Days 12 & 13: Capitol Reef

Day 12

Written by Mira

On day 12 we packed up the camper and moved to just outside Capitol Reef. Once we set up the camper we ate lunch and headed into the park. We went to the visitor center to learn about the park. We learned that it’s named Capitol Reef because there is a rock formation that looks like the Capitol.

We also went to a little park area where a few deer were hanging out. There were three total, two females and one male. The buck had antlers and the antlers still had the velvet on them. Which means the antlers were fuzzy.

Day 13

Written by Brynn

Day 13 was sort of busy in the morning. First, we went to do 2 very short hikes. It was already heating up, so we tried to do them quickly. They were super easy. The views were very pretty and cool, also!

Then, we went to a super old schoolhouse. It was so small! I bet it could fit only about 11 or 12 people. It was also very dusty inside.

Next, we went to see a wall of petroglyphs. Mira and I saw a bunch of pronghorns carved into the wall. There were also a lot of people, too. That was the most that we have seen so far!

Finally, we were about to go back to the camper, but then we saw a “U-Pick” sign for an orchard! We were trying to find one yesterday, but the fence was locked. The orchard was an Apricot orchard! Mira and I were super excited because we LOVE Apricots! There we also 2 deer! We made sure to stay far away though! Mira said that she saw a tree FULL of Apricots! So we went over and picked at least 30 Apricots! We went to go pay for them and went back to the camper. The Apricots were amazing! Definitely recommend!

Written by Mira

That night Grandpa and I went to an area in the park for some night photography. There were no people around us so, unlike last time we went to do some night photography. (When we first went for night photography in Bryce) I actually got to use the camera to take pictures for myself, instead of showing people how to take pictures of the Milky Way on their phones.

We look forward to sharing our adventures with you!

Brynn & Mira

Days 9, 10, and 11: Bryce Canyon

Day 9

Written by Brynn

Yet another travel day! We left Page to go to Bryce Canyon City. It was a bit of a drive, but we made it! When we got there, the campground was so big! Biggest I’ve ever seen! And our site was way bigger than we needed it to be! As soon as we got unpacked, we had lunch and got ready to go into the park. As soon as we entered it, we went to the Visitor Center. It was very cool! Lots of displays! Then we rode a shuttle to our 1st viewing point. Mira and I weren’t ready! We were amazed! The park is mostly a bunch of structures called hoodoos! They are made from weathering, mostly ice and rain. Well, it has several stages. 1st, a thing called “Frost Wedging”. Some water seeps into cracks in the rock walls, and freezes. It then breaks apart the rock and creates a what called “a window”. Next, as the windows expand, the tops eventually fall off, leaving a column. Finally, erosion continue to sculpt the columns into spires, known as “Hoodoos“. It was really funny to see the hoodoos because sometimes, you would say that they were a character, or formation from something!

Then, we went out for dinner and a show at Ebeneezer’s Barn & Grill. The show was a Blue Grass show, which Mira and I had never heard of! I was really excited because I like trying new things! The dinner was really big and delicious! At first, when I heard the word “ Blue Grass,” I thought it was Country! Well, I was only half wrong. Some of it is actually Country, Blues, Jazz, Pop, and Old-time music. The show was really fun and cool!  The singers were a couple and their friend. While the show was happening, 2 of the couple’s kids came out to sing with them. It was so cute! They were really good!  

(Click on a picture to see it bigger.)

Day 10

Written by Mira

On day 10 we spent more time in Bryce. Grandpa took Brynn and me on the Navajo trail loop which starts at Sunset point, which we will come back to. Anyway, the trail was really fun, we started early before it got too hot. I don’t think I’ve ever started a hike by going down and end by going up! It was really pretty, with all the oranges and reds. There were a lot of switchbacks going up and down. They were steep so while going up we had to take a lot of breaks.

Once we finished, we got back to the camper, and Grandma wanted to take us to the general store. Brynn and I were looking for earrings and we found some! Brynn got dragonflies and I got whales, Brynn also got an amethyst geode and I got some magnets to fidget with.

If there is one thing you should know about me, it’s that I absolutely love looking at the sky and stars. I just think it’s so magical and majestic! Anyway Grandpa and I went back to Sunset Point at about 8:30 (Utah time) and we waited for all the stars to come out. We saw the ISS and the Milky Way! There were a quite a few people who were there that all wanted to take pictures of the Milky Way with their phones. So I was teaching people how to take a long exposure pictures. Which if you don’t know it opens the camera for a longer period of time, which lets more star light in. Making a better picture! I guess that’s what happens when you take the daughter of a photography teacher for night photography!

Day 11

Written by Brynn

Day 11 was our last day in Bryce. It was a very relaxing day. We didn’t do much other than going on a scenic drive through a little bit of the park. There were about 8 points to view, and we went to all of them. Some of them were Farview Point, Ponderosa Point, Agua Canyon, and Natural Bridge. On the way to all of those, we found out that on June 14th, 2009, a lightning strike started a fire that burned 3,947 acres in Bryce Canyon National Park. We were very surprised that it happened so long ago because there wasn’t a lot of growth in the trees. All of the view points had great views of the park! I definitely recommend going to Bryce!

We really look forward to sharing our new adventures with you!

