Sep 30, 2010

Rockport Fire

This past weekend a couple of our good Rockport Texas friends lost their motorhome and just about everything else they owned in an early morning fire. Thankfully they both made it out with only minor injuries... but with only their nightclothes. At this point I don't know the cause of the fire... only that it started in the mid-section of the rig, perhaps near the refrigerator.

These folks are experienced fulltimers who have lived and enjoyed this lifestyle for many years. They knew RV systems, the importance of good maintenance, and were safe and cautious in their approach to the lifestyle. But once in a while bad things happen to good people.

This tragedy reminds me again of the importance of having a "grab bag" prepared and near you at all times. We first heard about this idea when we attended a Life on Wheels conference before we started fulltiming almost 4 years ago. The concept is to have as many of your important and tough-to-replace papers and documentation in one place -- a portable bag of some kind -- and close enough so you can quickly grab it if you have to vacate the RV in an emergency. Things like a supply of cash, insurance papers, IDs, passports, birth certificates, a list of account numbers and passwords, cell phone, list of important phone numbers, backed up computer files on a USB thumbdrive, maybe a laptop computer as well. No system is 100% assured of working in every situation... you just do the best you can to cover the most likely scenarios. It certainly would make putting your life back together again much easier. We haven't done a good job of maintaining this grab bag discipline, but this tragic event has motivated us to get back at it.

Hmmm, where did I lay that insurance policy?

Sep 29, 2010

What's In a Name?

A recent 'Question for Thom':  Hey TH, what's with this propensity of fulltimers to apply human names to inanimate objects?
You know, I've noticed this too. In fact, it's become so endemic that it's hard not to notice. It seems that it really doesn't matter what thing it is, if it's in or near the RV, it's a target for this naming phenomenon -- cars, trucks, RV, motorcycles, electronic gizmos, appliances, and on and on.

After pondering this for a while, I think it might derive from loneliness, or boredom, or terminal cuteness, or, perhaps an attempt at humor. In reality, it's probably some combination of all of the above. Come on, how can I be lonely or bored when I have Mr. Hoover (my vacuum cleaner) to help me clean, or Mr. Dell (my laptop computer) to help me with my email and paying my bills, or Philomina Blacktank (!!???) to hold and protect my wastes, or Old Blue (my bicycle) to take me for rides, or Buffy (my electric buffer) to put a shine on the camper, or Winnie Winegard (my TV antenna) to help me tune into my favorite TV shows? And let's not forget Sabrina, the voice in my GPS, who tells me where to go -- which Dar also does from time to time. All you've got to do is read a few blogs produced by fulltimers and you'll soon be caught up in this anthropormorphic web. Before long, you'll be on the bandwagon and your truck will become Miss Daisy (driving Miss Daisy... get it?). 

Oh, and what about the truly meaningful real people in their lives? Well, there's a convention among fulltimers that the female spouse or partner becomes simply "the DW" and the male becomes "the DH". What's with that? For a long time I thought DW meant DishWasher and DH stood for DaHunk. But recently, my DW, in her unique way of dealing with my occasional ignorance, let me know that DW actually means Dear Wife and DH, yes, Dear Husband. I  think I'll remember this long after the lump on my head goes down. 

Sep 26, 2010

A Few Busy Days

I have a few minutes to punch out a quick journal entry... so here goes. Sorry, no pictures either, as the photo editor (aka the Safety Director, Navigatress, and Quality Control Specialist) has been busy either making or pursuing touring plans for the family.

After returning from the Oregon Coast we wandered the Columbia River shoreline in Vancouver on Friday where we also lingered for refreshments at a restaurant's outside deck... and ended up lingering right through dinner. The warm cloudless day prompted a lot of people to come out of hiding and bask in the sun, so people-watching was enjoyable. Mt. Hood stood watch in the East and the river was full of boaters getting an early start to the weekend. One of the nicer days of the week so far.

But Saturday may have been even nicer. We started the day with breakfast at a cool little bagel place in downtown Vancouver, followed by visiting the farmers market just a couple blocks away. Vancouver has one of the nicest farmers markets we've ever seen and our visitors from the east agreed that it's a great way to spend a Saturday morning. The other planned excursion for the day was the OHSU (Oregon Health Sciences University) Tram near downtown Portland. The three minute ride from the Willamette Riverfront to the top is 3,300 linear feet long with a vertical rise of 500 feet. Despite some tense moments for Dar (a terrific fear of heights) we all enjoyed the impressive views of 5 mountain peaks and the city below during the ride up and from the observation platform at the top. Grandson Ryan, in particular, thought this was just about the coolest thing we could have done. The evening was spent again at Gage and Andrea's house.

Today, Sunday, Dar's planning a visit to a couple wineries in the Columbia Gorge. I'm the designated driver.

