Thursday, December 31, 2015

Things sticking out of the ground

Confirmed sighting

Back in February I wrote that I was resisting the urge to get a trail camera. I stopped resisting. It's a cheap, bare bones one. No programming. Just turn it on. Still shots only, no video. But it shoots color in daylight and black & white in the dark. Assuming something triggers the motion sensor. Lately that something has been only bushes in the wind. No critters have chosen to visit my little desert photo booth. Maybe because they don't get prints or the rights to their own images.

But there was success when I deployed the camera last night. I got two partial shots of the elusive, migratory, thought-by-some-to-be-extinct, Blogging Desert Primate.

Evening, December 30, 2015

Morning, December 31, 2015

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Turn right at the hubcap

Shifting and regrouping. Lou & Jo decided to stay a little longer at the Cocopah Casino. Denise & Dale had had their fill of the wind, dust and crop dusters at Fortuna Pond. They found a temporary spot near me in the American Girl Mine area and sat out the rain that night. Yesterday I went looking for a better spot for us and found it a couple of miles farther north up Ogilby Road. Sweet.

Monday, December 28, 2015

I didn't see this coming

There was nothing about the sky today that said rain. Maybe the occasional high, wispy cloud. No wind. Yet there's a soft patter of rain on the roof right now. Surprise. Will there be something resembling snow in the Blythe-Quartzsite corridor where it's near freezing?

UPDATE: Surprise! I have a leak where the solar cables come through the roof. This hadn't been a problem before, and I've been in some heavy rain a few times. I guess I need to refresh the caulking/sealant. That is not a job to do in the dark. While it's raining. Hurray for adventures!

Moving on again

A week at the Cocopah Casino RV parking area seemed like enough. I mean, what's left to do after installing a new roof rack and sharing the casino's Christmas buffet with Jo and Lou? Gamble? Surely you jest.

But where to go that isn't below freezing at night? After checking the forecasts and maps, I thought, "Hmmm, what about the Long Term Visitor Area near Holtville, California? It has a hot spring. So even if the weather turned too chilly, I could sit in the spring and get warm, clean and wrinkly. After all, this photo I found looks nice, right?

Lou and Jo were going to head out tomorrow, so I was the advanced scout.

Well, the place was too crowded (ugh, generators), too close to the freeway, and too close to a power plant. Not our kind of place, especially at $40 for two weeks (even though that pass is valid at any of the other LTVAs in the area).

I called Lou, interrupted his lunch, and gave him my report. "So, I'm going to go back to American Girl Mine Road to scout a place for all of us."

That was only partly true. I returned to American Girl Mine Road, but I set up camp (i.e., parked and put out the step) at the same spot I've been twice before. With the rock spiral. Because I like it. I'll find a group spot tomorrow morning. Denise and Dale are around here somewhere. And some bluegrass players.

Home again

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Like folding a tent in a phone booth

Howling winds today meant I had to remove my windshield cover before it sailed off to Mexico. (I imagine all of Blythe, CA, and bits of Las Vegas will arrive here later this afternoon.)

The cover back in calmer times

All the small magnets I'd added to hold down the edges had worked great in lesser winds, but the cover was starting to flap around threateningly. So out I went to rescue it, which almost turned me into an accidental kitesurfer. (Oh look, there goes a neighbor's carpet. And the neighbor.)

Back inside the Rolling Steel Tent I had a brief conference between my old sloppy self and my new trying-to-be-organized self. Fold the cover nicely and put it back in it's handy sack, or just wad it up and toss it in a corner? Well, if I'm going to be stuck inside today, I should make the place as roomy as possible.

I started folding. And muttering. The cover is not only large, it was also stiff from the low temperature. Totally uncooperative. But I fought it and the urge to toss it outside and wave "AdiĆ³s, mi amigo terco. Tener una vida feliz en Baja." I eventually won and now the cover is in its designated spot next to the refrigerator. And I'm in my designated spot in front of the computer, as the Rolling Steel Tent rocks in the wind.

