On Sunday, we took a tour up to the town of McCarthy in a 12-passenger van, on our way to the Kennecott Mines in Wrangell St. Elias National Park. To the surprise of a couple of passengers, Angel went with us. But she quickly settled in, and sometime into the ride, one passenger commented that they forgot she was there because she was so quiet. She is such a good girl!
The road up to McCarthy and Kennecott has a very bad reputation. One person even told us that if we were to drive up there we would need two spare tires. But the Wrangell St. Elias National Park ranger told Hector that the road was in the best shape it has ever been. Which did not matter much since our car was not working.
The ride up on the van did confirm that the road was not as terrible as some people were saying. Yes, it is sixty miles of gravel road that gets progressively worse as you get nearer to McCarthy. And, yes there is a very long stretch of road that has a washboard. But our van made it through just fine. Well, sort of.
The road is a 2-lane road, but just barely accommodates two cars in places. The driver of a rental class C was coming down the opposite lane at a pretty fast speed and never slowed down. He popped Kevin’s (our van driver) side mirror to the point that the glass shattered. After talking to the driver of the Class C, Kevin told us that his mirror flew off and hit him in the head. He was ok, but the damage was going to cost him.Continue reading →
It was raining when we left Whitehorse on day 9 on the Alaska Highway. Our 9th day driving out of 14 on the Alaska Highway, and our 19th day in Canada.
Day 9 driving recap:
Road Name (s): Yukon Highway 1
Road Type: 2-lane
Road Conditions: a few frost heaves and patches, becoming more frequent frost heaves just a few miles past Whitehorse, then several long gravel breaks due to road construction, smoothing out a bit just before Haines Junction
Miles Today: 130
Miles driven from Canadian border: 1754
Miles on the Alaska Highway: 985
Driving Time: 3:15
The beginning of the drive was not especially scenic, but of course we are pretty spoiled by now. And we soon had to slow down due to the road conditions. Continue reading →
We spent the next few days on beautiful Muncho Lake, combining relaxing and enjoying the view with some driving tours, some hiking, some kayaking, and, of course, photography.
At 7 ½ miles long, Muncho Lake is one of the largest natural lakes in the Canadian Rockies. The Terminal Range west of the lake is the northernmost section of the Rocky Mountains. These and the mountains east of the lake, the Sentinel Range, climb to 7,000 feet. The views of the lake framed by these mountains are spectacular.
Since it was raining and we did not see any wildlife during our drive to the lake, we doubled back in the car once it cleared for another opportunity to spot some wildlife. We drove back as far as some spots that are known for wildlife and had much better luck.Continue reading →
Yesterday was another driving day, day 2 on the Alaska Highway and our third in a row. We are moving through at a slightly faster pace than we originally planned at this point. It is great to have that flexibility.
Last evening, before we stopped at the rest stop for the night, we noticed a sign about construction work down the road. Since our motor home has a rear radiator, we read that it is possible for rocks to get propelled into it causing damage. Hector planned to install a rock screen to shield the radiator and had already purchased mesh wire for the job. So this morning he installed it. And, while he was installing it, it began to rain lightly. But he perservered.
Tip of the day: Attach wire mesh as a rock screen for rear radiators.
Cut the wire mesh to appropriate size, attach it to chassis or other hard metal brackets using zip ties.
Today’s driving recap:
Road Name: BC Hwy 97, Alaska Highway
Road Type: 2-lane
Road Conditions: Relatively smooth. Occasional gravel breaks or rough patches.
Miles Today: 271
Miles driven from Canadian border: 1068
Miles on the Alaska Highway: 343
Driving Time: 5:30
The scenery changed slightly with more forested areas with lots of pine trees and hillier terrain with mountains in the distance. There are some steep grades in this part of the drive, reducing our average speed. We spotted our first bears today, all three were black bears, and black in color as well.
The first gave us our closest look, he crossed the road and then walked along the side of the road for quite a while. He had quite a thick, wet, shiny coat, and no doubt had taken a dip in the nearby river. And now he was munching away at some greens.
The others went back into the forest when they saw Island Girl approach.
The morning rain shifted to cloudy conditions with some very pretty clouds, then to a sunny, warm afternoon. I was not expecting it to be this warm, so it was a nice surprise.
We stopped at the Trapper’s Den Wildlife Emporium just before Fort Nelson. The shop sells native crafts, moccasins, mukluks, fur hats, and lots of other stuff.
They even had camo lingerie (Wilderness Dreams!). It is a small but cute store with a very nice proprietor. She was talking to a couple of other locals in the store, and their accents were very Fargo-esque.
Next we noticed a Tim Hortons next to the gas station where we filled our tank, so we stopped to eat lunch and use their Wi-Fi.
And then continued to the Fort Nelson Visitor Center. Just across the way is the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum. The theme of the museum is transportation, and just in front of the entrance there is a monument commemorating the workers who helped build the Alaska Highway.
Then you enter the first building and oh boy, there is almost too much stuff at this museum. Pioneer artifacts, taxidermy displays, including an albino moose cow.
