Posted by: edandracheltravel | February 3, 2009

Update No. 30, Yuma, Arizona

We just spent six weeks in the Southwest Desert, three of it in a park in Indio, California and the other three in three separate locations in the Yuma, Arizona, area. Before we got to Indio, though, we did two things I didn’t tell about in the last update.


Not far north of Menifee and Temecula is Perris, California, and the Orange Empire Railway Museum. I had long wanted to go there, because they have the railroad equipment collected by Ward Kimball, a former illustrator for Walt Disney Studios. He was a model railroader or toy train collector, and his wife bought a full-size narrow gauge coach for him so he could display his collection. Fortunately he did not modify the interior of the coach, but he became enthused about full-size railroading and bought a locomotive and had it trucked to his small ranch north of Los Angeles.


When Walt Disney Studios had finished filming a movie that had a Victorian station flat in it they no longer needed, Ward had it disassembled and trucked to his place and reassembled and had a superstructure built to make it a complete building. He named his railroad and station “Grizzly Flats.”


When we were still in San Diego, thinking we were there for the long term, I started another model railroad, this one in our 10’ X 10’ storage shed next to the RV. I had the opportunity to acquire not one, but two, out-of-production model kits of the Grizzly Flat station. I was also familiar with Ward Kimball, because he was sometimes published in model railroad magazines and was featured in a promotional film. So, before we left Menifee, we drove to Perris and to the railroad museum.


It was early when we arrived, so we arranged to ride their working tourist train, and since it was nearing Christmas, we got to ride the train with Santa! We also rode two of the many trolleys in their large collection. Afterward, we sought out the Ward Kimball collection and found volunteer docent Paul Harr and asked him about the Grizzly Flat Station. He knew not only about that, but nearly every detail about Ward Kimball’s later life and the equipment. Turns out he was a friend of Ward’s and ran his locomotive at the Kimball place and then, after Ward’s death, helped move the equipment to the museum. He was a wealth of information.


I mentioned to him that I was a fan of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad. He said that they had V&T Coach 20 in their collection, but it was not on display to the public, but was in their gigantic, 600-foot long storage building on the back lot awaiting restoration. Rachel wheedled a bit and he volunteered to walk over and accompany us inside so we could see it. It was indeed a thrill to see a coach manufactured in the 1800’s that ran on my favorite railroad which ceased operations over 60 years ago. If the economy doesn’t improve, the coach may never see the light of day again.


The other thing we did was to visit the Museum of Paleontology and Archaeology near Hemet, California. Because water is such an important issue to Southern California, an emergency supply was needed. What they did was to pick a valley, dam up both ends, and flood it. The result was Diamond Lake. In the process of preparing it to hold water, paleontological and archaeological surveys were done, and what they found is displayed in this very nice museum. There were farmers in the valley that had to be displaced, and their story is told. But the main attraction is the display of the large number of mastodon and other bones found there. The museum is quite worth a visit.


So, as we reported last update, we traveled from Menifee to Indio, California, in the only “window” of favorable weather for several days. We moved into Indian Waters RV Resort, one of our Western Horizon resorts, and because it was a few days before prime season started, we were able to stay for three weeks. Indio is one of several cities in “The Desert,” including Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Palm Desert, La Quinta, and Coachella.


I told you earlier that we located a church affiliated with Horizon in San Diego, The Bridge Calvary Chapel, in Cathedral City, about 18 miles from our park in Indio. We were there three Sundays and went to a New Year’s Eve party there. It was at the party that I was eating a bite of taco salad and felt the front of a dental bridge give way. Appropriate, right? Lost my bridge at The Bridge? Anyway, the bridge story continues later.


Terry Clark is a well-known Christian musician and songwriter. The second Sunday we were at The Bridge, he and his wife provided the worship music. We never did get to see Tim Lahaye.


