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Part 3 of our boondocking adventure continues in Quartzsite, Arizona where we got a taste of the town that is famous for attracting the largest gathering of RVers in the world. We dropped in to see what it’s all about and ended up discovering two very unusual highlights. All will be revealed – literally – in this post and video.
Days 6–7: Quartzsite, Arizona
We left Yuma for Quartzsite on Wednesday afternoon to avoid the high winds. It was only an 85 mile drive (less than 2 hours) but we were still on the road at twilight, taking in the changing colors of the sky as we drove. We pulled into Love’s Travel Stop to fuel the coach and learned they didn’t have a dump station or a tap where we could fill our water tank. Fortunately, we were doing well with our water and had enough on board to last us for another 3-4 days, so Marc dropped the MINI so I could scout out a suitable place to park before taking the coach in.
Quartzsite has an abundance of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land where you can park and stay for free. On the drive, I had researched a couple of blog posts for ideas and we decided to head toward Dome Rock, as it apparently had good cellular/internet signal and great views of the rock.
The problem was, we had arrived in the dark (which we don’t recommend) and not surprisingly, BLM land isn’t lit up with signs and easy access roads like a campground! We couldn’t see Dome Rock – just a few imposing shadows of things that could be big rocks… or mountains – it was hard to say. We had no idea even which road to take, so decided to just take “Dome Rock Road West” as it sounded like a reasonable guess.
Yep, it was dark. Really dark. No street lights, no buildings, just wide open desert land. Marc drove the coach and followed me in the MINI for about 5 miles along Dome Rock Road West. There were no other cars in sight. Marc decided to pull over for a bit while I went on ahead, in search of a decent and safe place for us to park. Soon enough, another car drove by so I followed them into a dirt road then saw a sign for BLM land and at least a half a dozen other parked rigs.
I drove up a little further and found lots of open space and level enough ground to safely park. Yay! I called Marc to come on up as I drove back to the entrance of the dirt road to meet him and guide him in. We didn’t want to bother the other RVs so we quickly found a place to park the coach and setup for the night. We’d have to wait until morning to see what our location was really like, and assess if we’d need to move.
TIP: Arrive before dark especially if your setup is a truck and trailer OR fifth wheel. Having the MINI as our toad proved to be very handy to drive ahead and scope out the landscape first before bringing in the coach
We awoke to discover we were actually in a great location – not too close to other rigs and with a nice view of the mountains and yes, Dome Rock! We wouldn’t have to move after all.
The ground was a hard, gravel rocky road covered in thousands of pieces of quartz, probably why the place is named Quartzsite. Being in the rocky, dry desert, Quartzsite is a harsh environment, but it had more vegetation than where we’d stayed near Yuma.
In order to legally stay on BLM land, you need to register and get a permit, yet in all the blog posts I’d read, no-one had mentioned how or where you get one from! So on Thursday morning I took the MINI to find out. With no instructions or guidelines on the BLM sign at the road’s entrance, I stopped to ask a neighboring RVer who directed me back to Dome Rock Road West, a little further along than we’d driven the night before.
About a mile up the road there was a BLM “camp host” (see pics below) parked with his RV and car just off to the side of Dome Rock Road West. All I had to do was complete a form with our details and dates of our stay and I was given a copy to post up in the window of our RV.
The permit was completely free and allowed us to stay up to 14 days, but we were only there for 2 nights. I ended up finding this useful information on the BLM website while writing this post – complete with access directions to Dome Rock camping – so I just learned something new. (D’oh – can’t believe I didn’t think of that at the time).
TIP: Do a Google search for BLM land in the area you’re headed, you will find info on locations, access, directions, facilities and costs on their website!
Feeling adventurous, I decided to take the MINI for a drive up closer to Dome Rock and ended up on dirt road yet again. I kept driving, past a few other RVs, snapping a few photos and kept driving some more, thinking the road might eventually get me back to our coach. Nope, I was headed in another direction entirely.
The more I drove, the more it became clear that the dirt road was designed for ATVs and not MINIs. After about 10-15 minutes, my phone battery died. I suddenly realized I had no phone charger, no water in the car, less than half a tank of gas in the MINI and I was alone on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Hmmm, probably not a good idea.
