Monthly Archives: June 2016
Notes from along the Alcan (Alaska/Canada} highway
A black bear munches on grass and dandelion blooms along the Alcan Highway.
Ronnie and Martha Hughes are driving from Florida to Alaska and have made it to Whitehorse, Yukon, Territory.
Be alert along the highway for wildlife. We spotted five black bears in one five mile stretch. Moose, however, have been scarce, spotting only two between Dawson Creek and Watson Lake. Buffalo have been plentiful, spotting a herd of about 25 lounging along the roadside. There will be signs warning that buffalo may be walking down the highway.
Gravel roads have been plentiful, although in short stretches of usually less than a mile before reaching Whitehorse. Gravel from semi-trucks met along the way will throw rocks into your windshield. One person we met at Whitehorse had six dings in his windshield. Our travel partners had two dings, both from between Dawson Creek and Whitehorse.
Expect to see people from your home state along the road. New friends have been made from DeLand, Haines City, Naples and Fort Pierce before reaching Whitehorse.
Expect fewer RV campground amenities and much tighter camping sites. All are gravel or dirt. We have camped in places where we could not extend awnings without hitting the camper next door. Full hookup is hard to come by.
In mid-June, wildflowers are starting to bloom. There’s purple lupine, red fireweed, yellow dandelions, pink prickly rose (in abundance), pink mountain cranberry, blue bluebell and white dwarf dogwood or bunchberry. By the time we return in early August, these varieties should be much larger and more plentiful.
Get braced for expensive fuel. In Canada, gasoline is sold by the liter (3.8 liters equal a gallon). We paid $1.50 per liter at a small two pump gas station near Liard Hot Springs or $5.70 a gallon if my math is correct. We bought enough to get us about 50 miles down the road then filled the tank with cheaper fuel. Buy fuel when your tank is half full to avoid the expensive stuff.
Most campers recommend buying bottled water for personal consumption, although we used campground water for showers and brushing teeth.
Highway artwork breaks up the flat Canadian landscape
The route to Alaska through Canada takes a northwesterly turn today as we leave Craven with plans to drive 250 miles to Battleford, SK.
Each little town on Highway 11 has erected metal artwork near the city limits, depicting a commemorative event or something important to the community. It is a pleasant break to the otherwise flat landscape of south central Canada.
We stop mid-day in Saskatoon at a Walmart, disconnect the tow car and drive downtown for lunch at Saskatoon Station Place, a restaurant that uses very luxurious turn of the century Canadian National Railroad dining cars, offering diners a glimpse into the past.
A group of French Canadian Indians, led by Luis Riel, rallied against the Canadian government in the late 1800’s over land ownership. Riel was captured and tried and hung for his part in the rebellion. This monument to Riel is located on the highway between Craven and Battleford, SK.
Saskatoon is a large city, and home to the University of Saskatchewan, which we drive past headed downtown to the restaurant. Many of the university’s original stone buildings have been preserved and are visible from the roadway.
Back on the highway we continue to see a large black and white bird that we can’t identify. It took a while and many sightings before we determined the bird was a black-billed magpie.
A Richardson ground squirrel munches on grass at our campsite in Battleford, SK. The squirrel lives underground and resembles a prairie dog.
The highway conditions are very good most of the time. However, we know that roads in northern Canada will be fair to bad in some areas, including gravel surfaces. We are hearing stories from returning Alaska travelers about gravel roads and windshield damage. They say cracked windshields are just part of the price paid to travel the Alaska highway.
DAYS ON THE ROAD: 25
MILES DRIVEN TO DATE: 3,452
GALLONS OF FUEL TO DATE: 370.8
FUEL COST TO DATE: $ 982.79
Getting to Alaska from Florida is a daily driving grind
A group of white pellicans, winter residents in part of Florida, are spending the summer on the QuAppelle River near out campground in Craven, SK, Canada.
