Quartzsite: A world all its own
summer, Quartzsite, Arizona's temperatures soar and its population wanes. But come the
winter months, something amazing happens.
A community is born anew as the great Quartzsite swap meet
phenomenon coalesces into existence once again.
Quartzsite, Arizona, just 20 miles east of the Colorado
River on U.S. Interstate 10, began the ascent to its current status as "Rock and Gem
Capital of the World" in the 1960s.
South for the winter
Since the 1950s, the "snowbirds"
retirees and full-time travelers whose
permanent residences were in the north found Quartzsite's mild winters a pleasant alternative to dreary
winters back home. The population through the years consistently soared during the winter,
and the Quartzsite Improvement Association formed in 1965, sponsoring the first Quartzsite
Pow Wow two years later.
News spread among the "snowbirds" and as the
numbers of folks traveling in RVs increased during the 1970s and '80s, so did the
attendance at the Quartzsite rock and gem shows. More and more vendors came to
participate. And the rest is history.
Marketplace to millions
The town has become a marketplace to more than a million visitors over the course of the
winter. There are one-to-two thousand vendors for rocks, gems, mineral specimens, fossils;
and now, everything from sunglasses, to old mining equipment to a new turbo-charged RV
engine. Many of the booths offered food for sale, for those occasions when establishments
such as McDonald's ran out of supplies.
The central focus is on rocks, gems, fossils and the like.
You may find the largest crystals you've ever seen at the shows, fossils almost beyond
belief, polished rock balls from marble size to bigger than a basketball and tables of
turquoise, opals and every other mineral you could think of.
The Quartzsite Chamber of Commerce holds its annual
"Hi Jolly Daze" each January to honor Hi
Jolly, who was really Hahji Ali, a Syrian camel driver who came to Arizona in the 1850s
with a large number of camels ordered by the U.S. Army. The celebration includes a town
parade, barbecue, games and music.
Gold is the featured mineral at the Prospector's Panorama show, which holds its Christmas
Gold Rush Days through November to Dec. 31, 2001. The Gold Show is set for Jan. 4-15,
One of the best known shows, The Main Event, offers rides
in hot air balloons, ultra lights, bi-planes and gliders. The Tyson Wells event boasts of
an RV park, mini-storage, as well as tables full of petrified wood, agate, obsidian,
lapidary equipment, beadwork, Navajo rugs, Hopi kachina dolls, tools and jewelry. This
show alone could take days to see.
There are a number of RV parks in and around Quartzsite,
and there are more than 700 square miles of land on which to "dry camp," mostly
under the control of the Bureau of Land Management. Most people camp within five miles or
so of Quartzsite in the Long Term Visitor Areas by the BLM. The BLM requires a permit to
use these LTVAs ($20 a week or $100 for the entire season) and they
provide some services such as a sewer dump, drinking water and trash bins.
But seeing is believing. People come not only to shop, but
to visit and renew annual friendships. Quartzsite becomes a valley for vendors and buyers,
the busiest and most diverse of market towns
a world all its own.