"North to Alaska"
Month of June 2009
Monday, June 1, 2009
It was cold and overcast this morning. We were surprised that it was so cold we had to wear long pants. We had thought of staying here two nights, but we dislike it too much. It is obvious that all they want you to do is gamble. If they had good WiFi we probably would stay another night.
Railroad officials named Havre after the French city Le Havre, but its citizens gave it a different pronunciation: HAV-er. It is best described as the rolling plains meet the Bear Paw Mountains. “Havre Beneath the Streets” is a guided walking tour through the city’s historical underground. Many of the original buildings built in 1904 are now beneath the city streets: a Chinese laundry; post office; bordello; meat market; bakery; opium den; barber shop and saloon. It sounds like something we would enjoy doing, but we dislike this campground so much we won’t stay another night. Give me a nice, quiet WMSC any day.
We were on the road shortly after 8:00 a.m. This town is bigger than we realized. The population is 9,621 - around here that is a big city. The downtown has several stoplights and a casino on every corner. We saw a WMSC and stopped in. This store is new and is not in our Wal-Mart Locator book. Had we known about it, we would not have stayed at the campground. We asked and they DO allow overnighters. In fact, there were a couple of travel trailers in the parking lot. We passed the Beaver Creek Golf Course and Restaurant on the way out of town. Flat, flat, flat – this really is Big Sky Country.
Blackie’s Tavern is surrounded by hayfields and we totally missed Fresno, MT. We drove through Kremlin – population 126 – and saw a red, white and blue sign: Kremlin, U.S.A. Style. There was a row of short, wide metal silos. We tried to count them but there were too many. We think there are at least fifty silos all lined up in a row.
Gildford – population 185 - was a station on the Great Northern High Line named for Guildford, England. Modern Gildford is a grain marketing town for northern plains farmers who raise excellent spring wheat.
Hingham has the Bar & RV and all the side streets in town are dirt. In its heyday many of the businesses were positioned around the town park giving it the nickname "The Town on the Square". A landmark of Hingham is the water tower built in 1948.
Rudyard has a sign: 596 people and 1 sorehead. Interestingly, these towns are all spaced exactly six miles apart. In Inverness – population 103 - I took this picture of a small church – Sacred Heart.
We drove for miles and miles and the only thing we saw other than the fields were trains. We have been hearing trains for the past couple of nights. For some reason, noises that my brain understands don’t bother me or keep me awake. I am not a sound sleeper, but if I can sleep with Al snoring at a wallpaper-peeling pitch, I can deal with a train wailing by. Somehow, when I’m asleep my brain processes the sound and tells me I don’t need to wake up. When I was very young and first married, we lived in an apartment with the bedroom not twenty feet from train tracks. The first night I was startled to hear a train come through leaning on the horn for about a mile at 11:30 p.m. It came through every night at the same time but never bothered me again.
We passed through Joplin, “Home of the Rams”. We guess that means it has a high school. In the census of 2000 the population was 210. Today the population is 184.
The Sweet Grass Hills are several miles to our right. There are three distinct buttes with scattered grassy hills connecting them. They run for about 50 miles east to west, between Harve to Shelby. They hold special meaning to the Blackfeet Indians and to other northern plains tribes. According to legend, the creator Napi fashioned the hills out of rocks after making the Rocky Mountains. Napi liked them so much they became his favorite resting place. Rising up abruptly from the plains, they served as a vantage point for game and a lookout for enemies. To the Blackfeet, they hold a deep cultural significance as a spiritual refuge and teenage boys made vision quests to help guide them into adulthood. The hills rise about 3,000’ above the plains and can be seen for many, many miles.
Chester is a county seat and has a population of 871. We saw a train carrying intermodal boxes. It has a nice little rest stop with restrooms, picnic tables and an RV dump. We took pictures. Today was another heavy wind day and this rest stop was a nice rest for Al’s shoulders.
We were driving along beside raised train tracks and I noticed holes in the side. They are large enough for a sizable animal. I tried to take pictures but we were driving past them too fast. Al seldom drives faster than 55 mph, mostly because we get better mileage that way. I can’t tell you how many semis and RVs pass us. He mentioned today that with the wind we will probably not get good mileage. The wind today has been constant with occasional heavy gusts. He is glad this will be a short day.
We passed a gully piled full with tumbleweeds – a natural place for them to collect. Lothair is surrounded by promising oil and gas fields. A sign: “North Bootlegger Recreational Area. Then there is Galata, population 66. Devon, too, has a population of 66. We saw our first Amtrak passenger train and waved – the passengers waved back.
We drove through Dunkirk, but you will have to go to this link to really appreciate it. http://www.rescuemarketing.com/blog/2007/07/02/lessons-from-dunkirk-montana-population-two/ . This is someone else’s blog but I think it is funny and we wish we had read it before driving through Dunkirk.
Another Historic Marker: Baker Massacre. "On January 23, 1870, soldiers commanded by Colonel Eugene Baker killed 173 Blackfeet Indians in a surprise attack on Heavy Runner’s camp near here on the Marias River. The strike was in retaliation for the killing of Malcolm Clarke at his ranch near Helena in 1869. A man of peace, Heavy Runner had no quarrel with the U.S. Army. His people did not participate in Clarke’s killing nor were they hiding the perpetrators of the crime. Waving his good conduct papers and medals, Heavy Runner was the first casualty of the Baker Massacre that cold January morning. With most of the men away hunting in the Sweet Grass Hills, the soldiers fired into the lodges where women, children and elderly slept. The soldiers took more than 100 prisoners, but once they realized many were infected with small pox, released them with no food, clothing or shelter in subzero weather. Many refugees froze or starved to death seeking shelter in nearby camps or at Fort Benton. Ironically, the soldiers were in pursuit of a hostile band led by Mountain Chief, who was camped several miles downstream at the time of the attack. The Baker Massacre profoundly impacted the Blackfeet people and is very much alive in tribal memory."
Stories like that affect us deeply and we drove in silence for a while.
We had been slowly climbing in elevation and as we entered Shelby we dropped down 135’ on a steep grade. Shelby, population 3,417, is one of only three locations in the United States which have an antipode (land directly opposite them on the other side of the Earth). Traveling from Shelby through the center of the earth, one would arrive in the Kerguelen Islands.
Shelby was named after Peter Shelby, general manager of the Montana-Central Railroad. In 1891 the Great Northern was making its way to Marias Pass when the builders threw a box car from the train and called it a station. Shelby himself is believed to have said that Shelby wouldn't amount to much. He was wrong; Shelby grew into a trade and reload center for both truck and train traffic. With both freight and passenger operations, the Port of Northern Montana in Shelby has become the region’s premier rail-truck transfer center.
We gassed up before driving to the Lewis and Clark RV Park. Today was a short day because Al had chosen this campground for the sole reason that it offered WiFi. But when we checked in, the owner immediately started to back-pedal, saying some people could get it and some couldn’t. He blamed the computers and the people who run them, but took no responsibility himself. We knew he was lying. He is, without question, the most untrustworthy, misogynistic, ill-mannered man I have met in years. When Al said he had worked in communications for forty-five years, this idiot said, “Yeah, I’ve heard that before”. He was very dismissive.
He offered a discount if we paid in cash – I’m sure he doesn’t’ pay taxes on these transactions – and when Al went out to get our checkbook the idiot sneered and asked me if we were going to Alaska with a caravan because I was afraid to go alone. Hello? No matter what we said, he was negative. He is a very tiny little man – although physically fat and filthy (his jumpsuit looked like he had been rolling around in a grease pit) – living in a tiny world with a tiny brain and is too dumb to realize he is dumb. Nothing that came out of his mouth made sense. I really, really pity his wife. If you are traveling to Alaska, don’t stay here – you can’t trust him. I don’t usually judge people, but this man is really nasty. I seriously think he should be tested for Alzheimer’s.
We were right – our site is near the so-called antenna, but we can’t get WiFi. We wasted money staying here and should have stayed at the Wal-Mart. In a call to Lethridge, Alberta, the woman at that campground was honest and told us WiFi is very limited. We appreciate that honesty.
Al was on his ham radio and I was writing on my computer when Maddy came over and settled herself in the very small space between me and the box beside me. I love it when she is so affectionate. I petted her, she squeaked an acknowledgement of my existence and purred herself to sleep.
Total miles for the day: 107.1. Elevation: 3,335’.
Total miles for the trip: 2,781.4. Gas in Shelby, MT: $ 2.49.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Today was much, much warmer than yesterday and we both dressed in shorts. Al had a conversation with another RVer on his way to Alaska. This was his first time but his father has been there ten times. I don’t know how old his father is, but the son is already retired. He is driving a big rig but said they are new to RVing and bought it used. Al noticed his TV antenna was bent up. This guy didn’t know you are supposed to line up the “points” on your antenna before laying it down. That would explain the bent antenna. That is also why it is better to buy an RV from a reputable dealer because they will run through everything you need to know - EVERYTHING. Some other RVers are on their way to Edmondton, AB, but we think they live there.
We were only fifteen miles from the Canadian border. We had been told what we could and couldn’t take into Canada and were careful to comply. We drove up to the window, handed over our passports and answered the questions – Why are you visiting Canada? How long will you be staying? Have you ever visited before? How long ago? Are you carrying firearms, alcohol or anything to sell? The woman in the window wore a bullet-proof vest and had a firearm on one side and a canister of something on the other (mace or pepper spray). We had been prepared to have our rig gone over with a fine-toothe comb and were surprised when she handed over our passports and told us to just drive on and not go into the area for a search. I guess we don’t fit any negative profile. The whole thing was a breeze. The crossing was in Sweet Grass, MT, US/Coutts, Alberta, CA, one of the busiest crossings in the west. We think perhaps the Alaska RV Tours bumper sticker on our windshield helped.
The drive continued through high plains. There was some road construction and the women holding the stop/slow signs wore jumpsuits in a psychedelic, eye-hurting limey yellow with orange stripes. The road workers wore orange vests with yellow stripes and they all wore orange ball caps. They all would be hard to miss. We continued to see railroad tracks, silos and farm machines. Then the road opened up and it could have been any Interstate anywhere in the US.
Milk River, AB, is named after the Milk River. It was incorporated in 1916 and declared a town in 1956. Its motto, "Under Eight Flags", refers to the area having been under the flags of seven governments and the Hudson Bay Company. Including HBC (1818-1869), the eight flags are France (1682-1762), the Spanish Empire (1762-1800), the French Republic (1800-1803), the United States (1803-1818), the British Empire (1869-1945), the Canadian Red Ensign (1945-1965), and the current Canadian Maple Leaf (1965-present).
We passed a sign to Warner, home to the Warner Hockey School, one of the premier girls' hockey schools in Canada, and the Devil's Coulee Dinosaur Heritage Museum. New Dayton is known for its pork sausage. Rest stops are called Roadside Turnouts. In Stirling we passed the Sunshine Seed Cleaning Plant and a herd of black cows. One cow has a white face. Does the rest of the herd think she’s different – or even notice? A pickup truck was stirring up a dust cloud as he raced along a dirt frontage road. Lambs and rabbits are for sale.
Lethbridge has a rich history. Before the 19th century, Lethbridge was known by various tribes as (translated) “steep banks”, “painted rock”, “where we slaughtered the Cree”, “coal”, “black/rocks” and “digging coal”. After the US Army stopped alcohol trading with the Blackfeet Nation in Montana in 1869, traders started a whiskey trading post at Fort Hamilton, near the future site of Lethbridge. The post's nickname became Fort Whoop-Up. The whiskey trade led to the Cypress Hills massacre of many native Assiniboine in 1873. The North-West Mounted Police, sent to stop the trade and establish order, arrived at Fort Whoop-Up on October 9, 1874. They managed the post for the next 12 years.
Up until WW I, Lethbridge had many collieries (coal mines), producing up to 300 tonnes (metric tons) a day. After the war, increasing oil and natural gas production gradually replaced coal production, and the last mine in Lethbridge closed in 1957. Today, Lethbridge has a population of 83,960 and more than a dozen golf courses. We took the truck route around the city and passed a large flour mill.
We saw a sign to Coalhurst and old railroad ties piled beside railroad tracks in several places. I am having some trouble reading the map because Alberta is so large that the distances on the map are confusing. An inch on a map in a small state could be 14 miles. An inch on a map in Alberta is more than 38 kilometers. Speed signs are in kilometers and it looks odd to see a speed sign for 110 kph – about 68 mph. North of Lethbridge, we picked up Rte 32 and experienced extreme wind gusts.
We passed a huge field with a man standing in the middle, digging with a shovel. In Barons – population 284 – several railroad workers and more than a dozen high-rail vehicles were working on the tracks near a grain elevator. A high-rail vehicle is a self-propelled vehicle that can be legally used on both roads and rails - combining the words “highway” and “rail”. The problem by the grain elevator must be serious to command so many workers. That elevator may be the lifeblood of the town. We passed a sign for Polled Herefords – polled means hornless.
In Carmangay – population 336 – we saw the Three Tipi Ring Campground and drove into it. Carmangay gets its name from C.S. Carman – who bought 1,500 acres to grow wheat in 1904 – and his wife, Gertrude Gay. This archeological site documents the existence of Clovis people as far back as 11,000 years in this area, and today has picnic tables, cast iron grills, restrooms and signs explaining the name.
“Nine circles of stone are present in the grassy field along the Little Bow River just north of Carmangay. These stones were used by Native Albertans to hold down the edges of their conical skin tents or tipis. Archaeologists call these circles "tipi rings." Excavation conducted at this tipi ring site by qualified archaeologists revealed only a few broken tools, waste stone from tool manufacture, and a few small scraps of buffalo bone. A single small triangular projectile point was discovered. This style represents an arrowhead and indicates that the site was occupied sometime between 200 – 1700 A.D.
The tipi of the Plains Indians was a brilliant response to the housing needs of a mobile people. A three or four pole framework was erected, and other poles were placed against this framework. A covering of buffalo skins was raised and the loose poles were then spread to tighten the cover. Two flaps or "ears" at the top of the tipi could be oriented to draw smoke from the fireplace out of the lodge, or to cover the smoke hole in bad weather. The lower edge of the tipi was held down by large stones. When camp was moved, the stones remained and now mark the place where the tipi had been.
Like any house, the tipi had different areas for sleeping, cooking, and other tasks. There were areas for use by the women and children, and other areas for the men. Beds were located along the sides and rear of the tipi. Much of the everyday activity occurred between the central fireplace and the door while the back of the lodge often had a sacred alter.
The Plains Indians moved regularly to harvest the resources of the land. Winter was spent in a sheltered river valley where wood and water were available. During warm weather, the people were very mobile, seeking buffalo for food and harvesting plants and berries. Their summer campsites were occupied just for short periods and only a very few broken and discarded tools, and circles of stone, were left behind.”
We decided to have lunch and parked in the shade of a tree. We opened the windows and the bird sounds had Maddy glued to the screens. We walked around and read the signs that basically said the above and walked down by the river to see the rings. We had to watch where we walked because there are sizable holes burrowed into the ground. We are not sure if the word “campground” means one can literally camp here. It is an absolutely delightful place and looks well used. Unfortunately, the signs are in deplorable condition and the grills and tables need replacing.
During the time we were there two separate men drove into the park to use the restroom. The first was clean cut, wearing a black suit and tie. The second was very odd – he drove in, locked his car and used the restroom. When we came out he looked around suspiciously before he unlocked his car. He also turned around to leave the way he came in rather than pass by us. There were no signs of life to be seen in any direction other than the Roo. It was very strange and suspicious behavior. We took Maddy outside for a while and almost hated to leave such a lovely setting.
Back on the road…We passed a sign: Welcome to the Village of Champion. The population is 364. We were driving along a stretch of road with two lanes and a breakdown lane on each side. We could not believe what we saw coming at us…a whole house. Al pulled the Roo as far over as he could into the breakdown lane and the truck pulling the house managed to get by. The truck had a wide-load car in front and in back, but we think they were all going far too fast for that load. If there hadn’t been a breakdown lane neither one of us could have passed. That house was at least the width of a double-wide.
Vulcan had a population of 1,940 in 2006. Wheat, canola and barley are the main crops grown in this area. The town was named by a surveyor for the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1915 after the Roman God of Fire - Vulcan. Originally all the streets of the new town of Vulcan were named after gods and goddesses of the classical world.
The town's name has brought some attention that has helped it become a tourist attraction. In the Star Trek television and feature film series it is the name of the fictional home world of the alien Vulcans. Capitalizing on this, the town has built a Star Trek-themed tourist center that provides tourist information, displays Star Trek memorabilia, and where visitors participate in The Vulcan Space Adventure virtual reality game. Nearby, a replica of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek V has been mounted on a pedestal which includes writing from Trek alien languages like Klingon. The town has also created space-themed murals and signs, and hosts an annual community-wide Star Trek convention known as VulCON: Spock Days/Galaxyfest. This convention attracts hundreds of Star Trek fans from around the world. All this is off the highway but we weren’t interested in stopping.
We drove through more wheat fields and saw more stop/slow signs carried by women in yellow and orange jumpsuits. We saw three grain elevators in Mossleigh and passed a. sign: Alpacas Plus. We passed by some boxes and weren’t sure what we were looking at…they looked like small, colorful beehives. Each one was about half the size of a normal beehive and painted a single, primary color; red; green; blue and yellow.
We drove over the Bow River into Carseland. The name derives from a Scottish term for “lowland”. We passed the Speargrass Golf Course - a golfing community – and Kenwynn Farms. We passed piles of telephone poles, a huge feedlot and Bruce Farms.
Cheadle was established in 1905. The community has access to High Speed internet though it is not a traditional Cable or ADSL connection. It comes through a special high-speed wireless service provided to the area. No existing Cable TV provider currently services the Cheadle area, however basic 4 channel UHF antenna TV is available. Many residents usually access their standard television or HDTV through satellite. Telephone service is provided but VOIP service can be utilized through the high-speed internet connection.
We turned west on the Trans-Canada Highway. There was a grass strip airport and the High Point Cattle Co. Chestermere Lake is a man-made reservoir in Chestermere. The phrase "Chestermere Lake" is actually inaccurate because "mere" means lake in Old English, and "Chester" is an Old English word derived from the Latin for a defensive fort and means "Castle". This would make "Chestermere Lake" translate to "Lake Castle Lake".
There is a LOT of road construction going on in Calgary and several times we were at a dead stop. There are also several stoplights. A license plate: TOY4JR. A young man with long black hair and wearing baggy pants struggled with an electric lawnmower. There was a sign on the grass and he kept working around it flipping the cord over his shoulder. It would have been easier to just move the sign for a few minutes.
A woman distracted on her cell phone was being pulled erratically down the sidewalk by a tiny Boston Terrier. The Be R Guest Café is actually a Chinese restaurant. A very old woman wearing a face mask over her mouth and nose passed us several times…on foot. It was frustratingly slow. This Trans-Canada Highway took us right through the city with all its road construction mess. We think they are trying to widen the street down the middle but it would make more sense to build a circumferential route around the city.
