For two months I sold my jewelry and shiny rocks (and my book and the hats I made and my Rubber Tramp Artist stickers) at a farmers market in a small southern Arizona town. The market was held on Saturday mornings, from 9 am until noon. Minimal produce was sold there, but vendors offered bread and sweets made from scratch; jellies and jams produced locally and in small batches; hand-made soaps, lotions, and balms; and more craft items than you could shake a stick at.
Most of the people who visited the market wear elderly, although plenty of those folks were healthy and in good shape. A few children came through with their parents and grandparents, and teenagers were seldom sighted.
There wasn’t much money in the town, and many days I earned my dollars one bracelet at a time. I was grateful for every little sale that helped me get by, and I often looked at my sales in terms of $2 sacks of ice.
I saw many of the same people several times over the two months I sold there. I think some people saw the market as their weekly social event. Some folks stopped and looked at my wares every time they were there (perhaps wondering if I’d gotten anything new) and others bypassed me after the first time they determined I had nothing of interest to them.
I saw one man a handful of times at the market during those two months. He was an older man with grizzled stubble on his unshaven face. He wore a ball cap advertising his status as a Vietnam era veteran and worn work clothes. What made me remember him wasn’t how he looked. What made me remember him was the same joke he told me every time I saw him.
Good morning, I”d say when he walked up to my tables. How are you today?
I’m good, he’d say enthusiastically. I woke up breathing this morning! At my age, that’s a good thing!
At that point I’d say something positive like Oh! That’s great!
I tell my wife, he’d always continued, “Honey, no matter how much I love you, if I wake up and I’m not breathing, get as far away from me as possible.” That would be enough to put anyone in a bad mood. Then he’d laugh at his own joke, and I’d laugh too, mostly just to be polite.
I never saw him with a woman, and I never asked him where his wife was on any given morning. If she was dead and he wanted to pretend she was still alive, that was ok with me. I wasn’t going to force him to admit anything to me.
I wonder if he made the same joke to every vendor or if from one visit to the next he forgot he had used it on me already. He never bought anything from me. After he made his joke, he moved on.
He seemed like a nice man. I was always glad to see he was still breathing.
Folks who’ve been reading this blog since the spring may remember a post I wrote in May about spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity. Nolagirl and I attended this March 2018 festival in Mesa, AZ meant to celebrate “the imaginative spark in all of us.”
There were so many cool exhibits at the festival, including “The Night Garden,” “Community Still-Life in Clay,” and my absolute favorite, art cars!
An art car usually begins with an old or used vehicle that is need of repair. Instead of focusing on transforming the inside of the vehicle, the owner radically changes the exterior of the car. Art cars are made by ordinary people and are often driven and owned by their creator…
One of my favorite art cars I saw at the spark! festival was really a van. California Fantasy Van was created by Ernie Steingold of Burbank, CA and was on loan from the Art Car World Collection in Douglas, AZ.
According to a short article from wesclark.com, this 1975 GMC panel van was embellished by “late Burbank resident, Ernie Steingold,” a vacuum cleaner repairman.
Over the course of ten years, he spent much of his free time locating and attaching more than 5,000
Detail from California Fantasy Van–laughing Buddha
brass items to the van after completely covering it with thousands of coins.
An ABC News slideshow about the World’s Craziest Cars says Steingold welded the brass colored items onto the van. He
drove the vehicle slowly and eventually ruined its tires and brakes because of the car’s weight.
I thought this decorated vehicle was really cool! First of all, it was a van, and we all know I have a soft spot for vans. Secondly, I loved all the little doodads attached to the van. I spent a long time looking at all the items catching the spring sun.
Third, I love imagining Ernie Steingold obsessing over his creation. In a time before the widespread use of eBay and the internet, Ernie must have spent a lot of his time and energy looking for objects to add to his van creation. I bet he scoured flea markets and swap meets and antique stores and junk yards to find pieces to add to his rolling exhibit.
Detail from California Fantasy Van–Bad Dude
I wonder what Steingold’s wife and three children thought of his artistic endeavor. Did they support him in his quest? Did they enjoy the hunt for just the right additions too, or did they think Steingold was a bit daft? Did they ridicule his work, simply endure it, or actively support and encourage it?
Inspired by Ernie Steingold, I sometimes fantasize about turning my van into an art car, especially when I find cool objects that are too big or heavy for my collage work. Maybe I could decorate my van with items related to Arizona, the Sonoran Desert, and the U.S. Southwest. Maybe I could have a Route 66 van! Then I remember that once I have anything attached to the exterior of my van, any semblance of stealth I may have is gone.
The New Mexico State Parks Pass, also known as the New Mexico Annual Camping Permit, is a great deal for anyone who wants to spend more than month exploring the state and staying in the campgrounds of its state parks. The Man and I both bought New Mexico State Parks Passes in the fall of 2017 and camped at several of the state parks campgrounds separately and together.
I’ll tell you everything I know about the New Mexico State Parks Pass (abbreviated to NMSPP in the rest of this article) so you can decide if it’s right for you.
Sunset in the day use area at Brantley Lake State Park.
New Mexico Resident (Proof of New Mexico I.D. and Vehicle License Plate Number are required at time of purchase.) $180
New Mexico Resident *Senior, 62+ (Proof of Age and Vehicle License Plate Number are required at time of purchase.) $100
New Mexico Resident *Disabled (Proof of disability required.) $100
Out-of-State Resident (Proof of I.D. and Vehicle License Plate Number are required at time of purchase.) $225
If you lose your annual camping permit, no problem! You can get a replacement for only $10.
If you are a resident of New Mexico with a disability, there are several things you can use to prove your disability to the satisfaction of the folks at the New Mexico State Parks. See the aforementioned fees, permits, and rentals page to find out what documents you need to get your reduced-rate permit.
Primitive camping at Brantley Lake State Park
Permits for seniors and folks with disabilities can only be purchased at the New Mexico State Parks’ Santa Fe Office, located at 1220 S St Francis Drive #215 or at any New Mexico State Park Visitor Center. The passes for New Mexico residents and out-of-state residents can also be purchased online. I purchased my pass in person at the visitor center at Leasburg Dam State Park, so I don’t know if there are any extra charges for buying the pass online.
