Week 29: Elderly Burning Man
Gathering of the Clans
Quartzsite is not just annoying to spell, it’s a highway town of 3,600, very near the border between Arizona and California. Quartzsite is in the for-real desert, and it is nearly “deserted” in the summer, when temperatures can reach 120+ degrees. But in the winter? Oh, that’s quite different.
For reasons we still do not fully understand, Quartzsite is the winter meetup location for over one hundred thousand RVers. Every winter, swarms of people come and meet up in the desert outside of the town, where you can park for free for as long as you like. Some people live there all winter long. There are very few places to hook up, but this area attracts an off-grid crowd, with large solar panels and giant tanks that can go weeks without filling.
This is where the hardcore RVers go, and as we know well from our travels, full-timers are almost exclusively retired. We’d guess the average age is about 80. (Relatively) wealthy, white retirees, with a… let’s say, “Midwestern” build, gathering in their off-grid RVs in the middle of the desert.
Elderly Burning Man: It doesn’t get much weirder than this.
Vendors set up tents and stalls in a huge area inside the town, and we walked through. There was a lot of RV-related stuff, but also plenty of touristy stuff, rocks and minerals, and especially deep-fried food. Considering the demographics, Quartzsite is more than a little like being in an Iowa county fair, just mysteriously transported into the desert.
Some of the stuff we saw was just bizarre – dozens of cow skulls, laid out for sale, next to fifty large geodes and a table full of T-shirts. A few of the stands appeared to just be piles of junk to scavenge through – the desert drifter dream. Nearby, there were crazy RVs for sale, with kitchen islands, electric fireplaces, and full master bathrooms.
There are also a few permanent shops in the town, and the one we wish we had visited is the Quartzsite Yacht Club. Despite being utterly landlocked, the Quartzsite Yacht Club touts itself as having the “largest membership in the world.” Membership is open to the public for a nominal fee, and it comes with one real perk: “real” yacht clubs often offer reciprocal access to members of other clubs, so membership in Quartzsite can get you in the door elsewhere (they claim).
It was so crowded everywhere we decided not to bother trying, but we’ll likely always regret it. If nothing else, it probably would have helped Jake’s odds at becoming a maritime lawyer.
Not having been there before, we were a little unsure what to do. We ended up just driving into the desert, weaving between all the other RVs (they gather in packs), and parking in a random unoccupied area. Everything seemed fine, until the next night, some new entrants parked, like, 8 feet away. In the middle of a giant, empty desert.
And then they glared at us, every time we went outside.
We have guessed, in retrospect, that we were somehow encroaching on their (unmarked, unoccupied) “turf.” Friends, we have never claimed to be the most heroic of travelers, and it’s fair to say we fled from this confrontation. Those “toughs” were up to no good, and there were more of them than us, never mind that they were in their 80s. Like Jesus, we turned the other cheek, and like Sir Robin, we bravely drove off to a different, empty spot in the desert.
After getting muscled out of our first spot by the infirm, we took a stroll around our new, neighborless backyard. Highlights of our hike included: a cactus that looks like an armless man buried headfirst, lots of rocks, and a coaster from cybererotica.com – “It’s where you go to make money!”
An Oasis of Youth
It wasn’t all snark and fear in Quartzsite, as we did have one positive interaction with other humans. We learned via social media that the “Xscapers,” a “working-aged” sub-group of an RV community, was meeting up in Quartzsite at the same time we were there. We crashed their meet-up, and were rewarded by meeting friendly people who were – *gasp – approximately our own age!
Yes, it was an exciting night for us, although sobering. (Not literally – we of course brought beer.) Because our online business has been lackluster, we can’t live like nomads in the desert forever, like many of these folks do. Still, it was a fun time, and we were invited back for movie night the next day.
The movie was “The Martian,” projected onto a screen. Although we had seen it before, it was still kind of a trip to watch a story of survival while under the stars, running off of solar power and batteries, in the harsh desert landscape of Arizona. Thanks, Xscapers!
We stayed in Quartzsite for three nights, which is about as long as we can last before our batteries run low. If you’re curious, we have a generator for power in a pinch, but it doesn’t do much to recharge the batteries, and we don’t have any fancy solar panels to help out.
Of course, we could always put away our computers and phones and just live in the moment, but on the other hand, no, we aren’t doing that.
We won’t miss the crowds, the bizarre bazaar, or the elderly gangs, but there is one thing we’ll certainly miss from Quartzsite. Desert sunsets are always amazing.
Still alive? Check.
Where are you now? Portland, Oregon, getting our blog post on!
Next location? We’ll be here for a while longer, then on to Seattle! For more information, check out our shiny new road trip plan.