The Wilderness

Alaska Highway - Yukon

Alaska Highway – Yukon

We were going to post a blog every Friday, but, as it turns out, we’re either busy exploring the Great North or parked in a place with no internet. Which turns out to be a great way to introduce this blog….

We’re finally there. Yep, we’re in the far north – Whitehorse, Yukon. Wilderness! 60 degrees north latitude! Well, maybe not in the pure definition of wilderness. After all, this is being posted to the internet and there isn’t much internet in the wilderness. We have our own definition of wilderness and it looks like this:

  1. When you leave the Alaska Highway you see nothing but trees, lakes, and streams. Not just for miles, but for hundreds of miles.
  2. No cell phone service and no internet until you reach a settlement substantial enough to have that infrastructure.
  3. There is wildlife and lots of it. These are the few sightings we’ve had:
    1. Elk: Six to ten including cows with calves.
    2. Deer: Three gorgeous bucks with big racks in velvet.
    3. Moose: Just one of the elusive animals.
    4. Caribou: Just one!
    5. Black bear: Almost too many to count, at least 16, several with cubs.

      Wood Bison

      Wood Bison

    6. Grizzly bear: Three, a sow with two cubs.
    7. Wood bison: Too many to count. At least four herds.
    8. Stone sheep: A small flock of four.
    9. Bald eagle: Just two so far.
    10. Raven: Hundreds, they seem to follow us everywhere.
    11. Small critters: Scores! Saw a ground squirrel blanket the other day…
  4. Mosquitoes and other biting bugs abound. No kidding huh? Not sure how to explain this one. They haven’t been too bad, yet… However, we’ve been on the tundra before and know what to expect. Maybe it’s the garlic.
  5. The road is rough. In reality, the road’s been pretty good. Sure, there are a few rough patches, but we’ve traveled over 1,750 miles without a problem.
  6. Settlements or services are few and far between. We’ve been keeping an eye on the fuel gauge. If you broke down, you might have to wait overnight to get assistance and longer for parts.
  7. Sourdoughs. We’ve spotted a couple…

We may have arrived, but it’s still a little too civilized; especially here where hordes of tourists arrive daily by train or bus from Skagway. We’ll be moving on in a couple days, further north, still seeking the wilderness.

Click here to see our photos of the journey from Dawson Creek, BC to Whitehorse, AB.

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Anticipation…..

Visions of wilderness in the far north swirled through our head as we left Jasper, AB. The Icefields Parkway from Lake Louse to Jasper presented us with stunning scenery. The landscape along Trans-Canada Highway 16 was as wild as it could be.

The intersection of Trans-Canada 16 and Alberta 40

The intersection of Trans-Canada 16 and Alberta 40

Turning north from Hwy 16, the road traverses endless forest and our stop at Grand Cache, AB was like being in a frontier town. Just getting to the start of the Alaska Highway (formerly the AlCan) was going to be an adventure in itself!

Alberta 40 between Jasper and Grande Cache, AB.

Alberta 40 between Jasper and Grande Cache, AB.

Then we started seeing more and more traffic. Suddenly, the forest gave way to Grande Prairie, AB, a city of 55,000 with all of the urban conveniences that one could want – big box stores, gas stations, restaurants, hotels, industry, four-lane highways, and housing developments. So much for the wilderness adventure.

We forged on toward Dawson Creek, BC, famous as “Mile 0” on the Alaska Highway. This must truly be a frontier town. After all, this was the place where, in 1942, the US Army Corps of Engineers and Canadian civilian contractors began constructing 1,420 miles of road through the wilderness, all the way to Big Delta, Alaska. It’s the last stop before launching into the northern woods.

Start of the Alaska Highway

Start of the Alaska Highway

In our minds, we’re seeing log buildings, a quaint main street, and lots of sourdough-like men with white beards. Scratch that. Dawson Creek is still Mile 0, but in reality it is just another modern agri-industrial / oil town in British Columbia with 11,500 residents, big box stores, a couple of old buildings, and several nice museums.

The wilderness has got to be just ahead….

Click here for more photos from along the journey.

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Alaska 2014 Friday Blog 1 – Omak, WA to Jasper, AB

Texas to Alberta

We’re still trying to figure out where this trip actually started. When you’re on the road full-time, there really is no start or stop point. You could say that it started in Panther Junction, Big Bend National Park, TX, and took a detour to Guerrero Negro in Baja California, Mexico and Santa Fe, NM, which would make the trip 6100 miles so far. However, we stopped for a while in Portland, OR, and Elma, WA, to visit family and Coeur d’Alene, ID for a Monaco rally. So, we’ve decided this trip actually started in Omak, WA, our next stop after Coeur d’Alene.

Omak, WA to Jasper, AB

Omak, WA to Jasper, AB

Omak is a confused, but nice little town at the southern end of the Okanagan Valley; focused on the timber industry and is a fruit grower’s paradise. We stayed in a municipal campground situated right next to the rodeo arena. Don’t try to camp here during the second weekend in August when the rodeo is in full swing.

