Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity, Jig

We arrived in Denver on a rainy afternoon and set up camp at Dakota RV in Golden Colorado and then headed to my sister's house.  She and her husband Bob have a lovely home in Highlands Ranch, and they are raising their granddaughter Zoe, who just turned 12.  They took us out for an amazing dinner at a place called "The Fort" in Denver.  I guess its "the" place to go in Denver,  just last week the President was there and the restaurant was the location of the G-8 Summit a few years ago.

Me and my big sister!  We look a lot a like, I know!

The menu includes bison, elk, duck and quail, and while it may sound gross, they serve the most AMAZING roasted bones with the bone marrow.  Zoe even talked me into tasting Rocky Mountain Oysters (testicles).  The bone marrow was delicious, the testicles, not so much!  Zoe loves them, and she had the quail, my sister the duck, I had bison and Bob had elk chops.  Noel got the sampler platter of elk, bison and quail.  If I had known elk chops were so good, I would have shot a few of the ones we saw!!  YUM!

 My mom used to let us eat the bone marrow out of soup bones
she cooked in soup, and it was yummy!  I haven't had marrow
in years, and this restaurant actually serves it as an appetizer!  Sounds
gross, but it is SO good!

Zoe likes to dance with her quail before feasting on it!  This child can
put away massive amounts of food, and she has quite
gourmet pallet!  She'll eat anything!I

It was Zoe's 12th birthday!  Happy Birthday!  Love you bunches!
Zoe insisted!

The following day my nephew David came over and we cooked up what halibut I had left in the freezer.  Fun family time!

Then while Noel got some things taken care of with tires, truck and trailer, my sister, Zoe and I spent the day at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.  If you are ever in Denver, it is a MUST see - its very well done!

We left rainy Denver and started the last leg of our journey - back to Ohio!  We are staying at the KOA in Brookville while looking at various rentals in the area.  Noel is interviewing for a full time position - he wants to go back to work!  I was able to see by adorable surrogate grandkids and got lots of kisses and hugs, and my dad is very happy to have me home!

My little sunshines!

Thanks for following along with our journey and keeping us in your prayers.   Now that we are back to our boring old lives I guess this blog is finished - at least until we get itchy to get back on the road!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with C and that stands for Canada!

So we kept up the endless driving through the Yukon and British Columbia on the one road (note not roads) that bump and wave through the country.  We had heard from lots of other RVers that broken windshields along the Al-Can Highway are a common thing.  We had gotten lucky driving up, but our luck ran out driving south.  Through the many areas of “paving”, where they lay down oil and gravel and have the cars and trucks run over it until it gets crushed into the road, passing trucks kicked up some rocks and cracked our windshield and the glass in the rv door.  

Then, as we got into British Columbia, we stopped to get some groceries in Ft. Nelson.  When I went into the trailer, the smell of something burning was over powering.  I didn’t see anything on fire inside, so I checked outside, and one of the tires looked all burned up and was smoking heavily. We figured a wheel bearing froze up. 
those bearings are toast!

Of course it was a Friday, and we were still a good distance from Dawson Creek, one of the larger cities in the area.   Noel walked to a few nearby auto repair places and one said they “might” get to it the following week!  We slowly drove it to Triple G Campground, where someone told us of a local mechanic that might be able to take a look on Saturday.  We got lucky, and Al’s Service in Ft. Nelson was able to fix us up in no time, even having most of the parts.  The entire brake assembly was burned up, and he had to re-pack the bearings.  He didn’t have a hub, so he used gorilla tape and sent us on our way.

So Sunday morning we headed out again, making it to the Province of Alberta.  Darlene and Carl were following us when she texted to pull over when we could.  They were seeing smoke come from under our RV.  Great.  We got pulled over and the wheel NEXT to the one we just had repaired was on fire.  Noel put it out with the fire extinguisher. 

The white stuff is from the fire extinguisher - we were so lucky the whole trailer didn't burn up!

 It looked like it was the exact same problem!  This time we were further from a town, so we had to call our Good Sam Road Service for a tow.  Three hours later a tow trucked arrived and hoisted the entire trailer onto the back of a flatbed.  Of course this was a Sunday, around 5 pm, so we knew we were out of service for the rest of the day.

Its a sick feeling to see your home being towed away!

We were towed to a Ford dealer in Fort St. John, where we had no choice but to camp in their parking lot with no water or electric.  Like an idiot, I went to put the slides out and BANG, hit the car parked next to us.  Thank God all it did was push their flexible mirror in!  I scraped up the rv a bit, but at least the car wasn’t damaged.  The next morning Noel camped out for an hour waiting on the service guys to acknowledge him, only to be told that they don’t work on wheel bearings!  We un-hooked the trailer and drove around to a few other places, most of which said they couldn’t see us for at least two weeks!  One young man was kind enough to tell us about a mobile RV service, so we called him.  Troyer Mobile RV service came out and worked for several hours to get up us and running again.  Between the two service calls in two days, we were out over $1,000.  That doesn’t include the tow bill, which was thankfully covered by our RV Road Service plan through Good Sam.  So its back on the road!

