Skip to main content


Showing posts from November, 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 respon

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 wer

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 pr

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.

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.)

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 ad

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.

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 G

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.          

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

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 engage

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 a

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

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

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 proc

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

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

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.

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