Sunday, November 30, 2014

The return of Chet

Twenty years ago I set out on what I didn't know would be the prelude to life in the Rolling Steel Tent. I took off for a three week trip, meandering from California to Maine and back. Blogging hadn't been invented yet, so I kept a journal that only I have seen. My companion on the journey was a Shriner figure that I photographed at every stop along the way. I called him Chet.

I found Chet today as I was sorting through my stuff. He was pissed that I'd left him rattling around in a dark bin for over a year. Sorry, amigo.

It was only fitting that I should take Chet out for a photo op. I'm back in Slab City, so I showed him East Jesus, posing him in a piece of the commune founder's art. You can see Chet's excited.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Found it at last!

Years ago, in not-so-latino Charlotte, a Mexican restaurant that specialized in the food of Nayarite had Salsa Huichol on its tables. I loved it.

I'd kept my eye out for it, but had had no luck since I don't generally shop in Mexican stores. They didn't even have it in a salsa specialty store at Farmers Market in Los Angeles. I spotted it today, though, in the Food 4 Less in El Centro, California (which, given the geography, is sort of like being in a mercado).

"Seasoned with the best spices and hot peppers from the Nayar Mountains." Why, of course. The reason I love it is that it's savory, not just spicy.

I wonder if the Huichol people had anything to do with this hot sauce other than picking the peppers—if that.

These shoes were bought for walkin'

And that's just what they do

Black shows the dust and dirt, but these shoes work fine otherwise. I like the Dickies canvas work pants, too.

Palm Canyon, Kofa National Wildlife Refuge

If one hadn't done a wee bit of googling beforehand about Palm Canyon, one might be disappointed. The canyon is not filled with palms. There's just one crevice with fifteen or so of them. What makes them significant is that they're the only naturally occurring California Fan Palms in Arizona. Which makes one wonder how they got there in the first place. Bird poo, I suppose.

You can climb all the way up to the palms if you're the rock climber/mountaineer type. I'm not.

If you came just to see the palms, you might fail to notice what a nice place the canyon is at about 10:30 on a November morning. Quite. Startling fresh air. Interesting light on the canyon walls. There's a chance of seeing desert big horn sheep and other critters (it's a wildlife refuge, after all), though I saw none. I didn't care. I was happy.

The Rolling Steel Tent is parked somewhere down there

It's not the easiest trail, but an old fart like me made it up and back without incident

Sheesh, some people

Friday, November 28, 2014

I think they might need more wheels

And some aluminum polish.

Rare selfie

So, what does one do while waiting for the right sunlight in a desert canyon? Alone. Oh well, pardon my ego.

Ack! Wrinkles!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Which am I?

"To the desert go prophets and hermits; through deserts go pilgrims and exiles."

What does freedom look like?

This is a screen capture from my online bill paying. It's a fine representation of one of the possible joys of van dwelling. I don't owe these companies anything anymore. They don't own a piece of me. It feels great.

The only debt left is one credit card that's nearly paid off, and my current mobile account.

I paid cash for the Rolling Steel Tent. I get my electricity from the sun, my water free or from vending machines (I use a fraction-of-a-fraction of what I did when I lived in buildings). I'm still working on my first tankful of propane ($18) from fifteen months ago. Insurance and registration are easily managed.

An updated credit rating arrived in the mail a while back. Funny how my credit is great now that I don't need it, don't want it. Thanks, financial institutions, but I'm into cash these days, not debt. I'm sure you'll survive without me. (Insert rude noise here.)

No-fly zone

Whatever lushness the BLM land at Ehrenberg might lack, it makes up for it with its almost total absence of flies. At least during the past few days. It makes it a lot easier to maintain one's mellowocity.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


"Honey, before you and your buddies go riding ATVs in the desert, could you take that old computer to the dump?"

"Sure thing, babe."


I had some chicken bones left from dinner. I could have tossed them in my trash basket, but then the Rolling Steel Tent would have smelled like chicken all night. Then I thought, "What if I toss them somewhere outside? A coyote might like them. Or at least microorganisms would break them down over time. Ah, the great cycle of life." If they were still there by the time I wanted to break camp, I'd dispose of them in the usual way.

