To be honest, this is more like a parking lot than a camping area.
Pros: Camping is free there and it’s not far from Socorro, New Mexico. There’s a restroom (pit toilet) on site. The parking area is level. The surrounding nature (especially the giant rock formations) is gorgeous. The road that leads to the area is easy to navigate. It was very quiet the night I stayed there.
Cons: When I was there, the door to the restroom didn’t close completely, which meant it couldn’t be locked. There is nowhere to park a rig where it isn’t on display to everyone else in the parking/camping area. No only is there no privacy in the parking/camping area, there is no shade.
I’d been visiting the Salinas Pueblo Missions Ruins, and Socorro was the next logical stop. I ended up buying a can of beans and dumping my trash at Walmart, fueling up the minivan, and getting a pizza at Little Caesars. I’d been driving and was tired of driving and would be driving the next day. I was ready to stop for the day, chill out, and eat some pizza.
I got on the Free Campsites website and looked for the closest free camping spot that wasn’t Walmart. That place was The Box.
The Box is not far from Socorro, right off Highway 60 and very easy to get to. Once you get off Highway 60, the road is dirt, but well-maintained and easy to navigate. I had no trouble navigating the road in my Toyota Sienna
I’d read reviews of The Box camping area that said it was basically a parking area. Still, I was a bit surprised to find the area is for all intents and purposes a parking lot. It’s not a camping area. It’s a parking area where people camp.
There were no signs that said “no camping” or “no overnight parking,” so I felt fine about staying there. Just know that there are few campground amenities save a pit toilet, a trash can (which had a sign saying there was no trash pickup while I was there), and a single fire ring made from stones. There are no picnic tables and no shade structures. There aren’t any trees to offer any shade. (I came in around 3 o’clock on an overcast afternoon and left in the morning. I didn’t experience the lack of shade myself, but I bet this place bakes at midday, especially in the summer.)
There is a restroom on site. It’s a pit toilet in one of those little square concrete buildings. It was fairly clean and even had toilet paper when I visited in mid-September of 2021. The problem came when I tried to close the door. It wouldn’t close completely. The door wouldn’t fit inside the frame. I tugged on it. I tried slamming it. Nothing worked. I don’t know if the door hadn’t been installed correctly or if a visitor had tried to tear it from its hinges and messed up the whole thing, but the end result was that it wouldn’t close. Because the door didn’t close completely, it didn’t lock either.
After spending several minutes tugging on the door and trying to get it to close properly, my use of the pit toilet had become nonnegotiable. I had to use that toilet even if the door was slightly ajar. I did what I had to do quickly and hoped no one would come along and swing the door wide open while I was in there. No one did.
Over the course of the afternoon, several cars pulled in and people, presumably hikers, disembarked and went off into the wilderness. After a while these people returned to their cars and eventually drove off.
A big group of what seemed to be locals stayed a few hours, having boisterous fun, mostly in the parking area. They left late in the afternoon.
Around twilight a van pulled in and parked next to a pickup truck that had been there for a while. Some young men hung out by the vehicles. One seemed to be cleaning out the van and fussing at the others. Two of the young men played Frisbee in the increasing dark. Other people arrived, but I couldn’t tell if everyone was interacting with each other or if people were sticking to the group they’d arrived with. I wondered if there would be partying into the wee hours, but all was quiet after about 9:30. Even when the people were active, there was no yelling and no loud music, just talking. Once the talking died down, the whole area was very quiet.
If you’re the type to sleep in a tent, there’s plenty of public land right there to pitch it on. Walk out from the parking lot and set up your tent among the majestic rocks.
If you’re like me and sleep exclusively in your rig, you’ll be happy to know the parking area here is very flat. After several nights parked at a slant, I certainly enjoyed sleeping in a bed that was perfectly level.
The Box was not a bad place to spend an afternoon and night. It beat the Walmart parking lot because after the sun set, it was dark and quiet, and I enjoy parking next to nature. I personally would not want to set up camp there for several days, but I liked it for an overnight stop.
What’s not to love? Festivities included presents (from Santa, Mom and Dad, and both sides of the family); lots of delicious food (fudge and pies, ham and turkey, potato salad and rice dressing); and running wild with my cousins.
As I got older, my Christmas enjoyment expanded as I learned that giving can be just as fun as receiving. I remember saving the meager amounts of money that came into my life to buy little low-priced Christmas items from the Sears catalog. I gave my godmother a tiny Christmas tree meant to hold toothpicks and a select few of my elementary school friends received erasers shaped and colored like Christmas tree lights.
Christmas of 7th grade stands out because my parents allowed me to host a party. My four best friends were invited. We pulled names to decide who would buy gifts for whom and set a $10 spending limit. I pulled Kim’s name and bought her treasures to fuel her Duran Duran obsession. Tiffany pulled my name and went over the spending limit when she got me both Bruce Springstein’s Born in the USA album AND Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry. I ate too many Pillsbury slice and bake cookies and drank too much Cherry Coke and puked (not on purpose) after my friends went home.
The last year I remember celebrating Christmas in a traditional way was 1995. I hosted a tree trimming party. I put up an artificial tree and made ornaments with the names of the guests outlined in glitter. I prepared snacks, got everything ready…and was disappointed when only one or two friends showed up. I’d imagined us rockin’ around the Christmas tree, but it turned out to be more of a blue Christmas.
By the next year I was an anarchist. My friends were anarchists too. Instead of celebrating Christmas, we critiqued consumerism and capitalism and Christianity. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of problems with consumerism, capitalism, and Christianity, and I still believe critique can be a healthy way to learn and teach. But is it possible to critique Christmas and still enjoy some aspects of it?
