Monday, April 30, 2018

First dibs

I know some nomads who run online businesses or telecommute. During the work week they set up in a campsite with sufficient web access then use the weekends for travel, recreation and chores—pretty much like non-nomads do.

I’m lucky. I don’t need to work. At least not for the time being. That means I tend to move place to place during the week then get settled into a weekend spot by Friday morning, before the weekenders show up.

The opposite of this is the situation in places like the dispersed camping areas around Flaming Gorge. Locals will bring up a trailer one weekend and leave it there to save their spot until the next weekend. Since the camping limit there is 16 days rather than the usual 14, they can leave the trailer there again and pick it up after the third weekend.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a network of these people who just rotate campsites among themselves, holding them for the entire season. That would be a lot of work.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Nothing derails my plans faster than making them public

Explore the entire length of US-191! Yeah! It’s a plan! It’s an adventure! I got all the way from Douglas to Safford, a mere 125 miles, a third of a tank of gas when, whee, here came a monkey wrench. A very pleasant one, but a monkey wrench nonetheless.

I got a message from a friend/former coworker in Santa Ana, California. He’s retiring. There’s going to be a party. In Santa Ana. A lot of people I haven’t seen in a while will be there. In Santa Ana. Five-hundred-something miles away.

I don’t want to miss it.

So either a trip to the Coast and back becomes a really long “rib” in my original plan, or I make a new plan.

Up, up, up

Having wrapped up a couple of days at Stockton Pass, I decided to explore Highway 366 on the north slope of Mount Graham. (Well, mostly on the north slope, until it crosses to the south side near the 9,000-foot summit.) The atlas showed seven campgrounds and numerous trailheads. The Forest Service site listed the campgrounds as “temporarily closed.” I figured I could at least drive up and see what it was like.

The campgrounds appeared to be open and in use, so maybe the ranger district is just slow updating their listings. The sites were thickly forested, which means great shade but bad solar exposure. I knew the nights would still be subfreezing this time of year. Not for me. But the views were great.

Taking a pass

Between Willcox and Safford, Google Maps showed a line running west from US-191. A line thick enough to mean it was paved. A line that seemed to stop in the middle of nowhere.

I zoomed in. Highway 266, along the south slope of Mount Graham. It doesn’t just stop, it goes to the town of Bonita. And an Arizona State Prison. Then it becomes a smaller road.

Hey, most of that along there is National Forest. I wondered if the satellite view would show some boondocking areas. Zoom… scroll… scroll… mmmmmmm… no… scroll… scroll…scroll… There were none that I could see, but there was a campground.

I looked up Stockton Pass Campground on the Forest Service site. Free (free is good), open year round, about 5,600 feet up (it wouldn’t be too warm), a variety of trees, vault toilet… horse corral… It sounded promising. had a review. It said the toilet was old but clean. What more could I ask for.

The campground road got a little, um, rustic after it crossed a cattle guard. Ruts, washouts, et cetera. To the left was a parking area, the old-but-clean toilet, and a sign that said Group Camp, along with notices it was reserved. To the right, over even more rustic single tracks, was the corral and some boondocking-ish areas. That’s where I found my spot.

It was quiet until Friday evening when people started arriving at the group camp, and that was just the sound of vehicles thumping and bumping along the road. No big deal.

The drawback? No cell service. I spotted towers on a ridge, but with my binoculars I could see they weren’t cellular.

I decided to hang through the weekend. Better to hold onto the spot I had than to compete with other weekend campers for a new spot. Meanwhile, I’m making notes of things I want to look up on the web when I have access again—like what’s the word on that campground I saw in my atlas? And what’s the forecast for Alpine AZ?

Friday, April 27, 2018

Both sides now

Two years ago I spent some time on the eastern side of the Chiricahua Mountains. It was really nice. Yesterday I went to Chiricahua National Monument on the west side of the range. It’s known for its hoodoos.

It was nice to get up out of the typical southeast Arizona desert and up into forests of oaks, sycamores, cypress and pines.

I managed to snag a reservation at the small campground. It was odd that there was no check-in procedure. Just drive to the campsite with your name on it. All my fellow campers were quiet and though there were bear boxes in which to lock up your food, there were no sign of bears. In the middle of the night I heard what I first thought was a brief patter of rain on the roof, but it was just stuff from the trees. Oh, yeah. It has been a while since I camped with anything overhead.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A new plan

I had to go to Douglas, Arizona, to pick up a package. I could go several directions from there, one of which was north, up US-191. I've traveled several sections of that highway but not the entire thing. So why not?

