Those same weather conditions and the quiet, rather remote location of YPG
also make it a fine place for snow-birding military retirees to spend part or all of the winter!
Which is what we did this winter, our second time in the area.
years ago in early 2012 we spent two months at the nearby 5,000-acre Imperial
Dam LTVA (Long-Term Visitor Area) that is run by the Bureau of Land Management.
The LTVA was very inexpensive and we had a lot more room at our site but
there are no hookups -- it's strictly boon-docking/dry camping.
Above and below: Imperial Dam Long
Term Visitor Area (LTVA) north of Yuma, AZ,
about 5,000 acres of BLM land where RVers can
boondock for up to 7 months in the winter.
There are no hookups but water and dump
stations are available. We had over an
acre of land to ourselves and our own
"driveway" in early 2012 (photo above).
Even with 500 watts of solar power, a good
generator, fairly large tanks in our camper, an extra 45-gallon
freshwater tank and pump in the bed of the truck, and years of
boon-docking experience . . . it was still a lot of work to haul
water, dump the gray and black tanks, run the generator, and generally conserve our resources.
The older we get, the less boon-docking we're doing. It's much more
pleasant to have electric, water, and sewer connections right at our
site, as well as good WiFi and TV connections.
Depending on who you ask, we're fickle, weenies, or both because we
like moderate weather and some basic amenities wherever we go at this
stage of our lives!
More time to relax when you have
full hookups! I took this picture of Jim
and Casey at Desert Breeze in early March
after some neighbors had left.
When we were camped at the LTVA four years ago we visited Yuma Proving
Ground once or twice a week to use some of its services and streets (to
cycle) because it was
close, only four miles instead of 20+ to drive to Yuma.
We also checked out the travel camp and decided if we ever returned
to this area for several days, weeks, or months in the winter, we'd try
to get a site here so we'd have full hookups (i.e., a lot less work as
we're getting older) and still be close to all the trails and Jeep roads at
the LTVA where we like to hike and cycle:
Casey shares a stick with Kara, a
Rhodesian ridgeback, on an old
Jeep road at the LTVA. Kara lived
next to us in the campground
at YPG for several months and the
two girls were best buddies.
This winter's stay turned out to be our longest in one place in the twelve
years we've been traveling in our RV -- October 25, 2015 to March
20, 2016, almost five full months.
It's not that we loved it that much at YPG. Nor did we get
inertia. In fact, we were pretty tired of brown desert by the time we
left. We timed our departure because of weather considerations and
availability of reservations in the places where we wanted to go next in
the spring of 2016.
Sunset reflected on our camper at
Desert Breeze in January
This entry covers information about YPG, camping at the RV park, and some of our
activities on base the first three months of this year.
I've copied some but not all of the information I wrote about camping
here in a similar entry in
November that covered the first two
months of our stay at YPG. This entry will include some new photos that I
took in January, February, and March of this year.
I'll have several additional entries this winter about our hiking and cycling
adventures in this area, also with many new photos from the LTVA, Laguna
Conservation Area, Imperial Wildlife Area, Lake Ferguson, Mittry Lake,
iconic Castle Dome, day trips in southern California and Lake Havasu,
AZ, and a snowy trip to Montana and back for a family funeral.
THE PROVING GROUND
Yuma Proving Ground as located in far southwestern Arizona, a large
hook-shaped land mass shown in grayish-purple in this map section:
I marked the approximate location of the travel camp with a green
dot. It is
just a mile from the Colorado River, which separates Arizona from
Most of the people who work at YPG are civilians who live in Yuma or The
Foothills south of the base. Although there is some base housing, so few
military personnel live on the installation that services like the commissary,
veterinary clinic are very limited.
Therefore, when we hung out at the LTVA in 2012 and YPG this winter, we
drove 20-25 miles to Yuma once or twice a week to shop, sightsee, visit our medical
providers, and run other errands. We really didn't mind the drive
because it's quite pleasant on the California side of the river through scenic orchards and produce and date farms.
This area is known for its massive irrigated agricultural lands:
With all the irrigation from the Colorado River,
it's a wonder any water is left for residents downstream.
It was fun to watch over several months the whole growth process of
the various produce crops, from tilling the soil to harvesting the tender crops
A little faster but less interesting route is to drive east from the
RV park and go south on US 95. We only went that way if we were aiming for businesses
in The Foothills area east of Yuma.
Although the Proving Ground covers over 1,300 square miles,
most of the military property is either roadless or closed to the public.
