On the Road Adventures

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Journey's End

We’re home. Actually, we have been home about a week, but I have been completely reluctant to admit it by writing the words. We had a lovely, if far too short, visit with our girls and the darling grandchildren and headed down the final stretch of road to Sacramento. And we came back from good jacket and fleece vest weather to hot. Hot. HOT! Damn HOT! Which just annoyed me to an astounding degree. I think one thing that kept me from admitting we were home again was that it was cheaper to run the air conditioning in Cleo than to try and keep the whole house at a tolerable temperature so we’ve been sleeping out there instead of in the house, so I could think of this as being just another camping spot. But now we have shown our faces and our church family knows we’re here and all of a sudden we have calendars again. So, yes, we’re home.

People ask us if we would do this trip again.

Yes, absolutely! We had a great time. Each day was a wonderful adventure, even if the adventures were measured in small bites, like a grand view of a glacier or a mountain top, or a glimpse of a wild creature. Now I just have to try and find the small adventures here, which I will admit is going to require that I banish this “bah, humbug” attitude I’ve had for the last week.

I’ve been thinking about the lessons learned from this four month-long adventure.
1. Even in the wilds of the Yukon there are grocery stores, so don’t take along so much food.
2. When cleaning up after driving through construction in glacier country, acknowledge the fact that the dust is EVERYWHERE and just start by vacuuming the ceiling and work down.
3. Don’t take fancy clothes. They never leave the closet.
4. Those parkas with fleece liners were a god-send, so I’m glad our little spend-thrift daughter bought herself two of them and left them behind in the closet for me to find. They were little nuggets of gold.
5. Not having a schedule was the best thing we did on the trip. We got to have experiences we would have missed completely if we’d had reservations.
6. After talking to people who were doing this trip in a caravan, never go on a caravan. Ever. To anywhere. They were all lovely people, but see item 5. No Schedules.
7. Find out from the locals where the best-kept secrets are and then go there. We saw the bears on the Kenai River because I talked to the young girl who was had gone fishing with her dad; I met a wonderful artist I’ve admired for years; found a really neat quilt store out in the depths of the woods; had a private marine wildlife cruise while taking the water taxi from Homer to Seldovia and then met some delightful locals there who were proud to show off their town.
8. People are friendly and helpful everywhere, especially if you’re wearing a smile and say nice things about their homes.
9. Canadians and Alaskans love dogs.
10. Being some place where the sun shines all night long is interesting, and accommodating for it isn’t all that hard, but eventually, I missed the stars.

Going back and looking at my photos, some of my favorites were the ones taken out the front window. I’m already thinking about the next adventure. I find myself very much in sympathy with Captain Jack Sparrow when he said at the end of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie,

“Bring me that horizon.”

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sept 12 - Boardman, OR

We did have stars last night. The Milky Way was a bright ribbon of light across the sky and the constellations were crystal clear. It’s been a long time since we had stars. The river again today is almost glass smooth. Across the river on the Washington side there are vineyards, but where there’s no irrigation there’s nothing but dried, brown dirt and scrub.

We were out washing Cleo, her first good bath in a long time, when all of a sudden we heard bagpipes. Someone listening to Scottish music? No, someone making Scottish music. At one of the camp sites down a little from us there was a piper warming up his bagpipe to get ready for a party in town where he was playing. There’s something about the pipes. People who like them immediately head toward them, and people who don’t start grumbling and go inside. Gerry is one of the latter, but my outlaw Scots-Irish ancestors left me the “likes bagpipes” gene and so I went to join his audience. He says he’s going to change out of his regalia after the party and go over to a little bandstand at the very end of the park and play this evening. I will go. Gerry won’t.

This is the view out our door here at Boardman.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sept 11 - Boardman, OR

What a difference in terrain we’ve had in the past 3 days. For the past 3 months we’ve been in country defined by ice. Glacial valleys ground out in graceful U-shapes, rivers eating away at hundreds of feet of glacial silt deposits. We could look across a valley and find the terminal moraine of an ancient ice field, or the lateral moraines that had been carried along by a river of ice. This is the valley on the west side of the Canadian Rockies where the Columbia River forms where we were yesterday morning.

Now, just a day from country formed by ice we are in territory that was forged by fire. The landscape is flat, with the horizon far, far away, and vast fields of wheat or hay spread out as far as we can see, broken only by outcropings of black basalt from the old lava flows that once completely covered this part of the country to depths of a hundred feet or more. It was an almighty lot of lava that came bursting up out of the ground those tens of thousands of years ago.

