Exploring Tucson’s Sabino Canyon

Beautiful desert scenery can be found in and around the city of Tucson. Perhaps the jewel is Sabino Canyon located in the Santa Catalina Mountains, a beloved spot for many residents and visitors. It showcases the best of what nature provides – mountain vistas, desert plant life and a mountain stream. A visitor center can be found here as well as a shuttle that takes people up a road into the canyon. The shuttle hadn’t been running for awhile when we visited, which was fine as it was good for us to do some walking. So we took off on one of the pathways.

Our progress wasn’t quick because we were distracted by the cacti, snow on the distant mountains, coyotes howling close by and birds, such as the Phainopepla. Can you pronounce that word? Even after practicing I still am not too sure about saying it correctly. But it is a beautiful jet black bird with a crest and red eye. They favor the berries of the desert mistletoe that grow in the palo verde, mesquite and ironwood trees.

We came to Sabino at just the right time. It had been a little cool, windy and stormy when we first got to Tucson but on this day the sun was the perfect amount of warmth, skies were clear and there was no wind. During winter and spring Sabino Creek rushes down from the mountains and this year there is a lot of water due to an abundance of rain and snow. Some of the trails through the canyon cross the creek requiring feet and perhaps more getting wet. I wanted to try out the water as it crossed one of the paths and found it to be icy cold! There is something rather precious about a creek racing through the dry desert.

The dam is a popular area at Sabino and with all the water it was overflowing. This would be a great place to wade and swim in the warmer months.

Sabino Dam
Sabino Dam

While I explored along the creek and falls, Mark took a break and pondered life. From my vantage point he appeared a sad, forlorn character perched on a rock in the desert. Oh, the life of a driver!

I followed the creek for awhile up the canyon and found beautiful scenery where rocky cliffs rose above the water, saguaro cactus clinging to the slopes.

This was my favorite area – it was serene and the perfect meeting of water, rock and desert plant life.

Taking a connector trail to a different road we made a loop for our walk back. I took this photo of Mark on top of the rocky trail looking out at the scenery.

So many beautiful views all around awaited us.

It was a wonderful afternoon in Sabino. If you ever have the chance to visit the Tucson area, put this on your must do list!

Pow Wow at San Xavier del Bac Mission

San Xavier del Bac Mission

In the shadow of one of the most amazing mission churches in the southwest a pow wow is held each year. I couldn’t recall attending one before and as I have always been interested in Native American culture and history, I was glad this one was held during our time in Tucson. I was especially glad that it was at San Xavier, a church that can take your breath away with its beauty.

White Dove of the Desert

Known as the “White Dove of the Desert,” the mission was founded by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692. The current building was completed in 1797. This is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona. Church services are still held regularly and you can visit the inside to see the original statuary and paintings.

San Xavier Altar

The pow wow is an opportunity for the local Native American community as well as other tribes to meet and celebrate their culture and traditions through dancing, drumming and singing. The pow wow includes all ages from the very young to the most elderly.

Pow Wow Dancers

Throughout the afternoon I attended there was dancing in the arena for all as well as separate contests for certain age groups such as children, the young and older women and men. There were also dances that showcased certain skills or represented special traditions.

Traditional dance for the young men

There was some incredible talent among the dancers and the colorful, elaborate costumes were eye catching works of art.

One of my favorite costumes can be seen on the left
The joy of dancing!

What touched me the most was the joy and enthusiasm for dancing and celebrating that the very young shared that day. It was a pleasure to see tribal customs and heritage being passed on to a generation happy to be a part of this ongoing tradition.

A young participant twirls in his costume

Native American drummers and singers are an important part of the pow wow, the “heartbeat” of the event and several small groups of them took turns. I took the photo below of three sitting around their drum with the back of the mission in view.

Drumming and Singing

It would be hard for me to come to a Native American celebration and not enjoy some frybread. Groups were cooking up this delicacy and serving it with honey, powdered sugar or as a Navajo taco. I went for the taco with beans, green chile pork and toppings. There were also a number of tables offering Native American jewelry, pottery, baskets, clothing and other handmade items. I didn’t look at them too long as the music and dancing kept drawing me back to the arena.

Frybread stand

During the pow wow visitors were invited to join the dancing, even those that were not Native American or in festive attire. I couldn’t resist. It was a powerful experience joining the dancers. Moving around the circle, following the beat while gazing at the Mission, I thought how neat it was to have this opportunity as a full time traveler. This is what exploring is all about and for all of this I am grateful.