We were faithful about donating blood every eight weeks while we were in San Diego. We were concerned about continuing to donate when we got back on the road, but we need not have worried. On the third Sunday at The Bridge the Bloodmobile was there, two days after we had become eligible to donate again. As an incentive, one lucky donor won a week-long pass for two to the 50th Bob Hope Desert Classic golf tournament in Palm Springs. As I was signing up for the drawing I asked, “What time should I expect your call?” They said they would draw at about 2:00 that afternoon. We were taking the long way home when, at about 2:00 the cell phone rang, and they were calling to tell us that we won the passes!


Before we left San Diego, two of our friends from Horizon, Lee and Char, recommended we go see Salvation Mountain about halfway between Indio and Brawley on the east side of the Salton Sea, so while we were at Indio, we did. It was amazing! There are lots of details on his Web site (see the sidebar), but essentially, Leonard Knight has spent the last 25 years shaping the adobe clay and painting it with spiritual messages. The location is near “Slab City,” about three miles east of Niland, California.


Slab City is the site of Marine Barracks Camp Dunlap where George Patton trained his soldiers for World War II. All that remains of the base is the concrete slabs on which the original buildings sat. Now, many of the slabs are the parking pads of all manner of RVs, some of seasonal “Snowbirds,” and others of obvious long-time squatters. The “town” is roughly divided between the snowbirds and those who are permanent and whose abodes show it. On one side of the main “street” are the older, added-onto, tarped RV’s surrounded by things one might need someday, and the other side contains more of the part-timers looking for a no-cost, snow-free place to park their RVs for the winter.


The permanent residents enjoy relative freedom from intrusion. The flier posted on the bulletin board near the center of the community lists the weekend’s entertainment of resident musicians gathering to perform at a makeshift bar. The ad tells you to bring your own beer or joint. Many of the permanent residents strive to be free of United States government control—except that they get into Niland every month to pick up their government SSI or Social Security checks. We did a leisurely drive-through and then looped around the lower end of the Salton Sea through Brawley and returned to Indio.


We learned quite a lot about the Salton Sea. The theory is that when the single mass of land separated to form the continents, Baja California separated from what is now mainland Mexico. At that time, the Gulf of California extended clear up to beyond Palm Springs. Over time the sea level lowered, water levels receded or the land mass rose until the Colorado River formed a delta bar blocking the lower end of what was then known as Lake Cahuilla, which eventually evaporated forming a salt flat. It remained dry, and salt was mined until a flood occurred from 1905-1907, when the Colorado River broke through the banks and flowed into the salt flat unabated for two years and formed what is now the Salton Sea. Initially the water was relatively fresh and water recreation was a thriving industry. Over time the water became so salty that boat motors were ruined and water recreation ended. Now the area is a retreat for people seeking warmth during the winter months.


One other thing we did while we were in the Coachella Valley was to visit Shield’s Date Gardens. Dates were introduced into this desert area around the 1900’s. The land is so like the Middle East that date trees thrive here too and one of the local communities is even named Mecca. The Shields bought an existing date garden (they call them date gardens, while we are more used to apple orchards or orange groves) in 1924 and it has been in the family until recently.


Dates have existed for thousands of years, but until they were hand-pollinated, the crops were small. The gardens today consist of rows and rows of tall, stately palms which sit inside of diked areas resembling rice paddies or cranberry bogs. Periodically they are irrigated by flooding—they require ten feet of water a season! Bearing trees are so tall that ladders are permanently attached to the trunks for the top 20 or so feet and are moved up every few years. The pollinators and pickers move their ground ladders to the foot of the tree, climb up them to the permanent, mounted ladders and continue to climb until they reach the crop of dates at the tops. A nice feature of Shield’s Date Garden is that they have samples of most of their 119 varieties of dates so you know which ones you will love before you buy them.


