Quartzsite, Arizona — OMG
February 7, 2021
I saw the name “Quartzsite” on my map this morning as I drove out of Payson. I figured it would be good for a sign shot and a drive through a likely ghost town. As I entered the city limits (which must be huge), I noticed a number (like hundreds) of RVs, fifth wheels, vans and tents on the left- hand side of the highway. A good number of them looked as though they had seen better days.
When I took the exit for Quartzsite I entered a different world. First I noticed a number of hitchhikers with their usual signs, although one stood out — “at least gives us the finger” one cardboard sign read. Quickly I noticed the road was lined with RV parks and hundreds of flea-market type stands. It was like a rundown South of The Border on steroids. We’re not talking upscale either. Everything looked blue collar.
My intent had been to cross the border into California today. I think I’m within 20 miles of achieving my goal. But there was no way I was going to miss the experience of spending a night in Quartzsite. I found the most reputable looking RV business I could find. I plopped down my $31 for a tent site and here I sit basking in the 72 degree, sunny afternoon.
Here is the Wikipedia entry about Quartzsite:
Quartzsite is a town in La Paz County, Arizona, United States. According to the 2010 census, the population was 3,677.
Motto(s): "The Rock Capital of the World"
Quartzsite is at the intersection of U.S. Route 95 and Arizona State Route 95 with I-10.
Where Quartzsite is now located, was from 1863 to the 1880s the site of a waterhole and later a stage station, called Tyson's Wells, along the La Paz - Wikenburg Road on Tyson Wash, in what was then Yuma County, in the newly created Arizona Territory. It was about 20 miles from the Colorado River steamboat landing of La Paz and 25 miles from the landing of Erhenburg from 1866. The next stop was 25 miles to the east at Desert Station.
Tyson's Wells in 1875 was described by Martha Summerhayes, in her book Vanished Arizona:
At all events, whatever Messrs. Hunt and Dudley were doing down there, their ranch (Desert Station) was clean and attractive, which was more than could be said of the place where we stopped the next night, a place called Tysons Wells. We slept in our tent that night, for of all places on the earth a poorly kept ranch in Arizona is the most melancholy and uninviting. It reeks of everything unclean, morally and physically.
In the valley around Tyson's Wells were places known to have been successfully worked by individual prospectors since the beginning of the Colorado River Gold Rush of the 1860s up until the 1950s. Some large scale operations in the early 20th century were failures.
Geography and climate
According to the United States Census Bureau Quartzsite is all land and has a total area of 36.3 sq mi.
Quartzsite lies on the western portion of the La Posa Plain along Tyson Wash. The Dome Rock Mountains overlook the town on the west with Granite Mountain on the southwest edge of the town and Oldman Mountain on the northwest. The Plomosa Mountains lie across the La Posa Plain to the east.
The town has a hot desert climate with mild to warm winters from November to March and hot to extreme summers for the remainder of the year. In the middle of summer, Quartzsite is one of the hottest places in the United States and has recorded temperatures as high as 122 °F on 28 July 1995.
There is very little precipitation with only 3.51 inches falling during an average year, while in May and June more than 80 percent of years do not have measurable rainfall. Since records began in 1928 the wettest month has been September 1939 with 6.16 inches which was part of the wettest year with 11.05 inches and featuring on September 5 the wettest day with 3.00 inches. This moisture was due to the remnants of a rare Gulf of California hurricane. The driest calendar year was 1928 with 0.92 inches. However, between July 2001 and August 2002 as little as 0.45 inches fell over thirteen months.
Census Pop. %±
1980 1,193 —
1990 1,876 57.3%
2000 3,354 78.8%
2010 3,677 9.6%
2019 (est.) 3,763  2.3%
U.S. Decennial Census
As of the census of 2000, there were 3,354 people, 1,850 households, and 1,176 families residing in the town. The population density was 92.4 people per square mile. There were 3,186 housing units at an average density of 87.8 per square mile. The racial makeup of the town was 94.5% White, 0.2% Black or African American, 1.2% Native American, 0.3% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 2.6% from other races, and 1.2% from two or more races. 5.0% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 1,850 households, out of which 5.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 59.0% were married couples living together, 2.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.4% were non-families. 31.5% of all households were made up of individuals, and 19.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.81 and the average family size was 2.18.
