The Big Little Town of Quartzsite

Quartzsite © Wikimedia Commons Chris English

Heading east on Interstate 10 from California to Arizona, one passes through Quartzsite, Arizona. At first glance, one thinks Quartzsite is just a place to stop for gas upon entering Arizona or before returning to California. Gas is cheaper in Arizona, so most Californians top the tank before returning to California.

There is more to this little town than meets the eye. Quartzsite is a big little town because its population of approximately 3000 increases to more than 250,000 in the winter months of January and February. Quartzsite is a popular destination for recreational vehicles during the winter. Imagine this little town hopping with tourism as the snowbirds of RV travel and the traveling nomads come in and give this town its quirky character.

Known as the Rock Capital of the world, Quartzsite’s fascination with rocks began before the town came into existence. Native Americans used the rocks for petroglyphs and pictographs.

Map of Quartzsite
Map of Quartzsite

Quartzsite History

In 1856, Charles Tyson built a fort in what is now Quartzsite to protect his water supply. Fort Tyson became a stagecoach stop on the Ehrenburg-to-Prescott route.  The stagecoach stop later became known as Tyson’s Wells. After stagecoaches stopped running, Tyson Wells became a ghost town.

A small mining boom revitalized the town in 1897, and the town’s name changed to Quartzsite. Quartzsite remained a mining town until 1965, when the Pow Wow Rock, Gem & Mineral Show initiated the rockhound winter migration to Quartzsite each year. The population swells in January and February as rockhounds, jewelers, and vendors, primarily in RVs, descend on the town to attend the eight major gem and mineral shows.

Tyson’s Well Stage Station circa 1866. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Bring In the RVs

Quartzsite’s largest signature event is Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show, a nine-day show known as the Big Tent. The area around Quartzsite features over 11,000 acres of long-term visitor area camping areas, where RVers can stay up to 7 months for only $180, five 14-day free camping areas around town, and 60+ RV parks. Besides the Big Tent, RV travelers come for gatherings, including the Escapees, Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, Entegra Owners, Truck Campers, The Grand Adventures, Toyota, Schoolies, RVing Women, and SOLOS.  There is even a gathering for amateur radio operators.

Rock, Gem, and Mineral Shows

Quartzsite hosts some of the largest rock, gem, and mineral shows in the United States.  From petrified rock to crystals and other gemstones, find more than eight shows and swap meets between January and February. 

Quartzsite_rock_store © Wikimedia Commons
Quartzsite_rock_store Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Things To do In Quartzsite

In addition, to the RV tourism and the rock, gem, and mineral shows, the town boasts the Hi Jolly monument, Castle Dome Mines and Museum, and Joanne’s Gum Gallery.  Nearby there are petroglyphs and the Arizona Peace Trail.

Hi Jolly Tomb

Hi Jolly, also known as Hadji Ali, was a Syrian immigrant hired by the federal government’s Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, to introduce camels into the deserts of the American southwest.  The Civil War ended the program, but Hi Jolly remained in Arizona, befriending many of the locals. Town locals built a tomb out of petrified wood and quartz to honor Hi Jolly after he died.  By 1936 a bonze camel was placed atop the tomb.

Quartzsite-Hi_Jolly_Monument-1903 © Wikimedia Commons
Hi_Jolly_Monument-1903 Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Castle Dome Mines and Museum

This landmark, a ghost town, takes you back to the mining days of the 1860s. Castle Dome also served as a training facility for the military during World War II.

Joanne’s Gum Gallery

If you want to know everything there is to know about chewing gum, you must visit Joanne’s Gum Gallery.  You might even find brands from the 1920s and 1930s.  Discover everything from Wrigley’s to Cat-Butt Gum.  You will come out knowing all the trivia on gum.

Arizona Peace Trail

If you are an off-roader, Arizona Peace Trail is the largest off-roading trail in the country and a popular spot because its challenging design affords an unforgettable experience for off-roaders.


Dripping Springs is the home of historic mines, a stone cabin, and petroglyphs. Besides Dripping Springs, one can find Petroglyphs & Grinding Holes, another Native American site east of Tyson Wells in the Tyson Wash.

Abandoned mine © Wikimedia Commons
Abandoned mine. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Next time you cross the border from California to Arizona on Interstate 10, think twice about stopping in Quartzsite.