Boondock Camping in Quartzsite Arizona
RV Camping in Quartzsite
Thousands of RVers head to Quartzsite, Arizona for cheap winter camping. Quartzsite is well known among RVers for the huge RV Show in January and the Quartzsite Gem and Mineral shows which attract thousands of winter visitors. Recreation vehicles start coming into town in late fall and by mid-January thousands of RVs converge on the tiny desert town of Quartzsite. While the permanent population is around two thousand inhabitants, during the winter months, Quartzsite is host to nearly a million visitors with over 100,000 camped in private campgrounds and on surrounding public lands.
The Quartzsite Sports, Vacation and RV Show
In 2014, the main event, the Sports, Vacation and RV show, will take place on January 18-26, but that is only one of the many winter events taking place in the town. Gem and Mineral shows, craft shows, swap meets, and giant on-going flea markets attract gatherings of RV clubs, families, friends and especially, retirees from far and wide. Admission is generally free to the shows and swap meets that sprawl over the town, though there is a small fee to park in some areas.
Quartzsite, Arizona, normally a town of about 2000 inhabitants, hosts about 100,000 or more RVers during the winter months.
RV Camping on BLM Land around Quartzsite
Some visitors arrive by car from Phoenix, Yuma, Parker or Lake Havasau City, Arizona or from across the border in California; others come in their RVs from all over the U.S. and Canada to stay for the winter. There are about 25 private campgrounds with full hookups in and near Quartzsite, but these sites must usually be reserved in advance. The greatest majority of RVers stake out a spot in one of the dispersed camping areas on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land that surrounds the town. No reservations are required, and you can always find a spot no matter which area you choose.
Day Trips from Quartzsite
Some Day Trips from Quartzsite may require 4 wheel drive vehicle. Check these links or check with the Quartzsite Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center for more information and maps.
General Patton Memorial Museum - museum just off I-10
Bradshaw Trail - 4WD road
Hauser Geode Beds - may require 4WD vehicle
Imperial Sand Dunes - can be viewed from main highways 78 and I-8 as well as other improved roads.
Living Desert Reserve - zoo and botanical park at Palm Desert, California
Opal Hill Mine - Palo Verde, California. $25 fee to dig your own fire opals
Swansea Ghost Town - dirt roads, but mostly passable with ordinary vehicle
Tumco/Hedges Ghost Town - 25 miles from Yuma north of highway 80.
All About Quartzsite
Quartzsite lies in the desert 876 ft. above sea level and is surrounded by mountains. It gets about 4 inches of precipitation a year with daytime temperatures in January and February ranging from a high of 65° - 71°F and nighttime lows ranging from 37°- 43°F.
In January and February, Quartzsite changes from a laid back western town to a small city as motor homes, trailers and campers of every description stream into the area. Some visitors return each year to congregate in their special spot in the desert where groups of RVs of every description gather around central campfires or spread out along the dirt and stony roads that meander through the desert. Other, first-time visitors come to see the big RV show and end up staying for a month or more as they explore the dirt roads into the desert, discover the jam sessions around the campfires, and make new friends along the way.
Quartzsite Attracts Rock Hounds, too!
A great number of the visitors are retirees who arrive for a month or for several months attracted by the mild weather and the shows and events. The area is a wonderland for rock hounds. In addition to quartz, turquoise, agate, geodes and many other collectible rocks, the hills are dotted with abandoned gold and copper mines with the hidden promise of gold in "them thar hills". In addition, about 2000 vendors sell rocks, minerals, craft supplies, jewelry making supplies, clothing, sporting goods and just about everything else you can imagine from around the world.
Pictures of Places Around QuartzsiteClick thumbnail to view full-size
List of Useful Items for Boondocking
- Generator or solar panels for power
- clothesline or a rack for drying clothes
- outdoor rug, chairs and table
- small grill and propane cook stove
- propane heater
- solar powered emergency radio
- extra water containers
- Blue Boy (portable waste tank)
The sun is almost always shining, so check out other useful solar powered gadgets!
Solar Weather and Emergency Radio
Boondocking in Quartzsite
BLM camping at Quartzsite
The Bureau of Land Management, Yuma District oversees the camping areas near Quartzsite, Arizona. These are popular places for many winter visitors to camp for a few weeks or a few months. Dry camping or "boondocking" on BLM land is a whole other experience from camping in a campground where your RV can be connected to electric, water, sewer and cable TV. But thousands of retirees have not only adjusted to the primitive conditions, but love the time they spend in the desert. Some of the most popular places to camp are La Posa LTVA (Long Term Visitor Area) to the south, Scadden Wash to the east, Hi Jolly and Plamosa to the north and Road Runner to the west.
