at the canyons edge

I stand at the edge of the vast canyon laid out before me. The various colors of red, orange, greens and browns all delight my senses as I stand quiet, feeling the chill of the early morning breezes.

The ancient sandstone pillars stand silently atop the massive plateau dotted with grey sagebrush. On the thermals soars a raven, circling ever higher in a balancing act of wind and wing.

I stare deep into the deep grandeur of the canyons below and imagine the strength of the river and wind… what marvelous architects.

Again I feel the warmth of the sun and I’m brought back.

The mountains stand steadfast in the distance. Dark purple and grey, climbing high above the desert floor in a majesty all their own.

The songs of the past whisper on the wind, telling stories of hardship and a love of the land… a spiritual connection to the vast night sky full of starts and the brilliant blue of the day. The blazing sun and the parched land yielding only enough to eek out a living. I can hear the cries of the warrior, the yelp of the coyote, the singing of the canyon wren, the rustle of the dry yellow leaves of the mesquite.

My heart sighs, my mind settles and my eyes take in all it sees with gratitude for this new day.

DEATH Valley

We pulled in late last night, as is our norm with the short days. Since we crossed the time line in Nevada, and lost an hour with DLST, sunset at 4:30, dark is around 5:15-5:30. Of course, fire restrictions are on high alert, so we pretty much retreat to our van after gazing at the sun fire red clouds and the darkening skies of sunset. On our new schedule, that means we have about 4-5 hours to play/drive, before it’s dark.

We come upon the park at about 4 pm. The parking lot that the NFS calls a “campground” (Sunset) reminded me of parking at a drive-in movie. It was all that was available. No fires, dogs on leash, just our kind of place. Not.

The morning comes super early as well and by 6 am it’s full on light outside. By 7 am the big RVs in the “campground” have turned on their generators. The van is pretty well insulated from sound so it’s just a dull roar. We decided to set out early and explore the other campground above us. We drove through last night and checked it out, but it fills everyday by around 2-3:00 pm.

After some Coffee and a quick breakfast we grab our e-bikes and are off to seek out our new home base. The host told us to go up around 11 am to secure a site, so we grabbed our chairs and a backpack and headed up to the campground to find a spot. After riding around for 20-30 minutes, we found a few empty spots, got together and picked one. #71 Home base.

It ended up being a lazy day. Chris was still recovering from some gastric issues (day 3) so our bike ride was about 3 miles too many. We are desperately in need of showers…going on day 4 tomorrow. We rode around to find the “showers” that showed on the maps but they never materialized. I’m guessing tomorrow will be bath day…

Ya know what sucks about National Parks is that they are so “structured”… ok, strict?… in the year of COVID or *rona, that’s people on people. Everybody and their uncle is out in the parks, wilderness, trails and so forth. We all practice social distancing and depending on the state/county, some will wear masks. We are incredibly paranoid about getting this. Maybe we won’t die but what if we have a month in the hospital? That could literally bankrupt so many families and ding us pretty good.

Social distancing in DEATH Valley… I think I read somewhere that like 1.7 million people come to Death Valley every year… Hmmm that means that from late October to early March, which are tolerable temperatures, over 635,000 a month, 21,000 people a day, entering the park in those 4.5 months, from all over the US, the hotspot of the pandemic.

Now to say this doesn’t weigh heavy on our minds everyday we have to use a gas station, toilet, go grocery shopping? Sometimes I find myself in a pure panic and can just envision the germs invading my nostrils. LOL. Then I’m reminded that we are all dying anyway… so live your life as safe as you can but not in fear. Not buying into any herd mentality mind you. More like impermanence.

Day two. Lazy morning. Coffee outside in the sun. Slight breeze blowing and the sound of new campers driving around looking for a camp spot. The low murmur of people talking to one another. Our van has been quite a hit and we continue to get compliments. It’s a conversation starter for sure. Gandaulf has also touched so many hearts. Kids and adults alike. It’s really hard to draw boundaries when people are kind and interested. I really don’t want to be afraid of people but I am.

The parched landscape of Death Valley whispers solitude and isolation. The multi-colored rocks, sand and salt bring to life thousands of years of history. Scattered along the landscape are brilliant green oasis where the brutal force of tech tonic plates grinding together forcing super heated waters to seep to the surface. From this violent beginning comes life in all its magnificence. In the middle of the hottest, driest place on earth, life in its simplest form can survive.

The color pallet laid out before me in the rocky landscape is soothing to the eye. The earth tone browns, yellows, reds, greens, a whole miriad of colors, blending together. Countless eons of time, layer upon layer, thrust up into the air by forces I can’t even begin to know, but my mind imagines the violent beginnings. Now all that remains are majestic, multicolored mountains, outlined in cobalt blue and wisps of white.

