Thursday, April 30, 2015

Chrome browser users can reduce data usage

If your web usage is always in danger of bumping up against your data limit, Chrome's Data Saver feature might help.

It's already part of the Android and iOS versions of Chrome. And it's an extension for the computer version. After it's activated it produces a graph of your data savings.

It works by rerouting your web traffic through Google's server, where it's compressed to various degrees.
How Data Saver works
When you're using Data Saver, Google's servers reduce the amount of data that gets downloaded when you visit a webpage. How much data gets saved depends on the type of content on the page. Secure pages (pages that start with https) and incognito pages load without any data savings.
With Data Saver turned on:

It also speeds up your web surfing and filters out malware and phishing attacks. The question is whether Google mines your data as it passes through their servers. I imagine they aren't giving us something for nothing. Data Saver can be easily turned off, though.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I want this!

Ever since I started living out of a van I've had an idea for a rooftop warm water and shower gadget. Cap off a length of black ABS pipe, put a fill cap on the top, a spout on one end and an air valve on the other.

Well, this guy had pretty much the same idea, only he has taken in to the production and marketing stage.

This guy's good at inventing and engineering, but he's really awful as a video presenter

The difference is his is made of aluminum. He started with ABS, but learned it had disadvantages. I'm glad he did all the trial and error.

I know a lot of van dwellers who'd love to have a Road Shower, but the $300 price will scare most of us away. How badly do I want an easier way to wash up? How much of my irreplaceable life would I spend with the water heating and bathing method I use now? I don't know. I'd jump on it for, say, $150. Possibly $200. Of course, $300 would be a huge bargain if it included the bikini babe in the video.

Nose picker

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sandy Flat Campground, Kern River, California

No, if one is in Bishop, with the intention of going to Oregon, it makes no sense to go south to the Kern River.

Sense is overrated.

The weather and scenery are better than Bishop, though.

I hadn't been in this area in several decades. My first time was in 1977. I had just moved to Los Angeles. A girl I was sort of dating knew a guy who was putting in his required flight time on a single-engine plane. He was flying from Van Nuys to Kernville and back and she snagged a ride for us. He piloted, we made out in the back. I didn't see much on the ground other than the Kernville airstrip.

I returned in '81 or '82 for a camping trip with some coworkers. We took a very mellow raft ride. The big excitement was the Hell's Angels who'd come to party in Kernville. VROOM-VROOM-VROOM! WOOOOOOOO!!! VROOM-VROOM!

Sandy Flat Campground is much quieter. It's a weekday, so the place is empty except for the camp host, his dog, and me. Rafters and kayakers use the place for river access.  I haven't found the sandy and flat part yet.

The campground is run for the Forest Service by a concessionaire. So the nightly rate ($22) is rather high. But, hey, that's the norm in California. My interagency senior pass gets me half off.

I'll be here a few days, then I'll head north. If I don't get distracted and wander some more.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Chet does a little spelunking

Cleanliness is next to oddliness

If you can't get to laundromats (or just hate them) and you have room in your van, I guess this gizmo is better than shaking your clothing in a 5-gallon bucket or beating them against a rock.

Hmmm, sometimes the video doesn't show up. Technology.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


Another day of chilly howling wind here in Bishop. It means spending most of my time inside the Rolling Steel Tent, door closed, windows up, vent down.

Last night I was going over maps and forecasts, trying to decide whether to hang tight here or find someplace more commodious. How much more do I bounce around this corner of the country before heading to Oregon? If I were to zig or zag, how far? Go south just to go north again? Burn up how much gas just to avoid some discomfort and boredom?

I slept on it.

I checked the local forecast again this morning. It predicts warmer, less windy conditions starting tomorrow. Okay. I can wait another day before making any travel plans. Meanwhile, I have reading to do.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ya gotta have grit

I keep the side door of the Rolling Steel Tent open whenever weather allows, like today. Ah, fresh air!

But then a sudden van-rocking blast of dirt-laden wind blew past before I could shut the door. Maybe it was a dust devil, since I'm on Casa Diablo Road. I think I'll be cleaning grit out of my stuff for some time to come. Yay nature.


Because if you're going to leave your trash, you don't want it blowing all over the place.

Small mystery solved

Several times since I arrived at my current boondocking site, a guy about my age has ridden by on a mountain bike with old style wire panniers. Down a trail, around the other side of a rock outcropping. So I followed his tracks to see what there was out that way.

Ah-ha. He has a camp set up under a rock overhang. No tent, just a sleeping bag, provisions and a few other things. Simple. Old school.

I didn't take a photo. I figured he wanted his privacy to be kept. I just gave a little wave and kept walking.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The devil is in the house

The thin dark green line in the distance is Bishop, California

A few miles north of Bishop, California, is an area geologists call the Bishop Tuff and the BLM calls the Volcanic Tablelands. One of the routes into the area is named Casa Diablo Road. That's where I'm camped now. Being here gives me an excuse to use one my favorite terms: pyroclastic flow. Oh, sure, lava gets all the fame, but pyroclastic flow has a greater likelihood of killing you.

