Quick trip through Jasper, Banff National Parks
It rained most of the evening and was still drizzling when we left Hinton, Alberta, Canada
drove back through Jasper and joined the tourist traffic south on the Icefield Parkway through Jasper and Banff National Parks.
We heeded the warnings to gas the RV before leaving Jasper since there are no service stations until Banff. There were no campground vacancies between Jasper and Canmore. Even the huge provincial parks were full. Martha managed to get a camp site in Calgary, a distance of 300 miles from Hinton where we left this morning.
Passing through Jasper National Park, there were plenty of turnoffs to view more mountain, lake and waterfalls scenery but parking lots were already full. We managed to find a parking spot in a large gravel lot in the Icefields area for one photo opportunity but gave up trying to find one at the Columbia Icefields Discovery Center. Tour buses, RV’s and automobiles got there ahead of us. Traffic was just as crowded as we drove through Banff National Park and chose to pass up Lake Louise.
Roadside wildlife was also sparse, spotting only one bighorn sheep but again, there was no place to park. Elk, deer and an occasional bear are commonly seen along the highway. We saw a small black bear in the Bow Lake area, eating berries alongside the highway. Mountains through the icefields were still topped with snow when we drove through the area.
Columbia Icefields in Jasper and Banff National Parks, Alberta, Canada. The icefields give visitors the opportunity to walk on a glacier.
We arrived into a KOA campground in west Calgary, Alberta at 5 pm. and parked in a hillside site that overlooked the downtown area. Calgary is a huge city of over a million people. Martha found a route that would bypass most of the city, which we took the following morning and drove all day through the Great Plains prairie region, passing miles and miles of waist high wheat, lots of dairy farms and other crops, including canola, almost ready for harvest. There was not a tree in site from horizon to horizon and the highway was smooth with little vehicle traffic. Farmers in the area bale hay alongside highways and center medians.
It felt like home when we passed through Canadian customs and into the small village of Sweetgrass, Montana, where we filled the RV with cheap gas and enjoyed a sandwich in a visitor center parking lot before getting onto Interstate 15 to Great Falls, Montana where we stayed two nights. The following day we cleaned the RV interior, took care of laundry duties and went grocery shopping before grilling Alaska sockeye salmon, fresh asparagus and corn, on the grill for dinner.
This trip started in May, 2016 in St. Augustine, Florida and continued across the United States, Canada and into Alaska, before turning around at Homer, AK.
DAYS ON THE ROAD: 86
TOTAL MILES ON THE ROAD: 9,512
GALLONS OF FUEL: 1,165
COST OF FUEL: $3,610
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline runs 800 miles across Alaska
Since the Trans-Alaska Pipeline runs 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay in extreme northern Alaska across the state to Valdez along the southeast coast, it criss-crosses many highways along the way giving visitors several opportunities to see the pipeline. Starting at the shores of the Arctic Ocean, the pipeline carries oil across rugged mountain terrain along with rivers and streams to Valdez, the northern most ice-free port in North America.
Some 420 miles of the pipeline is elevated on 78,000 vertical support members due to permafrost and 380 miles are buried. The high point is 4,739 feet at Atigun Pass, which runs through the Brooks Range at the Dietrich River.
According to pipeline operator Alyeska, the Trans-Alaska crosses three major mountain ranges and more than 30 major rivers and streams. The maximum grade is 145% at Thompson Pass which is near Valdez.
More than 17 billion barrels of oil have moved through the pipeline, filling 12,000 oil tankers at Prince William Sound, Valdez.
The pipeline construction employed 70,000 workers between 1969 and 1977, although actual construction time was three years and two months.
These pictures were taken along the Richardson Highway when we were en route to Delta Junction.
Setting the sun on Summer Solstice Day in the Klondike
For more than a century, locals and tourists have gone to the top of Dawson City’s Mount Dome to watch the sun set on June 21, Summer Solstice day. We were among the crowd this year.
After taking in a gold rush era musical stage show at Diamond Tooth Gerties and dinner at a local restaurant, we dressed in multiple layers of warm clothing and drove to the top of the mountain, arriving about 11 p.m. and joining a crowd of several hundred people. The view from the top of the 2900′ mountain provides a striking panoramic view of Dawson City, the Yukon River and Klondike Valleys along with the Ogilvie Mountain range in the distance.
