Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Camping with Somebody Else?

The other day a retired man approached me in a big box parking lot. Initially I tensed up. That's the instinctive response these days, since you expect to be panhandled. But he said that he had noticed bicycling on my tee-shirt. As it turned out, he was a newbie van camper who went on bicycle tours all over the world in previous years. I listened to his stories for an hour or two, as we stood in the lee of my trailer in the cold New Mexican wind. He cycled through third world countries. When he approached a village he was received like an alien from a UFO that had just landed. He never camped in normal campgrounds. (Sigh, I just don't like tent camping or cycling highways enough to do cycle touring like him.)

How strange. No encounter has ever happened like this to me before, as an RV traveler. Of course I gave up trying to socialize with RVers years ago, so it's my own fault in a way. RVers are nice middle-class folks who have worked hard all their lives. They are responsible, law-abiding, and sane about unimportant things. But if you don't overlap with the stereotype, there just isn't much that can be done about it.

I was sad to see that fellow leave the next day. Wouldn't it be nice to travel with somebody like him for awhile? How long has it been since I've done anything like that? But what were the chances that I could travel with a newbie, considering their 300-miles-per-day habits:"whoopie I'm on vacation".

Actually I've had better luck crossing paths with fellow bloggers than anything. This happened again recently, this time with Kurumi Ted. How nice it was to go on daily walks and talks in the desert with another RVer.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Learning New Four-Letter Dirty Words in Geology Class

It's a world of a different color where I'm camped now compared to Moab, which is just a couple weeks in the rear view mirror. Here in the lower Rio Grande Valley the world is grey, brown, and buff, which is rather bland compared to the red sandstone of Moab.

After a night of hard rain it began to dry up.  I needed to go to town to do the usual errands. (Here an RV travel blog should begin spoon-feeding the eager reader with every minute and mundane detail of his errand and shopping trip.) The road was a recently graded county road, with a hard gravel surface. But at one spot the color abruptly changed from buff to "red". Having been in Moab recently, I thought that it was a small area of red sandstone. Still, a slow yellow light began blinking in the back of my head. Then there was a small dip. I was surprised how difficult it was to get back up the hill. Whew! That was close. What the heck kind of sandstone do you call that?

A couple hours later, the errands were over and I looked forward to returning home on a drier road. Once again I was driving through the dip in the red/brown dirt: the slope of the road caused me to slide to the right edge, the lower edge, where water had drained. In seconds the van was up to its axles in plastic gook. You've probably already guessed the dirty four letter word for the day: C-L-A-Y.

Normally I think in terms of geology; but today's "class" was in rheology. Three feet from the right edge of the road, all seemed normal. A few inches closer to the right, and it turned remarkably plastic. My foot would sink in three inches. I made a noble effort with rocking the van and straightening the front wheels, but the combination of slopes doomed me to a shameful surrender, that is, calling my towing service who promised a tow truck in 3 hours.

What was I to do until then? So I walked to the chile farming area about a mile away. Demographic profiling is supposed to be a bad thing, but there are times when you can't avoid it. That works in both directions. If I had had the advantage of being a slightly attractive woman, I would already have been rescued; I could have just leaned against the van, preened and primped a little bit, swished my tail a couple times, and then some silly man would have magically appeared from behind a creosote bush. Actually, it probably would have been a couple of silly men, with each trying to show that he knew more than the other guy.

Let's see now: who should I target? Obviously not somebody with a small or clean car. There was no point in asking a woman. If I'd asked a bourgeois-yuppie-gringo type he would have thought that, if my story were actually true, I should just call my towing service, Platinum Card service, or push the Onstar button on the dashboard; and if I couldn't do any of this, well, I was probably just a recent parolee who didn't even have an automobile and was just cooking up a story to get into his SUV and steal his iPhone.

It seemed like the best bet would be a middle-aged male, blue collar or maybe a farmer: a guy who liked solving problems the old-fashioned way, with his hands and experience and common sense. But was there still anyone like that in America? And could they speak English?

I'm pleased to say that I struck gold on the second try: a middle-aged, male, Mexican employee of the chile company, who was driving an older, non-clean pickup truck. He even grinned when I mentioned the specific road, as if it were well known locally. He had me out of there in a few seconds, and I gave him some gasoline money out of gratitude.

