Tag Archives: boondocking

Tire Disaster (Part 1)

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2018, celebration, colorfulThe Man wanted to get back together. I was skeptical, but I agreed to meet him when my dog sitting gig was over on New Year’s Day. It was good to see him. We talked, then decided to camp on nearby BLM land.

I’d brought black-eyed peas and kale so we could eat for luck and money in the new year.

The tire on my van wasn’t entirely flat when I took this photo, but it wasn’t in any condition to roll down the road.

While I was preparing dinner, The Man looked over at my van and asked, Is your tire flat?

We investigated the back tire on the passenger side. It was not entirely flat, but it was definitely too low. It was getting dark, so The Man said he’d put the spare on in the morning and we’d drive the 25 miles to the nearest Discount Tire to have it repaired. In the meantime, he used the jack to lift the van off the rim so it wouldn’t be damaged from having too much weight resting on it.

I was in the van when I heard The Man cursing outside. When I asked him what was wrong, he said he had a flat too, also on the back passenger side. What are the chances of that happening? we asked each other, then went to bed.

We discovered the flat tire on the back of The Man’s minivan first.

In the morning, we lingered in the van until the sun camp up and the temperature rose. The Man was outside first. When I came around the front of my van, I saw him standing on the passenger side of his minivan, looking down in disbelief. The front tire on the passenger side was flat too! The chance of having three flat tires on two vans in less than 24 hours has to be exceedingly low.

We discovered the flat on the front of The Man’s minivan in the morning.

While the back tire that went flat on The Man’s minivan was old and in need of replacing, my tire and the one on the front of his vehicle were both only about two months old. As we realized later, all three punctures were in the sidewalls of the tires. In one of the flat tires on The Man’s van, we found small pieces of wood protruding from the puncture. WTF? We’re still not sure what caused the flats, but we ruled out roofing nails since none of the punctures were in the treads.

At this point, we decided after breakfast the first order of business would be for The Man to take the flat tire off my van and put on the spare. However, when the time came, he couldn’t get the spare tire off its mount. Two years ago when I bought new tires and asked the folks selling them to me to save the best of my old tires for my spare, they’d put the spare on the mount attached to my backdoor. I’d had no need for the tire since then, so I didn’t know the bolt holding on the tire was cross threaded. Nothing The Man did would budge that bolt.

We put on our walking shoes and headed to the nearest town—about twelve miles away—in hope of buying a can of Fix-a-Flat.

Fix-A-Flat S60430 Aerosol Tire Inflator with Eco-friendly Formula, 20 oz.

We were on a road with very little traffic, but when vehicles approached, we stuck out our thumbs. Most of the vehicles we saw were commercial trucks, which I never expected to stop, but the infrequent passenger cars we saw just rolled on by too.

Finally a young guy in a really clean, sporty car stopped for us. The Man and the dog got in the backseat, and I sat in the front. I tried to make friendly chitchat until I realized the young guy barely spoke English. I took a careful look around the car and found it extremely clean—no dust, no fast food wrappers, no cigarette butts. I did see a beverage can in the holder between the seats. I couldn’t quite see the can’s label, but something about it whispered beer. I glanced into the back and on the floor behind the driver’s seat was a twelve pack of Modelo. Our boy was a morning beer drinker. I hoped he wouldn’t crash the car.

Thankfully, he drove us safely to the Shell station by the interstate. He went on his way, and I thought about how angels sometimes drink beer for breakfast.

I asked The Man to go into the Shell station and choose the proper product for my flat tire while I stayed outside with the dog. Once he used his mechanical expertise to pick out the best product available, I’d go in with my debit card to pay. He wasn’t gone long. He said he’d left the can on the counter by the register and told the lady working that I’d be in for it shortly.

When I went in, the can of Fix-a-Flat was indeed on the counter. I told the lady working the register I’d take it, and she rang it up. I almost passed out when she told me the total was $17 and some cents! I suspected the stuff wouldn’t be cheap, but $17 seemed excessive. But what could I do? I needed the stuff, so I paid up. (I found out later, the same can of the stuff cost under $8 at Wal-Mart.)

So now that we had our Fix-a-Flat, we started our long walk back to our vans. Every time a passenger vehicle passed, we stuck out our thumbs, but it was a long time before anyone stopped.

This post turned out to be a long one, so I’m going to make it a two-part saga. Don’t worry, you won’t have to wait too long to read the rest; the conclusion will run tomorrow. On Wednesday, I’ll share what I learned from the experience and give you 10 Ways to Avoid and/or Prepare for Tire Disasters.

Image of fireworks courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/sky-lights-night-new-year-s-eve-66277/. I took the photos of the flat tires. The image of Fix-a-Flat is an Amazon associates link. If you click on that image, I’ll get paid a small advertising fee on anything you put in your cart and buy during your shopping sessession.

10 Ways to Save Money on the Road

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Living on the road is certainly less expensive than paying rent or maintaining a sticks-n-bricks, but living on the road still costs money. Lots of rubber tramps and nomads survive on a fixed income and would like to see their money go farther. Today I offer you ten tips for saving money while living on the road.

Obey the speed limit and don’t waste your money paying a speeding ticket.

