Friday, September 29, 2017

Home At Last: September 26-29, 2017

Mt. Hood
The skies were clear and we were able to see all the volcanic peaks as we headed south on Highway 97 through Washington and into Oregon.

Mt. Adams 
Mt. St. Helens

We expected Tuesday (9/26) to be our last night on the road before reaching home on Wednesday. Unfortunately, it was not. At about 6pm, we were almost to our night’s lodging in La Pine, Oregon, when the passenger rear tire sensor showed we were again losing air pressure. We got off of I-97 and watched the pressure continue to drop. We tried replacing the air with our little air compressor, but the air was coming out faster than the air was entering. We used the car’s roadside assistance button in our car. The representative told us we could drive on the tire. We insisted we didn’t feel comfortable doing that so he contacted and roadside assistance company that eventually arrived to tow the car to Mercedes Benz in Bend, Oregon.

We were about 16 miles south of Bend. The driver dropped the car at the Mercedes dealership and took us to our night’s lodging. Every motel I contacted had no vacancy so we ended up renting a room on Airbnb. The next morning (Wednesday), our Airbnb host dropped us back at the Mercedes dealership. When the service department was finally able to assess the problem with our tires, we were told that we needed a minimum of two tires and preferably four. He said all were shredding and that these “Run Flat” tires usually last only about 20,000 miles. He also said he hated “Run Flat” tires—a sentiment I share. We had 36,000 miles on our tires.

The tires would not be delivered until Thursday so we had a day of exploration in Bend. This time, there were vacancies at the hotels. We got a room downtown at the luxurious Oxford Hotel. We checked in very early and went exploring. We had lunch at a tapas restaurant called Barrios and walked toward the Old Mill District and the Deschutes River trail. Dinner was fabulous at a Lebanese restaurant called Joolz. We’ve crossed our fingers that the tires will arrive early enough to get installed and get us back on the road to home. We’ve been very lucky so far that our tire failures have happened without disasters and in places where we can be comfortable. Bend is a beautiful small city!

Deschutes River near the Old Mill District with a distant view of Mt. Bachelor
Hiking along the Deschutes River Trail, Bend, Oregon
Thursday at the Bend Mercedes dealership we waited, and we waited for our car to be ready to travel. Finally, about 3:00 pm we were able to continue south. Unfortunately, we were so tired by the time we reached Anderson, California, that we had to spend another night on the road.

Mt. Shasta from I-97
On Friday September 29, we were up early and ready to get home. About three hours later and after 8289 miles/13340 kilometers, 2 jars of peanut butter, two flat tires, four new tires, over 900 photographs, and so many great memories we were home at last!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Heading South toward Home: September 22-25, 2017

Formerly the Guard House at Baldy Hughes USAF Radar Base
The last couple of days we’ve been driving toward the border. In Prince George, we detoured back 56 years to when I lived at Baldy Hughes, Canada. When my family and I lived there, Baldy Hughes was a US Air Force radar base (yes in Canada—it was the Cold War era). In 1961-1962 my family lived at Baldy Hughes radar site for a 9-month period. I remember the topography and where my two brothers and I would sled down the roads or hills between the roads. I remember the beaver pond behind our on-base trailer. The pond froze hard in winter and it was a forbidden but irresistible curiosity for us. I remember long drills where all base residents had to shelter together in the dining hall with the black-out curtains drawn. I wanted to walk along those streets again and try to identify where we lived, but, Baldy Hughes is now a long-term residential drug treatment facility and security might be tighter than it was when it was a USAF radar site. We were refused entry, but the resident in charge pointed out the only two remaining buildings (the gate guard house and another building at the entrance) from the radar site. He confirmed that there is still a marsh with a beaver house along the far boundary that freezes in the winter. The ball diamond is still there. In the winter, the base fire department flooded the field and the baseball diamond became our ice skating rink. My trip down memory lane ended at the gate.

One-room school house at Baldy Hughes
My brother Tim in front of our trailer with our gray Rambler in the background
In my room (the end of the trailer) with my two brothers
Before going back in time, we spent 2 nights (9/22-23) in Tumbler Ridge because of the photograph we saw of Kinuseo Falls. The woman at the Visitor’s Center told us Kinuseo Falls is near the end of a 47k gravel road in Monkman Provincial Park near Tumbler Ridge. Her last words to us were to make sure we had a good spare. In deference to our tires, we drove slowly down the gravel road dodging the potholes and bumps. The waterfall is 197 feet/70 meters high making it slightly higher than Niagara though it doesn’t move the same volume of water. We walked to the various viewpoints high and riverside, but the best view is probably from the river jet boat tours that one can take earlier in the season. Even so, the scenery at the top was beautiful with the fall color of the aspens shining through the conifer forest.

On the rock wall above and behind the falls the folding and faulting which occurred with the uplift of the Rockies millions of years ago can be seen as an “S” curve.

