Bighorn Campground After Dark

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I took this photo of a sign at the Bighorn Campground.

I stayed one night at the Bighorn Campground in the Gila National Forest in late September 2021. As I stated in my report on the campground, it was a basic free national forest campground with a pit toilet and a few campsites each with a picnic table and a fire ring. If I had driven through during the daytime and not stayed the night, I might have even said the place was boring. However, once the sun went down, I did experience some excitement there.

I’d eaten dinner and cleaned up and gotten into my van. I’d left the sliding door on the driver’s side of my van open, hoping to stay awake long enough to do some stargazing. Darkness was descending, but the last light of day lingered. I stood in the open doorway and saw a lone, bright star (probably a planet—Venus, dare I guess?) in the sky.

I heard a rustling on my campsite, a noise larger than a mouse or a bird or a ground squirrel would have made. What the heck? I could still see the outline of the picnic table, but the fire pit had disappeared. Of course, the fire pit was where the noise seemed to be coming from.

I grabbed my Luci lantern, but it was not up for the job of illuminating outside of its immediate surroundings. I ditched Luci and grabbed a powerful flashlight I’d been given over the summer, hoping it would do the trick. I turned it on, and that sucker was bright!

I shined it around the campsite and caught movement by the picnic table. What was that? Was it a bear? No. Thankfully it was not a bear out there in the darkness just beyond my van. It was a javelina!

I shined the light around some more. No, it wasn’t a javelina. It was TWO javelinas.

I aimed the light to the far side of the fire ring. Oh no! It wasn’t two javelinas. It was THREE javelinas!

Holy shit! I exclaimed, probably loud enough for everyone in the campground to hear.

I was surprised by the first javelina. I was shocked to see the second one, and astounded to see the third. I don’t usually see large animals when I’m camping, and I’d never seen a gang on my campsite before.

Holy shit! I said loudly at least once or twice more.

Thanks for this photo by Donald Teel on Unsplash. This is not one of the javelinas I saw. I don’t even know if this is the exact type of javelina I saw. This is the only free-to-use photo of a javelina I could find.

According to the commentary “Javelina: What Are They, and Where Can You See One?” by Ross Morgan on the Santa Fe New Mexican Website,

Javelina, also known as the collared peccary because of their white collar around the neck, stand 20 to 24 inches at the shoulder and weigh 35 to 60 pounds…

Javelina prefer mesquite habitats with an abundance of prickly pear cactus but can also be found in semi-desert canyons, cliffs and watering holes near cactus. These animals are primarily herbivorous, animals whose primary food source is plant-based, and like to travel in small family groups feeding on roots, insects, fruits, bulbs, beans, worms, invertebrates and reptiles.

(If you want to learn a whole lot more about javelinas, check out the 1993 edition of Wildlife Notes dedicated to the creatures put out by New Mexico Game and Fish)

I’m not good at estimating size, but based on medium-sized dogs I’ve known, I’d say these critters weighed 30 to 40 pounds.

I kept the bright light shined on them. I couldn’t look away. I usually think animals are cute or cool, or at least I appreciate the chance to observe them. These javelinas…I thought they were just ugly, and I did not feel fortunate to have them in my campsite.

They were shaped strangely, and their wiry fur didn’t cover much of their skin. Their little eyes shone red in the beam of my flashlight. Maybe they dredged up some memory of the evil pig in the Amityville Horror, but I didn’t like them. I particularly didn’t much like being so close to them.

Burnt trash left in the fire ring by previous campers. Do you see the black bananas? (I took this photo.)

I realized they were congregating around the fire ring. They were snuffling through the trash previous campers had left there. I’d noticed before a few black bananas sitting on the top of the burnt pile of garbage. I hadn’t investigated closely enough to determine if the bananas had been burnt too or if they were in the late stage of decay that borders on rotten.

I saw one of the javelinas grab a banana in its mouth and run off from the other two toward the brush at the edge of the campsite. This action was minimally cute.

One of the two left behind walked away from the fire ring, closer to the picnic table and closer to my van. When I saw it was giving me the side eye, I worried that I might be in danger. I got fully into my van and closed the door. That was enough wildlife observation for me for one night. I hope the guy who’d ridden up on a bicycle at dusk hadn’t left food in or around his tent to attract them. I imagine having javelinas invade one’s tent would be an unpleasant experience.

According to the Arizona Game and Fish webpage Living with Javelina,

Javelina occasionally bite humans, but incidents of bites are almost always associated with people providing the javelina with food. Javelina can inflict a serious wound. Defensive javelina behavior may include charging, teeth clacking, or a barking, growling sound. Javelina may act defensively when cornered, to protect their young, or when they hear or smell a dog.

I don’t think I was actually in danger since the javelina didn’t charge but just strolled closer. However, I think getting in the van and closing the door was a safe move.

If you encounter a javelina while camping (or even in the city if you’re in Tucson or possibly some other places in the U.S. Southwest), here’s what you should do, according to the aforementioned Arizona Game and Fish webpage:

  • Scare off animals by making loud noises (bang pots, yell, stomp on the floor, etc.); throwing small rocks in their direction; or spraying with vinegar, water from a garden hose, or large squirt gun filled with diluted household ammonia (1 part ammonia, and 9 parts water). The odor of the ammonia and the nasal irritation it causes will encourage the javelina to leave. Avoid spraying ammonia in the eyes as it may cause damage even at this low concentration. Ammonia should not be used around wetlands because it is toxic to fish and amphibians.
  • If the animal is confined, open a gate, have all people leave the area, and allow it to leave on its own. If it is still there the following day, contact a wildlife control business
  • If you see javelina while walking your dog, avoid going near the javelina and quickly take your dog in a different direction.

I read for a while after I closed the van’s door on the javelina gang. I turned off my light around 9 o’clock and promptly fell asleep. I woke at 1am to the sound of a steady rain hitting the top of my minivan. There was some lighting and I heard thunder too, in the distance. I drifted back to sleep.

At 4am I woke up in the midst of what in the Southwest is sometimes called a male rain. Raindrops were pounding on the roof of the van. Lighting flashed so close and so bright, it was as if the paparazzi were shooting photos through the curtains covering my windows. Thunder boomed loudly, so close I felt the van vibrate around me. The storm stayed on top of me for an hour.

