After leaving the bustle of Jersey City, we spent the afternoon with one of Bob’s school chums, Julian and his wife Mary Ellen in Lancaster. The heat had broken, and we were experiencing more tolerable temps, with a cooling breeze coming from the woods and river surrounding their property. They even have a well with a bunker – you have to wonder if this wasn’t built in the fifties due to the threat of nuclear war back then. Again, retired friends with the same idea as us – to transition to the “quiet life.” I’ll take the well, but am intrigued by the bunker.
After bidding farewell, we journeyed through the lush, green landscapes of Amish Country, kept verdant by passing thunderstorms. We meandered through Gettysburg, thinking about the age of some of the buildings and then pushed our way through the more heavily touristed parts of town; it’s all very nice now, but what was it like back in the day?
We were staying at the Gettysburg KOA set in the deep woods, with lovely, level sites. We could have stayed here for a few days if time had allowed, and if we had been better informed of its tranquil and wooded nature. Here families play and enjoy all the amenities that upscale camping has to offer. I pause to think about the horrors that no doubt prevailed during the Civil War in these very woods. We are not far from the major battle sites, and as we all know too well, wars don’t always favor boundaries.
It was in the high 50’s early in the morning, a temperature we haven’t seen in quite a while and there was a slight hint of fall in the air. It was promising to be a beautiful day.
We decided to take the auto tour of the battlefields; it’s a $10.00 app you can download and is quite useful. We drove past fields of August corn, cannons serving as totems, showing us the way through what looked like, on the surface, simply Pennsylvania farmland.
Underneath this innocuous landscape, on a beautiful summer day, lie the relics of liberation, soaked in blood of thousands, their names forgotten, their memories buried in unmarked graves. The north wanted to liberate the black slaves and the south wouldn’t have it; so noble men took up the cause and made the ultimate sacrifice.
So many dedicated souls maintain the sites so we can ponder our history and hopefully take in the significance of the sacrifices that were made here. Gettysburg…a sobering segue to the memorials that awaited us in D.C.
The cicadas bid us farewell, humbling us as we left Gettysburg; the voices of the visitors in the fields remained low out of respect, and eventually faded as we made our way down the road.
We headed to D.C., excited about our stay at the Holiday Inn in Ballston. After months in the RV with unpredictable sites and technology, we will be able to spread our wings a bit and had plenty of parking for the rig. As funny as it may seem to some, we have come to appreciate these little luxuries that we used to take for granted. As a Hilton member we have wracked up enough points from all that expensive diesel we’ve consumed that we are now getting free hotel stays😍
The Washington subway was close to the hotel with our first stop at Arlington National Cemetery. It’s sobering going from one memorial to another. As we wandered through endless grave sites, we saw a Navy burial going on in the background: The area was blocked off from the public, but saw the casket being pulled by a carriage, accompanied by the full regalia of Navy personnel. Then followed taps and the firing of the guns. The experience was as overwhelming as the cemetery itself.
Bob was feeling a bit under the weather so I went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and stumbled upon the changing of the guard. I don’t know how they manage to endure the heat or cold: But they do.
We walked across the mighty Potomac. Fortunately there had been rain and it was cloudy, though the humidity was a bit high but at least it wasn’t hot. We dropped off at a cafe for a respite.
We visited the inspiring Lincoln and WWII Memorials – the latter showing reliefs of the places my father had been during the war in the Pacific. The scale of Washington D.C. is mind boggling.
By this time we had done 15,000 steps and decided to head back to the comfy confines of our hotel room. Thankfully the metro is super easy to navigate.
The following day we went back to the Mall and visited the Botanical Gardens as our first stop. I loved the misty and warm tropical garden; it was such a soothing experience.
We then took a tour of the Capital that gave us a great perspective of the seat of our nation. The capital and the surrounding structures are just so impressive – it reminds me of Rome, which would make sense since that architecture inspired most of the Mall.