Young women dance in beautiful costumes

I hope you enjoyed reading about my pow wow experience. Stay tuned for more exploring in Tucson, Arizona as I write about our trip to beautiful Sabino Canyon.

RVing Mega Style at Rincon Country West in Tucson

Great pool for swimming at our RV park in Yuma

After spending a week in Yuma we headed to Tucson, Arizona for a month. We have been here two weeks now with a few more weeks to go. Perhaps we will even stay a week longer as this park has turned out to be pretty neat. Plus, Tucson and the area around it is a great place to explore. Both Yuma and Tucson are known as winter retreats for the snowbirds and the RV parks have lots of amenities. I think we landed at the most mega one in Tucson. With 1100 spaces and around 2,000 people, this park is definitely very large. Most of the people live in what is called “park models” which are trailer homes without wheels, although there are also a number of RV spaces. Mark jokes that we have stayed at towns smaller than Rincon Country West RV Resort.

View of pool and exercise rooms

I think it would be hard to get bored here with so much to do. With dozens of clubs and activities, there seems to be something for everyone. There are all kinds of crafts, some with their own workrooms and machinery such as pottery, woodworking, jewelry making and sewing. You can take classes in drawing, watercolor, pine basket weaving, stained glass, beading, embroidery, woodcarving and conversational Spanish. There are sports such as tennis, pickle ball, bocce ball and dancing. Exercise groups have classes in Tai Chi, Zumba, water aerobics and yoga.

Hiking and birding groups have weekly outings. You can join the chorus, theater group, play in a music, dulcimer or ukulele jam. There are always different card and table games going on. Weekly shuttle trips take people to various events or activities. There is regular entertainment in the auditorium, a Thursday farmer’s market and even food trucks that come by a few times a week. The garden model railroad club has the cutest miniature railroad that is actually quite large and they run the trains a few times a week.

A section of the Garden Model Railroad

When we first got here I looked through the catalog at all the offerings and noted on a calendar things we might want to try and do. For those that like planned activities, it is a bonanza.

The first week was a nice introduction to some of the amenities. I went to an orientation session for newbies covering things to know about the park and places to visit in the surrounding area. My first activity was a shuttle trip to the Green Valley Farmer’s Market, about 30 minutes south of Tucson, one of the best farmer’s markets I have been to. There were so many great offerings and I came away with a neat hat, mint essential oils, lavender tea, greens, dried fruit, colorful cards to send and a necklace.

Green Valley Farmer’s Market

The day after the market I went on another shuttle trip to the Tohono O’odham museum and cultural center about an hour and a half south of Tucson. This tribe’s reservation land is the third largest in size in the U.S. The museum is out in the middle of nowhere, small but nice. An interesting thing I learned was that much of the reservation land used to include parts of Mexico. One of the big events each year used to be a trip to gather salt at the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, a right of passage for males and easily done before borders became an issue.

Tohono O’odham Museum

My favorite trip the first week was with the birding group as we drove to Patagonia Lake State Park and a hummingbird center. We saw so many birds that day, including a few I had not seen before. The group has some experienced and knowledgeable birders which is a bonus for me. The humming bird on the sign below is a Violet Crowned hummingbird and this was the first time I had seen one. I did a birding trip to Southeastern Arizona some years ago with my parents and uncle and it was neat to see birds again that we saw on that trip. The birding group goes on trips each week so I am looking forward to going on a few more!

Did everyone catch that one? Birding group at Patagonia Lake State Park

That first week I took a small group pickle ball lesson and found it to be a fun activity. During the lesson we faced challenges as the wind was blowing rather hard and storm clouds gathered. But we stuck it out. Several minutes after the lesson ended and I got back to our trailer it started raining hard and a half hour later we had a good sized hail storm. As the days have passed, I have continued to play with others at the courts as players are rotated in and out, but learning this new sport has reminded me how uncomfortable it can be to be new and inexperienced at something. I have had to rely on the patience and kindness of others as most of the people have been playing for some time.

