We’ve got tips for attending the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation and RV show for StressLess Camping. We’ve heard about all sorts of challenges in attending this show but it’s actually a really enjoyable event in the middle of the desert with something for just about every RVer.
What is it?
The Quartzsite Sports, Vacation and RV show is basically the largest RV event in the United States, second only to the huge RV show in Germany. The tiny, tiny blip on the map that is Quartzsite, Arizona stretches from a town of under 4,000 people to an estimated half million people, most of whom are staying in RVs.
The huge majority of these campers spend their time off-grid in the Arizona desert and it’s funny how the trip into the town itself starts with white roofs for miles outside the tiny burg dotting the desert as far as the eye can see. What’s the appeal?
First of all the weather is good. Even though there may be the occasional rain storm or cold snap, the weather tends to be in the 50s-70s. This is significantly easier to tolerate than the freezing temperatures in the midwest or in Canada so you will meet a lot of former midwesterners at this gathering.
And that’s another reason to be here - the people are really, really friendly. Neighbors will invite you to their camp fires and you’ll find lots of fun people having a really good time. And the only snow will be in newscasts.
While boondockers are probably the vast majority of people at this event, there are plenty of campgrounds in the area. Don’t expect luxury features here - the desert is an endless expanse of flatness and that’s what the campgrounds are too. But the prices are good if you can get in. Remember that this is a huge event where the town stretches every limit so RV spaces fill up early.
Campgrounds offer the advantages of full hook-ups, of course, and many offer other amenities such as laundry and shower houses. But there are also some that only offer hook-ups so find out before you go if there are amenities that are a priority to you.
Boondocking is free and there are countless acres of desert to enjoy at no cost. But the disadvantage, of course, is that the resources that you have in your RV are what you’re limited to. Furthermore you’ll have to deal with your trash and everything else. Trash service is available at the dump in Quartzsite and there are a few place to dump your tanks.
There are public lands that do offer dump stations and trash service and even restrooms. Because of the amenities these aren’t free but they are a nice hybrid between completely being off the grid and having some critical services.
The Big Tent
The cornerstone of this whole shindig is the Big Tent. That is the centerpiece of a vast marketplace where you can get just about anything you’ve ever seen at a flea market along with a ton of RV-related stuff. From generators to tire pressure monitors to back-up cameras and replacement LED bulbs, you can almost build an RV with the supplies sold at the various vendors both inside and around the big tent.
All around the big tent is an ocean of smaller canopies and tents and RVs that have seen better days all loaded with just about anything you can imagine. There are rows and rows of these tents so bring your walking shoes. If your life suffers from a lack of hemp hats, drill bits, garden art or any number of other “stuff” your dreams can come true here.
Furthermore, being such a big RV town at this time of year there are all kinds of services available for RVers including repairs, upgrades and more. I didn’t have to take advantage of any of these things but I can imagine that many of them might be fairly busy so you may want to set your appointment in advance wherever possible. From what I’ve been told many of these RV repair professionals will also come right to your RV and perform whatever maintenance or repair you’re looking for.
I found the prices on RV-related products ranged from super great to super high so shop around for what you want - keep quality in mind but price as well. There were some things I found at bargain basement prices and other things where I could buy them on Amazon for a much lower price. However I also found things I hadn’t seen before anywhere that were must-haves so I definitely stretched my wallet.
Also, the RV show is held at the same time as a big gem and mineral show. For rock hounds, this is also a great gathering with an ocean of collectible stones and minerals. I’m always impressed by the amazing range of geodes but Peggy, a geologist, is thrilled by the various finds available here. I’m told this is the largest rock and mineral show in the world.
In fact Peggy got the idea that our garden at home needed a dragonfly made of rocks and she found a really nice variety of stones to use to put one together and the vendors were literally tripping over themselves to make us a deal.
There were also some neat artisans scattered around the various tents along with people who had antiques and other “stuff” that doesn’t rust in the desert. I found hit-and-miss engines, Model A Ford wheels, a railroad “speeder,” bells, whistles, a million license plates, signs, paintings, rugs. Seriously there’s almost nothing you can’t find out here if you wander through all the tents.
