The RV Snowbirds’ Paradise: November 26 – December 1, 2011

Reminders: 1. Posts are in chronological order with most recent on top. 2. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them and then using the back button (not close) to return to the text.

The ultimate RV snowbirding city in the country is Quartzsite, Arizona. Thousands of rigs find their way there every year, and dozens of rallies take place, including a massive festival in January. Many units “boondock” — park without any connections to electricity, fresh water or sewerage – on BLM property for free. Enterprising suppliers ride around in trucks that provide the last two of those utilities. Electricity is another issue, however; rigs equipped with built-in generators, portable units or solar panels have the advantage of making enough to at least keep batteries charged and provide basic necessities. There are also numerous traditional campgrounds in the area, supplying those not interested in returning to more primitive life.

Having said all that, we actually passed up Quartzsite. We had a total of five overnights between San Diego and winter quarters, and we opted to spend two of them in Yuma and three in Mesa.

We took Rte 8 east for leg 1 of the journey. Just before we crossed the border into Arizona, we found ourselves in the midst of a mini Quartzsite. This area, the Imperial Sand Dunes in the area of Glamis, California, is ATV heaven. There were hundreds of RV’s parked there and an equal number of little bugs of all sizes and styles screaming their way across the dunes. Even the highway rest area was nothing but loose sand, though we were able to navigate it for a turnaround to get a better view. We were many miles south of Death Valley, but this is the most dune-crammed section of the state. It was only about ten miles from there into Yuma.

Nor did we take full advantage of our time in Yuma. I think we were just thinking about our opportunity to get off the road for a while. We also got news while we were there that one of our dearest friends in all the world, Charlie O’Donnell, finally lost the battle with his heart at age 75. We’d met Charlie and Joye at Point Lookout Marina in Maryland in the mid 1980’s, where we both kept our boats, shortly after he had undergone a multiple bypass. Our relationship cemented very quickly, persisted over many years of sailing alongside each other, and remained solid even when they retired to Tidewater Virginia. Fortunately, Joye has the support of three great children and the love of their grandkids.

I did visit the famous Yuma Territorial Prison. Between 1876 and 1909, it housed a total of 3,069 prisoners, including 29 women. Their crimes ranged from murder to polygamy, and a majority were able to get paroles or pardons before their sentences were completed. The older cells had iron grates; the newer were adobe buildings. The prison was humane; punishments consisted of only dark cells for incorrigibles and ball-and-chains for attempted escapees. Prisoner crafts were sold at public bazaars, and medical issues were well attended to. Many learned to read and write in prison schools, and the prison had one of the original “public” libraries.

Of further interest was the location of the prison. It was directly adjacent to the Colorado River. Next to it were a pair of bridges, one for autos and one for trains. The first highway bridge was built in 1915, and it was the final link in an uninterrupted Atlantic to Pacific route. The railroad bridge in the picture is almost 100 years old.

And a third story came to the fore. This was a significant stop on the route of Spanish expeditionaries who established a route from Mexico through the Sonoran Desert to the Pacific coast, then Alta, California. The leader was Juan Bautista de Anza, a New Spaniard who joined the army in 1752. In 1774, Captain Anza and a small party set out on its first attempt. Crossing the Colorado at Yuma, they headed too far south at first but eventually found their way northwest as far as the San Gabriel mission, just south of today’s Los Angeles. Upon his return, he was commissioned to lead a colonizing party to the area. Recruiting approximately 250 souls, he repeated his journey, using a more direct route to San Gabriel and then following El Camino Real north from there, where he settled his flock near today’s Monterey. He then continued on with his troops, exploring as far north as San Francisco and designated its Presidio site.

Anza made contact with the Quechan (Yuma) people on both excursions. He made such a favorable impression on Chief Palma on his first journey that Palma, the keeper of the Colorado River crossing, treated the party like royalty when they returned in 1775. At the Chief’s request, Anza left two priests behind to establish a mission there. Palma was baptized in 1777. But a later colonizing party heading for California stopped there and treated the land and the Indians badly, causing a revolt that led to the death of all the pilgrims and missionaries. The route was then abandoned by the Spanish but was later used by Mormons and gold seekers. The mission, pictured at right, is now dwarfed by a huge industrial tank.

We left on Monday, November 28 for Mesa. We know we want to spend more time there there, and we plan to tour when we visit Phoenix after winter break. But this visit was planned to spend time with Melinda Applegate, a former associate of Dot’s at Customs who moved back to California upon retirement and then to Mesa. Melinda came over for part of a day and dinner with us at the campground, and she and Dot spent a day discovering the city and lining up sites for us to explore. A master photographer and editor, a few samples of her work are below.

The campground was a city, primarily consisting of park models (kins of mobile homes) in precise rows – over 2000 of them. Only one small section allowed dogs, and those residents maintained a friendly dog park.

We left Mesa on December 1, looking forward to a few months in our dry, warm desert home.

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