All posts by The Lobsters

South Dakotans!

Once we decided (months ago now) to give up our ‘sticks and bricks’ home in Maine and continue our nomadic life as full-time RVers, we needed to choose a state to ‘hang our hat.’

Well, we’ve done it. We’re South Dakotans. In March, we registered our truck and trailer in South Dakota; the registration fees there are much lower than in Maine. All that South Dakota requires for registration is a South Dakota mailing address, and since it is quite possible that the trailer and truck will never be in Maine again, there was no point in leaving them registered there. We were able to do the registrations entirely through the mail, which resulted in the following conversation being held several times with campground “neighbors.”

“Where are you from in South Dakota?”

“Never been there!” (OK, Not quite true… but it is a good line. We had been there for a week eleven years ago, on Pine Ridge Reservation.)

But now we have. In order to establish our domicile in South Dakota, we have now obtained our SD drivers’ licenses, and registered to vote.

South Dakota has laws that are written specifically to attract full-time RVers, as do Florida and Texas. To gain resident status—to be able to get a driver’s license and register to vote—you merely have to have proof of spending one night in the state every five years. The reason we chose to cease having Maine as our domicile is because SD has no state income tax, and as noted above, much lower vehicle registration costs. Now we just have to make sure that we don’t stay in any one state for six months or more in any year, or that state could claim us.

“Honey, why did we plan so much time in South Dakota? There isn’t much to do here…”

Yeah. Right…

Mount Rushmore National Monument

Everyone has seen Mount Rushmore, if not in person, then in pictures. So is there anything new to say about it?

It is BIG. Pictures can’t capture the scope of the sculpture. No, not even the ones that we’re including here. The entryway into the park is aligned closely to the direction of Washington’s gaze. But I didn’t realize until we wandered a bit that there are other viewing sites that let you look directly at the other presidents as well. We didn’t find the one to look directly at Lincoln, but we did for Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt.

There is a “sculptor’s studio,” where they have maintained one of Gutzon Borglum’s scaled down sculptures created in preparation for the real one on the mountain. This study is at a scale of one inch to one foot. The studio allowed us our favorite picture of this visit.

The study and the mountain, from the sculptor’s studio.

Side note: In the early 20th century, Borglum maintained a home and studio in north Stamford, CT, not far from where Kathe grew up!

Crazy Horse Memorial

As we continued to explore the Black Hills of South Dakota, we knew we wanted to stop here. The amazing thing about the Crazy Horse memorial is that it is a work in progress—indeed, it was 1948 when artist Korczak Ziolkowski began to carve this incredibly huge work. The sculpture depicts the Oglala Lakota warrior, Chief Crazy Horse astride his horse and pointing into the distance.

It is HUGE! Larger than Mount Rushmore, the carving, when finished, will be 563 feet tall and 641 feet long. Look carefully.

Chief Crazy Horse Memorial. At the right you can see the etched outline of where the horse’s head will be.

You can actually spot some heavy equipment up at the top (on top of the arm)–we can’t imagine doing that kind of work, can you?

Close(r) up of the arm with equipment

Ziolkowski’s wife and and seven of their children continue to direct the project since his death in the early 80’s. Technology has changed a bit; the use of laser measuring tools and explosives is now in place.

What is particularly impressive about this project is that a lot more is happening at the site than just the sculpture — a new on-site university, an incredible museum, speakers, special programs, and conferences. Everything is supported by private donation and run by a non-profit group. In fact, the US federal government offered to donate 10 million dollars and it was declined. There was concern that the federal government would take over control of (and change) the project.

Wind Cave National Park

Al first learned about this park from a friend on the MDI Search and Rescue team who used to be a ranger there. Wind Cave was designated as a NP in 1903 and was actually the first cave anywhere in the world to be so protected. It is the sixth largest and most dense cave system in the world. To date, 149 miles of passageways have been explored and surveyed—all within ONE square mile. However, they only represent 5% of the total cave system. YIKES!

Wind Cave: only one square mile in area (so far).

There are three major levels. We took a tour in middle level.

No stalagtites or stalagmites here. The rock over the cave isn’t porous.

Frostwork, popcorn (which reminded us of our ceilings in our old home in NH), and boxwork are the three formations found here. In fact, Wind Cave is thought to be the home for 95% of the world’s boxwork.

To form boxwork, the limestone from which the cave is carved fractures twice. The first fractures are filled with water bearing the mineral calcite, which forms a latticework of stone much more erosion resistant than limestone. Later (much later), the limestone is fractured again, this time admitting flowing water. Over millions of years, limestone is eroded away to create the cave, but the stronger calcite remains to create the striking boxwork.

Boxwork in Wind Cave. Although it is resistant to erosion, it is VERY fragile!

