Monday, May 30, 2016

Dust to dust

It  got windy this afternoon, blowing sand down from the dunes, across the beach, through the remainder of holiday weekenders and into the reservoir. Time to go home, folks. And don't just leave your wind-mangled easy-ups on the beach. There are big dumpsters on your way out.

The sun comes up like thunder

I was in a semi-awake state, trying to decide whether to get up or roll over and enjoy a few more days hours minutes of glorious sleep, when, surprise, there was a huge boom of thunder. I got up to check out what was going on and to see whether I needed to close up the Rolling Steel Tent. (The driver side window was half open and the side door was open a few inches for the purpose of ventilation. I love it when the nights are warm enough to do that.) If the thunder hadn't brought me out of my delicious stupor I would have missed this dramatic sky.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sometimes I go crazy

Oh, sure, in my previous blog post I hoped that the campground wouldn't get overrun with Memorial Day weekenders. Ew, people! So what do I do? I leave the still roomy campground in the mountains and go to Elephant Butte Lake State Park. Along with nearly everyone else in New Mexico.

A fraction of the mob camped along the shore

Awk, so many people! And their stuff! Boats. Personal watercraft. OHVs. Diesel 4x4s. Duce-and-a-Half trucks. Generators. Neurotic, untrained, yapping dogs. Music. Squealing, happy kids. People having a good time. EEEEWWWWW!!! 

But it's okay. My introversion needs the occasional break from solitude. I can be around people as long as I'm not surrounded by them. I have a spot to myself, back away from the shore. Besides, I need my water fix. Even if the water is filled with people zooming around for the sake of zooming around. Oh, and blissfully happy Labs and Retrievers.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Into the woods

The last time I checked in I was in far southeastern Utah, in the land of rocks and dust and wind. Now, here I am almost smack in the middle of New Mexico. That's a bit of driving.

Except for a strip of highway during my southeast Arizona journey, and a quick stand at Four Corners, I haven't been in New Mexico since November of 2014. I missed the place.

So, here I am at Red Canyon Campground near Manzano. I had planned on staying at Manzano Mountains State Park again, but too much of the small campground was reserved. I didn't want to be among a bunch of weekenders. Red Canyon isn't as fancy (no shelters, for example) but it's very nice in that basic old-school Forest Service way. The trick was finding a spot among the trees that would make my solar panel happy for at least part of the day.

Now my fingers are crossed that this campground won't fill up with weekenders who couldn't get into the other place.

The long and short of it

Up until sometime last year, it seems, one-gallon water and milk jugs came in one universal dimension. I was happy with that. Then someone (I'm guessing Walmart) decided the shape needed to be changed. Taller and narrower so that more could fit on a shelf. A side benefit is that four of them fit more easily into a milk crate.

The down side of the taller-narrower jug (which seems ubiquitous now) is that it's more likely to tip over—as in always tipping over. The water jug powers that be assume people will only be driving from the store to their homes, where the jugs will sit quietly on shelves (taking up slightly less horizontal room, of course). People who drive around all the time with three to six poorly anchored gallons are just freaks.

The jugs eventually wear out or things start growing in them. I end up tossing them. I'm down to the last one of the old style. (My precious.) Unless I can find more of the old style I'll have to submit to the tyranny of the new style. I have space in the Rolling Steel Tent all worked out for the old style jugs. There's no room for a milk crate or something similar to hold my jugs. So I guess it's bungee cord time.

Perhaps there are greater life lessons in this situation. Don't get too attached to the way things are. Don't expect the future to identical to the present. Don't get all worked up over small inconveniences. You know, act like a grownup.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Small expedition

I study maps, looking for new places that are a little out of the way and perhaps worth the diversion. Places that might not be well known. Hmmmm, what's the deal with this spot?

Yesterday's mystery place was Muley Point, at the edge of Cedar Mesa, overlooking the meandering San Juan River gorge, with bits of Monument Valley in the distance. And dispersed camping. Sounds good. Sounds like it might worth the drive up the notorious Moki Dugway.