At 5am, I gave up all hope of getting back to sleep. I dressed by the light of my Luci lamp, all the while hearing a noise vaguely like the one a propane heater makes. The rain had stopped, so I decided to go outside and investigate the sound. When I opened the door to the van, the sound intensified, and I knew exactly what it was. The sound I’d been hearing was rushing water!

I grabbed the powerful flashlight and used it to navigate to what the day before had been a bone-dry arroyo. Now it was a rushing river moving fast enough to make a big noise. It hadn’t just been raining over me but upstream as well.

I decided I was ready to go. I didn’t see any reason to sit in the dark for another two hours when I was dressed and wide awake. I grabbed the few things I had left out overnight and threw them into the van. I slid into the driver’s seat and drove off into the dark.

A note on spelling: Some sources use “javelina” as both the singular and the plural of the word. Other sources add an “s” to the end of the word to make it plural. I’m following the lead of Tucson Weekly in the editor’s note “A Matter of Style” by Jimmy Boegle who says

the Official Tucson Weekly Style is that the plural of javelina is javelinas, with an “s.”

In my own writing, I made the word “javelina” plural by adding an “s” to the end. In quoting others, I did not change the way they made the word plural.

Free Camping at Bighorn Campground Near Glenwood, New Mexico

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This campground report was written after I stayed there in September 2021. Some aspects of this report may have changed since then. Please do your own research before deciding to stay at this campground.

Bighorn Campground is located in the Gila National Forest, right outside the small community of Glenwood, New Mexico. It is the closest free campground to the Catwalk National Recreation Trail. It’s very small, maybe 10 sites, and it has a pit toilet.

The campground sits right next to and somewhat below Highway 180. Trees and bushes help screen the campground from the road. Most of the sites are as far from the road as possible, but the site I chose (as far from the entrance as possible) was next to and below the road. When big trucks passed, they were loud! Thankfully, Highway 180 is not very busy, at least wasn’t on the Wednesday at the end of September when I was there.

Highway 180 is on the right (passenger side) of Silver Streak, on the other side of that mound of earth.

The sites seemed mostly flat, but are really designed for tent camping. I had to park my minivan 15 feet or so from the picnic table on the site in order to find adequate flatness for sleeping inside my rig. Other sites looked flatter, but I was interested in being as far away from other campers as possible. It wasn’t difficult to pick a spot away from others, as there was only one other person in the campground when I arrived. At dusk, a man on a bicycle arrived and set up a tent. When I left at 5:30 the next morning, I saw a couple other vehicles that had pulled in during the night.

Each campsite had a heavy, difficult to move picnic table made of metal, as well as a manufactured metal fire pit. The road through the campground was dirt covered in gravel and the sites had sparse wood mulch and gravel spread over them. There were trees in the campground (juniper and cedar, I think), and scrubby desert bushes. The grass was dry and yellow and did not grow on the actual campsites. The trees did offer some shade on the sites, but it wasn’t the shade of a pine forest.

I had to park this far away from the picnic table in order to find a flat spot. The dry, yellow grass can be seen near the trees.

I read somewhere (probably on a Free Campsites website review) that during some parts of the year water flows in a creek along the back edge of the campground. I checked out the arroyo back there when I arrived, and it was bone dry. I thought it would have been nice to have the sound of water as my backdrop, but I guess I was too late in the year.

There’s not really too much to say about this campground. Have I stayed in prettier or more interesting places? Yes. However, the price (free) was right, and it was a good, close place to spend the night after I wore myself out hiking at The Catwalk.

The pit toilet was a cute, rustic little building. There was plenty of toilet paper during my stay (but I advise you to always be prepared with your own). There was an uncomfortable number of dead flies on the interior walls of the building, but I did my best to ignore them. The door to the toilet closed and locked, and I was happy about that.

Like most free campgrounds, Bighorn has no trash receptacles. Visitors need to carry out all their trash. Please! Do not leave the burnt remains of garbage in the fire pit as previous campers at the site I chose had done. If you camp at Bighorn, please pack out everything you packed in.

Have you ever seen a cuter little pit toilet?

As you may have guessed, Bighorn is also lacking running water (for washing and/or drinking), electricity, and hookups of any kind. There’s no dump station here either. Other than the pit toilet, this campground lacks all amenities. Please come prepared.

What Bighorn campground did offer, at least to me, was excitement after dark.

To read about what I encountered after the sun went down, please join me here on Friday for all the exciting details.

I took all the photos in this post.

Movie People

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Movie people are staying at the hotel where I work.

I’d seen an article in the weekly county newspaper announcing some folks were in town shooting scenes for an upcoming midbudget movie. I thought maybe I’d see them and their equipment around town, but I didn’t imagine I would see them in the breakfast room.

When I got to work on Tuesday, I noticed a lighting truck in the parking lot, but I didn’t encounter the movie people until Wednesday.

I noticed the man and woman because they were younger (mid 30s, I would guess) than the hotel’s average guest. Also, they were having a heated but quiet discussion. It wasn’t quite a whisper fight, but it could have quickly gone in that direction.

The woman was trying to tell the man something, and he was telling her no and stop. He obviously didn’t want to hear anything she had to say. She persisted.

Isn’t that his job? she asked the guy in a whisper I could hear clearly.

He said he’d already told her he didn’t want to talk about it.

I found their exchange very interesting. This was the first argument I’d encountered in the breakfast room. My ears perked up, but however else the argument may have been resolved, it was resolved quietly.

At some point the woman left the breakfast room, but the guy lingered. He was on his phone later, telling the person on the other end that they’d be shooting later. He named the one bar in town that’s not associated with a restaurant or a group like the VFW or the Moose Lodge.

Oh, I thought. These must be the movie people.

On Thursday the man and woman were back in the breakfast room. Along with them was another woman, the same woman who’d come into the breakfast room the day before after 9am asking for coffee. Luckily for her, there was still some available. I always leave at least one of the big pump dispensers out on the counter even after the rest of breakfast is shut down and put away. She’d asked me if the coffee was good while she made her cup. I lied and told her I didn’t know because I don’t drink coffee. What was I supposed to tell her? I couldn’t very well tell her the truth, which is that I think the hotel’s coffee is weak, more like dirty dishwater than something robust and delicious with which to start the day. I did tell her other people have said they liked it, which is true. She tried a sip and said it was good. I told her I was glad she liked it, which was 100% true.