Sep 23, 2010

The Cool Coast

Our visitors from Wisconsin arrived via Amtrak on Monday morning. Believe it or not, the train was actually one minute early... something I certainly didn't expect. Way to go Amtrak.

Dar's Mom and Dad, Marion and Cal, were tired from the two day trip but in good spirits. Nothing wrong here that a good hot breakfast and a nap won't cure.

We'll keep them pretty busy with visiting Andrea and Gage and the two munchkins... their great-grandkids (our grandkids... Ryan and Evan) and some other sightseeing Dar has in mind.

Marion and Cal at Cape Meares Lighthouse
On Tuesday and Wednesday we were over on the Oregon Coast. Poking our noses in here and there, it took most of the two days to explore from Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia, to Newport about 100 miles to the South. Tuesday night we stayed in Oceanside, OR., at a little motel high on a bluff directly above the beach, a perfect place to watch a gorgeous sunset.

The Oregon Coast is among the most picturesque in the world. High rugged capes, large "stacks" (vertical columns of rock isolated by erosion) hundreds of feet out in the surf, and a series of wide sandy beaches give the coast it's character. Pepper this scene with a series of historic lighthouses and you've got yourself some world-class eye-candy that you won't soon forget. Despite the mid-week late-September timing of our visit the road and attractions were quite busy.

Of note, we saw the worlds shortest river -- the D River, in Lincoln City, so proclaimed by the State of Oregon despite claims by some in Montana that it has one shorter. In any case, depending on whether you'd get your tape measure out at high tide or low, the D River is somewhere between 120 and 440 feet long.  Down the road apiece, we saw a sign in Depot Bay proclaiming the worlds smallest harbor. Hmmm.

The big highlight of the trip was whale-watching at Cape Meares and at Depoe Bay. There are a few gray whales that stay resident along the central Oregon Coast instead of joining their buddies near Alaska during the summer and fall. They seem to love showing off for crowds. As big as the bus-house, we could have watched them for hours.

After a long couple days of exploring we took today "off" to rest and recover.

Wondering what Dar has up her sleeve for the rest of the week...

Sep 20, 2010

Monday Update

Short post to the Journal...

In a few minutes, we're going down to the Amtrak Station to pick up Dar's Mom and Dad. They wanted to take a trip this fall and, after some deliberation, decided to take Amtrak's Empire Builder out to Washington. They'll be in town for a week.

The weather doesn't look the best for their time here but tomorrow and Wednesday look to be the best for outdoor stuff and sightseeing. The plan at this point is to run over to the Oregon coast for a day or two. It's one of the most scenic coastlines around -- but the trick is to catch it on one of the relatively rare really nice days to get the best experience (and photos). We're hoping.

We've been maxing out our time with the grand-kids of course. And we enjoyed seeing more of our Washington family at a birthday get-together yesterday for Gage (son-in-law) and Shirleen (Gage's Mom). It was a lot of fun.

Journal updates might sparse this week, considering all the activity. But I'll fit in what I can when I can get away from the group for a few minutes and pound something out.

Thinking I hear a train whistle...

Sep 18, 2010

US Highway 2 Finale

Let me now get back to the events of Wednesday, the day we left Grand Coulee, crossed the Cascades, and finished our US-2 drive. The tail-end of the day provided us with an unusual challenge too, but that's another story which I'll get into in my next post.

We left the Grand Coulee area about 9am and headed back to Wilbur. In order to drive all of US-2 we had to get back the point where we got off... and that meant rolling about 20 miles eastward to Wilbur in order to preserve the objective.

Once pointed in the right direction again we came to Coulee City, the town on the south end of Banks Lake. There, a 2 mile long earthen dam was constructed across the Grand Coulee gorge to form the lake. Hwy 2 sits atop that dam... Banks Lake to the north, and Dry Falls to the south.

Dry Falls  (photo by Ikiwaner)
During the great prehistoric floods that created the landforms in this area, vast quantities of water would come rushing down Grand Coulee at speeds up to 60 miles per hour, through the area that's now Banks Lake, and over a waterfall so large it's considered the largest known waterfall to have ever existed on the planet -- at least 10 times larger than Niagara Falls. This happened dozens of times as the glaciers melted at the end of the last ice age. The water doesn't flow over the falls anymore, but the falls itself is still there... and immense 400 foot high scalloped precipice that stretches for more than 3 and a half miles.

Viewed from a pull-off along Hwy 2, it's a stunning sight to soak in. Because of it's size photos don't capture the essence of the experience. Memories will have to do.

Down into Moses Coulee
About 15 miles west of Dry Falls we suddenly dropped into another large canyon... remember, a "coulee" in this area. Although smaller than Grand Coulee, it still had us ooh-ing and aah-ing during the time it took for Hwy 2 to make it across. It's a different experience... starting at the top, dropping down to the floor of the coulee, and then climbing back out on the other side. It was the second highlight of the day... and we feel like we've just begun.

