The campground was full—or nearly so—on Saturday night, including a couple with a reservation for the site right next to the host site where The Man and I stayed. The couple rolled in at dusk, while The Man and I were cleaning up after dinner. The temperature was dropping, and I wondered if the woman next door would be warm enough in the short shorts and sweatshirt she was wearing By the time I crawled into my van and hung my curtain, the couple was standing next to a raging fire.
The next morning I was up early, got dressed, ate breakfast, went to work. It was a normal day.
When I returned to the campground around 6pm, I noticed the people who’d been staying on site #8 were now on the other side of the campground on site #4. That was unusual, but not unheard of. Sometimes people wanted to change sites for a variety of reasons from proximity to the restrooms to wanting to camp closer to friends.
While the tent still stood on site #9 and the stove sat on the picnic table, no car was parked on the site. The campers must have gone off on a day trp.
The Man and I said hello and had some How was your day? chitchat. Then he asked me if I’d heard the people on site #9 the previous night.
No, I told him. I hadn’t heard anything.
The Man had become friendly with one of the campers on site #8. That guy had told The Man that the people on site #9 had spent the previous night having boisterous, loud sex. Apparently the woman had been particularly vocal.
Damn! This was probably the most exciting thing that had ever happened in the campground, and I had slept through it. I hadn’t heard a sound.
Is that why the people on site #8 moved to site #4? I asked.
That indeed was the reason.
I wonder if the people on site #9 were exhibitionists and wanted everyone in the campground to know they were getting it on, or if they were overcome with passion and didn’t realize how loud they were being.
The Man hadn’t heard anything the night before either, but he’d parked his minivan in a nook past our campsite so as not to crowd the people next door. He was maybe a little too far to hear sex sounds from site #9.
On Sunday night I had to go down to guard the Mercantile. I was sorry to have to miss whatever auditory sex show was going to happen that night on site #9.
On Monday morning, as soon as I returned to our campsite and saw The Man, I whispered, Did you hear anything? while looking pointedly toward site #9. He hadn’t heard a thing. Either he’d slept through the caterwauling or the folks on site #8 had moved for no reason.
Seems like it always happens when folks start discussing winter in Quartzsite, Arizona. Someone mentions the Big Tent, and someone else says What’s that? Other folks in the conversation jump in and start trying to explain things and mayhem occurs.
Ok, so I’ve never actually seen mayhem occur during a discussion of the Big Tent, but I know that lots of people who’ve never been to Quartzsite in the winter aren’t quite sure what it’s all about. In the interest of public information, I’ve made today bonus blog Saturday, and I’ll again share what I wrote about the Big Tent in 2015 and 2016. You’re welcome.
“The Big Tent” is what folks call it, but the actual name of the event is The Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show. It’s been held every year since 1984, although the location within the town has changed several times. People travel to Quartzsite in their RVs (motor homes, vans, campers, fifth wheels, etc.) from all over the country to enjoy the warm Arizona weather and see what’s new in the Big Tent.
The Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show started with 60 exhibitors and a small tent. In 2015 it had grown to a 69,000 square foot fully carpeted indoor exhibit area at 700 South Central Blvd.
In 2015 the Big Tent was open January 17th through 25th. I visited it on the Saturday opening day and on Tuesday the 20th.
I went to the Big Tent the first time because I was trying to get a job as a camp host. I’d arrived at the tent about ten minutes early, but nobody was getting in early that morning. The line started moving at exactly nine o’clock. By the time I got inside, the place was already packed.
I wasn’t surprised to see RV park booths, RV insurance booths, booths staffed with folks trying to convince people to drive their RVs north to Canada and south to Mexico. I wasn’t surprised to see an Arizona State Parks booth, a KOA campground booth, and a Good Sam’s Club booth.
Several casinos had booths too, complete with wheels to spin. Spin the wheel, win a prize, but not until one coughed up one’s name, mailing address, email address, and phone number. I tried to win several times but scored nothing more memorable than multiple decks of cards.
Several booths were dedicated to recruiting work campers. One of those booths belonged to Workamper News, the website to check out (I was told at the RTR) to get hooked up with work camping opportunities. Amazon.com was present, recruiting for its CamperForce. The sugar beet harvest people were there too, and I had a nice talk with a very pleasant man from the Midwest, but quickly realized that sugar beet harvest work is too strenuous for me. Several companies looking to hire camp hosts were also in the Big Tent.
I was surprised to see multiple booths selling pillows. I understand that RVers use pillows. But why would someone buy pillows at at sports, vacation, and RV show? Wal-Mart sells pillows. Kmart sells pillows. Sears and JCPenney and probably the freakin’ Family Dollar sell pillows. Pillows can be ordered from Amazon.com. Why were these RV show pillows so special? I don’t know because I did not stop at any of the many pillow booths and discuss the desirability of their pillows.
On a related note, the funniest thing I saw in a booth was a man lying in a bed on a platform a couple of feet off the floor. He was selling some special RV bedding, and he was demonstrating this bedding by lying in a bed. The big come-on with this bedding was that one wouldn’t have to make the bed if one had this bedding. Basically, the bedding was a double sleeping bag placed on top of a mattress. There was no tucking of sheets and blankets because this item was a blanket pouch. Is making an RV bed so difficult that people would rather sleep in a double sleeping bag? In any case, whenever I saw this grown man lying down in bed while trying to convince people to buy his wares, it cracked me up. Unfortunately, I did not have a camera to take his photo.
I was also surprised to see people in so many booths trying to sell
kitchen gadgets. I do understand that RVs have kitchens, which might
lead RVers to buy kitchen gadgets, but it seems like those items too are
available in just about any regular store. Do people get caught up in
the frenzy of shopping at the Big Tent, only to wake up to reality later
and find their yellow freebie KOA tote bag full of silicone bowl covers
and long skinny plastic chip clips?
