It Happens – By Desert Dave

Are you wondering if the first two letters are omitted? Yes, they are. You get astute award. So what is it that happens we should be concerned about this time? Campfires. Campfires are an American camping tradition and I love them. They make light and heat, are fun to cook over and create an evening atmosphere of cozy camping unparalleled by anything else.

The perfect size, and yes, size does matter

That is until ‘Mister Fire’ takes over. This is the person who claims to know everything there is to know about campfires. What he actually knows is rather suspect.

The first hint as to his skills is when he loads the fire ring with large logs and asks for the lighter fluid. A suggestion; do not give it to him. A cold beer will usually distract him just as a shiny lure does with a trout. Lighter fluid is a
very good accelerant, especially for lighting shirt sleeves, a hat brim, marshmallow bag and nylon chairs. It is a lousy choice for lighting a campfire.

A few other really poor choices are phone books, newspapers, oily rags, plastic bottles, bags of trash, empty lighter fluid containers, anything soaked with gasoline or kerosene, food wrappers and Uncle Drunky’s plastic flask. They all are potential wildfire starters by sending small burning scraps flying into standing flora, exploding pieces of burning shrapnel into the air and easily getting out of control. Case in point; I was once privy to a bottle cork projectile that came very close to turning a baritone into a tenor. He would not have been a happy camper. The knot and bruise on his inner thigh was enough to make him a believer. Ironically, it was his own cork.

There is almost never a reason to use manufactured (notice I did not write “man-made;” dodged that PC bullet) products to start a campfire. Mother Nature has provided us with everything we need to be safe and efficient.

In the beginning there is the fire ring. In established campgrounds these are usually provided. In the outback use large angular stones to form a fire ring no more than three feet in diameter. Stones with rounded surfaces were probably weathered in water. They will explode when heated. Rake or scrape out a clean circle around the fire ring that extends at least three feet from the ring, all the way around. Do this even with a provided fire ring. The danger is this. Organic material in the ground, even slightly below the surface, can burn without a flame creating a chain reaction that can send the burning ‘fuse’ of material straight to the closest tree or bush and ignite it up to a day or two later.

Now that you have a proper fire ring and clean area around it look for tinder. Tinder is very fine organic material such as dry grass, forest litter or any dry material no thicker than a hair.

Forest duff, ideal as tinder.

A loosely packed ‘bird’s nest’ of such material is all that is needed. Place it alone in the center of the fire ring. Have an assortment of twigs, sticks and logs at the ready close by. A single wooden kitchen match slid gently into the nest will ignite it. If you did this without your face being directly over the nest you will still have your vision and not be running and screaming. Place some twigs on the fire and then graduate to larger pieces until the logs are in place and burning. NEVER allow the fire to extend beyond the rim of the fire ring. Use material that fits inside. For example, a wooden door is totally out of bounds.

Throwing wood forcefully on the fire is counterproductive. It will smother the fire and scatter burning ash. A good campfire needs to be tended with care, romanced into full flame, appreciated for its light and warmth as one would appreciate a true love snuggled close and purring. Feel it, listen to it and watch the fluid motion of the flames as they blend red into yellow and stream upward into the atmosphere. It is the harvest of nature giving you the most basic need of ancient humans. It does not need to rage in giant form, but exist in humble reverence to the Earth, no more than three feet high.

Remember the factor of threes. A three foot fire ring with three feet cleared around it and a three foot high flame.

There are many types of fires from the ever popular tepee to the log cabin and trench fire; some are fires for light, some for cooking, some for heat and others of combined purposes. That is beyond the scope of this article, but avid outdoors people learn to use campfires to suit a specific purpose.

Tending the fire comes with experience, but a few basics are warranted. Adequate air space under and through the fire is paramount. It is only with flowing air that logs can burn at all. A few rocks used as a base to raise the logs an inch off the ground will do wonders to improve the integrity of the fire. A solid pile of lumber is only slightly easier to burn than metal.

If an accelerant is needed due to high moisture content of the wood, Mother once again has provided. The sap of yellow pines, pine needles and pine cones are like gasoline in a flame. Look for sap nodules on the bark of a standing tree and remove a few with a pocket knife.

Tree sap is a natural lighter fluid

Start your fire with softwood (pine and fir) and use hardwood (broadleaf trees) for the hottest, longest burning campfire. Juniper, cedar and manzanita are some of the most available and best burning woods in the west. Hickory, maple and oak are eastern favorites.

When it is time to leave a campfire put it out, all the way out. Remember about the burning ‘fuse’ underground? If a fire is left un-extinguished it can spark nearby vegetation a day or two later. A large bucket of water and shovelfuls of dirt to smother stirred ashes only takes a few minutes and could save more lives than you even want to think about. And remember what Smokey says, “Only you …”

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Fun with Sewage – By Desert Dave

Many people think modern camping no longer requires getting one’s nails dirty or dust on their snow white athletic shoes. Think again. All RVs are equipped with two holding tanks, one for gray water (dish washing/bathing, etc.)  and one for black water (sewage). Now, guess who gets to empty these tanks. Yes, little old you. For the uninitiated I will briefly explain.

