Category Archives: Van Life

Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky District

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We wanted to stay in the Willow Flat campground in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, and we knew we’d have to arrive early if we wanted to make that happen. The Lady of the House and I woke up early on the free BLM camping area where we’d spent the night and cooked a quick breakfast. Other than a young woman camping across the road who let her dog run free with no supervision and didn’t allow the sounds of nature to prevail, our time boondocking there was uneventful.

The Lady and I cooked breakfast, ate, cleaned up, and packed the van in record time. We were on the road by 8:30 and proud of ourselves for it.

We saw beautiful red rock formations on the drive to the National Park. Once again, The Lady’s attitude was you ain’t seen nothing yet, and since we wanted to get a spot in the campground, we didn’t stop to take any photos of the cool rocks we saw along the way.

The ranger booth was closed when we entered the Park, but we saw a heavy wooden sign reporting the campground was full. Dang! We thought. We weren’t early enough.

I stayed outside to check the level of the van’s transmission fluid, but The Lady went into the visitor center to show her Southeast Utah Group Annual Pass and to double check on the availability in the campground.

Oh, we never take that sign down, she reported a worker in the visitor center told her. As far as the worker knew, there were still sites available in the campground. We were lucky The Lady had decided to go inside and ask! Her double checking certainly paid off in our getting what we wanted.

We drove directly to Willow Flat campground and found ourselves a campsite. After dropping the payment of our camping fee into the iron ranger, we went out to explore the Park.

Overlooking the Green River

Our first stop was the Green River Overlook, just down the road from the campground. We could have walked there had we not had limited time to see all the sights. From there, we drove through the Park, stopping at scenic overlooks and enjoying the beauty of all we were seeing.

I’m sure most of us who have experienced the grandeur of nature know how difficult it is to capture that beauty in words or photos. Nothing I can say or show truly expresses what I saw that day. Multiple my Wows and what you see in my photos 100 times and maybe you’ll have an idea of what I’m trying to share.

When we stopped at the Grand View Overlook, we agreed to look over. The Lady remembered the view from her previous visit to that part of the National Park and suggested we walk a ways on the trail. We can turn around whenever we want, she reminded me. While the scenery was stunning, and in the end I was glad we had seen all the sights along the trail, the two mile round trip was more than I had bargained for. I was tired!

Upheaval Dome formation

Still, we pressed on, and I drove us to the parking area for Upheaval Dome where we started the short hike to the place where we could stand and look at the Dome. I suppose taken by itself, Upheaval Dome would be an impressive sight, but surrounded by all those red rocks and deep canyons, Upheaval Dome seemed a bit boring to me. If I went back to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands, I wouldn’t bother visiting Upheaval Dome again. If someone put me in charge of renaming Upheaval Dome, I might call it “Yawn Yawn Dome.”

Next I drove us back to the visitor center/gift shop to find out the time of that night’s sunset and the next morning’s sunrise. Sunset at the Green River Overlook was supposed to be spectacular, as was sunrise through Mesa Arch. The Lady and I wanted to witness both.

On the way back to our campsite, we decided to stop at Mesa Arch. We planned to see it the next morning in all

Mesa Arch

its sunrise glory, but I wanted to get a look at it during a regular part of the day too. I was delighted by the view through the arch, and was glad I’d be able to visit it twice.

Once back at the campground, The Lady prepared a delicious dinner for us. She did almost all of the cooking on our trip, and every meal was awesome tasty. Any van trip would benefit from a cook as talented as The Lady.

We left the campground well in advance of the sunset. We drove again, to save time and energy. We needn’t have worried about time; we were plenty early and wrote postcards before leaving the van.

When we approached the overlook, we found a few visitors already there, including a man with a fancy camera on a tripod, and a group of Asian folks happily snapping photos. Alas, the spectacular sunset we were all hoping for was not meant to be. The overcast day turned into an overcast evening, and the clouds obscured the setting sun. There were no beautiful colors and no striking shafts of light. The grey sky darkened to dusk and our chance to see the sun set over the Green River was over.

The Lady heard the fellow with the fancy camera on the tripod tell one of his companion that sometimes there is no shot to get, but you have to be there and be ready to get your photo if the light is right. We were there, and we were ready that evening, but Mother Nature wasn’t cooperating.

Hitchhikers in Black

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Our jobs on the mountain ended, and The Man and I left California. We weren’t quite sure what our next move should be, so as we’ve done in past times of indecision, we headed to New Mexico. My New Mexico State Parks Pass was still valid, so we decided to spend some time at Bluewater Lake State Park between Grants and Gallup.

We arrived at Bluewater Lake early on Saturday afternoon. We drove through the different camping areas until we found a fairly flat campsite with a tree big enough to provide some shade. We spent the afternoon relaxing. Later in the day we set up our stove and had dinner before the sun set.

The next morning The Man decided he wanted coffee. He didn’t just want a cup of coffee; he wanted to buy ground coffee and sugar and creamer so he could make himself a cup every morning. We used Google Maps and found a grocery store called John Brooks 24 miles away in Milan. I climbed into the drivers seat and The Man rode shotgun for our little road trip.

It was before 8am when we set out. I slowly drove the van past the houses just outside the park, then picked up speed as I got closer to Interstate 40. As I approached the eastbound onramp, I saw three people standing on the side of the road just past the entrance.

The first thing I noticed was that all three of them were dressed in black. Gang members, a judgmental little voice in my head whispered.

The second thing I noticed was that they were all Native Americans. Call it white guilt if you want, but I particularly try to help people of color. Sure, I try to help everyone who needs a hand, but I feel I have a particular responsibility to help folks whose ancestors were oppressed by my ancestors.

Should we stop? I asked The Man as we approached.

He thought about it. No.

You don’t think we should stop? I asked in surprise.

The Man helps people too. He believes in helping people. I’m not sure why he said no. Maybe it was because there were three hitchhikers and my van only has two seats. Realistically, where would we put them? Maybe it was because three dudes in black standing on an onramp seemed a little sketchy.

I drove past the people, and after The Man got a good look at them, he said I should stop.

I pulled onto the shoulder of the onramp, and The Man got out of the van to talk to the people. Turns out there Group of People on Eventwere two men and a woman. They were Native, as I originally thought, and they were certainly dressed in black. While they may or may not have had gang affiliation, they were not on gang business that Sunday morning. They were on ROCK business, as in rock-n-roll. They were trying to get to Albuquerque for that night’s Ozzy Osbourne farewell concert.

The Man ushered the woman into the passenger seat and got in the back of the van with the two men. The Man sat on the bed, and the young men sat on the floor. Of course Jerico the dog barked at them, thinking they were new friends who obviously should be playing ball with him.

The woman was probably in her early 20. I apologized to her that we were only going about twenty miles down the road, but she seemed grateful for even the short ride. She was pretty excited about the concert, even though she had school the next day.

What are you studying? I asked her.

