Sunday, January 31, 2016


Strong wind is making the Rolling Steel Tent rock back and forth. But I don't need to put up with it. I'm in the wide open desert, not in a campground spot or an RV park space, and I'm not in a trailer that would need to be hooked up to the tow vehicle. So I can easily fire up the van and turn it facing into the wind. It's not a perfect solution, but it's much better. And since it's really dark out, I can do it in my underwear. (Sorry for that mental image.)


After a week of very nice weather, things are going to get colder, windier and wetter at my current location near Yuma. And in Baja California.

I view my Baja trip as a vacation, and everyone crosses their fingers for perfect vacation weather. Unlike most people's vacation plans, though, I have no job to schedule around, no reservations already made, no tickets bought. I don't need to head to Baja this week. I can wait. Or I can go anyway. Crappy weather here or crappy weather there? Crappy weather in a way-to-familiar place, or crappy weather in a new place with a language barrier? Would the latter make for a better story? Would it make for a better self?

Well, I can't leave until my new vehicle registration arrives. Until then, I'll contemplate my options. And appreciate the fact I have options.

Friday, January 29, 2016

A little later

Far southeast California

When the Chiroptera come out

Around sunset, the hummingbirds call it a day and the bats report for work. There are no bats in this photo, just nice clouds. Use your imagination. Bats are difficult to photograph in flight. They don't hold still and they're constantly changing direction as they chase insects. Maybe I could get one to hang from my outstretched finger. Here batty batty batty batty!

Thursday, January 28, 2016


I got a 5' x 5' storage unit this morning. It doesn't look like much stuff to bother with, but I figured the fewer things I take to Mexico with me, the less there would be to search, and the less to rattle around. And the more room I'd have for water and food.

I'll probably sort through the stuff still in the van and find a few more things to leave behind. And when I get back, I might see what stored stuff I can deposit in a dumpster.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Go your own way

It's one thing to break from normalcy to follow the nomadic life. But some people take it to a whole new level of nonconformity. The Rolling Steel Tent is feeling so ordinary today.

"Honey, I promise we'll always have a roof over our heads"

What do you get when an Airstream mates with a Toronado?

Or with a van?

Or when a Nash mates with... something

You need to start with a vision and never give up

The Cadillac of RVs


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Sometimes I just need to wait

I've been up and down Ogilby road dozens of times. This is the first time I've had to stop for the train. No sweat.


The Rolling Steel Tent was a-rockin' last night—without any special fun happening inside. Sadly.

Strong winds with 45 to 50 mile per hour gusts continue this morning and probably through the day. I had the van parked nose to the breeze in the evening, but the wind shifted around to hit broadside while I slept tried to sleep.

It would be a great time to own a wind turbine for charging the batteries. But the space a wind turbine takes up when not in use, along with its cables, a mast and some way to keep it from blowing over, would conflict with my desire to make the van interior as roomy as possible. I don't want to be unloading things I'd use only occasionally in order to have living space every day. But space would be no problem for owners of big RVs. And they could turn off their generators. Imagine that.

Monday, January 25, 2016

And a partridge in a pear tree

As part of my Baja trip research, I came across a list of things you're allowed to bring with you into Mexico.
Personal clothing and footwear

Personal toiletries and beauty products

Baby travel accessories such as strollers and baby walkers (you must have a baby present)

Two photographic cameras or video recorders

12 rolls of film or videocassettes

Three cell phones or other wireless networks

Global Positioning Equipment (GPS)

One typewriter

One electronic calendar

One laptop computer

One portable printer/copier

One portable projector

Two items of sporting equipment

Four fishing rods

Three speedboats with or without sails and their accessories, trophies or recognitions, provided that they can be transported normally and commonly by the passenger

One stair climber

One bicycle

One portable radio or digital sound reproducer with speakers and accessories

Five laser disks

10 DVDs

30 compact disks (CD) or magnetic tapes (audiocassettes)

Three software packages

Five storage devices or memory cards for any electronic equipment

Books, magazines and printed documents

Five toys

One video game console and five videogames

One blood pressure instrument

One glucose-testing device

Personal medications (you must have your prescription with you for any psychotropic drugs that you’re bringing with you into Mexico)

One set of binoculars

One telescope

Luggage necessary to transport personal items

Passengers over 18 years of age are allowed: 10 packs of cigarettes, 25 cigars or 200 grams of tobacco, three liters of liquor or beer, six liters of wine. Any items in excess must be declared and have duties paid.

