Security

Standard

anatomy, biology, eyeNow that the store is up and full of merchandise, The Big Boss Man wants someone on site in the campground where it’s located every night. When the camp hosts are away from the campground during their weekly time off, guard duty falls to me.

To be fair, The Big Boss Man says, if you don’t mind to me whenever he asks me to do something extra, but it seems risky to me to refuse his reasonable request. Honestly, sleeping at the other campground is no big deal. The beauty of sleeping in my van is that I get to spend the night in my own bed no matter where I’m parked. Also, I’m reimbursed for the mileage I accrue driving back and forth between the campground where I live and the campground where the store is located. At 54 cents a mile, I’m not getting rich from driving, but at least it’s a little something to help me out.

I’m not sure what I would do if I woke up in the night and realized someone was robbing the store. The phone is in the store, so if burglars were in there, forget about calling 911 or my boss. I suppose I could get license plate number(s) and description(s) of vehicle(s) and person(s) involved, then climb into my drivers seat, start my van, and drive away to alert my boss. I suppose on my way out of the campground I could shout, That’s my purse! I don’t know you!

Before the campground opened, and I stayed there overnight to guard the store and the yurts, I parked in one of the paved accessible parking spaces. The gates were closed, and I had the only vehicle there, so I figured it didn’t matter if I parked in a reserved spot. Once the campground opened, I decided I better stay out of areas designated for folks with disabilities.

The first night I was on security duty after the campground opened, I drove through the area before parking in thehttps://i1.wp.com/images.pexels.com/photos/699558/pexels-photo-699558.jpeg?resize=388%2C238&ssl=1 camp host site. I knew the hosts had checked in two groups with reservations earlier that afternoon, but I saw at least five sites were occupied. The campground had gotten some walk-in campers before I arrived.

I was not on camp host duty, so I wasn’t concerned with any campers who were not checked in. The Man would patrol the campground the next morning and write permits for anyone who hadn’t been issued one by the camp hosts before they left. I hadn’t been given any permits (since I wasn’t working as a camp host), so I couldn’t have check in anyone even if I wanted to, which I didn’t.

After driving around the campground, I backed into the host site. I had a decent view of the store there, so I could see what was going on if I heard any noises in the night.

I knew I should have drawn my curtains immediately, but instead I sat in my passenger seat, pulled out my phone, and tried to catch a whiff of the store’s WiFi. I hadn’t sat there even ten minutes when I looked up and saw five people standing near my van, looking intently at me.

The youngest woman said, Hello! as soon as I looked up.

I greeted her, but I suspect I looked grim.

They would like to camp here, the young woman said, gesturing to the other people standing nearby.

Ok, I said, leaning back to speak through the open windows on the side of the van. A camp host will be around tomorrow to check them in.

Tomorrow, she echoed. Is there one site that’s not reserved?

I don’t know, I said, which was the truth.

I don’t have any paperwork, I said, which was the truth. The Man had the arrival report for the campground. I knew the camp hosts had put up a reservations card on each campsite that had been reserved for the next week. All the people had to do was walk around and read the signs to find out what sites were available that night.

The young woman continued to look at me expectantly. I’m just working security, I explained with a there’s-nothing-I-can-do shrug.

The people wandered away from my van and huddled together in the roadway, presumably discussing which campsites were available that night.

I learned my lesson that night. I no longer spend my security guard nights in the host site. I park behind the Mercantile and put up my curtains immediately. When I’m away from the host site, the campers don’t seem to consider me someone who might be able to answer their questions.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/eye-iris-anatomy-biology-8588/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/six-camping-tents-in-forest-699558/.

Why I Don’t Have Solar

Standard

The title of this post is a little misleading. I do have solar panels and deep cycle batteries and an inverter to provide electricity for my fifth wheel out in the desert, but I don’t have any sort of solar setup for my van.

There was a time when I seemed to keep meeting men 15 to 20 years older than I am who liked to tell me, You need solar! without taking into account my particular situation. They had a solar setup; it was working well for them, so they thought I should have what they had. I know these guys were trying to be helpful, that they thought solar power could help me as it had helped them. However not only did I bristle at having someone who barely knew me tell me what I needed (none of them ever asked if I’d considered solar power or what my reasons were for not having a solar setup), my individual situation kept solar power off my list of needs.

Most importantly, for at least the first four years of my solo vandwelling, I simply couldn’t afford the components necessary to provide my van with solar power. Even if I could have gotten the installation done for free at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous or some other van gathering, I couldn’t afford all the necessary pieces. I still live pretty much hand to mouth. Add in a van that seems to need a repair every six months or so and has needed new tires three years in a row (!), and I just haven’t had the several hundred dollars I’d need to buy solar panels and a deep cycle battery and an inverter and all the other pieces and parts I don’t even know I need.

Up until I got my fifth wheel last winter and was able to use it as a place to store some of my stuff, lack of space in my van was a huge issue. Anyone who lives in a van with every single item s/he owns knows space is at a premium. I am not a minimalist, and for most of my life as a vandweller, I could not image where I’d put a deep cycle battery. I literally had no place for such a thing.

Another factor in my hesitation to spend a bunch of money on a solar setup was my place of employment. For the last three years (and this year too) I’ve worked in a National Forest during the camping season from mid-May to mid-October. Forest = trees and trees = shade. What good are solar panels that aren’t in the sun? Not much good! I’d have to move the solar panels around all day to keep them in full sun, and my work hasn’t been conducive to such uses of my time. It never made sense to me to spend a large hunk of money on something I couldn’t use fully for at least five months out of the year.