Up to Chiricahua National Monument (today's stop), the Mogollon Rim and Gila Mountains, through the Navajo Nation, onward to Moab/Arches/Canyonlands, Flaming Gorge, past the Wind River Range, through Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, and through Montana's Big Sky Country to the Canadian border.

US-191 would act like the spine of the trek, with various side trips along the way like ribs. No hurry. The traveling season is just starting. Give the northern latitudes time to warm up.

As ever, this plan is subject to change at any moment. I might get one of my sudden, overwhelming cravings for the ocean. Or weather might force me back. But wandering with a plan is better (maybe) than without one.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

And the rug really ties the room together

A new addition to the van’s decor

Hiding in the grass

From a cactus forest to the grasslands of Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. It’s way down at the south end of Arizona but at 4,600 feet, so even though it was roasting in Tucson it's very nice here. No wild ponies or bison, though. Just evidence of cows.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Concerned citizens

Shortly before sunset I was reading in the Rolling Steel Tent when a man in an OHV drove slowly up. I waved but he might not have seen me. He continued around the blind side of the van and stopped. By the time I got my shoes on and got to where he was parked, he was out of his vehicle and approaching my open rear door.

“Oh!” he exclaimed when he saw me.


“I was afraid I might find a body in here or something.”

I shrugged, “I’m just doing a little camping.”

”Oh, right. It’s just that I saw the van when I went by yesterday and...”

“I’ll be heading out in the morning.”

He looked a little sheepish for having suspected trouble. “Ah. Well. I can offer you a cold beer.”

“Thanks, but I’m fine.”

It’s good to have people concerned about what’s going on. It’s good he wasn’t there to argue I wasn’t on public land. It’s good he was a good natured guy. But I think he wouldn’t have thought there was a potential problem if I’d been in something RV-ish. Or if I had outdoor living space set up. Or if there had been another rig with me. Vans—particularly lone ones—have a stigma. But I cope with it.

Maybe I should fly a flag or something. Is there one that means harmless old fart just camping?

Oh, look what I brought home

It was about an hour before I noticed it was there. If it had stuck slightly farther back I would've noticed immediately. Good thing I have heavy leather gloves to pull that sucker off.

Sign of the times

Sunday, April 22, 2018

A new place for me

I had never been on Highway 77 south of Globe, Arizona, and figured it was time to check it out. pointed me to a boondocking spot between Globe and Winkelman. Someone I know (somewhere on the scale between an acquaintance and a friend) gave a positive review. It sounded good.

And it is. It’s like being in a forest of cholla and prickly pear. No one around. Quiet. Warm but not too hot. And a few bars of 4G.

Fixing Arizona

I don't know if the problem is that I refer to my maps way too often, or whether Benchmark foolishly thought a few staples were enough to keep the covers on their atlases. Whatever the cause, I got out the packing tape and set things right.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Here to there and back

There was a dot on the map. The dot had a name. There was a line from the dot to where I was. A squiggly line that meant it went up into the mountains. A thin line that meant it was unpaved. But how bad could the road be since it led to a place with a name? And how high into the mountains? And was there anything at the dot (or along the way) worth the trip? I went to find out.

Van alternative

When four-wheel drive isn’t enough, I guess

Thursday, April 19, 2018

But where?

Back when I started on the road I didn’t know all the places for boondocking. Probably fewer than a dozen spots scattered around the West. Ones I’d learned about in self-published digital books and various online resources. The well known ones. The popular ones. The ones that are easy for newbies (like I was) to find and settle into the life.

Of course, there are thousands and thousands of places to camp on public land. I discovered more of these over the years. Many were recommended by others. The most fulfilling sites, though, were the ones I discovered on my own.

I discovered a place like this

“What’s up this road? I hope it’s passable. I hope there’s somewhere to turn around if it isn’t. But, hey, there are other tire tracks, so that’s a good sign.”

And a place like this

Sometimes the exploration is fruitless. Sometimes I get there and it’s, eh, nothing great but it’ll do. Sometimes I get spooked and turn back before I get to what I learn later from someone else was an amazing place. And sometimes I end up in a really nice spot.

It’s very much like life in general.

And a place like this

That said, yesterday I returned to one of the sites I was led to back in my first year. It has been a couple of years since I last returned because, you know, there were so many other places to discover instead. But I’m chasing weather and just need a convenient, no-fuss spot to kill a couple of days. And there’s a cafe here that makes great burritos.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

This is not what I wished for

On the much used side door


This young steer just stood there for about ten minutes, completely still, staring at the Rolling Steel Tent. Was it because it's the most wonderful thing to ever appear in his world? Or was he giving me stink eye?

