My name is Blaize Sun. Maybe that's the name my family gave me; maybe it's not. In any case, that's the name I'm using here and now.
I've been a rubber tramp for nearly a decade.I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again.
For most of my years on the road, my primary residence was my van. For almost half of the time I was a van dweller, I was going it alone.
Now I have a little travel trailer parked in a small RV park in a small desert town. I also have a minivan to travel in. When it gets too hot for me in my desert, I get in my minivan and move up in elevation to find cooler temperatures or I house sit in town in a place with air conditioning
I was a work camper in a remote National Forest recreation area on a mountain for four seasons. I was a camp host and parking lot attendant for two seasons and wrote a book about my experiences called Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. During the last two seasons as a work camper on that mountain, I was a clerk in a campground store. I'm also a house and pet sitter, and I pick up odd jobs when I can.
I'm primarily a writer, but I also create beautiful little collages; hand make hemp jewelry and warm, colorful winter hats; and use my creative and artistic skills to decorate my life and brighten the lives of others.
My goal (for my writing and my life) is to be real. I don't like fake, and I don't want to share fake. I want to share my authentic thoughts and feelings. I want to give others space and permission to share their authentic selves. Sometimes I think the best way to support others is to leave them alone and allow them to be.
I am more than just a rubber tramp artist. I'm fat. I'm funny. I'm flawed. I try to be kind. I'm often grouchy. I am awed by the stars in the dark desert night.
I hope my writing moves people. If my writing makes someone laugh or cry or feel angry or happy or troubled or comforted, I have done my job. If my writing makes someone think and question and try a little harder, I've done my job. If my writing opens a door for someone, changes a life, I have done my job well.
I hope you enjoy my blog posts, my word and pictures, the work I've done to express myself in a way others will understand. I hope you appreciate the time and energy I put into each post. I hope you will click the like button each time you like what you have read. I hope you will share posts with the people in your life. I hope you'll leave a comment and share your authentic self with me and this blog's other readers.
Thank you for reading. A writer without readers is very sad indeed.
Wow! The Apache Creek Campground in the Gila National Forest is one of the nicest places I’ve ever camped, and there were no fees!
In September 2021 I was traveling from northern New Mexico to southern New Mexico. Temperatures were still high in the southern part of the state, so I was taking my time and seeing the sites in places where temperatures were pleasant.
I was looking for a place to stay between Datil and Silver City, New Mexico. I’d been camping in the Cibola National Forest, but my spot wasn’t ideal. I was literally miles from the pavement and it had been raining off and on for almost 24 hours. I was nervous about the road to civilization becoming too muddy to navigate. I was afraid more rain would make it difficult to get out of the forest, so I left while the road was still solid.
I checked my paper road atlas and found a town called Reserve between Datil and Silver City. I put “Reserve” into the search bar on the Free Campsites website and found Apache Creek Campground in the Gila National Forest. There was no charge to camp in the campground, its description sounded nice, and the reviews were positive, so I started heading that way.
The scenery on the drive was pretty, but nothing jaw dropping. Honestly, I was excited to see a new part of New Mexico. I really enjoy seeing new places, even when they’re regular gorgeous and not stunningly gorgeous.
Apache Creek Campground is located approximately 12 miles northeast of Reserve on the south side of New Mexico Highway 12. Just past mile marker 19, turn south onto Forest Road 94 (Cox Canyon Rd.). Apache Creek Campground is located on the right side of the road.
I was really pleased when I pulled into Apache Creek Campground. The road through the campground is dirt, but hard packed and not likely to wash away unless a true natural disaster strikes.
The campground, at 6575 feet elevation, is surrounded by trees. There are trees at each campsite, sure to provide some shade. Tree identification is not one of my strengths, but I definitely saw pines and other evergreens as well oaks and other trees with leaves changing from green to yellow.
When I visited, there were 10 campsites in the campground. Each site was flat and quite spacious. It seemed to me an RV 30 feet and under should be able to find a spot to park at Apache Creek Campground. Any campsite should be able to accommodate a couple of vehicles and three or four tents. When I pulled in, I saw only two occupied sites. One was being used by tent campers, and the other was occupied by a pull-behind trailer and the big truck that towed it.
While some sites were visible to other sites, there was a good amount of space between sites. Even if the campground was full, everyone would have enough distance between themselves and other campers to not feel as if they were constantly sitting in their neighbors’ laps. Also, the trees on and between sites helped increase the feeling of privacy. Campsites aren’t lined up in a row or around a central area. The road through the campground meanders, giving the entire camping area a less civilized and a more natural feeling.
In addition to the campsites being large, each one had an old-school wood and metal picnic table and a manufactured metal fire ring. Most of the sites also had a bench made from logs.
A pit toilet in one of those concrete, Forest Service-issued buildings was at the front of the campground. Thankfully, the door on the building closed properly and locked. The restroom was also stocked with plenty of toilet paper. It could have used a cleaning, but it was by no means disgusting. (The campground has no host, so whoever cleans that toilet has to drive in to do so.)
What the campground doesn’t have: hookups of any kind, running water, drinking water, or trash pickup. Come with everything you need, and pack out your trash. Even without trashcans, this campground was very clean during my visit. It would be wonderful to keep it that way.