I’ve figured out ways other than solar panels and deep cycle batteries to meet my vandwelling needs. I use solar powered Luci lights to see by at night and a small, foldable 24 Watt solar charger manufactured by 1 by One to charge my phone. I also have a 140 watts Schumacher power converter that plugs into my 12 volt power supply and allows me to charge my laptop and phone, as well as a USB power adapter which allows me to charge two phones at once. I spent about $20 on the most recent Luci light I purchased via Walmart.com, under $25 for the power converter, and about five bucks for the USB power converter at a Family Dollar store in a small desert town. I received the folding solar panels as a gift (and now I can’t find them on Amazon to tell you how much they cost my benefactor).

abstract, beach, brightDon’t get me wrong. I’m not telling anyone they shouldn’t get a solar setup for their van (or car or RV or truck camper or whatever). The solar setup on my fifth wheel (which was already up and running when I moved in and was very reasonably priced) is very convenient. What could be easier than flipping a switch and having a light come on? Remarkable! However, because the fifth wheel is out in the desert, the solar panels are out in the sun for hours almost every day. I don’t have to move them around to catch the sun. I don’t have to do anything to make the system work.

What I’m saying is that I don’t need an entire solar setup to live in my van. Most rubber tramps do not need an entire solar setup. A nomadic life can be lived without it. Heck, for years I didn’t have a power converter and only charged my laptop when I had access to electricity in a house, business, or library.

If you want to use solar power in your rig and can afford a full setup, go for it! However, if you’re a nomad wannabe without a lot of money to get started, don’t think you have to delay your nomadic life until you have solar panels on your roof and a deep cycle battery next to your passenger seat. Most folks actually need very little to start living nomadically. Get your rig. Move in. There you go! You’re ready to hit the road, even if you don’t own a single solar panel.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-silver-solar-panels-159397/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/bright-countryside-dawn-daylight-302804/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/abstract-beach-bright-clouds-301599/.

 

Drive-Thru

Standard

I was in Flagstaff, Arizona, and money was tight. I decided to visit the food bank to help me get by until I received my first paycheck.

I’ve been to food banks across the country, and some are better than others. It’s disheartening to fill out a bunch of paperwork, answer a lot of personal questions, and wait in line for a long time to receive not much more than a can of green beans and another of store-brand beef stew. Don’t get me wrong—I’m always grateful, but sometimes I’m more grateful than others.

I’d heard the food bank in Flagstaff was generous, so I had high hopes when I decided to pay it a visit.

I called ahead. My license didn’t list Flagstaff as my address, and some food banks only want to give food to residents. I didn’t want to stand in line only to be turned away. The nice woman on the phone said I didn’t need to be a resident of Flagstaff to get food, but I would need to show my ID. No problem.

I arrived early. The food bank was set to open at 9am, but I was ahead of the game and had the van parked before 8am. People tend to show up early for free food, and I wanted to be one of the first in line.

I was writing and not really paying attention to the time when I looked at my watch again. It was 8:30. The parking lot was no fuller than it had been when I pulled in. I was parked on the side of the building, so I thought people must be lined up in front. I grabbed my reusable shopping bags and went looking for the line.

When I walked around the corner of the building, I didn’t see a single person standing in line. I did see orange cones arranged in front of the building to make a lane and cars lined up in the lane. Could this really be a drive-thru food bank?

I hurried back to the van, got in the driver’s seat, turned the key in the ignition, and backed out of my parking space. I exited the parking lot and took my place in the queue which now stretched out of the parking lot and onto the side of the wide, lightly trafficked street. It was probably ten minutes to nine.

Just minutes after nine, the vehicles in front of me started moving. I was soon close enough to the front to see the proceedings. A woman with a clipboard approached a car, and there seemed to be some conversation. The clipboard was handed to the driver; soon the driver handed the clipboard back to the woman running the show. The car pulled up to a predetermined spot and people I presumed to be volunteers unloaded food from a full shopping cart into the car’s open trunk. In a few minutes, the car was on its way.

agriculture, basket, beetsWhen my turn came, things went down just as I’d observed. The woman handed me the clipboard and asked me to write my name and address on adjacent lines; she never did ask for my ID. She did ask me where I wanted the food to go, and I pointed to the passenger side of my van. I pulled up to the designated spot and kind young people loaded in two small boxes of nonperishable food, one large box filled with pounds of fresh produce (tomatoes;  Brussels sprouts; yellow squash, and red, orange, yellow, and green bell peppers), a case of 12 bottles of  Pure Leaf organic black tea, and three dozen eggs. Wow! This food would certainly help get me through until my first payday.

I drove off, marveling not only at the quantity and quality of the food I’d just been given but at the fact that I hadn’t even had to get out of my van. I was very grateful indeed.

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/agriculture-basket-beets-bokeh-533360/.

The Current Situation

Standard

The Man has left the mountain.

He’d been having a difficult time. He’d gotten sick and was still feeling the effects two weeks later. He’d been working alone at the parking lot since I’d started full-time at the mercantile on the Thursday before Memorial Day. He was still having trouble with his daily paperwork and sometimes spent a couple hours a day on it. The weekly cash out was an ordeal that took several hours. He was frustrated, tired, and discouraged, and one day he’d had enough, so he left.

He broke up with the job, but he didn’t break up with me. We still love each other, and we talk about the future.

We’re currently in different states, but that’s ok. Our bodies may be apart, but our hearts are still together.

He’s learning to cut stones to use in his wire-wrapped jewelry. I’m still working in the Mercantile, reading books, and working on this blog. I miss The Man, but overall, I’m doing well.

With the Big Boss Man’s permission, I moved out of the campground where The Man and I were living and moved to a little nook in the nearby group campground. I’m now living in the campground where I found the dead man! I could have stayed in the other campground but it seemed too awkward for me to share a site with the new camp host and his mentor/roommate. Also, I still feel responsible for that campground, and I didn’t want to have to constantly make decisions as to whether or not I should offer the new camp host suggestions or just let him run the campground as he sees fit. I thought my life would be easier if I packed up and left.

Living at the new campground puts me closer to the Mercantile, so I can save a little bit of gas each day. My campsite is surrounded by trees, and I can see a meadow from where I stay. In the past, a bear has frequented this area; after the campers left and before the garbage was picked up, he would have a trash can buffet. I’m trying hard to keep my site clean so as not to attract this bear or any others.  The campground is usually empty during the week, so I expect to have a lot of quiet time.

