Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The N-word

William Grandstaff was a mixed-race cowboy and prospector who settled in Moab in the 1870s. Negro Bill Canyon is named after him. Well, actually, it was originally named with the other N-word but changed in the 1960s. After much community input and debate, the Bureau of Land Management renamed the trailhead (but not the canyon) Grandstaff Trailhead last year. They felt it was a more appropriate name for a sign thousands of people pass as they drive state road 128 along the Colorado River.

Whatever the place was, is or will be named, it’s a beautiful spot, particularly when the sun hasn’t cleared the rim of the canyon yet and it’s cool and shady. The trail follows a year-round stream along steep Navajo sandstone cliffs and through lush growth (which is green this time of year). Sadly, the canyon widens as the trail climbs, so the effect isn’t as cozy.

The trail ends at Morning Glory Arch, believed to be the sixth longest in the United States. I didn’t go that far. I’ve seen arches. I’ve photographed arches. I wanted to spend more time in the bottom of the canyon. I think you would, too.

More stars

I'm camped along Willow Springs Road, just north of Moab, Utah and the turnoff for Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point. The scenery isn't much, but it's free camping on BLM-managed land. Free is good. And the neighbors have been quiet. With my fumbling around in the middle of the night with the camera, having a sneezing fit, and briefly running the Rolling Steel Tent, I might be the noisy one.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

I haven't done this in a while

Being someplace dark enough + the moon not being up + it not being too cold + waking up at the right time + having the camera battery charged + being in the mood for it. That's what's required for me to do star photography. Everything came together last night. Too bad the Milky Way wasn't also above the horizon, though.


This past September I pulled into the Lower Gray Canyon campground on a Saturday, hoping there would be an available spot. There wasn't. The place was packed. So onward to Plan B.

Yesterday, a Monday, I went to Lower Gray Canyon again and no one else was there. Just me. Sweet. Others showed up in the late afternoon and early evening, but I had already snagged the best spot. Off in a corner, right by the river, with no other campsites on either side of mine.

I might've stayed longer, but there's no cell signal at Lower Gray Canyon. Hey, I have friends to email, news to follow and blogs to update. Gotta have my Interwebs. So, it's off to Moab.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Them Changes

I imagined I'd spend two or three days by the creek in Hatch, Utah. But after a fine afternoon and not-as-cold-as-I-feared night I woke up to overcast. No big deal, usually. That's just part of not living in a building. However, since the ground was already soft, and the creek was high (or the land was low), I didn't want to risk getting stuck in mud.

I wasn't very far up the highway when the rain started. See, I was smart. But then the rain stopped. Then started. Then stopped. It might not rain enough to have caused a problem, but I felt good about moving.

I had checked my Utah map for places to go. Someplace I hadn't been before. Hmmm, state road 153, from Junction to Beaver, through the Tushar Mountainslooked interesting. All squiggly and stuff. But was it clear of snow? I looked up Utah road conditions and the online camera showed the road was dry at the summit. Excellent. I had a plan.

However, someone at the Department of Transportation had other ideas. I took the turn at the junction in Junction, rolled through the little town and...

Rats. At least the weather was clearing. So I continued north. Wallydocking in Richfield wouldn't be the most glamorous thing, but it would be someplace to sit out the shifting weather and make new plans.

There was a rest stop along the way. A rather scenic one (even if overnighting wasn't allowed). I peed and then went to visit the donkeys on the adjoining property. They must be accustomed to travelers offering snacks, because they moseyed right over to me. I had no food, but I could give head scratches. If they were disappointed they didn't show it. They were more gracious than some human asses I've met.

Spring is the season for seeking good weather and avoiding the bad. That requires adaptability to change—which leads us to this musical selection:

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Drivin' and thinkin'

I was driving north on I-15, on the outskirts of greater Las Vegas. On my right was a place that auctions commercial trucks and heavy equipment. There were two school buses on the lot. One was sort of medium sized. I thought, “That would be more than big enough for me. If I were to do a schoolie. Not that I am, but, you know, if. I mean, if I were to go to the trouble and expense of buying one and fixing it up I’d want something a little larger than a short bus but not so huge it would be a pain to maneuver. Of course, even that smaller one is too long to park just anywhere…”

That kept my mind occupied until the junction with US93, where I stopped for gas. After that I contemplated the need for billboards telling big rig drivers, “If it takes several miles to pass another rig, you probably didn’t need to make that pass.” But that violates a basic rule of billboards: seven, eight words, maximum.

That kept my mind occupied until Mesquite, at which point I started thinking about getting bagels in Saint George. Mmmmm, bagels.

The long pants go back on

Enough of the beach for now. Enough of the crowds. It's back to Utah, where there's still snow at higher elevations. And where the nights will be nippy. After sleeping in the desert last night without covers, I'll need to break out the extra bedding. And maybe the heater.