The night I spent at the Apache Creek Campground was absolutely quiet and peaceful. Even though there were other campers nearby, I never heard even a peep out of any of them.
I considered staying at this campground a few nights, but the complete lack of cell phone service there sent me on my way. I hadn’t told any of my contacts where I was headed, and by the time I arrived at the campground, I was out of the range of my service. I didn’t want my people to worry about me, so I left in the morning and moved closer to Silver City. I was glad to have phone service later in the day.
I dream of going back to Apache Creek Campground and spending a week or two in nature with few distractions and lots of trees.
There’s a television in the breakfast room where I work. During training, my coworker told me he keeps it tuned to the morning news. He had it on the station that plays Good Morning America, but on the second day of my training he flipped the channel to the New Mexico CBS affiliate. I never changed the station. I like the CBS Mornings program that comes on after the local news, and I like The Drew Barrymore Show on in the background while I clean up after breakfast
I keep the volume turned up pretty loud so old people (like me) can hear it from across the room. No one has ever complained about the volume, although I did once come back into the breakfast room to find someone had lowered it substantially while I was gone.
The hotel had gotten really busy again. February had been really slow, but in mid March, lots of people were staying at the hotel. I think families were visiting and traveling through because of Spring Break. In any case, I’d been hustling to keep the coffee flowing and the steam table stacked with eggs and sausage.
I’d left the breakfast room to boil eggs. I boil eggs on a hotplate in the dish room which is in a building separate from the hotel. When I returned to the breakfast room, there were maybe half a dozen people eating or preparing their plates.
I was at the sink washing my hands when I heard the volume of the television decreasing. My back was to the TV, so I had to turn around to see what was going on. An older man was standing next to the wall-mounted television, messing with the controls on its side. I figured the sound was too loud for him, and we could all just live with a lower volume until he left. I suppose I could have told him to leave the volume alone, but since one of my goals at work is to engage in as little conflict as possible, I didn’t say anything.
The fellow continued to mess with the controls and the picture disappeared and was replace by the “snow” TV screens show when there is no signal. What was this guy doing?
Noise, commonly known as static, white noise or static noise, in displayed devices, VHS tapes, analog video, radio and television, is a random dot pixel or snow pattern of static displayed when no transmission signal or being weak is obtained by the antenna receiver of television sets, flat screen televisions, radio televisions, smart televisions, CRT television sets, VHS sets and other display devices. The random pixel pattern is superimposed on the picture or the television screen, being visible as a random flicker of “dots”, “wavy vertical lines” or “snow”, is the result of electronic noise and radiated electromagnetic noise accidentally picked up by the antenna like air, cable, TV or CATV. T
Can I help you sir? I called from across the room.
I was trying to change the channel, he answered gruffly.
The nerve! The audacity! Didn’t he know this is my breakfast room? I control the TV here. But what could I really say to a guest who took it upon himself to change the channel? I was committed to no conflict, remember.
What came out of my mouth was, Well, all you got now is snow.
Snow is better than what was on before, he retorted.
Unfortunately I was not paying attention to what was on the television before the man became so offended that he had to take matters into his own hands. I wonder what CBS Mornings was showing that was so upsetting to him. The ongoing invasion of Ukraine? The first trial of Capitol rioters? The “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida?
I just left the snow on the screen. I decided I had better things to do with my energy than fight an elderly man about television programming. If he didn’t want to see the news, he could look at the peaceful, silent static pattern.
The breakfast room was very, very quiet with no sound coming from the television. The other guests barely spoke. When they did talk, it was in hushed tones. The old man who’d tried to change the channel sat alone, so he talked to no one.
The channel changer stayed in the room for another 10 or maybe 15 minutes. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry to finish his meal.
When the elderly man left the breakfast room, I went to the television to get the news back. No matter what buttons I pushed on the TV or its remote control, I couldn’t get the screen to change. We were stuck in the snow! Sometimes the screen showed “analog 3” in the upper left hand corner, but I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know how to fix the problem. This was probably a job for Gary, the nice, calm, quiet man who was working the hotel desk. I had yet to present Gary with a problem he couldn’t solve.
Gary pushed a button on the side of the TV near the buttons the guest had pushed hoping to change the channel. A few different options appeared on the television screen, and Gary navigated through them. Soon we were back to CBS Mornings. Gary saved the day!
I learned later–on a Tuesday morning after finding someone had set the TV to Disney Junior and everyone in the breakfast room was subjected to several hours of shows starring Goofy–that the channel button on the side of the television does not work. Touch that button like the antagonist in this story did, and you’ll end up with nothing but snow. The only way to change the channel is with the remote control, and to use it, you have to walk right up to the TV and point it at the back of the monitor. You now know the secret, but please don’t tell the guests. I want to be the only one who changes the channel.
In the little over a year since I bought my Toyota Sienna, readers have asked me to share photos of how I set up the living space. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to do so, but today is finally the day! I hope my setup can give folks some ideas for setting up their own vehicle for living and travel.
