Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Hi, I'm Rich, and I'm a Planner.

It turns out I'm really bad at just wandering, taking it one day at a time.  Really really bad.

I have the first 11 days of the next venture pretty well scoped out; I'm indeed headed for Cascade, ID. I'm staying at a commercial RV resort which is located on a riverbank and a few minutes walk to the town center, with some restaurants, bars, stores, etc.  Small western city.  Like, really small. 2010 census shows 939 people.  Industry: tourism.

I'll drive pretty much straight through to get there: Flagstaff AZ, Mt Carmel Junction UT (right near Zion,) Orem UT, Burley, ID. Then 7 days of hanging out by the river.

I'm driving through some real pretty country, some of which I've visited or gone through before, and some is new.

I'm stoked.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Sunday morning

It's early on a lazy Sunday, and it's gonna be hot.  So I got a few outdoorsy things done and have retreated for a while.  I'm looking at maps. The great paper-format Benchmark maps that I just got, and, of course, Google maps.  And mentally planning possible routes.

I know, I know!  I said I'd be more into wandering.  But I enjoy looking at maps, and routes.  It prolongs the pleasure of the trip.

Along these lines, I want to give a big shout-out to GasBuddy.com   I'm not sure what their business model is, but I sure hope it keeps them in business!   They're great for finding the cheapest gas where you are, or where you'll be tonight.  But today I discovered that they'll also plan a route around your need to refill the tank.  You give them Point A and Point B, you tell them what mileage you actually get, and how big your tank is.  And they use Google to find a route, tell you where you'll need to stop for gas, and point you at the cheapest gas in that location.  Very handy if you happen to need to gas up in Ely, NV.  Or wherever.

While poking around, reading reviews, I found myself looking at commercial rv campgrounds in, of all places, Cascade ID.  And a light bulb went off, which will amuse any more experienced RV traveler. If I stayed a month, for example, at one of the commercial rv parks there, I'd spend about $300, plus electricity.  But virtually nothing on gas.  I'd be money ahead!

Nothing could be more different from the BLM and NFS camping I've been doing.  I have no idea what these places are really like (although I do like the idea of the one that serves cinnamon buns on Saturday morning!) This is close to my original idea: get out of the heat.  If I stayed a week at one of these places, it would cost $174 (electric included.)   I'd still be money ahead of moving every 2-3 says. Point is, and it's pretty obvious, that there's a tradeoff between driving cost and camping cost.

I don't mean to get ahead of myself.  Maybe these places are all booked up a year in advance.  Maybe I'd hate them.  But there's a whole model of summer travel that I really haven't considered seriously, and I think I should.

Saturday, May 28, 2016


I already have Wyoming, Arizona, and New Mexico

I've only been home about a week and I'm getting itchy feet again.  Before I left, the guy who's been doing maintenance work on the Beast had some dire warnings: be prepared to put a new roof on it, or trade it!  The new roof in question would be about $4500-5000.  Ouch!

That was unsettling, and somewhat surprising.  I spent a fair amount of time on the roof caulking around vents and the a/c etc, and I thought the roof would need re-coating, but replacement?!

So a couple days ago I looked around and found an RV service place with good reviews not too far away from me.  Took it in, just said I'd been getting some conflicting advice about roof maintenance, and wanted to see what they had to say.

With no prompting from me, the tech said, "The roof sure needs some love, but nothing like a replacement."  So for about $800, he's gonna replace a cracked vent, replace some insert moldings, and re-coat the roof with the classic white goop.  "That'll take care of you!"

Needless to say, I feel much better!

It also has an appointment at Buck's the end of next week to replace the master cylinder; they'd said that would need to be done when I got back.  I don't question it when Buck makes a recommendation.

Next trip at the moment I'm looking at about a month starting June 10.  The maps give you an idea.   The heat of the summer is right around the corner here in Tucson, and places like this

Bear Lodge Campground near Aladdin WY
are looking pretty good.  It's pretty near (27 miles) Devil's Tower national monument.