However, anyone can drive through the parts of the base on US 95, Imperial
Dam Road, and the road to Martinez Lake and the Imperial Wildlife Refuge.
Sign for YPG at intersection of
US 95 and Imperial Dam Rd.
Most of the large land mass is off-limits to you and me because of
the scope of weapons testing that is conducted here.
Not only is it high
security, it's also dangerous -- artillery, mortar, missiles,
IEDs being tested; unexploded ordinance lying about (see picture
below); demolition occurring; all sorts of military vehicles
running around; manned and unmanned aircraft flying around; numerous
parachute drops; and probably lots of stuff we don't even know about.
This sign re: unexploded
ammunition is in the hills behind our campground.
The majority of the work done at YPG is testing and evaluating weapon
systems, munitions, and equipment. That's why so many civilians are
employed. Military training is also done, however, in realistic desert
environments and situations that are useful before troops are deployed
to the Middle East.
With all this testing and training going on, you'd think it might be
noisy in the campground -- but it isn't. The travel camp,
residential area, administrative offices, and other buildings in the cantonment
area are located far enough away from all the action that it's usually very quiet.
We enjoyed a special Valentine's
Day dinner at the Cactus Cafe on base in February.
You can read more about the history of the base and what goes on
there now by doing an internet search or (gulp!) clicking on the
Wikipedia link after the opening quote.
DESERT BREEZE TRAVEL CAMP
Like most military RV parks, Desert Breeze is open only to active
duty military personnel, military retirees, National Guard, reservists,
100% DAV, and DoD civilians.
The secure entrance gate for the
cantonment area, which includes Desert Breeze Travel Camp and base
housing, is about six miles west of US 95 on Imperial Dam Road. Although
the public is allowed through this gate to visit the heritage museum or
attend church and some special events, most of the time only people with
military IDs can get into this area.
Tank on display at one end of
the older part of the travel camp,
visible from the entrance road
to our part of the base.
Even with military IDs, Jim and I can't
access any of the working/testing areas.
When we arrived at Desert Breeze in late October we had our choice
of many sites, although the ones we'd already picked as our first
choices from the Google Earth view on the internet were already taken by
seasonal retirees who got there before us and a couple DoD civilians.
We picked a large site at the end of a row in the newer part of the
campground farthest from the entrance so there would be less traffic and
it would be quieter:
This is the back loop in the
newer part of the campground; we're in the middle, with few other
RVers settled in yet in late
October. The older section has more trees but smaller sites.
We had plenty of room for all three of our vehicles in this site.
In late October we were one of the first to occupy a site in the far back loop. By
the end of November it was mostly full and remained so until early March,
when it was getting pretty warm again and folks began heading north.
During the height of the season, December to February, several folks
asked us when we'd be leaving because they wanted our site! I thought it
was rather rude to be so direct.
Sorry, people. If you want the best sites, you gotta get to your
winter destination earlier. (That's becoming more of the norm now as
more and more people are RVing and the number of sites isn't
increasing.) We stayed in the same site the whole time we were there.
Roads in the campground are paved, which is good. All sites are
gravel with a large concrete pad for RVs plus patio. There are no
picnic tables, which is a little unusual for a military RV park. Since
it's so brown everywhere in this desert, most of
us put potted plants outside to add some color to our sites. I had some
yellow mums in the fall and red geraniums in the spring:
The fee at Desert Breeze is a real bargain for full hookups, WiFi,
cable TV, decent sized sites, and various amenities on the small
base (commissary, restaurants, gas station, museum, veterinary clinic,
etc.) -- only $375/month for active duty personnel and military
retirees. That's an average of a mere $12.50/day!
That monthly rate is less expensive than any other military travel camps where we've
stayed and it has some features that even some more expensive ones don't have.
In contrast to the very inexpensive monthly rate, the weekly rate is $130 ($18.57/day,
still a good deal) and the daily rate is $30.00. DoD and military guest rates are higher.
Above and below: This silly
woodpecker visited our hummingbird feeder
on a regular basis and learned
how to drink from it; a little wren (not shown) also tried.
Desert Breeze has an activity building housing the campground office,
large spaces for lounging and potluck dinners, a game room, and mailboxes. Each
site has a designated slot in a room next to the office for USPS mail, which is
convenient. Private carriers like UPS and FedEx delivered packages
directly to our door -- even nicer!
Campground residents also have access to a large laundry room with showers near the
center of the campground. All the washers and dryers were usually in good working order.
