Tag Archives: van life

Intruder

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Someone tried to get into my van.

It was a night like any other in the Forest Service campground where The Man and I live while working at the mercantile. We’d had the day off, but we’d come back from Babylon early in the afternoon. I’d been cleaning the van all evening and was exhausted. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep and more free time the next day, which we also had off from our jobs.

It was nearly dark when I left The Man in his tent and went to the van for the night. I read for a while, but soon I could barely keep my eyes open, so I turned off my Luci light and promptly fell asleep.

I woke up…or was I already awake?

I heard someone try to open either the passenger door or the side door closest to my bed. I distinctly heard the soft rattle the door handles make when they’re locked and someone tries to use them to open the door.

I’m a door locker. That’s how I grew up. My family locked the doors to the outside world when we were in the house. The Man is not a door locker. He doesn’t believe in living in fear. Sometimes we have conflict because he wants something from inside the van but can’t get in because I’ve locked the doors and he’s left his key in the tent.

When he and the dog were sleeping in the van with me, I became more casual about locking the doors. Although there’s probably less of a chance of someone trying to steal something way up in our campground on the mountain, now that I’m sleeping alone, I’ve gotten back in the habit of locking my doors at night.

My first thought upon hearing the rattle of the door handle was that The Man had forgotten something in the van (his phone, his water bottle, his coat) and had come to get it. So I was surprised he didn’t say anything when he found the door locked. (He has no qualms about waking me if he wants to get into the van.) When there was no complaint in response to the locked door, I called out, Yes? or What? or something along those lines.

I took this photo of the campground restrooms. Of course, the campground looks quite different at night.

I received no answer, but I heard footsteps next to the van. When the person came around the back of the van (I thought maybe The Man, was going to ask me to hand him my keys through a back window), I called out again, but received no response. I heard the footsteps moved to the nearby pit toilet, then I heard the distinct rattle of the toilet paper roll being moved on its holder.

I never felt afraid. I thought The Man had gotten up to use the restroom, tried to get into the van and found the doors locked, then left, maybe in a snit or maybe because he was having a restroom emergency. I figured in the morning I’d find out it had been him I’d heard. I fell back to sleep right away.

I woke up again around ten minutes to five and started working on a hat I’d begun the day before. Not long after I awoke, The Man walked up to the van, and I let him in.

Di you try to get in the van last night? I asked him. He said he hadn’t.

I told him someone had tried to get in. He acted like he didn’t believe me at first, then said I’d probably just been dreaming. I’d said, I don’t think I was dreaming, and he used that as evidence that I had been dreaming. He said he’d know if someone had tried to get into his van. He said he would have flown out of bed and kicked the door open…

I chalked it up to him not taking me seriously, but while we were getting ready to head out to the post office and he asked if I really thought someone had tried to get into the van. I said yes, I really thought someone had tried to get in the van.

Then I remembered something else: there had been no flashlight. The Man never leaves his tent at night without his headlamp. The moon can be full and I’ve got plenty of light to find my way from his tent to my van, but he uses his headlamp. If The Man had tried to get into the van during the night, he would have shined his light through the uncovered side windows.

I think whoever tried to get in assumed there was no one in the van. Most people with a tent set up on a campsite would be sleeping in the tent, not in the vehicle. The intruder must have been quite surprised to hear me start talking from inside the van.

There were campers on only two other sites that night, and the camp host was sleeping elsewhere on his night off.

The Man went up to the fellow on a site on the other side of the campground. The guy tried to ignore him when The Man said good morning. The guy seemed nervous when The Man told him someone had tried to get into our vehicle the night before. The Man advised him to be careful about leaving his belongings out.

Later, when the campers on our side of the campground emerged from their tent, The Man talked to them too. The fellow on that site said, Good morning! How ya doin’? and shook The Man’s hand. The Man told him the same thing about someone trying to get into our vehicle and being careful about his belongings. That fellow said he’d heard footsteps near his tent during the night.

Who tried to get inside my van? I can’t say with certainty, but whoever it was got the message that we knew what s/he had been up to.

I stayed behind to guard camp while The Man went to the post office, but no one came around our site. I’ve been making sure to lock my doors when I go to bed at night, and The Man has stopped giving me a hard time when the locked doors keep him out of the van.

Game Changer

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When I bought my van, the carpet was already grungy, and it definitely got worse in the three years I’ve

This photo shows my van’s dirty, stained carpet. It also shows the metal plate in the floor (lower left corner).

lived in my van home. I’ve used a series of rugs on the floor to try to hide the dirt and stains, but that typically meant I had a dirty rug sitting on top of a dirty carpet. Also I regularly spill water on the floor, and the water soaks into the carpet and leaves a wet spot which I invariably step in. Yuck!

