Current Location: Imperial National Wildlife Refuge northeast of Yuma Arizona
It has been three days since we left the relative urban environment of the Coachella Valley to travel east and south. The route is familiar again. A short way along Dillon road to the east intercepts I-10 and once again we are traveling toward Quartzite, passing last years boondock site at the entrance to Joshua Tree, enjoying the reasonably smooth pavement of this part of the interstate.
We were in Quartzite before noon, with the cloudy skies invading the desert to the west gone and replaced with varying levels of warm sunshine. We gassed up at the Pilot at $2.06 per gallon with our .03 discount. It is rather amazing to fill the tank of the MoHo with less than a hundred bucks. We parked in the lot east of the station, with few semi’s parked there, thinking it would be OK. We didn’t back in, but parked at the far end of the lot crossways. No one was anywhere near us. But by the time we got back from our short shopping foray, a big rig had parked in front of us, and while we sat there preparing to leave, another slid in even closer. I think we broke some rule and did some quick backing up to get out of there before we were completely boxed in.
Quartzite was the same as ever, windy and cool in spite of the sunshine, long rows of stalls with tons of stuff, and the tool store and bead store that we saw last year. Mo didn’t find what she was looking for and there wasn’t a single thing that I needed or wanted. A few items at the less than stellar grocery store reminded me that if you come to Quartzite, you should probably have anything you need already in your possession.
After a very short stop, we were again rolling south on Highway 95, past the Kofa Mountains and toward Yuma. Temps were fairly cool, and some big black clouds in the sky to the south indicated that rain was either coming or going. Unusual in this part of the desert at this time of the year.
Imperial National Wildlife Refuge is located on the Arizona side of the Colorado river, and the access road is at the huge Yuma Proving Ground. We turned west, and were surprised that the road was unpaved a few miles before we reached the refuge. The washboards weren’t too bad, actually not as rough as I-5 can be in parts of California.
The large puddle, however, stopped us cold. In the southwest there is no way of knowing how deep the puddle may be, or how soft the roadbed is beneath the puddle. We were in a quandary. At the lower level of the wash where we were stopped, there was no phone signal, so I couldn’t call Judy at the visitor center to ask about the big puddle.
Instead, we unhooked, Mo turned around with the baby car, and I backed the MoHo up the road a few hundred yards to the intersection. I was attempting to get a call through when a man in a golf cart showed up and offered to lead us across the puddle, insisting that it was perfectly fine. We asked him to go first to prove it however, before we slowly crossed the scary puddle of water which turned out to be pretty easy. Still, as they know in the Southwest, you never know about these puddles so better safe than sorry. We later heard that Barbara, of Me and my Dog, had attempted to visit Judy that same morning, and the puddle made her turn around without even trying to cross in the car in which she and a friend were exploring.
Seeing Judy again was great. We met last year in Anahuac NWR, so the meeting didn’t have the “new” thing, but was instead a happy reunion. We stopped in at the Visitor Center since it was her work day and let her know we had arrived and then settled into our campsite with plans to meet for supper when Judy got off work. Emma was as happy and excited as usual, but before long she settled down and enjoyed the company. Judy’s site overlooking the pond is fabulous. The view, the patio, the shady side of the rig stays nice and cool (I think that should be a good thing most of the time). All the bloggers who weighed in encouraging her to move to the 30 amp site were right! A good move.
After a great sleep in the silent beautiful desert, Judy stopped by in the morning to pick us up for the day’s tour. Judy usually does the bird tours on Sundays, but she sweetly offered to do one this week on a Tuesday for us, and for John and Sharon from On the Road Of Retirement.
I have followed their blog for years, so it was delightful to meet them in person and share the morning checking out the ponds and birds on the refuge.
No telephoto along today to capture photos of the wonderful birds, but I do have to put a little bit fuzzy one up of the beautiful great horned owl that graced us with its presence and sat quietly in the tree in full daylight posing.
I added some more birds to my list, with a favorite being the little loggerhead shrike, a bird who skewers his live food onto thorns to keep it in place while he eats. Hmmm. I also saw Say’s Phoebe, which without Judy around would have been just another little brown bird. Nothing quite so wonderful for a non birder who likes birds than to go out with a real birder!
