Trip To Alaska – Prologue

Prologue

 The Last Frontier

 Gail and Paul Harren

 

In just a few short days we will be leaving for our planned vacation destination of Alaska.  We have been looking forward to this trip ever since we began talking about it one year ago.  Although the goal is reaching Alaska, we plan on stopping at any sites and communities along the way that tweak our interests.  Since we are now both retired, we are really “foot loose and fancy free” to take the time to see whatever we want and not be held to a schedule to be back home at any particular time.  Our expectation is to put four months into this travel and experience what this country and western Canada have to offer.

We are not unfamiliar with long trips since we did take the summer of 1984 to travel from Long Island to the Pacific coast and points in between.  This vacation was two months in length.  At that time, we also did it in an RV.  There were six of us and our dog and we all returned none the worse for wear.  Over the years that passed since then, we have often reminisced over the interesting experiences, enjoyments, and the fun that we all had.

We are planning to leave on Saturday, May 30, arriving in Alaska by mid-June, good Lord willing, and return sometime in September.  Daily entries will be made to this blog and include interesting pictures of the day.  Of course, we may not always have daily internet access so there may be times when there will be an absence of entries to then be followed with accumulated entries.

For now, on to the last frontier!

 

Final days of preparation.

Day 1, 5/30/15

 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Weather:  partial cloudy, temperature 88

Our target date for the start of the Alaskan trip has been achieved.  We had planned on an early departure this morning but the hands of the clock moved faster than we did.  We pulled away from home at approximately 1:30 pm. and headed for the Garden State Parkway.  Having checked yesterday with the Turnpike Authority to be sure that RVs were authorized throughout the Parkway, we headed north from exit 98 and proceeded to I 280.  This eventually became I 80 and the route for the rest of today’s trip.

The drive through New Jersey was very pleasant.  Since today was the first time we were traveling with a loaded camper and few of the appliances had not been used before, the day was also the maiden trial voyage.  We became pleasantly aware with the operation of the vehicle both from the handling, and power of the engine.  Even though much of the Pennsylvania travel was through the mountains, our mileage was 13 to 14 mpg.

Shortly after crossing the Delaware Water Gap, the weather began to change with the arrival of dark ominous clouds.  It was not very long that the rain began and lasted with us for the entirety of the afternoon and evening.  The only stops made were once to fuel up with diesel and once to cook dinner.

Our day ended at 10:30 where we pulled into a rest area located at North Latitude 41.202,  West Longitude -79.944 and joined other RVs and an army of trucks.

For our grandchildren who have accepted the latitude/longitude challenge, we will reveal the actual location where we have now stopped at the beginning of tomorrow’s blog.  Happy hunting in finding the actual location of these coordinates.

G & P

Heading out!
Heading out!

 

 

Day 2, 5/31/15

 

Day #2, 5/31/15

Weather:  temperature 70, rain and windy all day

After having breakfast in the RV, we left the rest area in Harrisville, Pa. at 9:30 am.  Our plan was to drive through the day with only one planned stop and that would be the University of Notre Dame in South Bend.  However, by 1 pm we had to pull into a service area in Clyde, Ohio because of the rain that was coming down so heavily that visibility was dangerously low.  In addition, the wind gusts had increased.

We used this time to make lunch and add DEF to the emission system.  By 3 pm, we were back on the road continuing west on Rt. 80.  At 6:45 we reached ND.  We did have enough time to visit the Basilica and make a quick stop at the book store.  The campus has continued to be enlarged since our last visit for a football game about eight years ago.  We had a quick dinner in the RV and then left to continue our westward movement on Rt. 80.

Our final destination was at a Walmart store just northwest of Chicago, N43° 2’ 22”  W89°  22’ 50”, elevation 880 ft.  We did some shopping for additional food and then remained parked in their lot for the rest of the night.  Although this was a rough day for traveling, we did get to visit ND and put more distance behind us and closer to Alaska.

G & P

Gail in front of Sacred Heart Basilica at ND
Gail in front of Sacred Heart Basilica at ND
Golden Dome in background.
Golden Dome in background.

 

Day 3, 6/1/15

Day 3, 6/1/15

 

Weather:  Clear and sunny all day, temperature in the high 70s.

By local standards, here in Huntley, Illinois, elevation 880 ft., we rose early.  This was due to the time change when we crossed into the central time zone.  We left the Walmart parking lot at approximately 8 a.m. and again headed for Rt. 90.

