Sunday, August 30, 2015

*END* of Alaska Trip, Aug 2015

The Home Stretch! At 7:20 it was a damp-feeling 16C. We crossed into Canada 37 km from the cg, so very convenient, picking up a couple of different kinds of gin at the duty-free.

It was interesting going through Sault Canada a different way. Some things looked vaguely familiar, but there have been lots of changes in the last 45 years or so there. I spent 2 years in college in Sault Ste Marie Canada, a long time ago.

I’ve wanted a new kayak paddle, so we stopped at Swift Canoe on the way by Waubishene ON and got one on their seasonal sale. We also had to stop at Nicolyn Farms for some of their great stuff.

Once in Flesherton we filled the van tank and got some more basics in Markdale. By 5:25 we were home, having survived the high-volume Hwy 10 traffic.

Thinking about the trip in hindsight, a standout memory was the wildlife viewings. We felt like we saw a lot of wildlife, but recognised that we would have missed a lot if we weren’t on the road as early as we usually were. It was tough to get started early sometimes, but worth the effort.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ashland WI to Sault Ste Marie MI

It rained a bit overnight but skies were blue this morning, 15C at 7:40. We went to the local market on the way out of town, but maybe it was too early for them. There were only 3 stalls there, nothing we wanted. We had to settle for the last 2 LongJohns to tide us over to a later breakfast.

We did get 2 pasties at a shop in Iron River MI, then shared one at a town park. The pasties were huge, too big for either of us to eat a whole one at a sitting.

We had a good Walmart stop and stretch at Iron Mountain, then lunched on the second pastie at a park beside Lake Superior.

At 5:30 CDT (or EDT?) we pulled in to Brimley State Park, near Sault Ste Marie MI. The air is good and it’s sunny, but we’re both in long pants now, as the breeze off the water is chilly. We got fueled up on the way in, so are all ready to head into Canada early tomorrow.

Hwy 2 was not particularly scenic today. Maybe we should have taken #28 out of Ironwood and up I75 to the Soo.

The Brimley cg was $32 US for a serviced site and free showers, but the washrooms were dated and somewhat grubby. They also had a real jerk on the gate checking people in. The park is a convenient positioning park for a border crossing.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Jamestown ND to Ashland WI

We’re definitely feeling the call of home now, although not nearly as strong as it has been at this stage in earlier trips. We got away at 7:30, with a breakfast stop later on. 

The electric sites the last 2 nights made things more comfortable, as we were able to run a small electric fan overnight to help cool things down.

At one point we stopped at a bakery for pasties for supper, but no luck. She didn’t have the required “meat license”, so we had to settle for LongJohn pastries instead, and beans and wieners for supper.

By 5:05 CDT we pulled in to Kreher Park in Ashland WI, on the shore of Lake Superior. It was a nice uneventful drive, up to 26C. The park has gotten pricy compared to the $10 it used to be though, at $35 Cdn (would have been $30 US).

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Glasgow MT to Jamestown ND

It was a hazy 16C at 7:10 CDT when we headed to McD’s for takeout coffee and McMuffins. Yes, we’re really lazy this morning, and also impatient to get moving. Lots of prairie and badlands to see on the way to I94, and later on too. By 10:15 we were on I94 heading east.

On the way, I94 took us through a US National Grasslands area and Theodore Roosevelt Park. 

The low centre left dot is a large bison

We had our lunch break at the visitor’s center at TRP; it looks like a place we’d enjoy seeing more of on a later trip. It was a moderate 26C at noon, but felt warmer.

The smoky haze in the air seems to be disappearing finally. Visibility is noticeably better now. We were camped at a Jamestown ND cg by 4:45, 25C and sunny. It’s a nice shady-looking place with grassy sites, right by the highway though. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Eastend SK to Glasgow MT

In the morning we took the Frenchman River Valley drive. Seeing more pelicans, magpies, deer, then a large stag with a huge rack of antlers at a distance. It was easy to image trophy hunters chasing that guy! He didn't hang around for a picture.

Lots of sage vegetation, texas gates, cattle, several small herds of bulls, again surprisingly green. The amount of green areas has surprised us, given all the press about how dry it’s been out west.

At one point a sign invited us to take a detour off to a lookout spot named Jones Peak. We weren’t sure about the lane leading up to it:
But once up there it was quite the spot. 

