July 12 – 23 Vermont, New Hampshire and Baa-Ha-Ba, Maine

After bidding farewell to Vanessa and Paul, we stopped by Canadian Tire to get a Bug Zapper Racket that was convenient when we were visiting Les and Monique: The mosquitoes were out in force in this part of Canada and we were anticipating using it tonight.  As we passed into Quebec, I thought I was in France all over again: The road and business signs (except for Subway and McDonalds) and even the cashiers all sported French as the primary language.  Bob and I spent time interpreting the signs as part of our French lessons!

We made it through the border without having to sacrifice any of our groceries. Once in Vermont we landed at Prouty Beach Campground and RV Park.  It was warm but not obscenely so and we went for a walk along the lake.  Now that we had decent wi-fi and cell coverage we spent a few hours devouring Stage 16 of the Tour de France and wondering how the riders were managing through the horrific heat wave plaguing Portugal, Spain, France and the UK.  Our relatives in England were managing ok with the heat but they certainly weren’t used to it.  We are definitely going to be retrofitting whatever house we get in France with air conditioning (usually the ductless units) in anticipation of the increasing temperatures.

The next day we decided to walk to Newport which is less than a mile away. We left late morning, it was in the 70’s and a bit muggy. We meandered through the streets, visited a large gothic Catholic Cathedral, took in the architecture of traditional New England homes that in our estimation must have housed a few generations of families based on their size. 

Impressive Catholic Church overlooking Newport

We then strolled along the waterfront replete with a fake swan along one of the canals that eventually changed its position when we left the next morning. By that time it was noon, and we were starting to feel that suffocating humidity that we hadn’t experienced in a long time.  We have been to the Amazon and Cambodia, and in those places the humidity is nearly 100% and in some cases nearly 100 degrees, but we’re not getting any younger! We were both sweating profusely and went into the supermarket to stick our heads into the freezers and grab some necessities – like wine….

We walked back to the RV and were fortunately getting some decent shade with the help of our awning that extended over the picnic table and a breeze started to kick up.  Bob announced that we had walked five miles with some decent uphill stints; that may explain why the back of my neck had created its own water feature🥵.  I broke out my special fan that you add water to that converts to a mister; I set it up on the table next to me and was quite comfortable. We had lunch and basically took a siesta until the hottest part of the afternoon subsided.  This is great practice for our transition to Europe where the shops close down in the afternoons anyway.

Our air conditioning unit is loud and we decided to save that for the evening when we catch up on the Tour de France and a movie. By that time the temperature had dropped to a reasonable level and we opened the windows for the remainder of the night.  

The next day we passed through New Hampshire on our way to Maine.  This area is stunning in the fall (as we experienced years before) as you imagine a carpet of blazing orange and red with the quintessential church spires erupting from the landscape.  We drove through Lancaster with its charming, traditional architecture.  We soon got more Moose caution signs – we hadn’t banked on that on the east coast and I have been educated yet again.

We settled into our spot at the KOA outside of Bar Harbor and set out for said location the next day.  

On our way to the harbor, we stopped by Acadia National Park; we had been there before during “leaf peeping” season and decided to drop into the visitor center, once again leveraging our National Parks Pass and collecting a magnet for the board.  Though it was a short hike, there was some rather steep uphill, it was nearly noon and really hot and muggy.  I felt like I was in a hot yoga session.  We headed out to the Bar Harbor (Baa Haa Baa), to cool off and grab a bite to eat; I had an overpriced but tasty Lobster Roll and lots of iced tea.  We bummed around the shops and visited the harbor itself.  It was super busy as its a tourist hot spot but fun all the same. 

Ships docked in Bar Harbor

We had parked the rig in the shade near an athletic field not far from the designated RV Parking.  Unfortunately all the designated RV parking spots were taken and the dirt lot next to it was virtually empty. We still paid for a ticket to avoid getting fined.  It all worked out great in the end as we scored a spot in the shade😍

On our way back to the KOA, we stopped by an extension of the bay to have our tea as we love picking interesting spots as part of the RV trippin experience. The idea was to sit at a shady picnic table at a rest stop that overlooked the bay, watch the bird life and contemplate our bucolic surroundings – well, the mosquitoes had a different agenda….so we wound up bagging that idea! 

After 13,000 steps in the heat, crowds and humidity, I opted for a shower and to spend the rest of the evening in the air conditioning, recouping from the day. 

The next day we headed down the coast of Maine via Highway 1.

Along the way we spotted a large blue building that was part of a larger blueberry attraction; Maine is apparently the blueberry capital of the world. We of course had to check it out and though they have a smorgasbord of blueberry products, oddly there were no fresh blueberries.  

Blueberry Land – they take their blueberries seriously

Moving on, we diverted to Jonesport to get closer to the sea. We found a camping area filled with RVs and sorta crashed it; the camp host asked us what we were doing and we responded that we were just taking pictures – she was cool with that and indicated that the camp was full anyway. Then the other camp host came by  and asked us if everything was ok and we inquired about having our tea in this really great spot; he extended his New England hospitality to us so we sat next to the bay and had our tea amongst the seagulls and salty air – sans the mosquitoes! We caught the interest of some of the nearby RV inhabitants and wound having a great conversation with some of the locals about our travels. The gals were playing a game under a pop up and the guys were under a nearby awning. When Bob asked the boys what they were up to they said they were going to visit the “Sardine Museum” – as if to say they weren’t up to anything. When we bid our farewell to these lovely New Englanders we passed by the Sardine Museum – such a beast does exist in Jonesport, Maine🎣🛖

The bay at Jonesport, Maine

We went through the backroads and ended back up on Highway 1 on our way to Houlton which is next to the Canadian border.  It was rural Maine with farms of barley, corn and other assorted crops.  As its now late-July, the sun is beginning to tilt in such a way that the fields and forests give off that summer smell of dry grass and pine needles that beckons the eventual transition to fall. We stopped at the Million Dollar Scenic View Byway that boasts a massive lake called “Grand Lake” with a view of New Brunswick just on the other side.  Granted there weren’t any other RV’s coming this way, let alone much traffic as this must be one of the roads less travelled despite its scenic byway designation (it could be one of the hotspots in the fall though). Yet here we were enveloped in an unexpected peace, surrounded by the quietude and shimmering of lakes and fields where the long shadows journey into the evening twilight. I suddenly felt encapsulated for a moment in the rarified presence of mid-summer, away from the incursions of civilization and shielded from the heat plaguing the rest of the Eastern Seaboard. Even the occasional farm seemed to be caught up in the ether of nature’s siesta.

The unexpected revelation of Grand Lake at the Million Dollar View viewpoint.

We stopped off to get groceries and I looked for the legendary wild Maine blueberries and oddly the store only had raspberries and blackberries.  I had become pretty perplexed by the whole blueberry business.  Yet….they had Washington Rainier Cherries!! I of course pounced on a bag like a hungry fox.

One of the stately buildings in Houlton, Maine

We ended the day at the Houlton KOA who had kindly reserved a cooked lobster for moi. 

The perfect specimen ready for devouring – and yes, Rainier Cherries

Bob, not being a shellfish, person opted for steak and we dined on surf and turf as the evening began to cool enough for a campfire.

We spent the evening by the fire catching up on decent wi-fi and cell coverage in anticipation of our next leg into Canada where we know we will get a Verizon throttling as we have before📶= not. And the wi-fi is always spotty at RV parks no matter where you go.

Weaponized for any potential invasion

July 11 – July 19 Niagara Falls and trippin through Ontario

Meet Shoeless (the White Sox Mascot)! Gifted to us by Bob’s friend Christina while we were in Chicago. The dashboard is getting a bit crowded with our growing family👨‍👩‍👦‍👦

Welcome Shoeless!

