JUNE IS NATIONAL CAMPING MONTH

” I don’t need therapy. I just need to go camping.”

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June is National Camping Month, a four-week celebration of reconnecting with mother nature and ourselves. In honor of National Camping Month, I decided to share some of my favorite camp spots.

1. QUAKING ASPEN CAMPGROUND

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Situated in the Giant Sequoia National Monument, this seasonal campground provides an escape from the summer heat. At 7,000 feet, Quaking Aspen serves as a base camp to explore the Sequoia groves.

2. ARIZONA HOT SPRINGS, ARIZONA

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Located on the Colorado River, this campground can be accessed by kayak or by hiking a three-mile trail down from Arizona State Highway 93.

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Hidden away in a colorful slot canyon, the spring forms several soaking pools averaging 112 degrees Fahrenheit. With endless opportunities to soak, swim, and camp, Arizona Hot Springs remains one of my favorite winter camping spots.

3. LOCUST POINT,  ARIZONA

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In the North Kaibab Ranger District, the remote Rainbow Rim Trail hugs the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The trail connects five overlooks: Timp, Parissawampitts, Fence, Locust, and North Timp. If you are looking for a remote camping experience with sensational views, Locust Point is your destination.

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4. LOST COAST TRAIL, CALIFORNIA

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Stretching twenty miles through the Kings Range National Conservation Area, the Lost Coast Trail is a premier coastal backpacking trail.

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Sea Lion Gulch is my favorite camp spot on the trail. Consider the views, imagine the coastal breeze, and expect to be serenaded by sea lions throughout the night.

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5. MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE, CALIFORNIA

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There are so may different shelters to use when camping. A hammock between two trees, the simplicity of a tarp, a two-pound ultra-light tent, a backpacking tent, the bomb proof four- season tent, or even the traditional bulky Coleman car camping tent. At the end of the day, I prefer cowboy camping.

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The Mojave National Preserve is one of my favorite places to sleep under the stars. Located between Los Angeles and Vegas, the Mojave’s 1.6 million acres guarantees sand and solitude.

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6. BACKCOUNTRY YURTS, ARIZONA

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Yurting is backcountry winter glamping at it’s best. Yurt’s bridge the gap between roughing it and camping in comfort. These portable round tent type structures offer the security and warmth of being protected from the elements while still preserving one’s connection to the environment.

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The ultimate winter yurt experience can be found at the Arizona Nordic Village for $50 a night.

https://www.arizonanordicvillage.com/back-country-small-yurts-winter/

7.  SHADOW CREEK, JOHN MUIR TRAIL

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In 2013, I hiked the John Muir Trail. A torrential four-day rainstorm was the highlight of my first week.

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Wet, cold, and desperately looking for a place to set up camp, I threw my pack off and claimed Shadow Creek as home for the night. Little did I know, there was a masterpiece waiting to my discovered behind camp.

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8. BUCKSKIN GULCH, ARIZONA

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Considered to one of the longest slot canyons in the world, Buckskin Gulch lies within the Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area. In 2011, I spent five days exploring Buckskin Gulch before following the Paria River to Lees Ferry.

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This camp spot felt like a raised platform bed within an amphitheater of ever-changing light.

9. SANTA CRUZ ISLAND, CALIFORNIA

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California’s archipelago, the Channel Islands, is considered to be one of America’s most remote national parks. Campers arrive by boat, then explore the islands by foot or kayak.

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Santa Cruz Island is a sixty-minute boat ride from Ventura, California. Nature lovers should allow a few days to explore the sea caves, snorkel the kelp beds, and hike the island trails.

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10.  YOSEMITE PERMIT OFFICE

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In 2013, I made numerous attempts to obtain a John Muir Trail permit via the advanced lottery system. Unsuccessful, I decided to apply for a walk-up permit. To ensure I was first in line,  I cowboy camped on the backcountry permit’s office front porch. The highlight of my night was a fellow hiker applauding my dedication as he walked by.

DRIVING THE MOKI DUGWAY

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A serpentine of switchbacks, a remote red rollercoaster, and a hairpin hell track; are just a few of the terms used by road trippers to describe southern Utah’s, Moki Dugway.

Built during the uranium frenzy of the 1950’s, the Moki Dugway transported uranium ore from the Cedar Mesa mines to the processing mills in Mexican Hat. Over two million tons of ore were extracted from local mines, leaving a toxic environmental legacy for generations to come.

No longer used as a mining road, Utah incorporated the Moki into its highway system. Every year, forty thousand road trippers take the plunge and drive the Moki. Today, it would be our turn.

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Exercising caution, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I made our way onto the unpaved gravel dugway.  Over the next three miles, we would ascend 1,100 feet on switchbacks that had been blasted into the cliff’s edge. Considering it was late winter, we were prepared for road conditions of snow, slush, ice, mud, and rock slides.

Regardless of the season, expect the unexpected on the Moki, and keep your eyes on the road at all times.

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After traversing our first set of switchbacks, the Valley of Gods came into view.

