All posts by Al Simons

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!

Maps, Mileage, Mountains, Mines!

Exploring KOFA

Near us is the KOFA National Wildlife Refuge. KOFA stands for King of Arizona, the name of one of the abandoned mines within the Refuge. We’ve written about KOFA NWR before, here and here. But now we can explore it more with Clark. And it is unbelievably pretty.

Recently we went to the KOFA Queen Canyon Road, which starts a little down the Palm Canyon Road. Palm Canyon road is accessible to normal vehicles. The Queen Canyon road most definitely is not, with narrow tracks, and steep descents and rises, sometimes without a level section in between. To traverse the Queen Canyon Road, you need something like our chariot, Clark.

Clark in its element!

Slightly to the north of Palm Canyon, Queen Canyon goes farther back, behind the mountains you can see from the road. These are much different than those in and near Quartzsite, just thirty miles to the north. Quartzsite’s are fairly gentle; the mountains in KOFA are more jagged. We’ll again apologize to our friends in the Rocky Mountain states. We know that these aren’t real mountains; one of the taller ones in the area, Cunningham Mountain, tops out around 3,280 feet ASL, or about 2,400 feet above town. But that’s the local terminology, so we’ll use it.

On KOFA Queen Canyon Road

Kathe mused, “How long would we need to stop and wait in order to see some wildlife?” We didn’t stop and wait, but shortly thereafter six mule deer ran across the trail a short distance ahead of us. They climbed the bank on the opposite side and four of them stopped part way up and turned back to look at us. After several minutes they turned and ran up the rest of the hill to join their friends. They were the only large wildlife we have seen in the Reserve so far.

Four Mule Deer in KOFA NWR
Four of the mule deer that crossed our path

Please excuse the lack of focus. That’s cropped way down from my phone camera. It is a good camera, but has problems when the interesting subject is not in the foreground. I have to figure a way to keep my real camera handy without killing it with the fine dust that gets everywhere.

Fortunately, the GoPro was on, so we captured their dash across the trail. It is in the video at the end of the post.

We see quail everywhere, including family groups of mama and up to twenty chicks. We’ve seen some as small as about an inch and a half tall—doing well at keeping up with mama as she hurries across the trail. We see road runners less often; again, apologies for the focus problem here. Same excuse.

A roadrunner on the edge of the trail.

KOFA is known for its Bighorn Sheep and Sonoran Pronghorn, but they seem to be elusive. You can also look at the Bighorn Sheep pamphlet [PDF] that is available at all the entrances to the Reserve.

And we have “wild” life in the campground as well!

Peter cottontail in the campground

The prospector

When traveling the trails into and behind the mountains near here, it is easy to convince yourself that you are the only person.

Anywhere.

I stopped on a trail to take a picture of an “Abandoned Mine” sign to show you, when from behind me I heard a booming voice, “Good afternoon, friend!”

Definitely not what I expected there! He came over and explained that I was on his mining claim; he had heard me ride in (Clark is loud) and wanted to know what I was doing. It was obvious to him that I was just riding the trails and the conversation was entirely amiable. He is prospecting for gold; he said that he has been successful so far on this claim. According to him gold is the reason for most, if not all, of the claims in this part of Arizona. I asked him about the process of staking a claim. He said that he really doesn’t know. Apparently virtually all the land in the area is claimed by someone (many someones); he had to buy his claim from another person. “I got it used.”

Mining claim signs are everywhere!

Some people post their claim in a little stronger manner…

Satellite? Nah. Don’t think so!

Abandoned mines are all over the place—open holes in the ground from ten feet deep to…many. Some still have structures that survive…sort of.

One of several designs of warning signs.
Another; this one has more modern design, but who knows—they may both be in use.

Most of the abandoned mines that are just holes in the ground are fenced off with warning signs, but not all. Just another danger to be aware of, along with the scorpions, rattle snakes, and roadrunners (beware of falling anvils). No, we haven’t seen any scorpions or rattle snakes. Yet. Be sure that we’ll let you know here if we do!

Just an open hole in the ground—at least as far as I can see from here.
Surviving abandoned mine structure
Abandoned “stamp mill.” Look it up; we had to!
Stamp mill from the top.
A nearby mine. Not sure whether it was associated with the stamp mill.

There isn’t much timber out here for building shelters. One thing miners had lots of, is rock. So quite a few stone cabins remain; some in better condition than others. It seems that very little mortar was used; we’ve seen a few with no sign of mortar at all.

Rough exterior,smooth(er) interior.
The cabin above is seventy three years old
Smooth exterior, rough interior.
With a framed picture of Clark! Most of the wood in these cabins is long gone, but some remains.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. When the old truck dies, it becomes a hardware store, providing parts and equipment for other mining camp needs. Here, some roof rafters.

Steel roof rafters!

Driving the trails

We’ve been out on Clark nearly every day; usually both of us go (and Kathe drives), sometimes Al goes out alone. We’re becoming more comfortable with Clark’s mountain-goat-like abilities. So far we have clocked almost 600 miles of fun in the immediate area. The dealer we bought Clark from offers a discounted service that we picked up. They call it a “two year” plan, but it is based on hours of use: X services at Y hour intervals. We’ll probably use it up by early fall at this rate!

Back in the dark days of computing before GUIs, there was a command-line game called “Adventure.” It had two key phrases: “You are in a maze of twisty passages, all alike,” and “You are in a maze of twisty passages, all different.” If you went into a twisty passage going north, you might come out in a different room going south. Or east. (It is still available on github!)

The trails here are like that. There are hundreds of them; only a small subset are marked. They twist and turn and intersect and head who knows where! We use a GPS-enabled tablet running the Avenza mapping program to navigate, so we feel secure about not getting lost, but I wouldn’t want to go too far here without it. (We also run Avenza on our phones as backup.) Here are some of of our tracks.

Some of our tracks north of town; the map is 17.4 miles across (BLM map)
And some of our tracks south of town; the map is 21 miles across (BLM map)

Some friends have asked how we try to stay safe when riding on the desert.

We carry another backup GPS in the form of a Garmin inReach satellite communicator, with which we can send and receive text messages while out of cell phone range. It also has an SOS function to contact a 24/7/365 rescue dispatch center should the need arise. Needless to say we hope we never need that! But it is nice to be able to send texts to let someone know, for instance, that we’re OK, but taking longer than expected so they don’t worry.

We also carry a fairly capable trauma first aid kit, some spare parts, a tool kit to take apart / repair much of the machine, and ropes, pulleys, etc., to extract ourselves by using Clark’s winch if we get stuck.

And water. Lots and lots of water.

And when one of us goes out alone, we always let the other know roughly where we will be.

A recent conversation:

Al: The only way you can find out what Clark can do is to try more and more challenging things.

Kathe: And what happens when what you try is outside its capabilities and you’re stuck (or rolled, or…)?

She’s so practical.

But we haven’t been stuck yet. (And haven’t rolled it!) For the most part, we stay on well traveled trails. Yes, that rise may look very steep, but from looking at the tracks, many, many people have traveled it successfully. Onward!

