Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Vintage Post Card

Five Mile Landing, I am glad I got to meet you.

---Eulogy to Five Mile Landing---

They walk under the tall salt cedars,

the owl sits in his tree and hoots,

but they don’t look up, they don’t hear anymore…

In the sky above

a mesmerizing murmuration of starlings

form dark turning clouds across the marsh,


A flock of white pelicans float by,

but they don’t see.

They can’t see because they are gone…

I pull up in my little blue truck with its canopy filled with all my bedding and gear. On my roof is my kayak. I have asked to stay in the campsite under an old salt cedar tree. The home to a pair of great horned owls. This is not my first, nor my last visit…

I had a brochure for Kayaking in Havasu National Wildlife Refuge in my files for 10 years. A bucket list trip I guess.

I called. The phone number on the brochure was still good! I found out that they had camping within the Refuge. I made plans. I went. I fell in love.

For 10 years I had longed to see the marsh, to kayak its waters and see its beauty. I had heard stories of the great bird migrations and longed to see this beauty for myself. In 2009 and 2010 I spent many weekends exploring the marsh and the desert around it. I fell in love with this place and the people.

Five Mile Landing at Topock Gorge AZ
Then they were gone…

My mom
An oasis in the desert. That is what Five Mile Landing was. It was a campground to some and a home for a dozen or so souls. It was a landing spot for a few snow birds seeking a warmer place for the winter. And a refuge for a few down and out people.

There were travel trailers in neat rows under ancient salt cedars, electrical outlets with wires showing on old gray wood posts. Drifts of sand covered broken lawn furniture, rotten deck boards lined the peer. Not quite a handful of mostly retired boats, each in a state of repair or disarray. The only sound is of the wind blowing through the salt cedars.

Evening comes and the old washing machine drum fire pit in front of the “club house” comes ablaze with fire and people sitting on old ragged mix matched chairs. Boisterous stories are told, yet many say nothing, they just sit smoking, drinking their beer and making facial gestures showing that at least they are listening. Oh the stories they told!

The oldest resident, and one of only a hand full that lived in single wide trailers, was a very nice old black man with white hair. He was a good Christian man that helped out others that were not so good. He had a man renting a room from him, rumor had it that this renter would do store runs for him, but wasn’t paying rent and was stealing from the old man. Yet, he still lived there.

There was Wally, the grounds keeper, who drove a camo golf cart around. He did his job well, keeping the grounds and bathrooms clean. He was a quite man I didn’t hear him talk much.

One lady I met, Grace, she lives in Montana in a tiny non-plumbed cabin with an outhouse on an island . She comes here in the winter to stay warm. There was usually a large jigsaw puzzle on a picnic table outside her place. People would stop by to help work on the puzzle throughout the day. We had many lovely talks and have even stayed in touch via email off and on over the years.

Across from her was Doug. He was a snow bird also. When he wasn’t selling “in season” fruit on a corner in a near by town, he spent his time restoring the airstream travel trailer he lived in.

I met Patty around the campfire one night. She lived in a small travel trailer with her teenaged daughter. Patty was a recovering drug addic. She showed me the scars up both arms. She was working and trying to make it. One night as a group of us sat around the fire we had fun dropping marshmallows into the pit. They would grow and expand into huge formations! It was hilarious! The next morning Patty shared that she had written in her journal about the marshmallow fire pit fun. What a blast it was!

There was a young couple who had a small child. They also lived in a very, very small travel trailer. She told me that her daughter had hyper issues and she didn’t know what to do about it. We talked different stuff, like diet change, exercise, stuff like that. I had never seen the child outside. I wonder if she was hyper because she was locked up inside a shoe box size house?

Tank, uploaded from 5 Mile Landings FB

The manager of the campground was Irene. She had a brown lab named Tank. Tank was great, and he loved the marsh. Sometimes too much! For some reason many carp in the marsh had died and you would see them bloated and floating around. You usually could smell them before you saw them. Well….Tank retrieved one of these bloated carp and rolled all over it! I think Irene about lost her lunch cleaning him up.