Wind Cave is a sacred place for the Lakota People. Their emergence story originates here; they believe the cave is where they left the subterranean world to live on the surface. The NPS has a writeup on their website.

The only known natural entrance to the cave is a small opening (maybe a five year old could squeeze through). The ranger explained that when there is a difference in barometric pressure inside and outside the cave, a wind will blow; sometimes the air is rushing into the cave, sometimes out. She demonstrated with a ribbon.

On this day, the air pressure outside the cave is higher than that within; therefore the wind is blowing into the cave.

Badlands National Park

The native peoples had names for it. The early European trappers and explorers had names for it in their languages. Nobody wanted to travel through it. Today, we call it “the Badlands.”

Who would want to travel across this terrain?

We also call it beautiful! The rawness of nature here is inspiring.

Even in this hostile environment, mother nature surprises us.

Big Horn sheep

We chose to take a trail that was partly on the floor, and partly on a ridge. There was a log and wire ladder to get to the ridge that took some doing—mental and physical.

Can you find Kathe?

Unfortunately, we think that this ladder is what injured Kathe’s shoulder, requiring her to be seen by a doc, and wear a sling for about a week.

We also saw some careless parenting up on the ridge.

Unsupervised. Parents are way back off the left hand side of the picture.

We are about 50 feet off the floor. The wall below the path is sheer. The boy in the white shirt is off the path, standing on a sloping surface covered with loose material. A few seconds after this picture was taken he fell; fortunately he only only slid part way toward the edge. It was absolutely terrifying to watch; we felt completely helpless. A disaster was very narrowly averted. I was getting ready to rush back down to the floor to see whether there would be anything I could do for him.

A few miles northwest from where most of the pictures above were taken, the terrain is quite different, with smoother features and a fascinating coloring.

A different era, different sediment reaching the ocean floor. Different colors.

There was so much to see in the Badlands. As always, click on any Badlands picture in the gallery below to see them all as a slideshow.

As we noted above, pictures cannot truly represent what we’re seeing. We wish you could be with us to share the real experience, but for now these pics will have to do. We really enjoyed taking this first exploration of our new state. We’ll be back!

Let the Wild (Pony) Rumpus Begin!

When we first started building our itinerary and knew we’d want to be in Delaware early in October, I thought it would be fun to get back to Assateague Island — and maybe my brother, Richard and sister-in-law, Carol could join us! They made hotel reservations as soon as we told them our plans. They come to Chincoteague Island annually and were just looking for a good excuse to come back this fall. We’re SO glad they did!

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is on Assateague Island, abutting Assateague Island National Seashore. One of the  primary draws to come here was the two herds of Assateague ponies, one in Maryland and one in Virginia. We remembered coming here about 30 years ago when our kids were young. Of course, neither of us remembered too many details. It was great to return.

The refuge has much to offer in addition to the ponies, with many varieties of birds, sika deer–actually a small type of elk, not a deer–rabbits, and many other species.

We stayed at a campground a very short distance from the refuge on Chincoteague Island (VA) so we could bike in.  We can see the Assateague light from our “living room” (and kitchen, and dining room, since they’re all the same).

Assateague light from our campsite

Assateague Light was built at the southern tip of Assateague Island, but the island is basically a sand dune, and every storm moves it.  It is now significantly south and west of where it was when the light was built, so the light is now 1.5 miles from the current southern tip of the island.

Southern Herd

The southern pony herd in Virginia is the larger of the two, at about 150 ponies.  They are owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department.  The department has a special use agreement with the  Wildlife Refuge to use a large fenced-off marshy area where the horses are kept.  This area is so large that even with a 540mm lens, the horses at the far side are not able to be reasonably photographed.  These horses are less than 1/2 way across the marsh.

Ponies at dawn (540mm lens)

Same area, later in the day.

Sometimes they do indeed come closer.  The road into the refuge goes along one side of the marsh where I got the pictures below, and there is a mosquito-infested trail that goes along another.  We didn’t last long on that one.

Chincoteague Pony

Whether they’re in the Chincoteague or Assateague herds, the breed is Chincoteague Pony.  The reference I saw said “All colors.”

Another that came close-ish.

I called this one, “Black Beauty”

Mare and foal

And sometimes they get even closer.  Notice the brown and white mare and the smaller pony just to the right in the picture below. They are the same as in the picture above, but somehow they got out of the enclosed marsh area!

When out early one morning getting some of these pony pictures, I saw a wonderful sunrise across the street from the marsh area.

A few minutes before sunrise

Panning to the right a little bit…

“Our” Herd

We hadn’t made too many plans ahead of time with Richard and Carol but knew we’d be sharing many restaurant meals together, and boy, DID we! Our first day together, I offered to drive us all to the northern end of the island so we could visit both the Assateague State Park (run by MD) and the Assateague National Seashore. (Don’t worry — it took us all week to be able to get it all straight!).

