Category Archives: The RV Life

Miscellaneous reflections on what it is like to live full-time in an RV.

Hey! There’s a Pebble in My Hair!

You know it has been a good ride when you find a pebble in your hair!

When I was young, I always thought it would be fun to have a go-kart. And Al always said he wanted a Jeep — you know, the kind where you can feel the air blowing through your hair.

Not to be totally outdone by Scarlett (our red F350) and Rhett (our RV), here are Vivien and Clark—our new cargo trailer and Polaris RZR XP 1000 Trails and Rocks Edition! (RZR is pronounced “razor.”)

Vivien, being chaperoned by Scarlet and Rhett.
We don’t have a “Toy Hauler,” but now we have a toy! Introducing Clark.

Yeah, that’s right. Some would say we’re having some sort of a mid-life crisis. But nah…we’re just havin’ fun! Living on the desert for another year means that there’s LOTS to explore. We have lots of friends who have side-by-sides (what they’re called here) and who ride out on the desert for all-day frolics.

So far, we’ve gone out every day for a week and we’re HAVING A BLAST! We’re adding some accessories to make it easier to carry stuff (extra gas, extra water, spare tire…).

It is so much fun to ride out on the miles and miles of trails that are accessible in our area. It reminds me very much of the snowmobile trail systems in NH and Maine. We know that we will run into far more people on their side-by-sides in the winter but for now, we’ve pretty much got the trails to ourselves (except for the roadrunners, quail, and desert bunnies).

Al having a whole lot of fun!
Al having a whole lot of fun!
Kathe rarin' to go!
Kathe rarin’ to go!

The trail maps that are available both in paper copy and electronically are not 100% accurate but we have a ‘track me’ mapping program on Al’s phone that assures us that we’ll always being able to return from whence we came.

Our longest trip so far was 35 miles, the first of many trips we plan to take in the KOFA (King of Arizona) National Wildlife Refuge. It’s more than a half million acres and stunning. The trip took us a several hours—no land speed records here: we seem to average about 10 MPH! The trails can be pretty bumpy and tons of fun. There were some great hills and dips—and I’m sure that with experience, we’ll venture farther and hit some bigger hills–what goes up must come down, right? Wheeeeeeeeeeee!

Because we’re not yet completely set up for self-rescue, for instance to change tires, we’re limiting our first escapes (escapades?) to the area near the town. But even there, there are things to surprise us. For instance there are petroglyphs in Quartzsite! Who knew?

Petroglyphs just a few miles from home (contrast significantly enhanced).
More petroglyphs, next to the others (also contrast enhanced)

There are other signs of earlier people here, some possibly ancient. Near the petroglyphs are mortar grinding holes.

Grinding holes

We also have nearby intaglios. These are much smaller than the ones in Blythe that we wrote about last year, and we have no information about how old they are.

Intaglios

There are also signs of early non-indigenous settlers, remains of foundations, cisterns, and cabins.

One of the more complete remains in the area.

On one of our rides, we found a marble quarry. (Al has already made all the jokes about cat’s eyes and shooters, so don’t bother!) So far I have been unable to find any record of it in the AZ Geological Survey material available online, but there are modern “No Trespassing,” and “Restricted area” signs, but no signs of activity. There is a satellite antenna on the office roof, possibly for Internet. Who knows.

The quarry area is large, not much is visible from the road/trail.

There are also desert artifacts from the current population. For instance, a golf course!

With a sofa to await your tee time, we guess!
Probably disc golf, since the “hole” is about 15 feet in diameter!

The machine is new and its drivers are inexperienced. We’re each breaking the other in. We’re taking it somewhat easy on Clark until its first service (which won’t be too long from now at this rate). We’re learning about driving on different surfaces; hard-packed desert floor is very different from the deep, loose, gravel that forms the beds of the washes. The trails we’ve been riding so far are relatively flat, with only occasional down hills and rises going into and out of washes. “You mean I have to drive up (down) THAT????” There are more challenging surfaces to come. When we’re equipped to leave the immediate Quartzsite area (leave the nest?), we’ll head toward the mountains nearby. There, the trails become much more challenging. And FUN!

We’ve gone toward the mountains to our west; the foothills are actually just a few miles out of town.

Here is an overview of a trail we took. It was our most challenging to date.

We’ve been sharing the driving and we both love it!

Here is what some of it looked like to us. Warning: this clip is sped up 2x, to give a flavor of some of the types of trails here without taking forever.

Yes, this is also playing at 2X normal speed. Whew!

