Category Archives: Travel

In Praise of Visitor Centers

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I like visitor centers, those places of tourist information paid for by states to let folks know all the fun things they can do while in the area. There’s a lot to like at these informational pit stops.

  • Clean restrooms Visitor centers want to make a good impression, so they tend to keep their restrooms impeccably clean. If you’re picky about restroom cleanliness, visitor centers may be where you want to stop.
  • Free beverages When I entered Louisiana from Mississippi on Interstate 20, the visitor center  I stopped at offered free coffee. It was even Community brand, a very popular Louisiana flavor. Years ago the visitor centers in Florida offered tiny paper cups of free orange juice. (Certain visitor centers in Florida apparently still offer free citrus juice to guests!) If nothing else, a visitor center is bound to have a water fountain where you can fill your water bottles.
  • Free state maps  If you’re entering a new state, a visitor center is a great place to pick up a free paper map to help you find your way around. When I looked at the free info at the visitor Center in Deming, NM, I saw paper maps New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas up for grabs.
  • Tourist brochures  Every visitor center I’ve ever been in has offered tons of brochures advertising attractions throughout the state. From pistachio farms in New Mexico to swamp tours in Louisiana, to ghost towns in Arizona, there’s a lot to do in every state. These brochures tell you where to go and what to see and sometimes include money-saving coupons!
  • State tourism guides  All states have a department of tourism and most publish a guidebook to tell visitors what’s special about their particular state. These guides typically divide the state into regions and give details about what to see and do in each region. The guidebooks may also tell about the state’s history, Native peoples, and special foods; they give a good overview of each state. Visitor centers typically have free copies of their state’s guide free for the taking.
  • Informative exhibits  If you want to learn more about the state you’re in, visitor centers often have exhibits explaining the state’s history, its Native people, the flora and fauna of the region, geologic features, and the area’s history.
  • A live person to talk with If the visitor center is staffed, don’t pass up your chance to ask questions of a local. At the visitor center in Deming, NM, a young woman and an elderly man answered all my questions about the town’s annual duck race. Most people working at a visitor center are going to be knowledgeable about the area and the entire state. Ask the worker for directions. Ask about road construction and free camping.  Ask what attractions in the state can’t be missed. Ask what food you should eat and the best places to find them. Ask about upcoming festivals and special events. Ask about the weather. If the people working at the visitor center don’t know the answers to your questions, they can find out for you.
  • A place to stretch your legs Even if you don’t need a paper map or information about tourist attractions, visitor centers are often nice places to get out of your rig for a while and walk around. If the sound of your own wheels is about to drive you crazy, get out of your vehicle at a visitor center and move around a bit outside.
  • Pet walking areas While you’re stretching  your legs, let Fido or Lassie move around too. Many visitor centers have special areas where you can walk your dog and allow it to relieve itself. (Many even offer poop bags to make it easy to clean up after your pet.) You’ll probably need to keep your pet on a leash, and you’ll definitely need to pick up any droppings.
  • Picnic areas  Many visitor centers have picnic tables or at least a bench where you can sit to have a snack or eat your lunch. Some sitting areas are even under shade structures so you can get out of the sun. If you can park your rig close enough to a table, you should be able to pull out your stove and kitchen supplies and cook a complete meal for yourself.
  • Dump stations  If you’re driving an RV with a black water tank, some visitor centers (especially if they are part of a larger rest area complex) may offer a dump station. You can find a state-by-state guide to dump stations at RVdumps.com.
  • Free water for your tanks  Some visitor centers offer free water to fill holding tanks if you have an RV or jugs if you’re living the vanlife. Pay attention to signs telling you if water is potable (safe to drink) or non-potable (not safe to drink).
  • Safe overnight parking  If a visitor center is within a rest area, you may be able to park for the night after you get your fill of tourist info. Overnight parking at rest areas varies by states, but many states do put the “rest” in “rest area” by allowing folks to park for several hours at a time. Once you grab your free state map and tourism guide, get some shut-eye before you get back on the road. If you get to a visitor center late at night and anyone asks you why you’re parking there, just say you want to get some information as soon as they open in the morning.

Now that you’ve considered all visitor centers have to offer, maybe you’ll stop in at the next one you see as you’re tooling down the road.

Bohemian Rhapsody Art Car

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Nolagirl and I were at spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity in the spring of 2018, looking at art cars. We’d looked at California Fantasy Van, the J Gurl art car, and Zalafayra. Next up: Bohemian Rhapsody.