#1 Obey the law and avoid costly fines. I don’t like authority figures telling me what to do either, but getting a ticket is expensive. Don’t exceed the speed limit. Feed the parking meter. Don’t park in a spot reserved for folks with disabilities unless you can display the proper paperwork. Don’t park in any spot your rig isn’t supposed to be in. Don’t drive in the carpool lane (aka High Occupancy Vehicle or HOV lane) if you’re the only person in your vehicle.

#2 Improve your gas mileage. Keep your tires inflated to the correct pressure. Don’t overload your rig with unnecessary weight. Change your air filter regularly. Driving the speed limit (or slower!) will help you in this regard too. (See Car Bibles for more tips on improving gas mileage.)

#3 Use gas price apps to find the lowest cost per gallon in the area you’re in. I’m not a big fan of driving across town to save 20 cents, but maybe you can plan your route to save on fuel. A 2014 article from CNN Tech suggests GasBuddy, Gas Guru, Waze, Dash, and MapQuest Gas Prices.

#4 If you boondock in remote areas for weeks at a time, don’t make daily trips into civilization. Go to your camping spot with supplies to last a week. Do a supply run (paired with fun town activities, if you like) at the end of the first week, and get enough of everything to last until you’re ready to move to your next destination. You’ll save money on fuel, and you won’t have as many chances to make impulse purchases.

#5 If you’re in the market for a rig think about gas mileage. A minivan will probably get better gas mileage than a conversion or cargo van. A Class B motorhome will probably get better gas mileage than a Class A. A small Class C will probably get better gas mileage than a large Class C. A Prius will probably get better gas mileage than anything else.

#6 Do regular maintenance. It will probably cost less to have something maintained than repaired, and a breakdown may require a costly tow. Even during a routine oil change, mechanics usually look around for obvious problems.

#7 Learn how to do your own routine maintenance and make basic repairs. Check and top off your fluids. Change your oil. Replace your brake pads. Change your air filter. You’ll learn more about the mechanics of your rig and you won’t have to pay someone else for the cost of labor.

#8 Compare insurance rates. Does one company offer lower prices than another? Just remember, sometimes lower cost means less protection.

Can you get a better rate by using a different address for your domicile?  I saved about $200 a year by using the address of one family member over another as my permanent residence.

Can you eliminate options to save a few bucks? I pay a little extra for roadside assistance through my insurance, but if I had AAA or God Sam Club coverage, I’d probably drop the roadside assistance option on my insurance policy.

#9 Invest in a large propane tank rather than the green one-pound tanks. I resisted this tip for a long time because those small green propane tanks are just so convenient. However, now I’m a believer in using the bigger tanks. They’re a better deal than the one-pound tanks even if you do the Blue Rhino exchange (available at Wal-Mart, Walgreens, supermarkets, hardware stores, and convenience stores). You save even more if you refill the tank at places like U-Haul, Tractor Supply, AmeriGas refill and refueling stations, and RV parks.

#10 Seek out free and inexpensive entertainment. You really can have a lot of fun for little money, especially in cities and town.

This is public art stands on Main Street in Mesa, AZ.

Look at public art. I especially like murals, but sculpture can be fun too.

Public libraries often offer free admission to movies, concerts, and public speakers, and they sometimes have galleries where patrons can look at art for free. Most libraries also offer free internet access, and even if you don’t have a library card, you can sit around for hours reading books and magazines at no cost to you.

Many museums offer free admission on a designated day once a week or once a month. Plan your trip to an area to coincide with free admission to a museum you want to visit.

Parks are nice free places to hang out. Cook a meal at a picnic table. Walk around the park for exercise. Sit under a tree and read. Especially in the summer, parks often offer plays, concerts, and movies at no charge.

If you’re more of a boondocker and less of a city dweller, get out and enjoy the natural beauty where you are. It’s free to hear the birds sing. Go for a hike or a brisk walk. Watch the sunrise or the sunset. Heck, watch then both. It won’t cost you a dime.

Blaize Sun has been mostly on the road since 2009. She’s traveled the U.S. with very little money, so she’s had to figure out ways to make every penny count.

Please share your favorite money saving tips in the comments.

Blaize Sun took the photos in this post.

10 Places for Blacktop Boondocking

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Boondocking is also known as dry camping (or primitive camping when folks are out on public land). My friend Coyote Sue calls it blacktop boondocking when she’s dry camping in a parking lot. Blacktop boondocking is what folks do in a city or town so they don’t have to pay to stay over and see the sights. People who’ve been on the road for a while may have already heard of all the options I’m going to give, but for folks who are new to this life and aren’t sure where to stay for free in or near urban locations, here are ten places you might want to consider for blacktop boondocking.

#1 Wal-Mart  By now surely everyone on the road knows that Wal-Mart is often an option for overnight parking for van dwellers and other nomads. Be aware that not every Wal-Mart allows overnight parking. Each store sets its own policies, and some city ordinances prohibit blacktop boondocking anywhere in town. Call ahead and ask permission before you set your heart on overnighting at Wal-Mart.