Personally, it’s the entire holiday season I like, everything from the day after Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, the entire month of December plus a little more. But I know that for the majority of people in America, Christmas is the main event, with Hanukkah perhaps a distance second. Yes, some people celebrate Yule and/or Solstice, but in most places those people are few and far between. And while I know there are people who celebrateKwanzaa, I’ve never met any of them. (That’s on me. I’m not suggesting Kwanzaa celebrators are in any way responsible for seeking me out.)
For me, the winter holidays are not about a baby born in a barn in the distance past and laid to sleep in a manager. I was brought up Catholic, but I don’t even consider myself Christian anymore. Christian holidays are not my holidays. To be honest, I don’t particularly celebrate Pagan holidays either. Christmas and Yule and Solstice and Boxing Day are usually just regular days for me, perhaps with some additional stuffing. (Oh, hey, I just looked it up and found out that Yule is 12 days long…I had not idea until right now.)
So I’ll tell you what I like about Christmas time, the holiday season, whatever you want to call it. I like that people are nicer to each other during this time of year.
People give each other presents, but I don’t mean just friends and family. People give presents to folks who are practically strangers. When people give a little gift to their mail carrier or garbage collector or teacher, they’re expressing appreciation to virtual strangers. When folks give to Toys for Tots or pluck a tag from a tree at Walmart or Denny’s then get a gift for the person listed on the tag, they’re giving to an actual stranger. During the holidays people donate to food banks and other charitable organizations and maybe even give a little extra cash to the person flying a sign on the corner.
Christmas time isn’t just about gifts though. People think about each other more. They send cards to one another or maybe a text to catch up. People say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or “Happy New Year” (which I like to use well into February). People acknowledge each other more throughout the entire month of December. People simply seem kinder during that part of the year.
I like the additional kindness. I like to receive it. I like to give it out. I like to see other folks giving it and receiving it too. But I think there’s something else at play during the winter holidays. I think during this part of the year, people have more hope.
Now here’s the question: Does the hopefulness make people kinder or does the kindness make people more hopeful? I suppose it doesn’t matter. My wish is that we can all be more hopeful and kinder to each other all year long.
I wish this for all of us and specifically to you. I wish you more hope and more kindness today and in the coming year. I wish for you to receive more kindness and to show more kindness too. I wish these things for myself and for each individual, which then means I’m wishing it for us collectively too.
I’m also wishing you a very happy whatever-holiday-you celebrate-this-time-of-year. If you celebrated Hanukkah a few weeks ago, I hope it was wonderful. If you welcomed winter on the Solstice, I hope it was meaningful for you. If you’re a Festivus person, I hope you aired all your grievances and ate a lot of carbs. If you’re celebrating Christmas today, I hope it’s merry and bright. If Boxing Day is your tradition, I hope tomorrow is a great day for you. If you begin celebrating Kwanzaa tomorrow, I wish you a joyous Kwanzaa. If you begin celebrating Yule tomorrow, I hope the next twelve days are fabulous. If I didn’t name your holiday, I still hope it’s a good one (and I’d love you to tell us all about it in the comments).
And of course, Happy New Year. I’m hoping 2022 is a good one for all of us.
Having a cooler in your rig can really up your mealtime game. With a cooler to store your perishable food, you no longer have to eat out for every meal, live exclusively on canned and other packaged foods, shop for groceries each day, or some combination of these techniques. Having a cooler allows you to have fresh food on hand whether you’re stealth parking in the city or boondocking on public land.
Let’s face it though: maintaining a cooler can be a huge pain in the neck. The ice melts so fast, turning your cooler into some sort of human engineered lake for your food items to bob around in. Well, you’re lucky if your food items are bobbing. Too many times I’ve had food items in the cooler lake sink and become waterlogged, only to go into the garbage can the next time I cleaned out the ice chest.
Also, depending on where you are, ice can be really expensive. Up in the mountains of California, I’ve paid $4 for a seven pound sack of ice. Recently in Alamosa, CO I couldn’t even find ice at the first several places I looked. When I finally found a 7 pound sack at a liquor store, the bag cost over $2. Ice is a valuable commodity, so you want it to last as long as possible.
I’ve tried several different techniques to keep the contents of my cooler from becoming a waterlogged mess.
First I tried filling gallon-size, freezer-weight zipper bag with ice. The bags are easy to find at a variety of stores. Unfortunately, it seemed like no matter how careful I was, the ice quickly poked holes in the bags. As soon as the bags sprung a leak (or five!), my cooler was flooded again. I did not like the economic or environmental repercussions of having to replace those bags way too often.
My next step was to fill several reusable plastic containers with ice. I used Nalgene bottles, plastic ice cream containers, and large reusable food storage containers filled with ice and placed in the cooler. This technique was the least messy because there was no leaking and no spilling when I removed the containers. The drawbacks were the amount of time it took to pour ice from a bag into a bunch of containers and the amount of room the containers took up. Sometimes there seemed to be more containers full of ice than food in my cooler.
Wanting to stop wasting space for ice containers, I tried using a dishpan in the bottom of the cooler. The bag of ice went into the dishpan which caught the water as the ice melted This idea was great in theory, but inevitably there was eventually more water than the dishpan could hold. If I didn’t pour out the water in time, the dishpan overflowed and I ended up with at least a couple inches of water in the bottom of my cooler. The second problem arose when I tried to lift a dishpan full of water our of the cooler and out of my van without splashing and spilling all over myself and the inside of my rig.
At one time I used a Styrofoam cooler inside my plastic ice chest. The food went into the Styrofoam cooler and the ice went between the Styrofoam and the plastic cooler. The system left less space for food, but I was willing to make that trade-off in order to keep my food out of the melt water.
