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Grand Prairie, Alberta

Two hundred and fifty miles for the day. Normally I’d say that is a short day but it felt long. Little of interest on the roads today, many stretches of moderately rough pavement and the last 30 or so miles wall to wall trucks from the Alberta oil and gas fields.

We started the day from Jasper at about 0730, a good early start for us. The temperature was a cool 35 degrees to start the day but the sun was shining and it was a beautiful start to the day. There is a gondola to the top of the mountain behind the national park. It closed at 8PM or we would have been tempted. The following two pictures give you a sense of why it would have been a fun ride with great views http://www.jasperskytram.com/360-view.

The little bump on top of the mountain is the gondola terminus.
If you look closely you can see a small silver bubble about halfway up the slope of the mountain. Taken with the telephoto lense, that is a gondola on the way up.
We stopped in Hinton to fill up with fuel before the run up Alberta 40 to Grand Prairie.
This was much of what we saw for the run from Hinton to Grande Cache. Trees, trees and more trees. Short, spindly cedars. Huge plantations of them that seemed to have been part of a reforestation program.
Yup, trees as far as the eye can see in all directions.
As we closed in on Grande Cache we started to see caribou warning signs – no caribou because they normally migrate in the winter, but lots of warnings.
What you need to know about caribou.
Just beyond Grande Cache we noticed the hillsides were scarred and there appeared to be some sort of mining operation. Sure enough, to our surprise, we passed by a coal mining operation.
As we approached Grand Prairie we started to see these gas-off flames along the road and truck traffic began to pick up and we saw lots of side roads with heavy machinery and pipelines.
Apparently there is no pipeline to transport the gas and oil so trucks transport most of the oil.
Wall-to-wall trucks in all directions. And lots of dust and dirt from the side roads, which are all gravel.

I think this last section of industrial mining operations was part of what tired me out. It was disappointing to come into such an industrial area after the beauty of the run up the Icefield Parkway.

We are also beginning to appreciate what a long trip this really is. We have traveled over 4,000 miles  and still have 1,500 miles just to get to Fairbanks, AK. We are averaging 285 miles a day which doesn’t sound like a lot but it adds up when you do it day after day for weeks. We have taken a couple of days off from travel to do laundry and rest but it is a pretty demanding schedule because our goal is to get to Alaska and then spend some days exploring at a slower pace. Tomorrow we are looking at a 400 mile run to Fort Nelson, mostly because there is almost nothing between Dawson Creek (mile 0 on the Alaska Highway) and Fort Nelson. We are also finding that sleep comes a bit harder when it is daylight until 2230-2300. I can’t imagine what we’ll do when we are in constant daylight in Alaska.

Whistler Campground, Jasper National Park, Jasper, Canada

At six AM we were in the service department of Okotoks Ford to try to get in line for a service appointment. Julie Niles, the service advisor, made us feel right at home and as if we were her only customer and concern.

We were made to feel right at home, Ginger and all. Actually, Ginger was her usual self – attracted all the attention.

By 0900 Charli, the mechanic assigned to us, had found the problem (a loose hose), fixed it, replaced the coolant and we were on our way. No charge for labor and a discount on the coolant. A wonderful dealership staffed with caring and competent people. If you are in the area and need help they’ll be there for you.

We wanted to take the Ice Road Parkway so we skirted around Calgary on 22 and then took Route 1 to 93, according to most sources the most beautiful road in North America. I have to admit I was stunned by the beauty of this road and the really good condition it was in. As usual, words fail so just enjoy the scenery.

I wonder why no one was swimming.
The water is an amazing blue green color.
The mountain vistas are stunning and around every corner.
How about looking at that out your cabin door?
I could pump gas here all day long! How many gas stations have you been to with this view?

“The road was a ribbon of highway…”
The Icefield Glacier – and hordes of tourists.

They have built natural bridges so the bears, elk and other animals can cross over the road safely. Such a great idea!
Our home for the night, Whistler Campground. Beautiful secluded sites.
Our neighbors for the evening…
Apparently they prefer these but will snack on us if hungry enough.