There was some haze in the air, but still nice views of the Frenchman River valley we had toured.

After a bit more breakfast back at the cg, we headed off towards Grasslands Natl Park. I’d been looking forward to seeing this park, and I have to say it was a disappointment. It’s early days for it yet, and may develop into a “real” park sometime in the future. It’s growing slowly, with the Parks dept buying lands as they become available for sale; they’re not expropriating land as has happened in the past, which is good, but it does slow down park development.

Right now the main attraction is several prairie dog colonies.

There’s lots of sage, wildflowers, grasses, hawks – a whole lot of dry hot and dusty  flat highland terrain. We expected to see bison, 
and had expected to camp overnight at an interior cg. When we got to the campground it had no appeal, as it was hotter than we like today and there was no shade at the cg, so we decided to press on, heading south into the US.

We crossed into Montana at 3pm, on #4 at Morgan. The US Customs guy made a joke about our funny (folding) bikes in the back of the van, asking if they had been squashed by the Hulk. Must have been a slow day at this dusty border crossing.

We ran into miles of dusty construction before we got down to hwy 2. 32C at 5:40, and camped in Glasgow MT for the night.
When chatting with the cg hostess later, she recommended we NOT proceed east on hwy 2 as we planned. Apparently there have been incidents in the Williston ND area, lots of unemployed ex-oil workers due to the oil slumps. She told us to turn south on #13 at Wolf Point, then 200S to I94. We decided to do what she said.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Medicine Hat AB to Eastend SK via Cyprus Hills

Still sunny and not too smoky for our 8:30 departure. We’re pretty lazy today, stopping at MacD for breakfast, and then at a Sobey’s for supplies.

After a short run on TCH#1, we headed south on hwy 41 towards the Cypress Hills. A pretty drive, with lots of green around even though so late in the summer. Herds of cattle as you’d expect, but also flocks of pelicans, so there are bodies of water around here.

The cows don't seem too worried

Nearing Cypress Hills the elevation is surprisingly high, at about 1245 meters, up to about 1404 m at a lookout on the Alberta side of the park. The interior road that connects the AB/SK sides of the park is gravel and quite rough and dusty in places. Notice the “Welcome to Saskatchewan” sign:

Our National park Discovery pass got us into Ft Walsh for no charge, otherwise it would have been $20 for the two of us. Several people were there at the fort in period costumes, and one of them led a guided tour of the fort. An interesting wrinkle was they separated the kids off from the adult group for their own type of tour, more fun for them and for us!

Ft Walsh has a long history, first as a frontier fort, then later where horses were raised and trained for the RCMP Musical Ride.

Another warm day, 32C, and a hot dusty drive on 615 S, then #13 towards Eastend, where we camped for the night. Eastend is an interesting little place, with several self-guided tours of the area available on their web site. They also have a Trex dinosaur museum.

A young Saskatchewanian, interested in the tourists

Monday, August 24, 2015

Yahk Park to Medicine Hat AB

7C and smoky at 7:45 am, it was up to 10C by 11 am when we stopped in Fernie BC, a pretty outdoor-adventure type of tourist town. We stopped at a place for a bagel, then went back and bought some more to go.

The smoke was quite thick around Pincher Creek / Ft MacLeod area, and up to 29C, as we continued to follow hwy 3 towards Medicine Hat. By 4:45 we were camped at Medicine Hat town campground, sunny and smoky, $28, 28C. 

On the way we had passed through Lethbridge AB, a dirty-seeming town with a pervasive petroleum smell in the air (likely the smell of money to the locals). Medicine Hat was a nice contrast to that, lots of grass and clean air. MH also had a large-scale solar steam generator farm right next to the cg.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

OK Falls to Yahk Prov Park via Nelson BC

As usual we had a nice time at Donna and Bob's place. Cathie and Donna roamed around a bit shopping, and we just generally relaxed after so much driving.

We kept a close eye (via the Internet mostly) on forest fires as it got quite smoky here, to the point we couldn’t see the lake at all from Donna’s porch. 

This is what the lake view is from near their house, when there isn't smoke in the air:

At one point, it looked like we wouldn’t be carrying on east on hwy 3 as we planned.

We did head out on hwy 3 today though, after a good scrambled egg and mushroom breakfast. We left fairly early, 7:10 am, a very smoky 13C. As usual there were lots of deer and quail on the drive down the hill from our host's house, on our way to hwy 97.

