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May 2003
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© 2003, 2004
Susan L Stevenson

June, 2003
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Warning - Image Heavy & Slow Loading!
Friday, May 2, 2003
We are now the proud owners of a 25' 2004 Fleetwood Pioneer Travel Trailer. Click here to see photos of the inside of it. During the course of making preparations for the move, Steve and I had delegated duties to make the move as "painless" as possible (if that is even possible). Steve's responsibilities: Research and purchase a travel trailer to make our cross-country trip more livable, make all reservations at campgrounds along the way, make all necessary appointments with the movers, etc. and last but of the MOST importance: to comfort me when I begin losing my mind. In comparison, some may consider my duties to be minuscule: contact utility companies for shutoff, secure a remote post office box in Alaska so our mail will have someplace to go while we're on the road for 31 days, and plan out making on-the-road payments to creditors. In addition I've had the task of weeding through any accumulated belongings in an attempt to lighten the load. GOOD WILL will have lots of stuff to slap price tags on and resell

Today, I repackaged the porcelain dolls I had on display here at the apartment. I didn't want to take any risks with them getting broken by the packers. In addition to the ten I packed up today, there are still more than 20 at our storage unit - still packed up from the last move. Transient living isn't very conducive to keeping yourself surrounded by the things you love. Before you unpack, you can't help but think about whether it's really necessary or just one more thing you'll be packing up again in a couple of years. We'll be in Alaska for three years... maybe a few more of my dolls will get to come out of their boxes.
Monday, May 5, 2003
It's a little after 5am. I've been up since 4am. This isn't anything new. Insomnia has been a regular thing for me for a long time. First it was because of the stresses of school, then it was the stresses of war and worrying about my son and daughter-in-law in Iraq, and then it quickly became the stresses of moving. I go to sleep fairly early (before 10pm) but find myself wide awake at 3am with a million things going through my mind. Maybe my body only needs 5 hours sleep. If that's true, then why do I sometimes have those "power sleep" days every week or so when I sleep a full 12 hours? Go figure...

Yesterday was a productive day for me. More cleaning and weeding out old stuff. For any of you who know me well, I finally got rid of those "Happy Meal" toys I've been collecting! *smile* A little boy who lives below me will be thrilled to find the bag of toys hanging on his apartment door. (OK... so I DID keep the ones from Lord of the Rings and the ones with cute stuffed animals in them).

The "organized" me came out and I inventoried and made a list of all of our movie tapes. Grand total: 224 - and that's not counting the two boxes of Disney movies I have in storage. One thing's for sure; we'll have enough movies to keep us busy when the nights last all day long up in Alaska. Of course we have our favorites - and will be taking a handful with us just in case we run into horrible weather while camping and bad TV reception.

This week is the final stretch for us. Today the truck goes in the shop to have the bedliner and truck top installed, and I have to go by school and pick up my Honor Stole for graduation on Saturday. Tomorrow the dog and cat go to the Vet for their wellness exams and I'll pick up their records. We can't take them through Canada without a Well Animal Certificate. Steve has final medical appointments necessary for clearing this duty station. On Wednesday, Steve will go into work and collect his personal belongings as well as his bike - which he has kept there for PT. Thursday I will follow him to Orlando to ship my car to AK. We'll continue on to Tampa, where we'll be staying with friends since Steve has another clearing appointment at MacDill AFB there. We'll return on Friday afternoon, pick the dog up at the kennel, and try to "chill". Graduation ceremonies are at 11am on Saturday, but I have to be there at 10am. The packers will arrive on Monday and pack for two days. On Wednesday they will load us up and the apartment landlord will do our check-out. Thursday we hit the happy trail. We're hoping to be on the road by 4am so we can avoid the horrible morning traffic. And then - we're NOMADS for 31 days.
Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Why is it that everything seems to happen at the last minute? Yesterday, Steve called the Navy base to confirm our moving appointment. They hadn't made the appointment yet! He notified them back in April about this move. He explained that we have to be on the road on the 15th and is at the base (as I write this) trying to straighten everything out.

Then... Yesterday I took Steve over to pick up his truck (which had the cap and bedliner installed). When I tried to start the car, I got ZIP. Steve jumped my car and we drove immediately to the Navy Base to have someone at the Auto Shop look at it. We're supposed to drive it to Orlando on Thursday to have it shipped! The mechanics ran diagnostics on it and told us that the battery was fine - it was the starter. Why did it start with the jump if it's the starter? I suppose I should feel grateful that this all happened NOW and not on the way to Orlando or once we got to Alaska.

On a happier note, I got an early morning phone call from my son, Brandon - who is back in Kuwait and hoping to be back in the USA by July 4th. (Keeping my fingers crossed). He also got to call my daughter-in-law, Becky - who is back in Utah having surgery for a knee injury she sustained while in Iraq.

This afternoon, I haul the dog and cat to their favorite place - THE VET! Once I get them their wellness exams, I can cross one more thing off my list of "to-dos".

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Wednesday, May 7, 2003
Everything seems to be back on track. I picked up my car and it runs fine again. The dog and the cat went to the Vet for their wellness exams. The Vet told me that both my animals are a bit too plump; but I knew that already. When the Vet manipulated the "pooch" on my cat's belly and advised that she lose about a half pound, I thought to myself "we should ALL be so lucky!". Of course, a half pound is a lot for a 12 pound cat. What am I supposed to do? Put her on a training schedule? She lays around in the sun all day and once in a while brings me a lizard or tree frog. I'd say she works pretty hard...

The "Do Not Pack" pile is growing in the guest bedroom. For anyone who isn't military, this is the pile you place in an out of the way room or area, with a huge sign on it that tells the movers it's not going on the truck with them. This pile consists of clothing we'll need on the road as well as any valuables we intend to hand-carry. As much as we'd like to hope that the movers contracted by the military are honest, there are many horror stories about cameras or CD's, etc. which turn up missing. We don't take any risks. This means that all of my photographic equipment is coming with us. What makes this move different than the others is that we also have a pile of stuff that will go into the camper so our cross-country trip will be as comfortable as possible.

Tomorrow I'll be following Steve to Orlando to ship my car. I'll see it again in mid-June.
Wednesday, May 7, 2003, POSTSCRIPT

My grandfather died this afternoon (Pop Pop Smalley)... His passing brought a tremendous sadness to me. Not only because he is no longer here with us, but because I am in the process of moving. (When my father died in 1996, I was also in the process of moving.) What brings me comfort is knowing that Pop Pop is finally with his wife and all his children - in a beautiful place where he no longer suffers.


Walter Louis Smalley
July 7, 1910 - May 7, 2003
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you wake in the morning hush
I am the swift, uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
Anonymous

My Pop Pop was a great inspiration to me. His love for photography is what got me started in the hobby. His wonderful sense of humor brought laughter to every family gathering. He was a very intelligent man. In the 1940's he worked on the Manhattan Project helping to develop America's first atomic weapons. He enjoyed tinkering with electronics and would build all kinds of contraptions from scratch. He enjoyed when his children and grandchildren would stop to visit every Sunday after church. I can honestly say that I never knew him as anyone other than a humorous, smiling, and loving man. How blessed I am that he was my grandfather. Pop Pop, you will be missed by all. I love you.

Friday, May 9, 2003

We're home from Tampa. We left yesterday morning and drove from Jacksonville to Orlando to drop off my car so it could be shipped to Alaska. (I followed Steve) They estimate the car will get to Fairbanks no later than June 9th - which means it will beat us there. The military will store my car for thirty days after it arrives, which gives us plenty of time to pick it up. The process was a fairly long one. I suppose I just imagined I'd turn over the car, the keys, and do some paperwork and we'd be on our way. But there's more to it. The car has to be cleaned inside and out. (We knew that ahead of time and took care of it before we left yesterday.) Except for a few bug carcasses on the windshield, it looks great. The staff then boxes up any personal stuff that is ALLOWED to go with the car. This includes owner's manuals, the license plate, basic tools, the jack and spare, and other items specific to the car. They hand you back all the extra stuff such as sunglasses, cassette tapes/CDs; even a set of winter gloves and a scarf I had in the trunk. Then they go over the car with a fine tooth comb - making note of any and all defects. My car is a 1995 Nissan Sentra. It has seen much better days. The paperwork has a diagram of a car and the inspector has to place "x"'s on the parts of the car that have damage and then draw a line to a handwritten description written in the space around the diagram. On our diagram, it looks like my car is sporting a full fur coat with all the lines drawn out of the diagram! Steve and I got a good laugh out of that. A little more than an hour later, we were on our way to Tampa.

We made the decision to stay in Tampa last night because that's where Steve had to attend his final "out-processing" appointments this morning. We have great friends (Mark and Dawn Stephens and their children Josh and Autumn) who are stationed at MacDill AFB and they were gracious enough to open their home to us. Mark happens to be deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, so we missed the chance to say goodbye to him. But Dawn, Steve and I (and the children) went out to a great dinner at a restaurant overlooking the bay. Later at the house, the kids went off to bed and the adults shared two delicious bottles of Merlot. Steve hit the sack at midnight and Dawn and I stayed up till 3am this morning talking "girl talk" and enjoying our last evening together. This morning Dawn prepared a fabulous breakfast for all of us and, while Steve was at his appointments, she and I gabbed some more. It was a little sad to say goodbye, but I hope that they will find some time to make the trip to AK to visit. Thank you, Dawn, for the wonderful time we had at the "Stephens' Bed & Breakfast". We love you!

Tomorrow I graduate from college! HOORAY! The ceremony is at 11am, but I have to be there at 10am. My cap looks absolutely HORRID, but I suppose I just have to deal with it. I am very proud of my accomplishments and once graduation is over - it's our final chance to decide what we'll hand carry on this trip and what we'll have the movers pack up on Monday. Less than a week to go...

Saturday, May 10, 2003

I did it! Today was graduation! It was a very nice ceremony. I felt proud of myself and also a bit sad. I really wish my dad would have been able to see me accomplish this. But I do believe that he "sees" me anyway. They split the graduating class into two sections; the AS (Associate in Science) students and the AA(Associate in Arts) students. At the beginning of the procession were the Honor Grads. First came the 4.0 grads, then the Highest Honor Grads, and then the Honor Grads. Following these three groups was the rest of the class. I walked to the front of the line and found two other 4.0 grads in the AS program. Since the AS students were getting their certificates first, we would be the first ones across the stage. No one wanted to go first! I said, "After all the hard work I put into this - I will go first!" And I did... First one in the auditorium; first one across the stage; first one to get my degree. It was such a wonderful moment! I was so proud of myself and yet, also a bit melancholic. I enjoyed attending school. I enjoyed learning new things. I enjoyed meeting people who shared my interests and had the same types of goals I did. I don't think this is the end of my education; whether formal or not. After the ceremony, Steve and I drove to a park nearby and he shot a few photos of me.

Tonight we are going out to celebrate at our favorite restaurant here in Jacksonville - Carrabbas. (Thank you brother Steve and sis Diane for your gift certificate!) Tomorrow is our last day to organize before the packers come. In five days, we leave FL behind.

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Monday, May 12, 2003

The packers came today. Boy, what a hectic mess! It's hard to fathom how much stuff you have until someone comes out and starts loading your belongings into boxes. It's like living in a Medieval fort with the huge piles of boxes outlining only the narrowest of walkways throughout the apartment. And then there is all the stuff they WON'T pack and ship: anything flammable, anything liquid, cleaning supplies, some foods, plants, etc. Take a second and look around your place at all the liquid stuff you own... Half of our stuff is liquid! Think about it... shampoo, liquid laundry detergent, some medicines, peroxide and alcohol... you name it! We had to get rid of so much stuff - what a waste of money and goods.

After packing the apartment, they followed Steve to the Store-All to pack up the stuff we've had in storage since we got here. I don't know why they have to re-pack stuff that was already packed; I guess it's a liability thing.

Now we're living with the bare necessities. All the stuff we're hauling is in a pile off by itself in the guest bedroom or already in the camper. Tomorrow the packers will be back to wrap the furniture and the movers will follow to load the stuff into crates. When you do an "overseas" move, your belongings go into huge crates so that they will make the transition from moving van to barge and then back to moving van again without being downloaded box by box.

