Coloring the Void

living nomadically

Archive for the category “Canada”

2015 – we had a blast!

(Yes, I know am way behind my blog posts. But my computer ate three before I published them and I just didn’t have the brain power to completely rewrite them. And then, we were kinda rushing around doing 100 things and nothing. But, they will be updated over the coming month, once I finally get the pictures edited. Again.) Anyway.

We started the blog in May and for quite a few months, updated it religiously. But, we did have plenty of adventures before May and we found some pretty amazing places that we want to return to in 2017.  In 2015, we didn’t make reservations anywhere, just moved and stopped when we felt like it, where we could find space. The results varied, from hell in Florida to bliss in Alaska and all the stages of both in between. So, here is part of our year in review, with highlights and pictures.

January found us in 18 different spots, from Maryland to Texas. Yes, we drove and moved that much. We were on a mission: to get to Alaska and, looking at January, we were hell bent on getting there as quickly as possible. By the end of January we realized we needed to slow down and wait for the weather to catch up with us – it was still REALLY COLD in most of the country. We did manage to find some great spots for a couple of days (our longest stay was three days) and took some great pictures.

In Florida, we got to see manatees up close in Blue Springs State Park, eat great oysters at Eddy Teach’s Raw Bar (now closed), watch amazing sunsets at St. George Island State Park and visit with quite a few  friends.

In Texas, we met up with more friends, ate amazing BBQ at Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, breezed through San Antonio, and set up camp in Big Bend.

manatees

Manatees at Blue Spring State Park

sunset

Sunset at St. George’s Island State Park

mission

Mission in San Antonio Texas

Rio Grande River

The Rio Grande near Big Bend, Tx

In February, we fell in love with the town of Terlingua then quickly made our way through New Mexico to stay awhile in Arizona. We browsed Arizona for a while, though we didn’t sit in one place for long. We had Marv Braun, of Precision RV fix the absolute clusterfu%k the dealer made when re-installing our solar system (he also added a panel and swapped our batteries for AGMs). We made a quick visit to Tombstone and Bisbee, got lost in the Dragoon Mountains, and wandered the back roads of Prescott. Our longest stay at a campground in February? Three days, if you don’t count the stop in Casa Grande to visit with Marv (six days). We were still in a hurry.

jeep

Great Sand Dunes National Monument

jeep

Lost in Arizona

jeep road

The backroad from Prescott to Jerome. Probably one of the funnest drives in the area.

In March, we ran the border at Organ Pipe National Monument, went to the Escapees Escapade, hung out with my brother in Gilbert, then raced to Desert Hot Springs, CA. We ended the month with a week in Coarsegold at the Escapees Co-Op just outside of Yosemite.

We fell in love with Organ Pipe and in Desert Hot Springs, we had the best sushi ever (and really good noodles) at Domo Sushi. We visited Joshua Tree National Park and found it completely packed with Spring Breakers so we beat a hasty retreat out a back road that had us testing the abilities of the Jeep (it passed). After browsing for a day in Yosemite, we cancelled our week of reservations at one of the Valley campgrounds – it was just entirely too crowded and most of the campgrounds hadn’t even opened yet!

border stop

The US border in Organ Pipe.

creek

Creek in the Superstition Mountains

IMG_5858

Joshua tree near Palm Springs, CA

Yosemite

Yosemite Valley in March

April had us pushing northward faster than we expected because of the crowds. We had no reservations and they were hard to come by. Many of the state parks had sites available but they were too short for our rig. So we made our way North to Oregon and then Washington.

We found a peaceful site in Klamath where we wandered around huge trees for a couple of days. We landed a last minute oceanview campsite in Harris State Park in Oregon and stayed put for a week – until the rain drove us out. We stopped at Newport (loved it) and Seaside (loved it more), then raced up to Chimicum, WA in need of some rig repairs. We then bummed around Washington and continued to do that the first two weeks of May as we waited for our departure to Alaska.

jeep

In the Redwoods, the jeep is very tiny.

marina docks

Newport Marina Sunset

ocean

The Oregon Coastline

In May, we did last minute prepping and purchasing, including getting Belle’s shots before we took off for the Great White North. The border crossing was easy but the price shock wasn’t. Gas and many food items doubled in price. But, the scenery was amazing, the places to boondock beautiful and we were finally on our way to Alaska!

We were wowed by Fraser Canyon, enjoyed  Terrace and Stewart, got an oil change in Whitehorse, and finally settled for a breather in Haines. We got to see bears, moose, foxes, and glaciers and we were barely in Alaska.

June found us in Wrangell St. Elias Park finding McCarthy, then Valdez  watching eagles play, and left us on the Kenai Peninsula dodging forest fires.