We piled into Scarlett (our F350) and headed out. It only took a bit over an hour to get there and with all the conversation in the car, it seemed like a very short ride. The Visitor’s Center for the national park is quite large and just before the bridge that heads onto the actual island. And of course, there were ponies on the side of the road as we approached the bridge —- Move on! Move on! No stopping! scolded a park employee. We ducked  briefly into the state park and then onto the adjoining road into the national park.

The speed limit is only 25 MPH so it allows you to peer into the woods and toward the beach looking for ponies. We found a beautiful long (!) boardwalk that lead out over a brackish marsh in one direction and out to the bay on the other. It was so peaceful.

We spotted quite a few RV’s parked (camping) in the parking lots adjacent to the beach. It piqued our curiosity and it looks like we’ve put camping at either the state park or the national seashore in the future.

Richard and Carol suggested we share dinner at one of their favorite restaurants followed by amazing ice cream! Who can say no to fresh crab cakes and an ice cream sundae? And so, over the next few days, we shared dinner at a different restaurant each evening. Wow!

The next day, Al and I returned to the northern side of the island but brought our bikes. The part of the park that you can access by car and bike isn’t all that long (maybe 3 or 4 miles) and beyond that, it’s all OSV (over-sand vehicles) —- a permit is required, and alas, Scarlett weighs too much. The biking was perfect and we had our PB&J sandwiches at the beach. A mare and foal were there along with many surfers!

Northern Herd

The ponies in the northern herd in Maryland are owned by the US Government, and are free to roam wherever they want to in the Maryland section of the island; there is a fence at the state line to keep the two herds separate.  This herd is smaller, estimated at 70-80 ponies.  They can be hard to find, but there are “leavings” everywhere!

There are “Pony Patrols,” volunteers who are charged with keeping visitors at least 40′ away from the ponies when they roam into heavy tourist areas like the beach.  But a long lens can bridge that 40′ gap pretty easily!  Since these are wild animals, I didn’t want to be any nearer—but I guess there are a lot of people who aren’t as smart.

We saw this mother and colt pair next to a restroom at the beach of the National Seashore.

Mother, ever so sanguine.

The colt seemed to be bothered by the bugs in the area (mosquitoes and biting flies), and was squirming on the sand.

Man, quit bugging me!

Aaahhhhhh!

Birds on the island

This island is on a major migration flyway for many species of birds.  Later in the fall, apparently the ground looks like it has snowed when several tens of thousands of snow geese congregate on the island!

Here are some of the birds we saw on the island.  Egrets of several subtypes are everywhere!

Why don’t sailboats have an egrets’nest instead of a crows nest?

Not sure what this one is looking at or for!

Fishing, definitely fishing!

Flying too fast for me to keep framed properly. Oh, well.

Flight attendants, prepare for landing!

We saw several other species too.

Great Blue Heron

Osprey; look at the talons!

Bald Eagle

Great Blue Heron

Turkey Vulture

And of course, we have the ever-present seagulls and Canada Geese.

Don’t even think about taking my sandwich!

Geese at our campground

We spent a couple of days at the beach with Richard and Carol on the Chincoteague Island side. It was lovely! So much long-overdue visiting while being serenaded by the surf and warmed by the sun.
Having never vacationed with any of our siblings as adults, we were so happy to get so much time with Richard and Carol. We had a blast and we’re already making plans for the next time!

Other animals in the Refuge and at the Seashore

Lo and behold, there are animals other than ponies and birds here! Some are very well hidden like this crab.

Maryland crab hiding in the grasses.

Don’t know what kind of butterfly this is…

Sika “deer,” actually a type of small elk

Homo Sapiens Surfaris

Anyone know what this moth is?

White tailed deer

Camping, the beach, wildlife, photography, and family — what a winning combination! We look forward to returning to Assateague and hope that Richard and Carol can join us the next time.

Destination: Washington, D.C.

We were giddy when we realized we could spend the better part of a week in Washington, D.C. We’d only ever been with kids or as kids ourselves. We were long overdue for an opportunity to experience our nation’s capital as adults with no real responsibilities for anyone else!

We camped at the Cherry Hill Park Campground, in College Park MD.  If you’re coming this way in an RV, we highly recommend it. It’s the nicest place we’ve stayed so far, and by no means the most expensive. The Metro bus comes right to the campground and it’s a quick ride to the train station. And then just a 20-25 minute ride into the heart of D.C. It was SO easy to navigate.

And… the campground has single-stream recycling!

Each day at 4 PM, the campground offers a great orientation to the D.C. transportation system and an intro to two tours—we signed up for both. Terrific.

A week in Washington Is not nearly enough!  We didn’t have even that much time, but we had a wonderful time.  We went into the city four times; twice on our own and twice as part of the tours organized by the campground.

