Three Weeks, 1500 Miles: Austin to Quartzsite

Capitol Building, Austin Texas
Capitol Building, Austin Texas: looking down from the 4th floor.

Three weeks ago I left Austin Texas headed for Quartzsite Arizona, a journey of some 1500 miles. Why? Good question. Two reasons: to see the spectacle that is Quartzsite (more in a moment) and to find warmer climes in which to spend the rest of winter. Hey, it’s been cold in many of the places I’ve been lately. In Big Bend National Park there was an icicle about 18″ long hanging off my RV one morning!

Lone Tree, Lost Mine Hike, Big Bend
I came across this one tree seemingly growing out of the rock at the top of the mountain while hiking the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park.

Today I arrived in Quartzsite. No that’s not a misspelling. The mineral doesn’t have that s in it but when the town first had its Post Office built somebody misspelled it and it stuck. Anyway, I’m here, and the spectacle is this: every year this tiny little town in the southwestern part of Arizona is overrun by thousands and thousands of RVs encircling it in the desert. RVs for almost as far as the eye can see. Why? Another good question. The Quartzsite RV show. It’s more than just the RV show, however. This place is a mecca for gem and mineral shows too. There’s also a golf tournament (or something related to golf) as well as an art show going on now. The big draw at the moment however is the RV hoohah. The city has several locations with tents set up where anybody and everybody with anything RV to sell is displaying wares and a great many vendors are hawking wares that don’t have anything to do with RVs. After all, RVers are people too, ya know, and they buy clothing and jewelry, and other stuff. RV customizers set up shop during the show too, as well as repair facilities and they linger for weeks after the show as long as there is ample business.

View Along Lost Mine Trail
View along the Lost Mine Trail, Big Bend Nat’l Park, TX. This hike is about 4.8 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 1,100′. There are wonderful views along the way and it runs through habitat much different than desert below.

I arrived with a list of things I wanted to purchase and things I want to get fixed. I’m considering a water softener–the water in the midwest is really hard, full of minerals which make soap lather less and which clog up your plumbing. I need to get my refrigerator/freezer repaired. There’s a list of stuff but it would make for dull reading were I to mention it all. No, I won’t do that, but what I will do is mention the places I’ve been to on my journey from Austin.

Doorway, Marathon, TX
What is it about doorways, anyway? I found this one in Marathon, TX.

My first stopping point after Austin was a little town called Uvalde, TX, a little over 100 miles from Austin. Now 100 miles may not seem like a lot to cover in a day but in an RV that takes an hour or two in order to prep for driving and then again later to set up for camping… well, days are longer and driving is shorter than in cars. Uvalde was a one-nighter, a stop-over. From there it was Seminole Canyon State Park which would have been a 300 mile drive from Austin and too far to drive in one day. There is Indian and railroad history at Seminole, but not Seminole Indian history. As it turns out, African-Americans traveled with the Seminole Indians and were at one point separated from them settling in the Seminole Canyon area and it was from them the area took its name. Who knew? I went for a guided hike which is the only way you can get into the canyon to see the petroglyphs.

Water Tower Ruins, Marathon TX
Marathon, Texas once saw a steam train pass through when back in the late 1800s the Southern Pacific built a line through the town. It would stop here to take on water for the boiler. This is the pedestal or base upon which the water tower rested. It’s all that remains.

From Seminole Canyon my next stop 135 miles later was a little town called Marathon, also in TX, that I used as a launching point into Big Bend National Park 70 miles to the south. Big Bend, besides the fact it was really cold when I was there, is really cool. Cool… cold… did you catch my clever play there? Oh well. It’s got desert as well as pine forested mountains. From Big Bend I drove back to Marathon where I spent another interim night at the Marathon Hotel and RV Park. Man it’s nice to have electricity to heat your RV and make light by which to see. There were no hookups for that where I stayed in Big Bend and to make matters worse generators were prohibited so I had to get by on just my battery reserves and what little power my small solar panel could muster under the cloudy gray skies.

White Sands National Monument
I was in photographer’s heaven at White Sands National Monument. My friend Tim and I accidentally walked into an area that was off limits. Before the park rangers came and booted us out we managed to get off a few shots. This area had plants and zero footprints except those from birds and animals. Almost everywhere else we went was littered with human footprints, people, had little if any plant life, and was thus uninteresting.

My next destination was White Sands National Monument in NM, some 350 miles from Big Bend but I stayed a night in the Walmart parking lot in Horizon City as a stopover in order to break up that drive and reprovision. While at White Sands I camped at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park in Alamogordo, NM. White Sands made me a bit giddy as I found it something of a photographer’s paradise. Never mind that I accidentally wandered into an area that was off limits and that the areas you’re permitted in are by comparison a total yawn, or worse, so littered with people and footprints that there’s nothing to shoot.

Saguaro Tour
Taken during a free guided tour through the Rincon section of the Saguaro National Park on the east side of Tucson–the park has two sections, one on the west side of Tucson and the other on the east side. You can get an idea of just how big some of these saguaros get. They’ve been known to grow to 60′ and this one may be half that size! Holy cow! That’s one big-ass cactus!