Brynn & Mira

Day 8 Lower Antelope Canyon

Written by Mira Simons

On day 8, Grandpa took Brynn and me to Lower Antelope Canyon. Grandpa has been to Upper Antelope Canyon. We went on a tour of the canyon, and we actually got to walk through the canyon.  It was super cool to see how it was carved out by water unlike the sandstone above which was eroded by wind. The shapes were much more jagged above, but inside the canyon since it was eroded by water it was completely smooth.

Written by Brynn Simons

Our tour guide was really nice and would show us all the different shapes in the rock. Or the shapes caused by the rock outlining shapes and the shapes would be the sky. Some of my favorite formations in the canyon were “The Woman in the Wind,” “Rocky Mountain Sunset,” and a cute little heart! We took lots of pictures, obviously because there were so many sights to see! I really hope that I will get to come back here! It’s one of my favorites so far!

We can’t wait to share more of our adventures with you!

– Mira Simons & Brynn Simons

Days 6 and 7

Written by Brynn

Day 6 was yet another traveling day. We went from Grand Canyon Village to Page, Arizona. Along the way, we stopped at a big Navajo trading post for lunch. We looked around the store for quite a while before we got hungry for lunch. The restaurant’s most famous dish was recommended by Dean and Graham, our brothers. They said that the famous “Navajo Taco” was really good and that we should try it. So we all got Navajo Tacos (and I got mine without tomatoes because I don’t like them – they’re disgusting!) —they were delicious! None of us finished the meal and so we got containers to carry them home in the RV fridge.

After that, we continued on the road until we saw another really small trading post with just one person. All of her jewelry was handmade and all of us were really impressed because they were all so pretty. Mira and I were going to buy something, but we decided that this wasn’t the place, so we continued on the road again. Finally, we got to Page.

Our campsite was literally right next to the indoor pool. I was really excited because I love swimming. When Mira and I went into the pool with Grandpa, we realized that the pool was kinda nice! The hot tub was good, also!

Written by Mira

The 4th of July (Day 7) was a busy day! First, we decided we would go to visit Horseshoe Bend. It was a bit of a walk from the parking lot. Grandma and Grandpa said it was way different from when they’d been there several years ago. Horseshoe Bend is basically a formation of rock that’s really big in the middle of the Colorado River. We saw kayakers and a speed boat—they looked like tiny ants!

After that, we went to the Glen Canyon Dam Visitor Center. The Glen Canyon Dam was built on the Colorado River, the dam caused Lake Powell. Lake Powell is about 254.1 mi2 big. It was really interesting looking down on to the dam from the visitor center. We went to a Ranger Talk, and the ranger told us that in May of 1983 plywood had to be attached vertically to the top of the dam so that the dam didn’t overflow. The plywood was eventually replaced with sheets of metal. Once the Lake was down to a safe level, they were able to check and close the flood gates. What they saw was not good, there was a giant problem. In the tunnels there was a gap almost 30 feet deep and 40 feet wide. They had just enough time to fix these holes because they were afraid that they would have to open the flood gates again. But in the end they didn’t have to open the gates. And they haven’t had to open them since.

We are super excited to share more of the trip with you!

Sincerely,

Brynn and Mira

Days 3, 4, and 5

Written by Brynn Simons

On Sunday morning, we went out to MartAnne’s for breakfast in Flagstaff. They are a Mexican restaurant and we went there because it is Grandma and Grandpa’s favorite breakfast restaurant. Their most famous breakfast dish is the “BBB”–which includes two pancakes made with buckwheat, banana, and blueberries. Mira got the BBB and I got french toast (4 pcs!) with strawberries. We surprisingly both finished our meals!

Grandpa took us to Walnut Canyon where there are a bunch of ancient cave dwellings in the cliffs. Native Americans lived there years ago. We walked the Island Trail. I’m amazed at how they were built so many years ago and are still standing to this day!

Next, we went to the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert. At first, we took a trail into the Petrified Forest behind the visitor center. We walked part of it and it started thundering and lightning. So we went back to the truck to have lunch and wait for the storm to pass. We then tried to go back into the forest to finish the trails that we didn’t complete. We didn’t think the storm would come to us and rain down on us, but we jinxed ourselves! It started pouring down rain and it was very windy. Our hats almost blew off! While it was still pouring down rain, we decided to go to the Rainbow Forest Visitors Center and check that out and to get stickers for our water bottles.

We went to specific sites to see the different designs and patterns of the desert. There was also some Petrified Wood there. We went to Crystal Forest briefly because it was still raining. We saw lots of lightning!

We went to see Newspaper Rock — it was very cool to see all the petroglyphs. They are basically little drawings that each mean something different to the Native Americans who lived there. We saw some that represented migration, different animals, and people. A person at Newspaper Rock told us there were other petroglyphs at The Pueblo. So we went there, too.

At The Pueblo, we walked on a little trail to see the ruins and some more petroglyphs. The ruins were the foundations of buildings in a small Native American village. They were short and the rooms were about the size of a king-sized bed.

From there, we moved on to see the Painted Desert. Grandpa said he had never seen it this beautiful before.

Grand Canyon National Park

Written by Mira Simons

On day four we packed up the camper and drove to just outside Grand Canyon National Park! We unpacked the camper and went into the park. This was my first time going to the Grand Canyon, and it was absolutely incredible. If someone you know is going to the Grand Canyon, don’t even try to explain just how crazy it is. Looking down into the Canyon is mind blowing. Grandma and Grandpa tried to explain just how crazy it was, but how I was imagining the Canyon was WAY different than it actually was. I thought it was going to be smaller than it actually was.

