Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Size matters

In the sea battle we call the Defeat of the Spanish Armada (not to be confused with the Nissan Armada which has been all but defeated in the US market), smaller English vessels were able to outmaneuver the huge Spanish galleons. Also, the smaller English ships were harder to hit. Those factors, plus some bad decisions by Spanish command, led to English victory. It’s an example of smaller sometimes being better.

So here I am, about 5,000 miles and four and a half centuries from the Defeat of the Spanish Armada, thinking about how size can be a detriment. I’m thinking about flies. There have only been a few of them, but they’re big. So they’re kind of slow, especially compared to the tiny flies I’ve encountered elsewhere that buzz back and forth, around and around, in my face and ears, rarely landing where I can swat them. Those flies are like the English navy, and the big ones I have now are like the Spanish: slow and easy to hit. I’m seven for seven so far today.


Monday, June 14, 2021


The local temperatures lately have been in the upper 90s, occasionally slipping into the triple digits (about 36°C to 38°C) . It hasn’t been fun but it hasn’t been unbearable. I got out my windshield cover and shade netting, turned on the fans, and opened everything up to take advantage of the breeze/wind. This photo was taken just before sunset because it was unpleasant being outside in the blazing sun. But at least—hallelujah—it’s not humid.

The check is in the mail

A few weeks ago one of those You Might Have Unclaimed Money ads showed up on my Facebook feed and I thought, what the hell, I might as well check. A query of my former residence in North Carolina returned a handful of hits labeled simply “more than $50.” Cool. So I did the paperwork, sent it off, and settled in to wait and see if anything would happen.

Today I got an email:

As State Treasurer, I am delighted to inform you that your previously submitted claim for unclaimed property held by the North Carolina Department of State Treasurer has been approved and payment or property will soon be on its way.

Attached is the detail pertaining to your claim…

There are small amounts from AT&T (phone/TV/internet), Western Digital (for I don’t know—maybe a class action suit), the bank, a former home equity loan holder, and the Department of Transportation, but the biggest chunk was a property tax refund from the county. It all totaled up to $860.35. Not shabby. It wasn’t a massive inheritance from a distant relative, nor the payout from a PowerBall ticket I had forgotten I bought, but it was more than worth the very minor inconvenience of the claim process. I guess some things on the Interweb aren’t scams.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Local flora

The other day I mentioned the deer were nibbling the desert willows (Chilopsis linearis) Lou had planted. I was unaware they blossomed.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Hello out there

Mars and a sliver of the moon just before moonset. At this stage, seemingly alone in the sky, these two big rocks seem more real to me, more intimate than when the sky is filled with billions (and billions) of stars.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Adventures in cooking technology

There was something new (at least to me) in the camping foods section at Walmart. I wasn’t particularly interested in prefab pizza. What caught my attention was that it was self-heating—with any water at any temperature. So no need to boil water first. Hmmmm. I had heard of such a thing, primarily in military style MREs. Now here it was in a very civilian application, and for the same price as traditional boil-your-own-water dehydrated meals. I wanted to experience the NXH Heating Technology, even if the pizza might turn out to be crap. (Spoiler: it did.) Science!

NXH® Heating Technology, I learned, comes from NEX-XOS Worldwide, LLC which “is committed to producing safe, shelf-stable quality products that conforms to all regulatory requirements and meets the highest food safety best standards.” They also claim NXH® “has revolutionized what has come to be widely known as the flameless ration heater (FRH)… we created an innovative FRH that requires no water or saltwater, our FRH can activated with any non-flammable liquid! River water, juice, milk, tea, soda etc.” And that “Our proprietary heating technology, NXH®, is certified safe and non-toxic, odorless and safe to use in closed confined spaces. When activated, our FRH emits safe, odorless steam to heat up your meal.”

Essentially, there’s a porous packet of something-or-other that, when wet, creates a heat-producing chemical reaction.

I followed the instructions and… for a few seconds nothing happened. So I shook it and… nothing happened. I opened the bag to see whether the chemical pack had even gotten wet. Mmmm, sort of. I poked at things a little then sealed the bag back up and… Foosh! It started venting steam out of the little hole. I set the timer.

After five minutes (the instructions suggested 3-5 minutes) I used tongs to fish the foil pizza packets out of the very hot bag. The packets resisted my attempts to tear them open, so I used scissors. The “pizzas” were only slightly warmer than the ambient temperature. The “cheese” wasn’t even melty. It was as if the foil of the packets had insulated the pizzas instead of conducting heat. Maybe the process works better with other foods, like their cheese tortellini, chicken pasta parmesan, or lentils with beef. And maybe those are a better eating experience.