An important thing to keep in mind as you read this post is that I am NOT a full time vandweller. I was a full time vandweller for many years, but now I have a small travel trailer that stays in a small RV park in a small desert town. The travel trailer is my home base and home for part of the year. During the hottest part of the spring, summer, and fall I house sit and/or travel to cooler places. If I were living in a van full time, I would not have chosen a minivan as my van home. I have known people who lived full time in minivans (and even a few who lived full time in a Prius), but that life is not really for me. Where would I put all my art supplies?
The first thing I did to set up the living space in my Sienna was to take out most of the seats
For a while I left in one of the seats in the back row. It folded down completely flat, so I used it as part of the floor. I thought it might come in handy if I ever had to transport two passengers. The Man and I jokingly referred to it as “the punishment chair.” It would have been a pretty miserable place to sit on a long road trip. No one ever sat in it, and when The Man offered to build me a bed, it came out.
Taking out the seats was a bit of a struggle, even though the seats in the second and third rows were designed to come out and go back in. I read the manual repeatedly and tried following the directions, but I really struggled. Of course, there were tricks that the manual didn’t spell out. Thankfully, kind souls who’d figured out the tricks made YouTube videos showing how they removed the seats from their Siennas. I will be eternally grateful to those YouTubers.
The seats in the second and third rows of seating were latched into the floor in such a way that they could come out when desired and later go back in. This system makes it possible for seats to come out for hauling big items or in the case of vandwellers, creating living space in the back of the van. Unfortunately, the latching system leaves gaping holes and chunks of metal in the van’s floor. To solve this problem I ordered two packs of the 1 inch ProsourceFit Exercise Puzzle Mat. I chose bright blue to give my space a pop of color, but the mats also come in black. The mats are available in both 3/4 inch and 1 inch thickness, but I chose the 1 inch thickness so I could pad the floor well and protect myself from both the deep indentions and the metal pieces.
The exercise mats I used on the floor are pricey. The mats come in packs of six which are currently going for $49.99 at Walmart. The six mats cover 24 square feet which wasn’t quite enough to cover the whole floor of the van. I had to buy two packs. If you can’t afford to spend that much on floor covering, you could try other things like rugs, blankets, memory foam, or polyurethane foam from a mattress topper cut to size. Figure out what works for you to meet your needs without going over your budget.
My first bed in my minivan was made from two heavy duty 40 gallon tubs. I had one already, so it made sense to buy another one and put them together end-to-end to make a sleeping platform. I then put a piece of memory foam on top and called it a bed. The upside was I had plenty of space for storage inside the tubs. The downside was that sleeping on top of the tubs wasn’t always very comfortable. I had to carefully position my body over the gap between the two tubs, and the two inch memory foam wasn’t nearly as supportive as a real mattress.
Late last year when The Man was around for a visit, he offered to build a bed for my van. I bought all the wood, and he built me a very sturdy bed with room for storage underneath. It’s more narrow than a regular twin size bed so I can maximize space in the back of the van. It’s barely wider than I am. Instead of a mattress, I sleep on an piece of 3 inch Allswell brand memory foam mattress topper that was cut to size. (I bought this mattress topper for the bed in my trailer but when I was given a larger topper, I repurposed the Allswell one for my van.)
Because I wanted an area for storage under the bed, it’s too tall for me to be able to sit up in it. This detail would be difficult to deal with if I lived in the van full time, but it’s I can handle it since I’m only in the van part time. I bought a low-to-the-ground folding camping chair I can use in the van for when I want to sit up to read, write, or work on art projects.
Even with storage under the bed, I knew I’d need a place to keep things I use everyday and need to get my hands on quickly. I bought a plastic three drawer storage unit. Unfortunately, the choice that best fit my needs at the one and only place to buy something like this in the town where I live had wheels. Thankfully, the wheels sink into my exercise mat floor cover, and the storage unit does not roll around in the back.
In the top drawer I keep underwear, socks, masks, soap, face cleaner, washclothes, the case for my eyeglasses, my sleep mask, and other odds and ends. The middle drawer holds cooking and eating necessities like silverware, fuel for my stove, a cutting board, snacks, small spatulas, and other utensils. The bottom drawer holds items for creating collages and other art supplies.
When I slept on storage tubs, my cooler fit perfectly in the back of the van, on the floor created by the folded down “punishment chair.” When The Man built the bed, I had to lose that folded down seat and the floor it created. The cooler had to move up front and now sits between the front passenger seat and the bed.
I love, love, love pockets for organizing in the van. One of the best gifts I’ve been given for my minivan is a large set of pockets my sibling found at a thrift store in a large city. The 10+ pockets made from sturdy fabric allow me to store toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, zip ties, garbage bags, scissors, wipes, air freshener, clothes pins, incense, lotion, and other essentials neatly and close at hand. This pockets are so great! If you can’t find anything like mine, a shoe organizer with pockets might do the trick.
When I need some privacy in the van, I hang curtains. The curtains in the front are on a curtain rod that stretches across the car, but the other curtains hang on bungee cords, or I pin them with clothespins when I need them. I find it easier to hang the curtains when I need them instead of leaving them up all the time.
The front curtains were bought new. They are heat and light blocking curtains. I bought the least expensive black heat and light blocking curtains at Walmart, and they work well. I couldn’t find curtains that were short enough, so I did have to cut them to the appropriate length. All of my other curtains came from thrift stores. Half of my curtains are not curtains at all but large pieces of fabric that do the job.