This is a good starting point because it’s a short distance to the Canadian border where there can be a potentially long wait. Fortunately, our wait was short and went like this:

Border guard (BG): Please shut off your engine.
R: Yes sir (shuts it off).
BG: Where are you headed?
R: We’re spending the next month in Canada on our way to Alaska.
BG: Where specifically?
R: (Wracking his brain) Well, Penticton tonight, then Revelstoke and Lake Louise. Wow, you’re really making me think…
BG: Are you planning on staying any length of time up north, like immigrating?
R: No sir (No WAY!).
BG: Are you planning on selling your car?
R: No sir (Are you kidding?)
BG: How much tobacco and alcohol do you have on board?
R: No tobacco, but here’s our list of alcohol (just couldn’t drink all of it last night!)
BG: Hmmm, that’s not much… Have a nice trip.

On to Penticton: It’s pronounced Pen – tic – ton. For some reason, folks from the US seem to butcher the name in some odd way. It’s easy, really. Penticton is a fruit and wine hub and a summer tourist spot. There’s lots of shopping making it a nice place to get some last minute stuff for the trip north (and to stock up on the alcohol we had to dispose of before crossing the border….).

It’s also nice to have a friend who can show us around. We met Sue Wright at a photography workshop back in 2005 and have maintained a long-distance friendship ever since. Sue took us to the best burger joint in town (fantastic), on a beautiful walk, to a unique winery that makes wine from fruit other than grapes, and to the best brunch spot around. Thanks Sue for a great stay!

On to Revelstoke: We camped at their municipal campground on a small lake and had our first experience with “the stare”. It’s a stare with incredulous expressions. We’re sure they are wondering what those Americans were thinking. They’ve just arrived from Europe and are traveling in their cozy 20 foot Class C motorhomes experiencing the wilds of Canada. What do they find? The Dip, our 40 foot house on wheels. It’s looking like things are pretty tame around here…

On to Lake Louise: The terrain changed dramatically as we moved north, leaving the Okanagan Valley and climbing into the mountains. We eventually intersected with Trans-Canada Highway 1 and motored on to Lake Louise Township.

At this point, the anticipation is just about killing us. We’ve been on the road (from Omak) for five whole days and are wondering when we’ll get there. There being the real Canadian wilds. Some of our thirst for the wilds is satisfied with an elk sighting near Field, BC and a little more satisfaction when we see our first bear and caribou warning signs. At this point R is thinking about cooking bacon on the barbeque just to increase the wilderness experience. Unfortunately, things are tame at the Lake Louise Campground and we endure some more of “the stare.”

A visit to Lake Louise is not complete without walking along the lake and having a libation at the Chateau. Warning, try to stay ahead of the tour bus hoards…

On to Jasper: If you’ve never driven the Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper, you have missed one of the most spectacular arm chair experiences in the world. Towering mountains, placid lakes, rushing rivers colored by turquoise glacier melt, and hundreds of glaciers are within sight from the seat of your car or tour bus. You never have to get out. While this sounds a little sarcastic, it really isn’t meant to be. Visitors can easily choose just how much isolation they want. A short walk on one of the many trails puts you right in the wilderness.

So, this is it for now. We’re spending two nights in Jasper before we head toward Dawson Creek, BC to intersect with Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway, formerly known as the AlCan. Stay tuned as we’ll try to post a blog every Friday, and maybe a few in between.

PS: Tim Hortons is becoming our Starbucks! At least for their free WiFi!!

Click here to see our photos of this leg of the trip.

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Checklists….

Checklists…

  •  Ch8assis lubed – check
  • Tires checked – check
  • Fuel tanks full – check
  • Water tank full – check
  • Water filters – check
  • Guide books and maps – check
  • Reservations made – check
  • Off-line computer guides – check
  • GPS files – check
  • Telephoto lenses – check
  • Four seasons of clothing – check
  • Mosquito repellent – check
  • Passports in order – check
  • Fruit and vegetables eaten or thrown away – check
  • Alcohol reduced for border crossing J – check
  • Checklist of checklists checked – check

How do you prepare for an adventure? We use checklists. Some are found online, some from books, some from experience, and some we just make up. Maybe we’re a little too anal. Then again, maybe we’re just careful.

Our trip through Canada and Alaska will cover nearly 8,000 miles of road, some of which is described as wilderness with a road through it. There are areas with no services for over 200 miles.

The majority of the road is supposed to be paved. However, we already know that the pavement can be rough enough to break things. We also know that at least 2,000 miles will be on gravel, some of which has been featured on the Ice Road Truckers reality television series. Fortunately, its summer and our river crossings will be by ferry.

So, the bottom line is the Boy and Girl Scout Motto: Be Prepared.

North to Alaska!

