Like water on Mars

Like water on Mars

Like water on Mars water is rare. We are north of Yuma in a red desert just like Mars except there isn’t water like this on Mars. We have a nice lake behind the RV. Totally unexpected and so very interesting. Actually, there are lots of nice places north of Yuma and Lake Martinez is only one of them. For me, I am not all that interested in the open desert; the Colorado River changes everything.

Well before I was born, serious people, observing streaks on the surface of Mars with telescopes, concluded that certainly there was life on Mars because Mars had canals and obviously it takes people to build canals. Canals are worthless without water.

Lake Martinez Like water on Mars
Like water on Mars 9

While I was in grade school, the Mariner 4 spacecraft made a flyby on Mars, and the idea that there were Martians building canals was shown to be preposterous. At about the same time, the idea of water on Mars was completely discounted as folly. Unlike the earth, the water on Mars didn’t survive a billion years of climate change.

Recently however scientists discovered water on Mars, lots of ice (even water in liquid form is a real possibility). They have now found three buried lakes on Mars using radar. Current images show evidence of past river valleys, surface water is in the polar regions as ice in glaciers. Here is a cool link: NASA, water on Mars

Late arrival

Typically we don’t go very far. We have a relaxed departure time, when we get ready to go, then we go. This time we did the same thing and it nearly backfired. First of all, we were heading east which makes the day slightly shorter. I also didn’t take into account that we were going about 30 miles north of Yuma. This added almost an hour to the drive; because we didn’t figure on a 12-mile long construction zone on what should have been the easiest part of the route.

We were surprised by the time zone change, but the clock had nothing to do with the setting sun. We also tried to get fuel in Yuma and it took a much longer time than normal. Surprisingly, we even had to wait for a place at the pump. This the first time we had to wait since we started refueling with the big trucks.

Tami drives more than half of the time.
Tami drives more than half of the time

The remaining daylight wasn’t a problem until the construction zone and we were starting to watch the sun getting low on the horizon. The shadows were getting long even before we left the truck stop. The construction was pretty serious, including long one-lane sections with a pilot car. Not a happy surprise.


Unlike Las Vegas, where everything is under constant construction — but no one actually seems to be working, here they were working for most of the entire 12-mile length. I think in Las Vegas they store un-used traffic cones on the highways — that are not really under construction.

We pulled in and parked the RV at sunset and set up in the twilight. In three years this is the first time this has ever happened. We have never arrived after dark. Just three weeks prior, we were not allowed to park in our reserved campsite, because we arrived too early.

Yuma is farmland

North of Yuma is desert. Yuma is the last stop for water from the Colorado River to be used for irrigation. The only places north of Yuma, that have any water, are right next to the river — or on a farm, irrigated by the river. At this time of year, (middle of November) the crops are starting to be harvested. Everything not associated with the river water is parched to the point that only the most drought-tolerant plants survive.

Yuma is the hottest city in the United States typically recording 175 days per year above 90 degrees. Typically Yuma gets some rain during September, but not this year (2020). The last major rainfall was in March where they got more than one inch in one day. The total rainfall for 2020 prior to that day was 0.2 inches. Typically Yuma gets only 3 inches of rain per year. Except for the irrigated areas, Yuma is a brown place.


Lake Martinez isn’t a real lake, nor is it a reservoir but instead it was a marshy zone, in the river bottom. Now it is full of water. The Colorado River has taken many paths over the years, this was one of them. Lake Martinez was part of huge efforts of the Bureau of Reclamation efforts in the early 1930s. This included building the Imperial Dam, cutting diversion channels, and opening the Colorado River to previously flooded bottomland. The Lake Martinez area was flooded when the river was dammed and a cut was made in the river bank to flood the wetlands. I wouldn’t call the flooding a mistake, but rather just a side effect. Unlike the flooding of the Salton Sea, this flood creating Lake Martinez was intentional and a good thing.

Lake Martinez Like water on Mars
Like water on Mars 10

The Salton Sea, a true mistake

An irrigation mistake created the Salton Sea in 1905-1907. A canal broke through a levee and the Colorado River flowed into a huge basin submerging the entire thing with water. It took the building of a dedicated train track across the flood plain to stop the unrestricted flow. Trains dumped load after load of rocks and dirt across the flood plain to eventually stop the flow. This mistake created the largest lake west of the Mississippi River other than the Great Salt Lake. The Colorado River hasn’t flowed into the Salton Sea for more than one hundred years.

Now that the water supply is cut off — the Salton Sea is drying up, and it isn’t such a great place anymore. It is much saltier than it used to be and it is slowly dying. Soon the Salton Sea will be like the Great Salt Lake and after that the Dead Sea. Give it another hundred years or so and the Salton Sea will be farmland, like in Yuma, assuming there is enough water to farm it. The entire Imperial Valley and Yuma was once was a lake bottom, fed by the Colorado River. Now it is some of the best farmland in the west.


