Saturday, February 28, 2015

Another essential

The Toaster GLS from GSI Outdoors

I had one of these toasters. They fold flat so they take hardly any room. Mine worked well until the wire mesh on the bottom burned through. But at ten bucks, it was no tragedy.

I couldn't find an exact replacement (I wasn't looking all that hard), so I got a different type. It was awful. Bread took forever to brown. I learned to live without toast. (See deprivation in a previous post.)

Today I went to a fancy outdoor sports store, the type that caters to climbers and backpackers rather than runners, hunters, anglers and sports involving balls. I didn't have any purchases in mind. I just wanted to see if they had anything I might find useful. Bingo, there it was. I didn't know mountaineers need their toast, too.

Today's shopping adventure got me thinking. Some of the things we full time van dwellers need fall into the camping gear category. A few other items come from the world of RVs. Some from hardware, auto parts or housewares stores. Too bad there isn't a one-stop shop for it all. No, Walmart isn't it.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Speaking of essentials

I know, I just finished bragging about how little I need. But once in a while I get too caught up in simplifying and end up ridding myself of something I would later need. Like a tripod.

A few months ago I tossed the tripod I'd had for about 25 years. I had used it only once during the eighteen months I'd been van dwelling, I couldn't find a suitable place to stow it and, despite my repairs, the head had become wobbly. Into the dumpster it went.

Since then, I've wanted to take star photos, which requires a tripod. Rats. So I went shopping for a new one. One that was more compact, but not too short. I also wanted clip latches on the legs rather than needing to turn the legs to adjust their length.

I found this Slick 340 Pro-BH. It folds to about 19 inches and stands just shy of 58 inches. The legs can angle out almost flat for extra stability. And the ball-and-socket head is simpler to use than separate tilt and pan controls.

I also got a digital shutter controller that makes it easy to do the long exposures necessary to photograph stars. It can also do a timed sequence of shots. How long will my exposure need to be with this lens and camera settings? Twenty minutes? Twenty-six? Thirty-two? I can set the timer to take several different length shots while I'm comfortably in bed. Because sweet, delicious sleep is absolutely essential.

Thursday, February 26, 2015


There's a spectrum of people who live full time on the road, from backpackers and cyclists at one end of the scale, up to people like the ones I saw yesterday who were towing a 35-foot travel trailer behind a 45-foot Class A motor coach.

Since I live more toward the minimalist end of the scale, I have to resist mocking those who want to take as much of their former building dwelling accoutrement as possible with them. My sanctimonious internal Thoreau screams, "You don't need all that stuff!" What I should actually say is, "I don't need all that stuff."

What do we need? What is essential? Abraham Maslow offered his famous Hierarchy of Needs. Well, somewhere after the basic needs, in among the psychological needs, might be the desire to not feel deprived. The definition of deprivation varies from person to person. Some people can't imagine how I can stand not having a microwave oven or a recliner. I can't fathom how others happily live without Internet access. Or cold beverages. Or a plush mattress.

My internal Mies van der Rohe wishes he could make a bunch of converts to the Church of Less is More. But my internal Taoist knows each person must follow her/his own path. Sometimes on foot, sometimes in a big-ass RV towing another big-ass RV.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dog day

As you may recall, I scratched my eyeglass lenses when I was trying to change my tire. They do not like being ground into the pavement. That’s why I was in Los Algodones, Baja California today. Again. It takes two hours—not two weeks—for them to make the lenses, which gave me some time to kill. 

It was lunchtime. I went to a restaurant around the corner. All the outside tables were taken (it’s al fresco dining weather here), so I went inside. The layout was odd. There was a hallway just inside the door that led to the restrooms, a turn down another hall past the bar, to some tables that turned out to be a sports book. But they served food, so why not.

A bank of monitors showed fútbol (of course), horse racing, harness racing and greyhounds. I had never watched greyhounds race before. Wow! I think it’s the origin of “greased lightning.” I know abuse is a problem in animal racing, but it’s amazing to watch. At least while enjoying sopes and tacos. 