While McCarthy didn’t live up to expectations, Valdez kept our attention and we managed to stay a week. It ended up being our favorite Alaska town (though Haines was a close second). Seward was beautiful, Homer was busy, and the Kenai River was crowded. June was more than sensory overload but if I had to relive one month of my life over and over, it would be this one.

In July we made back up to the heart of Alaska, visiting Anchorage and Fairbanks, then pushing north to the Arctic Circle. Unfortunately, while there, Belle had another stroke. We were tired and she was sick, so we began our push back south. It wasn’t really a direct path, as it took us through Chicken, Dawson City, Skagway, Toad River and down into Montana by the end of the month. There are many places we missed – we drove through the Canadian Rockies but didn’t have a chance to stop for long – but it gives us an excuse to go back.

The month of August was spent bouncing around Montana, with a brief ‘vacation’ down in Cody Wyoming. We found some beautiful places to stop and spend some time. We also found the best brisket in the country and the best biscuits and gravy in the country (sorry – it is a friend who is an amazing cook!). We found ghost towns, an endless number of backroads, and quiet, out of the way, places to hide.

The weather was finally turning so we headed south in September, spending a couple of weeks in Utah before ending up in Usery Park.  We finally followed the White Rim trail, nearly got car-jacked by wild horses and got to watch an amazing lunar eclipse before meeting up with family at the end of the month.

October was almost completely dominated with visiting family, though we did get a brief break at Balloon Fiesta. Another bucket list item done! Seriously, if you ever get the change to go to Balloon Fiesta, do it. And I highly recommend it in an RV.

The first half of November we chilled with family around Phoenix and then raced back to Virginia for Thanksgiving.  We managed to stop for some amazing meals and moments with both friends and family on our trip east (Did I mention the most amazing burgers that are worth a 200 mile detour in Roswell? Yeah, we are still reminiscing about those.)  and then settled in Wakefield, VA on the family farm.

December we holed up just outside DC at Cherry Hill RV park, where we caught up with dentists and doctors, more friends and family, and celebrated the holidays.

squirrel

We finished up the month in South Carolina, and started the new year there, too.

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If I had to do it all again, I would. And I probably would only change one or two things. Yes, we sped through many, many states when I would have preferred to linger. And yes, we acted like vacationers with a time limit rather than permanent travelers. But, now that we have done the trip once, we can do it again in 2017, but a little bit slower. There is still so much of the country to see…

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Alberta

Crossing into Alberta, I fell in love. Beautiful, open fields of grain (not amber waves, though), farms nestled amid rolling hills, gentle rises and falls in the road – pastoral in the grandest sense.

Alberta View

The start of Alberta

Farm field

Farm fields in Alberta

We passed through Grand Prairie,  a huge and growing city with modern architecture butting up against mid century and older buildings – a beautiful and eclectic mix. While we would have loved to stop and explore, we were itching to get to the border.

We passed through Grande Cache, a smaller, sleepy town  not much more than a couple of blinks on the highway.

We stopped in Hinton in a large mall parking lot where overnighter’s were welcome and which happened to have both a Safeway and a Walmart (dozens of other RVs and trucks also enjoyed the space.

We tried and tried, but could not find any legal camping spots that would hold the short bus in the National Parks of Canada to our south. We were able though, to make the decision that Alberta was definitely worth coming back to, though next time we would plan a little in advance or come early in the season so we could actually camp here.

So we headed south, through Jasper National Park, past Lake Louise, almost into Banff National Park, before taking a right onto Route 93 into Kootenay National Park. The entire drives was oohs and aahs, and we stopped quite frequently, though we avoided the REALLY CROWDED parts around Lake Louise and the Icefields. We were spit out at the end of our tour at Radium Hot Springs, back in British Columbia.

road through Jasper

heading south through Jasper NP

Lake

lake in Jasper NP

the Icefield

The Icefield

Lake Louise

Road to Lake Louise

Lake Louise

More Lake Louise

We looked around but didn’t have much luck with boondocking spots until we finally gave up at Jaffray, BC, where we overnighted next to a Shell gas station. That night, it got dark – really dark! We were thrilled. I was so happy to see stars again I actually danced a jig. I guess, when I can see them every day, I kind of take them for granted. Now, it was like meeting up with old friends as I looked for my favorite constellations. This far north and west they are in different places in the night sky, but they are still comforting as ever.

In the morning, we crossed back into the US at Roosville. The border patrol agent, about 70, was so completely no nonsense that, if we didn’t answer a question with the answer he wanted to hear, would repeat the question. Again and again. And he didn’t ask specific questions, he asked very vague and general questions that could have a thousand different correct answers. So, it took a while but eventually we were allowed back in the country.