As you might have guessed, this car is a tribute to the rock band Queen. The art was done by Rebecca Bass and her students at Reagan High School (now known as Heights High School ) in Houston, Texas. This high school is so cool, it has an art car club on its official list of activities available to students!

Art car covered in bling with a life-size representation of Freddie Mercury holding the Union Jack flag.
Freddie Mercury lets his freak flag fly. Oh wait! That’s the Union Jack!

According to an ABC 13 Eyewitness News website (which features a video of Bass and her students creating an art car),

Rebecca Bass is famous in the Art Car community. She’s created about 30 art cars in her lifetime, almost all of them with kids.

Bass leads the art car club at Heights High School. She and her students were even in a movie! The 2011 documentary Art Car: The Movie follows Bass and her students as they prepare a car for the Houston Art Car Parade.

A keyboard projects from the back passenger side door of a meticulously decorated art car.
That’s a full size keyboard on the side of that car!

The city of Houston calls the Art Car Parade the city’s

largest free public event [with] more than 250 rolling works of art …

A fake woman projects from the torso up from a meticulously decorated art car.
I think this woman is holding bicycle handlebars. Perhaps she represents the Queen song “Bicycle Race.” That song was really popular during my childhood. “I want to ride my bicycle/I want to ride my bike!” I didn’t realized until I was writing this post that there’s an official video for the song and it features naked women!

I think it’s really cool that high school students did the majority of the work on this car. While I do like Queen, I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of the band. What I am a huge fan of is the meticulous embellishment work done on Bohemian Rhapsody. Wow! So much bling! I don’t think there’s one inch of space on this car that’s not covered in shine, sparkle, or flash. This is my kind of three-dimensional collage.

A red guitar is attached to the driver's door of a meticulously embellished art car.
There’s a guitar to go with the keyboard. The band is almost complete.

Bohemian Rhapsody seems to have found a permanent home with ArtoCade out of Trinidad, Coloroado. The ArtoCade website calls itself

a parade!…a festival!…a party!

Art car meticulously embellished with bling.
Bohemian Rhapsody seems to belong to ArtoCade out of Trinidad, CO.

ArtoCade also has an art car museum. The information was a bit unclear, but from what I could ascertain, the museum once known as the Bizarre Car Garage had to vacate its space prior to September 2018. It seems to have relocated and been rechristened as Art Cartopia. I think admission to Art Cartopia is free. That’s my favorite price! (The information I found about Art Cartopia was on ArtoCade’s Facebook page.)

Bohemian Rhapsody detail. “Somebody to Love,” perhaps?

If you’re ever anywhere near Trinidad (a small town just off Interstate 25 near the Colorado/New Mexico border), I suggest you stop at Art Cartopia and take a look at Bohemian Rhapsody. There are so many details to look at on this car! I could have stared at it for hours.

Figures of a drummer and a woman with an ample bottom adorn the back of a meticulously embellished art car.
I’m pretty sure that’s a fat bottomed girl on the left. And look! There’s the drummer Roger Taylor on the right!

I took all the photos in this post.

10 Things to Do Before You Hit the Road

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The day has come! You’re about to hit the road. Maybe you’re about to take a weekend road trip, or it’s the first day of the rest of your life as a nomad. Maybe you’ve been sitting on public land for two weeks and now it’s time to travel to your next boondocking spot. Whatever the reason that you’re about to start driving, here’s a list of 10 things you should do, check, and take care of before you get on the road.

Brown Spoke Car Wheel in Brown Sand during Daytime

#1 Pack supplies you may need if your rig breaks down. Road disasters happen. Be prepared with roadside flares, a flashlight, jumper cables, an appropriate jack, a can of tire sealant/aerosol tire inflator (made by Fix-a-Flat and Slime, among others), a portable air compressor, and any other emergency supplies you can imagine needing. I know what it’s like to have three flat tires between two vehicles and no emergency supplies while camping on remote BLM land. I’ve encountered people with a dead battery and no jumper cables. Do everything you can to prepare for anything that might go wrong.

#2 Check your spare tire. One of the problems during the aforementioned tire disaster was that we couldn’t get my spare tire off its mount. The bolt holding the tire to the mount was cross-threaded and wouldn’t budge. It was like having no spare at all! Check your spare periodically to make sure it’s in good condition and can be removed from your mount if necessary.