Only days to go....

THE MOVE BEGINS!
Thursday, May 15, 2003

The past few days have been extremely hectic (as you can imagine). On Tuesday, the packers came back and loaded our household goods. Then they drove over to our store-all to load the stuff we had over there. When everything was loaded and crated, and we started going over the paperwork, we noticed that an inventory page was missing. It seems that one of the packers had tagged the items and loaded them on the truck without writing them on the inventory sheet. (He later said that he "thought he remembered running out of inventory sheets"). Needless to say, there was no way we could sign off on the job. We called a representative at NAS JAX Navy Base (the Navy is moving us) and were advised to make a report of the problem to protect ourselves on the receiving end in the event something is missing. What upset me the most is that the store-all was where all my porcelain dolls, photo albums and other memorabilia, and Steve's tools were stored. I can only hope that everything shows up in Alaska intact.

On Tuesday night we slept on an air mattress on the living room floor. We still had some boxes of stuff that we had to load into the camper and carry with us but other than that, the apartment was empty. Exhausted from the intensive cleaning of the place, we fell asleep fairly easily. At 2am it was abundantly clear to us what exactly our cat does at night which makes her sleep all day.

Running at amazing speed, she crossed the apartment - back and forth. When she got into one of the empty guestrooms, she'd chatter to herself and then race back to the living room again. This went on for about an hour. I suppose I never realized she behaved this way because we typically slept with the bedroom door closed. Steve and I lay in the dark laughing out loud at our black furry maniac.

Yesterday, we finished loading up our belongings and the landlord inspected the place. It looked better when we left it than it did when we moved in. With nothing keeping us in FL, we decided to begin our trip. We bid farewell to Jacksonville at 5:15pm and arrived in Hope Mills, NC (our first stop) at midnight. Now we can spend the entire day here visiting with old friends. We hope to hit the road about 4am in the morning en route to Philadelphia.

While in NC, we also enjoyed visiting with Samantha and Felicia - Barbara and Mike's granddaughters. As usual, I snapped photos of these two beautiful girls and enjoyed hanging out with everyone.

400 miles down, 6900 to go!

Saturday, May 17, 2003
Bensalem, PA - Staying with brother Steve and sis Diane & niece and nephew, Rachel and Sean.

Yesterday we left NC at 4am so that we could avoid the traffic in the DC area. Anyone who has ever made the trip up the east coast via I-95 knows that the entire trip must be planned around rush hour in our nation's capitol. If you don't plan correctly, you can face delays up to 2-3 hours. (More if there's a traffic accident - which is common)

We hit rain in northern Virginia and it stayed with us the rest of the trip. Despite the low visibility and the heavy crosswinds (which made towing the camper a lot more difficult), we made the trip from NC to Philadelphia in about 10 hours.

Last night, my brother Marc and my sister-in-law Denise came over to hang out with us. We watched a movie, had a little champagne, and laughed a lot. Steve and I went to bed early; rising at 3:30am yesterday really took its toll.

Today is Pop Pop's funeral service - a Life Celebration. Although it will be a sad affair, I am looking forward to seeing the extended Smalley family. It's just a shame that as you get older, it seems the only family gatherings are at funerals...

Sunday, May 18, 2003
Here's a photo of some of my family and friends who attended our going away party.

What a wonderful evening I had last night! Diane and Steve were gracious enough to open their house to family and friends so that I could have the chance to say goodbye before beginning the cross-country part of the trip.

Many of my cousins visited and a few friends I haven't seen in years. It was great seeing my friend, Denise Allavena. She and I met nearly 24 years ago when we both worked as data entry operators for the IRS. I hadn't seen her in probably 15+ years! My friend Lee came by too. He and I worked together at the Post Office and it's been about 2 years since we've seen each other.

I think the highlight of the evening was the slide show my cousin, John set up. John has hundreds of slides which my Pop Pop took. These photos were taken when our parents were just married - some even when they were only dating! Other photos were of all of us children when we were only toddlers and infants. Not only were the photos entertaining... but we took turns interjecting hysterical commentary to go along with them. We all laughed so hard, at times we had tears streaming down our faces. I've posted some of these old photos HERE.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Crystal Rock Campground
Sandusky, OH

Our Rating:
(Scale of 1 to 10 - 10 being excellent)

Appearance : 3
The only thing that got them the 3 is the cleanliness of the bathrooms.

Facilities: 5
The campsites were very small and maneuvering of any large trailer to get to the site is difficult.

Value: 6
The campsite cost us $24.00 - the average cost of a campsite for a travel trailer.

WEATHER:
Raining and cool - highs and lows in the 50's

ABOUT 1500 MILES DOWN - 5800 TO GO!

I am sitting in my camper for the very first time! This is our first night finally using the camper, since the previous few nights have been spent with family and friends. Setting up for the first time wasn't too difficult, but we did have to take our time and make sure we did everything in the right sequence in order to get the camper level and functioning properly.

We made great time coming out here from Philadelphia. We took the PA Turnpike out of Bensalem, PA and then the Northeast Extension all the way to I-80. We took I-80 all the way into Ohio before we picked up the Ohio Turnpike. It was an easy drive and traffic was very light. My brother, Steve, gave us a portable CB radio and we listened to the truckers all the way. What a wonderful method of keeping up on the road conditions - to include accidents and radar traps (which we dodged at least four times). Sadly, we heard the news come over the CB about an 'Evel Kneivel' (motorcyclist) who had just run headlong into the back of a pickup truck. We passed the accident as paramedics were strapping the victim to a backboard and we noticed that he was injured gravely. We drove even more carefully after witnessing that scene.

We arrived in Sandusky a little after 4pm and visited a grocery store before checking into our campsite. It is now only a little after 9pm and Steve and I are looking forward to finally discovering if our camper bed is going to be a nightmare to sleep on or comfortable. If it turns out to be a restless night for Steve, tomorrow could turn into a stressful event. (Fingers crossed that we don't have that happen).

We expect to get on the road by 9am at the latest. The fortunate thing is that we will gain an hour as we cross into the Central Time Zone.

PA CountrysideScenes like this dotted the countryside. The Lehigh Tunnel goes through the Pocono Mountains in PA and is a mile long. We really enjoyed the rolling hills and acres of farmland we passed. Very nice!

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Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Baraboo Hills Campground
Baraboo, Wisconsin

Our Rating:
(Scale of 1 to 10 - 10 being excellent)

Appearance : 9
Well-kept, shaded lots, beautiful countryside.

Facilities: 10
Large sites, laundry, pool (not open yet), very clean bathrooms and showers, mini-golf, modem at office.

Value: 9
With AAA discount, we saved 10% off the daily fee. Three days - $75.00

WEATHER:
Sunny and temperate at arrival (about 60), nighttime lows: 30's - BRRRRRRRRRRRR! We used our camper furnace for the first time. Tomorrow they are predicting the same temps.

The trip from Sandusky, OH to Baraboo, WI was fairly uneventful. We stayed on the Ohio Turnpike the entire way and then crossed Indiana on the Indiana Turnpike. Just before crossing into Indiana the rain started. Nevertheless we were still able to average about 60-65 mph.

Entering Illinois brought a change to everything. Chicago is right up there with our nation's capitol when it comes to traffic problems. Lots of construction, lots of intersecting highways, and because we chose the toll road (Northwest Tollway) - lots of stops at toll booths to pay. We estimate that we stopped at least 7 times to pay our 80 cent toll. Not only was this an inconvenience, but it caused serious backups on the highway. I would like to know where the money goes; the roads were awful.

Once we left Chicago behind and skirted Rockford, Illinois, the countryside began to change. The urban sprawl of the big city fell behind us as we began moving through true farmland and past magnificent ranches.

The CB radio saved the day when an alert came across the airways about a "parking lot" on I-90/I-94 due to construction. We hopped off the interstate just before the traffic jam (phew!) and drove through some of the most awe-inspiring rolling hills and agricultural tracts. Despite the 35 mph speed limits, we were making better time than those poor people stuck on the highway.

We arrived at our campground by 5pm. Leveling and hooking up only took us about an hour this time (we're still novices!).

We were settled in with enough time to watch the season finale of "24" (one of our favorite shows). As soon as it was over, we went to bed and fell fast asleep. Until 3:30am that is... that's when the extreme cold woke us both and we turned on the heater for the first time.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Visiting with Chris
Wisconsin Dells

Me, Chris, Steve
Me, Chris, and Steve

Lower Dells Rock Formations
Rock Formations

What a wonderful day! We were up by 7:30am and out the door by 9:00am on our way to Madison to pick up Chris. Chris will be spending today and tomorrow with us and we will take him home again as we pass through Madison on Friday morning en route to our next stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

It was so good seeing my son again! Our last visit was in April, 2002 when Chris flew to FL to visit with us. We stopped and had breakfast before continuing on to Wisconsin Dells. Our plan for the day included a scenic boat ride down the Wisconsin River - the Lower Dells.

Wisconsin Dells is just like any other resort town. The roads leading into Wisconsin Dells are rural and pass by many magnificent farms, but once you get into the city its "touristy" feel is apparent. There are gift shops and restaurants and water parks and amusement parks and all kinds of scenic attractions.

We took an hour-long ride a little way down the Lower Dells. The rock formations were amazing - caused by the advance and retreat of glaciers over millions of years. I shot a few photos, but wish I would have had more opportunity to take my time and explore without the constraints of the boat ride.

Tomorrow we are planning a trip to Devil's Lake just south of here. There are hiking trails there and Chris says that there are also plenty of photo ops in the area. At least we'll be on foot and have the freedom to go wherever our feet can take us.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Devils Lake State Park
Just south of Baraboo, WI

Chris & Steve
Chris and Steve

Steve & Me
On the hiking trail

Weather: BEAUTIFUL!
60's and sunny

Devils Lake Panorama
View from the hiking trail - Notice the rock stairs ascending the hill

Last night the temperatures dipped into the 30's again. We heard the heat go on in the camper several times and the cat found a nice warm spot to curl up underneath Chris's blanket on the futon sofa/bed.

We were all up before 7am - the sun shining in the sky and the morning already starting to warm up. After eating a light breakfast, we headed to Devil's Lake.

What an absolutely gorgeous place! We got a map showing the hiking trails at the guardhouse and decided to take the EAST BLUFF WOODS trail - a 1.3 mile easy to moderate walk up the East Bluff. There were several fairly steep grades and we stopped to rest a bit from time to time. Once we got to the top of the bluff, we decided to take the BALANCED ROCK TRAIL back to the parking lot. This trail was extremely steep and difficult and traversed over stone "steps" on the south face of the East Bluff. The views were awe-inspiring, but several times I felt the dizziness of vertigo as I made my way across boulders and down steep stone stairs with nothing to hold on to. I am thankful that Steve and Chris were there to assist me. Once, I stepped onto a huge, flat rock and my foot slipped. I panicked but luckily didn't lose my footing completely (which would have caused me to fall 30 feet to the rocks below). After Steve grabbed me and pulled me to safety, I fell apart. All I could think about was just how dangerous this trail was and how easy it would be to be hurt or even killed in a fall. Behind us, a young scout troop followed. I could only imagine the trip releases that those parents were made to sign! View some additional pictures by clicking here.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Bluffs Run Casino RV Park
Council Bluffs, IA

Our rating: 3
A place to park - that's it. Basically it's a parking lot with water and electric hookups.

Weather: 74 degrees and SUNNY!

2300 miles down, 5500 to go!

We left our nice campground in Baraboo at 7:30am this morning. The drive back to Madison to drop Chris off at his apartment took about 45 minutes. We then spent an additional 30 minutes or so saying goodbye. I always love spending time with Chris and hate when our time visiting is over. We had a fabulous time hanging out and he promised to come to Alaska as soon as we get settled in.

The drive to Council Bluffs, IA took us through some pretty nondescript countryside. Iowa is basically flat and nothing but farmland. Steve refers to Iowa as "Iowa DZ" (DZ is 'drop zone' for those who aren't familiar with military acronyms.)

When we got close to our exit on the highway and realized that there was hardly any greenery at all, we knew our "campsite" was going to be- at the very least- hot.