We passed the Shagnappi Trail. Shaganappi is a word of Cree origin meaning "rawhide thong or lacing". Red River ox carts were held together by bison hide lacings known as shaganappi. As we drove over the Bow River four young men were removing kayaks from the roof of a car. We finally got back onto real highway again and drove past the ski jump towers in Canada Olympic Park. We were never so happy to arrive at a campground as we were here, the West Calgary Campground. We paid for two nights.
Total miles for the day: 250.0. Elevation: 3,768’.
Total miles for the trip: 3,031.4.
Click here to view the latest progress map.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
We woke up to birds singing and very warm weather. We both worked on the web site for a few hours in the morning and then went out to find a bank. The first one we found, CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce), was in a state of flux. We aren’t sure what was going on, but the carpet had been torn up and the main door was closed off. All the women working in the bank wore maroon golf shirts with the bank logo, jeans and very high spike heels. It was a rather strange look.
We asked to exchange some cash and got our first jolt. We had gotten an e-mail from Spike in April telling us that the exchange was good and one dollar US was good for about $1.22 Canadian. The economy has dropped and today we only got $1.09 for each dollar. However, the prices have not changed in CA and everything is very expensive. The $5 Subway sandwich in the US costs $6 in CA. That makes it far more expensive than in the US - it is the equivalent of paying $5.52 US.
Almost next door to the bank was a restaurant, Joey Tomato’s Mediterranean Grill. We thought it might be something along the lines of an Olive Garden. Wrong! It was very upscale with cushy seats and subdued colors. Waitresses all wore what we used to call cocktail dresses. Evidently they can wear anything they want as long as it is black, low on the top and high on the bottom. They teeter around on spike heels and make sure they lean over when serving the tables. They all seem to try to outdo each other in the sex department. I had soup and salad that was very good but Al had a burger and fries that couldn’t measure up to McDonald’s. With tax and tip our check was almost $40. Outrageous!
We stopped into the Safeway liquor store and got another jolt – every item in the store is double or triple the cost that it is in the US. No wonder they don’t want you to bring any alcohol over the border – they want to sock it to you here. It’s enough to make a drunk go sober. A six-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade in FL is about $7 - $1.17 each. Here, a four-pack is $13 - $3.25 each. Even box wine is more than double. We don’t buy beer or hard liquor so we don’t know those prices, but the prices we did see were out-of-sight. Needless to say, we bought nothing.
On the way back to the campground we passed a really bad accident. It looked like they had to use the jaws-of-life to remove the top of the car.
When we got back to the Roo…Al worked on removing bugs from the windshield and a woman pushing a baby carriage stopped by to talk to him. She and her husband have a Bounder too, are originally from Louisiana, have a teenage son, an 8-month old daughter, and her husband is a traveling evangelist. He travels from place to place and doesn’t have a church of his own. The four of them live full-time in their Roo. I think she said her name is Gwen. Al and I wonder how they get their gigs. They stay at a lot of WMs but don’t have a Wal-Mart Locator book. We gave Gwen our old one. We have the seventh edition and the old one is the fifth edition. Most of the info should still be good though – it just won’t be up-to-date.
On TV, the local news station reports that tourism groups are worried that tourists won't want to come to Canada because the cash exchange rate is so bad and prices are so high. We certainly can attest to that. If we weren't going to Alaska, we would be back where prices make sense.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Maddy woke me up by landing on my feet and walking up my body. It worked – I got up and fed her.
Al did the laundry in the morning while I spent some time looking into what Calgary is all about. Before being occupied by Europeans, this area was inhabited by Pre-Clovis people whose presence has been traced back at least 11,000 years. It was named in 1876 after Calgary on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. While there is some disagreement on the naming of the town, the Museum on the Isle of Mull explains that kald is an Old Norse word meaning “cold” - that was likely used when that Calgary was named by the Vikings who inhabited the Inner Hebrides. Alternatively, the name might come from the Gaelic, Cala ghearraidh, meaning “pasture”. Don’t you love the exactness of history?
When the Canadian Pacific Railway reached the area in 1883 and a rail station was constructed, Calgary began to grow into an important commercial and agricultural center. Oil was first discovered in Alberta in 1902, but it did not become a significant industry in the province until 1947 when huge reserves of it were discovered. Calgary quickly found itself at the center of the ensuing oil boom.
Calgary lies between the Canadian Rockies and the Canadian Prairies and the city proper covers a land area of approximately 250 square miles. We find it incredibly spread out. We saw many communities with huge homes set just a few feet apart, but these communities can be miles apart. It was about 10-15 miles from our campsite to the bank. There are presently about 1.1 million residents of Calgary.
The city is among the sunniest in Canada with only about 16¼ -inches of precipitation a year. Most of that precipitation falls in May and June and the city averages twenty-two days a year with thunderstorms. Calgary consistently rates high in quality-of-life surveys.
Gwen stopped by and invited us to look at her Bounder to see their differences. Her husband and son had gone to play golf and she was alone with the baby, Riley. Her Bounder really is arranged differently than ours and they seem to have more closet space. Oh well…the Roo is big enough for the two of us.
We are thinking of either leaving first thing in the morning or staying another day and touring the city.
Magpies are pretty birds with inky black and snowy white feathers, but they are in the crow family and not particularly liked. Maddy had a close encounter with one when it landed on our steps just as she was sitting looking out through the screen door. She is starting to like this traveling thing more and more.
Friday, June 5, 2009
Scrap the plans. We woke up to temperatures in the 30s (F), rain, wind and hail! On TV, the weatherman is talking about snow. The announcers are using such technical terms as, “drippy, wet and splashy”, and “gray and gloomy”. Calgary lies along the edge of Alberta’s “hailstorm alley” and is prone to occasional damaging hailstorms. This is news to us – we never even heard the term, “hailstorm alley”. A hailstorm that struck Calgary on September 7, 1991, was one of the most destructive natural disasters in Canadian history, with over $400 million dollars in damage. Yesterday we were walking around in shorts and today it is hailing with thunder and lightening. What a place!
Maybe it is just as well that we are stuck here another day because it gave me a chance to look into what Calgary has to offer a little more closely. I went on-line and read some personal reviews of the attractions. The Canada Olympic Park looked interesting, but most of the reviews say it is a place to “do”, not “see”. Aside from its winter sports, in the summer it offers mountain biking trails and the ski lifts have bike racks. There are numerous trails on the hill's west side, complete with north shore ladder stunts and singletrack trails. (Yeah…like I know what that means.)
The Calgary Tower only “sometimes” has good views of the Canadian Rockies and every reviewer had nothing but bad things to say about the revolving restaurant. They also said the glass-bottom observation deck is sometimes very dirty, which detracts from the floating feeling it is supposed to offer. They say the $13 admission fee is a rip-off and not worth it. Al’s brother visited Calgary a few years ago and enjoyed it, but we have decided to go with the current reviews. Just because it was good a couple of years ago doesn’t mean it is a good take now.
The TV is not very good here, but we have started to enjoy some of the odd, quirky ad spots that are new to us. Also, there is a nightly news program that specializes in odd “news” stories from around the world. One story showed a water rafting race in Russia with inflatable dolls. In Germany, there are gay male penguin pairs at a zoo who – after rejecting female company - have raised eggs rejected by te females.
We are really getting antsy and bored. When the weather is bad like this the Roo feels like a cave. Maddy doesn’t usually sit on Al’s lap but she did today of her own volition. None of us are happy.
To boost our mood, we ordered a pizza delivered to the Roo. It was really different - but different in a good way. A fourteen-inch pizza cost $26.25.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Maddy did “her thing” again this morning. She took a running jump, landed on Al’s feet and walked up his body until he got out of bed. She has become our little alarm clock, but she is set a little early.
Snow! This morning the ground was covered with a layer of snow - flakes were falling silently. There didn’t seem to be any wind. Gentle or not, snow is snow. Snow or not, we both needed to get out so we returned to the same shopping center where the bank was. We shopped at the Safeway – a loaf of white bread is $3.89 – and ate at a chain called Montana’s. The food was good and we didn’t feel quite so “taken” – but it was still an expensive lunch. It warmed up a bit and the snow turned to rain. We stopped at a pet store to buy Maddy some dry food – at more than double the cost US. By the time we returned to the Roo most of the snow was gone, but it was still raining. During the afternoon the weather see-sawed between rain and small hailstones.
We will be heading off first thing tomorrow morning. We don’t know what lies ahead of us – at least as far as WiFi goes. I will continue to write what I see, but – please - do not be worried if we do not post for a week or two. I have been told that I include TMI (too much information). Sorry – just because I am interested in everything doesn’t mean others are.
This really is a nice campground and we would stay here again. Aside from the magpies, Maddy was entertained by some vary large black rabbits that call this campground home.
Click here to view the latest progress map.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
The sky was clear this morning but the temp was still in the 30s F. We caught up-to-date on the website and prepared to leave Calgary. Gwen’s son, Ryan, saw us leaving and came over to say goodbye. I don’t know how old he is, but he seems to be a very nice young man.
Back on the road…the terrain continued to be flat. A lone hawk sat on a fencepost watching a herd of cows. A Greyhound bus passed us pulling a box trailer – Greyhound Courier Express. I guess Greyhound now delivers packages. We drove over a slight rise and the Rockies spread out before of us. The snow-capped mountains were shrouded in a thick layer of clouds. Occasionally, a hole in the cloud cover gave us a glimpse of a rocky peak.
When we stopped to gas up there appeared to be a parking area for trucks. A MH sat parked among the trucks with the front curtains drawn. We wonder if it is legal to park and spend the night in these places. We have stayed in truck stops in the States, but don’t know the laws in CA.
There was an air pump by the station and we pulled up to it, but it took $1 coins and we didn’t have any. The laundry machines at the campground in Calgary took $1 coins. The first time I was given a $2 coin it confused me – I hadn’t realized CA has $1 and $2 coins. It seems odd to me that they have both paper money and coin dollars.
Canadians pronounce kilometers differently, too. We pronounce it kill-AW-meters. They pronounce it KILL–o-meters. ATMs are called ABMs; gas is sold in liters (or litres), and I wish I had a dime for every time someone on TV ended a sentence with, “ay?”.
We passed Jumpingpound Creek and saw dark patches in the soil. At first we thought there had been a fire, but then realized that the soil had been turned over and it was the soil itself that is almost black.
We saw a sign to Chiniki Village – perhaps we can stop on our way back. I know little of their culture other than their reverence of the healing powers of the local hot springs.
We entered the foothills and saw a lone deer drinking from a small pond. We still hadn’t decided where we would spend the night – we just knew we were headed in the general direction of Banff. We pulled over and called a campground near Banff/Lake Louise. We did not make a reservation – just asked questions about staying at Province-run parks. There don’t seem to be any private parks in that area. There was a sign: Elk Crossing Next 2 Kilometers.
The Rocky Mountains are aptly named – pine trees grow at an angle from the steep rocky slopes. We passed a cement operation and a small Cessna airplane flew overhead beneath the low-hanging clouds. We stopped at a turnout by a beautiful lake - Lac Des Arc - in the hamlet of Lac des Arcs. This lake attracts windsurfers, and fishermen. Across the lake we could see the Lafarge Exshaw Plant, a limestone quarry. It is a beautiful, serene setting.
A small dog tried to sniff the low guardrail, but he was so small he had to stand on his hind legs to reach his nose to it. A flock of Canada geese strutted along the side of the road paying no attention to the traffic. We passed more bicyclists – it must be legal to ride bikes on the Trans-Canada Highway (TCH). Another sign: Wildlife on Highway Ahead.
We passed Dead Man’s Flats and entered Canmore, established 1883. We saw a sign for tourist information and took the exit. A red and white helicopter flew overhead just beneath the clouds. We wondered at that because the wind was rather brisk. We found ourselves in a town driving down busy streets. The signage to the tourist center was just about nonexistent so we pulled into a double HP parking space. We filled the two spaces plus more, but we were legal because Red has an HP plate and we hung a placard in the Roo. I opened my window and asked a man sitting on a bench where the tourist info center was. He smiled and pointed across the street. If he hadn’t pointed it out, we never would have found it. When we lived on Cape Cod we always said tourists checked their brains at the bridge. I’m sure this man had similar thoughts about us.
The young Chinese woman who helped us spoke perfect English with a heavy accent. She knows the town well and helped us immensely. As we walked outside I asked Al, “So…have we found our destination?” He answered, “I think so”. We drove to the nearby private campground and checked in.
That sentence doesn’t really describe what we did, though. We followed the directions the young woman had given us and soon found ourselves driving through a construction site of large, luxury condos. We stopped, looked around and a man came up to the window – I guess we looked as lost as we felt. He told us we were in the right place and how to continue to where we wanted to go. We are sure this entrance will be rerouted when the condos – starting at $499,000 – are completed. Our “angel” was working –dirty (meaning he was dirty because of work, not homeless), had long stringy hair and less teeth than a two-year-old. But he was helpful, friendly and appeared just when we needed him.
By the time we were all set up and Red was unhitched it was not yet noon. This campground is actually within walking distance of the downtown area for most people, but it is a bit far for anyone with mobility issues. When the sun comes out it is quite nice, but without the sun it is really brisk. We stopped to eat lunch at the first restaurant that had a place to park. Al had a salmon burger and fries and I had a warm spinach salad - $35. A glass of house wine would have been $10 – WOW! In the states, Wal-Marts that sell wine now carry a decent-tasting wine that sells for $3 a bottle. Fortunately, they aren’t charging for ice water – yet – and the water here is some of the best we’ve ever tasted.
We walked around for a while and poked through some shops. A sweater/jacket I looked at was $250. We didn’t find any sweatshirts for less than $60 and a teeny bikini was selling for $82. Al made the comment that even though we could afford these items, we feel exploited by the Canadian government for such unnecessary prices. That $250 sweater/jacket was made in China, as were all of the knick-knacks and Canadian souvenirs I checked. The tourism industry has every right to worry about losing US tourist dollars.
By mid-afternoon the wind had picked up and the sky had gotten really threatening. We returned to the Roo just before it started to rain. The people next to us sat outside in lawn chairs underneath the overhang of their 5w. They were all bundled up in winter jackets and wooly hats – drinking beer. We don’t get it. When the woman went inside to get their third round of beer she came back outside with a blanket to wrap around herself. In the Roo, we were toasty warm. We don’t usually keep track of our neighbors – Al was on his computer beside the window and just happened to see all this play out.
Canmore is nestled in the Bow Valley with stunning views of the soaring Rocky Mountains all around. The Bow Valley was named for the upper Bow River. The name – Bow – refers to the reeds that grew along its banks and were used by the earliest natives to make bows. The Peigan name for the river is “Makhabn”, meaning “river where bow weeds grow”. (In the US we refer to Native Americans – in CA they are referred to as First Nations.)
The Rocky Mountains should be on everyone’s list of places to see. The younger ranges uplifted during the late Cretaceous period (100 million – 65 million years ago), although some portions of the southern mountains date from uplifts during the Precambrian (3,980 million – 600 million years ago). Periods of glaciation occurred from the Pleistocene Epoch (1.8 million – 70,000 years ago) to the Holocene Epoch (fewer than 11,000 years ago). The Little Ice Age was a period of glacial advance that lasted a few centuries from about 1550 to 1860. For example, the Agassiz and Jackson glaciers in Glacier National Park reached their most forward positions about 1860 during the Little Ice Age.
Water in its many forms helped sculpt the present Rocky Mountain landscape. Runoff and snowmelt from the peaks feed the rivers and lakes with the water supply for one-quarter of the United States. The rivers that flow from the Rocky Mountains eventually drain into three of the world's oceans: the Atlantic Ocean; the Pacific Ocean and the Arctic Ocean.
I’m getting carried away again with a subject, but knowing all this makes the wonderful water we are drinking taste even better. We are hoping the clouds clear so we can see the peaks before we leave.
Total miles for the day: 58.1. Elevation: 4,273’.
Total miles for the trip: 3,089.5. Gas in Calgary, AB: $0.979 per liter.
Monday, June 8, 2009
It was sunny the first thing in the morning, but the clouds rolled in by mid-morning and the temp stayed in the early 40s F. In 2008, the town of Canmore had a permanent population of 12,005 and a non-permanent population of about 5,567. The weather is usually semi-arid and even though it has rained, the air has little humidity.
One day back in FL – in The Villages – Al and I were at a coin dealer/jewelry store/pawn shop where I first saw Ammolite and fell in love with it. Ammolite is made from ammonites - a prehistoric squid that lived in shells and survived until the end of the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago – so most ammonite fossils are close to 75 million years old. They lived in the area of the inland seaway that covered most of Alberta and Montana. Nature has petrified these shells into the rare gem layer known as Ammolite. It is one of the last precious gems to have been discovered and was granted official gemstone status in 1981 by the International Commission of Colored Gemstones. It is mined exclusively in the Bearpaw formation in southeastern Alberta, just north of the Montana line. They are found nowhere else in the world.
When we walked into the tourist center yesterday the first thing I noticed was a large stone ammonite and a big chunk of Ammolite. They were secured under glass – very expensive. Learning that there is an Ammolite factory in town was one of Canmore’s allures. Al knew I would rather have a piece of Ammolite than diamonds. Tours are set at specific times and today we were early so we stopped in at Valbella Gourmet Foods.
Valbella is in an Industrial Park and sells wholesale and retail. They offer items I have never seen before: veal burgers; elk loin; ground bison; venison steaks; Italian venison sausages; venison tortiere; curried veggie pie; fresh spaetzl and red jalapeños stuffed with feta cheese.
We drove across the street to the Ammolite factory and took the tour. The fossil is an ammonite. The gem is called Ammolite. Ammonite gets its name from the ancient Egyptian God – Ammon - due to its round, sun-like shape. But it is believed to be more closely related to the present day squid than to the sea nautilus, although its shell resembles the round swirl of a nautilus shell. Squid of that day had shells – today they do not. Ammonite sizes range from half an inch across to 2-3 feet in diameter. Ammonites can be found all over the world, but the fine glazing on Alberta ammonites can only be found here, in an area thirty miles wide and one hundred miles long. That is believed to be because natural oil seeped down through the layers of earth over millions of years and turned the outer layers of ammonite to an iridescent mother-of-pearl finish. The colors are all the incredible colors of the rainbow: red; orange; yellow; green; blue; indigo and purple. I had already done some research about this gem so today I only learned a few facts that aren’t on the Internet.
There are only three companies in the world certified to mine Alberta ammonites.
