When I began to type this journal, I did not think it would be very long because everything had already happened; I am used to typing pretty much as these things happen, or soon thereafter. I was largely afraid that I would forget so much that it couldn't possibly be interesting or even accurate. Well, guess what? It may still be uninteresting and inaccurate, but there's plenty of it – enough so that I have decided to split in two so as not to steal so much of your bandwidth and to give you a break so that you can go to dinner, sleep or whatever and return refreshed. Enjoy ...





The Trip East



I departed my Joshua Tree home at about 7:30 a.m. on April 20, 2004. 62 hours later, at 10:15 p.m. on the 22nd, I pulled into our Cape Cod driveway, again breaking my record. I do not plan to break any more records. I just wanted to know how long it would take if I minimized the number and duration of stops and yet paced myself comfortably and safely. The basic idea was to set the cruise control at the speed limit plus 4 or so miles, sit back and relax until reaching the other end. I had no Eileen and no dog with me so this was do-able. Another prerequisite is that the vehicle be comfortable and this old Caddy is that. Of course you have to be well rested to begin with and super alert throughout the trip. Here's the breakdown:


8 stops for fuel, facilities, coffee to go: 3058 miles; 134 gallons; $236.

3 stops for a large breakfast. Total for food & coffee: $38. (also brought along 2 gallons of drinking water, a good supply of half-price after-Easter chocolate, and a box of nutritious chocolate chip granola bars.)

2 stops at Rest Stops where I stayed about 6 hours each: 2 beers (with me in a cooler) and a deep sleep in back.


I arrived reasonably well rested though I did notice a tired lack of strength and enthusiasm for a few days. That's okay; I just slowed down, relaxed and flumped around in a low key haze for a week or so until I found myself doing something.


I was somewhat surprised at what a difference the water made. In the past, I would stop every couple of hours to get another coffee - and to desperately relieve myself of the last one. On this trip, I might get one with a fill-up, but sometimes not, and at breakfast. I found that a good deep slug from the water jug was perfectly refreshing. I rarely stopped between fill-ups, except to sleep or for breakfast, which meant grabbing a Dennys where I could find one - their sign had to be visible from the highway for a quick off and on. I like Dennys because they serve a phenomenal breakfast - 3 large cakes, 2 eggs over easy, bacon, sausage, a big slab of ham, hash browns and english muffin, coffee - $6.49, plus OJ.


The only thing that I would like to add to my arsenal is a good GPS unit, sophisticated enough to map the trip ahead according to weather and traffic conditions. On this trip I hit a band of very heavy rain through much of Arkansas and Tennessee. Then, an accident on the GW Bridge at 6:00 p.m. really backed things up there. With the unit, such hazardous delays could have been bypassed.


Now, on the surface, this trip (and the two previous) were relatively inexpensive, especially if you factor in being able to stop in Virginia and load up on cheap cigarettes. However, ignoring the latter, if you factor in 36¢ per mile that the IRS allows for wear and tear, then that $236 suddenly becomes $1337. That seems a bit much until you factor in what I paid for the car a year ago, plus insurance and maintenance of $6613. Of course those expenses probably would have occurred whether I had made these trips or not. Then there was the Nashville accident a year and a half ago which cost us a few thousand dollars all told and led to the Caddy purchase of $4600.


The alternative is mass transit. Certainly one day of taxis and/or bus to and from the airports and sleeping or reading across the nation is considerably safer then nearly 3 days of driving where God-knows-what is waiting to pop out in front of you exactly when you're not really looking. That potential disaster always un-nerves the heck out of me before and during the trip, which in turn makes me generally super-alert at some level, which is probably why I have survived the surprises so far.


I will never forget that car that suddenly leaped into the air and landed sideways right in front of the small truck I was driving on a freeway full of pottery and dinnerware - or the scattered cars and people that I somehow wove between as they suddenly appeared in an isolated fog around a bend - etc.. Those were decades ago on slower roads where I was probably a bit more agile then I am now. However, I've had a few situations on these trips where I feel luck had as much to do with it as agility or wisdom - the blinding rain, the driver that doesn't see you (or the car you don't see as you change lanes), the exploding tire, etc., where nothing serious happened - thank God.


Nor will I forget the exploding tire that did send the car I was in flipping down a hill, before cars had seat belts. Some say that banging around is why I am who I am today - though there are other reasons equally valid.


