Follow RVwest columnist, Lynne Benjamin, to get an in-depth look at Quartzsite, Arizona
Volunteers tend Celia’s Rainbow Gardens. — photo courtesy Lynne Benjamin
With temperatures of more than 100 °F during the late spring and summer, Quartzsite, Arizona has a minimal population—but it grows to around 4,000 in the fall and even more permanents arrive during “the season.” Quartzsite sits at the junction of Interstate 10 and Highway 95. There are more than 70 RV parks, including at least four 14-day free BLM (Bureau of Land Management) camping sites and four long term visitor centers. RVs, big and small, are scattered over a desert where nothing should live. But Quartzsite does support life other than the famous swap meets and shows.
Celia’s Rainbow Gardens
Most of the retail sites in Quartzsite (just a few years ago) were in tents. Now many of them are moving into permanent buildings. The book store is now in a huge building and has most everything you could imagine. It is run by a small skinny fellow who wears an old straw hat and a G-string. He has a great selection of new and used books and scurries around there like a little mouse looking for a place to nest.
Paul and his wife lost their daughter in 1995. She was born eight years before as the smallest baby born in Canada (1.25 pounds) and over the years captured the hearts of all who met her. In her memory, Celia’s Rainbow Garden is set on eight acres of desert donated by the BLM.
It seems the whole community has become involved. They sell plots and people create garden sites and memorials in whatever way they choose. They encourage people to donate something live so there are a lot of the unusual cacti, trees and shrubs that don’t ordinarily grow there. All the work is volunteered and people design, construct and care for their own sites. Interesting things happen in the desert!
Kokopelli in the desert
A number of years ago, someone laid the figure of Kokopelli in rocks behind our space at La Posa North long term visitor area (BLM), just south of the town of Quartzsite. We didn’t even know it was there until one of our neighbours pointed it out to us. I had no idea what it was so it became my research project.
I like him! He’s kind of a cool fellow!
Ko-ko-pel-li (ko ko pel le) n. (Hopi “kokopilau”—koko = wood, pilau = hump) the humpbacked flute player, mythical Hopi symbol of fertility, replenishment, music, dance, and mischief. Found painted and carved on rock walls and boulders throughout this region, Kokopelli is one of the most intriguing and widespread images to have survived from ancient Anasazi Indian mythology. The figure represents a mischievous trickster or the minstrel, spirit of music.
Kokopelli is distinguished by his dancing pose, a hunchback and flute. His whimsical nature, charitable deeds, and vital spirit give him a prominent position in Native American mysticism. Kokopelli is considered a symbol of fertility who brought well-being to the people, assuring success in hunting, planting and growing crops, and human conception. His hump was often considered a bag of gifts, a sack carrying the seeds of plants and flowers he would scatter every spring. Warming the earth by playing his flute and singing songs, Kokopelli would melt the winter snow and create rain, ensuring a good harvest. Kokopelli often displayed a long phallus, symbolizing the fertile seeds of human reproduction.
Before we left, I enlarged Kokopelli’s hump—after all, that is where he carries all his gifts!
Ever seen a flash flood?
Everywhere along the roads, there are signs that tell you, “flood area the next X miles” and “do not enter when flooded.” Rain is not an everyday occurrence in the desert. In fact they talk about the six-inch rain, that is, one drop of rain every six inches.
We’ve managed to see our first real flash flood. As we stood at the edge of the wash (a creek to us) the water began rushing down the wash. We heard the water all night but by the time the sun came up, the wash was dry again. Just amazing!
Quartzsite attracts a lot of interesting/different types, musicians, artists, as well as, some burned-out desert rats. Come show time, the populations explodes. People come for a lot of different reasons. Some come to shop, shop, shop; others come to see what’s new; some come to meet with friends and colleagues; and still others are just plain curious. Estimates say that 1.5 to 2 million people visit Quartzsite during the winter and particularly during the shows.
My name is Lynne Benjamin and my partner’s name is Fred. We’ve been RVing since the early ’70s and have literally been on the road since 2001. We call ourselves turtles. Even though we are most-timers (as opposed to full-timers) we think of the RV as our home while our condo in Lethbridge, Alberta, is the place we go when we're not at home (that turns out to be maybe two to three months a year).
The months between 2007 and 2008 proved to be our big travel year. When I completed my book about our seven years spent on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, we were furnished with a wonderful excuse to travel back to Cape Breton—and we thought we might as well follow the changing of the fall leaves down through the eastern states and we’ve never been to Texas and so on and so on.
We invite you to join us on our eight-month adventure. Our first installment highlights our experience in Quebec City, Quebec.» View all Snowbirding 101 columns