Thursday, March 14, 2019

Imperial Dam, California.

____ South from Quartzsite on Highway 95 to the Big Guns of the Yuma Proving Grounds, home to the US Army and their base for testing all things military. It was here that they refined the floating pontoon bridges on the Colorado River that were used in World War Two and we head to the same place; crossing the river into California and camping at the Imperial Dam. Another BLM area and for $180 you can stay up to seven months with amenities to make life comfortable. Potable water, a waste water dump, pit toilets and trash bins are all on-site; hot showers for a dollar are one mile along the road.

____ It is a vast tract of desert scrubland; mainly flat with a rocky surface and crossed by dirt tracks, all with names. We settle in at Gravel Pit West, a sheltered spot within an easy walk to the pit-toilets and with two Quebecois neighbours. Maybe 300 RVs on the site but it is difficult to count as they spread themselves out; some seem to need solitude, some seem to like to be in a community. I like to have neighbours but not too close, just close enough to keep an eye on your stuff when you are away from the motor home and it seems a lot of people sit outside all day watching the World go by, so Imperial Dam does give you a sense of safety.

____ We decided to stay long-term at Imperial Dam, mainly to cut costs. Less fuel for the truck and cheap rent; the only difficult bit being the lack of a neighbourhood grocery store. We stocked up in Yuma and lasted eight days before needing to make the 40 mile round-trip into town again. Oranges and grapefruit were available at road-side vendors; $2.00 a net and the nearby Imperial Date Gardens had a whole host of edible goodies. It was a six-teen mile bicycle ride to fetch a variety of date related trail mixes or a date and nut cake with the date-shake being the high-light of the day. Cycling out in various directions became our daily exercise; riding up to 40 miles to the rhythm of America’s Horse With No Name, it felt good to out of the rain.

____ Life at Imperial Dam settled into a slow-paced routine; the morning coffee followed by breakfast, a trip to the dump and the ensuing socializing at the taps, drains and bins. A little bit of light maintenance on the truck or odd-jobs in the living quarters before a light lunch. The afternoon bike ride and recuperation in the zero-gravity chairs with a nice cup of tea. The sun was getting warmer every day and stayed up longer but evening came soon enough and after dinner we became star-gazers. Snuggled-up in a sleeping bag, lying back in the zero-gravities, rum and coke in hand, watching the satellites in orbit and picking out the constellations as airplanes headed to and from San Diego.

____ There were occasional glimpses of the wild donkeys that live in the desert. Next door neighbor caught a rattlesnake just outside his fifth-wheel and relocated it further into the wilderness. But the only event of note came one Sunday evening just as it was getting dark. There was a bang on the outside of the truck; it sounded like someone had hit it. I went out to find Gilles, the Quebecker to our right, lying on the ground beside the Mack. My first thought was that he had fell and dislocated his shoulder as I tried to get him to his feet; but his whole left side had gone limp; it was a stroke. Cheryl raced to tell the other Quebeckers and we managed to get Gilles into a chair as Cheryl called 911. His speech was slurred and the left corner of Gilles’ mouth drooped in the way it always does with stroke victims.

____ The emergency volunteers of the BLM came out and set-up a guided route for the paramedics to reach our campsite. First the Imperial Valley Fire Rescue and then the Winterhaven Emergency Ambulance. It was an hour later that the Medivac helicopter flew in and took Gilles to hospital; first Yuma and then onto Phoenix, Arizona. The Mack got a thorough sand-blasting as the chopper came down within 30 feet of our campsite. The other Quebeckers went to Phoenix to check on Gilles but the news was not good and he was air-lifted back to Montreal for, hopefully, a full recovery. A very sobering occurrence; for the man is only 61 years old and one of the youngest of the whole Imperial Dam community.

The view of Squaw Lake from the top of Imperial Dam.

Wild desert donkeys seem very healthy.

The hummingbird feeder hangs from the crane at the rear of the truck and the little birds are a joy to watch.

Seven desert donkeys on a field of rocks.

The very smart Peterbilt motorhome belongs to Les from Ontario and we had some great chats about his career as a recovery truck driver on the 401 in Toronto.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Quartzsite, Arizona.

Gonzaga Bay to Quartzsite.

