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.

I Got a Job

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If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I quit my job at a grocery store fuel center in August. The job itself wasn’t terrible, although a lot of customers were angry and/or clueless. The worst part of the job was waking up at 4am to drive in the dark to get to work by 5:45, just as the sun was coming up.

Since I quit the gas station job, I’d been working on my blog and selling at the Bridge one or two days a week, depending on the weather. Early in December money got a little tight, so I started actually looking for regular work. I joined a few Facebook job groups focused on the area where I live. One day I saw a listing for a job with a home health care company. I’d never done that type of work before, but the ad said no experience was necessary, and the company was looking to hire people to work out in the boonies near where I live.

I applied for the job on Friday, December 6th and started on Monday the 9th. I’m now a personal care worker for two folks who need a little help getting around and dealing with daily household chores. The woman I work for gets 16 hours of service a week, while the fellow gets 24 hours of service each week. That’s a 40 hour work week! I told the ladies at the home care service that hired me I only wanted to work part time (as in 16 hours a week, not 24), but they really needed someone to cover both people. I agreed, while making it clear it was more than I wanted to work.

The fellow gets services on every day except Sunday, which means I only get one full day off each week. I only see the woman four days a week, so at least on two of my six workdays I have my afternoons free. Still, that isn’t enough time off.

The road I drive to get to work is worse than this one.

The fellow lives down the worst dirt road I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been down some bad New Mexico roads. If I didn’t have a 4 wheel drive vehicle, I don’t think I could get to his house. In fact, I think I got the job because of my truck, not because of any skills I possess. For real. I wasn’t interviewed for the job. I did have to fill out an application, but as soon as I mentioned my truck, I was looking at a hiring packet.

Because we only have one vehicle, my having it 40 hours a week (plus the drive time to and from work) means The Man hasn’t been able to work much. He is employed on an as-needed basis by several elderly ladies in town. He does maintenance, painting, landscaping, and yard cleanup, so luckily his schedule is flexible. However, he’s been working to get a guest house ready for a new resident, and my use of the truck has limited when he’s been able to go in. Some mornings I drive him to town and drop him off before 8am, then backtrack out to the boonies to get myself to work by 9am When The Man is finished with his work, he hitchhikes home. The situation is not ideal for either of us.

Mudcicles on our 4 x 4.

I’m hoping things change for the better at the first of the year. A friend of the man I assist has applied to be a personal care worker with the company I work for. According to the man I assist, his friend said he is available to start work after December 27th. I’m hoping he’ll start working with the fellow I’m currently assisting to the tune of at least five days a week. I’d be happy to work with the lady 16 hours each week and fill in with the guy for 4 hours a week. Of course, I haven’t heard anything from the company that pays me about how we’re going to organize my schedule. I’ve made it clear to the management on several occasions that 40 hours is more than I want to work in a week, but I’m pretty sure my happiness is not their #1 concern. I’ve decided if my hours aren’t reduced by the first week in January, I’ll give my two weeks’ notice. I hope it doesn’t come to that because looking for a job is often worse than having a job.

I hope by the time you read this post, my hours have been reduced, and I am satisfied with my new position.

Unlike with my past jobs, I won’t be sharing stories from my work days. I’m under strict expectations of confidentiality, so anything funny or annoying or interesting that happens to me, well, I’ll be keeping it to myself. But don’t worry. I have plenty of stories to tell you about the places I’ve been and the lives that I’ve lived.

I took the photos in this post.

Renegade Little Free Library in Phoenix, AZ

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The last Little Free Library (LFL) Nolagirl and I visited in Phoenix on the November day of our excursion was on 5th Street. Nolagirl remembered seeing it there, so we went to its neighborhood especially to check it out.

Little Free Libraries are part of the gift economy of books. Anyone can leave a book in a Little Free Library and anyone can take a book too! Some LFLs are “official.” The Little Free Library FAQ says,

There is…[a] one-time payment of about $40 to register each Library that you build. When you register, you get a charter sign engraved with a unique charter number. Your unique charter number gives you the option to add your Library to the world map. You also get access to discounted books and a private Facebook support group

This photo shows a renegade Little Free Library in Phoenix, AZ

The LFL on 5th Street was what I call a renegade Little Free Library. It didn’t have an official sign, much less a charter number. Someone built a box, added a door and a peaked roof, then mounted it on a pole, filled with books, and gave it to the world. The words on it (“Little Free Library, “Take a book…,” and “Leave a book…”) were painted by hand, and its yellow paint was peeling, but this was just as much a labor of love as a registered LFL that shows up on the organization’s official map.

Don’t get me wrong. I totally appreciate registered Little Free Libraries too. I appreciate what the Little Free Library organization does to help get more LFLs out in the world. I appreciate the support the Little Free Library organization gives to LFL stewards. But I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit right here that there’s a special place in my heart for renegade Little Free Libraries. I so appreciate these DIY projects that don’t cost more than materials and the time it takes a person to put them together, these manifestations of gift economy erected so neighbors have access to free reading material.

These are the books that were in the renegade Little Free Library.

Most of the LFLs I’ve visited have been registered and have charter numbers, but there are definitely other renegades in the world. I bet many towns have official LFLS and renegades too.

Honestly, if I were going to build a Little Free Library and keep it stocked (in other words, be a LFL steward), I would go the DIY, renegade route. That’s just the way I am. I definitely have love for the people who do LFLs the official way, but I’ve got a special love for the LFL renegades.

(As for why I don’t build a LFL and be its steward, I live in a very rural area. There is only one homestead on the road past our house, so not many people would see my Little Free Library if I had one in front of my place. Also, there’s a Little Free Library only a few miles from my house, just past where the dirt road hits the pavement. It makes a lot more sense to offer the books and magazines I don’t need any more to that LFL and others around town.) 

I took the photos in this post.

Near Miss

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I was at the food bank one morning in early fall. The air was chilly and snow was predicted, so the organizers of the food distribution had moved what was usually an outdoor activity into the church.

Usually all of us poor folks gathered on the north side of the church, picked up our numbers to mark our places in line, and waited around for our turn to gather our food. I always tried to find a spot in the shade to wait, either sitting on one of the folding chairs set against the side of the building or in a patch of gravel a little ways from the crowd. I usually brought a few postcards to write while I waited for my number to be called.

On this day, I found everyone waiting on the south side of the church, near the door we would enter when our time came. There were only a few folding chairs set out, and they were all taken by ladies older than I was.

