has been called the
had been hearing about the big RV gathering in Quartzsite since before
we even hit the road, and we knew we would have to brave the crowds at
least once to see it. 2006 was our year. The experience was everything
we expected, both good and bad.
arrived in Quartzsite ahead of the crowds on December 30, and our first
impression was excitement as we saw the vendor booths going up and the
preparations getting underway for the crowds to flood in. Every day more
and more RVs rolled into town, and where we could look out in the
distance and see only sagebrush and Juniper trees when we first arrived
soon switched to a view of clusters of RVs as far as the eye could see.
our month in Quartzsite as vendors, we came to both appreciate the place
and eagerly await the time when we could leave. It was wonderful to see
so many old friends and to make new ones, and to give our solar panels
and battery bank a workout as we dry camped, but the constant dust, the
frequent high winds, and the often pushy crowds wore thin very quickly.
There are hundreds of square miles of desert administered by the Bureau
of Land Management (BLM) around Quartzsite open to dry camping. Included
are the La Posa Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA), located south of
Interstate 10 on U.S. Highway 95, where RVers can purchase an
inexpensive permit that allows them to stay up to seven months. For
shorter stays, RVers can either purchase a fourteen day permit for the
LTVA, or camp on other BLM land near town for free up to fourteen days.
After fourteen days campers in the free area are required to move to a
site at least 25 miles away.
expected lots of the RVers we know and love, but Quartzsite also has
grizzled desert rats with leathery wrinkled skin, a surprising number of
hippy looking young people who look like they came straight from the Age
of Aquarius, a good number of eccentrics, and a few downright lunatics. Independence
seems to be the order of the day, and people come here to dry camp in
the desert and to get as far away from society’s dictates as they can.Quartzsite attracts any and all kinds.
watching is a great pastime at Quartzsite. The diversity of people and
RVs is simply fascinating. We saw RVs costing many hundreds of thousands
of dollars parked near beat up old rigs that looked like they might
never make it out of town. There were retirees from the
of groups come to Quartzsite to hold annual reunions. The Escapees
Boomers group, the medium and heavy duty truck crowds, Newmar and Alfa
owners all held rallies while we were there. A group of nudists even
hold an annual gathering at an area known as the
as big as the desert is, occasional conflicts still arise. The real
purist boondockers who are proud of being able to survive with just
solar power get upset when their neighbors start their generators. Some
complain about ATVs stirring up dust clouds, and others are unhappy when
they go to all the trouble of staking out a piece of desert away from
the crowds, then return from a trip to town to discover the crowd has
moved in next to them.
business people and permanent residents of Quartzsite seem to have a
love-hate relationship with their winter visitors. While they appreciate
the dollars that flood into the town’s coffers, some of them make it
very obvious they look forward to the time when we all pull up our jacks
and hit the road, giving them back the slower pace of life they came
here for. One morning while filling up at the Shell convenience store in
town, I listened to three police officers commenting on the dumb driving
stunts they had seen so many RVers pull and compare notes on the tickets
they had written. Overall, having dealt with more than our fair share of
rude shoppers at our vendor booth, I thought most of the locals
exercised a lot of patience.
doesn’t have much to offer in the way of dining opportunities. We had
dinner out with friends several times, and the fare ranged from
excellent for the Friday night fish fry at the VFW post, to absolutely
terrible at Sweet Darlene’s on the east side of town. The Quartzsite
Yacht Club (yes, they have a yacht club on the middle of the desert!)
puts out a pretty good order of fish and chips, we got a good pizza at
Silly Al’s, and though it’s not fancy, Taco Mio really surprised us
with the simple quality of its Mexican food.
looked forward to shopping the many vendors at Quartzsite, but the
attraction paled very quickly. There was a lot of the usual cheap junk
you can see at any swap meet in the country, and the vendors selling RV
products did not have anything we had not seen at a dozen RV rallies
before, and usually at a lower price. The crowds inside the big tent
made it more of a hassle just to move about than it was worth.
vendors seemed to be as disappointed in the shoppers as the shoppers
were in them. Many of the long time vendors I talked to said this year
was only a two week thing, unlike in the past where there was a much
longer selling season, and most said their sales were down considerably
from past years. Several vendors said they won't come back because of
low sales, rising space rents, and tightening regulations. Vendor spaces
are very expensive in Quartzsite. We looked into a space at the Main
Event, a swap meet in the east side of town, north of Interstate 10, and
were quoted a price of $780 for two weeks. Inside the big tent, vendors
pay well over $1,000 for the nine days of the show.
future of Quartzsite is in question as big RV dealers move in and gobble
up space that used to hold vendors. We talked to several people who
shopped the various dealers and none were impressed with the selection
or prices offered. I didn’t stop at any of the dealers’ lots, but
more than one person I talked to seemed to have the impression that some
of the dealers were using Quartzsite as a dumping ground for units they
could not move at their other locations.
of old-timers and townspeople we talked to are worried that the very
reason people come here will be destroyed by the RV dealers’ greed.
“People don’t come to Quartzsite to shop for an RV,” a lady at a
local produce stand said. “If they come here, they’ve already got
an RV! They come here for the small vendors. They can buy an RV in
changes in Quartzsite seem to be happening very quickly. We were told a
section of the Main Event had been sold off to a tire dealership and
would not be available next season. A major expansion of the Beaudry RV
sales lot will take place
west to the junction of U.S. 95 and Kuehn Road, which will force out the
vendor booths in that area.
the other side of Beaudry, at the area known as Yorkdale Merchant
Marketplace, where we had our vendor booth, plans are underway to build
a combination condominium and retail complex. A recent issue of the
Desert Messenger shopper publication included a full page
advertisement with pictures of a seven story
lot of people we met either love or hate Quartzsite. We’re ambivalent.
After a month we were more than ready to leave. We plan to return next
year to spend a week or two in the desert, because we like dry camping.
But we enjoy hookups too much to want to come here for the entire
season. Still, we’re glad we came, if just to say we’ve been there
and done that.