I was in a coffee shop/café in a small New Mexico town. The place was more café than coffee shop. A waitress met me at the door, menu in hand. I told her I’d be there a while writing and asked if I should sit somewhere out of the way. She said I could sit wherever I wanted, so I chose a spot away from the entrance but near an electrical outlet. The waitress left me with a menu and said she’d be back soon.
I’d never been to this establishment before and (wrongly) assumed I could order a muffin or a glass of iced tea a the counter, then blend in with the other folks drinking coffee and doing whatever work people do in coffee shops. When I walked in around 8:30 on that Monday morning, only one other table was occupied. During the three hours I was there, only a few other customers came in. There’s no blending in when business is so slow.
I ordered a small house blend coffee, which I didn’t really want and shouldn’t have had, but it was the least expensive item on the beverage menu. I also ordered a cinnamon roll, which I’m not usually into, but I’d read online raves about this shop’s variation on the treat.
The waitress asked if I wanted cream in my coffee, and I said yes. She was gone before I could ask for sugar too. I figured there must be sugar packets in the little basket on the table.
Once I got my laptop set up, I looked around the place. There were many arrangements of faded fake flowers, and the titles and covers on the books on the shelves (for sale or only for in-store skimming, I do not know) hinted at religious content. The music drifting softly through the place was of a very calm religious nature. The rendition of “I Saw the Light” playing on the stereo was not the thank God a higher being has saved me from my wicked, wicked self Hank Williams version. I imagine the light this calm chorus saw was a faintly flickering candle barely needed to illuminate the way to the heavenly afterlife the mild singers were sure to find at the end of their gentle lives. Then a woman (the baker?) came from the kitchen and into the dining area. She was wearing the simple, modest dress and white bun covering bonnet that said Mennonite to me. Oh boy. I’d wandered into quite a religious establishment.
The waitress (dressed in a secular pair of jeans and a dark t-shirt) came back to my table bearing a mug of coffee and a cinnamon roll on a disposable plate. I asked her if the shop had WiFi, and (thankfully) she said yes. She was off getting the password for me when I realized there was no sugar in the basket on the table. Drats! What was a sugar fiend like me to do?
I looked down at the large cinnamon roll in front of me. It was topped with pecans and caramel, and I imagined it would be quite sweet. Upon experimentation, I realized if I took a drink of coffee immediately after biting into the roll, I didn’t need even a grain of sugar in my coffee
The cinnamon roll was delicious. Most cinnamon rolls seem to be made with a slightly sweet bread, which I don’t enjoy very much. The base of this roll was more like a sweet biscuit. So yummy!
While I was studying the menu, setting up my laptop, asking about WiFi, waiting for, and then enjoying my treat, a party of three ate breakfast at a table in the front of the café. An elderly couple was visiting with a younger man. I wasn’t eavesdropping carefully on their conversation, but the old people were talking loudly enough for me to pick up a thing or two.
It sounded as if the couple had recently gone somewhere cold on vacation or for a weekend getaway. There was mention of snow, cold temperatures, and a snowmobile.
I had me some ladies’ underwear, the old man said in a voice that boomed through the building.
My eavesdropping ears perked up. This information might be the most interesting ever conveyed in this small-town Christian coffee shop.
My hopes of overhearing a tale of elder cross-dressing kink was dashed when the woman immediately corrected him, saying,Silk underwear! You had silk underwear!
I suppose the man wore a pair of long silk underwear meant to provide warmth during his venture into the winter wonderland. He probably thought about women’s underwear commonly being made of silk and somewhere in his brain silk long johns got tangled into ladies’ underwear. I quickly realized the conversation was not of much interest to me as it was primarily about staying warm in the cold outdoors. Sigh.
Oh well. At leas the cinnamon roll and coffee were delicious.
I met Ellen at the very first RTArt Camp in 2018. She camped nearby and attended many of the workshops held during the two weeks of the RTR. She was pleasant to talk to, and I enjoyed her easy laugh. Some of the best times I spent that week were sitting around campfires with Ellen, learning about her life and experiences.
At the 2019 RTArt Camp, I had the pleasure of spending time with Ellen again. She allowed me to interview her and told me why she decided to live on the road full time, how she choose her rig, and what she likes most about the way she lives.
Rubber Tramp Artist (RTA): I am here today with Ellen, and I’ll be
asking her some questions about her life on the road.
So am I correct that
you are a full-time solo traveler?
Ellen: Yes, that
RTA: How long have you been doing that?
Ellen: Since June
2017, so a year and a half.
RTA: What’s your rig?
Ellen: A Ford
RTA: That’s pretty small.
Ellen: It’s teeny
tiny. It’s basically like a minivan, but a little bit taller.
RTA: What would you say are your three biggest challenges of living
in such a small rig?
challenges are…not having a full kitchen, would probably be #1.
RTA: So you cook outside?
Ellen: Yeah. I cook outside. I can cook inside if I need to, but I don’t usually.
I don’t really have space for people to hang out, to have
people over in any type of way.
And…I don’t know if I could think of another thing. I like
having a tiny rig.
RTA: OK. Well tell me about that then. Tell me about the three best
things about having the tiny rig.
Ellen: I get
really good gas mileage. That was kind of on top of my list.
I can park anywhere.
It’s super stealthy, and I can park in any neighborhood or be in a city
parallel parking. Any of that is really easy.
It just keeps my life
really simple. I don’t collect stuff. I avoid the free pile.
