A Mission, A Mole & A Man In A Van – Green Valley, AZ

We met a man…a man in a van. He was a mystery of a man, this van-dwelling man with nary a shower or even a can. One day we walked back from our afternoon wander and there he was. A teeny, tiny little wimp of a thing tucked into a corner in the shadow of “the beast”. Even our CRV was unimpressed, despite the arsenal of solar panels atop and the mystery of the person within. And yet…we were all a bit intrigued. Who was this enigma? Was he truly the anti-nomad of all Enormo-RVs? Did he actually have balls the size of baseballs? Did he really live in that thing?

Is that a new toy for "the beast"?
Is that teeny little thing a new toy for “the beast”?

Turns out even iron-clad exteriors have bunny-rabbit fluffy interiors. Oh, yes they do…

He IS rather cute, up close :)
I guess He IS rather cute, up close :)

This lover of all things simple did not quite faint in horror at the sight of our ample lady (although he may have quivered), nor did we get friendly enough to completely ascertain the size of his gonads (although I’m sure they are as impressive as advertised), but he really did live in that thing and he possessed a relaxed animal magnetism that we had not expected. The usually shy Polly smooched him unabashedly like an old friend while the cats bounded frivolously over for feline loving, all without any prompting whatsoever (the traitors).

A few margarita and wine-glasses later he had settled rather comfortably into “the beast” and we had established that Glen is just a lovely & easy-going soul living a simple life exactly the way he pleases….and therein was our connection. We may roam around in massive beast-li-ness across the country while Glen slips around in stealthy mini-van-ness, but we are both completely content in the un-complication of our lives and our nomadic lifestyle. Two totally different approaches to the path of personal happiness and yet we find ourselves on common ground. Is this not the essence of what life is all about?

Does this angle make my backside look fat?
Does this angle make my backside look fat?

But I digress…

Before the van invasion we had moved to a new and undisclosed boondocking spot** near Green Valley, AZ, just 20 miles south of Tuscon. Last year we boondocked on the eastern side of the impressive Santa Rita mountains, but this time around we were looking to spend a few days exploring the western slope and all the secrets it had to offer. So, earlier this week we squeezed into our scenic site for the serious business of sightseeing the valley. This is what we got up to….

Tumacácori Mission

The gorgeous Mission with all her historic charm

This pretty and well-preserved historic site lies only ~15 miles south of Green Valley. Originally established by the Jesuit Father Kino in 1691, it almost crumbled under the 1751 Pima revolt before it was moved and re-built in its current location in 1753. The subsequent Mexican wars, banishment of the priests and later Apache raids meant the mission was never quite completed and 157 years from it’s inception it was abandoned.

Today’s structure retains all the unfinished charm and history of that era, combined with quite a lovely tour around the gardens and church. For only $3/person it’s a super-cool visit and definitely shouldn’t be missed.

Tubac & Mole

The colorful & classy interior of Elvira
The colorful & classy interior of Elvira’s

Just a few miles north of the mission lies the town where “art and history meet“. Established in 1752 as a fort, Tubac is now a rather kitschy art colony. This is the kind of spot you can roam through manicured streets with colorful art, eclectic galleries and feel rather refined, yet it somehow lacks…soul. I enjoy these places for day-visits, but always find them a tad overdone. However the town does have one gem. An outstanding Mexican restaurant (Elvira’s) offering no less than 6 different kinds of Mole’s. If there’s one thing that can melt my stomach-heart it’s the complex, thick, ridiculously intense concoction of spices that is Mexican Mole. Pair it with a margarita strong enough to blitz the mind and you’ve got a winning combination. It’s not a cheap date, but it’s a fine lunch which is well worth the splurge.