All in all, life is still good.

 

Karen

Standard

Photo of Black Flat Screen MonitorHer nametag read “Karen,” and she was our cashier at a Wal-Mart in a medium-sized city in central California.

The Man and I had popped into Wal-Mart to get a few supplies before we headed back up the mountain. The Man had a 12-pack of socks and a comb, and I had a bottle of hand sanitizer, a roll of paper towels, and a bottle of bleach. We usually go through the self-check line, but that morning I wanted my cash back partially in ones so I could feed the water dispensing machine. I knew the self-checkout machines would only spit out twenties, so I needed to deal with a human to get the bills I wanted.

Karen had completely white hair styled in a way that seemed old-fashiond even for a woman I presumed to be about 70 years old. She asked me if we needed to buy a bag, and I said no, we’d just carry our purchases out in our arms.

We’re not from California, I told her, so we forget to bring in our own bags.

(In much of California, stores no longer provide flimsy plastic bags for free. Shoppers can bring in their own bags or purchase paper bags or slightly more sturdy plastic bags at the register.)

You’re lucky you’re not from California! Karen exclaimed.

I told her we worked in the National Forest, and I must have told her we traveled too, because she asked me What’s your favorite place? I told her I’d just been to Moab (she looked confused, so I added Utah) and I’d liked it very much, and I said I really like Taos, NM too.

What’s your favorite place? I asked her.

She’d never been out of California, she told me.

Well, what’s your favorite place in California? I asked.

Home, she replied with a laugh.

Where would you like to go? I persisted.

I’m 82 years old, she said, much to my surprise. I thought she was a dozen years younger. I’m scared to go anywhere, she told me.

I’m always shocked when I meet people who’ve never ventured even into a neighboring state. I suppose California is big enough to satisfy a lifetime of wanderlust, but I wonder if Karen traveled even the state of her birth. I just hope she was content to stay at home instead of being held there by fear.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-black-flat-screen-monitor-811103/.

Why I Chose a Minivan (an Interview with The Man)

Standard

In my years as a vandweller, I’ve lived in four full-size conversion vans: three Chevy G-20s and a Dodge Ram. While I knew others lived in full-size vans, it was probably at my first Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in 2015 that I realized some vandwellers live in minivans. Wow! I thought my living quarters was small, but folks who live in minivans have to make do with a bare minimum of space.

When I met The Man and he told me he wanted a minivan to live and travel in, I was surprised. Minivans aren’t very sexy! I blurted out rudely. The Man’s had been living in a minivan for a little over eight months when this interview was conducted. I decided to ask him what he likes about living in a small vehicle, what he hates, how he’s got things set up, and what advice he’d offer to other people who are considering living and traveling in a minivan.

Rubber Tramp Artist (RTA): So my first question is, why did you decide to buy a minivan to live and travel in rather than a full-size cargo or conversion van?

The Man (TH): Ah, well, the main reason was gas mileage…

RTA: Did you ever live in or travel in a full-size van?

TH: Yes I did.

RTA: What kind?

TM: It was a Chevy Starcraft.

RTA: And how long did you do that?

TM: A couple of years.

RTA: By yourself or with other people?

TM: By myself [and] with other people. I would pick up hitchhikers and…I did a few months roll with my ex-girlfriend, we did about 3½ months in the van.

RTA: And was that difficult to live in a full-size van with other people?

TM: [long pause] You know, sometimes it was; sometimes it wasn’t. You know, it all depended on the company.

RTA: What do you like best about a minivan vs. a full-size van? Would you say gas mileage is the deciding factor there?

TM: Well yeah, the gas mileage, but…the more I have the minivan…because my girlfriend has a full-size van…when I go to work on a full-size van, it’s really tough. [T]he things are huge, you got to  have…powerful hydraulic jacks to deal with a big giant van like that, so I think that’s another disadvantage of…having a full-size van as opposed to a minivan.

RTA: What kind of minivan do you drive now?

TM: I drive a Honda Odyssey.

RTA: What year?

TM: 2001

RTA: Why did you decide on that particular make and model?

TM: …I did a lot of research…First I bought a van and went through a terrible ordeal with it. The transmission didn’t last…When I bought it, it didn’t even last all the way home. I got the greater portion of money back for the vehicle [from the seller] for which I was very lucky…After having that experience of immediately the transmission going out, I [knew that] if I [was] going to buy a vehicle, I need[ed] to buy the most reliable vehicle or at least one of the most reliable vehicles on the road. So basically what I did was an in-depth study…and it came down to Toyota and Honda…As I was growing up…it was always Toyota and Honda were the better vehicles, and I guess things have never really changed…It was a tossup between a Toyota and a Honda…and the Toyotas were a little more expensive than the Hondas…I opted to go with the Honda which was less [expensive] but still the second best, in some instances maybe even the first best rating as far as durability, long lasting, runs for a very long time reputation.

RTA: How tall are you?

TM: I’m six foot tall.

RTA: Can you stand up in your minivan?

TM: No, I cannot stand up in my minivan. But even if I had a big giant conversion van, unless it was like one of the modern day ones like they’re making now, I still couldn’t stand up in it.

RTA: Good point! Can you sit up in your bed?

TM: No I can’t sit up in my bed, but I do have it arranged where I can make one of the corners in my minivan sort of like a place I can…One of the things about getting inside of a van seems that it takes a very long time or for me it’s taken a very long time to arrange things in such a way that it’s optimal for what I’m doing or how I want to live…One of the things I realized is that if I pack all my clothes in the back of the vehicle, I could also create a back rest. So I recently began putting all my stuff in the back because I can sit up I can…partially sit up with a back rest I’ve created with my clean and dirty clothes.

RTA: What is your sleeping arrangement?

TM: I just have a cot. I bought a cheap cot the first time, and it was a very bad mistake. I didn’t go with the highest grade cot but I did go with a mid-grade cot.

