Thursday, September 27, 2007

Illini fans...

Just a mad dash howdy to our Illini fan readers. The rest of the trip across Missouri was uneventful and a bit tedious en route to Illinois- except for the two stage assault on the giant front windshields of the coach. First, we went about a hundred miles or so where the sky was just filled with migrating Monarch butterflies, many of which made Kamikaze like dive bombings into our windshield. Technically, I suppose we were the attackers and not them, but I like this slant a bit better. And then there was the flock of birds that, quite apparently, had been feasting on local Mulberry trees who ran a high flying bombing run which turned a portion of the windshield into Purple Rain. We actually had to stop, refuel, and wash the windshield before we wanted to- we could no longer see well enough to drive safely if we hadn't. Monarchs and Mulberry bird poop are not on any road hazard list I have ever seen previously. But you can add that now!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

MEMO: Toto

Memo To: Toto and Dorothy
Memo From: Abby
RE: Visit to Kansas...

Toto & Dorothy,
Greg and Marilyn drove me to Kansas to meet you finally. I really do enjoy watching you both in the Wizard of Oz movie. I'm your second biggest fan. My pal Steve is number one for sure. In fact we like watching it together every year!
I'm so sorry we did not find you at home. Greg said the note on the barn door at the farm said you had taken the Red Eye to have lunch with the wizard. Please say hi to him for me next time you guys get together.

Tonight I'll be camping in Kansas City. MO. That's right, sing it with me: "I'm going to Kansas City; Kansas City here I come. They got some crazy little hounds there and I'm a gonna get me one."

Your fan,

Monday, September 24, 2007

Chalk Up Nebraska

Add Nebraska to the list! Movin' East! Last night we tried to watch a little tube before going to bed early....tired. But the sound of hail on the roof of the coach is NOT the same as the gentle and relaxing sound of soft rain- no matter how heavy the rain is. So we retired a bit uneasy. The weather band on Sirius the next morning had us facing snow and other miserable weather as we proceeded East across Wyoming. Roads are excellent here, so advantage goes to the driver no matter what the weather. It turned out that all snow was a dusting and did not impact driving- we had a wonderful day- Wyoming is so beautiful at every turn that we think we would enjoy it no matter what. Oh to have the time to see things along the way. Bring me back. "Jurassic Journey" at Laramie- I'm so there, some day! The plains and prairies were loaded with hundreds upon hundreds of prong horn deer, mixed in with the Black Angus along the highway. OOOOO, "turf and turf"; serve me up a plate of that action! Between Rawlins and Casper, we crossed the Continental Divide between 7 and 8,000 feet elevation. Deceptive height as we both took a guess at 2700 feet before we pulled out my dad's altimeter and gave ourselves a check-(and before we saw the sign that gave us the altitude). Shallow summation: every river west of here dumps into the Pacific; east, goes to the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico. That's an oversimplification, but you get the idea!
Weather wise, we saw what seemed to be 3 or 4 tornadoes up ahead of us as we crossed the divide, but IF they were there at all they were gone by the time we arrived at where we had thought they would be- Whew! Tomorrow the coach will roll 20,000 miles since we left on this marvelous, miraculous adventure. What a milestone! That will happen in Nebraska for sure and it may take all day to cross that without making the next state. But after that (Steve, buddy, are you ready, ski-daddy?) Kansas. Dorothy, Toto, we're coming for a visit. No OZ tornadoes, please!
Photo below represents what we contended with all day long for weather. Bad, but not too bad. Promising, but without delivering....

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Through Utah

No extra stops for touring or photo ops. Only 7 plus hours per day of straight through driving headed east. Rest stops for doggie breaks and lunch are a must though and we try to pick the spots where a photo or two might be opportunistic. Idaho, which we traveled through the second half was pretty but not memorable. This is not to slight Idaho. I'm sure there are spectacular spots we can find another time but on this route it was more and more of the same and not much more. Utah was beautiful and called us back another time for sure, but not today. We rode along the coast of Salt Lake for a distance; it was interesting but not beautiful or even different looking from any other lake. No doubt there are some beautiful spots away from the highway to be found-also- another time. Wyoming is really beautiful and interesting geologically perhaps more so than any place we have been to date. Every hundred miles or so the scenery changes dramatically- sometimes more often. One thing we have loved seeing through most of the recent states is the sage brush. Oh, it smells so good! Herbs anyone? Add Utah to the map. Moving East!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Mad Dash...

