Author Archives: Blaize Sun

About Blaize Sun

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 my (male) partner and I (a woman) have a travel trailer we can pull with our truck. We have a little piece of property, and when we're not traveling, we park our little camper there. 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.

Parked in the Road

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After The Man left the mountain, I stayed at the group campground down the road from the Mercantile where I worked. I was usually the only person in the campground during the week, but since I’d moved in, people had come in each Friday night, stayed over on Saturday, and left on Sunday while I was at work. Sandra the camp host told me this week would be no different.

I returned to the campground a little before six o’clock on Friday evening. All I wanted was to eat some dinner and go to bed.

Dirt RoadThe way into the campground was a dirt Forest Service road. It was rutted and dusty and bumpy and rocky, but if I drove on the wrong side of it as I headed to the campground, I could avoid the worst of it. The Forest Service road continued past the campground and disappeared into the woods.

The campground wasn’t very big and had no marked sites. People just figured out where to park and pitch their tents so they could be as close to or as far from the other people in their group as they wanted. Most groups congregated near the fire ring and the cluster of three picnic tables.

A narrow dirt road ran through the middle of the camping area. That road connected to the Forest Service road at two points, one on each end of the campground. Folks could enter and exit the camping area at either of those connection points. My camp was closest to the first connection point, but I almost never used that part of the road because it was steep and badly rutted. I drove a little bit farther to enter the second connection point, and when it was time to leave camp, I backed out of my parking space and drove through the campground so I could exit where the road was a little better.

When I arrived home that Friday evening, I drove over to the second entrance point to find a giant motor home trying to park on the far edge of the campground. An angry-looking woman stood outside the motor home, halfheartedly trying to direct the driver of the behemoth. The driving pulled the motor home forward two feet, backed it up two feet, pulled it forward again. I stayed on the Forest Service road with my blinker signaling a left turn until the woman motioned for me to make my move.

I drove slowly through the campground and saw several vehicles were parked off the road. I went to my campsite, cooked and ate my dinner, then crawled into bed. It was well after dark, but I was still awake when I heard a noise like an 18-wheeler nearby. The noise was close, and it lingered. I got out of bed and peeked out my front curtains. I could see what seemed to be vehicle lights, but I couldn’t tell what sort of vehicle I was looking at. I shrugged and closed my curtains. Whatever those campers were doing was not my problem.

In the morning as I was leaving for work, I saw that what the campers had done was indeed my problem. The sound I heard in the dark was a second giant motor home arriving. Both giant motor homes were blocking the Forest Service Road, and the second one was blocking the path out of the campground. I didn’t get out of my van and try to talk to anyone about the danger of blocking roads. Since I wasn’t the camp host, I was lacking in all authority, and no way was anybody going to be able to move that motor home out of my way in a hurry. I needed to get to work, so I slowly and carefully backed my van all the way to my campsite where I was able to turn around and exit from the steep and rutted part of the road closest to my site.

When I got to the campground where the Mercantile was located, I went directly to speak to the camp hosts, Sandra and Javier. I apologized for starting their morning with a problem, then went on to explain what was happening at the group campground. Javier said either he or Sandra would go down there later that morning to check in the campers and let them know they couldn’t block the road. I left things in their capable hands.

Javier reported back to me after he spoke to the campers at the group campground. The drivers of the motor homes told him they didn’t want to hit trees while trying to park in the dark, which did apply to the motor home that had arrived after the sun was down. However, in the case of the first motor home, darkness was a total bullshit excuse because when I’d seen people trying to park it, there was a good two hours of daylight left. But oh well. Javier said he’d told the motor home folks that there was plenty of room to park their rigs inside the campground, and the situation was all taken care of.

When I returned to the group campground that evening, I found that the motor home people had interpreted plenty of room to park the rigs in the campground to mean plenty of room to park the rigs in the middle of the road running through the campground. No fucking way! No one could drive through the campground because two giant motor home were completely blocking the road.

I stopped the van, turned the engine off, got out, and walked over to the people sitting around a campfire. I told them my name, said I worked for the company managing the campground, and pointed out where I was camped. I told them I was concerned about the motor homes blocking the road. If there were an emergency, I said, if there were a fire or someone if had a heart attack (I looked pointedly at the elderly man who’d come over to talk to me) having the road blocked might delay emergency responders. If a Forest Service employee saw the blocked road, I added, he or she wouldn’t be happy.

We talked to the Forest Service, the elderly man told me. A guy came out here! He said park there!

It turned out they had not discussed the parking situation with a Forest Service employee. They’d discussed the parking situation with Javier. The campers maintained Javier had told them the giant motor homes could not block the Forest Service road but could block the road through the campground.

I shrugged and said, If Javier told you to park there, that’s good enough for me. I turned around, got back in my van, turned it around, and drove slowly down the steep and rutted entrance near my campsite. If they weren’t concerned about most of their cars being blocked in by the motor home, why should I worry? In an emergency I could get my van out of the campground; if the campers weren’t concerned for themselves, I wasn’t going to spend my whole night worried about them.

I didn’t ask Javier if he’d told the campers to park their giant motor homes in the middle of the campground’s road. I didn’t see him until Sunday morning, and I knew the motor homes and the rest of the group would be gone before I returned from work. There was no sense making a big deal out of something that soon wouldn’t matter.  Beside, Javier was the camp host, not me. If he’d told people to park in the middle of the road through the campground, that was his call.

A narrow dirt road ran through the middle of the camping area. That road connected to the Forest Service road at two points, one on each end of the campground. Folks could enter and exit the camping area at either of those connection points. My camp was closest to the first connection point, but I almost never used that part of the road because it was steep and badly rutted. I drove a little bi farther to enter the second connection point, and when it was time to leave camp, I backed out of my parking space and drove through the campground so I could exit where the road was a little better.

I drove slowly through the campground and saw several vehicles were parked off the road. I went to my campsite, cooked and ate my dinner, then crawled into bed. It was well after dark, but I was still awake when I heard a noise like an 18-wheeler nearby. The noise was close, and it lingered. I got out of bed and peeked out my front curtains. I could see what seemed to be vehicle lights, but I couldn’t tell what sort of vehicle I was looking at. I shrugged and closed my curtains. Whatever those campers were doing was not my problem.

In the morning as I was leaving for work, I saw that what the campers had done was indeed my problem. The sound I heard in the dark was a second giant motor home arriving. Both giant motor homes were blocking the Forest Service Road, and the second one was blocking the path out of the campground. I didn’t get out of my van and try to talk to anyone about the danger of blocking roads. Since I wasn’t the camp host, I was lacking in all authority, and no way was anybody going to be able to move that motor home out of my way in a hurry. I needed to get to work, so I slowly and carefully backed my van all the way to my campsite where I was able to turn around and exit from the steep and rutted part of the road closest to my site.

When I got to the campground where the Mercantile was located, I went directly to speak to the camp hosts, Sandra and Javier. I apologized for starting their morning with a problem, then went on to explain what was happening at the group campground. Javier said either he or Sandra would go down there later that morning to check in the campers and let them know they couldn’t block the road. I left things in their capable hands.