RTA: You mean the replacement cot?

TM: Yeah.

RTA: The second one.

TM: Yeah. The second cot. I had to get a better cot. [The first time] I just got the $30 one off EBay, $35 or something and that’s just not durable enough. I wanted mine a little…smaller or thinner than the one I got now, but I sleep with my dog so it’s probably a good idea that I did get a bigger one…[T]his one’s holding up much, much better.

RTA: About how much did it cost you?

TM: It cost me around, I think about 65, 70 dollars, about a $70 one.

RTA: And so you’ve taken out all the back seats in the van, is that right?

TM: Yeah, and in the Honda Odyssey, the back seat folds down into the floor so I’ve left that in place [in the floor] and I just put the cot to one side. Now…when I chose what side to put the cot on…it seemed more reasonable that I put it on the passenger side because when I usually park the vehicle, the driver door is pointed toward me so I’m always gaining access from the driver’s side so…it made more sense to put the bed over on the passenger side of the vehicle.

RTA: Describe your setup. Like do you have a kitchen, do you have a bathroom? You’ve already talked about where your bed is positioned. Where do you have storage?

TM: …Actually I have plenty of room in my vehicle now that I’ve decided to pile most of my stuff in the back…I could put a lot more stuff in there now. I only packed it up to the bottom…of my back window because I still want to have…as clear access as I can for my rear view mirror so I only stack it up that high. I have plenty of storage, but then again, I’m a real minimalist…so I don’t have a lot of things.

RTA: Do you travel with everything you own in the van?

TM: No. Not everything I own. I own a few things outside of what I travel with. I could travel with everything that I own at this point…

RTA: Do you have any sort of kitchen set up in the van?

TM: You know, I’m not a big guy on the kitchen thing and I have just a one burner…that takes a one-pound [propane] tank that you can buy at Wal-Mart and I just use the one burner and a big cast iron skillet to cook out of…I just have that back in the back in a milk crate.

RTA: And what about bathroom? Any sort of bathroom setup?

TM: You know, I’ve had bathroom setups in the past, and I would acquire a bathroom setup if I was in a position where going to the bathroom wasn’t easily accessible…I’m not opposed to—if I’m camping I’ll just go dig a hole if necessary. But for the most part only in certain circumstances do I arrange a toilet situation. Other than that I just dig a hole, or I’ll go to a convenience store…

RTA: Do you ever wish your rig were larger or are you satisfied with things the way they are?

TM: Well, you know, there’s pros and cons to everything, Of course I wish my rig was larger but then, you know, I have to think about maneuverability and really the gas…When choosing a vehicle, really what it comes down to is…what kind of lifestyle do I want to lead? Ok, I want to be a nomadic traveler. I want to do a lot of traveling. Well, then, you know, if you’re doing a lot of traveling and you’re on a budget, I would suggest…getting a minivan…But if I was a person that…wasn’t too focused in on the traveling part, just living cheaply and…staying…mostly still, well then I would opt for  a larger vehicle. But here’s where I’m at…my personal thing…if I was going to go and pay the money that  a big Chevy G20 or [some] giant conversion [van] requires in gas, then I wouldn’t…even get…a giant van. I would get, especially in my condition, the height factor here, I wouldn’t even get a van. I would get myself a small RV, preferably not like a Dolphin…preferably something with a V8 in it…And of course, that’s what I would plan on doing when I was older…and I didn’t want to do as much traveling, well then I could get myself a motorhome and then stay more stationery and fuel [wouldn’t be] such a big issue.

RTA: Tell me about your curtain setup.

TM:  Well, I’ve…got these handles…the “oh-shit” handles…

RTA: [giggles]

TM: … some vehicles have ‘em by the upper part of the door, something…to grab ahold of if you’re on some rough terrain. Well it just so happens that my vehicle has two, one at the driver’s and also one on the passenger’s… I don’t understand why the one’s there for the [driver]…Who’s driving a car while he’s got one hand on the…“oh shit” handle.

RTA: [more laughter]

TM: But anyways, I…found these extremely long bungees and [my vehicle] is also equipped with rear [seat belts] and…I was able to take those very long bungees and stretch them all the way from the front of the car to the rear of the car, attaching them around the “oh shit” handles and the seat belt…housing in the rear. When I put those up there…I could just drape things over and create curtains for like 15 bucks. It was a good deal and I think even if you didn’t have those “oh shit” handles you could just do it around your visor, you could attach these bungees around your visor…

RTA: So you attached these bungees and then you found some blankets on sale, right?

TM: Yeah, they were $2.50, and they were like…What do you call…?

RTA: Fleece. Fleece.

TM: Yeah, like fleece.

RTA: Like fleece throw blankets.

TM: Yeah.

RTA: So you just put those [fleece throw blankets] around all the windows and you have a little nest back there.

TM: Yeah. Yeah. It was a really simple, cheap solution. You gotta be creative! Gotta be creative!

RTA: When I first heard that you were interested in getting a minivan, I remember saying, “Minivans aren’t very sexy!” What do you have to say about that?

TM: I’ve never had a concern with being sexy. I guess when you know you’re sexy, then there’s no…doubt. I don’t need a van to reflect my inner sexiness that I already possess.

As far as that goes, you know, I like my van and to be quite honest with you, I think it’s [quite a bit] stealthier than a G-20. A lot of these G-20s are getting old now and…hippies are really associated with G-20s too…I don’t think they’re as stealthy as people think, but…my Honda Odyssey looks like the [suburban soccer mom housewife]  car, and I think I could get away with a lot more stealthiness that way than a person in a G-20.

RTA: Is there anything else you want to add?

TM: There’s always the donation button.