On Thursday the original man and woman were telling the third woman all about the shoot the day before.

They’d arrived at the bar at 10am. The bar was full of regulars. These weren’t people who showed up to be in a movie, they said. These were people who would have showed up even if there had been no filming involved. The movie people had brought lasagna, but the regulars at the bar didn’t even want to eat. They passed up the lasagna in order to drink.

The women marveled at the thought of preferring to drink alcohol to eating lasagna at 10am on a weekday. I have to admit, I agree with the movie ladies. I’ll take lasagna over alcohol any time of the day (or night).

They were so great, the first woman gushed. Everyone signed release forms.

I guess to movie people, signing a release form is a high degree of cooperation.

We got some great shots, the guy said. Some really great shots.

It was authentic, he said. So authentic. Really authentic.

Well sure. Any small-town Joe or Jill who shows up at a bar at 10am on a Wednesday to drink whether or not there’s a camera crew present is living an authentic life. It might not be the same life I or the movie people have chosen for ourselves, but it’s an authentic life nonetheless.

The movie man went on to tell a story about busting a prop bottle over another actor’s head. It broke as planned, but instead of being filled with water as expected, the prop guy had used actual beer.

It looked great, the man told the women. It was foaming all over the place! He was pleased with the shots they had gotten but had been concerned about the other actor driving later while reeking of beer.

After work I spent the rest of the afternoon referring to things as “authentic.” That rock over there? Authentic. The rickety wooden footbridge I crossed over on a hike? So, so authentic. The water tower against the clouds and blue sky? Absolutely authentic.

This foot bridge? Absolutely authentic!

Maybe when you spend your days creating fantasy, you forget that most people are living every day right smack dab in the middle of the real world.

I took the photo in this post.

An Update on My Job

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My job as a breakfast room attendant in a mid-range hotel is going well. I don’t deal with too many clueless or entitled people, so I don’t have many interesting stories from my job to share. When I worked as a camp host and parking lot attendant and later as a clerk in the campground store, the can-you-believe-it stories rolled in faster than I could write the down. Honestly, I’m glad to have traded blog post fodder for a workplace with sparse drama.

Of course, there are little events to break the monotony of my workdays. People look frantically for the coffee, somehow missing the large pump containers marked “regular” and “decaf” on the counter right in front of them. Guests try to open the wrong side of the handleless refrigerator door. Folks ask for orange juice when we only have apple. I try to help them solve their breakfast problems without embarrassing them or making them feel bad. That door tricks someone every day, I joke to lighten the mood after telling a guest they need to pull on the other side of the aforementioned refrigerator door. I figure it’s early, and we’re probably all struggling.

The most puzzling situation I run into are the people who don’t push in their chairs when they leave the table. This doesn’t happen once a day; it happens several times a day. Is this a new phenomenon due to COVID? Folks must touch the chairs to pull them out. Why would they hesitate to push them back in after they’ve eaten? If the reason is laziness, these people have taken laziness to a whole new level. There doesn’t seem to be a particular age demographic refusing to push in the chairs. Young people, old people, middle age people, they all fail to push in their chairs. Pushing in the chairs is not a hardship for me, but having to do so leaves me asking why.

The most annoying guest are those who come in after the breakfast room is closed but still want to enjoy all the amenities. Breakfast is over at nine o’clock sharp. The moment the “The Drew Barrymore Show” pops up on the television, breakfast is OVER, and I’m hustling to put everything away and get everything cleaned up as quickly as possible so I can go home. Guests can linger in the breakfast room as long as they like, but they should get in by 8:59 if they want to find the toaster plugged in, the waffle iron on, eggs and sausages in the steam table, and cereal on the counter.

One morning a guest came into the breakfast room at 8:58. She puttered around making herself a plate. At 9am I started putting away things she wasn’t using. She must have seen me removing salt and pepper shakers from tables and turning off the waffle iron. Maybe she just didn’t notice. In any case, she finished making her plate and left the breakfast room.

A few minutes later (so probably at 9:05 or 9:07) she returned. In the time she was gone, I had dumped the uneaten eggs and sausages. When the guest came into the breakfast room, she made a beeline for the steam table. She lifted the lid and found the pan empty.

Ma’am, I’ve already gotten rid of the eggs and sausages, I told her.

She seemed perplexed. I bet she wondered how the eggs and sausages disappeared so quickly. What she didn’t know is that at clean up time, I’m quick!

(The next morning the same woman was in the breakfast room making her plate by 8:30.)

Latecomers throw off my cleaning schedule, but they make my life especially difficult if they want a last-minute waffle. If I turn off the waffle iron at 9am on the dot, it’s cooled enough for me to clean it after I’ve done all my other tasks. Twice I’ve burnt my arm while cleaning the waffle iron while it was still hot from after-9am waffle making.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

People sometimes want to use the toaster after breakfast is officially over. This desire causes problems for me because as soon after 9am as possible I unplug the toaster and steam table. If a latecomer wants to use the toaster, I have to stop whatever I’m doing to plug in the toaster. (The toaster plug and electrical outlet are inside a cabinet, so I would have to stop my work to explain to guests where to find the plug and the outlet even if I didn’t feel responsible for plugging it in for them. Also, I have to stoop way down to get to the outlet, and we can’t ask the guests to get down on their hands and knees to plug in a toaster.)

(On a toaster tangent: Why, when cleaning the crumb trays, do I occasionally find globs of melted then resolidified butter stuck to them? Who butter their bread before toasting it? Is this a thing?  Are toaster novices staying at the hotel? Are toasters made to handle buttered bread? I think not! I’m afraid butter in the toaster will someday start a grease fire.)

One day I’d cleaned the breakfast room and put everything away, pushed my cart to the storage area/dish room, washed all the pots and pans and utensils and serving trays I’d used to prepare and serve breakfast, and headed back to the breakfast room to sweep, mop, vacuum, and take out the trash. It was after 10am.