Go to the corner

There’s an exposed wire bundle in the back corner of the Rolling Steel Tent. In passenger vans it would be covered by nice plastic moulding, but in work vans it just hangs out there, saying, “Hi, I’m a bunch of wires and stuff.”

I’ve done various things over the years to make it slightly less unsightly. The first was wrapping it in white baseball bat grip tape. 

Linda May gave me a strand of fairy lights that I wrapped around the cable. Oooo, atmosphere. After visiting a Lakota shrine I started hanging strips of colorful cloth from the wires. I occasionally added feathers I’d find on the ground. Or bits of discarded metal rusting in the wild. A key… some washers… rings… a spoon… a piece of bone…

Then, this past winter, while wandering through the vendor tents in Quartzsite, I saw some cool beads. Yeah, that’s what I need. So:

I’ve acquired more beads since then, and I keep modifying the strands and changing things around. Who knows where this will lead.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Walking wounded

Lou’s place seems to be turning into the New Mexico Refuge for Animals with Damaged Ears. Yesterday afternoon a doe and some young ones came foraging through. They gobbled up some rice Lou had left on top of an old barrel, nibbled on a willow Lou has been nursing along, and fished seed out a bird feeder with their tongues.

The doe had a split in one ear. “Oh yeah,” said Lou. “Her name is Notch.”

Monday, June 7, 2021

So tempted

Bob Wells posted a Cheap RV Living video about buying used vehicles, presented by his assistant KC. Among other things, she mentioned Facebook Marketplace, which I had been ignoring because of various biases and some lack of experience. So, out of curiosity, I went to Marketplace to see what vans people were selling.

The Rolling Steel Tent has been pretty damn good to me, but it is getting on in years, with 312,377 miles at the moment. Should I remain loyal to the bitter end or should I be thinking about retiring it and bringing in some younger blood?

I’m partial to Express/Savana vans, so I searched them first. The choices were in three categories: ones only slightly younger the Rolling Steel Tent (250-280K miles), ones with fewer than 100,000 miles in the $25,000 range (ouch), and parts vehicles.

I checked the Fords. There were only three E-series at the moment and they were in sad sad shape. And the Transits were too expensive.

I have no interest in the Mercedes/Dodge/Freightliner versions of Sprinters or the Nissan NV series, and the Ram ProMaster, being front wheel drive, won’t serve my purposes. Or my wallet.

Oh, but what about the Chevy Astro/GMC Safari? Smaller, but maybe not too small. They’re getting on in years too, though. I checked anyway. And now I feel guilty because there are a couple of them at the moment that look pretty sweet, and I’m daydreaming about them. Sorry, RST.

One is a 1996 all-wheel drive Astro with 210,000 miles. The mileage is high, but the price is low: $5,000. And, dude, all-wheel drive (which I know isn’t the same as 4-wheel drive, but the transfer case can be swapped with one from an S-10 pickup.)

The other is an extended 1993 Astro with only 91,000 miles for $5,500. Aw man. I can almost taste it. However, it has a blue interior. I don't like blue interiors.

I would need to downsize further to fit into an Astro, but I suspect there’s a good amount of stuff I’m carrying in the Rolling Steel Tent simply because I can.

Part of me says to forget about it for now, if only because 210k miles and blue interior. The other part says good Astros will only get harder to find. Oh well, something to lose sleep over for a night or two.

I’ve never heard of this

A jackrabbit was chillin’ near the Rolling Steel Tent. Photo opportunity. When I looked through my telephoto lens I saw there was something unusual about its ears.

Holes. Are they wounds? The result of a disease or parasite? A genetic mutation? Piercings gone bad? Google wasn’t able to enlighten me, so I’m guessing the holes are not common.

I suppose this means the rabbit is hearing-impaired. But at least wind is less of a problem when its ears are deployed.

Sunday, June 6, 2021


I’ve had this Tenergy charger since the beginning of my nomadic life. Its primary use has been to recharge the batteries in various lights that aren’t hard wired into the house electrical system. It hasn’t been used much lately because I have fewer of those lights.

One of those lights had gotten rather dim. Time to recharge. Since the charger gets stored in an inconvenient place (which is appropriate for seldom used things) I decided I might as well top off all my various batteries, including the nine AA’s in my 1,200 lumen flashlight/bludgeon. And it's nice to be using shore power for this rather than my solar batteries.

