Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Day 77- 11 Weeks On The Road

What a great day we had, none of the frustration of the day before. We drove to the Lancaster County Visitor’s center and talked with a wonderful guy who knew just what we needed. He even showed us some of the photos he’s taken on his i phone. We chose to drive the 5th and final tour, the Scenic and Parks Loop which brought us turn by turn to 7 covered bridges around the Strasburg area. And, even better, we had lunch at our favorite pizza place, CiCi’s All you can eat pizza buffet. We don’t have one in NH so we take the opportunity every chance we get to enjoy the pasta, pizza, salad and dessert buffet which includes some unusual but tasty offerings such as bacon and egg pizza, Mac and cheese pizza, Philly cheese steak pizza and a Bavarian Cream dessert pizza which is to die for. The tour included travel though some really spectacular farmland with more beautifully maintained farms. Along the way, we were able to observe many farmers going about their daily business, mowing and wind rowing hay with a pair of mules, a 4 horse hitch of Belgian Drafts spreading liquid fertilizer on an already harvested field and a father and daughter heading to the fields to gather some crops for market, perhaps watermelons or corn. Both were in the area and looked ready to harvest. We had an opportunity to see several horses and buggies on the road as well. What I also observed is more and more of the farm houses have electric wires leading to them. It started with the barns or more specifically, the milking parlors and has increased to hen houses for air circulation. Now, it seems the electricity is making it’s way into the home although there are still no TV antennas or satellite dishes. I suspect the electricity is for a few electric lights and perhaps a radio. Anyway, progress can only be kept at bay for so long and eventually will creep in. The Amish farm and Home exhibit is a case in point. This working farm is surrounded by box stores, strip malls and a very busy highway. One way or another, most of the land associated with the farm has been sold off or taken. The family makes a living by giving narrated tours of their house, showing their way of life and using the farm as a living museum. They charge admission and sell vegetables and baked good from their farm. The way they make their living now has been changed by the progress that surrounds them. It makes me wonder what else they’ve had to sacrifice in order to keep what little bit of farm life they have left. The day before, our server at the Oregon Dairy Restaurant was a lovely young Amish lady. I would have loved to had a dialog with her about her life with the family, in the church and the community but I didn’t feel it was the place. The “plain folk” as they refer to themselves are just that, a deeply religious and industrious sect of the protestant religion who have chosen to live a more literal life, according to the laws of God first and man afterwards. Our day ended with a lovely view of the Susquehanna River Valley from high up on the Pinnacle Road. We had a better feel for the roads by this time and I was able to work the map cross country and get home without too much trouble. Our supper of steak on the grill and fresh broccoli tasted real good followed by a win from the Red Sox over the Yankees. That’s what I call a good day. Oh, and we’ve traveled 14,583 miles after 11 weeks on the road.

Pay Attention To The Signs

In our travels, we’ve had the privilege of seeing quite a variety of wildlife, some we knew where to look while others came as a complete surprise. It’s part of driving human made roads through their homes. They appear when and where they choose or if they choose. I’ve made a list of all the warning signage we’ve encountered and it’s direct bearing on the viewing of the animal in question: Deer-no, Moose- not even close, Free Ranging Livestock- didn’t see so much as one cow, Horses- they were supposed to be wild but belonged to someone. The halter and bell was a dead giveaway, Bison- no where near the cautionary sign, Mountain Goats- don’t believe they exist, Big Horn Sheep- the herd was relocated, Elk- don’t they have a lodge somewhere?, Caribou- it isn’t time for their migration, Badger ( or wolverine ) - kept looking but no luck. Okay, so I’m a bit cynical and this is sort of a spoof because I know none of those animals can read. They don’t know they are expected to cross between those signs. Over the past 10 weeks, we have seen moose, elk, caribou, deer, bison, horses, stone sheep and a lynx but there wasn’t a sign for that one anyway. These are just the land animals. There are no signs in the ocean warning of “Whale Crossing, next 10 nautical miles. And, with fairness all the way around we also didn’t see any “Falling Rock”, “Rock Slide”, “Avalanche Area”, “Fog”, “Flash Flood Area” or “Snow Removal Equipment May Be Moving Towards You In Your Lane”. That one I would have waited for! The point I'm trying to make is be safe out there, enjoy the scenery and be alert for wildlife wherever you drive. And when you see something spectacular, think about your impact on the situation. Wildlife should be allowed to be wild.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Other Part Of Our Route

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Part Of The Route

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Day 76- The Bridges Of Lancaster County

We slept much later than usual. It had to be a combination of a couple of things. First, we were beat last night and second, the site we have at Western Village RV Park is under a lovely canopy of trees so it stays a shaded (overcast) level of light all day. Then, we had a leisurely breakfast and spent some time pouring over the 4 maps of the area we have. The plan was to drive over to Lancaster County and photograph some of the 30 bridges in that part of the state. Before we left NH I had bookmarked a website with 5 driving routes to help us enjoy the countryside, experience some of the Amish charm, sample bits of the local fare and get those photos I’ve been thinking of for a long time. So, I’m wondering why I didn’t print these directions out. After using Carl’s planning skills one more time, we roughed out directions to Lititz which is where the starting point of one of the driving tours began. We hoped the Visitor’s Center would either have the printed directions or would be able to print them for us. In fact, they couldn’t help with anything other than to give me a printed list of the bridges with their GPS coordinates. Armed with another map, Carl plotted a route to 4 bridges and I wrote the directions out longhand. So, off we went and found the first bridge with no problems, the second one proved a bit more elusive and we got lost looking for the third one. The map wasn’t proving as helpful as we thought. Not all roads were represented and others didn’t exist. We were told to go to the end of Farmersville Road and turn left onto Gristmill but when we got to the end the road was Sykes. We accidentally found a bridge we hadn’t been looking for. The day trip fell into a rhythm. I would jump out take the photos of the bridge and whatever else was in the area while Carl sat in the truck and plotted what he hoped would be our next move. Then we’d drive to the next destination, miss a road or find the road wasn’t there and then I’d have to set the camera down and try to figure out where we were on the map. It was all very frustrating. By the third time we were “not quite aware of where we were” , we were pretty frustrated. We found our way back to one of the major routes and the Oregon Dairy Restaurant and Ice Cream Stand for lunch. It was 2:30. After lunch, we set off to try to find one last bridge. It was on the edge of a campground on Red Run Road and was in really bad shape. It was twisted, closed off at both ends, missing side boards and wasn’t over any water that I could see. I passed on this one. Carl worked out how to get back to our RV Park and we immediately couldn’t find one of the roads. After another frustrating few minutes, the highway was in sight and we discovered we were 20 miles further away from the camper than we thought. Once more, poor Carl was beat. He fell asleep sitting up during the first couple of innings of the Red Sox Yankees game. No supper for either of us tonight. The photos we took today were not bad. We did see the classic horse and buggy trotting down the road. After 5 bridges, I realized they all look alike and that’s because they are all Burr Arch Truss construction and built by the same type of craftsmen. Today’s travels took us through Lititz, Manheim, Brownstown, Farmersville, New Holland, Goodville and Blue Ball. Perhaps, tomorrow will reveal a different type of bridge in the Strasburg area.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Day 75- Pennsylvania Campground

The last push was, thankfully, uneventful. We shot through the last hundred miles of Ohio, slipped into a tiny section of West Virginia for some gas and finally hit Pennsylvania where we ran into rough roads, short sections of construction and lots of highway traffic. By 3:30, we were still about 70 miles away from the Western Village RV Park in Carlisle, PA so I gave them a call to advise them of our location. They hadn’t taken a credit card number to hold the site and would only hold our site until 6:00. That gave us plenty of time to get there. In fact, we made it there, got the camper backed into our site and leveled by 6. But after this 2,000 mile push from Moab to Carlisle, Carl was spent and I was also feeling the effects. I still haven’t driven more than 15 feet with the camper so all 12,000 miles plus belong to Carl. That could have some bearing on how he felt. Me, I’m just frustrated because my photos over the past 5 days have been from the passenger seat of the truck at 60 mph. And you have to remember I still have those two “bullet hole” rock chips in my line of sight through the windshield and by the time I focus out the side window, what I wanted to get a photo of is long gone. We didn’t even have the oomph to grill our steak for supper. We opted for a couple of quick microwave frozen dinners. And with no baseball, it was lights out fairly early.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Day 74- Oh! Is For Ohio