#3 Stock up on supplies. Especially if you’re going to a remote location,

First Aid Case on Brown Floor Surface

have enough food and water to last you until you to return to civilization. Get ice if you’re using a cooler for refrigeration. If you take medication, make sure you won’t run out before you get to a pharmacy. Take inventory of your first aid kit and replenish anything that’s missing so you can take care of any minor emergencies. Other items you may need may include sunscreen, toilet paper, paper towels, garbage bags, soap, toothpaste, batteries, insect repellent, propane or butane, and fire starter.

Price is another reason to stock up before you leave a heavily populated area. As I suggested in my post “How to Save Money While Visiting Tourist Attractions,” supplies are going to cost more in remote locations. Avoid paying gift shop and small-town prices if you can.

Idaho Map

#4 Consult your paper map and plan your route. As I wrote in my post “In Praise of Paper Maps,” don’t put all your trust in your GPS. Using GPS is fine, but look at your route on a paper map so you’ll know if the GPS is sending you off in the wrong direction. It’s also a good idea to have an appropriate map handy and the skills to use it in the event you lose signal or your GPS stops working in a remote location.

#5 Check the air pressure in your tires. Proper air pressure increases gas mileage and helps protect against flat tires. If the air pressure is low in your tires, use your portable air compressor (if you have one) to add air, or fill up low tires at your next gas station stop.

#6 Check your levels of oil, radiator fluid, brake fluid, and windshield washer fluid. If any fluids are low, top them off.

#7 Plug in your electronics before you pull out of your parking spot. If you have an invertor, plug in your phone and or tablet so you can charge while you drive.

#8 Top off your rig’s fuel tank. Before you leave civilization, make sure

Person Holding Gasoline Nozzle

your fuel tank is full, especially if you’re heading to a remote location where you might not be able to find fuel. When you come out of a remote location, fill your tank as soon as it’s feasible, especially if you’re heading to another remote location. My goal is to never let my fuel gauge slip below a quarter of a tank, which means I should never run out of gas. Running out of gas could lead to needing a tow and/or a destroyed fuel tank, two things I want to avoid.

Again, price is another reason to fuel up before you leave civilization or once you return. You will probably find better prices on fuel for your rig if you buy it in a place where several gas stations compete for business. If you can even find fuel in the middle of nowhere, you’re going to pay more for it.

#9 Clean your windshield while you’re at the gas station. Trying to see through a dusty, bug-splattered windshield is not just annoying; it could be dangerous too.

#10 Once your engine has warmed up, check the level of your transmission fluid. Park on a level surface before you check. Shift through all your gears before you pull out your dipstick, and leave your rig running while you do your check. If the level is low, top off with the fluid that’s right for your transmission.

These tips are just suggestions. Please remember that Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety and well-being. Only YOU are responsible for your safety and well-being.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-spoke-car-wheel-in-brown-sand-during-daytime-53161/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/asphalt-box-color-emergency-208459/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/map-navigation-guide-108942/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/car-refill-transportation-gas-9796/.

Hitched

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I was vaguely aware that hitching a trailer to the tow vehicle was more work than I wanted to do, but I really had no idea what I was getting into when I agreed to trade vanlife for a tongue-pull RV.

New Mexico State Parks logo includes drawing of a sunset, trees, grass, and water.

When we arrived at Rockhound State Park on Monday to take advantage of our New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass, The Man backed the travel trailer onto site 28 and unhooked it from the truck. I was inside cooking dinner while he went through the separation process, so I had no idea what was involved.

On Saturday the indicator told us our black and grey water tanks were ⅔ full (That happened fast! The Man and I told each other), so we figured we should do our first dump.  The Man also wanted to take the trailer to a truck stop to have it weighed. Of course, the trailer had to be hitched to the truck before we could go.

I thought The Man would take care of the hitching. After all, he’d driven the truck towing the trailer, backed it on to the campsite, and uncoupled the trailer from the truck. I thought the trailer hitch was his domain. However, he opened the front door, stuck his head in, and requested my help.

What he wanted to do seemed impossible. He wanted to position our enormous pickup truck just so in order to line up the ball on the back with the hitch on the front of the trailer. How was that ever going to work? It doesn’t help that I’m terrible at backing up a vehicle and worse at directing someone else in backing. I never know which way the steering wheel should be turned or when to straighten the wheels. I hate it when someone asks me to guide them. When I am able to do my own backing, I’m acting more intuitively than consciously. How am I supposed to tell anyone else how to back up when I can’t even verbalize the process to myself?