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Winding seventeen miles through isolated buttes and towering pinnacles, the Valley Of The Gods is a dusty backcountry road that guarantees an escape from civilization.

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The Valley Of The Gods

Backcountry escapes had been the foundation of our desert winter love story. What started as a friendly eight-day road trip evolved into a never-ending honeymoon of adventures.

https://remoteleigh.com/2015/01/25/the-perfect-stranger-part-1/

In a few weeks, I would be returning to my seasonal job in Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona, and the Perfect Stranger would be completing her thesis and managing her foundation in Long Beach, California. How would we manage the distance? Being together was now more familiar than being apart!

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Continuing our Moki ascent, the road started to narrow; leaving minimal room for oncoming traffic.

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Driving the Moki is a master class in blind faith and mindfulness. Without guardrails, the Moki leaves no room for human error or driver negligence. One can only hope that drivers respect the speed limit without the temptation of treating the Moki like an off-road race track.

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Our final set of switchbacks left me with a new-found respect for the civil engineers who deemed the Moki’s construction possible. Eighty tons of explosives transformed a mountain into a uranium ore thoroughfare; convincing courageous Cold War truck drivers that this human-sculpted road was drivable.

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Despite our numerous stops for photos and honoring the five miles an hour speed limit; we completed the dugway drive in two hours.

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On the Moki’s summit,  a five-mile access road leads to an overlook and camping area, known as Muley Point. Originally, our plan was to spend the night there. Unfortunately, after noticing the road was covered in slushy snow and soft mud, we decided otherwise. Without a four-wheel drive, we were not willing to risk a potential bogging in the middle of nowhere.

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Muley Point access road

After a family conference, the Perfect Stranger and I decided to drive an additional fifty miles to Blanding, Utah. Having spent the last few nights camping at Goosenecks State Park, a hot shower and a warm bed sounded very appealing.

https://remoteleigh.com/2017/05/11/goosenecks-state-park/

The Moki Dugway serves as a living testament to the Cold War and our nation’s urgency for nuclear superiority. Forgotten, is the government’s sacrifice of rural Utah’s health and environmental safety. Thousands of uranium miners, mill workers, local residents, and Native Americans died or were sickened from toxic exposure. Contaminated soil and water supplies have been left for generations to come. Millions of tons of radioactive tailings continue to cost American taxpayers billions of dollars to remove and safely bury.

GOOSENECKS STATE PARK

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At the end of Utah’s Highway 316, lies three hundred million years of geological activity and an opportunity to stand on the edge of the world.

Eroded by wind, water, frost, and gravity, the Goosenecks of the San Juan River are a living testament to the earth’s skeleton.

The Goosenecks are a series of tight loops that geologists refer to as entrenched meanders. Weaving back and forth for over five miles, the San Juan’s meanders measure one linear mile.

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Beyond the visible Goosenecks, the San Juan River continues to twist and turn before spilling into Lake Powell.

In my opinion, the Goosenecks are Utah’s answer to Arizona’s Horseshoe Bend, but without the crowds.

After setting up camp, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I cautiously walked along the canyon’s rim towards the Goosenecks observation point.

The one thousand foot drop of geological madness to the silty San Juan River left me awestruck. Feeling awestruck has as much to do with how we look at the world as it does with the world we are looking at. Could being in love cause mother nature’s metamorphosis to appear more magical? Does sharing awestruck moments reveal a couple’s capacity for wonder and surprise? Can awestruck moments serve as markers to the sacredness of time and life? Sharing awestruck moments with the Perfect Stranger reminded me of our beginning and mother nature’s role in the ever-developing story of us.

MOTHER NATURE

On a personal level, mother nature feels like the family I never had. She has been present for every adult birthday, seasonal holiday, personal milestone, heartaches, heartbreaks, and professional achievements. Mother Nature fills the void of not having family. Having no direct experience of going home for the holidays or sharing holidays with family members leaves me feeling awkward, out-of-place, and downright uncomfortable. Celebrating seasonal holidays in a traditional way feels very foreign. I do not feel the same happiness or joy that others seem to be experiencing. It’s no wonder I have opted to spend holidays backpacking or camping. I’m with family and it’s familiar. For this reason, sharing adventure trips with the Perfect Stranger is sacred to me. I’m taking her home to meet the family!

Under the watchful eye of Shadow, the Perfect Stranger carefully navigated her way down to a rocky outcropping.

Standing guard, Shadow disapprovingly watched as the Perfect Stranger ventured down the canyon wall towards the precipice.

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Standing on the edge of the world, the Perfect Stranger, the love of my life, found herself in an awestruck moment. Captured in her natural habitat, these moments bridged the distance between the remoteness of the landscape and the connection I felt to her.

Awestruck moments require connection with mother nature as opposed to the conquering narrative we have manifested in our minds. Does this sense of conquer originate from within? Mountain climbers frequently describe the physical and mental struggles endured in summit attempts.  Does the internalized sense of struggle and the intense feeling of accomplishment evolve into a conquering state of mind? Is it ignorance or arrogance that fuels our sense of conquer? Perhaps a connection to the planet reveals one’s vulnerability to self and others.