You can see that there is an established network of trails; we’re not just riding willy-nilly across the desert. In fact, “off road,” i.e., off trail travel is prohibited here on the BLM and USFS land. One wonders how all these trails were established. Before regulations? Maybe we’ll find out this coming winter when there will be many (many!) more riders on the trails.

Many of these trails have even been given identification numbers by the BLM.

Desert street signs

There is a lot of beauty here on the desert. Different plants have been blooming across the past several weeks. We now have saguaro, ocotillo, and the beautiful pink ironwood trees in bloom.

Saguaro blooms
Saguaro, staghorn cholla, and ocatillo. No social distancing for them!
We’ve never seen a saguaro with this many arms before. But we’re still new here!
Ironwood

Jumping cholla cactus will stick to ANYTHING! They have barbed needles that are extremely sharp. Al had an encounter with one at Joshua Tree NP last year. It looks like Clark had an encounter today! No, I’m not about to try to take it off—until I figure out how to do it safely.

Clark is an “off-road vehicle.” It is fortunate that the back gate of our current RV park opens to parts of the trail system around town. However, there are other sections of the trails which require traveling on the public roads. This means for now that we have to put the RZR into its trailer and pull it to a trailhead. However, in Arizona and several other states in the west, these machines can be made “street legal,” and operated on the road system. We have the parts on order to do that conversion, then it will simply be a matter of waiting for the Motor Vehicle Department, which at this point is very backlogged. That will make it much simpler to make more use of the trails around here. It will also be very nice to not have to take Scarlett every time we want to go into town!

More fun to come!

It’s great to get our side-by-side feet under us when the trails are so quiet. We try to get back before the heat of the day or later in the day. Our good friends from Montana (who introduced Al to their side-by-side last year) will return to Q later this year – can’t wait to do some trail rides together.

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

Quartz + Sight = Change of Plans

A change of plans.

Indeed.

I have held back from posting through the winter (but I guess you already knew that!) because I’ve been rather focused on the health of my siblings and my vision challenges.

I have REALLY felt the distance from my siblings since the fall. We were able to travel to CT for my brother-in-law’s funeral in October. I extended my stay to help my sister through the first days of her grief and sadly, she is now fighting cancer herself. At the same time, my younger sister had some serious health concerns that necessitated her move to a long-term rehab facility. Daily visits to see her were important for both of us as she tried to adjust to her new situation. Believe it or not, also in October, my brother ended up in ICU for 6 days due to a bad combination of prescriptions (that his doc had missed and which the pharmacy had missed too—I learned that MD does NOT require pharmacies to run the safeguard program to catch and red-flag such errors!). He pulled through—thank God!

I returned to AZ early in November fully expecting to make a trip back to spend more time with my sisters in Feb or Mar. My eyes had a different plan for me. Not to bore anyone with any details (and if you follow me on FB, you’ve seen some of this already), but I’ve had 3 surgeries this winter — and finally, the most recent procedure (shunt implant) on my right eye is showing early positive results. I am beyond excited and will now be followed weekly by my glaucoma specialist to be sure the pressure doesn’t go dangerously low.

In the meantime, my left eye is gearing up for ITS same surgery in the not-too-distant future as the pressure is already in the danger zone. This particular surgery can take up to 3 months for full recovery. Back to back surgeries mean I’ll be followed very carefully by my GS right through the summer and beyond.

And then, of course, there is the coronavirus and COVID-19. Ugh. I have decided that the very most difficult challenge is being away from family members who are ill. Providing comfort from a distance through cards, texting, phone calls, and video-chats will have to do. I am so grateful to SO many who are keeping my extended family in their prayers.

We have had to cancel all of our 2020 summer plans to visit more National Parks with our grandsons, Graham and Dean. Hopefully next year…

These changes seem rather minimal as we watch and read about the many sacrifices made by the COVID-19 first responders: health care providers and supporters, police and fire departments, grocery store clerks, pharmacists, and thousands more.

And how are we managing?

Except for 2 grocery runs and one trip to the eye doc in Phoenix, we’ve been self-isolating. That’s not actually very hard to do while we continue to boondock on the desert where we’ve been since early October 2019. With more than 11,000 acres on this BLM Long Term Visitor Area, there is PLENTY of room to keep to yourself.

Another beautiful sunset over a mostly empty desert. You can see some rigs in the distance. You can see the source of the line, “…the purple mountains’ majesty.”
Looking the other way, with the setting sun just touching the tops of the mountains. Again, the rigs are few and far between.

