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Vandwelling Snowbirds: Meeting Your Basic Needs For Nature and Tribe

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“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” John Muir

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” John Muir

I love being a Snowbird! You get to travel and see new country as your heart leads you, and then you can come home to your winter base and get the feeling that you are “Home” and have a base. That’s just what I feel like here in Quartzsite. After a summer in Flagstaff and then a fall road trip to Utah and Colorado my itchy feet are pretty well satisfied and I’m glad to be someplace familiar and comfortable; a place I call Home; a place where all my needs are met.
In this post I want to talk about your most basic human needs and how you can meet them.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”  John Muir

As much as we like to think we are independent and free as vandwellers, we still have certain very basic needs that we will never be free from. Some of those needs are obvious like food, air and water. If we don’t have air, we are instantly uncomfortable and will be dead in just moments. If we don’t have water, we have a few days at most to find some or we die. We are equally dependent on food but it takes much longer before we are drastically affected. Fairly soon we will feel hunger and that will grow increasingly uncomfortable but it isn’t unbearable. Eventually you get used to being hungry it and hunger actually starts to decrease. Slowly physical and mental changes happen and we lose strength and vitality. With time the affects get worse and worse and finally we die.
But those aren’t all the needs we have; they’re just the most obvious. I believe we all have have a genetic need for:

  • Connection to Nature
  • Tribal Connection
  • Adventure (Some Combination of Travel, Danger, Risk and Discomfort)

They are a left-over remnant from our millions of years of evolution in our pre-human, hominid and hunter-gatherer past. For the last 10,000 years we have switched over to agriculture and civilization and to some degree the needs have diminished, but they are not gone! Millions of years of evolution can’t be undone that quickly. We still have those needs, but they aren’t as strong. For example, in some people the drive for travel is still very strong, and with others it is greatly diminished and travel is more of a hassle than its worth. Some people have such a strong need for Adventure that we have a name for them, we call them “adrenaline junkies.” But the truth is they are much more normal than the rest of us. We all have a genetic need for adventure it is simply stronger in them than most of us.

The Tribe sharing in a seminar at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

The Tribe sharing in a seminar at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

When we fail to meet our need for air, water or food the negative effects are obvious and happen very quickly. But being starved of our other genetic needs is just as bad except the effects happen much slower and are much less noticeable—but they are just as real! Most of us are slowly starving to death from a lack of nature, tribal connection and adventure but we have no awareness of it. There are several reasons we don’t notice them:

  • We get a small amount of it so we don’t actually starve to death but are chronically undernourished.
  • The symptoms are mostly subtle they’re mental and not physical. Anxiety and depression are the main result and we get used to them and aren’t even aware we have them.Eventually they effect our body and we get sick from them, but we still aren’t aware what is actually making us sick.
  • The symptoms develop slowly. It’s like the old saying, “How do you boil a frog—you throw it in the pot and slowly turn up the heat.” The frog doesn’t know it’s dying until it’s too late. In the same way we are unaware of the misery a lack of nature is causing us until we are very uncomfortable; and even then we blame the discomfort on everything else and don’t know the real cause.
There is no question that the moon effects us as humans. We all stop and look at a sunrise and feel the tug of millions of years of evolution in our hrrat and soul.

There is no question that the moon effects us as humans. We all stop and look at a sunrise and feel the tug of millions of years of evolution in our heart and soul.

Feast and Famine

Traveling through the summer satisfies my need for adventure but it starves my need for tribal connection. Coming home to Quartzsite and spending time with the tribe meets those needs. For me, it is the perfect combination! By the end of the summer I start to feel like I’m starved for connection to the land and to the tribe so I look forward to the change the desert brings and the many old friends I will see again and all the new friends I will make. And then in the spring I feel like I need more alone time and feel starved for Adventure and Travel.
Feast and Famine is nature’s way. We fight against it and hate it but it is inherit in all of nature. It’s a form of Yin and Yang (the principle that complimentary opposites evolve and cooperate together to co-create reality as we know it). Only by accepting and embracing both times of feast and famine can we ever hope to be happy by living in harmony with underlying fabric of the Universe.

The Need for Tribal Connection

Like most vandwellers, I have a lot of the loner in me and an almost pathological need for alone time. But, also like most vandwellers I know, I have a corresponding need to make connections with like-minded people. Quartzsite is THE place to do that!!

The tribe at Thanksgiving 2012.

The tribe at Thanksgiving 2012.

