Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Wasting a day

There's a narrow window of calm air in the morning, but it was closing by the time I got my act together and on the road. It was howling out of the south at 25 to 40 miles per hour as I drove west on I-10. Not fun.

I called it quits in Deming. A whole 60 miles for the day. So much for my plan to head south to Columbus, near the border, then west on Highway 9 through Hachita and Animas on my way to Douglas, Arizona. If I was going to be blown around, I'd rather do it while parked. And asphalt makes less dust. Hurray for Wallydocking.

I wanted to get a better look at the "boot heel" of New Mexico because I've been working on a short story I've set there. Out of the way, little known, hostile to human survival... Perfect for what I had in mind. I pledge to get an early start.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Take a hike

My campsite was just down the road from the Dripping Springs Natural Area. There are several trails there. I took the one to the spring and the ruins of a resort built in the 1870's. The waterfall at the spring is only a trickle this time of year, but here's someone else's photo of it.

The ruins are cool, particularly with the mountains rising straight up behind them. From some angles they seem like they're in some far off land, or like an American Machu Picchu.

When I checked in at the visitor center, the BLM ranger said, "The trail is a little over a mile and rises about 500 feet. But it's a gradual climb." Okay.

However, I've spent the past four months at much lower elevations, including sea level. Four days at 4,500 to 5,000 feet isn't enough for me to acclimate to thinner air. So the gradual climb had me wheezing like a leaky accordion. But I kept on chugging along, breathing as deeply as I could, smiling and nodding at passing hikers as if I'd just arrived from Leadville, Colorado, and this elevation was nothing in comparison.


The west side of the Organ Mountains light up at sunset

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Year 4, so far

Here I am, half way through my fourth year of van dwelling. Even though I spent a month in Pahrump, Nevada, and two months in the Quartzsite-Yuma-San Felipe corridor, I still got around.

The largest chunk of wandering was this month, on my trek to the Texas Coast and back (the places inside the red dotted rectangle). There would've been some markers in Big Bend National Park if I hadn't been burned out.

It's time to stay put again, probably in Why, Arizona, with Lou. But I'll be keeping my eye on the Pacific Coast forecasts. The rain has to stop eventually. The beach weather will return, then so will I.

Back to "normal"

So long Aguirre Spring

Rest + time = recovery from my flu-like symptoms. I feel fine now. This morning I moved camp from Aguirre Spring Campground on the east side of the Organ Mountains overlooking White Sands, to Dripping Springs BLM area on the west side of the Organ Mountains, overlooking Las Cruces.

Hello Dripping Springs

The elevation is slightly lower here, so there are fewer trees and more grassland. It's also straight up boondocking rather than a campground. That means it's free.

If I were feeling 100% I'd do some hiking. I'll stay a couple of days and see what happens. New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment, so maybe there will be some magic.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Don't let me die in Texas. Drag me to New Mexico.

At first I thought it was just driving fatigue exacerbated by fighting the wind. Headache, eye strain, body stiffness... Then when I stopped for gas and walked around a little I realized it was more than just too much time behind the wheel. I was coming down with something.

I have flu-ish symptoms now and then. It could be every couple of years or maybe twice a year, whether I get a flu shot or not. It's usually mild. This was going to be worse than that. My digestive tract was starting to warn me that substances were thinking about leaving my body, and it couldn't guarantee which orifice(s) it would choose.

It didn't help that I'd had my fill of Texas and that traffic was a mess in El Paso. (Yay, they're hauling two prefab buildings down the center lane.) But I'd feel better—at least mentally—if I could make it across the state line. I like New Mexico. I feel more attuned to it, more at home. Home is a better place to be when you're sick. And, as I've written before, one of my favorite places in New Mexico is Aguirre Spring Campground. I could make it there.

I did. I chose a site and even though it was only late afternoon I dosed up on aspirin (for the aches and pains) and Benedryl (to knock me out) and crawled under the covers. I woke up seven hours later, feeling a little better. I self-medicated again and was down until after sunrise. I feel normal enough to create the art above and to write this blog post.