Last night was awful. Before I shut off the lights, there was only one tractor trailer in the rest area with us. But, by the time I climbed into bed, there were about 50, including one who pulled up right beside our open windows. And even though it was still uncomfortably warm, the exhaust was blowing right into our camper so I had to close the windows. The trucker let his truck idle all night long and before morning, another truck had pulled up on our other side just not quite as close. All that noise kept both Carl and me from getting the rest we needed to push on in good spirits today. For the first time, I was concerned we might not make the 400 + miles Carl had set as our goal during this push from Moab, UT to Gettysburg, PA. But push we did and continued on through the last of Illinois and into Indiana. I have to confess I don’t know much about Indiana. In fact, other than hosting a couple of very important races every year and my favorite NASCAR driver, Tony Stewart, claims Rushville as his home town, the only other trivia I can recall is Larry Byrd lives in French Lick, Indiana. So, today, I was enlightened with the knowledge that Indiana also claims Abraham Lincoln as one of it’s own. Apparently, Abe lived here as a child. But, as far as the scenery is concerned, if it weren’t for the big sign welcoming me to Indiana, I couldn’t tell it apart from the section of Illinois we drove through. Rte I-70, surprisingly, cuts through some really nice agricultural countryside in several states. So, if you take photos of fields of corn in Illinois, well, Indiana corn and Ohio corn for that matter, looks about the same. What I’m trying to say is I had a photo drought today. I did discover part of I-70 has been dedicated at the USS Indianapolis Memorial highway. For those of you who do not know the story of the Indianapolis, it was the aircraft carrier that was responsible for delivering the atom bombs to Tinian which helped to end World War II. It was such a secret mission no one missed them until they were 4 days over due. The ship had been torpedoed and sunk, putting almost a thousand men into shark infested water. Only a few hundred were pulled out almost a week later. The story was first brought to light in the original movie, Jaws, but since then it’s been the subject of several documentaries. We’ve been traveling some pretty rough roads all day, some just as bad as the Alaska Highway while others were giving Wisconsin’s pot holes and washboard concrete a run for it’s money. And to top it off, yesterday’s encounter with Jon El’s BBQ had an unfortunate side effect on me today so I asked Carl to pull over so I could use our traveling rest room. When I got into the camper, I was met with a minor disaster. One of those nasty dipsy doodles had tossed everything in the bathroom about, stuff in the sink and all of the recyclable bottles and cans had been thrown onto the floor plus a brand new gallon plastic jug of water had ruptured and emptied onto the floor. The water had run the entire length of the camper soaking the carpeting and rugs by the sink and door. We had a small dry braided garlic hanging over the bathroom door, a gift from Dad and Adena, was also on the floor. Sadly, it wasn’t dry any more and now the camper reeks of garlic. Let’s just say I won’t be getting any visits from my Twilight favorites any time soon. Carl’s goal of reaching the other side of Columbus came one step closer when we drove under this huge arch welcoming us to Ohio and another sign a bit later stating we had just entered Clark County, the birthplace of 4-H. Now, in Ohio, they must take their pipe smoking rather seriously because at one of the convenience stores where we got gas today, they sold 5 blends in 4 different size plastic bags with a press and seal closure. The flavor that got my attention was a generic version of Paladin Black Cherry in a 16 ounce bag. Our final destination was a rest stop about 50 miles east of Columbus but after our troubles last night, we were a bit leery of a second night with little sleep, we opted for a Wal-Mart near the highway. It’s been a while since we’ve stayed in one.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Day 73- Who Knows Where We’ll Be Tonight

Neither of us had a particularly restful night. It was about 100 in the part of Kansas we stopped in and to top it off, we had been seeing beautiful rest areas with shady picnic and RV parking loops all day. But, when it came time to stop for the night, the rest area we had in front of us didn’t include the shady loop. We set up in the parking area and climbed into the 100 degree camper. I opened ever window possible and we both set there and sweat. The temperature dropped about 20 degrees when the sun set but it was nearly impossible to get the cooler air into the camper. Our Air conditioner remains unusable because of ongoing problems with the generator. I did have wireless internet but it was slow and very frustrating. By the time I edited the photos from yesterday and got them uploaded to face book, I was pooped and climbed into bed. But just before I did, I made myself a cup of coffee and put it in the frig for the morning. That backfired because there was a sediment in the bottom and as we bounced down the road, it got stirred up and was really bitter. Carl made a joke about Dunkin Donuts and I countered with they were only in New England and some parts of Florida. We were both taken by surprise when we pulled into the service plaza to find a Dunkin Donuts there offering my favorite iced coffee. This was also the very first service plaza I’ve been in that offered a storm shelter for it’s patrons. Did I mention we were just outside of Lawrence, KS, the geographical center of the contiguous 48 states. It’s also reported to be the headquarters for a very large array of Intercontinental Ballistic Missile silos which, in the event of a nuclear attack, would make it a primary objective. I didn’t see any missile complexes and I didn’t see any signs pointing me in their direction but I guess they wouldn’t be very secret if that were the case. Is Kansas City, KS and Kansas City, MO the only two like named cities split by a state line? Niagara Falls, NY and Niagara Falls, ON come to mind but half of that is Canada. Somewhere near noon time, we needed to get more gas for the next leg of the trip. Carl pulled into a Dairy Queen / gas station and Carl asked if I wanted to stop. We had both been holding out for either Kansas City or Missouri BBQ so I opted to hold off a bit longer. Can you imagine passing up ice cream for ribs? Shortly, I spotted a billboard that boasted Jon El’s BBQ at Exit 103 in Booneville, MO. Now, I have to tell you, I’m not an expert on what makes the best BBQ but I do know what I like. And, I like Jon El’s food, everything about it, in fact. We were greeted as we entered, not rushed to a decision and the food was dished out before our eyes. The serving sizes are huge so Carl and I opted to share a Combo plate of pulled pork and brisket. There were a number of sides to choose from, macaroni and cheese plus baked beans ended up on our plate. A couple slices of bread, double the silverware and a Styrofoam cup of soda rounded it out. At the table were two kinds of sauce, the vinegary spicy blend and the sweet tomato based kind along with a whole roll of paper towels and of course, salt and pepper. We walked away full and thankful to Jon El for spending all that money for the billboard. I’m posting his face book page with a glowing review of food, service and price. In 11 weeks, other than friends and families meals, this was the absolute best food we’ve eaten and we told him so. Oh, and his hours of operation, seven days a week 11:00 AM to 8:00PM or until the food runs out which Jon El says is often. If you are even on I-70 in MO, make sure to get off on exit 103 and stop in for some great BBQ at a reasonable price. The push today was to hit IL and our road took us through St. Louis, MO. I wanted to catch a glimpse and get a photo of the Gateway Arch, the huge shiny monument to the hardy souls who headed west from this very area in large wagon trains with hopes of finding new opportunities beyond the Mississippi. Our directions took us around the bulk of the city so although I caught a far off glimpse of the arch, there was no way I could get a photo. The rest area here in Illinois is quiet, at the moment, although there is the potential for large numbers of trucks before morning. The good news is there is a nice breeze and it’s a bit cooler than last night. Our supper was wild caught Salmon thanks to Carl and fresh beets from Joe’s Gardens in Bellingham, WA.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Day 72- To Topeka, Kansas

Our stay at the truck stop was brief. Carl couldn’t relax enough to fall asleep with all the trucks running. It really was quite loud so we moved. First Carl thought he’d drive to the next rest area but when he went out front where the restaurant was closed, he noticed a couple of buses and campers parked there. That’s where we spent the night. And it was considerably more quiet than it would have been among the 50 or so trucks out back. As we got closer to the Colorado Kansas border, we began to see evidence of corn, lots of corn, which brought out a conversation about the number of varieties of corn there may be very much like the potato. We even posed the question to one another, is it a special breed that produces baby corn or do they just pick it immature. I suspected it was it’s own variety. We must have been in high spirits because the levity continued with guessing why towns were named the way they were or in the case of Bovina, CO, I broke into very bad song, “ Nothing could be finer than to be in Bovina in the morning”. Carl didn’t get it so either I sang badly or he isn’t a fan of that musical genre. Our very first stop in Kansas was at the Visitor Center where we found out overnight parking was welcome at all rest areas which was good news for us. We checked the area out and could see a lovely paved loop away from the road noise with covered picnic tables and fire pits for charcoal cooking. At the end of the parking area, just before rejoining the highway was a dump station to empty your tanks before heading on your way. It was perfect but way too early for us to pull over. Carl estimates we must make 400 miles every day on our push from Moab, UT to Gettysburg, PA. The very nice ladies at the visitor center also told us where I could find sunflowers in an unfenced field with their heads held high. It was a short but productive side trip. I spent about ½ hour in the field shooting and all the while wishing the sun was out. Everything else was perfect, several acres of accessible flowers in all stages of blooming, complete with honey bees and butterflies. On our way back to the highway, we passed a Wal-Mart out in the middle of literal no where in a tiny little out of the way community of Central Brewster, KS. Back on the highway, we were treated to long views of corn which you’d expect in Kansas plus several more large fields of sunflowers but none as nice as what I had been able to roam in freely. What we didn’t expect to learn is that Kansas is called the Wheat state. We didn’t see any wheat but we did see miles of fields that had already been harvested and I suspect those were the wheat fields. Another surprise was the amount of oil wells we saw during today’s travel. And the people of Kansas sure do like their museums. I should have counted the number of signs proclaim thing the way to the Cavalry, Oz, Stover, Zoo and farm machinery museums to just name a few. Carl was only slightly tempted with the Stover factory store while I really was interested in the Cavalry museum. We even passed the Eisenhower Museum and Presidential Library. And there were so many other claims to fame, counting 3 astronauts and many collegiate championships. Fort Riley, home of the Big Red 1 appeared on our left, a couple of miles of sand colored vehicles, tanks and other items needed overseas. Towards the later part of the afternoon, I spotted a beautiful church off in the distance, the sign read St. Fidelis Church, one of the 8 great wonders of Kansas. I can’t wait to discover what the other 7 might be.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Day 71- From The Desert To The Mountains