Yesterday, we had become concerned when the computer read out on the dash board began showing a service code.  With only 2400 miles on the vehicle, we could not imagine what surprise now lay before us.  After numerous calls to the Sprinter manufacturer, we were able to discover that the vehicle needed an oil change, a totally unexpected surprise.  Arrangements were made with an approved dealership in Madison, Wisconsin to do the service at 1 p.m.  This worked out fine for us since they were located further west and along our route of travel.

Later in the day, we headed for Devil’s Lake State Park in Wisconsin, N 43° 25’ 53”  W 89° 44’ 02” with an elevation of 984 ft.  We heard of this lovely place while talking with a young woman in Camping World, a shopping stop along our drive.  Devil’s Lake turned out to be a beautiful and well maintained family area.  We registered at the gate for a camp site for the evening.  This gave us a beautiful and relaxing end to day three.

G & P

Paul moving the RV onto the river ferry.
Paul moving the RV onto the river ferry.
Gail viewing the river scenery.
Gail viewing the river scenery.

 

 

Day 5, 6/3/15

Day 5, 6/3/15

Weather:  Rain in the morning and clear in the afternoon, temperature in the 60s.

Now that we are in the mid-west, we are taking more time to enjoy what each of the states have to offer.  We departed the rest area in Adrian, Minnesota and again proceeded west on I 90.   Western Wisconsin begins the area of the Lakota Sioux nation.  In checking the guide book for the state, we discovered an area of interest called the Pipestone National Monument.  This is located in the prairie part of the country and is one of the few regions where the tall prairie grass still survives.  (www.nps.gov/pipe)

Pipestone is a soft, red rock located below surface rock.  The Pipestone is considered sacred because the Indians believe that the red color is actually the past ancestors.  Only native people are permitted by federal law to mine these quarries.  This area is also the only location in this country that has this particular rock.  Even today, certain members of the tribe continue to hand fashion pipes from chunks of the rock.  The various carvings form the actual pipe that makes up the sacred or peace pipe.  It is smoked for sacred and important ceremonies.

Since this monument is a part of the National Park System, the rangers, along with a twenty minute film, were very helpful in explaining the history and significance of this area.

We drove further west into South Dakota where we visited the McCrory Gardens which is part of South Dakota State University in Brookings.  This is an extensive botanical garden that is part of the agricultural educational program at the University.  By this time, the sun had come out which helped to make this visit more pleasant than if it had been the morning visit.  The students were busy planting the annuals and trial beds.  They had a cottage built of bales of straw(Three Little Pigs?) with a “living roof”  of small plants.

The afternoon was getting late and we returned to Rt. 90.  This route by the way is one of the longest interstate roads in the U.S.  This was part of the inter-US highway system that came into existence during the time of the Eisenhower administration.  Within the regulations for the construction of these roads was the fact that within the road system there has to be portions where the road must be straight for one mile to accommodate airplanes that may experience problems and need a place to land.

We continued on our journey and turned off the highway at a Walmart in N 43° 41’11” , W 98°  00’ 37”, elevation 1407 ft.

Today was a great day.

G & P

Early quarry.
Early quarry.
Quarry being worked.
Quarry being worked.

Day 6, 6/4/15

Day 6, 6/4/15

Weather:  Rain in the morning, cloudy in the afternoon.  Temperatures were in the mid to low 60s.

When we finished breakfast this morning, we had very definite plans of what we wanted to do today.  On departing our overnight parking location at Walmart in Mitchell, SD, we headed for the nearest Post Office to mail some information to Beth.

We knew before we began the vacation that this part of the country opens up more interesting places that we do not have back home.  When we did the cross country trip in the mid-eighties, a whole new U.S. opened for the six of us.  The memories of these adventures have been talked about even to this day.

Today we headed for Chamberlain, SD to visit the St. Joseph’s Indian School (www.stjo.org) founded and serviced by the priests and brothers of the Sacred Heart order.  As of today, the total enrollment of the school is two hundred thirty-three boys and girls from first through eighth grade.  The students then go on to the Chamberlain High School.  The chapel of Our Lady of the Sioux is part of the school campus.  Here the traditions of Catholicism and the traditional Lakota spirituality are brought together.  We spent a good amount of time visiting the campus museum.  It is here that the history of the Sioux nation is explained and depicted from their first appearance on this continent through their turbulent years with the coming settlers.  The assimilation of the old and new cultures is enlightening to understand.

For anyone who has driven cross country on Rt. 90, they could not have missed the sign-board advertisements for Wall Drugs.  These advertisements begin approximately 350 miles east and west bound from Wall.  By the time you reach the exit at Wall, you are challenged to make the detour to see what this place is all about.  We first experienced this when we did our earlier cross country trip.  On this trip we knew that we were once again going to stop and visit the drug store and so we did.