I looked around for a patch of shade. Even on a chilly day, the sun beating on my head makes me feel week and ill. Unfortunately, I hadn’t brought my sunhat.

I found a shady spot in front of a car in the row of parking spots along the front of the building. I sat down on the railroad tie barrier in front of the car since I didn’t want to sit in the gravel between the parking area and the sidewalk. Some ladies stood on the sidewalk parallel to the gravel area in front of me These ladies were at a right angle to the entrance door. They faced the sidewalk that led to the entrance door. That bit of concrete slanted slightly uphill, to make it easier for someone using a wheelchair to get to the door.

I was busy writing to my sibling when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman approach from my right. She walked slowly, as if her legs were stiff or maybe she was in pain. When she approached the women standing at a right angle to the entrance, she stepped off the concrete to go around them. While they weren’t totally blocking the sidewalk, they were taking up most of it. I’m sure the approaching woman thought it would be easier to step off the sidewalk and go around them.

Something went wrong when the woman tried to step onto the sidewalk perpendicular to where the other women were standing. I think the walking woman failed to see that she needed to take a small step up. Because of the sidewalk’s incline, the part she tried to step on was about three inches above ground level.

Of course, I didn’t witness any of this prelude to what happened next. I had to piece it all together later.

The lady must have hit her foot on the concrete, and she stumbled. I heard a panicked voice shout, Watch out! I looked up in time to see a wide polar-fleeced butt descending upon me. I reflexively reached out my hand and used it to prop up the woman’s butt. It was an act equal parts Good Samaritan and self-preservation.

While I was supporting the woman from below, one of the ladies standing near the entrance door grabbed the falling women by the arm. Our combined efforts set the falling woman back on her feet.

For God’s sake, Nancy! one of her friends sitting in a folding chair exclaimed.

As soon as I could, I jumped up from my seat on the railroad tie. I worried the witnesses might think the near catastrophe was my fault even though I was well off the sidewalk. I suspected the elderly ladies thought I was the one at fault because I was the freak sitting low to the ground.

I tried to stand on the sidewalk behind the ladies by the door, bu the sun was beating down on me there. I ended up moving behind a minivan casting a shadow, a place were I could stay out of the sun and wouldn’t be crushed in an old lady pile up.

Risky Behavior

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I didn’t see many children during my brief career as a clerk in a supermarket fuel center. I suppose most of the youngsters who visited the gas station stayed in the car during the fueling process.

Once I did see a tween boy remove the nozzle from the pump and place it in the family car. He held the nozzle in place during the pumping process. Technically no one too young to legally drive was supposed to pump gas, but I didn’t run out of the kiosk to stop the boy. He wasn’t horsing around, and an adult woman was right there with him to help if anything went wrong. I figured the boy was probably as bright as the least savvy customers I’d encountered in that fuel center.

Occasionally adults sent children up to the kiosk to pay for fuel or buy snacks. Usually it was obvious the adult had not coached the child before sending it up to complete the transaction. Kids typically didn’t know what pump they were putting money on or how to lift the lid on the drawer through which I accepted money and returned change. Of course, plenty of adults didn’t know those things either, so I cut the kids some slack. At least children had the excuses of their tender age and inexperience.

During the last Friday I worked at the fuel center, I witnessed a child in a situation I could barely believe, especially since the adult guardians enabled the surprising behavior.

I’d returned from the supermarket where I had pulled merchandise to restock what we’d recently sold at the fuel center. I was standing outside the kiosk, waiting for my coworker to open the door for me. Outside the kiosk, standing on the other side of the bulletproof glass from my coworker were two adult women and two kids. Neither woman looked more than 35 years old. The older kid was 12 or 13 and the little kid was probably 6. The little kid was bouncing around begging for something. I was only partially paying attention to the interaction between the little kid and the woman. I was mostly thinking about getting off work in a few minutes and going home to cook dinner. 

At some point, I realized the little kid was begging for a Bang® energy drink.

The Bang® energy drinks were in a tall (probably 3 feet high) round cooler decorated to look like a can of the beverage. The cooler was on wheels and was brought out of the kiosk and plugged in each morning. At night the cooler had to be unplugged and rolled back into the kiosk. We didn’t sell many of the drinks (Red Bull® and Monster® were probably the two most popular brands of energy drink we sold) and for some reason no variety of Bang® ever showed up on our replenishment list. I don’t know who kept the Bang® cooler stocked. No one told me anything about it, so I didn’t worry my pretty little head.

Occasionally I opened the Bang® cooler to return to the upright position any of the cans that had fallen on their sides during the daily taking out and bringing in. A can must have burst in the cooler at some time in the past because the walls and sides harbored sticky residue and an overpowering scent of (fake) cotton candy. I like sweets, but the intense aroma of artificial candy flavor nearly made me sick to my stomach.

According to the Bang® website,

BANG® is not your stereotypical high sugar, life-sucking soda masquerading as an energy drink! Power up with BANG’s potent brain & body-rocking fuel: Creatine, Caffeine, & BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids).

Under the “WARNINGS” section on the same website, I found this disclaimer:

Not recommended for use by children under 18 years of age.

Strange, the product’s own website says it’s not for children, but the list of available flavors include kid-appealing yummies like Birthday Cake Bash, Cotton Candy, Rainbow Unicorn, Sour Heads, and Root Beer. Sure, sure, adults can and do like those flavors too, but it seems a little strange to go with such sweetness while trying to appeal to a market that “consists principally of fitness enthusiasts” (according to Wikipedia.)

Also under the “WARNINGS” section of the Bang® website is the admission that

one serving [a 16 ounce can] of BANG provides 300mg of caffeine which is more than three cups of coffee.

For further comparison, 16 ounces of Red Bull has about 160mg of caffeine, a Starbucks Grande Caffe Americano contains 225mg of caffeine per 16 ounce cup, and 16 ounces of Mountain Dew contains about 73mg of caffeine.  Coke Classic offers only a paltry 45mg of caffeine per 16 ounce serving. I think we can all admit that consumers of Bang® get an awfully big caffeine bang for their buck.

So why shouldn’t kids enjoy a Bang® energy drink and its 300mg of caffeine? According to the February 2015 article “Why Energy Drinks and Your Children Don’t Mix” on the Cleveland Clinic website,

Energy drinks won’t only cause your young children to bounce off the walls—they may cause an irregular heartbeat, too.

The article goes on to say that a study presented at an American Heart Association (AHA) meeting showed that kids younger than 6 made up more than 40% of emergency calls related to energy drinks.

