We’ve only got about 1,346 miles to go. The map shows Google’s preferred route, which is not the one we are taking, but close enough.
July 30, 2017:
Here we are, back in the States at last! Tomorrow begins our ninth week on the road, but today is our first day “stateside” since July 11 and our first day in the lower 48 since June 21. Our first night back, we are overnighting at Old Mill State Park, Minnesota.
Here is a shot of the flour mill for which the park is named. The milk was founded by an immigrant Swede named Lars Larson, Sr. It was originally a water powered mill, but quickly converted to steam power. The park still holds “grinding days” twice a year, to commemorate these early developments of industry in this region.
There is also a stand of Scotch Pines next to the mill which are descendants of the original Scorch Pines Mr. Larson planted using seeds from “the old country”. Yes, the Scotch Pines came from Sweden. I don’t know the explanation for that.
The original Scotch Pines planted by Mr. Larson are still alive and well at the site of the original water powered mill. Regrettably none of my tree pictures will upload right now, but hey, they are Scotch Pines! Not an unusual sight in the states, I’m thinking.
So: we’re back – mostly, sort of.
This is a little gem of a provincial park – an oasis in the Qu’Appelle Valley. I only have a few pictures of our campsite, but hopefully they will give an idea of the comfort this park offers. The lake itself is very popular with boaters of all sorts, and with our dog, Sophie. If this park was closer to home, we would certainly come back.
The valley seems to be mostly First Nations reservations, and dry land agriculture, particularly wheat. It is deep and flatish, and comes as a bit of a surprise, situated as it is in the midst of apparently unending prairie. There you are driving along in the middle of a flat landscape as far as the eye can see in all directions, and suddenly there is a steep downward grade that emerges into this long skinny valley.
Our campsite and fireplace – the towels are for Sophie, who has just returned from a swim in the lake. Out can see what she thinks of their utility!
It’s official: we are coming home now. After touring through the Yukon’s provincial and national forests, we headed to Jasper National Park, and followed the Icefields Parkway as far south as route 11, just past the Banf National Park border. After days of rugged beauty, iffy roads and no cell phone service, we realized we missed our home and the simple comforts: like hot showers any time you want and a really comfortable bed.
So we headed east and went around Edmonton, then south to Saskatoon. Today we are headed to a provincial park east of Regina. We have decided to add one more tour on the way home: we want to to see Michigan’s upper peninsula. We have to go by there to get home anyway.
We are also proceeding more slowly than we did while heading toward Juneau. With no other schedules to match, we are taking a couple of nights in some places, just to “rest up” from all of the driving. We have traveled 9,325 miles so far on this trip. That is a lot of driving!
This section of Canada is much more developed than the Yukon Territory and British Columbia. There is cell phone coverage nearly everywhere, and the campsites at provincial parks include electric connections, with flush toilets (no more pits) and access to showers in the bathrooms. The mountains have given way to plains, and agriculture seems to be flourishing. One aspect of the terrain is consistent though: the land is still vast. These plains have gone on for days, with no end in sight.
There is also one aspect of Canada that seems a lot like upstate New York. Apparently Canada has the same 2 seasons we do: winter and road construction. The road maintenance efforts seem more effective in Saskatchewan than in the western provinces. Most roads are smooth – pot hole and frost heave free. We can actually travel at the posted speed limit!
Today’s photos are courtesy of the rest area at Davidson, SK: the largest coffee pot I’ve ever seen, and some “historical road building equipment.”
We stayed at Chilkoot Lake just outside Haines for two nights, giving Larry time to try fishing in the Chilkoot River. This river is a salmon run and Canada’s fish and game department maintains a weir there to try to encourage the Chinook salmon over the other varieties. Larry got 2 fish, and a fairly close look at a bear, just across the river from him. That’s plenty close enough in my book. (No photos in this post – they will come later, after I get them off the camera.)
