Monday, April 22, 2024

Not my original plan

The goal for today had been to camp in the forested mountains on the south side of Prescott, Arizona. It would be a change from the last several months in the Sonoran Desert. Cooler at about 6,000 feet. Shadier with big trees. Yes, gimme some of that.

I had researched potential camping spots. I learned camping in that National Forest is in designated dispersed campsites only. That severely limits the number of spots. But since it was no longer the weekend my odds of snagging a vacant campsite were better.

After doing my laundry and stocking up on supplies I headed into the hills. It didn’t take long to discover nearly every designated campsite was occupied. The two vacant ones were awful. Also, instead of being one of those lush forests with a bed of pine needles over rich soil, this forest was dry, dusty, stony and brittle. Even the most inviting campsites looked harsh. So, what to do instead?

A friend has invited people to her campsite near Flagstaff. She’s one of my favorite people but the freezing nights there (still) are not my favorite conditions. I can bundle up and turn on the stove. If it get’s too unpleasant I can give my regrets and move on.

So I headed north from Prescott and found a bit of National Forest along the way. Forest that wasn’t pretending to be a picture book forest. A forest that wasn’t filled with other campers. Just me and an occasional train in the distance.

Less sand here and more volcanic ejecta

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Unpleasant visitor

Mr. Paranoia stopped by the Rolling Steel Tent this afternoon. He wanted to know why I was here, what I was doing, and who was paying me to do it. He pointed to my cellular antenna and claimed I was monitoring him and/or jamming his signals. He went on and on about being a law-abiding guy with never so much as a traffic ticket. So why were they after him? And again, why was I here, of all places, near him. He wasn’t buying my story. He took my picture. I couldn’t tell if there was tin foil beneath his ball cap. But I think I heard a few loose screws rattling in there as he rode away on his minibike.

UPDATE: I had already planned on leaving tomorrow, but I decided it was wiser to move along today. Irrational people are capable of doing irrational things.

The new location 20 miles away

Screw it

Things shift around in moving vehicles This is particularly true when driving lumpy roads that have you pitching this way and that.

Such was the case of my silverware divider. It wasn’t a serious problem since the divider is contained within a drawer that is held closed with a bungee cord. Nothing was going to go flying around the Rolling Steel Tent. But it meant I had to put things back into position even if I had made an ordinary left turn.

It was only a minor annoyance, so it was way down on my list of priorities. But I was finally annoyed enough yesterday to take care of it, and a simple solution had popped into my head: screw the divider to the drawer bottom.

I rummaged through my collection of fasteners and found a bolt and matching nut just the right size. The only hard part was digging the drill out of its place under the thing that’s behind the other thing in a cramped space. The actual drilling and bolting took only a few seconds. I love simple fixes.

As the manly men say after anchoring something, “That ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Pretty but mean

I like chollas. I like the ecosystem they grow in. But that cute fuzzy glow is actually thousands of barbed spines. You can avoid brushing against the live chollas but those prickly bulbs fall off, turn brown and blend with the ground where they wait to attack. If you’re lucky only your shoes get stabbed and not your body.

Although I watch my step around cholla I get stuck now and then. Like yesterday. I didn’t notice I had picked up this hitchhiker until I was back at the Rolling Steel Tent.

DO NOT USE YOUR FINGERS to remove these death balls. The simplest method is with a very common tool: a fork. Slip the tines between the spines and flip it — in a safe direction. Then, if there are any remaining spines, use pliers to pull them out. If I were the smartly prepared Boy Scout type I would have a fork and pliers with me at all times in cholla country. Or a Swiss Army knife. But I’m a foolish old man with a false sense of invincibility.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Excellent second-hand recommendation

I’ve never met Tristan of the SUV RVing channel, but after watching a bunch of his videos I feel like we’re friends. Or could be. Nice guy.

Tristan also has a pay site with info about his adventures, including an interactive map featuring the places he boondocked. He prefers to get away from it all. So I checked to see if he offered anything between Alamo Lake and, say, Prescott AZ. He did—a location he was told about by a local fellow. That means I was taking the recommendation of a guy who took the recommendation of a guy.

