6 min read

The Winter Passage: Quartzsite, Arizona

The Winter Passage: Quartzsite, Arizona
Author Photo (The Quail Run RV Resort, Quartzsite, Arizona)

One evening, in the comforting presence of autumn, I stepped out of my motorhome to appreciate the hour, as shades of blue gave way to pink and violet in the east, and, in a declaration of power, bands of orange prevailed towards the west. Prior to visiting Quartzsite, Arizona, I had paid little attention to the twin glories of sunset, the descent of fire in the west illuminating eastern mountains, painting them as pastel expressions. Changing from moment to moment, the beauty of dusk and twilight is magnified in desert landscapes. The evening in question, about which I now reflect, was remarkable and so unlike the previous nightfall, each winter passage of the sun exhibiting its own character. And, as I walked through the surrounding desert with my dogs, I reflected on the joyful oddities of RV life.

Arrival of the "Snowbirds"

As the season advances, people arrive from various locations, some in converted buses and rusted vans, others in luxurious motorhomes and trailers. Each year, the solace of desert life draws multitudes to this remote part of Arizona, casting us in the role of nomadic neighbors, friends for a season. As the American dream of home ownership fades into memory, van life has become increasingly popular, among both young and old travelers. And who are some of my most recent acquaintances? An older hippie named Mike, whose dog I walked from time to time, comes immediately to mind.

Topanga Canyon Adventures

A former guard dog for a marijuana grower, Sadie was pleasant but exuberant enough to exhaust any handler, much less an older man like Mike, so I applied my limited skills to assist. And my walks with Sadie gave me a chance to chat with Mike about our travels, his journeys being far more extensive than my own. He owned property in Nova Scotia, from which he ventured annually to enjoy the warmth of Arizona. Driving an older Winnebago with faded decals, Mike did not fit the profile of a typical snowbird, many of them touring the nation in high luxury, driving motorhomes fit for millionaires. But his adventures were memorable, one of which he described in some detail--summer days of "fatties" and folk music in Topanga Canyon.

During one of our chats, I told Mike that he bore an interesting resemblance to Charles Manson, at which point he mused and began to tell a story.

Mike had left home at 12, hitchhiking his way to flower power and sunshine in Santa Monica, eventually residing in a hippie commune. During the 1960s, kids were less likely to vanish into the dark corners of exploitation, so his life as a runaway was well-timed. At any rate, he actually had occasion to meet Charles Manson and listen to the famed cult leader strum guitar chords and sing, enjoying carefree days in the shadow of an emerging tragedy. So, "Uncle Charlie" introduced young Mike to the scene--the multi-colored era scholars still find baffling--and the rest, as they say, is history. From there, Mike worked in forestry and other forms of labor, never losing touch with his earthy origins as he and Manson, thankfully, went their separate ways.

Then one day, I noticed that he and Sadie were gone.

Living now with stage four cancer, and comfortable with the approach of nightfall, Mike had departed with Sadie in-tow, presumably heading for hospice care in Seattle.

I never cease to marvel at the array of people I discover in the RV realm, all of us from vastly different places, living as refugees of leisure, season by season. A week prior to chatting with a former associate of the Manson Family, I had met "The master" of wine cellar construction, a character who was happy to reminisce about some of his famous clients.

Author Collage from Stock Images

The Master of Wine Cellars (And Mel Gibson) at McDonalds

One day, as my dogs and I passed the laundry room, an older man was emerging, ebullient to a fault and eager to greet Jacoby and Tessa with typical dog person enthusiasm. With that, he and I chatted for a while. Something about the guy seemed genuinely pleasant, if a bit boastful, lending credence to his claim of being "the master" of wine cellar construction for Hollywood elites.

As our conversation wore on, and the laundry entered its final cycles, he spoke of being invited to McDonalds by Mel Gibson–whereupon the latter graciously remained quiet (perhaps sipping his coffee) while a woman lavished fangirl attention on the former. I mused over his vivid descriptions, images that certainly fit the outline of a Hollywood tale.

Across a crowded Micky D's, a fan had recognized the wine cellar guru and sought his autograph, wondering if the other man, a bearded Mel Gibson in a ballcap, was anyone worth noting. True story? I have no idea, but the tale was entertaining enough to enjoy. Also interesting was the story of George Bush Senior telephoning the wine guy directly. Apparently, during the course of his presidency, he had missed a luncheon engagement with--you guessed it, the wine cellar guru--and wished to apologize. By the end of this narrative, the laundry was done.

Although the stories were charming, if a bit self-serving, the guru's devotion stood out more than the subject matter, as he protected the elites, taking great care to present them in a favorable light. According to him, they were all deeply gracious and down-to-earth, eating toxic fast food like ordinary folks, and inviting him for breakfast with their respective families. By his recollection, one client even gifted him a bottle of wine valued at ten thousand dollars. To hear it from the wine cellar guru, the wealthy elites were just the loveliest people on earth. Could they help it if they were rich and famous--and so deeply embroiled in scandals?

Looking back, I should have asked more pointed questions about Hollywood, since we all know, by now, the depths of its horror. Indeed, perhaps the wine guy knew more about Gibson's recent film on child trafficking than the public. The way his demeanor shifted from being gregarious and open to haughty and defensive, the moment I began to question the character of his former clients, spoke volumes. However, according to the wine cellar guy, the billionaires, former presidents, and movie stars he served were all just totally "normal" and laid-back, gracious and unprepossessing--end of discussion. Interesting. If those wine cellars could talk, and reveal the hidden chambers of "elite" life, what might they reveal?

In a couple of days, the wine guy was preparing to leave, returning to the road for more adventures. However, he gave me an autographed copy of his book before departing, a gracious gesture, indeed.

Reflections on RV Life

Being permanently on the road, I am moving quite slowly on my journey. I've met others who, upon acquiring their rigs, frantically tour the nation in hopes of seeing everything. Somehow, they believe that RV life will grant them an unending succession of pinnacle moments, electric sunsets, waterfalls and rock formations of splendor, winter forests of latticed snow and ice. Needless to say, this is an ideal recipe for burnout. In my estimation, nomadic life is best when appreciated slowly, sipped like premium coffee on a chilly morning.

As for Quartzsite, I have enjoyed this stop immensely, partaking of the deep well water available at the RV Pit Stop, enjoying locally-sourced meat from the Coyote Fresh Market, and chatting with rockhounds who scour the desert floor, searching for the most beautiful specimens of quartz. Even the trinket shops possess a certain charm. Some dealers have fossils and flint knives for sale, as well as gems, items that fall into the middle ground between cheap souvenirs and beautiful relics. Although entertainment options are limited to lunch at the VFW, or lively games of cornhole, the town of Quartzsite has much to offer the seasonal visitor.

Author Collage from Stock Images

As for the next stops, I'll be heading back to Apache Junction for a bit, then onward to Utah and Idaho in the spring.

As always, I thank you for reading and keeping in touch!

A. M. Palmer (Palmer.literary@gmail.com)