Dropping down to the Columbia River near Orondo
But less than 20 miles further on, just after passing through Waterville, we started down again, along the twisting walls of a steep canyon... dropping 2,000 feet in about 6 miles. We were dropping from the high plateau of central Washington down to the Columbia River at Orondo. The descent, controlled by pretty-much constant use of the bus-house's exhaust brake, was another scenic wonder we won't forget anytime soon. Highlight number three.

From Orondo US-2 follows the Columbia south for a few miles before turning westward again just before Wenatchee. This next leg of the drive... about 100 miles or so... would take us up and over the Cascade Mountains. Of note, we passed through the Bavarian-esque community of Leavenworth, where the confluence of Bavarian architecture and close steep mountains do make one feel like you might be in a mountain village in Southern Germany. Someday we'll stop back and explore the area more deeply.

Along US-2 on uphill run to Stevens Pass in the Cascades
The next hour or so was a lot of nose-high uphill driving... typical Cascades feel... an abundance of tall firs and pines... twisting road... lots of pull-offs to stop and absorb the view... and plenty of traffic too. At the "top" is Stevens Pass, 4,061 feet above sea level.

Stevens Pass
Historic sidebar: In February 1910, two Great Northern Railway trains were stuck in heavy snow at the Cascade Tunnel Station at Stevens pass... unable to move. They sat there for 6 days when an avalanche pushed both trains off the tracks and 150 feet down into the Tyee River Valley... buried. Known as the Wellington disaster, 96 people were killed making it one of the worst train disasters in American history.

Downhill from Stevens Pass
As the nose of the bus-house leveled at the apex of the pass, and then pointed downward, the exhaust brake came back on and remained so for much of the next 20 miles as we fell almost all of the 4,000 feet of elevation. At one point, one of the steepest portions of the descent... where the roadway curved to the left and the view straight ahead was open air and trees for a thousand feet straight down, Dar lost it... screamed, cried out... convinced of our imminent demise. The vertigo-driven attack passed but she'll always remember Stevens Pass... highlight number four for the day.

US-2's western terminus is the point where it joins I-5 in Everett, WA. From the beginning of our US-2 trek, in St. Ignace, MI., we've traveled almost every foot of it's 2,119 mile length. We've seen a large stretch of the USA along its shoulders... from the woods of Northern Michigan, the Lake Superior shoreline in Wisconsin, the lake country of Northern Minnesota, the rising waters of Devils Lake North Dakota, the booming oil industry and open range land of Northwest North Dakota and Eastern Montana, the looming Rocky Mountains and Glacier National Park, the forest and peaceful lakes of Northern Idaho, sparky and spunky Spokane, the vast gold-yellow wheat fields of Central Washington, and then today... with some of the most dramatic and breath-taking scenery this side of Glacier. It's been quite a trip... one we'll remember for as long as we live.

Giving the exhaust brake a "break" for a while...


Sep 16, 2010

A Big Dam

As I write this on a rainy (yes, we're back in the Northwest!) Thursday morning, we're camped at a very nice Cabelas store in Lacey, WA., just a little ways south of the Seattle/Tacoma metroplex. We had a long 325 mile day yesterday... longer than planned after my first overnight camp selection at a Walmart just north of the big city turned sour and we opted to battle both rush-hour traffic and rain to make it down here by nightfall. Have I mentioned lately how much I like big cities? I'll write more about yesterday in my next post.

What I haven't covered yet is our visit to the Grand Coulee area of Washington. Since our trek west on US-2 comes within a mere 30 miles of big Dam, and since Dar hadn't seen it yet, we diverted from our path at Wilbur to check it out.

photo by Farwestern / Gregg M. Erickson
We arrived at the Grand Coulee RV Park by early afternoon and hustled on down to the visitor center after parking. The dam is an impressive thing to see, even if you've seen it before. It was built in the 1930's by the Bureau of Reclamation using a lot of WPA labor.  It was the largest concrete object in the world, but it's now billed as "one of the largest". I believe the Three Gorges Dam in China beat it out recently... maybe others too. Not sure.

Originally built as a means to irrigate large dry expanses of Central and  Eastern Washington, its primary purpose changed to power as demand for electricity boomed during the build up to World War II. Today it serves those two functions as well as recreation along the 150 mile long Lake Roosevelt that stretches from behind the dam all the way to the Canadian border.

We explored the visitor center exhibits and wandered around outside to shoot pictures. We also came back after dusk to watch a laser light show which uses the dam itself as the projection screen -- something you don't experience everyday. But the highlight of the afternoon was the drive along Banks Lake.