I was concerned when I studied the map. Although Tristan said it was BLM land, I knew at least part of the area off the highway was Arizona State Trust land. I had camped there twice before and was chased away by the sheriff the second time because I didn’t have a permit. I bought the permit this year but hadn’t gotten around to printing it out. I decided to give it a try anyway. Tristan’s spot could be beyond the state land.

The dirt road was rutted and lumpy, pitching the Rolling Steel Tent left and right. It was slow going, with lots of little washouts crossing this way and that. Like speed bumps and dips all the way. Three miles felt like twenty. I kept telling myself, “At least there won’t be a lot of big RVs down this way.” But I saw the reassuring BLM road number posts. Okay. No hassles from authorities.

When I finally got to the site, hell yeah, it was worth the drive!

The white dot in the distance is the Rolling Steel Tent

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Not on the way to anywhere

I spent the night in nearly deserted Quartzsite after picking up my package and mail. But where to go next? I studied maps, forecasts, boondocking resources, blogs and all that. I had only one for-certain destination: Vancouver Island in July to take Lou’s ashes out to sea. There are a lot of ways to get there in the next two and a half months. Some of the ways are, eh, way too familiar, even boring. Are there routes that are new to me, or that I haven’t taken in many years? Where the nights aren’t still freezing or where the unpaved areas aren’t mud? I continued my research.

I haven’t been in southeastern Utah in a while, and there’s still so much of it I haven’t seen. And the weather there is now in that zone between too cold and too hot. So I’ll be drifting northeast before heading to the Northwest. 

What’s on the way besides Sedona, Flagstaff and Grand Canyon? How about the mountains south of Prescott? Yeah. I drove through there once but didn’t camp. And what about the mountains between Prescott and Sedona? Okay.

But what’s between here and there? I used to think nothing of driving eight to ten hours a day, and I think I could still do it if I had a short schedule to keep. But I’ve come to enjoy a slower pace. Shorter drives, longer stays.

Then I saw something on the map that had been on my mental list: Alamo Lake. It’s not really “on the way.” It’s in the middle of a Quartzsite-Wickenburg-Kingman triangle with access via one 30-mile paved road from US-60. So it’s a considerable detour, not a convenient waypoint. There’s a dirt road from the Lake to Wickenburg, but it could be a washboard hell. So I’ll be taking the paved road back.

And it’s a nice road through totally unpopulated, undeveloped land. A section goes through some saguaro-studded hills. The pavement is good, the scenery was  nice, it was perfect open window weather, and this particular Tuesday morning I wasn’t another soul around. Aaaaaaahhh…

Alamo Lake is a state park, but there’s BLM land adjacent. There are a few dozen other campers here, most in fifth-wheel trailers. But I found a spot a comfortable distance from the others. And except for a couple of OHVs driving sedately by, and a dog that barked for a few seconds, it has been very quiet. If I had a smaller vehicle with 4-wheel drive I could access tiny campsites down by the water. I can walk down there instead.

A friend I call The Other Alan once wrote a blog post about how he avoids camping by water, because that’s where the bugs are. There was a healthy enough breeze today to keep the flies and such grounded. So I had the doors and windows open. Very refreshing in the Rolling Steel Tent. However, the air got still after sunset and swarms of tiny things were attracted to the formerly nonfunctional light. Can’t have everything perfect.

I see the light

Last week I was in bed reading when the recessed LED light over the counter blinked off. Rats.

My first assumption was the light had reached the end of its life. Since the lights came in a four-pack and I had used only three, I should have a spare — unless it was one of the things I purged during my last reworking of the Rolling Steel Tent. After searching all my boxes, yep, I no longer had it. So I spent twenty bucks on another four-pack from Amazon. If one light had died then the remaining two were likely to go sometime.

