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Showing posts from 2021

Who Likes Damp Air in the Desert?

Sometimes I regret spending so little time near a coast. It is easy to say that, but in fact I don't care for extremely damp air, unless it happens to be in the desert, as is true this morning. The air felt freakish and delightful. What other conditions in different environments would have the same effect that today's damp desert air was having on me? I tried hard but couldn't think of anything.  As I drove to town, looking for something to do on a misty day, I went by a man walking his yellow lab. How long would this mist have to persist before that lab found a water puddle to splash in? And yet the dog seemed inspired by the mere dampness of the air. What an optimist!    

Real (Non-moto) Exploring in the Desert

At long last I finally had a chance to ride on a borrowed fat bike, with 4" wide tires. This was of interest because my 3" tires aren't wide enough to travel loose gravel dry washes (arroyos).  There were about five differences between the borrowed bike and my regular full-suspension mountain bike (with 3" tires). So I had to mentally screen out those differences, and try to focus on the fat tires themselves. The weight of the 4" tires did not seem like a big disadvantage.  You hear it often from reviewers that fat bikes make you feel like a 10-year-old kid again, since you have the freedom to go exploring. And it was true! Following trails, marked with brown carsonite signs, makes a person feel repressed. (That is not an advertisement for going anywhere and everywhere in the desert, and making ugly ruts.) Now I have to decide if three months per year in arroyo country justifies the expense and inconvenience of traveling with a second bicycle. There was a grou

Low-lifes Who Give Boondocking a Bad Name

It was a pleasant surprise to find that I had friendly neighbors in my camping neighborhood. Every year it seems easier to be interested in people's activities and interests, with the exception of couch-potatoing, motor-crazed yahooing, or music. But you know what they say about things that seem too good to be true... My luck had to run out on Christmas Day! I saw a camper with a rig similar to mine with one difference.  So I was curious about how it was working out for him. I never approach a camper's door. I stand 30 feet away and ask my question. If nobody comes out, it is a hint that I should move on. And so I did. But on the way out copper wire snagged up in my front bike wheel. As I paused to untangle the wire a fellow came out who perfectly fit the negative stereotype of 'boondockers', especially ones in low-cost rigs.  But I counted my blessings. He wasn't loud or threatening. He merely called me a dumbass and told me to stay on the road. Better yet, he was

The Ultimate Christmas Present for a Desert Snowbird?

  Somehow I don't think most snowbirds are enjoying Arizona today. It is windy and raining. They came here to look at palm trees or saguaros silhouetted against a red sunset, with the rest of the day being 'nice and sunny.' Well, they are not doing anything wrong by thinking like that, considering where they are coming from. But a non-tourist looks at things differently. The air was warm and damp last night. The dampness was not subtle. Therefore it was miraculous. We have already climbed into double digits! -- that is, 0.15" of rain. If Mother Nature keeps giving us Christmas presents like this, late winter will turn colorful. It has been a couple years since we had a decent flower season.  Ideally this photo would be a visual representation of freakishly soggy air.

Musical Surprises (For Me)

If you live long enough, there is no telling what you will experience. This one really amused me. My credentials as a pop music fan are pretty weak. I am old enough to remember the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan show. I was underwhelmed.  From time to time I liked somebody's pop music. But then the interest died pretty quickly. Really now, how many good male pop singers have you ever heard? Pound...pound...bang the shit out of it: naturally young males like that kind of music.  I was cleaning my music files recently when I got to the folder that I mooched from an RV friend.  I had low expectations and then, amazingly enough, a good singer appeared! And I had never heard of him. Perhaps you have already guessed. I am talking about Roy Orbison. I cackle with glee when he smoothly transitions from falsetto to baritone frequencies. YouTube has a lot of live performances but the studio recordings are much better of course -- except that they don't give the camera something to

Building Back Better at the Laundromat

  Many travelers dislike going to the laundromat more than just about any other chore. The other day I went into the laundromat and feared another price increase. But that didn't happen! I wonder if old-fashioned technology is getting in the way. Just think of making physical, mechanical adjustments to the money-taker to allow the next round of inflation. How retrograde! If the owner of the laundromat had switched over to a card-reader, it would possible to inflate just by manipulating software. There is almost no limit to how many increases you can have. Then again, maybe there is a limit. Cheapo customers (like me) would probably start over-stuffing the machines, thus leading to more breakdowns. And too many breakdowns could really make the laundromat-owner miserable. Another limitation is that many laundromats are using "eco-friendly" washing machines that use very little water. In a way, I sort of like that. But I wonder how it would work with an overstuffed machine.

