This is only my second time in Quartzite and, as I’ve mentioned before, this Woodstock-like gathering of the RV tribes can be anything you want it to be. Some people come for the big RV show in town. Some, who are full-time nomads come to re-establish connections and pick up part time gigs (Amazon and other employers recruit heavily at Quartzite.) Other groups are very specific: Ham Radio RV Enthusiasts, rig specific groups, regional groups. For me, the gathering is kind of a later in life Girl Scout Jamboree. The national group, RVing Women, have been hosting an event here since the early 90s — ten miles and a world away from the craziness that is Quartzite. Hosted by the Arizona Chapter, our Quartzite gathering features pot lucks, stargazing, amazing campfires, and the old hands helping the newbies. I’d prefer to camp off-grid but was a little nervous to do so alone — especially with my previously unreliable rig — so it’s been great camping with these gals who have offered a wealth of information and encouragement. But then, the first time I drove into our designated camping spot last year and saw three ladies with guitars belting out Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” I knew I’d found my tribe.
Despite the campsite camaraderie in our remote gathering, I thought I should venture into town and see what Quartzite was all about. I wish I hadn’t.
First, since the Big Tent marquee RV show didn’t open until the next day, I thought I’d stroll through the more rough and ready Tyson’s Corner show. Since Quartzite’s pre-RV “fame” rested on its status as a rock hounders paradise, I thought I’d find genial prospector types hawking geodes, local dealers pushing “antique” junque, and the wonderful eccentric types that seem to drift in to remote desert outposts.
Let me step back and say that I don’t travel in some sort of Liberal Bubble. In fact, in many of the places I travel to I am often the token Liberal, certainly the token card-carrying Nancy Pelosi voting Pinot Noir sipping NPR listening Liberal. Now let me quickly point out that in all of my RV travels, even when surrounded by Red Staters, I’ve never had a bad experience. Quite the opposite. But then I tend to camp in National Parks, where I’ve often noted, with only a little bit of snobbery, that you get a better class of people. Also, I travel with wine, so that helps.
Here’s a typical exchange:
I pull into my reserved spot next to a rig flying perhaps a Texas flag and festooned with “Support our Troops” and “America: Love It or Leave It” stickers.
Man outside RV, wearing a large ten gallon hat and staring skeptically at my California plates: “Cal-ee-forn-ia?”
Me: “Yup, I’m the Liberal your mother warned you about!”
Cowboy Man: “Ha! Girl, my family is cookin’ up some Texas barbecue tonight. You come over and join us.”
Me: “Great. I’ll bring wine.”
Cowboy Man: “Not Chardonnay?”
Me: “I hate Chardonnay. I’m bringing a Cabernet full-bodied enough for a Red Stater.”
Cowboy Man: “Well, you park that rig and come over right now.”
Of course, I usually keep the conversation light. But occasionally, I have had my hosts ask about what life is like in California, is it really like they say on Fox News (NO!). But mostly I regale them with tales of growing up an Army Brat and taking a later life turn into farming and winemaking. To seal the deal, I whip out the gourmet marshmallows made in Sonoma. Because, of course, Sonoma would make something artisanal out of even crap as junky as marshmallows. Mission accomplished. Bridges built. And my upcoming trip to Texas’s Big Bend National Park cushioned with as many Texan emergency contacts as I can gather.
Now let me say that the Trumpets I encountered in Quartzite were not of this variety. I saw vendors selling the most vicious T-shirts with hateful messages like “Keep America Beautiful, Shoot a Mexican Today” and “I Punch Liberals”. Those booths were crowded with people in MAGA hats laughing sneeringly and telling their own stories of what they’d do to Liberals if they ever met one. I was keeping a low profile and trying not to look Liberal while wearing full REI gear and Tevas (a dead giveaway for a tree-hugging Lefty.) As I was trying to get some clandestine shots of a booth selling Trump flags, the vendor, obviously spotting me as “the enemy” yelled out at me, “Hey girlie, don’t you wanna buy a flag?”
My response: “I have a flag. It’s the one that draped the coffin of my father, a veteran of two wars, including the one Trump weaseled out of.”
Of course, that response was in my head, as I chose restraint as the better part of valor. Also I consoled myself that from the average girth of the more radical members of the crowd and the number of Rascal scooters and portable oxygen tanks, this would not be a long term problem. Instead, I went searching for a different Quartzite.
That would be the post-Civil War Quartzite which embraced a Greek Syrian emigre who became a local personality. Hadji Ali was a Muslim who was imported to the US along with several dozen camels by Jefferson Davis (yes, that Jefferson Davis!) Seems Old Jeff was convinced that camels could help the Army conquer the desert and he imported the animals and some experienced Syrian camel drivers to teach the US Army how to use The Ship of the Desert. Unfortunately, the camels scared the cavalry’s horses and that pesky Civil War got in the way. Many of the camels were set loose in the desert and drovers like Hadji Ali washed up, with a few camels, in Quartzite where he became a courier, packer, scout and beloved citizen. So esteemed was Hadji Ali — nicknamed by the locals “Hi Jolly” — they they built a Quartzite pyramid to commemorate him when he died.
That’s the sort of welcoming Quartzite I want to experience. So I hightailed I back to the RVing Women camp. I have no idea what most of the politics are with that group. We mostly talk RVs and identifying Orion’s Belt in the night skies. But, in the spirit of a more accepting Quartzite, any woman who wants to join is welcomed at their potlucks and their campfires.
I will just say that, if you are looking for female empowerment, you don’t a need better example than seeing a 75 year old solo woman pull in with a large diesel truck, back up her fifth wheel toy hauler expertly in one go, open the back, drive out an ATV and take off into the desert.