With a name such as Quartzsite, it’s no surprise the little desert town is a haven for rockhounds.
And for two months out of the year during the annual gem and mineral shows, it’s more like a lazy rockhound’s true paradise.
There’s no need to go into the desert looking for gems in January and February, although there are plenty to be found there.
Hundreds of vendors set up their wares in Quartzsite, about 90 minutes from Tucson, and often sell them at wholesale prices.
The deals are especially ripe right now, toward the end of the show season.
Some vendors have left but many remain.
Hundreds of recreational vehicles cover the remaining landscape on both sides of Interstate 10.
It has been an annual scene for more than four decades.
“For the most part, it’s a bargainer’s paradise,” said Deborah Olvham, a Quartzsite Chamber of Commerce coordinator. “And people are real friendly. They tend to come here to have fun.”
Along with rocks and gems and fossils, shoppers can find everything from kitchen utensils to kites.
One shopper found silicone oven mitts for $6, less than a third of the price that she’d seen elsewhere, she said.
She also bought a $30 petrified wood bookend, $8 turquoise earrings and $23 earrings made of carnelian and moonstone.
The cemetery with the Hi Jolly monument, just a block north of the main drag, is worth a detour. Named for a man whose real Arabic name was Haiji Ali, U.S. soldiers morphed his name into “Hi Jolly” when he came to America to care for camels while the military experimented with their use.
The camels proved their worth carrying supplies through the Arizona desert on the Beale expedition of 1857, but the military later abandoned them in the area, where they survived as an oddity for years.
While Jolly was an interesting historical character, plenty of live characters are attracted to the rock shows these days.
Some buy rocks, create jewelry and then sell it on the street.
“That’s where you get the best artwork,” said Edward J. Avery, an amateur rockhound from Southington, Conn.
“But the vendors own the place because if it wasn’t for the vendors, the show wouldn’t be here,” he said.
Avery arrived here a few months ago and set up camp in the desert before upgrading to an RV.
He comes to buy rocks in bulk, and then sells them in the Northeast.
“General rule of thumb: The more you buy, the cheaper it is,” Avery told newcomers.
Avery, who is a professional wrestler with the stage name of Avil Graves, couldn’t resist buying some Oriental weapons and books, too.
Tools and food also are big sellers, he said.
Avery is making money on the side while in Quartzsite as a waiter at the Grubstake Chuckwagon and Watering Hole.
Avery recently sported two necklaces made of rocks held together by copper wire, which he acquired from two men on the street.
A guy named Dread made the shorter necklace that features jasper, malachite and carnelian. Another guy, Lucky, made the longer one of ocean jasper, opal, turquoise and more.