Montana

Montana!

We had no idea where we were going. We needed gas, we needed internet, and we needed food. We should have stopped in Eureka, which appeared to be a lovely little town, http://welcome2eureka.com/ but we had become so used to going and going, I’m pretty sure we forgot how to stop. We made a detour about 15 miles down a gravel road looking for a campground and never found it. We gave up and settled in Columbia Falls for a night at a full hookup private campground that charged $46/night. Ack!

It really isn’t the money. We would gladly pay $46 a night (and have) for a site in a beautiful location with all the amenities and space – just a little bit of space. For us, this spot wasn’t worth the money.

So we pulled out the next morning and headed east on Montana 2. We found a lovely little boondock spot right on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. We stopped.

The Alaska Highway

A short drive on Yukon 8 put us back on the Alaska Highway. Belle decided she needed a pit stop, so we pulled over on the side of the highway. The amount and variety of wildflowers there was unbelievable! In less than five minutes, I had amassed quite a collection.

clover

pink clover

snowy white bush

snowy white bush

plant

no clue what this is but it looked cool…

flowers

dandelion-like flowers on the side of the road

vegetation

plants on the side of the road

grass

grass on the side of the road

Our plan today was to make some miles. That plan petered out at Watson Lake, where we stopped for the night. There are only a couple of RV parks in town, and for some reason, we were too tired to deal with boondocking, so we decided to stop at one of them. At $46CAD per night, jammed into a gravel parking lot, with slides touching, we went to bed. This RV park was probably the most expensive for nothing park we have ever stayed at, and we have stayed at a few. The sites were so tight, our right side neighbor didn’t bother to open his slide on the driver’s side – if he had, we may not have been able to open the short bus door. Yes, it was that tight.

We were so glad to be out of there we actually left by 9AM, which is probably a record for us. The rest of the Alaska Highway we hadn’t seen yet, so we were looking forward to the drive. And it didn’t disappoint.

Alaska Highway

Alaska Highway

Buffalo

Buffalo on the Highway

Baffalo Jam

Yes, even in the middle of nowhere – Buffalo Jam!

Alaska highway

The road around Liard Hot Springs

Muncho Lake

If it had been sunny, the lake would have been oh so blue. Muncho Lake

Mucho Lake

Another view where the clouds are thinner

Toad River

The beautiful green Toad River

Liard Hot Springs had been our plan but sitting around in a pool, no matter how pretty, with 50 other people was not my idea of fun – it was very crowded. So we continued on to Toad River Lodge ($30CAD). The setting was beautiful, the sites were spacious, and there was a lake.  The manager was very nice, the restaurant was okay and the sleep was restful despite being near the highway. We decided to stay a second day to get some laundry done and just relax a bit. We had a cocktail with another couple returning from Alaska who also did the same thing.

The extra day did us well. We were able to drive all the way to Dawson Creek before giving up for the day. We ended up at the Walmart, just wanting a place to sleep for a few hours. There was at least a dozen rigs that evening, and even more when we woke up the next morning. The sign stated, “We welcome overnight parking” so we did.

Carcross and Skagway

Dawson City overflows with gold rush history.  It is a beautiful little town with a lot to do and a lot of history to take in. We only had a day, so we raced around a little bit to check out the buildings and the waterfront. It wasn’t packed with tourists, so it was pretty easy to find a parking space and wander. The restaurants we wanted to try – Klondike Kate’s and the Drunken Goat – were closed for the day (on Monday’s, much is closed), so we settled on The Jack London Grill for lunch.  The salad was very good and fresh and the buffalo sliders were excellent. We sat outside in the warm day and watched people wander down the street. We took a pass on the Sourtoe Cocktail next door; I don’t put my own toes in my mouth, let alone someone else’s.

We decided to see some of the countryside during the afternoon and headed up the road to dredge number 4. It is incredibly large, gargantuan, and one can see the path it took following the road to get to it. The tailings/pilings line the road and are the road. There is still a lot of mining going on today and equipment is everywhere. I wish I had my camera with me to take some pictures; I had forgotten it at home. Further up the road is what appears to be a very popular ($$) gold panning attraction but if you proceed a little farther, there is a province run free spot to pan in the Bonanza River.

In the morning we got up and headed south. The road is beautiful and wandering and, since traffic is light, enjoyable. Some time between Dawson City and Whitehorse we got our Sirius Radio back constantly. We had enjoyed it here and there throughout much of the north, but it would come and go with the wind.

Yukon road

Road view between Dawson and Whitehorse

We skipped Whitehorse except for a quick gas stop and headed down to Carcross. On the way is Emerald Lake and the smallest desert in the world, both worthy stops.  We stopped at Montana Grocery and RV Park (and restaurant and gas station), and called it a night.

