In early spring of 2007 I decided to quit my job, sell my house along with nearly everything else that I owned, and to live out of my car while traveling the country. These are my stories (and pictures) of life on the road.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Any little bit helps

While I'm not one to ask for help I'm also not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. If you happen to feel so inclined to throw a few bucks my way to help pay for gas/food/medical bills (hopefully not medical bills) it would be much appreciated.

Or if you just wanted to offer a roof to sleep under for a night, some land to camp on, a meal, or just some companionship it would be a great help.

Got a little work you need done and I'll be in the area? Let me know and maybe we can work something out.

You can contact me by clicking here or contribute via Paypal by sending payment to livincheap at msn dot com



Monday, February 12, 2007

2 weeks in AZ - Part 8

The last couple days of the trip were pretty uneventful and mainly included driving. The panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, the grasslands of Kansas, and then through NW Missouri into Iowa. I did make a stop at a National reserve of long grass prairie in Kansas because I thought it would be a nice place to get out of the car for a quick hike. It was pretty anti-climactic when I got there only to find they must have had a scheduled burn of the entire prairie the previous fall. It was acres and acres of charred black with only a few pieces of green beginning to poke out. I'm sure it will be gorgeous in another month or so.

It was still worth it because on my short hike I ran across this slow poke. I've got a soft spot for turtles so I was happy to see him.

Actually there wasn't much slow poke about it. I assume it was a female and she was off to find a nice place to hide her eggs. She certainly didn't let me hold her up too much and she just motored right on along.

I took my cue from the turtle, finished my hike, and motored on back home.

2 weeks in AZ - Part 7

The next morning I got up and started driving to Camp Verde. You see, a couple weeks before leaving for my trip I'd bought a kayak on EBAY that was located in Kingman, Arizona for pickup only. I was lucky enough that Bob Suess volunteered to drive to Kingman one weekend and then store the kayak at his house in Camp Verde where I could pick it up. This saved me a few hours of driving on my trip and it was greatly appreciated because it gave me a little more time on my drive home so I could stop and smell the roses.

I met Bob at his shop and we went to see the kayak at his house. I would need to make some brackets in order to mount the kayak on my roof rack so we left it for the time being and went out to lunch. He was kind enough to leave me access to the tools in his shed while he went back to work. After a couple trips to Ace Hardware and usage of a few of Bob's power tools (which came in VERY handy) the kayak was loaded on my car and it was time to head out.

That night I slept somewhere a little east of Flagstaff. In case you weren't aware Flagstaff is somewhere around 7000 feet and colder then you normally think of Arizona. I planned on waking early in the morning and checking out the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest (which were close by). I was up pretty early and it was foggy with a dusting of snow on the ground. I got to the visitor center before the parks opened so I cooked up breakfast in the parking long while I was waiting. I began driving through the Painted Desert and I thought it looked a little odd, it had been whitewashed!

It might have taken some of the color out of the painted desert but the combination of fog and snow made for some interesting looking views.

I drove down through the Petrified Forest in hopes that by the time I got back through the loop some of the fog and snow would be burned off and I could actually see some more color. I was happy to see some bare ground when I came back through about 45 minutes later. I took a few more shots and couldn't resist a quick shot of my outdoorsy looking car

The Final Leg

2 weeks in AZ - Part 6

Mark was busy on Monday so I was on my own. I decided to leave early in the morning and headed up Mount Lemmon for a solo overnighter in the mountains. I parked the car, loaded the pack and hiked about 3 miles where I wound up next to a stream on the Wilderness of Rocks trail. It's amazing how the landscape changes in such a short distance. Just an hour earlier I was in Tucson at about 2500 feet where the high was supposed to be in the 80's and it was a desert. Next thing I know I'm 8000 feet up in the mountains where there is still some snow on the ground and I'm surrounded by towering trees with picturesque streams running down small canyons.

After I reached my campsite it was about mid-afternoon and I had to decide what to do. I thought about leaving most of my gear and hiking a little farther to see some sites; but instead decided to climb up on one of those large rocks looking out over Tucson, spread out a blanket, laid in the sun, and took a nap. It was the perfect temperature there in the sun and it was a very nice nap. I woke up and poked around taking some pictures, which is how I found this little guy

I'm not sure what kid of cactus it was, maybe someone can tell me. It was pretty short, only a few inches tall.

After dinging around a little I watched the sunset before heading back to camp to cook some food and get some sleep.

The next day I got up and hiked back to the car where I drove a few miles to the ranger station and met up with Mark, his brother, sister in-law and friend Jack. The plan was to drive a couple miles up the road to the trailhead of the Butterfly trail and then we'd hike back down to the ranger station where one of the extra cars would be waiting to be used as a shuttle. It seemed pretty obvious that since we were driving UP the mountain to the trailhead that the hike should be mostly DOWN hill. It must have been an omen when we read the sign at the trailhead and it showed downhill for about 2.5 miles (5 miles or so total) and then an even steeper UPHILL for the last leg of the hike. We were undaunted and hit the trail.

