Archive for January, 2011

After saying goodbye to our friends at Quartzsite, we drove all of 20 miles west to Blythe, California. The KOA was right next to the Colorado River that looked pretty shallow, but still had a fast current in the middle. It was chore day – groceries, shopping and uploading and posting our blogs.

This trip is a little different; we don’t have much of an itinerary, and so I try to figure out where we’re going right before we go there. Since we were headed to Slab City (not an well-known locale, to be sure), we got two, slightly differing GPS locations for it. I also got a more general direction, 3 miles northeast of Niland.  We were good to go.

The 120-mile drive from Blythe to Niland was pleasant. We traveled past many farms, watered by the Colorado, no doubt and had lunch at Algodones Sand Dunes. We reached Niland, and sailed through town, following the instructions on our Garmin. Nine miles north of town, we reached a Border Patrol checkpoint. While cameras recorded our rig, an agent and his dog sniffed around. Another agent had a desultory conversation with us. She asked where we had come from and I said “Quartzsite, Arizona”. “What were you doing there?” she asked. As it turned out, she claimed she had never heard of the huge crowd of RVers there. It seemed strange to me, but maybe she was just messing with us. Before we departed, I asked her how far up Slab City was. “You passed it. You need to go west on Main Street in Niland to get there.” So we turned around, with the Garmin stating “Recalculating, recalculating” and eventually found Slab City. As it turned out, both GSP locations given to us were fairly close to where we ended up camping, but the Garmin still thought we should go north for 14 miles or so. We can’t figure out how it could be so wrong.

We found a relatively secluded spot in the scrubby desert. There’s not much to Slab City – a meeting hall, a stage with old sofas for patrons, and a whole lot of old, decrepit motorhomes spread all over. There are also a lot of newer rigs camped out all over the place. The weather is warm and the camping is free. Good enough.

Today we visited Salvation Mountain, created by Leonard Knight, a folk artist who has been working on his labor of love for 30 years. Leonard is 79 now and is having trouble taking care of his mountain. He’s hoping to obtain an $80,000 grant from Congress and to make sure that Salvation Mountain is maintained forever. It should be. His message is simple: God loves everyone. We asked him what inspired him to create this enormous testament to faith and he replied “God spanked me hard fifty years ago. It was the most beautiful spanking in the world.” An amazing man with a spectacular work of art.

We also visited the Imperial Wildlife Area, a marshy area on the edge of the Salton Sea. We did see a few Egrets, and lots of gulls and other birds we couldn’t identify because we always forget to bring the Sibley Bird Guide with us. There were a couple of buildings moldering in the salt, so we couldn’t resist photographing them. We saw a Lazy Daze parked near the shore and after Max, the Chihuahua, permitted us to, said hello to the lady there. Her husband was hunting and she was relaxing with the dogs.

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After loading the Lazy Daze a week ago Sunday, we headed south down 101 and I5 towards Quartzsite, Arizona. We were headed for the largest collection of RVers in the world – a temporary convocation of a million people. Quartzsite is small town, located in the southern desert. The draw? It’s a great area for rock collectors and birders. The town is full of RV parks, but there’s also a lot of BLM land where it is very cheap or free to camp.  As more and more snowbirds spent part of the winter there, RV and accessory manufacturers, and artists began to show up. Dave thought we should check it out.  He is working on a photographic project called “New American Nomads” and the Quartzsite gathering certainly fits the bill.

We loaded up the refrigerator in Bakersfield and headed over the Tehachapi Mountains. We were in the empty desert, cruising on Highway 58. Only, soon we were not cruising, stalled on the two-lane highway with miles of vehicles in front and in back of us. We crawled along and eventually saw the cause: a destroyed fifth wheel by the side of the road. There was nothing left of the front end and middle, with small bits of the exterior shell and paneling and insulation everywhere. The truck pulling it looked fairly undamaged and weirdly, the back end of the trailer was somewhat intact, with two bicycles still attached. A cautionary tale indeed, although I feel pretty good about how solidly the Lazy Daze is built. Of course, that doesn’t help when someone swerves into you or a high wind blasts you on the road. We eventually reached a Barstow KOA with a teepee. It was fun to photograph, but I was quite content to return to my comfy motorhome.

The next day was another 200+ mile drive. At one point, the bright colors of salt evaporation pools caught our eye as we drove south through the desert, and we stopped to photograph them.

When we finally reached Quartzsite, there were miles and miles of motorhomes parked all over BLM land.  We would have found some nook to camp in, but Dave follows a Lazy Daze – owners group on the internet, and they kindly agreed to let us join them. They were camping in a virtually undeveloped area, where small bunches of motorhomes are circled like the covered wagons in Western movies. So we found the entrance to the BLM area, paid our camping fee and headed off down a dirt road for a mile or so until we spotted a bunch of sister Lazy Daze-owners. There are 7 Lazy Daze rigs here and they reinforce what good looking motorhomes they are. The exteriors are detailed with brown, silver, teal and wonderful blue.

Aside from visiting Paul Winer’s bookstore (see Dave’s blog), we checked out the Quartzsite cemetery. It’s highlight is the “Hi Jolly” grave. Haiji Ali was a Syrian cameldriver for the pack of camels imported to the southwest in 1856 as an experiment (approved by U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis!) in improving freighting and communications in the arid desert. Eventually, the War Department abandoned the experiment and the camels, which gradually died off. Hi Jolly stayed in the area, apparently, until his death.

Saturday was the opening of the RV show in the “big tent” in Quartzsite. From where we’re parked, it’s only a half mile or so to the tent, so most of us met at 9 a.m. and walked past lots of campers into town. Once in the big tent, we squeezed past throngs of slow-moving people, looking at Egyptian cotton sheets, crystal nail files, Canadian tourism touts, massage booths, and on and on. We were interested in replacing some of our fluorescent lights with LEDs because they use less battery power. The outside of the tent was surrounded by more booths, with funnel cakes, ribs, coffee, fresh fried donuts and Jungle George’s exotic foods. I declined the offer of eating crickets, kangaroo or alligator. Maybe next time.

Our fellow campers are a great bunch of people. Most everyone is pretty laid back, with the ability to get along with a variety of personalities. Usually, some are out first thing in the morning, walking dogs and sipping warm drinks. For the rest of the day, people come out, hang out for a while, then go back in. About 4 or so, the appetizers start to come out. When the sun goes down and it gets chilly, the chairs migrate to the fire ring. I like it. Of course, there is quite a bit of discussion about how to fix, improve, and save space, energy and water in the rigs. The RV shows generated a lot of interest in certain items. Dave bought LED lights to replace some of our fluorescent and incandescent lights, and everyone trooped in to see how they looked. We checked out Roger’s pantry and Beverly’s built-in butcher block chopping block. It is fun to see how people improve their setup. There is also a lot of talk about travels. It is really helpful to get tips about where to stay, where to eat, and places to see. After five days, I am already sorry to be leaving this group.




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