Summer Travel Map

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Portage and Whittier

June 30, 2009
Portage, AK

Today was an easy travel day. We started by moving about 100 feet - to fill the now-depleted fresh water tank at the Elks. From there, we drove about 20 miles south to Eagle River, where we took advantage of a free dump station at a local gas station. At least, we think it was free although we didn't bother to stop in the office and ask. Next, we stopped at a fuel stop in Anchorage for diesel before heading through part of the city (Anchorage is Alaska's largest city, with half the state's population and a land area about the size of Delaware - really). We're headed for the Kenai Peninsula, south of the city, and we drove along the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet, which is very scenic. We stopped for lunch and watched the tides come in. The flow is so fast, you can actually see the water level rise.

After lunch, we continued on to our stopping point: Portage. Or, at least where Portage used to be. It was a small village, basically a flag stop on the Alaska Railroad, when it was wiped out by the Good Friday earthquake in 1964. A 9.2 magnitude quake will do that.

Anyway, we parked the coaches and headed out for the afternoon. Our first stop was Portage Lake, fed by Portage Glacier. This lake was interesting, since the glacier calves into the lake, creating mini-icebergs that float to the other end, right up to the shore.

After the required photo opps, we headed to the small town of Whittier, notable because it used to be only accessible by land via rail. During the gold rush, a 2.5 mile long railroad tunnel was blasted through solid rock to open up the port and connect to the Alaska Railway (giving rise to Portage). Once railroad traffic decreased, someone got the bright idea of paving the tunnel (leaving the rails exposed) and charging an exorbitant toll for vehicles to drive through. Not bad work, if you can get it. So, rather than pay $70 for the two coaches to go through, we opted to pile in the Range Rover and pay $12 to spend an hour there sightseeing. We made the right choice.

Part working port and part tourist trap, Whittier was interesting, and we had a good time poking around in shops and taking pictures. Since we weren't chartering a fishing boat or taking a cruise of Prince William Sound, we were glad we made an afternoon of it.

Click here for today's photos.

Tomorrow, we'll head south toward Seward...

Monday, June 29, 2009


June 29, 2009
Palmer, AK

Today was an easy day. We puttered around in the morning, trying to get Geri's MRI follow-up scheduled (no luck this week; we'll try again on the way back), and then set off by car for a quick trip to Wasilla and the little town of Knik a bit further away.

Our primary destination was the Iditarod Race HQ, where we learned about the history of the race (started in the '60s to commemorate a 1925 mission to deliver diphtheria vaccine from Anchorage to Nome (Nome is waaay out in northwest Alaska in the Bering Sea and not easily accessible by land). We met a few sled dogs and a couple of pups, and gained a new appreciation for the rigors of the race.

After that, it was a couple of stops for touristy photos and then back to Wasilla for some shopping before heading home. We picked up Margarita fixings so were able to partake in happy hour and grilled some home-made burgers with bacon, cheese, carmelized onions, and Geri's new sauteed mushrooms. Mmmm.

Click here for pictures.

Tomorrow, we move on after a few days in one place. Next stop: the Kenai Peninsula.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The behinder you get...

June 28, 2009
Palmer, AK

... the longer it takes to catch up. I'm so far behind now, I'll let the photo albums do the catching up for me. Click on the date for each section below to see the pictures. Sorry for the extra clicks, but as you know, "every picture tells a story"...

June 22: We finished the drive down the Tok Cut-off and the Richardson Highway to Valdez, ending up at the local Elk's for the overnight. The highlights of the drive were a stop at Worthington Glacier and two of the many waterfalls along the road just north of Valdez.

June 23: We did a mini-tour of Valdez (OK, it's a small town and everything's close together). We saw the Alaska (aka Alyeska) Pipeline terminal, "Old Valdez" (the whole town was destryed in the 1964 "Good Friday Earthquake"), and Valdez Glacier.

June 24: This was an easy driving day, putting in a little over a hundred miles back north on the Richardson Highway, then the Edgerton Highway to Chitina, a small town on the Copper River right at the edge of the Wrangell-St Elias National Park (largest park in the US by land area). We found a boondocking spot right on the flood plain of the river and watched the locals fish for salmon. Now, that's Alaska! It was just like Quartzsite, except with water. We had a bald eagle scavenging for food right in front of the coach (too fast for pictures, unfortunately). Happy birthday to Pat and Larry!

June 25: Bob, Marlene, and I took a day trip 60 miles up the gravel road to McCarthy, then took a tour of the Kennecott Copper Mine. 2 hours each way on a washboard road, but it was definitely worth it!

June 26: We made the day-long (lots of frost heaves and some construction to slow us down) drive from Chitina to Palmer, a nice city of 4,500 people just northeast of Anchorage ("the big city) and right near Wasilla (which I'd never heard of before last year's Republican National Convention). We stopped at the Pipeline for pictures on the way, and set up camp at a very nice Elk's Lodge.