Now, what is the moral of this story? Some gloating readers want to hear me admit that my next tow vehicle should be a four wheel drive machine. But I hardly see how a tow rope and ten seconds of work every five years justifies spending an extra $14,000 on the pickup truck. Or should I change towing services? Nah, none of them provide instantaneous service and if they tried, it wouldn't be affordable. My adventure would never have happened if I had been driving more towards the center of the road, or if I had stopped the van and probed the ground on foot before committing myself.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Forever Un-cool in Gadget Land

It was a thrill for this chronic late-adopter and used-computer-buyer to finally have his first new computer. I boldly squatted in the parking lot outside the Target where I bought my new 11.6" Acer netbook at the loss-leader price of $200 and brazenly challenged a security guard or parking lot Zamboni to even try to kick me out. Nobody dared.

I stayed up until midnight -- real midnight, as in media noche, as in mitternacht, not motorhome midnight of 9 p.m. -- transitioning to the new netbook. I had always feared doing this but it ended up being fun watching functionality and the software breath-of-life appear on a soul-less machine, step-by-step.

At 530 in the morning I practically leaped out of bed, wondering if Starbucks would waken at 6 am. I didn't have to drive far in New Mexico's megalopolis, Albuquerque, to find one. Soon I was ensconced in a chair next to a personable floor lamp, with a scone and a (disappointing-tasting and over-priced) espresso, and pretended to be a hip urban technorati.

Then my bubble burst. This experience was supposed to be a ceremonial ritual to honor the new netbook; I'd imagined urban sophisticates, with their $5 double foo-foo lattes or whatever and their white iPads, casting furtive glances of envy and lust over towards my new machine. But it was not to be. Apparently a bargain netbook from Target educes the same respect from jaded gadget-sophisticates that an entry-level Toyota Corolla would pull out of a NASCAR gearhead.

Why is the tech media so anti-netbook? They look down on them and give all the glory to tablets. Most tablets do have beautiful, high-resolution displays. Great, so you sit in a coffee shop trying to look enviable, blobbing and gooing your wonderful touch-screen with buttery fingers as you eat your toasted onion bagel. Of course you could squander some money on a protective plastic screen; but what does that do to the crispness of the display? And how long does that plastic cover last? (Gee you don't think that's the whole point, do you?)

I  recently played with an iPad for the first time in a coffee shop in the boutique mountain hamlet of Ouray CO.  My friend, a former IT professional man, surprised me by confessing that he didn't know how to do real, ten-fingered typing. That explains a lot about corporate IT departments as well as the hype and hysteria about touch screens. Although it was fun to play with it for a couple minutes I will remain a clamshell and keyboard man. Something about touchscreens suggests a regression from a second grader to a pre-literate day schooler who expresses himself by finger-painting.

Buying a new gadget has a way of pulling a sucker into a concatenation of expenses the same way that buying a puppy does. ("Honey, just imagine how cyoooot Fi-Fi would look in this darling angora sweater; and it's on sale for only $90!") In fact despite my boast of being a bang-for-the-buck, no nonsense type of consumer, even I went into the big-box gadget pushers the next day and fawned over "accessories." (But I wouldn't have done that if my pride hadn't been wounded at Starbucks.)

There were $80 "genuine leather" protective covers for the iPad at Walmart for gawd's sake! A cynic might have expected that this entire aisle (!) of iPad ecosystem junk was made in China for 50 cents a pop. But apparently it was being made by hand by old world craftsmen of the kind who used to make shoes in Italy or watches in Switzerland. (Youngsters are probably unaware of the panoply of cutesy, expensive add-ons and gotchas that were sold with the Palm Pilot back around year 2000. Isn't it ironic that tablet mania gets so much credit for being "new".)

Still stinging from that morning Starbucks rebuke I turned up my nose at all those over-priced cases, bags, keyboards, ad infinitum, which were supposed to turn your iPad into something more productive than a vending machine for the iTunes store or protect it from a fall from your cream-cheesey fingers onto Starbucks' granite floor -- imported from the Dolomite mountains, you know. (This wasn't too hard; the netbook has an 11.6 inch display, while the iPad accoutrements are made for a 10 inch machine. I measured them just to make sure. Blush.)