The term "coulee", as used in this part of the country, refers to the steep-sided canyons that were formed by the erosive effects of ancient massive floods originating from melt water as glaciers receded at the end of the last ice age, oh, some 10,000 years ago. The massiveness of the flooding was the result of ice dams alternately forming and breaking, releasing huge quantities of water that scoured and scraped eastern Washington. One of the features of all this erosion is the coulee, and the largest of them is, (ta-dah,) the Grand Coulee. A portion of it is behind the dam, but another portion of it is now Banks Lake which, due to it's higher elevation above the river, isn't the result of dammed water. In fact, Banks Lake is now a reservoir and most of the water it contains is pumped up from Lake Roosevelt behind the dam.

State Highway 155 runs along the eastern shore of Banks Lake between the town of Grand Coulee and Coulee City. The 28 mile drive is one of the most scenic we've ever experienced. Cameras were clicking away as we drove the highway both ways, stopping at every pull-out we could find. It was the real highlight of the day.

For more photos of Banks Lake and Grand Coulee Dam, Dar promises to have them uploaded into an online photo album in the next few days.

Eyes hurting from all the beauty...

Sep 13, 2010

Sparky Spokane

As I mentioned in yesterday's post Dar and I trekked on down to Spokane yesterday afternoon. After meeting up with Julianne and Jimmy, we had a snack and then walked through the Riverfront Park area of downtown. The Spokane River runs through downtown and the area was spruced up for the 1974 Worlds Fair -- Expo '74. A few structures remain from the fair but the park that brackets the river is a wonderful asset for the city. Even though it was Sunday there was so much going on and the place just seemed so vibrant.

Live entertainment at the rooftop party.
I don't think I mentioned that J&J had also invited us to a rooftop party held annually by a photographer who's very well connected in the Spokane arts community. And what a party it was. During the afternoon we met a bunch of interesting and talented folks... architects, dancers, painters, sculptors, writers, and many more that aren't popping to mind right now. Everyone was so friendly and gracious and talkative... we had a very good time. We were told by a number of people that this party is probably the premier party for the Spokane arts scene. And we were there! Wow.  Thanks so much Julianne and Jimmy. We'll see you guys "down the road".

Julianne and Jimmy, with the Spokane River in the background.
Today we slept in and just let nature take it's course... just went with the flow. A short bike ride, some research on the web, planning dinner, getting ready to move tomorrow morning. It was a nice easy day to enjoy the great weather and prepare for the last legs of our fall trip.

Outside... feet up... typing away...

No deceptive business practices here.. In Spokane they "tell it like it is"!
Oh, and a couple days ago we hit the 30,000 mile mark with the bus-house.

Sep 12, 2010

Life in the Woods

We've been enjoying our camp at the Riley Creek Recreation Area along the Pend d'Oreille (pronounced "Pawn Dor-ay") River in Northern Idaho. Once again the Corps of Engineers came through with a great campground... the best in the area according to the locals we've talked to... which would be why it's so popular. Despite the post-Labor Day, early Fall, after back-to-school timing, the place is packed this weekend. Every one of the 67 sites is full. But it's a weekend phenomenon this time of year, and we'll almost have the place to ourselves by later this afternoon.

Firewood has been our biggest problem. After a busy summer of campers scavenging the woods for every dry stick and twig the only option left is to either bring your own (which all locals do), or buy it. But despite being in the middle of billions of trees and the forest products industry being the major economic activity around here and no shortage of people trying to eek out an existence up here... the price of firewood is the highest we've run across in our travels. $5 for a small bundle seems to be the going rate... and it's really a small bundle. It takes a minimum of two bundles for an acceptable fire that won't last much beyond dinner. Yesterday Dar and I went down the road a ways in search of another less expensive source, but had to resort to buying a couple bundles at an Ace Hardware store. At least these were slightly larger than the little bundles available at the campground. Oh, and the price? That's right... $5 per bundle.

This afternoon we're heading down to Spokane. We're meeting a couple of fellow explorers that we first met up with last year at Zion National Park. They're from the Spokane area and will be leaving in the next week or two on a maybe 6 month long exploration of the perimeter of the USA. Julianne and Jimmy are an interesting couple who have done some amazing things through their lives. At Zion, we enjoyed a couple meals together, a hike, and couple of memorable campfires -- one of which involved re-engineering the traditional campfire S'mores recipe. That's all I'll have to say about that. Here's a link to their website.

Because we're so close to our destination -- the Portland area, a couple grandkids, and some wonderful family and friends, the horse is "smelling the barn". The plan now is to leave here on Tuesday, spend a night somewhere near Grand Coulee Dam, then traverse the Cascades on US-2 to it's terminus in Everett, WA. There, we'll spend another quick night before driving to our month long camp near Portland/Vancouver on Thursday.

That's it for this morning kids...

Sep 10, 2010

Crazy Drive to Idaho

Just a short post tonight... and no pics since the photo editor took the night off. We left Columbia Falls this morning about 9am, headed west on US-2, and experienced driving through the mountains the way it used to be in the old days.