A display of artifacts from the Alaska Highway construction, antique telephones, a small general store display, antique signs, old radios, maps, an antique jukebox and more.
Outside there are all kinds of antique trucks and antique heavy equipment used in the building of the Alaska Highway as well as some fabulous vintage cars in a large garage on the property. And lots of license plates and tools.
Last, but not least, there are several buildings from the era of the Alaskan Highway, mostly there to display more artifacts – a typical house, a church, a log cabin.
Several young men were around to open the buildings and provide information about the artifacts inside. All for CA$5.
I think it must be tough to be a place “on the way to something else”. And so the people here make a heartfelt effort to provide visitors with the opportunity to connect with some of their history. Good for them.
We left Fort Nelson planning to spend the night at a rest stop about 50 miles away. Everyone we spoke with and everything we read said that this next part of the drive was the prettiest on the Alaska Highway, and there would be lots of wildlife.
As we left, we encountered some steep climbs and the mountains grew nearer. We climbed to the summit of Steamboat Mountain at 3,500 feet with beautiful views.
The first rest area we reached had a motor home sitting in the one spot with a view so we continued to the next one. There was a fifth wheel in the next overview but it had a wide area open with views so we stayed there. A beautiful spot.
We settled in and watched a bright red sun setting in the sky. We know the best is yet to come.
At the end of the Nevada section of Hwy 50 is the Great Basin National Park, a national park that we had never heard of before we began our drive on the Loneliest Highway in America. We love the national parks, and visiting new ones is always fun.
The Great Basin is comprised of multiple basins, from the Sierra Nevadas on the West to Utah’s Wasatch Mountains on the east, with lots of mountain ranges and few rivers. These narrow basins surrounded by mountains offer no outlet to the sea for their streams and rivers. So the water in its shallow salt lakes, marshes and mud flats evaporates.
Great Basin National Park was created in 1986 and includes much of South Snake Range, a desert mountain island surrounded by desert. This and other mountain islands support species of plants and animals that can only survive on the tall, cool mountains. At these higher altitudes there is lots of diversity – streams, lakes, and wildlife.
There are five campgrounds in the national park, one that accommodates big rigs. But we chose to stay at Sacramento Pass Recreation Area, a free BLM campground. It was just off the road but quite nice. There is an equestrian campground with even lovelier views on the upper level but there was one trailer there, so we chose to be on our own on the lower level. Read my review of the campground here.Continue reading →
Our first visit to Mono Lake was on a day trip from Yosemite National Park more than 30 years ago. We drove east on Tioga Pass and wound up on the east side of the pass looking at this brilliantly beautiful lake. This was my first encounter with the many colors of Mono Lake.
The lake was stunning and her colors changed when viewed from different angles. So much so that I later became convinced that there was more than one lake. And I never forgot her.
So this year we planned to return and spend some time there with the intent of watching sunrise over the lake, and of course photographing her. When we arrived in the area, our friends Nina and Paul and Russ and Todd had saved us a spot next to them overlooking the lake.Continue reading →
The day after visiting Manzanar, we continued heading north on U.S. 395 towards the town of Bishop and the Volcanic Tablelands. We were excited about visiting Bishop and boondocking in the nearby BLM Volcanic Tablelands. It was still somewhat windy, but the weather forecast was for the wind to die down, so we forged ahead.
Island Girl climbing the washboard road up to the plateeau
With help from our friend Nina, we found a nice campsite on the tablelands (only a couple are suitable for big rigs). It had a 360-degree view of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range to the west and the town lights of Bishop and lower mountains to the east. Absolutely stunning, see my review here.
That evening we stayed at our campsite and enjoyed the view.
We weren’t quite sure about returning to the “Q”. Some people said that once was enough. But we were excited about meeting friends in Quartzsite, although we cut our stay a bit shorter than last year.
And we sure are glad that we chose to return.
Last year I wrote about the Merchants in the Desert, and once again we headed out to all the shows. Frankly, I think that the Big Tent tent is the least exciting of all, although we spent a bit of time at one of the North to Alaska booths plotting our summer trip to Alaska.Continue reading →
We decided to take the scenic route to Quartzsite and made a brief detour to the town of El Centro. Our friends Brian and Leigh found a boondocking spot about 15 minutes from town in an area that had a very strong cell signal. So we stopped there intending to join them and new friends Seth and Drea for dinner, do some grocery shopping and leave the next morning.
But they convinced us to stay one more night. Angel was especially happy to hang out one more day with friends Emma and Curtie. Although they ignore each other half the time, she likes to have them nearby.Continue reading →
There is tons to see and do in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the largest state park in the state of California. Last year we enjoyed some hiking and drove to Borrego Springs to see the fabulous Galleta Meadows sculptures.
This year, we’re taking some time to work on Hector’s photography website while enjoying our beautiful campsite. But we have managed a few outings. Starting with the small but pretty good quality farmers market in town on Fridays. We’re big fans of farmers markets so we sample them whenever we can.Continue reading →