Another problem I had with my floor was the large metal plates left behind when the seats were removed. The plates are a little higher than the floor itself, and let me tell you, it hurts to bring a knee or foot down hard on them, especially on a corner or an edge. There’s no easy way to remove the plates, so I’d been living gingerly with them since 2014.

In the back of my mind, I’d been searching for a solution.

First, Coyote Sue told me about some flooring she bought at Walmart for her RV. The pieces snap together, she said, and look like wood grain. She put the flooring down right on top of her shag carpet.

Then I saw a “winter camping life hacks” clickbait article on Facebook. Most of the tips I already knew (put a plastic water bottle filled with hot water at the food of your sleeping bag before going to bed) or didn’t apply to van life, but the last tip caught my attention. It suggested bringing the brightly colored foam squares most commonly seen in children’s play areas to cover the floor of the tent. Brilliant! Not only would the foam on the floor feel cushy, it would help insulate the tent, and any melted snow puddles could be easily wiped away. I wondered if something similar would work in my van.

The next time I went to Babylon, I checked at Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, the Walmart in that town is the second worst I’ve ever been in. I couldn’t find anything like Coyote Sue had described, and the foam squares offered in the toy department, while nicely colorful, were very thin and had pop-out letters I suspected would lead to nothing but grief. I decided to try Walmart.com.

This photo shows the exercise puzzle mats I bought.

I did a search with key words I no longer remember. Several results popped up, including flooring intended for exercise spaces. That stuff seemed perfect. I chose the extra-thick, 3/4″ squares because I wanted as much padding as possible over the metal plates. I had three choices of color–black, grey, and bright blue. Part of me really wanted the cheerfulness factor of a bright blue floor, but a more practical part of me decided grey flooring would show less dirt and would probably be easier to keep looking clean.

I placed my first order ever with Walmart.com, which worked out great for me. (I know lots of people have problems with Walmart, Dollar Tree, Amazon, and other large corporations. I understand. I truly do. I try to do my shopping at thrift stores and garage sales, but sometimes I need an item now and don’t want to wait to maybe find what I’m looking for used. Giant corporations do make shopping easy, especially online.)

Walmart.com was super easy. I placed my order and paid using my debit card, but was not charged for shipping because my items were delivered to the Walmart store of my choice. I simply picked up my items during my regular weekly trip to civilization. (If I had home mail delivery, I might prefer to have items delivered to my door. However, while I’m work camping, my mail is delivered via general deliver to a post office fifteen miles away. The post office is only open weekday mornings, so picking up my mail is seldom convenient.)

On the day I picked up my flooring, I was excited to get back to camp to install it. “Install” makes it seem more diffictult than it was. I opened the package. I placed the squares on the floor and interlocked the parts meant to interlock. Done! Ok, The Man did cut out a piece of one of the squares so it would fit around the leg of my shelf, but he knew how to do it and completed the task in minutes. If one put down the flooring at the beginning of a build, furniture could go on top if it and no cutting

This photo shows my nice, new, clean flooring that only took a few minutes to install.

would be required.

The flooring I bought was manufactured by ProSource and is called “excercise puzzle mat.” It has a non-slip surface and is extra-thick (3/4″) and phthalate free. It’s made from water-resistant EVA foam. I paid around $30 for six squares, which covers 24 square feet. I used five squares to cover the portion of open space in my van, as well as the area between my two front seats. I’ll probably buy another six pack to cover the rest of the floor when I reconfigure and downsize my bed.

As soon as I got the flooring down, I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to figure out this solution. The metal plates are completey covered and padded. I can bang my knee on the floor where they are all day long with no pain. When I spill water, I can wipe it right up, and dirt tracked in is easily swept out. In about fifteen minutes, the interior of my van became infinitely more comfortable and better looking with ProSource exercise puzzle mats.

ProSource 3/4″ puzzle mats are available on the ProSource website, at Walmart.com, and on Amazon.com.

ProSource Puzzle Exercise Mat, EVA Foam Interlocking Tiles, Protective Flooring for Gym Equipment and Cushion for Workouts

I took the photos in this post, except for this last one, which is an Amazon link.

Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) 2017

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Here it is August, and I haven’t yet published a report on January’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR). Better late than never?

