Entering "the Q"
We had been through Quartzsite on a couple of past occasions, heading into California to visit friends, but had never been off the interstate. We had no idea what the town looked like, or what facilities were there, other than for reading other people's blogs about it. We weren't quite ready to head into the desert yet, so we wanted a place with facilities that wasn't too expensive. We had already spent far more than we had planned in just getting here. Also, we had to search out a storage facility for the extra trailer and much of what was in the vans.
A Garden in the Desert?
After a little online research, and a couple of failed attempts to get into other resorts, we finally chose to try Desert Gardens. It's not a resort like we had been used to, and was a little hard to locate the entrance for it, but it did offer dry camping for $10 a night, while still allowing access to restrooms, showers, and laundry. Many of the units in there are older park models and mobile homes, but the sites available for travelers are in open areas with plenty of space, and the rules were few. However, the restrooms are small, and only one shower in each...nowhere near enough for the number of spaces they have in the park.
The laundromat was again, "OK", but had a heavy sewer gas type of smell the whole time we were there. Possibly some machines had waste vents that were not sealed properly, and if not used regularly, the traps might have dried up, allowing sewer gas to escape. Whatever the reason, it was not pleasant. However, signs indicated that there were new managers, so in all fairness, I hope that some of these issues, including making the clubhouse more "welcoming", will be fixed soon, as they are a complete turn-off for potential visitors.
We spent a quiet night there, did laundry and took care of other minor chores the next morning, and then headed about 17 miles west down I-10 to Ehrenberg, which is right on the Colorado River, which separates California from Arizona. The town itself is very small, but Blythe, California is right across the river, and we found a great, well-secured professionally run storage facility there and rented a 10 x 15 space on a special rate for the first three months. Hopefully, by the time the price goes back up, we can relocate to a smaller space nearby.
The only thing we needed the larger space for was the length of the Harbor Freight trailer, but now that it is unloaded, folded up, and standing on end, everything there would easily fit in a 10 x 10 space with room to spare. So after a hurry-up job of getting everything secured temporarily, we were now ready to park somewhere for awhile.
The "guru's" camp experience
After following Bob Wells' blog at CheapRVLiving.com and observing his map to his camp, we decided to give it a try, and get to meet the "semi-famous" guru of inexpensive camping and travel. For those who don't know, his site is a wealth of information on creating and or building your own inexpensive camping vehicle. The blog itself is a separate part of that site, but there is a link to it on the home page.
His camp was farther out than the map on his blog indicated. I had to go to Google Earth to see the area by satellite view, and follow the road out nearly three miles before I started to see RVs in the desert. Even though the satellite iages are sometimes two years out of date, I swear the rig that I saw on the satellite image looked just like Bob's, so I knew we were looking at the right area.
I won't reveal the exact location, as too many people out there can spoil things, although there IS plenty of open land, and apparently with no rangers checking to see how long people stay. Normally there is a two-week rule on most BLM land, but Bob said that he has rarely seen a ranger out there, and they don't seem to care how long anyone stays, as long as they keep it clean.
Some time ago, the rangers did run off some homeless people living in sub-standard conditions, and then bulldozed what was left, the remnants of which can still be seen in a couple of piles of rubble. But vehicles of any kind, in running order, seem to be welcome. As with anywhere, the old rule of "pack it in, pack it out" still applies, and sites are normally left as good or better than how they are found.
The ground, surprisingly, isn't the sand base that I had envisioned. It is covered with small rocks as far as you can see. Undoubtedly, this is how it was created, and the actual sand has long been blown away from the surface. What are left are rocks ranging in size from pebbles up to about a foot in diameter in some places. Some are smooth, like river rock, and others are quite jagged and could easily puncture a tire. They appear to be a mix of round and smooth, interspersed with some flat and jagged shale, mixed with a variety of quartz...mostly white, but some containing different hues of browns and reds. The main roads out are pretty decent gravel, but the side roads are full of sharp rocks, and one has to be careful to dodge them at idle speed as you get to your camping area. Also, it's just plain polite to go slow, so you don't kick up so much dust.
The dirt itself seems to be a very high clay content, and when it gets wet (as we found on our departure day) it gets slippery, sticky and clumpy. I got some on my shoes while I was hooking up and it felt like my shoes had just gained five pounds each! It's not a place I would want to be in the rainy season!