Sometimes, the trails are wide, flat, and smooth:

You occasionally see regular cars on roads like this.

Sometimes, narrow:

Narrow track. Don’t meet someone coming the other way! It is one vehicle wide.

Sometimes hilly and steep (and sometimes much steeper than they appear from the bottom).

Yes, we’re going up that. MUCH steeper than it looked from here!

To really appreciate that hill, please watch the video at the end of this post which tries to give an example of what we’ve been enjoying from Clark.

And, sometimes, they just aren’t. Visible, that is. There are some BLM-designated trails that look like just bare unmolested desert surface stretching into the distance, or that appear to simply be a tangle of desert shrubbery. Our GPS-enabled mapping tablet has let us traverse some of these “non-trails” (my term). Others, we just couldn’t figure out at all.

Some trails proceed in washes instead of across them. We are fortunate: a wash that is part of the local trail system is right behind our RV Park, so we can access the trails by going through a gate at the rear of the property.

Driving in a wash with a deep, loose, gravel bed reminds me of sailing with a strong following sea. The rudder is more like a hint to the boat of where you’d like it to point, instead of a strong command. When driving in the deep gravel, even in four wheel drive, pointing the front tires is merely a hint to Clark. Which it usually (eventually) obeys.

Caution: This might make you blush

Kathe here. When we first started riding out onto the desert, I prided myself in the fact that I can go for hours without peeing. Women, you know what I mean! Right?

But soon I realized some of our trips might get long. And hydrating while we’re out on the desert is ESSENTIAL. However, peeing behind a bush (cactus!) just wouldn’t cut it. Ouch! But what could I do? I didn’t want to be the cause of foreshortening a planned excursion.

Enter FUD — the feminine urinary director. Yup. It’s a thing. A REAL thing. And it works GREAT! I can stand up and pee away from me. Now we can be out for a number of hours and I can be comfortable. Why didn’t I know about these years ago? Here’s what it looks like.

Fantastic invention! Available on Amazon and from many other places.

Still blooming!

We are still seeing flowering plants in the area, although the saguaros are pretty much done by now.

I find saguaro blooms so pretty.
A RED saguaro bloom: Christmas cactus?
We hadn’t seen this before. Kathe identified it as a “Century plant!” Phew! Glad we didn’t miss the bloom.
I found this down in Yuma, while getting the truck fixed.

Miscellany

[Quick: what periodical had a “Miscellany” page on the last page of every issue?]

Yes, it gets hot here. This was in May, when the northeast was having frost warnings! Brrrr….

One afternoon I went out to the truck and found this waiting for me, in the console cup holder. The can was half empty, but I could find no trace whatsoever of the half of the contents that weren’t there. No spray on the ceiling, no drips in the cup holder or on the floor. I count myself very lucky! You can see in the pic that the pop top is still sealed. Guess that isn’t the weakest part of the can!

Don’t let this happen to you!

The truck thermometer said 127, but it had been sitting in the sun. I’d guess the air temp at about 115 outside. Who knows how hot inside the closed up truck! (Not the same day as the 110° picture above.)

We were amused by these saguaros:

Everybody / everything needs a hug now and then!

Several posts back we talked about the public art that was scattered around town. When we saw “Potty Garden” as a point of interest on the map of desert trails, we had to check it out! Of course!

Wouldn’t you?

The potty garden

As I noted above, in amongst the mountains it is easy to convince yourself that you’re all alone. But every once in a while our path meets signs of the outside world.

Did the off-road trail influence the route of this, or did the trail result from laying the cable? After all, the desert is already disturbed!

The slanted orange thing at the top is an identification number, for checking the route from a helicopter. All the infrastructure around here, cable as above, gas pipelines, and towers for the electrical grid have this setup. It is not at all unusual to see a low, slow helo going by as it is checking something.

A few of the trails parallel Interstate 10, to take advantage of the grading. (But isn’t “unusual” grading the point of riding these machines?)

And occasionally someone leaves a sign of their former presence. Geocache? Easter egg?

The El Paso (TX) Natural Gas Company holds several rights of way through the area to get their product to the cities on the coast.

Took up a minute or two to figure out the engraving: “EPNG ROW.”

One of the pipelines provides what could be considered an “off road highway,” named “Pipeline Road.” Really; it is on the maps. In addition to being a nice wide well graded path (they run pickups on it), you occasionally come across installations like this. I’ve found two in the area.

Part of the pipeline infrastructure, away from anywhere.

The promised video

I’ve heard that cartography is the art of omitting information. If maps included all the detail available, they would be unusable. Consider city subway maps. They show almost nothing, but present the important (for that use) information clearly.

I think making videos is similar. I have incredible respect for people who produce videos; editing hours of “film” into minutes or even seconds and still coming out with an interesting, cohesive story. I don’t consider myself to be in that group of people, but I have pulled together a few snippets of trail rides to try to show you what we’ve been seeing these past few weeks. I hope you enjoy it! It is just over 1 minute long. The first part is the mule deer running across our path on KOFA Queen Canyon Road, then starting at about 15 seconds, Kathe’s climb of the hill (at 2X speed). It was way steeper than it looks…

The view from the top was worth the climb! We’re looking west; the very farthest mountain range is probably California.

That’s about it for now. We hope you stay safe as society starts to open up. We have no plans to change how we’ve been isolating: riding in the desert with no others nearby or staying in the RV, unless going somewhere is absolutely necessary. Arizona is becoming a hot spot (get it?); things are not under control here.

See you next time!

-Al & Kathe aka The Lobsters

Arizona, Mid-Spring: Feels like summer to US!

First things first.

We hope that all of you and those you love are staying healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. But we know it is likely not true for some of you. Our thoughts are with you.

We are fortunate that the known case count here in LaPaz county is still only 7. However, that may be because the county has only tested a handful of people. We are sure there are more infected people around, so we are taking as many precautions as we can when we go out, particularly when we have to go to Phoenix, which is the primary virus hot spot for Arizona.

We have moved from our winter home on the desert to the commercial campground in Quartzsite that Kathe mentioned in the last post. It is already quite hot (105 today, and even hotter tomorrow), so we may need to reconsider our plans to stay in Quartzsite for the summer. Time will tell—stay tuned. Thank goodness for “shore power,” so we can run the ACs; it still stays comfortable in the RV.

Cacti are blooming!

So… what to do? What to do? We’re riding our bikes around town, which is now constrained to the (very) early morning. We hope to build up our endurance, but for now with the shape we’re in and the heat, we’re limiting our rides to about 7 or 8 miles. I know…we’re pikers! Trying to get out most days.

Quartzsite has several miles of bike paths alongside the town streets . We use the paths where we can, and ride the quiet side streets when necessary. We’ve been able to do lots of exploring and enjoy the lizards and quail that often dart in front of us.

All of the street names in town are designated with a compass direction: North, South, East, or West. Part of this is probably to be able to visualize where a street is without checking a map, but c’mon. The town is just not that big. (We’re not in Washington, DC!)