In the town, the population was spread out, with 5.7% under the age of 18, 1.8% from 18 to 24, 7.7% from 25 to 44, 29.9% from 45 to 64, and 54.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 66 years. For every 100 females, there were 102.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 101.9 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $23,053, and the median income for a family was $26,382. Males had a median income of $20,313 versus $16,080 for females. The per capita income for the town was $15,889. About 7.8% of families and 13.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.3% of those under age 18 and 10.0% of those age 65 or over.
Quartzsite is a popular recreational vehicle camping area for winter visitors with tourism being the major contributor to Quartzsite's economy. The Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, an annual gathering of vandwellers, takes place in January. Nine major gem and mineral shows, and 15 general swap meet shows are very popular tourist attractions, attracting about 1.5 million people annually, mostly during January and February.
Quartzsite is the burial place of Hi Jolly (Hadji Ali), an Ottoman citizen of Greek-Syrian parentage, who took part in the experimental US Camel Corps as a camel driver.
Quartzsite is also the site of Joanne's Gum Museum, which is open to the public and features a large collection of gum wrappers from around the world.
The Arizona Peace Trail goes through Quartzsite.
The Town of Quartzsite operates demand response buses under the name Camel Express that provide weekday service to Quartzsite and La Paz Valley, weekly service to Parker, twice monthly service to Yuma and Blythe, and monthly service to Lake Havasu City. Greyhound Lines serves Quartzsite on its route from Los Angeles to Dallas. Freeways and state highways in Quartzsite include:
In popular culture
One of the primary locations in the 1988 computer role-playing game, Wasteland, is a town named Quartz. Wasteland Scenario Designer Ken St. Andre and life-long resident of Phoenix, Arizona, confirmed the town of Quartz in the game, is indeed the real life city of Quartzsite.
From the town’s website:
Over 2 Million Visitors a Year!
Quartzsite, Arizona, barely 18 miles east of the Colorado river, on I-10, may be the RV boondocking capital of the world. Quartzsite has become a mecca to visitors and exhibitors for rocks, gems, mineral specimens and fossils during the town’s famous two-month-long gem show and swap meet every January and February. From its humble beginnings the now-massive Quartzsite show has grown to RV-epic proportions with vendors offering everything under the Quartzsite sun.
From the website thedyrt.com:
Clusters of gleaming RV’s, vans, and motorhomes flash into view, catching the light of the dry Arizona landscape as we pull into Quartzsite, Arizona.
Some vehicles are arranged in tight clusters, others are spread out across solitary distances, offering respectful space between their desert neighbors. These free-spirited mobile neighborhoods, scattered across an abundance of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Quartzsite offer a totally different vibe than your standard RV parks.
Quartzsite, AZ: Where Home is Where You Park
Google Maps image of Quartzsite, AZ
The traditional notion of “home” has little meaning here in Quartzsite, AZ. During January and February, homes on wheels outnumber permanent houses by about 500 to 1. The sleepy town of less than 4,000 year-round residents receives a winter migration of nearly 2 million humans and their mobile dwellings each year.
Quartzsite is cut into quadrants by Interstate 10 and Route 95. It is a shrine to modern transportation; a place where everything mobile, gas-powered, and impermanent finds a patron. Indeed, every kind of mobile home and driver is welcome and celebrated in some corner of this open-air cathedral; their rigs, in every size, shape, age, condition, and tax bracket, are anointed by the same desert dust.
Well-appointed luxury liners share space with flashy vintage campers and tricked out van conversions. Bus conversions park next to resilient remnants from RV’s past, eeking out just a few more seasons on the road.
Why Come to Quartzsite, AZ?
The winter climate is moderate and dry, with rain an irregular (but welcomed) visitor. Free or low-cost camping in the region’s multi-million acres of public land, all within 6 miles of downtown Quartzsite, is an RVer’s dream. Add lots of local events and friends to the mix, and it becomes a huge attraction for mobile dwellers from all over.
We arrive two days before the largest RV show in the country, known locally as “The Big Tent.” Delighted to find space in the RV park across the road in the “dry camping” (non-hook ups) area, we curl up next to the park’s only Saguaro cactus and Palo Verde tree.
There are over 50 RV parks in Quartzsite, and they all approach capacity on winter weekends, some with neat rows and manicured medians, others a simple grid, possessing all the charm of a dusty parking lot. Yet the esprit de corps of the place seems to rise above the cramped quarters.
Our neighbors comprise the “Over the Hump RV Club” from Parump, Nevada; 10 couples who pick a new destination each month and spend a week traveling. We’re invited to join their casually organized meals at their long folding table where dinner spills over to the fire ring as the sky darkens.