We've now added Washington, Oregon, and Idaho to the states visited map. We are making what can only be described as a mad dash across the country to help out with family stuff in PA. After that we will make another mad dash to Florida to take care of personal business there. The blog, while I would like to keep up with the progress of the travel itself, will not concern itself with many photos or "tourism" stuff for now. There simply isn't time when you are trying to drive 7-8 hours a day. Stop for photos and a tour and you are behind the eight ball for sure each and every day. Our goal now is to cover ground- not to see the country, although that has been an integral part of it for us. Who knew there was a desert in Oregon. Never though Idaho looked like this! WE note things to re-explore when time and not mission is on our side. For now- we be movin' on!
Thanks for traveling with us this last year plus. Please check in from time to time. The best is yet to come!

Good News/ Bad News

There is always news. With that news, there is always good news and there is bad news- except on CBS where all news is bad news- but that's another story, ask Old Dan Rather about that.
We are back in the lower 48. For some that is good news; for others, that is bad news. No matter; that's where we are. We, that is to say the three of us-Greg, Marilyn, Abby- seemed to have really loved north of the border especially well. But we love it here too so it's all good for now. Here's the Seattle skyline as we approached. Classic. Magnificent in its own right. But for us, only symbolic of the fact that we will have our visit- long delayed and overdue- with Derek and Karin who have made Port Ludlow their home for now. Once again, we have family and friends in a position to show us the area must sees from the perspective of a "local" who is always in the drivers seat of knowing what should be seen and how best to go about seeing it in the allotted time.
Karin is a medical professional and Derek is a working artist. We went to the Seattle Aquarium one day and I made my best attempt to take a photo of the two of them that would capture their essence in terms that would seem, more or less, like a Derek Gundy original painting- where monochromatic images are projected into a realm of both real and surreal, with surprisingly pleasing and identifiable images are representative of that which is there, but may not otherwise be seen. For a better look at his artwork (and maybe to support a working artist) please visit A link is also provided on the blog link list.

We took the ferry to Seattle and our first visit after the aquarium was the world famous Pike Market. It was not a disappointment, although I was not able to grab a picture of the famous flying salmon from the display to the counter where they are wrapped and made ready to go. They were too fast. I was too slow. Next time. Back at his studio, Derek put some finishing touches on a painting of two subjects close to my heart- his character , Albert, who has appeared in many paintings and in his story boards, and salmon, the story of which is as old and as timeless as life itself.
In the "Kitchen Italiano", Karin prepared the non-Dungeness portion of our meal- a tomato, cheese, basil tart- that was superb. I can count on one hand the number of recipes that Marilyn has ever asked anyone for- and this was one for sure. Our first order of business the following day was to go to Central Market (an amazing market place in Poulsbo) to buy a tart tin required to make this particular item. Hats off to the chef- deliciousa.
The last caption was about the kitchen and the chef. But to make matters even better, the fine dinner was served on my grandmother's mahogany dining set. This set has traveled from Reading, PA, where thousands of delightful family meals were served, to Maine where it was my dining set for many years, to Seattle where Derek and Karin have made wonderful and impressive use of it. Imagine fine dining, overlooking the Sound- nuclear subs passing through the straights from time to time, shrouded in fog and adding the joy of the image and the meal and the time spent with friends and family. My grandmother, my son's great grandmother, would be so proud to have her precious dining room set serving the family and traveling the country as well.
From Poulsbo, we traveled to see the coast. I had NO IDEA the coast was so far away from where Derek was living. Which is probably why, although I was dog tired from driving for 10 straight days, that I decided to drive the distance to the coast. I wanted to see the "sea stacks" that Derek has used repeatedly in his paintings. I have learned over the years, that if he thinks a subject is worthy of repetitive painting- IT IS. We were not disappointed in what we found on the Washington coast at Rialto Beach. Huge sea stacks and huge timber drift wood on the beach as well. Simply breathtakingly beautiful.

