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.

6 thoughts on “Exploring Quartzite: It’s All About the Rocks”

  1. Thanks, Beth! We enjoyed visiting Quartzite with you & Mark. We all love rocks, & I loved teaching Geology to my 2nd graders. I also thought of Levi & how he loved winning those rocks in our dice game.

    1. Thanks for such a nice comment! Yes, rocks are certainly enjoyed by a wide range of family members. I liked how you wrote about teaching geology to your students! It was a fun dice game and a great prize for Levi to win those rocks!

  2. So I was excited to read this post! My grandparents went down to Quartzite every year in their RV. Usually in late January or early February. They would meet their cousins from Oklahoma. They would walk around the swap meet and talk with their cousins and play cards. Grandpa absolutely loved it. It’s neat to see pictures and your description of the place. Grandpa certainly never told me about Paul! lol!

    1. Thanks for your comment Tabitha, it was great to hear from you! It was fun to read how your grandparents used to travel to Quartzite and stay in their RV. It is a fun place and lots of shopping for all kinds of things.

  3. I couldn’t help myself, I googled Paul, what a legend. Definitely a small town diamond in the rough. Fascinating story of Hi, Jolly, I suppose no wild camels survived to roam the southern deserts still today? Such a fascinating story. We rode camels once (not comfortable) and watched owners work with them and my goodness, that seemed incredibly difficult. I hope you guys bought a rock from there!!! MORE SOUVENIRS!! 😉

    1. Hi Matt, great to see your comment! I really wish Paul had been in the book shop when we visited, but his health was not good. If we get back to Quartzite perhaps we can see him playing his piano! I have not heard of any wild camels roaming about, but I think they didn’t do all that well in the Arizona desert. At least not for the long term, but it is an interesting story. I would not want to ride a camel, it does look very uncomfortable. I rode an elephant once and thought that was quite uncomfortable too. I can’t remember buying any rocks there for ourselves, but we did for the grandsons. They love to collect things. But if I get back there, I might have to snag one of those beautiful quartz crystal pieces from Arkansas!

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