We left the Phoenix metroplex ready to ditch the traffic and overcrowding, at least for a little while. Our next destination was the boondocking mecca of Quartzsite Arizona, and it certainly was a change of pace. Apparently, Quartzsite camping areas can get extremely busy in the winter due to snowbird RVers taking advantage of the plethora of free BLM camping in the area. We were there for the same reason, with a plan to spend a few free nights living off our recently filled/emptied water tanks, and then move on to Lake Havasu to quench our thirst for some water in the desert.
We had researched camping areas on campendium (our favorite online resource to find camp sites), and found Dome Rock Mountain 14 day BLM camping area. Although we weren’t sure what to expect, it turned out to be the perfect spot. There were some campers there, but not too many and there were plenty of spaces for us to choose from. We chose a spot adorned with a big ‘S’ fashioned from white rocks. ‘S’ for Scott we thought. Perfect!
Trouble in Paradise?
Our site had a great view of the surrounding mountains, and there was plenty of room between us and our nearest neighbors. The desert was blooming, nothing like the barren landscape I’d expected. Most beautiful were the purple flowered plants growing throughout our campsite as well as all of the surrounding desert. We set up camp and spent the next few hours watching the kids frolic through the flowers. Jackie bushwhacked through the desert photographing the every flower she could find, but focusing on that magical plant with the coiled purple flowers. She even found a snake (non-rattlesnake thank goodness) to pose for her.
By late afternoon Jackie had successfully identified the purple flowered plant as Blue Phacelia, more commonly known as Scorpionweed. Most residents of western Arizona know to avoid this particular plant due to its rash inducing toxins. Since we’d all been exposed to the dreaded Scorpionweed, all we had to do was wait for the oozing painful blisters to erupt. We spent the rest of the night shooing the boys away from the abundant clumps of Scorpionweed.
The next morning we woke up, none of us itching yet. The sunrise over the mountains was amazing, as well as the desert floor filled with wildflowers. Feeling refreshed from a great night sleep, I started the morning ritual of making pour over coffee. I headed outside to boil some water and… YEEOOOW! I stepped just inches from a sunbathing snake. Of course my first thought was that it was a rattlesnake and I was about to die. As it slithered away, I could tell it was the snake we saw the night before, what turned out to be a Western Patch Nosed Snake. At this point Jackie was ready to find a new camping spot ASAP. I continued to prepare the coffee while trying to stifle my elevated heart rate.
After coffee was ready, the boys stepped outside to play. We’d left all our storage totes out overnight, after all it was a nice site so why not make ourselves at home? All I needed to do was take the precaution of moving the boy’s toy tote away from the nearby rock pile with mounds of Scorpionweed growing out of it. I picked up the box and… AAAAHHHH! I let out a schoolgirl like scream, as a large scorpion scurried away. He traveled backwards, threatening with his large claws and menacing tail. He’d probably been living in the rock pile, and was enjoying his newly installed shade porch.
At this point we came to the realization that the big ‘S’ probably stood for snake or scorpion and not Scott. We decided to move on to a new location with a few pieces of desert knowledge under our belts:
- Never touch any plants
- Don’t camp next to rock piles
- Avoid leaving anything out overnight
- Always look before you step
We decided to move about 10 minutes north of town to Plomosa Road, which was another BLM administered 14-day camping area. We checked in with the camp host, obtained our camping permit, and found a nice flat spot with no vegetation or rock piles. It was private and there was a nice view into the desert. Unfortunately, it was not nearly as pretty as the Dome Rock area, but we felt safer letting the boys play. The next day we all expected to wake up itching, but we did end up escaping the horrors of Scorpionweed.
We stayed on Plomosa road for 3 nights and didn’t have a single animal encounter, other than a cute lizard that hung around camp. There wasn’t a whole lot to do around Quartzsite. I was able to mountain bike on the BLM roads surrounding Plomsoa Road. Not great mountain biking, but better than nothing. The area is popular with off-roaders, and it would be a fun place to explore with ATVs. We visited a few parks so the boys could get some energy out. After four nights in Quartzsite we were ready for a change of pace. We headed up to the Lake Havasu area, and the pace was changed.
London Bridge is in Arizona, Sort Of
Lake Havasu is a new city, even by American standards. The lake itself was created with the completion of Parker Dam on the Colorado River in 1938. Lake Havasu City itself wasn’t established until 1963. From the start it was a giant tourist trap. The city’s founder bought, moved, and reassembled London Bridge in hopes of attracting tourists. It worked.
We were lucky to snatch our first Havasu area camp site at River Island State Park. We got last minute reservations and stayed for two nights. Partial hookups were included so we luxuriated in free water and electricity. The park itself sits on the Colorado River just below Parker Dam. There’s a small island not far from the Arizona side of the river. On the opposite shore lies California. The campground was meticulously maintained and there was a nice beach for the boys to wade in and throw rocks. There was a short but steep hiking trail that offered great views of the river below, a cave (we did not enter) and glances of Parker Dam in the distance. We saw lots of wildflowers, some large caterpillars, and many lizards including our first desert iguana.
After River Island we moved on to Lake Havasu State Park which offers an awesome RV dry camping area close to the beach for only $25 per night. A pretty sweet deal considering the location, access to dump station, fresh water, and no reservations necessary. The park seemed to cater mostly to boaters so the beaches were pretty much empty while we were there.
The beaches consisted of nice clean
The bridge wasn’t actually built across
We didn’t do much else while camping at Lake Havasu other than visiting some nice parks so the kids could once again burn some energy. Speaking of burning, it was windy most of our stay and a big wildfire ignited the day before we left. Apparently, no one was injured and no property damaged. Lake Havasu would be our final stop in Arizona and now we’re on to California. First stop Joshua Tree, more about that later.
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