Madera Canyon

View from high on the trail
View from high on the trail

Closer to home is the green corner of Madera Canyon which stretches from the mountain floor to the top of 9,453-foot Mt. Wrightson. It prides itself as the top spot for birding in Arizona with over 250 recorded species of birds that seek the cool confines and streams of the preservation. Given my rather vapid birding talent it was not this, but rather the 100 miles of hiking trails (all dog-friendly!) which criss-cross the mountain and rise to the top that attracted my interest. Cooool! We enjoyed several of the excellent trails over several days, even dragging Glen along for a steep scramble on one of the lesser-used paths. Having not seen pine trees in many months it was almost surreal to breathe in the first forest scents and admire the wide stretch of dry valley below. It’s $5/day to enter, but it’s a worthy spot.

Sunset at our site
Sunset at our site

Phew! How did we manage so much in so little? And this despite the influx of Glen, the mystery man in the van? Yet again we’ve connected with a new place and another nomad and I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced both. This life sure isn’t for everyone but for those who resonate with it, it’s pretty darn sweet. The man in the van has moved on, but our journey continues. Tomorrow we meet other friends underground and then move onto the first hookups we’ve seen in 3 months. See ya there, my friends!

**P.S. Our current boondocking spot is a secret of Marianne and thus not mine to give out, but if you’re looking for her gems I highly suggest her excellent set of Frugal Shunpiker’s RV Travel Guides. No affiliation….just a great set of guides for those looking to boondock.

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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do

  1. says

    It was great fun reading both your post and Glen’s as you discussed the “big and little houses.” You both did a fantastic job and gave us quite a laugh with your analogies:)

    Your photos were very creative. Great job! Loved the sky through the tree tops and the purple puff balls.

    • libertatemamo says

      I cracked up (an almost chocked on my tea) when I read his post too..I must say he’s a witty guy. Always fun to hang with different types of nomads. We have more in common than you imagine.


  2. says

    That first photo is hilarious! What a contrast between the beast and Glen’s tiny little stealth mobile. Sounds like you had a great time hanging out. We really hope to run into him someday. Yet again it looks like you’ve found an excellent desert boondocking spot. The pictures are gorgeous as always! Can’t wait to see you tomorrow for what it sure to be a grand adventure.

  3. says

    I’m befuddled. We have Marianne’s guides and I’m not able to find any information regarding boondocking around GV. This one must be a REALLY well kept secret! LOL! Grace (in Tucson)

    • libertatemamo says

      Marianne gave the coords to me in confidence, so she may be planning on including them in the next release? Either way I’ll leave them for her to give out.


  4. Luke Alexander says

    Green Valley – go by the Green Valley Pecan Store and pick up some pecans.

    1525 E. Sahuarita Road. Great pecans.

    • libertatemamo says

      I’ve heard the pecans are fabulous around here, but haven’t gotten around to picking any up. Cheers for the tip!

  5. Susan says

    Love reading your blog . I may not post much but just wanted you to know !! By the way, my name is Susan, not Suasn as it keeps showing. I have to figure out how to change that.

  6. Michael Spencer says

    Loved the way you wrote that!! Are you sure you’re not destined to be a short story writer?? I enjoy reading about your travels. But be careful down there in that area. Lots of illegals make their travels through that area, as I’m sure you’ve seen lots of Border Patrol agents running around down there. I know, I used to work there and over at San Luis south of Yuma. Mike

    • libertatemamo says

      I think I’d need more patience to write longer stories, but you never know. I sure enjoy it and it could be fun to try one day. I appreciate the warning on illegal activity. We’ve never seen anything, but we are aware it’s in the area.


      • Michael Spencer says

        Glad you haven’t seen anything! I think most of them would avoid contact with folks out there, so as not having the BP called. And most travel at night anyway. Glad you’re aware of it though!! We were out in our buggies one time near the border and we were running a sand wash. We must have set off some sensors, because we had BP meeting up with us and asking where we had been. It’s nice to know that they’re there though!! Enjoy your time out there, some of my best times have been out in the desert in the winter!! Mike

  7. says

    Great post Nina and fabulous photos! We loved Tubac and dining at Elvira’s was a feast for the eyes, both the fixtures and the food (not to mention how yummy the meals were).

