I’m going to sleep in the desert tonight, with a million stars all around. I got a peaceful easy feeling… Or something like that. Saturday I took a 3-hour drive to the desert where I finally found a cabover camper. So I’m happily singing.
I’ve been searching on Craigslist for months for an affordable cabover camper. It’s not easy to shop from the North Rim Grand Canyon with the two closest large towns 3 hours away St George, Utah or 4 hours to Flagstaff. On top of that sellers are asking a fortune for even the 35+ year old ones, like I owned 14 years ago and they were junk then. Even 15 year old units asking $4-8,00. Ridiculous and not in my budget. Friday night (I usually check the list before going to bed) I saw one listed in Casa Grande, about 3 hours away. Even Yarnell is a ways from everywhere, just how I like it. I made arrangements with the seller to see it the following day.
Starting with a desert beauty drive where the jumping cholla glow under the sun, palo verdes shine with bright yellow growth at the tips of branches, and a tall stemmed yellow flower on a low silvery bush that might be big leaf sage. The Sonoran desert is lush and green after the heavy summer monsoon rains.
I like this 1998 Weekender by Skyline at 10’6” with an extended bed over the truck cab. It has a typical side dinette, double sink, 3-burner stove with oven, microwave that I’ll probably remove for cupboard space, a large 2-door fridge and freezer, shit/shower/shave room, furnace, AC, Queen bed, fresh water holding tank with water pump, black and gray holding tanks, solar panel, and lots of storage inside and out.
There was a little snafoo over paying for it as I had mostly cash but my bank was closed so the seller finally trusted me and took a check for the balance. I watched as he backed my truck under it with little margin for error. It’s a two people process and he and his wife were a good team. I’ll definitely need help when it’s time to take it off but that’s not for another 4+ months. The jacks have a gizmo attachment for a power drill, which I don’t but should own. Plus it’s hardwired for electric jacks so maybe I’ll keep an eye out for those.
After the loading I thanked them both profusely and took off into the dusk with a quick stop at a store for pizza and ice cream. The nice big fridge and freezer were nice and cold. Then I hit the road west to a favorite BLM boondocking area between Casa Grande and Gila Bend at the Freeman Road exit and by the time I got there the stars were coming out. I parked on my usual hilltop and got as level as possible with no boards or levelers. Then unloaded all the stuff I’d brought for camping from the back seat in the truck. One of the jacks, set up extra wide for the dually it came off of, blocks a back door when swung in for moving down the road. Something to be changed when I have tie downs installed.
Not too long after dinner a vehicle pulled in and I peeked out the back window but with bright headlights couldn’t make out the rig. Finally a guy got out wearing what looked like a uniform carrying a flashlight and knocked on my locked door announcing “BLM officer” (Bureau of Land Management). I asked him to step in front of the window so I could see him, which he did then we talked for a while. He informed me I was parked illegally over 40 feet from what is called a road. I was about 100 feet on what looked like a dead end side road. He wasn’t going to write me a ticket just give me a heads up. We talked about why this law is in effect and I understand the problems with off road vehicles destroying a landscape. Something I never want to see happen. This area is surrounded by wilderness with no roads. So it would seem both National Forest and BLM have off road and dispersed camping rules. But all I could find for the Sonoran Desert National Monument is about the 14 day limit and being 200 feet from a water source, not any distances from a road. He warned me others might stop that could give me a ticket. I took my chances and opted not to batten down and move 60 feet at 9pm. Of course being pretty close to the Mexican border this area is also known as a problem for illegal people and usually heavily patrolled. No one else stopped by that night.
As it cooled down I turned on the furnace which has a noisy fan that can be fixed and an auto-light with thermostat that works. It blows right on the place I prefer to sit at the dinette and took the chill off. Shortly there after the propane detector, that I call a sniffer, started screaming. At first I didn’t know what it was and thinking it the smoke alarm I yanked that down. Then I smelled the propane so ran outside to turn it off followed by opening windows and roof vents and pushing a button on the sniffer until it shut up. Ear piercing.