Two states, Utah and Colorado share a border and a river but similarities, at least for the beginning of the day , ended there. Once we left Moab and got onto Rte I-70 East, the land flattened out into those rolling dry plains like so much of the Southwest is made up of. I made a comment to Carl how there was a good looking hunk of a young man behind every tree. Of course, there wasn’t anything larger than a 3 ft tall bush in site. What I was seeing, however, were these metal step ladders placed over the 4 strand barbed wire fences every mile or so. At first, I thought this was strange but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I mean 4 strands of barbed wire is nasty business so if you need to get over to the other side, well there are limited options. Farmers and ranchers tend to frown on cut fences and people in need are not happy about getting clothing and skin shredded to bits. Shortly after crossing into Colorado, we began to notice several of those rocker arm pumps bringing oil to the surface. Wherever these are, there are also a collection of tanks and sometimes a little tool shed. One of these had a red light glowing by the door and we couldn’t help but laugh. Customers would be few and far between in that district. Those gently rolling plains became high sandstone mesas with huge skree piles on all sides. Off in the distance we could see what I considered to be serious mountains. And sure enough, we began to climb gradually at first. We pulled off in Rifle, CO for some gas. I mention this because the guy I used to work with, Ernie, lived in Colorado for a while and Rifle, specifically. The mountains loomed closer and ski are signs with names like Copper, Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge popped up. Now, we’ve become somewhat of a whiz in finding Wal-Marts. Call it a second sense if you will. But, here in the Vail area, we didn’t have a clue. When all of a sudden, on the highways signs that point out services such as gas, food and lodging, there was the familiar bright blue Wal-Mart name and logo so we turned and sure enough there it was only ¼ mile off the highway. We pulled in to get the few provisions we needed to take us to Gettysburg, PA. We had no intentions of staying the night but wouldn’t have been able to anyway. We had just encountered our 2nd “No Camping or Overnight Parking Allowed” store. After a 45 minute break, we hit the road once more and began seeing signs about a 3 day Bike Race in the area which list traffic restrictions, road and exit closures and parking bans through Vail Pass. I’ve since found out it’s the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. As we drove, we caught glimpses of support vehicles laden with spare bikes, riders peddling like crazy, motorcycle escorts, a helicopter for aerial coverage, the banners over the course announcing the near finish of the race and finally the finish line. There were thousands of spectators strung out over miles. We figured the winner of the stage had already come in because hundreds of amateur cyclists were leaving the area including one tall lanky fellow who I could have sworn was Lance Armstrong ( not racing, watching ). Did I mention during this whole exciting bit, we were still climbing only now it was much steeper. Most of the tractor-trailers were down to 50 mph and so were we. Finally, we leveled off just before entering the Johnson Tunnel, finished in 1979, at 11,158 ft above sea level. As we came down the other side of the Rockies, I looked down to see chairlifts below us. You know you’re up high when you look down on ski lifts. And as much as I enjoyed the desert with all of the impressive multihued rocks and weird weather and water worn shapes, I just love seeing full sized forests all over the place. After a time, we reached Denver and wouldn’t you know, it was just 5:00 PM, rush hour. The west bound lane seemed backed up in real good order so I was feeling pretty good about our east bound lane which was still moving steadily. Carl mentioned it might change when we hit the middle of the city with people leaving and sure enough, not 2 miles later, traffic slowed to a crawl. There was an accident up ahead. We hit the choke point in time to see a car being loaded onto a tow truck. The front end was smashed pretty good. That was in the high speed lane while in the breakdown lane was a utility trailer just sitting. It looked undamaged except attached to the ball hitch area was an entire Reese Hitch system, the receiver portion having been ripped off whatever vehicle it had been attached to. After we passed this exit, traffic resumed it’s normal pace and we were out of the city about 15 minutes later. Clear of the city, the landscape was now more agricultural and grazing lands. The were small farms or ranches on the horizon, but there were also quite a few abandoned homes and falling down barns near the highway. Anytime you have grazing lands, there is the probability of grazing animals so I wasn’t surprised to see large herds of beef cattle and saddle horses. I mentioned to Carl how strange it was to have such a drastic swing in just 40 miles. It was nearing the end of the day and we started looking for a rest area. We found one which was closed to overnight parking and another in the west bound lane so after driving an additional 45 miles, we pulled into a Flying J Truck Center along with about 50 big rigs. Our little camper is backed in next to a “no parking” zone where trash barrels are. That way, we take up only one spot and can still open the slider without getting into any of the truckers’ ways. Space is so tight, Carl doesn’t dare to leave our steps open all the way. It ought to be an interesting night. Yesterday was the end of the 10th week and we have traveled a total of 12,236 miles so far.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Day 70- Last Day In Arches

Well, we finally made it. It’s about a mile into Landscape Arch but I have to tell you, most of the way was in the shade because it was so early in the morning. And, it was well worth the effort. I mean this arch measures 291 feet long and is 118 feet tall. There is a very narrow spot which is less than 6 feet thick. In 1991, people had been sitting under the arch when they heard groaning and little cracking sounds. They moved out of the way just before a huge piece of the arch fell. Someone caught the break on their video camera. We saw the footage and I have to tell you, as I have always said there are three elements to a great photo, right place, right time and have camera. Man, they had it all! We spent some time at the end of the trail just soaking in the marvel of it. It is the largest arch in the park and may be the longest natural span in the world. On the way out we visited Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch. Then we moved to Sand Dune Arch. By then the sun had climbed higher and we were starting to feel the heat. We went to breakfast at Denny’s in Moab where Carl tried to get me a free birthday meal the day after my birthday. It was a good try but our server had to stick to the rules. Then it was back to the camper for showers, laundry and I also put together a crock pot lasagna. If you think it sounds like we’re getting ready to roll, you’re right. We’ll head to Denver, Co in the morning on Rte I-70 and stay on that road all the way to Gettysburg. After supper, we were back in the park. I had a score to settle with the Windows and some bad lighting. This late afternoon light was much better and there were far fewer people getting into the arches and in my way. Then Carl and I headed around the back side of the window arches. The trail, considered primitive, was a little challenging in places but it was all shade which was a great thing. All together, we walked about 4 miles today and the high for the day was 101. Unfortunately, we missed the sunset because we were out of position when it got to the colorful stage. It’s really hard to judge the rate of descent when there are solid sandstone cliffs a couple hundred feet high in your west facing vision. So, now, I have to tell you I don’t know when I’ll have internet again. But, I’ll keep blogging and taking picture and will catch you up at the next hot spot.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Day 69- Change Of Plans

Well, plans change quickly with us. The alarm went off and I could hardly get out of bed to shut it off. I suspected after my fall yesterday, I might be sore but I wasn’t prepared for the stabbing pain that shot through my shoulder and back. Back into bed I tumbled and Carl and I slept until a little after 7. After breakfast I got caught up on posting some photos, through some boneless ribs into the crock pot for a meal later in the week and did laundry. Now, we’re trying to salvage the day. We have the rest of today and all of tomorrow to cram in as much as we can before hitting the road on Rte I-70 all the way to Gettysburg, PA. We decided a drive along Rte 128 which winds along the banks of the Colorado river would be a nice alternative. It was a good decision. The countryside we drove through was spectacular and the drive gave us many miles of pleasure, including watching river float trips go by as well as checking out the Bureau of Land Management campsites along the way. We even took a few moments to stop at the Castle Creek Winery to sample the fruits of their labors. The exceptionally pleasant lady could pour three samples for each of us and we could share so we got to taste 5 different wines and had a second sample of one other one before we made up our minds to purchase two bottles. Later in the evening, it was the Moab Brewery for supper and to sample the best beer Moab has to offer. In fact, the Moab Brewery is the only microbrewery in Utah. Carl had 3 samples before making his mind up on which one he would have in a “grown up size”. And to finish off the day, we went to the movies to see “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes”, a movie heavy in special effects but good ones. Andy Sirkus , Golem in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, plays the lead and it’s the first movie Carl and I have ever seen where the “animal actors” got top billing over the “human” actors. We’re back on schedule for an early morning visit to the park. The alarm is set.

