Part 2 – That’s a Wrap!

Even though Alaska is the main event for this trip, we couldn’t help but be taken by the beauty in British Columbia and the Yukon Territory.  I’m sure some of those sights will rival The Last Frontier state.  It is truly a looooong way to Alaska through Canada – thousands of miles worth.  We tried to enjoy it as much as possible while making time to AK.  We made a few of you (and us) really tired just watching our campground hopping, but it has been so worth it.

Back in British Columbia

We last left you in Hyder, Alaska, and have several stops to share from Part 2 of the Epic Journey.  Our first one was in Kinastin Lake, BC at a provincial park.  These are much like our state parks, except they typically don’t have any services, so no water, power or sewer connections.  Since Pat solved the refrigerator electrical problem, we are good to go for at least a day or two just on our batteries.  And short generator bursts for the coffee maker, hair dryer, microwave and vacuum cleaner.  I haven’t given up too many comforts as you can tell.

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Since we didn’t care about what side of the coach went where for services, we parked nose in to take advantage of the magnificent view of Lake Kinastin.  So quiet and so beautiful.

As they say, the journey is as good as the destination and this day was no exception.  We saw 9 bears, 1 bobcat, 1 marten, and 1 wolverine.  The bobcat stopped and I swear looked me right in the eye.  Gorgeous creature right by the road.  As for the marten and wolverine, we weren’t sure what we saw until we described them to the camp host.  After looking up pictures once we had internet, we’re convinced those were the culprits.

I tried to take some sunset pictures at this stop, but sunset is elusive this far north.  At 10pm, I snapped these…

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Yes, those are loons and I love their haunting call.  They obliged and swam right where I needed them for my dusky shot.

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I stood out here freezing just so I could hear the crackle of the neighbor’s fire, call of the loons, and lapping lake water.  And nothing else.  Now THIS is peaceful.

Drive to Dease Lake

More BC and we are on some interesting rough roads by this point.  We had expected that on the Alcan or Alaska/Canada Highway, but not quite yet.  No center line, no shoulders in some cases and the pavement is noisy-rough.  We knew to slow down for cones on the side of the roads, since those mark the particularly rough spots.  And cones with flags in them, beware!

This day adds two caribou to our animal count at Gnat’s Pass.  Notice the road in the picture.  This is the Cassiar Highway and in some cases isn’t much better than going down a gravel road.  A short travel day and a bit of a slow go.  We did enjoy the frozen lakes and can’t believe that they still are!

Dease Lake Campground is nothing special, but we are finally in a town with fuel and a grocery store of sorts.  We also have some wi-fi provided by the campground since my phone continues to disappoint.  I’m hanging out by the garbage cans with our new friends from Vancouver so we can get the wi-fi signal and catch up with the world.  The grocery store is an unexpected bonus and we are relieved since we misjudged the amount of dog food left.  Fortunately they have big bags so Jackson doesn’t have to forage.

Driving to the Yukon

Today is exciting since are headed to the Yukon Territory.  I don’t know anyone who’s actually ever been and it sounds so remote and exotic.  After leaving Dease Lake civilization, we have only passed 3 vehicles, one a semi, and we’re about halfway to the Yukon when we spy a garage sale sign.  And they have pizza!  Seriously, who is going to that garage sale in the true middle of nowhere?

We also learn that Dolly Varden is a fish from our handy Milepost book, and can be caught in the rivers we are passing.  The Milepost is a mile-by-mile Alaska travel planner that tells about every route in, out, and around Alaska.  And you guessed it, talks about the routes mile by mile.  I have a love/hate relationship with this piece of literature.  I can’t navigate with it since it goes into nauseating detail about everything.  BUT it does give you great peace of mind after miles and miles of nothingness.  It also lets you know when you can count on fuel or not and where there are campgrounds and food.  I get lost in it, but you really do need it for this journey.

I don’t think it’s possible to pass by Jade City on the way North.  This isn’t really a city, but a store selling jade to passersby and offering free coffee and clean restrooms.  I’ve read that about 90% of the world’s jade is mined from the Cassiar Mountains in BC right around here.  This spot is family-owned and they mine their own jade for the beautiful things they sell.  Pat is posing by a huge piece of jade before it is cut and polished.  I’m with the Jade City sign and bear.  Sign you say?  Well, Pat did not get that part in the picture and has been chastised for it.  I have a lovely jade ring to show for this lunch stop.

Yukon Ho!

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Such a thrill to cross the border into the Yukon Territory!  They aren’t kidding with the larger than life slogan.  Those of you who are Calvin and Hobbes comic strip fans will recognize that I stole the title for this section.  Pat is a huge fan and read all the books to Ethan as a child.  I couldn’t help but remember this one and the sentiment is so apt for our journey.  We feel like kids again and escaping all the grown-up rules!  Just so you get the idea, here’s Calvin’s song by author Bill Watterson –

“My tiger friend has got the sled,
And I have packed a snack.
We’re all set for the trip ahead.
We’re never coming back!

We’re abandoning this life we’ve led!
So long, Mom and Pop!
We’re sick of doing what you’ve said,
And now it’s going to stop!

We’re going where it snows all year,
Where life can have real meaning.
A place where we won’t have to hear,
“Your room could stand some cleaning.”