In the last few years, if they wanted to build an Interstate Highway across a mountain range they'd pretty much just bulldoze the mountain, put the material from the high spots into the low spots, pour 4 wide lanes of concrete... and you'd have a nice straight stretch of road that was easy to drive but would lull everybody to sleep. Add a few Holiday Inn Expresses, Cracker Barrels, McDonalds, and Flying Js and you'd have a road that looked and felt like every other I-road in the USA. I mean, why go to Idaho if you can experience the same driving sensation you find in Indiana?

The great thing about driving the old US highways... like US-2... is that you drive around mountains, through small towns, and experience how people are living in, ohh, say, Libby, MT. or Bonners Ferry, ID. All senses are active in this endeavor... you smell the bacon frying on the grill at a local breakfast and lunch joint as you drive by... you see the pride (or lack of pride) in the town's architectural dress, cleanliness, and neatness... you hear the activity of people going about their daily chores... you feel both  the potholes and the newly laid asphalt roadway... you can taste the way people feel about their town... just by driving through and letting your senses do the work.

And here we were, plotting a course west. Ah, but because US-2 was built many years ago... when they used to build roads that went around mountain ranges... first we headed due south. Then, after a short spell of westward movement, we headed north, traversing valleys lined with high ridges and dark green forest. Then, after another short spell of westward movement, we headed due south again. At the end of the day we put on a little over 200 miles to reach a point that was only a little over 100 air miles from where we started this morning. But, oh, what a drive.

Tonight we're camped at another Corps of Engineers campground... the Riley Creek Recreation Area a little south and west of Sandpoint, ID. We'll be here through the weekend.

Ready for a good nights sleep...

Sep 8, 2010

Plans and Weather

We've extended our stay here in Columbia Falls for an additional day. All the weather forecasters are predicting a wet day tomorrow, Thursday, so we're going to sit tight and wait for the slightly dryer weather expected for Friday.

Maybe I'll dig into a new book...

The Bear Drive

After our working weekend it was time to get out and back into the Park again. So yesterday, Tuesday, the plan was to take US-2 east from Columbia Falls, down around the southern end of the Park to East Glacier, up MT-49 and US-89 to St. Mary, followed by a full-length transit of Going to the Sun Road back to West Glacier and our starting point -- total distance of about 200 miles.

We had already traversed US-2 westbound when we arrived in the area last week. But taking the same route by car allowed us to stop at more points of interest, stop more often for photos, and be more spontaneous in our explorations. The real objective of the day was to explore the east side of the park which we’ve really neglected the past few days.

DSCN0640 One necessary stop was Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier. Built by the Great Northern Railway in 1913, it was the first destination hotel completed and the gateway to the rest of the Park. The East Glacier Amtrak station is immediately adjacent to the Lodge. We visited here 30 years ago and, once again, had to reconcile our memories with reality. The lobby is magnificent… three stories high, the timber roof supported by 500 year old Douglas Fir logs still clinging to their original rough bark. A huge fireplace complete with roaring fire added physical warmth to the warm woodsy lodge atmosphere. In a growing tradition when visiting National Park Lodges, we had lunch in the lounge – needed nourishment before heading into less refined parts of the Park later in the day.

IMG_3585 The next stop was Two Medicine. This part of the Park was once, before the completion of Going to the Sun Road, the focal point of activity at Glacier. Today, its a secluded and peaceful spot with a small campground and some of the best hiking trails in the park. Amazing vistas, waterfalls, a sparkling lake, and an abundance of wildlife reward those that stop here. We spent a good deal of time watching a black bear feasting on berries just on the other side of a creek. The attached photo is blown up and fuzzy, but it’s the best one we took. What fun!

MT-49 is the shortcut for those traveling between East Glacier and St. Mary. It’s paved… most of it anyway… but a road that needs to be worked with and paid attention to. There are many places where the roadway is sinking, “breaking”, away from the hillside that supports it. DSCN0655

But if you take a little time to enjoy the scenery and pull off once in a while to experience things with all your senses, what you find may surprise you. We stopped at an overlook and took a few photos. Just a little way further up the road, off on the low-side of the road, in vegetation too dense to really see much, we could hear a bellow or cry of a large animal. It sounded like a cow but we didn’t think cows or cattle are common in this area. We drove a little further… to the next pull-off, shut off the car and listened. There it was again… just down the hill from our location. Vegetation was thick and a good view wasn’t obvious from the car. I got out, walked over the the edge, pulled the brush aside, and looked down the hill… right at a black bear having lunch just a few feet away. (What’s the old adage… “first you say it, then you do it!”?) Yikes.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Dar had also gotten out of the car and was starting toward me when she saw my reaction – which apparently was startled and quick. There was no question in her mind that I was beating a hasty retreat back to safety. By the time I made it back to the car, just 4 or 5 steps away, she was already back inside and trying to lock the doors… with me still outside! I’ve heard wise old men say that you’ll find out what’s really in a woman’s heart during times of stress and panic. I think I learned something new that day. The bear, I assume, took off in the opposite direction, probably as scared of me as I was of it.

