Visiting Quartzsite, Arizona is almost a rite of passage, I suppose, for RVers. In January each year, hundreds of thousands of RVers descend upon the little town of 3,000, filling the 50 or so RV parks and the rest boondocking in the desert, as far as the eye can see. It is sort of like Woodstock for RVers, except that it is mostly a giant flea market offering everything imaginable related to an RV for sale (including RVs themselves) in uncountable buildings, ramshackle huts, tents, open air booths and one gigantic white tent full of vendors. That structure is called, appropriately, the "Big Tent," erected for the event each year and then disassembled afterward. This is what the selling area looks like from the air:
Aside from browsing for RV-related items, you can also get repairs and installations done from techie types who offer them.
Sandy and I had never before been to Quartzsite, much less during the incredible explosion of RVers in mid-January. We have had previous opportunities to go, but these didn't work out for one reason or another. I have to admit, though, that our lack of enthusiasm may have been a factor, due to our rather low tolerance for huge crowds of people. If you haven't seen Quartzsite either, here is a photo from one of the three overpasses above I-10:
Okay, so it's not all that impressive from this wide shot, but there's really not much more that's visible. The town bills itself as the 'rock and mineral capital of the world,' owing to its many vendors of beautiful and varied pieces that would be of interest to rock hounds. Since this was a Sunday, most of these were closed, and I regret missing this part of the town's attractions.
Since our route back from California would take us fairly close to Quartzsite, we got the idea that we would go and take a look in February after the swarms of RVs had mostly dispersed. In that way, we could indeed claim to have been to Quartzsite, although this is probably considered by the faithful to be cheating. It was sort of like showing up at a rock concert after the band and crowd had left. For us, this would be a plus, because we would have no problem finding a spot in an RV park, and we wouldn't have to brave long lines at the few eating joints in town. That's not to say that they had rolled up the sidewalks, though. There are lesser events going on all winter, so there were plenty of visitors in town; it's just that the huge RV show mob had left.
It was essential that we could find an RV site with full hookups, something that is not negotiable for 'glampers' like us. We do not boondock--ever; furthermore, we don't apologize for it. In fact, the mere idea of having to restrict utilities or anything else that could affect our comfort, climate, water use, waste, technology or the like would probably give Sandy some kind of seizure. We didn't work as hard as we did for as long as we did to do the roughing-it thing.
I can just sense the collective eye-rolling going on out there, and that's fine. We admire the spunk of those whose fulfillment is achieved by bonding with trees, animals and insects, but we are just not wilderness types. If it had been up to us to be the pioneers discovering the West 150 years ago, then Butte, Montana would still be nothing but a butte. We appreciate the beauty of nature as much as anyone, but we're okay with seeing it from one of our recliners.
There was another reason we wanted to visit Quartzsite. As sometimes happens, we were contacted by a longtime reader of Phannie and Mae named Doug, who, along with his wife, Michelle, had learned of our itinerary from our blog and contacted me through a post comment, proposing a meetup. Well, this is something we couldn't miss; we always enjoy meeting our cyber friends and expressing our appreciation for 'traveling' with us in this way. A bonus was that they had made several previous trips to Quartzsite and knew all about the place while we knew nearly nothing.
We greeted Doug and Michelle at an RV park upon which we had mutually agreed and began to learn more about them:
As a radio-controlled model airplane enthusiast, Doug and I had a flying connection, and we have great respect for Michelle, her profession's being the same as that of our daughter, Mindy. We've never met friendlier people, and they volunteered to show us Quartzsite, an undertaking that Doug laughingly assured us would not take long.
