American boondockers

Surprising photographs of people who live in their vehicles, from the Cascades to the Rockies.

  • Gizmo Joe. Slab City, California 2013. "What I don’t spend on rent I can put in on my ideas. If you take any machine, you can break it down into discrete components. A lot of times I’ll need a component for an idea that I’m working on and it’s part of something else so I’ll take it apart. That’s why I got so many leftovers laying around, because you can’t make omelets without having a few eggshells."

    Andrew Waits
  • Katrina, Cherri, Gary, Rhonda, and Jerry. Lake Shasta, California 2012. "We’ve had this motorhome for about 20 years. We’ve travelled all over the place, but we stay close now because my husband is over at the house and is on oxygen and has diabetes. We stay close here so I can run home and check on him. We’ve been here for a week and we’ll be here for the whole month of July."

    Andrew Waits
  • Gordon Hempton. Fort Warden, Washington 2012. "For my most important work and the best times of my life, I take the VW bus. The journey is not just about getting there. The trip starts now. Slow down and enjoy what’s going on immediately around you. I didn’t want to start my journey to success in life with the suspicions of others, so I ripped out the key and put in a push button starter. Just push that button and off you go. It begins with trust, it begins with happiness, and what you get back is joy."

    Andrew Waits
  • Tex. Shaver Lake, California 2012. "After my stroke, I was completely mute for two years. The doctors told me I’d never do this again and my heart was crying. I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t curse. I had someone bring my RV to the therapy parking lot and I ended up staying in that. Once I started talking again, I told the doctors I had better things to do than fart around here and I took off. I think I would have died there if I had stayed. I’ve laughed for 20 years with RV people. They take care of me. We’re just a big family. "

    Andrew Waits
  • Dan Buck. Seattle, Washington 2012. "My car broke down about two months ago. I’m stranded and looking for work and a better place to go. I’m hoping to get employed at the nearby stadium once the baseball season starts."

    Andrew Waits
  • Brian Kimsley. Shaver Lake, California 2012. "I’ve always done some sort of vehicle living. I started with an old 48 Cadillac ambulance and moved on to Volkswagens, old refurbished trailers, and converted buses. For this trip I’m in my 1980 Honda Goldwing. When I was a kid my parents were separated and lived on either coast. I would travel back and forth on train and I loved it. I’ve never really felt settled anywhere. I leave nothing behind and feel at home."

    Andrew Waits
  • Bob. Truckee, California 2012. "About a year ago, I was crossing the street on a green light and a BMW decided to park on my foot. I couldn’t walk for 3 months. I couldn’t work. I sold everything to pay the bills and still couldn't pay them all. I got evicted from the place I was living for 30 years. That’s more or less why I had to buy this van. Now the insurance company says that I told the officer I was uninjured, so they’re contesting my injuries and they’re not going to pay me a dime. I lost everything, became homeless and went through 3 months of hell where I couldn’t even walk and now they’re not going to give me any money? Sons of bitches."

    Andrew Waits
  • Steve and Martha Parks. Seattle, Washington 2013. "We’re both retired teachers from Twin Falls Idaho. We’ve traveled every summer for the last 20 years. We started with little motorhomes; everything from a Toyota Dolphin to a conversion van to this bus. Our goal is to always be boondocking. We’re totally self-sufficient. We have running water and plenty of electricity. We want to look like there’s some question as to whether we’re inside or not."

    Andrew Waits
  • Steve. Shaver Lake, California 2012. "I found myself paying $450 a month for four walls and a talking box. I decided, I don’t need this shit. I got rid of everything I couldn’t fit in a van and I took off. The more I set myself apart from the world, the more curtains drop down that are the lies of this life. Now I just chase the sun up and down the west coast."

    Andrew Waits
  • Jude, Juan, and Nick. Slab City, California 2013. "If you want to see guaranteed results, just turn around and start in the other direction. Reprogram yourself. Because heaven is real. It’s here right now inside of you. That’s where we all end up; back at the beginning after this whole journey is over and everyone’s learned all their lessons."

    Andrew Waits
  • Charlene Beaty. Quartzsite, Arizona 2013. "I got two full knee replacements and at the end of the two-year recovery process, my doctor told me I could now do whatever I wanted. I had never heard that before in my life, nor had it ever really been an option. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was lost. I decided that I needed a goal that was bigger than life itself. For some reason that goal, I decided, was to kayak America." (Charlene has kayaked in all 50 states. Her new goal: hike the 820-mile long Arizona trail in the spring of 2015.)

    Andrew Waits
  • Kristen and Adam. Slab City, California 2012. "The real reason we’re down here is for the art of Salvation Mountain. I’ve never been religious, but I’ve always been into folk art and outsider art. It had been a goal of ours to come down here and meet Leonard while he was still working on the mountain. When we came down, he was eating ketchup packets and working all day in the sun. He was very enthusiastic towards anyone that came out here regardless of age, color, background, or sexual orientation. "

    Andrew Waits

 

For this series, Seattle-based photographer Andrew Waits sought out individuals who were living in their vehicles for some period of time — people who were on roadtrip vacations, without a stable home because of economic hardship, or somewhere in between. 

The locations of each of the photographs are not where the subjects are from, but where Waits met them on the road. All images in this series were taken in the Western U.S., and captions tell about each traveler's unique story. 

Waits told HCN about this series:

"It opened my eyes to the importance of the BLM and the National Forest Service. They're a tremendous resource to the Western United States and allow people to experience the beauty of nature and wide open spaces. The Western United States has had a long and storied relationship with photography... and I think that the geography is a central character. 

"The most eye opening thing that I took away (from this project) was the importance of the social safety net. Whether that takes the form of support from family, friends, or social services; often times it's the defining factor when difficult times come knocking in the form of injury, illness, or loss of job. It can be something as simple as a friend giving you a safe place to sleep at night or a family member loaning you a few hundred dollars. Those small acts of support can really make or break people. It's helped me to be thankful for the things that I have, and more understanding and empathetic towards those that don't." 

— Tay Wiles