Written by Brynn Simons

I actually thought the Canyon would not be so deep! I mean, I’ve seen pictures of it, but it was absolutely astonishing! It was an awesome experience and one of my favorites! Other than that, the one thing that also surprised me was that the water was really BROWN! I thought it would be blue or green because those are the usual water colors. But I found out that there are little miniature rivers that run into the Canyon. Then they bring their own dirt and dust into the Colorado and make it brown. Those are called tributaries. It makes a lot of sense now! I’m really glad that we went to the Canyon!

Day 4

Written by Mira Simons

We spent the rest of day four at the Grand Canyon. It was very fun, but quite tiring. We made sure to drink enough water and eat enough. Once we got back to the camper, Brynn and I were crazy, Grandma said that we were overtired and I agree.

Day 5

Written by Brynn Simons

We were also at the Grand Canyon today! It was our last day in the town! We woke up a little early to get into the park before there was traffic and before it got too hot. Throughout the day we were walking and taking pictures at the places that we didn’t get to yesterday. While we were doing that, we saw and came close to Squirrels, Ravens, little Lizards, Elk and even Big Horned Sheep! Overall, going to the Grand Canyon was a great choice! I loved it!

P.S. – All pictures were taken by Mira or Brynn, except the pictures that have Brynn and Mira in them.

We look forward to sharing more of our adventures with you!

Sincerely,

Mira and Brynn

Arizona & Utah Trip 2.0

Hello everybody! We’re back in the RV for V2.0 of the trip Dean and Graham did with Grandma and Grandpa. But this time it’s me, (Mira) and my sister, Brynn. I’m 13 and Brynn is 11.

Days One & Two-June 28-29

Day one: We drove from Corning, NY to Rochester, NY. Then we flew to JFK from ROC, then from JFK to PHX.

We left Corning at 1 PM Eastern Time and got to ROC at about 3 PM. We had an amazing dinner at ROC of BLT’s and chicken sandwiches. We boarded the first plane at 6:25 and landed at about 7:20 then we had to hurry to our next flight which was very far away, we reached the gate just as boarding started. Phew! We landed in PHX at 3:00 AM (Eastern Time) which was really a little after Midnight in Phoenix. Then, after getting our luggage we had to wait for the hotel shuttle, and by the time we got to our room it was 1AM in Phoenix. Which really felt like 4AM because our bodies were still used to Eastern Time.

Day Two: We had breakfast at the hotel which was AMAZING. Then we took the truck, which was parked at the hotel before Grandma and Grandpa flew to Corning to see Graham graduate High School. (Congratulations to him!) Anyway we left Phoenix behind to drive to Flagstaff. On the way there we got stuck in an hour of traffic. Finally we got to the first of many campgrounds. The RV was left in a campground that Grandma and Grandpa had previously stayed at on the way down from Montana. Anyway we got the camper set up and went on an adventure to Sunset Crater.

Sunset Crater is a NON-ACTIVE volcano. That in Volcano Terms, erupted recently as in 1,000 years ago. It was really interesting because the reason it’s called Sunset Crater is because the top of the cone is covered in oxidized red splatter.

Hey, I’m Brynn, Mira’s sister. The second part of visiting Sunset Crater was exploring the short little trails. There were lots of lava rocks broken down EVERYWHERE! Of course we took our cameras, because there was lots of things to take photos of! We saw some very interesting things. Some include: A very big and crooked tree, a plant called Apache Plumes, and different types of Lava Rocks and how they’re formed.

Around the Visitor Center, there were a lot of burnt trees. We found out that the reason happened on April 19th, 2022. A wind driven wild fire called the Tunnel Fire came in and burned 61% of the monument. It grew to almost 20,000 acres in 48 hours. Most of the trees were black and some were even completely burned.

The second adventure of our day was hiking\climbing the A’a Lava Trail. Basically, you get to climb on cooled lava rocks. They were really big and jagged. It was super fun and awesome! We saw a bunch of geckos and lizards. They were always scurrying around and on top of the rocks. We had lots of fun on our first 2 days!

We look forward to sharing the rest of our trip with you!

Sincerely,

Brynn and Mira Simons

Hello Again!

We’re back!

We weren’t going to restart the blog for another week, but today’s events make it seem worthwhile.

You’re getting this email because you were subscribed to the Lobsters’ email list when we were traveling between 2018 and 2020.  If you are no longer interested, please just send an email to lobsters@lobstersontheloose.com, and we’ll unsubscribe you.

We’re on the road again to take two more grandchildren (Mira and Brynn) through National and State Parks in Utah and Arizona, like the trip we took with Graham and Dean (their older brothers) five years ago.  Kathe and I may create some new blog entries during this trip, but we’re especially looking forward to our two granddaughters recording their impressions of the trip and sharing their pictures. That part of the trip will start in just over a week, but… about today!

We’re on our way from Helena, Montana, to Flagstaff, Arizona, where we will start the trip with our granddaughters. Closing up the camper this morning in Fillmore, UT, Kathe commented that we really should have pressure washed the camper before we left home.  About 50 miles south of Fillmore, Kathe noticed a sign for a truck and RV wash at the next exit.  “Turn left, one half mile,” it said.  At the bottom of the exit, signs for the wash pointed right…  We went right, into a big Flying J truck plaza; we didn’t see the wash, so I walked over to a large garage area to ask directions of two men heading out in a golf cart.  Yes, we should have gone left. We started to pull ahead but had to wait for a few semi rigs to pass by, As we started again, the guys in the cart pulled up fast on Kathe’s side, flagging us down.

