Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Not a campfire kind of guy

The other evening was like many others I've experienced in the past. It was early evening, with about four hours of daylight left, and other campers had started campfires. They wouldn't be cooking on them. It wasn't anywhere near cold. It seemed like they built fires because that's what one is supposed to do when camping. By the time it was dark and a little chilly, they were out of wood.

The only time in my van dwelling life I've built fires was to burn some trash.

I've been known to hang around other people's campfires for social reasons, and that's probably one of the big reasons for campfires. But for me it's a battle between fellowship and smoke.


My mother taught at a private school. There was a fire in her building, and although it didn't reach her classroom, the smoke and firefighters' water did. She took me with her to survey the damage and see what teaching materials she could salvage. The odor was imprinted on my memory. I think it was part of a don't-play-with-fire lesson she wanted to teach me.

So, besides being acrid, choking and clinging, smoke conjures bad memories. And if I'm not going to cook and it isn't cold, then fires are wasteful. If I show up at your campfire to socialize, don't expect me to stay long, no matter how good of a time we're having. Or how many marshmallows need toasting.

Trying to find the sweet spot

Too much heat in one direction, too much rain in the other. So I'm back near Leadville, by Twin Lakes. (The lakes are on the other side of that small hill where the tree-admiring couple is sitting.) Wind cooled things down and kept the storm—and bugs—away. The "campground" is a parking lot, but it will do for a couple of days. If it does rain, I'm on gravel rather than dirt, which turns to mud.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Not a bear

The campground host warned that a bear had been around lately. I figured it was a perfect time to set up my trail camera.

I didn't get a photo of any bears sniffing around the Rolling Steel Tent, but what's that bent over by that tree? Bigfoot? Nah, just a fellow camper getting water from one of the faucets. But maybe he/she has big feet.


This is West Chicago Creek near Idaho Springs, Colorado, where people like to scramble their place names to confuse outsiders.

Okay, enough with the elevation thing

There was a time when someone could say, "Hey, let's build a road to the top of one of the highest mountains around here," and everyone would reply, "Yeah! That would be neat!" And there was a time when someone else would say, "And let's build a strange looking restaurant up there," and everyone would reply, "Wow! When can we start?"

Well, all but the stone walls of the Crest House were destroyed in 1979 in a fire caused by an exploding propane tank (a cautionary tale for fellow van dwellers and RVers), but the road is still there and chuckleheads like me can still drive up there to see the view. And gasp for air.


While Leadville is North America's highest incorporated city, Alma is the highest incorporated town. When you're a tiny village of 270 people, you gotta take your bragging rights where you can get them. Besides, Most Cannabis Shops Per Capita (two stores, which equals one per 135 residents) is probably not the best thing to put on a sign. Oh, maybe that's what they mean by highest.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Breathe deeply

I was boondocking along the road to Weston Pass, near Fairplay, Colorado, when I realized, whooo... boy... the air is kinda thin up here. Over 10,000 feet high.

People who are totally acclimated have no problem hiking, running, cycling, skiing... But I was winded after strolling around taking pictures.

Filling my lungs as deeply as possible feels great. It's a special bonus that the air is incredibly fresh. Cool, dry, fragrant—just the way I like it. I can forgive it for being a little short on oxygen.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Going old school

I wasn't very familiar with Colorado until this month. I'd blasted through on I-70 a couple of times in years past. I'd been in and out of the southwest corner as a van dweller. That was about it. I knew I'd need cartographic assistance. Since the mountains don't lend themselves to handy net access, Google Maps would have limited usefulness. So I got out my Benchmark Atlas for Colorado. Now it rides shotgun.

The atlas provides more information than online maps. Paved or unpaved, elevation, what sort of public land there might be, and so forth. Then I can mark where I've been with pink highlighter, circle places I'd like to go in the future, make notes.

GPS works in the mountains, and it's useful when I want to get from A to B, but it doesn't know what to do when I want to explore. What's up that road? Will it eventually get me where I think I want to go? Is there something more interesting than Garmin's idea of the best route? GPS is for efficiency, not informed wandering. I haven't found the edge of the Earth in the atlas yet, unless that's everything east of Denver.

Tomorrow I head out to somewhere else I've never been. I might not have considered it if I hadn't seen it in the atlas.

