Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Science Of Why You Should Spend Your Money On Experiences, Not Things

Read this article. Then go have some experiences. I wish I had figured this out sooner.

Movie Flats, Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, California

Even though I had developed a bit of bronchitis, I crawled out of bed in order to get a photo of the rising sun lighting the peaks of the eastern slope of the Sierras.

Yesterday I rejoined Jo and Lou at the Alabama Hills Recreation Area. They had been there while I was at the coast. I had wondered how the place got its name. Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know. Click this link and you can, too. Of course, Movie Flats got its name from the cowboy movies that were shot there. Gotta have big rocks for the bad guys to hide behind.

The Sierras at midday, featuring Mt. Whitney

Unfortunately, there's no cell data signal. Cowboys didn't need no Internet. So I've driven to Lone Pine. Posts might be less frequent for a while.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Creeping around in the dark again

Coastal fog slipped in just before sunset. I had forgotten it does that this time of year. There went my plans for star photos over the ocean.

That's not the sun on the left. It's the light at the end of a pier.

But wait. What would happen if I shot at night using long exposures and only the city lights bounced off the the fog? So at 11:30 I stepped out into the damp darkness to find out.

The results—particularly the colors—remind me of old English landscape paintings. I almost expect to see rustic fishermen out on the water, hauling a net load of fish into a wooden boat. Or cattle resting in the foreground. Or both.

I'm still amazed what my camera is capable of seeing in the dark. And the interesting effects I get. I'm going to have a lot of fun trying more of this.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Today's 44-second meditation

Hipster seal of approval

A 20-something guy, decked out like your typical hipster, paused to check out the Rolling Steel Tent. I explained that I traveled and lived in it full time, showed him the solar equipment, the fridge and all that.

"That's so cool. I wanna do something like that."

I wish I'd had the same idea about forty years ago.

'Cause the desert had turned to sea

My feet have little tan streaks from the openings in my Keen shoes that I wear most days

I needed an ocean fix. Badly. So I'm at Carpinteria State Beach, along with the other weekenders. I don't mind the crowd. The sea washes those concerns away.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Chet's keeping the peace in Pioneertown

Pioneertown, California, was built as movie and TV set. Today it's a loose cluster of artisans, desert rats and musicians. Lou had heard that big-name musicians occasionally pass through to play at Pappy & Harriet's cantina/biker bar/music venue. None were there at the time, so we had lunch. Chet's belief system forbids him from eating anything, so he was disgusted by my half rack of ribs. Come on, dude, it's not like I got the whole rack.

Who needs sleep?

I wanted to take more star photos, maybe showing the Milky Way. That meant waiting for the moon to go down and for flights to stop for the night. So I got up at 3:00 and rubbed the crud from my eyes.

I could see what looked like a patch of hazy light off to the east that I thought might be the Milky Way. The camera saw it a lot better than I did.

A Joshua Tree against the night sky. Below is a shot in the direction of the greater Palm Springs area. Street lights and highway traffic create a lot of light pollution. But sometimes you can use it as part of the shot, like backlighting the foreground.

I still have some fine tuning to do on my camera settings. That's part of the learning process. Now, I need a nap.

And dance by the light of the moon

I was told that a half moon is good lighting for long-exposure night shots that still show stars. So I gave it a try last night, with some interesting (to me) results.

The glow on the far left rocks was from a car that happened to come by. I thought it was going to ruin my shot, but it actually enhanced it.

I like the contrast of the rugged rocks and the sleek lines of Jo's RV.

I wish there had been a small light on inside Lou's trailer so the window would have glowed a bit. But I still think it's a cool shot.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Joshua Tree National Park

Left to right: Jo, Lou, me

We'd sort of forgotten it was Spring Break until we arrived at the Joshua Tree south visitor center. Oh, yeah. The ranger said the park was full, but that it was about checkout time, so some campsites might become available. We crossed our fingers and headed to Belle campground.

We lucked out big time. There were three vacant campsites next to each other, by one of the rock formations. Sweet.

Other than the wind and total lack of cell service, everything is very nice. And clean.

With our Old Fart Passes, entry to the park is free and camping is only $5/night.

Dealing with your stuff

This life of freedom does require a few responsibilities and routines. Setting up camp, for example. Here's Jo at the Belle campground in Joshua Tree National Park getting ready to hook her portable solar panels to her battery bank. This was followed by the responsibility to relax.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Off to another incommunicado zone

Break out the Flying Burrito Brothers, Eagles and U2. We're headed to Joshua Tree for a few days. See you later.