Good morning

I’ve been back at Lou’s place for a week now. Less adventure to report but more companionship and support to give.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Filling in the gaps

Back in April of 2018 I had a plan: drive all the sections of US-191 that I hadn’t driven yet. Why 191? Because it runs through so many places that are significant to me. And because it runs border to border. I'm just weird about things like that.

But I got sidetracked in Safford AZ. I went to California instead. However, in August I drove the Montana sections of 191. That left just a couple of relatively short pieces: from Bluff UT to Chinle AZ, and from I-40 to Alpine AZ. 

There I was, in southeast Utah, reevaluating my hiking plans, and also wanting to check on Lou in southwest New Mexico. Ah-ha, finally an opportunity to complete my weird little quest.

So what’s next? Maybe I could finish driving the rest of Baja California—Guerrero Negro to Cabo San Lucas. We’ll see.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Footprints in the mud of time

When I visit ancestral Puebloan ruins I look for handprints in the mud mortar. It brings me closer to the time and place. Look, there, the prints of actual people from hundreds of years ago; tough people who hauled rock, water, dirt and branches up the side of the canyon.

I didn’t spot any clear impressions of hands or fingers at Horse Collar Ruin in Natural Bridges National Monument. I saw something far more unexpected, and maybe more rare: footprints on the roof of a kiva. Way cool.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

That which does not kill you almost kills you

You know that thing I wrote the other day about getting outside your comfort zone? Unlike me, you shouldn’t take that to mean you should also get outside your physical abilities zone. Like I did. Twice, not having learned the first time.

Yesterday I set out for Fish Mouth Cave on the eastern side of Comb Ridge. Everything was hunky-dory until I reached a big slab of steep slick rock just before the cave. I imagine it was about a 40-degree incline and about, mmmm, five stories high. With nothing to hold onto. And in full afternoon sun. By the time I realized it would be easier (but farther) to zig-zag back and forth, creating my own switchbacks, I had wiped myself out. Lactic acid was soaking my leg muscles. I had to sit before they buckled and I went tumbling.

Once I had stopped climbing my aerobic system was able to get through to my consciousness and complain it wasn’t all too happy either.

I sat and wondered how long it would take to recover enough to get down off the rock and back to the Rolling Steel Tent.

Obviously, I lived to tell about it.

The view from half way down

Then this morning, forgetting yesterday’s lesson, I stood at the rim of the Sipapu Natural Bridge Trail, in Natural Bridges National Monument. The sign said it’s 500 feet to the bottom of the canyon in less than a mile and, more significantly, 500 feet back up. Looking at a couple of ant people way down there, I thought to myself, “Well, other people do it. So can I. Because, hey, there are some stairs and ladders and stuff.”

So down I went. Easy-peasy. Feeling great. Look at that natural bridge, will ya. Astounding. I continued on to Horse Collar Ruins.

At the ruins I found the footpath up the side of the canyon. No huffing and puffing. I explored the ruins, meditated a bit, then headed back. Everything was fine.

Then I got back to the short ladder at the base of Sipapu. Oof! Then there was a mild uphill climb, with handrails, to the next bench. Double oof! Crap, if I’m having trouble at the beginning of the climb, then what?

That top ridge is only part way up

I sat and rested, looking at the next ladder and the handrail-assisted climb up some slick rock. I watched some other old farts make the climb. Well, if they can do it…

Holy crap. I stood holding the upper end of that railing, legs screaming, heart pounding. This was going to take a while. Climb, rest, climb a little more, rest a lot more… 

“I can make it to that next sitting-sized boulder,” I told myself. “Then the next one.” I try to look like I’m just pausing to enjoy the view, not like I’m about to die.

I’m fine. Really. You go on, kids.

A twenty-something couple scampered up. “Do you need anything,” they asked. “To be about 40 years younger,” I replied. I got up and headed for my next short-distance goal. (Like they say, how do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.)

Never had I ever been so glad to see the Rolling Steel Tent waiting for me. And never (well, since yesterday) had I been so glad to flop down on the World’s Most Comfortable Bed.

So, here I am, reevaluating my plans. Cedar Mesa is filled with ruins I’d love to see in person, but getting to them requires hikes like today’s. Or worse. How insane am I? About this hiking stuff.

Unexpected discoveries and changed plans

(This post was written earlier in the week, but I was out of cell range. Then Blogger said there was trouble posting the photos. Then I was out of cell range again. Life.)

On the map, the stretch of US-95 between Hanksville and Hite Crossing looks like just another stretch of desolate Utah. No one had told me otherwise. Man, was I surprised! Miles of tall, sheer red sandstone cliffs. Exactly the kind of scenery I love.