If you have a NMSPP, you can camp in any primitive camping area (usual cost: $8 per night) or on any developed camping area with no hookups (usual cost: $10 per night) in a New Mexico state park for no additional charge. According to the aforementioned fees, permits, and rentals page,
Primitive campsites offer no special facilities except a cleared area for camping. Sites may include trash cans, chemical toilets or parking.
Primitive camping also offer no designated sites. You’re basically boondocking when you camp in a primitive area at a New Mexico State Park.
I’ve camped in primitive camping areas at Caballo Lake State Park, Elephant Butte Lake State Park, and Brantley Lake State Park. In both of those parks, primitive camping was lakeside. I also witnessed primitive camping next to the lake at Bluewater Lake State Park. Although the primitive areas offer few or no amenities, campers are welcome to venture into other areas of the park and use the water spigots, restrooms, showers, and dumpsters if such facilities are available. (To find out what amenities are at each park, take a look at the printable New Mexico State Parks brochure.)
The developed camping areas typically offer a fire ring and a picnic table. Sometimes the developed areas offer
This is what the developed campsites look like at Brantley Lake State Park. Beware: At this park, ALL developed sites have electric hookups, so if you plan to stay in the campground, you’re going to have to pony up $4 a night, even if you have the NMSPP.
shade covers too.These campsites tend to be in campgrounds, closer to toilets (either flush or pit, depending on where you are) and sources of potable water. I’ve stayed on developed sites at Brantley Lake State Park, Percha Dam State Park, Elephant Butte State Park, Rockhound State Park, Leasburg Dam State Park, and Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. The Man spent some nights at City of Rocks State Park; while I have visited that park during the day (and think it’s a gorgeous place), I’ve never had the pleasure of camping there.
Your NMSPP does NOT provide for free electric or sewage hookups. If you have the annual camping permit and want an electric hookup, it will cost you an additional $4 per night. A sewage hookup if you have an annual camping permit will also cost an additional $4 per night. If you have the annual camping permit and you want both an electric and sewage hookup, that will set you back $8 per night. New Mexico State Parks do not charge for water hookups where they are available.
According to the New Mexico State Parks page devoted to camping,
Sunset over Oliver Lee State Park.
Campers may reside in a park for a maximum of 14 days during a 20 day period. Campers shall completely remove camping equipment and gear from the park for 7 calendar days during the 20 day period.
Here’s what that means if you have a NMSPP. You can stay in any New Mexico State Park for up to 14 days, then you have to leave that park. However, you can go directly to another New Mexico State park and stay there (for free if you camp in a primitive area or on a developed site with no hookups) for seven days, then turn around and go back to the park you left a week ago.
If you wanted to save money on gas, you could stay in an area where there are state parks not too far from each other (such as Elephant Butte Lake State Park, Caballo Lake State Park, and Percha Dam State Park) and go in a circuit from one to another, staying two weeks at each.
This was my view of Caballo Lake when I stayed in the primitive camping area of the state park.
The NMSPP is good for only one vehicle per site. I called the New Mexico State Parks main office to make sure I understood this point correctly. I was hoping that even though The Man and I have separate vehicles, we could share one pass. No go! However, when we were camping together at Leasburg Dam State Park, there was only one developed campsite with no hookups available, and we were allowed to have both of our rigs on the site with no problem. (Note: I had a Chevy G20 and the man had a Honda Odyssey, so both rigs fit easily on the site, facilitating our sharing of the space.)
I bought my NMSPP early in November 2017. When I bought it, the park ranger gave me a sticker to attach on my windshield. This sticker showed that I was a pass holder and it gave the expiration date of my pass. At the time I purchased my pass, there was space for the month and the year the pass expired. (The passes may be configured differently, depending on when you read this post.) My pass said it expired 11-18 (November 2018). I didn’t think to ask at the time, so I again called the New Mexico State Parks main office to find out if that pass expired on the first day of the month noted on it, or the last day. The answer: the last day! So even though I’d bought my pass early in November 2017, it was good through the last day of the month in 2018.
The campground at Rockhound State Park near Deming, NM.
I think that’s everything I know about the New Mexico State Parks Pass. If you have questions on topics I didn’t cover, I strongly encourage you to call the New Mexico State Parks main office at 505-476-3355. I’ve called the office several times with questions and the woman who answered the phone was always exceptionally pleasant and helpful. Talking to her was always a joy.
The information included in this post is subject to change, especially the information on prices. Blaize Sun is not responsible if the information she gave you is no longer applicable when you read this post; this information is a starting point. Everything was correct to the best of her knowledge when the post was written. You are strongly urged to call the New Mexico State Parks office or check internet sources for updated information.
Three East Indian men came into the Mercantile on a Sunday morning. The first one asked me if we had any food, and I directed him to our shelves of snacks.
The two other men came in shortly after. The short young guy with puffy hair asked for food too, or at least I though he did. When I directed him to the snacks, he got exasperated and said, No. Like a banana. Apparently, he had asked for fruit.
I spared him my boisterous rendition of “Yes, We Have No Bananas” and simply told him we had no fruit. He bought a Payday bar and a granola bar, and then the men were on their way.
The other clerk had gone to lunch when the short fruitophile guy came back into the store. Excuse me, he said politely. Do you know the password to the WiFi?
Yes, I said, which I thought was the truth, but I’m not allowed to give it out, which was certainly the truth.
The young man looked very sad. Is there anyone here who can give it to me?
I shook my head and said no. All employees were under strict orders not to share the WiFi password with anyone not employed by the company that runs the store and the campground.
I don’t have signal, the young man said, looking sadder by the second.
No one has signal up here, I told him.
Knowing he was not alone in his lack of signal did not seem to comfort him. He stood there and looked at me with his big, dark eyes.
Do you have an emergency? I asked. If someone had been bleeding or his car had been on fire, I would have handed him the store phone.
