The RV Phenomenon That Is Quartzsite

A place in the desert not to be missed

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

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They come in motorhomes, travel trailers, fifth wheels, truck campers, converted buses and vans, and even in tents. There are rugged individualists, small groups banded together (circling the wagons, in a modern way), and large groups, all parked in the desert to feel the Quartzsite vibe. Some have been coming for years, returning to a favorite site which they have marked with rock-lined drives (although “saving” unoccupied sites are not allowed under BLM rules). Long-term visitors often expand their domains to include screened “porches” and massive solar panel arrays.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quartzsite has become a mecca to visitors and exhibitors for rocks, gems, mineral specimens, and fossils during the town’s famous two-month-long gem and mineral shows and flea markets 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 Quartzsite sun.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Being close to town means being close to Interstate 10—the basic amenities that Quartzsite provides and giant flea markets which are the center of attention. Going by names such as Rice Ranch, Tyson Wells, The Main Event, and Desert Gardens, the open-air marketplaces host a variety of “shows.”

Related Article: Woodstock in the Desert

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These are actually a series of events that run through the winter, specializing in hobbies and crafts, gems and minerals, jewelry, classic cars, and RVs. Most are riddled with an indescribable variation of new and old products far beyond their title, plus all the snack foods of a county fair. A lot of annual visitors simply say, “We’re going to the show,” and their RV friends know they mean Quartzsite.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town itself features all the basic services of a southwestern desert highway stop: gas stations, barbecue restaurants, and seedy little grocery stores (several of which are run from tent-sided buildings during the season). Owing to the heavy RV emphasis there are also several places to get propane, RV supplies, and used or cheap tools.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be warned, though. Don’t come in the summer when nothing much happens. The gypsy-like encampment will have long disappeared. Vendors start packing up in mid-February and are long gone before the snowbirds migrate north and the intense desert heat becomes unbearable.

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

But come winter, everything changes as the small desert community bustles with activity. RVs by the tens of thousands camp helter-skelter on the BLM land.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Originally built by Charles Tyson, Quartzsite began in 1856 as Fort Tyson, then became a stagecoach stopover called Tyson Wells and this name still echoes in the annual Tyson Wells Rock and Gem show. A mini mining boom led to its renaming as Quartzsite.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What started as a small-town mineral show in the late ’60s in western Arizona has developed into a phenomenon that peaks in January by bringing more than 1 million people to the town of Quartzsite, where a huge RV show greets them.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 2022 Quartzsite Sports, Vacation, and RV Show (called “The Big Tent”) will run from 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!

Related Article: RV Shows: One-Stop RV Shopping

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quartzsite is a popular destination for snowbirds on its own but many come for a week or two during the RV Show. When the gates open on the first day, people are lined up for a quarter-mile at each of the two main entrances to get in. It fills the tent and creates gridlock.

Related Article: RV Travel Bucket List: 20 Places to Visit Before You Die

If you’re an RVer, Quartzsite in January is on your bucket list.

Quartzsite is a phenomenon, a gathering place.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Let the shows begin!

See you at the Q!

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.”

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.

The Real Story of Nomadland (aka Quartzsite, Arizona)

RV snowbirds have turned this Arizona town into a yearly destination

Based on a 2017 book by Jessica Bruder, Nomadland follows the journey of Fern, a 61-year-old woman who turns to van life after she loses everything in the wake of the 2008 recession. While Fern is a fictional character played by actress Frances McDormand, the places she visits and many of the people she meets exist in real life. Quartzsite, Arizona, is one of the main filming locations for the Golden Globe best picture and a real-life nomads’ stomping ground.

Boondocking at Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Director Chloe Zhao called Quartzsite “one of the wildest towns” she’s ever been to in a recent interview with Conde Nast Traveler. It’s “the place that nomads gather once a year—you really want to see what it’s like. It’s special,” Zhao said.

Boondocking in Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Now, if you go every winter, you have the largest gem and mineral show in the country and also one of the largest RV shows. You could be walking into a store that has an ocean of gemstones. Those stores are just everywhere in Quartzsite,” she added.

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Quartzsite, Arizona, is a town and a meeting place,” traveler Thomas Farley wrote in Rock & Gem magazine in 2017. “In winter it is a gathering of the clan for recreational vehicle snowbirds, flea market enthusiasts, ham radio operators, off-road motorists, geo-cachers, and rockhounds.” 

Related: Matching Your Snowbirds Destinations with Your Lifestyle

From the purported largest RV gathering in the world to gem and mineral shows to a man known as the naked bookseller, here is the real-life story of Quartzsite.

Quartzsite Flea Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quartzsite is a small town in the Sonoran Desert 130 miles west of Phoenix on Interstate 10 with a permanent population of roughly 3,700 people. Quartzsite has a classic low desert climate with extremely low relative humidity and very high summer temperatures. On average, it receives less than 4 inches of precipitation a year. Stores, shops, restaurants, theaters, and homes are air-conditioned year-round in Quartzsite. June, July, August, and September temperatures are in the 100 plus ranges.

Quartzsite Flea Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each winter, Quartzsite attracts more than a million visitors. It’s particularly popular with RV snowbirds that flock to its trade shows, numerous RV parks, and boondocking areas on federal lands surrounding the town. 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.

Boondocking in Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many RV groupings resemble old wagon train circles, others are in rectangular camps, and still, other vehicles are parked solo. Numerous flags flutter high above the little settlements and handwritten signs point the direction to RV cadres, some with quirky names. Of course, regular RV parks are in town, too, as are several Bureau of Land Management (BLM) locations. But it appears that most people prefer to find an open space somewhere and just settle in.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1856, settler Charles Tyson built a fort at the present site of Quartzsite to protect his water supply from attacks by Native Americans. Fort Tyson soon became a stopover on the Ehrenburg-to-Prescott stagecoach route eventually becoming known as Tyson’s Wells. After the stage stopped running, it became a ghost town.