After leaving Chamberlain, we resumed our western move to Badlands National Park (www.nps.gov/badl).  Up from nowhere, as we drove through the beautiful rolling hills and prairies of South Dakota, suddenly appears a landscape that is so absolutely and drastically different that it is hard to believe how it got here.  We drove in to this national park and began to appreciate the shapes and colors that have evolved here over the millions of years that it took for our climate to alter the topography in such a startling way.  To describe it is very difficult.  It is an area consisting of peaks, amazingly deep gullies, and buttes.  The walls of all of these three areas show beautiful color formations similar to what you would see at the Grand Canyon.  We drove the paved road through the park in order to view all of its mysterious wonders and to stop at many of the available scenic overlooks.  In its entirety, the park consists of 240,000 acres.  At the end of this drive, we were very pleased with our choice to visit this mysterious wonder in SD.

We concluded our day’s journey by registering in the Rushmore Shadows Resort camp site in    N 43 58’ 35”  W 103 19’ 41”, elevation 4,332 ft.

G & P

School court yard
School court yard

DSC_0170

Day 7, 2015

Day 7, 6/5/15

Weather:  Rain last night and into this morning.  The afternoon was partly cloudy and threatening rain.

We awoke here in Rapid City, SD to rain and the forecast that this could continue intermittently throughout the day.  Because of this, we decided to take today as a rest and relaxation day.  Our plan to visit Mount Rushmore will be the agenda for tomorrow. We attended a meeting this morning that was geared to discussimg this camp ground as well as the others that are part of this campground’s association.  When this was over, we took the opportunity to do the accumulating laundry and also meet and chat with other campers about their camping experiences.  Although we had done extensive RV traveling in the past, it is always interesting to talk to others and learn from their recent experiences.

This evening we went to dinner at a local restaurant where country music was scheduled for dinner entertainment.   This was a great decision because the meal was chuck wagon style and the performance was truly entertaining.  It was also good to eat family style and have the opportunity to meet people from all over the U.S.

G & P

Ft. Hays Country Band
Ft. Hays Country Band
Colonel's office from Dances With Wolves set
Colonel’s office from Dances With Wolves set
Buffalo carving at Ft. Hays
Buffalo carving at Ft. Hays

 

Day 8, 6/6/15

 

Day 8, 6/6/15

Weather:  Very overcast in the morning changing to heavy rain and strong thunderstorms in the afternoon.  The evening was clear.  Temperatures were in the 70s.

Right after breakfast, we drove through the Black Hills to Keystone, SD.  A steep drive up the winding mountain road brought us to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.  With the weather looking quite threatening, it was wonderful to see how many people were there to visit this site.  It is also pleasant to have the opportunity to again meet new people such as the young family from southwestern New Jersey.

My reaction to seeing the memorial for the second time was of the imagination, strength, and determination of effective leadership given by these four presidents at different critical periods of time in our country’s history.

It appears to us that this part of our country is susceptible to frequently changing weather.  It was only about two hours after we arrived that a dark sky began to appear coming over the black hills.  Along with the heavy down-pours came the accompanying lightning.  Needless to say, we were drenched when we made a retreat to where the RV was parked.

On the way back to the camp grounds, we could not pass up the opportunity to stop in Keystone to see what this old historic town had to offer in the shops along its one main street.

We returned to our home site and spent the rest of the day and evening relaxing.  We are planning to leave tomorrow morning for the “Big Sky” country, Montana.

G & PDSC_0354

 

 

Day 14

Day 14, 6/12/15, Friday

Weather:  Sunny and very pleasant all day.  Temperatures in the 70s

This is our second day at Glacier National Park in West Glacier, Montana.  As we have moved northerly in our trip the sunrise has come a little earlier each day and sunset comes at approximately 9 pm.

We had two plans in mind to accomplish today.  The first was to take the Going To The Sun Road which travels across into the Park northeastward from our campground.  The trip would encompass twenty miles and at that point only vehicles less than twenty-one feet could proceed.  Those who were able to drive further had an additional ten miles before they too had to turn around.  The final piece of that road is under planned reconstruction and is not due to open until the end of June.  When we arrived yesterday, we discovered that some of the services in the Park are not operational. The shuttle bus that could take us the full length of the Going to the Sun Road, if it was open, and many ranger activities are not scheduled to start for two weeks. We have always taken advantage of ranger programs in our National Parks, from Acadia in Maine to Yosemite in California. With our Senior Park Pass all admissions are free and camping fees are half!  Due to the weather here the Park closed after Labor Day.