The first day we were there, we went into the city on our own and split up.  I (Al) went to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space museum near Dulles Airport.  If you are into the history of aviation and space exploration at all, this is a must see.

The museum is in  a huge hangar, and has a wide range of planes and space craft from very early days to recent history. Main displays include a Concorde SST, an SR-71 (the fastest—2000 MPH—and highest flying—80,000 ft—jet ever built — 32 were built in all), the space shuttle Discovery, and the Enola Gay. Beside those four, there are aircraft and space craft densely packed in the hanger, in three layers: one on the hangar floor and two layers creatively suspended in the air from the ceiling. I spent over three hours there and only scratched the surface. The density actually is a problem in trying to get good pictures of the craft because of the visual clutter in the background.

The SR-71 is very difficult to photograph in its entirety in this setting. It is huge.  It is jet black (get it?).  It is crowded by other craft.  Here is the port engine, a marvel of slide rule engineering—it was designed in the late 50’s—early 60’s— with NO computers!

SR-71’s engine and “spike”

The A-6 was one of the key bombers of the Vietnam era.

A-6

The Discovery has a prime place on the display floor.

Discovery. Thank you for living up to your name…

The engine nozzles. This thing is BIG!

If I had to have an Airstream instead of our current trailer, this is the one I would want!

The NASA “RV”

(Actually, it wasn’t made by Airstream.  Sure looks like one, though!)

One of the most famous airplanes in history:

Enola Gay–it dropped the first atomic bomb , on Hiroshima.

The Boeing 307 was one of the, if not the, first commercial airliners.  It  was based on the B-17C bomber from World War II.

Boeing 307

I wonder whether or when we’ll have another supersonic passenger plane.

The Concorde

The Global Flyer accomplished the first solo, non-stop circumnavigation of the world. Sixty seven hours and one minute.

Global Flyer .  The wingspan is HUGE!

A sampling of the planes suspended from the ceiling.

Too many planes to keep straight!

The museum is quite a distance from downtown area, but is well worth the trip!

Kathe: While Al was at the museum, I visited several museums on and near the National Mall. Within just a couple of blocks of wandering, I came upon a very long queue of folks waiting to get into the Newseum. As it turned out, it was FREE MUSEUM day in D.C. I hopped into line and immediately started chatting with a couple of women. Before long I realized that even though it was a free entry day (usually $25), I still needed a ticket. One of the women I was in line with graciously offered me a second free ticket that she had. Score!

I stayed at the Newseum for two solid hours and thought my head would explode! This museum focuses on the world of journalism and promotes first amendment rights through exhibits that include (among many others): 9/11, the Berlin Wall, a special FBI exhibit, a daily display of 80 first pages of newspapers from around the US and the world, a wide range of films documenting important world events, and an extraordinary gallery of decades of Pulitzer Prize winning photos.

The remains of the antenna tower from the top of the World Trade Center. Front pages of international newspapers reporting on 9/11.

This display includes eight panels from the Berlin Wall and the guard tower from Checkpoint Charlie – extraordinary!

During the overnight hours, the Newseum receives copies of the front page of more than 80 newspapers. They are printed oversized and displayed – fascinating to see how the same story can be reported from so many perspectives. An important display!

What is striking is that each of the exhibits includes a range of short videos by journalists who covered the story. It is without a doubt the most current, dynamic, compelling, and thought-provoking museum I’ve visited; I considered suggesting that they hand out Kleenex as you come through the main door — and yes, I took Al back to it later in the week! I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

You can also make YOUR opinions known at the Newseum. The opinion poll question is always related to the current day’s news.

It was refreshing to reread the First Amendment. Do you know what the five rights are?

A sobering memorial (at least two stories high) of journalists who have given their lives in their pursuit of the truth.

Just in! The Newseum set its all-time single-day visitor record on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, with 11,815 people visiting the one-of-a-kind institution. (Guess it helped that I was there!)

I also visited (somewhat briefly) the National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of Natural History, and the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. It was a whirlwind and honestly, I could have spent days upon days visiting so many more museums — alas, I needed to meet Al and we needed to figure out where we would eat dinner.

Never underestimate the power of Google! We searched “Restaurants near Me” and found an Indian restaurant nearby — what a find! It turns out that Rasika is a restaurant which has won a James Beard award and we can see why. It was amazing!

On the second day we took a day-long guided tour of the city with a very knowledgeable guide. We visited the Air Force Memorial and the Marine War Memorial (also called the Iwo Jima memorial).  Then we took a water taxi ride from the wharf near the Lincoln Memorial to Georgetown.

“Bomb burst” maneuver, missing man formation

The Marine War Memorial, “Iwo Jima”

Lincoln Memorial from the Potomac River

We stopped at the Pentagon City Mall for lunch, and found a stand offering a wide variety of baklava squares that were imported directly from Lebanon.  They were incredibly delicious and oh, so sweet.  We got several and were able to make them last for several days, but it was tough.  It would have been so easy to eat all of them before the end of the tour!