Returning to camp, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I ate a light dinner while patiently waiting for the sun to set. Outside of the gentle breeze, the world felt remarkably still.

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For the next hour,  the Perfect Stranger and I bathed in the pink, orange, and purple hues that painted the Monument Valley skyline. There was no one here, it was the off-season; a time when solitude can be found.

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In the final twilight minutes before darkness, mother nature saturated the sky with brush strokes of pink and purple. Mother nature’s canvas was complete, signaling the end of our day.

After surviving a cold windy night, I was happy to get up and share my morning coffee with the sandstone buttes in the distance.

Twenty-four hours ago, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I were exploring the dirt back roads of Monument Valley. This morning, I had a base camp with a view.

In a few hours, we would be leaving a state park that possesses the greatest example of an entrenched meander in North America. A state park that resides at the end of a highway. A state park that many a road tripper has unknowingly and unwillingly driven by. A state park without hiking trails, shade, or water. A state park that allows you to dance on the edge of the world.

WindMills, Water Tanks, & Walks In Monument Valley

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Monument Valley: Is it a valley? A wide flat plateau? Or a desolate landscape that remains a living testament to the sandstone layers that once covered the region? Known to the Navajo as Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii, Monument Valley exemplifies the images that generations of moviegoers identify as the American West.

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The 1969 movie “Easy Rider”, suggested that an unapologetic sense of individualism and dirt covered freedom could be found exploring the southwest on a motorcycle. Twenty-five years later, Forrest Gump’s three-year, coast to coast, cathartic run, found an unexpected finish line in Monument Valley.

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For me, the most poignant film that features and defines Monument Valley is the documentary “The Return Of The Navajo Boy.” This internationally acclaimed documentary reunites a Navajo family and triggered a federal investigation into uranium contamination on Navajo lands.

In the 1940’s, government surveyors discovered large deposits of uranium in Monument Valley. Between 1944 and 1986, nearly four million tons of ore were extracted from Navajo lands, in an attempt to fuel the Cold War nuclear arms race. At the end of the war, the mining companies moved out and the highly toxic contaminated sites remained. Over time, the ore pits filled with water, providing a contaminated community water source to unsuspecting Navajos.

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Twenty-first century Monument Valley remains an overwhelming landscape that offers a master class in surreal geometry, impeccable architecture, and human resilience. As a visitor, it’s a place I wanted to explore in the off-season, away from the crowds, tourists, and the tour buses. It’s a place where I wanted to taste the dirt!

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Just after sunrise, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I left Vermilion Cliffs bound for GooseNecks State Park, Utah. Our five-hour drive had no set agenda, outside of trying to capture the spirit of Monument Valley.

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After crossing the Navajo Bridge, we followed Highway 89 before heading east on Highway 160. The Arizona section of this highway lies entirely within the Navajo Nation.

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On the outskirts of Tuba City, a roadside water tank and windmill caught our eye. Without hesitation, we pulled over and the Perfect Stranger scaled the Aermotor windmill.

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Climbing and photographing water tanks had become an official past time for us both.

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Leaving Tuba City, we continued along Highway 160 towards Kayenta.

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A few miles south of town, a rock formation stood out in the distance.

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In order to get a closer look, the Perfect Stranger and I impulsively followed a dirt road that branched off the main highway. This is one of the many attributes I appreciate about the Perfect Stranger, her spontaneity and her willingness to explore undeveloped back roads.

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The dusty dirt road was littered with abandoned car tires, mattresses, sheet metal, glass bottles, and household appliances.

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Trash collection is an ongoing problem on tribal lands. The Navajo Nation does not have landfills or recycling plants; instead, they have overflowing waste transfer stations. In theory, the Navajo pay to have their trash picked up and transported to transfer stations, where it’s then hauled away to landfills in bordering towns. In practice, garbage trucks won’t drive on the unmaintained reservation dirt roads, making trash dumping an unsustainable option to an unsolved problem. I think many people would be shocked to know that many tribes still lack the basic services of running water and electricity.

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Despite the trash, we walked across the barren desert floor towards the volcanic rock formation.

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It was during this walk that I noticed Shadow’s bond with the Perfect Stranger. Like his mama, Shadow had fallen for her. Capturing their relationship through my camera lens made it even more magical.The pictures clearly demonstrated his adoration and willingness to follow her direction.

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Realizing that we were still seventy miles from camp, the Perfect Stranger and I made our way back to the car. Seventy miles seems like a minimal distance to cover; however, between our impromptu stops and my pet peeve of setting up camp in the dark, we were mindful of the remaining daylight hours.

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Leaving highway 160, we headed north on Highway 163. Twenty-three miles separated us from Monument Valley and the nation’s fastest growing county, San Juan County.