Javier reported back to me after he spoke to the campers at the group campground. The drivers of themotor homes told him they didn’t want to hit trees while trying to park in the dark, which did apply to the motor home that had arrived after the sun was down. However, in the case of the first motor home, darkness was a total bullshit excuse because when I’d seen people trying to park it, there was a good two hours of daylight left. But oh well. Javier said he’d told the motor home folks that there was plenty of room to park their rigs inside the campground, and the situation was all taken care of.

When I returned to the group campground that evening, I found that the motor home people had interpreted plenty of room to park the rigs in the campground to mean plenty of room to park the rigs in the middle of the road running through the campground. No fucking way! No one could drive through the campground because two giant motor home were completely blocking the road.

I stopped the van, turned the engine off, got out, and walked over to the people sitting around the campfire. I told them my name, said I worked for the company managing the campground, and pointed out where I was camped. I told them I was concerned about the motor homes blocking the road. If there were an emergency, I said, if there were a fire or someone if had a heart attack (I looked pointedly at the elderly man who’d come over to talk to me) having the road blocked might delay emergency responders. If a Forest Service employee saw the blocked road, I added, he or she wouldn’t be happy.

We talked to the Forest Service, the elderly man told me. A guy came out here! He said park there!

It turned out they had not discussed the parking situation with a Forest Service employee. They’d discussed the parking situation with Javier. The campers maintained Javier had told them the giant motor homes could not block the Forest Service road but could block the road through the campground.

I shrugged and said, If Javier told you to park there, that’s good enough for me. I turned around, got back in my van, turned it around, and drove slowly down the steep and rutted entrance near my campsite. If they weren’t concerned about most of their cars being blocked in by the motor home, why should I worry? In an emergency I could get my van out of the campground; if the campers weren’t concerned for themselves, I wasn’t going to spend my whole night worried about them.

I didn’t ask Javier if he’d told the campers to park their giant motor homes in the middle of the campground’s road. I didn’t see him until Sunday morning, and I knew the motor homes and the rest of the group would be gone before I returned from work. There was no sense making a big deal out of something that soon wouldn’t matter.  Beside, Javier was the camp host, not me. If he had told people to park in the middle of the road through the campground, that was his call.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/dirt-road-1008739/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/beige-wood-putted-on-fire-164168/.

The AdVANtages of Living and Traveling in a Van

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I wrote this post before The Man and I ended up with a travel trailer and a truck to tow it. If I were single, I’d still be in a van.

I’m a van gal. I bought my first van (with the not-very-nice fellow who is now my ex) almost a decade ago. We upgraded to a newer, better van several months later. We spent two whirlwind years traveling across the country visiting cities, public lands, and music festivals. When I finally left that guy behind, I was homeless for a few months until, with the help of friends, I was able to buy a Chevy G20 of my own and return to van life.

During my time as a vandweller, people have suggested I “upgrade,” especially after The Man and I got together. Yes, we would have more room in a school bus, a travel trailer we could pull behind a vehicle, or a small motorhome. However, what we’d have to sacrifice in exchange for a bit more room isn’t worth it to me. Today I’ll share what I see as the advantages of living and traveling in a van.

Winding mountain road
I was able to navigate this mountain road with my Chevy G20 van.

#1 I can navigate most any paved road (and lots of dirt roads too).  During the second year I worked in the mountains of California, the camp hosts down the road lived in a converted school bus. Halfway through the work season, a wildfire was near, and two of the three roads off the mountain were closed. The bus couple worried about how they would get their rig off the mountain if we were required to evacuate. The one open road was narrow and curvy, and they weren’t sure the bus would make it around the tight turns. I had no such concerns. I’d driven my van up and down all three of those mountain roads and knew it could make it down (and back up again when it was safe to do so) with no problems.

I’ve driven conversion vans from California to North Carolina, Kansas to Minnesota, Maine to Georgia (with lots of crisscrossing the middle of the Unite States), and I’ve never been on a paved road I thought I might not be able to navigate.  Sure there are dirt roads that have caused me concern. I’ve been on  dirt roads I had no business taking my van on, and I’ve been prepared to turn around if necessary. Anybody traveling in a rig without four wheel drive is going to run into the same trouble on some dirt roads, but my van can get around in places where bigger rigs can’t.

#2 My van is (comparatively) easy to park. Granted, I’m not great at parallel parking (confession: I can’t really parallel park at all), but most bigger rigs wouldn’t even fit in a parallel parking spot. My van only takes up one space in any parking lot or residential street. Unless I’m in a busy downtown area where I need to squeeze into the only parallel parking space on the street, I don’t have a difficult time finding a place to leave my van.

Sometimes parking garages do pose a problem for my rig. More than once I’ve been at the entrance of a parking garage before I realized my van was too tall. While that’s a drawback to having a high top, I know anywhere I don’t fit can’t accommodate a school bus, motor home, or even a tall truck camper. My van can (and has) fit into some parking garages, but rigs taller than mine probably won’t have much parking garage luck.

The low-hanging branches in this campground worried some folks in big rigs.

#3 Not only does my van offer enough clearance to allow me to park in at least some parking garages, it affords me decent clearance in general. During my time as a camp host and parking lot attendant, I saw several drivers of motorhomes freak out about branches overhanging the road through the parking lot or above a campsite. One driver of an RV insisted on backing out of the one-way loop through the parking lot rather than continue through when he realized overhead branches were going to scrape the top of his rig. I suppose buses and tall motorhomes don’t utilize too many fast food drive-thrus. In my van, I don’t often have to worry about being too tall.

#4 Not only is my van (comparatively) easy to park, it’s also (comparatively) easy to back up. I didn’t get a lot of instruction on backing when I learned to drive late in life, but especially in the last few years, I’ve had quite a lot of practice. My van didn’t have a review mirror when I bought it, and the two back windows are blacked out, so I use my blind spot mirrors on the sides a LOT. (The Man opens the driver’s door and sticks his head out and looks behind him to aid his backing abilities when he’s driving my van.) I backed into a tree last summer, but other than that little incident, I’m doing fine (knock wood).

Once another vandweller and I were looking at a van that was longer than mine. I fretted that I would never be able to back up something so big. The other vandweller assured me that once I got a feel for the dimensions of any rig, backing up wouldn’t be a problem for me. He’s probably right, but I’d be terrified backing up a big rig while I was trying to learn its dimensions. Could I learn to back up a rig bigger than my van? I know I could, but I like knowing I can do a decent job backing up the van I already have.

Of course, if I pulled a travel trailer behind my van, backing up would pose a whole new set of problems. Could I learn  to back up a rig I was pulling behind my van? Again, I know that I could, but I don’t really want to. I don’t feel the need to complicate my life with complex backing.

#5 If I need to stealth park, my van blends in. Let’s face it, a school bus is not going to blend in on a residential street, even if it’s still sporting the customary school bus orange. If it’s been repainted some cool new color, it’s really going to stand out wherever it’s parked. A small motorhome may fit in a little better, but most people who live in in a house or apartment don’t park their recreational vehicles on the street. An RV parked on the street may call a little too much attention to itself.