The Man’s been driving about two decades longer than I have; he started in his teens, while I started in my 30s. He’s also had a lot more experience hitching trailers, hauling trailers, and guiding other drivers in backing into the spot where they need to be. Often, especially in high stress situations, The Man has difficulty putting his thoughts into words. During the hitching of the trailer, all of these factors came together to create a situation of comic proportions, only none of it was funny in the moment.

I’m going to back the truck up until the ball is under the hitch, he told me. Tell me when I’m all lined up, he said as he hopped into the truck.

Ok. It all looked lined up to me, so I told him to come on back. I didn’t tell him to stop until the ball was under the hitch. When he got out of the truck to assess the situation, he was not happy. He hadn’t expected me to have him come all the way back in one fell swoop.

I could have fucked up everything, he said, but I pointed out everything was ok because he’s stopped when I told him to.

He just shook his head at me.

While the ball was under the hitch, it was two inches too far to the right. The Man explained he was going to pull the truck forward and my job was to look at the ball on the back of the truck, then direct him in moving the truck an inch or two to the left until the ball and hitch lined up perfectly for connection.

I think I laughed. First of all, looking at the ball and hitch and determining if they were aligned seemed impossible to me. I’m the roommate who can’t tell if a picture is hanging crooked on the wall. If someone asks me if a picture is straight, all I can offer is a shrug. Who knows? Maybe? It looks ok to me. Sure, I could tell if backing up the truck would bring the ball into the general proximity of the hitch, but how would I know if the ball was directly under the hitch until the two objects were within inches of each other? The Man seemed to think I should be able to determine alignment from a distance.

Secondly, being able to give directions in how to move the giant truck two inches seemed preposterous. Is it even possible to get something so big to move only two inches? The Man seemed to think it was.

The situation we found ourselves in consisted of him  barely turning the steering wheel, then backing up slowly while holding his door open and turning his upper body around to see where he was going while I made sure he didn’t crash the truck into the trailer. At one point he jumped from the truck and stomped to the back while lamenting, I have no help! I guess he meant my help was no help at all.

Again, all of this might have been funny had it been happening on television or the big screen. (I’ve always thought Janeane Garofalo should play me in the biopic about my life.) However, since we were actually experiencing the chaos, neither of us was laughing.

At one point I complained that in the 21st century there should be a device to tell us when the ball and hitch are perfectly aligned. I figured it would use lasers and a female voice (much like that of the Google Maps lady in my last phone) would instruct the driver one inch to the left or two inches to the right. This is technology I would pay for!

Apparently, some ball/hitch alignment technology does exist, although it’s not quite like I imagined. In the article “Trailer Hitch Alignment Products: Do They Really Work? Which Ones Are Best?”  on the Do-It-Yourself RV website, author Artie Beaty describes and rates four hitch alignment products.

One (the Gooseneck Easy Coupler Hitch Hook-up Mirror) is (as the name suggests) a mirror for a fifth wheel trailer that “provides a clear line of sight straight down to your hitch.”

Two of the products (the Camco Magnetic Hitch Alignment Kit and the Never Miss Hitch System from Uncle Norm’s Marine Products) make use of poles or posts that attach to the trailer and tow vehicle and stand high enough for the driver to see. When the poles are aligned, the ball and hitch are aligned too.

The final product mentioned in the article is the Hopkins Smart Hitch Camera, and it’s a bit more like the technologically advanced system I’d imagined (although no voice guide is included). In this system, “a camera attached to your hitch gives you a live view in the driver’s seat [via a computer screen] to help guide your hitch in.” This system “has three different ‘SmartZones’ displayed on the screen to alert you to how far away things are.”

When I showed The Man the devices I found while researching this post, he wasn’t impressed. First he said he would make his own components to do the same job. Then he changed his mind and said he didn’t need any alignment product. He was confident all he needed was practice. I think we should make our lives easier if we can afford to, but he’s confident we can do it on our own.

I have no plans to ever hitch and haul that trailer on my own. If something happened to The Man tomorrow, I’d want to go back to vanlife. However, if I had to hitch the trailer by myself, I would certainly get myself some assistance via one of the pole products. I’d have a difficult enough time backing up the truck. So why not get some help with the alignment of the ball and hitch?

