Monthly Archives: October 2019

Halloween

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Two Jack O'lantern Lamps

For the last four years Halloween has snuck up on me, and too late I’ve thought I should have written a post in celebration of the holiday. The problem is, none of my Halloweens memories lend themselves to a good story for a blog post.

I didn’t trick-or-treat much as a kid. There are photos of me as a tiny child holding a plastic jack-o-lantern that doubled as a treat collection device, but I have no memory of that night. The only time I do (vaguely) remember trick-or-treating as a kid was probably fourth grade. I don’t know why my parents let me and my sibling go that year. I do remember my “costume.” I pulled long white tube socks over my pants and up to my knees, carried my catcher’s mitt, and called myself a baseball player. It was enough to get me candy, so it was enough for me.

Woman Making Trick of Treat in Front of a Girl

There were Halloween parties through the years. My parents organized a Halloween party and haunted house for my Brownie troop when I was in first grade. Because I was present for the planning and setting up, I was privy to the secrets of the haunted house. The “eyeballs” in a bowl? Just peeled grapes. The mound of “veins”? Simply cold cooked spaghetti. The scary gorilla creature pounding on the door, trying to escape the tiny room that confined him? Only my dad in a rubbery mask with bad hair. I don’t know why the adults thought it would be a good idea to scare the bejesus out of little girls. My favorite part of the celebration was the costume contest where I won 2nd place for my portrayal of a nice witch.

Years later, on the cusp of teenagehood, the neighbor girl my age had a Halloween party and I got to go. I wore a strange dress, a hand-me-down from my older cousin. It was loose and long and somewhat reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie although I can’t say exactly how. Wearing that dress, along with the pink circles of lipstick my mother drew on the apples of my cheeks, I made a passable rag doll. I remember having fun, but I can’t recall a single game we played.

White and Black Panda Plush Toy

Of course there were Halloween celebrations at school every year up until junior high. Those parties were really just excuses to goof off for most of the afternoon and get sugared up before going home. I do have the vaguest recollection of wearing one of those costumes that consisted of a mask and a plastic smock at school. I was a ghost in some elementary school production, but I have no memory of a plot, and, appropriately for a ghost, I had no lines.

In college, after moving out of the dorm and into a place of my own, I started having Halloween parties. My dad helped me decorate for the first party by building a small coffin as a centerpiece. My best friend and I taped out a crime scene outline of a body in front of the entrance door. I dressed as a harem girl (ugh—cultural appropriation and the glorification of sex slavery) in a costume my mother must have made for me. My friends (and some people I barely knew) came over. We ordered pizza. We drank too much beer. I went to bed alone.

I threw other Halloween parties after I graduated. The year I was skinny, I

Photography of Cat at Full Moon

wore a pointy hat and a black slip with no bra and called myself a sexy witch. Again, there was too much drinking of beer. Again, I went to bed alone.

Eventually the Halloween parties stopped. I’m one of those hosts who gets really excited to throw a party. I like the planning stage. I invite everyone I know, buy a bunch of beer, make some food. Then on the night of the event, I get really anxious and uptight and wonder why I ever thought having a party was a good idea. One year I just decided I had enough stress in my life without throwing a Halloween party.

Halloween Candies

When my nephew was in elementary school, I visited his family one fall. My visit coincided with Halloween, so I went trick-or-treating with the family. My nephew was dressed as a mad scientist. I’d scored a mermaid costume at a thrift store, so my sequins sparkled and shined in the night. My nephew’s mother threw together a roller derby costume made authentic by the roller skates she carried slung over her shoulder. My nephew’s father got into the spirit (no ghost pun intended) of things by putting on a robe and shower cap and going as a guy about to take a shower. We walked around the neighborhood and admired the Halloween decorations while my nephew collected candy. The most fun I had that night was watching the boy who was usually limited to one “sweet thing” per day devour as many treats as he wanted.

A couple of years ago, I was invited to attend a “red” Halloween party where attendees were supposed to either wear the color red or dress as a communist. I wore a long skirt, a Guatemalan huipil, and large fake flowers in my hair and called myself “Frida Kahlo After She Fucked Trotsky.” My costume pride was shattered when a wisp of a woman arrived wearing a vintage dress of Frida’s era and braids wrapped around her head. She actually looked like Frida Kahlo. As for the party itself, it was kind of boring, although I did enjoy spending time with the friends who had invited me. The refreshments were delicious.

Halloween-themed Jack-o-lantern Lamp Near October 31 Calendar

In 2016 my dad died on Halloween, and October became Dad Death Anniversary Month. It’s not that I couldn’t go out and celebrate Halloween if I wanted, but I really have been over the holiday for a while. Now at the end of each October, I find myself pondering the loss of my dad instead of looking for a party.

Oh my dad…

He never met The Man, but I think they would have gotten along. They could have discussed carpentry and car repair, shared the details of their latest projects. They could have talked about God too and discussed spirituality. Those two would have had some common ground for sure. I think they would have liked each other, respected each other.

It’s not like I spend time every day thinking about my dad being dead.  It’s not like I’m still mourning. But sometimes I want to ask for his advice or share a victory. I’ll be about to call him, then remember: still dead.

I have a photo of my dad taped to the refrigerator. I figure it’s only fair that I see him every day and remember him, as it’s only because of his death that we have this tiny home, these physical comforts.

Photos courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-creepy-dark-darkness-619418/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/adult-celebration-child-costume-220426/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-white-blur-close-up-dark-237205/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/light-landscape-sky-sunset-35888/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/halloween-candies-3095465/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/halloween-themed-jack-o-lantern-lamp-near-october-31-calendar-1480861/.

Guide to the America the Beautiful Federal Recreation Site Passes (Part 1)

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Your federal recreation site pass will get you and your carload of passengers into Arches National Park at no additional charge.

If you’re a senior, a person with a disability, a member of the U.S. military (or the dependent of a military member), a fourth grader, a volunteer, or even if you don’t fit in any of those categories, there is an America the Beautiful Pass available to help you save money when exploring federal recreation sites in the U.S.A. Some of these passes are free, like the ones for fourth graders, members of the U.S. military and their dependents, volunteers, and folks with disabilities. The basic America the Beautiful Pass and the Senior Pass cost money, but if you plan to visit many public lands in the U.S. in a 12-month period, your America the Beautiful Pass will pay for itself quickly.

There is a lot of information I want to share about the six passes available, so I’ve written two posts on the subject. Today’s post will cover the basic America the Beautiful Pass, the free pass for members of the military and their dependents, and the Senior Pass. Next week I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the Access Pass for people with disabilities, the 4th Grade Pass, and the Volunteer Pass.