I knew nothing about any of the dogs, but, to make watching even more fun, I would randomly pick a dog to cheer for. “C’mon number four!” I never picked a winner. Good thing I wasn’t betting. It made me wonder, though, how much knowing a lot about the dogs, trainers and breeders increases one's odds. Some, but how much? I thought back to the football pool at one of my jobs. One season, the eleven-year-old son of a coworker won four weeks in a row, before they banned him. His method? Whose uniforms did he like the best? So I picked dogs by their markings. It didn’t help.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Never say "Never say never"

Mmmmmm, home cookin'

Last May I blogged that I never cook in my van. Well, as you can see, now I sometimes do. But only with the door open. In case something goes wrong in a fire related way (as opposed to a culinary way) I can toss everything outside.

The open door also keeps steam—and the food odors it carries—from building up inside. What's more, I get to sit on my comfy bed, out of the sun or wind, with all my food supplies and utensils within easy reach. No running back and forth for stuff. I could get used to this.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A poem from the vault of despair

Reading some of my poetry from a decade ago, it's clear I wasn't very happy—except when I was writing poetry about how unhappy I was.

My life is different now. I don't feel stuck. I don't feel exploited. I don't feel like I'm treading water in the shark tank. Becoming a van dweller has been exactly the right thing for my mental health.

But here's a peek at my former self.


gliding along upside down
looking through rose colored goggles
into backward binoculars 
at a rear view funhouse mirror
in the dark 
with one eye closed

rabbit’s foot crucifix mutant clover
in my unhip pocket
knowing the juju will see me through
get me over the lumps and bumps
and sudden detours over the precipice

solidly grounded in erroneous assumptions
founded upon other erroneous assumptions
about things that never really happened
and never really could

I am certain
I am true
I am safely wrapped 
in fluffy layers of 
non-reflective self-deception
and a wrinkle resistant blend
of delusion and denial
all the while watching
for the deus ex machina
created ex nihilo
and ex post facto
to stretch forth its mighty hand
and save my bacon
making a happily ever after 
ending to end all endings

but in the end
there is no man 
with an inscrutable plan
behind the curtain
pushing buttons flipping levers 
pulling strings on my behalf

in the end 
the pretty myths that keep me afloat
bloat and 
drag and 

Dusk of the dead

If I had to be buried (rather than other alternatives) I'd prefer someplace as wonderfully scenic and unpretentious as Darby Well Cemetery.

Drop me in a hole, cover me with rocks

Friday, February 20, 2015

Look behind you

Don't get so focused (pun intended) on what you're trying to photograph that you fail to see what's in the other direction.

Allow me to get a little more philosophical. Musician-comedian Tim Minchin said the following in a commencement address:

I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you. You never know where you might end up. Just be aware the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery, which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye.
Sometimes it's not about yet another shot of amber clouds. Sometimes it's about the amber mountains in the distance as seen through a saguaro forest. Glad I saw it.

A mud mural? Hmmmm...

Seen somewhere in the Slush Belt

Big colorful murals were quite the thing back during the van craze. Vans are blank canvases, after all, waiting to be used.

But since I'm living out in nature most of the time, a more organic mural would be appropriate. Like, say, a landscape done in mud or road spray. Featuring a pack of coyotes howling at the moon. And a tasteful Amazon warrior nude, of course.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Rethinking litter archaeology

I was being a bit of a smart ass when I wrote "litter archaeology." But then, after a five mile hike, a nap, and lunch, I thought, "You know, the artifacts archaeologists dig up are usually the trash of past civilizations. Shattered pots, broken tools, discarded household items..."

So I've reworked my opinion of the stuff scattered—or piled—around me in the desert. It's a treasure trove for future archaeologists. Especially if they're studying the history of beer.

Litter archaeology

The  BLM land along Darby Well Road isn’t all a desert paradise. It is, after all, right next to the inactive New Cornelia open pit copper mine. There are also abandoned ranch buildings and the debris that goes with them. Want a chunk of corrugated tin? A bucket without a bottom? An ice chest without a lid?