We finally did get the trailer hitched, thanks much more to The Man’s abilities than to my own. At one point the ball and hitch were about three feet apart, but he looked at them and said yes, they were lined up. When he backed the truck into position, sure enough the ball slid right under the hitch socket.

Once the ball and hitch were attached, we went through other steps: attaching the components of the sway control system, removing chocks from under wheels, disconnecting the water and electricity, and making sure all windows and vents were closed. The Man was beyond frustrated, and I was practically in tears. I wished we never had to hitch that damn trailer again.

I you have experience hitching a travel trailer, I’d love to know your tips and tricks. Please leave a comment!

I took the photo used in this post.

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.

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.

J Gurl

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Nolagirl and I were at spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity in the spring of 2018. We were looking at the art cars and came across one that turned out to be one of my favorites of the whole day, J Gurl by Diane Bombshelter from Tucson, AZ.

According to her website, Diane Bombshelter is primarily a painter who creates on black velvet. Apparently she’s really good at painting on cars too.

This is the big picture of what her art car looks like.

An art car is brightly painted with images of bugs and flowers. The Blessed Virgin Mary is painted on the hood.
Can you see the Blessed Virgin Mary on the hood of this art car?

When I got up close and starting looking at the details, I liked the car more and more.

Here’s the sacred heart painted on the back passenger door. I like the way pieces of broken mirror were used to accentuate the painting and add sparkle to the area. Also, the rough edges of the glass could cut the viewer, which I think brings to mind the pain caused by those thorns wrapped around the heart.

Sacred heart painted on the side of art car JGIRL.

Much of the imagery on the car is specifically female and really celebrates feminine power and energy. For example, here’s a uterus complete with egg tubes, ovaries, developing eggs, cervix, and endometrial lining painted on the rear passenger side of the car. Again, mirrors (this time round ones to echo the roundness of the eggs) catch the light and add sparkle and shimmer. Of course the pink background evokes stereotypical femininity but perhaps also a reclaiming of female strength.

Painting of uterus on the art car JGIRL. Ovaries, egg tubes, and endometrial lining also featured.

Here’s a vulva, right over the gas tank! Do you think that placement was random or a conscious choice?

Painting of a red and pink vulva on the art car JGURL.

The details that went into this representation of the vulva make me really happy. The yellow represents flames, perhaps, or bolts of energy. The red jewels outlining the border are also very sweet–more sparkle, more pizzazz. You may not be able to tell from my photo, but the clitoris is entirely composed of shiny little jewels. This vulva is a celebration of womanly parts. This vulva shines!

Art car JGURL has painting of Kwan Yin on the side. Sunlight is lighting her face and head. Glass beads radiate out from her head.

Ah, there’s Quan Yin, one of my favorite manifestations of Goddess energy. According to a Crystallinks webpage,

Quan Yin is one of the most universally beloved of deities in the Buddhist tradition. Also known as Kuan Yin, Quan’Am (Vietnam), Kannon (Japan), and Kanin (Bali), She is the embodiment of compassionate loving kindness. As the Bodhisattva of Compassion, She hears the cries of all beings…

Contemplating the Goddess of Mercy involves little dogma or ritual. The simplicity of this gentle being and Her standards tends to lead Her devotees towards becoming more compassionate and loving themselves…

Don’t you like the way I took the photo so the sunlight makes the area at the top of Goddess’ head glow? I’m pleased with that aspect of the photo, although I can’t remember if it was a conscious composition or a happy accident.

Art car JGURL has a mosaic of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the hood.
This photo courtesy of Nolagirl.

If the Blessed Virgin Mary is more your style when it comes to Goddess representation, Bombshelter has that covered for you on the hood of the car. The image of the BVM is made from flat glass marbles and is surrounded by small BVM statues. The blue flowers are artificial and permanently adhered to the hood as far as I could tell.

It’s obvious that so many loving details went into the design of this car. Even the dashboard is carefully decorated.

Dashboard of art car JGURL. Toys decorate the dashboard and the word "Goddess" is spelled out in Scrabble letters.

My favorite part of this interior decoration is the word “Goddess” spelled out in Scrabble letters. Clever!

In a 2015 article about the Art Car World museum in Douglas, AZ, Diane Bombshelter discussed pushing the boundaries of what cars are supposed to look like and represent in our society.