The drive along the road was beautiful and very scenic with many areas available to pull off and enjoy the view.  The mountain driving is steadily becoming easier to us nor’easterners as the days pass.  At the end of this drive we went to the Canadian visitors’ center just outside the Park.  It is the only wifi in the area. Thank you Canada!

Our second goal for the day was to go kayaking.  We were ready to unload our inflatable kayak and put it into Lake McDonald.  However, we were not able to fulfill this plan because of the windy conditions and the white caps on the lake.  There were actually waves on the lake too! Plans are to try again in the morning.

When we do finally leave, we will be stopping on the east side of Glacier before crossing into Alberta Province, Canada, and probable heading for Banff.  From Banff we will travel on to Calgary.

G & P

 

Sightseeing on Lake McDonald
Sightseeing on Lake McDonald

 

Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald
Waves on Lake McDonald
Waves on Lake McDonald
Prairie Dog at McDonald Lodge
Prairie Dog at McDonald Lodge
McDonald Creek
McDonald Creek

 

Day 16

Day 16, 6/14/15, Sunday

Weather:  Cloudy, scattered thunderstorms in travel area during the day.  Temperature in the 70s.

Rain had come in during the night and the outside temperature was cold.  We awoke early but by park regulations we could not turn on the generator until 8 am.  We need the generator to power the stabilizing legs and to power the slide room.

By 9 am we departed Many Glacier, Glacier Nat. Park camp ground in Babb, Montana and returned to Rt. 89 northbound.  About one hour after we left the park (Gail took MANY pictures on the exit road) we arrived at the border crossing at Port of Piegon, Montana/Carway, Alberta.  Upon entering Canada the route number changed to Rt. 2. Another change was the speed signs posted in metric, kilometers per hour, instead of miles per hour that we have in the States.  Some quick calculations and a setting change in the GPS and we were on our way.

The scenery as we drove on was of beautiful open prairie inhabited by scattered farm houses, horses, cows, bulls, and buffalo. The flat land was a relief after yesterday’s continuous steep inclines/declines.  Our destination for the day was to find a camping park somewhere north of Calgary. This would have given us about three hundred miles total travel for the day.

We stopped in Fort Macloud, Alberta to purchase some food supplies and top-off the fuel tank.  Although we were going to make a stop in Calgary, we decided not to because the information that we had received showed nothing exciting going on. It’s still early in the season here too.  We continued on with the driving.

No sooner had we passed Calgary than the onboard computer began flashing engine warning symbols.  We checked the manual and all of the information indicated that we needed to go to a qualified service center.  A call was made to Mercedes Canada and they gave us the nearest location that could handle us.  Wouldn’t you know that service area was back in Calgary.  Naturally being Sunday, the service was closed.  So we had to make their parking area our location to spend the night.  Now we wait until the morning to see what the prognoses will be.

G & P

Peaks Reaching For The Sky
Peaks Reaching For The Sky
Low Clouds
Low Clouds
Glacier
Glacier
Campsite In Mini Glacier
Campsite In Mini Glacier
River At Many Glacier Park
River At Many Glacier Park

Day 17

Day 17, 6/15/15, Monday

Weather:  Partial sunny through the day.  Temperatures in the 60s’

The first of the workers at the Hyatt Mercedes service department arrived at 6:15 am.  By 7 everyone was there including a line of vehicles waiting to be dropped off for service.  We met with a service representative who took our information and invited us to wait until they had the time to check out what was causing our problem.

We found it amazing that with no ability to arrange a prior reservation, our situation was accepted immediately.  The test of the engine showed a glitch in the notification software.  The computer data was reentered and updated.  By 10 am we were back on the road.

We were back on Rt. 2 now continuing on toward Edmonton and beyond.  The landscape was a mixture of beautiful deep green colored farm land and prairie as we continued north westward through picturesque rolling hills.  Our intent for the day was to gain driving distance.

By 5 pm we had travelled a long distance and decided to call it a day at the Whitecourt Lions Campground,  We chose this place because of promised wifi at the our site…NOT! There are about 50+ sites and the wifi hotspot can accommodate 4 users.  At least it worked if we sat at the designated picnic table.  N 54° 06’ 47”    W 115° 38’ 50”, elevation 2,407 ft.