Obviously, there were problems with all of these techniques, and none left me feeling as if I had solved the problem. When I moved into my travel trailer, one of the biggest perks was having a refrigerator and freezer that worked. I’m still grateful for them every day.
Not everyone has the money to buy or room in their rig to install a refrigerator. As a part timer in a minivan, I certainly want to keep my traveling life as simple and inexpensive as possible. Luckily, The Man figured out the best way to get ice to last as long as possible in a cooler and to keep it from turning the ice chest into a lake as it melts.
Solving the Cooler Problems
First, buy a high quality cooler. I did a lot of research on the best coolers on the market. Of course, your budget is gong to play a role in what you buy. If you have a few hundred bucks to spend on a cooler, get yourself a roto-molded Yeti, Orca, or Engel. According to the GearLab article “Best Cooler of 2021” by Maggie Brandenburg, Senior Review Editor, those are the top three brands of ice chests available. If you have about a hundred dollars to spend on a cooler, go to Walmart and get a Lifetime brand cooler.
NOT roto-moulded…Instead they are blow moulded…a different manufacturing process…Roto-moulded coolers are much thicker and stronger than blow moulded coolers.
The roto-moulding is why Yeti, Orca, and Engel are better than Lifetime. However, the blow moulding is why Lifetime coolers are better than all the lesser priced coolers on the market.
If you are concerned with the country of origin of the products you buy, according to the same FAQ, Lifetime coolers are made in the U.S.A.
From what I’ve read and from what I’ve experienced, the Lifetime coolers are a lot better at keeping your ice frozen and your food items cold than regular coolers are. If you have the money to spend on a Lifetime, I recommend you go for one of these.
A word on size: Before you purchase a Lifetime or any other roto-mouldled or blow moulded cooler, open it up and take a look inside. If you’ve never used one of these modern coolers before, you might be unpleasantly surprised by how much room there is (or more accurately, isn’t) on the inside. The insulation that’s going to keep your food cold takes up some of the interior space. I think it’s a worthwhile compromise. You’ll have to make your own decision.
The Man bought a 28 quart Lifetime cooler. He soon found that once he got a 7 or 10 pound sack of ice into his cooler, there wasn’t a lot of room for food. If you just need to keep your half and half, a pack of cold cuts, some American cheese slices, and a dozen eggs cold, buy all means, get a smaller cooler. If, however, you are like me and want to keep a gallon of milk, two pounds of cheese, a couple dozen eggs, and some fresh produce on hand for the next several weeks, get a bigger cooler. Learning from The Man’s experience, I bought a bigger (55 quart) Lifetime cooler, and I have never regretted it.
What if You Can’t Afford a Lifetime Cooler?
I know that not everyone can afford a fancy new cooler. There was certainly a time in my traveling life when I would have laughed joylessly if you had suggested I spend $100 on an ice chest. (I was only able to do so last spring thanks to money I received related to the death of my father.) If you’re shopping for a cooler at a thrift store or gratefully accepting one a family member or friend doesn’t use anymore, I see you, and I’ll give you some tips for keeping your ice solid for as long as possible.
Buy block ice. I don’t often see ice in blocks, but if you do, it’s your best bet for lasting a while. If you have to buy cubed ice, keep it all together If you separate the ice, it will melt faster.
Don’t use a cooler bigger than you need. If you have a choice, don’t get a big cooler if a small one will do. The less space ice has to cool, the longer it will last.
Keep your cooler off the floor of your rig and off the ground. Both the ground and the floor of your rig will heat the cooler and melt your ice. In my last conversion van, I got The Man to build a low shelf for my cooler to sit on. Unfortunately, there’s not room for such a shelf in my minivan. If you’re boondocking, keep your cooler in its place in your rig, or if you must keep it outside, on the picnic table, on a stump, or even on a large rock.
Keep your cooler out of the sun. Put it in the shade, or cover it with a blanket. You want to keep it as cool as possible so the ice inside of it doesn’t melt.
Speaking of blankets, wrap your cooler in blankets, even if the sun isn’t hitting it. I keep my Lifetime cooler covered in a couple of blankets. The added insolation helps the ice last longer Also, it’s a great place to store extra blankets when space is at a premium in your rig.
Open the cooler as little as possible. Think about what you need from the cooler before you open it. Things heat up in there while you’re rummaging around. If you like cold drinks throughout the day, reserve a smaller cooler just for beverages so you don’t have to open your main ice chest every time you’re thirsty.
Don’t put hot things into your cooler. Whether it’s leftovers or beverages that have been sitting in the hot rig all day, putting even warm items directly into your cooler is going to melt your ice. Let things cool off before you put then in the cooler. Try putting beverages in your ice chest in the morning when the liquid is at its coolest.
Ice Is Gonna Melt
Of course, the ice in your cooler is going to melt no matter how careful you are. That’s the nature of ice. What about all the water that melting ice produces? How can you keep it from making a complete mess in the cooler? Don’t worry, The Man figured that out too.
Get a dry bag. Walmart sells them. I bet most camping supply stores do too, but The Man and I both got ours at Walmart because that’s what was available in the little desert town we were in. Get a big one. You want 7 to 10 pounds of ice to fit in it. Ours are the 20 liter size. That’s not the biggest one available, but it’s been plenty big for my needs. At the time of writing this post, the 20 liter dry bag runs just under $7 at Walmart.
Once you put your ice in the dry bag, roll down the top and cinch it Put the bag full of ice in your cooler. Position the top of the bag so none of the water from the melted ice leaks from the top. Close the cooler. There, you’re done, until it’s time to dump the water from the dry bag and add more ice. If you can, leave the cold water in the dry bag until you’re ready to add more ice. The cold water will help keep your food cool.