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Gaining over a thousand residents between 2015 and 2016, this remote southeastern portion of Utah grew 7.6%. What inspired the migration to  San Juan county? With an unemployment rate of almost 10%, it’s safe to say, people are not moving to the county for job opportunities.

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Could tribal members be moving back to the Navajo Nation reservation due to oil field jobs drying up in other states? Is the affordability of the county attracting retirees? Has tourism impacted the county’s growth? Will Bears Ears National Monument create further growth due to tourism and employment opportunities? Only time will tell if the population growth will improve the living conditions and employment opportunities for the residents of the state’s poorest county.

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Crossing the state line, we were greeted by a “Welcome to Utah, Life Elevated” billboard. Upon closer inspection, the sign had been covered in various unrelated stickers.  It made me wonder, how did this sticker phenomenon happen? Who’s idea was it? Are stickers the new form of sign tagging for tourists? With no stickers in our possession, we were content to focus on desert scape that stood before us.

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On the other side of the highway, a hitchhiker heading south caught my attention.

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Being off-season, there was very little traffic; I wondered how many miles he would have to walk before getting a ride. Based on his gear, I could tell he wasn’t a thru- hiker; I regret not crossing the highway and saying “HI”.

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The remaining thirty-two-mile drive from Monument Valley to GooseNecks State Park was eventful as it was scenic.

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On road trips, the Perfect Stranger and I are in a constant search for the ‘the shot’. To us, the shot that captures the personality of the landscape. The shot that elicits a feeling of awestruck. The shot that makes a creative’s empty stomach feel full. The shot that’s a once in a lifetime time, never to be repeated.

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The Perfect Stranger caught a glimpse of ‘the Monument Valley shot’ in our rearview mirror. We immediately pulled over on the outskirts of Halchita, grabbing our cameras, to hike up the gully and along the plateau to our destination.

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Before we could even start taking pictures, miraculously the Perfect Stranger spotted a ravenous pack of rez dogs three plateaus over. Rez dogs are feral dogs that roam tribal lands left to fend for themselves. Rez dogs must compete for food, shelter, and water. Killing livestock and attacking humans occurs with alarming regularity on the reservation.

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We saw them before they smelled us. Were we standing down wind preventing our human scent from traveling to their sensitive noses? A quick mental calculation told the Perfect Stranger we had had three gullies between us and five sets of rez dog teeth. Behind us lay a 200 yard sprint to the safety of the car. Could we make it back the car before the rez dogs fanned out, circling us and cutting off our retreat? Would Shadow follow our direction and sprint to the car? We knew in our heads if Shadow noticed the rez dogs he would instinctively try to protect us from the pack resulting in his death. The Perfect Stranger and I shared a glance in that moment, silently communicating that it was time to run for our lives. Every year, over three thousand dog bites and attacks are treated on Navajo Nation. We had no intention of becoming another statistic!

With a two gully headstart, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I hightailed it to the car. Five rez dogs who looked like Benji but possessed the temperant of Kujo, fanned out in pursuit.  Still recovering from bruised ribs, I was the slowest runner of the group. The Perfect Stranger kept Shadow engaged to prevent him from realizing that a pack of rez dogs was chasing us. With one gully to spare, we reached the safety of our car. For the rez dogs, the pursuit was not over until the last car door slammed shut. With our adrenaline in overdrive, we breathed a sigh of relief, silently acknowledging just how close we had come. We never did get “the shot”!

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Addressing and resolving the plight of rez dogs is a very complex issue. There are no immediate fix-its or long term solutions. How does the Navajo Nation preserve it’s traditional culture while managing the modern realities of dog overpopulation? An estimated 445,000 stray dogs live within the Navajo Nation. Over three thousand people are treated every year for dog bites and attacks. From an animal control perspective: there are only six animal control officers and four active shelters, serving 25,000 square miles within the Navajo Nation. In addition to the lack of animal control enforcement, there is also a lack of veterinary care. Considering the high levels of poverty on the reservation, vaccinating and spay/neutering services are unaffordable. Cultural barriers and government mistrust have impeded efforts by rescue groups to offer spay/neuter programs on tribal lands. The documentary, “Rez Dogs”, takes an honest look at the problem from within. To watch the movie click here –

http://www.ya-native.com/Culture_SouthWest/video/rezdogs.html

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Leaving the eroded mesas of Monument Valley, we crossed the San Juan River and made a brief stop in Mexican Hat, Utah. This small town is named after the rock formation that resembles a sombrero.

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With two hours left before sunset, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I arrived at Goosenecks State Park. Our day had been one of windmills, water tanks, monumental walks, and a near death experience with rez dogs.

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Before setting up camp, the Perfect Stranger and I inhaled three hundred million years of geological activity and caught our breath to one of the most impressive examples of an entrenched river meander.

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For the next two days, this would be our playground. I was confident we would get another chance at the shot!