Pulling into the casino parking lot verified our fears... we are now the proud renters of a 30x65 cement pad. The positive thing about this location is that there are hookups and the site is totally level, which facilitated setup. Oh... and did I mention we are the youngest campers here? Seems this casino does a booming business with our silver-haired population. Our trip inside to get dinner revealed a noisy, smoke-filled facility complete with bells and whistles and sirens and screaming seniors as they pumped handful after handful of nickels and quarters into the slot machines.

Saturday, May 24, 2003

Eagles Canyon Hideaway
Bruel, Nebraska
(on Lake McGonaughy)

Our Rating: Overall - 5

Appearance: 6
The sites are small, there are no trees, and the campground is soft sand which makes for difficult leveling.

Facilities: 7
There's a pool, general store, dogwalk, small snackbar, cabins, and close proximity to lake.

Value: 3
$31.65 - They said it's because of the holiday weekend. I thought it was a bit higher than the site was worth, however the staff was very nice and helpful.

Today got off to a wet start. The rain started last night just before we fell asleep, and continued until we got about 20 miles west of Omaha. We had breakfast in the Casino - utilizing our complimentary half-off coupons presented to us when we checked in last night. Actually, it wasn't bad. The buffet was hot, included a variety of items, and for a grand total of $5.50 for BOTH of us - quite a value.

Driving was a bit stressful. I-80 across Nebraska is bumpy- very bumpy. Steve chose to drive in the passing lane to avoid the extreme bumpiness of the other lane and became the topic of conversation with all the truckers surrounding us. (He was holding up traffic because he couldn't keep up the speed due to a steady uphill climb). Finally, the road became a bit smoother and we were able to get back into the "slow" lane.

We heard of a fatal accident (via CB radio) that has shut down I-80 just west of where we are. Apparently an 18-wheeler ran into the bridge pillar of an overpass and collapsed the entire bridge. I-80 is closed in both directions, so we have to find an alternate (slower) route to get past it.

The landscape of Nebraska was also pretty nondescript until we got closer to the western side of the state. Finally, rolling hills are appearing again. Obviously these are the very beginning of the foothills which lead to the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide. (Which we will cross tomorrow) Click here to see more photos.

Eagles Canyon CampgroundEagles Canyon Camping

 

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Sunday, May 25, 2003

Tex's Travel Camp
Green River, Wyoming

Our Rating: Overall - 8.5

Appearance: 6.5
The pull-through sites aren't as nicely landscaped as the other sites.

Facilities: 10
The bathrooms and showers are immaculate. The majority of the campground is beautifully landscaped. Close proximity to the lake for fishing and kayaking is a plus.

Value: 10
Laundry, Cable TV, Modem, Fishing, etc. and all for $25.00.

Weather: 73 and sunny until a torrential downpour fell this afternoon and lasted about 40 minutes.


Expenses: The beginning days of our trip were the longest and our gas expenses show it. Steve's truck gets an average of 6 mpg pulling the camper - however we have found that when going downhill on some of the steep grades, we have reached 64 mpg! (Of course I don't like the white-knuckle feeling of careening down a steep road at 70 mph) What this means is that the average 450 mile day means three fill-ups. And this translates into about 100.00/day in gas alone. We will get reimbursement for a portion of our trip, but the side trip we're taking along the Oregon and Washington coast - as well as the trip up the east coast to see family and friends - is our expense alone. Anyone making such a long trip, should seriously think about the fuel expense and prepare ahead of time.

 

Today was a day full of so many emotions - mixed emotions. As we traveled through the western part of Nebraska, with its gorgeous bluffs and miles of ranchland, I felt content to sit and watch the landscape go by. Traffic was light on the interstate and even though we had a long day ahead of us (400+ miles), Steve and I were both feeling very relaxed. We knew that we would shortly be entering Wyoming and the landscape would change once again.

Nebraska WindmillWindmills like this one dotted the countryside. The pastures were full of cattle and the number of babies grazing with their mothers was incredible.

Last season's corn fields were brown and dried, but this season's hay fields were lush and green. Beautiful wildflowers dotted the land - some standing alone, some in clumps that went on as far as the eye could see. The sun was shining and it was in the 70's - perfect weather for a drive across America.

As we crossed the border into Wyoming, things remained relatively the same. The one big difference was the poverty we began to see as we passed through Cheyenne and Laramie. Like many bigger cities, it seems that the most depressed parts of town are those closest to the interstate. Soon the landscape began to gradually change and the rolling green hills gave way to sagebrush-dotted mounds of rocks and sand. As we moved closer to the central part of Wyoming, we were rendered silent by the appearance of snowcapped mountains on the horizon. This was the Wyoming we remembered from our drive to Montana several years ago.

Medicine BowThe interstate climbed and fell - steeply in places - and we began climbing higher in altitude. I felt at peace; seeing such beauty outside my window brought a calmness over me. The same calmness that Steve and I experience whenever we explore the western part of our country. How different it is from Philadelphia and the entire east coast...

Steve asked me to read to him from The Milepost. The Milepost is a thick informational magazine/publication put out each year and is the "bible" of anyone traveling through western Canada and Alaska. I suppose he was in the mood to hear about what other wondrous sites we would experience when we left the Lower 48 behind.

As I read from the book, it suddenly dawned on me just how far we are going to be from everyone. I suppose I never really thought about moving to Alaska as anything other than an adventure. In moving with the military, I've learned to go into autopilot during these upheavals. Viewing the moves as an adventure makes things go much smoother. But in those moments while reading, I began thinking about Chris in Wisconsin and Brandon still in Kuwait, and my mom and my brothers and sister-in-laws and niece and nephews in PA. And my many wonderful friends spread out all over the east coast... In Alaska, we would be so far and I was already missing everyone. I wept for a good 15 minutes and expressed my sadness and fear to Steve. As usual, he calmed me and promised that I could go "home" anytime I wanted to; making me realize that I was only a plane-ride away from my family.

As the mountains grew closer, and the wildlife became more abundant (we saw Pronghorn Antelope, Prairie Dogs, Chipmunks, Coyotes, and Deer), I regained a peaceful feeling again. After setting up camp, Steve and I sat on a bench overlooking the river and canyon and watched the sunset. It wasn't as spectacular as some of the sunsets I've seen in FL, but it was the first of many sunsets we will share during this great adventure.Click here to see more photos.

Monday, May 26, 2003 Memorial Day

Salt Lake KOA
Salt Lake City

Our Rating: Overall - 9
KOA's have everything you could possibly ask for but you are also crammed into small spaces. It suited our purposes just fine.

Weather: 85 and Sunny

TODAY WE MET MY DAUGHTER-IN-LAW, BECKY, AND HER PARENTS!

Me, Steve, BeckyMe, Steve and Becky

 

 

 

 

Ray and Linda Zimmer and BeckyRay and Linda Zimmer and Becky

Today was a short day for us. We took our time this morning before leaving Wyoming and hitting the road for Utah. We figured that we would get into town around 3pm and before leaving WY, Steve called Becky's mom, Linda, and told her when she could expect us. Linda and Ray invited us to have dinner at their house followed by a tour of Salt Lake City. Steve and I were excited about finally meeting the young woman our son had married back in January, as well as her family.

The drive into Utah - particularly the Salt Lake City area - was breathtaking. Towering cliffs of various shades of red poked up from the lush green tundra. In the distance were towering snow-covered mountains. The roads also became steeper and we alternated between climbing slowly at a dismal 40 mph and descending in low gear to prevent ourselves from reaching speeds over 90 mph. Although Steve and I had been to Utah before, our exploration kept us in the southeastern portion of the state. We were looking forward to seeing the state's capitol city.

On the way to SLCStopping at a rest stop along the way, a paved pathway took us to an overlook where I captured this shot. The colors were brilliant in the afternoon sun and the temperatures were hot.

 

 

 

Me & SteveMe
and
Steve

After settling in at our campsite, Linda and Becky picked us up to take us back to their house for dinner. Once we arrived we met almost the entire family. We met Grandma and Becky's siblings (she is one of 7). I remember some of the names, but not all - my memory has really slipped in my old age! Therefore, I won't even mention the brothers and sisters I remember, so as not to offend those whose names I can't recall. We had a delicious dinner of steak and salmon and fruit and pie for dessert. What a welcome change from the fast food that Steve and I have become accustomed to during this trip. The conversation at dinner was terrific. Becky's family is much like mine - lots of talking and laughing during the dinner hour. Brandon will fit in just fine...

After dinner, Ray and Linda and Becky took Steve and I into town and we toured Temple Square. I got great photos of the Salt Lake Temple, the Tabernacle, and the gardens. I also took some photos of Becky. You can view them HERE.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Double Dice RV Park
Elko, Nevada

Rating: 7.5
Gravel parking lot, pay showers, no modem, no amenities (except for gambling, which we aren't into)

Anyone who equates Nevada to Las Vegas, has absolutely no idea of the beauty of this state. Steve and I have found that the most awe-inspiring sights are those that are far off the beaten path.

Great Salt Lake
Great Salt Lake

Utah Salt Flats
Salt Flats

WEATHER: 85 and Sunny
We got sunburn on our faces in less than 20 minutes.

3500 miles down 4000 miles to go!

Today was our second leisurely day. With only 224 miles on today's schedule, we were able to sleep in and take our time in departing Salt Lake City.

Almost immediately after leaving Salt Lake City, we got our first glimpse of the Great Salt Lake. Soon after we found ourselves traversing miles upon miles of nothing but salt flats. The pure whiteness of the salt appears to be snow. There is nothing in the salt flats - no cities, no facilities, nothing. Only when we got closer to Wendover, did we see signs for the Bonneville Speedway (which is where they attempt the World Land Speed Record - which is currently somewhere up around 800mph)

Unfortunately our drive was not a relaxing one. When we were only 27 miles from Nevada, Steve and I were the eyewitnesses to a horrible accident involving a tractor trailer and a pickup truck towing a van. (We were in the westbound lanes; they were in the eastbound lanes) We watched as the driver of the pickup attempted to pass the semi and lost control of his vehicle in the truck's wake. (We learned a long time ago about the strength of a semi's wind when it passes) The pickup cleared the front end of the semi, but the van he was towing ended up fishtailing all over the highway. This caused the pickup and the van to jackknife in front of the semi - who then plowed into both vehicles, driving them to the shoulder.

Steve immediately pulled over to the shoulder and ran to the accident site to see if there were any injuries while I used our cell phone to call 911. Amazingly, both drivers were uninjured, but the towed van was a total loss - snapping an axle, blowing out all the windows, and suffering massive body damage. While watching the accident occur, Steve and I were convinced there were going to be fatalities. How glad we were to learn that no one was hurt. We continued on with our drive, shaken and driving much more defensively.

As we got close to the Utah/Nevada border, we began noticing some more snowcapped mountains on the horizon. They seemed to rise up almost immediately after crossing into the state. Not only did mountains rise up, but so did mile after mile of Casinos. We stopped at the Nevada Welcome Center to get a map and some information about Elko - our next stop.

After setting up camp (another one of those gravel-paved parking lots), Steve and I headed for Lamoille (La-MOE) and the Canyon Trail Road - a scenic drive in the Humboldt-Toyabe National Forest, which climbs high into the Ruby Mountains. If we wouldn't have stopped at the Welcome Center for information, we wouldn't have even known this scenic drive existed. What a totally breathless drive! I shot over a hundred photos on this hour-long trip.

The road winds up between tall snowcapped peaks. Much of the road is barely two lanes wide and guardrails are few and far between. Going up the road was a little tense for me. Being able to see deep into the gorges below was disconcerting to say the least. But the scenery was magnificent. As we climbed higher, the temperatures dropped. When we started the drive it was 84 degrees. At the end of the route it was barely 50 degrees. The snow was still deep in places - more than 5 feet deep. But the road was clear. There were many waterfalls along the way as the winter snow melted and ran down to the river deep in the gorge. The contrast of the bright green new leaves of the aspen trees, the yellow of the wildflowers, and the pristine white of the snow was everything a photographer could hope for.

