Tuesday, June 30, 2020

In a van, down by the river

Although it was a gorgeous day up at elevation, I didn’t want to be there for nighttime temperatures. So I came down about 3,000 feet to spot along the North Platte River, near Saratoga, Wyoming. This riparian zone reminds me of the years I lived on the East Coast. Except it’s nowhere near as humid.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Off to the white stuff—on purpose

Yesterday was windy and wet, but the gambler (or fool) in me decided today was a good time to go where it was guaranteed colder and probably windier and wetter, perhaps even snowing: The Snowy Range, west of Laramie. The mountains got that name because it can snow there any time of the year. But I lucked out. It was a gorgeous day. Here’s evidence.

An example of why the campgrounds and picnic areas are still closed

Hey wait, it’s supposed to be summer

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Suffering for my art

I was in the midst of capturing the setting sun on distant hills when I realized I was being swarmed by some kind of mosquito-ish things. Rather than run for the Rolling Steel Tent and my Raid Flying Insect Spray, I stayed and got the photo I wanted.

Today the bites are making themselves known. Three on my head, two on my neck, two on each forearm, one on my right hand. Ergh.

Decision time again

The section of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest east of Laramie provides a nice variety of boondocking spots. There’s a network of good roads running through grassland and forest. You can have wide open spaces or tuck up among the trees, on hilltops or in valleys. You can even be by water. Its formations are popular with rock climbers. And everyone else.

The yellow markers are my campsites

So, yeah, there are people around.  That makes it tricky finding a vacant spot. But not impossible. I’ve stayed at six different campsites during the week I’ve been here, satisfying my compulsion to move around.

Right now I’m debating with that compulsion.

“Dude, you’ve been here a week!” it says. “There are so many other places you could go! Why are you wasting time around here?”

“Uh, because it’s nice, there’s variety, it’s close to supplies. And I can be here another week before I’d have to move on.”

“But that would have you trying to find a new site during Independence Day weekend.”

“Yeah, there’s that.”

“So you should take off now—Wednesday at the latest—and get settled in somewhere else. Tomorrow would be better.”

“Yeah, but I like it here.”

“You can come back some other time.”

“Okay. I guess I’ll get out my research materials.”

“Good boy.”

Saturday, June 27, 2020

How to get a strong, unboosted, cell signal while boondocking

I’m currently camped in a National Forest, in the saddle of a ridge above Laramie. There are towers to the north and south of me. One or more of them are probably broadcast antennas, but at least two of them are cellular towers. One must be for Verizon and one is for whatever carrier my StraightTalk phone is linked to. Because, woo, I have strong signals! Or maybe I’m connected to towers down in the valley. But whatever the reason, still woo!

The things you might find in a fire

I was cleaning litter from the fire ring I was camped next to and noticed a large nail—a spike—in the ashes. I fished it out. There were several more. Why?

My first thought was that they’d been used as tent pegs. Or someone had tried to use them as tent pegs but discovered the ground was too rocky, so, frustrated and angry, they tossed the spikes in the fire.

Not tent-peg-friendly ground

But then I realized they had been burning pieces of rail fencing, which is held together with spikes. I guess this is sort of the rancher version of burning pallets. I hope the fencing was their own.

I imagine the spikes has been weakened by the fire, but I saved them anyway, in case someone needs tent pegs.

Local flora

Cattle trail

What’s up here? Let’s find out.
The Calf-Path 
Sam Foss 

One day through the primeval wood

A calf walked home as good calves should;

But made a trail all bent askew,

A crooked trail as all calves do. 
Since then three hundred years have fled,

And I infer the calf is dead.

But still he left behind his trail,

And thereby hangs my moral tale. 
The trail was taken up next day,

By a lone dog that passed that way; 
And then a wise bell-wether sheep

Pursued the trail o'er vale and steep, 
And drew the flock behind him, too,

As good bell-wethers always do. 
And from that day, o'er hill and glade.

Through those old woods a path was made. 


And many men wound in and out,

And dodged, and turned, and bent about, 
And uttered words of righteous wrath,

Because 'twas such a crooked path; 
But still they followed—do not laugh—

The first migrations of that calf, 
And through this winding wood-way stalked

Because he wobbled when he walked.


This forest path became a lane,

that bent and turned and turned again; 
This crooked lane became a road,

Where many a poor horse with his load 
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,

And traveled some three miles in one. 
And thus a century and a half

They trod the footsteps of that calf.