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Ten Reasons to Visit Marble Canyon, Arizona

As the halfway point between the Grand Canyon’s South and North Rim, Marble Canyon is more than an outpost town. It is a nature lovers gateway to paradise. Considered to be a base camp for Lees Ferry, Marble Canyon is an adventurers thoroughfare. River rafters, backpackers, day hikers, kayakers, and fishermen come from all over the world to experience this jewel of the southwest.

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Tourists utilize Marble Canyon’s facilities to refuel their gas tank and grab a bite on their way to the North Rim; many remain unaware of the attractions and adventures that this outpost town has to offer. Below are ten reasons why you should consider spending a  few days exploring Marble Canyon.

1. NAVAJO BRIDGE TWINS

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The two Navajo bridges, one historic and one new, represent one of only seven land crossings of the Colorado River for seven hundred miles.

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Serving as a pedestrian crossing, the historic bridge provides visitors with an opportunity to observe river rafters floating down the Colorado River and the chance to see the endangered California condor.

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2. CALIFORNIA CONDORS

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Only 225 California condors are living in the wild and 75 reside in Marble Canyon and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

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These majestic birds are often seen flying in the thermal currents and roosting on the steel girders underneath the Navajo Bridge.

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3. LOWER CATHEDRAL WASH

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The Lower Cathedral Wash Trail is located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. This 2.5 mile round trip trail ends at Cathedral Rapid on the Colorado River.

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4. PARIA BEACH

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Directly across from Lees Ferry campground is Paria Beach. Known for its white sand and turquoise water, Paria Beach is a great place to watch rafters navigate their first set of rapids down the Grand Canyon.

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5. LONELY DELL RANCH

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This historic ranch, which lies near the mouth of the Paria River, was home to the families who operated Lees Ferry. Living in a such an isolated area demanded a self-sufficient lifestyle. Harvesting their own fruit and vegetables, these pioneers turned a barren desert into a green oasis.

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The main ranch buildings are a short walk from the parking area. Be sure to tour the orchard, log cabins, stone house, and the pioneer cemetery.

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7. PARIA RIVER

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If you visit the ranch cemetery, follow the dirt road all way the until you reach the Paria River Trail. Whether it’s a short nature walk or full-blown day hike, Paria River is a wilderness area begging to be explored.

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For dog owners, this is a great place to take the dog for a hike and swim.

8. LEES FERRY BOAT RAMP

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As the official start of the Grand Canyon, Lees Ferry boat ramp is a great place to watch commercial and private rafting expeditions launch.

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9. KAYAKING

For the price of a kayak rental and backhaul shuttle, you can explore a sixteen mile stretch of the Colorado River. Rated as a Class 1 paddle, I highly recommend spending a few days camping and kayaking your way back to Lees Ferry.

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For a detailed trip report

https://remoteleigh.com/2014/09/17/paddling-through-paradise-for-peanuts/

Backhaul Services

http://www.raftthecanyon.com/raft-the-river/back-hauling-services/

http://kayakthecolorado.com/backhaul-services/

Kayak Rentals

http://kayakthecolorado.com/river-rentals/

http://www.lakepowellhiddencanyonkayak.com/rental/

10. FLY FISHING

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Home to more than 20,000 wild trout per mile, Lees Ferry ranks as one of the nation’s top fishing destinations. Guided excursions, private and rented boats, and walk-in fishing are permitted for fifteen canyon miles upstream from Lees Ferry boat ramp. I highly recommend hiring a local fishing guide to take you upriver to fish the backwaters, gravel bars, and main river channel.

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FISHING GUIDES

http://www.northernazguideservice.com/about.html

http://leesferry.com/our-guides/

ACCOMMODATIONS

http://www.marblecanyoncompany.com/

http://www.vermilioncliffs.com/

http://leesferry.com/cliff-dwellers-lodge/

CAMPING

Lees Ferry Campground is located 1.5 miles from the boat ramp. Wind breaks, flush toilets, and a waste station are available for RV’S. First come, first serve, at $20 a night.

FINDING WIREPASS

Every morning I wake up to the rugged and remote beauty of Vermilion Cliffs.

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The ruggedness serves as a reminder that mother nature is my C.E.O. and the remoteness reinforces my belief that the environment is our entertainment.

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Every day, from sunrise to sunset, mother nature reveals her ever-changing moods and weather patterns.

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In the blink of an eye, a double rainbow can appear as quickly as an afternoon downpour ends.

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A flash flood can quickly transform a dry river bank into temporary natal pools for red-spotted toads.

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A pre-sunset sky transforms into a mosaic of pink, orange, purple, and red mystical hues; like a kaleidoscope of colors dancing across the desert sky.

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Mother nature’s magical moods entertain and energize me on a daily basis; however, there was still something missing, the Perfect Stranger.

https://remoteleigh.com/2015/01/25/the-perfect-stranger-part-1/

Every other week, the Perfect Stranger honored our romance by driving over a thousand miles (round trip) to Vermilion Cliffs. Even though she was completing her thesis, managing her non-profit foundation, and taking care of her two dogs; she still made time for me.