I'm camped in a meadow just south of Hatch. Lou discovered the spot last year. (Or was it the year before?) Anyway, as you can see, it's a very nice place. Other campers got the primo spot, but I'm happy with mine. There's a creek that's a little silty right now from the snow melt. I'd be extremely excited if I were an angler, like Lou. Instead, I'm excited there's a good 4G signal.

The red rock cliffs in the background are part of the same geologic layer that forms Bryce Canyon. I don't know if I'll stop by Bryce this time. I'll stay here at least a couple of days and think about it.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Things I missed my first time in Rhyolite

When I visited the Rhyolite ghost town this past October I focused (figuratively and literally) on the large ruins along the main drag. But there's more. So I went back.

Tom Kelly's Bottle House shows what someone can do if they're patient, obsessive, and surrounded by a lot of heavy drinkers. I wish I could've gone inside to see the light coming through.

There are sculptures scattered around the small museum (which wasn't open when I was there). A miner and a penguin? Sure, makes perfect sense. As does a ghost with a bicycle.

Maybe it's Judas trying to make a break for it, because nearby is a depiction of the Last Supper.

There's a mosaic sofa where one might sit to contemplate the art (or anything else) and have one's clothing sliced by the edges of the tiles.

But wait! What's that? Could it be my new girlfriend? It's usually dark haired women who grab my attention, but, you know, it has been a long time.

Listening to the wind

The wind was strong out of the southwest as I drove from Rachel, Nevada, to Tonopah. Ug, sidewinds. It’s another reason I wouldn’t want to tow anything. The Rolling Steel Tent swayed left and right, swerved toward the shoulder and back. No relaxing. Constantly vigilant.

In Tonopah (what a sad looking place) I gassed up, used the restroom, and turned south for Goldfield. Straight into the wind. Swimming upstream in a raging river of air. Not good for the gas mileage. But it was only thirty miles.

A grilled ham & cheese at the Dinky Diner (it was exactly what you want a grilled ham & cheese to be) then off to the International Car Forest of the Last Church. That made the drive worth it.

But where to spend the night? At the car forest? Mmmmm, maybe. But it’s private property and no one was there to ask (or to chase me away, for that matter). I checked my resources. The lot behind the Texaco in Tonopah where big rigs park? Eh, sure. Even though it was backtracking I’d have a tailwind. Ah, like riding a magic carpet.

A sad town like Tonopah is one thing when when the sky is clear, but it dips to another level of sadness when it’s overcast. With cold howling wind. And little splatters of rain. I hunkered down, rode it out and contemplated where to go in the morning.

I want to be in Colorado the last part of June for a friend’s wedding. I was sort of headed that way when I was in southwest Utah. But I figured I could fit in some more time on the West Coast first. From Tonopah that means crossing the Sierras. Most years the passes don’t open until late May or June. With the tremendous snow pack this year it will be even later. However, I-80 is kept open all winter. That would mean driving about four hours north to Reno. Then another three hours to San Francisco. Hmmm.

Or I could drive around the south end of the Sierras and go to Southern California. Again. Also hmmm.

Or, you know, I could head back the way I’d just come and wander around Utah for a month. In the parts where the nights aren’t freezing. Y-y-y-e-e-e-a-a-h, but that would feel like the consolation prize.

But there was the matter of the wind. It would play a large part in the decision. I checked the forecast. Strong winds out of the north-northwest for the next couple of days. Well, that settled things. Southward it is.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


Let's say you've had your fill of the nomadic life and you want to get a piece of land and start homesteading. Cool. And of course you'd continue to live in the van while you build your earthship.

It's possible, though, to turn the van into the first room of your new abode. A partially buried van is more thermally efficient. Of course, you'd need to seal it properly and provide drainage and all that. So maybe it's not such a great idea after all. Oh well.

The wayward grandchild of the Cadillac Ranch

I'd like to thank Atlas Obscura for turning me on to the International Car Forest of the Last Church in Goldfield, Nevada. Rather than me retelling the story of this art car project, read Atlas Obscura's report here. Unfortunately, no buses were aflame when I was there.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Black Mailbox

The Black Mailbox used to be just a rancher's mailbox by Nevada Highway 375 (a. k. a. the Extraterrestrial Highway). Then it became a landmark for where to turn if you wanted to sneak up on Area 51.

The landmark became a meeting place for UFO buffs. Someone spread the idea the mailbox contained secret documents going in and out of Area 51 (because, yeah, that's the way the Air Force handles its secrets) and they started poking through the rancher's mail. Some even left letters for the government. And for aliens.

The rancher got fed up and replaced the Black Mailbox with one that locked. It was white, but UFO fans still called it the Black Mailbox. It's rumored the original Black Mailbox was auctioned off to a lucky UFOlogist.