No More x-doodle and x-poo Dogs!

At first I thought it was cute, making poodle-mixes. But as I keep looking for my next dog, it is weird how rare full poodles are, and how prevalent poodle-mixes are.  Why is it even necessary to mix a poodle with another breed? How can you beat shedless, fun, personable, trainable, and intelligent? And poodles come in three or four sizes and colors. And most doodles are too big for RVers. This time I want a little munchkin who can fit in a basket on my mountain bike. Of course the poodle-mixes don't get Barbie-doll haircuts and cropped tails, which makes them more appealing to many people. That is understandable. So why not just stop disfiguring poodles? I tell ya, the world of dogs is completely screwed up. And it is due to screwed-up humans. Beautiful, but why should grooming dominate the lives of dogs and their owners?  

The Reality of the Desert

As I get ready to move camp in the pre-dawn hours, the moon is almost full and the desert is bright. But I still can't walk to the driver's door without tripping on loose rubble. There is no soil in this gawd-forsaken wasteland. I always think of coyotes skulking around in the middle of the night. But even with a bright moon, how do they travel through the desert without loading up with chollas in their paws? They are dogs. And look how a domestic dog acts when it picks up a cholla on its lower leg or paw! How do burros make a living in the desert when they are truly wild, instead of mooching off of tourists? A burro is a large animal. How many gallons of water does it need every day? What does it eat -- cholla? A good appreciation of the brutal reality of desert is worth working at, but the public image of "beautiful sunsets in the desert" gets in the way.  

The Notion of Camper Solitude

The other day something unusual happened at my campsite. A human being approached my campsite, while asking a practical question, and talking friendly. It has been years since this happened. I actually felt "violated." Of course I also laughed at my own reaction. Why do "boondockers" have such a wariness about their fellow campers? Most rigs are not old wrecks. The campers look like bourgeois people who have normal jobs, pay bills, and obey the laws.  I have decided to do a better job of being friendly to other campers, this winter. There is nothing sacred about solitude and yet there seems to be a romanticism about solitude perhaps based on people's notions of Thoreau's "Walden Pond." (Did any of these people actually read the book?) Humans are gregarious, social animals. It is easy to be interested in unusual skills or activities that people have. For instance  one neighbor made handmade stringed instruments (guitars, mandolins, etc.) in the back

Rejuvenating the Soul in a Winter Storm

  What should a person do when Melville's "grey November of the soul" afflicts them? Religious emotionalism, a new love affair, psychedelic drugs, or political extremism are possibilities, as are milder forms of escapism. For some people, self-help (motivational) sermons might help. But for me, a video on Trail Dogs (a Dog's Tale) is what does the trick.

Cold Canyons in Southern Nevada

I've often wondered why one person likes one type of music, while another person likes a different type. Perhaps that issue has been studied and written about. But does anybody really want the issue reduced to a "known?" The same is true for scenery. I have long maintained a strong interest in shapes and contrasts, while the usual tourist attractions are only of mild interest to me. A perennial winner for me is a highly eroded canyon system in southern Nevada.  What erosion is capable of! Interesting, twisted, bizarre, creepy shapes that keep looking different every time the viewer changes his angle.  

Out of a Spaghetti Western

This autumn has been miraculously calm. I don't do a lot of small talk about the weather on this blog, but it is worth talking about how nice it is when weeks go by without wind. The desert is usually windy one or two days per week, and it is no fun. _________________________________ One of the funnest things on a mountain bike ride is bumping into some old wreck of a building, something that reminds you of a building in a spaghetti western. That happened recently near Overton, NV.  How about this old beauty? A local called it "the tradin' post." It was a duplex residence? Notice the fireplace:  I like the 'viga', the weathered wooden lintel above the window:  Outside there were men's and women's restrooms that looked like apostrophes from above: The northern tip of Valley of Fire is visible in the background. Of course it isn't the eye candy that matters most. It was the surprise factor, and I hope I haven't ruined that for the readers.  

