Quartzsite – An LTVA

In Adventure, Arizona, RV, Travel

Before the Gem show, La Posa LTVA is pretty quiet

LTVA stands for “Long Term Visitor Area,” and it’s a very popular term for many RV’ers.  The BLM has designated several LTVA’s in Arizona and California.  And if you’re an RV’er you’ve most likely heard of these locations.  One that is extremely popular for over wintering is Quartzsite, AZ.  And in this issue of Living In Tin we’re going to talk about Quartzsite and the other LTVA’s available to you!

Quartzsite LTVA

Quartzite Gem and Mineral Show
One of the many rock and gem shops in Quartzsite

The name “Quartzsite” is well known in the RV’ing community.  It’s a small desert town on the edge of the California border in Arizona.  And for some visiting the area it’s a Mecca during the winter, and for others rolling through for the first time the question of “Why?” might spring to mind.

Quartzsite is part of a group of areas designated by the BLM as Long Term Visitor areas.  These locations scattered throughout the desert southwest are available for RV’ers to camp at over winter for almost no money at all.

The LaPosa LTVA, just south of Quartzsite on Route 95, is broken into 4 zones.  Pulling into any one of the 4 areas visitors will find a small registration station complete with Full Time RV’ers manning the desk.  Currently the cost of staying in this LTVA is $40 for 14 days, or $180 for the season (September 15th through April 15th).

Quartzite "Swap Meet"
If you’re into giant flea markets and swap meets, Quartzsite is the right destination.

For $180 RV’ers can stay in the long term visitor areas for half a year!  That’s pretty incredible, but there are some drawbacks / issues.  First off, the LTVA’s are basically boondocking sites.  That means you’re running totally self contained.  One of the 4 locations does have a dump station for black and gray water, and a watering station as well.  If you’re staying in the area for 6 months, you will definitely need to pack up your site occasionally to go get water and dump your tanks.

The dumping and watering station at La Posa
The dumping and watering station at La Posa

Given the cost of staying in the area, free water and dump stations, and the over winter temperatures, many people flock to the area for the winter.  Thousands upon thousands of RV’s show up in Quartzsite in January each year for the Gem and Mineral Show.  That’s one of the major draws to the area.

LA Posa LTVA

From the BLM’s website, the following explanation of the La Posa LTVA site is given:

The La Posa Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA) was created in 1983 to fulfill the needs of winter visitors and to protect the local desert ecosystem from over-use. The campground is approximately 11,400 acres in size, flat landscape, sparsely vegetated with plants such as Creosote bushes, Palo Verde trees, Ironwood trees, Mesquite trees and various species of cacti.

La Posa Entrance Station
La Posa Entrance Station

As you can see from the description, this LTVA has been around for quite a while.  1983 all the way through 2014, and still going strong.

The La Posa LTVA, and surrounding camping opportunities, turn Quartzsite into a bustling community over the winter months to be sure.  And the town of Quartzsite goes from a handful of residents to tens of thousands of residents every year!

From Quartzsite’s website the following is said about the town:

Over 2 Million Visitors a Year!

Quartzsite, Arizona, barely 18 miles east of the Colorado river, on I-10, may be the RV boondocking capital of the world. Quartzsite has become a mecca to visitors and exhibitors for rocks, gems, mineral specimens and fossils during the town’s famous two-month-long gem show and swap meet every January and February. From its humble beginnings the now-massive Quartzsite show has grown to RV-epic proportions with vendors offering everything under the Quartzsite sun.

 Staying at an LTVA

A dwelling at La Posa
Some RV’ers create extra living space on their claimed site

Whether you’re boondocking at La Posa, or one of the several other LTVA’s in the area, you’re going to need to consider all of your boondocking needs.  Yes, a dump and water station are available.  But when you’re competing with thousands of other RV’ers the wait time might be a little daunting.

Additionally, you’re going to need to think about power as well.  Many of the rigs you’ll see in LTVA’s have elaborate solar setups, large generators, or even wind turbines.  Often traveling through an LTVA you’ll see RV’s that have clearly been setup quite a while, with make shift rooms added on to their semi-permanent domiciles.  If you’re planning to stay a while, be sure you’re prepared for a boondocking adventure.

A motorcycle RV
A cool little tear drop trailer towed by a motorcycle!

Before getting to Quartzsite, we’d suggest the following.  Dump your gray and black tanks, fill your fresh water tank, make sure your propane is topped off, and fill your gas cans if you’re running a generator.  If you do these simple things, it will be much easier to quickly find a spot, get set up, and claim your little slice of the desert.  And if you’re coming in at the time of the Gem and Mineral show, these few steps will make your first day much easier.