Awoke this morning in Brandon, Manitoba to temperatures in the upper 40’s outside and mid 50’s inside the RV because we slept with windows open. Thankfully, today the sun is shining.
A mural on the city offices building in Wolseley, SK where we stopped for lunch.
We are back on Trans Canada Highway 1 today, driving a Winnebago and towing a Honda with grand plans of making it to the end of the road in Homer, Alaska by early July. It’s a summer ritual of thousands of RV travelers from around the country who drive the fabled Alcan (Alaska) highway across Canada and into Alaska. It is the last big trip for many, a feat that will be remembered for years and told time and again around campfires throughout the United States.
The challenge of driving day after day, mile after mile, rain or shine, is hard work. But, like the little engine that could, we keep chugging along.
The scenery across Saskatchewan is unchanged—flat farmland all the way to the horizon. Mountains will be a welcomed change.
We stop in the little one street town of Wolseley, SK for a lunch of soup, sandwiches and cookies. Everything was made from scratch, says the owner. Even the grain for bread and baked goods is bought directly from a local farmer and stone ground daily in her little restaurant/coffee shop. Her place was the only eatery in town open for business on Monday.
The 250 mile drive to Craven, SK., our campground for the evening, was uneventful. We checked into the campground before 4 p.m. There were no “pull-thru” camp sites available. Campers will pay extra for pull-thru sites because of the convenience of leaving the tow car hooked to the RV. It takes extra time the next morning to re-hook to the tow car, attach the lights and the tow car braking system. Only water and electricity sites were available which is not a big deal because today’s rigs have self-contained holding tanks that only need dumping about every three or four days. It is aggravating to unhook the tow car, however.
We added about 20 gallons of fresh water into the RV’s water tank in case we have to dry camp somewhere on the road if campgrounds are not available. Other travelers we meet along the road tell us that campgrounds are starting to fill up midday. We will talk with our traveling partners about making reservations earlier. So far it hasn’t been necessary.
The fuel tank is replenished when it is half-full, a precautionary habit to avoid running dry.
The daily travel grind is starting to take its toll. We go to bed tired and wake up tired and hit the road again.
DAYS ON THE ROAD: 24
MILES DRIVEN TO DATE: 3,072
GALLONS OF FUEL TO DATE: 335.8
FUEL COST TO DATE: $838.99
Chasing migratory birds across Canada
Over a couple late evening adult beverages, wiser minds prevailed and the decision was made to stay another night in Brandon. The rest is appreciated.
Brandon is built along the Assiniboine River and has a large municipal park and a Riverbank Discovery Center which houses a visitors center and the Ducks Unlimited Canada Provincial Field Office. It offers souvenirs, plenty of RV parking and a dump site along with picnic areas and an extensive walking trail along the river.
After taking a brief walk along the waterfront, we returned to the Discovery Center and talked with a volunteer who was monitoring two crowded martin houses and taking a daily count of eggs in the nests. He beamed when finding one nest with seven eggs.
Most of the birds migrating through this area have
Martins come and go, tending to nests, on the grounds of the visitors center in Brandon, Manitoba.
come and gone, however, he said a peregrine falcon has had a nest for 20 years on the edge of the tallest building in downtown Brandon, across from the visitor center. All we found were pigeons.
We visited a couple other parks in the surrounding area, including Douglas Marsh, but were unable to find any birds except the usual ravens, red winged blackbirds and swallows.
Volunteer Dave Barnes checks the nest of one of the bird houses and found seven martin eggs.
Martha fixed pork chops in a slow cooker and our traveling friends Don and Sue contributed linguine and veggies for dinner. Afterwards, we made plans to overnight tomorrow in Craven, Saskatchewan and were later chased inside the RV by a storm that brought high winds, a brief rain and cooler temperatures.
The following morning six bikers, all appearing to be around 60-years- old, were mounting up and leaving the campground. They started the bike trip in Vancouver on the west coast of Canada and were pedaling all the way to Newfoundland/Labrador, a distance of approximately 4,500 miles.