Putting Myself in a Snowbird's Shoes

Every now and then, in the winter, I have trouble sleeping and wonder what is wrong. Then it hits me: I am too warm. Usually this problem can be solved merely by taking socks off. Isn't it funny what a finely tuned instrument the human body can be?! Except for occasional mistakes like this, it is easy to take it for granted that sleeping is so much better in winter than summer. Do snowbirds ever give winter credit for this? They think they have found heaven because they escaped winter. They forget how badly our recent ancestors slept in summer.  And now most American consumers set the thermostat at 72F and walk around the house in the same clothes, summer or winter. The house is closed off, and you breathe the same stale air 7 and 24 and 365. One of the advantages of camping is that you are dragged out of this heating/air-conditioning bubble. Before I get accused of making a pep-talk for winter, I admit that you don't need hard-core winter to sleep well -- you only need 'sh

Adjusting to Snowbird Ghettoes

For many people, the best thing about being a snowbird in the desert is weather. For me, it is the lack of bugs. What about the worst thing? It is probably neighbors. Winter is the only time in the year when I camp with other people in my viewscape and soundscape. There has been progress over the years. Many people have solar panels but there are still Neanderthals that use generators. Even lower are the people who use old-fashioned, open-frame, construction site, non-inverter generators. (Usually they have giant fifth-wheel trailers with license plates from ID or MT.) Then they hook it to a converter/charger that puts out a steady 13.5 Volts DC, which has to run all day to charge a battery. You can thank the geniuses in the RV industry for that. Why is it so hard to explain to newbies that they need a 'three stage' battery charger? A couple posts ago I reminded myself and others how useful noise-canceling headphones are. Perhaps we neglect to use them because of a small amount

When Pedaling Downhill Is Work

A mountain range in the Mesquite NV area offers a mountain biker a welcome relief from the tourism of a few miles upstream, closer to Zion. It's not that people are doing anything wrong up there, it's just that there are so many of them. Since it is so nice around here, what keeps people from realizing it? We are protected from the Zion hordes by a simple hangup that Utah tourists are prone to. Think of the cinematography of the movie, "The Wizard of Oz". The movie starts off in Kansas in black-and-white, not unusual in 1939. But when Dorothy's house is carried off by a twister and gets plopped down in the land of Oz, everything is in color.  It is exactly the reverse of that when a Zion-tourist gets swept down through the Virgin River canyon and is deposited in the grey world of Nevada. They are disappointed. I love the shapes and shadows of Nevada mountains. Let the red, tourist-attracting colors of Utah be damned.  It was a long climb up to a radio tower on th

When Visiting Town Is Actually Fun

Nothing pleases a person quite as much as making lemonade from a bunch of lemons. With that in mind, there is a way to turn the holiday rampage of motor-crazed yahoos in the desert to advantage. Since I was pretty close to town, I rode the mountain bike there. I hardly ever ride in towns anymore, so it was a treat. Mesquite's streets resemble the wide streets of Utah. They have dedicated bicycle trails and nice neighborhoods. It was a chance to test out a bakery along the way, a small pet adoption center, and buy some apples and bread. I have always been surprised how fun it is to knock around town and do the ordinary errands of daily life on a bicycle. Let's hope eBikes really catch on and more people do this. But how with they keep the eBike from being stolen in front of the grocery store?  On the way back to camp, I even got the pleasure of a ten-year-old boy who finds a new route or a shortcut.  For an old "roadie" like me, it was a reminder of how happy my body a

A Holiday "Parade" in the Desert Southwest

(This is a rant against motorsports in the desert. But first, a disclaimer: the vehicles themselves are quite versatile and lend themselves to use by mature and sane recreationalists, as well as farm and ranch work.  On mountain bike rides I frequently stop and have nice chats with such people.) On this Thanksgiving weekend, t he weather is perfect in the desert. The motor-crazed yahoos do not want to waste it. They were screaming by my campsite before the sun was up. It is strange how they travel in large groups or convoys, with American flags sticking up. Maybe they think they are on some sort of para-military "adventure" and they need compatriots for safety. And do they really enjoy eating each other's dust? But let's be fair: they could have been driving faster. I even imagined a slight politeness as they passed by. Some gave us a friendly wave. Did they really imagine that campers admire them or their machines? But most of all I noticed and appreciated that they

When Time Zones Mess With You

What time is it? You don't hear that question as much as you used to. But the time certainly gets confusing in one particular place: the route between St. George UT and Mesquite NV. St. George has become so overcrowded and nerve-wracking that I no longer spend much time there. Then you 'retreat to Mesquite' which is also booming, but it is less crazy than St. George. You travel through three time zones. They mess with your mind all the way. In summer the sequence would be 10 a.m., 9, 9. In the winter it would be 10, 10, 9. The only time zone that makes sense is Arizona time, God's Time. It usually takes me a couple days to get the phone, computer, and dashboard clock in the van to agree with each other, and I am tempted to be non-compliant with the Pacific Time Zone when I'm in Nevada. And what if you are camped near Canadians? Why don't they use a metric calendar and clock? Of course it is silly for a camper to pay any attention to "o'clocks". Why

