Wednesday, November 14, 2012


It was a few minutes before 5 o'clock when we turned off New Mexico 68 that runs from Espanola to Taos, and down a winding road paralleling the Rio Grande, through the Orilla Verde federal recreation area where the Bureau of Land Management maintains seven campgrounds in the mountain-flanked gorge.

A 1968 VW — red fading to rust.
In summer the campgrounds are crowded with white water rafters. In September when we were   there they weren't.

An hour before we had been sitting in sunshine at a picnic table munching burritos  Now the sky had darkened, the wind had picked up, foreshadowing rain..

We chose the second campground, Rio Bravo, and pulled in. There were only about a half dozen or so others there — a few tent campers, an RV or two, and down by the river a beat up VW, red fading to rust, draped with plastic. It looked abandoned. It wasn't.

When the rain stopped and late afternoon sun came out, bathing the camp in golden light, so did Barbara, a woman in her early 60s who has been living in  her car for more than twenty years. Out of respect for her privacy I am not showing her picture.

The Rio Grande as it passes the Rio Bravo campground south of Taos.
All her possessions are stuffed in plastic bags inside the car where she sleeps nights curled up on the front seat.

The Rio Bravo campsite where we were, and other campsites as well, has toilet facilities and heated showers.

As she unfolded and stretched getting out of her car, she smiled at her new neighbors. We talked. There was no bitterness or self pity in her conversation, or any trace of self-consciousness.  Her dignity was intact. Life, she said, looking at the clearing sky, was good, although she said she had heath problems.

There are many Barbara's out there today who have chosen the freedom of the road rather than the supervision of a shelter, and the unfiltered grandeur of a river gorge instead of the concrete confines of the city.


  1. Barbara is probably freer and happier than millions living the teeming rat race.

    Thanks for recognizing her dignity and for allowing us to meet her. :)

  2. oh wow... over twenty years? oh, man. I truly would rather be sand dune fodder than rot away in a 'home'... man

  3. I second that and would do the very same, no question.