After White Sands I stayed a couple nights at Rockhound State Park which has the unusual policy of encouraging visitors to collect the semiprecious gemstones in the area and to take them home! Try that in a national park and they will remove your arms. Opal, jasper, geodes and thunder eggs are common aound Rockhound was a stopover destination for me but the weather was nice and I enjoyed a couple short hikes, sorely needing what little exercise I got from them.

Next it was a 215 mile drive to Tucson, AZ, where I spent a couple nights at the Pima County Fairgrounds RV Park which was close to the eastern part of Saguaro National Park where I spent the day between the two nights I stayed at the fairground. I’d seen saguaro cacti on TV and in the movies but jeepers, I guess I never really realized how humongous they can be–up to 60′ high. Yikes!

Rockhound Campground
Rockhound Campground is on the small side, but with overflow has over 30 sites. Those are the Florida Mountains in the distance.

130 miles later I was in Mesa, AZ at Usery Mountain Park where I met up with my RVing buddies Tim and Issy whom I’d originally met a couple months prior in Little Rock, AR, and whose company I’d enjoyed at maybe a half dozen RV parks since as we traveled similar routes from Little Rock, to Natchez, MS, New Orleans, LA and then west. Both Usery and Salome, AZ, were interim stops on my way to Quartzsite where now I’m writing this after a day in the Big Tent chasing down parts and service for my RV Charlene.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park

I’ll remain in Quartzsite through this coming Wednesday, at least, then perhaps pay a visit to Yuma a little way south. The general plan is to winter in the Arizona area before turning east as the weather begins to warm, visiting the souther states first before turning northerly. My goal of being able to say that I’ve been to all 50 states is still a long way off even though I’d seen more than a few before this trip started and I can see that it will easily take the remainder of 2015 and probably beyond in order to accomplish.

The whirlwind of activity over the past three weeks has limited my time an energy for blogging, but I expect things to slow down now that I’m in Arizona and I look forward to spending more than just a night or two in any one place. A week or two sounds much better to me.

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8 thoughts on “Three Weeks, 1500 Miles: Austin to Quartzsite”

  1. Wow! That is a lot of milage with a few beautiful photo shots-my favorite-white sands and I also like the photo of the Saguaro cactus in the foreground and the dry mountains jagging up in the background. It made me realize once again how beautiful nature is even when the environment seems scary, dry and inhospitable. (It was the lighting on the cactus that made that photo special and the composition). Even though you’ve covered so many miles and I imagine it must be very tiring you seem to be happy and in a good mood (“big ass cactus”) and (cool,cold). I read that there is a big storm coming through the south west on its way to the North West. Hope you will miss it or it will miss you! Every time I see my fave photo of White Sands I like it even more!
    Continue on having a muy bien viaje!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Glad you like the photos and for the heads-up about the weather. On the latter, I don’t think there is much bad weather forecast for Quartzsite. I see one day in the next ten where there is a 50% chance of rain, but other than that it’s supposed to be dry with temps are predicted to be mostly in the low 70s during the day, with cloudiness some days. It does cool off quite a bit at night here with lows 30º and more below the daytime highs commonplace. I think it was in the 30s last night. It was 41º inside my RV when I got up this morning, but I’m prepared for that and was toasty-snuggly warm as I slept.

    1. I have to approve all comments before they appear on the blog. Yours is one I didn’t have to think about too much prior to approval. Hahah. Thanks so much for your kind words. Now get out there and tell everyone about it! LOL. Thanks again, Jim.

  2. Russ – just starting to follow you and appreciate you mentioning specifics about the places you are camping. We are full time in our truck camper and have been on the road for about six months. We keep a google map marked with all the ‘want to get to places’ and have added several that you’ve mentioned.
    We will be heading to Alaska this spring and summer and then down the west coast to winter in Arizona. Are you hearing specific places in Arizona that are warm most of the winter? (Cold weather makes me sad:))

    1. Sounds like warm weather makes you happy… you and a million other people (snowbirders) who winter in AZ and FL 🙂

      I’m really not an expert on the warmest places to winter. I expect on the west coast it would be southernmost CA, and southern AZ. On the east coast I think it would be Florida.

      I’m not sure of your camping style, boondocking vs. full hookups. I believe there is a lot more free boondocking out west and little or none back east. I’ve heard if you want prime RV park space in Florida you’ve got to book well in advance, maybe a year or more. I’ve also heard that finding RV park space inland in Florida is easier and much less expensive.

      I’ll bet you’d get a lot of opinions and information on Nina Fussin has spent a good amount of time boondocking in the AZ area and her blog is terrific. So I’d check there too.


  3. Having lived in Tucson for the past 47 years, I’d venture to speculate that I’m a tad biased about the beauty of the area. While Saguaro East is spectacular, Saguaro West is even more breathtaking. And go over Gates Pass (not in Charlene though) to get a bird’s eye view of it …..worth a trip next time you pass through….and consider staying at Justin’s (…adjacent to the Park) if you like to camp off the beaten path and are partial to gorgeous sunsets.

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