We have been taking walks each day and have been enjoying the colorful flowers that are now making an appearance in the desert. A fair amount of rain this winter has made for a lovely bloom. We do wonder how the desert bloom is in other parts of the southwest where it was rather spectacular a year ago. Anyone know?

We’re filling our time with reading, walking, bingeing on Netflix, etc. (check out our new favorite – The Great British Baking Show), LOTS of quilting (I’m taking several terrific online classes), and too much time on the computer.

We are visiting with our kids and grandkids nearly daily between Facetime and Zoom. Zoom is particularly fun because we can see everyone at once and the connection is excellent. I’ve also been able to visit with my P.E.O. sisters (16 of us) on Zoom–what fun!

We’ve been heartened and absolutely amazed at how our nation’s educators, school districts, and local municipalities have risen to the occasion to keep their students fed, safe, engaged, and supported. Check out this amazing video created by educators in the Corning-Painted Post (NY) School District where our son and daughter-in-law teach.

The church we still belong to in Maine continues to do amazing work and is keeping our church family together through live streaming prayer services, Bible study, and Sunday worship. It’s been so important for us to maintain those connections. Bible study on Zoom with my pastor and other dear friends continues to be a real lifeline for me.

“Home is where the heart is.” For us, home is also where we park it. On March 13th, the sale of our “sticks and bricks” house on Mount Desert Island finally closed, so these 36 feet of trailer are “all we have.” It is a relief to not have the house, but also feels a bit strange.

Did you know that there are ONE MILLION full-time RV’ers in the US? We have received several questions from friends wondering whether we will be able to find a place to stay once the BLM closes the LTVA we’re in, in April, because there are many reports in the news of campgrounds closing . Yes. We have decided to stay put in Quartzsite for the foreseeable future. We too have been keeping abreast of closures of state parks, some national park campgrounds and facilities, as well as an increasing number of private campgrounds. We are glad that we’ve been able to secure a spot in a local private campground here in Quartzsite for April 15-at least Sept 15. We can come back to the BLM land (desert) as of Sept 15 but if it’s still very, very hot, we may just stay put in the private campground where we can run our AC’s! (Solar just doesn’t provide enough power to run AC’s.)

Life feels alien right now, and hard. But we’re uplifted by the resilience of life demonstrated here on the desert by these saguaro and other plants and animals.

A seemingly healthy saguaro cactus, despite significant damage near the bottom.
It is hard to believe they can survive this much damage! Is this from animals looking for water, or insects, or???
If a tree were girdled like this, it would be long dead!

Since our last post (March 6), so much has changed. For all of us.

We hope that this post finds you self-isolated, safe, and healthy!

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

A once in a lifetime experience

Hello! My name is Graham and my brother and I recently flew into Salt Lake City from Rochester via Chicago to start our adventure in Utah. After our flight from Chicago to SLC was delayed two hours, we finally arrived back at the camper with our grandparents.

Waiting for a plane…
We found a plane!
Finally here!

One of the necessities of the camper was that there was room for grandkids to accompany on trips. As the backseat riders in Scarlet, the truck, Dean and I have only been here since Thursday the 27th. We started planning this trip over a year ago, and it is finally happening.

On our first day here we stayed in a KOA in Salt Lake City, only 10 minutes from the airport. We departed the next morning, heading for Price. In Price we discovered that there was more than we had expected there. Price had only been a short stop on the way to Moab. There we found a cool mining museum, where we met a woman who had just come back from our home, Corning! We found a lot of cool artifacts there, and an old caboose and tie-layer.

The next day we went to the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, where over 15,000 bones have been found. The majority of the bones were found in a 60×40 foot area. 70% of the bones were Allosaurus. We then went to Buckhorn Wash, a really nice drive through a long canyon. We stopped at two pictograph and petroglyph panels along the way. Pictographs are painted, petroglyphs are carved or chipped into the stone. We then went to the Wedge Overlook, fittingly deemed the ‘Mini Grand Canyon’.

Dino quarry!
15000 bones! The green is Allosaurus.
Rawwwr!
Inside the canyon!
Snake!
What do you think this one is?
Sheep?
Cheese!
‘Mini Grand Canyon’

We departed Price and went to Moab, home of two National Parks, Arches and Canyonlands. We headed to Susie’s Branding Iron for lunch, had delicious food, and headed off to our first day at Arches. We stopped about every two minutes to take pictures, which got old towards the end. At the end, as the boys went to investigate the Windows, Grandma went to find parking. She went to the lower loop and discovered an amazing double arch! I went climbing up under the arch and found a gap under a big rock and found a cool thing to crawl through. We went back to the camper and played a fun game, The Mind.