Trying to keep warm on top of Mount Dome on Summer Solstice day in Dawson City, Yukon Territory,Canada.
Performers at Diamond Gerties recreate the can-can dance for visitors.
The midnight sun never goes below the horizon in northern Canada on Summer Solstice day, June 21.
Youngsters provided a festive atmosphere while the older crowd brought lawn chairs and blankets and simply settled down to wait for the sun to reach the horizon. Locals added that this is a great vantage point to watch the northern lights in winter.
It feels like winter is here with temperatures in the low 40’s.
At midnight when the sun fell to the horizon and stayed there, an ultra light airplane flew around the mountain a couple times, adding to the celebration.
We waited until about 1 p.m. but the sun never disappeared then headed back to the campground.
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
Notes from along the road around the Great Lakes
Coyotes and wolves hybrid
Not far from our campground in Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada, we heard reports of coyote or coywolves attacking and killing dogs and small farm animals. Authorities say the coywolves are mostly coyotes but contain a small percentage of wolf from an unlikely mating of the species years ago. They exist throughout the northeastern U. S. and eastern Canada and have been confirmed in northeast lower Michigan. Coyotes do not hunt in packs or stalk their prey, however, there have been reports that coywolves may stalk their prey. (http://www.therecord.com/news-story/4978724-coyote-coywolf-attacks-have-ontario-communities-worried)
Walking 600 miles in 30 days
In Wiarton, Ontario, Canada, we talked with a young couple who were hiking the Bruce Trail from Toronto to Tobermory, a distance of 600 miles. They were planning to finish the hike in 30 days or an average of 20 miles per day. Nice to be young. The trail follows the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, one of the thirteen UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves in Canada, for almost 900 km (560 mi).
Camping from South America to Canada
In St. Ignace, Michigan, we camped near a couple from Sweden who were driving a German made MAN diesel truck camper conversion that had been shipped from Europe to South America. From South America they drove the high wheeled vehicle through South America, Central America, Mexico and across the United States and into Canada. The truck was built for back country rugged driving but from the outside didn’t appear to have many camper features.
A close encounter of the bear kind
Heidi dog’s bathroom clock went off as usual at 6:30 a.m. in a Sault St. Marie, Ontario, Canada, campground on the edge of town. Half awake, and in the dark, we walked about 50 yards from the RV to a fenced-in dog park where she proceeded to take care of her morning toilet, as they call it in Italy, then walked back to the RV. Fifteen minutes later, a huge black bear weighing at least 400 (say the spotters) pounds, made a brief visit into the campground following the same route we walked only minutes before. It climbed a tree near the dog walk area, woofed and clicked its teeth a few times at a barking dog, then exited the tree and the campground. We are not in Kansas.
Who would have thought?
It’s early September and we’re camped in St. Ignace, Michigan and awoke to a startling 37 degrees outside temperature. Inside the RV it was 53. Thank goodness for a gas furnace that works.
Walking and driving the Mackinaw Bridge
On Labor Day an estimated 30,000 people with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder leading the way, walked across the five mile long Mackinaw Bridge. Two lanes of the four lane bridge were blocked off for walkers. It was the 58th year for the annual bridge walk. A week later while we were staying in St. Ignace on the Canadian side of the bridge, more than 1000 antique tractors were driven across the bridge. It was the eighth year for the event. The bridge is more than a bridge for vehicles.
Speaking of bears, Michigan has between 15,000 and 19,000 black bears. About 90 percent of those live in the Upper Peninsula, where we are currently camped. Males can be five feet tall and weigh 400 pounds. We have hiked many a mile in Michigan and yet to see a bear which is fine.
Extra camping fees in Michigan
Local residents pay $11 for an annual camping permit called “Recreation Passport” that allows them to stay in Michigan State Parks. In addition, they must also pay the camping fee which can vary from park to park. . Non-residents must pay $31 for the Recreation Passport plus the camping fee. Michigan also charges $8.40 for campers pulling a tow-car if they disconnect the vehicle while in the campground.
Dinner with the critters
At Sault St. Marie, Michigan, we had dinner at a very unusual place called The Antlers. There are over 200 animal mounts scattered throughout the restaurant with dozens of various antlers tacked to the ceiling and walls. Deer, antelope, bears, big cats polar bear and fish are among the critters mounted on the walls and ceiling. Most thrilling, however, was the news that The Antlers has been featured on a national television show My Ghost Stories. Nothing scary about the hamburgers. They were delicious.
