The purpose for this destination was an arranged meet up with other Alto owners, otherwise known as “Altogathers.” Altogathers remain among my favorite camping experiences. I especially love meeting people in person I have “known” for a while online. And as our encounters have continued, we have made actual real friends, all because we share a unique enthusiasm for these little aluminum trailers. It’s really cool actually, and I seriously love these people.
Our drive to get there from Anza Borrego was lovely. We got routed through something called Box Canyon, and that turned out to be a destination in and of itself. It’s not all that long, but still a beautiful little Tatooine-like shortcut out of the Salton Sea valley. Then we got to enjoy a long, lonely drive along highway 62 until we came to Parker, AZ. This town lies right across the Colorado River, which makes up the border between California and Arizona. One interesting factoid: even though we crossed a time zone after crossing the bridge, our cell phones were hitting towers located in CA. This made for lots of confusion about what time it actually was, as well as what time gathering events were actually scheduled.
We were racing against the sunset to get there with enough light to back in, and we pretty much nailed that with not much to spare. Annie was already there and did us the favor of getting another camper to trade sites so that we could arrive a day early and not have to move. From there, we got lots of hugs and greetings from known friends as well as new ones. I’m not sure exactly how many Altos there were on the final count, but it must have been at least 15. Super cool!
Besides gathers for drinks and pot lucks, there was an organized trip out to the Nellie E Saloon Desert Bar. This place is touted as the most remote bar and grill around, powered entirely by solar. They are cash only and serve burgers, grilled sandwiches, awesome fries, and a full bar. There was live music and the place was absolutely packed. To get there, you have two choices: a nine mile (or so) drive along a rugged dirt road best suited for AWD vehicles, or a 5 mile crazy drive of terror, not suited for anyone sane. Guess what we did?
Well first, we caught a ride with “The Lindas” on the reasonable road, which was plenty bumpy enough to elicit jokes about putting on make up en route. We then enjoyed lunch and live music together for a while. Then, the two not sane people started hiking back along the 5 mile ATV road in order to really take in the scenery. Let me first say, Richard really tried to get good beta on this idea. He talked in person to the ranger in the campground about whether that would be a nice hike. The ranger got all excited because he had new detailed maps of the trails and said there would hardly be any ATVs out there due to the recent rains. “A beautiful hike” is I think how he framed it. So we said goodbye to our friends, joked about sending out search parties if we weren’t back by dark, and set out with daypacks.
We lost the trail after about ten feet, but recovered right away. Haha, that was funny, we said, now let’s enjoy the beautiful downhill trail to the river. I’m not sure at which mile point we really accepted how crazy an idea this was. We got out of the way quite a lot, precariously perching on the edges of cliffs for the pockets of ATV traffic to get by, before it got annoying. And we noticed within the first mile that the “road” seemed to be intentionally choosing the most up and down route possible to get from here to there. Like with normal hiking trails, someone has usually put effort into choosing the easiest way to traverse the wilderness. They won’t take you over a rise unless they have to. ATV tracks (I now understand) will go out of their way to go up and down even when there seems to be no freaking point to it.
We got all kinds of waves, and smiles, and stares, and laughs, from the ATV people going past us. I’m sure they were bewildered at why there would be people walking this thing unless something had gone horribly wrong with their day. And for the record, if I ever find myself in an ATV on that road and find people walking it, I will give them the same look. Except mine with come from knowledge.
But so we trudged along, slipping on the gravelly and rutted track with nearly every step. Until I slipped for real and came down HARD. On my BUTT. Like so hard, my skull shook. I think I screamed, “OW! …. OOOOOWWWWW!!” before getting up and trying to see if I could walk. Richard tried to stop me to assess the damage, but I continued cry/walking until the initial shock wore off. I was pretty sure I hadn’t broken my butt, and it wasn’t until later that the heel of my hand started to hurt, which told me I’d landed on that too. But I could walk. Which meant I could still get myself out of this stupid, self selected hell hike.
