Category Archives: FYI

10 Fundamentals for Boondockers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most National Forests offer plenty of places for boondocking.

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

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

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

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

I left nothing but footprings.

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

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

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

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

I took this photo while boondocking on public land.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

After the Election

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I don’t want to write about Donald Trump, the U.S. presidency, or politics in general. However, I feel I would be remiss if I pretended this all didn’t happen.

Part of the problem is knowing my readers already know what I have to say. Do I really need to preach to the choir today?

Part of the problem is knowing other writers have already said it as well or better than I can. What more can I add?

This is what I believe: Trump won because a large segment of the male population could not stomach the idea of a woman in the White House. According to http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cbs-news-exit-polls-how-donald-trump-won-the-us-presidency/,

The gender gap was substantial. Trump beat Clinton by 53 percent to 41 percent among men while Clinton won among women by 54 percent to 42 percent.

Clinton won among black women by a 93 percent to 4 percent margin. Among black men she won by 80 percent to 13 percent.

Let me go ahead and spell that last one out. Some black men voted for Donald Trump rather than vote for Hillary Clinton. I can’t even imagine the cognitive dissonance a black man would have to live with in order to think he would be better off with Donald Trump in the White House.

This is what we know: Trump was elected overwhelmingly by white folks. According to the aforementioned website,

Trump beat Clinton among white women 53 percent to 43 percent.

Clinton lost to Trump among [white, male voters] by 63 percent to 31 percent.

This is also what we know: Trump was elected by the under-educated. Again, from the same website,

Trump did best among white voters without a college degree, beating Clinton by the enormous margin of 72 percent to 23 percent. Trump also won among white, non-college women 62 to 34 percent…

Nobody reading this needs me to explain these things. We already knew all of this. We only hoped we were wrong.

What does the election of Trump mean for me? I don’t even know.

I  texted a friend the morning after the election and said, I should probably write about the election, but I don’t feel I have any new insight.

My friend said I could write about how I was going to respond, what I was going to do differently, to focus on what would change in my real life.

Honestly, I have no idea what I am going to do differently. I suppose if Trump privatizes public land (and I have no idea if he has the ability or intention to do so), I’ll have to figure out a new way to make money. Perhaps I need to think about keeping my big mouth shut, as the results of this election reinforces that this country is not a safe place for outspoken women. It’s not as if my big mouth has ever changed anything, as if being outspoken has ever done anything more than make me feel a little bit better.

Another friend said as an old revolutionary, I should be happy about this. That friend sees this as the beginning of the end, I suppose. When I pointed out that people were going to suffer under the new administration, my friend countered by reminding me people are already suffering. True enough, but the suffering is going to be worse now.

Don’t go thinking I saw Hillary Clinton as a savior, or Barack Obama either for that matter. The system is flawed. The system is oh so flawed. I just thought maybe, maybe things wouldn’t be quite so bad under Clinton. I thought maybe, maybe the suffering wouldn’t be so great under Clinton.

Do I think the election of Donald Trump is going to make people rise up and change things for the better? Nah. For the people who are doing ok financially, there are movies to watch and vacations to take and knick-knacks to buy. The people who are struggling are going continue to concentrate on just barely keep their heads above water, buying groceries and getting a collage education that will qualify them to work a slightly better shit job. The comfortable aren’t going to give up their comforts, and the poor barely have the time and energy to fight.

Yet, some things have changed in my lifetime. I never thought I’d see the legalization of same-sex marriage. I never thought I’d see legalization of marijuana anywhere, much less in Nevada. I never thought Denver would do away with Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. So maybe I ought to not give up hope.

Since I don’t know what to say, what to do, what to think even, I will leave you with the words of a dear, old friend:

I send love to everyone who feels less safe and welcome in this country today. I honor you and your struggle, and I pray my actions reflect these words. Know that I stand with you, especially my Muslim brothers and sisters, my immigrant brothers and sisters, my LGBT brothers and sisters, my African-American brothers and sisters, my Native brothers and sisters. My white, Christian brothers and sisters, I’ll stand with you too. If you stand for love and compassion and justice, I’ll stand with you.

 

In Praise of Truck Stops

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When it comes to boondocking in the city, I vote for truck stops!