You may have noticed that I don’t have my stove set up in my van. I seldom cook in the van. If I’m going to cook when camping, I set the stove up on a picnic table if I’m staying on a developed campsite, or I set up either my large or small folding table to use as a cooking area. If I set up the big table, my cooking table also holds my seven gallon water jug with dispensing spout. (The photos in this post were taken while I was on an overnight trip, so I brought water in a one gallon jug and left the seven gallon container at home.) I don’t like cooking in the van because I’m concerned my clumsiness is going to cause everything inside to go up in flames. I have used my stove to heat water in the van during inclement weather, but if I can’t cook outside I rather eat snacks than try to cook in the van.
I have more storage at the rear of the minivan, in the depression left when the folding back seats were removed. I keep my stove (shown in case with unfortunately placed upside down stickers), sleeping bag (in black compression sack), bucket, puppy pads (in green pouch), and tote full of handmade hats for sale under the bed. On the other side (not shown) I have my tote full of items for sale, my suitcase display of hemp necklaces, tall folding camp chair, small folding table, and sunshade umbrella. The low-to-the-ground folding chair fits between my camp stove and the hatchback door.
I think that’s everything I have to say about the set up of my minivan. Was there something you wanted to know about that I missed? Feel free to leave questions in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Thank you for reading. I hope this post was worth the wait.
I stayed one night at the Bighorn Campground in the Gila National Forest in late September 2021. As I stated in my report on the campground, it was a basic free national forest campground with a pit toilet and a few campsites each with a picnic table and a fire ring. If I had driven through during the daytime and not stayed the night, I might have even said the place was boring. However, once the sun went down, I did experience some excitement there.
I’d eaten dinner and cleaned up and gotten into my van. I’d left the sliding door on the driver’s side of my van open, hoping to stay awake long enough to do some stargazing. Darkness was descending, but the last light of day lingered. I stood in the open doorway and saw a lone, bright star (probably a planet—Venus, dare I guess?) in the sky.
I heard a rustling on my campsite, a noise larger than a mouse or a bird or a ground squirrel would have made. What the heck? I could still see the outline of the picnic table, but the fire pit had disappeared. Of course, the fire pit was where the noise seemed to be coming from.
I grabbed my Luci lantern, but it was not up for the job of illuminating outside of its immediate surroundings. I ditched Luci and grabbed a powerful flashlight I’d been given over the summer, hoping it would do the trick. I turned it on, and that sucker was bright!
I shined it around the campsite and caught movement by the picnic table. What was that? Was it a bear? No. Thankfully it was not a bear out there in the darkness just beyond my van. It was a javelina!
I shined the light around some more. No, it wasn’t a javelina. It was TWO javelinas.
I aimed the light to the far side of the fire ring. Oh no! It wasn’t two javelinas. It was THREE javelinas!
Holy shit! I exclaimed, probably loud enough for everyone in the campground to hear.
I was surprised by the first javelina. I was shocked to see the second one, and astounded to see the third. I don’t usually see large animals when I’m camping, and I’d never seen a gang on my campsite before.
Holy shit! I said loudly at least once or twice more.
According to the commentary “Javelina: What Are They, and Where Can You See One?” by Ross Morgan on the Santa Fe New Mexican Website,
Javelina, also known as the collared peccary because of their white collar around the neck, stand 20 to 24 inches at the shoulder and weigh 35 to 60 pounds…
Javelina prefer mesquite habitats with an abundance of prickly pear cactus but can also be found in semi-desert canyons, cliffs and watering holes near cactus. These animals are primarily herbivorous, animals whose primary food source is plant-based, and like to travel in small family groups feeding on roots, insects, fruits, bulbs, beans, worms, invertebrates and reptiles.
I’m not good at estimating size, but based on medium-sized dogs I’ve known, I’d say these critters weighed 30 to 40 pounds.
I kept the bright light shined on them. I couldn’t look away. I usually think animals are cute or cool, or at least I appreciate the chance to observe them. These javelinas…I thought they were just ugly, and I did not feel fortunate to have them in my campsite.
They were shaped strangely, and their wiry fur didn’t cover much of their skin. Their little eyes shone red in the beam of my flashlight. Maybe they dredged up some memory of the evil pig in the Amityville Horror, but I didn’t like them. I particularly didn’t much like being so close to them.
I realized they were congregating around the fire ring. They were snuffling through the trash previous campers had left there. I’d noticed before a few black bananas sitting on the top of the burnt pile of garbage. I hadn’t investigated closely enough to determine if the bananas had been burnt too or if they were in the late stage of decay that borders on rotten.
I saw one of the javelinas grab a banana in its mouth and run off from the other two toward the brush at the edge of the campsite. This action was minimally cute.
One of the two left behind walked away from the fire ring, closer to the picnic table and closer to my van. When I saw it was giving me the side eye, I worried that I might be in danger. I got fully into my van and closed the door. That was enough wildlife observation for me for one night. I hope the guy who’d ridden up on a bicycle at dusk hadn’t left food in or around his tent to attract them. I imagine having javelinas invade one’s tent would be an unpleasant experience.