#2 Truck stops/Travel Centers  Truck stops (sometimes known as “travel centers” in an attempt to avoid an image of shadiness) are by far my favorite places for blacktop boondocking. Truck stops have everything a nomad needs: gasoline or diesel, restrooms, coffee, snacks, showers, soda, sometimes even WiFi. People come and go all day and night and even hang out for hours at a time to get some rest or wait for their appointed pickup or delivery time. A van or RV parked at most truck stops overnight is not going to look weird at all. If you’re nervous about blacktop boondocking at a travel center, call ahead and get permission. I’ve stayed at truck stops across the country and only a handful have said no when I asked to stay. I’ve never once been asked to leave a truck stop.

addiction, bet, betting#3 Casinos  I don’t stay in casino parking lots very often, but Coyote Sue does frequently. Not only does she have an actual Class C, while I only have a van, she goes in and does a little gambling and maybe eats at the buffet. I don’t enjoy gambling, so I don’t go to casinos for fun. I could probably blacktop boondock in at least some casino parking lots, but I usually find another place to stay. However, if you enjoy what casinos have to offer, why not spend the night?

Some casinos offer actual RV parks and do charge for overnight parking with all the amenities. If you want to stay in a casino’s parking lot and not pay for hookups, call ahead to make sure you will be allowed to do so.

#4 Rest areas  Interstates offer rest areas, as do some major highways. You can look at a map of interstate rest areas online or look for the symbol for them on your paper atlas. Different states have different laws concerning overnight parking and length of stay at rest areas, so do your research before you plan to blacktop boondock at a rest stop.

#5 Cracker Barrel Restaurants  I’ve never stayed overnight at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, but it’s mentioned as an option often enough to make me think the corporate office is ok with travelers blacktop boondocking in their parking lots. Again, individual restaurants may make up their own rules, and local ordinances may vary. Call ahead for permission when you’re planning your route. If you need dinner anyway, and it’s in your budget, go in and eat.

#6 Bass Pro Shop and Cabela’s  Both of these chains of huge sporting goods stores are mentioned as places were RVers can stop for the night. I’ve never stayed at either. The same caveats I gave for Cracker Barrel apply here: rules at individual stores may vary, possibly because of local ordinances. Call ahead.

#7 Motel Parking Lots  I don’t frequently blacktop boondock in motel parking lots, but I have done it in a pinch when I was too tired to drive farther and had no other options. If you’re going to sleep in your rig in a motel parking lot, I recommend you pick a chain, but not a fancy one. You want to find a parking lot that’s big enough so your rig doesn’t stand out. Don’t park right in front of a room and consider staying out of sight of the office. Don’t get in anyone’s way, and the sleepy desk clerk is less likely to bother you. You could also try asking permission and/or slipping the desk clerk a few bucks.

art, beverage, black and white#8 Denny’s Restaurants  Again, this is a place I have parked overnight before but only in a pinch. I wouldn’t count on every Denny’s in every town being an option. Once I had luck parking between a Denny’s and a 24-hour supermarket with the thought that if anyone was paying attention, they would think I was either in one place or the other. Another time, I caught a few winks at a Denny’s that had a parking lot big enough that I was able to park on the outer edges and not call attention to myself. In both cases, in the morning I went inside and had breakfast, or at least a cup of coffee.

#9 24-Hour Grocery Stores  I don’t know of any supermarket chains that have a corporate policy of allowing travelers to park overnight, but stealthy boondockers might be able to get away with spending the night in a grocery store parking lot depending on the climate of the town. I’d suggest parking on the outskirts of the parking lot so anybody paying attention will think the vehicle belongs to an employee on the graveyard shift.

Cars in Illuminated City at Night#10 Residential Areas  While you probably won’t be in a parking lot if you’re spending the night in a residential area, you’ll still be on the asphalt, so I think it counts as blacktop boondocking. The trick to overnighting in a residential area is to find a spot where other vehicles are parked on the street. If you are the only vehicle parked on the street, nearby homeowners may get suspicious and call the cops. Also, don’t block any driveways. I know from experience that it’s not a good idea, even if someone else who lives on the street says it’s not a problem.

If you’re in a college town, try parking on an off-campus street where parking is legal. You may have to park early in the evening or afternoon to get such a spot, and it may be easier to blend in if you’re in a car, minivan, or passenger van.

Try parking on the street near a large apartment complex. Often large apartment complexes don’t have room in the official parking area for all residents and visitors, and people end up parking on the public streets close to the complex. If you can’t find a large apartment complex, look for duplexes or four-plexes where even some of the residents can’t fit in the driveway. In a perfect scenario, you’ll find a street with enough vehicles parked so yours doesn’t stand out but not so crowded that you’re taking a coveted spot from someone who actually lives there.

The Rubber Tramp Artist is making suggestions here, but is not responsible for your well-being and safety. Only you are responsible for your well-being and safety. When in doubt about where you can blacktop boondock safely and legally, call ahead and ask permission.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/addiction-bet-betting-casino-5258/https://www.pexels.com/photo/art-beverage-black-and-white-breakfast-266174/ and  https://www.pexels.com/photo/cars-in-illuminated-city-at-night-257711/.

10 Fundamentals for Boondockers

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So you want to save money by camping in a place where you don’t have to pay? Perhaps you want to see natural beauty that might not be present in a private campground. Maybe you need a little more elbow room than you can get in a commercial RV park that’s more like an RV parking lot. For free camping in scenic locations with plenty of space between you and the next rig, you might want to try boondocking (also known as “dry camping” or “primitive camping”).