I had driven up Moki Dugway once before. It was a slightly anxious experience, but this time it was no big deal. The fact there was a lot of oncoming traffic the first time (including a huge beer truck) but none yesterday probably had something to do with my relaxed attitude. Driving down might be a different experience.

The road to Muley Point is supposedly impassible when wet. When dry (like yesterday) there's a one-to-three inch layer of orange dust/powder/sand until the road crosses into the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Then it's gravely. And white.

Before the actual point, there was a turnoff on the left. A mostly solid rock surface with evidence someone had camped there before. I checked it out.

An appealing thing about this spot was the lack of dirt. The day before, howling winds filled the air—and the Rolling Steel Tent—with dust. However, the wind was still nasty. And cold. But, hey, what a view!

I continued on to the actual Muley Point and, well, I wasn't the only one who studied maps for out of the way camping spots.

There was a Class C, a Class B, some tenters (I don't know what they managed to drive tent stakes into) and a couple in the back of a pickup. And some guy in van barging in on everyone.

But it's a dramatic location. Even more dramatic when the wind is blowing hard enough to make standing difficult. It would be a great place in the summer since it's at about 6,400 feet and therefore cooler than the valley below. But right now? Burrr.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Nice sombrero, dude

I'm camped today at the foot of the Mexican Hat. It's BLM land and there are several sites along a fairly decent unpaved road. And various desert wildflowers are in bloom.

I wonder why they called the formation and town Mexican Hat instead of Sombrero. Did the settlers not know the word? Or did they know it and refuse to use it? I knew a guy once (who was later convicted of defrauding his clients and was then run over and killed they day before he was supposed to report for prison) who insisted on saying little burro instead of burrito. Because it's 'Murica, dammit, where we speak English while we eat our Mexican food. Hmmm, what's English for karma?

View from the base of the Hat, after the cloud cover broke up

From the memory bank

Sometimes my brain surprises me with what it drags out of my memory for my late night entertainment. Last night (or was it technically this morning?) it presented a vivid picture of a moment six years ago.

I was in southern China, shooting videos for a manufacturer of earth moving equipment. We spent a week of twelve-hour days in a quarry. No electricity other than batteries, no water other than jugs, no bathrooms other than peeing behind a boulder. (In hindsight, it was preparation for my current life.) And while the weather couldn't decide if it wanted to be annoyingly chilly or way too warm, it was certain it wanted to be suffocatingly humid. (The bits of genetic code we share with fish helped us breathe fog.) (However, the fog gave us excellent, even light and kept down the dust.)

When the weekend came, our Yank and Brit contacts decided to take the foreign crew members (three of us) off to Guilin, where we'd experience the local tourism culture and go for boat rides among the weird peaks.

But that wasn't the memory that had me laughing in the night. What I saw in the theater of my mind was five large Westerners zipping through city traffic and farmland on little scooters. Without our interpreters/fixers/handlers. Wearing ill-fitting helmets. And insufficient outerwear for the cool, wet day. Hunched over against the drizzle and wind. Led by the Brit, who sort of remembered the way from a visit a few years before, but who tended to drink too much.

And then, at a funky truck stop (which I supposed was the happenin' location along that stretch of rural road) was a guy drawing a crowd with a camel. Because... why not? It suckered us in. I didn't get a picture, though, because my hands were chilled and cramped. And my brain was still in I-hope-we-don't-get-run-off-the-road-by-a-truck mode. I think the five of us might have been the greater oddity that day.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Wasn't I just here?

Nah, that was back in October. And I'd forgotten I could get a bit of 4G signal at the Tribal Park campground. They changed policy since I was here last. Now you can't use the tent camping parking spaces unless you're going to actually pitch a tent. If you're going to sleep in a vehicle, then you have to pop for an RV space. That spoils the fun. Oh well. It's still worth that classic view.

Before I head into a no-cell zone...