Judy and I had just driven into Quartzsite and stopped at the Burger King for lunch; as soon as we stepped out of our vans and started to walk toward the restaurant we heard a voice from another van that said “Hey, you look familiar!” It was Mark and Donna in their Conversion van! They had camped with us in Goosnecks State park and then again for a few days in Cottonwood. They were camping near Quartzsite and just happened to be driving by and see us! What a coincidence! So they had lunch with us and then we followed them out to their camp. When we found a spot we all liked and started to settle in, another white van pulled in that looked very familiar; it was Al who we had traveled with to Utah and had camped with us in Cottonwood. He just happened to be out there looking for a camp as well. So we hadn’t been in Quartzsite for more than two hours and had already met two friends! That’s mainly what Quartzsite is to me, a place to connect with people I care about.
Just like we have to have food to live, we need a connection with a tribe. Join us for Thanksgiving dinner and find it!

Just like we have to have food to live, we need a connection with a tribe. Join us for Thanksgiving dinner and find it!

Since then I posted my location and many others friends have joined us. Right now there are 13 of us, 6 men and 7 women. Some are old friends, some are new, but they all contribute in my life in some way. I’ve heard from others that they are coming as well, and that’s great! The more the merrier as far as I am concerned.

Join Us for Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is this coming Thursday and because I consider all vandwellers to be part of my extended tribal family, I want us to celebrate it together as family. So we are going to put together a Thanksgiving dinner for everybody who wants to join us. We did this last year and it turned out great: a great meal with great friends. So, just let me know you are coming and join us. If money is tight or you don’t have the facilities to cook and bring anything, don’t worry about it, we will have plenty. I want to be sure we have enough food so please I need you to let me know you are coming. Last year several people showed up without telling me they were coming. While we had enough food it was still disappointing to me. If you think you might come, please, just as an act of courtesy, email me and tell me. Even if you’re not sure you can make it, but think you can, write me and tell me that you might be here.

A Need for the Beauty of Nature

But it wouldn’t be enough to meet my need for Tribal Connection if I had to lose my Connection to Nature. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen here in Quartzsite! The desert has its own distinctive beauty including some of the most amazing sunrise and sunsets and it always makes me happy! This trip is no different and within a few days of arriving back in Quartzsite we had a stunning moonrise and one of the deepest red sunsets I can remember. They literally feed my soul every bit as much as air, food and water feed my body!!

Come Join Us!!

If you are able come join us and have all your needs met!

We MUST learn to meet ALL our basic needs if we are to be truly happy.

We MUST learn to meet ALL our basic needs if we are to be truly happy.


  1. CAE

    It’s an interesting study in personal psychology to get out away from other people for days at a time. It’s so unusual for most of us!! How many people ever do this or were raised this way?? It showed me that I really didn’t know myself as well as I had thought.
    I like to go several days in the boonies, but I noticed that I start to need other people. And not so much for conversation, but something far more primal…like to know that there are groups or tribes or something that exist and are functioning. Almost nostalgic. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s a very strong feeling I get after a few days in alone. Anyone else go through this or have a handle on what’s behind it? I really am curious.

    • Bob

      CAE, in our latest research on Hunter Gatherer tribes we concluded that the members of the tribe spent nearly their entire lives in view of each other. There was practically no time of the day when they weren’t in sight of some members of the tribe. Infants were NEVER alone, they were always in physical touch with some member of the tribe.
      That’s our genetic history and we reject it at our peril.

  2. Al Christensen

    Even though I’ve always been a loaner, it’s nice to be around other vandwellers. We can be sociable but we also know how to give each other physical and mental space.
    As far as appreciating nature goes, it’s easy to marvel at the sunset and moonrise. But when the weather is miserable, like it was here for a few days, you become aware of the less romantic aspects of nature. And you learn some things. Pea soup fog in the desert? Who knew? The temperature drops how much just when the sun pops behind a cloud? Does the cloud cover look like it’s thinning?

    • Bob

      Al, that is exactly what I hear from most vandwellers, “I must have my alone time, but I need other people around too.” And that is exactly what our gatherings are, a weird mix of loners connecting with other loners.
      I know this sounds weird, but I believe we need the discomfort caused by nature just like we need it’s beauty. Only the dead are never uncomfortable, and our craving need and desire for constant comfort is a form of living death. The storms and clouds are the vital power and force of LIFE ENERGY flowing through the Universe. There’s lots of turbulence in the chambers of the heart when the blood flows through it, but it is GOOD! If we embrace both the pleasure AND pain of nature, we’ll be fully alive with it.