If you’ve never been boondocking before, it might seem complicated. Where can you camp legally and safely? How can you find the good spots? Should you stay in a town or venture into the wilderness? Have no fear! In this article, I’ll cover ten fundamentals of boondocking so you can make decisions about where to go. I’ll also give you suggestions that will help you have a great time once you get where you’re going.

#1 Before you head out, determine how long you want your boondocking experience to last. An overnight stop on the way to somewhere else will be different from a relaxing two-week stay in nature.

#2 For an overnight stay, decide on the town where you want to take a break and look into what businesses in the area allow overnight parking. Businesses to check into include Wal-Mart; truck stops (Flying J, Pilot, Love’s, TravelCenters of America, Petro, and Bosselman, plus independently owned truck stops); Bass Pro Shop; and Cracker Barrel. Always call a business ahead of time and ask if overnight parking is allowed. If you’re going to be told no, it’s better to know ahead of time than to wake up to a knock on your rig at 2am.

If you can’t find a business that will allow you to park overnight, check for free camping in town or county parks. I’ve camped for free at the county fairgrounds in Blue Earth, Minnesota and the town park in Vermillion, South Dakota.

If all else fails, look online or in your atlas (you are traveling with a paper atlas, right?) for highway or interstate rest areas. Some states have limits on how long folks are allowed to stay in rest areas (when I was traveling in California in 2012, it was eight hours), and there may be signs saying “No Camping” (which I interpret as “don’t pitch a tent”) but as their name states, rest areas are there so drivers can rest and avoid accidents from falling asleep at the wheel. (The Interstate Rest Areas website has a complete state-by-state breakdown of overnight parking rules.)

There are also apps available so you can find out on your phone what rests stops will fill your needs. The free USA Rest Stops app helps find rest stops on interstates as well as U.S. and state highways.

#3 If you’re staying in a business parking lot or at a rest area, know parking lot etiquette. Keep bodily fluids out of the parking lot. Keep your pet(s) under control and clean up after them. Dispose of trash properly. No yelling or honking in the middle of the night.

Most National Forests offer plenty of places for boondocking.

#4 For longer stays, do plenty of research before you set out. Read blog posts written by other boondockers. There’s lots of public land in the United States where people can camp for free. Look for Bureau of Land Management areas, Bureau of Reclamation land, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, and Corps of Engineering land where boondocking is allowed.

Gazetteers show public land and the roads that will take you to remote, secluded locations. Benchmark Atlases show elevation, and DeLorme Atlas & Gazateers are also highly respected. 

#5 For both overnight and extended stays, the Free Campsites website is your best friend. This website allows you to search for free and cheap campsites by typing a location into a search bar. Once you have a list of camping areas near your destination, you can look at the details for each area. Folks who have actually camped in the area can leave reviews and photographs. Once you pick a spot, you can click on a “get directions” link which will take you directly to Google Maps to help you navigate to your destination. I’ve camped in free campgrounds across the United States that were found through Free Campsites; I can’t say enough good things about the website

#6 If you’re boondocking on public land, be prepared to have no amenities. Boondockers must be ready to provide their own electricity from solar panels or generators or to do without. Boondockers must carry in their own water for drinking and washing. Most boondocking areas offer no showers, no toilets (pit, flush, or otherwise), no dump stations, and no trashcans. Before you set out, prepare to take care of all your needs while on public land.

I left nothing but footprings.

#7 Practice “leave no trace” camping while on public land. Camp where others have camped before you, not on pristine land. Pick up your microtrash, and don’t leave trash in your fire ring. If you pack it in, be prepared to pack it out. Leave nothing but footprints.

#8 Research fire bans and fire permits while you’re still in civilization. If you plan to have a campfire, find out if it’s legal to do so before you get out of internet range. If you need a fire permit, get one before you go out into the wilderness. A ranger might not be sympathetic to ignorance of a fire ban or need for a fire permit while writing you a ticket for your illegal campfire.

#9 Don’t park too close to other boondockers. Give everyone plenty of elbow room, especially if you have pets or a generator you’re going to be running a lot. People go out into the wilderness for quiet and solitude, not to be under the armpit of another boondocker. If you’re scared to be out in nature alone, park where you can see other people without being right up on them.

#10 If you’re out in nature for an extended period of time, don’t forget to have fun. Watch a sunset. Take a walk. Relax and enjoy your free camping experience.

I took this photo while boondocking on public land.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

Free Camping Near Kingman, AZ

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I was making the trip from Las Vegas, NV to Phoenix in early December 2016, and I considered an overnight stop somewhere in between. I got on the Free Campsites website to look for a place and found a listing for a spot on Highway 93 east just before Kingman. The listing didn’t say who administered the land. BLM? Forest Service? Department of Transportation? No clue.

I ended up getting an early start the morning I left Vegas. Even with a stop at the Taco Bell in Boulder City for coffee and breakfast burritos, I was still on target to hit Kingman early in the day. I decided I didn’t really want to boondock just for the sake of boondocking. Besides, I was wide awake from the coffee. I knew I could easily make it all the way to Phoenix well before dark.

However, since I was passing right by the free camping spot, I thought I’d stop there and see how it looked.

Just as I’d seen during my Google Maps research, there is a turn lane with giant arrows leading right to the camping area. It’s the only big turn lane with arrows I noticed that wasn’t either in a town or leading to some business. This turn lane must often make drivers wonder, Where the heck does this go?