Related: The Snowbirds Have Landed

Quartzsite Flea Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A small mining boom revitalized the town and it became known as Quartzsite in 1897. It remained a mining town until 1965 when the Pow Wow Rock, Gem & Mineral Show initiated the rockhound winter migration to Quartzsite each year. Quartzsite has become a mecca to visitors and exhibitors 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 RV-epic proportions with vendors offering everything under the Quartzsite sun.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What brings so many RVers to Quartzsite? A combination of warm winter weather and good marketing!

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During those months, Quartzsite hosts a variety of sales shows. They attract RVers who are searching for a destination, have some (or lots) of change rattling in their pockets, or simply enjoy looking at stuff. What started as a small-town mineral show in the late ’60s has developed into a phenomenon that peaks in January by bringing more than 1 million people to the town of Quartzsite where a huge RV show greets them.

Related: RV Shows: One-Stop RV Shopping

The Big Tent © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 2022 Quartzsite Sports, Vacation, and RV Show (called “The Big Tent”) will run from 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

Quartzsite is a popular destination for snowbirds on its own but many come for a week or two during the RV Show. When the gates open on the first day, people are lined up for a quarter-mile at each of the two main entrances to get in. It fills the tent and creates gridlock.

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re an RVer, Quartzsite in January is on your bucket list.

Related: Snowbirding in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert

Quartzsite is a phenomenon, a gathering place.

Let the shows begin!

See you at the Q!

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.”

2020 Quartzsite Show Dates

Nowhere on earth will you find such an assortment of “stuff” as you will at Quartzsite from mid-December to mid-February

Quartzsite is located in western Arizona, 17 miles east of the Colorado River at the intersection of Interstate 10 and Highway 95. Quartzsite has been a rock hound’s paradise since the 1960s. Thousands of acres of dispersed BLM (Bureau of Land Management) camping draws upwards to two million visitors a year.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1856, settler Charles Tyson built a fort at the present site of Quartzsite for protection against Indian raids and to protect his water supply. Fort Tyson soon became a stopover on the Ehrenburg-to-Prescott stagecoach route. It had become known as Tyson’s Wells by the time the stage stopped running and the town was abandoned.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quartzsite was established in 1867 and incorporated in 1989. A rock hunter’s paradise surrounds Quartzsite with agates, limonite cubes, gold, and quartz being just a few. Named Quartzite because quartz was occasionally found in the area, the name evolved to Quartzsite through an error in spelling.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Quartzsite is also attracts over a million and a half visitors each winter who converge on this sleepy desert town of 1900 people in a wave of RVs during the months of January and February when over 2,000 vendors of rocks, gems, minerals, fossils, and everything else imaginable create one of the world’s largest open air flea markets.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Major gem and mineral shows as well as vendors of raw and handcrafted merchandise peddle their wares to snowbirds, collectors, and enthusiasts, making Quartzsite the place to be the first two months of each year.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In town, the Hi Jolly Monument honors the Arab camel driver, Hadji Ali, who took part in an unsuccessful 1850s U.S. War Department attempt to use camels as beasts of burden in the desert. To the south rise the Kofa Mountains. Historic and scenic areas include the Spanish Wall, Crystal Hill, Tyson Tanks, and Tyson Wells Museum. South in the Kofa Mountains is Palm Canyon, a tight gorge and home of Arizona’s only native palms, reached by a steep but rewarding climb. Farther south is Castle Dome Peak.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tyson Wells Show History

Tyson Wells began with an open lot where an RV Park was developed; the Sell-A-Rama Show started in 1978. Soon Tyson Wells became known as a leading Rock & Gem Show in the United States. Later, additional land was acquired for more parking, and two more shows—Rock & Gem Show and Art & Craft Fair—were added. Tyson Wells has something for everyone with the three shows in January and February, seasonal vendors, self-storage units, and an RV Park.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Quartzsite Shows

Tyson Wells Rock & Gem Show

The Tyson Wells Rock & Gem Show attracts rock, gem, and mineral vendors from around the world and runs for 10 days in early January. Dates for the Tyson Wells Rock & Gem Show are January 3-12, 2020.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama

The Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama show occurs in late January and also runs for 10 days. The Sell-A-Rama has over 850 vendor spaces which equals roughly 2.2 miles of aisle frontage. You can find just about anything at this 25-acre show. Dates for the 42nd Annual Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama are January 17–26, 2020.

Tyson Wells Art & Craft Fair

The indoor Tyson Wells Art & Craft Fair takes place early February each year. One can find arts, crafts, hobbies supplies, jewelry, and lapidary supplies. Dates for the Tyson Wells Arts & Crafts Fair are January 31-February 9, 2020

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2020 Quartzsite Show Dates

You won’t want to miss the 2020 Quartzsite Shows!

January 1-February 28, 2020: Desert Gardens Gem & Mineral Show

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

January 3-January 12, 2020: Tyson Wells Rock & Gem Show

January 1-February 29, 2020: Prospectors’ Panorama

January 10-January 11, 2020: Quartzsite Art Guild Art Show

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

January 17-January 19, 2020: Blythe Bluegrass Festival

January 17-January 26, 2020: Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama

January 18-January 26, 2020: Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

January 15-January 19, 2020: QIA Pow Wow Gem & Mineral Show

January 31-February 9, 2020: Tyson Wells Arts & Craft Fair

February 7-February 9, 2020: QIA Gold, Treasure & Craft Show

February 7-February 8, 2020: Quartzsite Quilt Show

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

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