These are actually fossils and it is illegal to break up a fossil. When they find a “complete” ammonite, miners cannot break it up. They can only make jewelry out of the small pieces they find and the mine has been dug to over 400’ below sea level. There is a beautiful, complete ammonite at the factory – about two feet wide and a fiery red. It is incredibly beautiful and for sale for $48,000. Another Alberta ammonite sits near it without the distinctive coloring and is almost worthless. The Japanese in particular consider them to have good karma and they are used frequently in feng shui. I cannot explain how much I coveted one of these rocks.
But my social conscience got the better of me - I cannot clear it in my head to pay so much for a small piece of stone. I would rather give that money to one of the social programs we support. The prices for pendants and other jewelry run from a few hundred dollars to several thousands. They are beautiful, natural and very old, but I just can’t do it knowing there are hungry people in the world. Also - on a more practical side – none of our children have my interest in geology and none of them would appreciate it. The mine is just about tapped out and they believe it will all be mined out in about four years - which will increase the value greatly – but I can’t live in the future.
We ate lunch in a restaurant but Al says I am harping too much on the cost of things in CA, so I won’t discuss it. There seems to be some kind of conspiracy in the restaurant business in CA: all the waitstaff we have seen wear black from head to toe, both male and female.
Back at the Roo…I don’t know what kind of pine trees are around here but the pinecones are extremely small – no more than two inches long. Our neighbors have company and they are all sitting outside. The women are both wearing gloves, stocking caps, have the hoods of their sweatshirts pulled up over their hats and heavy woolen coats over their sweatshirts. And both have blankets wrapped around their legs. It is 45º F. out there. What is so great about sitting outside? At least they gave Maddy something to sit in the window and watch. We had Moe Bandy and Johnny Bencomo CDs playing and Al says they can be heard from outside. I hope our neighbors like our choice of music.
We talked to the young woman in the front office when we re-upped for another night. She said this weather is NOT normal for June. Also, we heard a waitress at the restaurant say her friends are upset because they cannot plant their summer flowers due to the unusually cold weather. Climate change is everywhere…
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
There was dew on the grass this morning but it soon dried. The weather remained in the 40s F.
In 1988, Canmore hosted the Nordic Events of the Olympic Games. They included cross-country; biathlon; Nordic combined and blind cross-country. Many feature films have been shot in the Canmore area, including Brokeback Mountain; The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; Open Range; The Edge, Legends of the Fall; Shanghai Noon; Mystery Alaska; Snow Dogs; the pilot episode of Everwood, and others.
We had been told of an Internet café so we drove downtown to find it. The WiFi connection was good enough to send and receive e-mail, but not to post our next update - that will have to wait. I received an e-mail from Gwen. She had read our website and said she and her family had a similar experience with that same nasty man in Shelby, MT. They got a kick out of the fact that we had been there just a few days after they were. Ryan’s assessment that that man should have his head examined was echoed by my thoughts that he should be tested for Alzheimer’s. I guess there is some solace for all of us knowing that we aren’t the problem – it is him.
We took turns on the laptop. While I was on-line Al bought a newspaper and commented that the stories up here are certainly different from elsewhere. A 78-year-old man fought off a grizzly with his walking stick after the bear attacked his son while the two of them were hunting for moose antlers to turn into art. For the second time in four weeks a Banff grizzly bear has been killed by a train. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is urging a boycott against Canadian maple syrup to protest seal hunting off the coast of Newfoundland. I have a real problem making that connection.
We have learned that the way to cut the cost of eating out is to leave the downtown area. The Rose and Crown – established 1982 – doesn’t look like much, but the food was abundant and far superior to anything else we have eaten in Canmore. I had Jalapeño Cheddar soup with puff pastry that looked like nothing I had ever eaten before.
Afterwards, we walked a little way to take a better look at a huge, cement head embedded in the sidewalk. The plaque explained a lot.
ALAN HENDERSON 2008
Ceannmóre (or Ceann Móre) is Gaelic for “Big Head”, in the sense of “Great Leader”. The town of Canmore was named for Malcolm Canmóre, III, who ruled in Scotland from 1058 to 1093 AD.
So now we know how the town got its name.
I had been looking forward to going to the Geoscience Museum. Most of it was pretty disappointing. At the far end was a video explaining how rock layers were formed, folding, etc. It was pretty cheesy and written for young children to understand, but that actually made it easier for us to understand as well. I really didn’t learn much, but I was really annoyed that two women who work for the museum talked and laughed so loudly that we had trouble hearing the video - even when we turned up the sound. It was terribly unprofessional. One thing I did learn is that Canmore was the first Canadian coal producer to sell coal to the Japanese to fuel their steel industry. There is a statue to honor the coal miners and Al took this picture of me holding his hand.
There is a boardwalk around the town and along the river, but it was too cold to walk just to walk. We poked through some shops and noticed hitching posts along the sidewalk for bicycles. One shop had a sign: When life hands you a lemon, bust out the tequila and salt. A soap store sold soap: Dazzling Daniel’s Dressed Divinely. The Dollar Store had the usual tacky stuff: Hawaiian leis; New Orleans beads and cow shaped creamers.
Al found a cap he liked in a store that sells fudge and gifts. We went to the register to pay for it and waited several minutes. We could hear the sales clerk laughing and giggling at the back of the shop and waited a few more minutes. Finally, Al called out that he’d like to give someone some money. The girl came to the front of the shop with an ugly look on her face, practically yelling that we were being rude. Hello? Half the inventory could have walked out the front door and she wouldn’t have known it. Al put the cap down on the counter and we walked out. So much for Canadian hospitality! That would have been our only purchase in the town. I hope that girl is getting some kind of education for a future in something that doesn’t take interaction with people because she is a dismal failure at customer service.
We returned to the Roo and were surprised that the day had passed so quickly. The weather had cleared and the peaks were visible. Both Al and I took pictures. Some ducks walked by. I tried to take their picture but I had the camera set on distance adjustment and the duck pictures didn’t come out well.
Al took Maddy out for a walk and she did fine until a big, black crow perched in a tree over her head and screeched at her. She made a bee-line for the door.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Although we have no Wifi, I got caught up on my web writing so when we do find a good strong connection Al can put it up. Also, I don’t want to forget things. The weather is warmer today, the sun is shining and there are no clouds on the mountain tops. We could hear helicopters taking off frequently and saw them hovering up near the peaks. What a view – I would love to do that, but we had already hitched up Red and were determined to get to Banff today.
We finally got on the road about 11:00 a.m. The whole time we were in Canmore we saw signs for a prescribed fire - I’m not sure just where it was. On the way out of the campground we saw a sign with a picture of the back end of a car with a cigarette instead of a tailpipe: “Idling pollutes. Turn your engine off.”
The architecture is almost exclusively alpine with steeply sloping roofs, tall pointed windows and a touch of gingerbread on the balconies. One set of condos – Renaissance Reign Developments – offers units and townhomes at prices from $650,000 to $3.5 million. They have contemporary designs with expansive exterior decks and floor to ceiling glass walls. There are also huge, spread-out log homes. I love the log home look and would enjoy decorating the interior of one.
The drive from Canmore to Banff is a short one but the scenery inspires such words as imposing, breathtaking and magnificent. A thousand pictures would not come close to the feeling of being here. Of course with mountains all around, Mable lost her mind several times, and “lost satellite reception”.
These mountains have been inhabited for more than 11,000 years, but when the European settlers arrived in the early 1800s, they immediately started to argue over the land’s resources. This prompted the government to establish Canada’s first national park in 1885 - Banff National Park of Canada. The town of Banff was not granted autonomy from federal jurisdiction until 1990. Residents do not own their land – they lease it from the park.
We had to pay to enter the park and again when we arrived at Banff/Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court. To me, the cost difference between full hook-ups and power-only seems minimal. No tents are allowed and the reason is obvious – the ranger told us, “the bears are out”. The site is an easy pull-thru and heavily treed. There are bear claw grooves and deer antler rub marks on trees next to the Roo and elk scat on the ground.
We unhitched Red, drove into Banff and had lunch in an Irish pub. The waitresses wore short kilts and knee socks. I ordered something called Stuffed Baby Yorkies – not knowing if I would like them. No – they are not puppies. They are miniature Yorkshire puddings stuffed with shaved beef and horseradish cream. I would definitely order them again.
We spent some time in the info center, walked around a bit marveling at the mountain backdrop and took some pictures. There are recycling bins on several street corners and we saw people using them. Canadian maps are really hard to read. I grew up reading maps that always put north at the top and south at the bottom. The top of the Banff map is southwest. It is totally disorienting for me.
In the evening, five deer came grazing through our site. They walked within just a few feet of the Roo without a care in the world. We walked outside and they just looked at us and continued grazing. They were so comfortable that two of them lay down. We took several pictures. Maddy’s eyes could not have been bigger.
One of the two TV stations we get is out of Calgary. Our mouths dropped when we heard the hard-hitting news that in Calgary homeowners can be fined for having too many dandelions in their yards. They can also be fined if their lawn is higher than 15 centimeters. These people have waaaaay too much time on their hands.
Total miles for the day: 18.8. Elevation: 4,793.
Total miles for the trip: 3,108.3.
Click here to view the latest progress map.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
We waited until the weather warmed up to about 53º F. – some time after 9:00. Of all the things we could do here in Banff, the thing that interested us the most was the Gondola ride. We rode to the lower terminal, which is 5,194’ above sea level. We bought two tickets and stood in line. There were people of all ages, ethnicities and languages. Each gondola arrives at the lower terminal and comes to a stop. Then the staff (apparently all young adults), pull it to where the exit is and when it is empty, they manually pull it to where new people get in. Each gondola is 4-passenger but we saw larger families with small children get on together. We quickly saw that they put each passenger party together so you don’t have to ride with strangers. The line moves rather quickly because there are forty gondolas.
We sat with our backs to the mountain and were soon lifted out of the terminal and high above the trees. The gondola is fully enclosed with small windows on one side that can be opened for perfect pictures. The traveling speed is a little over 13 feet per second and the ride lasts about eight minutes. The length of the track is 5,120’ and the upper terminal has an elevation of 7,486’. It feels like flying so high above the trees – trees that grow at a sharp angle to the steep mountainside.
The summit of Sulphur Mountain feels like the top of the world. The viewing decks provide unobstructed 360º views. There are informative interpretive panels detailing Canada’s National Parks system and the area’s United Nations WORLD HERITAGE SITE designation. There is a path and boardwalk out to a large lookout deck. We elected not to take the hike. Years ago, we wouldn’t have missed it for the world. As we watched, mountain goats walked through another viewing area. Their coats are shaggy and wooly – I guess they still have their winter coats. This is such a gorgeous place for hikers, I am sorry we never got here back in our hiking days.
We walked up the two flights of stairs to the viewing area at the very top. There we found a giant compass in the middle, with flags and major world city names around the outside wall showing their distances. We spoke to an Asian man with his non-English-speaking mother. We took their picture and they took ours. He asked where we are from and said he lives in Georgia.
The second floor down claims to have North America’s Highest Chinese Restaurant, but the Regal View Garden Restaurant was not open. We ate a little something at the cafeteria-style restaurant and enjoyed the magnificent views. Our table was by the window overlooking the viewing deck. We watched in disbelief at the way some people dressed to walk around the top of a mountain. There are international signs warning people not to hike out to the lookout deck without proper shoes, but several wore crocs and flip-flops. There was a family with three small children – all five of them had silver-blond hair and spoke a language that was unrecognizable to us. A woman fed a special-needs child while another woman tended to a screaming baby. Three young girls in gingham dresses and a teenage boy came down the path and waited for their parents. The oldest girl wore a black covering over her bun. Her mother wore a long dress and a scarf covering her hair. I am not sure what sect they belong to.
High up on a limb a gray bird with black wings and a long beak watched all the tourists and – I am sure – watched to see if they left any table scraps on the outside picnic tables. I believe it was a Clark’s Nutcracker.
If we took a million pictures we could not depict the true grandeur of this place. The weather had been wonderful - light jackets - but by the time we decided to go back down in the gondola, it was becoming overcast and the wind was very brisk. Again, the line moved along smoothly and quickly. While in line – not more than five minutes – a squirrel managed to get into the launching area. He kept everyone entertained as he skittered back and forth across the open area. He obviously did not know where he was and there was a collective holding of breath by everyone in line as a gondola floated in just inches over his head. The poor little thing was terrified but no one knew what to do for him.
A photographer took everyone’s picture as they entered the gondola. The ride down was a little more hairy because the wind was swinging our gondola a bit, but it was still a marvelous sight. As we were ushered through the exit we were shown our picture on a computer screen and asked if we wanted to buy it. We said yes. So far, I would say this has been the highlight of our trip.
Just down the street – literally, it isn’t half a mile away – are the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Groundwater makes a three-month journey deep into the earth’s interior, is heated, pressurized and loaded with minerals. Then it percolates back to the surface along the Sulphur Mountain Thrust Fault at a rate of 120 gallons-per-minute. The temperature reaches 117.1º F in winter and is slightly cooler in the spring due to increased groundwater from snowmelt. The water is pumped into a pool and is usually cooled for bathers.
As we drove in we saw that the parking lot was at a lower level but there was a HP sign pointing to the upper level. We followed it and as we drove around the building an elk hind (female) was munching on a bush. This area had been cut out of the mountain so there was very little room between the building and the mountainside. I think even a large pickup would have trouble maneuvering around this building. We couldn’t pass her - she was intent on finishing off the bush. She finally meandered a little further on and climbed up the embankment. The “HP Parking” area could only hold about three cars and there were already two ranger cars there.
Native people soaked in these hot springs and considered them sacred – a place to cure illness and maintain health. The white man found them in 1884 and dammed a small pool (typical!). A 1995 renovation cost $4 million but it still looks tired. They claim wheelchair access, but we didn’t see it – the elevator cannot even accommodate a scooter or large electric wheelchair. They charge to enter the pool. They charge to use their towels. They charge for the use of lockers – although they claim no responsibility for lost or stolen items. We looked at it but decided that it wasn’t worth the time or money just to sit in a hot tub.
When we were in the gondola we had seen what looked like a castle - the Banff Springs Fairmont hotel. After the Springs we stopped to look at the hotel and take pictures. This hotel is among the largest and most renowned of the fashionable resort hotels established along railway and steamship routes in Canada during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company in stages between 1911 and 1928. The hotel “developed an international reputation for excellence as a vacation retreat and became a symbol of the significance of tourism in the Canadian Rockies. Its striking natural setting, Chateau-style design and lavish interior décor appealed to a wealthy clientele seeking a wilderness experience in opulent surroundings.” In 1941, a week of room, board, and golf, plus a round-trip first-class train ticket from San Francisco, cost $145.75. We did not go inside, but if I were in a position to set up a large meeting or convention, the Banff Springs Fairmont would be on my short list.
On the drive out of the Fairmont, an elk stag (male) grazed along the side of the road. A young man on a bicycle pulling a small child in a trailer stopped just a few feet from him. These amazing encounters are the norm around here. It is impressed upon everyone that wildlife has the right-of-way at all times. We were stopped at a stoplight and a group of horseback riders came up a path out of the woods. What I found most interesting was that the leader walked her horse up to the stoplight and hit the crosswalk button – which was at a horse rider’s height.
We returned to the downtown area and to the Visitors Center. We had originally paid for a park pass for just a few days. Since we will be staying longer, we did the math and it makes more sense to buy a year’s pass – or rather, two senior passes. The passes will allow us to gain access to any of CA’s National Parks for free for a year. We walked across the street to an indoor mall and decided it was so high-end we weren’t interested.
A stop at a Safeway was interesting – it was small, with a layout completely different than Safeway stores in the States and didn’t have many of the items we wanted. Don’t get me wrong – we will not starve. We just can’t get the same items here. However, my Safeway card works just as well here as it does stateside.
Back at the Roo…Al took Maddy for a walk and she did very well.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Early in the morning, Al was at his computer and when he pulled up the shade beside him a deer (doe) and a young spikehorn were just a few feet away. Maddy was so excited she was beside herself. She ran from window to window as the deer moved around the Roo, and her tail twitched so hard it was slamming against the wall. Traveling with her has added a whole other layer of enjoyment to this trip.
We had chosen to drive the Bow Valley Parkway (BVP) between Banff and Lake Louise and then return to Banff for the night. It was the right choice. We tend to want to stop at every interesting site (and they are all interesting) and we take forever to cover some scenic byways. We drove out to the TCH and after just a few miles picked up the BVP.
We had just driven a few miles when we saw people stopped at the side of the road. It was just where the road split for a little bit. We parked and walked down the other side and saw seven bighorn sheep grazing beside and walking in the road. There were more than a dozen people and when a Class-C came around the sharp curve, there was a collective intake of breath. I don’t know if the driver was more surprised at the sheep or that so many people were along the side of the road. It had startled the younger sheep and three of them scampered up the steep rocks. If you haven’t seen this phenomenon, you cannot imagine how these sheep can even stand where they do, let along climb such sheer rock faces. We took several pictures.
We pulled into the Mule Shoe picnic area. Many thousands of years ago the river bowed in this place. For some reason it was cut off and today it is a lake in the shape of a horseshoe, or mule shoe. Seasonal flooding of old river channels like this creates still water and wet shoreline habitats that are not common in the mountains.
The aspen trees in this picnic area have about the same lifespan as we do, but their roots could be thousands of years old. Aspens rarely reproduce from seed. Instead, new saplings – called suckers – sprout up from existing roots. A whole grove of aspens may really be just one organism – one clone.
The turquoise color typical of many mountain lakes and rivers is caused by tiny particles of rock, ground up by glaciers. When suspended in water, these tiny particles reflect blue-green light. In different seasons, the Bow River carries different amounts of this “rock flour”. There are ravens here and in summer there will be osprey and great blue herons.
A man was sitting at a picnic table reading a book. I can't think of a more peaceful place to read. He must be from around here because his license plate holder had a cord wrapped around it. It is a dip-stick warmer and is used during the cold winter months to keep the oil thinned so that the engine will start.
We passed a sign for the, “Sawback Prescribed Burn, May 1993”. Park rangers use fire to restore ecosystems and reduce the chances of severe, damaging wild fires. Before a prescribed burn is ignited – like this one in 1993 – a stringent assessment of the forest is made. Until modern fire prevention in the 20th century, the average time between fires in the lower Bow Valley was 30-50 years. Trees such as the lodgepole pine and aspen need fire to rejuvenate their stands. (We learned this at the smokejumpers school in Missoula, MT, a few years ago.) Fire turns fallen trees, branches and leaves into instant fertilizer. Blackened, sun-warmed and nutrient-rich soil allows rapid regrowth of plants and plenty of food for wildlife. Actually, this burn doesn’t look sixteen years old.
Several decades of putting out fires has left much of the valley looking more like a blanket of similarly-aged, wall-to-wall trees. Lodgepole pines usually grow to about eighty feet, but these seem taller. Mature forests are important for some species but elk, moose, sheep, deer, hares and bear need a younger forest, shrublands and meadows.
