Friday, March 31, 2017

Quiet on the set

Once a motel and cafe on Route 66 in the Mojave Desert, Roy's in Amboy, California, is now mostly a pee stop, photo op and occasional film location.

I spoke too soon

Thursday I posted there were only light winds here at Sawtooth Canyon. A couple of hours later, though, it started blowing like a son of a bitch. Thirty miles and hour with gusts up to fifty. It was old news to me when the alert came on my phone. Hey, I wasn't going anywhere.

Wind like this is an inconvenient fact of life this time of year in the desert. The trick is to get your traveling done in the morning when the wind is less intense, then hunker down somewhere and ride it out. Yippie-ki-ay!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The desert can be weird

Another of what I hope will be several videos from the desert. At an abandoned gas station by a rail junction, thousands of people have abandoned shoes and other things. Because why not.

Way nicer than expected

My impression of the Mojave Desert had been formed by numerous dreadful trips along Interstates 15 and 40, which, for some reason, always occurred in summer.

A drive from Needles to Barstow, at the end of a transcontinental slog, seemed like it... would... never... end. It was over a hundred degrees and the sun had been up less than an hour. I worried my engine would blow up, leaving me in the middle of hell. Why would anyone want to be out here? They must be insane.

Well, I'm out here and, as near as I can tell, I'm not insane. Mental health professionals might disagree.

I've spent the past four winters discovering I like the desert. So I'm off discovering more desert to like. I had read a couple of articles about the near-ghost towns of the Mojave, places built on dreams that died shortly after being realized. Amboy, Kelso, Nipton, Zzyzx...

When you're going out in the Mojave, it's a good idea to know places to spend the night. So I did some research, read some reviews. That's why I'm currently at Sawtooth Canyon Campground, off Highway 247 between Lucern Valley and Barstow. It's a neat, clean, quiet place tucked up against some dramatic rock formations. There are shelters, tables, fire pits, toilets. And it's free. Perfect. The weather is perfect, too. Mid-70s and a light wind during the day, low 50s at night. I had planned on spending just one night then moving on. But I'll stay at least one more day. It says a lot about a place when Mr. Itchy Feet (me) doesn't take off at first light.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Showers near Joshua Tree National Park

"Gift shop" and "showers" don't usually end up in the same thought unless you're talking bridal or baby showers. But I'm talking good old hot water spraying at you.

There's a gift shop at the intersection of Highway 62 and Park Boulevard in the town of Joshua Tree, California. At the counter, tell the clerk you want a shower and give her four dollars. She will give you a token and a key attached to a big wooden cutout of a duck or a moon.

Go around back to the door that matches your key. (The key is for the handle, not the dead bolt. It took me a while to figure that out.) Inside is a sink, toilet, and a big wheelchair-friendly shower. There's no counter but a bunch of hooks. Bring your own towel. The token will get you seven minutes of water, which was more than enough for me, and word has it it's plenty even for those washing and rinsing long hair. When you're done, take the key back to the clerk, thank her for the excellent shower, and maybe buy a souvenir in remembrance of the experience. Mmmmm, showers.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Rolling Steel Tent is being bugged

Ah, yes, it's that time of year when annoying insects come out of wherever they spent the winter. No biting bugs where I am. Just the kind that insist on buzzing around my face, or tickling my arm hairs, or landing on the laptop screen. Tiny ones, huge ones. Go away. There's nothing to eat here. And if you want to mate, do it elsewhere, please.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Towing and Minor Repairs

Next to Interstate 8, at Ocotillo, California, is the remains of Miller Garage. It was once a classic last chance gas stop, but it had it's own last chance after the big highway went through. Another victim of modernization. So I took the exit, doubled back, and made a short video.

OMG!!! Chet!

I was walking on the beach when I heard my name. Soft. Raspy. Plaintive.

"Al........... Hey Al..."

Where was the voice coming from?

"Don't step on me, man."

I looked down and...

"Chet! Mi amigo!"

