Saturday, July 5, 2014

The land of the Bears, Chicago Bears that is

After leaving the Black Hills, we of course had to stop at Wall Drug and get a milkshake.  Wall Drug has entertaining signs for hundreds of miles proclaiming "Free Ice Water" and hawking all their attractions.   After seeing all the signs you're brainwashed so it's really impossible to NOT stop at Wall Drugs.   The store went on for many city blocks and was packed.  I even counted 4 tour buses emptying people into the store.

After we continued our drive East.  Over the next couple days we drove through Minnesota and Wisconsin stopping to camp along the way.  In Wisconsin with the long 4th of July weekend upon us we decided to try to get campground reservations in the Mackinac Island area of Michigan.  It seemed like the entire State of Michigan was booked when we accessed our online campground reservation system.  Plus both Yvonne and I kept getting a nagging feeling to not go to Mackinac Island.  It just didn't feel right for each of us so we changed plans and headed for Chicago instead.  It's good to listen to intuition.

Our campsite at the Chicago KOA

We got the last campsite at one of the best KOA's we've ever been to.  It's just outside Chicago so we booked 3 days to get through the busy holiday weekend.  Going into Chicago was a lot of fun and we were able to stop at one of our favorite Vegetarian restaurant's affiliate in Chicago.  We've actually have been doing this the entire trip.  They have restaurants in San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, NY and Tampa.  We stopped at all of them on this trip except for NY and San Francisco.  So on the 4th of July we went into a beautiful section of Chicago to visit the restaurant and there was about a 45 minute wait to get in.  The nice part of the wait was we met several people and had some good conversation. And then we were seated next to a lady who was a delight to spend time with.

Beautiful Chicago street and beautiful wife

After lunch we drove into the city via Lakeshore drive and it was magnificent.  Lake Michigan was filled with sailboats and yachts enjoying the perfect weather.  The parks were packed and this city was humbling with it's massive buildings and brilliant architecture.  It is quite a city.

One stop was Wrigley field where we parked and walked the area.  We found a nice sports pub in the area and sat at the bar.  We then called our son Jeff and his girlfriend Pam to toast to our son Paul who passed on July 4th several years ago.

After getting back to the campground we had dinner and built a large campfire.  By luck, our chairs faced a gap in the trees which displayed a large beautiful fireworks display just beyond the campground.  It was a perfect night to go with a perfect day.  And the first time we've actually enjoyed a 4th of July in years.

So tomorrow it's homeward bound through the south.  And this will probably be the last blog entry for the trip.   Thanks for following along.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Part of the herd in the Black Hills of South Dakota

We're in Custer, South Dakota in the middle of a busy tourist weekend.

This is an area where my uncle lived so I've been here a few times over the years.  He built his houses on the side of the hills overlooking Rapid City.  He would frame in the basement of the house to live in and over a period of a couple years would build the house as funds became available.  The thing I like about Dan was his creativeness and willingness to tackle anything.  He would no sooner finish the house and then he would knock out a wall, build a tower or sun room or add an extension to his wraparound deck overlooking the city.  His houses were always unique and interesting because of his artistic design skills.   I just wish he were still around so we could pop in for a visit.
What's the fine for smuggling a baby buffalo out of the park?  Tempting

Yesterday we visited the Crazy Horse memorial sculpture.  This is one of the largest sculptures in the world.  It was started by a young guy back in 1939 after he was contacted by Standing Bear who said "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too."  And he asked if Korczak could make a sculpture like Mount Rushmore for the Indians.

Carving began in 1948 and he initially did it all by himself.  He accepted donations but would take no government funding as he didn't want the project to be abandoned like his previous job which was working on Mount Rushmore.  Most people don't know this but Mount Rushmore was never completed.   So far the head of Crazy Horse is complete and it's so big that Mount Rushmore could reside within the forehead.

What impressed us so much about this project was the dedication of Korczak Ziolkowski (Sculptor), his wife Ruth and his 10 kids.  Korczak died in 1982 and his wife who carried on the project died last month.  Six of their ten kids continue to work on the monument.   There is a Informative visitor center with many exhibits, movies and bus rides to learn about this amazing project.  It's a "must see" if you're ever in South Dakota.  Here's a link to learn more:  Crazy Horse project

Today we drove through Custer State park and wound through the roads seeing buffalo, goats, donkeys, prairie dogs, deer and ?Antelope.  And we also saw Mount Rushmore.  A nice way to spend the day.  We were here exactly 20 years ago tent camping with the kids.   Time flies ... 
Mount Rushmore

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Montana and Wyoming and oops ... I forgot

We've been in Montana the last couple days.