We left Chicago, driving through Indiana and Michigan into Ontario.  It turned out to be a long day with over 400 miles.  We stopped off at a Starbucks in the early evening and I saw a salon next door and luckily they were open with only one hairdresser in attendance and totally void of customers.  I just needed a quick trim and we struck up a conversation; I was curious as to where she was originally from due to her coloring and accent; she challenged me to guess and I said “Ethiopia.”  Her jaw dropped and she said I was the first person in twenty-five years that had guessed correctly. She is actually from Eritrea which is in the same region.  We had a great conversation about Africa and I got a much needed trim.  She loved my hair and I’ve heard this before; other hairdressers say the younger generation likes to die their hair my platinum gray color.  It’s nice to have low maintenance hair that is admired 😃.

We finally crossed the border into Ontario. I had downloaded the ArriveCanada app so I could easily update the border crossing info and present the electronic pass.  

This part of Canada reminded me of the Midwest with the rolling fields of corn, wheat and crops.  We passed through the border at Sarnia to Sun Retreats at Ipperwash.  This unfortunately turned out poorly as they advertised the standard, lovely RV sites with full hooks up with a concrete slab that you paid full price for and we found ourselves in the “rustic” campground with 15 amp electric with a filthy pit toilet surrounded by tractors, boats and abandoned equipment. Even the other facilities such as the showers hadn’t been cleaned in weeks and there was no hot water.  It was really a mobile home park with semi-permanent residents – there were no real RV sites for the transient crowd; they passed off the electrical in the camp as a full site which it is not.  It was a bait and switch and we let the owners and the corporation know. Do not stay at Sun Retreats as they will scam you!  We were glad to pack up early and head out. 

As we crossed over the Rainbow Bridge on the Canada side, we could see Niagara Falls on the right side. 

Niagara Falls from the Rainbow Bridge

When we arrived at the falls, we weren’t prepared for the Disneyland-like-carnival atmosphere complete with a dinosaur park that had a spewing volcano, and every circus ride imaginable.  Avoiding the mayhem, we decided to take the boat cruise that takes you right up to the falls: 

They hand you a rain poncho as you board – once you arrive at Horseshoe Falls, you can scream as loud as you want as you don’t just get misted, you are pressure-washed and any commentary or sounds of protest are drowned out by the sound of thousands of gallons of water gushing all around you.  It’s a great adrenaline rush with limited peril and to a certain extent the poncho is simply a suggestion; it did keep my camera dry at least. It was a sunny day so we grabbed a bite to eat and air dried our Niagara-saturated bodies at the cafe conveniently located at the exit of the boat launch.  It was so much fun!!!

Niagara Falls before being doused
Horseshoe Falls post dousing

We spent the evening at the Branches of the Niagara Campground which was at the opposite end of our experience at Sun Retreats; it was pristine and well-kept. We spent the evening getting dried out and cleaned up and then headed out the next morning back to see the falls from the U.S. side; it was structured more like a standard state park with overlooks and gift shops – otherwise it was the opposite of the Canadian circus which in a way is pretty surprising.  The views from the Canadian side are certainly much better.  

Rainbow at Niagara Falls from the New York side

We lucked out on a rainbow that stretched across the river as we watched the boats go into the falls, it was a lovely morning and good for getting our steps in while catching the thunder of this iconic spectacle.  It’s a lovely walk through the woods and park and is relatively quiet as most of the crowds don’t seem to linger at the wooded park benches.  

Tourists on their way through the ”mist”

We bid farewell to the thunder and mist and passed back into Canada at the other side of the Rainbow Bridge and on to Silent Lake where we were meeting up with Bob’s cousin Les and his wife Dominique:  They are both muscians – Les plays the flute and Dominique the violin; she is also French-Canadian.  

It rained most of the day and we arrived in pretty muddy conditions at the Provincial Park with a 15 amp plug we finally found after scouring the campsite; it was several yards away which was unusual – luckily our cord was long enough to reach it.  Les was kind enough to pick us up and we headed to their cabin in the woods.  The rain actually added to the porous, wooded atmosphere as they lit a fire in their cozy living room as we chatted over a super delicious Thai meal.  Dominique spent part of her childhood in Thailand and certainly nailed the quisine!  

Les took us back to the park and we woke up the next morning to a cloudless sky with the sun dappling the forest accompanied by the music of woodland birds and creatures.  We set out to canoe with Les and Dominique on Silent Lake and lucky for us the weather was perfect.  The lake does not allow any motorized vehicles and wasn’t crowded at all, hence the name.  We paddled across the main body and into an inlet that led to another part of the lake. 

Dominique and Les

We soon spotted a loon with chicks and then suddenly a large male appeared not far from our canoe, jolting us to attention with his loud, legendary call.  Then he disappeared under the water; I did not know that loons could hold their breath for about fifteen minutes!  We kept searching and saw him surface several yards away.

Lillies and loons

We passed lilly pads that hugged the marshes and partially submerged islands that invited exploration.  We docked on an esplanade of boulders, spread out a picnic, breathing in the beauty and around us; the modern world was at a standstill for a time. The lake wasn’t too cold so we all went for a swim; I can’t remember the last time I went swimming in a lake, I usually stick to oceans and pools.  There is something primal in this remote setting as if you are floating back in time in an undisturbed, restorative and soothing wilderness. We need more of this in our over-mechanized lives and to have this area preserved and left to its natural cycles feels miraculous. I felt like a kid again, dipped in the cooling waters of nostalgia, stretching my tendons past the dancing waterskippers and iridescent dragonflies. 

Taking a dip in Silent Lake

We paddled a while longer through more marshes, water lillies watching our progress, and then headed back to the launch area.  We stopped at one of the islands on the way and were able to dock the canoes in the island shallows and go for another swim.  

We ended the day back at their cabin; Bob made a curry and we polished off the strawberry rhubarb crisp Dominique had made.  One of their friends had invited us for a sunset cruise on his boat at the neighboring Paudas Lake.  It’s a huge lake and most of the shoreline is populated by homes.  We saw several loons and it was lovely hearing the haunting echo of their calls across the lake.  The sun slid behind some clouds but still backlit the sky with a lovely fuscia pink, complemented by an unexpected rainbow across the far horizon.  It was the end of a perfect summer day. 

The next morning, we joined Dominique and Les for breakfast and bid farewell, grateful for their hospitality and encouraging them to come and visit us in France.  Dominique’s sister lives in Paris so we are optimistic we will catch up in the future. On our way out, we stopped at the National Petroglyphs Park dating back to 900 A.D. and lovingly preserved by a structure that keeps the carvings from deteriorating further.  The First Nations mythology is so similar to the American Indians and even the impressions carved into the granite have the same structure. It has been a blessing to be able to study the history of so many different North American indigenous tribes.

After several days of having too much fun, as dumb as it sounds, Bob and I found ourselves rather tired and committed to spend the afternoon relaxing, reading and journaling the rest of the day. 

We have been so busy touring and visiting in the last few weeks, that sometimes we haven’t take enough time to simply sit still, giving ourselves time for reflection, enjoying the warmth of summer that goes by too fast. Life feels less compressed here in Canada, it’s not simply because we are retired, it just feels more mellow.  

We overnighted at a basic RV park next to a pond that had a resident toad who liked to croak repeatedly through the night – that being said I did manage to get some sleep and we spent the morning reading and working out, then gathered ourselves and pushed our tiny home towards Perth, where thankfully, we had pedicures scheduled as my toenails were taking on a patina of wildness that wasn’t particularly appealing.

We arrived at Paul and Vanessa’s, who, like the last two places we had mooch-docked, were in a rural setting that Bob and I dreamed of, with a resident deer known as Doris. After a nice dinner on the lake, and then catching up, we retired to the RV; later in the night I could hear the distant call of a loon drifting through the silence.

Doris and an apple

The next day we went to Merrickville which is one of Paul and Vanessa’s BNB’s that housed an entire collection of Beatlemania and has a Bohemian vibe to it.  Bob and Paul spent time reminiscing about their time as DJ’s including vintage recordings that Paul had lovingly preserved.  We then went to a vintage car show and found one that matched Paul’s shirt! 

Fashionista Paul!