Tengan una vida feliz, mis amigos.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve sunset

Somerton, Arizona

A different American dream

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the poverty threshold for a single-person household (or vanhold, I assume) is currently $11,770 annual income. Thanks to Social Security, I'm above the poverty line.

By the standards of my former job-holding, house-owning, middle-class life, though, I'm poor. Really poor. Burger flipping poor. Floor mopping poor. Lettuce picking poor. No American Dream® for you poor.

But I'm the happiest I've been in a long time.

The American Dream is expensive. Not just in dollars. It takes a toll on our mental and physical health as well. And if we manage to attain the American Dream, we become fearful of losing it.

Well, here I am, without the trappings of the American Dream. And life is good. I'm contented. I'm at peace. I'm fortunate.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas to me

If you've been following my adventures for a while, you know about the problem I had with one of the aluminum uprights on my roof rack. It broke, I repaired it with steel brackets, it broke again. Then, last week, I discovered the upright on the other side had broken, too.


Enough of this crap. I found a truck accessories shop in Yuma and they ordered a new all-steel roof rack for me. It arrived the next day. Lou and I installed it while we camped in the RV parking area at the Cocopah Casino, near Somerton, AZ.

After a few hours of swearing and fixing mistakes, ta-dah!

The uprights on the original rack didn't stick up above the cross bars. That's one reason I chose it. I didn't want the uprights casting shadows on the solar panel when the sun was low. Even small shadows can significantly reduce power output. But I'll see how it goes. If it becomes a problem, I could borrow James's angle grinder and shorten the uprights. Argh-argh-argh! Power tools and sparks!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Request time

Some readers have asked about my camera equipment. Okay.

This photo was taken with my iPhone 5c using the Camera+ app

My "serious" camera is a Canon EOS Rebel T3i that I bought used on eBay. It's a few generations old. Here are the specifications, if you're into that kind of thing. It's sort of a "serious hobbyist" camera and I'm sort of a semi-serious hobbyist. The main thing I wanted was the ability to selectively control all the exposure parameters (even though I usually use one of the preprogrammed settings).

It came with the 18-135mm zoom lens shown on the left. After a while I realized I was using the wide angle range of that lens most of the time. Hey, the wide open spaces of the West call for a wide lens, right? So I got the lighter, more compact 18-55mm zoom lens shown on the camera. Then, because I started getting interested in photographing flowers, I got the 50mm macro lens shown in the back.

This was shot with the Canon and the 18-55mm lens

Then there's the camera in my iPhone 5c. I don't carry the Canon around all the time, of course. So the phone is good when I'm not expecting to take photos or when I don't want to look so much like a tourist.

I've tried seven or eight camera apps but use Camera+ most of the time. Other times I use Pro HDR or just the camera app that came on the phone. Sometimes I'm stunned at the quality of the photos I can get from a phone, because I remember back when digital photography was awful, or awfully expensive.

More often than not, I do a little image correction on my laptop, using Photoshop Elements. Some cropping, color balance, opening up some shadows, darkening some highlights—essentially the stuff I'd do in a darkroom if this weren't the digital age. Every once in a while I'll use an arty filter.

Equipment is sort of secondary, though. People can (and do) take bad photos with excellent cameras, and others take some amazing photos with cheap cameras. It's really about paying attention to the light. That's, like, 80 percent of "learning photography." The other 20 percent or so is about capturing what you see.

I'm not a great photographer. I just try to be aware of some basic principles of light and composition. For example, the photos above were set up inside the Rolling Steel Tent with indirect light coming mostly from behind. Because that kind of lighting is usually more attractive than direct light from the front. I've taken some classes, but most of what I know about using light came from experience—which is a lot easier to accumulate now that we can immediately see the results of what we shoot. "Hmmm, what if I shoot from over here instead? What if I shoot at a different time of day? Wow. Why does that look better?"

In the classes I took, there were usually some who were really into cameras and lenses and all the gear. And there were usually a few with just a basic camera. The camera junkies rarely took the best photos. And sometimes the ones with the basic cameras did, because of the way they saw things. So if all you have is the camera in your phone or a point-and-shoot pocket camera, use it. Your eyes and brain are the most vital tools.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Laundromat conversation

While folding my laundry, the white haired woman next to me, who looked like she could be the less dowdy sister of Granny in the Tweety & Sylvester cartoons, asked out of the blue, "Are you single?"