But there is another reason. Being in the desert, the town is riven with washes, those paths that drain heavy rains out of the nearby mountains.

One of the larger washes through town.

The very first piece of advice we got about camping on the desert here back in 2018 was, “Don’t camp in a wash!” Ya think???

Some roads cross the washes on bridges. Some roads just follow the terrain down into the wash and back up. “Do not enter when flooded” signs are a common sight in town.

But some roads… ummm… don’t. Some roads simply stop on one side of the wash and then pick up again on the other side. For instance, West Cowell isn’t connected to East Cowell at all. Pro tip: Not all in-car navigation systems are aware of this!

Here, the road just drops down into the wash and back out again.
Good advice!
In Montana, this would be for snow. Not here!

While we’re out and around biking the side streets we notice that lots of the plants are flowering. As we go past the same places with each day’s rides, we notice that bud to blossom to past is sometimes the matter of only two or three days. As always, click on a picture below to see a larger version.

We’ve also noticed that cottontail bunny rabbits are almost as abundant as squirrels are back east. They seem to be a lot more skittish, though. We haven’t been able to get a picture of one for the blog yet.

There is also a fair amount of “public art” around town. This is not commissioned art in parks, downtown squares (of which there aren’t any), etc., but art of various types put up by property owners.

Kokopelli dancing
A saguaro cactus from welding tanks and caps.
A decorated (real) saguaro

There is a spindly cactus out here called an ocotillo; it has tiny leaves, which limits moisture loss through transpiration. Out at the edge of town on one of the bike paths there is an ocotillo made of rebar. (It loses even less moisture through transpiration!)

Ocotillo out in the desert
Ocotillo blossoms
Rebar ocotillo!

Kathe’s major activity for the past several weeks is helping to produce our Bar Harbor church’s streamed worship service. Each week’s process is getting more and more efficient as she becomes more familiar with the tools she’s using, primarily the Audacity audio editor and the OpenShot video editor.

Kathe is also quilting up a storm, taking several online courses enjoying learning about free motion quilting something she had never tried before.

Project from Kathe’s Precision Piecing class with Philippa Naylor

I’m puttering at the computer (is that “’putering“?) to learn some new programming tools and some new photography techniques. Two of my hobby projects are writing a program to plot historical Covid data, and rationalizing about 15 years of backups. (How many copies of the Quicken database from 2008 do I really need?) I’m also reading a lot, generally alternating a new book with one I’ve enjoyed before, sort of brain “comfort food.”

We continue to watch a lot of streamed TV. Some of our new favorites are The Great British Baking Show and Schitt’s Creek on Netflix, and Blue Murder, Line of Duty, and Silent Witness on Amazon Prime.

If you’ve found (or rediscovered) one or more favorites to stream, please drop recommendations in the comments! We only have enough queued up to last us through 2022.

We know that we are very fortunate, since we are both healthy, continue to have an income, and have a place in which to shelter away from others. There are so many who don’t have those things right now. I’m probably even more fortunate since I’m an introvert. Social distancing—let’s make that physical distancing—is easier for me than it is for extroverts like Kathe.

So…what are YOU doing? And HOW are you? A wise person recently told me, “It is OK to not be OK.”

We’ll write again soon, even if just to say “same ol’, same ol’.” Keeping in touch is important, especially now.

-Al & Kathe

A Rainy Day: “Did you see the Octobass?”

Hi, Everyone!

Long time, no type. In some aspects it has been a quiet winter (you’ll be able to read about the not-so-quiet part in an upcoming post), so not much to write home about. We haven’t done any real traveling since we arrived in Quartzsite in October.

Recently Kathe had a “free motion quilting” class in Phoenix. I decided that I’d go with her to Phoenix, and find something to do. There have to be some nice trails there on the outskirts that I could wander on.

But it turned out to be a rainy day (yes, Arizona has them). So what to do? Hmmm… I’ll look at the web… Multiple “things to do in Phoenix on a rainy day” lists had the Musical Instrument Museum at, or very near, the top of the list. OK, let’s give it a try. Then I’ll grab some lunch somewhere and see something else in the afternoon.

When I told some of my grandkids that I had gone to the museum, Dean immediately asked, “Did you see the Octobass?”

Oh, yeah.

The Octobass.

The apparent size is accurate, not an artifact of perspective caused by having the instrument in the very close foreground. Note the platform to the left for the musician to stand on, and the fact that the top of the octobass is only an inch or two from the ceiling.

Remote controls for stopping the strings above where a musician could reach.

Dean had obviously read about the museum!

Spoiler alert: I never did go anywhere else. I hadn’t seen everything by the time I had to go pick up Kathe at 4:00. Phew! (And the lunch in the museum cafe was surprisingly good!)

The museum is organized in a few different ways; one is by geography. There are rooms dedicated to the instruments from these areas: Africa and Middle East, Asia and Oceania, Europe, Latin America, and America and Canada. Within each room, the instruments from different cultures and regions are grouped for display.

Each display in the museum has a video screen showing related music making. Everyone gets a wearable receiver / headset that picks up the audio for the screen if you are within about five feet. This made it much more interesting than if there were simply static displays. Several of the pictures below show these video screens.

Here are a few examples of the regional displays.

Northwest China
Highly decorated instruments from Egypt
From Afghanistan
Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan
Saudi Arabia: Yamaha made keyboards with different tunings, sounds, and rhythms for Middle East musical genres
Uganda
Cape Verde
A wooden “slit drum” from the Central African Republic

Some of the displays contained traditional dress and ceremonial costumes.

Ceremonial dress from Sierra Leone

Something that hit me quite strongly was the similarity of instrument designs used around the world, and the diversity of the music they produce when used in different cultures.

It seems that almost all the string instruments fall into the categories of “zither” and “lute,” which are then modified by how the string is caused to vibrate, for example, “strummed,” “plucked,” or “struck.” You’ll see some examples below.

There is also a room highlighting various famous artists—or should I say, the instruments used by various famous artists! Also a room for guitars, for mechanical instruments such as player pianos, music boxes, etc., and a room for playing (with?) a variety of instruments.

Guitars: plucked lutes

Guitars are one of the most widespread instruments; they are manufactured on every continent except Antarctica. Now there is an opportunity for the over-winterers! Be the first!

Here are a (very) few of the guitars in the guitar room. Click on an image to see a bigger version with some brief descriptive text.

Other Lutes

Beside guitars, the lute family includes mandolins, ukuleles, and… ummm… lutes. But wait! There’s more!

Zithers

Many cultures have what we would call a hammer dulcimer; the museum uses the more generic name “struck zither.” Here are a few examples from around the world. Again, click on a picture to see the instrument’s name and country of origin.

Other zithers were on display as well, both strummed and plucked. This family includes harps, and autoharps. Here are a few of the many on display.

A plucked concert zither, from Missouri
A qānūn, a plucked zither, from Egypt
A benju, a keyed zither, from Pakistan

Mechanical players

The mechanical instruments room doesn’t include record players, tape recorders (am I dating myself?), or other similar machines. That is probably because they are music reproduction machines, not music creating machines. But there is certainly a wide range of the latter represented!