It was a hot 90 degree day that ended with beer-butt chicken that felt off the bone; if you haven’t had beer-butt chicken google it – you can’t go wrong. We sat on the porch and enjoyed the cooling temperatures, then headed off for a good night’s sleep. We woke up to showers and then it started to pour so we took advantage of our temporary incarceration; journaling, editing, reading, backing up photos and watching bad TV. We had closed our vents but as we were parked under a pine tree Bob had to do roof duty to free the needles that got trapped when securing the rig. I imagined us pulling away and taking some branches with us.

Every time we enter Canada our Verizon service gets throttled. My US apps such as Peacock, Starz etc. don’t work over wifi as they recognize the IP address, but luckily we were able to do some minor streaming on Peacock(NBC) through our 4G LTE and catch the last half-hour of the Tour de France before the Verizon police text me and tank my speed into low data mode oblivion. I’m not sure why the app works this way but I’ll take it!

The sun burst through the morning morning as we prepared to leave for Vermont. We had a great time with Vanessa and Paul and always appreciate the great Canadian hospitality – we hope we will see them again soon!

Vanessa and Paul

July 2 – 10 Wisconsin…Michigan…Chi-Town!

We stopped over at Schwittay Farm; they are a dairy farm that makes cheese for Belgioioso which I’ve purchased and seen in Oregon.  It’s a pretty popular brand.  We were given those cute little cheese samples, and also purchased some brats, beef steaks, more cheese and eggs.  It was great to get it directly from the source. 

As we were dry camping on a dairy farm we found ourselves parked not far from the manure pit that posed many problems; the odor was too intense, it was difficult to breathe and there were flies.  We were by the barn that housed around one hundred head of dairy cows so we moved to the other side to get some relief.  It did help.

Outside of that experience we walked along the backroads of rural Wisconsin and returned to see a newborn calf and observe how the milking process was done. As usual it was Latino workers managing the cows and the process – always some of the hardest working people I know.  

There was one cow who was pregnant and overdue and they were having a fair amount of issues with her.  She looked so uncomfortable. She would complain into the night and we wound up not getting much sleep until, we believe, they moved her out of the pen.  I hope she gives birth soon and recovers.  

There were lovely Jersey cows, originally imported from England that would gave us big-eyed stares.   

Newborn calf and lovely Jersey

We now have a new appreciation of the work that goes into making the fantastic cheese we consume!

We left Wisconsin the next day and drove into Michigan, on our way to Marquette on the Upper Peninsula (UP). 

We were supposed to meet up with my brother and sister-in-law for the 4th of July but my brother came down with Covid😥  He’s fine but we sure miss meeting up with them.  We camped out at Rippling River Resort outside of Marquette.  The spot we got was closer to an actual campsite than an RV resort, we only had electrical, but that was fine as it was rustic and there was no need to use a generator which was perfect.  We were backed up to a meadow with daisies, the weather was beautiful and the perfect conditions for a barbecue and campfire.  

Relaxing at Rippling River

Rain was expected for the 4th of July and as predicted it arrived so we had a pretty lazy day in the rig and decided to take a cab into town and catch an early showing of Elvis – it appears half the town decided to do so as well😂

We got back to the campsite and went out for a walk but then it started pouring rain and we snuggled inside BigB and watched the Bridges of Madison County and then an episode of Obi-Wan.  Due to the weather it turned out to be the quietest 4th of July we ever had!  

The rain let up the next morning and we were able to go out for a nice long hike that skirted the campsite.  We read and then barbecued a steak dinner (the meat we had bought at Schwittay Farms).  This is probably the most we’ve stayed stationary in one place for a while.  

We headed for Sleeping Bear Dunes and overnighted at the Indigo Bluffs RV Park.  It’s a large RV park but the spaces are large, off the road and shaded.  We spent the evening by the fire and headed to the dunes the following day. 

We hiked up a couple of sets of large dunes and then realized it was several miles to actually get to the beach so we decided to do the scenic drive.  The mythology behind the Sleeping Bear is rather heartbreaking:

We stopped by some of the overlooks and watched people trying to hike up the side of the overlook – we decided to pass on that one!

Sleeping Bear Overlook

We headed out to visit our friends from Washington who had moved to the countryside outside of Traverse City. 

Their stunning log and pine lodge rests on several acres next to a small river.  This is the kind of place we dream of retiring to and hope we will find a similar setting in France.  We spent hours catching up on our adventures and got our first home cooked meal in a long time (we’re not counting the RV barbecues!).

This also gave us a chance to fix the step on the rig; it’s been impossible to find an RV repair place that will help us as they are overbooked, so Bob is doing it himself with the help of our friends.  And it worked – our step is now trouble free!

We had a great time catching up, eating and drinking as friends do, then bid farewell with the promise they will catch up with us in France.  

We set out early as we had a 350 mile journey the next day to a KOA outside of Chicago.  

We arrived to beautiful weather, not really humid and in the 70’s.  We were told it was the best weather so far this year!  The next day we parked up at the Crystal Lake train station not too far outside the KOA and went into Chicago.  We wound up in walking distance of everything and took in the sites at the Millenium Park including the “Bean.”  We had a nice lunch outside and then walked around Magnificent Mile.  As it was Sunday, and a spectacular day, it was understandably packed.  We certainly got our steps in🚶‍. 

The Bean

We went on a late afternoon architectural tour; given the Chicago is one of the great architectural cities it was a pleasant 1.5 boat tour along the canals. 

The river walk has been completely reconstructed and was beautiful with wrought iron fences and eateries.  

We met up with one of Bob’s collageagues from his Adidas days and ate and lovely Italian meal in a quite neighborhood in a relaxing outdoor setting.  It was a wonderful top off to a busy and fulfilling day, having emersed ourselves in one of America’s great cities 🏙 

June 26 – July 1 Is this Heaven? No, it’s Iowa… through the heart of the Midwest

We drove through the backroads from Sundance, WY to get a feel of the land and landed in Deadwood staying at the Deadwood Mountain Grand where we meandered through a Vegas-style lobby to get to the hotel itself.  We weren’t prepared for the casino culture that eclipsed the history we were seeking in town.  We loved the series and the movie and while the historical buildings and signs were apparent, they seemed more like an attraction for the casino crowd – we’re not casino people so it doesn’t appeal to us.  In Skagway, AK, you had interpretive centers and the money invested into education and museums that were part of the main drag: You got a real feel of the Klondike Goldrush.  

We decided to have dinner at the historical Franklin Hotel which had that grand old hotel feel to it and even the bar had the velvet covered chairs – yet you are again, surrounded by loud slot machines, so instead of immersing in the old west we finished our drinks and went outside because the noise was getting obnoxious.  We were then met with motorcyclists with loud engines who decided to blare their radios to compete with the sound of the engines. It was deafening.  

As we wandered around town, to the historical sites where Wild Bill Hickock was shot and Seth Bullock had established his hardware store, we also noticed deep pockmarks in some of the cars; a testimony to the violent storms that pass through this region.  Ouch!

Deadwood, South Dakota

We visited the Mount Moriah Cemetery the next morning which was a great experience; based on the date on the headstones, the mortality rate was just so low and many of them dated back to the mid-1800’s.  Of course Will Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane were the highlights – Seth Bullock’s grave site is a 1.5 mile hike up a gravel road; I suppose to secure his legacy in Deadwood’s history.  It was getting hot and we needed to hit the road so declined that particular adventure.  

Legends of Deadwood

Passing through more vast grasslands, we decided to stop by the Badlands National Park. It was in the 90’s and we came up from the south end of the park that turned out to be over thirty miles of gravel road (oops!).  It would have been easier to come off the I-90 but you still would need to do the mileage to get around the high points of the park; we went from south to north.   This desolate, fascinating landscape sprawls on for quite a ways with several overlooks. 

Badlands National Park

We saw a herd of bison on the open range and it gave me a sense of how it was on these prairies prior to the post-Civil War migration.  There were “villages” of charming prairie dogs scurrying across the roads and poking their heads out of the mounds.  

