Haines, Alaska to Great Falls, Montana

Saturday, July 29, 2006 - This is the beginning of our homeward bound leg of this trip. We decided to skip Skagway altogether and get on down into the Jasper/Banff area as soon as possible. Today was another beautiful, sunny day with a high of 75 degrees. Wow, two great days in a row! We stopped at Whitehorse, where we were a little over a month ago. We will only be here overnight while Carol gets her film developed and we stock up on groceries.

Sunday, July 30, 2006 - We left Whitehorse and about 50 miles before the Cassiar Highway, my Check Engine Light on my truck came one steady. This could be for a number of reasons related to emissions and I was able to continue driving. The nearest Chevrolet service center was 250 miles away back in Whitehorse. I decided to continue down the Cassiar Highway and find a service center in Prince George to find out exactly why the light came on. It is unnerving to have something like this happen when I am so far away from "civilization." I hope it is nothing more than a bad tank of fuel.

The Cassiar Highway is not as smooth as the Alaska Highway and has no shoulder to pull off on in case of a flat tire or other vehicle malfunction. That's sort of scary. The frost heaves and rough pavement limited my speed to 40-45 MPH. About 75 miles down this highway is the Jade City Campground and RV Park. Actually, it looks more like a Forest Service campground but the roads and many sites can handle big rigs. The sites are level and far enough from the road to get away from the noise. The nice thing about the campground is that it is free. Just register at the nearby jade jewelery store.

There is a weed that grows profusively throughout Alaska and northwest Canada, especially along the highway. It's called fireweed because it is one of the first things that grows after a forest fire and it is really quite attractive, topped with a bunch of lavender flowers

Monday, July 31, 2006 - The first 260 miles of the Cassiar Highway were pretty rough - potholes, frost heaves, 30+ miles of gravel/dirt. I averaged 37 MPH for that section. After that, it was a smooth sailing. We arrived at Meziadin Lake Provincial Campground and were impressed to find one of those rare jewels that you stumble upon once in a while. The interior roads are paved and sites are gravel with a nice picnic table and fire ring. The whole place has a neat appearance. Our campsite is right on the edge of a beautiful lake. Out our back window, we have a great view as we watch a fisherman relaxing in his float as he awaits the next strike.

The Check Engine Light on my truck went out so I hope the problem was temporary and requires no further attention. When I get to Prince George, I may have a Chevrolet service center check for any remaining codes.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006 - We were up at 4:30 AM and arrived at Fish Creek, a few miles north of Hyder, AK, at 6:30 AM for some bear watching. But the bears didn't cooperate. Fish Creek was full of spawning salmon but I guess the bears were dining elsewhere. The day before, a mama grizzly and her three cubs came to the creek and I was hoping for a repeat performance. During the salmon spawn, the bears make regular appearances along this 300 yard stretch of the creek and the tourist flock to observe them. In the past, this has caused unpleasant human/bear encounters. So the state of Alaska has built a high boardwalk-type platform about a hundred yards long that keeps the humans high above the river bank and away from the bears. There is always two or three rangers on duty to keep the humans from doing something stupid.

At 10:00 AM, we headed another 16 miles north to Salmon Glacier. This was the first time we had seen a glacier from above. The road was gravel and dirt with no guard rails, steep and narrow in places, and sheer drop offs that plunged for hundreds of feet. As usual, Carol was paralyzed with fear.

To kill time before the next bear visit, we toured Stewart, British Columbia. We had to come through Stewart to get to Hyder. There is no customs station when entering Hyder but there is one on the return to Stewart. That is to prevent them Canadian boys from going to Hyder and buying cheap (taxes, that is) American cigarettes and booze. What can I say about Stewart? At least the main street is paved. In Hyder, it's mud and potholes.

We returned to Fish Creek after lunch and, while we waited for the bears, several bald eagles made an appearance to snack on the leftovers from yesterday. Then our patience was rewarded with several appearances of what looked like the same black bear. He seem to be a young bear and a rookie fisherman because he had no luck catching a fish. So, he gave up and attacked a nearby berry bush. We continued to wait until 8:30 PM for mama grizzly and her cubs but no luck. As we were walking along the platform to return to our car, Carol heard movement in the bushes and out popped a grizzly less than 10 feet away. She managed to get this photo before the bear disappeared back into the bushes. You can see from the poor focus and incorrect zoom, that the cameraman was a little nervous.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006 - We decided to drive to Prince George which made for a long day. There really wasn't anything we wanted to see along the way and the RV needed some work done. The entrance steps are attached to a bracket on each side of the steps and these brackets are welded to the frame. On the left side is a nice two inch bead weld. On the right was a sloppy tack weld which broke. It is just another example of the sloppy workmanship and nonexistent quality control that goes into making not only my RV but most other brands as well. There are other examples too numerous to mention. My RV has taken some serious abuse from the roads in Alaska and northwestern Canada, but this problem was the result of a poor weld, not the abuse.