____ From San Felipe, we elected to cross back into the US at the San Luis de Rio Colorado border; hoping to avoid the busier customs-post at Mexicali. But San Luis was busy too; a long, three-lane line-up running alongside the 12 foot high steel fence that forms the border where President Trump wants to build his wall. A three thousand strong caravan of Honduran immigrants had recently arrived in the area hoping to gain access to the United States and many were living under tarpaulins strung up against the fence as they waited for a chance to cross. The traffic moved far quicker than the pedestrian line; there was no commercial truck traffic at this border and it was centre lane for RVs. About two hours to get through with a new I94 Visa Waiver giving me another 90 days in the US.

____ A night just south of Yuma, at the Cocopah Casino RV parking after a trip round Walmart. Four dollars a night for a concrete pad among some very expensive motor-coaches before heading to Mittry Lake and a rendezvous with Gail and Milo. Mittry is BLM land and free for ten days in a calendar year. A palm tree oasis set at the edge of the desert where the Colorado River forms the state-line between Arizona and California. Just a couple of days stay before heading up US Highway 95 to Quartzsite but looking forward to another visit in the not too distant future.

____ Quartzsite is a town of 3000 people that swells to over 250,000 in the last week of January as it becomes the Mecca for RVers from all over North America. Such an influx would cause problems for almost any small town but Quartzsite is surrounded by flat desert and motorhomes, travel trailers, 5th wheelers and every imaginable kind of RV just spread themselves about on the BLM land. We choose the Hi Jolly area to the north of town, no services for camping but no charge either. The Big Tent is the big attraction, we cycled down to see the show every day. A lot of stuff is RV related; but as one regular old-timer said, “It ain’t what it used to be and is becoming more like the shopping channel.” Most interesting bit for me was wandering in and out of all the vehicles on display; the electrical circuitry in those things is so sophisticated these days. Most 45 foot motor-coaches have four flat-screen televisions but are set-up to sleep two persons.

____ Although the RV trade show is a big event, there is also a big social side to the Quartzsite gathering. Owner’s clubs for different RV marques hold annual reunions. Tiffin motor coaches had all their wagons in a circle at La Posa and Roadtrek campervans held their get-together at Hi Jolly. Rocks are another Quartzsite attraction as the town name might suggest; plenty of mineral and rock shops. Antique bric-a-brac market stalls fill in the gaps between the food trucks while side-by-side atvs and wide wheel jeeps park just about everywhere.

The queue for the border at San Luis de Rio Colorado. Under the blue tarps are families waiting for a chance to enter the USA.

Hilltop destination beside Mittry Lake. Milo let me drive his Suzuki Vitara to the top; forgetting to lock the free-wheel hubs and having me do it in two-wheel drive.

The view across the Colorado River from Arizona to California.

The BLM area called Hi Jolly. Flat desert covered with hundreds of RVs.

The Ghost; one of the few Class 8 Motorhome- trucks at the Quartzsite Show.

Old Peterbilt was the transport for the nearby antique dealer.

Not just RV stuff on sale in Quartzsite. Cattle skulls and hides too.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Gonzaga Bay, Baja California.

Scenic look-out on the road to Gonzaga Bay.

The new bridge still stands but the road at the end of it had washed away.

Waiting for two local trucks to come through one of the narrow detour tracks at the wash-outs.

Lots of repairs needed on the two year old road.

The calm water at Gonzaga Bay.
Parked between the huts on the beach at Gonzaga Bay.

The row of out-houses behind every campsite is convenient but not classy.
____ The Highway 5 South of San Felipe came with many warning tales; road construction and a tropical storm in September 2018 had made for difficult conditions. Pot-holes and dipped sections where water sometimes crosses made for slow going on the first section but that seemed super-sonic when we came to the road-works. Fifteen miles of wash-board on the temporary dirt track that ran alongside a yet-to-completed two-lane highway. All the way to Puertocilitos, where the new highway to Gonzaga Bay had been finished for a couple of years.  But it was here that the Great Storm of 2018 had highlighted the mis-calculations of the road engineers. The water volume during the flash-flooding had been so great that the bridges had become dams and the roadway onto the bridges had suffered catastrophic erosion. Nine bridges on the fifty mile stretch were still intact but un-crossable due the road being washed away at each end. Rough dirt tracks had been bull-dozed down onto the now dried-up river beds; some were easy detours, some were steep with a loose surface of rocks and ever-increasing pot-holes. The large diameter tyres and the heavy weight of the Mack helped us make it through with barely any wheel-spin.

