Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Where was I?

A year ago I was in San Diego County, about to head up the West Coast. I had looked back at my previous year's travels and vowed to do two things the coming year: spend time in Colorado and Wyoming, and wander around less. Well, I kept half that promise.

Here are all the places I've stayed, some more than once. There was a lot of doubling, tripling, quadrupling back. I went some places thinking I would spend a week or two, only to pack up in the morning. Sometimes it was about weather, sometimes about wanting to meet up with someone, sometimes because, meh, the location wasn't speaking to me—at least not as sweetly as the highway always does.

Sorry, this is not an interactive map 

So this year I promise nothing. I'll just live day to day, going or staying as the mood hits me. That's what I've been doing anyway the past three years.

Another day winds down

Ridgway, Colorado

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Three years and counting

Three years ago today the Rolling Steel Tent was finished and packed and I headed out on my new life. That first day I drove from my friend's place in Lancaster, South Carolina, to a campground near Cincinnati, Ohio. Two days later I pulled into Rapid City, South Dakota, and met with my mail forwarding people. The next day I went to the DMV and walked out a South Dakota resident.

I've had no regrets about the life change. It's probably the best thing I've ever done for myself. As I told my brother-in-law the other day, it will probably add years to my life.

I see posts in various van dweller sites from people who are considering the nomadic life but are concerned, anxious, worried about what might happen to them. I was far more concerned about what would happen to me if I didn't make the change. I'm much less stressed. I have fewer anxieties. I am much happier.
Well I left my happy home 
To see what I could find out
I left my folk and friends
With the aim to clear my mind out
Well I hit the rowdy road
And many kinds I met there
And many stories told me on the way to get there
So on and on I go, the seconds tick the time out 
So much left to know, and I'm on the road to find out 
                                                                          —Cat Stevens

While I was away

When I left, the houses were like this. Lou and Forrest and friends finished them up. Siding, trim, roofing... Now there are just a couple of small things left. Need shelter?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Zorro the Wonder Dog is glad I changed my mind

I had been thinking about the Coast. Thinking hard. And often. I haven't been there since March, which is an eternity for someone who considers himself a Californian.

Up until yesterday evening I was certain I'd be heading for Oregon then working my way south, the fantastic Pacific always to my right. But the forecasts didn't look good. Too wet, too cool. And one of my sets of eyes on the scene said Highway 101 was clogged with people trying to do their last coastal visit of the summer. And Labor Day weekend is coming.

This morning I knew where I could go, where it wouldn't be crowded, where I could stay free, where the weather would be acceptable, and where there are people I like. So I returned to Ridgway, to my spot in the alley behind Forrest's shop. Forrest was out, but Lou greeted me warmly. It's almost like being home. But without the ocean.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Talking travels with my sister and BIL

All my routes over the three years since I became a van dweller are highlighted in pink. Too bad the maps aren't to scale with each other so they'd fit together better.

To hell and back

I'm not one to pass up the opportunity for a lame joke. So when I saw Hades Campground on the map, I had to go. It's along the North Fork of the Duchesne River, near Hanna, Utah.

It's an attractive, well-maintained campground, not hellish at all. It was nearly empty when I arrived, but almost all the sites were booked for the weekend and the Labor Day weekend. It was Thursday, so I lucked out.

There were oaks on the mountainside that had turned to their fall colors already, and wranglers were moving their cattle down out of the higher country. I took these signs as nature's hint it was time for me to start migrating to warmer climates. But not all the way to hell.

It could've been worse.

Remember when I posted about driving Beartooth pass in the fog? Well, this showed up on my Facebook feed today:

Heavy Snow CLOSES US-212 (Beartooth Pass) in Montana!

August 25, 2016

Heavy SNOW caused the Montana Department of Transportation to CLOSE 10,947′ Beartooth Pass on US-212 yesterday at 8:10pm.  The closure goes from Vista Point on the Montana side to Long Lake on the Wyoming side.

Road conditions will be reevaluated this morning around daylight.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

One is older than dirt. The other is a dinosaur femur.

