Home Again: This Snowbird Roosts in Quartzsite, AZ
Honey, I’m home!! Those were the words that went through my mind as I drove into Quazrtzsite, AZ yesterday. That means that summer and fall are officially drawing to a close because I have returned to my winter “Home” which is Quartzsite. I love this place! It has such a wonderful “feel” and vibe to it. If you aren’t familiar with Quartzsite, it is the winter home of hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of RVing and vandwelling snowbirds just like me. There are several reasons we all migrate here every winter:
- It’s full of every kind of live-aboard vehicle you can imagine! From million dollar coaches, to bikes with tents, to the worst piece-of-shit vans you can imagine! Young and old, rich and poor, we are all (mostly) accepted and welcomed by the locals and by each other. I just love to go down-town and watch the parade of rigs drive by and watch the people in them and ponder their lives and what brought them here. As different as we all are, underneath is a similar drive to travel and live free that makes us hit the road. It gives me hope! If you are willing, you can make many new friends while you are here!
- It has mild winters. While it can be surprisingly cold when a storm blows through, it’s still a whole lot warmer than most parts of the country. Here it is November 17 and it’s still in the 70s every day and high 40s every night. That’s much better than many places in the country where they are already getting their first snowstorms of the year!
- It is a very pretty part of the desert with some of the most consistently fantastic sunrises and sunsets of any place I’ve ever been. It’s also surprisingly green. It’s very easy to find campsites where you can nestle under big trees and your van can be totally in its shade
- If you have Verizon, there is very good 4g LTE internet and cell phone in most places. If you depend on free WIFI hotspots, there is an abundance of those in town, many with power plug-ins. The other cell providers are here, but much more spotty.
- There is a huge amount of free or very low-cost camping on BLM land that surrounds town. If you stay in one of the popular free camping areas close to town there will be Ranger enforcement, but it’s pretty lax. I’ve stayed in one spot for 2 months before they visited camp and told me to move and I know many people who stayed a month before they got the Ranger “visit.”
- But some people don’t like to ever worry about a Ranger visit or having to move at all, and for them there are several LTVA (Long Term Visitor Areas) where you can camp for 5 months for $180. Some of the LTVA (but not all) have facilities like dumpsters for trash, showers and dump stations. Here is the page for La Posa LTVA near Quartzsite: http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/recreation/camping/LTVA/laposa.html nd here is information about all the LTVAs: http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/elcentro/recreation/ltvas.html But to me, there is so much land, and so few Rangers, that finding a place to camp where you won’t be visited by a Ranger is very easy. You just have to move further away from the town of Quartzsite. I’ll move 17 miles down Interstate 10 to Exit 1 at the little town of Ehrenburg. It’s close to Blythe, CA and has zero Ranger enforcement. That way I don’t pay to camp here (or anywhere else for that matter) and I don’t recommend you do either.
- As more and more RVers spent their winters here, the town evolved to meet their needs. So it’s no problem to find water, take a shower, get rid of your trash or dump your waste tanks. It’s an RVers or vandwellers paradise!
- Another reason Quartzsite is so popular is that is famous for its gems and minerals. That has attracted lots of prospectors and rock-hounds over the years and gives many RVers something to do with their free time. In the winters there is a Gem and Mineral Club that you can join for $15. It has every tool you can need to work with rocks and minerals, and after you take a class on using the tools, you have nearly free access to them. So if you find some beautiful rocks and want to cut or polish them, you can. They also teach classes on many subjects like wire wrapping or making your own. You buy a metal blank and turn it into a hand-made knife under the direction of an experienced knife-maker. Or you can take field trips to different areas to look for gems, metal detecting contests, dinners and many other things that make spending winter here a lot more fun! This is their web page: http://qrgmc.org/
- The combination of RVers and rock-hounds has made it very attractive to vendors and over the winter the town is filled with hundreds of mom-n-pop stores that operate out of tents. It creates a state-fair or carnival-like atmosphere where you can buy just about any kind of RV or rock-hound thing you can want along with just about anything you can imagine!
