By Bob Difley
Like most historic or recreation sites managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), they don’t get a lot of publicity and even less advertising. So you may zip on by such a location and not even know it exists, or that you’ve passed within a stone’s throw from it.
Painted Rock Petroglyph Site and Campground, about 90 miles southwest of Phoenix, is typical. The only clue you get while barreling down the Interstate 8 freeway is the name given to Exit 102 — Painted Rock Dam Road —12.5 miles west of Gila Bend.
If you are curious enough to take the exit looking for the “Painted Rock” you will have to follow Painted Rock Dam Road for 10.7 miles (thankfully it is now paved), then 0.6 miles (unpaved) due west on Rocky Point Road. It may come as somewhat of a surprise when you arrive to find picnic tables, barbecue grills, fire rings, toilets, and a primitive campground.
Sorry, no hookups, no drinking water, and no dump station (which keeps about 90% of the RVers from spending the night), but you will find a helpful and informative host from October through April. There is a day use charge of $2 and camping is $8 — but don’t go telling everybody. Right now it is a nice, isolated campground, far enough off the Interstate you won’t hear any traffic even in the blissfully quiet desert nights.
However, this archeological site exists not because of the campground, but because of the hundreds — yes, hundreds — of petroglyphs carved into the rocks by prehistoric Native Americans. You will also find inscriptions from the beginning of Arizona history made by members of Juan Bautista de Anza’s expedition that founded San Francisco, the Mormon Battalion when they passed through on their way to Utah, and the Butterfield Overland Mail — one of the first mail delivery services to the Wild West.
In the spring, the wildflower bloom can be spectacular. Winter temperatures are typical of the Sonora desert, with near freezing on the coldest nights and rising to 80 degrees on the warmest days. Boondockers carrying plenty of water and arriving with empty holding tanks will find this a quite comfortable and quiet stopover or getaway from the crowded snowbird locations around Phoenix.
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