Finally I got my rightful revenge: an 11.6 inch netbook is the same size as a standard piece of paper, which is 8.5 by 11 inches; therefore many standard office supplies, even from the kiddie school supply aisle, can be used to store and protect my netbook. I ended up buying a padded mail envelope for a dollar. But it was made of genuine paper and plastic bubbles.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Naked Hiking Follow-up

The geology and plant life of my current boondocking location makes for some uncomfortable walking, at least in places. The other day I howled because of something jabbing me in the foot; I had just stepped on a rock with a sharp, pyramidal point. But the pain occurred a couple more times over the next day, and always in the same spot of the same shoe.

Why was I being so stupid? Something was embedded in the sole of that shoe. I just wasn't used to getting punchadas (or pinchazos) all the way through a sole. It's a mesquite thorn, if I'm not mistaken. Lots of them are growing nearby. This is what you get for hiking in trail sneakers instead of real hiking boots with a nylon or steel plate in the sole.

And yet I have a friend who has lived in the Southwest for 15 years and hikes everywhere in sandals.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

UFO Abducts RV Camper: Authorities REFUSE to Negotiate!!!

(Yahoo News: Unnamed location, lower Rio Grande valley, New Mexico, North American continent.)

Either something has changed on the internet, or I have just gotten around to noticing it: there is a race to the bottom with news headlines. They are becoming pure tabloid, especially the "What's New" tab on yahoo mail. But I've noticed the same trend in more serious news sources.

But who am I to fight progress? After all, we live in the modern Information Age, and therefore, all change represents progress.

OK seriously, I was taking the dogs out for their sunset walk when I looked to the east and saw this shadow. I guess it was a shadow of the hilly ridge in front of it, but the angles didn't seem right. It was unusual enough that I stopped and gawked. When I realized that it was towards Roswell NM, I had a good laugh. (As usual, click to enlarge.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Should I Go to an OWS Rally?

No matter how much a person might like their mobile lifestyle, there must be times when it seems frivolous and vacuous: when it degenerates into "channel surfing with gasoline". In the back of his mind, the traveler might yearn for experiences more substantial and challenging than mere sightseeing. But it would still be nice if mobility enabled these deeper and richer experiences.

For instance, during the Arab Spring, I was in the habit of reading bicycle touring blogs. Most of them were pretty boring: "...yesterday I was there, today I'm here. This morning I had instant oatmeal instead of corn flakes for breakfast." Then they photographed the oatmeal.

In contrast, one of these cycle tourers was staying in a Bed and Breakfast in downtown Cairo, right next to Tahrir Square where all the demonstrations took place. What an experience he had!

Driving to an "Occupy Wall Street" rally could be one of those experiences, and one that an RV is uniquely advantageous for. The famous ones are a long way from where most RVers are, at this time of year. But there are smaller rallies, closer.

Does this imply that I support the "OWS" movement? I'm not sure because of the wide variety of grass-roots opinion in it, and because of its overall vagueness. There is something about it that reminds me of "Howard Beale's" famous rant in the classic movie, Network.

But no matter what your politics you should be relieved that there is enough grass-roots guts left in this declining country and the para-militarized police force is still restrained enough, that peaceful protests are still feasible, although just barely. (You are probably aware of  the famous You Tube video of pepper spraying peaceful protesters at the University of California, Davis, who were sitting down.) What a marvelous article Glenn Greenwald wrote recently on this topic.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Challenge for an Old Engine

The previous day I had climbed a steep hill in first gear, and wondered if my old engine was going to make it. What would I do if it stalled? Could I back the van and trailer down the hill just by using brakes, and without jack-knifing the whole thing? This could be a personal best for my 1995 Ford V-8 engine. Near Deming NM.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Back in the Bosque

Early settlers, be they from northeastern Asia or the Iberian peninsula or northwestern Europe, must have had an easy choice with river valleys like the Rio Grande. The soil is so rich and deep. And there are huge cottonwoods for shade. What a remarkable strip micro-climate it is! Sometimes the Chihuahuan desert starts only a stone's throw away. It is almost as bleak as the Mojave. (It's really only the Sonoran desert that can be rightfully accused of being pretty. But I do like the smell of sagebrush in the Great Basin desert.)

The cottonwoods get giddy in the bosque, the Spanish word that gets used a lot along the Rio Grande. (I need to buy a real dictionary with accurate etymologies. The online freebie I'm using says that the English word, bosk, which means the same thing as bosque in Spanish, comes from an Old Norse word that gave us the word, bush. I don't believe it. Bosk, bosque, and the French bois are too much alike.)

