Free Camping in the Carson National Forest Near Tres Piedras, New Mexico

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I camped near these rocks in September 2021.

I’ve camped off of Forest Road 64J near the Tres Piedras rocks several times, first in late August 2020, again in early May 2021, and on two occasions in September 2021. Before I camped there, The Man and I visited a few times to hike around the rocks and get some time away from home during the pandemic locked down spring and summer of 2020.

This camping spot is about 40 miles from Taos, NM and just outside the community of Tres Piedras. Don’t get too excited about the town of Tres Piedras because it’s tiny. There’s a post office, a meeting place for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Chili Line Depot which offers food and lodging. There’s no fuel for vehicles for sale in Tres Piedras, and if you’re looking for a major supply run, you’ll wan to go to Taos or Antonito, Colorado (31 miles away).

What Tres Piedras does have is a National Forest Service ranger station, cool giant rocks that folks who know what they’re doing can climb, and free camping.

The free camping area is off Highway 64. If you’re coming from the east, you’ll pass the ranger station, then look for a sign on the right that say “64J National Forest.” The next road on the right (a dirt road) is the one you want to turn onto. f you’re coming from the west, directly across from the road you want to turn down is a brown sign that reads “Carson National Forest Information Visitors Welcome Ahead.” The sign is quite weathered. One way to know you’re on the right road once you turn is the ginormous green water tank. If you’re coming from the east, you can definitely see it before you turn.

About that sign that says “Visitors Welcome…” As of September 2021, the visitor center at the ranger station was still closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were several bulletin boards outside the ranger station offering lots of information about the surrounding area, but I couldn’t pick up a map or say hi to a ranger while I was there.

Some of the plants growing in the area.

There is a trail that goes from the side of the ranger station and crosses road 64J and picks up on the other side. I walked the trail from the ranger station to 64J once during my evening constitutional. It was not very exciting. The most exciting thing I saw while walking the trail were some animal (cow?) bones. I did not take the trail after it crossed 64J, so I don[‘t know what it’s like over there.

Once you turn onto road 64J, find a flat and empty dirt spot off the road and among the pine trees to camp on. There are spots to pull over all along the road. If you go all the way to the end before the road splits, you will see a couple of sites with picnic tales and three or four fire pits constructed from rocks. These are sort of designated camping spots, but everything is quite informal back there.

64J is a pretty good dirt road. The last time I was on it, there were some ruts and wash boarding, but I was able to easily navigate it in my Toyota Sienna minivan.

If you make a very sharp left turn onto the less defined road right before you come to where the road Ts, you can follow it back and find places to camp right next to big rock formations. Picturesque! While these rock formations are big and cool, when you see these, you haven’t really seen anything yet.

If you take either of the more well-defined roads to the left at the T, you will find more places to camp, and before too long come to the Tres Piedras rocks. Calling them “rocks” is something of a misnomer. These are not just a few little rocks or even some boulders. This is a massive rock formation. Rock climbers climb these rocks. They are very, very big!

Jerico and I contemplate the Tres Piedras rocks, summer 2020.

The access to the rock formation is on private property. I’m unclear as to how the far the private land extends, but the land owner allows folks on the private land in order to get to the rocks. However, there’s a fence, so you’re not going to be able to drive your rig right up to the rocks to camp or for a photo opp. Park or camp elsewhere and walk through the access gate to get to the rocks.

This area of Carson National Forest is grazing land for cattle. When The Man and I spent a week right off road 64J in the travel trailer in late August of 2020, there were cows all over the place. If you see cows here or on any public land, don’t harass them. The cows have every right to be there. In fact, the cows are the paying customers, as someone has bought a permit from the forest service to graze them there. Also, you don’t want to get between a mamma and her calf. Cows are typically calm and docile, but they’re also big and protective of their young. If you don’t hassle the cattle, they’ll likely leave you alone.

I’ve seen wildlife in the area too. Peregrine falcons nest in the crevices of the rock formation during some parts of the year, and The Man and I saw some flying around the first time we visited. In the camping area where the fire pits and picnic tables are, I’ve seen woodpeckers and robins and bluebirds and bluejays and other birds I couldn’t identify. Although I’ve heard coyotes yip and howl in the distance, I haven’t seen any while camping near Tres Piedras. While I was writing the rough draft of this post from the comfy warmth of my bed, I saw something in my peripheral vision. I looked out of the van’s side window and I saw two deer off in the distance walking among the trees.

Travel trailer camping in the vicinity of the Tres Piedras rocks.

I’ve never known the camping area to be crowded. (Of course “crowded” is a subjective idea. My “not crowded” might be your “too much.”) Even on Labor Day weekend of 2020, the place was mellow. There tends to be a mix of folks sleeping in tents, vans and minivans, small motorhomes, and pull-behind travel trailers. I’ve not seen any really big Class A motorhomes or 5th wheels parked nearby.

I think it’s not crowded because it’s quite a ways from Taos, where most of the action in the area is. Also, I’ve noticed campers tend to gravitate to water, and there’s no stream or lake near the Tres Piedras rocks. That’s ok with me. I’d rather have peaceful bliss with few neighbors over a crowded body of water any day (or-especially-night).

My cell phone signal (provided by Verizon) was weak in the area and sometimes disappeared entirely. When I tried to have a voice conversation, I could hear the person on the other end fine, but after a few minutes, she said my voice was breaking up. Outgoing texts were sometimes delayed, but eventually went thought. Internet access was best in the early morning. I didn’t try to stream anything.

Other than a few picnic tables and fire pits, camping in this part of the Carson National Forest is a true boondocking experience. There are no hookups and no toilets. There’s no running water, no drinking water, and no showers. There are no trash cans, so prepare to pack out all your trash.

Camping area with picnic table sand fire pits.

On 64J road, you may find yourself–like I did the morning I wrote the first draft of this post–alone with the breeze, the trees, the gentle tapping of a woodpecker, and deer in the distance.

I took the photos in this post.

My Recent Travels

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My first camping spot at the start of my adventure. This photo was taken on the Ski Valley Road between Taos and the Taos Ski Valley.

I recently spent three weeks on the road traveling in New Mexico and Colorado.

I went from Taos to Taos Ski Valley to Tres Piedras, all in New Mexico. Then I went to Colorado, where I visited the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Crestone, and Alamosa. Back in the Land of Enchantment, I camped in the Carson National Forest near Tres Piedras for three days. Next I visited museums, thrift stores, and a friend in Santa Fe. From the capital city, I went to Moriarty, the three sites of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, the Very Large Array, the Box Recreation Area near Socorro, the Catwalk National Recreation Area, and the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. I also shopped in nine thrift stores in four towns.

Along the way, I mostly camped for free. I only paid for a campsite once, when I stayed at the Piñon Flats Campground in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Otherwise, I spent my nights boondocking at no cost.

In the next few weeks, I’ll share with you where I went, what I learned, what I saw, and where I stayed. Stay tuned for all this great new content.

