Night had just fallen when I pulled off of the I-10 at exit 19 and into the rural town of Quartzsite. My arrival was immediately preceded by a monsoon storm typical of the Arizona desert in mid-July; the intense wind and rain lasts for about fifteen minutes yet leaves behind the sort of inconvenient destruction that can only occur in an environment totally unequipped for anything but it’s usual dry and sunny climate. On that particular Sunday evening it had knocked down the power lines, cloaking the little desert town in a veil of darkness which only added to the surreality of the story playing out right before my eyes, a story which actually begins not days nor weeks but years ago. Since the Arco truck stop right off exit 19 was the only place in town with working electricity, it had become the informal meeting spot for the town’s citizens, shining brightly in what was otherwise a seemingly endless black night.
Originally established by settler Charles Tyson in 1856 and known in that day as Tyson’s Wells, Quartzsite is now the epitome of a “market town“. Up to a million snowbirds travel through the little town of thirty six square miles every year, mostly during the months of January and February. Like most of the town’s residents, the visitors are typically senior citizens who park their RV’s in one of the lots of which the town is mainly comprised. There are roughly a dozen major shows and swap meets which occur during this short time period; a large percentage centered around gems, minerals and precious metals, and this rural dwelling becomes a center of bustling camaraderie and commerce. By July however most Quartzsite residents have abandoned ship and there are only about a thousand people who remain to brave the stiflingly hot weather and capricious political atmosphere. Located in La Paz County, Quartzsite is governed by an elected mayor and town council of six along with appointed officials which include a town manager, town attorney, town engineer, magistrate, clerk, and police chief. Disputes between the town’s government and it’s citizens date as far back as it’s incorporation in 1989.
The first thing that struck me about Jennifer Jones was her sharp understanding of both law and philosophical concepts of liberty; she is very well spoken and obviously well read. When I ask to see a copy of the Desert Freedom Press, a local newspaper that she writes, edits, prints, and distributes all on her own time and on her own dime, she holds one up, smiles for the camera, and says “You can’t put a price on truth and you can’t put a price on freedom. You can’t even put a price on the Desert Freedom Press because it’s always free, one per customer”. She is one of those individuals whom it’s impossible not to like; open, direct, and genuine. Jones, an avid dog enthusiast and show judge for the All American Dog Registry, moved to Quartzsite a dozen years ago when a friend suggested it would be a good venue for her mobile dog grooming business. She originally came for a ten week visit and enjoyed herself so much it led to longer stays. Quartzsite eventually became her home, especially when she met and married her husband Jack, a longtime resident. She lived and worked with zero incidence, not even so much as a parking ticket, for the better part of the following decade. It was purely by accident that in April of ’08, Jennifer Jones took on the fight of a lifetime.