“You have a broken leaf spring! Your tires are rubbing against each other.”

Oh, no.  We’re in the middle of, basically, nowhere. “Is there a spring shop anywhere in the area?”

“Yes, we are, and we stock the parts you need. We fix a lot of these trailers. Just pull in over there.”

As we looked at the suspension in general, everything but the axles and brakes needed replacement.  I agreed with their evaluation of parts that needed replacing; they weren’t trying to upsell.

One leaf spring was broken. Two others were recurved, from being loaded (overloaded?) for too long.  Leaf springs are supposed to bow down, with the axle at the lowest point. When recurved (probably the wrong term), they bow upward.  So we replaced all four springs with heavier ones (eight instead of six leaves).

What a leaf spring should look like, bowing down and with a curl on each end for attachment. This is one of our new ones, being installed.
Here’s what ours looked like! Oops!

Why did the leaf spring break? A trailer suspension has devices called “equalizers” to accommodate independent motion when the axles need to go up or down at different times. The equalizers on both sides had broken welds which caused them to bend and bind, putting extra stresses on the springs.  Two new, stronger equalizers went on the list.

Our broken equalizer. Bad equalizer! Bad!

One of the reasons the equalizers had broken is that the stock suspension of the trailer had poor stabilization for them causing them to flex to the side while going around corners. So we added a stabilizer bar to protect them.

The two tires that were rubbing against each other were trashed. (No blowout, thank goodness!) (Also, no pictures; I forgot. Drat!) All the tires were six years old, so time to replace them all, anyway. Four new tires.

Fortunately, there were no other repair jobs in the shop; all four men at the shop went to work on our rig right away. In under two hours, we were back on the road!

Our heroes!

If we hadn’t talked about cleaning the trailer while closing up at the campground,

If Kathe hadn’t seen the sign for the truck wash going down the highway,

If the sign at the bottom of the exit ramp hadn’t been incorrect,

If the two guys coming out of their garage on the cart hadn’t noticed our rubbing tires…

Our day would have been very different! We’re very thankful that everything happened the way it did. The camper is now safer than it has ever been.

Then we went to the RV wash!  Right where the billboard on the highway said we would find it. All is good.

And it is good to be back on the road in the Southwest. This will be a short trip, about five weeks, three weeks with the girls. We can’t wait for them to join us!

I just love this scenery; one of the things I really miss living in Montana.

Heading south from Fillmore to Page, AZ

See you again, soon! Watch this space.

Al and Kathe, the Lobsters

Friends AND Family!

The saying is, “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.”

We’re lucky, though. Our family members are our friends!

It is hard to believe that it has been over eight months since we last wrote. When I started writing, my intention was to cover both what has been going on in our lives since January, and also our great visit with our son Mike’s and Laurelyn’s family from New York. It quickly became apparent that would be WAY too long, so herewith: our visit with the NY clan. It’s way more interesting!

It had been over two years since Kathe had seen them, and almost three years since I had seen the whole family. The high point of our visit was three days in Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone National Park

(We’ve also written about a previous visit to Yellowstone.)

Kathe and I had been to Yellowstone twice, but Laurelyn was the only one of her family who had ever been—and that had been when she was about six! So new experiences all around.

Of the four large animals in Yellowstone, we saw two: elk and bison. (The other two are moose and brown / grizzly bears.) And we saw many geothermal features, including, of course, the geysers for which Yellowstone is famous.

Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Geyser Basin

Coming into Yellowstone from the north, the first thing we hit was the Mammoth Hot Springs area. The most visually striking things here (aside from the number of cars trying to find a parking place!) are the travertine (a form of limestone) flows. There are few if any geysers in this area.

I’ve seen a report that the springs deposit about two tons of travertine daily (https://www.yellowstonepark.com/things-to-do/geysers-hot-springs/yellowstone-geyser-basins-map/), but have been unable to confirm that from an NPS source.

Travertine terraces in Mammoth Hot Springs

The deposits form beautiful structures, and will consume anything that gets in their way.

Graham and Dean enjoying Hot Springs
Notice how the travertine has almost reached the level of the boardwalk in some places!

Norris Geyser Basin

We proceeded down to Norris Geyser Basin, parking on the road with a moderate walk in. Norris has geysers, as well as travertine flows, and many pools: pretty to look at, but don’t touch!

The first feature we came to was a fumarole, a continuous, loud, jet of steam. The amount of energy being released each second is hard to grasp.

Fumarole at Norris

Norris is home to Steamboat geyser, the world’s tallest active geyser with eruptions in the 300 to 400 foot range. Unfortunately, its eruptions are relatively rare, with intervals varying between several days to almost a month. When we were there, it had erupted 32 days previously. While it would have been nice to wait around for it, we were not able to.

Brynn is ever hopeful! (Photo credit: Mira Simons)

Signs everywhere warn visitors to stay on the boardwalks. The surface is frequently thin and a person could fall through. We did see places where bison had walked on the surface (they didn’t read the signs). The problem is we can’t tell where the surface is solid and where not. Not worth the risk.