Turtle Rock
Irene introduced us (my mom, Larry and I) to Pat. He lived at the marsh in a small travel trailer with his dog, Merlin. He was always barefoot. He did oddball work for Irene. He became our tour guide. The first thing he showed us was Turtle Rock. We drove across the desert to where he would try and find this “rock”. When my mom and I got out of the truck our eyes grew huge! All around us was beautiful rocks! Before you knew it we both had our nose to the ground hunting. While we were busy, Pat found the “Turtle Rock”. This rock, about the size of a large watermelon had an ancient Indian petroglyph of a turtle carved into it. There were other carved rocks also in different areas that overlooked the marsh. The locals keep it quiet so they don’t disappear.
Photo from internet 

One of the best places for lunch was along Route 66, Linda’s Café. We got to meet the owner, Ron. He had beautiful photos of many of these Indian petroglyph rocks for sale in his café. Ron made the best garlic hamburgers’ ever! Ever! He talked with us about his dream to own his own restaurant. Linda’s Café along the famous Route 66 was this dream. Ron knew a lot about the area and its ancient Indian history. It was a pleasure to get to meet him and his wife. Unfortunately, in February 2012 an explosion killed Ron inside the café. Officials think the blast was caused by a gas leak. Ron was only 58.

Fishing View
My first trip to the marsh I tried fishing. I put my kayak in before daylight and spent a few hours out upon the marsh, with no bites. This was before I knew how shallow the marsh was, about 3-4 feet in most places. This meant that I would need to find a deep fishing hole. Being out on the water at sunrise was awesome, that in itself!

There was an older man, he didn’t live at the marsh but he came often and launched his small boat for a few hours of fishing. He would always check the barometric pressure gauge that hung on one of the patio posts of the club house. It told him if the fishing was going to be good. I would stand next to this “gauge” and it never told me anything. Hahaha
Fisherman Returning
He had a “special” fishing hole, that was his. There seemed to be an underlying understanding that it was “his” spot. The times that I was visiting he always came back with his limit. Thankfully he was generous and would share and there would be a big fish fry. Everyone would bring something to share and hang out at the “club house”. I believe the fish were Crappie or Sunfish. It was quite the social event, and boy was that fish yummy!

Larry and I
Out in one area of the marsh there is an island. On this island live some large feral pigs. Legion has it that a long time ago there was a train transporting pigs that derailed. These island pigs are said to be the descendants of this train wreck. While kayaking near the island I did see hoof tracks where animals came to the waters edge to drink. I did not land on the island for I was warned not to because these “hogs” are big and are not friendly to people. I did see a coyote along the shore. He followed me for awhile. On my way back I was blessed to see a murmuration of starlings! This took my breath away! It was so amazing to see thousands of birds flying through the air like a school of fish! That is something I will never forget.

Mr and Mrs Owl
I would always request the spot under the owl tree. The male, he was smaller, seemed to hang out in the nest tree area a lot. From dust on he called and woo woo wooed his lady. She would answer him back, woo WOO woo. Then all at once they would take off in flight to go night hunting together. It was hard to sleep, I didn’t want to miss anything.

One early morning while sitting around the fire a bald eagle flew to a nearby tree snag not to far out in the marsh. The eagle sat there over an hour preening and cleaning its feathers.

One of my most favorite things to do was to hike around the area. There are many great views as you follow the lay of the land overlooking the marsh. One area has a lot of small sand dunes. I went out one early morning after a large wind storm had passed through the night before. The sand had been blown smooth, as if no man had ever been there, and in the sand was tracks of all the night animals. There were trails and foot prints everywhere. You could even see the tracks from snakes. I had a grand all time taking pictures of all this beauty!
Sand Dunes after the wind storm.

Another amazing thing is the rocks. The rocks in this area are beautiful. Many have small fossils in them. Some rocks are split open, just laying there broken like puzzle pieces, others look like they exploded. I was told that this is thermal stress weathering that can occur in a desert climate that is hot during the day and cold and night.

I loved this rundown place, with its rotting dock, hodgepodge electrical boxes, half buried lawn furniture, and soap-opera drama stories. It was just right for this season of my life. It was refreshing. It was real. I came to get away from people, but found people I looked forward to seeing with each visit.

I believe it was in the fall of 2010 that Five Mile Campground closed, The USFWS placed a 14 day camping limit on the marsh, this basically forced out the owners of five mile, because all the trailers that had called the place home and the people who lived in them had to move out, so then there was no way they could pay the fees required by the feds. So they had no choice other than to close it down. Everything was removed, everything but the trees. Gone.

Five mile landing is gone...

Glad I got to meet you.