Friday, February 24, 2017

My, that's refreshing

For those who don't know, a vault toilet is a glorified outhouse. It has a toilet seat over an underground chamber (no plumbing between your bottom and the vault) and a chimney to vent the odors.

Sometimes, though, the wind will blow down the chimney and up at your butt. When the wind is warm, it can be like those expensive, high tech Japanese toilets with dryers built in. But when the wind is cold, it'll wake you right up and make some things pucker.

My sleeping brain at play

I dreamed I was in England, helping out in Roger Daltrey's workshop where he builds strange motorcycles, scooters and engine-powered chariots. (If he doesn't actually do that when he's not performing, he should.) Somehow, I sliced my thumb—to the bone—in the spot shown in this photo.

It didn't hurt or bleed. It just tingled and weeped a bit of clear fluid. "Oh," I said, examining the cut carefully, "this is worse that I thought. I should probably get medical attention."

Roger and his assistants looked at the cut and winced. "Oooo, yeah, that's bad. We'll run you to the hospital." I kept my thumb bent to keep the cut closed.

After a V8-powered chariot ride to the hospital, a very nice lady doctor also winced. "Oooo, yeah, that's bad. We might need to do a thumb transplant. Your American insurance would cover that, right?"

"Well, you see," I replied, still holding my thumb bent to keep the cut closed, hoping it would heal itself like any other cut, "I've been living off the grid, with no insurance."

"That's a problem, because this could cost about two million dollars."

"Oh, wait, I have Medicare now."

Then I woke up.

For a few seconds my dreaming brain argued with my not-fully-conscious brain over whether my thumb was actually cut. My thumb was cramped because I'd been holding it bent in real life.

Once I determined everything was normal okay, I thought about the dream and what it would mean if something like that happened in real life. I know I exist out on the fringes, alone much of the time, walking a tightrope without much of a safety net. A major injury could be a serious problem. I'm kind of cavalier about it because what satisfactory and attainable alternatives do I have?

I went back to sleep and had another dream. Several of my real-life nomad friends and I had arrived at a new boondocking location. We each drove around looking for ideal spots. I followed a trail that snaked between trees, through pot holes and over boulders. I got to the type of terrain rock crawlers like. There was a narrow gap that led to a really nice spot.

"I can squeeze the Rolling Steel Tent through there," I told myself. "No problem."

Part way through, the trail dropped several feet and the van got high centered. And tipped to the side. And got wedged between the boulders. There was no way I would be driving out. They wouldn't be able to pull or winch me out either. It would take a crane to lift me—if a crane could even get close enough. I was screwed.

Then I woke up.

Clearly, my dream brain had a general theme going last night.

Okay, what would I do if the Rolling Steel Tent wrecked? Well, insurance would help cover the cost of replacement. And I could salvage a lot of stuff, or at least the basics. Maybe. Where would I live until I got a replacement? Who could I count on for help?

Before Lou and I headed in different directions earlier this month, he said, "If anything happens, call me. I'll come, no matter where you are." He's an excellent friend. I wonder if he knows anyone with a crane. Or a spare thumb.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sometimes van dwelling is so glamorous

Fatigue was washing over me and I wanted shelter from the 25-40 MPH winds blowing me all over the highway. FreeCampsites.net had a suggestion:
A large gravel parking area behind McDonald's. This is used by truckers for overnight parking, plenty of room, fairly quiet considering the number of trucks
There happened to be a small building I could back up to and get out of the wind. Sweet. And if I don't want to eat any of my food, I can stroll over for a Big Mac.

It's not wintery here

It's time to break out the fan to assist the natural breeze through the Rolling Steel Tent. When I was a kid, they taught me perspiring keeps us cool as the sweat evaporates. I thought they were lying, because I lived in a region with high humidity, and nothing evaporates there. But this is the West, where even stone evaporates. So the fan helps the process quite nicely.