There were a lot of people in the RTR section of Scaddan Wash in January 2017. I never did a count of my own, but I heard reports of upwards of 600 people there. I don’t know how anyone was able to arrive at a figure. Were rigs counted? If yes, how did the counter know how many people were staying in each rig? When was the counting (of rigs or people) done? People and rigs came and went througout the entire time the RTR was underway. Folks were here today, gone tomorrow, back on Wednesday. I don’t know how an accurate count could be made with all of that coming and going.

In any case, there were a lot of people in the RTR area, way more than when I attended in 2015 or 2016.

There were also more people there this time in fancy, shiny, expensive rigs. I wondered if those people had missed the tramp part of the rendezvous or the cheap in the name of the Cheap RV Living website. Mostly, I wondered what the folks with money were getting out of a gathering where people learn how to stretch their precious few dollars in order to live a life of freedom. I guess learning how to find free public land on which to boondock is the same whether one’s living in a 90s era converted cargo van or a brand new Dodge Sprinter.

So many people arrived early, there was demand for a seminar before the Rendezvous had officially begun. I sat through the beginning of that one. It consisted mostly of folks who’d never attended the RTR asking questions, and the organizer of the event saying those questions would be answered at a seminar held later in the gathering. After a while, I got tired of hearing questions I knew the answers to not being answered, so I grabbed my chair and left.

I did attend the official Welcome to Quartzsite seminar. I don’t think I learned anything new. The seminar seating was definitely crowded that morning; I’d guess there were a couple hundred people there, but I’m not so good at estimating attendance. Again, people mostly seemed to be newcomers.

Although I didn’t attend any other seminars, I did attend the two women’s meetings. Both of those meetings were also crowded. At the first one, the facilitator offered a list of questions each woman could answer by way of introduction. During the explanation of how the introductions would work, the facilitator instructed us to limit our intros to two sentences so everyone would get to speak during the meeting’s two-hour time frame. Most women were able to limit themselves, but others went on for paragraph after paragraph. Some ramblers even seemed offended when the facilitator gently reminded them of the two sentence limit.

I wondered why the longwinded women thought they were more important than the rest of us who had complied with the two-sentence limit. Did they really think the rest of us wanted to sit and listen to them drone on and on about themselves? I, for one, did not.

When I arrived the next week for the second women’s meeting, I was shocked to see a documentary film crew setting up to record the discussion. I was astounded to find most of the women in attendance had no objection to being filmed. I said I did not want to be filmed and offered to leave rather than cause a problem, but the woman doing the filming said she’d turn off the camera and sound recording equipment whenever I spoke. Despite her offer (which I believe was made in good faith), I mostly remained silent and kept my head down throughout the meeting.

It was probably my last women’s meeting in an RTR context. The new gals tend to want to discuss things I feel like I’ve already figured out–how to go to the bathroom in the van, how to feel safe, how to keep from feeling lonely. I’m not sure what things I don’t know about that I need to talk about in a women-only group, but I know we’ll never get there if we have to talk about elimination and personal safety every year. Also, if the meetings are being recorded and I don’t want to be recorded, what am I contributing while sitting there silently with my head down?

I was primarily at the RTR to promote my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. I feel like my sucess in this endeavor was limited at best.

Coyote Sue and I shared billing at a late afternoon seminar. She was to talk about selling on Ebay while on the road, and I was to talk about being a camp host and to read from my book. We got rained out. We postponed the seminar for later in the evening. We were finally able to give our presentations to a small group before the sun went down. Everyone in attendance listened politely when I read, but I think most of the folks there wanted to hear what Coyote Sue had to say.

My main reading, the one I’d promoted throughout the RTR, was a huge disappointment. Only a handful of people attended, most of them people I already knew. Again, people were attentive, and they laughed in the right places, but since I’d been hoping for a crowd, seeing less than a dozen people in the audience made me feel a little sad.

I sold some copies of the book at the RTR, but I barely made a dent in the 100 copies I’d had printed. Perhaps I should have dreamed smaller.

Because I was trying to promote my book, I’d set up camp near the main gathering spot. I was close to the free pile and close enough to pop in at morning announcement to mention my book, hats, etc for sale.  This proximity to all the action meant my privacy was often invaded, especially, it seemed, as I was trying to cook dinner in the evening. I spent quite a bit of time feeling I had nowhere to hide. Honestly, I don’t mind answering questions (even the same question for the 10th time) but maybe don’t try to interrogate me when I’m obviously busy.