A large sewer hose is attached to the sewer outlet on the RV. The other end of the hose goes into a hole in the ground, usually in a concrete pad. A lever is pulled opening the RV tank and you flinch just slightly hoping the hose doesn’t blow off and cover you with nice, fresh sewage. There is always a little drip here and there from putting the hose on and taking it off wafting the Earthy aroma right into your nose. My suggestion is to skip a big breakfast that morning.

Oddly enough, some people enjoy this ritual so much they do it every three or four days, when their tanks are full. As for myself, serious conservation techniques allow me two weeks before having to play sewer Spartan.  If you are new to RVing and think tank dumping sounds like a whole big bunch of fun, let me tell you how to make sure your tanks fill up in three days.

Hand washing is important for good hygiene. Rather than using a hand sanitizer when you touch something of questionable bacterial infestation and washing hands only when necessary using the least water possible, wash your hands as often as you want using massive mounds of lather and running the water at full blast the entire time.

While wiping down the kitchen counter and table, etc. leave the water running while you walk around doing your cleaning chores. It will almost sound like a sparkling waterfall.

Take at least two hot, lengthy showers every day and resist the temptation to use an all-in-one shampoo. Multiple products will make your hair glow under your bedazzled flame pink ball cap.

When flushing, hold the flush pedal down long after everything is gone just to watch gallons of water rush into the tank. Apparently, this can be very amusing.

Make sure to shampoo each of your two to five Cocka-whatevers every day so they are super fluffy for their daily walk. No one should ever see your little furry babies looking in other than show condition.

Paper plates are for paupers. Use china and properly appointed silverware.

Make it your mission when cooking to dirty every dish, bowl and utensil in the place. The more you wash, the cleaner everything is, and remember that cleanliness is next to Godliness, so constantly washing things, whether they need it or not, will help buy your ticket to heaven.

If you meet new friends and invite them over for ‘cocktail hour’ rewashing all your Lexan cocktail glasses so they shine spotlessly. You certainly would not want them just normally clean.

While brushing your teeth let the water run on full blast so the noise will relax you.

If you do these things I promise you the joy of emptying your sewage every three to four days. Now, won’t that be fun?

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How Far is it, Anyway? – By Desert Dave

 

backpacking

If you take long day hikes or backpacking trips here is a skill you definitely should know. It is the skill of determining how far it really is to your destination and how long it will take to get there. Guys who already know everything can stop reading right now. Guys who admit they might learn one tiny useful bit of information and most all women (who comfortably admit they do not know everything) should continue.

This is a skill I learned from N.O.L.S. (National Outdoor Leadership School) that I have used for decades with great success. It is the art of calculating ‘stress miles’ from a topographic map.

First let me ask you this. Have you ever parked at a trailhead where a sign reads something like “3 miles to Breakbutt Falls” and then you hike four hours up steep switchbacks to reach the falls? You think, three miles my broken butt! We all have. In most cases the mileage shown on a trail sign does not take switchbacks or elevation change into account. When you read the sign your mind automatically thinks of traveling on level terrain because that is the best and most common reference we have when it comes to walking. To get a real picture of the hike so you know exactly what you are getting into there is a little trick with math that will convert the entire trek into level i.e., ‘stress miles.’ If you are wearing a pocket protector and have a pencil thin mustache, put the slide rule down, and if you wear body jewelry and have a few tasteful tattoos you will not need a pad or pod of any kind that will conjure satellites, this is very simple math.

Map

 

The initial requirement is the ability to read a topo map. If you cannot, do not go in the woods again until you can. Lost hikers are very common and they too, are topo map illiterate. That is a major reason they get lost.

Start by laying out a map (preferably a 7 ½ minute) of the area you wish to hike. It does not need to be oriented. Identify the trail you will take. Using dividers, not one of those fancy rolling devices, measure the exact trail miles. The rolling, LED readout, pretty orange map measuring devices work great on interstates, but not on a switchback trail.

For brevity I need to make several assumptions here. For instance, that you actually own a pencil and are adept at operating it and that you know how to use dividers to measure a trail.

Now for step two. You are probably not going to like step two, but it is essential. Count every contour line the hiking trail crosses. Ascent or descent is not important. Yes, count them all. Multiply the number of contour crossed lines by the contour interval. A contour interval of 100 feet is easy to work with, so if the hiking trail has crossed 35 contour lines multiply 35 x 100 = 3500 feet elevation change. Now here is the spooky, voodoo math part. Every 500 feet of elevation change equals 1 mile of walking on level terrain. Therefore, divide the elevation change by 5 hundred. In this case it equals 7 miles.

Step three is so easy you will forget all about the tedium of step two. Add the trail miles and elevation change miles together. Now you have ‘total stress miles.’ In other words, if the trail was laid out straight and level this is how long it would be.

 

hiking up hill

 

Most people have a very good idea of how far they can walk on the level, but it is very hard to judge how far you can walk in unfamiliar mountainous terrain.