Javelina occasionally bite humans, but incidents of bites are almost always associated with people providing the javelina with food. Javelina can inflict a serious wound. Defensive javelina behavior may include charging, teeth clacking, or a barking, growling sound. Javelina may act defensively when cornered, to protect their young, or when they hear or smell a dog.
I don’t think I was actually in danger since the javelina didn’t charge but just strolled closer. However, I think getting in the van and closing the door was a safe move.
If you encounter a javelina while camping (or even in the city if you’re in Tucson or possibly some other places in the U.S. Southwest), here’s what you should do, according to the aforementioned Arizona Game and Fish webpage:
Scare off animals by making loud noises (bang pots, yell, stomp on the floor, etc.); throwing small rocks in their direction; or spraying with vinegar, water from a garden hose, or large squirt gun filled with diluted household ammonia (1 part ammonia, and 9 parts water). The odor of the ammonia and the nasal irritation it causes will encourage the javelina to leave. Avoid spraying ammonia in the eyes as it may cause damage even at this low concentration. Ammonia should not be used around wetlands because it is toxic to fish and amphibians.
If the animal is confined, open a gate, have all people leave the area, and allow it to leave on its own. If it is still there the following day, contact a wildlife control business…
If you see javelina while walking your dog, avoid going near the javelina and quickly take your dog in a different direction.
I read for a while after I closed the van’s door on the javelina gang. I turned off my light around 9 o’clock and promptly fell asleep. I woke at 1am to the sound of a steady rain hitting the top of my minivan. There was some lighting and I heard thunder too, in the distance. I drifted back to sleep.
At 4am I woke up in the midst of what in the Southwest is sometimes called a male rain. Raindrops were pounding on the roof of the van. Lighting flashed so close and so bright, it was as if the paparazzi were shooting photos through the curtains covering my windows. Thunder boomed loudly, so close I felt the van vibrate around me. The storm stayed on top of me for an hour.
At 5am, I gave up all hope of getting back to sleep. I dressed by the light of my Luci lamp, all the while hearing a noise vaguely like the one a propane heater makes. The rain had stopped, so I decided to go outside and investigate the sound. When I opened the door to the van, the sound intensified, and I knew exactly what it was. The sound I’d been hearing was rushing water!
I grabbed the powerful flashlight and used it to navigate to what the day before had been a bone-dry arroyo. Now it was a rushing river moving fast enough to make a big noise. It hadn’t just been raining over me but upstream as well.
I decided I was ready to go. I didn’t see any reason to sit in the dark for another two hours when I was dressed and wide awake. I grabbed the few things I had left out overnight and threw them into the van. I slid into the driver’s seat and drove off into the dark.
A note on spelling: Some sources use “javelina” as both the singular and the plural of the word. Other sources add an “s” to the end of the word to make it plural. I’m following the lead of Tucson Weekly in the editor’s note “A Matter of Style” by Jimmy Boegle who says
the Official Tucson Weekly Style is that the plural of javelina is javelinas, with an “s.”
In my own writing, I made the word “javelina” plural by adding an “s” to the end. In quoting others, I did not change the way they made the word plural.
This campground report was written after I stayed there in September 2021. Some aspects of this report may have changed since then. Please do your own research before deciding to stay at this campground.
Bighorn Campground is located in the Gila National Forest, right outside the small community of Glenwood, New Mexico. It is the closest free campground to the Catwalk National Recreation Trail. It’s very small, maybe 10 sites, and it has a pit toilet.
The campground sits right next to and somewhat below Highway 180. Trees and bushes help screen the campground from the road. Most of the sites are as far from the road as possible, but the site I chose (as far from the entrance as possible) was next to and below the road. When big trucks passed, they were loud! Thankfully, Highway 180 is not very busy, at least wasn’t on the Wednesday at the end of September when I was there.
The sites seemed mostly flat, but are really designed for tent camping. I had to park my minivan 15 feet or so from the picnic table on the site in order to find adequate flatness for sleeping inside my rig. Other sites looked flatter, but I was interested in being as far away from other campers as possible. It wasn’t difficult to pick a spot away from others, as there was only one other person in the campground when I arrived. At dusk, a man on a bicycle arrived and set up a tent. When I left at 5:30 the next morning, I saw a couple other vehicles that had pulled in during the night.
Each campsite had a heavy, difficult to move picnic table made of metal, as well as a manufactured metal fire pit. The road through the campground was dirt covered in gravel and the sites had sparse wood mulch and gravel spread over them. There were trees in the campground (juniper and cedar, I think), and scrubby desert bushes. The grass was dry and yellow and did not grow on the actual campsites. The trees did offer some shade on the sites, but it wasn’t the shade of a pine forest.
I read somewhere (probably on a Free Campsites website review) that during some parts of the year water flows in a creek along the back edge of the campground. I checked out the arroyo back there when I arrived, and it was bone dry. I thought it would have been nice to have the sound of water as my backdrop, but I guess I was too late in the year.
There’s not really too much to say about this campground. Have I stayed in prettier or more interesting places? Yes. However, the price (free) was right, and it was a good, close place to spend the night after I wore myself out hiking at The Catwalk.
