finding life in death valley.

my son needed a little break from the winter doldrums back in grey-skies-will spring-never-arrive-cleveland, so we sent him a ticket to fly into las vegas and planned a few days of camping and a visit to death valley national park.

now the name death valley conjures up a desolate, barren wasteland of nothingness. a mad max-like expanse of desert as far as the eyes can see, with nothing growing, just the occasional blowing dune, or skeleton of the tourist before you who didn’t bring enough water. (always bring enough water)

so, we were pleasantly surprised when we found that death valley had really more life than death. and just as many highs as lows.

one of the most spectacular highs being dante’s view.

I mean, come on.

IMG_5244

from the top you could see 360 degrees for miles. and on the way up there (you climb a mile high over 13 miles of winding road) was so much green, and wildflowers…..no death anywhere. 

stunning.

and the sunset from there, well, it sure takes the mind off dreary cleveland weather.

DSC_0064

there were lots of opportunities to climb things.

DSC_0052

DSC_0045

and climbed they both did.

DSC_0449

this is called the artist’s palette: it’s mounds of colorful mineral-rocks left after volcanic activity. it basically looks like a melted ice-cream sundae.

the lowest point of the trip (get it, lowest) was badwater basin: literally the lowest place in the western hemisphere. we got there before 9am and it was already climbing above 90 degrees. it’s the craziest place I’ve ever been, will probably ever be. the smell in the air is like sulphur/salt; the “ground” crunches beneath you and the silence (once you get away from the other tourists) is deafening. you’re almost 300 feet below sea level, and surrounded by mountains that reach a mile into the sky that are topped with snow. 

insane. 

DSC_0333

DSC_0270

view from above:

IMG_5710

there’s 250 square miles of the white stuff; looks like snow from up here, it’s basically table salt. 

my favorite part was hiking through mosaic canyon. the boys left me to do their own climbing of the walls instead of just hiking the path, so I enjoyed the cool canyon walls and the silence all by myself. 

DSC_0182
(hikes in a skirt)

IMG_5595 (1)

IMG_5547

even though it’s name is intimidating, and some of the days were hot and tough, I think we conquered death valley. it is now one of our top five national parks; it is park number 25 (if you’re keeping track) that we’ve visited since december (including national monuments, not including national forests) *btw: national monuments, like white sands, are not “national parks” merely because it takes an act of congress to make it so. death valley didn’t become a national park until 1994; it had been a monument since the 30’s. your history lesson for the day 🙂

onward, we go!

DSC_0112

 All images © 2013-2016 Jeannie M. Starks / two daisies life

white sands.

a long time ‘bucket list’ item was seeing the beauty that is white sands national monument. we headed into new mexico to make use of the warm-ish weather and avoid the rain that was pummeling the west (including parts of arizona and nevada, where we had been…) and so it seemed we were finally going to make it to the sands.

on our way there we passed another point of interest, the very large array which, like me, you’ve probably seen in movies like contact and maybe, like me, you’ve thought ‘wow, that looks amazing!’

well, it did not disappoint.

IMG_4182

IMG_4185

IMG_4189

IMG_4190

IMG_4186

I mean. you just can’t get over how big these things are.

and they’re talking to space.

amazing.

then we were on to white sands.

DSC_0480

look how happy this little gal was running on that cool white stuff.

IMG_8774

the cutest picnic areas I’ve ever seen.

IMG_8704

IMG_8700

we had a few days of nasty windstorm, but our stay here has been really great. every night we’re rewarded with sunsets that just take your breath away.

DSC_0507

I think we’ll stay here a few more nights, and then, well, who knows…..

**oh! I have put some of my digital prints up on society6 for purchase. take a look!**

 

All images © 2013-2016 Jeannie M. Starks / two daisies life

 

 

 

lucky.

it’s been a while. updates are hard when the internet is spotty. it’s not that we haven’t had things to update!

we’ve been to many places since my last post:

IMG_2753
california 2.2016

we left the california area and headed back through nevada. but not without seeing some fabulous graffiti and abandoned things along the way.

IMG_2756.jpg
fresh jerky / 2.2016

stopping at the hoover dam for a quick tour (can you say breathtaking?) we decided to camp at lake mead for a few days.

