By Bruce Murray
Quartzsite, Arizona has become the winter destination of choice for thousands of Canadians. The reasons why are many — generally good (meaning warm) weather, numerous specialty trade shows and the famous outdoor swap meet that lasts for months.
In January, the traffic is very heavy because of the RV trade show. There is one other attraction that creates interest and that is inexpensive dry camping. The U.S. government’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM for short) has set aside over 11,000 acres of land, just south of Quartzsite for winter camping. For a flat fee of $180 cash (no bank cards or credit cards accepted) you can stay from Sept. 15 to Apr. 15 of the following year. You can also purchase a 14-day permit for $40 if you are not planning a lengthy stay and it can be renewed multiple times.
This is all dry camping with no hookups and no defined campsites. You pay your money at the one of the four entrance kiosks and they put a sticker on your vehicle that shows you have paid the fee. Then you drive into the area and locate a spot that appeals to you and then you park your outfit. We recommend parking with your door to the south because of wind. More on that later.
The BLM does provide dump stations, garbage bins and a spot to get water. How you use those services is up to you. There are companies in Quartzsite that will deliver water and others that will haul away your sewage but it is expensive.
Over the last few years we have learned a few things that have made life easier. Unless you plan to take your unit to the services area, which could be quite a distance from your camp location, you need a way to haul water, dispose of your sewage and provide electrical power. We have a collapsible 40-gallon water bladder and a 12-vdc water transfer pump that allows us to collect the water and then easily pump it into the water holding tanks in our trailer.
Others use 45-gallon plastic barrels and still others use several smaller water carriers, such as those one might purchase at a department store. Bring your own water hose. For sewage we use a 32-gallon Blue Boy portable sewage container with wheels. This we carry in the back of our pickup but others tow them behind trucks, cars or quads. We pump the grey and black water into the Blue Boy using a 12-vdc sewage pump (macerator) that also acts as a grinder. We empty the Blue Boy via gravity just as you would your outfits’ holding tanks. Don’t forget your sewage hose, as they are not provided.
The first year we dry camped on BLM land we used a 2,000-watt Honda generator to provide power and to charge the batteries. This certainly worked but required fuel to be hauled and regular maintenance, as the generator ran about 8 hours per day. We also learned 2,000-watts was not enough to run the AC on hot days.
We decided to add solar panels to the trailer and increase the number of batteries from two to four. I priced out several commercial installers of RV solar panels but decided to do the job myself. I bought four 125-watt solar panels, a 40-amp charge controller and a 2,500-watt surge to 5,000-watt power inverter. The installation went well and so today we have a 500-watt solar system that cost less than $1000. With this system we can cover all the normal requirements with the exception of the AC. For this we have a larger generator we occasionally use for AC or if we experience a few days of cloudy weather and the solar system can’t keep up. On a normal sunny day our batteries are fully charged by noon using solar only.
One issue of note in the Quartzsite area is the wind, which usually blows from a northerly direction. It is very common to have a brisk wind and occasional gusty days. One of the most valuable purchases we made was a screen that attaches to the awning and is anchored to the ground. This creates a very nice shaded area under the awning but also helps secure it from the wind. Awning de-flappers are also helpful. If one is going away for the day it is important to check the weather to ensure strong winds are not in the forecast. If gusty winds are forecast, roll up the awning. It is common to see damaged awnings from those who forget.
There is a lot to do and see in the Quartzsite area that could cover many pages of information. The Internet has many sites dedicated to those activities. We very much enjoy the area and have made lasting friendships with others that share our enthusiasm. Perhaps one day we will meet you there.