In southern Canada heading for Alaska
Skies are overcast with heavy clouds that will surely bring more rain as we leave a Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada campground with grand plans to drive 376 miles to Regina.
It’s a very comfortable 62 degrees. Sleeping with the windows open is becoming a welcomed habit.
Already the days are getting longer and the nights shorter. Light creeps into the RV through a couple skylights, giving the false impression that it’s time to wake up. In reality, it’s 4 a.m.
Trans Canada Highway 1 is mostly straight and flat, like the surrounding country side. Green fields of corn, soybean and other cultivated crops stretch in each direction as far as the eye can see. There is not a hill in sight.
Trains hauling crude oil and grain are the longest we have ever seen. Has to be 150 rail cars long.
Since we are now in Canada, the morning coffee break will be the first Tim Horton’s we see with a parking lot large enough for RV’s pulling tow cars. Tim Horton’s is an extremely successful coffee and fast foods place founded by a popular Canadian hockey player. At home it’s football that reigns supreme. Up here it’s hockey and curling. There are Tim Horton’s everywhere and they’re always full of customers.
Martha notes in her journal that since leaving New Orleans 17 days ago, we have had 16 days of rain. The sun appeared once in South Dakota.
Not far out of Winnipeg, northwest bound traffic is starting to back up near Portage de Prairie. It slows, then stops. An air show featuring the popular Canadian Snowbirds, Canada’s version of our Blue Angels, is bringing people from throughout the region to Portage de Prairie and evidently they are all using Trans Canada Highway 1 to get there. Traffic has come to a halt.
Finally the sun breaks through the clouds, a welcomed sight for us and air show fans but it takes two hours to get through the traffic jam.
It’s time to fuel the RV, our first fill-up since arriving in Canada.
Canada uses the metric system, something tried years ago in the U. S. but thankfully, never gained a foothold.
Fuel is sold by the liter which we grudgingly convert to gallons by dividing the total number of liters by a factor of 3.79. Highway mileage and speeds are calculated by the kilometer, which we grudgingly again multiply by six (6.2 to be exact) to get a quick conversion to miles.
The Winnebago takes on 29 gallons of regular gas and pump shock hits immediately. At $4.31 per gallon, the price to fill the RV is an eye popping $125.03.
Our traveling friends tell us to get prepared. Fuel will be more expensive “up north” when transportation costs mount along with higher local taxes.
Hopes of making it to Regina tonight were doused by the air show traffic jam. Only 150 miles down the road, a campground at Brandon, Manitoba, is a welcomed sight and we pull in for the night. So far, it has not been necessary to make advance reservations for campsites.
We have driven five consecutive days and hope soon to stay a couple nights in one place to rest a spell, clean the RV and catch up on the blog.
DAYS ON THE ROAD: 24
MILES DRIVEN TO DATE: 2,831
GALLONS OF FUEL TO DATE: 306.8
FUEL COST TO DATE: $716.94
Traveling the Midwest, heading for Alaska
Alaska Bound, a projected three month trip that started the second week of May in Florida, was delayed until after Memorial Day to visit family in Oklahoma.
The world’s largest concrete totem pole is located near Foyil, OK just off historic U. S. Highway 66. Built in 1948, the totem pole is 90 feet high and 30 feet wide.6 was
The journey north took us from near Tulsa to St. Joseph, MO., a distance of 258 miles. It rained most of the way. The corn, soybeans and wheat fields surely appreciated the moisture. St. Joseph is where Jesse James was killed in 1882 and was also the jumping off point for settlers headed to the Oregon Trail in the mid 1800’s. St. Joseph was one of the end points of the Pony Express.
St. Joseph to Sioux Falls, S.D., 310 miles. Fields are partially flooded from recent heavy rains and there are lots of dead deer along Interstate 29. The rain has been replaced with sunny skies and winds blowing 25 to 30 miles an hour from the west making it difficult to keep the RV on the road. We know we are in South Dakota because billboards are appearing for Wall Drugs. Billboard of the day: “Eat steak, wear furs, keep your gun.”