As I was pulling the broom out of the storage closet across from the breakfast room, I saw two guests walking down the hall. They were a young (mid 20s) couple, (ostensibly) a man and a woman. The woman had been in the breakfast room earlier; she’d made a plate and left. As the couple got closer, I saw the man was holding an everything bagel in his hand. One bite had been taken from it.

Photo by Vicky Ng on Unsplash

The two young people stopped at the door of the breakfast room and looked in. They then looked toward the reception desk and must have made eye contact with the manager standing there. As I was coming out of the storage room to ask if I could help them, the guy asked something about our toaster.

How can I help you?  I asked. (At least I hope that’s what I asked. I hope my question didn’t come out more like What do you need?)

Is your toaster still out? he asked, gesturing to me with his bitten bagel.

I realized that from where he was standing and the way the toaster was positioned on the counter on the far side for the steam table, he couldn’t see it.

Breakfast ended at 9 o’clock, I told him. Everything is put away. (I figured the toaster being unplugged was as good as being put away.)

The young man looked disappointed, but I held firm. It wouldn’t have been bad if I’d only had to plug in the toaster, but I doubted it would have been as simple as that. He’d need to cut the bagel in half, so I’d have to get him a knife. He’d probably get crumbs all over the counter I’d already cleaned, and I’d have to clean it all over again. I wouldn’t be able to sweep until the entire operation was over because he would probably get crumbs and sesame seeds all over the floor. The whole situation would have really slowed me down.

Also? He wanted to put a bagel he (or someone) had chewed on into a community toaster! Gross! Germy! Yuck! At home? Sure, put your own germs into your own toaster. But in a community setting? Let’s keep our germs to ourselves.

So, no, I did not invite him into the breakfast room to toast his bitten bagel.

Honestly, the hardest part of my work day is getting myself out of bed at 4am. Also difficult? Going to bed at 8pm on the evenings when I’m not totally exhausted and ready to sleep the afternoon and evening and night away. But overall, I don’t mind the job too much. Somebody’s got to feed the people.

In related news, I took the 60 minutes food handlers course for my state and passed the test with a 97%. Apparently, I’m still good at taking tests.

Hats for Sale…March 2022 Edition

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These are the 46 hats I have for sale. Please disregard ALL prior post about available hats. These are the only ones!

From the time this post goes live on March 2, 2022 until March 31, 2022 at 11:59pm Mountain Standard Time, I’m having a 2 for $22 sale. Buy two hats (normally $15 each) for $22, including shipping! Wow!

Want to stock up on hats? Get 4 hats for $42, 6 hats for $62, 8 hats for $82. Each hat in each photo has a number on it. Please use that number to order. When a hat is taken, I’ll make a note in the caption of the photo it appears in.

Pretty in Pink. Both are available.
Hat 4 is very soft, with a looser, roomy fit.
Greens and tans and goldens, oh my!
Hat #9 is SOLD!
All the colors!
Shades of green
Hat #18 is SOLD! Hat #17 is very tightly knitted, so it’s extra thick and probably extra warm too.
Hat #20 is extra long.
Hat #22 is red, white, and blue for the USA patriot in your life.
Hat #28 is made from a very dark purple and black yarn.
Both of these hats are made with a very soft, thick yarn.
The blues ain’t so bad…

Thanks for looking at all of these hats that I made with my own two little hands. If you want to purchase any of them, please send an email to rubbertrampartist@gmail.com. Please include the number(s) of the hat(s) you want and the mailing address you want them sent to. I can accept payments through PayPal and Venmo.

Power Move

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There are nine tables in the breakfast room where I work. Six tables seat four, and three tables seat two.

One of the two-tops is “my” table. When my coworker trained me, he showed me which table he sits at when he isn’t bustling around the breakfast room. He puts a box of disposable gloves on that table to mark it as his. In addition to the box of gloves, when I’m working I leave my spray bottle of cleaner and the rag I use to wipe the tables there as well. Usually, I drape my jacket over the chair too. Since there are only eight sets of salt and pepper shakers for the breakfast room, my table does without. I don’t need salt and pepper while I’m working anyway.

Once during my training, an older couple came into the breakfast room. The man used a wheelchair. While my back was turned, the man and woman occupied the table my coworker and I had been using. When I turned around, I saw they had moved the box of gloves and whatever else had been on the table to a nearby highchair that was not in use. One of the chairs had been moved away from the table, and the man had maneuvered his wheelchair into its place. I wondered why the couple had chosen to move things in order to use that particular table when several others were unoccupied, but decided it was probably the easiest one for the man to use with his wheelchair.

Fast forward several weeks, and I was working on my own. No one had usurped my table territory since my training. I hadn’t considered it might happen again.

I’d been in the dish room/storage area, so my jacket was on my body instead of hanging on the back of the chair at the table I used as my home base. However, the box of gloves, the spray bottle, and the wiping rag were all on the table. To me it seemed obvious that the table was claimed.

I walked into the breakfast room, but before I could make my way to “my” table to deposit my jacket, I saw an older woman moving my work accessories to another table. She moved the box of gloves and the spray bottle and the rag I used to wipe down tables to the empty two-top next to where I normally sit.

I was shocked! First, I would never move items that didn’t belong to me from one table to another if there were plenty of other places to choose from to sit. Second, in the time of COVID, I touch as little as possible when out in public. (Note: the woman did NOT wash her hands after moving the things from one table to another.)

I looked around to see if perhaps this woman, like the woman during training, was breakfasting with a companion who used a wheelchair. She was not. The gentleman who joined her was not using a mobility aid of any kind.

I stood in the doorway, perplexed. I wondered what was so special about the table in question. Nothing made it more attractive, as far as I could tell. In fact, I think it was less attractive, missing as it was the salt and pepper shakers. (In fact, the woman had to snag the salt and pepper from another table so she and her companion could season their meals.)

I felt very territorial about that table! It was mine! How dare she move my things! How dare they sit in my spot! I wanted to march over there and give them what for!

In the end, I did not march over and tell the couple anything. I knew I’d seem ridiculous if I did, and besides, I didn’t want to add strife to my day. I knew I had no real reason to pick a fight with the customers. Of course, as The Man pointed out, the guests can sit at any table they want because, well, they’re the guests. It’s not really “my” table. I don’t own it. I have no real claim to it.

