Anniversaries and Adventures

Three days before Labor Day weekend officially began, I headed out with my camper, dogs, and anticipation from Prescott, Arizona to my hometown of Carbondale, Illinois. Awaiting me was the 30th Anniversary of the punk rock house that was my second home-away-from-home when I was in high school. Last time I saw a lot of these folks was just five years ago for the small 25th (and first) Anniversary shindig. But there were a few folks going this year that I hadn’t seen in around 25 years.

Before I could see all those people, I had to get there. I try to avoid campgrounds, but since I was barreling across the U.S with a short time-frame, I wanted something definitive to hold onto for my first night. I stayed at the Storrie Lake State Park in New Mexico that first night. It was a lovely area with both campground camping, and a primitive area right next to the lake.

Wed. Aug. 31st

Since it was drizzly, Pugsly and I settled in with a good book.

Thurs Sept. 1. The second night I stayed at a wonderful spot in Kansas at Chase State Fishing Lake and Wildlife Area.

Another lakeside spot, but this time the weather was much more cooperative. I got in early enough to take the dogs exploring a bit.

Up the road a short ways is a boat ramp, and in the evening a man launched and did some evening fishing. That lake was so lovely, I stayed at it on the way back too!

Sunrise at the lake

Friday Sept 2. I arrived at my mom’s house in one piece, said my hellos and we took the dogs for a walk to the old punk house. There have been shows in this house continuously for 30 years. It’s amazing it’s still standing. Actually, the porch was replaced a number of years ago because it was starting to fall in. This anniversary had turned into a real spectacle, with the current residents obtaining city permits to block of the street, build a stage, and have a street party. I wasn’t terribly excited about our humble beginnings being turned into a festival – with street shows, bands at two different bars, and shows at the house – but I figured see how it all goes.

Mom got me sushi fixin’s and made most excellent sushi rice (gotta waft the rice as you add the vinegar to make it sticky but not clumpy) and I made a roll for dinner! Yay mom!

The house had been painted black for the occasion. Quite fitting.

“30 years of stupid” is a great summation.

This basement is where I spent many evenings during my formative years. It hasn’t changed much. It’s amazing the floor hasn’t collapsed down, or that the earth hasn’t just swallowed this house of noise to rid itself of the pests.

My poor cell phone couldn’t get very good night shots, but suffice to say, it was great! So many bands have passed through those doors, there really was no way to showcase many of them if this had been held in just the basement. I am still impressed by how well-organized the whole weekend was. Kudos to the young punks. (geez, I sound old.)

It’s amazing how people you knew 30 years ago so often look just like the kids you once knew. Memory does amazing things with recognition. My old friends look like the same punks I knew 30 years ago. Sure, a little weight, some wrinkles, a touch of gray, but I barely see those changes in my dear, long-time friends.

and I made friends with a dragon!wA3oC498dLK7g6KIlpzzJMogBEUBQVknyeImn-Lm

In Carbondale, Il. “Castle Park” aka “Jeremy Rochman Memorial Park” was built by a dad after his son died.

My mom and I went through a box of old photos and found some gems.

a beaver home on Snake River 1978?

my dad and me…not sure where

I stayed through the weekend until Tuesday morning. After living in the arid South West for so many years, I’d forgotten not only what summer midwest humidity feels like, but also how ferocious mosquitoes and other bitey bugs are out there. I think the first one to bite me told his friends that there was fresh meat in town, and they all came to feast. Ow!

Tuesday Sept 6th. morning it was time to go. The dogs were overwhelmed.

Pugsly’s enthusiasm knows no bounds.

I went back to Chase State Fishing Lake and Wildlife Area, but it was very windy all night so our night there wasn’t as nice as the previous visit.

Wed Sept 7. This drive back was more leisurely and I found that not having to worry about time made for a much more fun adventure. My daily destination was more flexible and relaxed. It was great. I had two things to accomplish: visit Valley of the Gods, Utah and make it back to Prescott, Arizona by Sunday.

I couldn’t find much for boondocking in Eastern Colorado in my searching before the trip, and probably should have posted up in some forums for advice, so I stayed at another campground. It was pricey, difficult to find a level spot, and not terribly scenic.