She was studying welding. Once she received her certificate, she was going travel. She wanted to see the Statue of Liberty. She thought she’d go to Alaska too. She’d heard there were lots of welding jobs in Alaska. She’d heard welder’s helpers—the people who handed tools and swept up—earned $16 an hour there.

I asked her where she’d grown up. I was making chit chat, but I was curious too.

She’d grown up in New Mexico and Arizona. Her dad’s family was from Arizona and her Mom’s family was from New Mexico. Her dad’s family was more traditional, more conservative she told me. In Arizona you had to do things a certain way. In New Mexico it didn’t matter so much how you did things, as long as you got things done. I wasn’t sure if she was referring to carrying out a religious ceremony or cooking stew, but my experience of New Mexico being peopled with laid back folks seemed to be in line with what she’d grown up with there.

As we approached exit 79, I was glad to see both a Love’s travel center and a Petro truck stop right off the interstate. There would be a lot more traffic there than the Ozzy fans would have found at the end of the onramp where we’d picked them up. I don’t have a lot of hitchhiking experience, but I suspected the trio would have better luck getting a ride if they were able to approach drivers and politely ask for what they needed. If three young people in black by the side of the road made me and The Man hesitate, the average driver was not going to stop for them. However, if a driver could talk to the Ozzy pilgrims and realize they were harmless, well, that would certainly increase their chances of getting a ride.

I asked the group if they preferred to be dropped at the Love’s or the Petro, and they opted for the Petro. I pulled into the truck stop’s parking lot, and they got out of the van amid thanks and good cheer.

I hope they made it to the Ozzy show and had a rockin’ good time. I only regret that financial considerations kept me from driving them all the way to Albuquerque.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/group-of-people-on-event-1047443/.

 

How to Find The Friends You’re Going to Camp With

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Many camping areas in remote locations have no cell phone service or internet access. Lots of folks are accustomed to having instant access to communication and are totally surprised when they arrive in their remote camping location and realize they can’t make or receive phone calls, send or receive texts, or update their social media. This lack of phone service can enhance one’s ability to hear the birds sing and to engage in uninterrupted conversation with friends and loved ones.

Lack of cell phone service can also mean it’s more difficult to find the people you plan to camp with if you come up in different vehicles at different times. Plan ahead so you can find your group. Here are six tips to help you meet up with your people once you leave civilization.

#1 If you’re meeting in a campground and have reservations you didn’t make, know the first and last name of the person who reserved the site. For example, if your brother’s girlfriend booked the site under her legal name, Elizabeth Brown, and you only know her as Liz, the camp host may not be able to direct you to the right site.

#2 Make sure you know what region, state, and county you are going to. The United States is a big place, and campground names are sometimes repeated throughout a state, region, or even throughout the country. For example, the same region of California has two Wishon campgrounds. If you’re supposed to be at the Wishon Campground at Bass Lake and instead you end up at the Wishon Campground off of Highway 190 in Tulare County, well, your weekend has started off on the wrong foot. You might have a similar problem is you’re supposed to be at the Giant Sequoia National Monument but end up in Sequoia National Park or you confuse the Sequoia National Forest with the Sierra National Forest.

#3 Know the exact name of the campground or camping area you’re going to. When I worked on the mountain, there were three campgrounds within a five mile stretch of highway that all had the word “meadow” in their names. There were also two additional meadows in the area where folks could boondock, as well as a road with the word “meadow” as part of its name.  That’s a lot of meadows! If a person didn’t know exactly what meadow to look for, it might be difficult to get to the right place.

#4 Your GPS system nay not work in a remote location either, so use a good paper map of the area to find your way around. Get your paper map and study it before you leave home. Have a good idea of where you’re going and how you’re going to get there before you start driving. If you’re traveling with other people, designate someone with good map-reading skills to be the navigator.

#5 Plan for folks to meet at the camping spot before the sun sets. Sure, folks with jobs might want to leave work at five o’clock and get on the road so they can start the camping fun on Friday night. Maybe you’re a boondocker who likes to sleep until noon and not start driving until 3pm. If you get a late start, then get stuck in traffic or lost, you might find yourself looking for your campsite in the dark. Get on the road as early in the day as possible so you’ve got plenty of daylight to help you find your camping spot.

#6 Designate a time and place for your group to meet if everyone doesn’t show up at the camping spot. Make the meeting place a prominent location and the meeting time before dark.

Bonus Tip Meet at a location within cell phone service and caravan to the remote location together. At least if you get lost, your whole group will be lost together.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

Very Happy That We Did It (an Interview with Ryan and Samantha of Gone Vananas)

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Split, the Gone Vananas van

I met Ryan and Samantha (and their cute little doggie friend Mickey) of the Gone Vananas vlog when we worked together in a remote National Forest campground. I could tell almost immediately after meeting them that they were both hard workers serious about doing a good job. As the weeks of our employment passed, I also found them to be funny, kind, smart, and generous. They had been vandwellers for just shy of one year when I sat down with them to talk about choosing a rig, getting along in close quarters, what they miss about their old life, and what they love about their new one.

Rubber Tramp Artist: Whose idea was it to hit the road?

Ryan: I think it started with me. I had a conversation with my best friend about a co-worker of his that decided to quit his job and sell all of his stuff and move into a van and then go do chairlift work out in Colorado since he was a big snowboarder. That got the gears turning for me. I started doing all kinds of research on how that would look for us, what kind of van I could possibly build. Once I had enough information, I approached Samantha about it to see what her take was on it.

RTA: [to Samantha] How long did it take him to convince you?

Samantha: Oh, not long. [Laughs] I’ve lived like a nomad most of my life. I’m 32, and the van is my 35th home.

RTA: Wow!

Samantha: No question. Ready to go! Let’s do it!

RTA: What’s the make and model of your rig?

Ryan: It’s a 2016 Ram Promaster 3500 extended. It’s the biggest one that they make.

RTA: Why did y’all choose this rig rather than a typical cargo or conversion van or a minivan or a big motorhome?

This is the independent bathroom Ryan wanted.

Ryan: My grandfather is retired Chrysler, so we got his employee discount on this brand, which helped a lot. I wanted something that had enough room to comfortably live two people, and I’m 6’2” so the ability to stand up in it was really important to me. I also wanted an independent bathroom. When I added all these things up, and looked at the dimensions of all the vans that were out there, this one made the most sense.

RTA: Why a van rather than a motorhome? Was it primarily because of the discount that you were able to get?

Ryan: The primary reason was I wanted to build a rig that was stealthy and easy to maneuver in normal parking spaces and normal roads and situations. I considered a school bus conversion for only a short while. The cons of that—not being able to stealthy camp in a neighborhood and limited parking spaces—kind of shot that down for us. We wanted to camp for free essentially everywhere just by camouflaging ourselves in normal areas.

RTA: What was the most difficult thing for each of you to give up when you left your conventional life behind?

Samantha: The kitchen and its gadgetry. I’m a baker. I like to bake, and I like to spread out and will make a couple

The full kitchen in Samantha and Ryan’s van. Sink. Check. Stove. Check. Oven! Check. Refrigerator. Check.

hundred dozen cookies come the holiday season. That was tricky, but Ryan was able to give me a full kitchen. I can basically do everything in there that I can in a real kitchen, with much less space.