While awaiting that delivery I discovered the roof vent fan also didn’t work. It’s tied into the same line as the light. Ah-ha! Maybe it’s a fuse. I started with the one built into the vent. It was still good. I checked all the fuses in my junction box. All of them, because I hadn’t labeled the circuits. They were good.

Maybe it was something in the wiring. That would be a pain to check since most of it is behind paneling. Ergh. I procrastinated until today, because the new lights had arrived. 

I was about to dig out my multimeter and tools when, out of habit, I flicked the light switch. And it came on! Oh, okay. Won’t be needing the new light at this time. The fan worked too. And then they both went off.


Why did this happen? What was different? What had I done?

Ah-ha, maybe… 

Earlier I had fished out a section of the wiring in preparation for testing it. And I had jiggled the connection. I giggled the wire again and the light and fan came back on. As the old farts around the shop say, “Well there’s yer problem.”

Basically, I hadn’t melted the solder in the connectors

So I fixed the connections, stuffed the wires back into place, and sat back to marvel at my amazing deductive powers — and luck.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Perfect procrastination

First day of the month. I decided it was a good day to do laundry. I had plenty of clean clothes, but the full-ish laundry bag was getting difficult to squeeze back under the bed. 

I could go early, but a lot of people go then. Besides, I had also told myself it was a good day to mow back the beard. 

Then there was breakfast. I hadn’t done an actual breakfast the past week or so. Chorizo and eggs. Yum. Then do the dishes.

Then check email, social media, the news, the humor. Watch two YouTubers I subscribe to. Fall down a rabbit hole about John Adams.

Rest my eyes. Try not to turn it into a nap. Think about the laundry. Decide which laundromat to use.

It’s nearly lunchtime, and though I’m not having any, everyone in Yuma will be. That means traffic. I’ll wait a bit.

On the way to town I think about how I’m familiar with how crowded laundromats usually are in the morning but how I don’t really have any data regarding post-lunch use. Fingers crossed.

The place is busy but there are washers available. I’m surprised a majority of the patrons are blue-collar men and old farts like me. I load the washer then go back to the Rolling Steel Tent to relax.

By the time my alarm chirped there only half as many people and plenty of dryers. Lightweight things in one dryer, heavier things in another. Back to the van.

The number of customers had grown by the time my things were dry, but there were still two vacant folding tables. I grabbed one. (One reason I like this laundromat is the sufficiently roomy folding tables.)

There were even more people by the time I finished folding. Looks like I had slipped into the perfect time slot. For this particular day, anyway. If I hadn’t dawdled just right I would’ve hit one of the busier periods. Hurray for luck!

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

They ask me why / why I’m a hairy guy

The original plan had been to let my hair grow until my birthday. But even though that’s only three weeks away, I couldn’t stand it any longer (in time or length of hair). So I decided the vernal equinox was an appropriate end date. It has sort of been my winter hair. Now back to the low-maintenance Daylight Saving Time look.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Another desert spring day

Several of my friends and family (some of them just a few hours’ drive away) are shoveling snow and slush. They have my condolences.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

What is it?

If you have the correct answer you win… well, only the satisfaction of being right.

So, my stove connects to a bulk propane tank via a hose, naturally. But unlike my past stoves, this one is intended for use only with bulk tanks. And the hose connects to the stove via a somewhat permanent fitting.

That’s not an issue 99.9% of the time. But let’s say I haven’t paid much attention to my propane level and I run out at an inconvenient time. With my past stoves I could change to a hose with different connectors and use a small, easy-to-store green propane bottle until I could get the tank refilled. That’s not the case with this stove and this hose.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one in the propane user universe to have faced the same issue. There are enough of us for someone to manufacture the adapter pictured at the top of the story. Screw it into the end of the bulk tank hose, and presto! Not only is it a simple solution, it takes up way less space than an extra hose.

The only hitch is that I didn’t get the adapter until after I had given away the three propane bottles I had. Oh well.

Friday, March 15, 2024

What’s that sound?