Skillful balancing, mother earth.
Double arch!
Big rock!

The next day, we started off to Dead Horse Point State Park, a park near the top of Canyonlands. The reason it has such an odd name is because the cowboys corralled the horses to the point of the park where they picked the best ones to sell and left the rest trapped at the end. The horses died of thirst, while looking out 2000 feet above the Colorado River. The view there is spectacular and we got some great photos. We also saw a potash evaporation facility and a nice guy told us what it was for. The way to get potash is to drill down to it and put water in the hole, then take the potash water and put it in these large pools to evaporate, leaving only the potash. Potash is mainly used for fertilizer.

Potash pools Photo credit: Graham Simons
Utah Juniper Photo credit: Graham Simons
View from Dead Horse Point Photo credit: Graham Simons
Cool Tree! Photo credit: Graham Simons

We then went for “fro yo” and went to a dinosaur amusement park , where there are giant dinosaurs that I had fun photographing. There was also a series of rooms that had a 3D aquarium. The 8th room was a shark attack, and the floor moved when the shark hit the ‘window’ or screen. We then went to get my FAVORITE food, sushi! We ordered a ‘Boat 2’ not knowing it was served on an actual boat! I also tried Octopus for the first time, and I liked it! We went back to the camper and played some of The Mind.

Watch Out! Photo credit: Graham Simons
Don’t worry, this one is a herbivore. Photo credit: Graham Simons
No one was expecting this!

The next day, we woke up super early and left for Arches, so we could do a hike while it was still relatively cool. We set out with the goal to see Landscape Arch, the widest arch in the world, 305 feet. We also saw two smaller arches, Tunnel and Pinetree. We got to the big arch, and me being me, I wanted to climb up the thin, steep, and possibly dangerous next part of the trail. I made it up pretty quickly, and went back down.

Long way down
The green backpack is me!
Only 11 feet thick at its smallest point.

We came back to Rhett having agreed to do some Ham Radio work. We have been working to get our licenses for a few months. Grandpa and Dean walked down the road a ways while Grandma and I stayed in the camper and Dean and I used their call signs to communicate. It was pretty fun and we learned a lot doing it. We finished off our day by watching Captain Marvel, and Grandma made some delicious bread pudding.

The next day, we left to our first day at Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky district. We drove out to some cool viewpoints went on two short hikes, the first of which was a short and easy hike to Mesa Arch. The second hike was a bit more uphill, but was a nice hike to the first overlook for Upheaval Dome. Our personal opinion is that it was formed by a meteorite strike, while the other possibility of its formation is a salt dome. We hiked back down and returned to the RV to plan for the next few days.

That is a road!
But I thought this park was Canyonlands, not Arches… Photo credit: Dean Simons
Meteorite or salt dome? Photo credit: Dean Simons

Finally, we left the camper at about 9:00 to do some star photography at Panorama Point in Arches. We got some cool photos, and towards the end we got the whole viewpoint to ourselves! The people that were already there were mostly there for sunset. We headed back to the camper at about 11 pm.

Milky Way from Panorama Point

The first week was really fun, and I look forward to seeing the other state and national parks in Utah.

Next stop, Capitol Reef and Goblin State Park!

Big Country, Great friends

Traveling full-time in an RV can make it challenging to keep in touch with friends. Thank goodness for the internet — email, Facetime, Facebook, Messenger, and this blog have helped to bridge the gap.

Traveling in an RV can also make it possible to reacquaint ourselves with friends from 50 years ago (Barbie and Jeff in D.C.!), to visit with Maine snowbirds in their away-from-Maine homes, and to make and foster NEW friendships along the way.

A dear friend who splits her time between Maine and Idaho caught up with me on Facebook and asked if we could get together when we came through her area. Jean suggested that we meet in the beautiful city of Couer d’Alene to have lunch and then take a boat ride on the lake. She brought along her daughter, one of her sons, and her granddaughter (all of whom I’d heard so much about). We had a ball! This part of the country is simply magnificent — we managed a short hike before lunch and even biked 10 miles on the famed Couer d’Alene Bike Trail after dinner. So good to see you, Jean! See you in Maine this summer. 🙂

Coeur d’Alene has lots of public art around the downtown area.
Can anyone name this mouse and moose from a children’s book? There are five of these in the area, forming a trail for kids to explore!
Just like on MDI, there are “small” vacation homes on Lake Coeur d’Alene.