After a day of exploring the depths of the once inland sea -301’ below sea level, we wandered over to the Devils Golf Course. It looks like a frozen river at thaw… huge chunks of salt crack and move. We stood quietly and listened to the metallic ting as the salt moved in the heat. The beauty and starkness boggled my mind and my child just wanted to explore… so we did. Chris one way and I the other.

We drove around and did a few hikes and took lots of pictures. We had lunch on the side of the road and chilled taking in the view. We drove back to the camp site with our jaws dropping view after view.

Nighttime:

The sun sets so early these days. I am grateful that it is so warm outside when it is “pitch black”. The campground looks like a small encampment of like minded people. Fires blazing against the inky blackness. People laugh and there’s music drifting on the warm air. The sky peppered with millions of pin pricks of light. The stars are thick and the milky way shows itself against the absolute darkness. I stare off for untold minutes loosing myself in the vast starlit sky. I am one with the universe. My mind mingles with the infinite wisdom and light… I feel minuscule but incredibly voluminous. I return to our little village, as Gandaulf tugs on his leash trying to relieve himself.

4,000 feet Day 4:

We decided to pull up stakes and head up into the foothills in the Death Valley Wilderness area. The breeze is blowing and it’s 15 degrees cooler. There is an abundance of life and even a solitary big old cottonwood in showy yellow. I just want to hug that big ole cottonwood and listen to its stories. At the mouth of a wash dug deep into the desert floor and that tree. The image is burned into my mind in all its ancient glory.

Our camp is quiet, except for the occasional vehicle going up the narrow canyon. The road said 25’ maximum length… I didn’t see it until I was already committed so I crossed my fingers and carried on. It was one of those scary windy 1 1/2 lanes wide. The turns were tight and 40’ meant hogging all of it through the turns. We arrived at Wild Rose Camp and picked a spot over looking the canyon and trees.

We settled in and set up camp. We kinda messed up and went to a camp with not much to do around it. We made the best of it and explored further up the canyon, minus the trailer. The hills up above the valley floor look like they are covered in velvet. The rolling folds accented by the late afternoon sun were a sight to behold. The fact that anything can eek out a living in this bone dry place is amazing in itself. Quite the contrary, this place is teaming with life from wispy grass like plants, sages, to several varieties of hardy trees. Nature has found a balance of life and death in this DEATH Valley.

Look down old soul

What do you see?

A world of wonder under your feet

Small and fragile. 

Under my feet is strength

My heart connects with all beings

An energy life force

A silent vibration connecting all

Every atom and molecule

The most minuscule of substance… all in sequence, in harmony.

The heart beat of the mother felt in the womb

The silence of consumption 

Delivered from mankind into the forest

The forest of the mind

The heart and soul of our being

The connection of all. 

I dig my bare feet into the soil and breathe

I release in a most complete way

Grounded to the very earth itself. 

Look down old soul

Love your mother

Feel her… she is life

mindfullness

I pick each stone, a siren in color or shape calling to be placed: for the West first pointing to the oceans, rolling waters, here, one for the earth; for the South that hot ball of fire now shadowed by the trees and mountains; then the North the bone strength of clarity, a stone for the great emptiness of Sky; and for the East illumination and new beginnings.

I step gingerly into the middle of the mandala. In my right hand two small rounded shiny black pebbles. I rattle these precious stones of the mother earth in prayer, not for a vision, not for words or guidance. I rattle to rattle, to remember my place in all things. 

I shake my palm listening to the rhythm of sound to know this moment…and … then gratitude arises like a wave, I give thanks to the blessings of being in love, and the delight of living my life in this unfolding expression. 

I sometimes forget the power of ancestors and community to heal. And to give thanks.  

We live in a field of connection in which we are the inheritors of grace and strength passed on from one person to the next one generation to the next. 

River

The sound of the river rushing by in constant flow

The towering cliffs stand tall and hard against the deep blue sky 

Carved by this liquid snake over eons of time

The trees stand and watch the the endless motion of this fluid architect

Gently the bubbles make their way down the current

Rocks hold to their purchase of land against the rivers flow

Others roll along without putting up a fight

My mind is sucked into the current… empty… constantly fluid… clinging to nothing

Wilderness Travelers: Part Three

Life on the Road 

We are but babes when it comes to living on the road. We left the comforts of a masonry four walled building to the comforts of our van/RV. We gave up only the creature comforts that require you to spend mindless hours staring at something that turns your mind to mush. We still have hot water showers, a toilet, a bed, AC, heat, a stove, running water and a sink, chairs to sit on, an IK, a UTV, hiking poles, fishing gear, decorations in the walls and plenty of cabinet space. What more do we need?