I'm writing this from the McDonald's in Kayenta, Arizona. Their wifi is only slightly better than none at all. But it beats what I can get from my JetPack or Phone. Before I go north into the emptier quarter of Utah, here's a quick report on Navajo National Monument, about 25 miles southwest of here.

I had no idea what to expect. The name, while honoring the Navajo people, fails to convey anything about fabulous Tsegi Canyon.

There are huge, well-preserved ruins in the canyon. Alas, the guided tours (guides required) don't start until May 29. But the canyon's natural beauty is enough for me.

To make a great thing better, camping is free. The Sunset View campground is for larger rigs, while the Canyon View campground is for smaller rigs and tent camping—with a view of the canyon, of course.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Among the Hopi

It was a drizzly day as I headed up highway 87 out of Winslow. But mellow music happened to be randomly shuffling on my old iPod. It put me in the right mood as I drove through the rolling grasslands dotted here and there with buttes and volcano cones. What a great place to be a grazing animal, I thought.

I was headed to the Hopi nation. I'd discovered there's free camping next to the Hopi Cultural Center at Second Mesa.

The campground itself isn't much. Some concrete tables and grills scattered among junipers. No water, no toilets. But that's fine. The location is a good hub for further exploration. And it breaks up the drive.

There are four grills at this site for some reason. I used none of them.

I was the only one in the campground last night

It's sunny today and I'm off to see some ruins and local artisans.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

What time is it?

Is this sunrise or sunset? Does it matter?

Most of my life I hated getting up in the morning. I was a Night Person. Midnight seemed like a respectable hour to start thinking about going to bed. They don't let five-year-olds do that.

I'm not a Night Person anymore. Maybe I never actually was. Maybe I was just a Too Much TV Person. Because now, as a van dweller, I have no television demanding my attention (Oh look, a marathon of that mildly entertaining series is about to start on HBO). I'm usually ready to call it a day by nine o'clock. Or sooner.

It could also be the lack of external forces imposing a schedule on me. I don't need to fit my life into other people's cycles. I've been free to adjust into what's natural for me. I'm a Morning Person? Who knew?

And (sigh) it could be the aging thing. Old farts are up well before sunrise and have their supper at Denny's at four o'clock, right? Is that where this is headed?

Anyway, I've seen a lot more sunrises the past three years. They're highly underrated.

Monday, May 16, 2016

All threat, no delivery

I'm camped at McHood municipal park just south of Winslow, Arizona. Rain clouds have circled the area but none dared drop their load on the Rolling Steel Tent, because they know I'd whine about it on this blog.

McHood Reservoir fills a rocky crack in the high plains. The shore is filled with reeds and willows. It's a nice little surprise. I'll stay a couple of days before heading north to the Hopi lands.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Goodbye hello goodbye

I fled Flagstaff for the promise of slightly warmer weather in Williams, twenty miles farther west. It's a pretty place and less crowded, but the forecasters misled me. Instead of it being eight to ten degrees warmer as they predicted last night, they now say it will be only two to four degrees warmer this week. And just as wet. Ugh.

So tomorrow I'll try Winslow, on the opposite side of Flagstaff, where it's supposed to be in the 70s all week. With the weather luck I've been having this spring, it will probably be in the hundreds there instead. And Williams weather will turn out to be great after I'm gone.

What does it take to feel secure?

I was quoted last week in Bob Wells's blog post about nomads having a safety net in case we get sick, injured or just too old. I had written the following on one of his forums.
For me it came down to the choice of living a life I wasn’t enjoying—but with a certain amount of safety—or living a life I love without a safety net. I chose the latter, because even if something bad or even life-ending happened, I would have had that time living the way I wanted. What’s the point of prolonging a life I’m not enjoying? 
Besides, I think safety is mostly an illusion. Sh#t happens to building dwellers. They get sick, they go broke, they get swindled, their homes break down or burn up or get destroyed in natural disasters… But they feel safe because it’s the way most people live. They’re doing the normal thing, the familiar thing, so it must be the best choice, the safe choice.  
I think danger is also mostly an illusion. We convince ourselves all sorts of things might happen to us, but they never do—not because of our vigilance, but because they were never going to happen anyway. Since the mobile life is unfamiliar, we can convince ourselves there are even more dangers out there waiting to get us. There aren’t more dangers, just different ones.
I wasn't the first one to ever think those thoughts. I heard them somewhere long ago. It just took me way too long to take the ideas to heart.

