The Desert Rat


(please check our Daily Log for Tyson Wells Sell-a-Rama 2009
   Arts & Crafts Show

At 3:00 in the early morning we are awakened by a pack of coyotes howling up in the hills a couple miles away.  We are in our motor home parked out in the BLM lands a mile south of Tyson Wells, an area where thousands of snowbirds congregate each year to escape the cold weather and snow in the Northern part of the country.  Many of them congregate in groups and position their RV's in close proximity to their friends, etc.

Each year we pack our things that we are going to sell into the motor home and head some 600 miles south east to Tyson Wells, just across Highway 10 from Quartzsite.  Long ago, while working for the post office, my wife and I used to envision us having a motor home and traveling to Arizona to set up in sunny, 70 degree temperatures and sell amongst some 800 other vendors there.  Unlike regular festivals where you go to the event and set up for 2-3 days, the winter-time shows in Tyson Wells, Arizona are 10-days long.  Other shows around last from maybe 5 days to months.  We take roughly a whole day setting up our 14x24 space with two canopies full of things, then we get to sit there and relax for 10 days selling our goods to people from all over the country.

Occasionally somebody walks over to us and mentions that they saw us back in California and were surprised to see us out there.  We have had shows in California where people tell us that they saw us out in Arizona.  What a small world.  And of course, we do run into people who live in Oregon that have seen us at county fairs up there.  You never know whom you are going to run into.

You can sell just about anything at the Sell-a-Rams.  However, if you are not peddling rocks and gems, etc, it's a good idea not to have a booth in the first 9-10 rows which is basically the rockhound area.  Need to be in between rows J and Z.  Most of the people strolling around in those first 8-9 rows are mostly interested in the minerals, etc. 

Our first year there, we were in Space A-4, which wasn't really great for us.  You have three major sellers in that general  area, Western Woods, Village Originals and Driftstone Pueblo and that's where many people of these people head for.  There are loads of other smaller rock and mineral dealers in that area clustered together also.  There are many other vendors there who are not selling those items and they may do decently as they have probably picked up a lot of return customers and it's advisable to have the same space every year if you are satisfied with it.

For the second year there, we decided to get a 14x48 space where our motor home would fit.  It was somewhat expensive for us and nice to have the motor home parked where we were at.  The year before, we parked at a lot about a mile east of the Sell-a-Rama at a lot where you paid $5 per day.  Not really bad, but no hookups and a bit noisy from the Highway 10 traffic behind the area.

There are a number of vendors who park their vehicles behind the Sell-a-Rama in a dirt lot and sleep at night there, but it's way too noisy for me, as you are very close to the highway.

Having your motor home in your space is quite convenient.  You have full hookups..... water, sewer and electricity and you can go inside to eat, rest, etc., during the daytime and basically that is your home for a week and a half.  A good number of vendors do several shows on their trip to Arizona.

There are many shows going on in the area and a lot of people go from show to show shopping around for a wide array of things.  The Sell-a-Rama is where you can sell anything you have.  There are other events where they just allow rock oriented businesses. There are major events, Quartzsite Main Event, the Pow-wow, etc., and there are smaller shows and places where people hawk their wares.  Traffic is at a standstill during the daytime along Kuhn Blvd in Tyson and on the main street over in Quartzsite as vehicles crawl toward the stop signs,

Our third year there, we decided that we didn't want to put the motor home in our space because we wanted to cut expenses.  On the final Saturday of the Sell-a-Rama, they have a lottery for spaces.  People who wish to change locations for the following year go to the office and are given a slip of paper with a number on it and the lottery for the spaces is held Saturday evening at  5:00.  You can get a 'number'at the office many days in advance, and it is advisable to go there as early as possible as the sellers with the lowest numbers have the best chance of getting a good space.   I attended the lottery with number 38 my second year and got space H8 for the following year. I thought it might be good. You need to pay for the space in advance.  In actuality, sales were down the following year, since our space was across from Driftstone Pueblo.

We had a rough time in that space.  There was a guy next to me who sold from a bunch of tables spread around his space.....flea market style.  No canopy to break the wind and we had major problems with blowing sand and the positioning of his tables allowed people to view his merchandise and stand in part of our space, as we had 4 feet extra feet on that side....2 10x10 canopies in a 14x24 feet space.  Adding to the fact that he was selling several of the same type of items we were and at lower prices so I had to reduce to get sales, allowing us a lower profit.