The Six Stages of Digital Angst

1. Frustration
I was out of the canyons and back to a place with cell service. Two bars of 4G on the phone, one bar of 4G on my JetPack. (Why does the phone get better reception, Verizon?) So I got online to post and to check on things in general. Then the signal dropped to two bars of 3G. Then one bar of 1X. Then no service. Was it because of the storm moving in? Ergh.

2. Confusion
I thought, okay, maybe if I went into town where the signal is stronger. I did. Still no service. Hmmm. What if I jumped on some free wifi? Oh look, Gunnison has city-wide free wifi. Click to connect and... Nothing. Hmmm. What about McDonald's? Their wifi is dependable. Nothing. The phone wouldn't connect. The JetPack wouldn't connect. The laptop wouldn't connect. What's going on?

3. Panic
Oh crap! Has my account been hacked? Have my devices been screwed up by some kind of malware? Is there a Verizon store here where I can get answers? I can't even search for one online. Aaaaak! I'm going to die!!!!

4. Enlightenment
Then I learned it wasn't just me and my devices. Service was down over a wide area. Someone had accidentally cut a fiber optic cable. (I thought the cellular system communicated only wirelessly. I guess not.) ATMs, cash registers, gas pumps, anything connected to the Web—all down.

5. Serenity
This wasn't about me, and my problems were small compared to others'. So, breathe deeply and wait for technicians to restore service. (And for some knuckleheaded backhoe operator to be yelled at.) Time for a nap.

6. Celebration
Yay! Everything is back back up and running. All is right with the world.

One does not mess with the sheep

We know this thanks to a series of Loony Tunes. Who says years of cartoon watching will make us (more) stupid?

Add this to your list

Lake Irwin is 10,000 feet up, a couple of miles north of County Road 12 at Kebler Pass, west of Crested Butte, Colorado. Campground, picnic area, fishing, and no motorized watercraft. It's a popular spot, so the weekends can get busy/crowded. That's why mid-week was invented.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The roar of the Roaring Fork

The Roaring Fork River starts as runoff from the western side of Independence Pass collects in that boggy area in the picture below. (I don't often knowingly see the headwaters of anything.) Farther along, having grown considerably in size, it has to squeeze through this gap.

Here's a view with a fellow photographer in it for scale.

The area is called the Grottos, because this is what it looks like after the runoff and before it freezes over.

Into the tundra

I wish I could remember the joke exactly. It's one I heard in Aspen, Colorado, decades ago, back when John Denver was still playing local bars. The joke is actually a complaint about rich people spoiling Aspen. I think the joke is: How can you tell when Independence Pass is finally open? The first Ferrari of the season arrives in Aspen.

I headed over Independence Pass on a drizzly morning. The gloomy weather sort of added a feeling of adventure to the drive. I was going above the tree line, up to the snow line, to the tundra.

I'd always thought tundra existed in low, flattish areas. But, thanks to some Park Service pamphlets, I learned the area above the tree line, but not bare rock peaks, is also tundra.

Highway 82 on the east side of the pass is like an Interstate compared to the western side. In some places they could scarcely squeeze a lane and three-quarters between the river and sheer rock—right at blind corners, of course. But I made it through just fine, crawled my way through Ferrari-clogged trafic in Aspen, and went off to see what was down a different road.

Ah, true love

Thursday, June 23, 2016

I haven't been in the mood to blog

I haven't really had anything to say. So I'm just enjoying my life without thinking, "Oh, I could blog about this," or "Gee, I haven't blogged today. What could I write?" But I'm certain the urge will return soon. I'm just not pushing it. Meanwhile, I'm off down the road.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Sometimes it's not about solar

I had followed a friend's directions to a boondocking spot near Leadville, Colorado. A small clearing in a forest with an old fire ring. After being there for about three hours I thought, "This place just isn't speaking to me."

I bumped my way back to the county road and continued farther into the forest, looking for alternatives. I passed some occupied spots by the creek. I passed some trail head parking lots. I passed a meadow. I came to a Forest Service campground and cruised through it. Meh. That meadow, though. It was kind of nice. I turned around.

There were camping spots among the trees at the edge of the meadow. I pulled into one of them. Mmmm, nah. I tried another. Nope. Finally I chose a spot right out in the open. I felt like Goldilocks. "Just right."