Food and shopping
Don’t let anyone tell you there’s a shortage of places to buy food. My favorite grocery store is the “pop up store” right next to the big tent. This is another big tent, though not as large, that has almost everything you could imagine at fair prices. The grocery tent opens late in October and is here through at least March.
I also found a market with a real butcher and the meat was great.
What they don’t have is a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit and you’ll find that there’s a scant bit of that kind of thing here in the desert. My Costco run in advance was a good idea but I also had to manage storage of all this “stuff” so my fridge was full as was a large ice chest. Ice was readily available at the various stores around. Frankly, next time I’m going I’m not brining much food with me as there is no shortage of groceries whatsoever.
I also noticed that the local stores actually had really good prices on things compared to what I see in rural Northern California on a regular basis. For example, I don’t remember the last time I paid less than $4 for a dozen eggs but they were here at $1.59 at one of the stores. Wow.
There are also a lot of food vendors among the various tents and I thought the prices were fair there as well. One of my own favorites was the hit-and-miss engine making ice cream - it was not inexpensive but it sure was delicious!
Barbecue, burgers, Mexican food and just about anything else you can imagine is available from the food trucks that make their way to this giant event. The prices are certainly fair and the food is what you expect from a food truck. There was even a gourmet grilled cheese and gourmet macaroni & cheese food truck among the tents.
If you’re looking for a good time there are plenty of places to find it at Quartzsite. One of the places you’ll want to hit is Beer Belly’s bar, which is right adjacent to the big tent. They have music and beer and wine along with decent pulled pork sandwiches and other fare. Definitely a gathering spot. Beer Belly’s is literally a big open space covered by market umbrellas but the atmosphere is great and the people are fantastic.
There are also gatherings in the desert for a number of groups and lots of people come in packs. Having some form of off-road vehicle such as a quad or ATV is definitely a plus and they appear to let these vehicles just drive on the roads so you don’t seem to be limited to just the trails.
One of the biggie gatherings is the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous hosted by van dweller Bob Wells of Cheap RV Living. This gathering has gotten bigger and bigger throughout the years and is definitely one of the super events of Quartzsite RV show.
We also went to the Quartzsite Museum, which has interesting history of the area and knowledgeable docents. Naturally we had to visit Hi Jolly’s grave and even drove out into the desert to see Native American art on the desert floor. The Bouse Fisherman is an assemblage of rocks and layers of colored land in the desert that depicts a fisherman. Cool.
Music is everywhere and we enjoyed a really good Peter, Paul & Mary tribute band along with bands at Beer Belly’s and a band at Silly Al’s Pizza. There was definitely musical talent in the desert.
A few things
The first few days we were here apparently it was in advance of the big crowds despite how many RVs I saw. I was impressed how well our cell provider was able to deliver Internet service to us - quick and reliable. After the show started that all changed and even the vendors, many of whom use cell phone-based payment systems such as Square and PayPal, were having real trouble processing credit card transactions.
There are definitely restaurants in the town but because of the swell in humans that descend on the community they get packed so plan to wait. And wait. But, again, I thought the food and service were good in all the places we tried.
What was bad
Honestly, you’re in the desert. If you’re looking for nightly entertainment and fun activities this may not be your place. While there is camaraderie of your fellow RVers and certainly bands and other activities, but don’t come here looking for nightlife. You’re here ‘cause there’s no snow and, out in the desert itself, no crowds.
The Quartzsite Sports, Vacation and RV show is definitely something to see and well worth the trip, to me. Some people have been coming here for years and even decades, others will visit once or twice - that’s up to you. I’m sure one of the reasons many people are regulars here is the kindred spirits they find or the solitude of a desert night or the fact that you can wear short pants in January.
Whatever your motivation I would pay little heed to the dire warnings about this being a desert wasteland with no infrastructure and just start making plans to come. I’d suggest finding a group and joining that just for the fellowship but there’s also a lot to be said for the desert night sky and the peace of the land.