I haven’t talked to my family in like five days, he continued,
(That’s why I come up here! a camping friend of mine exclaimed when I told her this story.)
Once you get down to Tiny Babylon, you’ll have service again, I tried to comfort him.
My friend has the car, he said. Maybe he could only go where his friend drove, but I’m not sure how the ownership of the care affected his cell phone service.
There’s a facial expression I found myself making when I had nothing more to say to someone in the Mercantile. I pressed my lips together and turned down the corners of my mouth. This expression was accompanied by a little noise which sounded something like Hmm. This is how I conveyed that I could do nothing to help and the conversation was over. This reaction was the last thing the young man got from me. He looked at me sadly for several long seconds, then he turned around and walked out the door.
I found out later the same man had asked the other clerk for the password as she was coming back from lunch and had asked Javier the camp host for it too. Of course, they told him no, but I was a little miffed he’d asked after I told him no one would be able to give it to him.
Javier pointed out to me that although he’d put the password in his phone and he was now allowed to access the internet, he couldn’t access the password anymore. He wasn’t able to share the password with anyone even if he wanted to because he couldn’t find it on his phone.
I poked around on my phone and discovered I was in the same situation. The password was in my phone, doing its job to allow me to access the store’s WiFi, but I sure as hell couldn’t figure out how to see the password. (I had the password in a note on my old phone, but the battery on that one died so completely, I couldn’t get to any screen even when it was plugged in. I hadn’t thought to copy the password before my phone was totally gone.)
I was pleased when I realized I could truthfully tell people who wanted the password that I didn’t know it. I didn’t have to tell people I wasn’t allowed to give it out; all I had to do was admit my ignorance.
It was Friday morning at the Mercantile, and members of a large family from Indiana and Illinois staying in the campground were shopping. The parents of one family were probably in their early 30s, and they had four kids—three boys and a girl. The oldest kid was probably 10, the youngest 5. The kids ran around touching things and playing with puppets while receiving practically no supervision from either parent.
The mom of the family noticed the WiFi networks on her phone, or maybe she had noticed it before she stepped foot in the Mercantile. Do you have internet here? she asked. Since she must have known there were networks available, what she really wanted was the password so she could utilize one.
I shook my head and made a sad face. No, I said, then realized her phone was telling her otherwise, so I added, not for public use.
At least once a day, someone asked about accessing the store’s WiFi. If I didn’t think they’d seen the networks on their phone, I just said no. If the visitor already had a phone out, I’d say the internet wasn’t available for public use, and maybe I’d add it was only to run the cash register, which was a fib in and of itself. All of the company employees in the area had the password to one of the networks and connected to it to so we could access the internet. Still, I used the only for the cash register fib when I saw that a visitor was not going to simply give up on the idea of using the internet while near the Mercantile. Most people were obviously disappointed but didn’t push the issue.
I tried to help people by finding out why they wanted to use the WiFi. Most people told me with panic that their GPS wasn’t working. They didn’t seem to feel any better when I told them that no one’s GPS was working on the top of the mountain, but I could usually give them directions to where they wanted to go. For the people who wanted to post pictures or check their social media, there was nothing I could do to help.
It seemed like the mom on this Friday morning was going to let the topic of WiFi drop, but then she brought it up again as her family piled their souvenirs on the counter on front of me for purchase.
Couldn’t she use the internet for a few minutes? she asked. Couldn’t we just give her the password? I’ll pay you, she offered.
I knew what was going to happen if we gave her the password. She would go back to her extended family camping on three sites and brag that she had access to the WiFi. Maybe her family would beg, or maybe she’d hand out the password with no coaxing, but I was confident she’d share it and all the adults in her group and the older kids too would be on our porch, logged in to the WiFi.
She offered to pay me, but I just said no. That’s when I told the big lie.
I could tell she wouldn’t give up if I simply said no again or told her it was against store policy to share the password. I knew she’d promise not the give the password to anyone else or even tell anyone she had it, but I was confident she wouldn’t be able to keep such a score a secret. I knew I had to tell her something that would make an impression on her. That’s when I told her the big lie.
I’ll pay you, she said, and I said, No. If I give you the password, I’ll get fired. You don’t have enough money. I shared this information flatly, matter-of-factly, no smile on my face, not like I was joking.
I knew I probably wouldn’t get fired if I gave her the password, even if The Big Boss Man somehow found out about it, but I knew if The Big Boss Man found out I’d done such a thing, he would not be happy with me. At the least, I’d get a stern lecture. At worst, if I gave the password to this woman and she shared it, her extended family could use up our monthly allotment of internet access or crash our system from overuse. Why would I want to bring any negative consequences on myself for what I’m sure would only be an offering of a .few bucks?
I don’t like lying and I try not to do it, but in this case, as I suspected it would, my lie shut the lady down. She quit asking for the password. Perhaps she didn’t want my job loss on her conscience. Perhaps she realized I wasn’t going to give her the password no matter what she offered or how much she begged.
If you’re a newbie attending the Women’s RTR at the end of the week or the RTR in the next two weeks, you may hear a lot of new terms. For the sake of public education, I decided to run this post from January 2016 again after revising and updating it.
the vocabulary or jargon of a particular subject or group of people
I hate lingo. When folks use specialized language, it feels like a separation to me–us vs. them. If you understand the specialized words I use, we have something in common and we are insiders. Those people over there who don’t understand what we’re talking about? They must be outsiders, and good riddance!
I know lingo also makes communication easier for people who share knowledge. Like pronouns, lingo saves us from having to use full descriptions every time we talk. But lingo is often exclusionary, even if folks don’t mean to use it that way. In the interest of sharing knowledge, I will now explain some of the lingo I’ve encountered while living my life on the road.
Airstream–A brand of travel trailer made from distinctively shiny metal, with curves instead of corners.
I boondocked on this BLM land.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM)–Government agency that administers public land, especially in the Southwest. There is so much BLM land where folks can boondock/dry camp for free.