I had a terrific time during my three weeks of travel. It was fun to be back on the road. However, I am glad to be at my home base, settling in for the winter. It also feels good to write blog posts again. I hope you will enjoy hearing about my adventures as much as I enjoyed living them.

Footprints in the sand at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado.

I took the photos in this post.

Basura

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I had come down from the mountain for supplies. It was hot and dry in the valley, and I was dog dead tired. I had one more stop to make before I could head back to higher elevation, cooler temperatures, and the last few hours of my day off from my work camper job.

I went into the 99 Cents Only Store, where some prices were a lot less than 99 cents and some prices were substantially more. I perused the bargain baskets in the front of the store, cruised down the aisles of beans and other canned goods, and grabbed the best looking produce at the best prices. When I got up to the cash register, I told the worker that I wanted two sacks of ice, and I even remembered to extract them from the freezer in the front before I hit the exit door.

I pushed my cart over to my van, which I had parked at the edge of the parking lot. My 1994 Chevy G20 conversion van was a hulking beast and easier to park in places where there were no other vehicles around. I preferred to park easily and have farther to walk to a store’s entrance rather than fight to maneuver into a tight parking space.

This time, there was no car parked on the van’s passenger side. I threw open the side doors, as much to gain access to the interior as to let the parched air escape. I climbed into my van and lifted the lid of the ice chest. Yuck. I’d forgotten to empty it before I left camp. The ice had melted completely and left the cooler half full of water. In the water floated some small broccoli florets that had turned limp and yellow before I could eat them and stray bits of cabbage that had been jostled from the most recent head. At the bottom of the cooler lay the waterlogged plastic ice bag left behind when the ice became liquid. I had to get all of this out of the cooler before I could put the new ice and groceries in.

I pulled the plastic bag from the bottom of the cooler. The water it sat in was tepid and smelled a bit sour. I let the water drain from the bag and into the cooler. When most of the water was out of the bag, I threw it onto the floor of the van. The drops of water clinging to it weren’t going to hurt anything and in the heat of midday would probably dry before I was ready to throw it away.

Next I had to dump the water from the ice chest. I figured since any vegetable matter floating in the water was natural, it was ok to let it fall onto the asphalt. If some bird didn’t eat it right away, it would decompose soon enough. I lifted the cooler and wrangled it to the open doors. I lowered it to the floor of the van, then slowly tilted the container so the water drained onto the ground.

The Man likes to joke that you can always tell when hippies have been in a parking lot because there’s at least one wet spot on the ground. On this day, the big wet spot I left had plant matter in it too.

Once I got the cooler back in place, I wiped it out with a couple of paper towels, then loaded in the two slippery and deliciously cold sacks of ice. After that, I carefully placed the eggs and milk and orange juice and produce and whatever other cold groceries I had that day into the chest.

Some time after I had the cooler and the ice in, but before I’d packed in the groceries, a car pulled in next to my van. Why the driver decided to park next to me instead of elsewhere in the vast parking lot will always remain a mystery. I glanced out and saw an older Latina lady getting out of here car.

When I looked out, I also saw the plastic ice bag I’d left on the floor of the van had made an escape. I suppose the desert wind had kicked up while I was busy packing the cooler and sucked the bag right out of the open doors. I’d have to pick it up from where it had landed on the ground before I pulled out of my parking spot.

I wasn’t the only one who had noticed the bag on the ground. My parking neighbor took a look around and saw the plastic bag as well as the huge wet-but-rapidly-drying spot dotted with limp, yellow broccoli and waterlogged bits of cabbage. I saw her shake her head and say under her breath (but loudly enough for me to understand her completely), Basura.

I don’t know if she saw I was white and thought I wouldn’t understand what she’s said, if she didn’t care if I understood, or if she wanted me to know how she felt. In any case, I’d studied enough Spanish to know that basura means trash and that she wasn’t happy with the mess I’d made.

Gratitude Saturday

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I think “Thankful Thursday” has a better ring than “Gratitude Saturday,” but I’ve been too busy to write a post expressing my appreciation. There’s not another Thursday in June, so if I want to give thanks this month (which I do!) I had to do it on a day that doesn’t lend itself to a catchy title.

I typed the above list the other day, but I’ve found more things for which to be grateful since then. The typed list is an incomplete one but I’m certainly thankful for everything on it. Want more details about everything I’m grateful for in June of 2021? Keep reading!

My Royal Safari Model 2. I’m so grateful for this gift!

I’m so in love with this typewriter that my sibling gave me. It was found in a thrift store and got a complete makeover at a typewriter repair shop. Did you even know there were typewriter repair shops in existence? (For a state-by-state list of typewriter repair shops in the U.S.A, see Old Bob’s Old Typewriters website.) This refurbished typewriter is such a great gift!

I’ve wanted a manual typewriter for a long time. This one is great for a traveler, as it’s a lightweight portable model. It’s a Royal Safari Model 2 and was made in Portugal, probably in the 1980s. I don’t see myself typing anything extensive on my new machine because I’m really sold on the easy editing of word-processing life, but I do love using my Safari to type bits and pieces for art projects. Maybe I’ll even eventually type letters or postcard messages on it.

If you want to learn even more about the Royal Safari II watch Alton Gansky‘s YouTube video “1980 Royal Safari II: A Peek Under the Hood.” This video offers so much information about my typewriter.

I was given a bicycle too! It was actually given to The Man while we were in the same town for a moment. He showed up at my door one evening with a bicycle. He said he had been hanging out in the park when a truck towing an travel trailer pulled in. The couple in the truck got out and went into the travel trailer. They weren’t inside long before they came back out with a bicycle. I don’t know if the people noticed The Man looking at them or if he was the closest person, but for whatever the reason, they called out to him and asked if he wanted the bike. The people said they were tired of traveling with it and were going to find a thrift store and drop it off if he didn’t want it. He said yes, even though it’s a woman’s bike and too short for his 6 foot frame. He brought it over to me and asked if I wanted it. I said yes too.

I haven’t ridden it yet. The tires are holding air pretty well, but the back brake doesn’t work at all. Have I ridden a bike without proper brakes before? Yes. Do I think that’s a good idea, especially at my advanced age? No. I’m not going to ride it until I can get it fixed. I was supposed to take it in to the bike shop last week, but I was too busy working. I’m going to try to get it in this coming week. I would like to give it a spin even though I don’t think the narrow roads in this town are the best for biking. I’m going to need a helmet…

This bike was given to The Man, and he gave it to me.

I’ll be particularly pleased to have this bicycle in the fall when I’m back at my home base in a town with wider roads and less traffic. I’ll be able to zip to the grocery store and the post office on my bike.

In other great news, I have not one but TWO new patrons on Patreon. Thanks a bunch to Muriel and Laura-Marie for pledging to support me financially each month. I appreciate you two and all of my Patreon supporters SO MUCH! I can’t even express how much my Patreon supporters mean to me.