The pit toilet was a cute, rustic little building. There was plenty of toilet paper during my stay (but I advise you to always be prepared with your own). There was an uncomfortable number of dead flies on the interior walls of the building, but I did my best to ignore them. The door to the toilet closed and locked, and I was happy about that.
Like most free campgrounds, Bighorn has no trash receptacles. Visitors need to carry out all their trash. Please! Do not leave the burnt remains of garbage in the fire pit as previous campers at the site I chose had done. If you camp at Bighorn, please pack out everything you packed in.
As you may have guessed, Bighorn is also lacking running water (for washing and/or drinking), electricity, and hookups of any kind. There’s no dump station here either. Other than the pit toilet, this campground lacks all amenities. Please come prepared.
What Bighorn campground did offer, at least to me, was excitement after dark.
To read about what I encountered after the sun went down, please join me here on Friday for all the exciting details.
Movie people are staying at the hotel where I work.
I’d seen an article in the weekly county newspaper announcing some folks were in town shooting scenes for an upcoming midbudget movie. I thought maybe I’d see them and their equipment around town, but I didn’t imagine I would see them in the breakfast room.
When I got to work on Tuesday, I noticed a lighting truck in the parking lot, but I didn’t encounter the movie people until Wednesday.
I noticed the man and woman because they were younger (mid 30s, I would guess) than the hotel’s average guest. Also, they were having a heated but quiet discussion. It wasn’t quite a whisper fight, but it could have quickly gone in that direction.
The woman was trying to tell the man something, and he was telling her no and stop. He obviously didn’t want to hear anything she had to say. She persisted.
Isn’t that his job? she asked the guy in a whisper I could hear clearly.
He said he’d already told her he didn’t want to talk about it.
I found their exchange very interesting. This was the first argument I’d encountered in the breakfast room. My ears perked up, but however else the argument may have been resolved, it was resolved quietly.
At some point the woman left the breakfast room, but the guy lingered. He was on his phone later, telling the person on the other end that they’d be shooting later. He named the one bar in town that’s not associated with a restaurant or a group like the VFW or the Moose Lodge.
Oh, I thought. These must be the movie people.
On Thursday the man and woman were back in the breakfast room. Along with them was another woman, the same woman who’d come into the breakfast room the day before after 9am asking for coffee. Luckily for her, there was still some available. I always leave at least one of the big pump dispensers out on the counter even after the rest of breakfast is shut down and put away. She’d asked me if the coffee was good while she made her cup. I lied and told her I didn’t know because I don’t drink coffee. What was I supposed to tell her? I couldn’t very well tell her the truth, which is that I think the hotel’s coffee is weak, more like dirty dishwater than something robust and delicious with which to start the day. I did tell her other people have said they liked it, which is true. She tried a sip and said it was good. I told her I was glad she liked it, which was 100% true.
On Thursday the original man and woman were telling the third woman all about the shoot the day before.
They’d arrived at the bar at 10am. The bar was full of regulars. These weren’t people who showed up to be in a movie, they said. These were people who would have showed up even if there had been no filming involved. The movie people had brought lasagna, but the regulars at the bar didn’t even want to eat. They passed up the lasagna in order to drink.
The women marveled at the thought of preferring to drink alcohol to eating lasagna at 10am on a weekday. I have to admit, I agree with the movie ladies. I’ll take lasagna over alcohol any time of the day (or night).
They were so great, the first woman gushed. Everyone signed release forms.
I guess to movie people, signing a release form is a high degree of cooperation.
We got some great shots, the guy said. Some really great shots.
It was authentic, he said. So authentic. Really authentic.
Well sure. Any small-town Joe or Jill who shows up at a bar at 10am on a Wednesday to drink whether or not there’s a camera crew present is living an authentic life. It might not be the same life I or the movie people have chosen for ourselves, but it’s an authentic life nonetheless.
The movie man went on to tell a story about busting a prop bottle over another actor’s head. It broke as planned, but instead of being filled with water as expected, the prop guy had used actual beer.
It looked great, the man told the women. It was foaming all over the place! He was pleased with the shots they had gotten but had been concerned about the other actor driving later while reeking of beer.
After work I spent the rest of the afternoon referring to things as “authentic.” That rock over there? Authentic. The rickety wooden footbridge I crossed over on a hike? So, so authentic. The water tower against the clouds and blue sky? Absolutely authentic.
Maybe when you spend your days creating fantasy, you forget that most people are living every day right smack dab in the middle of the real world.
My job as a breakfast room attendant in a mid-range hotel is going well. I don’t deal with too many clueless or entitled people, so I don’t have many interesting stories from my job to share. When I worked as a camp host and parking lot attendant and later as a clerk in the campground store, the can-you-believe-it stories rolled in faster than I could write the down. Honestly, I’m glad to have traded blog post fodder for a workplace with sparse drama.
Of course, there are little events to break the monotony of my workdays. People look frantically for the coffee, somehow missing the large pump containers marked “regular” and “decaf” on the counter right in front of them. Guests try to open the wrong side of the handleless refrigerator door. Folks ask for orange juice when we only have apple. I try to help them solve their breakfast problems without embarrassing them or making them feel bad. That door tricks someone every day, I joke to lighten the mood after telling a guest they need to pull on the other side of the aforementioned refrigerator door. I figure it’s early, and we’re probably all struggling.