The surface is deceptively thin, with extremely hot water beneath
Mike and Laurelyn enjoying the Norris scenery and each other. (Photo credit: Mira Simons)
Frequently we walked by little boiling pots like this.

Note to self: stay UPWIND! Always upwind…

The next day we drove farther south, to the Old Faithful geyser field.

It is not often that Old Faithful is upstaged.

The Beehive geyser is taller than Old Faithful. It erupts somewhat irregularly, but about twice a day. Sometimes you get lucky! As we were walking the path through the Old Faithful geyser field, a ranger told us that the Beehive was about to erupt so we picked up our pace and went over to it. Mike was in the lead with Mira and Brynn, Graham was somewhere in the middle, and Laurelyn, Dean and we trailed. The geyser was beautiful when it erupted!

Beehive geyser in its initial moments. Before… the later moments!

Shortly after it started, we spotted Graham coming toward us, soaked! He had been in the spray area.

Soaked, but a good sport!

As we were enjoying his misfortune (nicely, of course!), the wind shifted. And we were… soaked! Karma, you know… We moved away, but it was a while before we were out of range; all the while I was trying to protect my camera from the acidic water. (I seem to have succeeded—it still works fine!) Mike, Mira, and Brynn had been on the upwind side. I’m sure that they are still chuckling about the rest of us getting drenched. Fortunately, it was a warm day and we were all soon comfortable again, if not quite dry yet.

We were actually able to catch Old Faithful three times! It is always fun to watch even if you’ve seen it before. While it is not the highest geyser in the park, it is the most regular in its schedule with eruptions that can be predicted to within a few minutes—so it is the most famous and the one most people see.

Old Faithful (Photo credit: Mira Simons)

Some of the geysers had prediction windows that spanned six hours or more (and we saw people waiting for them). Others, like Steamboat are simply considered not predictable. Some (former? inactive?) geysers noted that their last eruption was in the 1800s. (When) will they erupt again? Who knows!

Perspective! (i.e., Talk to the Rangers)

I’ve always been a bit disappointed with Grand Prismatic Spring. The pictures in the brochures are beautiful, and taken from above (drone shots?). But from the walkway by the spring (always stay on the walkways!), it has always been shrouded in mist. Also, being at the level of the surface, you are looking across the spring not down on it.

Grand Prismatic Spring from the surface. Yes, there are varied colors there, but…

I think Mike has never met a person he didn’t want to chat with. True to form he started talking with a ranger: “See that group of people across the way up on the mountain? That’s where you want to be!” Mike got the directions and off we went.

On the way up to the better view of Grand Prismatic! Foreground: Brynn and Graham. Background, leading the way, Mira and Dean.

NOW I know why people like the Grand Prismatic Spring so much.

From up on the hillside—no drone needed!

Like so many things in life, it is all a matter of perspective.

Yellowstone is a wonderful place to teach and learn photography. Mike is teaching Mira, and using full manual for all the settings! Way to go, Mira!

Several of the pictures in this blog post were taken by Mira. (Check for the “Photo credit” attributions.)

Animals

When we first drove into the park through the North entrance and got to Mammoth, there were several elk browsing and resting in the open areas, quite used to people and cars in the area. We all enjoyed them being just tens of feet away, especially Brynn and Mira. I thought their excitement would fade as we saw them more and more times through our visit, but I was wrong!

When you see a lot of cars parked alongside of the road, you know that you should stop too, and see whatever the attraction is. One time we did this, we were rewarded with this elk stag resting in the shade.

A nice elk stag resting in the shade

Sometimes I have to laugh at myself. I was thinking, “Sometimes, a 100mm lens just isn’t long enough.” Then, “Wait! I have a 400mm lens in the car!” Run back to the car…

With a 400mm lens!

We were winding down our last day in the park, a little disappointed that we had not seen any bison up close (we had seen one the better part of a mile away in a huge field). Once again, cars parked alongside of the road…

I’m only a little bit nervous! (This is with a long lens).

It was a great way to close out our visit to Yellowstone!

Lewis & Clark Caverns

Western Montana has a strong affinity with the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Corps of Discovery. (We live in Lewis and Clark County.) We went to Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park, and took a two mile tour of the cavern (one mile underground). While not as big as other caverns we have been in (Mammoth Cave, Wind Cave, and Luray Caverns), it was, nonetheless beautiful and fun. It makes you appreciate the power of water over time, both to destroy, eroding the rock to form the cave, and to build, creating the stalagmites, stalactites, and other formations.

Note: all the light for these photos is artificial; we’re far underground. At one point the guide turned off all the lights. The darkest night above ground does not compare with this absolute lack of light.

Delicate and massive. In the foreground, is part of a stalagmite that fell thousands of years ago.
A new stalagmite growing on the base of the fallen stalagmite, above.
Delicate, translucent ribbon-like formations

Lewis and Clark were presumably unaware of the cavern (they kept detailed journals, and there is no mention of it), but they did go up the Jefferson River, which passes the base of the mountain containing the cavern. Close enough to use the name!

In fairness, I have to say that Montana isn’t the only state with an affinity for Lewis and Clark. There are also Lewis and Clark state parks or recreation areas in Washington, Oregon, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri, and I probably missed a few.

Missouri Headwaters State Park

Coming back home from the Cavern, we stopped at Three Forks (marvelous pies!), and the Missouri Headwaters State Park. This is where the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin rivers join to form the Missouri.