Two musical instruments and the accessories for the instruments

A camping tent

Camping equipment

A toolset

Up to three dogs or cats, may be brought to Mexico as well as their accessories, provided that the corresponding zoo sanitary import certificate issued by (SAGARPA) is presented to the customs officials


Guns or ammunition

Pepper spray

Lethal knives and machetes (anything over 8” is not allowed)

Live predator fish

Totoaba fish (fresh or frozen)

Turtle eggs

Poppy seeds or flour of poppy seeds

Marijuana, medicinal marijuana, marijuana products, marijuana seeds or spores, or marijuana extracts

Opium extract

Stamps or prints, displayed for their sale in envelopes or packages, containing illustrations that represent childhood in a degrading, violent, self-destructive, anti-social or ridiculous way (i.e. Garbage Pail Kids trading cards)

Thallium sulfate

Isodrin, Aldrin, Heptaclor, Drinox, Endrin, Mendrin, Nendrin, Hexadrin or Leptophos insecticides


Medication prepared with acetylmorphine or its derivatives

Loggerhead turtles or turtle skins

Goods that have been declared as archaeological monuments by the Secretary of Public Education

Air compression spearguns are prohibited. Rubber band spearguns are permitted.

Guess I'll need to leave the second stair climber and my fourth speedboat behind, along with my heroin and loggerhead turtles. I'll really be roughing it.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Job opportunity

I have a reputation among my nomadic friends as the guy who'll gladly drive all over the place. It's easy for me. I'm not pulling a trailer. Coincidently, all of my current campmates are.

Yesterday I was talking with Oakley about possible future campsites—places we'd heard about but haven't seen. He joked, "You could just run up there and check it out, give us a report."

"Yeah," I replied, "I could be like the wagon train scout. Find out if a place is nice, whether the access is good, whether it has enough level areas, whether it's crowded or noisy or whatever. Just chip in for my gas and a burrito and off I'd go."

Seriously. I'd do that. Subsidize my wandering, give me a bit of a purpose and a chance to be helpful... Why not?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

What I learned last night

I'm back at the campsite on Ogilby Road. A couple of nights ago, some friends had left foil-wrapped potatoes in the coals of their campfire, hoping to have baked potatoes for breakfast. But critters had dragged them out of the ashes, torn off the foil and eaten them. Disappointed humans, happy coyotes or kit foxes.

So last night I set up my night vision trail camera in the wash next to me. I put out a pan of water and weighed it down with a rock. I figured water in the desert would be a good attractant. Besides, whatever critters ate the potatoes—without gravy or even butter—they'd probably have dry mouths.

Sure enough...

Because the pan gives me a sense of scale (it's about 14" in diameter at the top) I can see the critter isn't very large. A kit fox rather than a coyote. Aaaaw, cute.

However, as you can see, the photos were overexposed. Light dirt, plus a full moon, plus the subject being close to the infrared flash equals overexposure.

The camera doesn't have any kind of exposure adjustment, so I'll need to keep that in mind when I set it up in the future.

As I was writing this, Lou and Hal came by to find out what showed up on the camera. Lou said he had left out a pork chop bone. So the fox has been eating well.

I'll set up the camera again. Maybe the fox will bring the whole family next time. Say cheese!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A step closer to Baja

I've decided that one way or another I'm going to spend some time in Baja this winter. Maybe a week or two, maybe a month or two. I'll see what happens once I get there.

I have a pistol. Firearms are banned in Mexico. So, what to do with my gun before crossing the border?