I then visited the U.S. Navy Memorial that is set across from the National Archives; I came here to pay homage and in a sense it gave me final closure now that all of my father’s letters, photos, artifacts and now his trombone are in the US Navy Fleet Band archives❤️🎼 While not at the same scale as the other sites, it is just as lovingly sculpted as the more popular memorials. Thank you dad, and all the other Navy personnel for your service and sacrifice 🙏⚓️
We then met Julian and Mary Ellen who decided to come to D.C. for the afternoon and headed out to the Natural History Museum. While the dinosaur action was cool, the mineral and gemstone displays were off the charts; seriously impressive and mesmerizing. It doesn’t help that I can’t resist bling in general. It took us a few hours to get through that exhibit, and we stopped for coffee before they took off back to Lancaster with mutual commitments to meet up in France.
Bob and I realized it was getting late so we headed to the National Museum of the American Indian and were blown away by the Preston Singletary – Raven and the Box of Daylight exhibit. This artist is Tlingit (First Nations) and from the Teslin area of the Yukon. We had visited the Tlingit Cultural Center while in the area – it was an eye-opening cultural connection. We had timed our visit just right; when we were just wrapping up our tour the museum announced it was closing! It was a superb ending to another busy day.
My experience over the last few days has given me pause:
Freedom is not free – seeing this engraved in bold lettering at the Korean Memorial should be echoed from Gettysburg throughout the stately sentinels that line the Mall. Freedom is not free… should be the signature text on every monument and museum as a reminder of centuries of sacrifice that has been made to maintain our liberty. We live in a great nation that has overcome monumental obstacles to maintain our liberties that we all to easily take for granted.
We arrived in the lovely port city of Camden, ME. I had been here years ago and spent only a few hours and it wasn’t enough. I vowed to spent more time in this enchanting town and my wish came true! We dry-camped at the State Park and the weather was surprisingly nice; we were bracing ourselves for a heatwave, but it turned out to be perfect, barely hitting 80 degrees and the humidity was keeping in check. A thunderstorm rolled through that evening, pushing out the inversion that had been invading the coastline.
The next day took the rig downtown and discovered that the parking spaces were not very accomodating for RVs – anywhere! We wound up parking next to a church on Free St and Elm; there was a opportune curve on the street that accommodated us perfectly and we were within a respectable walking distance from town.
We decided to breakfast at a spot that overlooked the harbor, marveling at the Clipper ships as they embarked on their morning excursions. We wandered through the shops and happened upon a few galleries. The Small Wonder Gallery on the waterfront had some lovely nautical watercolors and prints that we added to our collection. The Once at Tree shop had some fantastic woodworking, and other expertly curated pieces of art, and I was able to pick up a piece for one of my relatives. These we had shipped to a friend since BigB can only take on so much. I had visited this shop years ago and wondered if it was still there, and much to my delight it was.
Camden is the essence of a New England setting complete with a fishing village and harbor. There were no vacancies anywhere and it’s understandable as to why. There aren’t so many shops that you feel completely depleted by the afternoon. In fact we found we had time on our hands so went back to the campsite and took a hike along the shoreline trail. It doesn’t take you to a beach, but you can hike down to the rocks and boulders. We sat down in the temperate afternoon breeze, gazing out to the Clipper ships in the distance, their sails shimmering in the sun. A mist started to roll in, and I sat and meditated, listening to the incoming tide breaching the rocks, the salt air expanded my lungs and mind.
We hiked back to the camp and had a nice fire and I broke out the s’mores once again; a guilty pleasure warranted under such circumstances. The park grew dark and quiet and we slept like babies, bathed by the woods. I love our occasional stops in campsite vs. RV parks – the latter being more like glorified parking lots in most cases.
Camden turned out to be everything I had hoped it would be and more; we couldn’t have asked for a more consummate visit – all the elements came together in perfect harmony.
We headed to Boston, bracing ourselves for the impending heat wave – we watched the thermometer rise to 100 degrees as the area was being blistered by record-breaking heat. Thank god for air conditioning! We were staying at the KOA in Middleboro, just outside of Boston, and were lucky to get a site in partial-shade.