RTA: [Boisterous laughter]
Ellen: [joins in
with her own laughter]
RTA: Would you say that you were a minimalist or you had minimalist
leanings before you moved into your rig and went on the road?
Ellen: No. I don’t think so. I’ve always loved thrifting and collecting things and having projects. Maybe that’s something that’s hard about having a small rig is that I can’t set up a project and leave it sitting there. Everything always has to be put away in the right exact spot.
I think I’m not super attached to material things in
general, but I don’t know if I would call myself a minimalist.
RTA: Is your primary way of dealing with living in the small space that everything has its place and always goes back?
Exactly. Everything that’s in there has a very specific place where it goes.
Usually after a while things start to be a little bit out of place, so then [I]
have to kind of unpack everything and repack the whole thing.
RTA: How often do you think you do that?
Ellen: It totally
depends on what I’m doing and where I am. Maybe once a month, once every other
month, sometimes, depending on the season and what I’m doing. I guess I do it
on a mini level every day!
RTA: When you were thinking about wanting to go on the road, did
you already have this vehicle, or were you shopping around for vehicles? If you
were shopping around, what made you decide on this rig and not something
Ellen: I shopped
around for a long time as I was planning on moving into a vehicle. I looked
online at a million different kinds of vehicles. Factors for me [were] gas
mileage and stealthiness…the same things I said I love about it and
affordability for me and reliability. My balance that I was really trying to
find was something that was in my budget that I could afford that was going to
be reliable. [Reliability] felt like a safety thing for me, especially starting
out as a solo female…if I could, avoiding situations where I was going to be
broken down or need help.
RTA: What were some of the other vehicles that you considered
Ellen: I was
looking at bigger vans. I’m definitely drawn more aesthetically to like the
cool, older [vans]. That was really where my heart wanted to go.
RTA: So what year is your
are super easy to get for it anywhere if I need something. It’s very reliable,
but it’s kind of boring. [Laughter] It’s just a white box. It doesn’t
necessarily fit my personality…
RTA: But in 20 years, it will be the hippie van of its day!
laughter] That’s true. Alright. Let’s look at it that way.
RTA: What was your impetus for getting on the road? Is it something
you wanted to do for a long, long time?
Ellen: It’s not really that farfetched for me. I’ve driven around the country
many times and traveled around the world many times. I guess as I grew older and got into my 30s, my life started getting really routine and kind of boring. I had a career and was doing all the stuff, adulting stuff. Then I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 32, and after going through that…it was just very clear to me that I needed to change my life and get rid of stress from my life–probably the #1 thing–and just to be happy. It’s really underrated! [Laughter] I just knew that this was a way that I could do it, that I could afford to not have a 9 to 5 and that I could also spend a lot of quality time with people I care about. That also felt really important to me after coming through cancer treatment. It was really clear how I needed to give more importance, more time in my life for the people I care about.
RTA: How did your family react when you told them you were going to
hit the road full time?
Ellen: Oh, my
family’s used to it. [Laughter] It’s not
A lot of people were like “WHAT?” I think people didn’t
really quite realize maybe how serious I was about it. I think people thought I
was going on vacation. I think mostly people felt like I sort of deserved a
break. I’d been through a lot. I’d been very sick, very sick and sort of stuck
in one place for a while. I think people were happy, my family, my community
and friends…It made sense to everybody.
RTA: Do they now see that at least for the moment this is the
choice you’ve made long-term?
Ellen: Yeah, now I
think they get it.
RTA: They see you’re serious about this; it’s not just vacation.
RTA: Let’s talk about challenges and joys again. What do you think
are your three biggest challenges to being a young woman solo on the road?
Ellen: I don’t
know that it’s necessarily just on the road, but safety in general. It’s not
really a challenge, but it’s certainly a factor. Having to think about where I
am and what kind of situation I’m putting myself in and never knowing from day
to day where I’m going, if I’m going places I’ve never been, I don’t know what
it’s going to be like or how I’m going to feel there. So there’s a little bit
of constant factoring all this stuff in.
RTA: But not anything that would be necessarily unusual if you were
living in an apartment in the city? I mean, you’re in a new place…
Ellen: You mean
with safety. You still have to think about that no matter where you are?
RTA: Do you agree or disagree with that?
Ellen: I do agree
with that. It’s just maybe a little more noticeable, a little more prevalent
I should probably follow that up, I think…I’ve NEVER had any
issues with anybody. Maybe that’s part of it too…deprogramming myself to not
feel like that. Probably something I should look at.
Challenges of being a young woman on the road? I don’t know.
I can’t think of anything.
RTA: What about your three biggest joys of being a young woman on
Ellen: Life is
really awesome! [Laughter]
I think just being outside, connecting with the land and putting myself in a position where I am really outside all the time has been really wonderful for me.
The community, the community that I’ve found here is really
wonderful. I’m a person who has never really felt at home anywhere, and this
community of people for me feels like home.
RTA: Do you mean the RTR community or the Art Camp community or
just the nomadic community?
Ellen: It just
keeps expanding for me. I think it started with coming to the RTR and getting
involved with Art Camp. I’m also part of Mindfulness Camp. I have different
groups around…I guess it would be the RTR crowd. It’s expanded through my whole
year. My whole life [has] really sort of formed around the communities that
I’ve made here.
RTA: You said being outdoors, the communities. Is there something
else you want to mention?