I don’t stealth park on residential streets a lot. If I have to be in civilization, I’d rather spend the night blacktop boondocking in the parking lot of a truck stop or a Wal-Mart. However, if the only place I can find to spend the night is a residential street, my van can slip in and look enough like a regular passenger vehicle so that no one suspect I’m sleeping in there.

All the campsites in this campground where covered with snow when The Man and I camped here in May 2017.

#6 Not only can I stealth park in the city in my rig, but I can fit in most any campsite with a parking spur. Yes, I have been to campgrounds with only walk-up tent sites. (I’m looking at you Big Tesuque!)  We were at that campground in the off-season when the entire campground was covered in snow, so we simply slept in the van in the parking lot. However, the majority of campgrounds I’ve been to have offered plenty of room to park my van on the campsites.

While I was a camp host, I saw many people with big rigs have a difficult time getting into the two smallest campgrounds on the mountain. People in big RVs often struggled to find a campsite large enough to accommodate their rigs. I’d rather travel in a small rig that allows me to take nearly any campsite available.

My van’s gas mileage is better than the gas mileage of a school bus.

#7 The Man would tell you my G20’s gas mileage stinks compared to what he gets in his minivan. He is right about that comparison, but my mileage is great compared to what rigs bigger than mine get. The Scientific America article “Teenager’s Invention Saves Fuel for School Buses” says that school “buses…only get 4 to 6 mpg.” I’m guessing a motorhome (depending on its size) gets the same sort of gas mileage or maybe a little better. That makes my 12 to 15 miles per gallon look pretty good. Of course, pulling a travel trailer would reduce my gas mileage even further.

Diesel costs more than gasoline.

At the time I’m writing this post (February 2019), diesel costs more than gasoline. Because my van runs on gasoline, I spend less on fuel than I would if I drove a bus with a diesel engine or a diesel truck I might need to haul a big fifth wheel. Also, I found out when I worked in the mountains, diesel is sometimes not available in remote locations, even when gasoline is.

#8 I’ve had some tire troubles in the past, but at least I only have four to deal with and not six. Not only do full size schoolies and some larger motorhomes have two extra tires to deal with, getting the best, strongest tires capable of handling the additional weight of bigger rigs costs a pretty penny. After reading a few articles about the cost of tires for school buses and Class A motorhomes, it seems a single tire suitable for one of these rigs can run anywhere from $100 (plus a charge for mounting) to $430, with one article estimating an upper range price of $600. Ouch!

Although I do have expensive, strong Michelin tires on my van, they’re in the under $200 (each) price range, and I’m glad to save the money two more would cost.

#9 Because my van is a regular passenger vehicle with a gasoline engine, I don’t have to find a special mechanic to work on it when I have problems. Just about any trained and competent mechanic can repair most any problem. As a bonus, The Man is able to do some of the repairs and maintenance my van has needed. He’s replaced my all of my brake pads and put in a new radiator when the old one sprung a leak.

I know folks with small motorhomes who’ve had trouble finding a mechanic with a shop big enough to accommodate their rigs. All of the vans I’ve owned, including the two with high tops, have fit in every shop they’ve been brought to.

#10 I don’t have to dump grey or black water tanks. Yes, it would be convenient to wash dishes or my hands in my van. Yes, it would be convenient to have a rig with a flush toilet. I’m sure I could learn how to dump grey and black water tanks, and with practice, dumping would become just another routine. However, at this point in my vanlife, I’m happy to be without the burden of staying aware of the levels in grey and black water tanks, finding dump stations, (possibly) paying to dump, then going through the smelly process. I’m content to wash my hands and the dishes outside and find a toilet whenever I have elimination needs. (Of course, I have a system in place for when I’m boondocking.) The lack of black and grey water tanks makes my life a little simpler.

I’m not trying to tell you what rig you should live in. I’m only telling you why I do what I do. By all means, make your own decisions based on what works best for you.

Story of Hitchhiker (Guest Post)

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The Man recently came up with a great idea. What if you get people to tell you their wildest travel stories? he asked. Awesome! I thought and asked my friends and fans on social media to share those stories with me. I’ll share the stories with you, my readers, as they roll into my inbox.

If you want to share your wildest travel story, submit them at rubbertrampartist@gmail.com. Please note, I am unable to pay for any guest posts. I am NOT interested in or willing to run posts that are racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, or mean in any way. The post you submit should be finished and polished and ready to run immediately. Please include a brief biography at the end of the post.

Today’s story is about a cat, and a police officer, and a hitchhiker with only a vague idea of where to find the friend she wanted to visit,.

My friend Sherrie moved to Peshtigo WI without giving me a forwarding address before there was any such thing as a cell phone. Being my free-spirited self and the fact that Peshtigo is rather a small town I hitched a ride up with my black cat following behind me everywhere I went. It wasn’t far between DePere and Peshtigo, only a little over an hour on the highway. The rides were fast and easy because who wouldn’t pick up a gal and her cat? 


My ride dropped me off right at the beginning of town as requested. I didn’t know how I would find my friend but I was going to at least give it a try, hike around and see if I could maybe stalk her. I started my hike noticing there were no sidewalks in this rural area. The houses were spaced a good distance apart and I had only walked through about three or four front yards when a lady opened her front door and stared at me. Right away I thought ‘oh God she’s gonna yell at me for being on her property or walking on her yard’ and sure enough she started hollering at me but she was yelling my name! As in “Grimit?!”  (my nickname) in a questioning tone. Then, “Is that you Grimit?”


I was totally floored! It was my friend Sherrie’s MOM! I couldn’t believe the luck! After several questions about why I’m in her front yard with my cat and much laughter she directed me to my friends new place across town on the opposite end of Peshtigo! 


I set out again hitchhiking sporadically and walked only about a mile in when the Peshtigo police officer pulled up complete with lights and sound. He told me hitching was illegal within the city limits and after checking my ID he would give me a ride through town and set me free on the other end near my friend’s place. Lucky me again, I’m not getting busted! 

I gladly accepted the ride but explained to him that since he had done the lights and siren thing for a moment when he pulled up my cat had scurried up the nearest tree for safety and I couldn’t just leave her here. He understood my dilemma and turned everything off, engine included. We just stood outside his car silently waiting for about two or three minutes, and she came right down.


We rode through Peshtigo with me in the front passenger seat and my cat on the back of the seat between us like the princess she was! We, all three, totally agreed it was one of the most interesting rides we’d ever had! ….and I found my friend. We still laugh about how I ended up in her mom’s front yard!    

The end! 

It’s just me and Louise now, a dog follows me instead of a cat. Just sign me Maryl (not Thelma) and Louise. marylgrimmett@yahoo.com

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/arm-asphalt-blur-close-up-400536/.

Ladies’ Underwear

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I was in a coffee shop/café in a small New Mexico town. The place was more café than coffee shop. A waitress met me at the door, menu in hand. I told her I’d be there a while writing and asked if I should sit somewhere out of the way. She said I could sit wherever I wanted, so I chose a spot away from the entrance but near an electrical outlet. The waitress left me with a menu and said she’d be back soon.

