RVing at Imperial Dam and Senator Wash Reservoir, California
Camping at Senator Wash Reservoir
One of my unique finds at Imperial Dam LTVA
RV Snowbirds Flock to Imperial Dam BLM Area
RVing Snowbirds from the northern U.S. and Canada flock to the Southwest to escape frigid winter temperatures and overcast skies. In southern Arizona, huge numbers of RVers boondock on the thousands of acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land to enjoy the sunny weather, mild temperatures and free or very cheap camping.
One very popular boondocking location is the Imperial Dam Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA). Camping areas are off Senator Wash Road near Senator Wash Reservoir. The reservoir is near Imperial Dam which is fed by the Colorado River and is about 25 miles north of Yuma. Although the LTVA is actually in California, it's but a stone's throw from the Arizona border. It's surrounded by beautiful red brown hills. Many of the camping areas are set on a plateau overlooking Senator Wash Reservoir while others are tucked into more protected areas next to the hills and in some of the gravel beds. Hidden in the hills are abandoned gold and turquoise mines as well as many areas that attract rock hounds.
Bureau of Land Management Senator Wash LTVA
Senator Wash Long Term Visitor Area.
Imperial Dam LTVA and Senator Wash Reservoir
Snowbirds arrive at Imperial Dam LTVA and Senator Wash anytime from October to January. Some stay a few weeks and move on to Quartzsite or other BLM areas in Arizona or California (See Slab City, California, The Last Free Place ). Others set up camp for the season and remain for a full 6 months leaving in early April when the weather begins to get hot.
There are many advantages to boondocking in the Long Term Visitor Areas on BLM land. First of all, the cost can't be beat. Imperial Dam LTVA costs $40 for two weeks or $180 for the 6 months. Because this area is all part of the Yuma BLM district, campers can use their permits at several different BLM areas within the district including Long Term Visitor Areas in Quartzsite, Arizona and at the Hot Springs near Holtville, California. The Imperial Dam LTVA, which is near Senator Reservoir, has a dump station, trash dumpsters and a central water station as well as restrooms with outdoor showers. (There are also pay showers nearby at Squaw Lake campground for those who would like the luxury of a hot showers.) In addition, there is a pavilion in one of the protected gravel beds where residents gather for aerobics, church services and jam sessions. In another area, volunteers have set up a community library in an old Airstream trailer.
Photographs of Senator Wash Long Term Visitor AreaClick thumbnail to view full-size
Winter Communities Boondocking at Imperial Dam
The Imperial Dam Long Term Visitor Area includes smaller camping areas with such colorful names as South Mesa, Hurricane Ridge, Coyote Ridge, Skunk Hollow, Florida Flats, Ocotillo Flats and Quail Hill. Each of these areas has it's own special attraction, whether it's protection from the wind, a view of the Senator Wash Reservoir or a beautiful view of the surrounding hills. Winter residents have also instituted some of their own attractions. For example, one winter resident collects and recycles cans and bottles on Hurricane Ridge. Down in Skunk Hollow, volunteers operate a community library and monitor Channel 12 on the CB in case someone has an emergency. Other areas have transplanted communities of snowbirds from Canada or various Northern states.
As some people have been parking in the same spot year after year, some parking spots have been outlined with rocks which have been picked up in the desert. Natural plants and cacti are sometimes protected with a circle of rocks and become part of the "landscaping" around campsites. Attractive stone fire pits have been built at many of the camping spots.
Exploring 4 wheel drive roads On BLM land at Imperial Dam Recreation Area
Wild burros and Sand Dunes
Points of Interest and Things to Do Near Imperial Dam and Around Yuma
Imperial Dam is approximately 25 miles from Yuma, but there are some interesting things to do without traveling into the city.
Yuma Proving Grounds
Yuma a Proving Grounds is about 5 miles away from Senator Wash Reservoir. Non-military visitors are allowed on the base to visit the cafe and bowling alley. There is also an excellent small museum on the base which is well worth seeing.
See the Collection of World War II Tanks
WWII Tanks are on display along Imperial Dam Road as you drive from Rt. 95 to Senator Wash Road. There is room to park and get a close-up look at the big guns if you wish.