What to Bring When Boondocking
RVers come prepared with generators, extra water tanks that they can take to filling stations, extra tanks on wheels (called Blue Boys) for their waste water and a myriad of miscellaneous supplies. Some RVs are equipped with solar panels or small portable wind mills which provide electrical power. Others use generators sparingly to charge batteries and for lights at night. Every camp usually has a small outdoor rug with lawn chairs, a table and an outdoor cook stove or grill. Even though wood is hard to come by and wood collection is not allowed on BLM land, most campers make a small stone fireplace for campfires.
Because nights and early mornings are sometimes cold in the winter, a portable propane heater is handy. Most people will not leave a portable propane heater on all night, but they are fine to use indoors to warm up the RV in the evening and early mornings.
Where to Boondock in Quartzsite
Quartzsite is surrounded by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Because the BLM Yuma Field Office manages 1.2 million acres of southwestern Arizona and southeastern California, there are almost unlimited opportunities for free or very cheap camping.
The BLM land around Quartzsite allows two types of camping:
- Long Term Visitors Areas (referred to as LTVAs) which generally charge $40 for a 14 day stay or $180 for a seven month stay. All of the camping is dispersed camping with no designated sites. RVers who camp at LTVAs can choose a spot in the desert and set up their campsite. While groups of friends or clubs may circle an area for a cozy gathering place, others who like their privacy can choose a more remote spot away from noisy gatherings or generators. The small camping fee at the Long Term Visitor Areas entitles the campers to use of a central dump station, water filling station and trash dumpsters.
- Short term or 14 day areas are free dispersed camping, but those who choose to camp in the 14 day free areas must either travel into town to use dump stations and fill up with water or pay one of the vendors from town to bring water to their site and pump out their waste water tanks. Another drawback in the free areas is that you are supposed to vacate the site after 14 days.
Points of Interest Within a Day's Drive of Quartzsite
Parks and Wildlife Refuges
- Joshua Tree National Park – 94 miles west
- Riverside County River Parks – 25 miles west
- Alamo Lake State Park – 71 miles northeast
- Kafa National Wildlife Refuge – 5 miles south
- Cibola National Wildlife Refuge – 40 miles south
- Imperial National Wildlife Refuge – 50 miles south
Historic Points of Interest
- Hi Jolly Memorial – 5 miles east
- General Patton Memorial Museum – 86 miles west
- Parker Dam – 50 miles north
A First-Timer in Quartzsite
If you've never been to Quartzsite, one of the things old-timers say is, "You have to go at least once!"
Perhaps this is the year you will make the trip to the little desert town to see what all the fuss is about. Let me tell you about our typical visit to Quartzsite.
From Phoenix, we traveled 125 miles west on I-10 through cactus and rock populated land. As we came closer to Quartzsite, we saw more and more RVs heading in the same direction until we finally exited the interstate into town. There the streets were dotted with RVs of every description. It's not uncommon to see million dollar Prevosts side by side with 30 year old Winnebagos. There were pickup campers, pop up tent trailers, motorcycles pulling little tent trailers and everything in between including homemade rigs. We turned left on Rt. 95 and headed towards La Posa South, traveling through the main event area of Quartzsite where vendors had already set up tents and populated the ramshakle buildings. Many of their wares were already set out: camping equipment, RV supplies, tables of rocks, outdoor chairs, grills, clothes, wind chimes, tables of housewares, food vendors and used books.
Closest Towns with Motels
Although most visitors arrive in their self-contained motor homes or trailers, there are many Quartzsite visitors from Arizona and California who choose to visit Quartzsite by car during the winter events. Quartzsite has very limited hotel facilities, but there are hotels in nearby cities for those who want to drive to the shows and check out the flea markets and swap meets. If you are coming by car, check out accommodations in these cities just a few miles away:
- Blythe, CA - 25 miles west
- Parker, Arizona: 35 miles north.
- Yuma, AZ - 83 miles south.
- Wickenburg, Arizona - 111 miles northeast.
- Phoenix, AZ - 125 miles east.
- Ehrenburg, Arizona: 17 miles west.
