Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Most of the time, I turn on my Verizon JetPack cellular hot spot and my laptop sees it and connects to it. Sometimes the laptop has other things on its silicon mind and I have to remind it to look for the JetPack. "Oh yeah. Sorry."

But when I get into a more populated area with lots of people and businesses running wi-fi, my computer starts acting like a stupid dog that fetches everything for a mile around except his favorite ball. "Let me offer you several very-weak-to-barely-useful networks, all of which are password protected, except a printer in the next county."

"No," I reply. "Connect to RollingSteelTentPrivate. It's about five inches away. You have the password saved in memory. You connect to it several times every day."

"I'm tired of that one. Same old same old. How about something different like thebabecave? You like babes, don't you? Nudge-nudge, wink-wink."

"Yes, unless we're talking actual infants. But I have important web surfing to do." So I turn wi-fi off and back on. A couple of the weaker networks drop off, but still no RollingSteelTentPrivate. So I restart the laptop. Twice. With some profanities in between, of course.

Finally! The big dumb Lab drops the well-chewed and slobbery tennis ball at my feet.

"Thank you."

The big dumb Lab licks himself.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


You may recall that back in January of 2016 I got a new roof rack and changed the way I mounted my solar panel. Two-by-fours lengthwise with hinges, anchor points and a prop rod mounted to them.

I thought it was a great improvement. But after a year and a half living with that setup, I decided, eh, no, I didn't like it that much. There were a lot of bolts to keep tightening because the the motion of the Rolling Steel Tent would enlarge the holes in the wood. And each tightening would compress farther into the two-by-fours. And it stuck up into the wind more. And it looked too homemade for my tastes. (Well, I did build it in a casino parking lot.) Also, thinking back on the past several months, I realized I didn't tilt the panel that often.

So, RST Solar Panel Mounting Version 4.0 is stone simple and low profile. And lighter. Just bolt the sucker to the rack. Edgewise. Four holes, four bolts, done. If I decide I need to tilt the panel after all, I can make some simple adjustments.

Next on the project list is to shorten three of the rack's uprights. I don't need them. I use the fourth one to mount my directional antenna. Oooo, angle grinder! Sparks! Manliness!

UPDATE: The uprights have been trimmed. Forrest used his handheld band saw. No sparks, but it was easier to get a straight line.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Floors and foam and batteries and bags

There was a crew of six working on Forrest's truck today. Lou and I did the subfloor. Forrest and Bob built the rack for four AGM house batteries. Paige cut insulation board to size. And a guy whose name I didn't catch spent the day under the truck installing air bags.

Beneath the sweat, sawdust, welding slag and clinging styrofoam bits we're people of culture and taste. So, naturally, we wrapped up the day with wine and cheese.

Monster truck

As you may recall, I spent a chunk of last summer helping my friend, Forrest, build some cabins. You might also recall that Forrest is a mechanic. And more.

Well, shortly before I hit the road again, he bought an Isuzu NPR truck. Just the cab and chassis. Chevrolet V8 power. Big plans.

Over the past eight months he has been turning it into an adventure truck. The box behind the cab holds the stripped down Suzuki V-Strom shown next to it. There's a winch inside to haul the bike up a ramp. The frame for the living quarters is all two-inch steel tubing.

He fabricated a new front bumper. From scratch. Watch out, deer.

And he's converting it to four-wheel drive. He finally found the transfer case he needs and now it's a matter of getting the correct length drive shafts.

Obviously, there's a lot more to be done. I'll help if needed. Since I'm not a fabricator, welder or mechanic, my assistance might only be of the hold-this, fetch-that variety. But it'll be a fun summer. For me, anyway.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The N-word

William Grandstaff was a mixed-race cowboy and prospector who settled in Moab in the 1870s. Negro Bill Canyon is named after him. Well, actually, it was originally named with the other N-word but changed in the 1960s. After much community input and debate, the Bureau of Land Management renamed the trailhead (but not the canyon) Grandstaff Trailhead last year. They felt it was a more appropriate name for a sign thousands of people pass as they drive state road 128 along the Colorado River.

Whatever the place was, is or will be named, it’s a beautiful spot, particularly when the sun hasn’t cleared the rim of the canyon yet and it’s cool and shady. The trail follows a year-round stream along steep Navajo sandstone cliffs and through lush growth (which is green this time of year). Sadly, the canyon widens as the trail climbs, so the effect isn’t as cozy.

The trail ends at Morning Glory Arch, believed to be the sixth longest in the United States. I didn’t go that far. I’ve seen arches. I’ve photographed arches. I wanted to spend more time in the bottom of the canyon. I think you would, too.