Waterfalls are becoming major attractions
In Canada we found waterfalls galore in the area around Owen Sound, Ontario and all were attracting lots of visitors. At Munising, Michigan, the area boasts at least 12 major waterfalls. Most communities are taking advantage of the waterfalls as an attraction and publishing separate brochures with pictures and maps for visitors to the area.
Driving across the Mackinaw Bridge
It was drizzling rain and clouds were covering the tops of the five-mile-long Mackinaw Bridge during our crossing giving us the impression that we were climbing into the clouds—an erie feeling. When built in the late 50’s it was the tallest suspension bridge in the world. The bridge is the dividing line for Great Lakes Michigan and Huron. ????
How far did we travel?
5,728 miles, used 639 gallons of fuel, and spent 60 nights in campgrounds
Waterfalls, lighthouses popular places to visit on Bruce Peninsula, Canada
Passing across the border into Canada went smoothly.
We left the U. S. and crossed the busy Rainbow Bridge into Canada and downtown Niagara Falls before heading west and skirting Toronto. Our destination tonight is 163 miles away in a rural campground in Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada.
A truck-auto accident snarled traffic on the four- lane highway to Owen Sound for more than an hour. Stay on the road long enough and this stuff happens.
The Northern Bruce Peninsula is surrounded on the east by Georgian Bay which is part of Lake Huron, and Lake Huron on the west. At Owen Sound, the peninsula is about 40 miles wide. In some areas further north it narrows to about 10-12 miles. The water is crystal clear and a bright blue color. This is blue water at its best and the third of five great lakes we have visited on this trip. Our goal is to circle all five Great Lakes. To accomplish this trip, we will be coming and going across the border with Canada.
Weaver Falls is located within Harrison Park in Owen Sound. The falls are impressive along with the short walk through the woods to reach the falls.
Among the sights here are ten waterfalls in Grey County. We visited at least half of them during our visit. Three are large and impressive falls visible from parking lots. Some are only accessible by hiking a mile or more.
Owen Sound’s 40th annual Summerfolk Festival has gathered musical groups from throughout Canada and some from the U. S. including popular bluegrass entertainer Claire Lynch and her band and Trout Fishing in America, two groups we have seen before in St. Augustine. We purchased three day passes and enjoyed the music and food while sitting in an amphitheater under huge willow trees on the shoreline of Georgian Bay. There was continuous music from eight different stages. We particularly enjoyed the Sunday morning gospel programs. The weather was cool enough at night to warrant a jacket.
Despite big box stores on the outskirts, the small town of Owen Sound has managed to save its’ core downtown. Streets were decorated with large hanging floral baskets and most stores were occupied with prosperous looking business.
The fully restored Cabot Head Lighthouse allows visitors to climb to the top of the lighthouse, offering an excellent view of the Bruce Peninsula and Georgia Bay.
Keeping in touch with home was difficult. We purchased an international calling card but minutes were limited which we saved for making future campground reservations and emergencies. The campground in Owen Sound did not have wifi. We did find a couple fast food places with wifi which gave us an opportunity to contact families back home.
Perched 80 feet above Georgian Bay, on the Bruce Peninsula, the Cabot Head Lighthouse has guided ships for over 100 years. It is named in honor of explorer John Cabot,
After five days in Owen Sound we drove north about two hours to the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula to Tobermory, home of the Fathom Five National Marine Park in Georgian Bay, which is part of Lake Huron. The park has dozens of shipwrecks which can be seen from glass bottom boat tours through the crystal clear blue waters of Lake Huron. The bay also includes the notable Flowerpot Island which has several rock structures similar to flower pots a short distance into the bay from the island.
Fathom Five is the only National Marine Park in Canada.
Unfortunately it rained for three consecutive days while we were in Tobermory and combined with strong west winds, we decided against taking the boat trip. We awoke the following morning to 53 degrees. Daytime temps did not exceed 75 degrees.
We did drive along the bay to Cape Cabot Head Lighthouse. Lighthouses here differ from those on the east coast along the Atlantic. Great Lakes lighthouse are mostly shorter wooden structures , without spiral stairs. In some cases, the lighthouse keepers house is attached to the lighthouse.