I’m stubborn too. So even though I was keenly noticing all of the empty seats in the ATVs going past us, I did not ask for a ride. I figured I could if it came to it, and that was all I needed to keep the feet moving forward. Meanwhile, a helicopter giving tourists rides over the route, passed by from time to time. I convinced myself the pilot was keeping close track on the progress of the crazy people and that they would save me if I spelled out HELP with cacti, or snakes, or whatever I could find out there.
I will say that the last maybe two miles of this thing was not quite as bad. The track got more dirt based, rather than slick-rocks-covered-with-gravel-booby-traps based. That was a welcome change, even if it still kept going exasperatingly up and down, because I really really did not want to fall again. The traffic from the ATVs subsided, which was both a blessing, and a concern. I thought they would all come screaming back the other direction at some point, and had been banking on that as an escape plan, but it was noticeably more pleasant without them.
We at last came to the place where a real hiking trail branched off from the road, and was theoretically going to lead back to the campground. Thing is, the signs were wrong for where we thought the trail was, and it is hard to follow trails in the desert, even with correct signs. The sun was low in the sky, we were low on water (because this was taking about twice as long as we figured it would), and we ended up saying screw it, let’s just finish the thing and end up at the “chicken market,” whatever that is. Surely we can call for help at that point.
And that is exactly what we did. We triumphantly (not really, more like bedraggledly) entered the River Island Market like survivors of a shipwreck and immediately ordered chicken wings. Richard chatted with the people working there enough that I could hear exclamations of: “You did what?!” coming from the counter. We then called the Lindas, and the Linda with dogs graciously drove the mile and a half up the highway to come save us. By the time she got there, word of our glory had spread to all souls present and another woman came up to our table and asked, “So which one of you walked that road from the desert bar with him?” I waved my damaged hand and she just said, “Well. That is something.” Then she called over to someone across the store to keep the story going of the people who intentionally walked back from the desert bar. “That is something,” seemed to be the general consensus. But you know what? Those were some of the best damn chicken wings I have ever had.
We recovered pretty well from that, I must say, and even tried another short hiking loop around the campground later on. Having now done two hikes in Arizona, I’m going to go ahead and make a wild generalization that Arizona trails are all up and down in the steepest way possible. Oh, and Richard chatted with the ranger later to share our impressions of that hike. His reply? “Oh, I’ve never walked it.” Also: “Yeah I’ve been meaning to get out there and check those new trail signs.” #facepalm
We had one mission to perform while we were in Parker, and that was to retrieve a box or two of ESE coffee pods. We seem to have left home with absolutely no prior planning for a two-week trip. I think we were both just too strung out from work to do much before leaving and two weeks didn’t seem that long a time. By the time we got to Anza Borrego, we realized we didn’t have any backup coffee pods because our regular shipment had not arrived before we left. So you can imagine the scene of us counting pods, as though taking inventory of life sustaining medication, during a zombie apocalypse, in order to calculate how many more days we had left to live. We assessed the situation, knowing we’d be coming up short, and so arranged for two different general delivery shipments. One was from the podhead.com coffee people, who are Italian and completely understood the urgency. The other was from our daughter, who reluctantly agreed to mail the box that had already been delivered to our home, just a couple days after we’d left. That one we may never see. Oh well. The Italians came through and we retrieved the package on New Year’s Eve. One thing to know about general delivery in Parker, AZ: it is close enough to Quartzite, CA, where all the boondocking RVers hang out, that they have put restrictions on when you’re allowed to retrieve a general delivery package.
All in all, this was a great stay and we got to connect with our awesome trailer peeps for a couple of days in a new place. I wish it had not been so cold, but I do realize it’s winter. Richard had enough cell service that he was able to get some work done while on the road. From here, we need to start tracking back, but we will try to keep it from being too many one night stands. Between the people, the hikes, the fun stories shared, that was sure something!
Total miles from Anza Borrego: 193.0, 14.6 mpg, 4 hours 56 min. Site 4, electric hookups. Good LTE for both. Good dump. Terrible tasting water.