Venture to Quartzsite to explore history and art with a dash of intrigue
Most Southwestern rockhounds know about the many gem and mineral shows held annually in Quartzsite. But most miss out on the town’s quirkier tourist haunts.
Take, for instance, the Quartzsite City Cemetery and its main attraction: a stone pyramid on which a copper camel stands. It marks the grave of camel driver Hadji Ali (“Hi Jolly”), who, in the 1860s, participated in an Army experiment using camels as pack animals in the Southwest. The project failed due to the animals’ innate nasty temperament and their incompatibility with horses. As the legend goes, in the years before Hi Jolly died in the desert while hunting for a camel (Red Ghost) that allegedly trampled a woman to death, he bought some of the military’s discarded camels and operated a freight line along the Colorado. Then, seeking riches, he turned to prospecting and ultimately failed there, too.
And speaking of beasts of burden, meet the menagerie at Gene Hassler’s RV Park. A welder, who says he likes to wow people with his ranch art, Hassler has created about 50 metal sculptures made from scraps. His largest and favorite exhibit, which spouts water in the winter, is a 20- foot by six-foot whale made of horseshoes and iron rings. This soon will be accompanied by a large model of Jonah roasting a fish inside the whale’s belly. Other exhibits that surprise even Hassler include palm trees, elephant feet, cacti, giant umbrellas, velocipedes (early bicycles), cowboys, and an ostrich (complete with car headlights for eyes and pipe wrenches for legs).
“They put a smile on your face,” Hassler comments.
Next up: A sort of pop culture museum known as Joanne Brunet’s Gum Gallery. On display are 4,000 packages of chewing and bubble gum dating back to 1914 from the United States and 30 other countries, including Thailand and Iraq. Started by Brunet and her sister in the 1940s, the collection is housed among 100 cases in a 600-square-foot building in Brunet’s backyard. A stick of Doublemint, authenticated by Wrigley’s Gum, dates back to 1932 – 1935. And other chewy standouts bear images honoring the Beatles, Elvis, and the TV show The Six Million Dollar Man. Word of Brunet’s museum has leaked out via the Internet and through various blogs. While she welcomes most donations, her number one ambition is to get a package of gum from John Curtis, America’s first commercial gum producer.