  8. says

    What a fun read – the dualing bloggers’ perspective on “how the other half live”! Especially delightful with the finale – sharing good food, good wine and good people. If only all differences were approached the same way, focusing on the similarities and shared passions :-). Beautiful pictures. Thank you for sharing and keeping the secret at the same time.

    • libertatemamo says

      Wine heals all, as they say? I always find I have more in common with people than I first imagine, especially as I get to know them. Plus us nomadic lot do share a love of the road and all that entails. It’s a thread that brings us together no matter how we choose to approach it. Always fun to meet folks on the road!


    • libertatemamo says

      He’s exactly as you describe him. We had fun with the post “dueling”…the things we get up to in the boonies, eh?

  9. John Audette says

    Stop it! I’m rotting away in a RV Resort in Casa Grande, confined here with a torn calf muscle, and your stories about living free only a few miles from here are ticking me off. I know you make most of this stuff up, but it’s still irritating as hell.

    I’m dying to get this old Airstream rolling!


    • libertatemamo says

      What a bummer!! Sure hope your leg heals and you get back on the road soon. Nothing worse than being stuck in one spot when you’ve got the travel bug.


  10. Rowanova says

    Awesome post, awesome looking location, awesome pics, and fun to read both posts about your collective experiences.
    We gotta love those small world experiences that serendipity provides. Good stuff.

    • libertatemamo says

      Serendipity is a pretty powerful force! We’ve met so many wonderful folks thanks to the blog & a bit of serendipity. All part of life’s wonder!


  11. Brett+Cheri [HelloFreedom] says

    Nina, inquiring minds want to know… what is the recipe for the Wheelingit Boondocking Margarita? – Brett+Cheri

    • libertatemamo says

      It’s a derivative off a mind-blasting margarita that I call the “Sue Banks” margarita from Beluga’s Excellent Adventures who we traveled with last year. We’ve modified it somewhat, but it’s still very, very potent. Approximate proportions are as follows:

      1-1.5 large shots of Tequila
      1 large shot of Cointreau
      2 teaspoons of agave syrup (or to taste)
      Juice from 1-2 limes

      Mix and enjoy!!


      • Brett+Cheri [HelloFreedom] says

        Nina, Tak for the great margarita recipe. No pre-mixed nothing!! Fresh limes are always the key, as is the quality Cointreau and Agave syrup. I’ve been using both Triple Sec and Agave which is unnecessary. Good to have a per-glass recipe as opposed to my usual pitcher’s worth where the ice has melted towards the bottom. Did you get your Cointreau in Los Algodones?

  12. Smitty says

    Fun post! Went great with a cup of coffee and Kahlua, especially appropriate after National Margarita day to boot!

    Having started in a 68 air VW Camper Van (Called the Weekender Package, with no roof Pop-top) – I’ve kept up on VW’s Vans. I could tell from the start that it was not a Syncro Van – but could also tell Glen had done some magic too it!

    I enjoyed reading his posts, and have been there and done that on how he got the LARGE GONADS nickname! (My wife still shutters in flashback fear of our backing down a hill experience. T28 Bounder, pre CRV Toad – but only with one side drop off, of course the passenger side:)!)

    Like the pics as always, and sure looks like you and Paul are in a gem of a spot! Need to check out moe’s…

    Keep having fun,

    • libertatemamo says

      Fun history on your VW camper van! Paul actually camped in one as a kid with his parents. I’ve never had the authentic VW experience, but I’ve come close -> our very first RV trip was in a van that we rented in Western Australia many years ago. Not much space except for a bed that turned into a table. We drove for two months along the coast and that’s what gave us the RVing bug. I’ll have to see if I can find some pics.

      Those vans are pretty snazzy!


  13. says

    Another excellent site and you are a poet too. Will your talents never cease? You just do have the most fun. And…hook ups? for the beast? really?? Shocking.

