Sunday, April 30, 2017

Something left over from the coast trip

Forks in the road

When last we met I said I was going to a coastal stealth camping spot three hours north. So I headed up I-5 (or, as locals call it, the Five.) However, as I approached the Five/Four-Oh-Five Split I got thinking of the traffic ahead. Weekend congestion can be as bad as weekday commutes as people run errands and seek recreation. Did I want to be at my new destination badly enough to creep along with millions of others through Orange County, Long Beach, the South Bay, the West Side and San Fernando Valley? Mmmmm, no. Some other time.

So I stayed on the Five to the Fifty-Five and headed inland. Okay, but then what? Take the Ninety-One to the Sixty and the Ten and then east toward Phoenix? Or take the Fifteen to Las Vegas then onward to southwest Utah? Yeah, the Fifteen.

But did I really want to go to the Vegas area on a weekend? No so much. And did I want to drive that far today anyway? No.

So… Hmmmmm… Ah-ha! I know!

At the fork in Barstow I took the Forty east. My destination: the volcano trailhead at Amboy where I stayed a month ago. That would be the perfect place to legally spend the night, get away from crowds, and reconnect with the desert. Sometimes I don’t know where I’m going until I get there. It's good, though, to have multiple options along the way.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The knock

I’ve really enjoyed stealth camping in greater San Diego. Hang at the beach during the day, slip away to one of several places during the night.

But yesterday evening, as I settled into a spot on Mission Bay I’ve used several times, I started wondering if I was pushing my luck with the lack of enforcement. A week ago there were several dozen overnighters in the lot, but the numbers had been decreasing. Hmmmm, maybe they knew something I didn’t.

So I decided to drive down to my spot in Imperial Beach. I had always felt good there, partly because it’s down a dead end street, partly because there aren’t any parking restriction signs of any kind.

I was settled in with the windows blacked out and the lights off when irony paid a visit in the form of two Imperial Beach officers. They informed me inhabiting vehicles was forbidden and I informed them I would leave. No ticket. No drama.

Where to go, then? Back to San Diego? Or was it a sign I should move farther? Back to the desert, perhaps? Even farther?

But the more pressing question was where to spend the night. Somewhere I wouldn’t be rousted. Somewhere perfectly legal so I could actually sleep instead of worry. The answer was Oceanside Harbor. I’d have to pay, but I’d be buying peace of mind.

Having answered that question, I woke up to a new one. Where now? Well, to get a bagel, but after that…?

The very short-term answer was to drive down the coast highway and look for a place to park by the beach. That wouldn’t be easy, what with it being Saturday and all. I eventually found a lot on a bluff in Encinitas.

I’ll be here long enough to do this blog post and catch a little more sleep. Then there’s a coastal stealth spot I’ve learned about three hours to the north. So long, San Diego County. And Orange County. And Los Angeles County. It's been great.

Friday, April 28, 2017

People have their reasons for doing things

This guy spent about a half hour putting up this beach umbrella. He dug a hole, anchored the bottom section of pole, backfilled the hole, slid on the weighted base and tightened it, attached the top, got everything perfectly vertical and then... he sat in the sun. Okay.

Martin y Florencia

I didn't wake up this morning thinking, "Today I'm going to go find a couple from Santiago, Chile to talk to." But there they were.

First I saw their unusual (in the United States) Mitsubishi Delica based RV. As I got closer I saw the Chilean license plate. Oh my, they've come a long way. And they have farther to go. They're on their way to Alaska. The Americas, end to end. Here's their blog about it. Martin apologized for it not being up to date. They were disappointed to learn of the damaged bridge in Big Sur. They'll have to miss that part of the coast. They gave me a sticker they'd made for their trip and I put it in a prominent place on the wall with my other travel stickers. (Note to self: get some Rolling Steel Tent stickers made.)

