Quartzsite, Arizona is usually a tumbleweed town of nearly 4,000 people, though at certain times of the year, its population swells to nearly a million, making it larger than cities like Baltimore and Tucson.
The summer weather in Quartzsite is similar to that inside a pizza oven, but in the fall, winter and spring, it’s mild and sun-filled – and at night, can get surprisingly chilling.
For much of the year, it’s little more than a curiosity, where most people stop for gas or a cup of coffee on their trips between Phoenix and Los Angeles.
Below are 15 things to do in Quartzsite that you won’t want to miss.
1. Quartzsite Annual Mineral Shows and Swap-meets
Considered by many to be the largest rock and gem show in the world, Quartzsite’s Annual Mineral Show and Swap Meet is held in January and February, a time when the usually scorching Arizona desert is mild and wonderful.
Full of rock-hounds, jewelers and crystal lovers from all over, the population of lonely Quartzsite increases exponentially during the show.
Even if rocks and cool crystals aren’t your things, it’s a great way to escape the harsh winter, rub elbows with some unique folks and just have an all-around good time.
There are plenty of RV sites in the area too if you’ll be bringing your house on wheels.
2. Castle Dome Museum
There aren’t many places more fun and eerie to explore than real live ghost towns, and Arizona is full of them.
Most are old, pioneer-day mining towns that went bust, leaving empty and weathered assay offices, saloons and brothels standing like sentinels of a bygone era.
For much of its history dating back to the 1860s, Castle Dome was such a town, though it was a lively place for a few decades.
The town did a stint as a training facility for soldiers heading out to fight the Japanese and Germans during World War II too.
If you go, consider a guided tour.
3. Tomb of Hi Jolly
If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Who in the world is Hi Jolly, and why is his tomb in Quartzsite, Arizona?” then get ready, because you’re about to find out.
Hi Jolly was actually a Syrian immigrant who was hired by the federal government to introduce camels into the parched deserts of the American southwest.
Though the plan was scrapped, Hadji Ali – also known as Hi Jolly – stayed on and lived out the rest of his days in Quartzsite.
He died in the early 20th century, and in the ‘30s, a bronze camel was placed at his tomb by townspeople who loved and admired him.
The tomb is in town and free, so don’t miss it.
4. Dripping Springs
Just east of Quartzsite on Interstate 10 is the town of Dripping Springs, which consists of historic and abandoned mines, a cabin made of stone, and Native American petroglyphs.
The sites will definitely take you back to another era when tough men eked a hard living out of the Arizona rock, and Native Americans who weren’t thrilled with their presence lurked around every corner.
The last portion of the trail leading to the site will require some exertion, so if you go in the summer, wear appropriate shoes, a good hat and bring plenty of water.
The site is free, and there’s even a cave near the cabin with dripping water inside. Enter at your own risk.
5. Petroglyphs and Grinding Holes
Located near Quartzsite, Tyson Wash is a dry wash that feeds into the Colorado River after rains, which usually occur in the spring.
The area is home to Native American petroglyphs, which are art and pictographs sketched into the rock, and purportedly tell bits and pieces of a Native American creation story. They are signs of the thankfulness and respect the indigenous people have for the earth.
The grinding holes are places where corn and seeds were ground over millennia, leaving large and distinct depressions in the rock.
The sites are just across the road from one another south of Quartzsite on a Bureau of Land Management road just off Highway 95.
6. Quartzsite Rock Alignment & Intaglios
Much of Quartzsite’s history revolves around rocks; from the Native Americans who used them for grinding meal and creating petroglyphs to the prospectors who extracted the valuable metals contained within them. Now, rock and gem lovers come from all over for the annual show.
The Quartzsite Rock Alignment is a sign spelling ‘Quartzsite’ with an arrow, used as a guide for airmen who might have otherwise been lost in the desert.
The Intaglio is a large image of a fisherman also created out of rock by the area’s Native Americans; an interesting depiction considering the desert environment in which it’s found.
7. Celia’s Rainbow Garden
Though this Quartzsite attraction is attached to a bit of a sad story, it’s still worth a see.
The garden was constructed in 1996 and named after a little girl named Celia, who passed away a short time before.
Though it started out small, the humble but beautiful memorial garden blossomed into what is now eight acres of flowers, rocks, cactus, and even a tiny replica village – all of which are dedicated to other much loved and missed locals who’ve passed away.