I was surprised. Was she hitting on me? But I managed to reply, "Uh, yes."

"I thought so, because of how well you fold your things."

"I've had decades of practice. I've been doing my own laundry since I was a teenager."

"My husband refuses to learn."

"I did the laundry even when I was married."

"That's unusual."

We returned to folding our respective laundry. That's when I noticed she (or possibly her laundry-phobic husband) likes lime green bikini panties. Maybe Tweety's Granny does, too. How would we know?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Tamale time again

Jo, Lou, Denise, Dale and I went to the annual Somerton Tamale Festival. First time for the others, second time for me. There were over thirty vendors selling all kinds of tamales, from traditional beef, pork, chicken, and chili-cheese, to apple-pecan, pineapple, coconut and strawberry.

A lot of work went into the tens of thousands of tamales, all made by hand. Then there was the craziness of keeping the supply ready to eat and the orders flying out to customers.

I was stuffed after only three tamales, but the reigning tamale eating champ put down twelve in less than three minutes.

A 13-year-old thought he'd give it a try and did better than anyone expected

Still the champ

My lap is a dog bed

It's not even my dog

Friday, December 18, 2015

¡Muy saboroso!

The fish tacos I had yesterday at this stand in Los Algodones were the best I've had in a long time. Fresh fish, lightly battered and fried to order. Excellent tortillas. Yummy sauce.

Though the invention if the fish taco (at least in its current format) is credited to Baja, the lady running the stand has roots in Nayarit, on the central Pacific coast of "mainland" Mexico. Nayarit is known for its seafood, so it stands to reason a nayarita would make a fine taco. I might need to make the border crossing a few more times while I'm in the area. Like, maybe for lunch today. And stay for dinner. And a late snack just before the crossing closes for the night.

Out of the blue of the western sky comes... PAR KING!!!

A really good golfer? Or the monarch of the average?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Happy is in the house

Oakley's dog, Happy, doing her staring into your soul until you give me a snack trick. Foolish dog, I have no soul. Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Nature or nurture or neither

Decades before I was born, my father worked outdoors. He lived in tents and rode horses as he surveyed future roads for the federal government. As you can see, he was a rugged dude. 

But I knew him only as a white collar guy with a briefcase, commuting to an office, reading the newspaper every evening, watching Perry Mason reruns.

By the time I came along (the last of six kids) Dad had no interest in the great outdoors, except for mowing the lawn. My family lore includes the tale of The Aborted Camping Trip (the first and last family campout ever) that happened before I was born.

So I didn't grow up doing a lot of camping. Yet here I am, doing it full time. And it feels totally natural. It would probably be as much of a surprise to my old man as it is to me.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Just being

Nothing much going on. Just hanging out, staying out of the wind and dust, reading, thinking, taking occasional walks in the desert, checking in with the neighbors (Denise & Dale, Oakley, Jo & Lou). Sometimes life is like that. And it's enough. For now.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Creeping around in the dark again

What to take?

In 1960, John Steinbeck headed out on a lap of the United States to gather (and manufacture) stories for what would become Travels with Charley. In the following excerpt, Steinbeck tells of loading up his camper, which he'd christened Rocinante, after Don Quixote's horse.

