National Geographic : 2001 Jan
QUARTZSITE, ARIZONA Neon cowboy T. C.Thorstensoi "You haven't had the full RV experience until you've been to Quartzsite in January.It's asort of pilgrimage." "The BLM sunk an 800-foot well to alleviate the water shortage and installed waste-dumping stations," Boyd says. "We train a hundred volunteers to greet RVers and help the Quartzsite police find relatives when word comes of a distant cris is. These services are costly." Irma Ruth (her e-mail name is "roaminirm") thinks boondocking should be free. "When I first went to Quartzsite in '89, people camped in n pitches his buffalo act to RVers. the desert. The BLM didn't charge anything. Most full-time RVers [perhaps 1.5 million in the U.S.] are retired folks with limited incomes." Before the seventysomething Irma started roaming America, she was an officer in an energy company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. After retir ing, she lived close to her grandchildren until her daughter said, "Mom, it's time you go out and play with kids your own age" So she hitched her Civic to the back of a 35-foot motor home and drove off. "I discovered that you just point the front end and the back end pretty much follows. "The hardest thing about full-timin' is giving up your stuff," Irma says. She gave most of that to her granddaughter, who had a new house but nothing in it. "She gets a furnished house," Irma says. "I get to visit my paintings." Irma's sentiments on stuff are hard to square with Quartzsite's main attraction: "Shop, shop, shop, till you drop," she says. In January Quartzsite fills with vendors selling pretty much anything, from chain saw sculpture and cow skulls to painted feathers and plastic snakes. "If it's been made, it's been sold in Quartzsite," says Marilyn Arm strong, who with her former husband runs the Main Event, the largest (600 vendors) of the town's 18 swap meets. In the late '70s, they set up a food stand, selling to rock hounds prospecting for gold and other minerals in nearby hills. Searching for permanent space in 1981, they Campfire camaraderie flares up once Quartzsite shops shut down.