Greetings from Quartzsite, Arizona, 10 miles from the California border. I’m a couple of hours away from Palm Springs, attending an RV show (arguably THE RV show), and communing with the group, RVing Women. What Burning Man is to young people in the Nevada desert is what Quartzsite is to retired RVing folk in the Arizona desert. Maybe they should call this “Bursitis Man.”
And I thought Palm Springs was the desert. THIS is the desert, baybee. Quartzsite is surrounded by vast federal lands governed by the Bureau of Land Management. You may already know that RVers may boondock, or camp without amenities, for up to 14 days on BLM land, for free. RVers may also stay for up to three months on BLM land for a mere $180 – just $60 per month.
For three months out of the year, Quartzite burgeons into a massive, temporary community for campers. I heard that this RV gathering is the largest in the country. 40,000 to 50,000 RVs converge in Quartzsite from January through March. An average of 750,000 to 1,000,000 people pass through Quartzsite in the first three months of the year. The RV show takes place in the middle of January, and the “Big Tent” used for the show is in the Guinness Book of World Records. By now you have a good sense of the scale of this place.
Don’t want to attend the RV show? There are plenty of vendors and flea markets peppered throughout Quartzsite, on the two main drags – Kuehn Street and Main Street – connected by Central Avenue. As I was leaving Palm Springs I had the following exchange, which I did not fully understand until I arrived here:
Me to Palm Springs RV Resort Manager: “I’m going to Quartzite.”
Manager: “What, do you need tube socks?”
There are rocks and gems, geodes and bungee cords, flags and barbecued chicken, burgers and beer and dusty trinkets of all kinds. Have a personalized sign made for 10 bucks. Get your concealed carry permit for your gun, and a fashionable purse that will conceal it!
At the RV show Big Tent, there are all sorts of gizmos and gadgets for RVs, and many things which are not RV specific, such as lotions and potions, graters and cookware and cooking demonstrations, jewelry, and vibrating pillows for your low back. My big splurge was upgrading all the lighting in the rig to LED bulbs, which use far less battery power, last for years, and emit no heat.
If you want to buy an RV, they got ’em. If you need your RV serviced in any way, they do it here.
People sure like free, especially retired people, and many RVers stay “long term” at Quartzite. As there are no amenities, long-term campers head into town for dumping, fresh water and propane, and the stations accommodate them quickly and economically.
There are several well-known camping areas in and around Quartzsite, with names Like Road Runner and Dome Rock. To find RVing Women, I referred to directions like, “Turn right after mile marker 99.” The directions weren’t quite as nonspecific as, “Turn left at the Saguaro cactus,” but you get the idea.
As I pulled into the Road Runner area, there was a camp host on duty who took down my pertinent information and gave me a 14-day pass. After that, it was up to me where to park the rig.
The area is fairly flat but very rocky; Olive is tender-footing it on daily our walks. It gets so dark at night here; when you look at the night sky for just a few seconds you see shooting stars. RVing women gather around a large campfire every night. The sunsets are gorgeous. It is really peaceful and restful here.
At Quartzite, you get the distinct feeling that you can say, be, do, and look like anything you want without judgment.
Sure, many of the attendees are riding mobility scooters or using walkers, but all types of people come together at Quartzite. What you don’t see are khakis and polo shirts. Young or old, human or animal – everyone seems to have personality and individuality.
There are bikers, the pierced, the tattooed, the wizened and grizzled desert rats, lesbians, young drifters, ham radio operators, and recreational vehicles of all shapes and sizes from all economic strata. The local bars, with names like “Silly Al’s” and “The Quartzite Yacht Club” are full of people at 2:00 PM. People ride around in dune buggies not only in the desert, but on the roads in town.
Some of you may be familiar with my hashtag, #CousinEddieIsEverywhere – a reference to the Randy Quaid character, Eddie, in the National Lampoon “Vacation” movies. There are a lot of Cousin Eddies at Quartzite.
Quartzsite has always been home to the eccentric types. One of those types was Hadji Ali, who died in Quartzite in 1906. Before the Civil War, Jefferson Davis brought camels to the United States with the intention of using them as military pack animals. Hadji Ali was brought from his home country of Syria to work with the camels. No one will ever know if the experiment could have been a success, because the Civil War erupted.
The soldiers could not pronounce Hadji’s name, so they called him, “Hi Jolly.” When Hi Jolly died in Quartzsite, an appropriate monument was erected in his honor.
After three days of sales and crowds in Quartzsite, my friend Patricia and I ventured to Lake Havasu City to see the London Bridge. If you are not familiar with the story of the bridge, which once spanned the River Thames and was dismantled and brought to America in 1967, here is some information about it. Seeing the bridge made me chuckle to think of the old saying about gullibility: “And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge I can sell you.” Well, it actually happened!
It is only a one and a half hour drive from Quartzsite. Several towns are a day trip away, including Phoenix and Yuma.
On our way back from Lake Havasu City today, we drove 3.5 miles down a bumpy and dusty road to see The Desert Bar – a bar in the middle of nowhere which is fully powered by solar energy.
Unfortunately for us, it is open only on weekends, which makes a lot of sense; no one goes to the Desert Bar on a whim or as an afterthought.
I have one more day at Quartzite before returning to Palm Springs through the end of the month. To tell you the truth, I’m about ready to leave. Everything is covered in an inch of dust, and my eyes are burning and itching unrelentingly. I think I have wrung out all there is to see and do, and I’m looking forward to finishing Bent.
Off now to drink a glass of wine and watch the sunset…