Living out of a van in Southwest America

When I think of America, with all of its faults, I always think of the natural beauty and splendor. The Southwest part of the States is magnificent.
The van we bought was similar to this, but it had Windows. We had to make curtains for the Windows. We put a big storage container on top also. I actually cried a little when we had to sell it. It represented such a fond, memorable period in my life.

During the work on the Pacific Crest Trail,  we had learned that the team had won a bid for a 50 mile stretch of trail near Big Sur in California. It was in the La Ventana Wilderness Area. It was to be a 6 month job paying 25 dollars an hour, which seemed like a fortune at the time. They were going to let my wife live on the trail and receive a salary for helping cook also. It seemed like the perfect deal. We would save a lot of money, as living in the mountains leaves you few places to spend money. We accepted the job and were ready for our new adventure.

This is the same year and model as my yellow corrola, but mine had simple wheels and a blue bike rack on the back.
This is not my car, but it looks almost the same. It was so small that students used to laugh when I got out…I was fairly tall. One day they actually picked it up and moved it so that when I came out to find it it took me a momento. Funny.

We had two cars. An orange 1978 Honda Civic and a Yellow 1979 Toyota Corolla that had well over 200,000 miles on it. My dad had given it to me years before. I don’t know exactly why but I always grow attached to vehicles that have taken me so many places, but we needed to sell both before our journey. After selling both of them, we purchased a used phone company van that was quite big and had a rack on top. We gutted the inside of the van and designed it so that we could live inside it if we needed to. We had a wooden bed frame that was covered by removable plywood and a foldable futon mattress. Underneath the bed we keep all of ours supplies. A stove, food, clothes, everything. We bought a big “turtle” storage container for the top of the van for extra storage space. We were ready to go. We didn’t have to arrive in Big Sur until September, so we took our time.

Bryce Canyon, Utah

When we arrived down in Carmel, California, we learned that the then President George Bush had announced that the government was going to go into a lockdown on the budget as congress could not agree to terms. We were told this might delay the project for a few weeks as it was paid for by the federal government. We didn’t worry about it, as we had a little extra money and could last a few weeks on the road.  We first established a mailbox in Carmel near where the job was to be. Then we decided to make the most of it and take a tour of the West Coast and Southwest America. This would include San Francisco, The Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion.

The Grand Canyon….it is Grand!

This was a remarkable time. We camped along the coast in California and visited my uncle in Sanfrancisco. We loved the Monterrey area and the fantastic aquarium. Zion,Bryce and the Grand Canyon were beyond spectacular. We first went to Zion and were amazed and impressed by the many colors of rock and their formations. It was fall so leaves were beginning to change colors. It was spectacular. We then went to Bryce Canyon that has its surreal rock formations that sometimes look like people carved in the stone. The rock has so many shades of colors. It is unreal. It was getting quite cold and one morning at Bryce canyon I remember scraping the frost from the inside of the van.

Grand Canyon when green

The van was set up so well that my wife could remain in bed while I got the car scraped clean of ice and ready for the road. I would normally heat up some coffee on our stove. The freedom of being able to stop almost anywhere and sleep in the van was fantastic!The North Rim of the Grand Canyon was closing in two days so we went there next. . The North Rim is a couple of thousand feet higher tan the South Rim if I am not mistaken, so it closes in the Winter. I recall a thunderstorm coming across the canyon from South to North and it was like nothing I had ever seen. The thunder was deafening and the the lightning show sensational watching from the safety of a lodge. We took a nice hike in a hailstorm down into the canyon on the North Rim. We saw many of the native squirrels. The South Rim, although beautiful was too crowded to allow for the appreciation of the natural wonder.

Bryce Canyon, Utah – amazing place to walk around

We were on the road about a month and were running short on money. I have a hard time imagining how carefree we were. We had less than 1,000 dollars at most times during this year, but I don’t recall worrying about it. I worry much more about money now that I have some. Funny how life works. We would check in each week with Marv, the owner of the trail building company, but the government was still in an impasse. These budget things do affect people’s lives. One fond memory I have is of crossing the Mojave desert in California, going to Arizona and we were listening to a book on tape, which I had never done before. Nice way to drive through a starry night.

Zion – I took a nice hike off to the right of this photo

Finally one morning while camping in Sedona, Arizona I decided we had to do something before we ran out of money. I distinctly remember reading Richard Bolles’, “What Color is Your Parachute” book that is supposed to help you identify the perfect career for yourself. 

More Bryce Canyon

While sipping coffee, I had out a map of America and specifically was looking at the Southwest. It was October, so I knew the ski season was starting soon. There were many ski areas in California near Lake Tahoe, many near Salt Lake City and Many in Colorado.  I circled the three areas and told my wife we needed to make a choice. I figured we could each get jobs for the winter and figure out what to do later. My wife didn’t ski, but I was a good teacher. 

Zion – cool rock formation

We headed out that day and when we reached Santa Cruz we entered a Kinkos copy center and typed up resumes for our job search. There were no computers and no online job searches. We drove to Lake Tahoe and checked into a cheap hotel run by people from India. I remember the smell of curry in the air.  We asked around and then started submitting applications around the lake. This included ski areas like Heavenly Valley, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.  Stay tuned for what happened next.

The Narrows at Zion. Apparently this can fill up quickly with wáter during storms which makes it dangerous.

Published by jimboyce44

World Traveler, Educator, Father, Husband, Son

6 thoughts on “Living out of a van in Southwest America

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