Guadalupe NP and Oliver Lee SP

I don't have much time to do this entry, so it's going to be brief...

ABOVE: Parked beside a rare Sportsmobile van from Alaska.

ABOVE: I hiked up Mount Guadalupe, the highest peak in Texas at around 8700 feet. It was a very fun hike. Strenuous, but consistently spectacular. I left at sunrise and was back before noon.

ABOVE: The USPS pyramid monument atop Guadalupe.

ABOVE: I sat for a little while on the peak, in the shelter of rocks to duck the wind.

ABOVE: I continued north into New Mexico and stayed at Oliver Lee State Park. I had a great parking spot right against the mountains.

ABOVE: The Charcoal chimney doing its thing...


Monahans Sandhills SP

All my gloating about the sunshine and warm weather caught up with me and the temperature plummeted. For a day it was 43 degrees and at night below 30. Now today it's warmed up again, although I chatted with a ranger who warned of potential "sleet" for tomorrow.

Let me digress for a moment about weather warnings. After living in Rhode Island for 2 years I'm very wary of people who tell you about bad weather to come. Many RI residents love to spread fear about the weather. In the Ocean State, its a ritual, a hobby, a tradition even. The mentality seems to be, Why simply recite what the Weather Station predicted when you can come up with your own fire-and-brimstone threats about snow and rain? Why be accurate? Why be reasonable?

I worked in a gym and observed first-hand how a "chance of flurries" mentioned by one customer at 7 AM had become "possibly 3 to 4 feet of snow" intoned somberly by another customer at 4:30. After hearing of such doom people would stare bitterly out the windows, shaking their heads --- the very people who on another day might spin their own web of meteorological deceit! It was a twisted version of the "Telephone" game we've all played, which poses an allegory about misinformation. However in this case it was not simply miscommuncation but, I suspect, intentional paranoia-building. They liked to scare one another.

You'd mention to someone how you planned to drive to Boston after work. "Oh, I wouldn't do that, buddy," this character says gravely, "They're saying rain, sleet, and hail... I'd keep off the roads, if I were you!" So you're alarmed and you check the weather... "Chance of rain 10%..."

It was all the more comic because it was New England which is famous for its harsh winters, rainy springs, steamy summers... Yet it was the life-long residents - supposed veterans of the climate - who seemed to regard any remote chance of precipitation as a signal of the apocalypse.

Anyway... while driving today I stopped at Monahans Sandhills State Park in central Texas. I had it in mind to see what all this "sand sledding" business was about.

True to its name, the park is composed of dunes for as far as you can see above. There are picnic areas and an RV campground. I'm not sure why you'd camp there except as a pitstop. $14/night and you can't even cook outside due to the dryness. There really wasn't much hiking or sight-seeing - just dunes, which you were welcome to walk on, and this "sledding".

ABOVE: The sled rentable at the park headquarters. You lube it up with a chunk of wax. Then you walk out into the dunes and begin the laborious process of carving out a tract. You see, the first dozen or so attempts down the hill, you don't slide at all. You have to drag yourself along by clawing in the sand in order to create a tract. Keep in mind that after each descent you must slog back up the dune and re-wax the sled.

I was eventually able to descend sort of quickly. I think it must be easier for children who won't sink as easily into the earth. It would also be easier with friends, because you could work cooperatively to make a very deep and smooth tract together.

ABOVE: A Texas rest-stop. Many Texas rest-stops offer free wireless internet. It is through one of them that I'm typing this very entry. The idea is to encourage people, especially truckers, to pull over, check e-mail, and maybe sleep a little. I guess they also figure tourists can use it to find out about more tourist stuff. Thanks, Texas!

Tomorrow I drive to Guadalupe National Forest.


Armadillos, wasps... San Angelo SP

It had been over 8 eight days since my last shower so I had it in mind to pay for a campsite where there was a showerhouse, or get a cheap motel room. I also wanted to coordinate the bathing with doing laundry, as getting my body clean and then lying for 10 hours in my stinking bedding, or vice versa, would be pointless.

San Angelo State Park turned out to be the best option. I spent the afternoon at a coin-op laundromat in the college neighborhood, then drove into the park, which is only a few miles from downtown.

ABOVE: My campsite. It's $3 to enter plus $8 for a primitive campsite. If you're already paying the camping fee it seems like San Angelo is double-dipping by making you also pay the entrance fee. But hey, they're a state park and they're probably barely scraping by. The park is mostly desert hills centered around an enormous fishing lake (unvisited by me). There are winding trails for hiking and mountain-biking. There was a fire ban in effect due to a lack of rain, so I couldn't barbecue like I'd hoped to.

It was peaceful, warm, dry, and windy. Early in the morning I woke to the sound of rustling outside the van. I quietly rose and peeked out my window. There was a smallish dark shape foraging in the brush, but I couldn't make out any details (more on this later).

The next morning, I decided to do some hiking since I'd paid the $3 "Park Entrance Fee". The map provided by the office was, unfortunately, one of those dumb-headed maps that only shows you the park trails and none of the other intersecting roads or paths. This baffles me. If you are in unfamiliar back-country, without any way of measuring distance, your ONLY hope for taking the correct turn is by counting off trails and roads. It's the very principle which inspires people to count traffic lights when they're giving you directions. I found it, eventually...

