Sunday, December 31, 2017

That's close enough

Debra's van, Robert's minivan

When I returned to the southeast corner of California, the Imperial Dunes were crowded with ATVers enjoying a long New Year's weekend. There were far more RVs and travel trailers in the dispersed camping areas along Ogilby Road, what with it now snowbird high season. And there was also a smattering of vans by American Girl Mine. Some of them were plain white like the Rolling Steel Tent, some were conversion vans with stripes, some were SUVs and minivans. They all had solar panels, which is usually a good indicator they were full-time nomads, probably hanging here until the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous up the highway in Quartzsite starting the eleventh.

I picked a camping spot across the wash from them because I was in the mood for solitude. After two days of wondering whether I knew any of the van dwellers, but not wanting to experience the social awkwardness of discovering they're strangers, I got out the binoculars when I saw one of them outside.

Oh, it's Debra. And that's Robert. So I walked over to say, "Hi!" Debra walked me over to Yolanda and Scott's Airstream (I had met them briefly a couple of years ago) and introduced me to four others who's names I've already forgotten, except one was from Montana, one from Pennsylvania and one from Ohio. (I remember facts better than names, which is another sign of my social awkwardness.)

I'm writing this at about 6:30PM and the others have gathered around a campfire to chat and welcome the new year. I'm not there, because I don't want to end up smelling like wood smoke. And, like I said, because I'm socially awkward. Oh yeah, and solitude! That sounds much more well adjusted.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Not a silent night

If you want a free overnight spot, just up the road from Los Algodones, Mexico, and you want to be lulled to sleep by idling semis and RV generators, with the occasional train and Border Patrol helicopter, and you don't want to deal with holiday traffic that doesn't know how to merge into one lane in a construction zone, then the Quechan Casino & Resort is the place to be.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Where are you, really?

The night sky is much more, oh, obvious out here away from city lights. I watch it, marvel at it, and come up with questions about how it all works. All I know are the basics I was taught in school and what I picked up from various TV shows. I didn’t take any college astronomy courses. I’d love to sit down with a patient astronomer who could explain it all in layman’s terms. But since I probably won’t get to spend a few hours with Neil deGrasse Tyson, I turned to the googles to find out if the moon’s orbit essentially followed the equator.

The short answer: No.

The moon’s orbit aligns with Earth’s orbit of the sun, but a few degrees off. That means, from our perspective on the ground, the moon doesn’t follow the exact path of the sun across the sky. And it’s why eclipses aren’t frequent.

That answer led to other answers, like the whole business with barycenters. You see, the moon doesn’t orbit Earth. The moon and Earth orbit each other. And Earth and the sun orbit each other.
The barycenter is the center of mass of two or more bodies that are orbiting each other, which is the point around which they both orbit. 
In cases where one of the two objects is considerably more massive than the other (and relatively close), the barycenter will typically be located within the more massive object. Rather than appearing to orbit a common center of mass with the smaller body, the larger will simply be seen to wobble slightly. This is the case for the Earth–Moon system, where the barycenter is located on average 4,671 km (2,902 mi) from the Earth's center, well within the planet's radius of 6,378 km (3,963 mi).
Meanwhile, the sun is dealing with all the other planets. Sometimes the planets’ orbits have them spread fairly evenly around the sun. Sometimes they’re clustered (making astrologers and other believers in woo wet themselves in anticipation of mystical wonders). This means the sun’s barycenter moves all over the place. Poor thing.

So here we are, on a planet rotating at a thousand miles per hour, and the planet is looping in a 585,000,000 mile orbit around the sun, and our solar system orbits the Milky Way at about 500,000 miles per hour (one complete orbit taking about 226 million years), and the Milky Way is moving through space (while undulating), and space is expanding. That means our path through space—like our path through life—is a wobbly, wiggly spiral within other spirals. It means we’re never in the same place twice.

More visitors

There are wild burros in the area. I haven't seen one, but sometimes I hear them braying. One of them wandered through the campground last night.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Don't go crazy with organization

This is my box of fasteners. Once upon a time I had some of these in the tool box, some in the milk crate, some in the cabinet and some in a shopping bag stuffed in a door pocket. I gathered them all up and dumped them here. All my fasteners and hardware in one place—until I mess things up sometime in the future.

