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Showing posts from 2019

The Truth About Arizona Winter Camping

RV wannabees love to be told what they want to hear. (How did the lyric go in that old Simon and Garfunkel song? "A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest...") And you know what that is, for Arizona desert camping.

Now let's show you that it isn't always like that!

Helping Somebody on a Project

This isn't the first time I have helped somebody on their camper (RV, rig, etc.) But it is the biggest project in which I played mentor. I thought it would make it smoother to also be the 'student.'

It really is a fascinating challenge for me. Perhaps a parent would dismiss my use of the word 'fascinating' because I am just doing to another adult what he has been doing to his child for years!

Obviously I will not bore the reader with a blow-by-blow account of microscopic "practical" details. What is of interest is how all of this bears on the human condition.

1. Being helpful in the right way. A mentor sometimes accomplishes most of what they are ever going to accomplish by simply informing the student that something can be done. Sometimes it is enough to make them feel confident, without getting down 'into the weeds' of microscopic details. Furthermore the mentor must be careful not to foster dependency of the part of the student: help them get star…

Storm at Sea, in the Arizona Desert

I was furious with myself. Why hadn't I pointed the bow of my trailer into the storm! The wind was shifting to the "sou'west" in a few minutes, when heavy rain was supposed to hit.

And then there was a lull in the rain, so I ran outside and got hitched up as quickly as possible. Now I can turn a circle on flat desert gravel, in order to get the perfect angle. 

I have to smile at this. I am reading Abulafia's "The Boundless Sea", about the history of oceans, or rather, the history of man's relationship with those oceans. And here I am: bracing for a storm at sea -- in the Arizona desert.

On one level it is enjoyable and satisfying to make a connection like this. But it is also humbling to think how timid and wimpy a modern man can be, compared to our ancestors just a couple generations ago. My own grandfather worked as a cabin boy in the Baltic Sea when he was 14. My father was on an LST in the south Pacific during World War II when he was eighteen. And…

Most Snowbird Boondockers Would Be Happier Elsewhere

Lately I have had a chance to observe a group of people I am not used to. I am not even sure what to call them, but they seem to be a group of boondockers who spun off of the Van Build group in Parker, AZ. I am here to help a friend finish his van.

It has been interesting to watch these people and wonder why they are "dispersed" camping on top of each other? Why do they seem to enjoy morning and late afternoon group meetings? Why don't they get going in the morning before the wind starts blowing? Why are they so uninterested in outdoor recreation? Why is music noise unregulated but dogs are strictly regulated?

They seem to think desert camping is the moral equivalent of spring break at Ft. Lauderdale, for college kiddies.

Perhaps we don't need to think that hard. They are here because of the price and the price alone.

I hope they get an opportunity someday to do something that fits their interests better. If they could afford it, they would be happier in a large metropo…

Whatever Happened to the Teacup Purse Dog?

I was checking out of the hardware store the other day, when 
I noticed something rather strange on the counter.

Apparently it normally conveyed itself in the woman customer's purse. But the woman thought it needed to relax or something, so she let it walk around on the counter.

The woman told me I could pet the beast if I wanted to. I ungraciously declined. Then the hardware store checkout lady started telling me about bearded dragons, about how friendly they are, and how they cuddle on your pillow at night with you.

I remained unconvinced. But I admit that the beastie was rather personable, as dragons go. Still, I hope this isn't the latest and greatest fad. I say, bring back the teacup poodle or Yorkie.

Something Actually Improved With an "Upgrade"

Last post I was wondering how I could be a contented Kindle-for-PC user on my Windows 7 laptop for years and years; then I foolishly "upgraded" to Windows 10, only to find that the Kindle-for-PC program does not work reliably.

But I am not surprised. Think how many years we have been bothered by "updates" and "upgrades."  Then we find that little if anything has actually gotten better. It's as if updates and upgrades are nothing but a phony "Full Employment Act" passed by Congress to guarantee jobs for software geeks.

And yet, there are exceptions. It took me a month to learn that Android 9 offers an amazing improvement over Android 7: Android 9 allows you format the micro-SD chip as simulated "on board" (internal) memory, so you needn't run out of memory ever again, on your phone. 

What an improvement this is! And why didn't I learn this from the tech reviews by vaunted experts?

On Android 7, I was always going to Settings/&qu…

Goodbye Amazon Kindle, Hello Kobo

This practical post will probably only interest readers who have had trouble reading eBooks on their Window 10 machines.

