Our road trip wasn’t supposed to go on this long; I can’t believe we haven’t gone home yet. However, sitting in the sunset eight miles from Trump’s border wall to Mexico I am happy to still be on the road.
Progress East has been slow. Every bivouac offers better birding and new revelations about this crazy country. I am looking forward to seeing Nomadland, the new film with my favorite actress Frances McDormand about the new nomads of the USA; I may have met a few of them.
Part of why we have lingered in the Southwest is marital harmony. We have learned the hard way that cold weather is to be a avoided if we are going to get along. Our van can handle it, but life is not fun trapped inside a Fed-Ex truck in the snow. Last week’s “Arctic Blast” that put Texas in a tailspin made us question our hurry to get home. We have seen enough jack-knifed trucks to last a lifetime; it turns out many people did not learn to drive in icy New England.
So we have been dawdling along the orange patches on the weather map, down the Colorado River and across Arizona looking for WiFi, campgrounds, hiking and birding. James is off to a good start in 2021 with many new species. It turns out the birds are not deterred by Trump’s big black wall. Anywhere there is water above Mexico there are migrating birds. Their diversity is amazing. (“Birders” is a beautiful 37-minute film about this on Netflix; I recommend it.)
One campground we stayed in along the Colorado is called Katherine’s Landing, a thin reservoir where the river is impounded to create Lake Mohave. From the look of the marina it must be a hot spot for Las Vegas crowds in the summer to roar around on Jet-skis. The massive, somewhat unkempt campground is filled with (human) snowbirds in the winter. Don was in the next campsite over. He had a tiny Scamp trailer equipped with two extra solar panels. Spry despite his knee brace, he looked to be about our age. His daughter is in education in nearby Bullhead City, and he’s down here from North Dakota for the weather and companionship, I imagine. Don told us that the camp host turns a blind eye to people who mind their own business, pay the camp fee, ($10 with the senior Eagle pass) and stay past the 30-day limit. Apparently one fellow had been there since September. “There are a lot of good people here” he said. He goes to bed early and his little trailer lights up at 5 AM. Another sporty couple we met had a hummingbird feeder deployed outside their RV. “Don’t come too close or you’ll get dive bombed!” the friendly wife told James, seeing his binoculars, “They’re cheap at Walmart, you should get one.” This is their fifth Arizona winter. They had been in the campground a week, and don’t plan to go back to Montana until April.
Continuing south we passed Bullhead City, home of Don’s daughter, and we looked across the river to Laughlin at the tip of Nevada. The city was a post-apocalyptic scene: gaudy abandoned high rises in the desert. One Casino was built to look like an old-timey riverboat. I saw later online that hotel rooms are $19 a night. It didn’t make sense until you look at the map. I guess it is Nevada’s last gasp for gambling and it must draw from LA, San Diego, Flagstaff and Phoenix: an alternative to Las Vegas. What makes losing money so much fun? I don’t get it.
Our destination campground was filled and it was getting late. Tension flared. We found a turn-off near Parker Dam and the Bill Williams wildlife refuge to camp. Waking up the next morning on the side of a dirt road we took a walk around a reservoir where much of the Colorado river is siphoned up an incline in huge pipes so it can descend into the LA basin. We wandered around in a daze. We had a huge fight. It wasn’t even the weather..we were exhausted. We headed east; a stint a “Courtyard by Marriott” in Tucson was in order.
The hushed, dark room with a king bed and new sheets, a real bathroom and working TV was welcome. Never has doing laundry been SO satisfying. We stuck close to the room, avoiding mask-less crowds. The next morning venturing out to a nearby mini-mall filled with mostly empty storefronts, I found a barbershop. Hallelujah. We really needed haircuts. Appointments were made for the next day. Our stylist turned out to be not the staid barber I had met, but Priscilla: tattooed, twenty-five, touting a two-toned pouf and a strong accent. She was awesome. She cut our hair while her mask slid down her nose. She called me “Hulia” and told me about how she failed womens’ hair at school. She called James “Buddy” and yelled at Kourtney Kardashian to stay away from Scott Disik on the TV. The head barber told her to pipe down. All said, she did a great job, and we feel much better with shorter hair.
Refreshed, we took off into the Sonoran desert. Saguaro National Park outside of Tucson bristles with classic stand-up cactuses that look like characters out of a cartoon. Patagonia Lake State Park is a modest lake but has great birds. The small town of Patagonia has excellent WiFi, a bakery, a health food store, a post office with a chatty postmistress, and a gift shop filled with local artisans’ work. I felt like I could be in New England or North Carolina or Colorado.
Here is a short video of the residents: 9B71027B-7AC9-4F59-82FD-20A337E32767
Hands down my favorite camping stop so far has been the Alpaca ranch. Lisa, a single mom, runs a small, all-woman operation on the side of a mountain. Her first question was if we were full-timers; I guess she sees a lot of those. She is a busy lady with several side hustles, including spinning, selling wool at the local farmers market, hosting RV’s, and giving tours of the ranch. Her only daughter is heading to Flagstaff for college next year, and her widowed father lives up the road. She looks forward to church and lunch out on Sunday and requires her daughter to come with her. She toured our van and thinks she wants one to go traveling and distract herself from her empty house. I bought a lot of yarn.
For $17 (plus fees for AirB&B) we parked on her property. It had spectacular views. We could see clearly the Mexican border stretching over the desert and the black line of Trump’s wall in the spectacular sunset. We asked Lisa about it and she said that she feels confused. She doesn’t think she’s a Republican, and she is most certainly not a Democrat. Border control is important, but the wall has been built at ridiculous expense by workers who are not local. It’s limiting wildlife migration that used to be able to slip through the barb-wire fence easily. She visits Mexico often. She has never felt threatened by her proximity to the border, she leaves her doors unlocked, and the only evidence of illegal immigrants on her property in 15 years were two girls from Central America in flip-flops filling their water bottles from her hose. Apparently the Coyotes (paid border-crossing guides) leave their clients just beyond the US border telling them Phoenix is just around the mountain. (It’s not) Besides that, she said, everyone knows the border is riddled with tunnels. (Remember the movie El Norte?)
The Trump administration was in the middle of building a massive road up her mountain for transportation of building supplies when Biden was elected and now all work has stopped. She muses that the same workers are going to be hired to come back and tear it down. Confusing.
Coincidently, this is the same mountain the Spanish explorer Coronado travelled past on the very first European expedition into North America in 1540. The Coronado National Monument is fascinating, but I will spare you my Rick Steve’s monologue on THAT because, like our road trip, I have gone on way too long. It is all on Wikipedia.
Thanks for reading and stay safe.
Katherine Landing, Campsite
Patagonia State Park: Cows in the Campground
Saguaro National Park
The Alpaca Ranch (the above link is a short video) Lisa, our host, participates in “Harvest Hosts”
Coronado National Monument: the half-built Mexican border is the tiny black line in the distance.
Remote, but not so friendly, at this newly built stretch of the border wall