After completing our drive, we took the advice of our brochure and stopped at O'Carroll's Bar and Grill in Lamoille for a quick beer. The bar was a typical cowboy bar and full of locals. We were the only "tourists" and at first felt a bit out of place. But we sidled up to the bar with the rest of the patrons and within minutes we were talking to them about our trip and where we had come from, etc. It turns out that another lady at the bar was born and raised in Anchorage and left AK because it was too cold for her (and the Nevada mountains don't get cold??!) She did tell us that it was an absolutely breathtaking state and that Steve and I would enjoy it if we were the type who liked to get out an explore.

I wish I could post all of my photos - so many of them are beautiful - but I'm limited. If you click here, you can see some more of my favorites.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Lake Tahoe, CA
Tahoe Valley Campground

Our Rating: 7
Shaded sites, older bathrooms, a few amenities.

Weather - near 90 and absolutely BEAUTIFUL!

Susan
Scenic overlook

Steve
Steve on overlook

We are finally in the second half of our journey. Tomorrow we'll be in Bodega Bay (Remember "THE BIRDS"?)

3900 miles down 3600 to go!

Highest Point
This was the highest altitude since passing through the mountains in central Wyoming.

I was up at 5:15am. I don't know why. I didn't get to bed till after 10pm last night. The sun was already up and shining brightly in the early morning sky. Steve and I were on our way to Lake Tahoe at 7:30am. We had a 350 mile drive ahead of us and wanted to get to Tahoe with enough time to explore.

The trip through the western half of Nevada was pretty boring. The snowcapped mountains were gone and only brown hills surrounded us. When we reached Carson City, the desolate countryside disappeared and urban sprawl took over. (How spoiled we have become with open road driving).

We climbed to over 7200 feet in altitude as we made our way to Lake Tahoe. I started suffering mild symptoms of altitude sickness about 2 hours into our drive. I got a pounding headache, suffered mild nausea, and just felt "blah". My asthma attacks were frequent. I read about altitude sickness and knew that as my body got used to the change, it would soon adjust.

After setting up camp, Steve and I went out looking for a place to have dinner. At first we thought we'd enjoy a romantic Italian dinner in one of the nicer restaurants in town. Then we came upon the South Lake Tahoe Marina Restaurant & Bar and saw that the parking lot was packed with cars even though it was only 4:30pm. We decided to go in.

The restaurant was right on South Lake Tahoe beach. We chose to eat outside. A live band was playing. People of every age were there - from children to seniors. Because the outdoor part of the restaurant was on the beach, lots of people were in their bathing suits and barefoot. Others were dressed up for a night on the town. It didn't matter - anything went.

We only had burgers and a few beers, but it was one of our favorite meals since heading west. Tahoe is one huge resort town and the only purpose to being there is to have fun. And we did.

After dinner, we took a short walk on one of the docks and then drove up scenic route 89 on the westside of the lake. It was gorgeous!

Tahoe Dock
Tahoe Dock
Emerald Bay
Emerald Bay Overlook
Appoaching Tahoe
Approaching South Lake Tahoe
Lone Sailboat
Lone Sailboat
Thursday, May 29, 2003

Bodega Bay, CA
Bodega Bay RV Park

Our Rating: 7
No trees, sites very close, no sewer hookup at site.

A WORD OF WISDOM:
Do NOT try to navigate the streets of San Francisco while towing 30' of camper. Some streets were off-limit to trucks and long vehicles, but the ones that weren't were narrow and too congested to navigate comfortably. Our drive past Fisherman's Wharf was too stressful for us to enjoy the views. All we wanted to do was get out of San Francisco. There is a lot of road construction going on as well - even Golden Gate Park was closed temporarily.

Weather: A cool 55 degrees. Drizzling on and off. Very windy - especially at the higher altitudes.

Sea Lion
This sea lion obviously calls Bodega Bay his permanent home. Hanging out below a fish market, he barked constantly until the fishermen threw him their scraps. How neat to see a creature like this outside of a zoo!

See a few more photos HERE

Bodega Bay Panorama
Bodega Bay Panorama

We left Lake Tahoe by 7am - just as we had planned. Our drive today was 275 miles. The drive along Highway 50 was fairly easy, but things started to change after leaving Sacramento behind and beginning the approach to San Francisco. It is no wonder that the auto insurance rates in California are so high. Stress levels in our vehicle were at an all-time high and both Steve and I wished we would have chosen an alternate route.

After crossing the Oakland Bay Bridge and entering San Francisco, chaos ensued. Even though my husband has never driven a semi, he could almost definitely get his trucking license after demonstrating some of the moves he did today. (You should have witnessed the illegal U-turn we made in downtown 'Frisco.... we just wanted to ESCAPE!)

The view of the Golden Gate Bridge was practically nonexistent. A light rain was falling and the winds were gusting at almost 60mph at the bridge overlook. The upper part of the bridge was invisible - cloaked in fog. Even so... the weather made for some interesting photos.

After setting up in Bodega Bay (which is located along the coastal highway), we went out for dinner and then drove all around the bay. We'll definitely be using the heater tonight...

Golden Gate Golden Gate Bridge shrouded in fog

 

 

 

 

 

Bodega Bay CliffsCliffs overlooking Bodega Bay

 

 

 

 

Friday, May 30, 2003

Hiouchi Hamlet RV Resort
Crescent City, CA

Our Rating: 9
Grass, nice landscaping, nice location in the Klamath National Forest.

Today we drove the California Coast Highway (Rt. 1) from Bodega Bay to Leggett. The drive was 135 miles and took us 6 hours to complete because of the switchback roads, the ascent and descent over the coastal mountains, and stops to sightsee. We averaged only 30 miles per hour (if that). The views were terrific, but the drive was stressful. In most places there are no guardrails and the roads are narrow. Drop-offs to the ocean or forest floor below were as much as 500 feet.

After reaching Leggett, we still had to go about 200 miles to get here (Crescent City), but at least we were taking the freeway for that stretch. We spent 10 1/2 hours on the road today and we are exhausted.

Weather: Low 50's in Bodega Bay, reached as high as 68 when we were inland. Currently it's 55 degrees and overcast.

Along the way
Small hamlet on the way

Mendocino Shops
Mendocino Shops

Steve and I were both up by 5am and on the road by 7:15am. We knew the drive along the coastal highway was going to be a long one and wanted to get going as soon as possible.

Along the way, we stopped a few times to snap pictures, but I was looking forward to exploring Mendocino - an artists' enclave just south of Fort Bragg, CA (which looks nothing like the Fort Bragg, NC Steve and I were stationed at for 6 years!) We found a parking spot in Mendocino and walked a few streets so I could shoot some photos. Then we sat in the camper and ate lunch before getting back on the road.

The small hamlets along the coastal highway are very picturesque and interesting. Many of them have a New England flavor (as Mendocino does) and others look like fishing villages. Still others are fairly depressed with few amenities except for a small "Mom and Pop" grocery store and a gas station. Nevertheless, I was completely enthralled with the scenery as we made our way north.

We will be staying here in Crescent City tomorrow night as well and will be exploring Redwood National Forest. Here are some photos I shot today.

Foggy MorningOur morning started out foggy and remained that way most of the day while we followed the coast. As the road moved inland, the sun came out and the temperatures heated up to a balmy 68. Making our way back to the coast (and to our campground) brought fog and cooler temperatures once again.

 

 

Cliff CaveOpenings in the boulders like this one were normal. As the waves made their way into shore, they would crash through these openings. This photo was shot along the coastal highway, when we stopped to walk the dog and admire the wildflowers - blooming in abundance along the entire route.

 

Beach LevelSeveral times during our drive, the road reached beach level. I liked the way the driftwood littered the beach at this location and asked Steve to stop so I could take a photo. It also gave the faster motorists a chance to pass us - the "slow" people in the RV.

 

 

Port Arena LighthouseIn the background (faintly) you can see Port Arena Lighthouse just south of Fort Bragg, CA.

 

 

 

Today is day 16 of our trip. It is also the first camping stop on the west coast in which we stay more than one night. We'll be staying two nights each in the next 3 locations. Hopefully these small breaks will rejuvenate us and prepare us for the long journey across western Canada.

4500 miles down - 3000 to go!

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Saturday, May 31, 2003

Crescent City
2nd Day

What an absolutely gorgeous day we are having! It is only 3pm in the afternoon (6pm ET), but the office closes at 5, so I need to get this page uploaded.

Steve and I drove through the Redwood Forest today - a gravel scenic route that the locals told us about at the little restaurant we had breakfast at this morning. Again, I can't emphasize how important it is to mingle with the locals if you want to learn about those "off the beaten path places". What a treasure the drive was!

We walked through the Stout Grove and I shot more than a hundred photos. As usual, I can only post a few. I can't wait to print them out for my album.

After our drive through the redwoods, we took a drive along the Crescent City coastline and visited the Battery Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse was inaccessible at this time because the tide was in and separated it from the coast. With the sun shining high in the sky, and a cool breeze blowing off the ocean, Steve and I meandered along the coast admiring not only the huge rocks offshore, but the beautiful homes lining the street. One thing we noticed here is that the flowers are HUGE! Rose bushes are everywhere with blooms that are larger than a man's fist.

Battery Point Lighthouse
Battery Point Lighthouse

Just a little info about the Coast Redwood: Coast redwoods tower over all other trees in the world. One redwood was discovered with a height of 367.8 feet. Redwoods develop the world's greatest reported volume of living matter per unit of land surface. Giant sequoias, their cousins, grow larger in diameter and bulk, but not in height. Coast redwoods survive to be about 2000 years old, averaging 500 to 700 years old. They have no known killing diseases and suffer no significant insect damage.

No words can explain what we experienced while walking through this great forest...

Fallen LogFallen Log Through the RedwoodsThrough the Redwoods
The man in the treeThe Man in the Tree
Steve in TreeSteve standing in one of the trees.

Crescent City Coastline
Wildflowers and Coastline
Wildflowers and coastline
Crescent City Coastline
Crescent City Coastline
Steve and Me
Lone TreeLone tree

Tomorrow we leave for Oregon. This part of the trip is the part we have waited for. Finally a bit of a vacation. Two days in each campground for the next three campgrounds. Then we enter Washington State en route to our crossover into Canada.

Sunday, June 1, 2003

Bullards Beach State Park
Bandon, Oregon

Our Rating: 7
No cable, no modem, mosquitos, lots of underbrush, no maps. It's a state park and this is pretty normal. The location is wonderful. Short drive to beach and lighthouse.

Weather: Fluctuating between 60-68 degrees, with the beach temps being much cooler and having wind gusts up to 35mph.

Myers Beach
Myers Beach:
We were actually able to walk down onto this jetty and between the huge rocks. While down there shooting photos, the tide started coming in. Once the tide is fully in, the beach is gone and the rocks are separated from the shore. It was incredible!

Southern Oregon Coastline
Oregon Coastline

What a relief it was to begin what we are considering the "vacation" part of our trip. We are spending two days here at Bullards Beach, two days on the central Oregon coast and two days on the northern Oregon coast. What this means is that we are only moving 3 times over the next 6 days and each move is less than 150 miles.

We left our campsite in the Redwoods and took our time driving to Bandon, OR. Along the way we stopped several times to take photos and video and once took a walk on one of the sandy jetties during low tide (Myers Beach). It was our first close-up look at some of the huge rocks which pepper the coastline. Stopping at the visitor center after crossing the state line from CA to OR, we discovered that Oregon has nine lighthouses and all of them are on our route. Now our mission is to see all nine (or at least get as close as possible and photograph them); we saw three today: Cape Blanco Lighthouse, Coquille River Lighthouse, and Cape Arago Lighthouse.

Cape Blanco Lighthouse is currently being repaired/restored and is surrounded by scaffolding, but I took a photo anyway.
Cape Blanco LighthouseCape Blanco Lighthouse (1)
This is the oldest standing lighthouse on the Oregon coast; commissioned in 1870 to aid shipping generated by gold mining and the lumber industry. It is located on a cliff 245' above the ocean and the tower rises 59 feet.

 

 

Coquille River LighthouseCoquille River Lighthouse (2)
This is the lighthouse located in the state park we're staying in (Bullards State Park). It was commissioned in 1896 to guide mariners across a dangerous bar. It has a 40' octagonal tower. While visiting this lighthouse and exploring the jetties surrounding it, Steve and I caught our first sight of seal pups. How amazing!