Looking serious on the pickle ball court

While we were traveling in Maine, I bought a ukulele at a music store in Portland. I got the idea from our daughter-in-law who also got one while visiting Maine. It seemed like a fun instrument to learn and has the advantage of not taking up much room, perfect for trailer living. So, I was delighted to see a sign for a ukulele group that met weekly. To be honest, I had never played a musical instrument with a group before but it was fun and I enjoyed playing some of the older songs I had not heard in awhile. The group will be playing a song in the park’s talent show the end of this week and I plan to join them. Mark also found some music – a dulcimer group that he joined for a session one day.

Mark at the shuffleboard court

One morning Mark and I took a shuffleboard lesson. I had never thought about playing shuffleboard before. When I think of shuffleboard it reminds me of the story my maternal grandmother Emma told of playing while on a cruise in Europe. Unfortunately during a game she broke her hip. It looks relatively easy as all you have to do is push a disc from one end to the other, trying to get it in the right section for points or knock the other person’s disc out. I quickly realized it wasn’t that easy as my disc went every where but where I wanted and I ended up in the “kitchen” several times (which is a bad thing). Although we don’t plan to keep playing with all the other activities, it was interesting to learn how the game was played.

Besides all the outdoor activities, clubs, trips, pie sales and pancake breakfasts there are shows and events each week in the large auditorium. The playcrafters group put on a theater presentation which I went to and the comedy skits brought out laughter from the audience. Perhaps the biggest show of the season, a Beach Boys tribute band was sold out. I would have loved to have heard that music again. Today we attended a performance from the Tucson Symphony Orchestra brass section. It was a great afternoon of music from the talented players and they also provided interesting information about their instruments.

Mark took this picture looking in the window of the library

One of my favorite things to do is visit the library and work on puzzles. The library has a nice selection of used books and there are always three or four puzzles that are in progress. The puzzles tend to get finished quickly so there is usually a new one, even if I was just there the day or evening before. It is fun to drop by and put a few pieces in although I usually find it hard to quit once started!

It has been a fun few weeks at Rincon Country West. I need to close and start reading the book that we will be discussing at the book club in a week! Here is a photo of one of the amazing sunsets that we can see outside our trailer. Stay tuned for more posts as we explore Tucson.

In the flight path

#bethsdriver here. The park we are staying at right now, and I think our space in particular is right in the flight path of both the local international airport and an Air Force base. We came to Tucson to visit and give a little more time for the Midwest to thaw out before heading that way. We were soon introduced to a constant stream of aircraft overhead. They are noisy, especially the military aircraft, but it is kind of a generic, almost pleasant noise.

I can almost hear the air-traffic controller…”That’s affirmative niner-one, just line up on that smaller travel trailer with the red truck next to it and bring it in straight and low.” What is interesting is that these Air Force planes (or more likely their grandfathers) actually played a big part in my life.

My father was stationed here at Davis-Monthan Air Base as a young man back in the 50’s. He got out and settled back in West Virginia. I have an older brother who had terrible asthma when he was younger and doctors told my parents that he would not survive unless they could get him to a better climate. My parents packed us up and moved back to Tucson as they were familiar with the area and the climate was favorable.

Is that a bomb?

So rather than growing up a proper hillbilly I grew up in the desert. I lived here until I was 19 years old and joined the army, right about the same time a young lady left her home in Southern California to join up. It didn’t take me long to realize what I had, so I snatched her up and have been driving her ever since.

Do we really need the name?

Some things are familiar, but Tucson has changed a lot since I left. We are staying in a “mega park” which is also interesting. I’m sure #explorerbeth will have more to say about that later on.

The planes really made me think about how events in our lives evolve. I think about how much different my life could have been if not for the planes. It also made me think about how glad I am it wasn’t!

I hope to pitch in and do an article or two in the future, and we are still working to learn videoing so you can see a little more of Beth. We set up a YouTube channel and actually have a short test piece posted. If you google expwithb FirstCut you can see it. It is pretty rough as I have a lot to learn.

So thanks again for reading! We have a little more time here in Tucson before we hit the road and head north. It would be great if you follow along with us.

Visiting Salvation Mountain and Slab City

Salvation Mountain

In the isolated desert of Imperial County, Southern California lies an interesting attraction I had been wanting to visit for several years. Leonard Knight had a love for Jesus he wanted to share and began doing this in 1984 by building a mountain. The first mountain he created collapsed in 1989, but he persisted in building another. Leonard used hay bales and clay he found onsite to construct his mountain, covering it with lots and lots of paint. In the year 2000, Salvation Mountain was deemed a National Folk Art site and in 2002 a National Treasure by Congress.

