Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fort St. James, near Vanderhoof, British Columbia

Our return visit to Fort St. James was everything we expected. The day started out with low overcast skies and showers that persisted even as we drove the fifty kilometers north from Vanderhoof to the fort.

The building we were to stay in is the Officer's Dwelling House. Built in 1896, it is part of the national historic site and is furnished with artifacts from the late 19th century. We were given an orientation by Jennifer, one of the interpreters who works at the site. The orientation was to let us know which artifacts were not to be used during our stay, where the bathrooms and showers were and to introduce us to Harlen, the security man for the night. There were two bedrooms from which to choose, the Murray's room or their guest room. Since we truly were guests, we chose the guest room. The room was comfortably furnished with a double bed made up with good linen and thick Hudson's Bay woolen blankets.
The Officer's Dwelling House

We were shown how to use the Cobb grill to cook Sarah's salmon and baked potato. I had beef stew which was already prepared and waiting in a hot crock pot. Along with the salmon and stew we had home made biscuits and freshly made apple pie.
Dinner is served

The weather improved remarkably soon after we arrived. The rain stopped and the sky cleared just enough to create a very dramatic appearance as the lowering sun caused every cloud to be fringed with a bright ring of light reflected off the big lake. After a brief walk along the main street, that by 6 PM had rolled up the side walks, we returned to our cabin. We sat on the covered porch, relaxed and watched the ever changing play of light on the water of Lake Stuart and the mountains beyond. For the time we could imagine We were back in 1896. We felt very lucky to be able to experience this unique place in this way.

Relaxing on the porch
Dramtic sky
It is a little cool on a lake at 54 N latitude, but the Hudson's Bay blanket keeps me warm

Jennifer returned at 7 AM to cook our breakfast. The showers and bath rooms were in the main visitor reception building. We were given keys to the building during our orientation. It was nice to have a full size shower. Breakfast of orange juice, coffee, sausages and pancakes was served at 8 AM. Jennifer joined us for breakfast and conversation. She is a college student hoping to become a physician. Fort St. James is her home town and she plans to return to practice general medicine here. While she enjoys the bustling town of St. George, she misses the solitude of a place like Fort St. James. She told us that, like many rural towns, it is difficult to keep doctors. At least for now, the idea of returning as a doctor is appealing to her.
Sarah with our hostess, Jennifer

Leaving the fort, we returned to highway 16, the Yellowhead Highway, and headed west for the town of Smithers, a vibrant tourist destination at the foot of the Kathlyn glacier.

Stay tuned

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fifty Four Degrees North Lattitude, Nelson, BC to Vanderhoof, BC

Sarah's sister, Jennifer, found this picture that was taken about 22 years ago. This is our niece, Grace, on the bumper of the Airstream that inspired Sarah to want to own one and make this journey.

Today would have been Mary Joan Nelson's 87th birthday. We named our Tin Wheel in honor of Sarah's mom and Sarah designed a decal that we leave each place we visit.

One of the features of the roads in this part of British Columbia is the use of free ferries to cross numerous bays and rivers. We took the ferry from Galena Bay to Shelter Bay, a 30 minute trip across the northern tip of Upper Arrow Lake.  

Boarding begins

On the Galena Bay Ferry

The ride from Nakusp to Cache Creek took us on the the famaous Trans-Canada Highway. Driving on the Trans-Canada Highway is a pleasure. This very well maintained highway allowed us to put a lot of miles on. We left the Trans-Canada at Cache Creek and went due north on highway 97, the Cariboo Highway. The high plains and sage brush that we passed through the day before quickly changed back to Ponderosa Pine as we approached Prince George our destination. Total miles for Sunday was an impressive 276. We made very good time and as usual saw some  amazing scenery. We stopped at an antiques store in the town of Clinton. Sarah found a pair of blue cowboy boots which she had to have. Way to go Amelda!

This deer thinks it's a lawn ornament. Not an uncommon sight.

We were disappointed that we didn't see much wildlife along this road. Despite it's name, we didn't see any Cariboo.

Monday's drive was a short one. We left highway 97 at Prince George and went west on highway 16 to the town of Vanderhoof. This is the place where the last spike was driven in the construction of the railroad in 1914, soon after Herbert Vanderhoof,  a publisher from Chicago founded the town. Our reason for stopping here was in order to visit Fort St. James just a half hour drive north of Vanderhoof at the terminus of highway 27. Less a fort and more a trading outpost, Fort St. James was built by the Hudson's Bay Company about 15 years after it was established as a trading post by the trapper Simon Fraser. Our tour of the fort was was very intimate. Aside from the people that ran the park and acted as costumed interpreters, we were the only people there for the first hour of our visit. Even then, only two other couples arrived later.