Bison roaming the Badlands

Amongst the many fascinating features are the Yellow Mounds – an anomaly we hadn’t encountered through our travels in the Southwest.  

Yellow Mounds, Badlands National Park

I loved the landscape of the badlands; they reminded me of the Bisti Badlands of New Mexico with the same clay-like soil, but of course on a grander scale and not as bizarre. 

I became fascinated by the White River Overlook, maybe because it took me to another planet, even though most of the Badlands is like that.  

White River Overlook, Badlands National Park

Outside the Badlands Visitor Center

It turned out to be a lovely evening as we passed through the Buffalo Gap National Forest (forest is a relative term as it’s mostly grass). Sadly there were a fair amount of casualties on the I-90; deer, porcupine, raccoons, rabbits.  We spent the night at the Landmark Country Inn that was run by a lovely Mexican family.  Another Mexican family was staying there; it was great to see a diversity of people and ownership in this area.  

The following day we found ourselves traveling through the the Fort Pierre National Grasslands that was part of the Great Plains, though so much is now cow pasture and corn.  Vast, endless, preturbed by agriculture though much remains virgin, it’s too vast for us to consume. 

We stopped at the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center in Chamberlain. It was so well put together and equally heartbreaking when you consider there is more land than we can possibly use,  yet we white people came and settled, pushing the Lakota, Sioux and accompanying tribes into finite reservations.  They had some of the artifacts from “Dances with Wolves” on display which was filmed in the area and goods for purchase made by local Indians – thankfully nothing from China was for sale.

Akta Lakota Museum

We ended the day at Sioux Falls KOA in the shade (thankfully) on a 90 degree day.  It was next to the interstate and a bit noisy, but otherwise well-kept. When I checked in I was directed to the shelter in case of a weather event.  We had seen the carnage with some granaries and barns that looked like they had been ripped open by a gargantuan can opener.  They apparently have had some very severe storms prior to us arriving.  I’ll take the hot weather over a nasty storm any day!  

What also drew my attention was that my father grew up on a farm north of Bismarck, ND, amongst the same grasslands of the Great Plains, and I got a sense of how it must have been before he joined the Navy and was deployed to the Pacific; quiet, vast, out of reach, still – until hammered by storms and plundered by dust.  It was even harsher for my grandparents who settled there, Russian Germans escaping persecution from the Czar, adjusting to this new, harsh environment.

We set out for Winterset the following day to see the covered bridges made famous by the “Bridges of Madison County.”  It was a very hot and windy day, and a long drive. We arrived at Covered Bridges Winery which is a Harvest Host site. We did some wine tasting; the local grapes are designed to withstand the harsh winters. I bought a nice bottle of Rose.  The wines are named after the bridges or characters from the movie, though it didn’t come across as over-commercialized.  Since it was so hot, and we didn’t want to be dry camping in the blazing sun, so we decided to see Winterset and the bridges.  I love those hot days when it starts to cool in the evening and the nostalgic smell of summer beckons. We walked along the quiet streets of Winterset, pride spilling onto the sidewalks, passing a smattering of quilt shops and peeking into the Northside Cafe; inside there was a jumble of movie props, apparently left for an undefined destiny. 

Winterset, Iowa

The city is shadowed by the Madison County Courthouse, that sits in stately residence, dominating the middle of town.   Winterset is also the birthplace of John Wayne and his history is proudly displayed in local museum. 

John Wayne Museum – saddle up partner!

The golden evening ended with a trip to the Covered Bridges Scenic Byway, including the famous Holliwell where the flies were tragically voracious if you ventured too far into the grass.

Holliwell Bridge, Madison County, Iowa

Otherwise these stops are a great way to picnic in the quiet amongst the cooling trees with the babbling undertows of passing rivers.  

A Beautiful Evening at Cedar Bridge

The sun set over the rolling hillsides and we parked up in the shade outside the winery with no one else around, the wind was now an inviting presence that flowed through our tiny rooms, humbling us to sleep.  

The following day we stayed at a shady and calm campsite on the edge of Monticello that wasn’t too far from the Field of Dreams site outside of Dyersville.  

It was seriously hot and humid and the wind seemed to provide litte relief. Fortunately the evening cooled off nicely allowing for a good night’s sleep. The next day was more palatable and the clouds were a respite from the blazing sun. This made for, in our estimation, a perfect day to visit the Field of Dreams.  

When we arrived it was just starting to get busy, but not overly so. 

Bob was glassy-eyed as we walked around the pitch, taking in the essence of the great American pastime.  It doesn’t take long to meander through the site that includes the field, house, gift shop, grounds and of course fields of corn.

What was even more lovely were fathers and coaches bringing their kids (yes girls included!), to the legendary pitch to practice. 

If you build it…

It makes you teary-eyed when you think with all the negativity in the world you can come to a special place like this – this enduring dream-like wonder that encompasses the heart of America, that on the surface seems so simple, but as you dig deeper you slip into a more profound sense that the fantasy here isn’t a mere fabrication – it truly delivers on its promise:

“They’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters.  The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.  People will come Ray.  The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.  America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers.  It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again.  But baseball has marked the time.  This field, this game: it’s part of our past, Ray.  It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.”

James Earl Jones as Terrence Mann – Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams is about so much more than baseball – people who claim it’s the worst baseball film ever missed the entire essence of the movie, which is tragically their loss:  We dream, those dreams are crushed, we love, we lose, we get tangled in the past and cannot move forward.  Field of Dreams is a place that transcends all of that, it’s about resolution and the universal need for human connection.  The power of the storytelling hits you on a subconscious level and leaves you in a state of wonder: With baseball as its foil, you can stand on the pitch of nostalgia and allow yourself to dream across generations. 

It is timeless and just as relevant today as it was 33 years ago. 

Iowa itself touched me in a way that I had not expected, I felt as though I had stumbled upon a forgotten America, a place buried in my early childhood.  It was windy but we were not ravaged by the storms that had torn apart the livelihood of too many farmers.  Our eyes could stretch only so far into the horizon across the fledgling stalks of corn, interrupted by the tireless farms and stainless silos.  It was forever green, sliced and curved like carved fruit, lovingly pressed into the hills and fields.  The grass was the sea that rolled onto a beach of eternal sunshine.  The golden sunset and echoes of crickets welcomed the calm, distilling the absence of the unrelenting buffeting.  Constellations swirl and drop their seedlings; we dream while fireflies dance in the tall grass on a cool summer’s evening.

Is this heaven?  No, it’s Iowa.

June 22 – 26 Montana and Wyoming

We arrived in Montana and the lovely but packed Glacier West KOA.  We had cancelled our Xanterra Redbus Tour for Going to the Sun Road (GTTSR) as we received notification that the road was still not open and unlikely it would be until July, and very possibly not until after the 4th….it would be like going to an Adele concert with no Adele. Since we weren’t going to the GTTSR, I blew off needing a reservation from Recreation.gov…had I read the fine print or committed further critical thinking to the matter I would have found out it doesn’t matter whether the Going to the Sun Road is open – you need to be registered to get into the park:  This is in addition to the Park Entrance Fee (we have the National Park Pass so no issue for us).

When we arrived we were stopped by the GTTSR Road Rangers saying we needed a reservation for the not open GTTSR. We said we just wanted to go to Apgar and kayak Lake McDonald as the road wasn’t open – that didn’t matter – we either needed a tour operator or the Recreation.gov GTTSR reservation.  She directed us to Glacier Outfitters, we had to turn around and drive for about fifteen minutes to find a cell signal. Luckily Glacier Outfitters were very accommodating and got us a digital reservation to go kayaking on Lake McDonald. What also added to my confusion is the other boat tour operator – Glacier Boat Tours – that is listed on the National Parks site, doesn’t take reservations and when I called them they said they would take walk-ins. The NPS for Glacier keeps changing the web site so it’s a good idea just to get the GTTSR reservation if you can.  