This video (which I'm unable to embed on my blog) featuring a TED Talk by computer security expert Bruce Schneier is a more comprehensive examination of security, danger and our perceptions of both. He starts by explaining that feeling secure and being secure are separate things. We can feel secure and be secure, we can feel insecure and be insecure, we can feel secure but be insecure, and we can be secure but feel insecure. We know this, but we tend to forget.

Schneier also reminds us that security involves tradeoffs—time, energy, money, freedom, etc.—and we need to decide whether the tradeoffs are worth it. As I wrote in that quote, I decided I had higher priorities than security. Security is among the top priorities for most people, which is why they'll never live the nomadic life.

As Scheier says, we tend to fear the unfamiliar yet cope with familiar dangers. Wandering the planet with no permanent address is unfamiliar to most people. It was to me. But I took the leap anyway, and once I did, it was way less scary. I learned which dangers were and weren't likely, and I learned how to prepare for and deal with the likely dangers.

What does it take to feel secure? It's different for each person. For me, it was less than I thought, less than I'd been conditioned to believe. You might be the same.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

It's hard to make just a little stew

Combine a camp of friends with some gray weather and I get in the mood to cook up some stew to share. Then things get a little out of hand and, before I know it, I have enough stew for twenty. There were only three of us. (The fourth didn't show up.)

My stew philosophy is that if you combine a lot of things that taste good by themselves they'll taste good together. Sort of like bringing a group of people together. In the pot above are stew beef, andouille sausage, bacon, potatoes, onions, leeks, celery, carrots, tomatoes, corn, black beans, shitake mushrooms, beef broth, spaghetti sauce, chili powder, mustard, salt and pepper. As an option for those who wanted to be bold, there were peanuts they could toss into their bowl like croutons. Yum. And there were bolillo rolls and butter.

So, here I am with a pot of leftover stew and only one small Tupperware container and some heavy-duty bags. I suppose I could make room in my fridge and distribute the rest. Guess I know what I'll be eating the next several days.

Pet sharing

Cody dropped by the Rolling Steel Tent for a short visit, then took off to check out something more interesting. Two days later he had to go to the vet because of a cactus spine lodged in his eye socket. He'll be fine. And perhaps more careful around cacti.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Up and away

It was windy, chilly and wet at Lake Powell and most of the surrounding area, so I retreated to Cottonwood AZ to get dry and warm. But then it got too warm, with the forecast showing serious heat on the way for almost everywhere within a day's drive. The non-roasting oasis in the middle of it all was Flagstaff. So up the hill I went. Pines, snow-capped mountains... I think I'll stay a while.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Multiple layers


I get skin tags once in a while. (I think it's proof I'm related to Morgan Freeman.) The latest skin tag developed just below my right eye. Usually, when a tag is small, I can twist and pull on it until it comes off. This one was stubborn. It grew to about the size of a sesame seed. Rather than go to a dermatologist, who would charge me a hundred bucks for two seconds of work, I decided to get rid of the tag myself.

The location of the tag was problematic. I had to take off my glasses in order to get at the tag. But without my glasses, I couldn't see what I was doing very well. I fumbled along anyway.

My surgical implements

A few years ago I had mangled a knuckle with a power tool and needed stitches. They gave me the scissor, forceps and such they used to patch me up. "Hey, you paid for them and we aren't allowed to reuse them, so..."

I got out the emergency room scissor (less chance of accidentally cutting something else than with a scalpel) and an old tweezer (because it would be easier to use with my "wrong" hand). I set up my mirror, dipped my surgical tools in alcohol, grabbed the skin tag with the tweezer, pulled it, judged the best I could with my blurry vision that I had all the tag and none of my face, brought the scissor up against the tip of the tweezer and... snip. Done. Only a tiny, quick bit of pain (there aren't many nerve endings in a skin tag). I dabbed on some Neosporin and all was good. Today there's just a red dot where the tag used to be. It will heal up quickly.