That’s all for tonight. It has been a spectacular day. Tomorrow’s target is Grande Prairie.

Oops, a minor glitch in Okotoks

So we started out for Banff this morning and got no more than a few miles out of town when the temperature gauge on the truck suddenly jumped and a warning light came on saying we were overheating. We shut down and checked the radiator, which appears full and not hot at all but noted that it appears radiator fluid is leaking from somewhere in the engine bay. With the size of the Ford diesel motor it is almost impossible to see anything in the engine bay so we limped back to Okotoks are are now camped out in the Ford parking lot. They open at 0600 tomorrow morning and we hope to know more by the end of the day. This trip was to be an adventure and so it is. More to come tomorrow. Let’s hope for a simple fix.

Our camping spot for the night.

Okotoks, Alberta

The day started cool and early as we left Glacier Campground at 0730. We were advised by the Alberta travel folks to not take 93 north, my original plan. They suggested taking 2 to 93, 93 north to 3, 3 east to 22 and then 22 north to Okotoks. After taking the trip today I can vouch for their good wisdom.

Montana has a macabre but fairly effective way to remind drivers to be careful and pay attention to their driving. Because the speed limits in Montana are 70MPH on state roads and 80 MPH on the interstates I suspect most crashes are pretty serious. The state posts little white crosses along the highways at the site of fatal accidents.

Apparently 3 people died here. There seem to be crosses like this every few miles in Montana.

 

We crossed into BC on 93 and continued north, not really knowing what we might expect as we traveled north and then east. What a pleasant surprise to discover that this road was every bit as scenic as the roads through Glacier Park.

The snow capped peaks appear quite forbidding – all rock and no trees with very steep pitches.
The world’s largest truck (or so they claim)

This is coal mining country and there are signs of mining on the heights of the land all along route 3.

Some of the signs are more sobering than others.
It is hard to make out in this picture through the bug splattered windshield but the top of this hill is all mining operations.

Apparently Alberta has wildlife issues and they are experimenting with some warning signals to alert drivers to animals in the road ahead. Vermont might want to check with Alberta to see how well this system is working.

The lights flash when animals are detected in the roadway.
The scale of the landslide can’t be captured in a single photo.

Route 3 east is also the site of the worst landslide disaster in Alberta history. I’ll let the markers tell the tale.

Route 22 north is called the Cowboy Trail and it was soon clear why we were directed this way. As you drive north, to your left the horizon is punctuated with a massive, snow covered ridgeline of the Canadian Rockies.

Looking west from 22.
From the same spot looking east, nothing but ranches and farmland.

The contrast between east and west as you drive north is spectacular and I highly recommend this route over 93 if you are traveling this way.

Our stopping point for today is 274 miles from where we started, in a Walmart parking lot where we hope things will quiet down so we can have a peaceful night’s sleep. Next stop may be Banff, a short trip, but a base from which to launch a long day’s drive to Jasper.

 

Glacier National Park – the Crown of the Continent

Once the decision was made to spend another day here near Glacier National Park it was clear that we wanted to hike somewhere in the park. The hike needed to be “reasonable” given the fact that we couldn’t take Ginger with us into the park trails. So she got to stay in the camper and sleep on our bed while we did the Cedars Trail and then the 2 mile climb up to Avalanche Lake. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves but understand that there is no way they can capture the majesty of this park.

The entrance to the park.
The Trail of the Cedars. These trees are huge.
Some trees succumb to age, wind and weather, leaving a photo op for those who take the time to look.
We were fortunate to run into a photographer willing to take our photo near the cascade.
A reminder we are not alone in this wilderness.
Awe inspiring…

Everywhere you look, nature exceeds expectations.
A reminder that these are not the Green Mountains of Vermont. The snow is persistent and deep.
Avalanche Lake – 2 miles up, a glacier fed lake. The water is an amazing blue.
The power of the water cannot be overstated.
A stark reminder of the power of the ice fed streams as they crash down the mountain.

Perhaps the videos will give you some sense of the power of the water.

