We are spending a couple days at the B&B in Fort Scott, Kansas before we continue our trek back to Michigan. Our journey so far has been on two lane paved and dirt roads. A long but fun way to go.
March 19, 2019
by Jenny Hohner
I am dirt averse. When asked what item in the van I cannot live without, I usually stare off in the distance and hope I appear deep in thought. After a moment or two, I shrug my shoulders as if to say, there are too many essential items to pick just one. I lack the courage to give my true answer: I wouldn’t have lasted a month in the van if Joe hadn’t placed an order for a handheld Dyson vacuum.
We started our trip with a tiny whisk broom — an ineffective cleaning tool when you’re living in the out-of-doors with a dog. Every time I pulled out the broom and attempted to create a clean spot, Joe would say, “It’s a lost cause. Give it up. You’ll have to adjust.”
I couldn’t. Having to wipe bits of gravel off my bare feet at night before crawling into our double sleeping bag was too much. As in, too much of the natural world creeping into my living space. When our older son, Josh, camped with us for a week last November, he took one look at the van floor and asked, “How can you live like this?” Josh exists in life’s proactive lane, so he pulled our gray area rug out of the van and shook the dirt out. A process that lasted at least five minutes. Josh has a high tolerance for both dirt and disorder. If he thought the van floor was dirty, I knew our standards for cleanliness had dipped too low.
My youngest brother, who’s parenting a toddler, suggested the Dyson. A 30- minute charge yields five minutes of cleaning power. If I’m a speed queen I can use the vacuum to tidy up our 70 square feet of living space in just under three minutes. My goal is two cleaning sessions per charge. The vacuum can only be recharged while we’re driving. It uses the same power port as our Garmin GPS, so to charge the Dyson we also have to know where we’re going.
The Dyson has improved my quality of life on the road, but even with a full charge, somedays it’s not a match for Molly, our Portuguese Water dog. This week we are camping in the Moab, Utah area along Kane Creek Road. The campground is in a valley lined on both sides with crumbling mesas. The mesas are topped by a majestic layer of red sandstone that appears to be weeping piles of green and red rock. With the bright blue sky as a backdrop it’s a beautiful spot. There aren’t any official hiking trails off the campground, so we started our walk today across the valley floor. Molly’s fur and feet kept picking up stalks of dried prickers, so we started walking on the ribbon of brown road that dipped out of sight. When hiking, Molly wears a red vest — the vest increases her visibility and is equipped with a handle. Joe can easily bend down and pick
Molly up if we encounter an off-leash dog or other hazards (such as wild animals, red anthills, or fields of cactus).
Around the bend the road disappeared beneath the brown waters of Krane Creek. We walked to the water’s edge. While standing on the muddy bank, and trying to decide if we wanted to venture into the brown eddies, a voice behind us called out, “Hop in the back and I’ll give you a ride.”
We turned to see a man in a white pick-up truck with a German Sheppard in the back seat. I hesitated, wondering how we might re-cross the river to return to our campsite, but Joe answered for us with, “Thanks! That would be great.”
Climbing into the back, I tried to remember the last time I rode in a pickup. Joe lifted Molly up with her vest handle, then climbed in. The three of us found spots around a brand-new washing machine strapped down in the back. I wondered where in this wilderness someone was living with the amenities of power and water.
We spent the afternoon exploring the valley via the road. It was warm in the sunshine, and we were sweating in our short-sleeved shirts. On our return trip, a string of SUVs and ATVs drove by us, but we weren’t offered a ride back across the creek. Watching the vehicles speed thru the water we learned the creek was about knee-deep. We waded through the cold, muddy water one at a time. I went first. Joe carried Molly so her feet stayed dry and mud free. Molly rested her chin on Joe’s shoulder as if to say, thanks for the ride.
Back at our campsite, Molly pawed at Joe until he removed her hiking vest. Once free, Molly rolled around in the red dirt like a cyclone until her black coat was a shiny brown. Joe couldn’t help laughing. I’ve never seen her so dirty. Before letting her into the van, we tried wiping off her coat with damp rags. We used both sides of our last four microfiber cloths. I tried to convince myself that she was now clean enough to share our bed. I guess that internal dialogue falls under “Lies We Tell Ourselves to Survive.”
Like most of her canine friends, when Molly stands up she gives herself a vigorous shake. A shake that now filled the van with an indoor dust storm and covered everything in a fine, red, gritty mess. That’s life on the road with a dog — unconditional love and more dirt than a Dyson can handle.
March 25, 2019
by Jenny Hohner
I vacuumed the sheets this morning. I vacuumed the sheets this morning before I got out of bed. Then I vacuumed the floor. On clean van day, our living quarters are not only dirt-free, but appear spacious. Clean van day happens every seven to ten days. Today is not clean van day.
We are camped on a rocky ledge above the shores of Clayton Lake, a body of water created by damming Seneca Creek. Wind is rippling the lake’s surface and sunlight is shimmering on the cove in front of our campground. In more than one spot, sun bleached tree tops are poking up out of the water reminding visitors that this was once dry land. We can hear birds chirping in the trees as if they are asking us to move on. On the far edge of eastern New Mexico’s high grassland plain, a lake is an unexpected find.