I was a satisfied eBook reader for years on my Windows 7 laptop. I downloaded a program, "Kindle for PC," onto my laptop, which enabled me to read eBooks from Amazon as well as from other sources, if I downloaded the eBooks with the Kindle format.

(Thus I spared myself the need for a separate Kindle gadget. One-application gadgets just bring too many hassles into my life.)

But the Kindle-for-PC program would not work right (*) on my new Windows 10 machine. (And yes, I was careful to opt out of S mode, since it is meant to enslave the consumer to the Microsoft Store.) 

I would have been willing to download the Kindle-for-PC program from the Microsoft Store if it had been available, but it wasn't.

I suspect a pissing contest between these two tech giants. Each wants to be at the "top of the food chain" and in a position to dictate terms to a mere &…

Why Do Snowbirds Still Use Generators?

There really is no need for generators when dry camping/boondocking in the Southwestern desert in the winter. And yet, they show up every winter, and lower the quality of the camping experience. Why should this be so? 

1. Do the "practical" bloggers and vloggers make solar panels sound so complex that they scare people off? What is so complex about buying a self-contained "solar suitcase," setting it out on the ground to track the sun, and attaching the alligator clips to your battery clips?

2. Even easier yet, most people could upgrade their converter/charger so that 45 minutes per day of generator usage would be good enough; they wouldn't need to run it for hours. 

If their RV has a Progressive Dynamics converter/charger, they need only buy a "Charge Wizard" module for a few dollars. It plugs into the base unit to make it function as a proper "three stage" converter/charger that puts out over 14 volts DC, to quickly charge the battery.



The gods are playing tricks on me for adding a second pair of stabilizers to my trailer, so that I could tolerate more of the blue northers Utah was getting in October.

The result of course was two weeks of freakishly calm weather here, near Lake Mead. I shake my head in disbelief, but 'not getting my money's worth' is a small price to pay for weather more perfect than I expect to ever see again, at this location.

So I celebrate the occasion by taking my dog out to the edge of the canyon system at sunset every night. What do you do when you've seen it all before? Remember the progression of chapters in Thoreau's "Walden:" at some point he moved on to night-time experiences and sounds near the pond.

Tonight I was walking back from the overlook when I heard the honking of an airborne platoon of geese, flying over the canyon system. That brought a poignant sigh to my face because it seemed to be the perfect sound at this place and time: the autumn migration of…

The Overton Window

I was having breakfast at McDonald's. It was only 20 minutes after sunrise, but already, the sun was so bright that it was hard to read the smartphone. I had been doing a halfway decent job of ignoring the horrible sun.

Suddenly there was the quiet -- but affirmative -- hum of an electrical motor. I was shocked to see solar screens roll down the large expanse of tinted windows that ring the McDonald's.

Down the solar screens came, while my jaw was dropped halfway to the floor. When the motors had accomplished their job, they shut down.

It was like heaven behind those screens. If there is anything in the Southwest that epitomizes kindliness and mercy, it is a solar screen. Suddenly I was a disciple of Dr. Pangloss (aka, Leibniz) and believed we lived in the best of all possible worlds, and that a universal and benevolent Providence bestowed Divine Grace on each creature in the universe.

Perhaps the reader has seen motorized solar screens before. But it was the first time for me.…

Which Veterans Deserve the Most Honor?

This year, let's skip my typical oration for Veteran's Day, and instead, ask which (contemporary) veterans deserve to be honored the most.

There are so many to choose from. Syrian and Yemeni veterans certainly belong at the top of the list. But I suppose Afghan veterans are the greatest heroes of all. They defeated the Soviet Empire, and have fought the American Empire to a standstill for 18 years. If anybody deserves to be honored, it is a fighter who takes on a foreign invader who has more expensive weapons and all the other advantages.

How does an English-reader really appreciate what the heroes of Afghanistan have gone through? I am aware of a book by Eric Margolis about the interminable wars in that part of the world. But it would probably be nice to find something more contemporary.

I suppose it is possible to come up with something, after a lot of digging on the internet, and maybe some unsuccessful purchases of eBooks. 

If any reader has a suggestion, let me know.

Why No Emoji for "Bullshit?"

Some people do get enjoyment from visiting Native American petroglyphs, but I am not one of them. You could say the fault is mine. But it would help if the whole subject was stripped of its sanctimoniousness, Noble Savage romanticism, and the pop-cultural baggage of the 1960s. Then I could look on it the way you look on other ancient writing systems.

