Every January thousands of RVers converge in Quartzsite AZ to socialize, boondock & shop.
Quartzsite is a must do rite of passage for RVers. At least that’s what we’ve heard from fellow RVers. While this is probably true it’s not something we plan on doing more than once or twice.
Originally known as Tyson Wells, it changed it’s name when the abundant mineral (quartzsite) drew mining interest in the late 19th century. Quartzsite is unlike any other place on earth. During the summer months, the sleepy little desert town looks like hundreds of others you may encounter in the desert southwest. Known as the Boondocking Capital of the World, a complete transformation of Quartzsite takes place in late fall and winter as hundreds of thousands of “Snowbirds” migrate to the area. This massive migration increases the population of Quartzsite from 3,700 people to over 250,000 people each winter. Seeing hundreds of thousands of RV’s camped in the desert is a pretty amazing sight.
Winter weather in Quartzsite is mild and arid—always with a chance of beautiful. Every so often, it dips down into the 50’s, as it did the week we were there, but most days hover in the 60-70’s.
What brings so many people to this quiet desert town?
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There are a number of benefits to wintering in Quartzsite, but the biggest is the affordability factor.
Here’s how it works: Large portions of land that is used for public recreation across the country is owned and maintained by the Federal Government. Many areas popular for RVing in the winter months are scattered around the Southwest. Quartzsite is surrounded by a large quantity of federal land where RVers can camp either for free or for a minimal fee.
For a cheap place to stay in the desert you really can’t beat the $40 for 14 days or $180 for seven months (September 15 to April 15) of camping. Yes it’s not free but the site includes garbage disposal, dump stations and potable water. If you want to save even more money, you can stay in any number of other BLM areas around Quartzsite for up to two weeks for free. But you will not find resources such as fresh water, or a dump station.
Boondocking In Quartzsite Our Take
We spent January 18-22, 2021 Boondocking at the BLM La Posa LTVA during the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show. BLM allows you to purchase a permit online on Recreation.gov which is what we did, but it is more of a hassle than it’s worth doing it that way. Once purchased, you must print and exchange your pass at one of the following locations during normal business hours to receive a valid permit and decal(s):
• La Posa LTVA – Tyson Wash Contact Station: 9am – 4pm, daily
• Imperial LTVA – Contact Station: 9am – 4pm, daily
• Yuma Field Office: 8am – 4:30pm, Monday – Friday
It is easier to purchase a permit directly at one of the entrance facilities where you go to camp. Plus you don’t pay the $4 service fee we ended up paying on Recreation.gov. We had to exchange our pass at the La Posa LTVA Tyson Wash Contact Station and then go to the La Posa South LTVA where we were planning to camp.
Once we exchanged our pass and had our permit stickers attached to our motorhome and toad we made our way across Hwy 95 to find a spot near our friends that arrived a few days ahead of us. The La Posa LTVA is a huge area in the desert with crisscrossing roads running in all directions. You can camp anywhere you find an open plot of land. We settled in on a nice flat rocky area next to a wash. The site had plenty of room and a fire pit although we used our propane one. There are literally thousands of RV’s of every shape size and type camping in the area. Everything from tent campers to schoolies to million dollar Class A motorhomes are seen out in the desert.
We initially planned on camping for a full week. But a couple days of rain and cooler than normal weather with more in the forecast cut our stay short. Thankfully we left early as there were some torrential downpours that brought flash flooding to the area and even partially washed out some vendors at the Big Tent.
While in town we purchased and upgraded our battery bank to Lithium. For Boondocking our motorhome had two 6 volt 100 amp hour batteries, and a generator. Being our first real boondocking experience we quickly noticed that we would need more power storage. Our generator would start and run for about 20 minutes every hour to keep our batteries charged. That was without even running too much stuff in our coach. We decided to upgrade our batteries to Lithium while at the Quartzsite RV show. We purchased two 150 amp hour Life Blue Lithium Batteries. Our first two nights with the new batteries the generator never even started and we had over 60% power left in the mornings.
When we returned from town having our batteries installed we used the dump station and filled our water tank. The line for the dump station was short and I only had to wait about 10 minutes for my turn. I was lucky enough to get the side of the dump station that had a connection for flushing our black tank. The other side didn’t have a connection. Once everything was dumped I pulled forward to fill our fresh water tank.
Overall our experience in the desert was a positive one. We had fun hanging out with friends camped near us. Drank a bit too much alcohol and enjoyed the nice weather while it lasted. The sunsets are amazing in the Arizona Desert! That alone makes the stay worth while.
The Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show
By far, the biggest attraction in Quartzsite is the annual Sports, Vacation & RV Show. This popular show is held from mid- to late-January every year. In it you’ll find the “Big Tent” and hundreds of vendors selling and advertising their products and services.
Quartzsite RV Show Tips:
If you’re going to the world-famous Quartzsite RV Show, we want to help make your experience as good as possible. Here are a few tips that will get you ready:
- Be Patient: the big tent can get crowded and the herds of people inside will be moving at a snails pace. While this year wasn’t nearly as busy as most future years will probably be busier. Don’t try to speed through the show, relax and move slow. Since the show covers two weekends it’s best to attend the last weekend or during the week.
