Tag Archives: Arizona

How to Have a Great Time at (or at Least Survive) the RTR

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So you’ve done it! You’ve decided to attend the 2019 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in Quartzsite, Arizona on January 9-20. Congratulations! If this is your first RTR, you’re probably really excited and at least a little nervous too. When I went to my first RTR in 2015, I didn’t know a single person there! However, despite my shyness, anxiety, and tendency to be overwhelmed by crowds, I made friends I’m still close to today. I’ve attended  three more RTRs since then, and today I’ll share with you my best advice to help you learn a lot and enjoy yourself at this gathering of vandwellers, rubber tramps, RVers, nomads, vagabonds, and travelers of all kinds.

#1 Do your research now so you’ll know what to expect when you get to the RTR. This post is a great place to start, but don’t stop here. Visit the Cheap RV Living website to learn the specifics of the 2019 RTR. If you like watching videos more than you like reading, check out the Cheap RV Living YouTube channel to get updates about the 2019 RTR.  In the last couple of years, Facebook groups related to the RTR and Quartzsite have popped up. If you’re on Facebook, you might want to join  RTR Chatter  and Quartzsite Chatter. Lots of bloggers and vloggers have written about their RTR experiences, so use  your favorite search engine to find those posts. If you want my perspective, you can read about my experiences at the RTR in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.

#2 The desert is different from the rest of the U.S. Learn about desert conditions before you arrive. A good place to start is my blog post “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert.” Once you know what to expect in the desert, you’ll have better ideas for how to prepare.

#3 Be ready for sun, wind, rain, cold, and dust. Weather in the desert can change rapidly, and nights can be chilly or downright cold. It does rain in the desert, so bring appropriate gear for whatever weather the two weeks of the RTR bring.

#4 If you’re a woman, and especially if you are a female newbie, consider attending The Women’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (WRTR). This gathering will be held January 4-8 (before the main RTR) in Bouse, Arizona. The WRTR will be smaller than the main RTR, so it may be easier to meet people there, and smaller crowd may produce less anxiety. At the WRTR, you’ll learn things (like how to go to the bathroom in your rig!) that you’ll be glad to know once you get to the big gathering.

#5 Stock up on fresh food before you get to Quartzsite. Once you’re in town, you can find good deals on canned goods, snacks, and other processed foods at the multiple popup scratch & dent stores. However, Quartzsite has no big supermarket with low prices. Instead it has two grocery stores with small town prices. When I arrive at the RTR, I make sure my cooler is stocked with eggs, cheese, and produce. If you stay at the RTR for two weeks, you may have to pick up fresh groceries halfway through, but you can save some money by buying cheap before you arrive.

#6 Once you arrive at the RTR, you’re going to have to find a spot for your camp. You can be close to the main meeting area, or you can have lots of space around your camp, but you probably can’t do both. At the 2018 RTR, people camped close to the main meeting area were packed in fairly close to each other. Farther away, there was more room for people to spread out, but folks who had more room around their rigs had to walk a ways to get to seminars, the main campfire, and the free pile.

#7 Forget about privacy. Unless you are more than a mile from the main RTR meeting area, you probably won’t be able to camp entirely alone. Even if you’re able to maintain some space around your rig, you’ll probably still have neighbors close enough to see what you’re doing when you’re outside. No matter where you’re camped, expect drones to fly overhead and take photos and videos. At any official RTR event and even in your own camp, expect people to record and photograph you without permission. While organizers have discouraged filming, photographing, and recording without permission, they’ve also said there’s nothing they can do to stop it.

#8 Find your people at the RTR. Especially if you go alone or this is your first RTR, finding others with similar interests can make the gathering a less overwhelming place. If you’re the creative type, seek out the RTArt Camp. If you like to jam, camp with other musicians. In the past, school bus nomads have camped together, and in 2018 several box trucks parked all in a row. Sure, you might not be able to base an entire friendship on a shared love of finger painting or driving a similar rig, but some common thread will at least give you a conversation starter.

#9 Wearing a nametag can be a good ice breaker, At the last two RTRs, a few ladies had a button-making machine and were making nametags in exchange for a small donation to cover expenses. Some folks brought their nametags to the RTArt Camp to add bling to their button.

If you don’t want people to know your legal name, it’s a time-honored tradition to give yourself a road name. In any case, wearing a name badge can help folks remember you and what you want to be called.

#10 Get to seminars early to get a good spot where you can see and hear the action. The seminars are one of the most popular aspects of the RTR, especially for new folks. In 2018 I estimate two to three hundred people attended each seminar. Even with sound amplification, it must have been difficult for some attendees to hear. I’d plan to arrive at any seminar at least half an hour before it was scheduled to begin. Some folks leave their chairs to hold their places in the seminar area during the entire event.

#11 Drive more slowly than you think necessary.The BLM camping areas in Quartzsite are dusty places. Going more than 5 miles per hour on unpaved BLM land stirs up a lot of dust. Go super slow so the people whose camps you pass won’t hate you. Also, sometimes pets dash out of rigs and into the road. Going slow will help you avoid hitting any renegade pups or kitties.

#12 Bring earplugs for a peaceful sleep. Overall, the RTRs I’ve attended have been mostly quiet at night, but be prepared for the night you’ve parked next to someone who has to run a generator for medical reasons, your friendly neighbors linger next to the campfire laughing, or you want to go to bed early and the Boomers across the wash blast the oldies until 9:59. It’s not reasonable to expect a gathering of so many will be quiet when you need your rest, so have your ear plugs handy.

#13 If one of your RTR goals is to meet people, put yourself out there and be friendly.Walk around. Smile at people. Say hello. Ask respectful questions.