June 27: I took a day trip to Independence Mine, a gold mine now run by the Alaska Parks System. Geri was once again astute enough to stay home.

June 28: Today was a "down day". We relaxed and made a trip to Wal-Mart in Wasilla, and that's about it. Happy birthday to Belle!

Well, that's the catch up. Time to call it a day!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory

Friday 6/19

Went downtown to explore and get a free parking pass, we stopped to have lunch at a place called Klondike BBQ Salmon and rib place. We split a fish and chips lunch of halibut. It was wonderful, just because it was so fresh and I didn’t have to cook it. Then we went touring to a place called Miles Canyon, where George went to take some beautiful pictures. We had the pups with us so took them for a walk around the parking area. Canyons are so beautiful but I have this thing about them, its called fear! From there we headed to the Interpretive Center, where we learned about the mammoths and other animals which are now extinct, like beavers which were larger then bears. We learned about a continent that no longer exists, it’s was called Beringia, and was in between Canada and Asia which were all one continent. Then we went next store to the Transportation museum, not my area of interest but what the hay, it has some interesting things to see like the Gift shop which I browsed and promptly walked out due to sticker shock.

We were boon docking at Wal-mart so we headed back to drop off the pups and go to a brewery to check out the local brews , never got there due to George got to doing stuff for the next day’s departure. We sat down to dinner and low and behold its 8PM and the sun is shining we thought we’re having lunch! There’s no TV or internet, so I started another book. We were just settling down for the night when we heard a noise. We looked out the window and it was a pickup truck with a cap had just pulled up to park for the night as well, it was an older couple that proceeded to remove everything from the back of the truck, hoses, bags of assorted other things, the man climbed into the back and was handing all this stuff to his wife who did the moving it to various sides of the front of the truck, the last thing to be moved up front was 2 fishing poles, she placed in the front and locked the front of the truck went around climbed in herself and promptly closed the back and there you have it folks “camping in the wilderness”, or at Wal-mart. Lots of the RV’s we’ve seen on this trip say “Alaska bound” on their windows, Alaska or bust, one couple from Florida got married and planned their honeymoon to Alaska via RV.

So there you have it folks my little contribution to the blog !

Sunday, June 21, 2009


June 21, 2009
Tok Cut-off/Glenn Highway, Mile Marker 35.2

We made it to Alaska! Yea!!

Today's drive was full of interesting roads. Some portions were very good (I thought we were on the Autobahn), some were construction zones with gravel (in spite of that, we found 40-45 MPH was the best speed), and the rest were some of the worst frost heaves we've ever seen (from 20-35 MPH zones).

We crossed the border in record time - 3 minutes. A few of the standard questions, and all was well.

Southbound traffic has been a little surprising, with quite a few RVs heading "the wrong way". A lot of them have Alaska plates, and are likely natives heading elsewhere for summer vacation, but many are people from the "lower 48" who've already "been there and done that". We met a couple today from Mahwah, NJ who left home on May 17th, drove all the way to Alaska, and are already headed home. I wonder where they stopped?

All that said, we made pretty good time and were in Tok (rhymes with "Poke") a little after noon. A stop at the Visitor's Center, a stop for diesel, and a quick trip through the coin-op car wash for Bob (I decided to wait until Valdez when we take the cover off the car), and we were headed south, putting in a few bumpy miles toward Valdez. Rod & Jean decided to spend a couple of nights in Tok, collecting their mail tomorrow and catching up on laundry, etc. They'll catch up over the next few days.

Click here for a few photos from today's travels.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

On to Kluane and Burwash Landing

June 20, 2009
Alaska Highway, Mile Marker 1099.7

Today, we had some of the worst road conditions we've experienced so far. Thank goodness we all covered the front of our towed vehicles.

We started off from Whitehorse on schedule and made a stop at the Visitor's Centre in Haines Junction. Other than being the place where the road to Haines meets that Alaska Highway (clever, right?), it's also the gateway to Kluane National Park. No, I'd never heard of Kluane (klu-WAN-ne), either, but it's a huge protected area, home to Mount Logan (highest mountain in Canada and second-highest in North America, only visible and accessible by plane) and several large ice fields. We drove along the edge of the Park, and Kluane Lake, for much of the afternoon.

Near the Lake, we stopped in the small town of Burwash Landing (home to the world's largest gold pan) and stopped for the night at a rest area (well, I think it'll eventually be a rest area; right now it's more like a gravel pit) that should provide us a safe haven for the night. Tomorrow, we'll finish up the bad stretch (you know the frost heaves are bad when you make better time on the gravel stretches in construction zones) between here and the Alaska Border - yea!

Click here for pictures from today.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Touring Whitehorse

June 19, 2009
Whitehorse, YT

The tourists are back! We basically spent the day checking out some of the tourist sites in Whitehorse. We could have spent another day if we wanted to, but we're anxious to keep moving forward to Alaska at this point. We're already starting to meet people who have "been there and done that" and are headed back south!

