Quartzite, Arizona

Anyone who has heard anything about van or RV life has heard of Quartzsite. Every winter, thousands of nomads descend upon this small town with large areas of BLM land surrounding it. Why? Because it’s one of the few consistently warm places left in the US during the winter months. It’s basically Mecca for van lifers. I had to see it for myself.

It was about a four hour drive from Los Angeles, with traffic, of course. Fortunately the traffic faded away the farther I got from the city, replaced with truck blockades up long hill climbs at excessively slow speeds. Unlike previous travel, I stuck to the interstate. I-10 was a straight line between LA and Quartzsite, and I was also mainly interested in getting there rather than sightseeing along the way. Lister did not enjoy the trip. He yowled most of the way, as though he forgot how to travel despite doing it for months before our stay in LA.

Eventually we crossed the border into Arizona. I immediately stopped for gas that cost less than $4 a gallon, a sight I haven’t seen in the past month. Not long after, we exited in Quartzsite. Birgit had sent me a Google Maps pin with their location, which I followed to the La Posa South long-term visitor area. This is where, for a small fee, you can stay longer than the two weeks allowed on most BLM land, plus have bathrooms, trash collection, and fresh water available.

I found Birgit and Tom, as well as Eugenia, who showed me around Dayton, Ohio on my way west. Now they’re camping together, and I joined them just in time for the spectacular sunset.

It may be warm, but the days are still short and it got dark quickly. We retreated to the van for dinner. Once back inside, Lister returned to his old self. It’s like he remembered how to travel again. I’m glad he won’t be freaking out about being on the road again.

Then I set about testing my internet connection, Because I rely on it to work, it’s absolutely essential that I can get online. My T-Mobile hotspot has a full scale signal and absolutely no data. My Verizon hotspot has between two and three bars of signal, and slow but usable service. This means I can stay in Quartzsite for at least a little while. As more and more people show up, that may change my data situation to the point where I have to move somewhere less populated.

This morning I got some work done, unloaded my bike, and took it to get my LTVA pass. For $180, I can stay here from September 15 through April 15. Considering I’ve spent that much for a week at a campground or RV park in the past, it’s a great deal. Even better, if I find I need to leave Quartzsite to find internet, my pass is also good at other LTVAs in the Yuma BLM district. That was the deciding factor on splurging for the season pass instead of a $40 two-week pass just to try it out.

Then I went exploring, both around the various plots of BLM land near Quartzsite and around the town itself. January is a busy time for this place, with RV shows, rock shows (stones, not music), and other activities. There’s even an amateur radio convention with a strong emphasis on travelers like me. Things definitely aren’t in full swing here yet, but they’re already gearing up for the throngs of travelers to descend on this otherwise small town.

I also met some of my neighbors, and even friends of theirs. I failed to diagnose a check engine light in a Geo Tracker because it’s a 1993 model, too old for my FIXD scanner. I’m already impressed by the sense of community here. Maybe, just maybe, I might be finding my people.

I decided to settle in a bit. I moved my van so the side doors face south, and my awning will give me shade during the middle of the day when I want it most. I set up the awning, but won’t hesitate to take it down if the wind picks up. I also set up my 2-meter ham radio antenna the same way I did on top of Mount Washington. Strangely I couldn’t reach the Quartzsite repeater with my regular mobile antenna, even though I had no trouble when I was passing through town on my way in. After some connector repairs (I need to replace the coax connector on the antenna but I made it work for now) I put it up and now have no trouble getting in. I’m hoping to meet more people that way as well as in person.

Lister has completely recovered from his travel ordeal. He’s also very photogenic for these sunsets. Eugenia has captured some amazing pictures of him, including these.

This place will still take some getting used to. If T-Mobile is useless here, I’m going to have to ration my data, and stick to my phone for watching videos when data speed allows. It’s less than I’d like, but as long as I can work, I can stay. I already understand the appeal of this place, and why so many nomads end up here for the winter. I’ll stay as long as I can.

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