We opted to get a rental car to make it easier to get around Boston. We landed on the waterfront and decided to do the Boston Tea Party Tour that turned out to be quite impressive including a replica of the actual ship used during the rebellion. I even threw tea overboard! It’s fabulous to be able to experience our country’s history as we travel around the U.S.
We drove through Boston, checking out Fenway Park and later met up with some former co-workers of Bob’s for a nice meal. It turned out to be a pretty productive day despite the heat🥵
We headed out the next morning to visit with a friend, Janice Swanson, whom I hadn’t seen in 28 years and was vacationing on Sagamore Beach. On the way we stopped by Plymouth as Bob is from…Plymouth, England and it was great checking out the Mayflower II and Plymouth Rock. It was brutally hot and humidity pushing the temperature above 100 degree mark and I was glad to move on. It really makes you feel like a slug – a really shriveled slug.
We arrived at Janice’s charming beach retreat in Sagamore near Cape Cod. It was such a joy to see her and I was also greeted by another long time colleague, Mary Beth. I worked with these gals back in the 80’s, when we were twenty-something’s during the software boom in Southern California. It was a special time back in the day when Ashton-Tate was the fastest growing personal computer database company in the world; Boomers remember those days! We were the top dogs along with Lotus and WordPerfect; later put out of their misery by – yep you got it – Microsoft. We had front seats to a revolutionary time alongside the likes of Apple.
We had parted ways but in the early 90’s I caught up with Janice in London on my way to Nepal; we hadn’t seen each other since; now 28 years later.
We ate lunch and walked along a quintessential New England beachfront – it was hot but manageable with a cooling sea breeze and the surf bathing our feet. It was too bad we couldn’t have spent more time together but our schedules didn’t sync as much as we would have liked. Still, it made for a great memory and we will always have a special bond.
We don’t think about aging really until it catches up with you, and to see one another so many years on, it cultivates a certain level of gratefulness and respect that we have all struggled along through the years, making our transitions with as much grace as possible. We joked about the shoulder pads from the 80’s and kicking our smoking habit. Seeing some of her kids now grown added to the marvel.
We bid a fond farewell, along with a Cape Cod bag and some napkins that I will cherish, and headed to Barnstable to the Cape Cod Brewery Harvest Host where we parked up for the night in their parking area. They had a beer garden and we sat for a while, talking with a nice couple as the predicted thunderstorms rolled in, breaking the feverish heat that had been plaguing New England for days.
We headed down through Rhode Island and Connecticut, pulling up to a lovely rest stop built from stone. The weather was perfect and we had tea in the shade. We headed out for New York, bracing ourselves for the traffic. Our stop is the Liberty Harbor RV Park in Jersey City right across the bay.
I had been to New York a few years back as a contributor to a Rolling Stone Magazine article on the Children of Scientology (refer back to my about section on my website for further info), but hadn’t had a chance to check out all the sites.
The next morning we took the Liberty Harbor ferry that dropped us off walking distance from the World Trade Center. The WTC had created its own weather with cloud formations swooning around the top. We had decided to take the Big Bus Tour to get around and headed for the Empire State Building.
We got off at Times Square amidst all the calamity and found a bite to eat. We were now in the epicenter of the New York City vibe. The New York crowds are a good precursor to those wanting to travel to Japan or China; there the crowds are so thick you don’t bother apologizing and just worm your way through the fray. The tour of the Empire State Building is wonderfully impressive, displaying a full history of its construction along with the movies and a digital display of King Kong peeking through the windows which was really cool. They really ham it up as part of the tour.
We arrived at the observation tower and while crowded, it wasn’t that bad. We got a fabo 360 view of the city, albeit from a terrifying height. Art Deco permeates every aspect of the building and it’s too bad that this style has been left to the likes of history and nostalgia; a relic of a time and place where class and style were paramount. I actually pine for those days – much like a character from “Midnight in Paris.” Bob and I marveled at the detailing that culminates into this enduring icon.