DSC_0056
hoover dam / 2.2016
DSC_0111
lake mead / 2.2016

we ventured in to las vegas, although avoiding the strip completely, we managed to stay in a casino/hotel, have a crappy buffet…

DSC_0192
vegas night lights / 3/2016

oh.

and adopt a rescue dog. who we named Lucky.

Lucky Scout Sparkles, to be more precise.

DSC_0240
lucky, at her first state park, valley of fire / 2.2016

we’re pretty happy with her.

IMG_0378.jpeg

today we’re in sedona, arizona.

we’ve done a little zig-zag, avoiding rain and visiting some old friends. the scenery here is stunning, the internet is slow, but I’ve managed to crank this post out in a starbucks while listening to some ladies discuss energy healing.

we woke up to this taking place right outside our car window as we made coffee and stretched out our morning bodies:

DSC_0071.jpg

I’m beginning to think that our new doggie friend isn’t the only lucky one.

 

 

All images © 2013-2016 Jeannie M. Starks / two daisies life

images.

driving across the country, the landscapes and landmarks fly by the window, and just like in life, you don’t really know what you’ve missed until you sit back and contemplate the memories (or in this case….scroll through iphoto)

also, just like in life, being on the road has it’s ups and downs as we’ve learned. every turn can bring something strange and wonderful.

on your way to the outermost part of civilization in the united states, where there are no rules, no zoning, no government….you first have to pass by Salvation Mountain. and learn about a human who just wanted to share his love with everyone through his art.

IMG_2281
salvation mountain / california / 2.2016

then we ventured through slab city, weird and wonderful as it is….

IMG_2269
slab city / california / 2.2016
IMG_2314
slab city / california / 2.2016
IMG_2325
slab city / california / 2.2016

the previous day, on a long stretch of boring road, out of nowhere pops the most amazing sand dunes you’ve ever seen (well, you’ve never seen any!) 

where did all that sand come from?

DSC_0096
imperial sand dunes / california / 2.22016
IMG_2237.jpg
imperial sand dunes / california / 2.2016

I mean, this is some Mad Max shit right here.

 

which led us to our current park(ing) spot…Joshua Tree. we’ve only explored a teeny little corner of it so far, but it is magnificent.

from the big boulders…

IMG_2426
joshua tree ntl park / california / 2.2016
IMG_2446
joshua tree ntl park / california / 2.2016

 

to the little teeny cactus…

DSC_0226
joshua tree ntl park / california / 2.2016

 

….and the sunset from our campsite….not bad.

DSC_0182 (1).jpg
joshua tree / california / 2.2016

 

 

All images © 2013-2016 Jeannie M. Starks / two daisies life

kindness of strangers.

we woke up friday morning all kinds of stressed:

would the radiator arrive?
would they get it installed today?
how much is it going to cost?

all things running through our head, and making it impossible to focus on anything else.

we left the hotel at 11 (after the kind lady at the front desk did our laundry because the public washer and drier were both on the fritz.

she folded it too.
amazing.

so, we checked out at 11 and walked carrying all of our things, the short walk through two parking lots to the McDonalds, got ourselves some coffee and some free wifi, and sat down for the long wait.

I occupied myself with trying to figure out how to supplement our income on the road….loaded up my photos to blue melon.com in hopes of selling some, did some jeannieknits social media, generally just pissed around on my computer to keep my mind occupied.

we decided, after not hearing from our buddy Randy at M&M Wrecking, we should give him a call;

“the radiator isn’t here yet.” Randy informed me immediately.

“do you have any idea when it’s coming…I mean, it’s today right?”
“yeah, today or tomorrow”
“no, Randy, it has to be today. you have no idea….”
“ok, ok, yeah…it’s coming on a truck from dallas to el paso and they’re supposed to stop here….maybe I should call Napa and see if it’s in.”
“yeah, could you do that please? and give me a call back”

*more anxious waiting*

*phone rings*

“hey it’s Randy, from —“
“yes, randy, what did you find out?”
“the radiator is here, but…did you guys pay for it yet?”
*what?*
“no, we didn’t pay for it….why?
“well, since our boss is in the hospital they froze his accounts and we need cash to pay for the radiator. you need to come pay for it at Napa..”
not shady at. all.
“seriously? ok, well can you come get us and take us there?
“that’s just what I was fixin’ to do, m’am.”

good ole texas.

a few minutes later, up rolls the tow truck and in we hop with all our our gear…and off to buy our radiator.

