Posts Tagged ‘Snowbirds’

INDIO, Calif.— It’s not the standard Christmas set-up, but put on some Perry Como or Mannheim Steamroller and plug in the icicle lights, and even the plainest aluminum camper takes on a holiday sheen.

Snowbirds throughout the Coachella Valley are decking the dashboard of the Tiffin and trimming the hitches of the Airstream. They’re roasting prime rib and honey-baked hams in convection microwaves.

And on the big day, they’ll be Skyping with the grandkids in Missouri and Pennsylvania.

The RV community is by definition a nomadic one, but that doesn’t mean that Christmas traditions get left behind along with the heavy furniture and the permanent address. But there is definitely some scaling back that comes with the cruising lifestyle.

“I’ve always had 25 to 30 people at my house,” Sandy Gotwalt said.

“Worked our butts off,” interrupted her husband, Brian.

“This is what retirement is all about,” she finished the thought, shaking her silver Frosty earrings.

Every winter, retirees like the Gotwalts leave colder climes for the desert’s warmth. Their wheeled homes fill RV parks from Palm Springs to Coachella.

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It’s that time of year again when California’s Coachella Valley says goodbye to the tens of thousands of people who call our Valley their second home: Snowbirds, as they’re called, are heading off.

“We’re getting ready to go home so it’s very hectic and very busy right now,” said Marianne Thomsen, a Canadian visitor.

The Thomsens are about to join thousands of others who have already left the Coachella Valley. The couple heads back home to Canada on Friday.

“It’s very sad because we’re leaving some very nice friends behind. You know, you hope everything is going to be fine when you come back down again, but every year we always lose somebody. So, it’s emotional at times when we say goodbye to everybody,” said Thomsen.

Up until a few weeks ago, the Indian Wells RV Resort in Indio where the Thomsens stay was packed with about 320 RV spots taken.

“Today, it looks rather empty. There’s about 20 RV sites occupied,” said General Manager Terry Wenck.

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From October to April, more than 1 million people pass through, town officials estimate. Some stay only a week or two. Others call it home for the season.

During that time, Quartzsite may be the most eccentric place in the country, a weird Western outpost where “tea party” retirees mingle with cigarette-rolling rock hounds and white-haired hippies — and where no one bats an eye at a bare-bottomed bookseller.

But with that diversity come various views of what the town should be, and sometimes they conflict. After decades of watching its population rise and fall, Quartzsite has hit a midlife crisis, with some wondering if the town needs to rein in its freewheeling ways.

“This was like an Old West town,” said Jake Jakubec, a 66-year-old retired truck driver who has wintered in Quartzsite since the 1990s. “We bought and sold and partied and camped. We had a ball here.”

Jakubec, who lives out of a souped-up Chevrolet van, was sitting on a porch just off Main Street, trading tall tales with his old friend Harold Donaldson, 64. Both men have the archetypal Quartzsite look: sun-freckled skin that bears a resemblance to boot leather, and T-shirts the color of dust.

“Alien intervention is very real,” Donaldson was saying when Jakubec cut him off.

“Harold, am I right or am I wrong?” Jakubec said. “They’re trying to make this place into Palm Springs.”

“Ah, it’s a commercial deal now,” Donaldson said, sighing. “It used to be you could just drive up here, throw your tarp down, pay the property owner $5, and that was all.”

Town Manager Alex Taft would like naysayers like Donaldson and Jakubec to spend a week in her shoes. Then they’d have to reckon with the question she faces: How is a town with no supermarket and only 13 police officers supposed to cope with such a massive swell of people?

“It’s kind of a wall of humanity,” Taft said. Some days, traffic is so thick it’s faster to walk than drive.

The snowbirds putter in from all directions in motor homes and campers, which they hitch up at one of Quartzsite’s 70-plus trailer parks or on the federal land that sprawls in all directions beyond the town limits.

With RV roofs glittering amidst the saltbush and saguaro, the rigs look like covered wagons from a distance. Some part-time residents, like the Eldridges, dress up their lots with plastic flamingoes and fake palm trees.

Many are drawn by the gem and mineral shows that materialize each year in windswept tents along the side of the road.

One of the largest is the Tyson Wells Rock and Gem Show, a temporary tent city where bargain hunters pick through cardboard boxes brimming with onyx, rose quartz, meteorite and Brazilian jade. Other essentials for sale include gun holsters, hula hoops and diabetic socks, along with the sorts of deep-fried concoctions typically hawked at state fairs.

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