June 6, 2022
We started out this week going to Devil’s Garden which is a BLM day use area just outside of Escalante, Utah down Hole in the Rock road. The road was fairly easy to travel and there is no hiking required to see the rock formations there so it was an easy activity while I was still recovering. The landscapes out here are often described as being Mars-like. Can you see why?
Later that night, we went back to the same spot for the meteor shower and to take Milky Way photos. Luke captured a fantastic time lapse video of the meteor shower in spite of scattered clouds. You can check it out here: Tau Herculids Meteor Shower
I’m not confident that describing what it is like to witness the night sky in a place like this can convey the feeling of it. Picture yourself in the remote wilderness. It is very quiet and very dark. There is no moon in the sky and no people around for miles. You watch the sky while lying back on a sandstone slab and see hundreds of meteors whizzing across the sky in different directions. It makes you feel small and insignificant while also making you feel incredibly alive and part of something immense and magical. It was beautiful and I felt so happy to be able to experience it in a place like this. We were both able to capture outstanding clear images of the Milky Way with these interesting rocks in the foreground that night as well. You can see some of Luke’s at the link above. Here are some of my favorites of those I took.
In the middle of the week I finally started testing negative for COVID and could go back to work and re-join the world. It made me so happy that I could be around people again! I baked cupcakes for my co-workers on my first day back as a thank you to them for being supportive while I was sick.
I also discovered a ranch in town that does residential therapy for troubled teens and so I contacted to them to see about volunteering there. Yesterday was my day off so I went to this ranch for a tour and it seemed like a very special place. They have goats, sheep, cattle, horses, chickens, pigs, and donkeys and are nestled in the mountains of the Grand Staircase with a clear creek running through the property. The owner and his wife took me around the ranch and then left me in the capable hands of a couple of the teens who showed me around and told me what it’s like there. They said that they paid everyone who worked there and insisted on paying me as well. I asked if they had questions about me or wanted to see my CV and they said they already knew everything they needed to about me and none of that would be necessary. We haven’t worked out any details yet like how many hours I will work there or when, but I’m excited to run some therapeutic groups with the teens in the coming weeks. They will also teach me how to start fires with a bow-drill and other wilderness skills while I’m there. The owner even offered to guide us on some hikes we want to do, but have been intimidated to try when we read about them online. I didn’t plan to get a second job here, but sometimes you just fall into these things. They offered to help me transfer my license if I wanted to work there longer term as a therapist and said they would install RV hookups on the ranch for us, but one step at a time so I told them I wasn’t ready to consider giving up nomad life yet and may just start out doing a few hours a week with them while I’m here. I’m happy that I stumbled upon this place where I can learn some new wilderness skills in this area while also making a difference for some kids who need help the most.
Another thing that has interested me since we have started traveling is the different fellow travelers we meet along the way. Many people live a nomadic lifestyle and they all seem to do it a bit differently and with different means. Despite these differences though, they seem to share a core set a values and they all seem to be relatively happy people. I decided that while I’m at this campground for a while getting to know people, I would interview some of my co-workers and write about them in this blog. This week, I have one co-worker who has accepted a job up in Salt Lake City so he is leaving us soon. He was willing to share with us about his lifestyle and goals. So without further rambling from me, I am pleased to introduce Ben Nelson.
Ben is 35 years old and has enjoyed a nomadic lifestyle for his whole adult life. After high school in Michigan, he left home to work for Disney in Florida and lived in the employee housing there. He loved meeting people from different places and cultures and having opportunities for travel and adventure. He thanks his family for this as he grew up enjoying family road trips and his parents did not impose expectations on him for the type of lifestyle or career he should have. He has been on the road now for about 5 years and primarily has worked seasonal jobs at ski resorts. Ben is an avid snowboarder and says that working at the ski resorts has been lots of fun as he felt like he was able to just build outdoor playgrounds for him and his friends. Ben discovered van life while working in Maine when he suddenly lost his housing and needed a new solution fast. He saw someone else with a van plugged into a power outlet and realized that someone was living in that van. Ben already had his cargo van that his father had given him so he went out to buy a portable heater and began living in it. He has slowly done upgrades to his living space over time and has named it the “What Up Van”. Ben shares that the biggest challenge for him has been finding places to shit and shower and his biggest concern if having diarrhea and not being near a bathroom. The upgrade he is most proud of so far is putting solar on his roof and installing electricity with training from YouTube videos. Ben heads off to a 10 day workshop next week to learn to build Aircrete Dome Structures. They look a bit like this.
He hopes to buy a piece of land in Baja, Mexico and build a tiny home and then invite all of his creative friends to join him on the land there. Ben shares that he would not stay there year round though as he does not want to spend too long in one place for fear of feeling stuck. He says that one day he may consider a more traditional lifestyle if he happens to find a partner, but that is not in the plans for him for the near future. He mostly wants the land so he has a place where he can store things as he would like to do a second van build out. Ben needs to always have a project to keep him happy and sane and this weekend he bought an old boler camper to restore so he is excited about this. He would love to drive the Alaska highway to visit Alaska as one of his future trips. Ben is charming and affable and will be missed here at the campground. His van has a bed with plenty of ample storage under it. He has a small fridge, sink, and burner for cooking. He has a portable shower and put a drain in his floor for indoor showers. His storage bay was filled with skateboards, tools, a snowboard, stand up paddle board, and various items such as fish skeletons, driftwood, shells, and coral he collected in Baja last winter. He also has some succulents and a picture his sister painted for him as decor. He plans to make macrame wind chimes with his beach artifacts. He loves making fresh pico de gallo for his fellow campers and enjoys fishing. Ben is very happy with his life and what he has. He says that all of his needs are met and he has very little stressors. It just goes to show you that you never need a big house or lots of stuff to have a life filled with joy and meaning. Here are some photos of the What Up Van.
Jennifer MacNeil is currently traveling the US with her husband and two dogs. She loves to have adventures, explore, meet fascinating people, and see amazing places. She strives to learn every day and spread kindness to others. She documents the journey through her photography and blog to share with others.