The chill in the air and dusting of snow on the mountains are signs the annual snowbird migration is on, according to a report in the Deseret Morning News, Salt Lake City.
In Utah, that means recreational vehicle dealers are seeing a rush of customers whose rigs need checkups before retirees flee for warmer climes to the south.
In Arizona, it means trailer and RV parks that have been mostly empty during the blistering summer months will start to fill up.
Dan Taylor, executive director of Mesa Senior Services, said the three senior centers under his jurisdiction see a 25% jump in participation during winter months.
The most amazing transformation, Taylor said, occurs 20 miles east of the California border in Quartzite. There, arid land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management sees a massive in-migration of RVs occupied by snowbirds.
“It’s an amazing thing to see,” Taylor said. “Quartzite goes from this dirt ground to a thriving community.”
Quartzite’s permanent population hovers at about 3,200 people. The RV crowd takes the population to between 50,000 and 80,000, according to Arizona State University professor Steve Happel, who has spent 20 years researching the economic impact snowbirds have on the state. He likens Quartzite to a “geriatric Woodstock.”
“All things considered, you couldn’t ask for a better industry for the valley. They come in, they spend money, they don’t commit crimes,” Happel said. The down side: “They do congest the roads.”
At Motor Sportsland in Murray, Utah, service manager Chad Street has been observing the seasonal migration for 32 years. “There’s a pretty large influx of people” to the dealership, he said. Most are willing to tell stories of the road, either on their way out of town or when they come back.
“I hear about their favorite things to do or their favorite thing to see. Probably the most interesting thing I’ve heard is how cheap they can live in their RV in Mexico,” Street said.
But there are changes in the wind.
The population of Apache Junction, just east of Mesa, swells from 42,000 to more than twice that once the snowbirds arrive. Skyrocketing real estate prices, however, have resulted in many of the junction’s RV parks being plowed under or crowded by housing and commercial development.
“Now instead of being out in the middle of the desert, the RV parks are surrounded by houses. It’s a much different feel,” said Gordon Hill, a staff member with the Apache Junction Chamber of Commerce.