I thought I would be here by myself, but, surprise, a friend happens to be camped across the road. That's nice.

One drawback of this particular spot is that the solar panel falls into shadow late in the day. I think that's the devil's way of saying, "Hey, get off my lawn!"

The toilet report

Yes, I'm aware this is a strange topic, but I saw two unusual things recently. And you know how much I like the unusual.

First up is this toilet stall at the Lake Mead visitor center. Floor-to-ceiling windows? I give it a thumbs up. I think. Natural light is good.

Next are the vault toilets at Tuttle Creek campground, near Lone Pine. At most campgrounds the toilet paper rolls are locked up. Not here. They must trust people not to steal the TP. Or a lock thief has been through here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


I was sitting in the van, contemplating my day, when a uniformed guy went running by with a net of wiggly things.

Turned out to be Colin, with California Fish & Game, stocking Tuttle Creek with rainbow trout. He has to do the scoop-and-run because there's no place along the creek where he can back the truck up to the water and open the chute.

Tuttle Creek Campground, Lone Pine, California

Dawn at Tuttle Creek. Low sunlight through broken clouds.

Until I join Lou in Oregon to help him modify his trailer, I'll be chasing the weather sweet spot: pleasant daytime temperatures, but not too cold at night. That brought me back to Lone Pine. High enough elevation to be out of the desert heat, far enough south to be out of sub-freezing nights. Bone-chilling winds drove us out a couple of weeks ago, but now it's just right. Lone Pine is also handy for supplies and services, unlike some other locations with good weather.

This time around, I'm staying at the Tuttle Creek Campground rather than a mile or so away among the rocks of Movie Flats. It's a BLM fee campground, but it gets a strong 4G LTE cell signal. I figure $2.50 per day (senior discount) is worth it. Plus there are the usual campground amenities. Hurray for toilets.

Looking north. There's still snow on some of the peaks.

A few days here, then I think I'll move north to Bishop. There are boondocking areas west and north of town I'd like to check out.

Monday, April 20, 2015

How dare other people have schedules!

Time becomes much less relevant when you're a retired vagabond. Except when we have to interact with the normal world.

It's so inconvenient that other people need to be certain places at certain times doing certain things, or that there's this thing called "business hours."

I eased into this life of elastic time when I was self-employed. I had deadlines, but how I used the time until then was pretty much up to me. Work early, work late, work in a series of short bursts, whatever. And mobile technology allowed me to do that work from any number of places. I had to be in touch with others during "business hours," but that didn't mean sitting at a desk from 9 to 5. Retiring and hitting the road meant I could snip those last tendrils of time-dependent living. Mostly. One hundred percent most days.

Research was done decades ago where they had test subjects live in a controlled environment where there were no indicators of time. No clocks, no windows, no broadcast TV or radio (only recorded programming). The subjects would sleep when they were tired, wake when they weren't, and ask for meals when they were hungry. Researchers learned that most people's internal clocks aren't set for a 24-hour day. It was usually shorter, often by several hours. That meant the test subjects drifted more and more out of synch with "real" time.

This conflict between internal and external time is what wears us down. And that's one reason the retired vagabond life can be so refreshing. We run according to our own natural clock. Too bad we sometimes have to bend to fit the schedules of the unfortunate time trapped majority.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Without justification

"I want to do it because I want to do it."Amelia Earhart
When we live normal lives in normal society we often need to supply reasons for the things we do. Good reasons. Rational reasons. Society-approved reasons.

"Why on earth do you want to sell your house and live in a van?"

That was one of the big ones. 

Having made that leap from anchored normalcy to a mobile life on the fringes, I still occasionally catch myself feeling like I need to supply sober sounding reasons for the things I do. Big things, small things, inconsequential things. The justification reflex is deeply ingrained.

Because I want to can sound childish, but I figure I spent over sixty years paying my dues, worrying about what others would think, trying to appear responsible and sane. Well, to hell with that. I’m in a position where I only need to answer to myself. 

It’s a tough habit to break. Claiming I earned the right to not provide justification is yet another offering of justification. Ergh.

Friday, April 17, 2015


I was out trying to take some more star photos when I became aware the folks in the next campsite were also out and about, with headband flashlights. I had just finished an exposure (the one on the left) when they started walking my direction, through the shot. The light from one of them lit up the tripod the other was carrying. Ah ha, they were off to do some photography themselves. So I took another 15-second shot (the one on the right).

I spoke to them this morning. The wife responded, "We heard you over there, but we didn't know exactly where you were or which way you were shooting."

I thought, "That's because I don't use a flashlight. I let my eyes adjust enough to see what I'm doing." Instead, I said, "Yeah if someone's out at 3:00 AM in a place like this, there's a good chance they're taking star photos."