"Please, no Spanish. I've had my fill of Spanish."

"How the hell? What...? You were in custody for the, um, drug thing."

The last I'd seen Chet was at the border, over a year ago, when Feds hauled him away for trying to smuggle heroin in his fez.

"The cartel tunneled me out, but into Mexico. I told them I wanted to be on the other side of the border. They thought I was crazy, but they put me on a fishing boat and wished me luck. The captain didn't want to deal with me, so somewhere out there they told me to swim ashore, then tossed me overboard. I swam for what seemed like hours, days. I couldn't tell which direction I was going or if I was swimming in circles. I was exhausted. I grabbed onto this kelp and hoped the currents would take me to land. Where am I? The US or Mexico?"

"California, my friend."


"But the authorities will be looking for you."

"Yeah. I guess I'm a big time fugitive from justice now. Oh well."

"I was planning on going to San Felipe, but you wouldn't wanna be..."

"No. No Mexico for me. The opposite direction would be better."

"Yeah. Okay. Good to have you back, buddy."

"Good to be here."

Do egrets ever have regrets?

Friday, March 24, 2017

I don't know

About this time last year I posted that I didn't know where I wanted to go next. It's sort of a spring conundrum. Where is somewhere interesting? Where is something new? Where is someplace I know I like? Where is the weather agreeable?

I've really enjoyed my time on the California coast, but it's hard on my budget. I can't keep paying for campgrounds and I don't have a free or nearly free alternative that doesn't involve imposing upon friends or avoiding cops. I need to go elsewhere for a while.

I could head from here to the Mojave, see some of the ghost towns, then spend some time at Lake Mead before heading to southern Utah. It makes sense, but I'm not really feeling it.

Or I could go to the Cottonwood-Sedona area. Or do the Pahrump to Death Valley to Lone Pine thing. Eh.

Last night, as I thought about how I hate leaving the coast, it occurred to me, "Hey, what's the weather like in San Felipe?" Not bad, it turned out. I had a spark of excitement. I could still be by the water, but much more cheaply. The place would be crazy during Semana Santa (Holy Week), but I could be out of there by then. Yeah. Yeah! That's the thing!

San Felipe late last year

But I woke up with doubts.


So, the plan now is to go to Los Algodones, stock up on meds, and see how I feel about the San Felipe thing when it's just three hours away.

Or maybe I'll wake up with doubts about that semi-plan, too. My brain annoys me sometimes.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Watching the ocean some more

Not Ensenada

Encinitas is a coastal city in San Diego County. Ensenada is a coastal city a hundred miles south in Baja California.

Encinitas means little oaks. Ensenada means cove.

I'm in Encinitas the next couple of days, not Ensenada.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

No green flash

Dramatic cloud shapes, but no dramatic color

I heard about the green flash when I moved to California forty years ago. The existence of the phenomenon had slipped from my mind until I was watching the sunset, hoping it would turn into something exceptional. The guy standing next to me volunteered, "I saw a green flash the other day."

"Wow. I never have. And with the cloud cover on the horizon, I won't be seeing one this evening."

(I also haven't seen the grunion run.)

So, for those of you who don't know what a green flash is, or who haven't seen one, here's a video of one. Thanks, Internet.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Farther on down the road

South Carlsbad State Beach is about twenty minutes down the coast highway from Oceanside, and what a difference. A stony beach backed by bluffs rather than a sandy beach you can walk onto straight from the parking lot. Hey, variety... spice... etc.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Can I live in a ____________ ?

That question keeps coming up on various vehicle-dwelling forums (or fora, for you Latin speakers out there). People of limited means, or people who want to maximize their fuel milage, want reassurances they can live in something smaller than, well, whatever they're living in now.

My answer is that people can live in anything—tents, thatch huts, cardboard boxes, under a bush... The question is how do you want to live.