Feel awkward staring a conversation with a stranger? Here are some RTR specific opening lines:

  • Is this your first RTR?
  • Have you been to the free pile?
  • What kind of rig do you have?
  • Are you full time?
  • What seminar do you most want to attend?
  • Have you been to the RTArt Camp?
  • Are you going/have you been to the Big Tent?
  • Where’s the main campfire?
  • What are you plans for after the RTR?
  • Where did you get your nametag? (Make sure the person is actually wearing a nametage before you use this one.)

#14 Remember that it’s fine to go hide in your rig if you get overwhelmed. I’ve hidden in my rig so many times during past RTRs! There’s no shame in needing alone time to decompress and process what you’ve heard, seen, and learned. Close your curtains, breathe deeply, and relax.

#15 The RTR can be fun, exciting, overwhelming, educational, stressful, aggravating, and wonderful. Take care of your physical needs so you can cope emotionally. Drink plenty of water. Eat enough. Rest. Cry if you need to and laugh as much as you can. Exercise, but not a lot more than you’re accustomed to. Wear comfortable, sturdy shoes so you can make it over the rocks, through the dust, and across the washes. I’ve found a walking stick really helps me navigate the rough terrain.

Whether it’s your first or your eighth Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, following these tips can help you make the most of this gathering of nomads from across North America. If you’re new to the RTR feel free to ask my any questions I may not have answered in this post. If you’ve been to past RTRs, leave your suggestions in the comment section below.

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

I took all the photos in this post.

 

 

Drive-Thru

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I was in Flagstaff, Arizona, and money was tight. I decided to visit the food bank to help me get by until I received my first paycheck.

I’ve been to food banks across the country, and some are better than others. It’s disheartening to fill out a bunch of paperwork, answer a lot of personal questions, and wait in line for a long time to receive not much more than a can of green beans and another of store-brand beef stew. Don’t get me wrong—I’m always grateful, but sometimes I’m more grateful than others.

I’d heard the food bank in Flagstaff was generous, so I had high hopes when I decided to pay it a visit.

I called ahead. My license didn’t list Flagstaff as my address, and some food banks only want to give food to residents. I didn’t want to stand in line only to be turned away. The nice woman on the phone said I didn’t need to be a resident of Flagstaff to get food, but I would need to show my ID. No problem.

I arrived early. The food bank was set to open at 9am, but I was ahead of the game and had the van parked before 8am. People tend to show up early for free food, and I wanted to be one of the first in line.

I was writing and not really paying attention to the time when I looked at my watch again. It was 8:30. The parking lot was no fuller than it had been when I pulled in. I was parked on the side of the building, so I thought people must be lined up in front. I grabbed my reusable shopping bags and went looking for the line.

When I walked around the corner of the building, I didn’t see a single person standing in line. I did see orange cones arranged in front of the building to make a lane and cars lined up in the lane. Could this really be a drive-thru food bank?

I hurried back to the van, got in the driver’s seat, turned the key in the ignition, and backed out of my parking space. I exited the parking lot and took my place in the queue which now stretched out of the parking lot and onto the side of the wide, lightly trafficked street. It was probably ten minutes to nine.

Just minutes after nine, the vehicles in front of me started moving. I was soon close enough to the front to see the proceedings. A woman with a clipboard approached a car, and there seemed to be some conversation. The clipboard was handed to the driver; soon the driver handed the clipboard back to the woman running the show. The car pulled up to a predetermined spot and people I presumed to be volunteers unloaded food from a full shopping cart into the car’s open trunk. In a few minutes, the car was on its way.

agriculture, basket, beetsWhen my turn came, things went down just as I’d observed. The woman handed me the clipboard and asked me to write my name and address on adjacent lines; she never did ask for my ID. She did ask me where I wanted the food to go, and I pointed to the passenger side of my van. I pulled up to the designated spot and kind young people loaded in two small boxes of nonperishable food, one large box filled with pounds of fresh produce (tomatoes;  Brussels sprouts; yellow squash, and red, orange, yellow, and green bell peppers), a case of 12 bottles of  Pure Leaf organic black tea, and three dozen eggs. Wow! This food would certainly help get me through until my first payday.

I drove off, marveling not only at the quantity and quality of the food I’d just been given but at the fact that I hadn’t even had to get out of my van. I was very grateful indeed.

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/agriculture-basket-beets-bokeh-533360/.

Arizona Penny Presses

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The Lady of the House and I were on an epic road trip in Arizona and Utah. At the first two tourist attractions we visited—bam! bam!—penny presses!

Penny presses outside the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark gift shop.

The first two penny presses we saw were outside the gift shop at the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark. The gift

shop—and the presses—were deep in the complex, well past the entrance where folks pay the admission fee. If you don’t plunk down $18 for admission, you’re not getting anywhere near those penny presses.

We saw the presses at the beginning of our visit, but we spent the little-less-than-an-hour before our guided tour (included in the price of admission) picking out postcards and a t-shirt for The Boy after freshening up in the restroom. We didn’t have time for immediate penny pressing.

After the tour, we made a quick exploration of the Discovery Center, then looked at the bottom of the crater with the free telescopic viewer. Then it was time for the penny press.

Turns out, The Lady of the House enjoys pressed pennies. Before we left town, she mentioned she was saving her  quarters to use in penny press machines. She was pleased to see those penny presses outside the gift shop.

First she had to pick the design she wanted on her penny. Should I get the picture of the crater or the picture of the meteor about to crash into the earth? she asked me.

You saw the crater, I reminded her, but you didn’t see the meteor.

That’s what I was thinking! she said, then began the penny pressing process.

She lined up her design choice and put in her coins. Then she turned, turned, turned the crank. Soon her souvenir penny clanked into the dispenser cup.