Yesterday we spent the whole day at the University of Montana, Museum of the Rockies.  I believe it has the largest collection of Dinosaurs in the world.  The museum was filled with Dinosaurs and excellent exhibits.  I highly recommend it.  We also visited an old friend about a half mile away.

After lunch in the 5'er in the parking lot of The Museum of the Rockies, we took a walk to another museum just down the road.  It was the American Computer and Robotics museum which may sound geekish but it was also quite informative and the exhibits were well done.  A couple years ago I was contacted by this museum and asked if I would sell them our life size Robby the Robot at a discount.  We gave them a good deal on Robby and we also donated several animated robots I built from scratch for display in their museum.   It was an honor to see how they were used in the museum as it was filled with rare items donated from many dozens of famous people. 

Today we drove into Wyoming through some severe thunderstorms with tornadoes in the vicinity.  These beautiful wide open spaces with rolling hills allow you to see for miles.  Cattle country.  

And the big oops for today .... news that I should have known but "forgot" is it's our 32nd Wedding Anniversary.  Being on the road, time just kind of runs together.  I mean, this seems like a pretty logical excuse, doesn't it?   Only one of us didn't forget and I got a nice card and a Dan Akroyd DVD from her.  I guess I better just shut up and grab a bottle of wine and put the Dan Akroyd DVD on for us to enjoy.

You can tell we're not in the Yukon any longer
We should be in South Dakota tomorrow and will spend several days playing tourist.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Things not to say at a border crossing and the interesting characters you meet along the way

Lake Louise
Despite the absolute breathtaking beauty of Lake Louise was, we were still happy to be on our way. It's quite the expensive Tourist trap. Everything is at ridiculous prices. If you want to eat out, you must eat in the expensive resort restaurants as there are no restaurants other than in the resorts. $23.00 for a three egg omelet ? And the one we liked the best was the canoe rental prices on Lake Louise. $90.00 for two people and one canoe for a half hour !!!!!! That's completely insane. We brought our own food so it's not an issue but this is not our type of place.

We are now camping by the Milk River in Alberta not too far from the border of the U.S. lower 48. This is quite different geography as it's mainly rolling grasslands for grazing cattle. On the way here we drove through Calgary and saw some of the areas used in the winter Olympics. Most notably were the ski jumps not far from the main highway.
Ski jumps in Calgary

As we were setting up camp today, an RV from Alabama pulled in and the man came over to ask how we pay for sites as the office was closed. I told him I just got there and we still haven't figured that out yet. And then he started telling me how they had just crossed the border and had a terrible time with Canadian customs. He also said his wife was quite upset and it was quite the ordeal.

Later after we set up our chairs and tables outside in the nice weather, Yvonne made a couple Bahama Mama drinks. 

After enjoying the nice weather and relaxing I wanted to hear more about the customs issues they had so we walked over to their campsite and asked the man what happened. He then relayed the story to us in his warm southern drawl. First of all, his wife was so furious with him that she left to sit by the river. He told us that when the Canadian customs officer asked if he had firearms, he said “no” but I sure wish I did. They then asked him if he carried firearms in the United States and he said in Alabama he always carries a firearm. Now one thing we know is you should just answer their questions and don't add any additional commentary to the answer. When they had him pull into the “search area” and said they were going to search his rig, he said “I said I don't have any firearms … and if you can find one in there, I'll kiss your ass”. Well things started deteriorating from there but they eventually got into Canada. His wife stopped talking to him after the crossing and even though they were on their way to Alaska, it was discussed to turn around and go home.

While we were talking with him, his wife came back from sitting by the river and couldn't even talk to us she was so upset. Yvonne said she was on the verge of tears and just went into the trailer without talking to us. So we wished him a good trip and I looked at him and gave him a nudge and wished him good luck with putting things back together with his wife. He was a funny guy and admitted he shouldn't have said any of that but added that it will make a funny story when talking with friends after he got home. He came over to our 5'er and sat with us awhile while we were having dinner. He came with a message from his wife apologizing that she wasn't able to talk earlier. I think they both learned a couple of lessons today.

The campground caretaker is a guy around our age from England and he spent some time talking with us. He was one of the most upbeat people and completely loved people and life. He's been in Canada for about 5 years and loves it here.

