It has been quite a while since we’ve written. We hope that you and those close to you continue to be well. We’re thankful that 2020 is over; the vaccines are starting to rollout, and we’re hopeful that 2021 will be a better year all around.
We are approaching our four month anniversary in our new house in East Helena, Montana. It seems unbelievable that it has been that long since we were living in Rhett, our 36 foot fifth wheel RV. And yet at the same time, our two-year adventure exploring America and Canada is starting to seem almost like a dream. Did we really do that? Yes! We’re really glad that we created the Lobsters on the Loose blog, so that we can go back and remind ourselves of all that we have done.
We arrived in Helena a few days before our house closing, and stayed at the county fairgrounds. This was right at the height of the western wildfires, and the air was very smoky.
The first few days we were in our new house, there was a group of “antelope” (or so we were told) in our back yard. Antelope only live in Africa; these are actually pronghorn sheep… known locally as antelope. I was surprised to learn that their closest living relative is the giraffe. Sure! I can see that resemblance! Uh-huh.
After a few days, they moved on. We saw them a few weeks ago in a field about 5 miles away, and we hope they return next year.
We are settling into our new life here in East Helena Montana. We’re making our home “ours” with furnishings, decorations, and projects like upgrading the lighting to suit our aging eyes.
We’re learning the layout of nearby Helena, the state capital, where we do most of our errands when we have to go out. We’re still isolating as much as possible and we remain healthy although dealing with some of the vicissitudes of aging. We’re establishing relationships with some doctors and we’re becoming Montanans by getting our drivers’ licenses and registering to vote.
Several of our specialists are located in Missoula which is two hours away. Luckily, it’s a beautiful ride through a pass in the Rockies; our car knows the way well. I’ve (Kathe) had more glaucoma surgery and am forever grateful that I’ve found a glaucoma specialist who is really terrific. And it looks like, finally, after ten months, my back pain is largely under control thanks to a pain specialist in Missoula. Getting old is NOT for sissies!
I’m thoroughly enjoying plenty of quilting time in my sewing room. Al set me up with some very bright track lighting and it’s a joy to work on the projects I have going. The views out the sewing room windows are gorgeous! I especially love hearing the train go by — even though it’s several miles away, we can see it in the distance. Trains here are different than we’re used to from the east coast. Many (most?) are well over a mile long!
Most of the land around us is agricultural; there are lots of cattle in Montana! Cowboy boots? Check. Cowboy hat? Have to get them. Chaps and spurs? Hmmm… We’ll have to think about those.
Since it is January and we’re writing about living in Montana, you can correctly assume that we decided to not return to the Arizona desert this winter. It was not a difficult decision to make. While we still have to isolate ourselves, it is easier in a house than in an RV. It still feels a little strange to us that sometimes we have to search for each other in the house, after both being in the same room for two years. We joke about now having to use our ham radio walkie-talkies to find each other.
Covid-19 has changed the RVing world. For us, it made the RV life less desirable. One of the things we enjoyed most about RVing was being able to meet other people and learn about their backgrounds and experiences. Covid ruled that out, so part of the impetus was gone. While we were in Quartzsite, Kathe most enjoyed her Quartzsite Quilters group and the activities at the Gem and Mineral club. While both of those continue to meet (why?), due to virus concerns Kathe would not have attended either this winter had we gone down.
For others, Covid has made RVing more attractive, offering the ability to vacation and travel while maintaining distance and isolation. No hotels, no airplanes, no restaurants needed. RV sales are booming, with many dealers’ lots empty and manufacturing backlogged by parts shortages. It was difficult before to find campground or RV park sites, especially near popular attractions such as National Parks; reservations had to be made well in advance. It will be interesting to see how much this boom in RV sales will make that problem worse, and whether the effect will be long lasting—or will many of those new RVs quickly become rarely-used lawn ornaments?
It looks like many others are also deciding to not go to Quartzsite this winter. A friend who did go to Q this winter said recently that there were about one-quarter of the rigs there, compared to what he remembers from last year at this time. The big influx into Quartzsite is usually the first two weeks of January, so it will be interesting to see whether the large crowds materialize.
