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SPECIAL REPORT: King of the Nomads

FOX 9's Adam Klepp traveled north to Quartzsite to meet Bob Wells at 2023's RTR

QUARTZSITE, Ariz. (KECY, KYMA) - Every year, the biggest gathering of nomads in the entire country takes place in Quartzsite, Arizona.

It’s called the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR), and it's now internationally known following the Oscar-winning movie "Nomadland."

The gathering was started over a decade ago by Bob Wells, the owner of and a YouTube channel, teaching people how to live life on the road.

Wells held a meet and greet at RTR to take pictures and meet with his followers.

It's an expertise that was gained out of necessity, as in the 90s, Wells went through a divorce.

Unable to support two households on one income he started living in his van.

“I hated it at first. Hated it. I was ashamed and felt like a failure. But as time went on and every month I didn’t pay rent, I started to like it a lot," Wells said.

After a while on the road, Wells started his website and YouTube channel, which now has over 600,000 subscribers.

But even if you master living on wheels, life on the road can be lonely.

So RTR was born, with the first event having just around 40 nomads attending.

“You want to have people around, you need community. That’s just part of being human," Wells said.

Swankie was at the first RTR.

Charlene Swankie

Her journey as a van dweller took her all the way to the Oscars stage as she portrayed herself in Nomadland.

But ended up returning to the road, preferring seeing the stars in the sky rather than the bright lights of Hollywood.

“If you give me the choice between being in Hollywood, or out in the desert hugging a cactus, I’m going to pick the desert every time," Swankie said.

While Swankie is an RTR veteran, Dominic Barretto was in Quartzsite for the first time.

RTR first-timer Dominic Barletto

His van is complete with a bed, storage, and cooking appliances, saying life on the road was always a dream of his.

“I’ve been wanting to live this lifestyle for a while, and when I left my job unexpectedly, I hopped in a van," Barretto said.

RTR has grown to now getting close to 10,000 attendees a year, four times the population of its host city.

But Quartzite’s Mayor Norm Simpson, and owner of the Mountain Quail Cafe, says the nomads are welcome anytime.

“The town sits back and enjoys them using our land and our parks, and giving an extra boost to the economy,” Mayor Simpson said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 140,000 Americans live in their vehicles.

Wells says he believes the modern economy doesn’t work for everyone, and that there’s a better way to live.

“If you’re disenchanted with consumerism, the rat race, the daily fight to survive. If you don’t want to build your life on competing with one another, there’s another way to live," Wells said.

Article Topic Follows: Special Reports
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Adam Klepp

Adam Klepp is excited to start his first job in the broadcast news industry as the FOX9 at 9 anchor and as a reporter at 5 and 6 on News 11.


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