When we got back to the entrance I flashed the reservation that they didn’t even read.  And I suppose if we didn’t have our RV we could have driven the GTTSR after our kayaking trip if it had been open.  So word to the wise – get online when the tickets are first available because they will probably be gone in a day or so: You have to nail down a date.  Otherwise book a tour or lodging within the park. And go mid-July through August.  It will be packed but this is the way of things now.  

It has to be difficult for these outfitters as they are now limited on the amount of walk-ins and they had a fair amount of kayaks available when we finally made it through. 

Dead calm on Lake McDonald with a view of the peaks

Sadly, this was the second time we tried to do the GTTSR, last time we didn’t see much due to wildfires.  You can’t have everything – but we got a nice two-hour kayak in and watched a deer roam around the village.  We also stopped off at a local kiosk and bought huckleberries and Rainier cherries – summer has officially arrived and the day was saved! 

A young buck just hanging out at the lake

We bid farewell to Glacier, traveling through the alpine forests of the Flathead National Forest, stopping for tea at a lake north of Seeley.  We could have easily dry camped there – the entire area was pristine with only a few people, and the summer air was so inviting.  Seeley itself was a charming town with a lovely outpost that did decent lattes.  

Soon the Bitterroot Mountains appeared in the distance, framing the open ranges filled with yellow and purple wildflowers.  The rolling hills were vast and verdant with the occasional century-old collapsed barn to add to the quintessential rustic views. 

We passed over the Continental Divide, strewn with massive granite boulders that spiraled onto the vast plains and plateaus, winding our way through the open ranges then settling in Bear Mountain Campground outside of Bozeman. It was too close to the interstate that seemed noisier than others we had overnighted, and the trains were interminable.  Regardless, it was a beautiful evening and we stretched our legs along the backroads that overlooked the farmlands. This region is prone to passing thunderstorms and can get pretty windy as we soon found out as the thunder rumbled overhead. 

Bozeman farmlands

We headed for Greybull, Wyoming the next day.  We crossed the Big Blackfoot River of a “River Runs Through It” fame, where you can imagine yourself lazing along the riverside chewing on a piece of grass – yeah like the song.

As we were skirting east of the Yellowstone National Park (closed due to flooding but we had already, thankfully, done Yellowstone) we crossed the said river a few times; it was swollen and violent, taking down the fragile “tree islands” that were probably stable during a normal season. The endless ranches of the Crow Indian territory disappeared into the snow capped peaks of the Custer and Teton ranges in the distance: I try to imagine what it was like before white man came here, when the buffalos roamed free and the Indians lived on the plains.

We settled for the evening at the quiet Greybull KOA, skirting yet more thunderstorms.  Otherwise, all you could hear was the wind and the cooing of pigeons and I got a good night’s sleep. It is a nicely kept KOA that I would recommend.  

The next morning we explored the Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite outside of Shell, WY.  

The Bighorn Basin is home to some of the most astounding fossil discoveries in the country.  We sure had fun looking for 167 million-year-old tracks and I was able to collect (legally) some broken bits of fossilized ammolite, some with insect indentations on them. 

Jurassic tracks!
The boys were having a blast tracking dino’s!

This area used to be part of the “Sundance Sea,” and the tracks became fossilized from the dinosaur sinking its feet in mud on the shoreline.  I can understand how one can become obsessed with archeology and doing these digs! 

Red Gulch, Wyoming dinosaur country

The Red Gulch itself reminded me of the Painted Desert in Arizona – the whole area was quite a revelation:  We had no idea how stunning the Bighorn Scenic Byway was – it unfolded like a mini Grand Canyon!  As we drove down into the canyon there were signs depicting the year of a particular archeological stratus; the lowest was the “pre-Cambrian” period dating back 2.5 billion years.  As we gained elevation we saw different signs until we got to Triassic and then Jurassic periods.  Then a steep climb revealed a granite gulch and river thundering down its harrowing precipices.   

Bighorn Basin, what an unexpected pleasure!

We eventually found ourselves at 9000 feet passing over Granite Pass.  The alpine meadows had moose, elk and deer meandering about, oblivious to our presence.  I didn’t think there were moose in Wyoming, but like the buffalo in Canada I’m getting quite the education.  

Once back to a suitable elevation, we were now in quintessential cowboy country; watching them saddle up in the fields, a cowboy was herding the cattle into the ranch.  From the rolling red and green plateaus mounds appeared bearing no logic in their unique presence. 

The wind picked up, which seems to be a thing here in Wyoming, settling in Sundance on a clear evening at the Mountainview Campground not far from the Devil’s Tower.  They have great Wi-Fi and we were backed up against the mountains.

We had huckleberry pancakes for breakfast and headed to Devils Tower. When we arrived at the visitor center we were turned away as there was no RV parking spaces left – there was only room for about five rigs: Per the park ranger, no tows are allowed and any cars who stole RV spots were being kicked out. We turned around and drove about a mile down the road and turned off onto a gravel road, that, as it turned out, was the trailhead for the Joyner trail. It had a perfectly clear view of the tower – our “misfortune” turned into one of those situations where we made out like bandits.

The view from Joyner Trail

We hiked down the Joyner trail taking in the killer views with virtually no one else around, passing by the prayer bundles tied to the trees – placed by the local Indian tribe and thank god this area has been protected. We went down the gulch and ran into deer, listening to the echo of blackbirds against the still meadows. The temperature and blue sky allowed for lingering and letting your thoughts wander like a wildflower; the impossible tower looming in the background – one of America’s great geological and cultural treasures.

Looping around the still of alpine meadows

The trail eventually connected with the Redbed Trail and its beautiful red rock, then back to the crowded visitor center. All in all it was around three miles on a balmy Sunday.

Scenery along the Redbed Trail

We left the visitor center and took the road back down to the trailhead.

Alien spotting at the Devils Tower Visitor Center

We watched as RVs came up and then back down as there was no space. Some turned off to the Joyner Trailhead, others simply aborted altogether. If you want to do the Devils Tower in an RV then it’s a bit of crapshoot – if you are in the LTV you’ll be allowed if there is room – otherwise take an incredible hike around the tower = unforgettable. We stopped off to indulge in some well-earned ice cream on the way out and headed on down the road to South Dakota.

BigB and the Devils Tower – how cool is that

June 13 – 20 Jasper and Banff, Canada

We left Dawson Creek and the lovely Northern Lights RV park (I highly recommend them) and overnighted at a Harvest Host – a farm outside of Grande Prairie run by a friendly German couple.  It gave us a sense of what we would be looking for in France but on a smaller scale.   They showed us around the farm as their boy and two dogs frolicked in the fields – it was such a bucolic evening.

Harvest Host – Grand Prairie

We headed through more agricultural areas on our way to Hinton – just outside of Jasper National Park.  We went through a few rain storms but could see the Canadian Rockies emerge as we approached the RV Park (Jasper KOA).  Then the thunderstorms let loose – mon deiu!! – thunder and lightning that went on for a few hours.  

We were a bit worried about the weather but it cleared up nicely for a hike in Maligne Canyon – and due to the rain it was pretty muddy!  The canyon and waterfall were accompanied by the heady smell of balsam, otherwise the weather gods were being kind to us this day.  We stopped at the top of the trail for a cuppa where there was a convenient visitor center and restaurant.

Dirty paws and limbo dancing on the trail
Maligne Canyon, Jasper, Alberta

After doffing our muddy clothes we headed to Jasper and finally found some indigenous art that we had difficulty finding elsewhere – not sure why this was so difficult but this is Canada and not the U.S. So I got my fix and glad that proceeds were going back to the First Nations artist.  

On the way back the sky cleared up enough for us to see the peaks.  One looked as though Yosemite’s El Capitan had been put on a pedestal – there were these unusual half dome clefts instead of peaks.   That was just a teaser for what was to come. 

The next day we headed out to the Icefields Parkway.  The weather was inclement; while we could see much of the dramatic landscape the tops of many of the mountains were clouded over.  

We swung by the Athabasca Waterfall which was in high drama with all the torrential storms that had been pushing down the valley.  We hoped we wouldn’t experience what had been happening in Yellowstone as the weather apps had been posting flood warnings.  

