Wintering in Arizona

Winter 2010 CSANews Issue 77  |  Posted date : Dec 16, 2010.Back to list

For many frostbitten Canadians, Ol' Airy Zonie is the place to be during winter!
The Grand Canyon State receives this attention because the southern part of the state has a reputation for mild, dry winters. This doesn't mean that there will never be a cold day. The air can get chilly, but cold snaps are of short duration. If you stay south of a line about 100 kilometres north of I-10, you'll seldom be concerned with the temperature.

There's no place on earth quite like Arizona. It's not just the landscapes, which take in towering red-rock spires, rivers, grasslands and cactus forests. It's not just the historic and prehistoric past, which reaches back thousands of years. And it's not just the people, a vibrant blend of diverse cultures and traditions. Oh, and did I mention the natural wonders scattered about? In reality, it's all these things - and the way they come together - that make wintering in Arizona a truly unforgettable experience.

Yes, Arizona has much to offer the RVing snowbird.

Arizona has been portrayed as harsh, unfriendly terrain, inhospitable desert - a land of sand dunes, tumbleweeds and dry washes - between the "Golden State" and the "Land of Enchantment."

My perception was little different when we first visited the state more than 20 years ago. My initial reaction: How can anyone live in this arid, godforsaken wilderness?

Within days, I fell in love with the Sonoran Desert and have since returned a dozen times, often in spring to witness the wildflowers flood the desert floor with broad swaths of yellow, green and violet.

Along Arizona's southernmost region lies Saguaro National Park. Here, visitors get a firsthand look at the well-preserved Sonoran Desert, a vast expanse that takes up much of Arizona's southern region. The rolling hills inside the park are covered with Saguaro cacti (Arizona's official state flower), as well as a wide variety of other cacti, desert shrubs, and animals unique to the desert southwest. 

Several hours to the southeast, unique rock formations and unusual landscapes are found throughout the Chiricahua National Monument. 

Along the state's southern border lies Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which marks the northern range of its namesake. Amid the saguaro, ocotillo, cholla and more than 20 other cactus species, the organ pipes complete the desert landscape, like the firs that dot the Ponderosa pine forest in Arizona's 
High Country. 

Snowbird Roosts

Snowbird roosts are centred in the Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma areas. These cities are magnets for snowbirds, and RV parks have responded with highly organized activities and services.


The largest concentration of snowbirds can be found in the Phoenix area, often referred to as The Valley of the Sun. Phoenix and surrounding Maricopa County contain 80 per cent of Arizona's population. 

While Phoenix is the centre of much of the action in the Valley, there are more than 20 separate communities which are noteworthy on their own. Some of the major communities that also offer a host of attractions to snowbirds include the resort town of Scottsdale to the northeast; Tempe (home of Arizona State University) and Mesa (the state's third-largest city) to the east.

There's also Glendale (Arizona's fourth-largest city) to the north. Glendale, with a population of some 250,000, has experienced a huge spurt in construction of new sports facilities, including a new hockey arena for the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes, new football stadium for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, and new facilities for spring-training camps for baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox.


The American Indians called the place Stjukshon - "springs at the foot of the black hill." The word sounded like "Tucson," and thus became the name of the Arizona city that grew there.

Drawn by the mild climate, snowbirds find Tucson to be a vibrant and welcoming town, permeated with old-fashioned Western hospitality and many wonderful activities.

Tucson is a city full of unique places to explore, such as the old historic area, two units of Saguaro National Park, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Pima Air & Space Museum, Colossal Cave Mountain Park, Sabino Canyon, Catalina State Park, Tohono Chul Park, Tucson Botanical Gardens, Arizona State Museum, Mission San Xavier del Bac ("The White Dove of the Desert"), Old Tucson Studios, Biosphere 2 and Kitt Peak National Observatory.


One of the hottest spots in terms of growth is YUMA (Yearly Uncontrolled Migration of the Aged), which doubles in population during the peak travel months of January, February and March.

Yuma is Arizona's warmest winter city and the sunniest city in the United States, with an "annual average possible sunshine" ranking of 90 per cent.
Every day during the winter season, snowbirds cross on foot into Algodones. Many snowbirds refer to Algodones as the "dental capital of Mexico." There's also a proliferation of eye doctors and eyeglass services, pharmacies and general health-care services in this border town.


Any mention of Arizona and snowbirds would be incomplete without mentioning Quartzsite, a tiny town on I-10 just 32 kilometres east of the California state line. Although it's mostly a truck stop in the summer, Quartzsite is the best example of snowbird flight and its mercantile impact. Every winter, hundreds of thousands of snowbirds in recreational vehicles descend upon Quartzsite, with most of them perched on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in the desert surrounding the town. National Geographic has described Quartzsite as "the world's largest parking lot."

Often described as "$400,000 motorhomes towing $40,000 SUVs looking for FREE camping," Quartzsite has been a rockhound's paradise since the 1960s with annual rock and gem shows, flea markets and an RV show under the Big Tent.

More than 2,000 vendors of rocks, gems, minerals, fossils and everything else imaginable create one of the world's largest open-air flea markets. Eight major gem and mineral shows, as well as vendors of raw and handcrafted merchandise, peddle their wares to snowbirds, collectors and enthusiasts, making Quartzsite the place during January and February.

Nowhere on earth will you find such an assortment of "stuff" as you will at Quartzsite. As the saying goes, "If you can't find it in Quartzsite, you won't find it anywhere."

I'm looking forward to seeing you again in the next issue. Until then, check out my new website for more on snowbirding and the RV lifestyle: Vogel Talks RVing -

Meanwhile, "Let's Go RVing!" If not now, when? Live in the moment. No "what ifs" and no regrets. Life is short. Enjoy your winter in the sun.

Feel free to e-mail me at with your comments, issues and topics you'd like to see addressed on this page.