IMG_1739
“SoSo” and the “Stupervisor” / van horn 2.5.2016

after installation, randy came over to me (I had been reorganizing the car and generally just keeping an eye on these two mechanics in charge of our literal survival)

“we need antifreeze”
“ok…?”
“so, you gonna come with me or should I ask the other guy?”

OH…we need to go buy the antifreeze now.
seriously. what the hell.

off to Napa, back to the shop.
when they were all finished, and everything was running as it should be, the “foreman”, a mexican named SoSo, told us the amount and then informed us that his credit card machine wasn’t working.

“drive them to ATM” he motioned to Randy. “get cash out.”

are you fucking kidding me??

back in tow truck, off to ATM, cash in hand…

“can we get a receipt?”

hahaha sure.

IMG_1790
the best thing we ever did see.

finally on the road out of Texas, the Welcome to New Mexico sign was the best thing we’d seen in a week. we always make an effort to stop at the information center, because there’s lots of free goodies there, and usually the people there are super helpful; New Mexico’s visitor center was adorable and like a mini museum. we set to work, grabbing pamphlets for what we thought we’d like to see, free magazines, etc. the gentleman behind the counter asked us to sign the visitor book, and as xander was signing it he noticed the name above us was from Toledo, Ohio.

“Toledo! what are the odds?!”

we hadn’t even noticed the older woman, in a baseball cap, gathering up pamphlets and maps in the tiny visitor center room with us.

“You two again!” came a voice from under the hat, and we realized immediately who it was.

Diane. We had met Diane in the Del Rio Campground (other side of texas) almost two weeks ago. and yet, here, in this remote information center, there she was.

after what must have been a very entertaining and conversation for the two people behind the counter, we got ourselves all caught up (filled her in on our car mishap) she said to us,

“well, I’m headed to dinner in Las Cruces. how about you guys join me, my treat.”

I practically burst into tears. we are so depleted, both psychologically and financially, after the terrible week in Van Horn. this was a huge gift.

we ate at an authentic mexican restaurant, recommended by the lovely workers at the visitor’s center, and caught up on everything we all had seen and done since our last visit.

Diane is retired, and traveling on her own in a van. She’s determined to see all, or as many of the National Parks that she can. She tells wonderful stories, and in my opinion, is one brave woman.

IMG_0997
diane. del rio texas, 1/2016

when we were parting ways in the parking lot, we each gave Diane a big hug, and after exchanging phone numbers, she yelled to us,

“Next time you have car trouble, don’t hesitate to call me!”

like our own traveling guardian angel, right there.

🙂

ps: if you’d like to help us on our journey, and (get something in return) click on the GAS MONEY link above. 

 

 

All images © 2013-2016 Jeannie M. Starks / two daisies life

the long road out of texas.

we had no idea how much time we would spend in texas, or, honestly,  how much we’d enjoy that time. frankly, I was amazed at the beauty.

we’re now stuck  so close to the far west border of the state, waiting out a car repair. we’re in a perfectly comfortable hotel (120 channels! free wifi! free breakfast!) and it’s nice just to do the things we used to; lie on the bed scrolling mindlessly through the internet while reality tv drones in the background.

 

IMG_0931
longhorn, fredericksburg, tx. 1.25.2016

 

but it’s also been a time of reflection.
on how far we’ve come; both literally (almost 4,000 miles) and figuratively.

although we’re not experts at any of this, I feel we’ve learned so much about what we need to live and be happy. and it all fits in the car.

 

IMG_1123
primitive camping, big bend national park 1.2016

 

our stay at Big Bend National Park was fabulous. it is a spectacular park, with everything from mountain peaks to wide expanses of desert. we hiked into a canyon one day, followed by a dip in the hot spring nestled right next to the Rio Grande river. every night the sky was the most beautiful show of colors as the sun set behind the ridge.

we hated leaving, but packed up a day earlier than planned due to very high winds. the next day a power line fell on the road about 1/4 mile from our campsite, sparking a wildfire that is still burning as I write this. I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if we were still there.