Workers at truck stops (or travel stops or travel centers, as most of the chains now refer to themselves) are accustomed to seeing vehicles parked in their lots at all hours of the day or night. From big rigs to delivery vans to motorhomes to U-Hauls to sports cars, people park their vehicles at truck stops while they get some rest, often overnight. Delivery drivers ahead of schedule can pass some time at truck stops. Folks on cross-country moves or vacations road trips can stretch their legs at truck stops. Of course, the businesses cater to truckers who need to refuel and/or take mandatory rest breaks.

In my early days of van travel, I’d always call ahead to make sure my van would be welcome overnight at a particular truck stop. Over the course of multiple trips across the U.S.A., I was only turned down a handful of times. The attitude of the person I talked to on the phone was usually Why are you asking me this? Of course you can park here overnight!

If anyone at a truck stop figures out a person is sleeping in her van, it’s unlikely to seem strange.

Another great thing about truck stops is that they’re open 24/7. Increasingly, I find Wal-Mart stores (even the supercenters) are closed for a few hours each night. A closed store makes a nighttime bathroom emergency problematic. Also, a vehicle parked overnight might stand out if customers aren’t coming and going at all hours. No such problems at a chain truck stop, since they’re always open.

What I love about truck stops is that everything I could want or need is right there. Fuel? Check! Restrooms? Yes. Showers? You bet. Hot coffee and most other beverages? Yep. Pizza at 2am? You know it! Video games? Well, yes (if that’s your thing). A selection of gadgets to make trucker life (and maybe van life too) easier? Yes. Snacks, maps, and souvenirs? Of course.

Some TA travel centers even have motels if you want to splurge on a night out of your rig. I’ve also encountered a couple Pilot travel centers with free internet access.

Different truck stops have different amenities. I try to stick to truck stop chains. Flying J is my favorite, followed in descending order of like by Pilot (which merged with Flying J some years ago), Love’s and TA. I’ve been in some dismal truck stops that weren’t part of chains. I’ve seen filthy showers, barely stocked coolers, and one place that I’m pretty sure had no fuel to sell. My experience with chains has been a lot better, although not every location is great. And while not every location really has pizza at 2am, the bigger the truck stop, the more amenities offered around the clock.

I’ve done laundry in truck stops, and it’s been hit or miss. Not every travel center has washers and dryers, and most that do have them only have a couple (maybe three) of each. Usually the cost is a little high, and on at least one occasion at a Flying J, I’m convinced my clothes were dirtier when I pulled them out of the washer. However, if your clothes are dirty and you’re at a truck stop with laundry facilities anyway, it can be a great convenience to be about to wash, dry, and fold in the middle of the night.

In the past, truck stops have had a bad reputation as dangerous places. However, the corporations seemed to have tried to clean up their images in the last few years. I think that’s part of the reason for the shift from “truck stop” to “travel stop” and “travel center.” If Mom and Dad and Sis and Brother feel safe stopping at these businesses, the businesses can reap the benefit of making money off average travelers too.

I’ve never once been harassed, propositioned, or hassled in a truck stop or in a truck stop parking lot. No one’s ever tried to sell me drugs (or anything else) or buy sex on truck stop property. No one’s knocked on my van or tried the handles while I’ve been parked at a truck stop. I’m not saying such things couldn’t happen, but none of them have happened yet. (Knock wood.)

Of course, I keep my guard up wherever I’m spending the night. I’m polite (but bland) if someone speaks to me, but I don’t initiate conversations in truck stops. I don’t smile, wink, or bat my eyes at men. I don’t dress provocatively. (My typical style of long hippy skirts and loose shirts doesn’t tend to make men think I’m looking for sex–either for free or for a fee.) I walk with my head up, aware of my surroundings, but I’m not out and about in the parking lot at all hours of the night. When I’m inside the truck stop (waiting for a shower or for my laundry to wash and/or dry), I keep my nose in a book (or my notebook) or look busy on my phone so I don’t invite conversation.

I’d rather spend the night in a beautiful natural setting or with friends, but if I can’t get to either of those places, a truck stop will be my next choice.