Day 68 - The Weather Jonahs!, August 22, 2011

We’ve decided that we are weather jinxes. It seems as if we are in that Peanuts cartoon where the cloud and rain follow that one poor little guy all over. And so it is with us. I never thought about rain in the desert until the past three nights. Tomorrow, I’ll take the umbrella. But tonight, we went to Dead Horse State Park. The name is derived from a legend. In the 1800’s a group of cowboys drove wild horses out to the high mesa surrounded by a 2,000 foot drop to the Colorado River save this one 30 yard opening. After selecting the horses they want, they left the brushwood fence up abandoning the horses to a terrible death by thirst, being able to smell the river below. Now, if there is any truth to this legend, it must have been horrific. We were there during a brief rain storm. Puddles formed and then disappeared as if someone had sucked them up with a wet dry vacuum. And even the rocks were warm and dry only twenty minutes later. The view down was spectacular, especially when the sun hit the mesas and canyon far below. In this part of the Colorado’s 1450 mile journey, the water was jade green at Horseshoe Bend and moving quite slowly. We spent lots of time waiting for the sun to reappear but when it did, it made a world of difference making the colors of the rock layers just pop. This part of Canyonlands is mostly stepped mesas with a couple of dramatic spires. Carl has decided not to visit Canyonlands as there is more than enough to keep us busy at Arches. So, in the morning, we’re off to Landscape Arch, the thinnest and longest of the arches in the park. We just won’t be there quite so early.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Day 68 - The Weather Jonahs!

We’ve decided that we are weather jinxes. It seems as if we are in that Peanuts cartoon where the cloud and rain follow that one poor little guy all over. And so it seems with us. I never thought about rain in the desert until the past three nights. Tomorrow, I’ll take the umbrella. But tonight, we went to Dead Horse State Park. The name is derived from a legend. In the 1800’s a group of cowboys drove wild horses out to the high mesa surrounded by a 2,000 foot drop to the Colorado River save this one 30 yard opening. After selecting the horses they want, they left the brushwood fence up abandoning the horses to a terrible death by thirst, being able to smell the river below. Now, if there is any truth to this legend, it must have been horrific. We were there during a brief rain storm. Puddles formed and then disappeared as if someone had sucked them up with a wet dry vacuum. And even the rocks were warm and dry only twenty minutes later. The view down was spectacular, especially when the sun hit the mesas and canyon far below. In this part of the Colorado’s 1450 mile journey, the water was jade green at Horseshoe Bend and moving quite slowly. We spent lots of time waiting for the sun to reappear but when it did, it made a world of difference making the colors of the rock layers just pop. This part of Canyonlands is mostly stepped mesas with a couple of dramatic spires. Carl has decided not to visit Canyonlands as there is more than enough to keep us busy at Arches. So, in the morning, we’re off to Landscape Arch, the thinnest and longest of the arches in the park. We just won’t be there quite so early.

Day 68 - Rise and Shine , August 22, 2011

When the alarm went off, Carl announced, “It’s your mother!” I knew better. We each made a morning beverage, threw a couple bananas and granola bars in the sack and hit the road with flashlights in hand. We didn’t encounter a soul on our way into the park. The parking area was completely empty at Double Arch so armed with our flashlights, we hit the easy trail in. Then it was a waiting game. Waiting on the sun, that is. Now, I understand the difference between early morning shots and sunrise shots. Double Arch is NOT a sunrise shot. We stayed over three hours until the sun had advanced on the rock as much as we felt it was going to because there was a high band of puffy whites that appeared to be growing thicker. We had enough time there to be on first name basis with a couple of crows, a flock of swallows and a very small squirrel. I think we also began to give names to the surrounding rocks. Thankfully, two couples from San Francisco came along to relieve our tedium. They waited with us for more than an hour. And then it was time to move on. Carl felt like heading for “home” and breakfast while I thought I was up for another short jaunt into Turret and The Windows. Well, Turret was spectacular but unfortunately we were in the wrong position for North Window because I was shooting into the sun and there was a steady stream of people getting into my shot. The South Window is less accessible for people to climb into so that shot was a bit better. This is a late afternoon shot for sure. We caught up with the two couples from Frisco again and I made a joke just in time for them to see me fall on my face. Yup, my knee didn’t work and down I went. It’s my first fall in almost 10 weeks but it’s the very first time I’ve fallen where I’ve been unable to keep the camera from hitting the ground. I felt miserable about the whole thing. Everyone tried keeping me still to make sure I was all right and I kept asking Carl to get the camera, to make sure it was still working and then and only then, would I get up off the ground. It was 10:00AM and getting hot. I didn’t break anything, the camera is still working and I’ll take it easy for the rest of the day.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Day 67- Arches National Park , August 21, 2011

There is no way to describe the incredible works of nature before my eyes. It’s hard to believe this area was all under water a couple hundred million years ago. Eventually, with upheaval, rain, wind and time, these breathtaking formations were created. It’s a very slow process, even by geological time. My photos are poor substitutes for the grandeur in front of my lens. We slept too late to get out and tear into the park so we ended up doing exactly what I had said I wouldn’t do, hike in the park between the hours of 10 and 2 when the sun is the strongest. By the time we took care of a little bookkeeping error on the part of a Yellowstone Ranger, it was almost 11. We drove in, stopped at a few places on the way, the Three Gossips, Sheep Mountain, Balanced Rock, The Windows and then we arrived at Delicate Arch. We hiked into the viewpoint at high noon and by the time we got ¾ of the way up, I was toast so Carl took the camera and went the additional distance. When he returned, he said it was only another 200 yards or so. I was really angry with myself for not pushing further especially when I saw the photos he took. It’s his picture attached to this blog entry. It’s a good thing we have three more days, in the park. I want to be at some of the more famous arches at the right time of day. This is going to mean hiking in before daylight or hiking out after the sun has set. We went back into the park sometime after 6:00 PM. My time is vague because we had a sudden thunderstorm which delayed my decision on where to go, when to go and even if to go. We got some nice late afternoon sun on the Courthouse Towers but by the time we made it to Balanced rock, the sun was obscured behind a wide band of very dark clouds. We waited about ½ hour and then it happened. The sun broke trough for one glorious finale, splashing that gorgeous afternoon light just where I needed it. The down side to this was I used up all our time before sunset and I was out of position. Carl always has some good ideas so up onto a high layer of racks we went to find something interesting in the foreground of whatever sunset we were blessed with. Sadly, the day was spent and so was I. we ate our supper sandwiches right where we parked as the last rays of light faded. The alarm was set for 5:00AM with a decision made to go to Double Arch for sunrise.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Day 66- Salt Lake or Bust