So I may very well live longer if I switch to flying. That would mean having to purchase and park a vehicle in JT. Of course, I could then find myself a good solid 4-wheel work-horse capable of dragging boulders around, with comfort and MPG being of lesser importance.


The Deck & Being Decked


I finished the deck, at least the phase that I had begun last year. It comes in from the driveway, along side the trailer and wraps around the front under the trailer tongue, its framing a half inch above the rock at the driveway end and 3 plus feet above the wash at the other end. It looks great and is a little more practical then leaping from rock to rock when entering or leaving the trailer. It is covered with 3/4" farm-bred Home Depot redwood, a little soft and in need of solid support underneath, but it is smooth, doesn't seem to splinter, and should last forever. There are a few broken boards that I will need to support and repair the next time around. Of course, this process was fully chronicled with images on the web site last yearand its completion will be (or has been) this year also. Some day I may extend the deck around the other side of the trailer and incorporate a full-fledged stone fire ring or well. I may also add some solid railings where people might fall off - but I also like railings that you can sit on. Perhaps a few benches also.

This is the first year that I have been able to run around in shorts and bare feet without worry of stepping on a wayward cactus needle or scorpion or scraping against the chaparral. That is why range riders of the old West wore leather chaps - to protect their legs. I do generally slip my shoes on when I leave the deck. These rocks are not good rocks for stubbing your toes on. On one occasion where I did not slip some shoes on I came back with one toe bleeding like it was giving to the Red Cross, though the cut turned out to be minor. Nurses (including Red Cross) have said they love me because my blood vessels are large and easy to find. Forget about that cut being minor - wearing shoes for the next week or so, when I had to, was a painful ordeal. The journal of 2 years ago describes another stubbing of a more serious nature where I actually cut off the front of the shoe, on purpose.


Well, speaking of blood, I have had quite a bit of it flowing down my face since I finished the decking around the front. Unfortunately, the deck puts my left eyebrow and the top of my nose at the same level as the corner of the wide open awning window, which is framed with iron. The problem happens when I'm walking along with my head down and my hands in my pockets, which is apparently what I need to do when I'm thinking deeply about something, and I seem to think deeply a lot about all sorts of very important matters. I was also watching out for the tongue which I don't want to trip over and the boulder the deck contours around which I don't want to kick.


The second time I did it, I really did see stars and sway around a bit as everything seemed to turn red. Fortunately, the decking is basically red. My left eye and the area between it and my nose were red for a couple of weeks. Now I have a vinyl ribbon running from the dangerous corner of the window down to the tongue. The ribbon is anchored with a strong magnet at each end so the winds won't take it away. Effectively, the ribbon is there to catch my attention and say, "Hey Dummy! Heads up!! and Don't trip either!". So now I have developed a technique for passing between the trailer wall and the ribbon, below the window, over the tongue and left of the boulder in one smooth motion that makes me look like I'm doing one of those slow Taekwondo movements that allow one to pass serenely from one level of inner or outer consciousness to another. Or whatever. No, I'm just trying not to get hurt as I pass from A to B.


(Well, people have said they like to get this newsletter-journal, so this is what they are getting.)

The deck is real nice and I spend a lot of time on it laid back in my butterfly chair reading or enjoying the view and the warmth, drinking a beer or a coffee. I have noticed that some visitors like to lay on the smooth wood as they hang out and chat - I like that. I have also noticed that rabbits, squirrels and even some birds like to go underneath the trailer-deck shelter to do whatever they do under there. Occasionally one pops up and over the deck to drink from the dog water, including some lizards. I like that. I suspect that at night a coyote or two may do the same. There is also a boss quail (not partridge) that likes to perch on top of the trailer and watch me in my chair on the deck as his flock forages about in the surrounding underbrush. However, when I move my arm towards the camera in the adjacent chair, he is gone; so no picture up there. Likewise, if you are looking at the picture of the squirrel's rear, you don't see a tail because it lays backwards over his head. He looks like a chipmunk but I am told that it's a White-Tailed Antelope Ground Squirrel; Ammospermophilus Leucurus.”. I have also been told that the above bird I've been calling a partridge is actually a Gambel's Quail(Callipepla gambelii).