- Realistic Expectations: The show is pretty lame. In our opinion there are WAY better RV shows in America. You’ll see a lot of knickknacks and “as seen on TV” products…not many RV related products. If they didn’t tell you it’s an RV show you might not know.
- Visit the Outdoor Flea Market: There’s an outdoor flea market across the street from the RV show that has everything from junk to rocks and hidden treasures.
- Check out the Quartzsite Grocery Tent: Also, more exciting than the RV Tent, is the Grocery tent. They sell a lot of soon-to-be-expired food products. We love sweet deals, and this seems to be the only place to find them.
So, now your next question is probably, what do I need to bring?
The answer is, EVERYTHING! The nearest Walmart is 40 miles away in Parker, AZ.
Powering your rig: Generator/Solar Power: To live off-grid in Quartzsite you are going to have to make your own electricity. For that, you will need a generator, solar power or both. Most class A motorhomes are equipped with a standard on-board generator. The generator is powerful enough to run air conditioners and your other electrical equipment. In our experience, generators use a lot of fuel and Boondocking is all about conserving energy. During our four night boondocking stay we burned 1/4 tank of fuel (about 20 gallons). The use of such a large generator on a regular basis is costly and a waste of fuel. BUT! If you want to stay cool when the sun is beating down on your rig, a generator is a necessity. With just a few solar panels you can virtually eliminate the need for a generator other than to run your A/C.
For those with motorhomes, fifth wheels or travel trailers without an on-board generator, consider purchasing a quiet gas generator to run all of your electrical needs except for your air conditioner (those babies need a LOT of power).
Groceries in Quartzsite: Small desert towns’ aren’t known for their fresh produce, and Quartzsite is no different. Stock up on groceries before you arrive. But if you need to get groceries in Quartzsite, Roadrunner Market is your best bet. There are also multiple dollar stores in town for dry goods. In front of most of these businesses you’ll find Glacier Water Purification Systems. These come in handy for gallon jug refills – giving you fresh water and reducing your trash. We also recommend driving to Blythe, CA or Parker, AZ for major grocery shopping.
Cellular Service in Quartzsite: Why would we expect Quartzsite AZ to have great cell coverage?! We don’t. The towns’ population jumps 500% every winter and then retreats to it’s actually size in the summer. Being right along I-10 there is fairly good T-Mobile service in town. At our campsite at the BLM La Posa LTVA we had decent coverage, but you’ll be struggling to watch Netflix on their bogged down towers.
RV needs: Quartzsite, AZ has risen to meet the demand of it’s temporary residents. Mobile services cater to nearly every RV need, including water delivery, holding tank disposal, propane refill, windshield repair, solar installation, satellite installation, and even mobile pressure-washing and waxing will all come to your rig for an appropriate fee. We got our new Lithium Batteries installed at Discount Solar.
Mail: Receiving mail while in Quartzsite requires some creativity. Many Quartzsite RV veterans advise us not to bother with the local post office for general delivery as they are simply overwhelmed by the demand. They only take general delivery customers from 12-1pm and “the line can be out the door and around the building.” We didn’t get our mail sent to us while in Quartzsite we waited until our next stop in Yuma.
What’s with the camels? Hi Jolly’s Tomb
Sign at the tomb reads:
The famous camel herd with which the name of Hi Jolly is linked constitutes an interesting sidelight of Arizona history. Jefferson Davis (afterward president of the Southern Confederacy), as Secretary of War, approved a plan to experiment with camels for freighting and communication in the arid Southwest. Major Henry C. Wayne of the U.S. Army and Lt. D.D. Porter (later a distinguished admiral in the Civil War) visited the Levant with the storeship Supply and procured 33 camels which were landed at Indianola, Texas, February 10, 1856. 41 were added on a second voyage. With the first camels came, as caretaker, Haiji Ali whose Arabic name was promptly changed to “Hi Jolly” by the soldiers, and by this name he became universally known. His Greek name was Philip Tedro. On the Beale expedition in 1857 to open a wagon road across Arizona from Fort Defiance to California, the camels under Hi Jolly’s charge, proved their worth. Nevertheless, the War Department abandoned the experiment and the camels were left on the Arizona desert to shift for themselves, chiefly roaming this particular section. They survived for many years creating interest and excitement. Officially the camel experiment was a failure, but both Lt. Beale and Major Wayne were enthusiastic in praise of the animals. A fair trial might have resulted in complete success.
Before we bash it too much, allow us to give Quartzsite AZ a little credit. It served as the launching point for our boondocking experiences – which is awesome! We learned the importance of upgraded batteries and the need for solar down the road.
And, to be clear: we think Quartzsite is a Rite of Passage for RVers, and you should definitely try it out for yourself!
What do you think? What other suggestions do you have for someone going to Quartzsite or boondocking in the desert? Add your comments to the space below. Share these tips with your RVing friends and ask them to add their tips and tricks to the comments below! Let’s get the boondocking conversation started!