Here's my favorite shot of the night. I had to wait for the planet to turn far enough for the Milky Way to clear the mountains.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Valley of Fire is near the north end of Lake Mead. It gets it's name from the red sandstone formations. I think it could have just as rightfully been named Valley of Huge Red Sponges because of all the voids left in the rocks when softer material eroded away. But, you know, a rock by any other name...

There are two campgrounds, both with ramadas, tables, barbecues and potable water at each site. Atlatl Rock can accommodate monster RVs and has some electrical sites and showers. Arch campground is on the other side of the rock formation. I chose it because it felt more intimate. All sites are first-come-first-served, so grab one before afternoon.

Atlatl on the right, Arch on the left

Park entry is $10. Camping is an additional $10 per night. Sites with hookups are another $10 on top of that. Your Federal Interagency Recreation Pass is not valid, so it's a spendy place to camp, but worth at least one night.

The arch that gives Arch campground its name. I think it looks like a vomiting beaver. (Can't un-see it now)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Stuck in a high-profile vehicle

Right now, I'm at the Las Vegas Bay campground in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. That puts me right under the big gray arrow on the map above. The weather report says:
A low pressure system tracking across the West will continue to deliver cool and unsettled weather to part of the region heading into the middle of the week.
The storm system will be responsible for bringing gusty winds to parts of the Southwest through Wednesday night that could cause some issues.
Wind gusts will top 50 mph over parts of Nevada and Utah through Wednesday. Where the winds blow across highways, they can be strong enough to be a hazard for high profile vehicles.

The wind started howling yesterday afternoon, eased up a bit in the middle of the night, then started up again about dawn. It's a nasty cold wind loaded with dust and grit. I don't want to be outside.

Meanwhile, as the map shows, it's pleasant west of the Sierras. The problem would be driving there in this wind. While the Rolling Steel Tent isn't as tall as a semi or an RV, it's still top heavy and squirrely in crosswinds.

So I'll just wait it out. The campground is nice, and the 4G cell signal is strong. And at least I won't be sweating in the heat. There are worse situation than this.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Temple Bar Marina Campground, Lake Mead, Arizona

The view from the top of the boat ramp

I was thinking about Lake Mead. Various boondockers had mentioned areas along the northern and western shores, on the Nevada side. Okay, but what about Temple Bar, on the south side, in Arizona? I got shrugs.

I can understand why most people ignore Temple Bar. It's inconvenient, even if you're already traveling between Las Vegas and Kingman. It's a 25-mile detour out across some very bleak territory. It's one of those drives where the mile markers seem to get farther and farther apart, where you start listening for unusual engine noises, where you start to question the wisdom of this schlep. But then you get there and things are fine.

The campground has cottonwoods, palms, flowering bushes and flush toilets. There's a store and gas at the marina. The odd thing is that some people park their boats in the campground instead of by the boat ramp. It makes the campground more crowded.

It's a surprisingly nice place. Now, if only there was cell service.


I'm not afraid of heights. So I was surprised when, leaning out to get a photo from the top of Hoover Dam, I started feeling queasy. My brain was saying, "I'm okay." My stomach was saying, "Mmmmm, not quite."

I think it had something to do with looking through the camera. Oh well. I recovered quickly.

I get a chuckle, though, from the sculptures. If these same designs were proposed today, I imagine certain segments of society would totally freak out.

"We can't allow these! They're totally gay!"

"The drowned guy is too creepy."

"And it's all so gay!"

Depression-era folks had more important things to worry about.

Meanwhile, what we should be far more worried about is the very low water level.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Lost Vegas

With all the lights on the Strip on all night long, Las Vegas must be one of the big producers of light pollution (as well as other forms of pollution). 

The beacon at the top of the Luxor tells you you're in/near Vegas, baby

Last night I stayed at the BLM campground down the road from Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. And just over the hill from Las Vegas. There's not much to say about the campground other than it's mostly intended for tent camping and is heavily used by rock climbers and hikers. Ramadas, tables, fire rings, vault toilets. Very weak cell service.

On the other hand, Red Rock Canyon itself is nice. There's a large formation of red sandstone whence the place got its name, plus an escarpment of less colorful rock. 

According to the BLM flyer, it's the fifth most popular rock climbing spot in the country. However, my left knee was very unhappy about how I treated it in Death Valley, so no exploration on foot for me right now. There's a scenic loop, though, that lets you see what the big deal is.

Today I'm bypassing Vegas and heading to Lake Mead. What's left of it, anyway.

Chet can't see any better from there

Sunday, April 12, 2015


This desert bush, whose name I don't know, blossoms by sending out a ton of tendrils, like a yellow cobweb. At first I thought it had been taken over by a parasitic plant. Nope. Nature is weird sometimes.

Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley

From Stovepipe Wells, two miles of absolutely wretched washboard road takes you to Mosaic Canyon. But it was worth it. The first part is a neat slot canyon. I love things like that.

This geologic layer is why they call it Mosaic Canyon

They could have named it Marble Canyon, too, because of the layers of marble and limestone

Or Nap Time Canyon