Player piano AND violin!

One of the interesting things about the combination piano and violin (above) is that it uses electric instead of pneumatic controls.

A player…. trumpet???

Despite the card calling this a “mouth organ” in the title, the fine print in the description calls it a “player trumpet.” Who knew?

“Just” a music box?

Boy, that music box looks just like the one I had as a kid!

Yeah. Right.

A player organ with flute (wide) and “string” (narrow) pipes.

One item in the mechanical room that I couldn’t get a picture of (too big) was a “portable” many-instrument item. It was about 15 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It was designed to be moved, but had to be disassembled to do so.

Elkhart, Indiana

Every RVer knows that Elkhart is the world capital of RVs, with more manufactured there than anywhere else by a large margin.

I was very surprised to learn that it also claims the title of the world capital of band instruments, manufactured by the Conn company and other Elkhart-based companies, many of which were started by former Conn employees.

The Elkhart story

Finally, a few special instruments

For various reasons, a few of the instruments I saw were special to me.

Back in the early ’60’s, my brother and our father built a Theremin from plans in Popular Electronics magazine. You may not know the name, but you have almost certainly heard a Theremin or derivative instrument. Think of the eerie varying pitched tones in grade B sci-fi movies. I never knew it was a legitimate instrument, used in concerts by Clara Rockwood. Here is one actually built by Lev Sergeyevich Teremin (a.k.a. Léon Theremin), and given to Clara.

The loop on the left and the stick on the right are antennas. One controls pitch, the other, volume. You control the instrument by moving your hands closer to or farther away from the antennas, without ever touching them.

Nashua First Church bell choir, you need these! This G1 is the lowest-pitched handbell currently in production. Using aluminum instead of brass for the larger bells cuts the weight by half.

Is this a cross between a violin and a trumpet? No, it is a cross between a violin and an old-style phonograph. The horn is for amplification.

This next one caught my attention because of the WHY??? factor. It is an electric steel guitar with FOUR fingerboards… OK, you musicians out there. WHY? Is there a human 2.0 option for a few extra pairs of arms?

The Quad Stringmaster, by Fender

And finally, one that had me close to tears. Children in Paraguay scavenge refuse dumps, to make instruments from the waste they find. Here a viola (bowed lute) from an old paint can, using a discarded fork for the tailpiece. The urge to create music is strong!

Reclaimed viola

In closing:

  • if music is your passion,
    • GO;
  • if you enjoy music to relax you,
    • GO;
  • if you have ever heard music,
    • GO;
  • if you have ever heard the word music…
    • GO to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix!

What a difference…

What a difference a year makes!

Only now do we realize how much we were in “vacation, ” or “tourist” mode for all of last fall. Go here, see that.

It was a wonderful trip down to the Arizona desert in 2018, taking about 9,000 miles. Hope you enjoyed traveling with us via our posts. But we’ve not made many posts this year (OK, this is only the second one). We have entered fully into “living” mode in the RV.

Having left the northeastern corner of the country for the indeterminate future, we had to decide what to do with doctors. We could keep our current ones, but that would mean returning to Maine and MDI moderately frequently–not the easiest place in the world to travel to. So we decided to create a new locus for our health care needs.

Our current expectation is that the longest period of time that we will spend in any one place for the foreseeable future is here in southwestern Arizona. So we decided to use the Phoenix area as our new medical “home.”

Being the fifth largest city in the US, and being a mecca for retirees, Phoenix has a plethora of doctors: doctors with expertise in the vicissitudes of aging (ageing for those of you outside the US and Canada).

Also, being the 5th largest city comes with first world problems!

So, much of the last several weeks has been spent starting relationships with various doctors in the Phoenix area. One of the advantages of trips to Phoenix is that it has a great ham radio store (and restaurants, well-stocked supermarkets, other stores, and…)!

Kathe had an unresolved issue while being treated in Maine when it came time to leave, so her doctor put us in touch with an appropriate specialist in Phoenix and suggested that we get there sooner than later. Kathe was able to get an appointment in the near future, so this trip south was very different from last year’s. We basically plotted a straight line from Indiana to Quartzsite, and boogied on down with mostly one night stops and a few two nighters. Not the way we normally enjoy traveling, but possible. That’s why there haven’t been pics taking you along as we explored new places.

So beside saying “Aaaahhhhh,” and following the instructions to “Look straight ahead at the white light,” what else are we doing?

Mostly it has to do with people. We are enriching friendships with people we met last year and those we met 30 years or so ago. And making new friends.

Henk and Mary, renewing friendships from long ago. We’re in Palm Canyon, in Kofa NWR.

Kathe is getting back into quilting, and I’m starting (finally) to do some hobby programming. (I didn’t do ANY programming the first year of retirement, which stunned me.) We’ve gotten our bikes tuned up ready for some riding this winter. Kathe will be taking her first classes at the local Gem and Mineral Club in the next few weeks: silverwork, lapidary, and faceting.

We have also returned to an old favorite hobby: amateur radio. You may know it as ham radio. We are in the process of putting up some antennas that will make it possible for us to make contacts not only locally but also around the country and hopefully, internationally. Kathe made three contacts yesterday — her first in more than ten years!

This year’s site on the desert is a bit of a “neighborhood” — we’re camped next to our friends James and Gloria. We’re farther back from the main road which means far less dust. We’ve edged our large “sites” with rocks and the areas around the antenna poles (we both have one) are landscaped with white quartz rocks. After all, this is Quartzsite; there are plenty available!

Our current ham antenna “farm”: a 40 meter dipole antenna for Kathe, and a 2m / 70cm vertical antenna for Al.
(L to R) Rhett, Scarlet, James’ ham antennas, James and Gloria’s Solitude (our antennas are just out of frame, to the left).

Astronomy and night photography are very well-suited for desert skies. We are keeping better updated on meteor showers, etc. If we can successfully stay up late (always a challenge!) or get up during the night (even MORE of a challenge) to hit a the peak of a shower, we’re sure to be rewarded. It’s dark out here!

We also plan to do some exploring of the southwest this winter. We only did one local trip all of last winter, to Joshua Tree NP. We hope to do many more than that, and already have a trip planned to Death Valley in February.

Thank goodness for airplanes, cell phones, and the Internet. We’ve really felt the distance from family this fall and it’s been difficult at times. Fortunately, we were able to easily return to New England for some much needed family time last month. Before and after that visit, we’ve kept in touch throughout each day; the coverage here on the desert is pretty darned good right now. Distance is never insurmountable when love for family is of utmost importance.

As we look ahead to the holidays, it’s still kind of weird to see decorations available (including snowmen, icicle lights, etc.) at Lowe’s and Walmart alongside huge greenhouses spilling over with flowering shrubs, hanging baskets, and cacti—especially when the temps are in the high 80’s and low 90’s!

We know that the MDI area has been having some pretty spectacular sunsets recently, but this wouldn’t be a “Lobsters” post without one of ours.

OK… Without two of ours!

As always, we hope that this finds you well and enjoying life. Thanks for traveling with us, and keep in touch!