So we’re staying in Montana. We have prepared for winter: heavy coats, a snow blower, and a Subaru Outback. Just as in Maine, it seems that Subaru is the state car of Montana—if you exclude the pickup trucks! The mileage that Scarlet, our F350 dually truck got (14 – 15 mpg), and the difficulty of finding parking in town for such a large (24′ long) vehicle made us decide to get other transportation. But so far Montana’s winter has been milder than usual, with less snow. We had one 10″ snowfall in mid October, but only flurries since; the ground is currently bare, and until this week the high temps have been in the high 30s / low 40s.
Helena is surrounded by mountain ranges; it is in the “eastern front” of the Rockies (we’re about 20 miles east of the Continental Divide “as the crow flies”). We can see mountains in all directions and those mountains do have snow. We are at about 3900′ elevation; according to the weather service, most of the snow has been above 5000′.
A few mornings ago we were finally greeted by real winter; it was two degrees and 90% humidity. Perfect conditions for the formation of hoar frost on neighboring trees and even our door’s Christmas wreath.
The next day was in the 40s, and we have bare ground once again. Of course!
So what does the future hold? While we plan to continue traveling in Rhett, it is unlikely that we will be full-timers again—but one thing this year has taught us is that you can’t predict the future, so maybe. During the spring, summer, and fall, we hope to do more exploring but probably in trips measured in multiple weeks, not multiple months. And hopefully, we will be able to return to wintering in the Quartzsite area or elsewhere warm! As we do have more adventures, we will continue this blog, but it may be quiet for a while until the spring.
By the way, we can still end blog posts with pictures of beautiful sunsets (or in this case, a sunrise), now from here in Montana…
We hope that you and your loved ones stay safe, healthy, and warm this winter.
We’ve been full-timing in our RV for TWO years (as of Aug 19).
As a way to celebrate our two-year FT anniversary, we will walk through our new home in East Helena, Montana!
COVID-19 has changed our world. We’ve been vigilant with our social-distancing and mask-wearing since March and of course, will continue to do so. Our decision to remain in Quartzsite, Arizona through the summer was in direct response to the pandemic.
We’ve made the occasional trip to Phoenix for follow-up visits with my glaucoma specialist. And we’ve even ventured twice to Yuma to do a few errands.
Many of you have checked in on us because of the high COVID-19 rates in Arizona; thank you. We’ve seen a bit more compliance with mask-wearing and social distancing in Phoenix and Yuma. There have been relatively few cases here in La Paz County where we are, but quite a few folks seem to not give a fig about wearing a mask (at least not in a way that it serves any purpose—don’t get me started on those who wear their masks only on their chin!).
So my anxiety rate has gone through the roof when we HAVE gone out.
We’ve been quite content to stay put in the RV park we’re in (there are only TWO Rv’s here—in a park with 160 slots!). But the extreme heat has made it extremely difficult to be outside for anything other than our one mile walk at 5:30 AM (when it’s already 94F!!!). We’re in another “excessive heat” stretch now with temps going up as high as 118 for at least the next ten days. Yeah, it’s a dry heat but so is your oven; I doubt you’d choose to relax inside of it.
Thank God we love each other but we’ve pretty much found that 375 sq ft for months at a time (SWELTERING-in-place!) can be a bit monotonous. We’ve been bingeing on many terrific shows on Netflix, Amazon, Britbox, etc. but it sure would be nice to get outside!
SO…we’ve come to realize that if we HADN’T sold our home in Maine back in February and we could have looked into the future, maybe we would have taken it off the market. We have come to the conclusion that we need a ‘sticks-n-bricks’ to have as a home base. We fell in love with the Northwest last year and specifically, LOVED what we were able to see of Montana. Hence, a house search ensued!
Searching for a house while in a pandemic can be a challenge. We are VERY fortunate that we connected with a real estate agent, checked out dozens of homes (Montana is a VERY hot real estate market right now!), and found one that ticks ALL the boxes for us! We took a webcam tour of the property this past week and made an offer. We are under contract!