 

 

Whimsical Mushrooms

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I have a friend who is a fantastic artist. She wire-wraps shiny rocks and crochets purses and water bottle holders and headbands to cover cold ears in winter. You can check out many of the items she has for sale in her Etsy shop, Nirvana Creations,  at https://www.etsy.com/shop/NirvanaCreations.

Ammonite Non-Tarnish Copper Wire Wrapped Pendant

This is an example of a wire-wrapped ammonite from Nirvana Creations . Image from https://www.etsy.com/listing/398635131/ammonite-non-tarnish-copper-wire-wrapped?ref=shop_home_active_3

A few weeks ago she posted on Facebook some lovely ammonites she had wrapped in copper to make pendants.

This is what Nirvana Creations says about the ammonite pendants:

This ammonite pendant was handmade by weaving copper wires into these elaborate designs. There is no glue or soldering in the creation of this piece, it is firmly held in place by the handmade setting. Each of these pieces is made with only the utmost love and care, to present the purest and most healing jewelry available. All the pieces are one-of-a-kind, there will be no other exactly like it in the world.

I love ammonites and I love my friend and I love my friend’s work. She is so talented! I told her I wanted to order one of the ammonite pendants.

My friend is also very nice. When I told her I wanted to buy one of her pieces, she said she wanted to do a trade. Of course, I was flattered she wanted to trade with me and told her she could have whatever of mine she wanted. She picked out a couple of things she liked, and I added a couple of other things I thought she should have and sent it all off to North Carolina.

A couple of weeks later, I received a package from her, and I got such a sweet deal. She sent me so much good stuff. I am a lucky woman!

In the package were three (three!) mushroom pendants I knew would look so good on hemp necklaces. I hadn’t even touched my jewelry-making supplies since spring, but I was so excited about the mushroom pendants, and I pulled out my supplies and made three necklaces on a slow afternoon at work.

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These are the three necklaces I made with the three mushroom pendants my friend sent to me. Each necklace is 20 inches long. Each costs $23, including postage.

 

If I had to pick a favorite of the mushroom pendants, this would be it. The cap is made from purple and blue clay. The stem is made from a tiny stick. That's right! The stem is a piece of wood. I hung the pendant from a necklace of purple and blue hemp. The necklace is 20 inches. The price is $23, including postage.

If I had to pick a favorite of the mushroom pendants, this would be it. The cap is made from purple and blue clay. The stem is made from a tiny stick. That’s right! The stem is a piece of wood. I hung the pendant from a necklace of purple and blue hemp. The necklace is 20 inches long. The price is $23, including postage.

 

This amanita-esque mushroom pendant is super cute. The cap is made from red and yellow clay. The stem is made from a crystal (!) maybe tourmaline. I used red and variegated earth-tone hemp to make the necklace, which is 20 inches. The cost is $23, including postage.

This amanita-esque mushroom pendant is super cute. The cap is made from red and yellow clay. The stem is made from a crystal (!), maybe tourmaline. I used red and variegated earth-tone hemp to make the necklace, which is 20 inches long. The cost is $23, including postage.

 

This mushroom has a lot of color. The cap is made from clay and includes browns, reds, yellows, blues, and GLITTER. The stem is a QUARTZ CRYSTAL. I used blue and red hemp to make the necklace, matching the blue and red of the mushroom cap. The necklace can be worn with either the mostly blue side or the mostly red side showing, so it's like getting two necklaces in one. The necklace is 20 inches long. The price is $23, including postage.

This mushroom has a lot of color. The cap is made from clay and includes brown, red, yellow, blue, purple, gold, and GLITTER. The stem is a QUARTZ CRYSTAL. I used blue and red hemp to make the necklace, matching the blue and red of the mushroom cap. The necklace can be worn with either the mostly blue side or the mostly red side showing, so it’s like getting two necklaces in one. The necklace is 20 inches long. The price is $23, including postage.

All of these beautiful necklaces are for sale and would make lovely gifts.

I certainly appreciate my friend gifting the pendants to me to use in my work.

 

You (Don’t) Need a Man

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Apparently at the 2016 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous some man (or men) told a woman (or possibly more than one woman) that she/they couldn’t travel/live in a van alone, that she/they needed a man (or at least a dog).