Ryan: In smaller amounts

Samantha: [Laughs] Yes.

RTA: And so what about for you, Ryan?

Ryan: I have to say, I was really fond of my muscle car. It was my project car. It was kind of my baby. I loved having that, but at the end of the day, it was just a thing. I didn’t mind selling it because I really value traveling and experiences over stuff. It was kind of just going through the motions of being upset about it when I sold it.

RTA: What kind of car was it?

Ryan: It was a 2014 Dodge Challenger that I put a lot of time and effort and money into making it my own and looking really nice. [Chuckles] It only had 8,000 miles when I sold it.

RTA: Do either of you ever feel like you can’t spend one more minute in the van with the other person?

Ryan and Samantha at the same time: No

Samantha: Never

RTA: Wow! That’s awesome.

[Laughter from everyone]

RTA: My next question was going to be, “How do you remedy that situation?” but…

Ryan: We’ve spent every day together since…

Samantha: Yeah. Just shy of a year?

Ryan: Yeah.

Samantha: We’re coming up on a year in the van.

RTA: Wow!

View of the kitchen from outside the back of the van. You can see a sliver of the restroom on the far right of the photo.

RTA: I’d like for each of you to tell me three traits that the other person has that makes for a great vandwelling partner.

Ryan [to Samantha]: You wanna start?

Samantha [to Ryan]: No. You start.

Ryan: Well, I would say one, Samantha is, I guess, what they would call a low-maintenance girl. [Laughs]  She definitely isn’t very needy. She doesn’t have to have all the big, expensive stuff and house and car and all that things that…you’d hear other people need. She’s very go-with-the-flow. I guess that would be another one. Not a lot rattles her. She’s adaptable. She basically will get along with any situation. She won’t freak out if…things are going a little bit south or we don’t have a plan or something isn’t going the right way. It’s kind of tough to rattle her. Those are important things, I think.

Samantha: Ryan is very well organized and always has…some kind of plan. He knows where we’re going or what we’re doing or how we’re going to get there. [Laughs] And he is good about keeping us in minimalism. If it doesn’t have a home, it doesn’t get to come on the road with us, it’s got to have a place to go in the van. [He is] keeping us from acquiring too much more other than necessities…Also he is very handy. If something goes wrong he figures it out very quickly and fixes it. So far we haven’t had too much trouble, but the few things that we’ve come across, he’s figured it out and knew what to do and what he needed to do it and got it done right away.

Ryan: A lot of repairs in the Home Depot parking lot.

[Laughter]

RTA: So y’all are quite a bit younger than many other rubber tramps. What do you plan to do with the next 40+ years if you’re essentially retired in your 30s?

Ryan: We have talked a lot about that. It’s been a fluid plan as far as maybe tweaks and changes here and there. The main part has been we would like to purchase land. Where that is necessarily has changed. Right now we are considering Southern Oregon. We would like to have around 10 acres, maybe build a tiny house on a trailer, have a workshop and also a garden and a homestead and off-grid power. We kind of want a self-contained little area that we can call home when we don’t feel like traveling anymore and have a little bit of space of our own to sort of spread out.

Does that include working too?

I stood in the kitchen to take this photo of the front of the van. A door between the cab and the living area can be closed for privacy. Bedding is stashed in the area above the wall during the day when the bed converts into a sofa.

RTA: Sure! I would love to hear what your plans for work are.

Ryan: Right now I am trying to educate myself in coding and web development. It’s pretty much the ultimate way to make money on the road. I have no experience with it, but I’m learning right now the best way that I can go about accquiring the right skills in order to make a decent living while traveling whenever we would like.

Samantha: I currently make jewelry and sell it on Etsy, and [I’m] working to maybe expand that from jewelry into something else, maybe even like van-esque accessories…different storage option type upholstery items, potentially.

Ryan: It’s definitely a work in progress right now.

Samantha: Yeah.

Ryan: We don’t have a clear, defined future as to what we’re doing. We’re kind of living moment to moment. But in reality, that’s what we signed up for. That’s what we wanted. We spent the last decade of our lives in such a rigid, structured type of life that it kind of turned us off to it. We knew what we were doing every day, and it was the same thing every day, so this [living moment to moment] is kind of the intended experience that we wanted. We’ll figure it out.

RTA: So y’all travel with a little guy named Mickey.

Samantha: Yes.

RTA: Tell me about Mickey. How did he take to the road?

Mickey the cute doggie companion

Samantha: Surprisingly well. Mickey even before we decided to go for van life, is a pretty well-traveled dog. He’s flown a few times, drove across the country with me. But he is a very relaxed dog, especially for his breed. He’s a Boston Terrier. But he’s just happy when he’s with us. As long as he’s with us, he’s pretty much content.

Ryan: [Sound of agreement]

Samantha: And he’s got his little space between the captain’s chairs [in the front] and he pretty much sleeps there 98% of the time when we’re on the road.

Ryan: He has a modified Temperpedic mattress for his bed.

Samantha: Yes.

RTA: [Laughs]

Ryan: Someone was throwing one away, and we just cut a piece off of it.

Samantha: Yep.

Ryan:  and made him one.

Samantha: He’s going on eight years old. He’s a bit of an older boy, so he’s pretty relaxed. He doesn’t hike, he doesn’t [laughs] do much of anything except sleep and look cute.

Ryan: He walks a half mile and plops.

RTA: [Laughs] Do y’all plan to expand your van family by having kids?

Ryan: Nope!

Samantha: No.

RTA: [Giggles] OK!

[Everyone laughs]

Samantha: There will be four-legged children in our life, I’m sure, for many years to come, but that will probably be it.

Ryan: It was something we talked about not doing before we even started this lifestyle.

RTA: What would each of you say is the best part of your life on the road?

Samantha: To wake up wherever we want.

Ryan: There is no putting a price on true freedom, in my opinion. The ability to just be wherever you want, whenever you want…I’ve never felt anything like it. I don’t want to give it up.

Samantha: Nope. Not for anything.

RTA: Is there anything else either of you want to add?

Ryan: One thing I just want to add is that I had and Sam[antha] had no experience building anything or having any idea what we were doing when we started this, and we created something that we are so extremely proud of. You can see when other people see it how astonished they are about what we built. It’s just, I think, the ultimate example of if you want something so bad, and you actually care about doing it, then you will create something beyond your wildest dreams, something you didn’t even think you could possibly do. I’m just very happy that we did it and didn’t actually listen to other people that thought we were crazy for wanting to do it. If you really want something, you can absolutely do it as long as you care the most out of everyone else.

Samantha: Yep.

I took the photos in this post.

 

 

Free BLM Camping on Willow Springs Road Near Moab, UT

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This is one of the cool views from our campsite on Willow Springs Road

When the Lady of the House and I were planning our epic road trip through Arizona and Utah, we wanted to spend the night at the Devil’s Garden campground in Arches National Park. Alas, when we were planning our April trip in early March, the campground was booked through August! Apparently one must book months in advance in order to spend the night in the Devil’s Garden.