Everything is so expensive in Canada – from gas (sold per liter, we paid as high as what equals to $6.00+ per gallon.)  Groceries are outrageous, as is eating out.  Crazy!  So glad to be back in the US, where $1 will buy you a hamburger off the dollar menu!  It baffles me why, when the oil is drilled right there in Alaska and Canada, it’s still more than it is after they’ve transported it thousands of miles to the lower 48.  

So we continued into Alberta, through Edmonton and stopped overnight in Red Deer.  Alberta is much more agricultural, with beautiful rolling fields of wheat and canola.  The fields of canola were bright yellow and looked beautiful against the blue sky.

Canola fields

rolling farms in front of the mountain range

The following day Darlene and Carl took one of the bus company tours, and Noel and I planned to take the national park shuttle through the park. 

It was still crazy windy when we got to the park, and the park service bus filled up fast.  Filled to standing room only, we bumped along, with long traffic lines stopping for construction delays in the park.  I knew after about ½ hour, this was NOT going to work for me.  I was already uncomfortable on the hard seat and squashed by the crowd.  Plus, the bus only stops at designated stops and only runs every 40 to 60 minutes.  We agreed to get off the bus, cross the street and take the next bus back to the visitors center to get the truck.  

In our own vehicle I was much more comfortable, we could stop and take pictures as desired, and no long waits or stinky strangers.  Muuuuuuucccchhhhhh better.

The road through Glacier National Park is called “Going to the Sun” highway and is 52 miles long.  Once past the construction, the traffic thinned out and we enjoyed stopping and taking pictures at our leisure.  The park is beautiful, with steep valleys and blue lakes and snowy peaks.  Just gorgeous! 
As we climbed in altitude, we began to see blooming bear grass.  Bear grass only blooms every three to ten years, so it was really something to see whole hillsides of the puffy plumes of white!  And so many waterfalls!

Beautiful Glacier National Park

One of the few glaciers still in Glacier National Park.  Most have melted

St. Mary's Lake

Noel with some flowering bear grass

One of many waterfalls in the park

At one stop there was a boardwalk that takes you to an overlook area.  We took the stairs up, but decided to take the wheelchair ramp, which meandered to keep the grade from being too steep.  What a stroke of luck!  There was a mountain goat literally walking up the wheelchair ramp!  Not 20 feet from us!  My camera was snapping away as we slowly backed up, but the goat didn’t seem the least bit afraid of us and walked almost right up to me before hopping off into the rocks and brush.  Score!

A real live mountain goat!
 We went as far as “Bird Woman Falls” before turning around to head back to the rv.  We weren’t but ½ way into the park, but by this time it was getting late in the afternoon and my legs and back were really hurting.  The wind continued to howl and I was aching to the bone.  

Upon return, we swapped stories and pictures with Darlene and Carl, then it was the heating pad and a vicoden for me.  It was a bittersweet day – this was the last “sightseeing” stop of our year long journey.  After Glacier, we are heading to see my sister in Denver, and then back to Dayton.

 We drove through the rest of Montana and into Wyoming, seeing lots of antelope and deer.

Lots of antelope throughout Montana and Wyoming

Watching me watching him!

 One night we stopped at a tiny campground one night  in the middle of a field about 80 miles north of Cheyenne.  We stopped specifically because it was so remote so we could star watch in the dark, big sky of Wyoming.  It was beautiful - so dark you could actually see the milky way and several shooting stars.  And the sunset wasn't hateful either!

Blazing sunset

Sunset in big sky country

We plan to spend about 3 days in Denver with my sister and her family, before heading back to Dayton.  We will be looking for a house to rent, so keep your eyes and ears open for something nice and affordable!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Denali National Park

At long last, a real wifi connection!  Yay!  It feels like its been months and months since I've been in real civilization!  Whew - do I have a lot of stories to tell!  I will try to keep this in somewhat of chronological order, but I warn you now, it may be a long one!

Before leaving Homer (actually closer to Ninilchik), we went down to the beach to watch some of the fishing boats come in.  After the fish are cleaned, they dump a lot of the fish guts and heads right on the beach, drawing hundreds of sea gulls and dozens of bald eagles.  What a sight to behold!!

This is just a sampling of all the great eagle pictures I took!  After leaving Ninilchik, we drove north, back through Anchorage, and on to Wasilla.  We didn't see Sara Palin (or Russia!), but did have to spend a whole day waiting to get prescriptions transferred from Rite Aid to Walgreens and while we waited, I ducked into one of those "cut and go" beauty salons and got my hair permed.  I was sick of it always being stick straight, limp and flat, but was trying to grow it out.  Not my best look, but at least its out of my eyes for a while.