Salvation Mountain

When I first saw the mountain I was surprised how colorful and freshly painted it looked. Conditions in the desert are harsh and ongoing maintenance is needed to repair the mountain. The property is maintained by a non-profit group. The day we visited a volunteer crew was out cleaning and painting. The volunteers come from neighboring Slab City with even small children and their pets getting involved in the project. I noticed that one dog had a few large stripes of paint across its back. One woman who was working told me that the kids probably agreed to help because free pizza was being provided for the workers.

A yellow brick road starts at the bottom of the “Sea of Galilee” and winds its way up to the top. I climbed up there for a far reaching view of the desert and a look down the mountain side. In the photo above, you can see the beginning of the yellow brick road at the far left.

Next to the mountain Leonard built an enclosed area with passageways leading to several rooms. In a couple of the rooms are large trees he constructed using old tires for trunks and real tree limbs. Throughout the area he incorporated things he found in local dumps such as the car door I am standing next to pictured above. The rooms have also been brightly painted with images and signs. Although he planned to live in one of the rooms, most of the time he lived in his truck.

Rows of empty paint cans are a testament to all the work that has been done to build and preserve this one of a kind place. Many people seem to agree how special it is, because there were lots of visitors the day we were there. The mountain has been the subject of news programs, music videos and was featured in the film, “Into the Wild.”

Not only is the mountain painted and decorated, but also a number of vehicles on the property, including a tractor, Vespa, several cars and trucks. I liked the way the window of one old truck frames this view of another one.

In 2014, Leonard died at the age of 82 in a care facility near San Diego. It appears that his dreams for Salvation Mountain have been realized as many are coming and reading his messages of God and love. Whether they leave spiritually energized is of course up to each individual. I was impressed with Leonard’s faith, hard work and ingenuity.

Slab City next to Salvation Mountain is a community like no where else. It is here that people live off the grid, some for a short period of time in their RV’s to escape cold winter weather. But others are staying here indefinitely. Can you imagine living in a barren desert with no services such as running water, sewer, electricity or trash pickup? In spite of so many deprivations, a number of people are making a go of the place and have carved out a unique community. Many of them have found themselves with no where else to live. Some lack the desire to conform to a “normal” way of life and want to be left alone. This area was once a marine base which disbanded after World War II. Squatters moved in to take advantage of free public land and placed trailers, vehicles or built make shift residences on the concrete slabs that were left from the base. A former sentry post pictured above now welcomes visitors to “the last free place.”

Like Salvation Mountain, I had been wanting to visit Slab City for years. I watched you tube videos about the place and read news articles. I was curious what it would look like in person and once we got there we took a drive, stopping at a few places along the way. The “Range” is the most well known hangout and is the gathering place for live music on Saturday nights as well as other special events. It supposedly can draw quite a crowd. I would get a kick out of attending an event here, but Mark was not as enthusiastic about the idea. In front of the stage are rows of wooden benches as well as couches and chairs that have seen much better days, but still found comfy enough for spectators.

Following the sign, we drove on to the “library” where used books can be borrowed. This is probably the most disheveled and dusty library one could visit but a fascinating place to poke around. When I stopped in, a young woman was working at the Counter while talking to two visitors. I noticed one guy dusting off books on a shelf with a whisk broom. I was surprised at how many books could be found here. There was even a section with the title, “Homeschooling.” Outside the makeshift building were sitting areas with the oft seen worn out couches and chairs.

Moving on with the quest to find a cold drink for the often thirsty Mark, we stopped at a colorful trailer that he thought might be some sort of store. A lady from across the way came over to talk and told me the trailer was actually an “Airbnb” that she was helping to operate. A friend of hers had painted the trailer. I pondered the thought of an Airbnb in the middle of Slab City and couldn’t imagine it since I assumed there were no basic amenities. But when I looked up California Ponderosa I found a website listing several abodes for rent including the trailer, a small cabin and a barn offering water and solar power. You never know what you might find here, but apparently Slab City can also be a vacation spot if interested.

I couldn’t resist a stop to read the signs at one residence. This person had cleverly set up a “wishing basket” and a “wish list.” We didn’t have anything with us to put in the wish basket. I noted at other Slab City spots water seemed to be an often requested item, not surprising when water doesn’t run freely and must be brought in.