Since we couldn’t stay where we wanted, I turned to the website I always use when I’m looking for a camping spot: Freecampsites.net. On that site we learned about free BLM camping on Willow Springs Road. The area is about 15 miles northweat of Moab, and approximately 21 miles from the entrance to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. It seemed like a good spot to stay on the night after our adventure at Arches National Park and before our early morning entrance to Island in the Sky.

After our afternoon at Arches, The Lady treated me to a delicious, house-made veggie burger at the Atomic Café in Moab. After a leisurely dinner on the restaurant’s back patio, we went in search of free camping on Willow Springs Road.

Earlier in the day, The Lady and I had experienced some confusion about the camping area. She’d checked it out on Google Maps, and it seemed like we’d have to go miles into the wilderness to get to a place where we could camp for free. My recollection from the Free Campsites website was that camping was allowed not far from the highway. I used the Campendium website to cross reference, and was pleased with the ease of use. I’d never used Campendium before, although other rubber tramps had mentioned it to me. I found the website helpful and added the site to my set of finding-a-free-place-to-camp tools.

Campendium confirmed we did not have to go miles out of our way to camp on Willow Spring Road, so we decided we’d try to find a spot there for our quick overnight between national parks.

When we left Moab, we took Highway 191 north out of town. We traveled about 13 miles from the Atomic Café, passing Under Canvas Moab not long before it was time to turn onto Willow Springs Road (BLM 378), which was marked by a green street sign. When we turned onto Willow Springs Road, a brown info board marked the area as public land. The Lady hopped out of the van to read the signs on the board. We had arrived.

This is what Willow Springs Road (BLM 378) looked like when the Lady of the House and I spent the night there in April 2018.

On the right, just past the info board was an area of bare rock where camps were set up. I drove the van into the area, thinking we could park near the highway for our brief stop, but I couldn’t find a level spot. I took the van back to the road through the camping area and drove farther from the highway.

Willow Spring Road was a good dirt road when I drove on it in early April 2018. The part of it we saw was mostly smooth with some gravel. There were no large bumps or ruts in the road, but I drove slowly anyway to help keep the dust down.

There were plenty of big rigs parked just off Willow Spring Road. It didn’t’ seem to be a problem to get large RVs onto the free camping area, at least in the first mile or two off the highway.

In the area we saw, camping was happening on either side of the road. People had found spots to park their rigs just off the main road. I was trying to stay a respectful distance from other campers, so I passed up several flat spots that would have worked for our needs. The place we settled on was a little closer to the next camp than I usually park, but the ground was flat and there was a rock fire ring showing that particular slice of land had been camped on before. I figured that because we wouldn’t be up late cooking dinner or sitting by a campfire, we’d be up and out early in the morning, and we’d only stay for one night, we wouldn’t be too disruptive to our neighbors.

I parked the van so this is what we saw through the windshield.

We saw a portable toilet on the side of the main road between the highway and where we camped. Neither The Lady nor I utilized it, so I have no report on its cleanliness or the availability of toilet paper there. I can only say that there was a portable toilet in the area when we visited.

The land in the camping area is dusty with some scrubby bushes and a few small trees. The landscape around the camping area was majestic Utah in all its glory. We could see the Las Sal mountains from where we camped (although, unfortunately, I was not able to get a decent photo of them with the light conditions we experience while we were there), and beautiful red rock walls.

Since we didn’t have to cook dinner, we were in the van fairly early. We set up one of my folding tables and put a jug of water and a bottle of soap on it as a handwashing station then went to bed. I must have fallen asleep immediately and deeply because I don’t remember hearing a sound, but The Lady said she heard vehicles driving on Willow Springs Road deep into the night.

In the morning we awoke early as we’d planned and found frost on the table. The morning was cold, but we cooked and ate our breakfast so we could move on to our adventure at Canyonlands.

Other than an inconsiderate neighbor across the way who let her dog run free and did not let the sounds of nature prevail, I found Willow Springs Road a fine free camping spot. I suspect it’s quite hot out there in the summer when the heat beats down on little shade, but it was a nice spot for an overnight during our early spring travels.

I took the photos in this post.

Managing in the Mountains

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I love these mountains in Taos County, NM.

Most fulltime rubber tramps know that going up in elevation is the key to cool comfort in the heat of the summer. For every rise of 1,000 feet in altitude, the temperature falls about 3.6 degrees.  If, like me, you grew up a flatlander, you may not know the tricks to staying happy above sea level. You want to go up the mountain, but you may be a bit cautious about doing so. After spending the better part of the last five summers above 6,000 feet, I know a thing or two about mountain living, at least during the spring and summer months. Today I’ll share my tips for managing in the mountains.

#1 Know that altitude sickness is a real possibility. I’ve been very fortunate; I’ve never suffered one bit of altitude sickness, but some people get it bad.

According to a comprehensive Health Communities article about altitude sickness remedies,

acute mountain sickness (AMS), is the most common type of altitude sickness. It can occur at elevations as low as 5,000 feet, where it is likely to last only a day or so, but is more common above 8,000 feet. At elevations over 10,000 feet, three out of four people will have symptoms.

The article lists these symptoms of altitude sickness:

  • Increased rate of breathing
  • Headache
  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue and insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath and rapid heartbeat accompanying physical exertion
  • Impaired thinking.

The article also lists some precautions to you can take to acclimate to higher elevations.

  • Acclimatize and take it easy. Spend your first day at high altitudes relaxing…
  • Do not smoke and avoid drinking alcohol. Smoking and alcohol consumption increase the risk of dehydration and decrease respiration rate during sleep…
  • Drink extra water. Drink as much as you can to remain properly hydrated, at least three to four quarts. Your urine should be clear and copious…
  • Eat foods that are high in carbohydrates.
  • Get headache relief. Acetaminophen or an NSAID (such as ibuprofen) can be taken for headache.
  • Don’t go up until symptoms go down. If you start showing symptoms of moderate altitude sickness, don’t go any higher until they decrease—or descend a few hundred feet to a lower altitude.

I suggest you read this entire article and familiarize yourself with the symptoms of and remedies for altitude sickness before you start your ascent.

#2 In the mountains, it stays colder later in the year and gets colder sooner. Early May in Flagstaff brought a storm with a predicted high of 43 degrees and a chance for two inches of snow. The Man and I headed out before the storm to avoid the inclement weather, but we experienced chilly nights and mornings in the California Sierras until well into June. Memorial Day weekend gave us a foggy Saturday where temperatures in the Mercantile never climbed above 42 degrees. If you’re too hot in the flatlands in spring and decide to move on up, either find a camp in the middle elevations or be prepared for chilly morning and nights

Fall may come to the mountains before you expect it. It was never long after Labor Day on the mountain where I worked that I found myself sleeping under my down comforter and wearing a jacket the first few hours of every morning. You may want a decrease in elevation before the official beginning of autumn.