Ellen: Also, just
to expand on that a little bit—the community—I’ve always been a really shy,
introverted person. Not maybe introverted, but shy, and I have just made so
many connections out here. That has really enriched my life greatly. I know
some people talk about people coming out on the road and isolating, but I have
just had the opposite experience. I’ve made more friends in the past couple
years than I have in the rest of my entire adult life. Maybe that’s because I’m
amongst people I connect with, and maybe it’s just me growing. Maybe it’s this
Another thing that I really love…of course, just traveling,
seeing new things, and getting to know this land. I try and get involved in as
much as I can, so that’s really afforded me the time to go to retreats and go
to different workshops and go to places I’ve always wanted to go. So I think
that’s a really healing thing for me to be able to have the time, to give that
time to myself to really do some deep healing work.
RTA: What is your favorite new place that you saw in 2018?
Ellen: I traveled all through British Columbia which was really wonderful, going almost all the way up to Alaska. They call it Northern BC, but it’s actually central BC, there’s just nothing actually north of it. [much laughter] They just call the central part ‘north.’ Seeing that area was really special—absolutely beautiful and the rivers there are something to see.
The guy must have been at least 60. His beard, neatly trimmed close to his face, was completely white. He wore a ball cap and t-shirt and shorts.
The woman was younger, no older than 35, slender and going for a neo-hippie look. She wore a golden tunic with long sleeves over tight pants. The tunic was form fitting, made from fabric that seemed a little thicker than the warmth of the day warranted. Her dark hair was straight and hung below her shoulders. She had no bangs, but she did have a beaded headband tied around her forehead. I suspect quite a bit of thought had gone into her outfit, which seemed a little too pulled together for an afternoon in the woods. (The beaded headband really made it seem like she was trying too hard.)
The guy walked in first and asked if he could park in the lot outside the Mercantile.
Sure, I told him. There’s a $5 access fee. You can take care of that right here, I said as I reached under the counter for a day pass.
Since when do you charge for parking? the old man asked. I could tell he was not down with paying to park.
I’ve been here four seasons, I answered, and there’s been a parking fee as long as I’ve been here. If there’s no attendant on duty, it’s on the honor system. You put your payment in a self-pay envelope and drop it in the iron ranger.
Usually when I say honor system to old guys who’ve visited the trail before and not paid for parking, they shut up because they know they’ve behaved dishonorably and don‘t want to admit their moral failing. Not this guy. He just kept fussing about having to pay the whole time he did so.
The young woman came in during the access fee transaction. From the way they spoke to each other, I could tell they knew each other, but I couldn’t determine their relationship. The age difference suggested father and daughter, but that’s not the vibe I was getting from them.
The young woman began exclaiming over how expensive everything was. Maybe, like me, she is accustomed to shopping in thrift stores. We sold t-shirts as low as $18.95 and ball caps for as low as $16.95, not excessive prices for souvenirs on top of a mountain in California as far as I could tell.
I always wondered about people who complained about prices right in front of me. What did they hope to accomplish? Did they hope I’d haggle with them, offer them a better price? I always wanted to tell them I didn’t set the price, I couldn’t change the price, and I didn’t want to hear their bellyaching about the price. Instead, I just kept my mouth shut and felt uncomfortable.
The couple (not a couple?) left, but the young woman soon returned. She said she needed water and walked over to the beverage cooler where she studied the price list.
$2.50 for a bottle of water? she exclaimed.
That’s right, I said mildly.
I believe $2.50 for a 16.9 ounce bottle of water was wildly overpriced. I think it’s wrong to overcharge people so steeply for a basic human necessity, especially since packs of 24 bottles of that size could be purchased most anywhere in the valley for under $5. It seemed wrong to me to charge $2.50 for something that cost $.20 (or less!), even considering it was hauled up the mountain and keept cool. Charging $1.50 or $1.75 would be pricey, but understandable, but $2.50 just seemed greedy, especially for water. Sure, jack up the price for Gatorade or iced tea or potato chips—things people don’t need—but don’t screw people on the water. However, no one I worked for asked my opinion on the price of water, and when I offered it anyway, I was largely ignored.
Of course, this young woman with her neo-hippie headband had no way of knowing who set the prices or how I felt about them. I suppose I could have explained myself, but really, I just wanted her to buy her water (or not) and be on her way.
About that time, the old man walked back into the Mercantile. You getting some water? he asked the young woman.
It’s $2.50! the woman exclaimed. I just really can’t afford that right now, she told him melodramatically.
She must have told him at least three more times, I just really can’t afford that right now before the old man reluctantly asked, Do you want me to get water for you?
I don’t know if she could tell, but I sure knew he didn’t want to spend $2.50 on a bottle of water for her.
The gallons are $3.95, I said helpfully. Personally, I’d rather spend $3.95 for 128 ounces of water instead of $2.50 for 16.9 ounces of water.
The old man bought the gallon.
I never did figure out the relationship between the old man and the young woman, but if she was hoping he’d be her sugar daddy, well, I felt sorry for her. I’ve never had a sugar daddy, but I know a good one should be generous with money, not complaining about having to pay $5 to park and being slow to take the hint about buying water.
I feel as if my life has been in a constant state of
upheaval since The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) left for Quartzsite on
January 10th. It seems as if the early part of 2019 was all about
chaos for me.
Between early January and mid-February 2019, we decided to
buy land, sold the fifth wheel, purged and packed our belongings, bought the
land, moved to a new state, and discovered we couldn’t live the way we wanted
on our new property. The woman we bought the land from gave us our money back,
and we signed the deed over to her. We
were then able to buy a piece of property in Northern New Mexico.
