Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Center of it All, California

We wouldn’t call El Centro a vacation destination by any means.  There’s nothing touristy to see or do and yet we have managed to spend over a week here and enjoyed ourselves quite a bit. 

Twelve miles from the Mexican border is just close enough to wonder sometimes if you are still in the states or crossed over in your sleep.  On the GPS we now have an option for Border Crossings under the ‘community’ section.  Most everything is either translated to Spanish or written in Spanish only and you hear Spanish spoken more than English.  We read the Spanish print newspaper the other day at the Laundromat and have enjoyed practicing the language.

Nicole is excited because the military flies maneuvers in high tech looking helicopters and cool planes like the Albatross all day and most of the night too.  Here’s a not so great shot of the Albatross.  Apparently, once we get to our next destination, the Slabs, we’ll see plenty more of this and even feel the quakes from bombing practice. 


We are pretty sure that car alarms here in El Centro are sold here as car locators.  You hear them going off regularly as people push the panic button to search for their cars in the parking lot.  Local parks are nothing to point your camera at but they’ve got a bunch of them and we’ve enjoyed the ones we have visited.  There seems to be a unique attitude about littering.  We’ve interpreted this as ‘It is acceptable because there is someone who comes around to clean it up.’  It’s true though.  In the morning, the mess is all cleaned up. 

We went to a grocery that Darlene called a Mexican Whole Foods.  There were fruits and vegetables there that we have never seen before and two entire rows of chili pepper varieties.  Darlene is now addicted to a dry form of Pico de Gallo that we dipped our fruit in. 

The temperatures are quite nice.  We’ve both acquired tans while we’ve been here.  The people are very cheerful, friendly and helpful.  And despite the fair size of the city we discovered everything that we needed within about a four block radius from our ‘camp’ at Wal-Mart which made errands quite easy.  


It was our intent to stay only two or three days in El Centro to get some quick work done on the van interior but Wal-Mart had security, was very quiet and we found an area of the parking lot where the lights were broken and didn’t shine in at night.  With the added bonus that the Lowes was conveniently located right across the street from the Wal-Mart we sort of fell into a daily groove.  Next thing we know, ten days have gone by!  

Here’s a bit of a peek at what we’ve been doing inside the van. 

The Sink Area

IMG_0170Soon water shall flow here.  Hopefully, only through the pipes!

The Bench / Clothing Storage Area IMG_0175
Soon clothes shall hide and butts shall reside here.

Staining it up.

All but the top and the trim.

The Kitchen
Yummy meals will be prepared here.

All of this hard work was not without incident.  Although we were very excited to discover that we could run our jig saw off of our two house batteries for longer cuts we did all of our smaller framing using a good old fashioned handsaw.  It appears that Darlene’s father was right.  Those darn handsaws are quite delicate and you have to be careful with them.  As Nicole found out, if you don’t treat them just right they turn around and bite you!

IMG_0174Nothing a little toilet paper and scotch tape couldn’t cure!

While working on the interior one day we got to talking about the complaining and grumbling that Annie’s front end has been giving us on dirt roads and bumps of all sorts.  As most BLM land that we camp on is located at the end of an unpaved road we got to thinking that maybe we should have her front end looked at.  So we took her for an evaluation at Pro Auto.  Guillermo jacked her up, gave her a few shakes, some shimmies, a lot of discussion and contemplation in Spanish (mostly to himself) and eventually gave us a list of what he suggested we do for her.  Having already consulted another guy previous who barely even touched the van and wanted to replace everything we opted for Guillermo’s more conservative yet hands on approach.

We got a kick out of this sign he had posted in his shop.


When we arrived on Monday, Aaron was put on the job.  When we asked if we could watch or at least see what he was doing so that we could learn more about the van he put out a bench seat for us right next to where he was working.  Aaron then spent the next six hours walking us through the whole process including putting the bad parts in our hands so that we could see and feel what was wrong.  He also answered the barrage of questions that we had about other things on the van and told us the best ways to repair several things that we wanted to do ourselves.  We were thrilled!

IMG_0188The old, worn out, ball joints

Annie’s double “hip” replacement on the Right side.

New (the black, non-rusted items) Idler Arm and Tie Rod Ends.

