Campground Review – Fisher’s Landing at Martinez Lake, Arizona

Posted May 12, 2020 – Narrated by Carmen
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bambi-4    *see our 5-Bambi rating legend at the end of this review.

In February, we hit pause on the California winter desert tour and skipped back to San Diego. Jim took the wheel, pulled the rig out of Chiriaco Summit, selected Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” and hit play for good luck.

And boy, did we need it. Cheers, Willy. You came through for us.

As usual, I sang along and opened AnyList. Shopping must be done. We were down to our last medjool date. Costco… Check. And, we needed supplies for our DIY bathroom remodel. San Diego Hardware… Check. Both computer keyboards must be replaced – space bar problems. Apple Store… Check.

On the drive we planned every moment of the next two weeks … Dentist appointment. Foundation banquet. Meetings. Family and friends first and always.

Admiral Baker RV Park

Four hours later, we pulled into the centrally located Admiral Baker RV Park – a military campground in a San Diego suburb called Mission Valley. Honestly, until this year, we didn’t even know a campground was there, located beside a military golf course and clubhouse. Civilians are allowed to stay for two weeks.

Most RV parks in San Diego are run down and outdated, and Admiral Baker is no exception. However, the grounds are lovely with expansive lawns and shady old growth trees enveloping a fabulous pool and recreation facility. Sadly, the pool is only open between Memorial Day and Labor Day – except this summer because … pandemic.

Like a southern California downpour, news about COVID-19 began as a worrisome drizzle. We weren’t overly concerned. Jim had served on the GERM Commission. He knew the drill. We felt certain the threat would soon be contained.

We knew the storm was developing when our son, who works at an Urgent Care Clinic, expressed anxiety about visiting us.

Then, management at Admiral Baker locked up the showers and laundromat. Next, a banquet for Jim’s foundation was cancelled. Then, my dentist closed her office to all but emergency patients. Forget the Apple Store and bathroom remodel. Our fourteen days were coming up. We had to leave, but where to go?

In California, all city, county, state and national parks and even BLM land were closed or announcing planned closures. Private parks were open but most were not accepting new arrivals and, besides that, most private park spaces are way too tight for serious social distancing.

Fisher’s Landing

Then, Jim got an idea. Fisher’s Landing! His old stomping grounds on the Arizona side of the Colorado River.

On March 3rd, we pulled out of San Diego. As usual, we stopped overnight at The Golden Acorn Casino where free overnight RV parking is allowed. It was like a ghost town. We were practically alone.

I played the customary $20 for Daddy. A family tradition. It never takes long.

While I was losing, Jim checked to see if the The Golden Grill was open. Fortunately, they were. Now, months later, we fondly remember that meal as “our last supper.”

The next morning the restaurant and casino closed down entirely.

We drove on with purpose and hope but also with a gnawing doubt that Fisher’s Landing may not accept us. Entering Arizona on I-8, we passed dozens of RV resorts

Yuma is a winter refuge for snowbirds. Jim took over the wheel as I checked each website for availability just in case Fisher’s didn’t pan out. This would be the first – and hopefully the only time – we ever passed through downtown Yuma without stopping at Prison Hill Brewing Company. Oh, the agony.

Driving north along the lower Colorado River, we passed through a valley with thousands of verdant acres of romaine lettuce prostrated in obedient rows before the majestic Gila Mountain Range.

Then, the road developed huge swells. The stomach-churning roller coaster ride went on for miles.

Between the bumps we caught glimpses of strange villages on the barren, rocky hillsides. Then, we saw a sign: Yuma Proving Ground. The entrance to a military installation. Aha. The middle-east style villages were stages for military exercises.

At this point, downtown Yuma was about forty minutes behind us. We passed signs warning us to watch for wild donkeys and goats. Then, another strange thing … a billboard offering expensive off-grid homes on Martinez Lake near the Colorado River which made us wonder who, with a half-million dollars to spend, would want to buy a home way out here in the middle of nowhere?” But that was then and this is now. We get it. Totally.

Fisher’s Landing – securely tucked into a fish-hook curve on the Colorado River is everything any rustic, self-reliant camper could possibly hope for.

It is a hiking

dirt-biking…

kayaking

off-road cycling …

and just staring at the river kind of place to ask yourself, what the !*#* just happened?

Also, there is birding

boating…

wake-boarding, jet-skiing, bass fishing, and duck-hunting.

Fisher’s Landing has it all.

I would even call it paradise …

But, Resort is not a word I would use to describe Fisher’s because much of the grounds are remnants from the 1950’s-60’s heyday years.