One day I will install a motion-activated camera system that sends its images back to a computer where they can be viewed live but also captured on a hard drive and can be transmitted to a computer 3058 miles away.


Fill Wanted






I now have a new pair of long rock retaining walls. No concrete; just chips. Chips are small thin stones that slip into the spaces between the rocks and with a sharp tap, lock into place. The rocks range in size from those I can carry, one or two at a time, or roll, to some nearly the size of a VW which could only be moved with a hydraulic jack. Most were moved with the aid of one to three iron leverage bars. Some required the assist of a come-along winch. The idea was to end up with two parallel walls going uphill about 65 feet and 11 feet apart on the inside, between which could be dumped numerous loads of clean fill.


The objective is to have a nice easy drive up into the hill to our prospective winter home. This would be the first leg of that journey. At the top of this leg, the road will turn left and climb another stretch to where the road could widen to allow for a home, and/or it could make another back-turn right and climb a third leg to a wide arroyo, a ready made building site. The latter plans are not set in stone; all I need do now is think about this first leg. This road was actually begun in 1968 where I moved a lot of rock off and on for a few years but didn't really accomplish anything. One reason for that was that as I cleared the roadway, it became obvious that it would be just too darn steep and that some segments would require heavy cutting through bedrock just to get the surface smooth enough. I'm talking about this first leg.


I concluded that I would have to build some retaining walls so that this leg could begin further out in the relatively level site, pass over the steep area of projecting bedrock and end at a nice level landing from which the second leg could climb. Think of this first leg as shaped something like a shallow lower case j on its back. As you try to climb the curved part of that j, it becomes a bit unnerving. Throw a large bump into that upward curve, try to drive over that and I would probably flip over backwards. Now stretch a road from one end of the j to the other and you have a nice gentle climb. That is what the walls do. The road will be roughly even with the tops of the walls.


I had also concluded that I would need a crane to do this. Any other machine would tear up the surrounding landscape just as the bulldozers had done 50 or so years ago when they put in the roads and cleared the sites. My thinking was that a crane could reach way over the terrain to lift selected rocks up and back to the wall. How my mind would sigh as I passed those enormous yellow cranes at the various construction sites along the highways. What would I need for one of those? $500,000? Probably more. Well, you're never going to accomplish anything if you keep thinking you can't afford it and it can't be done. Whatever, no money for cranes materialized.


One day, I decided to move a rock; just one. I'd done it before. I don't have to build the whole darn wall; all I need do is move one rock, if I can. Then maybe I can think about another, if I feel like it, but I'm not there yet; let's just move one.


I knew which one. It was partially buried in the middle of the intended road, but projecting enough to be in the way of the road. Most rocks are fairly squarish, or trapezoidal, so that as it rolls, it can drop onto another side and thereby make progress. This one was half a ball, more or less, domed on one side and kind of flat on the other, about 3 or so feet in diameter. The flat side was way too heavy to lift up and over, while the rounded side simply wanted to roll back, especially while moving uphill. Getting it out of its hole was the worst part. It took a very long morning to accomplish this with the aid of 3 leverage bars and a dozen or so smaller rocks to hold it into whatever position it had gained. It eventually reached the wall and propped nicely into position against other wall rocks to either side and beneath, so that the flattish side could stand almost erect though tilted slightly into the prospective road, providing a solid barrier for the road to lean against.


The rocks in this wall were placed so that they would lean a bit inward all the way along. When you lay one rock on top of another, it usually wobbles a bit. Depending on how you reinforce it with chips, its center of gravity is going to end up slightly forward or slightly back. With all the rocks locked slightly forward, we end up with a sturdy wall pushing into and against the road that it will retain. These rocks tend to be rather irregular which is good. By placing them against each other after considering their relative shapes, the irregularities can lock against each other. With smaller angular rocks and chips forced into the remaining spaces you get a pretty solid wall in no need of cement. The sediment that will eventually fill the road will also work its way between the rocks and really lock them into place. This kind of wall is still flexible enough to adjust itself to the occasional movement of the terrain around it, especially during earthquakes. Walls built with cement between rocks or blocks do not have this flexibility. They can splint and sometimes even tumble.