#3 The weather can change quickly in the mountains, so be prepared with appropriate gear. If you store your winter gear away from your rig, but sure to pack a warm hat, warm socks, and decent jacket before you go up the mountain, even in the heart of summer. Take sturdy shoes to protect your feet if the weather turns cold and/or wet. If you have room, it’s not a bad idea to pack your Mr. Buddy heater too.

At the Rio Grande Gorge outside of Taos, NM (elevation 6, 969 feet) I’ve literally seen the weather change from sunny and hot to cloudy with lightning and thunder to rain and hail to rainbows and sunshine, all accompanied by a temperature drop of 20 degrees in less than an hour. Of course, these are not usual weather conditions, but proof that such changes can happen fast.

I seldom got my speedometer above 25 mph on this curvy California mountain road.

#4 Get yourself a good paper map. Don’t depend on GPS or your vehicle’s navigation system which can be entirely useless in remote, high elevation locations. If you get your directions online, be sure you can access then if you lose phone service. Your best bet is mapping out your route on your paper map before heading up.

#5 You might not have cell phone service either. Be prepared to live without cell phone service. Make all your calls and send texts before you start heading up the mountain. Warn anyone who might worry about you that you might not have cell phone service for a while.

#6 If you’re not accustomed to driving on winding, curving, twisting, mountain roads, plan to drive slowly. It takes a lot longer to drive a mountain mile than it takes to drive a mile on a flat stretch of road. The first summer I worked as a camp host, I picked up my mail 25 miles from the campground where I lived. Google Maps said it would take me 45 minutes to drive there, but it took me at least an hour.

This road outside Santa Fe, NM takes folks up up up the mountain.

#7 If you look in your review mirror and see a line of cars and trucks behind you, pull off in the next turn out and let the other vehicles pass. Folks accustomed to driving in the mountains may be able to drive on those roads faster than you can. That’s ok, but save the people behind you lots of frustration by letting them leave you in the dust.

#8 Be aware of bears. While you don’t want to succumb to bearanoia, if you’re boondocking in areas bears are known to frequent, you should take precautions so you don’t attract them to your camp.

In the book Bear Aware, author Bill Schneider offers an entire chapter detailing camping in bear country. The most important tip is to check potential campsites for signs of bears before you set up camp.

If you can see fresh sign [of bears] move on to another site with no signs of bear activity.

The second most important tip is to separate your sleeping and cooking areas.

The sleeping area and the cooking area must be separated by at least 100 yards.

Also, be prepared to “hang everything that has any food smell” or store those items in bear canisters.

If you’re unsure if the area where you want to boondock has issues with bears, visit the local ranger station to find out about bear activity before you choose your camping spot.

#9 Watch out for other mountain critters too.  You probably won’t see a mountain lion, but be prepared to react appropriately if you do. The Mountain Lion Foundation says to do the following if you meet a mountain lion:

  • Seem as large as possible.
  • Make noise.
  • Act defiant, not afraid.
  • Slowly create distance.
  • Protect yourself.

Again, I recommend you read the entire article before you need the information.

Where I worked in the mountains, we were more likely to see a timber rattler than a bear. To prevent a nasty bite (and a trip to an emergency room that may be more than an hour away), watch where you put your hands and feet. Don’t put any body part in a crack or crevice or under anything without first visually inspecting the area. If you see any snake, give it a wide berth so it can escape without feeling like it has to go on the defensive. For more information on how to avoid a snakebite or what to do if a rattlesnake does strike you, see this article from Denver Health.

The Man and I saw these wild horses just off the highway in Colorado at about 8,000 feet.

The part of the National Forest where I worked is open range, so people driving there have to watch for half wild mountain cows. I don’t know how common open range is in other mountain locations, but city folks are often quite surprised when they see cows on the road on their way up the mountain. If you see cows on a mountain road you’re driving on, slow down and give them plenty of room; sometimes cows bolt when they get nervous. The same holds true for wild horses, deer, elk, and moose, so be alert for large animals hanging out along mountain roads.

#10 Stock up on food, supplies, and fuel for your rig before you head up the mountain. Many mountain towns are secluded, and may not have the supplies you need. On the mountain where I worked, there was no diesel, none of the special fuel tiny backpacking stoves require, and no fresh vegetables for nearly 40 miles. If you are able to find what you’re looking for, you are going to pay a premium for items that had to be trucked up thousands of feet. In mountain towns, I’ve paid too much for ice ($4 for a seven pound bag), one-pound propane canisters ($6.95 for what costs under $4 bucks at most any Wal-Mart), and water ($3-$4 a gallon). You’re better off getting everything you need while you’re still in civilization.

There’s no way to imagine or prepare for every situation one might find oneself in while at a high altitude. In life we run into situations that could lead to harm, whether we’re in the city or the wilderness. I hope these tips help you plan for your health and safety when you leave the flatlands and venture up to higher elevations.

Remember, Blaize Sun can’t prepare you for or protect you from every danger you might encounter in the mountains. You are responsible for our own self. Research the problems you might encounter in the area you plan to camp in before you get there. If applicable, call the Forest Service ranger station responsible for the place you want to camp and ask about hazards in the area. Think before you act. If something you’re about to do seems potentially dangerous, don’t do it!

I took the photos in this post.

My First Raccoon

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To be honest, it wasn’t the first raccoon I’d ever seen in real life, but it was the first raccoon I’d seen on the mountain.

The other raccoons I’d seen had been spotted in Texas. On several occasions, raccoons tried to break into a house animal, raccoon, whiskerswhere I was staying, and one time while sitting on the back patio of a coffee shop in a major city, I saw a lumbering raccoon bigger than the biggest cat I’d ever laid eyes on. That sucker was huge. I guess everything really is bigger in Texas!

In the first three seasons I’d worked in campgrounds on the mountain, I’d never seen a raccoon, never heard one break into the garbage cans, never received a complaint from a camper who’d been the victim of raccoon crime. I’d occasionally wondered about the lack of raccoons, but since I knew about their persistence in the acquisition of food, I certainly didn’t wish for any of these critters in the campgrounds where I stayed.

During my second summer as a camp host, I’d asked my coworker about the lack of raccoons. He’d lived in the area for nearly 20 years, so he was my main source of information about local flora and fauna. He postulated that a lack of water kept the creatures off the top of the mountain. That seemed like a logical explanation to me, but the next year was wetter with still no sign of raccoons.

The raccoon made its appearance during the last week of July of my fourth season on the mountain. It first showed up in the campground where the Mercantile is located. Sandra the camp host told me on the night it arrived, it went from campsite to campsite, scavenging. On site #1, the raccoon stole a cheeseburger off the table while the camping family sat there eating dinner. It was certainly a bold creature!

The Man had come back to work a part-time maintenance job which required no dealing with money, paperwork, or the general public. Of course, Jerico the dog had come back with him. We were all staying at the group campground together. Maybe a week after the cheeseburger incident, the raccoon made an appearance on our campsite.