The story goes that back in the 1930s a rancher borrowed a bulldozer from the government and started turning the old animal/foot/horse/wagon trail through North Wash into a proper road. The government finally took over the project and the highway was finished in 1976, earning it the name Bicentennial Highway. (Back then they were naming all sorts of things in honor of the Bicentennial.)

I saw a picnic area ahead—Hog Springs—and pulled in so I could enjoy my surroundings longer. Oh, what’s this? A trail up the canyon? Let me see what this is about. Curiosity turned into an impromptu hour long hike. And muddy sneakers, because the bottom of the canyon is marshy in spots, fed by the eponymous springs. I imagine this was the type of place the Southwest Basketmaker peoples got the reeds for their baskets.

I continued on to Hite Overlook and, okay, a sweeping view from a cliff edge, Colorado River below, but it didn’t speak to me.

Natural Bridges National Monument was my goal. I had been there before but only saw it from the ridge. This time I would hike into the canyon.

But first there was a 20-minute road construction delay. I was first in line and got thinking about the woman holding the stop sign. Unlike others assigned this duty, she didn’t have a cooler, radio, walkie-talkie, chair or anything else. It was just her and her sign, and a small water bottle in the pocket of her safety vest, on the side of the road. At least it was overcast instead of horrible summer heat. I wondered what she thought about while standing there alone. How boring the job was? How well or poorly she was getting paid to do it? Was she thinking about friends and family? Humming to herself? Doing complex math in her head? When the pilot car finally arrived, another sign holder got out of the passenger seat and traded places. Ah, okay, it’s not as dismal as it could be.

I had decided I’d stay at the Natural Bridges campground if a spot were available, or develop Plan B if it weren’t. But plan B—or whatever comes before Plan A—presented itself almost immediately after turning off the highway. Oh, a road up to Bears Ears National Monument. With dispersed camping spots. Excellent!

That night I realized Memorial Day Weekend was impending. Aw crap, crowds. I also realized my supplies were too low to stay put. Hmmmm… Hike then go to Blanding for supplies, or Blanding then hike. The second option meant backtracking, which part of me hates doing. I decided on Blanding first. Then I could check out the ruins along Comb Ridge before returning to Natural Bridges.

So here I am, in the parking lot of a fairly nice grocery, writing this post. I figure I’ll do laundry while I’m in town, maybe even wash the Rolling Steel Tent.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Busy day

A weekend in May is not a good time to be anywhere between Zion National Park and Moab. Crowds, man. So I hunkered down in a boondocking area at the beginning of Hole-in-the-Rock Road just outside Escalante. There were many others there, but I managed to block my view of them with strategically placed junipers.

As soon as the sun broke the eastern horizon I took off for some hikes I’d planned. (Tip: if any section of your route runs east, don’t try driving first thing in the morning. Especially if your windshield is a little dirty.)

There were only a handful of cars at the Escalante River trailhead on Highway 12 when I pulled in at 7:15. That was good. 

Less good was the temperature. Still in the upper 40s. Maybe lower 50s. And most of the river was still in the shadows of the cliffs. Ordinarily I could just put on a few extra layers and peel them off as the day warmed. But this hike required wading across the river several times. So shorts. And if my legs were going to be cold, then the rest of me might as well be. Or not. I couldn’t decide.

So I made breakfast and waited. By the time I’d done the dishes it seemed a little warmer, or I was a little bolder. I stepped outside in shorts and tee. Mmmmm, bearable. Let’s go.

The first river crossing is just beyond the trailhead. I guess it’s good to find out first thing whether the water is too cold. You can scamper—or Frankenstein walk—right back to your vehicle and rethink your life decisions.

The water was, um, brisk. Once your feet go numb you can’t really tell how cold the river is. And it made me feel tough. Onward.

The goal of this hike is the Escalante Natural Bridge. It’s an easy, pleasant, mostly flat, walk through cottonwoods and sage. The river crossings became fun, like a kid playing in puddles. I looked forward to each one.

I didn’t see any other hikers on the way out but passed several on the way back. Early bird… worm… et cetera.

Next on the agenda was a hike to Calf Creek Falls. That trailhead is at a campground. But the place was packed. Nowhere to park. I was not the early bird there. Oh well, some other time.

I continued on to Boulder and the beginning of the Burr Trail—a highway that takes you through the middle of Capitol Reef to the Water Pocket Fold. It’s like driving through Zion National Park with no one else there. The red rock cliffs are stunning, and the switchbacks at the eastern terminus are either breathtaking or nerve shattering, depending on your point of view.

