Why Do People Come Here?

I’m still mulling over possible reasons. They should be obvious, but I can’t wrap my head around it.

Here’s a quick recap from my previous posts about Imperial Dam LTVA (long-term visitors’ area).


That pictures above is not of the LTVA, although I snapped it while I was taking the trash to the dumpsters on my bike. That’s the Senator Wash Reservoir that’s part of the Colorado River here at the Mexico border, but those folks parked on the water are paying maybe $15/night to stay in what’s considered a separate campgroud.

We’re above them for $180/7 months in an area that looks more like this. Terrible photo, I know, but it’s hard to capture the scale of all the people here.

Here’s one of nearby Quartzite LTVA that I grabbed from the RVTravel.com newsletter I subscribe to. They’re a little more crowded than we are, but you get my drift.

To me, other than sunrise and sunset, this is a pretty barren land.

Remember, though, that I’ve spent the last long while traveling from one lovely place to another, recently hitting the most celebrated desert spots in the southwest. I gotta say, this ain’t it.

And you know my other complaints: there are a ton of people here, there’s nowhere interesting to hike directly from the trailer or to walk Banjo. Tracy has seen, I think, one special bird here, but that’s it. We have a pile of rocks he’s found that are the highlight of our natural stay.


And I’ve mentioned these previous, too: access to amenities (potable water, dump station, dumpsters, bathrooms). Community (this is huge). Cheap. Warm, even in the heart of winter (although not right now). Near towns with more amenities (we’re going to Mexico tomorrow for dentist appointments, stay tuned for that).

So, these are the basics. But still they’re rattling around in my head. So many people come here, year after year. Why? To boondock in a barren desert all together? Yes, apparently. I’ve met lots of people already, and maybe thinking about them will shed some light for me.

People I’ve Met

“You might think the term ‘NOAA’ is strange ….”

Yesterday we drove into town for errands, and I tackled the laundry/wifi one while Tracy tackled others. It’s always a challenge for me, figuring out which machines to use, whether they need coins or I can use my card (or I have to buy a special card), yadda yadda.

Yesterday’s laundromat had been recommended to me by the LTVA facebook group for its fast WiFi, so I took not just my phone, but my iPad and Apple Watch (don’t judge) and their cords so I could update various iOS and apps plus download shows Tracy and I are watching (this uses less data than streaming, on some platforms) all while figuring out the machines at this laundromat I’ve never been in.

And here comes motorcycle dude whom I met while walking the other day; he’s the one who said he’d offer to give me a ride but didn’t want to deliver me with a cracked skull.

He’s friendly, he’s talkative, he’s gregarious, he knows a lot and wants to tell you all about it. When we were talking about the weather, for instance, he “introduced” me to the NOAA weather site (that I’m quite aware of) and said something like,

Now, NOAA is a weird word, especially when you hear what it stands for. But it’s a really helpful site.

Yes, I am familiar with NOAA, dude. I lived near the headquarters; I know several people who built their careers there; I wrote about it extensively in the magazine I worked at for years. Please, please don’t tell me what the letters stand for while I’m doing six things at once here at the laundromat.

After a brief pause—that I asked for while I thought about which dryers I should use—he launched back into telling me about Yuma, about camping through Canada, about the Omicron variant.

In other words: single dude, camping out here because it’s warm, cheap, and full of people he can tell stuff to. I get that.

“I know a verb!”

How do I approach this without sounding like an asshole? There’s no way.

The variety of people in the Spanish class that I bike to at the Christian Center for two hours a week is astounding. It’s all levels, taught by a guy who speaks five languages, and English is not his strongest. So that right there sets the stage for mayhem.

Some students in the class have a good amount of Spanish under their belts already, and bless their hearts for sitting on those metal chairs, taking notes with paper on their laps, and listening to the shit show for two hours straight.

Other students, despite being native English speakers, have not the first clue how language works. When asked to read a line aloud in Spanish, they can’t get straight that you still read from left to right. One syllable and then the next. They don’t know what pronouns are, let alone how to conjugate a verb or what an infinitive is. They’ve never said the words, “amigo” or “bueno” or “adios.”

We’re supposedly conjugating verbs, and the teacher asks for an example of a verb so he can show us how it works. A woman blurts out,


She’s so enthusiastic. Not only does she have no clue what part of speech the word “food” is, but she’s excited to volunteer that it’s a verb.

