Snowbirding 2018 Postcards: RTR from the Air

I’m still in Quartzsite — I’ll be here for two more weeks — and I kept hearing about something called RTR. I knew that it was a gathering of RVers out in the desert east of Quartzsite, and I had heard from one participant that there were 3,000 RVs parked out there. Yesterday afternoon, I decided to take my drone out there for a look.

Quartzsite is surrounded by BLM land. For the most part, you can camp there for up to 14 days at a time for free. (There are some areas closer to town that provide services such as garbage dumpsters and outhouses and require a fee.) One of these free areas can be accessed by a roughly paved freeway service road that ends suddenly with a right-hand turn to the south. From there, the road is narrow and unpaved and cuts into the desert. This is the path you follow to get to the 2018 RTR campsite.

I estimate that I drove about 8 miles from town to reach an area jam-packed with RVs. The types of RVs ranged from rickety vans to costly Class A motorhomes. They were parked alongside anything that could be remotely considered a road. There were vehicles driving around — very slowly, I should add, to keep the dust down — and the campsites had plenty of people milling around. I parked my truck at a road intersection near a sign that said “No Camping Beyond this Point” and set up my drone in the bed of the pickup for launching.

I did two flights from the pickup bed. The first was a high-level flight that circled the camping area, taking video and still shots of the entire site. I was about 400 feet up for these.

This first shot is from the southeast, looking back toward Quartzsite, which you can see at the base of the mountains in the top left:

RTR Quartzsite 2018

This shot is more from the south west. You can see the road I drove in on cutting diagonally across the top right of the photo, as well as semis on the freeway off in the distance:

RTR Quartzsite 2018

For the second flight, I flew at about 150 feet — low enough to get some detail without bothering the folks on the ground. (I should emphasize here that I never flew over people — I always flew around the perimeter of the event.) Again, I took several still images and a few short video clips.

This shot was from the west of the event looking back to the east. I’d love to explore that road that winds up into the mountains.

RTR Quartzsite 2018

This shot was from a bit lower. You can see my truck in the lower right corner.

RTR Quartzsite 2018

Keep in mind that this is only one of the many areas where people are camped out in the desert here. I’ll share more photos as the place continues to fill up.

Also, please remember that these photos are copyrighted and may not be shared without permission. You may link to this page but you may not reproduce these images elsewhere. I am a commercial drone pilot with a lot invested in my equipment and training. If you want to buy any of my images for reproduction as postcards or posters, contact me.

Snowbirding 2018 Postcards: Camping at the Holtville Hot Spring LTVA

The Holtsville Hot Spring in Southern California is a BLM — that’s Bureau of Land Management — managed property just off of I-8 east of Holtville. The property features a maintained hot spring with two soaking tubs and a hot shower, a 14 day free camping area, and a long-term visitor area (LTVA) where camping is available for $40 for two weeks or $180 for the entire season.

I arrived here on Thursday with my friend Janet and we camped out for the night in the free 14 day area. We had a nice soak in the hot tub the following morning and then Janet departed for Yuma and Quartzsite. I stayed behind. I decided that I wanted to spend a few days in the area and I splurged for the $40, 2-week camping permit. I can use the remaining time next week at another LTVA in California or Arizona.

The main benefit to camping in the area north of the freeway is that it is easier to access the hot spring via a hard-packed dirt road that I can take my bicycle on. The sites are spread apart and because there are some trees in the area, there’s a certain level of privacy. The farther away you go from the hot spring and freeway, the quieter it is and the fewer campers are around you. I’m about half a mile away and can’t really hear the freeway at all.

The folks who stay in places like this are serious about off the grid camping. Just about every single rig out here is equipped with at least one solar panel. I have yet to hear a generator running. There are no power, water, or sewer hook ups or even a dumping station. The only luxury convenience is a set of dumpsters so you can get rid of your trash. I noticed more than a few folks filling up gallon sized jugs at the hot spring from a hose that’s provided just for that purpose; I’d like to think that they wash with this water and don’t actually drink it.

Almost all of my fellow campers are retirees and I estimate that at least half of them live on the road full-time. The types of campers range from slide in truck campers like mine to luxury Class A motorhomes pulling cargo trailers or cars. More than a few people have motorcycles or ATVs. People are friendly and often stop to chat while walking or biking by with their dogs.

I sent the Mavic up for picture of my campsite today. Here’s one that gives you a good idea of the area around me.

This photo faces south on an overcast, hazy day. Normally, you’d be able to see mountains in Mexico, which is only 6 or 7 miles away. If you’re wondering why I didn’t back all the way into the campsite, it’s because there are a lot of soft, sandy spots that I could get stuck in. Because I’m only staying here a few days and because I can use my bicycle to ride between my campsite and the hot spring, I didn’t bother taking the camper off the truck. I did, however, lower the legs to steady it so it wouldn’t rock so when I’m inside. The photo makes the place look kind of dreary but I think it’s today’s overcast skies more than anything else. The weather has been in the 70s every day, dropping to the 40s at night. This is the first overcast day I’ve had in over a week, but there’s still enough solar radiation to charge the camper’s batteries.

Snowbirding 2018 Postcards: Fireside at Camp

Out in the desert, when the sun goes down, it’s like Mother Nature turned the heat off. It might have been in the 70s all day, but the temperature takes a plunge after sunset and a campfire is pretty much required if you want to hang out outdoors.

We spent about an hour gathering wood on Wednesday morning — mostly mesquite and salt cedar — and added that to the six aspen (or birch?) logs I’d brought south with me from a camp in Idaho back in October. While we were out boating in the afternoon, a friend stopped by looking for us. When he saw the large pieces of wood we’d gathered, he kindly used his chainsaw to cut them into manageable pieces. (Reminds me of a fairy tale where people put their damaged shoes out on the doorstep at night and elves repaired them. This elf’s name is Steve.)

As usual, my friend Janet got the fire going before it was dark and we sat around it to chat, eat dinner, and then chat some more.

It night was a great night for star gazing, too. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the area is very dark. With a meteor shower on the calendar, I took out my Nikon and set it up for night photography. We had a clear view of the horizon to the east and watched Orion rise. The meteors came soon afterward, averaging about one per minute as NASA had forecasted.

I tried (and failed) to get a photo of one, but I did make this photo of our campsite in the firelight, with Janet sitting by the fire. A car happened to drive by during the 30-second exposure, illuminating assorted bits and pieces of the scene. I have a darker shot, too, but I like this one better.

Fireside camp