We’re staying two nights at Boardman, one of our favorite camp grounds. It’s right on the Columbia River where I-84 turns west to run along the length of the river to Portland. The river is quite thoroughly tamed with a series of dams and locks, so it’s more like a lake, and absolutely calm. The sunset was spectacular, and we will have a full compliment of stars in the sky in another hour.

Sept 10 - Back in the USA

We drove down the Columbia Valley through thick pine and fir woodlands toward the border. It felt very strange not to have my copy of MilePost open on my lap. How did we travel without it before? It has been a wonderful traveling companion and I miss it. We made a last stop at a Real Canadian Superstore to spend the $29 Canadian I had left in the “Canadian money” billfold. Got out of there with 60 cents left over, so I did pretty good.

We crossed the border at Eastgate and it was a breeze. We answered all the questions and the border agent waved us through. Immediately we noticed a change. Instead of sparsely populated woods, there were ranches with wide hay fields all mowed down and baled. And cars! They all of a sudden appeared in every direction and by the time we got to Sandpoint we were in traffic that just got denser as we approached Coeur d’Alene.

Lake Pend Oriele (pronounced Ponderay, which is what they named one of the towns.)
We spent the night at an RV park west of the and instead of the sound of burbling creek or the lapping waves of a lake we were lulled to sleep by the sound of a steady stream of vehicles on the freeway. We aren’t out in the wilds of anywhere any more.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sept 9 - Addendum

I wish I had a waterproof camera. We walked over to the hot pools, which are about 200 yards from the RV park. We had seen a steady stream of people headed that direction, all dressed in their bathrobes with towels slung over their arms, so we dressed like the natives and went to join them. There were a lot of locals and some Germans, all about our age. (The little girl running the ticket booth asked very delicately if we were buying adult tickets which are $10, implying that we might be buying the senior tickets for over 65s, and when we told her we weren’t 65 yet, she gave us the senior price anyway. Cute girl.) So, we were gently heating up, having a desultory discussion with a couple next to us, when a group of about a dozen high-school boys arrived.

“Oh, dear, there goes the peace and quiet,” our neighbors moaned. Pretty soon they all trooped out of the dressing room, 10 of them clad in the rental suits, which looked like they were made of tyvek. Under the watchful eye of the other two young men, slightly older, they all trooped over to the diving board and proceeded to start up the high dive, one at a time. One of the older guys asked everyone to give a round of applause to the rookie members of the local high school ice hockey team, there for their freshman initiation. They had to jump or dive off the board and the best display of each round got to sit out the rest of the festivities. So here are all these old people, lined up along the wall of the hot pool, watching these cute boys strut their stuff. All of a sudden it was a party. Everyone was laughing and cheering on the boys. An impromptu judges’ panel sprung up, with people yelling out their numbers for the various dives, cannonballs, and spectacular belly flops. They did relay races, danced, did a choreographed version of “I’m a little tea-pot” and did a lovely job of making everyone there laugh. Such a deal! For a mere $9 each, we got a good hot soak and entertained thrown in for good measure. And the camera? Oh, yes, they were very cute boys. I would have taken a few pictures.

Sept 9 - Lake Louise to Fairmont, BC

The sun was peeking around the clouds this morning and it was calm, so we zipped over to Lake Louise for the mandatory reflections photo. As we were standing there, we heard a loud boom and saw a big cloud of ice crystals from a large chunk of glacier that had fallen off the mountain at the end of the lake. Cool!

Then we drove over to the other lake, Moraine Lake, for some shots there. The mountains at the end of Moraine are more dramatic, but the sun had decided he’d done his duty for the day, so the skies were dark and threatening by the time we got to the lake.

We considered staying, decided we were cold (it was 32 when we woke up this morning – that’s zero for you centigrade people) so we packed up and crossed over the mountains to the eastern side of the Canadian Rockies to a place called Fairmont Hot Springs. We’re going to parboil ourselves and then head for the border tomorrow.

Sept 8 - Lake Louise

About the national parks in Canada. First: expensive. This park is $20 a day so the total can run up really fast if you want to linger. Second: the maps and information they hand out about the parks are spartan, to say the least. The map comes in a handout that covers a whole bunch of parks, and basically resembles the strip map you'd draw on the back of an envelope. No mileage info, no trails, no stops of interest. (And they get just a tad snippy when one asks about trails, etc. Obviously, if you don’t already know about those things, you don’t need to.) Thank goodness the MilePost covers the Icefields Parkway through the park or we'd have been spending the whole drive saying, "There's a pullout - I wonder what that's for." But as we had MilePost, we did stop at several scenic spots and got to see Athabascan Falls, which made a nice walk. The falls have chiseled a path through limestone layers in a very dramatic way.
I must mention a really good thing about Canadian parks. They aren't caniphobic like the US park system and actually welcome dogs on the trails and just about everywhere in the park. You can take your dog along on hikes, properly leashed, of course, but they don't have a problem with that at all. Nice for the doggies.

We planned to stay at IceFields Center tonight. It's next to a major glacier that runs out of the ice field in the center of the mountains.

There are bus tours right out onto the ice, or hiking trails that go over the top of the glacier. People who have been there say it’s a “must do.” We got there and it was 40 degrees, the wind was blowing so hard the flags were standing out straight out, ripping their ends into fringe so it felt like, well, kind of like winter. The glacier looked like it was infested with ants with all the buses and people. Are we spoiled or what? We've stood on Byron Glacier all by ourselves, looked down on Salmon Glacier gleaming in the sun, and seen the Harding Ice Fields in Kenai Fjords, and when we did all that we were warm! We bought the Ice Fields pin for our collection, looked at the prices for lunch and went back to Cleo (who was not amused at the temperatures), had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and headed on down the parkway. As I was standing in line waiting to pay for the pin, I heard two French behind me talking. The only thing I understood was "'orrib-lay tourist-ay" or something to that effect. Yes, it was horribly touristy.

Speaking of horribly touristy!
And then to add insult to injury, it snowed on us! Cleo doesn’t like snow; she told me so.

Down the road a bit there was a mountain goat right beside the road, so I got some nice shots of him, including one that seems to express his opinion about the people and their cameras. Then we continued on down the parkway to Lake Louise, where we got a nice campsite. We went on a back road trying to find some more wildlife, but they’ve all caught a flight to Cabo for the winter.

Sept 5-7 Prince George to Jasper

We stayed the weekend in Prince George since it is Labor Day weekend. The Canadians invented Labor Day and according to our campground host, anyone who doesn't go camping goes over to Edmonton to the Mall to shop for back-to-school. But they'd all be coming home on Monday and we'd have any park we wanted to stay at all to ourselves. There were a couple of caravans in South Park RV while we were there, one of them a retired military group that had spent two months on the Alaska trek. Nice folks, and we'll probably join the organization, but we're still not inclined to go on a caravan. Too much planning and structure. I do planning, but I prefer to do it myself, and I don’t do structure at all.

A side note: I asked our camp hosts what Canadians do with so much Cheese Whiz. Remember my photo of the dozens of quart sized jars of Cheese Whiz in the grocery store? Seems they use it like peanut butter and slather it on bread. A Cheese Whiz sandwich. Makes my arteries harden just thinking about it.

We left on Monday the 7th with no firm destination in mind. We could either go down through Valemont and Kamloops, or go over to Jasper and down through the Jasper/Banff park. The closer we got to the decision point, the more inclined we were to do Jasper/Banff, just because it's rated as one of the top ten scenic drives in the world.

Photo: Mt Robson, at 12,976' the tallest peak in British Columbia. The Canadian Rockies are different; all the layers of marine sediments were just pushed up instead of being scrambled and smooshed like the ranges farther south, so when the snow lands on them, it defines every layer so clearly. I need to find out more about this geology.

We got to Jasper about 4 in the afternoon and sat in a very long line to check into the campground. All the hook-up sites were full, so it's a good thing we don't mind dry camping, but so much for "have the park all to ourselves!" There were a lot of Europeans in the campground, which is a good thing. I'm glad to see them enjoying the scenery here, too. Our camp was in the middle of an old aspen forest, very pretty.

After setting up, we went into the town of Jasper, which looks as if it were designed by Disney. Dozens of gift shops, shoulder to shoulder, all selling the same stuff. We tried the visitor information center for the park, but it closed a minute before we got there. Oh, well, first stop tomorrow.

Friday, September 4, 2009

September 4 - Wild Woods

There’s a special piece of forest about 50 miles east of Prince George called the Ancient Forest. The story is that a combination of mountain ranges and weather patterns has created a small area of temperate rain forest in what is otherwise a drier area and this has allowed giant cedars to grow, some for the last 2000 years. That’s the official story. After visiting there today, I know the real scoop. There’s a space/time portal in the mountains of British Columbia that goes directly into the heart of Fangorn Forest on Middle Earth. We spent a magical afternoon there today.

We climbed a moderately steep path up through standard pine, cedar and aspen, and then turned a corner and were in a deep, dark forest where everything was giant sized. The green leaves of the plants covering the forest floor were a foot across (and lined with thorns on the stems – there weren’t any extemporaneous paths. No one leaves the path with those nasty plants guarding the forest floor.) At first there were bird songs but as we went farther along the path it got completely silent. Even our footsteps were muffled in the layer of cedar chips on the path. As we got to the largest trees, there were signs telling their names and written as if the trees themselves were speaking. There is even a Treebeard, who told about the centuries he has stood, watching over the secret forest.

