Not all who wander are lost.

Monthly archives for December, 2014

Wandering Through the Desert

Today we decided to explore some of the weird and wonderful spots in Southern California.  It was a perfect weather day with the completely blue sky, no humidity (obviously…we’re in the desert) and the temperature was in the low 80’s.  We grabbed our travel companions and hit the road for a day trip.

I’ve read the desert was kind of a weird place and we certainly weren’t disappointed today.  It seems like you can drive for miles and miles and not see one person, a gas station, or any other kind of civilization.  It gets a little creepy getting low on gas and knowing that if you run out, there is nothing for miles and even road side assistance would take awhile to get to you.  I tried to imagine what it must have been like for the settlers as they pushed west not knowing how much further it would be before they found water, or anything else besides sand for that matter.

Our first stop of the day was the Salton Sea.  I was intrigued by this place when I first heard about it in a movie and since we were in the area, we had to check it out.  I only did a little bit of research so here’s the short story version to give you an idea. The Salton Sea is a huge man made irrigation project lake gone wrong in the middle of the desert between Palm Springs and Mexico.  Somewhere in the 1950’s vacation homes, hotels, and all the businesses that those bring, started popping up everywhere (think Okoboji type stuff). It was supposed to be the vacation spot for years and years to come.  Due to the heat, pollution, and many other reasons the lake became saltier than the sea and vast amounts of fish died and washed up on the beach.  There were also a couple floods in the 70’s that added to the troubles of the already doomed desert lake.  Soon, most of the people left and the businesses shut down and now it looks like something that might be a good set for the next zombie apocalypse movie. This lake is just huge! It goes on forever and when we looked out, we couldn’t see anything but water much like the ocean.  Driving by it we could see the mountain views in the background and the and sparkle of the water and it looks to be a beautiful place to spend and afternoon doing whatever people do on the beach.  Once we got there though, it was something entirely different.  Although it was probably a gradual evacuation, looking through the ruins of the campers and homes would seem as though everyone left suddenly.

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What was left were pieces of someones lives from years past slowly becoming part of the earth from which they came. It’s definitely an eerie feeling and I don’t know if its because it seemed like a lonely forgotten place or because we knew that over time, there could me many more places such as this if we weren’t careful.

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The next stop was Salvation Mountain.  We’d never heard of this place until we saw the movie “Into the Wild” and I knew that somewhere in our travels this was a place I wanted to see.  The mountain was created by Leonard Knight who, at age 36, had a spiritual awakening and dedicated his life to spreading a simple message, “God is Love, Accept Jesus into your heart, and Repent and be saved”  He created and maintained this mountain until he got too ill to take care of it in 2012, then passed away in early 2014. Now, the place is maintained by volunteers and donations and its free for everyone to come and enjoy.  I saw that they are hiring a couple to live on the mountain as care takers but I don’t think Jason will go for it.  We wandered around and climbed the mountain and went inside the structures he had built with mud, hay, and paint.  There was an area that was built with trees and he would have had to crawl up pretty high to paint them all, then looking up even further we noticed the glass windows he had installed.

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We spoke to a couple who were there with paintbrushes in hand, working hard to preserve Leonard’s work.  They were traveling around the country, home schooling their 5 kids, and were spending some time there as volunteers. They explained a bit of the history and how its being taken care of now.  We should have asked them how they were funding their travels given our recent situation.

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Religious or not, I don’t see how anyone could visit Leonard’s mountain and not be touched in some way by his dedication to spreading his one simple message.  It’s not up to interpretation, its pretty easy to understand what he was going for, which to me is how it should be.  As I stood around looking at all of his colors and verses, and learning how he spent over 30 years creating and maintaining this place just so people could come and wander though this wonderland of latex paint, mud, and hay, I experienced a quiet peace that I hadn’t felt for awhile. Maybe that was the whole purpose of it.

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Right next to Salvation Mountain is Slab City which was also featured in “Into the Wild.”  This place started as a Marine training camp called “Camp Dunlap” during WW2.  It closed, the buildings were torn down and all that was left were well…the slabs.  It is now home to about 200 full time residents (called “Slabbers”) and about 2500 during the winter months.  This is truly “Off Grid” living.  There is no water, sewer, electricity, or any of those other luxuries most of us have grown accustomed to.  It is entirely free to live there and literally anything goes at this place.  We just drove through part of it briefly because even though I was really curious about this makeshift city in the desert, we didn’t want to drive around snapping pictures of their chosen lifestyle as if it was a tourist attraction.  I loved the idea of the place, but one thing we’ve learned driving around in the desert this week is that it’s not the climate for us.  We love the warm weather, but looking out at the sand that goes on forever, almost looks like a construction zone to us.  I thoroughly enjoyed stopping at every place we went to, but I don’t think we’re ready for this level of “Off Grid” living just yet.