So this week, to mark our two-year full-timing anniversary, we’ll be doing a walk-through of our new house! It’s been amazing to us how quickly this has all come together (I’m sure some of you have whiplash just reading about it) and we’re so excited, we could burst!
East Helena is just three hours north of Yellowstone National Park, and 3+ hours south of Glacier National Park. We’ll be about 600 miles from our daughter Beth and her family (in Vancouver, BC—yeah, we know…CAN/US border is still closed!). Montana boasts 21 National Wildlife Refuges and 30% of the state is public lands—lots of space for riding our side-by-side! Our home is surrounded by the beautiful Elkhorn Mountains and you can certainly understand why Montana is called BIG SKY country!
But this isn’t the end of the adventure—the “loose” part of Lobsters on the Loose will continue.
Our plan is to continue to travel much of the time, coming south to Arizona in the winter, and exploring other parts of our beautiful countries—US and Canada—(when it’s safe!) during the rest of the year. Having a (larger) safe space to call home whenever we need it sounds good to us!
Near us is the KOFA National Wildlife Refuge. KOFA stands for King of Arizona, the name of one of the abandoned mines within the Refuge. We’ve written about KOFA NWR before, here and here. But now we can explore it more with Clark. And it is unbelievably pretty.
Recently we went to the KOFA Queen Canyon Road, which starts a little down the Palm Canyon Road. Palm Canyon road is accessible to normal vehicles. The Queen Canyon road most definitely is not, with narrow tracks, and steep descents and rises, sometimes without a level section in between. To traverse the Queen Canyon Road, you need something like our chariot, Clark.
Slightly to the north of Palm Canyon, Queen Canyon goes farther back, behind the mountains you can see from the road. These are much different than those in and near Quartzsite, just thirty miles to the north. Quartzsite’s are fairly gentle; the mountains in KOFA are more jagged. We’ll again apologize to our friends in the Rocky Mountain states. We know that these aren’t real mountains; one of the taller ones in the area, Cunningham Mountain, tops out around 3,280 feet ASL, or about 2,400 feet above town. But that’s the local terminology, so we’ll use it.
Kathe mused, “How long would we need to stop and wait in order to see some wildlife?” We didn’t stop and wait, but shortly thereafter six mule deer ran across the trail a short distance ahead of us. They climbed the bank on the opposite side and four of them stopped part way up and turned back to look at us. After several minutes they turned and ran up the rest of the hill to join their friends. They were the only large wildlife we have seen in the Reserve so far.
Please excuse the lack of focus. That’s cropped way down from my phone camera. It is a good camera, but has problems when the interesting subject is not in the foreground. I have to figure a way to keep my real camera handy without killing it with the fine dust that gets everywhere.
Fortunately, the GoPro was on, so we captured their dash across the trail. It is in the video at the end of the post.
We see quail everywhere, including family groups of mama and up to twenty chicks. We’ve seen some as small as about an inch and a half tall—doing well at keeping up with mama as she hurries across the trail. We see road runners less often; again, apologies for the focus problem here. Same excuse.
And we have “wild” life in the campground as well!
When traveling the trails into and behind the mountains near here, it is easy to convince yourself that you are the only person.
I stopped on a trail to take a picture of an “Abandoned Mine” sign to show you, when from behind me I heard a booming voice, “Good afternoon, friend!”
Definitely not what I expected there! He came over and explained that I was on his mining claim; he had heard me ride in (Clark is loud) and wanted to know what I was doing. It was obvious to him that I was just riding the trails and the conversation was entirely amiable. He is prospecting for gold; he said that he has been successful so far on this claim. According to him gold is the reason for most, if not all, of the claims in this part of Arizona. I asked him about the process of staking a claim. He said that he really doesn’t know. Apparently virtually all the land in the area is claimed by someone (many someones); he had to buy his claim from another person. “I got it used.”
Some people post their claim in a little stronger manner…
Abandoned mines are all over the place—open holes in the ground from ten feet deep to…many. Some still have structures that survive…sort of.
Most of the abandoned mines that are just holes in the ground are fenced off with warning signs, but not all. Just another danger to be aware of, along with the scorpions, rattle snakes, and roadrunners (beware of falling anvils). No, we haven’t seen any scorpions or rattle snakes. Yet. Be sure that we’ll let you know here if we do!
