In the morning, the sun broke over the desert floor, casting long shadows from the Organ Pipes, Saguaros, Ocotillo, and Cholla. We did our best to de-dust the camper before stowing our dishes, wrapping up the solar. As usual we chased Frankie around the camper several times much to the delight of the early riser campers within earshot. She can tell when we are about to move down the road. She stares intently at the process of loading the generator and cranking up the camper, and most times she issues a low pissed off guttural “b-a-a-a”.
We soon found ourselves back on Arizona Highway 85 headed towards Gila Bend. Along the way we passed directly through the Air Force’s Barry Goldwater bombing range. In the distance behind the menacing “Danger!” signs, one could make out mock target towns and airfields. At Gila Bend we picked up I-8 to Yuma and soon found ourselves heading North on US 95 and again smack dab in the middle of a military installation. We passed through the Yuma Proving Grounds and marveled at the giant surveillance blimps, and the huge aircraft dropping heavy equipment on their targets via parachute!
Eventually we arrived at our destination, The Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. Cate had picked this spot due to it’s wide open dispersed camping and hiking opportunities. We turned off of the highway and trundled down dirt road. There were plenty of places to camp and eventually we settled on one far away from the other boondockers. As the full moon rose over the mountains, we settled in for the night.
In the morning we loaded up and continued up the dirt road to Palm Canyon. As you enter the cleft in the mountains and scramble along the trail you soon glance high to your left an catch a glance of a grove of California Palms perched high up in a ravine above the canyon. This is the last place in the state where California Palms grow in their natural habitat. Getting to them is another story. Frankie and I scrambled and boulder hopped higher and higher until the rocks seemed too precarious, and my fear of heights got the better of me. Eventually we returned to the canyon floor and wandered back out to the truck.
The next item on our Kofa to-do list was to find the spiral labyrinth that was rumored to be present somewhere among the dispersed campsites. We used our smartphone maps app to get us close and then pinpointed it with a quick send up of the drone (our eye in the sky). Given the desert vegetation and flat featureless terrain, we were almost on top of it before we realized it. The labyrinth was much cooler than I expected and the center of it was full of tributes and totems. We uprooted the camper so we could get some porthole shots. I flew the drone for some aerial photo’s being careful to land at the first hint of a proving ground flight. BTW, we were not in restricted airspace but that didn’t seem to matter to the giant lumbering military planes circling overhead.
We sensed our vacation was drawing to a close, we were expecting some pretty hairy weather to descend on few places we had to drive through on our way home, so we hit the road.
Cate and I had heard about Quartzite for years. It was supposed to be a Mecca for RVers. After leaving Kofa we made our way towards Quartzite and as we approached were treated to the site of huge expanses of RV’s of every shape and size in the desert. Off road vehicles and dirt bikes zipped around everywhere with their pole-mounted pennants waving in the breeze. It was snowbird RV Nirvana. We stopped in town proper to get some gas and were amazed by the festival atmosphere. There were booths and tents hawking everything from flags, to luxury toy hauling trailers, to beef jerky. It was like Mad Max meets Myrtle Beach. We headed East on I-10 until meeting up with US95 again. Just North of Blythe, we stopped to check out the Blythe Intaglios. Intaglios are essentially geoglyphs…. Huge figures that are best viewed from the air (think Nazca Lines). Luckily we had our drone and were able to see the Intaglios from the air!
We wandered a bit further up the road and to the Jawbone Canyon OHV area where we found a nice pull off for the night. In the morning we did a quick trip to California’s Red Rock Canyon State Park but found that the majority of it was closed due to covid, so we dropped by the Red Cliffs for a photo op, before hitting the road.
The aforementioned “hairy weather” was to be in the form of a snowstorm that threatened a major I-5 stretch called the Grapevine. We wanted to be well past that highway before the storm descended. A happy little accident as Bob Ross would say, navigation wise, resulted in us bypassing the Grapevine altogether and we hightailed it North.
Checking the weather again and comparing it to our route, we came to realize that a giant snowstorm was also barreling towards the Mt. Shasta and Siskiyou Pass portions of our route, so to quote Siri…we recalculated. After a brief stopover at the Colusa Casino Resort (free parking lot camping!), we detoured at Redding, caught the 101 through the Redwoods. We made one last last overnight at the tiny free NFS Madrona Campground on the Smith River before making our way up and over the Oregon Border, through the Illinois Valley, and finally to our home base in the Applegate.
The rest, as they say is history! We had an epic trip with the spawns, and aside from the major transmission snag in Kingman, we all arrived home safe, sound, and filled with wonderful memories.
….next up Frankie becomes a Star!