Thursday, October 30, 2014


When choosing a vehicle for living on the road full time, there's the battle between room and fuel economy. That's less of a problem if you can be comfortable in a small space. But if you're not a small person, and if you want to be able to sleep stretched out rather than in a fetal position or reclined in a car seat, and tenting isn't appealing, then you'll need a longer vehicle. That's why vans are a popular solution.

But the fuel mileage of full sized vans is only in the teens, even with a 6-cylinder engine. Minivans get better mileage. Though they're smaller, there's still room for most people to sleep uncurled. Crossovers (the smaller SUVs built on automobile platforms rather than truck platforms) usually get better milage, but they're short, leaving less room for you and your necessities. I've seen people do it, but they don't seem thrilled about it. Some folks are even living in sedans.

If your body says, "More room," while your wallet says, "Better mileage," my advice is this: you can stretch your mileage budget by staying in one place for longer periods, but you can't stretch your vehicle.


Hold actual branches and leaves up to the truck, and spray. Presto, homemade camo.

How can we tell this sign was hand lettered, boys and girls?

The grocery gettin' all Warhol on ya

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Choose your words

One of the basic things I learned in my former advertising career is that the way we describe things shapes people's perceptions of them. Consider the difference, then, between:

—I travel the country full time in a minimalist RV

—I live in a van

Both statements are true, but the mental pictures they create are extremely different. The choice of how we van dwellers describe our lives affects not only other's perceptions of us, but also our perceptions of ourselves. Am I a loser or an adventurer? Am I living the nightmare of homelessness or the dream of freedom?

I think this is more than some sort of power-of-positive-thinking mental trickery. I think it's a manifestation of one's fundamental character and temperament. Who am I—really? How do I describe myself to myself?

So tempted to do this

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Slippery when dry

I took my down quilt to the dry cleaner yesterday. Last night I used my sleeping bag instead. Unzipped, flat like a quilt, because I like to spread out.

But the bag kept sliding to the floor. Darned nylon. I guess that's why they're bags. Though there's a chance I could slide to the floor along with it.

Whatever happened to blanket pins?

Exodus or eviction?

At most recreation areas, the weekenders start packing up and heading out on Sunday afternoons or evenings. Those who live relatively nearby sometimes wait until very early Monday mornings. Gotta milk as much of that outdoor living from the weekend as they can.

Meanwhile, the long-term and full-time RVers have no jobs, school and regular life to hurry back to. They tend to move on in the middle of the week, with the goal of grabbing campsites in the next place before the weekenders arrive. "Neener neener neener, we were here first."

But this Monday at Elephant Butte, all during the morning, there was one RV after another leaving the park. They were retirement aged folks, full-timers. Had the call gone out that it was time to gather at the Good Sam mother ship? Did something in RVer genetic code tell them it was time to migrate farther south?

No, it seems a lot of them had overstayed the 14-day limit—by weeks—and the rangers shooed them away.

Tsk-tsk. Is that any way for someone's great-grandparents to flout the rules? What sort of example does that set for the young ones? Had lack of the usual responsibilities and social anchors turned them into outlaws?

I think I heard "Born to be Wild" blaring loudly from one of the RVs as it drove away. There might even have been middle fingers waving from the windows.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The forgetful cook's workout

Start by parking your van, food and cooking supplies at least twenty yards from a picnic table. (The parks department might have helped with this by placing barriers between the parking area and the tables.) Then bring one item at a time from the van to the table.

Oops, I need the pot lid.

Oops, I need the spatula.

Oops, I need an onion.

Oops, I need paper towels.

Oops, I need pepper.

And so on.

The calories you burn off walking back and forth might not offset the calories you eat, but you'll feel less like a tub of lard.

Oops, I forgot the lard.

Attack at dawn

I woke at about 4:30. "I smell a rat. Or at least a mouse."

The day before, another camper complained about a rodent dying in her truck. The day before that, there was a large mouse sitting by my front tire. There was a good chance a critter had gotten into the Rolling Steel Tent, especially since the weather was so nice that I'd left the door open a crack while I slept. So, before sunup, I started emptying the van to find the culprit.