The second penny press we found was in Winslow, Arizona. The Lady had never been there, and she wanted to see the Standin’ on the Corner Park. We pulled off the I-40, and I navigated the van through the town to the park. We found a free spot half a block away to leave the van, then walked over to the famous corner.

On the way, we passed a gift shop across Kinsley Avenue from the park. Right outside the shop’s door stood a penny press machine.

Penny press in Winslow, Arizona.

After we took our photos in the Standing on the Corner Park, The Lady stood in front of the machine to choose her design. She’d used up all her quarters at the Meteor Crater gift shop, so after she picked out which penny design she wanted, she went inside the gift shop to get four quarters for a dollar. The woman working the cash register offered her pennies too, but The Lady said she had some. The worker said her pennies were bright and shiny, so The Lady accepted a few. The bright and shiny pennies did make for a nice souvenir after The Lady turned, turned, turned the crank.

At that point I started wondering if I should start collecting pressed pennies.

Fifty-one cents is a good price for a souvenir, The Lady told me.

My main concern was what I would do with a bunch of pressed pennies. Would they just sit in a bowl or a drawer? Would I ever remember to look at them?

The morning after the Arizona double penny press experience, I was lying in my bed, looking up at the ceiling of my van. There are three wooden strips, each about two inches wide running across the width of my van. I could glue pressed pennies to those wooden strips, I realized. I could display my collection in my van!

It’s too late to get a pressed penny from Meteor Crater, but maybe someday I’ll pass through Winslow again. I also know where to get a pressed penny when I go through Quartzsite, AZ; Baker, CA; and Las Vegas, NV. I’m sure my collection will grow in time.

I took the photos in this post.

Meteor Crater Natural Landmark

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I took this photo on the road to the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark complex the first time I tried to visit in 2015.

I’d planned to visit Meteor Crater Natural Landmark once before. I’d taken exit 233 and driven nearly 6 miles to the parking lot. I’d even gone into the visitor center, but when I saw the price of admission, I turned around and left.

I’d budgeted $10 to see this roadside attraction. I probably would have splurged and spent $12, but when I saw the price of admission was $18, I went back to my van and got back on the road. I doubted looking at a crater would be worth $18.

The Lady of the House thought this story was hilarious.

She’d never seen the meteor crater either, but her son, The Boy (now a grown man in his 20s), had visited some years ago on a field trip. The Boy had been quite impressed by the crater during a time in his life when he was not easily impressed. (Upon visiting the Grand Canyon as a child, all The Boy could say was, I hate this stupid Grand Canyon; his favorite part of the trip was the ride on a shuttle bus from the parking lot to a scenic viewpoint.)

He just kept talking about how big it was, The Lady said of her son after his visit to Meteor Crater Natural Landmark.

The crater wasn’t originally on our trip itinerary. We hadn’t planned to be on I-40 at all, but waiting for my van’s water pump to be replaced delayed us by four days. We cut the New Mexico portion of our trip out entirely, which meant we had to get to Utah by a different route.

Since we’d be on I-40, The Lady really wanted to see the meteor crater.

You pay the $10 you budgeted when you stopped before, The Lady told me, and I’ll pay the $8 difference.

I told her it was a deal.

The Meteor Crater website said guided tours were available. I called the Meteor Crater office and found out the guided tours were included in the price of admission. I always like to take a guided tour if it doesn’t cost extra. I find I learn more from a tour guide than I do if I’m left to my own devices reading informational placards.

The night before our visit to the crater, we boondocked off I-40 between Flagstaff and Winslow, just outside Walnut Canyon National Monument. We’d hoped to arrive at the crater in time for the first tour at 9:15 in the morning, but we were running late. In retrospect, we were glad we’d missed the first tour because when we arrived, we still had time to use the (clean) restroom, buy a few souvenirs in the (well-lit, neatly arranged, not overpriced) gift shop, and watch the (entertaining, informative) short documentary IMPACT! The Mystery of Meteor Crater.

This photo shows the entrance to the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark complex.

Before we did any of those things, we had to pay the admission fee.

The worker who greeted us at the door was all smiles. She welcomed us and pointed to the sign above the box office where she said we’d see the prices listed. We already knew the prices (they’re on the internet, as The Lady said to me later, thus a matter of public record), so when The Lady walked up to the box office, she chirped Two, please! and didn’t balk when the ticket seller asked for $36.

A young couple walked in right behind us. I’d noticed them in the parking lot. They looked like neo-hippies, or at least the man did. He had long hair and a big beard and wore baggie pants that probably allowed him to do the sun salutation in the morning and wrap his legs around a djembe at the drum circle at night. The woman looked less like a hippie and more like a Whole Foods athletic urbanite in a tank top and those hiking leggings that are in fashion with women who engage in outdoor sports.

The fellow was talking to the greeter. I wasn’t following their conversation, but I heard the fellow say $18? in surprise. He lady friend echoed $18? in pure disbelief. I thought it was really funny that the couple was having the same reaction I’d had during my first brief visit.

The greeter must have confirmed the $18 admission fee. Then the fellow seemed to be asking if there were a place they could look at the crater for free; I’d had that same thought during my first visit. The greeter must have told them there was no free viewing because the couple left the building.

The Lady and I, however, went deeper into the building. Then we went out a door, up some steps, past the under-construction Astronaut Park, and into another door. We were now in the area housing the Discovery Center, the restrooms, the Subway restaurant, the gift shop, and the theater.

I guess they wanted to get their money’s worth on that graphic, The Lady said.It was on everything from road signs to restroom signs.

First stop: Restrooms.

Second stop: Gift shop where I bought postcards and The Lady bought The Boy a souvenir t-shirt to replace the one he’d bought during his visit and outgrown.

Third stop: Theater where we watched the informative short documentary IMPACT! The Mystery of Meteor Crater.