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How many people would be willing to drive to the middle of nowhere to pursue a romance with someone who could only offer their love and desert landscapes? Would the drive become tedious over time; diminishing the romantic sense of relationship urgency, or would the early morning desert driveway embraces serve as a reminder that this was no ordinary love?

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On a February winter’s morning, the Perfect Stranger and I set out for Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. After a twenty-minute drive to the Kaibab Plateau, we headed north on House Rock Valley Road (also known as B.L.M Road 1065). For twenty two miles, we followed the unmaintained gravel road before reaching our final destination, WirePass trailhead.

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Wirepass is a 1.7-mile trail that spills into the longest continuous slot canyon in the world, Buckskin Gulch.

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Buckskin Gulch holds a special place in my heart. In 2011, I celebrated my 40th birthday with a thirty-eight-mile backpacking trip into the lower intestine of Buckskin Gulch, before following the Paria River all the way to Lees Ferry.

It was during this trip that I fell in love with slot canyons and made a mental note to myself; this is a place you only share with someone special. Four years later, I found myself day hiking Wirepass with my love, the Perfect Stranger.

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In sections, which were less than three feet wide, the Perfect Stranger and I navigated and negotiated our way through the slot canyon. Having bruised several ribs a few weeks prior, rock scrambling was quite a painful endeavor.

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Slot canyons can be treacherous during flash flood season. With higher ground exit points few and far between, the B.L.M. (Bureau Of Land Management) strongly suggests avoiding slot canyons July through September. Rain from fifty miles away can deliver barreling flash floods within minutes.

As we approached the Wire Pass / Buckskin Gulch junction, petroglyphs left by the Anasazi came into view.

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Petroglyphs of humans, bighorn sheep, and a mysterious dotted line followed the entire length of the rock wall.

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Canyons with vertical walls a few hundred feet high and only a few feet wide are considered true slot canyons. True slot canyons are found on the many rivers and tributaries that flow into Lake Powell. Branches of the Paria River, Escalante River, and the numerous creeks that cross Navajo lands south of Lake Powell, are birthing grounds for mother nature’s masterpieces.

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Buckskin Gulch’s curved sunlight sandstone walls screamed the works of Georgia O’Keefe. Perhaps Georgia O’Keefe was speaking on behalf of mother nature when she said, “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way-things I had no words for.”

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Georgia O’Keefe was right! No words or pictures could accurately convey the beauty of this slot canyon.

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Unfortunately, the Perfect Stranger and I were unable to venture any further into the belly of Buckskin Gulch. Within a half a mile, we hit our first mud puddle; a sign of recent rain in the canyon.

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A few hundred yards later, a deep water trough ended our hike. In thirty degree weather, a cold water swim was not something we had planned for.

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As we made our way back to the trailhead, the Perfect Stranger and I made plans to camp inside Buckskin Gulch for a few days. Due to the lack of water, most backpackers only spend a day or two in the Gulch. In order for us to stay three to four days, we would need to carry in enough water to sustain us.

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Leaving Wirepass trailhead, I realized I had a few weeks until I returned to my seasonal job. Would my work affect our extraordinary love?  Would the Perfect Stranger continue to make the pilgrimage out to the middle of nowhere in a Northern Arizona town? Would the miles that separate us continue to keep us close or would they painfully remind us of our geographically challenged romance?

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Perhaps life is a series of years managing unanswered and answered questions. Do we look for stability and a safety net in the answers? What if the answers only lead to more questions? Was I looking for a lifetime guarantee with love or was I simply fearful of losing something so precious?  For now, I could bank on the Perfect Stranger’s willingness and determination to be with me regardless of life circumstances.

For The Love Of Hoodoos

“Our parents and grandparents saved the Grand Canyon for us; today, we will save the Grand Escalante Canyons and the Kaiparowits Plateau Of Utah for our children.” President Bill Clinton

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On a cloudy January morning, the Perfect Stranger and I left Vermilion Cliffs bound for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Remote and extremely rugged, it’s 1.9 million acres was the last area to be mapped in the continental United States.

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Driving north on Highway 89a, we doubled our altitude in less than forty minutes. At 9000 feet, we were greeted by a snowy Kaibab Plateau.

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Two days earlier, the Perfect Stranger had driven this stretch of road. In the early morning darkness, the Perfect Stranger negotiated hairpin corners on a highway without guard rails and navigated a terrain that offered no cell phone cell service. Love tends to inspire drastic acts of madness when you miss someone. It had been ten days since our yurt adventure. We both missed each other. No rain, snow, sleet, or ice storm was going to stop the Perfect Stranger from coming to see me.

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After a brief stop in Jacob Lake, we rapidly descended the west side of the Kaibab Plateau. Views of Fredonia, Kanab, and St.George, quickly came into view.

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Forty miles east of Kanab and twelve miles west of Big Water, lies the unmarked trailhead for Paria Rimrock Toadstools. With no official entrances to the monument; it’s a small parking area on the north side of Highway 89 that identifies the trail.

