Saturday, April 30, 2016

Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na bats, man

It was eleven-something at night, the temperature was pleasant and I wasn't sleepy. So I sat outside and contemplated the lake. The lights from Laughlin and Bullhead City keep the sky from going completely dark. The air was still and the water was almost mirror flat.

Something small and dark flickered through my line of sight. Then again. And again. A bat. Or bats. Feeding in the zone between the water, trees and van. Figure eights, pretzel loops, sudden impossible changes of direction, sometimes missing me by only a foot or so. Bats on a mission. Gobbling as many insects as they could. I was just an inedible obstruction to be worked around. No danger to me. I thought, "Hey, guy(s), concentrate on getting all the mosquitoes right around me, please."

Donald and Daisy

Or maybe it's Daffy and Daphne. Or whomever. This pair of mallards have been hanging around the Rolling Steel Tent. At one point (when, rats, I didn't have a camera) they strolled up and parked themselves within reach while I sat in my chair. When I got up to get my camera they moved away a little and resettled, the female twisting her head and tucking her bill between her wings. (Would that be comfortable and restful if we humans could do that?)

Later, they wandered over to—and underneath—the van. I got wondering if they might be upset that I was on their turf. But they never made a fuss.

Can ducks give the stinkeye, and if so, is this it?

Maybe they were just fearless and trying to tell me, "Dude, you should be scared, because we're related to dinosaurs. You don't want us getting all T. Rex on your ass, do you?"

Another day, another lake

There I was, boondocking with a great view of Lake Mead, happy as a clam (and clams have assured me they are quite happy) when I decided to pick up and leave. Because more rain was forecast. Meanwhile, it would be dry and warmer a mere hour's drive south. So, off I went to Telephone Cove on Lake Mojave, about five miles from Laughlin, NV and Bullhead City, AZ.

As with Lakes Powell, Mead and Havasu, Lake Mojave is formed by a dam on the Colorado River. Unlike Powell and Mead, the water level in Mojave isn't alarmingly low. In fact, if it were much higher, the camping area at Telephone Cove would be under water. (More on that later).

With the weekend and weekenders coming, I wanted to get to Telephone Cove early enough to get a good spot. I did. By a tree, steps from the water. (Actual steps, like ten feet, not resort property copywriters' "steps.") The nearest camping neighbor was about a hundred yards away. Temperatures in the mid-to-high seventies, light breeze. Sweet.

As expected, others arrived throughout the day. And into the night. But I was mentally prepared for the encroachment. They were almost all tent campers, so no generators. The night was peaceful, even serene.

Then this morning, just as the sky was starting to lighten, there was a commotion outside. The group of campers next to me were hustling around, moving their tents and supplies. They were in a lower spot and the water level had risen enough to start flooding them out. I hate when that happens. They were nice people. They apologized for waking me. No problem. I know it's almost impossible to freak out and organize an evacuation silently.

This fire ring wasn't originally built touching the water

I was still high and dry, for the moment, but I decided to move anyway. That gave the evacuees a place to go. I hope they don't need to literally pull up stakes again.

I'll stay another day, keeping tabs on the weather reports to the north and east. I want to get to Zion National Park and onward to Page, Arizona during a favorable weather window. Weather weather weather. It's part of my love-hate relationship with spring. The desert needs the rain, I just don't want it on me. Or under the Rolling Steel Tent.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Morning on Lake Mead

It rained on and off yesterday and heavily during the night, but, as is so often the case, the morning dawned clear and beautiful.

I'm camped at Government Wash, a free boondocking area in sort of the west corner of Lake Mead. My first impression of the place a couple of years ago was, "Eh, just more RVs on dry, dusty, sun bleached desert." I didn't stay. But this time I followed a "road" out to the edge of the bluff where I could see the water. "Oh, this is much better."

If I'd wanted to ignore the No Camping Beyond This Point signs, I could have set up down by the water. But I left those primo spots for the anglers.