After the movie was over, it was time for a tour. We fell in with Jake, our tour guide, who took us right out to the edge of the meteor crater. I was glad we’d opted for the tour because visitors don’t get nearly as close without a guide. I was glad the weather was good too because tours are cancelled due to bad weather, including high wind speeds. I was also glad The Lady and I were visiting in spring because in the hot Arizona summer the tours are cut short.

While visitors can see the crater from the observation area (including through a big glass window for the days it’s too hot and/or too windy to go outside) and can get close-up looks through the free telescope views, no one goes out to the edge of the crater without a guide. I’m sure it would be a huge liability issue to have people standing so close to the edge and perhaps trying to climb down into the crater. The people who own the crater (yes, it’s privately owned) must feel safer having a guide keep an eye on people who go where there are no barriers.

We walked out on a short paved path, and there it was to our left—Meteor Crater. The Boy was right; it was big. Other words that came to mind when I saw the crater were huge, massive, immense, and fantastic, yet it’s difficult to put into words or even capture in photographs just how stupendous the crater really is.

We learned from the movie that the floor of the crater is large enough to house 20 football games being played at the same time, while the sloping sides of the crater could accommodate stands big enough to seat 2 million fans. That’s difficult to imagine, even while I was standing right there looking at the crater.

I didn’t quite begin to understand how big the crater is until I looked through one of the observation telescopes. Looking through the telescope, I could see the floor of the crater where a 6’ tall (I later read) cutout of an astronaut stood in front of a chain link fence. The cutout and the fence both looked itty bitty, even through the telescope.

I learned the following information from a brochure we received at the ticket counter: From the viewing platform,

the floor of the crater is 550 feet deep, equivalent to a 60 story building.

The crater is over 4,000 feet across and 2.4 miles in circumference.

Wowza!

Jake the tour guide was very friendly and knowledgeable. He talked about the impact of the meteor that had

The Lady dances with (a cardboard cutout of) an astronaut in the Discovery Center.

created the crater and the process by which the theory that the crater was made by a meteor (not a volcano as originally thought) was proven. The Lady really enjoyed the second stop on our tour—The Rock Table—where Jake did a show-n-tell of how the meteor impacted (my pun—totally intended) the geology of the area surrounding the crater.

After the tour ended, The Lady and I made a quick pass through the Discovery Center. This area had a lot of

information about meteors and space. There were interactive exhibits, like the one letting the visitor lift an earth rock and comparably sized piece of a meteorite to show the difference in their weights. The Discovery Center seemed to do a good job explaining scientific information in ways kids could understand, while still keeping  the exhibits interesting for adults. I wasn’t so excited about the Discovery Center that day after being out in the sun and the wind during our tour, and knowing I still had hours of driving ahead of me, we kept our visit short. However, the Center must be very popular on days when it’s too windy to go outside or during the summer when the heat cuts the tours short.

You’re probably wondering if the entire experience is worth the $18 admission fee. Folks do get a lot for the price of admission, including the guided tour, the opportunity to view the movie, free use of the telescopic viewers, and access to the Discovery Center. Once you’re in, you’re not nickeled and dimed to death. Also, visitors are allowed to bring in water and snacks, or get their hands stamps for reentry and go out to their vehicles to eat and drink. Every part of the operation The Lady and I saw was clean and well-maintained, so no one is slacking on maintenance in order to line pockets. Finally, all of the employees I encountered (including the clerks in the gift shop) were friendly and seemed happy, so I suspect the workers are being paid decent wages. I’m always happy when workers are earning decent money.

So while I can’t say an $18 admission fee is in my budget, I do think the people who pay that amount get good value for their money. For folks interested in space and heavenly bodies in general and meteors and the impact they’ve had on earth in particular, as well as those interested in geology and the history of the earth, Meteor Crater Natural Landmark would be a very interesting attraction. I’m glad I went, and I appreciate The Lady subsidizing my admission fee, but I wouldn’t encourage travelers on tight budgets to give up something else to visit here unless they were huge fans of meteors and the craters they leave behind.

This photo does no justice to how deep and wide Meteor Crater really is.

I took all the photos in this post.

Coyote Attack

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Folks who live near coyotes and have pets that go outside must be alert and stay with the pets when they’re outdoors. Protecting a pet becomes even more important when it’s a little tiny thing. Coyotes eat rabbits and rodents and other little critters, so when they see a cat or a Chihuahua or a Shih Tzu, they don’t see a beloved pet; they see a much-needed meal. It’s the call of the wild and the survival of the fittest and pets don’t have a lot in the way of self-defense. It’s up to the pet’s people to keep Muffin or FiFi safe,

There are coyotes where I spend my winters. We hear them howl in the early morning and around sunset and sometimes in the wee hours of the night. We see them too. We often see them in broad daylight darting between parked rigs and running through the creosote bushes. It’s against all the rules to feed them here, but we suspect people are doing it anyway because why else would we see them crossing our road in mid-morning?

The Man is careful when he lets Jerico out. Although Jerico weighs 35 pounds and would fight to the death if necessary, he doesn’t spend time outside unsupervised. They’re not your friends, we tell him when we hear coyotes howl and Jerico’s ears perk up.

I went to the laundry room one Friday in late March. I just had a few loads to wash, and the day was sunny, so I decided I would dry the clothes on the line. I’d only been to the laundry room once before (and I’d walked over that time), so I wasn’t sure where to park. I did some driving around before I figured out where to leave the van.

As I was driving, I saw a tiny white Chihuahua outside a rig across from laundry room. I don’t know if the dog was tethered to something or just loose and trained to not run away, but it stayed where it was as a woman strode from that rig, crossed the street, and went into the laundry room.