Because there were so many people at the RTR, the group meals were cancelled. The chef who’d bottomlined the soup and chilli dinners in 2015 and 2016 had to work for money in 2017 and wasn’t able to attend the RTR. The main organizer didn’t feel able to make the dinners happen successfully with so many eaters on hand, and no one with experience with feeding crowds steppd up to the challenge. I didn’t hear an official statement of why the potato bake didn’t happen, but I’m guess the couple who’d hosted it in the past didn’t feel up to the logistical nighmare of feeding the teeming masses. I was disappointed the meals were cancelled because at the previous RTR’s they’d served as my prime opportunity for social interaction. (One fellow did provide a bunch of hot dogs for a hot dog dinner early in the gathering, but I didn’t attend since I don’t eat hot dogs.)

I don’t know if there’s another Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in my future. I don’t know where I’ll be in January 2018. Also, I don’t know if I can learn anything new from the RTR. If I go to another RTR, it will be mostly to visit with friends.

If I do go to another RTR, I expect there will be a lot of people there. Folks can’t expect a free event to be promoted far and wide on the internet and not get crowded. If I attend another RTR, I’m going to park away from the main gathering areas, on the outskirts, where I can cook without an audience.

I took the photo in this post.

You can read about my experiences at past Rubber Tramp Rendezvous: the first week in 2015, the second week in 2015, some thoughts on the 2015 RTR2016, the first women’s meeting in 2015, the second women’s meeting in 2015, the free pile at the RTR, and Burning Van.

Free Camping Along the Rio Hondo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I took all these photos of the Rio Hondo and my feet in the Rio Hondo.

 

 

Dispatch from the Woods

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The Man and I weren’t doing so well in Northern New Mexico. The invisible biting bugs were horrible, really tearing us up. The intense heat, unusual in the mountains, was making our days, but particularly our nights, difficult to bear. Living in the van together day after day was making us edgy and irritable. Something had to give.

Our lives changed with a call from my boss from the last two summers. The store that was supposed to open last season was finally(!) about to open, and he needed two more people to staff it. He wanted to hire me and The Man. We’d have a free place to set up camp for the summer, and he’d work us each 40 hours a week. Could we be there in six days? We said Yes! and hit the road to California.

I wanted to write a dispatch from the road, but we stayed in the Worst Motel 6 Ever in Barstow, CA, and the internet was down. I was too tired to find either another hotel or a coffee shop with free WiFi.

Crossing the Mojave Desert in a vehicle with no air conditioner was no joke. Part of our problem was not leaving Flagstaff until 1pm. I’d wanted to leave earlier, but it was afternoon by the time we packed up camp; drove to town; bought water, ice, and a few groceries; bought a solar shower, privacy tent, and tarp at  Wal-Mart; went through a bunch of rigmarole to find out Wal-Mart was out of Blue Rhino propane tanks and couldn’t exchange our empty one for a full one; went to a herb shop downtown so The Man could buy loose tea, and (finally!) filled up the gas tank.

It was hot when we stopped in Kingman, AZ to do the propane tank exchange. The Man and Jerico stood in the shade under one of the few parking lot trees while I went inside to pay for the new tank. The Wal-Mart employee who came out to make the switch expressed concern for Jerico’s paws on the hot asphalt.

Back on the road, we soon passed into California. At the agriculture checkpoint, there was a big digital sign like banks have announcing the time and temperature. 119 degrees! It had been a long time since I’d been in triple digit temperatures.

The Man grabbed our squirt bottle full of water (hippie air conditioning, he calls it) and sprayed me down while I drove. He also discovered that opening the windows let in air hotter than the air in the van. Over the next few hours, we did a lot of opening and closing windows trying to catch a breeze or let hot air out, trying to get comfortable. Surprise! There was no way to get comfortable in a van without air conditioning in the Mojave Desert that June day.

I stopped at the first Dairy Queen I saw and got us both Reese’s peanut butter cup Blizzards. I couldn’t drive and eat, so The Man took the wheel. The ice cream didn’t last nearly long enough, and we were back to using the squirt bottle.

Late in the afternoon, the sun moved down the horizon, and the temperature dropped to hot but bearable. Still, as much as I hated to do it, we got a motel room in Barstow. Maybe I could have gotten a little sleep in the sunbaked van had I been alone, but there was no way two adults and a dog could have been comfortable sleeping in there. Even if the van had cooled after baking in the sun all day (which it hadn’t), the body heat of three mammals in the enclosed space would have been unbearable. Even with the windows open, there wouldn’t have been enough air flow to keep us cool.

The air conditioner at the Motel 6 was not up to the challenge of the summer night. Although the air conditioner was on when we opened the door, we were not met with the chilly wonderfulness I’d been hoping for. The room was stuffy, and I had a difficult time deciding if it was cooler inside or out.