The trails were also in need of a good working-over. Signs were either missing or so run-down as to be unreadable.

(BELOW: the Burkett trailhead with a primitive bathroom).

Not far down the trail, I had an encounter with an armadillo. The next 3 pictures tell the story. First I heard it rustling under a cactus. It came lurching into view and toward me.

It walked right onto the trail, seemingly fearless. It paused intermittently to sniff the air and feel about with its little lizard feet.

Then, once it got really close, it changed its mind and turned tail and crossed the trail. I think it just wanted to cross the trail and I was in the way. In that picture below doesn't it look like a total lizard? That's Godzilla's tail right there. In retrospect, having seen how this armadillo moved, I think it was an armadillo lurking around my van in the morning, too.

After hiking for a few hours I returned to camp. There was a dumpster off the road and I had it in mind to toss in my bagged garbage. I guess the smell of my garbage was strong, because as soon as I stepped out of the van with it, I was mobbed by wasps. They were obviously some sort of killer Texas wasp - they looked like a yellow jacket except between each black stripe it was HELL RED! Fucked up, huh? They started landing on the garbage and me.

The truth is that one of my deepest discomforts is to be touched by an insect, any insect. If it is a harmless insect like a moth then I am merely offended for having been touched against my will. When it is something potentially painful like a wasp or spider, I go absolutely apeshit. When these satan-wasps landed on me I ran cursing trailing garbage - beer bottles, empty cans, and so on - down the road.

It took a long time for me to recover from this, in terms of my emotions. I took a long walk to calm down. I hadn't been stung. I returned and picked up the garbage which the bugs had curiously lost interest in. I put it in the dumpster then drove over to the showerhouse intent on taking one last shower before hitting the road.

Now, I sat in the van for probably 10-15 minutes looking at my map. Then I went into the back and gathered together my towel and toiletries - probably another 5 minutes. I went into the showerhouse, undressed, and stepped under the water. I felt something heavy on my calf, running down my ankle, and then move under my foot. It was one of those red fucking wasps! It had been riding my leg THAT ENTIRE TIME! It must have been stunned or something, that's the only explanation as to why it didn't sting me.

I'll never be the same.


Ozarks to Texas

From Memphis I drove into the Ozark region and spent a week camping on Mount Magazine, the tallest peak in Arkansas. The price was right, the facilities superb, and the hiking decent.

It was pretty cold up there, though. It dropped below 10 degrees a few nights. When you wake up and your bottle of piss is frozen solid it makes you wonder what you're doing camping in the dead of winter when you could be elsewhere...

... and so upon descending from the mountains I made up my mind to hurry to warm weather. I spent a night at Fort Smith then drove south through Oklahoma, stopping in Durant. The next day I drove to Dallas. Upon crossing over the Texas border the landscape changed almost immediately into beautiful, sunny desert. I pulled over at the Texas welcome center and ran prancing around the sand in my t-shirt and sandals (well, not quite - but I felt like doing that...)

I spent 2 nights in Dallas, where I watched the play-offs. I also watched "Gran Torino", which was excellent.

From Dallas I drove to Austin. Austin has the coolest strip of bars I've ever seen, on the famed "6th Street". The bars were big, open, and inviting, most with huge entrances open right onto the sidewalk, and there were many good restaurants sprinkled between them. I attended a showing of "The Wrestler" at the famous "Alamo Drafthouse" on 6th street, where you can order food and drinks while you watch. The seats are arranged so that you have a little counter in front of you and servers can walk up and down the aisles. I ordered a house salad and a vodka on the rocks. The food and drink were good and modestly priced. The movie ticket, since it was a matinee, was only 7 bucks. And the screen and sound quality were top-notch. The Alamo Drafthouse puts all those bullshit, overpriced cineplexes to shame...

"The Wrestler", though, was so painful that afterwards all I wanted to do was go to sleep and forget I'd ever seen it. I'm not saying it was a bad film - no, it was very good, flawed only by a crap ending - it just had a current of extremely depressing emotion running through it from start to finish. So I got in the van intent on driving to a Walmart for the night which, according to the GPS and map, was only 1.2 miles south.

45 minutes later, I arrived, and that was after shutting off the GPS and getting directions from a Shell Station. Something about Austin made the GPS go schizophrenic. It had me get on, off, and back on 35N four times in a row before I wised up to its treachery. There was a lot of construction happening, so maybe that's to blame.

The next day I drove westward - with the GPS deactivated, using my road atlas - aiming for Brady, Texas. This was a glorious little ride through the hills of central Texas. Surrounding me was that delightful "green desert" which I tend to associate with California. Not much in Brady, TX although I was perplexed by the sky-high motel rates advertised: $45, $60, and even $75 for 1 bed for 1 person for 1 night. In Brady fucking Texas. Where do they think they are?

Today I'm in San Angelo, TX, 2 hours from Brady. I'm aiming for New Mexico as I inch westward...


Memphis and so on...