We did get a lovely sunrise, however.

Pugsly was happy to have a new, homemade quilt gifted to us by an old friend back home.

Thurs. Sept. 8th. On the way to our next campering location in the mountains of Colorado, we stopped for Thai food in Poncha Springs, Co! Thai take-out! How cool is that? My Pad Thai was fairly bland, but having Thai take-out at camp was absolutely lovely.

The high plains nestled in the heights of the Rockies feel very different the low plains of Kansas or Oklahoma. There’s a finite space up there as the open range slopes upwards into the mountains. The Rockies are intimidating. Driving through the mountains I felt invasive, as if the mountain range could decide to close its yawing mouth and swallow me whole at any time. I felt I must ask permission to tread in this elevated wilderness, and go lightly lest I disturb a sleeping giant.

It seems that almost each new campering location becomes my new favorite. This was no exception. See my camper there to the right?

Sometimes I wonder if my mind really cannot take in this amazing beauty. Whether it is the mysteries of the forested hillsides of the Rockies, or the vast expanse of the desert Southwest. With my eyes open to it all I don’t know that I’m truly feeling the brilliant beauty that I witness. The views reflect against the sun into my eyes but sometimes I wonder if the intensity makes it very far even though I want to have it envelope and overwhelm me.

Instead, I read.

Or try to….

Friday Sept. 9th. Friends in Denver suggested I go visit. Since it was only a 2.5 hour drive from where I was camped, and I had time(!). I took a detour north. What a great thing to be able to do!

Sat. Sept 10. After leaving Denver, I headed towards Valley of the Gods. Since the weather forecast said highs of 93°F, I decided I’d go spend some time in Durango and try to arrive at the VotG just before sundown in hopes that it had cooled off to a more reasonable temperature. One of the nice things about the desert is that once the sun goes down, it cools down rapidly. Unlike the sauna that is southern Illinois.

I got a salad to go in Durango, and we lounged across from the bicycle path, next to the Animas River.

When I got to the Utah state line, I pulled in to take photos with the camper and dogs. Instead, I found this group of young travelers from “all around Europe”. I took a group photo of them with their cameras, and got one with my own.

I headed into Valley of the Gods, but it wasn’t late enough in the day and it was still painfully hot.

Instead of staying and suffering through the heat – and making the dogs suffer – I headed south to the Navajo National Monument.

When I was 9 years old my mom and I visited the Navajo National Monument south and west of Kayenta, Az. It is a canyon and cliff dwellings, among other amazing sights. During that visit, I saw a desert storm on the other side of the canyon and a subsequent rainbow. It transfixed me. I remembered that moment, but not the location. A few months ago my mom told me where that moment happened. It’s been on my list to visit since.

Betakakin Overlook area. I got set up just in time for sunset. That further glow is the canyon.

In the morning, Argos and I took a little walk

but didn’t make it down to the overlook before it started to drizzle.

I was hoping to see another rainbow, and the folks at the Visitor Center said I just missed one. That was good enough for me!

We took a short walk past the Visitor Center, but Pugsly got tired before we made it to the cliff dwellings.

I’ll be back soon.

Sun. Sept. 11. It is only about a 3.5 – 4 hour drive back to my cottage, so we went right home from there.

Every time I go on the road I learn something new. This time, I got to rekindle old friendships, visit with my family, learned more about how stress-less campering can be without time pressure, and worked on being flexible. A few months ago, I would have stayed at Valley of the Gods even with the painful sun because that is where I’d planned to stay. I might not have gone to Denver (and had a great time with new and old friends) because it hadn’t been in my itinerary. The ability to be flexible and know how to find good locations to camp is necessary to cultivate. As usual, while indoor plumbing is nice, I wasn’t ready to come back to the brick and mortar.

Cottonwood Canyon considerations + Turnbuckle Trouble

I didn’t expect to come home a day early, reeking of coffee. But that’s what happened.

Lessons learned on this trip:

1. Just because you can, does not mean that you should.

2. It is very easy to get lost on Forest Service trails! That could be dangerous. Really. Kind of like cute woodland creatures, just because it’s pretty doesn’t mean it’s safe.