The most puzzling situation I run into are the people who don’t push in their chairs when they leave the table. This doesn’t happen once a day; it happens several times a day. Is this a new phenomenon due to COVID? Folks must touch the chairs to pull them out. Why would they hesitate to push them back in after they’ve eaten? If the reason is laziness, these people have taken laziness to a whole new level. There doesn’t seem to be a particular age demographic refusing to push in the chairs. Young people, old people, middle age people, they all fail to push in their chairs. Pushing in the chairs is not a hardship for me, but having to do so leaves me asking why.
The most annoying guest are those who come in after the breakfast room is closed but still want to enjoy all the amenities. Breakfast is over at nine o’clock sharp. The moment the “The Drew Barrymore Show” pops up on the television, breakfast is OVER, and I’m hustling to put everything away and get everything cleaned up as quickly as possible so I can go home. Guests can linger in the breakfast room as long as they like, but they should get in by 8:59 if they want to find the toaster plugged in, the waffle iron on, eggs and sausages in the steam table, and cereal on the counter.
One morning a guest came into the breakfast room at 8:58. She puttered around making herself a plate. At 9am I started putting away things she wasn’t using. She must have seen me removing salt and pepper shakers from tables and turning off the waffle iron. Maybe she just didn’t notice. In any case, she finished making her plate and left the breakfast room.
A few minutes later (so probably at 9:05 or 9:07) she returned. In the time she was gone, I had dumped the uneaten eggs and sausages. When the guest came into the breakfast room, she made a beeline for the steam table. She lifted the lid and found the pan empty.
Ma’am, I’ve already gotten rid of the eggs and sausages, I told her.
She seemed perplexed. I bet she wondered how the eggs and sausages disappeared so quickly. What she didn’t know is that at clean up time, I’m quick!
(The next morning the same woman was in the breakfast room making her plate by 8:30.)
Latecomers throw off my cleaning schedule, but they make my life especially difficult if they want a last-minute waffle. If I turn off the waffle iron at 9am on the dot, it’s cooled enough for me to clean it after I’ve done all my other tasks. Twice I’ve burnt my arm while cleaning the waffle iron while it was still hot from after-9am waffle making.
People sometimes want to use the toaster after breakfast is officially over. This desire causes problems for me because as soon after 9am as possible I unplug the toaster and steam table. If a latecomer wants to use the toaster, I have to stop whatever I’m doing to plug in the toaster. (The toaster plug and electrical outlet are inside a cabinet, so I would have to stop my work to explain to guests where to find the plug and the outlet even if I didn’t feel responsible for plugging it in for them. Also, I have to stoop way down to get to the outlet, and we can’t ask the guests to get down on their hands and knees to plug in a toaster.)
(On a toaster tangent: Why, when cleaning the crumb trays, do I occasionally find globs of melted then resolidified butter stuck to them? Who butter their bread before toasting it? Is this a thing? Are toaster novices staying at the hotel? Are toasters made to handle buttered bread? I think not! I’m afraid butter in the toaster will someday start a grease fire.)
One day I’d cleaned the breakfast room and put everything away, pushed my cart to the storage area/dish room, washed all the pots and pans and utensils and serving trays I’d used to prepare and serve breakfast, and headed back to the breakfast room to sweep, mop, vacuum, and take out the trash. It was after 10am.
As I was pulling the broom out of the storage closet across from the breakfast room, I saw two guests walking down the hall. They were a young (mid 20s) couple, (ostensibly) a man and a woman. The woman had been in the breakfast room earlier; she’d made a plate and left. As the couple got closer, I saw the man was holding an everything bagel in his hand. One bite had been taken from it.
The two young people stopped at the door of the breakfast room and looked in. They then looked toward the reception desk and must have made eye contact with the manager standing there. As I was coming out of the storage room to ask if I could help them, the guy asked something about our toaster.
How can I help you? I asked. (At least I hope that’s what I asked. I hope my question didn’t come out more like What do you need?)
Is your toaster still out? he asked, gesturing to me with his bitten bagel.
I realized that from where he was standing and the way the toaster was positioned on the counter on the far side for the steam table, he couldn’t see it.
Breakfast ended at 9 o’clock, I told him. Everything is put away. (I figured the toaster being unplugged was as good as being put away.)
The young man looked disappointed, but I held firm. It wouldn’t have been bad if I’d only had to plug in the toaster, but I doubted it would have been as simple as that. He’d need to cut the bagel in half, so I’d have to get him a knife. He’d probably get crumbs all over the counter I’d already cleaned, and I’d have to clean it all over again. I wouldn’t be able to sweep until the entire operation was over because he would probably get crumbs and sesame seeds all over the floor. The whole situation would have really slowed me down.
Also? He wanted to put a bagel he (or someone) had chewed on into a community toaster! Gross! Germy! Yuck! At home? Sure, put your own germs into your own toaster. But in a community setting? Let’s keep our germs to ourselves.
So, no, I did not invite him into the breakfast room to toast his bitten bagel.