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Tomorrow we leave So. California and head towards Colorado to spend Christmas with the kids.  We plan to stop in Lake Havasu tomorrow so we can check out The London Bridge. Later in the week the plan is to see the Grand Canyon.  As many times as we’ve driven around that area, we’ve actually never seen it so we think its about time.  We’re still weighing our options and trying to figure out our plan after the holidays, but I think we’re leaning toward figuring out a way to continue to wander the country.  There’s still way too many things that we want to see and places we want to go.

“So…
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
You’re off the Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!”

 

 

A Walk in the Park

We spent a good portion of yesterday in much better spirits driving from Grand Junction, CO to our next stop.  We had the Rockies in our rear view mirror, the Sierra Nevadas in front of our windshield, and we were driving through everything in between.  It’s a beautiful drive!  As we drove through the vast areas of bare land, we were able to get a sense of what our country might have been like before it sprouted huge housing developments that led to the perceived need for Walmart, strip malls, and Starbucks.

We landed in St. George, Utah for a couple days which is in the SW Corner of the state not far from Arizona or Nevada.  We chose this spot so we could spend some time wandering around Zion National Park but as we were driving around running some quick errands we couldn’t help but notice this magnificent, white, structure that could be seen from pretty much everywhere in town.  We were pretty sure that this was a Mormon temple so we drove over for a closer look.  This thing was huge!  We saw a sign that said “Free Tours” so we went in to the Visitor Center to see what this was all about.  We were greeted by a very nice man who gave us a tour through the center and told us about the history of the Mormon settlers who were sent to St. George to grow cotton, grapes and harvest silk (which have since been replaced by more prosperous business)  We were pretty amazed when he talked about how the temple was built.  It’s crazy what the early settlers were able to do without the modern tools we have today.  I love to hear about the history of places and how they got their start.  We had the dogs in the car so we couldn’t stay long so we took our Book of Mormon and headed to the park.

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If you’re in the area this park is a must see!  One of the little challenges that we deal with from time to time is traveling with our dogs.  Although we are finding the places are becoming much more accommodating, most of the national parks will not allow dogs on the trails at all.  At Zion, there is one very nice trail that will allow leashed dogs so we were able to get in a nice 3 1/2 mile hike.  Its difficult to describe the absolute awe of this place.  It’s a combination of mountains, streams, little pine tree forests, meadows, and wildlife.  Once deep into the park, we were surrounded by the red and white massive rock formations that almost gave us a feeling of being inside a building.  At times it was incredibly disorienting and we couldn’t get a sense of just how big these things are so we lost all perspective of size and distance and it eventually made us a little dizzy. We found ourselves about 20 feet from a female mule deer and her baby.  In Iowa the deer would have just run away but this mama decided she wanted to have a little stare-down with us as if to see which one would back away first.  As soon as she took one step toward us, she scared the hell out of me and we were perfectly happy to back up and leave her and the baby to continue munching on the vegetation below them.  I’ve apparently watched “When Animals Attack” one too many times.

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Overall, it was a really good day.  St. George is a really nice place and the people are very welcoming.  It would be nice to come back here and explore Zion National Park a little more and hike to some of those areas that we couldn’t go with the dogs but tomorrow we head out and will be spending the evening in Las Vegas.  The way our luck has gone lately, we aren’t staying anywhere near the strip and we aren’t going to put one cent in a slot machine!

The Difference of a Day

It’s been a SUPER long time since we’ve posted anything.  This wasn’t our intention when we started this whole thing but there have been quite a few things that have not gone as we intended when we started this whole thing.  We’ve been dealing with something this last week and so far the major lesson we’ve learned is how to deal with set backs and still continue to run, or in some cases limp, toward our dreams.  We’re still out here, and we’ve finally started to wander again.