Solar access was a side benefit. So was a nice breeze flowing through the Rolling Steel Tent. And in the morning, an unobstructed view of the rising sun illuminating Mount Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Too many choices

Depending on which expert you talk to, humans can perceive anywhere from 100,000 to 10,000,000 colors. However, judging from my quick and sloppy field research, Colorado cabin owners can see only three colors: Standard Brown, Official Brown and Identical-to-the-Other-Two-Browns Brown. There's the occasional cabin stained a different color, though. Those must belong to color blind people. Or out-of-staters.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Rolling Steel Tent attempts camouflage

Meanwhile, Zorro the Wonder Dog succeeded perfectly. You can't see him at all, can you? Watch out, he's armed.

Rocky Mountain high

Having seen snow-capped mountains from the valleys, I figured it was time to see them from snow level. So I drove over the Continental Divide via Cottonwood Pass. The road on the Atlantic side is paved all the way to the summit. The road on the Pacific side, where I started, is unpaved and has a lot of washboard. That made me feel like I had a bigger adventure than the folks who cruised up from Buena Vista.

Looking somewhat west

Looking east-ish

For those who are totally acclimated to high elevations, there's a trail from the road to an even higher spot. (Part of the Continental Divide Trail, I think.) "Mmmm, nah. I'm good," I panted." My lungs and heart thanked me by not spazzing out.

Well, hello there

I saw my first bear in the wild yesterday. It was sort of standing in the middle of the road, trying to decide what to do. It might have still been groggy from hibernation. I slowed and it strolled on, down the embankment to a ranch. I wonder how well bears and livestock get along.

A day of wandering

I cruised slowly through not-quite-awake-yet Crested Butte and headed up county road 12 over Kebler Pass. The road is unpaved most of the way, but well maintained. In fact, with the snow gone, it was time for crews to treat the road with magnesium chloride. I had to look it up. Its purpose is to bind the dirt and gravel surface and repel water. Sort of low-budget paving. But until it dries it's like driving through a slurry of mud. But it was a small inconvenience to pay for being up among snow-capped peaks and forests.

Along the way I visited Lost Lake. It can't be too lost if I was able to find it. There's a campground, picnic area, and a guy painting landscapes. I don't think he's a standard feature of the place, though.

He was painting this view, with some clouds added. Artistic license, you know. His style looked a little like a cross between van Gogh and 1930s travel posters.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Oh deer

Nature doing its thing

How nice, a spot just for people like me

Add this to your list

Last year a friend sent me a link to a list of places in the US one must see. I made a note on my phone of those I hadn't experienced yet.

I'd heard of Black Canyon of the Gunnison before, and seen photos, so it was one of my first destinations in Colorado. Like the north rim of the Grand Canyon, the north rim of Black Canyon is less convenient to get to, therefore less crowded. So that's where I went.

The Park Service built a campground a short stroll from the rim, complete with a trail and observation decks. Some sites even have views of the canyon. They were occupied, of course. So I grabbed a spot under a tree.

Pictures can't do the place justice. It really is an astounding view. Everyone who came along the trail said, "Oh WOW!" It's about 2,000 feet almost straight down. I'm not afraid of heights, but I lose some of my sense of balance when looking through the camera. It's good there are occasional railings to lean against. Otherwise, there are spots you can walk right up to (and over) the edge.

"Hi. I'm the Gunnison River. I made this."

Monday, June 13, 2016

Wet day, deep thoughts

I was going through my files when I came across this essay I wrote years ago. It fit my mood, so I'm reposting it today. It's inspired by an actual incident.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Jeff dove under his desk a nanosecond after the first jolt. I just sat there, watching the room shake, thinking, “This is interesting. It’s bumping up and down instead of the usual side-to-side wobble. I wonder how much worse it will get.” 

In about the time it took me to think that, it was over. A fallen nicknack, some dust shaken out of the vents, a light fixture cover swinging back and forth. Another day on the fault line.

Since then I’ve wondered if my blasé attitude toward earthquakes was simply a California sanity retention mechanism, or something more. Perhaps part of it was a dubious assumption that nothing very bad was going to happen to me, since that was how things had worked out so far. Is that (A) denial; (B) naiveté; (C) a positive attitude? Does it matter?

More likely it was a sign I had shed some of the damaging aspects of my religious upbringing. The faith of my fathers was fixated on death and what supposedly comes after. Are you ready to die? Are you ready to be judged? Will you miss out on the glorious new life and suffer an eternity of torment and regret? What if you died tomorrow? Time’s up, no do-overs. Funny—and sad—how wanting to go to heaven can make you fear the only way to get there.