The National Park Service explains what benefits the holder of any one of the available passes receives.

A pass is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Each pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees and day use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person). Children age 15 or under are admitted free.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park charges a per-person fee, but no worries. Your federal recreation site pass gets you and three additional adults in with no admission fee.

The first pass, available to anyone with the money to pay for it, is The America the Beautiful-The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass. This annual pass costs $80. According to USGS Store,

the Annual Pass is valid for 12 months from the month of purchaseexpiring the last day of that month.

There are several costs the America the Beautiful pass does not cover. The USGS Store says,

The Annual Pass does not provide discounts at Cooperating Association bookstores or on-site gift shops.

The Annual Pass does not cover discounts on any Expanded Amenity or Concessionaire (Concessioner) Fees such as: camping, RV hook-ups, boat launching, backcountry permits, parking at Mount Rushmore, guided cave tours at Wind Cave National Park, or parking at some historic monuments or homes.

Your America the Beautiful pass will not get you a discount at a campground.

The fact that the standard America the Beautiful Pass did not cover camping fees or even provide a discount on the fees often tripped up my campers back in my camp host days. Many campers thought their America the Beautiful pass got them a 50% discount on camping fees, but that was not the case. It didn’t help that the reservation website allowed folks making reservations to enter their America the Beautiful pass number, then reflected a 50% discount on the reservations. When such campers showed up in my campground, guess who was expected to shake the rest of the money out of their pockets? The camp host (me!) of course. It was one of my least favorite parts of being a camp host. The lesson for you? If you make camping reservations with the America The Beautiful Pass and you seem to be getting a 50% discount, you may be in for a big surprise when you get to the campground.

The America the Beautiful Pass is not valid at State Parks or local city/county recreation areas.

It is only valid at participating Federal recreation sites. Visit http://www.recreation.gov for more information about Federal recreation sites.

If you want to purchase an America the Beautiful Annual Pass, there are three ways to do so, according to the National Park Service. You can buy your pass

In person at a federal recreation site (see PDF list of federal recreation sites that issue passes),

By phone at: 888-ASK USGS (1-888-275-8747), extension 3 (Hours of operation are: 8 am to 4 pm Mountain Time) [$5 handling fee may be added] [or,]

Online from the USGS store! ($5 handling fee added to cost of pass)

U.S. military personnel and their dependents can see Canyonlands National Park (and over 2,000 other federal recreation sites) for free with their own special America the Beautiful Pass.

A FREE America the Beautiful Pass is available to active members of the U.S. military and their dependents. According to the USGS Store, the following people qualify for the Pass:

Current U.S. Military personnel and their dependents who present, in person, a U.S. Department of Defense CAC identification or DD Form 1173 dependent identification and are in the following military personnel classification:
• Current members of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and National Guard
• Dependents of current U.S. military members with DD Form 1173
• U.S. Military Cadets
• U.S. Active Reservists (Do not need to be deployed)

Unfortunately,

[t]he following individuals/groups DO NOT Qualify for the interagency Military Annual Pass:
• Foreign military members (Including those stationed in the U S and have a CAC card)
• National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) employees
• Public Health Service (PHS) members
• Inactive U S Reservists
• Civilian military contractors
• Civilian military employees
• U S military veterans
• U S military retirees

Members of the military do not get a discount on the camping fee at Superbowl Campground near Canyonlands National Park.

As with the basic America the Beautiful Pass, the interagency Military Annual Pass

does not cover or provide a discount on expanded amenity fees such as camping, boat launch or interpretive fees.

There is only one way to acquire the FREE America the Beautiful Annual Pass for the U.S. Military (and dependents) according to the National Forest Service. A member of the military or the dependent of a military member can obtain the pass

In person at a federal recreation site (see PDF list of federal recreation sites that issue passes) by showing a Common Access Card (CAC) or Military ID (Form 1173).

Dependents of National Guard and Reserve members can also acquire a FREE Annual Military Pass.

Dependents of deployed military members with DoD Form 1173 may obtain a pass.

The America the Beautiful Senior Pass, formerly known as the Golden Age Passport, is available to

U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are 62 years or older. (You must have turned 62 before you can buy the pass).

Owning property or paying taxes in the U.S. does not automatically qualify you for a Senior Pass. You must be a permanent U.S. resident, or a U.S. citizen with identification such as U.S. Driver’s License, Green Card or U.S. Passport.

There are two options with the Senior Pass. You can get an Annual Senior Pass for $20 per year or a Lifetime Senior Pass for $80. If you want a Lifetime Senior pass but can’t afford to lay down $80 all at once, you are allowed to exchange your Annual Senior Pass(es) for a Lifetime Senior Pass.

Annual Senior Passes may be exchanged at any time for a Lifetime Senior Pass at the following exchange rates:
1 Annual Senior Pass: $60 for Senior Lifetime Pass
2 Annual Senior Pass: $40 for Senior Lifetime Pass
3 Annual Senior Pass: $20 for Senior Lifetime Pass
4 Annual Senior Pass: $0 for Senior Lifetime Pass

So basically you can buy your Lifetime Senior Pass in $20 installments. Furthermore, you get the enjoy the benefits of the Annual Pass whilce accumulating enough of them to get your Lifetime Pass.

At Las Petacas Campground in the Carson National Forest, camping only costs $3 per night for holders of the Senior Pass (formerly known as the Golden Age Passport).

Golden Age Passports are no longer sold, but they are lifetime passes and are still honored according to the terms of the Senior Pass.

At many sites the Senior Pass provides the pass owner a discount on Expanded Amenity Fees (such as camping, swimming, boat launching, and guided tours).

The pass program is managed by six Federal agencies that operate under different regulations and have different fees. Therefore, the discount program for the Senior Pass is not handled in the same way on all Federal recreation lands.

According to the National Park Service,

The Senior Pass may provide a 50 percent discount on some amenity fees charged for facilities and services such as camping, swimming, boat launch, and specialized interpretive services.


The Senior Pass generally does NOT cover or reduce special recreation permit fees or fees charged by concessioners.

It is important to remember that if there is a 50% discount on camping fees,

The discount only applies to the fee for the campsite physically occupied by the pass owner, not to any additional campsite(s) occupied by members of the pass owner’s party.

The Annual or Lifetime Senior Pass will get you into White Sands National Monument with no admission fee.

There are three ways to purchase either the Annual or Lifetime America the Beautiful Senior Pass. According to the National Park Service, a senior can get the pass

In person at a federal recreation site (see PDF list of federal recreation sites that issue passes).