No man told me I needed a man. I heard the story from a young guy who’d heard it from his female friend. The female friend had been told (by a man) that she needed a man (or at least a dog) to travel with and (it was implied, I suppose) to protect her. This woman was already suffering from anxiety from being around so many people at the RTR, and this dude’s little public service announcement (not!) was more than she could handle. She packed up her camp and left.

When the young guy told me this story, I jokingly asked if we should go rough up the man (or men) who made such a stupid statement. First, let me say, I honestly had no intention of perpetrating violence against someone who’d made a stupid remark. I used a hyperbole (an exaggerated statement or claim not meant to be taken literally) when I probably shouldn’t have.

After my comment about roughing someone up, the young guy started saying as a Buddhist…nonviolence…etc. Point taken. I get it. I didn’t really want the young guy to get physical with dudes saying something dumb. But I did want him to say he’d gone with his female friend to confront the guy(s) or that he’d spoken to the guy(s) privately. I didn’t get the idea either of those things happened.

Some people will probably say I shouldn’t be spreading this information. After all, it didn’t happen to me. I don’t even know the woman it happened to. At this point, I’m repeating a he said she said that guy over there said. Fair enough. But I’m repeating this story anyway because I believe it happened, if not at the RTR then on a Facebook group or on the Cheap RV Living Forum or somewhere in the rubber tramp world. In my experience, it’s common for men (in all walks of life) to tell women what they need (to be or do or get).

No fellow has told me I need a man (probably because I’m too old and fat and hairy and most fellows wouldn’t want me to take them up on what they probably fear I would take as an offer.) Men like to tell me I need solar or I need a five gallon propane tank. But it doesn’t take much imagination for me to believe a scenario where some dude tells a young woman that she needs a man (or a dog, he might add hastily, if he’s trying to make it seem like this isn’t some kind of pickup line).

In the interest of community, I’m going to address all partied involved and share my thoughts and advice.

Men, quite telling women what they need (to have, to be, to do). You want to know the last thing women need? The last thing any of us needs is some dude bossing us around.

If you are attracted to a woman and trying to start a relationship (or even just get a night of sex), cut the caveman crap and try listening to what the woman has to say. (And if you don’t care what a woman has to say, buy yourself an inflatable sex doll and a tube of lube and leave us alone.) Want to try something revolutionary? Ask a woman what she needs. Ask her how you can help.

If you honestly fear for a woman’s safety (maybe she’s inexperienced, maybe she’s taking dangerous chances), offer her your assistance. Address particular issues. Tell her what you see, and offer your help. If she doesn’t want your help, drop the subject. You tried. You’re not responsible for her actions (dangerous or otherwise), but you’re also not the boss of her.

And men, if you didn’t know, most women who are physically and/or sexually assaulted know the perpetrator. According to the National Institute of Justice,

most perpetrators of sexual assault are known to their victims. Among victims ages 18 to 29, two-thirds had a prior relationship with the offender. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that 6 in 10 rape or sexual assault victims said that they were assaulted by an intimate partner, relative, friend or acquaintance.

The American Bar Association  states,

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, between 1998 and 2002:

  • Of the almost 3.5 million violent crimes committed against family members, 49% of these were crimes against spouses.
  • 84% of spouse abuse victims were females, and 86% of victims of dating partner abuse at were female.
  • Males were 83% of spouse murderers and 75% of dating partner murderers

So when you’re saying you need a man (and implying to protect you), a woman who’s been abused by her dad or raped by her husband might be thinking incredulously, Yeah, right. Even if we haven’t experienced violence at the hands of men, many women are probably thinking the same thing because we likely know women who have been abused by men. We know that simply having a man around does not mean we are protected.

For men who would never try to tell a woman what to do, support your women friends when they tell you about men who do try to boss them around. When I told a female friend at the the RTR my concerns about women there being told they needed a man, her husband absolutely dismissed what I was saying. He said he hadn’t heard anyone say anything like that. I looked at him and said, Of course you haven’t. You’re not a woman traveling alone. Because he hadn’t experienced it happening, he refused to even entertain the notion such a thing could have been said to a woman.

Nice guys, hold other men responsible for the way they treat women. You don’t have to call other men out publicly or get into a physical altercation. But let them know you don’t think it’s ok to boss people around. Even just saying, Buddy, I don’t think you’d like it if someone tried to tell you what to do gives the guy something to think about.

