Friday, August 19, 2016

Would I Do It Again...

The short answer is Yes. Absolutely! The whole trip was an awesome experience. The places, the people, all so worth it!

Maybe the more accurate question is "How would you do it again?" That requires a little longer answer.

I can start with things we learned along the way. I've had several people ask about any lessons we learned. We have more than a few, so here goes.

1. You can totally do it on your own. You don't need to pay anyone thousands of dollars to take you there. You just need to do a little preparation like...

2. Make sure you are taking a well maintained vehicle. Whether you are towing or not, make sure the maintenance is up to date. The roads are sometimes as bad as you've heard, so have that chariot ready. Craig had that covered for us. We all took a spare tire, and no one needed one, thankfully. But probably still a good idea, since there were long stretches with no services. And lastly, bring your car washing supplies. The roads are every bit as dusty as you've heard. Your windshields will be coated in road grime and dead bugs. At times, it appeared that everyone we met was driving a brown RV. Along the Cassiar Highway, we could tell which way an RV was traveling just based on how dirty it was. Be warned!

3. Have an overall plan. How will you get there and back? That is as much an adventure as traveling in Alaska. And decide what's important to see while you are there. The travel season is limited, and most people can't stay away from work or home for 4 months, so you may need to narrow your focus. Some like to fish, some want to see glaciers, etc. And take holidays into account, both US and Canada. We landed in Seward for the 4th of July and had a ball. But coming back, we ran up against August 1st, a national holiday for Canadians. Oops. Just be ready to be flexible.

4. Plan, but don't plan. Huh? One thing we tried to do was keep a general direction in mind, but allow for side trips or extra days spent in beautiful surroundings. We made no reservations until we were on the road. We called ahead as we went along, and even as a group of 5 motorhomes we were rarely turned away. The RV parks get progressively more full as you go through the summer, but there are plenty of them, and you can stay in the occasional pullout. 

4a. Don't miss out on the Canadian Provincial Parks. These were some of the most beautiful places we stayed, and always the cheapest. Just do a little research. We used the Travelers Guide to Alaskan Camping by Mike & Terri Church. The book was very thorough and almost always accurate. They can't account for changes in the trees and road conditions, which were the only things that prevented us from going in. Since we traveled with larger motorhomes, we recommend that you unhook your toad and drive through to check them out. That saved a few headaches. The parks are dry camping so that leads me to...

5. Know you power needs. We have solar panels and giant batteries, so we were okay, but several of us did not dry camp that often. Everyone found out quickly how much power they used just to survive. I'm talking about residential refrigerators mostly. It was cool, so we didn't need air conditioners but we often needed some heat. And if you want to watch TV you'll need even more power. Since we are self contained units, with our generators, we were usually okay. But several of the nicer provincial campgrounds had very restrictive generator hours, only 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon. That made it hard for some to survive sometimes. Just know that in order to stay at the parks, and we recommend it highly, you'll need to be ready.

6. Heed the advice and keep your gas tank mostly full. There are stations along the way, but the prices vary a lot. Do a little research and you can save some money by buying gas where it's cheaper. 

7. Keep your tank full of water and dump every time you can. This will allow you to stay at a pullout or drop into the provincial parks. They don't always have potable water and dump stations like we are used to. This will allow for the most options when it's time to pull over and enjoy a happy hour with friends.

8. Wait till spring to buy your Milepost. I bought it one year ahead and that meant the info was 2 years old. Just wait till it comes out, then plan your route and start becoming familiar with the book. I found it was easiest to plan the route and maybe a stop or two, no more, then read the route in the Milepost. There is so much information you just need to be familiar with one days driving at a time. I also used several colors of highlighter (anal retentive) to note rest areas/pullouts, points of interest and photo ops. 

9. Don't try to find a bunch of information about the various stops ahead of time. We found that almost every town along the way had a visitor center. They were staffed and had information about the area and surrounding areas, even gas stations and dump stations. Just plan to stop along the way and pick up some information. Since this is a huge tourist destination, books and pamphlets are literally everywhere.

10. Get ready to be out of touch with friends and family. Your phone probably won't work, or if it does, it will probably only be able to make a call. There were days at a time where we had no internet or phone, so you do want to have information about things to see and places to stay. We did see pay phones, so a phone card with a few minutes on it might have been helpful. Some RV parks had WiFi, but it was usually slow and often unusable. If you have internet needs, you may have to spend time in some of the visitor centers or coffee shops to get a fix. Writing this Blog quickly became less fun and more work, just trying to find enough signal to post. 

So all that to say, GO! Go as soon as you can, stay for a short time, or until the snow comes. It will be worth it. Craig and I are already planning another trip for the somewhat distant future. 

But for now, I won't say "over and out", Craig and I are "10-10 on the side". 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

When in Rome...


