Sunset in the Coconino National Forest, looking northeast toward Sedona, AZ, 4/17/15

Friday, October 14, 2016

A Connection Among Mothers

When I first met up with a group of vandwellers in the Spring of 2010, I felt a connection with these fellow wanderers that was unexpected.  Our common loves -- of nature, experiencing new places, freedom of the road, and a simple lifestyle -- all contributed to my knowing that I had found my tribe, a group of like-minded people.

One connection was extra meaningful.  Katie and I had both lost a child, her "Princess" and my Elise. Together we talked, cried, and hugged.  I was comforted to connect with another mother who knew the pain.

Jasper kissing his Mama Elise (1978-2008).
(Photo from husband and dad, Cameron's blog, 2007)

After a few days, I was leaving the group to continue on my journey.  I said my good byes and started to drive off when Katie signaled me to wait.  She ran up to my car and gifted me with one of her precious knives, a mini skean dhu in a beautiful beaded necklace sheath in the Native American tradition.

Some of Katie's smaller knives.  In the upper right are her
mini skean dhu and necklace sheath.  (photo from Katie's blog 2/8/08)  

To be honest, I was so overwhelmed at the time, I can't remember what she said. But, I clearly remember the love I felt from her. I have carried that knife and sheath with me ever since, remembering Elise, Katie and her Princess, as I've traveled the open roads.

A few months back, I knew in my heart it was time to pass that gift to another mother, another vandweller, a dear friend.  Debra had lost Christopher.  I'd seen her pain and knew that she was to be next in the chain of mothers to wear the sheath and knife.

When Debra's travels unexpectedly took her within 6 hours of me earlier this month, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see her; and, the opportunity to pass along Katie's knife and necklace sheath.

So, deep in a pine forest, sitting in Debra's cozy van, with the pitter-patter of rain on the roof, I told Debra the story of Katie's gift.  Then, I gave it to her, most appropriately on Indigenous People's Day. We both cried, hugged, and cried some more. Then, I was honored to hear more of Christopher and Debra's story, a true love story that ends with unbelievable sacrifice and loss.

I am humbled to have been both the recipient and giver of this poignant symbol of love, loss and connection.  And I am so grateful to be bonded on either side with these amazingly strong women.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Unusualness in March

I love being in nature and experiencing some of the more unusual occurring phenomenon. Sometimes that unusualness is fleeting, a moment in time.  Other times it's stationary, and designated as a landmark or, if truly spectacular, as a National Park.  Rare is it that one experiences a fleeting bit of unusualness within a spectacular landmark of unusualness.  But, such was the case with the super bloom within Death Valley National Park in March.  The super bloom happens, on average, about every 10 years when Autumn rains reach Death Valley, typically one of the driest and hottest places on earth.

Desert Gold wildflowers in Death Valley National Park.  3/5/16  

A single Desert Gold wildflower.  Death Valley, 3/5/16.  

More Desert Gold surrounded by a bleached dead bush,
and other blue and white wildflowers.  3/5/16  

But, beyond the super bloom of wild flowers, Death Valley is simply spectacular in and of itself, with incomparable vistas.

Sand dunes in the distance.  Death Valley, 3/5/16.  

Harmony Borax Works, and Mustard Canyon, Death Valley.  3/8/16  

Salt Creek.  Home of the Salt Creek Pupfish.
Pupfish are amazing -- able to live in very salty water between temperatures
that are almost freezing to almost boiling.
They are called "Pup" fish because they scurry around like little 1.5" puppies,
the males protecting their territory and harem.  3/8/16  

Dante's View at 5500 feet over salt flats, Death Valley NP, 3/9/16.  

Unusual formations in 21 Mule Team Canyon.  3/9/16  

Colors, textures, and shapes amaze in Death Valley.  3/9/16  

Multiple colors on the hillsides, Artists Pallet, Death Valley, 3/9/16.  

Joshua Trees look other worldly.  Not a tree at all, but a yuca.
Although there's a National Park named after them in California,
These blooming specimens call Pahrump, NV home.  3/15/16  

Between Pahrump, NV and Death Valley National Park is Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada at the California border.  Ash Meadows is as significant water-based preserve as the Everglades National Park in Florida.  Ash Meadows has more endemic species than any other place in the US.  Endemic = found no other place in the world.   Of the 26 endemic species in Ash Meadows, 5 are endangered.

Ash Meadows is an oasis in the desert.  Thousands of years ago, it use to be connected with a large water way, originating at Mono Lake.  Over time that water way dried up, leaving Ash Meadows an evolutionary island supplied by springs and seeps.  Species within Ash Meadows evolved independently from their originals.  This place is truly unusual.