Now let us consider time. It is very important to know whether all the members of your party will be able to make the hike in the proper amount of time. If it is a day hike you want to be able to go in and out while it is still light. If it is an extended backpacking trip planning the logistics of arrival at fresh water springs and campsites is essential. Here are a few basic figures to use in determining time, but keep two things in mind: 1) your exact hiking speed will be affected by many variables 2) always base time calculations on the slowest hiker.

The average person walks at 5-6 mph on the level at a fast pace and 3-5 mph normally. On a slight incline that will slow to 3-4 mph. On a steep incline, up or down, that speed will slow to 1½- 2 mph and on technical terrain can slow to ½ mph.

Do the math, let the slowest person set the pace and every hike will be pleasant, predictable and panic free.

 

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Life of an American Nomad Part VII – By Desert Dave

 

            Power is an amazing thing. There are all sorts of power including the kind referenced in the quote, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But the power we Nomads are interested in is the kind that runs things like this computer. When one is out in the middle of freakin’ nowhere, where does power come from?

As with most questions, the answer depends a lot upon whom you ask. Some people think a generator is the answer. People who are on the ‘green’ side make use of nature, and some go for a little of both.

RV

 

First, let us consider what we are powering in an RV. Once you are parked and the engine is off there are two solutions to power, plug into the hookups at a campground or RV park, or make your own power. An RV (incl. trailers, vans, etc.) uses three sources of power: 110v AC electric, 12v DC electric and propane gas. All of these things are provided at an RV park, but what if you are looking for a bit of adventure outside the park? Maybe even outside of any improved camping area like National Forest or BLM camping areas where there might be a picnic table and fire ring in the campsites and a little outhouse that is usually only fit for the spiders and lizards that live in it. Now you are on your own. You are nowhere near the Spartan facilities of a 19th century Conestoga wagon on the Oregon Trail, though I have heard people whine and complain as if they are. Most things are possible, though some concessions must be made.

People who care little about the environment burn fossil fuels like there is an infinite supply so they can run a high-powered microwave oven, hair blow dryer, heaters and electrical cooking and grooming appliances, plus some recreational appliances we will not discuss, with total indifference by using big generators to provide all the power they can afford. With a consumption rate of 1 ¼ gallons of gas per hour (typical Onan 6500 watt generator) a lot of fuel s needed to maintain this lifestyle. Even more patience, or total deafness, is required by anyone camping close to them. Okay, enough said about those people.

People with a social conscience and respect for nature and the environment choose clean power whenever possible. This means solar and/or wind. Solar power systems seem complicated at first and that turns some people off to them. Let me take this ugly bag of snakes and lay them out straight for you. It is not that difficult to understand.

sun and solar panels

The light from the sun excites crystals in a solar panel creating an electrical current. That current flows through a wire to a regulator. The regulator’s job is to shut off the current when it becomes excessive because the current flows from the regulator to the RV/deep cycle battery or battery bank (more than one). At 14.4 volts (battery level) the regulator shuts off temporarily. For each 12v or paired 6v battery unit a 55-80 watt panel is necessary to maintain a good charge level. Once the battery is charged it can be used to provide 12v DC or 110v AC current. DC current comes straight from the battery. AC current needs a little help. That help is called an inverter. It changes the current from DC to AC in a two-step process I will not bore you with just to show how much I know. You only care about this. There are three types of inverters: cheap junk, modified wave and pure sine wave. So what the heck does that mean? Well, you do not want junk, so modified or pure sine wave is all that is of interest. A pure sine wave acts just like the electrical circuit in your house. It has one drawback. Your wife can choose between a diamond necklace for Valentine’s Day or a pure sine wave inverter. They are not cheap. A modified sine wave inverter is far less expensive, but it too has a drawback. In some audio/video equipment a low hum might occur and in older televisions a hum-line can appear across the screen. Placing the inverter at a distance from the television can eliminate this. But wait, here is the good news! Modern modified wave inverters used with the circuitry of modern audio/video equipment rarely sees any interference at all. I use one for a 32 inch flat screen television and surround sound system with no problems what-so-ever. Of course the two inches of lead shielding helps. Only kidding, folks.

So how do you know what you can or cannot run with your system? If you can do basic four function math, you can figure it out very simply. The UL sticker on the appliance will tell you how many amps it draws. If it’s a 110v AC appliance multiply the amps by 110 to get watts. If your inverter is a 1 thousand watt model, you can run an appliance or combination of appliances using 9 amps.

The new electrical appliances are very power conservative, but being moderate is the key. Boondockers learn to conserve by experience.

The reality of it is that you don’t have infinite power in the outback. Conversely, if you are a person who needs infinite power you will not be in the outback. You will be at Starbucks or a sushi bar texting on your ‘whatever-pod.’ Collecting and cutting firewood for the evening will not be a concern and conserving water will mean not spilling the Evian on your designer pants.

The outback is a wonderful place. Nature is a magnificent environment. Being self-sufficient in the outback is to conquer ones modern character.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Off Road and Off Line – By Desert Dave

 To my readers,

             My editor requested I write a little piece about where I am right now. We have a communication problem when I travel because WiFi is a real premium item in outback areas. It is very hard to find, especially when one leaves the blacktop and sometimes only a few miles from a major city.