I’m still puzzled by the situation. Why was that particular table so alluring to the woman? Why did she want to sit in a place that required her to move items obviously left there by someone else? What did she find so appealing about that particular location? These are questions I will never be able to answer.

Even more puzzling are my own thoughts in response to the woman’s behavior. Why did I feel so territorial about that table? Why did I want to fight a total stranger (and a paying customer) over a piece of furniture that’s not really mine? I don’t own that table. I don’t even rent it. I sit there probably less than an hour a day, three days a week. Why should I care if a stranger sits there for ten or fifteen minutes? I could have sat at any other table in the room while “mine” was occupied. (In fact, I didn’t sit anywhere while the couple occupied “my” table. Instead, I stood in silly, silent protest while they ate, thinking I would show them. I’m sure they didn’t even notice.)

I’m the kind of person who can easily get caught up with wanting people to do what’s right. I think everyone should do what’s right, and, obviously, sitting at someone else’s table is not the right thing to do! Also (obviously), I should pick my battles and not get so caught up in other people’s actions when they’re not hurting anyone. I promise you, those people sitting where they did hurt no one. If I was distressed, it was because of my own brain activity.

Human behavior is so weird and interesting. That woman pulled a power move on me, and I admit, she got to me. I may never understand her motivation, but I appreciate that she gave me the chance to explore my own thinking.

Free BLM Camping at The Box Recreation Area Near Socorro, New Mexico

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The Box Recreation Area is just outside Socorro, NM.

To be honest, this is more like a parking lot than a camping area.

Pros: Camping is free there and it’s not far from Socorro, New Mexico. There’s a restroom (pit toilet) on site. The parking area is level. The surrounding nature (especially the giant rock formations) is gorgeous. The road that leads to the area is easy to navigate. It was very quiet the night I stayed there.

Cons: When I was there, the door to the restroom didn’t close completely, which meant it couldn’t be locked. There is nowhere to park a rig where it isn’t on display to everyone else in the parking/camping area. No only is there no privacy in the parking/camping area, there is no shade.

I’d been visiting the Salinas Pueblo Missions Ruins, and Socorro was the next logical stop. I ended up buying a can of beans and dumping my trash at Walmart, fueling up the minivan, and getting a pizza at Little Caesars. I’d been driving and was tired of driving and would be driving the next day. I was ready to stop for the day, chill out, and eat some pizza.

I got on the Free Campsites website and looked for the closest free camping spot that wasn’t Walmart. That place was The Box.

The Box is not far from Socorro, right off Highway 60 and very easy to get to. Once you get off Highway 60, the road is dirt, but well-maintained and easy to navigate. I had no trouble navigating the road in my Toyota Sienna

I’d read reviews of The Box camping area that said it was basically a parking area. Still, I was a bit surprised to find the area is for all intents and purposes a parking lot. It’s not a camping area. It’s a parking area where people camp.

The Silver Streak at The Box Recreation Area. This is the parking area where people in rigs also camp.

There were no signs that said “no camping” or “no overnight parking,” so I felt fine about staying there. Just know that there are few campground amenities save a pit toilet, a trash can (which had a sign saying there was no trash pickup while I was there), and a single fire ring made from stones. There are no picnic tables and no shade structures. There aren’t any trees to offer any shade. (I came in around 3 o’clock on an overcast afternoon and left in the morning. I didn’t experience the lack of shade myself, but I bet this place bakes at midday, especially in the summer.)

Single fire ring in the parking/camping area.

There is a restroom on site. It’s a pit toilet in one of those little square concrete buildings. It was fairly clean and even had toilet paper when I visited in mid-September of 2021. The problem came when I tried to close the door. It wouldn’t close completely. The door wouldn’t fit inside the frame. I tugged on it. I tried slamming it. Nothing worked. I don’t know if the door hadn’t been installed correctly or if a visitor had tried to tear it from its hinges and messed up the whole thing, but the end result was that it wouldn’t close. Because the door didn’t close completely, it didn’t lock either.

After spending several minutes tugging on the door and trying to get it to close properly, my use of the pit toilet had become nonnegotiable. I had to use that toilet even if the door was slightly ajar. I did what I had to do quickly and hoped no one would come along and swing the door wide open while I was in there. No one did.

Over the course of the afternoon, several cars pulled in and people, presumably hikers, disembarked and went off into the wilderness. After a while these people returned to their cars and eventually drove off.

A big group of what seemed to be locals stayed a few hours, having boisterous fun, mostly in the parking area. They left late in the afternoon.

Around twilight a van pulled in and parked next to a pickup truck that had been there for a while. Some young men hung out by the vehicles. One seemed to be cleaning out the van and fussing at the others. Two of the young men played Frisbee in the increasing dark. Other people arrived, but I couldn’t tell if everyone was interacting with each other or if people were sticking to the group they’d arrived with. I wondered if there would be partying into the wee hours, but all was quiet after about 9:30. Even when the people were active, there was no yelling and no loud music, just talking. Once the talking died down, the whole area was very quiet.

If you’re the type to sleep in a tent, there’s plenty of public land right there to pitch it on. Walk out from the parking lot and set up your tent among the majestic rocks.

The Silver Streak looks tiny against those giant rock formations. This is the parking/camping area of The Box Recreation Area.

If you’re like me and sleep exclusively in your rig, you’ll be happy to know the parking area here is very flat. After several nights parked at a slant, I certainly enjoyed sleeping in a bed that was perfectly level.

The Box was not a bad place to spend an afternoon and night. It beat the Walmart parking lot because after the sun set, it was dark and quiet, and I enjoy parking next to nature. I personally would not want to set up camp there for several days, but I liked it for an overnight stop.

I took the photos in this post.

Why I Like the Winter Holidays Time of the Year

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As a kid, I loved Christmas.

What’s not to love? Festivities included presents (from Santa, Mom and Dad, and both sides of the family); lots of delicious food (fudge and pies, ham and turkey, potato salad and rice dressing); and running wild with my cousins.

As I got older, my Christmas enjoyment expanded as I learned that giving can be just as fun as receiving. I remember saving the meager amounts of money that came into my life to buy little low-priced Christmas items from the Sears catalog. I gave my godmother a tiny Christmas tree meant to hold toothpicks and a select few of my elementary school friends received erasers shaped and colored like Christmas tree lights.