During the tour, we learned about the important role this outpost provided in trade with the Carrier First Nation (the indigenous nomadic people of the area). Their population had been greatly diminished prior to their first contact with white people due to trade with other peoples who had contact with white people years earlier. Small pox was spread to them along with the blankets for which they traded. Their way of life was changed significantly due to contact with the white traders. The introduction of deer and moose that came along with the railway allowed the native people to make better winter clothing which allowed them to capture more fur bearing animals in the winter to meet the huge European demand for quality furs. Unfortunately, the deer and moose competed with the elk and cariboo. Because of this and increased warming over the last eighty years the populations of these two animals has been greatly reduced in this part of British Columbia.

Stuart Lake viewed from Fort St. James

At the end of our tour we learned that the park also hosted a B&B right in the original building that housed the fort administrator. As luck would have it, the B&B was available for this evening. So, we will be staying in the fort tonight. Our stay includes dinner this evening and breakfast in the morning. We eagerly anticipate this wonderful opportunity. After one month on the road, it will be our first night sleeping in a permanent structure.

This will be our home for the night.

 Stay tuned for more.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

S. Dakota, Missoula Montana, Idaho and finally British Columbia

It has been a week since we have had internet access so there is a lot to post. We are now in Cache Creek, British Columbia. Here is where we have gone and what we have done since South Dakota.

Reluctantly, we left the Bad Lands. We could have stayed another week and not seen all there was to see. But, I went fly fishing for the first time in more than forty years and caught a nice 8” brook trout which I released. The fishing was done on Spring Creek just below Sheridan Lake in the Bad Lands National Forest.

We took I-90 past Butte, MT to the town of Columbus where we stayed at the city park, Ich-kep-pe, on the banks of the Yellowstone River. The river was near flood stage, sand bags were piled along the main roads and stockpiled nearby.

From Columbus, we drove on I-90 because it was the only road through the mountain passes to Missoula. We stopped on the continental divide and did our first boon-dock (camping at a remote area without any utilities) at Beaverhead – Deer Lodge National Forest. Being the weekend, it was well populated with ATV enthusiasts. But, we were able to find a secluded meadow to camp for the night. We made a camp fire and cooked beer-can chicken on the coals.

The next day we arrived in Missoula, MT at our niece Grace's home. We were very impressed with this town. The central residential area is vibrant and the houses are universally well maintained. The city is extremely cycle friendly with bike lanes on all the major streets. My impression was that there was a very strong feeling of community in this place.

Grace's friend, Josh, is an avid fly fisherman. He invited me to join him in exploring a creek he had not fished before. Eager to learn from someone with much more experience, I didn't hesitate to accept his offer. While I didn't catch anything, I learned a lot and really enjoyed Josh's company. He pointed out another creek that I fished the next day. Alas, I didn't catch anything. The scenery was spectacular along with the wildlife, which included a Golden Eagle that morning.

Grace brought us to they Bayern Brewery in Missoula. One of several excellent breweries, this was her favorite. Grace enjoys the Dragon's Breath Dark Hefeweizan, Sarah's favorite was the Dumptruck Summer Bock while my favorite was the clear refreshing Pilsner. See more about the brewery here:

When we were in Sarah's uncle’s driveway in Lisle, IL I noticed some irregularities in the side walls of the tires on the trailer. On the way out of town we stopped at the Goodyear dealer to have them checked. The agent said the tires were defective. Moreover, he said that they were not the correct tires for the trailer. He offered to sell me another brand. I called Colonial Airstream in New Jersey, where we bought Mary Joan and had new tires put on. They told me that these were indeed the correct and best tires for our trailer. Because it was a weekend, I could not contact Goodyear to discuss warranty concerns. Since I was driving conservatively, I decided to drive on to Rapid City, SD and have the tires checked there. The Good year dealer in Rapid City determined that, indeed, the tires were defective. Unfortunately, he didn't have replacements in stock and it would be 5 to 7 business days before he could get them. So, we contacted Roemer's Tire Factory ( in Missoula, Mt. They arranged to have tires for us on this past Tuesday. They inspected the tires and made arrangements with Goodyear to replace all four tires. Our only cost was $53 for mounting and balancing the new tires. The knowledge and professionalism of Shane Sterner and Jenny Hockman at Roemer's Tire Factory was exemplary.