One old guy was fishing. His posture made me thing of "Albert." You can decide for yourself.
From the beach, we continued on to the rain forest. This is one of the largest Sitka Spruce in the world. We saw some mighty good ones in Alaska as well, but this one takes the cake.
We came across a herd of Elk- one bull and perhaps 20 girlfriends- crossing the stream in the park. By now, you know you need to click on the photo to blow it up and see the detail.
Sluggo. We saw a bunch of them in the rainforest.
Moss is one of the most beautiful elements of the rain forest...
And my candidate for sign of the times- Seattle- it will speak for itself.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

West To Alaska?

This post is created in Cache Creek, British Columbia, Canada. It is our last night in Canada, eh, before re-entering the lower 48 tomorrow sometime if all goes according to plan. It's 4 PM here, and instead of trying to stay warm, we are trying to stay cool. Cache Creek is a dessert, more or less. Everything here that isn't irrigated is brown, except for the evergreens which are green of course, but everything around them and under them is brown. It is hot. It is dry. And that is a major change from the almost rain forest conditions of BC just a bit further north of here. The transition has been wonderful to see...and very unexpected.

Only a couple posts ago I was lamenting the fact of having to depart Alaska. It's exciting to move on to new things from time to time, but leaving Alaska made us feel like we were being pulled away kicking and screaming. At the time of that post, I mentioned that I was feeling like I was ready to go back again. And actually, that was the plan all along!!! We detoured off the Cassiar Highway 37 miles to Stewart, BC, CA. From there it was only a couple miles over the border crossing to the coastal village of Hyder, Alaska, known far and wide as one of the premier spots to watch bears catch and eat salmon in the fall of the year. On the way into Hyder we passed and were again awestruck by yet another glacier, appropriately enough, Bear Glacier. This glacier actually calves into a fresh water lake, both unusual and very cool!

Made camp just on the Canadian side of the border and in the morning tripped into Alaska one more time. It felt good and we had high hopes of seeing the bears- thinking maybe this once we had the schedule nailed! Not too early; not too late- as we had only one full day here. No problem. Plenty of salmon in Fish Creek and Salmon River doing their thing. Plenty of bears- Grizzles, also doing their thing. It was a marvelous site for sore eyes and for hours we just observed from the elevated platform provided for observers by the park service. But when you arrive, you first have to make it from your car to the observation post. A handful of rangers are on hand to help do that safely. That was a good thing, as one old Griz came in our direction almost immediately. "Don't let her get too close," he said. "You don't need to worry about that," answered Marilyn right back.
The setting was pristine. A blue lagoon, still, and almost primeval looking. A crystal clear stream where you could see the salmon, the spawning process, the Dolly Varden and the Gulls eating the eggs that drifted down stream. The bears caught what they wanted when they wanted it, and promptly and efficiently dispatched it into their system. Nearby a milky colored glacial stream ran cold and cloudy down from the mountain above. Eagles watched for opportunity. Ravens offered their commentary. But the humans were mostly silent, content to observe this rare glimpse into a natural scene that few will ever get to see. It was, it seemed to me, a sign of reverence for the natural world which, without distraction, went about its business in natural fashion without regards for the only slightly noticeable intruders.

As always, the best way to see what's going on in the pics is to click on them to enlarge. Here, a cub swims in my direction across the lagoon while mama and siblings munch salmon in the distance.

I took lots and lots of pictures of bears. Bears running. Bears jousting. Bears pouncing and catching salmon. Bears eating salmon. I would dearly love to tell you that I took lots and lots of really GOOD pictures, but unfortunately in my excitement I left the auto focus switch in the wrong position so most of the photos are proof of what we got to see, but almost all in soft focus. The digital management program could not correct the focus well enough to use most of the pictures on the blog, much to my disappointment. But that just means I'll have to come back here and try again some time. No problem with that!