Christmas of 7th grade stands out because my parents allowed me to host a party. My four best friends were invited. We pulled names to decide who would buy gifts for whom and set a $10 spending limit. I pulled Kim’s name and bought her treasures to fuel her Duran Duran obsession. Tiffany pulled my name and went over the spending limit when she got me both Bruce Springstein’s Born in the USA album AND Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry. I ate too many Pillsbury slice and bake cookies and drank too much Cherry Coke and puked (not on purpose) after my friends went home.

The last year I remember celebrating Christmas in a traditional way was 1995. I hosted a tree trimming party. I put up an artificial tree and made ornaments with the names of the guests outlined in glitter. I prepared snacks, got everything ready…and was disappointed when only one or two friends showed up. I’d imagined us rockin’ around the Christmas tree, but it turned out to be more of a blue Christmas.

By the next year I was an anarchist. My friends were anarchists too. Instead of celebrating Christmas, we critiqued consumerism and capitalism and Christianity. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of problems with consumerism, capitalism, and Christianity, and I still believe critique can be a healthy way to learn and teach. But is it possible to critique Christmas and still enjoy some aspects of it?

Personally, it’s the entire holiday season I like, everything from the day after Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, the entire month of December plus a little more. But I know that for the majority of people in America, Christmas is the main event, with Hanukkah perhaps a distance second. Yes, some people celebrate Yule and/or Solstice, but in most places those people are few and far between. And while I know there are people who celebrateKwanzaa, I’ve never met any of them. (That’s on me. I’m not suggesting Kwanzaa celebrators are in any way responsible for seeking me out.)

For me, the winter holidays are not about a baby born in a barn in the distance past and laid to sleep in a manager. I was brought up Catholic, but I don’t even consider myself Christian anymore. Christian holidays are not my holidays. To be honest, I don’t particularly celebrate Pagan holidays either. Christmas and Yule and Solstice and Boxing Day are usually just regular days for me, perhaps with some additional stuffing. (Oh, hey, I just looked it up and found out that Yule is 12 days long…I had not idea until right now.)

So I’ll tell you what I like about Christmas time, the holiday season, whatever you want to call it. I like that people are nicer to each other during this time of year.

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

People give each other presents, but I don’t mean just friends and family. People give presents to folks who are practically strangers. When people give a little gift to their mail carrier or garbage collector or teacher, they’re expressing appreciation to virtual strangers. When folks give to Toys for Tots or pluck a tag from a tree at Walmart or Denny’s then get a gift for the person listed on the tag, they’re giving to an actual stranger. During the holidays people donate to food banks and other charitable organizations and maybe even give a little extra cash to the person flying a sign on the corner.

Christmas time isn’t just about gifts though. People think about each other more. They send cards to one another or maybe a text to catch up. People say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or “Happy New Year” (which I like to use well into February). People acknowledge each other more throughout the entire month of December. People simply seem kinder during that part of the year.

I like the additional kindness. I like to receive it. I like to give it out. I like to see other folks giving it and receiving it too. But I think there’s something else at play during the winter holidays. I think during this part of the year, people have more hope.

Photo by Bob Canning on Unsplash

Now here’s the question: Does the hopefulness make people kinder or does the kindness make people more hopeful? I suppose it doesn’t matter. My wish is that we can all be more hopeful and kinder to each other all year long.

I wish this for all of us and specifically to you. I wish you more hope and more kindness today and in the coming year. I wish for you to receive more kindness and to show more kindness too. I wish these things for myself and for each individual, which then means I’m wishing it for us collectively too.

I’m also wishing you a very happy whatever-holiday-you celebrate-this-time-of-year. If you celebrated Hanukkah a few weeks ago, I hope it was wonderful. If you welcomed winter on the Solstice, I hope it was meaningful for you. If you’re a Festivus person, I hope you aired all your grievances and ate a lot of carbs. If you’re celebrating Christmas today, I hope it’s merry and bright. If Boxing Day is your tradition, I hope tomorrow is a great day for you. If you begin celebrating Kwanzaa tomorrow, I wish you a joyous Kwanzaa. If you begin celebrating Yule tomorrow, I hope the next twelve days are fabulous. If I didn’t name your holiday, I still hope it’s a good one (and I’d love you to tell us all about it in the comments).

And of course, Happy New Year. I’m hoping 2022 is a good one for all of us.

Photo by Peng Wei on Unsplash

Solving Your Cooler Problems

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Having a cooler in your rig can really up your mealtime game. With a cooler to store your perishable food, you no longer have to eat out for every meal, live exclusively on canned and other packaged foods, shop for groceries each day, or some combination of these techniques. Having a cooler allows you to have fresh food on hand whether you’re stealth parking in the city or boondocking on public land.

(If you need tips on preparing meals while in your van or other rig without an indoor kitchen, check out my posts How I Cook on the Road, Ideas for Quick and Easy Meals to Cook on the Road, How to Eat Healthy on the Road (When You Don’t Have Time to Cook), and What to Eat When You Can’t (or Don’t Want to) Cook.)

Let’s face it though: maintaining a cooler can be a huge pain in the neck. The ice melts so fast, turning your cooler into some sort of human engineered lake for your food items to bob around in. Well, you’re lucky if your food items are bobbing. Too many times I’ve had food items in the cooler lake sink and become waterlogged, only to go into the garbage can the next time I cleaned out the ice chest.

Also, depending on where you are, ice can be really expensive. Up in the mountains of California, I’ve paid $4 for a seven pound sack of ice. Recently in Alamosa, CO I couldn’t even find ice at the first several places I looked. When I finally found a 7 pound sack at a liquor store, the bag cost over $2. Ice is a valuable commodity, so you want it to last as long as possible.

I’ve tried several different techniques to keep the contents of my cooler from becoming a waterlogged mess.

First I tried filling gallon-size, freezer-weight zipper bag with ice. The bags are easy to find at a variety of stores. Unfortunately, it seemed like no matter how careful I was, the ice quickly poked holes in the bags. As soon as the bags sprung a leak (or five!), my cooler was flooded again. I did not like the economic or environmental repercussions of having to replace those bags way too often.