Omen number two came when Marks brother started asking me about my new GPS. We talked about GPS units in general a while and he said that although he has one loaded on his laptop for traveling that a portable GPS wasn't really needed here in the mountains since you always had so many points of reference and what not. I'd say it was about 20 minutes later that we all found ourselves standing around a topo map not only trying to figure out where we were, but where the trail was. You see, it had disappeared about 15 minutes before that and we bushwhacked this far before regrouping. In our defense in the last couple years this mountain had first experienced a fire followed by a very large flood, bringing down lots of trees, causing lots of erosion, and greatly changing the look of the place.

There was some disagreement about just where we were, how far we'd come, where we needed to go, and whether or not we should continue on to try and re-find the trail or go back the way we came. We first decided to continue on and in another 20 minutes or so abandoned that thought and started picking our way back from where we started. I wish I would have had my little P&S along for some video. A video of us trying to figure out where to go would have been much more entertaining then this still shot.

Obviously we made it back safely and after going back to Marks that night and taking every ones money at poker (again) it was time for me to move along on my little journey.

The Road Home

2 weeks in AZ - Part 5

Tucson was a blast. It was great getting to hang out with someone who knew a bunch of cool places that I never would have found on my own. Mark was a fantastic tour guide and one of the first days I was there he took me to Tanque Verde Falls. There is a trail leading to the lower falls area (a good distance below the main 75 foot waterfall). From there you're supposed to hike farther up into the canyon to reach the main falls. Unfortunately the water level was so high that there was no way to make the hike up the canyon without getting really wet (and it wasn't very warm out). We drove around a little and found an unmarked trail from the road leading down to about where we thought the waterfall should be, we hoped to at least get a look at it.

We climbed a little ways down the trail and were happy to find a nice rock shelf jutting out from the canyon that gave us a nice view of the falls on one side and the rainstorm over Tucson on the other

The falls was a long way down (that shot was taken with a 100mm lens on a 1.5 crop factor DSLR) but it seemed a waste to come all this way without actually getting to it. It looked nearly impossible to make the climb down but I thought I'd go down a little farther to check it out and see if their was a possible way to get to the falls. Mark volunteered to stay behind and document my demise with the camera.

That's me just to the left of center at the bottom.

I got about 2/3 of the way down to the falls when I got around an outcropping of rocks that had been blocking our view and realized it was possible to get to the falls. I climbed back up to our ledge to get my camera and to try and convince Mark (along with his bad back) to come all the way down with me. It took a little convincing but it turns out Mark isn't quite the fuckin' pussy he made himself out to be earlier. It was a bit of a hairy descent but we scrambled our way down and after constructing a bridge were rewarded by getting right into the spray of the waterfall. This was probably the best part of my trip. Not only because it was an impressive sight but because of what was needed to actually get there and back.

Thank goodness for long arms and wide lenses

After a rest at the bottom we headed back up the canyon where we happened upon this little fellow.

He blended in real well (as you can tell). Mark said it was a Canyon Frog and that they used to see them all the time; but he hadn't run across one in a long time.

We made it back up to the top in one piece and after one more triumphant picture with the falls in the background it was time for the next adventure. This one is another of those color/B&W dilemmas so you can choose again.


2 weeks in AZ - Part 4

I made it to Tucson early that afternoon where I noisily announced my arrival as I got to Marks place. You see, I'd been hauling my bicycle on top of my car and totally forgot about it as I pulled into Marks yard under the low hanging tree. I wondered what all the racket was and why all this stuff was falling on my windshield. I figured it out about the time a large limb snapped off and fell on my car. Mark came out laughing and thanking me because trimming the tree was on his to do list. The bike looked kind of odd sitting at a 45 degree angle with a large limb stuck in it, but everything looked none the worse for wear so we went out for a hike to Sabino and Rattlesnake canyons where we dodged the rain but still got in a nice hike. I didn't take any pictures of Sabino that evening but a couple days later I woke up early and went back to Sabino and continued on to Bear Canyon to the seven falls where I took some shots.

Here's a shot from Sabino with some clouds still lingering on the mountain tops as well as some good flow over the dam

Most of the pics from the seven falls didn't turn out that well. There was a boy scout troop or something like that all around the falls so I didn't go to where I could have gotten the best shots so they could have the run of the place. This pic of the upper falls section and mountain didn't turn out too bad though-

All this is about 15 minutes away from Marks house in Tucson.

I thought it was only going to be a 4-5 mile hike and was surprised when it turned out to be a 8 mile hike round trip. Not too bad but I wasn't really prepared for it and would have left some gear behind if I'd known. I was kinda pooped when I got back to Mark's; he was happy to hear that so he decided to finish me off with a bicycle ride in the Saguaro national park.