I’d never been to this establishment before and (wrongly) assumed I could order a muffin or a glass of iced tea a the counter, then blend in with the other folks drinking coffee and doing whatever work people do in coffee shops. When I walked in around 8:30 on that Monday morning, only one other table was occupied. During the three hours I was there, only a few other customers came in. There’s no blending in when business is so slow.

I ordered a small house blend coffee, which I didn’t really want and shouldn’t have had, but it was the least expensive item on the beverage menu. I also ordered a cinnamon roll, which I’m not usually into, but I’d read online raves about this shop’s variation on the treat.

The waitress asked if I wanted cream in my coffee, and I said yes. She was gone before I could ask for sugar too. I figured there must be sugar packets in the little basket on the table.

Once I got my laptop set up, I looked around the place. There were many arrangements of faded fake flowers, and the titles and covers on the books on the shelves (for sale or only for in-store skimming, I do not know) hinted at religious content. The music drifting softly through the place was of a very calm religious nature. The rendition of “I Saw the Light” playing on the stereo was not the thank God a higher being has saved me from my wicked, wicked self Hank Williams version. I imagine the light this calm chorus saw was a faintly flickering candle barely needed to illuminate the way to the heavenly afterlife the mild singers were sure to find at the end of their gentle lives. Then a woman (the baker?) came from the kitchen and into the dining area. She was wearing the simple, modest dress and white bun covering bonnet that said Mennonite to me. Oh boy. I’d wandered into quite a religious establishment.

The waitress (dressed in a secular pair of jeans and a dark t-shirt) came back to my table bearing a mug of coffee and a cinnamon roll on a disposable plate. I asked her if the shop had WiFi, and (thankfully) she said yes. She was off getting the password for me when I realized there was no sugar in the basket on the table. Drats! What was a sugar fiend like me to do?

I looked down at the large cinnamon roll in front of me. It was topped with pecans and caramel, and I imagined it would be quite sweet. Upon experimentation, I realized if I took a drink of coffee immediately after biting into the roll, I didn’t need even a grain of sugar in my coffee

The cinnamon roll was delicious. Most cinnamon rolls seem to be made with a slightly sweet bread, which I don’t enjoy very much. The base of this roll was more like a sweet biscuit. So yummy!

While I was studying the menu, setting up my laptop, asking about WiFi, waiting for, and then enjoying my treat, a party of three ate breakfast at a table in the front of the café. An elderly couple was visiting with a younger man. I wasn’t eavesdropping carefully on their conversation, but the old people were talking loudly enough for me to pick up a thing or two.

It sounded as if the couple had recently gone somewhere cold on vacation or for a weekend getaway. There was mention of snow, cold temperatures, and a snowmobile.

I had me some ladies’ underwear, the old man said in a voice that boomed through the building.

My eavesdropping ears perked up. This information might be the most interesting ever conveyed in this small-town Christian coffee shop.

My hopes of overhearing a tale of elder cross-dressing kink was dashed when the woman immediately corrected him, saying,Silk underwear! You had silk underwear!

I suppose the man wore a pair of long silk underwear meant to provide warmth during his venture into the winter wonderland. He probably thought about women’s underwear commonly being made of silk and somewhere in his brain silk long johns got tangled into ladies’ underwear. I quickly realized the conversation was not of much interest to me as it was primarily about staying warm in the cold outdoors. Sigh.

Oh well. At leas the cinnamon roll and coffee were delicious.



I Needed to Change My Life (an Interview with Ellen)

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Hands arranging fluffy mateiral next to a green bar of soap.
Felting wool shower scrubbies at the first RTArt Camp at the 2018 RTR.

I met Ellen at the very first RTArt Camp in 2018. She camped nearby and attended many of the workshops held during the two weeks of the RTR. She was pleasant to talk to, and I enjoyed her easy laugh. Some of the best times I spent that week were sitting around campfires with Ellen, learning about her life and experiences.

At the 2019 RTArt Camp, I had the pleasure of spending time with Ellen again. She allowed me to interview her and told me why she decided to live on the road full time, how she choose her rig, and what she likes most about the way she lives.

Rubber Tramp Artist (RTA): I am here today with Ellen, and I’ll be asking her some questions about her life on the road.

So am I correct that you are a full-time solo traveler?

Ellen: Yes, that is correct.

RTA: How long have you been doing that?

Ellen: Since June 2017, so a year and a half.

RTA: What’s your rig?

Ellen: A Ford Transit Connect.

RTA: That’s pretty small.

Ellen: It’s teeny tiny. It’s basically like a minivan, but a little bit taller.

RTA: What would you say are your three biggest challenges of living in such a small rig?

Ellen: Biggest challenges are…not having a full kitchen, would probably be #1.

RTA: So you cook outside?

Ellen: Yeah. I cook outside. I can cook inside if I need to, but I don’t usually.

I don’t really have space for people to hang out, to have people over in any type of way.

And…I don’t know if I could think of another thing. I like having a tiny rig.

RTA: OK. Well tell me about that then. Tell me about the three best

Selective Focus Photography of Gasoline Nozzle

things about having the tiny rig.

Ellen: I get really good gas mileage. That was kind of on top of my list.

 I can park anywhere. It’s super stealthy, and I can park in any neighborhood or be in a city parallel parking. Any of that is really easy.

 It just keeps my life really simple. I don’t collect stuff. I avoid the free pile.

RTA: [Boisterous laughter]

Ellen: [joins in with her own laughter]

RTA: Would you say that you were a minimalist or you had minimalist leanings before you moved into your rig and went on the road?

Shallow Focus Photography of Assorted-color Clothes Hanged on Clothes Rack

Ellen: No. I don’t think so. I’ve always loved thrifting and collecting things and having projects. Maybe that’s something that’s hard about having a small rig is that I can’t set up a project and leave it sitting there. Everything always has to be put away in the right exact spot.

I think I’m not super attached to material things in general, but I don’t know if I would call myself a minimalist.

RTA: Is your primary way of dealing with living in the small space that everything has its place and always goes back?

Ellen: Yeah. Exactly. Everything that’s in there has a very specific place where it goes. Usually after a while things start to be a little bit out of place, so then [I] have to kind of unpack everything and repack the whole thing.

RTA: How often do you think you do that?

Ellen: It totally depends on what I’m doing and where I am. Maybe once a month, once every other month, sometimes, depending on the season and what I’m doing. I guess I do it on a mini level every day! 

RTA: Right!

Ellen: [Laughter]

RTA: When you were thinking about wanting to go on the road, did you already have this vehicle, or were you shopping around for vehicles? If you were shopping around, what made you decide on this rig and not something bigger?

Ellen: I shopped around for a long time as I was planning on moving into a vehicle. I looked online at a million different kinds of vehicles. Factors for me [were] gas mileage and stealthiness…the same things I said I love about it and affordability for me and reliability. My balance that I was really trying to find was something that was in my budget that I could afford that was going to be reliable. [Reliability] felt like a safety thing for me, especially starting out as a solo female…if I could, avoiding situations where I was going to be broken down or need help.