We left by way of the requisite gift shop and headed for the Chrysler Building. Even though the heat wave had broken it was still warm and muggy. When we got to the entrance we were told it was closed due to Covid🤬 We were certainly dismayed as this was a bucket list item. We could only marvel at the structure from afar. We decided to take a break at Grand Central Station where we sat in awe at the ceiling depicting celestials and gods. We had gelato and sorbet with iced lattes at the Italian cafe; there is a reason why you can’t find a Starbucks in Italy – like pizza, the Italians know when their craft is superior.
We headed back to the Wall Street District to check out the bull, only to discover there was a long line of tourists wanting to take pictures. We did sneak in a selfie from the side and then called it a day. We took the ferry back to Liberty Harbor, fascinated by this form of commute that so many coming from New Jersey endure every day. The river is teaming with yachts, ferries and jet skies; it’s a form of commerce I have not been that close to and immerses you into another aspect of the New York culture. And the view is unbeatable as you pull away from the dock. The landscape of New York is truly in a class all by itself, setting itself apart from the rest of the world, a maddening melting pot, teaming with diversity.
I am now at an all time record on steps!
We spent the evening winding down and washing off the mugginess of the day. We headed out the next morning to take the ferry back over and the find out way to Battery Park where we take another ferry to the Statue of Liberty. It was a perfect morning in the 70’s and the humidity had dropped dramatically. We were really in for a treat. When we docked we walked along the beautiful waterfront esplanade on and equally beautiful morning. When we arrived at the Battery Park terminal we were greeted with the hordes of tourists such as ourselves waiting to board the ferry. I had gotten the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty tickets packaged into our Big Bus Tour which came in handy and proved to be less of a hassle.
We squirmed our way to the top deck for the best view and of course most everyone else had the same idea. But we managed so the lovely lady as we cruised into the port of Liberty Island. What an impressive site she is!!!! We wandered around the base and then went to the museum where we were blown away by the digital displays of her initial conception and construction. What an unbelievable feat and why the French are such great allies; it only reinforces my affinity for the French culture.
By the time we got something to eat, and when you factor in the long lines and general logistics it was already early afternoon. We decided to not disembark on Ellis Island and go straight back to lower Manhattan to catch the Big Bus to Central Park.
We got off near 5th Avenue and walked by Radio City Music Hall and the famous Rockefeller Center where instead of a skating rink, it is now a roller skating rink for the summer. We then walked with the masses of shoppers along 5th Avenue where all the major players, Gucci, Ferragamo, Henry Winston, Dior etc. were all staking their claim; it reminded us a bit of Honolulu; while all the stores are along the main drag near Waikiki, in New York they are bigger and bolder as if saying “here I am,” and then the next one is saying “uh, uh, sister, Here I AM.”
We walked through Central Park East, but didn’t get as immersed as we would have liked. It would be nice to come back in the fall when the leaves are turning and spend some serious time in the park. We got some soft scoop ice cream and decided for the sake of time to take the subway as the afternoon had pretty much slipped through our fingers; it’s cheap, and a visit to New York isn’t complete without a stint on the legendary New York Subway.
We got off near the WTC; I get really choked up at the memorial. I have pictures from my last visit so no need for any further representation here – it’s a must do, and when I look at the waterfalls cascading down the abyss I can only think of the tears that have been shed for all of those who have been lost from not only the horrific events of September 11, but for those who continue to defend our liberties.
This day was a day about the importance of liberty and freedom. New York represents so many things; art, theater, architecture, hope – but the most enduring aspect of New York, at its very essence, is liberty. The city displays this proudly, in an unsurpassing manner I have not felt anywhere else. I forgive your maddening pace that I can only take in doses, because at your core, you are the apple that I desire a bigger bite of🗽
We arrived in New Brunswick, thus making our final transition into Canada. We stayed at the Sussex, KOA which was part of a complex that included a drive-in theater that was showing Thor – Love and Thunder later that evening. The pool wasn’t crowded which was unusual, so we decided to go for a swim and I got in a half hour of intense swimming!
After the sun set, we sat on the picnic table for a clear view of the screen, turned on the radio to the specified channel to get audio, and watched the movie from the convenience of our RV spot – how fun was that!