I'm trying not to plan this trip too far ahead. I'm going to try to come closer to "wandering" this time, once I get in the general neck of the woods I want. North. Cooler. And probably buggier than Tucson, which is why I was real interested in the latest Consumer Reports recommendations on insect repellant.

The June 10 date is kinda arbitrary, as is the one-month time block.

I started the conversation with AAA about reimbursing me for the road service call they weren't able to make at the beginning of the last trip.  The last bit of that business will be getting a new valve-stem extension on the tire which went flat.

I think that's it for now ...

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Let's do the numbers

Not surprisingly, I left Rockhound pretty early, and had an uneventful drive to Tucson.  I'll have more to say about the trip, and future plans, in a while.  I filled the rig up with gas on my way home, and when I took it in to the storage lot I filled up the propane tank.  Thanks to the indispensable Road Trip app, here's the numbers for this 17-day trip:

1459 miles
169 gallons of gas
average mpg 8.65
average price per gallon $2.087
total gas cost $351.91
average miles/day 81.1
fuel/day $19.55
fuel cost/mi $0.241
miles/tank of gas: 476
propane: $16.37

These numbers are all various re-workings of the same basic info: miles, gas tank size, fuel purchased. But this is not:

CO2 emitted:  3272 pounds

As usual, my expenses on the road other than fuel and campground fees (not included in this) are pretty minimal.   The biggest expense was the $200 road service bill for the tire stem; this week I'll start wrangling with AAA about reimbursing that.  A couple of stops for groceries, a few restaurant meals, and that's it.

The major resource issue, and this is not new, is data.  My Verizon hot spot ("Jet Pack") provides 10 gigabytes of data per month.  This sounds like a lot, but I run through it pretty quick.  I get unlimited data on my ATT-powered phone, but just on my phone, and just where I have a good strong ATT signal.  I need to think about this, particularly for longer future trips.

More later.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Grand Finale!

Last night on the road... home later today.  I got up in the night to go to the bathroom and guess what? No water.  When I turned on the RV pump I got water from my storage tank just fine: it was the external water connection that wasn't working.

I got my trusty Channel Locks and went outside in the moonlight to see what's what.  No ex-river guide is ever without his Channel Locks!

All the essentials ... 

 Undid the water connection to the Beast and checked.  No water coming out the standpipe.  Someone has a job to do here at Rockhound later today.  It won't matter to me: I'm outtahere, and I can do anything I need using the water in my tank.  But needless to say, it was hard to get back to sleep.  So: here I am at about 4AM telling you all about it.

It may be a while before my next post.   I'll have some summary thoughts after I get home.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Little things II

In camp at Rockhound, May 20:

Datura.  Remember Carlos Castañeda?

Our old friend opuntia


Yucca (?)

And how can one guy make this much mess?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Rock Hound

I'm set up at Rockhound, which by now is very familiar territory.  This is the same spot I had in March: number 15, right up at the top of the park.

Yesterday was quite a day.  I left Valley of Fires, not knowing exactly where I'd wind up.   My first stop was a place called Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, managed by the BLM.  Here's a YouTube video about this site. I have a reasonable acquaintance with rock art from my river guide days up in Utah, so I was curious about this site.  The reviews I'd read mentioned that the site had some RV spots, including two with electric hookups, so i thought maybe I'd just spend the day there looking at petroglyphs.

Didn't.  The two RV sites were occupied; I hung out for a while to watch and have a snack, and I tend to think the occupants of those sites were workers engaged in building a new visitor center.  The rest of the area was essentially a parking lot with picnic tables.