So I dropped the bones at the base of a bush about twenty yards away. They were gone this morning. Some critter(s) got an early Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 21, 2014

So glad this isn't me

Though that's a Chevrolet or GMC cargo van with a roof rack, it's not the Rolling Steel Tent

Warning: ick factor

There are flies at Fortuna Pond, just outside Yuma. There are also flies that died the slow, gruesome deaths they deserved. Bwah-ha-ha-ha!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ramblin' man, again

Despite being fed—twice—by friends in Quartzsite, I headed to Yuma today. It's a bit silly, especially since I'll be returning north to Ehrenberg for the tribal Thanksgiving fete. Then back to Yuma. I just woke up this morning with the urge. That's what's good about this lifestyle. You wanna go? You go.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Second chair storage solved

In the previous post about the new addition to my chair family I wrote, "I could store it upright if I were to add some eye bolts and bungee cords to the end of the cabinet."

So I made a trip to Herb's True Value Hardware, got the eye bolts and bungees, installed them and, presto! It worked better than I'd hoped.

Both chairs neatly in place, out of the way

Problem solving is one of my primary joys. It makes me doubly happy when a solution works exactly right the first time around. And cheaply.

Ah, that's better

I needed a place that looked less like the surface of Mars. So I relocated from Ehrenberg to a BLM 14-day camping area just north of Quartzsite. More neighbors in large RVs, but more vegetation.

I'll hang here a few days, near my friend, Gloria, and slight acquaintance, Atlee, until the van dweller tribe gathers for Thanksgiving back in Ehrenberg.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chair adoption

I like my hard plastic folding chair. It tucks compactly between the end of the bed and the back doors. It also serves as a step stool when I tilt/un-tilt my solar panel. I had not been looking for a replacement or addition. Never mind that nearly all the other van dwellers and RVers I've encountered use folding fabric chairs that have arm rests, cup holders, and allow them to sit slightly more reclined when they bask in the sun or gather 'round the ol' campfire. Being different is my thing.

A trick of perspective makes the size difference look much greater than it is

But Lou had a chair that didn't meet his needs. He had already acquired a replacement and wanted to get rid of the old one. In a moment of weakness I tried it out. Unlike many of this type of chair I've sat in, this one fit my body nicely. But would it fit in some storage nook in the Rolling Steel Tent?

One of my priorities is to be able to live comfortably in the van without needing to unload anything first. Just park it and use it. Would the adopted chair mess with the system I've set up? Well, only a little. It fits, inelegantly, on the floor between the bed and cabinet, leaving just enough foot space to use the "desk-dining table-nightstand." I could store it upright if I were to add some eye bolts and bungee cords to the end of the cabinet. But then it would block part of my already limited rear view while driving. Ah, compromises.

I think the new chair will be with me a while—at least through campfire sitting season, or until I meet someone who is totally chairless. In the meantime, I can seat a visitor.

It's one of those mornings

Stay wrapped in my excellent down quilt, or get up and light the heater? You can see (and I can feel) what my answer was. Hurray for propane and propane accessories. (Though many nice things can be said for staying in bed until mid-morning. Or later.)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Fake rock, real light

If you go visiting other van dwellers during longer winter nights, you might have trouble finding where you parked your van—especially if the visit included some adult beverages. A flashlight is good if you know the direction you need to head. Otherwise, a light on the van can be handy. A porch light, if you will. "Ah, there I am, over there."

So, I got this solar powered yard light. It comes on automatically when it's dark. The light pivots in the "rock." There's a switch to choose between warm-ish or cool-ish light. Pointed at the van, the vehicle becomes a shining beacon in the night welcoming home the weary—assuming I'm coming from a direction where I can see the lighted side. Hmmm, maybe I need one for the other side.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

One step after another

I bought a step like this last year. It was great.

A few months later I ran over it. Accidentally, of course. I forgot to check around the Rolling Steel Tent before driving off. Oops.