RTA: What were some of the other vehicles that you considered seriously?

Ellen: I was looking at bigger vans. I’m definitely drawn more aesthetically to like the cool, older [vans]. That was really where my heart wanted to go.

 RTA: So what year is your current rig?

Ellen: 2011…parts are super easy to get for it anywhere if I need something. It’s very reliable, but it’s kind of boring. [Laughter] It’s just a white box. It doesn’t necessarily fit my personality…

RTA: But in 20 years, it will be the hippie van of its day!

Ellen: [more laughter] That’s true. Alright. Let’s look at it that way.

RTA: What was your impetus for getting on the road? Is it something you wanted to do for a long, long time?

Ellen: It’s not really that farfetched for me. I’ve driven around the country

Brown Wooden Destination Arrow Guide

many times and traveled around the world many times. I guess as I grew older and got into my 30s, my life started getting really routine and kind of boring. I had a career and was doing all the stuff, adulting stuff. Then I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 32, and after going through that…it was just very clear to me that I needed to change my life and get rid of stress from my life–probably the #1 thing–and just to be happy. It’s really underrated! [Laughter] I just knew that this was a way that I could do it, that I could afford to not have a 9 to 5 and that I could also spend a lot of quality time with people I care about. That also felt really important to me after coming through cancer treatment. It was really clear how I needed to give more importance, more time in my life for the people I care about.

RTA: How did your family react when you told them you were going to hit the road full time?

Ellen: Oh, my family’s used to it. [Laughter]  It’s not that farfetched.

A lot of people were like “WHAT?” I think people didn’t really quite realize maybe how serious I was about it. I think people thought I was going on vacation. I think mostly people felt like I sort of deserved a break. I’d been through a lot. I’d been very sick, very sick and sort of stuck in one place for a while. I think people were happy, my family, my community and friends…It made sense to everybody.

RTA: Do they now see that at least for the moment this is the choice you’ve made long-term?

Ellen: Yeah, now I think they get it.

RTA: They see you’re serious about this; it’s not just vacation.

Ellen: Yes. Exactly.

RTA: Let’s talk about challenges and joys again. What do you think are your three biggest challenges to being a young woman solo on the road?

Ellen: I don’t know that it’s necessarily just on the road, but safety in general. It’s not really a challenge, but it’s certainly a factor. Having to think about where I am and what kind of situation I’m putting myself in and never knowing from day to day where I’m going, if I’m going places I’ve never been, I don’t know what it’s going to be like or how I’m going to feel there. So there’s a little bit of constant factoring all this stuff in.

RTA: But not anything that would be necessarily unusual if you were living in an apartment in the city? I mean, you’re in a new place…

Ellen: You mean with safety. You still have to think about that no matter where you are?

RTA: Do you agree or disagree with that?

Ellen: I do agree with that. It’s just maybe a little more noticeable, a little more prevalent

I should probably follow that up, I think…I’ve NEVER had any issues with anybody. Maybe that’s part of it too…deprogramming myself to not feel like that. Probably something I should look at.

Challenges of being a young woman on the road? I don’t know. I can’t think of anything.

RTA: What about your three biggest joys of being a young woman on the road?

Ellen: Life is really awesome! [Laughter]

White Blooming Flower Under the Tree during Daytime

I think just being outside, connecting with the land and putting myself in a position where I am really outside all the time has been really wonderful for me.

The community, the community that I’ve found here is really wonderful. I’m a person who has never really felt at home anywhere, and this community of people for me feels like home.

RTA: Do you mean the RTR community or the Art Camp community or just the nomadic community?

Ellen: It just keeps expanding for me. I think it started with coming to the RTR and getting involved with Art Camp. I’m also part of Mindfulness Camp. I have different groups around…I guess it would be the RTR crowd. It’s expanded through my whole year. My whole life [has] really sort of formed around the communities that I’ve made here.

RTA: You said being outdoors, the communities. Is there something else you want to mention?

Ellen: Also, just to expand on that a little bit—the community—I’ve always been a really shy, introverted person. Not maybe introverted, but shy, and I have just made so many connections out here. That has really enriched my life greatly. I know some people talk about people coming out on the road and isolating, but I have just had the opposite experience. I’ve made more friends in the past couple years than I have in the rest of my entire adult life. Maybe that’s because I’m amongst people I connect with, and maybe it’s just me growing. Maybe it’s this lifestyle.

Another thing that I really love…of course, just traveling, seeing new things, and getting to know this land. I try and get involved in as much as I can, so that’s really afforded me the time to go to retreats and go to different workshops and go to places I’ve always wanted to go. So I think that’s a really healing thing for me to be able to have the time, to give that time to myself to really do some deep healing work.

RTA: What is your favorite new place that you saw in 2018?

Ellen: I traveled all through British Columbia which was really wonderful, going almost all the way up to Alaska. They call it Northern BC, but it’s actually central BC, there’s just nothing actually north of it. [much laughter] They just call the central part ‘north.’ Seeing that area was really special—absolutely beautiful and the rivers there are something to see.

The first photo in this post was taken by me. Other images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/selective-focus-photography-of-gasoline-nozzle-1537172/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/shallow-focus-photography-of-assorted-color-clothes-hanged-on-clothes-rack-1078958/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/sign-arrow-direction-travel-52526/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/wood-light-vacation-picnic-60006/.

The Moment You Realize You Picked the Wrong Sugar Daddy

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The guy must have been at least 60. His beard, neatly trimmed close to his face, was completely white. He wore a ball cap and t-shirt and shorts.

The woman was younger, no older than 35, slender and going for a neo-hippie look. She wore a golden tunic with long sleeves over tight pants. The tunic was form fitting, made from fabric that seemed a little thicker than the warmth of the day warranted. Her dark hair was straight and hung below her shoulders. She had no bangs, but she did have a beaded headband tied around her forehead. I suspect quite a bit of thought had gone into her outfit, which seemed a little too pulled together for an afternoon in the woods. (The beaded headband really made it seem like she was trying too hard.)

The guy walked in first and asked if he could park in the lot outside the Mercantile.

5 Us Dollar BanknoteSure, I told him. There’s a $5 access fee. You can take care of that right here, I said as I reached under the counter for a day pass.

Since when do you charge for parking? the old man asked. I could tell he was not down with paying to park.

I’ve been here four seasons, I answered, and there’s been a parking fee as long as I’ve been here. If there’s no attendant on duty, it’s on the honor system. You put your payment in a self-pay envelope and drop it in the iron ranger.

Usually when I say honor system to old guys who’ve visited the trail before and not paid for parking, they shut up because they know they’ve behaved dishonorably and don‘t want to admit their moral failing. Not this guy. He just kept fussing about having to pay the whole time he did so.

The young woman came in during the access fee transaction. From the way they spoke to each other, I could tell they knew each other, but I couldn’t determine their relationship. The age difference suggested father and daughter, but that’s not the vibe I was getting from them.