Carcross is a picturesque little village on the edge of Bennett Lake. There is gold rush history here as well as first nation history. We are glad we decided to stay here rather than brave the drive into Skagway with the RV. It wasn’t the roads that were a problem though there are grades; it is the sheer number of human bodies that make Skagway so uncomfortable.

We took the drive down to Skagway, across the border and over White’s Pass. The drive is sublime. Between the mountains, the lakes, and the general landscape, it is easy to get lost for hours just looking. The stop at the border – we only had the Jeep – was quick and easy both ways. It has changed a lot since the last time we had been there, around 2007 or so. Large buildings and an actual checkpoint had been added.

road to Skagway

Heading south to Skagway

Tutshi Lake

Tutshi Lake

White's Pass

A cloud obliterating the view at White’s Pass (we didn’t do passes very well this trip)

Skagway was just what we expected. Four cruise ships had disgorged their passengers and the town streets where wall to wall tourists. Literally. It was almost impossible to get anywhere. They wandered blindly in the streets, a few of them nearly getting flattened by trucks trying to deliver goods. More than half of them had their cell phones in their hands, madly texting or posting to facebook or some such, not watching where they were going or what they were doing. Of course, because so many people were on their phones, Verizon service wasn’t much good for anything other than phone calls. Our goal in Skagway was to pay a bill online and to do some last minute shopping; we were foiled on both. We tried to find a place to eat figuring that the cruisers had free food on the ships but no such luck. The lines were 15-30 people deep. We gave up and headed back north.

The view on the return from Skagway

The view on the return from Skagway

A new place had opened up on the highway: Yukon Suspension Bridge. The restaurant was on the canyon that overlooked the supremely blue Tutshi River. While the food was nothing to write about (but it was good), the views of the canyon and the architecture of the building was amazing. We completely enjoyed our brief stop away from the overwhelming hoards.

On the way back to Carcross, we came across a boat ramp that had room for camping/overnighting. The view was spectacular, the area level and easy to get to. If one could endure the tour buses that regularly stopped there during the day, it would be a great place to spend the night. We also came across a new campground the Yukon government seems to be putting in right next to the river. It is supposed to open in 2016 and from the looks of it, will have paved roads and a great view. Unfortunately, it was not somewhere we could stay now.

Lake

The great boondock/overnight boat launch site

The area right around Carcross is beautiful. There are lots of lakes and streams and mountain views. Had the weather not been calling for a week straight of rain, we would have stayed and then wandered to Atlin for a day or two. There are plenty of great places to overnight and boondock and it seems to be an out of the way area for some peace and quiet.

Heading South

After Fairbanks, we decided it was time to head south. Belle was sick, my allergies were raging, and we were all very tired. We needed to stop in North Pole to pick up a couple of gifts, meet up with a couple of people and take a look around.

We decided to stay at Chena Lake Recreation Area. The recreation area has very nice widely spaced campsites with a good bit of privacy but no hookups. It was very quiet, as we were the only RV in the entire loop.

North Pole, Alaska is another city I had expectations of that quickly let me down. There was a christmas store and a few light poles painted to resemble candy canes but other than that, nothing. Having been to Alpine Helen, Georgia and Leavenworth, Washington, I thought just a little effort was in order for a place named “North Pole.” But no such luck. We stayed two nights and couldn’t think of any reason to stay longer.

We decided to head to Chicken. On the way, we stopped in at the Delta Meat & Sausage store. I love buying local and love trying local foods even more. We bought two different kinds of sausage, smoked cured bacon ends, and a pound of ground yak. Since then, we have tried them all. Some of the sausage went into a macaroni and cheese. It was milder than I expected, being jalapeno sausage, but it was fully flavored otherwise and added a great counterpoint to the smoothness of the cheese. Some of the bacon ends were great cut up and fried and used for baked potatoes and to flavor peas. The yak – boy was the yak good! It was only a pound and now I kick myself for not buying more. The yak was as mild as filet mignon, a little sweet, and tasted wonderful in homemade ‘sloppy joes.’ I expected something much stronger and a little gamey, hence the sloppy joe preparation; if I get the chance to do it again, I will probably go for yak steaks.