We were informed that it pays to stay upwind of the prevailing winds though, as the dune buggy and ATV crowds like to come out and use the area on the weekends, and they really don't care how fast they go, or where their dust goes! Thankfully, we stayed upwind of them and most of their dust blew across the road, toward less savvy campers. On New Years weekend, there was a whole city of them camped a quarter mile west of us, they came complete with a load of firewood, fireworks, loud music and probably plenty of coolers and refreshments. Apparently, they didn't care who their music offended, either, as we could hear it even at our distance well past midnight. But hey, it's only one day, and they deserve their fun, too. It's a free country, and that means BLM land, too.
Everyone seems to like their own space, though... some more than others. Campsites are often separated by hundreds of feet or much more. Rarely are there rigs using generators, although some do have them, but normal quiet times seem to be respected, and those with generators who have to use them, normally stay well out of range of others who don't.
There were occasional social times, such as a pizza party at Bob's camp, or a pot-luck at another, where everyone brings their own chair, their own drink of choice, and contributes what they can, but a standard method of communication seems to be sorely lacking. In all fairness, there are no bulletin boards out here on which to post such things! Rarely is there an invitation sent out in any electronic form, or even posted on groups pages that were designed for the purpose on Facebook... because... some of the key players in this group have an aversion to Facebook, or for other reasons rarely go on the web other than to their own site. Usually everyone has a cell phone and some may have others personal phone numbers, but obviously not everyone, so there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to how they communicate out here! It is all so disorganized!
Minor irritationsEveryone seems to have a dog, but they are always wandering all over the place, nosing into other people's stuff, peeing on their vehicles, and even getting into fights. At the first gathering Bob did finally intervene after a dog fight, and tell people that if they can't control their dogs, it would be best to leave them at home. They should have had enough brains to do that without being told, in my humble opinion!
We keep Angel on a leash for his own protection, as well as to train him to be well-behaved, and there is no way we would take him out in all that! We left him at home in the trailer, and wished that others would have enough respect for others in the group that they would do the same. The dogs were always a problem, at every gathering we saw, and very little "parental supervision" was taking place!.
The places we go, it is a common rule to keep dogs on a leash, and we do it whether it's posted or not! In warmer weather here in the desert, there could be snakes out there, and even in winter, there are coyotes in the desert. Also, someone just posted recently on Facebook, a picture of a Bobcat chasing down a rabbit right outside an RV resort not far from where we were. And one poor veteran lost his dog to a cougar not long ago, although that was in the higher elevations further north. We love our "baby" and would never think of putting him in danger. But freedom to some people also means letting their dogs run free, even if something kills them! That's not love! Too much freedom can be a very bad thing... for people as well as pets!
Introductions were by first name only, but that seems to be by personal choice. The only way I know "some" last names were because of Facebook pages or groups. I am used to introductions that include last names with honest communication and nothing to hide. Again, this was something that I am not used to. Maybe they figure that some people have a hard time remembering first names, let alone last names (and some really do), but still... a full introduction is the polite thing to do. If the other person fails to remember it, that's on them, but at least the one doing the greeting has done his or her part. But maybe that's just me and the way I was raised.
Also, in the business world, especially in sales, the last thing you want to do is forget a customer's name! That alone can be grounds for losing an account! That's why people in business make it a habit to remember people's names, or else they carry all the information on the customer that they can, right down to kid's names, pet's names, birthdays, anniversaries, and even their habits, in a book, or today, in an electronic device, so they can pull it up to refresh their memory before they visit the customer again, and not embarrass themselves. Business habits tend to stay with you, even after the actual business is long since forgotten.
First name only introductions, and the solitude people prefer, seem to be "normal" out here, and we have decided that the kind of life they lead is not for us... at least, not all the time. We have nothing against boondocking (also called dry camping), but we are going to be picky about where we do it, and with whom we do it. We met some very nice people out there, and some that we would have liked to have met, the opportunity did not present itself. For some, they seem to have their reasons for being out there, but for others, they seem to be "checking out the lifestyle", much like we were, and that's a personal choice for all of us! No one else needs to understand the "whys" of it.
The return...or not
We may go back to the area occasionally, but probably not to that particular camping area. We also noticed a signpost for an Escapees boondocking group not far away to the west, so we may try that the next time, and maybe at a different time of the year, when the weather is milder and more conducive to sitting outside and enjoying it.
It's hard to visit with people and get to know them when you can't even sit outside, and in a place like that, where there is no clubhouse, and no one has an RV large enough to entertain in, and if they do, they may wish to stay to themselves, it makes it very hard to get to know people. No one wants to sit outside in 40 degree weather with a 30+ MPH wind blowing... especially me! On the other hand, places with clubhouses and facilities also cost a lot more, and it's obvious that some of these people can't afford to pay ongoing camping fees or memberships. Others probably can, but do the smart thing, and choose not to!