We started the day with a coach move (to Wal-Mart, where else) and then a trip "downtown". Whitehorse has a small central business district, and we poked around there for a bit before stopping for lunch at a "BBQ and Salmon" place. We decided to split the Halibut Fish & Chips, which was a very good call (good eats, and a good idea to share one order). We picked up our "free visitor parking pass" (no paying meters here) as well.

Our next stop was Miles Canyon, a narrow gorge on the Yukon River upstream from downtown. This section of the river was the most difficult to navigate during the gold rush days, although it's relatively tame now since there's a dam and lake downstream, providing hydroelectric power to the area. There's an old suspension bridge there that provides a walkway across the gorge, so I went across for some pictures. Other than a short slide down a gravel slope that left me with a bruised knee, it was a nice walk.

Heading back to town, we stopped at the seaplane base (not much happening there) and then at several local landmarks. First was the "world's largest Mountie", a wooden statue in front of a hotel (whatever). Next was the world's largest weathervane. This was much more clever: a complete DC-3 airplane mounted on a pole in front of the airport. It actually works as a weathervane, spinning around as the wind direction changes.

We decided to make a quick stop at the Beringia Centre because there were statues of Wooly Mammoths out front, but decided to go in when we met a couple(Ed and Penny) coming out who recommended it. We met Ed while we were in Yuma at the start of the trip, at the place that installed our solar panels. We ran into them again a week or so ago in Dawson Creek. They were a day ahead of us, but are now a bit behind as they're staying in Whitehorse until early next week. Anyway, we found that the Beringia Centre wasn't about fossils as we thought (and after the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, we didn't think anyplace else would shine). It turns out that the focus here was on the way the last Ice Age impacted the local area. Because the ice fields froze up so much of the world's water, sea levels dropped by 125 metres and the whole area between Alaska and Siberia was a broad grassy plain with wildlife from Mammoths and bears to lions. Who'd have expected to hear about lions in Alaska? Go figure.

Right next door (and included in the "combo ticket price") is the Whitehorse Transportation Museum. It focused on three distinct topics: early methods getting from the coast inland (sternwheelers, narrow gauge railroads), bush pilots from the 1920s to the 1960s, and the construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942 (which changed everything). It was a small museum, but nicely done.

We didn't get to the history museum downtown, and we didn't get to visit (and sample at) the local brewery (D'oh), so we'll save those for next time. This Wal-Mart is a popular stopping point for RVs; I counted over 40 rigs of all shapes and sizes before bedtime. Just before midnight (which is just after sunset but still light out), a couple in a pick-up with a bed topper pulled in, grabbed everything from the back and shoved it in the front seat, hopped in the back, and pulled the window closed for the night. It takes all kinds...

Click here for today's pictures.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A day off in Whitehorse

June 18, 2009
Whitehorse, YT

Some days, you're "on vacation"; some days, you're not. Today was definitely a "not" day. After so many days of go-go-go and see-see-see, most of us needed a "down day". This doesn't mean we didn't do anything, just that we put off the sightseeing and touristy things for a bit.

Geri did a few loads of laundry, and I spent the time puttering around the coach. I applied a little silicone where it looked needed, and put Rain-X on the windshield. Bob was having a problem with his "step out" warning light, so I kibitzed on that project for a bit. Since we were in a park, I pulled out the grill and did some chicken on the barbie for dinner. We enjoyed the day.

I will say that we were somewhat disappointed with the Pioneer RV Park. During the night (what little of it there is here!), Geri heard a noise that turned out to be the coach's power management system clicking on and off. It turns out that the voltage was low, and the system drops power automatically under 104-105 volts. When I got up in the morning, I checked and it was still low, although the site next to us seemed OK. When I went to the office, the clerk tried to tell me that her electrician (50 years experience) told her that 110 volts (not 120) is the standard and anything over 100 volts is OK. I suggested that a new electrician might be in order. She said I could move to the next site but other than that, if I didn't like it I could leave. Nice customer service. It's clear that there are enough people passing through each year in both directions that they just don't care about repeat customers. I'll post an accurate review online.

Other than that, not much to report, other than Bob got a haircut.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Made it to Whitehorse

June 17, 2009
Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

Today, we made the drive from Watson Lake to Whitehorse. We made quick stops at the Continental Divide (different than the lower 48, since this marks drainage between the Pacific and Arctic Oceans), and Teslin (C$.04 off a litre on diesel - woo-hoo!) before taking a space at Pioneer RV Park, just before the cut-off for Whitehorse City Centre. We'll stay at this park for two nights.

The day was gray and the road was generally in very good shape for today's drive. We did run into one 4km stretch of road construction, and I found out after we stopped for the day that I should have put the cover on the front of the Range Rover earlier. We took a couple of rock hits, one to the windshield with a nice nick, and the other to the plastic cover on one of the headlights. We've already got a bunch of dings in the windshield, so it was planned for replacement after this trip. I suspect that the headlight cover is a standalone replacement part, although it's likely to be pricey. I'd planned to start using the cover (it's a bit of a pain, and a two-person job to put on and take off) from Whitehorse, but wanted to wait until I had a chance to wash the car first, as the less grit under the cover, the less risk of scuffing the paint. Since the RV park has a car wash bay, I had the right idea but the wrong timing.