More stars

I'm camped along Willow Springs Road, just north of Moab, Utah and the turnoff for Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point. The scenery isn't much, but it's free camping on BLM-managed land. Free is good. And the neighbors have been quiet. With my fumbling around in the middle of the night with the camera, having a sneezing fit, and briefly running the Rolling Steel Tent, I might be the noisy one.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

I haven't done this in a while

Being someplace dark enough + the moon not being up + it not being too cold + waking up at the right time + having the camera battery charged + being in the mood for it. That's what's required for me to do star photography. Everything came together last night. Too bad the Milky Way wasn't also above the horizon, though.


This past September I pulled into the Lower Gray Canyon campground on a Saturday, hoping there would be an available spot. There wasn't. The place was packed. So onward to Plan B.

Yesterday, a Monday, I went to Lower Gray Canyon again and no one else was there. Just me. Sweet. Others showed up in the late afternoon and early evening, but I had already snagged the best spot. Off in a corner, right by the river, with no other campsites on either side of mine.

I might've stayed longer, but there's no cell signal at Lower Gray Canyon. Hey, I have friends to email, news to follow and blogs to update. Gotta have my Interwebs. So, it's off to Moab.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Them Changes

I imagined I'd spend two or three days by the creek in Hatch, Utah. But after a fine afternoon and not-as-cold-as-I-feared night I woke up to overcast. No big deal, usually. That's just part of not living in a building. However, since the ground was already soft, and the creek was high (or the land was low), I didn't want to risk getting stuck in mud.

I wasn't very far up the highway when the rain started. See, I was smart. But then the rain stopped. Then started. Then stopped. It might not rain enough to have caused a problem, but I felt good about moving.

I had checked my Utah map for places to go. Someplace I hadn't been before. Hmmm, state road 153, from Junction to Beaver, through the Tushar Mountainslooked interesting. All squiggly and stuff. But was it clear of snow? I looked up Utah road conditions and the online camera showed the road was dry at the summit. Excellent. I had a plan.

However, someone at the Department of Transportation had other ideas. I took the turn at the junction in Junction, rolled through the little town and...

Rats. At least the weather was clearing. So I continued north. Wallydocking in Richfield wouldn't be the most glamorous thing, but it would be someplace to sit out the shifting weather and make new plans.

There was a rest stop along the way. A rather scenic one (even if overnighting wasn't allowed). I peed and then went to visit the donkeys on the adjoining property. They must be accustomed to travelers offering snacks, because they moseyed right over to me. I had no food, but I could give head scratches. If they were disappointed they didn't show it. They were more gracious than some human asses I've met.

Spring is the season for seeking good weather and avoiding the bad. That requires adaptability to change—which leads us to this musical selection:

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Drivin' and thinkin'

I was driving north on I-15, on the outskirts of greater Las Vegas. On my right was a place that auctions commercial trucks and heavy equipment. There were two school buses on the lot. One was sort of medium sized. I thought, “That would be more than big enough for me. If I were to do a schoolie. Not that I am, but, you know, if. I mean, if I were to go to the trouble and expense of buying one and fixing it up I’d want something a little larger than a short bus but not so huge it would be a pain to maneuver. Of course, even that smaller one is too long to park just anywhere…”

That kept my mind occupied until the junction with US93, where I stopped for gas. After that I contemplated the need for billboards telling big rig drivers, “If it takes several miles to pass another rig, you probably didn’t need to make that pass.” But that violates a basic rule of billboards: seven, eight words, maximum.

That kept my mind occupied until Mesquite, at which point I started thinking about getting bagels in Saint George. Mmmmm, bagels.

The long pants go back on

Enough of the beach for now. Enough of the crowds. It's back to Utah, where there's still snow at higher elevations. And where the nights will be nippy. After sleeping in the desert last night without covers, I'll need to break out the extra bedding. And maybe the heater.

I'm camped in a meadow just south of Hatch. Lou discovered the spot last year. (Or was it the year before?) Anyway, as you can see, it's a very nice place. Other campers got the primo spot, but I'm happy with mine. There's a creek that's a little silty right now from the snow melt. I'd be extremely excited if I were an angler, like Lou. Instead, I'm excited there's a good 4G signal.

The red rock cliffs in the background are part of the same geologic layer that forms Bryce Canyon. I don't know if I'll stop by Bryce this time. I'll stay here at least a couple of days and think about it.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Things I missed my first time in Rhyolite

When I visited the Rhyolite ghost town this past October I focused (figuratively and literally) on the large ruins along the main drag. But there's more. So I went back.

Tom Kelly's Bottle House shows what someone can do if they're patient, obsessive, and surrounded by a lot of heavy drinkers. I wish I could've gone inside to see the light coming through.

There are sculptures scattered around the small museum (which wasn't open when I was there). A miner and a penguin? Sure, makes perfect sense. As does a ghost with a bicycle.

