Last Winter Desert Hike

Long view to the east behind the dwelling remains
Long view to the east behind the dwelling remains

On a warm, sunny, and moderately windy day last Monday, I took my last hike at the LTVA (long-term visitor area) near Yuma, AZ and the Arizona/California border. I intended it to be just a short two-hour hike to get in some exercise and one last wander through the desert landscape. I had a few long hikes I wanted to do, but for one reason or another, I did not complete that short checklist.

After hiking out about a mile and a half, I was feeling good and as I looked to the west, I noticed the faint rock pile remains of some sort of structure off in the distance. I’d looked at this often since it was a location I wanted to hike to, but was clueless how long a hike that destination would take. Was it four miles? Six? Or more? Really wasn’t sure, and Google did not let me drop pins out here in the wild to figure that out.

So on Monday, I paused, drank some water, and realized I had hiked to the dirt road that if I turned left down it, would take me toward this checklist price. What the heck, go for it.

I’d hiked a lot in this area and as any hiker knows, the first time trekking down a new-to-you path is usually the most interesting part of any hike. And so it was that day as I hiked past the mound with the large cairns on top that I’d climbed on previous hikes and headed into new territory and the fun of figuring out how to go there.

Pictures below show some oddities I saw on the path, the awesome view from above the rock formation, and of course, of the rock formation only previously seen through my binoculars, which didn’t really reveal what it was. Near as I can tell, it’s probably the remains of someone’s hunting cabin from many years ago. Or perhaps some soul’s effort for a solitude life in the desert wilds.

As for my checklist hike, turns out it was a 6.25 mile round trip, easily within my doable range. As I climbed out of the arroyo below where my van was, I was pleased I’d pushed myself to wander toward that spot I’d seen when I first arrived and wanted to hike out to see what it was. A good, fitting final touch on my three months dispersed camping in the desert.

Heading Home

It’s time. Time to head home, to face the late winter blasts and go from sunny, warm Southern California to unpredictable Michigan.

By the time I reach home base, it will have been five-plus months since first adopting Van Geist, my Solis Pocket camper van. It’s been a good, long trip wandering west, a place I did not get to travel to during my year in Tamesté, my Travato. And it’s been a chance to experience a variety of travel and camping options to see what works for me.

Looking back, it was a chance to experience staying put in one place for an extended time, that of spending three months at Imperial Dam LTVA (long-term visitor area), a BLM property highly popular with the snowbird RV travelers. In staying put so long, the dynamic and nuance of living out of the camper van became clear in part and parcel, and from the experience I’ve been able to better understand travel choices ahead in Van Geist.

On the good side of the list, the time here allowed me to complete the draft of my book, Modern Nomad: The Vanlife Alternative (working title). I expect (well, hope) to release it around May. The time also provided the chance to shift into everyday vanlife without the interruptions of gearing down to leave, and gearing up to make camp. There is a comfort, even in vanlife, of staying put for a while and settling into a pattern of living more like a physical home. Yet there is always the allure of travel and exploration, one of the many upsides of vanlife.

Here also, time on site gave me many opportunities to hike and ponder things immersed in the nature of the Southern California desert.

On the bad side of the list, there is the wind. And the dust. Always the dust. After three months, the dust has disturbed my health, but in a way I feel will improve once I head toward dustless travels and ones with humidity percentages greater than the 10% typically present here. I love the southwestern desert, the high Chihuahuan desert and all southwestern climes in between. But I now realize such visits, and there will be many more, need to be no more than short one- to three-week stays.

Some might say there’s too many solitary days camping in such a place as this LTVA for so long, but in reality, at least to me, such a solitude is a welcome companion in these times of continued Covid high-risk exposures. In the beginning of the pandemic, during the swell of first-time RV buyers, many called their new toys ”Covid escape vehicles.” I consider Van Geist my Covid safe-travel vehicle.

Now it’s time to pack up and make Van Geist ready for the 2,200 mile trip ahead, then point him in more or less a northeast direction. With weather’s cooperation, I’ll arrive safely around March 1. After a home base visit of a few months, for annual visits with healthcare providers, and some new, interesting mods to Van Geist, I’ll once again point him down the road and let him take me on new wanderings. Where and when are still evolving, but it will undoubtedly be yet another soul-satisfying and enlightening, embraced with the freedom of vanlife.

Desert Silence

Desert Silence2

There is something about how hiking in the silence of a desert that is addictive, as though this absence of civilized noise experienced miles into the hike is something you’ve craved your whole life but didn’t know it.