Online–buy the lifetime pass or the annual pass online through the USGS store!

Through the mail using this application form (PDF).

NOTE: There is an additional cost of $10 for passes purchased online or by mail.

According to the USGS Store, with any pass

[p]hoto identification may be required to verify ownership [of pass]. Passes are NON-REFUNDABLE, NON-TRANSFERABLE, and cannot be replaced if lost or stolen.

So that’s what you need to know about the basic America the Beautiful Pass as well as the FREE America the Beautiful Pass for active members of the U.S. military and the America the Beautiful Senior Pass. You can also read my post with information about the America the Beautiful Access Pass for people with disabilities, the America the Beautiful 4th Grade Pass, and the America the Beautiful Volunteer Pass.

If you found this post helpful, I’d love your support! Hit the donate button in the right toolbar or go to Patreon to become my patron.

Please note all information was correct to the best of my knowledge when this post was written. Blaize Sun is not responsible for changing prices or any other changes that may take place after this post was written. Use the information given here as the starting point of your own research. Blaize Sun is not responsible for you. Only you are responsible for you.

I took the photos in this post.

Lost Child

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It was a pretty good record. In the four seasons I’d worked on the mountain, we didn’t have to deal with a lost child until the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend of my last season.

Not long after the other clerk went to lunch, I saw Cindy from the parking lot leading a kid up to the Mercantile. They were walking slowly, and it was obvious to me there was a problem.

The kid was big but probably only eight or nine years old. He wore one of those sun hats with cloth hanging in the back to protect the neck. The hat was khaki and too large for his head. When he looked at me, his dark eyes were huge with fear.

While the parking lot in front of the Mercantile had been busy all morning, things inside the store had been slow. Things got busy in the Mercantile right at noon. Moments after the other clerk went to lunch, shoppers swarmed the store. Once the line formed at the cash register, all I could do was ring up purchases. I couldn’t help anyone find a size or answer questions about merchandise, much less watch out for shoplifters. I could only scan barcodes and hope the people in the store would behave like upstanding citizens.

The other clerk had been gone about twenty minutes when I saw Cindy walk up with the kid who turned out to be lost. About five minutes after I saw Cindy and the kid walk up, the other clerk came back into the store.

There’s a lost child, she said breathlessly.

Call the police, I said, reaching for the phone.

No. His family is still here. The car is still here, she told me.

Person Wearing Shirt Standing Near TreeThe car was parked in the main parking lot. The boy and his family had gotten separated on the trail, the boy said, when he fell behind the group. When he made his way to the family car, it was empty. Now it was just a matter of waiting for his family to return.

I’m going to sit with him at the car until his family comes back, the other clerk said.

The Mercantile was still packed with shoppers. I easily had six people lined up at the register. No one was watching for shoplifters. No one was helping customers.

Really? I wanted to ask. The kid couldn’t sit at the front of the parking lot next to Cindy and the other parking lot attendant? He couldn’t sit there fully supervised and watch for his family? He needed a one-on-one adult to sit with him next to the family car? Was this the best allocation of the Mercantile’s person power at a time when the store was packed with customers?

Instead of questioning my coworker, I shrugged. When the wife of The Big Boss Man says she wants to go sit with a lost kid until his parents show up, The Big Boss Man’s wife sits with the kid. I just kept ringing up purchases, not even worried about what might be going on behind my back.

The other clerk/wife of The Big Boss Man wasn’t gone as long as I feared she would be. The kid’s parents were angry at him when they were reunited. (I hope they were feeling relief laced with anger and not anger alone.) I guess they thought he should have kept up with the group. Someone should probably tell those adults that a group is only supposed to hike as fast as its slowest member.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-wearing-shirt-standing-near-tree-1051321/.

Nevada Day 2019

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Today is Nevada Day. If you don’t know the first thing about Nevada Day, see the post I wrote about the holiday last year.

Sign reads "Nevada Car David Best with Patrick Dailey Bisbee, AZ."

To celebrate Nevada Day, today I will share with you photos I took of Nevada Car at spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity that I attended with Nolagirl in the spring of 2018. Interestingly, Nevada Car hails from Bisbee, AZ. The Art Car Agency website says the art was created by David Best and is owned by Patrick Dailey.

It turns out that David Best is a big deal when it comes to art cars. In the 2015 article “David Best: the Man Who Builds Art – and Burns It” author Geoff Dyer writes that Best got into doing art cars

in the early 1980s, in Houston, right at the beginning of the art-car craze but – in a way that is typical – is careful to emphasize that he was just one of a number of people involved at the time, that the first art car was actually done by Jackie Harris.

Here’s a front view of Nevada Car.

Art car covered with beads and poker chips and all manner of things. No surface is left uncovered.

It was really difficult to get a photo of the full view of this car with my camera. In my opinion that’s actually ok because the beauty is in the details.

An old gaming device and a million other little things decorate an art car.

Here’s some sort of gaming device attached to the car. In the same photo I see about a hundred tiny white buttons, a plastic sea turtle, a stack of smaller-than-life traffic cones that were maybe once bright orange but are now faded and dingy, a toy baseball batter, a combination lock, and a dozen rusty bottle caps. What do you see that I’m missing?

In this photo it looks like a dozen gumball machines and a kindergarten class worth of Happy Meals upchucked onto a relatively small area of the car. All of these crappy plastic toys merge into such a cohesive whole that it’s hard to pick out individual objects. Look! There’s Buzz Lightyear! To the right, a dozen plastic crabs! I see a leg! I see a lion! I see creatures I can’t identify.

In an article on the KQED Spark website, Best’s process is described like this:

… Best strips vehicles down to the core before reconstructing them, striving to make the car’s original form unrecognizable. Rather than merely gluing objects to the body of a car, Best, who religiously goes to the dump, likes to use found object materials that ultimately take on their own personality. After making 30 art cars and 2 buses, Best has worked with over 10,000 people.

Discarded objects including a visible man, a toy baseball batter, and small traffic cones decorate an art car.

It’s easy for me to imagine an artist finding these items at the dump and being delighted to add them to an art car work in progress.

I’m not sure why this is piece is called Nevada Car. Because of the gaming devices? Because of the gaming device that says “Nevada Club”? I wish this exhibit of art cars had included statements from the artists.

Saints stand next to an old gaming machine.

I like the juxtaposition of the statues of saints next to this old gaming device. Is it a commentary on praying for luck? An observation of the degree to which our society treats money as divine? A mere putting-together of objects in a way that looked pleasing to the artist’s eye?

I found my favorite feature of Nevada Car, and it didn’t have much to do with Nevada. I’m not talking about the BMW emblem either.

