Respite in Gila Bend, Arizona

Peace and quiet and wide-open spaces are what we needed after the big city sights and sounds of San Diego. Although temperatures approached 100 degrees, Gila Bend KOA seemed like the perfect spot to get away from the ants that invaded our coach and the roar of the freeway outside our bedroom window.

The Ranch House at Gila Bend KOA

We checked in at Gila Bend KOA on October 3, 2019, for a three-night stay. This RV park has been our go-to campground whenever we pass through the Sonoran Desert. Each year we arrive anxious to see what improvements the owner Scott Swanson has made since the previous year. A major street resurfacing project was underway when we arrived, closing off the main road. Our escort led the way along an alternate route to our site. This was the best site we have ever had at this campground.

Our campsite at Gila Bend KOA

A new gate at the entrance prevents people from entering that do not belong. Unless I missed it during our last visit, the Solitary Confinement shelter was a great addition for folks who want to enjoy a little solitude.

Step right in for your solitary confinement

Chairs have been placed inside the two cubicle-like spaces with a view of the usually dry creek lined with palo verde trees. Don’t even think about talking while cocooned in solitary,  it’s not allowed. And pets and loved ones must stay at home.

View from the Solitary Confinement

Patio and fireplace behind the Ranch House

Although Gila Bend boasts a Dollar General, Family Dollar, and a Carniceria, for shopping we prefer to drive to Buckeye for our groceries. The Butcher & The Farmer Marketplace had everything we needed under one roof.

The Butcher & The Farmer Marketplace in Buckeye has everything you need

We took Old US 80 to Buckeye, a scenic route that winds through farmland, around lava flows, and past The Co-op Grill.

They went thataway

Operating farms and dairies and smaller ranchettes also lined the road. Dotted here and there were a few properties that appeared abandoned.

Acres of cotton fields
A cotton blossom

The highlight of the drive is the Historic Gillespie Dam Bridge and Interpretive Plaza. Unfortunately, someone had removed the interpretive part of the plaza leaving only the sign supports. Never fear, Wikipedia to the rescue to fill in the details of the artifact’s history.

The interpretive Plaza lacked information signs

The concrete gravity dam on the Gila River was constructed during the 1920s for irrigation purposes. In 1927, the steel truss bridge opened to traffic and incorporated into the highway system as Route 80.

View of Gillespie Bridge

It carried US 80 traffic until 1956 when the bridge was decommissioned. On May 5, 1981, the bridge earned its spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

The bridge across waters

It carried US 80 traffic until 1956 when the bridge was decommissioned. On May 5, 1981, the bridge earned its spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

The ramp to the overlook

Following extreme rainfall in 1993, a portion of the dam failed, remnants of which can be seen from the road.

Gillespie Dam

Driving through Buckeye we noticed the school looked like it had been recently renovated. Across the street stood a two- and three-story brick building that housed the city offices and chamber of commerce. It all seemed too fancy for such a small town until I learned the population approached 69,000 people, about 10 times what I thought, and was the fastest-growing town in the US during 2017.

Buckeye city offices
An homage to the cotton industry
Garden behind the city offices

Before we left Gila Bend for cooler climes in Payson, Arizona, we drove east on Interstate 8 to see if any progress had been made at Big Horn Station since our visit in February 2018. Our post, dated March 3, 2018, titled Gila Bend and Ajo, Arizona,  here provides more detail of the historic property.

Not much improvement happening at Big Horn Station

Refreshed from our respite in Gila Bend, it was time to move on. Payson, here we come. But before we go, here is a sunset photo.

Can there ever be too many sunsets?

Safe Travels

Lake Havasu and Beyond

A visit with family and friends in Lake Havasu City AZ was the perfect place to kick-off our winter 2017 travel. With San Antonio TX selected as our ultimate destination, we only had to figure out which route to take and what we wanted to see on the way.

We selected Prospectors RV Resort as our home for four nights in Havasu. Prospectors offers paved streets, large graveled sites with room enough for off-road vehicles alongside the RVs, spotless bathrooms and all the amenities expected by the long-term winter visitor.

