"There's something about sitting around a campfire at night and telling ghost stories and having s'mores, I just feel like that's something [my kids will] remember forever."
Joshua Tree carries a kind of mystique – some combination of the dry air and scorching sun that gradually fades over the course of the day into long shadows and purple sunsets make a visitor feel fully consumed by the environment. The bulbous rock formations and fluffy, flowering cholla cactus seem to disguise the brutality of the landscape, but it doesn’t take a very long hike for the scorching heat and dry air to leave you thirsty, tired, and with a healthy respect for the desert.
As we rolled down the highway in the MoonVan toward Joshua Tree, we had started to paint a picture in our own minds of the kind of community that we had found while out on this adventure. Halfway through this journey, we’d met people with all different kinds of motivations to get outside – some were weekend warriors, other full-time van dwellers, but all of them spoke about the same shared vision: they wanted a life outside of the rat race. They wanted to be out in nature, staring into a campfire or casting into a river or surfing in an ocean far from home. We were starting to recognize that same longing in ourselves too.
When we met Mercede in the desert, her two daughters Cora and Savannah were playing outside of the van that together they’ve named “Sunny”. After we introduced ourselves, she began to tell us a bit of her history, and her thoughts on the importance of travel and spending time in nature.
Read the Interview
I went on a lot of road trips with my family as a kid. Your kids get to have that experience now – did you travel much when you were growing up?
It was the total opposite with my family. We had five kids, and we never traveled. My parents never never traveled and my dad hates to camp. It’s like the complete opposite (of our life now). My partner Shannon grew up camping, and her family had one of those travel trailers they would bring along. And her grandma was a big fly fisher woman in the ‘40s, all around Northern Arizona, so she grew up doing that. Her parents still have a trailer, they come out with us a lot.
And your girls are into it?
I mean, we’re lucky. They’re kind of at that sweet spot where they’re not so consumed by their friends yet. So they do still want to hang out with us, and they like bringing friends but they love the road trips…we got in the van the other day and they were like “this feels like home.”
So where have you taken the van so far? Got any plans of where to take it next?
Our big road trip we did at Christmas, and the end goal was Destin, Florida, because I saw a picture of Destin and it was beautiful (laughing). We took two weeks and we did San Antonio, New Orleans, Destin, and we came back through Memphis and Dallas, and then White Sands.
We just wanted to have some of those family memories that come with road trips and camping and being outside and having the kids kind of unplug.
Mercede’s daughter, Cora:
We went skiing!
Henry (to Cora and Savannah):
What’s your favorite thing about the van?
You can hide food in it…like tacos, and ice cream, you can cook pancakes… (the list continued)
We’d like to go to the Smoky Mountains – that’s on our list, and we’ve taken this up the California coast through Monterey and stayed up there. We have a group of friends that also really like camping, and they don’t have vans but they have trailers and tents—
And we have a Buc-ee’s mug, and a pin for my backpack, and a sticker.
As Texans, that means a lot.
Oh yeah. Buc-ee’s was a hit.
So it seems like you’ve traveled together a lot – what was the inspiration to do it in a van?
We just wanted to have some of those family memories that come with road trips and camping and being outside and having the kids kind of unplug a little bit. We had a trailer but decided that the van worked better for us, just not having to pull something and being able to be a little bit more versatile, taking it into cities and dispersed camping and out in the forest. So it’s been nice to do a combination. But yeah, I really wanted it to be something that the girls would remember that we did as a family. And so definitely when we talk about, “Oh, what was your favorite thing”, it’s always something to do with travel.
You said you want your daughters to be well traveled – what are you hoping travel will give them, outside of that time to unplug?
Well, I really would like them to see as much of the world as they can and have those experiences of meeting people, trying new foods, you know, but also having an appreciation for what they do have. So we try and incorporate a little bit of all of that. I don’t know, there’s something about sitting around a campfire at night and telling ghost stories and having s’mores, I just feel like that’s something that they’ll remember forever.
We had a trailer but decided that the van worked better for us, just not having to pull something and being able to be a little bit more versatile, taking it into cities and dispersed camping and out in the forest.
My only other thing is, if a family of four like yours said they were thinking about getting a van and they asked you for advice, what would you say?
Yeah, totally —- do it. And you don’t have to have a fancy van or a fancy anything, but there’s just so many options now to be able to go out and camp or travel. There’s so many options. So I would definitely say do it.
After our conversation, we set up the MoonShade with Mercede and her daughters, and we realized that this was the first time on our trip that we’d seen the ins and outs of how a family spent their time on the road. The spirit of adventure of curiosity that Mercede was encouraging in her children made the whole experience of spending the afternoon with them feel full of light and life. That night, we drove deep into BLM land in Joshua Tree to camp. We finally had a bit of a break, and we knew we’d be in that area for a few more days, meeting more of the people we’d connected to through Moon before we left Austin. Tomorrow we’d meet Diana and hear her story, but before that, we had plenty of our own stories to tell around the campfire that night, as we tried to unwind and recap the whirlwind of experiences we’d had and new faces we’d met in the last week and a half of our road trip westward.