We were surprised to see an ice cream truck and stopped to see if they might have a soda as well as a drumstick per Mark’s request. It was yes to the drumstick, but no for a soda. But a young man who had stopped at the truck told me there were sodas across the street. I headed over to the makeshift dwelling called “Katamari” and went in.

This seemed to be a combination hangout, bar and community water source with a gathering of 10 people lounging about. I felt like a fish out of water. A tiny, cute baby pig playing with two dogs first caught my attention. I asked about the possibility of a Diet Coke and was told they had no diet drinks and I was the first person he could remember stopping in to ask for one. I told him it was for my husband and I never touched the stuff. One of the “proprietors” agreed, saying, “too much aspartame and not good for you,” as I eyed them filling shot glasses on the counter and putting something in the liquid. A menu sign was propped on the counter offering burgers, hot dogs (regular and vegan), grilled cheese and fries. Not sure how these items were cooked as no kitchen was in sight. This place was a true Slab City cultural experience.

As we continued we passed evidence of other enterprises such as a sign pointing to the “Internet Cafe,” advertised as the only place to get online and offering free coffee. Another sign advertised breakfast for those hungry in the A.M. At one residence a prosperous looking garden was in the works. I felt sorry for several people trying to dig a camper out of a sandy wash. Here at the Slabs you have to be careful where you drive, especially off road. Our last stop was a site dedicated to the arts called “East Jesus.” At the entrance you know you are in for something different when you see a car covered with old doll parts.

One of the docents explained that the installations were all about making art out of trash and junk. He told us that artists come from around the world to work here and the “outdoor museum” is always expanding. There was plenty to see from the barely bizarre to the extremely bizarre. We walked past a collapsed house, towers, old vehicles, a plane and statues. Much of the stuff is hard to explain but amusing to see. One installation featured old televisions piled on top of each other with sayings on the white painted screens. Plastic chairs were provided in front in case people wanted to sit and ponder the meaning.

One crazily decorated car was a favorite for photo ops. People stood in the seat and did different poses or just sat like I did. Next to the car you can see an elephant made from old tires.

I hope you enjoyed our tour of Salvation Mountain and the Slabs, both unusual places to visit. In the next blog we settle in Tucson for a little while.

Los Algodones, Mexico: The Molar Capital of the World

One of many dental offices in Los Algodones

A week ago we headed to Yuma, Arizona for a week long stay. The reason for choosing Yuma was its close proximity to the small Mexican border town of Los Algodones, nicknamed “the molar capital of the world.” There are over 350 dentists practicing here with more dentists per capita than any other city in the world. While visiting our California dentist in November, Mark got an expensive quote for a deep cleaning, the only service she offered him. Rather than spend $1,000 dollars, he decided to give Los Algodones a try. We have been aware of the popularity of south of the border dental care since full time RVing. I have read blogs and watched you tube videos of people coming here for reasonably priced dental work. Most people seemed to be happy with the care they received. But which dentist to choose as there are so many.

Border crossing into Los Algodones

The day of the appointment we drove to the border and parked in a lot close to the crossing. Although we could have driven in, we decided walking would be less problematic. It was quicker to cross than I expected as there were no Mexican officials checking visitors. We just followed the pathway and there we were on the streets of Los Algodones. The first building we saw was the big purple pharmacy across the street which definitely sticks out from all other buildings. This is the most popular place for people to get prescription medications at a much reduced cost. Throughout the day, we often saw people carrying their purple bags from the pharmacy.

Most popular pharmacy

We took a look at the drug store and noticed an optical center next door. Mark had been wanting to get new eyeglasses and since they are cheaper here, decided to pick out a pair. He didn’t have an appointment but was able to get an exam right away to check his prescription. The exam was done in no time with the glasses ready for pick up in a couple hours.

Selection of glasses at Mendoza Optical

Our next goal was to find the dental office. When we made the appointment, the receptionist told us they had a shuttle that could pick us up from the purple pharmacy. Since we had time to kill and planned to have lunch before the appointment, we decided to find it on our own and started walking. There were signs on buildings all over advertising dental offices. These offices were interspersed with shops selling a variety of items appealing to tourists. There was no shortage of locals to ask for directions. Dental offices hire people to stand out front and encourage visitors to come in. In some places dental work can be done on a walk in basis. Personally, I can’t imagine getting dental work done at an office that I haven’t checked out beforehand.

