Our Snowbird RV Tour – Senators Wash, California

Dry camping area, Cahuilla Lake, California
Dry camping area, Cahuilla Lake, California
 Day 14
We awoke to clear skies and beautiful sunshine again. Our week at Cahuilla lake had been great, we’ve enjoyed our time here with a round of golf, the Palm Desert street fair,  maintaining our rigs and of course relaxing.
Our week disappeared quickly but it’s time to continue our journey. Our next destination is the Imperial Dunes, twenty miles west of Yuma. The plan is to ride the dunes for a couple of days before continuing on to the Colorado River Valley, one of Lynda and my favorite boondocking spots.
We drove south along the western shore of the Salton Sea and then east on highway I-8 toward Yuma, Az, the entrance to the Colorado River Valley.
Checking out the Salton Sea beach near Salton City, California
Checking out the Salton Sea beach near Salton City, California
Above the gang checking out the beach. At first glance, the shore looks like sand but it is actually billions of tiny shellfish.
Dilapidated building along the Sultan Sea, remnants of a better time.
Dilapidated buildings along the SaltonSea, remnants of a better time.
Again, Lynda and I are leading the group, the other two couples seem content to follow. I don’t mind leading, Lynda and I know the way we’ve traveled this route many times since retiring.
During the dead of winter, this is the easiest route from the north, traveling the I-5 to southern California and then east on I-10 or I-8. Heading east before reaching this area would require crossing the high mountain passes of the Sierras and the northern Cascade range. A beautiful drive in the summer, but treacherous in the winter.
The Salton Sea is in south central California is a large inland body of salt water in the middle of the desert left behind after the Sea of Cortez retreated. Once a beautiful recreation destination now a smelly pool with dead fish lining the shores.
ish carcasses line the shore of the Salton Sea, California
Fish carcasses line the shore of the Salton Sea, California
The fish are regularly killed off by oxygen-depleted water caused by an algae bloom from fertilizer in the irrigation runoff. The bloom sucks the life-sustaining oxygen from the water.
After leaving La Quinta the landscape gives way to gentle rolling desert from the mountains bordering the Palm Springs area.
Highway 86 along the Salton Sea is good pavement, but be aware of dips in the road especially south of Salton City. Some are so deep I swear my truck got air a couple of times, I was concerned the ATVs on my deck were bouncing off.
We continued south through the Imperial Valley, a large agricultural area, and then east on highway I-8 to the Imperial Dunes 20 miles west of Yuma. Our initial plan was to stop for a day or two and ride the dunes.
The drive was pleasant under sunny skies and warm temperatures. We arrived at the Imperial Dunes around noon.
We entered the dunes on a rough paved road and pulled off onto what looked like an access road. Immediately I felt my truck bog in the sand, a little unnerving. I watched my mirror as Ralph and Mike pulled in behind me obviously sinking slightly.
After parking, the guys and I headed to the Ranger Station, on the way an older gentleman approached us claiming to be the camp host. A talkative fella and a wealth of information, as most camp hosts are.
He slowly filled us in on the area and the upcoming Presidents Day wild weekend. |He also filled us in on the permit fee,  $35. for a week of riding. Unfortunately, the permit could only be purchased off-site and the closest was seven miles away. The on-site fee from the ranger station is $50.
The Imperial Sand Dunes, southeast California
The Imperial Sand Dunes, southeast California
The group was concerned about the coming weekend and treacherous sand presenting a danger of one of our rigs getting stuck. A quick discussion and the group voted not to stay and ride the dunes this trip and continue onto our next destination, Senators Wash area.
We downed a quick lunch and headed back to I-8 east.
We arrived at Senators Wash reservoir around 3:30 pm under warm sunny skies. There was plenty of room for our rigs along the shore of the reservoir and still space between our group and the other campers.
Our group winter camping at Senators Wash Reservoir Imperial Dam Colorado River Valley
Our group winter camping at Senators Wash Reservoir Imperial Dam Colorado River Valley


I’d advocated camping on the west side of the reservoir. After a brief discussion, the group decided to camp for one night on this side of the reservoir, a place Lynda and I had camped several times in the past.
Senators Wash Reservoir is adjacent to the Imperial Dam on the Colorado River. The dam diverts water for irrigating crops in the Yuma valley. Lettuce is the main crop grown in Yuma, in fact, Yuma supplies over 90% of lettuce consumed in the US.
The reservoir water level was low indicating irrigation of produce fields north of Yuma was underway. Water is pumped from the Colorado river into the reservoir and released as needed to irrigate the crops.
The area of Senators Wash is home to many hundreds of Snowbirds nesting through the winter. Squaw lake, another boondocking destination, and the BLM long term visitors area are within a mile.
The long term visitors area’s fee is about $180. for the season, including a central sewer dump, fresh water and trash. The area is large, about 10 miles square, it can accommodate hundreds of dry camping Snowbirds.