Lou offered me this compartmented box so I could have most of my fasteners sorted by size and type. That would make sense if I frequently needed nuts and bolts. But I don’t. So sorting them would be wasted time. An hour or so of organization now versus a minute or less poking around in the box on the rare occasions I actually needed something.

I believe we should be only as organized as necessary to function on a daily basis. More than that and we end up servants to the organizational system rather than the system serving us.

True, I occasionally forget where I put something. What I need is one place to put all the things I won’t be using for a long time instead of several special places that made perfect sense at one time, but the sense of which has been long forgotten. I should sort them by frequency of use rather than, say, similarity to other items. It might be a small hassle digging through off-season clothing, tax papers, spare bulbs and owner’s manuals until I find, say, the stapler, but it’s better than moving the stapler out of the way each time I need a pencil or Post-it note. The long-term storage items could be shoved way under the bed and ignored instead of taking up room that could be better used by things I need often.

I think the key to “a place for everything and everything in its place” is accepting that the place for some things is that random pile over there.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Oh, that was easy.

The past few days, probably due to feeling I should just hibernate for a couple of months, I'd been stuffing things in the Rolling Steel Tent without really putting anything away. The laundry, supplies, myself... The cupboard, in particular, was a mess. Whatever system I might have had for storing things was gone. I had avoided doing anything about it because I feared it would be a big project.

In reality, it took about seven minutes. And I found the package of toilet paper I thought I must have used up. And an extra roll of paper towels. And a bottle of body wash. And a perfect place for my cereal/soup bowl. And my passport card.

With that taken care of, I can hibernate without feeling guilty. Now where the hell did I put my pajamas?


A little bronchial thing started up this evening.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

I ran so far away

The forecast for Why AZ for the next couple of days showed daytime highs in the 50s, nighttime lows near freezing. No fun. So I took total advantage of living in a van and temporarily relocated my cold-hating self back to the Yuma area, where the elevation is 1,600 feet lower, making the temps almost ten degrees higher. It's still not all that great, but better.

Woo, the early '80s!

Bundle up

So we don’t forget today is the winter solstice, it turned as cold as (insert your favorite simile). By southern Arizona standards, anyway.

Outerwear? Closed doors and windows? Heaters? Whine. And we’re expected to suffer two whole days of this frozen hell? I… I… I don’t think I can do it. It’s just too much. It’s inhumane. Whimper. My Viking ancestors are probably ashamed of me.

I know, I know. In places where they have Real Winter®, this would be considered beach weather. They’d be upset the snow is melting just before Christmas. But people who would choose to live in such climates are obviously insane, so I’m free to ignore them.

At least it's not this cold

The coyote is exonerated

The cam caught our culprit(s). Notice the sky gets darker between shots, so either one rabbit came back later or more than one rabbit enjoyed some tasty aloe vera.

Lou would like your thoughts on how to keep the bunnies from eating his plants. Yes, chicken wire, but any other ideas?

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


Some critter or critters have been chewing on Lou's aloe vera plants. Maybe I could catch the culprit with my trail camera.

So, do coyotes eat aloe vera? More spying will be necessary.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Unlimited, within certain limits

I use a lot of cellular data because I’m addicted to the interwebs. I also use Verizon because they have the best coverage out in the boonies.

From time to time I dive into various forums to learn what the best deals are. But there’s always something wrong with them. No unlimited data, or only 3G, or only on a phone with no tethering, or on a carrier with spotty coverage, or requiring a lot of work on my end. (Get the used hot spot from this company, the SIM from some sketchy eBay guy, pre-paid activation through this other outfit, do the hokey-pokey and turn yourself about…)

For me the Holy Grail has been unlimited, unthrottled, 4G, with a phone and a hot spot, on Verizon, for less than I’m paying now. Verizon started offering an unlimited 4G plan a few months ago, but after using 22GB I would be subject to prioritization (shoved to the back of the line) when cell traffic is high. So I stayed with my existing plan, even though it meant being careful with my data usage toward the end to the month.

Today, however, after comparing how much data I had left and how many days remained in the billing period, I decided to switch to the less-than-perfect Verizon plan. I’ll see how it goes. If nothing else, I’ll be paying $35 less each month.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Not deaf yet

I was reading in the Rolling Steel Tent. It was chilly and the doors and windows were closed, so it was very quiet. I became aware of a soft sound that resembled the pickity-tickety of a hard drive as its heads flicked back and forth. It was combined with a hollow ping-a-ta-plink sound. What was it? Where was it coming from?