The Taylor Highway to Chicken was surprisingly well kept. A bump here or there, a rough patch, but nothing worse than any other road in Alaska. And the views were outstanding. We drove to about 10 miles outside of Chicken and decided to call it a night. We pulled off into a large gravel area with beautiful views and watched the approaching rain.

taylor highway

pull of with a view

When we got up in the morning, the rain was still threatening. We got an early start and headed to Chicken. There are actually three ‘Chickens:’ the one on the main highway, the one to the left on airport road and the one to the right on airport road. We decided on the one to the right as it seemed the most authentic. And they had cinnamon buns. We didn’t stay long, rain was coming, but I could understand how it would be very easy to pull up a chair and stay for a while. A long while. This is what I expected of McCarthy: a warm comfortable feeling with a beautiful view. There were quite a few people there, mostly Alaskans, and they didn’t look like they were going anywhere soon. And I would have quickly joined them. Some times, when one gets to a place, one just knows it’s the right place. Everything just ‘clicks’ and a feeling of bliss overcomes. For me Chicken was such a place. I could imagine living here for a summer, perfectly content to sit on the porch and people watch. Of course, it could have been my state of mind – we had been rushing and traveling and touristing for weeks and I think I was ready to stop and just watch other people race around for a while.

Chicken

The real downtown Chicken

We continued on up the road to Top of the World Highway. To get there, you need to do the thirteen miles of the Taylor to the Boundary Road. Those thirteen miles are the worst of the entire road between Tetlin Junction and the Dawson Ferry. The road is narrow, winding, and edged by steep cliffs. But, if you take it slow, it really isn’t so bad. The most difficult part is passing another vehicle on the skinniest parts. Since we have a toad with a surge brake, it would be doubly difficult – we can’t back up. Had we encountered another class A with a toad, it could have been ugly in one or two spots. But, we didn’t – the road isn’t that well traveled and so those last miles were uneventful, even as rain fell.

Boundary Road

Paved highway to the border

We quickly covered the remaining well paved miles to the border. At the border, because we had a shotgun with an expired entry permit, we had to go inside. It took a while; the computer connection went down right in the middle (of course) and traffic backed up. There was a giant tour bus, a class C, and about six cars – all had made it those thirteen miles. We also passed half a dozen rigs (buses and class As) going the other way. As we haven’t heard of a major accident on the Taylor, we assume they made it, too.

Top of the World

Top of the World Highway

The Top of the World Highway, once the Canadian border is crossed, is gravel with occasional ruts, washboards, and paving. The views are beautiful, the road doable. We saw a lot of caribou, many birds, and a lot of squirrels. The weather alternated between drizzle and cloudy. It was over quickly and we found ourselves in line for the ferry.

Dawson Ferry

On the Dawson Ferry

It was more scary watching the boat from shore than it was actually being on the ferry. The captain used the current of the Yukon to swing the ferry around then powered it to the other shore. It took all of five minutes and we were safely back on land. The ferry hands were excellent in maneuvering us onto and off the ferry, taking care to make sure we approached correctly to keep from dragging. They were very good at their jobs.

Ferry Dock

Ferry Dock

We desperately needed a rig wash and there were two in town. We picked one, washed the dust off the rig, then settled on a campground. None of them were overly appealing, being squishy tight and on gravel, so we picked the better of the two: Dawson City RV Park. It was only better in that the spaces seemed just a few inches wider and the rigs weren’t arranged helter skelter anywhere they could fit. It also turned out to be only $32CAD per night as they no longer offered cable tv.

More of the Alaska Highway

Our goal for Friday was to make it to Burwash Landing, a small town near Kluane Lake about 250 miles away so we took off to head north on the Haines Highway. No moose crossing the river today. At Canadian customs, we had the usual question and answer session. This time, we were asked to produce the shotgun so it could be inspected. We have kept it stored with the barrel removed and a trigger lock on it so the officer was pleased and let us go.

Over the past six days, the temperatures have been in the 60s F. At Chilkoot Pass, most of the snow was gone and even in the high peaks there was a noticeable difference.

We made it to Haines Junction to fill up our gas tanks, met more RVers going to Alaska, and then headed west on the Alaska Highway. The road surface wasn’t as good as the Haines Highway but it was a lot better than we expected. We joked about the horror stories we had heard like the one from the mechanic in Whitehorse who said he was ashamed of his country for letting the roads get so bad.

We stopped for a while at Kluane Lake and took in the view (take the second entrance, not the first, trust me). An older gentleman from Michigan was playing guitar and the songs went perfectly with the scenery. The space, large enough for half a dozen large rigs, would be a perfect place to overnight. But, it was only 1PM and we wanted to get some miles in, so we left.

We got further up the road to Burwash Landing and pulled into the rest stop crowded with RVs. We made coffee and a decision – the US border was only 110 miles away so we would go ahead and cross today. We reason that it wouldn’t be more than a couple more hours driving. Well, the road here went from bad to worse. Miles and miles of uneven gravel or patchy blacktop. We crawled along behind a class C; we were passed by a Canadian Dreams rental, the driver of which seemed to have no concern about the damage he was inflicting (note to self – don’t rent from Canadian Dreams). Each time we started to relax as the road got better, it would again get worse. At one point, we heard a really big CRACK that sounded like wood splitting. I thought our overhead console would collapse on us at any minute. It turned out to be the eyelet screw that holds pantry cabinet closed when turning left. It had snapped in half. We were just glad it wasn’t something more serious.