NEXT: Crossing the border again near Detroit and visiting Henry Ford’s empire.
Niagara lives up to its reputation
It’s difficult to describe the visual impacts of Niagara Falls. Not to mention the roaring sounds of millions of gallons of water pouring over the falls. It’s particularly difficult for a first-time visitor who might has a tendency over-dramatize a bit.
And there were thousands of first-timers, including many foreigners, on the day we stood on the Canadian side and soaked up the unbelievable scenery. We were wrong waiting for Monday to visit the falls, thinking the crowds would be smaller. It was still crowded. The famous, towering waterfalls at the boundary of Canada & the United States, is a sight to see. Locals say it’s crowded everyday.
Horseshoe Falls from the Canadian side.
Traveling from our campground about seven miles away in Grand Island, NY., we were a mile away from the falls and could see the mist rising above the tree line, our first indication the falls were nearby. The first quick glimpse of the falls came when crossing the bridge over the Niagara River and entering Canada. Guidebooks had all said the view was best from Canada. They were correct. Although the U. S. side was impressive and less crowded.
Going across the border was very time consuming because of the traffic. We paid the toll to get off the island and waited in long times to enter Canada. The border crossing itself was uneventful, except for a half dozen questions regarding firearms. If we ever return to Niagara Falls, we vowed to find a campground on the Canadian side since our plans after the falls include heading on to Toronto and points north.
We found a $5 all day municipal parking lot about three blocks away from the falls, as opposed to $20 for closer parking, and joined the march to the river.
It was mid-morning and people were lined up two and three deep along the riverfront to get a good view of the falls. We rotated into the elbow-to-elbow crowd when someone left and started taking pictures. Mist off the falls and pushed by the winds drifted into the viewing area but not enough to warrant rain gear.
From the Canadian side, we had impressive views of Horseshoe Falls and the America Falls. At the far end of the walking area, visitors can stand atop the falls and get close to the rushing river as it disappears over the fall. The roar of the falling water is so loud it’s difficult to carry on a conversation.
From the American side, the famous Maid of the Mist boat ride was carrying raincoat clad visitors up to the bottom of the falls. A similar boat carried visitors from the Canada side.
The following day we drove into Niagara State Park on the U. S. side and walked along the top of the two falls on Goat Island. More adventurous guests took a tour down below the falls. Most returned drenched despite the yellow raincoats.
Later in the day we drove out of town a few miles to a state park that overlooks the famous Niagara River and the Whirlpool Rapids. Rated as a six
This unique attraction is a very popular stop for visitors to Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. The planted face of the Floral Clock is maintained by Niagara Parks horticulture staff, while the mechanism is kept in working order by Ontario Hydro, the organization that originally built the clock. The intricate designs on the face of the timepiece are created with up to 16,000 carpet bedding plants. The grounds surrounding the clock feature bedding displays and a tower at the back of the clock houses Westminster chimes that greet each quarter hour.
on a navigable scale, the rapids here are among the most dangerous in the world. We viewed the rapids from atop the gorge while others took a jet boat ride into the rapids. There is also a gondola, or aerocar as it is called here, that takes visitors across the river across to the American side and back.
Maid of the Mist approaches the Horseshoe Falls with a boatload of tourists.
Tourists along the walkway above the Niagara Falls looking toward the city of Niagara Falls in the background.
Falls from the U. S. side with an observation deck near the Rainbow Bridge leading to Canada.
NEXT: Fort Niagara spans more than 300 years of history.
Florida’s popular spring shrimp run at Mosquito Lagoon
Florida’s popular winter and spring shrimp run in the intracoastal waterway near Oak Hill, FL., will find campers filling the RV parks and fish camps in the Mosquito Lagoon region. While most of the camps and parks here cater to winter residents and some full-timers, a few sites can be found if shrimpers make reservations far in advance.
The popular pink river shrimp harvested here is one of four Florida varieties, and smaller than ocean food shrimp. However, those who brave the elements and usually crowded shrimping conditions, swear the pink variety is sweeter and holds its flavor longer when frozen. And catching them is easy.
Although the run usually starts on the first full moon in January, locals says it can start earlier or later. March has been successful for us the past half dozen years and usually the weather is more cooperative–at least warmer. Spring rains and cold fronts, however, can bring nighttime temperatures into the 40’s.