DSCN0705 With bear encounter number two behind us, we continued along MT-49 to another pull-off. There, a couple hunters in a pickup truck were scanning the many square miles of mostly open country far below. I struck up a conversation and they said they were watching a grizzly bear sow and her two cubs. With binoculars we could clearly see them… mom busily eating and putting on fat for the winter… the two cubs playing and chasing each other more than eating. Identifying a grizzly is relatively easy. Besides that distinctive hump on their back, right between the shoulders, many of them have silver-ish, white-ish ends on their fur.   This, our first sighting of a grizzly in the wild, is one of those memories we’ll carry with us forever.

Later in the afternoon, at a wide pull off on our way back to West Glacier on Going to the Sun Road, Dar spotted another bear high on a grass and rock filled slope above us. With binoculars we quickly identified it as another grizzly… this one solo and closer than the last sighting. For a few minutes, until it walked into a hollow behind some trees, we watched and helped a few others spot it. What a day.

DSCN0785 During the course of the day we spotted other wildlife too. Three more bighorn rams (one of which was only 10 feet away on the side of the road), a couple young osprey, and various other small animals and birds. And of course, just being in this unbelievable setting with these dramatic mountain vistas is almost more than can be absorbed.

DSCN0702 Are you sure this isn’t a dream?


Sep 6, 2010

A Labor Day for us

I took advantage of a mostly cloudy and cool day here in Columbia Falls to wash about 1200 miles of grime off the bus-house exterior. We've done more than our normal amount of driving in the rain on this leg of the journey between the U.P. of Michigan and here... and wet roads just make a mess of everything. The poor old toad really gets blasted. Imagine, during a heavy rain, following a bus with your car about 5 feet behind. The big tires of the bus suck up tons of water and dirt from the road, fling it into the air, and blast it all back at the toad at 60 miles per hour. I don't like moving on rainy days for this reason alone.

Besides the usual road dust and mud, we had a little extra cleaning to do on the bus-house's front end. I often have to deal with your normal bug squishes, but we drove through a section of US-2 in Eastern Montana where the lowest 3 feet of the front end (what you might call the bumper area... if we actually had a real bumper... which we don't...) got pelted with grasshoppers. It sounded like we were getting hit by small arms fire, a constant staccato of small impacts of bug with bus. They apparently like sitting on the road during the heat of the day, and when a vehicle, especially a big vehicle, approaches, they do what they've evolved to do when threatened... they hop. They hop upward about 2 feet or so and if they've timed it just right, they reach the apex of their hop just as the big ol' bus-house smacks 'em at 60 miles per hour. The resulting carnage isn't pretty and takes a measure more elbow-grease to remove. It really bugged me!

That's what kept me occupied today. Yuck!

Dar helped out with my chore, but she also thought it only appropriate that she labor away on some laundry... seeing how it's Labor Day and all.

We're hoping for a little more sun tomorrow for another exploration into the Park.

Sep 5, 2010

Rainy Sunday

While weekend crowds are filling the Park, we're taking a couple days to catch up with all the photos, a video production, and some writing that have backlogged from recent explorations. And a little relaxation and "kicking back" ain't a bad idea either. Stay-at-home days like these are also conducive to better eating. Last night Dar made a wonderful iteration of her alfredo primavera pasta -- loaded with all the veggies we had stashed in the fridge. Yumm!

You might want to check out a couple recent Glacier Park photo albums on our online photo gallery. The one titled "Going to the Sun" really took a lot of work. Dar had to cull through 470 photos from two cameras... couldn't get the "saves" any lower than 175, of which 54 are online. She tells me that a lot of great photos from that day ended up in the trash bin. This is the album with more great photos of our encounter with the Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goats. I believe you'll enjoy the view almost as much as we did.

I played with a couple video clips we took on our drive up Going to the Sun Road on Friday. After adding titles and getting it formatted for internet viewing, I uploaded it to YouTube. It's easily viewed on our video page right here on the TDHoch website. I wanted to give viewers a taste of the experience of traveling along one of the most amazing roads in the USA.

I also put up three links to some excellent Glacier Park webcams on the photo page on our website. The quality of these images is so much better than many of the webcams out in cyber-land. I thought some of you might like to see what's going on in the park in near-real-time. These images are updated every minute or so. In the next few days we're going to stand in front of the camera at Apgar Village and wave to whoever might be watching.

As I write this on Sunday... about noon... it's raining lightly. I've got some outside chores to do, but the rain helps keep my guilt about not being out there doing 'em in check. I'm warm, the rain is pattering on the roof, I'm getting my inside chores done... life is good.

Haven't taken a nap lately... might give it a try this afternoon.