Because we had extended our Menifee stay due to weather, we also extended our Indio stay by one day, planning to leave there on Tuesday, January 6 instead of Monday, January 5 as originally planned. On Sunday evening, January 4, we got a call from Wes and Bonnie, friends from San Diego who had flown home to Vermont for the holidays and were driving a car back to San Diego. We had made plans to meet up with them someplace in the Southwest on their way back. Wes wanted to know what we were doing on Monday night in Yuma. Fact is, we were planning to still be in Indio on Monday night and leave for Yuma the next morning! They were in El Paso and planned to be in Yuma on Monday night and San Diego the night after. We hastily rearranged reservations, packed the interior of the RV, and left Indio on Monday. We drove down Highway 86 on the west side of Salton Sea to Interstate 8 and then into Yuma. Because our preferred membership park was not available for the first three days of our intended stay, we had made reservations at Yuma Lakes RV Resort, about eight miles east of town for those days. This is a park we had stayed in previously under Resort Parks International for $10 a night.


We met Wes and Bonnie at Mimi’s Restaurant in the Palm Plaza Mall for dinner and then went to their hotel to visit and see their cocker spaniel, Taffy (Wes calls her “Yappy”). The next morning we met them at IHOP for breakfast and saw them off on their last leg of travel home to San Diego. Afterward we took a ride around town reminding ourselves about the location of the grocery stores and Wal-mart.


My friend and former college roommate, Gary Thomas, who lives in Spokane, let me know that my college trumpet teacher was spending winters somewhere in Arizona. I looked him up on the Internet and found out that he was in Yuma! We drove to his RV park, intending to simply locate him and arrange for a visit later. In inquiring about his spot, we ended up next door, and we thought if we left without visiting then, the neighbor would tell him we had been there, so we knocked on his door.


Pete Exline was a music professor at Eastern Washington University and taught private lessons to brass players. He is a French horn virtuoso. I had not seen him in 46 years but would have recognized him if I’d seen him on the street. He is doing well, still drives from medical Lake, Washington, to Yuma Arizona, every year and back, and is right now in Sarasota, Florida, playing in a circus band, as he does every January, where the circus winters and they have an annual festival. We enjoyed getting reacquainted during a two-hour visit that seemed like mere minutes!


While in Yuma we attended the Calvary Chapel there. Chuck Stewart is the pastor, his wife and one daughter are in the music worship team, and another daughter was home from Africa where she is a missionary. At Calvary Chapel Yuma we also met Bruce and Daisy Osborn. Bruce is an uncle of our Horizon San Diego pastor, Mike MacIntosh.


After three days at Yuma Lakes, our membership resort opened up so we moved there. Pilot Knob, for which the resort is named, is a small mountain that was used as a landmark, not by wagon trains, as I would have thought, but by steamboat captains navigating the waters of the Colorado River. It is about eight miles west of Yuma—about the same distance west as Yuma Lakes was east. It is actually in California, since everything west of Yuma is across the California border. The resort observes Arizona time, however, so we were not constantly changing watches as we went into Yuma.


One of the things to do in Yuma is the Arizona Market. Friends Mike and Kay, now from Las Vegas, but also full-time RVers we met a few years ago when we were in Kino Bay, Mexico, made the trip to Yuma in their coach and we spent some time together. The Arizona Market was one of the things we did. The market is a giant, permanent swap meet. It consists of many long tent structures housing individual booths holding everything from tools to RV supplies to health remedies to hairpieces to food items. The experience is more important than anything you might buy there.


Also, we have found that the best fish tacos in the world are at Jose y Maria’s in Algodones, Mexico. Algodones is a short walk across the border from a parking lot in Andrade, California, just a couple miles from Pilot Knob. We made the trip to Algodones and Jose’ y Maria’s three times, twice with Mike and Kay. Once upon a time, tacos made with anything but beef was not even to be considered—and certainly not with fish! In Algodones we discovered these, and watched Maria dip the fresh fish strips in batter and then deep fry them in oil, put three large pieces in a warm, home-made yellow corn tortilla, add shredded cabbage, onion, home made salsa, habanera sauce, and a creamy white sauce, and tried not to drool while carrying them to our table. They are absolutely delicious! And, for $1.50 each!