After lunch we went to Arlington National Cemetery, and took their tram tour.  We hadn’t known that Arlington was originally the estate of Robert E. Lee, which was confiscated after the Civil War.  The very first graves (Union soldiers) had been interred in Mrs. Lee’s garden (making a clear statement to Lee). We stopped at the grave of President Kennedy, where Jackie Kennedy Onassis and two of their children are also buried.  The site is directly below Lee’s house, and was actually selected by the president when he visited the cemetery.  Admiring the view, he was heard to say, “I could stay here forever.”

JFK’s grave and RE Lee’s house

Next we went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a very sobering place.  We had both been to this site before but it was good to revisit it.  We were present for the changing of the guard ceremony.   The guard has been present 24/7/365 since it was initiated on April 6, 1948.  The markings of so many years of the sentries’ precise steps were visible in the dark orange on the granite platform. It is an incredible honor to be chosen for this highly competitive post.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

There are graves for one soldier each from World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.  The crypt for the Vietnam War unknown soldier is now empty, as the entombed soldier was identified  in 1998 as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie through mitochondrial DNA.

Here is Kathe’s video of the Changing of the Guard ceremony.

Since the rain had picked up and no one really wanted to get off the trolley, the tour of Arlington was a bit shorter than usual. Our tour guide asked if we would like to visit the Pentagon Memorial. Yes! Several others on the tour had already seen the NYC 9/11 Memorial and the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, PA and were eager to see this 9/11 memorial as well.

The Pentagon Memorial is breathtaking — and a feat of imagination. There is a stainless steel cantilevered bench inlaid with granite for each of the 184 victims with their name engraved on it. The bench has a lighted pool of water underneath which reflects light onto the gravel field at night.  Each bench resembles an airplane wing and points one of two ways depending on if the victim worked at the Pentagon or was fated plane that crashed into the building. All of the benches for people born in the same year are arranged in a line going diagonally across the large area.

If the base points toward the Pentagon, it commemorates an employee. If the base points in the opposite direction, the victim was on the plane.

The victim’s name is engraved on the edge of the bench.  However, in this case, three other names and birth years are engraved below; this represents four members of the same family who were all victims aboard the hijacked plane.

Commemorative benches in line with this marker represented those born in 1953.

You can follow the stainless steel tracks across the memorial to count how many victims were born in a particular year. It was harrowing.

The third day we took a night tour to several memorials including the Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, MLK, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War memorials. While we had been to several of those before, those visits had not been at night nor in the rain.  Washington looks different at night!

Two of the memorials that really struck us were the Korean War Memorial and the FDR Memorial. The nineteen statues of soldiers in the Korean War Memorial were all facing in different directions, on guard, each wearing a rain poncho, and some in full combat gear. It was fitting that we visited the memorial at night and in the rain. The statues were surrounded by low shrubs that gave the sense that they were standing in rice patties. It was striking.

The bronze statues seemed to come to life.

The FDR Memorial was huge—it’s the largest memorial on the National Mall. There was a large open air room that depicted each of FDR’s four terms as President. The pathway through the memorial was meandering and featured bronze statues, water installations, stirring wall art, and FDR quotes. Near the end of the walkway was a beautiful statue of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. It was hard to take it all in; we’ll certainly visit it again. You can learn more about this monument here.

The first statue in the memorial depicts FDR in his wheelchair.

FDR was in office during the Great Depression.

FDR was a man who took his role as President seriously and with great humility.

One can see how tired FDR looks during his third term in office. His beloved dog, Fala, was always at his side.

Eleanor Roosevelt, the only First Lady depicted in a presidential memorial in D.C. She was a steadfast adviser to her husband and also served as our first ambassador to the United Nations.

The World War II Memorial was impressive and particularly beautiful lit up at night.

The World War II Memorial.

At the WW2 Memorial

Our last day in the city we visited two keystones in the federal government, and then re-visited the Newseum so that Al could see several of the exhibits that wowed Kathe on the first day.

We first visited the Capitol, which requires a guided tour unless you contact your Representative or Senator.  The guided tour was slightly disappointing to Al.  It covers just the crypt below the Rotunda, the Rotunda itself, and the Statuary Hall.  All of these were very crowded and we were not allowed to separate at all from the tour group, so that good photography was not possible.

Walking from the mall to the Capitol, you have to go to the far side to reach the visitors’ center.  When you get to approximately the  front side of the Capitol, the sign says “Average walking time: 8 minutes.”

Walking past the building you get several views of the Capitol.

On the side  away from the mall, you pass the main (ceremonial?) entrance to the Senate building, which is a wing added to the original Capitol building.

