Boondocking Paradise Found – Imperial Dam

In Adventure, Arizona, Guides, RV, Travel

At the Imperial Dam LTVA

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After spending some time in the LTVA in Quartzsite, our RV was pointed south.  While Quartzsite is an interesting place, and probably the largest boondocking area in the Southwest, going “off season,” left us a little disappointed.  When visiting the area outside of the Gem & Mineral Show time frame one finds that there’s not much to do around town, and the boondocking sites feel a little more like an impoverished encampment than a fun get away destination.

Fortunately there are a few other LTVAs in the southwest corner of Arizona, and southeast corner of California.  And a fresh perspective on LTVAs was needed.  So a short drive was taken from Quartzsite to Imperial Dam, and the whole feel of the trip went from a little dismal to very exciting in a matter of hours!

Low water at Imperial Dam
The water was a little low at Imperial Dam, but the location was still impressive

Imperial Dam LTVA

When looking to try out your first “Long Term Visitor Area” (LTVA), we would like to suggest visiting Imperial Dam first.  Located near Yuma, only an hour and a half from the more famous Quartzsite LTVA, Imperial Dam is actually a destination in itself.  There are no major gem and mineral shows going on, no “flea market” feel, and an actual sensation that feels like freedom.  That’s what boondocking sites are normally about, and Imperial Dam delivers on all fronts.

Yuma Proving Ground warning signs

Departing Quartzsite we made our way south to Imperial Dam.  The road (Route 95 south) was a little lonely, very little traffic along it and not much to see.  As the Airstream continued south the route took us through military testing grounds.  So every so often we saw warning signs along the roadside.  Traveling at 60 mph you can’t really read much on the roadside signs, so when the Airstream was stopped for a travel break the signs meaning was finally discovered.  So much for wandering off into the desert for a few photos!

Fortunately the trip from Quartzsite to Imperial Dam is pretty short.  And by the time the Imperial Dam Road was reached a little over an hour had passed.  The road itself to Imperial Dam from Route 95 passes right next to the Yuma Proving Ground, and there were some signs along it regarding the road being closed in a few miles.

Not knowing how far the turnoff was from Imperial Dam Road, we followed along hoping the road wasn’t really closed.  Unfortunately, it was in fact closed at the dam, mere moments away from the LTVA.  Bottom line?  We could not get across to where we intended on camping.

After an awkward U Turn, the Airstream was re-directed to Route 95, and we continued south into Yuma itself.  An alternate route into Imperial Dam is available right at the AZ / CA border.  An additional hour was tacked on to our trip due to the re-route.  But at least an alternative route is available!

See the “direct route” below if you’re coming from Quartszite.  Hopefully the road construction won’t last long!

Palm Trees and lettuce
The alternate route takes you through green fields!

 Taking the “Long Way”

Given our re-route through Yuma and into California, there was a little extra road time.  Of course, this allowed for checking out the alternate route which may be very useful to readers coming from CA.

The route found the Airstream skirting along the edge of Yuma, AZ.  Gas stations, strip malls, grocery stores…they’re all available and close enough to Imperial Dam.  Of course, the direct route from the LTVA would be much easier if you’re planning on resupplying in town!  So if you’re planning a visit, check into whether or not the road over the dam is open once more.

Following the alternate route the travel scenery became a little different.  Crossing into California and taking side roads our RV traveled through some farming country.  At one point along the journey signs for “Foxy Lettuce” were seen, and sure enough many of the green fields were covered in lettuce!

The back roads from Yuma to Imperial Dam aren’t the greatest roads in the world.  Slower speeds, uneven pavement, and farm vehicles regularly popping out and moving slow toward the next field.  A little patience will be required riding along these back roads, but the scenery does make up for it if you’ve never seen farming setups like these.  The route also takes you by the Cloud Museum, which is a must see while visiting!  More will be said about the museum later.

Arriving at Imperial Dam

After an additional hour (maybe even a little longer), we arrived at the Imperial Dam LTVA.  Like Quartzsite there are several areas to pull off and make camp, but our first objective was getting to the BLM station to make sure our LTVA pass was good for the park.  It’s always good to “check in” and learn about the differences in these parks.

The BLM hosts were easily found, and they explained more about the park and all the locations we could stay.  Very informative, and one comment struck me.  “Try to stay at least 25 ft away from other RVs if you can.”  There is plenty of space to do that at Imperial Dam, allowing other boondockers to have “their space” as well.  In the case of where we finally parked the Airstream, it was more like 100 yards between RV’s.  Plenty of privacy.

Unlike our arrival in Quartzsite we were not warned about thefts occurring.  In Quartzsite we were told to bring everything in at night, and also to lock up the bed of our truck as things have been disappearing.  With Imperial Dam being a bit of a drive out from Yuma (22 miles on the short route) there aren’t as many people popping into the place like Quartzsite.  And the location does feel a little more secure than the Quartzsite experience.