Living on the road requires a little more attention than falling through the routine that is “responsible living.” We both have jobs… I take care of the mechanical breakdowns and fix-it stuff and Chris takes care of organizing and anything financial. We both share in driving, cooking, and clean up. 

Our routine varies, depending on where we camp or the weather. Coffee is of course first on the agenda and we make some of the best! Italian expresso makers, Hydro Flask mugs to keep it piping hot and the finest ground coffee. 

We find the most perfect vantage point, looking over a river or canyon, in the early morning sun to warm up. Then we set up and sit as we listen to the sounds, or lack there of. We talk about the day and what we might do or see. Maybe a day in the hammocks reading, maybe a river float, fishing, hiking, sight seeing, or shopping for the weeks meals. The world is our pallet we choose how to color it. 

It took a little time to trust leaving our camp unattended without locking down the place like Fort Knox… After all, this is now everything we own and our home space. We choose to live mostly outside which is where we both feel the greatest connection. There is an unspoken rule between campers that needed to be trusted before we could go away from camp and be ok that no one will mess with your stuff. So far we have not had any incidents. 

We rely heavily on maps and Garmin. Trip Advisor is a good source, as is local word of mouth, for finding the out of the way gems that tourist tend to over look. Although electronics are pretty reliable, they don’t always show you the single track road that goes to the most beautifully isolated valley, stream or lake. In a way we are explorers in own own back yard, after all, the world is our back yard. 

Sometimes we are forced to stay in established campgrounds, rest stops, gas stations or a neighborhood or parking lot. This is just part of life on the road. We prefer dispersed camping on Forest Service land or BLM lands. Sometimes the only human life is miles away and the silence can be deafening. I enjoy being very still and slowly allowing my senses to awaken to the intricacies of the world around me. The colors, smells, sounds, feeling of the sun on my bare skin, the vibrations of all around me, all these create a world of peace and imagination. 

Wilderness Travelers: Part Two

The Buildup

How would it be to spend a week, 10 days, a month, a year without worry? Without the daily grind of home, work and paying bills. It’s a dream come true for us. 

The last 30 years have been the most stressful of my life. The career we entered was a 60 hour a week, every week, no paid vacation, no sympathy and no gratitude for a job well done. Ruthless and cut-throat. We started planning over 15 years ago to make our escape. We stashed away all the money we could and left enough for essentials. We invested in property, 401ks, annuities, and savings. As our nest egg grew so did our health problems from the stress. It was time to go and soon. So, in November 2018, we bought a 2015 Ford Transit 250 hightop shorty van, (we call her SleepyTurtle or The Turtle) in November of 2019, we sold our house. In March 2020, the business and in June 2020, we hit the road. 

We spent some time on the van in the past three years but in April 2020, we hit it full time. I learned about solar, electrical, plumbing, carpentry, and gas. No one showed me how, but the internet did come in handy. 

The last week of May we finally finished up the van and selling off all our belongings, and on pJune 1,2020, hit the road in our custom designed RV/Van, SleepyTurtle. All the amenities of our home built into a tiny home space. Hot water, a way too comfy bed (almost king size), running water, lights, solar, electric and a great stove. 

What we learned during the build and equipping the van was that this is going to be our home… one should not skimp! We bought a Camp Chef Mountaineer 40,000 btu stove, a pure sine wave generator, a custom rack and rock rails/tubular running boards and a mattress that would keep you in bed cozy and warm.   

All cabinets were custom build and made strong for rough washboard roads. We carry 50 gallons of water, 24 dedicated primarily for cooking and drinking and an additional 18 gallon tank for hot showers with an on demand ECOtemp hot water heater and the 7 gallon RoadShower solar hot water heater on the roof for emergencies. 

Built into one of the cabinets is a SnoMaster Classic 40cu chest type fridge. It holds a weeks worth of food and drinks. We chose the chest type for efficiency. The cold air stays in the fridge when opened vs a standard door which when opened, allows the cold air to pour out.  

We have a sink and grey water collection tank under the sink. We run off a 200ah AGM battery charged with a single 300w solar panel mounted on the custom rack. We have a 2000w pure sine wave generator which provides us with power on cloudy days or when parked in deep woods.  

Our biggest purchase took the most debate… the toilet. We debated over a cassette type or compost toilet. After a great amount of research we decided on the compost. We went with the Natures Head for ease of use. It was a major investment ($1,000) but after using it we find it worry free and no messy cleanup. The liquids and solids are kept separate for ease of cleanup, which requires the liquids tank to be dumped at least every 3 days of constant use. Every 6 months on the composting solid side. No smell no mess. 