-Al and Kathe: The Lobsters

The Merge…the PURGE!

We’re finally reunited with Scarlett and Rhett! We were gone for exactly eight, very busy weeks, and it is good to be back!

Reunited! That’s the Grand Design service facility in the background.

With the help of friends, and through a combination of sales, gifts, donations to charities, and (many) trips to the town transfer station (no longer called a “dump”), our house on Mount Desert Island is completely empty and on the market. Do you want a house in great shape on the coast of Maine, right outside Acadia National Park??? Hey, you can’t blame me for trying. Both of our cars were sold.

So strange to see the house completely empty!
Echo…echo…echo

A highlight of the “sale” part of cleaning the house was Kathe’s MEGA fiber sale! Imagine 40+ years of “stash,” for spinning, weaving, knitting, and traditional rug hooking.

Yarns galore!
Fabric for all you quilters
Miscellany
Did we mention yarn?

We saw many of our Maine friends, but certainly not all that we would have liked to. To those we weren’t able to see, we’re sorry; we simply ran out of time. On September 19 we started our trip back to Indiana to get back to our truck and rig. Why Indiana, the world capital of RVs?

Well, we didn’t exactly blab about this at the time, although some of you know it by now. Back in late May, we had an accident with the trailer that damaged the left side pretty severely, but didn’t affect the driveability or operation at all. Since we had our Utah extravaganza with grandsons Graham and Dean coming up, we elected to defer repair until after their visit was over. Due to the extent of the damage, we asked the manufacturer, Grand Design RV, if they would put us in their repair queue. They agreed, so rather than leave the rig out west when we returned to Maine to get the house ready for the market as we had planned, we drove it to Indiana.

Repairs made, the trailer is as good as (actually, better than) new! We’re ready for more adventures!

When emptying the house, we were guided by the thought behind this strategy for de-cluttering. You may know it. Make three piles:

  1. Things to keep,
  2. Things to sell or give away, and
  3. Things that should be thrown out.

All piles must be equally sized.

We did that, pretty successfully… But we were pretty aggressive—as if we had taken pile 1, and made three piles.

Some of the items from the small pile 1 we wanted to have with us, despite not having needed them over the past year—for instance, outplacing similar items we had acquired over the year when we noticed they were missing.

Other things in pile 1 were kept because we wanted to be able to save some memories for when we eventually come off the road and set up housekeeping in another “sticks and bricks” house. What to do with those? Fortunately, our son, Mike, agreed to store those at his family’s house. Thank you, Mike! So, rental van loaded, we started back to Indiana via Nashua, NH to see some of our “pre-Maine” friends, and Corning, NY to spend a week with Mike’s family (and drop off some of pile 1).

We’re going through the things we have in the camper, judging whether each has paid its “rent,” i.e., been useful / used enough to warrant the space and weight it has consumed. Books can be donated to the wonderful library in Quartzsite; we have our Kindle readers. Some fabric can be shared with the quilting group. We’re about to dramatically cull through our clothes, too; we’ve got much more than we need. It’s actually quite liberating to find ROOM in the RV as we get rid of things.

So here we are, heading back to Arizona for the winter even though the camper isn’t completely reorganized yet to accommodate the things we have bought with us but we’re making great progress. This brings back memories of our original game of RV Tetris.

Still lots of things which need a “permanent” storage place. Tetris, V2.

So…

Make three piles…

The start of a new “Pile 2,” in our truck’s back seat. Looking for a Goodwill store along our route…

See you again down the road!

-The Lobsters, once more…on the loose!

That’s a wrap – YEAR ONE!

Things are strange right about now. We’ve come off the road and are back on MDI, long enough to put our house on the market. (Anyone want a house on the Maine Coast, right outside Acadia National Park? Anyone?)

We’ve had a great time this past year and are looking forward to more adventures to come! But it is time for a bit of retrospection and possibly introspection.

How to describe the year? We can put some numbers on it:

  • 359 days, door to door
  • 858 hours of driving
  • 27,851 total miles driven (Kathe has well over 25,000 of our miles!)
  • 20,070 miles with the trailer. It is hard to believe that we roamed over 7,000 miles without the trailer. That was all day trips!
  • 2 wonderful grandchildren for 3 weeks
  • 28 National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, Monuments, etc.
  • 30,206 pictures (And you thought we had posted a lot of pics!)

But those don’t really give a flavor of what we have experienced. If you have been following the blog you’ve seen many of the things we’ve seen, but not felt the impact of the openness of the west, nor had the many conversations we’ve had along the way.

The people we have met have been uniformly friendly, helpful, and as willing to share their journey with us as we have with them. Need a tool? Sure! Just put it on the table when you’re done.

Occasionally we’ve run across people who try to get into politics, but it has been very rare. Mostly, conversations have been about travel, enjoying the outdoors, families, rigs, and life experiences.

This country is huge! Having lived our entire lives in the Northeast, we had never known anything but the relatively dense population there. Once across the Mississippi river, you start to be aware that you’re driving for many miles without seeing any structure or other evidence of people.

Our country is beautiful, and varied (witness the 30,206 pictures)! We kept commenting to each other about beautiful scene after beautiful scene as we drove along . We had to be careful not to stop too frequently for photography, or we would have never gotten to our next destination.

When we started, we wondered what it would be like, to be sharing a roughly 300+/- square foot “house” with basically two rooms. We’re happy to report that it hasn’t been a problem at all.

When we started, we said that we’d live full time in our RV for a year before deciding whether to sell our house on Mount Desert Island. The six-month mark came, and we started to make those plans. Now that we’re at the year point and back on the island, we know that it is still the right answer for us.

We’re rattling around in our “large” (compared to the trailer) house, wondering why we ever thought we need so much space—and stuff. As we get ready to sell our house we have to part with things from our past. Most of that seems to not be a problem, but other things, like about 50 years of pictures… well, that is a bit harder. And as most men who have made this transition will tell you… “My tools!” Yeah, I won’t have all my tools! Being brought up with the viewpoint that it was important to have the right tool for whatever it is you’re trying to do, it is really hard to get rid of my tools.

Hard to get rid of in another way is all of our ham radio equipment. There’s just not much of a market for it. While we (especially Kathe) will still be involved in ham radio on the road, it will be done in a different way. Small radios. Small antennas (a bit of an oxymoron, that). There is no room in our 36′ trailer for a ninety foot plus antenna tower, and antennas that measure over 40′ by 20′ on top of the tower. So a lot to get rid of.

We know that we’ll need to come off the road at some point, determined either by health (no news there!) or by a yearning to settle down. But right now, that seems like a long way off. We’ve absolutely loved our past year and are looking forward to continuing for the foreseeable future. We hope that you’ve enjoyed traveling along with us, and that you’ll continue to share our adventure.

We’re still the Lobsters, but, for a while at least, we’re no longer “on the loose.” So we’ll take a break from the blog and pick it up again when we’re back on the road—probably in early October.

See you then!
Al & Kathe

Millions of Years!