Boondocking–Staying somewhere (often public land) for free. Some people use boondocking interchangeably with dry camping, while others differentiate between the two and use boondocking only in relation to public land. To learn all about boondocking, read my post “10 Fundamentals for Boondockers.” My friend Coyote Sue calls dry camping in a parking lot blacktop boondocking .
Canned ham– A trailer, usually vintage, in the shape of a can of ham on its side.
Casita–Brand of a particular style of lightweight travel trailer.
*Class A—RV that looks like a bus with a flat front nose; motor home.
*Class B–A van with the comforts (shower, toilet, kitchenette) of an RV.
*Class C—motor home with a van nose and an overhead cab with a bed.
CRVL–I saw this twice at the RTR and had no idea what it meant, until I saw it spelled out in tiny letters at the bottom of a sticker. CRVL stands for Cheap RV Living, a fantastic online resource for anyone living on the road, no matter what kind of rig is involved. There’s also a Cheap RV Living YouTube channel for folks who’d rather watch videos.
I did some dispersed camping on Bureau of Reclaimation Land in New Mexico, and this was the view of the Rio Grande from my campsite.
*Dispersed camping–Camping on public land in places other than official campgrounds; sometimes called primitive camping or boondocking.
Dry camping–Camping with no hookups, sometimes used interchageably with boondocking.
*5th wheel–Trailers which hook to a hitch in the bed of a pickup truck.
Full-timer–Someone who does not have a sticks-n-bricks house; someone who lives on the road all the time.
*House battery–A deep cycle battery used to run household items in a rig.
Motor home–An RV that has a motor in it so it can be driven; a motor home can be a Class A, a Class B, or a Class C.
Mr. Buddy–A brand of heaters which run on propane and are very popular with vandwellers and rubber tramps.
Nomad–According to Merriam-Webster, this is a member of a people who have no fixed residence but move from place to place usually seasonally and within a well-defined territory; an individual who roams about.
Part-timer–Someone who has a sticks-n-bricks house where s/he lives at least sometimes; someone who lives on the road sometimes, but also lives in a stationary home sometimes.
Popup–A type of towedRV that can be collapsed for easy storage and transport.
The Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico is public land.
Public Land–Land owned by a local, state, or federal government. When rubber tramps and other nomads talk about public land, they typically mean land open to (usually free) camping. Public land can include city or county parks, fishing lakes, BLM land, Bureau of Reclamation Land, National Forests, National Monuments, National Recreation Areas, wild and scenic rivers, and national seashores and lakeshores.
Primitive camping–Camping on public land in places other than official campgrounds. In primitive camping areas, there are no water, sewage, or electrical hookups and usually no toilets of any kind, no water, no ramadas, no picnic tables, and no metal fire rings. Primitive camping is sometimes called dispersed camping. Folks boondock or dry camp in primitive camping areas.
This was my rig during one part of my life as a full-time rubber tramp/vandweller.
Rig–What one drives and lives in. My rig is a conversion van. A rig can be a cargo van. A rig can be a pickup truck with a slide-in camper. A rig can be a car or an SUV. A rig can be a Class A, a Class B, or a Class C motor home. A rig can be a combination of a tow vehicle and a travel trailer or a converted cargo trailer or a 5th wheel or a tear drop or a popup.
Rubber tramp–The Urban Dictionary says a rubber tramp is a “person who travels and lives out of their vehicle (normally an RV, van, bus, etc.). They stop and stay wherever they choose for however long they want, but eventually, so as long as there’s a way to put gas in their tank, move on.” Not all folks at the RTR would consider themselves rubber tramps.
RTArt Camp–A camp within the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, The RTArt Camp is a place within the larger gathering for nomadic artists and creative nomads to come together to share skills, create art together, have fun, and build community.
Rubber Tramp Art Community (RTAC)–An intentional community for nomadic artists/creative travelers. Members of the group meet to camp together, create art together, teach each other new skills, help each other, and spend time together as a community.
So far, I’ve attended four RTRs.
Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR)–A winter gathering in Quartzsite, AZ for folks who live on the road (either full-timers or part-timers) or who want to live on the road. At the RTR there are seminars about living on the road and opportunities to meet people and hang out with friends. I’ve written quite a bit about my experiences at the RTR in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. Also see Cheap RV Living for more info about the RTR.
RV–Recreational vehicle. RVs include motor homes, 5th wheels, and travel trailers.
Shakedown–a practice trip taken before a longer trip. (According to Wikipedia,, this term comes from “shakedown cruise,” which “is a nautical term in which the performance of a ship is tested.”)
*Snowbird–Someone who lives in cool places in the summer and warm places in the winter, traveling as the seasons change. Snowbirds can travel north to south or from low elevation to to high elevation and back again.
Solo–Traveling alone, usually said in regards to a woman. The assumption that most women travel with men is often made, so a distinction is sometimes made when a women travels alone. I’ve never heard anyone asking a man if he is solo or hearing a man describe himself as solo.
Sticks-n-bricks–A conventional home, although it doesn’t have to be made from wood and bricks. A sticks-n-bricks can be an apartment or a manufactured home, or a house made from adobe or stucco or straw-bale. A sticks-n-bricks isn’t mobile.
Teardrop—a streamlined, compact, lightweight traveltrailer, which gets its name from its teardrop profile. They usually only have sleeping space for two adults and often have a basic kitchen in the rear.
Toad–A vehicle towed behind an RV. I guess because the vehicles are towed, people started calling them toads. People in big motorhomes often pull a vehicle behind the motorhome so they can park their rig and use the smaller vehicle to drive around for errands and exploring.
Tow vehicle–What one uses to tow one’s travel trailer.
*Travel trailer (TT)–Travel trailers hook up to a hitch and are pulled by a tow vehicle. Travel trailers vary greatly in size. Most people use the travel trailer as living quarters and don’t live in the tow vehicle.
During my time as a camp host, I cleaned this pit (or vault) toilet many times.
*Vandweller–A person living in his/her van who wants to be there.
Vault (or pit) toilet–Non-flushing toilet sometimes found on public land; basically a tall plastic toilet set over a hole where the waste products sit until they are pumped out.