 

Cape Arago LighthouseCape Arago Lighthouse (3)
This the closest anyone can get to this lighthouse. This lighthouse has a unique foghorn

Myers Beach Coquille River Lighthouse
How thankful I am for a self-timer on my camera! These photos taken at Myers Beach and at the Coquille River Lighthouse.

Tomorrow we hope to explore the town of Bandon (historic) and make another trip up to Coos Bay to purchase some more fresh seafood for dinner tomorrow night.

Monday, June 2, 2003

Still in Bandon

Weather: High 50's - Low 60's
Wind gusts 25-35 mph

We've been staying in a State Park which is why I don't have modem access and you will be reading this days after it was written.

Steve at Overlook
Shore Acres State Park

Shore Acres|
On the bridge across the pond

Shore Acres Gardens
Shore Acres Gardens

Roots
What a root system!

I had a bad case of insomnia last night. We were in bed by 10pm and I was wide awake at 2:45am. I closed the accordion curtain between the living space and the bedroom to try and keep the light from waking Steve, but I disturbed him nonetheless. I made myself a cup of hot tea and played computer card games until I got drowsy again around 4am. I slept an additional 3 1/2 hours and woke up again at 7:30 to the smell of coffee brewing.

Steve and I planned our itinerary last night, using our AAA tourbook and brochures we picked up at the Info Center. Our first stop was Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint in Bandon (proper).

Face RockThis immense sea stack is named Face Rock because it strikes a remarkable humanlike profile that, according to Native American legend, belongs to a maiden turned into stone by an evil spirit. (If you look at it closely, the profile is facing upwards on the right side and it appears as if her hair is entering the water to the left.

 

After breakfast (at a local eatery where we got to talk to some Bandon natives about the cranberry business - a major income producer in this part of the country), we visited the Bandon Glass Art Studio & Gallery, which is a working hot glass studio with absolutely gloriously colored Glass Art crafted by hand on the premises. There were paperweights and vases, perfume bottles and ornaments, and a myriad of breathtakingly beautiful and colorful works of art. Huge glass windows looked into the studio itself and Steve and I stood mesmerized along with a handful of other patrons as the artist (Dutch Schulze) crafted magnificent pieces from glass. We could have stood there watching all day...

We then parked the car and explored the historic area of Bandon. Bandon is not only known for its cranberry exports, but also for its cheese. Bandon beach also boasts the largest natural collection of agates, jaspers, and other semiprecious stones and is very popular with rockhounds.

Historic Bandon

The historic part of Bandon has many gift shops, restaurants, art galleries, and businesses. Steve and I came across a great bargain on fleece lined wool gloves and couldn't pass up the deal. (Thinking of the next few years) We also bought some fudge at the candy store.

 

After exploring the historic district of Bandon, Steve and I visited the Bandon Cheese Visitor Center where we sampled and purchased lots of cheese. We also indulged in an ice cream cone (waffle cone, two huge scoops - $1.50!) Our refrigerator now houses some great hunks of sharp cheddar, Monterey jack and Swiss cheese.

(Before I forget... gas has been costing us between 1.75 - 2.09/gallon. We gassed up in Coos Bay - $1.77 - and it was FULL SERVICE! The attendant not only filled our tank, but also cleaned our windows. When was the last time you had that happen?)

Our last stop was Shore Acres State Park, where we explored the gardens and wandered out to the observation building and overlook to shoot additional photos. We also hoped to see some migrating whales - which we weren't lucky enough to find.

We are leaving for the beach in 30 minutes (it's 8pm our time; 11pm ET) to catch what we hope will be a beautiful sunset down by the Coquille River Lighthouse (right here in the state park with us). Although we'll be bending the rules a bit, we're taking a bottle of champagne with us. What a way to bid goodbye to another day...

Tomorrow we're off to Newport, OR and hope to visit FOUR lighthouses, Oregon dunes, and a sea lion aquarium. I'll fill you in later....

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Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Beverly Beach State Park
Newport Beach, OR

Our Rating: 9
This is a state park with cable and we are on a beach-front site! We will be able to watch the sunset from our camper. It's packed - which is another indication that it is a popular place to stay. Oh... and the mosquitos are pretty much nonexistent

Weather: Temps are hovering around the low 60's and it's sunny. The winds are 10-15 mph. However... walks along the shoreline can be chilly. There have been times I've really started to rethink this AK thing!

We visited the Oregon Aquarium and saw lots of marine life indigenous to not only Oregon, but all over the country.

Sea Life
Starfish, anemones, etc.

Jellyfish
Jellyfish

Puffin
Puffin - my favorite bird!

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse
Yaquina Bay Lighthouse (#6)

The day after tomorrow we head to the northern Oregon coast (Seaside) and then we will cross over into Washington state. It is day 20 of our 31 day trip.

This morning we left Bandon, OR en route to Newport. Our itinerary included quite a few stops along the way. Our first stop was at Oregon Dunes National Rec Area.
Oregon Dunes
These sand dunes extend from Florence south for approximately 40 miles to Coos Bay. Some of the dunes are as high as 300 feet and are quite visible from the highway. No matter how much time is spent trying to "control" them, they are constantly shifting and covering vegetation, dune fencing, and even structures.

 


Our next stop was at the Umpqua River Lighthouse. It was early in the morning, but the volunteer was already on the job and told us the history of the lighthouse.

Umqua Lighthouse

Umpqua River Lighthouse
(4): An earlier structure was commissioned on the north spit of the Umpqua River in 1857 and was the first lighthouse on the Oregon coast. After sand eroded its foundation, it fell into the river. This lighthouse has a 65-foot tower and overlooks the sand dunes from an elevation of 165'. Across from this lighthouse was an observation deck where you can watch the migration of whales in the spring. The lighthouse volunteer told us that he sat out on a the jetty and watched hundreds of grey whales migrate in early April.

 


After visiting the first lighthouse on our daily itinerary, we visited the Sea Lion Caves attraction. Here, we walked out on a cement path to an overlook where we could see hundreds of sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks. After snapping a few photos and enjoying their constant barking, we took an elevator down 208 feet to the largest sea lion cave in the country. The cave was empty (they were all outside on the rocks), but there were exhibits and photos to look at. There was also an opening in the cave which faced the Haceta Head Lighthouse (Lighthouse #5 on our list).

Sea Lion Cave
Sea Lion Cave
Sea Lions Sunning
Sea Lions Sunning

After the sea lion caves, we drove to the parking area for Haceta Head Lighthouse and hiked up a hill to tour the lighthouse. "Bob" - the lighthouse volunteer - was quite longwinded and we learned just about EVERYTHING you could about the lighthouse, its history, and how it was built. We thought we'd only stop for about 15 minutes; our stay lasted closer to an hour.

Haceta Head Lighthouse
Haceta Head Lighthouse (from Sea Lion Caves) #5
Haceta Head Keepers Houe
Haceta Head Keepers House
Haceta Head Close Up
Haceta Head Lighthouse
After visiting the Haceta Head Lighthouse, we visited the Yaquina (Yah-kwih-nah) Bay Lighthouse (#6). (Photo on left) It's the second oldest standing lighthouse structure on the Oregon coast. The lens is 161' above sea level.

Last night we went to the beach in Bandon to see the sunset. We took Sedona (our dog) with us and she enjoyed romping on the beach with Steve. It was SO COLD! The wind was really kicking and I couldn't shake the chill... AK is going to be BRUTAL! See photos taken last night HERE.

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Still in Newport Beach:
Beverly Beach State Park

Sunset Photos:
Me and Sedona
Me and Sedona
Steve and Sedona
Steve and Sedona
Sunset
Sunset on Beverly Beach
Weather: 65 and SUNNY, with cool breezes coming off the ocean.

Last night we walked the few short yards to the beach here at Beverly to watch the sun set. It was definitely warmer here, but the ocean still had a cool chill coming off of it. We weren't alone this time; a few other campers had the same idea. They also had the same idea of sharing the sunset with their dogs and Sedona's hair on her back stood up constantly. (She thinks she's tough). Photos at left.

After having breakfast, we drove south back through Newport to visit the Nye Beach Historic District. This is the original resort area of Newport and has a variety of shops as well as the Yaquina Art Museum. Steve and I browsed some shops and bought some gourmet coffee and salt water taffy. We also walked on the beach looking for agates, but had no luck. On the way to Nye Beach, we spoke to a local about a good vantage point for the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. (We didn't want to pay a $5.00 admission fee just to take a photo) He directed us to a residential street which ended in a gravel road. We followed it to a small lookout and I got great shots of the lighthouse.

Haceta Head Lighthouse
Yaquina Head Lighthouse (#7)
House on Hill
House on Hill - What a view!
Susan Flowers
Whale Blowing
Whale blowing - it's migration season

Tomorrow we're off to Seaside, Oregon and I'm hoping for MODEM!

Thursday, June 5, 2003

Circle Creek RV Park
Seaside, OR

Our Rating: 7
The grass is nice, the location is good (just south of the congestion of Seaside), but they have a block on their phone line so I couldn't upload (there isn't a local number for Netzero). Fortunately, the campground host made a few calls for us and found a place in town with cable modem access that charges 5.00/half hour. I would have paid ANYTHING to upload!

Weather:
It's a HEATWAVE! Everyone is talking about the high temps they've been having. It reached the mid 90's today and the sun was blazing. Even on the beach at sunset, it was warm.

Lighthouse #9
Tillimook Lighthouse

Tillimook Lighthouse
"Terrible Tilly" is located one mile off shore and is no longer a functioning lighthouse. It is now used to house the ashes of some of the deceased. The only way to reach it is by boat or helicopter.

Steve and I had a pretty leisurely drive today. We took our time driving further north up the Oregon coast, stopping along the way at scenic overlooks and opting for scenic loop drives as opposed to the highway. There was really only one thing we needed to stop and see along the way - Lighthouse #8: Cape Meares Lighthouse.
Cape Meares Lighthouse

Cape Meares Lighthouse is not a functioning lighthouse anymore. A beacon was installed on the hill above the lighthouse years ago to guide watercraft along the coast. Tours are given, but we opted out of this one. The view from the cliff where the lighthouse stands is magnificent.

 

 

Once we got settled here in Seaside, we drove into town to wander this historical resort town. Seaside reminds me much of the towns along the Jersey Shore where I spent many summer days in my youth. It has a promenade (The Prom) which is basically a "boardwalk" to us Northeasterners. Perpendicular to Highway 101 (which runs along the coast) is Broadway Blvd. Broadway goes all the way to the beach and at the end of the street is a "turnaround". To this day, people cruise Broadway to the beach and the turnaround and then back out on Broadway again. In the center of the turnaround is a statue of Lewis and Clark - the End of the Trail Monument. All along Broadway are shops and restaurants, a carousel, miniature golf, bumper cars, arcades, etc. Steve and I had a delicious dinner at Guido & Vito's Italian Eatery and then left Seaside to make the trip a few miles south to Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock for sunset. (The most photographed rock on the Oregon coast).

You can view the photos of Haystack Rock and the beach here.

Tomorrow we'll still be here in Seaside. We are planning on returning to Cannon Beach to visit some of the galleries and shops.

BACK TO TOP

Friday, June 6, 2003

Still in Seaside, OR

Weather: 60's and sunny. Light fog over the beaches and mountains.

Astoria Column
Astoria Column

This morning I was up at 5:15am. I find that I've been getting up fairly early since we hit the west coast and the Pacific Time Zone. Perhaps I'm still getting accustomed to the time change, but I think it's due more to the fact that dawn occurs before 5am. We have a skylight over our bed and the break of day illuminates the entire camper. I don't really mind at all. I get up, get the coffee brewing, and look through our travel information to plan the day. I also like to open the blinds and watch the birds in the morning. The early morning silence is wonderful.

After eating breakfast, Steve and I headed back into Cannon Beach to visit some of the shops and galleries we passed last night on our way to Haystack Rock. The morning was cool and I wore my fleece jacket. Looking around at the rest of the people on the streets, I knew that I stuck out as a tourist. The others were in shorts and tank tops, despite the 53 degree weather. To me, it was chilly; to them, it was balmy. People were even heading to the beach! BRRRR!