That little guy above keeps coming right for me...
Meanwhile behind me in the stream, there is the constant splashing of the salmon and the salmon being chased and caught by the grizzles. (That big hump between the fore legs is the key to telling grizzles from blacks when they happen to be colored this closely- as they are when their diets are similar.)
Finally, that little guy makes it to shore for a visit??? (Hold That Thought)

From the bear viewing station, we proceeded UP to the summit of the Salmon Glacier. The road was something else. This picture may give you some idea, but when it was really bad, narrow, dangerous, and downright scary, there was no stopping for a documentary shot or two- trust me on this one.
The Salmon River runs a mile or more below us as we continue the climb. Not since the first time I saw Sound of Music did I have the feeling of flying over the mountain this high and this close.
We will never be able to describe the size and scale of this landscape. It simply must be seen to be believed and it simply must be experienced to be appreciated. I will tell you that, without any hesitation, I can say this is the scariest drive I have ever taken in my life. I'm sure I mentioined that a number of times on the way up. I know I mentioned it because each time I did, Marilyn told me it was OK to turn around and head back down- after all we had seen the mountain and we had seen the glacier in all its glory. "No, we'll keep going," I replied each time the topic came up. Now I did not say that because I was calm and collected. I was neither. Mountain climbing does not fit into my definition of a safe sport whether one is hiking and climbing or driving a two wheel drive vehicle up a four wheel drive road/trail/path. If I'm being truthful, I did not turn around for three reasons: One- I really did want to get to the summit. Two- the road/trail/path was too narrow to turn around safely. And three- I might easily have soiled my shorts had I attempted to turn around.

This little ground critter evidently thought I was driving safely enough that he could check us out as long as he stayed really near the edge. He was correct.

At the summit, the world seemed to be revealed before us. It was a most moving experience. The climb is scary, treacherous, but attaining the summit took care of all that and made the day just about perfect....
On the way back down and toward the bear observation station, Marilyn was moved to leave a snow angel on the edge of the glacier- so she did!

And remember that cute little grizzly cub that was swimming in my direction for a visit. Well, it wasn't exactly for a visit. Seems it was for something else- which answers the age old question; "Does a Bear ____ in the Woods?"

Apparently he does...and also by the side of the stream....

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Cruising The Cassiar...