Women, guess what? You don’t need a man. I’m living proof, and there are plenty of other women in the world traveling alone.

Being scared is valid. Most people are nervous at some point, especially when they try new things. If you are afraid, ask people you trust for advice about whatever aspect of traveling alone is worrying you. There are several groups on Facebook for solo women travelers. If you go to the RTR, attend the women’s meetings and ask for help there. Make friends with woman who are already living the way you want to live. Consider taking a self-defense class. Research self-defense online. Read up on situational awareness. (I’ve read two good articles on the topic. The first can be found at http://www.artofmanliness.com/2015/02/05/how-to-develop-the-situational-awareness-of-jason-bourne/. This article is suitable for people of any gender, despite the name of the website. The second is at http://www.survivethewild.net/situational-awareness/.)

We’re into the second decade of the 21st century, and while male companionship is something many women desire, none of us need a man in order to live on the road. As the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin said, sisters are doin’ it for themselves.

(Read more about the 2016 RTR.)

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I took the photo above.

Beep! Beep!

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Growing up in the Deep South, there was a lot I wasn’t taught about the Southwest.

For example, I wasn’t taught that the saguaro cactus is IMG_4558

found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert.

[The cactus is found] in southern Arizona and western Sonora, Mexico. A few stray plants can also be found in southeast California.

(Thanks to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for the info.)

I grew up thinking all cacti (I did know the plural of cactus was not cactuses) were pretty much that same and all cacti  grew in all deserts. WRONG!

Nor did I know much about the roadrunner. Oh sure, I saw the cartoon Road Runner on Saturday mornings, but I didn’t necessarily believe a roadrunner was a real creature. I saw Bugs Bunny too, but I knew rabbits couldn’t talk (much less sing opera), so while I might believe there was a bird called a roadrunner out in the big world, I was pretty sure it was nothing like the one on television.

I was right about that.

I didn’t see a real live roadrunner until I was an adult. I was so excited when it ran across the road, I bounced up and down in my seat and squealed.

Of course, the cartoon Road Runner looks a lot different from a real, live roadrunner. Real roadrunners are mostly brown, while the cartoon Road Runner is decked out in shades of blue. The cartoon Road Runner is much taller than a real roadrunner, and the decorative feather flop on the top of the cartoon’s head is much bigger than anything a real roadrunner has going on.

But still, when I saw the real roadrunner hurrying across the highway, I knew exactly what it was.

According to the All About Birds website

A bird born to run, the Greater Roadrunner can outrace a human, kill a rattlesnake, and thrive in the harsh landscapes of the Desert Southwest. Roadrunners reach two feet from sturdy bill to white tail tip, with a bushy blue-black crest and mottled plumage that blends well with dusty shrubs. As they run, they hold their lean frames nearly parallel to the ground and rudder with their long tails. They have recently extended their range eastward into Missouri and Louisiana.

WHAT?!?!?!? Roadrunners in Missouri and Louisiana? THAT is exciting, but how is a desert bird going to adapt to all the humidity?

Not too long ago, I woke up with the sun. It had been hot out, and there weren’t many other people around, so I hadn’t hung my side curtain when I went to bed. The lack of curtain helped with airflow, but when the sun rose at 5:45, there was a lot of light in my face.

I was looking at Facebook on my phone and hadn’t even put my glasses on when I heard a thump on the van. I looked up and saw…something…standing on my side mirror. My vision is very poor, and I can’t see much past the end of my nose without my specs. (Yeah, I’d been holding the phone close to my nose.) I suspected it was a bird on the mirror, but I wasn’t sure. Maybe it was some kind of super jumping desert squirrel that had leapt up there.

I reached out for my glasses, thinking my movement would scare of the critter. Nope. The critter didn’t go anywhere. I got the spectacles on my face and saw a roadrunner on my mirror. A big roadrunner. A roadrunner with a tail as long as (maybe longer than) its whole body. It turned around a few times on the mirror, so I got a good look at it from all angles. Then it flew up to the roof of my van, where I heard it thump a couple of times as it walked around. When all was silent, I knew the bird had flown away.