The other thing to consider when you’re in your design phase. Do you want more storage or more living space? Everything must fit in this small space. We chose the storage over living space. Our bed frame is 40” tall providing a large enough garage space for all our water tanks, 2 mountain bikes and all necessary equipment. We built a 4 foot, 600 lb. slide to accommodate accessing the heavier boxes without climbing through the garage. 

We each have 2 large boxes for our clothes, a small box for socks, underwear, etc., and a box for personal essentials. We chose to keep everything in sealed plastic containers after a small mouse invasion early on in Colorado. We travel with Gandaulf, our 11 year old Corgi. Gandaulf even has his own cabinet for his food and toys. 

We decided on dual swivel seats. It is amazing how it opens up the living area when they are turned around. It also creates a small den behind them for Gandaulf to sleep and get away. 

The coolest part is our soft storage areas. We used the cargo nets from cars to organize our soft gear. Ingenious! We have hung them strategically so that it’s easy to access but tucked out of the way. They can be hung on the back doors for extra shoes, water hoses, and power cords, on the headliner for blackout blinds, window coverings, gloves, hats, etc. In the 12’ trailer we haul, we’ve hung them from the ceilings to make our space 3 dimensional.  We travel with a 50” Can-Am Maverick UTV and two electric assist bikes, for getting around where the van can’t go. 

We also added one small item as a last minute booster for our cell phones. We are now a personal cell phone tower that can boost our reception (in theory) so we can be a little further off grid but still in some service in case of emergencies. The jury is still out on this device. 

Wilderness Travelers: Part One

Life Off Grid

Life on the road is not a vacation. You are not going home. You are home. You didn’t skirt any chores, honey-do fix it project, or little things that need to be done, because there’s always something to fix on the van, and it’s sometimes harder on the road. 

Living off grid is a wonderful adventure if you have the right state of mind, as my grandparents used to say,”got enough gumption.” Where ever you land is where you call home. Some places feel like a place you’d like to stay and experience all it’s energy. Others are just quick over nights. 

I think that life in the wilderness affords you a certain peace of mind, softens the heart, and gives you a connection to the earth. You live with the flies, the mosquitos, the ants and mice. You’re in their home as a visitor. You live sometimes on dusty roads with the humidity just right, and the air just still enough, that the dust hangs like a heavy cloud, suffocating all manor of life, including you. Other times you’ll live on a desert plateau or a beach, or a mountain riverside. Each pallet a different experience. Each is your little place in the world at that second. Your footprint is very small. 

You may meet people here and there. Each with their own story to tell. Each exist in their struggle to belong, to find something they think is missing. Out on the road there’s only you to deal with (except in a COVID-19 pandemic). With COVID, anyone you meet and even the air you breathe can make you sick. In general most people are kind and courteous, following the rules. We are all on the same path to be calm and stay healthy.

I have a certain affinity for trees, perhaps I was a squirrel once. The taller the better. These enduring sentinels hold years upon years of memories of season upon season. In the Wild I connect to everything animate and inanimate. The depth of the silence, the rivers voice heard loud and clear and echoing through the canyons. The peel of a bird of preys call. This is a place of magic and whimsy. 

You need only 4 things when vagabonding… food, a clean source of water, gas (petrol and LPG) and a safe place to park. We prefer places away from people but this isn’t always possible. So you bend and accept whatever accommodations you can for that night. We are always able to move in the morning to a more suitable place to call home. Everything is fluid. 

This is Our New Home

The vast sky looming above

The clouds drift by in heavy formations

Billowing to the top of the sky in endless flowing and changing shapes

The birds sing their joy

Tiny babes can be heard calling mother back to the nest

The sound of water as it meanders down the creek bed

Bubbling over the rocks

Sneaking beneath overhangs where fish sit poised for the next meal

The aspens still waking from a cold winter

Have the tiniest almost translucent pale green leaves

The subAlpines and black pines soar like silent sentinels above the sage 

Whole fields of deep green dotted with brilliant yellow flowers for as far as the eye can see blanket hillsides

This is our new home

Travelers of both time and space

No longer slave to the clock

A sanctuary made by Mother Nature 

Observed in silence and reverence

Existing as the flow of the river 

As invisible as the wind

Setting and rising like the moon

This is our new home

In Search Of…

My mind spins in wonder

My heart… full of joy

My eyes see the beauty around me

The vibration of the earth

Becomes a harmony in my body

Molecules and atoms split

Exploding into new life

I am… at ease

We are unified

In search of a peaceful existence in this world

Life off grid… connecting with nature 

Talking with trees

Consoled by the rivers

Held in warmth by the sun

In search of wisdom from the moon

Soaring through the hawks eyes on the thermals

In search of life.