But death doesn’t scare me anymore. (Pain is another matter.) That could explain why I sat in Jeff’s office without worrying whether I was going to be crushed by the floors above or sliced in two by a shard of quarter inch thick window glass. It might not have been the time or manner I would have picked to die, but we usually don’t get to choose that anyway. All I hope is that it comes with a bit of dignity, certainly not while I'm cowering under a desk with my ass in the air.

C’est la vie. C’est la mort.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Semi-necessary craziness

So, there I was, in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, thinking about heading to Colorado, when I realized I was getting low on one of my medications. I had enough for six weeks. Rats.

I get my meds in Mexico because I no longer have a doctor to provide prescriptions. I don't need a prescription in Mexico. And the price is a fraction of what I'd pay in the US. The down side is that meds come packaged in smaller quantities in Mexico. I can't get a 100-tablet jar, only 30-tablet jars. I'd need to get 24 jars to last a year. That large a load raises eyebrows with customs. "I swear, these are only for my own use." So I get half that many and tell myself to make another run before I leave the area in the spring. But I forgot this year. Even though I was in and out of Baja and drove right by the place I get my medications. Twice.

Juarez is a lot closer to where I was, near Santa Fe, but the wait to get back into the US can be hours long. And it would be in 100+ degree heat. I've been going to Los Algodones, near Yuma, for my meds. It would be just as hot, but the lines to return are usually very short or nonexistent. Since it's no longer snowbird season there, I knew it would be quick even though it would be horribly hot.

But, still, that's a long way to go for pills. I think there's two kinds of craziness. In the first, you don't know what you're doing is crazy. In the second, you know it's crazy but you do it anyway. Sigh. At least my craziness has bits of fairly good logic behind it.

There are two basic ways to get from Santa Fe to Yuma: west then south, or south then west. I decided to stay north as long as possible in order to avoid extreme heat. I went from Santa Fe to Bluewater State Park near Grants, NM. After a night there, I went to Flagstaff and camped along A-1 Mountain Road, where I was about a month ago.

My strategy for dealing with the heat was to drive to Phoenix in the early evening, stay in a hotel (mmmmm, air conditioning) then get up early and make a pre-dawn dash to Los Algodones and be there as soon as the pharmacies opened, before it got hellishly hot. I booked a room in Buckeye, west of Phoenix, near highway 85 that connects to I-8. But I didn't get up and get going as early as I'd planned (I was really beat). I got to Los Algodones at 10:30. It was hot, but not brain-boiling, skin-blistering hot. I got my meds, breezed through immigration and was on my way north by 10:50.

In my mind (which we have already established is defective), the drive from Yuma to Kingman to Flagstaff isn't all that far. I could envision the various familiar legs. Yuma to Quartzsite, Quartzsite to Lake Havasu City (and it's infuriatingly times traffic lights), LHC to I-40, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino (oops, song lyrics, wrong way)... Anyway, no big deal, right?

Wrong. It's 530 miles, eight and a half hours (nine with pee, food and gas stops) all in one day. I went that way, rather than the slightly shorter route through Phoenix, because I wanted to avoid overheating on the steep I-17 grades. The elevation gain is more gradual the other way. (I'm not totally crazy.)

But the craziness isn't over yet. Remember Colorado? I have a reason for going there. I'll be helping a friend with some construction. So I'm back on the road tomorrow. Another 450 miles. But not all at once. My butt couldn't stand that again. And I wouldn't want to look crazy.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Rolling home improvement

I was driving past a Home Depot yesterday when I realized, "Wow, I don't need anything from there." It has been six months since I last had to get something from a hardware store. It seems like there was always a list, that I always had some improvement to make. So I must be out of projects. The Rolling Steel Tent must finally be set up the way I need/want it. For now.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A little late, I would say

All I knew about El Morro was that Spanish explorers/missionaries and American settlers had carved their names on it. But I learned the native people were the first to leave their marks.

Some of the names must have been carved by pros, like Mr. Breckinridge (above) and Mr. Long (below).

But the reason anyone had come there in the first place was water. Rain and runoff collect in a pool at the base of the bluff. In the 1920s, ranchers added a dam around the pool to collect more water. Because, you know, there are those who believe extracting resources is more important than preserving ancient sites. Especially if the sites belong to non-white people.