The sound disappeared as I moved toward the front of the van and returned as I moved toward the back, but it got softer at the very rear. It got fainter as I sat more upright and louder as I scrunched down. Ah-ha! There it was, right next to my good ear. An open can of diet cola.

Carbonation bubbles were popping in the can, bouncing around. The can and the metal shelf it sat on amplified and distorted the sound.

The can had been open for a while, so it was releasing only dozens of bubbles at a time instead of billions. The soda-to-empty-can ratio determined the pitch.

Life in the Rolling Steel Tent has been a series of mysterious sounds, from flopping bungee cords, to a cracked roof rack, to a mouse, to things going on in my own body. Now, if only I could do something about the voices.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Silliness isn't necessarily silly

The big brains at FritoLay decided the world needed football shaped Tostitos. How had we ever been able to enjoy tailgating or game watching without them?

Ah, but this chip design can be more than a marketing gimmick. The shape is better than ordinary Tostitos, better than Tostitos rounds or mini rounds, even better than Tostito scoops for getting down to the bottom of a jar of Newman's Own salsa. Narrow enough, long enough, yet still fits into the bottom corner of the jar.

The van dwelling old bachelors who believe in not dirtying any dishes unnecessarily and therefore eat straight from jars when possible thank FritoLay for this wonderful invention. We will weep when football season is over, because chips shaped like basketballs or hockey pucks just won't do the trick.

Small accident

Lou had made more additions to his spot at Coyote Howls East RV Park while I was gone. He was working on this windbreak when he stumbled and punched a hole in his ankle with the Phillips bit in his cordless drill. Blood, pain, more blood. And pain and blood. And pain. Friends rushed to his aid. When I arrived a few hours later he was sitting in the shade with the bleeding stopped and the ankle bandaged.

Today he went to the clinic in Ajo to have the pros look at it. They cleaned it without the benefit of anesthetic (there are a lot of nerves in the ankle, so more pain), disinfected it, dressed it and gave him a prescription for antibiotics. Lou's gimping around with a cane and he has an ankle brace that makes things feel better.

Let this be a lesson, kids. This kind of thing doesn't happen when you remain a nomad instead of settling in somewhere. Well, things happen, just different things.


Avner Geller draws cartoons of overheard conversations. Heaven forbid van dwelling should ever get too "glampy."

Into the not-so-wild

US 50 in Nevada, the Loneliest Road in America

When Easterners come to the West for the first time they’re often blown away by its vastness. My father used to quip, "It’s nothing but miles and miles of miles and miles." Author Joel Garreau dubbed it The Empty Quarter. Population density is a fraction of either coast. In a lot of places it’s zero. Between the major metro areas, off the Interstates, it’s possible to drive for hours and see only a handful of other vehicles.

That can be intimidating. Where is everybody? Where is everything? Where are the familiar signs of civilization that help us feel comfortable, confident and secure? Where can I get a decent bagel?

Or it can be liberating. Ah, free at last from the crowds and the crap of modern America!

But the West isn’t as remote and desolate as some might fear and others might hope. For example, there is nowhere in the Lower 48 that’s more than 107 miles from a McDonald’s. That means there are people in the area to work at McDonald’s. It means there are enough customers—locals and travelers—to keep a McDonald’s in business. It means at least a little civilization. (Whether you consider McDonald's a civilized way to eat is another matter.)

So, if you want to get away from It All, you’ll need to really work at it, often on foot. Or if you never want to be too far from civilization, there’s a Big Mac just down the road.

McDonald's 27.3 miles from this spot

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Back to Buckeye

It was Thanksgiving the last time I was here and Buckeye Hills Regional Park was only partly full. I was lucky to find a spot today. Serious snowbird season has started.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A mystery

As an introvert, I don’t understand how extroverts can throw themselves into a group of strangers and start making friends. It’s even harder to understand why they would do that. Because one of the main sources of anxiety for introverts is if we make the effort to expand our social circle, if we go meet new people, we’ll end up in the orbit of someone we discover we don’t like. Someone who wants to be our friend. Someone we wish would go away and leave us alone.