Sioux Falls, SD to Grand Forks, ND., 319 miles. Wanted to stay in Fargo but could not get into a campground. Many people are travelling. Scenery is more of the same: farms and flat land for miles in every direction. “Welcome to South Dakota where the speed limit is 80 miles per hour.” That’s a real treat unless you are driving a Class C motorhome and towing a car that struggles to maintain 65 mph. Set the cruise control in South Dakota and only brake for fuel. Awoke to 49 degrees. Felt good.
Grand Forks, ND., to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 140 miles.
It’s raining again and temps are in the mid 60’s. Crossed the Canada—U.S. border with no issues. It is never a problem crossing into Canada. Coming home is a different story. Met our travelling friends Don and Sue at a campground outside Winnipeg. Don pan-fried fresh walleye for dinner. My, what a treat. We left the following morning for Alaska. The journey has begun.
DAYS ON THE ROAD: 22
MILES DRIVEN TO DATE: 2,757
GALLONS OF FUEL TO DATE: 290
FUEL COST TO DATE: $716.94
Oklahoma has mountains, too
Traveling from Arkansas into Oklahoma through the huge Ouachita National Forest is proof that Oklahoma’s scenery is not entirely made of flat plains.
There are mountains here and impressive vistas seen along the 54-mile mile Talimena Scenic Drive, built in the late 1960’s and named for the two nearest towns, Talihina OK and Mena, AR.
The 240-mile-drive from Greenville, MS to Mena, AR across was uneventful and helped along by a nice, wide and smooth highway. Farm country dominated the scenery through the eastern part of the Arkansas and slowly gave way to forest pines hills. Near Hot Springs the roads became curvy and as we neared Mena, the mountains got higher and the road curvier. Speeds were mostly limited to 35-40.
It was an overcast day with threatening skies when we left the campground and started the scenic drive a few miles out of Mena, AR.
The weather worsened the higher we drove in the mountains, resulting in a downpour with fog and high winds when we stopped at the Queen Wilhelmina State Park and Hotel 14 miles into the drive.
Waiting for a break in the weather, we had breakfast in the rustic stone lodge, read some information about Ouachita National Forest (at 1.4 million acres it is the oldest and largest in the south) and learned how the Queen Wilhelmina State Park and Lodge earned its name. The lodge and park honored the Netherlands queen after investors from that country helped provide funds for the construction of the lodge around the turn of the century.
The Choctaw Indians traveled through these mountains on their way west from Mississippi during the 1830 removal of Indians from the south. Ouachita is an Indian name meaning “good hunting grounds.” Many Choctaw still live in the Talihina, OK area.
Fog cleared and we headed west on the scenic drive toward Talihina. The dark blue hills and valleys dominate the skyline while mostly evergreen and deciduous trees crowd the road. It is these trees that give the area a stunning floral display in spring and brilliant color in autumn and attract many visitors.
There are many opportunities to pull off the highway and take a closer look at the scenery. There are several steep grades and many curves that follow the mountain route; too much for motorhomes to tackle. We left the RV in the campground and drove the tow car.
Maybe it was the weather or the time of year, but there was little traffic on the byway.
Another thunderstorm came through the area during the evening, dropping temperatures into the upper 60’s and giving us another night to sleep with windows open under one of Martha’s homemade quilts.
NEXT: Alaska trip postponed for a week to visit family in Oklahoma.
MILES DRIVEN TO DATE: 1,497
A red headed woodpecker photographed in a campground near Mena, AR.
Delta crops growing; wow what a steak!
The Mississippi River delta country is buzzing with farming activity in early summer. One of the south’s largest bread baskets is planted and growing with huge fields of corn, soybean and rice. The landscape is green in all directions as we momentarily turn the RV north, heading for Greenville, MS., from Natchez, MS.