The 110 miles took about 3.5 hours. We passed Canadian customs and 20 miles later, US customs appeared. Because we are over 12’10”, we had to use the truck lane which meant we had to go inside. We also had a new form to fill out – proof that we had the gun before we entered Canada. This is a new homeland security form used so that one doesn’t get caught up in some kind import/export loop from which, according to the customs officer, “is a pain in the a$$.”

We pulled into a rest area overlooking a lake, looking forward to a quiet night with no driving. Until we realized we had a water pump problem. It seems the top part (technical term) separated from the bottom part (another technical term) because the screws were stripped. We knew there was a problem with this but we thought we had fixed it. The road through the Yukon must have been the final straw. So, we decided to go ahead and run to Tok. It was 62 miles and the road, much improved over the Canadian side, seemed pretty easy. We made it in about an hour and overnighted behind the Chevron station.

Tok, considering the number of RVs that must pass through to get to Alaska, is unnaturally devoid of RV parts and repair places. In fact, the only one that anyone at Chevron could come up with was The Sourdough Campground. At 8AM we called and, believe it or not, they had our exact water pump and space available in their campground.

In all, we drove 438 miles. It was our longest travel day since January 1, 2015 when we left DC for Florida. I hate those days but this time, at least, there was daylight the entire time.

Haines Highway

We left Whitehorse heading towards Haines Junction. The road got worse before it got better but the speed was mostly around 55 miles per hour. The closer one gets to Haines Junction, the better the view gets; Kluane National Park looms large in the distance.

Alaska Highway

Alaska Highway to Haines Junction

We had filled up with gas in Whitehorse so we didn’t need any in Haines Junction, only 100 miles away. The Haines Highway is another 150 miles so for those with smaller gas tanks, Haines Junction would be recommended. The gas was no more expensive than it was in Whitehorse.

The difference between the Haines Highway and the Alaska Highway is night and day. The Haines Highway is so smooth, I thought we might slide right off the road. The rattles and groans we thought we picked up along the Cassiar were gone. It was quiet in the cabin. Not even the dishes clinked.

The drive down the Haines made us forget the beauty of the Cassiar. We stopped for lunch at Kathleen Lake, the only road accessible campground in Kluane National Park. The gnats were terrible but we walked part of the lakeshore anyway. It was quiet, warm, and empty, even on a holiday weekend.

Kathleen Lake

Alaska Highway to Haines Junction

Kathleen Lake

Alaska Highway to Haines Junction

Kathleen Lake has a unique salmon species (Kokanee)as they are landlocked and never return to the sea. The water was so clear and so still, you could capture the mountain and the bottom of the lake at the same time. And a fish, which I don’t think is a Kokanee Salmon.

fish

Alaska Highway to Haines Junction

We passed Dezadeash Lake, where we pulled over to make coffee and watch the trumpeter swans. The wildflowers were blooming.

flowers

Alaska Highway to Haines Junction

We crossed out of the Yukon and into British Columbia where we encountered the only un-smooth pavement of the Highway. There was only about 5 miles of it and the road returned to blissful rattlefree driving.

Haines Highway

Alaska Highway to Haines Junction

We made it up to Chilkoot Pass which was still showing winter even though it was about 60 degrees F.

Chilkoot Pass

Alaska Highway to Haines Junction

shortbus

Alaska Highway to Haines Junction

Passing back into the US was pretty easy. There were more questions than the Canadian Border but it was pretty painless. We needed our passports, our gun permit, and Belle’s shot record but, other than that, we were good to go.

We came to Mile 26 of the Haines Highway and saw a great place to overnight at Porcupine Crossing, so we did. It is a large gravel lot next to a pond and the river, with enough parking for a dozen rigs. It is a place the locals take their kids – ‘the swimming hole.’ One local we met told us the land was owned by a swindler, but she didn’t really elaborate. We passed a quiet evening before heading into Haines in the morning.

Porcupine Crossing

Alaska Highway to Haines Junction

Whitehorse, YT

To be honest, we didn’t plan on stopping in Whitehorse. Up until we turned left onto the Alaska Highway, we debated on whether or not we were going to Skagway. And Skagway lost. So we turned toward Whitehorse. We had a lot of maintenance to do, along with some long needed chilling out.