My ex (with whom I'm still close friends) lives in Los Angeles. We met for lunch today at Canter's Deli and I handed her a rucksack containing the gun and ammo. She's a gun owner herself, so it's no big deal to have mine around.

With a wink, I said, "Don't go committing any crimes with my gun."

"Oooo, I hadn't thought of that," she winked back. "But now that you mention it..." That's one reason we like each other. We have the same weird sense of humor. We just shouldn't have married.

There's another thing I need to take care of before going to Mexico. I hadn't thought about it until I was in Slab City last week. I was parked about forty yards off the main drag when a Sheriff's Deputy pulled up behind the Rolling Steel Tent. I got out to ask him what was up. "Just checking to see if your license plates are current."

Ah, that hadn't been on my radar yet. They expire at the end of February, at which time I might have been out of the country. So I went online to renew the registration. Now it's a matter of South Dakota processing it and sending the stickers to my mail drop, then having it forwarded to wherever I'm going to be for the next few weeks.

Then there's auto insurance to renew and Mexican auto insurance to buy. And maybe some stuff to put in storage so there's less to rattle around on bad roads, and less to dig through during vehicle searches—either in Mexico or when crossing back into the US.

Until I have all the preparations taken care of, I guess I could work on expanding my Spanish vocabulary. Perdóname por ser un idiota.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Get 'er done

From "The Onion"

The item above reminded me of parts of my life. I had aspirations but was stuck, believing there was a pile of outside forces holding me back, keeping me from happiness. Someday, somewhere, everything would align for me and I could breeze forward. Right?

Well, no.

So I had to ask myself, what can I do if only 23 of the 6, 071 variables align? How far could I get? What could I make of it? And having taken that leap to a new point in my life, what new variables might align? Which variables could I force to align? Which ones could I make irrelevant? I wouldn't know if I didn't take action. I had to look at the reasons I could instead of the reasons I couldn't.

I wouldn't be a full time vandweller now if I'd waited for everything to be 100% figured out and ready, if I'd waited for the universe's permission. I did what I could, then hit the road. And it's good. It's working. I'm happy. And the rest of those variables? They just don't matter anymore.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Movin' around... movin' around...

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

I had been camped off Ogilby Road, near Yuma when I decided to make a quick reappearance at RTR to say howdy to some friends who'd arrived late.

That accomplished, I headed out the next day to Slab City. With the exception of a few places with brand new fences made from pallets, the Slabs seemed way more run down and trashy than the last time I was there. Perhaps anxiety over California possibly kicking everyone out has some people digging in, establishing clearer possession of their plot of toxic desert, and others just throwing in the towel—and throwing all their crap wherever. Or maybe I'm just perceiving the place differently.

I wasn't in the right mood for the Slabs, I guess. So I took off this morning for the Anza-Borrego Desert, between the Salton Sea the coastal range.

This included an encounter with what must be local humor. Highway S22 runs west from Highway 86 at Salton City. After about a block and a half is a sign declaring it's the end of the 35MPH zone. I've seen several like it in various places. It usually means you can return to highway speed. And so, people like me, who aren't totally familiar with the place, start to accelerate. But right after that, the road has a stretch of extreme dips, lumps and whoop-de-doos that launch vehicles in the air and wag them back and forth. The only way to survive is to slow to about 15MPH. And the locals are entertained.

A couldn't park the Rolling Steel Tent in quite the same place as last year. The state has restricted a lot of the Clark Dry Lake and Rockhouse Canyon Road area to foot traffic only. But there was still enough space and privacy in the remaining boondocking area.

One of the neighbors

The weather was perfect. Like spring in most parts of the country.

Although the cell signal is a very strong four bars, the bandwidth is crowded, making the web very slow. Everyone must have been streaming football.

This is just another one day stop, though. In the morning I'll take the scenic route to the coast, through the mountains and past Mount Palomar. No need for speed.