Tumbler Ridge was just another depressed former coal town until a couple of young boys found footprints on the exposed rock bordering the river.

Some of the dinosaur footprints are still visible in the rocks. As a result, a dinosaur museum has been founded in Tumbler Ridge. It is also a great destination for hiking and birding.

Leaving Tumbler Ridge on Sunday, September 24, we headed south again in periodic rain showers. We drove through Chetwynd the home of hundreds of chainsaw carvings. These were very fine and the winners were from all over the world. When we drove back through the Northern Canadian Rockies, all the peaks were covered in clouds but the gold of the aspens was stunning.

We crossed back into the US and will have one more night on the road before we get home. We overnighted at Omak, Washington. The Okanagan Valley of Canada just north of the border is beautiful. It is an irrigated wine and fruit growing region nestled between the dry cliffs and mountains of the Cascades. Peachland on Lake Okanagan would be a wonderful place to hang out sometime.... 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Watson Lake to Dawson City: September 19-22, 2017

We did make it to Whitehorse without a hitch. From Whitehorse we drove to Watson Lake and to begin working our way down the Al-Can highway (Highway 97). Watson Lake has a forest of signposts. Before seeing this forest I had no idea how huge it had become. The Signpost Forest has more than 88,000 signs in it. Some are homemade, some probably stolen city signs, some are memorials. The signpost forest began in 1942 during the building of the Alaska Highway. A homesick US Army GI erected a sign pointing the way and miles to his hometown.

I felt an affinity with the people who nailed the crushed yellow antifreeze jug to the signpost. It says "We made it all the way from North Carolina with a leaky radiator- 9/17/17". They visited two days before us.

After our overnight at Watson Lake (our last night in Yukon Territories), we drove southeast.

This was a easy drive day for us only 171 miles to our next night’s lodging at Muncho Lake and the Canadian Rockies because we planned to stop at the Liard Hot Springs Park along the way. The hot springs are natural pools surrounded by a boreal forest. After we slipped into the pool we understood why so many people along the way told us we must stop there.

The Watson Lake Visitor Center told us to keep our eyes open along the way for the Wood Bison that are usually found sleeping on the road. When we’d all but given up ever seeing these buffalo, there they were—maybe 100 bison hanging out and resting next to the roadside. It is mating season so the males have joined the herd of females and babies. The girls didn’t seem too happy about the male invasion. As huge trucks sped by, the bison didn’t flinch. The babies kept nursing, the older females remained at rest, and the males do what males do when it’s mating season.

Together with their entourage of gnats, they crossed back and forth over the Alaska Highway.

We saw very late baby wood bison nursing. Wood Bison are supposed to calve in May. This looks to be a September baby making his chance of survival not very good.

This is the Nordquist herd of about 125 individuals. They are critically endangered now mostly because of roadway collisions in low light. Bison are dark colored and stand with their heads down. The range for this herd is about 150k/93 miles along the Alaska Highway. In 1906 the last wood bison in British Columbia was shot. In 1995, 49 wood bison were reintroduced to the area. Wood bison are larger than plains bison. Males can be up to 900kg/2000 lbs while females are half their size.

Muncho Lake
Continuing on toward Muncho Lake, we took a short hike on the Mineral Lick Trail hoping to see the promised animals: sheep, caribou, moose, licking the mineral walls of the Trout River Valley. We didn’t see any of those animals, but on the way out we saw a Spruce Grouse (aka Canada Grouse) who was frozen in place hoping that we wouldn’t notice it. This black and white with a red crest male grouse is a beautiful creature.

Moving on with our drive south along the Alaska Highway, we drove through the beautiful fall colors and stunning scenery in the northern Canadian Rockies to Pink Mountain, British Columbia.

Detail of Folded Mountain
The folds in this mountain attest to the fact that over 175 million years ago all of the Canadian Rockies were part of the flat sea bed on the western continental shelf.

Summit Lake
We didn’t see the many large animals like Stone Sheep, but we did come across a lone young caribou. It stood frozen in place for awhile before beautifully prancing across the road to continue northward along the highway. Further on, we saw hundreds of Sandhill Cranes working the thermals as they come together for their journey south. The night before we had a hard frost on our car so we’re all taking notice of the upcoming change in weather temperatures.

All four feet off the ground 

Looking back at the Canadian Rockies
Friday, September 22 we arrived at Mile "0" in Dawson Creek, British Columbia.

The Al-Can (Military Highway) is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The Al-Can connected the lower 48 states to Alaska and provided a roadway to move soldiers and supplies up the highway to Alaska during WWII.

Our day's driving wasn't done. We continued with a 4-5 hour drive to Tumbler Ridge. Why Tumbler Ridge? At one of the Tourist offices we saw a photograph of a beautiful waterfall in Tumbler Ridge and knew we had to see it for ourselves.