The campground was full—or nearly so—on Saturday night, including a couple with a reservation for the site right next to the host site where The Man and I stayed. The couple rolled in at dusk, while The Man and I were cleaning up after dinner. The temperature was dropping, and I wondered if the woman next door would be warm enough in the short shorts and sweatshirt she was wearing By the time I crawled into my van and hung my curtain, the couple was standing next to a raging fire.
The next morning I was up early, got dressed, ate breakfast, went to work. It was a normal day.
When I returned to the campground around 6pm, I noticed the people who’d been staying on site #8 were now on the other side of the campground on site #4. That was unusual, but not unheard of. Sometimes people wanted to change sites for a variety of reasons from proximity to the restrooms to wanting to camp closer to friends.
While the tent still stood on site #9 and the stove sat on the picnic table, no car was parked on the site. The campers must have gone off on a day trp.
The Man and I said hello and had some How was your day? chitchat. Then he asked me if I’d heard the people on site #9 the previous night.
No, I told him. I hadn’t heard anything.
The Man had become friendly with one of the campers on site #8. That guy had told The Man that the people on site #9 had spent the previous night having boisterous, loud sex. Apparently the woman had been particularly vocal.
Damn! This was probably the most exciting thing that had ever happened in the campground, and I had slept through it. I hadn’t heard a sound.
Is that why the people on site #8 moved to site #4? I asked.
That indeed was the reason.
I wonder if the people on site #9 were exhibitionists and wanted everyone in the campground to know they were getting it on, or if they were overcome with passion and didn’t realize how loud they were being.
The Man hadn’t heard anything the night before either, but he’d parked his minivan in a nook past our campsite so as not to crowd the people next door. He was maybe a little too far to hear sex sounds from site #9.
On Sunday night I had to go down to guard the Mercantile. I was sorry to have to miss whatever auditory sex show was going to happen that night on site #9.
On Monday morning, as soon as I returned to our campsite and saw The Man, I whispered, Did you hear anything? while looking pointedly toward site #9. He hadn’t heard a thing. Either he’d slept through the caterwauling or the folks on site #8 had moved for no reason.
Seems like it always happens when folks start discussing winter in Quartzsite, Arizona. Someone mentions the Big Tent, and someone else says What’s that? Other folks in the conversation jump in and start trying to explain things and mayhem occurs.
Ok, so I’ve never actually seen mayhem occur during a discussion of the Big Tent, but I know that lots of people who’ve never been to Quartzsite in the winter aren’t quite sure what it’s all about. In the interest of public information, I’ve made today bonus blog Saturday, and I’ll again share what I wrote about the Big Tent in 2015 and 2016. You’re welcome.
“The Big Tent” is what folks call it, but the actual name of the event is The Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show. It’s been held every year since 1984, although the location within the town has changed several times. People travel to Quartzsite in their RVs (motor homes, vans, campers, fifth wheels, etc.) from all over the country to enjoy the warm Arizona weather and see what’s new in the Big Tent.
The Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show started with 60 exhibitors and a small tent. In 2015 it had grown to a 69,000 square foot fully carpeted indoor exhibit area at 700 South Central Blvd.
In 2015 the Big Tent was open January 17th through 25th. I visited it on the Saturday opening day and on Tuesday the 20th.
I went to the Big Tent the first time because I was trying to get a job as a camp host. I’d arrived at the tent about ten minutes early, but nobody was getting in early that morning. The line started moving at exactly nine o’clock. By the time I got inside, the place was already packed.
I wasn’t surprised to see RV park booths, RV insurance booths, booths staffed with folks trying to convince people to drive their RVs north to Canada and south to Mexico. I wasn’t surprised to see an Arizona State Parks booth, a KOA campground booth, and a Good Sam’s Club booth.
Several casinos had booths too, complete with wheels to spin. Spin the wheel, win a prize, but not until one coughed up one’s name, mailing address, email address, and phone number. I tried to win several times but scored nothing more memorable than multiple decks of cards.
Several booths were dedicated to recruiting work campers. One of those booths belonged to Workamper News, the website to check out (I was told at the RTR) to get hooked up with work camping opportunities. Amazon.com was present, recruiting for its CamperForce. The sugar beet harvest people were there too, and I had a nice talk with a very pleasant man from the Midwest, but quickly realized that sugar beet harvest work is too strenuous for me. Several companies looking to hire camp hosts were also in the Big Tent.
I was surprised to see multiple booths selling pillows. I understand that RVers use pillows. But why would someone buy pillows at at sports, vacation, and RV show? Wal-Mart sells pillows. Kmart sells pillows. Sears and JCPenney and probably the freakin’ Family Dollar sell pillows. Pillows can be ordered from Amazon.com. Why were these RV show pillows so special? I don’t know because I did not stop at any of the many pillow booths and discuss the desirability of their pillows.
On a related note, the funniest thing I saw in a booth was a man lying in a bed on a platform a couple of feet off the floor. He was selling some special RV bedding, and he was demonstrating this bedding by lying in a bed. The big come-on with this bedding was that one wouldn’t have to make the bed if one had this bedding. Basically, the bedding was a double sleeping bag placed on top of a mattress. There was no tucking of sheets and blankets because this item was a blanket pouch. Is making an RV bed so difficult that people would rather sleep in a double sleeping bag? In any case, whenever I saw this grown man lying down in bed while trying to convince people to buy his wares, it cracked me up. Unfortunately, I did not have a camera to take his photo.
I was also surprised to see people in so many booths trying to sell
kitchen gadgets. I do understand that RVs have kitchens, which might
lead RVers to buy kitchen gadgets, but it seems like those items too are
available in just about any regular store. Do people get caught up in
the frenzy of shopping at the Big Tent, only to wake up to reality later
and find their yellow freebie KOA tote bag full of silicone bowl covers
and long skinny plastic chip clips?
The least explicable booths were those selling makeup, hand creme,
and jewelry (especially an “ion” bracelet some lady tried to slip on my
wrist). I didn’t stop at any of those booths, but from my cruise past, I
didn’t see anything that looked unique or revolutionary.