Since we’d left Arizona, The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) had been living out of our vans. After five days on the property that didn’t work out for us, when we realized we’d have to leave, The Man and I each bought a New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass and started bouncing between state parks. While the annual camping pass is a great deal and the state parks in New Mexico are quite nice, we were getting frustrated by our vanlife. I hated trying to cook outside in the dust and wind (oh! the wind!), and The Man couldn’t sit in his rig in a way that was comfortable while making jewelry. Jerico was not one bit happy with the lack of ball-playing in his life. We were all stuck in irritating limbo until it was warm enough for us to start living on our land in Northern New Mexico.
While we waited for winter to turn to spring, I got word that situations arising from my father’s death had been resolved. In a few weeks, I found myself in possession of a truck and travel trailer. Vanlife was over, and now The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) had a tiny home on wheels.
At first I was hesitant to give up vanlife. After all, it’s
what I’d known for nearly a decade. I liked the simplicity of getting to the
bed without having to leave my rig. I liked being able to stealth park most
anywhere and the ease of backing up. Besides, living in my van had become part
of my identity. Who would I be without my Chevy G20?
In time, I realized I’m still me, van or no van. Whether I
live in a van or a travel trailer or a stationery fifth wheel, I’m still the
Rubber Tramp Artist. I’m still living a life simpler than those most Americans
live. I’ll still have adventures to share with my readers. I’m still exploring
life and creating art.
Yes, there will be challenges associated with this new rig.
The Man is currently driving the truck pulling the trailer, but the time will
come when I have to learn to haul it and even (gulp!) back it up. What I’ve gained
is a newer, more reliable vehicle with 4 wheel drive to get us through the
muddy roads crisscrossing the rural area where we will be living. What I’ve
gained is a home where the Man and I can both stand up and move around. What
I’ve gained is an oven, a refrigerator, and a freezer that makes ice. I’ve
decided I’m glad to gain these amenities in exchange for giving up the vanlife
While we do plan to stay stationery for longer portions of
each year, we’ll still spend time on the road. Our current plan is to get jobs
working at a pumpkin patch in the fall and a Christmas tree lot during the
holiday season. These are jobs couple with RVs are hired for since they can
sell products during the day and provide onsite security at night. If we can
earn a large portion of our yearly money in the winter, perhaps we can actually
have some fun in the summertime.
So I’ll still have stories from the road to share, as well
as everything we learn from our adventures in a travel trailer. As long as I
work with the public, there are sure to be stories of nervy, funny, strange,
and interesting customers. I don’t foresee any shortage of topics for blog posts.
Of course, I wouldn’t be living in such comfort now if my father hadn’t died. Yes, I feel ambivalent. I’m not glad my dad died, but I am glad to have this beautiful new home. My dad and I had a complicated relationship, so it seems fitting to have complicated feelings about the new way of life his death has led me to. What I do know is that my dad would want me to be happy. He often told me to enjoy life while I was young and healthy. I think he’d be glad I can stand up in my home and make ice cubes in my freezer while I dance in the kitchen as I cook.
If you keep up with my blog, you know that recently my partner and I bought some land in Southern New Mexico. We didn’t do our homework until it was too late. After we bought the land, we realized we weren’t allowed to live in the land in a van, RV, school bus, or any other temporary dwelling. Today I’ll share what I learned from the experience so you won’t make the same mistakes I did.
In several vandwelling/nomad groups I’m in on Facebook, people often bring up the idea of buying a small piece of inexpensive land in a rural location and using this as a home base. It seems they think, as my partner and I did, that property owners can pretty much do whatever they want on their own land. This is not always the case! Before you buy any land to use as a place to park your van or RV, do your research.
If you’re looking at ads for land online, read the whole
thing very carefully and be sure to scrutinize the fine print. When my
partner’s sister looked at online ads for land in the county where we were, she
found several that were aimed at snowbirds who wanted a place to park an RV for
the winter. Near the bottom ad, she found information on the limits placed on
parking an RV within the county. If you only want to park your van or RV on a
piece of property for 245 days a year (or whatever the actual limit is), great!
However, if you want to leave an RV on the land year round while you go off
exploring in a smaller rig, you need to know about these sorts of time limits.
The same sister told us that years ago, she and her partner
were considering purchasing land in a remote area of Wyoming or Montana. There
was lots of land available, but upon close scrutiny, she found the parcels had
to either be left empty or a house had to be built there within a specified
time period. If you have no plans to build a house, be sure you’re not buying
land where building a conventional dwelling it the only way you’ll be allowed
to live on your property.
Don’t automatically trust what the person you’re buying land from tells you can be done on the property. While I don’t think the woman we bought land from way trying to mislead us, I’m not so sure about the guy who sold the land to her. She said she asked him if she was allowed to camp on the property and he told her doing so would be no problem. While she only camped on the land a week or two at a time once or twice a year, keeping her within the limits of the of the county ordinance that says an RV can be on undeveloped property for 30 days out of a year, she was breaking the subdivision covenant which says a temporary dwelling on the property can only be utilized while a house is being built. Maybe the guy who sold her the land wasn’t exactly lying. Maybe he’d been misinformed or assumed. In any case, don’t assume what you are told about a piece of property is true.
Talk to a realtor if possible. I suspect realtors are held to higher ethical standards because they are professionals. I also suspect realtors are better informed than your average Joe trying to sell off some property. On the other hand, realtors are people too. Some of are unethical. Some are lazy. Some are misinformed. So while I might use a realtor as a source of information, I would use that information as a starting point for my own research. I wouldn’t unquestioningly believe everything that came out of a realtor’s mouth.