- All the vendors brought the Big Tent RV and Gem and Mineral Show to town where they set-up this huge tent and fill it with vendors. It attracts RVers from Los Angeles (and all of Southern California), Phoenix, and Las Vegas so that when it’s on the population around Quartzsite swells from its normal 2500 to over a million people!
But everything isn’t perfect in Quartzsite, it has some serious disadvantages as well:
- The nearest Wal-Mart is 35 miles away in Parker, AZ and shopping in Quartzsite is very expensive. For that reason I suggest you come stocked up on as many supplies as you can carry so you limit your shopping here to perishables and a monthly trip to Wal-Mart.
- The wind blows a lot, and sometimes it is severe. When big storms blow in from the Arctic we get hit with windstorms that bring gusts of more than 50 mph. At other times the storms will blow in from the south out of Mexico and bring big windstorms. I generally tell people that it isn’t practical to live in a tent here because the wind will either destroy their tent or make their lives miserable—or both!
- When those storms blow through, it can get quite cold, and then the wind makes it feel even colder. If you look at pictures from the RTRs, you’ll see most people wearing coats, hats and gloves; we needed them, it gets cold here! Yuma is almost 100 miles south of here, and is a good 5-10 degrees warmer, so many people will go there when it is at its coldest.
So there you have my review of Quartzsite. It isn’t perfect, but no place is. And to me its imperfections make it even better by giving it flavor. Come join us! There are already 7 of us in camp and all are welcome. This is the map to our camp. We are an obvious group of vans on the right so we are easy to spot.
I’m coming asap! (by Dec., for sure)
Got my shit together – leaving Tuesday!
great LaVonne, you have a map so we will see you then!
It sounds pretty darn nice. One of these days I’m going. It looks like there’d be some really nice day hikes all over that place!
About when do you leave? March?
CAE, the great thing about the desert is that while there are lots of trails, it is so open you can just cut cross-country and go anywhere you please.
I try to stay as long a I can because the National Forests take much longer to warm up and melt the snow. I move when it gets too hot which usually is no later than April I will move up in elevation, but it all depends on the weather that year.
Do you think my Honda Civic could handle the roads? Just the normal stuff, not the sandy-4 wheel stuff. I have it rigged for lounging inside should the weather get to rough for the tent. Pretty nice actually.
Cae, I sometimes do go places where the Civic couldn’t go, but not very often. All the places I go here in Qzt wouldn’t be a problem for you. I have a friend here who has been living in a small Toyota for the last year and is pretty happy with it. I’d say go for it!!
Hey Bob, I’ll be there, if all goes as planned. Got my new rig and am itching to go!
It needs a bit of work though so….
see you in January.
OK Bob, you have finally done it. I may be through reading your your blog. This post is making me so “homesick”.
Sam, you live on wheels, you remember, those round black things under your home. Turn those things and head out here!!
Nice to have you back…love the new site!
All that information about Quartzsite is great to have. I’m looking forward to meeting the group and checking out some of the awesome scenery.
No telling when I could show up, before RTR is my plan. With all of us newbies could swell to quite a tribe this year. If I make it by Christmas I’ll bring pecans for everyones sock! Don’t worry about being good – I’m not santa *smile*.
Joni, we will move to a different campsite at the end of November, but it won’t be very far away. When we move I will post a new map.
See you then!
…And historians will say just beyond this temporary city in Quartzsite, Arizona some smaller mobile communities sprung up.
One of the first was a place called “Wellsville” named for one of the more experienced and helpful leaders of the movement, Bob Wells.
Wellsville did not depend on huge infrastructure or power plants to keep it’s mobile residents comfortable. Each visitor to Wellsville was a self contained unit using batteries charged with solar power and propane for cooking. Bob organized informal round tables to share information about this lifestyle.
If your rig was outfitted properly with the proper tools and stores of food and water you could go for a month without needing to visit a traditional city. These communities were generally within thirty miles of a large city for access to fuel, food, hospitals and other services and supply depots.
The only rule was to “Live and Let Live”.
*I think I’d like to visit Wellsville…where ever it may be at the time.
Openspaceman, I have enough delusions of grandeur without you adding to them!! Seriously though, thanks for painting that picture, I like it! But I’m pretty amazed at how many people have already found me here. Right now there are 7 of us in camp and probably more on their way.
