Mid to Late Winter 2024

Journal No.5, 2024

What makes a “snowbird”? If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it is usually referring to someone who spends summers north, and winters south, just as migratory birds do. As someone who has lived in Arizona year round (bearing the highs and lows of extreme temperatres), year-rounders tend to have a distaste for the usually older caucasian boomers who creep their way into the mild winter deserts to enjoy their time free of snow plowingand tire chains. Why do I speak of this? Well, I think Isaac and I have joined the migratory club. We arrived in Arizona in December, and have happily explored the far out corners of the state for 2 months now.

After a donkey-filled week in the Sonoran desert on BLM Land managed by the Kingman Field Office, close to the tiny town of Wikiup, we made our way to Phoenix for late december. Here, we got our first full week off of life on the road, and stayed at Isaac’s parent’s house. We had a cozy Christmas, Isaac and I had a great day celebrating my birthday (brunch, watching a bronze pour at Cosanti in Scottsdale (and we got a bell forthe tiny home), the Phoenix Zoo, then we got ice cream mochi and went to dinner with the family. Isaac and I made use of the unlimited power, giant TV, and comfy couches and had our annual Hobbit/Lord of the Rings marathon too. We made dinner for the family on New Year’s, then headed east with the trailer to Tonto National Forest near Superior, AZ. We visited the tiny historic town, bought out the local farmer/maker’s market (we bought a s mall mesquite cutting board, goat’s milk soap, pizza dough, and empanadas). In January, I started to get serious about investing in my art business and aquiring my tangibles. I started a separate bank account for Isabelle’s Painted Sky, finalized my art products, and purchased post cards/stickers/magnets and packaging! I got more organized with social media posting, prepared market signage and booth design, and began applying for in-person markets around AZ for the coming months.

We hauled Lady Loam south, towards Tucson, further northwest of Saguaro National Park West, on BLM Land. The road was unpredictable as soon as it transitioned to dirt, so we parked at the large staging area just inside the BLM border. Here, creosote dominated the plains, and loose farm dogs, javelina, and state troopers patrolled the area relentlessly (the area is known to be a crossing for folks seeking asylum from the southern border). We didn’t love the environment nor the frequent police precense here, but made the most of the proximity to Tucson and enjoyed driving through the National Park and up Gate’s Pass to get there. In mid January, Isaac and I flew to San Diego, CA for a visit with my grandparents on my mom’s side. We spent an incredibly fun weekend with them, visiting Balboa Park and art museums there, eating incredible food, and going whale watching in international waters! Time spent with grandparents is always a blast, and being an adult and doing adult things with them makes it all the more enjoyable.