The least explicable booths were those selling makeup, hand creme,
and jewelry (especially an “ion” bracelet some lady tried to slip on my
wrist). I didn’t stop at any of those booths, but from my cruise past, I
didn’t see anything that looked unique or revolutionary.
My favorite booth was the one run by Minute Rice. There was a wheel
to spin and prizes to win. When I spun the wheel, it stopped on “emery
board.” Boring! However, the nice ladies were also giving out two-packs
of the precooked, microwaveable rice. There was even a choice: white,
brown, or jasmine. And they didn’t want my email address!
I know I mentioned it was crowded in that tent, but let me just say again, the place was packed. At one point, the crowd in the aisle was at a complete standstill. There was a tall young man next to me, and I asked him what he saw up ahead. He said it was just a bunch of people standing still. As soon as I made it out of that quagmire (without ever seeing a reason for movement to have ceased), I ducked out of the next exit door into the sunshine. There were more booths on the outside around the perimeter of the Big Tent, but nothing held my attention long enough for me to stop.
When I went back the following Tuesday (because I was in the area to purchase items from several of the booths in the Tyson Wells shopping area), the Big Tent was mostly the same. The Minute Rice ladies were gone (they must have run out of rice), but I made up for it by playing a couple of fun and silly games at the Progressive booth, where the workers were a bunch of young gals dressed like Flo! There (thankfully) weren’t as many people in the Big Tent, so we all had a little more elbow room.
As I left the area, I decided The Big Tent (like Mardi Gras) is definitely something to see once, if one is in the right place at the right time. I wasn’t sure I’d visit the Big Tent again, but I knew if I did, it wouldn’t be on opening day. I hoped if I did go back, I’d own a working camera so I could get a photo of that man in the bed.
In 2016, I did visit the Big Tent again, but not on opening day. There was no need for that. I wasn’t looking for a summer job because I already had one lined up, and I wanted to avoid filling the van with unnecessary items, even if they were freebies. I believe I went on the Wednesday after opening day, on my last day in Quartzsite.
Again, no one was being let in before the official opening time of
9am. I milled about outside the north entrance with the other early
birds. While I was waiting, I got a text from my friend Tina who was at
the Big Tent to look for a job. She met me at the north entrance, and we
walked in together at nine on the dot.
There weren’t very many people browsing through the tent that day, so there was plenty of elbow room.
We hadn’t gotten past very many booths when a guy working for Direct TV tried to waylay us. Who provides cable in your home? the guy asked. Oh, I said casually, I don’t have a home. Tina snickered and the guy was quietly confused just long enough for us to escape.
The next guy who tried to interrupt our rambling was in a booth with hair-salon chairs. He called out aggressively, Ladies, what appliances do you use to style your hair? I told him, I don’t style my hair. It does whatever it wants. He didn’t know what to say to that, and we walked on.
One good-looking young East Indian man with a British accent drew me right into his booth. It was a large booth, and there were several salespeople in it trying to sell reusable heating pads. The pads were pretty cool There was a metal disc in them and when the disc was clicked, the goo inside the pad got hot. The pads could also be used cold by placing them in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. The young man was trying REALLY hard to sell the product to me. I finally had to tell him I wasn’t going to buy anything, but said he was doing a great job. We sort of squeezed each other’s hand in farewell, which made me a little giddy.
I got excited when I saw a sign with my name on it. Well, it was sort of my name. When I asked the
man standing behind
the table if I could take a photo of the sign, he insisted on putting
the product beside it. Well, ok. I tried to explain to him that my name
is Blaize, and I like to take photos of signs with my name on it. He
only seemed concerned with showing off the product, which I guess makes
sense because it’s his job to sell the stuff. I know nothing about the
quality of Micro-Blaze, so I cannot recommend it. However, readers, you
now know it exists.
Just down from the Micro-Blaze booth, I saw the salesman I’d been thinking about all year, the man selling RV bedding.
In 2015, I sadly had no camera to take a photo of the salesman and
his wares, but in 2016, I was prepared. I walked up to the man and said
hi. He said hi to me and started telling me about his special sheets. He
sounded super sad. He sounded like a robotic recording. He sounded like
a super sad robotic recording. The way he gave his speech about his
special RV bedding did not make me want to buy his product. The way he
gave his speech almost made me want to cry. I don’t know if he was
having a bad day or if he was just generally tired, but his enthusiasm
level was way low. I asked him if I could take his photo, and he said
This guy, even though he seemed really down, was the high point of the Big Tent for me. I walked around after I talked to him, got a bright yellow (and cheaply made) tote bag from KOA and played a sort of slot machine game with the Flo lookalikes at the Progressive booth, but nothing made me happier than finally getting a photo of that guy.
Now you know a little bit about what goes on at the Big Tent so you can decide for yourself if you want to check it out.
In late January of 2018, I bought an old fifth wheel out in the desert. The fifth wheel is almost as old as I am, and I don’t think it would stay together if I tried to take it on the road. I imagine hooking it up to a tow vehicle and getting up to 50 or 60 miles per hour on the highway only to have pieces of the fifth wheel start to fly off. Wind and vibration might peel the metal walls from the frame, allowing my life (or at least my material possessions) to be sucked out one by one. None of that for me, thanks; my fifth wheel is stationary.
The RV (actually my winter home and not used for mere recreation) came with solar panels and deep cycle batteries. Everything was already hooked up. I can charge my laptop and cell phone inside, and when the sun goes down (and it’s dark by 6 pm in the desert in the fall and winter), I turn on electric lights, just like people in conventional homes do. The difference of course is that folks in conventional homes receive a bill for their electricity each month. The other difference is that on cloudy or rainy days, folks in conventional homes don’t worry about running out of power.