Today I got lucky. A short time ago I pulled into Angel Fire, New Mexico, a beautiful little village in the shadow of the state’s highest mountain, Mt. Wheeler (13,131 feet).  Angel Fire sits at 8,420 feet and there is still snowcap visible on the surrounding peaks. At the end of town is a large, rustic log building that is Zeb’s restaurant and bar. They have WiFi. They also have some darn good grub and cold beer. If you are up this way, give it a try. Oh yeah, and one of the most important things an eatery can have is at it’s best here, friendly service. If Amber is your waitress you are lucky, too.

The last place I tried to use WiFi was at a campground in the valley. The reason their name is not mentioned is because the campground is wonderful, but the WiFi is about the worst I have ever encountered. First of all, the power source was a three foot wheel cage run by squirrels trying to catch an acorn. It made me suspicious when the camp host asked me to write out my Email on paper for her. Then I spied a group of pigeon cages around back. My confidence was fading fast. The last straw was when two locals showed up asking if telegraph master was on duty.

Being in the mountains is amazingly wonderful, as long as being off-line is nothing to care about.

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5 1 13 A Little Fish Story

By

Desert Dave

 Which way did he go?

A comic actor who was as famous for gin consumption as for his movies was asked by a reporter if he ever drinks water. The actor replied, “No.” The reporter asked why and the actor retorted, “Because fish pee in it.”

When one is attempting to catch, trap, hook, net, lasso or shoot a game animal it is most important to understand the animal, starting with its habitat. The actor knew the first thing about fish, where they pee.

This writer no longer hunts, but does fish and not only knows where they pee, but where they eat, a considerably more important piece of information. Ocean fishing has never interested me much. Being a country boy I prefer lakes and streams. A clear stream full of snags, rocks, roils and bubbling eddies is my favorite. After a lot of years and a large count of streams enough fish have been caught and released, pan fried, grilled, roasted in coals and smoked to make me believe I know a thing or two about those fish. My granddad once told me, “Boy, when you get my age you’ll have fish stories, too. Right now no one wants to hear ‘em ‘cause you’re only five.” He was right. So now I am at ‘his age’ and have a few fish stories of my own. To depart from the subject for a second, let me tell you about Old Samson Lester and the trouble he got into fishing down on the South Branch of the Potomac.

It was early spring, which came a little late that year, and Old Sam – that is what everyone called him after his hair turned white, which he claimed happened when he stumbled onto a denned-up bear and had to run all the way home with that bear hot on his heels. If it had not been for the old honey tree taking that bears attention Old Sam would have never gotten any older- took his Blue tick hound, Betsy, out to his favorite fishing spot on the river. Betsy was Old Sam’s best fishing buddy. She did not actually fish, of course, but she would nap in the shade of a big hickory tree while Old Sam fished and told her stories about other fishing adventures. She was perfect company for Old Sam. She never interrupted, never complained and always believed his fish stories. Well, as far as he could tell.

Along about sundown, with a stringer full of fish, Old Sam called Betsy to head home. Before he could collect his gear and the fish Betsy caught wind of something and bristled. Her head slung down and her eyes got real serious. As serious as a hound dog’s eyes can get. From down the riverbank Old Sam could hear the brush crackling as heavy steps came toward them. ‘Ain’t no bear,’ he thought, ‘it’s on two legs. Oh Lord, what if it’s one o’ them Sasquatches?’ Old Sam took Betsy by the scruff of her neck and almost dragged her into a big tangle of branches and boulders that looked like a good hiding place. “Quiet, girl, quiet,” he whispered. The footsteps came closer.  Old Sam peeked out through the branches just as the mysterious creature came into sight. He was right about it not being a bear. It was no Sasquatch, neither. No sir, it was Gretchen Reichlicharsch, the biggest German woman anyone had ever seen in those parts. Some said she was part Neanderthal and part Panzer tank. No one messed with Gretchen.

Old Sam sat as quiet as a mime with an invisible box to get into to. He had feared that woman since he was a boy. But nothing would prepare him for his hard misfortune on that day. Miss Gretchen had come to that secluded spot to bathe in the cool, pristine waters, and she was not going to wear a stitch while she was doing it. Old Sam hid his eyes, but if you have ever seen a train wreck you know it is impossible to look away. A mound of clothing, heaped like a pile of army tents, lay on the ground as the largest, whitest woman in four counties plowed into the river.

Old Sam saw his chance to get away unnoticed. He encouraged Betsy along as they tip-toed; it was mostly Sam tip-toeing, away from the river. Then, as good plans often do, it all fell apart due to the one thing Old Sam had not counted on, a squirrel.

Out of the hickory tree came a long-tailed gray squirrel chattering for all he was worth. It ran right passed Old Sam and Betsy immediately took flight. Now where do you think that squirrel headed? Yep, straight to the river where Gretchen was bobbing around in the cool, pristine waters, singing “Edelweiss” at the top of her lungs. With a squirrel and a hound headed right toward her Gretchen stopped singing, put her feet on the bottom and stared those two critters dead in the face. A second or two later Old Sam came stumbling out of the forest. Their eyes met. Old Sam’s blood ran cold.