After our long weekend in California, we traveled State Trust Land south of Picacho Peak with Lady Loam and Artie. We drove down a Google Maps-marked dirt road, but found every possible turn out to park was occupied. In general, we try to avoid parking so close to others, so we ventured off road a little further, enduring dramatic dips and frequent in the dirt road over and over, until we could pull off to a bulldozed area. There were some concrete footings for what seemed to be a new power line construction, but no signs indicated we couldn’t park there, so we tucked outselves into the back corner of the site, on flat ground with a view of Picacho and surrounded by the lush winter desert. Each day, we watched as work trucks and steel beams passed on the power line road in front of us, anticipating a time when someone would talk to us about our parking location. We got one knock on Wednesday night from two State Trust agents asking to see our permit to camp (required to have, a simple online registration, and a hefty fine if not obtained). They were surprised when we actually had it, and we asked them directly if our parking space was OK, which they confirmed. Later that week, Isaac drove up to Phoenix to get our new pieces to replace the suspension system (new tires, new brakes, new alternative axel, new tire hubs and wheels, and all the small hardware too. An hour after he left with the truck, I was just about to take an outdoor shower next to the trailer when a construction truck pulled up abruptly and began spraying the bulldozed site with water to help compact the soil for better work conditions. I scurried inside, and had a feeling more trucks would be at the site soon. Sure enough, another work truck pulled up and I went out to talk to the head contractor. He requested we move as soon as possible, as they were going to be doing work later that day on the side and need to unload the steel exactly in the corner we were parked at. Unfortunately for me, Isaac had the truck (needed to tow us out), and wouldn’t be back for another 2 hours. Still, I got everything inside the trailer ready to move, and was so relieved when I saw the dust storm Isaac kicked up from speeding back. The contractor had said that we could simply move a little further down the construction road at one of the turnouts that didn’t already have construction supplies, as they wouldn’t be using that area until late Spring for another phase of the project. He showed me on the map, and Isaac and I relocated there, just a mile away from the first site for another week. There, some of our old Tucson friends drove out to have a campfire night with us, and we had a grand old time catching up and hosting them. However, once again, we were told by law enforcement we had to move a few days later because someone on the construction company complained about our position. Apollogetic but frustrated, we once again moved a mile away off the construction road, but this time it was much closer to the site we had been trying to avoid; a large hill used for target practice that was evidently “the spot” due to the almost constant gunfire and abrupt booms of experimental explosives. Other than those uncomfortable distractions, we enjoyed the location, and had fun off-roading in the truck to get in and out of the area. I visited my teaching mentor at the high school I student taught at last year, and we had many meals in Tucson and had a night in Downtown to see a jazz show. A few friends drove out to camp with us the next week too, and we had a go at target shooting with them a short distance away from camp. Isaac also commited two full days to replacing the trailer’s suspension, switching the leaf springs and vintage tires for an independently moving kind, making off roading more stable and durable for the crazy roads we always seem to find outselves on. The details of the new system is something I can write an article about as a ‘build and function’ journal, but basically the trailer sits a little higher at 9 feet total, has nice shiny black wheel hubs and larger tires, and aside from a terrifying situation where the trailer aggressively shoved forward and broke our stabilizer jacks (and Isaac almost got crushed underneath), everyone is alive and well and the new system works great. After camping in the Picacho Peak area for a few weeks, we ventured closer to Tucson, sandwiched between the Catalina mountains and the north side of Marana in State Trust land. Getting to this spot was easy, yet far enough away from other campers and less than 10 minutes to civilization and the I-10 highway enterence. We settled on a gorgeous plateu with a clear view of Mt. Lemmon’s snow-capped peak from the front of the trailer, and the sunset over the Sonoran desert on the other. Surprisingly, it the light and noise pollution was minimal this close to the cities surrounding. We watched the rains creep across the desert, and thankfully had no issues with having to relocate unexpectidly. The area is popular dirt bikers, who zoomed in and out of the landscape but otherwise did not bother us. We dined at the nearest non-coorperate chain to our spot, Bisbee Breakfast Club, 2 times, and don’t regret it! Artie enjoyed sniffing out the free roam cows in the area too. All this time, I have been searching for work/stay opportunities in the Southwest too. I figured it was time to be more proactive about building connections in the homestead/nomad world, and I have been craving to learn new skills through others and meet new folks. Although doing a work/stay exchange is not necessary (we are off grid and not dependent on others to camp, and have been easily camping for free for the past few months without the condition of free labor for someone else), I wanted to branch out. We got in contact with Terraform Together, a desert earth-home community in Bisbee, AZ. After talking with the landowner through and having a video call, we made our way far south to his property. We arrived at Terraform Together, close to Bisbee AZ after 2 days of delays because of a snow storm, but were excited and nervous to begin. For almost a week, we acclimated to the wild desert homestead, got to know the other workawayers (all of whom are young women like me, traveling full time and staying long term on the property in exchange for bathroom facilities, basic pantry items, basic outdoor kitchen, a metal/wood/clay workshop, and the experience of earth and connection building). I tried to keep up with these insanely strong folks as we packed dirt into bags to make a large hyperadobe water cistern, shovel rocks for hours, and work on hardscaping a burm/swale project to manage seasonal rainwater. My favorite tasks so far have been mixing cob and applying it to a small hyperadobe hot tub, and landscaping the ruins of a greenhouse to return it to desert pathways. I got to know the other folks pretty well, and tried my best to stay sun-protected in the harsh environment of the high desert, but got sunburnt regardless. Isaac and I spent our 4 year anniversary at a mexican resturaunt in Old Town Bisbee on the main street, and I was blown away with how cute the area is. Isaac struggled to find time and energy to work his share of hours on the property, but I think it’ll get easier and more managable when we get into a routine. I really pushed myself and enjoyed working so hard with good company, and before I knew it, it was time to leave the homestead for a trip to Florida to visit family. Before we left though, Terraform Together reserved a booth at the Bisbee Saturday Market! How perfect! I joined the newly formed “artist collective”, and attended my first market as a vendor. We had a beautiful array of art (ceramics, watercolors, jewelry, geodes, bones, and my postcards and stickers/magnets) for sale. I made a relatively good number of sales, and look forward to attending in the future and improving my display and selling tactics. After a busy Saturday morning at the market talking to countless older folks and making friends with curious kids, goofy dogs, and other passionate vendors, we packed up the remaining tasks to leave the traier on the property and spend the night in Phoenix. We are headed to the South; Isaac for a business trip and me for family. Wish us luck, and all the fried chicken and crab cakes we can handle!

Big Takeaways: Coyotes in different geographic areas have distinctly different howls, we have observed. Even if an area is not marked to park/not park, if it is clearly a construction site, avoid parking there or prepare to move unexpectedly. All-day manual labor under the sun, no matter the season, calls for a shower after. Revisit old goals and fulfill them if they still interest you (I have been wanting to learn how to build with hyperadobe and sustainable earth buildings for more than 5 years!). Don’t underestimate a winter rain in the desert, it can descimate dirt roads and make everything muddy in an instant. Lastly, visit the people you love!


isabelle's painted sky ● Copywright 2023