While shrimpers in north Florida use large cast nets and catch brown shrimp during daylight hours, the Central Florida run of pink shrimp travels at night on its migration to Ponce Inlet and the Atlantic ocean. They are caught by fishermen using hoop nets strung at the end of long handled aluminum poles in dip net fashion. While some shrimp are caught from docks, the majority are caught from boats anchored just outside the ship channel and deploying underwater lights. The shrimp run shallow and as they swim across the lights they become visible to shrimpers who catch them with long handled dip nets. Some nights shrimpers might fish the entire six hour outgoing tide and catch only a handful of shrimp. Other nights, they might fill a five gallon bucket in 30 minutes.
Five gallons of Mosquito Lagoon shrimp are iced and ready for cleaning.
The state mandated recreational limit is five gallons per boat, regardless the number of fishermen on the boat. Five gallons should weigh about 40 pounds of shrimp.
The Oak Hill area is popular because shrimp leaving the wide and shallow waters of Mosquito Lagoon are squeezed into the narrow intracoastal waterway making them much easier to catch. While shrimp can be caught throughout the area, it’s Riverbreeze Park, a county picnic area and boat ramp, that attracts most of the shrimpers. It’s not uncommon for 50 or more boats anchored within a one mile stretch of the boat ramp.
We camp at either Indian Mound Fish Camp or Riverwood RV Park, located just north of Mosquito Lagoon off U. S. 1 between Edgewater and Oak Hill in east central Florida. There are fishing guides in the area who will take parties shrimping. Some use pontoon boats which are more convenience for group fishing.
Canaveral National Seashore is visible across the intracoastal waterway from Oak Hill, and is accessible by boat. Visitors can access the northern end of the park at New Smyrna Beach or to the south at Titusville. The pristine beach is one of only 10 national seashores in the country and includes 57,662 acres of land that once served as a buffer zone for Kennedy Space Center.
Walking the trails at the Grand Canyon North Rim
One of many reasons why the scenery brings five million visitors annually to Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.
DAY 9: North Rim Grand Canyon, Jacobs Lake, AZ.
33 day Western National Parks RV Caravan
Today’s drive from Page, AZ., to Jacob Lake, AZ is only 104 miles, but the two-lane road is somewhat challenging, particularly for the big rigs among the RV Caravan group. A few miles on the road we crossed into Utah and faced a two mile stretch of highway that was a 6% downhill grade. Traveling downhill in these rigs is almost as difficult as the long uphill grinds. It requires downshifting to slow the coaches rather than depending on the brakes. Most of the big rigs have six forward gears which gives drivers several downshifting options.
At mile 24 was a 4-7% uphill that lasted several miles, followed almost immediately by another 6% eight mile incline. The scenery on top of the mountain, however, was impressive, reminding us of the Colorado Rockies.
A park visitor climbs out on a ledge and takes a selfie video of the Grand Canyon over her shoulder.
Sixty-five miles into the trip, we crossed back into Arizona and watched the diesel engine’s temperature gauge closely as we proceeded up a 6% mountain that lasted for eight miles. Diesel engines tend to heat up a bit on long, steady inclines.
Our campground for next two nights will be at Jacob’s Lake, which is 41 miles from the Grand Canyon North Rim. The elevation here is almost 8,000 feet, bringing more cool nights around a campfire.
The drive to the North Rim the following morning in a drizzling rain was highlighted by a herd of buffalo in a pasture alongside the highway. We visited the old Grand Canyon lodge and hiked on several trails, albeit under rain jackets. The canyon, which is heavily visited but lacks the tourists attracted to the south rim Grand Canyon, was mostly covered with mist and visibility was poor although early afternoon the sky cleared and the huge canyon at Bright Angel Point was visible for miles. Cape Royal and Imperial Point views were spectacular. Cape Royal, in particular, had two vistas with almost 360 degree views at the end of a paved narrow walkway with some protective fencing in dangerously steep areas. I kept my eyes focused on the path to avoid looking over the edge, which went straight down for hundreds of feet, until reaching the end. The trail ended at a scenic overlook that was vintage Grand Canyon–spectacular.
Although the distance across the canyon is only about 10 miles wide, the distance by auto is 215 miles. With binoculars we could see the south rim lodge across the canyon.
Our Caravan Tour ends there in 22 days.
NEXT: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.