We’ll take care of the shocks and some other smaller items ourselves but essentially Annie’s front end is now tight and strong and we are all anxious to ramble on down the road.  Tomorrow we are finally on our way to The Slabs… thirty miles away… with a quick detour to the hot springs first to boil away the dirt.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


This afternoon, we were in the Lowes parking lot cutting some paneling with our jig saw when a woman approached us.  She asked Darlene if she would buy her a meal. 

Darlene replied, ‘I’m sorry.  I don’t have anything for you.  We live in this van.’ 

The van was open and due to our current construction our clothing was stacked in boxes in plain view and let’s just say it really looked like we LIVED in there. 

The woman glanced into the van then back at Darlene in shock and questioned, ‘You live in THAT van, right there?’ 

After Darlene nodded the woman then said, ‘Oh, Mija (A Spanish term of endearment).  It WILL get better.’


Post Script:  A woman begging for food feels sorry for us because we live in a van.  Perspective is a funny thing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Short and Easy

We made one of our shortest drives yet to our new destination in California.  100 miles give or take a few to the city of El Centro to go to Lowes. 

Before we left Arizona, we grabbed a few parting shots of character from Quartzite.

IMG_0151This guy has got it all!  Van, Aerodynamic Camper and Truck.

Side view.

We discovered this on our way out of town.  Will have to visit next time.

A few other parting shots that you’ll have to use your imagination for since we did not grab photos would be 1) A small jeep that had been reshaped to look like a mini-Hummer.  On the back in shiny silver letters it said ‘BUMMER’  2) Paul the naked bookseller.  Yup, you heard right.  And we saw alright.  Picture your typical used bookstore.  Now picture the owner, a seventy something man, wearing nothing but a crochet sack around his ‘personal items’.  The day we visited was a particularly cold morning so he was also wearing a jacket.  In regard to that he commented, ‘This is not one of those days on which people envy me.’  Paul was a neat guy to talk with and we enjoyed meeting this Quartzite icon.

Heading out of town on our way to Cali-forn-i-a we spotted a bunch more free camping zones right at the base of the mountains for the next time we are in the area.  We headed south upon entering the state and drove right through Imperial Dunes Recreation Area.  This place was cool!  Dunes as far as you could see and every sort of vehicle you can imagine flying all over them.  We stopped to eat lunch and watch everyone play.

IMG_0159The ‘s’ curve road on the left is the one we were on.  This photo is deceiving. 
What you can’t see is that the ‘lump’ of sand nearest to you in this photo drops about 70’ on the other side.

A couple hot rods.

The four wheeler in the back is showing off his wheelie skills.

One day we’ll have to come back here and hitch a ride with these guys!

In typical style it took us about five hours to go 100 miles.  You cannot say that we don’t stop to smell the roses!  Now that we are in El Centro we’ll settle in for a few nights in local store parking lots and a few days in the Lowe’s parking lot framing up our sink area, fixing our 30 gallon water tank and getting our clothing storage unit / bench seat built.  After that we’ll head off into the California desert to chill for a few weeks.

And now… In the category of things that make you go, hmmm?

???  If only.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Living and Learning

Hanging out in Quartzite during early winter is not too shabby.  At night it gets down to about 45 and during the day the temps reach 72 - 76 with a light cool breeze.  The attitude is very laid back and friendly.

We have met some awesome folks here with the majority being long term rubber tramps (vehicle dwellers).  It has been great to encounter so many like minded individuals who understand and relate to living a life on the road.  There is a community that exists among the people we have met.  People are happy to lend a hand, offer what they have, share what they know and you can tell that everyone watches out for everyone else.  We are excited to be a part of it all and have been learning a lot.

LESSON 1:  We can live without a generator. 


Going to that big ‘gennie’ scrap yard in the sky!

LESSONS 2-5:  Before giving up on her all together, we learned how to take apart and put back together a starter, how to test a voltage regulator (the $250 culprit part), how to measure many different things with our volt meter, how to make fireworks with spark plugs and how to creatively plug a gas line.

LESSON 6:  Carry a can of pennies for safety when walking in the desert.

LESSONS 7-9:  Never approach a coyote.  Don’t run in front of a coyote.  If you see one shake a can of pennies.

LESSON 10:  “You can sprout anywhere!  Even in your pocket.” – Joe, the bicycle guy.

LESSON 11:  How to pan for gold by ‘Air Force’ Ricky.  The skill is essentially broken down into three parts: 1. You lose your BB’s, you lose your gold  2. Classify, Classify, Classify  3. If you’re gonna buy, buy Keene.  If you buy Keene, do the ripple dance!

