The original plan for the day 1 of the trip:
We are meeting at Buckman Springs rest area off I-8 at 8:00 AM, to drive on I-8 to El Centro, turn on SR 111 North towards Niland and Slab City, and take Bradshaw Trail East-North-East towards Palo Verde. We may have a swim call in Oxbow Recreation area, depending on weather and time. Then we proceed to Blythe, Quartzsite, and Bouse (AZ) on pavement. Fuel up in Bouse, and proceed towards the ghost town of Swansea. Dispersed camping near Swansea. Total distance: about 250 miles.
We do meet at Buckman Springs, and take off only 40 minutes later than planned. Our seven-truck convoy drives on to Niland to meet with Richard, and makes a stop at Slab City.
Our little group now counts:
From there on, things start deviating from the plan.
The status of the trail (I planned on taking from Slab City to link to Bradshaw Trail) turns out unclear - it is on federal lands, possibly cutting through a military bombing range. So we spend an hour or so trying to find the alternatives, and resort to coming back to SR 111, driving North for a while, and taking Coachella Canal Road towards Bradshaw Trail. We follow Bradshaw Trail for about 15 miles, then veer North towards I-15.
Between a few stops for airing down, lunch, and route-finding, and about 120 miles on pavement, we find ourselves in Bouse, AZ, at the sunset. We meet with Matt and Thao from Phoenix in their silver G-wagen, and take the Swansea Road - for a very short time, until we find a site large enough for camping with 9 vehicles.
Camping is awesome - the area is so vast that even everyone sitting around the campfire is spread out more than six feet apart. We never had a "meal plan," so everyone cooks their own dinners - Nikolay, me, and the Bauers share lamb ribs and beef stew between us. Beers and Bourbon compliment things nicely.
Actual tally for the day: 49 miles on dirt, and 234 miles on pavement. We beat the plan both in dirt and pavement miles, but not for the right reasons.
Some history of places we visited, compiled from Wikipedia and other resources:
Slab City, California
Prior to the United States' official entry into World War II, the United States Marine Corps made the decision to site a training ground for field and anti-aircraft artillery units in an area accessible by aircraft taking off from carriers near San Diego. To create the training base, 631.345 acres (255.496 ha) were obtained. The government announced that the base was to be named after Brigadier General Robert Henry Dunlap, U.S.M.C. After construction of Camp Dunlap was completed, it was commissioned on October 15, of 1942. The camp had fully functioning buildings, water, roads, and sewage collections. The base was used for three years during the war. By 1949, military operations at Camp Dunlap had been greatly reduced, but a skeleton crew continued on until the base was dismantled. By 1956, all buildings had been dismantled, but the slabs remained.
The area that is now Slab City was the artillery training range for the Camp. It was first settled by a few veterans who had worked at the Marine base, followed later by drifters - then recreational vehicle owners, searching for free camping spots outside Palm Springs. Current residents refer to themselves as Slabbies while tourists are called Normies.
As of October 6, 1961, a quitclaim deed conveying the land to the State of California was issued by the Department of Defense as it was determined the land was no longer required. The deed did not contain any restrictions, recapture clauses or restoration provisions. All of the former Camp Dunlap buildings had been removed. The remaining slabs were not proposed for removal. Later, legislation required that revenue generated from this property go to the California State Teachers Retirement System.
Leonard Knight, an early settler who created the Salvation Mountain art installation, was featured in Sean Penn's Into the Wild, released in 2007. An obituary of Knight stated that he "spent almost 30 years building the colorful mountain ... Built out of adobe and donated paint, Knight worked on the mountain all day, every day. He even slept at the mountain's base in the back of a pick-up truck, with no electricity or running water".
An article in Smithsonian magazine in October 2018 referred to the community as a "Squatters' Paradise" which locals consider to be "one of America's last free places". The article said of the population: "There are clearly people there who don't want to be found, so there's something about disappearing, and the desert offers that kind of opportunity".
Quartzsite got its name from the quartz that was found in the area. The town was established on what used to be Fort Tyson, which was once used for protection against Indian raids. Charles Tyson was a miner who foresaw the mining potential of the area.
The Yavapai tribe (a.k.a. as Mohave-Apache) resented the arrival of the Anglo-European settlers, who arrived from California and other places in the United States, on their land and raided the early settlements. The water supply in the area became the main target of their raids. In 1856 Tyson built a Fort to protect the settlers and the settlement became known as Fort Tyson.
According to the Quartzsite Historical Society, in 1864, Tyson dug a well by hand. The well served the stage coaches that traveled from the towns of Ehrenberg and Prescott. Tyson's Well Stage Station became a busy stage coach station since it was located on the Butterfield Overland Mail route between Prescott, Arizona and Riverside, California.
In 1897, the town was officially named Quartzsite. Tyson owned three store, two saloons and a post office. The establishment of the railroad affected the commercial aspect of the area since most people preferred to travel by train. However, Tyson's Well stage station continued to provide rest and refreshment to travelers and freight drivers.
In the early years of the American gold rush, pan handlers began to arrive in Arizona searching for the precious metal. Gold deposits was discovered in the desert mountains of Plomosa and Dome Rock in the area and a boom in the mining industry followed.
In the valley around Tyson's Wells were places known to have been successfully worked by individual prospectors since the beginning of the Colorado River Gold Rush of the 1860s up until the 1950s. Some large scale operations in the early 20th century were failures.
In 1889, Thomas Bouse, a native of Missouri, arrived in the region in search of gold. He laid claim to various mines, one of which was called the "Old Dutchman Mine" and he also homesteaded various acres of land. In 1904, the Arizona & California Railroad laid tracks from Wickenburg to California. Bouse decided to make a profit from his investments and sold the right of way to the railroad company. Eventually he sold his well and some of his mining claims.
In 1906, John Brayton established the Brayton Mercantile Company on the Eastern side of the train depot and railroad tracks. Bryton was the owner of the Brayton Commercial Company which were established in the towns of Wickenburg and Salome. The early settlers called the area Brayton, however when they proposed naming their small town Brayton, the application sent to the government was returned with the small town being named Bouse instead of the proposed name.
Bouse did not prosper much until 1943, when the United States was involved in World War II.
During World War II, the US Army established Camp Bouse in the town, a top secret tank training camp, under the command of General George S. Patton. The soldiers who trained in the camp were not allowed to discuss anything in regard to their training with outsiders. The 526th Armored Infantry Battalion, the 554th Ordnance Heavy Maintenance Company, the 9th Tank Group and the 701st., 736th and 740th Tank Battalions trained in Camp Bouse. The 739th (SP) (ME) and the 748th "The Rhinos" also trained there. The 554th Tank Battalion arrived in Utah Beach in Normandy, France in 1944. They were involved in the Battle of the Bulge. The 701st Tank Battalion fought in Central Europe, Northern France and the Rhineland. Camp Bouse was closed in April 1944. The men serving in the camp were transferred to Fort Knox, Kentucky and then to Kilmer, New Jersey. They were eventually sent to England for further combat training.
Photos of the day:
Peter Matusov and Nikolay Matusov