Everyone should know that I will only be here until Dec 1 and then I will move 17 miles west to Ehrenburg, AZ which is on the other side of the river from Blythe, CA. That way when I come back to QZT in early January there will be no possibility of problems with the 14 day rule during the RTR.
Thanks for the detailed post Bob. I like the way you break down locations and their characteristics. Having these details and tips cuts down on my anxiety level when planning trips to new places, especially a place as “foreign” to me as Quartzsite.
You’re welcome Joe! If you’ve never been to the desert before, it really is like a different world! But I’ve found that the desert gets under your skin and many people fall in love with it; at least I know I have!
Hopefully you will make it out here one of these days and find out for yourself!
I was in Quartzsite last winter and really enjoyed it. I was good to hear somebody besides me likes watching all the different rigs roll thru town!
I’m not sure when I’ll make it back… I’m enjoying the Gulf coast in Texas this winter…
Rob, people-watching is one of the best parts of being a full-timer. Nothing on the planet is as endlessly entertaining (and frustrating) as people!
I’ve never been to the Texas Gulf Coast, but I’ve heard it’s great for vandwelling. Are you boondocking or staying in parks there?
Regarding the map: “roadblock” isn’t quite accurate. It’s not like the road is blockaded by cops. It’s just the dead end of the pavement with the usual reflectorized boards and signs. A freshly graded dirt road turns south (right) from there.
Also E. Kuehn St. takes a loop around an RV park before paralleling I-10. Don’t let that make you think you’ve taken a wrong turn.
Hope to see more folks here soon.
Good points Al!
Thank you so much for the post and the pictures mr bob please keep the pictures coming for the ones like me that wish we were there but just can’t do it now, If a person was to want to come out there for the winter what would be a good time of the year to get out there and get a good parking spot, and what about dumping your gray and black water do you have to leave your spot or does someone come by for a small fee, do you have any trouble with people are for the most part is everyone easy going will i hope you enjoy yourself
Jim, the best time to come is once it cools off enough. This place is unbearably hot in the summer so you have to wait until it cools off enough for your comfort level. I like it to be in the mid 80s or lower so that is sometime in October or November. Just Google the weather here and come when it is what you want. Now it is in the mid 70s which is perfect for me!
Like Blars said, there are services that will come out and pump your tanks, or you can go into town. The people here are generally great!! Very friendly and accepting. Of course there are exceptions, there are always a few bad apples. But it isn’t a problem.
A good time is being had by all!
My husband and I rolled into town, our winter home, on the 17th of November. Met up with friends and life just continued as if we never left. We have been coming to Quartzsite for about 8 years now. We keep our rig here in a park for less then we could store it anywhere else and don’t have to pay the gas to drive to and from Washington. We love the Roadrunner Gem & Mineral Club, the outings, the craft classes, the swap meets and hunting for gems, stones and gold. We always find something good and good people to do it with.
Sherry you said it really well!! Quartzsite is a very special place and it really does become a home-away-from-home where you have friends who are every bit as close as family. It sounds like you have a wonderful life!!
There are trucks that will come pump out your tanks, but I think it is cheaper to drive into town and dump. RVie pit stop on AZ 95 on the north side of town is one place. Blythe has an $8 dump and free water (seperate locations).
The LTVAs here are available for the entire Sept 15-April 15 season – if you can stand the fringe temps. I find them to be a financially good deal for rigs with holding tanks, since the dump station use is unlimited and at no additional cost. That works particularly well for me, since I don’t then need to break camp for the entire 5.5 months I’ll stay if I don’t care to. By the way, my barber here claims that the Big Tent won’t be set up this year. The vendors will be here, but no tent. Those 1998 photos are amazing! Problems with Quartzsite policies may continue to thin the vendors and attendance out, but I’m sure it’ll roll on for years regardless.