Anyway, we're in for the night and the car is now clean, so we'll be on track from this point forward.

Click here for pictures...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

On to Watson Lake

June 16, 2009
Watson Lake, Yukon Territory

Today, we continued our push toward Alaska. We're almost half way along the Alaska Highway at this point. We left Liard Hot Springs on schedule and pressed on through some morning rain toward Watson Lake. Along the way we saw only one black bear today; a slow day for the wildlife.

We found a fuel/dump stop as we entered town, and had an unexpected bonus: C$.03/litre off for paying with cash. As it turned out, paying with cash was the only option available since the credit/debit card machines were down all over town. Apparently, when a line gets cut 800 miles to the south in Grande Prairie, all the phones go out. Sounds like a bit of redundancy is needed. Hope they have a disaster recovery/business continuity plan. Sorry, I gave that up years ago...

Anyway, once in Watson Lake, we toured the big tourist draw, the "Signpost Forest". Started by a homesick GI during the construction on the Alaska Highway in 1942, it's grown to thousands of signs. I thought about adding one, but didn't have the time (or maybe the inspiration?) to acquire/create and bring one. We had a good time looking through the ones already there, though. It would probably take several days to search through all of them to look for familiar places; we had about an hour. Maybe next time. We did find a few familiar things, though; check the pictures link at the end of this post.

After the "forest", we went to the Northern Lights Centre, a tourist rip-off if there ever was one. Instead of an informative program on the Lights, we saw a UK-produced video on astronauts (right - what's that to do with the Northern Lights?) and a locally-produced video on the Lights which was content-light (over half of the "film" was a slideshow of pictures of the Lights). Definitely not worth the C$9+tax to get in. OK music to accompany the slideshow and a good chance for a nap, but not something we'd recommend paying for...

We were also scorched at today's designated stopping point with a series of "No Camping or Overnight Parking" signs at the turnouts/rest areas. We're spoiled by the ability in British Columbia and Alberta to find a nice, free spot for the night in each town. This really burns me - how can you have a rest area where you can't rest? Not wanting to chance being rousted in the night - or worse, ticketed - we pushed on for another 20 miles and found a place that was sign-free to stop. It doesn't mean we'll be OK, I suppose, but we're in for the night at this point.

Click here for today's pictures.

Monday, June 15, 2009

More Hot Springs - Liard

June 15, 2009
Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park, BC

Today was an easy, or should I say short, drive from Racing River Crossing to Liard Hot Springs. We stopped at Muncho Lake for some photos, and had our first moose sighting along the way (no place to pull off for pictures, though). We saw more Stone Sheep along the road as well, and apparently entered buffalo country as we got closer to Liard Hot Springs, since there were two of them blocking the road outside the park entrance.

We're getting close to an area where a forest fire has been burning since about June 4th. We've met two groups of firefighters who are involved in the effort to contain the blaze. There have been periodic closures on the Alaska Highway just north of where we are now, but things have been open for the last few days. Yesterday, it got cloudy and started to rain (can't complain; we've had pretty good weather over the last week or so) and that's supposed to continue for a couple of days, so that will help the containment efforts. Like most fires in this neck of the woods, it was started by lightning and has burned over 50,000 acres. Since fires are a natural part of the wilderness, firefighting efforts focus on inhabitants and structures over putting out the fire itself.

Spring is apparently the time that the military ships people out of Alaska, since we've run across several families heading south in the process of relocating. Today, we even saw an SUV with Hawaii plates; yep, military people. You don't see many Hawaii plates in the US, much less in the BC wilderness.

These are some of the hottest springs in Canada (don't they all say that?) and our group's "water people" (Rod, Jean, Marlene, Geri) took the waters. Me, I spent the time fixing a few things around the coach and making a pot of pasta sauce. Geri made Chicken Parmesan and we ate well. Late in the evening, we saw a number of pickups and SUVs full of guys arrive just before gate closing time (10:00 PM) at the park. Being curious, Bob asked one group what was going on. "A gay pool party" was the reply. Actually, they're firefighters who just ended a 12-hour shift, taking advantage of the hot springs. The provincial government pulls forest fire crews from all over the area for situations like this. One of the groups we met was heading home to Kelowna (500-600 miles from here?) after a two-week deployment on this fire.