Monday, March 23, 2015


What can you do with a knit cap when it's no longer knit cap season? Turn it into a CamCozy®!

I'm a camera guy without a camera case. I got rid of my heavy-duty sponge-filled aluminum case because it didn't fit well anywhere. So now my camera usually rides nestled among my clothing. Now, for the warmer months, it has extra cushioning. I'm envious.

Hide and seek

If this photo could be shown larger you might be able to discern the roof of Lou's trailer.

This is a nice campsite, but we will be moving on today. First back to Wickenburg so a mechanic can find the source of a continuing fuel leak on Jo's RV. Then on toward Joshua Tree. We think. At least that was yesterday's idea. Life is fluid. Or sometimes we just don't know what we're doing, so we fake it.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Ghost Town Road, Congress, Arizona

After making a lap of the roundabout in Wickenburg, I decided to check out the spot north of Chino Valley where Bob, the vandwelling guru, is camped. The area was nice—at 4,900 feet, among the junipers—but it just wasn't speaking to me.

In the meantime, Jo and Lou had relocated to some BLM land next to Congress, AZ. They found a nice spot up against the mountains. So I rejoined them there. I like the location. Besides, anywhere with Lou and Jo is fine with me.

What did I do last night?

I've started experimenting with basic star photography skills. Fiddling with camera settings, exposure times and all that. Nothing great yet.

This shot from last night shows the moon at the bottom, one of the planets (Venus, I think) above it, and the star cluster called the Pleiades near the top, all in a line. Even though the moon was only a sliver of a crescent last night, it shows as a round blob because it's so much brighter than the stars.

I'll keep working on star photography until I can get one of those fabulous shots of the Milky Way.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Choosing to follow

I'm almost certain the Rolling Steel Tent isn't a sports car, even though the Corvette is a distant member of the Chevrolet family. My van is top-heavy and doesn't like to change directions suddenly. It's a huge believer in the laws of inertia, particularly the part about staying in motion in a straight line.

When I drive twisty roads, like AZ89 between Prescott and Congress, I take it nice and easy. That usually means holding up drivers of more nimble vehicles, who swear and shake their fists at me. So I'd much rather be the one stuck behind an even slower moving vehicle. Like a dump truck. Or an octogenarian in a Camry. Then all the blame is off me. I can relax. And curse them instead.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Fake impressionist painting of the day

Jo took this photo of cloud-shrouded Vulture Peak and the Rolling Steel Tent through the rain-splattered window of her RV. Very nice.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

On the road again

You know your time at a particular campsite is drawing to a close when a frequent topic of discussion among campmates is where we might go next (together or individually).

Jo needs to go to Los Algodones for meds. Lou wants to start heading toward Oregon. And I... I don't know. I'll eventually join Lou in Redmond to help him enlarge his trailer. Until then, it's sort of a matter of finding the sweet spot in the weather. It's still too cold at night in most areas north of here, but the days are starting to get uncomfortably warm at this latitude and altitude.

There's a roundabout in Wickenburg at the junction of highways 60 and 93. Highway 60 goes west toward Quartzsite and southeast toward Phoenix. Highway 93 goes northwest toward Kingman and Lake Mead, with highway 89 branching off toward Prescott. Hmmmmm...

Maybe I'll just circle the roundabout until I make up my mind. Or get dizzy and swerve off the road.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What next?

Are you reeling in the years, stowing away the time?
—Steely Dan

And you may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”
—Talking Heads

My sixtieth birthday was looming large on the horizon. Sixty. Damn. Where had my life gone? Was this where I really wanted to be by now? And what did my current situation say about my future?

At 43 I’d made a Big Life Change. Quit a marriage, quit a job, quit Southern California and restarted fresh in Charlotte, North Carolina. New place, new job, new possibilities. Taking control of my life again. WOOO!

Then I settled into a rut that left me disappointed with myself fifteen years later. I had changed geography but I was still the same person, with the same faults. No matter where you go, there you are. Right?

It was time to shake things up. Again. What would it be? And could I avoid the rut?

The van dweller life certainly means frequent changes in location. But that’s not enough. Living cheaply isn’t enough. Having greater freedom and fewer burdens isn’t enough. Avoiding crummy weather and unpleasant people isn’t enough. Because all of that can become a rut, too.  