The effects the energy drinks had on the children included heart arrhythmia and seizures.

The AHA said this was

because many energy drinks contain pharmaceutical-grade caffeine in addition to caffeine from natural sources…These combined sources of caffeine may cause the heart to race and blood pressure to increase.

According to the article,

The American Academy of Pediatrics prefers children consume no caffeine at all.

While the possible health effects of high levels of caffeine on children are disturbing, that bouncing off the walls thing would be enough to keep me from giving an energy drink to a child. Most kids I’ve known have had plenty of energy without introducing 300mg (or even 100mg or 50mg) of caffeine into the equation. Apparently the woman the little kid was begging for a Bang® had no such concerns, because she agreed to buy him one!

I couldn’t even believe it! Does that seem like a good idea? I wanted to call out to her. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to me! I wanted to tell her. But who am I to tell someone what to feed her child? I am no one. I kept my mouth shut.

Once the woman agreed to buy the Bang® for the little kid, both women urged the older kid to get an energy drink too. The older kid picked a Monster with a more manageable 160mg of caffeine in the 16 ounce can.

My coworker rang up the two energy drinks and whatever else the group had decided to buy for their Friday night fun. Once he collected payment and gave them change, he opened the back door for me.

I wonder how that’s going to work out for her, he was muttering as he let me in. I knew he was talking about the woman who’d just provided a very large amount of a stimulant to a very small child.

I shrugged. Maybe this would be the night the woman learned that children and caffeine simply shouldn’t mix.

Thankful Thursdays

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The Man and I started a new tradition on Thanksgiving Day this year. I had a small blank book a friend found on a free shelf at a local thrift store and gave to me because of the sun on the cover. I decided the book would be a gratitude journal. I asked The Man if he would participate in filling the gratitude journal with me, and he agreed.

I found “50 Inspiring Gratitude Quotes” on Shutterfly and picked four of them to write on the book’s inside covers.

Two quotes read: "The root of joy is gratefulness."-- David Steindl-Rast and "Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty."--Doris Day
Two inspiring gratitude quotes. Looks like I forgot to cross the “t” in David Steindl-Rast’s name. Sorry about that, sir.

Our goal is to each write five things we are grateful for every day. Some days we get busy and forget to write our gratitude, but we try to pick up the next day. The book is not very thick, but when it is full, we’ll each have a record of about 150 things, people, and experiences for which we are thankful.

A man and dog stand on the edge of a cliff looking down at trees.
I’m grateful for The Man and Jerico the dog every day.

Sometimes it seems difficult to think of new things to appreciate. I’m thankful for The Man and Jerico the dog every day. Ditto LED lights, eggs, and our 4 wheel drive truck. The challenge I enjoy is identifying new things for which I feel gratitude.

In the spirit of recognizing new things for which I am grateful, I’m starting Thankful Thursdays here at the Rubber Tramp Artist blog. At least once a month (maybe more) I will share gratitude with my readers. Sometimes I’ll give a shout out to the people who support me and the blog monetarily, either by buying my crafts, becoming my patron on Patreon, or making a one-time donation. Other times I’ll thank the people who give me emotional and mental support. Sometimes I’ll share a quote pertaining to gratitude. Will you join me in making 2020 a year of thanks?

Two more gratitude quotes read: "When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears."--Anthony Robbins and "When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around."--Willie Nelson
Words of wisdom on gratitude from Anthony Robbins and Willie Nelson

I’ll start today with this list of the people who’ve given me financial and material support in the past couple months. Thanks to all of you who help me pay the bills and send goodies. I appreciate each of you.

List of gratitude. List reads: I'm grateful for Nancy, my newest patron on Patreon. I'm grateful for Shannan who sends me a donation every month. I'm grateful for Brent who contributed financially this month and has done so in the past. I'm grateful for Keri who bought two hats from me. I'm grateful for Val who bought a hat from me. I'm grateful for Bette Rae who bought a hat from me. I'm grateful for Felicia and Liz who sent yarn. I'm grateful to Jennifer who sent postcards. I'm grateful for Keith, my computer guy who is also a Patreon patron.
My list of gratitude. Gerry sent postcards too! Sorry I forgot to put her on the handwritten list.

What are you grateful for today? Please share your gratitude in the comments section below.

I took all of the photos in this post.

If you would like to support me, click on the “Become a patron” button at the top of the column on the right, or click on the “donate” button in the middle of that column.

15 Tips for Staying Comfortable in the Cold

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Heart shaped cactus pad with snow along the top edge
Winter love from the desert

Winter is here and folks need to stay warm whether they’re living in a tent, a van or other vehicle, a motorhome, a travel trailer, or a poorly insulated conventional home. Last week I told you how a hot water bottle tucked under the covers can help keep you warm on a cold winter night. Today I’ll give you fifteen more tips for staying warm and comfy when the temperature drops.

Thanks to Laura-Marie of dangerous compassions blog for asking me to write about staying at a comfortable temperature.

#1 Wear enough clothes.When we were kids, if my sibling or I complained about being cold, our dad would immediately look us over to see how we were dressed. If we were wearing short pants or a short-sleeved t-shirt, he’d send us to put on appropriate clothes before he’d consider turning up the heat. (Dad was also fond of saying, What you gonna do when winter gets here? meaning it wasn’t even cold yet, so we shouldn’t be complaining. As a smartass teenager, I took to answering this question with one word: Freeze.)

Some mornings when The Man gets out of bed before I do, I hear him in the living room complaining about how cold he is. Often when I peer out of the bedroom, I see he’s wearing a sweatshirt (good job!) and shorts. Put some pants on, I mumble from my warm nest under the covers.

In any case, if you’re cold, follow my father’s directive and try putting on adequate clothing. Wearing a sweater or a jacket can really help keep you comfortable when it’s cold. And for goodness sake, if you’re chilly, be sure you’re wearing pants!

#2 Wear warm socks.When I moved to the Midwest from the Deep South, a friend who’d lived in Minneapolis for decades advised me to invest in warm socks. Good advice! Keeping your toes warm will definitely help keep you comfortable during a chilly day or night.

Styrofoam head mannequin wears a bright, handmade hat
My old friend Esmerelda knows wearing a hat will help keep your whole self warm.