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The Toadstool trail is a 1.7-mile hike through rimrock sandstone, toadstool terraces, and sun-baked eroded badlands.

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Differential weathering has created these mushroom-shaped columns, also known as hoodoos.

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For the love of hoodoos; the perfect stranger and I spent the afternoon exploring and capturing the magic of  Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Many tourists focus on visiting Utah’s Mighty Five: Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef. There are many lesser known national monuments and state parks that are overlooked. Grand Staircase-Escalante is a monument not to be missed!

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As the Perfect Stranger and I explored off-trail, we were mindful of the cryptobiotic crusts that are prevalent in the area. These crusts often go unnoticed; however, they are vital to the stability of eroded soils and in dry regions that receive minimal precipitation.

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In 1996, President Bill Clinton declared Grand Staircase-Escalante a national monument. At the time, it was a very controversial decision; preserving 1.9 million acres versus mining the largest coal field in the country. With an estimated value of one trillion dollars, the debate remains open as to whether the monument has hurt or helped southern Utah’s economy.

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After a final glance back at the Paria Rimrock Toadstools, the Perfect Stranger and I headed back to the parking lot. The desert no longer felt mysterious to me; I felt at home. Remote desert landscapes were now a geological postcard that symbolized a friendship that organically morphed into love.

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Update: U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, is urging President Donald Trump to abolish national monuments created by Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. The action would be unprecedented. No president in U.S. history has undone the creation of a national monument by a predecessor. Grand Staircase-Escalante is one of the monuments that could lose its protection.

MY FAVORITE GEAR PURCHASES OF 2016

This year was dedicated to buying gear that was affordable, lightweight, high quality, and to making my backpacking experience more comfortable. Comfortable in my world means staying warm. As a hiker living with Raynaud’s Syndrome, the air temperature feels 20 degrees cooler to my inner thermostat. Being so sensitive to the cold means beanie hats in the summer, wearing a down jacket to the movies, and keeping extra layers and gloves in the car.

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I wear wetsuits to swim, neoprene socks when kayaking, and I understand that a sleeping bag with a 20-degree temperature rating is really a 50-degree sleep sack.

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In 2016, I slept comfortably on the back seat of my car, discovered a new outdoor gear company, found a sleeping bag that keeps me warm, and experimented with two new lightweight tents. Listed below are my top six gear purchases.

BACK SEAT INFLATABLE MATTRESS  $40

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In less than three minutes, this inflatable mattress turns the back seat of your car into a rather comfortable bed. Great for long road trips, especially when you’re tired and need to pull over for a nap.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Car-Air-Bed-Inflatable-Mattress-Back-Seat-Cushion-2-Pillows-For-Travel-Camping-/172373321601?var=&hash=item2822402781:m:mrOopXO3RGbXBw-lDOOKrZw

NATUREHIKE EIDERDOWN SLEEPING BAG  $138

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A dream sleeping bag for a cold sleeper like myself. At just under three pounds, this sleeping bag’s is 90% eiderdown with a waterproof exterior.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/191584217207?var=490995443676

MOUNTAIN WAREHOUSE BIVY BAG  $30

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Weighing 11.9 ounces, I have been using this bivy bag as a protective cover and as an extra layer of insulation for my down sleeping bag.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01B8GEXIO/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o06_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

NATUREHIKE WILD WING TWO PERSON TENT  $74

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Less than $80, will get you a silicon coated two person waterproof tent. Yes, that’s right! Why pay two to three hundred dollars for a tent, when you can purchase the Wind Wing. This tent has two side entry doors and offers enough vestibule space for your backpacking gear. I had the opportunity to test drive this tent during my backpacking trip in Zion National Park. The tent provided great ventilation and protection from the elements.

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When you order this tent from GearBest, they also include the official tent footprint.

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http://www.gearbest.com/tent/pp_487875.html

NATUREHIKE CLOUD UP 2 PERSON TENT  $80

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Weighing in at 3.4lbs, the Cloud Up 2 was my first NatureHike tent purchase. It’s high-density mesh and silicon coated fly make this tent breathable and waterproof.

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I had the chance to test this tent over the summer on Santa Cruz Island. Snug for two people, however very spacious for a single camper.

https://www.amazon.com/Naturehike-Ultralight-Waterproof-Groundsheet-Backpacking/dp/B01N2H4VXN/ref=pd_sbs_468_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=PTZFG7EKWT925323C1J0

NEOPRENE WATER SOCK  $12

Having Raynaud’s Syndrome, I am constantly managing cold feet. These 3mm anti-slip bottom socks have made my kayaking experience far more enjoyable.

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The Decision To Live On The Road

“I’m a minimalist. I can walk through Walmart and not buy anything.” Jackie Heyen

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Have you ever considered walking away from the expectations of mainstream society and dedicating yourself to a life of simplicity? Is simplicity a sacrifice or a way to demonstrate happiness with less? Could you find happiness with less? What if simplifying your life meant quitting your job and trading life’s creature comforts for a motorcycle and a teardrop trailer?

