As early as our first trip out, when we were running
around in southern Texas, we had heard comments about a
mysterious place in Arizona known as Quartzsite. For the longest
time it seemed that everyone we ran into had either been to
Quartzsite or knew of someone who had been there. This place soon
earned a prominent place on our North American list of places we
must see. So, on our arrival, as we pulled into the RV park we
had selected, we looked at each other as if to say "And
we're going to spend a week here?" At first impression the
roadside community of Quartzsite is a mile or so of desert
roadway running parallel to I-10 in southwest Arizona. It is
lined on both sides with vendor's tents. As you approach the west
end of the town, the vendors' tents become layered deep,
culminating in an area affectionately known as "The Main
Event". For two months out of the year, January and February, (we were told) the place is a zoo. Thousands of people
descend on it with every conceivable type of RV for the several
big shows scheduled then. This gives rise to the infamous
intersection of Main St and US-95. Controlled by a flashing red
light, this two lane road, in both directions, can create a
traffic tie-up causing motorists as much as two hours of stop and go traffic just
to get through it. Our trailer park was located about the middle
of Main street so we had activities going on in both directions.
In every direction out of town for several miles it was flat rock
and sand with an occasional Palo Verde or Saguaro Cactus. This is
the Sonoran Desert, part of a 120 thousand square mile area of
the southwest, and it is dry, very dry. The only relief to the
horizontal plane was "Q" mountain. Several miles
southeast of our park, rising out of broken rock, black
and barren, stands this landmark to the area.
On an escarpment near its pinnacle, some loving person or persons, as I can hardly believe that one person could have possibly done such an act by himself, created a giant letter "Q" in brilliant white. Later in the week, on a six mile hike into the desert I would ascend this peak and determine that in fact the letter was created by the careful placement of very white quartz rocks. Believe me there is no easy way to get to the letter. Someone went to a lot of trouble to display this symbol of a most unusual town.
The next morning it was off to the "flea market" to see what was being offered for sale. Well, if you could think of it, it was most probably somewhere to be found. Much of it old, rusty and useless to anyone but a collector. There were also artisans. I spent some time in an Indian bead and leather tent talking with a lady as she carefully cut out the finishing touches of a ceremonial Indian pipe bag. It was beautifully decorated with tiny blue and white beads, all hand sewn with little stitches almost too fine to see. She had been working on it for 3 months and was quite proud of herself. Sale price $300.
Before the morning's shopping was done, Laura had come up with what I considered our best purchase. A copy of the highly informative "Quartzsite, A to Z Encyclopeida" for the year 2000. Published by the Snowbird Information Center, this 80 page magazine covers just about everything that can be covered in Quartzsite except who put the Q in Q mountain. From this we learned something of the history of this unlikely community. It seems that back in the '60s the sleepy little town of Quartzsite was occupied by a hand full of snowbird RV'ers from the Northwestern states. Things were pretty stagnant then. Into this came one Glen Fulton who did a most unusual thing for this area. He called for a meeting of the town folks. From that meeting emerged the fledgling Quartzsite Improvement Association (QIA) With the desert lands, around town, rich with semi-precious metals, rocks and gems became a center of attraction and shortly the first Pow Wow rock and gem show was offered and the rest is history. Even after the RV shows, Rock and Gem Shows and all other Shows for which there are many, there were still some interesting things that brought my camera out. On the west end of town, directly behind the "Main Event" lies the grave of Hi Jolly, Quartzsite's most famous citizen. Now old Hi Jolly was a Camel Trainer who came to this country in the 1850's along with 33 Camels as part of an experiment for the army. The camels were expected to replace horses and mules as beasts of burden in the western deserts. The horses and mules were terrified of the camels and the soldiers didn't much like them either. (Seems the Camels kept spitting on the soldiers). The experiment was scrapped and many of the camels were turned loose in the area. Hi Jolly kept a few of the animals and started his own freighting company. When he gave that up he turned to mining in the Quartzsite area. Hi Jolly passed away at the ripe old age of 74 in 1902 and is buried in the cemetery which now bears his name. There are many graves in the cemetery from early in the 20th century.
One of the main reasons that the majority of people come to Quartzsite is to boondock in the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lands. At the beginning this camping used to be free. Now, however, our Government, in its estimable wisdom, has levied a cost on the camping. The majority of the BLM land charges $20 per week or $100 per season for the camping. (Season being 7 months). Not a bad deal unless you consider that for that, you get nothing but a spot to camp on. In the long term area they do have a dump station, but no water or electricity. We did find out that there are still four areas that you can camp in (up to 14 days) that are free. One day we drove out into one of the larger of the BLM land areas to see what it was like to be so far from town, people, and civilization. Laura was driving and she kept saying she thought it was strange that they didn't have any signs indicating where the exit was. I laughed at her since we both had a very good sense of direction. Well, we had driven about 5 miles out and she turned around to go back out. We drove, and drove, and drove......Oops was that supposed to be a left turn there? Finally we started looking at signs that people had put up so friends could find them. If we were looking at the backs of the signs we figured we were on the way out. That worked. We finally reached the sign-in booth that was at the entrance. In addition to the BLM registering everyone, they have a service in town were you can register with your name and a map where you will be in case someone needs to find you in an emergency. They said in the book that they had RV parks in town that would hold 7,500 RVs. However, in a good season that would be only 1/10th of the RVs that showed up. When we were there I would estimate that there were possibly 500 boon docking. Everyone we spoke to said that this December had been very slow. The shows in January and February being the big draw. It's almost like the morning of the first show the trailers start arriving and stay until the last show in February and then there is a continuous exodus. In Quartzsite you can see trailers, fifth-wheels, and Motorhomes of every size, shape and age. It was an interesting sight at the time we were there, but I'm not sure that I would want to be there during January and February. I could only imagine how stretched the town's meager resources would be during that time.
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