2016  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

Thunder Mountain Trail, Red Canyon, UT

 

   
 
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   SNOW-BIRDING @  DESERT BREEZE TRAVEL CAMP 
  ON THE YUMA PROVING GROUND (YPG) IN ARIZONA

FRIDAY, JANUARY 15

 
"Yuma Proving Ground is used for testing military equipment and encompasses
1,307.8 square miles in the northwestern Sonoran Desert . . . [It] conducts tests on nearly    
every weapon system in the ground combat arsenal . . . Yuma Proving Ground's clean
air, low humidity, skimpy rainfall -- only about 3 inches per year -- and annual
average of 350 sunny days, add up to almost perfect testing and training conditions."
 
~ Wikipedia  (because the official military website for the base isn't secure!)
 
 

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.

Four 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 California.

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, exchange, and 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 by hand:

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 commercial Laundromat.

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 diesel.

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" attachment.

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 crunchy brown grass:

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 shakes, too!

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 mornings. When Jim and I did the tour in early November, we were the only ones on the tour.

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 again:

 

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!

My friend 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 building.

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

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2016 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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