From Wasilla we drove north to Healy, just north of the entrance to Denali National Park and Preserve.  We stayed at McKinley RV - what a dumpy place that was!  They advertise full hook ups, but only have electric available, and their pay-showers were filthy.  We moved to Rainbow Denali  Campground - not much better, but closer to the entrance of the park.  We spent some time looking around the town and visitors center, and made a reservation to take the bus tour on Friday.

Denali National Park is more than 6 MILLION acres and has only one entrance and one park road.  The road is 92 miles long and only the first 15 miles is paved and accessible by private vehicle.  The rest of the park can only be seen by taking one of the park service buses, or by a private tour company bus.

The park is simply beautiful - we're talking "take your breath away" scenery and the vast expanse of wilderness and mountains are nothing short of humbling.  We wanted to take the full 92 miles "adventure" because you don't even get a good view of Mt McKinley until you are pretty far back into the park.

We boarded the bus, an old school bus, at 6:15 AM and after making rounds picking up other passengers from various hotels and lodges, we entered the National Park of Denali.  It wasn't long before we began to spot wildlife...

A mama grizzly with twin cubs

A caribou - that's only 6 weeks worth of growth!  They have the 
fastest growing antlers of all the deer-like mammals.

Another caribou

At first most of the sightings were pretty far off in the distance.  Then we got lucky, and this guy walked right across the road in front of the bus!  How awesome!  You should have seen the size of his claws!

Then we startled a caribou on the road

and saw some more bears

The views were amazing, and I swear in the 14 hours we were on that frizzle-frazzle-fricken bus, we drove through 4 seasons of weather!

The bus stopped at various nature centers and we had breaks to walk a bit to stretch our legs from the cramped and uncomfortable school bus.

In addition to wildlife, we would come across die-hard bikers and 
back packers along the dirt road that winds through the park

Sometimes you had to look close to see the tiny beauties

An "artsy" shot through some discarded antlers along the trail

A pica - a type of ground squirrel.  Or as the bus driver
called him - bear snacks.

Only 30% of the people that come to Denali actually get to SEE Denali, AKA Mt. McKinley.  At first we thought we were lucky when the top peeked through the clouds:

Everyone kept talking about how BIG it was, and I was thinking to myself (I was getting grumpy and in pain the longer we were on the bus) "we're surrounded by snow capped mountains...grumble, grumble, grumble, how much bigger can it be?"   And then there it was - the clouds parted and there it stood - above the clouds.  It really IS that big!  I am so glad I was able to see it with my own two eyes because otherwise I wouldn't have believed it.  It is a GIANT!!  And it towers over the other snow capped peaks.  No wonder it makes its own weather!!

So consider me impressed!  The clouds soon covered it up again, and we continued to scan the surrounding area for wildlife.  We saw a moose or two...

We got to try on some antlers for size at a visitor center...

Bruce the Moose!

Come back here and pose, Mr. Moose!

Those suckers are HEAVY!

By the time we drove the 184 miles there and back, I was in literal tears I hurt so much.  We had to take a few extra days at the campground just to rest and recover, before heading out again, towards Fairbanks.

Now Alaska is amazing.  Truly it is.  So big in fact that it is overwhelming.  I am so glad we didn't close on our house until late August, but had we left earlier in the summer, we may have reversed our course and gone to Alaska first.  Had we done that, I am 100% positive that we would not have done the rest of the trip.  It was just too much.  Too much driving.  Too much isolation.  Too much hassle.  Too much money.  Too much beauty.  Just too much.  More on that later....

So we headed to Fairbanks.  We were still traveling with Noel's sister and her husband, and though Jack and Alice had gone off to do some extra activities and flight seeing while I was in recovery mode, they caught up with us and we went to Fairbanks together.  There was only a few things we wanted to do and see while in the Fairbanks area - we'd pretty much had our fill of gold mining history museums, native Eskimo culture, etc.  

We took Jack and Alice's vehicle with the 6 of us and drove to the North Pole.  Yes, there really is a North Pole, and Santa lives there!  With real live reindeer!  (which I found out are domesticated caribou).  I made sure to mail some postcards so they could be postmarked from the North Pole - and did some browsing in the Christmas shop.

This one is Donner!

From there we drove about 60 miles out of Fairbanks to Chena Hot springs.  It's a natural hot springs discovered by the old gold miners that has since been turned into a beautiful resort.  They have harnessed the hot water to run the place mostly on geo-thermal energy and also have gardens and greenhouses that grow beautiful flowers and produce used not only at the resort but throughout the local area.  We toured the greenhouses and soaked in the hot water.  The pipe used to circulate the natural spring water made for a good neck massage!

