LIFESTYLE

Quartzsite is gold for RVers

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Farm Forum

What destination attracts more than one million Recreation Vehicle owners to the desert like lemmings to the sea? Quartzsite, Ariz.

They go for the endless flea markets, gem and crafts fairs; the Big Tent RV show; mild temperatures, dazzling mountain vistas, and cheap rent.

Over the past four decades, Quartzsite — a former gold mining town in the Mohave Desert — has evolved into the unofficial RV snowbird capital of the southwest. It sits at the crossroads of Interstate 10 and U.S. 95, about 125 miles west of Phoenix and 17 miles east of the Colorado River.

During the winter months, Quartzsite, with a little over 3,000 souls, swells temporarily to the third largest city in Arizona when tens of thousands of RVers roll into the area and camp at local RV parks or in adjacent Bureau of Land Management (blm.gov/az) Long Term Visitor Areas.

“People around town estimate there are about one million winter visitors,” said Kym Scott, president of Tyson Wells Enterprises (tysonwells.com). “The surge of RVers is a very welcomed sight because snowbirds account for 80 percent of the town’s business.”

Scott calculates that during January, more than 300,000 visitors shop the 860 stalls at the Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama. Shoppers can find jewelry, gems, tools, animal hides, clothing, furniture, art, crafts, antiques, and an amazing diversity of rocks and minerals at bargain prices.

Another major draw each year is the free Big Tent Quartzsite Sports, Vacation and RV Show (quartzsitervshow.com) that takes place each January. The RV show, billed as “the largest gathering of its kind in the world,” showcases hundreds of recreation vehicles, features more than 300 RV-related vendors, and boasts an estimated 150,000 potential buyers.

Walking through the Big Tent this year will be RVers Melanie and Richard Cullen of Vista, Calif., who own Blue Sky Energy (blueskyenergyinc.com), a manufacturer of solar charge controllers. The Cullens began RVing in 1992 and the following year started developing products for the RV market out of their home garage.

“If you do lots of dry camping like we do, solar is a good way to go,” said Melanie Cullen.

“There will be an average of 100,000 RVs dry camping out on the BLM land,” she added. “Many RV snowbirds from Canada come to the region for inexpensive long term camping.” The Cullens will be boondocking in their 34-foot 2007 National RV Dolphin class A motorhome. “Just like everyone else.”

Boondocking, a term synonymous with dry camping, is when RVers live off what they carry with them. They use generators and solar to charge their batteries for electricity and propane for cooking.

Because there are no utility hook-ups on BLM land, the camping fees are minimal. A 14-day stay runs $40; a season pass for up to seven months costs $180.

Each winter dozens of RV groups, including the Escapees RV Club (escapees.com), use Quartzsite as a gathering place for annual get-togethers.

Escapees chapter directors Susie and Denny Orr of Congress, Ariz., began visiting Quartzsite 14 years ago in their 1999 Ultimate Advantage 38-foot class A motorhome. They remember fondly the many potlucks and nightly fireside rings where they met new people and shared RV adventures.

By 2007, the Orrs began organizing Escapees Happy Hour gatherings on the Wednesday and Thursday prior to the Quartzsite RV Show to promote other Escapees events and rallies. “We love the camaraderie of parking together and sharing of RVing information,” said Susie Orr. “We all learn from others about unique places to go and pass along what we have learned.” One doesn’t have to be an Escapees RV Club member to attend gatherings.

“RVers like Quartzsite for many different reasons,” said Kym Scott of Tyson Wells, “whether it be the great shopping, mild winter climate, or amazing ATV trails around the desert. All of them want a safe and affordable place to enjoy the winter with a variety of things to do, and Quartzsite fits the bill.”

Longtime RVer Melanie Cullen summed up the shopping by saying: “If you can’t find it at Quartzsite, it probably doesn’t exist.”