Last week we hit a big, tall, strong, brick wall that sent our original plans into a complete tailspin. When we started this journey the plan was that Jason was going to quit his job and do computer contract work from the road.  We would travel where the work was and move on when it was done.  When he gave his notice he and his boss were able to come up with a plan that would allow him to keep his job and work from the road, which was amazing and we were so thankful to have that part taken care of.  It was the final piece that needed to be in place that would allow us to live the way we wanted. By the time we actually left, he heard the company was most likely going to be sold.  The writing on the wall seemed pretty clear and we figured we would need to come up with another way to earn a living once everything was finalized.  We hoped that Jason would be able to continue to work for a least 2 or 3 months during the transition period and then we would have a little time to rethink our strategy and decide if we wanted to continue on our journey.  Well, he got the call we were dreading last week and by the end of this month Jason will no longer be working for AWS.  Of course the only way to handle this situation was to completely PANIC!  I can’t explain the range of emotions that went through both of us that day eventually leading to the feeling of complete and utter defeat.  That’s it!  After a streak of really cruddy luck, The Road had kicked our asses! We were going to have to sell the RV and the truck and go home and get jobs, a place to live, furniture, dishes, winter coats, you name it.  I was mostly depressed about the winter coat thing!  Since we left we’ve had the strangest string of bad luck and with each weird mishap we wondered if this wasn’t the time for us to pursue this.  We’ve been so very fortunate these last few years that we didn’t know how to handle these types of things.  But who really does?

We spent the better part of “Dreaded Phone Call Day” staring at our computers looking at jobs on Craigslist in Ames, Fort Collins, Boulder, Pensecola, and even San Fransisco. We looked at apartments in all of those places too.  We took a long look at our finances and once we figured out what Jason would get in unemployment benefits, we became even more down and our new friend, Panic, come back.  I don’t know who can survive on that  amount of money even for a little bit.  If we would have stayed in our house, we would have lost it for sure. I guess we’ll get to figure out what this Obamacare is all about too.  We ran through so many different scenarios trying to decide the best course of action and by the end of the day we decided we had no choice but to sell the RV and truck so we would have some cash to live on and free up some funds from insurance payments and the ungodly amount of gas we kept putting in that thing.  What we couldn’t decide was what the heck we were going to do after that.  All we knew was that we literally just started our travels and we couldn’t bear the thought of ending our wandering so abruptly.  We weren’t ready to go home and that is the only thing we knew with certainty.  We were also starting to feel like Iowa was becoming less like home and we wondered where home really was anyway.

After one day on Craigslist, we struck a deal with the first person that came to look at the RV.  When she left all I could think was “Damn that was fast!  Now where the heck are we going to live?” and “Crap! We should have listed it for more money!”  Luckily, we had a couple days to get our stuff out and figure out our next step.  Jason will get a paycheck through the end of this month. Plus we’ll have the proceeds from the house sale and the money we’ll get from selling the RV/Truck so we’ll have some funds to sustain us for a little while.  Once we close on the house, we will have very few monthly bills so aside from food, shelter, and car payment, we won’t have much else going out.  The idea of going back to freezing cold Iowa wasn’t good (that winter coat thing!) We didn’t get to see one tiny little smidgen of all the places we had planned to visit so we weren’t excited to stay in Colorado either.  We finally decided that just because our situation changed drastically, it didn’t mean we should have to give up on our dreams all together.  We just had to come up with another way.  Finally, we rented a small storage shed in Fort Collins for our most of our stuff, bought a roof rack for the car for the rest, and our Gypsy Wagon has become our beloved Mini Cooper with St. Christopher hanging from the mirror to assure safe travel, a big sleepy dog in the back , and the world’s smallest, feistiest wiener dog on our laps to protect us from highway robbers.

We decided to head West and visit all of the strange, wonderful, and quirky places that we saw in movies and travel books that gave us our case of wanderlust in the first place. Traveling by car will save us quite a bit in gas money and will allow us to move around a little quicker.  Finding affordable lodging is going to be the biggest challenge, but we figure if we choose spots during the off season we should be able to get some great deals.  In keeping with our recent luck, we made plans with the mechanic in Fort Collins that is working on our truck after the emergency brake blew apart. (I have to say that we have always been Ford people until we bought this one Chevy and it has been in the shop more in the last month than most of our Fords put together!)  Then we finally took off today and as I write this we are sitting in the Econolodge in Grand Junction, Co.    I get to check another state off my list as we head into Utah tomorrow where we’re hoping the weather is decent enough to check out Zion National Park.  We plan to hit Palm Springs, CA this week where we’ll spend a few days checking out places like Salvation Mountain, The Salton Sea, and whatever else grabs our attention along the way.  From there, we’ll head back to Colorado to spend Christmas with the kids.  We plan to use these couple weeks to figure out whether we want to settle somewhere and get jobs, or find a way to continue to travel the country and earn as we go.  I don’t know what’s in store for us or how long we’ll get to roam around our beautiful country, but I can say that I’m never happier than when I’m sitting next to my husband in a car on the highway, with music on the stereo, and miles of road ahead of us promising all kinds of mystery and adventure.