Devils Hole is an evolutionary isolated area within Ash Meadows
that's managed by Death Valley National Park.  It's a secured area due to
it's scientific importance.  It's home to the Devils Hole Pupfish.  3/20/16  

An overlook to Devils Hole is accessed through a caged tunnel.  3/20/16  

Devils Hole.  Not much to see, not even with binoculars.  But, here are two interesting
facts.  Exploration has gone as deep as 500', but they've not found the bottom.  When
there's an earthquake in other parts of the world, it creates waves in Devils Hole
up to 6' in height.  3/20/16  

The access to Kings Spring within Ash Meadows was great with boardwalks and
artful bridges over the creek that flowed from the spring.  3/20/16  

Kings Spring, a spiritual location and historic meeting place for the
local native nations.  3/20/16 

Looking into Kings Spring, home of the Ash Meadows Armagosa Pupfish.
The male pupfish here are electric blue, the females were green.  3/20/16 

The Kings Spring boardwalk back to a covered picnic area, pit toilets
and parking lot.  Nice facilities, but some roads were washboard.  3/20/16  

Another super bloom just outside of the refuge.  I'm not sure if this is
the Desert Gold wildflower, or the endemic Ash Meadows Sunray.  3/20/16 

"Unusually picturesque" is a good description for the Alabama Hills; so
much so that many movies have been shot here
among the granite outcroppings, under the Sierra Escarpment,
featuring Mount Whitney.  3/21/16 

Globemallow wildflowers and brush cling within the granite crevices.  3/20/16 

And I find a crevice, an alcove for myself
among all this spectacular unusualness.  3/21/16.  

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Sunrise, Sunset

I love the sunrises and sunsets in the desert southwest.  Here are some photos of a few during my last 3 months on the road, with a couple moon rises thrown in (in chronological order).

Sunrise at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) campfire, still smoldering
from the evening's festivities.  Quartzsite, AZ 1/16/16 

Sunset toward the end of the RTR.  Quartzsite, AZ, 1/18/16 

Sunset during my first night in Ehrenberg, AZ.  1/19/16 

Sunset's long shadows and alpen glow.  Ehrenberg, AZ 1/23/16 

Sunset in Ehrenberg, AZ.  1/23/16  

Last of sunset's color.  Ehrenberg, AZ 1/29/16  

Sunset through a dust storm.  Ehrenberg, AZ 1/30/16  

Watching the sunset with friends Debra, Colvin and Ray.
Lake Havasu City, AZ  2/14/16  

Moon Rise at Craggy Wash.
Lake Havasu City, AZ,  2/19/16 

Moon Rise over Mt. Charleston.
Pahrump, NV, 2/21/16  

Alpen glow at sunset, highlighting Mt. Charleston, the Joshua Trees
and other desert plants at the foothills in Pahrump, NV.  3/19/16  

Sunset over a Joshua Tree forest, last night in Pahrump, NV.  3/19/16  

At sunset, the Sierra Mountain Range casts their shadow over the
Alabama Hills and the Owens Valley.  Lone Pine, CA, 3/20/16 

Rock formations in the Alabama Hills at sunset.
Lone Pine, CA  3/20/16 

Road into the Alabama Hills after sunrise.  Lone Pine, CA, 3/21/16 

The Sierras at sunrise.  BLM's Pleasant Valley Pit Campground,
Bishop, CA  3/22/16 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Friends and Family
On the Road

I've been taking months-long road trips in my Prius for more than 6 years now.  That I've developed some close bonds during that time has been a pleasant surprise.  In this blog post,  I've highlighted a few of those relationships.  Please know that if I didn't mention you, my traveling friend, you are no less important to me.  It probably means I just don't have a recent photo of you :) ...

I'm currently in the desert backcountry of Pahrump, NV's BLM land.  This is the first place that I shared a camp with fellow "vandwellers" (those who live simply out of their cars, vans, trucks and RVs). So, I've been rather nostalgic and retrospective during my time here.

One of my newest traveling friends, Debra (tbivangirl) and one of
my first vandweller friends, Bob Wells (cheaprvliving).  From a screen capture of a
video showing how Debra was setting up her van home.  (12/6/15)
(Click here to see more vandwelling "how to" videos.)  
In April 2010 I had just started as a part-time "vandweller" in my Prius. I was beginning my 6-month National Park tour when I joined a Pahrump BLM camp shared by Bob and others in a variety of vehicles -- several vans, trailers, Class Cs, a minivan, box truck, truck camper,and my Prius.  It was my first face-to-face interaction with "vandwellers." For several days I stayed and visited over coffee and campfires.  Although our backgrounds were different, we all shared a strong desire to be closer with nature while remaining mobile in our vehicles.   At first, this camaraderie was surprising and unexpected.  But, after a while, I realized I'd found a real treasure.  These folks got me, and I got them.  I had found my tribe.

Bob says that this first impromptu camp in Pahrump was the genesis of his annual Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) that's been held in Quartzsite, AZ each January since 2011.  The RTRs have grown steadily year after year, from 40 attendees to well over 200 this past January.  This is a time and place to meet up with fellow travelers -- visit, learn, teach, and make life-long friendships.

At the RTR 2016, Mike talks about how he mines for gold on public lands.

