I apologize for any typos! Writing this a a picnic table. The sun is going down!

About a week ago, Dixie dreamed that she was dealing with a landscape company where you could choose a favorite landscape—cactus and rocks, pine trees, suburban, what have you—and the company would lift up your house, slip the desired landscape beneath it, and plop the house back down. Which in some ways isn’t all that different from what we’re doing, only we’re driving Maude to each new landscape rather than plopping.

A week ago it was saguaros, huge rocky mountains jutting up from the earth, javelinas (which we got to see, trooping right past our campsite—a whole herd!), tons of quail and hot sun. This followed by a pine-covered mountain with elk, mountain lions, and bears (which we never saw, but were told shared our landscape) and quite chilly. We didn’t drive far; we rose 4000 feet in elevation. We were just outside of Payson, Arizona, a funky mountain city. If you ever come here eat at 260 Café.Yummy!

At each campsite, we set up camp. We attach our turquoise-with-red-cherries oilcloth tablecloth to the picnic table, if there is one, pull out the Coleman stove and the five gallon water carrier, move the food box and clothing bags to the driver’s and passenger’s seats so we have more living space in the van, insert into the windows Dixie’s handmade solar blackout panels (our temperature control), unstrap our beach chairs from the ladder on the back of the van and set them up facing the best view. Depending on where we are, we may or may not open the awning (forget it in wind) may or may not let down the screen door (depending on the bug sitch.) Come evening we flip the middle two captain’s chairs around so we get more legroom in the bed.

Once all this is done, I usually stroll the campground like a dog sniffing the perimeters of a new locale, checking out amenities. Do they have showers? If so, are they free? Or will we need quarters? What are the bathrooms like? Where is trash? Do they recycle? While Dixie fiddles with some aspect of the van she’s figured a way to improve. Once all this is done, it’s just like Dixie’s dream: our house has been plopped down onto a new landscape.

The Van

A few nights ago we drove to visit and old friend in Concho, AZ. She’s living way off the grid. Trucks in water, uses solar lights. She sets them out every day then brings them in at night. She lives with her dog in a small gutted out trailer on five acres of juniper and mesquite trees that overlook forever. In winter she heats with a wood stove she removes during summer to give her more space. She dug us our own special poop pit behind a juniper (along with toilet paper in a Folger’s can and a can of lye. Such hospitality!) It’s a dusty place and when the wind blows, it’s even dustier. Despite the challenges, she’s happy living the lifestyle of an ascetic. Says she gets lonely, but loneliness is a price she’s willing to pay for her view of the mountains. And she’s got a good dog.

Off the grid

On our way to another old friend’s house in northern New Mexico, we stopped to get gas and lunch on the Zuni reservation. The architecture is a mix of traditional adobe flat-roofed homes with their outdoor adobe ovens (hornos) and trailers, many of which also have hornos. Poverty is the main currency. A posted sign asks visitors not to photograph any religious activities or sites. Much as I wanted to, I didn’t take a single photo. It seemed too disrespectful. But I will never forget the beautiful ramshackleness of the place, the faces of the people trying to sell us Indian trinkets. The place seemed both blessed and cursed.

Today we are staying with an old friend who lives outside of Albuquerque in what would be a million dollar home in Santa Cruz. The curved lines of the adobe walls and fireplaces, the wooden beam viga ceilings, the brick floors, are so pleasing to the eye. She took us on a tour of some towns in the area. One of them, Madrid, is a wild, colorful, untethered artist colony that, in some ways, reminds me of old Santa Cruz before it became a bedroom community of San Jose. Cheap real Estate. The water is bad to years of mining. But it was amazing. A burst of bold expression in a land of muted color.

Desert Art in Madrid, NM

It snowed last night. Not enough to stick, but still… We played some music last night, me sharing with our friend the first song I ever wrote on my ukulele. She, a realmusician, sharing some of her latest songs. This afternoon, we’re headed into the city to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and to Old Town for Sopaipillas.

My friend’s beautiful home near Albuquerque

Tomorrow, we’re off to camp by a lake in Santa Rosa, NM, where we plan to meet up with one of Dixie’s old friends. After that? Who knows?

So that’s all for now. Live the love. It’s all we’ve got.

Road Trip USA: Day Eleven