When I pulled in, I saw a small sign saying the area is a  Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund Project. I saw no signs saying people couldn’t camp there or park overnight.

According to the Arizona Heritage Alliance web page,

Formed in 1992, the Arizona Heritage Alliance is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is guided by a Board of Directors drawn from a broad base of outdoor sports, environmental conservation, and historic preservation organizations that helped pass the 1990 statewide voter initiative creating the Heritage Fund.

Our mission is to preserve and enhance Arizona’s historic, cultural and natural heritage.  We accomplish our mission by actively:

  • Protecting the integrity and voter intent of the Game and Fish Heritage Funds.
  • Monitoring state legislative and agency activity.
  • Pursuing sustainable and dedicated funding sources for Arizona’s historic, cultural and natural initiatives, programs and activities.
  • Educating people of Arizona about the benefits of Arizona’s wildlife, open space, parks and historic and cultural resources.

The area does have a pit toilet in one of those Forest Service style buildings (known as a CXT in the pit toilet business), but I didn’t get out of the van to check on cleanliness and toilet paper availability.

There are no actual campsites in this area. There’s a strip of road to drive on, and it seems people can park their rigs anywhere off the roadway. When I passed through, there was one camper parked to the side of the roadway near the entrance, so yes, people do boondock there.

I don’t remember seeing a water spigot or a trashcan in the area. If I were going to stay in this spot, I would plan to bring water and pack out trash.

This photo shows a view from the camping area.

The area is not super beautiful, but it’s pretty for a desert region right off a highway. Because it is a desert, there aren’t many trees, which means not much shade. This spot would probably be nice in winter, but hot as hell in the summer.

This spot would be good for boondocking if a driver wanted to stop overnight on a trip between Vegas and Phoenix or if someone wanted to explore the Kingman area.

I thought maybe next time I traveled on Highway 93, I’d actually spend the night in this area, but an April 2017 review on the Free Campsites webpage says it is “is soon to be made into day use only.” I’ll check it out next time I pass by, then issue a full report.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

Free Camping Along the Rio Hondo

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The best free camping in the Taos, New Mexico area is tucked between the Rio Hondo and the Ski Valley Road.

Turn east at the stop light locals call “the Old Blinking Light.” Follow Highway 150 to the village of Arroyo Seco. Pass the Taos Cow on the right or stop for coffee, sandwiches, or locally made ice cream. Right past Francesca’s Clothing Boutique, follow the road as it curves to the left. Pass the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, then the road will curve to the right. After the post office, the road straightens out. When the choice becomes left, right, or off the mountain, go right. When you start seeing water flowing on the right, you’ll know you’re close.

There are three official campgrounds along the Rio Hondo: Lower Hondo, Cuchilla de Medio, and Italianos. Lower Hondo and Italianos have pit toilets, but I’m not sure about Cuchilla de Medio. When we stayed at Italianos Campground in June 2017, the inside of the toilet was filthy, and no toilet paper was provided. All of thes campgrounds are free, but offer no amenities other than pit toilets and the occassional picnic table. There are no trashcans and no water other than what’s in the river/stream/creek. The stay limit is 14 days within a 45 day period. The camping spots aren’t designated, so don’t look for numbered poles or timbers separating campsites. Just find a place to snug in a vehicle and/or a tent or a camper and leave the roadway open.

Campers who don’t need the pit toilets don’t need to limit themselves to the signed campgrounds. There are camping spots all along the water. Look for driveways going off into the trees and firerings constructed from stones by previous campers.

It’s amazing to me that I can be up in the desert, surrounded by sage and precious little shade, then drive 15 miles and find myself surrounded by tall pines and cottonwoods. Even on the hottest summer day, the Rio Hondo is icy cold. When I’m hot, I tell myself I”m going to strip down to my underwear and stretch out in the water, but in reality, I’ve only ever managed to go in ankle deep. In less than thirty seconds, my bones ache from the cold water, and the rest of me feels cool and refreshed. If I get hot again while I’m there, my feet go back in.

On Saturday afternoon in June, The Man and I were looking for a camping spot along the Rio Hondo. As we drove up toward the Ski Valley, we saw spot after spot taken both in the official campgrounds and in the boondocking areas. I was beginning to lose hope when we saw a poorly maintained dirt driveway leading down to the river. I pulled the van off the road, and we peered through the trees. No one was down there!

I slowly nosed the van down the rutted, potholed driveway. At the bottom of the driveway, we found two stone firerings and a nice, flat area to park the van. We had our own lovely, secluded waterfront campsite.

I took all these photos in this post.

 

 

The Last Rest Area in New Mexico

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The Man and I were in Las Vegas, NM, and we decided to go to Trinidad, CO. We got on I-25 and headed north.

It was late afternoon by the time we got started, and I was tired of driving well outside of Raton. I knew we had the Raton Pass ahead of us, and I didn’t want to make that mountain crossing in the dark. I’d looked at the map before we left Las Vegas and seen the last rest area in New Mexico on I-25 was less than twenty miles south of Raton. I needed to pee anyway, so I decided to stop at the rest area and check it out.