Boondocking at LaPosa South BLM campground
About 3 miles from town, we came to our destination, LaPosa South, one of the BLM Long Term VisitorAreas with the luxury of a water filling station, dump station and trash dumpsters. We headed in and signed up for our first 2 week stay, then headed out to find our friends. Trailers and motor homes were strewn around along the dirt roads, singly and in groups. Some had flags and tents set up. Others had small outdoor living areas near their doors.There were a few with solar lights decorating their outdoor areas, many had solar panels and satellite dishes.
After consulting with our friends, we decided to search out an area that was less populated. Before we did, we prepared our rig for our desert stay by filling our fresh water tank and extra gallon size water jugs with water at the water station and emptying our waste tanks at the dump station. Then we unhooked our tow vehicle and headed out the dirt road into the desert. About two miles out, we agreed upon the perfect spot near a small wash with a few low trees growing nearby. Our closest neighbors were about a quarter mile away, though we knew that as more people came into town we were likely to have some closer neighbors moving in.
We inspected the area to be sure we were not parking in a low spot as flash floods are common during rain storms. Satisfied that we were in a safe place, we parked our rigs about 75 ft. apart. (never crowd your neighbors!) and smoothed off a small area around our rig so that we could set up our chairs. The desert here is covered with stones and rocks, large and small in all colors. We gathered a few rocks to build a small fireplace for our campfires and set a few of the prettier pieces of quartz on the edge of our rug to keep it from blowing away.
Our friends have a solar panel on their small trailer, so they had to park with the panel facing south to get the most benefit from the sun. One solar panel is enough to provide lights and power for charging their phones and computers. They use a small propane heater for heat and have the advantage that they never disturb the quiet of the desert by running a generator.
Although many people who spend months in the desert bring satellite dishes for their television and internet services, we don't have one. Occasionally, we run our generator in the evening to see if we can pick up a special TV show with our antenna, but generally we like to play cards or games with our friends or read. It is also considered bad form to run generators for too many hours as it disturbs other people who are are enjoying the peaceful desert evenings. (For more on good Boondocking etiquette see my hub: The RVing Life: Good Boondocking Etiquette. )
This Guide Will Help You Find Free Camping
Entertainment in the Boondocks
There is another reason why so many winter visitors love to spend winter months in Quartzsite. In addition to exploring the desert by foot, ATV or 4Wheel Drive vehicles, here are some of the ways people spend their time:
- Rockhounding - hunting for geodes, gemstones, gold, turquoise and many other kinds of rocks to be found out in the desert.
- Desert Golf - This is not very much like traditional golf as the golf courses are laid out among the washes, gullies, rocks and cacti of BLM land. Most golfers use one club and a ball in a bright color so that they can find it among the rocks and gopher holes, but it's a fun thing to do for a few hours of friendly competition.
- Jam sessions - So many RVers sing and play instruments that there are usually several jam sessions each week in each area. Everyone is welcome to attend to join in or just listen. Bring a chair and your drink and get to know people.
- Entertainment shows - The Quartzsite Improvement Association (QIA) is a community center in Quartzsite that sponsors at least two shows a week that are open to the public for a nominal fee of just a few dollars. Shows might be comedy, gospel, blue grass or country music or something truly unique like a yodeler. Occasionally there are bigger names and admission fees go up accordingly.
- Classes and Crafts - There are also classes in line dancing, crafts and other areas of interest held at the QIA for a small seasonal fee.
- Side trips and Day trips - There are many places to explore if you are in the mood for a day trip. We often consult maps for off-road adventures and hunt down ghost towns, abandoned gold mines and points of interest.
- Reading - There are used book stores in Quartzsite as well as opportunities to exchange books with fellow campers. We are in the habit of traveling with a large tub full of paperback books that we exchange or give to fellow travelers.
- Arts and Crafts - Many snowbirds bring their hobbies with them on their travels. Woodworking, carving, jewelry making, knitting, crocheting, quilting and painting are just a few of the kinds of things RVers do to keep occupied.
If You Go
If you decide to visit Quartzsite for the first time this year, be prepared for an experience very different from any other. People say that you will either love it or hate it, but one thing for sure, you will never forget it.
One of the very best things about the RVing life is that your house is on wheels. When you find a place you like, you park it. When you are in a place you don't like, you roll on down the road!
Whatever you decide to do, have a wonderful time! Maybe we'll see you on the road or in Quartzsite this winter!
This article Copyright ©2010 by Stephanie Henkel
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