But by far the best part of this trip has been the interesting people we've met along the way. There's a lot of nice people in the world and Rv'ing is a great way to meet them.
We're not in the mountains any longer

One other noteworthy item is we are putting away our blackout curtains. In Northern Canada and Alaska it's sunny and bright at 11:00 at night and again at 3:30 or 4:00 am. Now we're getting into more normal light/darkness combinations. Our cat will probably appreciate being back on a more normal schedule of darkness to keep her napping schedule on track.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Jasper, Banff, and Lake Louise

Today we are camping at a national park park campground - Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta.  My grandparents loved this area and said it was their favorite place.  

This is part of one long park system where Banff National park merges into Jasper National park. We've had about 4 people we met on our trip passionately tell us that we should take the route through Jasper and Banff on our way home. And I'll admit they were right. This area is the prettiest we've been through since we started our trip. Even prettier than Alaska and the Yukon/British Columbia. The lakes around here have that beautiful turquoise color which is even prettier on a sunny day which we've been fortunate to have just about every day. The Lake Louise campground we're in has a high concentration of Grizzly Bears and has the tent campground completely ringed by an electric fence to keep bears from wandering into the tenting area.
Lunch by a Glacier
This beauty has a slight downside though. This place is absolutely packed with tourists. Roadside turnouts are crowded and there are very few places to get Diesel. We had to stop in the little town of Jasper to fill up and there were only 3 very small gas stations. Two did not have Diesel and the third had it but only on one pump. It was a 2 lane tight station with about 30 cars, trucks, buses in line. How I squeezed this monster into that pump and backed/turned /maneuvered to it was a miracle. Just after I backed the rig up to the door and was ready to make my turn into the pump area a little smart car zipped around me and took my pump. My hands in the air and body language conveyed my frustration so the ladies quickly mumbled something about they were just turning around and moved out of my way as I squeezed into the pump area without taking out any structural parts of the gas station.

This part of the world is a place that I recommend everyone take in once in their lifetime. The mountains are much higher than what we've seen on our trip with pronounced peaks covered in snow. Waterfalls are magnificent with nice walkways. One waterfall had a walkway going out over where the water started spilling over the edge. It was amazing and you could feel the mist, the energy and force of the falls while standing there.

A couple days ago we camped in a provincial park outside of Jasper yesterday the campsite was in a heavily wooded forest. In the morning when we were getting ready Yvonne looked out and saw a Caribou behind the rig about 50 yards. Earlier that day we took a side trip to Ft. St. James which is on a road about 35 miles north of the main highway. There we visited an restored Fur trading fort /museum with people in the buildings explaining routines of life back then. It was a worthwhile stop and after we went into the town and found a nice place for lunch.
Fort St. James

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Stowaway and the Cat

This morning once again the cat was persistent in waking us up at 5am.  Meowing, getting in my face and just being a pain.   When I finally got up she was intently staring between the grate where the furnace ducts are.  She's been doing this the past couple days and we thought it was because she relates the noise from this area to mean when she heard it her spot over the heater on the floor would warm up.  That's what we assumed.

Then while pouring my coffee I noticed that one of the peaches in the bowl on the kitchen table had two bites chewed out of them.  Even though everyone knows cats don't like peaches, we still blamed the poor cat for chewing on it AND getting on the kitchen table.  Not that we could do anything about it but the poor cat got the blame.

As we were taking down camp this morning, I went into the lower areas in the garage area to retrieve my grease gun.  Much to my surprise a mouse jumped out at me and ran up into the upper garage and into a passageway to the trailer !  All of a sudden we realized we were blaming the cat for the antics of this mouse.  After completely emptying the contents of the garage (under storage area) and banging on walls, there was nothing else we could do but wait until we found a hardware store and buy some mouse traps.

When we got to our destination later in the day, Yvonne heard some noise under our sink so we opened up the door and heard a noise in our trash basket.  Upon pulling it out we noticed a panicked mouse jumping but slipping down, trying to escape the trash can. I quickly grabbed the bag and closed it up and then took it outside to the trash.  All while the cat slept.  Great mouser she turned out to be.  At least we found the stowaway.

Looks like a certain cat is in for extra cat treats tonight

Headed toward Jasper National Park in Canada and should be there in a couple days.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Our last day in Alaska

The second half of the Cassier Highway south of Dease Lake wasn't as pretty with a large scale powerline project under construction.  Massive clearcutting of timber and many construction trucks took away from the areas beauty.  But at least the road was in better shape with real painted centerlines too.  

