Gila Bend, Ari­zona

A Snowbird’s De­light

Snowbirds & RV Travelers - - Contents - AR­TI­CLE SUB­MIT­TED

When Scott Swan­son and his mother ac­quired a rel­a­tively un­de­vel­oped camp­ground in Gila Bend 18 months ago, they knew it had po­ten­tial as an af­ford­able win­ter park for snow­birds. They de­cided to join the Kamp­grounds of Amer­ica (KOA) fran­chise net­work to help put the park on the trav­el­ers’ map and started mak­ing im­prove­ments to bring their 130-site camp­ground up to KOA stan­dards.

Af­ter in­vest­ing over $250,000 in im­prove­ments that in­clude new land­scap­ing, util­ity con­nec­tions, a 4,000-square foot dog park, a 2,500 square foot ve­randa, and re­mod­el­ing the park’s re­cre­ation room, the num­ber of overnight guests and monthly snow­birds com­ing into their camp­ground soon sur­passed their best ex­pec­ta­tions.

“Year-to-date, we’re al­ready run­ning 60 per­cent ahead of last year’s fig­ures, and we’ve al­ready got peo­ple mak­ing reser­va­tions for next win­ter,” said Swan­son, who sees the 1,900-pop­u­la­tion town of Gila Bend be­com­ing Ari­zona’s next big snowbird des­ti­na­tion.

Swan­son isn’t the only one who sees a brighter fu­ture in Gila Bend. So does Gila Bend’s new town man­ager, Michael Ce­laya, who is spear­head­ing a se­ries of im­prove­ments to Gila Bend’s his­tor­i­cal points of in­ter­est to raise its pro­file as a tourist des­ti­na­tion and play­ground for win­ter snow­birds.

“I see us as the next Quartzsite,” said Ce­laya, ref­er­enc­ing the tiny desert town 32 km (20 mi) east of the Col­orado River that hosts the largest win­ter RV show in the na­tion.

Gila Bend, Ce­laya notes, is al­ready at a ma­jor cross­roads. Sit­ting along­side In­ter­state 8, it car­ries thou­sands of trav­el­ers each week who make their way from Phoenix and Tuc­son to San Diego. Gila Bend also strad­dles State Route 85, which car­ries trav­el­ers across the Sonora Desert to Mex­ico, cross­ing the his­toric To­hono O’Odham In­dian Reser­va­tion.

The chal­lenge, of course, is get­ting trav­el­ers to stop to see what Gila Bend has to of­fer. But the town of Gila Bend is work­ing with the Cham­ber of Com­merce and the lo­cal busi­ness com­mu­nity to do just that.

Gila Bend is mak­ing im­prove­ments to the Gatlin arche­o­log­i­cal site, which fea­tures rem­nants of na­tive Ho­hokam farm­ers who lived in the area be­tween 800 and 1,200 A.D. The site, a reg­is­tered Na­tional His­toric Land­mark, is owned by the town of Gila Bend.

The town of Gila Bend also re­cently ac­quired Stout’s Ho­tel, a his­toric two-story, 26-room ho­tel de­signed and built in 1928 by Henry Trost, a fa­mous ar­chi­tect known for his work with Mis­sion, Pue­blo Re­vival, Art Deco and Prairie ar­chi­tec­tural styles. The ho­tel, which used to house rail­road work­ers, closed in the 1980s, but will be re­opened for tourists in fall of 2018 af­ter im­prove­ments are com­pleted.

Other at­trac­tions in­clude a 1,200-square foot mu­seum, housed in­side Gila Bend’s Town Hall, which in­cludes Na­tive Amer­i­can and Western ar­ti­facts.

Mean­while, the Gila Bend Cham­ber of Com­merce is work­ing to or­ga­nize ma­jor rodeo and western-themed events for a new But­ter­field Stage Days Rodeo, which will take place in March of 2018. Hub­bard said the event, which will in­clude rodeo queens, mu­sic and ac­tiv­i­ties, could bring thou­sands of new vis­i­tors into Gila Bend.

Gila Bend and the lo­cal cham­ber are also pro­mot­ing other nearby sites of in­ter­est, in­clud­ing Painted Rock Pet­ro­glyph site, which sits on Bureau of Land Man­age­ment property roughly 37 km (23 mi) west of Gila Bend.

Other nearby at­trac­tions in­clude the his­toric cop­per min­ing town of Ajo, 48 km (30 mi) to the south, and the Gille­spie Bridge, a his­toric 1,660foot long bridge, built in 1927, that crosses the Gila River roughly 37 km (23 mi) north of Gila Bend. An­other scenic site, Or­gan Pipe Cac­tus Na­tional Mon­u­ment, is roughly 97 km (60 mi) south of town.

All of th­ese at­trac­tions are enough to keep peo­ple busy for at least two or three days, if not longer, said Ce­laya, the town man­ager.

For more in­for­ma­tion about the Gila Bend KOA, the town of Gila Bend and the Gila Bend Cham­ber of Com­merce, please visit their re­spec­tive web­sites at: www.koa.com/camp/gila-bend, www.gi­laben­daz.org, www.gi­laben­dazcham­ber.com. The Gila Bend KOA is af­fil­i­ated with the Ari­zona As­so­ci­a­tion of RV Parks and Camp­grounds, which hosts www.GoCamp­ingInAri­zona.com, the statewide travel plan­ning web­site.

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