G & P

Rural Alberta
Rural Alberta

 

Day 18

Day 18, 6/16/15, Tuesday

Weather:  Partly cloudy all day.  Some light rain in the late afternoon.  Temperatures in the 50s

We prepared to leave the Whitecourt Lions Campground, Whitecourt, Alberta at 8 am.  As we were moving in the slider and raising the stabilizers, the manager of the campground came over to say goodbye.  Naturally, we never tend to limit ourselves to just a few words so; our actual departure was closer to 10 am. The Alberta Lions run several campgrounds for the funds to support their charitable work.  Don, the manager has been doing this campground for 3 seasons.

Today is intended to be a traveling day and if all goes well we should have no trouble reaching Dawson Creek.  This town is the official beginning point for the Alaska Highway, northbound.

The other end of the highway is the border into Alaska.  The traveling distance between the two points is approximately 1400 miles.  Information from the travel book, Milepost, shows that every fifty miles there is a service location that contains fuel and restaurant.  The most interesting piece of information that we have discovered about the food available is that travelers must try the homemade pies.  We think it is imperative to investigate and see if this is correct.

We arrived in Dawson Creek by 5:30 and proceeded to locate a campground.  We had no difficulty finding the popular Walmart store and parking lot already holding fourteen RVs prepared to stay for the night, N 55° 44’ 20”  W 120° 13’ 12”, elevation 2,180.  We pulled in and joined the group.  Before we leave tomorrow we will go into downtown and visit the museum that tells the story of the construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942 following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

G & P

We Are Walmart Campers
We Are Walmart Campers

Day 19

Day 19, 6/1715, Wednesday

Weather: Sunny all day.  Temperatures today were in the 60s.

We left the parking area of the Walmart in Dawson Creek, British Columbia and drove a few blocks to downtown Dawson Creek.  We wanted to stop at the Visitors Center because it was there that the museum of the building of the Alaska Highway is housed.  Paul found many of the museum objects such as radio, telephone, etc. bring back memories of things that he can remember. He pre-dates the road.

In addition to the objects that date back to the 1940s, we also viewed a one hour video on the history of the building of the highway by the U.S. Army in cooperation with the Canadian government and local community. It is certainly an example of American ingenuity and determination.  When we left this museum it was much like the visit we made during the family’s cross country trip to the museum in St. Louis.  This was dedicated to the westward expansion.  When we returned to the RV and began our drive up the Alaska Highway we began to realize the work, effort, and regional impact that the construction of this highway had on both the U.S. and Canada.  We knew that we were travelling the historic road.

The remainder of the day was spent driving with only one stop to refuel.  Because of the length of the drive, it is important that we are clearly aware of the distances between service areas.  Last year, we had attended a presentation from someone who did this same drive.  One of the things that he mentioned was that every fifty miles we would find service stops that included food availability as well as fuel.  Well, we don’t know what road he actually drove but the fifty mile reality does not exist.  In fact in one part of the road there was a distance of one hundred sixty-eight miles between service areas.  Speed on the highway varied frequently due to climbes, declines, switch backs and periodic road construction.

At 7:30 pm we pulled into a service area (N 58.80190°  W -122.68020°, elevation, 1,383 ft.).

Tomorrow will be another driving day.

G & P

Camp Walmart
Camp Walmart

DSC_1087DSC_1094

Original Wooden Bridge
Original Wooden Bridge

 

DAY 20

 

Day 20, 6/18/15, Thursday

Weather:  The day was partly cloudy with the temperatures in the 60s.  In early evening we did have heavy rain move into the area.

As we have continued driving north, we have experienced the change in the length of sunlight.  For example, this morning the sun rose about 4:30 am and last night the sun set at almost 11 pm.  Consequently, we were up and ready to leave about 6:30.  The departure was delayed a while because another two campers had also pulled into the parking area.  We spent some time talking with one of the new neighbors who was travelling from Vermont and returning to Alaska.

We left the service are in Fort Nelson, BC and continued northward.  One of our goals is to drive about four hundred miles today.  This will bring us out of British Columbia and into the Yukon Territory.

We had been expecting to see some of the native wildlife yesterday but we spotted absolutely none.  Today however, we saw Stone Goats, Dahl Goats, Moose, and Buffalo all waiting along or even on the road to say hello.

We have been unable to make contact with the family because we do not have phone service in Canada and it is difficult to find any locations on this highway that have wifi.

In mid-afternoon we stopped at the Liard hot springs while Gail went in and enjoyed the relaxation.  At 7:30 we arrived at Downtown RV Park in (N 60.06398°  W -12870704°, elevation 2,293ft.) in the midst of a down pouring rain storm.

G & P

Downhill Once Again
Downhill Once Again
One Lane Gone
One Lane Gone
They Were Right
They Were Right
Dahl Sheep On The Road
Dahl Sheep On The Road