Snickers and smirks bombarded me when I told people where John and I were spending our first vacation in nearly seven years.
“Really, what’s there to see?”
I heard this reaction a half dozen times but am thankful we took the trip. I don’t believe there is a single piece of land without a story.
Every part of God’s country carries unique reflections of those who have passed from their earthly lives into its final embrace, but Quartzite, Az carries them all. It is a crossroads of luxury and desperation, an oasis and a dustbowl. It’s a contradiction of status and survival, all merged into a dried up piece of land.
On the road to Quartzite, dust devils danced their warning to those who would pay attention. There wasn’t a mile passed where we didn’t see one.
“I’m from the Yukon but I still feel cold here in the winter”, said a tiny lady, selling her beautiful rocks at the Gem and Mineral show. Her motor home, weathered and dust-blown, sat next to tables full of the earths treasures. I picked up a few for my kids and one for myself; all rocks from foreign lands, polished to their very best.
Most of the vendors were accompanied by their homes on wheels, as worn out as their inhabitants. A few looked like they were being weighed down by burdens heavier that their rocks. Others, who were more prosperous, indicated that the farther away the wool, or the rock, the more precious it was. All the while they absorbed the local sun rays like they were being painted with diamonds.
Driving deeper into town we found more snow birds than natives. In summer, the population is meager, but when the winter hits, this little town turns into a city. The travelers usually find a warm winter and the natives become exiles in their own land. Camper trailers and mansions on wheels reigned in the dust.
We came to a little cemetery with a large monument to a man named Hadji Ali, or Hi Jolly, as the American soldiers called him. Hi Jolly came from Syria in the 1800’s to teach our soldiers how to pack and handle camels that were to help build and supply a wagon route from Texas to California. The camels didn’t like our rocky soil, but handled it well enough for the army to send for 1000 more camels to join the Camel Military Corps. Not long after, our country turned its full attention to the civil war and the camel corps was forgotten. Some of them were auctioned off; others were let loose in the desert only to be hunted by prospectors and hunters.
After a failed business, Hi Jolly made Quartzite his final home (He released the last remaining camel near Gila Bend).
For years, camels were spotted roaming the southwest, becoming legends. Some, who saw the creatures thought they were crazy, seeing camels roaming in a country foreign to them, some thought they were ghosts. One eye witness was a 5 yr. old boy, who later became known as General Douglas MacArthur.
What we found in Quartzite was a platter of samples. All corners of America and beyond came to share in their various treasures, whether it was a gem of the earth, or the sun overhead. And the dust devils kept the footprints stirred, so no one’s mark on the earth reigned over another.