The weather out there was what really surprised us, but it seems to be wide spread in other parts of the country, too, at this time, thanks to the El Nino effect and winter storm Goliath. There were times we almost wished we had headed for Florida instead, but there aren't as many boondocking places in Florida. Even the weather reports from Yuma indicated that it wasn't that much warmer as far south as you could get in that area. The first couple of days weren't too bad, and we were able to sit outside to eat, and enjoy the sunsets. Then it started to get cold... and windy... and dusty! I am inserting a short video I took on the day after Christmas, when the winds were around 25 MPH average speed. If the video doesn't show up on your mobile device, here is the link to it on YouTube: https://youtu.be/E-n1HfYvG8Y
But sometime in the middle of the night, there was a gust that just screamed with an almost evil howl. It must have topped 60 MPH easily. The trailer shook and our table and one of our two steel Samsonite chairs that had been setting outside all this time, and had never moved, ended up about 8 feet from where it had been setting and the table was knocked over. We heard it go, but at that time of the night, in total darkness and with winds of that magnitude, there was no way we were going to go out and check it out! We found the evidence the next morning, and were thankful that nothing was broken and there was no other damage.
After that tremendous gust, the storm seemed to have hit its crescendo and gradually died down by morning.
The culmination of all these windy days had covered all the vehicles with a fine powdery dust. They were bad enough already when we arrived there, having gone through a day of rain, and then having a rear window on the big van explode for some unknown reason while coming through south Texas, they were getting to look like they really belonged to the desert! But now they were literally filthy.
Other than keeping the solar panels clean, there was no point in worrying about washing the vehicles, though, as rain was in the forecast for the first Monday of the new year, our "departure from the desert" day, and we didn't have time to find a car wash anyway... especially one that would handle the high-top van. And it was cold enough that I didn't really want to get out there and spray it down myself, or the wind would have had me wet, too!
We were out in the desert nearly a month, and that was longer than we intended staying. We thought we might go to the RTR and meet some of the other bloggers and attend some of the workshops, but for several reasons, we decided we could meet other bloggers under much more favorable conditions. We were sick of the desert at that point, and we had a visitor coming in on the 5th of January, so we needed to find other accommodations with better facilities. We finally left on the 4th, in the middle of light rain, and were never so relieved to get out of somewhere!
As we sit here in our new location now, there is still dust on the vehicles that needs to be washed off, but we wanted to get the rear window replaced first. I was afraid a high-pressure car wash hose would blow the temporary sign board cover out of the opening. As of Monday, the 11th, we have a Safelite Auto Glass company coming out to install a new window, so at least that problem will be resolved.
As far as the deer damage to the front end, that occurred five days before we left Arkansas, we will soon be searching out a body shop to have that taken care of as well, and maybe some other cosmetic damage that was already there when we purchased the van. It depends on the price quote they give me. If it's too much more than the original quote we got in Arkansas, we may just wait with the uninsured damage until we get back there to have it done.
The repair cost is a sort of a catch-22. If we have it done now, while we still have the minivan, it may cost more, but we won't have to worry about a rental car. If we wait until we get back to Arkansas, the minivan will be sold by then, and we'll have to pay extra for a rental car. Decisions, decisions...
As of right now, we are sitting in a parking spot with full hookups, surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains, and with a great communal area to use, as well as very nice private shower facilities. Any kind of shopping or services we need are within a radius of less than two miles. The weather is still cool, but with the ability to use our electric heat (as opposed to our Big Buddy catalytic heater), we are very comfortable.
The only thing we can't use right now, is the city water hookup, as the night-time temps are dropping to below freezing for awhile. So we are filling our gallon jugs, and using those for our sink needs. Whenever the night time temps stay above freezing for several days at a time, we hook up our water hose again. If freezing temps are forecast, it doesn't take more than five minutes to disconnect the water hose, drain it, and drape it over the tongue jack. Day time temps will soon be back to the upper 50's and even into the 60's, and we can deal with that, although we were hoping for a warmer winter.
Dealing with sub-freezing temps
You might wonder how we keep our pipes from freezing in these conditions. That is very simple. The drain water is not a problem, and we have been using the plain garden drain hose straight to a sewer connection. Please note here, that the drain hose should always be a 3/4-inch (inside diameter) hose, as that is what most of the other drain fittings are. Anything smaller could lead to a clog where the size becomes reduced.