Angry at the thought that Old Sam had been watching her, Gretchen reached down into the water and picked up an old wash tub someone had cast aside. It was big enough to cover what mattered, which is what she did and then came out of the river to confront Old Sam.

“You are a sneaky old man, Samson Lester,” she growled with her heavy German accent. “Do you know what I think?”

“I surely do,” Grinned Old Sam. “You think there’s a bottom in that there tub.”

And once again Old Sam and Betsy had to run all the way home with a bare on their heels.

Getting back to the subject, fishing is a lot more enjoyable when you are catching fish. Here is a tried-and-true method I have used in streams for decades. Fish are opportunists. Given the choice of chasing a meal or lying in wait and letting it come to them a fish will not move a fin unnecessarily. In a moving stream a fish can simply stake out a good spot and wait for the water to bring something tasty. This spot will be in a quiet pool where an eddy swirls around the outer edge or on the downstream side of any obstruction like a large rock or fallen tree. On the downstream side there is a small area of calm water with fast water rushing around it. A fish can float in that calm pool grabbing anything that floats by.

Note the snags and decide where fish might wait.

DSCN2805 DSCN2806 DSCN2813 DSCN2814 DSCN2815

 

This is so simple it is almost sinful. Walk in the stream, directly upstream from the “spot.” The fish cannot see your movement from that position. Using very little to no weight and invisible line cast gently into the stream on the up side of the obstruction so that the bait will be carried into the calm little pool behind the obstruction where a fish is waiting. Wham! You got him. Nothing to it.

What are you still doing here? Go fish.

 

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4 23 13 Redneck Proud

By

Desert Dave

While talking with a woman recently she made a very unkind reference to Rednecks. “I’m a Redneck born and bred,” I told her. As with many people these days she associated being a Redneck with hate, intolerance and violence. Okay, the Battle of Blair Mountain was no church picnic, but it is the real beginning of the term Redneck and it has nothing to do with racial hatred or being stupid and ignorant. What being a Redneck really means is being a West Virginia coal miner who wants fair treatment, decent wages and representation. It is all about the union.

It was 1921. West Virginia coal miners were so fed up with the way they were treated that they marched into a war called the greatest uprising since the Civil War. It was a bloody, horrible battle that became known as the Blair Mountain War. Bill Blizzard led the coal miners against local law enforcement and the United States government. The miners lost the battle and Blizzard was charged with treason but acquitted at his trial. The official record states that the miners lost, but they got their union. What they lost was the lives of around 100 men. What they gained was a stake of righteousness driven into the black hearts of those who would oppose freedom of will and choice. The courageous Bill Blizzard stayed active in the UMW and finally passed in 1958, God rest his heroic, humanitarian soul.

So what does this have to do with Rednecks? Funny you should ask, but here is the true, historical account of how the term Redneck originated. The miners did not have uniforms like the law enforcement and federal troops, so to identify themselves, mostly to avoid being shot by another miner they wore a bright red scarf around their neck. They became known as the Rednecks.

To be associated with Rednecks is to be associated with people who fought and died for a righteous cause. Hard working West Virginians who went into the mine tunnels with more grit their guts, strength in their hands and determination in their souls than a modern businessman could even imagine.

Oh yes, my family are West ‘by God’ Virginians and never anything but proud to be. My father was born a Mennonite farmer. At fourteen he was loading and driving a milk wagon into town before school. At sixteen he went to work on the Western Maryland Railroad and at eighteen he went to work at the Celanese Textile plant where he stayed for forty-seven years. My mother’s family was railroad workers. No, not one of us worked in the mines, but if you are a West Virginian the heritage of coal mining is in your blood. It has been said that we all cough black smoke and bleed coal oil. I guess there might be some truth to that, because when someone says Rednecks are bad people, I get a teense upset.

 

 

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4 19 13 Silly Al’s

By Desert Dave

-Silly Als one block wet of hwy 85

 Silly Al’s is located one block west of the Hwy 95 and Hwy 10 intersection, Quartzite, Arizona.

Most every town has something that makes it interesting.  D.C. has the Smithsonian, Philly has the big cracked bell, Salem has the Witch Tree and Quartzsite, Arizona has Silly Al’s, which has something in common with each of the afore mentioned places.

-tip pot

First, there are many old relics in Al’s. Some adorn the walls, a few are in glass cases and some of us are sitting at the bar. Second, that bell might be cracked but Al’s has been through devastating fire, a few desert floods and storms that would crack a Stonehenge boulder. Here in the desert if we call it a breeze it will roll your RV and if we call it wind it will relocate your house.  As to the Witch Tree …well, they don’t have a tree and that’s enough to say.

What Al’s does have is the best pizza and atmosphere west of Highway 95. That might take a minute to consider, but it happens to be one heck of a compliment when you consider what is west of Highway 95.