The Yukon is the place for us!
That’s where we want to live.
Up there we’ll get to yell and cuss,
And act real primitive.

We’ll never have to go to school,
Forced into submission,
By monstrous crabby teachers who’ll
Make us learn addition.

We’ll never have to clean a plate
Of veggie glops and goos.
Messily we’ll masticate
Using any fork we choose!

The timber wolves will be our friends.
We’ll stay up late and howl,
At the moon, till nighttime ends,
Before going on the prowl.

Oh, what a life! We cannot wait,
To be in that arctic land,
Where we’ll be masters of our fate,
And lead a life that’s grand!

No more of parental rules!
We’re heading for some snow!
Good riddance to those grown-up ghouls!
We’re leaving! Yukon Ho!”

Watson Lake

We’re able to meet up with our new friends Cheryl & David for dinner #2 at this Yukon stop, and we also head over to the Sign Post Forest.

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We didn’t think this would be much of a big deal, but it has posts covered with signs from all over the world.  Everything from toilet seats to spatulas to actual road signs commemorating their Alaska treks.  My mom & dad visited here when they made their journey from Florida to Alaska, but don’t think they put up a sign and neither did we.  We did take another couple’s picture to document their new sign.

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This little Catholic mission church was literally behind our campsite.  We only had to walk around the campground fence to get there and you can even see the campground sign to the right in the picture.  I mention this because the two priests were so excited that one of them just got his driver’s license and they were headed to White Horse the next day to get a car.  No more bumming rides from parishioners to get to the remote spots in their parish.  A great reminder of things we take for granted such as transportation, reliable communication and the ability to get to church, any church.

Teslin Lake Territorial Park

When we were at the provincial park, the camp host offered a piece of advice.  If you have the time, stay at Yukon territorial parks.  They don’t have services either, but come out to roughly $9 a night for camping.  Practically free and just as gorgeous as BC.

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The lake was still frozen and the ice chunks were pushed up on the shore.  They shifted and moved and sounded like ice cubes chinking in a glass.  Or maybe a tiny glass avalanche.  Another peaceful spot hearing only the crunch of boots on the rocks and the shifting ice shards.

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The rocky shoreline was tough on Jackson’s feet.  He seemed to like the snow better, but did a little slipping and sliding.

Other Stuff to Report

So we’re driving along after leaving Watson Lake, and the tire pressure monitoring system sounds the alarm.  It’s my job to monitor this when we drive and it tells us pressure and temp on all our tires – Bitsy & Lucy.  So far it just alarms when it loses connection with one of the sensors and needs a reset.  This time, however, it is crying out for one of Lucy’s duallies and reporting a temp of 298 degrees.  That can’t be good I say, and fortunately we were just passing a place to stop.  I’m happy to report that it was a false reading and reset after Pat checked all the tires.  I’d rather do an extra check if it means we prevent blow-outs.

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We enjoy finding humor in the ordinary.  The Chinese restaurant in Watson Lake painted their propane tanks.  A little whimsy on the roadside.  Which do you like better – Cheshire Cat or Yellow Submarine?

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And our new shredding method.  The real shredder took up too much room, so we gave it away.  This low budget method seems to work just fine, although I tend to put too much in at a time and snuff out the fire.

Next up we’ll be in Part 3 of the Epic Journey starting back in Alaska with Skagway.  See you on the way!

A Taste of Alaska

That’s right!  We zipped in and we zipped out of the self-proclaimed friendliest ghost town in Alaska.  Hyder is a town of only 100 residents and many of them are only seasonal.  Tiny little place, but it has all the basics, including some mighty friendly folks.

Drop Dead Gorgeous Drive

To get to Hyder, AK, you drive a stretch of road in British Columbia that is truly stunning.  We were lucky enough to make the trip on a dazzling bright blue day.  We both agreed that this would be good enough to call our Epic Journey a success.  Fortunately we’re just getting started.  The pictures don’t do justice to the views around every corner.

We saw our first bears on the way to Hyder and were soooo very excited.  Jackson has a total fit when he sees them and barks like crazy.  I thought he was going to get up on the dash for one of them.  From then on we’ve been hyper-vigilant watching for bears.  We’re seeing all kinds now – tree bears, rock bears, drain pipe bears.  There was this one sign that we swore was a bear, until we got closer.  That was the one that had Jackson all worked up.

Run-A-Muck

Hyder has one open campground, or so we thought.  Camp Run-A-Muck looks like the rest of the place – deserted for the most part.  Feeling smug about our drive up with no reservation success, we pulled in here and found the big “sorry we’re closed” sign.  And no other campers in sight.

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Sorry – we’re closed!

Fortunately a guy sitting in his van saw us drive by.  No mistaking where we’d be going in our giant motorhome towing a car.  He followed us and says he knows the guy running the place.  He’ll just go right over to his house and tell him we’re here.  Just when we were to the “uh oh, now what” point, Doyle drives up.  He says he’s kinda closed and I say can you be kinda open?  Of course the good thing is the campgrounds seem to try hard not to turn people away.  This was no exception.  They are kinda open and we have the pick of the spots.

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Does it get any better than this?  Well, yes, but we’re pretty happy right about now.

And Jackson? He made a new friend.  Mud was a very enthusiastic host and was hard to resist.  Doyle says he was a rescue, living with a family member, who said if he chased the chickens one more time, his name would be Mud.  You know how this turns out and now he lives with Doyle.

What to do?

Hyder is known for two things – bear and glacier viewing.  We were able to see the Bear Glacier on the way in and out, but not the famous Salmon Glacier about 21 miles out of town.  We drove our little Bitsy as far as we could go, 12.5 miles, until we got to the part of the road still blocked by snow.  It is May mind you!  We were told not to push it in that little car, especially with no cell service and an obvious avalanche/mud slide area that we picked our way through.  So no glacier, but fantastic views and a story to tell.

Bear Glacier will have to do this trip.  A pic on the way in with the bright sunny day and a pic on the way out with some clouds.

Bear viewing is the other hot ticket in town.  There’s a great wooden viewing walk-way that the park service built to keep the looky-lous safe while photographing grizzlies and black bears fishing for salmon.  Of course, that happens for the most part in July and we’re a tad early.  Good news – the platform is free this time of year since mostly nothing is stirring, and one fine bear obliged and showed up for the picture-taking session.

Mr. Black Bear is chowing down and they chew with their mouth way open.  We were so quiet until he backs up to the river to poop.  I laugh out loud and he turns to see who’s watching.  He walks off, in a huff it seems.

Seeing the Other Sights

The walk down the road from the campground is just as interesting as the drive up the mountain.  We marvel at the river with the glacier melt.  It’s old-fashioned coke bottle green.  Hard to capture in photos, but I tried my best.

We also see a river otter scooting upstream.  He was a quick little guy and pics were blurry.

Doyle also told us that the Tidal Basin has some good views and we’d possibly pick up some cell service scamming off the Canadian side of the border.

We had to drive through an area that looked like where all the old mechanical things go to die.  Abandoned cars, trailers, fuel tanks, you name it.  Seriously, that seems to be the way up here.  Drive it off into the woods and wish it well.  But, if you work your way through, the views are worth it.  So glad we have Bitsy to get to these out of the way places.

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Turned out to be my favorite shot of this drive.  The tidal range is huge here, not to mention the wild rushing water from the snow melt down the mountains.  Apparently the tree debris gets washed down and left in the marshy areas.  This old man definitely marks the spot.  Can’t you just smell that salt air?  It was a delightful combination with the snow-capped mountains and squishy tidal mud.

And yes, we did scam a little cell action.  I got a text from Ethan while we were here and was able to send him one back.  Ah, civilization is a good thing.  We were also fortunate that the forestry guy/librarian/road-grader/wi-fi hooker upper came by the campground before we left.  We have internet for a brief moment in time!  It seems all the folks around here wear multiple hats to get things done.  Our campground manager is also the pastor at the Baptist Church next door.

Poop Visits Alaska!

We haven’t forgotten about Poop.  He’s been sleeping since Oregon, but I rousted him out to prove he was in Alaska.

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He sneezed and laughed all the way to the PO.  Which, buy the way, was a whole quarter mile from the campground, if that.

We also finally get to meet our new RVillage friends, Cheryl & David, who are from Texas.  Dining options are slim and we eat at the one restaurant open that day.  Looks suspiciously like a dive bar, but when in Rome….  Fun time getting to know them and swapping Alaska trip stories and we will intersect again down the road.

Epic Journey Part 3

For those of you following along with the itinerary, we will be zigging and zagging yet again.  Doyle from Run-A-Muck recommended the ferry from Skagway to Haines.  We looked it up with our new-found internet and determined it to be affordable even taking our whole house, and fits our timeline pretty well.  It allows us to intersect with a craft beer festival in Haines (woo-hoo!) and see a city we thought we’d have to miss.  But, we’ve decided that it doesn’t make sense to head to Whitehorse after that, so we’ll save that stop for the way out.  Suffice it say, we’re now officially in Part 3 which includes one small stop back in the Yukon, but the rest in Alaska until sometime in August.

Also for those keeping track, the wedding ring left the finger once more.  Pat found it on the ground outside the car.  Still got it though.

Next up, Yukon Territory and land of no internet, cable, cell service and some pretty rough roads.  See you on the way!

 

 

Epic Journey – Part 2

We’ve actually been in part two since our departure from the lower 48 back on May 8th, but spotty wi-fi and near constant travel have slowed down my posting.  Before we go too much farther, I thought I’d better outline the schedule since we don’t expect connectivity to improve.  Plus, I’ll be trying to enjoy the moments and not spend a lot of time writing about them!

Part 2 Itinerary – In Pencil

One thing we’ve learned is that the “plan” often does not pan out.  Fortunately, we seem to end up in a better place or in better weather when that happens.  Missing a campground one night meant we found one better positioned for the next day’s drive to avoid a storm.  Also staying in a not so great place for 3 days to rest meant we missed the underwater road on our route.  So, if we just go with it, everything seems to work out fine.