It is fun to visit the lower Gila or Rio Grande valleys and then read Toynbee's chapters on the civilization of the lower Nile or of Mesopotamia.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Naked Hiking Still Legal in American Southwest

It must have been a slow news day today. The BBC featured a story that really was more Yahoo style: the Swiss court has upheld a canton's law against naked hiking.

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva says naked hiking is an increasingly popular pastime in Switzerland.
However, Appenzell is a deeply devout and conservative canton - it only granted women the right to vote in 1990 - and the influx of naked hikers has offended many local people, she adds.
The new ruling applies to the entire country.
Naked hikers may now have to look for another country which offers them a warmer welcome, our correspondent says.
Come to the American Southwest, I say, to all the oppressed perambulating naturalists. We offer you the freedom to live in harmony with nature as well as the opportunity to develop deep tans.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Appreciating Ugly Desert Arroyos

Surely there are some famous scenes from movies in which a statue becomes a living, moving human being. The idea is simply too cinematic to have been overlooked. But for some reason, a classic example of that doesn't come to mind.

When you walk through a desert arroyo (dry wash) you have the rare opportunity to see the normally slow process of erosion work on a human time scale. In that sense the landscape becomes alive for you.

The topography of the Southwest is dominated by differential erosion, but it is too slow to watch "live". In an arroyo you can see how foot-deep water has undercut a bank, probably during a flash flood in the late summer. This can produce an undercut several feet deep. Eventually the overhanging bank above the undercut collapses, producing a rather vertical wall.

Back on the job walking arroyos, near Socorro NM, it was fun to see the best examples of freshly fractured overhangs that I've ever seen.

Now imagine no more flash floods occurring. The normal evolution of the bank of the arroyo would be to become V-shaped, wider at the top than at the bottom.

"But these are just simple shapes," you say, "and they're not pretty enough." But development of the natural world is the issue here, not prettiness. Keep in mind that the microelectronic chips in your digital camera (and elsewhere) are based on processes analogous to what you are seeing in the arroyo:

  1. A complex pattern is put on a glass photo-plate. This pattern -- which would make a Google Earth map of the desert Southwest look simple -- will eventually define all the zillions of transistors and connecting lines that are etched into or added onto the silicon wafer.
  2. Ultraviolet light is shined through the photoplate, and leaves a latent image of the pattern in a thin layer of photo-sensitive polymers that have been spun onto the naked silicon wafer.
  3. That photographic pattern is developed and etched away in places, but not in other places, according to the desired pattern.
  4. The silicon wafer/photo-polymer combination is dunked in acid; the unprotected areas of the pattern are etched away preferentially. Thus the pattern has now been transferred to the "topography" of the silicon wafer.
  5. Pattern after pattern on layer after layer is performed similarly until the microelectronic chip is finished.

Then the customer expects the whole miracle for virtually free, except the protective leather case that has the customer's initials on it; and off he goes to a national park, the 4,939,385th visitor for 2011, and looks for a purty picher that is essentially free.

At any rate I will continue to get some enjoyment looking for analogies between erosion in the arroyos, Southwestern topography, and microelectronic chips. It gives me something to think about while I saunter along on the loose gravel, while my dog blasts along like a flash flood turned into flesh, and while I look for an interesting bird or plant or a hateful coyote.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Crony Capitalism at Its Best

...meaning its worst. It's always a little surprising to read about the "visual pollution" of windmills or solar panel installations and the locals' objections to them. I think they look "cool". But maybe the novelty would wear off soon and I would want to go back to looking at the landscape proper. (Then again, nobody uses that argument for getting rid of highways, suburban sprawl, or power lines.)

This installation is near Deming in southern New Mexico. The first thought was, "Oh how pretty." The second thought was, "Aren't they supposed to move or something?" Apparently a 10 or 15 mph breeze just doesn't do it.

There was a wry irony to it. Here they were -- the great Green dream machines -- producing diddly squat in one of the windiest states in the USA. Wouldn't it have been delicious and naughty if a Prius had been parked at the nearby store, with all the canonical and stereotypical bumper stickers, and I had engaged them in a discussion of these stationary windmills. My guess is that what they literally saw would be less important to them than what it represents symbolically.