Elk have been in the valley for thousands of years, but due to overhunting, their numbers had dwindled by the early twentieth century. Between 1918 and 1920, several trainloads of Yellowstone elk were imported to replenish the stock. The first rangers believed wolves to be “vermin” and many were eliminated. The elk population exploded and by the 1940s and 1950s, the rangers had learned that Banff’s predator control needed to end. The first known wolf to venture back into the Bow Valley was killed in 1981 on the TCH. Others soon followed with more success.
We drove through a campground - it looked good for campers and maybe some fifth wheels, but not motorhomes. The gate was not manned. By the front gate was this sign and this real cooler hanging from it - we got the point. On the way out of the campground a young woman came up and spoke to us. She and her traveling companion are staying at the campground but are almost out of gas and she was very worried. She is from Germany but speaks excellent English. A bit later we saw a park ranger in a truck and flagged him down. He told us there is gas just 3 km from here. We told him what she looked like and where we had last seen her. He said he would try to find her. As we drove along the BVP we could see through the trees that his truck was stopped and her brightly colored teal sweatshirt was next to it. Maybe we were HER “angels” this day.
The ranger was right - just 3 km further on we found Johnson Canyon, a gas station, restaurant and cabins. There was also a trailhead with 60 to 100 vehicles. It was around noontime so we stopped in for lunch. This place is in the middle of nowhere and is a veritable goldmine. We opted to eat inside rather than out on the deck but we were pleased to see the deck is smoke-free. It was filled with families with small children and several languages were spoken. The food was much better than we expected.
While Al went to take pictures of the nearby creek, the heavily tattooed young couple next to our car had the odd combination of having a cigarette in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other. While Al was taking pictures, he talked to some people from Maryland. When he told them where we are heading they were interested and he gave them our website address. If they are reading this, welcome.
Here the Bow Valley separates the Front and the Main ranges of the Rocky Mountains. The Front range mountains are generally made up of softer rock and are several million years younger than the Main range mountains. The Front ranges are mostly gray with sloping layers and jagged ridges. The Main ranges have horizontal layers; blocky castle-like shapes; browns and reddish colors and are higher in elevation.
Castle Mountain does, indeed, look like a castle. The upper and lower cliffs are made up of erosion-resistant limestone and dolomite. While looking nearly impenetrable from the TCH, the peak can be ascended from the backside on the northeastern slopes. The mountain was named in 1858 for its castle-like appearance. Following a visit by then U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower, the name was changed to Mount Eisenhower. Eventually, public pressure forced the name to be changed back in 1979 to its original. An isolated pinnacle at the southeastern end is now called Eisenhower Tower.
We came upon a statue and commemorative plaque for the Castle Mountain Ukrainian Internment Camp, 1914-1920. We walked into the woods along a path hoping to see something – a plaque, a remnant of a building, anything. But we saw nothing. The path was gnarly with tree roots and we finally returned to the highway.
Apparently, this is the site of the notorious Castle Mountain Internment Camp where people of Ukrainian descent were confined during WW I. Life in the camps was often described as “grim”; with its isolated location far from the roads of that time, the Castle Mountain camp was an ideal place to confine “suspected” enemy sympathizers. It was by far the largest internment facility in the Canadian Rockies, housing several hundred prisoners at any one time.
No matter what kind of spin CA tries to put on it – and despite their citizen status - these detainees were used as slave labor to build the national parks we are enjoying today. They lived in tents surrounded by two rows of barbed wire. During the severe winter they relocated to military barracks built on the outskirts of Banff. They cut trails; land reclamation for tennis courts, golf links, shooting ranges and ski jumps. They returned to Castle Mountain in the spring. This process of relocation continued until August 1917 when they were “conditionally released to industry to meet the growing labor shortage”.
Abuse was widespread and escapes were frequent. Several countries charged Canada with violations of international norms governing the internment of enemy aliens (remember, several detainees were citizens), and in 2008 a settlement was reached with the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Ukrainian-Canadian community on the matter of acknowledgement and redress for WWI internment.
However, there are still unanswered questions such as the death of George Luka Budak, a 35-year-old Romanian prisoner of war, who died on December 24, 1916 after "apparently (falling) prey to the inter-ethnic tensions evident within the prison barracks." According to information from the Provincial Archives of Alberta, camp officials found Budak's throat cut through the larynx, abdomen slashed open and bowels cut out. A Coroner's Inquest ruled Budak "came to his death by wounds self inflicted, cause unknown." I don't know how a man can both disembowel himself and also cut his throat open through the larynx.
Apparently there is another plaque in Banff next to a restaurant and gift shop (we didn’t see it) that has further outraged the Ukrainian community. They likened it to “selling cupcakes and Coca-Cola in a concentration camp.”
I need to get off this subject…I tend to get carried away on issues that outrage me. This is a bit of history that is totally new to me and incenses my sense of human decency.
We continued on and passed some more bicyclists struggling up a hill. We don’t understand this, but I realize a lot of people would not understand us. Both of these bicyclists are grayheads.
We arrived in Lake Louise, stopped at the Visitors Center and asked what would be the best way to spend three hours. The young woman told us to see the lake and to also see Lake Moraine. The population of the town of Lake Louise is 1,500 and it is the highest community in CA at 5,018’. The surrounding mountains – shale, limestone and sandstone – are among the tallest in the Rockies.
Al needed a nap so we parked in the small shopping area. I walked around, “The Samson Mall is proudly owned by the Samson Cree Nation of Hobbema, Alberta”. Aside from souvenirs, there is a liquor store, a grocery store and a book store. There were a number of other little shops as well. The bookstore sold, “How to be a Canadian”, and “Why hate Canadians?” When Al woke up we walked through the grocery store and bought some turkey and chicken sausages, “Mexican Style with Tequila and Habaneros”.
At Lake Louise the parking lot was jammed with cars and there were people everywhere. As soon as we left the car and walked the short distance to the lake we could feel the temperature drop noticeably. The lake is 5,678’ above sea level and lies in the subalpine zone, below the treeless alpine slopes. Lake Louise is named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta (1848–1939), the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria.
Two million years ago glaciers carved these mountains and gouged this valley into a deep basin. The Victoria Glacier once filled this valley. About 10,000 years ago the glaciers melted back and left behind a pile of rocky debris that dammed the lake. The emerald color of the water comes from “rock flour” that I have referred to before. The Stoney Indians called the lake, “Lake of the Little Fishes”.
The lake itself stretches off between high, knobby peaks to the abrupt wall of glacier-clad Mount Victoria, which soars 11,365’. It is over four miles away and the glacier is more than 262’ thick. When a chunk of ice breaks off and falls into the lake with a loud BOOM, it takes 20 seconds for the sound to reach this end of the lake. Hoary Marmots and Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels spend the coldest months of the year hibernating underground. It is considered CA's "Diamond in the Wilderness," and the "Hiking Capital of Canada". It is also considered to be one of the most photographed lakes in the world. To say it is beautiful is a gross understatement. It truly is picture perfect.
We took pictures and headed to Moraine Lake. There is a sign at the beginning of the road that large RVs are not recommended because the drive is rather steep - we only saw Class-Cs and small trailers. As soon as we got to the lake it started to rain. There are old logs at the end of the lake. We are not sure just what that means. Moraine Lake is pretty and still has ice chunks floating on it, but after seeing Lake Louise, Moraine Lake fell short. The first white man to see Moraine Lake referred to it as, “a grand and gloomy lake, reflecting in its dark surface the walls and hanging glaciers of Mount Heejee”. The mountains are named for the Stoney Indians numerals one through ten. Heejee means “one”.
It became very cold and the rain worsened. We sought refuge in the little gift shop in Moraine Lake Lodge until it subsided. The Lodge is nice and I am sure it would make a nice get-away. There were piles of snow on the sides of the road as we drove back to the center of town. We just shook our heads in bewilderment as we passed more bicyclists working their way up the steep roads.
At all the entrances to the TCH are cattle guards to keep wildlife from roaming onto the highway. Around here they are called Texas Gates. While driving on the TCH we saw some cars stopped along the side. Al said to get the camera ready because there was probably some wildlife nearby. Just then I yelled BEAR! A grizzly bear was on the side of a hill pawing around the ground and eating something. The road has a wildlife fence along most of it, but it ended just a few feet from where he was. He thoroughly ignored us - we weren’t twenty feet from him. A ranger stopped and yelled to everyone to get back in our vehicles. He was right of course. A crowd was gathering and the two-lane highway was slowing to a crawl. Not to mention that bears can be really dangerous. We all slowly made our way back to our vehicles and Al saw the ranger shoot something that made a loud pop. It left a trail of smoke and a loud whistle. It worked – the bear scrambled up the hill with amazing speed and agility. We later learned the ranger had used something called a bear banger. Bear bangers are sold in wilderness supply stores and are commonly carried by hikers.
The rest of the drive was boring all the way back to Banff – typical highway sights. Maddy met us at the door and wanted to go out. She had been alone all day and we felt a little guilty about that. However, we had left windows open so we are sure she had an interesting day herself. For us, it had been a fascinating, beautiful and educational day.
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Saturday, June 13, 2009
We got off early – 8:30 a.m. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We drove by the trash bin to dump our trash - all trash bins are bear-proof around here. I don’t know why, but today’s earworm is, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”.
Back on the TCH, the drive back to Lake Louise was more boring than yesterday. Yesterday when we drove this road we were wondering about Redearth Creek. Today we realized we had been pronouncing it wrong and it is not Re-dearth, but probably Red-earth. That makes a lot more sense. There is some road construction going on and bridges are made from silver culverts wide enough for two lanes. Every few miles one of these bridges crosses over the TCH with no road on it. We have surmised that these are wildlife bridges to aid the roaming animals and keep them off the road. There is beauty all around and we feel privileged to witness such natural splendor. We drove along bodies of water so clear I could see the rocks on the bottom. At one point, we felt like we were pulling a wagon train because – with all the construction – there were only two lanes. We were going the limit but everyone else wanted to pass us. We wondered aloud why we didn’t see anyone on the water but just then we saw an area with people removing canoes from the tops of cars. After 43 miles, we finally reached the town of Lake Louise.
In Lake Louise we picked up the Icefields Parkway - one of Canada’s national treasures. National Geographic Magazine calls this, “One of the World’s Ten Greatest Drives”. I wonder what the other nine are. We entered the Banff National Park gate and our passes paid off. We pulled into a turnoff to gather our information and see just what to expect.
Icefields Parkway is named for the mighty glaciers along its west side, 143 miles between Lake Louise and Jasper. It parallels the Continental Divide, “the backbone of the Canadian Rockies”
Our first stop was Crowfoot Glacier. It was once shaped like the three toes of a crow’s foot but one toe has receded. Some idiot driving a rented RV drove into the parking area much too fast and parked at such an angle that he screwed up the parking for us, the cars and the tour buses. One bus stopped and a long line of Japanese tourists got out. I don’t know what their schedule is, but they were only given a few minutes to take pictures and the bus was on its way again.
At Bow Lake, ice is still on the lake even though the air temperature is 60º F. We can only imagine how thick that ice gets in winter. While we were there, we heard someone say, “The Bounder has FL plates”. We spoke to them and learned they are from The Villages in FL. Their names are Bud and Susan Herring from the Village of Mira Mesa, and we wonder if any of our Villages friends know them.
While talking about our take on CA, we both mentioned the cost of everything being so high. A man nearby said quietly, “That’s how we pay for our healthcare”. That opened a whole conversation on the good, the bad and the ugly about both the CA and the US healthcare systems. None of us knows the answer, but it was an interesting conversation.
At the turnoff to Bow Summit there was a sign to park at a lower level, and another for buses and HP. We figure we are both – some call our rig a bus and Little Red has a HP plate. Its a good thing we did because we never would have been able to make the climb up from the lower parking lot.
The short walk to the deck overlooking Peyto Lake is certainly worth the effort, even though there is still a pile of melting snow on the walkway. During the year there are nine months of snow here. During the summer, significant amounts of glacial rock flour flow into the lake, and these rock particles give the lake a bright, turquoise color. The Peyto Glacier once filled this valley…now it is just a tongue of the Wapta Icefield. Past glacial advances gouged out the U-shaped valley and the bowl of the lake. This glacier has receded well over a mile in the last century.
The lake is best seen from this viewing deck at the Bow Summit - 7000’ - the highest point on the Icefield Parkway. These pictures may look doctored, but believe me, they are real. This is another picture-perfect moment…nature at its very best.
There was a steep 8% downgrade that descended over a thousand feet and followed along beside the river through the valley. The trees grow tall and straight with little underbrush. This is because the winters are so harsh that in summer small plants don’t have time to dig in before it gets cold again.
At Mistaya Canyon, the parking lot was too crowded to pull in. The lot is good sized but RVs fill a lot quickly. I have read that one needs to walk a trail that is wheelchair inaccessible to see the Mistaya River, so I don’t think we would have been able to do it anyway.
We left Banff National Park and entered Jasper National Park (JNP). We passed a ranger station and crossed over the Saskatchewan River and stopped at “The Crossing” in Saskatchewan River Crossing. Rte 11 comes in from the east and might be an interesting drive. Three rivers converge here: the Mistaya (Great Bear) River from the south; the Howse River from the west and the North Saskatchewan from the north.
The gas station set-up is really different and I hope my picture captures it. The pumps seem to be set out in the middle of a parking lot. After filling the tank the person at the pump gave Al a piece of paper and Al paid another person in a little kiosk. I walked through the gift shop and saw the usual stuff: key chains; sweatshirts; pins; mugs; jewelry and kitsch. We looked into the restaurant and waved to Bud and Susan again, but decided none of the food seemed interesting. We returned to the Roo and ate lunch in the huge parking lot.
While we ate, there were several RVs and rental Class-Cs scattered around the lot. The weather was perfect – about 70º F., sun shining and a warm breeze. The Crossing is a busy place with tour buses stopping on a regular basis. Two tandem bicycles arrived – both packed with camping gear. A father and adult son from one of the rented RVs looked over our car hitch but didn’t speak English. People walking by saw Maddy through the screen door and spoke to her, but that just unnerved her.
Back on the road…trees seem to grow right out of rocks and fill high plateaus. WE were unnerved by this sign…..
We drove along through the flat river basin. We saw cars stopped along the side and stopped to see what they were looking at. They saw a bear, but it was difficult to see and after yesterday, it meant little to us.
The Weeping Wall has numerous waterfalls along a massive limestone cliff. It is popular with ice climbers in winter. Small streams of water spray down the vertical walls of Cirrus Mountain from snowfields above. Though the streams are very small, it is still an impressive site to see water pouring over cliffs this tall.
There were bighorn sheep in the river bottom and we passed Bridal Veil Falls. Bridal Veil Falls drops off a shoulder of a mountain opposite Cirrus Mountain, fed from a snowfield high above. Most people who stop to admire these falls don't notice how much higher the falls extend. The main portion of the falls drops about 400 feet into Nigel Creek, but above the lip of the portion visible from the pullout, the creek is crashing down the hillside for another 1100 vertical feet, though most people probably don't notice. I imagine that those who do notice it either don't consider it part of the falls, or don't realize it is the same waterfall, because up until I looked into it myself I had no idea it was that tall.
We came upon the Columbia Icefield Visitors’ Center to our right and the icefield to our left. The visitors’ center’s parking lot is separated into four areas: buses; RVs; cars and HP. The RV lot is the farthest away and the bus section is the closest and on the same level as the entrance. Since the car section was half empty we drove the Roo as close as possible to the stairway and parked along the side. The HP section is a joke. They claim they did everything possible to make it accessible, but the long, 5%-grade walkway from the lot to the door must be downright scary to anyone in a wheelchair - and to the person responsible for pushing that wheelchair.
The stairway is daunting for everyone – with or without mobility issues. Just look at this picture. We made it to the top and needed a rest. Two women walked by – serious hikers – with oversized backpacks and well-worn hiking boots. A very overweight couple passed by wearing matching black and purple. The man topped off his outfit with a large black tam with an 18” purple feather. We saw a Japanese family with two little girls wearing heavy coats, hats, mittens and pink winter boots.
We systematically walked around and read every sign and examined every exhibit. We already knew about wildlife in the area and understood about how glaciers advance and recede. The Columbia Icefield straddles the Continental Divide and contains about 30 distinct glaciers. A vestige of the great ice shield that once lay over most of Canada, the Columbia Icefield is the largest accumulation of ice in the Rocky Mountains, covering over 142 square miles of snow and ice to a depth of 1,197 feet. Tree-ring studies show that the icefield advances and recedes in cycles, the latest advance occurred around 1840. It has been receding throughout the 20th century.
A tour of the glaciers is offered in unique vehicles called Ice Explorers. “Massive Brewster Ice Explorers, specially designed for glacial travel, take passengers on a remarkable excursion onto the surface of the Athabasca Glacier. Each 90 minute journey is lead [sic] by an experienced driver-guide, who shares a wealth of fascinating information about glaciers, icefields and their impact on our environment. Mid-point in the tour, passengers can safely step out onto the glacier and stand on this powerful ancient ice.”
A list of what a person should take with them on one of these tours includes mittens and boots. This explains why those two little girls were dressed the way they were. Al and I decided against it but it may be an interesting take.
As soon as we left the icefield area we came upon a large herd of bighorn sheep on both sides of the road. We pulled into a picnic area to take pictures. There was an old water hand-pump and when Al went to see if it worked, a Columbian Ground Squirrel jumped out of his hole and startled the daylights out of him. There were flat valley bottoms, steep climbs, gorgeous views, goats and sheep. At the Jonas Creek Rockslide many of the rocks are pink.
We had invested in an extra battery for the camera and it was a good idea. We wear out a battery in less than a day and need the second. We passed a Fire Hazard Dial and it was set on “extreme”. The road became really bouncy and so we stopped at Mt. Christie just to relieve the jouncing. We saw a baby black bear by the side of the road. This bear was young and none of the people who stopped dared to get out of our cars because - although we didn’t see her - we know Momma was somewhere nearby.
The Athabasca Falls are incredible and a must-see for anyone coming this way. It is not known for its height…instead, it is known for the force of the copious amounts of water that flow over the falls. A layer of hard quartzite has allowed the falls to cut into the softer limestone below - carving a short gorge and a number of potholes. Over millions of years glacier-fed waters swirling with debris have been sculpting these potholes and rock formations. Potholes are created when sand, silt and gravel spinning furiously in water carve stone like a diamond drill. It took thousands of years to drill these potholes and the ones being created today will be suspended on the walls when the gorge is even deeper.
Walking through this narrow gorge is like walking in another world. Steps have been added for easier access over the uneven bottom. There are several lookout points to view the falls, but I think I enjoyed the gorge just as much as the falls. The spray and mist is everywhere and we both were soaked when we returned to the Roo. If you look closely, you can see Al at the top of the steps. These unusual falls are in the montane zone.