RTA and TM: [boisterous laughter]

 

 

Superbowl Campground

Standard

When we planned our trip to The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, The Lady of the House and I decided to camp the night before our visit. At that time of year (early April) The Needles (Squaw Flat) campground in the southern section of the park is on a first come-first served basis, and we didn’t know if we could get there early enough in the day to snag a campsite. We looked at the Free Campsites website in hopes of finding something totally free close to the park entrance, but the free spots we found were father away then we wanted to be.

We ended up figuring things out on the fly due to a four day delay imposed on us when my van’s water pump had to be replaced. While I drove, The Lady pulled out the informational brochures she’d picked up in Canyonlands during her visit the previous summer.

There were three campgrounds on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land outside the boundaries of the National Park. The camping fee at each was $5 a night. That wasn’t quite as good as free, but pretty dang close.

We were aiming for Creek Pasture Campground.  It was the closest campground to Highway 211 (the road that would take us into the National Park), and it seemed to be big enough to offer us hope of finding an available site.

We thought the trip to the campground would take us about five hours. We left Winslow, AZ early enough that we thought we’d get to the campground before dark. We had visions of cooking dinner, eating it leisurely, watching the sun set. I’m not sure what happened. We did stop to hand a can of Fix-a-Flat to a couple having tire trouble in the Navajo Nation, but that couldn’t have set us back more than 10 minutes. We stopped for one gas and bathroom break, but that took 20 minutes, tops. I also pulled over to take a photo of the Utah sign when we crossed the state line, but The Lady didn’t want to fight the wind, so she stayed in the van. Could my photo op have cost us more than three minutes?

After we got into Utah, the sky turned overcast. It was dusk when we passed through Blanding, and dark when we went through Monticello. I was glad the GPS lady was there to tell us when to make the turn onto Highway 211; otherwise I might have missed it in the night.

At some point after we turned onto the 211, the rain started. Suddenly I was driving on a twisty, turny, curvy mountain road in the dark and the rain. I really should be more scared than I am, I remember telling The Lady.

I saw the sign for Superbowl campground, but figured it would be full on a Saturday night. We hoped the larger Creek Pasture Campground would have a place for us.

Maybe the rain has sent people home already, I hoped aloud.

We found Creek Pasture Campground, and I drove slowly down the entrance road, then through the campground. Every campsite seemed to be taken. We saw one that appeared empty, but when I jumped out of the van to investigate, I found a tent pitched behind some vegetation. Another site appeared deserted, save for the registrations slip clipped to the pole. The departure date was the next day, and I suspected the campers had been chased off by the rain, but I had no proof. We didn’t want to risk being on someone’s site if they returned, so we decided to backtrack and check out Superbowl.

We turned onto the main road into the campground and followed it to its first offshoot. We turned down that road. Immediately to our right was a campsite. There was no car parked there, no tent pitched in the bushes, no registrations slip on the pole—in fact, no pole. I pulled the van right in, and we let relief wash over us. We had a legal place to stay for the night.

The rain continued, so we didn’t get out of the van to cook dinner. We just ate snacks and laughed a lot, as if we were at a slumber party. I fell asleep and didn’t hear another sound, but The Lady said it rained all night.

Sunday dawned clear and sunny. As much as I hate driving in the dark, I love arriving in the dark and waking up to the surprise of beautiful scenery. I hadn’t had that pleasure since boondocking at Indian Bread Rocks in Arizona more than a year before, but we really lucked out at Superbowl Campground. I couldn’t stop oohing and aahing when I stepped from the van.

Of course, my photos don’t do justice to how our surrounding really looked. The rocks were red and huge and the formations so very Utah. Even the walk to the pit toilet was wonderful in such a beautiful location.

There was a sign on the information board saying the campground had been under renovation. That probably explained the brand-spanking-new fire ring and picnic table on our site. The renovations maybe also explained why the campground seemed bigger than 17 sites. Maybe it had been expanded as well as renovated.

There was only one pit toilet serving the entire campground, so there was a bit of a wait to use it, but it was decently clean on Sunday morning. There was toilet paper available, which is always a plus. The campground didn’t have a camp host, but someone was servicing that restroom.

The Lady and I took a brisk walk around Superbowl so I could try to get some good photos. As we walked around, we saw other campers cooking breakfast, packing up, and generally starting their days. Lots of campers looked young and athletic. I saw helmets in the bed of a truck, making me think the campers on that site were a group of rock climbers. I know practically nothing about rock climbing, but even I could see it would be exhilarating to climb any of the surrounding formations.

All in all, Superbowl campground was peaceful and surrounded by beauty. I was not upset to drop into the iron ranger the envelope with our $5 camping fee enclosed.

I took the photos in this post.

 

Arizona Penny Presses

Standard

The Lady of the House and I were on an epic road trip in Arizona and Utah. At the first two tourist attractions we visited—bam! bam!—penny presses!

Penny presses outside the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark gift shop.

The first two penny presses we saw were outside the gift shop at the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark. The gift

shop—and the presses—were deep in the complex, well past the entrance where folks pay the admission fee. If you don’t plunk down $18 for admission, you’re not getting anywhere near those penny presses.

We saw the presses at the beginning of our visit, but we spent the little-less-than-an-hour before our guided tour (included in the price of admission) picking out postcards and a t-shirt for The Boy after freshening up in the restroom. We didn’t have time for immediate penny pressing.

After the tour, we made a quick exploration of the Discovery Center, then looked at the bottom of the crater with the free telescopic viewer. Then it was time for the penny press.

Turns out, The Lady of the House enjoys pressed pennies. Before we left town, she mentioned she was saving her  quarters to use in penny press machines. She was pleased to see those penny presses outside the gift shop.

First she had to pick the design she wanted on her penny. Should I get the picture of the crater or the picture of the meteor about to crash into the earth? she asked me.

You saw the crater, I reminded her, but you didn’t see the meteor.

That’s what I was thinking! she said, then began the penny pressing process.

She lined up her design choice and put in her coins. Then she turned, turned, turned the crank. Soon her souvenir penny clanked into the dispenser cup.

