Quartzsite is beyond Hope. Heading west toward Quartzsite, you’ll not only go beyond Hope, Arizona, you’ll pass Timbuktu on the left.
“Is it a pretty place?”
Not exactly. Quartzsite survives in low desert scrub trees and cactus with mostly uninhabitable mountains surrounding it. Some would describe it as the armpit of Arizona, but multitudes of RVers boondock in the desert’s blowing sand where grit tracks and campfire smoke infiltrates.
“How did you ever get started going there?”
A sign, “We love Snowbirds. They taste a lot like chicken!” made me feel welcome, sort of. During the early 1990s, I gathered in the foothills on Bureau of Land Management property with RVers from the Benson Escapee Co-op. At night, the lights of Quartzsite and thousands of other RV units twinkled against the black night. Desert winter nights are always cold so we huddled around campfires and told tall tales. One especially cold evening when everybody threatened to go inside, one inventive fellow put shovels of hot coals under our chairs for derriere warmth.
Eventually the group increased drastically and the campfires were no longer intimate. I parked with one or two friends on hard-packed desert, well away from town. It was almost impossible to find your way after dark unless you had the scrub trees, washes, and cacti well marked in your mind before you left. The farther away from town we were, the more we enjoyed the stars.
“So exactly what is Quartzsite?”
How could I explain Quartzsite? It is known as “The World’s Largest Flea Market.” The Chamber of Commerce gives the normal population as around 3,000. In January and February, it swells to a million plus.
Most people go in mid-January to the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation and RV Show in the red and white striped tent. If you cannot find anything inside that acre-sized canvas showroom, there are outdoor booths. Good Sam, Escapees, and FMCA RV groups have booths and sponsor rallies somewhere in the desert. Campgrounds; resorts; insurance, credit and tour companies, and every RV aftermarket product known to man, have booths. Demonstrations abound in cookware, cleaning and massage.
Desert Gardens Interna-tional Gem and Mineral Show, Tyson Wells, Rice Ranch, and The Four Corners all have multiple rows of tented merchandise spread throughout Quartzsite. Antique farm equipment and belching steam engines are among other interests at The Main Event. This year new and “gently savored” RVs of every flavor languished in countless lots, awaiting new owners.
Among the temporary booths (usually with the owner’s RV living quarters close by) were displays of animal hides, jewelry, tools, and creative clothing. Espresso, kettle corn, ice cream, and other culinary delights waited to spring into your hands. Chocolate-dipped cheesecake…come on, how decadent can you get? A transitory bistro named “Scottish Scones” provided breakfast, a delicious scone and egg omelet with green chili sauce plus cinnamon and powdered sugar scones on the side. Yummy, but it was at least as calorie-laden as the chocolate-dipped cheesecake.
Silver-bearded Mac McCart-ney was dressed in silver-accented black from cowboy hat to cowboy boots. He had a good sound system for playing guitar and singing, but it must have been disheartening to play only to those who were too weary to walk any further, including me. He was part of the Quartzsite ambiance as were other performers tucked into the meandering aisles of Watkins products; African carvings; gems, rocks and beads; leather; glass; yard ornaments, and Peruvian crafts.
Several friends met, grabbed each other and danced a few steps, laughing and enjoying the moment as Mac sang, “Turn out the lights…the party’s over…tomorrow starts the same old thing again.”
“So it’s basically walking around in a giant garage sale until you are exhausted, eating things that aren’t good for you and buying things you don’t need?”
Not exactly. Every wide spot in the road has its own intriguing history. For instance, curiosity takes most visitors to the Reader’s Oasis Bookstore for the first time. They gawk at the owner’s attire, or tanned lack thereof, but they soon lose themselves in the canvas and scrap wood nooks and crannies that embrace an eclectic 80,000-plus book collection. They return repeatedly to find the favorite or the unusual.
“Ali Haiji and the Camels” is not a contemporary music group. In 1856, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis experimentally brought 74 camels into the arid Southwest to use as pack animals in building the 1857 wagon road across Arizona from Fort Defiance to California. Ali, a Syrian camel driver, came with them. After the project’s cancellation in 1864, Hi Jolly, as the soldiers nicknamed him, bought several camels at auction and started his own freight business. It failed and he became a Quartzsite prospector and popular guide. Hi Jolly died in 1902 and is buried under the rock pyramid tomb in the local cemetery. They celebrate Hi Jolly Daze early in January.
Quartzsite has a 47-armed cactus. Saguaros do not grow arms until they are 75 years old, so this is a local wonder.
The best way to see the extent of Quartzsite is from a bird’s-eye view. Ultralight flights are available, and the experience is completely awesome.
That’s about it, Honey. I tell new travelers it is an initiation into “RVdom.” They absolutely must experience Quartzsite at least once, with its bumper-to-bumper traffic and people, fascinating “stuff,” and unique history.
This year I shared campfires and meals with Life on Wheels friends. A distant storm provided a dramatic rainbow that ended on our makeshift table. The “pot” in our potluck did not catch the gold, however. The treasure was in the familiar faces gathered around the campfire in the darkening night. I would miss them until we meet again sometime, somewhere under another star-filled sky, maybe next year in Quartzsite, Arizona.
For information about six RV-related books written by Sharlene Minshall, see www.full-time-rver.com. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.Research Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
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