Honestly, the hardest part of my work day is getting myself out of bed at 4am. Also difficult? Going to bed at 8pm on the evenings when I’m not totally exhausted and ready to sleep the afternoon and evening and night away. But overall, I don’t mind the job too much. Somebody’s got to feed the people.
In related news, I took the 60 minutes food handlers course for my state and passed the test with a 97%. Apparently, I’m still good at taking tests.
These are the 46 hats I have for sale. Please disregard ALL prior post about available hats. These are the only ones!
From the time this post goes live on March 2, 2022 until March 31, 2022 at 11:59pm Mountain Standard Time, I’m having a 2 for $22 sale. Buy two hats (normally $15 each) for $22, including shipping! Wow!
Want to stock up on hats? Get 4 hats for $42, 6 hats for $62, 8 hats for $82. Each hat in each photo has a number on it. Please use that number to order. When a hat is taken, I’ll make a note in the caption of the photo it appears in.
Thanks for looking at all of these hats that I made with my own two little hands. If you want to purchase any of them, please send an email to email@example.com. Please include the number(s) of the hat(s) you want and the mailing address you want them sent to. I can accept payments through PayPal and Venmo.
There are nine tables in the breakfast room where I work. Six tables seat four, and three tables seat two.
One of the two-tops is “my” table. When my coworker trained me, he showed me which table he sits at when he isn’t bustling around the breakfast room. He puts a box of disposable gloves on that table to mark it as his. In addition to the box of gloves, when I’m working I leave my spray bottle of cleaner and the rag I use to wipe the tables there as well. Usually, I drape my jacket over the chair too. Since there are only eight sets of salt and pepper shakers for the breakfast room, my table does without. I don’t need salt and pepper while I’m working anyway.
Once during my training, an older couple came into the breakfast room. The man used a wheelchair. While my back was turned, the man and woman occupied the table my coworker and I had been using. When I turned around, I saw they had moved the box of gloves and whatever else had been on the table to a nearby highchair that was not in use. One of the chairs had been moved away from the table, and the man had maneuvered his wheelchair into its place. I wondered why the couple had chosen to move things in order to use that particular table when several others were unoccupied, but decided it was probably the easiest one for the man to use with his wheelchair.
Fast forward several weeks, and I was working on my own. No one had usurped my table territory since my training. I hadn’t considered it might happen again.
I’d been in the dish room/storage area, so my jacket was on my body instead of hanging on the back of the chair at the table I used as my home base. However, the box of gloves, the spray bottle, and the wiping rag were all on the table. To me it seemed obvious that the table was claimed.
I walked into the breakfast room, but before I could make my way to “my” table to deposit my jacket, I saw an older woman moving my work accessories to another table. She moved the box of gloves and the spray bottle and the rag I used to wipe down tables to the empty two-top next to where I normally sit.
I was shocked! First, I would never move items that didn’t belong to me from one table to another if there were plenty of other places to choose from to sit. Second, in the time of COVID, I touch as little as possible when out in public. (Note: the woman did NOT wash her hands after moving the things from one table to another.)
I looked around to see if perhaps this woman, like the woman during training, was breakfasting with a companion who used a wheelchair. She was not. The gentleman who joined her was not using a mobility aid of any kind.
I stood in the doorway, perplexed. I wondered what was so special about the table in question. Nothing made it more attractive, as far as I could tell. In fact, I think it was less attractive, missing as it was the salt and pepper shakers. (In fact, the woman had to snag the salt and pepper from another table so she and her companion could season their meals.)
I felt very territorial about that table! It was mine! How dare she move my things! How dare they sit in my spot! I wanted to march over there and give them what for!
In the end, I did not march over and tell the couple anything. I knew I’d seem ridiculous if I did, and besides, I didn’t want to add strife to my day. I knew I had no real reason to pick a fight with the customers. Of course, as The Man pointed out, the guests can sit at any table they want because, well, they’re the guests. It’s not really “my” table. I don’t own it. I have no real claim to it.
I’m still puzzled by the situation. Why was that particular table so alluring to the woman? Why did she want to sit in a place that required her to move items obviously left there by someone else? What did she find so appealing about that particular location? These are questions I will never be able to answer.
Even more puzzling are my own thoughts in response to the woman’s behavior. Why did I feel so territorial about that table? Why did I want to fight a total stranger (and a paying customer) over a piece of furniture that’s not really mine? I don’t own that table. I don’t even rent it. I sit there probably less than an hour a day, three days a week. Why should I care if a stranger sits there for ten or fifteen minutes? I could have sat at any other table in the room while “mine” was occupied. (In fact, I didn’t sit anywhere while the couple occupied “my” table. Instead, I stood in silly, silent protest while they ate, thinking I would show them. I’m sure they didn’t even notice.)
I’m the kind of person who can easily get caught up with wanting people to do what’s right. I think everyone should do what’s right, and, obviously, sitting at someone else’s table is not the right thing to do! Also (obviously), I should pick my battles and not get so caught up in other people’s actions when they’re not hurting anyone. I promise you, those people sitting where they did hurt no one. If I was distressed, it was because of my own brain activity.
Human behavior is so weird and interesting. That woman pulled a power move on me, and I admit, she got to me. I may never understand her motivation, but I appreciate that she gave me the chance to explore my own thinking.
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.