I have running water. To be more specific, I have cold running water. The fifth wheel has no water heater, so that water that comes from the faucet is cool in the fall and winter. Since we don’t cook meat, cold water and dish soap works for washing dishes. I wash my hands and face with water from the faucet, but I buy my drinking water from one of the reverse osmosis machines in town.
When I want to take a shower, I go to one of the four shower houses in the RV park where the fifth wheel is sits. Cold water showers are included in the price of the rent. Since I hate cold showers, I feed quarters into the machine that magically allows the hot water to flow. The water is plenty hot, but sadly short. Lately I’ve been taking dollar showers. The Man is happy spending 50 cents to wash himself.
The RV park is nothing like the RV parking lots I’ve seen across the country. Nothing in the whole place is paved. Desert plants grow wherever they grow. Lots are not laid out uniformly; some are bigger than others and the RVs are oriented every which way. Some of the RVs are large (motor homes as big as Willie Nelson’s tour bus) and fancy (Airstreams and brand new fifth wheels) while many are like mine–old, sun-bleached, decrepit.
The people living in the desert are a mixed bag too. There are old desert rats who’ve been full-time residents for decades and newcomers tent camping in the desert for the first time. There are people who seem to have a lot of money (the ones in the giant motor homes and fancy RVs) and folks who are barely scraping by on social security dollars and food bank bread. Some people are social and participate in many activities down at the clubhouse, while others are practically hermits. In addition to Americans who come from as far as as Washington state and Maine, many Canadians come to the desert to escape their country’s harsh winters. It truly takes all kinds.
The people who want to be social can find a lot to do down at the clubhouse, starting with coffee in the morning. The park manager brews a fresh pot when she opens the office at 8 am, and for 25 cents a cup (or $10 upfront for the monthly plan) residents can gab and drink as much java as they can stomach. Since the closest McDonald’s is 50 miles away, the senior citizens gather here instead of the Golden Arches.
Other activities to participate in include hikes on Tuesdays, Bible study on Wednesdays, gentle exercise every morning, and card games several afternoons each week. A group of artists gathers on Mondays, and the crafters meet on Tuesdays. There’s a pancake breakfast on Thursday mornings and movies on Monday nights. Dancing is on Friday nights and the open mic for musicians happens on Saturday afternoons.
I participated in the crafting group once. I was invited, so I showed up. A dozen women and zero men sat around a couple of long tables pushed together. I was the youngest one there by at least 15 years, which didn’t bother me.
Let’s go around the table and introduce ourselves, the leader of the group said.
I had the distinct impression they wanted to do introductions so they could find out more about me. I was the only person in the group who didn’t include the number of children I had birthed in my introduction.
Early in December 2018, The Man said we should participate in the group hikes. He said we needed to get out of the house, get some exercise, and be more social. I agreed with at least the first two points.
Someday I’ll post a complete recap of the entire hiking adventure. For now I’ll say that what was advertised as a 3 and 1/2 hour hike took me and other slow folks over 5 hours to complete. When it was over, my hips ached, I was beat, and the rest of my day was shot. Even The Man was wiped out. He and I agreed the hiking group was not for us, but people ten, fifteen, and twenty years our senior didn’t seem to have half the trouble we did.
I’m glad to have a warm place to touch down in the winter. I wouldn’t want to be in the desert when summer temperatures soar above 110 degrees, but in fall and winter and the early days of spring when the average daytime temperature ranges from 87 degrees to 66 degrees and hard freezes are rare, I think the desert is a wonderful place to be. We don’t see snow and winter rains are infrequent. The sun shines most days, boosting both our electric power and our mood.
We do deal with desert winds. They blow and they blow, sometimes for days on end. Something about them can really agitate me, so being able to cook and wash up inside the fifth wheel is a huge blessing. I’ve had to do my housekeeping outside in the desert wind, and I’d rather not, thank you.
Of course, we have to figure out what to do when the mercury climbs. I for one don’t want to be in the desert much past the middle of April when it’s hot enough to make me grumpy. There are many questions to answer before The Man and I leave the fifth wheel. Where should we go? Together or separately? How will we earn money? What nature do we want to be close to? Where will we find cool temperatures?
I remind myself I don’t have to figure it all out today. Time will tell. The story will unfold.
I met Dawn at the 2018 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. I heard she was an anthropology student studying what her website calls the “growing culture surrounding solo female nomads in the American Southwest.” When we spoke, I found her to be intelligent, thoughtful, and kind. About two weeks after the RTR, she interviewed me for her project. One afternoon we sat in the sweet motor home she’d renovated to suit her tastes and needs. She asked me questions, and I talked about my life as a solo female van dweller. We talked and talked until after dark, and honestly, I wish we could have talked more. I didn’t want to Dawn to just be someone I’d met once or twice; I wanted Dawn to be my friend!
When I began my series of interviews with nomads, Dawn came immediately to mind. We hadn’t been in touch in a while, and I was interested in what she was up to. I wanted to share her story with my readers, but I also wanted to satisfy my own curiosity. Had she gone native*, as we say in the anthropology biz? Had she become a solo female nomad or was she planning to start living her life that way?
Turns out Dawn had decided nomadic living is not for her, and that’s ok. Nomadic living is not for everyone. I think it’s important for folks who are contemplating a change to life on the road to consider both the good and difficult aspects of this way of life. In this interview (conducted via email) Dawn talks about the joys of renovating her rig and the hardships and stresses of life on the road, including “the fear of what was going to break next,” pets that never fully adjusted to life in the motor home, and the near constant struggle of figuring out how to survive.
Rubber Tramp Artist: I don’t think you’re a full-time rubber tramp. To what extent do you live nomadically?