Stewart Grocery

Downtown Stewart, BC
The last couple of days we have been in the border towns of Hyder Alaska / Stewart British Columbia.  Hyder Alaska is so small and remote they even don't have a customs border crossing station.  However Stewart has a customs station.  Coming across the border when they ask where you're going and you just say "back to the campground".  Stewart is quite a nice little town.  Hyder AK looks somewhat depressed though.  
Salmon Glacier at the top
Salmon Glacier

There is a lot of history in this area and also many spectacular glaciers.   In the winter this place experiences avalanches often and in the middle of downtown Stewart there is a building with this massive gun that they use to shoot at avalanche areas to control them.  Everywhere you look are giant snow capped mountains.  This is also a Pacific Ocean Coastal Port and the moisture and humidity make this area the lushest we've seen so far with giant trees and many wildflowers and lush vegetation.

Yesterday we drove up a particularly large mountain to view Salmon Glacier.  Yvonne didn't do too well on the drive as it was on a narrow 1.5 lane road that was being encroached on in many places by heavy snow from the mountains.  The side of the road was a steep dropoff  of thousands of feet into the valley below.  She refused to look out and kept her eyes glued on a book.  The only thing you need to be careful of is vehicles approaching from the other direction.  There were pull off areas every so often and you had to keep them in mind and watch for vehicles so you didn't have to back up in the narrow parts.

But the views at the top were absolutely worth it.  Salmon Glacier is one of the larger glaciers and is spectacular.   At the top was a group from Polaris snowmobiles.  They drove over the snow covered mountains to another glacier on the other side to test out their new models.  There was also an interesting guy camping at the top of the mountain (in a tent) who called himself the "Bear Man".  He writes books and makes DVD's of bears.  He has been charged by Grizzly bears 4 times and has successfully deployed his Bear Spray which worked every time.  He explores mountains, caves and Glaciers looking for bears at 78 years old !

The Bear Man
 Speaking of bears, this town is famous for all the bears that congregate here when the Salmon are running (July).  They have a wooden observation walkway along the river where you can watch black and grizzly bears dining on Salmon.  I wish we were here a little later in the year to see the action but we still walked the walkway and instead took in the sounds of the birds and stream.

We've met a lot of people around town and in our campground and we had a large campfire in the middle of the campground last night with about a dozen people and at least a million mosquitoes.  Mosquitoes and gnats were pretty bad but we had a lot of fun talking with everyone and listening to all the interesting stories of the road.  Meeting people along the way is as fun as taking in the scenery.  And we've met a lot of nice people since we started this trip.

Early yesterday morning I sat outside under our awning while it was raining / misting.  While sipping on my coffee I was visited by a hummingbird who zoomed up to me and zipped around to check out the bright green can of OFF on the table next to me.  At first I thought it was a giant bee (or possibly mosquito??? )  and then figured out it was a humming bird. 

The rooster warming her tailfeathers with the electric heater
I think maybe our cat is part Rooster.  Every day at 5:00 AM she relentlessly bugs me to wake up.  It's so annoying but I can't get too mad at her.  And then after I wake up she curls up and goes to sleep. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Candlelight dinner, Sinatra and the finest waterfront view on the Cassiar Highway

A burned out section of trees along the Cassiar Highway

The last couple days of camping along the Cassier Hwy have been perfect. The Cassier is a very narrow highway with a lot of rough areas and frost heaves but not too bad if you watch your speed and pay attention to the road.

I am in no hurry and will pull over when someone gets behind us on this road. Although it may take awhile to find a place because the road often has no shoulder and a 2-6 foot dropoff.

Pictures and words do not adequately describe the beauty of this place. Last night we pulled off and camped by a little fast flowing stream. Completely serene if you don't count the hordes of hungry mosquitoes which we're learning to cope with. A little deet goes a long way. Only problem is opening the door to dash into the 5'er quickly without allowing a thousand mosquitoes to join with you. Lucky the interior is lightly colored so the mosquitoes are easier to hunt down. We had about 50 come in with us last night despite our best efforts. The mosquitoes aren't always out but when they are, look out.  And somehow they seem to find a way inside our rig.