#3 Wear a hat too.  You may have heard people say you lose 50% of your body heat through your head and wearing a hat keeps that heat in. The Live Science website reports

At most, according to a 2008 report in BMJ, a person loses 7 percent to 10 percent of their body heat through their head…

but I feel a lot warmer when I’m wearing a hat. Hat hair be damned! I wear a snug hat on cold days and on cold nights as well so I can conserve as much of my body heat as possible.

#4 Keep your ears warm. Cold ears are unhappy ears, as far as I’m concerned. Ears exposed to frigid winter air are also susceptible to frostbite, so I keep my ears covered. I like to keep my ears warm even when I’m sleeping. If my ears get cold while I’m asleep, I tend to bring my shoulders way up, as if I could bring them up high enough to shield my ears from the chilly air. Having my shoulders in this unnatural position at night can lead to a daytime ache between my shoulder blades. I like to wear a hat I can pull down over my ears, but you can achieve the same results by wearing earmuffs, ear pops, or a scarf wrapped around your head.

#5 Dress in layers. I hate hate hate dressing warmly enough for the outside weather only to go inside (a store, the library, the laundromat) and find the heater is turned up too high for my comfort. Dressing in layers is the best way to deal with the difference between the outside and inside temps. Simply putting a t-shirt or tank top under your sweater means you can peel off a layer without exposing a socially unacceptable amount of skin.

#6 Throw a blanket over your lap when you’re sitting around during the day. A lap blanket can help hold in your body heat and keep you cozy whether you’re reading, talking on your phone, or doing crossword puzzles. If you have access to electricity, consider using an electric blanket to keep you toasty warm while sitting still. According to the How Stuff Works article “How Much Does It Cost to Run an Electric Blanket?

An electric blanket might consume 200 watts (depending on the setting). So if you leave it on for 10 hours, it consumes 2 kilowatt-hours. That would cost between 15 and 30 cents, depending on your location.

Dog lying on its back is in the center of photo. On the right side a blanket is wrapped around a person's lower torso. A laptop is on the right side of the photo. The screen says "working on blog posts."
I was working on blog posts one cold day, and the whole family crawled into bed with me so we could share body heat.

#7 Share body heat. Whether it’s day or night, if you have an pet or human companion, consider cuddling to maximize body heat. Invite your cat or dog to sit on your lap or your best friend or sweetheart to sit close and share a blanket with you. Personally, if I’m under a down comforter with The Man and the dog, I usually get too hot and have to throw the covers off so I can cool down.

#8 If you feel cold, eat or drink something hot to warm you up from the inside out. Drinking hot cocoa, coffee, or hot tea should warm you right up. If you are avoiding calories, sugar, or caffeine but still crave flavor, drink herbal tea or add a slice or lemon or lime to hot water. If you make a big batch of your hot beverage of choice, you can store it in an insulated bottle for sipping throughout the day or night.

Do I even have to mention the warming benefits of hot soup? You already know the benefits of hot soup, right? Actually, any hot food should help you feel warmer, but there is something special about hot soup on a cold day.

#9 Get active. If the weather outside is frightful, you might be tempted to sit around indoors all day. If you’re cold even inside, try moving around a bit if possible. Do some stretches. Jog in place or do jumping jacks if you have room. Maybe you can even bundle up and brave the elements for some outdoor activities. When I lived in the Midwest, I sometimes went out walking in 16 degree weather so I could experience a change of scenery and get some exercise. After a brisk walk, my blood was pumping and I was warm, and as an added bonus, the indoors felt toastier when I came in from the cold.

#10 Hang out somewhere warm. If it’s too cold where you live, spend a few hours at a library, coffee shop, movie theater, or even the mall. For a few bucks (or maybe no cost at all), you can take advantage of the warmth already being cranked out by someone else’s heater.

Saguaro cactus with many arms stands in front of jagged mountains
The warmth of the desert beckons you.

If you’re living nomadically and you can swing it, go to a warmer climate. Both the Sonoran and Chijuajuan deserts tend to stay warm in the winter. If you want to be even warmer, stay in Mexico until spring. (For tips on living in the desert, read my post “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert.”)

#12 When you go to bed at night, cover yourself with good blankets. Down blankets are super warm. I haven’t been cold at night since I scored a down comforter at a Goodwill Clearance Center. If you don’t have a down comforter (or don’t believe it’s right to use animal products), consider sleeping inside a sleeping bag. I spent quite possibly the coldest night of my vanlife on public land outside of Mt. Shasta, CA. I’d spread my sleeping bad out like a blanket, and thought I was going to freeze to death. (I didn’t really think I was in danger of death, but dang. I was uncomfortable that night.) The next evening I zipped the bag on all three sides, crawled inside, and spent a warm and comfortable night in the same spot. Sleeping in the cocoon of the sleeping bag keeps you inside a bubble of your own nice, warm body heat. 

Person seen in bed from the waist down wearing leggings and socks.
That’s me wearing leggings and a thermal shirt to bed because nighttime temperatures on the mountain were dropping.

#13 Sleep with clothes on. It’s a persistent myth among some overnight outdoor enthusiasts that sleeping nude within a sleeping bag will keep a person warmer than sleeping in the bag while wearing clothes. However, this myth was busted by several hiking and backpacking websites. The Columbia blog , Section Hiker, Backpacker and Outside all say wearing clothes to bed is a good idea. As the Columbia article “Is Sleeping Naked Really Warmer?” explains,

[t]he more layers of air you can create around your body, the warmer you’ll be. So wearing clothes inside of your sleeping bag will help you stay warm.

#11 Change your clothes before bed. When you’re all snuggly warm in the garments you’ve worn all day, changing clothes may not seem appealing, especially if your living space is cold. However, even if it’s imperceivable to you, the clothes you’ve been wearing are a little damp from your sweat. The dampness of your clothes is going to make you cold while you’re sleeping, so put on clothes that are warm and dry. At the very least, change your socks.

The Section Hiker article “Is It Warmer to Sleep Naked in a Sleeping Bag?” lists some times when wearing clothes in a sleeping bag will not keep a person warmer. One such time is when

[y]ou wear wet clothing which compromises the insulation in your sleeping bag as the heat of your body dries it. The moisture in your clothes doesn’t just disappear: it gets trapped by the sleeping bag’s insulation which degrades its effectiveness…

The best practice is to wear a dry base layer (top, bottom, socks, and hat) in your sleeping bag at night…to keep you warmer in cooler weather. These should be loose-fitting to prevent your hands or feet from getting cold due to loss of circulation and to help trap warmer air near the surface of your skin.

Bear box and evergreen trees are dusted with snow. Ground is covered with snow.