Montane is a biogeographic term referring to highland areas located below the subalpine zone. The word montane means “of the mountains”. The montane life zone is ecologically the most important area for wildlife in JNP. It is also the smallest. Summers are longer, winters are milder and plant growth is more abundant than anywhere higher in the mountains. Warm winter winds melt away much of the snow, making life more comfortable for wildlife.
We had been given some bad information. We had been told Whistlers Campground in Jasper did not take reservations. Then Bud told us he had just canceled a reservation. But at the Icefields information counter we were told we could only make reservations for the next day, not the same day. He also said the campground is huge and there probably won’t be a problem.
From the time we pulled up to the gate to the time we landed in the site, a whole hour had passed. There were no pull-thru sites available and no full hook-up sites either. We took a back-in with no hook-ups. But we were shocked when we were told the only time we could use the generator was 8:00 to 9:30 a.m. and 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. We didn’t get to our site until 7:30. At least we were able to cook dinner on the stove. It had been a very long, active day and we went to bed early.
Total miles for the day: 184.5. Elevation: 3,502’.
Total miles for the trip: 3,292.8.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
My laptop has a couple of hours of battery time so I used it to at least transpose some of my notes from yesterday. We drove Red to see the site we will have tonight but the people were still there. The dump station was a zoo with dozens of RVs lined up. At 11:00 – check-out time – we drove the Roo to the new site and it was available. This new site only has electricity, but that’s better than nothing.
Leslie and Ernie moved in next door shortly afterward – they had spent the past two nights with no hook-ups and had been in the dump station line. They said they liked our Bounder. They are headed to Alaska by themselves – not with a tour group. The four of us talked for a while before they left to go whitewater rafting and we drove into Jasper, population 4,700. Some buildings on the main thoroughfare are mixed-use with shops on the first floor and apartments on the second floor. We passed ordinary houses with vacancy signs – I guess these are for the ski season. All the shops were open, including the liquor store. Not until we were on out way back to the campground did it dawn on us that it is Sunday.
Back at Roo, quiet time. In the evening, Leslie and Ernie came over and we showed them the Roo and some of the pictures Al had put into a picture gallery. They had driven the same route we had but they hadn’t seen half the wildlife we did. We gave them our card. Maddy loves everyone if they are inside the Roo. Leslie sat on the floor and rubbed her belly. Maddy rolled over on her back and luxuriated in all the attention.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Ernie came over to say good-bye. Just outside the gate we crossed the Mette River and took pictures of a stag elk. We gassed up in Jasper and were on the road by 8:00 a.m.
We left JNP and AB, and entered Mount Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia. We also crossed the time zone, gained another hour, crossed the Continental Divide and began the Yellowhead Highway. I took pictures of Yellowhead Mountain reflected in Yellowhead Lake, which has a boat launch area.
The Yellowhead Highway began as the secret trail to the fur cache of its namesake, the golden-haired, Iroquois Metis guide known as Tete Jaune, literally translated as “Yellow Head”. Tete Jaune guided and trapped for both the Hudson Bay Company and the North West Company, the foremost fur traders of the world. By the 1830s, the Yellowhead Trail was virtually a highway. Oxen yoked to carts rumbled its length in 1841, followed by miners heading to the Caribou Gold Rush.
We also took pictures of peaceful Lucerne Lake and crossed the Fraser River several times. Many of the snow-capped peaks were just beginning to get the sun. The ever present train ran along beside us, mostly tankers and hoppers. There were 8 or 10 “things” on flatbeds. Each “thing” started at the end of one flatbed, covered the second and ended on the end of a third. As the tracks moved closer to the road we finally figured out what we were looking at: each long “thing” was two windmill vanes strapped together. I wonder where they are headed.
We passed a bear mooching around in dandelions. As he lay down to eat we noted that all the bears we have seen lay down to eat. I guess it conserves energy.
We stopped at the Mt. Robson visitors’ center. We parked the Roo and walked up to the building. I wouldn’t want to be in a wheelchair on this path and Al may not have been able to push me. There was a video and small museum downstairs, but no elevator. We learned that forests of spruce, fir, balsam, cedar and alder are home to an abundant array of wildlife including mountain goats, moose, deer, elk, marmot, squirrels and chipmunks. The Rearguard Falls of the Fraser River is the furthest migration point of the Pacific salmon.
Mount Robson is the most prominent mountain in North America's Rocky Mountain range. It rises 7,546’ above Berg Lake to a total of 12,972’ and is the highest point in the Canadian Rockies. The Texqakallt, a Secwepemc (also known as Shuswap) people and the earliest inhabitants of the area, call it Yuh-hai-has-kun or “The Mountain of the Spiral Road”. Other unofficial names include Cloud Cap Mountain and Snow Cap Mountain.
The parking lot was huge and there were several buses, although they all park down at the other end by the gift shop. One bus carried tourists all from the UK. We have heard several European accents on this trip. Well over half of the RVs on the road are rentals and a good portion of them are rented by Europeans. The Euro is really strong now. Aren't these wildflowers pretty?
You know it’s a glacier when…It’s a mass of ice larger than four football fields. It is older then one year. It forms on land and slowly moves downhill.
We passed the rather large Terracana Resort, Log Chalets and Cabins. The landscape had changed abruptly and we were passing pastures with horses and cattle. We started seeing handmade signs for the, “McBride Hotel, the only bar in town”. On some signs, “the only bar in town” was printed larger than the name of the hotel. We passed the McBride Stockyards, the Pet Hostel and a private home with a large vegetable garden. We passed the Beaverview RV – where Janice and Garland plan to stay – and were stopped by road construction. We have been in touch with Janice and Garland, one of the couples who will be with us on our Alaska tour. Even though we haven’t had WiFi, our phones still work.
McBride has a population of 740 at an elevation of 2,350’. Even though it is small, it has all the visitor facilities anyone could want. It also is a rather interesting place. McBride has a large percentage of Mennonites, who are attracted by inexpensive land and relative isolation. For similar reasons McBride also has a healthy population of draft dodgers from the US who settled in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
McBride produces some of the world's finest tonewoods - wood used in the production of musical instruments - and is home to several luthiers (a luthier makes or repairs stringed instruments). McBride is located on the edge of an interior cedar hemlock rainforest - the world's only inland temperate rainforest. The forests around McBride contain trees that are in excess of 1,000 years old, with no evidence of disturbance.
We drove down the main street and were surprised at how many restaurants are there. One place offered Hearty Mountain Lunches and Antiques. The elementary school looks like a fortress. We returned to the main road to eat lunch because there wasn’t a big enough parking spot on the main street. We ate in the restaurant at the Sandman Inn. The food was good and the prices were decent.
Back on the road…Al saw a lynx. There was lush greenery on both sides of the road. We drove over the West Twin Creek, rushing far below us in a deep gorge. We passed another bear but we passed too quickly to take pictures.
In the Mile Post book is this quote: Watch for bears browsing highway verge. We appreciate the warning but I think we would have worded it differently. Down some dirt roads we can see evidence of logging. A road sign: $2,000 penalty for littering. These roads are unusually free of litter and now I know why.
We passed some more road construction and got hit by a big gust of wind. A pickup was struggling to pull a small, ancient travel trailer to the top of a 6% rise. We pulled into the Slim Creek rest area for Al to take a nap. It was a really pretty area but the sun had gone in and the temperature had dropped so I didn’t get out of the Roo.
It began to sprinkle and we saw another bear. A road crew by the side of the road was breaking up a beaver dam in a drainage ditch. Two bicyclists were struggling up a hill with what looked like a support car following behind them. Mable lost her mind again – she has real problems in the mountains.
We passed the Purden Lake Ski Resort and drove over the Vama Vama Creek (I would LOVE to know the origin of that name.). After a big burn area was a sign: “Put arsonists behind bars. Report forest fires.” There were some sort of unusual white flowers on the side of the road but we passed them too quickly to take pictures. We looked for more of them but never saw any. There is a snowmobile track along the side of the road. It runs down one side of a small brook and up the other side – the brook must freeze in winter.
After passing an archery range we took an alternate route off 16. Because we didn’t know if coming this way meant we should turn north or south when we reached 97, we stopped and called the campground. We passed a big airport on our right. The Pineview School is painted robin’s egg blue. Sundown Meadows is a private red house with a large red barn amid acres and acres of open fields.
We passed a sign for Rosenol Performance Horses, boarding and training. It is a breeding farm “to produce, develop and sell quality warmblood performance horses that excel in every discipline”.
We finally pulled into the Bee Lazee campground in Prince George, BC. Shortly after we set up, a big wind came in and totally freaked Maddy out. It subsided after a while but a light rain began. It felt good to be settled for a few days.
The campground claims to have free WiFi, but it only works for five users at a time and too bad if we’re the sixth. So we paid $11.95 for 72 hours of really good WiFi connection. We think that’s fair and paid the price. That will take us to Thursday afternoon and we should be caught up by then. We thank everyone for being so patient.
Total miles for the day: 245.7. Elevation: 2,195’.
Total miles for the trip: 3,538.5. Gas in Jasper, AB: $1.02 per liter.
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Tuesday, June 16, 2009
It rained last night but the morning started out clear and sunny. We drove into Prince George and did our big grocery shopping for the trip. We have reached the point where we simply get what we want/need and don’t look at the price. It is what it is.
We ate lunch at an Italian restaurant that just happens to offer two pizzas for the price of one on Tuesdays. We like keeping frozen pizza slices in the freezer that can be heated in just minutes for an easy lunch while on the road. For some reason, this Italian restaurant in Canada has an eight-foot-tall Statue of Liberty - with a red light for a flame - in the center of the room and the bar off to one side is named the Liberty Lounge. There were signs for Canal Street; pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge; 1950s music; chairs with cutouts of tomatoes on their backs and US, CA and Italian flags. The pizza was unusual - rectangular and the fresh tomatoes we had ordered were placed on it after it was cooked. We took 1½ pizzas home with us. This is the first trip we brought the Food Saver along with us and today was the first time we needed it.
What I will always remember the most about this place is that it took both of us to open the door designated “HP”. It was HEAVY, HEAVY, HEAVY and the HP buttons didn’t work. In MA this restaurant would be closed in a heartbeat by the building inspector. What some of you may not know is that in MA I was certified by the state in handicap access issues and I could have started the process of closing this restaurant immediately – and I would have. It would be closed and heavily fined. Not being able to open the door is outrageous. Just imagine trying to open a heavy door while sitting in a wheelchair… Canada cares nothing about its handicapped citizens.
I need to get onto another subject…
Prince George, with a population of 70,981 is the largest city in northern BC and is known as "BC's Northern Capitol". The origins of Prince George can be traced to the North West Company fur trading post of Fort George, which was established in 1807 and named in honor of King George III. The post was centered in the centuries-old homeland of the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation, whose very name means "people of the confluence". The translation of the word Lheidli means "where the two rivers flow together", and T'enneh means "the People". Lheidli T'enneh has a vast traditional territory stretching over an area of 4.3 million hectares from the impressive Rocky Mountains to the beautiful interior plateau. (A hectare is 2.471 acres.)
This campground is small – only about 50 sites. The most notable thing about it is the mosquito population. They are horrendous.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Today was a day of working on the website and rest. I never stepped outside and the only time Al did was to re-up for two more days. The weather changes here faster than we have ever seen elsewhere. The sun is shining and it is warm one minute and then the wind comes up, the sun goes in and it rains. The sun can be shining and we hear thunder. It’s crazy.
A man stopped by to speak to Al because he is a ham radio operator too, and they discussed antennae. Later his wife dropped in to get her “cat” fix. Maddy wasn’t too crazy about that. Each time the door opened, a few mosquitoes got into the Roo. By evening dozens were plastered against the window screens and kept Maddy endlessly entertained.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Today was laundry day. We got the last big posting up on the server and will post it tomorrow morning. We met Sharon and Stan, a couple who will be with us on our tour. They just pulled in and Stan washed his rig. Another camper walks around the campground a lot. He walks like he has had a stroke and is totally bald. What makes him unusual is his facial hair - he shaves his lower jaw but his mustache extends all the way across his cheeks to his ears. It is an extremely odd look – one neither of us has ever seen before.
We drove into Prince George to the Wal-Mart to replace our toaster oven, which just died on us. In the evening we were sitting outside with Sharon and Stan when two others joined us, Linda and John. They are both retired military and Linda was pushing a cat in a stroller. Linda lit a citronella candle in the middle of our circle and the mosquitoes seemed to lessen. The sun had not gone down when we all went our separate ways around 9:00 p.m.
Friday, June 19, 2009
We had planned on leaving this morning but because we sat around last evening, we didn’t get everything done. These are not regrets. We simply put off leaving for another day.
Today was a work day. We cleaned the Roo inside and out. Al cleaned the bugs off the windshield and the front of the Roo, fixed an electrical box, checked the oil, reorganized the outside compartments and put the new welcome mat on our bottom step.
It has rained at least a little every afternoon since we have been here and when it does, the TV goes out. Oh, the joys of dish TV.
We have no idea when we will have WiFi again. Please be patient.
Click here to view the latest progress map.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
It rained all night, but it cleared in the morning and we got up and off early – 6:30. Each day we were in Prince George, Al kept track of the weather and that is one reason we stayed there so long. Today, the sky is clear and the sun is shining.
We turned the corner and passed the really lame Mr. P.G., a statue made from wood outside the tourist info center, and picked up Rte 16. A sign: Don’t believe everything you think. We saw the Liquor Store and Park Avenue Apparel and drove out of town and onto more plains.
About nineteen miles out of town we stopped to buy propane. Although we couldn’t see any homes around, there was a bank of about fifty mailboxes along the side of the road. Next to the mailboxes was a bulletin board with notes from private people offering such services as pet sitting and holiday baking: cookies; cakes and peanut brittle.
We passed a sign for Tamarack Lake, known for its fly fishing and passed a large area of forest clear cutting. A large log building offers Native Art, but it is far too early for such a place to be open – its not even 8:00 a.m. Cluculz Lake is part of the Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program (VLMP). The VLMP takes regular water samples and monitors the lake’s water quality, identifies the preferred uses for the lake and monitors water quality changes resulting from land development within the lake’s watershed. A sign: Giverayank Towing Co.
We drove through Vanderhoof, population 4,649, the geographical center of BC. Due to nearby rural communities without services Vanderhoof actually supports nearly 10,000 people. It is a stopping off place for thousands of waterfowl: Canada Geese, Trumpeter Swans and even Pelicans. On April 7, 1914, the Golden Spike was driven marking the end of railway construction in this area. Today, we passed the Golden Spike saloon. Vanderhoof was named for Herbert Vanderhoof, a Chicago publicist, but the name is Dutch for “of the farm”.
We passed acres and acres of cut lumber and acres and acres of stacked logs. We saw the turnoff to Fort St. James and a sign: “Open. For information call the mayor.” A phone number was included. I don’t think you can get more small-town than that. In the U.S., most RVers wave at each other when passing. Al had just about given up on waving to RVers in CA. Today, he got three return waves – an improvement at least. We saw a lot of cattle and deer.
These are the traditional lands of the Nadeh Whut’en First Nation. They put up a sign at the eastern edge of their territory where it intersects with Highway 16 and included the phrase, “Respect the Environment”. We passed another huge lumber mill and drove along Fraser Lake in Fort Fraser.
Fort Fraser is an unincorporated community of about 1000 people - established in 1806 by Simon Fraser - and is one of present-day British Columbia's oldest permanent European-founded settlements. Today, a road crew was painting yellow lines down the middle of the road and we drove along behind it at about 10 mph for a couple of miles while passing a campground on the lake with several, several tents. Al and I both think this area reminds us of upstate New York and the Finger Lakes.
A sign for Subway offers pizza, cappuccino and Internet. Boy - are they reaching for customers! A sign in Fraser Lake states that it is the home of the 2007 Canadian Karate Champion. A restaurant offers Chinese and Canadian Cuisine and the Molly-Logger Deli. Some signs confuse me: some read Stellako Indian Reserve, some say Stellaquo and others say Stellat’en. I don’t understand this. We passed a cemetery with a large playground next to it.
We passed a sign for Francois Lake and drove through Endako. The Roadhouse Bar and Grill offers steak and lobster. We weren’t sure what the partially built log structures were at first. Tiny’s Log Homes – with Tiny being the only employee – builds log shells, numbers them, load them onto a truck and sends them off - usually to the U.S. The trucker carries a schematic showing how to reassemble the building. Beetle-killed lodgepole pines are used so the colors can be unusual. Tiny’s garage/work shack has a number of moose antlers hanging from its eave.
The landscape had become really hilly and we stopped at a picnic area to stretch. At first look the tables look like the tops are made of granite, but on further inspection we could see it was some kind of rock-like man-made product. The temperature was still in the 50s F. and Al finally gave in and put on long pants.
The Mountain Pine Beetle has really taken its toll in Canada’s forests. Anyone can look up at a forest area and see huge swaths of lodgepole pines the color of rust. They are dead. The problem in BC has become alarming. The beetles attack by boring through the bark into the phloem layer. The trees respond by increasing their resin output in order to kill or discourage the beetles, but the beetles carry fungi which, if established, will block the tree resin response. Over time (usually within 2 weeks of the attack), the trees are overwhelmed as the phloem layer is damaged enough to cut off the flow of water and nutrients. In the end, the trees starve to death. We drove down a steep hill and could see huge areas desiccated by these tiny beetles – the size of a grain of rice.
The wind was strong, we saw a sign for “Nobody’s Inn”, and passed Ootsa Air on Ootsa Lake. They have pontoon planes (seaplanes, floatplanes, whatever you want to call them), and are available to charter for fishing trips, hunting trips, sight-seeing tours or use by the Mining and Forest industries.
We drove through Burns Lake, population 2,300. There are three First Nations reserves that are part of the town, and another three nearby, making it one of the few communities in the province that have almost equal populations of natives and Canadians of European descent. The area around Burns Lake was settled by many Scandinavians, who brought with them their love of skiing. Burns Lake has hosted several national championships and is considered to rank among western CA's best trail networks.
We stopped in an Overwaitea Food parking lot so Al could take a nap. Robert C. Kidd developed several innovative merchandising techniques to attract customers to his store including odd-penny pricing and selling 18 ounces of tea for the price of a pound. The store was soon known as the "over-weight tea" store. When Kidd opened his second store, he decided to call it "Overwaitea".
As we drove through the main part of Burns Lake we were struck by the VERY curvy road and side streets that are extremely steep. We drove along Decker Lake, which is most notable to me because of a swine flu outbreak in Decker Lake Elementary School just a few weeks ago. We passed a long runway and Al was curious about it. We finally reached the tiny airport. The reason for the exceptionally long runway is the Baker Lake airstrip is used by firefighting tankers. A light rain began but was so little that we didn’t need wipers.
There are litter barrels in turnoffs all along this route. The mountains seemed to be growing in size - we saw deer and pygmy goats with a tiny kid. Something was flying through the air – someone had told Al that these are aspen buds.
