check in every night to make sure systems are working. If there’s an emergency, you call on the CB first and one of the 24/7 monitors calls in the appropriate emergency service. Someone is sent out to the highway to lead them into the area because the dirt roads are hard to navigate unless you know where you are going, especially at night. I hear the system works really well.
I have to share some of the CB radio handles”, or call names that people use instead of their real names, with you. They are just very cute, and give you an idea of the whimsical nature of life in the desert:
Vixen and Slobberjaws, Pistol Pete, Curious George, MacGuyver, Roadrunner and Porch Pup, Lefty and Lost & Found (that’s Rod and Candice – see below for more information about them), Liberty and Ginger Snap, Backpacker Hiker (no, not me, but Sam, who runs the exercise class), Lost Canuck and Cocker Spaniel, Captain Bligh and Little Beaver, Angel and Red Neck, Butterfly Rose and Slip Knot, Bean Sprout and Spud, Peg Leg and Wildflower, Fly Rod and Tackle Box, War Whoop and Hula Hoop, and Uncle Monkey. There are lots more!
Last year I met some nice folks from California and met up with them again this year. We all arrived on the same day within about a half hour of each other. I am camped about 100 yards from them in an area called “Boot Hill”. Here’s a photo of Rod and Candice’s 5th wheel and truck (note the four solar panels on the roof aimed for the southern exposure – a nice amenity to have if you are boondocking):
Right behind their rig is a wash. The area is riddled with deep washes where water flows from the hills when it rains. There are palo verde and mesquite trees growing in the washes, along with various shrubs… and the wild burros hang out in them…it’s warmer and less windy there. It’s also common to see jack rabbits.
The day after I arrived, several momma burros and their babies came to check me out and see if I had anything to eat. You’re not supposed to feed the burros, and I recently heard that someone was asked to leave because they had been caught doing just that. I didn’t feed them of course, but Candice and I couldn’t help engaging them. They were curious but cautious. You have to move slowly and speak softly or they run away.
It’s amazing how the babies are almost identical to their mothers…grey burros have grey babies, brown burros have brown babies. We saw one family group where all the members were grey and every one of them had brown spots on their white muzzles!
This baby is all ears!
Candice plays with a momma. They are amazingly gentle with their mouths.
About a ten minute walk from our campsite is the covered pavilion located in a low area called the gravel pit. This is where Sam leads the exercise class three mornings a week. It’s free. Someone then leads a yoga class. It’s free, too. On Sundays is a music jam and Thursday nights is karaoke. There was a Thanksgiving potluck here which was yummy. For New Years Eve, there was a bonfire where folks roasted hot dogs, told stories and sang a few songs (this event is affectionately called a “dog burn”).
On Wednesday mornings some of the guys get together and practice their golf swings on a small makeshift golf course…
There are also remote controlled car and plane enthusiasts here, and folks have created areas to play with these high-tech toys. I didn’t get any photos…
Every few days we would venture into Yuma…to watch a movie, go out to eat, buy food, mail packages, etc. Rod and Candice were extremely kind in asking me to accompany them into town. This saved me the hassle of packing up my rig and driving it to town for supplies. And I really enjoyed their company. One weekend in November there was a balloon festival in town, so we went to the evening “Balloon Glow” (we didn’t get up early enough to go into town at dawn to watch the balloons fly). Many of the balloons that flew in the festival came into the local outdoor stadium at dusk and were inflated by their crews…
Then, when it got dark, they would all activate their “burners” at the same time and make the balloons glow. It was quite a sight.
On another adventure into town, we decided to walk into Mexico. This is a common activity in Yuma. Just west of town, you can walk across the border into Los Algodones. The town is just a few blocks long, chock full of little stores and many, many people trying to sell you things. A lot of folks come here to get dental work done, and apparently it is about half price and good quality. I found the constant harangue of folks trying to sell me stuff was a drag. There were even young guys asking every passerby, “Need dental? Need pharmacy?” That was weird. I’d spend more time looking at things on display if they didn’t do that. We did have a great lunch and Candice showed me this cool medicine shop with lots of dried herbs for sale:
Back out at our campsite, Rod, Candice and I got into a routine of going for hikes every few days (and also we shared dinners almost every night, which was wonderful). There is an abandoned turquoise mine claim a few miles from here, so one day we packed water and lunches and went to investigate, starting off in their truck, then hiking in for about an hour. We discovered the foundation of the miner’s cabin (I’m standing behind the foundation in the photo below, looking out at the area where the RVs are parked in the far distance in front of the darker band of hills a few miles away). What a view!
After our lunch of sandwiches and apples, we continued up and over the hill behind the cabin and located several excavations into the side of the hill where small mining operations had taken place. We found quite a few small rocks in the left over mine tailings that appeared to have some turquoise in them – a beautiful color! We returned home, however the following week we came back with a few tools and spent more time poking around in the old mine holes. One hole in particular had what looked like a vein of very colorful turquoise colored rock. Thankfully, Rod was willing to do most of the dirty work, crawling down into this hole and bringing out some beautiful specimens (see bottom right corner of photo below). He got very dirty…and a little bloody in the process!
We hauled about 50# of rocks back to the truck…our packs felt very heavy so we weighed them when we got home. I could have sworn my pack weighed 30 or 40#, but it was only 25#! Here’s Rod and Candice with our bounty…
It looks like the rocks are solid blue, however in most cases, the blue is a thin layer caused by mineral laden water seeping into cracks in the rocks and depositing the minerals. In areas where there is copper present, there are often “copper silicates” like turquoise, chrysacolla, azurite and malachite present. I took some of these rocks up to Quartzsite where the TWITTS are camped (Travelling Women In Tin Trailers) and Sandy, who is a miner herself, explained this all to me. She said she thought most of this rock was chrysacolla, with perhaps a bit of turquoise and maybe a bit of azurite. We had great fun making our discovery and have a few treasures to take home.
When we got back from our second mine excursion, the weather was changing and rain was predicted. The wind was picking up. We were unloading the truck. Suddenly Candice told me not to move. There was a tarantula near my feet and she was afraid I’d step on it. This really big tarantula had apparently come up out of the wash because it knew the rain was coming…and was looking for a safe place. It started crawling up the “skirt” of their rig (a protective vinyl fabric buttoned along the lower parts of the trailer to protect from wind). We enticed it onto this shovel and Rod found a safe hole for it to crawl into that would be away from the water. What a beautiful creature!
Last week, we took a drive toward Picacho Peak State Recreation Area, which is located in California just north of Yuma. On the way, we stopped at the Valley of Names. This is a curious place where people have created, and continue to create, rock art to commemorate loved ones and families.
It goes on seemingly forever. I understand that some of the art dates back more than 50 years. Most of the art we saw had dates ranging from the 80’s up through our current time. Although we would have preferred to explore the Valley of Names on foot, it was quite chilly and windy on this day, so we drove around admiring the creativity. It felt like a special place.
On another hike closer to “home” we discovered an area where emergency helicopters can land. Someone has made a sign out of rocks, visible from the air, and it says, “HI CHOPPERS”.
Not too far away is an old abandoned vehicle where folks come to practice shooting. Well, after all, this is the desert, and we ARE in Arizona! This is one dead car!
Today is New Year’s Day, 2013, and it’s my last day here at Imperial Dam. We went on a short hike into a nearby slot canyon/wash. Then Rod made some excellent BBQ ribs, and along with that we had salad and baked squash for dinner. Yum. What a way to cap off a wonderful 8 weeks of hanging out together. Thanks, Rod and Candice, for your generosity and friendship. See you again, soon, I hope!
Best wishes to you all for a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2013. Be sure to go outside and play!