The changes will need to be internal. But what sort? I'd better figure that out before another fifteen years ticks by.

So on and on I go, the seconds tick the time out
There's so much left to know, and I'm on the road to find out
—Cat Stevens

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


And with fauna

Adding and subtracting

I don't know if Michelangelo actually said this, but I'll use it anyway

There are a few ways to create sculptures. One is the additive method, where the artist adds material—clay, wax, metal, wood, fabric, plastic, whatever—until achieving the desired form. Another is the subtractive method, where the artist carves, chips, cuts, blasts away excess material, leaving only the desired form.

We use both additive and subtractive methods when we build our lives. We add knowledge, skills, experiences, relationships and, yes, stuff. Some of what we add is good. Some isn't. Then we usually reach various points in our life when we intentionally start subtracting things. Unhealthy relationships, destructive behaviors, burdens and, yes, stuff.

For a long time, my problem was that I had no vision for my life, except that I wanted to be happy. What were the specifics? What would I need to add or subtract? I didn't know. Oh, I had plenty of people telling me what they believed my life should be like and how to make it that way. At least I was self-aware enough to know, "Ummmmm, that's not me."

I think the first step toward happiness is envisioning our authentic self, the angel—or devil—trapped in the stone. Or maybe it's a matter of envisioning the dimensions of your soul in empty space, then adding materials to flesh out that form. Create away.

Sunday, March 15, 2015


One of the reasons I love sleep is that I can be free of my body for a while. I'm not talking about out-of-body experiences, only that my body becomes irrelevant for a while.

I get comfortable in my plush bed, go through a checklist of muscle relaxation. I become unaware of anything touching me. I get so I'm not conscious of any part of my body—except my mind. Sometimes an itch or tiny muscle twitch will break the spell and I'll need to start over. But I've gotten pretty good at it.

As I drift off, there's no clear line between being awake and sleeping. It's a delicious state, my mind floating, wandering. Sometimes I become aware I'm sinking into dreamless unconsciousness where my mind stops taking note of even itself.

O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oh y-e-e-e-e-e-e-ssssssssssss...

This is why sleeplessness is so frustrating to me. My body won't shut up and go away. My mind has to waste its time dealing with it. "Settle down out there! Quit fidgeting! Go! To! Sleep! Don't make me get the Benedryl!"

I usually wake a few times during the night. But that's okay, because I get to go through the body escaping process all over again. It's especially gratifying to wake feeling like I've slept half the night when it has only been a couple of hours. Ah, a lot more time to do this over and over.

If I ever got into recreational self-medication, it would definitely be downers. Well, and hallucinogens.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The injury report

Speaking of bad luck, first there was the discolored toenail, then the damaged thumb. Between those two was a bee sting on the back of my hand. If things like this come in threes, then I should be okay for a while. (Though I don't know when they start counting the three. Was the last injury number one in the next set?)

Here's my swollen left hand with the normal right one for comparison. It looks bad, but it just itches a little. You might detect some scars from past injuries. I survived.

That Friday the 13th thing again

You might recall I had a tire problem last month, shortly after Friday the 13th. Part of the problem was that the spare tire wouldn't release. It would crank down part way then hang up. Though the guys at the tire shop originally thought they could get the spare out, they couldn't. They said I'd probably need to go to a Chevy dealer. Being a wandering guy, I couldn't get an appointment with a service department that didn't require me to wait a week. So I crossed my fingers and went on with life.

But my inner worry wart said, "You really should deal with that spare tire problem."

"Yeah, I know."

"There might be information online."


Boy, was there ever. It seems most owners of Chevy and GMC pickups, SUVs and vans eventually have this problem. They curse the design of the secondary latch system, which gets corroded, rusted, jammed with dirt. Then they show what to do about it.

Thanks to YouTube and disgruntled truck owners with video cameras, I understood what needed to be done. But the troubling device is hard to reach. My former shop teacher would say it required 17 little boys and a monkey to get in there and fix it. I only had Lou, who is neither a little boy nor a monkey.

But I figured if corrosion was the problem, then it might help to shoot some WD-40 up there. I could do that while Lou finished his lunch.

So, there I was, on my back under the Rolling Steel Tent, trying to hold the dangling tire up with one hand while squirting WD-40 with the other. To my surprise, WD-40 did the trick. Suddenly. Also to my surprise, part of my thumb got pinched between the wheel and the thingie that holds it up. Ow. The hand that had been spraying WD-40 was at a bad angle to lift the tire, so my thumb stayed pinched for several seconds. Ow. But I was happy. Ow. The spare tire was free. Ow.

