Located just 17 miles from the California border, Quartzsite, Arizona, known as “The Rock Capital of the World”, is a small, sleepy desert town with approximately 3000 year round residents. But for two weeks at the end of January, the population swells as thousands of RV’ers arrive here to attend the biggest (or so they claim) RV gathering anywhere!
While exchanging stories with other RV’ers, we were often told that a visit to Quartzsite should be on our bucket list, stating that every RV’er just has to go there at least once to experience the phenomena. When we heard that the Entegra Coach Owners Association (ECOA) would be holding their 2nd Annual Quartzsite ECOA Rally there, we immediately signed up, excited to have an opportunity to enjoy a new adventure.
So what exactly is Quartzsite all about? Hard to describe but I guess you could say it’s an RV show, a rummage sale, a flea market, a dollar store, a gem show and a social get together all rolled into one with most of the participants boondocking (defined as being completely self contained and completely off the grid with no hookups for water, sewer or electricity) in the desert. Here you can buy a new or used RV from one of several RV dealers or shop for all types of wares offered by thousands of vendors in the Big Tent and surrounding parking lots. Whether you want LED lights, cookware, food items, cleaning paraphernalia, decor, clothing, gemstones, repair services, RV window screens or even an RV site to rent/buy in a far away travel or vacation destination, you can most likely find it there.
Although there are well in excess of 30 private campgrounds nearby, most RV’ers choose to boondock on the 11,000+ acres of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. Coaches need to arrive with full water tanks, empty holding tanks, full propane tanks (if you have them) and enough fuel to run their generators as needed during the day. Solar panels and/or wind generators are an added benefit for sure. And if you want to stay for extended periods (weeks or months) a “blue boy” – or portable holding tank on wheels – is a must.
By our arrival date on Saturday, January 21st, members of ECOA had already staked out a big enough tract of desert for 50+ Entegra coaches on a section of BLM land know as La Posa South, a long term visitor area (LTVA). A Long Term Visitor Area Permit ($180) is required from September 15th through April 15th each season for stays up to 7 months in duration. A Short Term Permit ($40) is available for up to 14 days and is what we purchased. Permits are valid at one other LTVA location in Arizona (near Yuma) and 6 LTVA locations in California. Permits are purchased on site when you arrive at the ranger station.
So what does your permit fee buy you? At La Posa South there are “amenities” – 10 vault toilets (handicap accessible), a dry dump station for “blue boys” only, a dump station with water for the RV’s, a potable water station with eight faucets and trash dumpsters.
Never having been to Quartzsite, we had no idea what to expect. Yikes! Lots and lots of traffic – we learned later that the day of our arrival was the first day of the giant Big Tent opening so it was really busy. Lots of RV’s, campers of all sizes, shapes and vintages. Some million dollar coaches next to home made ones.
Some with wind generators and some with solar panels. Some by themselves, some in small groups, and some part of a larger rally. Everywhere we looked, there was some form of a house on wheels. I’ve never seen so many RV’s in one place in my life. Interspersed among all the RV’s was an occasional tent or a tiny house on wheels which seem pretty popular these days, thanks to HGTV.
La Posa South is located about 2 miles south of town on AZ-95. We pulled into the entrance, parked off to the side, walked over to the tiny solar powered ranger station and waited in line for a bit to obtain our $40 Short Term Visit Permit. After one of the rangers applied the permit decal to our coach and van, we were then escorted to the ECOA area by Gary Jones who, along with his wife Dee, were the Wagonmasters for the ECOA rally. Totally awesome job by them organizing this huge event!
Although we have “boondocked” several times in Walmart parking lots or at a Harvest Host location, those were just overnight stops so spending 8 days boondocking in the desert was a new experience for us. By following the tips that Rob suggested in a previous post that he wrote, we were quite comfortable for the full week. Note that his post was written specifically for Entegra Aspire owners but many of the tips would be applicable to boondocking in any model of coach.
A few usage facts about our 8 day stay:
- Our Black tank (40 gallons) was only 37% full when we departed.
- Our Gray tank (60 gallons) was only 46% full when we departed.
- Our fresh water tank (100 gallons) was still 50% full when we departed. On one occasion we used our two collapsible water jugs to get water and added about 8 gallons back to the tank. We took showers almost every day. We also captured our “cold” pre-shower water and put that back into the tank. We used the dishwasher twice.
- We typically ran the generator twice a day for about two hours each time. Our batteries never got below 30% discharged. Our 800 amp-hour house battery bank was easily capable of carrying us thru the night. The Auto Generator Start system worked well.
- Between generator runs and heating (it was cold!) we burned 35 gallons of diesel fuel. Our heat and hot water is diesel powered, we do not have propane. The generator was most likely the biggest consumer of fuel.
- A 800-1000 watt Solar array would have reduced the generator run time significantly and saved a lot of fuel. Probably once every other day or so in sunny weather. Do you sense a new project coming?