Westmoreland, CA

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Had to check

I had been contemplating a week-long/month-long trip to Baja when a little voice in the back of my brain asked, "How much longer is your current passport valid?"

"Good question," another part of my brain replied.

I rose up from my bed (because that's where I do my best thinking) and got out my passport.

Date of expiration: a year and a half from now. No problem. The trick, though, will be to remember to get a new one next spring.

I'm a big believer in international travel. Travel makes us more rounded people. Travel helps cure ignorance. So it's encouraging that a higher percentage of Americans than ever have passports. Of course, there was a big jump in 2007 when new rules required a passport in order to get back into the US.

However, the percentage of passport holders is still less than 50 percent of the population. And perhaps the people who don't have passports are the type who could benefit the most from travel. New experiences, new ideas, new outlooks instead of the same old same old. Of course, there are people who come away from travel more entrenched in their previous lives, because the world out there was (surprise) different, and they think different is bad.

If you don't have a passport, get one—even if you have no travel plans. Because, who knows, you might have an unexpected opportunity, and you'd be prepared. Being willing to travel, even if you never do, is way ahead of not wanting to travel.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Oil news for nomads

We saw gasoline prices drop in 2014, creep back up a little, then start to drop again at the end of last year. Whereas crude oil used to be over $100/barrel, it's now a third of that—with no strong signs of market forces changing that for the rest of the decade. In short, global demand for oil is slowing but oil production hasn't been.
"As 2015 drew to a close, many in the global energy industry were praying that the price of oil would bounce back from the abyss, restoring the petroleum-centric world of the past half-century.  All evidence, however, points to a continuing depression in oil prices in 2016 — one that may, in fact, stretch into the 2020s and beyond."
While cheap gas has negative economic and political effects, it's good for us nomads. The cheaper the gas, the more we vehicle dwellers can afford to wander. And I will.

7:38 AM

Any January morning you can go outside wearing only pajamas is a good morning. Life is good.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Afternoon sky

A hummingbird learns about glass

Every so often a humming bird will fly into the Rolling Steel Tent, hover a moment, determine there's nothing to eat or drink, then zip away.

A few moments ago, one flew in the side door, hovered a moment, determined there was nothing to eat or drink, then flew out the driver window. Except the window was closed. It tried the windshield. It was also closed, of course. Confused and maybe a little dazed, it did it's best imitation of a fly, bouncing against the glass several times, landing a second or two, then bouncing against the glass some more. That gave me time to grab my camera and get a couple of shots.

Since hummingbirds have larger brains than flies, the bird eventually figured out it needed to exit the way it came in. Later, dude.

Reading hangover

I started a new book yesterday afternoon. It was interesting and enjoyable, so I kept reading. And reading. Afternoon turned to evening. Evening turned to night. Night turned to late night.

Just one more chapter.

Then just one more chapter.

Then just one more chapter.

Then... I might as well finish it.

Next thing I knew, it was 4:32 AM.

I foresee a couple of naps on today's agenda.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

So long, Mr. Party Pooper

Four days of RTR were enough for me this year. I just wasn't feeling the vibe—at least not my kind of vibe. Or the particular kind of vibe I needed this year. My vibe receptors could be shot. Who knows.

So I'm back at my former campsite off Ogilby Road. This feels better. A few days here, then maybe a quick visit to Slab City, then maybe back to the coast for a couple of days. After that? No idea. Don't need one yet.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

And Toto, too

I got a cone at Dorothy & Toto's Ice Cream Shoppe in Quartzsite. There were two tables of 70-plus-year-olds. Three men at one table talking with each other, three women at the another table talking to each other. To my surprise, they turned out to be three couples. Old style marriages, I guess.

Another pyramid

Spend enough time in Quartzsite and you eventually learn the story of  Hi Jolly (Hadji Ali) and visit his tomb. You then understand why the Quartzsite welcome signs have camels. And pyramids.

Although Hadji Ali was Syrian and Greek, someone decided he should be buried in a pyramid. Because, camels.