July 11, 2017: We traveled to Lake Kathleen, where we learned about a species of fresh water salmon. These fish are believed to have evolved from the more typical sea living salmon which became trapped in the lake when a glacier blocked the path to the sea. Unfortunately, these fish are failing now, and no one knows why yet.
July 12, 2017: Wednesday’s camp was the Takini River Campground, just 8 km north of the Kusuwa Lake campground. Getting there required driving over 15 km of very hilly, very washboarded dirt and gravel road. It was a really nice campground, with plenty of room and well kept pit toilets, but no showers. Ah well…
July 13, 2017: Thursday we traveled to the Takini Hots Springs just outside of Whitehorse. We had traveled just over 6000 miles by this point, and it was high time to change the oil in the truck! We also took advantage of the wifi st the Whitehorse public library to catch up on email and the like. We finished up the day with dinner at the Hot Springs Cafe, which specializes in crepes. The savory crepes we had were very good, but they were overshadowed by the appetizer of Pommes Dauphine – little puffs of fluffy seasoned mashed potatoes, tempura fried and served with a light honey sauce. They were great!
We went to the hot springs pool on Friday, and took advantage of their showers, and of course had a long soak in the hot water. It was wonderful.
July 15, 2017: Saturday we are driving to Boya Lake on route 37. Another really beautiful site, full of woods and water. We decided to stay over Sunday, in the hope of getting in some hiking and fishing. Regrettably, it rained all day, so we stayed in and read books instead.
The weather has been pretty consistently rainy since we hit Skagway on the way to Juneau. We did have a couple of days of sun in Juneau, and a couple of nice days since passing Haines Junction, but not more than a handful in the past 17 days.
July 17, 2017: We are on our way to Kinaskan Lake, down route 37. This area of British Columbia has almost no development whatsoever. Even Jade City, reputed to be the largest single jade producer in the world, is limited to a handful of houses, a tourist shop and a gas station.
There is no way to adequately capture and convey the experience of driving through this land. The mountains are just enormous and seem to go on forever. They are rugged, jagged, steep and tall – so tall that the tops of many of them are obscured by the clouds overhead. Their sides are either covered by woods or the deitritis of landslides – fortunately, not too many landslides; mostly the green of fir trees and some variety of aspen. The experience of being surrounded by this vast, towering landscape just can’t be described on a flat page, with either words or pictures.
There is reputed to be abundant wildlife in this wilderness as well. Certainly we have been able to observe some fish in the lakes and streams, and today we have seen a moose and a bear ambling along the side of the road. They each turned away and disappeared into the woods as soon as they realized there was a vehicle on the road, so no pictures.
There aren’t many vehicles on the road either, so the wildlife can browse on the roadside for quite a while without being disturbed. Nor is there any cell phone service. One really does not want to breakdown along this stretch of road.
July 18, 2017: We spent last night at the Bell 2 Lodge, well south of Kinaskan Lake, on the Bell River. We had reached Kinaskan Lake early in the afternoon, and just decided to keep driving – no schedule, no constraints, total freedom of choice – gotta love it!
We stopped at Bell 2 for the access to showers, and they did have lovely shower facilities, for which they did not charge an extra fee. This is a bit unusual in our experience so far. They did, however, charge an extra fee for access to wifi – $22.50 CAD per hour! Needless to say, we didn’t opt for that extra. We were still out of cell phone range, and so I continue this log offline, to post later.
I also had my first experience of a “meat pie” – essentially meat loaf shaped like a large sausage and wrapped in pastry. It is an experience I hope never to repeat. Mind you, I am not a fan of meat loaf on the first place. It always gives me indigestion. True to form, I was still tasting this “pie” 3 hours and two antacids later. The pastry was light and flaky, though.
Today we are headed for “the Hazeltons” – South Hazelton, New Hazelton and Old Town Hazelton. We are also looking for some warm, dry, sunny weather.