We set out the next day to Fundy National Park along the bay of the same namesake, and onto Hopewell Rocks. We wound up doing a coastal hike thinking it would take us right up to the shoreline but it didn’t – otherwise, we got a long hike through the woods which wasn’t so bad. We ended up in Herring Cove just as a thunderstorm blew up the bay. Fortunately, we didn’t get the full brunt of it, but the winds were blowing up pretty hard and we worry about the rig when they threaten fifty-mile-an-hour winds. Fortunately we escaped its wrath.
We headed out to the famous Hopewell Rocks thinking it would be a bit like Bandon, Oregon, where you just park up and walk along the beach to really cool rock formations. As it turned out we had to pay to get in and it’s like a production line; we hiked for about fifteen minutes down a well-trod trail, followed by several flights of stairs that lead us down to sea level.
The formations are mesmerizing and at low tide tourists pile in to walk around the beautifully sculpted “flower pots.” We wandered around the rocks, trying to dodge the other tourists, both greedy and patient to get shots that weren’t diluted with the selfie-obsessed. The formations are quite captivating with swirling carpets of seaweed covering their base, sheathed in a deep teal green that I had not seen before.
Much like Bandon, I felt like I was in a surrealistic painting where landscapes are exaggerated into impossible shapes, but they somehow make sense. The Bay of Fundy is home to the highest tides in the world; when the tide comes in at an astounding fifty feet, you can only gain access by boat – when the tide is out it becomes a wonderland with tidepools, cool formations and several caves for the curious to explore. Many of the rocks looked as though they could have been an inspiration for the faces at Easter Island.
We ended the day in Alma at a nice restaurant that only had seating outside. It was blowing pretty hard and then the horizontal rain came – we thankfully got moved under the porch when other diners finished, though it was getting rather chilly. Then as fast as the storm came, it ceased, and the clouds started to break up. We ended the day with the best sunset on our trip so far.
I had done nearly 20,000 steps and almost 8 miles, so was pretty exhausted, but we got a real feel for New Brunswick and its magic.
I slept hard that night and we managed to rest up the next day as we headed to Prince Edward Island, passing over the Confederation Bridge that spans an impressive eight miles. It is a heck of a thing. We have now entered the breadbasket of the region; fields of corn, wheat and potatoes spread across the afternoon horizon, kissed by the sea and sun. The region is known for its potatoes that are rich in minerals due to the iron content of the soil. Here the weather remained in the 70’s which is considered hot by the local residents 🥵 Nothing looked dried out as it would be in Portland by now. The well-manicured lawns and flowers hugged the highway looking as though we were in a springtime paradise vs. mid-summer.
We explored P.E.I the next day, visiting the famous Anne of Green Gables farm. Her legacy permeates the island with stores, chocolates and inn’s named after her that seems like a contradiction to her ideology. The farm is well-kept with working gardens and a path through the woods takes you into a childhood playground filled with ferns and streams. Being as touristed as it is, you don’t get too much privacy and I wondered how many modern-day children actually get the chance to roam the woods freely as I did; to sit in contemplation of a babbling brook, feeling free, yet interconnected in those secret places where a child’s imagination weaves a web of delight, embracing the creatures of the forest. In our overcrowded society it seems more like an exception where soon, we will need to pay a premium to enjoy. I bought her book at the giftshop, suspecting I will find it wonderfully relatable.
As we drove along the coast, we stumbled upon a stately and curvaceous hotel known as Dalvay by the Sea. It is prestigious enough to have warranted a visit by William and Kate during one of their tours. The wrap-around porch with a view of the sea makes you want to sit, chat and read for the afternoon. We decided to have lunch in their dining room; I had a lobster roll for a substantially lower cost than the one I had at Bar Harbor! The warm breeze and being surrounded by quietude in a white linen setting made for a memorable lunch. It was a far cry from the bustling restaurants and RV dinners we’ve been having for quite a while now.
We eventually detached ourselves from our revelry and finished exploring the coastline, stopping at the picture-perfect Covehead Harbour Lighthouse that sits upon the dunes.