The first thing I did upon returning to Quartzsite today was go to K&B Tools to buy a replacement. We will see if I've learned my lesson.

Look who blew into town

It's that time of year when van dwellers and RVers start showing up in Quartzsite, Ehrenberg and Yuma, Arizona. It's also that time of year when the desert gets very windy. So it's appropriate the wind and I arrived at the same time.

One comes to Ehrenberg to meet up with friends, not to enjoy lush scenery

Saturday, November 15, 2014

"Desert fog" is not an oxymoron

We're camped near Why, Arizona, where weather can blow in from the Sea of Cortez. Like last night and this morning. Fog and heavy dew. A good time to take some photos.

The cactus proves this is the desert

The blood red tips say, "I will hurt you."

Location, location

When you're dependent upon solar power, like I am, you quickly learn the importance of parking where you can get maximum sunlight. So I totally relate to the problem with the Philae lander. All that way, just to end up in a bad parking spot. Oy.

Friday, November 14, 2014


Retired Air Force fighter pilot, docent at the Kitt Peak National Observatory three days a month, knows his stuff

Field trip

We could see some white spots on a mountaintop northwest from where we camped at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.

"What's that?" asked Lou.

"The observatory at Kitt Peak. We'll pass the access road when we head west."

"Let's go there!"

So we did. We feel much smarter.

Kitt Peak has the largest collection of astronomical telescopes (optical and radio) in the world

A solar telescope. Half of its length is underground

Depending on where you measure, the summit is 6,800+ feet

A "smaller" 2.1 meter optical telescope. Yeah science, bitch!

Much smaller telescopes through which I saw sun spots and solar flares in real time

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Grabbing the signal

Getting a strong cellular signal can be tricky when you wander in the boonies. Service tends to be concentrated where the customers are. But sometimes luck goes your way and you can get a great signal in remote places.

"Why is there a cell tower out here in the middle of nowhere?"

"Oh, look! A bunch of signal towers on that peak!"

But Lady Luck is more of a city gal. To increase your chances of getting strong service—or any at all—you need a cellular booster.

Mine is no different from those used in most vehicles. I just needed to be sure it was good for 4G LTE data signals. Gotta have the interwebs.

As this pair of photos shows, one bar of signal strength can jump to five when the Jetpack is in the booster cradle. Sometimes, with a little patience and favorable cosmic conditions, a 1x or 3G signal can become a minimal 4G. There are times, though, when I just can't get anything. (A day or two of internet deprivation can be a good thing. Three days starts to feel like cruel and unusual punishment.)

The antenna is a big part of the equation. The bigger and more powerful the better. A lot of RVers and some van dwellers use "trucker antennas." They're over two feet long, which might cause clearance issues. Adapters or special cables are needed to connect them to the booster. Trucker antennas lessen one's stealth potential, if that's a concern. And there's the chance of others thinking you're playing make-believe trucker—especially if you get an air horn, a bunch of marker lights and pinup girl mud flaps.

There are also directional antennas like this. Personally, they seem too cumbersome. They need to be attached to some kind of mast which, in turn, needs to be anchored somehow to the vehicle. There's more cabling to deal with when you disassemble the mast for traveling. The antenna needs to be turned until it finds a strong signal. That could leave the antenna facing broadside into the notorious desert winds, causing the mast to wobble. No thanks.

I went the easier, cheaper way. I just used the short antenna that came with the booster. It's plug-and-play and attaches with a magnet. There haven't been many places where I couldn't get a signal. Those were in canyons and such where I doubt any antenna could grab a signal. Or so I tell myself.

Low branches have brushed the antenna from the roof a couple of times, but it did no damage. Just stick it back on and I'm ready to get my online fix again.

However, a strong signal isn't everything. Responsiveness can slow way down if there are a lot of people trying to use the same signal. So an irony is that I can often get faster data transfer in the sticks with a one-bar signal than I can in the 'burbs with five bars. Whee, a signal all to myself! I'll have to blog about it.