This morning I met a woman living out of the Toyota Matrix pictured above. It's not spacious, it's not fancy, it doesn't even have a toilet. But it works for her. A couple of years ago I posted about a woman spending months at a time traveling with her dog in a Suzuki SX4. (below) Does she look like she's suffering?

And a couple of weeks ago I posted about the guy boondocking in a Metro (and now in a Tracker).

I'm in a cargo van. Standard length, standard roof height. No kitchen, no shower. But I have a fridge, a stove, a heater, electricity, a fan and a very comfortable bed I can stretch out on. Because that's how I want to live. That's what I need. I see other vehicles and wonder if I could downsize to, say, a minivan. I'm certain I could do it somehow, but would I be happy? I keep downsizing bit by bit. By the time the Rolling Steel Tent coughs its last (if I don't beat it there) would I need so little that I, too, could live in a Matrix? We'll see.

Friday, March 17, 2017

From the ocean to the desert

Ortega Highway runs from San Juan Capistrano over the mountains to Lake Elsinore (or vice versa, depending upon one's view of the world). It's narrow and twisty with no stop signs for about 25 miles, which makes it a favorite of motorcyclists and sports car drivers, who often take it at illegal speeds. I was one of them back in the late '70s and early '80s.

While it might be fun for the racer boys (when they're not crashing) it's not a great road for wallowing, top-heavy vans. But if you want to get to the Anza-Borrego Desert from southern Orange County, it's the shortest way.

Luckily, I didn't have to deal with speeding testosterone today. There were a lot of ordinary drivers going ordinary speeds. I fell in at the end of the line and relaxed.

I passed several places where this winter's heavy storms had caused slides onto the road. Maybe that was one reason my fellow drivers were mellow. One does not want to zoom around a blind curve and discover a fresh slide.

Old concrete "teepee" motel rooms in Rincon, California

Whenever one is in the mountains of San Diego County, it's a nearly compulsory tradition to get apple pie in Julian.

Pie opinions vary, sometimes heatedly. So someone will insist I went to the wrong pie shop. Nonetheless, mine was an excellent example of apple pie.

For me, the issue isn't one Julian pie versus another Julian pie. It's Julian pie versus Pie Town, New Mexico, pie. Because if you're going to name your town after pie, and put it out in the middle of nowhere, that had better be some damned fine pie to make the drive worth it. Places like the Julian Pie Company move a lot of pies through their two locations (though not nearly as many as, say, Marie Calendar's). Their pie making operation is almost like a factory. Their pies are consistent. Meanwhile, Pie Town is a much smaller market. They can't sell hundreds of pies just during lunch. So their pies have a distinctly hand made quality. Does that make them better? Mmmmmm, usually. Sometimes the bottom crust might be undercooked, though. Or the filling might be kind of runny. Or there might be less fruit than you expect. But the same could be said of any grandmother's pie. My mother made fabulous pies. Most of the time.

After pie, I continued on to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Super bloom time! Except it dawned on me shortly after arriving. Blooming means pollen. Super blooming means super pollen. And angry sinuses. It's also crowded, with more weekenders on the way. So I'm going to leave in the morning. Maybe I'll have more pie.

Wait for it

A trail down to the beach in San Clemente passes under the railroad tracks that run along much of the California coast. The pedestrian tunnel frames the beach and ocean, focusing your attention. Until something else happens.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

They're like me

Each morning, as soon as the gate opens at Doheny Beach State Park (and at other state parks), folks who live in RVs and other vehicles flash their annual pass and file into the day use parking lots. Some choose the large lot by the entrance. Others choose the lot right on the beach. Some have claimed "their spot." They spend all day and then, just before the gate closes, they leave for whatever overnighting spots they've managed to find. That's no simple trick in wealthy coastal communities. They must commute to less hoity-toity cities. Here's an article about this. 

The main difference between these people and me is that they're committed to this area and I'm just passing through. They live here. I visit. So while they're considered homeless and a problem by small-minded building dwellers, I can pass as a tourist. Oh, and I pay for the campground so I can stay at night. But if I had a sure-thing, no-harassment, stealth camping spot somewhere, I would absolutely do this.