On a similar note, my friend Brent made a monetary donation through PayPal, and as always, Shannan supported me this month too. Every dollar really helps me keep on doing what I do, and I appreciate the help more than I know how to say.

I’m so grateful that the dog I’m hanging out is a real sweetie. She is a really good girl. She doesn’t get in the bed with me, but she would like to. She lets me clean her paws after she walks in the mud, and she patiently lets me brush her, which I try to do several times a weeks. (She’s got long hair, and she sheds. I can either clean her fur out of the brush or sweep it off the floor.) She doesn’t bark much, although last week when it was really hot, I tried sleeping with the bedroom window open. I don’t know what she heard outside, but I sure heard her barking! Being jerked out of a deep sleep by a barking dog is no fun to me, especially when the dog is quite close. To solve the problem, I bought a fan so I can sleep with the window closed. Both the dog and I have been sleeping more soundly.

Doggie friend on our daily walk.

The dog has got me going on two (sometimes three) walks a day. While I don’t exactly think taking several walks a day is fun (What can I say? I’m an inside kid.) I know that walking is good for me. I’m glad to have a doggie pal who gives me a reason to get out of the house and move around, even if that’s not my #1 idea of fun. I certainly sleep better when I’m getting regular physical exercise.

It’s Smoothie Summer, and I’m loving it! When I rolled into town, one of the first things I did was hit my favorite thrift store. I found a blender for $7, and I scooped it right up. Soon after I started working for her, the woman I’m helping prepare for her move to another country gave me her extra Yeti 20 ounce tumbler. Heck yes, I was glad to accept the gift! I’ve heard about Yeti brand, but I hadn’t tried one. My friend has a Yeti cup her parents gave her, so I’d heard what she thought of it, but I had not had first hand experience. Let me tell you. I can make a smoothie at 8 in the morning and put it in that Yeti tumbler, and by 1 in the afternoon, it’s still absolutely cold. I’m not talking a cool beverage. I’m saying the smoothie is still frosty cold and thick. I love that cup!

Are you wondering what I put in my smoothies? Really, I use whatever fruit I can get for free or at a good price. Lately I’m using frozen bananas, frozen strawberries, ice, and orange juice. If I have yogurt, I throw some of that in too. Recently I’ve used half a can of pineapple and the juice it was packed in, and yesterday I threw in some fresh mango and a couple slices of cantaloupe. Everything I’ve used has turned out really good, although I was less than thrilled with the texture when I added shredded coconut. Live and learn.

My $7 blender and gifted Yeti 20 ounce tumbler.

My friend whose parents gave her a Yeti cup told me what she likes to do, and I’m dying to try it. She goes to Wendy’s and gets a Frosty and puts it in her Yeti. The cup keeps the Frosty so cold that she can eat it at her leisure without having it turn into a lukewarm liquid. I’m going on a short road trip next week, and I might stop at Wendy’s on the way out of town so I can have a treat all the way to my destination.

I feel so lucky that the apartment I’m staying in is quite spacious and comfortable. I’ve got room to spread out, and spread out I have. I have stuff everywhere! It’s nice to be able to do that here because the travel trailer is too small to comfortably leave a mess when I’m at home. I am enjoying having full size appliances here as well as lots of space in the kitchen.

The other thing about this apartment I’m enjoying a lot is plenty of hot water whenever I want to take a bath or shower. The bathtub is big too, so there’s plenty of room to stretch out when I take a bath or to move around when I shower. Staying clean is luxurious here.

I’ve been doing a lot of sticker exchanges lately and that’s been so much fun. I’m grateful for everyone who’s swapped stickers with me, and as always, I’m thankful for each person who has sent me a postcard or a letter or any bit of mail.

So, those are the people and things I appreciate this month. What are you grateful for right now? Please share your gratitude in the comments.

Thanks for reading about this month’s gratitude! I wouldn’t be here without my readers.If you want to offer some financial support, I would be grateful for that too. To make a one-time donation, click on the “donate” button at the top of the column on the right. To become my patron on Patreon, click on the “Become a patron” button just under the search bar at the top of the column on the right. Folks who follow me on Patreon get extra content that I don’t share anywhere else. Depending on at what level you chose to support me, you can receive email updates, letters and postcards in the mail from me, stickers, buttons, a custom made hemp bracelet and/or a collage I created.

Tips for the Road Trip or Nomad Newbie

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Recently a friend went on road trip covering 1,500 miles and crossing four states. It wasn’t her first road trip, but it was the first long one that she did alone. She wanted to arrive at her destination as quickly as possible, as safely as possible (in the time of COVID, no less), while spending as little money as possible. As we discussed her trip and I offered advice, I realized I had lots of tips I’d picked up from my years as a rubber tramp. Whether you’re going on a weekend road trip and plan to return to your sticks-n-bricks on Sunday evening or if it’s your maiden voyage as a full-time nomad (or even if you’re at some stage between the two extremes), these tips can help make travel in your vehicle safer, cheaper, and more enjoyable.

#1 Remove some seats, or fold them down. The minivan my friend drove on her road trip had seats that folded completely into the floor to create a totally flat surface. My Toyota Sienna did not offer such technology so I pulled all the back seats out as soon as possible. With seats out of the way, you’ll have more room for luggage, coolers, camp stove, and most importantly, space to sleep.

#2 Make yourself a place to sleep. On anything longer than a day trip, you’re going to need to catch some Z’s. (Even on a day trip, you might need to take a nap.) Camping can be fun and staying at a hotel/motel/Airbnb is a luxury I wish I could afford, but if you’re just trying to make it from point A to Point B, consider sleeping in your vehicle. With the seats out or folded away, you should have room to make a comfortable sleeping area for yourself.

My friend had a twin size futon mattress that she threw in her minivan for maximum comfort. If you don’t have a mattress that fits your vehicle, you could use an air mattress, a pad intended to go under a sleeping bag, the squishy mats that go on the floor of an exercise or play room, a yoga mat, or even a pile of blankets. If you don’t have a sleeping bag to go on top of your padding, just use sheets and blankets from your bed at home. Don’t forget your pillow.

If the seats in your vehicle don’t fold down or can’t be removed, consider using a car air bed. According to Noelle Talmon‘s article “Best Car Air Beds: Our Top Picks for Back Seat Comfort” on The Drive website, a car air bed is

…designed to be placed on top of a vehicle’s back seat to provide a more comfortable sleeping spot…

Air beds are designed to universally accommodate the back seats of most cars, including compact cars, sedans, and SUVs. A back seat bed includes two separately inflated “feet” that support the mattress, fit into the spaces in front of the seats, and contour around the console. Made out of lightweight, synthetic PVC, the beds weigh around 6 to 7 pounds…

A car air bed can be had for around $30 for a basic model, or you can spend $60 or more for all the bells and whistles if you desire optimal luxury. If you plan to spend several nights in your car, especially if you can’t get your seats out of the way, a car air bed may be a wise investment. For less than the cost of one night in a motel, you can buy yourself many night of car sleeping comfort.