-Als 4

My reason for spotlighting Al’s is because it has been my home pub and social club for the five years I have spent in Quartzsite. I know it better than any other place in town, and today sitting at a beautiful Lake in New Mexico I am missing my Silly Al’s family, and especially the pizza. My original intention was to do the typical profile article about when and how Al’s got started, how they create magic in the kitchen and their business philosophy. Boring. Besides, that has already been done a few times. Not this time. I want to take you there and show you the Al’s I know.

If you liked the TV show “Cheers” and wished there was a place like that in your town, come to mine and I will show you Al’s. It has been a long time since I could approach the bar without two or three voices calling out, “Hey, Dave.” From then on the afternoon is filled with NASCAR, PGA, NFL and the bar favorite, college football.

-Pizza eater from Balt. MD

Man from Baltimore, Maryland

-Al's  5 - bar

Robbie, the owner, is such a College ball fan that he declared all times during any game is Happy Hour. Discounting drink prices makes everyone happy.

-The Robertson family

The Robertson family, left to right, Nikki, Rachelle, Robbie, and Karon. Colton in front.

If it sounds like things could get a little wild and woolly, there is not a chance. Intoxication is intolerable. The bartenders keep a sharp eye and there is not a shrinking violet among them. The rules for conduct are clear and for the most part, appreciated. Besides, if the bartender needs help every regular there would come to her aid, and then there is Robbie and Will. Both look more like linebackers than cooks. That is why in five years I have never seen trouble in Al’s. That is why families frequent the restaurant without a care.

-Band - Easy Money-Als 2 dancing-Als 6 dancing-Als 7 dancing-Father and daughter dancing

Are you wondering if they serve anything other than pizza? They sure do and there is something about their food that is probably very important to a lot of people who are like me. Like Chris Farley said, “I have a bit of a weight problem.”

-Als' 1-Als 3 eating

Al’s kitchen does not have a grill, flat top or deep fryer. It simply has to be the healthiest food in town without serving tofu, mounds of sprouts on everything or fish bait (sushi).  It is not a burger, fries and beer place, either. The food is all prepared in the kitchen and is all scrumptious. If you order the chicken Alfredo do not be too alarmed if someone catches you fingering licking the last few morsels on the plate. We are all guilty. That stuff is almost sinful. There is a very nice selection of other entrees including some seriously good spaghetti. Every day there are lunch and dinner specials. The specials change daily with lunch offering a collection of wonderful deli-style sandwiches except Saturday, which is my favorite with money off on any mini pizza.

One day Robbie told me they had used 700 pounds of cheese that month. I cannot tell you what my smart mouth answered, but use your imagination.

In the Quartzsite piece a mascot for Beer Belly’s was mentioned. Al’s does not have an official mascot, but unofficially they have a cougar. There are cougars in the desert, but this one was imported all the way from Arkansas by Karon, Robbie’s lovely wife. If you ride a Harley, stand 6-feet tall or over and have a brain you might get her to purr. The cougar, not Robbie’s lovely wife. But take care, she can bite and scratch.

Is it even necessary to mention that the number one rule at Al’s is to have fun? There are pool tables, a dart board, lots of TV screens with some kind of sport going on all the time, free WiFi and in the evening there is karaoke during the week and a live band on the weekend. But the very best thing about Al’s is once you enter the door you already have new friends. You just have not met them yet.

-The End-

 If you want to find out more about Al’s check out their Website, which Robbie accredits as a major boon to their visibility and attributes to the foresight and creativity of Karon. Oh yeah, his lovely wife.

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4 19 13 This Could be the Happiest Place on Earth; Sorry Mickey

It is February first and spring has just arrived. Sound a bit odd? Not in Quartzsite, Arizona. The temperature is 72 degrees with an ever so soft, sultry breeze. Streets are bustling with tourists, mostly from the north. Venders in huge tent shelters are selling everything from rocks to half-million dollar luxury RVs. Restaurants and bars are packed most of the day and all of the nights, especially when live bands or karaoke is playing. Karaoke, affectionately called scareoke by some of us, is the main evening attraction here. And it is just too much fun to miss. Various RV parks have live jam sessions several afternoons and evenings every week, plus tons of organized activities, indoors and out. There are off-road desert tours, an RC flying club, enough instructed classes for you to learn things you do not even want to know and a desert golf course. How could you have more fun than that without spending three days in the hoosegow?

It all started in the mid-60s, the time of peace, love and rock-n-roll. Hendrix and Joplin was our king and queen, nature was revered and pot was no longer something to cook soup in. Some people took trips on acid and some people took trips to the Desert Southwest. The geography and geology of Quartzsite, originally called Tyson Wells and serving as a stagecoach stop, made it the ideal spot for rock hounds. A new life was given to the town and it has grown in size and popularity ever since.

Paleo  unique and unusual gems

Paleo 3

For those who love, really love, rocks this is the only place to be in the winter. Quartzsite is known as the Rock and Gem Capitol.