However, renovation projects are in progress around the landing and restaurant – hopefully, that love will extend to the camping areas which are, geographically, the finest recreational real estate in the Yuma region with,

  • Free camping on government owned land
  • Strong Verizon signal with a Cell Booster
  • Security, including a brand new sheriff’s station just off the premises.
  • PLUS:
    • A dump station
    • Potable water
    • Two small convenience stores
    • Two burger joints with full bars
    • Two rustic but clean laundry facilities with hot water
    • Two boat launch areas
    • Beach
    • Post Office
    • Bait shop
    • Boat repair shop
    • Trash receptacles
    • Restrooms
    • Gas station
    • Propane refills
    • and, a terrific Camp Host

All this, for only a $5 per-day for a generously sized dry-camping site within a short walk of the river, or a $40 per day hook-up site.

But, even under normal, non-pandemic conditions, the hook-up sites were way too crowded for us.

So, for social-distancing and our personal comfort, we found an isolated parcel of hard pack about a fifteen minute walk from the landing.

Every twelve days or so we hitched Beauty up and towed her to the dump station for a re-boot. It only took about an hour and it felt perfectly safe to leave our Clam, kayaks and outdoor gear at the site.

All said, this was our refuge during the early days of COVID-19.

We used the time to tidy up the rig and organize our gear.

We are forever grateful to Fisher’s Landing and to Martinez Lake, the adjoining village. This desert oasis was precisely what the doctor ordered for responsible social-distancing and the recreational opportunities we require to stay healthy through the first 50 days of covid-crazy-time – which, all said, turned out to be kinda wonderful.

We isolated, slept well, exercised in the great outdoors and – in true quarantine kitchen style – dined on healthy home-cooking, much thanks to New York Times Food.

… and, after a satisfying dinner, we streamed The Walking Dead because the comparison made COVID-19 go down like a piece o’cake. Yes, things could be worse.

When Canada called home the snowbirds, we could have found sanctuary at any one of the luxurious RV resorts in the Yuma area. But why pay top-dollar when all of the amenities like pools, spas, weight rooms, pickle-ball courts and dog parks were either off-limits or unsafe for high-risk individuals? Without the fun stuff, the mega-resorts are nothing but over-priced parking lots with hook-ups.

Fisher’s Landing has a loyal clientele of frequent campers and long-term RV and park model residents at Swede’s Hill and Pruitt City.

With secured storage, dry camping, and long term space rentals, one can drive out of San Diego in the morning, arrive in time to grab a bite of lunch at Rio Loco Grill, take the boat out of storage, fuel up and be on the river by mid-afternoon. Sweet.

The first-come-first served dry camping area for RVs is near the river. As of this date, the fee is $5.00 per person, per day; or, $35 per week for two; and $100.00 per month. Pre-payment is required at the Camp Rental Office.

There are no designated spaces for dry-camping at Fisher’s Landing. You just find a nice spot of hard pack – stay out of the wash because there’s a reason they call it that – and set up camp.

At first, we camped in the $5 per-day dry camping area. But, a couple of weeks in, a group of new campers arrived and set up in the wash near us and burned campfires every night. It was time to move.

Arizona Trust Land

Outside the Fisher’s Landing boundaries – indistinguishable from the resort – is a parcel of Arizona Trust Land, probably hundreds if not thousands of acres. To camp there, you purchase a $20 Arizona Annual Recreational Permit online. So, we pulled up stakes and moved about 300 yards east of our original site into the State Trust Land with fewer weekend campers and a mere five or six full-timers.

Most old full-timers like us don’t burn wood. Wood burning is messy, expensive and lung damaging. When the mood hits, we have a portable propane fire pit.

Though farther from the river, the state trust land is quieter, less dusty from the dirt roads, and not smoky. Like Fishers, it is open range parking but there is a fourteen-day limit.

But we stayed longer – much longer. We were prepared to move back to Fishers with unlimited camping if asked to, but no one ever did. Perhaps the fourteen-day limit was waived due to COVID-19.

Eventually, a heat wave pushed us out. On April 23, when temperatures reached 102, we pulled out and headed up into the mountains.

Fisher’s Landing Amenities

The on-site dump station can handle two RVs at once. The nominal $5 per-use fee is a bargain. It should go without saying – especially during these COVID times – that wearing disposable gloves is essential at any dump station.

There is a free water source at the dump station, but we are always concerned about contamination when the water spigot is so close to the dump drain. Fortunately, a clean, filtered, salt-free water dispensing station is available for .25¢ a gallon. We wiped down the tap and spigot with bleach wipes before filling up.