By sleeping in your vehicle, you’ll not only save money (no camping fees, no charges for a hotel room), you’ll interact with fewer people if you’re dodging communicable diseases.

#3 You might be wondering where to park if you’re going to sleep in your vehicle. I wrote a whole post about blacktop boondocking you might want to check out, but I’ll give you a quick rundown here.

If you’re simply concerned with getting some sleep between Point A and Point B, truck stops, sometimes called travel centers, and rest areas are your best bets. Lots of people are coming and going at these places, and you probably won’t be the only one sleeping in a vehicle.

I prefer truck stops over rest areas because at truck stops you can fuel up, get a snack (maybe even a slice of pizza or a fresh cinnamon roll) or have a hot meal, get caffeine if you need it, use the restroom, or even take a shower. (Of course, you’re gong to pay dearly for truck stop snacks, drinks, and showers, so try to plan ahead so you won’t need such things.)

Truck stops to look for include Flying J (my fave), Pilot (now owned by the same corporation that owns Flying J), Love’s (The Man’s fave), TA (TravelCenters of America), and Petro. Beware: both Love’s and Petro have locations that are only gas stations/convenience stores and others that are truck stops/travel centers. Make sure a location is actually at truck stop if you’re looking to stay overnight.

Rest areas are shown on paper maps. (You are traveling with a paper map, aren’t you? If you have no idea why you might need one, read my post “In Praise of Paper Maps“.) Check out your route on your map to see if there are any rest areas on the way. You can also look at a map of rest areas on the Interstate Rest Areas website.

Each state has different rules about how long you can stay at a rest area, so do your research before you decide to spend the night at one. Even if you are not allowed to stay overnight at a rest area, you can usually get at least a few hours of shut-eye at one.

If you’re on a leisurely trip and think free camping (often known as boondocking) might be fun, use the Free Campsites website and Campendium to find cool places in nature to spend a night or more. Before boondocking, be sure to read my post “10 Fundamentals for Boondockers.”

#4 Once you’ve decided where you will stay for the night, you might wonder exactly where to park your vehicle. On her first night at a truck stop, my newbie road tripper friend texted me, Was I supposed to park with the trucks?

The answer is no, don’t park with the big rigs unless you are driving a big rig yourself or maybe if you’re driving a giant Class A motorhome, but even then, try to avoid it. Typically there are more truckers who need to take a mandatory break than there are spaces for them to park in at a truck stop. Do not take one of the limited spots an 18-wheeler can fit in. If you’re in a passenger vehicle, park with the other passenger vehicles.

The ideal spot for your rig (in my opinion) is on the end of a row so you’ll only have a neighbor on one side. If you’re away from light shining on you, all the better as far as I’m concerned, although some people feel safer parked under lights. I’d try to avoid parking next to pet walking areas, trash cans, entrance/exit doors, or anywhere with lots of foot traffic.

Now you’re parked for the night. What next?

#5 Use your windshield sun shade to block light and provide privacy at night. We all know a windshield sun shade helps reduce the heat in a vehicle when it’s parked during the day, but it can also provide you with some privacy at night, as well as keep the light from parking lot security lamps out of your face. You may not want to hang curtains in your vehicle. Maybe the windows are tinted enough to give you the privacy you need. Since the windshield is not tinted and it’s a big piece of glass, it’s easy for people to look right in. Pop your sun shade in the windshield at night and you’ve just made your vehicle more private. The sun shade will also block the light that otherwise pours in all night and can disturb your sleep.

#6 If the windshield sun shade doesn’t give you all the privacy you need, hang some easy curtains. The side curtains in my minivan hang from bungee cords and attach to each other with clothespins. The back curtain is pinned up with clothespins. When my friend went on her road trip, she made a “tent” within the back of her minivan with sheets and binder clips. You could also cover windows with a sarong, a skirt, a sweatshirt, a bath towel, or a pillowcase. My point is that you don’t need an elaborate, permanent system to cover your windows. Plan ahead or make do with what you have in a pinch, but covering your windows can really increase your coziness.

#7 I’m a big believer in locking the doors. I just sleep better knowing no one is going to open one of my doors during the night. I can use the remote lock on my key fob to lock all of my doors from the inside of my minivan. I can then manually unlock doors from the inside as needed. Experiment with your key fob if you have one to find out what works for you.

#8 The first rule of vanlife is always know where your keys are. This is a tip for both night and day, but I always sleep better when I know I can grab my keys in an instant if I need to.

My friend the newbie road tripper was going to sleep with her keys under her pillow, but thought better of it. She worried she might move in the night and hit the button for the alarm or the one that unlocked all the doors. She found another spot that felt more secure. You will have to find the spot that works best for you, but you want to be able to reach out and grab them without much thought or struggle.

#9. We’re about to get real here. If you’re sleeping in your vehicle, having a pee bottle/jug/bucket is going to come in handy. Trust me, once all your curtains are up and you’re snuggled under blankets or in your sleeping bag, you are not going to want to find your shoes, pull on some pants, get our of the vehicle, and walk across the parking lot at 2 o’clock in the morning. A way to pee in your rig is super convenient. (For lots of info about using the bathroom when there is no bathroom, read my post “Going to the Bathroom in Your Van, Car, Minivan, or SUV.”)

People with male anatomy probably know all about this, but as a reminder, use a bottle with a lid that screws on tightly, such as a disposable water bottle, a Nalgene bottle, or a juice or milk jug. Just make sure you don’t confuse your pee bottle with a bottle you drink out of. (Yuck!)

The process is not as easy for people with female anatomy, but it can be done. Ever squat to pee when you’re out camping or hiking? What you’ll be doing is the same principle, but without a tree to lean against and into a container instead of on the ground. I use a tall plastic coffee can with a snap-on lid. Any wide-mouth, leak-proof container is a possibility. If you already use a stand-to-pee device, try using it in conjunction with your container.

In the morning when you emerge from your vehicle, carry the container into the restroom and dump the contents into the toilet.

Photo by Nico Smit on Unsplash

#10 To save money and time, pack snacks. I mentioned liking truck stops because snacks are available there, but I can’t remember the last time I bought food at a truck stop or a convenience store. Snacks bought in those places are so expensive! If you’re going on a road trip or travel vacation, pack snacks you already have at home, or buy some at the supermarket, discount store, or dollar store before you go. You can save a lot of money by purchasing food before you hit the road.

You can save more money by not eating restaurant meals while you travel. If you have a camp store, you can stop at rest areas or city or county parks and cook meals on-the-go. There are soups, noodles, oatmeal, and mashed potatoes you can prepare with just hot water. Often you can get free hot water from coffee dispensers at gas stations and truck stops, so you don’t even have to drag out the camp stove. (If you’re not sure if the water is free, just offer to pay for it at the cash register.)