So here is a "van-dwelling" update: the original freshwater system in the van sucked. It was a pressure activated pump-sink linked by a hose to a 6 gallon freshwater tank (bought at West Marine), which in turn was connected by hose to an inlet on the kitchen counter for refills (Click the November entries for pictures of it). The main culprit was the pump sink. The pumping motion makes it difficult to wash your hands or fill containers; in addition, the pumps tend to spray water all over the place. And the 6 gallon tank was excessive; I've never needed that much water at a time.

So, despite how much money and time that system cost me, I decided to rip it out and go for something simpler. As you can see ABOVE, I ripped it out, patched the holes with an old cutting board, and put in the simplest possible alternative: a water jug with an adjustable spigot. When I'm driving, I simply stow it under the sink where the tank used to live. When I'm cooking or cleaning, I take it out. That labor is worth it for how neat and efficient the jug is with its water dispensing. I highly recommend it, if you've got it in mind to build a sink in a van...

As for the travels... I left Nashville. There was an 80 mile detour when the GPS sent me 40 miles in the wrong direction (the road was not finished). Many foul things were uttered and curses directed at the lowly Magellan GPS. That threw off my schedule, so I spent a night at Natchez Trace Park in Tennessee, which is cut in half by Route 40.

ABOVE: As usual, I was the only camper present.

ABOVE: A pit in the camp lake below a dock.

BELOW: The next 3 pictures show a beaver dam that was blocking the hiking loop around Cub Lake. The ranger had warned me before I left, "Part of the trail is flooded... the beavers did it." But he didn't say just how flooded it was.

I'd never seen such a humongous beaver dam. Now I appreciate why in cartoons the beaver characters are always engineers, builders, or demolitionists. This dam was a work of art. There were HUNDREDS of trees cut down with the telltale pointed ends. The water on the reservoir side of the dam was several feet deep. It was probably 30-40 feet long and it took me 15 minutes to carefully navigate it.

I explored Memphis the next morning. I don't have any photos to show, though, because I wasn't in the mood to carry the camera around. Memphis has a beautiful river walk. The famous "Beale St" neighborhood, though, was very touristy, on par with that heinous "Fisherman's Wharf" tourist trap in San Francisco.

There were signs for "B-B-Q Ribs" everywhere and since I'd enjoyed BBQ chicken in Georgia, I decided to give the ribs a try. NEVER AGAIN. It was one of the most disgusting things I've had to choke down, rivaled only by the time in college I accidentally bit into a deeply moldy muffin. And I HAD to choke the ribs down because the cook was also the bartender and he was tending bar right in front of me and he kept asking if I liked it or not. The meat was BBQ-colored on the outside, but inside it was puddle gray. It had to be peeled like duct tape from the bone. What really made me gag were the presence of "smaller" bones, in addition to the ribs. These "smaller" bones must have been cartiledge; they were translucent, almost the color of latex, and were very difficult to chew. The ribs I could avoid easily, but these smaller translucent bones were hard to see in the restaurant's dim lighting. What the hell!

From Memphis I drove toward Little Rock. As soon as I crossed over the Mississippi into Arkansas, there was a perceptible change in the world. It all had a very 1970s feel, or at least what I imagined the 1970's looked like. Something about the colors... I can't explain it. The road quality is significantly worse as well, the bumpiest, most cracked interstates I've encountered yet. Still, in Arkansas you can camp at State Parks with hook-ups for just $9 / night, and you're allowed to sleep overnight at rest stops as well. I'm hoping to explore the Ozarks next.

But first I'm in Little Rock to watch the play-offs. Go Ravens!



I spent the past few holidays weeks at a farm belonging to a close family friend in Georgia. I didn't have cell phone reception, much less internet access, hence the lack of blog entries. The picture above is of Ollie the llama, who I fed grains to each day. Ollie, as well as a female llama, were adopted by the farm owners after they were mauled by dogs at their original home. Everyone believed Ollie had been castrated by the dogs, but after the attack he still managed to impregnate the female llama. To quote Dr. Ian Malcom of Jurassic Park, "Life finds a way."

ABOVE: Another interesting character at the farm. A nameless donkey isolated from the other animals after supposedly trampling to death a calf he was charged with protecting. The farmhands universally agreed that this donkey is "mean". He was prone to appearing out of nowhere and staring you down from the edge of the fence.

ABOVE: There were also these "Angus" cows. They were very noisy.

ABOVE: Part of my stay in Georgia involved a return trip to the Smoky Mountains with co-pilot Jora Johnson. It was cool and rainy down in the campgrounds, but at the top of the mountains it was bitterly cold and frozen over, as shown in the photograph.

ABOVE: Me at some sort of dam as we first entered the Smokys.

Right now I'm in Nashville. It's 43 degrees and raining, and the van windshield is leaking in 3 places. I'm sick of this chilly, southern-wintern rain. I'm going to where it's warm.

Tomorrow I'm going to do an entry about some of the modifications I've done to the van.

PS: In response to the comment/question posted on my last entry about internet access: I take my laptop computer into Starbucks. Most Starbucks have Wifi and if you register a Starbucks gift-card with their website, they let you access it. It's not free but it's close to it. Thanks for reading!