Of course I couldn't go to Saguaro national park without including a shot of an actual Saguaro.

We hopped off our bikes part way through the ride for a quick hike to the lime falls. Here's Mark resting up for the strenuous hike-

As we approached the falls (which were dry) we were lucky enough to scare up a pair of owls that flew off and landed on a cactus a little ways off to watch us. We gazed up in awe at the Lime Falls and decided to start our ascent up the rocky precipice where we would take a well deserved break to eat some lunch. I didn't pack the DSLR on the bikes so that left me with only my Fuji F30 P&S camera. I scoffed at the video feature when I first got it but I've used it a handful of times and have found it handy to have and pretty fun; this was one such occasion. Click the picture below to see a video of Mark and his grand ascent up Lime Falls, complete with him showering himself with accolades on his achievement (hope you can handle a couple naughty words).

I don't know if he was aware I was actually taking a video or not.

Next episode

2 weeks in AZ - Part 3

I'd heard of an older couple not too far from the Chiricahuas that made a living selling rattlesnake souvenirs. Apparently they live on a dirt road in a small house and have quite a collection of stuff. I asked at the ranger station and they told me where it was, about 25 miles away near Tombstone at the old ghost town of Gleeson. I decided to make a stop even though it was out of the way to check it out and pick up a gift for Denny (the guy that takes care of my dog while I'm away). I found it without incident and it was quite a site to behold. They have about an acre of land that's just covered with “stuff“ found in the desert and gotten from neighboring ranchers. Everything from old guns found with metal detectors near Tombstone to skeletons, to old bottles and old blacksmithing equipment. You name it it was there.

I couldn't decide if I liked this one better in color or B&W. After seeing them side by side I like the B&W better though. I figured I'd let you decide for yourself so here are both versions.

Most of the rattlesnake souvenirs weren't that great. Some of it was pretty neat stuff but most of it was kinda cheesy and cheap (I guess that's to be expected for a souvenir place). I ended up buying a knife with leather sheath that had a piece of snake hide glued on, covering the front of it. Looks pretty neat but not the best quality.

Onward to Tucson!

2 weeks in AZ - Part 2

After Chaco canyon it was time to head down into Arizona and to the Chiricahua Mountains (SE part of the state). I first went there last year when I took a short visit to see my friend Mark in Tucson. It's a gorgeous place and I wanted to get back there to spend some more time and do some camping. One of the “sky islands“, name that because of the way these mountain ranges seem to just rise op out of the desert. Although it's very far south (very close to Mexico) the elevation is quite high making it quite cool and more “vegetated“ then you'd expect. The ranger station is somewhere around 4500 feet if I remember right and the tallest peak (sugarloaf) is somewhere around 8500 feet.

I got there mid-afternoon and set up camp in the camp ground. After that I just hung out and relaxed. After 4 or 5 days on the road stuff wasn't quite so organized so I took a chance to tidy up a little (those of you who've seen my house are laughing at the thought). Later in the afternoon I did drive the road up to Masai point though and I was rewarded with this view part way up

I cooked something to eat and a little before sunset decided to hike up the top of Sugarloaf mountain for a view of the sunset. There had been quite a few people out during the day but now that the sun was close to setting there wasn't a soul to be seen anywhere; they were missing out on the best time of day. I got to the top of the mountain about 30 minutes before sunset and just sat up there and enjoyed the view (and tried to stay out of the howling wind). Here are a couple pics from the top-

And my waiting was well rewarded with a beautiful sunset over the desert-

By the time I got off the mountain it was well after dark and I was still alone at the top of the road. I think the stars were brighter then I'd ever seen them but I was tired and wanted to go to bed for the night. I figured I'd come back up the next night for some star gazing and to maybe try some star trail shots. Unfortunately when I awoke the next morning I saw the only sunlight there would be for the whole day, an hour or so after sunrise it disappeared and wasn't to be seen again. Once again no one was out for the nicest time of the day. It made for some dramatic overlooks though, here's a view from Masai point just after sunrise-

The overcast weather was very comfortable for hiking and made for some nice views, but taking pictures was a little difficult with the flat lighting and white sky and things of course didn't turn out quite as grand as they'd looked, but there were still some decent shots to share.

The heart of rocks-

And some of the local flora (my dog would be in severe pain if I would have brought him)-

Hey look! More proof I was there!!

Yeah, that's right....I'm really that badass

I hiked about 10 miles that day and by the time I got done in the early afternoon it was starting to rain. I drove around a little and stayed in my car most of the afternoon reading and waiting for the rain to quit (it's the dry season in the desert after all, how long could it last?). By dinner time it was apparent it wasn't going to let up so I set up a tarp over the picnic table in my campsite and cooked a meal before doing some more reading and going to bed. The next morning it was still raining as I packed up my campsite. I wanted to get in one more hike before leaving for Tucson and after I made some pancakes the weather seemed to be breaking. I went for a hike and it just rained a little on and off. The hike was through one of the more wooded parts of the park (natural bridge trail) and the smell of the wet woods/desert was fantastic.