If you bring a loaf of bread and pack cold cuts and cheese in your cooler, you can slap together a sandwich and call it a picnic wherever you stop. Peanut butter and jelly works the same way. You could also stock the cooler with pizza and boiled eggs if you don’t mind eating those cold. Maybe some fruit, nuts, or trail mix eaten while you’re driving would be enough to get you through.

There are lots of options less expensive and healthier than a fast food burger and fries or a meal in a sit down restaurant. (Learn to save even more cash while on the road in my post “How to Save Money While Visiting Tourist Attractions.”)

#11 Are you a night owl or an early bird? In either case there are some real benefits of driving from dark to light.

A very wise woman shared this concept in one of the lady van groups I’m in. If you get an early start, even before the sun rises, you’ll be able to more easily handle any problems you might encounter. If your vehicle breaks down, mechanics and auto parts stores will be open in the daytime, but probably not in the middle of the night. If your tires goes flat or has a blow out, tire shops and sales locations will be open in the daytime. Driving in the daytime tends to work better for me because driving at night puts me right to sleep. Also, it’s getting more and more difficult for me to see well while I’m driving at night. I’d much rather get an early start, stop and see cool attractions along the way, and still get to my stopping point before dark.

I hope these tips for anyone just starting out on the road are helpful. What did I forget? What do you wish you had known when you were starting out? Please share your favorite road trip tips in the comments.

Going to the Bathroom in Your Van, Car, Minivan, or SUV

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Content warning: urine and feces, as well as mention of excretory anatomy

Once at the RTR, I said to Coyote Sue, Folks who can’t talk about pee and poop probably shouldn’t be here. The same can be said about this blog post. If you can’t stand reading about pee and poop, this is not the blog post for you. If, however, you currently live and travel in a vehicle that does not come equipped with toilet facilities (or plan to do so in the future), this may be the blog post you’ve been looking for.

The first thing I have to tell you is that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for solving the problem of living in a rig with no bathroom. A lot of factors are going to determine what system is right for you. Some factors to consider include the following: the size of your rig, your size, your physical abilities and limitations, your squeamishness level, your budget, and your location when nature calls. In this post I will share what works for me and what other folks have told me works for them. You will have to decide for yourself what works for you. You may not come to that decision without some trial and error.

One option is a portable toilet such as the Bestgoods 20L Portable Camping Toilet Travel Potty, the Thetford 92860 Porta Potti 135, the Hike Crew Advanced Portable Outdoor Camping and Travel Toilet, and the JAXPETY 5.3 Gallon 20L Flush Porta Potti. These toilets range in price from about $50 to $110 before taxes and shipping fees. I have no personal experience with the models I just mentioned, so I’m not recommending any of them. I did a Google search for “camp potty,” and those are some of the results.

I’ve never tried a camp potty for a number of reasons. They take up quite a bit of room, and can be pricey if purchased new. (For most of the time I lived full time in my van, even $50 was a major expenditure for me.) However, the portable toilets do look more comfortable than do-it-yourself options, and if the model has a storage tank for waste, it won’t have to be emptied each time it’s used. One person I encountered in a Facebook van group shared her experiences with a portable toilet she used in her van. She loved it. When the waste tank was full, she emptied it in the ladies room at the nearest rest area. I’m not sure what she did if she didn’t encounter any rest areas when she needed to dump the toilet’s tank. Personally, I don’t know if I’m confident enough to carry a waste tank from a portable toilet into a restroom at a Wal-Mart or truck stop.

Another option are disposable human waste bags. As Sarah Laskow explains in her article “These Magic Bags Turn Pee to Goo And Make Poop Portable,”

Combining the principles of kitty litter and plastic bag-based poop-scooping…these bags rely on trade-secret combinations of gelling agents, enzymes and deodorizers to sequester human waste into a manageable package.

The gelling agents almost instantly transform urine into goo…The enzymes break down solid waste, enough that the bags can be disposed of in regular old garbage cans.

A generic term for these items is WAG (Waste Alleviation and Gelling) bag. Two companies that manufacture bags that can handle solid and liquid waste are Cleanwaste and RESTOP. There are many more companies that sell disposable urine bags. A search for “disposable urine bags” on Amazon yielded over a dozen choices.

Several years ago, I got a free sample of a disposable urine bag. (I can’t remember how I got the sample or the company it was from.) The bag was fairly easy to use, but did require squatting. The gel in the bag trapped odors, so my van didn’t smell like urine. The used bag was easy to dispose of discreetly with the rest of my trash.

However, I find the cost of these bags prohibitive. At 75 cents to $1 (or more!) per bag for the disposable urine bags and around $4 each for the bags that can handle solid waste too, I’d be spending a lot of money to use these things. If I used one of these bags for every elimination function, I could easily spend $8 a day. I’ll do the math so you don’t have to. At $8 a day, that’s $56 a week, $224 a month and whopping $2,688 a year! Even if I managed to use public restrooms to pee all day and make one solid waste deposit and only used one urine disposal bag each night, I could still spend $300 a year on these things! In my opinion, it’s better to leave the WAG bags to people who really need them like backpackers and mountain climbers.

Most van dwellers use a 5 gallon bucket for solid waste deposits and some sort of bottle or jar for liquid waste. (Most people are going to tell you to keep solid and liquid waste separated. I’ll share my thoughts on that topic later.)

if you’re a person with a penis, you probably know how to urinate into a bottle. (If you don’t, you probably need to get advice from another person with a penis or check out this WikiHow article.) I can offer a few tips for anyone who’s going to urinate into a container. Make sure to close the camp tightly when done and don’t confuse the bottle you drink out of with the bottle you pee in. If you’re going to dispose of a bottle of urine, throw it in a trash can, not out of your vehicle’s window and on the side of the road.

Urinating into a container might be a new experience for people with female anatomy. If you already have a stand-to-pee device such as a Pstyle, GoGirl, Shewee, or Tinkle Belle, it might be helpful when peeing into a container. (If you have no idea what the aforementioned devices are or if you need some help choosing which one to buy, check out Christina Cauterucci‘s article “You Should Be Using a Stand-to-Pee Device.”) Some women I’ve talked to use a regular funnel from the kitchen or automotive department as a less expensive urination deice option. If you don’t have any sort of urination device, you’ve going to have to kneel or squat over your container. Use a container that will held plenty of liquid and will not leak. Unless you know you will always be able to empty the container immediately after you fill it, be sure it has a tight fitting lid. Make sure the container’s opening is wide enough to accommodate your urine stream.

I use this coffee container as my urine receptacle in my minivan. I found the container on top of the trash in the dumpster where I live in the winter. It was clean, with a trace of coffee dust inside.