Now the white Black Mailbox is gone. It used to sit atop this post.

But someone has come along with a new Black Mailbox, in black. The area around it is a combination shrine and litter dump. It must be aliens leaving their empty beer bottles and discarded furniture, because humans wouldn't do such a thing.

So, you're probably wondering if I drove out to one of the Area 51 gates. Yes. But I didn't take a picture because the sign prohibits it, and there was a guard (along with various cameras and sensors) watching me. So here's someone else's illegal photo.

Chet makes some new friends

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A hot breakfast in Caliente

After spending a couple of days revisiting Cathedral Gorge State Park in Panaca, Nevada I headed out for Rachel, the gateway to Area 51. I couldn't face UFOs and black helicopters on an empty stomach, so I stopped at the Brandin' Iron Cafe in Caliente. I had learned about it from RV Sue's blog. I had The Duce: two buttermilk pancakes, two eggs, choice of bacon or sausage. It was just what I needed. And service was fast because I was the only customer.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Epicurean Fight Club

Van dwelling requires minimalism. This way of living is second nature for some. Others eventually adjust to living in only 350 cubic feet. Some just can’t do it, or don’t want to. This post is addressed to those who want to be vehicular nomads but have doubts they’d be happy living with only the things they could fit in a van.

Long before Henry David Thoreau gave society the finger and went off to live a couple of years in a one-room cabin, the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus was making the case for enlightened minimalism. He believed the key to happiness was an untroubled life, and that the hassles of achieving and maintaining an extravagant life tended to outweigh the joys of having lots of goodies. Or as Tyler Durden said:

I don’t know whether Chuck Palahniuk (who wrote the novel) or Jim Uhls (who wrote the screenplay) put those words in Tyler Durden’s mouth, or whether Brad Pitt ad libbed them, but the idea is totally Epicurean.

[People misunderstood Epicurus when he said we should minimize unhappiness and maximize happiness. To them, happiness equaled having everything you could possibly imagine, so epicurean came to mean fond of or adapted to luxury or indulgence in sensual pleasures; having luxurious tastes or habits, especially in eating and drinking. Because being happy with only a few carefully chosen possessions was, like, incomprehensible.]

The money we don’t spend on things we don’t need is money we have to spend on the type of life that actually would make us happy. That money can finance freedom. The chance to do that, the time to do that, keeps ticking away. Nearly every nomad or minimalist I meet says they wish they had done this sooner. Is there anything you could own that would compensate for the regret of never doing it?

Oh, and the first rule of Epicurean Fight Club? Talk the hell out of Epicurean Fight Club.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Blustery day

After two nice days at Lake Powell, nature decided it was time for some classic desert wind in the 20 to 30 mile an hour range. Before, I could keep the doors and windows open and let the light breeze take the edge off the heat. But now I need to keep the Rolling Steel Tent buttoned up so it doesn't scatter my belonging and replace them with dust and sand. It's mighty stuffy. Some people don't mind the wind at all.

Friday, May 5, 2017

What time is it?

I’m at Lone Rock Beach campground on the Utah side of Lake Powell. Utah is on Mountain Daylight Time.

Just down the road is Arizona which, in it’s curmudgeonly way, rejects Daylight Saving Time. So it’s on Mountain Standard Time. You’d need to keep the time difference in mind if you have some time-critical thing you need to do in Page AZ, such as embarking on a tour.

However, the Navajo Nation observes Daylight Saving Time since the reservation is in Utah and New Mexico besides Arizona. That means if you’re staying in Page, and if that hypothetical tour operator is a Navajo taking you to Antelope Canyon, you need to readjust to Daylight Saving Time.

But the Hopi Nation, which is surrounded by the Navajo Nation, follows the rest of Arizona. Moenkopi—the western gateway to Hopi—is across the street from Tuba City, which is Navajo.


Of course, Arizona’s position is that everyone else should scrap Daylight Saving Time. Problem solved. And everyone else’s position is that Arizona should stop being stubborn.

Meanwhile, last week, I was moving back and forth between California, Nevada and Arizona. Time zones weren’t an issue in that case, since Pacific Daylight Time is the same as Mountain Standard Time.

Fortunately, time is generally irrelevant to me these days. I go by my internal clock, by the sun, by impulse. There’s now and there’s later. Time only matters when I’m dealing with other people. Ew, people.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Nicer than most ghost towns

Grafton, Utah, seemed like a good idea at the time. Farmable land by a river, mild climate, amazing scenery... But the town was abandoned when flooding and troubles with the native population became more than they could handle. Today there are four buildings and some barns standing. Another is being restored/rebuilt by the Grafton Heritage Partnership.

If you've been to Zion National Park several times already and want to experience something different in the area, turn on Bridge Street in Rockville and follow the small signs. If the restoration crew is working, you might be greeted and followed around by a friendly pit bull.