Photographer is reflected in chrome. Face is blocked with camera. A BMW emblem and a red Grateful Dead dancing bear feature prominently.

I’ll leave you with a wish for a Happy Nevada day and a self portrait with dancing bear in chrome.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read about the J Gurl and Zalafayra art cars and the art vans California Fantasy Van  and Camera Van that were also at the spark! Festival.

I took the photos in this post.

Trainer

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John, the guy who trained me for my job at the supermarket fuel center, was not someone I would choose to spend time with. He was pleasant enough to me, but he talked a lot of shit on the customers.

He had much to say about women and their looks. That one was too fat and obviously lazy; she should go to the gym and work out. The one walking up to the counter had been attractive before she had kids. He’d thought about getting with her but decided against it because she was married to his friend. He was not at all attracted to the woman with the really short hair walking across the parking lot. He’d just never been attracted to women with boy cuts. It was a good thing there was glass between us and the woman paying for gas because she stunk! He’s smelled her once at the laundromat, and she needed to learn to wear deodorants.

I don’t know why he thought I was interested in his taste in women. I didn’t care who he was or was not attracted to, but I didn’t much want to hear his opinions about women’s bodies. I knew he was allowed to think whatever he wanted, but I certainly didn’t want to hear about it.

John didn’t talk about men’s bodies, but he did have preconceived notions about which ones were assholes. Often some man who John said was going to be grumpy was neutral or even pleasant to me. Perhaps the fellow in question was pleasant because I was pleasant to him.

You seem more suited to this job than I do, John told me after observing my interactions with customers for a couple of days. I thought he was probably right.

John was great at cleaning and completing the daily paperwork. When we arrived at 5:45 each morning, he counted the money in the cash register drawer, prepared the paperwork, then set out to clean and shine all ten gas pumps. When that task was finished, he pulled out the leaf blower and used it to remove dirt and small trash from the fuel center pavement.

When a customer had a problem paying at the pump, John would go outside to find the solution. It wasn’t that he refused to help. He did help, just not very cheerfully. While he wasn’t outright rude to customers, he wasn’t really friendly either.

I’m sure part of John’s problem was his dissatisfaction with the job. He’d been working in the fuel center for two years without a raise. He wanted to “move up,” but there was nowhere to go as long as management kept him out of the actual supermarket. He opened every single day he worked, clocking in around 5:40 in the morning. I think management was hoping he’d quit, but he’d stuck it out for a couple of years. John had finally given his notice two weeks prior, and his last four days on the job were spent training me.

I think another part of John’s problem was his negative attitude. I think it’s difficult to be of service to people when one feels superior to everyone who crosses his path. John certainly acted as if he felt superior to most folks who approached the kiosk. What John said aloud was bad enough. I fear what might have been going on in his head. Perhaps he was keeping the worst of it to himself.

I had to laugh to myself when John told me about the three young men who would be my fuel center coworkers.  They’re nice guys, he said, but they’re not the brightest tools in the shed.

Maybe I should have told him that he who makes disparaging remarks about the intelligence of others should not mix his metaphors, but I didn’t say anything at all. I stayed quiet and was glad I’d soon be working in the fuel center kiosk alone.  

Free Camping in the National Forest

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US Forest Service logo sign

Last week when I shared my post about free camping near Quartzsite, Arizona, a lady in one of the Facebook groups I’m a member of mildly chastised me for not mentioning free camping in national forests. I explained that the post I had just shared was specifically about free camping in southern Arizona where there is no Forest Service land. She said when she started living nomadically she didn’t know about free camping in national forests, so she was trying to alert others to this public-land camping option. Fair enough. Oh her behalf, today I will share information about free camping in national forests for all the new nomads who don’t know it exists.

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to the Forest Service, their mission is

To sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. 

brown metal sign reading Carson National Forest Information Visitors Welcome
Carson National Forest is in New Mexico.

Just how much public land is under the control of the USFS? What exactly is the USFS responsible for? According to the Free Campsites website the U.S. Forest Service

administers the 175 national forests and grasslands in the United States. They are responsible for regulating logging, grazing and mineral rights on these lands as well as maintaining roads, trails, campgrounds and law enforcement in the area. The forestry [sic] service offers many developed campgrounds as well as a large number of ‘official’ dispersed camping sites.

What exactly is dispersed camping? It’s also known as primitive camping, dry camping, and boondocking. The Fishlake National Forest webpage says,

Dispersed camping is the term used for camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground. Dispersed camping means no services; such as trash removal, and little or no facilities; such as tables and fire pits, are provided. Some popular dispersed camping areas may have toilets.

(If you’re new to boondocking, be sure to read my post “10 Fundamentals for Boondockers, which will help you through every stage of the boondocking process.”)

Smokey Bear stands next to a sign that reads Fire Danger Moderate Today! Prevent Wildfires
Smokey Bear is probably the most famous Forest Service Employee.

What I’d like to be able to do–what would be easier for me and you–is to give you some general rules for boondocking on Forest Service land, then direct you to a website with more details. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find such a website or any standard rules for dispersed camping on public land managed by the Forest Service. I searched the main Forest Service website and found nothing. This lack of centralized information was confirmed for me on the Barefoot Theory blog which says,

For information on camping on USFS locations across the country you have to check with each ranger district directly.

Apparently each national forest is managed as one or more ranger districts. Each district is managed differently according the challenges facing each area. An area with a lot of visitors might have more restrictions than a place were few folks go.

I looked at the information given about dispersed camping in five different National Forests. While the webpages for Fishlake, Coconino, and Deschutes National Forests gave explicit rules for dispersed camping in those places, practically no information was shared about the Sequoia and Carson National Forests. What’s a potential boondocker to do in order to learn about the rules and regulations in a particular area?

Dirt road leads between evergreen trees
Dispersed camping area in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona

The best thing to do is call or visit the Forest Service office nearest to the area where you want to camp. The employees at the office can tell you everything you need to know to stay in compliance with any restrictions in the dispersed camping areas.

Maybe you’re so new at boondocking on Forest Service land you don’t even know what questions to ask. That’s ok. I’ll guide you in the right direction. The following are some questions to ask the person staffing the desk or the phone in the Forest Service office nearest to the area where you want to camp.

How long can I occupy a campsite? When I leave, how far away must I travel before I am allowed to set up a new camp? How long do I have to wait before I can once again occupy the original campsite?

How far away from the road must I camp? Do I have to stay within a certain distance of the road? How far should I camp from a water source? How far away must I camp from a developed recreation area?