My next step was to fill several reusable plastic containers with ice. I used Nalgene bottles, plastic ice cream containers, and large reusable food storage containers filled with ice and placed in the cooler. This technique was the least messy because there was no leaking and no spilling when I removed the containers. The drawbacks were the amount of time it took to pour ice from a bag into a bunch of containers and the amount of room the containers took up. Sometimes there seemed to be more containers full of ice than food in my cooler.

Wanting to stop wasting space for ice containers, I tried using a dishpan in the bottom of the cooler. The bag of ice went into the dishpan which caught the water as the ice melted This idea was great in theory, but inevitably there was eventually more water than the dishpan could hold. If I didn’t pour out the water in time, the dishpan overflowed and I ended up with at least a couple inches of water in the bottom of my cooler. The second problem arose when I tried to lift a dishpan full of water our of the cooler and out of my van without splashing and spilling all over myself and the inside of my rig.

At one time I used a Styrofoam cooler inside my plastic ice chest. The food went into the Styrofoam cooler and the ice went between the Styrofoam and the plastic cooler. The system left less space for food, but I was willing to make that trade-off in order to keep my food out of the melt water.

Obviously, there were problems with all of these techniques, and none left me feeling as if I had solved the problem. When I moved into my travel trailer, one of the biggest perks was having a refrigerator and freezer that worked. I’m still grateful for them every day.

Not everyone has the money to buy or room in their rig to install a refrigerator. As a part timer in a minivan, I certainly want to keep my traveling life as simple and inexpensive as possible. Luckily, The Man figured out the best way to get ice to last as long as possible in a cooler and to keep it from turning the ice chest into a lake as it melts.

Solving the Cooler Problems

First, buy a high quality cooler. I did a lot of research on the best coolers on the market. Of course, your budget is gong to play a role in what you buy. If you have a few hundred bucks to spend on a cooler, get yourself a roto-molded Yeti, Orca, or Engel. According to the GearLab article “Best Cooler of 2021” by Maggie Brandenburg, Senior Review Editor, those are the top three brands of ice chests available.  If you have about a hundred dollars to spend on a cooler, go to Walmart and get a Lifetime brand cooler.

According to Lifetime Coolers FAQ on the Hunting Waterfalls website, these ice chests are

NOT roto-moulded…Instead they are blow moulded…a different manufacturing process…Roto-moulded coolers are much thicker and stronger than blow moulded coolers.

The roto-moulding is why Yeti, Orca, and Engel are better than Lifetime. However, the blow moulding is why Lifetime coolers are better than all the lesser priced coolers on the market.

If you are concerned with the country of origin of the products you buy, according to the same FAQ, Lifetime coolers are made in the U.S.A.

From what I’ve read and from what I’ve experienced, the Lifetime coolers are a lot better at keeping your ice frozen and your food items cold than regular coolers are. If you have the money to spend on a Lifetime, I recommend you go for one of these.

The cooler’s insulation takes up some of the space inside. You might end up with less room for food than you think if you only look at the outside of the cooler.

A word on size: Before you purchase a Lifetime or any other roto-mouldled or blow moulded cooler, open it up and take a look inside. If you’ve never used one of these modern coolers before, you might be unpleasantly surprised by how much room there is (or more accurately, isn’t) on the inside. The insulation that’s going to keep your food cold takes up some of the interior space. I think it’s a worthwhile compromise. You’ll have to make your own decision.

The Man bought a 28 quart Lifetime cooler. He soon found that once he got a 7 or 10 pound sack of ice into his cooler, there wasn’t a lot of room for food. If you just need to keep your half and half, a pack of cold cuts, some American cheese slices, and a dozen eggs cold, buy all means, get a smaller cooler. If, however, you are like me and want to keep a gallon of milk, two pounds of cheese, a couple dozen eggs, and some fresh produce on hand for the next several weeks, get a bigger cooler. Learning from The Man’s experience, I bought a bigger (55 quart) Lifetime cooler, and I have never regretted it.

This is my 55 quart Lifetime cooler. You can see it’s a good place to display my sticker collection, including stickers I’ve received in trades via the RV Sticker Club.

What if You Can’t Afford a Lifetime Cooler?

I know that not everyone can afford a fancy new cooler. There was certainly a time in my traveling life when I would have laughed joylessly if you had suggested I spend $100 on an ice chest. (I was only able to do so last spring thanks to money I received related to the death of my father.) If you’re shopping for a cooler at a thrift store or gratefully accepting one a family member or friend doesn’t use anymore, I see you, and I’ll give you some tips for keeping your ice solid for as long as possible.

Buy block ice. I don’t often see ice in blocks, but if you do, it’s your best bet for lasting a while. If you have to buy cubed ice, keep it all together If you separate the ice, it will melt faster.

Don’t use a cooler bigger than you need. If you have a choice, don’t get a big cooler if a small one will do. The less space ice has to cool, the longer it will last.

Keep your cooler off the floor of your rig and off the ground. Both the ground and the floor of your rig will heat the cooler and melt your ice. In my last conversion van, I got The Man to build a low shelf for my cooler to sit on. Unfortunately, there’s not room for such a shelf in my minivan. If you’re boondocking, keep your cooler in its place in your rig, or if you must keep it outside, on the picnic table, on a stump, or even on a large rock.

Keep your cooler out of the sun. Put it in the shade, or cover it with a blanket. You want to keep it as cool as possible so the ice inside of it doesn’t melt.

Speaking of blankets, wrap your cooler in blankets, even if the sun isn’t hitting it. I keep my Lifetime cooler covered in a couple of blankets. The added insolation helps the ice last longer Also, it’s a great place to store extra blankets when space is at a premium in your rig.

Open the cooler as little as possible. Think about what you need from the cooler before you open it. Things heat up in there while you’re rummaging around. If you like cold drinks throughout the day, reserve a smaller cooler just for beverages so you don’t have to open your main ice chest every time you’re thirsty.

Don’t put hot things into your cooler. Whether it’s leftovers or beverages that have been sitting in the hot rig all day, putting  even warm items directly into your cooler is going to melt your ice. Let things cool off before you put then in the cooler. Try putting beverages in your ice chest in the morning  when the liquid is at its coolest.

Ice Is Gonna Melt

Of course, the ice in your cooler is going to melt no matter how careful you are. That’s the nature of ice. What about all the water that melting ice produces? How can you keep it from making a complete mess in the cooler? Don’t worry, The Man figured that out too.