It isn’t full of tourist attractions. It isn’t next to a national park. It’s in the middle of nowhere, really. But RV campers visit Quartzsite, AZ year after year.
It’s hard to list off reasons to why. But if you visit, you’ll get it.
The History of this RV Mecca
Pre-Columbian petroglyphs and grain grinding holes found throughout the area speak to the long history of human habitation in Quartzsite, at least seasonally. The giant geoglyphs in the region made long before European contact continue to challenge our understanding of pre-history and are best viewed from the air.
U.S. expansion across the continent in the 19th century forced local Chemehuevi, Mohave, Hopi and Navajo tribes into the nearby Colorado River Reservation, which lies along the life-giving waterway. The reservation celebrates the unique ethnic cultures of each tribe while forging new paths of collaboration in the 21st century.
Like many western towns, Quartzsite, AZ grew around a watering hole stop on the trail from Phoenix to southern California. Originally known as Tyson Wells, it changed its name when the abundant mineral (quartzsite) drew mining interest in the late 19th century.
The Quartzsite Camel
Among the quirky bits of history still celebrated is the connection to Hadji Ali, or “Hi Jolly” as he became known. A Turkish man of Greek-Syrian parentage, he cared for the animals in the U.S. Army experimental Camel Corps. The Camels were well adapted to the hot dry environment and thrived under Ali, though the experiment was abandoned when the Civil War broke out in the east.
Ali stayed, as did the camels, both finding ways to survive in their adopted home. Ali’s burial monument remains a local attraction and his legacy is celebrated annually with the Hi Jolly Daze parade in January. The camels remain the local mascot and symbolize the spirit of this industrious little desert town.
In 1983 the inaugural “Big Tent” RV show began to serve and capitalize on the growing trend of migratory snowbirds visiting the area in mobile homes. Over the last 36 years, the show has become the largest of its kind, attracting almost 200,000 attendees.
Flocking to Quartzsite, AZ for Warm Winters
Winter weather in Quartzsite is mild and arid—always with a chance of beautiful. Every so often, it dips down into the 50’s, but most days hover in the 60-70’s. We’ve worn everything from shorts and flip-flops to puffy jackets and wool hats within the span of 10 days, so come prepared for winter camping in Arizona.
The summer is another beast entirely. “I put on all my winter weight in the summer!” says our RV campground host.
He and his family live and operate their park year-round; “In the summer, I pretty much sit inside and wait for the sun to go down. I can’t do anything outside after 10:30 am. So, I just wait it out.”
Quartzsite, AZ is one of the hottest places in the US in the summer with daily highs of around 120 degrees. The few hearty, year-round, residents stay here with no small degree of pride and hefty air-conditioning bills.
Where to Camp in Quartzsite, AZ
Find RV Campgrounds in Quartzsite, AZ on The Dyrt
The area surrounding Quartzsite and much of western Arizona is federally-operated BLM land. The BLM dispersed areas are beautiful, plentiful, and well-marked. All are within 3-6 miles of town and can be used by tents and RVs of all kinds. For all areas, you must register with a BLM volunteer or staff member.
The five free BLM areas (Plomosa Rd, Hi Jolly, Dome Rock Rd, Scaddan Wash, and Road Runner) offer no facilities or services – just register with the campground host on site. Free camping areas are limited to 14 days within each 28-day period; after this time, you must move at least 25 miles away.
The La Posa Long Term Visitor Area is a huge BLM dispersed camping area which begins on the edge of town and extends for 5 miles south. Split into 3 separate areas, La Posa North, South, and West.
LTVAs offer camping, potable water, trash collection, and holding tank dump in addition to pit toilets for a nominal fee ($40 for 14 days or $180 for 7 months, from Sept 15 to April 15). During your permit window, you can move camp or stay put as you like. Most folks use solar panels for power, while a few still chug along using gas-powered generators.
Prefer traditional RV parks? You’re not alone! You can view information and read reviews about RV campgrounds in Quartzsite, AZ on The Dyrt. If you’re road-tripping to these RV shows and need to plan, download The Dyrt PRO and use offline maps.
What To Do in Quartzsite, AZ
The “Nudist Bookseller” is a local celebrity and his tarp structure full of books is a popular stop in Quartzsite. (The actual nudist bookseller not pictured.)
This organic gathering of nomadic van, camper, and car dwellers first met with 45 attendees in January 2010, before #vanlife began its domination of Instagram. Found on the east side of town and the south side of I-10, the RTR gathers about 3 miles out in the Scaddan Wash BLM area.
