Monday, October 28, 2013

Quiet boondocking near Quartzsite -- Crystal Hill

If you've ever stayed on in Quartzsite during the high season – say anytime from mid-December to mid-February, you know the place is hopping. Sometimes a wee bit too hopping. Unless you're a vendor, the crowds can be just plain oppressive. Need a little break? Not far south on Highway 95--the road to Yuma, is the Kofa Wildlife Refuge. A favorable boondocking spot is at Crystal Hill.

Crystal Hill was once pretty popular among the rock hound set, as you could (and with persistence still can) find small crystal formations. Evidently popularity was too much, today the leaveright rule applies there. Spot something nice in the way of rocks or crystals? Look at it, appreciate it, but 'leave 'er right there,' because it's illegal to take them away.

photo: Magnus Kjaergaard
Aside from rocks needing to stay put, Crystal Hill is a relatively quiet place off the road, and yet not too far from civilization. The refuge is home to desert bighorn sheep and the only place in Arizona where you can find native palm trees--the California fan palm.

The former have a tendency to roam around wherever it is that a sheep's fancy takes them; the latter are found in Palm Canyon--a short hike from the Palm Canyon trail head (clearly marked by signage on Highway 95). We've also been fascinated by rock formations like the one pictured here. This fellow surely reminds us of a bobcat getting ready to set about a little luncheon. Now some will tell you he's quite natural, but a local friend of ours tells us he results from the artistic efforts of Spanish explorers who carved him (and other formations) to point the way to gold mines and other hot spots.

You'll find the road to Crystal Hill between mileposts 95 and 96. Palm Canyon road is 18 miles south of Quartzsite, follow the dirt road to the trail head and thence hike from there--about a half mile. Best light is found around high noon.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Colorado River camping -- near Quartzsite and free!

The Colorado makes a long run from its birthplace until it crosses over into Old Mexico. Along the way it has its moods and mystery. For folks along the lower part of the Colorado, between Arizona and California, there's a few spots where you can boondock--some even for free. Yes, Quartzsite has its own draw, but camping here takes you away from the loud crowds, but still puts you close at hand to the actions – less than 45 minutes away.

Along the Arizona side, just south of and below the booming Interstate 10, there's a little stretch of gravel road managed by the Bureau of Land Management called the Ox Bow Road (or variously, Oxboe depending on your maps). It doesn't offer much but an escape from the noise of civilization, and a good place to cool off with a quick dip, or a chance at a fish or two if you're so inclined. For several miles the Ox Bow runs with various places just to pull out and set up camp. On weekends when the weather is cool, you may run into a few noisy partiers, so be prepared.

The variety of sites is wide--you can find some to give you wide views of the surrounding countryside, stuck up on a bank above the Colorado; others are close enough to the wet to practically fish out your back door. Take your choice.

From I-10, jump off at the Ehrenberg exit, and take the frontage road on the south side of the interstate. Drive west pass the Flying J truck stop and keep your eyes peeled for a dimly visible, and equally dimly readable BLM sign. Or follow your GPS to the begining of the road at 33.603125N by 114.525405W. The road runs several miles south along the river, and allows for an eventual cross on the Cibola farmer's bridge into California.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Federal shutdown reaches Quartzsite

While finger-pointing runs wild on the East coast, the effect on RVers is reaching out to the West coast. The federal government shutdown on Tuesday, October 1, made its way to the West's snowbird capital, Quartzsite.

Each year as cold weather moves in, literally thousands of RVers move into the Quartzsite area to winter over. Many turn to the federal Bureau of Land Management's Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVAs) where they can purchase a permit to stay through mid-April.

On Tuesday, no flags were flying at any of the LTVAs. Instead, orange-colored notices on the doors of the entrance stations spelled out the effects of the federal shutdown.

Among other points listed, these are of greatest interest to would-be visitors:

"This Site will be closed for the duration of the shutdown.

"No amenities will be available to the public during the shutdown.

"Persons unlawfully entering the site during the shutdown may be subject to criminal fines and or penalties.

"Visitors should vacate this site 48 hours after this posting."

How does posting compare with practice? While the entrance stations are unmanned, we were able to have a word with an on-site host. They told us that under the direction of the managing ranger, those visitors who had already bought permits and moved on site were told to, "sit tight and wait." New arrivals are being told they could not buy a permit, and were being told to perhaps stay on one of the area two-week visitor sites to, "wait and see what happens."

A few RVs were in evidence on the four LTVAs, and a handful of rigs were parked in the two-week short term areas. It's still a bit early in the season, but if by some chance the government shutdown does continue, the impact on Quartzsite's visitors will be far more reaching.

photos: R&T De Maris