In a few days, the trip will take us west for a week to Oklahoma then north “forever” as the drive begins to Alaska.
Meanwhile back in the south, it’s maintenance time for farmers who are busy tending to their crops as they grow. Odd looking tractor type machinery is a common sight on the highways as farmers move equipment from field to field. Overhead, and flying dangerously close to the fields, a spray plane lays a thin fog of chemicals over a soybean field then performs another acrobatic move in the opposite direction, repeating the task until tanks are dry.
We choose this route, whether spring or fall, because of the pastoral scenery and the lack of traffic, something we have done for years. It has been our chosen route to the Midwest every couple years to visit friends and family. Traveling along U.S Highway 65 never grows old whether planting or harvest season.
This route north is chosen for another reason—its dinner at Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville, MS. My traveling partner says it’s the steaks that draw us back to the Delta. She’s probably right. We have been stopping here since the mid 70’s.
Located in a worn out old house on a side road in a residential area of Greenville, diners enter Doe’s through a screen door into the kitchen. Nothing fancy here. Diners don’t come here for the décor, that’s for sure.
The owner is busy tending steaks over a huge grill while a half dozen women fry French fries in huge cast iron skillets over an open gas flame and chopping greens for salads when we enter Doe’s. The house has a living room and a couple bedrooms where guests are served. There are also a couple tables in the kitchen.
Tablecloths are vinyl; utensils, plates and glasses are mismatched. There is no menu. Three different cuts of beef, spaghetti, fried shrimp and tamales are offered. Take my advice and pick the massive three pound porterhouse for breakfast leftovers the next day. You read that correctly.
It’s best to call ahead for a table. Otherwise, the line forms at the front door.
Years ago we thought we had discovered a hidden gem until President Bill Clinton showed up at a burger joint in Washington, D. C., one morning, wearing a Doe’s Eat Place t-shirt.
Friends from Alaska had recently relocated to Greenville and joined us for dinner at Doe’s and adult beverages later in the evening at one of the area’s Mississippi River casinos.
NEXT: Mena, AR, Queen Wilhelmina State Park and Talimena Scenic Byway through Ouachita Mountains.
DAYS ON THE ROAD: 10
MILES DRIVEN TO DATE: 1,125
Camping on the Mississippi at Natchez
It stormed to beat the band the night before we left New Orleans; the lightning, thunder and driving rain always an unwanted thrill when trying to sleep in an RV. Compare it with someone throwing rocks into an empty bucket. Nearby lightning strikes, and the booms that follow, shake the RV. Sleep did not come easy.
Longwood Mansion is one of three Civil War era mansions in Natchez, MS., open for tours to the public.
The drive from New Orleans to Natchez, MS., was a 180-mile fun trip into the old south. Natchez was a city known for its role in the civil war and today is known for the many civil war era homes that are still standing after the four year war between the states.
We camped on the Mississippi River for a couple nights and took advantage of a picturesque pedestrian walkway along the riverfront. The walkway passes underneath the four lane bridge over the river that connects Natchez, MS. and Vidalia, LA.
Vidalia, LA., has a lengthy paved river walk along the Mississippi River across from Natchez, MS.
Later in the afternoon, a riverfront pub featuring 18 draft beers was located and we sat outside on the porch and watched the American Queen, a replica of an early paddle wheel boat, leave the dock heading for Memphis. The luxury boat makes weekly trips from Memphis to New Orleans giving passengers the opportunity to experience life more than 150 years ago.
Like many nights of camping on the road, dinner was cooked outside on a gas grill and taken on a picnic table with a view of the mighty river that separates the country as well as serving as the borders for states from the Gulf of Mexico to Minnesota. We talked about life here during the war and how it destroyed the lives of many families as the sun dropped below the horizon and another storm approached. We also recalled many other times in our travels around the country when we have dined outside and watched river boat traffic pass by.
Two nights in a row, thunder, lightning and driving rain interrupted sleep. It must be following us north.