While on the Arizona desert, we made friends with several couples. Lydia (a fellow Quartzsite Quilter) and Tom spend their non-desert time in their home in Helena, Montana. They were kind enough to invite to “mooch-camp” in their yard (we hooked up to their water but used our solar power) and it was terrific! We got to know them so much better—they were amazingly generous and couldn’t wait to share their beautiful part of the Big Sky world with us!

Montana lives up to its nickname, “Big Sky Country.”

Tom took Al on an 80+ mile ride up into the mountains on his flashy new Razr (4-wheeler). What a ball they had! Even though it was early May, there was still plenty of snow up in them thar hills and that determined the length of their ride. I’m quite sure that Al and Tom will find plenty of places to explore this winter when Lydia and I are at quilting club.

Al and Tom ready to go. In Montana (and Arizona), vehicles like this can be street legal, so we just rode from Tom’s driveway!

(Al) We rode up to the continental divide. Beside the amazing views, it is quite something to realize that all the rain falling on one side goes to the Pacific, and on the other side it flows to the Caribbean and Atlantic.

Onward to the Pacific.
End of the ride, at least for today. We didn’t want to get stuck in the snow!

Lydia and I had quite an adventure ourselves! Lydia couldn’t wait to show me several of her favorite quilt shops. Even though Helena is the state capital, it’s not a terribly large city. It supports a number of successful quilt shops which I found amazing.

As we drive/ride outside of the Northeast, we are struck by the speed limits. 80 mph is the posted limit in so many places! It’s not at all unusual to be able to see 40 or 50 miles ahead—little dots in front of the huge mountains turn out to be farms. Traveling 80+ miles to go out for dinner isn’t a big deal to those in Big Sky territory. Think about it: in the same time it would take us to drive back and forth between Bass Harbor and Bar Harbor, we could be nearly 80 miles away. But we don’t. When we’re pulling Rhett, we don’t go faster than 60.

I can see for miles and miles and miles and …. (The Doors)

We learned that the Missouri River headwaters are in Montana! The river actually begins at the confluence of the Madison, Jefferson, and Gallatin Rivers near Three Forks, Montana. We followed miles and miles of the Missouri and it was breathtaking: huge, still a bit brown with snowmelt and erosion, and marked with a number of beautiful falls where water flow is managed and electric power is generated.

Just past Great Falls, we stopped at the very impressive Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. We spent a thorough two hours learning so much more about the incredible adventurers who answered President Jefferson’s charge to check out what the U.S. had just “purchased” or was it “acquired”? This was one of many, many times on this trip where we were reminded of the very complicated relationship between the Native Americans and the white man. It took us right back to our church’s mission trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota some twelve years ago. It still hurts.

Tom and Lydia showed us a terrific time and we’re already talking about the next time. They say we’ve barely scratched the surface!

Our friends and hosts: Lydia and Tom.

We are LOVING the West—South Dakota and Yellowstone NP blog entries will come in short succession here. We’re trying to catch up at a time when the driving distances can be long and we’re spending most of our time away from our computers enjoying all that’s here to see and explore.

Dry camping — it’s a boon (dock)!

When we first starting considering getting an RV, Al was quite excited about the possibility of dry camping, i.e., living ‘off the grid.’

I wasn’t so sure. All I could picture was Little House on the Prairie: brushing my teeth with a twig, beating my dirty clothes on a rock (while it’s raining, of course), combing baby powder through my hair every week or so, and dragging myself across the dry desert in search of an oasis.

You get the idea.

Will Al REALLY make me do this?

“It’ll be fun!”
“It’ll save us money!” and
“We can DO it!”
just didn’t cut it for me.

Last year, after we’d made our purchase, but before we had taken ownership of our RV, we flew out to Arizona for one last time sans RV. Al had read extensively about a wide variety of dry camping locations, most of it land owned/managed by the US government: Bureau of Land Management (BLM), US Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers (COE), and lots more. We wanted to explore our options.

Think of it as ‘shopping for land’ if you were building a house. Kind of.

It was late winter/early spring. We drove through some US Forest Service mud sludge wetlands logging roads woods. We spotted a couple of campers set some distance off the road beaten path. I couldn’t see a soul. I was convinced that those RVs were set there as a come-on for would-be camping enthusiasts.

Too isolated for me.

We couldn’t find any COE areas near us. We did drive along a stretch of the Colorado River where we saw quite a few campgrounds. RVs were literally inches apart from each other. So close that you could borrow a cup of milk from your neighbor by leaning out the window — never having to leave your rig!