I like to use a 37 ounce plastic coffee container as my urine receptacle. I’ve used smaller containers, and they’ve worked, but I like to have plenty of room in my receptacle in the event I have to pee several times in the night. One woman I talked to prefers to urinate into a Pringles can held up against her body. Another urinates into a large container, then uses her funnel to pour urine into empty individual serving water bottles which she finds easy to dispose of. A large yogurt, sour cream, or cottage cheese container may meet your needs. I’ve often seen round plastic canisters with wide mouths and screw on lids at Dollar Tree, or perhaps you’ll find your perfect urine receptacle in the recycling bin. Different containers and systems work for different bodies, so be willing to experiment.

Any container that’s reused to hold urine can develop an odor, especially if the urine sits in the container for hours. After dumping the liquid wasted from my container (away from camp if I’m boondocking or in the toilet if I’m in civilization), I rinse it with a bit of water and let it air dry with the lid off if possible. A bit of dish soap added to the water and swished around can help cut the odor too. If an odor does develop, add a little bleach or vinegar to the container, swish it around, and let it sit for a while.

As I said before, most vandwellers and other nomads with rigs lacking toilet facilities use 5 gallon buckets for solid waste disposal. Five gallon buckets are most popular because they are easiest and cheapest to acquire.I lucked out and was given a smaller 2 (or maybe it’s 3) gallon bucket. I like it because it takes up less space in my minivan. Depending on your physical capabilities to get up from a low sitting position, a small bucket may not be for you. Another option may be a large plastic kitty litter container with a lid that snaps on securely.

You probably don’t want to balance your butt on the naked rim of a bucket. I know I sure don’t! There are a couple of ways to remedy this uncomfortable situation.

I splurged and bought a special toilet seat/lid combo designed to fit on a bucket. (The number of gallons a bucket holds does not determine if this seat will work with your bucket. The diameter of the bucket’s opening is what determines if the seat will fit. ) The seat snaps securely onto the bucket so it doesn’t slide around when in use.The lid does not seal, so odor can still escape, but it dos snap closed so it won’t flop open when moved. The seat typically costs under $15. (My bucket came with a tightly sealing lid, which I kept. If the contents of my bucket are ever particularly stinky, I can seal in the odor with the original lid.)

My two gallon bucket with removable plastic seat and lid.

The do-it-yourself approach to making a bucket more comfortable to sit on is to fasten part of a pool noodle or similar pipe insulation sleeves around the rim of a bucket. To see how this is done, watch Eugene Valkovsky‘s video “How to Make Portable Toilet Bucket.”

Once you get your bucket outfitted for comfort, you’re ready to use it. Or are you? How will you prepare your bucket for the easiest disposal of waste? There area a few different methods.

The first thing you want to do is line your bucket with a plastic bag. You can use a disposable grocery store bag, but you want to be absolutely sure it has no holes in the bottom. Also, whether you’re using a plastic grocery store bag or a trash bag, you want the bag to be big enough to bring the open end of it over the rim of the bucket and fold it down against the outside of the bucket. This will (hopefully) keep the bag from falling down into the bucket when you make your first poop deposit. I find that the plastic seat snapping over the bucket’s opening does a good job holding the bag in place.

Some people defecate right into the plastic bag, deposit their used toilet paper in there, tie off the bag, and leave it all in the bucket until it can be thrown away. Some people take an extra step and add something absorbent (like kitty litter) to the bag before using it. The kitty litter crowd tends to add an initial layer of litter to the bottom of the bag before use. After each poop deposit, another layer of kitty litter (and possibly a sprinkle of baking soda to help control odors) is added. I’ve never tried this method, but it seems to me by the time the bag is full (or even half full) it’s going to be heavy and stinky. However, as I’ve said before folks have to decide for themselves what works best for them.

As I mentioned, many people say solid and liquid wasted must be kept separate. I don’t know if this is a difference between male and female bodies or just a unique quirk of mine, but (TMI coming right up!) I just can’t seem to produce solid waste without producing liquid waste too. I just can’t seem to poop without peeing. If I have to poop and try to pee first, well, let’s just say that doesn’t work either.

What I’ve found works for me (on the suggestion of a woman who shared at an RTR women’s meeting I attended) are puppy training pads. These are the pads you get when you’re house training a puppy. I buy them at WalMart for about 20 cents each (before tax). After I put a plastic bag in my bucket, I line it with a puppy pad. The pads are supposed to hold 2cups of liquid. The pad absorbs any liquid I deposit and offers a tiny bit of protection if the plastic bag has a hole in it or if it tears.

After I finish making my deposit, I drop my used toilet paper in to the bag, squeeze as mush air as possible out of the bag, and tie it off securely. I try to set up bag and puppy training pad combo (or several combos if I’m feeling particularly efficient) in advance so when nature calls, I don’t have to waste time setting up my supplies. I drop the securely tied used plastic bags back into the bucket until I can dispose of them. (I take them out before I use the toilet bucket again.)

A word of warning: Even when it’s entirely empty, a bucket that’s held feces is going to smell pretty bad. Turns out the smell of feces cannot be contained by a regular plastic bag, and the plastic bucket soaks up the scent. Airing out the bucket when you can (like when you’re boondocking) helps, as does baking soda, vinegar, and bleach (but not all together!), but the bucket will probably never be the same.

I understand that human waste can be difficult to discuss and difficult to deal with. I hope this information about the systems I and others use while van (or car, truck, minivan, or SUV) dwelling helps you decide how to deal with your own waste. For folks who have already spent time on the road in a rig without a built in restroom, how do you deal with your waste? Feel free to share your tips and suggestions in the comments.

I took the photos not credited to someone else.

Thankful Thursday May 2021

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Photo by Caleb Chen on Unsplash

Thankful Thursday posts can be challenging. They can quickly become boring when I mention gratitude for the same things month after month. Don’t get me wrong. I AM always thankful for my health, plenty of food, friends, and people who support me and my writing, but I don’t know if folks want to read about the same things every month. So please know that while I’m going to mention new things for which I am thankful, I still appreciate all the people and things I told you about last month too.

Without further ado, the people and things I am thankful for this Thursday in May 2021.

I appreciate Dave who made a monetary donation last month, as well as Shannan who has set up an automatic monthly donation for me through PayPal.

Thanks to Rena, Ben, and Samantha who bought hats from me in April and to Enid, Laurie, Kat, Maggie, Laura-Marie, and Barbara who bought some of my “With Love from the Desert” postcards. Every time someone buys an item I’ve created, my spirits are lifted, and I’m a little closer to making ends meet.

Thanks so much to my Patreon patrons too. I appreciate their monthly monetary support. I hope they enjoy the extra content (only available on Patreon) that they receive from me.

I’m so grateful to my friend Richard of @cajunvantravelers, a graphic artist who is totally revamping my logo to include my minivan. I’ve really enjoyed my current logo which was drawn by the lovely, sweet, talented Samantha Adelle who sadly passed away at the end of 2019. However that logo harks back to my conversion van days, and I really want to feature my Sienna in the design that represents me. I’ll be very excited to unveil my new logo soon. I can’t wait to get stickers featuring the new design and do more sticker trades.