Visit the Date Gardens in Bard, California
You can see groves of date trees being groomed and hand pollinated during the season. The local date gardens have gift shops and a place where visitors can purchase fresh dates as well as date shakes.
Castle Dome Mine and Museum
is located several miles north east. There is a museum there as well as remains of an old mining town. Even if you chose not to go to the museum, the ride out to Castle Dome is a beautiful one through garden-like stands ofcactus. In the spring you will see many wildflowers along the roadside as well as the ocotillo and beavertail cacti in bloom.
Explore the Imperial Dam Recreation Area
by 4-wheel drive vehicle or ATV. There are many, many back country roads to explore. Some are graded dirt roads like Ferguson Road that meanders through the hills to Ferguson Lake. Others are little more than rough trails through washes and over hills into the wilderness.
Go Boating or Fishing at Senator Reservoir, Mittery Lake or Squaw Lake
Public boat ramps allow access to Senator Reservoir, Mittery Lake or Squaw Lake. Camping is allowed along the water at the Senator Wash Reservoir and Squaw Lake for $15 a night. There are still no utilities or hookups, but there is a beautiful water view at both of these camping areas.
Go to Mittery Lake Wildlife Area
Check out Mittery Lake Wildlife Area for camping, boating, fishing or bird watching and wildlife viewing. There is dispersed camping along the lakeside as well as away from the water.
Going a little farther afield, one can find plenty to do in Yuma.
Visit Yuma Crossing Historic park
The Park contains the quarter masters quarters as well as other restored historic buildings.
Tour the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park
Visit Castle Dome Mine, Museum and Ghost town
Observe wild burros
Keep a lookout for the wild burros who live in the hills. They are used to people and their curiosity will often bring them into campsites to investigate fire rings or outdoor tables. It's illegal to feed them, though.
Visit one of the weekend flea markets.
The Arizona Marketplace is a huge flea market which is open Thursday through Sunday. and a farmer's market on Wednesdays. Area events include music shows, rodeos, the annual Yuma Air Show and the Yuma County Fair.
Visit the Quechan Museum
Visit the Quechan Museum in Yuma.
Cross the border into Los Algodones, Mexico.
Go for shopping, lunch and even dental work or new eyeglasses.
See the Imperial Sand Dunes
The Dunes are about 30 miles west of the Imperial Dam. They are a great attraction for ATVs. Even if you don't step out onto the sand, go to see the incredible expanse of golden sand dunes just off I-8 west of Yuma. Stay away if it's windy, though, as blowing sand can be stingingly unpleasant and tough on skin and vehicle paint jobs.
Map of Dispersed Camping on BLM Land
The Best Book About Camping BLM and Public Lands
Don't Be Without This Book!
We refer often to this book, Adventures on America's Public Lands, to help us find free and cheap camping in the southwestern states. It includes information on campgrounds and directions for finding them. There are also handy phone numbers - always call if you are unsure of directions or other details!
Many Free Places to Camp Around Yuma
In addition to the Imperial Dam LTVA which charges a small fee for camping, there are numerous places where one can camp for free on BLM land. The BLM Yuma Field Office
manages 1.2 million acres of southwestern Arizona and southeastern
California. The area includes 155 miles of the lower Colorado River, a
destination for hundreds of thousands of visitors seeking water-related
While there are some developed campgrounds on BLM lands which charge a fee, dispersed camping (free) is allowed on most BLM land except land designated for other uses or for wildlife preserves. Dispersed camping is usually limited to 14 days within a 28 day period.
For more information, stop in or call the Yuma BLM Field Office which is at:
2555 East Gila Ridge Road
Yuma, AZ 85365
A Snowbird Boondocking Paradise
Southwestern Arizona and southeastern California wonderful RV snowbird destinations. There are numerous places to stay in a variety of settings. Camp along a lakeside at Mittery Lake or overlooking a reservoir at Senator Wash. Camp near the Imperial Sand Dunes and play in the sand on your OHV or enjoy natural hot springs at Hot Springs near Holtville. There is dispersed camping in the hills and on the flat of the desert. Enjoy a few weeks or a few months of balmy weather while those in northern climates are fighting off Old Man Winter's worst.
Whatever you do, enjoy it every day, live in the moment and...
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Stephanie Henkel