A little Arizona town has become famous for luring snowbirds who like to browse amid RVs and RV products; gems and minerals; crafts and hobby items “” and the “mother of all swap meets.”
By Jim Brightly, F358406
In mid-January, as you approach Quartzsite, Arizona, from any point on the compass, you begin seeing them approximately 20 miles away from town: clumps, groups, and temporary communities of motorhomes and other types of RVs circled around common campfire rings like wagon trains of old. Many solo units also are scattered among the sagebrush. In early morning and late afternoon you will see tall, straight fingers of campfire smoke pointing upward from these campsites.
Each winter Quartzsite is transformed into the snowbird capital of the continent. A Quartzsite Chamber of Commerce spokesperson said they expect more than 250,000 RVs to gather for two nights or more in or around Quartzsite during its winter season. According to the Arizona Highway Department, the town hosts approximately 1 million people when one counts the fall, winter, and spring. And the Arizona Republic newspaper reported that during the last two weeks of January, 2.5 million people travel through the little town located at the intersection of Interstate 10 and U.S. 95, approximately 24 miles east of Blythe, California.
Regardless of how crowded it is, with winter temperatures topping out in the 60s and 70s and an ample amount of RV parks and nearly free sites on which to park one’s coach, can any RVer be blamed for checking out the Quartzsite scene at least once?
As with many American things, the Quartzsite phenomenon began small. In 1967 the Quartzsite Improvement Association (QIA) sponsored the first Quartzsite Pow Wow Gem & Mineral Show. Rockhounds gathered to celebrate the region’s comfortable winter weather and to show and sell their wares. In rapid fashion, succeeding years brought more events to town. For the QIA, the 2006 event, January 25 through 29, marks the 40th Annual Pow Wow.
But that’s just one of so many events in Quartzsite in January and early February. (See the accompanying sidebar for details.) The Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show, to be held January 21 through 29, 2006, is the biggest gathering of all Quartzsite annual shows. There, you’ll find a 69,000-square-foot “Big Tent” “” a red-and-white striped tent beneath which dozens of booths offer RV products of all types. You’ll also find FMCA’s traveling booth, if you wish to update your membership information, pay your dues, pick up brochures for friends, or just chat. In addition, outdoor “midway” booths flank both sides of the tent and offer food, products, campground memberships, and RVs for sale.
After this successful RV show ends, yet more activities unfold under the Big Tent. Promoters Kenny King and Mal Mallory have started a Rock & Roll Classic Car Show that attracts hundreds of cars, and while that’s going on, the Hobby, Craft & Gem Show takes place. This is now dubbed “RV Show II,” because attendees are primarily RVers.
While visiting the 2005 Sports, Vacation & RV Show, my wife and I stayed at the Holiday Palms RV Park (800-635-5372; 928-927-5666), which proved to be an excellent representative of available Quartzsite RV parks, if my quick survey can be trusted. It has more than 200 sites and a mixed bag of spots for semi-permanent residents; pull-through slots; and back-in sites. We enjoyed a double-wide back-in site that was 30 feet by 50 feet, big enough for the largest motorhome and its towable (and even a boat or a car-hauling trailer) for less than $30 per night. The Holiday Palms didn’t offer a pool or pet facilities, but it did have a hot tub, an extremely friendly and pleasant staff, and very clean grounds and facilities. (Its sister park next door, 88 Shades RV Park, did allow pets.)
Approximately 70 campgrounds are situated around town. During the 2005 RV show, RVers filled most of Quartzsite’s RV parks and much of the surrounding desert. Although reservations are highly recommended for RV parks, there’s still a chance you can find a site should you decide to show up at the last minute (motorhomers are nothing if not impulsive). Then there’s the desert around Quartzsite, parceled out by the Bureau of Land Management. This land could have been custom-designed for dry-camping motorhomers. As long as you have separate transportation, such as a towed car, or preferably something smaller, like a motorcycle, bicycle, golf cart, or ATV, you can park almost anywhere on the BLM land with friends or by yourself. Much of the ground is covered with a baked-dry hard pan and is sparsely vegetated with plants such as creosote bushes, palo verde trees, ironwood trees, mesquite trees, and various species of cacti. Just be sure to use the separate transportation to get around town.
The BLM refers to camping on public lands away from developed recreation facilities as “dispersed camping.” Most of the public land in Arizona is open to dispersed camping, as long as such use does not conflict with other authorized uses or occur in areas posted as “closed to camping,” or in some way adversely affect wildlife species or natural resources.