#14 Pee if you have to pee. We all know it’s a pain to leave a warm spot (in bed or on the couch) to go to the restroom, especially if the restroom is cold and we have to remove a significant portion of our clothing to do what has to be done. It’s even worse if we have to move in the dark and/or go outside to get to where we need to go to relieve ourselves.

I once read in a guide to winter camping (something like the Backpacker website’s article “15 Cold-Weather Camping Tips to Keep You Warm While You Sleep“) that people tend to feel colder if they try to hold their urine instead of leaving the tent (or bed) in order to pee. It would be a bad deal if the urine in your bladder froze because your body was working to keep the rest of you warm. To avoid such a situation, your body works hard (and burns calories) to keep the urine inside of you warm. Get rid of the urine, and your body can use its resources to keep the rest of your comfortable.

#15 Keep your kidneys warm. A friend once told me about keeping my kidneys warm to keep the rest of me warm when we were camping out. She maintained that if one’s kidneys get cold, all the blood passing through the kidneys gets cold too. When the cold blood flows through the body, it makes the entire body cold. Her solution was to wrap something warm (a blanket or a scarf, perhaps) around the area of her kidneys. (While researching this post, I found out a product–the Haramaki–exists especially for this purpose). My friend also recommended using a sleeping pad under a sleeping bag for added warmth. I think this tip would be especially important for people sleeping on the cold ground or the cold floor of a van.

Roof of green yurt and path to door covered in snow

So there you go—15 tips for staying comfortable when the weather is cold. What do you do to stay warm in the winter? Please leave your tips in the comments section below.

If you’re interested in winter camping, read Danny Smith’s guest post “A Guide to Winter Camping: Stay Warm, Have Fun” first published on February 2019. You can also read my post “Staying Warm” which was written during my first days as a camp host in the mountains.

Please remember that Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety and well-being. Only you are responsible for your safety and well-being. If you are in a dangerously cold situation, move to a warmer location. Ask for help if you need to. Frostbite and hypothermia are no jokes, friends.

I took the photos in this post.

Nice Customers

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As I’ve said before, I tend to write about people who are rude or hostile or strange or interesting. Those people make for better stories although perhaps not for a better day. However, not all customers I encountered at the supermarket fuel center where I worked (briefly) were rude or hostile. I had unremarkable encounters with most customers and some interactions that were actually pleasant.

You give great customer service, one woman said to me through the intercom. She liked the chitchat she told me, although I was actually keeping it to a minimum because the intercom system was such a piece of crap.

Thanks for confirming how much gas I want and what pump I’m on, another lady told me. The others don’t do that. I didn’t tell her I repeated the information in hopes of stopping mistakes before I made them, but I was glad she appreciated the effort.

They should clone you, an older woman with a Southern drawl said one afternoon as I was loading sodas into the cooler. I guess she’d seen me hustling around the fuel center on previous visits and thought I was doing a good job.

(I told one of the assistant store managers about the cloning remark during my last week on the job and she said, I know. We’re really going to be hurting without you here.)

I like your hair, a gal told me shyly at the end of our transaction. I thanked her even though I thought it probably looked weird. I’d hacked off the bottom to chin length a few weeks earlier, and I knew it was choppy and uneven. I thanked her anyway, and she said, The color is really nice. That sweet person really made my day.

Most of the people I went outside to help use the pumps were really grateful and thanked me for my assistance. Of course, some folks seemed to become angrier when I got their debit and credit cards to work, but most customers were glad for my help even if they were embarrassed by their own mistakes.

One day a man came up to the kiosk, and I said (as I did to most customers), Hi! How can I help you today? I found out what pump he was on and how much money he wanted to spend on fuel. I gave him his receipt and his change and thanked him.

Thank you, he said. Thank you for being here.

 I suspect he liked paying cash, so he was glad I was there to receive his payment, but I also like to think he was happy see my smile and to have someone pay a little positive attention to him.

Tweaker and the Jack

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That morning The Man had found out the lady he worked for had been hit by a truck. We didn’t have all the details, but we knew she was at the large university hospital being treated for a broken leg.

It was evening now, and I was headed home into the sunset after an afternoon of working on my blog at the public library. I was about seven miles from home, on the stretch of state highway where tourists often stopped to observe bighorn sheep living their wild lives.

8 bighorn sheep stand in the sage grazing
Bighorn sheep living their wild lives

About a quarter mile ahead I saw two cars, one parked on the eastbound side of the of the road, the other on the westbound side. Two women were crossing the highway. One woman was plump and wore a loose earth tone shirt over loose earth tone pants. Her dark, frizzy hair hung to her shoulders. The other woman had strawberry blond hair pulled back in a severe bun. She work black denim cutoffs and a tank top that barely concealed her black bra and barely contained her large, pale breasts.

Stupid tourists, I muttered to myself as I slowed the truck way down.

As I got closer to the women, a medium-sized dog jumped out of the open window of the car parked on the right. It bounded across the highway after its people. I brought the truck to a complete stop.

The woman with dark hair stopped in the middle of the highway, turned around, and spoke to the dog. The dog turned around, bounded back to the car, and jumped through the window it had come out of.

The woman with the bun made an elaborate arm gesture to me, the kind a fellow pretending to be a fancy gentleman might make to indicate, After you, madam.

I drove slowly past the women, wondering if the dog was going to dart out in front of me again or if one of the women was going to change her mind and try to scoot across the highway. After I passed the two parked cars, I pulled off on the barely-there narrow shoulder of the road.

To add to my questions (Who were these women?  Why were they stopped on the side of the road? Where were the bighorn sheep I thought they’d stopped to see?), while I was stopped I’d realized a friend of mine was parked on the opposite side of the road. She was on the shoulder of the eastbound lane, near the other parked car, but the front of her truck was facing west. As I drove slowly past I looked over to the driver’s side of the truck and confirmed, yep, that was my friend.

I only pulled off out of concern for my friend. As for as I could tell, the two women and the dog weren’t experiencing any distress, but I didn’t know what my friend might be dealing with.

My friend must have recognized my vehicle because by the time I got out of my truck, she’d pulled hers around and was parked behind me.

I was very cautious when I got out of my truck and walked on the narrow shoulder over to my friend’s Toyota. As soon as I could I got away from the highway and walked over to her passenger side. I was definitely thinking of The Man’s employer and her recent accident. No way did I want to get hit by a vehicle going 55 (or faster) on a state highway.

Are you ok? Are you ok? I asked my friend as I approached her vehicle.