It's a place where you have to look carefully, because among the gigantic leaves and tree trunks are delicate lichens, and tiny little rivulets watering the roots. It was a lovely, very magical outing.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

September 2 and 3 Burns Lake and Prince George

Sept 2:
We showed up at 9:30 for the tour of the ‘Ksan village. We were the only ones on the tour so it was a private showing. Each house had a theme and a recorded soundtrack showing how the Gitxsan (geet-san) people lived in the past. The band’s name means “people of the misty river” and they had plenty of natural resources so they could build permanent villages. During the summers the families all went out and gathered and preserved food for the winter, and when winter came they all lived together in the long houses. Winter was the time for creating art, and the designs they wove, painted and carved were complex and interesting.

What was sad was the guide, who was very good at turning on the sound and light shows, had no idea what the different symbols were. She just kept saying that there was a story with the totem pole/weaving/painting but it belonged to the one who made it and she didn’t know. We kept saying, “but you need to know so you can tell the stories and keep them alive.” She never looked convinced. So when the tour was done, we weren’t sure we were much more informed than we were last night. There was a carving of a woman holding a dead loon and crying. Why? And the weavings - each figure has a meaning, but the girl didn't know so neither do we. Sad.

After the tour we headed down the road to a park near Burns Lake. The landscape has become more agricultural and, well, civilized. We passed farm after farm, all with their winter’s hay cut and rolled and stuffed into shrink wrap. After having the road pretty much to ourselves it is a little annoying to have to watch for so much traffic. There’s still some wildlife – we had a little black bear cross the road right in front of us, and there are ‘watch for moose’ signs every few miles, although we still think the moose union is on strike. We even drove out in the evening to troll for moose and saw nothing.

There are still patches of fireweed, all gone to feathers, although it is getting rarer; and the woods have changed to largely deciduous mixed with pine and cedar. The pine is all falling victim to a bark beetle, so there are large swaths of red-brown across the hills. It’s frighteningly ripe for a big fire.

We had a glorious thunderstorm last night with lightning all across the sky, so everything’s washed clean this morning, including my dirty car.

Sept 3: Prince George
It was a easy drive into town, with the only excitement being another black bear who wanted to cross the road but traffic was thick so Gerry leaned on the horn (and the brakes) and scared him back into the underbrush beside the road. Hope he made it safely across or better yet, decided not to cross the road at all. We kept seeing those 'watch for moose' signs with no sighting of moose one. I think they're just a hoax on the tourists.

We're spending the Labor Day weekend here since apparently all of Prince George has gone camping elsewhere and finding a camp spot will, according to the locals, be darned near impossible. Ah, well, we have laundry and other fun stuff to entertain us.

September 1 - The Hazeltons, Yellowhead Hwy

A new rig had rolled in last night, this 1915 Model T Speedster with trailer, driven by a young couple who are having a great time in their antique car.

With some regret we left Haynes this morning under a cloudless blue sky. Once we were out of the canyons of the Stewart-Haynes road and back on the Cassiar, we got into tall forests and the country started looking like Colorado again. We had a couple of good wildlife sightings – one little black bear crossing the road and a salmon stream with sockeye salmon spawning.

The Milepost said that Hanna Creek, not far south on the Cassiar from where we rejoined it, was a major spawning stream for the sockeye, so we pulled off and sure enough, there were many of the bright red fish right under the bridge. There was also apparently a grizzly fishing a little upstream, according to a person who had stopped on the other side of the bridge but his dog started barking and the bear ran away. The guy had planned on fishing for trout, but changed his mind. Guess it was a BIG bear.

The Cassiar joined highway 16, called the Yellowhead Highway, that goes from Prince Rupert on the coast to Edmonton. And all of a sudden when we turned onto it, it was summer again. Temperatures in the mid-70’s! Where are those shorts and sandals? It’s terrible!

We stopped for the night at a campground off the highway in a cluster of little towns called collectively The Hazeltons. There’s Old Hazelton, New Hazelton, and several First Nations towns, one of which is called ‘Ksan. ‘Ksan has a cultural center and has recreated a traditional native town, complete with totem poles. We stopped at the center but learned that the last tour of the day was already finished, so we got the self-guided tour map. At the first building we stood there and debated what the figures on the totem pole were, and which totem pole did the legend refer to. Then I went back into the museum and traded in our self-guided pass for the first tour of the day tomorrow.