My favorite booth was the one run by Minute Rice. There was a wheel
to spin and prizes to win. When I spun the wheel, it stopped on “emery
board.” Boring! However, the nice ladies were also giving out two-packs
of the precooked, microwaveable rice. There was even a choice: white,
brown, or jasmine. And they didn’t want my email address!
I know I mentioned it was crowded in that tent, but let me just say again, the place was packed. At one point, the crowd in the aisle was at a complete standstill. There was a tall young man next to me, and I asked him what he saw up ahead. He said it was just a bunch of people standing still. As soon as I made it out of that quagmire (without ever seeing a reason for movement to have ceased), I ducked out of the next exit door into the sunshine. There were more booths on the outside around the perimeter of the Big Tent, but nothing held my attention long enough for me to stop.
When I went back the following Tuesday (because I was in the area to purchase items from several of the booths in the Tyson Wells shopping area), the Big Tent was mostly the same. The Minute Rice ladies were gone (they must have run out of rice), but I made up for it by playing a couple of fun and silly games at the Progressive booth, where the workers were a bunch of young gals dressed like Flo! There (thankfully) weren’t as many people in the Big Tent, so we all had a little more elbow room.
As I left the area, I decided The Big Tent (like Mardi Gras) is definitely something to see once, if one is in the right place at the right time. I wasn’t sure I’d visit the Big Tent again, but I knew if I did, it wouldn’t be on opening day. I hoped if I did go back, I’d own a working camera so I could get a photo of that man in the bed.
In 2016, I did visit the Big Tent again, but not on opening day. There was no need for that. I wasn’t looking for a summer job because I already had one lined up, and I wanted to avoid filling the van with unnecessary items, even if they were freebies. I believe I went on the Wednesday after opening day, on my last day in Quartzsite.
Again, no one was being let in before the official opening time of
9am. I milled about outside the north entrance with the other early
birds. While I was waiting, I got a text from my friend Tina who was at
the Big Tent to look for a job. She met me at the north entrance, and we
walked in together at nine on the dot.
There weren’t very many people browsing through the tent that day, so there was plenty of elbow room.
We hadn’t gotten past very many booths when a guy working for Direct TV tried to waylay us. Who provides cable in your home? the guy asked. Oh, I said casually, I don’t have a home. Tina snickered and the guy was quietly confused just long enough for us to escape.
The next guy who tried to interrupt our rambling was in a booth with hair-salon chairs. He called out aggressively, Ladies, what appliances do you use to style your hair? I told him, I don’t style my hair. It does whatever it wants. He didn’t know what to say to that, and we walked on.
One good-looking young East Indian man with a British accent drew me right into his booth. It was a large booth, and there were several salespeople in it trying to sell reusable heating pads. The pads were pretty cool There was a metal disc in them and when the disc was clicked, the goo inside the pad got hot. The pads could also be used cold by placing them in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. The young man was trying REALLY hard to sell the product to me. I finally had to tell him I wasn’t going to buy anything, but said he was doing a great job. We sort of squeezed each other’s hand in farewell, which made me a little giddy.
I got excited when I saw a sign with my name on it. Well, it was sort of my name. When I asked the
man standing behind
the table if I could take a photo of the sign, he insisted on putting
the product beside it. Well, ok. I tried to explain to him that my name
is Blaize, and I like to take photos of signs with my name on it. He
only seemed concerned with showing off the product, which I guess makes
sense because it’s his job to sell the stuff. I know nothing about the
quality of Micro-Blaze, so I cannot recommend it. However, readers, you
now know it exists.
Just down from the Micro-Blaze booth, I saw the salesman I’d been thinking about all year, the man selling RV bedding.
In 2015, I sadly had no camera to take a photo of the salesman and
his wares, but in 2016, I was prepared. I walked up to the man and said
hi. He said hi to me and started telling me about his special sheets. He
sounded super sad. He sounded like a robotic recording. He sounded like
a super sad robotic recording. The way he gave his speech about his
special RV bedding did not make me want to buy his product. The way he
gave his speech almost made me want to cry. I don’t know if he was
having a bad day or if he was just generally tired, but his enthusiasm
level was way low. I asked him if I could take his photo, and he said
This guy, even though he seemed really down, was the high point of the Big Tent for me. I walked around after I talked to him, got a bright yellow (and cheaply made) tote bag from KOA and played a sort of slot machine game with the Flo lookalikes at the Progressive booth, but nothing made me happier than finally getting a photo of that guy.
Now you know a little bit about what goes on at the Big Tent so you can decide for yourself if you want to check it out.
In late January of 2018, I bought an old fifth wheel out in the desert. The fifth wheel is almost as old as I am, and I don’t think it would stay together if I tried to take it on the road. I imagine hooking it up to a tow vehicle and getting up to 50 or 60 miles per hour on the highway only to have pieces of the fifth wheel start to fly off. Wind and vibration might peel the metal walls from the frame, allowing my life (or at least my material possessions) to be sucked out one by one. None of that for me, thanks; my fifth wheel is stationary.
The RV (actually my winter home and not used for mere recreation) came with solar panels and deep cycle batteries. Everything was already hooked up. I can charge my laptop and cell phone inside, and when the sun goes down (and it’s dark by 6 pm in the desert in the fall and winter), I turn on electric lights, just like people in conventional homes do. The difference of course is that folks in conventional homes receive a bill for their electricity each month. The other difference is that on cloudy or rainy days, folks in conventional homes don’t worry about running out of power.
I have running water. To be more specific, I have cold running water. The fifth wheel has no water heater, so that water that comes from the faucet is cool in the fall and winter. Since we don’t cook meat, cold water and dish soap works for washing dishes. I wash my hands and face with water from the faucet, but I buy my drinking water from one of the reverse osmosis machines in town.
When I want to take a shower, I go to one of the four shower houses in the RV park where the fifth wheel is sits. Cold water showers are included in the price of the rent. Since I hate cold showers, I feed quarters into the machine that magically allows the hot water to flow. The water is plenty hot, but sadly short. Lately I’ve been taking dollar showers. The Man is happy spending 50 cents to wash himself.
