Noteworthy Stops & Scenery: The Salinas valley is gorgeous in the early morning - Bay area freeways suck - rural California re-emerges after Vacaville, then suddenly Mt. Shasta appears and is an ever-present companion for many many miles. We stopped for the day in Dunsmuir - in the pines, but still real hot. We stayed in a nice campground called Rail Road Park. A lovely bone-chilling stream cuts through the camp ground, headed for the Sacramento River far below.
Noteworthy Stops & Scenery: After Mount Shasta, California levels out into a gorgeous high desert plain. This is an area to re-visit! Yreka, Montague, Weed - then over the mountain and in to Oregon. Oregon seems to go on forever - pretty land, but rather nondescript. The intent of these first couple of days was to put as many miles behind us as possible, however, the first night camping served as a shake-down and we stopped in Roseburg, Oregon to stock up on some supplies we had not brought with us. Drove on and on and on through Oregon (yawn) - over the Columbia river on the bypass freeway (not through down-town Portland). The weather was still clear and beautiful - lots of locals laying around on the shore soaking up sun (probably a rare occurrence!). By this time we were tired of driving, but were in the middle of urban sprawl that appears to continue most of the way to Seattle. We stopped for the night in a Comfort Inn in Kelso, Washington. We swam in the indoor pool (ick!) and watched Clint Eastwood movies on the motel TV (some kind of marathon). Hoping for an early start.
Noteworthy Stops & Scenery: If you ever go to Canada, don't go on the first Monday of August. It is a holiday (BC Day). Every person in British Columbia had crossed the border into the US for the weekend and was trying to get back across. The line at the border was miles long. It took forever and ever (amen) to get through. Finally - hot hours later, we crossed, and drove into Abbotsford to exchange our money. The books all say not to do this in the USA, and not to do it at a hotel - the best exchange rate is at a bank. Fine. All the banks were closed because of the HOLIDAY - so we were in Canada (finally) and had no cash. Thank goodness for VISA! The lower Fraser River valley is gorgeous - very steep high mountains with a wide fertile valley between. Orderly little towns and farms fill the landscape. I remembered the town of Hope from a previous trip to BC when I was a kid. That is also where we planned to leave the main drag (Canada Route 1) and head north towards Cache Creek. We found a lovely little private campground with lawns and flowers called Wild Rose Campground. Most people would think it too close to the Rail Road Tracks, but not us! We loved watching the trains! One train per hour at least - day and night. This is the main rail route into Vancouver from all over Canada -- both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific trains. Hope is also a haven for gliders. They take off from the airport, towed by noisy little air planes that circle higher and higher and higher, then release the gliders into the updrafts. In warm weather, particularly, they have wonderful winds in this region because of the steepness of the valley, its proximity to the ocean and the sheer cliff faces - we were mesmerized by the gliders! Toward evening, a young man on a BIG motor cycle rode in to the camp ground. In conversation, we learned that he was on his way home from a very similar trip to the one on which were are embarking. It was fun to hear the road stories -- the anticipation grows! We still had a feeling of being in civilization, though, and were anxious to get farther north!
Noteworthy Stops & Scenery: Turning north out of Hope we followed the Fraser River straight north. The river canyon narrowed and the walls got higher and higher. A few miles up the road is a tourist trap called Hells Gate which is the narrowest spot on the Fraser River. Some enterprising corporation has built an aerial tram way over the river. We stopped and looked but it was expensive and looked a little too "southern California" for the trip we were trying to take, so we just kept on going. At Lyton BC the Thompson River flows into the Fraser and the main route turns to follow the Thompson. We stopped for lunch at Goldpan Provincial Park and found a nice spot on the river to have our lunch. While we were eating we noted that there were railroad tracks on our side of the river up the canyon wall well above the road, and there were also tracks on the other side of the river. Hmmmmm!!! While we watched, Canadian Pacific and Canadian National trains lumbered past (in opposite directions!). The Thompson River canyon is surprisingly arid with very little flora of any kind. At Cache Creek we picked up "Route 97", and a bunch more traffic. One can not make much time on these roads! It was hot and crowded - something out of a kids cartoon - trucks & trailers & RVs & local farm vehicles --- sweat & heat & claustrophobia building --- then we rounded a bend in the road, and were met by a serene scene - a small lake with grassy sloping banks - and a camp ground. It was only 2:00 p.m.! Dick said "Gee, that looks inviting" - LET'S STOP! By then, of course we had driven past the entrance and had to drive several miles to find a place where we could turn around without being killed by the great northern RV Migration... but we did it! We pitched the tent in the shade of lovely trees, set up camp, popped a beer, and kicked back for the afternoon. Another camper farther up the hill had a kareoke machine and was attempting to entertain the entire world from his site.