3. Take the time to highlight the route on your paper map. GPS will take you the shortest or quickest route, but often it is not the best route (and on the forest road, can be a dangerous route, or just end you up in the middle of nowhere cuz it got confused).

4. Just because someone gives you directions, doesn’t mean they are correct. Same with their coordinates. Double check on your own map and highlight the route.

5. Bring extras of essentials. Like turnbuckles that will strand you if they break.

6. That goodness for those brown Forest Service signs. But don’t count on them to be there!

7. Do one thing at a time. And when things start going wrong, slow down. (I did those! 🙂 )

I started this unexpected three-day weekend with a visit to a friend in Flagstaff. My plan was to pop-up in his driveway, but he had a guest room! Fancy! The dogs had a grand time. His pup and Argos are pretty evenly matched in size and age, so they romped for hours.

Pugsly got a chew to gnaw!

Thursday morning started with a “meh” breakfast at a restaurant en route. But it filled me up, and because they had forgotten about me sitting outside with the pups on their patio, my waitress didn’t charge for my coffee. I gave her a good tip.

My first plan of action was to drive up to Cottonwood Canyon, UT to scope out a possible location for a Fall campering gathering. I headed up toward Page and stopped at the atrocity known as the “Glen Canyon Damn”

It wasn’t too much further to the turn off for Cottonwood Canyon. I saw a number of vehicles on that dirt road while I was on my trek. I didn’t realize it was so popular.

That’s Paria River there. River. Yah. Welcome to arid land.

I keep forgetting to take pictures of this little guy, but he’s the fourth* doggie on these road trips. Doesn’t have a name yet tho.

*Pugsly, Argos, the stuffed dog inside the camper Dumpling who has traveled with me since 4th grade, and this guy

After arriving at the location where our coordinates led, I wasn’t impressed. There was only room for one or two vehicles, and heavy power lines lined the road up further. (Apparently, according to Trip Advisor I should have kept going. Although, while lovely, it doesn’t look like there are any larger areas to set up group camp.)

Our spot:

I backtracked to check out an area that I’d passed that looked promising. Hard to get perspective, but there’s a fire ring up behind my truck a short ways. Perhaps….

It would have been ideal to camp there. I really like the open spaces, and the stars are probably amazing there, but temps were hovering in the 90’s and felt like it was getting hotter. Too damn hot. And Pugsly, the snug-nosed, is definitely not fond of the dry heat. So, we skedaddled to my Friday night planned location. I figured, if it was nice, I’d just stay there til Sunday.

I don’t know when this fire happened, up in the Kaibab forest East of Kanab, but it was huge. Not much in the way of Aspens still.

The Forest Service roads out to the North Rim Crazy Jug point weren’t supposed to be too difficult. This is where the lessons at the top kick in (pretty much all of them). I ended up paying attention to my on-board Navigation instead of re-reading the directions I had written down (which were actually two roads more than necessary, I found on my way out this morning).

Looks pretty and fairly benign, right?

Instead of taking NF 22 NF 206 NF 425 NF (something else I wrote down takes ya to the point), I ended up on NF 214, which turned out to be a crazy 4×4, with occasional need for Low, super narrow at times, unproductive 15 miles round trip waste of around 2 hours. (that said, it would have been fun if I hadn’t been focused on gas and not getting lost)

I didn’t get a lot of photos, because I was concentrating on driving and not getting lost.


Got our share of “Arizona Pin-striping”… oh, I guess it’s “Utah Pin-striping”!
I also picked up a branch later on!

Good thing that layer of dirt is protecting my paint!

I went round trip on that road. Wish I’d gotten some pics of the more harrowing areas. There was also one darker section that was so buggy, I had to roll up the windows. I felt like I was in that scary forest in The Wizard of Oz where we first see The Flying Monkeys.

After backtracking the whole way, I considered just going to find a pay campsite at that Park Service sanctions site off of Hwy 87. Then I saw a sign for NF 22… It was wide and nicely graded… so I decided to give it a shot. I think I was past the logical thinking part of the day.