The petroglyphs were, as they always are, fascinatingly obscure.  I wasn't fascinated enough, I guess, to spend a whole day there.  And the weather was beginning to close in, so I moved on. Here some snaps of what they're like:

I had my eyes on staying at a New Mexico state park in Las Cruces... but it turns out it doesn't support camping of any kind, let alone RV's.  I was considering just pushing on another hour or so and arriving a day early at Rock Hound, but just then the severe weather alert on my phone went off, and some ugly looking radar images suggested I hole up somewhere quick.  Walmart, where else?!

Just as I got settled there and checked with Customer Service, the heavens opened!

I watched the show and followed the progress of the storm system on the radar app, made some dinner, read, and crashed.  This morning (Thursday) I drove a little over an hour to Rockhound, and here I'll be until I leave for Tucson tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Travel day

It's time to leave the Valley of Fires and continue southering.  ("Northering" seems to be a word, so why not?) Today a short hop down to an interesting-looking petroglyph site near Tularosa, and then on down to Rockhound state park just south of Deming for a couple of days.  Perhaps a stop at the White Sands Missile Range museum along the way.  Saturday, a long-ish haul almost due west for home in Tucson.

As expected, the weather has been a factor the last few days.  Cool, windy, cloudy, intermittent rain. Occasional thunder.  For this solo traveler, that means lots of time curled up with a good book and NPR or music.  Having unlimited electricity and water is so great!

I don't have unlimited data for internet access via the laptop, but I do have unlimited ATT data for the phone.  That meant that I spent almost all of my on-line time on my iPhone.  Today I have enough data left in my plan, which provides 10 gigs a month, to use the laptop a bit.  And tomorrow, the plan "recharges" and I get another 10 gigs to pay with.  More than enough to get me home in a few days!

The grey, lowering skies aren't what I'm used to here in the Southwest.  Last evening,  the darkness got to me, so I turned on almost every light in the rig.  Felt much better!  So did using the Beast's built-in "furnace:" Gas-fired forced hot air.   Neither of these would be a good idea running off just batteries, to say the least!

The clouds have parted, and sunrise is happening.  Time for a short pre-breakfast stroll, leaning into the wind.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Valley of Fires

Near Carrizozo NM. I'm running out of data on my Verizon hot spot, so posts will be brief and less frequent for a while.

Friday, May 13, 2016

In White Rock NM

What?! Doesn't everyone travel with their pet orchid?

The poor little thing is having a rough time of it; it skidded off its perch while I was driving a few days ago, and broke its pot.  But the inner pot survived and it seems ok.  Leaving it at home would have killed it for sure, so it and my one other houseplant are sharing the trip with me.  So far I don't feel moved to talk to them, though, so I guess I'm OK.

The trip down to White Rock from Navajo Dam yesterday was uneventful.  The road just out out of Navajo Dam goes roughly east, through Dulce and Chama, before heading south.  It's high country up there; the road goes along between 7500 and 8500 feet. Maybe the elevation has something to do with the fact that the gas mileage for this stretch was worse than the preceding days?

It's wonderful seeing old friends Doug and Dotty here in White Rock.  I'll decompress here for another day and then head south to Valley of Fires near Carrizozo, NM.  The weather forecast isn't ideal for the next few days: thunderstorms and high winds.  But so far my roof maintenance seems to have done its job, and the new tires feel like they're gripping the road pretty good.  So on we go.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Listen up!

OK, boys and girls, it's time for our afternoon field biology lesson.  There will be a quiz in the morning.

Where we are now is in one of the most common biomes in the Southwest:  the piñon-juniper woodland.  Its characteristic plants are the piñon pine and the juniper.  As I looked up from my book just now, there they were right in front of me:

Juniper berries are one of the starting points for gin!

Although this isn't what most people think of as cactus country, it's pretty common to find little beavertail cactus (genus opuntia) hanging out with their bigger siblings:

The big old spines are the most obvious reason to avoid blundering into one of these guys.  But the lasting misery if you do comes from the clusters of glochid hairs at the base of the spines.  As Wikipedia observes:

Most cacti possess spines, some large enough to cause serious wounds. Glochids however, though smaller, commonly induce more troublesome, more persistent, dermatological manifestations in humans. Though minute, glochids commonly are barbed and once they have penetrated the skin barbed glochids are practically impossible to dislodge without leaving scraps of foreign material in the wound.