Equipping Rocinante was a long and pleasant process. I took far too many things, but I didn’t know what I would find. Tools for emergency, tow lines, a small block and tackle, a trenching tool and crowbar, tools for making and fixing and improvising. Then there were emergency foods. I would be late in the northwest and caught by snow. I prepared for at least a week of emergency. Water was easy; Rocinante carried a thirty-gallon tank. I thought I might do some writing along the way, perhaps essays, surely notes, certainly letters. I took paper, carbon, typewriter, pencils, notebooks, and not only those but dictionaries, a compact encyclopedia, and a dozen other reference books, heavy ones. I suppose our capacity for self-delusion is boundless. I knew very well that I rarely make notes, and if I do I either lose them or can’t read them. I also knew from thirty years of my profession that I cannot write hot on an event. It has to ferment. I must do what a friend calls “mule it over” for a time before it goes down. And in spite of this self-knowledge I equipped Rocinante with enough writing material to take care of ten volumes. Also I laid in a hundred and fifty pounds of those books one hasn’t got around to reading— and of course those are the books one isn’t ever going to get around to reading. Canned goods, shotgun shells, rifle cartridges, tool boxes, and far too many clothes, blankets and pillows, and many too many shoes and boots, padded nylon sub-zero underwear, plastic dishes and cups and a plastic dishpan, a spare tank of bottled gas. The overloaded springs sighed and settled lower and lower. I judge now that I carried about four times too much of everything.
Most fulltime nomads have gone through the same process. And we probably discovered we overestimated what we'd need and occasionally underestimated—or completely forgot—some essentials. But figuring that out is part of this continuing journey.

The interior of Rocinante

Steinbeck went out to rediscover America. We nomads head out with pretty much the same intent, but along the way we often rediscover ourselves as well. I think it's easier to learn who we really are once we're not hidden amongst the stuff we accumulate in conventional living.

So, down the road we go, ready or not. Equipped for it or not. With a Standard Poodle and a hundred and fifty pounds of books, or not.

Wait, this looks familiar

The temperatures are forecast to drop to levels that make me whine and mope, so I bid temporary farewell to the gang at Buckeye Hills Regional Park and returned to the Ogilby Road area west of Yuma.

Jo and Lou will join me in a couple of days. In the meantime, I need to scout for a spot that will suit our needs. Large enough, private enough, quiet enough, no tricky access for Lou's trailer, good cell signal... Some shelter from the winds that will be coming would be nice, but not likely. Barring that, we'd at least like to avoid dust in that wind.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Afternoon jam at Club Lou

Michael croons while Lou noodles

Let there be lights

I don't drive much at night anymore. I don't have a night vision problem. I'm not anxious about what might happen in the dark. It's just that I'm usually settled into a camping spot well before nightfall. There's rarely a need to drive at night. However, the likelihood of me driving at night increases in winter when daylight hours are short.

Since I don't drive much at night, I seldom need to turn on the headlights. That means I haven't developed the unconscious muscle memory of reaching for the light switch. I still fumble around, turning on the interior light or knocking the air vent askew.

GM engineers and stylists haven't made it any easier. They put the switch low on the dash, down out of my peripheral vision, where the steering wheel blocks my view.

I suppose it's my "fault" that most of my vehicles had headlight switches on stalks by the steering wheel. And maybe I got a little spoiled by a car with automatic headlights.

Welcome to the 20th Century School of Automotive Engineering

But, what can I do about it? Like so many less-than-ideal things in life, I'll adapt. I'll get used to it—sometime before that future day when the Rolling Steel Tent heads to the scrapyard. Unless I beat it there.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

An actual book?

Jo asked if I'd read the Jimmy Buffett book "about turning fifty."

"A Pirate Looks at Fifty?" I replied. "I've read one of his others, but not that one."

"I'm finished with it. Do you want it?"


She stepped into her camper and came out with a hardback. Wow. A hardback. About an inch and a quarter thick. About 450 pages. Maps inside the covers. Serious bookness. Especially after reading e-books the past couple of years. I hefted it. Considered it.

"Until I get around to reading it, I guess I could use it to prop up something."

Health report

Lou is coming down with something. Or he's getting rid of the thing he'd come down with. I haven't checked with him yet this morning for an update.

His condition got me thinking about my health over the past two and a half years that I've been living and traveling in the Rolling Steel Tent. I had some bronchial congestion somewhere along the way, and maybe a fever or two. But no flu—at least not that I remember. I think that's because I spend way less time in crowds. I'm less likely to catch something if there's no one to pass it along. Ah, the health benefits of reclusiveness.

Back in pre-van days I started having little attacks of vertigo. If I turned my head after being in bed a while, the room would start spinning. WooOOooo! Sometimes it would happen if I got out of bed quickly. That stopped happening.

