El Centro and Beyond

We arrived at the Naval Air Facility El Centro with a need to empty waste tanks and take a pair of long showers. Both of these tasks were accomplished within the first few hours of our stay. The stay started at three days then went to six and finally to nine days.

El Centro, California is an interesting town. It is in the middle of the Imperial Valley farming community and only several miles from the Salton Sea to the North, Yuma, AZ to the East and Mexico to the South. Connie and I are not sure what has happened in the area since we left California some five years ago, but there certainly has been a growth spurt in the area.

However, we were not there to evaluate economic development. We wanted to see our friend Bob who is a great birder, an even greater environmentalist and an all around great guy. Bob is the guy to talk to if you want to do any serious birding in the Imperial Valley. He knows where all the birds are. Anyway we were there to see him and to do some birding. We knew that we would not likely be able to do any birding with Bob as he has a ‘day” job during the week and he and his business partner are busy as all get out with paying customers who want their knowledge in the birding arena on the weekends.

We were fortunate to be able to meet up with Bob for breakfast on Sunday morning. He had the weekend off to work on his taxes. Our get together was great. We caught up a little and we sort of milked Bob for some hot spots in the area. I had to laugh a little under my breath because I could tell that Bob had a terrible time recognizing me and then as time went on he was trying to figure out what was so different about me that was causing him so much trouble. It was of course my beard and longer than normal hair that threw Bob off. Since he never asked, I never offered up why I didn’t look like what he remembered.

We did do some birding in the Salton Sea area and at a series of ponds on the south side of Interstate 8. We saw some great birds, but nothing that was not expected in the area this time of the year.

Naval Air Facility El Centro exists for two primary purposes. There may be other purposes that are more important than the two I am aware of, but I am no longer in the loop, so I would not know what those may be. Anyway the two missions I am aware of are: Training young pilots – I counted 28 training jets on the tarmac, and the winter home of the Blue Angels precision flying team. You may remember that when Connie and I first got back to California we stayed at a commercial RV Park that just happened to be in the flight path of the Blue Angels as they trained.

The good news was that the Angels were gone before we got back. The bad news was that there seemed to be a night training program going on while we were there this time. So, after a few days of birding in the area and being buzzed by jets all day and then listening to them doing touch and goes through the night we were ready to expand our area of interest to get out of jet range.

Our exploration included a trip back to the city of Palm Springs, California, not to live the rich life, but to take the aerial tram to the top of the mountain. I have included a few photos of our experience. It was a lot of fun. We had hoped to find some great high elevation birds while at the top, but that was not to be. We did have a pretty darned good lunch and I found a really neat Navy Blue and Gold jacket that I could not leave behind. Of course it was at the gift shop and it does have a logo on it, but what the heck.

I had wanted to do something sometime to speed up my computer. We knew that we were storing several hundred if not thousands of photos on the hard drive and since it was over 50% loaded that may be a big part of the problem. So, we decided to buy an external hard drive for my computer and move all the photos from the installed hard drive onto the external drive. Makes sense, right?

So, we bought a perfectly good name brand external hard drive and foolish me follows the instructions to the letter and before I knew what hit me I had moved all the xxx.jpg files to the new drive and life should have been good. Problem 1: all files were now resident on both drives. Problem resolved by deleting all from the C Drive. Problem 2: Not all files moved to the new drive are accessible. UGH!!!

I have spent several hours over many days trying to recover the missing files. At this writing I have recovered some 193 images. There are literally hundreds more buried somewhere in this new drive just waiting for me to rediscover them. At least I hope that is what the final outcome will be. Anyway, that is why there were so few photos in my last posting. We continue in our effort to recover what was lost.

One day we took a driving trip with the loose goal of getting close to the Colorado River via automobile. We did a great job in the early miles of our journey. Then, the map, the GPS and the roads all seemed to disagree with one another as to where we really were. It got pretty interesting to say the least. We took our poor Subaru Forester where no four wheel drive should go without special protections. Finally, while Connie was searching the map for a clue, I spotted a vehicle coming down the road that looked to not be on the same road as we were. Connie and I argued some on which way we should go from where we were. I finally said I was going where I knew someone else had just come from. We wound up back on Interstate 8 just inside California. What a great adventure that was. I took some pictures along the way, but they did nothing to show what we were going through. I only wish I had captured some images of where we had been and what we had been through.

