Good Monday morning, everyone!
We just spent our tenth night here at our campsite on Vulture Mine Road just south of Wickenburg, Arizona. This spot is on BLM land which means it’s free camping, and it has quickly become one of our most favorite places we have ever camped.
The scenery around here is just stunning, especially since there was so much rain over the winter months, resulting in what’s known as a “superbloom” when there is an abundance of wildflowers and green grass in the desert. People flock to the desert from miles around to enjoy the beauty that lasts for such a short time. In fact, in California, the crowds were so large in Lake Elsinore that city officials had to temporarily close the wildflower viewing area when local facilities and infrastructure became overwhelmed. We have been so fortunate to be able to camp here at this exact time of year to be able to hike though the flowers and enjoy the beauty in peace and solitude.
We’ve done a lot of hiking over the past week, exploring the area in the hills and mountains around us. From the main road, there are lots of small gravel roads leading back into the desert that are used mainly by off-road vehicles and hikers. Many are marked with BLM signs with road numbers so you can report your position if you run into any trouble. We usually hike about 30 minutes in and then 30 minutes out, which gives us a good workout since a lot of the route involves uphill climbing. We’ve encountered rabbits, ground squirrels, lizards, one snake (non-venomous), and lots of different bird species. Yesterday, we suddenly found ourselves right next to a swarm of bees in a creosote bush–not sure how we got out without getting stung, but that was much more intense than our encounter with the snake!
I’ve done one geocache hunt since we’ve been here, and it was a fun one. It was located about 1.3 miles from our camp, as the crow flies, so about 1.5 miles on foot by the road. I found the cache in a palo verde tree, in a metal yard-art sculpture of a vulture. On the back of the vulture was a metal box containing the log and a bag of tokens that geocachers swap. I left one of my mini-dominoes and took a little plastic frog.
We haven’t spent a whole lot of time in Wickenburg yet. The day after we arrived here, we drove in to McDonald’s to meet some of our friends from Phoenix who were passing through on their way to Las Vegas–that was fun! We’ve been to the grocery store (Safeway) a couple of times, to the laundromat, the post office, and a local Mexican restaurant called Lydia’s La Canasta for lunch. All these places are located right next to each other so there was no exploration involved. We do plan to spend a day checking out Wickenburg this week to see more of the historic sites and possibly the museum.
On Saturday we visited Vulture City, which is the site of the old original Vulture Mine community. According to one of the plaques at the site,
In 1863 Austrian Henry Wickenburg discovered gold, legend has it, while retrieving a vulture he had shot. The Vulture Mine went on to become one of Arizona’s richest gold mines and sparked the development of Arizona and the city of Phoenix. In the 1880’s and 1890’s, Vulture City’s population grew to almost 5000 people and featured a large stone assay office, miners’ dormitories, houses for company officials, a mess hall, a school, a post office, and an 80-stamp mill. It is estimated that the Vulture Mine produced more than 200 million dollars worth of gold and silver. The exact amount is unknown due to theft or “highgrading” for which some 18 men were hanged.
The mine was closed in 1942 during WWII by executive order from President Roosevelt, as being non-essential to the war effort. However, it was re-opened in 2014 and is currently back in production, in a much more modern mining effort that is, of course, closed to the public.
But many of the original buildings are still there and available for tours. This area was purchased by an English developer who has invested about $2 million so far into restoring the old buildings which had fallen into disrepair. You can see Henry Wickenburg’s little house, the Assay Office, the bunkhouse, kitchen, dining hall, vault, post office, a gas station, and of course, the brothel. There’s even the hanging tree where 18 men were hanged for various offenses. There’s also a small museum with various photographs and artifacts from the site.
They charge $15 for the self-guided tour, which I think is a little steep for what you get to see, but it is an interesting way to spend an hour or two, if only to chat with Gary and Joyce, the couple who manage the site. They are actually miners themselves and own a small copper mine not far from here, which they work by hand. Joyce makes jewelry from the copper and stones that they retrieve from their mine. We love meeting people who have stories to tell, like Gary and Joyce!
So, what’s next?
Technically, there’s a 14-day limit to camping on BLM land, but we haven’t seen any evidence of enforcement in this area. If the weather never changed, we could stay here indefinitely, we enjoy it that much. But there are other sights we want to see, and we can already tell that the flowers and grass are starting to wilt and turn brown, so we will most likely be moving on by next weekend. Our next destination will be north of here, and higher in elevation–we just don’t know exactly where that’s going to be yet.
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