More Sheep and We Return to the US of A

The sun peaked through and shone on one of the mountains just visible between the tall pines this morning. This would be a great campsite to stay a week and just relax. We used our new Thermacell on the mosquitoes but they really weren’t too bad. I think we have moved south of those pests. Will count my bug bites and confirm later.

Here's a shot of Bob helping an older man up to the glacier. He might not have needed help had he worn real shoes.

Here’s a shot of Bob helping an older man up to the glacier. He might not have needed help had he worn real shoes.

The drive into Radium Hot Springs follows the river downstream until we drove between a narrow cut groove in the mountain and emerged on the other side. The hot springs was on our ‘maybe visit’ list and since we ended up on the west side of the Canadian Rockies we were able to head south through this little town. We took advantage again of the hot springs and decided that a ‘hot springs’ tour across the continent would be pretty fun. This hot springs was set up more like a public pool with warm water and it was not as hot as I expected. We decided we liked the more natural setting of Liard better.100_1640

The town of Radium is known for its resident Dall Sheep herd so we were really looking forward to seeing the sheep wander through town. I was disappointed to read at the visitor center the sheep only hung out in Radium during fall and winter so we decided to head onward without searching them out. However, before leaving town, Bob discovered a do-it-yourself carwash and had decided earlier that the radiator screen thing was plugged with bugs, so we stopped there first. Good thing, too, because just as we pulled out we discovered the whole herd of sheep just sitting in the shade waiting for us. Another great photo op scored!

Just sitting there waiting for us.

Just sitting there waiting for us.

We drove down into a green valley following another river further south and eventually found ourselves back at the US border at a tiny crossing in Montana. The border agent didn’t ask once about our guns. Ha ha…

Field of something yellow in Montana.

Field of something yellow in Montana.

We are near our next stop of Glacier National Park. The darn GPS stopped working completely today. I guess I won’t be selling it to anyone except maybe for scrap metal. Do we need to buy a new one tomorrow or can we get by with our maps?

I’ll let you know how lost we get.

kalispell, mt

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Banff and Jasper on a Canadian Holiday!

Yep, it was a mistake not to look at the Canadian holiday schedule. The beautiful weather and long weekend were open invitations to everyone for miles around to join us visiting Jasper and Banff National Parks.

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Nothing to do but just get in line and admire the scenery. Jasper is the park to the north but the road winds down into Banff and then off across the mountains to Kootenay, which is actually back in British Columbia.

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Jasper is made up of jagged rocky peaks each with giant mounds of snow still stacked high. The numerous glaciers glistened around every corner creating a spectacular view. I, of course, took a gazillion pictures…though I expect most will look very similar. At one point we actually were able to climb up to a glacier, our second. Entering Jasper, we found ourselves up in high alpine country again. I just love the meadows filled with babbling brooks that wind their way across the valleys lined with blueberry bushes. Our driving was filled with such vast contrasts in scenery, and wildlife!

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In Banff, the mountains were more treed and with fewer glaciers but still incredible. We found the famous Lake Louise and the castle-like chateau that graced the water’s edge. I am continue to be in love with the turquoise green color of these glacial lakes.

On our way into Banff, for the second time this trip, our gps lead us astray and we ended up at the top of a mountain instead of at the resort. Thought about tossing it out the window but didn’t want to be picked up for littering. When we get home I will be researching a better gps. Maybe one with a Yoda voice too…

Lake Louise

Lake Louise

All the campgrounds in Banff and Jasper were full, as we feared. So we had been talking about our options, like: should we sleep in the truck, drive until we found something, skip sleep???

It was obvious there were no options to stay in the area so we opted to start down through the Kootenay Park. It’s kind of on the back side of the other parks and, just our luck, we found a camp site with space. We fell asleep listening to the roar of the river as it tumbled down the mountainside. north to alaska 305

In the morning: Radium Hot Springs and maybe back to the States.

kootenay

Milepost Zero of the Al-Can

Oh, before I begin: Mr. Haney was on Green Acres. A popular 60’s show, which of course, I am far too young to remember.

A cute young caribou just nibbling alongside the road.

A cute young caribou just nibbling alongside the road.

Today we drove through some of the loneliest country yet. Yeah, I know I thought we’d already seen lonely. This stretch of the drive did have logging roads leading off every so often but that was about it. No scenic vistas. No picnic tables. No rest stops. Yes, that’s what I said. The picture below was the only restroom we saw until almost in Dawson Creek itself. Yes, it is a real outhouse. Funny, we thought we were driving into civilization.100_1559

So we made it to milepost zero of the Alaska-Canada Highway. We took our pictures and then talked to the friendly tourist office workers who reminded us we were heading into the National Parks of Jasper and Banff on Canada Day. They did a few checks and discovered, what they feared, that there were no campsites available and few rooms due to the holiday.

We made it!

We made it!

Note to self: Check foreign country holidays before leaving on vacation…

Our decision was made for us. We needed to get closer to Jasper because an early arrival might make it easier to see both parks and who knew where we’d end up. It was possible we’d end up sleeping in the truck. Rats and double rats.

The good thing was we found a nice RV center in Grand Prairie a few more hours down the road and were able to wash clothes.

I will make you a rhubarb cobbler if you know the secret of why this picture is important to me!

I will make you a rhubarb cobbler if you know the secret of why this picture is important to me!

Tomorrow we visit Alberta’s National Parks.

grand prarie

The Middle of Nowhere

…or as They Call it: Fort Nelson

One of the stretches of gravel road we encountered. Fortunately, they have been few and far between.

One of the stretches of gravel road we encountered. Fortunately, they have been few and far between.

When we talked to people about our trip they all said one thing: Be sure to stop at Liard Hot Springs. Today was our day. It was a pretty rainy morning but we pressed on until reaching the hot springs. They are part of a Provincial Park and the family day pass was only $10. The hot springs are about a quarter mile from the parking but we walked along a beautiful boardwalk to reach them. The springs form a giant pool with the water much hotter the further ‘up river’ you go. They were so beautiful and so relaxing. Based on the large parking lot and the signs for overflow parking we imagine they often are packed but on this day we only shared the area with fewer than twenty others. What a relaxing break from our drive. It was just as everyone had said. We had hoped to spend the night here but the rain and the many hours left of daylight prodded us on.

Liard Hot Springs. A true gem in the wilderness.

Liard Hot Springs. A true gem in the wilderness.

From Liard to Fort Nelson we drove across the Canadian Rockies. The road was so windy and often narrow that I had to wonder if we had accidentally taken a side road. But what beauty. Our pictures can’t do it all justice.

Just another beautiful lake in the Canadian Rockies.

Just another beautiful lake in the Canadian Rockies.

We ran into a small herd of stone sheep who were trying to get over the guard rail and across the road. My heart was in my throat when Bob fell while trying to get the perfect picture. I could just see him sliding all the way down that stony cliff. I told him his life wasn’t worth a picture, even if it was a cute little baby. He laughed and said I had 100 feet of rope that I could use to rescue him… typical man.

Thinking they are like the sheep, Bob and Rebecca try for the close photo op.

Thinking they are like the sheep, Bob and Rebecca try for the close photo op.

Was it worth it?

Was it worth it?

The hotel we are staying is run by a guy who Bob says reminds him of Mr. Haney (extra points if you know who he is…) But this guy had his fingers in every pot and was always there making sure he got his money for everything.

Before leaving we were told to always keep the tank full and get gas whenever we saw a pump. This station, the only one we had seen in 50 miles, is one reason people often travel with 5 gallon cans of gas.

This is why some people carry extra fuel on the AlCan.

This is why some people carry extra fuel on the AlCan.

Tomorrow we will drive the last stretch of the Alaska-Canada Highway. We don’t know if we will stay in Dawson Creek or continue on…it depends on the weather, the day, etc., etc.

ft nelson

Back to Whitehorse and Watson Lake

So we set the Mario Andretti speed record for packing up this morning. Breakfast could wait until we found an area less inhabited with mosquitoes and once again we were off. –Rebecca tells me not everyone will recognize the name Andretti. I’m betting you will.

Kluane Lake, the second time around, is still very beautiful. I think it’s about 70 miles long. You could fish to your heart’s content there.

We made our way back to the busy Walmart in Whitehorse, again noting all the RV’s using the parking lot for their camp. I suppose it is a mutually beneficial relationship. Too bad they won’t let us tent there. Or let us roll out our sleeping bags in the display tent inside.

Anyway, today we are going to win the battle of the mosquitoes. We bought the Thermacell. Everyone we have talked to swears by this pricey little gizmo. I’ll let you know if it works.

Matthew in front of a fossilized bison. It's much easier to imagine the back hump after seeing those vertebrae.

Matthew in front of a fossilized bison. It’s much easier to imagine the back hump after seeing those vertebrae.

After our restocking at the store we visited the Beringia Museum. This museum specializes in the time when there was a land bridge between continents and the world was much cooler. The growing glaciers took away enough water mass so that from Japan to Southeast Alaska the ocean levels were low enough that these areas were grassy plains. This was the time of the wooly mammoth, the Yukon horse and the sabre tooth tiger. We got to see fossilized bones from all these animals and of course Matthew was happy to see them but sad to remember that they are all dead (he’s a compassionate one.)

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Friends of my folks and part time Quartzsite residents Larry and Moira at their home in Whitehorse. Friendly and generous they opened their home to us. Next time we’ll take them up on it.

My folks have friends who live in Whitehorse and winter in Quartzsite so we took a few minutes to visit them. Imagine a home on a forested hill with a front deck view of the mighty Yukon. Yep, that’s their house. We had a good visit with Larry and Moira and discovered a key fact, one that explains everything else. That is this province has only 33,000 residents. (No, I didn’t leave off a zero.) 23,000 of them live in the Whitehorse area. Now we understand why there are no McDonald’s in the Yukon Territory outside of Whitehorse.

We also learned that while there are many citizens receiving government assistance, businesses within the Province, like Walmart, actually recruit workers from other countries as they cannot find residents willing to work on the lower scale. It gives me pause to wonder how similar this is in our own country as our food stamp participant and Medicaid numbers continue to break records.

But no politics today.

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Lunch on the bank of the Yukon River. Looked like a good fishing spot.

Remember this time we are going back on the actual AlCan highway and that we joined the AlCan from the Stewart-Cassiar Highway just outside Watson Lake. We headed back on the road finally reaching Watson Lake and the famous sign posts.  This is a very popular stop on the road. The signs history began when a homesick GI, working on the AlCan, nailed up a couple of arrowed signs with distances to home and loved ones. The tradition grew and people began to post their car license plates and it grew from there. Today there are over 70,000 signs posted by people from all across the world. It’s a fun stop on the route but I was a bit disappointed that most of the old signs are gone. What we saw was mostly dated from the 90’s and 2000’s. north to alaska 112

There are no tent areas close so we stayed in one of the lodges here. A cute place with pink flowered bedspreads and vintage blue bathroom fixtures. You would like it.

The Return Begins

Already? Awww…

Yes, it is time to begin our return trip. We’re not traveling the same route—maybe 500 miles of this journey we’ll be on the same road. This leg will take us out of Valdez, up to the junction in Tok and back to Whitehorse. Then we’ll take the actual AlCan highway down to its origination point at Dawson Creek, British Columbia. Following that we will take a side road to Jasper and Banff National Parks in Alberta, then to Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks back in the US. If we arrive on time we’ll drop Bob off in Salt Lake City, because somebody has to work to pay for this trip.

So, here we are in Valdez. At some point in my early childhood and it was after the ’64 earthquake but before the pipeline, our family visited Valdez. I remember the waterfalls and I remember that the town had been wiped out by tidal waves following the earthquake. Even as a young child I was impressed to see that all that remained of the town were street posts with signs and empty cement pads where homes once stood.

On our way out of town this morning we saw a sign marking the original town and visited it. Though much has grown over there were still a few cement pads left with markers explaining what once stood there. Yet another impressive reminder of the strength of the forces of nature and how insignificant man really is in the scope of things.

I was hoping that the waterfalls would be as impressive as I remembered and we weren’t disappointed. Tons of water poured down the side of the mountain, forming its own path and unceasingly pounding on the rocks underneath it.

Bridal Veil Falls just north of Valdez.

Bridal Veil Falls just north of Valdez.

Afterwards we headed up the pass to the summit and came to Worthington Glacier. One of Rebecca’s requests was that she walk on a glacier and this was her chance. Matthew and I wimped out climbing the narrow, rocky goat trail about half way up but Bob and Rebecca made it to the face of the glacier and got see and touch it as close as one can get. I worried they would fall into the river, through a crevasse, or slide underneath the ice…you know… Mom Worries…but they made it safely and have pictures to prove their braveness.north to alaska 024

We continued heading north and for a time paralleled the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. You know, it’s not as big as I imagined. We split off from the pipeline and took the ‘short-cut’ to Tok. I’m not so sure how much shorter it was but it certainly was another remote road. According to the markers this was another gold rich area with the first non-native settlers being prospectors.

Oh say, here’s a crazy observation. Remember I told you about the frost heaves? We found some and Rebecca videotaped a clip for you but we kept noticing that they weren’t as bad as we remembered (the bug splatters are exactly as they occurred in real life). It turns out that these loop-de-loop heaves in the road are a spring occurrence and since the weather had warmed up by our return most of the road had settled back down. So, we were lucky to experience them.

After we crossed back into Canada (without incident this time) we started looking for a place to spend the night. There are very few camping spots which was okay, we could pull off the road and stop, until this:

Well, Hello Mr. Grizzly. No, I don't think I will sleep in a tent right here...

Well, Hello Mr. Grizzly. No, I don’t think I will sleep in a tent right here…

Yes, after a not so friendly greeting by this grizzly we decided the tent was way too thin for us to camp outside a campground so we pushed on until we finally found one at the end of Kluane Lake. The spot seemed perfect, a grassy RV park with bathrooms close, BUT… As we began to unload the truck the mosquitoes formed a dark swarm all around us. In your nose. In your eyes. In your ears. On your arms.

You get the picture. Armchair travelers, be very glad tonight you are sleeping in your bed.

We raced to get the tent up and jumped in to escape. It didn’t matter that our clothes were still in the truck. We had our sleeping bags and nobody wanted to venture out to brush their teeth. That was it for the night.

Tomorrow: Return to Whitehorse and visit some friends.

kluane lake

A Ferry and a Glacier

This morning we packed up quickly from our mosquito haven taking just enough time to enjoy a breakfast of homegrown eggs. What a difference in flavor and color. I wonder if I can raise my own chickens?

I am feeling more than a bit sad that the past few days of our trip went so quickly. Today it seems like this month long trip is really just a Three Hour Cruise…without enough time to stop and visit everyone as much as we’d like.

We headed over to Portage Glacier but weren’t expecting much. The Milepost magazine indicated that the glacier has retreated significantly in the past twenty years so that it was impossible to reach in person and the icebergs that Portage Lake was known for were also reduced. And we found this to be so. There were a couple of small icebergs along the shoreline, but nothing all that exciting. Still, an iceberg is an iceberg and we hear it’s 120 in Phoenix so it was still worthwhile to visit.

A receding Portage Glacier

A retreating Portage Glacier

Next on our agenda was a drive through the mountain tunnel to Whittier.  The railroad tunnel was widened just enough to fit vehicles through one direction at a time, giving the town sudden access to the outside world. We were there to take the ferry from Whittier across the sound to Valdez.

Rebecca had a friend who recommended a Kenai fjord cruise which, while fun, just couldn’t fit into our agenda.When we read about the ferry opportunity we realized this could be a great option. The ferry doesn’t run to each port every day so we did have to readjust our schedule by a day. We also made reservations once we decided to do this. A good thing too, because the car hold in the ferry was completely filled on our trip.

I had expected we might get on the ferry, finding seats inside the enclosed viewing area but the weather was so beautiful we were able to sit outside the whole time. Rebecca was very concerned that she would get seasick but the water was flat as glass. By sitting out on the deck we were able to see much more wildlife, including a humpback whale that decided to breach the water just as we were watching! Of course, we still got to see the fjords and great waterfalls, and with every snow covered mountain that showed up around the next bend, Bob would tell me to take a picture because ‘this’ mountain would look really good above the fireplace. (If I had 20 fireplaces we’d still be in good shape.)

It just keeps getting more beautiful!

It just keeps getting more beautiful!

There was a little girl who had been watching as intently as I for porpoises and more whales so I was very excited to share with her when I spotted the unexpected iceberg. After snapping a gazillion pictures of the lone iceberg I looked ahead only to discover a whole giant field of icebergs! They were every shape and size. Big ones, small ones, blue ice, snow covered, some you could look under the water and see the heavy bottom and some still covered with gravel, just as they broke off from the glacier.

Hundred of icebergs in front of the giant Columbia Glacier.

Hundred of icebergs in front of the giant Columbia Glacier.

Oh, and the glacier? We hadn’t looked closely enough at the route or probably would have noticed that the ferry passed right by the Columbia Glacier: a HUGE glacier that feeds into the ocean. Oh my goodness! It was truly amazing! I ran back and forth across the deck like a crazy person trying to take pictures of the best icebergs. As we neared the glacier there was a definite change in the temperature as the wind swept down off the mountain picking up that cold air and cooling us immediately. But what fun!

After we crossed the glacier bay we saw no more icebergs but we did see more porpoises playing in the water and lots of fish jumping before we entered the town of Valdez.

Sunburned and tired from all that fresh air we decided not to drive any further but to spend the night in this town at the end of the Alaska pipeline. Our budget hotel was reflective of the town. It was completely modular. The woman at the desk called it a ‘man camp’ filled with summer workers for the pipeline. However, we did notice they took more than the occasional tourist as a busload of Mennonites gathered for breakfast before boarding their tour bus heading north.

Next: The Return Trip Begins.

valdez