We are staying at South Park RV Park which is a nice family-run park. The owners are on-site 24 hours a day - the office is their converted garage. Clean and well maintained. Wi-Fi cost $5.95 per day. We are going to relax and catch up on housekeeping chores

Thursday, August 3, 2006 - I took my RV over to a truck shop first thing this morning. They were recommended by the campground as a place where I could get my step welded. They got me in right away, did a fine job which took only 25 minutes, and charged me a reasonable price. Don't you love it when things work out that way? Then we went to a local car wash to clean the RV and truck. RV parks in Canada will not allow vehicle washing on-site. Some have a car wash in their park and, at other places, you have to find a car wash out in town. Often, these car washes are not suitable for large RVs so you have to find one that caters to truckers. And it's impossible to do more than knock off the caked mud and dirt. The Air Force FamCamp in Great Falls, Montana allows vehicle washing. We will stop there for a few days to get the RV cleaned up.

Friday, August 4, 2006 - I stopped by the Chevrolet dealer this morning to get an estimate on the cost of checking my engine codes. My Check Engine Light came on for about 150 miles on the Cassiar Highway then went out. The technician found three fault codes but, since the truck has been running fine, none of them were cause for alarm. The cost? No charge. These Canadian folks are real nice.

Reconciling my credit card statement - Since I began charging things in Canada, this has become a real pain. When the charge is made, I enter the amount in Canadian currency into my Quicken financial software. I have no choice since I do not know the exchange rate at the time of the transaction. When I get my VISA statement, each Canadian transaction consists of three lines - the amount of the transaction in US currency, the amount of the transaction in Canadian currency, and a 1% transaction fee. I have to use the second line to find the transaction on my statement. Then, I have to add lines one and three and use this amount to replace the Canadian currency amount in my Quicken financial software. Sounds confusing? It is, and it takes forever to reconcile my statement. This is one of those times when I wish I was not using a computer to track my finances.

I became aware only yesterday that this weekend is a big holiday weekend for Canada and I am heading for one of the most popular vacation spots - Jasper and Banff National Parks. Since I have a policy of not making reservations, this was not good. But luck is still with me - I made reservations for the next four days. Whew! That's cutting it way too close. I gotta start paying attention.

Saturday, August 5, 2006 - We are in Valemount, BC, camped at one of the two nicest RV parks that we have seen on this trip. Although it is a private park, the spaces are not so close together. The showers and laundry are clean and modern. And the view is gorgeous - we are right in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, with the highest peak, Mt. Robson, less than 20 miles away. It was a nice drive down from Prince George as we followed the Fraser River almost the entire trip, with mountain ranges on both sides of this wide valley.

We are back at latitude where it gets dark at bedtime. We haven't seen stars in almost two months! It's also nice to see farms and livestock in the pastures and cultivated fields - once you get much north of here, you don't see these things.

Monday, August 7, 2006 - Two years ago, we visited Glacier National Park in Montana and the views were so awesome that it immediately became my number one place to visit. Today, Glacier moved to number two, replaced by Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. The views at Banff remind me of Glacier but the "wow factor" is several notches higher. Where Glacier requires you to take the scary Going To The Sun road, the Icefields Parkway through Banff is a modern highway. Like Glacier, Banff has beautiful waterfalls everywhere. The view across Lake Louise depletes my superlatives. You can walk to the toe of Athabasca Glacier or choose to take one of these to the center of the glacier surface where the ice is 1000 feet thick. It is not unusual to see one of these magnificent animals with a huge set of antlers clad in velvet. And there is always a lot of these cute little rascals hanging around the campground.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006 - We drove all the way to Great Falls today. It was a long drive but the weather was great, the roads were in good shape, and the countryside was pretty. We stoppped in Fort Macleod long enough to buy some gas and a few groceries and spend the last of our Canadian currency.

This marks the official end of our Alaska trip, and once we have had time to reflect upon this unique experience, Carol and I will each post a trip summary that will describe our overall feelings about our trip. Stay tuned.