Can you see the road snaking down? 

Heading south on Notom-Bullfrog Road I pulled into the trailhead for Upper Muley Twist. The sign said 4x4s only. I got out to walk ahead and see what the story was. 

There was a short sandy slope into the canyon that would probably be a problem for the Rolling Steel Tent to get back up. I walked about a quarter mile farther and didn’t see what the big deal was—either roadwise or scenerywise. I’ve become jaded. “There’s only great scenery, not amazing scenery? Waste of time.” Besides, I had two more nearby canyons on my list.

The first of those was Surprise Canyon. Did it get that name because someone was surprised there was a canyon there? Was there something surprising in it? Was an old pioneer or prospector taken by surprise by bad guys?

As for me, I was surprised at how much my strength and stamina have improved since my first post-cancer hike. My attitude has improved, too. I use to be a don’t-walk-if-I-don’t-have-to kind of guy. But now? Another canyon today? Sure.

This looks like a nice place to chill before heading back

However walking in the sandy wash on the way back pretty much did me in. So I passed on Headquarters Canyon just a mile or so down the road.

I continued on southward toward Bullfrog, down on Lake Powell. I saw a promising turnoff and discovered a large gravel lot near the rim of a mesa with a camping spot in the corner. And—surprise, surprise—a cell signal. Weak but useable. A good place to end the day. 

Been off pavement lately, Al?

Sunday, May 23, 2021

My first e-bike ride

My eldest sister, Karen, and her husband, Niels, live in Saint George, Utah. I visited them when I passed through there, parked in the side yard for the night, and used their shower. They also took me to dinner.

To my surprise, these oldsters have taken up bicycle riding. Well, electric bicycles. Well, Niels rides a bicycle and Karen rides a tricycle. But they mostly use pedal assist mode, not fully motorized mode. And they don’t stick to just the flatter lands.

Karen asked if I wanted to try the e-bike. Sure. She led the way through the neighborhood to the top of a mesa, peddling the entire time. I only twisted the throttle a few times, usually when accelerating from a stop. And during part of one long uphill section. It was about a five-mile ride.

Karen and I after peddling up by the Saint George airport

It was an interesting experience, not only because it was my first time on an e-bike, but also to see what a peddling machine my 80-ish sister is.

“You know,” she said, “they make mountain bike versions of these that would be better suited for your lifestyle.”

I let her suggestion/sales pitch slide. E-bikes are cool, but my main problem (besides price) would be charging one. I have just enough solar power to run the stuff I have, not enough for a bike too. And I’d have to get a carrier, and chains and locks, and worry about it getting stolen anyway. Besides, walking has become my thing. 

Minimizing again

I don’t remember when I bought my 20 liter Marmot backpack. I certainly wasn’t into hiking or backpacking at the time. I think I originally got it to use with my motorcycle. Maybe. I don’t know. Old man memory loss.

Anyway, it’s a good pack but larger than I need for my short hikes. I really only need a hydration pack with room for snacks and a few emergency items. And since that Marmot wasn’t designed for a water bladder, the 3 liter bladder I bought flops over and strangles itself when it’s half empty (which I guess is one way to judge how much water I have left).

So I stopped at Utah Canyon Outdoors in Escalante to see if they had a pack that would better suit my needs. I came away with the 10 liter Gregory you see on the right. It’s half the size but still holds 3 liters of water. It also has fewer pockets—and pockets inside pockets inside pockets—where I can misplace things. And the bright blue is a happier color than the somber, masculine gray of the Marmot.

I’m keeping the Marmot, though. I’ll probably need it someday for a more involved hike. In the meantime I’ll use it to store the Gregory.

Fixed that problem

Last October I realized the plug on my portable fan had come apart. I acquired a replacement plug but never got around to connecting it, because the weather cooled off and I didn’t need the fan.

I found that replacement plug the other day while looking for something else. Oh. Yeah. I should finally fix that, what with summer on its way. It’s not an elegant repair, but it works. Someday I’ll do a proper job with solder and heat shrink.

Saturday, May 22, 2021


It was downright cold this morning. And the sun was barely up. That meant digging out the winter wear. Gloves were going to make camera operation difficult, and since I had no advanced intelligence on Cottonwood Narrows I decided to just take my phone. Darn, I wish I had used the better gear. I could’ve re-hiked the canyon, but the light had changed, spoiling the mood.

Most geologically interesting trailhead parking lot yet