The young woman began exclaiming over how expensive everything was. Maybe, like me, she is accustomed to shopping in thrift stores. We sold t-shirts as low as $18.95 and ball caps for as low as $16.95, not excessive prices for souvenirs on top of a mountain in California as far as I could tell.

I always wondered about people who complained about prices right in front of me. What did they hope to accomplish? Did they hope I’d haggle with them, offer them a better price? I always wanted to tell them I didn’t set the price, I couldn’t change the price, and I didn’t want to hear their bellyaching about the price. Instead, I just kept my mouth shut and felt uncomfortable.

The couple (not a couple?) left, but the young woman soon returned. She said she needed water and walked over to the beverage cooler where she studied the price list.

$2.50 for a bottle of water? she exclaimed.

That’s right, I said mildly.

I believe $2.50 for a 16.9 ounce bottle of water was wildly overpriced. I think it’s wrong to overcharge people so steeply for a basic human necessity, especially since packs of 24 bottles of that size could be purchased most anywhere in the valley for under $5. It seemed wrong to me to charge $2.50 for something that cost $.20 (or less!), even considering it was hauled up the mountain and keept cool. Charging $1.50 or $1.75 would be pricey, but understandable, but $2.50 just seemed greedy, especially for water. Sure, jack up the price for Gatorade or iced tea or potato chips—things people don’t need—but don’t screw people on the water. However, no one I worked for asked my opinion on the price of water, and when I offered it anyway, I was largely ignored.

Of course, this young woman with her neo-hippie headband had no way of knowing who set the prices or how I felt about them. I suppose I could have explained myself, but really, I just wanted her to buy her water (or not) and be on her way.

About that time, the old man walked back into the Mercantile. You getting some water? he asked the young Clear Disposable Bottle on Black Surfacewoman.

It’s $2.50! the woman exclaimed. I just really can’t afford that right now, she told him melodramatically.

She must have told him at least three more times, I just really can’t afford that right now before the old man reluctantly asked, Do you want me to get water for you?

I don’t know if she could tell, but I sure knew he didn’t want to spend $2.50 on a bottle of water for her.

The gallons are $3.95, I said helpfully. Personally, I’d rather spend $3.95 for 128 ounces of water instead of $2.50 for 16.9 ounces of water.

The old man bought the gallon.

I never did figure out the relationship between the old man and the young woman, but if she was hoping he’d be her sugar daddy, well, I felt sorry for her. I’ve never had a sugar daddy, but I know a good one should be generous with money, not complaining about having to pay $5 to park and being slow to take the hint about buying water.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/abraham-lincoln-american-dollar-banknote-cash-259258/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/clear-disposable-bottle-on-black-surface-1000084/.

Change is Inevitable

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I feel as if my life has been in a constant state of upheaval since The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) left for Quartzsite on January 10th. It seems as if the early part of 2019 was all about chaos for me.

Between early January and mid-February 2019, we decided to buy land, sold the fifth wheel, purged and packed our belongings, bought the land, moved to a new state, and discovered we couldn’t live the way we wanted on our new property. The woman we bought the land from gave us our money back, and we signed the deed over to her.  We were then able to buy a piece of property in Northern New Mexico.

Since we’d left Arizona, The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) had been living out of our vans. After five days on the property that didn’t work out for us, when we realized we’d have to leave, The Man and I each bought a New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass and started bouncing between state parks. While the annual camping pass is a great deal and the state parks in New Mexico are quite nice, we were getting frustrated by our vanlife. I hated trying to cook outside in the dust and wind (oh! the wind!), and The Man couldn’t sit in his rig in a way that was comfortable while making jewelry. Jerico was not one bit happy with the lack of ball-playing in his life. We were all stuck in irritating limbo until it was warm enough for us to start living on our land in Northern New Mexico.

While we waited for winter to turn to spring, I got word that situations arising from my father’s death had been resolved. In a few weeks, I found myself in possession of a truck and travel trailer. Vanlife was over, and now The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) had a tiny home on wheels.

At first I was hesitant to give up vanlife. After all, it’s what I’d known for nearly a decade. I liked the simplicity of getting to the bed without having to leave my rig. I liked being able to stealth park most anywhere and the ease of backing up. Besides, living in my van had become part of my identity. Who would I be without my Chevy G20?

In time, I realized I’m still me, van or no van. Whether I live in a van or a travel trailer or a stationery fifth wheel, I’m still the Rubber Tramp Artist. I’m still living a life simpler than those most Americans live. I’ll still have adventures to share with my readers. I’m still exploring life and creating art.

Yes, there will be challenges associated with this new rig. The Man is currently driving the truck pulling the trailer, but the time will come when I have to learn to haul it and even (gulp!) back it up. What I’ve gained is a newer, more reliable vehicle with 4 wheel drive to get us through the muddy roads crisscrossing the rural area where we will be living. What I’ve gained is a home where the Man and I can both stand up and move around. What I’ve gained is an oven, a refrigerator, and a freezer that makes ice. I’ve decided I’m glad to gain these amenities in exchange for giving up the vanlife hashtag.

While we do plan to stay stationery for longer portions of each year, we’ll still spend time on the road. Our current plan is to get jobs working at a pumpkin patch in the fall and a Christmas tree lot during the holiday season. These are jobs couple with RVs are hired for since they can sell products during the day and provide onsite security at night. If we can earn a large portion of our yearly money in the winter, perhaps we can actually have some fun in the summertime.

So I’ll still have stories from the road to share, as well as everything we learn from our adventures in a travel trailer. As long as I work with the public, there are sure to be stories of nervy, funny, strange, and interesting customers. I don’t foresee any shortage of topics for blog posts.

Of course, I wouldn’t be living in such comfort now if my father hadn’t died. Yes, I feel ambivalent. I’m not glad my dad died, but I am glad to have this beautiful new home. My dad and I had a complicated relationship, so it seems fitting to have complicated feelings about the new way of life his death has led me to. What I do know is that my dad would want me to be happy. He often told me to enjoy life while I was young and healthy. I think he’d be glad I can stand up in my home and make ice cubes in my freezer while I dance in the kitchen as I cook.

What You Can Learn from My Land-Buying Mistakes

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If you keep up with my blog, you know that recently my partner and I bought some land in Southern New Mexico. We didn’t do our homework until it was too late. After we bought the land, we realized we weren’t allowed to live in the land in a van, RV, school bus, or any other temporary dwelling. Today I’ll share what I learned from the experience so you won’t make the same mistakes I did.

In several vandwelling/nomad groups I’m in on Facebook, people often bring up the idea of buying a small piece of inexpensive land in a rural location and using this as a home base. It seems they think, as my partner and I did, that property owners can pretty much do whatever they want on their own land. This is not always the case! Before you buy any land to use as a place to park your van or RV, do your research.

If you’re looking at ads for land online, read the whole thing very carefully and be sure to scrutinize the fine print. When my partner’s sister looked at online ads for land in the county where we were, she found several that were aimed at snowbirds who wanted a place to park an RV for the winter. Near the bottom ad, she found information on the limits placed on parking an RV within the county. If you only want to park your van or RV on a piece of property for 245 days a year (or whatever the actual limit is), great! However, if you want to leave an RV on the land year round while you go off exploring in a smaller rig, you need to know about these sorts of time limits.