The lawless west of the Pecos

I doubt Judge Roy Bean used Helvetica for his sign

If you're driving US90 through Texas border country, there are three reasons to stop in Langtry. The first is to use a restroom. The second is to see the Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center and desert botanical garden. And the third is to camp in the large gravelly, grassy, shadeless parking lot of the community center. Not that you'd want to camp there, it's just that if you need a place for the night, that's where you go if you don't want to use an RV park. There's a suggested $2.00 donation. It was a bit of a fight getting my money into the box. It was stuffed full. It was like no one had emptied it in years. Or decades.

I had checked out Langtry via Google Earth and saw dirt roads/ruts looping out to the bluffs overlooking the Rio Grande. I had hoped to camp out there but the lady at the visitor center said it was private property. Oh well.

The visitor center has a few displays and several dioramas about Roy Bean and Langtry. Bean's quasi-authentic bar/pool room/courtroom is out back, with not much to see inside. If you come hoping for Old West reenactments with a Paul Newman look-alike playing Judge Roy Bean, nope. It's mostly a photo op. See, I was there.

Langtry is one of those middle-of-nowhere places that makes you wonder why it's there. I mean, hell, it doesn't even have cell service. Okay, the railroad went through and established a construction camp. Roy Bean showed up shortly after to set up a saloon (workers need their whisky, after all). Others came along and decided it was as good a place as any (because, I suppose, they hadn't seen many places) (or because they got drunk at Bean's joint and didn't realize they'd never left). Union Pacific eventually moved the rail line and its facilities, but some people stayed on, because they had sunk costs they didn't want to throw away, or because, again, they'd forgotten they were just passing through. Then the highway came along and those who'd stayed figured it would bring business and visitors. Eh, not so much anymore. Except for old farts like me wandering the West, needing a place to pee, get a little history and sleep.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Bridge to bridge

I spent a night at the Governor's Landing Campground in the Amistad National Recreation Area. My site overlooked these bridges (one for US 90, the other for the railroad) across Amistad Reservoir, which is a dammed section of the Rio Grande. (Perhaps damned, as well.)

I spent the next night at the Pecos River, in a scenic overlook/picnic area. Texas lets people stay 24 hours in any of their rest areas or picnic areas, though there aren't many you'd choose to, since most are barely off the highway. This was a good one, though. Fine view, tolerable traffic noise. Zero cell signal, though.

The Pecos meets the Rio Grande not far from this spot. I've also camped near the headwaters of the Pecos, in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of New Mexico. So that's one end and the other, for whatever that wins me. Experiences, I guess, which are good things.


When a blog reader learned I would be passing through Del Rio, he/she said I should absolutely eat at Julio's. Okay.

Evidently the restaurant is sort of a side thing to their huge seasoned tortilla chip business. The joint isn't much to look at, but that's often a good sign the food is genuine and tasty.

Now, I've eaten a lot of different varieties of Mexican food, from Baja to Nuevo Leon to Quintana Roo to Oaxaca, from California to Montana to North Carolina. And lately in Texas, of course. Some of that Mexican cooking was wonderful, some barely qualified as food. So whatever opinions I have about Mexican and Tex-Mex food isn't from lack of sampling.

A foodie friend once asked me which of the world's great cuisines I'd choose if I had to eat only one of them for the rest of my life. He was aghast when I answered, "Mexican." I love the stuff. I think all he knew about Mexican food was Taco Bell.

As I scanned the menu at Julio's I knew I wanted something that required more skill and nuance than mere tacos, burritos or enchiladas. So I went with the bistec ranchero—diced skirt steak simmered with onions, chiles, garlic, tomatillos and tomatoes. It was served up with rice and beans (whole beans, not refried). Everything looked great.