Things to do around Quartzsite

If you’re planning on a few days, weeks, or months in Quartzsite you might be wondering what there is to do in the area.  Beyond dirt cheap over winter camping, what else does this little desert town offer?  For some, plenty of things to do, and for others not so much.

Vendors off season
Even in the off season, there are still plenty of vendors in Quartzsite selling just about everything!

In January and February the Quartzsite Gem and Mineral show becomes the primary draw.  Vendors from all over the country descend on the town to sell their wares.  And along with the folks interested in the Gems and Minerals, there are also many other vendors looking to appeal to the “mobile community.”

Quartzsite has many RV dealerships.  If you’re looking for your first rig, or looking to trade up, visiting Quartzsite during the peak season might be just the thing for you.  In addition to the RV dealers, parts dealers are not in short supply.  Solar installations, RV upgrades, sign shops, you name it.  They’ll all be here during the big show, and they’ll be more than happy to sell you goods and services.

A beautiful class A RV
From small trailers and shanty setups to mega Class A’s and extreme affluence, Quartzsite has it all!

Now in some circles, many of the things to do might be considered fun by those who enjoy a good flea market or swap meet.  In other circles, these activities might sound painful and uninteresting.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of safe places to walk, or ride a bicycle.  The LTVA’s themselves are full of dirt tracks, and RV’s pass slowly along the roads.  So if you’re looking for a warmer climate where you can get out for a walk or a ride every day, then there’s the appeal for you.

Additionally, we’ve noted that many visitors to Quartzsite bring the Quads and 4 Wheelers along.  If you enjoy off road recreational vehicles, there are miles upon miles of riding opportunities.

Getting to Quartzsite

Finding the town of Quartzsite is realatively easy.  It’s right off of I-10 headed toward the California Border.  Take the exit for Route 95, and follow 95 South for less than 2 miles to the first 2 La Posa LTVA areas.  If you’re needing to top off your water tanks, or dump tanks continue another 1.5 miles south to the second set of LTVA’s, and the one with the dump station will be on your left (if you’re coming south).

The town is pretty small, and easy to find your way around.  There aren’t any Wal-Marts or chain grocery stores, so it might be wise to shop ahead of arrival.

Quartzsite is located 1 hour and 20 minutes from Lake Havasu, it’s almost two hours from Phoenix, 1 hour and 20 minutes from Joshua Tree National Park, and 1 hour and 20 minutes to Yuma.  So the area could easily be used as a low cost “base camp,” for exploring other areas in Arizona.

64 Year Old Homeless Grandpa For Rent

Homeless in Quartzite
This young couple was seen near the highway on ramp with a small puppy in tow.

While visiting Quartzsite over several days, we at Living In Tin ran across a good number of homeless wandering the town- both young and old, and it’s really not that surprising.

The winter months in Southern Arizona attract many people due to mild temperatures.  That’s why so many RV’ers migrate to Quartzsite during the winter.  Low cost accommodations, a fun Gem and Mineral show, and often many people are reuniting with friends who they’ve met on previous trips.  And that is all well and good.

At the same time many affluent RV’ers are pulling in, many low income (or no income) transients are also passing through.  One such person was seen near the Pilot station with a sign that simply read, “64 year old homeless Grandpa for rent.”

Upon first arriving at La Posa, we were warned by the camp hosts to not leave anything unattended outside.  As they put it, “Generators and anything else left outside have been disappearing.  Even chaining up your belongings doesn’t work, they’ve got bolt cutters.”

So while you’re planning your trip to Quartzsite or any other LTVA, keep in mind that not everyone is there in an RV for a good time.  Some people in desperate situations are also mixed in with the general camping population, and it’s reasonable to use some level of caution while staying.  That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your trip, it just means that you should be a little more alert regarding your own possessions.

Final Thoughts from the Author

I’ve been through Quartzsite over and over since 2007 on my first trip out to Anza Borrego, CA.  And with each trip to Borrego Springs I’ve found myself taking a quick overnight now and again in Quartzsite.  Normally I stay on the outskirts of the LTVA’s as I’m just popping in and out for an overnight.

Since I launched Living In Tin, Quartzsite has been on my mind.  The whole idea of an LTVA is appealing, and I thought I should give the location a longer visit.

I must say, from my personal perspective, there are many more appealing places to visit in the desert Southwest.  The idea of camping for 6 months for only $180 is very appealing, but this particular location has very little that appeals to my style of travel, and recreational activities that attract me.

Hopefully my personal preferences haven’t colored the article too negatively.  Staying in Quartzsite prior to the “big show” has shown me a quieter more enjoyable camping experience, but still not one that I would regularly seek out.

With that in mind, the Airstream will be pointed to the other LTVA’s in the area, and hopefully we can find more to do at those locations.

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