 

IMG_1491
looking for mystery lights, marfa. 2/1/2016

 

we moved on to marfa, texas where we enjoyed some great food and met some fabulous people, including an inspiring couple who are riding their bikes through 23 states (towing their two dogs!) It was great talking to them about our mutual goals, what it’s like living on the road, and how it felt leaving the ‘old life’ and possessions behind.

 

DSC_0371
train art, valentine texas. 2/2/2016

 

wandering around west texas waiting for the winds to die down we came across several deserted ghost towns. kent was my favorite. it felt alive, although the houses were empty and filled with broken glass, and burnt sinks, the pipes all ripped out and paint peeling in shattered mosaics. creeping around some of the structures with only the sound of the highway, we felt like we were seeing something we shouldn’t be, and yet we couldn’t stop looking.

 

IMG_1569
abandoned public school, kent tx. 2/2/2016
IMG_1589
abandoned house with eyes. kent, tx. 2/2/2016

IMG_1698IMG_1579

IMG_1696
no nuclear waste aqui. kent, tx. 2/2/2016

texas, we’ve loved our stay.

…..but now we must move on.

All images © 2013-2016 Jeannie M. Starks / two daisies life

 

beach camping.

we had spent the previous night in a sleepy little texas coastal town called rockport.

waking up to the foggy ocean air, and seeing what we had missed coming in under darkness; the palm tree lined streets, the tiny carribean colored houses.

after a tiny terrible mishap involving one of us (not me) leaving the other (me) high and dry waiting outside of the walmart after she ran in to use the toilet….making her absolutely frantic and hysterically erupting into a crying fit…after THAT, we headed south to fulfill a bucket list goal of mine:

camp on a beach.

we followed the road as it led into the national park that is south padre island. were finally able to use our national parks pass (high five) and onward we went.

IMG_0955

after speaking with a kindly gentleman at the visitors center and purchasing two patches and a postcard, we headed out to look at each camping choice and decide what would be best for us.

choosing our camping / sleeping site each night is a bit like the process the Goldilocks used to pick her bed, or maybe, as xander describes it, when I’m driving around a walmart lot, examining every nook and cranny before picking the perfect spot, like a dog choosing where to do his business. it’s very important you get it just right.

we headed first to the $8/night site which was basically an oblong loop with sites on either side of the loop; pretty much each spot taken by either a large rv or a medium rv, several old men in various stages of beer gut shirtless-ness…also multiple dogs. next.

the second site was on the opposite side of the island, which was much windier (hence, the hangout place for windsurfers), was $5/night and had a few rv’ers there, but I was immediately turned off by the wind and chill…..ok show me this free beach camping I’ve heard about.

on padre you can camp anywhere on the 60 miles (yes, sixty miles!) of beach south of the park visitor center for free. if your vehicle can get there, you’re welcome to it. the beach in texas is considered part of the state highway system, so your car is expected to obey the speed limit, etc, etc.

IMG_3458
speed limit signs on the beach.

can you get there without 4WD, we wondered? they told us the first 5 or so miles are so well packed that any 2 wheel drive vehicle can make the drive.

determined, curious, we headed down to the literal end. of. the. road….and stopped to look it over. there was a surprising amount of what looked to me “soft sand” right near the beginning of the beach/road.

off to the our left side was a big white camper van with it’s window open. we walked over and asked the white haired woman in the passenger seat if they’d ever driven on the beach.

“yes, we have…we’ve gotten stuck a few times…but if you stay in the packed sand, you do fine…. we don’t have 4 wheel drive on this, does your car?”

“yeah we don’t either, that’s what makes me worried” I answered. 

“Hal!” she yelled over her shoulder “these kids should be fine, don’t you think?” Hal, a frail white haired gentleman appeared from behind her, “they want to go on the beach.” she told him.

“oh, yes! you’ll be great…is that your car? do the seats fold down? that reminds me so much of the vehicle we had when we were in Bolivia just starting out! don’t you just love it?” Hal bubbled. obviously we had found two more kindred spirits. after an animated conversation regarding possessions, travel, and driving in the snow vs sand…we were given more direction and a huge boost of confidence, then we were off.

seatbelts on

car in drive

steady, steady, steady

though the mushy part….don’t hesitate.

and we were there,

we were driving on the damn beach.

