When we first started talking about this lifestyle, Lee always talked about wanting to go to the desert, and Quartzsite, AZ. The thought of being stuck in the desert with no services scared the crap out of me, and smart man that he is, Lee backed off on the desert talk and baby-stepped me into the lifestyle. So now a year later we are finally here and I give him full credit for the approach. I find myself remarkably comfortable here, which I never would have been a year ago, and I am surprised by this so I want to share those first impressions with you, but please understand that I am in no way an expert and my experience could vary quite a bit from your experience.
So let’s start with what Quartzsite is. It’s a nice little desert town on I-10 about 15 minutes east of the California border, an hour and a half north of Yuma, and two hours west of Phoenix. It is more or less surrounded by BLM land. Because the BLM Long Term Visitor Area is so inexpensive (Either $40 for two weeks, or $180 for the 7 months of fall and winter) it is a popular destination for RVers looking for somewhere inexpensive to stay during the winter. The town largely exists to support those RVers through the sale of water, propane, groceries, and lots of RV specific items and they have tons of RV parks with full hookups for those who don’t want to boondock (camp with no services). Also for 1 week in January there is a HUGE RV show where RV vendors come from all over to sell their wares to the 250,000 to 1 million RVers who show up during that week. That week is a totally different experience because lots of folks simply come here for one week and move on. Since we arrived earlier than the show, my first impression is more about Quartzsite during a non-show week than during the show itself. I will do a separate post and share what happens that week, but it’s an important distinction to make. Basically when people talk about Quartzsite they use the term interchangeably for the RV Show, camping on BLM land, and the town. It can be very confusing and conventional wisdom could be referring to any of the three. So again my first impressions are of the beginning of January (prior to the show week) and camping on BLM land.
I was pretty nervous about the experience and thankfully some very good RV Dreamers friends of ours Red and Pam were already at Quartzsite and this was their second year. They talked us through finding the Long Term Visitor Area where they were, (BLM has numerous areas and unless you know exactly where your friends are you probably won’t find them) and they led us back. Right off the bat we needed $40 cash (or a check) to pay for the first two weeks. Since we only had $32 and no checks (seriously I need to get some checks as this keeps coming up) we were in a pickle. Thankfully the two camp hosts were extremely nice. Once I apologized, they said to go on back and pay in the morning and the first night was on them. They also shared the best breakfast place in town where for $9 we could get a huge omelet big enough for two!! The campground also has big metal trash dumpsters, dump stations, and water (potable but I wont be using it for drinking water) on the property so unlike true boon docking where it cost nothing you have access to these services. There are also other BLM areas here that have no services at all, and those areas are free. In my mind $40 was a small price to pay for access to water in particular and I was happy we chose one of the La Posa sites. Red has a 4 wheel quad and he brought us back a couple of miles to where they were parked. It was tough deciding where to put the rig because there is so much choice. There are no lines, or designated spots, heck the road is more of a suggestion, so everyone waited patiently while we picked our spot. Despite my mental picture it isn’t a “parking lot”, though. There are mountain views on three sides and some vegetation including huge cacti, Tamarind trees, and shrubs. Plus there are fire pits around that people have created (be careful you don’t drive over them because they might have nails in them) and rock “boundaries” created by current or past residents. Then you want to think about which way the wind is blowing, where the sun sets (for the views), and how can you carve out a little space for yourself. We chose a site parallel to Red and Pam, but not too close, facing the mountains with a large empty space in front and after minimal setup we walked over to our RV dreams reception.
Groups often camp together here and some RV Dreamers have congregated together. Steve and Diane, who had been Rving for 5 years, are the experts and they were waiting along with Ellen and Mario, and Jim and Barb. It was so nice that everyone was waiting for us and was helping us get acclimated it really made me emotional. It’s a lot less scary parking in the middle of the desert when you have friends close by. We had a couple of drinks, lots of laughs and some happy hour snacks and then Pam and Red fed Lee and I dinner. Things are very casual here because everyone is really trying to make their resources, water, tank space, etc, last but I was happy to see that the RV-Dreams tradition of cooking for folks who come to you on your travel day was alive and well. We called it an early night though because we were still getting settled in. The next day was all about getting settled. I had three cardboard boxes of food in the living room and all my cabinets needed to be reorganized. Plus I really wanted to build a rock front yard, so Pam came over in the quad and helped me find rocks and set up the boundaries. We both have kind of large spaces marked off for those folks who may be getting in later and it was strange how happy that little rock boundary made me feel. It’s weird isn’t it that even though we are in the middle of nowhere the human imperative is to “stake a claim.” Oh and by the way, the rock boundary is technically against the rules but it seems like during off-season they don’t really enforce it.