The road was narrow so I managed to do a 4 point turn and headed back the way I came before Marc sent a search party out for me! I finally arrived back at the coach, feeling a bit embarrassed, but relieved that Marc hadn’t started to worry yet, though he did wonder what was taking me so long!
So what’s the big deal about the little town of Quartzsite?
Quartzsite is situated about 18 miles east of the Colorado River on I-10 and has a population 3,500. Affectionately known as “Q”, Quartzsite is famous for attracting anywhere from 750,000 to a million RVers every winter and makes the claim that it “could be” the RV boondocking capital of the world.
Most visitors are snowbirds (travel south to escape the cold weather) and exhibitors who find Q a mecca 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 epic proportions with vendors offering everything under the sun.
The busiest time in Q coincides with the huge RV show in late January. We arrived in early February with hopes there would still be enough life in Quartzsite to get feel for the place and see what all the fuss was about. It seemed just about every RVer we’d met so far had either been to Quartzsite or wanted to go!
So on Thursday afternoon we took the MINI down to Main Street to check out “Q”… it didn’t take long! With the RV show crowds mostly already gone, there were only a few dozen other exhibitors left manning their stalls, though it appeared the town was also setting up for a big “gold show” the coming weekend. We visited a couple of stores that honestly appeared to be full of junk – it looked as though they’d been carrying the same items for years, covered in dust and faded. From old books to vitamin supplements and from costume jewelry to rocks, this store at the end of Main Street had the most random selection of “stuff” I’d ever seen.
In one section they had hundred of copies of vintage Playboy magazines dating back to the 1950s. Both Marc and I have marketing backgrounds, so we found these quite fascinating – the covers, headlines, photos and articles were really very chaste by today’s standards – it was like looking through a time capsule, seeing how cars, stereos and other technologies have changed so much over the decades.
Back then, the magazines were dominated by liquor and cigarette advertisers with VERY sexist messaging that would cause an absolute uproar today (see the example below). Just browsing through the magazines felt as though we were watching an episode of Mad Men – I’m pretty sure these magazines would have been great research material for the show’s writers!
Being 5pm, most of the exhibitor stalls had already closed for the day, so it wouldn’t be fair to base our browsing experience in Q on that one store alone. We took a drive up and down Main Street to get an feel for it – this took about 5 minutes each way, driving slowly! We popped into the “Really Good Jerky” store (as touted by the billboards on Main Street) for a taste testing and yes Daniel’s really good fresh jerky does live up to it’s claim. The store also had some fun soda bottle flavors (Maple Bacon anyone?) and one of the largest and and cheekiest ranges of hot sauces I’ve ever seen!
Marc loved seeing all of the ATVs driving on the roads – alongside cars, trucks and RVs. It’s legal to ride ATVs on the streets in Arizona – naturally, Marc wants one! Sorry hon, we have no way to tow it without switching out our rig setup. Maybe one day. It was pretty evident we’d missed pretty much all of the “action” with the RV show, crowds and the ‘big white tent’ with its rows and rows of vendors hawking all kinds of things you may or may not want or need.
From what I’ve heard much of what you’ll see at the “big tent” these days are TV shopping network goods and other RV-related items that you can often (though not always) pick up for the same price or cheaper via Amazon. We do love our Prime membership with Amazon!
Still, we managed to discover two other very unusual attractions that you may not expect to be thriving in Quartzsite…
Quartzsite Yacht Club
The first is the Quartzsite Yacht Club. Just think about that for a minute – a Yacht Club in the middle of the Arizona Desert, smack bang in the middle of the Main Street of Quartzsite!? Strange but true. Not only does the QYC have a yacht parked out front of it’s motel/restaurant/bar and grill and boating memorabilia throughout, it also (allegedly) boasts the highest number of members than any other yacht club in the world – but don’t quote me on that!
Legend has it that the founder, Al Madden, had quite a sense of humor and offered Yacht Club memberships for just $10 (now it’s $25 and includes an official membership card, a T-shirt and a flag or hat). Today QYC boats over 7,000 members, with members from every state in the USA and many countries around the world. As an added bonus, members of the QYC have been known to be granted admission by reciprocity to other exclusive yacht clubs around the world.
