According to Kenny King, founder and manager of the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation, and RV Show, “Quartzsite is not the end of the earth, but you can see it from here.”
King’s quip refers to the fact that Quartzsite, Ariz., is a small desert town that has a resident population of just over 3,700 and lies along I-10 between Phoenix, Ariz., and Palm Springs, Calif., without much else in between except long stretches of rocky desert. But despite the small census and remote location, it has become known as the “RV Boondocking Capital of the World.” The perfect combination of cheap dry camping, well-known events, and miles of off-highway vehicle (OHV) trails continue to draw an estimated 750,000 to 1 million RV travelers to Quartzsite every January.
With the surrounding Arizona Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas providing short- and long-term vehicle camping, ranging in duration from 14 days to up to 6 months, the area is known for easy and cheap desert camping that attracts people with RVs from million-dollar coaches to adventure vans. Many folks also bring off-highway vehicles (OHVs) and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to explore the hundreds of miles of trails that crisscross the BLM lands.
During events like the Quartzsite RV Show, the Quartzsite Gem and Mineral Showcase, and the Quartzsite Improvement Association (QIA) Pow Wow, the traffic in Quartzsite frequently backs up in all directions and causes nearly hour-long wait times to get a couple of miles across town. Motorhomes, trucks, and trailers choke the desert town’s streets as hundreds of thousands of travelers stake out their spots and commute to the festivities. Many attendees forego driving their tow or towed vehicles and opt instead to drive their ATVs to the events to score closer parking spots.
A combination of RV dealerships, vendor tents, gem warehouses and sale sheds form the central hub of activity where attendees can walk from one event to another almost seamlessly. Walking through the myriad of tents and aisleways, shoppers can find practically anything, including crystals, beads, fossils, cookware, sewer hoses, awning shades, spinning ornaments, jewelry, and even Tarot Card readings. The smell of hot dogs, homemade ice cream, and alligator-on-a-stick drift through the air, adding to the fair-like atmosphere. Even dogs join in on the fun, either being leash-walked or pushed in strollers through the fray.
The town itself is a bustling center of activity that spreads outward from the event tents with seasonal businesses set up sporadically along the main streets, offering everything from RV windshields, awnings, solar installations, graphics work and more.
This is not a new phenomenon. King himself first came to the area as one of those seasonal businesses selling awnings to a similar gathering of RVers.
“I’ve been here for 45 years now, every January, and it has changed somewhat. It was pretty wide open when I first came here,” remembered King. “I started selling awnings out of the back of a ‘72 Explorer motorhome at a flea market down the street.” King grew that business year by year until he was selling out of a 22,000-square-foot warehouse — a testament to the opportunity Quartzsite provides the businesses that flock to the area annually.
While these businesses mainly cater to the needs of older, retired snowbirds in the Southwest for the winter, there are indicators pointing to a new generation of RVers catching on to the Quartzsite craze.
“Years ago, it seemed like a way older demographic,” King told RVBUSINESS.com. “What I’m seeing now is younger people. I was talking to my RV dealer and they are telling me that younger people are coming in buying vehicles of all types.”
“I think with off-roading being so prevalent now and the side-by-sides getting into the younger generations, it has really influenced the people who come to our show,” said Kenny King’s daughter, Kimmy, who helps him run the Quartzsite RV Show. “We have more off-road accessory vendors that collaborate between the RV industry and the off-road industry and goes hand-in-hand with the younger crowds that we are seeing.”
In addition to the allure of the off-roading mecca that surrounds the town, the Kings are also aware of the full-time RV movement and the growing number of working-age people hitting the road.
“I’m so happy because that means this is going to continue,” said King, referring to the show he started in 1984. “I’ve worried about that since Kimmy decided to take on the company — I’ve always worried about longevity. This is year 36, and she’s going to take it into the 50s and 60s.”
King predicts a bright future for the greater Quartzsite area as well. “All they’ve got to do is get a couple resorts in here, get the infrastructure in position, and this could become another Yuma.”
Whether or not King’s prediction comes true, the Quartzsite of today in itself is a spectacle to behold. It is an annual transformation of a small town into an energetic city of RVers looking for community, adventure, and an unforgettable shopping experience.