Thursday, June 15 (continued)
This post is a bit of “catch up” from the early part of the trip. The scenic route through the Badlands has its western outlet in the town of Wall. Anyone who has traveled any distance through South Dakota on interstate 90 knows about Wall Drug, because there are billboards advertising it for 100 miles in either direction. We had to stop to take a look. Here’s a picture of Owen at Wall Drug, holding Ralph. More on Ralph later.
Wall Drug is about 1 part Drug store and 5 parts 3-ring circus. They have all kinds of departments there, including a cafeteria, an ice cream shop, leather goods, hats, T-shirts and curios. I can’t begin to describe everything. I don’t have any photos because it was too darn crowded. The place was swarming with tourists just like us.
But it isn’t Wall Drug and the crowds that are most memorable to us about Wall, SD. What we remember most is the lunch we had. Crowds not being our favorite experience (see my July 10 post about the sort of campground Larry prefers) we decided to have lunch at the trailer, in the RV parking lot for Wall Drug.
There was lots of room in the lot, so we opened our kitchen slide out and the awning over the kitchen. I went into the camper to make sandwiches for everyone. I handed out some sandwich plates with chips for the guys, along with some ice teas from the fridge. Then I made my sandwich and sat on the steps to eat it. The guys finished their lunch first, of course. Owen got back in the truck so he could play his video game, and Larry walked his dog so she would be happy on the drive to Rapid City. I finished my lunch and made sure everything was put away where it wouldn’t bounce and slide around as we traveled. Then I slid the kitchen back into the trailer, folded up the steps, locked the trailer door, and joined the guys who were already in the truck. We started off for I90, carefully weaving our way between the other RVs in the lot.
Suddenly a bunch of tourists started waving their arms at us and yelling.
Have you spotted the cause of their excitement? It was that awning, still fully deployed. Unfortunately, the excited tourists got our attention just as the awning hit the ladder mounted on the side of a class A RV (that’s the big tour bus type).
Larry stopped and backed up, but the damage was done. There was a tear in our awning fabric and the forward extension arms were bent and the mounting bracket was twisted and slightly pulled away from the side of the trailer. No way were we going to roll the awning back in now. The good news was that the other RV didn’t sustain any damage except for some threads of our awning fabric caught in their ladder rung.
It took Owen and Larry about an hour to take the awning apart and throw away the deformed extension arms; all with the help of a wonderful Canadian gentleman who kept reminding us that it could have been worse. Well, Larry knew that, but it didn’t make him feel any less frustrated and angry. I, of course, felt horribly stupid and careless. Looking back at it now, it is just another example of how what we see is never all that is there – vision is very selective, based on expectations. I didn’t see the awning overhead as I locked up and hurried to join the guys; Larry didn’t see the awning flapping in his rear view mirror as he tried to thread his way between the parked RVs; but it was there, plain as day.
We kept the awning fabric and the mounting brackets, but trashed the rest. We will replace the awning at some point in the future, when we can stay in one place long enough for the parts to come in. I don’t have pictures of this part of our visit to Wall either, because I couldn’t see the humor in it then. But hey, no one was injured, only minimal damage done, really, and only an hour’s delay in our trip. We’ve heard a few stories of similar stories of near misses and minor disasters from other campers since then, and realize our helpful Canadian was right: it could have been much worse. Now, the running joke when we do a final “take off” inspection is “Did you remember to take the awning in?”
Larry has a great preference for state or provincial parks as camping places. He wants to be surrounded by nature, and far away from busy thoroughfares. This hasn’t always been possible this trip, but here outside of Haines, Alaska there was no problem. Chilkoot Lake Campground is right on the lake. There are no services here, except for pit toilets and one potable water pump near the boat launch. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that the park is only half full, even in July. A pity, too, as the scenery is idyllic. Hopefully, the following pics of our campsite will reflect this.
Above is a shot of the trail from our campsite to the lake.
We are camping here while visiting Haines, AK. We arrived on Sunday, and most of the town was closed, but we got a look at some great murals, shown below.