Speaking of realtor’s, a former realtor gave me some after-the-fact advice in a Facebook group. She said,
you definitely always want to check restrictions both on the deed and county/city. Also make sure you have legal access to the property. And don’t just go by looks. It may look like there’s a nice access road only to find out that’s not actual[ly] yours legally to use. And as mentioned above make sure there’s no zoning restrictions that would prevent what you want to do.
Doing an internet search on the particular area or subdivision you are interested in can alert you to any controversy surrounding the use of the land. What are landowners complaining about? Do their complaints relate to what you want to do with the land you purchase? Complaints don’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t buy land, but learning about controversy may allow you to go into a deal with your eyes wide open.
Talk to county officials (or folks who work their offices) who can tell you about ordinances, subdivision covenants, and land use restrictions. If you don’t know who to talk to, try the county recorder’s office, the county clerk, the county assessor’s office, or the office of county planning and development. If you call the wrong office, the person you talk to can point you in the right direction.
When you talk to the appropriate county worker or official, explain what you want to do on your land. Be clear and honest. I know sometimes we vandwellers and nomads have to be vague about how we live our lives because bureaucracy is not set up to accommodate people like us. However, I can assure you that it’s NO FUN to buy a piece of land and find out later that you can’t do with it what you intended to. I believe it’s better to find out before you plunk down your money that you’re not allowed to do what you have in mind with the property you are about to buy.
You may have better luck finding a place to accommodate you if you primarily want to own a piece of land to use as your permanent address, but not to live on for several months out of the year. Maybe your plan is to visit the land once or twice a year and live out of your van there for a week or two while you relax or do repairs and maintenance on your rig. This plan may go over better in a rural area than would a scheme to park on old RV or school bus there for long periods of time. I suspect the reason the woman we bought the land from got away with camping there over the course of several years was because she didn’t go there often and when she did, she didn’t stay long.
The bottom line is, know what you’re getting into before you lay your money down. We were lucky; when we realized we couldn’t do what we wanted with the land, the seller returned our money, and we transferred the land back to her. Most people who find out they can’t do what they want on their land will not be able to report this sort of happy ending.
The last time I posted an update on my life, it was about
how The Man and I were buying land in Southern New Mexico. Well, that was fun
while it lasted.
We found the land on a Saturday afternoon in the beginning in February. In reality, The Man did all the work. He used printouts of maps of the area provided online by the county as well as the Google Earth app to find our approximate spot. We knew our lot was the fifth one from the corner, and we knew each lot was just over 100 feet wide, so we used a long tape measure to figure out just where our driveway should go.
The wind was blowing, as we’d been warned it would. This was
no little breeze but a strong New Mexico wind. With the wind came dust, and we
were out in it with nothing but our vans for protection.
We had a big cabin-style tent we’d used for two summers when we worked in the mountains of California. The Man started setting it up, but before he could stake it down, the wind caught it and blew it around. The Man said the tent was not going to work. We agreed we needed a place for storage as well as somewhere to get out of the wind and dust in order to cook. We drove the 15 miles to Wal-Mart determined to buy a tent.
There was quite a bit of choice on the tent aisle at Wal-Mart. We immediately eliminated anything too small to use as both a storage shed and a kitchen. We also eliminated anything that did not allow The Man to stand upright inside. Next, we eliminated any cabin-style tents because The Man did not think that design would survive the wind.
The tent we bought had no rain fly. Instead, tent material
zips down over mesh panels. Essentially there are windows in the ceiling that
can be unzipped and opened for ventilation or zipped closed to keep out the
elements. At first The Man was worried about the lack of rainfly, but later
realized it was a good design for windy conditions. If there had been a
rainfly, wind would have gotten up under it, creating stress on the whole structure.
The tent is big and similar to a geodesic dome. I named it
The tent has ten poles to give strength to the structure. The poles cross at points around the tent, increasing stability. The poles are color coded and have to be added in a specific order. It is a base camp tent, something to be set up then left alone for a week or two. In other words, it is a real pain in the ass to pitch this tent!
The tent came with regular metal stakes. The Man said those
stakes weren’t going to hold against the New Mexico wind. We’d bought earth
auger type stakes when we bought the tent, but we found those stakes didn’t
work in the sandy soil where we were. (They
weren’t worth a damn, The Man says.) We had a few large tent spikes Auntie
M had given us before we left Arizona, so we used all we had to hold down the
tent. The Man thought the tent needed even more stability, so we drove back to
Wal-Mart to get more tent spikes and rope.
The Man ended up tying rope around each point where poles
crossed. He then used that rope as a guy line which he staked using a tent
spike. These extra guy lines gave added stability to the tent.
On Monday we went to the county building to transfer the
land into our names and pay the taxes on it. The Man asked one of the county workers
about any restrictions on the land. She directed us to a website where she said
we could find subdivision covenants for the subdivision where our land was
Yep, our land was in a subdivision even though in reality we
were in the middle of the desert with no neighbors and no amenities. The last
three roads we took to our place were unpaved. There were no electric lines
anywhere near us. We had no running water, no well. We had no mailbox, and I
was confident there was no home delivery of mail. Our nearest neighbor was no
closer than a quarter mile away, and we were pretty sure no one was actually
living in that house. To say we were living in a subdivision was comical,
except it was true.
Our plan was never to build a house. The Man and I thought
building a house would be too much work. We really only wanted to be on the
land six or seven months out of the year, in the winter. We wanted to buy an
inexpensive travel trailer or fifth wheel or even an old school bus and leave
it on our property while we were off earning money in the summer. We planned to
stay in whatever dwelling we had during the mild New Mexico winters.