LESSON 12:  “The people at the Slabs in California are even better!”  Shared by Ken (70’ish and traveling to Quartzite and Slabs for 30+ years).  By better he means more variety.  We like variety and we like Ken so we’ll probably wind up catching up with him at the Slabs in the next week or so. 

LESSON 13:  ‘Grey’ water (aka. sink water mixed with #1) does not dry up in the desert as quickly as you would think therefore dumping it a bit further from your camp is a pretty good idea.

LESSON 14:  It takes a REALLY hot fire to burn #2. 

LESSON 15:  Darlene is a savant who can count spaghetti that drops on the floor just by looking at it.


IMG_0149The sun has risen yet again in the desert and we are off to explore a new day.






Saturday, November 12, 2011


On our way to one of our winter destinations, Quartzsite, AZ, we spent a wonderful few days in Tucson with our good friends Maria & Marcelo and their son, Roman.  The last time that Nicole talked to Roman he was still in Maria’s belly so it was exciting to finally meet him and to spend some time catching up.  This included some gym climbing where we discovered just how out of shape we are!  We had loads of great meals, walks and conversations.  Marcelo and Roman even gave us a performance on their djembes one evening. 


The next day, Roman gave Nicole a lesson.  She’s got quite a bit of work to do on her bongos before the next time they play together but she’s looking forward to another jam session with him and has already started practicing. 

Our visit was too short but the desert kept calling us so after a few days we gave in and answered knowing that we’ll surely see our friends again soon.  Considering Roman’s new found desire to live in a van, it may be sooner than we think! 

We shipped off from Tucson early afternoon and by sunset we were sitting in the desert of Quartzsite, AZ at the Hi-Jolly BLM (aka. FREE!) camping area. 

IMG_0132Yup.  It’s like that. 

It’s a rough life but somebody has to sit on their butt and take in mountain views all day!

Take this view and multiply it around you in a circle.
We’re in the middle of that circle.

Our little oasis in the desert.

Check it out, Lowthers!  We finally got a chance to plant some roots.

Well it isn’t all R&R.  OK, we won’t lie, most of it is but we are also excited to get some much needed work done on Annie before we head down to Mexico.  Since she topped her best mileage yet getting here (13 mpg) we’re thinking she’s pretty excited too! 

Monday, November 7, 2011

New Mexico… It never gets old.

Finally in New Mexico we agreed that it was time to officially slow down the pace and to travel less each day.  We were only a little ways into New Mexico in a small town called Clayton when we decided to settle in for the night.  Being a small town (a really small town) there were none of our usual haunts to stay at.  No Wally World.  No Cracker Barrel.  Not even a fast food joint to be found.  So, we picked the local hospital as our ‘safe’ place to park for the evening.  We figured if the cops decided to rouse us we had a great excuse.  Nicole had been suffering all day from terrible nosebleeds due to the dry weather and was having quite a time getting them to stop.  We wouldn’t want her to bleed out now would we officer? 

Clayton wasn’t much to speak of so when we woke in the morning we were excited to get on down the road.  Apparently, Annie wasn’t.  We couldn’t get her to start.  Thankfully, one of the nurses who worked at the hospital was married to the local mechanic.  Brad came out to see what was what even though he didn’t normally work on Saturdays.  He was nice enough to tow us to his shop (around the corner) and then drive us to the local ‘parts’ store (across the street).  It was his suggestion on first glance to change the spark plugs because we might have flooded them out too much for them to dry up anytime soon.  Simple enough.  Still, no start.  We called Brad back and he suggested that we hold the choke open on the carburetor and that did the trick to get her all fired back up.  We then shot out of that town as quickly as we could.

And this is what followed that exciting start for New Mexico.

IMG_0037Sand storms… can you see the Semi Truck?


Lava Fields (The Valley of Fire)

Lichen Happy Faces

We actually spent quite some time sneaking up on this guy, whispering, getting our camera ready only to discover that he was… um, rusty.
Got a good laugh from that one.

400 year old trees.

600-1000 year old petroglyphs (Three Rivers Petroglyphs Park)

Mountains tall enough for snow to be on top!

White Sands

White Sands National Monument…. miles and miles of gypsum sand dunes to play in, slide down and explore.
We kept wondering where the water was.  It felt like we were at the beach.