The steak was chewier than it should've been. True, skirt steak isn't the most tender cut to start with, but done right it can pass for better parts of the steer. The flavor was excellent, though. Just enough heat to make things interesting without drowning out everything else. The beans were delicious. I would've preferred twice as much of them and half as much of the rice, which I think was mostly there just to fill up room on the plate.

On the way out I bought a bag of their famous chips. Original flavor, to get a baseline reading on what the fuss was about. I saved them for dinner. Munch munch munch. Munch munch munch munch. Hmmm. These are exactly the type of tortilla chips a lot of people love. Thin, crispy, salty with hints of other seasonings. But, eh, I'm not a fan. The chips I get excited about are thick and almost too oily, like actual tortillas cut up and dumped in the fryer by someone's abuela. To each her/his own.

So, based on my single experience, I give Julio's restaurant a B and their chips a C+ on the Rather Biased Rolling Steel Tent Comida Mexicana Scale. That rating is subject to change after further testing. Or some mordida. Dollars or pesos accepted.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Signs of spring

Alrighty then

In an episode of The Simpsons, the neighbors rebuilt the Simpsons' house in one day. On a tour of the badly thrown together dwelling, Apu points to a door with a glow pulsing out of the cracks. "This is the only room with electricity. Too much electricity."

Well, I'm at Governor's Landing Campground, Amistad National Recreation Area near Del Rio, Texas, and this is the only site with electricity. Not enough electricity. (That's a long lead-in to a very small joke.)

This is no loss to me since I have my own source of electricity. They're very serious, though, about others not making off with any amps.

Friday, February 17, 2017

A stop along the way

The Falcon International Reservoir was created in the 1950s by damming the Rio Grand south of Laredo, Texas. I'm camped three miles from the border at Falcon County Park. Free camping, water, toilets, showers, some electricity, tables, fire pits, etc. And trees. Haven't had any of those lately.

It's one of those places I would never have know about if it weren't for online sources like FreeCampsites.net or Campendium.com.

Right now the grass is mostly brown and some of the aforementioned trees are bare. It's probably a lot nicer in spring, which is technically just a month away.

My GPS unit got me here from Port Mansfield without using any interstates and scarcely any divided highways. But that's okay, because Texas, knowing it's large and spread out, has high speed limits even on two lane roads. And traffic was light.

It was sunny and warm with perfectly acceptable humidity. Not desert-low, but comfortable. Meanwhile, reports from friends say it's windy and wet in the Yuma area. No rush to get back there.


I spent a quiet, comfortable night by the water in Port Mansfield, Texas. You can camp free for three nights in Fred Stone Park, on Laguna Madre. I went to sleep thinking I'd stay another night or two, but when I awoke this morning I realized the Texas coast just isn't my thing. It's not bad, and I'm certain a lot of people really love it, but for me... shrug. I felt the same way after making pancakes and watching deer stroll by.

So after I post this I'll start heading west. Along the way I'll figure out where I want to be next. New Mexico, maybe. I like New Mexico.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I miss not needing to think much about the weather

Nature is teasing me. Or testing me.

"You don't like humidity? I could make it more humid, you know. See how you like that, Mr. Picky." So it sends fog.

"Aw, poor little man, all damp and glum. I'll make the fog go away." So it sends a thunder storm.

"Still not happy? Let me blow this overcast out of here." So it sends howling, biting wind and drops the temperature about fifteen degrees.

"What, too wintery for you? I'll take care of that in a few days." That's when the heat and humidity are scheduled to return.

So, the question is whether I continue to ride this roller coaster, or just move the Texas coast to my Been There Done That list.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

It cleared up

The rain eventually moved on, and so did I. I'm at the Bird Island Basin campground in the Padre Island National Seashore, on the Laguna Madre side of the island. It's one of the top windsurfing spots, which means it's mighty breezy. Laguna Madre also has a higher salt concentration than the ocean, which means you'll float better when you fall off your board.