Be aware that every morning when we passed the dump station at La Posa in the van, there was a long, long line of coaches lined up waiting. We heard that people waited in line for three to four hours. UGH! Not the way I want to spend my day! A better, albeit a more costly solution, is to use one of the several mobile “sanitation” service companies in the area who will come to your coach and pump you out. However, we heard some people complain about some of these services not being “RV friendly” and causing damage to their plumbing due to excessive suction. Fortunately we never needed the dump station or a pump out.
Over the next week, we would visit the show several times despite the challenging parking situation, often having to park in a sandy “wash” (dry river bed). Best to get there early in the morning or late in the day as people start leaving. One day, we saw a 40′ RV that had tried to turn around in the so called parking lot, not knowing how soft the sand was. There it sat, listing to one side, with its tires sunk in the sand. An RV owner’s worst nightmare! Bet that was a costly mistake!
According to a number of attendees as well as the local weather forecasters, this January in AZ was much colder than normal with daytime temps only in the 50’s (compared to 70’s) and night temps ranging from 35 to 45 degrees! BRRR! The strong, gusty winds didn’t help much either. Figures! Our shorts and tees were hastily put away and out came the jeans, jackets, sweaters and sweats. Didn’t have to worry about running the AC! Even sitting close to the large bonfire each night couldn’t keep us warm! On one night, it was so cold and windy that one of the Entegra owners donated his empty toy hauler so it could be used as a protective shelter out of the wind for a food buffet wagon, which worked out great!
Besides the fun of being in Quartzsite, the show itself, seeing thousands of RV’s all in one place, boondocking on BLM land for the first time, and all the fun camaraderie we shared with fellow Entegra owners, another highlight was the opportunity to head for the hills in an UTV. How fortunate we were that our next door neighbors, John and his wife, Cindy, invited us to join them in their UTV for a very exciting (and a little chilly) ride to the surrounding mountains with them. Wow, it was better than any Disney ride!!!
Not only are John and Cindy new owners of an Entegra Aspire but they also own a home in Quartzsite so they were quite knowledgeable about the history of the area. Over the course of two days (yes, we not only got to go once, but twice – woo hoo!), they took us to a number of defunct mines in the mountains, providing us with a detailed history of each.
We passed quite a few “miners” on both trips, who had filed claims and were prospecting for gold and other minerals. I found this website that says that there are 38,376 mines (35,450 are closed and 2,926 are still open) near Quartzsite.
We visited the stone cabin at the Gold Eye Mine where Lehre Harold Erdman spent 63 years of his life. There’s even a gravestone erected right outside the front door. The inside of the cabin is strewn with artifacts – an old typewriter, miner’s helmets and equipment, old boots, an old toilet and so much more. Not sure if all of this stuff belonged to him or by others contributing to an impromptu shrine. A nearby sand berm was decorated with a dozen or so porcelain toilets, each sprouting a bouquet of plastic flowers. Someone has a good sense of humor!
Here’s a few minutes of video which might give you an idea of the riding experience.
One star “attraction” we missed was a visit to the Oasis Bookstore. Now you might be wondering why a bookstore would be considered an “attraction”. Well, it’s earned that status, not because of the many books, but because the owner parades around almost naked except (according to what I’ve read, not what I’ve seen) for a little crocheted “sock” over his privates (held up by fishing line) with nothing covering his backside. Paul Winer (aka Naked Bookseller or Sweet Pie), the 70+ year old owner, says he’s not a nudist, he just doesn’t like the feel of clothes. We heard that he can often be seen pedaling his bike around town in his “attire” (or lack thereof). If you want notoriety, guess that’s one way to get it – he’s been written up on Roadside America, in several newspapers (e.g. Sacramento Bee) and is the subject of countless blogs. Guess this “attraction” will have to remain on my must visit list until next year!
But hold on, a nude bookseller wasn’t the only novelty in town! During our travels around town, we did a double take when we went by the Quartzsite Yacht Club Restaurant Bar & Grill with a sailboat in the parking lot. Huh? A yacht club in the middle of the desert? What’s with that? Well, the story goes that back to the 70s. A man by the name of Al Madden bought the town’s old beer bar named “The JIGSAW”, and jokingly renamed it “The Yacht Club”. He then came up with the motto “welcome aboard – long time no sea”, started selling memberships for $10 (today the cost is $30) and instantly became a Commodore.
So why would anyone join a yacht club in the desert? Besides a t-shirt, signed certificates for framing, and official membership cards, the primary reason is because of reciprocal privileges – such as we enjoy at the East Greenwich Yacht Club in RI where we keep our boat. A large majority of yacht clubs around the country offer reciprocal memberships, which means that those belonging to another club can present their card and gain access to other yacht clubs without a fee. Today the Quartzsite Yacht Club boasts (according to them) the largest membership in the world with over 10,000 members from every state in the U.S. as well as other countries all over the world, even though it is located hundreds of miles from a navigable body of water.
We’ve heard some people say they hate Quartzsite, while others say they love it and return every year. Maybe if we were there by ourselves, we may have been in the first group. But being with the Entegra rally made all the difference. In fact we liked it so much we will certainly try to go again next year. I guess now we’ll be the ones telling other RV’ers that they have to go to Quartzsite at least once!