It's very cool that Dinosaur National Monument has actual bones, billions of years old, they let visitors fondle touch.

More than a masher

Celebrity chef, Alton Brown, said he would have no tools in his kitchen that served only one purpose, that were "monotaskers."

Fast forward to earlier this week. Some type of insect bit or stung me on my back. Twice. In exactly a place I'm unable to reach. The bites itched a lot. (You might see where this is going.)

Thinking of Alton Brown, I wondered what I had in the Rolling Steel Tent that could serve as a backscratcher. Because it wasn't always convenient to rub my back on the edge of the door.

Hmmmmmm, let's see... nope... nope... Ah-HA! Perfect. And no sharp bits to tear my flesh.

A lot of driving around

I'm on the move more than a lot of van dwellers. I like traveling. I'm curious. I want to see new things. But yesterday's driving felt like a bit much, even by my standards.

Last week, when I left the Wind River Range, my plan was to go to the Echo Park campground in the Colorado side of Dinosaur National Monument. The description and pictures were appealing. But there was a warning from the Park Service:

The last 13 miles requires driving on unpaved roads. These roads are impassable when wet and are recommended for high clearance vehicles only.
Okay. I checked the forecast. Thundershowers likely. Hmmm. So I stopped for a night at Flaming Gorge to kill time. 

The next day's forecast still called for rain. Alright, where else in the general area might I go? How about Uinta Canyon? (Route 1 in red below)

The next day? Still rain. So I backtracked south then headed farther west and north again to Moon Lake. (Route 2 in blue)

Finally, yesterday's forecast was all sunshine and happiness. I hit the road south again, then east through Roosevelt and Vernal to Dinosaur, Colorado, where I headed north again (looping back into Utah and out again) to Echo Park.

The first half mile or so of the unpaved road the Park Service warned about is steep and lumpy, with loose rocks from the size of walnuts to, oh, peaches, and some patches of bad washboard. I crawled down in first gear and still needed the brakes. I would not want to try getting up that road when it's muddy. But from there on, it's hard packed gravel, relatively flat and smooth, with three paved stream crossings. I've been down much worse roads that no one felt compelled to warn about. High clearance is not necessary. In fact, a compact sedan passed me going the other way. Large rigs should stay away, though. The road is narrow and some turns are sharp. And there aren't many places to turn around even a short rig.

This much room

The drive is visually dramatic, though. For part of it you're in narrow canyons with sheer cliffs on one side and a tree-lined stream on the other. I love those kinds of places.

The road goes between that gap in the mountains

Echo Park Campground is seventeen tent sites surrounded by cliffs on three sides with the Green River on the forth.

Who says Dinosaur National Monument is all about fossils?

It's a great location. I might have stayed a few days (even with zero cell signal). But, as you can see from some of the photos, the sky started clouding up. Then there was distant thunder. Then a smattering of raindrops. I started thinking about the steep climb turning to mud. Damn. So I packed up and headed out. I'd go to one of the other campgrounds. One with pavement. That meant going back out the Colorado entrance and around to the Utah entrance, because there isn't a connecting road within the park. (See route 4) That's good in a wilderness preservation way, but it's more driving for me. Whee.

The climb back to civilization was bad enough with a dry road. I chugged, bounced and slipped my way up in first gear. The engine temperature kept climbing. The warning didn't mention that part.

By the time I got to the Green River campground, the weather looked fine. The sky was clear overhead. So it goes. I got a site just through the bushes from the river. It wasn't as scenic, but the peace-of-mind factor compensated for it.

Now, today, I'm headed west again. I'm visiting my sister in Salt Lake City. Then it's on the road again. More driving. Because there are places to go, things to see, things to learn.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Google knows everything

I lived in Utah for six years long ago. I've been passing through the state during the last three years (like right now). But it wasn't until yesterday that I realized there's the name Uinta and also Uintah, with an H. Why the two spellings? And who decides what gets which? So I turned to Google for an answer. And here it is at this link.