On Wednesday I went to the library to work on my blog while
The Man went to the lapidary shop to cut stones. When he came to pick me up
around noon, he said we should look at our subdivision covenants. We found the
PDF file with the covenants for our subdivision, but that’s where the searching
The county worker had warned us that the covenants for the
different blocks of the subdivision were not in any particular order. It looked
like money had been spent to scan the pages and get them online, but no one had
been paid to organize the pages beforehand. We had to wade through over 160
pages of documents before we found the covenants for our area.
The covenants were very specific. House could be no smaller
than 600 square feet. Houses could be no more than one story. Garages could
only hold two cars. No signs could be placed in the front yard except for “for
sale” signs of specific dimensions. So many rules! Near the bottom of the page
of the covenants pertaining to our land, we found the rule that would change
No temporary dwellings (“no trailers, no tents, no shacks,”
the document specified) and no “privies” were allowed on the land, except
during the construction of a house. Any house under construction had to be
completed within six months. We were not allowed to do what we wanted to do on
When we explained the situation to friends and family,
several said, But if there’s nobody out
there, can’t you get away with it? Who’s going to complain?
The problem was, we didn’t know who might complain or when.
We did not want to pull a camper or a bus out there and then have to move it a
month or six months or a year later. We did not want to live our lives
wondering if today would be the day the sheriff showed up to kick us off our
land. We were looking for stability, not uncertainty.
(Before we left town, The Man met a fellow who’d parked an
RV on his own piece of property. After living there for three years, someone
from the county showed up and told him he was in violation. He couldn’t get the
trailer off the land within the allotted time, so he ended up spending eight
nights in jail. When he got out of jail, he had to scrap the RV because he
couldn’t afford to park it anywhere else.)
We were devastated. We felt as if our new life had been
ripped away from us. Even if we wanted to build a house, there was no way we
could afford to complete a 600 square foot dwelling within six months. We’d
need permits and materials. We’d have to dig a well. We’d have to put in a
septic system. We’d have to pay to have electrical lines run out to land.
What are we going to
do? we asked each other.
The Man insisted we had to call the woman we’d bought the
land from and let her know the situation in hopes of getting our money back. My
Southern upbringing had me cringing at the idea, but The Man insisted. You call her, I told him, so he did.
As soon as The Man explained the situation, she offered to
return our money. I have your money right
here, she said. I haven’t spent any
of it yet.
Getting the money back was a relief, but we still didn’t
know where we were going to live.
The Man’s sister suggested we find a piece of property that
wasn’t part of a subdivision. Maybe we could do what we wanted to do on a piece
of unrestricted land.
The sister (who is a wizard at finding things online), quickly found ads for land for sale in our area. She gave The Man a phone number to call. He ended up having a long conversation with a realtor who shared some very interesting information.The county has a human population of 24,078 and over 90,000 subdivision lots. Most of those lots (90%, I would guess) are empty. The Chihuahuan Desert is not for everyone, the realtor said when The Man asked why so few people are living on the land they own in these subdivisions.
The realtor then told The Man that an ordinance that applies
to all property in the county limits the time an RV can park on undeveloped
land to 30 days out of a year. If land is developed with electricity and
septic, an RV can park on it less than 300 days a year. (The number of days was
around 250, but I don’t remember the particulars.) When The Man asked why the
county would not let people live in an RV on their own land year round, the
realtor said county officials think such living arrangements would be bad for the economy.
At that point, we gave up on the whole county. We decided to each buy a New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass and stay in state parks in the southern part of the state until it was warm enough to go to Northern New Mexico where local government believes letting people live simply on their own land is good for the economy.
On Wednesday I’ll share with you what I learned from this land-buying fiasco so you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did.
I took the first two photos in this post. The Man took the last one.
I wasn’t able to find out much about the art carZalafayra.
Nolagirl and I saw the car at spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity in the spring of 2018. Either there was no sign with the car or I didn’t take a photo of it, so I came into this post not knowing the name of the artist. I had to play detective to get some info to share with my readers.
When a Google search of “Zalafayra” turned up nothing, I turned to Instagram. A search of “#zalafayra” brought me to a video belonging to Scot Campbell (@scotcampbellwindowpainter). In the video, a man identifies himself as Rick McKinney of Marin County, CA and says Zalafayra is his car.
In the video, Rick McKinney says he likes to “let people make up their own mind about what” the car is “all about.” He points out that he used “live moss, antlers, a bunch of religious figures” on the car. He said he was working with the theme of faith when he embellished the car, and the items on it represent things people put their faith in.
Some people put their faith in money. Some people put their faith in themselves; that’s the mirror…Some people in nature…time, Jesus, Buddha, you name it.
With additional detective work, I found out a bit more about Rick McKinney on The Lighthouse Peddler website. The man’s not just a visual artist, but a poet as well! (You can read his poetry on his blog Jigglebox.com.)
In an October 2017 list of “Rick Trivia” by Blake More on the aforementioned website of The Lighthouse Peddler, we learn that Rick McKinney
“[h]as been featured on television a dozen times with his art car Duke.”
I don’t know why Zalafayra was on display and not Duke. I don’t know why there’s not more information about Zalafayra out in the world. In any case, I feel really grateful to have seen this car, and I hope with this blog post, I’m doing my part to spread the word about it.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read about the J Gurl art car and California Fantasy Van that were also at the spark! Festival.