I took NF22 the 10.5 miles my original instructions said, found NF 206 and turned onto it for a mile. I had to backtrack and actually put NF425 into my Navigation – and it found it! A half-mile back… NF425 was pretty long, and I was running the mantra “this better be worth it” over and over in my head, while keeping an eye on my gas level.

Hey look! A sign! Holy cow, I was super surprised that this was actually going to work out. I’d thought perhaps I could ask someone at some point, but I hadn’t seen another person since I left closer to the paved, where there were a few campers parked back in amongst the trees. (I wish I’d gotten a pic of the weird painted green school bus that had found it’s way reasonably far in. It was painted with “Yawway”(sic) and a few other religious words. I’m glad I wasn’t camped near them. Talk about creepy)

It was a little tricksy finding a spot. Out at the point itself were signed tacked to trees declaring “No Camping Here”. At first I was tempted to just set up, because it’s a pretty out-of-the-way place. But I thought better of it, when I considered that a Forest Ranger might just come knocking at my door after dark and scare the crap out of me… and my bear spray….

There was a ‘four way’ where four forest roads met. Obviously, I took one in, one went to the Point, and the other two? I explored down one and found a pull-in with a fire ring.

So, I set up camp there. It wasn’t level, and after trying various variations of levelers and angles, I gave up. Turned out to be pretty okay, if a bit angled towards the back. But side-to-side was level.

Fatigues is dangerous and also something to be very aware of (difficult if you are the fatigued person!) I put rocks under the tires (I’m still paranoid about rolling off the edge of cliffs when I camp at them), got the camper popped up, set up, and the dogs inside… and I kept misplacing things. Like my water bottle that I just had in my hand. Or the dog food lid I’d just taken off and set down.

Even though this was my view from my campsite, I started to get anxious and the Fear was starting to creep in “alone… twisty roads… cliff… alone….”

and out my camper window!

I had gone past hungry, but knew I needed to eat. I had a little chunk of Trader Joe’s Blueberry Goat’s Milk Cheese ( ) and crackers (seriously, if you haven’t had this cheese, go out to your TJ’s right now and get some. It’s delicious and it keeps the existential heebie jeebies at bay) I also made some minty tea and felt a bit better.

There was sagebrush near my door, so I breathed in a few huge gulps to clear my senses of the days stress.

Hey! There’s the fire pit. And that’s how close to the North Rim I was camped! Whoa!

My Four Wheel Camper in North Rim glory

The dogs weren’t as impressed.

My view from reclining position after sunset. Not too shabby

Since I had a lovely view of the not-so-spectacular sunrise, but could see the amazing sunset last night peeking through the trees, I decided to check out another potential campering spot just up the road and around the bend. Before I did that, it was time for breakfast! This is where lesson #7 up there comes first into play. I had too many things going on: feed the dogs, make coffee, make breakfast, clear dishes…. And that’s when the full cup of beautifully dripped dark, steaming, delicious coffee got knocked over and spilled into my stove, and cascaded down onto the floor. I got it all cleaned up, learned my lesson, and started all over – one thing at a time. I ate, put the various food stuff away, then made my second cup of coffee.

Before breaking camp, I did my Good Campering Maintenance and checked the turn-buckles. Imagine my surprise when the rear left turnbuckle itself was loose (driver’s side, the one that had previously had a dramatic loose fastener and I put blue Loctite on it a few weeks ago) and imagine my Fear when I found the left front one completely off! Of course, it was the difficult to reach one. I got down on my belly, not realizing that coffee had spilled on the carpet… and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out why the fastener kept slipping off when I thought I’d hooked it?!? Finally, in a stroke of pure mechanical genius, I decided to take the turnbuckle out and see what the heck.

This was what the heck.

and I immediately remembered my not-done shopping list that was still stuck to my dashboard.


