Snowbird destinations: Arizona, Part 4

More Arizona Snowbird Roosts

Visitors from winter-ravaged locales have a curious way of announcing themselves in the southern Arizona desert. You hear it at RV parks, at area restaurants, on the golf course, and at Wal-Mart Supercenters. It goes something like: “The day we left home (fill in the blank), it was (fill in the temperature). And that was without the wind chill, and a blizzard was on its way.”

Quartzsite

If you can't find it in Quartzsite, it doesn't exist! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Any mention of Arizona and Snowbirds would be incomplete without mentioning Quartzsite, a tiny town on I-10 just 20 miles east of the California state line (Colorado River). Although it’s mostly a truck stop in the summer, Quartzsite is the best example of snowbird flight and its mercantile impact. Every winter hundreds of thousands of Snowbirds in RVs descend upon Quartzsite, with most of them camped on Bureau of Land Development (BLM) land in the desert surrounding the town. More than 100,000 recreational vehicles are spread out over 70 square miles. National Geographic has described Quartzsite as “the world’s largest parking lot”.

Often described as “$400,000 motorhomes towing $40,000 SUVs looking for FREE camping,” Quartzsite has been a rockhound’s paradise since the 1960s.

Most Snowbirds at Quartzsite choose to boondock on BLM land near the desert town. Note the solar panels. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is the main attraction? For most, it’s the annual rock and gem shows, the flea markets, and the RV show under the Big Tent.

Over 2,000 vendors of rocks, gems, minerals, fossils, and everything else imaginable create one of the world’s largest open air flea markets.

Eight major gem and mineral shows as well as vendors of raw and handcrafted merchandise peddle their wares to snowbirds, collectors, and other enthusiasts, making Quartzsite the place to be the first two months of each year.

Nowhere on earth will you find such an assortment of “stuff” as you will at Quartzsite from mid-December to mid-February. As the saying goes, “If you can’t find it in Quartzsite, you won’t find it anywhere.”

Every RVer should be required to visit at least once.

Lake Havasu

Lake Havasu City is located on the Arizona shoreline of Lake Havasu where the world-famous London Bridge crosses over to a small island.

Here water enthusiasts of all kinds—canoeists, skiers, boaters, and anglers—bask in the area’s more than 300 days of sunshine each year.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Critics thought chain-saw tycoon Robert McCulloch a bit strange when he bid $2.4 million for the London Bridge in 1968. The stone bridge was slowly sinking into the Thames River when the city of London put it up for bid. (That was before eBay). McCulloch thought it would be just the thing to increase interest in Lake Havasu City, which he founded. McCulloch spent another $7 million transporting the bridge, stone-by-stone from England and reassembling it in the desert, where it now spans a small channel dredged from Lake Havasu. It opened in 1971.

Casa Grande
Located midway between Phoenix and Tucson with a year-round population of about 25,000, Casa Grande’s location, mild climate, and near-by attractions have made it an increasingly popular winter home for snowbirds.

For over 1,000 years, prehistoric farmers inhabited much of this dry state of Arizona. When the first Europeans arrived, all that remained of this ancient culture were the ruins of villages and irrigation canals. Among the ruins is the Casa Grande, or “Big House,” twenty miles to the east. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument protects the Casa Grande and other archeological sites within its boundaries.

An event worth mentioning is the annual O’Odham Tash Celebration, a gathering of tribes. It is held in mid-February and features Native American arts and crafts, ceremonial dances, rodeos, powwows, and parades.

Tombstone

Immerse yourself in the Wild West culture while visiting the "Town Too Tough To Die". © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Snowbird winter in Ol’ Airy Zonie would be incomplete without taking in the sights of Tombstone. No other destination reflects Arizona’s Wild West culture better than this community.

During its 1880s heyday, the “Town Too Tough to Die” boasted 10,000 gunslingers, gamblers, prospectors, and prostitutes. Sparked by Edward Schieffelin’s fabulous silver strike (skeptics warned he’d only find his own tombstone), the raucous town boasted more than 60 saloons. It was considered the most cosmopolitan hub between St. Louis and San Francisco.

Tombstone is perhaps most well-known for the famous street fight near the OK Corral between Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday vs. Frank and Tom McLaury, and Billy and Ike Clanton.

The old Birdcage Theatre located on 6th and Allen Streets is a famous Old West landmark and arguably America’s most popular honky-tonk between 1881 and 1889. The site of 16 gunfights, Bird Cage Theatre walls still bear the scars of 140 authentic bullet holes from the nine years that it was open, 24 hours a day.

Wyatt Earp met his third wife, Sadie Marcus, at the Bird Cage, which is named for the 14 bird cage crib compartments that overhang the ceiling, sporting red velvet drapes and trimmings. Ladies of the evening once advertised their assets from these “gilded” cages.

Meander on foot through the streets of Tombstone, or take a narrated stagecoach tour.

Arizona RV Guide

The Arizona RV Guide 2010-2011, a comprehensive guide written to assist Snowbirds planning to visit Arizona, is now available and can be downloaded FREE from its website. It provides descriptions and details about each listed RV park, resort and campground, organized by region, within the state. It also shows a quick, convenient reference list of amenities, plus inclusion of local attractions and services in each area.

Note: Arizona is on Mountain Standard Time and does not observe Daylight Savings Time.

Positive features of wintering in Arizona: Warm weather, great hiking opportunities, rock hounding, baseball spring training, proximity to Mexico, variety of golfing opportunities, availability of citrus and fresh vegetables, boondocking heaven, flea markets, national parks, historic sites, spring wildflowers

Negative features: traffic congestion, air quality

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert,

I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy.

The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, the sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night.

I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

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