Most people who come in contact with glochids are pretty unhappy:

If the glochidia are allowed to remain in the skin, a dermatitis may ensue that will persist for months. It may help to treat the affected area with a topical corticosteroid.[ However, since the presence of glochidia is the inciting factor, removal of these minute spines would seem to be a more rational approach.

The thing is, they're really hard to remove.  Go read the Wikipedia article referenced above!

Class dismissed.  It's cocktail time for me!

Thoughts from the south end of Navajo Lake

Still life with stove
The sun is rising over the lake.  My coffee mug is half-full.  Some not-so-random thoughts:

Boondocking lets me stay places I'd otherwise miss.  It makes possible an overnight stop in a parking lot while I'm on my way from point A to point B.  It brings with it a nice sense of independence, and a little environmental smugness.

But I'm really liking it here at the state park, with electricity and water.  I took a shower in the community shower house.  Not very hot water, but a long soaking shower which got the road grime mostly gone.  I can make it as bright as I want in here at night and not think about battery use.  I can listen to music and NPR as much as I want.  I can use the laptop. And my big revelation from yesterday: I can run the furnace.  The Beast has a pretty efficient little furnace; it runs off a thermostat just like at home.  The fan uses quite a bit of juice of juice (4 amps is a lot in this world) so it's not a good routine option for boondocking.  I've been using the Portable Buddy catalytic heater for chilly mornings.  It works pretty good, but I'm not all that fond of using the disposable fuel containers. I suspect that the furnace is actually an environmentally better way to get warm in the morning.  But maybe that's just rationalization: I certainly like that it's quick and easy. Hey, my carbon footprint for this enterprise is already beyond redemption!

I'm still somewhere between amused and appalled that I let myself get way off route the other day by blindly following the GPS.  Lessons learned, I hope, and pretty small cost.

Some one of you asked what I do all day, if I'm not out hiking around.  It's pretty simple:  I read, I listen to music, I go for short walks, I talk to people walking their dogs (and their dogs!) I watch the sun rise and set.  I watch clouds go by.  I watch birds and squirrels.  I read and send email, and write blog posts. I cook things: I made biscuits from scratch for breakfast this morning.

I stay away from Facebook, mostly.  I continue my at-home habit of a post-prandial nap.  I think about life, the universe, and the phenomenon of Donald Trump.  I spend time in what might be called meditation, although to the outsider it might look a lot like spacing out.

It's not for everyone. I think some people would find it blindly boring. But it suits me, for now.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Monday morning.  I got to Navajo Lake yesterday afternoon, after a complicated day.

The morning was fine. Left Bisti parking lot at about 9, headed north to Farmington. My real destination was the Aztec Ruins, which I wanted to revisit, and then go on to Navajo Lake. On the way into Farmington, one of my directories said there was a free RV dump station at a gas station there. So I planned to go there, fill up at the gas station, and proceed to Aztec.  Waze was happy to give me directions to do that.   As I made my way through Farmington, doing what I was told, I got nervous.  It didn’t seem like I was headed in the right direction, what about that place over there, yadda-yadda-yadda.  Just when I was about to pull over and re-evaluate, Waze exclaimed, “You have arrived at your destination!”   And so I had.  I remembered all the times I’d second-guessed the GPS app and experienced serious lostitude.  I didn’t dwell on the times (very very few, but still …) when the app had done me wrong.

I got to Aztec without problem, spent a happy hour or so wandering around the ruins and admiring the new museum addition to the little visitor center.  