Sometimes the forecast is right

"Beach weather" is simply whatever weather is happening at the beach. Today it's drizzle intermixed with thunderstorms. It's not the best time to be a only foot and a half above sea level, so I'm writing this from a store parking lot. Then it's back to the beach. A different one, though, because it's moving day.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The forecast was wrong, in a good way

The sky cleared and it was a fine day to be at the beach. Here is photographic proof.

Hello, water

Port Aransas, Texas. Gulf of Mexico. Camping on the beach. Above the tide line, according to knowledgeable people. Yes!

Since taking that photo, the cloud cover and haze have gotten thicker. The forecast is for drizzle. It's not the end of the world even though it is the edge of the land.

Almost there.

I was about eighty miles from Corpus Christi when I decided I'd had my fill of driving for the day. If I'd kept going I would've been wandering in an unfamiliar area, trying to find a vacant spot to camp before it got dark. It didn't help that it was Saturday and the weekend crowds might make things more difficult.

So I pulled into a rest area. A rather nice one. Two sets of restrooms, air conditioned lobby, covered picnic tables, a maintenance guy keeping things clean and functioning. Traffic rumbled and whined past, but I got used to it.

The problem was that the humidity (which a lot of people would consider just normal, but was on the heavy side for a desert rat like me) was much more comfortable with the doors and windows wide open. An energetic breeze was counteracting the humidity, but since the rest stop wasn't private or secluded, I had to close up the Rolling Steel Tent while I slept. It got stuffy. I coped.

So I'm off to the Gulf this morning. A new place, a new experience. That's why I live this way.

Friday, February 10, 2017

So far

After a 350-mile day I'm crashing in a motel (not hotel) in Ozona, Texas. The scenery looks a little less like desert. It's not as flat and there are mesquite and juniper trees instead of just rabbit brush and creosote.

I could probably reach the Gulf in another long slog, but my saner, more tired self wants me to do it in two parts. It depends on what stopping places I can find. My brain says to stop writing. It wants to shut down for the night.

Onward through Texas

Thanks to a recommendation from Vanholio, I blew through El Paso and headed for Hueco Tanks State Park forty-something miles east-northeast. Petroglyphs, pictographs, ruins and rock climbing. For those who don't know, a tank is a place where water forms pools in the rocks. I don't know why they're not called pools.

Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, some of the petroglyphs were not made by ancient people, unless you consider the first half of the 20th century ancient.

Sometime during the night I decided I'd had enough of boulder piles and desert. It was time to make some serious progress toward the Gulf. No backtracking to El Paso to ride a tram up a mountain or to see Pancho Villa's trigger finger. So I was up bright and early and waiting at the park gate. "Let me out! Let me head down the highway! I've got the road music cranked up!"

I'm writing this in Van Horn where I previously thought I would need to make the choice of continuing on I-10 or turning south to take slower, less hectic US90. By the time I got here, though, I had already voted for more hectic. "I'm... a... high-... way... star!"

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Back at one of my favorite campgrounds

I was at Aguirre Springs on April Fool's Day 2014 and wrote that I could live there. I'm there again, in the same campsite, wondering why it took two years to return. Larger voices callin', I guess.

Yet I'll be gone tomorrow, because, well, those larger voices won't shut up. And I won't stop listening.

In case you were wondering

Rules about overnighting in rest stops vary from state to state. Some states: not at all. Other states: time limit.

New Mexico says 24 hours max. At least for this rest stop just west of Las Cruces. But, you know, $100 is less than many hotel rooms. And none of them have 40-foot roadrunners made from recycled tires, sneakers, keyboards, ironing boards, crutches... If only there were an equally huge coyote to go with it.

What's that?

Off to the side of my campsite at City of Rocks State Park was this manmade structure butting up it one of the big boulders. Hmmm. A cistern, maybe? Nope.

Decorative concealment for trash cans. And, I suppose, a hiding place for kids. Or a place to sit in the shade.

We must have aspirations

One of the signs along I-10 in New Mexico

Yes, zero visibility is possible, if only you would try. Just close your eyes.