Here is the original Capitol building.  Until Reagan, presidents were inaugurated on these stairs.  Starting with Reagan, the inaugurations switched to the other side because the crowds could overflow onto the National Mall.

Every state can send two statues depicting important (dead) people from the state.  Most are in Statuary Hall, but some are in the main hall of the visitors’ center.  Here is King  Kamehameha I from Hawaii, the largest of the 100 state statues.

After an introductory film, we began the tour in the crypt, just below the Rotunda. The crypt is so named because it was intended to be the burial place for George Washington.  Washington’s express wishes in his will were to be buried in his Mount Vernon estate, which eventually were acceded to. In the center of the crypt is a marker which is the geographic center of the original extents of the District of Columbia.  If it were not roped off, here you could stand simultaneously in Northeast, Northwest, Southwest, and Southeast DC!.

The Rotunda has eight murals depicting  historic moments.  It also has a circular mural around the dome opening showing 400 years of American history.

The ceiling of the Rotunda has a painting named “The Apotheosis of Washington.”  Apotheosis means to elevate someone to the status of a god.  Washington, who twice voluntarily relinquished power, would have hated it.

The Statuary Hall was originally the House Chamber until the members could no longer fit, at which point the separate House building was added.

The ornate ceiling of the National Statuary Hall, formerly the House chamber

The spherical shape of the ceiling caused the room to have terrible acoustics,  making it very difficult to conduct business. The solution?  Build  a new House chamber!

We then walked through the tunnel from the Capitol to the Library of Congress, specifically the original Jefferson building.  The Library currently comprises four buildings: three adjacent ones in the Capitol district, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison, and one at Fort Meade.

The Jefferson building’s interior is overwhelmingly beautiful. Whereas the Capitol required one to take a guided tour, here we opted for one which was leaving as we emerged from the tunnel. We’re glad that we did.

Our tour guide was an older gentleman who was so engaging and knowledgeable. He was overwhelmingly proud to be able to share the LOC with us. His main message to us was that there is no happenstance about ANYTHING in the LOC — every ceiling, wall, mural, stairway, statue, inscription, etc. tells a story about the pursuit of knowledge and the importance of reading and learning.
It is an inspirational place and yet one more place in D.C. that you couldn’t possible take in in just one visit.

One of many inscriptions throughout the Library of Congress.

The main reading room seen from the balcony above.

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world (in terms of its collection), the official research arm of Congress, and also home of the U.S. Copyright Office. It comprises more than 167 million items, and adds 12,000 items to its collection each working day. It is considered our national library. It has more than 838 miles of bookshelves!

We left our nation’s capital with such a sense of awe and deep reverence and appreciation, especially for those who have served our country in the military and in service to our country. Perhaps it’s being a bit “older” that helped us to appreciate this beautiful city in a humbling way. We will certainly visit again!

 

We’ve Rallied!

For the past several months we’ve been saying, “We’re going to a Rally!” Many people who have heard that have returned blank stares, as if to say, “What’s that?”  Or, “So what?”

Truth be told, we didn’t really know ourselves.  All we knew is that lots of people with Grand Design RVs would be getting together at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds in Goshen Indiana.  It ran from Tuesday morning through Friday dinner, so now we have some answers.

Top 10 things about an (this) RV Rally

10. This fairgrounds has a really big power capacity.  There were approximately 375 RVs at the rally, and all of them had either 30 or “50” (really 100) ampere power connections.  Even if all of them had 30 amp feeds, that still requires 11,250 amps (@ 120V).  Glad we don’t have to pay that power bill (OK, we did–through our nightly camping fee).

9. RV owners are very friendly.  We hadn’t even set up our rig before we were invited over to a neighbor’s to sit, have adult refreshments, and just chat.   It is fun to meet face to face people with whom you have been corresponding on the Internet for months!

8. You don’t come to a rally to be alone, or have large “campsites”. A rally is all about community, and the rigs are packed in tightly.  Even so, there had to be three separate areas in which the rigs were parked.

One of three sections of RV sites.

7. It is possible to feed 800+ people at a pot luck dinner in 18 minutes! They set out 12 serving tables, and assigned every unit (RV, usually a couple) an item: main, starch, salad, dessert, etc., and a table to put it on. Then  the roughly 100 tables at which we ate were each assigned a serving table. It worked wonderfully. For the first helpings you had to use the assigned serving table.  For seconds (thirds, anyone?) you could go to any table–so many of us grazed and sampled a huge variety of foods.

Sorry, no pics of the potluck.  We were too busy eating!

6. There is lots to do! There were seminars going all day, some purely educational, some educational about the advantages of a product (i.e., ads). But even the ads were helpful to people who are new to the hobby / lifestyle as we are. One that Al found especially useful was on general maintenance, given by an independent mobile service tech, and another one on holding tank maintenance (that stinky “black” tank, especially!), given by a person whose job is, yep, cleaning out people’s black tanks when they’ve not maintained them properly.