If I’d been in a cartoon, an anvil or a safe would have crushed my van. Thank goodness I’m living in the real world.

Since I didn’t get a photo of the roadrunner, I’ll post one of a saguaro in bloom. I took the two photos of the saguaros.

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A Few Things I Know About Cacti

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I took this photo on the BLM land near Saddle Mountain in Arizona.

I didn’t grow up in the desert, but after two guided tours at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and a couple of hours at the Desert Botanical Garden, I’ve learned a few things about cacti and other desert plants.

For example, what makes a plant a cactus? I first contemplated this question when Ranger Mark told me during a restroom break on the Ajo Mountain Drive tour that the ocatillo is not a cactus. When I asked him what makes a plant a cactus, he admitted he didn’t know. Low and behold, at the Desert Botanical Garden, I found the answer. All cacti have areoles. If there’s no areole, the plant is not a cactus.

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All cacti have areoles. If there’s no areole, the plant is not a cactus. This photo was taken at the Desert Botanical Garden.

 

So just what is the areole of a cactus? According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica (http://www.britannica.com/science/areole),

Cacti can be distinguished from other succulent plants by the presence of areoles, small cushionlike structures with hairs and, in almost all species, spines or barbed bristles (glochids). Areoles are modified branches, from which flowers, more branches, and leaves (when present) may grow.

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It is easy to see the areoles on the Straight-spined Barrel Cactus in this photo. The areoles are the dark areas from which the spines are growing. Notice that several spines grow from each areole. I took this photo at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix

The Encyclopaedia Britannica (http://www.britannica.com/plant/Caryophyllales#ref594853) elaborates,

 Areoles are universal in the cactus family (at least in the juvenile phase)…Almost all species of cactus have tufts of spines that develop from the areoles. These spines are of two basic types, stiff central spines located in the middle of the areole or radial spines that grow out laterally from the edges of the areole; the former are probably protective or when brightly coloured attract pollinators, while the latter are often white and reflect sunlight, providing shade and protecting the plant body from solar radiation. In addition, these spines may be variously modified, depending on the species; for example, they may be curved, hooked, feathery, bristly, flattened, sheathed, or needlelike.

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I took this photo of an ocatillo on BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop in Arizona . While I was visiting, I saw no ocatillo with leaves or flowers.

So if an ocatillo isn’t a cactus, what is it?  According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum plant fact sheet (https://www.desertmuseum.org/kids/oz/long-fact-sheets/Ocotillo.php),

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)…are…large shrub[s] with long cane-like unbranched spiny stems that grow from a short trunk.

I’ve recently learned many things about the saguaro cactus, most importantly, it is found only in the Sonoran Desert. Although the saguaro may be the cactus that really represents the desert for for a lot of people, if you see a saguaro representing the desert in New Mexico or Utah, or Nevada, well, that’s just wrong. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saguaro,

[The saguaro] is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Mexican State of Sonora, and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California.

I also learned saguaros often grow with the help of a nurse plant. According to a brochure I got at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument,

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This photo shows a saguaro cactus growing within the protection of its nurse plant. I took this photo on the Red Tanks Tinaja hike in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

[a]lmost any plant can become a nurse plant. Shade from the nurse plant protects the delicate cactus seedling from temperature extremes and sunburn. Shaded soil holds moisture longer. Slowly decaying leaf litter adds nutrients. Leaf litter hides the tender young plant from hungry birds or animals…

A nurse plant is not mandatory for the growth and health of a saguaro, but as the brochure says,

The saguaro cactus seedling grows best in this protected, humid environment and enriched soil beneath its nurse plant.

Finally, I learned that saguaro cacti grow very slowly. It takes about 10 years for saguaros to grow one inch! Saguaros will have grown about one foot tall after 30 years and about three feet tall after 50 years. Saguaros get their first flowers after about 70 years, when they are approximately 6 and 1/2 fee tall. They get their first arm at 15 to 16 feet tall, after about 95 to 100 years, and they reach their full height of about 43 feet when they are around 200 years old. (All of the information in the preceding paragraph is from the brochure mentioned earlier.)