Chet and Zorro the Wonderdog study the surf

Thursday, April 27, 2017


When I’m not at a campsite and don’t have a designated spot, I’m free to orient the Rolling Steel Tent however it suits me.

The first consideration is the slope of the land. If it’s not level, then I prefer to have the rear of the van higher, because that’s where my head is when I sleep.

If it’s a warm part of the year I prefer to have the side door facing north. If it’s winter I prefer it the other way around so I can get some nice free heat. If I can’t do either of those, then I’d rather have the morning sun come in the door to warm things up. It’s better than having the afternoon sun baking the interior, even in winter.

Sometimes I adjust for wind, especially when it’s warm. A nice draft flowing through the van helps a lot. Unless there’s too much wind, like the 30+ mile per hour stuff we often get in the desert. Then, when I can, I position the van nose-first to the wind (only to have the wind change direction on me).

There have been a few super sweet times I’ve gotten not only the slope, sun and wind working perfectly for me, but there has also been a wonderful view out the side door. Excellent.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

At Sunset Cliffs

Getting snooty

My preferred spot

So far, my favorite place to hang out at the beach is a small parking lot used mostly by surfers, moms with toddlers, and vehicle dwellers like myself. When I say “like myself” I mean they appear to be of the by-choice variety rather than the by-necessity type. They’re also middle-aged and up, clean and quiet. I can get a spot close to the sand if I arrive shortly after sunrise. But I was slow getting going this morning, and I stopped for some supplies, so my favorite lot was full by the time I got there.

No problem. There’s a much larger parking lot a couple of blocks away. One end of it is used primarily by dog park visitors. The other end is populated by, well, here’s where the judgmentalism comes in. These are the people concerned taxpayers mean when they talk about “the problem of people living in cars.” These are the people who give people like me a bad reputation.

All of us living in vehicles violate the ordinance prohibiting living in vehicles. For some of us, that’s the only law we break. For others it’s just one of several. I don’t want to be associated with them or, worse, get caught up in a law enforcement sweep because of their behavior.

So I put some territory between myself and the littering, partying, panhandling, substance abusers. I parked among the dog walkers. After a couple of hours, though, I decided to decamp to a different part of town. I drove south to Sunset Cliffs. If it had been about 7:00 instead of 1:30, it might have looked like this:

Monday, April 24, 2017

The post I've been planning to write

I drive a lot. That means I experience a lot of other drivers, good and bad. Some are so bad I wish I could vaporize them as a service to the world. But I'd be satisfied with being able to project into their brains not only the knowledge of just how awful their driving is but also shame and embarrassment so deep that they pull off the road (safely, of course) and weep.

I get all worked up when I try to write about bad drivers. That's not good for my wellbeing. So I abandon the effort and switch to something happier. But I discovered today that Jalopnik has collected reader comments about how to spot—and therefore avoid the proximity of—bad drivers. They've done the unpleasant work for me.

As for my driving? I'm 110% perfect, of course. Not. But I try.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

I don't miss 'em one bit

I just realized there's something else I love about the beach experience here besides sun, sand, water and briny air. The lack of flies. Oh wow, yeah. I can have the doors and windows open all day without the suckers buzzing around me—especially the tiny ones that never land long enough to swat. That is sweet.

Friday, April 21, 2017

And back to the ocean

On the bay side

When one wants calmer waters than the Pacific, and a view of expensive homes and seldom used boats, there's Mission Bay. There are several stealth-camping-friendly spots around the bay, assuming the authorities continue to ignore the ordinance against vehicle dwelling. The spot in the photo above is a city park next to a hotel. The one below is just down the street.

Good morning, San Diego

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Stealthing the night away

Following tips from a guy with a lot of experience stealth camping in the San Diego area, I found my way to this beach parking lot. (That's the Rolling Steel Tent over on the left.) Surfers show up in the morning and evening, other beach users come and go during the day, then the place pretty much clears out at night, except for overflow parking from the neighboring condos/apartments.