Unlike the pyramids of the pharaohs, Hi Jolly's is made from local stone, quartz (because, Quartzsite) and petrified wood. Cheops is no doubt envious of the copper camel on top, thinking, "Now, why didn't I think of that. But in gold, of course."

As for me, I'm impressed by the carefully welded type on the plaque. Too bad it hasn't been maintained.

Far more interesting than the story of Hadji Ali is the legend of Red Ghost, a camel that terrorized the region—with a corpse strapped to its back.

It ain't gonna happen

The sky was clear last night, and it wasn't too cold, so I figured it would be a good time for some star photography. I went out at about 9:30 to see if the Milky Way was up yet. Mmmmm, nope.

I checked again about two hours later. Mmmmm, maybe. Is that a slightly brighter band over there. The camera should be able to see what I can't. The camera said, "No, that's not the Milky Way. You're imagining things."

So I experimented with other possible shots. Nothing was catching my fancy. However, this shot featuring Mark & Donna's RV and shade cloth lit by their solar patio lights is a little interesting. I hadn't expected that much air traffic in that patch of sky during the same 25 seconds. A lot of planes in and out of Phoenix, LA and San Diego.

Back in the van, I got on the web to find out what time the Milky Way would be visible. Going out at three or four o'clock might not be too bad. I'd done it before. But, alas, given the time of year, the tilt of the earth and all that, the Milky Way would only be "up" during daylight hours. Maybe it's nature's way of saying, "Don't be an idiot, freezing your ass off in the middle of the night just to get a photo. Go back to your warm, comfortable bed." Even if nature wasn't saying that, it's what I did.

Friday, January 8, 2016

New year, new method

Out with the old

Up until today I'd been using two struts to tilt my solar panel. It worked fine, but it meant I had to go back and forth a couple of times whenever I raised or lowered the panel. After installing the new rack I started thinking about ways to make panel raising and lowering easier. The answer was a single center strut, of course. But how, exactly?

In with the new

Long winter nights are made for thinking. I wanted a strut that could pivot in just about any direction. And I wanted to be able to quickly anchor it at the bottom. The solution eventually came to me. I ran it past Lou for a second opinion. It sounded good to him. So off to Herb's Hardware for the bits and pieces.

A U-bolt and eye bolt at the panel, a threaded rod, another eye bolt at the other end of the rod, and an eye bolt through the two-by-four. Use a carabiner to hold the bottom pieces together. When the panel is down, the rod swings parallel to the panel and is held it place by a bungee.

Push, click, easy as pie (mmmmm, pie)

The old struts are still attached, just in case. Not all of my engineering ideas work out perfectly. But if there's a problem with this one, I can blame Lou for not seeing it beforehand. That's what friends are for.


The Rubber Tramp Rendezvous is held on BLM land near Quartzsite, Arizona. Since it's a high use area, campers are supposed to get a free permit that allows 14 days of camping. Ordinarily, there's a camp host who issues the permits, but the BLM hasn't been able to fill that position yet. So a ranger has been coming through the RTR encampment to issue permits. A friendly guy just doing his paperwork, not being a hard ass.

Additionally, groups larger than 75 people are supposed to have an event permit, which is also free. In the past, RTR organizer, Bob Wells, had been avoiding the hassle of getting the permit, and the BLM hadn't been causing any trouble about it. The other day, though, the ranger reminded Bob about the event permit. "But I'll tell you what," the ranger said. "I know you guys are good campers, you don't damage things and you've always left the place clean, so don't worry about the event permit. Not only that, I won't bother writing out permits for individuals. I'll just give everyone an automatic 14 days from today."

There are people who abuse public lands. They cut down trees, steal cacti, tear up the ground, foul the water, dump trash and waste, abandon vehicles and appliances, grow pot, set up meth labs, poach wildlife, cause fires... It has been my observation, though, that those of us who live full time on public lands are least likely to mess it up. It's our home, not some place to get drunk, hack on trees and toss our empty beers. So it's nice to get a little official recognition of that—even if it's just from one ranger.