But the more disturbing thing in this environmentally aware age is the piles of rusting cans and broken bottles. Were they dumped here by the truckload? Were these spots where guys off-shift from the mine would park and drink and toss their empties? There are food cans in the mix, too. Did the ranchers use it as a trash dump? I can only guess what the story is. The cans are rusty, so they’re steel rather than aluminum. That dates most of them. 

Remember when this was the way to open a beverage can?

The first aluminum beer cans appeared in the early 1960s. For a while there were also aluminum-topped steel cans. Pop-top cans and their rings appeared shortly after. 

These used to be tossed everywhere, unless an obsessive person made them into chains

The StaTab can we have now was introduced in the mid ‘70s. So, most of these cans, and probably the shattered glass beer and whiskey bottles with them, are at least 50 years old. The fact they haven’t crumbled into powder by now is a testament to the region’s aridity.

But not all the litter here is old

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Darby Well Road, Ajo, Arizona

Left to right: saguaro, me, saguaro, Jo, Lou

On the south side of Ajo, just past the hills created by the mine, is Darby Well Road, a popular BLM boondocking area. There's a sign, so it's easy to find. And the dirt road is in good shape. And (woo-hoo!) there's a great cell signal.

I joined Jo and Lou here after my frustrating day dealing with a flat tire. Venting to friends is better than fuming alone. On the way in I spotted the converted vintage bus of Technomadia. Van-Tramp is also here, as I learned from his blog.

Looking back toward camp. The light spot to the right of the three saguaros is Lou's trailer.

While our particular patch of desert is roomy and level, it's at a somewhat busy junction. Lou says there's an even better, more private, spot a little farther up the road. We can take possession after it has been vacated later today.


"The image shows how the loudness of sound varies across the country, based on 1.5 million hours of acoustical monitoring."

I'm in one of the darker blue areas right now. However, the noises generated in my head, thanks to tinnitus, keeps me from enjoying it 100 percent.

Monday, February 16, 2015


A few days ago I wrote about the importance of keeping the Rolling Steel Tent orderly. Well, this is what it can look like when I have to pull some things out of their places so I can get to the jack, get frustrated changing a tire, and just toss the jack, groceries and other stuff on the floor. "Errrrgh, I deal with that mess later."

Friday the 13th came a few days late

I'd just finished lunch at El Pollo Loco in Buckeye, Arizona. I love their chicken. (Disclaimer: I used to do their advertising.) I did not love seeing I had a flat tire. Grumble grumble grumble. I was glad it was there, though, and not out on I-10, where I'd been just before. Or down some dirt road. And that it was daylight. And the weather was pleasant.

So I got out the tools and went about changing the flat. I'd done this before. Easy-peasy. Until I tried getting the spare from under the Rolling Steel Tent. Something was jammed. I banged and pried and swore. My #1 pair of non-sunglasses fell out of my pocket. I didn't notice. I rolled over them and scratched the hell out of the lenses. I swore some more. The spare refused to come free.

Fortunately, there was a Discount Tire across the street. Also fortunately, they were open on Presidents Day. They would know what to do. And since driving over there on a flat tire would destroy it, they would gladly replace it, thanks to my warranty.

"Oh yeah," said the friendly counter guy at Discount Tire. "We can get that unjammed, no problem."

"We couldn't get it unjammed," said the frustrated tire mechanic an hour and a half later. "You'll probably need to go to a Chevy dealer." It was now 2:30, the nearest dealer was halfway back to Phoenix, and the service department would probably be closed for the holiday, anyway. Also, I needed to be going west, not east. Okay, I'd go to the Chevy dealer in Yuma. Then I could jump over the border to get bargain-priced replacement lenses for my glasses.

But first, go meet up with Jo and Lou near Ajo, Arizona. Chill with them. Let the frustration toxins clear from my system. Be glad this wasn't a serious problem.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Must. Resist. New. Gadget.

"There was some excellent spaghetti right here last night, amigos."

Ever since I started leaving scraps for coyotes I've wanted to catch them in the act. I want to see how many of them there are. I want to see how close they might come to the Rolling Steel Tent. That would be so cool, right?