On our back to our campsite, we parked up in Charlottetown that has a Victorian quarter complete with a towering basilica. The town has lovely restored buildings, and though the street with the shops and eateries isn’t very long, the local coffee bistro does a mean latte. This topped off another lovely day in the Maritimes.
We headed out the next morning to Nova Scotia passing over the Confederation Bridge once more – this time they charged us a toll that was a hefty $50.00 Canadian which is $40.00 U.S. I suppose they need to justify the building and maintenance of this monumental piece of infrastructure.
We skirted the coastline of New Brunswick, passing through yet more picture-perfect coastal settings on our way to Caribou, Nova Scotia. We stumbled upon a lavender farm that I didn’t want to leave; I expressed this desire to the owners who acknowledged their place in Nirvana. In addition to the lavender fields, they had a farm house surrounded by vegetable berms, flower beds and planter boxes. The scene was then topped off with a pond and large gazebo. My mind was bursting with imaginings of what we could do to replicate these ideas in France. We completed our tour at the gift shop, immediately greeted by a long sigh of lavender that echoed its scent back to the RV, where we stuffed sachets behind our pillows and spritzed the room spray to enlighten our space.
Driving through the Maritimes we have passed a beautiful array of bird life including bald eagles, ospreys and the elegant Blue Heron. They are in abundance here and reminds me of our home in Portland, Oregon where we lived not far from the Sauvie Island Nature Reserve.
We overnighted at Harbour Light Campground that had its own private beach. We took a stroll and watched the fishing boats come in. We dined on salmon and enjoyed the ocean breeze that kept the rig at a perfect sleeping temperature.
We headed out to Cape Breton, driving along its dramatic shoreline. Our next destination was the Waves End RV park that boasted spacious spots that came right up to the shoreline. We had an ocean view interrupted by one class A but I could still see the surf, feel the breeze, smell the rarified air. Unfortunately, we arrived just as a storm system came in and pummeled us off and on for a couple of hours. This warranted spaghetti in the Instapot. I really don’t mind the occasional storms, just so long as no one gets injured. Since the winds were blowing a bit of a gale, we cozied up for the evening with a short break to walk along the seaside. We watched the sun go down though we were confused as to the direction of the sun since we didn’t think we were facing west. We actually were but we are used to seeing the sun set from the west coast😂
We ventured out the next day to hike the Skyline Trail along the famous Cabot Trail System of Cape Breton. The Canadians are so well organized: They always have ample parking and special spaces for RVs. The trail was well-groomed and while busy, I found some solitude amongst the boreal forest boasting fragrant balsam fir while Bob took a separate loop. They reserved part of the park for the balsam seedlings to grow, it was fenced in to keep out the deer and moose who view these delicate shoots as a delicacy.
I kept pace with the cooling breeze, strolling along my private preserve set amongst the balsam and wild things where I always feel at peace; the trees are my temples, the sky is my heaven, the flowers and ferns my altar – dancing in the wind as wild things do. Overhead, the gulls transform into winged angels, having made peace with the tempests, gliding amongst the towering cathedrals of cumulus that become one with the sun.
Eventually arriving at the boardwalk you have a view over the vast seascape. The planked walk cascades below for a distance with lookouts and benches where you can contemplate the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the surrounding cape. You do quite a few steps on the way back up😅
We drove along the rugged coastline on our way to Cheticamp; Bob was excited to visit The Doryman pub and grill where they played live Irish music. When we arrived the place was packed; what we didn’t realize was this happened to be Joe Macmaster’s debut gig for his new CD; all we knew was there was a fiddler playing on Saturday afternoon, not realizing we chanced upon a world renown musician! Some of the crowd, comprised mostly of retirees, would get up from their chairs and do Irish dancing. It was quite fun.
After having too much fun, and logging yet another 19,000 steps, we came back to spend the late afternoon catching a shower, reading and journaling. But the Cape wasn’t through with us yet. As a glow began to permeate BigB, we wandered down to the bluff for yet another Maritime sunset, rivaling those of our beloved Pacific Coast.