The RV park is nothing like the RV parking lots I’ve seen across the country. Nothing in the whole place is paved. Desert plants grow wherever they grow. Lots are not laid out uniformly; some are bigger than others and the RVs are oriented every which way. Some of the RVs are large (motor homes as big as Willie Nelson’s tour bus) and fancy (Airstreams and brand new fifth wheels) while many are like mine–old, sun-bleached, decrepit.
The people living in the desert are a mixed bag too. There are old desert rats who’ve been full-time residents for decades and newcomers tent camping in the desert for the first time. There are people who seem to have a lot of money (the ones in the giant motor homes and fancy RVs) and folks who are barely scraping by on social security dollars and food bank bread. Some people are social and participate in many activities down at the clubhouse, while others are practically hermits. In addition to Americans who come from as far as as Washington state and Maine, many Canadians come to the desert to escape their country’s harsh winters. It truly takes all kinds.
The people who want to be social can find a lot to do down at the clubhouse, starting with coffee in the morning. The park manager brews a fresh pot when she opens the office at 8 am, and for 25 cents a cup (or $10 upfront for the monthly plan) residents can gab and drink as much java as they can stomach. Since the closest McDonald’s is 50 miles away, the senior citizens gather here instead of the Golden Arches.
Other activities to participate in include hikes on Tuesdays, Bible study on Wednesdays, gentle exercise every morning, and card games several afternoons each week. A group of artists gathers on Mondays, and the crafters meet on Tuesdays. There’s a pancake breakfast on Thursday mornings and movies on Monday nights. Dancing is on Friday nights and the open mic for musicians happens on Saturday afternoons.
I participated in the crafting group once. I was invited, so I showed up. A dozen women and zero men sat around a couple of long tables pushed together. I was the youngest one there by at least 15 years, which didn’t bother me.
Let’s go around the table and introduce ourselves, the leader of the group said.
I had the distinct impression they wanted to do introductions so they could find out more about me. I was the only person in the group who didn’t include the number of children I had birthed in my introduction.
Early in December 2018, The Man said we should participate in the group hikes. He said we needed to get out of the house, get some exercise, and be more social. I agreed with at least the first two points.
Someday I’ll post a complete recap of the entire hiking adventure. For now I’ll say that what was advertised as a 3 and 1/2 hour hike took me and other slow folks over 5 hours to complete. When it was over, my hips ached, I was beat, and the rest of my day was shot. Even The Man was wiped out. He and I agreed the hiking group was not for us, but people ten, fifteen, and twenty years our senior didn’t seem to have half the trouble we did.
I’m glad to have a warm place to touch down in the winter. I wouldn’t want to be in the desert when summer temperatures soar above 110 degrees, but in fall and winter and the early days of spring when the average daytime temperature ranges from 87 degrees to 66 degrees and hard freezes are rare, I think the desert is a wonderful place to be. We don’t see snow and winter rains are infrequent. The sun shines most days, boosting both our electric power and our mood.
We do deal with desert winds. They blow and they blow, sometimes for days on end. Something about them can really agitate me, so being able to cook and wash up inside the fifth wheel is a huge blessing. I’ve had to do my housekeeping outside in the desert wind, and I’d rather not, thank you.
Of course, we have to figure out what to do when the mercury climbs. I for one don’t want to be in the desert much past the middle of April when it’s hot enough to make me grumpy. There are many questions to answer before The Man and I leave the fifth wheel. Where should we go? Together or separately? How will we earn money? What nature do we want to be close to? Where will we find cool temperatures?
I remind myself I don’t have to figure it all out today. Time will tell. The story will unfold.
I met Dawn at the 2018 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. I heard she was an anthropology student studying what her website calls the “growing culture surrounding solo female nomads in the American Southwest.” When we spoke, I found her to be intelligent, thoughtful, and kind. About two weeks after the RTR, she interviewed me for her project. One afternoon we sat in the sweet motor home she’d renovated to suit her tastes and needs. She asked me questions, and I talked about my life as a solo female van dweller. We talked and talked until after dark, and honestly, I wish we could have talked more. I didn’t want to Dawn to just be someone I’d met once or twice; I wanted Dawn to be my friend!
When I began my series of interviews with nomads, Dawn came immediately to mind. We hadn’t been in touch in a while, and I was interested in what she was up to. I wanted to share her story with my readers, but I also wanted to satisfy my own curiosity. Had she gone native*, as we say in the anthropology biz? Had she become a solo female nomad or was she planning to start living her life that way?
Turns out Dawn had decided nomadic living is not for her, and that’s ok. Nomadic living is not for everyone. I think it’s important for folks who are contemplating a change to life on the road to consider both the good and difficult aspects of this way of life. In this interview (conducted via email) Dawn talks about the joys of renovating her rig and the hardships and stresses of life on the road, including “the fear of what was going to break next,” pets that never fully adjusted to life in the motor home, and the near constant struggle of figuring out how to survive.
Rubber Tramp Artist: I don’t think you’re a full-time rubber tramp. To what extent do you live nomadically?
Dawn: At this point, not at all. I came home and fell into the bathtub, air conditioning, the static -ness of poo that goes away when you flush the toilet and kissed the earth. I never felt the thrill of traveling. Only the fear of what was going to break next. Which is, in hindsight, almost ridiculous. Nothing bad EVER happened. I never was stranded on the side of the road, I never felt “endangered”. But the fear of what could be wore me down to the point of what I seriously think is PTSD from what was…five months on the road? It’s insane intellectually.
With that sort of experience behind me I decided to face a phobia of flying this summer…and discovered, yes, I still want to live nomadically, but in hotel rooms, with a backpack, and a jet plane that takes me from here to exotic places in a few hours. I don’t want to worry about pets, propane, plumbing, leaks, gas mileage, wind, cold, heat, being alone, where to dump, where to shower…I am…a…marshmallow. I have no desire to live off grid, or with constant dirt and fear. I’m too freaking old for this crap.
RTA: Tell me about your rig. Make? Model? Year?