I woke up at about 2:45 to pee. When I got back in bed I heard a faint and irregular pit… tik……pit it……tak… pit…

What was it? Where was it? Should I worry? A mouse nibbling on a bit of plastic perhaps? I sniffed. No mouse odor.

I held still, listening. It seemed to be at the back, by the floor. I turned on a light, moved some things around and… I saw nothing.

Then the sound stopped. Then it started again. What was it?!?!

I spent about fifteen minutes trying to find the source of the sound. Then it was more rapid and louder.

Oh. It was rain. That’s cool.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Trapped by an invisible force

Who has seen the wind?

Neither you nor I

But when semis tip over on I-10

The wind is blowing like a mother…

My friend LaVonne is in Palm Springs before heading off on a cross-country trek. She flew in from Washington state last night to pick up a van from other friends. I hadn’t seen LaVonne in a few years and wanted to say hi/bye. 

So yesterday I drove from Quartzsite (where I had been taking care of some business) to the camping area at the south entrance to Joshua Tree. Hey, wasn’t I here just last week?

During the night the wind started blowing. Hard. Probably the hardest I’ve experienced in the Rolling Steel Tent. It got so bad I had to get up at about 2:45 AM to face the van more into the wind. Even then it was a bouncy ride all night.

You can see I-10 from the campsite. The lights of vehicles passed both directions during the night. “Okay,” I thought, “It’s still not too windy to drive. At least not for the pros and the foolish.” 

But when daylight came and I finally dragged my sleep-deprived self out of bed I saw traffic was now totally stopped. Semis lined up as far as I could see in the eastbound lanes, no vehicles passing in the westbound lanes. And the wind was still howling. I checked Google Maps and it showed the dreaded red line stretching about 5 miles in each direction from Chiriaco Summit. And patches of yellow all the way to Desert Center in the east and Indio in the west.

So I notified LaVonne I’m staying put at least for a few hours.

I suppose, if I really wanted to, I could take the longer route through the park to Highway 62 and down Morongo Valley to Palm Springs. Or through Box Canyon to Mecca then north to Indio and onward to Palm Springs without getting on the freeway. I’ll see how conditions change. The wind has lessened a wee bit in the past hour, so the original plan might be on once the backed up traffic clears.

Yay life on the road! Yay desert!

UPDATE: News reports said one semi was blocking all eastbound lanes, and a second rig was partially blocking one of the westbound lanes. Driver injuries were minor. While returning to Quartzsite to pick up a package at my mail forwarder I passed the scene where crews were still working on the trailer that had been blocking westbound traffic. Eastbound was totally clear.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Crossing time zones: actual and virtual

About, oh, nine years ago I was camped in Ehrenburg AZ with a group of fellow wanderers. We were putting together a pot luck Thanksgiving dinner and I had volunteered to supply mashed potatoes. I had everything planned out — except for one thing. My phone was my only clock and I wasn’t aware it was picking up its cell signal from across the Colorado river, in California, in the Pacific Time Zone. So I was an hour late with the spuds.

Since I would making the Arizona-to-California crossing again this week, I wanted to learn exactly where my Verizon phone would recognize my change of time zone. I kept checking the phone, checking the phone, checking the phone, and… Blip. It changed near the Arizona port of entry weigh station, which is about three miles from the state line. At least that was the result at that time, under those atmospheric conditions.

My turn

My nomad friend Roxy went to Joshua Tree National park a few weeks ago when it was still cold. She has greater tolerance of low temperatures, maybe even an affinity for it.

My former coworker friend Jon, and his wife Katherine, made a pilgrimage to Joshua Tree and surrounding areas last month in honor of one of his favorite musicians, Gram Parsons. It will be their last visit for a while since they’re moving from Southern California to Tennessee to be near a grandchild. They stayed in the hotel Parsons frequented, so freezing nights were not an issue.

And my friend Melinda and her sister (whom I have never met) also spent time in Joshua Tree last month, also staying in a warm hotel like normal civilized people.

I go to Joshua Tree at least once a year, so it was on my list. And I had been itching to wander out of Yuma, where I spend most of the winter because it’s not cold. 