I parked the van and hauled in my laundry just in time to see the woman fill the last of the six washers. I knew the laundry room was small, so I wasn’t surprised to find I’d have to wait to get a washer. I sat down with my notebook so I could write while I waited. The woman who’d taken the last washer tried to chitchat with me a couple of times. While I answered politely, I was more interested in writing than talking.

After half an hour, the woman took her clean clothes out of the washers and I put my dirty clothes in. She put some clothes in one of the dryers but siad she was going to hang most of her things in the sun to dry.

My clothes had only a few minutes left in the washer when the woman came back in the laundry room. She looked a little dazed. She said her dog had been attacked by something. She said the Chihuahua had a gash in its neck.

Probably a coyote, I said.

She said she hadn’t seen what had attacked her dog, but said again its neck was wounded.

I don’t think a javelina would attack a dog, I said and the man who’d just started his clothes washing agreed. He said he’d never seen a javelina in the RV park.

What’s a javelina anyway? the woman asked.

It’s an big, ugly, pig-looking thing, I told her, but I don’t think one would attack a dog. It was probably a coyote, I repeated.

I’ve never seen a coyote around here! she exclaimed. I hear them, but I’ve never seen one.

I see them all the time, I told her. They run around during the day out here.

I don’t know if the coyotes stick to my park of the RV park and not hers or if she just never noticed them skulking around. Their coloring does help camouflage them in their desert environment, so maybe they’d been near her place but blended in so well she hadn’t recognized them for what they were.

She said again she hadn’t seen what attacked her dog. I don’t know if she was in her rig and her dog was in the yard when it happened or if she was hanging clothes with her back to the dog. She acted as if she didn’t want to admit a coyote had attacked her pet, but as I told her, I don’t know what else could have attacked it that way.

I also can’t explain why a coyote grabbed the dog strongly enough to leave wounds but didn’t kill it or run away with the Chihuahua in its jaws. Maybe the dog was particularly feisty and fought back hard. Maybe the woman approached just soon enough to thwart the attack. Whatever happened, it was the woman’s–and the dog’s–lucky day because the dog lived through the ordeal.

The woman said she’d put Neosporin on the wound, but was concerned about rabies. I suggested she call the local animal shelter and ask for advice. At that point the washers were stopped and my clothes were clean. I loaded up and headed home to hang everything on the clothesline.

The next morning when I went to the office, the park manager said she hadn’t heard anything new about the little dog, so we assumed no news was good news. I suspect the woman was going to keep a closer watch over her dog after the coyote attack.

I took the photo in this post.

The Night Garden

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The first thing Nolagirl and I saw at spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity was The Night Garden by Jenneva Kayser.

The festival’s website calls The Night Garden a

colorful, illuminated landscape inspired by bioluminescent plants and fungi…created on site and consist[ing] of sculptures made of woven recycled fabric and translucent porcelain clay. The artist invite[ed] visitors to “take a walk through the wild landscape—an underwater desert in outer space!”

What in the world is “an underwater desert in outer space”? Wow! I don’t even know what that means. In any case, Nolagirl and I were fascinated by the cacti made from fabric.

On a March 7, 2018 post on the Mesa Arts Center website called “Woven Together,” Kayser writes of the assistance she got to create this installation. She orginally proposed to create a small piece in a “tucked away” location. She thought she’d be doing all the work herself. When the review committee asked for something bigger to display in a more prominent location, Kayser needed help.

About forty people snipped and wove as we processed all the recycled fabric into string, and crocheted the vines and cactus that make up the garden. Four hundred fifty pounds of t-shirts later, I am full of gratitude for a task I simply could not have done alone.

On her Instagram page, Kayser describes herself as “Studio Manager at Mesa Art Center. Artist, poet, cook.” That’s all the biographical information I can find for this artist. Also, is she the same Jenneva Kayser, poet, interviewed in a 2014 issue of Geosi Reads? Ms. Kayser is as mysterious as The Night Garden itself.

The aforementioned Instagram page is a great place to see what The Night Garden looked like at night, something I’m sorry I missed. It’s also a great place to get up close and personal with the textile sculptures.

There’s so much for me to like about this piece. I love that this art is created from recycled fabric. What a fantastic use for 450 pounds of t-shirts! I so appreciate people who can create beauty from items one step away from the trash. I’m also attracted to bright colors, so the reds and purples and fluorescent yellows really drew me in. Since the Sonoran Desert has wormed its way into my heart, any scene with cacti catches my attention.

The Night Garden was a fabulous welcome to the spark! Festival. It drew me and Nolagirl right in and awakened our sense of wonder, preparing us for the other enchanting art we would see that day.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

Boondocking Near Walnut Canyon National Monument in Arizona

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The Lady of the House jumped out of the van and took this photo for me.

The Lady of the House and I started our epic road trip by camping outside of Flagstaff in a location we found courtesy of the Free Campsites website. We planned to visit the Meteor Crater National Landmark and Winslow the next day, so the location off I-40 was perfect for us. The free camping is in the Coconino National Forest right outside Walnut Canyon National Monument.

According to Wikipedia,

Walnut Canyon National Monument (Hopi: Wupatupqa) is a United States National Monument…The canyon rim elevation is 6,690 ft (2,040 m); the canyon’s floor is 350 ft lower. A 0.9 mi (1.4 km) long loop trail descends 185 ft (56 m) into the canyon passing 25 cliff dwelling rooms constructed by the Sinagua, a pre-Columbian cultural group that lived in Walnut Canyon from about 1100 to 1250 CE.

This photo shows the well-maintained dirt road into the boondocking area. I believe this is the road Google calls Oakmont Drive and says becomes Cosnino Road.

From Interstate 40, we took exit 204 as directed by Google, then turned onto Walnut Canyon Road, which we followed to Cosnino Road. When we saw the Walnut Canyon National Monument sign, we knew we were close. We arrived before dark, so it was easy to see where we were going.