Since I don't want to sit up all night, being very still and quiet as I peek out a window, I should get a trail camera. Motion detection, infrared night vision, HD video... I could get one for a little over a hundred bucks, one-fifty if I wanted to get fancy.

But do I really need one? No. I'd eventually get all the fun out of it. After all, I don't need a bunch of stealth animal videos. (Ooo, but maybe I'd capture something so unique or totally amazing that I could make money off it. A chupacabra! Space aliens!) (Yeah, right.) And it would mean finding a place to keep it. (I could bolt it permanently to the outside of the van. One on each side!) (Yeah, right.)

Oh well, as a friend used to say, "Let's not, and say we did."

Local flora, plus fauna

There's no bird in this photo, only evidence of one

Windy Hill Campground, Roosevelt Lake, Arizona

Windy Hill is the largest campground on Roosevelt Lake, with 340 sites and several boat ramps. Some loops are closed this time if year, though.

Most of the sites closest to the water were occupied, and I didn't want to squeeze in between large RVs, so I grabbed a double-wide spot farther away. It's also a short stroll to the showers, which is why I came here from the boondocking area by the Salt River. Gotta freshen up occasionally.

Tip: use solar heated showers in the afternoon rather than first thing in the morning

Yesterday evening I heated up some leftover spaghetti I'd made for a potluck. Newman's Own Sockarooni Sauce, to which I'd added Italian sausage. Yum. But I couldn't finish the last of it. There wasn't enough for yet another meal, so I emptied the pot by some bushes about twenty yards away, hoping coyotes would eat it.

They did. Every last bit. (I wonder if coyotes slurp their noodles.) Do you think the folks at Newman's Own would want to use that as a product endorsement? I can see it now: "It's dirt-lickin' good!"

Friday, February 13, 2015

Mutant cactus

Salt River boondocking by Roosevelt Lake, Arizona

If sharing campgrounds with others isn't your thing, and/or if you want to camp free, there are dispersed camping spots around Roosevelt Lake. One is called the Diversion Dam area, along the Salt River where it comes out of a canyon and feeds into the lake.

The view from my campsite. Please ignore the power lines spoiling the shot.

"Rafter Take-out" is not drive-thru service for roofing supplies

There are a series of river access points, one where rafters, kayakers and such can exit the water before tumbling over the dam. Besides the paved roads to the access points, there are dirt roads (tire tracks, actually) running across the bluff to de facto campsites among the brush and cacti. I got an excellent spot, no one around, with three bars of 4G cell service. Sweet. I imagine the area is more crowded during rafting season.

Turn from highway 188 onto 288. After a couple of miles, look for the river access sign on the left before heading down the hill to the bridge. There's a parking lot (and toilet) on the right shortly after the turn. After that, start watching for turn offs into the brush..

There's also space to camp downstream of the H-Z Wash river access point, to the left of the dam and boat ramp. It's mostly river rock, though, and it's susceptible to flooding. But very handy for boaters.

The road to the EADS Wash river access point looked kind of dicey, so I didn't make the drive. I stared at water flowing over the dam instead. Very mellow.

It's all water over the dam, Dude

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Washboard calculus

If I had more than just the most basic arithmetic skills, I might be able to whip up a Good Will Hunting-level equation so that one could calculate—preferably beforehand—whether driving some particularly annoying washboard road is a good idea.

There are many variables. How badly do you want to get there? Do you know from personal experience that you'll enjoy he destination, or are you going only by someone's recommendation? How well do you trust that person's opinions? Does the person like you, or is he prone to playing mean tricks? How bad is the washboard? How much of it is there? What damage might it cause to your vehicle and/or its contents? How's your spine? Would you care whether your brain was shaken to pudding?

While my math sucks, I'm pretty good at googling the causes of washboarding.

"Well, dam," says Chet

Theodore Roosevelt Dam

Cholla Campground, Roosevelt Lake, Arizona

Unlike the trek to Burnt Corral, getting to Cholla Campground was a piece of cake. Or, rather, a ribbon of asphalt. It's a typical campground catering to RVers. And all their stuff. And their generators.

