A Trip Complete

This is the last day of my trip diary. In a few days I’ll post some observations, statistics, and other worthless nonsense. If you have a question you’re dying to know the answer that I haven’t covered, ask away. We’ll include it in the update.

This antenna topper Jack began his life on the first day of the trip. The picture on the right is our last day. He looks like I feel...

This antenna topper Jack began his life on the first day of the trip. The picture on the right is our last day. He looks like I feel…

But let me tell you about today. This is the last leg of our trip. Had we a few more days we could have visited the reservation and a few other spots but today we’re ready to go home.

Our first stop is a remote town on the Arizona Strip called Colorado City. Since you might not be familiar with this area I’ll share what little I know about it. Colorado City has made the news for years because many residents are members of a polygamist sect. For longer before that their remote location allowed residents to live as they wished with little government intervention. Polygamy was once approved by the Mormon Church but they ended the practice in the late 1800’s. The FLDS is one sect, no longer associated with the church, who has continued this lifestyle. You can read much more about it in this 2011 news article from the Arizona Republic: Colorado City, Still an FLDS Stronghold.

Our journey today took us directly through Colorado City and gave us a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of these families. While we weren’t surprised to see the huge homes which would make sense in multi-wife and especially multi-children families we were surprised to see the high fences that kept out prying eyes of nosey people like us.

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We did see many residents…maybe one family??? working in the garden. We only saw women and children. Honestly, it was one of the most creepy areas we have ever traveled. I prayed that the truck would not break down and we decided that driving only one street was good enough for us.north to alaska 141

After having met and talked to so many independent women on our journey we would have liked to learn why/how these women could be so dependent on one man.

In the end we were very glad that we drove through there but even more glad to leave.

On to something more fun. Did you know of the 4.6 Million visitors to the Grand Canyon each year less than ten percent find their way to the North Rim? You can add us to those numbers. The drive from St. George to the Grand Canyon NR was yet another two lane road but easy driving and beautiful painted rock scenery. The view of the canyon is just as spectacular as from the south and yet it is different. More trees dot the cliffs and I think the elevation is higher. Matthew thought it was pretty but he still chatters his teeth when I ask him about it, indicating he thinks it is more than a little scary. (We’re still not very brave travelers.)north to alaska 167

The drive from Jacob’s Lake to the 89, the north-south road to Flagstaff, took us down to the valley of the Colorado, and yet the river was in a gorge still several hundred feet lower. We continue to be awed at the power of nature and wonder at the relative insignificance of man.

After driving through the western part of the Navajo Reservation we eventually made it to Flagstaff and yes, then our first freeway driving since we left Seattle.

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Finally, after more than one month on the road and a whole lot of miles we completed our journey. We discovered that it is still summer…and well over 100F though it is evening.

Home.

The black cat (Spooky) won’t come near us but the yellow cat (Socks) has been crying since he realized it was us. Matthew is very happy to be home, back to his computer and his favorite TV shows and all his stuff (with the addition of his new Superman pal).

9933.8

9933.0

So there you have it. Nine thousand nine hundred thirty three miles, through city and country, heat and cold, sun and rain we hope you enjoyed traveling with us. Tomorrow there will be wash to do, a truck to empty and a month’s worth of mail to review. But tonight we’re celebrating with our favorite Mexican dinner and an Alaska Ale. Cheers.home 8589

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Bryce and Zion…and Swimsuits

Without Bob’s help it seemed like it took twice as long to pack up this morning. I also realized that I am completely entrusted to Rebecca’s map reading skills as we do not have the GPS to direct us. (I figured this out after missing a turn and we ended up on a dead end street just out of Provo.)

Our first stop today was at a clothing store outlet where we often find things for Rebecca. We usually shop on line but since we were going so close Rebecca thought she deserved at least one shopping opportunity. We pulled up to the store three minutes before opening and found the door open so we walked on in. After a couple minutes the clerk showed up clearly startled that we were inside. I thought maybe we had the time wrong, but we didn’t. Rebecca did get to try on a few swimsuits and found one that she liked even though we never saw another clerk in the showroom…until we were ready to pay. Like many retailers today, they were very short on customer service.

We wound our way down the old road until we reached Bryce National Park. Have you been there? It is such a unique place. I always think the colorful stone pillars left from eroding winds would be the perfect setting for a movie about the planet Vulcan. It is very alien. But beautiful. There are some good looking hiking trails down into the valley making yet another ideal place to come camp for a week and explore.

Weathered rock in Bryce. What does it look like to you? Cathedrals, spires, an alien forest???

Weathered rock in Bryce. What does it look like to you? Cathedrals, spires, an alien forest???

Not far down the road is another of Utah’s national parks, Zion. Crazy rock formations and strikingly beautiful…yet completely from Bryce. The park ends in the valley of the Virgin River and has a climate similar to Phoenix…that is to say, hot. There were signs all over warning people about the heat, telling them to take shade and drink lots of water so we figured there’d be plenty of camping spots open. We figured wrong and ended up in St. George.

Sheep on the hill above us at Zion.

Sheep on the hill above us at Zion.

Before I finish for tonight I have to tell you about Matthew. A while back I picked up one of the National Park travel books for him. I have seen them before but never thought he’d be interested then when we were at the museum in Whitehorse the guide gave him a similar travel book for the Yukon Territory. It looks like a passport and you can stamp it at key locations. Matthew found this to bea great treasure and kept getting it out to review. So when we saw them at Glacier Park I talked to the ranger about getting him one and she told me how popular these were with travelers and how fastidious some were about getting them stamped and buying the stickers, etc. I didn’t really think Matthew would care so much but expected he would like to look through it. Well, I was wrong. At each visitor center he leapt out of the truck, travel book in hand, ready to be stamped. Just as he did when we got to the visitor’s center at Zion… five minutes after they closed.

Poor Matthew. What a sad, sad face he had. And the worst thing was, by then I knew the campsites were full so we weren’t coming back in the morning. I thought it was going to be a long ride until I figured out a solution. Unlike most travelers, Matthew wasn’t worried about the stamp. He just wanted it to be marked and who better than a real live forest ranger? I told the kids to jump in the truck, that I had a plan and we started looking for a ranger. The first one we found was at the entrance and he politely explained that the stamps were at the visitor’s center. I explained that I needed a really big favor and he was so willing to help it brought tears to my eyes. He took his time, wrote his name Ranger Mahoney, the date, the park, etc. All the while cars were backing up waiting to enter the park. But best of all was the look on Matthew’s face. Here, Rebecca caught him with her camera:

Truly a happy guy right here!

Truly a happy guy right here!

Thus ending our day on a very good note.zion

Tomorrow we are heading home. But…not without something exciting.

Glacier National Park and High Anxiety

Okay, I’m going to chalk this overreaction up to being tired. Today’s drive up the “Going to the Sun Road” was the most stressful thing I have ever done. I tried, no, I begged Bob to turn around or at least slow down to 10 mph but he said he didn’t want to hold up all the traffic. So he said.north to alaska 362

It started out so simple. A drive through the forest to a glacier. Up the mountain and down the other side, then back. Oh, had I only known. The forest with just glimpses of the mountain peaks was deceptive. Just as the road breached the tree I spotted what appeared to be little more than a cow trail, chiseled into the side of the mountain. The road narrowed, though still supposedly wide enough for two mini cars to pass continuing to climb upward, ever upward. As passenger I was sitting on the part of the truck that surely overhung the pavement with only two of our ten-ply tires holding onto the road. The drop was sheer, surely thousands of feet, even miles down to the valley.

It's a gradual climb and you don't realize how high it is until you are above the trees.

It’s a gradual climb and you don’t realize how high it is until you are above the trees.

On second thought…an overreaction? I think not. Even Matthew, sitting in relative safety behind driver Dad, was in fear of his life.

But.

We made it. Eventually, Bob was able to pry my fingers from the death grip I held on his arm.

We survived the “Going to the Sun Road.”

We saw the glacier at the top of the mountain. We experienced the alpine climate. And we headed back down. The other side, of course, and then around the base of the mountain, since there was no way in H E double-toothpicks I was going back.

Yes, I can now cross Glacier National Park off my ‘to do’ list. It’s pretty, green, has beautiful waterfalls that splash down on the road. You should go visit. My memories will last a lifetime.

The Survivors.

The Survivors.

Oh, and have some huckleberry ice cream when you get back to the safety of the valley.

Tomorrow morning we are going to visit one of Rebecca’s high school teachers who now lives near Missoula so we continued south to the big city (I jest, but this is the biggest city we have been in for more than three weeks). Bob wimped out on staying at the Jellystone Campground with Yogi Bear. He said it was too hot. So, with a sad Matthew, we found a motel for the night.

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

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.