We turned off of the main road (Walnut Canyon Road) onto a well-maintained dirt road, which I believe is the road Google calls Oakmont Drive and says becomes Cosnino Road. This well-maintained dirt road had no signs, but we suspected we were in the right place because we could see RVs parked among the trees.

We hadn’t gone far down the dirt road before we saw a flat spot with evidence of previous camping (a fire ring made from stones, a log fashioned into a bench). We decided that site was good enough for our overnight, and I pulled the van in between the trees.

While we were preparing and eating dinner and later while we were getting ready for bed, something mildly strange occurred. At differnt times, a couple of different pickup trucks drove like bats-out-of-hell on the well-maintained dirt road past our camp. The trucks weren’t gone long; shortly they were driving fast in the opposite direction, ostensibly back to their camps. It was as if the drivers had gone to the end of the road, then turned right around and come back. Where did they go? Why did they come back so soon? What was the huge rush? Other than these strange drive-bys, the camping area was very peaceful. We heard no evidence of partying–no loud voices, no loud music.

Campers before us made a fire ring from stones and fashioned a bench from a log. I sat on that bench to eat my dinner.

The Lady discovered this mountain view.

The next morning The Lady went for a short run and came back to tell me she’d found a mountain view and other campsites. She said she’d show them to me, so I went on a brisk walk with her.

The other campsites were at the top of a slightly steep incline. The

Rutted and rocky dirt road

problem getting to the sites wasn’t the road’s climb so much as the road’s poor condition. I was glad I hadn’t tried to take my van up the rutted and rocky dirt road.

The campsites up top (evident because of stone fire rings) were nicely tucked into the trees and deserted, which surprised me. Sure, it was early April, not prime camping season, but I thought someone would have camped up there on a Friday night. However, it seemed we’d had that entire part of the boondocking area to ourselves.

Unfortunately, the fire rings weren’t the only evidence of previous campers; folks had left trash on more than one of the sites. Also, not far from where we camped, we saw the remains of two sofas. I can’t imagine how anyone could have forgotten two couches out in the woods. Maybe it’s supposed to be a hunting blind? The Lady asked

Whoever left these couches on public land left a pretty big trace!

skeptically. I don’t think so. I think the sofas were hauled onto public land specifically for dumping! What a travesty!

Overall, The Lady and I were pleased with our free camping. I would absolutely stay in this boondocking area again.

 

spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity

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Nolagirl and I were going to hang out.

I have to bring my kid to Mesa, she said. She’d been thinking about checking out the free spark! event at the Mesa Arts Center. I told her that was fine with me. Nolagirl always finds the quirkiest, funkiest, grooviest, all-around-most-fun activities in the greater metro area, and I’m pretty open to trying new things. If Nolagirl likes a cultural event, I’m probably going to like it too.

I looked up spark! on the internet. The event’s website says,

This year’s Festival of Creativity will feature an exhibition of 16 art cars, multiple hot rods and lowriders, and interactive arts experiences for people of all ages. spark! celebrates the imaginative spark in all of us, by showcasing Arizona artists and performers and inviting visitors to explore and enjoy live music, aerial dance performances, hands-on experiences, live art-making, installations, demonstrations, a variety of foods, a beer, wine and cocktail area and more.

We arrived at the event around noon. The crowd consisted of a lot of families with kids, but there were plenty of adults without children out there too. I was glad to see the event wasn’t packed; we could still move around just fine and experience everything that was happening.

We entered the festival from Main Street. We could hear the music of the 1950s being performed by Come Back Buddy as we approached. The music was good, and I’m sure I was tapping my foot and swaying my hips, but it was The Night Garden by Jenneva Kayser of Tempe, AZ that really got our attention. We were fascinated by the cacti created from what the aforementioned website calls “woven recycled fabric and translucent porcelain clay.”

As we moved through the Shadow Walk between the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum building and the Ikeda Theater, we encountered another stage where Rising Youth Theatre thespians were performing Light Rail Plays. According the theatre’s website,

Teams of youth and adult artists work together to explore the public transit experience with original plays from a youth perspective…Performers…travel between platforms to maximize the number of people who can experience performances!

We didn’t stop to watch the performance, although we did pause briefly to see the vast array of “food” that festival participants had molded and shaped. The sparks! website calls this participatory activity led by Elliott Kayser a “Community Still-Life in Clay.”

A dining room table set in the style of a classical still-life painting, complete with ceramic serviceware, [was] created prior to the event. During the festival, colorful clay [was] given out to festival-participants with a prompt: to make food that they associate with family tradition. Performers dressed as waiters…compose[d] and arrange[d] the finished “food” within the still-life.

It’s like a coloring page on a car!

A little farther down was a chalkboard car folks could decorate with colored chalk. This interactive experience was the brainchild of artist Kyllan Maney. The sparks! website says this 1981 BMW 528 was

pre-installed with chalkboard paint on the exterior and black lights in the interior. Festival goers [were] invited to color the car in a pre-planned design with chalkboard markers. Vinyl chalkboard shaped birds [were] temporarily adhered to the ground making pathways to the interactive art car, to mimic shadows [of] the birds flying overhead.

When we walked up, volunteers were cleaning off the chalk so newcomers could experience the fun of coloring on a car. We didn’t linger to do any decorating of our own.

The next cool thing we saw was the construction of an art car under the leadership of Harrod Blank, and (apparently very busy) artist Kyllan Maney. The spark! website explains the finished result will be an art car called “Desert Marlin” which was

I love the glass saguaros on this art car.

inspired by the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert. The exterior will be covered with cactus and succulents ranging in size and texture, created out of metal, glass and painted directly on the car. The interior, inspired by the “heart” of the Mesa Arts Center community, will be created by visitors to the festival. They will be invited to create and add a piece to the car during the event.

