Where Eclectic Nomads Go for Community

I feel like I’m in a Talking Heads song sometimes. I’m a bit confused about exactly where we are, plus how I feel about why we’re here vacillates. Yet, we’ve been here (BLM land in Arizona? California?) for only two full days. Seems like my disorientation is greater than what could fit in two days.

Where are we? Why are we here?

Technically, we’re at a place called Imperial Dam LTVA, which is just north of Yuma, Arizona. But because we’re on the west side of the Colorado River, we’re in California. Everyone here does business in Yuma though, so they follow Mountain time. Therefore, when we drive out to buy groceries, the time changes on our phones twice. Maybe I could add to the headline above, “When are we?”

Imperial Dam LTVA is part of Senator Wash LTVA, and the initials stand for Long Term Visitors Area, where the Bureau of Land Management allows (and actually facilitates) camping for entire seasons. Consider it a pocket of winter warmth where people can camp relatively cheaply, among other full-timers, seasonal nomads, and eclectic folks of all stripes.

We chose this area (as many people seem to have) for the fact that it is warm and it’s near a town with tons of amenities. We can stay here through Christmas and check off our maintenance list. Importantly, there’s a Christian center within a bike ride that provides a mailing and shipping address. Pure gold for folks like us who need things that can’t be delivered to Amazon lockers. Plus, for your camping fee (long-term is $180 for the season, 8 months, maybe?) you have access to potable water, a dump station, trash dumpsters (woohoo!), a couple of bathrooms, and cold-water showers. It’s like boondocking, but with amenities, very nearby and for a small fee.

I hear that each year, the office at the entrance receives between 600-800 registrants. Most are couples, so there are maybe 1,000 people here, not all at the same time, though. I believe it. This video I took while walking down our “road” shows a bunch of RVs, but it’s just a fraction of what’s here. And from my slideshow of RVs below, there are some odd ones. Including the remains of one that exploded last year.

The dirt roads and pull-off areas have been used for so many years that they’re well-established and even have their own camper-given names, one for each “neighborhood.” We’re in Boot Hill #3.

There’s an area where folks with CB radios camp together; they run a volunteer emergency response system that apparently gets people to the hospital faster than if you were to call 911 (since it’s hard to tell where we are).

There’s a neighborhood where people camp together who want to play music together.

There are neighborhoods of very social people all packed in, and areas where people are spread out as far as they can get.

We got frustrated and flustered and tired of driving around when we pulled in, so we just finally parked where we could find a spot that’s not too far from the epicenter but also not in one of the crowded neighborhoods. So far so okay.

Let me tell you about the people I’ve met, though, who I can already tell embody the disparate nomads whom we’re spending this winter with.

“What are the chances you’d sit down across from me, with your ukulele and your son studying high-energy physics?”

I was riding my bike around some of the neighborhoods yesterday, getting a feel for the place, when I heard a guy playing music by his delivery-truck-turned camper. I stopped to listen, and lo and behold, he was playing intricate jazz on a ukulele.

I stepped closer so he could see me (but not to invade his space), and cleared my throat. Turns out he’s friendly, and as I stepped even closer (you never know), I asked if he’d be willing to give me a ukulele lesson.

“What do you need; what would you trade for a lesson?” I asked.

”Well, I’m not doing anything right now except struggling with a few strange chords, so giving me something to do would be a good trade.”

”Deal. And I’ll bring beer, if you’d like.”

”Two beers, if you have them!”’

“Ha, I love this about nomadic life.”

“Yeah, meeting other people who have absolutely nothing to do!”

And thus began a delightful afternoon spent with a stranger. I booked it back to the trailer, grabbed my uke and a couple of beers, and rode back to his site with this all on my back. Luckily he has a spare chair and a table where we sat across from each other. We started on some music theory (which I hate), and when I explained that my son tells me I would make easier progress if I learned the basics, he asked about my son, and I of course bragged, and he smiled and showed me his t-shirt.

What a coincidence we would sit across this table with each other, he said. This image is the icon that stands for a particle physics experiment that tipped previous theories on their heads, apparently. I won’t go into the fuzzy details I learned, but let’s say our discussion about physics led to philosophy.

[Finn tells me our topic boils down to wave/particle duality and the fact that the map is not the territory (“This is not a pipe!”) and that I should tread carefully with this topic.] Well, it was a wild ride; for a long while, I enjoyed physics talk with a guy playing jazz ukulele whom I stopped to share a beer with and learn a few new chords from.

His story is so varied it involves professional ballet dancers, electron microscopes, and a dog named D’artagnan. Maybe I’ll hang out with him again and get permission to tell you more.

“I’d offer you a ride back on my bike, but your husband wouldn’t appreciate it if I delivered you with a cracked skull. These roads are super rocky.”

I need to shorten this post somehow.

Another guy I met gave me tons of info about the area; we passed each other on the road twice so finally he just stopped his motorcycle so we could chat instead of waving over and over. He’s in the photo at the very top. I received lots of tips about where to go and what to do in the area, a map he dug out from a compartment on his bike, and generally good vibes. He’s been spending his winters here for the past decade, I believe. His bike is a BMW and definitely not made for these ridiculous paths they call roads.

“You’re the new-comer asking about yoga! Let’s have coffee; I’ll tell you all about this place.”

In addition to water, dump stations, mailing services—there are more formal social groups organized and led by campers, such a three-days-a-week yoga. Be still my heart. I arrived on a Thursday, joined a facebook group for campers that evening, and on Friday I showed up for yoga at the “gravel pit”—the only paved, roofed pavilion around. It was bliss.

And I traded numbers with a nice woman from Minnesota (she spends her summers there with her family) who walked and biked with me this morning and showed me more about where to get what and who is camped where and what direction is what. I still need that.

She’s getting together a group of women to play cards each week, and she plays ukulele in the weekly class at the Christian center where we pick up mail. What? A ukulele group? Yoga? There may be a lot of odd people here, but apparently my oddness overlaps theirs in a wide vector.

IHere are wild burros near our campsite. We went to a farmers market where we bought most of the produce we’ll need for a week for $8.50 (this area supplies the rest of the country with fruit and veggies for the winter). I ate fry bread for the first time. One lady rolled and flattened the dough and handed it to another lady who fried it and handed it to me on a paper Christmas plate. It was perfection.

And so far we’re moving through our to-do list rather quickly. I finally stuck my GDTR sticker to the trailer and did a few other items; as soon as mail and packages start arriving, we’ll do more.

So, it’s an odd place, the views are not great, it’s dusty and rocky, we have no privacy, there’s too much wind to set up the screen tent, and I have no idea if there’s enough hiking nearby to keep Tracy from going bonkers. So far, socializing with other humans is enough for me. Stay tuned.

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