I’ve never had the dry bag leak. The seams are sealed to keep water out, so they also keep the water in. Sometimes there is water from condensation on the bottom of the cooler, but that’s easy to wipe out.
I believe one time The Man put the dry bag full of ice flat on the bottom of the cooler and the bag leaked from the top. I don’t know if it leaked because it was flat or because the top wasn’t rolled down enough. Maybe the top wasn’t cinched adequately. I keep the top of the bag upright within the cooler, and I’ve never had a problem with leakage.
At only about $7 for the 20 liter size dry bag, most of us can afford this upgrade. Even if you can’t afford the best cooler on the market, you can probably afford a dry bag to cut down on ice chest lake aggravation and food waste.
I hope these tips help you solve your cooler problems. Do you have other tips to help folks deal with coolers and melting ice? Do you have other ideas for keeping your ice solid for longer? Please share your tips and ideas in the comments below.
Have you heard about the RV Sticker Club? If you’re not on Instagram, you probably haven’t. Even if you are on Instagram, maybe you haven’t because Instagram is BIG!
I just found out that the RV Sticker Club has a webpage too, so you can check it out even if you don’t have an Instagram account and hang out there all the time like I do.
The Club is a project of The Flying Ham Travel Trailer Rentals If you’re in the Nashville, TN area, the Flying Ham folks will rent vintage style campers and glamping bell tents to you. Not only do they rent these cool camping accommodations, they deliver! According to their website, they will drop off and set up the camper or bell tent at the location you pick. When you finish camping, The Flying Ham will pick up the camper or tent. How cool is that? (Very cool!)
But back to the RV Sticker Club. If you’ve never heard of it before, you’re probably wondering what exactly it is. According to the Club’s webpage,
The RV Sticker Club is an international community of camping enthusiasts who trade RV/camper/van/bus stickers using the hashtag #rvstickerclub on Instagram!
That explanation probably answered your first question: Is it only for folks who own an RV? NO! Although “RV” is in the name of the Club the real common denominators seems to be traveling and camping. You like traveling and camping? You’re in! You have a fifth wheel, motorhome, travel trailer, Airstream, popup, Casita, canned ham, Scamp, or teardrop? You’re in! You have a pickup truck with a camper that slides into the bed? You’re in! You’re have a van (mini, conversion, or cargo)? You’re in! You’re have a long bus? A short bus? A box truck? You’re in! You camp in a tent? You’re in! You’re full time? You’re part time? You’re a weekend warrior? You’re a snow bird? You’re in!!!! You can see this is a club with very loose membership requirements.
(If there were some terms in the above paragraph that you didn’t understand, see my post Lingo which explains a lot of expressions I’ve heard on the road.)
The RV Sticker Club website goes on to say that it’s free to join the club, but since the whole point of joining the club is trading stickers, you will need to purchase some stickers for trading. Before you order stickers, though, you’re going to need a design to put on those stickers. You will need a design that communicates to the world who you are.
I’ve had two Rubber Tramp Artist designs. You can read about both of them in my post Rubber Tramp Artist Has a New Logo! I’ve been so fortunate to have two very talented artists create two very special designs for me.
What can you do if you don’t have a talented friend willing to create a design for you? The RV Sticker Club FAQ says,
You can design one yourself on a paint program on your computer or hire someone to design it for you!
Once you have a design, you can have it put on a sticker. I’ve had all of my stickers produced by Sticker Mule, and I’ve always been impressed and happy with the outcome. The stickers are thick and durable and suitable for outdoor application. Their customer service is fantastic and the turn-around time is quick. The folks at RV Sticker Club recommend Sticker Giant.
Ok. So you have a design and you have stickers. Now what? The RV Sticker Club website says,
When your stickers come in, post them on Instagram using the hashtag #rvstickerclub and tag us (@rvstickerclub)!
People will DM (direct message) you to trade, or you can message them!
Watch your collection grow!
Wondering where to put the stickers you receive? Some people have a special RV Sticker Club scrapbook and affix the stickers to its pages. Some people attach stickers to their rig, either inside or outside. Another popular sticker display place is an ice chest or cooler. I started trading stickers specifically to decorate my new cooler. After the cooler was completely stickered, I starting using stickers I received on the case for my camping stove. (Unfortunately, I put all the stickers on upside down. Oh well.) At some point, someone (I can’t remember who) said they put stickers on their poop bucket, so I started doing that as well. Once the stickers start arriving, you’ll think of all kinds of places to put ’em.
My Lifetime cooler has a lot of stickers on it now.
One side of the case for my stove. Unfortunately, I stuck on the stickers upside down in relation to the handle.
The other side of the case for my stove.
I’ve started putting stickers on my poop bucket too.
This is the top of my cooler. I got the “I Sleep Around” sticker from my friends at Cajun Van Travelers.
These are the places I’m displaying the stickers I’ve received in swaps via RV Sticker Club. Not all of the stickers are the result of trades. I also have stickers that I’ve won in giveaways and some that I purchased in places I visited.
I think RV Sticker Club is a lot of fun! Maybe you would enjoy trading stickers too. I’d be glad to answer any questions you have about trading stickers. Feel free to ask questions in the comments below.
This is the area where I camped on Lake Como Road. You can see there’s no shade and lots of dust. The view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is really nice, though.
I discovered this free camping areaon BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land while looking for a free place to stay near the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in southern Colorado. Whenever I’m looking for a free place to camp, the first place I look is the Free Campsites website. Once again, the site helped me out, this time by directing me to Lake Como Road.