Dawn: At this point, not at all. I came home and fell into the bathtub, air conditioning, the static -ness of poo that goes away when you flush the toilet and kissed the earth. I never felt the thrill of traveling. Only the fear of what was going to break next. Which is, in hindsight, almost ridiculous. Nothing bad EVER happened. I never was stranded on the side of the road, I never felt “endangered”. But the fear of what could be wore me down to the point of what I seriously think is PTSD from what was…five months on the road? It’s insane intellectually.
With that sort of experience behind me I decided to face a phobia of flying this summer…and discovered, yes, I still want to live nomadically, but in hotel rooms, with a backpack, and a jet plane that takes me from here to exotic places in a few hours. I don’t want to worry about pets, propane, plumbing, leaks, gas mileage, wind, cold, heat, being alone, where to dump, where to shower…I am…a…marshmallow. I have no desire to live off grid, or with constant dirt and fear. I’m too freaking old for this crap.
RTA: Tell me about your rig. Make? Model? Year?
Dawn: 1984 Dodge 360 V8, under 75K, Mallard, Edelbrock Carb. Probably gets 7 miles to the gallon despite being 22 ft long and 2000 lbs light in the rear end.
RTA: I seem to recall you remodeled your rig. Tell me about that process.
Dawn: I loved it. It was completely amazing. I learned so much. Unlike actually living and traveling in it –
Let me explain. I learned plumbing. I moved the water pump, replaced it, learned about pipes and connections and can now change out a faucet or a drain. It isn’t rocket science.
You know what else isn’t rocket science? Electricity. There’s 12volt and there’s blow yourself into the wall 110 volt. There’s 30 amp and 50 amp. There are batteries, solar panels, half a dozen different sizes of wiring and fuses and tools you need, electrical sockets and solar panels…and it takes forever to wrap your head around, but when you do? You realize that there is a certain amount of self-sufficiency that has been stripped away from us–by lobbyists for the electrical industry, as in this instance. I’m all for public safety and policies that ensure that, but on the flip side we are reduced to calling in professionals for the most minor of repairs that could be accomplished with basic skills.
You respect, you research, research some more, and then you do it.
Same with propane.
Same with construction.
I had no skills. I was a web designer that knew how to search Google and YouTube, and ask questions at my local Ace Hardware. Sometimes I paid a professional to do it. But mostly, I discovered that maintaining an RV – an entire household system plus a car – was doable.
RTA: How did you get interested in nomadic living?
Dawn: One word – community. In the mid-2000s I talked my BF into buying a Class A and trying it. Unfortunately, his job left us circling Denver (imagine, he’d rather entertain people at a theatre than pick beets!) and that is not an RV-friendly place. Buy your pot and keep moving. But, what I discovered was a different breed of people that RV’d. No matter their religion or politics, they were always willing to lend a hand. In retrospect, living in an apartment was more isolating.
RTA: You’ve turned your interest in nomadic living into graduate studies. How were you able to do that?
Dawn: Ah. I needed a thesis and this – studying women that decided to do this RV/vandwelling thing alone – was the only thing that interested me. So I should point out – this is an undergraduate thesis. But I am not going into more debt, at my age, to go any further with my education. So I decided I might as well go all out and make this PHD style. It has really cemented a new direction for the rest of my life writing and working with women to tell their stories. I know a lot of women did this without going into debt, but I couldn’t sell anything, didn’t have steady income being a student, so I did this by going into a lot more debt than I was comfortable with. It just kept snowballing as I found I needed this, or that (or thought I did). And, living on the road was much more expensive than what I budgeted for. Unexpected repairs, food costs, gas…
RTA: Why do you think it’s important to study modern nomads?
Dawn: Because, look at this – this is completely outside of the norm. This is fringe culture. This is creative. This is women sticking their middle finger to not just society but gender norms and saying I’m going to live and find my life, and screw the lot of you. I love this. Women never get to do this. Ever. Look at history. It doesn’t matter if they fail at being a nomad, or hate it, or whatever. These women are authentic, powerful, and are choosing to experience liberation. I see them as journeying on a trajectory of becoming fully self-evolved. Does that make sense? As far as rubber tramps and American nomads, gender aside? It’s like the release from a pressure cooker. Our culture, and American lifestyle is deteriorating – and rubber tramps/nomads are the first edges of that implosion looking to survive.
RTA: What are the most fascinating things you’ve learned from rubber tramps?
Dawn: The goodness of people. Ordinary people with varied religions, political beliefs and socio-economic backgrounds. It is an antithesis to what we see portrayed in politics and the media. We can and are living in two different realities.
RTA: How can my readers find out more about what you’ve learned from people on the road?
Dawn: [My website]http://www.junowandering.com – it will be a slow process, though – an evolutionary ethnography. [This website also includes Dawn’s blog where you can read about her travels.]
RTA: Do you see yourself ever living nomadically full-time?
Dawn: Yes. But not in an RV/van/car where I have to navigate being part of the fringes. With a backpack and living wherever fate lets my head fall as a ‘tourist’, instead. Of course, this doesn’t seem practical. And, I could not do this as long as I’m responsible for pets.
RTA: What were your three favorite things about living in your rig?
Dawn: I didn’t share it. I could move it. It felt like the center of my world.
RTA: What three things did you hate about your rig?
Dawn: Fear. Constant fear of what was going to go wrong and how I’d fix it. Fear of the weather – heat or cold, and taking care of pets. The horrible gas mileage and expense.
RTA: When I met you, you were traveling with two animal companions. How was it for you and the animals?
Dawn: Hard. The cat adjusted but the dog is getting older and had issues with skin infections and arthritis. I had an emergency in Quartzsite and couldn’t find a vet for 200 miles – that almost broke me mentally. It is good to be home. The dog is so much happier, as is the cat. They like their routine and space. They adapted, but I can honestly say they weren’t happy.
RTA: Do you still consider yourself a participant observer**, or have you gone native?
