I’ll get right to the point, why is Quartzsite such an attraction? Well for us it is friends. Each day we meet new friends. Every day we have seen old friends. Even with all the distractions of the Big Tent and an even bigger swap meet outside. Everything here is for sale. There are multiple RV dealers, both at the show and out in the town, and from out of town. Friends, by far, outweigh all the things we found at Quartzsite and tilt the balance from ok to very good.
Quartzsite is one of the most deserted locations in the west – in August (population about 3,700). It is also one of the busiest locations in mid-January. Half a million visitors during the winter could be a real possibility. I’m going to venture that no one really knows. One friend described it with astonishment. It is crowded at the center of the action. We got a preview of how crowded it will get on our way into town.
As soon as we turned off Highway 95 on Plomosa Road we saw about 30 cars and RVs all backed up attempting to make a left turn onto the highway, heading towards Quartzite. The same location in August may have 30 cars a day. When we leave, it may be difficult, if we don’t leave early.
I already mentioned how we were greeted at the entrance by Mitch. Mitch was not guarding the gate (there isn’t a gate) but rather just driving out, as we were driving in. He saw that we had pulled over and were detaching the car that we tow and was probably curious about who was pulling in midweek. He probably also determined that we had never been there before because we were taking the car off the RV. We typically do that, regardless of where we intended on camping.
Since we had no idea how rough it might get between the entrance and our yet-to-be-chosen campground we decided to explore by car. This precaution was 100% unnecessary. Unless there just happens to be a random bush to go around, the entire area was suitable as a campsite.
Having clear memories of the boom-boom truck, we picked a spot near the end of the section “claimed” by the Boomers. I say claimed, in the loosest possible terms. The more appropriate description is probably that the Boomer’s “club within a bigger Escapees club” gathered here (much like geese landing on a pond). There was plenty of room.
Here is a link to our campsite. Campsite Review Quartzsite
And another story about Quartzsite. Quartzsite No Maybe Yes
Some of the Boomers camped close together and some, like us, camped further apart. In a matter of perspective, we have the biggest campsite we have ever had, all to ourselves. This flat, rocky part of the desert was ideal for camping. If one place wasn’t ideal, there were 1000 more, equally large, or even larger spots, just down the road.
Given that we had heard that this place was so popular, with so many RVers, and we didn’t know what to expect, we were worried about being crowded and finding a spot. If you like to be crowded, you can find it here. If you want to park window to window, that too is available. For us, our nearest neighbor is about 50 yards in front or behind us. To our north side, it was about 300 yards. Then the north side changed and four RVs “circled the wagons” so now to the north it is only about 150 yards.
The size and low population density were a surprise and made it ideal for our bicycles. Even better, riding bikes across this firm yet rocky terrain is much easier than walking. We just bounce along on our fat tires.
The Big Tent
The “Big Tent” is the center of Quartzsite action and most of the premium vendors, that go from state fair – to state fair, in the summer are there, including all the typical expected state fair cookware and other stuff, and all the typical state fair food. We had the “World’s best corndogs” which we found out were sourced at Costco (they were good).
Mixed into the vendors are the RV stuff vendors. From our campsite “downtown” and the biggest tent I have ever seen, was about five miles south. There are two ideal times to visit the tent — when they first open the doors and about an hour before they close the doors. We picked the opening and started our morning at a café for breakfast two hours prior to the opening. Breakfast was great and we were parked close to the tent thirty minutes before the opening.
If there is anything that is the most annoying thing about being at the center of the action at Quartzsite, it is finding a reasonable place to park. For us, it was not a problem. Early beats later in the parking department.
As opposed to every other RV show – everything was free, or you could “upgrade” for a small fee in the parking department (we didn’t). You can spend money here, but you don’t have to. Camping – free, Big Tent – free, Parking – free, Flea market – free, Sunshine – free, Cactus needles – free.
Flea Market / Swap Meet
The big tent is surrounded by a huge flea market at least as big as the big tent. We toured the big tent, visited the RVs for sale, and some of the flea markets. Then after around 5 miles later, I got a blister. We didn’t even cover the entire flea market.
Just to the south, some vendors have set up repair bays big enough to hold multiple RVs for routine services like new tires, alignments, shocks, oil changes, and other things of such a nature. Beside and surrounding the “winter only” RV service center is hundreds of new and used RVs for sale. Nearby, were campgrounds — for vendors and others who want that kind of thing. Just down the street in three different directions were RV dealers who only show up for the winter.
So what did we do – besides meet friends?
On the first day we set up and met new and old friends. Then we went to happy hour, which was more like a group announcements meeting. Unlike the Bashers, drinking and music at happy hour weren’t the primary interest. At sunset, Norm (one of our friends we have) set up a theater and we listened and watched his collection of old (some newer) rock and roll videos. You could watch the videos when you were not distracted by the stars in the crystal clear night sky. (both were great)
I didn’t understand when the gals in the crowd went wild over the video of the Kingsmen… Norm was the bass player. In 1963 the Kingsmen record of Louie-Louie was the number 2 song on Billboard Top 100. After a quiet night’s sleep, we did our early morning pilgrimage to the big tent – then more time with friends. John and Brenda (older friends from Tucson and Theodore Roosevelt National Park) set up their telescope and for the first time, I saw the Orion Nebula in John’s 20-inch telescope.
The Desert Bar
The next day, we relaxed and meet with friends. On Saturday we spent roaming some of the back roads. To the east of Parker, there is a back road destination, the Desert Bar. The Desert Bar is unique and dates back at least a hundred years as a mining camp. After that, it was just a memory that had almost nothing going for it, except it still had a liquor license attached to the property.
Slowly, over time, it has grown and now is an off-road destination unlike any other that we have visited. The Desert Bar is only open on weekends, in the winter from noon until 6 pm. That makes for about 28 days per year that they do business. They seem to be doing great business.
Within ten minutes after arrival at the Desert Bar, one of our new friends, whom we have known now for about two weeks saw us in line and came over and greeted us. It was about 45 miles from the last place we saw them and we didn’t coordinate our visit in the least. The food was above average (except we did hear the Philly cheesesteak was a mistake), the beer was below average (we had a soda), and cash only with high prices. The road was almost a jeep trail that allows off-road vehicles. Most of off-road vehicles seem to think that their purpose in life is to kick up as much dust as possible.
The Desert Bar has a live band every day when they are open and multiple barbeque grills. Improvements have been made every year my bet is they work on it 5 days a week and lock the doors all summer when it is too hot to work. They now support a vast solar array (no electricity out there) and lots of new concrete work and steel structures.
Our final evening in Quartzsite will be quiet and the big tent closes right after we leave town.
Why come back to Quartzsite?
Would I come back, yes, if for no other reason, than the people we meet here are here and Quartzsite is a good place to meet up… in the winter.