Tonight, we watched another movie. Since we're so far north, the combination of the low angle to the horizon and natural obstacles makes getting TV (and Internet) service "iffy" at best. We brought a selection of movies from home, and found that Bob is a huge collector of DVDs, with several hundred in board. In the last two weeks, we've watched "Gran Torino" (excellent Clint Eastwood movie), "Crank" (OK Jason Statham action flick), "Taken" (fabulous Liam Neeson new release), "Blade Runner" (weird older Harrison Ford sci-fi), and last night's "Slumdog Millionaire", which was "two thumbs up" in our coach. Since I've been to Mumbai, I had some context for the setting, which is always fun. Now, what made it Oscar material I'm not sure, but it was a good watch nonetheless.

Anyway, click here for a few pictures.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lower Alaska Highway to Racing River

June 14, 2009
Racing River Crossing, MM 400, Alaska Highway

Today's adventure brought us another 200 miles closer to Alaska, with a preview of the roads to come. All of today's route was paved except for a short section where a bridge is being replaced, and road conditions varied from good (58-60 MPH) to fair (45-50 MPH) to fair and winding (25-40 MPH). We're getting pretty good at gauging how fast we can go, or better said, how much to slow down. This is the first time we're traveling as a group of three coaches, so it takes getting used to everyone's driving style.

we're continuing to plan as we go, working out each day's finishing point and most stops in advance. Today, we knew we'd get to mile marker 390-400 and that we'd stop in the little town of Fort Nelson for fuel and dumping. Bob and I stopped for fuel while Rod went ahead to the dump station. When we got to the dump, we could see that Rod was getting ready to unhook the car since the turn was too tight, and we wouldn't be any better. In fact, it didn't even look like we'd be able to park to unhook, so we passed it by (not an emergency) and waited down the road for the others. Together again, we continued on, leaving the forested hills behind as the road tracked back into the Canadian Rockies.

We saw Stone Sheep on Stone Mountain (where else?) and ended the day near the Racing River crossing. We're about 100 metres from the bridge and walked to the river's edge from where we're parked. It really is moving quickly, and we did some rough (very rough) calculations based on debris in the water moving about 30 metres in 5 seconds which puts the flow at over 20 KPH (12+ MPH). Don't fall in!

After dinner (pot stickers), we saw a white-tailed deer across the road and got a few pictures before it disappeared back into the brush.

Tomorrow, we have a short driving day planned, only about 77 miles to Liard Hot Springs. We're expecting to cross into Alaska by next weekend.

Click here for pictures from today.

Day one on the Alaska Highway

June 13, 2009
Bucking Horse River, MM175 - Alaska Highway

Today was a relatively short driving day, 175 miles up the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek. We stopped for the night at the Bucking Horse River Lodge.

Our day started on a confusing note. Since Rod/Jean and Bob/Marlene were staying at the Wal-Mart and we were in a park, we tried to coordinate a meeting point, settling on the Petro-Canada Card-Lock where I planned to fuel up. Well, my card wouldn't work there, so we backtracked into town and caught up with the others at a fuel station there. Once we were all dumped and fueled, we headed north, happy to finally be on the Alaska Highway.

Our first stop was Kiskatinaw Bridge, the only original timber bridge still in use on the Alaska Highway, It's unique in that it's actually curved about 15 degrees along its 531' span. Amazing the things that were built without today's power tools. Of course, as soon as we pulled up to the bridge we noticed the "20 T Limit" signs - right after we started to cross the bridge with a total weight of ~51,000 pounds - and Bob/Marlene in front of us with another ~36,000. Oops. Fortunately, we made it across fine, other than triggering Geri's fear of bridges.

After some photos, we continued north, soon crossing the Peace River Bridge near Fort St. John, one of Geri's least favorite types of bridge (open metal decking). She survived both crossings none the worse for wear, thankfully. Just before the bridge, there is a long downgrade of 7-10% that required trucks to gear down. We arrived at just the wrong moment, pulling in behind gasoline tanker that crept down the hill at 15-18 MPH. We had a heck of a time going as slow as him without using the service brakes, which is a no-no on a long grade (heat buildup will cause brake fade/failure). I ended up in 1st gear with the Jake Brake on for part of the time, which is really slow. We finally got to a passing zone (don't see many of those going downhill) and were able to get by.

We did stop for supplies at a Safeway, filling in the gaps for the next few days. Further on, we passed a 30' statue of a lumberjack that looked suspiciously like the one that used to stand outside a local tire shop where we lived in Berlin, NJ. Do you suppose he moved?

We stopped at Shepherd's Inn for lunch, picking up some fresh-baked rye bread and cinnamon rolls, and some home-made ice cream to go. We then traveled on to Bucking Horse River Lodge, our planned overnight stop. They have a large parking area and told us it was OK to stay, although I suspect that expectations were that we'd eat in their restaurant. Since the menu was slim but pricey and the dining room crusty, we passed on that, making stuffed pork chops (thanks to Marlene for the stuffing) with sautéed potatoes and carrots. After dinner, we had a "planning meeting" to figure out tomorrow's schedule, and Geri made a nice dessert for everyone with fresh fruit and the ice cream from Shepherd's Inn. It was an excellent way to wrap up the day.