The years passed on in swiftness fleet,

The road became a village street; 
And this, before men were aware,

A city's crowded thoroughfare. 
And soon the central street was this

Of a renowned metropolis; 
And men two centuries and a half,

Trod in the footsteps of that calf.


Each day a hundred thousand rout

Followed the zigzag calf about 
And o'er his crooked journey went

The traffic of a continent. 
A Hundred thousand men were led,

By one calf near three centuries dead. 
They followed still his crooked way,

And lost one hundred years a day; 
For thus such reverence is lent,

To well established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach

Were I ordained and called to preach; 
For men are prone to go it blind

Along the calf-paths of the mind, 
And work away from sun to sun,

To do what other men have done. 
They follow in the beaten track,

And out and in, and forth and back, 
And still their devious course pursue,

To keep the path that others do. 
They keep the path a sacred groove,

Along which all their lives they move. 
But how the wise old wood gods laugh,

Who saw the first primeval calf. 
Ah, many things this tale might teach—

But I am not ordained to preach.

This poem is about how we can individually, collectively, institutionally end up doing things for dubious reasons—often because, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

However, sometimes it’s just fine to follow a rut cattle have stomped in the ground. I’ve been doing a bit of it lately. Besides making for easier walking, the trails usually lead to pastures or water or roads. Even if it leads to nothing more interesting than a pile of cow pies, it’s easy finding my way back. And since these trails aren’t designated in the guides, I have them to myself. Well, myself and some cows.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Grow where you can

Things you can do with a puddle

The weather system here in southeastern Wyoming has offered up scattered clouds and nice sunsets the past few days. There was a bit of rain, which left us with puddles and the chance to do an old photography trick.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Surrounded by boulders

Sort of like Joshua Tree, but with pines and aspens instead of Joshua trees

Seven years with my gear: Sun Xtender batteries

Sometimes silly things can influence my choices. In the instance of deep cycle batteries for my solar power system, it was color. Trojan was the most popular brand of deep cycle batteries back when I was shopping. (Maybe they still are.) Everyone recommended them. (Maybe they still do, except for the LiFePo evangelists.) But I absolutely hated their maroon color. I’m a believer there are no bad colors, just colors used badly. There’s something about the combination of maroon, plastic, and electrical components that makes me cringe. And shop elsewhere. Fortunately, there were chromatically inoffensive options that functioned just as well.

A much less silly consideration was the dimensions. I wanted batteries that could fit in the bottom of the Adrian Steel cabinet that came with the van. I read a lot of spec charts.

And, because I wanted to stow the batteries in the cabinet, where they wouldn’t be convenient to get at, I also wanted sealed batteries. I don't enjoy battery maintenance anyway. The extra cost was worth the pleasure of just hooking them up and forgetting them.

This led me to Sun Xtender absorbed glass mat batteries. Two 12V, 104Ah beauties. Enough power to run my fridge and charge my electronics. Exactly the right dimensions to fit in the cabinet. And not maroon. They cost $295 each when I bought them in 2013. The Sun Xtender series is made by Concorde—another big name in deep cycle lead-acid batteries.

I’ve heard Sun Xtenders were never intended for mobile applications. Something about the cases not being rugged enough. Or not maroon enough. But, as you can see, they’ve held up just fine, despite a lot of washboard roads. And they still function properly, even though they’re getting on in years. Whereas I would be lazy about flooded cell battery maintenance, I’m almost religious about never drawing more than 50 percent of charge. In fact, I seldom go below 70 percent.

When it’s finally time to replace these batteries, I have no qualms about getting another pair of the same. Unless the price of LiFePo batteries come way down. Or there’s some newer, cheaper, better technology by then. As long as they’re not maroon.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Wait, I'm where?

My previous post was about a tiny town in very southern Colorado. Tonight I’m in Laramie. Blew right through most of Colorado.

I had a meager plan: drive to the top of Pike’s Peak. Then explore more of the area around there. But due to construction at the summit, this summer you can only drive part way up Pike’s Peak, then take a shuttle the rest of the way. That’s no fun. Being at the top of Pike’s Peak is not the same as driving the Rolling Steel Tent the whole damn way, like the world’s slowest hill climb racer.

Well what about the cog railroad to the top? It’s not the same as driving, but it’s more interesting than a bus. The train is not running this year.