Dawn: Nope. [I haven’t gone native.] I admire the lifestyle. Rather, I admire those that live it. But, it’s not for me. Even though I feel like a wimp saying that!! I feel like I failed some test. Living full-time as a nomad is like being a farmer. There is nothing else – there is no time or energy to be creative, to relax, to just ‘be’. Maybe, if you have a retirement income. But not if you have to figure out how to also survive. It’s constant – trying to find resources, deal with the weather and legalities of where to park, negotiate new situations, maintain both a car and a home that are constantly undergoing both earthquakes and tornadoes…
Does that make sense? Perhaps if it was like traditional nomads that traveled in familial groups? But alone? I think – I think – that there are a lot more people doing this under an illusion of what it could be, than are actually mentally cut out to live like this. Just a thought from the ‘new’ nomads I’ve met…
*Merriam-Webster defines “go native” as “to start to behave or live like the local people.”
*Merriam-Webster defines “participant observer” as “one that is engaged in a research technique in anthropology and sociology characterized by the effort of an investigator to gain entrance into and social acceptance by a foreign culture or alien group so as better to attain a comprehensive understanding of the internal structure of the society.”
I hadn’t planned to share a post on Christmas Day. I don’t usually run posts on Tuesdays, and I had a fun story from my childhood to share on Christmas Eve. I thought I had done all I needed to do.
Then I took a ride through a small Arizona town in the Sonoran Desert and saw how the locals were decorating for the holiday.
Residents of several homes in the town had decorated desert plants in their front yards by placing brightly colored, shiny, round Christmas tree ornaments on the pointy ends of the plants. The decorations really made the plants look festive, which in turn made the whole yards look festive.
At least one homeowner decorated the saguaros in the yard.
I love this trio of Saguaro Santas. Since I took this photo, I’ve seen desert dwellers in other towns do this too, and it never fails to amuse me.
I hope everyone who reads this post enjoys seeing this approach to holiday decorating in the desert, whether you’ve encountered it before or it’s all brand new.
My favorite of all the decorations was the one put out by Mother Nature.
I love the little red barrel amidst all that green. As a reader explained to me, the barrel is the fruit from last summer’s bloom. .
So Merry Christmas, friends and fans! I hope you have a lovely day blessed with peace and joy.
I took all the photos in this post. Note: I had a lot of fun adjusting the settings on some of these photos to make them POP with holiday cheer!
Earlier this year I borrowed a video called What Would Jesus Buy? from the public library. It starred Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, and I got The Man to watch it with me one night after the sun went down.
The movie documents Billy and the Choir’s cross-country road trip during the two weeks prior to Christmas to spread the message of the Church of Stop Shopping. They knew people wouldn’t totally stop shopping, especially not right before Christmas, but they hoped consumers would do some thinking before buying. In addition to the documentary’s titular question of (What would Jesus buy?) there are other questions the Church of Stop Shopping would like consumers to ask before making a purchase. Questions include the following:
Can I afford this?
Do I (or my loved one) need this?
Where was this made?
Can I make my purchase at a locally owned business instead of at a big box store?
One thing I learned watching this documentary is that many adults do everything possible to create the illusion that Santa Claus brings Christmas with no effort or monetary output on the part of the parents. In these families, children grow up believing Santa does all the work involved in making the holiday happen in exchange for a few cookies and a glass of lukewarm milk. This is not an illusion my parents felt it necessary to create.
As a small child, my mother taught me the harsh monetary reality of Christmas. I don’t remember exactly how young I was, but young enough that I couldn’t yet read. The lesson happened shortly after Christmas when I talking about all the presents I’d recently received from Santa. I told my mom it sure was great that Santa dropped off all those toys for free.
Oh no, my mother said while shaking her head. Those presents weren’t free. She went on to tell me that she and my dad had to pay Santa for all the presents he put under our tree on Christmas Eve. She went over to the shelf which held the family checkbook, stamps, pens, invoices for bills to be paid, and checks written but not yet mailed. She rumaged around in the stack of checks written but not sent and selected one to pull out of the pile.
She showed me the check. This is the check I had to write to Santa Claus to pay for the Christmas presents, she told me.
I’m sure my eyes got big. Santa Claus had to be paid? Of course, I couldn’t read the name on the “pay to the order of ” line, but this was decades before I realized my mother is a habitual and casual liar. If she said the check was for Santa Claus, I believed her.
Some would say it was a harsh lesson, but I think it was a valuable one. Even little kids can begin to learn there’s no free lunch, not even at Christmas time.
The family came into the Mercantile late on a Sunday afternoon.
The short fuzz of the tall fellow’s hair was mostly grey. The woman had short hair too, stylishly cut, but in need of a trim. The child was maybe three and appeared to be a boy. From the conversation I overheard between the adults, I determined the child was their kid, not their grandchild as I might have guessed.
The adults let the kid run around. He wasn’t destroying things, but he was touching everything and moving things around. He certainly wasn’t being told to look with your eyes, not with your hands or the Spanish equivalent, no toca. The parents didn’t demand the kid hold an adult hand or stay by an adult side. Basically, they were letting him do what he wanted with minimum parental supervision or intervention.
The adults were busy picking up items they wanted to buy and piling them on the counter. I guess their shopping was interfering with their parental duties. I got the feeling most things they did interfered with their parental duties. In any case, it looked like it was going to be a big sale, so the employees of the Mercantile silently tolerated the child’s behavior.
The Big Boss Man was in the Mercantile too, using his phone to utilize the internet. He conversed with the adults as they shopped. I stood tired and mostly silent behind the cash register waiting to ring up the sale.
One of the adults mentioned their reservation had been for this night and the previous night, but they’d only just arrived. It seemed they hadn’t been able to get things together to arrive on time. They were thinking of staying the next night too, since they’d missed the first night of their reservation.