Dry camping, Squaw Lake on the Colorado River north of Yuma, Az.
Dry camping, Squaw Lake on the Colorado River north of Yuma, Az.
Senators Wash reservoir is on the same ticket as Squaw Lake so one could mix and match, a week at one and a week at the other. Unfortunately, most of the Squaw Lake camping area is on pavement.
Once parked the ladies headed off to pay the $75. fee for our two-week stay. The permit is valid for a year, two weeks at a time in a one month period.
An hour after arriving our camp was set and happy hour was in full swing around a roaring campfire.
After happy hour, a nice dinner prepared by our lovely wives and then to bed. We would decide in the morning if a move would be desirable or not?


Desert sunset, Senators Wash Reservoir, Colorado River
Desert sunset, Senators Wash Reservoir, Colorado River
Day 15
Friday morning, we awoke to clear skies and increasing winds. The guys and I unloaded the quads and took a ride to the opposite side of the reservoir to check out the camp spots.
I’ve been interested in this area since we began winter camping at Senators Wash. It’s more secluded with niche camping spot in the trees and better shelter from the frequent desert winds.
Camp spots west shore of Senators Wash Reservoi
Camp spots west shore of Senators Wash Reservoir
The seclusion of this spot was the reason Lynda and I hadn’t ventured to it. Camping alone in not a good idea, we both would be nervous and probably not sleep well.
After our ride, Ralph and Mike didn’t find the area as appealing as I did, I respected their opinion and agreed not to move. Ralph was concerned about the rough access road and Mike thought our present camp was as good.
Back at our camp set up continued considering we planned to stay for the longest period yet. The wind continued to increase through the day driving most campers inside to escape the buffeting wind and blowing dust.
Despite the high winds temperatures inside our rigs climbed to uncomfortable levels necessitating the cracking of vents and windows. A mistake we realized later, the interior surfaces of our rigs were coated with desert dust……..yuk.
That afternoon, we were joined by several weekend campers. Our closest neighbors, with Arizona license plates, brought a large noisy generator that ran continuously, thankfully there was a quiet time posted from 10pm – 6am.
When talking to our new neighbor he explained the large generator was brought along in case other family members, who would be arriving later that evening, forgot their generators or had trouble with them. A thoughtful gesture for the family, but not so much for the neighbors.
It was Friday night which means the traditional fish fry. It didn’t take much convincing and the group was on board and heading to Yuma and a small diner in Foothills, Rob’s Grill. My brother introduced us to the Seattle Seahawks adorned diner several years before, it has become a regular stop on our winter stay in the Yuma area.
The trip to town took us through blowing sand resembling a northern blizzard, not the best situation for my new truck’s air filter.
Rob’s produced a great Alaskan cod and fries dinner as usual, although comments describing the small portion of French fries floated through the group.
We returned to camp in the dark to find our dog Buddy cowering under the table obviously traumatized by the howling wind rocking our trailer. Mommy’s baby needed much love and cuddles to sooth his quivering.
Doggy therapy is no doubt in our future.
Heavy wind continued through the night rocking our RVs and waking us frequently. Heavy rain began during the wee hours, hopefully dampening the blowing sand was my thought as I lay listening to the raging storm.
Day 16
Saturday morning began as Friday night ended with heavy wind and rain. The wind subsided during the day but the rain persisted. A venture outside braving the elements was necessary to start the generators as the RV batteries needed charging. The cloudy skies prevented our solar panels from doing their job.
Indoor activities were the entertainment for this day. Days like this require a decent size RV, spending a day or maybe two makes for an enjoyable interlude – no chores or outside activities are possible forcing one to relax.
Adding to the excitement this day was the rising water, as I mentioned previously the reservoir was at a low ebb when we arrived. A couple of days later, it began to rise, it was now approaching an uncomfortable level close to flooding our camping area.
Senators Wash Reservoir at a low ebb.
Senators Wash Reservoir at a low ebb.
The rest of the group is becoming increasingly concerned we may be flooded. We prepared our rigs for a quick escape. The group went to bed with the possible disaster weighing on our minds. A midnight bolt was a real possibility.
I went to bed thinking I would not sleep, waking frequently to check the rising water level…….not.
I went to sleep instantly not waking until 4 am, I bolted from my bed. Thoughts racing through my mind, were we surrounded by water? How could I’ve slept through the imminent disaster?
I opened the trailer door to the dark night and pointed the flashlight letting it shine on the ground, the water level was about 10 feet from our trailer steps almost touching our outside rug.
What a relief, dry land still surrounded us, all was good.
A quick calculation in my sleepy mind determined we should be good for a few more hours until day break. I shone the flashlight into the darkness to see how the water level was affecting our neighbors.
They were gone, a quick search with the flashlight revealed their dark RVs high and dry on the other side of the road.
The morning light revealed the reservoir had not risen since my wee hour check.
Mike and Ralph used the opportunity to tow their RVs up the hill to dump and replenish fresh water to make certain the tanks would last for our two week stop.
Check back later for my next article on our Snowbird RV tour.
Thanks for visiting.
Gord B.