After our trip up and back we headed back to our camp site for the evening. But the day wasn’t quite over. As we were driving out of the park a car suddenly swerved into our lane. We were headed for a head-on collision until we swerved into the oncoming traffic lane. In my mirror I watched the Kia slowly drive off the edge of the road and come to a stop.

We stopped, expecting to find someone having a medical emergency but to our surprise we discovered an individual well under the influence of something. They wanted to get back in the car and drive off but it was clear they were in no condition to drive so we confiscated the keys and waited for law enforcement to arrive. In the meantime, we directed traffic around the scene.

Park rangers were soon on the scene.

It was an exciting end to the day. And a reminder of why we are on this trip – because you never know how much time you have to enjoy the beauty of our creation.

Glacier National Park, Montana

We have stopped for the evening at Glacier Campground, near the entrance to Glacier National Park. It was a short 200 mile day from Great Falls, MT to Glacier. We haven’t been in the park yet but the approach to the mountains was spectacular. Our little Green Mountains are beautiful – these mountains are majestic.

100 miles out…
50 miles out…
Closer…
Made it.

US Route 2 runs through from East Glacier to West Glacier Park. We haven’t decided on tomorrow yet. We might try to get up into the park but we know the Going to the Sun Road is still blocked by snow drifts so we won’t be doing that tour. If we don’t stay here tomorrow I expect we will be across the border and into Canada tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Great Falls, Montana

I know, we’ve missed a few days since the 28th, but we have an excuse – no internet. We left the air base in Grand Forks and made a long winding run to Medora, ND and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park where we spent two nights. The park is beautiful but I’ll let the pictures tell that tale.

Wild horses
The Badlands
Cactus coming into bloom
Buffalo
Amazing rock formations
Whole herds of buffalo
Antelope
Incredible vistas
And of course our favorite rodent, the prairie dog.

This is just a small sample but the beauty of the Badlands and the wildlife is hard to describe or capture in a few pictures. And the beauty there is uninterrupted by electronics (no cell service – period). So we unplugged for two days and enjoyed the peace and quiet.

Today we left the park and 400 miles later find ourselves in Great Falls, Montana where we are spending the night in the driveway of a friend we met through a Ford Truck forum. They have been most gracious hosts, feeding us dinner and providing us a place to crash after a long day.

As we traveled from ND to MT the terrain began to change. At first, the landscape was just huge open fields. But little by little we got into rolling hills and more vegetation. Things began to green up.

One can appreciate the phrase “big sky country” after driving across much of Montana.
Rolling hills and more and more vegetation
The approach to Great Falls shows us what the settlers must have wondered at as they crossed the plains. We are headed into the mountains.

We are tired from a long day at the wheel in warm weather. The temperature coming into town hit 91 degrees – not what we expected this close to the mountains. But the weather has cooperated unlike at home, where rain has been the norm. Tomorrow we begin to assault the mountains – Glacier National Park, Kalispell and 93 north to Canada.

Grand Forks Air Force Base North Dakota

Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest and so we only traveled about 120 miles from Fergus Falls to Grand Forks. We again took local roads to make the trip which is more time consuming than the interstate but takes us through the heart of small towns along the way. Unfortunately from a photogenic perspective we are still in farm country – wide open spaces with lots of corn just starting to show. Some small towns along the way do make you smile

One wonders what they were thinking…

Many of the small towns along the way have a population numbering in the tens not hundreds. Not the case with Grand Forks, a beautiful city. East Grand Forks lies in Minnesota while Grand Forks is in N. Dakota. With a population of almost 60,000 it is the third largest city in ND.

Across the river into N. Dakota and Grand Forks

 Grand Forks is large enough to have a significant downtown with a large Cabela’s right on Main Street. The moose statue caught our eye as we passed by. The University of N. Dakota is based here and Amazon has a call center here. The North Dakota Mill and elevator is the largest flour mill in the US. There are lovely parks along the river and an abundance of small, local shops.

Just to the west of Grand Forks is the Air Force base, our home for tonight. As retired military we are allowed on base and permitted to use a campground on post.