According to the National Day Calendar website, April 5 is National Read a Road Map Day. To prepare us for this holiday, today I’ll share with you my ideas about why GPS isn’t enough, make suggestions about what maps to use depending on where you’re going, and give you tips on where to find help if you need to brush up on your map reading skills.
When did everyone become dependent on GPS and a computerized voice telling us when to turn left?
My dad was a salesman during the early years of my life. When he went out looking for clients, he used paper maps to find them. When I was very young, we moved to a major metro area. My dad had not a single paper map, but an entire large, thick book that showed each neighborhood, each street, each back alley. The book was laid out with some mysterious logic I still fail to understand which involved flipping to a whole new page in mid trip. How did my father possibly read that map while driving? I can only assume he studied the map and planned his trip before getting into the driver’s seat and stopped in a parking lot to consult the map any time he had to confirm his route or start over and figure out new directions.
In 1998 I found myself at a music festival with a need to get back to my home base sooner than planned. I didn’t have a car and didn’t drive. I was facing a multi-day Greyhound bus adventure, but a friend of a friend of a friend pointed me in the direction of a woman who was headed to the same city as I was. She had an open passenger seat and room in the back of her pickup for my gear. After she accepted me as her passenger, I found she also had a TripTik Travel Planner from AAA. Does anyone remember these customized booklets that AAA members could request from the local office? AAA members could get request directions to a specific destination and the local office would provide turn-by-turn instructions. I spent a lot of time holding that booklet from AAA, as I was immediately promoted from passenger to navigator.
(True confession: I still managed to send us off in the wrong direction, despite the turn-by-turn instructions in my hand. In my defense, we were in the outskirts of Chicago, and the proliferation of road signs had me befuddled. Luckily the driver quickly saw the error of my ways and got us back on track ASAP.)
I can’t remember exactly when I learned about MapQuest. Perhaps it was in the very early years of the 2000s when I got my first laptop. Maybe it was before that, and I’d use my computer at work or go to the public library to get my directions via the World Wide Web. I do remember finding directions online and either printing them or writing each step out by hand. MapQuest let me down multiple times (including on so many occasions on a single trip to Missouri that I grew convinced that no employee of MapQuest had ever driven one mile in the Show Me State), until I swore to never use that website again. Now I’m a Google Maps gal.
The first time I heard a talking GPS navigator was 2009. The parents of the
guy who was then my boyfriend flew into the major city where we lived and rented a car because the guy and I didn’t have one. The car’s talking navigation system seemed to be more trouble to me than it was worth. We asked it to take us to tacos; instead it took us in circles as we tried to find a taco stand that apparently didn’t exist. I feared we would be directed to drive off a cliff or through a river.
Until I met The Man, I never let the navigation lady in Google Maps talk to me. I’d get directions from Google Maps, then write them out on a piece of paper I’d clip somewhere on my dash so I could refer to the instructions as I drove. I soon agreed with The Man that listening to the Google lady is easier than writing everything out, but it sure is a wrench in my system when she decides to send me on a wild goose chase. (I call them “wild Google chases.”) Why does the GPS lady get confused? Doesn’t her job require her to be omniscient?
And yet, I often wonder how our society got around before Google Maps or other GPS technology. When I think hard, I remember as a teenager having to ask friends how to get to their houses before my mother drove me over. Invitations to birthday parties often included small hand-drawn maps. Vacationers used road maps and those AAA TripTik booklets (if they were so fortunate as to be AAA members–my family never was). When folks got lost, they’d stop at a gas station and ask the worker for help.
Yes, I do appreciate GPS technology. I use it often. I’ve made friends with the Google Maps lady who guides me from inside my phone. (I call her Megan.) But for goodness sake, no matter how convenient GPS technology is, don’t forget your paper maps and don’t forget how to use them.
There are a few types of paper maps that you may need during
your travels. Be sure to get the right map for the job!
(I’m going to assume you’re traveling in the U.S.A. since
that’s where I’m writing from. I’ve you’re traveling in a country other than
the U.S.A., I‘d love for you to leave a comment describing how your use of maps
is different from the suggestions I’m giving here.)
For your day-to-day driving on the interstate and highways, use a decent road atlas. Rand McNally makes a good one. You can buy these bound sets of maps at bookstores or even Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart also sells a Rand McNally road atlas that shows the location of every Wal-Mart store in the U.S. This atlas would be a great investment for anyone who plans to spend a significant number of nights in Wal-Mart parking lots.SimplyRVing made a YouTube video all about this Wal-Mart atlas and how it can help you on the road.
If you’re planning your travels ahead of time, you can order an atlas online or through a local, independent bookstore. (Believe me, an independent bookstore will appreciate your business!) An atlas will show you the main roads to get you from town to town. The maps often show rest stops and campgrounds, as well as state and federal public land. Many of them also show basic maps of major cities and the most popular National Parks. If you purchase an atlas that covers all of North America, you’ll get maps of Canada and Mexico too.
If you’re only traveling in one state or region and you don’t have the space
(or money) for an atlas, you can probably get by with one or more state maps. You can sometimes find state maps in bookstores or Wal-Mart stores, and you can certainly buy them online. However, state maps are typically available for free at visitor centers or by mail if you contact the state’s tourism office ahead of time. I was recently in the visitor center in Deming, NM where there were free maps available for New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas.
Sometimes a stand-alone state map will be more detailed than
a state map in an atlas. It may show you county roads and tourists attractions.
A state map may also include basic maps of major cities within the state.