We stopped in Houston – population 3,163 - at the Visitor Centre beside the very pleasant Steelhead Park. The Centre wasn’t open but we met someone who would change our lunch plans…Allan MacDonald. Allan owns or manages a hotel in Smithers, and was very interested in what we are doing. He hadn’t heard of Alaska tours for RVs and asked us a lot of questions. He said that the restaurant at his hotel has WiFi for their quests and we should go to the front desk, tell the clerk we had met him and the clerk should give us the password.
We took pictures of the World’s Largest Fly Fishing Rod – a 60’-long anodized aluminum rod designed and built by local avid fly fishermen volunteers. I guess if you are really into fly fishing, you have probably heard of Houston, BC. The Steelhead Park looked very nice with sculptures and a fountain, but it was very cold and we were very hungry.
We headed west again and passed a picnic area where a truck camper was parked and the driver was walking his cat. A log house had a pale yellow metal roof and we saw large patches of rust-colored trees. Then we drove over the Bulkley River into Smithers. Residents of Smithers are called Smithereens which remains a more popularly accepted title than the sometimes used “Smitherite”. Smithers has a population of 5,509, and is a service area for most of the Bulkley Valley. A town bylaw requires businesses in the downtown area to construct their buildings in an alpine style.
The Aspen Inn and Suites is built in the log style and probably would not be a place where we would choose to eat lunch – mostly because the parking lot is limited. We did find a place to park and the clerk – Sharon – gave us the password. The food was VERY good and the appointments are quite nice. On the menu was some information about the dogsled hanging in the lounge area and the handmade wooden tables with glass tops. We asked if this information was available on anything we could take with us but the answer was no. We used the Internet connection to check our e-mail and to send an e-mail to Allan. If I am ever in Smithers again, I would definitely go out of my way to eat there.
Back on the road…We passed a sign: Aged cow manure, $250 per load delivered. It didn’t say what size the load is. We stopped and took pictures of Hudson Bay Mountain. This is ski country and this mountain claims to have BC’s most consistent powder conditions. There is a new ski trail that allows one to ski off the mountain and right into Smithers.
We stopped at a pullout across from the Moricetown Interpretive Centre and took pictures of the river half dammed with logs. Later, the East Boulder Creek had cut a gorge so deep we could barely see the water. I tried taking pictures but the railing got in the way. The clouds on the mountains look like smoke curling up and around in spirals rather than settling in one place. We continued along beside the Bulkley River in Bulkley Valley. It started to sprinkle again. We saw a sign on a restaurant: Overhead hazard. Falling snow from roof.
We arrived in Hazelton, drove over the one-lane bridge and topped off our gas tank where Spike had suggested. We finally arrived at ‘Ksan Campground in Gitanmaax - in the heart of the Gitxsan territories - adjacent to the Village of Hazelton. The Gitanmaax Band operates under the umbrella of the Gitxsan Government Commission and the Gitanmaax Band office is located in Old Hazelton. The Gitxsan are a matrilineal society, where ancestry is traced through the mother’s side.
The word ‘Ksan (Xsan) is an ancient Gitxsan word for the Skeena river. To the Gitxsan people, Xsan is the "river of mist”. Git, literally means “the people”, and Gitxsan, therefore, are the “people of the river of mist.”
Gitanmaax is one of five centuries-old Gitxsan villages. Maax is a word from the creation story of that village. It refers to a woman who had three babies, whom she fed by attracting salmon to a burning birch pole. Gitanmaax, therefore, are “people who attract [fish] with fire.”
This isn’t so strange considering that - while I am writing this – on the Discovery Channel scientists are trying to connect cosmology, crystal skulls and Mayan myths to some vast universal conspiracy.
Janice and Garland are already here and had connected with Aggie and Rusty. Janice and Garland are from TN. They came over to the Roo and a little later, Aggie and Rusty stopped by. Aggie and Rusty are from NH. The six of us went out to dinner at the Historic Trading Post Café in Old Hazelton. The waitress – Rowena - spoke perfect English with a slight accent I couldn’t place. We later learned that she and her husband – David - found this restaurant for sale on the Internet and moved here with their two young children from Holland. Interesting people are everywhere.
We all drove back to the campground and Al and I were beat. It was raining and the temperature hadn’t topped 60º F. all day. We put on the TV and both fell asleep with it on. I don’t know what time we finally turned if off and fell into bed.
Total miles for the day: 288.9. Elevation: 690’.
Total miles for the trip: 3,827.4. Gas in Prince George: $1.09 per liter.
Gas in Gitanmaax: $1.12 per liter.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
It really rained last night and this morning the temperature was still in the low 60s. A huge flock of crows were scattered around on both sides – and in front - of the Roo. They were driving Maddy crazy and she was running from window to window, her tail twitching the whole time.
Rowena had told us there was supposed to be a festival of some kind today, but we couldn’t find it. I did some writing about yesterday and Al worked on fixing a small fold-down table that has been giving us trouble. He had the table apart and tools all over the floor. Maddy was in the middle of it all – sticking her nose into every step. When he had his head down looking up, she had her head down looking up. When he was carefully turning a screw he had trouble seeing it because Maddy’s head was in the way. While he was reassembling it, she was sitting on it. It really is like having a small child around.
We met with Janice and Garland at noon. Aggie and Rusty weren’t in their rig, so the four of us went into Hazelton, had lunch at Rob’s Restaurant, shopped at a small grocery store and walked around a Farmers’ Market by the Visitor Centre. We walked through the small local museum inside the Centre. Outside, we bought something called bannock, made from flour, baking powder and egg, and fried in a pan. Apparently it was a word that meant bread 1,500 years ago in Scotland and Northern England. Bannock, also known as frybread or Indian bread, is found throughout North American native cuisine. We also bought a small cranberry tart and two rhubarb cookies. Some young girls were selling Pomeranian pups - they were adorable and looked like living teddy bears.
The Visitor Centre is surrounded by a little park with rustic monuments for logging and mining. The Skeena Valley forests were first used by the native people who harvested cedar for canoes, longhouses and clothing. In the late 1800s steam powered sawmills cut lumber for construction of pioneer settlements. During the building of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, 1907 to 1914, millions of railroad ties were manufactured from area forests. Up until the end of WW II, dozens of family-operated logging companies selectively harvested and processed cedar poles.
In the early 1900s, the lure of gold and silver brought the first permanent population of non-Indian people to the Hazeltons area. Several prospectors staked claims but most of these ventures failed. One did not fail - the Silver Standard property produced 520,246 pounds of silver, and 1,020 pounds of gold. The greatest enduring benefit of early mining activity was the number of prospectors and supporting merchants who stayed on to make the Hazeltons a busy center of pioneer commerce.
Janice wanted to take a picture of a small church she had seen earlier. She is a painter and thought this would make a good subject. We saw it up on a hill but getting to it was a bit of an adventure. We were glad we were in their pickup because the terrain was pretty rough. The closer we got the worse the building looked with broken windows, missing steps and badly in need of paint. There was no name on it and we were curious about its history. Several of the houses around it were painted in a style none of us had seen before. The top third and bottom third of the clapboards are painted the same color, while the middle third are painted a different shade of the same color.
On the way back to the campground we stopped at the one-lane bridge. As we were walking onto the bridge, Janice mentioned that she hoped it wouldn’t rain. She jinxed us. Almost as soon as we got to the middle, it started to rain.
Later, a native Floridian stopped by to talk to Al. He is on his way to Alaska too, but not with a tour group. A car pulled in with a whole bunch of kids and stopped across from us beside the Skeena River. They started a fire and cooked dinner. The kids ran wild. The whole time, every one of them was bundled up with sweatshirt hoods up and hands in pockets. I can only wonder if they were having fun.
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Friday, June 26, 2009
There was nothing to write about yesterday. We did some laundry and attended an orientation meeting from seven until after 9:30 p.m.
Today was another cold, rainy day. We all caravanned in our vehicles the few miles to the Totem Garden in Kispiox, “the hidden place”, best known for its totem poles. Originally these dozen or so poles stood facing the river in front of the long-houses belonging to the individual clans whose status and family history they depict. I did not take notes but really wish I had. Spike knows more about these amazing carvings than I knew existed and likened them to other similar carvings in Japan and New Zealand. He is a wealth of knowledge.
Kispiox Village is located at the confluence of the Skeena and Kispiox Rivers. Spike told us Kispiox means “the hidden place”, but the research I did differs a bit. I read that the people of this village chose to remain isolated and called itself Andpayaxw, “the hiding place.” But later, weakened by measles and missionaries, it was renamed Kispiox, or, “loud talkers”, by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. According to the agent, the village was "the head-center of disaffection, rejecting telegraphs, reserves, wagon roads, fishing restrictions, and logging." I have no way of verifying this information one way or another. Kispiox is still off-the-beaten-path and has been home to this particular Gitxan tribe for over 3,000 years.
Totem was the name mistakenly given to the poles by arriving Europeans, especially missionaries - but the poles have nothing to do with religion. The carvings on the poles represent family and clan crests, and important legends and events that have occurred in the life of the village. Only the tribe storyteller could relate the history of an individual pole. Consequently with the decimation of the aboriginals through smallpox, measles, and flu (perhaps 90% of the population died), many of the storytellers were lost before being able to pass the stories on to the next generation of storytellers.
Totem poles are read from the bottom up to the top of the figure, pointing skyward. Totem poles were commissioned to represent great happenings to one’s family or visions. When they fall over they are left to rest and return to nature in the natural way. White men took many of these fallen totems, thinking them abandoned. The Gitxsan were horrified by what they considered desecration.
Spike explained that he could only tell us some of the stories these totems depict because the families/clans own them and do not wish to discuss the stories with strangers. The beautiful hand carved poles include the killer whale, wolf, frog, eagle, raven and human figures. The carvings are amazing: Hawk is a mythical bird having a sharply curved beak as well as a mouth with teeth; a beaver holding a chewing stick; a mother bear holding her cub.
We were very cold and somewhere during the talk Al went to get my wheeled walker. Several people mentioned how good it looked and that I could probably make some money renting it out. We had ridden with Janice and Garland and after the talk we all went to find something to eat. On the road from Kispiox I took this picture overlooking Old Hazelton. There isn’t much in Old Hazelton and the pizza place was packed and so was the Trading Post Café. We finally settled for a small café that turned out to have good burgers and fries.
At 2:30, Spike walked us down to the “meeting of the waters” and then we went to ‘Ksan Village for a tour. ‘Ksan Historical Village and Museum is one of the finest native heritage sites in CA. Seven decorated tribal houses are fronted with several elaborately carved totems. In front of The Meeting Place is a pole raised to commemorate the opening of the village on the 12th of August, 1970. At the top of the pole is a white man, a B.C. Government representative, complete with top hat and bow tie. Beneath the man is Eagle and below that is a crouching Wolf, representing the Wolf Clan. At the base is a crest of the dominant Fireweed Clan: Mosquito transforming into a human, wings becoming arms and human legs in development. A small Frog rests on Mosquito’s forehead - a part of the legend.
By one of the buildings we didn’t go into, is a totem depicting the four Gitxsan Clans: Frog (Lax See’l; Wolf (Lax Gibuu); Fireweed (Gisk’aast) and Eagle (Lax Skiik). Our Gitxsan guide, Janine, told us they cannot marry someone of their own clan. If a son is born, he cannot be trained in his father’s clan’s ways. He will be sent to his mother’s brother to be trained in the ways of their clan. In this manner, a woman may have her brother-in-law’s son living with her to be trained by her husband. The clan was considered family and inter-family marriage was not accepted. However, in my mind at least, eventually they would all be related. Of course, I believe we are all related anyway.
Janine took us into a long-house, about 30’x30’, built entirely of cedar logs. This is sturdy and well-built - about half the length of an original long-house. The floor is hard-packed gravel with a raised platform all around the walls. A fire pit in the middle was sending smoke up to the opening in the ceiling over it. The scent of burning cedar was pleasant. There was a cap over the opening so the smoke could go up and then out the sides of the cap. About fifty people would live in one long-house. During the long winter months, they would make decisions on business deals; carve bowls and other utensils; name babies; weave blankets; make copper breastplates; create art and many other important pastimes. They made boxes of all sizes by bending wood three times and using pegs on the one seam. These boxes held their possessions and would be stacked up on the platform to create a kind of privacy between families. Today, these boxes can be commissioned for tens of thousands of dollars.
The Gitxsan would also adorn carvings and other objects with traditional designs. They used this time to sing, dance and tell stories. Oral history was known as “ada’awk”. Their nation was governed through ceremony – not with boring business meetings but with great, colorful celebrations called “yukw”.
All the building and totem poles are created from red cedar trees, as well “as the construction of all things”: canoes; storage boxes; cedar bark clothing and tools. Cedar rope is used to hoist poles and cedar beams.
They did not have to migrate because their resources were/are so rich. By the 1970s many of their artistic forms were being lost and, with government help, were revived by elders teaching carpenters how to cut wood. The planks are not sawn, they are cut by tapping pegs along a line and the wood splits. If they cut down too many trees, that would destroy their trapping territories. If animals sense when the trees are coming down, they migrate elsewhere. The Gitxsan are careful not to take too many trees down. They had a technique whereby they could split the trees while standing. The trees back then were really large and they could take a plank right off a tree and still have the tree remaining.
There are approximately 10,000 Gitxsan people around the world today. Of that estimate, almost 3,500 live in this area, with livelihoods as diverse as educators, professionals, loggers, fishermen and entrepreneurs. There are now eight villages within a thirty-mile radius of ‘Ksan: Gitan’maaxs (People of the Torch Light Fishing), Gijigyukwhla (Place near the Mountain), Gitwangax (People of the Rabbit), Gitwinhlgu’l (People of the Narrow Place), Ansbahwaxw (Kispiox-People of the Hiding Place), Sigit’ox (Glen Vowell-Mountain behind the Village), Hagwilget (Quiet People) and Kyah Wiget (Moricetown – Old Village). The latter two are of Wet’suwet’en descent.
All the tribes had different methods of preparing seafood and it was often used in trading. But after the Europeans came, measles, cholera and small pox wiped out entire villages.
We entered into the feast hall. Memorial feasts, Stone and Pole raising feasts and Shame feasts are still being held. It is in front of all the witnesses who are summoned that titles, rights and privileges are validated and publicly proclaimed.
We entered into the Regalia House, with various articles of “regalia” - which includes all items of ceremonial clothing worn by those attending a Feast: ceremonial blankets or robes; masks; headdresses; aprons; leggings and rattles. These were donned and utilized for very special and important occasions and are now used by the ‘Ksan Performing Arts Group for the re-enactment of traditional song and dance. There was a ceremonial headdress, carved with clan crests, adorned with abalone shell inlays, and filled with eagle down to be released from the crown by a gentle nod of the chief’s head. There were buttons, bright colors, furs, wool and a copper chest plate.
Women can be chiefs and a woman’s voice told of potlatches. The potlatch is a festival or ceremony practiced among Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. At these gatherings a family or hereditary leader hosts guests in his family's house and hold a feast for their guests. The main purpose of the potlatch is the re-distribution and reciprocity of wealth. The word comes from the Chinook Jargon, meaning "to give away" or "a gift".
During the potlatch, different events take place: singing and dancing, sometimes with masks or regalia, such as Chilkat blankets; the barter of wealth through gifts, such as dried foods, sugar, flour, or other material things, and sometimes money. For many potlatches, spiritual ceremonies take place for different occasions. This is either through material wealth like foods and goods or non-material things like songs, dances and such.
Typically, the potlatch was practiced more in the winter seasons as the warmer months were for procuring wealth for the family, clan, or village, then coming home and sharing that with neighbors and friends.
Hierarchical relations within and between clans, villages, and nations, are observed and reinforced through the distribution of wealth, dance performances, and other ceremonies. The status of any given family is raised not by who has the most resources, but by who distributes the most resources. The hosts demonstrate their wealth and prominence through giving away goods.
Potlatching was made illegal in CA in 1885 and in the US in the late nineteenth century, largely at the urging of missionaries and government agents who considered it "a worse than useless custom" that was seen as wasteful, unproductive and which was not part of "civilized" values. The potlatch was seen as a key target in assimilation policies and agendas. Missionary William Duncan wrote in 1875 that the potlatch was “by far the most formidable of all obstacles in the way of Indians becoming Christians, or even civilized.” So in 1885, the Indian Act was revised to include clauses banning the potlatch and making it illegal to practice.
"We will dance when our laws command us to dance, and we will feast when our hearts desire to feast. Do we ask the white man, “Do as the Indian does?” It is a strict law that bids us dance. It is a strict law that bids us to distribute our property among our friends and neighbors. It is a good law. Let the white man observe his law; we shall observe ours. And now, if you come to forbid us dance, be gone. If not, you will be welcome to us.”
Sustaining the customs and culture of their ancestors, indigenous people now openly hold potlatches to commit to the restoring of their ancestors' ways. Potlatches now occur frequently and increasingly more so over the years as families reclaim their birthright.
Our heads were full as we walked through the museum and gift shop, took many pictures and walked back to the Roo. Tonight was a potluck dinner and I opted to make meatballs. Spike barbequed fresh Alaskan Salmon and the buffet was loaded with a little of everything. We brought a bottle of wine – as did many other couples. It was another chance to get to better know more people.
Spike then began another marathon orientation meeting. I drifted off a few times. We are morning people and these late nights are too much for us. Besides, our bodies are still on east coast time. This was the third night in a row and I just couldn’t stay awake. We had to leave before it was finished. At that point, we couldn’t have absorbed any new information anyway.
This write-up has taken a while because I had tried to tape today’s speakers but when I listened to the tape, it broke. The tape itself broke in half and I don’t have another one. All of what I have written here is mostly from memory.
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Saturday, June 27, 2009
The sun was shining but the temperature was still 60º F. We prepared to leave and tried to follow Spike’s instructions to line up our rigs the way he had told us to, but there were some who didn’t get it. To make entering the next campground easier, he wanted all the “big guys” – motorhomes towing cars – to be directly behind him, then the fifth-wheels, then the others. We slowly drove out…all twenty-three rigs. As we left the campground, someone turned left instead of right so Roger had to go after him and round him up. Al knew immediately that something was wrong with othe Roo's engine. We crossed the Hagwilget Bridge and pulled into a turnout. We spoke to Spike on the radio and he told us to wait for Roger. As Jack - the tailgunner – passed us by, we heard him tell Spike, “They’d be hard to miss towing a red car”.
For those new to following us, we had everything overhauled before we left home, but on a shake-out run we had problems with spark plug wires becoming disconnected. Al was sure that was the problem today. He was right. Roger slid under the Roo and reached his long arm up into the engine and tightened the wires…no more problem. We were soon on the road again. I can’t tell you how sickening that feels – to think that maybe something is seriously wrong with the rig – ESPECIALLY so early in the trip.