She said she was fine. It’s her, she said pointing to the woman with the bun and short shorts who was now running across the road to our side. She needs a jack.

I need a jack, the woman echoed.

Oh, boy, I thought. I was torn between wanting to help and wanting to get home. I really didn’t want to hang out so close to the highway, but I knew I should help people in need.

I’ll get my jack, I told the woman with the bun.

I went back to my truck. I knew the jack was screwed down under the rear seat on the driver’s side. To get to the rear seat, I had to open the back door.  To open the back door, I had to open the front door. I couldn’t open either door very much because doing so would put the doors in danger of being smashed by someone driving too close to the shoulder.

I stood against the truck, the two doors resting against my body while I tried to lift the back seat to get to the jack. Suddenly the back door opened and the woman with the bun was standing next to me.

I told her I was getting the jack and would meet her at her vehicle. She didn’t budge.

I told her again that I was getting the jack and said she should go wait for me over there while pointing toward my friend’s vehicle. She still didn’t budge.

It was at that moment I began to suspect all was not right with this woman. First of all, no reasonable person would stand as close to the highway as she was standing if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. Secondly, no person with any concept of the distance Americans like to keep between themselves and strangers would have put herself so close to me. Also, no one with an understanding of privacy would have put herself all up in my business inside my truck. Finally, I’d told her twice that she should step away from my vehicle. Of course, I’d been trying to be polite and hadn’t literally said step away from my vehicle, but I think most people would realize meet you at your car and wait for me over there meant the same thing.

I didn’t smell alcohol emanating from the woman’s pores or breath, and she wasn’t swaying or acting tipsy in any way. I figured she was maybe a bit socially awkward, but probably on meth. She had that swagger, that self-assurance. Someone on meth would be prone to think I needed her right there to hold the back door open for me and help me get the jack from under the seat. She likely thought she was the center of the whole damn universe and needed to be involved in every aspect of every single thing that was happening.

Look, I said to her.  Someone I know got hit by a car today. I don’t want you (or me, I thought to myself) getting hit by a car, so you go stand over there (I pointed in the direction of my friend’s truck again)  while I get the jack.

She still didn’t move. I don’t want you to get hit by a car either, she simpered.

At that point I should have just left, but the woman was still right next to me and not moving. I would have had to attempted to physically move her if I were going to leave. Besides, my friend was still out there. I didn’t want to leave her alone in this mess. Perhaps if I let the woman with the bun use my jack, we could all go home.

My irritation must have finally registered in the brain of the woman with the bun because she started in with Never mind. I don’t have a four way anyway. I won’t be able to change the tire anyway. Never mind. She sounded like a little kid who’s decided the world doesn’t love her because she’s not being allowed to have her way.

Oh no! I thought. I’m in this now. You’re going to use this jack! (My stubborn nature will probably be my downfall.)

Something (I have no idea what) caused the woman to (finally) step away from my truck and head back to her car, still calling out, Never mind. I don’t have a four way. Never mind.

With the jack finally I my hand, I left my truck. As I passed my friend’s truck, I shook my head and muttered uncharitably, Fucking tweaker.

Oh, I know! my friend said. She’s as high as a kite. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who had noticed the woman’s unusual behavior.

I carefully crossed the highway with the jack and all its accessories in my arms. You can bet I looked both ways before I walked across. When I got to the bun woman’s car, she’d flipped a bunch of tool into the storage area of her hatchback and pulled her spare tire from some compartment. She was still moaning about not having a four way, but I was pretty sure I saw a red four way half covered by a floor mat (or something) there in the back among the piles of stuff.

Ummm…isn’t that a four way right there? I asked pointing.

She rummaged around and pulled out the red four way. I was the best! I was the greatest she exclaimed. (She could have been the best and the greatest too, had she only looked a little more carefully.)

I handed her my jack, and she took it and her four way to the passenger side of her Subaru. As I stepped as far away from the highway as I could, I finally saw the source of the problem I was now involved in. The rear tire on the back passenger side was not just flat; it was shredded. Poor gal’s tire had blown out on her way to town.

My friend had turned her small truck around again and was now parked behind the Subaru. She got out of her truck and walked over to me. We stood in the dry grass on the shoulder of the road and watched as the woman with the bun lift her car off the shredded tire.

How did you get involved in this?  I asked my friend.

The woman with the bun had showed up at the outdoor market where my friend was vending and said she needed a jack. My friend didn’t have a jack but thought she might be able to help in some way, so she drove her truck over to meet the Subaru. Now she felt as if she needed to stay until the situation was resolved.

The woman with the frizzy hair was not pleased with the situation. She didn’t think my jack was big enough. I figured if it was big enough to lift my giant truck, it would do ok with a Subaru station wagon, but I kept my thoughts to myself. The woman with the frizzy hair was also concerned that the shoulder where the Subaru was parked slanted down and then dropped away into a grassy area. She was afraid the car was going to topple over onto her friend while she changed the tire.

It was getting colder as the sun sank lower. The wind was blowing pretty hard too. I was chilly in my long skirt and short sleeved blouse. The woman with the bun was wearing a lot less clothing than I was, but she had physical activity and (probably) drugs coursing through her veins to keep her warm.

The woman with the frizzy hair made a phone call. She needs help, she said to the person on the other end of the line. She’s cold. She doesn’t have a jacket. She was obviously talking about her friend dealing with the blown out tire.

She needs a jack, the woman with the frizzy hair continued. Don’t you have a jack? she asked, then begged, Can’t you come and help?

The guy must have said he’d come over because the woman with the frizzy hair got off the phone.

By this time the woman with the bun had lifted her Subaru, but her friend begged her to wait for the fellow with the jack to arrive. The guy only lived a couple miles away, she said, He’d show up soon, and his jack was better anyway.

If the guy was coming with a better jack, I ventured aloud, maybe I could take my jack and be on my way.

The woman with the bun stood up from where she’d been sitting on the ground while removing the flat tire. She had ignored her friend’s pleading for her to wait for the man with the jack. It appeared she planned to get ‘er done. She walked over to the back of her car and rummaged around in the hatchback storage area again. When she stepped away from the hatchback, she was holding…a jack. It was the same size and design as the one I’d loaned her. She’d had a perfectly adequate jack the whole time. Why was I standing in the cold wind next to the highway?

Now there was a frenzy of activity. My jack was removed and her jack replaced it. I regained possession of my equipment.