Boondocking at it's finest

In the morning after the sun came out we sat by the stream, read, and soaked in the sunshine. Of course we had bear spray handy just in case as we've seen many on this road already. The nice thing about not being on a schedule is you can just take your time and head out if and when you feel like it. I also did some more work on the furnace (loud vibration noise) and got that quieted down. Then we pulled out the torque wrench to re-torque the lug nuts of the 5'er. The tire guys were pretty good but I wanted to double check the lug torque because having the incorrect torque on a 5'er can cause some serious problems. 
Camping Spot high overlooking Dease Lake

So tonight we're camped on a very high ridge overlooking Dease Lake. We enjoyed a great candlelight dinner in our own special waterfront diner while listening to Frank Sinatra. It was pretty cozy as rain clouds rolled, and listening to the raindrops.
Candle light dinner on Dease Lake during a nice soft rain

We read about Sawmill recreation area which supposedly had 6 campsites by the water. Oh and it also had a boat landing. We took the narrow half mile turnoff which was barely a one lane road that wound it's way down the mountain and over a small stream. After a couple minutes I started thinking that this didn't look like the kind of road I should be dragging this 5'er down. But I kept up hope that at the bottom of this twisty narrow road there would be a place to turn around.

When we finally got to the bottom there was a small turnaround and about 20 trucks, boats and cars all mashed in on the road with no place for anyone to go. The small loop had all the vehicles double parked. I was able to pull in just the length of my rig while a couple people came over and apologetically said that a few vehicles might be leaving soon. There was one small cut that I did manage to back my rig into with only inches on both sides. Just enough to escape this madness and race back up the mountain on that narrow one lane dirt road, hoping that I wouldn't meet anyone on my way up. Yvonne promptly poured me a cold beer as soon as we got setup at our the lakefront camping spot.

Plus the fact that these camping spots are FREE makes it even sweeter.
Warmest place in the 5'er (Furnace duct is under the floor here)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Whitehorse YT to Skagway Alaska

The past couple weeks I have been battling the 5'ers slideout trying to fix it. I've been making careful small adjustments to the vertical and horizontal adjustors with no luck. And the problems have been been gradually getting worse. I have to manually push the top of the slide to finish bringing it in by using our carwash brush on a long handle. And lately new noises and grinding reached a point where a piece on the bottom underside of the slide ripped off. Our worst nightmare realized.

But …. everything worked out for the best despite the fact it was Friday the 13th. When we arrived in Whitehorse in the Yukon we found a tire shop to rotate the tires on the 5'er. Then we found an RV repair place. It was about 4:30 and the RV place said they could look at the slideout in the morning. The next morning their technician came out and gave the slideout a thorough inspection and found that the floor had separated from the wall and the floor was dragging low and making those terrible grinding noises and causing the slide to not retract correctly. It looked like a major all day job but one that had to be done. And they seemed like they knew what they were doing.

By pure luck we found the best RV repair place on the planet. Everybody that worked there was very nice and a lady in the office recommended we leave the RV and drive to Skagway. Skagway is a city that we were considering because we heard a few people tell of the beautiful drive. It is about a 115 mile drive one way. They said we could camp in our RV overnight at the shop and even plugged us into their power.

And they were right, the ride to Skagway was one of the prettiest we've experienced on the trip. It was also nice driving and not dragging the beast of a trailer behind us. The mountains were spectacular and we even saw a large Brown bear along the way.

The town of Skagway is one of those Cruise ship towns, filled with history, tourist shops and hundreds of tourists milling around. We counted 4 ships in. So we milled around some too and found a perfect place for lunch. It was quite interesting reading the history of this town during the Gold rush times.

When we called the RV repair shop at the end of the day we braced ourselves expecting the repairs to be very expensive. We were pleasantly surprised when they told us it's working like new and the price was less than $200.00. That was the best news of all. And it's one worry that won't follow us down the road any longer. Plus we got a free night of camping in their parking lot.

The pictures we took along the road to Skagway doesn't even come close to what it really looks like. Emerald Lake was the prettiest lake I've ever seen with emerald color and white rings inside the lake that played off the colors in the lake. The sunshine made it spectacular even though the weather turned quite moist as we got closer to Skagway. Also we started in the Yukon, cut through British Columbia and ended up back in the US in Alaska (customs and all). On the way back we had to go through Canadian customs again and then back to the Yukon.

When we got back to the RV, I was impressed with the workmanship and technique they used to reconnect the slideout floor with the walls. It was good timing that it went out when it did. RV repair shops of this caliber are uncommon. And I must put in a plug for the people of Whitehorse, Yukon. Everyone we met has been over the top nice. We went downtown for breakfast and later had dinner at a little family owned pizza place for dinner. Whitehorse is an interesting community. If I were to live in the north, this would be the town I'd pick. There's just something about this place.