Woodstock in the Desert

Every January and February, the small desert town of Quartzsite is transformed by the addition of a gargantuan tent city and an influx of people in thousands of recreation vehicles

Anyone who travels a lot by RV eventually hears about Quartzsite, Arizona. Reputedly the biggest RV phenomenon in North America—may be in the entire world—started with a small-town rock and mineral show in the late ’60s and grew into a massive snowbird pilgrimage.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To those who have only heard of Quartzsite as an RV phenomenon, it may appear as mysterious as the Bermuda Triangle. The dusty little Arizona outpost is north of Yuma, two hours west of Phoenix, 20 miles west of the Colorado River, and not really near anything. Rumors about Quartzsite border on legend. Various sources claim anywhere from one to four million visitors every winter which is often exaggerated to a million RVs parked in the desert.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While there certainly aren’t a million RVs at any given time, there’s no question hundreds of thousands come to park in one of the 30-odd RV parks and enormous open Bureau of Land Management (BLM) camping areas that surround the town of Quartzsite.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It has been variously called a Senior Citizen Pow-Wow, Burning Man for Boomers, Woodstock in the Desert, The World’s Largest Flea Market, and The RV Boondocking Capital of the World.

Related Article: Snowbirding in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert

The term boondocking, also known to RV enthusiasts as dispersed camping, dry camping, or coyote camping, is used to describe camping in the midst of nature without the use of commercial campgrounds and hookups.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you approach Quartzsite from any point on the compass, you begin seeing them approximately 20 miles away from town: clumps, groups, and temporary communities of RVs circled around common campfire rings like wagon trains of old. The Quartzsite Valley appears as you top the hills, revealing a panorama of RVs of all sizes and shapes scattered throughout a 15-mile-diameter circle around town.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best view of Quartzsite’s metamorphosis is from the crest of small hills a few miles west of town along Interstate 10. Many solo units also are scattered among the sagebrush. In the early morning and late afternoon, you will see tall, straight fingers of campfire smoke pointing upward from these campsites.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hundreds of thousands of RV owners, enthusiasts, and dreamers descend on the flat, rocky desert fields surrounding the town. Folks come from all over the U.S. and Canada to behold the wonder that happens in Quartzsite every January and February. They come for the warm sunny weather, and great deals—what more can you ask for?

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At its core, Quartzsite is a boondocker’s paradise. In the BLM-administered La Posa Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA), you can pay just $180 for a seven-month season of camping from September 15 to April 15.

Related Article: The Real Story of Nomadland (aka Quartzsite, Arizona)

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are no assigned spaces, no hookups, and hardly any roads. For your money, you get access to potable water, sparsely scattered pit toilets, a dump station, and trash bins. Pick a site from the 11,400 acres of open land and you’re home.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The desert landscape is transformed into make-shift RV parks, little cities within a city. The streets have no name, but the purpose is the same—to boondock in the desert, rendezvous with old and new friends, visit the rock and gem shows and flea market vendors, participate in the Sell-A-Rama, wander the RV show under the Big Tent, and soak in the wonder of it all.

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 2022 Quartzsite Sports, Vacation and RV Show (called “The Big Tent”) will run January 22-30. In 39 years, the event has evolved into the largest consumer RV show in the US. The show is heaven on earth for RVers. It’s a ton of fun with hundreds of exhibits, live shows, bargain products, and fellow RV enthusiasts. The fact that the desert is gorgeous and the temperature is in the low-to-mid 70s in mid-January doesn’t hurt either!

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you are really on a budget, you can park for free a few miles from town in non-LTVA areas administered by BLM. The only catch here is that the amenities are miles away, and technically you are supposed to stay only 14 days. No doubt many hardy souls hang around longer, commuting back and forth to town for what they need and hoping the BLM staff don’t notice.

Related Article: What Makes Arizona Such a Hotspot for Snowbirds?

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No doubt also that many could afford to pay for a full-service campground for the entire season if they wanted to, but they seem to get a thrill from staying somewhere for virtually nothing. As one desert boondocker snorted when another visitor said he was going to buy a short-term permit to stay at South La Posa LTVA for two weeks (a whopping $2.85 per day): “Sure, if you want to waste money!”

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No matter which option you choose, once you’ve chosen your own little spot in the desert, surrounded by creosote bushes and an occasional saguaro cactus, you are the king of your domain, free from real estate taxes, utility bills, campground fees, fuel prices, neighborhood associations, and snow.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is something to be savored in the feeling of having very little civilization around you. It is an exercise in self-sufficiency and perhaps stubborn nature to stay the entire season, but thousands do it and thrive on the experience.