The second penny press we found was in Winslow, Arizona. The Lady had never been there, and she wanted to see the Standin’ on the Corner Park. We pulled off the I-40, and I navigated the van through the town to the park. We found a free spot half a block away to leave the van, then walked over to the famous corner.

On the way, we passed a gift shop across Kinsley Avenue from the park. Right outside the shop’s door stood a penny press machine.

Penny press in Winslow, Arizona.

After we took our photos in the Standing on the Corner Park, The Lady stood in front of the machine to choose her design. She’d used up all her quarters at the Meteor Crater gift shop, so after she picked out which penny design she wanted, she went inside the gift shop to get four quarters for a dollar. The woman working the cash register offered her pennies too, but The Lady said she had some. The worker said her pennies were bright and shiny, so The Lady accepted a few. The bright and shiny pennies did make for a nice souvenir after The Lady turned, turned, turned the crank.

At that point I started wondering if I should start collecting pressed pennies.

Fifty-one cents is a good price for a souvenir, The Lady told me.

My main concern was what I would do with a bunch of pressed pennies. Would they just sit in a bowl or a drawer? Would I ever remember to look at them?

The morning after the Arizona double penny press experience, I was lying in my bed, looking up at the ceiling of my van. There are three wooden strips, each about two inches wide running across the width of my van. I could glue pressed pennies to those wooden strips, I realized. I could display my collection in my van!

It’s too late to get a pressed penny from Meteor Crater, but maybe someday I’ll pass through Winslow again. I also know where to get a pressed penny when I go through Quartzsite, AZ; Baker, CA; and Las Vegas, NV. I’m sure my collection will grow in time.

I took the photos in this post.

10 More Items to Make Your Van Life More Comfortable

Standard

Like I said in my post “The Rubber Tramp Artist’s Ten Essential Items for Vandwelling,” you don’t need to get a bunch of fancy stuff before you start your van life. Just get a van, start sleeping in it and voilà!—you’re vandwelling.

However, if you do have the money and the inclination to get things to make yourself more comfortable, here are ten more items that enhance the quality of my van life.

Igloo 5 Gallon Seat Top Beverage Jug with spigot
#1 I love to drink cold water. When I’m in civilization, I fill my water bottle with ice whenever I fill my gas tank at a convenience store or eat at a fast food restaurant. In the past, I drank the ice melt from the ice containers in my cooler, but a lot of cold air escaped from the cooler when I reached in and rummaged around for the ice containers Last fall I bought an Igloo 5 gallon cooler with a dispenser. I put in a bag of ice (no problem with such a wide opening on top) and three or four gallons of water (the cooler fits in a Glacier water dispenser), and I can drink cold (or at least cool!) water for days. When the water gets too warm for my taste, I just add more ice. Easy!

#2 When I’m boondocking, I have to bring enough water with me for all my washing and drinking needs.  There are two kinds of jugs I like for storing water.

The first is the Reliance Aqua-tainer BPA free 7-gallon jug with a spout. While seven gallons of water (over 55 pounds!) is more than I can carry for more than a few steps, the spout (which can be opened and fully closed) is super convenient for handwashing. It also helps me conserve water because I can dispense the amount I need without spilling excess water on the ground. If I’m traveling alone, I usually put five gallons of water in each jug to make carrying the container manageable.

I also like the American Maid BPA free 3-gallon water jugs with handles. I can totally carry three gallons of water with no problem, so these are my go-to water jugs. They are stackable when they’re empty, saving space on the way to fill them.

EcoVessel BIGFOOT Triple Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle with Tea - Fruit and Ice Infuser
#3 I’ve tried a lot of water bottles, but I’ve never found anything else that keeps drinks cold like my Eco Vessel. I’ve kept ice in mine for over 24 hours on more than one occasion (depending of course on the temperature of the liquid I’m adding to the bottle and the temperature of the air outside the bottle). It’s not unusual for me to drink all of the cold water from the bottle, then have to wait hours for the ice to melt into drinkable form. (I solve this problem by filling my Eco Vessel from my 5-gallon Igloo jug as needed.)

My first Eco Vessel was the 750ml Boulder, which I bought at a natural food store on a whim one exceptionally hot summer day. I used it (and loved it!) every day for about two years before upgrading to the 1300ml Big Foot. I still use the smaller bottle for backup. If I fill both bottles with cool water in the morning, I have plenty of cool water to drink during an 8-hour work day on the mountain.

#4 During my first six years vandwelling, I used 1-gallon propane canisters to power my stove and my Mr. Heater. (For a short time, I had a butane stove, and that was before I owned my Mr. Heater, so during that period, I didn’t use any propane at all.) In any case, until I met The Man, I used 1-gallon canisters for my propane needs. Almost from the moment we met, The Man encouraged me to use a large, refillable propane tank. His reasoning was sound: refilling a large tank is more cost effective than buying multiple 1-gallon canisters and keeps a lot of waste out of landfills. Win win!

#5 I’ve used the single-burner style stove that sits on top of a 1-gallon propane canister and found it cumbersome and unstable. Food seemed to take longer to cook on that style of stove too. (I never did a scientific experiment to test the cooking time required on different stoves, so the difference in cooking times could be my imagination.) Also, the single-burner stove didn’t work so well when connected to our large propane tank. I’ve mostly blocked the experience from my memory, but I think there was a puff of fire and unusually  quick thinking on my part when I reached over and turned the knob on the propane tank to CLOSED. In any case, we figured out the single burners are not designed to be used with the large tanks.

For several months before I met The Man, I used a one-burner butane stove. I liked its flat, stable design, but I was awfully unhappy on the occasions when I couldn’t find the necessary butane bottles at the store (including Wal-Mart once). The butane seemed to go faster than the propane in the small green containers, but again, I didn’t do a scientific experiment to test my theory.