“Breaking that taboo opens people’s minds. It doesn’t have to be a certain way; it can be this way, too,” she said

“… I wanted to bring art to the public, instead of the public having to go to an art gallery.”

Arizona license plate on an art car. The plate number reads J-G-U-R-L.

I greatly enjoyed seeing and appreciate this art car. Hopefully I’ll see it again someday and take photos of the art on the driver side.

See Diane Bomshelter’s paintings on black velvet on her website.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read about another art car called California Fantasy Van  that was also at the spark! Festival.

I took the photos in this post, except for the one attributed to Nolagirl.


Green River Overlook

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As soon as we paid our camping fee and set our chairs out on our site in the Willow Flat Campground, The Lady of the House and I went out to explore the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. We were on our epic road trip through Arizona and Utah, and we didn’t want to waste a minute.

The Green River Overlook was close to the campground, but I drove us there to save time and energy. There was a lot we wanted to see in our approximately 24 hours in that portion of the Park.

After I parked in the lot near the Green River Overlook, but before we got out of the van, The Lady said she wanted to play something to get me in the mood. She had her iPod and speaker prepared, and a song queued up. At the touch of a button, the Creedence Clearwater Revival rendition of “Green River” was blasting. Now whenever I hear that song (and I heard it a lot over the summer because the other clerk played the Sirius Radio Classic Vinyl station every day at work), I think of the moments right before I saw the beauty of the Green River below me.

As I’ve said before, it’s so difficult to describe the beauty I saw on every leg of this journey with The Lady. My camera wasn’t up to the task either. I fear you’ll read my words and look at my photos and think, Oh, that’s nice, without understanding the majesty of all I saw.

I fear all the good descriptive words have been taken. Surely someone has said the Green River snakes across the arid land like a magical serpent bringing life to where there would otherwise be none. I don’t know how to make you understand how stunning the landscape was (I was stunned) or the awe it inspired in me . I do know I could have stayed at that overlook for hours, watching the light play over the landscape. Alas, there was so much more to see, and The Lady and I moved on.

I took the photos in this post.

 

California Fantasy Van

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Folks who’ve been reading this blog since the spring may remember a post I wrote in May about spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity. Nolagirl and I attended this March 2018 festival in Mesa, AZ meant to celebrate “the imaginative spark in all of us.”

There were so many cool exhibits at the festival, including “The Night Garden,” “Community Still-Life in Clay,” and my absolute favorite, art cars!

According to the article “Artistic Autos: Art Cars,”

An art car usually begins with an old or used vehicle that is need of repair. Instead of focusing on transforming the inside of the vehicle, the owner radically changes the exterior of the car. Art cars are made by ordinary people and are often driven and owned by their creator…

One of my favorite art cars I saw at the spark! festival was really a van. California Fantasy Van  was created by Ernie Steingold of Burbank, CA and was on loan from the Art Car World Collection in Douglas, AZ.

According to a short article from wesclark.com, this 1975 GMC panel van was embellished by “late Burbank resident, Ernie Steingold,” a vacuum cleaner repairman.

Over the course of ten years, he spent much of his free time locating and attaching more than 5,000

Detail from California Fantasy Van–laughing Buddha

brass items to the van after completely covering it with thousands of coins.

An ABC News slideshow about the World’s Craziest Cars says Steingold welded the brass colored items onto the van. He

drove the vehicle slowly and eventually ruined its tires and brakes because of the car’s weight.

I thought this decorated vehicle was really cool! First of all, it was a van, and we all know I have a soft spot for vans. Secondly, I loved all the little doodads attached to the van. I spent a long time looking at all the items catching the spring sun.

Third, I love imagining Ernie Steingold obsessing over his creation. In a time before the widespread use of eBay and the internet, Ernie must have spent a lot of his time and energy looking for objects to add to his van creation. I bet he scoured flea markets and swap meets and antique stores and junk yards to find pieces to add to his rolling exhibit.

Detail from California Fantasy Van–Bad Dude

I wonder what Steingold’s wife and three children thought of his artistic endeavor. Did they support him in his quest? Did they enjoy the hunt for just the right additions too, or did they think Steingold was a bit daft? Did they ridicule his work, simply endure it, or actively support and encourage it?

Inspired by Ernie Steingold, I sometimes fantasize about turning my van into an art car, especially when I find cool objects that are too big or heavy for my collage work. Maybe I could decorate my van with items related to Arizona, the Sonoran Desert, and the U.S. Southwest. Maybe I could have a Route 66 van! Then I remember that once I have anything attached to the exterior of my van, any semblance of stealth I may have is gone.