So when in the Black Hills, you do what everyone does. Visit Mount Rushmore. I've seen the pictures since I was small, but it was cool to see the faces. They are amazingly well done, and I was sure that Lincoln looked at me. It was also cool to learn more about the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, and how the monument developed.

Side note. Borglum was the first sculptor involved with the relief that is carved into Stone Mountain, outside of Atlanta, GA. After the project began, his relationship with the backers of the project faltered, and he left Georgia, never to return. His work at Stone Mountain was removed to be replaced by the next sculptor. But it made him a great candidate for another carving of immense proportions.

After visiting the Presidents, and stopping for ice cream, we headed over to the Crazy Horse Memorial. Oh, my goodness! If it is ever completed, it will be the largest sculpture in the world. And it was started in 1948. What!! My mom was 10! Craig and I had no idea it had been going on for that long. 

When you arrive, all you see is his face. You see it and think, 60 years for that? But sooo much rock had been removed. In the beginning by one man, Korczak Ziolkowski, a well known sculptor and one time assistant to Gutzon Borglum on the Mount Rushmore project. This made him an excellent candidate for a monument honoring Crazy Horse.

The work is privately funded and very slow. And to top it off, there is some controversy about carving any figure into the sacred Black Hills. This is something I will follow over the next 10 or 20 years. Maybe I'll see the end of it.

We decided to drive the Needles Highway back toward Rapid City. Yehawww! It's the perfect rode for a motorcycle and there were plenty of them. Hairpin turns and slow speed limits. Very narrow, one way tunnels. All on the side of a mountain. That sounds familiar...

Anyway, the drive was beautiful and the scenery was amazing. Yes, that dot on the big boulder is Craig. He's like a mountain goat. A crazy mountain goat. I loved the look of this lake surrounded by the amazing granite formations.

After today, we are headed to see my family in Little Rock, AR. We'll do a couple of long days, and then stay put for a week. I'll do one more post about things we learned on the trip, and answer the question everyone asks...

Would I do it again?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Black Hills...

After Sturgis, we moved over to Rapid City. It has a cool, walkable downtown. Rapid City is referred to as the City of Presidents. The downtown boasts life size bronze statues of past presidents, 42 so far, all privately funded.

Our walk around also included a trip down Art Alley. Participating businesses issue permits for artists to express themselves on the doors and back walls of their business.

Such a great idea!

Even without a motorcycle, we had to explore the Black Hills. Driving some of the routes advertised for the bike riders, we could see why it's such a draw for anyone who loves to ride. The roads were good, just curvy enough with low speed limits so that everyone gets to look around. And the scenery is amazing. Again with the amazing scenery.

We headed over to Deadwood for the day. What a cool old town. You can visit the Adams Museum, full of Black Hills history. Walking the streets will be very different when they are not lined with motorcycles. These folks are everywhere.

You will be happy to know that we found a wine bar in Deadwood. Excellent wines, and the food was good. Even had a little live music. Win!

We returned to Rapid City via Spearfish Canyon. Beautiful scenery everywhere.

We had to visit the South Dakota Air & Space Museum. It's free and has an impressive collection of aircraft. Ellsworth AFB is a B1 base, and there is one front and center. The other cool thing about Ellsworth is that they were a training facility for the 44th Missile Wing of the Twentieth Air Force. For a few extra bucks, you can tour the training facility and see the Minuteman II Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. 

Inactive, of course. But still a thought provoking display. These missiles were scattered throughout the country ready to destroy our enemy. 

More scary and real was our concern for our tour driver. He was probably 80+ and went down and back up all those steps with us. Once on the bus, he started to wheeze and had to use an inhaler. One of these days a tour will have to make a 9-1-1 call from a missile silo. That will be a first.

City of Riders...

We made it to Sturgis. We did take the long way around to avoid going through town. It was a good idea since traffic was crazy and there was a flashing red light at every corner. I guess that puts a damper on the burnouts and displays of speed. Come to think of it, we didn't see anything like that outside of the display tents.

Our campground was a nice one, rolling hills, grass and a few trees, plus power because it was HOT! No, we did not stay at The Buffalo Chip. We've heard the stories. 

The few days we were there seemed kind of tame. Nothing like the shows we had seen on TV. I'm sure a bunch of dentists, doctors and retired managers don't act up enough to make for exciting television. Most folks were our age, and we're too old for that crap.

But we aren't too old to ogle the motorcycles and dream of riding them. My little Honda Shadow can't compete. Craig wants a Boss Hoss trike in Candy Apple Red, with like a million horsepower. I like the trike part, but more along the lines of a Can-Am Spyder. Or maybe the Victory Cross Country. We watched the demo and the rider could steer with the mirrors, no throttle and the bike just glided around the arena. That was truly impressive.

But no new bikes for us until we start riding the one we have. That's the other problem with being our age, too much sense. Oh, well, we did take some shots of some pretty cool bikes. Apparently there is a movement for reeaaallly big front tires. I guess that's okay as long as they have cool paint jobs. And they all do, of course.