We chose the Pioneer RV Park. It was nothing pretty, as it seems the case of most RV Parks up here, but it had many things we really needed. Like a mechanic on duty that does oil changes (and has the needed parts on hand). It also has a pressure wash area for RVs and cars, a pet wash area, and a large laundry. In less than 36 hours, we washed the RV, washed the jeep, got an oil change, cleaned the inside of the RV, did three loads of laundry, and met a few more north bound travelers including a caravan of Aussies and Kiwis touring Alaska. Pioneer RV Park offers many other services but we didn’t find the time to use them.

We did manage to sneak into to town to eat, shop, and look around. Whitehorse, considering its small size, is a very crowded town. We ran into rush hour traffic that seemed to last most of the day. We drove by the Walmart but, it was so crowded with RVs (more than 50) that we didn’t bother to find a parking space. We shopped at the Superstore and picked up some staples but the prices and product selection (for an American) were abysmal ($36/lb. for New York Strip). The vegetables were okay but not the freshest.

We ate a meal at Klondike Rib and Salmon BBQ. I had the fish and chips (halibut) which were really good. The salmon and chips are also supposed to be good but we were too full. Mike had the ribs. If you have been in Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, or many other southern states, you may find them lacking. But overall, it was a good meal and we enjoyed the dinner talk with our tablemates, a couple from Southern California on a tour (by plane, train, and cruiseship). An added bonus was the street fight outside. The police showed up about 20 minutes after it ended.

Whitehorse has a very pretty setting. But, because it is the largest town for a few hundred miles, a lot of traffic moving in and out. It wasn’t somewhere I would stay for any length of time but a great place to resupply and move on.

Cassiar Highway

We woke fairly early, packed up, and headed out 37A to pick up the Cassiar Highway going north. Heading east, one has a better view of the hanging glaciers around bear glacier.

37N

37N going east

Near the end of 37A, we saw a bird in the road. He was marching slowly, not seeming to make much progress. It looked like a quail of some sort, small but chicken like and, as Mike let off the gas, we made jokes about crossing roads. The bird ignored us and continued crossing the road. Mike applied the brakes, slowly at first – we were pretty far away from the bird when we noticed it. And the bird kept not crossing. There is only so much braking you can do in a bus with a towed; by the time we got to the bird, we were going maybe 20 miles per hour. I’m pretty sure the chicken is no longer crossing the road. I found feathers attached to a rear compartment door and the front bumper of the jeep. We really hoped it wasn’t an omen for the day to come. We had been on the road for barely an hour and already had our first casualty. We try very hard to avoid animals at all costs – not to save damage to our rig, but damage to the animal. However it happened, I hope it was quick.

The worries about bad omens ended pretty quickly as, as soon as we got on the Cassiar, two foxes crossed the road (they were much quicker than I and so, no pictures). The foxes were together, one red and one black. They actually stopped on the side of the road and watched us, much smarter than the chicken.

The Cassiar Highway is a beautiful drive. One could stop every five minutes to take a picture but then, one would take a week to drive it. There is something relaxing about letting the beauty unfold as you move through the landscape; with the huge bug catching windshield, it is much like watching an imax movie.

We stopped at Mehan Lake to take in the view and make another pot of coffee. This would be a great spot to overnight, with picnic tables, a porta potty, and a level parking area with enough room for a few rigs.

Mehan Lake

Mehan Lake Rest Area

As we continued north, the road got narrower. There were no shoulders and frost heaves and potholes started appearing more frequently. Between the potholes, site-seeing, and the sometimes winding road, we managed about 40 miles per hour for the day. One great thing about the road though, at least in May, is that no one is driving it. We saw no more than one car per hour. Since there was no center line, we could dodge around the potholes a little easier. We did manage to spot a few caribou and a black bear. We decided that this would be the perfect place to ride out the Zombie Apocalypse. Chances are, you wouldn’t even know it happened and, if you did, it would take months if not years for the Zombies to get there. It had a certain appeal.

black bear

Black bear on the side of the road. For the camera gear minded, this was shot with a 17-40 lens, barely cropped. He was that close.

Caribou running into the woods. Smarter than a chicken.

Caribou running into the woods. Smarter than a chicken.

We overnighted at Rabid Bear rest area at Dease Lake. While there is no view of the lake, there is a large parking area with bathrooms and trash cans. We were joined for the night by a class C and a minivan, both also heading north.

The next morning we continued north, stopping at Jade City for coffee and to browse their stuff. If you like jade, this is the place to go. They also have a restaurant (not open) and a free ‘camping’ area for RVs.

Jade City view

the view south from Jade City. This was the first really cold and overcast morning we experienced.