After that, we drove to another little town with totem poles, where I took some pictures but we aren’t sure what the meaning is of the poles; then we drove to Old Hazelton, a mining town, where all the buildings are kept to the authentic historic style, and all of them were closed except a pizza parlor. (Obviously an authentic, historically accurate pizza parlor.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

August 31 - Fish Creek Bear Viewing

Bears. Oh, yes, we saw bears. We got up early and were at the boardwalk before 8 this morning. There was a huge crowd of people there with tripods, multiple cameras and lenses. I have a pretty decent lens, but I’m telling you, I had lens envy bad looking at all the big, powerful telephoto lenses lined up on that boardwalk. Of course, a lot of them are so big I’d need to adopt a sherpa to carry it for me if I got one. There are people who come here every year and stay for weeks to see the bears and take thousands of photos of them. It was pretty awe-inspiring.

The atmosphere was like a friendly block party with everyone quietly visiting, exchanging tips and having the “where you’re from, where you’ve been, where you’re going” discussion that is the immediate conversation starter among the wanderers. Then, one of the docents got a radio call that bears had arrived and were in the stream by the second boardwalk. There was a quiet but rapid mass exodus to the other boardwalk and the talking stopped and the snap snap snap of the cameras began. I would put the camera down and just watch the action sometimes, so I had a mere 300+ pictures to wade through. So, here are my best picks. There are two bears, 4 year old twins, who are the subjects here.

Bear right below the boardwalk.

Strolling through the water.

Can I get to those berries without getting my feet wet?

Catch that fish!

Caught that fish! Snack time.

And now it's play time.


My mouth's bigger than your mouth.

A pause in the romping. "MOM, he's leaning on me!"

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

August 30 - Hyder, Alaska

As we got farther south, the road got better and better. It’s still a 2 lane country road, but smoother and newly paved. The landscape changed with the latitude also. The trees are much bigger and instead of black spruce and aspen, we’re surrounded with Sitka spruce, white spruce, furs and cedars, with a dense thicket of willow and other shrubs underfoot, making a dense jungle on either side of the road. The wild flowers are more common here, with ox eye daisies, red clumpy flowers and lots of various yellow ones blooming along the road. There is fireweed here, and it tends to be in various stages, some still with blooms at the top, some the salmon colored stalks that once bore the blooms, and some turning white. All three stages can be present in any given bunch of fireweed. The ones that have feathered out are releasing their seeds in a snow-cloud of white floaty bits. Fortunately, I don’t seem to be allergic to them.

The road down to Stewart and Hyder is lovely. It reminds us of Switzerland, with narrow valleys hemmed in on both sides with sheer mountain walls and plenty of “avalanche zone ended” signs. We never for some reason see the “avalanche zone begins” signs.

We chose to go across the border between Stewart in British Columbia and Hyder in Alaska to camp at Hyder. We both immediately thought of “Northern Exposure” when we drove into Hyder. Dirt roads and lots of boarded up buildings.

We checked in to Camp Run-Amok and the guy running it told us to get level and head up the road to the Salmon Glacier because it wasn’t raining. Apparently that state can change in a matter of minutes, and rain seems to be the normal state of affairs. Since we’d skipped lunch we decided to eat at The Bus first. It really is a bus that’s been converted to a kitchen. The cook’s husband goes out and catches the fish each day and she cooks it up. Ger had grilled halibut and I had the salmon. Delicious, and the price was half what we’d paid elsewhere for meals that weren’t nearly as good. While we were eating the people at the next table started talking to us.

“Have you been to the glacier today?” We said that we hadn’t yet.
“You have to go. The sun’s shining!” We assured them we would go there. Then as we were leaving, some other people who had just come up to The Bus stopped us and told us that we needed to go see the glacier. We decided we weren’t brave enough to not go see the glacier so we caved in to the pressure and drove the 21 miles up the dirt road to see the glacier.

It was a lovely drive, with waterfalls every hundred feet or so up the whole route, and beautiful vistas. I have to admit I didn’t hold out a lot of interest in the glacier. I mean, we’ve seen glaciers. But when we got to this one, it was yet another of those “oh, wow!” experiences. We were high above the top of the glacier looking down on it, and while we have seen many glacier faces, it was a totally different experience to see the great, white river of ice below us, and see the way the ice was moving down the mountain. We were glad we had done as instructed and gone to see the glacier.

We stopped at Fish Creek on our way back to the RV park. There is a boardwalk next to a stream where grizzly bears frequently come to fish for the salmon spawning there. Shortly after we arrived two four-year-old twins showed up and started fishing. It was late enough though that pictures didn’t come out very well. We’ll come back here tomorrow.