I waved a big thumbs up out the window to our new friends, and away we went.

we picked a spot laughingly close to the entrance to set up.

first timers.

we also learned quickly how to put up a tent in the wind and sand

and then how to quickly take that fucker down.

there’s sand everywhere. but, we are sleeping on the beach, under the stars and within ear-reach of the waves. I watched the moon rise in the front windshield and then followed it as it set through the back window. and then enjoyed the magic of the first light casting pink and greys over the ocean. 

achievement unlocked.

IMG_0706

All images © 2013-2016 Jeannie M. Starks / two daisies life

living without.

DSC_0220

hard days. days like yesterday, when we went to do laundry, find internet and get groceries and only accomplished two of the three. (the internet we found was so slow it was worthless for what I needed it for; mainly downloading new things for us to watch during the dark, cold hours between sunset and sleep; and to update my blog. hell, I couldn’t even get Facebook to load, or send photos to my phone via messages.)

hard days, but also learning to live without things, live like we (well, like I) used to live….no internet. today, for example we made a decision to not go to ‘town’, to stay at camp, even though we had not accomplished what we needed yesterday. staying put meant not spending money, but it also meant we had to learn to keep occupied. easy on warm days, not so easy on a chilly day.

I spent some of the day working on the old quilt (of my mom’s) that I’m patching. it was on her bed as a teenager in the fifties, and I’ve had it since my grandpa passed away in 1997. it’s been well loved, and is threadbare in many spots—holes right through in many others. I’m sewing patches on it with embroidery floss, using a blanket stitch. patches of all different sizes, in fabrics I’ve acquired through various means, mainly tiny prints, some from Japan, all very quaint. it’s more than a way to pass the time, it’s marking the days that I’m on this journey, it helps me focus on something other than the road going by, or the silence of the forest. it’s a great meditation, a purpose.

IMG_0347

xander spent most of the day reading. we picked up some books (2 each at under .80/pc from goodwill) while our laundry was washing yesterday. after my fingers started turning numb (even in the wristwarmers I pulled from my jeannieknits stash… it is still. so. freaking. cold!) I crawled in the car, and under the blankets, and passed the rest of the afternoon reading as well.

I joked later we were living like Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I’m not sure x got the reference.

———-

we also looked at the map (MAP!) of texas that we picked up at the welcome center and mapped out 2 possible routes through the state (see, internet, we don’t need you!) and are planning on heading out from here tuesday and head to the shores of the gulf…time for some sun and sand.

IMG_0346
sam houston national forest 1/19/2016

we have your dog.

IMG_0198

the other day while cooking lunch, we noticed a dog wandering around the campground. white and brown, lean; a hunting dog, clearly. she had a tracking collar on (they have a large box with an antennae sticking out of it) and another leather collar. we watched as she got closer and seemed interested in something under our car. sniffing, pawing….I was afraid it was a dead animal, but she popped her head up with a piece of wheat bread in her mouth. after eating that one, she went back and got another. apparently a loaf of bread had fallen out of our car when we were unloading, and she was hungry. 

xan went and grabbed the bag from under the car, occasionally tossing another piece to the dog who was still lingering around. after a while, we went back to eating our lunch and building a fire, going about our day and not giving much more thought to our new friend. 

about an hour later, I was heading a short ways from our site to gather some wood and the bright white of the dog, nestled in under the magnolias and vines and tall pine trees caught my eye. as I approached her I noticed she was shaking. the temps were about in the high 40’s, and in the dampness of the woods it was very chilly.

I called xander over, and we decided we’d better call and get her owner. clearly the tracking device wasn’t working and this little gal was lost.

getting a signal to the phones is futile out here, so we unhooked the car from the tent and xander drove about 25 minutes up the road until he could get a connection.

after several dropped calls he finally got through.

“Is this Ryan B***r?”

“Uhhh, no?”

“Wait, is this Ryan? I called the number on the tag that had your name on it. we have your dog”

“Aw, heck I thought you was a bill collector!”

after telling him where we were, he said he’d be there in 15 minutes (which in the south means thirty)….so in about a half hour, a mud caked white pick up truck pulled up (of course it was a white pick up) and out of it jumped Ryan and the cutest little mini version of Ryan, about 3 years old, both decked head to toe in camo and boots and southern hospitality.

the dog, who had seemed depressed and forlorn all day, perked up, as if to sense his cause was not lost as he smelled the familiar scent of “his people” when they exited the truck.