Our nine day stay in El Centro was a period where we concentrated on relaxation, cleaning the desert out of the coach and our clothing, some birding and some exploration. We mostly just took life easy and caught our collective breathe. If you have ever been to the Imperial Valley you can understand why it is a good location for taking life easy. Unless you are a farmer or seriously hunting for rare birds passing through the area at migration, there is not an awful lot to occupy your mind and body with in the area. I say this not to be critical, but to highlight how restful the area can be.

After getting recharged and cleaned up and completing some exploration we were ready to move on. Therefore we set off to follow the Colorado River upstream along the California/Arizona border. Our first day out of El Centro took us to Buckskin Mountain State Park, Arizona. Buckskin Mountain State Park is just a few miles south of the Parker Dam.

We arrived at the park early enough to do some exploration of the area after setting up camp. We quickly learned we were squarely between seasons. There were only a handful of snow birds remaining in the area making the RV Parks rather lightly loaded. We were just a week or so after spring breakers had cleared out of the valley, so the beaches were pretty much empty as were the streets of Lake Havasu City. Finally, we were too early for the summer crowd. Bottom line, we pretty much had the area to ourselves.

Buckskin Mountain State Park is a really nice property. Obviously it is located on the bank of the Colorado River. It is sort of sandwiched between the river and Arizona Highway 95. The area along the Arizona side of the river is rugged to say the least. The drive from the road to the campground has about a two hundred foot elevation change. The area could not be more beautiful. Subsequent to our stay there we have learned that during the boating season it is nearly impossible to get any sleep because of the night boaters coming from the countless commercial docks up and down the river. That was not the case during our three night stay. We were able to spend time out on the patio looking at stars and enjoying the peace and quiet.

We spent our days exploring the various birding areas, Lake Havasu City to include driving over the London Bridge a couple of times, visiting Parker Dam and just having fun.

One of the more interesting places we visited in the area was the Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge borders the southern bank of Lake Havasu to the west and south and goes several miles to the east along a tributary of the lake. We visited the refuge rather late in the morning the first time and found the birding to be a bit scant. We returned the next morning much earlier and were somewhat surprised to not do much better in the birding department. I was able to get some pretty good photos in the refuge. I have included them in the album linked to this post.

We spent one day just driving up, across, down, across and back up the Colorado River. We started at the state park, drove north along the river crossing at Parker Dam then heading south along the California side of the river to Parker where we crossed back into Arizona and headed north and back to the state park. It was an interesting adventure to compare the lifestyles of the two sides of the river. I am not certain that I would pick either bank of the river as a permanent home, but if forced to live one place or the other I think I would opt for the Arizona side.

From Buckskin Mountain State Park our adventure continued to the north and the east to Kingman, Arizona. You may ask, what is there in Kingman, Arizona? Well, for the romantics among you, there is a real charm to Kingman as it is in the heart of Historic Route 66. Route 66 is that great highway that once connected Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California. As we made our routing plans to get us from California to Ohio, we discovered that we would be travelling parallel to US 66, or what is left of it during the eastward trek. I wanted to take advantage of that fact and try to drive as much of the old highway as we could. My intention was to do a little photo-documentation of what remains of this once famous and major by-way. Kingman was a good place to stop for a lot of reasons. The section of Historic Route 66 to the west of Kingman passes over a mountain and as we looked at it on the map and read about it in the mountain passes book we became concerned about taking the motorhome across it. By stopping in Kingman for a few nights, we were able to back track across this section of the highway to see what remains.