The sky cleared and we stopped to have a traditional English “cream tea.”   I made the scones from a mix that morning and we had a jar of clotted cream along with strawberry jam.  We enjoyed the view while indulging in these delicacies.  These stops are part of planned experiences that make these journey even more memorable.  

After our posey respite, we soon we spotted our first icefields, solidified to rock faces while hanging precipitously off the sheer cliffs.  We counted three glaciers – massive in scale, somehow defying gravity.  

We soon stopped at the Columbia Ice Fields Visitor Center where you can conveniently boondock your RV – they have an entire parking lot right across from the Ice Fields and we settled in for the rest of the day; I had a view of the Athabasca Glacier from my window!

We decided to hike up to the glacier, navigating what we called the “Hillary Step” from Everest fame.  It was a steep, snow covered embankment that was part of the trail; we had witnessed a few people tumble, taking others down with them, as they slid down the slope – we were determined not to suffer the same fate.  I took my poles with me for good measure and was thankful for their support.  When we got closer to the”toe” of the glacier we realized we couldn’t actually hike onto it without a guide due to crevasses.  We were a bit disappointed, though weren’t really interested in the tour as it seems everything is becoming so over-touristed; we settled for a close up view and a good workout. They had educational posts along the route marking the years the glacier had receded; the advantage of walking from the visitor parking lot as everyone who drove to the trailhead never stopped to read the history.  

The rain began falling hard (thank your North Face, Columbia and Adidas for such great gear!) and we headed back.   Later in the evening the sky cleared and I could see low clouds rolling across the icefields which gave the atmosphere a sense of the mystical.  

Evening view from behind the rig

With the tours done for the day the glacier seemed lonely; we slide across her skin, the wind betrays her inhospitable existence, phantasms of mist cloak her slopes like a silkscreen.  And still she recedes, shrinking into the vaulted mountains and their impenetrable secrets.  Despite her slow death, she will outlive us all.

We woke to blinding sunlight and a chilly thirty-one degrees as the Columbia Icefield burst forth in all of its glory and we were excited for the next leg of the journey to Banff.  

Athabasca Glacier and Columbia Icefields

Back on the Icefields Parkway we were soon met with unsurpassed beauty, it was as though the mountain spirits had used a cleaver instead of a palette knife; vertical columns were scarred with horizontal serrations, sharp and turbulent with contradicting themes, ice flows clung to massive buttresses while escarpments wept along this indefatigable geography – all this chaos somehow sculpted into a magnificent panorama.  

Reality set back in as we approached Lake Louise….the road to Moraine Lake was blocked as the parking was full. We arrived at Lake Louise with the same message but ignored it and voila!  They were letting in RVs.  Even though it wasn’t even the high season yet the waterfront was pretty crowded and if we thought it was bad now, it would be getting worse as the season advanced.  Trying to get a picture amongst the usual selfie madness was a bit of a challenge as people muscle into your shot. This unfortunately is true everywhere that is popular in the world now.  While this rendition gives a sense of calm and beauty – it is not – except for maybe at dawn. 

Lake Louise Pano

I found myself taking iPhone Panos as I hadn’t brought along my wide angle lens for my Nikon – silly me!  

We found a shuttle that would take us to Moraine Lake and decided to pay the $25.00 per head – we most likely wouldn’t be back to this region and the day was still young and the weather was cooperating.  They weren’t kidding about the parking lot, it was small and RVs were not allowed.  

We decided to hike up the “rock pile” that wasn’t overly crowded as it was fifteen minutes up a vertical cliff with some pretty large steps – a good hike to get your “stairs” in for the day.  Moraine Lake was beautiful, and we had seen similar landscape at Muncho Lake further up north (see reference earlier in the blog).  The glacial powder seeps into the water giving it that effervescent blue.  

Moraine Lake Pano

By this time we were getting tired – can you get exhausted by so much beauty or was it the disruption of somewhat unruly crowds that impinged on my fantasy of serenity in this incomparable landscape.  I think it was a combination of the two. 

We set up camp at the Tunnel Mountain Village II site and crashed for the evening.  The timing was good as it began to rain and that lulled me to sleep. Tunnel Mountain Village II isn’t a place you really spend the day unless you are up by Tunnel Mountain Road – the Canadians have these spots figured out as they are more private and surrounded by trees with insane backdrops – otherwise you are basically parked on a paved road, opposite and parallel to other RVs.  Some spots have fire pits but it’s not the same experience as camping in the deep woods.  But they have free shuttle transportation, large shower and bathroom facilities.  And the views are astounding. 

We ventured into Banff the next day (they have a free shuttle into town and it only cost a Canadian Toonie to get back) and walked along a lovely path that runs next to the Bow River just on the edge of town. The river was also very swollen with the path partially flooded.

Bow River, Banff

We browsed in what seemed like an endless stream of stores, so many of them with the same stuff with some galleries and big box chains thrown in.  But the day was beautiful and the backdrops were breathtaking.  We dove into a restaurant for some local Indian curry; there is a large population of East Indians here and the food was so good, the place was quiet and we were the only white people dining which is a good sign that you are getting an authentic experience.  We decided to leave the crowds behind and head back to the camp, hugged by sunshine and encased by sheer peaks.  

We spent our final day in the Canadian Rockies at Fairmont Hotsprings, a perfect ending to our six week walk-about through Canada and Alaska. The resort is a civilized respite set amongst the wild, the RV sites are well manicured surrounded by rivers, forests and of course mountains. We snagged a spot on the far side and there were no RVs next to us and the park wasn’t full. Here we had a perfect fusion of the outback and structure lingering in the quietude, shaded by the fragrant incense of lilacs and pine.

The ”secret pools” along the creek at Fairmont Springs

Besides the hotsprings pool that is part of the resort there is a “secret” natural hotsprings down by the creek that you can hike into – at your own risk – as there are signs warning of bears and landslides, though the hike wasn’t that difficult.

What an amazing journey it has been, words and pictures cannot even begin to reflect what you experience here – we will not soon forget the avalanche of beauty and geological wonders that permeate every facet of the Canadian Rockies

June 10 -12 The Alaska Highway Expanse

On our way to Watson Lake the terrain leveled out into rolling hills with vast expanses of boreal forest.  The sunny delights of fair weather we had enjoyed for so many weeks ended as we rolled into passing rainstorms; it did help to clean off the layers of bug caracasses we had diligently collected and the rig looked a bit more cleansed for a change.  

We passed convoys of RVs thankful we were going the other direction it was starting to get pretty busy up north.  

We overnighted at the Downtown RV Park that we had stayed at on our way up to Alaska (this is the place with the “sign post” park).  It’s a parking lot but has good laundry and shower facilities and the Scottish proprietor was a pleasant albeit a bit stressed out fellow; this was prime time for him and he was working long days.  It had rained most of the day and let up enough for us to take a walk around Wye Lake that was right across from the RV park.  It’s nature trail and we spotted two beavers swimming through the lake. We noticed as we moved south, the sun was now setting at 10:30ish and the nights were a tad darker.

It rained overnight and didn’t let up as we pulled out and headed for Liard Hotsprings.  We entered British Columbia once again and bid our final farewell to the Yukon – reflecting on what an amazing experience it has been.  As we drove we saw ponds threatening to creep onto the road; the rivers were raging, showing signs of flooding as trees had become partially submerged.  The rain and late melt from the mountains was creating problems up and down the Alcan – we hoped we wouldn’t get caught in the middle of it and have to wait somewhere for the floods to recede.  We pulled off to a site called “Whirlpool Canyon” where the swollen Liard River clashed with contradicting tides; it was certainly unfriendly and the rain wasn’t putting a damper on the mosquitoes.  A couple who also stopped by said they would come down here every year and had never seen it so turbulent.  

We have been experiencing climate change all around us and have had too many vacations disrupted due to wildfires; we are glad we are doing this trip now – who knows what it will be like with more crowds and challenging weather systems in the near future. 

