By Russ and Tiña De Maris
If you haven’t been able to make it down to the Snowbird Capital of the Southwest, Quartzsite, Arizona, you may be wondering what’s up. Between the border crossing issues for Canadian snowbirds to COVID-19 concerns, is Quartzsite really “happening” this year?
As spectators of the ebb and flow of Quartzsite traffic over the years, we’ve come to expect certain patterns in the little town that annually gets big. Generally, mid-September will mark the start of the seasonal influx. It’s a trickle at first, then as the weather cools down to more acceptable levels, traffic tends to pick up.
A major marking point on the calendar tends to be the Thanksgiving holiday. We’re accustomed to seeing a veritable traffic jam of southbound traffic coming down Highway 95, with many turning off in the short-term areas. This year, Thanksgiving wasn’t up to that level. While a reasonable number of snowbirds rolled out their slideouts at the Hi Jolly short-term area, just north of town, farther north at the Plomosa Road area things looked like the proverbial ghost town.
Other short-term areas were also way down on temporary residents. West of town, Dome Rock saw RVs few and far between, and much the same could be said for the Scaddan Wash area just east. So what’s up in Quartzsite at the LTVAs (Long-Term Visitor Areas)?
Changes at the LTVAs
La Posa South, generally the most popular of the four LTVAs due to having fresh water and dump stations, looked a bit slim for the season. One of the hosts there confirmed our speculation, calling it “slightly down” for the time. Interestingly, more RVers were asking for short-stay permits (two weeks at a time) than for the seasonal permits. And, noted the host, they were seeing many more “first timers” who’d never before stayed there.
The BLM has made a couple of changes in keeping with the COVID-19 situation. You won’t be able to step inside the host station to jaw or borrow a paperback book. Visitors now conduct their business through a window (with a Plexiglas sneeze-guard), and face masks are mandatory when stepping up to the window.
The other three LTVAs were noticeably scarcer in terms of RVers. We found it particularly noticeable at the two LTVAs closest to town. In years past, it seemed like many folks enjoy camping right “up front” near Highway 95. This year, in mid-December, barely a soul claimed acreage on the highway frontage areas. That may well change as we get closer to the Big Tent RV show in mid-January. Want to know more about the LTVAs? Look here.
Vendors told us things were definitely “off.” Casey and his wife operate an “all sorts” shop west across the street from the post office. Casey mentioned he was certainly glad that their livelihood wasn’t tightly tied to Quartzsite sales, because if it were, “We’d be in trouble.” Not only were cash-paying customers sparse, other vendors in the same area who would normally be up and running by this time were likewise missing in action.
Down on the frontage road, popular for folks needing inexpensive tools or drill bits, a real tell-tale sign was parking. Usually finding a parking space is an exercise in frustration, but the day we checked it out there were plenty of available slots.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of this highly non-scientific study: post office traffic. In mid-December, counter lines in the post office generally stream from Ruben at the counter, out the lobby door, across the building, and down around the corner into the eastern-most box corridor, packed like sardines in a can. Not so now. The biggest line we saw met that description, save for the fact that most were keeping six feet of distance between themselves. Wait times to get to the counter were but a few minutes.
So what’s up in Quartzsite? Where is everybody? Down at Pattie’s RV Park, a popular spot to fill up propane cylinders, our gabby gas-passer said traffic was definitely off. The cause? He felt that nearly 40% of LP customers were from Canada – and they were seeing very few Canadian customers.
Is COVID-19 playing into the decisions of snowbirds to stay away, or at least delay their visit? It could well be, when one takes a look at the official COVID-19 statistics. Over the summer, La Paz County had relatively low numbers of the virus. But as fall marched in, things began to change. On October 1, the county had recorded 545 cases of the virus. By October 15, the number was 577, about a 6 percent increase. On November 1, the numbers had moved up nearly 9 percent, to 628. November 15, 681 cases, up a little more than 8 percent.
But the virus statistics took a significant turn. On December 1, confirmed COVID-19 cases hit 883, a startling near-26% surge. By Christmas Day, the numbers hit 1,284, a 37% jump in less than a month. What’s up in Quartzsite? Apparently your opportunity to gain a potentially deadly virus.
Planning on making Quartzsite a port of call this winter? Social distancing on the long-term and many of the short-term areas shouldn’t be a problem. But if you’ve got business that takes you to government offices and shopping, by all means, bring your face masks and hand sanitizer.
Will more folks flock to town, making the season just a “late starter,” or will the fall-off in visitors be one for the record books? We’ll know soon. We’ll keep a close eye on traffic next week as, traditionally, the days immediately following the Christmas holiday mark the major influx. Stay tuned for the results.