The road through Idaho was more or less uneventful so we started guessing what sorts of crops we passed. I thought I spotted Beets and Alfalfa but was delighted when my eyes picked out the now infamous Idaho Potato plants with their tell tale mounding of soil around them to stimulate more tubers. We did have two final impressions of Idaho. One was of a burned out car on the westbound brake down lane. That in itself should be noteworthy for I can’t see the highway department leaving an immobile hulk there for very long. It was the man sitting on the edge of the grill that caught both Carl’s and my attention. We were past it so quickly I couldn’t get a shot and since my mind was already on “did this just happen” or “where’s the rest of his belongings” and I think I even thought “where did the engine go” ? If not for the camper, I just know Carl and I would have turned around at the next exit to backtrack for the photo. Oh, well, you can’t have everything. I’ve gotten used to having the traveling bathroom with us. Sadly, the last impression of Idaho was two bad experiences with rest area toilets. The one in Twin Falls was so bad you felt you needed to wash your hand before you used it. Carl said, “It’s like they schedule a cleaning once a year and tomorrow’s it” . And the one after that was also bad. The ladies side reeked of chlorine to the point of burning my eyes and Carl said the urinal had no water running to it. Just before the Utah border we came upon an unnerving sight. In the meridian, facing the wrong way and almost into the east bound lane was a truck and travel trailer. It appeared to us, they were traveling west bound, perhaps passing another vehicle and caught the soft shoulder. What we couldn’t see was if a blowout was involved. We do know both people in the truck were out and walking around, shook up, I’m sure. And a few minutes later, we saw police responding to the scene. We hadn’t been in Utah very long before we saw our first pronghorns. Remember, they are not antelope as most people say. We learned that in Yellowstone. These were noteworthy because the small herd was grazing just a couple hundred feet from an irrigation line. I sure hope the farmer is a tolerant man. A visit to the Visitor Center got us information about Moab and a couple of other things to do besides visiting Arches National Park. He suggested a side trip to Antelope Island which is in the Great Salt Lake. I thought that would be a nice diversion and I could get photos of the lake while we were there but Carl didn’t see the value in the stop. Unbeknown to me, he had a plan to drive through Salt Lake City before rush hour so my impressions of this huge and sprawling city are just that. It’s huge and sprawling. There are gated communities where the church is built first and then the houses are built around it, much like in early settler times ( minus the gates, of course ) because the church was the center of all activities. I spotted a huge domed building which I made the assumption was the capitol building and I caught a glimpse of the Great Mormon Tabernacle high up a contour overlooking the city. Carl asked if that’s where “The Choir” sang and I had to admit I could only guess the answer was yes. One of more annoying novelties of our trip has been billboard watching. Since New Hampshire outlawed them on our few hundred miles of high speed roads, I don’t miss them. In our travels, they have been prevalent in many states. Carl spotted this one and we both laughed. The words “Eat More Chicken” were scrawled across the board. The last “n” had a paintbrush sticking out from it with a 3 dimensional Holstein cow trying to balance on the shoulders of another cow who was on a ladder. The whole affect was quite amusing to think cows would be suggesting another alternative. What most people probably missed from this cut little tableau was Holsteins are milking cows and not beef animals. I’m sure they used the characteristic black and white spots which most people use to illustrate the “cow idea”. I mentioned Salt Lake City is huge and sprawling. What I didn’t tell you was the temperature was low 90’s and I had been pushing the fluids. We were more than an hour into the cross town travel when I had to go. I waited, hoping to get out of the city so Carl could pull over easily but the city just kept on going and so did we. Eventually, it got too much for me and I had to ask him to get off the highway so I could go. The very next exit was a Wal-Mart so we took that opportunity to get the rest of our groceries for our desert stay and I went to the bathroom not once but twice. And then, the most amazing thing happened. Off in the distance, the sky looked ominous, clouds were building against the mountains and I could see wisps of rain falling. We’re in the desert and it’s raining. But, it was the lightening that grabbed my attention. I set out to capture it on film, no easy task in a moving vehicle I might add. After about 50 shots, I managed one photo and I’m very proud of it. As we moved closer to Moab, the landscape became way more impressive with tall pinnacles and huge cliffs of multicolored sedimentary rock, some heaved up at an angle from all the tectonic movement. The finish to the day was a gorgeous rainbow falling against an equally hued rock butte and a sunset like nothing I’ve seen during the 10 weeks we’ve been on the road. I grabbed a shot in the rear view mirror but Carl was the one who made the decision to stop on the side of the road and told me to get out and take the photo. It was well worth the few minutes we were delayed. I love that man!!!! We saw lots of flashing lights ahead of us and had to slow down for single lane traffic. A police officer was doing his best to be seen in the pitch black and controlling the traffic flow past an unrecognizable large object, perhaps a motor home or a tractor trailer, that was burnt on the side of the road. The emergency response people were still on scene pouring water on the skeletal remains of the vehicle. It certainly put a damper on the last 15 miles we had to travel to the Arch View RV Park. We almost missed it but Carl remembered the lady on the phone mentioning a Shell gas station.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Day 65- Tonight We Slept In Bliss

Now before you jump to all those sexually explicit ideas, I should probably explain and I will get to that, eventually. As you recall, lat night we were in WA state at a Wal-Mart which, by the way, was a great place. After doing our usual morning chores and getting gas we were headed down Rte I-82 and a few miles later, we were on Rte I-84, our designed route for the day. Along with all of the fields growing, being harvested or resting, there were some that looked burnt. And as it would happen, we saw smoke off in the distance. We’ve found the ranchers and farmers both will allow fire to help enrich the land along with water and/or fertilizer. It was easy to see the patchwork quilt this created because the land was so flat for mile after mile. Off in the distance was Oregon but before we could get there we would climb gradually more than 4,000 feet. Once at the top, there was a pull off to allow us to take in the valley and the view that sprawled out before us. The temperature in WA was due to be in the 90 degree vicinity and it will only get warmer the further south we go. While at a Visitor Center in Oregon, I confirmed the reason behind the dry desert like area we were driving through and just as I suspected, it’s the same reason that WA state has a lush green north western side and a much drier south eastern side. It’s the rain shadow cast by the Cascade Mountains. The mountains act as a huge barrier holding the clouds on the Pacific side so most of the rain stays there. In due course we found ourselves back among the evergreens with the land around us taking a much hillier attitude. We stopped for fuel and lunch in Baker City before heading off for Idaho. We’ve been having these multi grain Ciabata rolls purchased at Wal-Mart as the base for our sandwiches. They have great substance but are on the softer side. The skies remain virtually cloudless as we travel past huge ranches and tiny farms. In one of these little fenced in pastures were several head of cattle but the one who caught my eye had immense horns. Carl made a joke about these being Oregon Longhorns while I proposed the possibility , just for argument’s sake, this longhorn may in fact be from Texas and he’s visiting is relatives in Oregon. The steer wasn’t talking so we continued with our travels eastbound. A tractor trailer went by with this immense white item strapped to a flatbed. It sort of liked like a giant Nike swoosh. Carl got it right away. This was a replacement blade for one of the many wind generators we have passed today. About 20 minutes behind the first truck came a second. Logic would dictate a third should be along shortly but while I had camera in hand, it didn’t show up. Carl has put out the premise, again for consideration, the wind farms creates the wind he fights when he drives through these areas. He isn’t ready to admit the wind generators are here because of the steady and sometimes strong winds whistling across the open plains. Personally, I think he knows but just wants to try to get me started. Just before we cross the river into Idaho I spot a huge manufacturing plant. The sign on the building reads Ore-Ida and although I’ve purchased this brand of French, Curly, Steak and Shoestring fries for years, it just now hit me where the name came from. The aforementioned river behind us, Idaho’s countryside awaits us. Ever notice how you will often cross a river from one state to another? It seems as if these waterways are natural boundaries. This was pointed out in a show we watched often called “How The States Got Their Shapes”. Somewhere along the highway I’ve spotted a sign which announced our return to Mountain Time loosing another hour which makes us only two hours earlier than home now. What this really means is I get to listen to the Red Sox game earlier than Dylan and thankfully, we are no longer in the latitudes where the horizon interferes with the satellite. The visitor center in Idaho has an historical information sign which tells of an Indian gather on this very spot where all of the tribes would bring what they had an abundance of to trade with others for what they needed. This gathering was called the Salmon Festival. It mentioned the trading of not only fish but horses, teepee poles, herbs, baskets, buffalo meat and hides. I surmise the name comes more from the time of year the swap meet happened, when the salmon swim upstream. Carl has another one of those days where he’s not ready to stop when we reach Boise so he decided to keep driving another couple of hours. There’s one last curious item to mention before I wrap this up. It’s about onions or more precisely the aroma of onions that is so strong inside the truck as we drive we are baffled. On either side of us were miles of cow corn and wheat but I didn’t see any onions growing. The odor lasted a few miles and then vanished. By now, you trying to figure out the title of this entry which could have just as easily been “3 States In One Day”. Well you don’t have to wait any longer. The pull out Carl decided to stop at for the night is called the Bliss rest Area. As it happens, we are about 5 miles from the town of Bliss but it will do. There is a clear view of the western sky but so few clouds, I have little hope for sunset photos. I can see another bank of wind generators in the distance and while I was eating supper, an enormously long freight train passed behind the giant three armed beasts. Who knows where we’ll stop tomorrow. It’s supposed to be Salt Lake City but it’s anyone’s guess.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Day 64- On The Road Again