Judy taught us a lot, and shared fascinating information about the habits of some of the residents of the refuge. We didn’t see the bobcat, but did see the log where she scratches. We didn’t see the beavers, but saw the fascinating beaver trails crossing the road between ponds. We didn’t see the coyotes or the burros, either, but got a kick out of the coyote and burro trails.
Later in the afternoon, Judy picked us up again, and took us to the northern portions of the refuge. There are four overlooks, with views of the remnant lakes that connect to the Colorado River, and at the first one we found so many birds that even Judy was excited.
I added buffleheads and ruddy ducks to my list, even though I know I have seen them in our Klamath Basin refuge. It makes such a difference to have a birder tell what they are. I might actually remember now.
Evening was enjoyed with laughs and conversation on Judy’s patio, and probably the best BBQ chicken I ever tasted. Judy called it New York chicken bbq and spent a great deal of time basting the pieces with a nondescript looking marinade that turned the chicken into a flavorful crispy skinned delight. Never had anything like it. Don’t forget to send me that recipe, Judy!
Wednesday Judy had arranged some kayaks to get the three of us out on the Colorado River, but with the very cool temperatures and the wind starting up early, we nixed that plan quickly. Instead Judy drove us north again to the Painted Desert Trail, I think the only official trail in the Refuge.
The temperatures were perfect for the leisurely hike, a mile and a third winding around and up through the volcanic rhyolites, tuffs, and basalts of the 20 million year old landscape, topped off by river gravels from the meandering Ancestral Colorado shining with desert varnish.
We found some very interesting green rocks, carried down by erosion from the basalt flows to the north, but Judy made sure we didn’t pick one up. The only place to gather rock is some distance north and east in the Kofa Refuge.
I learned finally which tree was the ironwood, and we talked a bit about how many different plants are called “ironwood”. Nothing was yet in flower, but the lime green of the palo verde trees against the rusty red rocks added plenty of color. Again we saw burro sign and burro trails, but no sign of a live animal. This refuge is ambivalent about the burros. They aren’t attempting to eliminate them as they are at Sheldon NWR, but they are also not doing anything to support them since they are feral, not a naturally occurring species.
We had the entire morning and trail to ourselves, so imagine our surprise to return to the trail head to see so many cars parked! Lucky us! Later in the day we found out that there had been more than 100 visitors to the center that day, and the park was crawling with people, more than Judy had seen in her entire time here since October.
Home mid day, we packed up a lunch (don’t ever offer Judy a tuna sandwich!) and decided since we couldn’t kayak, we could take a few hours to explore the lower end of the Kofa Refuge in the Tracker. With only half a tank of gas in the car, and a gas station all the way south in Yuma, we limited our drive to 3 hours and 100 miles. We didn’t have to worry about the distance in the least.
We used up the three hours without a problem, but the condition of the road deteriorated enough that our progress was slow and we didn’t have time to actually get over MacPherson Pass to the other side.
The picnic was a stand up affair, with a little bit of wind protection from the car and entertainment provided by a long line of Jeeps coming back down from the pass. After lunch, we attempted to continue a bit north, but were stopped by a drop off. After careful examination, we decided against trying it. Mo and I have done similar obstacles in the Tracker, but it was getting late and we had no clue how many more we might have to try and then still turn around.
It was important to get Judy back to her site on time, since she was the hostess of a gathering of refuge volunteers and she had 20 Chicago hot dogs to prepare. At five, the volunteers gathered to visit and enjoy the dogs and chili and some salads provided potluck style and talk about the different refuges where they have volunteered. It was an interesting perspective on a lifestyle that is considerably different than some full time RVrs.
Our three days here in the Arizona desert are coming to a close. I can’t believe how quickly the time passed and how wonderfully quiet it has been here. Lucky Us!! It isn’t easy to take time away from working for Judy to show folks around, so I don’t take her generosity for granted. What a great lady, who gives so much to the refuge world. Lucky them as well.
Today we travel north again for some off-grid time in Joshua Tree.