We arrived here last night just after a spring shower and an hour before sunset. I insisted that we walk to the other side of the lake to view the dinosaur tracks. A walk that coated our shoes in a thick, gooey mud. Not really a surprise, as we could hear the thwat-thwat-wat sound of our tires spitting mud onto the van as we drove through the park looking for the perfect campsite.
To reach the dinosaur tracks, a series of footprints pressed into sand when New Mexico was the shoreline of an ancient sea, we followed the trail signs across the park’s earthen dam. As the sun set to the west, the eastern skyline was painted a rosy red.
Trying to catch the last of the day’s light and actually see the tracks, Molly and I sped ahead of Joe. A boardwalk around the sandstone bed provides a path for visitors to view the footprints. Small signs are posted in front of each set of tracks. Last night all the tracks were filled with water and rock chips. Without the signage I would have missed most of the tracks.
As we walked back across the dam, we saw seven deer grazing. We stopped to watch the animals. Joe took hold of my Molly’s leash. When she sees deer, she wants to play chase. A game Molly never wins. The deer stared at us with interest and without fear. The herd wasn’t in a hurry, so we stepped forward a few paces and eventually they ambled down the other side of the dam.
The light left the day before we made it back to our campsite. Joe used his iPhone to pick out the least muddy track. Before entering the van, we doused our shoes and Molly’s paws with water but still managed to track dirt inside.
Quiet campsites with beautiful sunsets are tucked into unexpected corners all across this country. This is one. Today’s warm sunshine is drying the mud. We might just stay one more day, take a second look at the dinosaur tracks and maybe find a place to charge my Dyson.
March 18, 2019
by Jenny Hohner
The Back of Beyond Bookstore in Moab, Utah was built to honor Edward Abbey, an author with ties to community. It’s a dog-friendly establishment, so all three of us popped in this morning to browse. Molly’s been in before, so she sat in front of the cash register wagging her tail and hoping for a treat. Her patience was rewarded with a cookie and a prolonged head scratching session, both provided by the employee working the counter. He had white blonde hair, a rugged air and like most people in Moab looked like he loved the out-of-doors.
Space in the van is limited, so I opted to ship the two Edward Abbey books I purchased back to Michigan. Joe and Molly walked outside to soak up the morning sunshine. When I stepped out, I found Joe seated in one of the three, sun-bleached chairs in front of the store. He was chatting with a silver-haired man wearing a faded ball cap and a fleece jacket. The man looked tall even though he was seated. I guessed he was around 70-years-old. To draw me into the conversation Joe said, “Jim worked for the National Parks for 34 years.”
Jim was sipping a mug of coffee. The cup dangled from his right hand as if it was too heavy to hold. As the coffee tried to slosh out he said, “I managed Canyonlands”. Then he leaned over and gestured to the hand-painted label on the middle chair reading ‘Jim’s’ and said, “This is my seat, but it’s cracked.” Pointing to a fracture in the metal, he added, “It needs to be spot welded.”
I couldn’t resist asking, “What’s your favorite park?”
With all the traffic on Main Street, I had to sit down — in the chair labeled Jim’s — and lean in to hear his answer. Jim spoke in slow, measured tones, pausing between each sentence. He said, “I started at Sequoia. I was young and unmarried. Things were different then. We didn’t have radios. We rode horses. The park had a lot of old timers but they didn’t mind training us. I still remember what they taught us. The old timers took us aside and said, ‘The people that come up from Los Angles or down from San Francisco, they’re grocery clerks, shoe clerks – people that save up all year for one trip. We should make sure they have a good time.’ Now rangers would just as soon write you a citation …. following you until you do something wrong.”
Watching a row of ATVs zoom down the street, Jim shook his head and said, “I hate those things.” Taking a moment to collect his thoughts, Jim added, “In the Badlands we had 400 bison. We had to round them up each year and keep the herd at 400. My head ranger, he wouldn’t get on a horse, but he’d write you a citation.”
Over the next fifteen minutes Jim shared park memories and told us about his college experiences, four children and many of his grandchildren. He said, “I’m old. All of my children are retired.” To hint at his age he said, “I was in The War. I was lucky. When we walked across France, a little 12-year-old girl gave me a French flag she made. I still have it.”
As we listened to Jim, I found myself hoping that someone in his family was writing down all his stories. He’s lived long enough to be not only part of our country’s history but a walking historian for the National Parks. A man that lived in and loved the natural world. When we got up to leave, Jim tapped my knee and looked at me with his clear blue eyes and said, “I shouldn’t brag.” We both laughed when I said, “But you have so much to brag about.”
Hey there, it has been awhile since we’ve posted. We are still out here in the Southwest having the time of our lives. We’ll see what we can do to get some more posts out there. The images here are on the rim of the canyon overlooking the San Juan River in Utah. Our van is in the red circle.
We met a great, great couple on the road who also have a 4x4 camping van.