The same sister told us that years ago, she and her partner were considering purchasing land in a remote area of Wyoming or Montana. There was lots of land available, but upon close scrutiny, she found the parcels had to either be left empty or a house had to be built there within a specified time period. If you have no plans to build a house, be sure you’re not buying land where building a conventional dwelling it the only way you’ll be allowed to live on your property.

Don’t automatically trust what the person you’re buying land from tells you can be done on the property. While I don’t think the woman we bought land from way trying to mislead us, I’m not so sure about the guy who sold the land to her.  She said she asked him if she was allowed to camp on the property and he told her doing so would be no problem. While she only camped on the land a week or two at a time once or twice a year, keeping her within the limits of the of the county ordinance that says an RV can be on undeveloped property for 30 days out of a year, she was breaking the subdivision covenant which says a temporary dwelling on the property can only be utilized while a house is being built. Maybe the guy who sold her the land wasn’t exactly lying. Maybe he’d been misinformed or assumed. In any case, don’t assume what you are told about a piece of property is true. 

Talk to a realtor if possible. I suspect realtors are held to higher ethical standards because they are professionals. I also suspect realtors are better informed than your average Joe trying to sell off some property. On the other hand, realtors are people too. Some of are unethical. Some are lazy. Some are misinformed. So while I might use a realtor as a source of information, I would use that information as a starting point for my own research. I wouldn’t unquestioningly believe everything that came out of a realtor’s mouth.

Speaking of realtor’s, a former realtor gave me some after-the-fact advice in a Facebook group. She said,


you definitely always want to check restrictions both on the deed and county/city. Also make sure you have legal access to the property. And don’t just go by looks. It may look like there’s a nice access road only to find out that’s not actual[ly] yours legally to use. And as mentioned above make sure there’s no zoning restrictions that would prevent what you want to do.

Doing an internet search on the particular area or subdivision you are interested in can alert you to any controversy surrounding the use of the land. What are landowners complaining about? Do their complaints relate to what you want to do with the land you purchase? Complaints don’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t buy land, but learning about controversy may allow you to go into a deal with your eyes wide open.

Talk to county officials (or folks who work their offices) who can tell you about ordinances, subdivision covenants, and land use restrictions. If you don’t know who to talk to, try the county recorder’s office, the county clerk, the county assessor’s office, or the office of county planning and development. If you call the wrong office, the person you talk to can point you in the right direction.

When you talk to the appropriate county worker or official, explain what you want to do on your land. Be clear and honest. I know sometimes we vandwellers and nomads have to be vague about how we live our lives because bureaucracy is not set up to accommodate people like us. However, I can assure you that it’s NO FUN to buy a piece of land and find out later that you can’t do with it what you intended to. I believe it’s better to find out before you plunk down your money that you’re not allowed to do what you have in mind with the property you are about to buy.

You may have better luck finding a place to accommodate you if you primarily want to own a piece of land to use as your permanent address, but not to live on for several months out of the year. Maybe your plan is to visit the land once or twice a year and live out of your van there for a week or two while you relax or do repairs and maintenance on your rig. This plan may go over better in a rural area than would a scheme to park on old RV or school bus there for long periods of time. I suspect the reason the woman we bought the land from got away with camping there over the course of several years was because she didn’t go there often and when she did, she didn’t stay long.

The bottom line is, know what you’re getting into before you lay your money down. We were lucky; when we realized we couldn’t do what we wanted with the land, the seller returned our money, and we transferred the land back to her. Most people who find out they can’t do what they want on their land will not be able to report this sort of happy ending.

Changes in My Life (and What You Can Learn from My Land-Buying Mistakes)

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Blue sky and wispy grey clouds over sandy land dotted with scrubby bushes.
This is the land The Man and I bought in Southern New Mexico.

The last time I posted an update on my life, it was about how The Man and I were buying land in Southern New Mexico. Well, that was fun while it lasted.

We found the land on a Saturday afternoon in the beginning in February. In reality, The Man did all the work. He used printouts of maps of the area provided online by the county as well as the Google Earth app to find our approximate spot. We knew our lot was the fifth one from the corner, and we knew each lot was just over 100 feet wide, so we used a long tape measure to figure out just where our driveway should go.

The wind was blowing, as we’d been warned it would. This was no little breeze but a strong New Mexico wind. With the wind came dust, and we were out in it with nothing but our vans for protection.

We had a big cabin-style tent we’d used for two summers when we worked in the mountains of California. The Man started setting it up, but before he could stake it down, the wind caught it and blew it around. The Man said the tent was not going to work. We agreed we needed a place for storage as well as somewhere to get out of the wind and dust in order to cook. We drove the 15 miles to Wal-Mart determined to buy a tent.

There was quite a bit of choice on the tent aisle at Wal-Mart. We immediately eliminated anything too small to use as both a storage shed and a kitchen. We also eliminated anything that did not allow The Man to stand upright inside. Next, we eliminated any cabin-style tents because The Man did not think that design would survive the wind.

A large dome tent set against blue sky and grey clouds.
Biosphere 3 before The Man reinforced it by tying the poles together where they crossed and using the rope as extra guy lines.

The tent we bought had no rain fly. Instead, tent material zips down over mesh panels. Essentially there are windows in the ceiling that can be unzipped and opened for ventilation or zipped closed to keep out the elements. At first The Man was worried about the lack of rainfly, but later realized it was a good design for windy conditions. If there had been a rainfly, wind would have gotten up under it, creating stress on the whole structure.

The tent is big and similar to a geodesic dome. I named it Biosphere 3.

The tent has ten poles to give strength to the structure. The poles cross at points around the tent, increasing stability. The poles are color coded and have to be added in a specific order. It is a base camp tent, something to be set up then left alone for a week or two. In other words, it is a real pain in the ass to pitch this tent!

The tent came with regular metal stakes. The Man said those stakes weren’t going to hold against the New Mexico wind. We’d bought earth auger type stakes when we bought the tent, but we found those stakes didn’t work in the sandy soil where we were. (They weren’t worth a damn, The Man says.) We had a few large tent spikes Auntie M had given us before we left Arizona, so we used all we had to hold down the tent. The Man thought the tent needed even more stability, so we drove back to Wal-Mart to get more tent spikes and rope.

The Man ended up tying rope around each point where poles crossed. He then used that rope as a guy line which he staked using a tent spike. These extra guy lines gave added stability to the tent.

On Monday we went to the county building to transfer the land into our names and pay the taxes on it. The Man asked one of the county workers about any restrictions on the land. She directed us to a website where she said we could find subdivision covenants for the subdivision where our land was located.

Yep, our land was in a subdivision even though in reality we were in the middle of the desert with no neighbors and no amenities. The last three roads we took to our place were unpaved. There were no electric lines anywhere near us. We had no running water, no well. We had no mailbox, and I was confident there was no home delivery of mail. Our nearest neighbor was no closer than a quarter mile away, and we were pretty sure no one was actually living in that house. To say we were living in a subdivision was comical, except it was true.