Once that first rock was in place, the successive rocks didn't seem quite so bad, especially as I gained strength, experience and momentum. Most days I did the hard work in the morning, took the hot afternoon off, and did the lighter chipping and top rock work in the evening. The top rocks are selected to fill the cavities so that the top of the wall will look smoother. They also help lock in the bigger rocks below.


Three weeks and two days later, both walls were basically done. The left could use a little more reinforcement. The right wall still needs to be extended another 20 feet or so to support a landing for a left turn. But they are ready for the fill. When I return, if funds permit, I can start bringing in the truck loads. I've also spread the word as best I can on the off chance that there may be some local excavating where they will need a place to dump their residue.


There was one additional benefit here; it got rid of an unsightly mess. During the aforementioned bulldozing of 50 years ago, they had also dynamited something to clear a building site on the land next to mine, though nothing was ever built there. They then dozed the large chunks of broken rock down onto my place and that is how it remained until now. Though obviously unnatural and ugly, those chunks are still large rocks in and of themselves and I was able to incorporate many of them into the new wall on the right, topped with natural rock and back-filled with soil and sand to blend them in. It looks so much better then it used to. There are still some large broken chunks that I didn't use but which I could break into smaller chunks and dump inside the walls after I return.


I worked hard to avoid disturbing the natural terrain any more then I had to, and cleaning up my mess where I did, sometimes to the point that some might think a bit much. For instance, after raking some areas, I then swept them with a broom to expose the natural bedrock. Cleared of rocks that had tumbled from above over the centuries, which I used in the walls, the area seems almost unnaturally clear. The swept areas will gradually return to their natural look as the wind and the occasional heavy rains do their thing. Vegetation will also replant the area because the roots still remain. It may look a bit manicured now but it will roughen up in time. This work also uncovered some sculptured terrain which is nice to look at from the deck and trailer.





Electricity Wanted


As you may have gathered in my comments here and there, I have got to get some real electricity into this place - now. At least enough to power some lights and this computer - reliably. I had thought the inverter in the car would do that, but that is just not working out. Preferably enough power to also heat the place and cook our food - even power a small refrigerator. Wow; wouldn't that be something!


Connecting to the public grid is probably not an option at this time. I was told a few years ago by the local utility rep on the phone that they would want a $5000 deposit to even talk to me. Then I assume I would have to meet various specifications such as having a real home or construction contract. Nobody likes trailers and shacks any more - the original desert abodes that now only serve to embarrass the politicians and the bureaucrats. Also they annoy the residents that have invested a hundred thousand or so into a real home. Even G & K Propane refused to bring me a tank because my home is a trailer.


I may fight like hell for my rights as the proud owner of a distinguished and classic antique trailer, but when I do eventually build a home up on the hill, I am going to want to speak to the authorities about that ugly white metal thing on two wheels parked in back of one neighbor's home but in my direct line of sight and I am going to want something done about that unsightly shack that another neighbor lives in. However, for the time being, I am going to keep my head down and hope that nobody takes serious notice of my place.


A solar system seems to be the only really sensible way to go. When I looked all this up online about three years ago, it appeared that a system would run in the neighborhood of $10,000. Now a quick glance online suggests that a system adequate for my needs could cost around $5000, perhaps less. Dave Fallaf, the man that delivered water to me this year, said it cost him about $10,000 to install a system on his home. Robert, my neighbor, said he helped a friend install a full system that cost (if I remember right) less then $5000. I believe the state of CA also provides some kind of rebate incentive. So this is the way to go and probably the most important of all my current needs in JT.


In fact, considering the scare that Eileen went through relative to propane and carbon monoxide, I suspect that she may refuse to return until an adequate alternative is in place.


A couple of years ago, I designed a modest home, exterior only, which incorporates some of my ideas such as solar panels, wind turbines, a large water tank and a road up to the first arroyo that I want to reach. It even has a bridge from the top floor of the house to another arroyo. Though the road is now coming in from a completely different (the original) direction, you can still get an idea of what I'm talking about here. Just click on the adjacent thumbnail and use your browser's back arrow to return here. The stone house may turn out to be stucco or whatever is practical when the time comes, and it may end up in an entirely different location on the property, depending primarily on how construction of the road goes. This spot was selected only because it is the first potential building site that the road will reach.


However, back to reality – solar panels can be attached to the top of the trailer which will serve our immediate needs now.



Copyright © 2004, Van Blakeman