Look, Mom!  No socks!  Finally, weather warm enough to take off the socks and wear short sleeves.

We really enjoyed New Mexico and look forward to exploring it quite a bit more in the future.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto!

We didn’t spend much time in Kansas and the route we chose did not offer much in terms of sight seeing locations but we did manage to see a few things.

IMG_0001Lots of wide open spaces!

Sunset at Pawnee Rock Lookout

Pawnee Rock dates back to the 1800’s as a major lookout for travelers along the Santa Fe Trail.  While most of the scenery in Kansas was fairly flat Pawnee Rock provided a really nice vantage point of the surrounding land.

Gold Nix was here in 1898!

We spent the night in the parking lot of the Dodge City Walmart.  It was our first night seeing other RV’ers in the lot with us.  In the morning we received an invitation to breakfast from Dave and Alison of British Columbia.  This was our first ‘on the road’ meeting of other RV’ers so we were pretty excited to chat it up with them.


Dave and Darlene

We had some lively conversations about everything from diet (these guys are eating vegetarian on the road too) to travel to flying and planes (both are pilots and Dave charters hunters, folks wanting to canoe the rivers and others into the Yukon).  To top it off (ATTENTION: Nicole’s Dad), they were hauling a Pratt & Whitney engine for one of their planes in a trailer behind their rig.  Dave had taken it down to Tulsa to get some work done on it.


We had a wonderful time with Dave and Alison but we all had places to go.  They were heading back north and we were heading south to warmer weather.
Random Sighting: chainsaw tree.

House looks like it was built especially for the one who owns the bike.  Actually the rest is underground.

Well, Kansas was quite a trip.  While we managed to meet some new friends and to get away from the continuous cornfields of the last four states we also battled a constant head / crosswind and an obstacle course of tumbleweeds. 


Picture five or six of these crossing the road at the same time for 100 miles or so. Fun times!

After a short jaunt through the panhandle of Oklahoma we were finally in
New Mexico!

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Henry Doorly Zoo

Probably the neatest thing about this zoo is the layout of zones.  There was a desert dome, a two level rainforest walk complete with seventy foot trees for the monkeys to swing on, an aquarium similar to the Georgia one with a tunnel you can walk through while fish swim over you, a swamp walk, a cave walk and tunnels in the rainforest had real bats hanging in them and flying over your head.  All in all we spent about six hours at the zoo and never even visited the outdoor areas (similar to the zoos we are used to).  The weather the day before had us in short sleeves but when we arrived at the zoo they were talking of sleet, snow and ice.  We were thankful to have so many indoor areas to visit and surely could have spent a lot more time there on a nicer day.  An added bonus to the day and the snowy weather was that we basically had the entire zoo and exhibits all to ourselves.  Well, on to the photos. Here’s a few.  There are way too many to post all.



IMG_1274These guys were hilarious with this light.  They kept pushing each other out of the way to take turns ‘sunning’.

IMG_1304This little guy engaged in quite a game of hide-n-seek with Nicole.  When she would surprise him he would fall down and roll on the ground then run and hide again.  This game then turned into him climbing on top of one of the viewing bubbles and taking turns banging on it.  Sometimes he would stand up and bang his chest like the big guys.  Super cute.  His Grandpa had quite a thing for Darlene and would bow his head bashfully when she would acknowledge him.
While many of the animals would interact with you and definitely acknowledge that they saw you this was definitely our favorite exhibit due to the ‘human’ like interactions.


IMG_1322This guy was adorable.  He would climb up to this ledge to look in the window and then walk along the ledge back and forth (keeping his front paws on the ledge and moving from one end to the other as if he was looking for people).

IMG_1328 IMG_1347 

IMG_1361Darlene inside the Swamp Exhibit.  Felt like Florida in there!

IMG_1380 This rockin’ bird was wandering around the Rainforest. The animals in this area were not behind cages at all.  Monkeys were on islands so that they couldn’t be touched but you felt like you were walking right through the forest with them.

IMG_1383 Just hanging around!  These guys went crazy flying all around the rainforest at feeding time (that means right over our heads close enough that we could reach out and touch them)!

IMG_1349Kookaburra, Kookaburra!

IMG_1394Just chillin’ in a tree about ten feet from us.

IMG_1364 We were glad to have indoor areas to view the animals on this particular day!