A view of the lake—not of another RV. And excellent cell service too

However, out at the ends of a couple of loops are tent sites, meaning there's only room for cars, trucks and motorcycles. And there are no hookups. There's a shared potable water tap and the toilets are near.

Instead of backing your RV into your own private driveway, you park in a designated spot on the loop road and then schlep your stuff to a small clearing where you set up camp. But there's no rule that you actually need to pitch a tent. You could sleep in, oh, your van. In its parking space. And use the table and shade only for meals. And sittin' and contemplatin'.

There were only four of us spread among fourteen sites. We "tent" campers like to give each other room when we can. Don't want to hear each other's snoring and farting.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Burnt Corral Campground, Apache Lake, Arizona

I'd heard good things about Roosevelt Lake, north east of Phoenix, and figured it was time to go. The weather forecast was good. And I needed to go someplace new.

My research informed me that the "Roosevelt Lake" area also includes Apache Lake, which is downstream of the dam that forms Roosevelt Lake. Roosevelt Lake is big and ideal if you want to tear around on your boat. Apache Lake is more intimate, tucked into a gorge with the mountains rising right out of the water. It's also down a dirt road that's rough in spots, narrow in others, sometimes both at once. It's not a very pleasant drive, but it filters out the less intrepid, and most RVers.

Hubcaps and washboard roads don't mix well

Burnt Corral Campground is right on the shore and, at the moment, not at all crowded. I got a very nice spot with no trouble, and no close neighbors. There are the usual National Forest campground amenities: tables, fire rings, shelters at some sites, vault toilets, dumpsters. Alas, no showers or cell service. (I'm posting this from elsewhere.)

The view outside my van door

You can tell from the ripply water that there is a bit of a breeze. It changed direction and got a little stronger after sunset. I was afraid the wind would cool things down too much, but I was comfortable all night.

Apache and Roosevelt lakes are in the Tonto National Forest and require a special pass, available at various retailers in Arizona and at the ranger station (where I bought mine). Passes are good for only 24 hours. So you need to buy as many passes as days you plan on staying, or keep going back to the ranger station for more. You scratch off the date and time you pull into the campground and display it your windshield. It's kind of a weird setup. But since I have an Interagency Senior Pass, I get the Tonto passes for half price. Hurray for old age. I think.

Spring is starting already

Chet imitates a pupil

Roosevelt Lake, Arizona

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

I'm tempted to keep this place a secret

In October, as Lesa, Lou and I drove highway 85 north from Gila Bend, I noticed a sign for Buckeye Hills Regional Park.

"Hmmm, what's that about?"

Then, a few days ago, I searched Campendium for a free campsite near Phoenix where I could stay a night to break up the drive to Roosevelt Lake.

"Oh, look! Buckeye Hills Regional Park. With excellent reviews."

So, here I am.

The road in is paved until just past the sheriff's training center and firing rang, but the unpaved road is in very good shape.

I thought the park would be crowded, given its proximity to Phoenix, and the fact that it's snowbird season. But it's almost deserted. A pickup & camper, two Class A's, a family of tent campers and me.

There are tables, shelters, barbecues and trash barrels set back from the road. There are no classic campsites, no pads, no hookups. It's more like a picnic ground, with camping. That makes me think the park is more crowded with day-use folks on weekends and holidays. There's another road, without tables, shelters and such, that probably doesn't get picnickers.

Besides the hills implied by the name of the park, there are flat areas with a naturally growing green ground cover I hadn't seen before in the Southwest. It's a very pleasant break from the rock and sand I've been living in.

There have been a couple of visits from low flying military jets, and there's occasional gunfire at the firing range, but it's mostly very quiet. The light pollution from the Phoenix metro area (about 25 miles away) is minimal.

So, if you need to be near Phoenix, or if you're on your way to or from Puerto Peñasco/Organ Pipe Cactus National Park/Why/Ajo, I recommend Buckeye Hills Regional Park. But, shhhhh, don't tell everyone.