We didn’t join, but if you’re someone who likes to frequent yacht clubs, joining QYC might be worthwhile to try and gain admission to the more expensive (real) yacht clubs in other, more appropriate and exclusive locations, say by the ocean!
The Naked Man’s Bookstore – Reader’s Oasis
Next, I’d heard that the famous “Naked Man’s Bookstore” is one of Quartzsite’s star attractions, so on Friday while Marc was working, I went along to check it out and meet the owner Paul Winer, a former professional musician (and activist) turned second hand bookseller who is most famous these days for…well… being naked! Hmmm, I guess technically he wears a crocheted sock/thong (in Australia we’d call it a G-string) and a hat, but it’s about as naked as you’re likely to see anywhere without going to a male strip show!
Although I’d dropped in unannounced, I managed to convince Paul to do an interview with me. Despite the technological advancements of recent years – with Kindle, Nook and e-reading – Paul says it hasn’t affected hi s business at all.
My visit with Paul ended up being quite a story in itself so I wrote a separate blog post about it – you can read the whole story here.
Or, you can just watch the video – you just have to meet this colorful character for yourself! For me, it really was the highlight of our visit to Q.
Boondocking progress so far
We did fine running the generator during the day to power our computers for work as we were parked a respectable distance away from other RVs. Our water consumption was going well and Marc was tracking our daily usage with post-it note markings on the fresh water tank – he was confident we had plenty to get us through the rest of the weekend. But we needed to dump our black and grey tanks before heading to Lake Havasu City.
We left Q on Friday afternoon after work with Marc driving the coach and me in the MINI – we just made it to the RV Pit Stop in time before they closed for the day. Poor Marc, we’re not quite sure whether it was the hot weather brewing the content of the tanks or the fact he had the window open while driving, but it turns out he had a pretty unpleasant 10 minute journey from our BLM parking spot to the RV Pit Stop, so he was VERY happy to dump the tanks. To quote Marc “there was a smell in that coach that would outlast religion!” Ah, the joys of RV life – unpleasant tank odors don’t happen too often but when they do, they’re baaaad!
So, we paid $15 to dump our black and grey tanks. We thought that was pretty expensive really, as that didn’t include filling up with any fresh water and they didn’t even have any dumpsters for us to throw our trash into. They do have fresh water and propane, we didn’t need them though.
We’re thinking the next time we stay in Quartzsite, we’ll probably stay at the BLM land at La Posa instead as it offers a place to refill your water tanks, dump your black/grey tanks and also a place to deposit your trash. Yes, there’s a fee but it’s only $40 for up to 14 days and $180 for up to 7 months which makes for a very inexpensive stay, especially if you have solar power. For us, the convenience of having water, trash and dump station right there would be worth it.
We really enjoyed our views in Quartzsite, complete with more stunning desert sunsets over Dome Rock and the surrounding mountains. Life really is about appreciating more sunsets these days, and we get to enjoy a lot of them!
Final thoughts on Quartszite
While our visit to Q was short and fairly uneventful, we think it would be a much more interesting and fun place to visit in January when the RV show is in town and the place is jamming. That is, if you don’t mind crowds. At least there’s a lot to do and the social aspect would be a lot of fun.
It’s definitely a place that offers warm, dry weather during the winter months, is well equipped for boondockers, has an abundance of free and cheap BLM land, lots of space and some pretty decent views. So yes, we would go back but ideally when there’s more going on in town, or better yet, if we were to meet up with a group of other RVers so we could hang out together.
One last thing, on our way out of Quartzsite just up from Love’s Travel Stop, we drove past what seemed to be another big area with tents and vendors. Hmmm, completely missed it! Oh well, there was nothing we needed to buy anyway.
Time to hit the road and get to Lake Havasu before dark and catch the winter pyrotechnics show – we’re in the final stretch of our 9 day virgin boondocking experience – feeling pretty good about how we’re doing so far – and only 2 days left to go. Let’s do it!
Missed Parts 1 and 2 of our boondocking adventure?