My friend Brent visited me (outside in a park, masked, safely distanced) right before I left home for the summer. I was really pleased he took time out of his travels to spend a couple of hours chatting with me.

I’m very grateful for the summer house and dog sitting gig that has already begun. I’m living in an apartment in a small mountain town where summer temperatures will be bearable. The dog behaves well and is very sweet. I’m enjoying a lot of space in the apartment, as well as the full-size refrigerator, stove, oven, and shower. I’m glad to spend the next several months here.

Before I began house sitting, I visited friends in Phoenix. I’m extremely thankful for the hospitality they showed me while I was there. I appreciate the meals, the games, the laughs, the use of the laundry facilities, and the drive-in puppet show. It was a good time for me.

My sibling bought me an old school manual typewriter and had it spiffed up with a new ribbon and typewriter tune-up. It is grand, and I love it so much. It won’t replace my laptop, but it will be fun to write letters on it and use it to type up bits for collages. I am so grateful for this fine gift.

I’m doing well. My life is good. As always, I have so much to be thankful for.

Thank you for reading! I’m always grateful for my readers. If you want to offer some financial support, I would be grateful for that too. To make a one-time donation, click on the “donate” button at the top of the column on the right. To become my patron on Patreon, click on the “Become a patron” button just under the search bar at the top of the column on the right. Folks who follow me on Patreon get extra content that I don’t share anywhere else. Depending on at what level you chose to support me, you can receive email updates, letters and postcards in the mail from me, stickers, buttons, a custom made hemp bracelet and/or a collage I created.

How to Find Less Strenuous Hikes

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My friend Kerri and I were recently having a direct message conversation about my life as a nomad. She asked me a question that I thought was about finding less strenuous hikes in general, although after rereading her question, I think she was asking specifically about easy hiking in Arizona. Ah, well, today I’ll share information about finding easy hikes in general, but for Kerri and anyone else who is looking for Arizona specific hiking opportunities, check out “10 Best Hikes in Arizona for Beginners” by Alyssa Ochs, “5 Easy Hikes for Beginners in Metro Phoenix” from Phoenix New Times, “10 Easy Hikes To Add To Your Outdoor Bucket List In Arizona” by Monica Spencer, “Best Phoenix Hiking Trails for Beginners” by REI Co-Op Experiences, and “7 Beginner Hikes In Arizona That Will Give You All The Views” by Briana Renee Dahlberg.

If you are planning a trip to a different state or region and want to find less strenuous hikes to accommodate kids, elders, folks with disabilities, new hikers, or anyone looking for some easier physical activity, here are some tips to help you find the adventure level that’s right for you.

Know the Limits

Know not just your limits, but the limits of everyone in your party. According to Hiking Safety Tips given by HikingintheSmokeys.com,

Keep your hiking party together by hiking only as fast as the slowest member of your group. Always take into account the ability level of everyone in your group before choosing a hike.

Be honest with yourself about what sort of hike you are actually capable of. Encourage other members of your group to be honest about their abilities too. Don’t be too hard on yourself or others for hiking slowly or only being able to go a short distance. Don’t overestimate the abilities of yourself or others. You will have a much nicer time on a short/easy hike that leaves everyone wanting more rather than pushing too hard and ending the day sore, exhausted, and grumpy.

Do Your Homework

Don’t wait to look for an easy hike after you’ve arrived at your destination. Search for the kind of hikes you want to take before you leave home.

Those lists of hikes I shared in the first paragraph? I found those by typing “easy hikes in Arizona” in the Google search bar. If you know what state or region you will be visiting, add that information to your search for easy hikes, then scrutinize the information that pops up on your screen. Who wrote each article? Did the writer actually hike the trails listed? If not, how was the information gathered? Don’t assume your definition of “easy” is the same as the author’s.

Find out the specifics of each hike you consider. How long is the trail? (And remember, however many miles it takes you to get to the end of the trail, that’s the number of miles you’ll have to walk back to your car.) What is the change in elevation between the beginning and end of the hike? How well is the trail maintained?

There are plenty of resources on the internet to help you find trails to hike before you leave home. Three helpful websites I found were Accessible Nature, AllTrails and Hiking Project.

Accessible Nature is

a collection of links to places you can go to enjoy nature with minimal obstacles. These are trails that are either wheelchair accessible or at least very easy walking. The emphasis is contemplative outdoor experiences…[There are] links to information about parts of eastern Canada, all of the states in the United States of America, American Samoa and a little about activities in the UK.

AllTrails allows searches to be filtered to find wheelchair, stroller, kid, and dog friendly hikes. All of the trails listed on AllTrails are verified by experts and reviewed by the folks who go on the hikes.

The Hiking Project website allows you to filter your search for a hiking trail by difficulty; you can choose “Easy (No obstacles. Flat.)” or “Easy/Intermediate (Mostly flat and even.)” The website says of the project,

The information on Hiking Project is crowd-sourced, contributed by passionate users excited to share their knowledge of local trails with others. Anyone can share their experiences: add your favorite trails and photos, give ratings, post comments, improve existing content and spread the word about recommended routes…We review every trail, route, photo and symbol that gets submitted.

Another way to find easy trails is to look for ones that are wheelchair accessible. The Travel Channel offers the slideshow “10 Gorgeous Wheelchair-Friendly Hikes to Try.” Author Kassondra Cloos promises

These flat, paved and boardwalk hikes all offer spectacular views that anyone can reach, whether they’re using a wheelchair, walker, stroller or crutches.

Emily Pennington‘s article “The 25 Best Accessible Trails in America”

takes surface stability, cross slope, accessible parking, and trail grade into account. [The author] interviewed experts like Accessible Nature creator Cecilia Travis and Disabled Hikers founder Syren Nagakyrie, as well as wheelchair adventurers from across the country, including Peter Littrel, Mark Irishsea, and “4WheelBob” Coomber.

While researching this post, I found several articles about wheelchair friendly trails in specific states (Texas, New Mexico, Colorado). Again , if you know you’re going to a specific state, research wheelchair friendly trails in the place where you’re going.

Read Guidebooks

Before the internet was easily accessible, hikers learned about trails from guidebooks. Guidebooks still exist and are handy to have in places with no WiFi access. REI has an extensive selection of hiking guides for a variety of states and regions in the U.S.A. If you don’t want to buy a guidebook for a place you will only visit once, you might be able to borrow something from your library. (If your local library doesn’t have what you’re looking for, ask about interlibrary loan). In any case, a guidebook should tell you about the hikes in a particular region, state or national park, or national forest including the difficulty and elevation change for each.