Or would that have been too snotty? RV travel offers a good chance to observe first-hand the Two Culture Gap, and I'm not talking about the one that CP Snow made famous a couple decades ago. I'm referring to the Red State/Blue State divide in modern America.

Personally I've noticed more snotty behavior on the part of Blue Staters than the other way around. Possibly the worst thing that he/she sees in the lowly Red Stater is their addiction to out-dated and traditional superstitions. The Blue Staters have outgrown all that, you know.

Imagine what fun Sir James George Frazer (The Golden Bough) would have with these modern tridentate Deities, sitting there uselessly except for the promise of Global Salvation and a Higher Moral Calling that they offer to liberals.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Impressions on Mind and Mudstone

Lower Rio Grande valley, New Mexico. Why is it that we know so little about how the vaunted gadgets and machines of our Age work? Perhaps that says something of our educational system; or maybe it is just inherently difficult to approach science and technology in layman's terms. Some people probably think technical subjects are uninteresting since there is nothing personal or emotional about them.

But there must be some explanation for stopping dead in my tracks when I saw this shadow on a shale rock on some BLM land recently.

My goodness, it looked identical to the fossilized leaves on a shale rock that belonged to an impressive rock-collection that my father "inherited" from a retired school teacher, back when I was a kid. One of my siblings turned out to be the real rockhound, but I was interested in them too.

At first the sheer size and color of the quartz crystals and geodes made the biggest impression. (Think of the razzle-dazzle that you find on the tables at Quartzsite AZ in the winter.) But the purely visual buzz wore off soon. I thought the fossils were more interesting and significant in the long term.

When I said "looked identical", above, it brings to mind the word 'reminiscent.' The dictionary says the Latin root is 'mens', the mind. Why are fossils interesting to people? Is it the connection between past and present or is it the challenge of trying to visualize a radical, but unbelievably slow, process of transformation?

But today I was only looking at an ephemeral shadow of waning November light; back then, as a kid, there was something about fossils and their transformation that was reminiscent of the old retired teacher, who once had a job similar to what my father had now -- I mean, then. Would my father really get old like that and retire? Would I?

The transformation of boy to old man is not as radical as that from living leaf to an intaglio on a fossil, but it's big enough. And it was the transformation to light and shadow, on today's hike, that formed the link.

This is drifting a bit from the starting point of this post. I'll get back to the theme next time.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Reunion with Desert Arroyos

BLM land near Soccoro, NM. It's hard to believe that I was hiking at San Juan mountain altitudes less than a month ago, near Ouray CO.

How could an outing along the Rio Grande possibly stack up well compared to hiking several thousand feet above a boutique mountain town that is visited by people from all over the world? Fortunately outdoor pleasure is not influenced all that much by sheer size. Also, this blog is dedicated to promoting a tacto-centric hedonic ethos of the outdoors versus the opto-centric obsessions of the mass tourist.

Here it is chilly most of the time, but I liked it except for the first day, when the cold wind was a bit unpleasant. (But hey, it's winter in New Mexico.) Besides, the unpleasantness just made our reunion with the arroyos of the desert more delicious.

I really appreciated one reader's comments about the under-rated outdoor pleasure of experiencing warm sun and cold air against the skin, simultaneously. That was even more the case on our first arroyo walk; we were camped on a windy ridgeline (to have line-of-sight to a cell tower)...

...and were relieved to jump into the first arroyo (dry wash, dry gully). Immediately I noticed the wind dying down and my black pants and shirt heating up.

I was flash-flooded with pleasant reminiscences now that Coffee Girl and I were back in arroyo-mode. The ridgelines have a sharp and harsh texture, which you might not notice walking; but put your hand down on the ground, with some pressure on it. A poor dog has to run on that dreadful stuff. This used to cause problems for my little poodle in the old days. (He decided to rest today.)

But we were foot-loose on the alluvium now and, oh, how dogs love that stuff! They have pads, you know, not hooves. As always, having a dog along enhances the pleasure because it functions as an extension of your own central nervous system; it makes you more sensitive to everything.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Frozen Tumbleweeds at the Four Corners

When winter really hits, there's nothing subtle about it, and I was running for my life now. As feared I hit snow near 7000 foot altitude around Monticello UT; in fact the Utah state highway snowplows were already working the road there. Let's face it: pulling a trailer in the snow is a fool's mission. I was relieved to get out of the snow by the time I was down to 6500 feet.