I went to lesson # 7 again. Okay, who knows when this broke. I could have been driving lopsided for a while. I had no cell signal and a SPOT but hell if I was going to Alert for this! Not while the camper was still on the truck! (ahem)

I gathered my wits, made an assessment, made sure the remaining three turnbuckles were tight, and decided to leave. It’s Saturday. As much as I wanted to say, “hey, it ain’t gonna fix itself, might as well just enjoy this spot and stay over again” … it’s Saturday. Which means tomorrow is Sunday. I wasn’t going to risk a store being closed cuz I was stupid enough to stay over at this pretty place for another sunset. I got packed up and started to head out.

Remember that four-way forest road intersection I mentioned a short while ago? Well, I got there and couldn’t remember which way I’d turned in my fatigued state. Fatigue can screw you up at the time it’s happening, and even the next day! I felt an adrenaline rush and The Fear started to creep in. Oh fcuk. Oh fcuk. I knew it was about 25 miles back to pavement of Hwy 67, and wasn’t sure how far to the cute North Rim Country Store I’d passed the previous day. I pictured myself, afloat at sea, stranded on some random FR10365, out of gas, and with no one in sight.

I had pulled out my Kaibab Forest map, but wasn’t able to find these roads at all.That goes back to Lessons # 3 and 4. I shoulda pulled that map out with a highlighter marker or at least some marking removable tape (so I could use map again) before I left the house.

I took a few breaths and remembered that I’d put in FR425 into my Navigation yesterday and it had found it nicely! I searched my history, plugged it in, and skeptically followed it’s lead. Since it had led me so far astray yesterday, I was still nervous that I would end up stranded… but it led me right to a nicely graded FR425! WOOT! I wasn’t going to have to SPOT call in the cavalry! YAY! WHEW! Whoa. Be better f-ing prepared, Dawn! I thought I was… but I was not.

The sign itself was not blurry. This is where I had a decision to make. Go the 18 miles to the paved Hwy 67 and hope the Country Store was close, or take dirt the 33 miles(!) to Fredonia where there was a gas station?

I’d been crawling along at about 3 – 10 mph for an hour at this point. Every bump making me worry about the camper sliding off my truck. I stopped and checked the three turnbuckles every ten miles, to be certain. The right side ones were solid (!) and that poor one on the left needed tightening frequently, but was holding. (in retrospect, and after reading about turnbuckle tightening on the FWC site, I wonder if I should have moved that one to the front left – closer to the cab?)

I opted for pavement. I figured that at least if I run out of gas there, or if something more drastic happens with the camper, I’ll be where other people regularly travel. I hated the thought of getting stranded on the FR roads. (I did see two trucks – loaded with quads – on FR22 a few miles later.)

Oh! My tree branch! It decided to come along for a ride. Argos was a bit confused by it.
Come to think of it, I think there’s still a piece wedged in behind my awning. Will need to remember to get that out.

Turned out the North Rim Country Store was a few steps away from where I eventually exited FR22! Only took me about 1.5 hrs for the 30 miles (better than my 2 hrs for 15 miles yesterday!)

I gassed up at $2.80(!) and talked to the nice folks working there. They told me that my best bet was to go back to Kanab (some 62 miles backtracking). They told me where to find the True Value, and if they didn’t have what I needed there was some other hardware store just up the road. That seemed to be my only option, so off I went back to Kanab.

Luckily, it was an uneventful drive back and I easily found the True Value. They had different turnbuckles, but who was I to argue? Unfortunately, the hook part is smaller, so I can’t just interchange parts.

Funny story. Many moons ago, a boyfriend was using my tools and lost my 16mm shorty from my set. I told him it was fine as long as he replaced it. He never did.
I also never replaced it because in reality, it was rare that I needed a 16mm shorty….

Neither True Value nor the hardware store just up the road had a 16mm shorty, so I tightened it the best I could with an adjustable, and set out for ?

I was considering camping over near Lake Powell on a beach area that a friend of mine had recommended. He said that it was lesser used (but still often quite crowded), pretty, and had a big Lone Rock in the middle of the water. Perhaps up a Utah mountain? And I vaguely considered going over to my beloved Valley of the Gods… But the dogs didn’t seem happy about the heat – especially Pugsly, she doesn’t do good in heat – I decided to head back towards Flagstaff, see how we were all feeling, and make a decision then. There are a bunch of spots up in that neck of the woods (so to speak) that are nice, higher elevation, camping areas. But by the time I got to gassing up in Flag, I decided to just get us home. I wasn’t convinced that the new turnbuckle was going to hold (it did) and that nagging my mind made me not want to try more ‘adventures’ right now.