We drove along at the speed limit, knowing that Spike had slowed a bit and hoped for us to catch up. Roger followed us in his truck and Theresa followed in the truck that pulls the tech support trailer. We passed Seeley Lake, Chihuahua pups for sale and a beat-up old Edsel for sale on a flat bed. Along the way we saw a brown bear beside the road.
We left the Yellowhead Highway and got onto the Cassiar Highway, Rte 37. The group had stopped in the Kitseguecla Village for a leg stretch and we caught up with them. As we drove back onto the highway, several children were at the side of the road waving at all of us.
Back on the road, Spike told us about the BC flagging school. For years, women couldn’t work in road construction and whenever they applied for a job, they were turned down. A woman decided to start up a flagging school as part of a retraining program and managed to get some contracts. Now there are several female Certified Traffic Control Persons on most job sites.
In 1868, the Hudson’s Bay Company built a post along here and tried trading with the natives and hired the legendary “Cataline”. This was the nickname for Jean Caux, “first, last and greatest of our packers”. From 1858 to 1912, this colorful Basque loaded mules and plodded ten miles a day, supplying mining and construction camps from Yale and Ashcroft northward through Hazelton where he often wintered. His mule trails became roads and his exploits became legends.
We drove through another village, Kitwanga or Gitwangak ("people of the place of rabbits"). It is located where the Kitwanga River runs into the Skeena River. There is recreational salmon fishing (chinook, coho, pink, sockeye and steelhead). The community is governed by a local band office and ten councilors. We drove by a number of totem poles – they are a National Historic Site of Canada.
We drove over railway tracks of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTP). The GTP was formed in 1903 and was to be CA’s second transcontinental railway. The GTP is 3,000 miles long with 833 miles through rock. It is said to have cost $105,000 a mile at the time it was built.
This is Roger’s home village so he left his truck here and is now riding with Theresa. We passed a school where a soccer game was being held and left the village to more waving children. We passed several horses and a very large vegetable garden.
We drove through a valley with the Hazelton Mountains to our right and the Coastal Range to our left. We passed the Cassiar RV Park, “the first and last Cassiar Highway full service RV Park”. We passed cedar trees; spruce; birch; black birch; willow; aspen; red cedar and hemlock. We saw oxeye daisies and arctic roses. Four motorcycles passed us going south, they were all the three-wheel kind and one of them had his headlights blinking constantly for some unknown reason.
To our right is traditional ‘Ksan territory and to our left is the Nisga’a territory. We passed Gitenyow, the last Gitxsan village on this tour. Gitanyow, “people of increasing numbers”, was formerly named Kitwancool, “people of decreasing numbers”. The band government changed its name from the Kitwancool Indian Band to the Gitanyow Indian Band in 1991. In times past, the Nisga’a people were often warring with the Gitxsans.
We were almost last in this line of twenty-three rigs so we were surprised to see a Momma bear with her cub. Spike had been narrating a lot of what we are seeing along here but I guess no one else saw this fleeting sight. We had passed them before I could reach for the radio. They stood out among all this lush greenery. Spike mentioned a speed trap and, sure enough, a little further on we saw a police car. The ride itself was rather boring with little to look at other than trees.
Linda and Ron Kane were having some problems with their rig and pulled over to a turnoff for Roger to look at. It became very windy and I asked Al if he knew why there were pink ribbons attached to some bushes in several areas. Someone else must have asked Spike that question because he answered it. There is a drainage ditch along here that fills in with bushes and weeds. A surveyor marks where he wants it cleared and a big piece of machinery called a “bush hog” comes along and cleans it out. We saw some pretty purple wildflowers called Arctic Lupines and passed a beaver dam on our left. There was also a lovely lake to our left with trees right down to the water’s edge.
We pulled into a turnoff that was very long and managed to get all our rigs into it. It was a little after noon so we ate lunch there. Soon, Linda, Ron and their friend, Allan, were back with us. Spike wanted them right behind him and also wanted us to us to get back with “the big guys”. So we drove after the Kanes and were now third in line. It made a big difference – we could hear Spike clearly and his voice wasn’t breaking up the way it had when we were way in the back. The Kanes clearly had something seriously wrong - black smoke puffed from their tailpipe; they were losing power and at one point, slowed to about 5 mph crawling up a not-so-high hill. Spike had them pull into a turnout just as we turned onto 37A, and Roger and Theresa would stay with them - about forty-five miles from the campground.
A waterfall was streaming down a tall rock face and we passed hanging glaciers. In several places, trees were down all in the same direction – evidence of snow avalanches. We passed Bear Glacier and Spike told us the movie Insomnia was filmed here in 2002 with Robin Williams, Al Pacino and Hilary Swank. The glacier is receding rapidly.
The black bears in BC come in several colors called phases. Other than black, they are most commonly cinnamon, brown and blonde. There is a white-colored phase called Kermode, or Spirit Bear. There is also a pistol blue “glacier” bear. Now, THAT, I’d like to see!
The snow gets so deep that power lines are embedded in piles of rocks twenty feet high. The entire Coastal Range has snow all year and we passed some chunks that had fallen that were the size of houses. We drove along the river through a rocky canyon, saw another beaver dam, drove over the Bear River and finally arrived in Stewart. I would estimate that 95% of the buildings in Stewart have metal roofs.
Stewart is a small town at the head of the Portland Canal. Gold and silver mining dominated the economy in the early 1900s. Nearby Hyder boomed with the discovery of rich silver veins in the upper Salmon River basin in 1917 and 1918. Stewart had a population of about 10,000 prior to World War I, which then declined to about 700 in 2000. As of 2005, its population had reduced to less than 500.
We drove around the end of the Portland Canal. It is an arm of Portland Inlet, one of the principal inlets of the BC coast. Despite its naming as a canal, the inlet is actually a fjord, a completely natural and not-man-made geographic feature that extends 70 miles. At its head is the abandoned smelter town of Anyox. The Nisga'a called the head of Portland Canal Skam-A-Kounst, meaning “safe place”. Today, a man on a bicycle was fighting the wind as he rode with a kayak balanced on his back.
The use of the word “canal” to name inlets on the BC coast and the Alaska Panhandle is a legacy of Spanish exploration in the 1700s. And the placement of the international boundary in the Portland Canal was a major issue during the negotiations over the Alaska Boundary Dispute, which heated up as a result of the Klondike Gold Rush and ended by arbitration in 1903. In 1905, Robert M. Stewart, the first postmaster, named the town Stewart.
Hyder became an access and supply point for the mines, while Stewart served as the port for Canadian mining activity. Stewart has a coastal rainforest climate, with about 72 inches per year of precipitation - much of it as snow - and an average yearly temperature of 6 degrees Celsius (about 42º F.). Stewart is Canada's most northerly ice-free port.
We drove through customs without being stopped and into Hyder, AK, population 97. It has a total area of 14.8 square miles, all of it land. Hyder was originally called Portland City, after the canal. In 1914, when the United States Postal Service told residents that there were too many cities named Portland in the US, it was renamed after Frederick Hyder, a Canadian mining engineer.
Hyder was the only practical point of access to the silver mines in CA, and the community became the port, supply point, and post office for miners by 1917. Hyder's boom years occurred between 1920 and 1930, when the Riverside Mine on the US side of the fjord extracted gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, and tungsten. The mine operated from 1924 until 1950.
Hyder became popular with long distance motorcycle riders in 1998 when author Ron Ayres set a record of riding to the contiguous 48 states in six days. Ayres went on to add to the 48-state-record by continuing on to Hyder to establish a new 49-state record of 7 days, 0 hours and 20 minutes. Ayres named the new long distance ride the "48 Plus" and the 49-state ride has become very popular with members of the long distance motorcycle riding Iron Butt Association.
Hyder is also the location of the annual "Hyder-Seek" gathering of long-distance motorcyclists who travel from all over North America each Memorial Day weekend.
Hyder has some notoriety as the place where people become "Hyderized." Two of the town's bars issue certificates to patrons being "Hyderized" - if the patron consumes a shot of 150 proof (75% alcohol) Everclear. After the shot is downed, the glass is set on fire to show the new Hyderized patron just what he has done to his esophagus.
As interesting as all this is, the town itself is quite worn looking with some buildings totally derelict. As soon as we drove over the border the road changed to dirt. Abandoned buildings and vehicles are everywhere. Jack and Martha – our tailgunners – had driven ahead and planned our parking. We “big guys” were the first to park and then the smaller, more maneuverable rigs. Over the radio, Jack assigned us site numbers and told us to drive to where Martha was standing and to follow her instructions. We thought it ran quite smoothly but later learned there had been some snags.
As soon as we were all parked – before we started to set up – we met at the office for a brief meeting. Camp Run-A-Muck is managed by Susie and she gave us a map of town and a brief talk. It was cold, raining slightly and the mosquitoes were horrendous. Perhaps it is good that it was cold because we were all bundled up so that only our faces were exposed to the ravenous insects.
Back at the Roo…The hookups are only for electricity and water – no sewer. We opted to check out the town rather than brave the cold, rain and mosquitoes to go to the bear viewing deck. We made the right choice – those who did go to the viewing area didn’t see any bears. The salmon aren’t running yet so the bears aren’t around. We had been told this might be the situation on the way up to Alaska, so maybe the salmon will be running when we are on our way down.
We walked into one shop and were greeted with, “The yellowjackets are back”. Our yellow vests – which are required at all times – are easy to spot. The store that we were told sells wonderful fudge was not open, even though the sign said we were within open hours. Another building intrigued us – it offered a bar, liquor store and gift shop. Inside was a long bar, pool tables, a window to buy alcohol by the bottle and a brightly lit room at the back with native art, Christmas decorations and woven baskets – a one-stop-shopping for whiskey and homemade jam.
We had seen the whole town and visited every open store in about thirty minutes. Spike had told us to carry our passports at all times at this stop because we will be crossing the border several times. The woman at the border crossing took one look at our yellow vests and barely looked at our passports. We took some pictures of the fjord and drove into Stewart. The town is three blocks long and the only thing we did was look at some posted menus. The only thing I wish had been open was the toaster museum – that would have been interesting. We had arrived at Camp Run-A-Muck around 3:00 and we had seen both towns and were back in the Roo by 5:30. Shortly thereafter, Garland knocked on our door and the four of us went out to eat with Beverly and Wayne.
The woman at the camp office had really pushed the food at “The Bus”. Apparently the woman who runs it is married to a fisherman and her seafood is supposed to be the best. Unfortunately, it was swarming with yellowjackets and the appearance of the old school bus/kitchen is a bit off-putting, to say the least. We drove to Stewart. This crossing was even easier. When asked why we were entering CA, Al said for dinner. The guard asked why we weren’t eating at the Bus and Al told him it was too crowded. The guard flipped through our passport and told us to have a good meal.
We ate at the Bitter Creek Café – probably the nicest place in town. The ambiance is pleasant with old coffee mills hanging from the walls and several antique coffee makers lined up on a counter. The service was a bit slow but the food made up for it. We would definitely recommend it.
By the time we got back to the Roo we were really tired. Only one TV station is available. It is run by the local natives, is unreliable and may change programming in the middle of a movie. We dug out one of our taped movies and fell asleep watching it.
Total miles for the day: 173.0. Elevation: Just above sea level.
Total miles for the trip: 4,000.4. (Mable went to sleep early.)
Sunday, June 28, 2009
It is cold and raining again, with the mosquitoes still biting. At 1:00 p.m. we joined Spike to visit Salmon Glacier in our vehicles. We started up the road beside the campground and it immediately turned from dirt to pavement covered with rocks. Not just little pebbles, but rocks two to four inches across. The going was very slow.
We drove into Tongass National Forest, officially the Tongass/Stikine National Forest. It is the largest national forest in the US. It is a temperate rain forest and is remote enough to be home to many species of endangered and rare flora and fauna. The Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserve was established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1902. In 1907, Roosevelt created the Tongass National Forest. In 1908, the two forests were joined, with the combined forest area encompassing most of southeast Alaska. Further presidential proclamations of 1909 (in the last months of the Roosevelt administration), and in 1925 by Calvin Coolidge, expanded the National Forest.
Tongass is part of the "perhumid rainforest zone," and the forest is primarily made up of western red cedar, Sitka spruce, and western hemlock. Tongass is Earth's largest remaining temperate rainforest. The terrain underlying Tongass is divided between karst (limestone rock, well-drained soil, and many caves), and granite (poorly-drained soil).
By the time we passed the bear viewing deck, the rain was really coming down. Spike had warned us that the ride to the glacier is about twenty-eight miles so to be prepared for some really difficult driving. There are several gold mines in this area and he told us about different types of mining. For the sake of easier reading, I am only going to refer to gold – although these methods are also used for gemstones and minerals.
Placer mining – or “in place” mining - is the mining of alluvial deposits for gold. The name derives from Spanish “placer”, meaning “sandbank”. It refers to mining gold found in alluvial deposits - deposits of sand and gravel in modern or ancient stream beds. The gold, having been moved by stream flow from an original source such as a vein, is typically only a tiny portion of the total deposit. Placers supplied most of the gold for a large part of the ancient world.
Underground hard rock mining refers to various underground mining techniques used to excavate hard minerals such as gold. This entails blasting and tunneling.
Open-pit mining - also known as open-cast mining, open-cut mining, and strip mining - refers to a method of extracting gold from the earth by its removal from an open pit. Open-pit mines that produce building materials and dimension stone are commonly referred to as quarries. Waste rock is piled up at the surface, near the edge of the open pit. Ore which has been processed is known as tailings, and is generally slurry. This slurry is pumped to a settling pond, where the water evaporates. These ponds can often be toxic because cyanide is used to treat gold ore.
Today we passed all three of these types of mines. One old hard rock mine is boarded up but some gold can still be found around it. One of our Tailgunners, Jack, found specks of gold at this site on his tour with Spike last year.
We continued to drive on hard-packed gravel, dodging rocks and potholes. A truck camper passed us going downhill just as we entered BC. We drove through an area with a pit mine on the left and a settling pond on the right. Another mine was burrowing into the mountain. We had to maneuver around huge chunks of rock - larger than our car - that had fallen into the roadway.
Melted ice from Salmon Glacier – North America’s fifth largest glacier – descends 4,300 feet to be reborn as the Salmon River. The face of the glacier is always changing with crevasses being created by the cross movement of the ice flow. Looking truly like a river of ice, this glacier shows a line of rock debris called a medial moraine running down the middle of it. We saw this in several places on the way up and tried really hard to take pictures, but pictures can’t always show what the eye can easily see.
We finally arrived at our lookout point and could see…nothing. It was snowing slightly and we felt like we were walking in a cloud. The fog and mist was so thick we could just see each other. The dogs were let out and they romped and had a grand old time in the snow. It stopped snowing and we could see a little of the glacier for a few minutes, then it would fog in again. We all took pictures of ourselves with snow on June 28. Then we talked to The Bear Man.
Keith Scott was born in New Brunswick, CA, April 17, 1936. While attending vocational high school he played basketball and ended his graduating year winning the league’s scoring title and was named player of the year. He went on to play professional basketball for the House of David and then the Harlem Aces for two and a half seasons. He was the only Caucasian on the team at the time. He had the privilege of playing with and against many great basketball players such as Bob Cousy of the Boston Celtics and Wilt Chamberlain of the Harlem Globetrotters.
A non-drinker, Keith was often the designated driver on road trips between games. He would take side roads to the next game to enjoy seeing wildlife and a more natural landscape. Exploring nature eventually turned from a hobby into a lifetime vocation. Keith spends every summer in Alaska and the Canadian north hiking and looking for bears. He gives public lectures and slide shows on the subject of bears and bear safety. He is known as “The Bear Man” because of his expertise in bear behavior and his many safe encounters with black bears, polar bears and even grizzly bears.
He has published eleven books and made two DVDs. He has been lecturing and playing basketball at schools since 1972, and promotes no drinking, smoking or drugs. He used to speak at a hundred schools a year, but now has pared that back to about thirty.
We bought one of his DVDs as a souvenir. On it, there is a sow (mother) black bear with two cubs – one is black and one is white. White black bears are not albinos - albinos have no pigment in their skin or eyes. White black bears have a gray nose, brown eyes, pink pads on their paws and ivory claws. They are known to the indigenous people as spirit bears or ghost bears. (I may have written about this before.) The American Black Bear usually ranges in length from five to six feet long.
Grizzly bears have claws as long as human fingers. Cubs are born helpless and cannot open their eyes for forty days. When a Grizzly bear decides it is time for her cubs to go off on their own, she chases them up a tree, goes off and leaves them to fend for themselves – usually at 2-2½ years old.
One thing has been nagging at me: I have been hearing conflicting statements about which bears can climb trees. I did some research and finally found the true answer. ALL bears are born with the ability to climb trees. However, when grizzlies grow to a certain size, they can no longer climb most trees because of their size. Also, when they walk on the ground or on rocks, their claws become dulled. Brown bears, on the other hand, have claws that can retract like a cat's and therefore stay sharp. So brown bears can climb trees easily. Whew! That had made no sense to me at all – a mother grizzly that can’t climb trees chases her cubs up a tree? Now I understand.
We asked to have our picture taken with the Bear Man and he obliged. Some people left and there was a break in the weather so we took some more photos. On the way back down the mountain, a huge semi came barreling up behind us and another came towards us very fast. It really scared us because the road is so hard to maneuver. We stopped several times to take pictures. A pickup entered from the right from behind a rock pile - racing out of one of the mine roads - and scared us silly. We passed three rented Class Cs with foreign plates heading up the mountain. We aren’t sure what these things are – they look like six inch worms growing out of the ground. We were the next to last car to make it back to camp.
I had forgotten my glasses the night before so we drove to the Bitter Creek Café in Stewart to retrieve them. When the crossing guard asked why we were entering CA, I told him I had forgotten my glasses and he just smiled, shook his head and waved us on.
At 5:30 we headed over to the Sealaska Inn here in Hyder. The owner of our campground also owns the Inn. On each tour, Spike hosts a pizza night with every kind of pizza you can imagine. I think the cook just throws on whatever he finds in the kitchen and they are excellent. The pizzas just keep coming as long as they are eaten. Tonight we sat with Edie and Don, Jack and Martha. I like the idea of sitting with different people and getting to know more of them. The Inn, of course, made its money on drinks – which flowed liberally. This was a fun night.
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Monday, June 29, 2009
We wanted to get off early and were able to leave by 7:00 a.m. On the way out of Hyder we saw this sign. In Stewart, we stopped at a bakery and bought some blueberry muffins. Last night, we had specifically asked what time the gas station opened and were told 7:00 a.m. However, the real opening time is 7:30 so we had to wait for a while. It was almost 7:45 by the time we were back on the road. On the way out of Stewart I took this picture as we drove over the Bear River.