Related Article: The Ultimate Arizona Road Trip: 16 Places to See & Things to Do

Woodstock in the Desert is an experience not to be missed—and we think you’ll like it too!

See you at the Q!

Worth Pondering…

Quartzsite = $400,000 diesel pusher motorhomes towing $40,000 SUVs looking for free camping.

Plan To Attend the 2020 Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show

Every January something happens that is hard to believe, unless you have seen it!

More than a million and half million visitors, mostly in recreational vehicles, converge on the sleepy little desert town of Quartzsite, located just 20 miles east of the California state line on Interstate 10, for the rock, gem, and mineral shows, plus numerous flea markets and the annual Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show. Wherever you look, you see RVs of every type, size, and vintage. It’s the Woodstock of the Snowbird set!

The 37th Sports, Vacation & RV show in Quartzsite, Arizona is scheduled for January 18-26, 2020.

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Attendance for the 2019 show was estimated at well over 100,000 with over 350 exhibits inside and around the show’s 70,000-square-foot and fully carpeted “Big Tent.”

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Co-promoter Kenny King noted in a news release, “If you’re looking for anything related to RVs, camping, and travel, you can usually find it at the Sports, Vacation & RV show in Quartzsite.” King added that here will be hundreds of new and used RVs on display and for sale and over a dozen service bays will be offering immediate installation, repairs, and warranty service.

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2019, there were numerous tourism related exhibits from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Europe as well as representatives from dozens of the nation’s finest RV resorts and campgrounds. In addition many “workamper” recruiters from businesses, resorts, and private campgrounds were in attendance. King related, “The number and diversity of exhibits that you’ll find at the Quartzsite RV Show will not be found at any other show of this type in the United States.”

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This phenomenon started over 35 years ago and is now billed as “The Largest Gathering Of RVers in the World”. The inaugural Quartzsite RV Show opened January 28, 1984 at the corner of Highway 95 (now Central) and Business 10 (now Main Street) in Quartzsite. With just 60 exhibitors and a small tent, the “new show in town” was still very popular since the majority of the people in Quartzsite were RVers.

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1987 the show, now re-named the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show, moved up the street to the Quartzsite Trailer Park which was situated directly across from the major attraction in town, the Quartzsite Pow Wow (the first Pow Wow was held in 1967).

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This new home for the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show lasted 10 years until the show grew to a point that the current 3.5-acre show site could barely hold the number of exhibitors that were now vying for exhibit space at this popular annual event.

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1997 the “BIG TENT”, as the show had become known, moved across the Interstate to its present home, a new 20-acre facility, ½-mile south of I-10 on Highway 95 (now 700 South Central).

With the new Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show grounds, the popular event was able to provide over 15 acres of public FREE parking.

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For 2020, several major players in the RV Industry have come aboard as sponsors for the event. Co-promoter Kimmy King noted that Progressive RV Insurance, who stepped up as the “Naming Sponsor” several years ago, would continue to have a major presence at the 2020 event. Cummins Diesel, which has participated as an exhibitor at the show since 2015, is a new “Platinum Sponsor” and will be introducing a new line of portable generators during the 2020 show.

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition, longtime exhibitor Dometic has added a Service Bay in the service and repair area of the show grounds and Dish Network is one the newest “Gold Sponsors” in support of its major trade show retailer CM Wireless. King also reported that FMCA had recently stepped up as one of the “Silver Sponsors” along with returning sponsors Redlands Truck & RV Service, Plasticover and the show’s exclusive RV dealer RV Country.

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During our last visit to the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show, we reminisced about how Quartzsite has changed over the last 16 years since our first visit and what future years might bring.

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When we first attended the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show in ’99, the RV Pavilion was packed with big-ticket items like RV satellites, tow hitches, and companies offering to install a solar array on your vehicle.

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking ahead to future years, the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show will continue to grow and attract a more general crowd. Thanks to items like cheaper flat screen TVs, smart phones, and affordable solar arrays with charge controllers to power all your gizmos, it is easy to have all the comforts of home while you’re camping.

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As Quartzsite continues to grow and evolve, it will still be a wonderful place for RVers of all types to gather and relax with near perfect temperatures during the day and clear starlit skies at night. Quartzsite is an experience not to be missed—and we think you’ll like it too!

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering… 

Nowhere on earth will you find such an assortment of “stuff” as you will at Quartzsite from mid-December to mid-February. As the saying goes, “If you can’t find it in Quartzsite, you won’t find it anywhere.”