There is time for more adventuring – with spare turnbuckles and better pre-mapping any remote locations.

Tacoma rear-seat platform mod

Since I got my FWC on my truck, I’ve been wanting a better way to pack my gear in the truck (and travel with the dogs)

A month ago or so, I took the rear seats out and have been researching platform ideas. I found a lot of great photos and started to plan.

As a lot of early planning goes, my plans were bigger than my stomach… er… my plans were bigger than my eyes… um. My plans were fairly grandiose.

My ultimate goal was economy of cost and a functional and secure platform.

I was planning to just take some plywood for a top, and some 2x4s for legs. One night a couple of weeks ago, I found this metal frame in an alley, and decided to use it. It’ll definitely give me a stronger backbone than just plywood.

The only problem was that it was about 6″ too wide and so it stuck out the truck door. That wasn’t going to work.

A friend had a cut-off wheel and mig welder, so I borrowed his tools and set to work.

Got the extraneous pieces cut out.

and it was time to do some hoopty welding.
There are no photos of my wields because I’m terribly out of practice and my beads were rather ugly.
I did have at least one good run tho 😉

Hey! It fits now! Yay!

Yesterday, I went to Home Depot, picked out some 1/2″ plywood, and had them cut it to size there (what a great service! Woot!)

You can see those triangle tabs sticking up on the frame? I left those on to use as tie-down points for whatever stuff I pack in there, but it meant that I needed to cut some holes in the wood top for them to fit through.

After my grandpa died in 2001, I got his red Craftsman toolbox and some of his tools, including his old jigsaw.

Unfortunately, somewhere over the years, the set-screw got cross-threaded, so the damn blades wouldn’t stay in and kept stripping out. I got some cuts done before the cussing commenced, then the impatience set in and I took a rather large drill bit to the cut.

That left me with some rather ugly areas and it still wasn’t wide enough.

I sent a friend a text message and luckily, he had a brand new Black and Decker I could use! Yay!

Bing, bang, boom! Zippo, Presto! Had it done in just a couple of minutes.
Still ugly, but functional. I’m okay with that.

The guy at Home Depot had recommended I use a piano hinge for this to give me a more solid and less flexy movement. Seemed like a good idea…

Until it wasn’t.

Der. Measure twice! Gotta remember that….

Back to Home Depot to get some different hinges. I got a three pack and quickly discovered that the screws were too long for the top (went through the wood, and pushed up against the metal) and that I didn’t have the right drill bit to make starter holes for the screws in the metal of the platform.

Fergeddabouddit. It was getting too hot to be working outside anymore anyway, so I decided to do hinges later. I do want to put them in though so that I can have decent access to the built-in cubbies on the floor.

(please pardon the dirty – got this pic right after I took the first seat out. Built in cubbies: )

So I got the platform set in the truck

and put my stuff back in.


A few things I want to do:

– I need to get a better drill bit to make holes in the metal part for the hinge screws
– I’d like to cover the wood with some cloth for splinter avoidance
– A better way to bolster the frame legs other than pieces of 2×4
– Vaguely considering making an upper shelf so things aren’t just stacked up and I can utilize the space more efficiently.
– Need to figure out a good way to secure the platform to the truck and ‘stuff’ to the platform
(I’m paranoid about getting into an accident and having stuff flying about inside. Saw a video in EMT class years ago about an unseatbelted back seat person who bounced around the car in an accident and killed the other three people. Eep)

Cayuse suggested I put thin closed cell foam for the top of the wood before I put the fabric cover on to make it more comfy for Argos doggie. That’s a good idea because then I don’t have to deal with the clumsy dog bed back there.

When I took the seats out, I left the outside mounts in. I can use those as mounting points for the platform but have to figure out how, exactly. I’m thinking zip-ties won’t do the trick. (Also, should have a mount forward too for better anchor of everything….)

Considering turnbuckles, hose-clamps….