Wikipedia had a good article on the history of writing systems. By the way, don't be scared off of the topic because you confuse it with linguistics. Linguistics articles are horrendously technical and impossible to understand.

It is easy to believe it was a huge step upward for civilization when written symbols went from picturing tangible things or numbers to conveying ideas or the sounds of a spoken language (which can then convey ideas.)

So the topic is inherently interesting, given a chance. But rather than look backward, perhaps we should consider the significance of a new contemporary writing system, the emoji.

My new phone has An…

Children of a Lesser God

I come through southern Nevada every autumn, it seems, and pay homage to a couple eccentricities of the land. There is a pseudo-cliff dwelling that I drove to, at the beginning of my RVing career. It is still here. The dry wash is loose gravel, so it is surprising that I made it with the van and trailer, way back then. But today I used the mountain bike.

Back then, my "discovery" was unplanned, so I fluttered my eyelashes over it, and honored it by building a fire, and watching the shadows of my hand walk around the ceiling of the "cliff dwelling."

By then, I had decided that cliff dwellings of the Native Americans bored me to death, when they were made into a tourist trap. That was part of the reason why is was so surprising to enjoy "my" cliff dwelling.

How lucky I was to experience something like this hole in the cliff! I was in the last generation to be able to do so. Today a newbie RVer would expect to be told exactly where it is and everything about i…

The Wolf-Light Comes

There must be people who learn new habits (and unlearn old habits) easily, but I'm not one of them. Since nights are longer now, it would be helpful to get in the habit of wearing a headlamp when leaving the camper at night.

In darkness, it isn't even possible to lock the door when leaving the camper. At dawn recently, I was doing the same stupid thing again: fumbling with the keys to feel for the shape of the door key. I simply couldn't feel it. I was furious. 

Perhaps it was the anger that made me do it, but I held the keys up towards the dawn sky, and much to my surprise, the silhouettes were clear. Why hadn't I thought of this trick, before?

Strange. It was almost "pre-dawn." A poet would probably call it the time of day when dawn was still just a hope or promise. And yet there was enough light to see the shape of the keys.

What a great way to start the day, eh?: with an "authentic natural experience." I use the term generously  -- perhaps too gener…

The Decline and Fall of Southern Utah

I wasn't expecting it, but there it was. A long aluminum ladder slid out of a pickup truck in front of me on I-15 near St. George, UT. It slid fast on the pavement, so there would be several seconds before I could run over it. But what if it flipped up onto the windshield! With any luck, it would stay one lane to my left, and I wouldn't run over it at all.

But pavement isn't completely uniform, so the sliding ladder was moving over towards my lane. I slowed down and moved to the right. No disaster occurred.

How fitting and proper it was that this near-accident involved construction equipment near St. George, where half the economy is in the building trades.

Everything I will say about St. George is colored by the fact that I knew the town before the population explosion started in the first years of the new millennium. Today, only the landscape is still recognizable.

I doubt that it is much of a housing bargain anymore, unless you are retiring from a giant city, probably on th…

Progress for Travelers Receiving Packages

Recall the question I once posed to a couple RVers at a laundromat: which is the worst form of hell, 1) spending eternity using or working at an RV dump, or 2) using a public laundromat.

It was unanimous that #2 would be the ultimate hell.

In recent years a third option has crept in: receiving a package from Amazon. The difficulty arises from Amazon not letting you choose to have your package shipped to a General Delivery address at a post office. Most of the time they use UPS, but you can't count on it. 

Once they were on a "hot streak" with the UPS, so I addressed the package to the poorly manned service counter at the local UPS warehouse. Amazon saw their opportunity, so they sent the package via the US Postal Service. Hence it was rejected at the UPS warehouse.

I bring you good news! I just got back from GNC, the vitamin/nutrition/health fad store at a local mall. Just last week they began the service of being an official "Amazon Hub Counter."

Do not confuse thi…

A Storm on the 'Sagebrush Sea'

Aren't "blue northers" supposed to happen in Texas? Wow, we had one come through last night. No wonder this town is called "Hurricane." Perhaps we should adopt the Spanish word for storm, 'la tormenta.' Experiencing this thing at 10 p.m. reminds me to stop complaining about howling winds on a typical afternoon in the Southwest. 

