In 1856 Charley Tyson dug a big well, and the area known as Quartzsite became a watering hole for cross country travelers between LaPaz (a town on the Colorado River near Ehrenberg) and Prescott. It was a regular stop for U.S. Army troops which provided protection to the travelers and settlers along the route from the threat of Indian war parties.
Today Quartzsite remains a gathering place as the small town with a modest population blossoms into a haven for snowbirds and vendors during the months of January and February. Thousands of RVs flock to the area setting up camp in RV parks, parking lots and BLM land. Looking around, you realize probably 90 per cent of those around you are seniors
What’s for sale? Just about everything with an accent on rocks, gems, Native American jewelry, RV and camp gear like rugs and tools. Stacks of socks, tee shirts, scissors and tweezers, and windchimes sit next to cow skulls, marbles, dishes, rusted junk, glass and a myriad of camp chairs. Fry bread, hot dogs and popcorn smells waft down the rows.
Quartzsite is located on Interstate 10 some 25 miles east of Blythe, across the Arizona border. We chose to camp in Blythe at the KOA Kampground on the west flank of the Colorado river. The campground has a spa and pool, fishing, live entertainment on Saturday nite and a free pancake and sausage breakfast! It is a 25 minute drive to Quartzsite.
WHO IS HI JOLLY?
In 1857, a man named Hadji Ali (known as Hi Jolly) came to the U.S. from Syria along with the first shipment of camels that were to carry supplies over the desert for the U.S. Army. For many reasons, the camel experiment failed but Hi Jolly decided to stay and lived his life in the desert as a prospector, miner, cattleman and tracker for the county sheriff. He died in 1902 and a special memorial to him is located in the town cemetery.
THE OASIS BOOK STORE
Famous in these parts is Paul Winer, the owner of Oasis Book Store. He and his wife came to Quartzsite from the East when their daughter, Celia was born and suffered from a respiratory ailment. They settled in Quartzsite and opened a small bookstore which moved into newer, yet still primitive, digs a few years ago. Paul is known for his many talents: cartoonist, poet, author, musician, journalist and, not the least, a nudist. His dress, or lack thereof, serves to shock visitors on a daily basis.
On our current visit, the Oasis Book Store was featuring an author’s book sale and signing.
As I do each year, I brought Paul a bag of fresh-picked lemons which he says he enthusiastically turns into lemonade. He is tops on my list of characters!
Sadly, Celia died at the young age of eight and the Winers established “Celia’s Rainbow Garden” on the outskirts of town. Covering 20 acres, it has been cared for and maintained by “the hearts and hands” of the town’s residents. They aim to make it the state’s largest free botanical garden.
THE TYSON WELLS MUSEUM
A glimpse of our photographer, Alan Heller!
A typical bar scenario in Quartzsite’s wild days
Travel to Quartzsite from March to December and you will wonder what I’m talking about. However, in January and February it is a kick! Check their website for the special activities such as the pow wow, parade, car shows, RV show, gem and mineral shows, hobby and craft show, concerts, etc.