With our new tires we can confidently continue our journey to Alaska. We wanted to take the Highway to the Sun at Kalispel back across the continental divide then go north to Calgary. But, the road is still closed due to snow. So, we headed for Idaho.

We stayed on I-90 until Couer d' Alane then went north on US-20 to Colville National Forest and stayed at Millpond Campground only several miles from the U.S./Canada border. This campground is very small with a one lane road leading into it and a very tight turning circle at the end. I am glad we don't have any larger trailer.

We crossed into Canada on June 24 at 9:30 AM. The stern border agent wanted to know how much alcohol we had and did we have any fire-arms. When we replied that we had about 10 – 12 bottles of wine plus some beer and a little bourbon, he told us to count all the bottles and come back to the office. He then told us we would have to pay a steep duty (tax) on the amount of wine over and above the allotted amount. Sarah had done a good job getting bargains on wine along the way. We actually had 16 bottles of wine. While it was tempting to short the amount, I am glad we didn't, despite the almost $10/bottle duty we had to pay. Once we paid the duty, the border patrol agent and his buddy proceeded to thoroughly inspect the trailer and tow vehicle. They knew where every compartment was on both the trailer and the truck.

From the border we traveled north and stopped in the town of Nelson to stretch our legs. On the way we saw our first Elk. Nelson is a town in the middle of no-where. It is a very picturesque town full of modern day young hippies. Sarah had a great time shopping in the food co-op. It reminded her of the days she worked in the co-op in Minnesota. We did find some nice coffee and veggies. Lunch was obtained in New Denver at a small cafe on the main street of this neat little town.

Sarah in Nelson:

After a day of continuous oohhs and aahhs of seeing mountains, glaciers and water falls, we spent the night in the Municipal Campground at Nakusp, BC. The campsite was just a few blocks from the center of town. We broke camp at 8 AM to catch the ferry at Galena Bay. British Columbia maintains a number of ferries across the lakes created by the damming of the Columbia River. They are all free and most of them run on the hour. We arrived at 9 AM and were well ahead in the queue for the 9:30 ferry. We spent a good deal of time talking with Lorne, a motorcyclist traveling with about a dozen of his friends across British Columbia.

We wanted to put some miles on today, so our only other stop was for lunch in the town of Salmon Fork. We then pressed on to the town of Cache Creek at the beginning of the Carriboo Highway.

The flora and geography has changed so dramatically in the last three days it is amazing. From the Ponderosa pine forests of Idaho to the mixed fir and deciduous forests or North East Washington to the sage brush high desert here in South Central British Columbia we have been stunned by the dramatic vistas. We eagerly anticipate the changes further up the road.

Stay tuned.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Touring the Black Hills, Mt Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument

We traveled on South Dakota SR44 all the way from Interior, South Dakota to Rapid City. The road is well maintained and very scenic. Just south of Rapid City we stopped at the visitor information center where we were told that the Sheridan Lake campground would be a good place from which we could explore the Black Hills. This was a good choice. We were close to all that we wanted to see in the Black Hills.

On our first day we drove the scenic wildlife loop in Custer State Park. We got an early start and were rewarded with the sightings of many deer, prong-horns, bison, and mule deer. The road was daunting at times. Numerous switch backs and narrow tunnels provided lots of excitement. And the views of Mt. Rushmore from this road were marvelous.

After spending so much time sitting in the truck, we wanted to stretch our legs. Part of the Centennial Trail passed through the Sheridan Lake Park where we were staying. This part of the trail follows a flume that was built during the gold rush of the 1870's. The flume provided water for the sluices of the miners. At one point, we encountered a tunnel where the water was brought from the spring. Walking through ankle deep water in the dark for 60 yards was a little spooky. Poor Scout clearly thought we were out of our minds.

The next day I hiked 2 miles to a beautiful trout stream to try my hand at fly fishing. It has been more than 40 years that I have cast a fly. I only caught one small brook trout, but it felt great. At one point, a 3 prong buck, white tailed deer, came down the stream and was very surprised to see me. His antlers were still in velvet, we stood and watched each other for about a minute  before he slowly moved away.