Click here for pictures.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Kinuseo Falls

June 12, 2009
Kinuseo Falls, Monkman Provincial Park, BC

Today, Rod, Bob, and I made the interesting trip from our spot in Dawson Creek to Kinuseo Falls and back. This falls is higher (although not quite as mighty) as Niagara but completely the opposite in terms of location. If you've ever been to Niagara Falls (US and/or Canadian Side), you know that it's a popular tourist destination. Kinuseo - not so much. First, you drive 98km from Dawson Creek to Tumbler Ridge, a coal-mining town of about 4,000 people (now that the mines are open again); we saw about 10 other vehicles on this route. Then you drive 40km on a gravel road that's full of potholes and gets worse as you go along until you get to Monkman Provincial Park (you know you're there because of the sign that says so, nothing else). We saw one vehicle pass us in the other direction on this leg. Then you pull up to a parking area with two pits, four picnic tables and a trash can with a sign that says "take your own trash back out with you". The lot was empty when we arrived, although three other groups showed up as we were leaving. Very isolated.

The reward for all this? You get to stand next to the Murray River (not to be confused with the famous one in Australia, or even the one on PEI) as it cascades 60 metres over a cliff in a wonderful display. There are three viewing points, of which we sampled two. The first is the top of the falls, a short flat hike of less than 200 metres to a viewing platform. Nice, but you can only see (and feel) the water going over, not the full falls. Next we hiked the 250 metre trail to the "upper overlook. I'm no hiking expert, but I think we may have experienced 250 metres of elevation gain, not distance - it was a steep trail. The view from there was quite spectacular and many photos were taken. Across the river, the cliffs have been eroded to show the results of the volcanic uplifting that created this area's topography. Many layers are standing almost upright, and some were even curled into a circle by the force. We looked at the trail to the remaining viewpoint, but decided that the 1.25km walk to the river level below (starting out paradoxically with more climbing), might not be the best for us to tackle. So, back to the Rover and back to Dawson Creek we went, getting back around 4 PM. A full and satisfying day.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Grande Prairie to Dawson Creek

June 11, 2009
Dawson Creek, BC

We continued our string of relatively easy drives, with the short trip from Grande Prairie to Dawson Creek. Since we needed to do lots of laundry and a bit of coach cleaning, and nobody else did, we stayed at a local campground while Rod/Jean and Bob/Marlene stopped at the Wal-Mart in town.

Dawson Creek is recognized as the "start of the Alaska Highway", with the requisite "Mile Zero" marker as a needed photo opp. Actually, there are three markers - "original", "official", and "historic". Can't have enough markers, right?

The Alaska Highway (then called the Alcan) was built in 1942 during World War II in order to protect North America from Japanese invasion. In fact, Japan did take several of the Aleutian Islands early in the war, and a significant portion of the rationale for the construction of the road (hard to call a 60' wide dirt road a "highway" by today's standards) was to get something in the "done column" in the mind of the general public, as well as providing a support line for aircraft deployed in the far Northwest.

After we got set up, Geri tackled the cleaning (I helped a little, but she did a week's worth of cleaning today") and laundry. In the afternoon, I ventured into town to join the rest of our happy band in viewing and recording the sights. We joked that we could make a killing by setting up a booth to take tourists' pictures. Click here for ours.

Later, while Rod and Bob visited another historic site, Jean and Marlene visited with Geri and the pups. Merlin was his "normal" friendly self (in a good way).

More from Dawson Creek tomorrow...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hinton to Grande Prairie

June 10, 2009
Grande Prairie, AB

Today, we were back on the trail north. The day's 5-hour drive north to Grande Prairie was uneventful, and even a little tame as the scenery changed from the National Parks' snow-capped mountains to rolling forest land and eventually to the northern plains (it is Grande Prairie, after all). Today, we saw a few more white-tailed deer, including the first road kill we've seen since leaving the States.

We got a few of the only spots left at the local Wal-Mart and made some decisions on next steps in the travel plan at Happy Hour. We're headed for Dawson Creek, the beginning of the Alaska Highway, tomorrow. We'll stay two nights, allowing us to see the town (it's a pretty small town) and make a day trip to Kinuseo Falls in Monkman Provincial Park (click here for more info) before embarking on the next phase of the trip. We found out today that a portion of the Alaska Highway north of Fort Nelson, BC, is closed due to a forest fire in the area, so we'll have to play it by ear on a departure date from Dawson Creek. News reports call for the highway to reopen tomorrow (Thursday), but who knows? Here's hoping for the best...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Jasper to Hinton - Leaving the Parks

June 9, 2009
Hinton, AB

Today was like a whole different season - sunny and warm. What snow? A distant memory...