Monday, April 16, 2018

Mount up, ride out

I was camped at a trailhead near Wickenburg, Arizona, when some horsemen rode by. Dozens of them. They kept coming and coming.

I called out, "How many of ya are there?"

"About a hundred-fifty."

They all had a tag hanging from their neck. "What group are you?"

"The Desert Caballeros. This is our annual ride."

"Where are ya going?"

"That way." Cowboy humor, I guess.

"Well, look pretty for the camera."

"Too late for that."

"I was talking to the horses." Rolling Steel Tent humor, I'm certain.

Battling forecasts

One online source says there is zero percent chance of rain today where I am. Another says rain will start in 32 minutes. I guess I'll know which was right in a little while.

UPDATE: It didn't rain.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Been there, done that

If someone had asked me this morning what was on my agenda, I would've replied, "Nothing."

Nothing, Arizona, is proof that if you give a place an odd name and provide room to park, people will take photos.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Life on the edge

It has been van-rocking windy the past few days. And driving a big loaf of bread in gusty wind is no fun. So I’ve been hunkered down at Lake Mead the past few days, feeling a little trapped. But the air was calmer this morning and I took it as my cue to head on down the road. (The drive up the west side of Lake Powell is very nice in morning light.)

The strong wind hadn’t gone away, though. It was just late getting out of bed. It was back on the job by the time I reached Poverty Flats (a.k.a. Snowbird Mesa) near Overton NV. I pulled off the highway and went looking for a campsite.

Did I want a spot with a grand view, on the edge of the mesa? Or did I want a spot with less wind, back from the edge of the mesa? I tried out a few locations. I chose more view over less wind because there wouldn’t be much relief farther from the edge.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

This post is trashy

I generate trash. Paper, empty packaging, tin cans… I have to do something with it so the van doesn’t end up looking like this.

Some nomads burn their rubbish, but I’m not a fan of fires. So I have to dump it somewhere. Trash cans at rest stops, gas stations, city parks and fast food joints. I know of dumpsters at campgrounds, in alleys and in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes I use waste transfer stations.

Thank you, BLM

Over the four-plus years I’ve been wandering the West I developed a mental map of dependable, convenient, legal trash disposal spots. If there isn’t one where I’m camped, I know where there’s one at my next destination or along the way there. Route planning is sometimes influenced by dumpster locations.

I had to learn to jettison my trash often rather than waiting for the wastebasket to fill. A stuffed bag seldom fits through a trash can flap. And the less trash I keep around, the less there is to attract critters. And the more room there is in the van.

Fill the van with gas, empty it of trash

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Meet the neighbor

It’s rare a critter will hold still in the time it takes me to grab my camera

I totally relate

I was watching a British detective series set in Wales. “Hinterland.” The detective was questioning a loner who lives in a trailer out in the forest.
You live in a caravan?
Suits me. Bed, roof, something to cook on.
How long?
Four years.
Lonely life?
Only if you need company.
That’s essentially my viewpoint. Bed, roof, something to cook on. But with Internet access. And travel. That suits me just fine.

How many weeks do you have left?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Playing Goldilocks

This time of year it isn’t easy finding places that aren’t too hot in the day or too cold at night. And there’s a front moving in that’ll drop temperatures twenty to thirty degrees later in the week. So I'll need to suck it up and go with reasonable compromises. That’s why I’m at Lake Mead today. It was 90°F/32°C but a bit of a breeze made it tolerable for anglers, boaters and us campers.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Two firsts

I hung out with my former wife for my birthday. We’re still good friends. She lives in Los Angeles. We took the metro from her place near Century City to a highly rated mom & pop taco stand by the University of Southern California. That was my first time on that train.

The next day, after taking the metro to Chinatown for our traditional Sunday dim sum brunch, we took Lyft to a gallery crawl. That was my first time using a ride hailing service.

I feel so urbane.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Time and money

He said (enviously): You sure travel around a lot.

She said: All it takes is time and money. You have both, but you’re spending them on staying in one place.

Pick the priority. Travel? Or a place to call home? Or maybe a balance of the two?

I chose travel. I’d had my fill of stability. Mortgage payments or rent could buy a lot of gasoline. That’s where I decided to put my money. It has been my best investment ever.