Yesterday we went to the Crazy Horse Memorial. I have to admit I was skeptical about this excursion. I remember news reports from the 1970's that were very negative about this endeavor. After visiting Mt. Rushmore, the initial impression of the Crazy Horse Memorial was that it was not well run. However, after learning that the entire project is funded solely by donations and private contributions we came to understand Korczak Ziolkowski's intentions. Sarah and I chose to make a donation in support of the work on the monument and were rewarded with a personal guided tour onto the mountain. We were able to stand on what will someday be Crazy Horse's outstretched arm and look back up to the now completed face of the warrior who defeated Lt. Col. G.A. Custer at Little Big Horn, which we visited today on our way to Alaska. 

It's not very hard to understand why many Native Americans here are still angry. Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, after having the land they were promised in the Black Hills taken away and being forced to live on the reservation, decided to move to the hills of southern Montana and live the free life they had known before. This land didn't have gold or any other resources valuable to the rapidly expanding United States. These chiefs along with approximately 7,000 of their people were living their traditional way of life along the Little Big Horn River. President Grant viewed these people as a threat and sent Colonel Custer to round them up and bring them back to the reservation. 

Sadly, the victory that the Native Americans won was short lived. The retaliation of the Government was swift and merciless. On our trip to Alaska, we inevitably are retracing the steps these people took as they tried to escape to Canada and freedom, an effort that was thwarted by the Army. Could our ancestors have found a better solution? One has to wonder.

Stay tuned 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tin Wheel in the Bad Lands of South Dakota

We are trying to stay off the interstate highway system so that we can see the towns that make up rural heartland America. So we traveled today on US Route 44 west across the Missouri River into central South Dakota. On the way we refilled our propane tank in Winner, SD, the largest town between here and Interior, our destination for today. Interior, South Dakota, population 75 (give or take a few) is at the eastern entrance of Badlands National Park.

We pulled into our chosen campground, Badlands Interior Campground. It's a little rough around the edges, but Alice and Jessie, our hosts, are real friendly. After an inch of rain last night, Jessie wanted to be sure that I stayed on the gravel drive. I did get off by about just one foot, and I thought I was going to sink up to the axle in the fine top soil here.

After getting Scout settled in, Sarah and I began the loop tour of the Badlands National Park. Every twist and turn of the road caused us to exclaim over again how beautiful and magical this place is. Traversing this landscape today on roads engineered to convey our modern vehicles, it takes no imagination to comprehend the difficulty this terrain presented to travelers in the 19th century.

The wildlife we saw today was impressive. It includes; Bison, Pronghorns (also called Antelope), Big Horn Sheep, Mule Deer, White Tailed Deer, Pheasant, Rattle Snake (just one) and turkeys.

Massive thunderstorms passed over us last night, they threatened again this afternoon but passed well to the south. Scout does not like thunderstorms. We have some Valium to administer should they threaten.

I think that today was one of my best birthday celebrations ever. Sarah's dream to travel the country with an Airstream has become my dream also. Please don't pinch us, the dream is wonderful.

We are now in the Black Hills and will post once we have reliable internet access.

Stay tuned

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Chicago to South Dakota

Sarah and I left Jackson Center, Ohio one week ago bound for Lisle, Illinois. We stopped at Tippecanoe State Park in Indiana where the mosquitoes were looking to bleed us to death. Our poor dog, Scout, was tormented. At one point he had at least 20 blood sucking daemons on his head.

We took a small detour and went into Fort Wayne, Indiana. My mother and father stopped here 61 years ago on their way to Indianapolis for their honey moon. I am named in memory of their stay here.

Wayne on Wayne St.:

Tin Wheel,  The Mary Joan, was happy in Sarah's Aunt's and Uncle's driveway for four days. Sarah's sister, Nora, and Aunt Pat came down from Minneapolis and her sister, Kate, came out from Chicago while we were there.

We had a wonderful dinner with my cousin Kevin and his friend, Michelle. Kevin took us to the Capital Grill, where I had one of the best steak dinners ever. The next day we met at Michelle's family restaurant, Cafe Buonauro in Naperville. A breast cancer survivor and a person afflicted with MS, Michelle is an energetic person who works tirelessly to raise funds for MS research. We met Michelle's son, Michael and daughter, Lindsey. Sarah and I highly recommend Cafe Buonauro. Michelle's family has been serving fine Italian food here for 20 years.

The highlight of the visit was the attendance at the Chicago White Sox baseball game arranged by Sarah's cousin's friend, Julie. Julie is the concessions manager and public relations representative for the team. It so happened that her niece was chosen to sing the national anthem for Thursday night's game. Julie arranged for two suites for her family and ours. Needless to say, we had a wonderful time.