We didn't put on too many miles today, making the short (<60 miles) trip from Jasper to Hinton, picking up TC-16 right in Jasper. We planned it that way so we could stop at Miette Hot Springs, which is "just off" the TC-16. In this case, "just off" meant about 10 miles of narrow, winding road, averaging 15-20 MPH in the coaches. It was well worth it, though, as Rod, Jean, Marlene, and Geri enjoyed a soak in the pools fed from the hottest natural springs in Canada. Since we're not "water people", Bob and I puttered around with various tasks around the coaches. Later, we walked the .6km round trip on the 200m trail (we still don't understand the math) to the source, checking out a group of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep ewes on the way. As we drove back to TC-16, we saw another trio of bears (I'm really trying to avoid saying "the three bears") crossing the road; as the cubs scampered into the brush, Momma gave us the evil eye until I blew the horn, then she followed.

Once back on the TC-16, it was a short drive to Hinton, where we staked out nice spots at the Wal-Mart/Safeway among the 15 other RVs parked there for the night. We whipped up a batch of sautéed hot dogs and potatoes with onions and peppers - a quick and one-skillet meal. Even though it was still light out at 11:00 PM, we called it an "early night".

Click here for more pictures.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Icefields to Jasper

June 8, 2009
Whistlers Campground, Jasper NP, AB

What a day! Remember the nice snow from yesterday afternoon? Well, it made for a beautiful sight in the morning, covering the trees and the glacier across the road with a fresh blanket of white. Only one problem: it was a frozen mess on top of the slides, which we should have brought in the night before. It wasn't a huge problem, as a couple of sweeps with a borrowed broom (thanks, Bob & Marlene!) and just a little morning sunshine got things clean enough that we were able to put the slides in and hit the road pretty close to our scheduled departure.

While we waited for things to melt, we spent a few minutes talking with a nice couple from the Netherlands who were touring western Canada in a small van camper. Like last year, the somewhat favorable exchange rates are bringing a lot of Europeans to North America on holiday, and the RV rental outfits are doing a landslide business.

As we continued along PH-93 (Icefields Parkway), we stopped at Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls for pictures, then got settled in Whistlers Campground (no Wal-Marts in the National Parks!). Once hooked up, we piled into the cars and headed off for a drive to Maligne Lake. The side road to the lake (48 km) was a twisty two-lane, passing Medicine Lake before getting to Maligne Lake at the end. Near Medicine Lake, we encountered an elk grazing on the side of the road, and then a group of bears (Momma and two cubs) in a meadow near the lake. I got out the 70-200mm lens with the 2x extender to get the long distance shots. Similar to Yellowstone, you can tell when there's wildlife by the number of cars parked dangerously along the side of the road.

Once we were at the lake, we spotted a White-tailed deer and a large group of rainbow trout swimming in the stream that exits the lake. After we got a few pictures, we found out that it was a spawning ritual. Felt like voyeurs after that...

Today's pictures: click here.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Columbia Icefields and Athabasca Glacier

June 7, 2009
Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, AB

Today's travel took us from Banff, along TC-1 (Trans-Canada 1), then PH-93 (Provincial Highway 93) toward the town of Jasper, located in the National Park of the same name. Just after we passed from Banff NP to Jasper NP, we stopped at the Columbia Icefields. We ended up staying the night, as it was getting late after we took the bus tour out onto Athabasca Glacier. It was about a 1.5 hour tour, with a shuttle bus that took us up the side of the mountain to the side of the glacier, then a "sno-cat" that drove about 1 km out onto the glacier itself. With a 32% slope down to the ice, then a steep slope up the mountain, it was quite a machine.

In the late afternoon, the snow flurries changed to squalls and then a steadier wet snow, which was quite nice to watch from the warmth of the coach.

Click here for pictures and commentary from today.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Touring the Banff area

June 6, 2009
Banff, AB

Today, we woke up to a light coating of wet snow on the ground. Ouch! It's June, for crying out loud. Not wanting to let it get in the way of seeing the area, we took a drive to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. We started with a stop at Lake Minnewanka, where we had a few photo opps. On the way back to Banff, we stopped at Johnson Canyon for an easy walk up to the lower waterfall (we passed on the extra 2.7 km hike to the upper falls - I think we've figured out the difference between a "walk" and a "hike").

It's beautiful country here, although the day started out a bit cloudy and blustery. We've got the "dress in layers" thing down. Wildlife sightings have included elk and deer, and a potentially rapid chipmunk at Johnson Canyon. Click here for pictures.

Back at the camp, Geri did some laundry and made dog food - gotta mix in the everyday stuff with the wonderful surroundings.

I'm getting behind on the blog since the days are so active and Internet access is becoming spotty, so I'll probably focus more on posting pictures with captions and put fewer words in the blog for a bit. I'm still having trouble posting pictures to the blog, so I apologize in advance for using links to albums.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Back in Banff

June 5, 2009
Banff, AB

Today was a travel day. It actually started out very early, as the rains came - hard - in the middle of the night. After a week of nice days, what did we expect? We got an early start, around 8:30 AM, stopped at the local free dump station, and headed back toward Calgary, bypassing the city to the north. Back on the TC-1, we were soon in Canmore (fuel stop) and then back in Banff, where we stayed at the Tunnel Mountain campground where we stayed last weekend. This time, we actually paid the park fee (C$140 for the annual fee for Geri and I - you need to buy an annual pass if you're going to be in the parks for more than 4 days; nice ratio) and got full service sites. Once we arrived, it started to rain, but that didn't stop the small band of elk that were grazing right outside our coach. We made a quick trip into the town of Banff, with stops at the Visitor's Centre for information, and a tour of the overlooks for the Bow River Falls in town.