Hind sight being what it is, I probably didn’t post very interesting blog entries for the past couple of days and I only have one excuse. It’s because we had so much catching up to do and we were on the go most of those two days. I have given the highlights, though and I may add things as I remember them or as they become relevant. Like now, for instance. Dad asked about our route out of Bellingham and down towards Arches National Park which is our next destination. When he discovered we would travel through the busy highways of Seattle, he suggested a more scenic and less congested alternative which we accepted. Any time I can get away from the interstates and on to more rural roads for photo ops, well I’m going to take it. And then it was time to say goodbye. This was hard. It had been such a great visit and I’m already looking forward to the next time. Our departure was made a bit easier by the gray skies overhead. We swung in for gas and I did my usual window washing while Carl pumped the gas. I must be so out of practice between all the rain we had and the past couple of days where I didn’t need to wash them because the truck sat at Al’s RV Service. We took the extra time to have the wheel bearings repacked and the brakes checked over before we turn for home. Truth be told, we turned for home when we left North Pole, AK. We hit the sunshine somewhere around exit 198 on I-5. We pulled into a rest area where Carl got some coffee and I took a moment to sort out some of the stuff we hauled out of the camper while sleeping at Dad and Adena’s. Then we were off on our new route but not before we passed this gorgeous place called The Plant Farm At Smokey Point. They had lush colorful hanging baskets all along the highway drawing your eye to their front entrance. Wish I’d had time to stop but where would I stash plants while we traveled? Anyway, from Everett the new road took us up over Stevens Pass, 4061 feet and along windy twisting narrow roads thick with forests of spruce, fir, pine and cedar as well as several deciduous trees. I was fighting a bit of frustration again. We are hauling the trailer and it’s not that easy for Carl to pull over to allow me to take photos wherever I want. For instance there was some old machinery that had some beautiful flowers planted in among it, a huge cedar stump from an old growth cut with two new trees growing out of it. The old stump must have been 4 feet thick while the “new trees” were at least 12 inches through. I’ve seen smaller trees grow from stumps before but never anything like this and I would have loved to document it. There was also a fence with carousel horses atop each of the upright posts and there was a stream where people had built rock cairns in amongst the flow. All of these things would have made for interesting pictures and there wasn’t room for Carl to pull over. I know he feels bad, too. Our beautiful scenic drive continued along until about mile 84 when we were forced to detour adding another level of strange experiences to today’s travel. Eventually, we got back on the correct road but by now, Carl has started to look at our fuel gauge. We made the turn off of Rte 2 onto Rte 97 towards Wenatchee and noticed a bluish haze hanging low in the mountains. There was a faint whiff of smoke in the air so perhaps there was a minor forest fire somewhere nearby. It’s been very dry in this part of WA. After climbing gradually up Blewett Pass at 4102 feet, we descended into the valley below rather quickly. We had a good view of Mt Adams although Mt Rainier stayed hidden even though the sign pointed where it should be. Once back on the highway, we noticed a remarkable difference in the landscape around us. Instead of the lush rich rainforest drenched with moss and the wind whispering through the tops, this world was harsh, brittle and dry. The wind was hot and the only sign of green was where there were sprinklers at work. And we saw a lot of sprinklers, drenching grapes, corn, apples, cherries, apricots and so many other crops. From the scenic overlook, it looked like a checkerboard with green and brown replacing the red and black. It was a long day filled with interesting sights but finally Richland pulled into view and we found a comfortable parking spot at the Wal-Mart. We each had a bottle of water and then went in to pay our “camping fee” in the form of $85.00 worth of groceries for the next few days. We’ll have to stop one more time for some essentials before we hit Moab. We’ll make Boise Idaho tomorrow and Salt Lake City the next day. I can’t believe this trip is winding down so fast. But, in the mean time, it’s the end of the 10th week and we’ve traveled 11, 029 miles.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Day 62 and 63 - In And Around The Pacific Northwest

We had a wonderful day filled with tons of lousy fair food, great photo opportunities and even better beer at a local brewery. And, afterwards we came back to the house for some great ribs. Lots of talk brought us late into the evening and we observed a fairly nice sunset over Bellingham Bay from the comfort of Adena’s living room. The next morning found us off to Joe’s Gardens, a local source for great vegetables, herbs and flowers. We watched a lady braiding garlic and she explained the process. For her it seemed quite natural as she used to be a hairdresser. I could have spent hours taking photos there but we had other places to head. The plan for the afternoon was to head to Mt Baker Ski Area and take some reflection photos of Mt Shucksan. The weather was most cooperative, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the intensity of the blue was almost overwhelming. There was only one minor flaw in the day and it was connected to the reflection. There was a slight breeze which stirred the waters. It didn’t matter though because the view was breathtaking. We took a short walk around Picture Lake, observed a Greater Yellowlegs wading in the lake and a Killdeer on shore. Dad pointed out some really delicate looking Avalanche Lilies but I suspect by their name they are pretty hardy. Adena drove us as far up the road as we could go which was another mile or so before the snow blocked our path. They never opened the road to the summit this year. It was just going to take too many man hours. The whole day culminated in a stop at their favorite Brew and Pizza place billed as The Brew Shrine and Wedding Chapel. Our server told us the whole place was considered the chapel and they hold between 50 and 60 wedding each year in the museum like establishment. The walls were covered with old beer signs, a rather large rack of retired beer taps and an immense collection of beer bottles, tucked safely behind glass. The pizza was as advertised, great. Dad and Adena chose a Mediterranean with a Balsamic reduction which was mighty tasty while Carl and I took the Combination with green olives and salami. And once more, we stayed up late to talk, edit photos and try as we might to identify that Greater Yellowlegs which was finally confirmed by one of Adena’s bird friends, Joe Meche. Thanks so much Joe!!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Day 61- Arrival In Bellingham, WA , August 15, 2011

We had a beautiful drive through the Fraser River valley and stopped at Hope, BC for lunch and to make several phone calls. I wrote a couple of post cards and we were off. I was amazed to find signs on lots of the creeks and streams tell users they were in salmon habitat. We were a couple hundred miles from the ocean. Boy, those fish sure have their work cut out for them. I missed a turn somewhere near Lyndon and we drove unfamiliar roads for a while until I found a landmark I knew, Rte I-5. Then, I knew where I was and we arrived at my dad’s with no further delay. It’s actually going to be a little weird sleeping in a real bed. Laundry and showers are all taken care of and we got down to some serious catch up on gossip and family matters. We were up a little later than usual but geared up for another great day tomorrow. It’s off to the Northwest Washington County Fair in Lyndon. BTW, Hope's claim to fame is the first of the "First Blood" movies with Stallone was filmed here. There are Rambo cutouts all over town with a face missing. Come and be John Rambo for the moment.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Day 60- To Somewhere , August 14, 2011

Our night at the Wal-Mart campground in Prince George was peaceful right up to the time when the murder of crows decided our camper looked like a good place to hang out. At first, it seemed as if a couple of children had been turned loose to run about and knock on the doors of the dozen or so campers resting up for their days’ travel, us included. I was getting ready to climb out of the sack to find those irresponsible parents. It was the squawking and gurgling that made me think otherwise. I’m not sure what time it was but I do know I’m glad I’m not I that parking area tonight. It was also right about that time, I realized I had an awful headache so I got up, tool some Tylenol and went back to bed. I heard Carl get, make his coffee and have some cereal and all I did was keep my eyes closed hoping it would go away. Carl planned to put another 350 miles behind us. Yesterday, he drove 444 miles on just a few hours’ sleep. We hit the road and immediately turned the wrong way. My sense of direction and navigational skill were way off. It was going to be a very long day. The countryside we drove through was pretty much the same as yesterday including the sulfurous odor of pulp mills. Carl pulled over for lunch and I crawled onto the couch and slept for 2 ½ hours. Then it was back on the road. We made it a few miles past a nice little town called Cache Creek and pulled into a long deep rest area where a couple already had their tent set up for the evening. The view outside our camper is more reminiscent of South Dakota with it’s rolling hill and scrubby trees. We even thought there might be a sunset so after the supper was finished and I’d done up “the crockery” as our friends across the pond might say, it was outside for about 20 minutes watching the sky turn a pale orange and then nothing but gray. It was a great idea for a sunset photo since this is our last night in British Columbia. I only have two notes of interest from today’s travel. The first is about a well maintained little gift shop we stopped at with signs boasting of their RV friendly circular drive. Off a ways from the parking area was the prettiest outhouse I’ve seen in a long time. There were flowers hanging from both sides of the door and planted around it as well. And the second item is we are more than 500 miles from the ocean but we have traveled over numerous creeks and streams with signage designating the water below us as salmon habitat and to use it wisely. Neither Carl nor I figure they mean to keep you from fishing those waters, just to remind you to use them responsibly. I know some salmon travel great distances up stream before they reach their spawning grounds. I just wasn’t prepared for all of this distance. Tomorrow is another boarder crossing back into the United States. I wonder if the other Carl Hill Jr is still at large.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Day 59- Between Two Princes