This BLM land is easy to get to. From Alamosa, CO, take Highway 160 to Highway 150 and turn left. From Fort Garland and Blanca, CO, take Highway 160 to Highway 150 and turn right. If you’re heading south on Highway 17, take a left when you see the signs directing you to Great Sand Dunes National Park . When you hit highway 150, make a right As you may have guess, this camping area is off of Highway 150. Great Sand Dunes National Park is at the the end of Highway 150, so it’s very easy to get there from this camping area.
I did a lot of looking for a free place to camp before my visit to the Great Sand Dunes. This is the closest spot I found that was truly free in that was not a State Wildlife Area (where folks are required to have a valid Colorado hunting or fishing license in order to camp) and was reported to have a road that did not require a 4 wheel drive and/or high clearance vehicle. Since I’m in a minivan now, I have to be more conscious of poor road conditions. I didn’t want to try to drive on a road I maybe couldn’t handle.
The dirt road into this boondocking area was not terrible. It had washboard ridges in places, and there were some small exposed rocks, but overall it was fine, at least as far as I went. I stayed within a mile or two of the turn off to from Highway 150, and I think any vehicle could make it as far as I did. Just take it nice and slow, which you should be doing anyway on this very dusty road. You don’t want to be the one to choke out all your neighbors.
The camping spots are just wide, dusty areas with little vegetation on the side of the dirt road. The first camping area seemed to be the biggest with room for four or five rigs. I was a little nervous about the road, but I wanted a bit more space to myself, so I drove father in. I could see rigs parked miles up the road as it climbed up the mountain, but I was not that adventurous. I just needed a place to put the van where I could cook and sleep before I went off to the park, so I didn’t feel the need to find a great spot.
It’s a good thing I didn’t need a great spot because I didn’t have one. There was zero shade where I was. Most of the spots had the same problem. There are no trees until well up the mountain road. Even in mid September, it was pretty warm there during the afternoon, especially with the sun beating down. If you’re going to camp there for a few days, plan to use your awning or bring a popup canopy or a tarp you can use to fashion a sun block.
Or maybe you shouldn’t use an awning or popup canopy or any kind of sun block after all. It was quite breezy the afternoon I was there. If you’re using a tarp, tent, or canopy out there, but sure to stake it down well. If you’re using an awning attached to your rig, keep a close eye on it so the wind doesn’t have the chance to twist it out of shape.
This is the view right across the road from where I camped. I don’t know what the vegetation is, but i sure enjoyed that big sky full of clouds.
Cell phone service was great where I stayed. Texting worked normally, and I was able to access the internet with no problem. However, I didn’t try to stream or watch videos, so I don’t know if that would have worked out.
The view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains was beautiful, and I enjoyed the big blue sky filled with puffy white clouds.
This area is available for true dry camping. There are no amenities here: no running water (for drinking or otherwise), no electrical hookups, no shade structures, no picnic tables, no restrooms (flush toilet, pit toilet, portable toilet, or otherwise), no dump station, no trashcans. Bring with you everything you need to survive for however long you plan to stay on Lake Como Road.
There are fire rings make from rocks in some of the camping spots. Check on fire bans before you build a campfire. The area is is really dry, so please don’t build a fire if the BLM has deemed doing so dangerous.
As always when boondocking, be prepared to take all your trash with you when you leave. As I said before, there are no trashcans or dumpsters here; you really do have to pack out what you pack in.
I had a quiet night on this BLM land. I didn’t hear any music or other sounds of people partying, In the morning, I had a quick breakfast just as the sky was beginning to turn light, then took off to the Great Sand Dunes.
Some camping spots are about beauty and getting close to nature. Some camping spots are about location. For me, camping on Lake Como Road was all about location. I appreciate public land like this where I can hang out and sleep for free before going off to enjoy natural splendor.
I got a job. I applied in October, but didn’t hear anything back until November. I thought they had hired someone else and wondered why they hadn’t hired me.
One morning I got a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize. I answer those calls because not all of my contacts transferred when I had to get a new phone, and The Man could be calling me from anywhere since he doesn’t have a phone and has to borrow one if he needs to contact me. This time, the call was from the manager of the place where I applied to work. She asked if I could come in the next morning at 10 for an interview. I told her yes!
I arrived a little early. I walked in by 9:57, and she was waiting for me. She whisked me into her office. By 10:04, I was back in my minivan, and I had the job.
The manager didn’t really interview me. She held my application in her hand and asked, So, you worked as a personal assistant?
I said yes, then talked for 40 seconds about what sort of tasks I carried out as a personal assistant.
Then the manager looked back at my application and asked, So, you worked for a home health care company?
I said yes, then talked for 30 seconds about how I helped disabled people in their homes.
Finally, the manager looked at my application for the last time and asked, So you worked at a gas station?
I said yes, then talked for 25 seconds about the work I did at the gas station.
When I finished speaking, the manager said she thought I would be a good fit for the position. She said I should come back on Friday afternoon before 3 o’clock to complete some paperwork. Then I walked back out to my van. I sat in the driver’s seat and felt so grateful to have a job. I was glad I wouldn’t have to fill out more applications or participate in additional interviews. I was so relieved that I’d gotten a job, I forgot to ask how much it paid.
By now you’re probably wondering what kind of job I got. Ok. I’ll tell you.
I’m the breakfast attendant at a mid-range hotel not far from a major roadway. I arrive at 5am, get food out of the cooler, cook sausage and eggs in the microwave, make coffee, and put out all the food. Some days I have to mix waffle batter. Some days I have to boil eggs. Throughout breakfast hours, I keep all the food stocked and, most importantly, keep the coffee flowing. I wipe tables when customers leave and pick up any trash they didn’t throw away. I wipe up spills on the counters, most often waffle batter from a self-serve waffle experience that has gone awry.