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I took this photo of an organ pipe cactus on the BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop in Arizona.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stenocereus_thurberi,

Stenocereus thurberi, the organpipe [sic] cactus…is found mostly in Mexico, mainly in Sonora and southern Baja California. It is also known to the United States, but is much rarer, with the notable exception of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The plant is predominantly found on rocky hillsides up to 3,000 feet (910 m) in elevation. It is sensitive to frost, so the species is rare in low desert areas, which can be more susceptible to frost.

Unlike saguaros organ pipe cactus don’t rely on nurse plants for early help. The brochure says,

Most organ pipe cactus grow out in the open in totally unprotected settings.

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This photo of a cholla cactus was taken on the BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop in Arizona.

And then there’s cholla cactus. According to the Desert USA website (http://www.desertusa.com/cactus/cholla-cactus.html),

Cholla cactus represent more than 20 species of the Opuntia genus (Family Cactacea) in the North American deserts. Cholla is a term applied to various shrubby cacti of this genus with cylindrical stems composed of segmented joints. These stems are actually modified branches that serve several functions — water storage, photosynthesis and flower production.

[C]hollas are the only cactus with papery sheaths covering their spines. These sheaths are often bright and colorful, providing the cactus with its distinctive appearance.

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I took this photo of a chain fruit cholla cactus on the Red Tanks Tinaja Trail.

Opuntia are unique because of their clusters of fine, tiny, barbed spines called glochids. Found just above the cluster of regular spines, glochids are yellow or red in color and detach easily from…stems. Glochids are often difficult to see and more difficult to remove, once lodged in the skin.

Before this year, I’d never given much thought to cactus and had no idea how varied and fascinating they are. Now I’m excited to learn more about them.

 

 

 

 

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Seguaro and the moon. I took this photo from my camping spot on the BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop.

I took all of the photos in this post.

Lingo

Standard
 
lin·go
/ˈliNGɡō/

noun

informal humorous
the vocabulary or jargon of a particular subject or group of people

from https://www.google.com/search?q=lingo+definition&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

I hate lingo. When folks use specialized language, it feels like a separation to me–us vs. them. If you understand the specialized words I use, we have something in common and we are insiders. Those people over there who don’t understand what we’re talking about? They must be outsiders, and good riddance!

I know lingo also makes communication easier for people who share knowledge. Like pronouns, lingo saves us from having to use full descriptions every time we talk. But lingo is often exclusionary, even if folks don’t mean to use it that way. In the interest of sharing knowledge, I will now explain some of the lingo I’ve encountered while living my life on the road.

Airstream–A brand of travel trailer made from distinctively shiny metal, with curves instead of corners.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)–Government agency that administers public land, especially in the Southwest. There is so much BLM land where folks can boondock/dry camp for free.

Boondock–Staying somewhere (often public land) for free. Some people use boondock interchangeably with dry camp, while others differentiate between the two and use boondock only in relation to public land.

Canned ham–(I just learned this one a few days ago.) A trailer, usually vintage, in the shape of a can of ham on its side. (http://www.theladyisatramp.net/definitions/)

Casita–Brand of a particular style of lightweight travel trailer. (http://casitatraveltrailers.com/)

*Class ARV that looks like a bus with a flat front nose; motorhome.

*Class B–A van with the comforts (shower, toilet, kitchenette) of an RV.

*Class CRV with a van nose and an overhead cab with a bed.

CRVL–I saw this twice at the RTR and had no idea what it meant, until I saw it spelled out in tiny letters at the bottom of a sticker. CRVL stands for Cheap RV Living, the website, as in http://www.cheaprvliving.com/.

*Dispersed camping–Camping on public land in places other than official campgrounds; sometimes called primitive camping.

Dry camping–Camping with no hookups, sometimes used interchageably with boondock.

*5th wheel–Trailers which hook to a hitch in the bed of a pickup truck.

Full-timer–Someone who does not have a sticks-n-bricks house; someone who lives on the road.

*House battery–A deep cycle battery used to run household items in a rig.

Mr. Buddy–a brand of heaters which run on propane and are very popular with vandwellers and rubber tramps.

Part-timer–Someone who has a sticks-n-bricks house where s/he lives at least sometimes; someone who lives on the road sometimes, but also lives in her/his own conventional home sometimes.