I don’t know if The Big Boss man was just feeling generous in general or if he was inspired by the growing pile of merchandise on the counter, but he told the couple they could have their site for free the next night if they decided to stay. Of course, The Big Boss Man lost nothing by making this offer. The couple had paid for a night they hadn’t used and since Mondays are typically slow, the site would probably sit empty if the couple decided not to stay. The Big Boss Man is good at being generous in ways that don’t cost the company money. He’s all about generating goodwill when he can do it for free.
I rang up the family’s purchases. They spent more than $100, which definitely stimulated The Big Boss Man’s feelings of goodwill. I packed their purchases into a large shopping bag and sent them on their way with wishes to have a good night!
The other clerk left for the day, but The Big Boss Man lingered. Sometimes he does that. Sometimes I’m hoping for a quiet last half hour of the day alone in the Mercantile, but The Big Boss man hangs around until closing time. It looked like this was going to be one of those afternoons.
The father of the rambunctious child came back into the Mercantile. I want to give you these, he said. He handed me and The Big Boss Man each a large, green, perfect avocado. He tended about 200 avocado trees back home, he said. These were from his trees.
I thanked him profusely and energetically. I love avocados and to receive one as a gift is high on my list of wonderfulness. The Man and I ate the avocado that night. It was perfectly ripe. Sometimes niceness pays off in delicious ways.
Sarah Meg shows off the Rubber Tramp Artist Community flag that she made.
If you’re headed to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) or the Women’s RTR, you might have heard about the Rubber Tramp Art Community. If you’re wondering what the group is all about or if it’s a group you might want to join, this post will give you information on how it came to be and how you can get involved.
The Rubber Tramp Art Community (aka RTAC) is an intentional community for nomadic artists/creative travelers. We meet up to camp together along the way; creating art together, eating together, teaching each other new skills, helping each other, and just spending time together as a community.
The group is open to new members. If you’re on Facebook, joining the Rubber Tramp Art Community there is a good way to start your involvement. You have to ask the join the group, and you will be asked to answer some questions. The intention is that members of the group will actually live nomadically and creatively. This is not just another general group for vandwellers, RVers, or other nomads and vagabonds.
If you’re at the RTR, find the Rubber Tramp Art Community and visit with members there. At this time, I don’t know where the group will be camped, but ask around. Word of mouth is a great way to find cool people and groups at the RTR.
Over the summer, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Meg, one of the movers and shakers in the Rubber Tramp Art Community. We had a lot of fun talking, and the interview turned out longer than I planned. I decided to run our conversation about the Rubber Tramp Art Community as a separate post at a later date.
That later date is today!
Rubber Tramp Artist (RTA): You’re one of the founding members of the Rubber Tramp Art Community. Could you tell me what the group is, how it came about, how you got interested? I think it was pretty much your idea, from what I remember.
Sarah Meg (SM): It wasn’t really my idea to be honest. All I did was the footwork. The ideas came from the group, and I put in the effort to make it happen.
RTA: So could you tell us first what it is?
SM: The Rubber Tramp Art Community is an intentional community for creative nomads. We like to say “nomadic artists,” but a lot of people who are very creative and artistic wouldn’t consider themselves artists. If you’re thinking about joining and you’re creative and you’re a nomad, I would love to hear from you [via Facebook] as would anyone else who’s working on membership of the club currently.
RTA: I was assisting Sue. Before we got together as a group, I was assisting Sue and then other people came out and contributed as well.
SM: It’s actually kind of funny. It took me an hour and 45 minutes to find Art Camp when I was first looking for you guys, so this almost didn’t happen, we almost didn’t have the Rubber Tramp Art Community because I almost gave up [laughter] trying to find you guys.
I believe there were nine of us camped [at the RTArt Camp] who were there almost every day, helping and doing artwork together and just having a ton of fun. We had a campfire one night where we burned an incredibly toxic log, got a little loopy, and started talking about how fun it was to have art camp. One of our founding members said, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we did Art Camp all the time?” I started thinking about it. I thought, “It would be awesome if we did art camp all the time, but how would that work?” Then there was a conversation over the next couple days while we were still at the RTR about how we could make a community out of Art Camp, how could this be a traveling community.
Our first idea was that it would be a community that caravanned together and was together all the time. That quickly fell through because herding nomads is like herding cats. I did not want to do that and neither did anyone else. We within two and a half months had broken off the group into smaller groups and then went to events throughout the year. Currently what we’re doing is anyone can host an event. Nobody but me has done it so far, but you guys can. Anyone in the Rubber Tramp Art Community can host an event, and if people show up, yay, if they don’t, then, hey, you had fun in the forest or the desert or the beach by yourself.
We’ll be hosting Art Camp, of course, at the RTR, and eventually, there’s been quite a bit of talk with other members about eventually making this a nonprofit for various reasons. The first reason was actually brought up in the first month when a part of our group was camping together was that we wanted to have a fund for people [in our group] who were very low income, so we could help people out. If their rig broke down, we could help pay for repairs. We didn’t know how that could work, and then we thought about selling t-shirts to put that money into the fund. So we’re working on, I’m thinking of how we could become a nonprofit. That’s our next stage, although that might take quite a while.
When we were planning our visit to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, The Lady of the House suggested we spend a night in the Park’s Willow Flat Campground. Sunset at the Green River Overlook was a big deal, as was sunrise at Mesa Arch. Camping in the Park would make it easier for us to get to the viewing points at the appropriate times. Also, living in a major metropolitan area means The Lady doesn’t get nearly enough dark sky. The International Dark-Sky Association named Canyonlands an International Dark-Sky Park, so she wanted to camp there to get a good look at the stars in the heavens.
During early April when we visited Canyonlands, campsites were not reserveable. We were on a strictly first come, first served basis, so we wanted to get there early to improve our chances of getting a site.