I purchased the 20 liter size dry bag at Walmart. The price went up almost a dollar since I took this photo.

Get a dry bag. Walmart sells them. I bet most camping supply stores do too, but The Man and I both got ours at Walmart because that’s what was available in the little desert town we were in. Get a big one. You want 7 to 10 pounds of ice to fit in it. Ours are the 20 liter size. That’s not the biggest one available, but it’s been plenty big for my needs. At the time of writing this post, the 20 liter dry bag runs just under $7 at Walmart.

Once you put your ice in the dry bag, roll down the top and cinch it Put the bag full of ice in your cooler. Position the top of the bag so none of the water from the melted ice leaks from the top. Close the cooler. There, you’re done, until it’s time to dump the water from the dry bag and add more ice. If you can, leave the cold water in the dry bag until you’re ready to add more ice. The cold water will help keep your food cool.

I’ve never had the dry bag leak. The seams are sealed to keep water out, so they also keep the water in. Sometimes there is water from condensation on the bottom of the cooler, but that’s easy to wipe out.

I believe one time The Man put the dry bag full of ice flat on the bottom of the cooler and the bag leaked from the top. I don’t know if it leaked because it was flat or because the top wasn’t rolled down enough. Maybe the top wasn’t cinched adequately. I keep the top of the bag upright within the cooler, and I’ve never had a problem with leakage.

This is what the 20 liter dry bag looks like once it’s out of the box, but before any ice is put in it.

At only about $7 for the 20 liter size dry bag, most of us can afford this upgrade. Even if you can’t afford the best cooler on the market, you can probably afford a dry bag to cut down on ice chest lake aggravation and food waste.

I hope these tips help you solve your cooler problems. Do you have other tips to help folks deal with coolers and melting ice? Do you have other ideas for keeping your ice solid for longer? Please share your tips and ideas in the comments below.

I took all the photos in this post.

The RV Sticker Club

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Have you heard about the RV Sticker Club? If you’re not on Instagram, you probably haven’t. Even if you are on Instagram, maybe you haven’t because Instagram is BIG!

I just found out that the RV Sticker Club has a webpage too, so you can check it out even if you don’t have an Instagram account and hang out there all the time like I do.

The Club is a project of The Flying Ham Travel Trailer Rentals If you’re in the Nashville, TN area, the Flying Ham folks will rent vintage style campers and glamping bell tents to you. Not only do they rent these cool camping accommodations, they deliver! According to their website, they will drop off and set up the camper or bell tent at the location you pick. When you finish camping, The Flying Ham will pick up the camper or tent. How cool is that? (Very cool!)

But back to the RV Sticker Club. If you’ve never heard of it before, you’re probably wondering what exactly it is. According to the Club’s webpage,

The RV Sticker Club is an international community of camping enthusiasts who trade RV/camper/van/bus stickers using the hashtag #rvstickerclub on Instagram! 

That explanation probably answered your first question: Is it only for folks who own an RV? NO! Although “RV” is in the name of the Club the real common denominators seems to be traveling and camping. You like traveling and camping? You’re in! You have a fifth wheel, motorhome, travel trailer, Airstream, popup, Casita, canned ham, Scamp, or teardrop? You’re in! You have a pickup truck with a camper that slides into the bed? You’re in! You’re have a van (mini, conversion, or cargo)? You’re in! You’re have a long bus? A short bus? A box truck? You’re in! You camp in a tent? You’re in! You’re full time? You’re part time? You’re a weekend warrior? You’re a snow bird? You’re in!!!! You can see this is a club with very loose membership requirements.

(If there were some terms in the above paragraph that you didn’t understand, see my post Lingo which explains a lot of expressions I’ve heard on the road.)

The RV Sticker Club website goes on to say that it’s free to join the club, but since the whole point of joining the club is trading stickers, you will need to purchase some stickers for trading. Before you order stickers, though, you’re going to need a design to put on those stickers. You will need a design that communicates to the world who you are.

I’ve had two Rubber Tramp Artist designs. You can read about both of them in my post Rubber Tramp Artist Has a New Logo! I’ve been so fortunate to have two very talented artists create two very special designs for me.

What can you do if you don’t have a talented friend willing to create a design for you? The RV Sticker Club FAQ says,

You can design one yourself on a paint program on your computer or hire someone to design it for you!

The RV Sticker Club folks then list the following seven graphic artists under the heading “Sticker Designers We Love”: BrewSleepDraw, courtney lemmons designs, Green Bow Editing, Clothe the Branches, Free from Ordinary, The Wandering Wardens, and Lucy The Glamper.

Once you have a design, you can have it put on a sticker. I’ve had all of my stickers produced by Sticker Mule, and I’ve always been impressed and happy with the outcome. The stickers are thick and durable and suitable for outdoor application. Their customer service is fantastic and the turn-around time is quick. The folks at RV Sticker Club recommend Sticker Giant.

Ok. So you have a design and you have stickers. Now what? The RV Sticker Club website says,

When your stickers come in, post them on Instagram using the hashtag #rvstickerclub and tag us (@rvstickerclub)!

People will DM (direct message) you to trade, or you can message them! 

​Exchange addresses. 

​Watch your collection grow!

Wondering where to put the stickers you receive? Some people have a special RV Sticker Club scrapbook and affix the stickers to its pages. Some people attach stickers to their rig, either inside or outside. Another popular sticker display place is an ice chest or cooler. I started trading stickers specifically to decorate my new cooler. After the cooler was completely stickered, I starting using stickers I received on the case for my camping stove. (Unfortunately, I put all the stickers on upside down. Oh well.) At some point, someone (I can’t remember who) said they put stickers on their poop bucket, so I started doing that as well. Once the stickers start arriving, you’ll think of all kinds of places to put ’em.

These are the places I’m displaying the stickers I’ve received in swaps via RV Sticker Club. Not all of the stickers are the result of trades. I also have stickers that I’ve won in giveaways and some that I purchased in places I visited.

I think RV Sticker Club is a lot of fun! Maybe you would enjoy trading stickers too. I’d be glad to answer any questions you have about trading stickers. Feel free to ask questions in the comments below.