When we left Dawson City, we traveled a part of the Yukon we had not seen on the way north to Alaska; then we had traveled to Tok. But on the return trip we braved the Top of the World Highway from Chicken to Dawson City, as already reported. The scenery along the new route, as nearly all the scenery in this part of the country was sensational. If a body stopped to take a picture at each spot that made him drop his jaw in awe, the road would never get traveled. So just a few shots to give you the jist. Besides, with roads like these there are few shoulders and even fewer places to stop for a photo opportunity. Most amazing spots you just cruise on by, saying, oh, I wish everyone could see this!!!
One thing in particular that caught my fancy was the white layer just below the thin layer of top soil along this part of the run. It's actually a very thin layer of volcanic ash put out an awfully long time ago, but still everywhere to see. The rounded mounds of the hills along the road represent the leading edge of a lava flow that stopped right at the point where the highway now runs. It's all very strange to drive past until you read about what took place and then it all makes sense. It's hard to think of such a cold place with so much ice and snow and sub freezing temperatures formerly being an area of intense volcanic activity- as Walter Cronkite always used to say "And that's the way it is..." Of course if you'll click on the picture to enlarge it, you'll see the ash layer much easier.
Back at Whitehorse, we again stopped by the salmon fish ladder, which was closed when we passed this way in the Spring. This time it was closed for the season, but the water level was near flood stages and God help any salmon who still needed to get up stream a bit late- tough going to say the least! From Whitehorse on to the Cassiar Highway, we traveled the same section of road we had taken north earlier in the year.
At the final junction in our overlap return run, we stayed at the head of the Cassiar Highway at a place called the Bay Nugget Campground. The wifi center was in an unheated building called the "Best Little Ore House." Cute...but cold. Really cold. No I mean really, really cold. Almost froze my little nuggets!
Oh, those girls and their burls!
The Cassiar Highway (who ever named it a highway, anyhow???) is beautiful, but it's a whole lot more like a trail than it is a highway. Isn't it implied that on a highway you can go at least 50 mph? That would be an act of suicide on this highway. Either the vehicle you are driving would launch off the road or it would fall to pieces in the middle of the road. As there is nothing and no one to help along the way- neither of these would seem to be a very good option. We thought we would tackle the biggest challenge of the trip by driving the Top of the World Highway. Seems like the Cassiar is the evil twin sister. Don't get me wrong! The drive is beautiful and loaded with historical importance. It's just that it is a dangerous road to drive unless you go slow and be careful. It seems like it takes a road from Hell to give you a glimpse of Heaven on Earth. So be it.
There are Dry Creeks everywhere. They aren't! For the most part, dry, that is, but they look the part.
We pulled in at Jade City. Here they mine the jade, design the jade, carve the jade, slice the jade, and sell the jade any way you want it- token, piece, slab, ton. A full 75% of the world's quality jade comes from right here in the Cassiar Mountains. Same is true of high grade Asbestos. And the largest gold nugget ever found here weighed in at 73 ounces. (I'm pretty sure I would only need one like that!)
Yes, the scenery was magnificent, but what made it even better was the fact that we had the roadway pretty much to ourselves. I stopped right in the middle of the road to take this picture. Our whole experience here in the north country has been like an RV ad in a magazine. Us, the road, the mountains, the lakes- just us! Not relishing the idea of going back to non stop traffic.
We pulled over for lunch by one of the hundreds of lakes along the road. Sure enough, Mrs. Moose was dining at the same lake. You'll see her in the back of the lake in the tall grass. There was an arctic fox playing along the road as well. Beautiful!
So, yes, there are large and nasty gravel sections of the highway. Pot holes. Washboards. No shoulders. Soft shoulders. A detour you say? Well shut my mouth and hold my breath! What you can't see is that this temporary go around is very very soft and the downhill experience, should it give out, would have been, shall we say, exhilarating. You can see the workers taking bets on whether any big rigs would make it without collapsing the detour. Places like this were the only spots where traffic backed up at all and you knew there were others using the road.
This is the view to the lake out my side window at the computer desk at the end of the day at Shadow Mountain Camp. There are a whopping three campers in the whole camp tonight. It's late in the season by north standards. Most people head home after the 4th of July it seems. Not us. We're ringing every drop out of this trip. This is the only road I have ever been on where the road conditions (and terms of passage) are posted every so many miles. On the sign: Road (open or closed) Times closed. Time Open. Avalanche? Rock Slide? Etc. I have no idea what happens if the road closes when we are smack dab in the middle. We'll just have to see.

Down at Dawson City

Yukon City was a fun place to visit for us. The history of mining and the Yukon Gold Rush era was a very interesting time. The tell tale signs of that era are everywhere around the city, much as they were in Fairbanks- although Dawson City had more of the old west-wild reputation for its time. The city is true to the era to this day; lots of restored original buildings and an economy that is built around those times and not away from them.

There weren't a lot of shots that I thought needed to help tell the story though. These "locked antlers" tell the story of two moose who did battle over and woman without a victor- it's a classic tale in that the tangled antlers lead to the death of both bulls- one from battle death and the other from the starvation that results in not being able to dislodge the rival. They were donated to the information house by a local outfitter. Diamond Tooth Gertie's is the talk of the town. It's a saloon, gambling joint, and night club. We went to the show because it's the one thing everone says you have to do in Dawson City. So we did. Still not sure why, though. The Can Can dancers were OK I guess, but not all that great. The food was mediocre at best and the gambling end of things intimidated us to the point where we didn't even give it a try. Twenty bucks to pull the lever on a slot machine? Not on my dime brother. Now a quarter I would have been willing to wager, but a twenty? Not after what I'm laying out for fuel in this part of the country!

Inside, Old Gertie (who is not very old it seems) was teasing the old boys in the front row. While I did sing along with Gertie on one of her numbers (at her request) it all seemed pretty tame. I'm quite sure the stage show of old had a lot more kick and a lot less costume!