We did drive that section of the road traveling from Kingman to Oatman and beyond. Oatman was a gold mining town that is now sort of a living ghost town. It is a town that looks much as it must have in the early 1900’s. The area around Oatman is dotted with both active and abandoned mine shafts. The active ones seem to have just recently gone back into some sort of production. I would not classify the mining activity as bustling, but it looks like some are being employed by the mines again. The road from Kingman to Oatman was not as bad as the map made it look. However, it was obvious that the local authorities do not want heavy vehicles traveling it as there are length restrictions that would have caused us to detach the car from the motorhome were we to have tried to take the trip with the coach. Of course my nerves would have been stretched to the limit if we had made that drive, not because of my concerns for the coach and the road, but because of Connie’s reaction to the tight turns and steep drop offs that would have been on her side of the motorhome. But being with just the car allowed us to stop and take some pictures along the way. They are included in the album as well. I must say that it is hard to imagine that this particular portion of Route 66 was once one of the main driving arteries across the country. As much as I really don’t like travelling along the interstates all the time, I cannot imagine driving as much as we do on highways like this portion of the famous highway. Visualizing large trucks meeting on many of the tight curves is a bit unnerving.

After walking around Oatman for the several minutes it took to walk both sides of the street, we continued our backtrack to the west. We eventually made it a three state day by going into Nevada at Laughlin, which obviously exists for the sole purpose of getting Arizonans and Californians into the casinos. There is really nothing to the city but hotels and casinos and the necessary infrastructure to support them. Anyway we drove through town and then drove south into California and finally east into Arizona and back to Kingman. It was a fun day with some history and some modern marvels all rolled into one drive.

I have referenced several photographs throughout this article. The link that follows takes you to a photo album I have set up specifically for this article. I suggest that once you have gotten to the album you select slide show, then change the viewing time from the default of 4 seconds to something like 6 to 8 seconds so you will have time to read the captions and see the image. When you are done with the album click the back button on your browser and you will be returned to where you were in the Blog.


If the link is not active you will have to cut and paste it into your browser.

Being in Kingman set us up for the next leg of our journey. Our next mini destination was Flagstaff, Arizona. From Flagstaff we could get to Sedona and to the Grand Canyon. Connie had found an out- of- the- book military RV Park at the Navajo Army Depot. With the great prices offered at the depot, we knew we could absorb several miles of car driving to see everything we wanted to see in the area.

We booked a week at the post and got set up early in the afternoon. I will publish this post before discussing our adventures in the area. However, I do want to talk about this post and park.

The depot is an ammunition depot. It has been at this location for years, lots of years. I dare say it was a territorial post dating back to the late 1800’s. Unfortunately we were never able to find anything that looked like a museum. The community portion of the depot is really quite small. There are a couple of buildings that date to the early 1900’s and then some really new looking buildings that house soldiers assigned to the depot for National Guard Training. The real activity seems to be in portions of the base not accessible to the casual retired military visitor. The RV park is only two years old. The restrooms and laundry are only a year old. Since it is not yet in the Military Campground book, it is one of the best kept secrets in the system. During our one week stay we saw only two other rigs. One stayed for two nights and the other arrived the day before we left. The location could not be better. It is in a clearing of a Ponderosa pine forest on a hillside. Although we could hear the freeway in the distance, it was not an overpowering noise. What we did hear a lot of though were the trains traveling parallel to the base perimeter. The trains were not a bother either as there were no annoying whistle blows, just the sound of the trains rolling along.

The area immediately adjacent to the RV Park was once a housing area. Within the last year the houses were demolished and all the associated rubble removed. The contractors did a great job in that the only signs that there was ever anything in the clearing were the roads remain as do the fire hydrants. Adjacent to the former housing area is a sign that gives information about a former prisoner of war camp that had housed World War II Austrian Soldiers in the mid forties. Apparently this was sort of a Club Med POW camp. The prisoners were treated more like workmen than prisoners. They were asked to sign a promise to not escape statement that guaranteed their fair and humane treatment. For their cooperation they were housed, fed and given productive work to perform. In fact the prisoners were trained to work in all aspects of the depot except the actual handling of the ordnance stored there. Apparently they were treated so well that the locals complained that the POW’s were better cared for than the Americans living in the area.

I wish I could have learned more about the history of the depot. However, we treated the depot more as a place to sleep and eat in preparation for the next day’s adventure.

I will discuss our adventures in the Flagstaff area in future posts. I want very much to get this piece published. So, with that, I will try to establish the photo album I have referred to while Connie reviews what I have written. With luck, this will happen soon.


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