5. There is lots to do! Every day offered things off-site. Each day you could take a tour of the Grand Design factory, or you could take an excursion, such as a trip to a museum or shopping in a nearby town.  Kathe will tell you about her Amish brown-bag tour in an upcoming post.

Each evening there were several campfires around the site.  One night was storytelling, another night was s’mores.

S’mores around the campfire

Two young (5-ish?) girls had a great time going around to the crowd and asking if they could cook a marshmallow for them.  They’d even burn it on request!

4. There are a million ways to make your RV your own.  The only limit is your imagination!  It was fun to be able to go through other peoples’ rigs and see how they have modified them. Some were minor touches–others were major reworkings of the interior or the inner “workings,” e.g., the plumbing.

3. There is a wealth of knowledge in the community.  The air was filled with conversations about things to watch out for, ways to do things more simply, what is good to add, which tools do you really, really want to have with you (and which you can leave home–oops! too late!).

2. The service was phenomenal! To understand this, you need to know two things.  1. Driving an RV down the road has been likened to a Richter 6.0 earthquake.  Things are always breaking. 2. RV “manufacturers” are  to a large extent parts assemblers. They get a chassis from one company, axles and brakes from another, the refrigerator from another, water heater, furnace, microwave, etc., etc.

This rally was sponsored by our manufacturer, Grand Design, and not only did they have their service techs on site, but they also  arranged for all the other companies who supply major parts to have their techs on site as well! All this service was gratis; we have no idea of the total value of all the service performed in these four days, but those service teams were busy from 7:00 AM to well into the evening every day. Thank you Grand Design and partners! We had our refrigerator serviced (it was not closing properly), and see another bit of service we got, below the list!)

1. The people who organized this rally put in an INCREDIBLE amount of work. The planning for the rally started about a year ago, and their work allowed a large rally to come off seemingly without a hitch.  I’m sure that there was lots of work behind the scenes during the rally to make it seem that way. Pam and Red Beers were the main organizers (“wagonmasters”), and they were assisted by about 50 other volunteers. THANK YOU!

We got our hitch!

Small things can make us very happy.  Up until now, we had been keeping our bikes in the bed of the truck in a moving blanket, with the front wheels in the back seat of the truck.  Any time we wanted to take a ride (which we’re trying to do each day), we’d have to unwrap the frames and put the wheels back on.  Not difficult, just a bit time consuming and a hassle. Here at the rally, we had a hitch welded on by the chassis manufacturer. (No, this part was not free!) So now, we have our bikes on the back of the trailer–easy to use and no longer taking up space in the truck.

Our new hitch, with bike rack and bikes!

Why we’re traveling

As we said in an earlier post, one of the main reasons we’ve taken to the road is to see areas of the US and Canada other than New England.  We’re already seeing differences, at least different from the parts of NE in which we have lived.

We are in Amish country. One of the things we’ve noticed is that all the stores, restaurants, and public buildings have places to hitch up horses and buggies, in, or adjacent to, the parking lots.  Here’s a Walmart parking lot!

Shelter for horses in the Walmart parking lot.

Another difference we’ve noticed is the cloud formations are different from what we (usually) get in Maine. The cloud structures are quite dramatic, but don’t (or haven’t while we’ve been here) block out the sun for more than a few minutes! Some days we could have used the shade; we had several days that were quite hot. The afternoon clouds have been like this every day we’ve been here.  Quite different from our coastal Maine low cloud decks.

Indiana clouds

Miscellany

Having worked at Jackson Laboratory, I couldn’t pass up this piece of garden humor at the Fairgrounds!

Jean-etically modified plants

A certain co-worker of mine who shall remain nameless (I’m talking to YOU, Dave!) teased me for quite a while when he learned that we bought a Ford F350 “dually” to pull our rig with.  “You don’t need a dually to pull an RV!”  But at the rally we learned that we weren’t even trying when it came to tow vehicles.  Now HERE is a real tow vehicle!

A Volvo with sleeper as an RV tow vehicle!

There were THREE of these at the rally!

On to the next rally!

After wending our way through Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, we’ll be attending another rally in Delaware.  It will be interesting to see how this one differs; it is entirely owner-based, without the sponsorship of Grand Design.

We have one more rally scheduled, but not until January. We’ll attend a rally in Quartzsite, AZ, near where we will be spending the winter.

What Would YOU Pack?

How do you pack for a year away from home?

It’s easier to think of it as moving.

Into a tiny house.

First, we downsized. And it was fairly easy. If we hadn’t worn it in six months, off it went to the thrift store. If we hadn’t touched it in six months, it was boxed up for the church Christmas fair.