And there were a lot of burnouts. We saw trucks full of tires everywhere we turned. People need speed and the smell of rubber, and the smoke. I hate to say it, but even I thought it was kind of cool. Cough, Cough.

This was one of my favorites, and a crowd favorite as well. The owner even made the local news. And of course, it's signed by Willie Nelson. 

And then these guys showed up at our campground. I think they fit right in at a motorcycle rally.

"We got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark...and we're wearing sunglasses."

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Sturgis Bound...

We said goodbye to Mike and headed off to THE motorcycle mecca, Sturgis, SD for the 76th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Craig and I decided to attend, since we were in the vicinity. Craig is a former dragracer and sadly, not so recent rider. 

On the way, we did stop to see a few things. The first night we were treated to a beautiful western sunset. We do miss those a lot.

Custer's monument is black.

We stopped to see the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. It was interesting to hear the story of Custer's 7th Cavalry and the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. The battle fought at Little Bighorn continues to be controversial. 

It is also the site of the Custer National Cemetery.

Overall, the monument is set up like Gettysburg National Military Park as a driving tour of the battlefield. There are monuments throughout the battlefield that depict where the Cavalry soldiers and Indians fell.  

The battlefield is acres of beautiful grassy fields, much like others we've seen. How different it must have been those few days when the two forces collided. 

There was also a monument to the Native Americans who fought defending the way of life of the tribes involved.

The next day we were on to Devil's Tower National Monument, America's first National Monument. Think theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, although we didn't see any info on that. We did find out that the KOA at the entrance to the park plays the movie on a regular basis. Fun!!

I really wanted to see the monument and was not disappointed. When you are close, the scale is amazing. The butte is huge and reminded us of the basalt columns we saw in Ireland at the Giants Causeway. Also a product of volcanic eruption. So cool!!

Vroom, Vroom! Here we come!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Going to the Sun...

Yeah!! We are back in the USA. Just like the song, but without our oranges. Citrus fruit? Oh, well, it was a small price to pay. We are happy to be on the way to Glacier National Park. We meet our buddy Mike there to hang out for a few days and take in the beauty. 

But we wonder, how many more glaciers and lakes can we look at? Glacier National Park does have one thing all the others do not. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is really something. Created to blend in so well that you feel like you are driving off the side of a mountain. I thought of Paula again as we drove so close to the wall I feared for Mike's mirrors. We turned around after half way. The traffic is crazy and there was NO place to park to take in the views.

Instead, we headed out to Many Glacier and took in some waterfalls. That's Craig as close to the edge as possible. Imagine him as a kid. Sorry, Momma Moreno.

So what did we do the next day?

We went back, but on the Red Bus Tour. Yes, the original park buses, refurbished of course. It's an awesome way to see the park. No worries about the vehicle, constant narration by the driver and the top open in order to see the famous Montana "Big Sky". We all loved it and recommend this manner of travel over any other. 

The road is narrow and the guard rails are low. More a tripping hazard than anything else. And the driver explained that they are removable, so that they will survive the winter. Feels like they should be more permanent. 

Like the Red Bus over the arches? These drivers have nerves of steel.

There are size restrictions for the Road. Width and height. Of course the Red Bus is too wide, but grandfathered since they are awesome! We never thought about the height restriction until you look up and see this hanging over the top of the Bus. And this one was the smaller of the overhangs. They make a concerted effort to keep it a little wild. That's good, I think. 

As we exit the park, we see these folks. They are riding in a 1927 Cadillac used by Franklin D. Roosevelt to tour Glacier National Park in 1934. The car is privately owned but still gives rides in the park. That would be a thrill. Just look at the smile on that woman's face.

That is traveling in style.

A Lump of Coal...

Our second day in Pincher Creek and we decided to drive out to Crowsnest Pass. Our camp hosts told us to visit the Frank Slide Interpretive Center. We had no idea what to expect.

The Center tells the story of Frank, AB in the beginning of the 20th Century. On an early morning in 1903, the mountain above the town came apart and 90 million tons of rock slid down the mountain and covered the valley floor, taking part of the town and railroad line with it. They believe around 90 people remain buried in the rubble.

They show a short film about the town and it's coal mining history. It also tells the story of those left behind. As with many disasters, those left behind question why? We took a short hike around the edge of the slide area. The scale was something I was not prepared for. Boulders the size of cars covered the valley floor.

It's impossible to show the scale of the slide, but here is Craig walking along the edge. The debris field covers over a mile.

One of the more interesting items we picked up from the film was that the local First Nations People would not camp below the mountain. They referred to it as the "Mountain that Moves". I must admit, that gave me goose bumps.

The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the area and several of the historic mining camps. And guess what? There is an actual definition for a "lump" of coal, for those naughty children who received this threat. A lump of coal is larger than three inches and the most valuable of the sizes of coal. 

Maybe it was a good thing? Naaah!