There isn’t much timber out here for building shelters. One thing miners had lots of, is rock. So quite a few stone cabins remain; some in better condition than others. It seems that very little mortar was used; we’ve seen a few with no sign of mortar at all.
Reduce, reuse, recycle. When the old truck dies, it becomes a hardware store, providing parts and equipment for other mining camp needs. Here, some roof rafters.
Driving the trails
We’ve been out on Clark nearly every day; usually both of us go (and Kathe drives), sometimes Al goes out alone. We’re becoming more comfortable with Clark’s mountain-goat-like abilities. So far we have clocked almost 600 miles of fun in the immediate area. The dealer we bought Clark from offers a discounted service that we picked up. They call it a “two year” plan, but it is based on hours of use: X services at Y hour intervals. We’ll probably use it up by early fall at this rate!
Back in the dark days of computing before GUIs, there was a command-line game called “Adventure.” It had two key phrases: “You are in a maze of twisty passages, all alike,” and “You are in a maze of twisty passages, all different.” If you went into a twisty passage going north, you might come out in a different room going south. Or east. (It is still available on github!)
The trails here are like that. There are hundreds of them; only a small subset are marked. They twist and turn and intersect and head who knows where! We use a GPS-enabled tablet running the Avenza mapping program to navigate, so we feel secure about not getting lost, but I wouldn’t want to go too far here without it. (We also run Avenza on our phones as backup.) Here are some of of our tracks.
Some friends have asked how we try to stay safe when riding on the desert.
We carry another backup GPS in the form of a Garmin inReach satellite communicator, with which we can send and receive text messages while out of cell phone range. It also has an SOS function to contact a 24/7/365 rescue dispatch center should the need arise. Needless to say we hope we never need that! But it is nice to be able to send texts to let someone know, for instance, that we’re OK, but taking longer than expected so they don’t worry.
We also carry a fairly capable trauma first aid kit, some spare parts, a tool kit to take apart / repair much of the machine, and ropes, pulleys, etc., to extract ourselves by using Clark’s winch if we get stuck.
And water. Lots and lots of water.
And when one of us goes out alone, we always let the other know roughly where we will be.
A recent conversation:
Al: The only way you can find out what Clark can do is to try more and more challenging things.
Kathe: And what happens when what you try is outside its capabilities and you’re stuck (or rolled, or…)?
She’s so practical.
But we haven’t been stuck yet. (And haven’t rolled it!) For the most part, we stay on well traveled trails. Yes, that rise may look very steep, but from looking at the tracks, many, many people have traveled it successfully. Onward!
Sometimes, the trails are wide, flat, and smooth:
Sometimes hilly and steep (and sometimes much steeper than they appear from the bottom).
To really appreciate that hill, please watch the video at the end of this post which tries to give an example of what we’ve been enjoying from Clark.
And, sometimes, they just aren’t. Visible, that is. There are some BLM-designated trails that look like just bare unmolested desert surface stretching into the distance, or that appear to simply be a tangle of desert shrubbery. Our GPS-enabled mapping tablet has let us traverse some of these “non-trails” (my term). Others, we just couldn’t figure out at all.
Some trails proceed in washes instead of across them. We are fortunate: a wash that is part of the local trail system is right behind our RV Park, so we can access the trails by going through a gate at the rear of the property.
Driving in a wash with a deep, loose, gravel bed reminds me of sailing with a strong following sea. The rudder is more like a hint to the boat of where you’d like it to point, instead of a strong command. When driving in the deep gravel, even in four wheel drive, pointing the front tires is merely a hint to Clark. Which it usually (eventually) obeys.
Caution: This might make you blush
Kathe here. When we first started riding out onto the desert, I prided myself in the fact that I can go for hours without peeing. Women, you know what I mean! Right?
But soon I realized some of our trips might get long. And hydrating while we’re out on the desert is ESSENTIAL. However, peeing behind a bush (cactus!) just wouldn’t cut it. Ouch! But what could I do? I didn’t want to be the cause of foreshortening a planned excursion.
