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

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.


  1. Nice blog post Suanne. Great pictures too. This is a great lifestyle. I have met many interesting people but you are one of my favorites. I am fortunate to know you as a dear friend.

    1. Thanks Bryce! I'm fortunate to have you as a dear friend as well. Thanks for checking out my blog, too.

  2. What a great adventure with the
    good friends.

    1. I totally agree rafca. I'm very fortunate.

  3. Great pictures, Suanne. And a really good overview of the community and it's depth.

    Missing you and looking forward to the next time!

    1. I sure miss you too Cyndi. I always look forward to seeing you again and again. Keep taking good care. Hugs, Suanne

  4. Nice post Suanne. We,too,love this community that Bob has created. So many wonderful people!

    1. You guys are such a treasure in the vandwelling community. You really had your finger on the pulse at the RTR. I'm remembering with smiles the Ticket Tacky RTR theme song and, of course, the cardboard likeness of a van that you built, then we all wrote on it like a yearbook before set ablaze for Burning Van! Safe travels friends!

  5. What a lovely post suanne. Thank you for sharing your story and for being such a good friend to your community. I hope to meet you on my travels sometime. I have plans to be at the RTR 2017, so it may happen!

    1. I hope you are able to make it to the next RTR. I would love to meet you in person.

  6. Nice. Glad you continue to enjoy your travels. Thanks for all you have done to help me and others, but especially me. I will never forget.

    1. You're very welcome. I'm glad that we are friends.

  7. Great post Suanne hope to meet up sometime this summer .

    1. I sure hope to see you again this summer. I miss you!

  8. What a wonderful tribute to this wonderful life we live. Thank you for sharing this Suanne. You have such a loving heart. I am very blessed to call you friend. Love you!

    1. You've become such a wonderful friend. I so look forward to seeing you again. Safe travels Sweetie.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Suanne,
    I too own a Prius and love to see what's over the mountain. Thank you so much for your generosity with information about camping in it. I'm starting to read your blog in earnest.

    I love my car, don't want to buy anything else but am wondering if you've ever been refused "moorage" in a commercial campground because you aren't in a conventional camper. I'm solitary and "not young" and am timid about camping too far out in the boonies by myself.

    Thanks so much,

    1. Hi Nancy, Thanks for checking out my blog! I've only used a commercial campground once because they don't really appeal to me. I have, however, stayed at plenty of public campgrounds (city, county, state, federal) with little problem. I request a tent site where I can have my car with me (vs. walk in). That is, I don't volunteer that I sleep in my car. The one time I did use a commercial campground/RV park, I used that same strategy without a problem. Hope that helps. Suanne

  11. Hi Suanne! You inspire me. Thank you. Maybe someday we'll meet along the road. I'd really like to ravel again.

    1. Hi Just Shirley. Thanks for checking out my blog. I hope you get to travel again and we meet up on the road one day.

  12. I can’t agree enough with this article. The best thing about a road-trip is seeing all the things you would normally miss by flying, or train, or any other alternative method of getting there.

    You can stop to smell the wildflowers along the road, endless pull offs for photo opportunities, chances to get the kids out of the car to stretch and play out their energy that gets stored up from being confined… every moment you’re driving, you’re already on holiday, and between in the car games like “I spy” it makes the entire jaunt so worthwhile and truly memorable.


Please make a comment. I'd love to hear from you ...