Before we went to bed last night, I made sure to set the alarm on the cell phone for 3:45AM and turn it on. It went off, we got dressed and waited in our stateroom for the announcement telling us we were just 30 minutes from Prince Rupert. But the announcement didn’t come and no one knocked on our door to make sure we were awake as we’d been told they would do. Something had gone wrong with the system but was it theirs or mine. After about 45 minutes, I realized what happened. My phone contacted a local Canadian tower and discovered it was on Pacific Time, 1 hour later than the Alaskan Time the ship runs on. So the alarm went of at 3:45 AM Pacific Time. Technology isn’t perfect and neither am I. What I should have done was to just wait for the announcement or the knock on the door which came about an hour after we were ready. The call came to go to the car deck and it took a few minutes for everyone to get their stuff hauled down over the stairs. The guy in front of us must have been in a hurry. He started his vehicle up and started rolling off the ship before he was told to and people started yelling in all directions. He almost took a mirror off of another vehicle on his passenger side. Then it was our turn. The same very capable young man took control and Carl eased our truck slowly forward and up the ramp, adjusting inch by inch as the deck hand directed. We had a chance to thank him and shake his hand as we were given the all clear sign to continue up the ramp on our own. A dock worker directed us into the Canadian Customs line and it was just a few minutes before Carl and the Customs Officer were doing the 20 question dance, “Have we any weapons?, How much alcohol did we have with us?, Any fruit, vegetables, $10,000 in currency or instruments?” ( Yeah, right!!! ). He took our passports, consulted with the computer screen and then asked us to pull off to the right and park. Someone would be with us in a moment. Another customs Officer came to the window, asked a few more questions, “where was home?, how long had we been in Alaska? Did we have proof of our social security numbers with us?” Well, it was then he told Carl to shut off the truck and to come with him. I started to get out of the truck but the Officer said I didn’t need to come inside. So, I sat in the truck and waited and waited. It seemed much longer than it really was but finally Carl returned to tell me a Carl E Hill Jr. was wanted in Indiana. It didn’t take long to realize my Carl wasn’t the one, the other guy was younger, so we were free to go. What a start to the morning, eh? The excitement just kept on coming when we drove through town with names like Trout Creek, ( Montana ) , Houston (Texas ), Hudson Bay and Burns Lake. If we had a GPS, I’d say it might be broken because we never left British Columbia. The region we drove through today is rich in timber production while huge fields of hay, in various stages of growth or being baled, are on either side of us. Somewhere among the piles of useless trivia I’ve accumulated is the knowledge that Lawrence, Kansas is the geographical center of the contiguous United States and I can now file, in that same trivia drawer, Vanderhoof is the geographical center of British Columbia. Just thought you should know this. Carl pushes the driving today, in spite of only getting a few hours of sleep, getting us all the way from Prince Rupert to Prince George, 448 miles. He was pretty pleased with himself right up to the point where we pulled into the Wal-Mart in Prince George and see the sign, “No overnight camping”. Just three words but they sure had an impact on me. We wander into the store and head straight for the customer service desk where we are informed not to pay any attention to the sign, it’s fine to park in their lot. Oh and I can tell we’re in timber company in spite of driving by huge lumber yards filled with huge piles of logs and massive stockpiles of wrapped kiln dried lumber ready to be shipped. The moment I stepped from the truck, there was that unmistakable rotten egg smell we used to get in Whitefield when the paper mills in Berlin were operational. The photo was from last night's sunset. We didn't get any photos today, moving too fast!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Day 58- Inside Passage

I set the time on the alarm of my cell phone but then didn’t turn it on. Can’t blame the technology, have to blame the operator. Anyway, Carl lifted the shade on our “stateroom” to see gray skies. I guess it doesn’t matter to the whales if it’s raining or cold so we got dressed in a hurry and climbed up two decks to find a somewhat sheltered spot. Sure enough there were a few spout off in the distance but none close to the ferry. We listened to some of the passengers talking of the great sightings earlier, of breaches and humpbacks displaying their fins and flukes before heading deep to feed. Another group was talking of the pod of orcas they had seen just before we put into Juneau last night. I sputtered to myself because I had gone to our cabin to work on a blog entry and edit some photos. I had no one to blame but myself. I knew I didn’t have an internet connection for a couple of days but I do like to get stuff down before it all runs together. The gloomy sky and light rain hounded us all morning, making it difficult if not impossible to be out on deck, but by lunch, there was a noticeable blue streak trying to break through. Finally, the blue patches grew bigger, the sun burst forth and brought along it’s friends, the big puffy whites. There are not enough words to describe the wonders of the inside passage. In fact, for me to try is a lame attempt at best. I can say there are countless uninhabited islands covered with trees, high mountains and rock rimmed coastlines. It would be accurate but it just doesn’t do it justice. I’m talking about land no human has likely set foot on in hundreds, maybe thousands of years or ever will, for that matter. The water is clear, of pollution and debris, the flotsam and jetsam of careless humans along shore or in small watercraft. Other than the drone of our diesel engines, all you could hear was the wind or an occasional gull that flew close. Along the trip, Stellar Sea Lions and Harbor Seals were sighted. Pods of Orcas, humpbacks and Porpoises kept the ship company while uncountable gulls, murres, cormorants and puffins fought over fish at the surface. Eagles occupied the tops of channel markers, low hanging branches or uppermost branches of trees with a constant eye out for a meal to be caught or stolen from another creature. On board was a National Park Ranger, Costanzio, who gave 3 short presentations throughout the day, one on the history of Petersburg including the 4 nations and 3 flags flown over the community, one on the history of Wrangle and a garnet mine left to the children of Wrangle and the Boy Scouts Of America, SE Alaska council and a third on Orcas and what they have to teach us. There was a 4th but I can’t remember it at the moment. What I can tell you is Costanzio is a member of the Tlingit ( kling Ket ) nation and has a palpable respect for the nature surrounding us. I can’t think of anyone better suited to be a ranger, a steward if you will, for the caretaking of the parks and the education of those who use them. Our time in the ports of Petersburg and Wrangle were short so Carl and I didn’t even try to go ashore and although we had a bit longer in Ketchikan, we didn‘t get off the ferry there either. I will tell you a bit about one stretch of the Inside Passage called the Wrangle Narrows, 17 miles of navigational nightmare. There are places in this portion of the journey where there is no more than 50 feet from the channel markers to the sides of the Matanuska. The ship draws 15 feet of water while portions of the Narrows are only 17 feet deep. The Captain did have a bit of good fortune in that we had a rising tide. Had it been the other way round, we would have had to wait or else risk going aground. I was one of many looking on from Deck 6 forward while the observer at the bow kept careful watch through binoculars, alerting the captain should anything be amiss. We could hear the communications for every person out on deck who witnessed this was silent as if the ship collectively held their breath. It’s clear you wouldn’t give a novice the responsibility of sailing this course. The navigational buoys seemed to set up a slalom course where the slightest miscalculation could spell trouble. And just like the overwhelming beauty of the area, there are not enough words to describe how the crew, in unison, brought the ship through. As I was taking photos, I must have said as much out loud because the man next to me remarked how right I was that only another mariner could really understand what precision it was taking to bring us through the Wrangle Narrows. By the time we arrived at Ketchikan, the sky had become a bit more congested, just enough clouds to give us a beautiful farewell sunset from Alaska. Our next port of call in the morning, would be Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Home Is Where You Keep Your Stuff.

We’ve seen it all on this trip, from the one room rustic cabin to the multilevel mausoleum, from the double wide mobile home to a beat up truck topper on concrete blocks in a Wal-Mart parking lot. We seen single containers with smoke stacks and we’ve seen stacks of containers with a roof over them. We’ve even seen mobile office units set up as motels. We’ve seen abandoned homes, homes for sale, homes with rivers running through them and even homes under construction. It doesn’t matter what you call home, it just matters that you have one. With the weather conditions as extreme as they are in the state of Alaska, there is still a large homeless population. When the weather turns bitter, the police and some church groups drive the back streets, looking under bridge overpasses and in parks for people who are at risk so they can get them in where it’s warm and maybe even get them a hot meal but they can’t make them stay. So what do you do? You thank God for what you have and make the best of the situation because no matter where you call home, there is always someone out there in worse shape than you. Oh, and there’s one more thing. I always wondered about the amount of “collectibles” there always seems to be around the average home in AK. Now, I’ve seen it first hand and the photos and television shows don’t exaggerate. There is stuff everywhere, left to deteriorate among the elements. And it’s not like there aren’t places to take the stuff but I heard one guy tell another at a gas station today, “ If I throw it away, that’s when I’ll need a part off it”. And so you have the universal reason why humans as a race have become packrats. It’s because they might need it some day.