After the game:

We left Lisle on Saturday, June 11. It is Sarah's and my anniversary, 17 years. The day's route took us through Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home of Grant Wood, the artist who painted the iconic American Gothic. It was a very brief visit because we arrived just 20 minutes before closing. The receptionist waived the entry fee and showed us to the gallery that held Grant's works. He died very young, therefore he didn't leave a very large body of work, but I was impressed with his overall artistic abilities. In addition to being an accomplished painter, Grant Wood was also a jeweler, metal-smith, carpenter and wood-worker.

We drove to Waterloo, Iowa and arrived at the George Wyth State Park about 6 P.M. There were no gatekeepers there when we arrived, so we just took a campsite for the night. Two couples from the adjacent campsite came over and asked if they could see our trailer (of course they could), and invited us to join them for a game after dinner. I think the game was 'telepicture'. Lots of fun.

We were up early to put some miles behind us to reach South Dakota. We pulled into the Snake River Recreation Area on the Missouri River at 5 P.M. We had a tail wind all day and were able to average about 15 mpg for the entire day.

The Snake River Recreation Area is very beautiful. We are parked overlooking the river which is just 100 feet from our campsite. It is blissfully quiet, the only sounds are the chirping of the birds and the wind in the trees. We will leave here tomorrow for the Black Hills.

Sarah serving up Chicken Big Mamou:

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

More from Alumapalooza

Sarah has been practicing yoga for nearly 40 years. She has been trying to get me to do it for the last twenty. I thought I was in pretty good shape. After all, I ski, sail, hike, bicycle and do a lot of walking. But, since our last scuba dive in the Galapagos Islands wherein I wrenched my lower back, I have come to realize that my body has lost a great deal of flexibility and I feel like the Tin Man in a tin can for the first hour or so every morning.

At Alumapalooza two wonderful people led yoga class each morning. sKY and slaDE are two very warm and enthusiastic human beings. We met them on our first evening at Alumapalooza and were warmly invited to participate. The turnout in the tent the first morning was tremendous. There were almost too many people in this small space. There were fewer people for each of the following sessions which made it a little more comfortable, but it was sad that some chose not to continue. I have promised Sarah, and myself, that I will keep on with yoga. The highlight of the week came on the last day when we attended yogaFLIGHT. We were only able to scratch the surface of this fun and exciting form of yoga. But, with the expert help of sKY and slaDE, we made remarkable progress.

Static pictures cannot do it justice. While Sarah and I were quite shaky and certainly not graceful with our first attempts and moderate success, watching sKY and slaDE was like watching well choreographed ballet.

Here is a Sarah flying upside down:

 sKY and slaDE:

 Here is the link to their web site:

Friday, June 3, 2011

Made in America

We are in Jackson Center, Ohio. This is the home of the Airstream manufacturing plant. Airstream is owned by Thor industries. Thor's first acquisition was Airstream. It took a struggling company, returned it to profitability and used those profits to expand into ambulance and bus manufacturing (see: While Airstream has suffered due to the recent economic downturn, orders are up and previously layed off workers are being re-hired. Orders for new Airstreams are up and production is increasing.

On our way to Jackson, we passed a newly built plant of mammoth proportions where Honda builds motors for cars sold in the U.S. It must employ thousands. The county and state promotional literature detail hundreds of  manufacturing businesses that are succeeding in this state.

At a seminar relating to technical aspects of the axles, wheels and brakes on these remarkable trailers we listened to a representative from Dexter Axle Company ( Dexter makes the axles, wheels and brakes used on all of the Airstream trailers as well as many other trailer manufacturers in this country. They make almost all of the components that go into their products (they don't have their own casting facility to make the drums).

So, while politicians make claims that America has lost its ability to make anything anymore, that is not true. Yes, we have outsourced a lot of jobs to China. The truth is we still make durable goods of the highest quality in this country. In this one small corner of Ohio, companies are making precision lathes, plastics and many other durable products. Bumper stickers in this town remind people to buy American whenever possible, and the outlook is positive for American made goods and jobs.

Here is Airstream's main manufacturing building in Jackson Center, Ohio:

New trailers coming off the line:

Dexter axle and wheel assemblies waiting to be installed. Alumapalooza rally attendees in the background.

Made for NASA, an isolation unit for astronauts returning form space (turns out there was nothing to worry about)

One of the seminars today dealt with the characteristics of differing tow vehicles and trailers. This video pretty much sums it up:  We have experienced the superior towing characteristics of this wonderful American icon.
Stay tuned for more pictures from Alumapalooza