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Quartzsite: Arizona's rock city

This colossal swap meet goes down November–March in western Arizona.

Snowbirds flock to Quartzsite in January, when the tiny desert town can swell in size to 250,000 plus.
Snowbirds flock to Quartzsite in January, when the tiny desert town can swell in size to 250,000 plus.

What do you get when you cross one million snowbirds and desert rats, and add blocks of swap-meet junk? You get Quartzsite, AZ, in January.

Starting in the fall, tens of thousands of bargain hunters head their RV’s to the western Arizona town of 3,643. Most choose dry camping on surrounding federal Bureau of Land Management desert, seen for miles in any direction. Find a spot in the sand, and there’s your campsite.

Browsing the acres of swap-meet junk at Quartzite.

In the middle of it all is the big white exhibition tent, the size of Bing Crosby Hall at the Del Mar Fair. Add numerous RV dealers showing off their latest rigs, and blocks of swap meet tents and makeshift sales tables. It’s so huge I couldn’t get to most of it in my three-day visit.

A picker's paradise

On Main Street to the north, and Kuehn Street to the south, both paralleling the I-10, you'll find acres of makeshift pop-up tent sales booths. Some just park an old RV, throw out a table, and sell their stuff. Most anything can be sold in Quartzsite as long as you obtain a $50 seller permit from the city. It’s a picker’s paradise. It's not billed as such, but it has to be the largest swap meet in the world.

More than just rocks are available for purchase.

Quartzsite is famous to rock hounds, with many stores offering gems and mineral rocks from around the world. Upon stopping at T-Rocks, right off I-10 at the Quartzsite Boulevard (Exit #17) I gazed upon hundreds of bins and tables with categorized rocks. Who knew there were so many shades of quartz? I thought I bought some turquoise... but it very well could have been blue-dyed gravel. The only rock I probably should have had an interest in was "Leaverite", as in leave'er right there – an often-repeated joke among Quartzsite folks.

Being in the sunny desert, sellers have no problem leaving all their stuff outside. Because the wind blows, everything outside – cars, antiques, junk, and even some people – are covered with a light coating of dust. Even stuff sold in what looked to be permanent buildings had dust all over the merchandise. But almost nothing is permanent in Quartzsite.

If you go

By March, the weather will start to heat up and most the snowbirds, swap meet’ers, food stands, and RV dealers will be gone. By July, when temperatures can reach 120 degrees, the only thing left will be a few restaurants and gas stations. And a few broken down RV’s left like sunken ships, but in desert sand.

"Desert golf" is played a little differently than at Torrey Pines.

Some junk stores, rock or jewelry shops brave the heat and wind, and stay open year-round. It’s worth a stop anytime if you happen to be driving through, even just for gas – usually 50 cents less than across-the-border Blythe, CA.

November through February are the big months, but January is when the big exhibition tent is up, and the local Chamber of Commerce and the Quartzsite Improvement Association hosts several concerts, gem and mineral shows, and a Pow Wow.

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Quartzsite, Arizona

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The return of the day of the Locust

Breaking out the bug suits one more time
Snowbirds flock to Quartzsite in January, when the tiny desert town can swell in size to 250,000 plus.
Snowbirds flock to Quartzsite in January, when the tiny desert town can swell in size to 250,000 plus.

What do you get when you cross one million snowbirds and desert rats, and add blocks of swap-meet junk? You get Quartzsite, AZ, in January.

Starting in the fall, tens of thousands of bargain hunters head their RV’s to the western Arizona town of 3,643. Most choose dry camping on surrounding federal Bureau of Land Management desert, seen for miles in any direction. Find a spot in the sand, and there’s your campsite.

Browsing the acres of swap-meet junk at Quartzite.

In the middle of it all is the big white exhibition tent, the size of Bing Crosby Hall at the Del Mar Fair. Add numerous RV dealers showing off their latest rigs, and blocks of swap meet tents and makeshift sales tables. It’s so huge I couldn’t get to most of it in my three-day visit.

A picker's paradise

On Main Street to the north, and Kuehn Street to the south, both paralleling the I-10, you'll find acres of makeshift pop-up tent sales booths. Some just park an old RV, throw out a table, and sell their stuff. Most anything can be sold in Quartzsite as long as you obtain a $50 seller permit from the city. It’s a picker’s paradise. It's not billed as such, but it has to be the largest swap meet in the world.

More than just rocks are available for purchase.

Quartzsite is famous to rock hounds, with many stores offering gems and mineral rocks from around the world. Upon stopping at T-Rocks, right off I-10 at the Quartzsite Boulevard (Exit #17) I gazed upon hundreds of bins and tables with categorized rocks. Who knew there were so many shades of quartz? I thought I bought some turquoise... but it very well could have been blue-dyed gravel. The only rock I probably should have had an interest in was "Leaverite", as in leave'er right there – an often-repeated joke among Quartzsite folks.

Being in the sunny desert, sellers have no problem leaving all their stuff outside. Because the wind blows, everything outside – cars, antiques, junk, and even some people – are covered with a light coating of dust. Even stuff sold in what looked to be permanent buildings had dust all over the merchandise. But almost nothing is permanent in Quartzsite.

If you go

By March, the weather will start to heat up and most the snowbirds, swap meet’ers, food stands, and RV dealers will be gone. By July, when temperatures can reach 120 degrees, the only thing left will be a few restaurants and gas stations. And a few broken down RV’s left like sunken ships, but in desert sand.

"Desert golf" is played a little differently than at Torrey Pines.

Some junk stores, rock or jewelry shops brave the heat and wind, and stay open year-round. It’s worth a stop anytime if you happen to be driving through, even just for gas – usually 50 cents less than across-the-border Blythe, CA.

November through February are the big months, but January is when the big exhibition tent is up, and the local Chamber of Commerce and the Quartzsite Improvement Association hosts several concerts, gem and mineral shows, and a Pow Wow.

Map

Quartzsite, Arizona

Quartzsite, Arizona
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Comments
2

Quartzite is a trip! For rockhounds this is Mecca. I've been a few times and walked for days and still did not see it all. You can get fossils, minerals, and semi-precious stones for what is probably the best prices in the US. And there is lots and lots of "high quality junk" as well. A really fun event.

Jan. 10, 2016

Where is the parking???

Jan. 10, 2017

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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