Maybe it's Judas trying to make a break for it, because nearby is a depiction of the Last Supper.

There's a mosaic sofa where one might sit to contemplate the art (or anything else) and have one's clothing sliced by the edges of the tiles.

But wait! What's that? Could it be my new girlfriend? It's usually dark haired women who grab my attention, but, you know, it has been a long time.

Listening to the wind

The wind was strong out of the southwest as I drove from Rachel, Nevada, to Tonopah. Ug, sidewinds. It’s another reason I wouldn’t want to tow anything. The Rolling Steel Tent swayed left and right, swerved toward the shoulder and back. No relaxing. Constantly vigilant.

In Tonopah (what a sad looking place) I gassed up, used the restroom, and turned south for Goldfield. Straight into the wind. Swimming upstream in a raging river of air. Not good for the gas mileage. But it was only thirty miles.

A grilled ham & cheese at the Dinky Diner (it was exactly what you want a grilled ham & cheese to be) then off to the International Car Forest of the Last Church. That made the drive worth it.

But where to spend the night? At the car forest? Mmmmm, maybe. But it’s private property and no one was there to ask (or to chase me away, for that matter). I checked my resources. The lot behind the Texaco in Tonopah where big rigs park? Eh, sure. Even though it was backtracking I’d have a tailwind. Ah, like riding a magic carpet.

A sad town like Tonopah is one thing when when the sky is clear, but it dips to another level of sadness when it’s overcast. With cold howling wind. And little splatters of rain. I hunkered down, rode it out and contemplated where to go in the morning.

I want to be in Colorado the last part of June for a friend’s wedding. I was sort of headed that way when I was in southwest Utah. But I figured I could fit in some more time on the West Coast first. From Tonopah that means crossing the Sierras. Most years the passes don’t open until late May or June. With the tremendous snow pack this year it will be even later. However, I-80 is kept open all winter. That would mean driving about four hours north to Reno. Then another three hours to San Francisco. Hmmm.

Or I could drive around the south end of the Sierras and go to Southern California. Again. Also hmmm.

Or, you know, I could head back the way I’d just come and wander around Utah for a month. In the parts where the nights aren’t freezing. Y-y-y-e-e-e-a-a-h, but that would feel like the consolation prize.

But there was the matter of the wind. It would play a large part in the decision. I checked the forecast. Strong winds out of the north-northwest for the next couple of days. Well, that settled things. Southward it is.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


Let's say you've had your fill of the nomadic life and you want to get a piece of land and start homesteading. Cool. And of course you'd continue to live in the van while you build your earthship.

It's possible, though, to turn the van into the first room of your new abode. A partially buried van is more thermally efficient. Of course, you'd need to seal it properly and provide drainage and all that. So maybe it's not such a great idea after all. Oh well.

The wayward grandchild of the Cadillac Ranch

I'd like to thank Atlas Obscura for turning me on to the International Car Forest of the Last Church in Goldfield, Nevada. Rather than me retelling the story of this art car project, read Atlas Obscura's report here. Unfortunately, no buses were aflame when I was there.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Black Mailbox

The Black Mailbox used to be just a rancher's mailbox by Nevada Highway 375 (a. k. a. the Extraterrestrial Highway). Then it became a landmark for where to turn if you wanted to sneak up on Area 51.

The landmark became a meeting place for UFO buffs. Someone spread the idea the mailbox contained secret documents going in and out of Area 51 (because, yeah, that's the way the Air Force handles its secrets) and they started poking through the rancher's mail. Some even left letters for the government. And for aliens.

The rancher got fed up and replaced the Black Mailbox with one that locked. It was white, but UFO fans still called it the Black Mailbox. It's rumored the original Black Mailbox was auctioned off to a lucky UFOlogist.

Now the white Black Mailbox is gone. It used to sit atop this post.

But someone has come along with a new Black Mailbox, in black. The area around it is a combination shrine and litter dump. It must be aliens leaving their empty beer bottles and discarded furniture, because humans wouldn't do such a thing.

So, you're probably wondering if I drove out to one of the Area 51 gates. Yes. But I didn't take a picture because the sign prohibits it, and there was a guard (along with various cameras and sensors) watching me. So here's someone else's illegal photo.

Chet makes some new friends

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A hot breakfast in Caliente

After spending a couple of days revisiting Cathedral Gorge State Park in Panaca, Nevada I headed out for Rachel, the gateway to Area 51. I couldn't face UFOs and black helicopters on an empty stomach, so I stopped at the Brandin' Iron Cafe in Caliente. I had learned about it from RV Sue's blog. I had The Duce: two buttermilk pancakes, two eggs, choice of bacon or sausage. It was just what I needed. And service was fast because I was the only customer.