It was probably when Nolgirl said art car while telling me about the event that I was totally in. It had been a long time since I’d been to an art car event, but I think it’s really cool to take something as ordinary as a motor vehicle and turn it into something original and unique. Nolagirl and I spent probably the next hour looking at each of the sixteen art cars and two art cycles on display in the Arts Center parking lot.  (I’ll be sharing photos and info on my favorite art cars in upcoming blog posts.)

I had so much fun sitting in this chair!

After looking at the art cars, Nolagirl and I went off in search of a restroom. Before we found the restrooms, we found magnificent wobbly chairs. Based on Weeble Wobble technology, the chairs swayed, tipped, and rolled, but never dumped the occupant on the ground. Nolagirl and I both tired out a chair, but I think I enjoyed my experience more. Once I realized I was safe in the chair, I relaxed, leaned back, and had a good ol’ time. I would have played in the chair for the next half hour if little kids hadn’t been waiting their turn.

(I made up the part about Weeble Wobble technology. I mean, yes, there is a certain technology that allows Weebles to wobble but not fall down, but I don’t know if the chairs worked on the same principle.)

We were directed to a restroom in the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum. I was surprised to see a proclamation of “free admission” on the door. Admission wasn’t just free on that day, but all the time! Wow! I will remember to take advantage of this free admission if I’m ever in Mesa again.

After our visit to the (very clean) restroom, we decided to spend some time with the museum’s exhibits. I was glad the museum was a manageable size. I go into art overload rather easily, so I was happy to see three rooms of current pieces and be done.

When we left the museum, Nolagirl was hungry, so she ordered some food from the Short Leash Hot Dogs truck. I found an umbrella-shaded table, and ate a LÄRABAR® while I waited. After our lunch, we thought we’d seen it all and started heading back to the car. When we got to Main Street, I asked, Is there more to see over there? so we walked over to check. Yes, there was more to see!

There were more cars over there. They weren’t art cars, but they did have bright and shiny paint jobs and they weren’t like the average cars on the street. These were hot rods and low riders representing different car clubs. I couldn’t find any information about these cards on the sparks! website. Although I’m not a huge car buff, I did enjoy the bright, shiny colors of the automobile exteriors.

We were heading to the corner when we saw a crowd gathered against the rail above the museum’s courtyard. What’s going on over there? we wondered, then saw the women sitting on the museum’s roof. Oh! It looked like we’d be able to catch the last performance of the Dark Sky Aerial  theatre company.

Photo courtesy of Nolagirl.

It was a mesmorizing performance both above and below us. (I’m confident the dancers performing on the ground were part of CaZo Dance Company, but I couldn’t find any information online to confirm this assertion.)

While six performers in white dance and tumbled in the coutyard below, five women in black used the outside walls of the museum as their vertical stage. They flew through the air, harnessed to ropes that both tethered them to the stability of the building and allowed them to soar through the air. In about a dozen minutes, the show was over. Lots of people  were still having fun at the spark! event but for me and Nolagirl, the performance of Dark Sky Aerial and CaZo Dance was a magnificent end to a fun time at the festival.

Photo of me enjoying myself in the titly chair courtesy of Nolagirl.

 

I took the photos in this post, unless otherwise noted.

 

Drawing Room

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Nolagirl and I were walking towards the Mesa Arts Center on Main Street in Mesa, AZ.

I want to go look at that rocketship thing, I told her.

Right there by the lightrail stop? she confirmed.

I explained I’d taken phots of it in 2016. but I didn’t have any information about the artist. I wanted to find the name of the piece or the name of the artist or something.

We walked across the street, and Nolagirl gazed at the art. I wouldn’t have called it a rocketship, she said, but I get it.

I suspected it wasn’t supposed to represent a rocketship, but that was the closest comparision I could come up with. The round, tapering shape suggested a 1950s concept of space travel to me.

I couldn’t find any permanent information about the art, but Mesa was having a silly event where folks could interact via text with inanimate objects downtown. This piece of art was part of the project, so I was able to find the artist’s name in a cirlce on the ground.

Nolagirl actually texted this object as I was looking for information and taking photographs. Their exchange was rather boring. We were totally over it when the sculpture asked what business we wanted to see downtown. A free box! I chimed in, but I think Nolagirl had already told the art something else.

These faces belong to real people. Those people are part of the Mesa community.

The art piece does have a name, although I couldn’t find it anywhere in the area. (I didn’t go up on the actual lightrail stop waiting area where the seats are. Maybe the name of the art is somewhere over there.) According to Ralph Helmick’s website, the piece is called Drawing Room. The website explains about the faces on the piece.

Its walls are comprised of graphic cutout silhouettes of an inclusive array of actual Mesa citizens. Each profile occupies an oval frame that connects with its neighbors, the collective creating a soaring web of community.

I think it’s really cool that the silhouettes are of actual people who live in Mesa. I wonder how the folks were recruited. I wonder if folks ever scrutinize this piece of art to find their own image or the image of a loved one.

Helmick’s website also says,

Taking the shape of a giant conic form of perforated metal, viewers recognize it as a visual beacon from blocks away and walk underneath while passing to and from the light rail.

You can definitely see this piece from blocks away. It’s a good landmark for not just the lightrail stop, but the Mesa Arts Center as well. I definitely noticed that it’s a portal. To get on the train or return to Downtown Mesa, commuters have to pass through this portal of community.

You must pass through this portal of community to catch your train.

 

The website mentions another thing I’d noticed.

Viewers looking up from beneath the sculpture may draw parallels between our interest in the expansive mysteries of the universe and our quest for civility and fellow-feeling here on earth.