Tiny house of a different flavor

Nearly every tiny house I've seen is some variation on the classic cottage. A lot of people like that sort of thing. It's familiar, cute and creates less pushback from the big house majority.

But I'm more of a modernist. So is Jeff Wilson, Professor and Dean at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas. He's a guy who believes in hands-on research. He lived a full year in a 33 square foot dumpster in order to learn—and experience—how much space someone needs to live comfortably. To give you a sense how small 33 square feet is, the Rolling Steel Tent is 60 square feet. He turned what he learned into a sleek, sexy, airy, incredibly functional dwelling. My kind of place—if I ever wanted to live in a building again.

The bed rolls out from under the kitchen

The stairs roll out for storage

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Final night here

Unless I'm with friends, I seldom stay in one spot more than a couple of days. The California coast is an exception. It's like home to me.

This is my third night at the Oceanside harbor. Tomorrow I move to Doheny State Beach for three days. Then to San Clemente State Beach for one day (because that's all that was available). After a weekend dash to the Anza-Borrego superbloom, I'll do a couple of days at South Carlsbad State Beach (again, because that's all that was available). I might return to Oceanside or head to someplace in Ventura or Santa Barbara counties. Or farther. It depends on what's available.

Hey, all you weekenders and full time RVers! Go to the desert. See the flowers! Go to Disneyland, Universal Studios, Legoland. Drive up to San Francisco and wine country. Free up a campsite for me, please.

As the world terns

I had several ideas for blog post topics, but gazing at the ocean made me forget them. Next time I'll write them down. Or I'll just post more videos of the beach.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Made it

A beachfront spot was waiting for me in Oceanside. There are event tents set up farther down the beach, so I consider myself lucky to score a space at all. I had a few choices, though. I took one nearly at the end of the lot. Now to relax and bask in my good fortune.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Choices to be made

Yesterday was the hard date at one end of my schedule. I had to wait for the shoes to arrive. The hard date at the other end is a campground reservation Monday through Wednesday at Doheny State Beach. There are things to fit either between those two or after them.

One is the superbloom in the Anza-Borrego Desert. It's supposed to be the most amazing one since 1999.

Another is to complete my trek along the southern border by going all the way to International Friendship Park, where the border meets the Pacific.

A third is to camp at the marina in Oceanside.

I contemplated my options as I drove from Why to Yuma. The marina is first-come/first-served, which made getting a spot on short notice within the realm of possibility—if I got there early enough Friday to beat the weekend crowds.

The superbloom isn't in full... well... bloom yet, so that could wait. Would the end of next week be too late? And am I really the type of guy who would go out of his way and wander around in the heat to see flowers?

Friendship park is accessible on the US side only during limited hours on Saturdays and Sundays.

I stocked up in Yuma and continued west. What to do? Where to go? Oceanside to the border to Doheny Beach to Anza-Borrego made the most sense as far as being in the right place at the right time, but it meant a lot of extra driving. Oceanside was 200 miles away. A little over three hours, except I would be fighting commute traffic. I'd also be fighting the commute if I were to head out early in the morning. Should I just go to Anza-Borrego first then kill the weekend somewhere in the general area? Ergh. I couldn't decide. And I was tired of driving.

So I turned off I-8 and headed to one of my "homes"—the ocotillo and rock spiral thing on American Girl Mine Road. Home is good for recovering from road weariness. Home is good for thinking.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Getting it here

I have a pair of Keen Arroyo II shoes I've worn nearly every day for more than two years. Obviously, I like them. However, they're starting to wear out. I have a second pair I bought about a year ago just in case Keen were to discontinue that model. (Third General Rule of Consumer Products: Stop making whatever Al likes.) So I put the first pair aside last week and started wearing the second pair.

Gazing into the future, I thought, "They're still making the Arroyo II, but how much longer? Maybe I should get a third pair to hold in reserve."