Coleman Triton 2-Burner Propane Stove
These days I use a Coleman two-burner stove connected to a large propane tank. A half-dozen years ago, I tried two different models of Ozark Trail two-burner stoves because they were less expensive than the Coleman stoves available. Both of the Ozark Trail stoves were junk. I was never able to light the cheaper one, and the more expensive one (that I thought would be of better quality) only lit once when I tested it immediately after purchase. Luckily I’d saved the receipts and boxes for both stoves and was able to bring them both back for full refunds. I hope to never again be in a situation where I need a stove and can only afford one made by Ozark Trail.

Several Coleman two-burner stoves I’ve used over the years have been made well and all have worked great. I enjoy the convenience of being able to cook in two pans at once when I’m doing something fancier than my usual one-pan meal. I like the stability of the flat burners and the convenience of being able to fold the whole apparatus for easy transport and storage. Also, I just found out that if the regulator on the stove quits working properly, I can buy a new regulator for around $13, instead of having to spend $40+ on a whole new stove. I love a company that lets me replace parts!

(Read more about my stove experimentation in my post “Cooking While Vandwelling.”)

#6 I like to sleep in the dark, and I like to be surrounded by beauty, so I have colorful curtains to cover my windows.

My side windows in the back of the van are completely blocked with thick foam board my sibling gave me when it was no longer useful in the windows of the family home. Over the foam boards, I put up colorful curtains. At night I hang a cloth shower curtain I got at a Goodwill Clearance Center over the windows in my side doors. The driver’s area of the van is separated from my living space with heat and light-blocking curtains I got at a thrift store. The mismatched curtains give my van an eclectic, free-spirited feel.

#7 I have difficulty sleeping if I’m too hot, but my small, battery operated fan gives me just enough breeze to facilitate my slumber when the nights get warm.  I would like a fan I could run from my 12-volt outlet; such a fan would need a long cord to reach from the front of the van to my bed. Until I find the right fan for the right price, my 8-inch O2Cool brand fan works well enough.

PROTIP: It’s really worth the money to buy Duracell or Energizer batteries to run fans. I learned that while the Sunbeam batteries from Dollar Tree only last one night, the more expensive batteries last at least a week.

Schumacher Electric 140W Power Converter SI1
#8 Speaking of running things off my van’s 12-volt power outlet, I love my 140 watts Schumacher power converter. It has both a USB port and a good ol’ electrical outlet so I can charge my phone and laptop. If I don‘t need to charge my laptop, I use a smaller USB power adapter. It has two USB ports so I can charge two phones at once. It’s nice to be able to charge my devices even when I’m away from electricity.

NOTE: The small devices have never drained my van’s battery, but the large power converter did once when I charged my laptop several times in day without running the van. If I’m not driving the van, now I only use the power convertor to charge my laptop once in a day.

#9  My foldable 24 Watt solar charger manufactured by 1 by One is a gift I cherish. If I’ve got sun, I can charge my phone.  I haven’t tried to use the solar charger to charge a tablet, but I think it would handle the job. I like that it’s lightweight and folds up small and thin for storage. It’s easy to hang and easy to transport. Love it!

#10 When The Man built my bed, he made sure there was plenty of storage space under the platform. The platform is tall enough to fit large tubs under it. Now that The Man has his own van, I’ve thought about going back to a single bed, but I’d hate to lose my storage area. I’ve decided it’s better to have a roomy double bed (especially since Auntie M gave me a comfortable double mattress she wasn’t using) with room for lots of stuff under it.

Note: I’m endorsing these products because I like them. No one asked me to endorse them. No one paid me to endorse them or gave them to me for free to review. The pictures you see in this post are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on any of those links, you will zip over to Amazon. Anything you put in your cart and buy after clicking on my affiliate link will earn me a small advertising fee at no cost to you.

 

 

 

Meteor Crater Natural Landmark

Standard

I took this photo on the road to the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark complex the first time I tried to visit in 2015.

I’d planned to visit Meteor Crater Natural Landmark once before. I’d taken exit 233 and driven nearly 6 miles to the parking lot. I’d even gone into the visitor center, but when I saw the price of admission, I turned around and left.

I’d budgeted $10 to see this roadside attraction. I probably would have splurged and spent $12, but when I saw the price of admission was $18, I went back to my van and got back on the road. I doubted looking at a crater would be worth $18.

The Lady of the House thought this story was hilarious.

She’d never seen the meteor crater either, but her son, The Boy (now a grown man in his 20s), had visited some years ago on a field trip. The Boy had been quite impressed by the crater during a time in his life when he was not easily impressed. (Upon visiting the Grand Canyon as a child, all The Boy could say was, I hate this stupid Grand Canyon; his favorite part of the trip was the ride on a shuttle bus from the parking lot to a scenic viewpoint.)

He just kept talking about how big it was, The Lady said of her son after his visit to Meteor Crater Natural Landmark.

The crater wasn’t originally on our trip itinerary. We hadn’t planned to be on I-40 at all, but waiting for my van’s water pump to be replaced delayed us by four days. We cut the New Mexico portion of our trip out entirely, which meant we had to get to Utah by a different route.

Since we’d be on I-40, The Lady really wanted to see the meteor crater.

You pay the $10 you budgeted when you stopped before, The Lady told me, and I’ll pay the $8 difference.

I told her it was a deal.

The Meteor Crater website said guided tours were available. I called the Meteor Crater office and found out the guided tours were included in the price of admission. I always like to take a guided tour if it doesn’t cost extra. I find I learn more from a tour guide than I do if I’m left to my own devices reading informational placards.

The night before our visit to the crater, we boondocked off I-40 between Flagstaff and Winslow, just outside Walnut Canyon National Monument. We’d hoped to arrive at the crater in time for the first tour at 9:15 in the morning, but we were running late. In retrospect, we were glad we’d missed the first tour because when we arrived, we still had time to use the (clean) restroom, buy a few souvenirs in the (well-lit, neatly arranged, not overpriced) gift shop, and watch the (entertaining, informative) short documentary IMPACT! The Mystery of Meteor Crater.

This photo shows the entrance to the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark complex.