London Bridge is an icon in Havasu. The original bridge built in the 1830’s in London was dismantled and rebuilt in Havasu by Robert P. McCulloch as a tourist attraction for the town he founded in the mid-sixties. Today the city boasts a population of approximately 53,000. Havasu is a popular destination for RVers who live in colder climates (affectionately referred to as snowbirds), college students on spring break, and people who are passionate about watersports.

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As happened during the start of our spring and summer 2016 trips, truck trouble slapped us in the face when the check engine light illuminated. Visions of our two weeks stuck in Elko NV last summer came into view. The dealer got us in on Monday morning, and in the time it took us to eat breakfast at Rusty’s they had replaced a bad sensor, which was covered under warranty. Good thing we were back on the road so soon because Prospectors was booked solid and we would have had to leave whether we had a truck or not.

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Rusty’s Great Place for Breakfast

On January 17, we headed south on I95 and made a quick stop at Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge. Behind me on the hill is the Hillcrest Bay Development, which has fantastic views of the refuge.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was our planned stop for a few nights, but when we neared Gila Bend, we opted to stay the night at the Gila Bend KOA. We didn’t want to arrive too late at the monument’s campground since the spots are first-come-first-served. We had stayed at the KOA last year and were pleased to see that they continued with their improvements by putting in a pool, a patio behind the activity building, tent sites, and soon to arrive a new building to house restrooms and showers.

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Abandoned Building Near Gila Bend KOA

The next morning the campsites that greeted us at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Alpine Campground included wide long spots with plenty of natural habitat between them giving us the feeling that we were camping in the wild. An added bonus was that we had no neighbors beside us or across the road.

We ate lunch after our quick set up (no water, electrical or sewer hookups to worry about), and took the 1.3-mile trail to the visitors center where border patrol folks gave a talk on their responsibilities. The monument’s property extends to the border with Mexico and the visitor’s center is about five miles from the nearest crossing.

Besides the checkpoints on major highways, the border agents grade roads and paths that illegal immigrants and drug runners cross to identify locations where recent activity has occurred. They also use technology such as night vision, infrared, dogs, aircraft, and drones. It was interesting to learn that this border patrol region was responsible for the seizure of about 50% of all drugs seized in the United States and exceeds the illegal immigrants crossing the border.

Ever since Trump promised to “build a wall,” I’ve been worried about the 1,254-mile border between Mexico and Texas, which is defined by the Rio Grande River. Learning that border patrol will work with other departments to find the best solution should a wall be mandated gave me hope that the natural habitat and view along the Rio Grande border between Mexico and Texas may escape disastrous consequences.

Sprinkles woke us Thursday morning along with a little wind, but by 11:30 a.m. the sun was shining bright. We opted for the Desert View hike through Saguaros, Ocotillo, Palo Verde and other plants and cactus and shrubs. A cabana covered table was a great place to eat our tuna sandwiches after the hike before heading to the visitor center.

We arrived in time for a ranger talk on the leaf-cutting ants, Atta mexicana. It’s amazing that new colonies of the ants have increased over the years since only five of the 500 queens that fly out of the nest to mate manage to establish a colony. These ants form fungus, which is their fuel. They discard the leftovers outside of their nests, which provides nutrients to the neighboring plants in a symbiotic relationship.

Afterward, we drove the north Puerto Blanco Road where numerous saguaros grow. Like snowflakes and fingerprints, each saguaro has its own personality and no two are alike. Some grow arms out their tops some grow them low to the ground. Many sport baby arms that look like little fluffy balls next to their brothers and sisters outstretched arms.

Back at our campsite, the sky was ablaze. Smoke from a fire beyond the left side of the photo’s frame made it look like the setting sun was the center of the conflagration.

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There were plenty more hikes and things to see at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument that we have to save for another trip. We didn’t bring our generator on this tour and our batteries required a fresh charge, so it was time to move on. Next stop? Benson AZ.

Safe travels.