We’d been to civilization that day and come back with plenty of supplies. The Man had loaded all his food into his minivan but hadn’t yet put away a 15 pound bag of dog food which was leaning on a stump outside the van.

The Man had come over to my rig but left Jerico in his van. It had grown dark while we lay in my bed talking. Suddenly from the other van we heard Jerico start barking, and he didn’t stop. There were campers on the other end of the campground, and I thought one of them had approached our camp.

When Jerico started barking, The Man jumped out of my van and went over to his to see what the commotion was about. In less than a minute, he was hollering, Honey! Honey! Bring me my headlamp!

There’d been a raccoon out there, and now it was in the tree! Jerico had treed a ‘coon from inside the minivan! What a hound!

The raccoon was still moving up the tree when I got outside, so I threw a couple of pine cones at the tree for good measure.

Don’t hurt it! The Man said, but I had no intention (or ability) to hit it. I just wanted it to find the environment of our campsite inhospitable.

It might have rabies! The Man said, which was possible, but unlikely if it was content to slowly climb a tree. I heard a terrifying story on This American Life once about a woman attacked by a rabid raccoon and that motherfucker was aggressively going after the woman, not trying to take refuge in a tree. Our raccoon was obviously trying to practice avoidance.

With the light from my Luci lamp, I could just make out the raccoon’s glowing eyes high above the ground. With The Man’s bright headlamp, we could see the raccoon splayed out on a branch ten or twelve feet up. This one was much smaller than the lumbering beast I’d seen at the coffee shop in Texas.

The Man put the dog food in his van, and we made sure there was no food left outside to entice the raccoon. We all went to bed and didn’t hear from the raccoon again.

A couple of days later in the Mercantile, I heard about the further exploits of what must have been the same critter.

Two young men were in the Mercantile early on Sunday morning. They reported they’d seen a raccoon in the campground the night before. They’d actually seen the raccoon on their very own campsite. In fact, the raccoon had stolen a bag holding the swimsuit and towel belonging to one of the guys. It had been too dark to find the bag right after it was stolen, but he’d found it that morning in the bushes. The raccoon had ripped the bag trying to get to the contents. We joked about the raccoon being sad after it discovered that the bag it had just grabbed contained the worst snack ever.

I wondered aloud why, after three and a half seasons of seeing no raccoons, this one had suddenly appeared. The other young man said the raccoon must have been pushed out of its territory, and now had to find a new home. I suspect the young man was right. Maybe a wildfire had pushed the raccoon out, or maybe it reached maturity and had to leave the territory of its birth. I spent the rest of my time on the mountain doing my best to put food away so the raccoon wouldn’t try again to make my territory its territory.

Photos courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-whiskers-raccoon-16605/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/zoo-bear-raccoon-saeugentier-54602/.

10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert

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So you’re going to escape the worst of winter by heading to the deserts of Southern Arizona (the Sonoran), Southern New Mexico (the Chijuajuan) or Southern California (the Mojave). Maybe you’re going to Quartzsite to attend The Rubber Tramp Rendezvous or to stay in a Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA). Congratulations!

While you probably won’t face seemingly unending days of ice and snow, a desert environment can pose its own challenges. If you’ve never been to the desert before (or you’re a desert dweller who needs some reminders to shake you out of your complacency), here are ten tips to help you survive and thrive in the desert.

#1 Drink plenty of water. Even if your winter desert isn’t hot, it’s still extremely dry. Even in the winter, it’s important to stay hydrated. Drink before you feel thirsty.

#2 Alcohol can dehydrate you, so limit your consumption. The desert environment has probably already dehydrated you, and alcohol can make things worse. Take it slow with the alcohol until you determine how your body is reacting to the dry environment. If you’re drinking alcohol, up your water intake.

#3 Don’t get too much sun. Yes, you’ve escaped the harsh winter and the sun feels good on your skin, but don’t overdo it. Be sure you have some shade to escape to during the hottest part of the day; yes, even in the winter, a desert can get hot. Wear long pants and long sleeves made from light cotton to protect your skin, and wear sunscreen on any parts you leave uncovered. I use sunscreen on my face, and I wear my hat with the wide brim to further protect my face. My hat also provides a barrier between the sun and my head.

#4 Deserts can get cold too, so have appropriate gear. Even if a winter day in the desert is sunny and relatively warm, the night can get cold. Especially if you’re going to be out and about in the desert night, be prepared with long pants, a long sleeved shirt, and a warm hat. If you tend to feel cold and depending on the temperature, you may also need a jacket and gloves. If your ears are sensitive be prepared to protect them from the wind. Check the weather forecast before you head to your desert destination so you know what clothing you may need.

#5 Watch for Critters. You’re less likely to see a rattlesnake in the winter than the summer, but the snakes are still around. Especially on a warm and sunny day, rattlers may be on the move. Don’t stick your hands or feet into any crack or crevice you haven’t first visually inspected. If you do encounter a rattler (or any other snake) give it a wide berth so it has plenty of room to escape. Don’t poke or prod it, and let it be on its way.  If you are bitten by a nonpoisonous snake, clean the wound and get a tetanus shot if you need too. If you are bitten by a poisonous snake, get to an emergency room ASAP.

Turn your shoes upside down and shake them out before you put them on. This will help prevent your toes from meeting any unwelcome spider or scorpion visitors. Check out these tips from the Mayo Clinic about what to do if you’re stung by a scorpion before you need them. Maybe print out the tips and include them in your first aid kit.

Coyotes aren’t likely to attack an adult human but it does happen. They’re known to snatch cats and small dogs (even in broad daylight!) and lure larger dogs to their deaths. Don’t leave your pet unattended in the desert! Stay with your dog when it’s outside and keep it in your rig when you can’t watch it.

#6 Don’t get too close to cholla. Pronounced [chaw-yah], there are more than 20 species of this cactus in the deserts of North America. The joints of this cactus are attached very loosely and will easily attach to a person or dog who brushed by. The joints are full of spines, and if you touch them, you’re likely to be full of spines too!

Keep inquisitive dogs away from cholla. When a dog tries to sniff cholla, it usually ends up with spines in its nose. The dog then tries to use its paws to scratch at the spines in its nose, thus getting spines in its paws. The situation can quickly escalate into a full-blown mess.

According to the 2013 articled “How To Remove Cactus Spines From Your Perforated Body,” by Chris Clarke

Many desert rats accustomed to living in cholla country will carry a large comb with them: it’s an excellent tool for prying cholla stems off yourself.

#7 Be ready for wind and the dust it can bring. I grew up in the Deep South where the wind was nothing to get upset about unless we found ourselves in the midst of a hurricane. I began to learn about real wind when I moved to the Midwest, but I really didn’t know wind until I spent time in New Mexico and Arizona. A desert wind is quite a wind. It can blow hard for hours or days on end and whisk away folding tables and chairs and other gear you may have outside your rig. Any tents or easy-ups must be held down securely so the wind doesn’t blow them away and mangle them in the process.

Without moisture to hold it down, desert dust is easily blown around, sometimes leading to poor air quality. Be prepared to stay in your rig with the windows closed when the dust is at its worst.