When we rolled into the Park, no one was staffing the admissions booth, so The Lady said she’d have to go inside the visitor center to show her Southeast Utah Group Annual Pass. As we went past the admissions booth, we were dismayed to see a large wooden sign declaring the campground was full. We’d woken early and emerged from the van into a frosty morning to eat a quick breakfast and get on the road. Could the campground really be full this early in the day? The Lady said she’d double check on the campground’s status when she went inside to show her pass.
I stayed outside to check the transmission fluid level in my van. The Lady returned to the parking lot triumphant. There was space in the campground! The woman in the visitor center said they never removed the sign that said the campground was full, but that morning they’d received no report that all of the campsites were occupied.
(Excuse me, but what’s the point of a sign that’s supposed to report the status of a changeable situation but is never removed?)
The Lady and I hopped into the van and drove directly to Willow Flat Campground. We pulled in and saw a site that seemed unoccupied. We certainly saw no personal belongings anywhere on the site. There was a piece of yellow paper clipped to the sign pole in front of the site. Upon examining the yellow paper, we found written on it that day’s date. It appeared that the folks who’d stayed on the site the night before were scheduled to check out that morning and had in fact already left. Score! We had our site!
I pulled the van onto the flat asphalt parking pad. We got out of the van and looked around. Was there a camp host we should see? Should we look for a self-pay envelope and an iron ranger?
Across the paved road that ran through the campground, an elderly couple was bustling around on their campsite. They seemed to be packing up, so I supposed they could tell me the process to go through to pay for a campsite.
Hello! I called out to them, or perhaps I said, Excuse me, as I walked into the street and approached their site. Is there a camp host here? I asked once I had their attention.
A what? they both asked, not quite in unison.
I thought the problem was one of hearing, so I repeated, A camp host? a bit louder.
A what? they both asked again in utter confusion.
A camp host, I said once again, then added, the person you pay for your campsite.
You pay with an envelope, the old man said, pointing. He and the woman continued to look at me as if I were a very strange person using an obviously fabricated term to confuse them. How was it possible they’d never encountered the term “camp host”? Was this their first camping trip? Obviously, not every campground has a camp host, but these people seemed unaware of the very concept. However, they had answered my question about where to pay, so I thanked them and moved on.
The Lady and I walked in the direction the old man had pointed and found self-pay envelopes and the iron ranger.
Our campsite in Willow Flat Campground
The camping fee was $15, as expected from what we’d read online. For our money we got clean pit toilets with toilet paper, trash cans, a flat space to park the van, a fire ring, and a picnic table under a shade structure. The grounds of the campground were very clean and well-maintained.
When The Lady and I read the information boards near the iron ranger, we learned about the procedure for disposing of grey water. We were either supposed to strain all food out of wash water, then sprinkle the de-fooded water on the road or dispose of nonstrained water by pouring it into one of the pit toilets. I’d never heard of this sort of cleanup, but I suspect it’s to keep wild animals away from campers. I suppose even the smallest food particles on the ground attracts critters, so this is a way to keep the campground unappealing to unwanted visitors.
After dinner, The Lady and I went to the Green River Overlook to watch the sun set. Unfortunately, the sunset was a non-event, but we were still glad to have our spot at Willow Flat. We were in the van soon after dark, early to bed with plans to rise early for sunrise at Mesa Arch.
You’re in Quartzsite and you have needs: goods, services, information, entertainment. Who’s going to tell you how to find what you need? Look no further than the Rubber Tramp Artist, who’s visited Quartzsite six times since January of 2015. This handy list (and the one that preceded it on Wednesday) will help you find everything you need during your stay in what the town’s website calls “The Rock Capital of the World.”
Of course, the best known laundromat in Quartzsite is probably the Main Street Laundromat & Showers (205 E Main Street). I did laundry there once, and it was a fine experience, nothing exceptional or special. I did like that it opened at 6 am so I could get my clothes washed and dried early in the day.
Other laundromats in Quartzsite include Fill-R-Up & Corner Laundromat (10 N. Central), about which their website says, “Longest running dryer time for your money” and “Somebody is always on site to help.” Google also lists Palm Plaza Laundromat (225 N. Central Blvd.) and Bud’s Suds (543 W. Main Street).
Most grocery stores, fast food restaurants, and gas stations in Quartzsite have trash cans out front. If you have a small bag of trash, dispose of it while filling your gas tank or as you walk into a store or restaurant. If you rather collect your trash in large bags or if you have accumulated several days worth of trash, you may need to visit the dump, aka the Quartzsite Transfer Station. The dump is located north of town on Highway 95; the phone number is 928-669-8886. According to the Wastebits website, the hours of operation are Sunday through Wednesday from 7:30 am to 2:30 pm. I forgot to say it at first, but a reader reminded me that there is no charge to dump your trash at the Quartzsite Transfer Station; the service is FREE!
There’s a lot to do in the 40 acre Quartzsite Town Park. Google reviewers listed the following amenities within the park: mini tennis, basketball court, horseshoe pits, two covered play structures for younger and older kids, dog park, skate park, bike course, motto x course, plenty of shaded tables, baseball diamond, grassless football/soccer field, small R/C car track, model airplane strip, and a dance slab. In 2017 during a visit to Celia’s Rainbow Gardens, I also saw a disc golf course out there.
Celia’s Rainbow Gardens are within Quartzsite Town Park. Within those eight acres, one can find a botanical garden of sorts, with lots of different species of cacti, palm trees, and other plants; an archway with bells at the entrance to the gardens called The Hero’s Bell Garden; a palm tree plaza; an area with mining equipment donated by the BLM; the RVing Women memorial area;Adamsville, a miniature village; and memorials to Quarzsite folks who have passed away.
Winter is a great time to be outdoors in Quartzsite, so go have some fun in this huge recreation area. Just don’t forget sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of drinking water! The desert is no joke, even in the winter.