The Front Range and all the nice areas in the mountains were very crowded anyway. It was a weekend, Fathers Day, the solstice, and all that. Ergh. I’ve been spoiled by sparsely populated areas. Well, screw it. Wyoming is rather empty. So here I am.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Neato burrito

San Luis claims to be the oldest town in Colorado. That’s mildly interesting but of no use to me. What I wanted was lunch, and there was a taco vendor set up in the shade along the main drag. Support local small businesses, right?

I like the eclectic assortment of chairs

I know there’s not just one type of Mexican food, but this is the first time I’ve encountered this variation on the burrito, topped with something very much like melted Velveeta and a drizzle of crema. It was still tasty, just in a different way.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Over the river and through the woods.

 I took a turnoff from a turnoff, ended up at a trailhead, then got out and walked.

There was a nice camping spot along the way, but I wasn’t mentally prepared to stay. Definitely another time.

Crack in the ground

The Taos Box section of Río Grande Gorge

All flash, no bang

There was (and maybe still is) a jazz station in Los Angeles that called itself The Quiet Storm. Sort of easy listening jazz blended with smooth R&B.

Well, last night I witnessed The Silent Storm. For and hour or more, lightning flashed over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains rising behind Taos. The thunder never made it to where I was in Tres Piedras, thirty miles away. If I hadn’t been tired I would’ve shot video of it. True artists don’t let something as minor as fatigue get in the way of their work. So I was just a member of the audience this time.


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Adventures in cheap packaged food: Chata Chilorio de Pavo

This food series started after grocery shopping in Mexico. There was a lot of unfamiliar stuff, but I decided to give it a try. Today’s food sort of brings things full circle, because it’s a producto de México.

I was in the Mexican foods aisle, trying to choose refried beans when I saw some stuff in a foil pack. I’ve had pretty good luck with packs of flavored tuna and chicken, so I checked out the Mexican offerings. Chilorio sounded vaguely familiar. Chili river? 

I read the ingredients. Okay, nothing surprising or off-putting. I says it’s on the mild end of the scale. And there’s a photo. So like the package says, shredded, seasoned turkey thigh meat. I can do that.

Chilorio is traditionally a pork dish, and that version was also available. I got turkey because I already had some pork chops in the cart and didn’t want to overdo pig.

I tasted some straight out of the package. It was okay, but I jazzed it up a little with some Salsa Huichol (my favorite). That did the trick. So did the avocado salsa.

I’d buy this—and the pork version—again.

UPDATE: Since I first wrote this, I’ve tried the pork version of chilorio. It’s great, because pork is more flavorful than turkey, of course.

Covering ground

It was a travel and exploration day, a day of prepositions. Into a canyon, through a valley, up the side of a mountain, down to the desert, over to a river.

I came down off the mesa and decided to see what the canyon at its base was like. Steep walls, a creek, a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees, bad road, good road, bad road, occasional pullouts, a couple of temporarily closed campgrounds, some dwellings. All-in-all, a very nice place.

I continued north along the eastern side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, through the Mora Valley. Small farms and villages. Very sublime, especially in the morning light.

The highway turns west, back into the mountains. Part way up the grade, a sign points to Forest Service Road 722. Let me go see what’s up that way. The road hugs the side of the mountain, so there aren’t many places to turn off—at least not without serious 4x4 capability. But the views were wonderful. Alpine valleys, snow-capped peaks. I pulled into a trailhead, with no idea where the trail might go. I was immediately swarmed by flies. Sorry, no hike today. I’m out of here.

Things are more developed on the western slope of the mountains, increasingly so the closer you get to Taos. Nonetheless, it’s a gorgeous area.

But I didn’t want to go to Taos yet. So I turned south and stayed in the foothills to Española. Because that was the way to Abiquiu. Too bad the Georgia O’Keefe Home & Studio was closed for tours. Damn pandemic.

My final goal for the day was a designated dispersed camping area along the Rio Chama. Flowing water, cliffs, cottonwoods… It was closed, too, but I found a different spot overlooking the river. A nice place to sit out a few rain squalls, despite no cell signal.

This morning I moved up against some sandstone cliffs. No water view, but there’s a useable cell signal. And a non-functioning windmill. The double track in from the semi-maintained road is just firm (at the moment) dirt. The center is rather high, but the Rolling Steel Tent had enough clearance. So now I’m exploiting the cell signal, but if it looks like serious rain I’ll have to go elsewhere. More exploring.