#8 Don’t camp in arroyos or other low-lying areas. An arroyo (pronounced [uhroi-oh] and also known as a wash, gully, gulch, or ditch) is a place where water flows when it rains. (Yes, it rains in the desert, sometimes in the winter.) Even if it’s not raining where you are, a flashflood caused by heavy rain upstream can fill an arroyo with water suddenly and unexpectedly. I’m not talking a trickle of water; I’m talking enough water to wash away your camp.

In a footnote to a 2016 the Scientific America article “Instant Peril: Flash Floods (and How to Survive Them)“, author Dana Hunter offers some advice.

I can tell you from bitter experience that even though that flat, sandy wash bottom makes a bonza place to pitch a tent, it is horrible if there’s a thunderstorm in the night. At worst, you’re swept away and drowned. At best, you’re awakened in the middle of the night by the stream that’s now flowing through your sleeping bag, and you have to haul your soaked self and belongings to high ground. In the dark. In the rain. And you’ll do a terrible job pitching the tent. Where you won’t be able to sleep because you’re too wet.

#9 Be careful when driving through or parking on sand. It’s easy to get stuck in sand. Bob Wells has an excellent article about getting stuck and how to get unstuck on his Cheap RV Living blog. I suggest reading his post “Getting Stuck: How to Avoid it and What to Do if it Happensbefore you encounter desert sand.

#10 Old mines are dangerous; don’t go in them! There are thousands of abanoned mines on Bureau of Land Management sites throughout the deserts of the Southwest. I saw one while camping on BLM land outside Ajo, Arizona and did some research, leading me to write a blog post about what I disovered. The the BLM’s FAQ on Abandoned Mine Lands says such mines can lead to physical and human health hazards.

  • Physical hazards: Unsecured AML [Abandoned Mine Lands] sites pose a risk of death or serious injury by falling down open mine shafts.
  • Human health hazards: Exposure to toxic gases and chemicals, cave-ins, explosives, and water hazards endanger human health

If you see any signs like the one pictured here, stay safe by keeping your distance.

Don’t be discouraged! Being prepared for the challenges of the desert can help you avoid the environment’s pitfalls and increase your chances of enjoying yourself. I was in my 40s before I grew acquainted with the desert, but now it’s my winter destinations of choice. You might find you grow to love it too!

Remember, Blaize Sun can’t prepare you for or protect you from every problem you might encounter in the desert. Only you are responsible for you! Do your research before you head to the desert, use common sense, and think before you act.

I took all the photos in this post.

How to Stay Safe and Healthy in the Forest

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  Let’s face it: a lot of us boondockers are city kids who’ve found ourselves spending a lot of time in the woods now that we’re living in our vans (or motorhomes or truck campers or cars or whatever). The forest can be a worrisome place for folks who didn’t camp much during our formative years. While I don’t sit around worrying about treachery at every turn, I do believe in taking precautions to keep myself and my belongings safe. Sometimes it’s easy to let our guard down when we’re surrounded by the beauty of nature, but vigilance is important, especially for folks out on their own.

Whether you’re camping in a tent or a motorhome or something in-between, you want to stay safe and healthy during your time in the forest. These tips can help you if you’re spending just a weekend out in the trees or moving from forest to forest while living nomadically.

#1 Don’t leave your belongings lying around. You may be honest, but your neighbors may not be. Whether you’re in a campground or boondocking in the wilderness, it’s a good idea to put valuables away when you leave your camp. If you’d be sad if an item were stolen or if you can’t afford to replace it, lock it up before you go.

If I’m camping somewhere for more than one night, I’ll often set up a tent to use as my storage shed. If I leave camp, I can easily stow my stove, propane tank, and tables in the tent. It’s quicker than packing everything into the van, and while it won’t stop a determined thief, it will slow down someone who can’t resist easy pickings.

#2 Don’t open your door to strangers. Just because you’re out of the city doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be cautious about who you let into your living space. If a stranger knocks, talk through a window. While I believe most people in the world are good at heart, don’t let a bad apple into your rig by mistake.

#3 Make sure your campfire is dead out when you don’t want to supervise it anymore. Going on a hike? The fire needs to be dead out. Going to bed? The fire needs to be dead out.

If you set the forest on fire, your safety is at stake too. If you’re away from your campsite or asleep when your campfire starts a wildfire, your property and life will be in danger.

The Forest Service gives these tips for making sure your campfire is completely out:

  • First, drown the campfire with water!
  • Next, mix the ashes and embers with soil.
  • Stir the embers after they are covered with water and make sure that everything is wet.
  • Feel the coals, embers, and any partially-burned wood with your hands. Everything (including the rock fire ring) should be cool to the touch. Feel under the rocks to make sure [there are] no embers underneath.
  • When you think you are done, take an extra minute and add more water.
  • Finally, check the entire campsite for possible sparks or embers, because it only takes one to start a forest fire.
  • Remember…if it is too hot to touch, it is too hot to leave.

#4 Keep your pet leashed and under your control or in your rig. If coyotes are in the area, small dogs and cats are at risk of being snatched. If you’re in bear country, even a large dog is no match for an adult Ursus americanus (black bear), much less an Ursus arctos (grizzly bear). Dogs antagonize bears and bears attack dogs. Protect your dog by not letting it run loose.

#5 Speaking of bears, don’t attract them with food and garbage left around your campsite. Keep a clean camp. Food and garbage lying around can attract not just bears, but other critters like flies, rodents, raccoons, and ravens. Of course, you don’t want to tangle with bears, but even smaller animals can create a huge mess by dragging food and garbage all over your campsite. Flies carry disease, and no one wants to get sick while they’re supposed to be enjoying trees and birdsong.

If you’re in a campground, put trash in garbage cans or dumpsters right away. Be sure you close garbage containers securely. If you’re boondocking in a place with no trash containers, tie garbage bags and stow them securely in your rig until you can pack out what you’ve packed in.

If bears are a problem where you’re camping, store all food and trash in bear boxes if provided or use your own bear canister.

#6 Beware of falling branches. It’s nice to park in a shady spot when the summer sun is beating down, but a falling branch can wreak havoc on your rig or tent. Look up before you pick your spot and notice any obviously dangerous tree limbs. Even if no limbs seem to be in danger of falling, remember that a high wind can send branches crashing to the ground with no warning.

A Forest Service website gives tips to keep you and your belongings safe from falling branches. Read all about it before you head off into the woods.

#7 Don’t pick up critters. The forest where I work seasonally posts warnings about plague and hanta virus. Picking up a sick animal greatly increases one’s chance of infection. In most wild places, wild animals won’t let humans get anywhere near them. If a cute little critter lets you pick it up, it’s probably not healthy. Don’t risk your well-being by picking up a creature that might be infectious.

#8 Watch out for snakes. While most snakes aren’t poisonous, you still don’t want to be bitten by one. Even a nonpoisonous snake bite may require medical attention. When a friend of mine  was bitten by a rattler in his own driveway, he ended up spending a couple of nights in the hospital. I certainly don’t have the time or money for anything like that.