There was a beautiful waterfall and we drove through an avalanche area. The trees had fallen upward on the right side of the road because the avalanche had come down on the left side of the road and continued on up the other side. The river along here is really racing and we took pictures of some of the rapids. We also took pictures of the Bear Glacier and this close-up shows the blues. We finally arrived at the junction of 37 and 37A. We continued northward on 37.
A black bear was on the side of the road and when he saw us coming he ran into the woods too fast for me to take a picture. Along the side of the road were clumps of arctic poppy and we sighted a second black bear. After the third bear sighting we slowed down to 30-35 mph but we finally decided we had seen enough bears and wanted to get miles behind us.
We pulled in to stretch at the Mehan Lake rest area. Below the level of the road, a pickup pulling a small camper had parked next to the lake and couldn’t be seen from the road. We saw a man leave the open-pit restroom and go to the truck. It was 45º F. out. I remember those days not too fondly.
We pulled into the Bell II Resort and were second in line behind Lance and Gisela, who had left much earlier than us. The Bell II started out as a basic service station for travelers on their way to Alaska and the Yukon. Now the Bell 2 lodge has developed into a modern wilderness resort. It is equipped with satellite communication and state-of-the-art environmental facilities and offers the comforts of a first class lodge with a rustic touch. In the winter months the lodge is home to Last Frontier Heliskiing, is considered to be one of the premier heliskiing operations in the world and boasts the largest heliski area in the world.
Slowly, one by one, the RV Alaska Tours rigs arrived and parked behind each other in the manner in which Spike had told us. At 11:00, Al and I went inside hoping to have lunch. Only the coffee shop was open. We had been told the restaurant would be open and we were greatly disappointed. The restaurant was expecting a bus and wouldn’t wait on us. They knew forty-some-odd people would be arriving this morning in RVs but they were only worried about that bus. We ate in our rig, as I am sure many others did.
Spike and the staff arrived and we were soon on the road. We had driven the first ninety-eight miles alone and I think we were all happy to be back together. We drove over the Bell-Irving River and out of the Hazelton Mountains. This area gets 47”-67” of rain each year.
The Dominion Telegraph built a line through here and by 1899, there was a worker living in a cabin every twenty-five miles to tend to the line. We passed an area where there had been a mudslide just ten days ago. We saw a sign for the Ningunsaw Provincial Park and in another area a bridge had washed out three years ago. A black bear sprinted across the road in front of us. We saw the Little Bob Quinn Lake and passed an emergency air field used to fight forest fires. There are 700 airfields between the US border and Nome for just this reason.
Two motorcycles hop scotched around us from the back rig to in front of Spike. We drove over Devil Creek and Thomas Creek and passed the Iskut Burn, a fire in 1958 that burned 78,000 acres. It takes 100 years for a burn like that to recover because in this part of the world, the growing season is just 90 days. It is hard to have cattle around here also because there are only 110 days of cattle grazing. We could see down the valley that a frontal system was coming at us.
There was an 8% downgrade and then we double-dutched up a long hill. We passed the two motorcyclists who had passed us - they had stopped in a turnout and were putting on rain gear. Ahead of us, we could see virga (precipitation that leaves the clouds but dissipates before it reaches the ground). We drove over Eastman Creek, so named for George Eastman - of the camera fame - because he used to hunt big game in this area.
Willow Ridge is closed – whatever it is. We passed Kineskan Lake on our left while the peaks to our right are jagged and rocky. We stopped at Tatogga Lake Resort and again parked in rows. The rain was really coming down but I wanted to see what was inside. It may be a nice resort but today it was a waste of time: there was coffee and tea, but I have coffee and tea in the Roo. The walls are lined with taxidermied deer, moose and elk heads. There are the pelts and heads of a bear and a lynx. I guess hunters would really like this place.
The sign outside read: Word of the Day…Twokker. I asked several employees what it meant and they didn’t know. Finally, I asked the cook, a Britisher. He said a twokker was someone who twoks. Twok stands for “taking without official consent”. So a twokker is a thief.
We passed an avalanche area where a year or two ago the road fell into the lake. For miles and miles dandelions grow right up from the crushed stone along the side of the road. They have all gone to seed now, but there must be millions of stems left. We passed another sign: Livestock next 32 km.
We passed through Iskut, a small, mostly aboriginal community, the home of the Iskut First Nation, a group of Tahltan people. Shopping and gas can be purchased at Kluachon Center. Iskut is presently well-known for the protracted disagreement over the use of the area for resource extraction. The rapid expansion of mining throughout the area has given rise to much controversy over the level of consultation given to local First Nations' people. Of particular public interest has been Royal Dutch Shell’s plan for coalbed methane extraction on the Klappan Plateau - the Tahltan people's traditional hunting and trapping territory. Klappan has been named the Sacred Headwaters due to the fact that it forms the headwaters of several significant salmon rivers. The controversy over the Sacred Headwaters is also further complicated by the different levels of Tahltan government.
In the 1870’s a gold rush occurred based at McDame Creek and at Thibert Creek, a tributary of Dease Creek. In 1874, more than a million dollars worth of gold was taken from this region and in 1877 a prospector found the largest nugget ever recorded in British Columbia – a 72 ounce gold nugget, mined from McDame Creek.
After the excitement of the gold rushes, the Cassiar was nearly forgotten until the early 1940’s when the American military built the Alaska Highway, further opening up the area and providing ease of transportation like never before. Small companies began gold mining with heavy equipment. Then, the early 1950’s brought the Cassiar Asbestos Mine, which operated from 1953 until 1992 and produced the company town of Cassiar.
I am not going to get into writing a lot about asbestos, but I think the following is interesting. Asbestos was named by the ancient Greeks, although the naming of minerals was not very consistent yet at that time. The ancients already recognized certain hazards of the material. The Greek geographer Strabo and the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder noted that the material damaged lungs of slaves who wove it into cloth. Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor, is said to have had a tablecloth made of asbestos.
Wealthy Persians, who bought asbestos imported over the Hindu Kush, amazed guests by cleaning the cloth by simply exposing it to fire. Some of the Persians believed the fiber was fur from an animal that lived in fire and died when exposed to water. While traveling to China, Marco Polo described observing miraculous garments that were cleaned by being placed in fire.
Some archeologists believe that ancients made shrouds of asbestos, wherein they burned the bodies of their kings, in order to preserve only their ashes, and prevent their being mixed with those of wood or other combustible materials commonly used in funeral pyres. Others assert that the ancients used asbestos to make perpetual wicks for sepulchral or other lamps. In more recent centuries, asbestos was indeed used for this purpose. Although asbestos causes skin to itch upon contact, ancient literature indicates that it was prescribed for diseases of the skin, and particularly for the itch. As someone who has battled eczema since I was 18-months old, I shudder at the thought.
We passed the Bear Paw Resort and saw horses beside the road with no fence. Spike says there is a herd of about twenty of them and he has seen them actually in the road. A big rig was on the side of the road, tipped against the embankment. Just as Spike was talking about it, we passed a brown bear with two cubs. I reached for the radio and told about it, but I think Spike may have been talking over me. The big rig on the side had done exactly what Spike had warned us about: he had driven too close to the soft shoulder of the road and the shoulder had given way. Spike says they will probably have to dig some of the road down to the rig’s level to get it out. It will be very costly. This is one very good example of why driving to Alaska alone without a guide is not such a good idea.I was unable to get a good picture, but Stan sent us this one.
The road turned to dirt and was very steep down to the Stikine River. Spike says that is because it is too steep to pave. I don’t fully understand that, but the road is packed solid, very steep and so curvy there are switchbacks. The speed limit is 30km/ph (less than 19 mph), and some crazy driver wanted to pass all of us along here. He hop scotched around us and we let him. On the other side of the river we returned to pavement.
There are fifty-five separate terrains in the Yukon and Alaska. The closer we got to the Gnat Mountain summit there were less grasses and more mosses. We passed Lower Gnat Lake, crested the Gnat summit at 4,200’ and drove over the Continental Divide where the waters flow west to the Pacific Ocean and east to the Arctic Ocean. The elevation of the tree-line changes as we drive further north and the closer to the Arctic Circle, the lower the tree-line. There are some serious potholes – some are marked with orange cones and have to be driven around carefully.
There were short, Black Spruce trees with a root system that spreads out like the spokes of an umbrella because of the permafrost. Permafrost is ground that has been permanently frozen since the last ice age. As we drove down from the summit of Gnat Mountain, we could see Dease Lake in the distance. There was a nasty looking cloud over it and it looked like the cloud was dumping rain on the area. We passed more school bus signs and wondered where the children live - we didn't see any houses. A helicopter flew overhead. We arrived at the campground and as we waited in line to park, a seaplane flew overhead. The Kanes are back with us and the problem with their rig turned out to be not-so-bad after all.
Dease Lake has a population of 450 and offers all visitors’ services. It was named in 1834 by the Hudson’s Bay Co. (HBC). The HBC established a post here in 1838, but abandoned it a year later. Laketon, on the west side of the lake, was a center for boat building during the Cassiar gold rush in 1872-80. In 1874, William Moore - following an old Indian trail - cut a trail from Telegraph Creek on the Stikine River to the gold rush settlement on Dease Lake. This trail became Telegraph Creek Road which was used in 1941 to haul supplies for the Alaska Highway construction. The supplies were then ferried down the Dease River. The Northern Lights College has a campus here.
Check out the great view we had out the Roo’s front window.
Total miles for the day: 244.8. Elevation: 2694’.
Total miles for the trip: 4,245.2. Gas in Stewart, BC: $1.13 per liter.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
At 7:30, Roger came to the Roo and applied some silicon to the spark plug caps and reset them. We managed to get a small posting out this morning, but we are still backed up. We needed gas but were too tired to get it last night so we drove to the station this morning. We returned to the campground and parked by the front gate until we all left at 9:30. Before we left, Spike very nicely asked that any slow moving vehicles – or rigs that have problems getting up hills – to please stay to the back so as to not slow down the whole caravan. The weather was 55º F. and overcast.
We drove along beside the 30-mile-long Dease Lake. We passed over the Serpentine Creek and less than ten miles out the road turned to dirt. Spike claims rain is better for driving on dirt roads because dry dust is worse. Two trucks passed with LDM on their sides. Spike asked Roger what they were – Lake District Maintenance. We were only driving about 20 mph when we came upon some maintenance crews cleaning out a ditch. There was a big bucket loader gulping everything -bushes, trees, rocks - leaving a rather neat, even ditch.
After about fifteen miles of dirt road we were back on pavement again, but still only moving 25 mph. The Kanes called into Spike that an alarm was going off saying their jacks were down. Clearly they were not, but the shrieking alarm was driving them nuts. They pulled into a turnout and waited for Roger. We passed over Packer Tom Creek, named for a well-known Indian who lived in this area.
We passed Elbow Lake and the Dease River Crossing RV & Campground. A mother moose and her calf were by the side of the road, but when Spike drove by, they ran across the road and disappeared into the woods. We stopped at the rest area at Pine Tree Lake and the Kanes and Roger caught up with us – sans alarm.
Back on the road…we passed a pickup pulling a travel trailer that had stopped by the side of the road. We saw what looked like a woman brushing off a large rock, but Spike thought they had hit something. If that happens, we are to report it immediately to the RCMP. The meat will be salvaged and given to charities. After we all passed, Roger stopped to see if he could help and learned that they had stopped just to water their dog. Oh, well…
The Cottonwood River is lined with spruce trees and we passed Simmons Lake. Lang Lake is very pretty and cabins are being built along its shores. There is something yellow all over the ground under the pine trees. We surmise that this is pine pollen. When we lived on Cape Cod, each spring everything – cars, bushes, houses – would be coated with yellow pine pollen for a few weeks. It would come through the window screens and settle between the screen and the window pane. When the weather got warm and I opened the window, our cat would lie in it and enjoy the breeze. However, when it was time for her to groom herself, she would sneeze repeatedly – with a strange look on her face like she just couldn’t understand why she was doing something so odd.
The earth here has a reddish tint and we passed the Cusac Gold Mine. We finally drove over the Troutline Creek and arrived in Jade City, population 50. Jade City is not really a city, but a community made up of jade businesses. It earned its name as a commercial outlet for jade mined from the nearby mountains. There are several major jade mines in the Cassiar region and the Princess Jade Mine accounts for 90% of the world’s jade supply.
The Princess mine has been a family business for almost forty years. In 1985 they built the store, Jade City, and have mined and designed jade ever since. Claudia gave us a brief talk on the history of jade, but the jade-cutting demonstrations were outside and it was still raining. A cat met us by sitting on a carved bird outside the door. It didn’t seem to mind the rain.
The English word jade is derived from the Spanish term piedra de ijada (first recorded in 1565) or "loin stone", from its reputed efficacy in curing ailments of the loins and kidneys. Jade is the official gemstone of BC and also the official gemstone of the state of Alaska. A two-ton block of jade sits outside the Anchorage Visitor's Center in downtown Anchorage - mined from nearby Kobuk and donated to the city as a showpiece. Jade is also the state gemstone of the State of Wyoming. The 2008 Summer Olympic medals have a ring of jade in them.
We both knew going in the door that I was going to buy something – I love jade and have several pieces. I bought a lovely pendant. There seemed to be some kind of delay and we were all sitting in our rigs waiting to leave for a while. Altogether, we were there over an hour and a half.
We passed the road that leads to the former Cassiar Asbestos Mine. Much of the world’s high-grade chrysotile asbestos came from Cassiar. The mine closed in 1992 and the town was dismantled. It is now the site of a BC Chrysotile Corp. reclamation project and is closed to visitors.
We crossed over McDame Creek and passed an area near the former gold rush town of Centerville. It was at the junction of McDame Creek, the Dease River and Quarterrock Creek, and once had a population of 3,000. A miner named Alfred Freeman washed out the biggest all-gold (no quartz) nugget ever found in BC on a claim near Centerville in 1877 - it weighed 72-ounces. (Am I repeating myself?) Today we passed a gold mining operation with more than $100,000 in equipment. The weather was miserable.
In a really bad, bumpy section of road a woman flagger stood holding her “Slow” sign with her tame coyote tethered nearby. I don’t know if it is purebred, but it certainly looks like a well-fed coyote. The road crew was busy re-gravelling the road, laying down a new layer of gravel over the old, and steamrolling it to pack it hard.
Good Hope Lake is a small community – population 75 – on a lake by the same name. Aeroplane Lake is green because it has no air in it; therefore it has no fish or algae. The bottom of the lake is clay and limestone, adding to its green color. Mud Lake is aptly named and we saw a sign to Boya Lake Provincial Park. The sun was trying to come out as we passed Charlie Chief Creek.
We left the Cassiar Mountains and entered the Yukon Plateau. These mountains date back to the Cambrian period or earlier, and are the oldest in northern BC. This area contains numerous crystals of tourmaline, garnet, feldspar, quartz and beryl.
At 28-Mile Creek, an RV was heading south much too fast and we all moved to the right to give him room. All our RVs are filthy and caked with mud but all the RVs heading south are spotlessly clean – they won’t be for long. By 3:00 p.m., the rain had stopped and the sun had come out. There were a lot of Arctic Lupines along the side of the road.
We stopped at the Blue Lakes turnout and took group pictures. All the dogs (there are nineteen on this tour), ran around and frolicked with total abandon. Lance and Gisela’s five labs whipped their tails back and forth and four of them actually ran up the steep hill as those of us down below stared in amazement. It was very steep and they used up their pent up energy to amuse us.
Back on the road…Spike drives a Class A and pulls a small travel trailer. He drove over a huge bump and we think the back of the travel trailer hit the road. We are amazed at how it bounces and jiggles – it would be a wild ride inside. A big 18-wheeler came up behind Roger at the very end of our caravan while we were moving very slowly. Roger contacted him with his CB and the trucker said not to worry, he was in no hurry, too.
Four southbound motorcyclists were stopped and Spike stopped to talk to them. They asked how much farther on the road continued to be so bad. When Spike told us this, we all laughed. I don’t know what Spike told them, but I think the answer would be about 100 miles. In the middle of nowhere…a man was power-walking. Where did he come from? Where was he going?
We passed over Cormier Creek and an 18-wheeler passed us heading south much too fast. They can fly over these bad roads, but they shouldn’t. By 4:00 the sun was gone, the sky ahead had gotten very dark and the wind had started to pick up. We left BC and entered Yukon Territory, “Larger Than Life”.
Yukon is the westernmost and smallest of CA’s three federal territories. It was named after the Yukon River -Yukon means "Great River" in Gwich’in. Created in 1898 as the Yukon Territory, the federal government's most recent update of the Yukon Act in 2003 confirmed "Yukon", rather than "Yukon Territory", as the current usage standard.
It is sparsely populated, and although the climate is Arctic and subarctic - very dry with long, cold winters - the long sunshine hours in the short summers allow hardy crops and vegetables, along with a profusion of flowers and fruit to blossom. Its capital is Whitehorse.
As we left the Cassiar Highway and turned east onto the Alaska Highway, it started to really pour. It continued to pour for the last twelve or thirteen miles to the Downtown RV Park. Martha and Jack stood out in the rain directing us to our sites. Welcome to Watson Lake, “Gateway to the Yukon”.
Coming into town we had passed over the Upper Liard River and it made me curious about the name. The Liard River First Nation - also known as the Liard First Nation - is a First Nation in southeastern Yukon. Its main centers are Upper Liard, Yukon and Watson Lake. The language originally spoken by the Liard people was Kaska and they are members of the Kaska Tribal Council which is pursuing land claims in the Yukon. The Upper Liard population in 2001 was 159.
Just a block from the campground is the Sign Forest. It was started by a homesick soldier during construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942. Over the years, tourists have continued adding signs showing the names of their hometowns. Today, the collection includes more than 60,000 signs. Al and I had planned to add our OTOW license plate from the Roo and replacing it with one from Alaska. However, with all the cold and rain, our arthritis is really screaming so we decided to just stay put in the Roo and let our bodies heal. All that jouncing today didn’t help, but we are having a wonderful time and wouldn’t have missed this for anything.
The Northern Lights Centre is across the street and coupons were handed out for $1 off the entrance fee, but we declined that also. We took the coupon though, because we think we may pass this way on our return trip. It sounds really interesting and something we would really enjoy. Images of the aurora borealis are displayed in a planetarium-like dome theater. Narration details the myths and science behind the luminous phenomena. The fact that we skipped this wonderful show should tell you what a toll this trip is taking on our bodies.
Watson Lake - population 1,000 – was named for Frank Watson, a trapper from England who settled here in 1898. It is an important transportation, distribution and communication center for southern Yukon.
Karla gave us a can of cat food that her cat wouldn’t eat. There are just two cats on this tour – our Maddy and Rich and Karla’s Maddie. How did that happen?
Total miles for the day: 161.9. Elevation: 2,285.
Total miles for the trip: 4,407.1. Gas in Dease Lake: $1.26 per liter.
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