Nightly campfires during the RTR are one of the places where
attendees gather regularly.  We had a talent night, music and
lots of conversation every night.  Pictured above is 
cardboard-shaped van that's been set afire: Burning Van! (1/17/16) 

After the RTR ends, attendees go their separate ways, often in small groups.   This year I joined a group in Ehrenberg, about 20 miles west of Quartzsite.  Winter weather in this region is mild.  As a result, it's a comfortable place to spend the season.   Unlike the RTR, people camp a distance from one another in Ehrenberg.  But, we are still close enough to occasionally walk over for a visit.  Most of us are introverts; so, this arrangement is perfect.

Every once in a while someone will invite folks over to their camp for a group get together.  While in Ehrenberg, I had friends over for muffins one morning -- bring your own drink and chair.  Bryce, with his BBQ and "man cave" trailer was the perfect host for a Super Bowl pot luck party.

For the Super Bowl, Bryce turned his 50" TV out the back of his "man cave"
 trailer, supplied with solar power and an aerial antenna.  It was a feast --  
BBQ, meatballs, pizza, chips, dips, and more food and drink.  So fun! (2/7/16) 

In addition to my traveling friends, I got to spend time with traveling family.  One brother Ray and his wife Kay joined me for several nights in Ehrenberg.  They are transitioning from 3 years on a Harley, to an SUV, trailer and motorbike.

Ray and Kay's Jeep, trailer and Enduro along side my Prius and tent --
different rigs, but the same love for travel and nature.  (1/27/16) 

Kay enjoying the sunset.  Spectacular.  (1/29/16) 

Ray standing about the same place a few minutes later.  (1/29/16) 

Ray and Kay's trailer, decked out with lights and some music.  (1/29/16) 

I have another brother, Glen, who is currently exploring India.  And a third brother, Gary and his wife Mary who live out of their 5th wheel, camp hosting in Coachella Valley for the winter.  It's great to have brothers who have the same love for travel in their blood.

Sometimes vandwelling friends will go on day trips together.  My friend Laura and I drove from Ehrenberg to the Castle Dome Mining Museum, half way to Yuma.  It's a ghost town in the Kofa Wildlife Refuge.
Laura checking out one of the many saved/restored buildings from the area
which now make up the ghost town of Castle Dome City.
Note: The rock formation in the mountains to the right is Castle Dome. (2/2/16)

Laura looking in the jail cell.  I'm not sure what that "mist" is at the bottom of the photo ...
 maybe the spirit of a departed sheriff, still keeping watch over his charges. (2/2/16)

I met my friend Sunny before our retirements, about 20 years ago.  Both of our careers were in the community and technical college system.  She's a traveler too. Although her WA home is only an hour from my place in Fall City, I mostly see her when we have both traveled to AZ.  This year we treated ourselves to a scenic paddle boat ride on Canyon Lake near Apache Junction.

Dolly Steamboat.  (2/9/16) 

Sunny gazing at the amazing rock formations that surround the lake.  (2/9/16) 

Some of the spectacular scenery around Canyon Lake.  (2/9/16)  

Due to the El Nino rains this year, Death Valley National Park experienced a rare super bloom of wildflowers.  It's about an hour's drive from Pahrump; so, I've visited it several times -- once by myself, and the second time with friends Bryce and Ray.  In addition to enjoying the wildflower blooms, we visited other sites in Death Valley.

Ray and Bryce at the Harmony Borax Works in front of wagons pulled
by the 20 mule teams.  (3/8/16) 
Because we had planned to disperse camp in the park, we each brought our own vehicles -- Ray's van, Bryce's truck camper, and my Prius.

Starting the scenic drive through Mustard Canyon, some salt flats are on the left.
In my side view mirror, you can see Bryce's truck and camper
following me down that gravel road.  (3/8/16)

Ray!  Overlooking the sand dunes in the distance. (3/8/16) 
A motley crew -- me, Bryce and Ray at Dante's View,
more than 5000' above Badwater on the valley floor. (3/9/16) 

Badwater, 282' below sea level, the lowest place in the Americas.
The boardwalk out to the salt flats with  Bryce and Ray to the far right. (3/9/16) 
I've been a part of this tribe, this vandweller community long enough now to have experienced the passing of too many of its members, my friends.  Most recently, Fred Heinman died (4/2/47-1/31/16).  I feel his absence even though I never met him in person.  Especially since some of my closest friends were his very good friends; so, I've been honored to be present when they've remembered him.  I feel I got to know him through hearing those memories and tales.

I was with some of Fred's good friends when they were distributing a few of his belongings shortly after his passing.  Mostly useful things for vandwelling, but also some mementos that seem to carry Fred's personality -- his hiking staff and hat in particular  In Debra's tribute blog post, you can see that several of us were photographed with them in his memory.  I was offered, and accepted Fred's Indian blanket, purchased at the Colorado River Indian Reservation Museum several years back.  I carry it, use it, and remember Fred.

Fred and the blanket on the bed behind him.  I now carry that blanket
in his memory.  Screen shot from a vandwelling video.  (9/19/15)
As much as I cherish my alone time in the backcountry, I also hold dear those growing friendships and family bonds with those who also cherish their alone time in the backcountry.  Life is good out here.