- Published: Sunday, 25 March 2007 18:00
I had heard good things about the El Centro NAF Campground. We were camping in the desert near Yuma, so we made a day trip out to visit the campground. I didn't expect the office to be closed on a weekend and was a little worried that I wouldn't be able to properly evaluate the campground. By luck, I stopped to talk with a couple campers sitting outside and I met Dale Ekstrom, the camp host. He answered all of my questions and gave us a little tour of the campground.
Being in the middle of "snowbird" season, the campground was full, except for the overflow sites. The people we met were extremely friendly. This campground is a winter destination, with many of the same campers returning each winter to stay for several months. With a monthly rate of $225 for FHU, it's a bargain! After talking with Dale, I can see why everyone enjoys this campground. Staying here is like a large family reunion. But even if it was our first time to join this "family", I could see them welcoming us with open arms.
We followed the directions posted on the website and had no problems finding the campground. However, where to check-in could be a little confusing and especially where to park a large RV while checking in. I've updated the directions to make it easier. The key point is to park your RV across from the RV park in a large open asphalt area. This area is on the right, directly past the main portion of the campground. When you see the sign on the right for the "Bus Stop", you'll see the large open parking area. Park your RV here and walk across the street. Slightly to the North is Bldg. 318, the MWR gear issue center. Continue walking to the North end of this building and you'll find "RV Registration" in big letters. During weekday work hours, this is where you need to be to check-in.
There's actually two camping areas. The main RV park is called "Palm Oasis Park". This section has 70 FHU sites, with 20,30,50amp electric. The sites are on gravel, with asphalt streets, a concrete patio, and a picnic table. Most of the sites also have low bushes separating the sites. While they vary in size, most are acceptable in size without feeling crowded with your neighbor. This section of the park had the laundry room, showers, and the recently renovated lounge and recreation room. While the facilities are showing wear and are a bit dated, they are well kept. Directly connected to the recreation room is a screen enclosed patio with tables and chairs. There's the usual games, puzzles, book exchange, TV, DVD/VHS and tables. There's also poker tables, a pool table, and small kitchen area. Dale was telling me how the place explodes during their frequent potlocks and parties. The laundry room had 5 washers and 5 dryers, at $1.00 per load. They recently put code locks on the laundry room, and there's plans to replace all the laundry equipment with larger capacity machines and make them free.
|Palm Oasis Park FHU Sites||Typical FHU Site|
The other section, referred to as "Sunrise Park" is down the street, past Bldg 318, and around the corner. It's located next to the football field, near the sports complex. This section has 12 FHU sites, with 20 and 30amp electric. The sites are completely on asphalt, with no picnic table. The electric pedastles are shared. So every other site will have their electric on the passenger side of the vehicle (unless they pull head-in). While I think there should be a price difference for these sites, they are charged at the same rate as the nicer sites in Palm Oasis Park. But at $13 a night, $70 a week, or $225 a month, it's still a great bargain! Adjoining these hookup sites are 9 dry-camping sites. They too are located on asphalt. The entire Sunrise Park is actually the corner of an asphalt parking lot.
Being a winter destination park, there's a new 180 day stay limit. I heard stories of how much of the park had home-steaders who were a "bad influence" on the park. The base has recently changed many of the RV park rules, kicked out the "bad influence", renovated the lounge, and have changed the park into a nice family location. We did see a couple park model trailers with semi-permanent block walls in a couple sites, but I was told they will also need to leave when their 180 days are up. From my understanding, this 180 day stay limit is per calendar year and is strictly enforced. The only exception is with the base CO's approval. Another new rule that was recently implemented is they now take reservations. However, it wasn't clear what the reservation policy was (how far in advance, etc). As I've mentioned in other military campground reviews, I don't approve of such long stay limits. What happens, is the park gets full with campers staying the entire 6 months. This doesn't allow those who wish to visit the area on short term utilize the park. I prefer a stay limit similar to 3 months, then rotate to overflow before they can rotate back into a FHU site. I think it's fair on all guests. But the RV parks like the long stay limits, since they know they almost have a guaranteed full income for the entire season.
While the RV park is nice, and the fantastic pricing is a big attraction, there's much more to attract visitor's. There's a ton of activities happening at the park, with a very active and friendly neighborhood atmosphere. But there's also much to do on the base itself. I couldn't believe what there was to do, and most of it was FREE! There's 2 swimming pools (free), a movie theater (free), the fitness center with personal trainers (free), a power car and RV wash (free), bowling alley (free on certain days for RV park guests), and much more. The park also recently installed Wi-Fi, free of course.
I felt the largest negative is the location of the base and RV park. El Centro is fairly well isolated in the California desert, a little over 60 West of Yuma, AZ. EL Centro Naval Air Facility is the winter home of the Navy's Blue Angels. They had just arrived a few days ago, but we didn't see them flying during the few hours we were there. Guests say they see them almost everyday, ending in a large air show. Otherwise, there's not many attractions in the area. But for a location to relax and kick back at a very fair price, this is the place.