May I have a campfire? Do I need a fire permit if I am going to have a campfire? Where can I get a fire permit? May I gather down and dead wood for my campfire?

Is there anything else I need to know about camping in your district of this national forest?

Brown wooden Lincoln National Forest sign with a roughly drawn Smokey Bear on it

Now you know there aren’t any hard and fast rules for camping in national forests, that each area has different regulations. All well and good, you might be thinking, but how do I go about finding Forest Service land to camp on in the first place? I’m glad you asked!

From the U.S. Forest Service home page, you can select a state, then choose a forest or grassland in that state to learn more about. You should be able to use such a search to find out what ranger district oversees the area where you want to camp.

Both Campendium and the Free Campsites website mentioned above list free camping spots in national forests. Campendium has a “National Forests” tab at the top of the page. By clicking on the tab, you get a menu of links to each state. Click on a state and you get a list of national forests in the state. Click on the name of the forest and you get a map showing the camping options in the area. On the Free Campsites main page, type the name of the national forest in which you would like to camp in the “enter a location” bar.

Forest Service outhouse with snow on the ground all around it
Free camping at the Big Tesuque Campground in the Santa Fe National Forest

If you have a smartphone and don’t mind investing in an app, the Ultimate Public Campgrounds app might be for you. For $3.99, this app helps you find “tens of thousands PUBLICLY-owned camping locations in the United States and Canada,” which of course would include dispersed camping on U.S. Forest Service land. (Shout out to the Barefoot Theory website article “The Ultimate Guide to Finding Free Campsites in the US” where I found information about this app.)

The Wand’rly website offers a very extensive article titled “Free Camping in the National Forests of the United States.” The article provides state-by-state national forest information and lots of links so you can learn more about different areas.

If you’re more the paper map type of person (and even if you’re not, read my post “In Praise of Paper Maps” to find out why I think you should go old school at least sometimes), you can use your atlas or state highway map to find national forests in the area where you are or to where you will travel. Public land is usually green on maps, and national forests will usually be labeled with the name.

waterfall
Nobe Young waterfall in the Sequoia National Forest.

Also check out the maps of individual national forests produced by National Geopgraphic. Those maps tend to be very complete and show forest service roads as well as local attractions.

The Forest Service itself also offers map options, both electronic and paper. First, check out the Interactive Visitor Map online. The USFS says the map

provides the public with an online view of Forest Service roads, trails, recreation sites, wilderness areas, and wild & scenic rivers. 

Also available is “A Guide To Your National Forests” a

free brochure showing locations of national forests and grasslands along with contact information. A large map of those regions (PDF, 14.3MB) is also available.

Because both maps are available as PDFs, you can print out a copies to view at home or take with you on the road.

The USFS also sells forest visitor maps, national forest atlases, and wilderness maps. These maps can be bought at National Forest Map Store, U.S. Geological Survey Store, many Forest Service offices.

Maps are also available for purchase as georeferenced PDFs on Avenza, for use on mobile devices.


Forest Visitor Maps for each national forest and grassland provide forest-wide information on attractions, facilities, services, and opportunities.


National Forest Atlases are full color atlases…available for many of the forests in California.


Wilderness Maps are topographic maps that show natural features such as mountains, valleys, plains, lakes, rivers, and vegetation using contour lines depicting elevation gain or loss.

Las Petacas Campground is a fee area, but it only cost $6 per night to camp there.

The Forest Service also provides topographic maps free as Geo-enabled PDFs and as paper copies available for purchase at some Forest Service officesU.S. Geological Survey Store, and some retail outlets.

Motor vehicle use maps are available from the Forest Service and are very important to National Forest boondockers. These are the maps that “identify those roads, trails, and areas designated for motor vehicle use.” These maps are available three ways

Once you arrive in the national forest of your choice, here are a few things to know as you drive around looking for a campsite, courtesy of the Deschutes National Forest.

If you are going to an area where others have camped before, pick a site that’s been used before… If there is no existing campsite, then follow these Leave No Trace guidelines:


Camp on bare soil if possible, to avoid damaging or killing plants and grass. Do NOT camp within 200 feet of any water source…Don’t camp in the middle of a clearing or meadow…Don’t try to level or dig trenches in the ground at your campsite.

Once you find your perfect spot for camping, follow these guidelines (also courtesy of the Deschutes National Forest) to minimize your impact on the natural environment.

Dispersed camping means no bathrooms and no outhouses…[so] extra care has to be taken in disposing of human waste. To dispose of feces, dig a hole 6 inches deep and AT LEAST 200 FEET AWAY FROM ANY WATER SOURCE (creeks, wetlands, springs, or lakes). When you’re done, fill the hole with the dirt you dug up and take your toilet paper with you to dispose of in a proper waste container.

Never defecate or leave toilet paper on top of the ground, it could easily get into the local water source and contaminate it.


Empty built-in or portable toilets at sanitary dump stations.

Wash your body, dishes, etc., and dispose of waste water AT LEAST 200 FEET AWAY FROM ANY WATER SOURCE. Do not use ANY soap directly in a water source. Use biodegradable soap.

If you need more information about how to handle life in woods, see my post “How to Stay Safe and Healthy in the Forest.”

campfire in metal fire ring

Most campers want to have a campfire while out in nature. If you are planning to enjoy a campfire, follow the rules shared by the Coconino National Forest.

[C]heck if you are in an area with campfire restrictions

Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires. Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand. Make sure to bring at least 6 gallons of water (preferably 10 gallons) and a shovel to completely extinguish your campfire. Burn all wood and coals to ash.

Extinguish campfires completely by generously dousing with water and stirring with a shovel. (video)


Never leave a campfire unattended. It is illegal to do so…You could be held liable for any firefighting/restoration costs that result from your abandoned or unattended campfire. Make certain your campfire is dead out, wet and cold to the touch, before leaving your campsite.

Now that you know the basics of dispersed camping in the national forest, get out there and give it a try. National forests belong to you and me and all of us, so enjoy them every chance you get.

A banner shows Smokey Bear waving. Text reads "I'm concerned about Wildfires" with an image of a fire and a tree.

The information in this post was correct at the time it was written. Please consider this information a starting point for your own research and not the final word on any subject. There are risks associated with camping, especially camping in areas off the beaten path. Blaize Sun is not responsible for you. Only you are responsible for you. Please think before you act.

I took the photos in this post.

Kick in the Nuts

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It’s not a good sign when the work day starts with wanting to kick a customer in the nuts.

I’d opened the fuel center that morning, and even though I’d gone to bed at 8:30 the night before, I was tired. I hadn’t stopped for coffee at the one open-all-night convenience store on my route although I was close to falling asleep at the wheel several times during my commute. My spirits hadn’t lifted any when I looked at the schedule and saw I had to open the next two days as well as two days later in the week. One month on the job and I was already burnt out.

Still, I was trying to do a good job. I counted the money in the cash register drawer, unlocked the coolers, and made sure all the merchandise was neat. Then I went to each pump and cleared paper jams in the receipt printers. Maybe I would make it through this day.

Photo of Tire Inflator at a Gas Station

While I was cleaning one of the gas pumps, a young woman approached me and asked for help with the air machine. She’d used her credit card to pay for her five minutes of pressurized air, but she wasn’t sure she was using the hose properly because the car’s sensor still said the tire’s air pressure was low. I said I’d try to help, but warned her I had zero training in how to work the air pump.

What does this number mean? the young woman asked pointing to the machine’s screen. I had to admit I had no idea.

She said when she’d tried before she’d removed the hose from the tire before the machine beeped. She wondered if that might have been the problem.

Could be, I said, but I had no idea.

During my interaction with the young woman, I’d seen a man approach the fuel kiosk. I have a strict one-customer-at-a-time policy, so I continued to try to help the young woman.

I look at it this way: whatever customer I’m with at the moment deserves my undivided attention. When I’m finished helping that customer, I’ll move on to the next one and give that person my undivided attention. Even if the line in front of me is long, I can get through if I concentrate on one customer at a time. Besides, I get distracted and make mistakes if I try to do too many things at once (and by “too many,” I mean “more than one”).

I saw the waiting customer look over and realize I was the worker on duty. Probably the fluorescent pink safety vest gave me away.

I’ll be right with you, I called out to the guy, and he started grumbling loudly, acting as if he’d never in his life had to wait in line at a gas station.

I wasn’t really helping the young woman with the air pump, so I excused myself. The young woman apologized for asking for help, and I assured her it was no problem.

As I walked back to the kiosk, I turned on the (fake) good cheer, and said, Sorry for the wait! I was helping the lady with the air pump.

Up until this point, I was a little miffed with the guy’s impatience, but not really angry with him. Maybe he had a good reason to be in a hurry. Maybe he was on his way to work or a medical appointment. Maybe he couldn’t afford to be late. However, what he said next caused a flash of white-hot anger to shoot through my being.

She should know how to do it herself, he sneered. It’s not that hard.

This was when the desire to smash his testicles reared up inside of me. His attitude was so unkind. There was no reason for him to say such a thing. I was furious. I hurried to the kiosk before my leg could shoot out and land my foot between his legs.

I killed him with kindness through the bulletproof glass of the kiosk. I hope he knew I didn’t mean one bit of my niceness.

I know violence doesn’t solve anything and an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. I know being an asshole to an asshole only increases the world’s net sum of assholeness. I know the company I work for does not condone kicking (even deserving) customers. I know I behaved the right way, did the right thing, but I really wanted to be an angel of vengeance and righteous anger in that moment.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-tire-inflator-at-a-gas-station-1886580/.

Heritage Square and a Little Free Library (Flagstaff, AZ)

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Brown public land sign saying "All Campfires Prohibited" and "Camping Permitted Beyond Here."
Camping on public lands outside Flagstaff, AZ

The public land around Flagstaff, AZ has offered me and The Man (and Jerico the dog) places to stop over (for a night or a week or even two weeks) on our way to new adventures. In April of 2017, we left Ajo, AZ and spent a night outside of Flagstaff on our way to Taos, NM. Later that year in late June we spent a few days and nights near Flagstaff on our way to jobs in the mountains of California. In April of 2018 we again found ourselves in Flagstaff area for a couple of weeks before we went to our Cali jobs. We stayed until the prospect of an early May snowstorm sent us packing. We found ourselves in the area again in late September of 2018 when our jobs in the California mountains ended. We hung out near Flagstaff until the temperature dropped and it was cool enough go back to our fifth wheel in Why, AZ.

During one of our 2018 stays, The Man decided he wanted to try to sell some of the pendants he’d made in Heritage Square. According to the Heritage Square Trust website,

We arrived fairly early on a Saturday morning and stopped the van close enough to drop off a table as well as The Man’s jewelry and jewelry-making supplies. Then The Man parked the van farther away where we wouldn’t get a ticket while I stood guard over his belongings. After setting up his table and arranging his pendants, The Man began working on a new piece. I wandered around Heritage Square taking photos.

Sculpture of a reclining life size mountain lion painted bright colors
“Asset #15 – Positive Peer Influence” Apparently that’s how big a mountain lion really is.

There’s a cool statue of a colorful cat in Heritage Square called Asset #15. According to the Encircle Photos website, it is part of the PAWS project.

This is one of the eventual 40, life-size painted mountain lions found around Flagstaff…The PAWS project is sponsored by the Coconino Coalition for Children and Youth. Each sculpture portrays one of the developmental assets essential to raising a healthy and successful child. For example, this is “Asset #15 – Positive Peer Influence.”

Flag pole base made of stone and including rocks from the Grand Canyon.
Actual rocks from the actual Grand Canyon.

I also like the exhibit of the Grand Canyon strata. It’s a nice display of information about the natural wonder only 81 miles away. According to the aforementioned Heritage Square Trust website,

The base of the flag pole contains actual rocks from the Grand Canyon placed carefully to reflect the geologic strata of the Canyon, with Vishnu schist on the bottom and Kaibab limestone on the top.

My favorite part of Heritage Square was the Little Free Library (LFL) I was pleasantly surprised to find there. Little Free Libraries are grassroots gift economy projects. LFLS are places where people can leave books they don’t want; anyone is allowed to take one or more books from the libraries. According to the Little Free Library organization,

A Little Free Library is a “take a book, return a book” free book exchange. They come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common version is a small wooden box of books. Anyone may take a book or bring a book to share.

This is the Little Free Library I encountered in Heritage Square.

I thought this was a registered Little Free Library with a charter number, but after looking at the photos I took of it, I see that it is a renegade LFL! I do love me a renegade! The LFL is a project of Oasis Flagstaff and the Downtown Business Alliance. It goes to show that a Little Free Library doesn’t have to be “official” to be built well and look nice.

 I appreciate its sturdy construction, which surely makes it less attractive to thieves and vandals.

Let me say here, anyone who steals or vandalizes a Little Free Library has problems and needs prayers. According to the Little Free Library FAQs,

Small incidents of vandalism are common. Things like having a guest book stolen or a few books damaged are going to happen at one point or another. Bigger problems, like having all of your books “stolen” or your entire Library damaged, are much less common. In our annual survey of Little Free Library stewards, more than 80% of stewards reported never dealing with significant vandalism.