Wandering the streets of Los Algodones

A young man flagged us down and asked if we needed dental work. When we explained Mark already had an appointment and we were trying to find the office, he told us we had chosen a good one but the most expensive in town. He laughed and said we must be rich and encouraged us to consider his dentist who was much less expensive. He kindly insisted on showing us where we needed to go, walking with us to our destination, the Rubio Dental Group.

Our informal Los Algodones guide

I did some research before choosing Rubio Dental Group and found it to sound reputable and have positive reviews. There are actually several dentists in this office with different specialities. Mark checked in at the counter and confirmed his appointment.

Rubio Dental Group

Now that we had our bearings and still time for lunch, we headed off to find a restaurant. Los Algodones has a number of places to eat but we were looking for a place that had great reviews on Trip Advisor. Someone pointed us in the right direction and we found ourselves at Molcas Taco.

Molcas Tacos

The owner was bustling around the small cafe seating people and taking orders. The place definitely seemed to have some charm and a menu with a wide array of offerings. They served four different sauces with the tortillas chips as well as some fresh veggies. I ordered the chicken soup (Caldo de Pollo) and Mark had a taco plate with rice and beans. The total was only $12.00. There are signs all around that “If you don’t like the food you don’t pay.” The food was great but all through the meal people selling items including jewelry, purses, hats and even cigars kept coming around hawking their wares. Mark said he could just tune it out, but I found it difficult to not tell them we weren’t interested. In the photo below, you can see the young man behind me with hats on his head he is selling.

Molcas Tacos

With lunch done we went back for the appointment. It was a bit of a wait but Mark was very happy with the outcome. He said that the equipment was high tech, liked the dentist and felt he got good treatment. The building looked a little nicer than some of the other offices, but infrastructure is definitely not the same as the states. In the parking lot were cars from Canada and the U.S., but there were only four spaces for this busy dental practice.

Rubio Dental Group

I didn’t have any work done here as I had completed a checkup and cleaning appointment with our dentist in California. To be honest I was glad, because I am perhaps more cautious than Mark about using a dentist in Mexico. Throughout my life I have always dreaded dental appointments and I like the comfortable feeling of going to my practice in California that I know and trust. Luckily my appointment was not expensive like Mark’s or perhaps I would have to reconsider for the future. Some people have major dental work done in Los Algodones including not only root canals and crowns but implants and surgery. In the process, they save thousands of dollars. Even with insurance, dental care in the U.S. is just way too expensive. Mark paid $140 for what would have cost $1,000 in California and we had a rather fun day as well.

Waiting to cross the border

When we left the dentist the traffic on the street was backed up as cars waited to cross the border back to the U.S. We heard that the wait to get back on foot would be long but I was still surprised to see how long the line was. It ended up being about two hours before we reached the customs counter. During our wait we were entertained by accordion players and talked with other travelers. It was a relief when our wait was over and we were back on familiar ground. Visiting Los Algodones was an interesting experience. We might be back again some day.

Border Fence

Exploring Quartzite: It’s All About the Rocks

T-Rocks Store

Driving on I-10 east in Arizona and coming near to Quartzite, you might not think much of the place. But this small town in the middle of nowhere has more going on than meets the eye. In the winter, it draws big crowds for rock, gem and mineral shows. When the biggest shows are happening, it can be hard to drive around town and find parking with all the traffic. One shop owner told us that we really should come back in January for the biggest show. She said we wouldn’t believe how beautiful all the rocks are. I read that during the winter season, about 500 rock, mineral and gem dealers come to Quartzite to sell items.

T-Rocks Store

We enjoy looking at rocks and found a rock store, T-Rocks who claimed to have the largest rock yard in Quartzite. It had been a long time since we looked at so many rocks. It was fun to see them from not only the southwest but all over the world.

After T-Rocks we headed to one of the big swap meets which also feature plenty of rocks and gems but a little of everything else for sale as well. Swap meets are popular here and there are plenty of tools, garden and home decorations, clothing, housewares, art, pottery, jewelry….. the list goes on. Winter comes to a close fairly quickly in Quartzite, so some of the businesses were starting to wrap up their season at the end of February. I got a kick out of this one business which sold lots of tools but also had a sign outside, “Women’s Stuff Too!”

It was hard to pass up the homemade ice cream vendor, especially since it appeared he was cranking it out from a machine connected to a motor right outside his shop.

