August Adventures – Part 1 – Colorado


For the first three weeks of August, I moved southwest through Colorado from Denver. I’d done a ton the previous month Utah – lots and lots of hiking, exploring, landscape photography, and waking up at night to shoot stars. Then the family trip I went on in July that included a TON of driving also kind of wore me out. All this adventuring and traveling can wear a guy out :-D. I was ready to take it easy. So I didn’t do a lot of photography or hiking in Colorado.


Map of travels:



One of my friends got arrested many years ago in Frisco. He said the jail had a window with a nice mountain view.

Leadville Library

whoaaaa baby. Fancy.

Camping near Independence Pass (On the way from Leadville to Aspen)

This was the first place I stopped to camp in Colorado outside of cities. It was so rich and fertile – with plants, water, and animals all over. Lots of trees, grass, flowers, strawberries,  deer, marmots, birds,  and streams in every canyon. Once the snow melts away up here, this land provides an incredible surge of life.

It was also pretty cold up here! I’d put on more clothes or take off clothes every hour or two.

I found a beautiful place to camp. Just spectacular.

This place filled me back up – with energy, wonder, creativity, and new ideas.


Spot near Ouray

Ouray is a cool town. It is touristy, but it’s good. There are really steep rocky mountains shooting up on three sides of the city. I guess there’s some hot spring pool on one end of town that I didn’t check out. The downtown strip is nice. There’s a bookstore there with a very good selection of  books on outdoors subjects.

There’s also a road just outside Ouray with places to camp within walking distance of town. I found myself one and set up there for a week. It was great being able to stroll into town when I felt like it. That gets me the best of both worlds – I can stay put camping somewhere and not have to move the van, I can go for hikes from there, but I can also go into town to get food, get rid of trash, and go to the library if I want to use my computer on a very cloudy day.

I’d been looking for some books on foraging edible wild food. They can be hard to find in bookstores, but a store in Ouray has many, so I bought a couple. Now I need to forage $60 worth of food just to break even on the 3 books I’ve bought.

There were a lot of plants with berries out where I was camping. Here’s the first plant I identified: Serviceberries. They’re tasty.


At age 35, I’ve started drinking Coffee

There was really no need to. I’d been perfectly happy without it all my life. I always like how it smells but don’t like any of the bitterness that a lot of coffee has.

Sometimes in coffee shops I’d get tired of drinking tea, because the tea they have is often crappy, or they don’t know how to make it right, and coffee smells so damn good. So I started trying lattes. And man, they can be nice. Of course, if you know me, you know that if I’ve started drinking coffee, I’m certainly going to start making it myself.


So, here is one of my earliest attempts at making a latte. I’ve started out using an Aeropress, some old (Expired!) Starbucks coffee that I ground at the at a tiny grocery store in Ouray,  and frothing milk by shaking it in a jar.

Over the next few months I’ll be trying out some different equipment, and seeing if I can make real and good espresso myself in my van in the middle of nowhere. I’ll let you know how it goes. I know a lot of you will need to have your precious coffee while traveling 😃. (as I write this, on 9/8/17, I’ve gotten a nice grinder, a manual espresso maker, and a stovetop milk steamer. I’m halfway through my first bag of coffee using these, and I can make a latte significantly better than Starbucks. I still have a lot of testing and learning to do.)

If you know of really good coffee roasters in the southwest corner of the U.S. (CA, AZ, UT, NV), please tell me about them.


Another Campsite:

I hung out in Durango for about a week. It’s a nice town. Then I camped a bit to the west off of highway 161, but didn’t find a great spot:

Patreon Account:

When I was visiting and talking with my family in July, some of them urged me to start up a Patreon account and see how interested people were. For those not familiar, Patreon is a platform where folks who enjoy the creative output of people can give them a few bucks per month or per podcast or whatever, and sometimes the creator gives those supporters access to extra material.

So, I’m trying it out. You can see my Patreon profile here. I’ve enjoyed sharing my travels and photography here and on Instagram, and I will continue doing so just the same.  On Patreon, I will be sharing more:

A map of all the places I’ve camped:

  • It shows every place I’ve camped, outside of cities. These are nearly all completely free places to dispersed camp. They are spots where you’ll have spectacular views and likely have your own space, away from other campers.
  • I update this each month with the new places I’ve camped. I’ll be exploring more parts of the western U.S and filling in more areas with awesome places to camp.
  • For each campsite, I share these details:
    • A subjective rating of how good it is (x/5)
    • A picture of the campsite or area
    • The type of land this site is on (BLM, National Forest, etc.)
    • Notes and details describing the site and the area
    • Whether it has a Verizon cellular signal
    • The altitude
    • Road conditions on the way to the campsite
    • If I’ve made a blog post containing pictures or details of this site or area, a link to it.
  • There are currently over 50 campsites documented on the map (as of August 2017). Most of them are in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. Here’s what it looks like:

How-to articles for living and traveling in a vehicle or camper:

  • These are thorough and detailed articles showing you how to start traveling, and how to live very well on the road.
  • Most posts are over 3,000 words and have many pictures.
  • Here is a link to a free post, so you can see what they are like:
  • I expect to publish one new How-To Post each month
  • These are the posts I’ve published so far:
  • List of future How-To posts:
    • Using My Maps and Google Maps to save locations
    • Logistics of Full Time Travel – Getting Mail and Packages
    • Logistics of Full Time Travel – Residency
    • Exercising anywhere, without a gym
    • How to live well and have fun while spending little money
    • Vehicle Type choice for living and/or traveling in
    • How to deal with the police
    • Cooking and eating healthy and tasty food in a van
    • How to drive – for better fuel mileage and longer life
    • Finding WIFI in cities
    • Making Money while Traveling
    • Avoiding Trouble in Cities
    • Key Lessons for van interior building
    • How To Be Well-Prepared when Going Camping
    • How Not to Die While Camping
    • (and I’m open to requests and suggestions)


I’ve posted about it a couple times on Instagram and have a few patrons so far. If you’d like access to these extras, or if you’d just like to throw a couple bucks my way per month because you like what I share, here’s where to do it.

Moving on – into Utah:

I never got excited about the eclipse to make sure I was in the right part of the country for it. The moon blocks the sun for a bit and it gets sort of dark. Ok. That seems a lot less spectacular to me than a nice sunset or seeing a lot of stars. The eve of the eclipse, I did look at the coverage map compared to the direction I’d be traveling, anyways, and decided to move on earlier than I would have in order to get a bit more north where there would be a little more coverage. So I went up to Moab the day of. I think there was about 85% coverage there, which, it turns out, is quite underwhelming.



Before Vandwelling: Test Trips

This post is a bit of background for some upcoming posts about Exploring Arizona. Arizona holds a special place in my heart and my imagination. In 2014 and 2015, I went on three vehicle camping test trips to help me decide whether or not I wanted to live in a van, two of which were in Arizona. I also took long scenic drives on backroads between Phoenix and Flagstaff a few times.

Approaching Retirement

At around age 29 I decided to ramp up the amount of my income I saved. This would allow me to retire much earlier than most people. At first, I expected to be able to retire by age 40. Then I reduced my spending further and thus saved more each year while also reducing my net worth retirement target. I ended up retiring at age 34.

I expect that over the rest of my life, I’ll spend my time in different phases that last  2-10 years each. Some of the phases I’ve had in mind are below Some phases could happen concurrently.

  • Living in a van and traveling around the western US
  • Living in other countries (Southeast Asia, and/or Latin America)
  • Living in a shack/cabin in a remote area with access to some kind of nice terrain (Mountains, coast, etc.)
  • Bicycling a ton
  • Living in a small town for a while
  • Living in a big expensive city by means of some uniquely cheap housing (like living in someone’s guesthouse in exchange for a bit or work or just so they have another person around)
  • Living on a sort of homestead/compound
  • Doing some entrepreneurial projects
  • Working some fun jobs
  • Improving the world in some way
  • Very deep/serious romantic relationship(s)
  • Bicycle touring
  • Slow travel internationally
  • …. and others

As I approached retirement, I wanted to decide which to do first. I’ll share in another post all the details about the various reasons I decided to live in a van. For this post, I want to describe the test trips I went on to get a feel for what it would be like to live in a vehicle.


Test Trip #1: Sequoia National Park

Starting in 2013, I traveled a lot for work. I went to different factories. Many of them were in small towns surrounded by thousands of square miles of farms. Or in medium/large cities that are also surround by thousands of square miles of farms. But sometimes I went to more interesting places. In the fall of 2014 I went to a factory near Fresco, CA. That’s close to Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks. So I made that my first test trip.

I worked there during one week. Tuesday through Thursday. Instead of going home after the factory visit on Thursday or Friday like usual, and flying to the next location the following Monday, I stayed out in California the whole weekend and on Monday flew straight to the next work location. This gave me 3.5 days to go do my own thing. I brought along my camping and outdoors gear.  I found a first-come-first serve campsite fairly high up in King’s Canyon that would have open spots when I could get there.