If you want to explore a state thoroughly, especially if you want to boondock for free on public land, you may want to invest in an atlas or atlas and gazetteer for the state you are exploring. These bound maps of individual states break the entire state into blocks, then enlarges each block to show not just county roads but also forest service roads, old mines, campgrounds, public land, historic sites, hunting zones, and more. Having a state atlas or atlas and gazetteer combo is a good plan if you want to find free camping areas that are off the beaten path. The two most popular brands are DeLorme and Benchmark.
If you’re going to spend some time in a National Forest or BLM area (especially a popular one), you may be able to get a map from the local ranger station. These maps will show Forest Service roads, natural attractions and landmarks, and campgrounds. These maps will also save you from buying a gazetteer if you don’t really need it because you’ll be boondocking primarily in one part of the state. (The map of the National Forest I worked in for four seasons cost $20, but the ranger station may have free handouts that will get you where you want to go. Don’t be afraid to ask for freebies.)
On the other hand, if you spend a lot of time in an urban area, you may want to get a good map of the city where you are based. Gas stations or Wal-Mart stores may have city maps, or you can order them before you hit town, if you’re the type to plan ahead. If you get to a city and need a free map of the area, try the local chamber of commerce. You don’t have to say you live in your van (if doing so makes you uncomfortable) when you explain you’re new to the area and need some help finding your way around. You could also go to the public library and print out some maps of the city that show the parts of town you plan to frequent.
Once you have your map, don’t just stick it in the pocket
behind your seat and forget about it. Get that baby out and study it! Trust me,
the best time to pull out your map is not when you are already lost.
If you’re using GPS to get to your destination, compare the route the
computer gives you to your map. Does what the GPS tell you make sense? Some camp host friends punched “Sequoia National Park” into their GPS, and after following the instructions given, found themselves turning down what seemed to be a dry riverbed. Oops! Had they consulted a map before the trip, they would have seen there was no reason to leave the pavement to get where they were going.
I’ve had Google Maps send me on wild Google chases even in cities and towns. Once when on the interstate, driving through the metro Los Angeles area, the Google Maps lady routed The Man onto Sunset Boulevard. Why? Why? Why? Google Maps often sent me on strange, roundabout routes through Porterville, CA. In any case, using a paper map to get familiar with an area before a trip can help do away with this type of nonsense. Simply being familiar with street names and the lay of the land can help make recovery a little easier if the GPS starts spewing incorrect information.
If you’ve never learned to read a road map or your skills are rusty, no shame! You can find lots of map-reading help on the internet. The Beginner Driver’s Guide will give you an informative overview of what different components of a map mean and how to use them. wikiHow has a thorough two-part article on “How to Read a Map,” including how to understand a map’s layout and how to use a map to get where you’re going. If you’d rather watch a video, there are several on YouTube dedicated to teaching folks how to read maps.
However you go about sharpening your map-reading skills, do
it before you get on the road. Trying to interpret an unfamiliar map while
trying to drive and read street signs is no easy task and could be a recipe for
GPS is quite helpful in getting you where you’re going, but
it shouldn’t be the only tool in your navigation toolbox. Make sure you have
the correct paper map for the particular journey you’re on, and know how to use
it so you can reach your destination with less worry and stress.
As always, Blaize Sun takes no responsibility for your safety and well-being. Only you are responsible for your safety and well-being. Do your research and decide for yourself your best course of action.
The Man and I were selling our wares at a farmers market in a small Arizona town. Sells were off to a slow start, and I was trying to remain optimistic.
An older gentleman approached our table. He was probably in his 60s. He wore his grey hair and beard cut short. His clothes were specifically designed for active outdoor athletic activities.
The Man and I wished the potential customer a good morning. He returned our greeting and said he had a joke for us.
Ok, I said with mild apprehension. This exchange could go several ways, some of them more offensive than others.
Why didn’t the lifeguard rescue the hippie? the older gentleman asked us.
I don’t know, I said, and The Man shrugged. Neither of us had heard this one before.
Because he was too far out, man, the amateur comedian told us.
I burst out laughing. The Man chuckled too. The joke really tickled me.
That’s a good one, I giggled.
I have another one, the fellow told us. I guess our positive response gave him courage and confidence to continue with the jokes.
Why did the cowboy get a dachshund?
The Man shrugged again, and I shook my head. We didn’t know the answer.
He heard the other cowboys talking about getting a long little doggie.
The Man and I groaned a little. This joke wasn’t nearly as good as the one about the hippie and the lifeguard.
Ok! I have one for you! I told the jokester.
Oh good! he responded. He seemed genuinely pleased that I had a joke to share.
What’s the pirate’s favorite letter? I asked.
Oh! I know this one! he said, seeming even more pleased. You would think it’s the R (arrrrr, he pronounced it in best pirate fashion), but his heart really belongs to the C. (Get it? The C! The sea! Get it?)
Ok! Ok! I said. I’d gotten really excited by this joke exchange. I have another one for you! What do you call a camel with two humps?
Now the jokester looked perplexed. A dromedary? he ventured. (He was double wrong. A dromedary has one hump. The Bactrian camel is the creature with two humps, but that wasn’t the answer to my riddle.)
Pregnant! I burst out, then laughed at my own joke.
The jokester gave me a strange look. Perhaps camel gestation was taking things too far.
A little tiny kid told me that one, I explained, remembering the four tiny comedians who’d waylaid me with jokes in the national forest parking lot where I worked.
The jokester did not seem to be amused by my juvenile humor, and he
wandered away. I was disappointed he left before I could dazzle him with my favorite, a knock-knock joke about an interrupting cow.