When you drive around Quartzite or out in the desert you come to realize that riding ATV’s seems to be the most popular pastime besides shopping for knickknacks and gems. As a testament to their popularity, at the swapmeet’s local watering hole and music venue there were ATV’s parked all around outside. Mark and I thought that if we stayed here awhile we would have to rent one and try them out, looks like fun!

We almost missed the Arkansas Quartz Crystal dealer who was finishing his last day of business for the season. The rock here was incredibly beautiful and some of the quartz pieces were quite large. He and his family had a mining business and he explained how they dug the quartz out of the ground at a location 250 feet down. He showed us a picture of one piece he had that had been appraised for over $3,000,000! If I had a house with plenty of room and lots of money to spend, I could enjoy decorating a room with lots of these big crystals!

I was also impressed with the amethyst geodes at another dealer’s tent. I didn’t know these rocks could be so huge!

Quartzite has a rather interesting local business attraction that has nothing to do with rocks. At Reader’s Oasis Books you can often find the proprietor, Paul, amid his amazing selection of used books. People come to the store from all around. But the books are really not the main draw. While he is an accomplished pianist and has a baby grand piano at the shop, that’s not the main draw either. What people come to see is Paul, as he is often clothed with only a sock on his privates. Could he be the lone naked bookseller in the U.S.?

Reader’s Oasis Bookstore

When we visited we found only his wife there, trying to hold down the fort in his absence. She tiredly reported, “Yes, I’m married to the naked guy.” She explained that her husband was dealing with some medical problems and facing surgery. He had a concert planned in March, but it didn’t sound like he was going to be in the shop for awhile. We found lots and lots of books here, jumbled all over the place and so many it was hard to browse through them. Some were covered with plastic, most were covered with desert dust.

Quartzite has an interesting marker to commemorate what might be the town’s most well known historic citizen, a man nicknamed, “Hi Jolly.” Immigrating from Syria, he was hired in 1857 as a camel herder for an expedition called the Camel Corps charting a road through New Mexico and Arizona to the Colorado River. Using camels in the Southwest became a successful experiment, but when the Civil War began in 1861, the Camel Corps was disbanded and the camels were turned out to fend for themselves in the desert. Hi Jolly continued to live in Quartzite and tried other pursuits such as mining, scouting, delivering mail and selling water to travelers.

Barrett’s Miniature Village

Quartzite was once an important stop on the road for travelers in the 1870’s and 1880’s after leaving the Colorado River and heading east across the southern Arizona desert. At the Tyson Wells Stage Stop, they could fill up on clean water and find a place to bunk for the night at the small hotel next door. The hotel is now in ruins, but the stage stop building is a museum with artifacts and information from the town’s past inside its adobe mud walls. I thought the museum was interesting, but I was most taken with Barrett’s miniature village out back. Mr. Barrett spent eight years working on this hobby and completed a number of rock and stone covered buildings. Some of the structures depict local buildings such as homes, churches and stores, but others are from places he previously lived such as his birth home in North Carolina, a lighthouse and even a castle from Scotland.

Free camping in the desert

There are a number of RV and trailer parks in the town of Quartzite, a popular place for the mobile crowd to stay in the winter time. But outside of Quartzite in the vast desert, RVers like to dry camp or “boondock” as well. There are miles of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and campers with all kinds of vehicles find their favorite spot and hang out for up to a few weeks without having to pay camping fees. Of course, there are no amenities like you find in an RV park, which is the reason that Mark is not yet willing to head to the desert. He says he is more of a “RVer” rather than a “camper.” He likes the comforts of electric, water and sewer connections. I would like to do some dry camping in the desert for several days and just need to convince Mark to give it a try some day.

Campers on BLM land

For the past several years the “Rubber Tramp Rendevous” (RTR) has been held in the deserts of Quartzite in January. Started by one man, Bob Wells who is a full time van dweller, the RTR gives people a chance to meet together for a few weeks to socialize and learn how to take care of themselves while boondocking or on the road. The festival now draws thousands of people in all kinds of vehicles, including cars (yes even a Prius), school busses (skoolies), trucks, vans and a wide variety of RV’s. Many of them live on public lands throughout the Western U.S., traveling to the places most hospitable for free camping and good weather. I have followed some of these campers on their You Tube channels. Check out “Cheap RV Living.com” or “Carolyn’s RV Life.”

Check in with my next blog when we headed south of the border to Mexico for the day.