Magazine article Sunset

Rock On

Magazine article Sunset

Rock On

Article excerpt


QUARTZSITE, ARIZONA-"It's Davis Creek obsidian," the dealer tells me, hefting a large dark rock of indomitable ugliness. "Observe what it does when turned toward the sun."

I observe. One corner of the obsidian has been cut and polished, and when held in the light it shimmers from indigo to violet.

"Top grade," the dealer says. We are at the Quartzsite Improvement Association Pow Wow. Along with Desert Gardens Gem & Mineral and the Main Event Gemboree, the powwow is one of the giant gem and mineral shows that each winter turn this little town into one of the West's largest seasonal assemblages of people.

Unless you've actually been to Quartzsite on a gem-show weekend, it is difficult to comprehend how overwhelming the experience is. Driving in from Phoenix on I-10, you glimpse in the distance what appear to be flecks of quartz glinting on the desert floor. These are, in fact, the windshields of thousands of RVs. Exiting, you creep down Main Street in a way that may remind you of the opening scenes of Woodstock, except that instead of aging VWs cruising toward Max Yasgur's farm, the mob is made up of giant Pace Arrows whose drivers are searching for crystals and collectibles.

"It's remarkable the powwow has been going on for so many years," says Anker Rasmussen, former president of the QIA. But then Quartzsite is remarkable in many ways. Settled as a gold camp in the 1870s, the town enjoyed a couple of short-lived mining booms. It is also the burial place of Hi Jolly, Arizona's legendary camel driver. In 1945, Al Jolson married his fourth wife here.

But Quartzsite's modern history probably began in 1967 with the first QIA Pow Wow. The show introduced the area to rock hounds and the RV band of mostly retired gypsies known as snowbirds. Residents of cold-winter states like Oregon, Washington, and Minnesota, they drive down in search of warmth, filling the area's 110 RV parks and swelling the population into the tens of thousands. …

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