    • libertatemamo says

      Every now and then we’ve got to pretend to be civilized, eh? I’m kinda excited by the notion of unlimited water (can you say long, loooong shower?), but I’m sure the sheen of hookups will wear off in a few days.


  14. Michael says

    Nina & Paul,

    I absolutely love the fact that there are still “secret” places out there, and that you continue to meet people who mystify you. At least at first. Serendipity is one of the spice’s of life. Thank you sooooo much for doing such a good job of sharing yours.


    • libertatemamo says

      I’ve always been inspired by the folks I’ve met…different lifestyles, different cultures. I guess that’s part of what I love about traveling and why I continue to do it. Gotta love the variety in life (and serendipity is pretty awesome too :))


  15. says

    Love this piece. You so captivated me with your openness for a new friendship, recognizing your similarities instead of your differences. Love your blog and their are overlaps with our life and blog. Hope to cross paths or dirt wakes one day. Suzanne from http://www.ItchyNomads.com Keep up the excellent chronicle we are enjoying it.

  16. says

    Glen is a famous guy. I’ve already found his blog but Jeep enthusiasts, of which I am one, know of him too. His unique ride showed up on a Jeep forum. We like to paint our Jeeps with truck bed liner too and his van popped up as an example of what can be done.

    And as usual, I am in awe of your photographer’s eye. Those shots from Madera Canyon (leaves, trees, rocks) are stunning. Sometimes I scroll past the text to just to look at your photos.

    • libertatemamo says

      I must say the bed liner looked pretty sweet on his van. He’s done a fabulous job of the remodel…and all by his own hand too.


  17. Rattlesnake Joe says

    Glen’s van reminds me of a Shuttle Craft and your Land Whale on Wheels is the Star Ship Enterprise :) Your Five Year Mission is to boldly go where no one has gone before (or at least not many).

  18. John says

    I’ve been following both of your blogs for some time now and was wondering when you two would cross path, since your boondocking lifestyles have similarities, just not your choice of wheeled home.

  19. Michelle says

    I just bought 3 of Marianne’s books. We have a bucket of money to fund our full-timing; the more we save, the longer we can do it. Thanks!

    • libertatemamo says

      Fabulous! Buckets of money are a fine thing indeed, and with creative budgeting on the road you can make it last even longer. Good luck with your full-time plans!

    • libertatemamo says

      We missed the kitchen store…hmmm! I’d love to hear what you think of the Mole at Elivra’s especially now that you’re practically experts. I thought their food was fabulous!

  20. Terry says

    I live in Tucson so have been to Tubac, Tumacacori, and Madera Canyon many times. Somehow my pictures never look anything like yours though! Also appreciate the endorsement for Elvira’s. I’ve camped at Madera Canyon, which is inexpensive camping, but I may have to get Marianne’s travel guide so I can find boondocking on the west side of the mountains; that looks like a super area.
    Even though I’m not in a position to travel as I would like, I enjoy your blog immensely. I’m planning a 3 or 4-week trip to Oregon this summer and am planning my campground visits largely based on your reviews and pictures.
    On a different subject: I will be ordering a number of things from Amazon soon, and I assume that for you to get credit all I have to do is use the link at the bottom of your blog?
    Thanks for the great blog, and happy travels!

    • libertatemamo says

      If you make it to Oregon while we’re there DO come by and say “hi”. We’ll be in Cape Blanco Sept and Oct.

      And YES if you use my Amazon link we’ll get a few credits. Thanks so much!!!


  21. says

    What a great find (your website)! Looking forward to reading more of your adventures. I would have been much more distant and skeptical at the arrival of Glen… but think you handled it all very admirably. We were in Tubac last Saturday just for a day trip. Found it like we expected, colorful and a bit pricey although we did not take in the church or historical areas. Great post!

    • libertatemamo says

      I have to admit we passed on the historical park at Tubac as well. Probably something we should go back and see.


  22. says

    After reading this blog I had to go read Glenn’s. Laughed till I cried reading his story about his encounter with the Mexican’s. I wouldn’t drive my 4×4 up that road.


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