If we were going to be in sustained below freezing temperatures, we would use a sink tub, and dispose of the waste water manually, but for just a few hours of below freezing and then warming back up as soon as the sun comes up, there is little danger of anything freezing solid to the point where it would do damage. If it did, it would likely happen in the hose, and that has some resilience to it. The lowest overnight temperature so far has been about 27 degrees, and that only lasted a couple of hours in the early morning hours.
For the fresh water, the way I designed the trailer is that the outside city water connection and valve serves as the second check valve normally found in factory-made RVs. When the water pump is on, that outside valve is closed, to prevent water from going outside, and to force it up to the sink. To winterize, we simply shut off the internal water pump, and then open that outside valve and let it drain. To prevent critters from getting in, we screw in the plug by just the first couple of threads, so water can still leak out to prevent any buildup. The only piping exposed to outside temperatures is about a 4-inch drop below the trailer floor and behind the trailer frame, and another 4-inch horizontal part to get to the outside of the frame rail. It gravity drains very quickly. Everything on the inside is within the heated trailer.
There is a city water connection on the building about 10-feet away from our front door, so it's no problem to just go over and fill jugs as we need them. Once the weather starts to warm up again and stay above freezing at night, we will get out our white fresh water hose and hook up to it. Then we will have running water at the sink again, without having to use the pump.
Since we have a porta-potty, there is no black tank to worry about, other than what is a part of it, and that is also inside our heated trailer. After our 33-year old Thetford failed while in Indiana last September, we chose the model shown below, and are very happy with it. Not only is it much taller (at nearly 17 inches, about the same as ADA toilets), but it has a much larger capacity for longer booondocking capability. Rather than a plastic bellows pump, like the old one had, this one also has a push-button electric pump, run by D-cell batteries. It also has level indicators on both the fresh water and the black water, so you know how full they are, and so far, we are very pleased with it.
We do have a city sewer connection in the ground right outside the trailer, to which we have the sink drain connected by garden hose. We use the special Camco garden hose adapter and a black rubber donut around it to seal the opening at the sewer connection.
The fittings shown above are required at most campgrounds, just to seal the opening against odors and prevent any critters from getting into the sewer. They should be a part of every camper's toolbox of necessary fittings if you have a small camper with only a sink drain. The donut is also a handy thing to have if your sewer hose is only 3-inch and the sewer opening is 4-inch (which many are).
When we need to dump the porta-potty, we just take it over there, pull out the garden hose and rubber donut that seals it in, and dump the porta-potty in the city sewer drain in the ground. We have found that in normal use, the two of us can get by for about 4-days before we have to empty the porta-potty, and that coincides very well with the 8-gallons of fresh water in the Reliance Hydroller. Even though we carry a second Hydroller in the van, which can be changed out as we run empty in the trailer, we always refill one or the other when we make a pit stop at a dump station. Normally there will be fresh water available, as well as a garbage dumpster, so every four days of attending to these tasks works out well for us.
Once the weather warms up, we will have "nearly" full hookups again, as far as using the fresh water hose and drain for the sink. Having running water, whether by pump or city water hookup is a nice convenience. The porta-potty is something that will always have to be emptied manually by carrying it outside, but the extra effort is a small price to pay for the freedom of being able to live anywhere we want, and be on the road with a 30-minute (or less) notice.
Our current situation
We are very fortunate to have the offer of this place through the months of January and February, which is longer than we had figured on staying anywhere in our travels, but during this time, we need a place with facilities for our visitor, who is visiting us (but staying in the house). This trailer was never meant for a third person, and the van isn't really ready for an extra person to occupy. We don't have privacy curtains up yet in the van, and we would need an extra catalytic heater and a porta-potty. Here, at this location, the visitor has her own private bedroom and bathroom, as well as our having electric and other hookups. On March 1st, we are all going to leave until the end of April, at which time we (Sharon and I) will be back here for a couple weeks to "house-sit" for our guest's pets, a very well-behaved dog and cat. We're not quite sure our Angel has warmed up to that idea yet, but he has time to get used to it.
We haven't had much time to do any local sightseeing or roaming yet, as we have had tasks to arrange (such as the work on the van, and getting the closing finished on the house in Arkansas), along with the normal daily chores. But as we get out and visit places, we will try to get some photos and have some travel stories to tell.
In an effort to maintain our own privacy as well as our host's, we may delay some posts until after we leave here totally, so as not to reveal our exact location. I can't guarantee how much sightseeing we will do during this two month stationary position, but will continue to post with more generic topics when I can't think of anything else to write about.
Until then, thank you for reading, and feel free to ask any questions or comment as you see fit.