It’s free, and though it’s a bit sad, it’s uplifting as well.
8. Palm Canyon
Just about a half hour south of Quartzsite on Highway 95, Palm Canyon is one of those wonderfully unique desert places that just may be one of the highlights of your Quartzsite adventure.
There’s some confusion about whether or not the palm trees in this magnificent canyon are native to the area, but it really doesn’t matter because the canyon-lined oasis of which they’re part of is beautiful and serene, and may just make you think you’re in Egypt.
Keep an eye out for the sign for Palm Canyon on the highway. The trail in isn’t very distinct, but follow the canyon and you’ll find what you’re looking for.
9. Quartzsite Historical Society Museum
Also known as the Quartzsite Museum and Tyson’s Well Stage Station Museum, whatever you call it, the museum is one of the places you shouldn’t miss if you’re interested in learning about the area’s fascinating history.
It’s full of exhibits, equipment, and artifacts from Quartzsite’s pioneer and mining days.
Back in the 1860s, Quartzsite was an important waypoint between California and Arizona, especially due to the water which still flowed from the Colorado River back then, which was necessary for the horses who were relied upon to make the trip.
Admission is free, though hours of operation are seasonal.
10. Skoolie Palooza
If meeting lots of free spirits who live in converted school buses with whacky paint jobs sounds like a great way to spend a few hours, then Quartzsite’s Skoolie Palooza is just the place for you.
Though it’s a relatively new tradition in Quartzsite, it’ll probably gain traction quickly; the area is the seasonal home to many such people – most of whom are proud of their homes on wheels that started their lives transporting children to and from schools all over the United States.
The event is held in January and you’ll be able to get free tours from the enthusiastic owners who are more than happy to show off their mobile digs.
11. Quartzsite Roadrunners Gem and Mineral Club
For nearly 50 years, the Quartzsite Roadrunners Gem and Mineral Club has been teaching newbies and old-pros all there is to know about rocks, gems, minerals, and geodes, many of which are found in the surrounding desert.
There may not be another place in the world so densely packed with so many rock enthusiasts.
Located in town, the cost for an entire season of classes – which lasts from November to April – is less than a decent steak dinner.
If you plan on being around for a while, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth and you’ll learn more than a few nifty skills.
12. Reader’s Oasis Books
If you’re at all like me, books are a necessity wherever you go. I’ve always found it frustrating to realize that a lack of planning has left me in an unfamiliar place with nothing to read.
If you find yourself in the same position in Quartzsite, don’t despair, Reader’s Oasis Books has just what you’re looking for.
With tens of thousands of volumes and autographed photos of famous people who’ve stopped by, the place is part museum, part bookstore.
The owner is known for wearing the least amount of clothes permitted by law, so don’t be surprised if you see more skin than expected.
13. Gunny’s RV Park and Military Museum
In case you’re not up on your Marine lingo, ‘Gunny’ means Gunnery Sargent.
That being said, you won’t be surprised to hear that Gunny’s RV Park and Military Museum are owned by a former Marine, who’s managed to put together an amazing museum full of photos, artifacts, and keepsakes, most of which relate to the military.
Stopping by is a great way to support the local economy, get a fascinating insight into the area’s rich military history, and meeting an interesting guy who’s largely dedicated his time to honoring veterans and their contributions to our country.
14. Quartzsite Sports, Vacation and RV Show
If you consider for a moment that Quartzsite’s population – as far as the census is concerned – is just a few thousand, then you’ll be astonished to hear that every year nearly one million RV enthusiasts converge on the tiny desert town to enjoy what’s considered to be the largest gathering of RV lovers in the world.
If you’re not into crowds, avoid Quartzsite in January like the plague.
The show started in 1984 rather humbly but quickly gained momentum as word spread among the tight-knit RV community.
With swap meets and rock and gem shows happening, finding something to do won’t be a problem.
15. Joanne’s Gum Gallery
If you’ve ever lamented that someone hasn’t created a museum dedicated to gum in all its many variations, then your prayers have been answered, because Quartzsite just happens to be the home of a gum gallery unlike any other you’ll find.
Run by a sweet woman who knows more about gum than most executives at Wrigley’s, she’ll let you in and give you the dime tour no matter when you’re passing through.
Donations are appreciated, and you’ll get to see one of the only surviving packages of the world famous, Cat-Butt Gum, which was a market flop despite its appetizing name.