Last night, the wind noise and trailer-rocking made it difficult to sleep. Even a little scary.

It was humbling, too.  Lately I have gotten hooked on Bernard Cornwell's "Saxon Tales" series of historical fiction, taking place at the time of Alfred the Great, when the island of Britain was torn between Christian Anglo-Saxons and pagan Danes. Every now and then, the main character is forced by circumstances to backslide into "Viking mode."

Sea adventures and daring-do tend to make me flutter my eyelashes. This is a bit exaggerated with me because my grandfather came from a Baltic island of Sweden, served time …

World's First Iconic War Video?

How many people around the world saw the video of Syrian civilians pelting the (withdrawing) American vehicles with rocks and vegetables? Did those viewers have the same reaction I did? At first, it was pure schadenfreude.

I wondered if that video would be looked back on, someday, as iconic, the 'moment' when Earth started rebelling against the American Empire.  What was it that Emerson said about the Americans at Concord bridge, 'here once embattled farmers stood, and fired the shot heard 'round the world?' 

The Syrians were doing something better than firing at the American "heroes", which would have been counter-productive. The Syrians were expressing disdain and mockery. Much of the world may feel the same way about American "heroes" immured in their expensive military toys -- there is something cowardly and bullying about interfering in the affairs of small countries that are none of America's business.  

There have been iconic photographs…

Defeated by the System

I consider it a real defeat that I finally joined one of the so-called Unlimited Data (postpaid) plans offered by my wireless provider. So much for my self-image as a guy who beats the System. My monthly bill will go up by 80% compared to my earlier pre-paid (16 GigaByte) data plan. 

What is my excuse for debauching myself with an "unlimited" post-paid plan? Too often I got de-prioritized in the pre-paid plan. We were second-class wireless citizens who were too often sent to the "back of the line." In fact the internet had become unusable in many locations. The postpaid customers were sent to the "front of the line," supposedly.

If you pay any attention to discussion forums -- and it's a good idea not to -- people harp endlessly about how the "unlimited" data plans are not really unlimited, because your service starts slowing down after 22 GigaBytes of data have been consumed.

Well let's hope so! That is the real problem with the internet t…

Pleasures in a New Phone and Computer

It is human nature not to appreciate the difficulties of anybody else's job. I bought a new phone recently. And once again I am rolling my eyes at how underwhelmed I am by the work of the "IT" departments of the world, that is, by software engineers, search engine designers, and computer geeks in general.

In the last month I have "upgraded" from an Android 7 phone to an Android 9, and from a Windows 7 laptop to a Windows 10. In both examples, there was a bit of fun in learning a new system. 

But real progress is not obvious. It is harder to find what you are looking for, in a new system. What REAL improvement could they possibly come up with that would overcome the disadvantage of struggling to find things?! Most of the vaunted improvements in software or operating systems are of the same type as switching your socks in drawer A and underwear in drawer B.

But there are compensations. It's great fun to obliterate the "bloatware" that the manufacturers…

Paradise Lost (Part 2)

It can be very satisfying to visit an area, neglected in the past, and make it work, this time. Green River was on my list this time. (I purposely avoided the shit-show over at Moab.) And indeed, it was working for me.

Then I was alarmed by gunfire, too close for comfort. It became frightening. In all my years of camping I've never felt physical danger, until today.

After a few seconds of panic, I realized that a nearby cliff was echoing the sound and making it appear worse than it was -- perhaps. The shooters seemed to be on the other side of a small knoll, perhaps a quarter mile away. But which way were the maniacs shooting?

I got in the van to check them out. Indeed, they were on the south side of a knoll shooting parallel to the road -- north -- and over my trailer! The bullets were probably 30 feet or more over my trailer, so I wasn't that close to being declared collateral damage.

A half dozen weapons were being used. One of them sounded like a shoulder-mounted cannon. How c…

(Autumn) Paradise Lost!

I wonder how many RV wannabees look at the pretty scenery on blogs and vlogs, and then flutter their eyelashes about "Living the Dream" someday? To their eyeballs, the RV lifestyle must seem like an escape from reality.

But it isn't. It might be an "alternative reality" in a "parallel universe," but it is not an escape from reality. 

The most mordant illustration of this fact happens the third weekend of October in Utah. The kiddies get a school holiday on the same weekend that deer hunting season starts. Remember that red-state Utah is fond of guns, ATVs, and making babies.