The refrigerator and chest freezer were both emptied, cleaned, and unplugged. Detritus went into the trash can. Canned foods were culled, some to go to the food pantry, some to go with us.

Then we purged. Old computer components, miscellaneous electronic gear we’d accumulated, old TV’s, lots of batteries…all went to the hazardous waste day at the transfer station (dump).

And on and on…so liberating!

From about 1440 square feet with an attic and a barn to . . .

Our new home…

440 sq. ft.  Perfect. We did it.

We had to choose carefully what to bring with us for a year’s journey. What was most important?

We must bring:

  1. Camera gear
  2. Clothes (only clothes that fit NOW – none of those I know I’ll fit into this again someday clothes)
  3. 3 pairs of shoes each
  4. Go Pro
  5. Popcorn popper (oh, rats! We forgot it!)
  6. Roku
  7. Our Pixstar digital frame with its own email address (grandkids pics!)
  8. Too many tools
  9. Drone
  10. New bicycles
  11. Instant Pot
  12. Hiking boots and poles
  13. Sewing machine (and fabric!)
  14. Our computers . . .
  15. And chargers. Many, many chargers!

We can leave behind:

  1. Snowblower
  2. Two cars
  3. Gardening tools
  4. Lawnmower
  5. Snow shovel
  6. The popcorn popper (apparently!)
  7. Ice scraper
  8. Spinning wheel
  9. Ice grippers (you wear them on your shoes in January!)
  10. Gardening catalogs
  11. Ski goggles
  12. Weaving loom
  13. Sleds

We probably forgot a few things. But there will always be a Walmart, Target, or Home Depot nearby. Or maybe we can just learn to do without.

What would YOU take with you for a year? Ready, set, GO!

How’d We Get Here?

Dear Family and Friends,

It’s August 19th and we are ON OUR WAY! Where to, you ask? How’d we end up here?

We love to travel. Al just retired. And we’re tired of New England winters.

Ugh.

Over the last three winters, we came to love the desert southwest. Being warm in February really appealed to us — it felt great! “Hey, I can really understand that snowbird mentality now,” I remarked to Al in February 2016 after our first trip to Arizona. Wow.

We fell in love with the Arizona desert.

When we returned there in March of 2017, we ventured northward and were blown away by Page, Sedona, the slot canyons, Horseshoe Bend, and more. We ducked over the border into Utah one afternoon–wait a minute — there are FIVE national parks in Utah. “Wow! Look at those affordable condos!” I quipped.

Horseshoe Bend is simply stunning!

But did we really want to be stuck in just one place? There are many fabulous national parks, state parks, national monuments, and more. We didn’t want to be obligated to travel to the same place each year and started musing about RVs. Hmmm. . .

We started investigating RVs and Al joined several RV forums online (Psst, honey? Don’t look now, but you’re using social media!). We started visiting a few dealerships in our area. Over several months, we went from Class A motor home (too large – and who wants to tow a car?), Class B motor home (if we didn’t tow a car, we’d have to pack up everything just to go for a dozen eggs?), and soon we were considering a fifth-wheel (and a truck!). Let’s go to the Hershey RV Show in September! Yeah, that’s the ticket! We won’t buy, we won’t buy…we’re just going to lookwe won’t buy!

We thought this would help us wait…

Meanwhile, I was starting to get a bit more encouraging. . . um, pushy…er, insistent…about the prospect of Al’s retirement! We could travel a lot! And we could do it while we’re still young and healthy enough to hike, ride bikes, etc., etc.  It was a well-timed choreography — just before we left for the Hershey RV show, he decided he was ready to set a date for retirement. Yay!

Well, let’s just say that despite our good intentions, we signed a sales agreement for a 2018 Grand Design 310-GK fifth-wheel before the weekend ended! We fell in love with the layout, size, and many, many windows in the 310 (I need lots of natural light). We’d have to come back to PA to pick it up as soon as we were pretty sure winter was over.

Soon thereafter, time to buy a truck. A BIG truck. A ruby red, long bed, crew cab, dually! We named her Scarlett (thanks for the color suggestion, Nancy Jones!) and had to name the 310 Rhett. Of course.

Scarlett and Rhett, our traveling companions.

So after many months of planning and more planning, Al is retired, and we have chosen the start of a route to travel the US — we’re not sure for how long and where our travels will eventually lead us. We can’t wait to share our travel adventures with you.

And, oh, yes—why “The Lobsters”?

Our grandkids named us Grandma and Grandpa Lobster years ago to differentiate us from their other set of grandparents. We live in Maine. And we’re traveling. We’re Lobsters on the Loose! We hope you’ll follow our adventures as we discover and rediscover each other and these amazing places we know as The United States of America and Canada!

Much love,

Kathe and Al
Grandma and Grandpa Lobster

The Lobsters