For the following year, I made sure that I got a lower number....I think it was something like #5. which enabled us to get space X19. directly across the aisle from my friend, Don, whom I had known for many years.  That turned out to be my 'dream space' and I was pretty lucky.  We did good the first year in that space and even better the next.  That is where I hope to stay for the next 20 years!!  Corner space with the aisle in front and alongside we have a main aisle running through the middle of the show, passing through the rockhounds, food areas and up to the porta-potties. Many people parked in the lot on the other side of Row Z and they entered and left that way.  Very well traveled.  This past year, we had a big 5th wheel on the other side of our booth and that served as an excellent wind-breaker.  Even though it overwhelmed our booths, it completely blocked out the wind and stopped much sand, etc., from blowing our way.

The weather in Tyson is usually mild and windy.  Sunny most of the time, but you can get several days of clouds and the wind picks up mid-morning, with occasional gusts 20-30-40 miles per hour.  That is the biggest problem we have to deal with along with the blowing sand.  A number of years ago, they spread a gravel layer throughout the show area, but the sand does kick up occasionally..

We have been parking the motor home out in the BLM lands for the past three years and they charge something like $40 for a calendar month.  Since we are there 11 nights, it's just under $4.00 per night.  This past year, there seemed to be fewer RVers/snowbirds out there than year's past.  We found an area pretty much away from most of the other people and it's nice and quiet out there. The show ends at 5:00 daily and it gets dark at 6:15.Occasionally, you hear dogs barking, but the owners take them inside at night.  Coyotes are in the area and the dogs could get gobbled up.  I haven't seen any snakes out there yet and I dont think that they exist in this area. 

During the night, it does get rather cool, sometimes temps dip down into the mid-30s and you really have to bundle yourself up when sleeping.  I really don't like to keep the heater on all night long.  Gets a little too warm sometimes and is noisy and trying to save our supply of propane.  More importantly I don't want to have problems with carbon monoxide. After about a week there, we always drive over to The Pit Stop on Highway 95 in Quartzsite and dump our holding tanks and fill up with water. Sometimes they empty it for you. This past year I brought my computer, but there was no wireless internet closeby and we had to drive over to a local motel and park in their lot to access the Internet.  I only had time enough to check my email and that was that.  However, I was able to accomplish quite a bit with my computer and there were always games to play.  A number of years ago they had a business out there that offered internet hook-ups and they received their signal from towers several hundred yards away.  They offered hookups for RV's but you had to be in the line of sight.  And their reception seemed slower than the old-fashioned phone hookups we had years ago.  They alway claimed that they were expanding - increasing the number of towers and reception was improving, but I don't think so.

The food in Tyson is okay.  More recently we have been stocking up on groceries from Food Maxx back home and my wife has been cooking virtually evey meal. Saves many bucks and she's a great cook.  Matter of fact, I think that the food tastes better when cooked with propane.  We would have something simple for lunch...sandwiches, burgers, soup, etc. but nothing much anymore from the food stands.  I always do get some fry bread.  They have one seller in the mddle of the Sell-a-Rama that has it, but the one over at Rice Ranch across the street sells larger ones and they are totally delicious.  They also have good breakfast burritos, but since they are made to order, they are cooked after you order and sometimes, there is a little bit of a wait involved.

When we were in space H8, there was a stand that sold huge baked potatoes along with pies, etc.  The pies looked pretty good, but we wanted to keep our spendng down.  The baked potatoes were $4.00 and of course, they had a bunch of toppings along with butter and sour cream.  We had several of those, but when we returned the following year, they were no longer there.  I really miss them. 