Our plan was never to build a house. The Man and I thought building a house would be too much work. We really only wanted to be on the land six or seven months out of the year, in the winter. We wanted to buy an inexpensive travel trailer or fifth wheel or even an old school bus and leave it on our property while we were off earning money in the summer. We planned to stay in whatever dwelling we had during the mild New Mexico winters.

On Wednesday I went to the library to work on my blog while The Man went to the lapidary shop to cut stones. When he came to pick me up around noon, he said we should look at our subdivision covenants. We found the PDF file with the covenants for our subdivision, but that’s where the searching began.

The county worker had warned us that the covenants for the different blocks of the subdivision were not in any particular order. It looked like money had been spent to scan the pages and get them online, but no one had been paid to organize the pages beforehand. We had to wade through over 160 pages of documents before we found the covenants for our area.

The covenants were very specific. House could be no smaller than 600 square feet. Houses could be no more than one story. Garages could only hold two cars. No signs could be placed in the front yard except for “for sale” signs of specific dimensions. So many rules! Near the bottom of the page of the covenants pertaining to our land, we found the rule that would change our lives.

No temporary dwellings (“no trailers, no tents, no shacks,” the document specified) and no “privies” were allowed on the land, except during the construction of a house. Any house under construction had to be completed within six months. We were not allowed to do what we wanted to do on our land.

When we explained the situation to friends and family, several said, But if there’s nobody out there, can’t you get away with it? Who’s going to complain?

The problem was, we didn’t know who might complain or when. We did not want to pull a camper or a bus out there and then have to move it a month or six months or a year later. We did not want to live our lives wondering if today would be the day the sheriff showed up to kick us off our land. We were looking for stability, not uncertainty.

(Before we left town, The Man met a fellow who’d parked an RV on his own piece of property. After living there for three years, someone from the county showed up and told him he was in violation. He couldn’t get the trailer off the land within the allotted time, so he ended up spending eight nights in jail. When he got out of jail, he had to scrap the RV because he couldn’t afford to park it anywhere else.)

We were devastated. We felt as if our new life had been ripped away from us. Even if we wanted to build a house, there was no way we could afford to complete a 600 square foot dwelling within six months. We’d need permits and materials. We’d have to dig a well. We’d have to put in a septic system. We’d have to pay to have electrical lines run out to land.

What are we going to do? we asked each other.

The Man insisted we had to call the woman we’d bought the land from and let her know the situation in hopes of getting our money back. My Southern upbringing had me cringing at the idea, but The Man insisted. You call her, I told him, so he did.

As soon as The Man explained the situation, she offered to return our money. I have your money right here, she said. I haven’t spent any of it yet.

Getting the money back was a relief, but we still didn’t know where we were going to live.

The Man’s sister suggested we find a piece of property that wasn’t part of a subdivision. Maybe we could do what we wanted to do on a piece of unrestricted land.

The sister (who is a wizard at finding things online), quickly found ads for land for sale in our area. She gave The Man a phone number to call. He ended up having a long conversation with a realtor who shared some very interesting information.The county has a human population of 24,078 and over 90,000 subdivision lots. Most of those lots (90%, I would guess)  are empty. The Chihuahuan Desert is not for everyone, the realtor said when The Man asked why so few people are living on the land they own in these subdivisions.

The realtor then told The Man that an ordinance that applies to all property in the county limits the time an RV can park on undeveloped land to 30 days out of a year. If land is developed with electricity and septic, an RV can park on it less than 300 days a year. (The number of days was around 250, but I don’t remember the particulars.) When The Man asked why the county would not let people live in an RV on their own land year round, the realtor said county officials think such living arrangements would be bad for the economy.

At that point, we gave up on the whole county. We decided to each buy a New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass and stay in state parks in the southern part of the state until it was warm enough to go to Northern New Mexico where local government believes letting people live simply on their own land is good for the economy.

The land as we left it, after The Man had cleared an area for the tent and our vans.

On Wednesday I’ll share with you what I learned from this land-buying fiasco so you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did.

I took the first two photos in this post. The Man took the last one.

Zalafayra

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An area on car above tire spelled out in bright yellow "#Zalafayra." Car is decorated with green moss and many tiny little things.

I wasn’t able to find out much about the art car Zalafayra.

Nolagirl and I saw the car at spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity in the spring of 2018. Either there was no sign with the car or I didn’t take a photo of it, so I came into this post not knowing the name of the artist. I had to play detective to get some info to share with my readers.

Front view of an art car covered with moss and coins and antlers and all sorts of little things.
Plastic carrots, money, moss, and antlers, plus other odds and ends.

When a Google search of “Zalafayra” turned up nothing, I turned to Instagram. A search of “#zalafayra” brought me to a video belonging to Scot Campbell (@scotcampbellwindowpainter). In the video, a man identifies himself as Rick McKinney of Marin County, CA and says Zalafayra is his car.

A small statue of a male saint decorates an art car. Bits of broken mirrored glass and painted on orange and yellow flames surround him.
A holy man (Jesus? a saint?) is surrounded by shards of mirrored glass, orange and yellow flames, live moss, and bullet casings. This must be a religious experience.

In the video, Rick McKinney says he likes to “let people make up their own mind about what” the car is “all about.” He points out that he used “live moss, antlers, a bunch of religious figures” on the car. He said he was working with the theme of faith when he embellished the car, and the items on it represent things people put their faith in.

Some people put their faith in money. Some people put their faith in themselves; that’s the mirror…Some people in nature…time, Jesus, Buddha, you name it.

A small statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary is surrounded by matchbox cars, moss, and other odds and ends.
There’s a lot going on around the Virgin Mary, and I love it. Matchbox cars, a
menorah, Minnie Mouse, a couple of crosses, a tiny dinosaur. How is it all related? It was all related in the artist’s head, and that’s good enough for me.

With additional detective work, I found out a bit more about Rick McKinney on The Lighthouse Peddler website. The man’s not just a visual artist, but a poet as well! (You can read his poetry on his blog Jigglebox.com.)

A tiny 3D replica of The Last Supper is nestled in among the moss.
A tiny Last Supper nestled in among the moss.

In an October 2017 list of “Rick Trivia” by Blake More on the aforementioned website of The Lighthouse Peddler, we learn that Rick McKinney


“[h]as been featured on television a dozen times with his art car Duke.”

(You can see pictures of Duke on the Art Car Agency website and learn more about it on Art Cars in Cyberspace.)

I don’t know why Zalafayra was on display and not Duke. I don’t know why there’s not more information about Zalafayra out in the world. In any case, I feel really grateful to have seen this car, and I hope with this blog post, I’m doing my part to spread the word about it.

Art car is decorated with Matchbook cars, bullet casings, small plastic toys and a yellow New Mexico license plate that read "Art Car."
It’s an art car. Definitely an art car.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read about the J Gurl art car and California Fantasy Van that were also at the spark! Festival.

I took all the photos in this post.