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With 24 square feet of livable space, what would you pack for a life on the road? Could you live without a bathroom? Imagine not having a permanent address? How would society define your new way of living? Would you be labeled as homeless, nomadic, a full-time traveler, or simply adventurous?

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Meet Jackie Heyen and her dogs, Poco and Nube. Jackie is a Facebook friend who came to visit me while I was living in Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona. Four years ago, Jackie decided enough was enough. Enough of the financial stress, enough of working several jobs, and enough of working her life away instead of living her life.

As a motorcycle owner, Jackie had spent five years researching the possibility of living on the road. With her depression worsening and her eating disorder resurfacing itself, Jackie decided she needed to make a drastic change in order to save her life.

In late October 2012, Jackie left sunny Kingston, New York to begin her new life on the road. Bound for Kentucky, Jackie found herself riding directly into the path of a category three hurricane.

Shaken after almost hydroplaning on the freeway, Jackie exited the freeway and called her father.

Playing it safe, a shaken Jackie exited the freeway and rode the backroads until the storm subsided. Little did Jackie know, she would later find comfort and encouragement from fellow drivers as she made her way back onto the freeway.

Jackie survived Hurricane Sandy and completed her maiden voyage to her parent’s house in Kentucky.

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Six months before Jackie left New York, she decided to shave her head. Jackie explained, “I think I did it for control. Everyone was always telling me who I should be, how I should act, and look. I use to have nightmares about losing my hair. As my hair got longer the nightmares became more frequent. During high school, my hair was down to my butt. My nightmares happened daily.”

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Jackie says, since shaving her head her nightmares have stopped.

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Jackie felt that shaving her head symbolized taking control of her life and the decision to live differently. Being bald created a sense of freedom and empowerment for Jackie. From a societal perspective, bald women are seen as weak, disadvantaged, and undesirable. Pop culture has accepted and normalized male baldness; however, it offers no complimentary role to women.

Potential employers struggled to embrace the idea that Jackie wanted to be bald by choice. It seemed society could only understand female baldness if it was illness related. Tired of the discrimination and the looks of pity, Jackie stopped shaving her head.

As her hair grew out, society now assumed Jackie was a man. Public restrooms no longer felt safe. To this day, using public restrooms continues to be very stressful for Jackie.

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Since being on the road, Jackie has worked various jobs around the country. In Florida, Jackie spent six weeks as a sound engineer with a traveling puppet show, worked the holiday season with Amazon in Kentucky, and house sat in rural New Mexico.

Jackie said, “My favorite job was working as a photographer’s assistant at Wallace Street Photographic Emporium, in Montana. It’s an old time photo studio that specializes in sepia portraits. The owners brought me in as part of the family. It was a relaxed job, where I could just be me. We got along; we would have dinner in the evening and drink moonshine together at the end of a hard day.”

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By the end of the summer, the owners of the photography studio invited Jackie to travel to China. In exchange for assisting them with their seasonal family move, Jackie would have the opportunity to explore China and Thailand.  

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Having never left the U.S.A. before, Jackie spent three weeks traveling through China and Thailand.

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Jackie feels life on the road has given her a better quality of life. Jackie explains, “Many people think I’m sad, which I don’t understand. I’m the happiest I have ever been.”

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For the remainder of the night, Jackie and I chatted about our travels and people we have met through social media.

https://remoteleigh.com/2015/01/03/putting-the-face-into-facebook-friendships/

Jackie and I first met on Facebook through the Full Timers RV Community page. I had been researching alternative ways of making a living on the road and Jackie offered her opinion and advice regarding potential L.G.B.T.Q. job discrimination.

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Even though I had gained the constitutional right to marry someone of the same sex in all 50 states, I could still be fired in 28 states for being gay.

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The following morning Jackie and I shared breakfast before she headed back out onto the open road.

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I wondered if I would be able to live on the road with just a motorcycle and a teardrop trailer. I had sold myself on the idea of building an adventure cargo van; however, I quickly reminded myself I have lived with much less on trail.

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As Jackie and I took a final photo together, I asked if she missed living a ‘normal’ life. “I don’t miss much from the normal life except the occasional bathroom to myself. I don’t belong in society anymore… it doesn’t make sense.”

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And with that, Jackie headed south on Highway 89A bound for New Mexico.

Follow Jackie’s travels at http://www.jhblueroad.com/

Interview Videography by  http://www.martinmondia.com/

 

2016 – The Year Of Adventure

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2016 has been an adventurous year both professionally and personally. Waterfall hikes in Yosemite, kayaking and hiking on Santa Cruz Island, backpacking The Lost Coast Trail, day tripping in the Redwoods, a quite weekend getaway to Sequoia National Forest, paddling a 24-mile section of Black Canyon, and a two-day backpacking trip down “The Narrows.”

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When not on trail, I found myself committed to what seemed like a dream job. The honeymoon is over! I’m not sure what lies in my future, but I do know it’s time to catch up on my blog. I have so many adventures to share!

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