I think I'll charge myself $300. One hundred for the surgery, fifty for the scissor, tweezer and antiseptic, and one hundred-fifty for the house call.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Should I or shouldn't I?

I haven't tried running ads on this blog. One reason is that I know I don't have that many readers. Another is that the ads are usually for things I wouldn't recommend, or from companies I don't approve of. But, you know, there's the possibility of a few bucks. Money is good. But so is not selling out.

So, what do my readers think? Yes? No? Doesn't matter?

Pet sharing

Chili Moon stops by the Rolling Steel Tent

Another hard day on the planet

A little relaxing before lunch, then more relaxing afterward

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Friday, May 6, 2016

My yearning for water validated

Though I spend a lot of time in the desert or otherwise inland, I'm always eager to get back to the Pacific Coast. Or at least to a lake, river or other body of water. It makes me happy. It soothes me. It makes me want more out of life—like more time by water.

It's not just me. Science is on my side.
Everyone knows that being on the water makes us feel good, but now there's scientific proof: a new study confirms that living near a body of water improves wellbeing, even for city dwellers. The report was published in the journal Health & Place. 
"Increased views of blue space is significantly associated with lower levels of psychological distress," Michigan State University health geographer Amber L. Pearson said in a press statement.
Current studies show that green space—forests, fields, etc.—don't appear to have the same benefits. Perhaps that's one reason forests usually make me feel closed in, suppressed. Unless, of course, there's a body of water in that forest.

I know some people with no desire to be by the ocean. They much prefer deserts and forests. (Though it might have more to do with crowds that geography.) I'm fine with that. It leaves a little more room for me on the beach.

Another look at the Colorado River

An interesting day at the beach

I paid my senior-discounted seven bucks and grabbed a spot by the water at Lone Rock Beach, Lake Powell. Things were serene until the wind started howling and filling the air with sand. Not fun, but the direction of the wind allowed me to keep the side door open for the view and ventilation.

Then a group arrived with their rented kayaks and guide. Hmmmm, I thought. The wind is going to be a problem. But into the water they went. Hey, woo, this paddling stuff is easy downwind! They were soon out of sight.

About an hour and a half later, two patrol boats rushed by with their lights flashing. People on the shore had their binoculars out, pointing downwind. Ah, our intrepid foolish kayakers. Soon there was a helicopter.

Meanwhile, on another part of the beach, rangers and EMTs appeared. Someone was having a medical emergency.

Then, farther down the beach, more rangers were dealing with some kind of bad behavior problem. They had two guys sitting on the ground, handcuffed.

The kayakers and guide were finally brought to shore. They were having a heated discussion, probably about how the guide should know better than to take them out in wind like that and how they wanted a refund and how he wasn't going to give one.

But the guide and his dissatisfied customers eventually left, the medical emergency was handled, the two bozos were hauled away and things quieted down. Including the wind. The night was peaceful and uneventful.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

No, I'm not on Mars

Oddities at Vermillion Cliffs

Morning on the river

It's dawn and Colorado River trip operators start arriving at Lee's Ferry, Arizona, downstream of Glen Canyon Dam. The Vermillion Cliffs are in the background.

Short thoughts


Mud on the Rolling Steel Tent makes it (and me, by extension) look rugged and adventurous. We don't need no stinkin' roads. But it also makes it (and me, by extension) look unfit for proper society. Don't want the normal world thinking we nomads are bums. They make it hard enough for us already.


I like to drive with the window open whenever conditions allow. I like the fresh air and feeling connected to my surroundings. I like to get the stale air out of the Rolling Steel Tent (particularly when there's an accumulation of laundry). But it's spring, which means pollen. Runny nose, watery eyes... I need to get more tissues. Or accept that it's not currently "when conditions allow" and keep the window closed.