The RVing “Rule of Twos:”

  • About 200 miles per day,
  • Arrive by 2:00 (or at least early enough to set up by late afternoon),
  • Stay at least two nights.

We’re retired, no need to push for long driving days. So when we plan our travels, one of the tasks is “Where to stop?” When we have a longish drive between two major stops, we have to break up the drive across multiple days. So we look on the map at “around” 200 miles, and see what looks promising.

When you notice the name, “Flaming Gorge,” the decision is pretty much made! We’re really glad that we saw that. And also that we decided on three nights!

Flaming Gorge

Flaming Gorge was named by John Wesley Powell in 1869 during his exploration of the west. The name stuck. When you see the reds of the surrounding cliffs, you can see why. Flaming Gorge is one of five distinct gorges/canyons in this stretch of the Green River. This pic is actually just before Flaming Gorge, in Red Canyon.

The Green River in Red Canyon, just above Flaming Gorge. Yes, the river really is green.

The gorge area is only about 30 miles from our campground, but it is thirty miles of twisting mountain road. I didn’t realize how strong my fear of edges was until I tried to drive on these. Fortunately, Kathe’s shoulder has now healed enough that she was able to resume her driving duties! Phew…

Geology is big here; there are signs along the roadside giving the current rock formation / era, and sayings like, “Dinosaurs roamed here,” or “Ancient seabed, shells and sand dunes.” Because of the erosion over the millennia, we travel backward and forward through the history of the earth as we drive up and down (or actually, down and up) the hillsides.

Sheep Creek Bay Overlook, at the south end of Flaming Gorge. The sun conditions make huge differences in the color of the water. The next day, the water here was gray. Notice the prominent evidence of tectonic activity with the upthrust formations tilting once horizontal sediment beds.

Parts of these gorges have been flooded to create the ninety-one mile long Flaming Gorge Reservoir by damming the Green River, the Colorado’s biggest tributary. We were able to take a tour of the 502′ high Flaming Gorge Dam, going down into the turbine room, and out at the downstream base. Thank goodness for elevators!

Flaming Gorge Dam
One of three turbine-driven generators. Together, the three turbines use 4,000 cubic feet of water per second. The dam can release more water if needed, through bypasses.
One of the turbine wheels that was removed during a retrofit.
I thought we used a lot of climbing rope on the MDI-SAR team! They do inspections by rappelling down the face of the dam. Oh! May I? May I, please? Please?

The dam has of course changed the ecology of the river. Some fish previously in the river are gone. But the Green River downstream of the dam is now apparently a world-class trout fishery. There were lots of very large trout swimming in the eddies of the generating plant outlets, but fishing is not allowed in the immediate downstream area.

Are you hungry yet?

As is frequently the case, the top of the dam is a roadway, usually a two direction road except when something like this is trying to cross!

Yes, it IS an oversize load…
At times, the road over the dam is definitely one way!

Dinosaur National Monument

About an hour and a half away from our campground (again over the mountains) lay Dinosaur National Monument. What kid (of any age) can resist dinosaurs? Sure! Let’s go.

Dinosaur NM is quite large, but its gem is just inside the western (nearest to us!) entrance. The “Quarry Exhibit Hall” is an enclosed cliff face of what was originally the river bed of an ancient river. Approximately 1,500 bones are visible here, from ten different species of dinosaurs. The site is estimated to have been formed about 149 million years ago. It was discovered in 1909 by Earl Douglass of the Carnegie Museum when he found eight tail vertebrae of an Apatosaurus (how can they tell???). Many of the fossils discovered here were shipped to museums around the world, but many remain.

One side of the Quarry Exhibit Hall, showing how it is built right into the cliff face. This is the third such building. It appears robust; time will tell if this is the one that will last!

Naturally enough, the cliff face and the fossilized bones are pretty uniform in color. This makes discerning the bones somewhat difficult, especially in pictures.

As taken.

To make it easier to see the bones, I have enhanced the contrast and used edge sharpening in the remainder of these pictures. I should note that the National Park Service does the same thing on its website. (To a greater degree, in my opinion!)

With boosted contrast and sharpening.

One of the things that makes this site so different is not just the density of preserved bones (which of course are now fossilized, i.e., they are rock, not bone), but also the number of bones that are still articulated—attached to the bones next to them. It is very rare to find skulls still articulated to the cervical vertebrae.

Skull still attached.

Many species died here. In this picture are large bones from two different species. Across the top is an Apatosaurus scapula. Below it, going from lower left toward the upper right is a Diplodocus scapula. And from lower right toward upper left is an Apatosaurus femur.

Scapula, scapula, femur.

Apparently, mostly complete skeletons are exceedingly rare. The NPS publication describing this part of the wall says, “Articulated Skeleton: Paleontologist’s Dream.” This picture is of a nearly complete Camarasaurus. I couldn’t see all of what they were describing, but then, I’m not a paleontologist!

“Nearly complete.” If you say so!

And if I could be permitted a slight aside here, whatever happened to the dinosaur names that I learned as a kid? My grandkids (and this exhibit) and I speak a completely different “language” of dino names! I want my T-Rex back!

Aside to the aside: I really put that in for a bit of humor, but decided to do a little web searching and came across this. Apparently, Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus (Thunder Lizard) were initially thought to be different species, but soon thereafter they were “determined” to be the same, with the animal identified as Apatosaurus being simply a juvenile Brontosaurus. Since the name Apotosaurus was published first, the name Brontosaurus was dropped from the formal nomenclature in the early 20th century, but not from many museum exhibits, nor from popular use. But wait! There’s more! In 2015, a new study “determined” that they are indeed separate species, and that there may be a third closely related species. So I guess I get my Brontosaurus back.

Whatever their names, some of the beasts were BIG! This is a Camarasaurus femur.

Don’t meet this one on a dark night…

Notice that parts of that femur are dark and shiny. That is from the oil on many people’s hands. Most of the gallery is under a “don’t touch” policy, but in some places the kids (again, of all ages!) are invited to touch.

Please touch me!

As part of the preservation efforts here, the wall is being monitored for seismic activity. There are strain gauges across many of the cracks, and there are other detectors at several places. I was not able to find a ranger who could identify what those were for.

Monitoring the rock. Notice that one of the bones is broken at a crack.

Dinosaur National Monument is big; we only dipped our toes into the water, so to speak. We did go another mile or so in to “Swelter Shelter,” to see some 1,000 year-old pictographs and petroglyphs, created by the Fremont people. I learned the difference here; the terms are not synonyms. A pictograph is created by staining the surface of the stone, usually with red ocher (ochre if you’re a Brit). A petroglyph is formed by chipping or etching the stone. Both are present at this site, but most are petroglyphs.

Combining both forms here. Notice that there is some evidence of ocher staining that remains.
Do these remind you of 1950’s depictions of aliens? Wavy, sinuous arms, tentacles from their heads? Hmmm.

Unfortunately, there were also etchings that were less than 1,000 years old. Why do people feel the need to carve their initials into irreplaceable sites like this?

For an “in between” stop in our adventure, this one had some pretty great stuff! Our countries are so full of fascinating nature, history, and people. We keep marveling!