The payoff was gazing at millions of stars and the Milky Way. One of these days I’ll learn how to photograph the night sky.
With propane cleared out and an extra layer of clothes I once again sat comfortably, online with a good signal on the slow little netbook I need to do something about. After a while I decided to turn the propane on again with no furnace. After all, there’s ice cream in the freezer. The tank I’d been using was empty so I switched to the other tank marked ‘Full’ with a piece of tape and it immediately starting shooting liquid propane out the valve stem and even as I turned it off the sniffer again started screaming. Upon closer inspection it looks like at least one tank will need replacing along maybe with hose. There are two 5-gallon tanks on their sides. I ate as much ice cream as possible before going to bed.
The Queen mattress is actually pretty comfy although I woke up several times over night and wracked my head on an overhead cupboard in the morning. It’s a bit of a climb getting into the bed but the ceiling is high enough to sit up. The rest of the ceiling is so tall I have to stretch to reach the air vent cranks. The kitchen counters are unusually higher than the typical standard but that feels OK.
It was chilly Sunday morning with a northern breeze. I had no way to make coffee, or breakfast, without propane. I did manage to dress warm and catch sunrise and the first light on the desert landscape. Then back inside wishing for coffee and settling with a little internet time. I went back out a couple hours later under a little warmer sun but sill a chill breeze.
Being I’d been warned about my ‘illegal campsite’ I headed for Gila Bend in search of morning sustenance. Could feel the wind trying to push on the camper a little but still cruised at 70mph with no problem until I noticed the propane door bouncing in the side mirror as I was passing a semi. Seems maybe the latch didn’t hold which is kind of funky but also fixable. And thank goodness didn’t break off and stayed closed afterwards. New noises sounds like a wind fairy bibbling and babbling away in a language I don’t understand. Air currents are different through the drivers window blowing tiny hairs in my face. Will take some getting used to.
Gila Bend proved to be pretty quiet on a Sunday morning with not many restaurant choices so when I saw a coffee cup on the Space Age sign I chose it but won’t again. The place has a story going back to 1964 when Al Stovall designed this ‘modern’ lodge and restaurant after the Sputnik era. It’s been redesigned through a couple of different owners since. Unfortunately, the service was terribly slow, waited 5 minutes to order and 35 minutes for food which was barely warm. But I got coffee.
After fueling up at $3.68/gal I took old US80 north, a different route than State Route 85 coming down, which parallels the Gila Bend Canal. A natural creosote bush landscape interspersed with fields of cotton, sorghum, alfalpha and solar panels. This wide valley with Gila Bend Mountains to the west and Maricopa Mountains to the east must be good rodent habitat as I saw many hawks and later learned the area is well known for raptor viewing in cooler months.
I so love to experience a road never traveled before, no rush for time, stop anywhere safe and just enjoy it. The new camera, a Nikon P600 bought to replace the dying Fuji, is quick and easy to use while driving. Yes I take photos while driving or I’d stop so frequently I’d never get anywhere. Really, I’m careful and safe. Tell me you never do that.
Stopped at the Historic Gillespie Dam Bridge Interpretive Plaza but it had no signs explaining why the dam is broken or a history of the bridge. From the internet I discovered the Gillespie Dam Bridge was built to span the Gila River in 1926 and has since been rehabilitated and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Even with missing signs the plaza provided a great view of the bridge and the dam that failed in 1993 during unusually heavy rains.
I continued north through more agricultural land and fields of solar panels. Which I felt as the sun warmed my shoulder. Breeze out of the north a little chilly and only 71F at low elevation. Most of this road pavement was pretty good. A few dips through dry washes but no major pot holes.
Once back on Vulture Mine Road to Wickenburg there were more photo ops than I could stop for at 3pm with another hour to Yarnell. Drove past fenced BLM land and wondered if they are fencing something in or fencing someone out.
Finally through Wickenburg with the Weaver Mountains, which I live on top of, in view. And home before dark to unload some stuff from the new camper. Now to get some fixin’ done, set it up and plan for a road trip to who knows where. Have any suggestions?
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