      • Rick

        “Only the dead are never uncomfortable”
        Well, as far as we know anyway 😉

        • Bob

          Rick I guess that depends on your religious beliefs!

  3. Mario Skouteris

    Welcome Home Bob! (BTW,i like the new themes and structure on the site)
    You seem pretty happy and excited to be back! It’s been a long and adventurous (as it can possibly be) year!
    I have to agree with you Bob, Quartzsite IS the RVer’s\Van dweller’s Nation capital,the Mother of all RV towns LOL.
    It is actually quite natural that we tend to get attached to locations where pleasant events took place in our lives and returning back to them gives us these feelings of euphoria and excitement in anticipation of more pleasant events to come.
    Van dwellers (as people) are a “special breed”,they seem to have an elevated sensitivity towards life without unnecessary stress, with a good balance of adventure and relaxation, having and maintaining a unique and essential desire to be connected with nature at regular intervals (much like oil changes for a car LOL).
    Quartzsite does offer a good mix of these secondary essentials for this “special breed”, a wide open desert (feel free to walk in any direction with no questions asked), magnificent sunrises\sunsets (for those that have the sensitivity to appreciate them), clear starlit nights,
    gatherings of old and new friends with all kinds of adventures and lifestyle enhancing ideas to talk about around crackling camp fires
    (marshmallows optional LOL).
    One reason that draws me closer to this lifestyle is the people themselves ,i have a very deep appreciation for those that elected to live life where the following elements are of great importance:
    Harmonious existence with nature.
    Believe that every day should be lived as if it is your last.
    Believe that the little things in life could offer the greatest rewards
    Believe that FREEDOM is as essential as food .
    Believe that “Live and Let Live” is a wise rule to live by.
    Find special joy in helping someone in need (when it is possible).
    I am also a strong supporter of the Yin and Yang theory … pretty much is running our lives whether we want to acknowledge it or not, i actually take as example my own body, what 38 years of working under considerable stress (physical and mental) has done to it and i see that in my life there was way too much work and not enough play , and of course the negative effects are quite obvious as well as permanent.
    Modern City life has been proven totally incompatible and downright detrimental to my overall health .
    Van dwelling\RV lifestyle seems to offer a balanced approach
    allowing body and mind to have their fair share of positive events thus maintaining a healthy state. Any imbalance in one will affect the other sooner or later.
    Bob, the pics of the sunset\rising moon\colourful desert are awesome,
    i compare them to “precious gems” waiting to be found by the ones that are looking:)

  4. Walt

    Given that it has been below 20 degrees the last several mornings here in Boise, I would love to be in Arizona right about now. While I am not able to yet leave the 9 to 5 behind and travel as I’d like, we will be taking the trailer out for the four-day Thanksgiving weekend. It’s not much, but it will get me through the next several weeks anyway.

  5. Peggy

    Can’t make it down for Thanksgiving this year but you all will be in my thoughts. I really like the idea of loners coming together but being able to give each other space too.
    Bob, those photographs of the moon and sunset are fantastic!

    • Bob

      Peggy, nearly everyone who moves into a van has some loner in him, but most of us want to make connection as well. Gathering in the desert seems to really meet that need.
      It also makes it easy to get great photos!

  6. Calvin R

    Bob, you’re right. It’s as simple as that. I never got over the Thoreau quote,”The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Thoreau never explained why that is, as far as I know. You explain it here.
    You also give me a way to understand and appreciate difficult times such as those I’m going through now. That “feast or famine” flow has been apparent in my life for a long time. One of the ways I differ from ordinary people is that I cannot believe in “security.” That’s not a moral position; it’s about whether “security” really exists as presented by insurance companies and others who benefit from our fears. If we cease chasing security, maybe we can find better and more realistic goals.

    • Bob

      Calvin, the single most powerful word in my life has been “acceptance” (as I think it has been for you). That makes times of feast and famine bearable. True security is in accepting and embracing life just as it is.

    • warm

      True. I find great comfort in the articulation of the ideas expressed in this forum. Wish I could have found it sooner. However, I do believe that life comes as it will in the right time.

      • Bob

        warm, that’s exactly how I see things. I like the saying “It takes what it takes to get you where you are now.” I’m grateful for all the times of my life–good and bad– because they brought me to this point, the best times of my life!