In my pre-van days I developed a case of trigger finger. The middle finger of my right hand started locking up. But the trigger finger has gone away.

My left knee has gotten worse, though. The muscles, tendons, ligaments or whatever complain when I go up stairs, and they try to give out on me when I go down stairs. Good thing there aren't that many stairs in my life these days. But the knee calls attention to itself when I climb in and out of the van.

My eyesight has been holding steady.

The tinnitus and my partial hearing loss don't seem to have gotten any worse. But deterioration could be so gradual that I don't notice.

I've gained a few pounds. I need to nap less and walk more.

Fortunately, I can live this vagabond life without the limitations of a chronic disease. Knock on wood. Though my father and I didn't get along all that well, and we had totally different approaches to life, I seem to have inherited some of his good health genes. He had no medical problems, other than his appendix, until he was in his 80s. All the fresh air and sunshine I'm getting might help, too. Somewhere down the road my health won't allow me to do this anymore. In the meantime, roll on. Or walk on.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

RoadPro oven survey

Lou noticed that his RoadPro oven didn't seal completely, that there was a hairline gap between the seals in front and in back. With the lid properly aligned and the latch firmly snapped, we could see daylight when we held the oven just so.

We compared his oven to Jo's. Hers had no gap. Then we compared it to mine. It has a gap.


Had there always been a gap on ours? Was it a bad production run? Or had it changed over time? Was it that Jo's oven was new and ours were a couple of years old? Plastic + heat = warpage?

So, dear readers and owners of RoadPro ovens, how old is yours, how often do you use it, and does it have a gap?

Surprised bush

It didn't expect to see me here

Saturday, December 5, 2015

In the wash

Animal, human and vehicle tracks in the sand

Looking back, but not going back

It was the day to bid a happy farewell to the house I'd just unloaded sold. The new sucker owner would take possession the next day. Between eBay, charities and dumpsters I had gotten rid of all my possessions except what I thought would be absolutely necessary for my new nomadic life. Here's everything that made the cut, loaded haphazardly into the van.

Bags and bags of clothing... artwork... a 21" monitor... pottery... power tools... books...

I thought, "There won't be enough room even when this is all arranged neatly. I mean, I still need to fit a mattress in here somehow."

But I thinned the pile—several times—and now about 80% of it is gone. And I don't miss any of it. (Except sometimes the art.)

That was two and a half years ago, but it seems much longer. Not just since that day I drove away from the money pit house, but also since I started the journey away from that guy I used to be, who used to think "my necessities" had a much wider. deeper definition.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Chet meets Chip

Last week I was driving south from Quartzsite in Highway 95. A pickup and a Class A RV came the other way and SMACK! A dime-sized chip in the windshield I replaced a year ago. Chet thinks it's funny. He can be a jerk sometimes.

Buddies working on Buddies

You know how we guys are. Gotta have a project. So today Lou and I cleaned the pilot nozzles on two Mr. Heater Portable Buddies.

There are two ways to do this. One is a simple way recommended by Mr. Heater, and it's probably the thing to do once or twice during heater season as a preventive measure.

The second way might be necessary if your Portable Buddy is several seasons old, you've never cleaned the pilot nozzle, and the thing refuses to light (even though you're below 7,000 feet elevation).

Since the second method requires more disassembly/reassembly, two metric wrenches, decent manual dexterity and a feel for mechanical things, we decided to try the simple way first. (Not that we don't have those things. We just didn't want that big of a project.)

My heater is older, so there was some crud on the Q-tip when I swabbed the nozzle (which is not intended as a raunchy euphemism, though you're free to use it that way). The Q-tip came out clean on the heater Lou was working on. Now we're set to go. Hot time tonight!

Back at Buckeye Hills

After checking the forecasts for winds and overnight lows, Lou and I decided to meet up at Buckeye Hills Regional Park. Again. We liked it before, and it's still good.

It's free, it's scenic, it's quiet, and it's handy to the stores and services in Buckeye (the farthest western suburb of Phoenix).

We'll be here a while. Perhaps occasional field trips to Phoenix will satisfy my wanderlust. We'll see. In the meantime, I'll just enjoy it.