At 9am, I shut down the breakfast room. I turn off the TV and the waffle iron, unplug the toaster and the steam tray. I put away muffins and Danishes and hide all the cereal and condiments in the cupboards under the counter. I throw out any eggs and sausage that weren’t eaten. I wash the pans I cook the eggs and sausage in, as well as all the serving utensils the guests have used. I sweep and mop the floor and vacuum the carpet. I take out the trash, then head home for the day. I’ve always gotten out of there before 11am.
I only work three days a week. I work three days in a row, then have four days in a row off. That’s truly the best part of the job.
Another thing I like about the job is that no one is breathing down my neck. When I work, I am the queen of the breakfast room. The guy who trained me showed me how he does things, but told me that when I’m working, I’m in charge and can do things the way that most makes sense to me. The manager has corrected me a couple of times and given me some tips, but she’s not on any kind of high horse. I appreciate the corrections and advice she has given to me.
Of course, no job can be perfect…
On my first day of training, the manager and the guy who trained me warned me about Karen, the night auditor. I’ve worked in hotels before, and the night auditor has always been a weirdo. I think those disrupted sleep patterns really take a toll on most people. Hotel managers never want to fire night auditors though, no matter how difficult to get along with they may be because it’s so hard to find anyone willing to work the overnight shift. Hotel staff just have to put up with night auditor weirdness.
Karen has worked at this hotel longer than anyone else, including the manager (who just turned 25 two weeks ago). While Karen does know a lot, she thinks she knows everything, which, of course, she doesn’t. Karen is also bossy and smug.
The first day I worked alone after training, Karen tried to get bossy with me. I nipped it right in the bud, letting her know the way I did things was just fine. She got huffy and walked away. Good riddance, Karen.
Later that morning a third coworker (one of the front desk workers) warned me about Karen and said I should let any of the desk workers know if Karen hassled me. I told her how I had already taken care of things with Karen. I also let her know I’m open to correction and suggestion, but I don’t need Karen or anyone else bossing me for the sake of being bossy.
Every morning when I hurry in at 4:49, I give Karen a hearty, cheerful Good morning! She grumbles good morning back to me, but I can tell saying it pains her. On the rare occasion I ask her a question, she delights in giving me an answer. I think Karen enjoys knowing more than other people and showing off her knowledge.
All in all, the job is fine. It’s certainly not rocket science. I’m not working too hard. I can even sit down and watch the TV or flip through a tourist magazine when there’s no particular thing to do at the moment. It’s an easy job, and I’m grateful for it.
Also? Now I can add “Breakfast Attendant” to the long list of interesting job titles I’ve held.
I planned to share this post on Thanksgiving Day, but it didn’t quite work out. That’s ok, though. Since I’m going to tell you all about my holiday greetings project, it seems right to share the post in December after all.
Founded in November 2001, by Mark Martin, The Angel Card Project is an internet wide charity event designed to send greeting cards to those in need. The project started as a very small grassroots effort to reach a few indivdiuals to let them know they were not forgotten. Supported solely by volunteers, the mission of “Sending Love, One Christmas card at a time” was formed.
Unfortunately, by the time I learned about the Angel Card Project in 2020, it was really too late to send any Christmas cards. When I explored the group’s website, I saw that it has a Facebook page and that volunteers send out cards all year, not just at Christmas. Members of the Facebook group request cards for other folks on an almost daily basis. People ask for cards to be sent to celebrate birthdays, to offer condolences for death and other losses, to cheer up the sick and the lonely, and to lift up anyone who isn’t doing well. After the year that was 2020 and with the ongoing COVID pandemic still keeping people with compromised immune systems at home, lots of people needed some uplifting in 2021.
In the second week of January, I set a goal for myself. I decided that every week I would send out postcards to 5 strangers who needed some cheer. I found most of those people through the Angel Card Project’s Facebook page. I’ve met my goal every week! Early on, I even sent 10 postcards one week to make up for that first week in January when I hadn’t sent any. By the end of 2021, I will have sent over 250 postcards to strangers across the U.S.A. I’ve sent postcards to elders in their 70s, 80s, 90s, and even 100s who were having a birthday. I’ve sent postcards to sick kids and adults. I’ve sent postcards to folks who were home bound, either due to COVID or other life circumstances. I’ve sent postcards to people who were lonely, sad, depressed, or struggling in some other way.
Christmas is the prime focus of the Angel Card Project, and I decided I wanted to participate in a big way. At first, I decided I wanted to send 200 Christmas cards. I thought that was a fine goal for a first-time participant. I started collecting Christmas cards on December 26 of 2020 when I scooped up eight (or was it 10?) boxes of 12 each at the Family Dollar. I think I paid 50 cents or maybe $1 a box. I found some Christmas card closeout deals at Walmart too and added those to my expanding assortment.
I asked friends for the Christmas cards they weren’t going to use. Most of my friends don’t send Christmas cards, but a couple did have a few from years past that they sent to me. I appreciated every one I got.
My sibling works at Target and several weeks after Christmas saw holiday washi tape on clearance, greatly reduced in price. I soon opened a care package and found myself in possession of many rolls of washi tape. I started using it right away to decorate envelopes I wouldn’t be sending for at least 10 months.
Over the summer, while living in Taos, I browsed at least one thrift store several times a week. I often found holiday cards there. I waited until the cards were marked down and the price was quite low before I bought them. Before I knew it, I had 250 cards, then 275, then nearly 300. I set my new goal at 300 cards.
While house sitting, I started putting my return address on envelopes. I knew I needed to be ahead of the game if I was going to get 300 cards mailed before December 17, the deadline the USPS gave for mailing first class items for arrival before Christmas. I decided to go ahead and write a generic message and my signature in each card. I knew I could always write more later if I felt moved to do so.