"Lou. Good news! WD-40 did the trick!"


"Bad news: I buggered up my thumb in the process."

Being a kind, helpful guy rather than a little boy or a monkey, Lou got out his first aid supplies, cleaned and disinfected the gash and bandaged it up. I popped an antibiotic pill I had left over from a previous self-inflicted wound. This morning my thumb is a little tender but mostly okay. But I got the spare tire thing working, for free, so it was worth it.

I'm not superstitious, but having a bit of bad luck—twice—on Friday the 13th or thereabouts almost has me believing. But I absolutely believe in WD-40.

Friday, March 13, 2015


I didn’t grow up wanting to be a nonconformist. But I knew I didn’t fit very well anywhere. And I was only partly successful faking my way in society. I just wanted to follow my own path. That didn’t mean being wild and destructive, an outlaw, an asshole. I simply wasn’t interested in a lot of what they claimed everyone should want. When I tried to live 100% their way, or even 75%, it only made me miserable. But as Emerson might have said, conformity isn’t about the individual’s happiness, it’s about the group’s comfort.

Back when I was a kid, whining about something I was supposed to do, Mom would say, “There are lots of things in life we have to do whether we want to or not.” Yes, of course. But a lot of the things we’re taught are essential aren’t—unless your goal is to please the folks who claim those things are essential. What do I get out of conformity, though, other than group approval? And what if group approval isn’t that important to me?

Over time, I grew comfortable with my individuality. It was either that or sacrifice my mental health on the altar of herd validation. I became a functional nonconformist, finding my niche, navigating around the obstacles and quagmires of normalcy. In doing so, I found kindred souls I wouldn’t have known existed if I had stayed safely within the HOA-controlled walled city of conformity. (I’m not talking about the cliques of false nonconformists who all rebel in exactly the same way together.)

Now, here I am, living on the fringes of conventional society. Happier without owning a building and a patch of land. Happier unanchored and unencumbered. Happier with a few people who share my general outlook but who don’t require total agreement on the specifics.

Emerson preached self-reliance over self-sacrifice. Who are the ones preaching the virtues of self-sacrifice? Usually those who would benefit from your sacrifices. 

On her deathbed, Mom raged against the way her life had turned out, how she never got the promised payoff for doing so many things she didn’t want to do, for sacrificing herself, her soul, so totally. I think she and I were very much alike at heart, only I had escaped the leash of conformity that had strangled her. 

Emerson claimed that society resents nonconformists because we don’t do the burdensome, self-stifling things they feel they must. But society needs misfits. As Kerouac wrote (and Apple ripped off):
Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently…
So, if you're miserable doing what everyone else says will make you happy, how can you change things? How can you jettison the parts that aren’t working without losing what you value? Sorry, I only know what’s good for me. At the risk of sounding like I’m telling you what to do, you need to figure it out for yourself.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A passing thought

Ever notice that the way passing lanes are designed, with an extra lane added on the right, that it's not really a passing lane? It's a "be passed" lane.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Vertical hike

Left to right: Me, Lou, Jo

Toe mystery

I don't remember stubbing or mashing my toe. And there's no pain or tenderness, no swelling. Maybe my toe slipped off one night, had too much to drink and got into a fight. Or perhaps elf pranksters injected dye under my toenail just to mess with me.

It does give me a little serious concern since I'm Type 2 diabetic. I'll watch and wait and see what happens. It has been like this for about three days. It hasn't gotten worse. Or better.

I guess I could get a pedicure and have the nails painted. Camo, maybe, or goth black?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Vulture Peak Road near Wickenburg, Arizona

It was a little late by the time I thought of taking photos

I caught up with Jo and Lou this afternoon. They'd found a fine camping spot with a view of Vulture Peak.

Meanwhile, it feels like spring allergies have started attacking me. My eyes have been watering all day and my nose is running. (Snurrrfff!)

The view north-ish

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Podunk, or not?

I was a citified guy when I first saw Quartzsite, Arizona during a coast-to-coast trip. "What a dump!" I thought in my best Bette Davis voice. (It didn't help that it was summer and a hundred-bazillion degrees.)