I asked the little one, “Is that your dog?

“yes, m’am” came the sweetest little southern drawl.

“What’s her name?”

“Bobbie”

“well I hope it’s ok we fed her some bread”

“yes, m’am”

IMG_0113

Bobbie struggled to lift herself up—something was wrong with her back right hip—and the tail started wagging for the first time.

the two southern gentlemen each grabbed her collars and escorted her to the truck, thanking us over and over again….explaining along the way that her collar must have dead batteries, that they had been looking for her since last night.

they loaded her into a cage in the back, and off they went.

————

about two hours later, while making dinner, xander sees another dog come sniffing his way into the campground.

brown and white, hunting dog, tracking collar.

sniffing around…on the trail of something…..wandering in circles…searching.

“you’ve got to be kidding me!” xander yells, throwing his hands up in the air.

the dog looked his way, head cocked as if to say:

“bobbie said something about some bread?”

IMG_0199.JPG
desoto national forest, mississippi

 

 

All images © 2013-2016 Jeannie M. Starks / two daisies life

learning.

IMG_9665

well it’s been a week. (technically almost two) but, man.

we learned a lot on this adventure so far.

mainly; we packed too much of the wrong things.

should have bought the tent first thing.

rain is the enemy.

walmart

walmart

walmart.

as much as I hate to say it, walmart has been a lifesaver. sleeping there, undisturbed…ok, undisturbed except in Virginia on xmas eve when the local boys like to ride their pickups around and around until the wee hours…undisturbed; meaning we can be there and it’s cool with walmart.

“Radjit, you need someone on carts”

New Jersey is the worst place on earth. Anything worth getting to, you just can’t. hence our new  phrase, “that’s a New Jersey Shake Shack” meaning, it’s there, oh it’s RIGHT there..you can see it…practically touch it. you just can’t (and won’t EVER) get to it. (only people who have driven in the labyrinth that is Paramus, New Jersey will understand this)

learning how to ‘flip’ the car from driving mode to sleeping mode has gotten easier.

privacy screens: yes.

fan: hell yes.

learning how much you need to take into the starbucks bathroom in the morning to come out feeling fresh as a daisy (wipes, deodorant, toothbrush/paste new undies, new socks and freshen up the hair: boom.)

time.

there’s so much time when you really have no where to go/be.

that’s probably been the hardest. it’s also been the gift.

we’ve seen so much:

DC on xmas eve, virtually empty (except the flocks of Asians with Selfie Sticks)…seemed like we escaped from a middle school field trip and finally got to see all the ‘good stuff’

IMG_9527

IMG_9531

IMG_9532

waking up in the Croatan National Forest to rain gently dripping on the roof of the car, and the pink sun rising over the Neuse River: we did it! we spent the night in the woods! cooking breakfast in the clearing, while the other campers started fishing, carving, doing their thing. eating the best meal I’ve ever had, only because it was cooked on a single burner propane camp stove under towering North Carolina Pines.

DSC_0161

of course there have been times that weren’t my favorite;

Having a mental breakdown in New Jersey (I mean, who wouldn’t?) in a park, in the rain, over all of our “stuff” not being organized. Throwing the excess away and realizing this, this has to be the worst day.

(that was day 2)

watching an old Asian lady get hit by a car in Atlantic City, and being the only car to stop. sitting in the rain on the wet street, each of us holding her hand while we waited with her for the ambulance and police to come.

Learning how to use my GoGirl at 2am while parked in a New Jersey Walmart parking lot, just as the night shift was leaving. “can they SEE MEE?!” as headlights lit up my white butt in the rear window of the car.

Christmas Dinner in a North Carolina Waffle House was less than ideal…but not the worst thing that I’ve done on Christmas.

IMG_9604

New Year’s Eve spent waiting around all day for an amazon package that never came; the package that is essentially delivering our freedom; our tent.

realizing that you don’t really have anyone to depend on except yourself. that’s always a hard lesson to have to keep learning; but we’re all in this alone.

the days just staring at the ocean in South Carolina (Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms…) at the end of December seem to wash away the bad, at least for the moment.

IMG_9791

All images © 2013-2016 Jeannie M. Starks / two daisies life