I had a wonderful time. Just driving through these National Parks is a treat – let alone camping and hiking there. Camping among 200 foot tall sequoia trees was wonderful. A hiking trail passed near the campsite and I explored it in both directions. I saw a bear while hiking. And more while driving. I was really cold when the temperature dipped near freezing overnight. The last day I went for a hike at lower elevation and drove through Sequoia NP again – through dropping temperatures and freezing rain. I had a splendid time.

Driving through Sequoia, there are a ton of places calling out for to you to stop and soak in the view


My original version of “Cowboy Cuisine”. It’s gotten a lot better now :-D. That’s tea in the bowl



This is the hiking trail near where I camped. I saw a bear within a couple hundred feet of here. It was running along and making a TON of noise in the brush and sticks on the ground.


Test Trips
Pretty darn nice place to sit and read Meditations


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My Campsite


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My vehicle setup


Test Trips


View from high in Sequoia. Just off the road

Test Trip #2: Coconino National Forest – Near Sedona, AZ

In 2015 I started going to Flagstaff, AZ for work. I’d fly into Phoenix and drive up to Flagstaff for a few days. Some of my trips there were with another person, in which case we’d ride together from Phoenix to Flagstaff, and I couldn’t go do my own thing. My first trip there by myself was in April, so I made that my second test trip.

I drove up to Sedona, went to the National Forest Visitors Center, and learned about dispersed camping. I camped out on the Forest Service roads ~5 miles northwest of Sedona. Again, I had a wonderful time.

Test Trips


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Hiking. This trail goes up the Mongollon rim and higher. And just on a walk, you can see many many different types of plants


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I bought my van a few weeks after this second test trip.

Test Trip #3: Coconino and Tonto National Forests

I went back again in May and made and did the same thing. For my drive from Phoenix to Sedona, I went up highway 87 to Payson, and drove about 30 miles along a Forest Service/Fire road that traverses the top edge of the Mongollon rim. There are many campsites along the rim.

Test Trips
At the rim edge


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One of the wonderful campsites along the rim. Past the edge you see in the foreground is basically a cliff of a few hundred feet


Test Trips

After my work week, I went to the same area near Sedona as the first trip, but it was cold this time. I went over into Tonto N.F. where I could go a bit further south and to lower elevation. I camped in a little valley south of Payson, I believe right here. That hiking trail up the road (Barnhardt) is pretty good.

When my days were up and I needed to head back to Phoenix, I drove over to check out Roosevelt lake, and saw the old native dwellings there

Test Trips


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Entrance to this area (A National Monument) was free the day I came because there were a bunch of bees at the dwelling. You couldn’t go all the way up there though. Some rangers(? or I don’t know what?) were stationed on the trail as far as visitors are allowed, to stop them from going further. Since they had nothing else to do, I asked one of them about 50 questions. It was fascinating. And it was very impressive how they knew so many details about the people who lived here (and many times I asked “how do you know that?”).

By chance, I drove the Apache Trail to get back to Phoenix. I was just looking for a fairly direct route, and that’s the one. I was blown away on the drive! The Apache TrailI follows the Salt River from what is now Roosevelt Lake to Apache Junction (what is now a far east suburb of Phoenix). I assume the original real Apache Trail followed the river all the way. The road now goes over a pass that’s 500 or 1000 feet up above the river. I stopped many times on to take in the view, and to imagine myself back there, retired, camping, soaking in the area and letting days pass as they come with no schedule forcing me to push through the area in just one afternoon.

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What a nice place to camp, huh?


Test Trips

I made another trip or two to Flagstaff by myself in 2015. I was already busy building the van, so I went home to work on it rather than spend extra days in AZ. I drove the Apache trail again:

Test Trips
Roosevelt Lake


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Result of Test Trips:

I could’ve easily done test trips in my car somewhere near my home. Since I was already traveling for work, I took the opportunity to do them in beautiful places. These three test trips all went very well and cemented my decision to build and live in the van as my first post-retirement phase of life.

About two years passed between my first test trip in California and quitting my job to travel full time. Over those two years I imagined, probably many hundreds of times, being free of work and moseying around the U.S. I imagined being able to settle in to camp for a week or more at a time. I imagined sitting around relaxing, reading, writing, hiking, watching the stars, and so on. In many of these daydreams, I was in Arizona. I was out near Sedona. And, most common of all, I was along the Salt River.

I’m writing this post from Fountain Hills, AZ, which is a Suburb in the far northeast corner of Phoenix. I’ve made two trips out of Phoenix so far. I’ll tell you about them soon. Can you guess where the first trip was?