Painted Rock Petroglyph Site, AZ

It has been two months since we towed the Airstream anywhere, so it was clearly time to break out for a road trip.  Fortunately, our friends Adam and Susan were heading west from Tucson and wanted companions, so we had a good excuse.  Then I mentioned the trip to our friends Ken and Petey, and then I mentioned it to Roger and Roxie, and pretty soon it was turning into an event.

painted-rock-petroglyph-site.jpgWe met Adam and Susan, and Ken and Petey, in a lonely part of southern Arizona off Interstate 8.  When a place is described as “20 miles northwest of Gila Bend,” you know it’s pretty far away from population centers.  Gila Bend is a blip on the Interstate between Yuma and Casa Grande.

Our real destination was Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, but it’s 300+ mile drive from Tucson and nobody was in a hurry.  For years we’ve passed signs on I-8 pointing to a place called Painted Rock Petroglyph Site, and thought, “Sometime we should detour up there to see what that’s all about.”  So I told everyone it was somewhere off I-8 west of Gila Bend, and to figure out how to get there, and they all did.

(Painted Rock Petroglyph Site is indicated by the “H” symbol on the map above.)

dsc_8524.jpgPainted Rock was once a state park, but its status changed when the Gila River was declared polluted, and access to the water was closed.  Now it’s administered by the Bureau of Land Management.  Apparently without water it has become much less of a draw, so the campground was almost entirely deserted except for us.  We thought it was spectacular: quiet, starry, and mysterious because of the hill of ancient petroglyph-covered rocks directly adjacent to the campground.  Eight bucks a night, no hookups, no dump station.

The night at Painted Rock was a great warm-up for our next several days.  We explored the hill of petroglyphs, and then grilled vegetables outside and watched the stars fill the sky at dusk.  We talked about our plans and our recent experiences, and then retired to our three Airstreams for a quiet cool night.

The drive along I-8 and up the Imperial Valley has been the subject of several of my Tour of America blog posts, but still this trip fascinates me.  You pass through vast tracts of the Sonoran desert, skirt the very border of Mexico, cross major canals shunting water to grow Imperial Valley vegetables, traverse the tall Imperial Sand Dunes, dip below sea level, and then roll north to the Salton Sea.  There you’ll find acres of swaying palms, dust storms, an unnatural salt lake, miles of irrigated vegatables, and a Border Patrol checkpoint.  That last roadside phenomenon tied up traffic for about half an hour, but as usual we were waved through once we finally reached the officers.

Our next several days were spent in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California, and I’ll write about those experiences in the next blog.

About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine