Author Archives: Blaize Sun

About Blaize Sun

My name is Blaize Sun. Maybe that's the name my family gave me; maybe it's not. In any case, that's the name I'm using here and now. I've been a rubber tramp for nearly a decade.I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. For most of my years on the road, my primary residence was my van. For almost half of the time I was a van dweller, I was going it alone. Now my (male) partner and I (a woman) have a travel trailer we can pull with our truck. We have a little piece of property, and when we're not traveling, we park our little camper there. I was a work camper in a remote National Forest recreation area on a mountain for four seasons. I was a camp host and parking lot attendant for two seasons and wrote a book about my experiences called Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. During the last two seasons as a work camper on that mountain, I was a clerk in a campground store. I'm also a house and pet sitter, and I pick up odd jobs when I can. I'm primarily a writer, but I also create beautiful little collages; hand make hemp jewelry and warm, colorful winter hats; and use my creative and artistic skills to decorate my life and brighten the lives of others. My goal (for my writing and my life) is to be real. I don't like fake, and I don't want to share fake. I want to share my authentic thoughts and feelings. I want to give others space and permission to share their authentic selves. Sometimes I think the best way to support others is to leave them alone and allow them to be. I am more than just a rubber tramp artist. I'm fat. I'm funny. I'm flawed. I try to be kind. I'm often grouchy. I am awed by the stars in the dark desert night. I hope my writing moves people. If my writing makes someone laugh or cry or feel angry or happy or troubled or comforted, I have done my job. If my writing makes someone think and question and try a little harder, I've done my job. If my writing opens a door for someone, changes a life, I have done my job well. I hope you enjoy my blog posts, my word and pictures, the work I've done to express myself in a way others will understand. I hope you appreciate the time and energy I put into each post. I hope you will click the like button each time you like what you have read. I hope you will share posts with the people in your life. I hope you'll leave a comment and share your authentic self with me and this blog's other readers. Thank you for reading.  A writer without readers is very sad indeed.

Lack of Linens

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There were yurts in the campground where the Mercantile was located. People could rent the yurts for $85 per night. The yurts were basically glorified tents with wooden floors and furniture. The furniture included a futon that converted from a couch into a double (or maybe a queen) bed, a bunk bed with a double bed on the bottom and a singe on top, a wooden bedside table, and a wooden rocking chair. Unlike the traditional Mongolian dwellings on which these camping structures were based, these yurts had windows with flaps outside that rolled down for privacy. There was no electricity in the yurts–or anywhere in the campground–and no running water within a ten mile radius. The yurts were also without heat. Even so, the half dozen yurts in the campground were booked nearly every weekend and often during the week too.

A green yurt with a brown door is covered with a dusting of snow. Snow is on the ground in the foreground and trees are in the background.
Yurt in the snow

I could understand the appeal. Some people don’t want to sleep on the cold, cold ground. (I sure as heck don’t!) Some people have physical limitations that make sleeping on the ground impossible. Some people are too afraid of spiders, snakes, bugs, and other critters to even contemplate sleeping on the ground with them. The yurts were sort of a middle ground between sleeping in a tent or not going camping at all.

Not only were the yurts lacking in electricity, running water, and heat, no linens were provided for the beds. This lack of bedding was a practical consideration. Sheets and blankets and pillow cases would have to be changed between guests, and the nearest place to the campground to do laundry was 25 mountain miles away. Each yurt would need a minimum of two sets of sheets and blankets for each bed so fresh linens would be available even in the event of back-to-back check ins. Someone (probably the already overworked camp host) would have to drive the dirty bedding the 50 mile round trip to the tiny laundromat with one one coin operated washer and one coin operated dryer. That person would likely have to spend a whole day loading linens into washer/out of washer, into dryer/out of dryer, then folding, folding, folding. Providing linens just wasn’t practical, so the yurts were strictly BYOB (Bring Your Own Bedding).

Whenever visitors in the Mercantile asked me about the yurts (and multiple people asked every week), I always explained that folks who stayed in the yurts had to provide their own bedding, either sheets and blankets or sleeping bags, I spelled it out for them.

Unfortunately, the reservation website doesn’t spell things out for campers quite as well as I did. While the website gives the (questionably punctuated) information


No Pets, No cooking or No smoking allowed in the Yurts[,]


it doesn’t say anything about bedding not being provided. Ooops! Hopefully when a person actually reserves a yurt, the reservation information includes details on the lack of bed linens.

Many visitors to the mountains don’t understand that the higher they go in elevation, the cooler the temperature will be be, especially at night. Sometimes people staying in the yurts brought bedding, but not enough of it to stay warm. The camp hosts in 2016 were super sweet and lived in a converted school bus with plenty of room, so they would loan their personal extra bedding to yurt dwellers who were cold. I appreciated their generosity (as I’m sure the campers did too), but I would never loan my blankets to strangers. First of all, when I live in my van, I don’t have room for extras. Secondly, sometimes people are harboring bugs! Besides, campers should plan ahead and prepare for all eventualities, even if they are going to sleep in a yurt. Yurts are a bit sturdier than regular tents, and the walls are a bit thicker, but not by much.

Javier and Sandra, the camp hosts my last year on the mountain were nice people too, but they were also vandwellers without room to spare for extra bedding. When campers arrived unprepared for their night in a yurt, there was nothing the camp hosts could offer but sympathy.

One evening I was hanging out with Javier and Sandra on their campsite when a European couple arrived. There was some discussion I couldn’t hear between the man who’d been driving and Sandra. I did hear Sandra say they should find the yurt and she’d be over before dark to do the check-in paperwork. The couple drove off, and I began saying my good-byes so Sandra and Javier could finish their work before they ran out of daylight.

Before I could leave the host site, the European man had driven back to the front of the campground and was asking about bedding. The mattresses in the yurt were bare, he said, and they hadn’t brought any linens. Did Sandra and Javier have any sheets and blankets they could use?

Javier and Sandra shook their heads. No. Sorry. Linens were not provided in the yurts.

The fellow wanted to know what they should do.

I asked if they had sleeping bags. I thought maybe if their itinerary included actual camping at some point they might have camping gear.

The fellow said no. They hadn’t brought sleeping bags. Then he asked if there was any place nearby that might sell bedding.

I told him the Mercantile had sold out of both sleeping bags and blankets. If there had been anything useful in the store and if he could pay cash and if he didn’t need change, I would have unlocked the door and helped him out. However, during the last cold snap, unprepared campers had wiped us out of all things warm.

Sandra told him there was a general store about 25 miles away that maybe sold sleeping bags, but she didn’t know if the store was open so late in the day. She also mentioned the store 35 miles away in the opposite direction that sold outdoor supplies. Maybe that store had sleeping bags.

The European man stood and stared at us in disbelief.

Of course there’s Wal-Mart, Javier said. He explained it was at the bottom of the mountain and about 60 miles from the campground.

It was obvious the camper didn’t want to drive 25 miles (and back!), much less 60. He just stood there and looked at us, and Sandra kept repeating that she was sorry. Finally the camper got back in his car and drove to the yurt where he and the lady would be spending a chilly night. At least they might have enjoyed the cuddling they probably had to do to stay warm.

Having never reserved a yurt, I don’t know if the reservation paperwork spelled out the lack of linens and if it did, how prominently that information was displayed. I do know if I were paying to stay anywhere other than a conventional hotel or motel, I would find out if bedding was included instead of assuming it was.

I took the photo in this post.


Why I Decided to Sign on with Patreon

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I’ve thought about Patreon for a long time. I considered it seriously before I signed up.

Not sure what Patreon is? That’s ok. I’ll tell you.

According to a February 2019 article from The Street called “What Is Patreon? History, Controversies and How It Works” by Anne Sraders,

Patreon is a crowdfunding platform that enables fans (or patrons) to pay and support artists for their work. For producers of [art, writing, whatever], Patreon is a way to earn extra money on what might otherwise be free content, and allows fans to contribute to their favorite artist’s platform.

According to the Patreon website,

Membership is a relationship between [me] and [my] most engaged fans — the ones that choose to go a level deeper than just following [me] on social media. They become paying patrons in exchange for exclusive benefits [I] offer.

But let me sum it up for you in my own words. You can join me on Patreon and gain access to thoughts, ideas, and photos I’m not sharing anywhere else. I’ll even tell you about upcoming blog posts before the posts are made public. You will receive different perks depending on the membership level you choose to participate at. For just $2 a month, you will receive

  • MY eternal gratitude
  • A shout out on my blog
  • Access to Patreon-only content

Of course, the higher the level of support you offer, the more perks you will receive.

Want to know what else you can receive? (Hint: perks include monthly email updates, handwritten postcards that I send to my patrons through the mail, Rubber Tramp Artist stickers, Rubber Tramp Artist buttons, custom made hemp bracelets, and hand crafted collages.) Simply click on the “Become a Patron” button just under the search bar at the top of the toolbar on the right and you’ll be whisked away to my Patreon page where you can see what perks patrons at each membership level receive.

I don’t expect to get rich on Patreon. Most creators don’t. But of course, every little bit helps. My current supporters (via Patreon and a monthly donation set up through PayPal) pay my monthly phone bill. Thanks friends! I appreciate any and all support that I receive.

So please go check out my Patreon page. See what I have to offer you, the little somethings extra I can give you in exchange for your support. If you can’t afford to support me, I understand. Times are tough. Money is tight for so many of us. Don’t worry, the content on the Rubber Tramp Artist blog will always be free.

Everyone who supports me on Patreon gets a shout out on my blog. Thanks to Keith for being my very first Patreon patron!

I took the photos in this post.

Bear Bells

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Photo of Grizzly BearThe Mercantile where I worked sold bear bells. Folks who’ve never hiked in bear country may have never seen these large jingle bells that attach to a backpack or a belt. They jingle as the hiker moves and are meant to warn bears of the human’s approach. In theory, the foreign sound tells a bear that a hiker is approaching so the bear can amble off and avoid a confrontation it probably doesn’t want any more than the human does.

Some experts don’t believe bear bells work. Some sources say hikers are better of talking or singing or clapping their hands when moving through ursine territory. However, since the store I worked in sold bear bells, I tried not to discourage customers from buying them. When customers straight out asked me if the things really worked, I told them I’d never used one (truth) and different people have different ideas about their effectiveness (also truth).  I mentioned clapping and singing and talking as bear deterrents too.

The company that manufactures the bear bells takes precautions to cover their corporate ass. Upon the cardboard the bells are attached to for display are printed the words “Alerts bears of your presence and sometimes sounds can cause bears to run and hide.” I love the word “sometimes” in that statement.  I can imagine the company lawyer saying, Add “sometimes” in there so we don’t get sued if a bear doesn’t run and hide when it hears the bell.

Each bell came in a little black mesh bag. A magnet is sewn into the bottom of the mesh bag. When the owner of the bell doesn’t want it jingle jangling, the magnet is placed at the bottom of the bell so the little metal ball inside that otherwise bounces around in there and makes noise is held in place and the bell is silenced.

One day a couple of young women in bikini tops and short shorts were browsing in the Mercantile. One of them saw the display of bear bells and decided to examine them carefully. She picked up one of the bells and gave it a little shake. The magnet must have been in the perfect position to hold the inner metal ball in place because the bell made not a sound. She held the bell up and said, Does this make a sound only bears can hear?

I suppose it’s a reasonable question if one encounters one’s first bear bell and it produces no noise.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-grizzly-bear-1328414/.

Guide to the America the Beautiful Federal Recreation Site Passes (Part 2)

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Autie Em and I got into the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument with no admission fee because she flashed her America the Beautiful Senior Pass.

Last week I told you about all of the the America the Beautiful Annual Passes: the basic Pass available for $80, the FREE America the Beautiful Pass for active members of the military and their dependents, and the America the Beautiful Annual and Lifetime Senior Passes. According to the National Park Service, any of these passes

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.

Today I’ll tell you about other groups who can receive FREE America the Beautiful passes. Passes are available FREE to folks with disabilities, 4th graders, and federal volunteers.

Sign with National Park Service logo on it and the words Island in the Sky Visitor Center Canyonlands National Park National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior
Folks with disabilities who have the FREE America the Beautiful Access Pass can visit Canyonlands National Park without paying an admission fee.

A special America the Beautiful pass is available FREE to people with disabilities. According to the USGS Store, the Access Pass (formerly known as the Golden Access Passport) is

[a] free, lifetime pass – available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States that have been medically determined to have a permanent disability (does not have to be a 100% disability)…

permanent disability is a permanent physical, mental, or sensory impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.

The disability requirements for the Access Pass are not based on percentage of disability. To qualify for the Pass the disability must be permanent and limit one or more major life activities.

Orange Cliffs Overlook in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park

You must submit appropriate documents to prove that you have a disability before you will be issued an access pass.

Some examples of acceptable documentation include:
Statement by a licensed physician  (Statement must include: that the individual has a PERMANENT disability, that it limits one or more aspects of their daily life, and the nature of those limitations.) ; Document issued by Federal agency such as the Veteran’s Administration, Social Security Disability Income, or Supplemental Security Income; Document issued by a State agency such as a vocational rehabilitation agency.

The pass program for folks with disabilities is operated by five Federal agencies that operate under different regulations and have different fees. This means the discount program for this pass is handled differently on different federal recreation lands. You can research the discount guidelines here.

According to the National Park Service,

Peeling brown wooden sign reads Sequoia National Forest Campground Redwood.
Folks with the America the Beautiful Access Pass can often get a 50% discount on camping fees.

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

The Access 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.

As I mentioned above, the America the Beautiful Access Pass was formerly known as the Golden Access Passport. Like the Golden Age Passport, Golden Access Passports are no longer sold. However, Golden Access Passports are lifetime passes and are still honored under the terms of the America the Beautiful Access Pass. If a Golden Access Passport wears out or is lost, the pass owner must resubmit acceptable documentation to prove disability.

There is no age requirement for the Access Pass. Even a child with a permanent disability can receive an America the Beautiful Access Pass.

The National Park Service says there are two ways a person can obtain an Access Pass. One can get the Pass

In person at a federal recreation site (see PDF list of federal recreation sites that issue passes) [or] [t]hrough the mail using this application form (PDF).

Note: The cost of obtaining an Access Pass through the mail is $10 for processing the application. (The pass is free.)

Fourth graders and their grownups can see the wonders of nature (like these giant sequoias) at national parks (like Sequoia National Park) without having to pay an entrance fee if they have their Annual 4th Grade Pass.

The Annual 4th Grade Pass is available for FREE to every

U.S. 4th grade student (including home-schooled and free-choice learners 10 years of age) with a printed voucher from the Every Kid Outdoors website. Students may not receive a pass without a valid voucher.

The get the voucher, 4th graders must complete a

web based activity on the Every Kid Outdoors website. [After a 4th grader completes the activity] they will be awarded their voucher package for printing. Once your 4th grader arrives at the participating Federal recreation site they may exchange their Every Kid Outdoors voucher for the Annual 4th grade Pass. A list of sites that issue passes is available. Please contact the Federal land you will be visiting in advance to ensure that they have the pass available.

According to the USGS Store,

The pass is valid for the duration of the 4th grade school year through the following summer (September – August).

Like the America the Beautiful Pass for active members of the military and their dependents, the Annual 4th Grade Pass

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

Holders of most America the Beautiful Passes will receive free admission to White Sands National Monument. (The White Sands Fees & Passes page makes no mention of the Annual Military Pass or the Annual 4th Grade Pass.)

As I mentioned, a fourth grader must jump through a few hoops to get the FREE Annual 4th grade pass. Go to the Every Kid Outdoors website to learn about the hoops and do the jumping. Each 4th grader

[m]ust have a paper voucher printed from the Every Kid Outdoors website to obtain the Annual 4th Grade Pass. Digital versions of the voucher (such as [on] smart phones or tablets) will not be accepted.

The final free pass that allows access to federal recreations sites with no admission fee is the America the Beautiful Volunteer Pass.

A “Volunteer Pass” is an Annual Pass awarded to those individuals who volunteer 250 hours at one or more recreation sites managed by five Federal agencies as a way to say “thank you!”

According to an America the Beautiful document , the Volunteer Pass is

valid for one year from the month of issuance.

There are some other things to know about the Volunteer Pass.

There is no specific time frame in which volunteer hours must be accrued. Hours can be accrued over one, or several, calendar years.

You can accrue 250 hours by volunteering on Federal recreation lands managed by one or all of five agencies – NPS, BLM, USDA FS, FWS, and Reclamation. For example, you can volunteer 100 hours for each of the five agencies and earn a pass.

Once the 250 hour requirement is reached, a pass is issued, and the volunteer’s “pass hours”; are reset to zero and the count begins again.

Campground hosts are eligible to receive a Volunteer Pass once they have completed 250 hours of service.
Campsite with a picnic table under a shade structure and a fire ring
Camp hosts can receive the America the Beautiful Volunteer pass after completing 250 service hours.

To find out about volunteer opportunities at federal recreation sites, visit volunteer.gov.

To earn the America the Beautiful Volunteer Pass, volunteers must get all volunteer activities pre-approved by a volunteer coordinator. Activities that are not pre-approved may not count toward the 250 hours needed to earn a Volunteer Pass. Volunteers must get their record of volunteer hours signed by applicable Volunteer Coordinator(s). The Federal Volunteer Coordinator/Manager who authorizes that a volunteer has accrued 250 hours will issue the Volunteer Pass.

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.

Hopefully the information I’ve provided today and last week will help you decide if you want to get an America the Beautiful federal recreation pass. If you already have one, would you suggest that others get one? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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.

Little Freek Library in Phoenix, AZ

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Here is some of the art Nolagirl and I encountered at the 2017 Grand Avenue Festival in Phoenix, AZ.

Nolagirl and I were at the Grand Avenue Festival in November of 2017. As we walked down the avenue looking at public art and popping into galleries to see the cool pieces on display, we came across a Little Free Library (LFL).

If you don’t already know from reading my blog or from your own experience, Wikipedia says,

Like other public book exchanges, a passerby can take a book to read or leave one for someone else to find. The [Little Free Library] organization relies on volunteer “stewards” to construct, install, and maintain book exchange boxes. For a book exchange box to be registered, and legally use the Little Free Library brand name, stewards must purchase a finished book exchange, a kit or, for a DIY project, a charter sign,[23] which contains the “Little Free Library” text and official charter number.[24][25]

The addition of one letter can change a Little Free Library into a Little Freek Library

The LFL we encountered on Grand Avenue was not your everyday Little Free Library, not at all! It was a Little FREEK [sic] Library. Someone came along and with one letter changed this registered Little Free Library (charter #5315) into a Little Freek Library.

I know I’ve said in the past that anyone who would steal or vandalize a Little Free Library has problems and needs prayers, but I’m not upset that someone with a Sharpie turned a Little Free Library into a Little Freek Library. In fact, I think it’s hilarious. I guess I’m a hypocrite. Oh well.

This “vandalizing” doesn’t upset me because I don’t think this “vandalizing” hurts anyone. It’s not like the “vandal” wrote anything vulgar or offensive on the LFL. There’s no hate speech here, no drawings of Nazi swastikas, no racism or misogyny,  just the request to “celebrate freakier neighborhoods.” I just can’t argue with that. I think freakier neighborhoods (and freakier neighbors, for that matter) do need to be celebrated, especially in places like Phoenix that can seem very mainstream and somewhat boring (at least to me).

This LFL needs some good books in it.

There were only a couple of books in the Little Freek Library, and they seemed old and in poor condition. I wished I had a few books with me to contribute to this LFL. It really needed some book love. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to revisit this LFL before I left town.

I’ve visited Little Free Libraries in Los Gatos, CA; Santa Fe and Taos, NM; Flagstaff and Mesa, AZ; and others in Phoenix too, but this was my first Little Freek Library. I was pretty excited to have stumbled across. Let your freek flag fly, Little Free Library on Grand Avenue. Let your freek flag fly.

I took the photos in this post.

Sandwich

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According to the National Day Calendar website, this Sunday, November 3 is National Sandwich Day. What will you do to celebrate?

In recognition of this popular food, today I’ll tell you a little story about a sandwich. It’s kind of a gross story which also involves pit toilets. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

I’ve heard it said that humans can grow accustomed to anything. Anything? Well, probably most things, including the gross and the stinky.

Pit toilet with lid down.
This photo shows an actual pit toilet.

When I worked on the mountain, pit toilets at the very busy trailhead and the campground next to it had to be pumped several times between the middle of May and the middle of October. The truck that came up to pump the toilets was the same kind that removes the waste from porta-potties. A long, flexible hose was dropped down into the chamber (also referred to the pit or the vault) below the seat. A pump on the truck sucked up all the waste materials from inside the chamber and deposited everything into a big holding tank mounted on the truck. When the tank was full, the truck went down the mountain to deposit the waste I-don’t-know-where.

A sign  reads, "For better smelling restroom keep toilet seat down." Two drawings of the side view of a pit toilet show that with the toilet lid down the "smelly" stays below the toilet and then vents up and out of a pipe, but when the lid is up, the "smelly" fills the toilet room.
Even keeping the lid down couldn’t control the bad smell after the pit toilets were pumped.

The pumping process stirred up all the decaying waste material and created a HORRIBLE smell. If you’ve never encountered a large concentration of decaying human waste, let me tell you, it smells really bad. It stinks to high heaven. To put it simply, it smells like death, and death does not smell one bit pretty.

I wouldn’t say I grew immune to the stench of toilets being pumped, but at least after the first couple of times I encountered the process, I knew what to expect. As GI Joe taught us, knowing is half the battle.

Most of the visitors to the trailhead and campground were city folks; many of them had never encountered a toilet that didn’t immediately flush their waste away. On a regular day, the smell from the pit toilets was often enough to make them mighty uncomfortable. When the city folks were present for the pumping or its immediate aftermath, they were quite surprised and quite disgusted and quite unhappy.They had no idea shit and piss could smell so nasty.

One day the pump truck came up the mountain. We could practically smell it before we saw it.

Small building with two doors, each with a restroom sign next to it. Two metal trash cans sit outside the building.
This is the building in the middle of the parking lot that housed the pit toilets.

Here we go, I thought. I knew the visitors were going to be melodramatically grossed out, and I was sure to hear complaints.

The pump truck went down to the middle of the parking lot where the two pit toilets were located. I couldn’t see the two men at work, but I could hear the pump and smell the funk. Yes, as always, the churned up human waste smelled horrific.

Finally the pump was switched off and the quietude of nature prevailed. I knew the stench would settle, but at the moment the entire parking lot was enveloped in an awful aroma.

The truck came around the curve leading to the parking lot’s exit, and the driver stopped it near me. Groan. The driver hopped out with clipboard in hand and asked me to sign the form stating he and his partner had been there and done the job. I agreed, wanting the reeking truck away from me as soon as possible.

Sign reads, "Keep this toilet clean." The sign gives instructions (with corresponding drawings) on how to properly use the pit toilet. Instructions include "Sit on the toilet during use. DO NOT stand on the toilet. DO NOT use the floor. Use the toilet. Put used toilet paper in the toilet. Do NOT put trash in the toilet. Use the trash can."
My favorite sign explaining how to use a pit toilet.

Just before I signed the form, I glanced over at the truck. What I saw gave credence to the idea that humans can grow accustomed to anything. The other pump truck worker, a young guy probably in his early 20s, was sitting in the passenger seat munching a sandwich.

The tourists were reeling, practically dry heaving and passing out, and this guy was sitting in the stink truck, nonchalantly having lunch. I wondered if he had no sense of smell or had simply become so accustomed to the stench that it was basically background noise–or perhaps more accurately, background stink. In any case, he seemed to be enjoying his sandwich, not at all bothered by the odor that was causing the rest of us so much grief.

I took the photos in this post.

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. Next week I’ll share 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.

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.