They aren't free like at some military RV parks but the cost is much lower than a
There is an additional laundry room in the building
housing the NEX shoppette and fuel station. We used that when we camped at the
LTVA four years ago. Gas and propane are available to RVers but not
We were often entertained in our section at the back of the
campground by free-roaming bighorn sheep (first two photos below) and
burros (third shot) that visited the campground from the
nearby hills and wildlife areas:
Considering what was occurring in other parts of the country this past winter,
we lucked out at YPG with mostly dry, sunny, warm weather for five months. There were some nasty storms in southern Texas and the Southeast, our alternate
locations for warm winter weather, so we were glad to be in Arizona.
The downsides were some high winds a few times, blowing dust, and the heat at the
end of October and by early March.
That's the good thing about RVing -- we could leave when it
got too hot for us. What fickle weenies!
AROUND THE BASE
Although the part of YPG to which we had access is smaller than some other military
installations where we've stayed, there are several miles of paved streets
through the administrative and residential areas that were safe for
us to ride our bikes and walk the dogs.
Jim rode with Casey about five
miles a day
with the "Walky Dog"
Because of base security I'm limited in what photos I have been
able to take even in the cantonment area so I'm using a lot of discretion
in what I'm showing here.
We enjoyed riding and walking through the housing
area and through Cox Field, a large grassy area with ball fields shown in the next
picture. There isn't much grass in the desert so we were happy to have even
There are several small parks and playgrounds on base, as well as a nice
fenced dog park with soft green grass, water, some agility equipment, and canopies. Casey
enjoyed playing ball there either by herself or with other dogs:
We even found a rather rough trail on base, the Legacy Nature
Trail, where we could walk a loop through desert terrain for about a
mile. It was prettiest in the spring with some flowers blooming:
It was very convenient at YPG to just walk or ride our bikes right
from our campsite and not have to drive somewhere, although we did that
for variety almost every day, too.
Subsequent entries will have photos from other nearby places where
we hiked and rode our bikes.
Here's another activity on base that I didn't cover in the November 30, 2015
entry about YPG -- visiting the Heritage Center Military Museum. Jim went
into it back in 2012 but I didn't go in until February of this year.
The museum is free and open to the public. Base entrance requires photo IDs, vehicle
registration, and proof of insurance.
The museum's displays feature the Army's testing of combat vehicles, aircraft, and
weapons systems at this location since 1943, when General George S. Patton
chose the area to train more than a million soldiers for combat in WWII. The
installation was called Camp Laguna then.
The museum tells the history of the Army installation from then to now. It continues to update
its exhibits to include modern testing and gives some insight into how the military
trains its soldiers for combat in desert regions.
The sign above the entrance reads, "Today's
test mission is tomorrow's history."
One of the exhibits re: current missions
IMPERIAL DATE FARM
No, this business isn't on base but I want to mention it again
because it's one of our favorite stops when we're going to and from Yuma
to run errands.
It's our favorite of several huge date farms in the Imperial Valley.
We love their date shakes and bought enough scrumptious Medjool dates to snack on the whole
time we stayed at YPG. We've introduced several folks who are new to the
campground to the business -- now they're addicted to those date
Each week in the winter season, when most guests from the U.S. and
Canada are visiting, Imperial Dates has a free "date tour" on Wednesday
When Jim and I did the tour in early November, we were the only ones on
One day in
mid-February I went with one of our campground neighbors who's never
been on the tour. These pictures are from that date, when about
35-40 people were there. The same manager, Raoul, conducted the tour
What I remember most is all the hand labor required to grow the Medjool
dates. People go up into each tree 16-18 times during one season --
pruning, cutting thorns, pollinating, bagging the fruit, picking it,
etc. No wonder dates are so expensive!
really liked the tour and I didn't mind doing it again -- it gave
me another opportunity to buy a date shake! (Good thing I did lots of
cycling and hiking this winter.)
The date tour ends in the packing and storage
By the time we left YPG on March 20 our end of the campground was as empty as it
was when we arrived in late October. We enjoyed the relative solitude the last few weeks
but we were ready to leave. It was getting hotter and we were eager to travel to some
places in the West that were new to us.
We spent a lot of time during the winter researching where we wanted to go in the
spring and summer. In order to help us make some decisions, we took a very long
day trip on January 19 through southern California. That's the subject of the next entry.
Next entry: day trip through Anza-Borrega State Park,
Joshua Tree National Park, Twentynine Palms, and some other places
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2016 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil