Monday, June 29, 2009

A Quiet Weekend

Before leaving Teslin, we stopped at the Tlingit Native American/George Johnston Museum. My sister, Judy, had recommended it and I totally agree that it is worthwhile. The Alaska-Canada Highway passes through the homeland of the Tlingit (pronounced Klingit) Indians. The photographer, George Johnston, was a camera-owning, picture-taking Klingit, who documented the lifestyle of these people before, during and after building the highway. His photographs form the basis of the museum. The only fly in the ointment was the customary swipe at the abrasive way the “invading” “occupying forces” (US troops) dealt with the Klingit – destroying hunting grounds and disturbing sacred burial sites. I commented to Brenda that if it had been Japanese soldiers invading North America (as was one Japanese plan), the Klingit would not have to complain – there would be no Klingit! If in doubt, ask the Chinese in Nan King. Regardless, it was a good museum visit. We left Teslin in light rain.
The drive to Whitehorse was otherwise uneventful. A few kilometers south of Whitehorse we stopped at the Fireweed RV Service Center. Even though it was Saturday afternoon, they fixed my water heater. We camped at High Country RV park in Whitehorse. This is a huge park with 130 spaces for RV rigs. They were full by 4PM! On the roads we have recently been traveling, fully 40% of the vehicles are campers. Damn tourists!
Sunday morning we awoke to a temperature of 37°; but sunshine, which quickly warmed things up. The four of us went to Sunday Services at the Anglican Church here in Whitehorse. After the service, Bob and Sallie stayed to talk and drink coffee. Brenda and I left to go sightseeing, but stopped by the Canadian Tire store to pick up a few things. Well, that dragged on for a couple of hours. Canadian Tire stores are a blend of Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Sears. We didn't buy much, but enjoyed seeing the different merchandise. Many, if not most, of the brand names were familiar, but the actual products were often quite different from anything we have seen in the States. Next door was a real Wal-Mart, so we finally went there to get vitamin B1 for mosquito repellent. By the time we did all that, it was raining and had gotten noticeably colder. We returned to the 5th wheel and did cleaning chores. I cooked a potted dish of venison, onions, peppers and potatoes. We added side dishes of sweet corn and marinated salad, topped off with a desert of ice cream, bananas and stewed cherries. Delicious!
We split from Bob and Sallie in the morning. Our trek takes us further North to Dawson City, home of Robert Service. Bob will have to tell you about where they go in his next report. We'll meet up with them again on 5 July.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Few Images...

Posted: Friday, 26 June 2009
(9:30 PM and broad daylight)

A young cow caribou

A Stellar Jay

A hungry bear, apparently eating grass.

We are in Teslin, YT. This country is incredibly rugged, but beautiful in an unfamiliar way. The struggle for existence in such forbidding territory is clearly written in the scraggly trees, the stunted bushes, the wariness of the animals, and the gaunt, wrinkled faces of the human inhabitants. Why anyone would wish to live here is a mystery to me. We are grateful to be able to see it, but even more grateful not to call this home.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

North from Banff

Monday 22nd – From Banff
We had mule deer wander beside the trailer, while we ate breakfast. There was one mature doe, who appeared gravid, a yearling doe and two yearling bucks. Their antlers were only 6-8 inches and covered in heavy velvet. The rain of the previous evening had stopped. The air was crisp and cool. However, we still had a full overcast. Before leaving, but after hooking up the rig, three elk wandered into the campsite. The bull had a radio collar and ear tag. They were not in the least fearful of people or their dogs. Chloe, at about 20 pounds, was eager to go “check out” the new arrivals, but I thought better of it.
The drive through Banff toward Jasper was somewhat less spectacular than the drive into Banff. Perhaps this was because of the cloudy and hazy atmosphere, which eventually became rainfall; or perhaps we just got jaded on viewing the huge mountains and sheer expansiveness of it all. We camped in McBride, BC, at the BeaverView campground. Diesel is $96.9 per liter, which is nearly $3.70 per gallon. Brenda and I bought some things at a small supermarket. The prices weren't too alarming – mostly about what you would pay at a convenience store. We got a birthday present for Sallie at a local artist's shop. We were unable to post any email, although we did download some (this had something to do with the BeaverView router setup. Fixing it was none of my business, but I was tempted to offer!).
Critters seen: mule deer, elk and a black bear. There are very few birds!

Tuesday 23rd – Early morning temperatures were in the mid-40s. We drove through monotonous forested mountainsides and saw very few animals. We camped at Azouzetta Lake Lodge, where they average 41 feet of snow annually. Well, Azouzetta has seen better days. The lake was beautiful with clear, cold water. However, the campsite did NOT have water, nor electricity. Actually, that was a blessing in disguise. I fired up the propane water heater – up until this night, we had used the electric water heater – and it didn't work. A little detective work revealed a mud dauber nest in the gas burner. Apparently that shorted out something, because there is a wire nearly melted in two. Part of the controls, I presume. No problem, we can heat water on the stove...except at that moment my propane tanks ran dry. I carry an extra 20gal bottle to run the outside grill, so I swapped out one of the empty tanks for the full one. Then, I noticed that the lights were getting dim. Battery check showed an almost discharged battery. Bob had a spare, so I swapped out batteries, too. I really don't know, yet, the cause of that failure. We stopped at an RV repair facility (labor @ $90/hr), but they were too busy to even look at it. BTW, Bob's heater didn't work either. So, the blessing is: we know we need to fix a few things before boon docking.

Wednesday 24th – We have been on the road for two weeks. Total mileage at the start of this day is more than 3,200 miles. We stopped for awhile in Dawson Creek to fill my propane tanks (the fella who filled the tanks is a lifelong resident of Dawson Creek, but his brother-in-law is from Baton Rouge!). We, also, drove past mile marker zero of the Alaska-Canada Highway. Brenda and Sallie shopped briefly at a WalMart (the first in two weeks), then we headed to a campsite at Pink Mountain. The name comes from a peculiar fall foliage. Unfortunately, the promised WiFi is not here. I was assured that “they are working on it”, but the expected delivery date is probably close to the human gestation time frame. So, it has been since Monday that we have received any email, and longer than that since we have been able to send any. Grandson Parker had a set of ear tubes inserted today, so Brenda had to call home to check that all went well – it did. Our drive today was more forested mountainsides. We did see one cow moose, Stellar jays, crows and ravens. The plan for tomorrow it to definitely get a campground with WiFi.

And, today, the 25th, we have WiFi! Our drive was in rain all day. Nonetheless, it was beautiful. In fact, driving into and out of the clouds, as we climbed over the 6,700 foot summit, was a series of "Oh, look at that" experiences. The forested mountains have given way to a different tree. It is still the same Spruce species, but appears definitely stunted. The explanation I was given is that the permafrost keeps all the trees stunted -- somewhat like a huge Bonsai forest! Streams are everywhere. I'd like to try fishing, but will wait until I get to Alaska to buy a license. I certainly don't need any more confrontations with Canadian authorities!

We are spending this night at Toad River, BC. This name, too, needs explanation. In the land of permafrost, toads are not common. And, in fact, the reptile has nothing to do with this place. Originally, one had to be towed across the river at this point. I guess spelling caused a lot of problems for the folks up here.

We saw a calf caribou beside the road today and a beaver. I think I saw an otter, but my attention was mostly on the road, not the roadside. Bought fuel at only $1.55 per liter, which is a paltry $5.89/gallon!

Monday, June 22, 2009

"Border Incident" and more...

I have a couple comments on the “Border Incident”. First, I can’t believe “bear spray” is such a big deal in Canada. These guys were like the Gestapo! They really didn’t care whether LA Wildlife and Fisheries used pepper spray for bears or not. Thank God Jim realized you couldn’t reason with these people. He handled the situation as rationally as possible and got us out of there.
I don’t have the words to describe the Canadian Rocky Mountains, but I will try. To me, it was like driving through a forest of Christmas trees with the huge, snow-capped, bigger-than-life mountains in the background (not in the distance, but right there). As you were driving along, you might see a cascade of water rushing off the mountain into a beautiful blue-green stream. It was awesome!
This morning at our campsite in Banff, we were eating breakfast and looked out the window to see mule deer. Jim also saw elk at that same campground. And, we saw our first black bear between Jasper and McBride.

A Surprise on Entry into Canada

On Friday (19 June), the temperature low was 49° and high 75°, humidity 50%. We stayed at Malmstrom AFB in their FamCamp. These were very nice grounds and facilities. Friday was a no-travel day. We toured the Lewis & Clark Interpretative Center on the Missouri River. This was especially interesting to us, because, as we have been traveling, we have been listening to an audio book: Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. Serendipitously, in the book, the Corps of Discovery were arriving at the falls on the Missouri River at the same time that Brenda and I were actually seeing it! That provided wonderful background for our visit.
I fixed the lighting in the slide out (a fuse) and, generally, we cleaned up. We rested a little. Then, we went to the commissary for some groceries and ate at Fudruckers. Brenda had Huckleberry ice cream for desert. [It was a gawd-awful purple color]

On Saturday (20 June) we left Malmstrom and met Bob and Sallie at Shelby, MT. Then, we drove to Sweetgrass, MT, to cross into Canada. My shotgun was no problem; however, the “bear spray” I had is not considered bear spray by Canadian customs. In fact, it was considered a weapon and thus contraband -- a $1,000 worth. But, for $1,000, I got my truck back. There is a long story here, but it is best left for a later telling. Generally, this has tainted my opinion of Canada. I won't be back, if I can help it. After finally clearing customs, we drove through the Alberta countryside of wheat fields and range land. This is gentle rolling hills, much like eastern Kansas. Of course, in January it might appear differently. Gradually, the prairie gave way to some deciduous trees and conifers. The deciduous varieties were obviously handicapped, because sometimes entire limbs would be dead and bare of leaves. Clearly, the winter is a killer for trees like this. On the other hand, the conifers are tall and straight. We camped at River's Edge Provincial Park. For our evening meal, we had grilled pork tenderloin, fresh yellow potatoes and topped it off with coffee ice cream for desert.
We awoke fairly early on Sunday (21 June) to go see the “Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump” Interpretive Center. However, they didn't open for another hour (the summer hours of 9AM on the brochure don't start until July). So, we drove off into the countryside. Most memorable from this drive was seeing two young buck Mule deer cross the road in front of us. I captured one on camera as he effortlessly jumped a fence. You can see the grace in the photo.

The buffalo jump site and display was very interesting and informative. This site is where plains Indians drove bison off the cliff edge, thus procuring a large quantity of meat, hides, etc, for the winter season. Apparently, once in the distant past, a young brave wanted to see the bison fall to their death up close and personal. He waited on the ground beneath the jump site. That particular “hunt” was very productive, and the brave was buried under the bison. When they finally dug him out, his skull was crushed; hence, the name. As our good luck would have it, on this day the center was sponsoring a special event. We listened to Blackfoot Native Americans sing and play drums and we watched some authentic dances. For your information, the authentic beaded clothing the performers were wearing is NOT to be called a costume – “that is what a circus clown wears” – it is to be called “regalia”. I am sure you wanted to know that.
We didn't get away from the River's Edge park until after lunch. We drove only as far as Banff. Gentle rolling hills gave way to steeper slopes and lots of rocks. Then, it got even steeper and rockier. And, then voila! We were in the Rocky Mountains. The drive into Banff was punctuated at each turn of the road by Brenda's exclamations of awe and amazement. These mountains are truly beautiful. We camped at the Tunnel Mountain, Second Village Provincial campground with full hook ups. It is very nice, but it is pricey. In fact, everything I have purchased in Canada has been pricey. Diesel fuel was $0.85 a liter, which is about $3.25 a gallon. Coffee from a convenience store at the gas station was $1.60 a cup! On the other hand, I don't think the temperature ever got above 65 degrees today. It started raining by 6 PM and continued into nightfall, which, by the way, is after 10PM.
The campground is very nice, but has lots of spaces and lots of campers. After setting up camp, Brenda and I went for a hike to view the HooDoos. It was more than a mile hike from our site. HooDoos are, if you don't know, stone columns along the river bed. For reasons known to geologists, but totally sounding like BS to me when I read the descriptions, the erosive forces of wind and water carved out the river bottom, but left these huge vertical spires standing. Anyway, we had a much needed bit of exercise. Chloe enjoyed the walk, too. She especially liked sniffing the ground squirrel holes.
Animals seen today: Mule deer, Marmot, prairie dog, weasel, Mallards, BW teal, Magpie and 13-stripe chipmunks.

Friday, June 19, 2009

I beg your pardon, but...

Well, I have been keeping notes and so far we have traveled from Waterproof through Arkansas, Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming (only across the corner) and finally here to Montana. We have traveled a total of over 2, 200 miles. This country is absolutely beautiful!

I e-mailed my Alaska pictures to many of you, but realized many more were not in my Outlook Contacts. So, I have attached the URL to this blog, should you like to view them. If the link doesn't work, cut and paste into your browser.

Great Falls, MT

Well, I am guilty of a major tactical error. I have not been keeping daily notes, assuming that I would well-remember the events of the past week. This is somewhat akin to the oft-proven fallacy of placing unlabeled packages into a deep freezer. Nonetheless, I do remember a lot of the past eight days, but, I must confess, imperfectly.

Most happily, I report that grandson, Hiser, is, if not fully recovered, at home and “eating macaroni, cheese and wieners”. His full recovery is just a matter of time.

Traveling due north from Cabela's in Sidney, we visited Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. It is a very impressive place, but too many people. On the other hand, the ice cream was great! We camped that night at Spearfish, South Dakota, in their city-run RV park. It is located on the grounds of a no-longer-working fish hatchery. There are still plenty of fish in the adjoining ponds.