A funny thing happened on the way to Tucson

2 weeks in AZ - Part 1

In March I decided it was time to take some vacation time and go on a trip. The destination was the desert southwest. I wanted to do plenty of camping and hiking in the mountains and I had a friend in Tucson I could hang out with for a while. Also in the plans was picking up a kayak in Camp Verde that I'd bought on EBAY. I ended up being gone for two weeks and it was great. Plenty of good weather, plenty of hiking, and plenty of beautiful scenery.

My first stop along the way (besides sleeping in my car at a rest stop just north of Pueblo, CO) was Chaco canyon. I'd heard of it before and thought it sounded intriguing, which it indeed was. It was used extensively by native americans from around 800-1200 a.d. and apparently served as a sort of cross roads. It was much more then the small villages you usually think of when you here about native americans. It was more like a civilization with many large buildings. Read more about it here-

Chaco was great and I stayed for about 1 1/2 days. The weather was great and the stars were magnificent. The night I got there I took a little hike that overlooked the park, and Pueblo Bonita in particular; at it's height it was 4 stories high and had over 600 rooms.

There were also some pretty cool petroglyphs on the canyon walls and I got to use my fancy new radio triggers to get my flash off camera to create some contrast.

Since most of the rock their is sandstone there are some very cool rock formations from all the erosion.

Here's one last shot of the ruins before it's time to move on with the trip
I was very impressed with the buildings. It was amazing how large they were and that they're still standing after 1000 years in the desert. Although I didn't get a picture of it I think the highlight of Chaco was getting to see a bobcat from about 50 feet away a little before sunrise as I was getting ready to go on a hike.

And just to prove that I was actually there and didn't just steal these images off the internet here I am!


Thursday, February 1, 2007

Snow Bound - Part 1

Although not a part of my current cross country adventures this was a fun day and I haven't had it on-line for a while and thought many of you would enjoy it...surprisingly I did too.

So what do you do when you get 16 inches of snow, 30 mph winds and there is a no travel advisory with closed interstates? You drive 35 miles to your friends house to do some snow shoeing of course!

The drive to Lakefield was a little adventurous but not too bad. Thankfully there weren't any other cars out so I could drive in either lane I wanted when the other was full of snow drifts. Obviously getting to Sarah's house was the hard part and the final 5 miles to Kilen woods state park on a paved county road would be a snap. Yeah right!

We had to bust through some smaller drifts at first but nothing too bad. We're tough, we can handle it. Then we hit a big drift covering the entire road but had just enough momentum to punch through that as well. Ha! We're not going to let a little bad weather keep us from having a good time.

Then we came to the top of a hill and saw a very big and very long snow drift. I hit the gas to try and power our way through but it was useless. The snow was way too deep and the bottom of the car was actually sliding on the snow like a sled. We managed to get through about 40 feet of the drift but were still 10-15 feet away from being out of it totally. We both looked at each other for a moment trying to figure out just how we were going to get out of this. Then we each grabbed a snow shoe for a shovel, forced our doors open past the snow blocking them shut and started digging.

Once we started digging down we realized just how bad it was. The tires were still sitting on about 5 or 6 inches of snow; which meant in order to get any traction the car would need to drop that far to get the tires on pavement (that means A LOT of snow had to be moved). We had to dig trenches along the sides of the car to work in and and then started digging all the snow out from underneath the car (which is not easy task at all). The wind was really howling and picked up even more while we were digging, blowing snow in our faces and drifting the snow back in where we'd just removed it.

After 1 1/2 hours of hard work we finally had the car dug out! Man, was that ever a good feelin!

We didn't have the guts to continue on to the park though, not knowing what the last couple miles of road were like. Especially considering it was getting later in the day and we didn't want to drive these roads in the dark. Since the North/South roads were better then the East/West roads (the park was to the east and town was to the west) we drove about 7 miles North to Windom and then back South to Lakefield in order to stay on larger, clearer roads. We certainly couldn't have turned around and went back the way we came.

After all that work we were still determined to do a little snow shoeing so we stopped by a tiny little county park for a quick hike. Although it was fun we were tired, it was very overcast, windy and it had turned quite a bit colder. It only took 15 or 20 minutes to hike around the park and I think we were both ready to quit.

Go to Part 2

You've reached the end of the page but that's not the end of the stories. If you want to read more (and who wouldn't!?) then click on the archive links to the right hand side of the page. They're listed by month; the adventure starts in May.

The February archives aren't actually from this trip but are previous adventures I've had, which are worth reading as well.