Day 57- Additiional

We’ve just arrived at the first terminal, Juneau. We are about 14 miles from the city so we stayed on the boat. The ride has been smooth, the food is cafeteria food but reasonably priced and we talked with a couple from Ontario who were plagued with mechanical issues all the way to Alaska. We’ve been lucky by others’ standards. I just looked out the window and it’s officially dark at 10:05 PM. I think I’ll read for a bit and then go to sleep. We’ve been told the best time to see whales will be about 5:15 AM tomorrow so I guess I’ll be there. I just hope the whales get the memo. Oh and I forgot to post that we’ve been on the road 8 full weeks now and have traveled 9,764 miles. The big question now is do I add the 500 nautical miles being traveled on the ferry or not. Any thoughts?

Day 57- All Aboard!!

Wait, that’s what the conductor says to get on the train isn’t it? Well, we’re not taking the train. We’ve caught the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry, Matanuska, out of Haines and we’re bound for Prince Rupert, BC by way of the Inside Passage. We have a small cabin on board which is good because there isn’t much scenery yet. The ferry was due to arrive in Haines at 1:00 with us departing at 3:00 but they were running behind just about two hours. We heard a caravan of 35 motor homes took a while to load earlier this morning in Haines on the way to Skagway. That explains why our RV Park was like a ghost town when we got up this morning. Anyway, after watching this tractor trailer driver back down the loading ramp with a 28’ trailer, not once but twice, I have to say I was impressed. I was even more impressed when we got inside and found he had turned the first one around, inside the ship, and backed the second one in on his blind side. Sorry, that’s driver speak for tougher than it sounds. But the absolute best thing I ever saw was how my husband handled our travel trailer when we were told to load. We were told to get into lane 5 and then they had him parallel park on the wrong side between a tour bus and another camper in lane 4. It took about 10 minutes and three deck hands but there wasn’t so much as a puckered eyebrow or the slightest sound of damaged metal. I was so very proud of him. In fact, I’ve been impressed the whole trip with his general ability to solve the little problems that have popped up and his ability to repair some of them while having others repair the things he couldn’t. It’s been a great trip and we still have a few more weeks to go. We’ll have two or three days of travel into British Columbia before we hit Bellingham WA for a visit with my Dad and his wife, Adena. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Our first port of call is Juneau, the capitol of Alaska and one you cannot drive to. You either fly in or come in by ferry. We’ll be there a few hours, hardly worth getting off the boat especially at 9:30 at night.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Day 56- The Lake, The Park And Other Things

My personal alarm went off at about 7:00 this morning. Carl announced he was up and if I wanted to find those bears I’d better get up, too. So, we each brewed a cup of our favorite morning beverage, I stuffed pop tarts, bananas and bottled water into the cooler and we were off. I chose left at the fork in the road, towards Chilkoot Lake State Park. By the time we got to the bridge I could see grizzlies. We pulled over just pass the bridge to see one sow and two year plus cubs. We watched, I took lots of pictures and we played leap frog with another photographer. He had a much bigger lens than I’m shooting with. It wasn’t long before a third cub popped up from the deep grass. There’s always one that strays further from mom than it should. The sow was digging up roots and tearing into logs while the cubs seemed to favor the taste of the berries growing along the shoreline of Haines Bay. I think we watched for more than an hour when the sow headed back towards the bridge. I was up on the bridge when she and the three cubs came up the side of the river and passed directly under the bridge. Both Carl and I crossed over just in time to watch mom swim into view, grab a salmon and begin ripping into it. Two of the cubs worked their way along the shore, taking tentative steps into the cold water while one of them buried it’s head deep in between the large boulders lining the shore. Then, the family moved up the river. You could tell where they were by how quickly the guys fishing in the river moved. We jumped back into the truck and drove up river to where I would have a nice opportunity to get a few more photos. There was a weir spanning the river with a guy in yellow rain pants tending it. I didn’t realize until the guy started yelling at us to get our truck out of the way. There were signs explaining the bears need their space and there was no parking allowed between the signs. One of the cubs tried to cross the planking on top of the weir and Mr. Yellow Rain Pants grabbed a shovel and started banging on it spooking the family into the woods. The ground where we stood was a mixture of bear scat, fish guts and uneaten heads. We followed the river further up stream to the mouth of Chilkoot Lake. There we parked and waited. I figured eventually the bears would work their way to that spot but after two hours there was still no sign of them. While I waited, I had an opportunity to take a photo or two of the area, a Bald Eagle in the tree in front of me and a pair of birds that I can only describe as black cardinals with indigo blue wings. When they flew, that brilliant blue just grabbed your eyes. I also chatted with a couple from Texas who had arrived on the Holland America cruise ship we saw in port earlier. I finally decided the wait had been long enough, we said goodbye and headed back towards the bridge. On a hunch, I asked Carl to go left, back over the bridge, and sure enough, there was another grizzly in the marsh grass. We spotted two older cubs with this sow. I had hopes this sow would be a bit more cooperative but moms are so protective. The first sow had been collared and one of the three cubs had been tagged. Sure enough, this sow also wore a tracking collar. Nothing I could do about that. And just like the first family, this one also worked it’s way towards the bridge and followed the path under the bridge. But, one of the cubs tried to come up on the bridge. A ranger arrived to help redirect bear traffic although she didn’t have to do anything because one of the guys in the small group of people who had gathered made lots of noise and told the cub to get lost. It worked and off it ran back under the bridge to catch up with the rest of the family. And just like the first bear family, this one also worked their way up the shore of the river towards the weir. It was then my battery died in the camera so we headed back to the truck. I didn’t feel too bad. The bears were out of my reach with the 28-300mm lens I have. I changed batteries in the camera and my heart sunk. I got an error message flashing on the camera. Nothing I did changed this and my heart came up into my throat. I’m thousands of miles from home, my camera is malfunctioning and no camera shop within 500 miles. It was a pretty quiet ride back to the camper. I’m not exactly sure what I did to stop the error message but it involved putting another battery in, changing the memory card and then formatting the card. Well, if I could do that, the camera wasn’t dead. I tried to take a photo in the camera and, at first, the auto focus wouldn’t work. I took the picture anyway and all of a sudden, the focus worked, the error message disappeared and I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I remembered when I put the new battery in I hadn’t shut the power off on the camera. Here’s a lesson for you. No matter how long you’ve been taking photos, there’s always something that can go wrong and there’s always something to be learned. Now, it’s lunch time and I’m downloading 154 bear pictures. I promise I won’t post them all on face book.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Day 55- To Haines, AK

When you’re on the road like we’ve been, there really are no boring days. There is always new scenery, weather or conversation to be had. Even after being married for 40 years, Carl and I still have conversations and consider each other our best friends. Both of us we perplexed this morning with the bright light that was in or should have been in the eastern sky. The map says we are traveling due south and yet, there it is, straight in front of us, shining in our eyes. Notice, there are no complaints here. The route for today takes us on the previously traveled and extremely rough and bumpy section of the Alaska Highway from Beaver Creek to Haines Junction. There are several small communities along the way and one of them has employed a plywood cutout of a police cruiser and officer which, from a great distance, is almost believable. I guarantee as you get closer, you wouldn’t be fooled. I suppose it gets a few tourists to slow down when the flashing “your speed is….” sign doesn’t work. The Ice Field Mountains are on our right and the sign at the scenic / photographic / view / rest area signage tells us this range holds 7 of Canada’s highest peaks. There is evidence, even from where we are, of glaciers on most of the peaks. It doesn’t appear that I am tired of them yet. They are larger than life forces of nature with immense power on the terrain they travel. I encountered a couple of unusual signs today. The first read “ Be Aware: Snow Removal Equipment May Be Oncoming In Your Travel Lane” . That was a shocker!!! The other was one of those international picture signs, a rectangle with a diagonal divider. The upper triangle in white showing a bed and the lower is blue and shows a soft boiled egg. It took me a moment and then the light came on “Bed and Breakfast”…… hmmmm. There is a Bald Eagle Preserve that borders the Chilkoot and Chilkat Rivers. More than 3,000 eagles call this area home during the months of October through January. I’m going looking tomorrow. The promo on this preserve states there are more than 40,000 Bald eagles in the state of Alaska. I think Alaska ought to share them with the rest of the country.