Wednesday, February 20,2008 -- Quartzsite, AZ.
Camping Free on BLM Land
A few more clouds than usual this morning and a little unsettled weather is expected later today. As the morning wore on the skies cleared some but remained a tad hazy most of the day. We decided to drive about 25 miles south of Quartzsite to investigate reported sightings of palm trees in this otherwise placid desert. You see, palm trees are not common in Arizona, except the ones dragged in from the Foreign Land of California and planted in those walled and gated areas around golf courses. If some real native palms exist, it's really quite a find.
The scene of the sightings was Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, a more than 650,000 acre preserve established in 1939 mostly for the protection of Desert Bighorn Sheep.
It's not easy to reach the location of the reported sightings -- a place called Palm Canyon. The drive south from Quartzsite on Arizona Highway 95 is easy enough, but after turning onto the road into the refuge things take a turn for the worse. The gravel/dirt road apparently sees little if any maintenance. Its surface is a severe washboard, a rough wavy surface you've probably experienced in spots along other un-paved roads. But here the washboard surface extends the entire 7 or 8 miles to our destination. The old Blazer with the bikes on top was chattering and complaining the entire way. At least there were a few wash-outs along the way to make Dar scream and keep my life interesting. At 5 to 10 miles per hour, we stuttered along for a good 45 minutes or so before reaching a small parking lot at the mouth of a canyon surrounded by the Castle Dome mountains which peak about 4,000 feet above us. I'm sure any palm trees found are going to be worth all this abuse.
We were told that during WWII, Gen. George Patton used this area for desert warfare training exercises -- and to not pick up any unexploded ordinance that we happen to find. That, together with the warnings about keeping an eye out for rattlesnakes, kept my mind from wandering during our subsequent hike into the canyon to find those darn palm trees. How would I prefer to die... mortar shells, snakes, or falling off the side of a mountain?... hmmm.
After a half hour hike into the canyon I spotted a sign with an arrow pointing up and to the left that simply read "Palm Trees". By golly, there they were! It's a sliver of a canyon that rises sharply up and toward the north... not very big... that contains less than 100 California Fan Palms. (I'll put a picture of them in an online photo album.) These are the only native palm trees in Arizona and thought to be descendants of palms that flourished during the last North American Ice Age (not counting the one this year). They can only exist in this narrow canyon where the intense heat from direct sunlight only touches them a few hours each day. The water in the canyon and the coolness from the mountain mass and the elevation allows them to survive. They are true survivors.
Once I stopped vibrating from the drive in, I really enjoyed the hike and the time we spent with the palms, the snakes and the old hand grenades.
In my last post I ranted a little about people who prefer commercial TV over the show that performs nightly in the skies over Quartzsite. I hadn't realized that the very next night, Wednesday night, we'd be treated to the last full lunar eclipse until 2010. As we were having dinner, the moon was rising from the mountains in the east -- right there through our big picture-window/windshield. If it were just a full-moon rising, it'd be exciting enough for me. But a full-moon together with a full lunar eclipse was just spectacular. Through the binoculars the moon in full eclipse appears more ball-like and somehow more real than normal. Maybe it's just different. In any case, it was another great episode of Dancing with the Stars.
What's going on with fuel prices? Less than a week ago I topped off the diesel tank at $3.35 per gallon. Today it's at least a dime more.