I got back in the Beast, had a leisurely lunch, took a short nap, and told Waze I wanted to go to Navajo Lake State Park.  Off we went in the right general direction, it seemed.   I was a little startled when the signs said “Welcome to Colorado,” but that seemed OK, since I’d started out about as far north in New Mexico as you can get. On we went.  The turns once again began to be counter-intuitive, but I had the morning’s experience fresh in my mind.

On we went.  I began to get seriously concerned when it looked like the road was turning into a dirt road. But on I went.  Until the absurdity of the situation, and the quality of the road, became overwhelming.  I pulled over in some rancher’s drive, and got out the laptop.  Yes, I had Verizon.  Yes, I could pull up Google Maps.  Yes, I was in a wrong place. Quite wrong.  Turns out that Waze was trying to get me to Navajo Lake Park up in Colorado.  And was doing a bad job of it, to boot.

I got out my paper copy of the Rand-McNally USA road atlas.  It didn’t have much detail on the roads I’d gotten onto.  It didn’t show them at all.  But Google Maps and Google Earth got me oriented, I managed to do an impossible dirt-road U-turn,  backtracked 46 miles, and got where I wanted to be:  Navajo Lake State Park in New Mexico. 

After that it was easy.  It’s a pleasant spot, with trees and grass (and solid cell service from ATT and Verizon.)  Just the break I wanted from sand and scrub.  Right now it’s cool and cloudy and spitting rain. Delicious! 

I’ll veg out here for a few days, and then head down to White Rock.  

Lesson:  carry detailed paper maps of the territory you’re in.  Get the GPS app to tell you the details of the itinerary it’s plotted, and check those against the paper map before you launch.  And read “Death by GPS” on Arstechnica

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Bisti Wilderness Parking Lot

The trip here from Gallup was smooth.  A few sprinkles as a front passed through.

The area is known for dramatic wind-eroded sandstone formations called "hoodoos:"

source: farmingtonnm.org

source: Wikipedia

Where I am, it looks more like this:

Right off on the horizon, you can see the red rocks which may be where the interesting stuff happens.

But here in the parking lot, not so much.  Getting from here to there involves a fair bit of walking, and some scrambling up and down small washes.  Not easy or fun for this balance-impaired geezer. So: my original idea of spending a day exploring the area needs revision.  Besides, it's gonna rain again today.  

I'm thinking I'll drive up to Farmington and over to Aztec, and re-visit Aztec Ruins National Monument. Unlike most other sites which present the Chacoan culture, this one has a completely restored great kiva. It's a restoration, which means it's an educated guess about what it might have looked and felt like when it was a center for the ceremonial life of these people back in the day.  

I'll arrive at Navajo Lake a day earlier than I'd planned, but there are gazillions of camping sites there, so I shouldn't need a reservation.  The plan is to hunker down there, and then work down to White Rock to see Doug and Dotty and their convalescing dog Shuba.  

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Painted Desert, tough beef, and more ...

I'm in Gallup, NM, parked at the Fire Rock casino.  I’ve stayed here before, and while it’s not scenic, it’s free and convenient and safe.  As a thank-you for the free parking, I always eat at the casino dining room, which has been renovated with a new menu.  Big improvement. The Prime Rib special is NOT improved, though; I fall for it every time.  Just how good could a $9.95 piece of meat be? 

As I hoped, yesterday was easy and relaxed. I filled up the tank even though it was 3/4 full.  I always try to leave “camp” with a full tank.  Gas mileage for the day was 9.65, in spite of the nasty winds for much of the day. Yeah, that’s good mileage. 

I did something I rarely do: I stopped to be a tourist.  I had time, I wanted to stretch my legs, so I pulled off at Petrified Forest National Park to gawk at the painted desert.  Once again I was impressed by what a good job the Park Service does with limited and decreasing resources. 

It looks like this.  I took a lot of pictures, but they all look the same.  So you get the panorama:

Modernity strikes:

Today I head into new territory: the Bisti wilderness area south of Farmington.  It’s dispersed camping on BLM land, with unknown cell service. It’s in the same neck of the woods as the Chaco Culture National Historical park, which I dearly love.  I know the road in to Chaco, though, and I’m pretty sure the Beast would not be happy.  