The gang atop Fort Rock, at the Missouri Headwaters State Park, The very beginning of the Missouri (I think) is in the background. (Or the Jefferson, the Madison, or the Gallatin. But I think it is the Missouri!)

Museum of the Rockies

We also went to the Museum of the Rockies, which we all enjoyed. It has some major dinosaur skeletons, as indicated by this brass casting of a Tyrannosaurus Rex named “Big Mike.”

“Big Mike,” A bronze casting of a Tyrannosaurus Rex

Of course, there is a sign asking people to not climb on Big Mike… so what are kids to do?

Couldn’t resist! (For those who don’t know, that’s Mike!)

Of course.

Climbing!

Speaking of climbing, Mike found a climbing gym that looked nice down in Bozeman: Spire Climbing Center. So we went to check it out. Oh, yeah…

It’s massive.

One of several rooms. Note the climbers on the wall for scale.

Grandma chose to stay home, but everyone else got some elevation.

Mira bouldering
Graham looking for his next foot position
Dean deep in concentration
And Brynn, just hanging around!

The top of every route had a big red Staples “That was easy!” button. Yeah. Right.

There were several other activities that we considered such as a rodeo but chose to not do because of Covid—the youngest two are currently too young to be vaccinated. So we spent the rest of the visit hanging with good friends, cooking (mostly Mike on the grill, and Mira making great cookies), building a jigsaw puzzle, and… Oh, yes! And watching fire fighting planes and helicopters.

As you undoubtedly know, much of the west is on fire now. We are about 5 miles from Helena Airport which is a base for fire aircraft. There were a wide variety of aircraft in and out of the airport continually: DC-10s, Chinooks, Blackhawks, and a Sikorsky Sky Crane, among others. The sky crane had a large hose dangling down so it could refill its water by hovering over a nearby lake; we called it Snuffleupagus. Graham, particularly, watched their comings and goings on the Flight Aware app, and spotted several new fires based on the aircrafts’ flight paths and a satellite-based fire spotting site before the fires were announced in the daily briefings or posted on the several fire mapping websites.

DC-10 firefighting tanker approaching Helena Airport (taken from our back yard)

Speaking of the fires, we are lucky to have had none in the immediate area, but we have had dense smoke on a fairly regular basis since early July, with occasional clear days. We are surrounded by mountains, and frequently we couldn’t see them at all. This was a disappointment for Mike and Laurelyn, but one of the great things was that in Yellowstone we had no smoke problems at all.

Pronghorn

A small (11) herd of pronghorn is in the area again, as some were last fall when we moved in. Because of size differences, we think that there are yearlings in the group. Their timing just overlapped with the visit, so everyone was able to see them! Another animal you can’t see in New York State.

We think that there was one adult buck because it had horns, but pronghorn horns are odd. The difference is between antlers and horns is that antlers are shed each year and horns are not. Except for pronghorn horns which are??? And female pronghorn also have horns but they are much smaller. These are in the size range for males from what we’ve read.

“Here’s looking at you, kid!”

Unfortunately all good things come to an end, and our visit ended far too soon. We hope that they will find their way back west again in the not-distant future! We miss them all already.

Looks like everyone enjoyed themselves! (Photo credit: Mike Simons)

More friends and family!

We’re still enjoying the glow from Mike & Laurelyn’s family’s visit, but we’re also excited about finally getting a chance to visit Beth & Jon’s family at their new home in Canada! The border is open again! Yea!

What a ride it was!

Picture of Al & Kathe
Happy in our new home

It has been quite a while since we’ve written. We hope that you and those close to you continue to be well. We’re thankful that 2020 is over; the vaccines are starting to rollout, and we’re hopeful that 2021 will be a better year all around.

We are approaching our four month anniversary in our new house in East Helena, Montana. It seems unbelievable that it has been that long since we were living in Rhett, our 36 foot fifth wheel RV. And yet at the same time, our two-year adventure exploring America and Canada is starting to seem almost like a dream. Did we really do that? Yes! We’re really glad that we created the Lobsters on the Loose blog, so that we can go back and remind ourselves of all that we have done.

We arrived in Helena a few days before our house closing, and stayed at the county fairgrounds. This was right at the height of the western wildfires, and the air was very smoky.

September 18, 7:34 in the morning. Very dim light, with a red fireball sun!

The first few days we were in our new house, there was a group of “antelope” (or so we were told) in our back yard. Antelope only live in Africa; these are actually pronghorn sheep… known locally as antelope. I was surprised to learn that their closest living relative is the giraffe. Sure! I can see that resemblance! Uh-huh.

Pronghorn, a.k.a., “antelope” in our back yard.

After a few days, they moved on. We saw them a few weeks ago in a field about 5 miles away, and we hope they return next year.

We are settling into our new life here in East Helena Montana. We’re making our home “ours” with furnishings, decorations, and projects like upgrading the lighting to suit our aging eyes.

Flag of Montana with outline of the state
We have to learn the symbolism in the state seal!

We’re learning the layout of nearby Helena, the state capital, where we do most of our errands when we have to go out. We’re still isolating as much as possible and we remain healthy although dealing with some of the vicissitudes of aging. We’re establishing relationships with some doctors and we’re becoming Montanans by getting our drivers’ licenses and registering to vote.