What do extroverts do in that situation? Does extroversion include the innate ability to tell undesirables, “Sorry, I don’t want to be your friend?” Does the extrovert’s entourage close ranks and block the persona non grata? Is it just a vibe they give off?

Most of the friends I’ve made since becoming a nomad are introverted to some degree. We have interests in common, we share world views and, most importantly, we understand each other’s need for alone time. I slowly expand my circle of friends through my existing friends. If they like someone, I probably will too. It’s sort of a pre-qualifying filter that eliminates those I’d end up running from. Or wanting to punch in the face. (Introverts can become violent—or at least very cranky—when cornered.)

A friend once postulated that everyone becomes less social with age, because we just don’t want to put up with everyone’s crap anymore. Life is too short. So while old fart extroverts might not transform into authentic introverts, they could become sufficiently introvert-ish to be accepted as honorary members of the club.

Water-propelled truck, right?

Keeping down the dust on American Girl Mine Road

Monday, December 11, 2017


I swatted a fly on the dashboard. It did a triple backflip right into my wastebasket. So considerate.

Surf's up

Back during the van craze of the '70s, when I had neither a van nor money, I thought it would be so cool to cover a van with the famous Japanese painting of a tsunami. The perfect thing for a surfer van, dudes.

Well, now I have a van but not much money. But I have Photoshop. So...

Sunday, December 10, 2017

How dry I am

From time to time on nomad forums the discussions turn to mold, mildew, leaks and other moisture problems. Not to get all superior and stuff, but those aren’t problems for me. That isn’t because I’ve taken special precautions or have vigorous moisture-fighting routines. It’s just that I spend most of my time in arid places.

One reason I became a wandering van dweller was to flee the Humidity Belt. One reason I was thrilled to sell the house was the chronic mildew in the crawl space and mossy stuff growing on exterior woodwork. I needed to dry out—and not in the alcoholic sense.

I. Like. Dryness. The Rolling Steel Tent and its contents like dryness, too.

So if your nomadic plans have you traveling mostly in arid regions, and you aren’t the type to spill all over the place or drive into large bodies of water, ignore all the warnings and advice about moisture problems. But stay hydrated.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Pet sharing

Tony explores the Rolling Steel Tent

Certified organic H2O

On the right is a jug of water fresh from the store shelf. On the left is a jug I refilled a few weeks ago from Lou's charcoal-filtered tap at Coyote Howls East RV park. It has spent time in the sun and we can see something other than pairs of hydrogen atoms bonded with oxygen atoms. Some kind of greenish stuff. Algae, maybe. Or Martian urine. (Hey, weird things happen in the desert, so you never know.) Whatever it is hasn't hurt me. Yet.

Maybe I should decant it into designer bottles and sell it as extra special, all-healing, organic super water. I could sprinkle a little sand in it for authenticity. Extra minerals, dudes. Exceeds your daily requirement for quartz, basalt and feldspar. You'll live to a hundred and twenty.

Test fire

A little dusty and dented, but still working

It's that time of year when van dweller forum discussions turn to heaters, the pros and cons of various types, dangers real and imagined, and so on.

After my disappointing test of a second-hand Coleman Sport Cat heater, and after all the handwringing on the forums, I figured I'd drag my Mr. Heater Portable Buddy from under the bed and see if it still functioned—before I really needed it.

It fired right up, first try, and the Rolling Steel Tent was toasty in less than a minute. I love it when things go right.

Friday, December 8, 2017

West is best

To all the people who keep hyping winters in Florida, "Nope. Not in the near future, anyway."


I changed the bedding this morning. Doing that requires me to access one end of the bed through the back door, which lets in plenty of cool, fresh desert air. It’s a nice way to jump start the day. Whoo, brisk. It also makes the bedding seem cleaner, crisper. I like it so much I think I’ll take a nap.

Unsealed beam

Well dang. A rock chip in one of my headlights. It's not much of a problem, though. It can keep on working for a long time as long as water doesn't get in and damage the filament. The chances of that happening are very low in the desert.

I rarely drive at night anymore anyway. Not out of any discomfort about driving in the dark. I just haven't need to.

All the same, I'll pick up a new light the next time I make a supply run. It's just another van dweller maintenance item. But I'd rather deal with things like this than maintain a house.

