Posts By Judy Nichols

Joy comes in the morning … with knitting needles

  • Knitting fingerless gloves for Christmas gifts the first year in The Epic Van.

We ran into another pair in the laundromat yesterday. A couple whose eyes burned with unfulfilled desire as they peered into the van. “You live here?” “Really?”

As we give them a tour, extolling the virtues of our “Minimal home, maximum life,” listening to their longtime dream of a life on the road, talking about where we camp, how many miles we’ve driven, all the places we’ve visited, we gently broach the subject of hobbies.

It’s the one subject that can kill the dream. If you like to garden, you need a patch of dirt. No go in The Epic Van. Although I have seen campers with hanging plants outside their rigs. Totally weird to me. You’re a woodworker with a lathe? You better hang onto your workshop. Taxidermy. Not enough walls.

Our hobbies – books, hiking, history, yoga, museums, food, photography, blogging – neatly tuck into our home on wheels. Almost. There is the knitting challenge.

‘What are you reading?’ he asked

  • Road reading with sunset and bugs.

I once read (and I can’t remember where) that a man greeted friends and family not with the usual, “How have you been?” but with, “What are you reading?” I thought it was a brilliant place to begin a deep and insightful conversation about what someone is thinking. And if it’s not the first thing we ask people, it usually comes up fairly quickly.

We just spent a week with cousins Patsy and John Grady, two of our favorite readers, and shared many suggestions that were quickly typed into our iPhone notes under Books Not Yet Loved.

We read on our iPads, digitally checking out books from our Scottsdale library, and from “real” books we bring with us from our holiday book exchange, and others we pick up in our travels. And we read aloud to each other, me reading to Tom while he’s driving or cooking, Tom reading to me at night, because my voice instantly puts him to sleep.

What are we reading? Get out your iPhone. Here’s some of them:

Trees, trees, trees … and a snake

  • View through the leaves of a blackgum.

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
—From “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer

Here are some lovely trees, and flowers, and fungi, and leaves, and water, and a snake, all seen at the Holden Arboretum near Cleveland, Ohio. Enjoy!

Yellow Pine: Pioneer perfection

  • A view of Yellow Pine.

Yellow Pine, Idaho, is rooting into in my heart.

It’s a modern pioneer town of about 50 people, 70 miles from the nearest town, carved out of the wilderness on the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River as a stopping point for miners. Its post office opened in 1906.

Every time we visit, we learn to love it a little more: its remoteness, its natural beauty, its unique residents, and its quirky rituals.

Epic views: Shot of the day

  • The sunset view from where The Epic Van broke down.

So many places. So little time. Check out some of the cool things we’ve seen.

All my Montana photos are full of sky.

Hiking the Oregon Dunes: A lesson in ecosystem destruction

  • A view of the Oregon Dunes. Vegetation is taking over just past the water line.

Our hike through the Oregon Dunes was a lesson in how man can screw up nature, wrecking perfectly functioning ecosystems, probably beyond repair.

We’ve hiked other dunes in Indiana, Michigan, Oregon, Colorado and the gypsum sands in White Sands, New Mexico. So I was expecting to be slipping and sliding my way up and over shifting peaks. Instead, other than a few, small patches of sand, we were trudging over stable trails, under the shade of tall trees, hemmed in by bushes. What the hell kind of dunes were these?

Well, they’re dunes altered by man’s ignorance.

Selma to Montgomery: Marches, lynchings and sweet voices of hope

  • The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where the march to Montgomery began.

In March, we drove through Alabama, just a week before the anniversary of the 1965 civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, and we paused to witness the racial struggle still happening in our country.

We walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, and as we reached the crest, I could hear the voice of one of the marchers from the spoken history at Selma’s Interpretive Center. She saw Sheriff Jim Clark and his goons waiting for them: “I knew we were going to get beat.”

We followed the road the marchers eventually took to Montgomery, the fields where they slept, now marked with plaques, and made our way to the newest twinned museum and monument, the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, which traces the direct line from slavery to lynching to forced labor to today’s mass incarceration, and the searing National Memorial to Peace and Justice, which documents the unprosecuted, officially sanctioned, serial lynchings across the south.

