February 11 – 19.
I usually have a plan. It is always flexible, never set in stone though, and often veers off in any direction at any moment. But this winter I didn’t really have much of a plan at all. We were meeting up with friends and it seemed easier just to follow them around. It was kind of nice. We tagged along with our buddies from Roaming About for a trip through Southern Arizona in December and then after meeting up with more friends from Scamper Squad later that month became a roving band of nomads, figuring out where we were going to go and what we were going to do each morning. When the gang split up and we had no one to tag along with anymore we just kind of piddled around in the Yuma/Southeastern California trying to decide what to do next. Our friends from Roaming About had invited us to join them on the beach in Baja California, Mexico but we weren’t sure if we wanted to leave the country just yet.
We were still pondering what to do when we used up all of our camping days at Mittry Lake so we decided to visit a nearby Arizona National Wildlife Refuge – which led us to visiting two more refuges while we continued to consider Mexico and then eventually once we made a decision to just kill time.
Arizona has nine National Wildlife Refuges. We have now visited five of them – Buenos Aires NWR, Cabaze Prieta NWR, Cibola NWR, Kofa NWR, and Imperial NWR. Wildlife Refuges have become sort of like off (way off) the beaten track National Parks for us. Many of the ones we have visited have visitor centers and often times have interpretive trails, wildlife exhibits, and sometimes even ranger programs.
Imperial National Wildlife Refuge
Our first stop after leaving Mittry Lake was Imperial National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge sits along the Colorado River and is adjacent to Martinez Lake. The refuge has a nice-looking visitor center but, of course, it was closed due to Covid. There is also an observation tower, trails, and a driving route to several overlooks throughout the refuge. We only spent the afternoon at the refuge and didn’t get to do everything we would have liked to – including kayaking in the lake and walking a tail intriguingly named the Painted Desert Foot Trail. If I had done a little planning I might have realized that there was State Trust Land nearby where we could have camped cheaply. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize where the State Trust Land was until we were leaving and in order to camp there, you need to buy a permit online and have a printed copy. We had no internet or printer at the refuge.
Kofa National Wildlife Refuge
My lack of planning brought us to Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. As we left Imperial, with no plan as to where we’d spend the night, I saw some close-ish camping spots marked on my map from when we had previously visited Kofa.
Kofa has a visitor center but it is located in Yuma – some 40 miles south of the refuge – so since we hadn’t planned on being there we didn’t stop by before we left the Yuma area. But the refuge does have nice glossy brochures located at kiosks on all the roads leading into the refuge. Free camping at Kofa is plentiful, located at sites throughout the refuge and on BLM that surrounds the refuge.
Cibola National Wildlife Refuge
While we were at Kofa we ran into our friend Holly from Road Quill. We told her we were thinking about going to Mexico and she thought she might want to tag along. So we finally made a plan. We would all three cross the southern border and catch up with my friends Liesbet, Mark, and the lovely canine Maya from Roaming About. But Holly couldn’t leave for a week so we hung around Kofa a few more days and then headed to Cibola National Wildlife Refuge.
We had visited Cibola for the first time last March – right before the beginning of the shutdowns – and enjoyed it so much we thought it merited a return trip. Cibola has a nice little visitor center which we were able to stop into on our previous trip. In the back of the visitor center are a short trail, a pond, and a deck overlooking part of the refuge. From the visitor center, you can access a driving loop around a portion of the refuge. You are required to stay in your car on this loop except for one stop where there is a walking trail into a wooded area. Like Imperial, Cibola also stretches along the Colorado River and there are other areas of the refuge you can drive to with access to small lakes, ponds, and roads to walk on.
On our last visit to the refuge, we found a free camping area nearby called the Hippie Hole. This time we choose to camp on BLM land directly across from the entrance to the refuge.
A New Plan
We never made it to Mexico. We would have liked to spend a few more days at Cibola but we decided to completely change course. We made the decision to head east to North Carolina and stop in on Greg’s parents. We hadn’t seen them in a year and a half and since they had just gotten the vaccine it seemed like time to go. When we told Holly she had already been thinking she’d give Mexico a miss this time. And my friends from Roaming About have been having a good time on the Mexican beaches without us. Perhaps next winter we will make a plan for a little beach time too.
It is quite possible that I will be sharing this post on any one of these sites this week: My Corner of the World, Travel Tuesday, Wild Bird Wednesday, Through My Lens, and Sharon’s Souvenirs. Check out these links to see what other people are doing all over the world!