Too crowded for me.

We had read about Quartzsite. An RV mecca in the winter. Snowbird country. Home of a HUGE RV show (the BIG TENT) each year. Rock Capital of the World.

And desert. LOTS and LOTS of desert.

Lots and lots of empty desert!

Not that Lawrence of Arabia kind of desert with blowing white dunes. No oases either. And actually a bit more vegetation than I expected.

We had read about the BLM land in Quartzsite where many snowbirds park their rigs and boondock (dry camp) for most of the winter. We stopped at the small brick building at the entrance to LaPosa West; there we found a very friendly host couple volunteering their time to answer questions and register newly-arrived campers. They couldn’t say enough about what a fabulous time they’d had in Q during this, their second winter onsite.

I remember peering out the small window. There were RVs but they were spaced at quite a distance from each other. And I saw people! In a few spots, I could see a group of 3 or 4 campers near each other—a neighborhood!

The hosts encouraged us to hop back into our rental car and drive through the area to check it out. It turns out that this Long-Term Visitor Area (LTVA) is one of a network of seven winter LTVAs across southwestern Arizona and southern California. They pointed out that the BLM area in Q comprises four large areas (LaPosa West, North, South, and Tyson Wash). AND…(drum roll please!) that there are actually a dump station, waterfills, and trash dumpsters at LaPosa South!

Maybe my teeth and hair could possibly be very happy here.

We drove into “town” and it seemed fairly peaceful quiet deserted. Turns out that it was late in the season and many of the snowbirds had left for points north. Knowing all too well about the craziness of ‘tourist season’ (summertime in Acadia National Park), we had a hunch that Q might be just the right spot for us. And all that desert!

Fast forward seven months. We get our eight solar panels installed on the RV (details in this earlier post) along with all of the thingamabobs that will sustain us electrically while on the desert.

Fast forward another six months. We recently left LaPosa South where we spent just over four months. And…WE LOVED IT!

How did we fare? Just great! We learned that:

  • Having nearly four acres of desert all to ourselves is AMAZING! There are literally miles of land available for camping. Having stayed at so many campgrounds with TIGHT spaces as we came across the US, camping on the desert was a dream.
Desert twilight
  • Paying $180 for an entire SEASON of camping is a sweet deal. You can park on an LTVA — and move from one LTVA to another within the system in SW AZ and SO CA — from Sept 15 thru Apr 15 for just $180.
  • Navy showers aren’t so bad. Short and sweet.
  • If you are careful, you can easily go a week before needing to refill your water tank and dump your black/grey tanks.
  • Wiping off dishes with a paper towel just after eating greatly reduces the amount of water you’ll need for dishwashing.
  • Pouring your dirty dishpan water down the toilet helps to maintain the black tank.
  • Eight solar panels can sustain you every day! We only ran our generators 2 or 3 times across the four months we were there (and that was when we’d had two cloudy/rainy days in a row.
  • You can NEVER get tired of desert sunrises and sunsets.
  • People are very trustworthy. You can LEAVE your camper on the desert (while you fly to see your kids and grandkids over Christmas) and not a thing is disturbed.
Not our site; this one was like this for well over a month. Their gear was never touched!
  • The desert can be VERY windy and dusty; I became quite proficient at wiping down counters and windowsills frequently.
  • It’s easy to meet new people on the desert.
  • The rattlesnakes don’t reappear until very late in March.
  • Many, many people who spend the winter on the desert own and ride their side-by-sides, jeeps, or ATVs all over the desert.
  • Bicycling on the desert works best if you add an extra-thick gel seat to your bike. It’s also a good idea to wear a stretchy nylon cowl or bandanna over your mouth and nose in case a side-by-side passes by and kicks up dust.
  • Following the desert bloom is thrilling!
  • Rockhounding in the Q area is a nearly full-time hobby for many snowbirds. The Q Gem and Mineral Club has so many resources available for novice and experienced rockhounds and lapidarists including classes, use of equipment, rock/gem shows, and lots of rockhounding field trips.
Quartzsite quartz!
  • Quartzsite is a hub for so many fabulous things: an incredible public library (large supported by snowbirds); a very active quilting club (my peeps!); welcoming churches; one of the best game stores we’ve ever seen; an amazing number of fairs, festivals, rallies, concerts, hobby clubs, gatherings; and best of all, some fabulous new friends who are certain to be traveling companions.

It was just right. And we’re going back next fall.