With all of that said, it’s still advisable to secure your generator, close up your chairs, etc.  Given the fact that the location is a little remote anything can happen.  Fortunately there were no issues or incidents over the 4 day stay at the dam.

The Liberry
The Liberry

The Liberry – Getting to know your neighbors

In the Liberry

After first arriving at Imperial Dam we noticed a few things.  Near the entrance to the main area RVs were parked closer together.  Small communities of long time friends seem to cluster.  We also noticed a vintage Airstream on the way in with a sign that simply said, “Liberry.”  Curiosity was peaked, so on day two at our site we took a long walk around!

Getting to the “Liberry” we found that it was in fact a library.  The vintage Airstream was stuffed with books.  So many uses for an Airstream!

As we photographed the classic trailer and walked around a woman approached us from another nearby RV and introduced herself as Angel.  She explained what the Liberry was about and why it is there.  Years ago it was home to a friend of hers, “Nitro,” and after she had passed the Airstream was donated to the park.  Today it is watched over and managed by all of her friends.

_MG_7473_4_5HDRYou might be wondering about the name Nitro.  It’s very simple.  Many of the folks in the tighter clusters at the entrance of the park are CB’ers.  They each have their own CB handle, and Angel’s handle is in fact Angel.  Meeting several of her neighbors they all introduced themselves with their handles instead of real names.  It reminded me so much of Appalachian Trail Thru Hikers using their hiker names instead of their real ones.

Visiting with the friendly group of folks we learned several interesting things that future visitors might find useful.

  • There’s a very active CB community at Imperial Dam.  They have nightly “meet ups” over the air, and all are welcome to join.
  • They Yuma Proving Ground base is moments away from the LTVA.  Emergency calls over CB are responded to in minutes.
  • There’s a community of long time campers at this park.  They watch out for each other and other visitors to Imperial Dam.
  • A lot of cookies are baked each year for the staff at the Yuma Proving Ground!

Recreational Opportunities

A windmill at the Cloud Museum

Imperial Dam offers a lot to visitors.  Walking through the CA desert along the Colorado River, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, cycling.  It’s all available to visitors.

Given the size of the park and the number of dirt and gravel roads a visitor could spend days hiking around Imperial Dam.  There are many different RVs to see, and a friendly community to boot.  Cycling these roads (mountain bikes would work better) could occupy days as well.  There’s enough to explore, and the roads along the alternate route, while rough, don’t have a heavy traffic load, meaning cyclists can enjoy touring around the farm fields for hours on end and feel very safe regarding auto traffic in the area.

Of course, the big feature of the area is the Colorado River and the Dam.  While visiting we saw countless people with fishing rods near the water.  While I won’t speculate on what there is to catch I will say there’s got to be something in the water!  Additionally canoes and kayaks could be seen on the water in the early a.m. through dusk.  So the opportunities to get out on the water are there as well.

With historic downtown Yuma only 22 miles away, there’s plenty of touring and site seeing as well.  Imperial Dam makes a good base of operations if you’re interested in visiting the Southwest corner of Arizona!

The Cloud Museum

The Cloud Museum
The Cloud Museum

As mentioned earlier in the article, the alternate route approaching Imperial Dam takes you right past the Cloud Museum.  This museum hosts a massive collection of classic automobiles.  Walking into the location you’re immediately overwhelmed by the number of Model T’s to be seen.

From rusted out models to fully restored classics, the Cloud Museum can take hours of your time.  There is a small container at the entrance, and you’re asked to donate $5 per person visiting.  It’s worth the $5, and if you’re a car buff or photography buff you will spend hours seeing everything there is to see.


Wrapping up on the Imperial Dam

Imperial Dam is a very interesting place to visit.  As it is part of the LTVA system, it’s also one of the most inexpensive trips you can take with your RV.  $40 for two weeks of boondocking at any of the LTVA’s means a little under $3 per day.  And if you’re a full timer getting away from the colder seasons, the LTVA 6 month passes run $180.  Basically you’re looking at $1 per day.

With fresh water and a tank dump station you really can stay for the whole season.  If you’ve got solar you’re probably well covered for your power needs, and if you’re like me, a small generator can keep your batteries up for over a week with under 5 gallons of gas.

The question of security often comes up with boondocking sites, and from what we’ve experienced it’s safe to say that Imperial Dam is a relatively secure location.  With a CB radio group throughout the park, proximity to Yuma Proving Grounds, and 4G LTE service throughout the location, you’re covered on emergency communications!

Finally, it’s a great destination.  Living In Tin will be returning to Imperial Dam for a longer stay in 2015.  Given its proximity to Hot Springs LTVA, Salton Sea, Borrego, and few other places on the 2015 list it will make a great launching point for our own explorations as well!

Elbow room
The neighbors aren’t crowding in on us!


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