Ask at a Visitor Center, Ranger Station, or Other Information Center

If you’re hoping to hike on state or federal public land, make a stop at a ranger station or visitor center in the area of your desired hike before you make plans. The workers at these information centers should be knowledgeable about the area, including the hiking opportunities. Ask for the specific kind of hike you are looking for. If someone in your group uses mobility aids, make sure the person staffing the information desks knows you are looking for a trail to accommodate that person’s needs. Point out if you need a hike that is suitable for little kids. The more honest and specific you are about what you are looking for, the more likely you’ll be told about the right trail for you.

While you’re at a visitor center or ranger station, you may have the opportunity to pick up free informational brochures about the area you are visiting. If you’re offered maps, trail guides, or brochures you may want to pick them up and take them with you for further study. You might find information the worker forgot to tell you or didn’t know about. If you have access to maps, ask the ranger or volunteer to look at the map with you and show you the suitable trails.

Talk to a Local or Another hiker

Sometimes locals or experienced hikers know about trails that don’t appear in guidebooks or on websites. Sometimes they can tell you how to get to their favorite waterfall or meadow. But beware: while locals and more experienced hikers can be a great source of information, if they’re not on the same page as you about the term “easy,” you could find yourself in over your head. After all, it was another hiker who told The Man about the Sherman Peak Hike that left me lying in the middle of the trail crying.

I hope the tips I’ve offered you today help you find hikes that are just right for your stamina, endurance, and abilities. Using the internet before you go will be a big help, as will being honest about what you are capable of. As the creator of Accessible Nature Cecilia Travis says,

Everyone – regardless of age or ability needs their Nature Fix.

Why the Rubber Tramp Artist is Driving a Minivan

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A silver Toyota Sienna is parked in a parking lot.
My new minivan. I call it the Silver Streak.

I’ve always been a conversion van sort of gal. I’ve owned five conversion vans (4 Chevy G20s and 1 Dodge Ram) since 2010. When I decided to sell my truck and buy a van, I was pretty sure I’d buy another conversion van. Then I started seeing what used vans were actually available in the state of New Mexico.

On Craigslist I found newer traditional conversion vans and Sprinter vans on the used vehicle market, but those rigs were wildly out of my price range. If I’d had $10,000 or more in my pocket, one of those big van could have been mine. Since I only had around $7,000 in my pocket, none of those vans were to be mine.

My last conversion van was a 1992. Did I really want something that old again?

The vans in my price range were older. I saw vans from the 90s, 80s, and even 70s advertised on Craigslist. I was unsure how wise it would be to invest in a vehicle that was more than 20 years old. My friend Brent strongly suggested that I get somethings manufactured in the 21st century. Besides just being old, the majority of full-size vans I saw that I could afford were high mileage. I saw vans for sale with 180,000; 200,000; 250,000 miles on them. How long could something with so many miles on it last before I encountered a major problem? I was really worried about buying myself a big ol’ problem (or a bunch of smaller problems) in the form of an older van.

After looking at all of the Craigslist ads for full-size vans in New Mexico and finding nothing suitable, I started looking at ads from Arizona. There were more large vans available in the Copper State, and I thought maybe I’d have to go Arizona and stay with friends while I shopped for a van there.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic complicated everything. (What hasn’t the COVID-19 pandemic complicated?) I had received both of my vaccine shots, but none of my friends had received theirs. The last thing I wanted to do was infect anyone, especially people I care about. How could I keep everyone safe during my visit? Where would I sleep while staying with friends in order to not risk anyone’s health? Should I use public transportation to go van shopping? Would it be safe to have a friend drive me to see vehicles? How dangerous would it be for me to meet with a variety of strangers and test drive their vehicles? How would I get to Arizona anyway? My truck was sold, and there’s no Greyhound service from the town I live in. I probably didn’t want to be on a bus with strangers and their breath for 6 or 8 hours anyway.

On the second day of my ad search, I realized I was seeing a lot of New Mexico ads for minivans in my price range. I’ve always been a conversion van gal, but I started thinking maybe driving a minivan would be ok.

The biggest factor I considered when I thought about buying a minivan is that I’m no longer a full-time rubber tramp. I’m keeping my little trailer parked in the little RV park, and I’ll live in it 7 or 8 months out of the year. Because I won’t have to shove everything I own (and believe me, I am not a minimalist) into a minivan, I was able to imagine living and traveling in one for 4 or 5 months at a time.

Of course, gas mileage is the siren song of the minivan. When I interviewed The Man about why he chose to live and travel in a minivan, the main reason he gave for his decision was the minivan’s good gas mileage. After years of driving my vans and truck and getting 15 miles per gallon at best, I was ready to spend less on gas. Not only will the minivan give me good gas mileage during the 4 or 5 months when I’m traveling, I’ll save money when driving around town running errands when I’m living stationery in my travel trailer during the winters. If I want to take road trips during the spring, fall, and winter, I can do so without worrying that stops at the gas station will break my bank.

Reliability was another important minivan attribute. When The Man was in the market for a minivan, he spent hours researching the best on the market. He found the two most reliable minivans available were the Toyota Sienna and the Honda Odyssey. I figured if I got one of those van models and maintained it properly, I could probably drive it for a long, long time.

As I looked through minivan ads on Craigslist and Facebook, one in Albuquerque caught my attention. It was a 2005 Toyota Sienna with under 100,000 miles on it. It was being sold by the original owner. I sent the owner lots of questions throughout the day and he answered each one promptly. By the end of the day, I had an appointment to see the van the next afternoon.

My mechanically inclined friend drove me out to look at the van, crawled under the van to look for leaks, checked the fluids, rode with me while I drove the car, and took it out for a spin himself.

On the plus side, the vehicle seemed to be in good mechanical condition. There were no leaks. No “check engine” lights were on. The owner said the van had passed the emissions test the last time it had been inspected, about eight months prior and had never been in an accident.. The owner also said the minivan had never been his family’s primary vehicle. His family had always had another vehicle, so the minivan mostly sat in the garage except for the few times they drove it to Vegas on family trips. On the minus side, the van needed new tires, a new battery, and new windshield wiper blades. All things considered, I decided to buy the vehicle.

I had the van’s oil changed right away. I bought a new battery for it, new windshield wiper blades, and four new tires. The nice man who helped me at AutoZone confirmed what my friend had said: he neither saw nor smelled any evidence of leaks. He said the engine compartment looked very clean. The young man who put on new tires at Discount Tire said the can’s alignment seemed fine; the tires weren’t worn unevenly. I’ve driven the minivan over 600 miles in the weeks since I purchased it, and all seems well.

The minivan drives smoothly and quietly and practically parks itself. Its got more get up and go than any conversion van I ever drove. I am so relieved that I no longer practically need a ladder to get in and out of my vehicle. The air conditioner blows cold. The stereo sounds good.

I named it the Silver Streak.

I’ve pulled most of the seats out, and I’m getting it ready so I can sleep in it and live in it. I’m about to take it out on the road for the start of my summer travels. Hopefully it will hold up as well as I think it will. Stay tuned for more posts about getting the seats out and how I set everything up.

I took the photos in this post unless otherwise noted.