Meanwhile, the RV people are camped away from the water, where to road is better and there are large enough level spots. Too bad they aren't in vans so they have more options where they can park. They have the room, but I have the view.

Boondocking on the Strip

So, let’s say you’re a van dweller and a fan of Las Vegas. You want to catch a show, do some gambling, stuff yourself at an all-you-can-eat buffet. (Or you're passing through and just need a place to crash.) But you don’t want to pop for a hotel room or campground. 

If you’re half way stealthy and don’t mind a little noise (though probably less than your typical Walmart parking lot), you can take advantage of some of the hotel parking lots. Most are free, or are free most of the time.

Lots of overhead clearance on the ground level

I’ve used the parking decks behind the Luxor and New York New York. The ground levels have plenty of overhead clearance for even high-top vans with racks. I don’t know about the other parking decks, but I’m guessing they’re similar. 

Some of the uncovered parking behind Excalibur, for example

I’ve also used the uncovered lot behind Bally’s and Paris Las Vegas without any problems. There are similar uncovered lots behind places like the Flamingo, Harrah’s and Excalibur. 

The uncovered lots are good for solar users, of course, unless it's hot. If you want the shade and enclosed feeling of a parking deck, you can go somewhere else during daylight hours to charge your batteries.

Of course, the standard stealth camping guidelines apply. Keep a low profile. However, the Strip is pretty much a 24-hour place, so going to and from your vehicle in the middle of the night (maybe to use a casino restroom) doesn’t look out of place. Security guys might roll by with flashing lights, but they’re looking for thieves, not people sleeping in vehicles. 

And remember, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Or ends up on a blog.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


If it were me, I'd pitch the tents under the shelter and leave the motorcycles out in the rain.

Hurray for rocks

I can't pass through the Las Vegas/Lake Mead area without going to Valley of Fire State Park. The campgrounds are right up in the red sandstone. Arches, bubbly holes, caves and other weird formations. And oddballs like me.

Zorro the Wonder Dog goes cave shopping

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

An illuminating field trip

The city's park next to the museum

When I first went to the Neon Museum a few years ago, it was still under construction. The former lobby of the La Concha motel was being reassembled and the sign collection was all in the "boneyard" across the street. Now the museum is all set up. The collection has been pared down a bit and organized.

Ironically, only a percentage of the signs are neon. But some are restored and operational for the nighttime tours.

Sometimes the jumble of signs looks like an acid trip shared by Robert Cottingham and Roy Lichtenstein.

Too bad I can't take this one with me

A little something for the Rolling Steel Tent

Monday, April 25, 2016

I've paid more for campsites

It's not my fault Las Vegas is situated between where I was and where I'm headed. So I got a really cheap room at New York New York. I can take as many showers as I want and use the wifi to binge-watch some TV shows I've read about but never seen.

Part of my view

And, you know, it's a break from the routine. Glitz! Noise! Fantasy! Crowds! Variety! Hot running water! Flushing toilets! Less dirt! Fewer bugs! One night, then it's back to the road, wide open spaces and good old reality.

Another way to do it

How can you carry your propane tank(s)? How can you carry them so they don't take up valuable interior space? How can you carry them so you don't need to worry much about them being hit in an accident? How can you carry them so you don't need to worry much about propane leaks? (Water leaks might be different matter.) Here's one person's answer.

And if you want to share your favorite quotations with the world, a white van makes a nice large marker board.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Hey look! A new title photo!

No, you haven't come to the wrong blog. No, the blog hasn't been hijacked. I just figured three years was long enough to keep the old photo. So I replaced the stock picture I'd been using with one of my recent ones. Enjoy.

A place I didn't stay

On the way to Lone Pine, a little north of Mojave, California, is Red Rock Canyon State Park. I had passed it a few times over the years and decided this time I'd check it out. I thought the eroded sandstone formations would make it an interesting spot, but as I drove through... Eh, it wasn't speaking to me. Maybe at a different time, under different circumstances. That's how it goes sometimes. I used a toilet and dumped my trash, though, so it wasn't a waste of time.