Click here for pictures.

Suitably cold and wet, we retreated to the coaches for the evening. Geri had done all the prep work for fajitas, and we dined well. Of course, as we started to make dinner, it started to flurry (yeah, snow) outside. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Welcome to Drumheller

June 4, 2009
Drumheller, AB

The drive to Drumheller from the western suburbs of Calgary was quite nice. We were able to dry camp at the local Wal-Mart (they allow parking for 72 hours) by mid-afternoon, and were able to explore the town for a day and a half.

On Wednesday afternoon, we visited a couple of local tourist spots: the suspension bridge, the "hoodoos", and the remains of a coal mine. This country was heavily mined for coal in the early-to-mid 20th Century, and the suspension bridge was used to transport miners across the Red Deer River, the hoodoos show the geology of the area and the veins of coal, and the Atlas Mine was, well, a coal mine. It was a nice, sunny, warm afternoon, even on the warm side with temperatures right around 80F. Then we watched a movie on loan from Bob, Gran Torino with Clint Eastwood - excellent film.

Today, we had a full day to explore. We started at the "world's largest dinosaur" - not a real one but the people who do these "world's largest" don't really care. For C$3, you can go to the top and take pictures like from the Statue of Liberty. Uh, no. From there, we headed for the Tyrell Museum, one of the best repositories for fossils in Canada. We finished up the morning touring the exhibits, stopped in town for a slice of pizza and some grocery shopping, and were able to walk the pups before heading out in the afternoon. Then, we drove the winding road to the small town of Wayne (across 11 one-lane bridges - supposedly a Guinness record for a short road) and the Last Chance Saloon. I had a beer (you can't go to a saloon without getting one) and we poked around their junk collection for a bit. Then, we drove to the other end of town and took in the view from Horseshow Canyon. Nice, but perhaps they shouldn't close up the Grand Canyon just yet. Actually, it looked a bit like a links course, with sand traps, greens, and lots of rough.

We got back to the coaches and walked the pups before "Happy Hour at the Reas". After cheese and crackers, nuts, and other snacks, we really didn't feel like making the fajitas we'd planned. I spent the evening reviewing, culling, and reformatting pictures. Sorry about not incorporating pictures, but Blogger isn't cooperating with the satellite connection right now.

Click here for some pictures...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Meeting Point

June 3, 2009
Calgary, AB

On Monday, we made the short trip east from Banff to the home of John and Kristine Fraser, just on the west side of Calgary, not far off TC-1. We "met" initially online on the Monaco Coach Yahoo Groups, and met "live" at some of the rallies over the years and Quartzsite in 2007. Since the Bahnsons (Rod and Jean) and Reas (Bob and Marlene) were already planning to meet there to start the trip north, we asked if we could "tag along".

We had a great visit. John and Kristine have a wonderful property, and the dogs were able to get their exercise. On Monday night, the ladies made a Costco run, so Geri picked up a whole beef tenderloin that was turned into Filet Mignon pretty quickly. Potatoes were baked and mushrooms sauteed, pasta salad and veggies were whipped up, and the Jello with fresh strawberries for dessert was just what we needed to "fill in the cracks".

On Tuesday while most people went off for touristy things, I spent the day fussing with the furnace. It started showing a "low coolant" fault intermittently last week. The nice thing about temporary problems is that they have a way of becoming permanent. The nice thing about this one is that there's an easy bypass for the float switch in the tank when it fails. I added the right jumper wire to the control board and the fault cleared. Before you do that, you need to make sure you actually don't have low coolant in the boiler, of course (we didn't) - and that's when the trouble really started. The boiler uses a standard automotive radiator cap, and after I checked the tank level it wouldn't seal. It's hard to get to, buried in one of the bays, and tough to get leverage to push and turn the cap at the same time. I finally got it off, and John was kind enough to take me to the local auto parts store for a replacement. 2 minutes later, all fixed. Day shot, but all fixed.

Merlin was a bit protective (OK, he was a downright pain in the you-know-where) with their Rottie, Elvis. Elvis was very patient, and within a day or so, he and Elvis were getting along - as long as there weren't any humans he needed to protect.

Tuesday night, we carpooled to a local Chinese restaurant where we had the "special dinner for eight", which meant enough food (only one substitution, please) for about 12 people. Everything was tasty and there were still two "people bags" to go home.

Today, we're heading to a small town called Drumheller, about two hours east of Calgary. I know, we're supposed to be heading north, but this place has some touristy stuff that was calling. More later...