We are about to join with our two oldest grandkids for several weeks, so get ready for some guest bloggers!

We’ll see you again down the road.

geysers, grizzlies, and guardrails

“All animals in Yellowstone National Park are wild and dangerous!”

“All wildlife is dangerous! Remain at least 25 yards from any animal.  Remain at least 100 yards away from bison and bear.”

“Yellowstone is a Dangerous Place”

These and similar signs are all over Yellowstone.  We need to be wary of all the animals!

Beware dangerous chipmunks! Or is it some kind of western squirrel? He was greatly enjoying a gourmet mushroom he’d found nearby.

We did see quite an array of wildlife in the park, in addition to the chipmunk.  We saw bison, including some close enough to get good pictures of (but far enough to still be safe). We also saw deer, elk, and an osprey.  No bear (of which I’m very glad), and no moose (of which there are very few remaining in the park).

Practicing for rutting season, I guess.
An after dinner drink!
An osprey on the prowl for dinner,
Gotcha! How would you like your trout?

There are many dangerous things in the park, as in most of the National Parks.  Their wildness is what calls many of us to go to them; it is what makes these places special.  Being attacked by wild animals, driving off the edge of a narrow mountain road, or falling into a pool of boiling water are some of the things that can befall a careless or inattentive visitor.

We got a late start on our first day in the park, so we decided to just do the north part of the park (we were staying outside the north entrance). We’d go down the western side through Mammoth Hot Springs, to Norris, across to Canyon, up through Tower, and then back to Mammoth. Here’s a picture of the Yellowstone river near Tower.

Yellowstone River

We had visited Yellowstone eleven years ago after a service trip to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota with our church.  We were in a small rental car and enjoyed driving in the park. The roads on the east side of the park are quite mountainous, twisty and narrow—a challenge! Fun! 

Driving them in a crew cab long bed dually pickup truck (basically, the biggest F350 that Ford makes) is an entirely different experience from driving them in a compact!  White knuckle time. Through a good portion of the park, there were no guardrails. And it was hundreds and hundreds of feet to the ground below. We decided to not go to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Lamar Valley because they would have required retracing some of that route.  But those were the only places we had wanted to visit that we missed. If we go back in the future, we may rent a compact car to make touring the park less terrifying!

The geysers and geothermal pools are, of course, Yellowstone’s calling card. The density of these features is unique in the world. They are unquestionably beautiful and awe inspiring, but you need to be careful.  There are boardwalks in many of the dense areas of springs, pools, and geysers, and there are frequent signs warning people to stay on the boardwalks.  The “ground” they traverse is often simply a thin coating over a hot spring, most of which will be fatal if a person becomes immersed.

Travertine and hot pools in the Norris Basin area.

On our previous visit, I watched two men ahead of me on a boardwalk.  They came to one of the “Danger! Hot water. Stay on the boardwalk” signs, and one handed the other his camera, stepped off the boardwalk (right next to the sign), and had his friend take a picture of him and the sign.  As a former boss of mine was fond of saying, “You can’t fix stupid.”  But Darwin clearly missed an opportunity here.

This time, we saw many unattended small children on the boardwalks, some standing on the edge of the boardwalks (there are often no railings), or kneeling at the edge leaning over—presumably, “to get a better view.” As parents, it was very tough to see these situations.

But… these pools and springs are unquestionably beautiful!

Grand Prismatic Spring

The colors of the pools are caused by thermophyllic bacteria, also referred to as “extremophiles.” Different types of bacteria have different colors and live in different water temperature ranges: blue indicates the hottest temperatures, then yellow, then red.

I didn’t get a good picture of it, but the steam drifting above the Grand Prismatic Spring was tinged with the reds and blues of the water.

Quick: what was the Roman Coliseum built out of?  Travertine. Didn’t know that myself until a few hours ago. Travertine is a type of rock made by the evaporation of mineral laden water.  And it is all over Yellowstone, particularly in the Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Basin areas.

Travertine terraces.
I wish I knew what causes it to form terraces instead of just smooth slopes.

Over time, the travertine will envelop anything it encounters.

Such as this tree…
Or this walkway.

The pools and springs sometimes warn of their danger by continuously steaming. 

Caution: blue indicates the hottest springs and pools.

Others are quiet and appear inviting!

Quiet, but deadly. Notice how thin the crust is!

Geysers are the other thermal features most people associate with Yellowstone. Some are grand, but erupt unpredictably; others are small and erupt frequently. A few are large and predictable. Eruptions can last for a short time, releasing all their pressure quickly, or they can last for hours. We saw quite a few of the small geysers,

Even small geysers can build up a significant cone over time from the dissolved minerals.
Not sure whether this is a small geyser or just a bubbling spring.

And what visit to Yellowstone National Park is complete without watching Old Faithful erupt?

It really is impressive seeing this eruption. Not the biggest in the park, but the biggest we were to see on this trip.

We had the great pleasure of meeting a member of the Mount Desert Island Search and Rescue team who is now a law enforcement ranger at the Old Faithful District. We hadn’t seen each other since last July, and it was very good to see him again!

We finished our trip by hiking to the Morning Glory Pool. When we visited eleven years ago, it was about six weeks earlier in the year than we were here this time. On our previous visit, the Morning Glory area was closed due to grizzly bear activity in the area, feeding on several bison which had not survived the winter.

Morning Glory has a reputation of being one of the prettiest pools in the park and I was really looking forward to finally getting to see it this time. It was pretty, but I was somewhat disappointed.

It is widely reported that Morning Glory has been damaged by visitors throwing coins and trash into it, and the colors are reportedly not as striking as before; some articles refer to the name “Faded Glory,” The park is making efforts to try to repair the damage, but it is unknown whether it will ever be completely restored.

Morning Glory Pool

It was a real treat to be able to explore and enjoy Yellowstone again—it’s a real gem and should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Olympic Peninsula

We had the good fortune to spend a week on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. We visited four major areas on the peninsula, each one very different.

Sol Duc

We started out by camping in Sol Duc (Sole Duck), deep in Olympic National Park. The campground was run by the concessionaire, and was part of the Sol Duc Resort. We sort of lucked into this one via Sir Google; there are actually two campgrounds in Sol Duc that take RVs. The other one was heavily wooded and we would probably not have been successful getting Scarlet and Rhett in there. The one we had was small (about 15 sites), but wide open. The site was nestled in a grove of birch trees.

Beautiful in the morning

It was also a short walk to one of Sol Duc’s main attractions: thermal springs! We spent quite a bit of time soaking… The spring water is 150°, and is mixed with the river water to the desired temp for each of three pools. The hot one was hot enough that even I couldn’t stay in it for more than about 10 minutes—and I love hot baths! Just like in the Three Bears, the middle one (temperature) was just right.

Ummm. Sorry. No pictures; we were too busy relaxing!

You may have heard that the Pacific Northwest (PNW) gets a LOT of rain. There are several rainforests within the park. We were not in one, but looking around at the trees it sure looked like it. The older trees were covered in moss!