Since becoming a van dweller, I've been in Quartzsite and other small towns like it many times. (Today, for example.) My perspective has changed. Because I spend so much time away from civilization, any wide spot in the road with gas and groceries is a beautiful oasis. A town with several gas stations, a couple of grocery stores, some chain stores and a few fast food joints, a mechanic or two, a bank, a post office and a library might as well be a major metropolitan area.

Cities have become resource centers for me rather than places to live. I measure them by what I can get there before moving on. I judge them for their utility. Aesthetics and livability don't matter much.

Before discovering van dwelling, I'd been researching places I might like to live out my retirement years. All the stuff on my checklist kept me from finding the perfect town. I mean, if you're going to plant yourself somewhere—possibly the last somewhere—you want all your criteria satisfied, right? Then I realized I didn't need to anchor myself. I could go from place to place, enjoying what they had to offer. Sometimes it might be only a tank of gas and a restroom. Excellent.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Invading horde

This is a view of one of the off-road vehicle areas in the Anza-Borrego Desert, along highway S22. It was a Friday morning, so the weekend mob hadn't arrived yet.

I semi-jokingly whine about big RVs, but I really loathe the folks who tear up the land with Jeeps, dune buggies, ATVs and such.

I imagine this is sort of like the Native people watching the wagon trains from the ridge top.

Chet wins big at the flower show

Clark Dry Lake, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

If you need a level spot of dirt where you can park your RV a while... a free place... with plenty of room for fellow nomads, if you're so inclined... where the winters are almost never nasty... that's handy to a small town... and with decent cell service in some spots, then this should suit your purposes.

Clark Dry Lake, Rockhouse and Peg Leg are just different names for access points to the same general patch of Anza-Borrego Desert flatlands. Take S22 east from Borrego Springs, or west from Salton City and look for the RVs scattered about.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


As I posted a few days ago, I got a tripod so I could take star photos, hopefully at least as good as the one above. Borrego Springs is a Dark Skies town so there should be very little light pollution while taking my star photos. All set, right?

Except for one thing. The full/fullish moon. It overpowers the stars, and it's up almost the entire night. Rats. I'll have to wait a week or so. I'm good at waiting. Sometimes.

Culp Valley, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Even though I lived in Southern California for fifteen years, I don’t remember hearing anything about the Anza-Borrego Desert until I became a van dweller. Then, what I did hear and read made it sound like a great place. I’d have to check it out someday.

I was not impressed the first time I passed through. Okay, flat sandy desert with ocotillo, greasewood and off-road vehicles. Meh. It wasn’t speaking to me.

But I decided to give it another chance, this time armed with more information, including GPS coordinates of some promising camping areas. (Thanks, Campendium.)

First on my list was Culp Valley trailhead/campground up in the mountains on the west side of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The highway out of Borrego Springs is narrow, steep and twisty, climbing from 600 feet to over 3,200 feet. I chugged my way along, enjoying the change in geography. “I’m liking this.”

Culp Valley is just below the summit, in a small bowl ringed by piles of house-sized boulders. Its unpaved road is narrow and lumpy with occasional small washouts. Large vehicles, or ones with low ground clearance, would have difficulties here. There are about a dozen wide spots, turnouts and back-in slots serving as campsites. They’re mostly small and none are very level. This is not a place that would make most RVers happy. It’s more for tent campers. There are no tables or fire rings, no water. There’s a nice vault toilet, though, with handicapped parking. Right now there are eight people well spread among five well-hidden campsites. It’s easy to pretend I’m the only one here.

I snagged a spot nestled between boulder outcroppings, next to sage, manzanita and cholla. And rabbits. A footpath leads to the top of one outcropping. From there I can see the desert stretching east to the Salton Sea and the Chocolate Mountains. I really like it here.

Sunrise. The thin lighter strip in the distance is the Salton Sea. 

One downside is that the elevation makes it decidedly chilly at night this time of year. However, that would be a positive thing in the summer, when it’s triple-digit hot down in the flats.

I have a couple of other areas to check out, so I’ll be moving on today. And down to where I can get cell service so I can post this.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Don't freak out

I got a text message from a friend, jokingly whining that I hadn't posted for two whole days. Sorry to have disrupted anyone's daily routine.

But it might get worse. I'm headed to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for a while, where cell reception (and therefore web access) might be dodgy or nonexistent.

Meanwhile, here's a view of the back side of Salvation Mountain in the morning light, as seen from where I spent the night in Slab City.