Cannon Beach LibraryThis is just one of many beautiful and unique signs outside of the businesses that line the shopping district. (If you can't make out the small sign to the left, it's the library) Carved and painted wood signs are the norm and they look absolutely wonderful against the cedar siding of the buildings. The landscaping is lush and colorful and statuary is everywhere. We've been through Cannon Beach three times and each time, I've discovered something new.

After browsing the shops in Cannon Beach, Steve and I drove north towards Washington State (only 26 miles north of where we are currently staying). We wanted to check out Astoria and decided to drive into Washington to pick up some tourist information so we'll be more prepared for our trip through the state over the next two days. After accomplishing our mission, we backtracked to Astoria and drove up and down the streets so I could admire the sea-weathered Victorians and Cape Cod style homes. The town has the same feel as any seaside village, but the fact that it's built on several tiers (because of the mountainous terrain) made it even more interesting. It seemed that everyone had a great view of either the Columbia River or the ocean. And no matter where you were, you could see the coast of Washington.

We visited the Astoria Column, which was erected in 1926 to commemorate the discovery, exploration and settlement of the area. The tower has 164 steps to an observation deck where we could see the mountains, river, and ocean. You could buy handheld balsa wood gliders at the visitor center (4 for only 75 cents) and launch them off the observation deck. The thermals were incredible and some of them stayed aloft for more than a minute.

On the way back to the campground, we stopped for pizza at a local pizzeria. What a great change from the typical Dominoes or Pizza Hut. It was hand-tossed, double baked and delicious! Now we're in for the evening, despite the fact that it's only a little after 5pm. Tomorrow we'll be packing up and heading to Westport, WA (also on the coast). I'm planning to stop back at the Phone Connection to upload the two entries I made while here in Seaside.

Saturday, June 7, 2003

American Sunset RV & Tent Resort - Westport, WA

Our Rating: 8
This campground is primarily for RVs with level gravel sites for ease of setting up. There is also a heated pool, which we're going to bypass (no suits). The proprietors are very nice and extremely helpful with suggestions on where to go and what to see.

Weather: 65 and partly cloudy. Light wind. Early morning fog which dissipated just before noon. There is really no humidity here so even at 65 degrees, it feels chilly to me.

Tomorrow we will be camping in Lyndon - just northeast of Bellingham. It is our last campsite in the United States. It may also be the last time (if this isn't) I have access to Internet upload. I hope not; I'd like to be able to share our Canadian adventure with you all. We'll see...

A NOTE FROM ME
I am so glad that many of you are enjoying my journal entries. I just wanted to let you know that last month my site had almost 3000 hits (in only 2 weeks!) and this month (so far) I've had more than 1200 hits. If this keeps up, I will have to upgrade my membership to allow for extra bandwidth. This is a good thing for me and not a problem. I never expected for the site to be such a "hit". It is wonderful to share it with you. Thank you for your support.

Another leisurely drive for us - the last one before reaching our final destination. There will be no further drives which are less 220 miles; our longest days will top 400 miles.

We took our time this morning and didn't pull out of Seaside until just before 9am. This gave me enough time to stop at the Phone Connection to upload the last two journal entries. Because we had already explored Astoria, there was no need to stop. Then we decided on a whim to stop at the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse on the Cape Disappointment Bay on the Washington coast about 40 miles into our trip. We figured that since we had seen all the lighthouses on the Oregon coast - why not stop for this one too?

The walk to the lighthouse was 3/4 of a mile each way. And it was a strenuous 3/4 miles. The trail meandered through a wooded area in pretty much an uphill direction almost all the way to the lighthouse. I remembered thinking that I was surely going to burn off the Pop Tart I had quickly swallowed before leaving Seaside. With all the climbing and hiking I've been doing, I definitely have something on those "Buns of Steel" commercials. Is it a good thing or a bad thing when your pulse is pounding so strongly that you can literally hear it in your ears?

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
View from trail
View from trail
Sunset and evening star, and one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar, when I put out to sea.
But such a tide as moving seems asleep, to full for sound or foam.
When that which drew from out the boundless deep, turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell, and after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell, when I embark.
For though from out our borne of time and place, the flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my pilot face to face, when I have crossed the bar.
~ALFRED TENNYSON~

Things I've noticed about the Northwest... Espresso is a BIG business up here. There are espresso stands on almost every corner throughout Oregon and Washington. Full-serve gas in Oregon is a welcome surprise (it's THROUGHOUT Oregon!). California obviously up-prices their gas... we saw $2.99/gallon for premium gas there. The people are very friendly and don't have a problem talking to strangers (ie: especially obvious tourists). The 3-Star Service Flag we have hanging in the window of our camper (a star each for Steve, Brandon and Becky), has incited quite a few people to inquire or share their stories about loved ones they have serving in the Middle East. We have also gotten our share of honks, "thumbs up", and cheers. That makes us feel proud to be a part of the US Military. People here do not have "airs". Basically the people are hard-working, down to earth, and very homey. There are no department stores in this part of the country - unless you go to the bigger cities. The "mom and pop" stores are a pleasure to visit. Everyone says hello to you and you feel welcome. How wonderful it would be if the entire country could be this way. The graduating classes of the local town high schools boast an average of 20 students. Not only does the high school billboard have a congratulations posting on it, but so do the churches, the Chamber of Commerce, and local businesses. EVERYONE is supportive of the new group of young people leaving school and moving into adulthood. It's a great place to raise your children.

Until next time...

Sunday, June 8, 2003

Hidden Village RV Park
Lyndon, WA (about 8 miles from the Canadian border)

Our Rating: 8
This campground is in an out of the way place, has a pool, nice grassy sites (although they're not too level) and lots of shade trees. The proprietors have only owned the park for a bit more than a year and told us it was really a shambles when they took it over. They're doing a great job of bringing it back to life.

Weather: Mid 70's and the sun is shining (although it drizzled a bit when we left Westport and was overcast for quite a few miles into our drive)

Although our camping information indicates that we have modem access at a few campgrounds throughout Canada, there's always the possibility I won't be able to upload until we get to AK. I'll do the best I can to keep you informed...

5200 miles down
2300 to go!

Despite the warm weather yesterday, last night was another night when we had to fire up the heat in the camper. It seems that when darkness falls here in the Northwest, the temperatures do as well. It's nights like these when I feel quite fortunate not to be tenting. (Although snuggling to stay warm is always a plus)

Tonight we're BBQ-ing on our gas grill. Last night in Westport, one of our camping neighbors gave Steve three good size pieces of sea bass that he had caught and didn't have any room left in his freezer for. Because I'm not a seafood eater, I'm looking forward to the boneless pork loin we picked up while in Oregon. We both treasure times like this, when we can take our time preparing a nice home-cooked meal, rather than heating up leftovers or throwing something together quickly.

Seattle Space NeedleAfter passing through Seattle, we stopped at a highway rest stop and met two friendly couples who are also on their way to AK. The first couple - older and retired - have a summer home in Anchorage (which is where their grown children all live) and a winter home in Arizona. They are making their way back to AK to spend the next few months with their kids and grandkids. The woman followed me into the restroom and told me that another couple taking a break at the rest stop were also on their way to AK - Fairbanks, like us.

When we all got back to our vehicles/campers, we stood around and chatted for more than 30 minutes. The older couple had some great information for Steve and I about the drive on the ALCAN highway. They also convinced us to cut back on our daily mileage as the roads can be slow going with road repairs and gravel paving. We're heeding their advice and will most likely be changing our itinerary. We're hoping now to drive as far as we comfortably can tomorrow, so our second day (which was going to be one topping 400 miles) is cut shorter. That second day will be the day when we begin traversing mountains and we know it's going to be slow going.

The second couple - about our age - are visiting AK on vacation. They also came from AZ - Fort Huachuaca (sp?), near Tucson. The husband is retired Navy and their children are also grown and gone. They have always wanted to see AK and their loop begins in Fairbanks, circles to Anchorage, goes through Seward, and continues onward. Their enthusiasm about this trip matched ours, and they also listened intently to the "senior guy" regarding travel tips and road conditions.

We'll be setting the alarm for 4:30am and hope to be on the road by 6:00. Despite earlier plans to stop in Lac La Hache, British Columbia, we're going to keep going as far as we can. The more miles we tackle tomorrow, the better off we'll be.

Monday, June 9, 2003

The Blue Spruce RV Park & Campground - Prince George, British Columbia, Canada

Our Rating: We really can't rate this park honestly. It looks great, but we rolled into it without reservations and during a torrential downpour. The proprietors are very nice, and the fact that there was a site available is a major plus. The brochure lists a great number of amenities, but since we'll only really be sleeping here we won't get to check them out. Our cost: $24.17 (Canadian money) which exchanges to about $19.33 in American money.

Weather:
What a day! This morning when we left the Bellingham area, it was 50 degrees and cloudy. The sun broke through the clouds soon after entering Canada and traveling along the Cascade Mountains. The temperature also rose to a high of 73. About 6 hours into our drive (we drove 10 hours today), we were deluged with rain, hail, lightning and thunder for a good 10 miles or so. Visibility was awful and the temperature dipped to 49 degrees. Our driving speed also dipped to about 35mph and we lost some time. The rain came back again just as we got close to our destination here in Prince George. We had to set up camp in it, which was terrible but allowed us to break a new record for total trailer setup - less than 15 minutes! And that even included walking (or should I say dragging) the dog before taking shelter for the evening.

Tomorrow we're off to Dawson Creek (NOT of TV fame). Although the mileage from here is only 364 km (about 227 miles), the drive is estimated to take almost 6 hours because of the mountainous terrain.

Despite setting the alarm for 5am (4:30am is too early!), Steve and I were up and moving a little after 4am. Perhaps it's because the sky was already becoming light at 4:15. We knew we'd experience long days of sunlight in AK, but I suppose we didn't realize that the Northwest also gets some pretty long days too.

We only had to drive about 23 miles to the 24-hour border crossing. We wondered what kind of questions and/or searches we'd be subjected to. We had nothing to hide. The dog and cat both had their health certificates, we both had our birth certificates, and we didn't have any firearms. The only thing that concerned me was the 5-liter box of cheap wine I had stashed in the pantry - for personal consumption. The limit on bringing wine into the country duty free is 1.5 liters. (I'm not sure if that's per person or not - even so, my 5-liter box was surely against the "rules") At the most, we'd have to declare it and pay taxes on it.

Our border check was absolutely PAINLESS. The border guard asked us where we were coming from, where we were going, how long we'd be in Canada before getting to AK, why we were going to AK, and where our vehicle was registered. He did take a look at our license plate and may have run a check on it. He then asked us if we had any tobacco products or alcohol. Steve told him he had 10 cigars and I told him I had a box of wine. After a few short minutes, he bid us a safe trip through Canada. That was it. No showing of birth certificates or pet health certificates or even vehicle registration. I'm sure that other people have had the same experience that we did, but I'm also sure there are those who have had much different experiences. I guess there's no good advice to give to anyone traveling into Canada except to be prepared for any possible scenario.

We had read that we should exchange some money before entering the country, but decided not to. We have been putting most of our expenses on our Visa card and Visa will do the exchange rate for us. We were advised that the best exchange rates are those given by banks, which is why it is suggested that you use a major credit card when making purchases. In the few cases when we've purchased anything using cash (small purchases), the cashier has made the conversion for us. (It may or may not have been at the best rate, but for as small as the purchases were, we didn't care)

Speed Limit SignsThe biggest adjustment for us is using kilometers instead of miles and liters instead of gallons. The speed limit signs can be a bit surprising when you first enter Canada. To someone who doesn't see the "km/h" under the speed limit, you would think you had a license to drive like Mario Andretti. (100 km/h is the same as 62mph - luckily the speedometers on our cars reflect this unit of measurement). In the case of liters vs. gallons - what an awakening when gassing up! Steve's truck takes 26 gallons when it's empty. The average cost of gas has been 76.9/liter here in BC. It's a bit shocking to spend almost $70.00 on a tank of gas. Even with the exchange rate, it's still a big expense.

