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Quartzsite, Arizona (Desert Gardens Airport)

An Indian Hills Airpark Great Breakfast Flight Outing

By Ron Kilber

Sunday, October 29, 2000

Another airpark-heaven day is in the works here in western Arizona. I've been wanting to fly to the Desert Gardens Airport in Quartzsite, AZ, for more than a year. Inasmuch as it's a private field, I called ahead yesterday requesting permission to land. Polite and cheerful Sandy was eager to okay, even suggesting I visit the Stagecoach Restaurant for breakfast. She said the owner just graded the runway last week, so it's in excellent shape. If I found someone to join me, well, that was not a problem, she added. Naturally, with plenty of aviator enthusiasts here at the Indian Hills Airpark, it was easy to round up a few hungry pilots wanting to go there, too.

The Desert Gardens Airport is only 35 miles west of the airpark. You don't even need a compass to get there. Just follow US Route 60 until it meets up with I-10, then fly the freeway west a few miles to Quartzsite.

At 7:45 a.m., Den "J-3" Peck and Wade "RV-6" Kincaid blast off from Runway 29. The temperature is only a little chilly, the skies scattered -- maybe 4,000 feet -- with cloud remnants of the storms (and the press) that have flooded nearby areas such as Wenden, Arizona.

I'm still at the fuel farm topping the tanks of my Cessna 150, something I wanted to do yesterday but blatantly forgot until this most inconvenient time. Oh well, I guess I'm the straggler today -- again.

Jim and Debbie "C-150" Rauber are next off using Runway 29, followed by Red "C-150" Selover.

When I finally depart on Runway 11, Red radios to say he'll wait for me over Hope, AZ, a few miles west of the airpark. It only takes a few minutes to get there, but Murphy's law prevailing, my radio decides to lay down on me. Unable to communicate, I beeline for Quartzsite, hoping Red sees me and follows.

The scenery along the way is stunning, with mountains on all points of the compass. As I fly the highway, the visibility is good enough to see Bouse, Arizona, northwest of me 25 miles. In fact, I can see all the way to the landmark bluffs of Parker, Arizona., along the Colorado River, thirty more miles farther along the horizon. Looking left, I'd be able to see Mexico if the Kofa Mountains were not in my line of sight.

A BD-5 on the roof at Desert Gardens

Fifteen minutes later, I'm flying midfield over Desert Gardens Airport, which parallels busy I-10 five-hundred feet south near the far-west freeway exit of Quartzsite. There's a used car/RV lot and truck stop on the northwest end of the strip. Straddling the strip midfield and south is an RV/mobile home park. On center stage is a restaurant (open only for dinner) with a BD-5 mounted on its roof. A small car museum sits nearby, and there are many aircraft artifacts strewn everywhere. Engines, fuselages, wings, propellers, even a wrecked C-150.

I can see that Den and Wade are already on the ground and that the windsock is pointing east.

On final approach heading west, there are power lines below me -- not a friendly sight. Worse is the well traveled dirt road which crosses the field midway. With 30 degrees of flaps, I'm confident I can land well before any RV (recreational vehicle) driven by a hapless boondocker, witless and bold enough to head anyone off. I land well before the road, then taxi farther down the airstrip where Den and Wade are already parked.

The Raubers come in next. They had landed at the air strip on the hill across the freeway to the north, then made better of the situation by flying over here.

Next, it's Red's turn to land, coming in last, thanks to my broken radio.

Too hungry to mull around, we quickly assemble for the half-mile trek, which is via a footbridge across the freeway to the Stagecoach Restaurant.

Along the way, we see vehicles using the road that crosses the airstrip midway. Most stop and look for air traffic; one is too oblivious to neither look nor stop.

Quartzsite is famous for affordable RV and mobile home parks (more than 50), but not as famous as it is for RV boondocking, which Webster's Dictionary doesn't define, but means 'recreation-vehicle living for free'. There are more boondockers during winter in the Quartzsite area than anywhere else in the country -- maybe the world. Low-to-no-income snowbirds converge on Quartzsite every winter, just as sure as geese migrate south. With plenty of open public land to park self-contained RVs, hapless, hopeless and otherwise homeless RVers pretty much live off the land -- squat free. Sometimes numbering upwards of 100,000 individuals, you'd think Quartzsite was the land of RV milk and honey.

To keep visitors to Quartzsite coming back, the local promoters have dreamt up everything and anything: camel and ostrich races, historical museums, Mexicali dancers, fireworks, horseshoe tournaments and the granddad of all swapmeets, which includes more than 2,000 vendors coming from everywhere to sell everything imaginable during winter. It's where you can buy that never-before-seen tool for a dollar. Quartzsite is home to quite a few major gem, mineral and general merchandise shows.

To get the word out, Quartzsite has its own radio station (KBUX, 94.3 FM) run from a spare bedroom of owners Buck and Maude Burdette. Maude told me they transmit 24 hours daily, entertaining with all kinds of easy-listening sounds.

It's still early in the snowbird season, so things are still relatively quiet around here. We pass one RV with a sign reading "Let Jesus into you". Alongside is a white tent, which well may double as a portable church.

On the freeway frontage road, an old RV clanks by occupied by two spry old -- surely -- grandfathers who are neither well dressed nor groomed. With hats, both might pass for old cowboy movie characters once played by Gabby Hayes and Walter Brennan. Their RV is home-made modified with what well may be extra living quarters on top, reminiscent of props in Mel Gibson's "Road Warrior" movie. There's even a short-haired dog starring out the front window. Everything about the rig is anachronistic, save the new satellite dish antennae on top.

The Stagecoach Restaurant is a short jaunt away, providing a little exercise opportunity before breakfast. Sitting on the main drag through town, the well groomed and clean eatery is attached to a motel. It's cheerful inside, as is the staff. The prices are very affordable. My staple pilot food -- bacon and eggs -- is priced nearly two dollars less than what can be found near the Indian Hills Airpark. The potatoes are real, not that Or Ida variety preferred by so many food purveyors these days. My experience has taught me that things cost more near freeways where the demand is greater. This restaurant is right along I-10. Our eateries at home are off the beaten path.

Group Photo
Den "J-3" Peck, Wade "RV-6" Kincaid, Debbie & Jim "C-150" Rauber, Red "C-150" Selover and Ron "C-150" Kilber

I find it fun to be here with fellow neighbors and aviators. There's always something magical about flying to breakfast. It provides opportunity and situation to talk about things otherwise ignored or forgotten. Den, for example, tells us about the time he led a group of airpark flyers to a top-secret airport, communicating only the GPS coordinates to the participants. Of course, the base wasn't secret at all, but Den's creative twist provided ambiance and fun as if all were on their way to Nevada's Area 51.

When we're all ready to leave, it's almost too late for Wade to get home in time for church. He was only able to get a kitchen pass from his wife to join us if he could return in time for sermon and service.

The wind is out of the west, but everyone departs easterly on the runway, preferring the downhill advantage over the tail-wind loss. Everyone lifts off significantly before the midfield road.

A straggler again, I'm last in the pack to get airborne. The tailwind gets squirely over the power lines, but it's nothing to worry about after I gain more airspeed.

While on final approach back at Indian Hills, I can see that the Raubers have returned safely to their home. After I park my C-150 in the hangar, I bump into Den who verifies for me that everyone else has returned safely, too.


Copyright (C) 2000 Ron Kilber Non-commercial reproduction permitted in its entirety with this copyright notice intact.

7:04PM 10/29/00

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