Noteworthy Stops & Scenery: Left the Clinton campsite at about 10:15 a.m. - you just can't rush into these things, you know! We were heading into the Cariboo region - a wide fertile valley between the Rockies and the Coast Range. The towns have names that speak of earlier times - 70 Mile House - 100 Mile House - These towns were stops on the route of fur traders and gold seekers in earlier days. Now they are convenient gas stops for people like us seeking out the wonders of the north. Williams Lake is a good size town on a HUGE lake - it appears to be a place it would be nice to live. Looking through the MILEPOST, I found a notation about the Marguerite Reaction Ferry. Neither one of us had ever heard of a "reaction ferry" and wanted to know what it was. We went looking for it - it is a automobile ferry on cables strung from one river bank to the other, and powered entirely by the force of the river current. By this time, we had bent back around and were following the Fraser River again. Looking at the map, it appeared that there was a secondary road going up the other shore that connected back with the main road at Quesnel - LET'S DO IT! It was really fun - knowing you're underway, but hearing no noise except the swish of the water against the side of the ferry. On the far shore, we found the secondary road was a graded road base surface through very picturesque farms, aspen and spruce groves. We found the main road again in Quesnel just like the map said. Back into traffic - by now it was afternoon and we were careening toward Prince George - the main hub of north/central British Columbia. The major railroads all converge in Prince George, as do the major north/south and east/west highways. They even have a Costco! We considered seeking out the local trailer park / camp grounds, but decided we are so close to the Rockies, given our preference for wilderness over civilization, we just kept going. 45 minutes or so north of Prince George is the Crooked River Provincial Park - with Bear Lake right off the highway. There is a LARGE camp ground (several hundred spaces) in the trees on the shore of the lake. We found a nice site for the tent - there were LOTS of people here! We noticed that a lot of them seemed to be BC Residents - up from Vancouver for the week. For the first time there was very little road noise - just wind whispering in the pines.
Noteworthy Stops & Scenery: The Rockies are magnificent from any angle. That's the conclusion we were coming to - I've seen them in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, farther south in BC (Banff, Jasper, etc.) - and now up much closer to the 60th parallel. Magnificent. Yep - that's the word. Through trees - past water - lakes, rivers, streams - every bend in the road brought a new gasp. On the eastern slope, the world melts away into fields of wheat, hay and canola in full yellow bloom that stretch for a thousand miles into the interior of Canada's vast prairie provinces. We stopped for beer in a little burg in the mountains. Buying beer in Canada is not for the weak at heart. In the cities, there are government liquor stores. Beer is not sold cold in these stores - it's in cases in stacks on the floor and it's expensive. Usually somewhere near by, there is a government-sanctioned package beer & wine store. The beer and wine are chilled - and twice as much money. We think the owners just go across the street to the government liquor store, buy the beer/wine, take it back across the street, put it in the cooler, and jack the price up double. Out in the little tiny towns, however, the government allows the local grocer to sell beer, but it is locked up in a cage and only sold during certain hours. The clerk must unlock the cage, retrieve what you want, ring it up on the government's cash register, lock everything back up, then go back to the store register to ring up the rest of your purchases. Interesting to have Molson and LaBatts cheaper than Budweiser! But I digress. Across the plains to Dawson Creek. This is MILEPOST 0 on the Alaska Highway, also known as the Alcan - short for Alaska/Canada Highway. This is a prairie town to be sure! Large grain elevators - a rail head - and a bunch of RV Parks - the whole town seems to be in a perpetually festive atmosphere, enjoying their role as the gateway to the Alcan. We arrived at about 1:30 in the afternoon - it was hot and sticky and buggy. We found an RV oriented camp ground that had an open empty field (no hook ups!) where they banished the tents. It was actually pretty nice to be away from the RV's! We pitched the tent up against the edge of the mowed area next to a hedge of local flora, separating the RV park from a canola field, then we went to town for a look around. We took pictures of all the tourist spots (the MILEPOST 0 cairn in the middle of town, the big sign that points to the Alaska highway) to the local museum, watched a locomotive switching in the train yard, then found a smoky bar and had a beer. Anticipation was growing - we had been gone nearly a week, and had seen a lot of beautiful scenery, but we both felt like tomorrow we would really start what we came to do.
Noteworthy Stops & Scenery: We didn't know it yet, but what was to become a practice of the trip started out today. We got up early, broke camp, and headed up the road. An hour or two into the morning trip we found a little restaurant (the Shepherd's Inn) and stopped for breakfast. We had our first experience with bannock - a flat griddle cake from the old prospector days. Pretty good food, actually! We're winding through the Peace River country - flat prairie farmland of the far north - I can't help but wonder what it would be like here in the Winter. Dawson Creek is right on the Alberta border and definitely out of the mountains. There is no coastal influence here, and it gets COLD. We continued NORTH through Wonowon, Pink Mountain, Sikanni Chief, Prophet River and in to Fort Nelson. We arrived at about 1:30 p.m. - not a real long day, but this is the gateway to the Rockies (again!) and a cool little town, so we decided to camp. It had been raining in Fort Nelson most of the day, and the campground was a little on the soggy side. We pitched our camp and did a little laundry, then went into town to look around and pick up a few items we needed. We got some mosquito coils - sort of like camper's incense! Actually, if you burn them in a semi-enclosed space, such as under a canopy, they work pretty well! Talked to some locals in a military surplus store - this is the first place we saw "bunny boots" - white plastic looking boots that are rated to 60 degrees below zero (F). We inquired if it actually gets that cold here - the answer was a resounding "YEP"! The weather was sort of squall-y - windy, clouds moving in and out, with rain off and on. We put a blue plastic tarp over our sun shade and turned the campsite picnic table into a cozy outdoor room. This was the first day that felt like Canada! Tomorrow - on into the mountains!
On To Week 2 Travelogue
If you'd like to see other travelogues from Jim and his friends...