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Rocks, Camels, and
RVs, Oh My!

Read more travel humor in my latest book:
Where Are Pat and Ernie Now?

“Can I help you?” the guy asked.

“I’m looking for a mountain with a waterfall,” I said.

“May want to try somewhere besides the desert.”

I held my hands out. “I just want one about this big.”

Another drugged out Southern Californian, he was most likely thinking.

“He wants a rock that looks like a mountain with a crevice that looks like a waterfall,” my wife said. “To go on his bonsai shelf.”

“Ohhh, right,” he said. Glad that one of us was somewhat sane. He swung his arm is a grandiose manner. “Got just what you are looking for… out there somewhere.”

We stared at the dozens and dozens of makeshift displays sitting on empty 55-gallon drums, holding thousands of rocks in a myriad of colors.

“Have fun,” Pat said. “I’m going to check out the geodes next door.”

We were in Quartzsite, Arizona, which straddles Route 10 right near the intersection of Route 95, one of the strangest places we have ever stayed. We got the last room on the “quiet side” of a Super 8, where you could barely hear the constant stream of eighteen-wheelers, bringing stuff from the east to the west and the west to the east at 75 miles per hour, day and night.

Our original plan was to drive from Sierra Vista, near the Mexican border, to Phoenix, where we were going to spend the night. But Phoenix was…

“All full, sorry.”

Pat dialed another hotel.

“All full, sorry.”

She tried several more times with the same result.

“All of Phoenix is full? How can that be?” I asked.

“They said it was because of spring training. So, I asked that last guy what they were training for. He said it was baseball.”

“Oh yeah! They have the Cactus League here. Did he have any suggestions?”

“He said try New Mexico.”

Instead, we looked on the map at the next “logical” place west of Phoenix. A hundred and twenty-five miles later, we were in rock-hound heaven. And “RV heaven,” if you can use those two words together. Apparently a million snowbirds travel to Quartzsite for the months of January and February in RVs that range from brand new to “are you kidding me?”

Quartzsite started as a fort in 1856, when a settler named Charles Tyson needed to protect his water supply from attacks by Native Americans, who probably thought the water and the land belonged to them. Fort Tyson soon became a stopover on a stagecoach route, eventually becoming known as Tyson's Wells. After the stage stopped running, it became a ghost town until a small mining boom revitalized the town. It became known as Quartzsite in 1897.

A far more interesting bit of Quartzsite history, though, involves Hi Jolly and the Camels (sounds like a rock group, get it “rock” group? Quartzsite?). In 1856, Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War, later to be short-lived President of the confederacy, thought camels were the perfect vehicles for the desert (before RVs) and procured 74 of them. Their caretaker was a guy from Syria named Haiji Ali, which the soldiers quickly pronounced Hi Jolly. The camels earned their humps but not their stripes. The government laid them off and they spent the rest of their time wandering in the desert, doing whatever camels do on their time off. Hi Jolly, who died in 1902, ended up in the Quartzsite Cemetery, where a small pyramid was erected on his behalf, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Besides camels, eighteen-wheelers, RVs, roadside shops where people sell everything from gems to tie-dye to emu oil, there are also a lot of dune buggies, many of them carrying senior citizens to dried out river beds, where they spin out and do doughnuts before heading off to Daniel's Really Good Fresh Jerky Store and Deli for a nosh.

Meanwhile, back at T-Rocks emporium…

“I found it!” I yelled. I held up my seven-and-a-half-pound prize. Pat looked relieved. We still wanted to drive through Joshua Tree National Park on our way back to Santa Barbara.

“Congratulations,” the guy said as he rang up my purchase. “Please stop by again on your next visit to Quartzsite. We have new rocks… er, mountains… arriving all the time.”

I’m thinking now that we need to buy an RV.

My new mountain, home safe and sound!