Surfer vans, camper vans, kid hauling vans...

The lot is posted for no parking between 2AM and 4AM. That's sort of an odd window. My tipster said he has never encountered any enforcement in this location. That was true last night, at least. Perhaps one reason is that overnighters aren't parked in front of anyone's home or business. No complaints, so no visits from the man.

But even if there weren't the unusual two-hour ban on parking, there's the too-usual ban on inhabiting a vehicle. So I was a doubly bad boy last night. And doubly buttoned up with lights out. I will be tonight, too.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tiny house on the beach

I don't know why, but I like lifeguard stands. A lot. I mean, it's not like I was ever a Baywatch fan. (Although Yasmine Bleeth, hubba-hubba.) Maybe it's their resemblance to lunar landers. "Hi, we just arrived from space. How's the surf today?"

Anyway, this one is unusual, because I don't remember seeing any others in California that weren't white or swimming pool turquoise.

I should meet with the various beach authorities and convince them to rent out their lifeguard stands in the off seasons. Take applications for tenants, do background checks, collect character references, have prospective renters demonstrate their off-grid living skills... No power, no water, no problem. Hey, it's a source of income, right? Go for it.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Pier review

I've worked myself into a corner

I'm taking a break from the desert again. (Or is the desert my break from the coast? Whichever.) I'm in Imperial Beach, California. See the higher land in the background of the photo? That's Tijuana. And the green area on the left is the Tijuana Estuary.

I'm semi-stealth camping where the last stretch of coastal road ends. South of here it's all estuary, beach and Border Patrol. The city of Imperial Beach has kindly provided several blocks of totally unrestricted parking. I'll occupy one of those space for a while, thank you.

A small voice in the back of my brain says I should also camp in the other three corners of the lower 48. You know, as an act of compulsive accomplishment and something to drop into conversations and blog posts. But the larger part of my brain says, "Mmmmm, no. I have no desire to go to far northeast Maine. And I was in Key West years ago. Been there, done that. I was on the Olympic Peninsula twenty-something years ago, and I might find myself there again, but I'm not going to make it a goal. I'm just going to enjoy hanging out here. Now shut up."

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

More murals

Unlike the Roy Purcell murals I shared yesterday, the mural-covered Last Stop (Highway 93 between Kingman and Hoover Dam) makes no pretenses of artistic seriousness. It's about commerce and attention-getting weirdness. Let's just reach in the popular culture grab bag and pull out...

Besides the usual travel stop things, you can also ride a monster truck and a shoot machine gun. How's that for an "inward search for self?"

Two things

Sites and forums dedicated to living in vehicles are filled with lists of essentials. There are even videos showing all the items you need and how to use them. But if you're living in a vehicle so you can travel, then there are two items that rarely get mentioned.

If you're going to be wandering the United States, visiting a lot of National Parks and Monuments, and camping in Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management campgrounds, then you'll probably want an Interagency Pass.

If you're a young fart, an annual pass will cost you $80 a year. If you're an old fart (62+), the senior pass is $10 and good for the rest of your life—a life that will be enriched by travel and being in nature.

Whoa, $80 a year for a pass? Well, let's say you want to do the trifecta of Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce Canyon while you're in that region. Grand Canyon is $25, Zion is $25 and Bryce Canyon is $30. That's $80 right there. And using a pass will get you through the gate quicker than if you had to pay each time.

If you're a senior, your lifetime pass is also good for 50% off the price of federal campsites.

No states that I know of accept the federal Interagency pass. They want their own sources of revenue. So check to see if a state you plan on visiting a lot offers their own annual pass.

The other item is a passport or passport card. (Or and Enhanced Drivers License, currently issued only by New York, Vermont, Michigan and Washington.)
I would hope everyone already has a passport, that everyone has had the time, resources and desire for foreign travel. But I know that's not the case.