Good-bye California Fantasy Van!

 

Rubber Tramp Art Community

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Sarah Meg shows off the Rubber Tramp Artist Community flag that she made.

If you’re headed to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) or the Women’s RTR, you might have heard about the Rubber Tramp Art Community. If you’re wondering what the group is all about or if it’s a group you might want to join, this post will give you information on how it came to be and how you can get involved.

The group’s Facebook page says,

The Rubber Tramp Art Community (aka RTAC) is an intentional community for nomadic artists/creative travelers. We meet up to camp together along the way; creating art together, eating together, teaching each other new skills, helping each other, and just spending time together as a community.

The group is open to new members. If you’re on Facebook, joining the Rubber Tramp Art Community there is a good way to start your involvement. You have to ask the join the group, and you will  be asked to answer some questions. The intention is that members of the group will actually live nomadically and creatively. This is not just another general group for vandwellers, RVers, or other nomads and vagabonds.

If you’re at the RTR, find the Rubber Tramp Art Community and visit with members there. At this time, I don’t know where the group will be camped, but ask around. Word of mouth is a great way to find cool people and groups at the RTR.

Over the summer, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Meg, one of the movers and shakers in the Rubber Tramp Art Community. We had a lot of fun talking, and the interview turned out longer than I planned. I decided to run our conversation about the Rubber Tramp Art Community as a separate post at a later date.

That later date is today!

Rubber Tramp Artist (RTA): You’re one of the founding members of the Rubber Tramp Art Community. Could you tell me what the group is, how it came about, how you got interested? I think it was pretty much your idea, from what I remember.

Sarah Meg (SM): It wasn’t really my idea to be honest. All I did was the footwork. The ideas came from the group, and I put in the effort to make it happen.

RTA: So could you tell us first what it is?

SM: The Rubber Tramp Art Community is an intentional community for creative nomads. We like to say “nomadic artists,” but a lot of people who are very creative and artistic wouldn’t consider themselves artists.  If you’re thinking about joining and you’re creative and you’re a nomad, I would love to hear from you [via Facebook] as would anyone else who’s working on membership of the club currently.

We started out at the RTR [Rubber Tramp Rendezvous] in 2018. Sue Soaring Sun started the RTArt Camp at the RTR. You were there as well.

RTA: I was there.

SM: You’re one of the founding members as well.

RTA: I was assisting Sue. Before we got together as a group, I was assisting Sue and then other people came out and contributed as well.

SM: It’s actually kind of funny. It took me an hour and 45 minutes to find Art Camp when I was first looking for you guys, so this almost didn’t happen, we almost didn’t have the Rubber Tramp Art Community because I almost gave up [laughter] trying to find you guys.

I believe there were nine of us camped [at the RTArt Camp] who were there almost every day, helping and doing artwork together and just having a ton of fun. We had a campfire one night where we burned an incredibly toxic log, got a little loopy, and started talking about how fun it was to have art camp. One of our founding members said, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we did Art Camp all the time?” I started thinking about it. I thought, “It would be awesome if we did art camp all the time, but how would that work?” Then there was a conversation over the next couple days while we were still at the RTR about how we could make a community out of Art Camp, how could this be a traveling community.

Our first idea was that it would be a community that caravanned together and was together all the time. That quickly fell through because herding nomads is like herding cats. I did not want to do that and neither did anyone else. We within two and a half months had broken off the group into smaller groups and then went to events throughout the year. Currently what we’re doing is anyone can host an event. Nobody but me has done it so far, but you guys can. Anyone in the Rubber Tramp Art Community can host an event, and if people show up, yay, if they don’t, then, hey, you had fun in the forest or the desert or the beach by yourself.

We’ll be hosting Art Camp, of course, at the RTR, and eventually, there’s been quite a bit of talk with other members about eventually making this a nonprofit for various reasons. The first reason was actually brought up in the first month when a part of our group was camping together was that we wanted to have a fund for people [in our group] who were very low income, so we could help people out. If their rig broke down, we could help pay for repairs. We didn’t know how that could work, and then we thought about selling t-shirts to put that money into the fund. So we’re working on, I’m thinking of how we could become a nonprofit. That’s our next stage, although that might take quite a while.