At Bluff UT, on the San Juan river, I was at the fork in the road: migrate from southwestern UT, using the Virgin and Colorado rivers, or use the Rio Grande in New Mexico. I chose the latter because I hadn't done it for years and I wanted to postpone going to the usual, hackneyed, warm spots in Arizona for as long as possible.

As always I looked forward to seeing ShipRock. It's a rival of Monument Valley, but not as popular. Monument Valley has been a photo cliche since John Ford's westerns of the 1940's. Why do people even go there and photograph it? But ShipRock has no park built around it, nor is there a campground or gift shop at its base. It has maintained its dignity, while everything else has sold out to the tourism industry. Besides, the geology is completely different.

But where was it? The sky was still stormy and visibility was poor. The temperature (in degrees F) and the wind (in mph) were both between 30 and 40. Frozen tawny tumbleweeds rolled across the deserted highway. Just then:

I had to smile. The Four Corners of the Southwest was far away. I was in the Atlantic, off the coast of Brazil on a wooden Man-of-War in the year 1804 or so. That is where the remarkable movie, Master and Commander, starts. The officer-of-the-watch thought he saw a ship in the fog bank. They beat to quarters, just in case. The captain, played by Russell Crowe, came to the bow and searched the fog with his brass telescope. Indeed, a deadly ship was espied, which the men named the Phantom.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Given the Keys to the City

When I was visiting Mark and Bobbie, of Box Canyon Blog fame, in Moab UT, I was surprised to learn how far back their familiarity with the region went. They were here when Edward Abbey was. They liked the area better than I did, so I tried to let their attitude rub off on me. But it wasn't easy. I had to pass through the town of Moab on my way south, hoping to beat the snow in Monticello UT; maybe I should stop in Moab to do laundry?

In tourist towns it's always wise to get one block off the main drag. A traveler always goes into a laundromat with some trepidation; it really is my least favorite part of traveling. But this place seemed good for some reason. Management was new, the machines were in good repair, and -- most astonishingly -- they weren't charging tourist prices.

A bicycle touring blog expressed it this way after visiting Yellowstone or Grand Teton national parks and the towns that service them: he felt like a chicken going through a modern poultry processing plant. That is just what I expected from Moab UT.

The owner of the store had been outside and saw my rig. On his own initiative he mentioned that he and his wife had an RV and sometimes desired a free and safe place to park when traveling. He told me that I could stay in their parking lot for the night if I wished. In all my years of traveling, that is the first time I received generosity like that. And in Moab of all places!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Great Laptop/Netbook Deal for a Traveler

Act fast if any of this pertains to you. November 12 is the last day!

How nice it was to be shopping for a new laptop when the old one isn't quite dead. What an energy hog the old laptop was, consuming 4 amps DC during normal operation. And I use it many hours per day! It's hard to find power consumption data on the internet or on the boxes at the stores since nobody really cares except a traveler who is running down his coach batteries. Fortunately I got some good numbers from tdhoch of RV Sabbatical, who has a Kill a Watt device for measuring power consumption in watts. (I use a resistor-based DC current sensor in the line between RV frame ground and the negative post of the battery.)

Going through a Target recently (blush) I noticed a superb deal on an 11.6 inch netbook by Acer, model Aspire One AO722-0473. You can't get it online at Target since they are using it as a loss-leader to drive the consuming masses wild and bring them into the store. It would have been an excellent deal at $300, the regular price, but it is only $200 until 12 November 2011. Unlike the shabby 15 day return policy offered by Walmart and others, Target offers a 45 day return policy. When it comes to electronics, the return policy is quite important.

I have transitioned over to it and love it. Obviously it is not meant for power users. I just need it for web browsing, typing this blog, light photo editing (Picasa), and word processing (Windows Notepad). I don't play computer games or stream videos, although it is supposed to be quite good at the latter. (By definition, a netbook lacks an optical drive.) The internet connection will usually be the weak link in the chain -- not the computer itself. Above all else, I want it to use little power.

And it does! It uses 1.1 amps DC (just under 13 watts) for standard web browsing. Just think how reducing your power consumption by this much reduces your needs for solar panels, generators, and batteries. As an added goodie, it was nice to finally get an electronic gadget that doesn't come with a 5 pound power brick.