Beyond the “watch for caribou signs,” we saw new signs for bison with digital warnings that we were entering a crash corridor.  There were certainly a lot of spore on the highway and then we spotted a bison grazing on the side of the road.  I didn’t realize that bison were a thing in British Columbia and it turns out they were nearly wiped out due to the early trading in bison hide. Canada has the Woods and the Plains Bison and have been trying to conserve the species. It is great to see them roaming free and we did eventually see a small herd of them – those and the occasional black bear.

Canadian Bison!

We reached Liard Hotsprings Lodge that appeared to just now realize that it was almost summer and that they might want to clean up the lodge?  The RV park was operational enough with electricity and water, but the laundry and bathrooms were out of order and besides the log lodge itself, it looked like the additional rooms were containers shipped from a research facility in the arctic.

We waited for the showers to pass and as the blue skies opened up we walked over to the Liard Hot Springs located in the Provincial Park across the street.  Passing through the campsite that was surrounded by a Jurassic Park style electric fence (bison, bear, elk and moose all wander around this vicinity ready to wreak havoc on the human population), we went through the gate onto a long boardwalk that passed through a lightly wooded marsh. The hot springs were located in a lovely wooded setting, much like a grotto, surrounded by ferns that reveled in the perpetual steam.  There were bathrooms, changing rooms and cubbies for your stuff.  Fortunately it wasn’t too crowded and the smell of sulphur wasn’t too bad. We welcomed the heat as we lowered ourselves into the shallow, crystal-clear water. In some areas the temperature was scalding hot and I was instructed to stir up the colder water from the bottom.  

Liard Hotsprings

We wallowed in the healing waters for about an hour and decided to head back as another wave of thunderclouds had inched their way in our direction.  We got back to the rig just as the sky unleashed its burden.  Not much later the blue skies opened up once again.  

We headed out early as we had a long drive to Pink Mountain.  It wasn’t long until we saw the peaks of the Northern Canadian Rockies.  The boys enjoyed a bit of moose spotting.

We drove by Muncho Lake and its unreal larimar-blue waters that were disturbingly close to the edge of the road.  I can’t image how long we would have been stuck if the lake had flooded the road.  

We were hit by some heavy thunderstorms, the theatrics complete with thunder, lightning and hail.  When the storms dissipated the vast valleys lit up with mist as if the landscape had slid back into the steaming jungles dinosaur age.  It was a rare and breathtaking site to behold. 

Mist rising from the vast expanse after a thunderstorm

Further up the road we saw the warning signs for Bighorn Sheep and they weren’t kidding.  Other RVs were flashing us from the opposite direction as the sheep were here and there in small herds and weren’t easily spooked.  It was pretty cool to watch them as if we barely existed. 

Bighorn Sheep!

The land eventually leveled out into terraces and we hit an impasse on the road with vehicles blocking the shoulders on both sides.  The semi truck in front of us was struggling to get by.  We were too busy trying to navigate the obstacle course that I didn’t see the large black bear at 1:00 about to saunter right in front of BigB.  I gasped – OMG!  The bear must have had enough sense to stop in time as there was no visible “thud” as we rolled by.  What I found odd is that he had a piece of garbage in his mouth.  Canada has more garbage stations along the road than people have common sense and you barely see any debris, it’s absolutely pristine; it occurred to me that one of those wankers across the road was probably feeding this poor fellow and he was crossing the highway for more…..

We arrived at Pink Mountain and camped amongst the pines – ending a rather dramatic day in peace.  

After passing through the agricultural section of British Columbia, flat and beautiful, we arrived at Dawson Creek – Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway. Now onto Jasper!

June 5 – 8 The Yukon to Skagway along the Klondike Highway

After leaving Tok (the Tok RV Park is great and we were nestled amongst the pines) We made it across the border but not before spotting a juvenile caribou on the side of the road.  He was freaked and froze in front of us before sprinting off to find his mother.

Little dude!

The RV traffic had picked up dramatically and we kept seeing the same caravan of three RV rentals being driven by Germans.  We seem to encounter a fair amount of Dutch and Germans. 

The frost heaves started not long after we left Tok – we were anticipating them this time. The “perma” in perma frost isn’t so permanent as the pavement gives way as the ground softens.  There are times on the Alaska Highway that you would expect the oxygen masks to fall if you were on an airplane.  Being in a higher profile vehicle only exacerbates the rumpy-bumpy ride.  

The wildflowers were in bloom and we even drove through a “pollen storm” – like a dust storm but it was orange-yellow pollen coming off the deciduous trees; the road was layered in it.  

We were curious to see how much had changed since we went through this area two weeks ago.  The Yukon Discovery Lodge was busy though they ran a generator all night as they had no other source of power.  Such is life in this part of the world.  

We left the next morning as the sun was rising over the nearby ridges.  Fog emerged from the valley and we had a clear view of the Kluane Range that had been socked in on our way up.  We witnessed massive icefields running vertically from the sides of peaks – amazing stuff.

We passed marshes and ponds with migratory birds including Trumpeter Swans;  one pond had two swans surrounded by ducks as if they were gathered to admire their magnificence. Unfortunately there wasn’t room to stop and enjoy the scene.  

We swung by Pickhandle Lake as the mist rose and the loons were making their way across the water.  

Pickhandle Lake and the Kluane Range

We then settled at Lakeview Campground for breakfast; the forest was rich with the scent of pine mixed with the heady essence of spring.  

As we made our way back down to Destruction Bay, we rounded corners with endless the endless mountain range welcoming us with open arms.  The bay was still partially frozen, quiet and still save for the distant cry of what sounded like a fox.  

Destruction Bay

After a peaceful overnight at the Caribou RV Park south of Whitehorse we headed to Skagway, AK via Highway #2 – known as the famous Klondike Highway that leads to the Inside Passage.  We essentially drove from the Yukon, through a spit of British Columbia and back into Alaska – all 100 miles from Whitehorse.  

As we headed west the terrain turned into granite outcroppings, more steep cliffs with cascading waterfalls, surrounded by partially frozen ponds.  Granite islands emerged from the waterways, covered in lichen with a smattering of boreal pine creating a very unique ecosystem.   The temperature dropped to the 40’s as we crossed from Canada back into the U.S.  It was an extraordinary site as we headed down the steep slopes into the bay.  

Along the Klondike Highway

The weather cleared as we parked up in Skagway at the Pullen Creek RV Park; there were four cruise ships up from Glacier Bay in the dock carrying some 12,000 people.  We encountered many of the ice-cream-consuming tourists as we explored Skagway; which turned out to be quite the destination with the Klondike Gold Rush mystique permeating the town, its old buildings giving off an aura of the Wild West.  The Gold Rush was brutal – when you consider that the prospectors had to endure such a savage environment in the hopes of striking it rich.  The museums along with the active, retro train station gave us a good feel of what it must have been like. 

They had an obscene amount of jewelry stores – I suppose because the whole idea is this is where gold is mined?  We did find a few nice art galleries amongst the interminable kitsch and discovered these gems (I go ape for art!).  The mother of the artist was there and said in the original painting of the Laughton Glacier her daughter painted in one of her boots that she had lost during a hike!

Whimsical Watercolors of the Inside Passage

Skagway reminded me a bit of Sisters, Oregon with the traditional facades and galleries and in the summer it is also teaming with tourists.

It’s now 6:00 a.m. and there is a loud hooting of a train then several crash-bangs!  The train has pulled into the harbor to greet the three cruise ships that had arrived – the fourth must be on its way. Either this is normal or they are making up with a post-Covid frenzy. Skagway must make a killing on tourism during this short window.  Come October the bay will start freezing over and the 300 some odd residents of Skagway will be encased in snow and ice until May.  I don’t know how they manage!  

We departed on a stellar warm day and headed out to Carcross, but were diverted several times to take in the scenery. 

We even spotted a pair of brown bears munching on dandelions on the side of the road.  