Bathrooms

Even though we were dry-camping and on strict water conservation, we couldn’t bring ourselves to use the antiquated and dilapidated bathhouse.

Hopefully the toilet and coin-operated shower facilities will be demoed and rebuilt someday.

Laundry

The laundry facilities were old, but surprisingly clean and functional. The machines at Pruitt City were spotless and the water was piping hot. This confirms our experience that wherever there are snowbirds, there’s usually a clean laundry facility. Still, we always wipe machines down with bleach – inside and out – before using.

(WARNING: CARMEN’S LAUNDRY RANT AHEAD) We try to avoid parks that do not allow line-drying. I mean, what’s the deal with that? When did line drying become offensive at campgrounds, of all places? Don’t tourists flock to Amish country and Southern Italy and coastal France and swoon over sheets, tea towels and knickers animated by the wind as if line-drying is a lost art form? (END OF RANT).

I particularly enjoyed the clothesline.

At Fisher’s Landing, the rules are few and far between:

  • Quiet Hours are from 11pm-7am
  • Camp fires must be contained (Okay, I guess there’s a scary story behind that) – Firewood is available for purchase in the General Store

Golf cart rentals are also available. The cost is $70 per day with a 2-day minimum – contact Premier Golf Cars for more information. (928) 317-8828. The gas station sells regular and premium gas, but no diesel.

The infrastructure is surprisingly solid with a fire department, general store, bait shop, boat shop, Rio Loco Bar and Grill and even a US Postal Office. We received packages from Amazon and iPostalOne at the general store.

The Fisher’s business district is also popular with RVers who stay at the military campground about a half-mile up the undeveloped road.

Gray, our wonderful camp host was right there to answer any and all questions. Though Fisher’s Landing is minimally developed, it is litter and riffraff free. Gray showed us where to deposit our trash and recycling and also kept a watchful eye out for any shenanigans which he swiftly shut down before things got out of hand.

Gray also told us the name of our favorite kayaking route – the spectacular California Cut.

A two-hour moderate-difficult loop depending on the wind. We recommend paddling downstream from Fischer’s and upriver through the cut.

Another comfort was the sheriff’s office about a quarter mile away on the river. The area was patrolled regularly.

Afternoon walks to Fisher’s Landing and Martinez Lake were a highlight.

Blooming cactus, cool river breeze, colorful river life.

Also fascinating was the quirky non-conforming neighborhood where brand new mini-mansions and luxury condos situate between old established manufactured homes and RV lots.

Another ever-present and prominent feature was the abundance of political paraphernalia signaling the dominant local values. But, eventually, we didn’t even notice. Hey, we are all in this COVID thing together. Peace, ya’ll.

We arrived a couple of days before the state mandated social distancing. So we had the opportunity – from a zoom lens – to observe Fisher’s Landing and Martinez Lake on an average weekend of scheduled events.

Bar-B-Que Festival

Fishing Contest

Live Music

Once the lock-down was enforced, the mood shifted from vibrant family-centered festival atmosphere to lazy river town, but with one exception. Even though the restaurants closed dining rooms and the snowbirds went home early, the riverside development business did not pause or miss a beat.

Every day, the heavy machinery rolled in. “We Dig The Colorado” wet-lands developers and contractors resumed work on retaining walls and broke ground on new projects. Also, the awakening business community wisely exploited the government mandated down-time to remodel, upgrade and expand.

Since nearly forever, this place has been a middle-of-nowhere destination for grubby, dusty, watery recreational sports.

But as survival realty and self-reliant off-grid refugees are drawn to remote areas due to pandemics and economic collapse, we can only hope this modest but rapidly developing outdoor haven is able to maintain a coveted reputation for affordable family fun and inexpensive camping …

… because when the zombie-apocalypse arrives, you can count on LIB to be high-tailing it to Fisher’s Landing.

See ya there.

Watch for donkeys.

Our “BAMBI” rating system explained:

bambi-1 – One Bambi: Should’a boondocked.

bambi-2Two Bambi’s: Better than a Cracker Barrel or Walmart.

bambi-3Three Bambi’s: Adequate for a short stay.

bambi-4Four Bambi’s: Great place! Met our expectations for an extended stay. Needs minor improvements or is not ideally situated for all our preferred recreation (walking, cycling, swimming, kayaking) without driving.

Five Bambi’s: Destination Camping at it’s best! Critical as we are, there’s nothing we’d improve, and you can bet your sweet Bambi we’re going back!

If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.