Popup–A type of towed RV that can be collapsed for easy storage and transport. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popup_camper)

Primitive camping–Camping on public land in places other than official campgrounds. In primitive camping areas, there are no water, sewage, or electrical hookups and usually no toilets of any kind, no water, no ramadas, no picnic tables, and no metal fire rings. Primitive camping is sometimes called dispersed camping. Folks boondock or dry camp in primitive camping areas.

Rig–What one drives and lives in. My rig is a conversion van. A rig can be a cargo van. A rig can be a pickup truck with a slide-in camper. A rig can be a car or an SUV. A rig can be a motorhome. A rig can be a Class A, a Class B, or a Class C. A rig can be a combination of a travel trailer or a converted cargo trailer or a 5th wheel or a tear drop or a popup and a tow vehicle.

Rubber tramp–A person who travels and lives out of their vehicle (normally an RV, van, bus, etc.). They stop and stay wherever they choose for however long they want, but eventually, so as long as there’s a way to put gas in their tank, move on. (from Urban Dictionary, http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Rubber+Tramp) Not all folks at the RTR would consider themselves rubber tramps.

Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR)–A winter gathering in Quartzsite, AZ for folks who live on the road (either full-timers or part-timers) or who want to live on the road. At the RTR there are seminars about living on the road, group meals, and opportunities to meet people and hang out with friends. I’ve written quite a bit about my experiences at the RTR; see those posts here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/21/the-rubber-tramp-rendezvous-week-1-2/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/24/rubber-tramp-rendezvous-week-2-2/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/27/thoughts-on-the-rtr-2015/, and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/01/23/report-on-the-2016-rubber-tramp-rendezvous/. Also see http://www.cheaprvliving.com/gatherings/ for more info about the RTR.

RV–Recreational vehicle. RVs include motorhomes, 5th wheels, travel trailers, and Classes A, B, and C.

Shakedown–a practice trip taken before a longer trip. (According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakedown_cruise, this term comes from “shakedown cruise,” which “is a nautical term in which the performance of a ship is tested.”)

*Snowbird–Someone who lives in cool places in the summer and warm places in the winter, traveling as the seasons change. Snowbirds can travel north to south or from low elevation to to high elevation and back again.

Solo–Traveling alone, usually said in regards to a woman. The assumption that most women travel with a man is often made, so a distinction is sometimes made when a women travels alone. I’ve never heard anyone asking a man if he is solo or hearing a man describe himself as solo.

Stealth parking–Living in one’s rig (especially in a city) without others knowing one is living in one’s rig. For more on stealth parking, see http://www.cheaprvliving.com/blog/bobs-12-commandments-for-stealth-parking-in-the-city/ and http://www.cheaprvliving.com/blog/stealth-parking-locations-part-2/.

Sticks-n-bricks–A conventional home, although it doesn’t have to be made from wood and bricks. A sticks-n-bricks can be an apartment or a manufactured home, or a house made from adobe or stucco or straw-bale. A sticks-n-bricks isn’t mobile.

Teardropa streamlined, compact, lightweight travel trailer, which gets its name from its teardrop profile. They usually only have sleeping space for two adults and often have a basic kitchen in the rear. (https://www.google.com/search?q=teardrop+trailer+definition&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8.)

Toad–(This was a new one to me at the 2016 RTR.)–A vehicle towed behind an RV. I guess because the vehicles are towed, people started calling them toads. People in big motorhomes often pull a vehicle behind the motorhome so they can park their rig and use the smaller vehicle to drive around for errands and exploring.

Tow vehicle–What one uses to tow one’s travel trailer.

*Travel trailer (TT)–Travel trailers hook up to a hitch and are pulled by a tow vehicle. Travel trailers vary greatly in size. Most people use the travel trailer as living quarters and don’t live in the tow vehicle.

*Vandweller–A person living in his/her van who wants to be there.

Vault (or pit) toilet–Non-flushing toilet sometimes found on public land.

*All or part of starred definitions come from How to Live in a Car, Van, or RV by Bob Wells. I highly recommend this book to anyone contemplating or starting life on the road.

What lingo dealing with life on the road do you know that I have not included in this post? Please leave a comment with other terms you hear rubber tramps and van dwellers and RVers toss around.

Mr Heater A323000 Buddy Heater