And we attended Sunday services at Montgomery’s First Baptist Church where we saw community sadness, solidarity and struggle, along with hope for the future.

Sedona hikes: West Fork, Boynton Canyon and Courthouse Butte

  • The West Fork Trail near Sedona, Arizona, meanders beneath tall sandstone walls.

Sedona has an embarrassment of rich hiking trails. Earlier this spring, we took three:

West Fork Trail in Oak Creek Canyon

Distance: Two miles (You can go farther if you like.)
Time: About 1 hour, longer if you meander, take photos or play in the water.
Elevation gain/loss: 100 feet
Difficulty: Easy

We’ve been on this trail before, and it never disappoints. It’s an easy trail along the Coconino sandstone cliffs that crosses back and forth over Oak Creek. You can tiptoe over boulders, downed trees, or splash right through. Much of the trail is shaded by Ponderosa pines, Douglas firs, box elders, cottonwoods, walnuts, maple and oaks. And wildflowers grow in abundance. There are lots of other hikers here, but it’s cool, relaxing, with the constant sound of running water. In the book, 100 Classic Hikes: Arizona, author Scott Warren says the trail extends up to 6 miles, becoming overgrown and eventually just following the creek bed, with an elevation gain of 200 feet. We’ve never ventured that far.

Boynton Canyon

Distance: Six miles round trip
Time: About 3 hours
Elevation gain/loss: 350 feet
Difficulty: Easy

The Boynton Canyon hike snakes up the side of a canyon overlooking a resort then follows a drainage through sandstone walls. The trail meanders through manzanita, oaks, pines, and cypress and, when we visited, lots of wildflowers. We got caught in a brief rain shower that left everything sparkling with drops of water.

Courthouse Butte Loop

Distance: 4 ¼ mile loop
Time: About 3 hours
Elevation gain/loss: 250 feet
Difficulty: Easy/moderate

The Courthouse Butte Loop circles the large formation and provides amazing views of the red-rock country. You climb along slick rock and through rocky washes on the mostly exposed sides of the formation. Even though we were there in early spring, it was warm, so be sure to bring plenty of water. And your camera, because you won’t believe the panoramas from every side.

Note: Remember to take plenty of water, snacks and proper clothing. Even in Spring, it can get very hot.

How I lost, then found, my mojo

  • When I lost my mojo, even this beautiful road view in Death Valley left me listless.

For the first time in five years, I lost my mojo. Then I found it.

Actually, since we started this amazing adventure, it’s been pretty smooth sailing, and complaining about any small problems just seemed in bad taste, seeing as how most people our age are still working, and we’re living the endless-road-trip dream-life. I mean, come on, stop sniveling, you ungrateful assholes.

But this summer began as the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad summer (with some fabulous, very good, extra great moments).

Ancient cliff art tells of life and death in Canyon de Chelly

  • Chinle, the town at the mouth of the canyon, is named for a mispronunciation of a Navajo word meaning “where the water comes out.”

By Judy Nichols

The day we entered Canyon de Chelly, in mid-May, water, lots of it, was flowing through the canyon.

“Usually, by mid-April, the water has dried up,” our guide, Daniel, told us. “This year, we had more than 15 inches of snow. Last year, we had none. I can’t get my tractor in to plant the corn on my mother’s land. My cousin’s bringing his tractor in today. Maybe tomorrow I’ll take the day off to try.”

Both sides of Daniel’s family have lived in the canyon for three generations, growing corn and tending orchards of apple, peach, pear and plum. His mother has two, 5-acre fields and about four acres of orchards. The land, about an hour-and-a-quarter drive into the canyon, has passed from Daniel’s great-grandmother, to his grandmother, to his mother, always to the oldest female in the family.

As a child, Daniel would climb sandstone cliffs, which rise up to 1,000 feet and hold treasures of Anasazi ruins, petroglyphs, pictographs, ladders used to escape marauding U.S. Cavalry, and caves that still bear chips from the bullets of Spanish conquistadors who killed 115 defenseless Navajos.