Last week, I mentioned one of my favorite wintertime activities : visiting Park City, Utah, during the annual Sundance Film Festival . While I'm sorry to have missed the big event this year, I admit that being in the Florida Keys  has been a wonderful way to spend the month of January – in spite of unseasonably cold temperatures.
Just today, in fact, I had the chance to swim with two very playful dolphins at Dolphins Plus , a marine mammal research and education facility in Key Largo , and I couldn't have been happier. The water was cool, the sun was shining, and the dolphins – one-year-old Gracie and her Aunt Sammy – sure showed this travel writer a good time, splashing me in the face, kissing my cheeks, and pushing me around the lagoon.
So, don't misunderstand me. I might be missing the chance to see independent movies at Sundance, but I'm also grateful to be chasing away the winter doldrums in the fun-filled Florida Keys. In fact, being here has gotten me thinking about three of my favorite getaways during the winter months: Quartzsite, Arizona; South Padre Island, Texas (pictured above); and, naturally, the Florida Keys. So, I've decided to offer a three-part series about these unique destinations.
First up is Quartzsite , a desert town that, for much of the year, remains small, dusty, and nondescript, with little more than Tyson's Well Stage Station Museum  (928/927-5229, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Sun. Nov.-Mar., 9 a.m.-noon Thurs. Apr.-Oct., free) to entice visitors. But come November, this little town, situated on Interstate 10 near the California-Arizona border, starts expanding exponentially, becoming what the city elders call “the gathering place.” RV enthusiasts from all around the country, affectionately known as “snowbirds,” head there in droves – to spend the winter months in relatively inexpensive comfort. Seemingly overnight, empty stretches of desert terrain fill with thousands upon thousands of RVs – of all shapes, sizes, makes, models, and price tags – creating a makeshift community of temporary residents, many of whom go to escape colder winters elsewhere, sell their crafts or services (from shoe repair to haircuts), and hopefully meet some new friends along the way. Truly, it's a sight to behold.
Although many of these RV travelers stay from November to March, it's the month of January that's really active. After all, that's when three of the biggest annual events take place: the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation and RV Show , the Quartzsite Hobby, Craft and Gem Show , and the Quartzsite Rock and Roll Classic Car Show . While the RV show ended a few days ago, there's still time to experience the gem and car shows, which start this week. So, what are you waiting for?
If you have a motorhome, travel trailer, or fifth-wheel trailer of your own, you'll find a ton of options  in the area, from RV parks with full hookups to primitive Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campsites. Of course, those who prefer less movable accommodations will find motels and hotels in various nearby communities, including a Super 8  (2050 Dome Rock Rd., 928/927-8080, $90 d) just off Exit 17 in Quartzsite.
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me at laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.