On the Road Again | Picacho State Recreation Area

Friday, June 17, 2016S.V. CAMBRIA

On our way back to the boat in March, we decided to do some late-winter camping, stopping off in Los Algodones, Mexico (near Yuma, Arizona) to see the dentist. I've already written about the places we stayed in New Mexico (Oliver Lee State Park and City of Rocks State Park), Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Sani Dental Group and am picking up the trip where we left off: Picacho State Recreation Area in California. 

Finding a place to tent camp near Yuma, Arizona isn't easy. Businesses cater to RVers and the only grounds in the area are resorts with no tent sites. There are some places to boondock (camp for free) but they lack basic facilities (like toilets) and we wanted to stay in the area in case we had a problem and needed to see the dentist again. There was always the hotel, but we were ready for a change and the best I option I could come up with was Picacho State Recreation Area, some 20 miles northwest of Yuma in California.

Picacho SRA has a somewhat interesting history. In 1826, gold was discovered and by 1890, a successful gold mining operation was in place giving birth to a town of more than 100 people. Mining supplies and passengers were delivered by paddleboat along the adjacent Colorado River. The western novelist, Zane Grey, used it as a backdrop for one of his books, Wanderer of the Wasteland, which was made into a silent film. There was a saloon, a jail, a cemetery . . . even a polo field. But when the Imperial Dam was built down-river, water access was cut off. With no easy means to ship in supplies, the town dried up and then in 1938 when a lake behind the dam was filled, it was flooded. Now it's part of the state park system and under consideration for closure due to ongoing budget cuts.

There are several well-maintained trails that run through the SRA, but I was able to walk all of them in one day. The real appeal of the park is the river – fishing, recreational boating and birding. Picacho is part of the Pacific Flyover, an important migratory path for birds, but we didn't see much in the way of wildlife, not even the feral burros that come around the campground at night.

The 24-mile road to Picacho starts in Winterhaven, California and is only paved for the first six. After that, it's poorly graded and better suited for 4-wheel drive vehicles, though we did see a couple of people pulling trailers and boats. The park lies on an 8-mile stretch of the Colorado River and has four boat-in camps with a total of 54 primitive sites, most of which are located in the main campground in the eastern section. Some of the sites, like the one we chose, still have ruins from former homesteads that highlight the character of the place – fireplaces, concrete pads, sandstone walls. There are a couple of boat ramps, chemical toilets and free solar showers, but most of the facilities are pretty basic. And at $25 a night, it was an expensive option.

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  1. I see these photos and I realize how much of my own country I have not seen, and how I begin to long for the desert every few years. Just so pretty, and so cleansing. Sigh.

  2. It's such a shame when budget cuts threaten to close parks :-( $25 seems really expensive for a tent site, but at least it looks like it was an interesting area to camp at.

  3. Looks like another cool park you found! $25 is very expensive for a tent site. Mark and I went camping in Vermont this weekend and had to pay $20 a night (+$1 for the dog) for a primitive tent site and we thought that was crazy as well. Like Ellen said, such a shame that the budgets for the parks went down... I remember not so long ago that we had to pay about $10 for a simple tent site.