This weekend always causes my heart to sink. The weather and scenery are perfect in Utah in October -- and a cynic would say that 'things that seem too good to be true, usually are.

Actually, it would be better to say that things can be perfect, here and there, for a  short while. And that is what happens until the third weekend in October. If you were considering visiting M…

I Tawt I Taw a Pootie-Tat

What would happen if I encountered a pootie-tat on a mountain bike ride? Would my dog be foolish enough to run towards or away from the mountain lion? (She chased a black bear once.) But I've never seen a mountain lion in the wild. That's not to say that one hasn't seen me. I do carry a knife. 

Would I have time to take a photo of it? Can't you see me calmly fumbling with getting the camera out of the handlebar bag, removing the lens cap, turning the camera on, and stepping down through the menu system, while the bright sun makes the screen illegible? Then I would have to remind the cat to smile. 

In the meantime, this photograph is the best I can do. Can you spot the head and face of the cat?

The kitty is looking at something in the reef. Reefs are indeed one of most wonderful geological and topographic features of Utah, despite what the tourism industry says about those stupid arches.

The Benefits of a Freak Cold Front

After a lot of unnecessary worrying, the dreaded cold front has vanquished Utah. Actually it has turned out rather nice. I "retreated" to Green River to warm up. But Honour required me to first find a legal loophole: like a good general I am superstitious about retreating. But making a small loop back to where you were recently is different from "retreating."

So that is what I did. Rather than sit in the trailer and freeze -- or worse yet, deign to use a heater or plug into shore power -- I am spending most of the day in the driver's seat of my van, with its huge windshield facing the sun! What a great feeling it is to be warmed by the sun, when you are surrounded by chilly air!

This afternoon I am being reminded of the calm euphoria and healthy-mindedness that comes from being able to enjoy a sunny day. 

Postscript: last night was the coldest one. It works wonders to shake/roll the shoulders to warm up, when you are sedentary at a desk. Also, I filled a nalgen…

Have We Seen the Future of the 21st Century?

Much of the destiny of the 20th Century was laid out in 1919, when the Versailles Treaty was worked out. Wouldn't it be a strange coincidence if September 2019 had the same significance for the 21st Century? That is the month of the successful attack against the Saudi oil facility by drones and missiles.

The story fell off the "front pages" after only a week. But what is on the "front pages" should not concern anyone who tries to understand the world. 

Perhaps September 2019 marked the end of the American hegemony of the post-World-War-II era, and the beginning of the Chinese hegemony of the 21st Century.

The attack showed the obsolescence of the U.S. military establishment. It showed the future of military conflict, dominated by inexpensive (but electronically advanced) drones and missiles. And in turn, whoever is best at manufacturing and selling these drones and missiles will dominate the world.

China has a huge advantage at this kind of domination because it is…

Surprises in the Backcountry

There is a nice kick to starting a post with only vague notions about the title, theme, or photos. I never begin with a blank slate. But there is enough uncertainty that nature becomes a problem to solve. And surprises happen.

The first time I was at today's location, many years ago, I arrived with only vague notions about something special being here. I had to find it, and when I did, it took my breath away.

How fortunate I was to experience this feeling. Does that opportunity even exist anymore? I am referring to the modern addiction to "researching" everything on the internet before you go there, so when you actually go, there are no surprises except perhaps the disappointments.

When I see tourists driving up at high speed, stepping out of the car, taking a couple snapshots, and driving away in a hurry, I wonder why they didn't just stay home and look at postcards on the internet. Please don't tell me "There's no substitute for being there," because…

Pulling a Trick on the Tourists

There was a time, not so many years ago, when you could camp all by yourself on public lands. But it has gotten a lot harder to do this, thanks to several trends: more people, #vanlife, solar panels, better internet in rural areas, and -- my least favorite -- the blabbermouths on social media and internet blogs.

So you must get more shrewd and ruthless in order to avoid the noisy, tourist masses. I seem to be succeeding at this, at the moment. 

It helps to put yourself into the mindset of the big-city weekend warrior and mass tourist, and then deliberately develop proclivities quite the opposite of them. For instance, mass tourists from the East or the Northwest want land to be green. (What philistines!) They are easy for me to avoid. I like parched, brown/grey BLM land, rather than green forests.

Mass tourists ooh and ahh over red rocks. Red is a nice color, but really!, is it necessary for outdoors fun?

Mass tourists ooh and ahh over large and freakish verticalities. But a mountain bike…