The American Queen steamboat was anchored at Natchez, offering guests an opportunity visit the city before continuing on to Memphis, TN.
The next day we toured two civil war era antebellum plantation styled mansions in downtown Natchez.
Longwood was built in the 1860’s just before war broke out between the states by wealthy cotton baron Haller and Julia Nutt on 90 acres just outside the city limits. The war interrupted construction of the home and would have commenced following the war, however, Mr. Haller died in 1864 and the family lost its cotton fortune. The family was forced to live in the finished ground floor however the second and third floors were never finished. They are still unfinished today and part of the guided tour.
Stanton Hall is a grand Greek Revival style mansion in the heart of downtown Natchez and occupies a full city block. It was furnished with marble mantel pieces from New York, ornate gas lighting from Philadelphia and large mirrors from France. It was completed only months before its owner Fredrick Stanton, also a cotton merchant, died in 1859. The family stayed in residence until 1894 when it became a girls college.
Both homes are owned today by the Pilgrimage Garden Club of Natchez.
Alaska takes a side trip to the Big Easy
A youngster gets a picture with a brass band playing dixieland at Cafe du Monde.
The road to Alaska is taking a bypass to New Orleans.
Why not, says an RV traveling friend from Canada. “You have the rest of your life to get where you are going.”
It’s hard to pass up good Cajun food, the sights and sounds of Bourbon Street and its music–Cajun, Blues and Dixieland Jazz–all of which are readily available throughout the downtown district, day or night.
After checking into a campground in nearby Kenner, LA., campers told us of a local seafood place that would rival anything offered in downtown New Orleans and without the traffic, parking issues and the big price tag. It is only five minutes away.
Making music fr tips off Bourbon Street in the French Quarter.
Harbor Seafood and Oyster Bar lived up to its reputation, serving raw oysters on the half shell, fried oysters in a basket with fries, shrimp and crawfish sold by the pound, along with steamed corn on the cob, sausage, mushrooms, potatoes and onions, also sold by the pound. Folks back home would call it a low country boil. Harbor Seafood was the best we’ve had anywhere in the south. So good in fact that we returned the next day for lunch of fried softshell crab and turtle soup. Rain chased us inside the RV for the rest of the day.
The following day the sun reappeared and we took advantage of the campground’s free shuttle service into downtown New Orleans and started a day-long walking tour of the French Quarters that included Bourbon Street and most of the side streets. At days end a phone app showed we walked over five miles.
Waitress takes a break at Cafe du Monde, New Orleans.
We had fancy cafe au/lait coffee and beignets at the open-air Cafe du Monde along the waterfront while being entertained by a sidewalk band playing Dixieland Jazz, walked for a couple hours then took shelter from the rain at Brennan’s for brunch that also included another bowl of turtle soup. We walked most of Bourbon Street while bar owners washed off the stink from the partying the night before, a daily ritual that has existed for years. It was nice to know that nothing had changed from our last time here 25 years ago, even the smell.
A pedestrian walkway along the Mississippi River waterfront.
Taking a carriage ride in the French Quarters.
Surprisingly Bourbon Street and the rest of the French Quarter showed little if any results from Hurricane Katrina which devastated the city 11 years ago. Hundreds of thousands of people along the Gulf Coast, vacated the area. Many never returned. Damage was estimated at 10 billion. The storm claimed 2,000 lives.
New Orleans, particularly in the downtown area most visited by tourists, has made progress recovering from the storm but locals say there is still much work to do in the poor neighbors of the city.
After three days in the Big Easy, we packed up and headed to Natchez, Mississippi.
Alaska is still on the horizon but just as far away as when we left home seven days ago. Driving horizontally across country, instead of vertically, doesn’t subtract many miles from the goal.
Taking a leap in front of Andrew Jackson equestrian statute in historic Jackson Square.
Making music at the French Market.
A street vendor shows his skills with a ball and string in Jackson Square.