I guess I’ll go, I told my friend. More than anything, I wanted to get off the side of the highway and go home, but I didn’t want to leave my friend alone in the middle of a fiasco.

My friend assured me she was fine and I could go. She said she would stay with the women until the guy arrived with the better jack. I knew I wouldn’t be any of any help even if I stayed, so I carried my jack across the road to my truck, hopped in, and headed home.

When I got home, I texted my friend to ask if the guy had arrived with the jack and if my friend was on her way home. She texted back and said she was on her way home. She said the guy with the jack had never shown up. The woman with the bun had taken off the shredded tire and put on the spare all on her own. Turns out she didn’t need anything but some moral support.

bighorn sheep looks at the camera
Bighorn sheep living its wild life in a rest area

I took the photos in this post.

In Praise of Hot Water Bottles and Sleeping Alone

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The beginning of winter is upon us. To help you prepare for cold weather sleeping, especially if you sleep alone in a van, car, or poorly insulated RV, here’s my story about how an improvised hot water bottle saved my cold butt.

You grow up with movies, books, television shows, and advertisements

Two People Laying on a Bed Covered With a Floral Comforter

telling you that when you find a romantic/sexual/love partner you’re going to sleep in the same bed. You learn the cuddling and snuggling (not to mention the s-e-x) will be amazing, and it is, until one of you (me) starts snoring and the other person (a light sleeper) can’t get any rest.

The Man tried using earplugs, and they helped for a while, but my snores apparently penetrated the orange spongy foam and hit his eardrums. I tired Breathe Right nasal strips (and their inferior competitor Clear Passage nasal strips) to stop my snoring. Again, they helped only for a while.

His tossing and turning while trying to get back to sleep woke me up, and if that wasn’t enough to disturb my sleep, him saying Honey? Honey! and asking me to roll over onto my left side certainly was.

Sleep deprivation brings out a demon in me. Lack of sleep makes me not just grumpy but downright angry. I think The Man harbors the same type of demon. We both knew it wasn’t my fault I was snoring, but he seemed to take it very personally. I knew he was only waking me and asking me to roll over out of self-preservation, but still I was furious at him for interrupting my sleep.

I went off to house sit for two weeks, and each of us got a fortnight of blissful sleep uninterrupted by snores, tossing, turning, the middle of the night bathroom needs of another person, or calls for dream analysis in the wee hours. We were both well rested and no longer angry at each other, so we tried sleeping together again.

We didn’t even have one happy night together. My first night home, I passed out and started snoring  before he even drifted off. He woke me up several times in the night asking me to roll onto my left side, which I did. I’m a natural back sleeper, so I always returned to my back (and my snores) as soon as I reached a deep level of sleep. At 4am, The Man clicked on the light and exclaimed that our sleeping arrangement wasn’t working for him. It wasn’t working for me either. Our sleeping demons were back.

During my childhood my maternal grandparents slept in twin beds across the room from each other. This arrangement always confused me. Every other married couple I knew—my parents, my aunts and uncles, the people on TV—shared a bed. Didn’t my grandparents love each other? I realize now that it’s possible to like and love someone and not want to spend 8 hours out of each 24 in bed next to that person. (I also realize that the sleeping arrangement of my grandparents may have come from the desire to be good Catholics while feeling like their seven children were all the mouths they wanted to feed and butts they wanted to diaper).

Because The Man and I didn’t have the luxury of space enough for separate beds (much less the separate rooms it would really require for him to get away from my snores), I offered to sleep in my van. He protested, but it was really the easiest solution. There was already a bed in my van, but his camp cot had been folded and taken out of his minivan. My van was a mess, and it was easier for me to clear a small space on the bed for my short self rather than clean up the whole space so he could be comfortable. Also, The Man likes to wake up early, make coffee, and meditate. I sleep late and don’t move around before sunrise, so it made more sense for The Man to stay in the fifth wheel (where we were living at the time) where he could stand up and use the stove. I had no doubt I would be totally fine in my van. After all, I’d slept in my van before, and I knew someday I’d sleep in it again. Apparently, the sleeping in it again day had come sooner than I had expected.   

Selective Focus of Frozen Tree Twigs

Unfortunately, my return to the van coincided with an epic cold snap. Down in the southern Sonoran Desert where we were staying that winter, temperatures seldom drop below freezing. However, the first few nights I slept in my van, temperatures went down to the high 20s. Brrr!

I had plenty of warm clothes. I put on Cuddl Duds leggings, then pulled on flannel pajama pants. On top I wore a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, and the matching flannel pajama shirt. I put warm socks on my feet and a warm hat on my head. I was suited up for winter.

My bed was suited up for winter too. I have a down comforter that I scored for a great price at a Goodwill Clearance Center in Phoenix. (Whoever brought it to the desert learned they didn’t need it.) This comforter often keeps me too warm if the temperature is over 45 degrees, so I knew it would keep me toasty on a freezing night. The only thing I worried about were the long minutes after I slipped into bed and before my body heat warmed up my surroundings. The mattress was going to be cold. The sheets were going to be cold. The comforter was going to be cold.

I harkened back to my days living in the Midwest. I’d seen snow there and temperatures as low as -16 degrees. I lived in a series of poorly insulated homes, and in attempt to save money, never set the thermostat higher than 68 degrees. Nights were cold, even when I dressed warmly and slept under a pile of blankets. To stay warm, especially when I first crawled into my cold bed, I’d take a hot water bottle under the covers with me.

Back in the Midwest, I used a hot water bottle I’d gotten in perfect condition

Silver Kettle over Burner

at a thrift store. I’d bring a pot of water to almost boiling (measured with a candy thermometer which must have come from a thrift store too), then carefully pour the hot water into the red container. I’d slip the hot water bottle into the polar fleece (acquired at the thrift store, of course) cozy I’d hand sewn for it and slide it into my bed to warm things up while I brushed my teeth and washed my face.

In my fifth wheel in the desert, I had no hot water bottle, no candy thermometer, no polar fleece cozy, but I knew a bottle of hot water would make the beginning of each night much more comfortable. I looked around for what I could use. Because of a lid that can be screwed down tight and the thick plastic it’s made from, a Nalgene bottle would have worked great. Alas, all of my Nalgene bottles were in use holding ice in the cooler we used since we had no working refrigerator. I remembered I’d just thrown away an empty plastic bottle cooking oil had come in, so I fished it out of the trash and washed it while my water was heating.