I just discovered that Netzero doesn't offer service anywhere for the remainder of our trip. I also discovered that they don't offer service in Fairbanks. I had already planned on getting a cable modem or DSL once we got settled, and this only reinforces that decision. I hope I can find another business which has upload capabilities while we're traveling along our final stretch.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Northern Lights RV Park
Dawson Creek, British Columbia
Canada

Our Rating: 4.5
This place is basically a place to unhook the trailer and spend the night. Dawson Creek is a HUGE tourist trap due to its claim to mile-marker "0" on the Alaska Highway. It is geared towards the traveler - with restaurants, bars, gift shops, and services (which includes liquor stores, car repair, grocery stores, etc.) I know I sound negative, but in reality, I don't mean to come across that way. If there is anything you need before you begin your 1500+ mile up the "Highway", you can get it here.

I am happy to report that I did find a business which allows internet access, so you will all be able to read this entry (tomorrow morning).


Mile 0
Mile "0"
Another Alaska Highway Sign
Sign at Visitor Center - Dawson Creek.

Weather:
Sunny and 62
It is currently 8:10pm and the sun is shining brightly enough that we have had to close the blinds. It still hovers about 3 inches above the horizon and will probably take an additional 3 hours to "set".

6000 down - 1500 to go!

Let me begin this entry by sharing my first observation since arriving in British Columbia yesterday afternoon at about 4pm in the afternoon (Pacific Time). After setting up camp, we did absolutely NOTHING. This was our opportunity - especially after having such a long driving day - to chill out and relax. It is easier said than done. We watched some television (we are thankful for cable TV in most of our campgrounds) and were ready to hit the sack whenever the urge hit us.

At 10:15pm, just after one of the sitcoms we were watching was over, we noticed that it was still light outside. Steve took the dog out for a walk, and ran into quite a few people standing outside their campers looking up at the "night" sky. I'm sure they were all thinking the same thing we were. Talk about strange! Imagine being outside after 10pm and the sky being as light out as it is at dinnertime (especially as we are accustomed on the east coast of the U.S.)

Sleep was sporadic, to say the least. I awoke at 3:30am and the sky was as bright as it would be just after dawn. As we hooked up the camper in preparation for our trip (at 7am), we noticed our neighbors' trailers - and their foil-lined light blockers on all of their windows. Just a tidbit of information... the birds awake at 4:30am here and are quite happy to begin their songs of serenade.

We took our time leaving Prince George. Our day was going to be relatively short (as compared to some of our longer days) - and with the daylight hours being so long, we knew we had plenty of time to make the journey.

On the way to Dawson CreekFollowing the West Access Route (and cross-referencing The Milepost -a MUST for anyone attempting this adventure), Steve and I began our 402.3 km trip from Prince George to Dawson Creek. After approximately 153km (95 miles), we began crossing the Rocky Mountains. If not for the slightly overcast skies, we would have had picture-perfect views. Nevertheless, it was awesome to see these snowcapped mountains appear on the horizon.

We passed through several small towns along the way and also several Provincial Parks (The equivalent to State Parks in the USA). Many of them offered camping opportunities - although some had no amenities such as electric or water (or a combination of the two). If you are a tenter (or don't mind roughing it for a day or two), there are many opportunities to set your stakes in a gorgeous place. There are lots of great places to cast a line and catch some fish as well.
Bijoux FallsWe stopped to have lunch at Bijoux Falls Provincial Park (kilometer 185.6). The falls were beautiful and the sound of the rumbling water was a pleasant backdrop while we sat in our camper and dined. There were bathroom facilities, a few picnic tables, a gravel parking area, and lots of the gorgeous steller jays flitting about. (Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos of these blue plumed birds; maybe next time)

We passed through Chetwynd - known for its collection of chain saw sculptures - but didn't stop to photograph any. Chetwynd lies at the northern end of the North East Coal resource, one of he largest coal deposits on earth.

A little further down the highway, we passed through Tumbler Ridge, which is the site of some recent dinosaur fossil finds. At this point, you have the option of taking the Hudson Loop instead of continuing on towards Dawson Creek. The Hudson Loop also intersects with the Alaska Highway, but cuts about 29 miles off the trip. If you're someone who wants to get that photo of milemarker "0" (or needs to pick up supplies or have repairs made on your vehicle), you'll want to continue on to Dawson Creek, instead of taking this detour.

While here in Dawson Creek, Steve and I visited Canadian Tire - a combination auto/home store, where we purchased a bug screen for the truck (it mounts over the grill and keeps insects out of the radiator). We also snapped some obligatory photos of milemarker "0" and found a business that allows Internet upload. Tomorrow, we head to Fort Nelson, British Columbia - a 450km (280 mile) drive.

Some information about "Mile 0" on the Alaska Highway (from an information sign posted at the visitor center):

At this spot in the spring of 1942 at the height of World War II the US Army Engineers began the construction of the overland route to Alaska. Nine months later, at a cost of over $140,000.00 the road was completed. This is a road construction feat unsurpassed in modern times; 11,000 troops and 16,000 civilians were employed in this project.

There are 133 bridges and 8000 culverts embodied in the 1523 miles of gravel highway. The rattle and roar of the mighty bulldozers was a source of amazement to both the local white man and the northern Indian.

Over this lifeline to the Northwest, thousands of troops, food and war supplies have been transported. In more recent times, the mighty H BOMB was known to travel this route. It was maintained by the Canadian Army until April 1964. Maintenance was then taken over by the Dept. of Public Works, Ottawa.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Westend RV Campground
Fort Nelson, British Columbia
Canada

Our Rating: 3
This is one of the only RV parks in Fort Nelson. Our original reservation was at a campground well north of Fort Nelson and we needed to pick up supplies and wanted to eat dinner in a restaurant tonight, so we chose to stay here in town. The town itself is quaint and the locals are very friendly and helpful, so I don't want this rating to reflect on the town itself. The campground is unkempt. The smell of urine is pervasive. (Either the campers here have no common decency or the waste system needs a total overhaul) There are several Provincial Parks along this stretch of the Alaska Highway (however, they may not offer services such as water or electric) and they would have probably been a more pleasant place to put down stakes for the evening. On a more positive note... the proprietor was very friendly and allowed us to use her personal phone to cancel our reservation north of here. There is modem hookup, but only if you have a toll-free number for your Internet provider. The campground is completely overrun with a caravan of RV'ers - probably 40 units - and I suspect we'll be running into the same group again on this final stretch of our journey.

Weather: 54 and overcast. The heat is on in our camper. Light winds currently. Our trip here took us through several hard rains, but they were almost welcome as they cleaned some of the dirt and bugs from our vehicles.


Tomorrow we have a 330 mile (525.7 km) trip to Watson Lake. Estimates are that it will be more than a 7-hour drive - and that's if the roads are in decent shape. Today we had several small areas of gravel and frost heaves. Nothing that slowed us down tremendously. We learned from a seasoned traveler to watch out for the red squares placed on the side of the road - these are an indication of road upheaval. Basically there is no warning, so you have to stay aware at all times. We also descended on our first 9% grade and also had several 6%-8% grades. Gearing down helped a lot, but it still was a bit disconcerting to be pointing nose downward with a trailer attached to us. Most of these grades also went into fairly sharp turns. All in all, the drivers of the Alaska Highway are very courteous. Whenever there is room to pull out, slower moving traffic moves over to let the others pass. It's nice to drive alongside of people with good manners. Another big change from the "big city" we're accustomed to.


Fort Nelson's existence was originally based on the fur trade. In the 1920's, trapping was the main business in this isolated pioneer community. Fort Nelson expanded in the 1940's and 50's as people came here to work for the government or to start their own small business. Major gas discoveries were made in the 1960's. Westcoast Energy - the largest natural gas processing plant in North America - purifies the gas before sending it south through a 800-mile-long pipeline.

Last night we froze! I woke up around 3am and turned on the heat, but still couldn't manage to get warm. When we finally got out of bed this morning at 7am, we realized that two windows were open. We had opened them when setting up the camper - when the temperature was still in the comfortable 60's. So much for heating the outside...

Before hooking up the trailer, we decided to go into town to have breakfast and then run over to Internet Emporium to upload yesterday's journal entry. We found a small diner-type restaurant (The Lodge Motor Inn & Cafe) and ordered the 'special' - a ham & cheese omelet, hash browns, and toast - for only $4.95; a real bargain! The food was plentiful and the staff was very friendly on this rainy morning.

After uploading ($3.00/per 30 minutes of Internet time), we came back to the trailer, hooked up and continued north.

Peace River BridgeOnly 34 miles (55km) into our drive, we came to the Peace River Bridge. Bridging the Peace was one of the first goals of Alaska Highway engineers in 1942. Traffic moving north from Dawson Creek was limited by the Peace River crossing, where 2 ferries with a capacity of 10 trucks per hour were operating. Work on a permanent bridge was completed in July 1943, but it collapsed in 1957 after erosion undermined the north anchor block. This bridge was completed in 1960. (Information taken from The MILEPOST).

Moose on HighwayOne of the first small towns we drove through was Fort St. John. Although we didn't stop there, The MILEPOST lists several attractions in the Fort St. John area. It was at this point in our drive, that we began seeing signs warning of moose. I was so excited about the possibility of seeing moose! Shortly after snapping a photo of this sign, I caught a quick glimpse of a moose cow and her calf grazing around a small waterhole just off the highway. A few miles later, we spotted another cow standing on a hill as if she were watching the traffic go by. As an added thrill, only a few short miles after that sighting, we saw a coyote standing in a ravine at roadside. (For all of you who are used to sightings of this kind of wildlife, I must sound like a crazed nut... but for us, it was just one more indication that we were far from the hustle-bustle life we have become accustomed to.)

I can't stress enough how valuable The MILEPOST has been to us while making this journey. With warnings about rough roads and gravel, and warnings about last stops for fuel, etc. it has been a godsend for us. At first I balked a bit at the $25.95 pricetag, but it has paid for itself many times over. Plus, it makes for great reading!

Steve and I stopped at milemarker 182.8 (294.2 km) - a large gravel turnout on the west side of the highway - to stretch our legs, walk the dog, and snap a few photos of the scenery. Traffic is few and far between at times. Other times, you find yourself traveling with the same group of people for many miles. We've enjoyed looking at the license plates of vehicles and we've struck up conversations with folks from all over Florida. Almost all of the people we've met and talked to are older and retired. When we checked into our campground last night, the proprietor pinned us as military. "All the young people going north are either military, looking to move, or looking for work. The older people are on vacation or traveling." I wouldn't consider Steve or myself as "young people", but the compliment made us smile.

Desolation
Desolation at Milemarker 182.8
Peace River Valley
The Peace River Valley (milemarker 35)

Steve and I visited the Visitor Information Center here in Fort Nelson to ask about Internet connection capabilities. Although there are several Internet Cafe's, none of them allow a person to use their own laptop to upload. They are basically to enable a person to check their e-mail. We asked the girl if there were any computer stores in town. She pointed us to NORTECH - a computer supply store which basically sells printer cartridges, network cards, and some computers. We drove over and spoke to one of the clerks there. He told us that they didn't offer that service. We explained our situation and my project and he told us that he would be glad to unplug one of his computers and let me hook onto the network. He's even going to meet us at the store before it opens at 9am! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! Thumbs up to the great staff at Nortech in Fort Nelson.

STICKER SHOCK ITEMS: Four 16-oz cans of Guinness Stout we ordered with dinner at a local restaurant (USA price - $8.50/4pack) cost us a whopping $29.00!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ($7.25 per can) Gas is currently 90 cents/litre. This translates to $3.41/gallon. We've been told it's going to get higher as we move further north.

Watson Lake, Yukon Territory, Canada
Gateway to the Yukon and Home of the Signpost Forest

Sign Post Forest
Thursday, June 12, 2003

Downtown RV Park
Watson Lake, Y.T.

Our Rating: 5
This campground is a huge gravel parking lot. There aren't any trees or any picnic tables (not that we really care). The major plus is that it offers a free RV wash with an overnight stay. We definitely took advantage of that benefit. Now the truck and the camper are looking pretty spiffy - temporarily at least.The proprietor is very nice and our fellow campers are very friendly. We met several campers who lost windshields on the stretch of highway before getting here. We have been fortunate so far...