Creating the Imperial Dam to make irrigation possible in Yuma and the Imperial Valley backed up the water and flooded Lake Martinez. This flooding of the low lying marsh created a wet zone that teems with wildlife. In the 1950s Lake Martinez became a very popular fish-camp that benefited from the flooding. The flooding turned the desert into a true oasis. The effect isn’t widespread, only the previous river bottom.

Lake Martinez Like water on Mars
Like water on Mars 11

Since the Colorado River is the only water in miles, the river valley is a magnet for all kinds of wildlife. We saw wild donkeys, coyotes, and plenty of raccoon tracks. Ducks dotted the lakes every day and the valley is a major flyway. We saw a Great Blue Heron and a White Great Egret but didn’t get close enough for a picture.

Removed our solar panels

As some of you know, we used the stop to get ready to install a very large solar panel system. The solar panels that you see below were removed. They were installed at the Tiffin factory and were state of the art in 2008. Now they are nearly obsolete. I had thought they were 150-watts each, but rather they were just large 100-watt panels. Today perhaps they may be able to produce about 80-watts. The panels were bolted down with four feet only about 1/2 inch off the roof making them nearly impossible to remove except by cutting. The panels also showed signs of heat damage because they were attached with very little room under the panels for airflow.

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Yes we were parked right next to the water, here on Mars. The new solar array will be aligned both to the left and right sides of the motor home.

We plan to come back

Someday we are going to stay at the Imperial Dam area. It is a little closer to Yuma than is Lake Martinez. After that, we may take in another week at Lake Martinez followed by a gradual trip up the Colorado River. The area really is stunning. The entire Colorado River is going to have to get a closer look. Probably not this year, or next year, but someday. After all, Lake Martinez is like water on Mars, and if there is water on Mars, we could (should, will) go there. Just don’t expect the water to be like this. Mars is a cold place.

Here is our Campsite Review: Lake Martinez

Lake Martinez Like water on Mars
Like water on Mars 12

Even though we were camped right next to the lake, we didn’t get to explore it as we should have. This would have been a great stop to really get the kayaks out and explore (and fish). A better plan would have included more playtime. I have to say that staying here was the exact opposite of San Diego. So quiet that it was kind of lonely.

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Here is a cool link: NASA, water on Mars

Campsite Review: Lake Martinez

13 thoughts on “Like water on Mars”

    1. Perhaps we will make it to Mercedes in about two months. Probably faster and further south if it is cold further north. Texas is so big.

  1. We pass through Yuma several times a year visiting relatives in Tempe, AZ and Deming, NM. We always gas and breakfast (east bound), lunch (west bound) at exit twelve, used to be Barneys truck stop now its the Sunrise Cafe, on the north west corner of the interstate intersection. Been in Yuma when it was 100 degrees F at midnight and my dad learned to fly the B-25 there during WW II when it was an Army airfield, said the airplanes got so hot you could not touch them. Lots of history there, although I never yearned to be stationed there being quite familiar with the heat and desolation having grown up in Phoenix. Always enjoy reading your trip accounts (hope you are saving them for a book). Have a happy and safe Thankgiving. Safe travels. Chip

    1. Hi Chip, My Huey squadron (Marines) deployed to Yuma in the summer to get some night flying. I graduated from the program early just so I wouldn’t have to go.

      As for a book, I think this is my book.

  2. I’m sending you my pic from about a year ago when I was driving back to Lancaster from Texas. I tried to o Pio ware it here but it never worked for me. Had to email it to you.
    🤦🏻‍♀️ 🤷🏼‍♀️

  3. We still haven’t made it to Yuma, but will at some point. It’s one of those places that sounds ideal to escape the cold winter, but horribly uncomfortable, and probably pretty desolate and depressing, much of the rest of the year.

    Your driving story had me nervous. We, too, always arrive before sunset – usually just after check in. There’s only been one time we arrived at dark and that was after a horribly complicated day on the road. I am always amazed at how many people show up late at night. I guess if you’re familiar with the campground already, it’s less of an issue, but since we never know where we are, we avoid arriving after dark at all costs. I’m glad you made it while you still had some light and all was well.

    LOL – Vegas construction projects…. 🙂

    1. I haven’t found a place in (the city) Yuma that I really like. Nearly all the RV parks are right next to the highway or the train track or between the highway and the train track. Short stay campsites are usually in the noisiest section of the RV park. There is lots of open desert to camp in, which is more attractive to me than RV parks.

      I think the worst thing a new RVer can do is to arrive after dark. Especially if they are planning to back up a trailer. This goes double if you have a bunch of kids, way past their bedtime.

      Darkness adds a new level to the challenge. Everything is much easier during daylight.

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