A KC135 tanker at the entrance to the base.

The government has decided to base the aircraft that used to fly out of here elsewhere. It is sad for this old soldier to see an airbase with no aircraft. The base is a lovely spot but it doesn’t feel right without a flying mission and it seems almost deserted. During our short stay we saw few people and much of the base feels “empty”.

On this Memorial Day weekend, as we rest in the security of an Air Force base, we remember those who don’t have the security we enjoy and who have taken an oath to protect and defend this great nation. We especially remember those who sacrificed all for our freedom, past and present. Let us not focus on what divides us on this Memorial Day but rather unite in support of those who defend us every day, both at home and abroad.

Shawn

 

Fergus Falls, MN

I think we are finally figuring how to slow down and work together on this journey of discovery and renewal. Thirty five years of marriage and we still need to occasionally remember how to work as a team and not as competitors.

We left the Walmart in Albert Lea at about 0800 this morning. But we weren’t alone last night.

The Albert Lea Walmart is a popular spot for we itinerants. We went to bed with one neighbor and woke up with five.

The countryside is getting more interesting as we continue to head north toward US Route 2. U.S. Route 2 or U.S. Highway 2 is an east–west U.S. Highway spanning 2,571 miles across the northern continental United States. Our plan is to intersect with Route 2 on our westerly journey to 89 into Alberta. But the land is still far flatter than our beloved Vermont.

I wonder if they have the same arguments about windmills as we do? These stretched for miles and miles but on flat land with no ridgelines.

One thing we have been frustrated with is there is no way to tell how much gas in left in our propane tanks. We have been on the hunt for a new and very nifty gauge that works with a cell phone app to tell you how much propane is left in your tanks.

Joe’s Campers in New Ulm gets 5 stars from us. They had the gauge.

When I was growing up in Northfield, there was an A&W just beyond Norwich on Route 12A. I have fond memories of real root beer in ice cold mugs – but A&W’s in Vermont are much like the DoDo bird – extinct. To our delight, Minnesota has managed to preserve a small but important part of history.

We had to stop for a root beer and onion rings. It was just as good as I remembered.

Minnesota has an abundance of wildlife and lakes. We stopped at an overlook between Mankato and New Ulm and were surprised to find this nesting area full of birds. Helen grabbed the long lense for the camera and was able to get a decent shot of the island just full of nesting birds.

 

Did I mention that the roads are straight and narrow?

This stretch was probably 5 miles long without a single curve. One wonders if Minnesotans are just as straight and narrow as their roads?

We have ended the day in Fergus Falls at another Walmart. This spot seems much quieter than the frog infested site of yesterday. We were serenaded last night by a full chorus of amorous amphibians. Tonight we hope for a more peaceful end to the day. A small thunderburst just passed through followed by a rainbow. We will take that as a good omen. 212 miles for the day. -Shawn

Albert Lea Minnesota

Sugar Bottom, site 48.

Memorial Day weekend starts now – and there isn’t a campground to be found that has space so we are in a Walmart Supercenter parking lot for the night. We regretfully left Sugar Bottom in IA this morning. One of the nicest campgrounds we have stayed in. One last look at our site to remind us of how nice it was. But we have  to move on because the campground is full for the weekend. But if you are ever out this way put this on your highly recommended list.

Rex and Shawn discussing the merits of Northstar Campers with Ginger doing what she does best – making friends with strangers.

The highlight of our day today was a visit we made to Northstar Campers, the manufacturer of our truck camper. Rex Willett, the CEO, graciously took and hour out of his day to talk about our camper. He looked everything over and pronounced our rig fit to travel. He then took us on a tour of the plant so we could see how our camper was made. The facility is human scale, nothing like the plants we passed in Elkhart. And it was clear that Rex and his staff truly care about quality and are proud of what they build.

There is nothing quite like happy people making a great product.
All wood frame construction, well insulated, and screwed together. Solid as a rock.
Hand built to high standards. The attention to detail is everywhere you look.

We left Northstar and headed north, ending up here in Albert Lea, MN. A short day on the road but a great day learning more about our camper.