Weather: The lowest temperature we experienced today was 29 degrees farenheit. The high today was 48 degrees. Currently it is in the high 30's and the heat is on in the camper once again. It's also just about 10pm and the sky is bright. Boy, is that going to take some getting used to!

Steve and I stopped in Steamboat and had breakfast at the Steamboat Mountain Cafe (milemarker 332.4 - 531.6 km) A few folks who were part of yestereday's RV caravan showed up to eat while we were there and we chatted a bit. The snow began to fall again. It looked beautiful!

Morning BlizzardWhat a wonderful day we had today! Actually, it was probably our most harrowing as far as travel goes because we woke up this morning to huge snow flakes. When we turned on the TV, we learned it was 1 degree (C) - which is 33 degrees (F). We had to wear our rain gear while hooking the trailer up and it was literally FREEZING outside! By the time we pulled out of the campground to visit NORTECH and upload yesterday's journal entry, the snow was coming down in blizzard fashion.

Immediately upon beginning our drive north, we ran into construction and the highway became a gravel road for about 15km. Travel was slow - 30mph at the most. As exciting it was to see snow - especially after living in the southeast for the past 12 years - the realization that snow was going to become a pretty normal thing for us was daunting. Luckily the snow wasn't sticking to the road, but it was bathing the trees and mountains with a glorious and pure white coat of powder. Everything looked so clean and bright.

Only a short distance into our trip, we saw our first glimpse of wildlife. We spotted bison grazing near a field. Soon after, we spotted a moose. And then a moose cow and two calves stood grazing on the roadside. The darkness of their coats against the whiteness of the snow made them easy to spot. I was able to shoot a quick picture. After crossing the summit of the Canadian Rockies, we spotted a Stone sheep and I managed to snap a picture of her. However our most thrilling sighting was of two black bears.

Grazing Bison
Grazing Bison
Black BearWe slowed down enough so I could open the truck window and shoot this picture. The bear was moving pretty quickly along the treeline. The man behind us actually got out of his truck to try and get a photo. I hope we don't read about him in tomorrow morning's paper.

Sign Post ForestWatson Lake was an important point during construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942. The airport, built in 1941, was one of the major refueling stops along the Northwest Staging Route, the system of airfields through Canada to ferry supplies to Alaska. The Watson Lake Signpost Forest is at the north end of town and was started by Carl Lindley (1919-2002) of Danville, IL, a US Army soldier working on the construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942. Travelers are still adding signs to the collection, which numbered more than 49,800 in September 2002. It is said that Carl Lindley returned to Watson Lake in 1992 in celebration of 50 years of the Signpost Forest and added another sign - that which included his wife's name and his hometown. Steve and I could have spent more than an hour reading the signs, license plates, and handmade signs left by thousands of people over the years. I wish we would have made one ourselves and added it. Perhaps on the "flipside" in three years....

The views during this portion of our trip were magnificent! You can see some of the photos I took HERE.

Tomorrow we'll be in Whitehorse - our last stop in Canada, before we cross into Alaska. I can't believe the trip is coming to an end. It has been one great adventure, and one that Steve and I will never forget.

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Friday, June 13, 2003

MacKenzie's RV Park
Whitehorse, Yukon Territory
Canada

Our Rating: 6
We have discovered over the past few days that most of the RV parks in Canada consist of mostly gravel sites. At first we were disappointed in this because we were getting used to the tree-covered sites in Oregon and Washington. Then we realized that it is probably a good thing that there is no vegetation around us - the mosquitos can be quite bad, especially after a rain. This campground is a fairly nice one. The only downside is that it is six miles north of the town of Whitehorse. I would have preferred to be closer to town... On a plus - the bathrooms and showers are very nice.

Weather: Low of 35. High of 51. Presently (6:45pm PT) overcast and drizzling with temps in the 40's.

Tomorrow we will cross back into the United States. It will be a long driving day for us - 391 miles - to Tok, AK. Despite our enjoyment traveling through and exploring Canada, it will be nice to be back in the United States. We have a pocket full of Canadian money we need to exchange, and I'm hoping that the gas prices will drop. We have paid a high of .99 cents/litre while in Canada - the equivalent of $3.75/gallon. A person would have to sell their firstborn to be able to afford prices like this all the time!

Steve and I have already discussed the probability that we will be visiting Canada many more times over the next three years. There are many wonderful and exciting towns in BC and YT that we hope to experience while we have the opportunity. Canada is absolutely gorgeous out here and deserves much more of our attention.

This morning began as a cold and wet one. Although the rain had stopped, there was still a light mist that seemed to fall around us. The wind was cold and biting and Steve and I donned multiple layers and gloves to hook the camper up. The heat ran practically all night long, but it was warm and toasty inside. We didn't go to bed until after 11pm. It was hard to get into sleep mode while the sky was still light. This constant daylight is really going to take some getting used to...

We were rolling down the road by 7am and the temperatures hovered around freezing. We drove through freezing rain for almost an hour. Fortunately, the roads weren't slick. We did travel on several miles of gravel initially, but soon the hard paving took over. Once in a while, we'd hit a small chunk of gravel, but other than that the roads were in great shape.

Nisutlin Bay BridgeWe crossed the Nisutlin Bay Bridge just before Teslin proper. This bridge is the longest water span on the Alaska Highway at 1917 feet. The Nisutlin River forms the "bay" as it flows into Teslin Lake here. We stopped in Teslin (milemarker 804) to visit MUKLUK ANNIE'S - a restaurant that was recommended to us by the older man we met at the rest stop in Washington. Unfortunately we weren't hungry for lunch yet (the restaurant has been rumored to have the best ribs around), but we did browse her small gift shop.

Tlingit Heritage Centre A little further down the road, we took a small detour to the Tlingit Heritage Center - a small museum that tells the story of the Tlingit people of Teslin. I wanted to take a photo of the hand-carved totems gracing the entrance.

Other views during today's journey along the Alaska Highway
Teslin Lake
Teslin Lake
Scenic Overlook
Scenic Overlook

We arrived in Whitehorse (Historic Milepost 918) at about 1:30pm. Our first stop was at the Visitor Information Centre to find out if there were any companies that would allow me to get onto their network to upload my journal entries. It looks like I'm out of luck here in Whitehorse - despite it's appearance as a "big city" type town. There are a few places that a person can go to check their e-mail, but none where I can upload without a toll-free modem number. (Which NETZERO doesn't offer; I canceled my membership with them this afternoon).

After continuing north to our campground and setting up camp, we drove back into town to explore some of the shops. Whitehorse is a really neat city (it's the Capital of the Yukon Territory). Population is about 22,500 and most of it is under the age of 30. It seems to be a really laid-back, informal place to live - and the shops are what our teenagers would consider "cool". Many shops cater to the tourists who come through every summer season with souvenirs and postcards. But there are art galleries, coffee shops, and even "head shops" (anyone who is close to my age or older will remember those establishments in the 60's and 70's). I shot a few photos downtown that I think represent the city fairly well.

Cheechako's
This was a restaurant in town
Motel
Capital Hotel
Gallery
Yukon Gallery
Town & Mountain Hotel
Town & Mountain Hotel
Saturday, June 14, 2003

Sourdough Campground
Tok (pronounced "toke"), AK

USA

Our Rating: 7
Bath/Shower/Laundry facilities are nice. There's no cable and one local TV channel. (We're listening to CD's and may watch a video tape later). There is entertainment... a local guitarist/singer performs each night for the campers. The sites are treed (which is a welcome change, but also encourages the flying insect population) The office is housed in a log cabin and has lots of neat souvenirs and typical Alaskan and Native American goods such as gloves, art, baskets, etc. Every morning from 7am-11am they prepare a "Sourdough Pancake Breakfast" (fee) which can include reindeer sausage if you're so inclined. (And Steve is VERY inclined)

Weather: The day started out partly cloudy and 43 degrees. Soon into our drive, the skies became much bluer, with huge puffy white clouds hovering on the peaks of the nearby mountains. We reached a high of 63 when we crossed into Alaska. It is currently 7:12pm (Alaska Time - which is 4 hours behind ET) and the sun is blazing and still relatively high in the sky.


While driving, I caught a glimpse of this lake while making a turn along the Alaska Highway. At first, I thought that Steve was driving too fast for the photo to be in focus as I shot it out the window of the truck. Much to my surprise, the photo turned out beautifully.
Reflective Pond

Tonight, Steve and I took advantage of the "free" entertainment here at the campground. We were surrounded by approximately 25 fellow campers as Dave Stancliff strummed his guitar and long-neck banjo - performing songs he had written about life in Tok and all parts of AK. His music was upbeat and humorous and was a great diversion for us. As an added surprise, he gave us a CD of a song he had recorded about our military after learning about Steve, Brandon and Becky. How nice! It is now 9:43pm and the sun is still shining... I am exhausted physically, but my mind is telling me it's too early to go to bed.

After a quick run to the local McDonalds in Whitehorse (which doesn't have ham on their menu, so my bagel had to have egg, cheese and bacon on it), we hooked up the camper and were on the road by 8am. It was going to be a long driving day for us and we weren't sure what kind of surprises we'd come across in the way of road construction. This portion of our drive was the one with the most construction delays and horrible road conditions. Many times, we had to slow considerably due to frost heaves and chuckholes (potholes). There were also very long stretches of gravel paving and/or dirt and mud. Today, we had to follow a pilot car twice; once for about 5km (3 miles) and the second time for about 10km. Average speed during these stretches was only about 20-30mph.

The scenery was magnificent - as we have come to expect during our drive through western Canada. Immediately upon leaving Whitehorse, we got a look at snow-covered peaks on the horizon. We also caught a quick glimpse of a coyote who seemed to be checking out some ponies grazing near the road. The coyote took off when we slowed to try to get a photo. (Darn!) We passed a couple of kennels on our way out of town. Owned by dogsled champions, both of these kennels offered tours of the facilities and an opportunity to meet their champion huskies. In the winter, adventure tours are offered. (I hope to experience a dogsled adventure while here in AK)

Not long after, the rugged snowcapped peaks of the Kluane (pronounced kloo-WA-nee) Icefield Ranges and the outer portion of the St. Elias Mountains came into view. The Kluane Icefield Ranges are Canada's highest and the world's largest nonpolar alpine ice field.

Kluane Icefield Range
Kluane Icefield Range
Kluane Lake
Driving around Kluane Lake

All along the way, there were many beautiful places to pull out and shoot a photo or two. One such place was Pickhandle Lake (milemarker 1125.7 - 1864.7km). The sun was shining brightly and the lake had only the slightest ripple in it, which made for great reflective photos of the mountains and the fluffy clouds above.

Pickhandle Lake
Pickhandle Lake
Pickhandle Lake - Reflections

Our cross into Alaska at the Canada/United States border took only slightly longer than travel into Canada out of Washington. Again we were asked questions about our travel and whether or not we had purchased anything in Canada that we needed to declare. Our liquor content was well below the acceptable limits so that wasn't a problem. The guard did ask us if we had any Canadian beef products in our possession (Mad Cow), which we didn't. Also, the US had dogs at the border. We weren't sure what they were sniffing for - explosives or drugs. Nevertheless, we passed through with relative ease.

Midway LakeUpon entering Alaska, one of the first things that came into view was Midway Lake (milepost 1289.5). We also noticed that the highway here was just as bad - if not worse - than that in Canada. We didn't see any repair crews out once we crossed the border and hoped that it didn't mean that the US doesn't care as much about the road maintenance as the Canadians do. (And boy... do the Canadian's care! A big thumbs up to the hard workers we passed over the last week)

TOMORROW WE ARRIVE IN FAIRBANKS! OUR JOURNEY IS OVER, BUT THE ADVENTURE IS REALLY ONLY BEGINNING.

WELCOME TO FAIRBANKS!
This is the end of PART ONE of my journal - a day by day chronical of our 31-day drive from Jacksonville, FL to Fairbanks, AK. I hope you enjoyed reading about our adventure. From this point on, any postings will be for the purpose of keeping my friends and family updated. You are welcome to continue stopping by...FAIRBANKS JOURNAL CLICK HERE
©2003, 2004 Susan L Stevenson - All photos copyright protected