Thanks to my ongoing minimization, there wasn't much to take out. No mouse, droppings, or shredded stuff was found. Yet the smell remains. I suspect it peed somewhere. I washed the floor and will do the same to the rugs. Some air freshener might help, too.

At least I got to see a nice sunrise instead of sleeping happily, decadently, until 9:00.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Because, art

No explanations required


The other day, as my friend, Lesa, was sorting through her things, she pointed to a pot and said, "That doesn't belong to me anymore." No one else had taken possession of it (yet). She simply no longer felt ownership. She didn't feel connected to it. It didn't fit her life.

Most of us would have said, "I don't want/need that anymore." Because our relationship to our stuff is different. Maybe it's better not to feel so attached to objects. Or, maybe it's better to own only those things with which we feel some kind of unity. This goes back to the William Morris quote I cited in an earlier post:

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful,
or believe to be beautiful.”

Nearly everything we acquire felt either beautiful or useful—or both—at the time we got them. But somewhere along the line, many of the beautiful and useful things become just stuff. A mental shift occurred. The once delightful and utilitarian objects now just reside with us. They have their own lives, we have ours. They don't belong to us anymore, because we don't even think about them. Until it's time to move. Or until the hoarder intervention people show up.

Friday, October 24, 2014


Jackie was a trouper, covering for my blunder and working out the mess
between the Best Buy and Verizon cell phone buying systems.

After many phone calls, texts and faxes (yes, faxes) the system glitch was found and worked out.
She even got me a free case and a big discount on a car charger for my troubles.

A picnic with the boys from the Manhattan Project

At the White Sands National Monument not far from Trinity, a. k. a. Ground Zero

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Walking and photographing

This afternoon's deep thought


You’ve heard the pep talks, the sermons, the motivational speeches, the harangues. You gotta keep climbing until you reach the top! Onward! Upward! Higher! It’s a favorite metaphor for achievement. It really resonates with certain personality types. It assumes happiness, meaning or contentment are up there, somewhere higher and harder to reach. Sometimes that’s true. But not always.

The metaphorical and actual mountain climbers have a habit of thinking everyone wants—or should want—what they want, that “achievement” can only be defined their way. Mmmmm, no.

Several were the times I climbed the mountain, achieved the difficult goal, only to be left thinking and feeling, “So?”

They would reply, “You made it, man! That’s what’s so. WOO!”

“I made it somewhere I had no interest in being. See that shady canyon down there, with the stream flowing through it? That’s where I’d prefer to be.”

And they look at me with disgust.


It’s not about the ease or difficulty of the trail. I’ve taken some brutal paths to the metaphorical comfy spot by the dappled brook. It’s about the destination. It’s about being self-directed rather than chasing someone else’s goals. If you want what they want, fine, but don’t get talked into something you don’t actually desire or need.

True, sometimes you don’t know whether the climb was worth it until you get to the end. As they say, you won’t know if you don’t go. And sometimes we turn back at the most boring, difficult point when the big payoff is just around the bend. But sometimes you can foresee rather accurately it’s a waste of time, resources and energy. For you. For me.

I thought of this stuff today while choosing between two actual trails: the 5.2-mile Dog Canyon Trail up the side of the mountain, or the half-mile Riparian Nature Trail along the bottom of the canyon. Where would I want to end up? What if both trails were equally difficult? I’d still go for the tree-shaded creek.

Sometimes the most difficult thing is saying, “No, I don’t want to climb your mountain. I want to go my own way.” I’ve had to climb that mountain a lot.

This morning's deep thought

What can we learn from the ruins of buildings? Corners are stronger than flat walls.

I think the same is true with the directions we choose in life. A single direction, straight and true, can serve a purpose. But every now and then we need to change course if we’re hoping for longevity.

And notice where two different building materials meet. The rock wall adds strength to the adobe wall.

Again, this principle can apply to life. People, organizations, ideas and such with differing properties can create something more lasting and beneficial together than they might create separately. 

If nothing else, it breaks up the monotony.