Rose-Colored 'Glasses for the Ears

Although the daylight hours have been calm and comfortable, nights have been windy. Tonight was so bad I put the (trailer) stabilizers down. They seemed broken but are probably just jammed with sand and dirt. How long must you camp in this part of the world before you make it a habit to lubricate things?!  I also slapped on some noise-cancelling headphones and played some relaxing solo piano music, to drown out the screaming wind.  Was my dog scratching herself on the floor and causing the trailer to shake? No. So what was happening? Then I pulled off the headphones and was shocked at how windy and noisy it was. Being under relentless attack from the wind is no fun. The headphones instantly returned me to a peaceful world and a beautiful world, despite the trailer shaking some. Removing the headphones was as drastic as stepping out of a comfy winter cabin into a frigid snowscape. It is funny how we take some layers of protection for granted -- such as house insulation, hats & sungl

Shopping for a Visual Metaphor About Winter Darkness

Lately I have been posting about doing better with winter darkness. It seemed desirable to look for a visual metaphor on the internet. It was fun to shop around and try to find the perfect one. The visual metaphor needs to express how one's imagination during reading can take the mind into the great outside world, as an antidote to the closed-in, cloistered, depressed feeling a person can get during too many hours of darkness. Here is the best one that I found.  from Perhaps the photo should have had a cat looking out the window?  It would nice to think of the perfect musical metaphor for this same idea, but I can't come up with anything.

Revenge of the (Canadian) Snowbirds

Things are starting to get a little tense on the I-15 corridor. Any day now we could get our first wave of Canadian snowbirds, probably from places that line up with the longitude, such as Calgary. Must I put a disclaimer in this post that says something like, "But I really like Canadians?" (Well, I do like them.) But after two winters of being cooped up in the Great White North, it is possible they will act crazy. Let's face it: even under the best of circumstances, they are a wild and lawless people. It is impossible to get them to follow any rules and act like civilized human beings. (facetiousness warning.) So this year we might get lucky and they will act like a horde of college students invading a beach town on spring break. Or maybe they will act like Vikings landing on the shores of England in 900 A.D.  Soon they will be displaying their maple leaf flags in the American desert and arranging the rocks in little circles around chollas. Desert paradise as Canadian s

Mesa Country

  I should feel happy for people who visit red rock country and become wildly excited, but for me it isn't the color that matters so much. It is the camp-ability of the topography.  Mesas and plateaus are easy to camp on. Canyon bottoms are difficult to drive through, camp on, or get a wireless signal.  Crumpled mountains make for surprisingly few camping locations. And of course, mesas make for good dirt-road mountain biking.

Busting Open the Dark Box in Winter

It isn't a new idea in the world, but it might be the first time I ever put the idea into practice: visualizing a book rather than just reading it. What exactly is your brain doing when you read a book? It knows the meaning of each word, but that is only a partial step towards visualizing a sentence. You are still just mechanically rastering across the page. There is something dry and sterile and lifeless about it. It is eye-fatigue, but the mind stays bored. But what if you changed your job from a movie scriptwriter to the person responsible for "screenplay" or teleplay? They turn the sterile verbiage of the writer into tangible things that move and can be photographed in an interesting way. Perhaps somebody who has spent most of his life reading non-fiction doesn't really appreciate the importance of this verbiage-to-screenplay transition. Switching to fiction, things change. I happen to be reading Bernard Cornwell's "Saxon Tales" right now. Consider v

The Importance of Domesticity During Winter

Recently I was gearing up to handle camping during long winter nights. Coldness isn't the challenge where I camp. Neither is sogginess. But darkness is. At first I was considering adjusting the specific activities that occupied time during the dark hours. Perhaps that approach is upside-down, and what is needed first is an attitude adjustment. Then specific activities will flow from that attitude as its consequences.  In the past I have put a low importance on domesticity. Like many bachelors perhaps, I think of oppressive female fussiness when thinking of domesticity. It might help to raise my estimate of domestic arrangements, comforts, and economies during the long hours of winter. Animals snuggle in, during winter. They don't consider themselves too high and mighty to busy themselves with domestic comforts. An animal-like humility might be the essence of the change in attitude that would help the most.