For a comprehensive guide to keeping your space free of snakes, see the great article “How to Keep Snakes Away from Your Campsite” on the TakeOutdoors website.

#9 Wash your hands. E. coli doesn’t take a vacation just because you’ve left civilization. If, like me, you don’t have running water in your rig, you can set up a handwashing station in your camp. I use a seven gallon water jug with a spigot so I can control the flow of water and conserve the precious resource. At a bare minimum, wash up after performing elimination functions and before handling food.

#10 Know what creepy crawlies and flying critters you need to protect against. In certain areas, bug bites can be more than a temporary annoyance. Do the local mosquitoes carry the West Nile Virus? Are you at risk from getting Lyme disease from the ticks where you’re camping? Do you need to worry about brown recluse or black widow spiders? If the pests where you’re camping are poisonous or carry disease, you’re going to have to be extra vigilant about protecting yourself.

Ticks are creepy whether or not they carry Lyme disease.  If you find an attached tick during a full-body inspection, you’ll want to remove it immediately. Go to the Centers for Disease Control website to learn the steps for removing a tick. You may want to print out the steps to include in your first aid kit.

The Mobile RVing website has a good article on “How to Control Mosquitoes at Your Campsite.”

The Pronto Pest Management offers “10 Tips to Protect Yourself from Ticks While Camping.”

The USA Today website has an article with tips on “How to Keep Spiders from Campsites.”

There’s no way to imagine or prepare for every single danger one might encounter in the woods. In life we run into situations that could lead to harm, whether we’re in the city or the wilderness. I hope these tips help you plan for your health and safety when you leave the concrete and venture out into nature.

Remember, Blaize Sun can’t prepare you or protect you from every danger you might encounter in the forest. You are responsible for our own self. Research the problems you might encounter in the area you plan to camp in before you get there. Call the local BLM field office or Forest Service ranger station responsible for the place you want to camp and ask about hazards in the area. Think before you act. If something you’re about to do seems potentially dangerous, don’t do it!

I took the photos in this post.

Locked Restroom Doors

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I’d spent the last two nights in Babylon. The first night was so hot, I barely slept. I’d be surprised if I’d gotten more than a total of an hour’s sleep that whole night. It was so bad, I’d left the van to walk over to the 24-hour Ice Cream on Bowl Beside Spoonsupermarket and bought three miniature cartons of ice cream, which helped about in proportion to their size.

The second night was better. The temperature had dropped maybe five degrees from the night before and a slight breeze blew through the darkness. I got maybe five hours of sleep that night and felt functional when I woke up.

I walked over to Taco Bell to get some breakfast. I love their fiesta potato grilled breakfast burritos. A buck gets me potato, egg, cheese, and pico de gallo wrapped in a grilled flour tortilla. Two of these yummies fill me up for hours.

Before I ate, I wanted to utilize the toilet and wash my hands. I’d been in this Taco Bell before and knew right where the restrooms were. I went left immediately upon walking through the entrance door.

The restrooms here were the kind with one (flush) toilet behind a lockable door. Last year when I’d frequented this restaurant, one door had been marked for men and the other had been marked for women. Now they were both marked “unisex,” which was fine with me. I’ve already proven on several occasions that I can use any toilet behind any locked door.

During previous early morning visits to this Taco Bell when the dining room was practically deserted, I’d just turned the handle on the restroom door and it had opened. This time I tuned the handle, knocked , turned the handle again, but nothing happened. The door didn’t open. No one called out, One moment from inside the restroom. Nothing. I went through the drill with the other restroom door. I decided I’d have to go up to the counter and ask a worker for the key.

I stepped up to the counter to find a woman probably in her late 20s standing there. She wore a Taco Bell uniform and looked sleepy.

Hi! I said, trying to sound personable so she would deem me worthy of using a Taco Bell restroom. I’m going to order food, but I’d like to wash my hands first. Can you unlock the restroom for me?

The worker produced a large keyring from somewhere behind the counter or on her person. She found the key she needed from the many others on Photography of Keys on Orange Surfacethe ring. All the while, she was apologizing to me. One apology would have been fine, but she kept going on and on with saying she was sorry, even though I wasn’t complaining.

As we walked together to the restroom, she continued apologizing and explained, We had to start locking them because the homeless were taking showers in there. She spoke as if she and I were in this together, as if “the homeless” were a group to which she and I did not belong.

She probably did live in some sort of conventional home, but I certainly did not. I thought it was obvious that I’d been living somewhere other than a conventional home. Today was the second day wearing the clothes I had on. I’d dribbled some of my middle-of-the-night ice cream on the front of my hot pink tank top which was so old it was developing holes just above the hem. My bare arms were dirty, and my hair was unbrushed and unwashed. My skirt was a little too tight across my middle, and it was a little too short to completely cover my hairy legs.

Was this woman really looking at me and seeing “normal”? I didn’t think I looked like a normal member of polite society. How could she not think “homeless” when she looked at me?

Maybe it was my lack of a shopping cart or multiple grocery store bags filled with belongings. Maybe it was my coherent speech. Maybe it was my declaration that I planned to buy something. For whatever reason, this young woman did not see a homeless person when she looked at me. When she looked at me, she saw someone she needed to apologize to for locked restrooms. When she looked at me, she saw someone who was more like her than different from her.

It’s hard to not have a place to clean up, I said to her mildly. I wasn’t looking to get into a big discussion or educate her on issues of homelessness.  I really just wanted to wash my hands, then chow down on some breakfast, but I felt like I had to say something in defense of my brothers and sisters in homelessness.

I know! the worker said quickly and defensively. But I have to follow procedures.

She’s the one who brought up “the homeless.” I hadn’t asked for any explanation for the locked doors. I hadn’t even complained about the locked doors. All I’d done is very politely asked her to unlock a door for me.  She’s the one who’d offered excessive apologies and explanations. I don’t know why she was getting defensive now.

Well, then y’all have to clean the mess left in the restroom, I said apologetically to let her know I was also down with my fellow workers in the fast food business. I know I wouldn’t want to mop up a restroom that had been used as a shower stall.

In the event my beliefs are unclear, let me summarize.

#1 I believe all people have the right to private toilets.

#2 I believe all people have the right to wash up.

#3 I believe fast food workers should not have to clean up other people’s irresponsible restroom messes.

#4 I believe fast food workers shouldn’t be deciding who is and isn’t homeless and who should and should not be allowed to use the restaurant’s restrooms.

Finally, the worker had the door to the restroom unlocked, and I was able to go into the restroom and lock the door behind me.  I didn’t try to wash anything other than my hands, but that hot water sure would have done a good job cleaning various other body parts.

When I left the restroom, I closed the door gently so it didn’t latch. The next person who needed to use the restroom might not pass the Taco Bell employee’s scrutiny as suitable to use the restroom, so I used my privilege to possibly help some other homeless person.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/ice-cream-on-bowl-beside-spoon-1343504/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/photography-of-keys-on-orange-surface-1055336/.