According to BLM rules, “Dispersed camping is allowed on public lands in Arizona for no more than a period of 14 days within any period of 28 consecutive days. The 28-day period begins when a camper initially occupies a specific location on public lands…. After the 14th day of occupation, the camper must move outside of a 25-mile radius of the previous location until the 29th day since the initial occupation. This rule prevents damage to sensitive resources caused by continual use of any particular areas.”
LP gas, fuel, ice, firewood, water, and dump stations are readily available at several stores and fuel stops in Quartzsite, along with a wide selection of grocery stores, fast-food emporiums, and restaurants. RVers who enjoy dry camping without moving every few days will want to note that waste and water trucks make regular runs through the more popular areas, so you can make arrangements with the drivers to take care of your needs.
On top of the RVs, RV products, rocks, gems, minerals, fossils, and crafts, you’ll find just about everything else imaginable for sale in Quartzsite. During January and February, more than 2,000 vendors help turn Quartzsite into the world’s largest open-air flea market, with merchandise peddled to snowbirds, collectors, and passersby. So, if you can’t make it to Quartzsite while one particular show is going on, don’t worry; it’s really just one big, long sale.
Whenever you can take a break from the vendors’ aisles, the one place you’ll want to visit in town is the Reader’s Oasis Bookstore. Whether or not you’re a big reader, Paul Winer’s open-air bookstore is a must-see; it has more than 80,000 used books and magazines. Paul began the bookstore 10 years ago in a small house. Today, anchored by the house, he has added canvas-covered bookshelf cubicles as needed in a semi-circle around his parking lot. He merely pulls down canvas flies to cover the bookshelves at night. The store is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. You’ll enjoy visiting with Paul while you browse his books and self-designed T-shirts.
Whether you come for the chance to get a deal on a motorhome or a knickknack, for the warm temperatures, for the reasonable camping fees, or for a combination of all three, you won’t be disappointed in Quartzsite. Just pull in, drop your levelers, open your awning, spread your patio carpet, relax in your favorite camp chair, and sip a cool one. Let the shows begin!
Quartzsite Chamber of Commerce
100 E. Main
P.O. Box 85
1490 Main Event Lane
Quartzsite, AZ 85346-0085
E-mail: [email protected]
The chamber furnishes a map of town that includes descriptions of 44 historical sites and day trips in the area.
Other helpful Web sites:
2006 Quartzsite Show Calendar
- 1- Feb. 28: Desert Gardens International Rock & Gem Show
- 3-15: Gold Show (at Prospector’s Panorama)
- 6-15: Tyson Wells Rock & Gem Show
- 6-31: The Main Event (Hot-air balloons, air shows, and fireworks, weather permitting; rock and gem show; crafts; swap meet)
- 7: Hi Jolly Daze Parade
- 17-Feb. 3: Gem & Mineral Show (at Prospector’s Panorama)
- 20-29: Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama (gems, crafts, miscellaneous)
- 21-29: 23rd Annual Sports, Vacation & RV Show (in the Big Tent)
- 24-29: 40th Anniversary Pow Wow Gem & Mineral Show
- 1-5: Hobby, Craft & Gem Show (in the Big Tent)
- 3-12: Tyson Wells Arts & Crafts
- 4, 5: Rock & Roll Car Show (in the Big Tent)
- 5-12: Peddler’s Fair (at Prospector’s Panorama)
Camping Around Quartzsite
Commercial campgrounds abound in the Quartzsite area. The best resource is your favorite campground directory, the FMCA Business Directory (published in the January and June issue of FMC and online at www.fmca.com); or, contact the Quartzsite Chamber of Commerce for visitor information.
The Bureau of Land Management offers dry camping at the La Posa Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA), approximately 2 miles south of Quartzsite via U.S. 95. This region encompasses approximately 11,400 acres and consists of four campgrounds with entrances along U.S. 95.
La Posa LTVA offers vault toilets (handicapped-accessible), a dry dump station, a dump station with water, a water station (eight faucets), trash services, and some paved/improved roads.
An LTVA permit is required to camp between September 15 and April 15; the cost is $140 for the entire seven-month period. Or, you can purchase a $30 Short Term Permit, which covers a 14-day stay. (Vehicles are limited to 14 days in one location.) Permits may be purchased at the La Posa South contact station (LTVA site) or at the BLM field office in Yuma, Arizona, at 2555 E. Gila Ridge Road. For more information about staying at the La Posa LTVA, phone (928) 317-3200 or visit www.blm.gov.