This Little Free Library had plenty of books to offer.

 I didn’t take any books from the LFL that day or leave any behind either, but I paid another visit to it before we left town. I dropped off one book (The Unincorporated Man) and took one to replace it (a historical romance set in Chicago during World War II, the title of which I cannot remember).

I love visiting Little Free Libraries, even if I don’t take or leave books. I’ve visited LFLs in Los Gatos, CA; Phoenix and Mesa, AZ; Santa Fe, NM; and Taos County, NM. The LFL in Heritage Square was my first (but not my last) in Flagstaff. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to see it.

Intricate wire wrapped pendant with blues stones.
The Man made this pendant. He gave it to me for my birthday.

As for The Man’s jewelry sales, it was a bust. He didn’t sell a single thing. Hardly any people walked through the square, and the ones who did didn’t even stop to look. Maybe we were too early. The last time we’d gone there and found traveling kids making jewelry, playing drums and guitars, and generally hanging out, it had been later in the day.

There’s no shade in Heritage Square, and we hadn’t brought an umbrella or an awning. By noon the sun was beating down, and we were quite hot, so we packed up and drove a few miles back to the woods.

I took the photos in this post.

Free Camping near Quartzsite, Arizona

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Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Long-term Visitor Areas (LTVAs) located along the Colorado River in Arizona and California. La Posa (North and South, on either side of Highway 95) is the LTVA closest to Quartzsite, AZ. As I stated in the LTVA post, it costs $180 for a seasonal LTVA permit, good from September 15 to April 15. If you just want to stay at an LTVA for two weeks, you can get a permit for $40. (To learn a whole lot more about LTVAs, read my post about the Long-term Visitor Areas.)

Wait a minute!  you may have thought when you read the LTVA post. I heard there was free camping on BLM land near Quartzsite.

Well, you were right about that! There is free camping on BLM land all around Quartzsite. Sometimes people get confused because both LTVAs and free camping are on BLM land. The difference? After paying the permit fee, one can camp at an LTVA all season (or move among the LTVAs at no additional charge), while camping is allowed on the free spots for only 14 days within a 28 day period.

According to the Free Campsites website, free camping locations on BLM land in the immediate Quartzsite area are Plomosa Road, Hi Jolly, Dome Rock Mountain, Scaddan Wash and Road Runner. In addition, there are other free camping areas on BLM land within 20 miles of Quartzsite in Ehrenberg, AZ, as well as within 40 miles near Bouse and Parker, AZ. If you want to go a little further (about 75 miles), there’s also free camping on BLM land near Lake Havasu City, AZ.

Although there is no cost to camp on the BLM land near Quartzsite (other than La Posa North and South LTVA, of course), a permit is required. Getting the permit is no big deal. Each camping area has a camp host who issues permits. Simply stop at the camp host’s campsite and ask for your permit. The camp host may ask to see your driver’s license or ID. The camp host will write your name, address, and license plate number on the permit. You will get one copy to adhere to your windshield and the host will keep the other copies for the BLM’s records.

A BLM ranger might hassle someone camping on any of these free camping areas without a permit. I believe a ranger could even issue a ticket to someone camping without a permit, but I don’t know anyone this has happened to. But why risk? The permits are free and easy to obtain.

Once you get your permit, you are allowed to camp in the area for which the permit was written for up to 14 days. In the past, people have stayed on free BLM land near Quartzsite for much longer than two weeks, but in the last few years rangers have started cracking down on these long-term stays in the short-term camping areas. After two weeks, some people simply move to a different free camping area near Quartzsite and get a new permit, but technically, doing so is not permissible.

One can camp in for free on most BLM land that is not an LTVA for 14 days within a 28 day period at no cost. One can move 25 miles away and camp on BLM land for free (if allowed) for 14 days. One can return to the original camping spot on the 29th day since the first day of camping. A BLM website explains it in detail this way:

Dispersed camping is allowed on public land for a period not to exceed 14 days within a 28 consecutive day period. The 28 day period begins when a camper initially occupies a specific location on public lands. The 14 day limit may be reached either through a number of separate visits or through 14 days of continuous overnight occupation during the 28 day period. After the 14th day of occupation, the camper must move outside of a 25 mile radius of the previous location until the 29th day since the initial occupation.

(Camping rules for BLM land may vary according to the ranger district. Always check the camping rules for the particular BLM ranger district in which you want to camp.)

The free BLM camping areas near Quartzite are totally undeveloped. Like on most other BLM land in the Southwest, these public lands open to free camping require boondockers to provide for their every need. (If you don’t know the first thing about boondocking, see my post on the “10 Fundamentals for Boondockers“.) You may find a fire ring made of stones left behind by previous campers, but otherwise you are on your own. You will not find a trash can or dump station in any of the free BLM camping areas in this part of Arizona. Plan to pack out anything you pack in. Don’t look for picnic tables, pit toilets or electrical hookups because there are none. The lack of running water means you can forget about flush toilets or hot showers. (To find out where you can find a hot shower and other amenities see my post “Where to Go for What You Need in Quartzsite.”)

All sorts of folks camp in the free BLM camping areas in Quartzsite. I’ve seen plenty of RVers in motorhomes, travel trailers, and fifth wheels of all different sizes and conditions. There’s no shortage of vandwellers out there either, in everything from Roadtreks to minivans, converted cargo vans to old-school conversion vans. Skoolies make an appearance too, both full-size and short buses. Travelers stay there in truck campers, and I’ve witnessed literal car camping out there too. Some hardy souls brave the wind and chilly night to camp in tents.

Whatever one’s living situation, there are rules to follow while staying on the public land. Be quiet during quiet hours, typically 10pm to 6am. Comply with any fire ban and do NOT gather any native wood lying on the ground. (Hopefully I don’t have to tell you not to cut down or in any way damage plants growing on BLM land.) Keep your pets leashed and under your control. (This is for your pet’s safety, as coyotes in those parts have been known to snatch unattended dogs.)

If your rig does not have toilet facilities, it is allowable to dig “cat holes” for your elimination needs. According to the Tread Lightly! website,

Human waste should be disposed of in a shallow hole six to eight inches deep at least 200 feet from water sources, campsites or trails. Cover and disguise the hole with natural materials. It is recommended to pack out your toilet paper.

However, there’s hardly any privacy on the BLM land set aside for free camping near Quartzsite. You’re in the desert out there, not the forest, so it won’t be easy to find a tree to hide behind. You can set up a privacy tent, but be aware that the winter wind can be fierce out there. I recommend you set up some sort of elimination facility in your rig. (If you have never camped in the desert before, check out my post “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert” to get more advice on doing it right.)