The a/c wasn’t a wall unit like in almost every other motel I’ve been in. All we had was a vent above the bathroom door and an ersatz thermostat on the wall. All we could really control were the settings “heat,” “cool,” and “fan.” If I stood in just the right spot a few feet from the bathroom door and stretched my arms over my head, I could feel a bit of cool air blowing out, but it was no match for the desert heat.

I slept poorly all night, although the warm room probably wasn’t as uncomfortable as the hot van would have been.

The Man and I were both awake by five the next morning. We each has another shower and got our things together. The morning air was cool, but we were hot again before we finally made it up the mountain.

When we finally made it to our destination, the tall green trees and the cool mountain air were a wonderful contrast to the drab heat of the desert. My memory hadn’t exaggerated how lovely my home of the last two summers is. I’m glad this place will be my home for the rest of this summer and hopefully into the fall.

If you’re reading this, it’s because the mercantile (the Forest Service doesn’t like the word “store”) has WiFi, and the employees are allowed to utilize it. That’s a definite step up from years past.

This photo I took shows the mercantile/visitor center where The Man and I work.

Special thanks to The Man for getting my computer to connect to the WiFi at the mercantile.

 

 

10 Frustrating Aspects of Van Life

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There are many aspects of van life I adore. (See http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2017/04/30/10-things-i-love-about-van-life/ and http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2017/01/01/ten-reasons-i-like-living-in-my-van/ for twenty reasons I love van life.) However, some parts of van life can really bring me down. In the interest of fair and honest reporting, today I’ll share 10 aspects of van like that frustrate the hell out of me.

#1 I never really feel settled. Even if I’m staying in one place for a few days or a week or a month, I know I’ll be moving on before too long. No place I park really feels like home.

#2 I hit my head a lot. Even though my van has a high top and I’m a shorty, I hit my head surprisingly

The very top of this photo shows one of the little lights projecting from the ceiling of the van. These lights don’t even work! I want them gone, but fear I will enjoy gaping holes in the ceiling even less. Maybe I could cover the gaping holes with art?

often. I hit my head on the wall above the side doors. I hit my head on the small light fixtures that project three inches from the ceiling. I hit my head on the shelf over the foot of the bed. When I lived in house, I never hit my head this much.

#3 A van spacious enough for two people and a dog to live in somewhat comfortably (and really, it’s not all that comfortable) is a gas-guzzling beast.

#4 I’m often digging for the thing I want. Plastic tubs are stored under the bed. Toiletries are thrown in a totebag. It seems I’m costantly moving one thing to get to another thing or reaching behind things to access what’s stored in the back. The Man recently said, The van is just a big backpack on wheels, and I’m always digging for something! So true. So true. Pockets and hanging things help, but some days I long for a chest-of-drawers.

#5 Sometimes an ice chest isn’t enough. I get tired of buying ice too. When I lived in a house, I’d cook big batches of beans and chili in the slow cooker, then freeze them in smaller containers for later eating. I can’t do that in my van.

#6 I have too much stuff, but I don’t want to do without what I currently have.

#7 Forget about saving cool dumpstered weird stuff for later art projects or costumes. There’s no room in the van for anything without an immediate purpose.

#8 The floor is always dirty. Always. Well, ok, maybe there’s a brief window between shaking the rug and someone stepping into the van with dirty feet or knocking over the dog’s bowl of water, so enjoy the clean rug immediately before the window shuts.

#9 Van life is not conducive to spontaneous bathing.

#10 If the van’s been sitting in the sun all day (and many times there’s no option of parking it in the shade), the inside of the van is going to be hot at night, even if the outside termperature has dropped and the windows are open.

What aspects of life on the road frustrate you? How have you solved the problems that frustrate me? Please leave your comments below.

This is not my current van, but it is a van I once owned.

I took the photos in this post.

 

 

 

Free BLM Camping (Southern New Mexico Edition)

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

As soon as we decided to visit Carlsbad Caverns, I got on FreeCampsites.net (https://freecampsites.net/) to try to find us a nice, free place to spend the night.

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

On the Free Campsites website, I found several options for free camping on BLM land near Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The place I picked doesn’t even have a name; on the website, it’s simply referred to as “Public Lands near Carlsbad Caverns.” (To read more about the camping area, go here: https://freecampsites.net/#!22041&query=sitedetails.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View from the back of the van

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

Ocotillo plants and clumps of grass

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

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

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

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

This campsite is located at an elevation of 3,650 feet. Its GPS coordinates are 32.204698, -104.334665.

I took all the photos in this post.