Since I'm seldom around stores that sell Keen shoes, and since the stores that do don't always have the model I want or the size I need, I went to Okay, they had them. I checked my bank account and realized I'd need to wait. Being unable to buy something at the moment (or ever) doesn't keep me from shopping around, though. That's when I saw another Keen model.

Ah-ha. Similar but a little lower in the heel, with openings in different places so I'd have a greater variety of tan spots on my feet. I decided to get those instead—when I had the money, of course.

Then, because the Interwebs know everything, I got a notice from Keen on my Facebook feed. They were having a sale. The net must've also known I'd recently received payment for an invoice. I had money and it was time to do some spending.

However, the problem was how does a guy who's seldom in one spot for more than a couple of days get the shoes into his hands and onto his feet? (Being a nomad isn't all carefree.)

Previously, I'd had packages shipped to my mail forwarder and then sent via general delivery to the post office near wherever I was willing to hang out for a few days. I've also had purchases shipped directly to friends or family with whom I was (or would be) staying. That's what I did this time. I'm hanging out with Lou at Coyote Howls East where there's an actual address I can ship to. I used some of the sale savings to pay for expedited shipping.

FedEx and UPS will deliver to some surprising places—Slab City, for example. Too bad they don't deliver straight to the Rolling Steel Tent wherever it happens to be.
"It's about two or three miles up Forest Service Road 3391, third or fourth turnout on the left. But only until nine-ish tomorrow morning. Then you can catch up with me on US89 northbound." 
No? What if I sent a signal beacon out to an Amazon delivery drone? C'mon, it's The Future®! These things are supposed to be possible.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Getting there

A rig like his is not necessary for where I go and what I do

I got a message the other day via Bob Wells' Cheap RV Living forum. The owner of a Toyota Rav4 Hybrid wrote:
The pictures you post seem to be of those picturesque spots I long to visit. Do you have a locking differential? Is it "required" for your type of travel? Could I get along with 7 inches of ground clearance and a poor AWD system?
Many people—usually those who have never experienced the world outside cities and suburbs—assume all the really cool places are hard to get to. Yes, there are some spots (and some people) that require four-wheel drive, but there's a crap ton of places that don't. The location of the photo in my masthead? Piece o' cake. You could drive a limo to that spot.

Only one place I've featured on this blog required four-wheel drive—the Jeep trip up Imogene Pass in Colorado. But I was just a passenger. Every other location was accessed via pavement or decent dirt roads. Some were kind of rough, but all I needed was the Rolling Steel Tent's two-wheel drive without a locking differential. It was just a matter of picking my line and taking it easy. I would guess about 90 percent of the places in my photos could be accessed in an ordinary small car. There are many people doing that.

Some writers for an off-road website were covering an overlander gathering near Flagstaff. A bunch of expensive, tricked-out SUVs. They came across the guy in the photo above who was living and exploring the West in his Geo Metro. He was mired in the region's awful mud and knew not to fight it. He was cool with staying put until the ground dried. The thing is, he got there, and many other places, in nothing special. In fact, he was driving what some people would consider the exact wrong vehicle. Front wheel drive? Hardly any ground clearance? Impossible!

But I see it all the time. For example, a couple of years ago I was looking for a boondocking spot down a rocky, potholed track. I was doubting the wisdom of going that way when I saw a Honda, a Buick and a Camero. Well, if they could do it...

True, I've been badly stuck twice. Once in sand that looked firmer than it turned out to be, and once in mud that was deeper and slicker than I had judged. Those were cases of wrong decisions, not wrong vehicles.

If you want to experience the mountains, the prairies, the forests, the deserts, the beaches, the beauty and amazing vistas of North America, you can do plenty of it in whatever vehicle you have. Just don't be stupid about it.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Settling in for a few days with the settler

While I was wandering to Texas and back, Lou was setting himself up at Coyote Howls East campground in Why AZ. He has a far greater anchoring instinct than I do. Well, I have zero anchoring instinct, so...