Several of our specialists are located in Missoula which is two hours away. Luckily, it’s a beautiful ride through a pass in the Rockies; our car knows the way well. I’ve (Kathe) had more glaucoma surgery and am forever grateful that I’ve found a glaucoma specialist who is really terrific. And it looks like, finally, after ten months, my back pain is largely under control thanks to a pain specialist in Missoula. Getting old is NOT for sissies!

I’m thoroughly enjoying plenty of quilting time in my sewing room. Al set me up with some very bright track lighting and it’s a joy to work on the projects I have going. The views out the sewing room windows are gorgeous! I especially love hearing the train go by — even though it’s several miles away, we can see it in the distance. Trains here are different than we’re used to from the east coast. Many (most?) are well over a mile long!

Most of the land around us is agricultural; there are lots of cattle in Montana! Cowboy boots? Check. Cowboy hat? Have to get them. Chaps and spurs? Hmmm… We’ll have to think about those.

Picture of nearby cattle
Some of our neighbors!

Since it is January and we’re writing about living in Montana, you can correctly assume that we decided to not return to the Arizona desert this winter. It was not a difficult decision to make. While we still have to isolate ourselves, it is easier in a house than in an RV. It still feels a little strange to us that sometimes we have to search for each other in the house, after both being in the same room for two years. We joke about now having to use our ham radio walkie-talkies to find each other.

Covid-19 has changed the RVing world. For us, it made the RV life less desirable. One of the things we enjoyed most about RVing was being able to meet other people and learn about their backgrounds and experiences. Covid ruled that out, so part of the impetus was gone. While we were in Quartzsite, Kathe most enjoyed her Quartzsite Quilters group and the activities at the Gem and Mineral club. While both of those continue to meet (why?), due to virus concerns Kathe would not have attended either this winter had we gone down.

For others, Covid has made RVing more attractive, offering the ability to vacation and travel while maintaining distance and isolation. No hotels, no airplanes, no restaurants needed. RV sales are booming, with many dealers’ lots empty and manufacturing backlogged by parts shortages. It was difficult before to find campground or RV park sites, especially near popular attractions such as National Parks; reservations had to be made well in advance. It will be interesting to see how much this boom in RV sales will make that problem worse, and whether the effect will be long lasting—or will many of those new RVs quickly become rarely-used lawn ornaments?

It looks like many others are also deciding to not go to Quartzsite this winter. A friend who did go to Q this winter said recently that there were about one-quarter of the rigs there, compared to what he remembers from last year at this time. The big influx into Quartzsite is usually the first two weeks of January, so it will be interesting to see whether the large crowds materialize.

So we’re staying in Montana. We have prepared for winter: heavy coats, a snow blower, and a Subaru Outback. Just as in Maine, it seems that Subaru is the state car of Montana—if you exclude the pickup trucks! The mileage that Scarlet, our F350 dually truck got (14 – 15 mpg), and the difficulty of finding parking in town for such a large (24′ long) vehicle made us decide to get other transportation. But so far Montana’s winter has been milder than usual, with less snow. We had one 10″ snowfall in mid October, but only flurries since; the ground is currently bare, and until this week the high temps have been in the high 30s / low 40s.

Helena is surrounded by mountain ranges; it is in the “eastern front” of the Rockies (we’re about 20 miles east of the Continental Divide “as the crow flies”). We can see mountains in all directions and those mountains do have snow. We are at about 3900′ elevation; according to the weather service, most of the snow has been above 5000′.

Our back yard toward the southwest, taken before the arrival of snow in the mountains. Much of the open area is common land for our development.
Another view, this time looking north.

A few mornings ago we were finally greeted by real winter; it was two degrees and 90% humidity. Perfect conditions for the formation of hoar frost on neighboring trees and even our door’s Christmas wreath.

Early morning Montana looking north out our front door. Oh, yes. The morning brought about an inch of snow as well…
Up close and personal, such delicate formations.

The next day was in the 40s, and we have bare ground once again. Of course!

So what does the future hold? While we plan to continue traveling in Rhett, it is unlikely that we will be full-timers again—but one thing this year has taught us is that you can’t predict the future, so maybe. During the spring, summer, and fall, we hope to do more exploring but probably in trips measured in multiple weeks, not multiple months. And hopefully, we will be able to return to wintering in the Quartzsite area or elsewhere warm! As we do have more adventures, we will continue this blog, but it may be quiet for a while until the spring.

By the way, we can still end blog posts with pictures of beautiful sunsets (or in this case, a sunrise), now from here in Montana…

The snow was from a flurry, and gone within a day… That’s Rhett, parked in our side yard.

We hope that you and your loved ones stay safe, healthy, and warm this winter.

-Kathe & Al, a.k.a. “The Lobsters”

SOLID Ice and Hard ice cream – YAY!

For those who haven’t been in the RVing world, there are two basic types of refrigerators. “RV” (also called “absorption”) refrigerators, and “residential” refrigerators. The RV refrigerators work by heating ammonia to turn it into a gas, and can be powered by 120V household electricity or propane. Residential refrigerators work by compressing a gas, and only run on 120V electricity.

When we were starting out, we knew that we’d be boondocking a lot, so we chose an RV unit so we could use propane instead of our precious solar electricity.

RV refrigerators are notoriously finicky, and have very little extra cooling capacity to bring new “occupants” down to temperature. Also when they are run on electricity, they are MUCH less efficient than a residential refrigerator. Hey, we were new to the RV world. We didn’t know.

