I love nothing more than eighteen wheels rolling underneath us, but living on the road and living on public lands certainly makes one ponder if we really live in the land of the free . . . or not!
I speculate that I would have loved it more, if I had happened onto the unblemished lands of the covered wagon days. I often try to imagine what coming over a hillside and finding a sprawling valley would be like. No government interference and no trash to contend with. Tal says, “But there were hostile Indians then.” He has a point. Still to look at land uncluttered by progress would have been amazing.
We left our favorite spot on the Colorado River to travel the back roads to Yuma, Arizona and visit the town of Los Algodones, Mexico, just over the California border. We looked around for a place to park while I set up appointments for teeth and eye care.
We parked at a BLM campsite with a two week limited stay. (This is standard for BLM land, land that supposedly belongs to the citizens of the USA.) We found two weeks wasn’t enough. Even though the Mexicans are fully aware that the Americans crossing the border for medical attention are always in a hurry, and do their best to cater to our deadlines, there are things that one has to wait for – such as a crown or a bridge being built.
We ended up parking at the campsite for three weeks to get everything done, and I fretted the whole time we would get another ticket. The first tickets (one each at $275) cost us a total $550 for parking a day too long in a National Forest. Nearly half a month’s income. It was not a park – nothing more than hundreds of rocky wilderness acres where a few campers had parked. There was plenty of space for more campers and there were no signs posted as to stay length or that we were even in a National Forest area. I’ve figured out that any land not privately owned has been confiscated by some branch of the government whether it be county, state, or federal.
I keep singing the praises of law authorities who have visited us and were more than hospitable. Some even ask to see inside the trailer and look at what we’re doing with a bit of envy. But, on occasion there is the tough guy cop who gives us a bad time.
The extra day we stayed at Welch Rd near Flagstaff was the rockiest place I’ve ever tried to hike. We had a nice morning going on, while sitting in the back of our trailer working on sheep videos on our large screen monitor. Here we were, looking at these peaceful sheep when we hear a loud, “Step outside please!” We came out to find two uniformed officers. They introduced themselves as “Federal Agents.” Parker, in particular, was someone akin to a royal (*%&#$), excuse my language. “I saw your truck parked out here two weeks ago” he said.
We explained we were waiting on a check that had been delayed and had planned to leave the next day. Tal said, “We’ll leave right now!”
Parker was having none of that. “You can leave after we finish the paperwork.”
“What paperwork?” Tal asked. It turned out to be a fine for taking up residence on forest land. I tried to plead our case, but to no avail, “We’re retired, our income is limited.”
The response was monthly payments are available.
I was relieved when we left Yuma after having dental work and receiving new glasses. It took a few days of travel to find another place to park. We enjoyed a couple of days of taking pictures of the tall Saguaro cactus that grow in certain areas of Arizona. We pulled off at exit 151 along I-8. We saw an old sign that said FREE TRUCK PARKING.
It was a long ago camp ground, but it worked for us as a short term layover. We traveled on, thinking we would find BLM or other open land, but it was not the case. Every acre we came across was gated and fenced. We drove for many miles before finding an abandoned parking lot where we could park for the night. By then, we were in Douglas, a small rather drab town in the southeastern corner of Arizona. The town did boast an awesome old hotel, The Gasden, which was the highlight of Douglas along with two old train depots. Other than that, we were parked kitty corner from a border detention center complete with morning wakeup sirens and plenty of barbed wire. Mexico was only a couple of miles from where we were parked, but we forewent going there. We did meet a great guy named Sam who let us fill our water tanks.
Since no one had said anything to us, Tal was content to stay parked in the dirty parking lot for as long as possible, but I was uneasy every day. There was a housing project not all that far from where we were. Also, there was plenty of traffic on the highway in front of us, and I felt like we were standing out like a swollen sore thumb.
I couldn’t get settled into being comfortable. I was missing my million-dollar wilderness views I had grown accustomed to, though try as Tal did, there was no wilderness available for parking. We never saw another camper or even a semi-truck the way we had gone. I felt out of place and was out of my comfort zone. We did have three visits from authorities while we were there, and finally Tal agreed to move on. We stayed parked there for nine days.
Our next stop was an abandoned truck stop at the corner of Hwy 80 and I-10. We needed firewood and there was a pile of scrap wood. I drug a couple of loads to the back of the trailer for cutting stove length while Tal winched in a heavy beam. We soon filled our wood bin.
I didn’t mind that place so much. When you looked past the trash, and a thousand old discarded truck tires, there was a nice mountain range and an old lake bed that had tawny colored grass blowing side to side in the wind and looking like waves on water.
We had high hopes for Lordsburg, but again, we mostly passed fenced land with no visible access.
Once in Lordsburg, we pulled into an abandoned business for the night next to a truck stop. Two side by side train tracks were across the street and every train that came by was passed by another coming the opposite direction. Talk about loud!
Again, I was uncomfortable. It would just be a matter of time until someone was checking us out. At my begging, we left the next morning to look for a nicer and quieter place to park. We found a Veteran’s park on the edge of town and parked there. No one else was there, but like in Douglas, we were near a housing development. Within minutes law enforcement showed up to check out our “suspicious semi.” Something we hear all the time. The officer was fine with our staying there, but it wasn’t two hours later we were visited again and told not only to leave the park, but to get out of town.
I really hate that kind of treatment though I really do get their point of view. They see us as drifters, and aren’t we?
Rather, I see us as retired seniors traveling in our golden years and enjoying the great country we live in. We are set up for the wilderness, but we have to come to town for supplies and food at least once a month. Laundry is always an issue. We’re spending what money we have in their towns, making a friend here and there, and then moving on. It would be nice if the authorities were more tolerant. Just because you’re living on the road doesn’t make you a bad person. We run into a lot of seniors doing the same thing, and living in their RVs year round as well. However, we are unconventional with our semi-truck and trailer, and some folks just don’t have a sense of humor.
Actually, I’m so glad we’re not living in a typical RV. We have much more room, a full bath, and a hallway to walk down. It may limit places we can park, but the elbow room is well worth it. There is no way I could do my food canning in a cramped RV.
Anyway, it turned out to be a good thing that we were chased out of the park, because we ended up out an old mining road where we had stunning views and no one harassed us. I was so glad for that. I’m finally feeling my old self again and enjoying our lifestyle once again.
While we’re traveling, I’m seeing how little land there is left for people like us. I imagine that will diminish all the more as time goes by. BLM is already working on requiring permits to park in the wilderness. The government control of what should be wide open spaces is very frightening. I don’t think my grandchildren would stand a chance trying to live like this. Government officals are going to be squeezing year round campers into smaller and smaller spaces. None will be free eventually.
It makes me wonder what the homeless and down and out will do. In our travels we come across many people who pick a spot in the wilderness to set up camp. One guy we met this winter never wore any shoes no matter how much the temperature dropped. I thought maybe he was a vet, but that wasn’t the case, and Tal was hard pressed to understand his societal beef that resulted in his feet being bare.
Others have been alcoholics, drug users, or both, who do much better away from towns and cities. Let me add mentally ill, or just plain crazy (as in the guy above) to the list as well.
Between Tal and me both, we couldn’t afford to rent an apartment or house to live in if we wanted to, and we wouldn’t want to if we could. Living like this offers us a good life, and certainly some wonderful adventures. As more and more people, seniors in particular, find themselves unable to maintain their homes and resort to traveling the road, what will they do when there is no longer a free place to park? The future for American gypsies is grim. And, that gives me a very unsettled feeling.