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”

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.)


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.


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.


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!