Well, ok, I didn’t draw any parallels or think any deep thougths, but I did notice that it’s really cool to stand within the sculpture and look up, up, up all the way to the hole in the top. The experience is a little dizzying, but very, very cool, especially when light and shadows are playing on the metal.

The CODAworx website says

Ralph Helmick is a sculptor and public artist.

Since his first public art commission in the mid-1980’s – the Arthur Fiedler Memorial, on Boston’s Esplanade – he has worked in various materials (including metal, stained glass, cast resin, and found objects) to create large-scale public sculpture in parks, schools, museums, and other public spaces across the US.

As I did research on Drawing Room and Helmick, I was surprised to see the artist had created another sculpture I know. Helmick is also responsible for the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial on Town Lake in Austin, TX. I’ve visited that staute before. The muscian wears a poncho and a big hat with a brim running all the way around it. Austin folklore has it that as a tribute to Vaughan, fans leave joints on the brim of his hat. I suppose it works as a sort of “take a joint, leave a joint” gift economy, because I was told to always reach up and search for a joint. I suppose if there’s one up there, the finder smokes it in Vaughan’s name. When I visited the statue, I reached up, but didn’t find any treats on the hat.

I took the photos of Drawing Room in this post. My friend Lou took the photos of the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial. Thank you, Lou!

Mural Row

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Nolagirl and I were walking on Main Street in Mesa, AZ, looking for the Big Pink Chair. We approached a building at McDonald, on the south side of Main. I saw murals painted in large, shallow alcoves on the east side of the building.

I’ve never seen these before, I said.

The murals show Arizona natural landscapes and other snapshots of the state’s natural scenery.

I love the vivid sun and the way this painting seems to invite the viewer to stop right into those mountains. I don’t know who painted it.

The mural below was painted by Matlock the Artist, as we can see from the stenciled “signature” on the bottom left of the piece below. Matlocktheartist.com seems to be out of commission, but I traced the moniker to Mark Matlock, artist and owner/curator of (possibly defunt) Fragment Gallery in Tucson. The most current information I could find (2015) is that Matlock left Tucson and moved to Mesa.

This larger-than-life rendering of saguaro blossoms is my favorite of the nature scene murals. The desert is extra beautiful when the saguaros are in bloom.

I think it’s great when the artist has an element from one painting invisibly span the empty space between the two murals and pick up in the adjacent painting. I think this technique helps show the relationship between the murals and make them seem less like isolated pieces. In the pieces above and below, you can see how the artist has used this technique with the the tree branch that runs in front of the saguaro and ends up in the top right corner of the mural featuring the young woman.

Only one of these murals includes the human form, in the person of a young woman standing under the phases of the moon. Who is this woman? Who does she represent? Why is she standing under the changing moon? Those are questions I can’t answer.

I also wonder who painted this mural. I can’t see a signature anywhere. Can you?

I don’t see a signature on this mural either, but it reminds me of a small painting on the other side of Main Street, just down from the Smith-O-Lator cookie store.  Perhaps the same anonymous artist created both paintings.

The spines on these cacti look wicked!

The following mural is called Three Riders and was painted in aerosol by Kerry Niemann of Apache Junction, AZ. Niemann

studied painting, drawing, and sculpture at the University of Kansas in the early 1990’s…

Currently, [she is] most interested in drawing the people and places where [she] live[s]…in Apache Junction, including the mountains, rodeos, restaurants, cars, bull riders, spectators, actors, horses. [She] also paint[s] murals of similar subject matter.

I like the juxtaposition here of a very traditional Western scene topped by an abstract representation of the sky. I wonder if the three figures on horses are perhaps riding off into hell.

Chuck Wan signed this mural of larger-than-life birds, but I can’t find any information about him, other than his collaboration with Carlos Mendoza on a mural for sale through Phoenix Center for the Arts.

Anyone know anything about Chuck Wan?

On the other side of the building, where a wide alley bisects the block, we found more murals painted in large shallow alcoves. While the first murals we saw depict scenes of the state’s natural beauty, the second set shows aspects of mid-20th century American Southwest civilization such as advertisements on Route 66 and other highways and byways of a pre-interstate era.

 

I don’t see a signature on this depiction of the Buckhorn Baths sign.

These are all places in Arizona, Nolagirl said in awe.

She was right, according to information I found about these murals in a December 2015 article in the East Valley Tribune. More specifically, the murals depict places in Mesa. The article, “Downtown Murals Evoke Mesa Memories” says,

Murals that depict neon signs on businesses that previously operated in the city [Mesa] have been painted on the west wall of Surf and Ski building at 137 W. Main Street.

According to the East Valley Tribune, Anthony Galto re-created three vintage signs in this mural.

According to the aforementioned East Valley Tribune article, the next mural was painted by Jesse Perry. On his website, Perry says,

Using an abnormally bright color pallet to deliver my New School Pop Art Style, my work is both bold and versatile, often filled with humor and fun loving characters of the Southwest, commonly laced with hidden messages that speak to the idea of unity and community.

Jesse Perry’s website says he painted this mural with spray paint. I love the Arizona sunset sky.

Also featured in the East Valley Tribune article was this mural by Mark Matlock, aka Matlock the Artist. According to the article, only black and white photos of the sign he chose to paint were available ,

 so he had to choose colors for the mural. His desire was to make the mural look like an old post card and look like neon. He used a wash to rub over the final work…

My favorite of the neon sign murals is this one by David “Dski One” Oswoski of Mesa. I like the slightly blurry edges which gives the piece a dreamlike quality. I can imagine being a little kid in the backseat of the family Buick, eyes half closed after a long day of fun and seeing this sign beckoning me to spend the night in one of their clean, comfortable beds.

I was glad to spend some time with these murals; they really help beautify the two walls. It’s nice to have these downtown reminders of Arizona’s colorful commercial past and its fragile natural beauty.