If you don’t mind being a little farther away from Quartzsite, you have a couple of other options. According to the Free Campsites website, there is dispersed camping on BLM land on Gold Nugget Road east of Quartzsite. It doesn’t seem like a permit is required to stay there. You can also camp for free in the Crystal Hill area of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, about 8 miles south of Quartzsite on Highway 95 at milepost 95. Camping there is limited to 14 days during any 12-month period.

What if you don’t want to camp on the public lands near Quartzsite? Do you have other options? The answer is yes!

There are two truck stops in Quartzsite, a Love’s and a Pilot. I have stayed overnight at both Quartzsite travel centers. One year after the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) I wanted to stick around for a few more days for the PowWow gem and mineral show. I’d already reached my 14 day BLM limit, so I stayed in my van at the Love’s for a couple of nights with no problems. On another occasion I stayed in town using the internet to schedule blog posts until after sunset and didn’t want to try to find my campsite after dark. I spent that night in the Pilot parking lot, again with no trouble. I’ve seen plenty of other vans and truck campers parked overnight in those travel centers too.

So yes, it’s true, you can camp for free on BLM land near Quartzsite, but technically only for two weeks before you have to move down the road, at least for a little while.

I took the photos in this post.

Kokopelli

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Virginia was Native American. Her mother was from the local pueblo, and her father was from a pueblo to the west. Virginia was in her 50s but dressed like a teenager. She was fond of shoes with high heels and a t-shirt emblazoned with the face of Marilyn Monroe. She painted her full lips bright red and wore big hoops in her ears.

I met Virginia at the Bridge, where she was friendly and outgoing toward the tourists and other vendors. Hi guy! she’d say with a big smile to male strangers as they passed her table. Where are you from? she’d chitchat with tourists who stopped to see her wares.

Virginia sold a variety of items she said she made herself, as well as crafts she said were made by members of her family. She sold jewelry—necklaces and bracelets and sometimes earrings too—made from turquoise and copper, variscite, and hematite, and other semiprecious stones. She sold knives with handles inlaid with stone or carved from bone. Sometimes she sold soft dolls sewn to look like Diné women, and she usually had horsehair pottery on her table.

Horsehair pottery was a popular item at the Bridge. It was sold by Native American vendors as well as by white folks and members of the local old Spanish families. The selling of horsehair pottery crossed all boundaries of Northern New Mexico race, ethnicity, and language.

Tourists loved the pottery, which is why so many vendors wanted it on their tables. Anyone selling horsehair pottery had a shot at making a sale even on a slow day. Lots of tourists want to be able to show off to the folks back home the Native crafts they acquired on vacation.

The majority of any piece of horsehair poetry was off-white in color. Designs in black decorated the off-white background. During my time at the Bridge, I saw pots decorated with Native American-style bears (for strength and power, Virginia always said), hummingbirds, Kokopelli, turtles, and buffalo. When the pots were in the kiln and the temperature inside was incredibly hot, the artist would open the door to the oven and throw in horsehair. The horsehair would land on the pots, leaving black lines on the plain portions as well as on the designs. The random falling of the horsehair and the subsequent unplanned patterns of the black lines left behind made each pot unique. Of course, while buying a handmade craft is important to many visitors to any region, acquiring something unique is usually even better. No wonder horsehair pottery seemed to fly off vendors’ tables and into the hands of shoppers.

I don’t know where Virginia acquired her horsehair pots. I don’t think she was making them. But from what old-timers at the Bridge told me, when she and her ex were still together, they were a horsehair pottery production team. They’d produce the pots, paint the designs, then throw on the horsehair while the pots fired in the oven. Virginia was capable of making the pots I saw on her table even if someone else was actually doing the work. 

One morning at the Bridge Virginia parked next to where I was already set up and started pulling out her tables. Spending a day next to Virginia was fine with me. She was pleasant to be around and was always good for the latest Bridge vendor gossip.

In the early afternoon a (seemingly) white, (seemingly) heterosexual couple approached Virginia’s table. There were no customers at my table, so there was nothing to distract me from listening to the conversation next door.

The visitors looked at all of the merchandise Virginia had for sale, but lingered over the horsehair pottery. Virginia told them all about the pottery. She explained how the horsehair was tossed into the hot kiln and fell randomly onto the pots. The tourists seemed impressed. They looked at all the designs Virginia was offering that day and settled on one with an image of Kokopelli painted on it.

For those of you who don’t know, according to IndigenousPeople.net, Kokopelli is…

a Hopi word
meaning (roughly) wooden-backed; most of the familiar depictions of Kokopelli are copied from Hopi art, which in turn is derived from ancient Anasazi glyphs.

Known as a fertility god, prankster, healer and story teller, Kokopelli has been a source of wonder throughout the country for centuries. Kokopelli embodies the true American Southwest, and dates back over 3,000 years ago… Although his true origins are unknown, this traveling, flute-playing Casanova is a sacred figure to many Southwestern Native Americans.

I took this photo of Kokopelli adorning a local business. I don’t think the local business was a fertility clinic.

The couple told Virginia they would take the pot with the painting of Kokopelli on it. Money was handed over. Virginia pulled out the bubble wrap and tape so she could protect the pot for its journey to its new home.

When the wrapping was nearly complete Virginia mentioned that some people consider Kokopelli a fertility symbol. I’m sure she intended this information to be just one more little tidbit to make the pot more interesting to the couple. Virginia had no way of knowing she’d just shot herself in the foot.

What? the tourist woman asked sharply.

Virginia repeated that some people see Kokopelli as a fertility symbol.

I can’t give this to my 16 year old daughter! the woman huffed. She decided she didn’t want the pot after all. Sadly, there was nothing else on Virginia’s table she wanted instead.

No problem, Virginia told the woman, but I could tell she was disappointed by the loss of the sale. She handed the woman’s money back and said flatly, I hope you find something you like better.

Why the couple didn’t pick out a different pot, I don’t know. Maybe they feared turtles and bears and hummingbirds and buffalo were also secret fertility symbols. In any case, the transaction with Virginia was over.

I sat behind my table and tried not to laugh in disbelief. Did the woman really think having a pot with an image of Kokopelli on it was going to increase her daughter’s chances of getting pregnant? Did she think Kokopelli was going to magically hop off the pot in the night and knock up her daughter? Did she refuse to allow her daughter to participate in Maypole dances and Easter egg hunts?

I just shook my head and felt sorry for Virginia’s loss.