Thursday, December 7, 2017


My friend Forrest was cleaning out his shop this summer and asked if I wanted this Coleman Sport Cat catalytic propane heater. It was missing the base, but…

Sure, I thought. My Mr. Heater Portable Buddy is kind of overkill for me because I’m seldom in really cold places. A small heater might do the trick. All I had to do was get a bottle of propane and wait for chilly weather so I could test it. The opportunity came last night.

The knob on the Sport Cat has curious markings. Light bulbs? Turn the knob clockwise and it moves out. Turn it counterclockwise and it moves in, which is backwards of screws and seems to have no relation to the markings. So I winged it, held the lighter to the mesh, and whoosh. Okay, it was lit.

I waited.

The specs say the output of the Sport Cat is 1,500 BTUs. For comparison, the low setting on the Portable Buddy is 4,000 BTUs. So I knew the Sport Cat wouldn’t be a blast furnace.

I held my hand over the heater. Mmmm, it seemed to be putting out heat. I moved my had closer. Yup, heat.

I waited some more.

How long would it take to warm more than the column of air directly above it when the van was (let me check) 56°F?

I waited some more.

I did some reading.

After about a half hour there was no noticeable change in the van’s interior temperature. This might explain why Forrest was willing to part with it. Hey, it was free.

I originally thought I’d pass the Sport Cat along if I met another van dweller who needed heat, but now I think it would be kind of cruel giving someone false hope.

Of course, a sample of only one unit isn't scientific. This heater might have been bad while all the others work great. Still, this one is going to the big landfill in the sky with all the other discontinued Coleman propane products.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

21st century ruins

Stone structures like this dot the desert Southwest. The people who constructed them date to the early 21st century or possibly the middle-to-late 20th century and probably had cultural—if not biological—connections to the builders of nearly identical stone rings in other parts of North America. We know from artifacts scattered at these sites that the stonework was associated with the consumption of manufactured food and alcoholic beverages. Ashes inside the masonry rings might be from cooking fires, though it is believed actual cooking had fallen out of fashion by the time of these ruins. Others believe the fires were used primarily for ceremonial and social purposes instead. A third hypothesis suggests the ashes are from roofs that once covered the structures. Some sites are littered with spent ammunition which may be from battles over territorial rights. Such battles might explain the burned roofs.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Another day, another desert

Well, it's actually the same place I was last week and several other times the past four years.

Someone messed with the stone spiral. I think they "borrowed" stones from it to make fire rings. I know the spiral isn't official art, just something someone took the time to make and others appreciated enough to leave alone. I guess I'll be doing some restoration tomorrow.

Proper spacing

My closest neighbor here at the Hi Jolly dispersed camping area is about twenty-five yards to the west. And there’s a guy tent camping about thirty yards to the east. Nice and roomy. No encroachment. Enough vegetation between us to maintain a little privacy. Excellent boondocking etiquette.

Then a couple in a 40-foot RV, towing a car, cruised through looking for a spot. They stopped with their “towd” right in front of my neighbor’s tent.

Granted, it’s a small tent, and green like the bushes, so it wasn’t as easy to see as the yellow four-person tent on the other side of the camping area. But it wasn’t invisible—if one was paying attention.

The tent guy was away, so I walked over to explain the situation to the RV driver before he could deploy his levelers and slide outs.

“This area is already taken. There’s a tent back there.”


“Next to that bush. Your car is right in front of it.”

“It’s okay, I’ll move the car.”

“He still needs to get his car in there. Besides, you’re really crowding him. Why not move about half way down to the next rig so everyone has some privacy?”

Mr. RV was far from happy, but he moved—running over a waist-high creosote bush in the process.

The other people here with large rigs are observing etiquette. Lots of space, except when they’re clustered with friends in micro-villages. So this guy’s behavior isn’t universal with big RV owners.

See, proper spacing

Maybe no one has ever explained things to him. Maybe his concept of “space” has been grossly distorted by campgrounds and RV parks so cramped your slide outs nearly touch your neighbors’ and you can hear each other pee. Or maybe he’s just too self-absorbed to see beyond his own desires. I can give slack to cluelessness, but narcissism gets my hackles up.

Who knows. Maybe he’s blogging about the self-important jerk who chased him from a perfectly good camping spot.