I knew there was a Wal-Mart in Raton, and we could probably park there overnight. However, I wanted to cook dinner, and I always feel weird cooking in the parking lots of stores. Even if we decided not to spend the night at the rest area, we could certainly cook dinner there. No one tends to blink an eye at people having a picnic at a rest stop.

I pulled into the reast area on the east side of the highway and found a spot to park. I walked briskly to the toilets while The Man took the dog out. The restroom was really clean, with flush toilets and sinks complete with running water for hand washing.

When I went back outside and had a better look around, I realized everything in the rest area was really clean. There was no litter on the ground and no graffitti.

In addition to the building housing the restrooms, there are several covered picnic table there.  The picnic pavillions have low stone walls to block the wind and there are many trees throughout the rest stop, making the area pretty and providing shade.

As I looked around, I saw The Man and the dog in a flat, treeless area at the back of the rest area, so I walked out to meet them. Beyond the flat area were train tracks. As we stood there, we heard a train a comin’. It got closer, and I saw it was an Amtrack.

It’s a people train! I exclaimed. I stood tall and waved vigorously as the train passed. I couldn’t tell if anyone waved back–or if indeed there were passengers on the train–but I had a great time waving and imagining  passengers wondering who I was and why I was there.

We walked back to prepare our dinner of eggs and cheese and onions and zucchini on tortillas. We decided to cook next to the van instead of hauling all our supplies and equipmemt down to one of the picnic pavillions. In minutes, we had a table and our stove set up, and onions were sizzling in our cast iron skillet.

After eating and doing my share of the cleanup, I didn’t want to drive anymore. Let’s stay here tonight, I suggested, and The Man agreed.

While the rest area is developed and well-lit, it seemed better than a Wal-Mart parking lot. Maybe the trees helped. Maybe it wasn’t quite so hot because there wasn’t so much asphalt. Maybe I was just dog tired. In any case, I slept well, despite the idling big rigs parked rigth behind us and the comings and goings of drivers who needed to stretch their legs or take a bathroom break in the middle of the night.

In the morning, I snapped a few photos. I’ve noticed there’s often at least one historic marker at New Mexico rest areas. This stop has a marker with information abouth the nearby Clifton House site. According to Wikipedia,

The Clifton House was an important overnight stage stop on the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail. It was located in Colfax County, New Mexico about six miles south of Raton, New Mexico, on the Canadian River. The site is located at mile marker 344 of U.S. Route 64, just off of exit 446 on Interstate 25.

 

The other side of the marker shows a “Points of Interest” map of the area, and I saw we were quite close to the mountain branch of the Santa Fe  Trail. Neat!

When I finished taking photos, I found The Man and the dog were ready to go. I climbed into the driver’s seat, and we headed to Raton in search of coffee.

We crossed the Raton Pass and stopped at the scenic overlook on our way to Trinidad.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

Elephant Butte Lake State Park

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One day when I was in the computer lab, The Man and Jerico walked over to Wal-Mart. Once they got there, The Man needed a place to leave Jerico while he went inside to do his shopping. He attached Jerico’s leash to a tree and told the fellow in the RV parked nearby that he’d be back for the dog shortly. That’s how The Man met Mike.

I met Mike a few days later when The Man and I returned to the Wal-Mart. Mike seemed like a nice guy, but he was one of those talkers who seldom quiets long enough for anyone else to squeeze in a word or two. He was in his late 50s, maybe early 60s, and chain smoked while he talked. As far as we could tell, he stayed in the driver’s seat of his old, battered motorhome all day and watched the world of the Wal-Mart parking lot unfold.

On a subsequent visit, Mike told The Man he was waiting to be able to go back to Elephant Butte Lake State Park. The park allows campers to stay for 14 days, after which they must leave for at least a week. Mike was waiting out the time he couldn’t be at the park.

Mike had a New Mexico State Parks Pass. For $180 a year, New Mexico residents can buy this pass allowing them free developed (non-electric/no sewer) camping at any New Mexico state park. (The cost of the pass for residents of other states is $225.) The pass is good for 12 months from the month of purchase. (Learn more about the New Mexico State Parks Pass and/or order one here: https://newmexicostateparks.reserveamerica.com/showPage.do?name=common&commonPath=/htm/NM_AnnualPasses.html.)

Pass holders can stay at any New Mexico state park for up to two weeks before they have to leave, but they can go directly from one state park to another. I asked Mike if he ever went to nearby Caballo Lake State Park (15 miles from the Wal-Mart) or Percha Dam State Park (23 miles from the Wal-Mart). He said because of his motorhome’s poor gas milage, he couldn’t afford to drive to these parks. Instead, he sat at Wal-Mart in the days between his weeks at Elephant Butte Lake.

A couple days before he was to go to Elephant Butte Lake, Mike invited us to visit him there. He actually had two pass cards, one for his motorhome and one for a passenger vehicle. The second pass would go to his buddy who shared the campsite with him, but the buddy wouldn’t be in town for a few more weeks. In the meantime, we could use it to get into the park.

Mike really wanted us to camp on his site with him for two weeks. We considered the option, but ultimately decided not to take him up on his offer. The Man really didn’t want to pack up his entire camp, nor did he want to leave all his belongings unattened on BLM land for one night, much less for two weeks. I know Mike was disappointed when we showed up and said we were only going to stay a few hours. We could tell he was a really lonley guy. We hoped he thought our short visit was better than no visit at all.