We headed out to Halifax the next morning to visit Bob’s Aunty Brenda and Cousin Steven. At 87, Brenda was now in a retirement home and we stopped in for dinner and then spent the evening chatting. It had been twenty years since we’d seen her! She was doing well, made us tea and gave us a tour of her lovely facility. We can only hope we can spend our twilight years in such a place.
We were staying at the KOA in Upper Sackville just outside of Halifax. It was a decent KOA though it was more geared for families with plenty of activities for the kids. We soon discovered it was a holiday weekend and not everyone observed the quiet time. We were also sandwiched between two highways so there was a fair amount of road noise. I would only recommend this place if you have kids; it’s not a place you go to get “away from it all.”
Steven came by and picked us up the next morning and we drove into Halifax. We had coffee and chatted for a while. He dropped us off at the waterfront which was pretty crowded.
We explored the shops and harbor and then Steven came to pick us again. We were thankful for being chauffeured around! He took us to his house and then back to the KOA. Thankfully it was a bit quieter that evening. The weather was cool and we decided to have a campfire and I broke out the S’mores. All in all it ended pretty well.
Halifax has changed dramatically from the last time we’d been there, with more big box stores squeezed into the tourist area. The weather during our entire time in the Maritimes had been perfect; yes we’ve had some rain but, we haven’t been plagued with the heat and humidity like we had in Maine.
We headed to Annapolis by way of Peggy’s Cove that sports a lighthouse set amongst some serious rock. Again, it was crowded as it is understandably a popular place, though we didn’t stay too long as we had a long drive.
It rained most of the time we were on the road and luckily it was a travel day. We arrived at the Lake Breeze Campground in some pretty thick fog. We had a view of the lake and it was so quiet that we thought something had happened to humanity – perhaps a zombie invasion and no one thought to let us know. They advertised “quiet,” and they weren’t kidding. After the sparse traffic died down, the only noise we heard were the loons who haunted the lake, much like Nessie. Yes, Nessie – Canadians have such a lovely sense of humor.
We spent the day in Annapolis Royal, once a fort and major shipping hub. We then went to the “tidal city” of Bear River, exploring the art communities; there are some very talented folks in this neck of the woods. It has a “retreat” atmosphere, where one can contemplate and create amongst the verdant landscape. This part of Nova Scotia can only be described as moderately busy; the highways and towns simply aren’t hectic like they are in the mainland U.S. – partly due to the low population density in Canada.
We spent our last night by the fire, next to the lake, no bugs and yes….quiet. What road noise there is dies down quickly, leaving us in the stillness, and we can drift without any further human incursions for the evening.
The next day we boarded the Fundy Rose, and ferried our way cross the Bay of Fundy to St. John’s, New Brunswick and our final overnight in Canada. We sat in a lovely lounge entertained by a fiddler, watching the world go by. The fog set in but we enjoyed our jaunt all the same. The name Fundy Rose came from an African-Canadian woman from the 1800’s by the name of Rose Fortune, who trail blazed her way through history as a shrewd business woman and entrepreneur. We did notice a large black community in and around Halifax, even in the camp sites which in the U.S. is pretty rare. It’s lovely to see Canada embrace and celebrate their diversity.
Mon Dieu!!! We realized we had gone from one extreme of the U.S. to the other! Google maps gave us perspective on how far we had come on this leg of our journey. So far we have logged over 20,000 miles since the 20th of February!
Au revoir Canada🇨🇦 🦌🦬🦫🦅🦞🌲🏔🌅you will be missed; your incomparable landscapes and your hospitality will always be in my thoughts, hopefully I’ll be back to visit again one day❤️
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👨👩👦👦
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.
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!!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
Amongst the many fascinating features are the Yellow Mounds – an anomaly we hadn’t encountered through our travels in the Southwest.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Otherwise these stops are a great way to picnic in the quiet amongst the cooling trees with the babbling undertows of passing rivers.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
We left the visitor center and took the road back down to the trailhead.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.