As Finn generously pointed out, these are the people who should be taking Spanish! They’re also why I still wear a mask indoors. These are some of the people camped at the LTVA.

“Wait, you have an oven?”

Now here’s an even more delicate subgroup of nomads that I should say little about because I am just scratching the surface in getting to know them. But I’ve got to mention them.

My neighbor Tyll, whom I’ve mentioned in previous posts about this place and hope to give you a tour of his rig in another post—he not only gets around the social nomad scene but creates it sometimes, running get-togethers where people help each other with their rigs, mechanically and construction-wise, and he makes the fun happen with his music/lights/stage/party-in-a-trailer that he tows behind his newspaper delivery truck.

And here over the last few days, he’s been the nexus for a group of single women who travel, each in her own van/small camper/car/whatever. They park near Tyll or park outside the fee area and drive over, and hang out together, catching up on the latest news among their fellow nomads.

Now, I’m going to generalize here, but hang with me. In my experience, when people get together who have something specific in common, they talk talk talk about that thing. Like new mothers with babies. They tell stories, ask questions, share info, dive deep into that topic. They’re going to exhaust that baby world fully.

With these women, within the first few minutes of sitting on folding chairs and stools and logs by Tyll’s trailer, with various dogs and one cat running around, I was part of conversations about the challenges of peeing in a vehicle (in a receptacle) as an older woman with less flexibility. About when you absolutely have to wash your hair because your scalp gets too itchy. About which men in their circles try to hit on them way too often (but get along with one of them fine because she’s a lesbian). It was a seriously gender-weighted conversation about the nomad life.

I think back to when Tyll and I first met and talked about the ukulele, a bit of quantum physics, the philosophy of everything in the world having consciousness, the movie Babe. I was so happy to meet someone with rich conversation topics and skills. Very different from the community of these women (and maybe men; I didn’t met any of them from their nomad friends, other than Tyll).

It makes me wonder if community really is why they’re on the road. Maybe some are running from a previous toxic life. Maybe some just want a lifestyle that’s not typical of the American Dream. Some are down on their luck and living as cheaply as they can. But some seem to crave the tight-knit community of nomads they’ve found.

A telling thing happened when I told the the group the following story.

When Tyll texted me saying that if I biked over quickly he had a surprise for me, my first thought was that maybe he had pie, and if I were quick enough, I’d get the last piece. I was laughing when I told them this story, and my point was that meeting this group was better than pie.

But I didn’t get to that point because first they asked me was why pie was on my mind. See, I’d just finished the pie I’d made after Thanksgiving, and I’d been thinking, if only I’d sliced it smaller, I could have had one last piece that day.

As if orchestrated, each woman responded, with the same wistful tone, “You have an oven?”

Oh, I felt terrible after that. It’s kind of like Tracy and I are on vacation, if you want to look at it that way. We travel nearly every week to a new spot to explore nature there, hiking, kayaking, taking in the beauty of this country. What an oddity we are here.

Then I thought, maybe I should cook something special in my oven next time and bring it to the gathering. Ended up, I was too busy to do that, but when I mentioned my intention anyway the next day, one of them said,

Funny, I saw a pie in the grocery store and almost bought it for you.

We would have both shown up with pies for each other.

Maybe that’s why people come here.

Ukulele Segment

Yes, dear readers, it’s that time again for you to skip this segment.

My latest song is inappropriate for the day before we walk into Mexico (Arlo Guthro’s “Coming into Los Angeles”), so I recorded a version of “All Along the Watchtower” that’s decent.

You know that Finn and I go back and forth about how this song should be sung. He believes it should sound ominous and should slowly build to an unidentifiable, mysterious climax. I like to freaking belt the danged lyrics out.

Here’s a compromise version; not the one-woman show I taped one night for Finn that’s like theater, but also not a swinging hit single. I’ve stuck it here for posterity, since I recorded it this very cold night inside the trailer.

3 thoughts to “Why Do People Come Here?”

  1. You seem to be able to move between different nomadic groups fairly easily but I guess there will always be things that don’t quite mesh. Like these people are surprised you have an oven but equally the people you spent last Xmas around would probably raise an eyebrow at the idea of talking about peeing in cups. You’re lucky to have this flexibility! Also, you’re getting so good at the ukulele! All Along The Watchtower is never going to sound ominous on one though, you have the right attitude to playing it 😄

    1. Great point about the variety of cultures we seem to jive with. I hadn’t thought of it that way. And thanks for listening to the uke!