Part 2 stops include everything up to the point where we enter the main part of Alaska – British Columbia, a few stops in Alaska’s Southeast, and Yukon Territory.  Here’s where our noodling and re-noodling has taken us:

  • 5/8 – Enter Canada – Kaleden, BC (Banbury Green RV Park)
  • 5/9 – Kamloops, BC (Knutsford RV Park)
  • 5/10 – Williams Lake, BC (Wildwood Mobile Home & RV Park)
  • 5/11 – 5/13 – Prince George, BC (Mama Yeh RV Park)
  • 5/14 – Houston, BC (Shady Rest RV Park)
  • 5/15 – Hazelton, BC (‘Ksan Campground – and where I’m tucked in with the computer currently)

All the above already happened of course, and not exactly as we planned, but all good. All are noted on the travel map with a picture for each stop.  Check it out.  Next up:

  • 5/16-17 – Hyder, AK – Yes for you doubters, we will finally make it to Alaska TOMORROW!
  • 5/18 – Kinaskan Lake Provincial Park outside Tatogga, BC
  • 5/19 – Dease Lake, BC
  • 5/20-21 – Watson Lake, YT (Yukon Territory!  I feel remote just typing it.  And this is where we are for sure the cell coverage ends for a while)
  • 5/22 – Teslin, YT
  • 5/23-26 – Skagway, AK
  • 5/27-30 – Whitehorse, YT
  • 5/31 – Carmacks, YT
  • 6/1-5 – Dawson City, YT

From here we will enter Alaska for the balance of the Summer, thus embarking upon Epic Journey – Part 3 and the main event!  Keep in mind, the stuff above will likely shuffle about a bit, and hopefully for the good, but at least you have some idea of where we’ll be.

O Canada!

We were so excited to enter Canada since it really felt like we were getting somewhere.  However, a look at the British Columbia map just shows how much farther we have to go.   A couple of firsts on our first day in Canada.  We successfully complete our first border crossing in 15 minutes.  That included parking and going in for the required background checks.

Fortunately we’re not very exciting in the criminal mastermind department, had only one bottle of wine & a few bottles of beer to show for ourselves, AND no weapons.  We are free to move about the country.

Another first in the first big city.  We discover that we have no coverage on my phone, so no Googling for directions any longer.  Seems we’ve come to rely heavily on that.  Our paper atlas proves to be woefully inadequate in Canada.  This results in missing a turn to the campground and our attempt to turn around lands us in a gravel dead end.  Complete with big pile of gravel, aaaand the dump truck comes to bring more as we are unhooking the car.  Yes, we were in a tight spot and one we could not get out of without releasing Bitsy.  We knew this day would come and at least it didn’t block traffic or require law enforcement intervention.

The easiest thing we did all day was exchange money.  Oooh the pretty colors and the bills have see-through windows.  We are such dumb American tourists.

Driving in Canada

A few observations about driving in Canada.  The road sides are covered with signage.  Everything from badger crossings (I kid you not – there was a sign!) to km/hr to parks to not passing snow plows on the right.  You get the idea.  It was a bit bewildering, plus I was going old-school navigating with the paper map.  We think it was also a psychological game.  We knew we were in another country and just expected it to be tricky.  It really wasn’t.

Some examples of the signs.  Sorry I missed the badger one.  But logging trucks?  Yep!  Lots and lots of logging trucks.  Also no moose sightings yet, but we can now identify moose droppings.

I also shut down the first full day and I’m blaming it on a raging headache.  I was no help at all and the twists, turns, bobs and weaves of the motorhome scared me and the dog.  Fortunately one day only and Pat persevered.

Advantage to no cell coverage and wi-fi – no worrying about nonsense in the news.  The most news we had for a few days was from our camping neighbor.  He told us who was in the Stanley Cup playoff game that night and the unsavory US political scandal of the day.  We had not missed that at all!

Eating in Canada

We thought we had the rest stops on the map figured out.  It was a BC map after all and proving to be much more helpful that the US Atlas we started with.  So, we missed the rest stop I had carefully picked out.  Pat quickly whipped off the road (yes he did – seatbelts definitely required!) when he saw a spot big enough for us at Diner 97.  This was the greatest place.  We had our first order of poutine and I say first because it definitely won’t be my last.  Poutine is a delicious pile of fries covered with brown gravy and normally cheese curds.  Diner 97 style has grated mozzarella instead of the cheese curds.  Fantastic!  We followed this up with hot-out-of-oven lasagna, Canadian-style of course, and finally homemade apple pie and ice cream.  Roll us back out to the RV!

This is the spot where we also learned about mean hummingbirds.  Turns out the diner owner had to get 3 additional feeders due to the one hummer bully.

This is not the bully, but another hummer from another campground.  They are everywhere up here.  Diner guy also told us that the scenery is “shocking” when we get further West.  He also introduced us to the Canadian phrase “right on!”  We’ve heard it now from several people along with the predictable “eh”.

I’ve also learned that a sleeve of beer is 14 ounces, eggs are graded like ours, and meat in Canada is AAA for the best cuts.  Pat has learned that Canadians like their food just like he does.  Nothing to offend anyone and not a bit spicy.

People in Canada

The best thing by far we’ve found is the people.  They are so very friendly.  The campground manager at Wildwood came out of the office with two slabs of chocolate zucchini cake.  Truly hit the spot since this was the day we missed our planned stop and drove longer.

We also met some new friends in Prince George.  We post our whereabouts on RVillage, a social media site for RVers, and it always shows us if anyone else is in the same park or the surrounding area.  At this stop Lyla & Bill reached out to us and we were able to meet them for lunch.  We had a grand time and they told us things the locals know along with  some great stopping points on the way to Alaska.  Believe it or not, Bill is an avid sailor and electrician, so lots in common with Pat.  Lyla and I determined that we are happy to be landlubbers and sit on the shore sipping a beverage.  She made us homemade ginger cookies that were outstanding.  Reminded me of the ginger snaps my mom always brought along on car trips.  I’m eating them as we drive and smiling.

RVillage also got us in touch with another couple also heading to Alaska.  We hope to rendezvous with Cheryl and Dave when we get to Hyder.  They are from Plano, so a fun Texas connection and they, too, have a son named Ethan.

Roadside Oddities

The towns along the way in Canada all have RV and dog-friendly information centers.  In front of most of them, there is some “biggest one in the world” item that just makes you stop for a picture.  I’m sure this is by design.  Here are the ones we’ve stopped for thus far:

Biggest set of cross country skis at 100 Mile House, Mr. PG in Prince George, biggest fly fishing rod and reel in Houston and the lumberjack in Hazelton.  Jackson is not sure if that is a real guy or not.  He did a double take.

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And for my good buddy Wendy.  You can charge up your Tesla at the Kamloops visitor center!

Best of the Best

I have some favorite shots from all the stops so far.  They just do not do this country justice.

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From Kaleden on the banks of Lake Skaha.

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100 Mile House visitor’s Center.  Love the velvety grasses.

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Overlooking Prince George and the Fraser River from LC Gunn Park.  Grumpy weather, but our raingear passed with flying colors.  Also the one campground where we were afraid we might get stuck.  The campground water tasted like metal and even Jackson wouldn’t drink it.

Houston, BC.  Poor cows up to their knees.  The creeks and rivers were over the top due to all the rain and snow melt combined.

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I think we’ve finally made it to “shocking”.  Lucy at the foot of the mountains.

The peaceful walking trail, Jackson reveling in the sun and grass and the boys by the riverbank.

We had to cross this single lane bridge to get to ‘Ksan, where we are now.  It has an open metal grate bottom and it is high.  In a show of solidarity for Pat, I couldn’t look either.  Just straight ahead and hope we make it.  Good job Pat.  Now we just have to do it again to leave!

For once we had a short day so we could sight-see.  We took a drive to nearby Kispiox to see the totem pole village.

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Two more for you.  Top one shows the raging river and the bottom one is at the campground.  Rows and rows of trees like sentries on the high bank.  And the mountains – so very blue.

That’s it for now, and probably will be for a while until we have cell service & internet access again.   I’m taking notes each day so I don’t forget any good stuff.  See you on the way!

Steamboat Rock

So far, this was my favorite stop of anywhere we’ve been.  Really, truly stunning scenery in Washington.  We had no idea the area looked like this, and it was a total fluke that we ended up here.  It was a look on the map and say, hey, this is around the right location and is a state park.  Let’s roll up and see if they have availability.  Our jaws dropped as we got closer and closer and realized the gem we’d found.

Four Heavenly Days

We exited our beautiful, but noisy Oregon location in search of peace and quiet.  We were ever so hopeful that Steamboat Rock State Park would be it and planned to stay three days.  This was our second go at just driving up and saying we’re here.  Apparently they opened a new camping loop right before we arrived and we had our pick of spots.  This park is off a two lane road and not heavily traveled.  Hurray to no road noise for a change.  Steamboat Rock turns out to be a basalt butte that rises 800 feet above Banks Lake that completely surrounds it.  Our campsite was at the base of this magnificent spot, and I told Pat when we arrived that I didn’t need to go any further on this journey.  It was that good.

Here’s a shot from the drive to the park.  Such unexpected views!  Wish we knew the folks in front of us since I got some good pictures of them driving in the canyon.

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Steamboat Rock – our spot was over to the left behind a stand of tall poplars.

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View of the opposite canyon wall and lake from out site.

The topography in the area is so interesting and resulted from basalt flows covering most of Eastern Washington 10-15 million years ago.  Repeated flooding from a glacial lake created the current shape of the rock says the State Park Service literature.

We read that you should hike to the top if you are able for fantastic views of the surrounding area and Coulee.  And we learned that Coulee is a valley or drainage zone and taken from French meaning to flow.  Ok, so enough of the teachable moments.  We were determined to make it to the top and see what we could see.

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Here’s my favorite of me from the top of the rock.  Exhilarating to say the least, especially since we had to literally scramble through the loose rocks at times to get up the path.  It was only a mile up, but pretty steep and I had to stop to let the heart rate go down a few times.

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My favorite of Pat at the top of the rock – literally.  There are 600 acres on top of the butte and we’re overlooking it all here.

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This is the view Pat is looking at on top of that big rock.

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We thought the wildflowers were spectacular at the base of the rock.  That was nothing compared to the top.  I actually burst into song from the Sound of Music.  The hills are alive!  No Julie Andrews twirl, but I’m sure this is how she must have felt.  The lupine, and alpine balsam were grand.

A few more for you.  Looking back up the canyon.  Pat striding over to find that big rock and on the trail on the way down.  Definitely had to watch our step on the loose rocks.

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Jackson wanted to go up to the top, but we knew he couldn’t make that.  He did get good walks to the base of the rock though.  Pat and the good boy head back to the campground.

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 This view shows Banks Lake, Beacon Rock and Castle Rock.  Lots of great formations besides Steamboat Rock.

This was definitely the peaceful spot.  So quiet we could hear the birds, and that include wild turkeys.  We never actually saw them, but they did their gobbling in the brush behind our site every evening.

Grand Coulee Dam

One reason we ended up in this area is because I was perusing the map and found the Grand Coulee Dam listed.  “Oh we must see this”, I proclaim.  The state park was right outside Electric City which is aptly named for the power produced by the grand dam.

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Free tours are offered daily, but security is tight.  Pretty much the same as the airport with metal detectors and no purses or bags of any kind.  One of the guides was kind enough to take our picture in front of the dam.

It doesn’t really look like it but the Grand Coulee Dam is larger than the Hoover Dam with four times as much concrete and handling three times as much water.  In fact it is the second largest concrete structure in the world, second only to a dam in China.  It operates in cooperation with three dams upstream in Canada and coordinates with dams downstream to provide irrigation to the area.  Irrigation was the original primary reason for the dam back in the FDR days and is the reason the area is knows for crops including mint.  Of course power is huge, too, providing electricity for a big part of the West Coast.

A Real Waterfall

Right across from the park on the facing rock wall was a “real” waterfall.  Not that hole in the ground I showed you way back from our travels in Florida.

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If you look really closely, there is a guy fishing down by the water to give you an idea of size.

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Ah, but Alaska is the goal and we must leave.  We extended our stay to four days and loved every minute of Steamboat Rock and the surrounding area.  I was sad to say good-by to this spot, but our last night was a good one.

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We were treated to a moonrise over the glowing canyon walls at sunset.

Next up – good-by US, hello Canada!  We’re headed across the border into British Columbia and Alaska is really getting close.  See you on the way!

Idaho & Orgeon

We can’t do justice to these two beauties with just our brief stops along the way, but I’ll give you the highlights.  Also, we have now entered the spotty coverage for communication along our route, so I’ll post when I can and go dark when I have to.  It was always expected in the Yukon, but we weren’t quite ready for radio silence in British Columbia.  Given the state of US news these days as reported to us in Ethan’s texts, it may be just as well!

Idaho

Let’s start with Idaho.  All I’ve ever really heard about is potatoes.  We used to check to see where the potatoes were from for the Five Guys french fries, and they were always from Idaho.  I was pretty sure there was more to it, but didn’t have a mental picture of the state.  Who do you even know who’s been to Idaho?  Keep in mind we only saw the Southern portion which is less mountainous, but the terrain was surprising.  It was sometimes hilly, sometimes flat, farmland and pastures were sprinkled about and that Snake River seemed to loom at every turn.  Oh, and they have lots of horses.  AND it is Spring, so babies abound.

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The first stop in Idaho was at a campground right off the highway, but right on the bank of the Snake River.  We could see this field full of mommas and babies from our campsite.  This is the flat view, but turn directly around and you get a view of distant mountains.

This campground also had a cafe where we had a hot meal for dinner and ice cream cones were included.  Very popular with the mister.  I tried Huckleberry since I’d never heard of it for eating – just Hound and Finn.  It tastes like a fruity drink of some sort with the ice melted and it’s all diluted.  The gal who served it agreed it wasn’t her thing either and we couldn’t describe it any better than that.  Apparently a Northwestern thing since I’ve seen it now in Oregon and Canada.

Here are a few shots from the drive.  A bit like the Kansas farmland, but certainly different with the hills and mountains in the background.

Next stop in Idaho was after another windy day of driving.  I did the honors through Boise to give Pat a break.  This day we weren’t on the road ten minutes before a big semi passed us on the interstate and Crack!  Up flies a rock and we have our first windshield chip.  No way, we’re thinking!  We were prepared for windshield damage in Alaska on the gravels roads, but weren’t expecting it in the lower 48.  In fact, Pat and I agreed that neither of us had ever had a damaged windshield before.  Good thing we were prepared and brought along three repair kits.

This second private campground was not nearly as scenic as the first one.  We saw some pretty unfortunate rigs there complete with tarps, plywood, and duct tape and it had some majorly big thorns in the grass.  Jackson picked up one in his paw and is just now getting over the limp.  We did go for a walk along the Snake River.  Yep, there it is again.  Very high this time of year since the high places got tons of snow and the snow melt was really flowing.

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See the flooded picnic area?  There was even a catfish sitting in the water where the sidewalk would have been.  Also, this was the spot where I kept smelling something so good as we drove around.  I though it was a restaurant, but turns out there is an onion processing plant just down from the campground.  Smelled delicious.

Oregon

Now this is a state where I think of trees – big ones.  And mountains, too.  Oregon did not disappoint and oh how I’ve missed my trees!

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Jackson and I tromp around on the mound of snow in the parking lot and gawk at the huge old forest.  This place is called Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area and is along the Oregon Trail.  Emigrant, just so you know, is a person who leaves one place for another, says Webster.  The emigrants who traveled the original Oregon Trail really suffered some hardships.  They described the forests as so vast and so dense that it was like night inside.  Plus those cattle kept wandering off.  It was a dangerous business to go after them with the cold and the wildlife.  We only had the leftover piles of snow from clearing the parking lots, so nothing too risky for us.

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We loved the beauty of this place since it was everything we pictured for Oregon, and hoped it would be a nice, peaceful respite from our back-to-back travel days.  Unfortunately the park was right on the side of the interstate.  With the semi engine braking and constant traffic, we just had to move on after two days instead of the three that we had planned.  Before our departure, we decided to take a short drive to the nearby overlook.

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So very glad we did.  This is my most favorite shot from Oregon.  Just gorgeous.

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I’ve run out of adjectives for these hills and trees.  Stunning, gorgeous, and beautiful just don’t cut it.

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Oh and we haven’t forgotten about Poop.  We took him for the overlook photo shoot.  Silly thing tried to sleep through it, but I woke him up.

A Few Housekeeping Items

We do love our residential fridge, but apparently the starting current was too high for the wire run to the inverter to handle.  Insert blah, blah, blah, electrical problem here.  You know I don’t have any idea what that really means.  Anyhoo, it means that if we have to boondock in Alaska, and don’t have any shore power, it will alarm and not start.  That’s bad, very bad.  Since we couldn’t hear ourselves think at Emigrant Springs, but needed to chill for two days, we went into town – a one horse one by the local guy’s assessment – and bought electrical supplies.  Pat was able to run new wire, blah, blah, blah, and the problem appears to be fixed.  Score one for us.

It seems we also crossed over the 45th Parallel while traveling North in Oregon.  For those of you, like me, who don’t know what that means, I’ll just tell you.  It means we crossed over the halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole.  Not sure what that gets you, but there was a great big sign, aaaand I missed it.  At least for picture purposes.

Finally, we restocked our provisions in Oregon.  Yes, another Walmart stop.  Pat marveled at the food prices – cheap eggs, produce and cheese slices.  Meat was pretty good, too.  They have no sales tax there, but they apparently have hefty taxes for residents.  Just passing through….

So that’s a wrap for two new states.  On to Washington and my personal favorite stop so far.  See you on the way!

 

Great Salt Lake

Salt Lake City was a great stop for us even if we did camp smack dab in the downtown area.  We love our nature time at state parks, but there are trade-offs.  Back to nature usually means no shopping or dining options or not many.  Normally that’s just fine, but we wanted to see the city stuff this time, have a nice sit-down meal, and we needed a spare tire.  So, city was definitely called for.

Utah

I wasn’t sure what to name this post.  I considered Utah, but really we only drove through a small part and camped in only one location.  I can’t say that we’ve “done” Utah knowing what I know about the Southern part.  Totally different and we’ll be back for that during our West travels next year.  Then I considered Salt Lake City, but I was most taken with the Great Salt Lake.

Getting there was an ever-changing drive. Sun, snow, rain, sleet, wind, mountains, rock faces, tunnel, you name it.  We picked this route on I-80 since having read that it’s the easiest crossing over the Rockies.  There are horror stories about grades and curves and scary mountain passes on other routes.  Driving big Lucy with Bitsy in tow, we definitely wanted the easiest passage.  Still, I was really apprehensive and envisioned something like dropping off the side of a mountain.

At this point it helped that the last stop was so nasty that I didn’t even care.  (Remember the mud pit in Rock Springs?)  Fortunately the steepest part was dropping down right into Salt Lake City and we had the good fortune (or not) to be behind a double tanker truck taking it slow with his flashers on.  We tucked in behind him and did the same.  Success, and it didn’t even seem that steep going so slowly.

These shots are all from our 175 mile drive from Rock Springs to Salt Lake City.  Hardly the same looking road from one 30 mile stretch to the next.

We did have a great time at the welcome station just before Salt Lake City.  Beautiful spot to stretch the legs and take a short hike to a few overlooks.

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The first view is when we arrived and had a fantastic view of the valley and roadway below.  Then ten minutes later the snow rolled in and we couldn’t see anything.

A nice truck driver offered to take our picture with the Utah sign.  Sorry for the Jackson butt.  He never cooperates for photos.  In the second shot he does relent and look at the camera.

Finally the best part of the stop for me.  We saw these critters sitting outside of their burrows all over the grassy areas.  We thought maybe they were prairie dogs, but they didn’t look quite right.  They sounded a high pitched squealing alarm whenever we got too close.  Then poof!  They were gone down the holes.  Inside the visitor center, the lady told us they were ground squirrels and quite tame.  They even had little cups of “feed” for them.  The food looked suspiciously like Cheerios which we had in the RV, but Pat splurged on a 25 cent cup for me.

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Man, oh man, do they like Cheerios!  No more running away down the hole once they find out you have snacks.  The first shot is me feeding and they get closer and closer.  See that guy on his hind legs in the second picture?  That’s right before he jumped on my leg.  Wasn’t getting his share, but unfortunately I was all out.  They were so cute eating the cereal like little corn cobs.  Just delightful!

Salt Lake City Sights

We were originally only going to stay two nights here, but the weather turned ugly after the first night with more rain and snow.  That convinced us to tuck in for one more day so we’d be able to actually do a little sight-seeing.  The icky day gave us a chance to do laundry and wash mud out of towels, jeans and couch pillow covers.  It also gave us a chance to venture out to buy a spare tire for Bitsy.  One more thing crossed off our list to prepare for some of the remote spots in Alaska.