In 2015 I visited the Tyson Well Stage Station Museum (161 West Main Street). Admission was free (and it still is, according to the museum’s website), so it was worth the visit, but I can’t say I was impressed by the exhibits. I thought there was too much stuff crammed into too small a space. Many pieces were on display with no explanation as to why they were there. Of course, the museum could have changed for the better in the last few years, so I urge history buffs to check it out.
The Hi Jolly Cemetery is operated and maintained by the Town of Quartzsite for the purposes of providing a cemetery, historic site and park. The Hi Jolly monument is in the pioneer section of the cemetery where Quartzsite’s pioneer families were and are laid to rest. There is a new section to the cemetery also for those who chose to be interred in Quartzsite.
In the spring of 2015, I stopped at the Hi Jolly Pioneer Cemetery on my way to California. I picked up a booklet with a map of the graveyard at the cemetery’s information kiosk. The booklet offered biographical information about many of the people buried in the cemetery. If you can get your hands on a copy of that booklet, you can learn a LOT about the non-native people who settled Quartzsite.
Whenever I go to a town, I like to browse the thrift stores to see what goodies are available. I don’t need much more stuff in my life, but I do like to look.
The Salvation Army Thrift Store (101 Moon Mountain Rd.) is across the street from the Isaiah 58 Project. Parking is in the gravel lot in front of the store. It has a small selection of mass-market paperbacks, cheap VHS tapes, and a few CDs. There is usually a large selection of housewares, pots and pans, plates and glasses. The selection of linens and pillows tends to be small, and the items seem well used. The shoes available also tend to be well used, and I’ve never seen clothes here that I like in my size. Prices are reasonable. Most clothing costs a dollar or two per piece. Many things in the housewares section are 50 cents to $1. Small toys are very inexpensive, as are greeting cards.
The Quartzsite Community Thrift Store (7 Showplace Lane) is located near the end of the street that runs along the side of Silly Al’s pizza place. The parking lot is also gravel and in front of the store. The store offers some higher-end decorative items near the front of the store. The price of women’s clothing seems to start around $2; I’ve never seen clothes here that I like in my size either. I have found good prices on yarn at this store—50 cents to $1 a roll. There’s a decent-sized selection of books in the second room, as well as mostly inexpensive housewares and a small selection of well-used linens.
The Animal Refuge Thrift Store is on the other side of town, east of Central (Highway 95), on the south side of Main Street. In 2016, the store was filled with only the best merchandise, and the higher prices reflected the nicer inventory. Since I’m never really looking for higher end items, I haven’t been back to this thrift store since my visit several years ago.
I don’t go out much, so I can’t say too much about where to find live music or dancing or other entertainment in Quartzsite. If such things appeal to you, I highly recommend you check out the calendar of the Quartzsite Improvement Association (QIA). In the words of the group’s website, the QIA is
a non profit, community based, volunteer group of people wanting to help the Quartzsite area and all the wonderful visitors we get here every year.
The calendar shows the group’s scheduled events, trade shows, dances, classes and, of course, their biggest event of the year, the gem and mineral show called the PowWow. If you want to exercise, listen to live music, play bingo, learn Spanish, or dance, check out what the QIA has to offer.
Another place to go for fun and fellowship is the Quartzsite Senior Center (40 N. Moon Mountain Avenu). According to the RV Quartzsite.com website, the senior center
also has lots of activities for snowbirds and show visitors.
Lunch and Cards – Monday through Friday year round
Quilters – October to March
Dances – Tuesdays and Fridays, December to February
Bingo – Wednesdays and Saturdays, December to March
Art Guild – 1st and 3rd Thursdays, September to March
Craft Fair – 3rd Friday, November to March 9 am – 1 pm
If you are interested in any of these activities or want to know what special events might be in the works at the senior center, give them a call at 928-927-6496.
When part 1 of this post ran on Wednesday, someone on Facebook said I had “forgot to mention the 3 most popular places…” in Quartzsite. Those places are apparently Beer Belly’s Adult Daycare (121 W Kuehn Street), Silly Al’s Pizza (175 W Main Street), and Quartzsite Yacht Club Restaurant Bar and Grill (1090 W Main Street). I’ve never been to any of these places, so I don’t know how much entertainment any of these places offer. A friend of mine told me last year that the food at Silly Al’s is really good; maybe I’ll get to try it someday.
Where won’t you find shiny rocks in Quartzsite in the winter? Both Tyson Wells (121 W. Kuehn St.) and Desert Gardens Internationale Rock, Gem and Mineral Show (1050 Kuhen Street) are good places to look for gems and minerals. The official Tyson Wells Rock & Gem show will be held January 4th-13th, 2019; show hours are 9am to 5pm each day.
If you like shiny rocks, don’t miss the QIA PowWow (235 Ironwood St.) running January 16 through January 20, 2019.
This annual Show has vendors coming from all over the world. We have over 520 vendor display areas inside & outside the building in our huge parking lot area. There are 50+ Showcases on display inside the building of beautiful gems, minerals and jewelry…
All the merchandise displayed by vendors must be 75% gem, mineral or jewelry related.
I only know of one penny press in Quartzsite. It’s at the gift shop at Tyson Wells (121 W. Kuehn Street). They call it a penny pincher, but it works just like a penny press: put in your two quarters and a penny and get yourself a sourvenir pressed penny embossed with the words “Quartzsite, Arizona.”
I hope my knowledge of Quartzsite helps you find the things you want and need while you are there.
I’ve not been compensated for mentioning any of the businesses included in this post. All the information shared is based on my own experiences and what I found on the internet. Please do your own research, including calling businesses to determine if the information I shared is accurate and if the services I mentioned meet your needs. You are responsible for your own self. I’m not responsible for you. I apologize for any information that is no longer accurate, but offer this post to you as a starting point.