I had been watching the forecasts for Joshua Tree, and nope. Until this week. While it was still freezing at night in the park, which is at 6,000 feet, it would be merely comfortably cool at the lower elevations outside the park’s boundaries. So off I went.

I like poking around in the rocks

Monday, March 4, 2024

No hum

Tonight I’m camped at a popular spot by the south entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. There are more than a dozen rigs here, most of them RVs. We’re closer together than I prefer, but that’s what the area is like. Hey, it’s free, it’s convenient, so…

However, one thing has surprised me: no generator noise. If anyone is using them they must be well muffled. Or my hearing has gotten very bad. Either way, it’s nice and quiet.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Saturday morning at the butcher and car show

Food City was out of pollo asado so I went to another latino-focused grocery, Del Sol. Both have excellent butcher departments. I could see into the back where seven butchers were breaking down bigger cuts for packaging. In front of them was a display of seasoned meats where along with chorizos, chicharrónes, and carnitas was plenty of pollo asado.

There were a couple of men ahead of me in line. One had ordered a stack of steaks about a foot high. Big barbecue this weekend, I suppose. He left with his mountain of meat, but shortly after the butcher who had been helping him hefted another pile of steaks onto the counter. The butcher looked around, obviously wondering where the customer had gone.

Meanwhile, another butcher filled my pollo asado order. The missing meat customer was at the self-checkout when I got there. 

“Hey, I think you left the rest of your meat order,” I said.

“Nah, I got it all. Just 15 pounds.”

“Okay. Have a good day then.”

I left wondering if the guy would be back after getting home and counting his steaks.

Out in the parking lot, a man was getting out of a Nissan Rogue in a glorious metallic burnt orange color, the morning sun making it glow. Such a refreshing break from the mass of white, silver and black vehicles. Nissan calls the color Sunset Drift ChromaFlair®.

Much brighter in person

I said, “I really like the color of your car.”

He nodded his thanks but didn’t seem as enthused about the color. Or he thought I was a weirdo who should be avoided. But a dude farther along heartily agreed with my positive assessment of his lowered step-side GMC pickup. He might have talked about it all morning if it hadn’t been for his esposa pulling him to the store. Maybe they also needed a pile of meat.

So, as a very late lunch/early dinner I cooked up some of the pollo and made a burrito. It was perfect. It made me as happy as the orange car.

Enough left for two more meals. The marinade is almost the color of the Nissan.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Version update

The 013 version of the Rolling Steel Tent has served well, but the latest system upgrades — engine, transmission, solar capacity, interior fittings — call for a new version designation.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Lost and found and found

Three things went missing the past few months. My passport, the van registration, and a fork.

Whenever this happens I’m still amazed how things can disappear in such a small space. There are only so many places a thing can be in the Rolling Steel Tent. That gets me wondering if the errant objects left the van somehow.

Also, as always, I find things when I’m not looking for them. After all, checking the most likely places is pointless when something is obviously in an unlikely place.

I found the fork while rotating my mattress head-to-toe (something I do about twice a year). The fork was wedged at the junction of the mattress, the bed platform, and the cabinet from which it had slid at some point.

The passport was a more troubling matter. I have a passport card as well, so I’ve been able to return to the US after my visits to Mexico, but still… It’s best not to have one’s passport traveling the world with someone else.

I remembered the last time I had used the passport. Afterward I had placed it in a box where I toss my wallet and key. But the box is dangerously close to the Gap of Doom. If it had fallen in there (despite the chunk of foam blocking most of the gap) retrieving it would mean a ton of disassembly and reassembly of the cabinet — or using one of those snaky cameras and a grabber thing.

But yesterday, while fiddling with the liner in my silverware drawer, there was the passport, way at the back, behind a Tupperware container. What the…?