Carrying on south on 97, still very smoky. The temp had dropped to 10C around Osoyoos, where we turned east on #3.
On our way through Rock Creek there were signs of the recent fires on both sides of #3. The air was quite hazy, thick with smoke.

Apparently some 30 houses burnt down there very recently (like, 2 days ago). No problems getting through though today though, either there or near Christina Lake, another recent hotspot.

At Castlegar we headed north on #3A, to Nelson and Balfour, taking the free ferry across to Kootenay Landing. Although still smoky the air was noticeably clearer here, and a beautiful day. We had a bit of a wait for the ferry, and there were so many vehicles waiting we didn’t expect to get on the next ferry. We did all fit though, lots of traffic on a nice late-summer Sunday afternoon. Camped at Yahk prov park, a nice clean park.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Merritt to Okanagan Falls BC

It was a nice sunny 16C when we left at 8am. We took 5A down to Princeton, a beautiful mostly traffic-free drive. It got down to 14C as we worked our way south, and we started to notice smoke, from some forest fire somewhere. We didn’t see any actual fires, but it kept getting smokier, so we did get a bit concerned about what was ahead. No real problems though.

After turning east at Princeton, it’s another very pretty drive across hwy 3 (aka Crowsnest Hwy) to Keremeos, where we stopped at a fruit stand/wine shop. We’d never been through this area before on our earlier trips, a really nice drive.

From Keremeos we went north/east on 3A, until we met Hwy 97 again and turned south to Okanagan Falls, another great drive. Cathie's sister Donna and her husband live up in the hills above OK Falls, and we'll be visiting there for a few days.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Barkerville to Merritt BC

Sunny and 8C when we left the cg at 7:30. It’s quite a nice drive into and out from Barkerville, with wooded hills and views.

We stopped for fuel in Quesnel, and later stopped for a picnic breakfast later at a roadside shop, where Cath shopped and I napped. Cath got a necklace for Nancy, a hummingbird book for Janine, and ½ lb of salted caramel fudge (yumm). A beautiful day, it was up to 21C by 11 am.

It was up to 25C when we turned west at Williams Lake, on the Bello Coola Road. I wanted to see a bit of Chilcotin country. We did see very dry grasslands at fairly high elevation, after climbing some steep hills to get into the area. 

Lots of log trucks on the road, back and forth to the mills in Williams Lake. Sometimes it was tedious, being stuck behind a loaded truck going up one of the hills; other times it was scary meeting these truck as they descended the hills at high speed, especially when we were on the outside of the curves when we met.

Once back to the main road, we had a good picnic lunch stop beside Lac la Hache, north of 100 Mile House. The pair of loons out on the lake made it feel quite northern.

It was over 30C by 3pm, so the A/C went on. The Cache Creek area is quite desert-like. The temp kept on creeping up, to 34.5C by 4pm. Thank goodness again for A/C!

We expected to stop somewhere around Spences Bridge, but because it was 36C (97F) there we pressed on to Merritt, across a very scenic #8 secondary road. We got camped in Merritt, w/e for $30, on a site with some shade and a breeze. It was down to 30C by then, which felt pretty nice by comparison. Egg salad sandwiches for supper, dishes done and relaxing by 6:30.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

16C and sunny for an 8am getaway. We splurged on a McD’s breakfast once we got to Prince George. PG is a large attractive-looking city (what little we saw of it); it bills itself as the capital of Northern BC. It even has a Costco. It looked like a place we could live in if we had to move out west. Note though, CBC says Prince George has the highest recorded Radon gas levels found in Canada!

We turned south at PG to hwy 97, down to #26 east to Barkerville, arriving there about 1:30, sunny and 21C. This is a town built to echo the goldrush days, kind of a mining pioneer village. 
$13 each for seniors admission.

The town was fairly busy, and we did a lot of walking. We came away feeling disappointed though. Most of the buildings were open only to look into through a glass or barred entrance. There were very few people around in period costumes, with hardly any guides in the various buildings. We did go into the working bakery for a couple of old-fashioned doughnuts, and enjoyed those!

You can book a site at nearby provincial park right at Barkerville, so we did that on the way in to Barkerville. The site we got was ok, but if we hadn’t pre-booked we would have been on our way in late afternoon. $24 for an unserviced site alongside a very dusty cg road. There were flush toilets though, and pay showers ($1 for 4 minutes).