There are several trails leading out of the Sol Duc campgrounds; we encountered some deer browsing just off one of the trails.

Only about 15 feet off the trail.

We followed one of the trails out to the Sol Duc waterfall.

It is hard to comprehend the amount of water that cascades through these falls every day.

On the way back home (yes, the trailer really is “home”) we found another waterfall, albeit not quite as large.

A pretty, small stream, part way up a hill from the trail.

Sol Duc is completely surrounded by mountains. Nice scenery! Lousy connectivity! For the first time ever, we had to send a text message out through the Garmin Inreach satellite communicator that we carry for back country emergencies. (It wasn’t an emergency…)

Crescent Beach

Sol Duc is southwest of Port Angeles, which seems to be the major town on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the northern boundary of the Olympic Peninsula. Crescent Beach is a little west of Port Angeles, but is on the shore of the Strait.

Being here made us appreciate Oregon’s beach access law. Directly across the road from the campground was “their” beach, but “don’t go past the rainbow pole! That’s not our beach and you’ll be trespassing.”

In the distance (right side) is Vancouver Island, Canada!

About 1/2 way toward the trees in the distance, the beach belongs to someone else, and campers can’t go there. Sigh.

A state park, at the other end of the beach… and people in the park can’t go onto the campground’s beach, either.

Nevertheless, it was a beautiful setting and we enjoyed strolling on the sand.

Can you find Kathe? What’s she looking for?

Kathe normally beachcombs for sea glass, but we haven’t been successful finding any in the PNW. Here she was looking for…

Sand dollars!

We had a visitor.

But what are all those dark spots on the beach? Something is living in the sand (clams?). It leaves two kinds of markings.

Tracks from the creature from the deep!
They can be quite complex.
Piles of sand, expelled from below. These are all over the beach, and are those dark markings in the previous picture.

Please leave a comment if you know what animal is creating these tracks and the… what shall I call them?

Sometimes I wonder about the people who lay out campgrounds. Who would think that putting the sewer connection at the highest point in the site would be a good idea? Remember: it flows downhill!

Hurricane Ridge

Crescent Beach isn’t part of Olympic National Park, but we went back into the park to visit Hurricane Ridge on the recommendation of a friend who is a former park ranger there. So, so, so glad!

Also we were so glad that we didn’t have our trailer hooked up to our truck for this one! The road up the ridge is steep and twisty. But the views are worth it. Down at sea level the skies were gray and cloudy, so we almost didn’t go. (Note to self as a future reminder… Always go!) Up top? Take a look!

Kathe getting pix of the horizon.
Yes, it was worth …
… the drive up the ridge.

Despite the name, the weather was quite mild with calm winds. We enjoyed our hike to the end of the currently open trail. The remaining trail to the peak of Hurricane Hill was still closed due to snow.

And there was still lots of snow on the ridge. Some people like to fight with Darwin’s attempts to clean the gene pool. The pictures below are at the top of a very steep slope down into the valley.

Stating the obvious: “Caution. The contents of this coffee cup may be hot.”
Close up of the signs.

They are doing a lot of work on the trail up to Hurricane Mountain. It seems like they are widening it, and are using a lot of large rocks along the up-slope edge of the trail. I was quite surprised to see what appear to be ferns on this rock. I don’t know whether they are fossilized in the rocks, or somehow imprinted on the rock after it was split. I suspect the latter, but…

Images of fern leaves on the rock.

Fort Worden State Park

Unexpectedly, Fort Worden turned out to be the highlight of our time on the peninsula. Located on the northeast corner of the peninsula, with the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north and west, and Puget Sound to the east and south, it was the main one of three forts that guarded Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, and Seattle. The driving force for the creation of the fort was the shipyard, not the city! Fort Worden was built between 1898 and 1917 in the second wave of the Endicott Board forts; the first wave (of which Fort Stevens was part) was built before the establishment of the shipyard when defense of the Sound was not deemed critical. The fort was activated with the arrival of the first troops in 1902, and served in both World Wars I and II. The gun emplacements were never used; the guns were removed in WWI, for use in Europe. The primary use for the fort after that was training.

Reduce, reuse, recycle! Fort Worden is a poster child for reuse. Decommissioned by the Army in 1953, it was purchased by the State of Washington in 1957 to become “Fort Worden Juvenile Diagnostic and Treatment Center,” for troubled youth. This center closed in 1971, and in 1973, Washington re-created it as the current state park. For a more detailed history of this fascinating fort, read Fort Worden: Rebirth Through Decay, by Peter St. George.

What makes Fort Worden special, compared, for instance, to Fort Stevens, is that a large number of its original buildings are intact. Most other forts of this era have had their (mostly wooden) structures torn down leaving only the foundations.

A Public Development Authority (PDA) was created by the city of PortTownsend, WA, to

“help renovate and fill the 70-plus historic buildings on Fort Worden’s campus, expand the number and types of partners and programming at the fort, and create an outstanding hospitality experience for guests.”

The state still owns the property; the PDA has a 99 year lease on the buildings. The PDA is renovating the existing buildings to enable other uses. The base hospital is now a remote campus for Goddard College. Local businesses at the fort include two publishing / printing companies, a yoga studio, a massage therapist, the Port Townsend School of the Arts, and Centrum Arts Foundation. There are concert series, with some of the larger concerts held in the WWI-era balloon hangar!

The officers’ and NCOs’ residences and a dormitory are being refurbished and furnished with antique period furniture. These are available for rental, from 30 beds down to three or four. Apparently many family reunions and some weddings book there. We were taken on a tour by one of the PDA board members! We were so gobsmacked by what we were walking through that we forgot to take any pictures. (Us? Forget pictures???) But you can see some of the refurbished officer’s houses and other residences on the PDA’s website. (You can also reserve time in them on those pages, if you will be in the PNW.)

Finally, not all of the buildings remain. There are foundations here too, all that is left of some of the quarters. The PDA is in the process of building new structures there, within the original building footprints.

The state park also includes the remains of the gun emplacements, in pretty much the same state as those we found in Fort Stevens. However, we found some types that we didn’t see in Oregon.

Mounting for a five inch gun. Much lighter construction than for the ten inch rifles used in both forts.
Mount for a three inch anti-aircraft gun.

The fort was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Being engineers, they were very detailed. Being the Army, meticulous records were kept. Here are some pictures of the plan for the three inch anti-aircraft gun mounts pictured above.

Diagram of this battery of anti-aircraft guns. (Can you find Kathe?)
Closeup showing measurements.

North 317.39 feet, East 231.25 feet. But from where? The entire fort was laid out from a single benchmark, which still exists.

The benchmark is the brass point on the side of this block. Note the engraved, “B.M.”

The trees have grown in the many years since the fort was active, but in some places you can still see what the soldiers would have seen.

Looking east across Puget Sound, to Whidbey Island. Taken from the roof of one of the ten inch batteries.

In other areas, you can’t.

Looking out from an observation bunker.

We’re now over 20,000 miles into our adventure, and are still having a great time.

Loving our new life—and each other!