Calling all snowbirds: shop 'til you drop at a spectacular open-air market in the heart of the Arizona desert
Do you want to go on the shopping spree of a lifetime? If the answer is "yes," consider stopping by one of the biggest and best open-air markets in the nation. It's in a little town in the Arizona desert at the crossroads of Interstate 10 and Highway 95, about 20 miles from the California border. In the summer, with temperatures reaching the century mark, the little town is like nearly every other desert town, but when the temperatures plummet, the town turns into the biggest swap meet in the United States.
Welcome to Quartzsite, Arizona. Quartzsite is best known for the Sports, Vacation and RV Show happening annually on the third week of January. It's around the time of this show that this sleepy little desert town of 3,000 people expands to about a million—and most of them are driving RVs.
The annual Quartzsite Sports, Vacation and RV Show started in 1984 with just 60 vendors in a small tent. The show was an instant success, owing largely to the fact that RVing is popular in Quartzsite. The inaugural show was held at the Quartzsite Trailer Park in conjunction with the Quartzsite Pow Wow. The Pow Wow was just across the street from the trailer park so visitors could go back and forth between the two events. In 1997 the RV show outgrew the trailer park area and moved to its current home, just down the street.
Plenty to Do
Although Quartzsite is best known for the RV show, it isn't the only show in town. When the organizers saw how popular the Sports, Vacation and RV Show had become, they decided to create another show that would start as soon as the RV show was over. In 1998, the Quartzsite Hobby, Craft and Gem Show was born. A year later, the Quartzsite Rock and Roll Classic Car Show was added on. There are so many hobbies and related activities—as well as a lot of RV items—that many refer to the Hobby, Craft and Gem Show as the RV Show II.
In addition to the big tent shows, you can also catch the Tyson Wells shows held at the same time as the others. The Tyson Wells shows feature arts and crafts and gems, and you won't want to miss the Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama, where just about anything can be bought, sold or traded.
Native Americans first occupied Quartzsite hundreds of years ago, and today the Quartzsite Improvement Association pays tribute to those first Americans by holding an annual Pow Wow. The Pow Wow has been going on since 1967 and was the driving force behind all the other shows in Quartzsite.
Do you like steam power? A few more things to see and do while you're in Quartzsite are the antique engine and steam shows. One takes place right after Christmas and the other in mid-January.
In addition to the organized shows, Quartzsite is also a swap-meet addict's dream come true. There are hundreds of vendors selling everything from cow skulls to dried peppers. Whether you're a collector, a seller or hobbyist, there will be something and someone to satisfy what you're looking for.
Some of the swap meets to drop into are Greasewood Swap, the Hi Ali Swap, the Rice Ranch "Yawl Come" Show and Sam's Swap Meet. These and many more are open from November 1 through the end of February. Main Street Traders is a swap meet that's open year-round.
With all these people coming to Quartzsite, it would stand to reason that there could be a shortage of places to park the RV. Fortunately, event planners go to great pains to ensure that traffic is managed in an organized manner. In addition, the Bureau of Land Management offers roughly 20,000 campsites that border the show grounds. No matter what your taste, you'll find a place to stay. See contact information below to arrange parking.
Okay, so maybe a million people seems a little extreme to you. That's okay because you can always escape the crowds by taking a hike outside of town on the hundreds of miles of trails surrounding Quartzsite. Tie up your hiking boots, put fresh batteries in your camera, pack a lunch and head out to the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge and Signal Peak. The refuge is home to the desert bighorn sheep and the California fan palm. Out here you can experience over 600,000 acres of desert wilderness. The Kofa and the Castle Dome Mountains in the refuge are fairly rugged so make sure you take all the proper safety equipment before you attempt to explore the peaks.
Camels in Quartzsite?
In the center of Quartzsite stands a monument to one of the most unusual experiments in the history of the westward movement. In 1857, a proposed railroad route was charted along the 35th parallel, and camels were to be used as beasts of burden instead of engines. The government brought in Arabs to handle the animals, the most famous driver being a Syrian named Hadji Ali, soon known simply as "Hi Jolly." After the expedition was over, Hi Jolly stayed in Arizona with a few of the camels and used them as pack animals, carrying goods between mining camps and the Colorado River. His business failed, however, and he released his last camel into the desert. The Hi Jolly and U.S. Camel Corps monument, a pyramid topped by a metal camel, immortalizes this interesting historical development.
For More Information:
Chamber Of Commerce
Arizona Office of Tourism