Enter FUD — the feminine urinary director. Yup. It’s a thing. A REAL thing. And it works GREAT! I can stand up and pee away from me. Now we can be out for a number of hours and I can be comfortable. Why didn’t I know about these years ago? Here’s what it looks like.
We are still seeing flowering plants in the area, although the saguaros are pretty much done by now.
[Quick: what periodical had a “Miscellany” page on the last page of every issue?]
One afternoon I went out to the truck and found this waiting for me, in the console cup holder. The can was half empty, but I could find no trace whatsoever of the half of the contents that weren’t there. No spray on the ceiling, no drips in the cup holder or on the floor. I count myself very lucky! You can see in the pic that the pop top is still sealed. Guess that isn’t the weakest part of the can!
The truck thermometer said 127, but it had been sitting in the sun. I’d guess the air temp at about 115 outside. Who knows how hot inside the closed up truck! (Not the same day as the 110° picture above.)
We were amused by these saguaros:
Several posts back we talked about the public art that was scattered around town. When we saw “Potty Garden” as a point of interest on the map of desert trails, we had to check it out! Of course!
As I noted above, in amongst the mountains it is easy to convince yourself that you’re all alone. But every once in a while our path meets signs of the outside world.
The slanted orange thing at the top is an identification number, for checking the route from a helicopter. All the infrastructure around here, cable as above, gas pipelines, and towers for the electrical grid have this setup. It is not at all unusual to see a low, slow helo going by as it is checking something.
A few of the trails parallel Interstate 10, to take advantage of the grading. (But isn’t “unusual” grading the point of riding these machines?)
And occasionally someone leaves a sign of their former presence. Geocache? Easter egg?
The El Paso (TX) Natural Gas Company holds several rights of way through the area to get their product to the cities on the coast.
One of the pipelines provides what could be considered an “off road highway,” named “Pipeline Road.” Really; it is on the maps. In addition to being a nice wide well graded path (they run pickups on it), you occasionally come across installations like this. I’ve found two in the area.
The promised video
I’ve heard that cartography is the art of omitting information. If maps included all the detail available, they would be unusable. Consider city subway maps. They show almost nothing, but present the important (for that use) information clearly.
I think making videos is similar. I have incredible respect for people who produce videos; editing hours of “film” into minutes or even seconds and still coming out with an interesting, cohesive story. I don’t consider myself to be in that group of people, but I have pulled together a few snippets of trail rides to try to show you what we’ve been seeing these past few weeks. I hope you enjoy it! It is just over 1 minute long. The first part is the mule deer running across our path on KOFA Queen Canyon Road, then starting at about 15 seconds, Kathe’s climb of the hill (at 2X speed). It was way steeper than it looks…
The view from the top was worth the climb! We’re looking west; the very farthest mountain range is probably California.
That’s about it for now. We hope you stay safe as society starts to open up. We have no plans to change how we’ve been isolating: riding in the desert with no others nearby or staying in the RV, unless going somewhere is absolutely necessary. Arizona is becoming a hot spot (get it?); things are not under control here.
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.”)
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).
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?
There are other signs of earlier people here, some possibly ancient. Near the petroglyphs are mortar 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.
There are also signs of early non-indigenous settlers, remains of foundations, cisterns, and cabins.
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.
There are also desert artifacts from the current population. For instance, a golf course!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?”
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.
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.
Some of the displays contained traditional dress and ceremonial costumes.
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.
Beside guitars, the lute family includes mandolins, ukuleles, and… ummm… lutes. But wait! There’s more!
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.
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!
One of the interesting things about the combination piano and violin (above) is that it uses electric instead of pneumatic controls.
Despite the card calling this a “mouth organ” in the title, the fine print in the description calls it a “player trumpet.” Who knew?
Boy, that music box looks just like the one I had as a kid!
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.
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.
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?
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!
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).
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.
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!
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!
We’re finally reunited with Scarlett and Rhett! We were gone for exactly eight, very busy weeks, and it is good to be back!
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.
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.
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:
Things to keep,
Things to sell or give away, and
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.
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.