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Up on the rim

The Mogollon Rim, that is.  Pronounced "muggy-awn" if you care. Arizona's Ponderosa pine forest country.

The view from site 21

I'm at Sharp Creek National Forest campground, about 20 miles east of Payson, AZ.  I got in yesterday afternoon, after an enjoyable drive up from Tucson, skirting Roosevelt for much of the way.  I've been in this part of the state several times before, but never taken this route.  Scenic, huh?

Roosevelt Lake

It's gorgeous up here: sunny, breezy, warm days, cool nights.

It's late spring/early summer, and things are neat even on a small scale:

Yesterday was not without its drama.  I pulled in and was getting set up, and I noticed that the outside R rear tire looked soft.  Soft, hell!  It was flat. The other tire only thing keeping the rim  from hitting the ground. You know how when you press on the little pin inside a tire valve it goes “pssst” and lets some air out?  No “psssst.”  No air. 

I said some bad words.  I get out the compressor, start up the generator, and air it up so it goes pssst. OK, I can get air in it.  Then I settle in and in 15 minutes get it up to about 70; half an hour later it was down to 20 and looking very very sad.  So was I.

I got out the jack, chocked the wheels, and took the jack up to the point where it was **just** taking some weight.  If this thing was gonna go flat again, I didn’t want the other tire to get any more stressed.  

I spent some time on the phone this morning, and my new best friend Steve showed up.  Here's what the problem was:

The tube thing is a valve stem extender, part of the setup for the "duallys" on the Beast's rear axle. It had gotten damaged when the new tires were put on the vehicle a couple of weeks ago.  Words will be had with the installer!  

We'll see how much of that my AAA Super Duper RV+ will cover!  I was pretty frazzled last night and this morning, and the rest of the day has been mellow.  On the road tomorrow... headed for Gallup NM. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Journey Proud!

That was my grandmother's expression when she couldn't sleep the night before she travelled.  This is a new record: wide awake at 0130.  Somewhat confusingly, I can usually get back to sleep for a while if I have a cup of good strong coffee.  I really don't think it makes sense to get on the road just yet!

(Edited later:  I did get a good long "nap" and got up again at something like 0430.  In case you were concerned ...) 

While I'm gone ... 

The roses have begun their yearly journeys. I sure hope the automatic watering system keeps them going when I'm gone!  But, as I'll show you when I get on the road, I'll have a couple of plants with me as I travel.  House plants, and I haven't rigged up watering systems for them.  So the dog stays with a neighbor, and a couple of plants get to go along for the ride. They don't shed, whimper, or tremble, so they're good company. The dog will be happy and pampered with my neighbor across the street, who has become her Other Daddy.

Almost time to get out Willie Nelson ...

Monday, May 2, 2016

On the road Wednesday (May 4)

White Sands National Monument

Things are getting organized and packed up for the next trip: I've pretty much described the route before. Look back to my April 5 post to get the basic outline. First stop is Willow Springs Lake, a pretty NFS campsite, for a couple of days, to decompress and get into Road Rhythm. This route is a combination of places I've been before and new spots.  I'll be doing some tourism later in the trip, visiting Trinity Site and the White Sands missile museum in southern New Mexico.  And a few days with my friends Doug and Dotty in White Rock will be a joy, as always.

I've driven through White Sands before.  It's a little creepy... they still test missiles there.  A few days after I'll be driving through, they'll close the road so they can do things.  You know ... things.  I think the visit to Trinity Site a few days earlier will help me remember what it's all about.

Lots of maintenance work on the Beast the last week or so: when I get back from this trip in late May, the high temps here in Tucson will be getting brutal, so I'd like to get as much regular maintenance done as I can while it's still pleasant hereabouts.

I'll try for regular posts while I'm on the road.