Sure, it's a hassle getting a passport, and you might never need one. But someday down the road you might want to drive to Alaska, which means going through Canada. Or you might want to go to Mexico for low-cost dental, optical or medications, or for warmth in the winter. You'll need a passport. Ever since 9/11 US citizens have needed a passport to get back into the country. C'est la vie. Así es la vida.

If you already have a passport, check the expiration date. Mine expires this summer, so it's time to start the renewal process. If you don't have a passport and you haven't hit the road yet, it's easier to get one while you still have a fixed address. Do it now. Here's where to get started. Then maybe we'll meet one day on a beach in Baja.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

In a van, down by the river

Art. Or not.

I was checking for interesting things near the bottom tip of Nevada when I learned about a mural painted on boulders at Chloride, Arizona. Hmmmmm, is it art or glorified vandalism? I figured I’d go see the mural in person before forming an opinion.

As I drove up the canyon I thought, well, it’s not like the mine hasn’t already messed the place up. And there’s nothing particularly spectacular about the geography. So, if this is defacing, it hasn’t defaced much. It’s just another of humanity’s presumptuous acts of inflicting its will on the natural world.

When I got to the mural my first impression was it’s the work of an ambitious folk artist. I like folk art. I used to collect it back when I lived in buildings and had walls and mantles and display lighting. But, eh, this mural wasn’t doing anything for me.

Maybe one reason was that it was originally created in 1966 but had been repainted in 2006. Repainted? Aw man. I was thinking maybe it was the peyote-fueled vision of some hippie desert rat who disappeared into obscurity. Who comes back forty years after the fact to restore folk art? Decades of weathering might’ve made it more mysterious and interesting.

So who the hell is this Roy Purcell guy who repaints his early work and puts a damn copyright mark on it? Turns out he’s a serious artist with all sorts of serious art and serious positions to his credit. That killed whatever interest I had left in the mural. Seriously.

But, hey, the great thing about art is that there’s all kinds for all tastes.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Do the opposite

I've been at Lake Mojave for a couple of days and, as usual, I have the urge to move on. For no good reason other that it's my pattern.

I've spent hours looking at maps and checking the weather. It's that time of year when it's getting too hot in the desert yet it's still too cold at night in most directions.

Meanwhile, other than some windy periods, the weather is fine here. And the camping is free. It's quiet. There's a body of water, which I like. And there's a cell signal, which I also like.

So the sensible, non-vagabond part of my brain is saying, "If you don't know where to go, just stay."

Oh. Yeah. There's that.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Just ducky

A couple of mallards at Lake Mojave, hanging around camp, begging to get on camera.

Hang on

I can't just stand up and walk around in the Rolling Steel Tent. The roof is too low. Moving from one end of the van to the other is often a matter of butt scooting. Hauling myself up out of bed and into a bent-at-the-waist stance can be a bit of gymnastics. (And he sticks the landing!)

My van life is made much easier by a couple of grab handles. The all-steel contractor cabinet, which is bolted to the wall and through the floor, is a great attachment place.

Friday, April 7, 2017


Every convenience store should have primitive robotic characters shilling for jerky and candy, right? These prospectors are at the Shell station on Cima Road, just off Interstate 15 between Baker and the state line. It's entertainment gold.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Schoolie retirement home

I could tell you the history of Nelson, Nevada (mining boom-to-bust yadda yadda yadda) but I don't care how it got there. I care about what is there. At least in the old ghost town tourist part of the place. Modified school buses (schoolies), vintage step vans, panel trucks, travel trailers, and more. Have a look.

Formerly of New Jersey

This one has been double-deckereized

I see your double-decker and raise you one

Then there's this Mad Max creation. Tremble before me, lesser buses.

A less post-apocalyptic version

Hey kids, want some ice cream?

This one could be sweet and quite livable with a crapload of money put into it


Extra long

If only the one had enough power to tow the other

Makes an Airstream look bland

And just because: artfully arranged parts from a plane used in the movie