Dawn: 1984 Dodge 360 V8, under 75K, Mallard, Edelbrock Carb. Probably gets 7 miles to the gallon despite being 22 ft long and 2000 lbs light in the rear end.
RTA: I seem to recall you remodeled your rig. Tell me about that process.
Dawn: I loved it. It was completely amazing. I learned so much. Unlike actually living and traveling in it –
Let me explain. I learned plumbing. I moved the water pump, replaced it, learned about pipes and connections and can now change out a faucet or a drain. It isn’t rocket science.
You know what else isn’t rocket science? Electricity. There’s 12volt and there’s blow yourself into the wall 110 volt. There’s 30 amp and 50 amp. There are batteries, solar panels, half a dozen different sizes of wiring and fuses and tools you need, electrical sockets and solar panels…and it takes forever to wrap your head around, but when you do? You realize that there is a certain amount of self-sufficiency that has been stripped away from us–by lobbyists for the electrical industry, as in this instance. I’m all for public safety and policies that ensure that, but on the flip side we are reduced to calling in professionals for the most minor of repairs that could be accomplished with basic skills.
You respect, you research, research some more, and then you do it.
Same with propane.
Same with construction.
I had no skills. I was a web designer that knew how to search Google and YouTube, and ask questions at my local Ace Hardware. Sometimes I paid a professional to do it. But mostly, I discovered that maintaining an RV – an entire household system plus a car – was doable.
RTA: How did you get interested in nomadic living?
Dawn: One word – community. In the mid-2000s I talked my BF into buying a Class A and trying it. Unfortunately, his job left us circling Denver (imagine, he’d rather entertain people at a theatre than pick beets!) and that is not an RV-friendly place. Buy your pot and keep moving. But, what I discovered was a different breed of people that RV’d. No matter their religion or politics, they were always willing to lend a hand. In retrospect, living in an apartment was more isolating.
RTA: You’ve turned your interest in nomadic living into graduate studies. How were you able to do that?
Dawn: Ah. I needed a thesis and this – studying women that decided to do this RV/vandwelling thing alone – was the only thing that interested me. So I should point out – this is an undergraduate thesis. But I am not going into more debt, at my age, to go any further with my education. So I decided I might as well go all out and make this PHD style. It has really cemented a new direction for the rest of my life writing and working with women to tell their stories. I know a lot of women did this without going into debt, but I couldn’t sell anything, didn’t have steady income being a student, so I did this by going into a lot more debt than I was comfortable with. It just kept snowballing as I found I needed this, or that (or thought I did). And, living on the road was much more expensive than what I budgeted for. Unexpected repairs, food costs, gas…
RTA: Why do you think it’s important to study modern nomads?
Dawn: Because, look at this – this is completely outside of the norm. This is fringe culture. This is creative. This is women sticking their middle finger to not just society but gender norms and saying I’m going to live and find my life, and screw the lot of you. I love this. Women never get to do this. Ever. Look at history. It doesn’t matter if they fail at being a nomad, or hate it, or whatever. These women are authentic, powerful, and are choosing to experience liberation. I see them as journeying on a trajectory of becoming fully self-evolved. Does that make sense? As far as rubber tramps and American nomads, gender aside? It’s like the release from a pressure cooker. Our culture, and American lifestyle is deteriorating – and rubber tramps/nomads are the first edges of that implosion looking to survive.
RTA: What are the most fascinating things you’ve learned from rubber tramps?
Dawn: The goodness of people. Ordinary people with varied religions, political beliefs and socio-economic backgrounds. It is an antithesis to what we see portrayed in politics and the media. We can and are living in two different realities.
RTA: How can my readers find out more about what you’ve learned from people on the road?
Dawn: [My website]http://www.junowandering.com – it will be a slow process, though – an evolutionary ethnography. [This website also includes Dawn’s blog where you can read about her travels.]
RTA: Do you see yourself ever living nomadically full-time?
Dawn: Yes. But not in an RV/van/car where I have to navigate being part of the fringes. With a backpack and living wherever fate lets my head fall as a ‘tourist’, instead. Of course, this doesn’t seem practical. And, I could not do this as long as I’m responsible for pets.
RTA: What were your three favorite things about living in your rig?
Dawn: I didn’t share it. I could move it. It felt like the center of my world.
RTA: What three things did you hate about your rig?
Dawn: Fear. Constant fear of what was going to go wrong and how I’d fix it. Fear of the weather – heat or cold, and taking care of pets. The horrible gas mileage and expense.
RTA: When I met you, you were traveling with two animal companions. How was it for you and the animals?
Dawn: Hard. The cat adjusted but the dog is getting older and had issues with skin infections and arthritis. I had an emergency in Quartzsite and couldn’t find a vet for 200 miles – that almost broke me mentally. It is good to be home. The dog is so much happier, as is the cat. They like their routine and space. They adapted, but I can honestly say they weren’t happy.
RTA: Do you still consider yourself a participant observer**, or have you gone native?
Dawn: Nope. [I haven’t gone native.] I admire the lifestyle. Rather, I admire those that live it. But, it’s not for me. Even though I feel like a wimp saying that!! I feel like I failed some test. Living full-time as a nomad is like being a farmer. There is nothing else – there is no time or energy to be creative, to relax, to just ‘be’. Maybe, if you have a retirement income. But not if you have to figure out how to also survive. It’s constant – trying to find resources, deal with the weather and legalities of where to park, negotiate new situations, maintain both a car and a home that are constantly undergoing both earthquakes and tornadoes…
Does that make sense? Perhaps if it was like traditional nomads that traveled in familial groups? But alone? I think – I think – that there are a lot more people doing this under an illusion of what it could be, than are actually mentally cut out to live like this. Just a thought from the ‘new’ nomads I’ve met…
*Merriam-Webster defines “go native” as “to start to behave or live like the local people.”
*Merriam-Webster defines “participant observer” as “one that is engaged in a research technique in anthropology and sociology characterized by the effort of an investigator to gain entrance into and social acceptance by a foreign culture or alien group so as better to attain a comprehensive understanding of the internal structure of the society.”