-Massive crystal display-Mass c 2-Mass c 3 JPG

 

A person can do, and/or learn to do anything imaginable to a rock. Tons of rocks, minerals and fossils are traded every year and finished products turned into beautiful pieces of jewelry by the hands of artisans. It is very hard to resist going home without a piece of ‘desert diamond’ jewelry, turquoise. Turquoise is not simply beautiful, it is also magical. Just ask a Native American. Turquoise has been held in high esteem as a healing stone long before it was ever discovered in the Americas, though. The Tibetans and before them the Egyptians used the stone for its metaphysical healing properties through its natural vibrations to eliminate negative energy. It is especially useful when placed on the throat (5th chakra) to open all chakras and cleanse the entire being, or simply as a pretty piece of jewelry. I once found a heavy turquoise belt buckle to be a valuable asset in recovering lost items. One of my favorite bass lures got snagged on a branch just below the surface of the water and the belt buckle was the prefect tool for retrieving it.

 

-Mass c 4

-Massive c 5

There is also real gold. Not nearly as much as there used to be, but enough to keep diggers and electronic prospectors busy most of the year. Working mines are still part of the landscape and everything from flour to sizeable nuggets are on display and for sale or trade.

Several years ago there was an article in Gold Prospector magazine about a prospector from Alaska who showed up in Quartzsite with his Gold Bug metal detector to try his luck. He was told there was nothing left worth his time. So he listened politely to the advice and then went out in the desert and found some tailing piles. From one of them he recovered an impressively large nugget that more than paid for his trip.

There are dozens of such stories that keep prospectors coming back year after year, not hoping to find El Dorado, but enough gold to buy a new one.

The name Quartzsite itself is sort of interesting. Though it is obviously a combining of Quartz + site, there actually is a rock called quartzite. Formed at high pressure and temperature it is a metamorphic rock. Formed at low pressure and temperature by chemical means it is a sedimentary rock. Either way it is primarily derived from quartz sand (silicon dioxide) and/or chert which has similar chemistry in a slightly different form. Basically it is a really hard, rather pretty rock.

But enough geology, you want to know about the “Happiest Place…” aspect. Aye, me hearties, that it is (too many pirate movies). Although you will find two thousand vendors, a classic car show, chili cook-off, several RV shows and a bluegrass festival, it is not these things that make Quartzsite such a happy place, it is the people. They are from all sorts of places and backgrounds, and they are there because the warmth does not all come from the desert sun. There is something inexplicable about the place that brings over a million people together every winter to do nothing more than enjoy life and reunite with friends from many years passed or maybe from just last year. Finding new friends in Quartzsite is as easy as finding rocks.

One night at Silly Al’s, a pizza place (and much more) that is not to be missed, a group of people were celebrating the shared birthday of two gentlemen with a birthday pizza. Yes, it had candles and the wait staff to sing a jolly rendition of “Happy Birthday.” I doubt that Nashville will be calling any time soon, but it was very jolly. The two ‘birthday boys’ had met only a few days earlier. Upon discovering the birthday coincidence they decided to celebrate together.

-Birthday Brothers sharing pizza

At the Quartzsite Yacht Club four rather attractive women came in together and found a table for their celebration. This one is a doozy. The women looked enough alike to be sisters, or somehow related. Much condensed, their story goes like this. When a man passed away to whom she had been married many years earlier, one of the ladies went to the funeral. That is where she met the other three, each on the same pilgrimage of respect. They had all been the man’s wife. They became friends and continued to celebrate their husband’s belated hand in bringing them together.

By the way, there is no body of water in Quartzsite, yet the yacht club is a member of the American Yacht Club Association and amazingly has over 6,000 members.

Another totally happy place is located within the Tyson Swap Meet grounds.

Swap meetsSwap meet 2

It is Beer Belly’s Bar and Grill.

-Beer Belly's 1

-Beer Belly's 2-Beer Belly's 3-Beer Belly's 4-Beer Belly's 5-Beer Belly's 6

This one is really unique. It is completely outside. There is a large covered area with tables, but the bar and several tables are out in the sun. Food and drinks are served in the fresh air. With 300 days of sun per year, Quartzsite is the perfect place for an outdoor …, well, anything. The first time I was there it felt familiar in some way. Then it hit me. This place is like being on a gulf coast beach in Mexico sitting at a cabana or palapa. “Those were the days, my friend.” Just being there made me feel a little younger, and the crowd, which generally embraces everyone who arrives as if they are old friends is always a fun loving, good-hearted bunch, even though they change from time-to-time. As with many establishments where the owners actually care if you have a good time, Beer Belly’s (subtitled “Adult Daycare”) has a theme built around its mascots, monkeys, many monkeys. Now, do not get excited. They will not be picking through your best windswept ‘do’ looking for bugs, which I am sure you do not have. Really. These are quite a collection of ceramic monkeys. Chuck and Barb even keep a few extra for customers to purchase. They close for the season on St. Paddy’s Day and go out with a big party the Monday before called “Monday Monkey Madness.”

-Note the tail, this is what happens if you monkey around too much

Allow me to deviate into a short word on responsibility. Although Quartzsite is a small town there are two taxis. They charge a very reasonable flat rate to go anywhere in town. I implore you, use them. They are the cheapest insurance policy you will ever get. And I assure you, Chief Gilbert and his posse` have no sense of humor when it comes to drinking and driving. I commend them and so does MADD.