The next morning, we arrived at the site of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. My history lessons said that a week prior to that infamous battle, at a nearby location, was the Battle of the Rosebud. Militarily, it was significant for what happened to Custer a week later. We were unable to actually visit that battlefield because of a huge thunderstorm (and I thought the West was dry). However, we were at the location of Custer's Last Stand exactly 133 years after the Rosebud fight. We toured the site, listened to the Ranger's informative talk, and absorbed the solemnity of the place, then we moved on to camp at Hardin, Montana.

We went to bed to the sound of gentle rain...and awoke the next morning to the same sound.

Sadly, we parted company with Bob and Sallie the next morning (Thursday). We said our good-byes in Billings, MT, in the parking lot of the newest Cabela's store. So Brenda and I have shopped in Cabela's oldest and newest stores (and a couple in between, too). Our separation from the Coopers will be short-lived. They went on to visit an old friend further up the trail.

Brenda and I are in the FamCamp at Malmstrom AFB. Our drive to Great Falls, Montana, was in rain for the first few hours. Then, the clouds vanished to reveal the Big Sky of Montana. This is some of the most awe-inspiring country I have ever seen. After leaving the rough barren ground west of the Black Hills, the verdant rolling hills, as we approached Great Falls, made driving dangerous because of my rubber-necking to look at all the terrain. We saw numerous antelope, one doe Mule deer, and several birds I have yet to identify.

We will rest an extra day here, then rejoin Bob and Sallie to cross into Canada on Saturday, June 20.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Buffalo Bill and Cabela's

First, grandson Hiser continues to improve. He sat in his Momma's lap today -- the first time in 8 days!

We have now traveled about 1,200 miles. I'll try to be specific about mileage next time I write. Since my last note, we stayed at an RV park in Liberal, Kansas, that hosts pheasant and quail hunting every November. Brenda and I are already planning on a pre-Thanksgiving trip. The city is somehow related to the Wizard of Oz story, 'cause they have "Dorothy's House" as a city attraction. Well, we didn't have any tornados, but we were treated to a huge downpour complete with hail. Fortunately, we had no damage.

North Platte, Nebraska, was our next stop. North Platte's most famous citizen was William Cody, aka Buffalo Bill. His home is a state historical site, complete with adjoining campground. We went to bed under threat of rain, hail and possible tornadoes, but only had a light rain. The tour of the house and horse barn the next morning was well worth the time spent. In all, I guess we were there for more than two hours. On display were several firearms. One in particular was a double-barrelled rifle! No mention of the unique arm was made in the notations within the display case. I doubt if the rarity of the London-made piece is known to the curators. We left Buffalo Bill's place about noon and headed West to Sidney, Nebraska, from where I am writing.

Sidney is the home of the very first Cabela's retail store. In honor of that, Brenda and I felt obliged to spend some money. Her retirement gift card from Cabela's has also been retired. Oh, we had another rain storm with some small hail. Dinner was Nebraska-raised beef, provided from Sallie's freezer.

Our traveling pace has slowed down to a more comfortable tempo. We are entering parts of the country neither Brenda nor I have ever seen. That means we will have to stop more often to see it better. Bob and Sallie are wonderful tour guides, although Sallie was a bit more enthusiastic when we were in Texas.

Friday, June 12, 2009

"...without undue stress..."

Well, we are indeed Alaska-bound. In fact, we are more than 700 miles from home. However, prior to our departure, we had to make a couple of trips to Jackson, Mississippi, to check on our grandson, Hiser, who was (and still is) in the Pediatric ICU at the University Medical Center. The short version is: spontaneous septic arthritis of the right hip and infection of the right anterior thigh muscles. He has been in an MRI scanner once and to the OR twice. I am grateful to report, he is improving and should make a full recovery. If it were otherwise, we would not have left!

Bob and Sallie Cooper were also delayed in their departure -- although in not nearly as dramatic a fashion as Brenda and I. We joined up Thursday morning and are caravaning together. Friday afternoon, we made it to our scheduled rendezvous with Maggie Young, M.D. and her husband. Maggie is a long-time friend of Sallie's and their annual get-together is important to both of them.

North Texas, where we are camped, is hot. The wind is blowing, so the heat is tolerable. There are some folks here that would disagree with that comment about tolerable. With the delayed departure and the relative urgency of arriving on time to meet Maggie, we have put in two rather grueling days. Bob assures me that we will slow down the pace from here on...I'll let you know. Furthermore, I have not taken a single photograph. Brenda has taken a few, but she hasn't shared them with me, yet.

Now that we are underway, and now that the travel pace is promised to be more vacation-like, I hope to take some pictures and smell some roses. Meanwhile, y'all pray for Hiser's continued recovery.