Whereas Coyote Howls West is set up like a standard RV park, the eastern part is sort of a hybrid of dispersed camping and RV park. In a way, it's like a cleaner, less freaky Slab City. With toilets and showers. And shuffleboard.

Many of the sites are occupied by people who pay for the entire year, every year. They bring in storage sheds, build patios, and landscape the hell out of their spots. Lou snagged a nicely landscaped site and decided to call it his own. He has expanded on the previous lessee's decorating, a shed is on its way, and he's going to retrieve his utility trailer of shop tools from his friend's place in Oregon. He has also found some friends with common interests.

I'm not surprised Lou is doing this. He went looking for a house the last time we were in the area. He talked about finding a place in Ridgway when we were there. He has that yearning.

Lou will hit the road, though, when it gets too hot here in Why. He might want a place to call home, but he's not insane. It just means we'll meet up on the road less often.


This dwelling is on a city lot in Ajo, Arizona. It takes the Quonset hut concept full circle. Pun intended.

If you're in a mood to give up the nomadic life, but you think other forms of alternative construction are passé (shipping containers are so five minutes ago) then this might be the thing for you. Sure beats pounding dirt into piles of old tires.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Following my bliss

As I rose to consciousness this morning I realized I felt wonderful. The temperature was perfect. The bed was perfect. I was 100% comfortable. In fact, I felt almost weightless. Mmmmmmmm yessssss. Once again I was thankful I had no schedules, no commitments, no reason to get out of bed. So I just floated there, drifting in and out of sleep, for another hour or so, feeling lucky.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Catching up on posts: Space Murals Museum

What do you do if you're the owner of the local water company, with a 1.2 million gallon water tank, in a region that tends to decorate its water tanks? If you're also Lou Gariano, you commission a mural commemorating the American space program. And you create the Space Murals Museum.

It was like revisiting my childhood when everyone was glued to black & white TVs to watch every moment of every flight. Alan Shepard's brief up and down flight. John Glenn's orbit. The Gemini missions. The Apollo missions' fly-bys of the moon and, finally, Apollo 11's moon landing. It was an exciting, amazing time.

Scale model of the Challenger built in Lou's shop

I had become jaded by the time of the Space Shuttle, but I watched the first mission because I had a hard time believing such an ungainly thing could get off the ground. I wasn't watching during the Challenger disaster because the Space Shuttle was old news by then (and because I was in a studio directing the photography of some computers). And when news broke that Columbia was doomed, I didn't want to watch.

The museum is a hodgepodge of donated and salvaged items. The chronology jumps around a bit, with things added where they fit in the room. But it's impressive for a small, low-budget museum. So if you're ever driving on US70 between Las Cruces and White Sands, stop by and bring back some memories—or create new ones.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Catching up on posts: Sparky's

Twenty years ago, Josie and Teako Nunn opened a burger and barbecue joint in the self-proclaimed Chile Capitol of the World, Hatch, New Mexico. They named it Sparky's in honor of a robot Josie had welded together out of junk.

Though their focus was food, they also understood the value of promotion. Ya gotta draw people in. One day, while Teako was searching eBay for interesting things with which to decorate the restaurant, he discovered a giant Uncle Sam statue for sale. Well, hell yeah!

But it didn't end there. If one big statue would draw attention, then more of them would draw even more attention. The math of advertising. And of obsession.

Evidently, the baby gets only a plate

Meanwhile, across the street, in their parking lot...

Being the skeptical type, I had to see if the colossal figures were promoting something colossally good. Or was I about to be a victim of hype. I ordered their World Famous Green Chile Cheeseburger. (It was named World Famous before any customers had tasted it. Again, the promotion thing.) It was delicious! No wonder the place was jumping.

Other businesses in Hatch have gotten on the big statue bandwagon, either for the fun of it or because they think the key to success is copying successful people. If the later, what they should be copying are exceptional products and services.