Before we did any of those things, we had to pay the admission fee.

The worker who greeted us at the door was all smiles. She welcomed us and pointed to the sign above the box office where she said we’d see the prices listed. We already knew the prices (they’re on the internet, as The Lady said to me later, thus a matter of public record), so when The Lady walked up to the box office, she chirped Two, please! and didn’t balk when the ticket seller asked for $36.

A young couple walked in right behind us. I’d noticed them in the parking lot. They looked like neo-hippies, or at least the man did. He had long hair and a big beard and wore baggie pants that probably allowed him to do the sun salutation in the morning and wrap his legs around a djembe at the drum circle at night. The woman looked less like a hippie and more like a Whole Foods athletic urbanite in a tank top and those hiking leggings that are in fashion with women who engage in outdoor sports.

The fellow was talking to the greeter. I wasn’t following their conversation, but I heard the fellow say $18? in surprise. He lady friend echoed $18? in pure disbelief. I thought it was really funny that the couple was having the same reaction I’d had during my first brief visit.

The greeter must have confirmed the $18 admission fee. Then the fellow seemed to be asking if there were a place they could look at the crater for free; I’d had that same thought during my first visit. The greeter must have told them there was no free viewing because the couple left the building.

The Lady and I, however, went deeper into the building. Then we went out a door, up some steps, past the under-construction Astronaut Park, and into another door. We were now in the area housing the Discovery Center, the restrooms, the Subway restaurant, the gift shop, and the theater.

I guess they wanted to get their money’s worth on that graphic, The Lady said.It was on everything from road signs to restroom signs.

First stop: Restrooms.

Second stop: Gift shop where I bought postcards and The Lady bought The Boy a souvenir t-shirt to replace the one he’d bought during his visit and outgrown.

Third stop: Theater where we watched the informative short documentary IMPACT! The Mystery of Meteor Crater.

After the movie was over, it was time for a tour. We fell in with Jake, our tour guide, who took us right out to the edge of the meteor crater. I was glad we’d opted for the tour because visitors don’t get nearly as close without a guide. I was glad the weather was good too because tours are cancelled due to bad weather, including high wind speeds. I was also glad The Lady and I were visiting in spring because in the hot Arizona summer the tours are cut short.

While visitors can see the crater from the observation area (including through a big glass window for the days it’s too hot and/or too windy to go outside) and can get close-up looks through the free telescope views, no one goes out to the edge of the crater without a guide. I’m sure it would be a huge liability issue to have people standing so close to the edge and perhaps trying to climb down into the crater. The people who own the crater (yes, it’s privately owned) must feel safer having a guide keep an eye on people who go where there are no barriers.

We walked out on a short paved path, and there it was to our left—Meteor Crater. The Boy was right; it was big. Other words that came to mind when I saw the crater were huge, massive, immense, and fantastic, yet it’s difficult to put into words or even capture in photographs just how stupendous the crater really is.

We learned from the movie that the floor of the crater is large enough to house 20 football games being played at the same time, while the sloping sides of the crater could accommodate stands big enough to seat 2 million fans. That’s difficult to imagine, even while I was standing right there looking at the crater.

I didn’t quite begin to understand how big the crater is until I looked through one of the observation telescopes. Looking through the telescope, I could see the floor of the crater where a 6’ tall (I later read) cutout of an astronaut stood in front of a chain link fence. The cutout and the fence both looked itty bitty, even through the telescope.

I learned the following information from a brochure we received at the ticket counter: From the viewing platform,

the floor of the crater is 550 feet deep, equivalent to a 60 story building.

The crater is over 4,000 feet across and 2.4 miles in circumference.

Wowza!

Jake the tour guide was very friendly and knowledgeable. He talked about the impact of the meteor that had

The Lady dances with (a cardboard cutout of) an astronaut in the Discovery Center.

created the crater and the process by which the theory that the crater was made by a meteor (not a volcano as originally thought) was proven. The Lady really enjoyed the second stop on our tour—The Rock Table—where Jake did a show-n-tell of how the meteor impacted (my pun—totally intended) the geology of the area surrounding the crater.

After the tour ended, The Lady and I made a quick pass through the Discovery Center. This area had a lot of

information about meteors and space. There were interactive exhibits, like the one letting the visitor lift an earth rock and comparably sized piece of a meteorite to show the difference in their weights. The Discovery Center seemed to do a good job explaining scientific information in ways kids could understand, while still keeping  the exhibits interesting for adults. I wasn’t so excited about the Discovery Center that day after being out in the sun and the wind during our tour, and knowing I still had hours of driving ahead of me, we kept our visit short. However, the Center must be very popular on days when it’s too windy to go outside or during the summer when the heat cuts the tours short.

You’re probably wondering if the entire experience is worth the $18 admission fee. Folks do get a lot for the price of admission, including the guided tour, the opportunity to view the movie, free use of the telescopic viewers, and access to the Discovery Center. Once you’re in, you’re not nickeled and dimed to death. Also, visitors are allowed to bring in water and snacks, or get their hands stamps for reentry and go out to their vehicles to eat and drink. Every part of the operation The Lady and I saw was clean and well-maintained, so no one is slacking on maintenance in order to line pockets. Finally, all of the employees I encountered (including the clerks in the gift shop) were friendly and seemed happy, so I suspect the workers are being paid decent wages. I’m always happy when workers are earning decent money.

So while I can’t say an $18 admission fee is in my budget, I do think the people who pay that amount get good value for their money. For folks interested in space and heavenly bodies in general and meteors and the impact they’ve had on earth in particular, as well as those interested in geology and the history of the earth, Meteor Crater Natural Landmark would be a very interesting attraction. I’m glad I went, and I appreciate The Lady subsidizing my admission fee, but I wouldn’t encourage travelers on tight budgets to give up something else to visit here unless they were huge fans of meteors and the craters they leave behind.

This photo does no justice to how deep and wide Meteor Crater really is.

I took all the photos in this post.