Darlene being silly!

Some of the beautiful gardens

The flower beds and baskets were gorgeous!

They produce 500 heads of lettuce a week!

More pretty flowers along the wall of the inside swimming pool..  The pool
and hot tubs inside are chlorinated but warm, the outside is
just the natural hot spring water.  Stinky, but "healing"

That's Noel hoping he's not in the picture

Oh baby....hurts so good....

Also on the grounds is the Aurora Ice Museum.  It is open year round and houses beautiful ice sculptures, an ice bar where you can really order an apple martini service in a martini glass made of ice, and a few rooms that you can actually spend the night it, for a mere $600 a night!  Honestly, some people have more money than sense!

In this photo I used the flash, you can see the wall of ice - and
oh yea, they provide parkas since its 26 degrees inside

This is how it looks - the ice bar

The "Christmas Room" - one of the rooms you can rent if
you want...

The outside of the ice house

We saw this female elk munching the underwater grasses
on the way home

\So anyway, that was a fun day.  I had put some potato soup in the crockpot at 9 am when we left, and at 6 pm when we arrived home, those potatoes were still rock hard and it tasted disgusting! I used a recipe I found on Pinterest, but it was completely in-edible, even after trying to cook it on the stove to get the potatoes done.  I think maybe the can of chicken broth I used was bad.  No soup for us!

So anyway - Jack and Alice stayed in Fairbanks and we started to head south.  We went through Tok again, then crossed back into the U.S., into Whitehorse, Yukon.  We had to find a place to fix a slow leak in a tire on the trailer.  Noel had been re-filling it daily with the portable compressor he bought in Anchorage for it, but it broke after about 4 uses.  Cal-Tire wouldn't fix it, nor would Walmart.  Fortunately, we found Kal Tire and they fixed us right up.  Thanks Cody!   Back on the road....

Kal Tire in Whitehorse - great service!

Noel donating some of our finished books to the Tok Library.

Everything you hear about mosquitoes in Alaska?  All true!

Some of the beautiful views in the morning driving back through 
the Yukon.

We saw lots of black bears again driving through the Yukon,
including this little guy, feasting on berries!

And this guy....

See his tail up?  Yep - he's pooping!  I don't know if they shit
in the woods, but here is proof, a bear does shit in the meadow!

We saw a whole herd of buffalo - the video won't load, but there were about 50 of them, and the sound of them tromping through the woods and their grunting, was incredible!  And there were babies too!

We also saw a few loners, taking dust baths...

 We stayed in Toad River RV one night - the view was beautiful!

Another night we stayed in Teslin, along the river.  The view was beautiful - right out the back of the RV window!  Sunset was nearly midnight, and sunrise - 4 AM.  Yes, I was awake at 4 AM.

Sunrise over Teslin

The bridge over the Teslin River in the background

Now it looks all beautiful and gorgeous doesn't it?  Right out of a tour brochure, isn't it?  Yea.  That's where they get ya!!  But not all is as the Chamber of Commerce would like you to believe!  They don't tell you that the road is in terrible condition, at points we couldn't go any faster than 30 mph, bumping and dodging pot holes the size of Rhode Island.  There are LOOOOOONNGGG delays for construction where you have to wait for a pilot car to lead you through the construction zones, where they are patching the road with oil and gravel.  Yea, so as the big logging trucks, construction trucks, oil trucks and semi's go flying through all that gravel, it pelts your vehicle and RV with clouds of rocks and dust.  Yes, we have a big ding in the windshield, Darlene and Carl have a few cracked windows in their RV.

And they don't tell you that its a zillion miles between any sign of a gas station, or at times, another vehicle anywhere on the highway.  No people, no buildings, no utility poles, no wires, no cell service, no gas stations.  And the wildlife?  Sometimes we travel a full day without seeing so much as a bird.  Its weird.  I know that Alaska and Canada are gigantic, and if I were an animal with a million acres to roam, I suppose I wouldn't hang out on by the road either, but its eerie to drive through miles and miles and miles of wilderness without seeing anything or anyone.

To give you an idea of the size of just Alaska....

That's a "to scale" view of how big Alaska is
compared to the lower 48 states.  See why I say its just so overwhelming?

So we were back into British Columbia when we stopped in Ft Nelson to get a few groceries.  Fortunately, I went into the RV to put the food away, and smelled a horrible burning smell.  We couldn't find anything on fire on the inside, so we checked the outside.  We found a mangled, burning wheel on the trailer...

Since its getting late and we have another long drive tomorrow, I will close with saying it got fixed, then it happened again the next day - this time having to use the fire extinguisher to put out the burning wheel.  The wheel bearings locked up and burned up, including the brake assemblies.  We are ok and I'll give you details next post...Sigh.....