____ At Gonzaga Bay, we chose the Rancho Grande Camping and RV Park. They have a small store and snack-bar on the Highway 5, opposite the Pemex fuel station. Camping was on the beach; down a track that ran alongside the local air-strip. We set-up camp at Palapa 7 with a retired fire-fighter and his wife at Palapa 5, they were from Squamish, BC. They were travelling in a pick-up truck with de-mountable camper in the bed; this seemed to be the favorite type of vehicle along this route; which made sense as a 4x4 was the most practical and there was more dirt road to come for those venturing further south over the pass. We booked-in for five nights, a quiet, scenic sandy beach with the calmest waters we had encountered on the Sea of Cortez.

____ The nights were now warmer with no discomfort for early-risers, we brewed the coffee with doors open; no longer needing the stove to take the chill out of the morning air. Beach-combing was our exercise but mostly we relaxed watching the coming and going of the local fishermen as they launched their small open boats off the beach to the south of our campsite. To the north was Alponsina’s Resort, a line of beach-front properties culminating in a two-story hotel at the far end of a sand-spit that ran out to an island in the bay. The place had a couple of long-term residents who both had inflatable dinghies for fishing; but most of our fellow campers just stayed for the one night while heading either north or south on what is the quieter alternative road in this part of Baja California. Lots of pick-up truck campers, a few travel-trailers, several adventure motor-cycles with their large alumimium box-like panniers and two cycle-tourers from Switzerland. A nice young couple, touring Mexico and Central America; they put their tent in the palapa next to ours and we gave them our lawn chairs to relax in.

____ It’s easy to lose track of time as the days blur together such is the relaxed atmosphere of beach life but I did wash the truck and do the second grease job of the trip. We bought some shrimp and fish locally but after five days our supplies dwindled down to nothing. Cheryl’s hazelnut flavored coffee creamer being the most critical item. We said goodbye to our new friends on the bay, packed everything securely in the truck and made our way back along the torturous road to San Felipe. Electing to have another couple a nights at Pete’s Camp, while checking out more of the town of San Felipe itself.

San Felipe, Baja California.

The Desert Road.

At Pete's Camp. San Felipe.

Dawn beside the Sea of Cortez, Baja California.

Digging in the sand at low-tide for the hot springs just south of San Felipe.

The pool at Reuben's Camp.

Deserted and derelict RV park south of San Felipe.

____ From Puerto Penasco we took Highway 30 along the coast where the Gran Desierto joined the Sea of Cortez and sand dunes stretched across the road. Heading west to cross the Colorado River on Highway 4 between Coaluila and Ledon; although it was easy to mistake the Grand Canyon’s water source for an average size irrigation canal, such is the volume of water extraction in the area. It was here that we encountered our first military checkpoint; conscripts of the Mexican army needed a guided tour of the Mack and I muddled through with some half-forgotten Spanish. It was a long wait in line but a relaxed examination from a young bunch of guys just doing their job. The other aspect of driving in Mexico that revealed it’s self on the road to San Felipe was the “Road-Hump.” Definitely not to be ignored and taken at speed. These were plentiful; some official speed control devices and some local improvisations that were intended to attract trade to nearby enterprises along with home-made Stop-signs.

____ We turned on to Highway 5, south of Mexicali and headed for Pete’s camp on the northern outskirts of San Felipe. A good four-lane coast road on the opposite side of the gulf; running through desert country within view of the water. Pete’s is down a well sign-posted dusty track but has the air of a prosperous resort; not so much camping but more villas and holiday homes. Just a handful of RVs; lined-up with the palapas on the beach. The place has a restaurant/bar, good toilets and showers; overall very clean and tidy but once again we felt like it was out of season. During our two day stay, we had long walks on the beach and met Ross from British Columbia. The old guy reckoned he had a Mack motor-home too and pictures on his phone proved that two years ago he brought it down to Pete’s Camp. We had several long chats about old school trucking and I think he wished he had his 1955 LT Mack with him this year instead of his 45 foot diesel-pushing motor-coach.

____ From Pete’s Camp, we moved to the south of San Felipe and Rueben’s Camp; like chalk and cheese. From opulence to an RV park post-Zombie Apocalypse. Rueben’s had once been high-end camping and a huge capital investment but now was being re-claimed by the desert. Dereliction everywhere with the attraction of “Hot Springs” as the only plus point. Hot water bubbled through the sand at low-tide and with some digging, one could have one’s own hot-tub right on the beach. Due to rain, we just dug a foot-spa; stood around getting wet and put it down to experience. We did some fishing from the rocks but caught nothing and the two nights at Rueben’s wasn’t a good or bad experience just different. Rueben is a nice guy and I think I would have given twenty dollars even if he said the camping was free. Loaded-up with water and supplies, we headed South from San Felipe still searching for that special Baja California experience.