About 30 miles from the end of the Cassiar, we came upon an accident. It was at a blind curve; a semi-truck was lying on its side and 3/4s of a Toyota truck was sitting in the road. Members of a construction team from a bit further north had secured the scene. It seemed that the semi had taken the blind curve wide, not expecting there to be a car coming the other way, and then over corrected, tipping over and shearing off the driver’s side roof and windows of the Toyota. With an average of one car an hour, I can understand his confidence. No one was seriously injured but an ambulance was on its way. Because there was nothing we could do to help, we continued north. It was more than 20 minutes later when we passed the first police car and ambulance going south; at a minimum, help was at least 45 minutes away. There is no cell phone service out there – if there is an accident, one must hope someone will come along who either has a sat phone or a very fast car.

Yukon sign

We made it to the Yukon!

We reached the end of the Cassiar and took a left. The Alaska Highway seemed large and luxurious, with its fancy lines and shoulders, after a day and a half of the Cassiar, but we lost the beautiful scenery.

Alaska Highway

Finally! On the Alaska Highway!

We did spot a black bear scratching himself though.

Bear. Doing what bears do when they have in itch.

Bear. Doing what bears do when they have in itch.

Stewart and Hyder

We got up early and headed east to start on the Cassiar Highway (37). It was a beautiful morning, another day promising sunny 70F weather. We stopped for gas at the intersection and ran into a few more RVs heading for Alaska.

One of the great things about traveling north this early is the lack of traffic. Of course, it could also be due to the fact that it was Sunday and a holiday weekend. The drive was beautiful, relaxing, and slow. The Cassiar had a center line for a while, but it disappeared, and the road narrowed as we moved north.

Wooden Bridge

One of many wooden one lane bridges on the Cassiar.

Right before the junction with 37A is Meziadin Lake Provincial Park. Had I known then what I know now, we would have camped here for a few days and made a day trip into Hyder. The setting is sublime with campsites large enough for an A and easy paved roads. As it was, the campground was jam packed with vacationers out for a long weekend. There were a few spaces available, but we wanted to continue to Hyder.

We took a left on 37A, the road to Stewart and Hyder. There was slightly more traffic on this road but, relatively, it was deserted. The scenery is beautiful. We passed Bear Glacier which comes down nearly to the road. We stopped just past, in the only pull off that wasn’t in an avalanche/rock slide area or where the shoulder wasn’t falling away. We could feel the cool breeze off the glacier (but the photo ops from that area aren’t the greatest). This would be a good spot to overnight if you want to camp next to a glacier but we just stopped for lunch. Further down the road is Bear River Canyon, a short, narrow passage through the mountains that reminded us of “Jurassic Park” or Hawaii, alpine style. This area, too, has no pull offs due to the risk of rock slides and avalanches.

37A

The view on 37A

hanging glacier

A hanging glacier on 37A

Bear Glacier

Bear Glacier from the side

Bear River Canyon

Bear River Canyon near the end

We had planned to stay at Camp Run-a-Muck but it was closed, as was the rest of Hyder. We back tracked to Bear River RV Park, the only one open in the area. For $38CAD, we got 30A full hook ups, cable, and wi-fi. When the park is empty it is roomy but, considering that each electrical box is for two sites (that is how close together they are), I imagine it gets really crowded in July and August.

On Monday (Happy Victoria Day!) we headed up to Salmon Glacier. It is early in the season but the road is plowed and mostly clear until near the end. The drive up can be made in any car; the only other people we saw up there were in a Tercel. One does have to watch the road for rock fall and soft sides but otherwise, it is pretty clear and safe. There are waterfalls, wildlife, wildflowers (the 3 Ws of outdoor photography) along the way.

Fall on the side of the road

Fall on the side of the road

Salmon Glacier

Salmon Glacier

Two bears on a gravel bar in Tongass National Forest

Two bears on a gravel bar in Tongass National Forest

Another Grizzley, walking

Another Grizzly, walking

Salmon Glacier Road

The end of Salmon Glacier Road. Snow, potholes, and rock slides kept us from going further.

A panorama from the Salmon Glacier viewpoint, looking the other way.

A panorama from the Salmon Glacier viewpoint, looking the other way.

We also visited Clements Lake, a recreation area on 37A. It is a lovely spot for a picnic.

Clements Lake. Right behind it is the wall of waterfalls. Any of those falls would be worthy of state park status if they were in the lower 48.

Clements Lake. Right behind it is the wall of waterfalls. Any of those falls would be worthy of state park status if they were in the lower 48.

At Bear River RV Park, we met Derek and Shelly, an Aussie couple on a three month tour of the US and Canada by plane, train, and RV. It sounded like a magical trip, hitting Alaska, Alberta, the Yukon, British Columbia, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Park. There were RVs from California and one that also had Florida tags. It seems the season is upon us.

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