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Starting a business is hard.
in business – that’s harder. Which is why,
after more than 35 years of managing
and building a successful landscaping
business in Edmonton, owner Ray Borlee
figures that he’s earned a little time off.
You could call Borlee something of a
professional snowbird. Over the years,
he’s visited most of the traditional
sunbelt destinations south of the border.
“Through the 1980s and 1990s, my first
wife and I spent about eight winters in
Mexico,” he muses. “We toured Florida
three times and toured California a few
times. But to settle down for the winter,
we found Arizona to be our choice.”
After Borlee’s first wife passed away,
he met Bernadine Newberry. Before
too long, the couple decided to winter
together in Quartzsite, Arizona, a small
town of about 3,500 people two hours
due west of Phoenix. “It’s straight south
of Edmonton,” Borlee says. “With the
motorhome, [we] just drive down there
and set up.”
As its name suggests, the town has a rich
mining history – quartz, agates, limonite
cubes and gold have been found in the
mountains and hills surrounding the area.
More recently, Quartzsite has developed
into a popular winter destination for both
snowbirds and their cousins from the
northern United States. The town’s official
website estimates that more than 1.5
million visitors drop by during the winter
months, many of them spending time at
the more than 70 RV parks which can be
found on the town’s outskirts.
While many visitors choose to “boon-
dock” their RV in the desert outside of
dedicated RV parks, Borlee and Newberry
prefer at least a little civilization. “We
live in our motorhome in the long-term
visitor area calledWest Laposa, on the
edge of [the town] in the desert,” Borlee
says. The couple has even taken the time
to make their parking spot a little more
like home. “We’re the ones who have a
flower bed – people like our flowers.”
As Borlee explains, Quartzsite’s main
attraction is its weather: dry, warm and
as much sun as anyone would ever want.
“[It’s] a lot warmer than in Alberta most
of the time; about 70 degrees Fahrenheit
and very little rain,” Borlee says. About
as far away from the snow and ice of
Northern Alberta as you can get. “I guess
the biggest difference is to get used to no
snow – a brown Christmas.”
The town boasts a number of amenities
and activities that make it an attractive
place to wait out the Canadian winter.
Quartzsite plays host to a number of
events throughout the year, including
no fewer than nine rock-and-gem
shows, along with a massive RV show in
January that draws an estimated 150,000
attendees. Nearby Kofa National Wildlife
Refuge offers the opportunity to explore
Arizona’s strikingly beautiful desert –
something which Borlee and Newberry
do frequently. And with the California
border a mere 22 miles away, there’s
always an opportunity for a road trip to
Los Angeles and other points west.
Needless to say, Borlee and Newberry
have little trouble filling their days. “[We
have] lots of friends, lots to do. Some
days, we have to decide what we are go-
ing to do as there are three or four things
going at the same time,” he says. “There
are crafts of all kinds, [music] jams three
times a day, church, live shows, square
dancing, social dancing, et cetera.”
Because of the town’s reputation as a
mecca for sun-loving RVers, the same
people tend to come back every winter.
That has given the couple the opportun-
ity to establish long-lasting friendships
in a way that’s not always possible
with more transient visitors. “When it’s
someone’s birthday or an anniversary,
it’s off to Silly Al’s for pizza and beer at
4:30 p.m. [with] about 30 to 40 friends in
attendance. They love us!”
Financially, wintering in Arizona has been
a good thing for the couple. “We don’t
have any trouble,” Borlee notes. “We have
our insurance, which is expensive and
a nuisance, but we get it and follow the
rules and policies on how many days we
can stay and what we can bring back.”
A stronger Canadian dollar also helps,
as does an adventurous, fun-seeking
attitude. “I love to travel, get out of the
snow, meet wonderful people,” Borlee
says. “A stranger is just a friend I haven’t
met before.”
For those looking to follow his lead and
spend their winters in warmer climes,
Borlee has one recommendation: stop
thinking about it and go do it. “Wannabe
snowbirds should just go for it,” Borlee
exclaims. “Don’t worry – other snowbirds
are friendly and they’ll help you out if
need be.”
That said, you have to have the right at-
titude…not just about travelling, but also
about aging and retirement. “Getting old
can be fun. You have to just keep going in
life,” Borlee says. “Fun doesn’t come
to you. You have to go after it!”
Fun in the sun
Ray Borlee and Bernie Newberry make their
winter home in the Arizona desert
Ray Borlee is a lifetime member
of the CSA. Since 2005, he has
been referring snowbirds to
the association, averaging five
to six new members each year.
As of 2012, Ray has recruited
45 new members.