Following is the second installment of a 3-part series about Airstreaming in Quartzsite, Arizona. Read Part 1 here.
Having come to “The Q” and set up your little homestead in a patch of the Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA), you might be wondering what to do to keep yourself occupied for a few weeks or months.
Quartzsite, the town
Start with the superlative attractions of the town of Quartzsite. It takes only a few minutes to find “Hi Jolly’s” tomb near The Main Event, or to hike the hill overlooking town called “Q Mountain.”
In town, there’s also Tyson’s Well Stagecoach Station Museum, a restored building dating from 1866. Other interesting sites aren’t well documented anywhere, and finding them is an exercise in patient hunting, like the “Giant 47 Arm Cactus” (a roadside saguaro).
Unhitch and go
Once you’ve explored the “shows” (flea markets) and the major attractions of town, you’ll need to start driving. Seeing the sights around Quartzsite requires lots of long drives down dusty back roads, and a high-clearance vehicle is helpful. For the explorers willing to stretch out, little historic and natural gems of Quartzsite can be found scattered through the dusty hills like the elusive gold flakes so many people are seeking.
…falls into two general categories: ancient remnants of the southwestern native American tribes, and relatively recent (150 years or so) mining and wartime history. In the former category, you can find metates, which are depressions in stone deepened by grinding of grain with another stone. These are well exposed in cliffs overlooking the Tyson Wash, along with ancient petroglyphs and intaglios. Ask around, and people will tell you where to find them.
Not far away is the famous “footprint.” This barefoot imprint is in solid rock, about halfway up a wash along an utility access road. You can see toe, heel and sole prints in the rock, but how it came to be is pure speculation. Experts say it is impossible, which suggests a local hoax, but you may want to take the backroad trip to decide for yourself.
In the category of recent history, the area around Quartzsite has attracted the attention of the military on several occasions. In 1856 the US Army experimented with using camels to transport freight across the west. The experiment was eventually abandoned, as were the camels, but the camel wrangler, Haiji Ali from Syria, stayed for the rest of his life. He became known as Hi Jolly, another famous character of Quartzsite.
In 1940 General George Patton set up his tank training center in the California desert west of Quartzsite in preparation for battle in North Africa. In 1943, Camp Bouse, east of Quartzsite, played an important role in tank deployments to Europe. A historical display is in Bouse, along with several tanks. People still find evidence of the nighttime tank practice sessions that went on during that time, including shell casings, machine gun belts, and other odd cast-off or lost military items.
North of town in the desert are rocks spelling out QUARTZSITE with an arrow, known as the “Quartzsite Alignment.” This was placed as an aid to navigation for early military aviators.
South of Quartzsite, on the east side of Route 95 is the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, which boasts many miles of 4WD roads, tinajas (natural watering holes), canyons, historic sites, and hikes. It also features the only palm canyon in Arizona (all of the others are in California). Viewing the palm canyon requires a seven mile drive on dirt road which can be done with two-wheel drive vehicles, and a moderately steep half-mile hike with excellent views. Bighorn sheep live up there too, for the lucky, quiet, and sharp-eyed observer.
Dig for gold
Outside the refuge and the boundaries of town, there are several gold mines, and many more small groups or individuals working pits. You can still stake a claim, just like in the old west days, and dig a pit for gold, although most people use excavators rather than shovels these days. Take a five minute hike to the top of Q Mountain and you’ll be rewarded with a good view of an abandoned commercial gold mine, as well as an overlook of the La Posa LTVA with thousands of RVs arrayed across it. There’s probably more value in the RVs than is left in the ground around Quartzsite, but recent high gold prices have spurred development of mining claims everywhere in the open country.
Near one of the popular gold mining areas is Erdman’s cabin. Lehre Harold Erdman was a miner for 63 years on a single site just outside Quartzsite. He built a rock-walled cabin nestled at the foot of one of the many ore-producing hills. The walls still stand, solidly, but the roof succumbed to fire some years ago.
As you drive up the rough road to the cabin, you can see several cement pillars, a construction project which was never completed, and the dozen or so porcelain toilets placed beneath the pillars, each sprouting its own bouquet of colorful plastic flowers. A couple of early 1950’s rusted autos flank the cabin, which is itself lined with an amazing collection of artifacts, dragged in by people from the desert, and laid beside and within the cabin walls. It is a true desert shrine in the classic tradition: no order, but organized, and no caretaker but the people who pass by.
In the end, Quartzsite is a compilation of the people who have inhabited it. The prehistoric Native Americans, the military, the gold miners and the hoaxers, and today’s throngs of RV travelers, have all had their impact on the place. When you come here, you don’t experience just the present excitement and confusion of a gigantic snowbird convention, but a mixture of the spectrum of western American life. For that reason alone, it is a destination worth experiencing, if even just for a few days.
-By Rich Luhr