The experience is not truly silent, respective to the definition. You hear your breath, rhythmically marching and retreating, your feet insulated in hiking boots taking up a hiker’s cadence of choreographed crunching, and the carefree wind, working its away across the desert plain as though you aren’t there and never were as far as it’s concerned.

In the Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge’s book ”Silence – In the Age of Noise” said:

Nature spoke to me in the guise of silence. The quieter I became, the more I heard.

… and …

You cannot wait for it to get quiet. Not in New York, nor anywhere else. You must create your own silence.

There is no such thing as pure silence, a place devoid of any sounds. In documented experiences, those trying to obtain absolute silence in truly desolate and lifeless places or in man-made soundproof chambers, found that while external sounds and noises were absent, they could not escape the mortal sounds of their hearts beating in their chests and some even claimed to hear their veins pulsing.

Yet, when we attempt to reduce our ”civilized” world sounds and listen for what is within, interesting things happen. Erling Kagge:

But I tend to think about silence as a practical method for uncovering answers to the intriguing puzzle that is yourself, and for helping to gain new perspective on whatever is hiding beyond the horizon.

I learned to meditate from a girlfriend who was a trainer at a Korean Zen center in New England. My naiveté at the time expected the purpose of meditating to be one of blocking out or eliminating all external and internal sounds. Turns out not to be the case, and that while an objective is quiet the ”monkey mind” inside us all, quieting means not responding to or chasing it until the monkey stops chattering, and doing the same on any external noise during meditation.

As I hike the desert, quiet in my thoughts at first, but later in more of a meditative state, I am aware of the handful of natural sounds from the endeavor yet stay detached from them and let the general silence embrace me.

These weeks and months in the desert of southeast California find me frequently heading off on hikes. I gear up with my proper hat, my trusty hiking pole that’s been with me for over twenty years and countless hikes, a bottle of water, and my expectations to resolve something I’ve been thinking about. Or perhaps it’s working through a clumsy part of something I’m writing. Whichever the ulterior motive for putting one foot in front of the other, invariably a mile or so into the hike all pretenses of objectives melt away and I enjoy the silence from civilized noise, and the quiet in my mind as I am in step with my breath, my footfalls, and the wind as my desert guide.

Time Machine: Cloud Museum Part 2 – Antiques & Ephemera

Yesterday’s post showed a few of the 150+ vehicles available at the Cloud Museum. I thought it was interesting that while I appreciated the restored models, I was more in touch with the well-used, rusting hulks that predominately cover the outdoor part of the museum. Something about that patina and what must have been (at the time) wide-spread marvel at these mechanical vehicles made me appreciate these rusted knights of a time well past.

Today’s post will feature a small taste of the antiques and ephemera available at this amazing little-known museum. There is a vast amount of items in this category, and if you’re fluent in antiques and ephemera of this era, then you’ll go crazy over all that’s here.

The Cloud Museum had one building set up as a period post office, complete with antique safe of this era, post office boxes, and a small clerk’s window to the public. Adorning the walls were a variety of wanted posters, although back in these days I doubt these were framed!

If you travel to this area of southwestern Arizona, be sure to check out the Cloud Museum. It’s definitely worth the time to wander through the grounds and buildings.

Time Machine: Cloud Museum Part 1 – Autos

Cloud Museum23
Cloud Museum

Between Yuma, AZ, and the Imperial Dam LTVA (long-term visitor area) where I’ve been hiding from nasty Michigan winters for the last few months, there is a private collection of cars and machines from a bygone era. The Cloud Museum is one person’s vast lifetime collection of vehicles, antiques, and ephemera from the 1910s through the 1930s.

On my runs to Yuma I’d driven by this tempting place to stop and wander back through time, but was always thinking “next trip.” On a warm and sunny day last week, I finally made the stop to wander through the vast collections of old cars, appliances, and ephemera from that interesting and sometimes violent period of American history.

The collection includes over 150 Model T and Model A autos, some restored but most worn-out veterans of the early age of automobiles. As their brochure touts, “The President of the Model T Ford Club of America stated…’It probably is the largest collection of Model Ts in the world!'” If these early Model Ts and As were all that was here, it still would be fascinating, but fortunately there is an extensive collection of antique farm equipment, motors, small appliances, and other extensive antiques and ephemera.

I took well over a hundred photos while there, far too many to post in this blog. This post features a selective gallery of auto-related images, and part 2 will explore some of the more interesting antiques and ephemera.