According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant_Butte_Reservoir),

Elephant Butte Reservoir is a reservoir on the Rio Grande in the U.S. state of New Mexico, 5 miles (8.0 km) north of Truth or Consequences. This reservoir is the 84th largest man-made lake in the United States and the largest in New Mexico by total surface area…The reservoir is also part of the largest state park in New Mexico, Elephant Butte Lake State Park.[1]

The name “Elephant Butte” refers to a volcanic core similar to Devils Tower in Wyoming. It is now an island in the lake. The butte was said to have the shape of an elephant lying on its side.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park offers primitive (dry) camping on the shores of the lake, as well as developed camping with and without electric and sewer hookups. The sites in developed areas include a covered picnic table, and drinkable water is available throughout the park. (To learn more about the park, go here: http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD/ElephantButteLakeActivities.html.)

There are multiple restrooms in the park, some with pit toilets, some with traditional flush toilets. In addition to restrooms, there are shower houses throughout the park. The way things are set up, I don’t think anyone would notice (or care) if someone from the primitive camping area used the facilities when necessary.

After visiting with Mike and some other Elephant Butte Lake campers for a couple of hours, I drove the van over to the nearest open showerhouse. (Our visit was in February 2017, before all the showerhouses were open for the busy summer season.) The Man went to the men’s side of the building, and I went to the women’s.

It was a standard New Mexico state park shower. I had to push a button on the wall to make the water flow. After a few minutes, the water stopped flowing, and I had to push the button again. The water was warm but never got hot. I was chilly the entire time I was in there.

It wasn’t a great shower, but it was a free shower, and to this van dweller, a free shower means a lot.

Panoramic view of Elephant Butte Lake

I took the photos in this post.

Free BLM Camping (Southern New Mexico Edition)

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The Man and I found ourselves in Roswell, NM. When he mentioned he’d never visited Carlsbad Caverns, I said we had to go. I’d been once before, six years ago, with my boyfriend who turned out to be not very nice. Carlsbad Caverns changed me in ways I cannot describe because I can barely understand it all myself. When I realized we were less than 100 miles from a natural wonder The Man hadn’t experienced, I insisted we go.

As soon as we decided to visit Carlsbad Caverns, I got on the FreeCampsites website to try to find us a nice, free place to spend the night.

When my ex and I visited the National Park, we spent the night before our adventure in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart in the town of Carlsbad. I didn’t want to do that if we could help it. First, I haven’t met a Wal-Mart parking lot that wasn’t hot, noisy, and too bright. Why spend the night in a parking lot if we could be out in nature instead? Also, the town of Carlsbad is about 20 miles from the famous caverns, meaning we’d have to start the day with a half hour of driving if we stayed in town. Better, I thought, to drive in the evening and park for the night in a quiet, dark, natural spot.

On the Free Campsites website, I found several options for free camping on BLM land near Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The place I picked doesn’t even have a name; on the website, it’s simply referred to as “Public Lands near Carlsbad Caverns.”

I used the FreeCampsites.net free app on my Android phone to search for promising camping areas. When I decided on the spot where I wanted to camp, I clicked on the “Get Directions” link on the page with the information about the camping area. This link is near the GPS coordinates for the site. When I clicked the “Get Directions” link, it opened up Google Maps which told me how to get from my location to the road where I wanted to camp. The Man taught me it’s better to click the “Get Directions” link than to put in the GPS coordinates myself because I might make a mistake transferring all those numbers. Once Google Maps opened, we let the spokesmodel (I named her Mildred Antwerp) guide us into our spot for the night.

Without Mildred Antwerp to talk us through, it would have been a bit difficult to find the place. I would have had to keep a close eye on my odometer in order to figure out where to turn because the road onto the BLM land not only doesn’t have a street sign, it doesn’t have a name! Google Maps just calls it “Unnamed Road.” There wasn’t even a sign announcing we were on BLM land.

When directed to, we turned off US-180 W/US-62 W onto a fairly well-maintained dirt road. The road was bumpy, but I’ve certainly been on worse New Mexico roads. I didn’t feel as if the van was in any danger.

It wasn’t long before we saw a pull-off–a wide dirt area–on the left side of the road. Farther ahead, we saw other vehicles parked on the left. As indicated in the description of the camping area, we saw a fire ring in the pull-off, not BLM issue as far as I could tell, simply local stones someone had gathered and arranged in a circle. We knew we had arrived.

This pipe snaked on the right side of the road, across from the free camping area.

We didn’t want to park in the first open spot because we like privacy when we can get it, so we continued up the gently climbing road. As we went up and saw other people parked in pull-offs, I worried there might not be a place for us.

All of the camping spots were on the left side of the road. On the right side, I saw a thick, dark pipe snaking across the land. Once we stopped, I was able to read a signpost near the pipe: natural gas. The government owns the land, and somebody’s making money from the sale of the natural gas being pumped out, so I guess the least they can do is let the people camp there for free.

We found a spot, the first unoccupied one past an old pickup with a slide-in camper. The Man backed in the van next to our stone fire ring. We hadn’t brought any wood and there wasn’t any lying around to gather, so we didn’t have a fire that night. We did, however, have a nice view from the back doors.