When I returned to my southern desert home in early October, I was able to give the Christmas cards a rest. It was a good thing too, because a lot happened between then and Thanksgiving. A few days before Thanksgiving, when the Angel Card Project released the main list of people to send Christmas cards to, I was ready.
The list was 94 pages long and included 754 potential recipients! Stop a minute and let those numbers sink in.
A lot of people wonder how I decide what people on the list to send cards to. Honestly, I went with my gut. Each person on the list had a sentence or at most two telling about them and why they needed cards this year. I mostly sent cards to elderly people who live alone and/or far from most of their friends and families. I did send cards to some couples and kids, but I focused on elders who are alone.
I sent a card to everyone on the list who lives in New Mexico. That was an easy commonality to focus on. “I live in New Mexico too!” I wrote to those folks.
The reasons people need cards are heart wrenching. Kids are living with relatives because one parent is in prison and the other is strung out on drugs. Other kids are bullied, more than one to the point of being beat up. Several people are not just living far from family members, but are estranged from their families. It was stated for more than one elder that “all of his/her friends have died.” Many adults with developmental disabilities no longer have day programs to go to in the face of COVID and are sad to sit at home all day. Kids are sick. Adults are sick. Partners have died and relationships have fallen apart. The stories that hit me the hardest were the ones about people in my own age group. People ages 50 to 60 who are alone, lonely, depressed, sick…my heart aches for those folks because I can relate to them. We played with the same toys, watched the same TV shows, graduated from high school within a few years of each other, partied, danced, had children (or not), and now we are all growing old together, our bodies breaking down. How did this happen? It seems like only yesterday we were so young. (But I digress…)
Sometimes while writing holiday greetings, I cried for all of these people, the young and the old and us in the middle, and all of their pain. I kept going, though. What else was I going to do? I had 300 holiday cards, and they had to go somewhere. Besides, the people I was crying for didn’t know about my weeping. They needed cards not tears, so I kept working.
A few days after the list was out, the founder of the group started letting people post additional card requests to the Facebook page. These were requests that for whatever reason hadn’t made it on the main list. I read some of those requests and knew I needed to send more cards so I went to the thrift store and bought more.
I ended up writing 317 Christmas cards. About 10 of those were postcards and the rest were going out in envelopes. I mailed those out the Monday after Thanksgiving.
Was I satisfied? Heck no. When I got into bed that night, I thought about all those new requests going up on the Facebook group. Those requests were making me cry too. What if other volunteers focused on the list and the new requests didn’t get any attention? Before I went to sleep, I ordered 96 holiday postcards. I decided I’d send 6 of those each week until Christmas to people posted on the Facebook page. Whatever I don’t use this month, I’ll use next year.
When it’s all said and done, I’ll have sent out 335 Christmas cards to people I don’t know and probably never will.
Like so much of what I do, I didn’t…couldn’t…do this alone. Here’s where my Thankful Thursday comes in.
Thanks to Kerri, Shannan, Barbara H., and Mary who donated Christmas cards to my cause. Over 100 of the cards I sent out were from those four gals. Ten or so of the holiday postcards I mailed came from Russ, donated by two anonymous winners of Art Throw Down contests who donated their winnings of postcards to me. I appreciate those cards and postcards very much
As mentioned before, my sibling donated washi tape for decorating envelopes. Also, there were stickers in the big box of Christmas that Shannan sent. Thanks go out to both of these fine people. The cards I sent wouldn’t have been nearly as cute if I hadn’t had these decorating supplies.
Of course, the big expense in all of this was the stamps. Did you know a first class postage stamp now costs 58 cents? Yikes! Big thanks to Frank, Jessica, Coyote Sue, Ayun, and Barbara B. who donated stamps or money to buy them. My appreciation is immense.
As always, I have the pleasure of thanking the folks who support me on Patreon: Keith, Theresa, Nancy, Rena, Muriel, and Laura-Marie. I also have the pleasure of thanking Shannan who has an automatic payment set up with PayPal so I get financial support from her every month.
Big thanks also go to Brent who sent me a gift via PayPal in November and the friend who recently came into some money and insisted on buying me a fabulous new touch screen 2-in-1 laptop. This is my first blog post using the new laptop.
Wondering what you can do to support me? If you have any extra Christmas cards (or other greeting cards or postcards) lying around your house, I would gladly accept them for my uplifting cards to strangers work. If you want to send me stamps (or money earmarked for buying stamps), I would be glad to have postcard, first class, or international postage.
If you want to support me in general, please consider joining me on Patreon. If you join my Patreon club, you get content that other folks never see. I post photos and updates on my life every couple of days on my Patreon account. Depending on what level you offer support, you might get other gifts from me like a sticker, a bracelet, or even a collage. A donation of even $2 a month will get you access to patron-only content. To join me on Patreon, just click the “Become a patron” button at the top of the column to the right.
You can also set up a automatic monthly donation through PayPal.
To make a one-time donation, click on the donate button in the column to the right. It will take you to PayPal but you don’t need a PayPal account to donate; you can use a credit or or debit card to make your donation.
I understand if you can’t make a monetary contribution. I appreciate you reading my words. I’d also appreciate it if you would tell your friends about this blog. Share posts you particularly like. Follow me on Facebook and like my pages too. I can be found on Facebook on the Rubber Tramp Artist page, the Blaizin’ Sun Creations page and the Blaize Sun page. I’d really love for you to write recommendations on those pages. And don’t forget I’m on Instagram (my most active social media account) @rubbertrampartist.
Warm wishes on Winter Solstice! Happy Festivus! Merry Christmas! Happy Boxing Day! Have a blessed Kwanzaa! If you celebrate Hanukkah, I hope it was wonderful.