Follow Dome Rock Rd. East until it turns to dirt and bends sharply south. Go slowly, because the rough road will demand it. The community vibe at the gathering rewards the patient, enthusiastic, and free-spirited.
Unlike music festivals with their ever-present agenda of stages and performances, this gathering seems to celebrate just being, while unselfishly sharing resources via a loose schedule of talks and nerding out over each other’s rigs. Spontaneous conversations, yoga sessions, desert hikes, movie nights, art camp, and jam sessions (in the designated music camping area only) spring to life throughout until the final ceremonial burning of a small wooden van effigy, “The Burning Van.” Come for the whole two weeks, or just the afternoon.
We caught up with the event for the last two days, and attendees still numbered in the thousands. Early reports seemed to suggest attendance around 7,000, more than double last year, thanks in part to Jessica Bruder’s 2018 book “Nomadland,” a popular New York Times article, and creator Bob Well’s vast online following.
Held near Bouse, AZ for four days, just prior to the regular RTR in 2019, is a separate women’s gathering in its second year. “Women are awesome!” one attendee exclaimed when we inquired about her most important takeaways.
Nods to the obvious aside, the gathering included large pre-planned sessions and smaller organic conversations which anyone could suggest and lead. The event focuses on developing community, empowering women to build the skills and resources for life on the road, all wrapped in a strong Leave No Tracepackage.
RTR spin-offs form afterward, sorting the faithful into separate congregations in various places around the region: Skooliepalooza, the Bus Rally, Escapees, Fiberglass Rally, and the VW Bus Rally, among others. Everyone with a passion for a specific home on wheels can find their people here.
Prepare for your RV trip by downloading maps. The Dyrt PRO lets you download maps and campgrounds without cell service. “My alternative to using pro would be to drive back out to cell service.”
“The Big Tent” show is the most popular Quartzsite RV show. We caught up with Kenny King, founder of the show to give us the inside scoop.
During the 70’s, Kenny specialized selling awnings and other RV parts, and found immense success as one of the largest distributors of awnings in Southern California. It wasn’t until a brilliant idea a little later that this career path would change.
In 1983, on his way home from another RV show, Kenny asked a simple question: “What if I put a big tent in Quartzsite and made my own RV Show?” And he didn’t waste any time trying to answer it. “By the time I returned home, I already had completed the full business plan.” says Kenny.
Starting small, today the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation, and RV Show has grown to be the largest consumer attended RV show in the USA. Kenny has plans to step away within the next 7-10 years, however his Daughter Kimmy King (who’s name is often confused over the phone for her Dad’s) and her Husband Bryan are learning the ropes to take over the show.
That said, they’re going to be in for a huge responsibility! That’s because Kenny has plans underway to start another show specifically for Off-Highway-Vehicles (OHV’s).
The 1st Annual Quartzsite OHV Expo
The new 30,000 sq. ft event, The 1st Annual Quartzsite OHV Expo – “THE GREATEST SHOW ON DIRT”, is set to happen over MLK weekend, the opening weekend of, prior to the RV show.
Kenny wanted to start this new show thanks to his own passion for off-roading. “Quartzsite has some of the best off-roading anywhere in the country. I love getting out on the trails, even though I haven’t made it that far out. Because of that, I wanted to make a show that brought everyone together to experience the trails and terrain nearby” he explained.
If you’re interested in attending either of these, you better come prepared. Kenny tells us that during event week, the show gets so huge that “Quartzsite becomes the third largest population of Arizona, right behind Tuscon.” I
n fact, it goes in full swing before the Burning Van festival is even in ashes. People from all over the world flock to see the hundreds of RV product vendors, innovations, and much more. If there is some way that a vendor can creatively connect their product to life in an RV, they have done it, and brought along the funnel cake and corn dog wagon for good measure.
Even better, the show is free, so the aisles and booths are packed from the moment it opens, trailing off only slightly throughout the week as inventory and stamina dwindle.
Over 9 major Gem & Mineral shows attract rock hounds from all over the world during the winter months. Offering 1 of only 5 Gem Showcases in the country, Quartzsite earns its name.
If getting away from the crowds is what you’re after, drive about 3 miles from the town center. With so much history and vast public lands nearby, the opportunity to get out into the desert is abundant. Hiking and all kinds of off-roading fun, as well as the nudist bookstore owner in town will keep you entertained.
Be sure to visit local petro/geoglyph sites, Palm Canyon, and the various wildlife refuges in the area. Complete descriptions of these points of interest can be found on the town’s Chamber of Commerce website.