Doug, the Big Tent website doesn’t specifically say it will be in the tent again, but it sure seems to imply it. Nothing about the website has changed from last years except the dates. Find it here:
Welcome back, Bob! DH and I are tucked into the LTVA and actually got to Q yesterday. Btw, the LTVA season is seven months, not five, but the first month is pretty darn hot. Things start to cool down mid-October, but we still saw temps in the 90s last week. I feel happy now all my friends are starting to flock back to the roost. *grin*
linda, it’ll be great to see you both again!! See you soon.
I am really excited about the possibility of getting to Quartzsite. I don’t have a van or RV yet…I figured I would come in my Subaru Outback, and bring a tent. Is that workable, you think? With a shelter for potty privacy, of course. I live in NM, so I know the wind and what it can do. But I am so wanting to come.
Fiddler, it depends if you are you talking about for a short time, or long term. Everyone I know who has tried to live long term in a tent here in the desert has given up on it. The wind is just overwhelming in a tent. If you can live in the Subaru when the tent is unbearable then you will be okay. I have a friend who just gave up on the tent and now lives full time in his car and is content with that. A tent also works really well much of the year away from the desert, just not here.
But if you are just coming out for a few weeks you can do anything for that long so come on out!
I’m so jealous! It’s gorgeous there, I’m trying to head that way in February, or late January if I get lucky.
Myddy, when you get out here, be sure to look me up!
I won’t make it this year — may not even make the next — but the good Lord willing, I WILL make it on the one after that. Cannot wait. Hello to all my friends who are there. Be sure to get lots of pictures for us poor slobs left behind. 🙂
Ella, it’s a shame you can’t make it, but sometimes you do what you have to do and put off your desires. That will make it all the sweeter when you do make it out here!!
lets not forget to talk about the rain, flooding and flash floods… The rain came early this year and I have never seen flash flooding before, but early this morning I heard it… I got out just before dawn and stepped into 1 inch of standing water, the damn washes i was camped between had overfilled and i was forced to make a hasty move to high ground leaving non essential gear in place, that’s all replaceable… the big wash to the South of me was in full flash flood, you could hear the big rocks crashing their way down the wash, which is what awoke me… all is well,lesson learned,nothing lost and allot learned… funny how ya seem to learn something new on a weekly basis out here… So ask questions and question your camp site, but most of all enjoy your time here, dangers are few a far between, but they are out here in differing forms…
Wow, you must have got more rain than we did. The ground is wet here but I don’t think we had any flooding. You are so right, this life is so wonderful we forget sometimes that the desert (nature) is the real Lord and Master and we are guests here at it’s mercy.
I’m sure it was scary at the time, but it’s something you will be talking about for the rest of your life!! bob
looks like I’m just a few days away.
I stayed close to where you are last spring and liked it…..did see the ranger after about 7 weeks there….he was looking for a home for a lost dog.
I’ll stop by when I get there.
Papa, please do! I loved your blog! You are a very interesting guy!!
I will b new at this so what I need to know is I am disabled and have to use pain meds for everyday to get some relief. What I need to know is are there drs that take people like me that want to travel but need a prescription every month for meds. I am wanting to find the warmest spots for my aching body. Also what do u use for eletc while out there solar power. Any info will b great.
kay, I don’t have an answer about doctors because I know nothing about that. Most people establish a home base for the winter and then get a doctor there and every year they come back and go to him again. I’m in Arizona every winter so I would get one here. If your doctor is in Phoenix, you can camp in Northern AZ in the summer where it is cool and never be more than 3 hours drive from your doctor winter or summer.
What I do is buy my medications in Mexico where you don’t need a prescription and they cost tremendously less than in the U.S. I buy a years supply at a time.
Yes, I use solar power for electric.
Thanks for the info. We just stopped sailing after 23 years as live aboards and now have our next dream, a teardrop. The systems are the same as in sailing , water, power etc.We are excited to be heading towards yall in Feb. 2016. Wave to us, teardrop named EZPZ and painted carolina blue…Richard and Vicki
Vicki, I hope you get a chance to stop by and say hello!
I love the name of your teardrop!
Hi Bob!!! Allen Dean Saxton Sr here. Love all that you are doing for all the people in need. Homeless or money to burn. The big rigs people in cars ext. You started something great Bob. When it’s time to go. You will have a place in God’s house!!! I hope to see you soon. A.D.S.Sr.