Sep 4, 2010

Going to the Sun

We're trying to take advantage of good weather days, so we headed back into the Park on Friday for day 2 of our Glacier Park explorations. The plan was a slow meander up Going to the Sun Road to Logan Pass and a hike to Hidden Lake from the Visitors Center at the top.

Glacier National Park was created by Congress in 1910. Early visitors arrived via the Great Northern Railway and stayed in a series of chalets or grand hotels which were also built by the railroad. During the 1920s work began on the Going to the Sun Road. It was designed to cater to a growing number of automobile-borne tourists and to join the East and West sides of the Park. After years of difficult engineering and construction challenges the 53 mile long road was completed in 1932.

And what an amazing road it is. Because it's so narrow and curvy vehicles longer than 21 feet and wider than 8 feet (including mirrors) are prohibited. There are many places where the rock walls intrude into the roadway... which could be big trouble for vehicles higher than 8 feet or so. The highest 10 miles of the road on the west side of Logan Pass, the summit, is carved out of a nearly vertical rock face called the Garden Wall. In places, masonry archways support the roadway and keep it attached to the rock wall.

The road is closed during most of the year... buried under dozens of feet of snow. In late Spring every year snowplowing crews, using huge dozers and other heavy equipment, spend as much as 10 weeks opening the road for Summer visitors, often making progress of only a few hundred feet each day. It's usually open by early June and can close again in October. The road really takes a beating too... not just from the traffic but also from nature. Freeze/thaw cycles, rock slides, avalanches, and water erosion conspire to wear it away and send it back down the mountain where it came from. As a result, the Park is in the middle of a major road restoration project that will go on for years more, but is necessary to keep the road safe and capable of handling the throngs of tourists every year.

Along our route to the top, we stopped at many pull-outs to explore, to enjoy a snack along a creek, or to just soak up the views. Of course Dar also loves snapping pictures, hundreds of them on a day like today. Traffic was heavy, but moved right along. In some places the road rehab project has the road down to just one narrow lane with traffic signals controlling an alternating flow of traffic.

At the top we ran into another small problem. Parking. Early holiday weekend visitors had filled the modest parking lot at the Logan Pass visitors center -- every last space. We hovered, slowly cruising around the lot in a line of other cars doing the same thing... hoping to spot someone ready to leave. Hope was the strategy as we circled the lot for 15 minutes or so. To keep the story short, I'll say we did land a space eventually. Because we were on a "mission", we knew we were going to find a place to park... even if it had to be on the sidewalk over by the rest rooms.

 30 years ago, on our visit here with daughter Andrea, we stopped at Logan Pass and took the 1-1/2 mile (each way) hike to the Hidden Lake Overlook. Once again we wanted to chase those old memories and do it again. There may be a more scenic and awesome hike somewhere else in Glacier, but I don't know of it. As you straddle the continental divide at over 6,000 feet elevation, you look out on soaring peaks and mountains all around. You look down into valleys and ridges far below. Alpine lakes that hold some of the runoff from the 80 feet of snow that falls up here each winter... blue green and clear as glass. And the wildlife.

One of our memories from our last visit was seeing a few Mountain Goats up close. But during our hike yesterday we were rewarded with much more. Besides the seemingly ever-present Mountain Goats we were able to get up close to three Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep... two large males and a smaller juvenile.

Check out these photos... and, as always, see more pics of our day in our online photo gallery which should be available in the next day or so.

Can it possibly get any better than this?

Sep 3, 2010

Gorgeous Glacier

After our quick move to the new camp yesterday, Dar and I headed into the Park for an afternoon of exploring. We were here 30 years ago with our then 4 yr. old daughter and thought it'd be fun to see how our memories held up over the years. During that first visit, we tent camped along Lake McDonald, stayed at Lake McDonald Lodge one night, and then another night at Many Glacier Lodge way over on the east side of the Park.

We're trying to take advantage of the good weather predicted for Thursday and Friday because things should deteriorate after that. The future looks wetter with a chance of rain every day through next Thursday. So while I'm behind on Journal posts, and Dar's behind on our photo albums, we're going to pack as much exploring as we can before Saturday.

We entered the Park through West Glacier, the commercialized gate community at the junction of US-2 and Going to the Sun Highway. First stop was Apgar Village at the foot of Lake McDonald. With the bright blue sky and clear air, the snow-dusted mountains at the other end of the lake seemed so close. Between the two of us we must have taken 50 photos.

Further along Going to the Sun Highway (the central road through the Park) we found the campground where we camped 30 years ago. We both had similar recollections of the approximate location of our campsite but the trees seemed so much larger. Of course, that's what trees do... get larger with time. My memory is that this campground was called Lake McDonald Campground, but it turns out it's called Sprague Creek. I'm thinking the name changed over the years but haven't been able to confirm this yet.

And just up the road from the campground was Lake McDonald Lodge, where we wandered the grounds, re-explored the lodge itself, enjoyed a beer and snack in the lounge, and took a bunch more photos. My memories held up pretty well as it was just as I remembered it. 30 years ago I stood in the lobby fireplace and did so again yesterday.