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The Earliest Graffiti? Petroglyphs and Pictographs…

Where ever we travel, we enjoy finding and photographing Native American rock art. We’d have to say, our recent trip through Nine Mile Canyon outside of Price, Utah was one of our most amazing experiences.

The Canyon has a spectacular display of Archaic, Fremont, and Ute rock art that can easily be seen by short hikes and from the car. Mile after mile, our heads were on a swivel, constantly spotting another image or panel.

For the record: researchers have catalogued over 1,000 sites and 10,000 images in the canyon; and more are being discovered as they make their way through the various side canyons. Locals call it their outside museum; the world’s longest art gallery! This 70+ mile, scenic byway was named by one of John Wesley Powell’s cartographers who mapped the area using a nine-mile transect.

The rain held off until the end of the day, which allowed us to end our journey with The Great Hunt Panel (at Mile 46). There appears to be some questions on who or why this panel may have been restored – or cleaned – it is one of the most recognizable examples of rock art having been published in National Geographic Magazine and used by many scholars as a prime example of Fremont rock art.

Click here for more images.  Enjoy!!

 

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Where has the time gone… and how does one “catch” up?

We have traveled far and wide since the last post showing us in Scotland. But, just how does one catch up on their travels for the past year! Yes – can you believe it? We were in Scotland the second week of May and still had at least 6 weeks of travel left on our UK/Europe adventure. We will have to share images from Wales, the _DSC1859Cotswolds’, London, and oh my, yes, Portugal! So R’s going to be busy filling up the Zenfolio website with pictures galore.

Let’s see….

July found us back in the states, crossing the country to have a family reunion in Reno – not everyone was able to attend, but we had a grand time. August and September found us in the NW, October making our way south, November, December, January back in Big Bend National Park, TX.

In early February, we enjoyed the tours at McDonald Observatory in Ft. Davis, TX. This is a must stop for anyone visiting this part of Texas.

Later in the month, we made our way west towards California to partake in a caravan tour with 15 other RVs through Baja California. Whale watching, sandy beaches, rough roads, and making some new friends made for a great two weeks. DSC_7715

March found us heading back east to Today – April 1 – Santa Fe, NM to meet up with Bonnie.

Does that do it? We’re “kind of” up-to-date…..  Until next time, Safe Travels!

Click here for our images from the UK to California.

 

 

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Scotland – Like going home…

_DSC1006Sometimes harsh and forbidding, sometimes soft and inviting, Scotland delivers more to the senses than expected. Mountains, rough seas, windy roads, cruel weather, and unintelligible English are all offset by beautiful scenery, brilliant sun breaks, and wonderful cultural warmth.

Scotland starts in the Lowlands, an area 100 miles north of Hadrian’s Wall, where the Romans tried to keep the Scots bottled up by _DSC0768building a wall across the island. It is a landscape of green pastures covered with sheep and dotted with small villages. The Lowlands give way to the Highlands where barren hills are covered with heather, and beautiful meadows – covered with sheep – abound; you can experience all four seasons in one day. While there are _DSC0567many differences in Scotland, two things are consistent throughout the land: There are sheep – thousands of them, and there is whisky – hundreds of them.

K’s family immigrated to the US from Montrose, a town on the North Sea. The Mitchell name is a little too common here and a search for the family name in cemeteries found hundreds of Mitchells. Let’s just say it was a great walk through DSCN0473a maze of history lessons!

While the Lowlands are pretty, there is a lot to like in the Highlands with steep mountains, National Parks, mysterious islands, deep Lochs, castles, and warm and welcoming people. The Highlands are the home of the Highland cow, an adorable shaggy creature that is hearty enough for the harsh environment. They are also home to famous whisky distillers such as Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, The Glenlivet, and hundreds of others. A 750ml bottle of whisky can cost anywhere between $20 and $5,000 and up.DSCN0529

A series of Lochs and a canal transect Scotland. An intrepid sailor can cross Scotland through the Caledonian Canal and sail the oceans to return to the start. Along the Caledonian Canal, nestled in a deep canyon near Inverness is Loch Ness, famed for the Loch Ness Monster. Like many before us, we searched for the monster to no avail. One kind resident told us that we didn’t offer enough chocolate in order to see it.

The Highlands is also home to the first Special Forces military training camp, which was f_DSC0943ormed during the early days of World War II. When Brittan was facing its darkest hour, Winston Churchill directed the military to form a commando force to take the war to the Continent and Africa. They trained in this harsh environment and became experts at infiltration and espionage.

_DSC0374While in Edinburgh we spent a day with our Scottish friend Emma, who we had met when we were all volunteering at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre in northern Canada. We had a great day of exploring the Royal Mile, seeing Scottish bands “Beat Retreat”, and showing her how to geocache (yes, we’re doing that here too). How we enjoyed those bagpipes! Thank you Emma for a wonderful day.

Scotland calls to us. We will return…

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