We were quite far from our nearest neighbor, and we didn’t hear any noise other campers might have made. We were also quite far from the highway and didn’t hear any sounds of traffic. The whole time we were there, only two vehicles passed our camp. Soon after we arrived, a truck drove up the road and not too long after, drove down the road and away. In the morning, a woman who must have been camped above us drove past the van as she left. Otherwise, it was easy to imagine we were the only people in the area.

View from the back of the van

Staying on this BLM land was a true boondocking experience. There was no water, potable or otherwise. There were no toilets of either the pit, the flush, or the portable variety. There were no garbage cans or electricity. It was totally a case of bring in everything you need and take out all the waste you produce. The fire rings were the only indication people had camped there before.

Ocotillo plants and clumps of grass

I did have service for my Net 10 phone the entire time we were on the BLM land. I was even able to post a picture to Facebook and view updates from friends.

I’ve stayed in prettier free camping spots, but this place was not completely lacking beauty. We were in a sort of deserty area with clusters of grass, small cacti, and ocotillo plants growing from rocky ground.  Below us, flat land with no trees stretched as far as my eyes could see. What the area lacked in beauty, it made up for in silence and darkness.

It was also in a great location. In the morning we woke up, ate our cereal and milk, then drove about five miles to the entrance of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Spending the night on this BLM land beat staying in the Carlsbad Wal-Mart’s parking lot on every count.

The night we stayed on the BLM land, we were blessed with a red moon above us.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

 

 

I’m Cold

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It was another night in another Wal-Mart parking lot after another day of driving. It was already dark when we arrived, and I didn’t even care about getting something to eat. All I wanted was to sleep.

This Wal-Mart clearly allowed overnight parking. It looked like a combination of a truck stop and an RV park. There were three 18 wheelers in the lot, at least as many Class C RVs, and even a couple of Class A motorhomes. Of course, there were several obvious van dwellers, as well as people sleeping in cars, trucks, and jeeps. This Wal-Mart welcomed the weary traveler.

We’d spent a couple of nights in this parking lot the previous week, so we went to bed confident no one–no cop, no store manager–would knock on the van in the middle of the night.

It was probably eleven o’clock–maybe even midnight–before we lay down. I fell asleep immediately and slept well, but The Man was suffering from a bought of insomnia. He told me later it was two or three o’clock in the morning before he succumbed to sleep.

I was awoken from my deep slumber. The Man was awake too. The dog was barking.

What’s going on? I mumbled.

I think someone knocked on the van, The Man told me.

I listened. Nothing. I looked at my watch. 4am.

Who’s there? I asked loudly. No answer. I was convinced The Man and the dog and I had shared some sort of auditory dream hallucination. There was no one there. I dropped my head back onto my pillow.

Then…clearly…I heard a knock. It was a gentle knock, not a cop knock, but still, someone was knocking on the van at four o’clock in the morning.

Who’s there? I asked again loudly. I did not sound friendly, even to my own ears.

I’m cold, a female voice said. Do you have a blanket?

Are you fucking kidding me? I thought, and The Man verbalized something similar.

The Man is a very giving, generous person. I try to be a giving and generous person too, but this was too much for either of us.

No, I said. We don’t

I’m cold, the woman said again. Do you have a blanket? she asked, as if she hadn’t just asked the question and been told no.

No, I said again. Go ask someone else.

The woman went away, and while The Man and I were able to doze for another hour or so, we never got back to the place of deep sleep she’d interrupted.

In the light of day, The Man was remorseful. Maybe we should have helped her, he said. Maybe we should have let her sleep on the floor of the van.

I felt justified in our initial decision to turn her away, and I explained my reasons to The Man.

First of all, I didn’t have an extra blanket to give her. I live in a van with another person and a dog. Space is at a premium. I don’t carry around a stack of extra blankets. For a while I had an old sleeping bag with a broken zipper I wrapped around my cooler for extra insulation, but when The Man moved in, it was jettisoned with other nonessential items. I would have given her that if it had still been around, but she was too late. It was gone. If The Man wanted to give her some piece of bedding he owned, he should have spoken up.

Secondly, I don’t open my doors to strangers after dark, much less at 4am. Even with The Man and the dog to protect me, I don’t think it’s safe to wake from a deep sleep in the middle of the night–even in a well-lit parking lot–and open my home to someone I don’t know.

Third, the woman was in the parking lot of a store open 24/7. If she was cold, she could have gone into the store to warm up. She could have walked the aisles. She could have taken a nap in a restroom stall. She didn’t have to stay outside if she was cold.

Fourth, there were plenty of other people overnighting in that parking lot. We were not her only chance for survival. If we couldn’t help her, there were other people to ask.

Finally, I’ve been homeless (as in, with no van, as in, living under bridges) in that city at that time of year. While it might have been chilly outside, it wasn’t deadly cold. The woman was in no danger of dying of exposure.

If I’d had a spare blanket lying around, I would have handed it to her through a window. If we had been in a remote campground or wilderness area, and she’d had nowhere else to turn, no place indoors to go, I would have tried harder to help her. If it had been winter–snowing, freezing–I would have tried harder to help her, maybe even invited her to sleep on the floor of the van. But I didn’t think it was my responsibility to provide for someone who didn’t think about wanting a blanket until 4am.