So… is it a refrigerator when the temperature on some days doesn’t stay below 42 degrees? Is it a freezer if the ice cubes can take more than a day to freeze (but they eventually do) and the ice cream is more like a gelled soup? Granted: some (many) of the days were over 110°, but still.

We finally decided to scrap the RV refrigerator and replace it with a residential unit. Remember: what you buy from a dealer is an “RV kit,” which you then modify and tinker with until you get the RV you want. It is a never ending process.

So, herewith the tale of the Great Refrigerator Swap of 2020.

Perhaps the greatest constraint on the selection of a new fridge was its size, especially its depth with the doors and hinges off. Some people change refrigerators by removing a window from the side of the RV and passing it through. This requires many people, and violates the integrity of the RV’s exterior seal—will you really get it reinstalled so that it is weather tight? In these days of COVID-19, gathering a bunch of friends to help with a project is much more difficult than before, and besides, all our friends were smarter than we were and had left Arizona for the summer! So we needed to bring it through the door. Just inside the door is a cabinet and counter, that we would need to angle around. By using a template, we figured we needed a unit that was no more than 23″ deep, and about 34″ wide.

After identifying a couple of possible candidates on the web, we read through their on-line reviews. It turned out that none of the possibilities had stellar reviews. Oh, well. We went to the Home Depot in Yuma, looked at two, and settled on the Samsung Model# RF18HFENBSG-2.

Not in stock. (ALL of the candidate units were made of unobtanium.) But we could get it delivered by August 26th. GREAT!

An RV’s floor is a little over three feet off the ground. I’m doing this by myself; Kathe’s back will let her help a small amount, but NO LIFTING! How am I going to get this in the rig?

Plywood. Two by fours.

I built a 4′ by 8′ deck outside the camper about 3/4″ below floor height. The height was limited by the lower edge of the door which opens outward.

Our delivery platform. For rigidity, I used rope x-bracing.

The Home Depot delivery truck had a lift gate on it, normally used to lower appliances to the ground. I had them back up to the deck and lower the fridge onto that, where I could remove the doors and hinges to make it narrow enough to slide in. We had somewhere between 1/8″ and 1/4″ extra space going through the door. Made in the shade!

As thin as possible.

More plywood. I put 1/4″ sheathing (the cheapest plywood I could find) down on the floor in the camper, to protect the plastic flooring in our main living area.

We’re in! Past the critical point. Notice the plywood on the rig’s floor.

Once we had the unit in the back of our rig (our “living room”), the doors went back on and we brought it down to temp. It was SO FAST in comparison!

In our “living room.”

The small black cube in the picture is a tiny refrigerator we picked up to keep our critical items (leftovers, cold cuts, dairy, etc.) when we couldn’t rely on our large RV refrigerator.

Time to get the old refrigerator out of its home to make room for the new resident. Transfer all the food. Take the doors and hinges off. (Sense a theme here?) Re-plumb the propane: behind the fridge is a propane distribution splitting the feed to the refrigerator, the stovetop, and the oven. One-in, three-out had to change to one-in, two out. Fortunately a large RV parts store in Quartzsite remains open during the summer, so I could get the needed part locally.

The floor in the refrigerator bay is about 6″ above the main floor in the rig, so we used the blocks RVers use to level their rigs when the site isn’t particularly level. They look like huge Legos!

We slid the fridge out onto two stacks of blocks, and then by tipping the fridge back and forth we were able to remove the blocks one or two at a time, alternating sides.

The old fridge up on the leveling blocks, coming out.

Out with the old. Again we had a small fraction of an inch to spare when navigating it out the doorway. Slid it into the back of our pickup and thence to the Quartzsite transfer station.

You can see the plumbing involved in an absorption refrigerator.

You may have noticed in a previous post that we decided to buy a house in Montana. This happened after we had ordered the fridge, and the scheduled closing wouldn’t let me do what I wanted to do for a final installation of the new fridge before we had to leave Quartzsite. So I did a temporary one.

The new refrigerator was slightly taller than the old one, and I wanted to leave a space above it for ventilation. So before we could put the new unit in, I had to trim the top of the opening about two inches higher. There were 4″ reinforcing blocks behind where I needed to cut, and behind those were pocket screws. Once those were removed, the trim was easy.

The reinforcing block stapled and glued into place.
And the pocket screws hidden behind

To move the new unit from the back of the rig, past the counter to the final location, we had to once again (say it with me) take the doors and hinges off. We used the same leveling blocks to raise the new refrigerator up to height, and slid it in place.

When originally measuring, I neglected to account for the propane distribution point, which prevents me from placing the refrigerator all the way back to the wall, and left the front feet hanging in the air. It works out well, though, as the refrigerator needs to have air flow behind it to dissipate the heat it has removed from the inside.

To keep the fridge off the back wall and propane hoses, I placed shims on the back wall. To level the unit without the front feet being supported, I shimmed the front with two two-by-four blocks, which happened to be exactly the right height. To keep the unit from tipping while we are traveling, I simply used a ratchet strap. It’s quick’n’dirty, but effective.

So we’re on our way to Montana with a new residential refrigerator! There are lots of things to fix and improve in a permanent installation, but I’ll tell you about those in another post.

It is SO good to have well-frozen ice cream!

Exploring the United States and Canada by RV