The second full day dawns sunny and beautiful and off we go to see the sights.  We needed a spot to walk Jackson since the campground really didn’t have many places for him to do his thing.  We found a small community park not far away.  Turns out that Steenblik Park is a lot smaller than the pictures led me to believe.  It did, however, come through on the promised giant cat sculptures.

They call them the Dairy Cats and they are cast in bronze with four different patinas.  Jackson could care less about them, but we thought they were kinda cool.

We aren’t particular history buffs, but we do like to learn a bit about the areas we visit including why and how the places came to be.  Salt Lake City , or SLC, was founded by Brigham  Young and other Mormon followers back in 1847.  Pat and I could definitely see why they chose this spot.  For one, if they struggled over those mountain peaks and then found themselves in the flat valley, I’m sure they were quite eager to stop and settle.  We saw lots of sheep, horses and cattle driving in, and everything was so green.  Stark comparison to the sagebrush and rocks on the other side of the mountains.   So, it seemed fitting that we venture downtown to see the Mormon Temple and the square.

Temple Square was beautifully landscaped and filled with flowering trees, tulips, poppies and other colorful flowers.  Obviously they had better weather before we arrived.  The organist was even practicing in the Tabernacle for a recital later in the day and we were able to take a peek inside and listen in.  As a kid, I remember watching the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on TV.  Mom was a big fan and if they or the Boston Pops were on, we watched.

Downtown was so very clean, and loaded with people walking around Temple Square and to the surrounding upscale stores.

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Jackson was on his best behavior amongst all the people.  I think in these situations some of his former service-dog-in-training skills kick in and he is really extraordinarily well mannered.  Two people asked permission to pet him and he always loves that.

Great Salt Lake

We just couldn’t leave the area without seeing The Lake.  And what a day to see it.  Stunningly beautiful even if it was still a little biting with the wind.

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I liked this picture the best, but there were many to choose from.  Here are a few more so you get a better sense of the surrounding area….

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This shot shows the Oquirrh Mountains to the South of the lake.  It also shows the prominent smokestack for the smelter at the open-pit copper mine that lies on the other side of those same mountains.  This is the largest man-made excavation in the world producing not only copper, but also gold, silver, molybdenum, and sulfuric acid.  We would have loved to tour the grounds, but it isn’t open to the public.

A few other facts we learned – salinity in the lake ranges from 6-25% (oceans are about 3.5%), so no fishing here.  Mostly brine shrimp live in the lake and the multitude of bird species feed upon them.  Yep, birds are eating your Sea Monkeys!  With such a high salt content, it is really easy to float and I would have tried it, but just too cold this time around.  There is a state park on Antelope Island further to the North and we’ll target a stay there next time to float and see the wild Bison herd roaming on the island.

They do harvest salt from drying basins, but it isn’t pure enough for table salt.  Mostly used for road salt, water softeners and animal salt licks.  The reason for the saltiness?  It has three rivers that flow in, but there is no outlet except for evaporation, thus concentrating the salt.  And just a side note.  The lake is so large that we continued to see it in the distance almost all the way to Idaho.  BIG!

Cathedral of the Madeleine

Staying that extra night also gave us the opportunity to attend Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine.  A spectacular cathedral, and according to their website, is the mother church for Roman Catholics in the state of Utah.  We happened to be there during a special event and Bishop Oscar along with seven additional priests celebrated Mass on Saturday evening.

Red Iguana & the Prom Dinner

One nod to SLC for food.  There were lots of dining options and we had a hard time choosing.  The first night we were starved and went off to eat like old people at 4:30pm – literally.  Turns out that was a good thing since we went to the Red Iguana, featured on Diners, Drive-ins & Dives.  They are packed most of the time and we narrowly missed the rush dining so early.  I had tacos al carbon that were to die for, and highly recommended them to a total stranger at the next table.

We are also fans of Zaxby’s, which is a chicken fast-food chain based out of Atlanta.   They are only in the Southeast, except for, you guessed it, Utah!  It was our last chance for their chicken strips and fries for quite a while, so we grabbed lunch there on the icky day.

Finally, after Mass on Saturday, we stayed downtown and found our way to Benihana’s.  A chain, I know, but we have had spectacularly bad Japanese food for most of this trip and wanted a surer thing.  The parking garage attendant informed us that it was prom night and we might have quite the wait.  Fortunately a party of two can sneak in most any time and that’s just what we did, along with another couple.  We had a grand time people-watching at least 8 or 9 tables full of high school prom goers from multiple schools.  Lots of sequins, dizzying high heels and tuxedos.  The other couple gave us some people to talk to.  They were locals, answered our questions about the area, and let us know that they can get snow as late as June.  Dashed our hopes of this being “the place” we might want to settle one day.  Gorgeous here, but no can do on Summer snow.

By now we’ve departed SLC, are in Idaho and soon to cross into Oregon, but I’ll leave you with one more fun fact about Utah.  It’s the beehive state.  All the state highway signs have a little beehive with the road number in it.  Ok, so maybe we’ve seen a few too many road signs.  See you on the way as we buzz on down the road!