We've been to a couple restaurants across the highway in past years, but since my wife's birthday is the 21st, we always go to Texas BBQ in Quartzsite for some ribs.  Usually, they are decent size and pretty good.  But a couple years ago, the ribs hardly had any pork on the ribs. However, this year they were really good.  We usually go over there on Tuesday or Wednesday because business is slower during those days and we can close up and get away quicky

We usually get to our booth around 8:45 each morning and open up.  Friday and Saturday are the busiest and the first Sunday is decent also.  Thursdays are good and Mondays are slow.  We did decent every day this past time there, but quite often things do get a bit slow.  Really weird, just like in numerous shows.  You would sit there for maybe an hour or so with no action, then all of a sudden there would be many people in the booth grabbing things, etc,, and waiting to pay for them.  It seems like somebody is out there yelling, "BUY", and suddenly that's what people are doing.  However, not as slow as afternoons up at Oregon County Fairs, where business doesn't pick up until 4-5PM.  During the slower periods, it's nice to walk around the show and see what people are selling and to see what people are buying from vendors,  There are  booths that have hundreds upon hundreds of smaller items spread out on tables are always packed with people buying.  Little things....$1...$2...$5.  Things that are roughly less than half-price of what you would normally pay.  Sometimes I pick up little things at a couple places there.  I bought some long 4-foot bungies at one place this past year and they were terrible.  They started coming apart after 4-5 times used.  So, beware of the bungie.

It's pretty safe at the Sell-a-Rama and you don't need to worry about somebody breaking into the booth and stealing from you and you do not have any riff-raff coming into your booth.  A very nice orderly crowd.  Normally, vendors are a pretty honest bunch of people and you can trust just about all of them.  We are sort of like a family and it's nice to see the same 'neighbors' year after year.  However, I think a good number of these people probably bit the dust due to the slow economy and probably won't be seen again.  Sales have been very slow all year long with each show down 40-70 percent in sales.  Really need to cut expenses at these motels, eat simple foods, no steak dinners, etc.

During the daytime the winds pick up and blows the sand all over the place.  It's advisable to have a hose nearby so that you can sprinkle the ground to alleviate the problem  This is recommended to so 2-3 times during the day.

It's a 10-hour drive from the Bay Area to Tyson and we usually leave early in the morning in order to get there and set up our canopy and unload eveything we need for the show.  We close it up at night and go park in the BLM lands for the night,  A couple years ago, we hit some really bad weather along the way there.  Right before Frazier Park, we were parked at a rest stop and I started seeing snow blowing around in the parking lot,  I realized that we were going to get some snow, but I figured we'd get over the pass (on the Grapevine) before snow started accumulating.  We left the rest area quickly and began climbing in elevation.  At first their was nothing more than flurries, but weather conditions quickly got worse.  The snow began coming down harder as we went higher and it wasn't long before we saw that several inches of snow had accumulated.  People began to swerve, I began to swerve but what could I do.  Can't pull over to the side of the road and park because if I stayed there for any length of time, I would get stuck in the snow.  We kept going.  Turned the windshield wipers on faster with the snow quickly piling up on my window.  I saw several cars that had spun around and another vehicle was halfway over the guardrail on the right hand side.,

Before long, I reached an area where there were many vehicles that had stopped.  I continued in the second lane from the left because it was the most-traveled and there wasn't that much snow in that lane.  I then got to a point, maybe a mile from the summit, where everybody had stopped dead in their tracks....right in the middle of Highway 5.  I decided that it was safe for us to park there and shut it down, just like everybody else did.  We were there for over 3 hours waiting for the snow to stop.  When it did, they sent out the snow plows and I saw them going up and down the northbound lanes across from us.  None on our side for awhile.

That's a hell of a feeling when you are sitting on a mountain in your vehicle and it's snowing very hard.  What happens if it didn't stop all day long....everybody would get half-covered in the snow and how the heck would we get out.  Fortunately, the snow did stop and we were able to slip slide our way out of there.  Actually, they did put salt on the highway and it wasn't too bad driving out at 10MPH.  When we started heading downhill there was snow and ice all over the place and we just continued, stopping and going at 5MPH.  After we came down and into Castaic, they had re-routed the traffic heading north.

Property in the area is being gobbled up by RV dealers and you are now seeing a number of the areas where vendors were at now having big, gigantic RV's parked there waiting to be sold.  The first to go was Clouds Jamboree several years ago, who moved to AVI Indian Casino to the east near Laughlin  Area now has RV's.  There are some other smaller shows which were apparently bought out and more notably, half of Rice's Ranch is now gone and turned into RV sales.  I guess the local community gets more tax dollars derived from RV sales.