A happy day

One of the big advantages of the van dwelling life is that I can move. If the weather, the bugs, the location, the people, the vibe, the whatever aren't to my liking, I can go somewhere else.

So I left Brantley Lake and drove west, over the lovely Sacramento Mountains, through Alamogordo, and south to Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. It's at the foot of the mountains, looking across the White Sands basin to the Organ Mountains on the other side.

Oliver Lee is a small park, and right now it's only a third full. Unlike most New Mexico parks, it's not water-centric. No lake, no river. Just its intrinsic desert beauty.

The park is democratic in its distribution of campsites. The ones without electricity and water aren't ghettoized off in a separate part of the park. Some of the high-rent sites don't have shelters, some of the cheap sites do. (I have one of those.) All have tables and fire rings. There are flush toilets and roomy showers. There has been no rain since I've been here and last night was a perfect sleeping temperature.

One small drawback, being at the foot of the mountains, is that the sun doesn't hit my solar panel until later in the day. I get to watch the light illuminate the Organ Mountains, though, then creep across the flats. It's coming. And I'm staying.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I forgot this photo

This double peak in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park is called "Mule Ears," naturally.

Not a happy day

I suppose my experience with Brantley Lake State Park was shaded by the damp weather and a long drive from Marfa that started out nice but turned ugly. (If you want to see oil fields and fracking in all their dirty, grimy, litter-strewn glory while sharing a two-lane highway with hundreds of big trucks and the occasional insane driver, take US285 from Pecos, TX to Loving, NM. Otherwise, stay away.)

Brantley Lake is actually a reservoir on the Pecos River. The land is flat with a hint of hills to the west. The campground isn't very large, but all the sites have shelters, water and electricity. That means and extra $4/night even with the annual pass. Some sites have sewer hookups for an extra $8. The no-extra-charge primitive camping area was closed for the season. So was the camping area on the west side of the lake.

There were showers, although the water pressure was very low and the temperature was not adjustable (not very warm). The flush toilets are stainless steel with no separate seats. Oooo, chilly, but no arguments about leaving the seats up.

As the day got late and sites filled up, the stragglers drove round and round trying to decide which of the few remaining sites they could stuff their 35' trailers into. Then there was the backing in, pulling ahead, backing in again, pulling forward a bit, backing up, getting out and checking your position, backing up a bit more, then changing your mind and looking for a different site—only to return and try it all over again. It was humorous at first. Then I just wanted to smack them.

Oh, and there were the flies. I slaughtered scores of them, but there were always more. At least they went away or settled down with the loss of daylight and the addition of rain.

Some other time, with better weather, a different route, and industrial strength insecticide, Brantley Lake might be an excellent place to spend a few days. Just not yesterday. It left me in a poor enough mood that I decided to skip Carlsbad Caverns, which was why I was in the area in the first place. I packed up and headed across the Sacramento Mountains to Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, south of Alamogordo. Oh, look, sunshine!

Makes perfect sense

Miniature Rapa Nui heads in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico?
Of course.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Quiet on the set

I was driving along highway 170, following the Rio Grande through Big Bend Ranch State Park when I spotted what looked like the ruins of an old Mexican village, right by the road. Whoa! Turn around! Go back!

Then I saw the sign.


Some of the buildings were also used for interior shots.

And some weren't.

But even if the village was fake, one thing is 100% authentic. That's the Rio Grande out there, with Mexico on the other side.

According to the information board, the set was built in 1985 for "Uphill All the Way," starring Roy Clark, Mel Tillis and Burl Ives. It was also used in Larry McMurtry's "Streets of Loredo," as well as "Rio Diablo," "Gambler V," "Dead Man's Walk" and "The Journeyman." I'm sure you saw them all.


What is a blimp doing out in the middle of nowhere?

A little research supplied the answer. This is a Tethered Aerostat Radar System. They let the blimp out on several thousand feet of line and its down-looking radar keeps an eye on things. Like illegal activity from across the border.

But this particular TAR is about 20 miles from the border. Either it can see a long way, or officials only care if Mexicans get so close.

At any rate, this one wasn't flying—because of the rain, I suppose. Does that mean smugglers know it's safer to cross in bad weather?