The plastic the bottle was made from was fairly thin, and I didn’t want to melt it, so I only heated the water until it was quite hot to the touch. Then I poured it into the cooking oil bottle and carried it out to the van. I slipped the bottle full of hot water under my comforter, then went back inside to brush my teeth. When I returned to the van, my sleeping area was nice and warm. The water bottle stayed hot for hours and if any part of me (my feet, my butt) got cold, I just moved the bottle to the spot that needed some heat. I was awake using the internet on my phone for a couple of hours, and I was perfectly warm under my comforter with my makeshift hot water bottle next to me.

I slept great that night. If I snored, I never knew. The Man said he slept great too. He got out of bed when he was ready and didn’t have to worry about bothering me. In the nights that followed, we sometimes missed cuddling, but not as much as we would have missed a night of good sleep.

I recommend a hot water bottle for anyone sleeping in a cold climate, whether you sleep in a van, a house, an apartment, or an old RV. Use a bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Make sure the lid is tightly closed before throwing the bottle into your bed. Be careful that the water is not hot enough to melt the plastic of the bottle or burn your skin. If the bottle is too hot to touch, wrap it in a towel, shirt, or other random piece of cloth you have lying around. Depending on the size of your bottle, it may fit in an old (clean!) sock that’s missing its mate.

If you are living in your vehicle and are parking for the night at a truck stop, you can find hot (usually very hot) water with the coffee dispensers. If you don’t feel right about filling up your bottle with hot water without permission, ask the cashier if you can have some and offer to pay.

Please remember that Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety. You are responsible for yourself! Hot water can be dangerous! Be careful!  Don’t melt your bottle. Don’t spill hot water on yourself. Don’t burn yourself on a hot bottle. Don’t flood your bed. Please, please, please use common sense.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/two-people-laying-on-a-bed-covered-with-a-floral-comforter-1246960/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-branch-close-up-cold-436792/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/antique-burn-burning-close-up-243053/.

Zzyzx

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From the informational sign in the parking lot.

I like to visit places other than the usual crowded tourist destinations. Yes, sometimes it’s fun to see what the huddled masses are looking at in the conservatory at Bellagio or in the depths of Carlsbad Caverns, but I prefer to stay off the beaten path. One such unusual discovery was Zzyzx, California.

According to Wikipedia, Zzyzx is an unincorporated community in San Bernardino County. It was formerly known as Soda Springs.

I know I saw the exit sign on I-15 when I passed that way in mid-October of 2015, but I didn’t stop. I probably wondered about the name, but I was in a hurry to get to my friends in Las Vegas, so I kept driving. During some period of research, (probably of the giant thermometer or the Alien Fresh Jerky shop, both in Baker, CA), I saw a link about Zzyzx on the Roadside America website.

On the edge of a dry lake bed, you’ll find a bizarre pseudo-town: “Zzyzx” (pronounced “Zye – Zex,” rhyming with Isaac’s). Travelers between Las Vegas and Los Angeles sometimes stop in the Mojave Desert along I-15 to pose next to the novel highway sign for Zzyzx Road. But few realize that heading several miles down a narrow, mostly paved route will deliver them to an oasis with an oddball history…

LA radio evangelist Curtis H. Springer, self-proclaimed minister (and quack doctor), decided the [oasis was] the ideal location for a health resort. He and his wife filed a mining claim on a 12,800 acre parcel of what were public lands. He named it “Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Resort,” touted as “the last word in health” and the last word in the English language — a gimmick so it would be the last listing in any directory…

Most of the concrete buildings still stand. You’ll find a mix of well-maintained structures…and then complete derelict buildings along the shore…There are a couple of low concrete buildings, doors and windows gone… one with a mysterious row of unattached toilets.

Well that sounded interesting, so I added Zzyzx to my mental list of places I wanted to visit someday.

In December 2016, I was once again on I-15, making my way to Vegas. This time I planned to make a side trip to Zzyzx.

The Desert Studies Center has taken over the grounds of the former health spa.

I found the grounds of the former Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa had been taken over by the Desert Studies Center, a field station of California State University. The good folks of the Desert Studies Center apparently cleaned up the grounds; gone were the mysterious toilets mentioned by Roadside America. In fact, a casual tourist might not realize the place was once a health spa run by a man many would call a charlatan if not for the informational signs in the parking lot. Of course, there are probably few casual tourists in Zzyzx. Perhaps a few curious souls are pulled off the interstate by the strange word on the exit sign, but most people who make the 4.5 mile drive from the exit to the Desert Studies Center campus have either heard about the center or the colorful past of the mineral springs and spa.

I left Barstow around sunrise so I could visit Zzyzx early in the day, and I was glad I did. Although my visit happened in early December, the desert sun was already hot by mid-morning. I wore my sunhat and wandered around the grounds.

A row of cute little rooms where folks who visited the resort once stayed. I would like to spend a night in one of these rooms.

Conferences are held at the Desert Studies Center with attendees housed in the rooms where folks who came to take the waters (a scam, the aforementioned Roadside America article explains: “The ‘natural’ hot springs feeding..mineral baths were completely artificial, heated by a hidden boiler”) and otherwise get healthy once stayed. On the morning of my visit, young adults (high school seniors? college freshmen?) were clearing out of the guest rooms and packing their luggage into the vans that had brought them to this desert spot. I thought someday I wanted to attend a conference there so I could sleep in one of the cute little rooms.

The Main Building where I found informational exhibits.

Other buildings left over from the health spa days are also used by the Desert Studies Center. The Main Building seemed to house administrative offices, but there was also an area open to visitors with several informational exhibits which, quite frankly, looked like they began their existence as 1990s era high school social studies fair projects. The most interesting exhibit featured early settler artifacts found in the area. Other exhibits were about local plants and animals and the history of the twenty-mule teams that ferried borax out of Death Valley in the 1880s.

Lake Tuendae is on the property too, making the area a literal oasis in the desert. The aforementioned Wikipedia article says the lake is really an artificial pond and is now a “refuge habitat of the endangered Mohave Tui chub.”

This is Lake Tuendae, actually an artificial pond.

I probably spent about two hours walking around the old site of the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa. I enjoyed learning about its place in the history of U.S. health scams, and I enjoyed looking at Lake Tuendae and the educational exhibits in the visitor area of the Main Building. Mostly, I enjoyed knowing I could now say I’d visited a place whose name most folks will never be able to pronounce and even fewer will ever visit.

You can find directions to Zzyzx on the Roadside America website. That site also has a lot of information on the history of the place.

I took all the photos in this post.