So the dentist story: I mentioned that while attending The Bridge in Cathedral City I had loosened one end of a dental bridge. Thinking to have it re-glued we sought out a Yuma dentist. He examined me and gave me a lesson on TMJ and proper bite and gently informed me he would not re-glue the bridge. Though it was perfect from a dental standpoint, re-gluing it was not wise in his professional opinion. We left disappointed but accepted his advice.


Many people use dentists in Algodones. In fact, medicines and dental and vision care are some of the reasons a lot of retired people go to Yuma. We were just not ready to visit a dentist is a foreign country (even Mexico), where there would be no recourse if the worst happened, where we were not sure of training or certification requirements, cleanliness, etc. So, we sought out a second Yuma dentist.


Dr. Dennis Wong examined my problem and gave us essentially the same diagnosis. It should not be re-glued, but cut out and temporarily replaced with a partial denture until bone grafts and implants could be done. We thought whether we wanted to return to our Coronado dentist and have her work on it, which would probably require several trips back—or to have something done in Yuma. We decided to bite the bullet (pun intended) and have Dr. Wong do the work.


A native resident of Yuma of Chinese descent, Dr. Wong has all the latest digital equipment and loves what he does. He had lightened his schedule so he could take his father to a doctor in San Diego the next two days, so his afternoon was open! He removed the bridge, saved the crown on the back anchor tooth, and as we watched, he designed a new crown for the front tooth on his computer. He hit a button and sent the design to a machine which created the crown using diamond cutting bits and water jets. Then he placed it in a small kiln and annealed the enamel to it. Thirty minutes later the new crown was mounted in my mouth!


We had made arrangements previously with Tom and Joan Mercer to park our RV at their winter place in Quartzsite, Arizona, the following week. They had generously invited us to park there with hookups while we explored, for the first time, what many RVers from all over do annually—add several hundred thousand people to the small population of the town during the winter by dry camping on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land nearby. Because we were receiving treatment in Yuma and needed to wait to have a temporary partial denture fitted, we let the Mercers know we would not be able to visit them this trip.


Just behind Pilot Knob RV Resort is another one of seven BLM areas where free camping is allowed. For an annual fee of $180, you are able to park from September 1 until the end of April. Close by there are some other BLM areas where you can dry camp for up to 14 days for free. When we ordered our new RV in 1999, we had three 75-watt solar panels and a 2,500-watt inverter installed so we could dry camp if we wanted to. We had never used them as intended in the years between. This seemed like the perfect opportunity. We intended to spend a week in one BLM area, but in visiting with Glen and Bonnie at church the day before our move, they mentioned they were boondocking on private land just west of Pilot Knob and that there was an area where people dry-camped just west of them at the end of the frontage road.


So, we pulled out of Pilot Knob and drove to the end of the frontage road and out into the desert. We set up near a mesquite bush, put out our small potted lemon and orange trees and hibiscus, and spent a week actually parked in the desert! We had neighbors nearby, but certainly not as close as in RV parks. Mostly, people kept to themselves, including us. We had an unobstructed view of the desert sand and gravel, ocotillo bushes, cactus, and sections of the border fence separating the United States from Mexico. We lived on the power generated by our solar panels, on 100 gallons of fresh water we are able to carry with us, and our holding tanks for used water. The funny thing is, though we were a little apprehensive about doing it, we absolutely loved the freedom of dry-camping! We think we will do more of it in the future, God willing.


We are currently working our way eastward, hoping to see some of the Midwest in the spring, attend Oktoberfests in South Carolina and Georgia, and spend next winter on the Southeast Coast, before working our way back west. As we said before, we make our plans, but God guides our steps, so we are willing and able to change our plans as we need to or are called to.


So, until next time, take care and please stay in touch.


Update 30 Links:

Calvary Chapel Yuma:

Salvation Mountain:

Shield’s Date Gardens:

Slab City:

Terry and Nancy Clark:



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