It is small enough to easily carry to a wi-fi hotspot, but still has a full-size keyboard. I was led to worry for nothing about a lot of things by the tech reviews on netbooks. Those reviews were probably written by the digital equivalent of gearheads.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

More About Moab

It's hard to predict what a mesa is like when you see it from only one angle, say, from your campsite, or when you blast by it in a car. So the second day at our Moab campsite, we headed off to circum-ambulate the neighborhood mesa. It did not disappoint.

I hope I never outgrow the discomfort that comes from slot canyons, mine shafts, caves, and canyons, since it was this very discomfort that gets most of the credit for the effect that this canyon had on me, besides the usual credit that goes to the very act of walking.

There are far more famous photo icons of Moab (Monument Valley, etc.) than what was here, but it's always more fun to personally discover an un-famous area.

It surprised me how smooth the sandstone cliff faces were. They were 200-300 feet tall and quite vertical; but looked at from above, the cliff formed a circular reflector that made it easy to hear each car pass on a highway about a mile away.

When Coffee Girl and I retreated from the mouth of the canyon, the usual canyon-creepy feeling started to decline and I became relaxed. Although we've all heard echoes from cliffs I had to try out the acoustics here. The echo was the clearest and loudest that I've ever heard, enough so that it made me giggle.

Recall that famous scene, towards the beginning of Lawrence of Arabia, when Lawrence sings at the cliffs (Wadi Rum in Jordan). It was only the fact that I was male that kept me from ululating like the Arab women in the movie do.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lay's Potato Chips of Sandstone

A big part of the art of camping is stepping away from the 'looked over', and wandering amongst the 'overlooked'. The best way to do this is to camp where the scenery is subtle or mediocre in the immediate foreground, but more promising in the distance. Naturally that provides the incentive to go for a walk, right from the RV's door.

But you still go with low expectations. You have to try to be interested in what there is to see, and you have to look for ways to experience it beyond mere 'looking'. Usually, the surprises are on the positive side.

In that spirit Coffee Girl and I took off on a day that was supposed to be dreadful, but in fact, was delicious: what a luxury it is to leave the wide-brimmed sombrero at home, and welcome the sun's warmth onto my face, while enjoying the bracing chill.

We encountered the thinnest lamellas of sandstone that I've ever seen. They were fragile and nearly exfoliated.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Vexed by the Snowbird VolkerWanderung

As my travel-blog friends took off this morning I had plenty to exult over. If they hadn't been here in Moab, which they had a lot of experience with, I might have blown through town without even stopping. The area is best for tourists and vacationers, not full time travelers. A camper would have to love crowds, fees, and restrictions to feel comfortable here. It is also over-rated as a mountain biking mecca. There is too much loose sand in much of Utah.

So I deferred to Mark and Bobbie, resulting in superb locations and hikes. OK, I admit it: the scenery was 'breathtakingly beautiful,' but more for the topography than the "red" color. It isn't "red"; it's red-brown, terra-cotta, the same color as a cheap clay pot. Why do people make such a big deal of the color?

Off they went to southwestern Utah to warm up, while leaving me here, wondering about how to dignify my autumn migration by heading downriver, some river, any river. It's not as easy as it sounds.

Why not just grab a Rand-McNally and choose the most direct interstate highway? Folks, that's not how it's done, especially after rereading the first part of volume 1 of the abridged version of Arnold Toynbee's A Study of History. He gives a lot of emphasis to the clash between civilizations and the volkerWanderung of famous tribes through history. (Umlaut on the o.) My head filled up with romantic mush about the volkerWanderung of the snowbirds.

But it's not complete mush. A full-time traveler, who thinks of his lifestyle as a serious profession, needs to see a drama in his seasonal migration. That's a completely different mindset than a vacationer who is aiming for standardized, tourist-industry entertainment. How then can I do the best possible job at this, this autumn?

The cause of most of the vexation is that there are only three large rivers that head south in the Southwest; there is a lot of high altitude land between these rivers. Going to the Virgin River (near Zion and St. George UT) and then following the Colorado River south used to be my standard route. But it's hard to find something new.

Thus it was so pleasing this morning when Coffee Girl and I got into arroyo wanderung, something you just can't do in Colorado, since the streams there have water in them! We left right from the RV door and stumbled onto an interesting area. The best part of the hike was walking an arroyo up to its "source".