Friday, February 1, 2013

Snowbirds' Paradise - Yuma, AZ

Yuma lies 2 miles east of the Arizona/California border along the Lower Colorado River.  We are surprised by how large this snowbird mecca is.  Why Yuma?  Climate.  Yuma enjoys a wonderfully moderate winter climate where nights rarely dip below freezing and days can be in the 80s.  And of course, sunshine - lots of it.  The Yuma Visitors Guide magazine says "According to Guinness World Records, Yuma is the sunniest city on earth, receiving sunshine an average of 91 percent of all possible (daylight) hours"!  Wow!  The population of Yuma doubles in the winter because of the snowbirds who flock here - some 90,000 of them and many from Ontario!  There are numerous RV parks as well as hundreds of acres of BLM LTVAs (Long Term Visitor Areas) where, for $75 per year, you can camp without services.  While a fee is not usually charged when camping on BLM (federal) land, it is in these high-use areas.  The Imperial Sand Dunes just across the border into California is another BLM area where a fee (and permit) is required.

Our campsite on Mittry Lake
We camp along the shores of Mittry Lake inside the Wildlife Refuge which is - you guessed it - free.  The lake seems to be part of the Colorado River dam system with the Imperial Dam above us (visible in the distance from our trailer).  Reddish-brown, rocky "mountains" surround us, but the lake is lined by tall grasses about 12 to 15 feet high and is home to numerous species of birds and other wildlife.  I think we see a Golden Eagle hunting on two separate occasions, but it is difficult to identify from such a distance.  We hear owls and coyotes calling at night while we're lying in bed.  We feel like we are in the Midland Marsh, except for the few palm trees growing and the reddish-brown, jagged peaks on the horizon.  There are many RVers camped along the shore (a lot of people come to fish in the lake) and we share the large space where we are camped with one other RV each night.

Well, there's a sign you just don't see every day
On the road beside the Yuma Proving Grounds
(helipcopter is suspended on a post as display)
Beside us about 5 miles down the road are the Yuma Proving Grounds, a military test base.  During the day, we hear loud explosions, some of which shake the windows in our trailer.  Brad likes this - "something's blowing up every five minutes!"  Planes (jets and propeller planes) are constantly flying overhead; but thankfully nights are quiet.

Mittry Lake with boat launch and picnic area on left (white dots)
This area had one inch of rain fall two or three days before we arrive.  There are huge puddles everywhere; some parking lots are under water; the crops in the fields (Yuma supplies the country with 90% of its leafy, green vegetables between November and March, as well as 175 different other crops; agriculture is its main business) are flooded and workers are deep in the mud picking cabbage and lettuce.  But with the rain comes desert flowers, and during a drive out to Ferguson Lake, north of the Imperial Dam through 10 miles of desert dirt roads, we are excited to see a few ocotillo blossoming with their dark green leaves and another small desert plant (which I can't name) full of yellow flowers.  The desert is starting to bloom.  The ocotillo have large thorns along the length of each stalk which are about the diameter of a finger and may be 15 to 20 feet in height.  Tiny leaves grow along the entire length of the stalk when rain conditions are just right, and a scarlet red flower will grow at the end of the stalks.  The ocotillo can grow and shed its leaves up to five times per year when conditions are favourable.  Also abundant here are the Palo Verde trees (palo verde is Spanish for either green tree or green branch).  These trees have a beautiful, feathery appearance because all of its bark is green and the ends of its branches are as thin as strings, so even though they have no leaves right now, from a distance they appear to be full.  But be forewarned, these trees, like many in the desert, have tiny thorns at the ends of the branches - perhaps these are new branch sprouts.

Ferguson Lake with Castle Dome peak top left
Back at Ferguson Lake - wow!  What scenery!  The dirt road is pretty good until near the end (which we don't know is near the end because we don't even know how far we have to drive to get to the lake!  So we always drive around with spare fuel in a tank in the back of the truck.) where the road becomes so steep we have to use four-wheel drive just to get up the incline.  There is a view from the top of one of the hills which overlooks Ferguson Lake and Lake Martinez beside it.  Neither lake is very big, only a few miles across perhaps.  But what an oasis!  Well, not really an oasis, but a wetland in the middle of the desert.  This is what the Colorado River provides in this landscape.  These lakes are here because of the dams built on this river to provide power and irrigation.  It's an incredible sight.  The road winds down and we find a few camping spots right on the lake, and while we could never get our trailer in here, we do have the foresight to bring our zero-gravity chairs and some snacks (Brad is lamenting he didn't bring any beer), so we have a sit, relaxing and enjoying the view while a bird (unidentified again because I discovered that my National Audubon Society bird field guide is for eastern North America and includes birds found in the west only if they are also common to the east, with the Rockies being the dividing line; but I think it's some kind of grackle) walks around us.  He is really funny, walking like a chicken, but he is beautifully golden coloured on the underside and dark brown on his back, although he has those scary yellow eyes.  He seems very curious about us, and we throw him a few sunflower seeds which he picks up in his beak and runs away with into the long grass.  Perhaps he doesn't like to be watched while eating, or he is storing the seeds for later.

1 comment:

  1. Snowbirding in an RV is the ultimate in self-sufficiency. RVs offer comfort and convenience. Since RVs have kitchens, you can save money by doing your own cooking as you travel.

    Zion RV Park Snowbirds