BLM land east of Pahrump, Nevada

The New Revised Provisional Made-To-Be Abandoned Plan® is to head east through a narrow band of acceptable weather. That meant leaving Lone Pine, passing through Death Valley (where it's too warm) and into Nevada. Pahrump is a decent place to stop, stock up and have good 4G service before moving on to Lake Mead, Valley of Fire State Park, Zion National Park and Page, Arizona. After that, it will be time for the New Revised Provisional Made-To-Be Abandoned Plan® Mark II, which I hope will include more of southern Utah. Or something.

Update: Since the photo above was taken, the clouds broke a bit and sunlight slipped through. Here are a couple of additional photos.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A walk to Mobius Arch

Since a Möbius strip has only one side, I guess if you've seen one side of Mobius Arch, you've seen the whole thing. It's just that the background is different.

I'm in the wrong place

Or it's the right place at the wrong time. Or something.

Perfect weather is high on my list of priorities. Sometimes it's the only thing on my list. Because when the weather is perfect, everything else sort of falls into place.

I've lucked out the past several months. But right now, anyplace within a day's drive offers the Goldilocks problem: too hot or too cold. Sure, low sixties or high eighties are livable, but I would always be grumbling about it.

So I've started looking farther afield. What's happening two day's drive away? Three? Where does the long range forecast look to be worth the schlep? A plan might be developing. Yet another plan. Subject to change, of course. Always.

Friday, April 22, 2016

How much wind would it take to flip a van—lengthwise?

The Rolling Steel Tent and I have experienced some strong winds during our time on the road, but the stuff we're having along the eastern Sierras today seems much worse than anything before. Gusts up to 50 miles per hour? It has to be higher than that. If no vehicles are toppled, then we might end up with stripped paint and etched windows. Hey, it's an adventure.

You don't suppose there are any rocks around here to climb, do you?

Impatience is the stepfather of discovery

One gets to the camping areas at Alabama Hills by driving Whitney Portal Road west from Lone Pine and turning on Movie Flat Road. Easy. Except they're doing road work on Whitney Portal Road. The signs warn of half hour delays. A guide car leads traffic through one direction at a time, at about 15 miles per hour. Not a big tragedy, but a test of one's ability to mellow out and go with the lack of flow.

The red section represents the road work. I'm camped near the Mobius Arch Trailhead.

So, when I needed to make a run back to town, I checked to see if there was an alternate route. Google Maps to the rescue.

The detour is farther and might not save any time, but I'd rather be moving than waiting, staring at the guy holding the stop sign.

Besides, it was an attractive drive. A tree lined creek through a narrow canyon. The early morning sun illuminating the leaves. Nice.

They shut down the road work for weekend traffic to Mount Whitney, so I wouldn't need to take the detour for the next couple of days. But I might anyway, because it's a pleasant drive.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

New old photos

I have memories from my childhood of nature photos and 16mm movies shot in the West. The pictures were usually overexposed and the colors washed out. (I learned later that red pigments fade the fastest but that a trace remains longer than the other colors.) These memories came back as I fiddled with some Photoshop filters. Suddenly I'm in a darkened Boy Scout meeting room watching a movie about the Philmont Scout Ranch. For us kids living on the East Coast, going to Philmont was such a pipe dream. It never happened then, but I'm doing my own version of it now, every day.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Lots of elbow room at the moment. There's a spot by the Rolling Steel Tent where I can stand and look all around me without seeing anyone else. Just me, the rocks and the sky.

Well, this used to be an ocean billions of years ago

Having gotten my ocean fix for a while, I'm now on the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains. I'm in the Alabama Hills, by Lone Pine, awaiting the arrival of some friends. This is one of my favorite non-beach or former-beach places.