And now, back to more monkey business. I know a lot of people scoff at karaoke. If you have never tried it, give it a shot in Quartzsite. Every karaoke night at Al’s or the Yacht Club is one big party. A few of those people can actually sing, too. Okay, not many, but that is not the reason to go. It is simply a whole ton of fun, mostly because Quartzsite does not allow ‘strangers.’ There are none.

For a more quiet time to meet new people and enjoy an activity or meal there is the QIA, the Quartzsite Community Center. They have meals, musical entertainment, organized activities and get-togethers for just any reason they can come up with.

Okay, I am a fan. You can tell that I love Quartzsite. The first time I saw it I said the same thing almost every other person who now lives here says, “Who the Hell would want to live here?” Then you meet the people.

More pics on the swap meet

Swap meet 3Swap meet 4 Swap meet 5 Swap meet 6 Swap meet 7 Swap meet 8 Swap meet 9 Swap meet 10Swap meet 12Swap meet 13Swap meet 14Swap meet 15Swap meet 16

 

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4 19 13 Life of an American Nomad – Part VII

By Desert Dave

              How can someone afford to make travel their normal lifestyle in this economy? That is an excellent question, glad you asked. It is not easy, but also not as impossible as one might think. The most important factor is priorities. If you are chasing wealth and power, forget it. This lifestyle would not appeal to you anyway. This is a life for someone who values experiences above acquisitions and has a real love for nature and the outdoors, or who is just too old and tired to do anything else. The latter I will not address because there is no enjoyment involved. For me travel is about fun and excitement. Those are my priorities. Walking a trail along a high mountain lake, watching herons forage or Eagles hunt is far more pleasurable to me than strolling down a city sidewalk watching drunks urinate on anything that does not move and purse snatchers dodging traffic and pedestrians.

A person does not have to be wealthy to be a Nomad, but a source of income is necessary. Most are older folks relying on retirement funds. The younger ones among us find various, sometimes extremely creative ways to earn money as they travel. Making and selling craft and art pieces is one of the most popular methods. Being a seasonal worker is another.

Rainbow RV, handpainted by Kay who share it with her amazing hound Redman

 

A young nomadic lady I became acquainted with is probably the most avid music lover I have ever met. At her age, along with her intelligence, one would expect her to be engaged in a business venture or chasing success in a high-level profession. That is not for her. She works seasonably, moving with the weather, working to afford her true passion, music. Rather than buy a pair of exquisite Prada shoes, this gal will buy tickets to an incredible concert, and she has seen the best. That is her priority. Some people would say she is unsuccessful because she does not own a house, business or expensive new car. I feel she is one of happiest and most successful people I know because she lives her life on her own terms and serves her priorities extremely well. She knows who she is, what she wants, and she gets it.

If you know who you are and what you want you can find a way to get it if you are willing to live within your resources.

 

Walking with everything he owns

To some that means buying a new, very expensive, RV and staying at exclusive RV resorts like those in southern California that cost up to $2 hundred per night and provide every amenity and service imaginable. After hearing from several sources that one such RV resort close to Palm Springs, California actually offers maid and butler service I searched the internet but was unable to find that park. The idea of a butler serving in an RV leaves me weak with laughter. The maid I can understand. I need one myself sometimes, not being one of the neatest creatures on the planet. If I could teach a dog to pick up socks …, no, out of the question.

For the rest of us living on normal Earth being frugal is a must. At the extreme level of frugal are the boondockers. These are people who spend their time in free camping areas. Both the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and National Forest Service have public recreational areas open for free camping. Free is very attractive, but there are drawbacks. The biggest one is that there are no facilities like restrooms, water, trash disposal or actual campsites with picnic tables and fire rings. Being a boondocker means being totally self-sufficient by carrying your own water supply and providing your own power through propane (heating/cooking/refrigerator) and a solar system (electric). Another drawback is accessibility. A lot of these camping areas are well off the beaten path on dirt or gravel roads.

Most of us are more toward the middle of the frugal plan. Some boondocking is fine, but there are also many well-developed campgrounds that are not expensive. Long term and annual passes reduce cost considerably, as do discounts for staying a week or month.

With the high price of gas biting us in the …, heels, good planning is a must. Rather than embarking on long journeys it might be wiser to plan short hops from one point to another. It is also helpful to have a quick method of determining gas expense. I figure gas cost using a 100 mile factor. It makes calculations very easy, like using metrics, which is so much easier than our system of nonsense. At present prices it costs me ~$46.00/100 miles.  If the next destination is 150 miles away, simply multiply the 100 mile cost by 1.5 (total miles divided by 100) and you get $69.00.

The real key is to keep expenses low through good planning. Use campground discounts, know how to calculate gas expense, travel short distances and shop for food and supplies only on travel days rather than going into town daily.

One more piece of advice. Stay out of casinos or only go in with the amount of money you would set fire to.

-30-

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