Speaking of the rules, that was the only sour note of the entire experience. Quartzsite will hopefully be a great opportunity for Lee to make money as an RV Tech and we purchased a big banner in preparation as a marketing tool. Right away people started talking about the fact that we couldn’t put it up because a commercial permit might cost as much as $1400. What?? Crazy. Here’s the thing; we are trying to work. We need to work and even though it’s super cheap to stay here there is still money coming out for food and propane. So Lee read the very long list of rules and it stated that he should call the Yuma BLM office for more information. He did and left a message and finally the BLM got back to us. According to the email we needed a liability policy, pay a $100 permit fee and report gross sales at the end and give the BLM 3% of the gross sales. I didn’t have an issue with any of that, but I was pretty bummed that we hadn’t done all this in advance. We need to mail the permit information because they need a hard copy signature and the back and forth will cut into the time we have to actually make money. Still it was good to know because staying here may be part of our future winter plans.
On a completely different note, did I mention the rain? Yes, apparently we brought it with us, and it rained on and off Monday and Tuesday. It is the desert so rain is pretty rare, but seriously, this rain is following us. And it did pour on Tuesday night so when you are picking your campsite I recommend the more rocky areas rather than sand because little streams started to form. They were all gone the next day, but the ground is so hard it takes a while for the water to sink in. With the rains came clouds and less sun for the solar panels. We had to run the generator some, but really it wasn’t too bad as the batteries did a nice job holding their charge. Plus we had some experience in Glacier with no sun and this wasn’t nearly as cold. It is chilly though, 45 or so in the morning and windy, but it’s really nice when the sun is out and the wind dies down. Just don’t think it’s going to necessarily be hot and dusty because so far that has not been our experience. Since it was raining there was no outside happy hour, so we went over to see Ellen and Mario at their campground Quail Run which is a very nice campground with full hookups in town that is only $350 a month (plus electric) if you stay for more than one month. The sites are on the large side, especially for this area, and they have a great clubhouse, laundry room, and did I mention full hookups? The four of us caught up and we had a terrific conversation with Ellen about marketing our Videography business. Ellen just retired as a pharmaceutical rep and is an excellent salesperson and gave us some great advice on how to open dialogues with potential customers about doing videos for their websites. She even volunteered to make a few initial calls with us so we could see her technique. Seriously, RV-Dreamers are the best people and really take care of each other.
On Tuesday, we spent some time exploring the town while we waited for Steve and Deb to get here. We wanted to do the same thing for them that Red and Pam had done for us, so we stayed close so we could lead them back and make them dinner. The town is small, but jam-packed full of stuff and as Ellen says has a flea market “feel” to it. Lots of vendors are in the process of setting up for the big show, but a few were open and we wandered around a bit. There are also huge gem stone permanent vendors here and with my love of rocks I was in heaven. We could definitely go a little crazy here buying stuff, so really need to be careful, but there are some really good deals. I did buy a rock for 48 cents so I am not going totally crazy! We went into a few of the permanent businesses, some were great, others not so much, and then headed back to meet Deb and Steve. Even though it was raining, everyone walked over to say hi and then I got their dinner started. Setting up is much easier when you don’t have to hook up and within 45 minutes we were in our RV laughing, talking, and catching up. They have been with family the last couple of months and really missed being on the road, and since we haven’t seen them in 4 months we all had a lot to talk about. Around 9:30 they left to finish setting up and we went to bed. Early to bed and early to rise is definitely going to be my schedule here and I have to say I like it much better than I though I would. It isn’t just a big hole in the desert. There is life here and variety and I am excited about the rain stopping and getting out to explore the wilderness a bit. Now that I am here I am wondering what I was so afraid of. We have 4 bars of ATT and 22 television channels! We have definitely been in more remote areas! I hear the internet slows to a crawl during the RV Show week, and I’ll let you know, but I definitely get why people come here and stay. If we can just work out the RV business, this could definitely be a repeat winter location for us. It’s cheap, the views are great, and friends are close by. What more could you ask for?
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