Brown Bear – ignoring us

Carcross is a charming town – the name is derived from Caribou Crossing.  The town was built to promote the indigenous tribes with lovely totems and buildings painted in the Tagish First Nations tradition.  The center was designed to represent local artists, but sadly there were only a few shops open.  Otherwise it is a lovely stop along the Klondike Highway.  

Carcross – Tagish First Nations

May 31 – June 3 Anchorage and Prince William Sound, Alaska

We landed in Anchorage during a rare heat wave; in Alaska that means temperatures into the high 70’s and it has been going on for days.  They usually don’t have weather like this until July and it’s very unusual for streaks like this to go on for days.  Well – it certainly worked out great for us.  After taking care of some personal business in Anchorage and picking up a rental car we headed to Whittier to kayak on Prince William Sound.  

The scenery was once again quintessential Alaska as we meandered along the Turnagain Arm with the sun reflecting from the dramatic peaks, creating an off-world metallic sheen along the water.  One pond we went by had mesmerizing ice sculptures partially submerged in glacial blue water  – the sun intensifying the ice into a sort of crystallized topaz.

We were scheduled to go through the Whittier Tunnel also known as the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel.  It stretches for 2.5 miles and is a one-way system, hence the set schedules to come and go.  So it’s important to plan your trip if you have an appointment for kayaking or a cruise.

As it turned out our kayak trip was cancelled due to high winds, so we decided to flex and when we arrived in Whittier we booked one of the four hour Prince William Cruises, and since we had time on our hands we decided to hike the Portage Pass Trail.  

It turned out to be pretty steep – more like level three to four in some places and some pretty long stretches of slushy snow.  But the view of the Portage Glacier was worth the effort.  

The view from Portage Pass Trail

After a thigh busting hike we boarded the cruise and headed towards Blackstone Bay.

On the way we saw Stellar Sea Lions (we have these in Oregon as well), a raft of sea otters and then some lone ones floating on their backs happily watching us go by.   There was healthy amount of bird  life and waterfalls everywhere, some seriously raging down the sides of the cliffs; it reminded me of the movie Avatar for some reason.  It was certainly windy and even on such a warm day that wind got cold and I wound up huddling a good portion of the time in the back where I was safe from the constant pummeling, coming out in intervals, bracing myself to take in the views. 

We finally slowed down near Blackstone Glacier; we got a quarter of a mile from the glacier which is a good but safe distance.  The crew were fishing out some of the bigger chunks of ice as it apparently gets caught in some of the motors of the boat.  

Flocks of gulls were perched on icebergs, taking flight in our wake. 

The wind calmed down once we started drifting through the ice, looking in awe at the waterfalls to the right of the glacier, and listening to the roar of a gargantuan spilling of its melt into the water.  

I had photographed an arch that a minute later calved into the bay, sending shock waves that dispersed the debris field of ice.  I was only able to catch the tail end of the event as I wasn’t quick enough to the draw.  

The arch before it collapsed
The arch after it collapsed

We moved onto the next tidewater glacier known as Tebenkof.  You could hear the shifting and cracking of cavernous ice, waiting for it to calve but alas, it was not our luck for this next one to give us a show.  

After standing out for quite a while I started to get really cold and finally wandered back for a hot chocolate inside the boat.  We stopped by the nesting area of the black legged kittiwakes; waterfall after waterfall – bucolic.  

We headed back through the tunnel and as we emerged the sun was intensifying the sheen across the water; it never really sets here in the traditional sense- I’ve been up at 2 or 3:00 a.m. and it feels more like early dawn.  It has been an adjustment to go to sleep at 10:00 p.m. and it’s still broad daylight out.  

We stopped at a touristy spot as Bob wanted to do some gold panning and managed to collect a few impressive flakes!  

As our trip came to a close, I had the opportunity to catch up with my dear friend Janet; we’ve known each other for forty years and still manage to stay in touch.  You know it’s a special relationship when you see each other after a lapse of so many years and the connections reignites immediately and you want to spend endless hours catching up.  We never have enough time so I planted the seed to visit us in France and I suspect this will happen – we can easily fly to anywhere her and her husband decide to visit in Europe.  Some places and people are simply meant to be and this is one of them. She was the closure to a stellar visit to the incomparable State of Alaska.  

We left Anchorage on our way to Tok only to be met with yet another unfathomable site –  the 27 mile long Matanuska Glacier.  Surrounded by the vast green egress of a new spring lies a massive glacier casually visible from the side of the road.  Upon investigation, this masterpiece emerges from the frozen vice of the jagged range belonging to the Chugach National Forest; on the other side of the range lies Prince William Sound.  Investigating the icey interior of this range with my zoom lens reminds me of the likes of Yukon Cornelius.  On the outer rim it is a balmy 70 degrees yet the interior reveals a permanent housing of ice, flanked by jealous mountains. I’m not quite clear how the geography works but to say it is simply a curiosity seems inadequate.  

Alaska sets itself apart as an imperious, untamed world…. truly the greatest of all the wildernesses the United States has to offer.  Untamed – a concept I can can certainly relate to.

May 30 – Denali, AK

We sighted a black bear not long after we crossed the border into Alaska.  We were glad to get our unlimited Verizon service back, but had to switch our brains back to miles vs kilometers and US cash.  

After a nice stay in Tok we headed for Fairbanks.  The weather was fantastic and we were optimistic that we would be seeing Mt. Denali in all its glory: The weather is such that the mountain is visible only around 40% of the time so we would be one of the lucky few. 

We kept passing sweeping, endless mountain ranges, pressing themselves against bountiful skies.  

We stayed at the Wedgewood Resort in Fairbanks to give ourselves a scheduled break from the confines of BigB. They had a beautiful wildlife preserve adjacent to the resort – it’s a nice stroll through the boreal forest to a small lake where you maybe run into another person; it was a place of solitude with a chance for tree bathing.  

We arrived at the Denali RV Park and Motel and headed out to the National Park the next morning to go for a hike along the Savage River.  We stopped briefly at the visitor center on the way; we saw a moose and were warned about said moose by a ranger as she had a calf and had been getting aggressive.  Otherwise we navigated moose spoor that was prolific pretty much everywhere we went including the RV park.  

Savage River in Denali National Park

On our hike along the river we had the luck to spot Dall Sheep; one large male was sitting there along the ridge like a sphinx with a full set of curved horns on full display.  They were too far away for a photograph – even a high powered professional lens would have found the subject challenging to shoot.  We settled for what we could see through the binoculars and watched as several more came over the ridge. 

The hike along the river was exhilarating and there was still snow to navigate even though the weather was now in the sixties with barely a cloud in the sky.  The hike skirts the edge of the river and through portions of tundra with the Alaska range providing a dramatic backdrop.  I stopped on one of the upper trails to take it all in even though I really couldn’t; these dimensional spaces and experiences fill up too many senses – I settle for contemplating their existence and the associated memories.  

A gentle cooling breeze while the river raged on

You can take the bus through the park but due to landslides the trip is truncated – we opted for the drive to and from the trailhead instead – you can’t go any further into the park from Savage River without getting a ticket at the bus depot near the visitor center. We were happy with our sojourn as it was and were able to spot wildlife on our way back to the visitor center.

The wind blew heavily during the night and we woke without a cloud in the sky; this meant we were in luck to see the mountain itself.  We headed for the Denali South Viewpoint and about an hour into the drive we turned a corner and there it was – unmistakable, stately, towering above the vast tundra, subverting the surrounding peaks – the most majestic of the North American peaks. 

Mt Denali in all its glory

We were blessed to drive past the range and different variations of the mountain.  We arrived at Denali South Viewpoint and discovered many tourists had the same idea – though it wasn’t overly crowded.  The view was unbeatable and a short hike revealed an even better picture-perfect view.  Through the telescopes we could view the peak and the massive glacier running through the range.  

The boys were super happy they could see the mountain – no Jedi tricks here

The smell of spring permeated the surrounding forest, the warm breeze enveloped us and the view was beyond the imagination. 

Denali South Viewpoint