  7. Diane Overcash

    I will be in spirit attending your Thanksgiving dinner. You have someone in North Carolina who is wishing you all a most beautiful and thankful day with the members of the tribe.
    Bob, I noticed that you are planning a RTR in Myrtle Beach in the Spring. I have it on my calendar and plan to come. I can give my rig a “try out” for extended periods of time and see if there kinks to work out.
    Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.

    • Bob

      Diane, I just mailed in the application for a Special Use Permit to the Forrest Service, and as soon as we get it the East Coast RTR will be official!! See you in march!

      • Diane Overcash

        That’s wonderful, Bob.
        I’m looking forward to it.

        • Bob

          Thanks Diane!

      • Kim

        That’s the best possible news! Can’t wait.

  8. Desert Rat

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and Judy and everyone!

    • Bob

      Thanks very much Desert Rat! You too!

  9. j

    Have a happy and blessed thanksgiving mr bob that’s a nice thing you do trying to have a thanksgiving dinner for people some people don’t have anyone left in there life but maybe someone like you.

    • Bob

      j, we each do what we can to make the world a better place. I hope you have a great Thanksgiving as well!

  10. Linda Sand

    I’m coming. Sent you an email with details.

    • Bob

      Great Linda, see you soon!

  11. Dorothy

    Hi Bob, wishing you and all who are with you a wonderful Thanksgiving. I am still in the Cottonwood area but will be somewhere near Quartzsite in a couple of weeks.
    I, also, like to be alone most of the time but like to connect with other people occasionally. Still trying to find that balance between alone and connected.

    • Bob

      Hi Dorothy, when you get down here be sure to look us up. By then we will have mover 18 miles west to Ehrenberg.
      Finding a balance between alone and connected is very difficult!! I’m still working on it. I’m afraid people come to camp and are either hurt or disappointed that I am less social than they expected. I know some people take it personally, but it’s just who I am and has nothing to do with them. I spend most of my time alone and fit people in where I can.

  12. Gennifer

    I love how you talk about failing to meet these needs as a chronic undernourishment. That makes so much sense to me. I truly feel sick when I don’t have nature, tribe, etc.
    We’ve been learning a lot of breathing techniques in my yoga teacher training class, and your comments about feast or famine reminded me of that. We can inhale deeply and be completely fulfilled (feast), but we can’t hold on to the breath forever. So we breathe out and we are unfulfilled (famine). Just like life.
    Wish I could be out there in the desert with all of you right now. But I’ll be seeing you in January. Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Bob

      Thanks so much Gennifer! Very wise!

  13. LaVonne

    Bob, I am parked just a few feet from you now, and I enjoy knowing you and the others are here even when I am holed up in my little Safari van without much interaction. I’ve always been a loner but I find just knowing that people I know and care about are nearby to be a great comfort.

    • Al Christensen

      And we’re glad to be here to lend a hand when needed, LaVonne.

    • Bob

      LaVonne, I think that is true for most of us. We want people around, just not to close.

    • Diane Overcash

      Hi LaVonne,
      So glad you made it. I hope to meet up with you one of these fine days.

  14. Curtis Miller

    Thank you Bob for the invite.:) I won’t be making it this year but I am on track to be there next year.
    Downsizing my life at this point, (although I never was much of a pack rat like some friends), and learning to live on less.
    I am finding that living on less does not mean living poor but means making sure everything I have has a purpose and if not discarding it.
    Reminds me how when we were kids I would get a cool new present for Christmas play with it for a few days and then forget all about it.
    Many adults still do this.:P

    • Bob

      You are so right Curtis! I’m afraid I am one of those adults. I still find myself all excited about something and then when I get it I quickly lose interest. I’ve got to be really careful I don’t give in to that!!

  15. warm

    Yes, I too feel attracted to things. It could be their psychic energy. But I’m learning to just enjoy it in the moment. Hard. I want to take them with me.

    • Bob

      I understand warm, I feel the same way!

  16. warm

    pow – wow!

    • Bob

      warm, actually it looked a lot like that except we had vans instead of tee pees. And the potty tent was actually a tee pee! A great time was had by all in constant communion with beautiful nature!!

  17. warm

    My heart is swarmed over by you all. Peace that passes understanding. I have a little Love and peace.

  18. warm

    extra p.s. : computer did not translate all. I have a little “Tibetan possibles pouch covered by Yak skin. I know all will understand”

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