Off Limits: Imperial Dam, Arizona

Click to view a gallery of photos from this visit.

With Anza-Borrego behind us and Tucson still down the road, we explored a new-to-us wildlife area near Yuma, Arizona. It turned out that most of the wildlife were hibernating in rows of boxy white RVs with noisy generators powering the essential air-conditioning. But I digress.

Getting to Squaw Lake, our overnight camping destination, was a snap (and, as is often the case, it was only when leaving that we discovered where we’ll camp next time). Leaving Yuma north on Hwy 95, we drove about 24 miles to Imperial Dam Road (which, interestingly, is in the US Army’s Proving Grounds). The turnoff is easily identifiable because there are two huge artillery pieces pointing skyward as if poised in some cold-war freeze-frame. These weapons were the first of many historical artifacts we’d see on down the road.

After turning left at the brace of cannons, the road continues for about 7 miles, over the Imperial Dam, to the road to Senator Wash recreation areas, including Squaw Lake, our destination and campground. En-route, we passed through BLM land and saw hundreds of quasi-permanent RVs postured for the long-haul on bluffs, tires protected from the intense sun, lined boringly on stretches of recently-paved land—all treeless, glaringly bright, and stunningly ugly. But who are we to negatively judge others’ nirvana?

The only permitted RV parking at Squaw Lake was on hot blacktop, but considering it was getting late, we found a space as far from the air conditioned RVs’ noisy generators, set up our camper, and took a badly-needed walk. The weather was lovely, the sun low producing warm colors, and a soothing breeze off the reed-bordered lake soothed us.

Late that evening, deep in slumber, we were awakened by the braying of a wild burro. There s/he was, right outside our camper window, scavenging the campground and leaving piles of souvenirs. The next morning, at first light, we were awakened again by wildlife—this time thousands of chattering Grackles (in the blackbird family). Binoculars in hand, we observed red-winged and yellow-headed blackbird varieties mixed in with the flock. The cacophony of their collective chattering was a not-so-subtle “up and at ‘em” call to us campers and perhaps also to the burros who were nowhere to be seen. Who knows what sounds penetrate through to those RVers incubating in their protective white shells.

We set off on foot along sculptured roads created by heavy machinery, and headed away from this asphalt playground. In minutes it was if we’d entered another universe; waterways drew us to a bird-infested oasis and trails among barren terrain punctuated with interesting cacti, plants, and marvelous displays of million-year-old sea beds. We met a couple of old timers doing the same as us, and shared their enthusiasm at having spotted nine burros on a distant hillside. Sooney commented that there was a baby burro only to discover it was actually a coyote co-habituating the hillside just meters from the burros. What a glorious introduction to Arizona!

Click for more images of war relics seen at the Proving Ground.

Our destination that day was Tucson, home of life-long friend Phil Miller, and before departing our strange little oasis we learned from a camp host that on subsequent visits we might prefer to camp right on the Colorado river at a remote BLM campground called North Shore (accessed via a “cut” down to the water’s edge from the far side of a barren parking lot of snowbirds). The route back to Hwy 95 runs adjacent to yet more collections of tanks, cannons, missiles, and attack helicopters. Nearby were road signs directing drivers of these weapons to “proving” grounds where they train on different types of challenging terrain. One, interestingly, was called “Middle East,” and was clearly designated off limits. I surely hope so!

Wildlife sightings on this leg of our trip:

American coots
common moorhen?
yellow headed blackbirds
redwinged blackbirds
great tailed grackles

wild burrows