There Are Red Sunsets and Then There Are...

  Normally I like to find uncrowded areas with lots of dirt roads for riding the mountain bike. But occasionally a scenery orgy is fun.

The Perfect Ice Cream to Finish the Meal

Over the years, the road trip movie has been a popular genre. They rightly emphasize personal growth rather than scenery. One that comes to mind is "City Slickers", made back in the 1990s and starring Billy Crystal. Do you remember that famous scene when they have a "shootout" over one guy's ability to choose the perfect ice cream to finish off any meal? An analogous approach works with travel experiences: choosing the perfect book, movie, or music that pairs up with a moving travel experience. Music is my choice. The travel experience in question is having an engine konk out on me, with only 26,000 miles on the odometer. (Bad crankshaft bearing.) Although a new engine was covered by the powertrain warranty, there was still plenty of angst. There were only a couple of the engines available in North America because of supply chain problems. It took 2 weeks of waiting for an engine to show up, but then the work got done pretty quickly. A New, Shiny, and Clean Eng

Bookends at Book Cliffs

It has been a long time since I have had this much drama in my RV travels. And once again it happened at the foot of Book Cliffs. What is it about this place? How can a person get good out of a disaster like needing a new engine at 25,500 miles on the odometer? Yes, it is covered by the powertrain warranty. Together with double digit inflation and supply shortages of all kinds, this is a sobering time. I needed a good way to kill time while waiting -- GM was making the waiting as miserable as possible by giving no tracking number for the engine shipment. My dog, Coffee Girl, and I go to the foot of Book Cliffs every morning and walk some of the trail system in fine autumn weather. I adopted her during the first drama at Book Cliffs, when my first dog (a miniature poodle) ran off because he was frightened by all the shooting going on just before a hunting season started. Since she is 15 now and has sarcoma (cancer) I guess she has seen both bookends of the Book Cliffs drama. When a b

On to the Next Project of Enjoying a Difficult Season

It seems funny to switch to a new project about enjoying a difficult season -- winter -- so soon after making a big project out of enjoying summer more. Perhaps the summer project worked well enough that it encouraged me. What makes winter difficult? It isn't the temperature or the clouds or the snow -- not for snowbirds, it isn't. The difficulty is the long hours of darkness.  Remember that the American Southwest has a higher latitude than the Texas coast or southern Florida. Phoenix is only slightly south of Atlanta, GA. The easy answer to too many hours of darkness is to sleep more. Yes, animals do sleep more (and better) in cool weather, but there are limits to that trick.  Recently I was watching a video by Jonna Jinton, a young woman who spends the winter in northern Sweden, so her credentials are similar to an Alaskan. She was probably quite correct when she recommended not trying to sleep too much. Her point is even more important for an oldster. Campers in small RVs,

The Romance of Real Winter Camping

Now that I've fallen to the level of an armchair traveler, I might as well make the best of it. There are videos about guys camping in big tents -- big enough to walk around in -- in deep snow.  My favorite videos show the tent with no floor. The guy tromps around inside in his snow boots. You hear the crunching of the snow with every step. A wood stove is crackling away inside the tent.  Smoke pours out the chimney tube that exits a special hole in the tent wall.   Then he walks over to his cot. A huge fluffy sleeping bag is piled up on it. And his dog is snuggling in the bag. The dog gets a pet from the man and looks up at his man. The dog has an aura or halo of contentment and coziness. My eyelashes are fluttering by now. Compare this scene to the hackneyed look of an RV snowbird in Quartzsite, AZ. There is almost no romance or adventure to what they are doing. The trouble is that the romance evaporates when you start thinking about the inconvenience of burning wood, taking yo

Healthy-mindedness in Autumn

  It cannot be repeated too often that the greatest thing about rain is how it makes you feel after the sun comes out and the mud starts to dry. Of course this is only true on one level: I don't mean to suggest that an individual's subjective feelings are more important than the survival of every living thing in the world because of the rain. Somewhat analogous to that wonderful after-rain feeling is what happens in autumn. I took my dog out for a walk today, where we got a great view of cliffs and mountains in two directions. More importantly, the air was so pure, cool, and crystalline. Unbelievable. No smoke. And walking didn't make me warm, as it usually does. I walked around like a joyful idiot, soaking up the sunlight and feeling totally at peace with the world around me. Summer is almost worth it if it helps you feel like this. We went up to the mesa in the loaner car from the dealership. It is a passenger sedan. I haven't been in one of those things for years. I