Ever again

Moon Lake, Utah

There was no moon yet, so here's a boat

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


The map was vague and the signs were either missing or almost unreadable as I headed up Uinta Canyon, looking for the Forest Service campground or maybe a good dispersed camping spot. I came to a fork n the road and decided to go left. The road led me to a nice and free campground. And I had it all to myself. Sweet.

After a thunderstorm (and a brief bit of hail) passed, I explored the campground. There's the vault toilet... There's some firewood if I desired. There's a pond.

And then, oops, there was a sign.

Oh. Okay. Good thing it's easy for me to pack up and go. But two big thumbs up on the vehicular prohibitions.

I backtracked to the fork and took the other road. Ah-ha, there's the National Forest sign. And there's an excellent dispersed camping spot. I found the campground. Only $5.00 ($2.50 for us old farts). I liked the boondocking spot much better, though.

Then, in the morning, I spotted Madame Moose enjoying her breakfast.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Catch my drift?

Mmmmm yes

The Trail's End Campground and trailhead is at 9,000+ feet on the western side of the Wind River Range, Wyoming. Small tent sites are tucked among the pines. There are several dozen vehicles in the trailhead parking lot. Backpackers have headed off deeper into the wilderness.

It's brisk enough up here to let you know summer is on it's last lap. At least in these parts.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

This time three years ago

I was building out the Rolling Steel Tent at a friend's place in South Carolina. I had finally gotten the courage to cut a hole in the roof. Success. No leaks so far.

Not the adventure I'd planned

Everyone says to drive Beartooth Highway. They say it's amazing, dramatic, unforgettable! I'll have to take their word for it, because this is what it looked like today.

One advantage, though, of driving that road while socked in by clouds is that I couldn't see the drop-offs and be freaked out. Just look at a few feet of road ahead and stay between the lines.

I eventually got back below the clouds and got this photo.

This link will show some of what I missed. I'll be back some day in better weather.

The morning commute

The road across the top of Yellowstone National Park is a great place to see herds of bison. Hundreds of them. It can be not so great if there's a bus full of sightseers ahead of you and you've got places to go and pack mules to deliver. Then you wait. And soak in the wonders of nature.


I looked out the side door in time to see a group of antelope walking along the ridge, about thirty yards away. They paused when I moved, reaching for the camera. They obliged by staying long enough to get this photo. Then they bounded away.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

I love it when the results are conclusive

So, you and I have been wondering how well my new directional cellular antenna will work. Time to find out. I'm camped on Forest Service land over the hill from Gardiner, Montana, which is the north entrance to Yellowstone. Here's what my unboosted Verizon Jet Pack signal looks like.

It's 4G LTE, but only one bar. Very sluggish. But slip the Jet Pack into the booster with the directional antenna and...

Couldn't ask for more. Except maybe winning the lottery.

What about the proofreader of the sign?

Fire and brimstone—literally

Geysers smell like sulphur, known in the olden days as brimstone. Since Yellowstone has the largest concentration of geysers on the planet, there are a lot of areas that smell like, well, really bad farts. But it's nature, right? So it's wonderful.

Besides the sulfur aroma, the northwest corner of Yellowstone currently smells like smoke, because of a fire. But that's sort of a good thing, like the way lighting a match helps counter the odors of flatulence. At least that's what I told myself.

And, of course...

I had to wait only ten minutes for Old Faithful to blow. As I approached the geyser I saw the shot I wanted to take. Because Old Faithful is as much about the people who come to see it as the geyser itself.

You have people like the older couple and the woman in green who are just witnessing the eruption. You have people hurrying to get closer. You have all the people taking photos (um, that would include me, I guess) and you have the guy in the red jacket and his family taking a selfie with their backs to the geyser. They won't see the actual eruption, only their picture. They came all that way for a second-hand experience. Perhaps they've seen it before. Perhaps they'll see it again, but still... Selfies like that say, "We were here. Look at us. We're what's important here." The moment they're in is about themselves.

Morning in Yellowstone

Lewis River