As for the registration, I know I had it when I was pulled over for speeding in a school zone. (It was the first day of school at a time that was still summer to me: August 1. The sheriff’s deputy let me go with a caution.) Since then I had believed it was in the glove box with my proof of insurance. Well, beliefs are not facts. Was it in the door pocket? No. In the owner’s manual folder in the door pocket? No. Stuck between the map of the Big Horn Mountains and the paperwork for the engine replacement and my last two tire purchases? No. Those were likely places, therefore wrong.

Had I accidentally tossed it with some of the irrelevant and expired crap in the glove box. Maybe. Probably.

So my choices are to do the bureaucratic hokey-pokey with New Mexico Motor Vehicles or to drive flawlessly until next year’s registration comes. Or I can count on stumbling upon it while not looking for it.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

How will new National Monuments in the desert affect boondocking?

Chuckwalla National Monument

Two new National Monuments are in the works in the deserts of California and possibly Arizona. The Chuckwalla National Monument between Joshua Tree National Park and the Salton Sea is in its final stages of implementation. The Quechan Nation and other interested parties are seeking National Monument status for part of their historical tribal lands along the southern end of the Colorado river. Both of these areas currently contain — or could contain, depending on final boundaries — popular boondocking areas.

Chuckwalla National Monument begins at the southern boundary of Joshua Tree National Park. That area is a favorite spot for folks visiting the park. I’ve stayed there six or seven times. 

BLM camping outside Joshua Tree NP

The boundaries for the proposed Kw'tsán National Monument haven’t been established beyond mention of the Picacho Peak Wilderness and Indian Pass. The Quechan Nation says: 

The Kw’tsán National Monument will provide permanent protection for our homelands, cultural objects, and sacred places that are increasingly threatened by mining exploration, natural resource extraction, harmful development, unregulated recreational use, management inadequacies, and climate change.

Picacho Peak

No doubt they would like as much area as possible protected by a National Monument. Might that area include where I’m camped right now, off Ogilby Road near American Girl Mine? And what about the areas adjacent to the Colorado River and Imperial Dam, like Senator Wash and the LTVA? It’s too early to say, but I suspect the Quechan are most interested in the mountains and not so much the flat lands at their base. I’m guessing the “unregulated recreational use”  is about off-roaders. We’ll see.

[In case you were wondering, the correct pronunciation of Quechan (a spelling imposed on the tribe) is like Kwatsaan. Hence Kw’tsán.]

Picacho Wilderness Area

But what boondocking restrictions might come with National Monument status? Well, dispersed camping, or sometimes camping in designated spots, is allowed in National Monuments. But it’s common to restrict motorized access in some areas — usually closing primitive two-track trails and virgin areas. Biologically sensitive and archeologically significant areas are also placed off limits. And some closures might be seasonal to accommodate wildlife migration and nesting.  I’ve camped in National Monuments with these limitations before and it wasn’t inconvenient at all, because I’m not the type to rip around in a 4x4, destroy resources, harass wildlife and plunder artifacts.

However, as part of the Kw’tsán proposal, the tribe would be able to set additional land use restrictions. Again, we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

Near Kw’tsán National Monument, or in it?

Monday, February 26, 2024

That’s not my job

Bob Wells asked me to proofread/edit the manuscript for his next book. It’s a collection of his blog posts. Sure, I could do that (although my various teachers, if still alive, would be shocked I had learned how to spell, punctuate, and write coherent sentences).

Bob and I share views on about 85% of things. While reading the manuscript I’d get to one of the issues where we disagree (greatly or slightly) and I’d have the urge to insert my counter argument. But that’s not what I’m there for.

This experience has given me new appreciation for professional editors. They must work on many books they think are complete garbage. 

I did suggest some changes to make the book a better reading experience, and Bob was all for it. Now if only I could fix the 15% of things I believe he’s wrong about. Because I’m always right. Right? No? Aw, come on. At least 95% right. What? Not even 50%?

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Sometimes leaving more than footprints works out

“No, see,” said some guy who was here before me, “Those aren’t ruts from thoughtlessly driving onto soft ground. They’re, um, water catchment troughs. A place for vegetation to take hold, enriching the environment and benefiting the circle of life. Yeah, that’s it.”