A little out of the ordinary, we witnessed a helicopter ambulance come in to take care of someone who'd become ill. Caught some good shots for the album too.

Time evaporated quicker than we'd thought so it was time to head back to camp. On our slow drive back down Going to the Sun Highway we stopped at most pullouts and enjoyed the views. With only a few people around we often felt like we had the place to ourselves.

Still using the same tour buses we saw 30 years ago.

Pinch me... am I dreaming?

Sep 2, 2010

Good to Have Wheels

Slamming car doors... loud laughter and talking... two drunken fools verbally and physically sparing with each other... a crying child... a woman's voice trying to quiet things down... broken glass... and more... cursing... and yelling... and one loud side of a few phone calls. It was midnight and this is what awakened me from my deep sleep. Alert... warning... "sound the alarm"... DefCon 5!... red alert... WAKE UP... prepare for battle.

Our first night after setting up camp at this un-named RV campground near Glacier provided a few tense moments for our intrepid explorers. The "perps" were a young couple, (he was celebrating his 20th birthday -- just a baby), their 2 yr. old child (do the math... babies having babies!), and a couple relatives (brother? brother-in-law? and spouse? girlfriend?) who were there to apparently help this 20 yr. old celebrate this monumental occasion. They, the couple and their kid, were living in a very small RV trailer amid piles of accumulated trash and debris just a short distance from our campsite -- supposedly there helping out the campground owner cut and split 10 cords of wood for the wood shed --  at least that was the story. The rest of the campground looked nice, normal, and as you'd expect. In retrospect, we were initially uncomfortable with the messy situation, but, due to the busy holiday weekend (campsites near Glacier are hard to find), decided it probably wouldn't become an issue and wouldn't have to deal with anything anyway.

Here I was, after midnight, listening to this ruckus. How do I deal with this? In almost 3 and a half years of living fulltime and camping in hundreds of places, this is the first time we were confronted by anything like this. In their drunken condition (and showing signs of being mean drunks, displaying that young male competitive bravado -- each trying to outdo the other in feats of daring-do, at least in their addled minds.

I reckoned any attempt to ask them to quiet down would probably fail and the situation might well deteriorate from there. What other options do I have?  I could call the campground office and prompt a confrontation with the owner. I could call 911 and get the cops involved. Hmmm. The options were many. But I wasn't liking the possible outcomes from these options... especially the last few.

Neither I nor Dar, who's also awake at this point, are feeling personally threatened. It's just a bunch of drunks making noise. So let's wait it out and see how the situation progresses. We had options to exercise if things deteriorated... things to do if it got worse. As we listened to the slurred speech and the nonsense spewing from the mouths of these "kids" having their little party in the middle of the night, we'd already determined that this would not only be our first night at this campground... but our last as well. We'll find a new camp tomorrow... after a little discussion with the owner.

And that's exactly what we did. Eventually the situation eased... probably as participants passed out. I fell back asleep by 2am... Dar by 3am. This morning we both headed to the office, had our discussion, and received a reasonable refund for our trouble. By 11am, despite the busy weekend, we had another place lined up... a very nice RV Park in Columbia Falls... just a dozen miles down the road.

Our new camp in Columbia Falls, MT.
Concern for personal safety keeps some people from pursuing this nomadic lifestyle. But after three and a half years on the road we can honestly say that this is the first situation where we've been uncomfortable. The key point is that when you do feel uncomfortable, get yourself out of the situation as quickly as you can. Listen to your instincts. Don't do things that will make matters worse. Maintain a comrfort-zone around you at all times.

And you'll sleep soundly... even in a Walmart parking lot.

Sep 1, 2010

Across the Great Divide

This afternoon we crossed the Great Divide at Marias Pass (5,213 ft.) on US-2 at the southern edge of Glacier National Park, and we're now on the Pacific Ocean side of the continent, where we'll be for a few months. Both Dar and I have missed the mountains... the dry air, changeable and unpredictable weather, coolness bordering on cold-ness, the vistas, stark white fresh snow framed by angry dark clouds and the brightest blue sky you can imagine... this is some of what we experienced today. And we relished every moment of it.

Tonight, we're at a small RV Park just outside the west entrance to Glacier NP. The campgrounds in Glacier don't have hookups at all, and since the temps are predicted to get down near freezing the next night or two, we opted for a place with "plug-eens" (power) for our little electric heater. That's one thing we like about this lifestyle... having options.

I'd have included a picture of our campsite here... but Verizon is being cantankerous... and not cooperating with me. So photos will have to wait until tomorrow.

Ready for the sack...

Beyond Branson; Pondering Future Travel

This past Tuesday, we moved from Branson to a very nice Corps of Engineer’s Park on Wappapello Lake.  We’re in the Redman Creek CG. This fac...