Happy New Year to us all! Thank you for all you do.
Jerico, The Man’s doggie companion for over a decade and my friend since January of 2017, passed away on October 25, 2021. He was a good boy. He is loved and he is missed.
I don’t want to go into all the details of Jerico’s illness and death. It’s just too much. But I will say he had a difficult year, almost exactly a year of pain and decline. At the end, I knew he was suffering. His death was a sort of horrible blessing because I knew it meant an end to that suffering.
The Man and I had parted ways in Taos in June. He took off in search of cooler temperatures. Of course, Jerico went with him.
Jerico on my bed in the van with collage materials in 2017 or 2018.
The Man called after a couple of weeks. Jerico wasn’t doing well. He was in a lot of pain, wasn’t leaving his bed but maybe once a day, wasn’t eating well. I thought maybe this was the end.
I didn’t hear anything, not a peep, from The Man for two months. He didn’t have a phone, and payphones are few and far between out in the world. I thought maybe I’d never hear from him again. I wondered how he and Jerico were doing.
I texted The Man’s sister and asked if she had heard from him, if she knew how Jerico was. She said Jerico was doing great. That seemed like a miracle to me.
On Wednesday, October 20, The Man showed up at my door. I was happy to see him. Jerico was with him, of course. The Man lifted Jerico from the passenger side of the minivan and set him gently on the ground. He walked around, barked, came over to me for pets. When The Man and I talked to each other, Jerico barked for our attention. He seemed like his same bossy self. When it was time to go inside, Jerico hopped up the step into the trailer
On Thursday The Man and Jerico came back to my trailer. The Man said he and Jerico had gone for a little walk that morning and had a nice time. He used my phone to call about a job, then left Jerico with me while he went to an interview. Jerico mostly stayed on the couch, but stood up to bark when the FedEx driver made a delivery. Later, the lady who owns the RV park where I live came over to give me something. I let Jerico out when I went outside to talk to her. He and the landlady had met before and liked each other. He went to her to get some pets, and she obliged. When she stopped petting him, he barked his bossy bark to demand more. When she left, he and I went back into the trailer. He hopped right in with no help from me.
All in the bed together while I worked on blog posts, 2019 or 2020.
On Friday, The Man and Jerico came over again so The Man could use my phone. The whole time they were over, Jerico stayed on the couch, lying down. We didn’t realize it at the time, but Jerico wasn’t going to bounce back again.
On Saturday morning, The Man showed up at my door. He asked if he and Jerico could stay in the trailer with me until Jerico passed away. They had been camping on public land and it was dusty and other campers were letting dogs run loose. He didn’t think it was a good environment for Jerico. I said yes. I wanted Jerico to be as comfortable as possible in his last days. The Man warned me it could be two months before Jerico passed. I said they could stay as long as they needed to.
Jerico spent all of Saturday lying down, either on the couch or in his bed that The Man had brought in. He didn’t want to eat and barely drank. The Man and I took turns sitting with him. We made sure someone was always with him. We petted him and sang to him and gave him all the love we could.
We decided we would take him to the vet’s office first thing Monday morning and have her assess Jerico’s situation.
On Sunday, it was obvious that Jerico was not doing well. He didn’t want to go outside. He didn’t want to move from his bed. He didn’t want to eat. The Man and I continued to pet him and love on him and sing to him.
I posted this photo to Instagramon National Dog Day 2019. The Man took the photo; I cropped and enhanced it.
In the morning there was a problem with my solar setup, and The Man had to install a fuse. In the ensuing hubbub, Jerico left the living room and went into the bedroom where he lay down between the bed and the wall. When The Man called him, he wouldn’t come. I got very nervous thinking maybe he had gone there to die. I think The Man feared the same thing, although neither of us spoke the thought aloud. The Man went to the refrigerator and pulled out the block of cheese. Cheese had always been Jerico’s favorite food, so The Man thought he could entice him out with a nice chunk. It didn’t work. When The Man held out the entire block of cheese to Jerico, the pup just turned his head. He didn’t even lick it. That’s when I knew Jerico must feel very, very bad, and the end was near.
The Man did finally get Jerico out of the bedroom and back into his bed on the couch.
Everything that happened after that is too difficult to rehash. All I want to say is that Jerico’s beautiful doggie soul passed from this earth on the morning of October 25, 2021.
The lady who owns the RV park where I live let us bury Jerico at the back of the property, in a brushy area where there are cacti and mesquite trees, where people don’t typically go. The Man dug the grave. We took precautions to discourage animals from disturbing the resting place, including covering the gravesite with big rocks we gathered in the area.
I’m so grateful to have been with Jerico in his last days. It was a privilege and a blessing to be with him, to pet him and love on him and sing to him before he passed. I am so grateful that The Man brought Jerico to my home so I could spend just a little more time with him. I’m so thankful I could offer him a home in his time of suffering so he didn’t have to spend it in the dust or cramped up in the minivan in a parking lot somewhere. I so appreciate the landlady giving us a place to bury Jerico.
Me and Jerico on a snow-dusted bridge in Taos County in 2017. He was my friend, and I miss him.
Jerico was a good boy, a good dog. He barked a lot and was bossy, but he was also a wonderful friend. He liked to cuddle and was the best doggie heater in the winter. He was a loyal companion and wanted to always be where The Man was, to follow him wherever he went. He loved to play ball more than anything else in the world and was a natural athlete. Everyone who watched him chase and retrieve a blue racquetball was impressed by his speed, dedication, and determination. He would never give up on finding a ball that had been thrown.
He was a special boy, a special friend. I miss him, and I know without asking that The Man does too.
Rest in Peace, Jerico. You are loved. You are missed.
I took the photos in this post unless otherwise note.