Our first stop was the welcome sign at the outskirts of each approach to the city:
We had spotted the sign on the way into town, and it was hard to miss the depiction thereon of three camels in front of a pyramid, a scene that was one of the more puzzling ones that I have encountered in my oh-so-many decades of life. This would have to be high on the list of things Doug needed to explain. But first, we took a look around us at the open desert, seeing a legion of RV boondockers still camped there, probably for weeks to come:
As we rode back into town, Doug told the story of the camels. Keep in mind the name, "Hi Jolly" during my recounting of it. I will try to be brief:
In 1857, U. S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (yes, who later became President of the Confederacy) approved a plan to experiment with camels to transport military supplies and other goods, opening a wagon road across the arid New Mexico and Arizona deserts to California. Thirty-three camels were acquired (41 more were added later), and the first group was placed under the care of a Syrian named Haiji Ali, who had experience herding the animals. Unable to pronounce his name correctly, the accompanying soldiers promptly simplified it to "Hi Jolly," which he accepted as his name until he eventually became a U. S. citizen and changed it. Although the experiment was considered by those closely associated with it to be a success, it was eventually classified as a failure and abandoned by the military at the start of the Civil War.
The camels, along with Hi Jolly, were set loose near the Colorado River. Hi Jolly made his way back to Quartzsite, where he involved himself in various ventures to make a living until his death in 1902. The camels? Left to fend for themselves, they lived for many years in the area, becoming somewhat of an attraction--enough so that they became enshrined on the city's welcome signs. In 1935, the Arizona Highway Department erected a monument at the site of Hi Jolly's grave, recognizing his contribution to the area and to the U. S. government:
We knew nothing of this interesting tale, of course, so here was yet another pearl of wisdom that we picked up through our good fortune in meeting Doug and Michelle. Perhaps thinking we weren't all that impressed, Doug shrugged and said, almost apologetically, "It's a thing here in Quartzsite." What he didn't realize is that we treasure the discovery of little nuggets like this that not only add to our knowledge but provide great color to this record of some of the best years of our lives. Thank you, Doug and Michelle, for introducing us to Hi Jolly!
It was almost sundown at Hi Jolly's grave, so I felt obligated to record another of Arizona's wonderful sunsets, as another perfect day turned into a perfect night:
There was one more thing that we insisted on visiting at Quartzsite, and that was Silly Al's. Having read in various blogs about this iconic pizza place for many years, we were not about to leave town without patronizing it. It would be like going to Rome and failing to see the Coliseum. (Okay, maybe that's a bit over the top as a comparison, but work with me here.)
Ever agreeable, our guides took us there at once. (Nothing is far away in Quartzsite.):
The building itself is somewhat nondescript, but the parking lot was packed. This was a surprise, given that the main January gaggle had been over for weeks. After a wait of about 15 minutes, we were seated and placed our orders that consisted of one small pizza for each couple that arrived in about a half hour. During that time, we chatted and then took photos when the pizzas arrived:
We were a bit surprised that the pizza was quite good--good enough that we ate every bite. It wasn't long, though, until the evening's live entertainment arrived. It seems I hadn't noticed the "Music and Dancing" that also appeared on Silly Al's sign. The band consisted of two singers, one of whom played the guitar and the other the drums. Oh yes, and they had an amplifier that, when turned on, caused the lights to dim for miles around. The "music" was so loud that the dishes in front of us began to vibrate and move around the table. Conversation, at that point, became impossible. The waitress came around to ask about our meal. She screamed, "How were your pizzas?" which I interpreted as something like, "Howitzer Pieces?" (I never was very good at lip reading.) We left, wondering if the band's volume was due to a severe hearing loss; we weren't even sure if ours would ever be the same.
The next morning, we had no need to depart early, as our destinations were not far away. With this in mind, we agreed to meet for breakfast at the Bad Boys Cafe which, hopefully, did not employ a morning band. I was curious about the name of the establishment, wondering if Doug and I would fit in as bad boys, since we didn't remember being any worse than usual while we were here. The girls, however, didn't have any hesitation at all and trotted right inside, perhaps taking the sign seriously. This was a little troubling, I have to admit.
Once we ordered and seated ourselves, we found the food to be quite good and inexpensive, to boot. It was also plenty quiet enough to chat normally, which we did for a while after the food was consumed. We then said our goodbyes and went on our separate ways. Fortunately, it looks like we'll meet up again soon, in Tucson. That'll be fun.
Now we can say to all our friends who have been to Quartzsite that we have, too; we don't have to tell them everything, do we?
Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life;
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.
We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing.
---George Bernard Shaw
"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood