Beautiful Baja Part 2

The town of Loreto was next for a restock and it was a lovely historic town! Sundays see the locals out in force to enjoy “Carnitas” – a once a week pork cook-up served with corn tortillas – Yum!!

As usual, if there is a cue of locals then you’re guaranteed to be in the right spot for a tasty treat.

The Carnita's Cooking

The Carnita’s Cooking

Buying Carnita's with the locals

Buying Carnita’s with the locals

Loreto's Historic Mission built in 1697

Loreto’s Historic Mission built in 1697

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Travelling in a smart car!!!

Travelling Overland in a smart car!!!

Who wouldn't want to beat this guy with a stick!!!

U – huh!!!

We caught up with some Canadians that we had met earlier at La Gringa and camped with them just south of the town behind the beach where we managed to find a really protected although rather feral camping area. The wind was howling so we were quite pleased to find some shelter.

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Jason and Michelle

Diesel Had me all figured out...

Diesel had me all figured out…

Headaches the following morning – what else do you do when you meet other travellers…

West toward the Pacific and away from the Sea of Cortez for a spell, we drove via the village of San Javier and it’s lovely 1699 Mission. We then continued onto a less used track which made the journey much slower and more interesting.

IMG_7460 IMG_7471 IMG_7484Dramatic would be the most apt description when trying to describe the differences between the east and west sides of the Baja Peninsula. Stunning beaches and a mountain crossing the previous day, we now find it’s as flat as a pancake on the west side. We picked our way south along the coast on waterlogged salty tracks between mangroves, which quickly became rather tiring but it’s all part of the adventure I guess!

Vastly different Scenery on the west

Vastly different scenery on the west

Lots of animal tracks surrounded our campsites most evenings.  On two occasions, we even spotted a bobcat as we made our way along the backroads.  Their stealthy nature though makes them difficult to photograph unfortunately, but I do have a great photo of one courtesy of “Laurie the cat lady”

Yukon Bobcat

Yukon Bobcat

A really large bugbear for me, and it’s been a bugbear numerous times in numerous countries, is rubbish!

People, you don’t have to be wealthy to dispose of your garbage rather than live amongst it. Now I’m guessing there isn’t much in the way of refuse collection provided by the powers that be, but that excuse wears thin after a while! Clean it up and take some pride in your country and it’s wonderful landscape. Anyway I wont mention it again but I just had to get that out as it’s been annoying me for some time.

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But with every down, there is always an up and after the dismal mangroves, we made our way out to Punta Conejo. It may help geographically to know that we are a little more than half way down the Peninsula at this point.

Most travellers seem to congregate in one area at the end of the main track – the area able to be reached by 4×2 vehicles. We opted to leave the crowds behind and found a stunning campsite only a few km south all on our own!

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Had to let down the tyres for the last 50mtrs but it was worth it!

Had to let down the tyres for the last 50mtrs but it was worth it!

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The serenading of Coyotes in the wee small hours added to the campsite’s appeal. A pack obviously did the rounds of the beach and camper as was noted by the tracks the following morning. It’s really nice hearing them singing to each other unless you’re a meal hiding in the grass I suppose!

La Paz was next and we were guaranteed to spot other travellers here as La Paz is the ferry-crossing terminal should you be crossing with your vehicle to mainland Mexico.  La Paz doesn’t get the best write up but we thought it was nice enough…

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Kurt and Ingrid from Belgium – www.nomadfootprints.com

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European Adventure Wagons

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Welcome to La Paz

La Paz Waterfront

La Paz Waterfront

Back on the east coast now, we were once again reminded of the difference between how a road is denoted on a Mexican map and what it’s like in reality! Expecting a relatively short 50km drive and a beach camp by mid afternoon, we ended up arriving at a suitable camp going on dusk! The track although marked as a good road was actually a rather challenging 4×4 track.

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Checking out the track ahead…

The coastal section

The coastal section

It’s true that we had the opportunity to retreat prior to committing to the drive, but this type of track is exactly what we like. I have to admit that I considered bailing at one stage as the possibility of finding somewhere to turn around further up the track looked slim if not impossible and reversing down the track, should it become any worse, was not appealing but we persevered and thoroughly enjoyed the drive! Quite challenging and the odd steep drop off into the sea! Who wouldn’t like that?

The reward after a challenging drive

The reward after a challenging drive

We met Christian and Chelsea at the beach. They had driven the same trail in a 6×6 Pinz Gauer with a full height camper body. I was impressed as that would have been pretty exciting! Turned out it was more terrifying and at one stage, Chelsea exited the vehicle with concern it was going to end up in the ocean on its lid! She suggested it’d be better if one of them could still use a phone and call for help! Her words exactly…

Christian and Chelsea

Chelsea and Christian

Their Pinz Gauer

Their Pinz Gauer

With their travelling cat Lulu

With their travelling cat Lulu

More beaches, more great camping and more corrugations were in order as we approached the bottom of the Peninsula. The coastal whale watching was incredible!

View from Camp

View from Camp

Another couple of avid travellers we’d met way back at Overland Expo were also in the process of wandering Baja! We’d been “whats-app”ing these guys which was becoming pretty amusing due to the lack of phone coverage. When we did get a message, they had always just moved on or we’d missed them by a day or 2! We often ran into other travellers that had met up with them and on a couple of occasions, these other travellers even knew that we were the Australians that couldn’t catch up!

We did finally run into them although we were now travelling around the bottom of the Peninsula in opposite directions! It was great seeing these guys again. Once more you feel a little bit more like you’re part of a travelling community rather than a solo wanderers.

Us with Kevin and Dani

Us with Kevin and Dani

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Kevin and Dani’s Iveco RIg

Baja’s Tourism Capital of Cabo San Lucas is the most southerly point on the Baja Peninsula so it seemed appropriate to visit “Lands End”. Looking more like the south of France with it’s luxury yachts and tourist kitsch, we enjoyed the quick stop.

"Lands End" at Cabo San Lucas

“Lands End” at Cabo San Lucas

Playground for the wealthy if you can't get to Monaco...

Playground for the wealthy if you can’t get to Monaco…

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“Good travels”

Time now to wander north with the intention of ticking off a few places on the west coast that we’d missed on our descent. The temperature was really getting up there too, 39 degrees C on our wander north at one stage – toasty!

Todos Santos was one of our favourite towns in Baja (Loreto being the other), a relaxed atmosphere with interesting buildings!

Todos Santos

Todos Santos

Hotel California

Hotel California – no relation to the song apparently…

The elusive Tropic of Cancer

The elusive Tropic of Cancer

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Wildlife and birdlife are abundant on this peninsula and as we made our way north where we spotted many examples…

An Osprey keeping close watch

An Osprey keeping close watch

Crested Caracara also known as a Mexican Eagle

Crested Caracara also known as a Mexican Eagle

Seals on the coast

Seals on the coast

Caution

Caution

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Ojo de Liebre, south of Guererro Negro, is an inlet by the sea and has become world famous for whale watching. It’s estimated that 2000+ California Grey Whales spend their winter months here calving, mating and preparing for the journey north. It really is a spectacle with spurts of misty water in every direction giving credence to the numbers of whales here.

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Heading out for some whale watching

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They passed right under the boat several times

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More awesome travellers...

More of the travellers we’ve met…

Heading north along the west coast, we were engulfed in sea fog regularly and often several times a day! Really strange for us, we would watch the wall of gloom wandering in from the sea and then find ourselves completely enveloped in mist! Obviously the warm weather and humidity are in just the right proportions to create this weird atmospheric event.

Sea mist rolling in

Sea fog rolling in

The intention was to stick more to the west coast on our return north giving us a real feel for the differences between east and west along the long Peninsula. Frequent fishing villages and the odd historic building were dotted along the journey.

Fishing Communities

Fishing Communities

Mission in San Ignacio

Mission in San Ignacio

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Further north, California was in the midst of being hammered by the heaviest rainfall in history as we were planning our exit from Baja. We’d intended returning to the US via Tecate but with the edge of LA’s nasty little weather system beginning to make our lives rather unpleasant, even a couple of hundred km’s south, we had to rethink our plans.

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Hmmm… “There is a road marked on the map up and over the mountains” says Jen “and its not raining at the moment! How about we go east and up through Mexicali instead?” OK… Mexican maps have proved so very accurate to date so that’s a great idea!

Well fortunately it didn’t rain that day for the road we chose deteriorated considerably with heavy erosion in sections and the usual slide to your death if you misplace a wheel! All in all it was an excellent and straightforward drive with only the odd low range section due in no small part to the lack of precipitation at the time.

Rugged mountain trails

Rugged mountain trails

After cresting the mountain passes, the map indicated flat contours and no real steep terrain to contend with, so we decided to camp for the night. We felt a bit more relaxed as we really didn’t want to be on the steep passes should it bucket down.

Finding a camp was tricky and took a bit of effort. We ended up parking in an arroyo (shallow creek bed) and no we didn’t get washed away but we might have.

Campsite hunting

Campsite hunting

In came the torrential rain and howling wind, abysmal conditions and they persisted all night. The following day was more akin to driving the Amazon than how we had found travelling Baja to date. Silly me hadn’t put a lot of thought into the fact that the map contours had eased apart reducing the possibility of slippery mountain passes only to be replaced by flat ground perfect for water to pool in.

I was just happy to be past the mountain terrain before camping and now we found ourselves in sloppy mud with bulbar deep pools of water to contend with. Normally I’d be overcome with joy at the sight of slimy tracks but, on this occasion, I was not enthralled. I just wanted to get to the highway and a U-turn after a rather bad section reduced the chatter in the cab considerably!

Mud Glorious Mud!

Mud Glorious Mud!

Back on the tarmac, we were pushing along a little now, wanting to be back in the US by late afternoon to avoid camping near the border on the Mexican side.

Great little Taco Stand

Great little Taco Stand

Our Mexican Chef!

Our Mexican Chef!

Crash test dummy aircraft just south of mexicali

Crash test dummy aircraft just south of Mexicali

Mexicali, a busy Border crossing without doubt! The road north terminates at the current border wall before turning west where you drive along said wall for a few kms to the actual crossing. Well you idle along in the queue really, whilst locals walk the gaps between cars selling all sorts of refreshments, snacks and anything else really.

The Wall

The Wall

Everything for sale - they have a wall to pay for!!

Everything for sale – they have a new wall to pay for!!

It was an odd experience, from an Australian perspective with ours being a country without shared land borders.

I think the last time that I saw an actual border wall was along China’s territorial boundary with Tajikistan albeit a ring lock fence suffering disrepair in places.

Prior to that it was Russia’s border with Mongolia where a fence only exists in sections! So I guess there are a few walls around the globe, not forgetting the infamous Berlin Wall and the Great Wall, although that didn’t keep Ghengis out for long!

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I find the whole complex situation is made even harder to unwrap given the thousands of Mexicans that are bussed back and forth across the border daily, finding work on the massive acreage of farms along Southern California that need pickers. I guess someone has to pick those veggies for Walmart and Costco… haha

Our turn eventually arrived and given our previous experience crossing in from Canada, I’d have to say that we weren’t looking forward to the crossing even remotely. I’m happy to report however that our faith was renewed and our crossing fast and very efficient – possibly helped by the fact that we were still on an active 6-month entry and not requesting a new one.

We were quite sad to leave Mexico as we’d thoroughly enjoyed our time in Baja. The whole experience made so nice by the lovely locals and travellers we’d met along the way and I know I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again – a great part of the whole journey and how it’s enriched our lives has been a reflection of the hospitality shown to us and the friendships forged during our adventure.

It was early evening by the time we found ourselves a nice campsite on BLM land. As is common in the US, it was a haven for ATV and motorbike riders with the area loaded with 5th wheels and campers. They even have their own little fenced off areas, sort of like private little RV communes I guess. Mexico was still readily in sight…

The big indicator for us that we’d returned to the USA however, was the moment I turned off the Patrol at our chosen campsite the first thing I heard was the sound of rifle fire! That really had us laughing and shaking our heads a little… We didn’t need an alarm clock the following morning either as a shortage of ammo wasn’t an issue for the locals– eyes open and safety off!

A big change of plans, a voyage and a volcano next up on Globatrol’s travels.

Cheers Justin.

 

Beautiful Baja Part 1

Other than our GPS counting down the kms to the Mexican border, the only other indicator that you’re almost at the edge of US Sovereign Territory is the snaking cue of snowbirds eagerly waiting their turn to enter the Badlands! Why would that be I hear you ask? Well Mexico may have it’s failings but affordable health care is not one of them provided you’re not surviving on Peso’s that is… I guess the border will be a little more obvious once Mexico pays for the sections of new wall between the existing parts!

Crossing into the town of Los Algodones, you’re immediately met by dentists, opticians, plastic surgeons and pharmacies all in large numbers and all appear to being doing a roaring trade. No surprise given prices are so much more relaxed than those just 200 metres to the north. Why not cross the border for a day when you can save so much money, returning that afternoon for a meal at the Cracker Barrel (Australians translation – “Sizzler”) where you can now read the menu clearly and try out your new choppers…

Colourful Markets

Colourful Markets

After obtaining our FMT cards from the Mexican Aduana (customs), which you require in order to descend further south or stay more than 72 hours in Mexico, we stocked up with the essentials (beer) and hit the road.

A first observation other than those cynical ones characterised above is the immediate slide backward in living standards and infrastructure!

Honestly I thought I was back in Bulgaria (no offence to Bulgarians intended). The similarities were quite astounding with heavily potholed roads, dusty streets hemmed with disheveled homes, completely un-roadworthy cars and a general drop in standards that seems to go hand in hand with government corruption and a struggling economy. It’s certainly easy to see why a career change involving a stroll in the dark across the arid lands of Arizona might have an appeal to it!

Continuing south through the town of San Felipe and with the day trickling away we began the all too familiar task of acquainting ourselves with a new country and its intricacies. Finding groceries, a sim card for the phone and buying fuel are always new experiences when you cross a fresh border. Our Spanish is rather abysmal – well mine at least! Jen has once again made the effort to learn some of the local lingo making the task a little easier but we do need to rely on the locals at times to help us through our language inadequacies!

San Felipe

San Felipe

Our first interactions with the people of Mexico had been wandering the streets of Los Algodones where English is very common, but now, a 100 plus km south of the border, you’re a little more likely to need some Spanish!

Friendly and helpful, just as we’ve found all the people of the world to be, is probably the best description. Going out of their way to try and help us through the language barrier! We both felt invigorated and welcome immediately and enjoy the challenge of tackling foreign languages and cultures – it wakens the senses and again Planet Earth seems to have become smaller than it was only hours earlier!

Finding a home for the night was our next priority! The north east coast along the Sea of Cortez was a hub for tourism some decades ago with a plethora of resort style RV parks developed along the lovely coastline. Eventually though, they fell out of favour as highway infrastructure increased and the tourists migrated further south leaving much of the north east coast a tourist wasteland. Grandiose plans for capturing the tourist dollar are obvious, with various facades left in ruin along the coastal drive south. Seems a common theme to start with an extravagant portico designed to welcome your visitors before, for whatever reason, forgetting the whole idea and walking away.

We settled on a long since abandoned RV Park, but the pool was pretty nice and we had the whole long forgotten establishment to ourselves!

Abandoned RV Park

Abandoned RV Park

Alcohol still in the bar...

Alcohol still in the bar…

The pool bar!

The pool bar!

La Gringa Nature Reserve near Bahia de Los Angeles was to be where we enjoyed our first real interaction with other travellers in Baja!

Danish family with 3 kids travelling the world woth 2 roof top tents

Danish family with 3 kids travelling the world with 2 roof top tents

Sunrise La Gringa

Sunrise La Gringa

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Sunset La Gringa

Sunset La Gringa

Canadians Jason and Michelle and dogs Rookie and big sook Diesel who really doesn't like camping

Canadians Jason and Michelle and dogs Rookie and big sook Diesel who really doesn’t like camping. Guess which one is which…

In Bahia de Los Angeles

In Bahia de Los Angeles

The waters down here are truly alive with sea life with Humpbacks and California Grey whales being the most notable but also dolphins and seals. Hours passed easily under sunny skies as we watched them. In the silence of our isolated camp, the blow from these giant creatures followed by the almost musical note as they inhale was a first for us and the sound of whales breathing became the wonderful backdrop to this campsite.

Dolphins at play

Dolphins at play

Dolphins just off shore

Dolphins just off shore

We knew that a maze of off-roading lay ahead for us should we wish to avoid the highways and if you’ve been following our travels then you know back roads are our preference!

A very slow drive presented itself as we elected to continue along the coast from Bahia de Los Angeles rather than follow the Highway inland and south. Slow only because the gravel road was heavily corrugated, another theme that would continue throughout our time here!

Look Bec... More Cactus!!!

Look Bec… More Cactus!!!

A real Road Runner!!

A real Road Runner!!

Beach Camping

Beach Camping

Octopus in the shallows

Octopus in the shallows

Whilst in the States we had purchased a UV light torch which had been advertised as great for spotting bark scorpions which would glow in the dark.  To no avail we searched for scorpions in the states but here we finally found them…

With normal torch light...

With normal torch light…

UV light!!!

UV light!!!

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More run down tourism infrastructure

More run down tourism infrastructure

It was quite a long transit back out to the highway along our chosen route but we managed to find an excellent campsite with a series of ancient rock paintings!

Burro's

Burro’s

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Close up cactus

The skies had been a little ominous for a spell and open up that night they certainly did. Fortunately it eased in the morning for I don’t think it would have taken a lot more rain to make driving a tad difficult. As it was, a slimy and slippery surface was the result making sure the Patrol received a nice coating of mud on every underneath surface!

Ominous weather

Ominous weather

One oddity that we observed quite early on was the lack of traffic on the highways between towns! The towns themselves are bustling hubs of activity; markets, shopping of all kinds, workshops and so on but a definite and distinct lack of movement observed between these towns! Our only conclusion is that the price of fuel, which has just been raised in Mexico and is now more expensive than in the US, is just beyond the average Mexican families budget.

Empty Highways

Empty Highways

Getting water

Getting water

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Hummingbirds at Santa Ines

Hummingbirds at Santa Ines

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A face only a mother could love!

A face only a mother could love!

The town of Mulegé proved to be the start of one of the nicest sections of Baja and the town we enjoyed our first Mexican meal and Margherita’s

The family run restaurant

The family run restaurant

Enchiladas

Enchiladas

Margheritas

Margheritas

Fellow West Aussies Colby and Beck

Fellow West Aussies Colby and Beck

Further south, a large spit of land runs parallel to the coast creating the beautiful bay known as Bahia de Concepcion. With protected waters, the area is known for it’s population of Whale Sharks and it provides truly lovely snorkelling, paddling, fishing and boating, all pursuits high on the tourist agenda!

Snorkelling at Playa Escondido

Snorkelling at Playa Escondido

Jen

Jen’s Selfie

Speaking of tourists – well, we’d found them! We knew they were here but we weren’t quite sure where they all were until now!

A-Class motorhomes and huge 5th wheel caravans wall to wall, bay after bay! No – I’m not kidding! They number in the hundreds, every floating toy that you can buy jammed in trailers and on roof racks, sunbathing Canadians glistening in the sun whilst back in their home land the temperature dips to minus double digits – brrrrhhhh!

Not hard to see why they make for Mexico.

RV Paradise

RV Paradise

I’d heard that much the population of British Columbia could be found in Baja over the winter, maybe it’s more like most of Canada! Even whole bays temporarily named after their Canadian migrating tenants.

Playa Escondido

Playa Escondido

Americans make up a reasonable contingent as well, I might add, although Canadians seemed to have the numbers on the face of it! We represented the contingent of foreign travellers from other corners of the Globe.

Sally, Gary from Oregon Juan and ourselves

Sally and Gary from Oregon, Juan and ourselves

Ingo and Elly from Switzerland

Ingo and Elly from Germany and Switzerland

From right - Wolfgang and Anni from Austria and another American (sorry forgot his name

From right – Wolfgang and Anni from Austria and another American (sorry forgot his name)

Enterprising locals arrived every morning with a beep of their car horn – fresh caught fish and prawns, banana cakes and lovely hot tamales for sale. We couldn’t resist these home cooked treats and made our way through quite a few of them.

Water, firewood, souvenirs and whatever else you may need were also available from these enterprising people as they catered to the needs of the tourists, many of whom stay in the one bay for months on end, returning to their little patch year after year.

Jumping aboard a local Panga (small boat) with a few other tourists we spent an afternoon looking for whale sharks! Although we were out of luck on the whale shark front, we had a great time just relaxing as we idled from bay to bay! I must admit, the fuel hose in the open jerry can with a rag around it and a cigarette in the captains mouth had me looking for a bucket of “savlon” should it all go bad! Fortunately the wind kept the sparks out of the fuel and we didn’t need the fire extinguisher that wasn’t there or the life jackets that didn’t exist should we have blown up!

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Cigarette just out of view…

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Beautiful Bays

Our next area of interest was San Basilio! A truly stunning bay and probably the best beach camp of the many that we enjoyed! About an hours drive from the highway, it’s just far enough to keep out most of the tourists but for those that make the effort the reward is there.

Our San Basilio camp - stunning

Our San Basilio camp – stunning

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Another perspective…

Sunset

Sunset

Sunrise

Sunrise

Brown Pelicans

Brown Pelicans

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Others camped at San Basilio - Mike, Lance, Celine, Jeannie and Bruce

Others camped at San Basilio – Mike, Lance, Celine, Jeannie and Bruce

A lovely natural harbour, it wasn’t hard to see why there were quite a few sailboats moored close in enjoying the calm anchorage. Wandering along the beach we ran into Paul and Frances. They had come ashore from their lovely yacht christened “Monkey Fist”! All the way from Darwin these Aussies have spent the last 9 years sailing the world in there 43 foot Jeanneau yacht. Along the way they provide eye correction glasses to those in need around the world donated by the Lions Club.

Monkey Fist

Monkey Fist

These amazing travellers extended us an invitation to join them aboard that evening for a few beverages and a tour of their floating home. Paul picked us up in the Zodiac and we had a terrific time with them. I asked a million questions about the challenges of sailing the world and found their whole journey quite inspirational. The only downside of the evening was the company was so good that we never picked up the camera to record the event and as such only a couple of dodgy pics tell the tale.

Justin and Paul

Justin and Paul

It was Australia Day! What an appropriate way to spend it…

Leaving San Basilio

Leaving San Basilio at low tide for some more exploring!

Cheers

Justin

1000days, 100000k’s

Ridgecrest is a town that primarily exists for the purpose of supporting the extensive Air Force base community on its doorstep. Anyway, we needed a tyre repair as it would seem that we can drive off-road over all sorts of nasty shale and rocks and the only two punctures we have received all trip have been from nails!!!! I’d plugged it myself but thought a professional repair may help the tyre reach the end of its serviceable life without further attention.

Getting our tyre repaired in Ridgecrest

Getting our tyre repaired in Ridgecrest

The guy who owned this tyre should've stopped sooner - speed may have been a factor??

The guy who owned this tyre should’ve stopped sooner – speed may have been a factor??

After a resupply, we headed for the ghost town of Randsburg that we had heard was worthy of a visit but they clearly weren’t in any need of an economic boost as all the tourist related businesses were closed!

Randsburg all closed for business today but interesting to look at

Randsburg all closed for business today but interesting to look at

More Randsburg

More Randsburg

Speed definitely a factor!!!

Speed definitely a factor!!!

South of Barstow, we camped in a BLM campsite named Sawtooth Canyon. Not surprisingly, this is a favourite with climbers due to the amazing granite rock formations all over the site.

Have to love the BLM!

Have to love the BLM!

Sawtooth Canyon Camp

Sawtooth Canyon Camp

We ended up staying around 5 nights and it was just lovely although a weekend falling within the duration of our stay did have the unfortunate side effect of filling every campsite with some sort of temporary home.

Lovely skies

Lovely skies

We’d noticed a large 5th wheel upon our arrival and at one stage I thought I heard the unmistakable twang of an Australian accent! Turned out that it was some little West Aussie Battlers, proving I do listen contrary to Jennifer’s observations…

Now residents of the US, Amber and her parents Gloria and Ted (originally from Perth) husband Charlie (the outsider in this group being a born and bred American) and their children Piper and Peyton, decided much to the confused reactions of family and friends that they would all head off and wander the USA for a couple of years in an RV together! What better way to see the sights of this large land than via a long-term road trip! Full points to them and they were a wonderful bunch to hang out with!!!

From left to right - Amber, PIper, Charlie, Peyton, Gloria and Ted

From left to right – Amber, PIper, Charlie, Peyton, Gloria and Ted

Over the weekend, a little extra excitement was had by one unfortunate visitor thanks to rather gusty conditions. It made for a rather expensive day out …

Expensive day out for this guy...

Expensive day out for this guy…

Given my comments on generators in various posts, and their ability to remove any sense of tranquility, I urge you to read on!

Sawtooth Canyon boasts a nice large sign at the entrance stating the rules and regulations including QUIET time between 10pm and 8am. Obviously the nearby couple in a mid size camper van must have been illiterate!

Yep you can see it coming can’t you!

They started their generator at 5am (I know because that’s when it woke me). The subsequent brain aneurism that Jen appeared to suffer resulted in her rapidly getting up and heading off into the darkness toward the now very brightly lit RV from whence the noise was emanating! The next thing I heard was a dog barking before the pleasant sound of nothing as the generator was quickly killed! Ahhh she really is a tyrant!

Jen, after knocking on their door, was greeted with startled looks before she graciously pointed out that campsite QUIET time certainly stretches past 5am and right through to 8am! As it turned out, she was even more effective than I could have imagined, for not 20 minutes later the vehicle came to life and they promptly departed. We watched their taillights reducing in size as they followed the track out and we were really disappointed to see them leave… Hahaha

Just north of Barstow

Just north of Barstow

We visited Barstow again and travelled a bit more of historic “Route 66” through town before making our way further east into the Mojave desert in order to travel the historic Mojave Trail. Enroute is a military storage facility in which is parked acre after acre of military Humvee’s and various other armored equipment, row after row. Many had flat tyres and doors left wide-open suggesting its all surplus and in case of global emergency only I guess!

Barstow

Barstow

Military Surplus

Military Surplus

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Humvees to the horizon...

Humvees to the horizon…

As we pulled up alongside the security fence for a photo opportunity, passers by slowed and stared, scrutinising us as they assumed the weird vehicle and it’s camera-toting occupants must be up to no good! No doubt the dry and arid atmosphere supplies the perfect location for storing equipment long term as corrosion is reduced considerably.

Originally a Mohave Indian Trading Route, it subsequently became a military wagon trail to provide supplies to Fort Mojave on the Colorado River before being replaced by a railroad in 1883. The Mojave Trail today, is generally traversed by 4×4 enthusiasts looking for a more challenging and alternate entry point into Mojave National Preserve. It was a great way to experience a bit of history whilst enjoying more of our favourite dark night skies and even some Desert Big Horn Sheep.

Desert Big Horn Sheep

Desert Big Horn Sheep

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The Mojave Road

The Mojave Road

Mojave Road Guestbook and Shrine

Mojave Road Guestbook and Shrine

I’ve noticed that during our time in the US traversing some of the more famous 4×4 trails, US perceptions of remote travel are vastly different from those in Australia. You certainly can get yourself into trouble and need to be prepared out in these areas, but rarely have we been in a situation where we would not encounter another vehicle within a few days or require extended fuel range for that matter.

For example, much of the Mojave Trail is just within view of the Interstate! I do not wish to detract from these journeys, as they are really outstanding, and offer varied and lovely scenery with challenging driving – it’s just the higher population density I suppose!

The interstate is just visible in the background whilst we are driving Soda Lake on the Mojave Road

The interstate is just visible in the background whilst we are driving Soda Lake on the Mojave Road

Mojave National Preserve provided an amazing variation of scenery within its desert terrain – ancient volcanic lava fields, Joshua Tree forests, stunning granite boulders and trails for both hiking and 4wding.

Inside Lava Tubes in Mojave NP

Inside Lava Tubes in Mojave NP

Mojave Vista

Mojave Vista

Wildcamping in Mojave

Wildcamping in Mojave

Appropriately named "Ringloops" trail

Appropriately named “Ringloops” trail

We found a 4wd only trail in the east of the park called the Macedonia Canyon Trail and it was a lovely drive. However the maps failed to advise that where the western end of the trail exits back onto the main road again involves passing under a railway line with a car no bigger than a Corolla!!!! We had to drive about 5kms north on an extremely sandy, overgrown track until we finally found a spot with just enough clearance.

Macedonia Canyon Trail

Macedonia Canyon Trail

I don't know how many 4WD's could make it under this exit?

I don’t know how many 4WD’s could make it under this exit?

This is the main exit!!! Never going to make it!

This is the main exit!!! Never going to make it!

So we keep looking for a way out

So we keep looking for a way out

Finally!!!

Finally!!!

It was in the south of Mojave NP whilst camped amongst these wonderful granite boulder formations, that the wind decided to interrupt us as it came in with vengeance. I’d heard on the radio that there was a severe wind warning in effect for the area and they were certainly accurate!!!

Our lovely granite boulder camp before the wind!

Our lovely granite boulder camp before the wind!

Quite late in the evening, the winds slowly increased in ferocity and although our camper is able to withstand such gusts (and has done so previously), we elected, for the first time in our whole journey, to retract the camper roof and enjoy a less appealing sleeping position, safe in the knowledge that no damage could be sustained should the situation deteriorate any further.  A brief step outside proved that the camper had indeed belied the true severity of the situation, as I could barely stand upright into the wind!!!

Fortunately we are able to sleep in our little camper with the roof down although being rather short is an advantage!

New sleeping arrangements

New sleeping arrangements

Enroute to Joshua Tree National Park via Amboy and we were once again traversing an old section of Route 66 and relics of a bygone era. To the south and in light of the previous nights experience with the wind, we sought to find a sheltered camp and hit the jackpot! Lovely granite once again but obviously another popular area for target practice as you couldn’t walk more than a step in any direction without spotting used shells and damaged projectiles!

Amboy on Old Route 66 - now pretty much abandoned

Amboy on Old Route 66 – now pretty much abandoned

Nearby Amboy Crater and Lava Field

Nearby Amboy Crater and Lava Field

Our Protected Camp - Blissfully still!

Our Protected Camp – Blissfully still!

When do you ever find a campsite like this???

When do you ever find a campsite like this???

Clearly a favourite spot for target practice - a 10 minute walk found all this

Clearly a favourite spot for target practice – a 10 minute walk found all this

The whole area north and east of Palm Springs and around the town of 29 Palms is a bit weird I’d have to say. Completely dilapidated with the most popular form of housing sitting atop decayed tyres and decorated in a style only achievable by doing nothing to your trailer home for 30 years other than live in it and throw your rubbish out the door!

Got to minus 6 degrees C

Got to -6C overnight!

The northwestern portion of Joshua Tree NP is by far the stand out with superb vistas of the namesake Joshua Trees amongst stunning granite formations. Further in, the Cholla Cactus Garden was also a worthy stop.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Cholla Cactus Garden

Cholla Cactus Garden

Also known as Teddy Bear Cactus because they look so cuddly from a distance!

Also known as Teddy Bear Cactus because they look so cuddly from a distance!

Ocotillo Cactus

Ocotillo Cactus

Just south of Joshua Tree, we camped once again with our nomadic friends, Laurie and Ron, and enjoyed Christmas Lunch this time! Seems we’ve been able to time our interludes quite nicely to appropriately line up with celebrations that include Laurie preparing some form of fabulous meal for us to enjoy whilst Ron and I relax with a few ales! At this rate I’ll only need the fridge to keep the beer cold!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Back with Laurie, Ron and Jeff

Back with Laurie, Ron and Jeff

It also became apparent that we had more in common with these guys than would seem statistically possible!

One night whilst enjoying a few beverages, Laurie and Ron were showing us some pictures of Ron’s Cabin in the Yukon and one view of the area looked remarkably familiar! Some comparing of maps and photos revealed that we had in fact camped less than 500mtrs from Ron’s Yukon home!

The statistical anomaly came into play when we realised that the Yukon has a population of approx. 35,000 people of which some 30,000+ live in the territory capital of Whitehorse and other regional towns leaving barely a few thousand people to inhabit the remaining 536,000 square kms that is the Yukon Territory. That we would then meet Laurie and Ron in a country with a population of 330 million people and even then cross paths with them in a remote part of the Nevada Desert just seemed staggering to both us and them! In fact we camped at the exact spot that Laurie had camped when she first met Ron…

Yukon River Camp

Yukon River Camp – Ron’s place is just in those trees beyond

Whilst here and with the weather quite dreary, Jen and Laurie headed into Palm Springs for a day of shopping, leaving the men folk to relish in their absence, and enjoyable it most definitely was!

Desert Training Camp

We were camped at one of General Patton’s Desert Training Camps for WWII

It was very late in the day before they returned in possession of a brand new Dodge Ram!! Seems Laurie does take her shopping quite seriously! After we all stood there with mouths ajar for a spell contemplating the depth of the days purchases, it became apparent it was all a rouse with the intention of giving Ron a heart attack!

In fact, the truth of the matter was that they had driven Laurie’s Chevy the whole 50km into town that morning in limp mode. Upon departure, the Chevy’s computer had spat out a fault code that rendered the vehicle unable to achieve speeds above 40km/h on the Interstate where the limit of 120km/h is seen more as a minimum! After leaving it at a dealership for repairs they decided to have a bit of a laugh at Ron’s expense with the hire car… Poor bastard!

Happy endings however, as they returned the following day and retrieved the now repaired Chevy. The downside of course was the lighter load in Laurie’s wallet after the bill was paid!

Look at the size of these things!

Look at the size of these things! We are heading to the snowbird nest!

On the move again, we made for Quartzsite. This odd little town deserves a special mention! Grey Nomads in Australia are known as Snowbirds here! Well if you’re a Snowbird, it seems that this is where you will ALL be nesting during the winter months.

Acres and acres of RV’s occupied and for sale! The amount of money parked around this town is absolutely staggering. There are 4 areas known as LTVA’s (long term visitor areas), where for a small fee ($US180 so we’ve been told) you can park for up to 6 months in the desert just outside Quartzsite with services such as rubbish collection, water and sanitary dump points, making it the true nomad Mecca!

Motorhome and RV Mecca

Motorhome and RV Mecca

We had no chance capturing it with our camera as it really is a vast sea of RV’s in every direction.

The LTVA south of Quartzsite

The LTVA south of Quartzsite

They even have shuttle buses to transport the Snowbirds into town for events organised solely for the greying fraternity. From dances and shows, book signings, restaurant deals, expos and flea markets, along with RV repair shops and dealers the list goes on and on. Not to mention a strange little bookstore…

Cool Stuff in Quartzsite! Everything is for sale

Cool Stuff in Quartzsite! Everything is for sale

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Bought Vintage Snow Shoes Here...

Bought Vintage Snow Shoes Here…

One owner-always loved???

One owner-always loved???

A notorious local who owns the bookstore...

A notorious local who owns the bookstore…

There is also quite a lot of BLM land available in the area which allows up to 14 days free camping and gives travellers preferring the wide open spaces a little more choice over the fairly high density camping nearer the town.  No prize for guessing where we headed…

Saguaro Giant Cactus

Saguaro Giant Cactus

New Year arrived quite suddenly for us, as it seems calendars and even the date for that matter have lost more and more relevance the longer we’ve been travelling!

With the end of 2016 upon us, we thought we’d try and make midnight rather than end up in bed by 10pm and thanks to a little internet compliments of Ronald McDonald, we achieved that end after making a slight detour and found ourselves dribbling into the early hours of 2017 in the comfort of the 5th wheel with Laurie and Ron once again.

New Years and what do you know - back with Laurie, Ron and Jeff!

New Years and what do you know – back with Laurie, Ron and Jeff!

I think these guys are stalking us to be honest or maybe it’s the other way around?

KofA (King of Arizona) National Wildlife Refuge proved to be perfectly in sync with the way we love to travel – excellent 4×4 tracks amongst sensational scenery. Although we’d spotted the odd Saguaro cactus as we’d moved back toward Arizona this was our first taste of these terrific cactus in large numbers and we found them truly amazing and wonderful to camp amongst.

Kofa National Wildlife Refuge

Kofa National Wildlife Refuge

Trails in Kofa

Trails in Kofa

Spiky little things!

Spiky little things!

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With a multitude of cactus varieties in the area growing amongst the desert varnished rocks and ridges, the whole reserve has quite a unique persona.

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No hunting now that you are leaving the refuge???

No hunting now that you are leaving the refuge???

The area had also been a testing range for WW2 ordinance and signs recommending caution when out wandering were there for good reason!

Live rounds...

Live rounds…

Enroute to our border crossing into Mexico, we passed through Yuma Proving Ground where all manner of armament is tried and thoroughly tested!

Yuma Proving Grounds Display

Yuma Proving Grounds Display

Migs on sticks - choppers on sticks - same, same

After a restock in the town of Yuma, where we sat in the car outside a Starbucks for what seemed like hours sucking free WIFI, we spent our last night in the US camped on Sidewinder road, only made auspicious in our minds by the fact that our trip counter had just clocked 1000days of travel and coincidentally 100,000km as well since departing Vladivostok!

100,000kms on the trip!

100,000kms on the trip!

1000 days travelling

1000 days travelling

Just arbitrary numbers I guess but it held some value for us!

Sidewinder Rd Camp - Mexico tomorrow...

Sidewinder Rd Camp – Mexico tomorrow…

Mexico was beckoning us to become sunburnt beach bums so Baja here we come!!

Justin.

 

Do You Believe???

Generally we like to settle down for our camping experiences away from the generator crowd, a point I’ve no doubt made previously!

Meaning that if you see a caravan, 5th wheel, small camper van or “A” Class motor home (Winnebago style coach camper) pretty well anywhere in the US, then run the other way as the chances of them not requiring petrol powered electricity to run their coffee maker, microwave and hair dryer is rather slim! There are the exceptions however and they do seem to be growing in number.

So there we are, camped all by our lonesome near the Fish Lake Hot Springs when a cloud of dust appears in the distance – incoming visitors no doubt. Eventually the vehicle stirring up the dust appeared ahead of the dust cloud much like a passenger jet leading a jet stream. I use that analogy because the vehicle approaching wasn’t a lot smaller than a Russian Antonov!

We look at each other and sigh, “well it’s their country and we can’t very well tell them to go away and desist from damaging our calm now can we?”…

Closer now and our upside down smiles slowly recover to reveal a happier expression as we see the whole roof is covered in solar panels!

Laurie's Solar Wonder!

Laurie’s Solar Wonder!

And so it was that we met Cat Lady Laurie and Yukon Ron and of course their resident cats!

Laurie has been on the road pretty much full time since 2002. She’s a little smarter than your average RV’er and made the move early on to complete self-reliance through solar! Not only that but Laurie completes all the solar and electrical installations herself – right down to converting all her RV light fixtures to low draw LED technology!

Having a look at this installation quickly showed how fastidious she is and makes other off grid power systems I’ve seen look pretty second rate.

Anyway she has a massive solar setup with a battery bank of 960A/H and 1602 watts of solar, that’s 1.6-kilowatts! It allows them complete electrical freedom without requiring hookups or a generator EVER and yes – she can use the microwave!

If you just greyed out and that all sounded like gobbledy gook, I apologise. I just love solar power along with the freedom and peaceful camping experience that it provides. If you’re not overly savvy on solar systems, I’ll put it in simple terms – Laurie’s RV puts out more solar power than an average solar installation on a house!!!

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After a soak in nature’s hot tub, we all ended up drinking back in the 5th wheel. As it turns out, Laurie’s partner, Ron, has a gold mining lease in the Yukon where, until recently, he lived full time for the better part of the last 40 years. Hearing about the conditions he’s experienced during that time in the Yukon, I was amazed! Temperatures below minus 40°C in the winter, hearing your breath freeze as you exhale, the northern lights, panning for gold and living off the land. An easy guy to chat with, although it meant that we managed to run down both of our beer supplies rather quickly. Make of that what you will…

Laurie was a wealth of information regarding free camping and she shared a few favourite spots before we departed with tentative plans to catch up with these cool travellers in the weeks ahead.

Desert Sands in the Wind

Desert Sands in the Wind

We made a brief stop in Tonopah and with strong winds whipping the desert sands, we sought (at some length) to find a sheltered camp. However, nothing could stop the overnight temperatures diving below zero for the next few days, once to -8°C! The following days saw the wind abate slightly and we made a side trip to Lunar Crater, an interesting area of ancient volcanic activity.

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The volcanic landscape around Lunar Crater

The volcanic landscape around Lunar Crater

Lunar Crater

Lunar Crater

Wide Open Spaces

Wide Open Spaces

Enroute to the Extraterrestrial Hwy

Enroute to the Extraterrestrial Hwy

The Extraterrestrial Hwy came into view as we wandered across Nevada’s desert backcountry and skirted Area 51… this is what the crowd came to see!!! All in good humour of course….

The Little A’le’Inn is a mandatory stop if you’ve ever watched the movie “Paul” and had Jen tasting what may have been the smallest hotdog ever created – luckily she ordered a side of fries! Given the “super size” reputation of serves in the US generally, this came as a bit of a shock! The hotdog was made even harder to spot on the plate given that it wasn’t much larger than the fries themselves… No I’m not kidding!

Commencing the Extraterrestrial Hwy

Commencing the Extraterrestrial Hwy

Our Alien Guide

Our Alien Guide

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The Little A'Le'Inn - home of the worlds smallest hotdog!!

The Little A’Le’Inn – home of the worlds smallest hotdog!!

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On to the Black Mail Box, a supposed alien communication point, which sadly has become a rubbish dump for passers by, so often the case when sites are accessible to human degenerates without any real effort required!

The Black Mailbox

The Black Mailbox

It’s not hard to see why Area 51 is geographically located where it is, with large expanses of flat featureless terrain between jagged mountain ranges with only low vegetation and an obviously arid dry climate. It’s a first class area to test out your military aircraft or maybe encounter the odd crash-landed Alien Space Ship.

The whole area is an air force training playground including the real Top Gun training facility so it’s not surprising that you might see and hear a fighter jet or 2!

With eyes wandering skyward now and then to keep an eye on the jet streams, we could easily tell when the air force were out playing as you don’t often see commercial jets making knife edge turns, not to mention that the air force were out playing pretty much all of the time making the task pretty easy.

It had us enjoying our own private air show with sonic boom after sonic boom, dog fighting and low fly-bys!

Dogfighting Jets above complete with sonic booms

Dogfighting Jets above complete with sonic booms

The locals have really taken to the concept

The locals have really taken to the concept

So did this touring family...Alien Roadtrip!!

So did this touring family…Alien Roadtrip!!

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Alien Research Center

IMG_5663 IMG_5667Arriving at end of the Extraterrestrial Hwy and with the lights of Las Vegas once again easily visible during the hours of darkness we spent a few nights camped at Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge!

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge

I only make mention of National Wildlife Refuges as it has come to my attention that wildlife refuges don’t necessarily mean safe haven for animals! Remembering context here, we are in the USA, the land of firearms so yes, you can hunt in these refuges! Whilst there are restrictions, I’m not sure if the meaning of “refuge” has been lost somewhere in the vocabulary over here! Haha

Photo Courtesy of Pahranaget NWR Website - seriously!

Photo Courtesy of Pahranaget NWR Website – seriously!

With information from the helpful volunteers at the NWR visitor centre, we decided to wander a track known as the Alamo Road toward Vegas. Although not so far from Vegas, the whole area really has quite a remote feel to it. A couple of days elapsed as we wandered it’s length with only 1 other vehicle encountered, rather more relaxing than the Interstate and certainly rougher and dustier.

Joshua Trees

Joshua Trees

Alamo Road Scenery

Alamo Road Scenery

More Alamo Road

More Alamo Road

Justin fixing a puncture

Justin fixing a puncture

You're never far from a bombing range in Nevada

You’re never far from a bombing range in Nevada

The outskirts of Las Vegas was next for a quick restock before we enjoyed a few of the scenic drives to the west.

Red Rock Canyon outside Las Vegas

Red Rock Canyon outside Las Vegas

More Red Rock Canyon

More Red Rock Canyon

Heading north-west now toward Death Valley National Park, we found free campsites pretty easy to find, although locating one not already occupied by a local practicing his quick draw routine with his Glock hand gun was a little more tricky! Truly you wander just off the Hwy around this part of the world and you’ll more than likely run into someone practicing his or her rapid-fire technique.

Laurie and Ron, mentioned earlier, had provided us with the location they would probably be at just outside Death Valley for a spell, so in the end we made for their site and found them camped up with another RV that they often travel with containing Jeff and Larry the Lynx Point cat! The drinks came easily and an invite was forwarded our way should we like to celebrate Thanksgiving with these guys!

Lunch was prepared by Laurie for the Thanksgiving celebrations and I can only describe it as bloody lovely! Probably made even more so by the amount of beer that Ron and I consumed as our entrée! It should be noted that Thanksgiving is generally a bigger celebration than Christmas here in the states.

Inside Laurie and Ron's Palatial 5th Wheel

Inside Laurie and Ron’s Palatial 5th Wheel

Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving!

Ron opted to skip the pumpkin pie and go straight for the aerosol cream!!!

Ron opted to skip the pumpkin pie and go straight for the aerosol cream!!!

Armed with another list of travel tips such as where to find cheap clothes washing and top up with water in Death Valley NP, we finally departed again! Might not sound like much if you’re at home with your Maytag idling in the background and your water dispenser on your fridge but for us that sort of info has serious value!

$8 was the requested remuneration for a loaf of bread in the town of Furnace Creek within the park – that’s $11 Australian. Unbelievable! Made even ruder by the fact that you’re only an hours drive from the nearest town with supermarkets, so knowing where to stock up can be handy when towns like Furnace Creek attempt to take you for a ride.

Jen and Laurie attended a stone tool making demonstration called flintknapping

Jen and Laurie attended a stone tool making demonstration called Flintknapping in Furnace Creek, Death Valley NP

Some examples of the tools

Some examples of the tools made from Obsidian using traditional methods

Cholla Cactus (Pronounced Choya)

Cholla Cactus (Pronounced Choya)

Beautiful California Barrel Cactus

Beautiful California Barrel Cactus

Desert Holly

Desert Holly

Snapshots of Death Valley

Snapshots of Death Valley

Death Valley NP is also a 4×4 friendly park with lots of off road trails as well as allowing wild camping in many places within the reserve. Given the size of the park however, it really makes sense to allow a little more personal freedom as quite a lot of driving is required if you wish to discover much of what’s on offer.

Cool Stew Mcgoo - a fellow traveller

Cool Stew Mcgoo – a fellow traveller

Stew Mcgoo's notes on Death Valley

Stew Mcgoo’s cool notes on Death Valley

From altitudes of 11,049ft (3367mtrs) at Telescope Peak (Death Valley’s Highest Peak) to the lowest point in North America at -282ft (-86mtrs) at Badwater Basin salt lake, you can encounter everything from snow to swelteringly hot weather within the parks confines, depending on when you choose to visit of course.

Badwater Basin 282ft Below Sea Level

Badwater Basin 282ft Below Sea Level

Lowest Point in North America -282ft

Lowest Point in North America -282ft

Charcoal Kilns in Death Valley

Charcoal Kilns in Death Valley

That's snow at the base!!!

That’s snow at the base!!!

Death Valley also holds the record for being the hottest place on Earth with temperatures as high as 134° F (Nearly 57°C!!!)

Badwater Basin Viewed from Dante's Peak

Badwater Basin Viewed from Dante’s Peak

Twenty Mule Team Canyon Drive

Twenty Mule Team Canyon Drive

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point

Always good to wear appropriate footwear

Always good to wear appropriate footwear

Artists Palette Drive

Artists Palette Drive

Titus Canyon was definitely a stand out for us in the park. A 60km one way drive with the first half being rather mundane washboard but followed by a lovely gradual descent thorough an ever-narrowing canyon back to the centre of the park.

Titus Canyon

Titus Canyon

Lots of 4x4 Trails

Lots of 4×4 Trails

Looking for a camp a bit later than normal

Looking for a camp a bit later than normal

This is isolation!!

This is isolation!!

Devils Golf Course

Devils Golf Course

Tricky Hikes

Tricky Hikes

Another park highlight is known as the Race Track. A long and very corrugated track leads to a salt lake at altitude, which had for years, been the subject of conjecture amongst geologists and locals alike! Large rocks leave tracks over the surface of the lake, as they wander aimlessly across the dead flat surface of the lake.

Ubehebe Crater

Ubehebe Crater

Teakettle Junction enroute to the Racetrack

Teakettle Junction enroute to the Racetrack

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The Racetrack

The Racetrack and it was bloody freezing!

IMG_6173The mystery was finally solved with the use of time-lapse photography. Seems that in just the right conditions, those being an almost frozen moist lake surface and a strong wind, the rocks are able to skid along the surface! I’m not surprised there are so many tracks given one of the ingredients for creating them is near freezing conditions as we spent a bloody cold night camped nearby! I love my camper heater very much I have to admit…

We opted to exit the Race Track area, and ultimately the park, via the Lippincott Pass 4×4 Trail. Glad we weren’t in anything larger than our Patrol or we’d be on our lid! A great drive but it certainly did require 4×4! After departing the park we wandered around all over the place seeing what we could see!

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Checking the track

Checking the track

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Apart from a couple of features, much of the landscape outside Death Valley shares the same odd geological components as the Park itself and gives some insight into just how large this arid sunburnt and often frozen landscape really is.

Remains of old tramway in Saline Valley

Remains of old tramway in Saline Valley

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Such an arid landscape

Such an arid landscape

More washboard!!! YAY!!!

More washboard!!! YAY!!!

Burro!

Burro!

We continued south and found ourselves camped in an odd landscape known as Trona Pinnacles – a filming location for over thirty film projects a year which are shot amongst these tufa (limestone) pinnacles, including series such as Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Lost in Space, and Planet of the Apes. But the highlight for us was the vivid sunsets and the resident Kit Fox.

Kit Fox

Kit Fox

Obviously quite comfortable in our presence....

Obviously quite comfortable in our presence….

Trona Pinnacles - filming location of "Planet of the Apes"

Trona Pinnacles

Our camp at Trona Pinnacles - not an ape in sight, except for Justin

Our camp at Trona Pinnacles – not an ape in sight, except for Justin

Sunset Pics - Trona Pinnacles

Sunset Pics – Trona Pinnacles

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Justin.

 

 

 

 

 

Make America Great Again!

Following our usual travel ethos, we followed a reasonable selection of back roads that eventually deposited us at the Boeing Factory car park where we enjoyed a tour of the facility. To be honest it wasn’t overly riveting, a bit like watching paint dry really and a lot of time observing workers making use of their smart phones!

Boeing Factory Delivery Lot

Boeing Factory Delivery Lot

The "large" Boeing Assembly Building

The “large” Boeing Assembly Building

The “Airbus” brand bashing by the tour guide did get a little tiring after a while, but left us in no doubt that he loves being part of Boeing! He was very well versed on the size of the Boeing facility and complex as well with a never ending stream of statistics about the facility. But to be fair, it’s pretty hard to zaz up watching a few pieces of a Boeing passenger jet come together when you only have a small window of time in which to observe the procedure. All in all however it was worth the effort and well organised.

A little more effort is required in securing campsites along the west coast as it’s intermittently dotted with high density population centres that make cheap overnight camping more of a challenge unless you are a Walmart or Casino Camper victim as mentioned in the last post! Since we’d broken the Walmart HooDoo, an overnight casino stop wasn’t much of a stretch.

Security at work in the Tulalip Resort Casino Carpark

Security at work in the Tulalip Resort Casino Carpark

Tulalip Casino car park proved quite interesting. The following morning as we enjoyed our coffee, we were entertained by the security staff as they did their best to explain the clearly stated rules nicely posted on a large sign at the entry gate to a small group of, shall we say, vagrant travellers. They didn’t seem overly keen to be moved on however!

Whilst a bit of a laugh watching from afar, it’s rather sad but I’m under no illusion, however, that for some it’s a lifestyle choice and not a reflection of the general state of things. Rather, it’s their chosen variant on what we may consider normal.

A detour to Snohomish, known for it’s antique shops, was worth the effort as it was quite a nice little town!

Snohomish Antique Stores

Snohomish Antique Stores

We entered Seattle from the north via an area known as the Gas Works, an old power station that’s been reworked as modern art and public open space.

Seattle Gasworks

Seattle Gasworks

It was a really nice way to enter the city, as we were able to view the city skyline from across the bay and watch floatplanes arrive and depart right alongside the city centre. We spent a little time in the area as we needed to source a new filter for our Seagull drinking water system and also have Jen’s quite expensive Pacsafe travel bag replaced under warranty and it just so happened that both of these tasks could be completed in the same area!

Seattle Skyline

Seattle Skyline

Seattle Residential Waterfront

Seattle Residential Waterfront

Along the coast and after a few U-turns on the south side of the city, we visited the Pacific Galleries Antique Mall recommended to us by Alison and David in Calgary.

Downtown Seattle

Downtown Seattle

Seattle - Home of Starbucks

Seattle – Home of Starbucks

img_5025Renowned for it’s antiques, there were some very cool bits and pieces available within this huge building! Luckily we don’t have a lot of space which rendered our visit one of observation rather than purchasing! Next time maybe…

Pacific Galleries Antique Mall

Pacific Galleries Antique Mall

A late departure from the Antique mall and still being within the confines of suburbia meant our overnight camping options were once again limited and Muckleshoot Casino car park became our home for the night!

Muckleshoot Casino

Muckleshoot Casino

I have to admit that it’s a laugh staying in these car parks and watching the weirdo’s that we share the Earth with but not an experience I’d like to consistently indulge in.

Lunch on the beach

Lunch on the beach

Bridges along the coast drive

Bridges along the coast drive

Tsunami Evacuation Route

Tsunami Evacuation Route

Elk in the park

Elk in the park

Oregon Coastline

Oregon Coastline

Our next model???

Our next model???

We deviated inland from the coast to McMinnville in Oregon to visit the Evergreen Air and Space Museum, now home to Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose“ along with many other amazing aircraft and space related displays.

Spruce Goose

Spruce Goose

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Nick-named the “Spruce Goose” by the antagonistic media of the day (but actually made from Birch); this really is an outstanding looking aircraft. Clean lines and beautifully finished, it truly is a tremendous credit to those craftsman that constructed her under such difficult conditions – both due to the eccentricities of Howard Hughes and the ridicule he was bombarded with by the media, but also the lack of materials available for the construction of this amazing machine which prompted it to be made from wood in the first place.

It really was a little sad to see it hangered permanently – it looks ready to be fuelled and take to the sky- wouldn’t that be a fantastic sight.

Believe it or not this 747 has been converted into a waterslide

Believe it or not this 747 has been converted into a waterslide

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Another added bonus for those wishing to visit this Museum is that you’re able to camp in their car park.

Camped at the Museum

Camped at the Museum

Heavy rains made it imperative to make south. We clung to the coast most of the way to San Francisco. Enjoying a mixture of weather conditions! A few pics below of our varied campsites along the way, some of which were surprisingly isolated given the increase in population and infrastructure. There are good opportunities to get off the beaten path here and there with a network of rather dilapidated roads criss-crossing the highway allowing access to excellent coastal areas.

Not so nice weather

Not so nice weather

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California and the sun is out!

California and the sun is out!

Some locals got creative...

Some locals got creative…

Beach camping

Beach camping the day Trump was elected… What can I say

Make Russia Great Again!

Make Russia Great Again!

The Humboldt National Forest and Redwood National Park were standouts for us. Our first taste of the huge Redwood trees that so many come to see. Majestic and massive, these really are goliaths of nature not only in size but also in age with some surviving upwards of 2000 years.

This one is for you Jim...

This one’s for you Jim…

Redwoods

Redwoods

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Heavy traffic and you know you’re getting close to San Francisco but just before the Golden Gate Bridge you can exit the highway and head into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Traffic enroute to San Francisco

Traffic enroute to San Francisco

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco Skyline

San Francisco Skyline

A huge area of walking trails and natural coastal landscape awaits with a smattering of now defunct coastal defence bunkers with westerly views to the Pacific and easterly views back across the famous bridge with the city beyond.

Pacific Coast

Pacific Coast

Driving the bridge

Driving the bridge

Downtown San Francisco

Downtown San Francisco

About 10km south of the City we checked into an RV park allowing us a little easier explorations of the area.

The Crooked Street

The Crooked Street

Some of the locals

Some of the locals

Alcatraz

Alcatraz

Pier 39

Pier 39

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Cable Cars

Cable Cars

Chinatown

Chinatown

Eastward and over the Oakland Bay Bridge! These steel structures really do amaze me with double-decker lanes of traffic and not a gap between the cars day and night. The amount of traffic pulsing in and out of such large suburban centres is really staggering.

Oakland Bay Bridge

Oakland Bay Bridge

Not to mention the ridiculous antics that you witness whenever you are in heavy traffic. There is always one that thinks they are smarter than everyone else and it is not hard to see why multi-car pile-ups occur in such environments.

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El Capitan

El Capitan

Half Dome

Half Dome

We’d pushed along a little during our transit to Yosemite in the hope that the Tioga Rd, which travels east west through the park, would still be open. It always closes around the middle of November depending on when the first heavy snow falls begin. A really scenic way to continue travelling east, it also allowed us to visit the Ghost town of Bodie without a rather large detour. As luck would have it the road closed 2 days after our transit!

Tioga Rd Scenery

Tioga Rd Scenery

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The road will be closed soon

The road will be closed soon

Parked on Ice

Parked on Ice

More Tioga Rd Scenery

More Tioga Rd Scenery

Now over the Sierra Nevada Range, there is a distinct change in the landscape. Gone is the green and moist feeling encountered west of the mountains as they push against the incoming fronts causing them to release their store of rain. Replaced now by more reds and creams, the desert varnish has reappeared on the sandstone and the flora has taken on that more distinct form of arid shrub with skinny leaves and a more pale appearance.

Mono Lake view from our camp

Mono Lake view from our camp

Why is the engine getting hot???

Why is the engine getting hot???

Bodie Ghost Town

Bodie Ghost Town

img_5419 img_5427 img_5456 img_5468The other stark change is the collapse in population – from metropolis to lonely backcountry in only a few hundred kms. Continuing on, we found our way to Fish Lake Hot Springs, emerging from what looks like a flood plain between small ranges it’s reached via about 10km of good dirt road.

Bull Dust

Bull Dust

Maintained by the local community, it’s favored as a camping area by ATV riders and other locals from mining ventures and the like in the area.

Fish Lake Hotsprings

Fish Lake Hotsprings

38 Degrees ... Nice!!!

38 Degrees … Nice!!!

The 38-degree water was extremely therapeutic. We soaked in the rudimentary concrete tub plumbed into the natural spring well into the evening. The “Super Moon” provided the natural lighting whilst we watched flocks of small birds take to the sky in swarms before they descended back into the small shrubs around the springs. Eventually they settled in for the night, as did we.

The Super Moon

The Super Moon

Next up the Extra-Terrestrial Hwy as we wander around Nevada.

Justin.

 

 

 

Grizzlies, Glaciers and Gold!

Travelling a little later in the tourist season and post what most would consider to be the opportune weather window was a deliberate choice for us. We had wanted to enjoy the amazing palate of autumn colour generated by the foliage as Mother Nature’s clock recognises the imminent onset of winter and also have a distinct night time for Aurora Spotting.

Amazing autumn colours

Amazing autumn colours

img_4033It’s one thing to traverse these stunning landscapes beneath blue skies, wearing a T-shirt and enjoying balmy days, but if the gamble of travelling in the Autumn pays off and the weather holds, the landscape comes alive as the ocean of green transforms itself into an almost luminescent vista of reds and vivid gold over a few weeks before a gusty breeze separates the leaves from their source and again transforms the scene as it literally rains colour!

The gamble did pay off for us and although the change of season did offer up the odd few dreary days with solid rainfall, the colour spectacle had been worth it!

We had saved the last few days remaining on our original 6 month US visa in order to head back into Alaska and visit the little township of Haines. It lies near the head of the largest fjord in Alaska and its only road access is via Canada but enjoys seaborne access to the rest of the US. This area of Alaska is known for it’s fjord like waterways and is one of the ports visited should you embark on the inside passage ferry route.

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle

Our visit, however, was based on the hope of viewing some Grizzly Bears as the town is also well known as a Grizzly hotspot, even late in the season.

Wandering around the coastline back and forward for a few hours, we began to think that our chances of an encounter were evaporating. At the point we were about to consider the exercise a failure and depart Haines, fate shone upon us. A large Grizzly and her 2 cubs made their way along the shoreline of the Chilkoot Inlet and began wandering the shoreline, catching Salmon, swimming and playing in the freezing waters as they went!

Mama and her cubs out for a stroll

Mama and her cubs out for a stroll

The bears are just there!!

The bears are just there!!

img_4127-version-2The cubs were probably last year’s brood as they were quite large. Generally cubs stick with their mother for a couple of years before venturing solo!

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Mama keeping an eye on her cubs

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One of the cubs

One of the cubs

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Foraging

Foraging

Love that Salmon

Love that Salmon

Mama Grizzly waiting for cub no.2 while cub no.1 keeps an eye on us

Mama Grizzly waiting for cub no.2 while cub no.1 keeps an eye on us

Grizzly bear footprint

Grizzly bear footprint

Pretty bloody cool if I do say so myself! We watched them for 2-3 hrs!!! Worth every bit of the detour!!!!!

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Heading Back to Canada

The Tundra

The Tundra

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Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Back on Canadian soil, a blur of fur scurried across the road a couple of hundred metres ahead and of course we had to investigate!!! Turned out to be a River Otter crossing the Hwy before it disappeared in a creek! He’d given up his location however, so after parking and going into stealth mode, we listened for a while as the Otter family screeched warnings of danger to each other!

River Otters

River Otters

Fascinating creatures! We could have stayed for hours as they hid themselves under the embankment only to reveal their hiding places intermittently to check on the status of the predator (us) as they hung onto tree roots and dislodged plumes of mud in the fast flowing water. Every now and then one would pop out for a look-see before darting back under the vegetation. We left them to enjoy their watery home after a short visit.

Another reminder of days gone by in Whitehorse

Another reminder of days gone by in Whitehorse

We made a detour to the Carcross Desert and the town of Carcross (an amalgamation of CARibou CROSSsing), an historic little town worth the wander. When the lady at the tourist info told us of gold panning in the remote town of Atlin, Jen was sold!!

Carcross Desert - the smallest desert in the world!

Carcross Desert – the smallest desert in the world!

Carcross town site

Carcross town site

Carcross History

Carcross History

Great totem pole art

Great totem pole art

Lots of early mining ruins interspersed with a reasonable spread of current workings around Atilin provided a great opportunity for fossicking. We managed a great little campsite that afforded Jen another opportunity to spend her time panning and yes she managed a few “colours” in the pan, as the old salts say! Could probably exchange it for 20 cents!!!

Mining Relics

Mining Relics

The Luke Warm Spring

The “Luke Warm” Spring as we called it because you certainly couldn’t call it hot!

Someone thought shrimp would be a good idea in the warm spring

Someone thought shrimp would be a good idea in the warm spring…

Love these guys!

Love these guys!

It was our intention to travel the Stewart-Cassiar Hwy south, which would allow us the opportunity to again return to Alaska and the little town of Hyder.

Ian and Anna from Broome

Ian and Anna from Broome

South Canol Road

South Canol Road

Hmmmm!

Hmmmm!

Cassiar Hwy Jade store coming to a TV near you soon!

Stewart – Cassiar Hwy Jade store coming to a TV near you soon!

After Jade City, we detoured to the historic town of Telegraph along a route referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the Stikine. A lovely sticky layer of muddy soup coated the dirt road surface for the next 100km, as we were only a day or so behind the first heavy rains of the season.

A slippery and dirty transit was in store but the scenery fast trumped any bleating about the cleanup job the Patrol would need.

Lovely old relics

Lovely old relics

Telegraph Creek

Telegraph Creek

Old Town Telegraph Creek

Old Town Telegraph Creek

Our great Stikine Valley Camp

Our great Stikine Valley Camp

Amongst the myriad of creatures we’d now encountered in our recent travels, Jen managed to add a Lynx (Bobcat) crossing a sidetrack to the mix! Unfortunately I missed the elusive animal and without a photo, I suspect she’s pulling my leg, but I’ll have to give her the benefit of the doubt I suppose…

While looking for a campsite at Meziadin Junction, before making the trip out to Stewart and Hyder, we encountered black bears on the road and even in people’s gardens!!!!

Bears In Gardens!

Bears In Gardens!

img_4571The drive out to Stewart was very scenic with glaciers and sheer rock face canyons. Stewart is the last town on Canadian soil before crossing back into Alaska and the little town of Hyder, only a couple of kms away. Luckily there is no border control on the US side here so a valid US visa wasn’t necessary. Hyder is home to the Fish Creek bear-viewing platform but being well late in the season, we weren’t holding our breath as far as another Grizzly encounter was concerned and that was fortunate, as we didn’t see one!

Back in Alaska but not for long

Back in Alaska but not for long

The bay leading to Stewart, Canada

The bay leading to Stewart, Canada

Truthfully, I wasn’t too bothered. The viewing platform gives the whole experience the feel of being at the local Zoo. Designed to keep humans separated from the bears as they chow down on the salmon in Fish Creek, it’s definitely better than having swarms of camera toting tourists getting up close and personal with a Grizzly, as someone is bound to get eaten through stupidity!

That mark on the ground is a grizzly bear footprint!!! Huge!!!

That mark on the ground is a grizzly bear footprint!!! Huge!!!

Continuing along a terribly potholed dirt road for what seemed an eternity, we arrived at Salmon Glacier. Just amazing! The patterns within the ice sheet gave it a completely fluid appearance. We could just imagine it ebbing out of the mountains in a matter of hours rather than millennia! The other glaciers we have seen to date paled terribly compared to the vista here!!!

Awesome Salmon Glacier

Awesome Salmon Glacier

After re-entering Canada at Hyder, we made our way back to the Stewart-Cassiar Hwy, which was a pleasure to travel. Strangely the general store in Stewart had a stash of Vegemite at only a dollar a jar so, naturally, we assisted them in clearing the stock!!!

Spot the Suicidal Salmon bottom right

Spot the Suicidal Salmon bottom right

Old truck graveyard

Old truck graveyard

I really don't know what to say???

I really don’t know what to say???

Arriving in Clinton enroute to Lillooet we found a great back road in our quest to avoid the highway and see what the country has to offer! Up and over a large range with the all too familiar “stunning scenery” that is becoming a little old hat, (hahaha) before we descended into Lillooet!

Great Unimog overland vehicle with owners Stephan and Petra

Unimog overland vehicle with owners Stephan and Petra

With a deteriorating forecast in the weather we opted to head south, remaining inland a little longer in the hope of avoiding the worst of the expected frontal system. F,rom Chilliwack we turned northwest and made a transit along the Harrison Lake 4WD trail – approx. 160km on reasonable dirt that would take us back up to the town of Pemberton. A highlight of this trail was the Sloquet Hot Springs, run by the local First Nation in the area. It was a great little spot to while away the hours and camp for the night.

Getting colder!!

Getting colder!!

The whole experience was very relaxing, made even more so by the fact that we had this little paradise to ourselves for the most part. These springs are described as “rustic” meaning they have been left primarily in their natural state and not enhanced for tourism so of course that appealed to us tremendously!!

Sloquet Hot Springs

Sloquet Hot Springs

The freezing river beyond

The freezing river beyond

The lack of human modification only added to the therapeutic effect of the site as we sat in 38°C natural rock pools whilst a near freezing river flowed only metres away!!

Sloquet Hot Springs

Sloquet Hot Springs

Back on the blacktop, we wandered down toward famous Whistler. Staffed by more Australians than locals, it is a quintessential mountain ski resort town with an affluent vista of log cabins, hotels and ski lifts!

Deciding a course of travel after Whistler, we found we were still in the presence of the rough weather that had been forecast around the Vancouver areas and so took the decision to head back North East to Lillooet! Once again the topography and scenery was absolutely stunning and made the diversion feel more like a must see than a detour. High Mountain passes shrouded in snow; sheer rock faces bordering the Hwy in places and just a generally spectacular transit.

Bit of snow about at altitude

Bit of snow about at altitude

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A couple of weeks earlier we’d taken the decision to apply for a spot of housesitting and now had a rare fixed date to work toward – something that tends to really throw our planning into disarray. In our opinion, this sort of travel does not bode well for a fixed schedule and we seem to have less and less of a plan as we continue! We follow the impulse of the day and would battle to know where we would be in a week never mind in a month!

We’d been given the opportunity to house sit a wonderful home just outside the town of Chilliwack, which lies about 100km east of Vancouver. With our arrival date set, we wanted to camp close by prior to our start date, so for the first time in our North American travels we ended up camping in a Walmart carpark!

Walmart Camping?

Walmart Camping?

Nearly all of these superstores allow you to camp in your RV in the parking lot (along with most Casinos for that matter). I’ve even read other travellers blogs whom have almost solely used these carparks for their journeys across this large land! I must admit with the amount of free and amazing camping available all over the place, why you’d choose Walmart everynight is beyond me!

Paul and Anne Marie were off to Hawaii for a couple of weeks of sunshine and diving, leaving us to keep an eye on the house and their 2 lovely cats! Being 4×4 enthusiasts themselves, we had a lot in common and many destination tips to share!

The awesome rock crawler

The awesome rock crawler

Chilliwack provided us with the perfect opportunity for a little relaxation and undercover parking for the Patrol not to mention the perfect opportunity to get some mail forwarded!!

View from the house sit

View from the house sit

My Birthday happened to fall during our stay! A knock on the front door and we received a pizza delivery that we hadn’t ordered, a Birthday surprise from Erik and Mieke in the Netherlands! Thanks for thinking of me guys and I really appreciated paying for my surprise as well – Haha! It’s the thought that counts isn’t it!

Happy Birthday!! Thanks Erik

Happy Birthday!! Thanks Erik

Erik had attempted to pay on line but without success, well that’s what he latter told me with a big smile on his face!

As luck would have it, David and Alison, whom had looked after us way back in Calgary, just happened to be visiting Vancouver! Perfect timing for us so off to the city for a day of sightseeing and a catch-up.

Vancouver Waterfront

Vancouver Waterfront

Floating Houses Vancouver

Floating Houses Vancouver

Great silo art

Great silo art

Lunch on the pier

Lunch on the pier

Markets on Granville Island

Markets on Granville Island

Vancouver

Vancouver

Granville Island Vancouver

Granville Island Vancouver

The Awesome David and Alison

The Awesome David and Alison

Always nice when locals can show you the sights!

All too quickly, our 2 weeks were at an end. Stories of Hawaiian sunshine and crystal clear waters had us ready to head south rapidly!

That makes the whole transition back into the US sound a lot more efficient and far more pleasant than the detestable, rude, arrogant and downright insulting experience that it actually was and for that matter appears to be consistently for Overland Travellers with plans requiring multiple entries!

Always nice finishing a post on a high!

Time to head for the Oregon coast and see what the Pacific US States have to offer!

Cheers Justin

The Last Frontier

Cottesloe Beach – a Perth institution that attracts bathers by the thousands on a lovely sunny day. So many in fact that you will struggle to wander the sands without falling on someone!

Well, if you are a moose and find yourself just across the border into Alaska and you replace the beach with tundra and scrub and bathers with camouflage wearing, armed, quad bike riding hunters then that would be your impression should you be that moose!

American hunters returning home with their trophy

American hunters with their trophy

Must be a gory old afternoon dressing down one of these animals back to the bone for meat and a set of antlers, but hey, what else can you hang on your wall!

After passing through several old gold mining tenements we arrived in the odd little town of Chicken!

The town of Chicken, Alaska

The town of Chicken, Alaska

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Back on the black top and Delta Junction signalled the end of the Alaska Hwy! Mosquitos had become prevalent of late and a local sculpture suggested that it wasn’t rare…

The end of the Alaska Hwy

The end of the Alaska Hwy

This is how big the Mosquitos felt too!

This is how big the Mosquitos felt too!

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Next destination was the town of North Pole! Named by some enterprising locals who had hoped they would become a mecca for toy manufacturers, the name stuck and Santa Claus House (the year round Xmas Shop with resident Santa) was born.

Not exactly the Geographic North Pole but as close as we'll get!

Not exactly the Geographic North Pole but as close as we’ll get!

Santa's Throne

Santa’s Throne

Jen was keen to walk away with a Xmas souvenir from a town named North Pole but those hopes were quickly dashed as we entered the gift shop and observed some of the prices! Shouldn’t take long to pay back that 19 000 000 000 000 (yep that’s how many zeros are in trillion) National debt at such prices although I guess it’s all made in China – hmmmm! A souvenir from the North Pole Safeway would have to suffice!

Real Live Reindeer!!!

Real Live Reindeer!!!

Fairbanks came and went as we began our descent south toward Anchorage but not before meeting some Brazilian overlanders on the road – literally!

Brazillian Travellers

Brazillian Travellers

Denali National Park provided an opportunity to make a little headway west from the Hwy and enjoy some magnificent scenery! We wandered along the road back and forward in what turned out to be a futile attempt to spot some rutting moose!

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Denali National Park

Denali National Park

Husky Pups that will grow up to be Ranger Sled Dogs in Denali NP

Husky Pups that will grow up to be Ranger Sled Dogs in Denali NP

Murphy’s law would have it that just outside the Park and back on the Hwy, a moose pair were munching away on the side of the road. We enjoyed watching them at a comfortable distance for some time before a mini bus load of tourists turned up with enormous zoom lenses but decided that approaching them within metres was the only way to secure a good photo! Moose ran away – Moose viewing over. Pure Genius!!

Moose!!!

Moose!!!

Moose Buck and Cow

Moose Buck and Cow

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A dodgy rest bay with a free camping area was next in our very long list of places we’ve slept! A few vehicles were parked sporadically around the allotted area and opposite us was a VW camper. In the morning we would meet the occupants Myron, Mary-Bethe and their son Bryan.

Myron and Mary-Bethe at Camp

Myron and Mary-Bethe at Camp

On our journey through the Yukon and Alaska, we’d been lucky enough to see the Aurora Borealis quite a few times in varying states of allure! On the night we camped opposite the VW, we’d camped alongside some tall trees and thought our Aurora viewing would be limited, so decided on a solid nights sleep instead!! Little did we know that we had missed an excellent light display according to our VW camp buddies! Isn’t it always the way? Nonetheless we were lucky enough to enjoy this cosmic lightshow the following night with a spectacular display and felt relieved that we hadn’t missed what may have been the one and only night!

The Aurora as best as my happy snap could get it

The Aurora as best as my happy snap could get it

Another of my efforts

Another of my efforts

The Aurora is more fluid than I’d imagined. It ebbs and flows, a curtain of striking greens, yellows and occasionally red swirling in the night sky.   It really did convey our proximity to the North Pole as it wrapped the horizon.

We headed through Anchorage toward the Kenai Peninsula and as luck would have it, we managed to time our travel with a bore tide in Turnagain Arm! The whole bay is filled with a sort of bottomless quicksand and, on a high negative tide, the water rises from the Cook Inlet (named after Captain Cook) with a constant wave and a steady stream of surfers riding it! Of more interest to us though was the opportunity to view Beluga wales as they drift in with the deepening water and fill their bellies on salmon and other fishy treats.

Bore Tide arriving in Turnagain Arm

Bore Tide arriving in Turnagain Arm

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

The best shot i could get of a beluga whale

The best shot I could get of a beluga whale

Mo and Jude met while watching the Bore Tide

Mo and Jude met while watching the Bore Tide

Turnagain Arm

Turnagain Arm

Salmon! What a weird life these fish have… a life designed around making their way to the ocean, maturing and then swimming back upstream to spawn and die in the same place they were spawned. We’ve all seen it on TV so I’ll just wack in a few pics of our various encounters with jumping and dying fish over our time here.

Salmon waiting to spawn

Salmon waiting to spawn

Red Salmon

Red Salmon

With a long weekend in full swing, we set about campsite hunting and with a little luck; we managed a nice little site right alongside a creek on the road out to Hope which lies on the opposite side of Turnagain Arm to Anchorage!

Occupied when we arrived, the campsite incumbents told us they were moving on and that we were welcome to the site! Not only that but there was the possibility of gold being panned! And it got better; Kath and Roger provided us with a bag of organic veggies from their home garden and also invited us to visit them should we be in their neighbourhood!

The rain settled in giving a stark grey feel to the campsite, pools of water slowly enlarging around our camp but it wasn’t enough of to stimey Jens gold panning enthusiasm and wouldn’t you know it, arsy Jen grabbed a shovel full of mud from right beside the car and yep – found a nice little spec!

Gold panning and found some!

Gold panning and found some!

Worth more than the spec of Gold, however, was the amount of free time I was now finding myself with as Jen spent every waking minute panning until her hands were blue! And not another spec was released from it’s watery home!

Continuing down the Kenai it’s pretty easy to make numerous stops and side trips, one such was to Russian River Falls where we were able to view Salmon making their blind leaps in the hope of clearing the white water blocking their onward journey, seems that only one in every hundred jumps is successful, Amazing!

Airborne Salmon

Airborne Salmon

Skilak Lake was another great detour, nice camping and wildlife spotting opportunities; we saw a Black Bear and 3 cubs cross the road here!

Two bear cubs

Two bear cubs

Rainbows are always nice to see

Rainbows are always nice to see

Gotta love this camera setting

Gotta love this camera setting

Onto the beach at Anchor Point and we were now as far west as we were able to drive in Alaska and hence all of a sudden we realised we’d just driven “Around The World!”

We've made it as far as we can drive west without being back where we started in Vladivostok.

We’ve made it as far as we can drive west without being back where we started in Vladivostok.

Our Cook Inlet beach camp with volcano across the bay

Our Cook Inlet beach camp with volcano across the bay

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Sea Otter

Sea Otter

Russian Influence leftover from when Alaska was Russian territory

Russian Influence leftover from when Alaska was Russian territory

Jen the aggressive statistician has a few stats for those interested!

Time away to get to this point : 2yrs 5months exactly

Kms Travelled : 86,356kms

Hottest Temperature experienced : 46 Celcius in Uzbekistan

Coldest Temperature experienced :   -12 Celcius in Siberia

Countries Visited : 41

Continents visited : 4

Awesome people met : countless!!!!

Homer is as far south as you can drive on the Kenai but you can explore a little farther if you wish to board a car ferry but we were content.

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We met Laura and Doug from Texas...

We met Laura and Doug from Texas…

Seafarer's Memorial Homer

Seafarer’s Memorial Homer

Pretty much a fishing port, it’s also home port to some of the boats from the TV show “Deadliest Catch”… Whilst I’m on the subject I was also enlightened to the fact that one such TV show regarding Wild Alaskan folk out hunting and struggling to stay alive failed to mention that a Safeway supermarket is 7 miles from their remote island cabin where they struggle for survival on a daily basis! A little like our Australian “Outback Truckers” I guess. Truckers battling the elements in the North of Australia on the edge of survival the whole time! Only an onboard fridge full of food and cold beer and roadhouse food to sustain them! Staggering stuff really and about 180 degrees opposite to the actual situation but hey it sells!

Homer Harbour

Homer Harbour

On our way down to Homer we’d stopped by Kath and Roger’s home in the hamlet of Clam Gulch and they’d kindly invited us to drop in on our return for a night of relaxation! An offer too good to refuse.

Upon our arrival, these awesome people had organised a Margarita beach party. Their amazing log home sits atop a cliff above said beach and overlooks Cook Inlet and 5 active volcanoes. Truly stunning!

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Volcanoes across the bay

Volcanoes across the bay

Neighbours Debbie and Robert joined us on the beach and we began guzzling margarita’s and cold beer whilst wolfing down sausages and amazing salads. It was one of those experiences that I can’t really describe effectively here, partly due to the fact I can’t remember quite a bit of it!! Hahaha. It was one of the highlights of our trip to Alaska and epitomised the hospitality and generosity of Alaskans!

All set and ready to drink!

All set and ready to drink!

Important to have the generator to run the margarita maker!

Important to have the generator to run the margarita maker!

These Alaskan's made us feel so welcome

These Alaskan’s made us feel so welcome

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What better than a night by the fire on the beach in Alaska!!

What better than a night by the fire on the beach in Alaska!!

So much of our trip has been about the people we have met and we really have been lucky consistently since the moment we began our journey!

The lovely Rog and Kath!

The lovely Rog and Kath!

Leaving these people was tough and they saw to it that we would not starve on their watch! With a fridge full of delicious Salmon and Halibut fillets, and some home smoked Salmon courtesy of Robert, we headed out to Seward for a visit.

Last cruise ship of the season in Seward

Last cruise ship of the season in Seward

The weather was forecast to deteriorate and that it did, Rain, rain and more rain for a spell as we headed north back to Anchorage.

We arranged to visit the VW campers, Myron and Mary Bethe whilst back in Anchorage. They had only just arrived back from a short trip of their own but were keen for us to drop by.

Myron and Mary-Bethe

Myron and Mary-Bethe

It seemed that whilst we’d been in bed back at that roadside camp whilst the Aurora did its thing over our snoring selves, Myron (being a professional photographer) had snapped a rather cool pic of our Patrol! I think you’ll agree…

A copy of Myron Wright's Photo

A copy of Myron Wright’s Photo

Couldn’t thank him enough. He generously printed off a copy for us to frame when we return home. A great afternoon of conversation and great people.

Lake Hood Float Plane Base

Lake Hood Float Plane Base

Sitting at the end of the runway at Anchorage Airport

Sitting at the end of the runway at Anchorage Airport

Whatever Dude!!

Whatever Dude!!

After a last lap around Anchorage, we made toward the Canadian border. The Autumn colours were striking! Although travelling a little later in the season has some negatives such as bouts of rain and cooling temperatures, the advantages are stark! A huge reduction in other tourists and being able to witness Alaska and the north in the Fall

Amazing autumn colours

Amazing autumn colours

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle

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Before we knew it we were back in Canada but our Alaskan adventures would continue with a visit to Haines, land locked within Canada but accessible by sea. Tight planning meant that we had just enough time left on our US visa to allow a visit!

Till then

Justin

 

 

The Magnetic North

The Alaska Hwy was constructed in 1942 whilst WW2 was raging in order to create a transport corridor for the movement of troops and equipment should nearby Russia or Japan decide to make any surprise moves on Alaska during the war. It connected the contiguous US to Alaska via Canada. This amazing feat of road building in many ways opened up the country, through which its 2237km length passes, from Dawson Creek to Delta Junction with an interesting stream of townships in between. It was built in an incredible 8 months!

Alaska Hwy

Alaska Hwy

Constructed over tundra, permafrost, countless rivers, marshland and every other imaginable hazard, this road really did pump fresh oxygen into the north and allowed easier transit of provisions and gave access to previously inaccessible land. However, it also firmly knocked another nail into the era of the riverboat, which had been the trade and people carrying mainstay for decades.

Another advancement with its roots in warfare I guess!

Yukon River Boats

Yukon River Boats

Roadside interactions are always great fodder! Often in the north, there is time to contemplate ones own place on Earth as there is a lot of road construction and repair going on, often with a wait of some duration before the lollypop man spins that little sign around displaying that glorious word – Slow. Life moves on again!

At one such stop of longer than normal duration, a leg stretch was in order and obviously considered normal behaviour as everyone was out of their cars! The truck driver behind us wandered over and asked “So what part of Europe you from?” Ahhhhh “the new part” would have been the best answer but as happens often when caught off guard, you think of the witty response some time later!

“Australia” About then he noticed the steering wheel was most definitely on “The Wrong Side!” Alas the poor soul was completely overwhelmed and totally unable to believe what his eyes were showing him!

“It must be difficult to drive on the WRONG side of the car”

Again I should have responded “well actually its on the Right Hand Side and hence the Right side”!! hehe

I’ve not yet found a short pun which I can pull from the grey matter when I require it in order to help ease the minds of some of the people that we meet into the realisation that residing upon unusual and distant lands there are many curious mysteries!

Over the next few days we wandered along a flattening landscape, mountains replaced with acres of evergreens of the pine variety. A rather notable campsite turned out to be an abandoned campground with a few “living rough tenants”. We’ve seen this style of life rather frequently of late!

A crystal clear ground water spring provided us with a needed top up of water and we even had a nice level concrete foundation to park upon! None of that however is the notable part!

Crystal Clear

Crystal Clear

Life at camp

Life at camp

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Awesome Caterpillar

Waking the following morning, I happened to slide the front curtains apart to reveal a big fat Black Bear munching his way through the undergrowth in front of the car! Yep that’s the notable part!

The bear was just in front of the car!

The bear was just in front of the car!

It might not be overly exciting to a local, but certainly had us going. We strapped on the Bear Spray before venturing outside!

Roadside bear sightings were becoming quite frequent and the more we saw, the happier it made us! Also lots of enormous Wood Bison along the way.

Roadside bear

Roadside bear

Roadside Caribou

Roadside Caribou

Beware Bison!

Beware Bison!

And there he is!

And there he is!

Liard River Hot Springs really is a “must do” on the Alaska Hwy! These natural hot springs enjoyed heavy patronage during the building of the Alaska Hwy and that appears to have increased with every year since. How lucky the workers on that section of the road were to be able to soak in an unlimited bath of hot water after working all day in freezing and uncomfortable conditions! It really would have been a lifesaver.

From their natural state, these springs have been modified into more of a plunge pool experience, but with high numbers of visitors it’s probably the best way to ensure they remain for generations to come!

Liard River Hot Springs

Liard River Hot Springs

img_2915 There were quite a few bears roaming around the area and Jen observed one very close to the springs! Unfortunately the scourge of humans has become the downfall of many of these wonderful animals! People pouring out tuna tin leftovers and the like onto the ground in the day use picnic area and a general disregard or inability to understand how to dispose of rubbish over the many years that this site has been patronised, has resulted in the local bears becoming food conditioned. This sad lack of brainpower from detestable humans resulted in 3 bears being euthanized in one week! Education programs and signs constantly push the message that “a fed bear is a dead bear” as once they have lost their natural foraging behaviour and fear of humans, they become aggressive and potentially dangerous. For sure it’s the extremely small disrespectful ignorant minority, and it’s that extremely small minority that I thoroughly loathe.

Anyway that was nice and depressing, so best we move along!

More bears...

More bears…

Often towns and cities have some sort of tourist attraction specifically designed to stop you, entice you in, spend a little time and support the town!

Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Sydney the Opera House, Rome the Colosseum and although more grandiose than, say, the Big Sheep statue in Wagin (SW of Australia) or the tanks on poles you see all across Russia, the strategy is the same!

Well Watson Lake has the Signpost Forest! Steal a sign from some far-flung destination or make your own and nail it to a post in the town of Watson Lake! Hilarious and yet worth stopping and having a wander without doubt! 80,000 and counting…

Signpost Forest, Watson Lake

Signpost Forest, Watson Lake

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Our Little Aussie Contribution

Our Little Aussie Contribution

Camped just outside of Watson Lake alongside the airport, we were woken in the dead of night by what I can only describe as a blood curdling scream/screech! Scared the piss out of me! Haha.

Watson Lake Airport Camp

Watson Lake Airport Camp

img_2977Anyway we lay in the camper with eyes like saucers trying to dissect what we’d heard. Obviously a human sacrifice, or possibly another camper being murdered and we are not even in Mexico yet!

Gingerly opening the camper door the next morning before peaking out,we found that our shoes had been dragged 10metres from the car! U-huh – probably a fox!

Turned out to be the screech of a Red Fox! During one of our walks whilst camped here, we came face to face with one of these creatures and I put my hand out as if I had some food. The wily animal made a B-line toward me! Obviously not frightened and used to receiving treats! The things you see when you don’t have the camera!!!

Now when I say blood-curdling screech, I’ll set the scene. It’s 3 in the morning, pitch black and absolutely silent. Picture that and click the link if you would like to see and hear a recording of what we heard!

https://youtu.be/zk1mAd77Hr4

I’ll tell the story of the next few days in pictures…

Bears everywhere

Bears everywhere

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Beaver Floatplane arriving near our Finlayson Lake Camp

Beaver Floatplane arriving near our Finlayson Lake Camp

and departing...

and departing…

Finlayson Lake

Finlayson Lake

Mischievous Squirrel

Mischievous Squirrel

Wooden Bridges

Wooden Bridges

Note the temperatures

Note the temperatures

Little Brown Bat

Little Brown Bat

First Nation Fishing Camp on the Yukon River

First Nation Fishing Camp on the Yukon River

I can see you!!! Porcupine 2 mtrs up a tree!

You can’t see me!!! Porcupine 2 mtrs up a tree! Who knew they could climb!!!

Yukon River Camp

Yukon River Camp

There are 2 roads that will take you north of the Arctic Circle in this part of the world – the Dempster Hwy in Yukon country and the Dalton Hwy in Alaska! These roads are both primarily supply roads, good quality graded dirt running north thorough some gorgeous terrain and tundra as they meander along.

Starting the Dempster Hwy

Starting the Dempster Hwy

Jen and I decided to head up the Dempster, as the chances for animal viewing are said to be excellent and we were rewarded! The highlights being 3 wolves crossing the road ahead of us, our first moose and another big fat bear! And of course reaching the Arctic Circle!!!

Yukon Scenery

Yukon Scenery

Our first Moose! Females don't have antlers

Our first Moose! Females don’t have antlers

Dempster Highway

Dempster Highway

Grizzly Bear Camp

Grizzly Bear Camp

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The Arctic Circle

The Arctic Circle

More Dempster Hwy

More Dempster Hwy

Heavy weather on the Dempster!!

Heavy weather coming back down the Dempster!!

The Dirty Dempster Hwy

The Dirty Dempster Hwy

The drive was spoilt for me a little, however, by the lack of respect shown by other road users! Loose gravel indicates to me that you respect those coming toward you (and their windscreens!) and slow down. It was our observation that, on the Dempster, if you slow down and move over your opponent will most definitely speed up and move to the centre!

I can’t recall such a lack of driving etiquette on dirt roads anywhere I’ve travelled!

I must say the worst were the road maintenance crews obviously making smashing your windscreen a challenge but they were closely followed by a group of European tourists in 10 Mercedes G-Wagons on a high speed, 6 week, Anchorage to Texas, fuel burning, see nothing jaunt!

They managed to damage a Tacoma (Hilux) with their high-speed antics much to the disgust of its owner!

I honestly don’t know why they left home. Prior to them almost smashing our windscreen, I’d chatted to one of their party at the Arctic Circle view point before I realised I didn’t like them. They had previously completed a 6 week journey with their G-Wagons from Darwin, south to the rock and across the Simpson where they were constantly bogged (I guess sand driving isn’t’ their thing!) and shipped out of Sydney! Obviously too much disposable money! They had very limited gear with them, so likely travel hotel to hotel most nights and when combined with shipping expenses, is absolutely ludicrous in that time frame!

However I guess its whatever floats your boat right…

It was inevitable that we would also succumb to such disrespectful driving and a semi trailer left it’s star shaped imprint on our windscreen, which I was really thankful and appreciative of – not!!!

Overall we were lucky though as one car that we came upon had its sunfoof shattered in a large explosion of rocks and gravel and yes, it was raining!

Trying to hold the sunroof together

Trying to hold the sunroof together

Once off the Dempster, we made for Dawson City.

On arrival, we headed up to Midnight Dome, a viewpoint overlooking the town and the mighty Yukon River.

View from Midnight Dome

View from Midnight Dome with Dawson City below

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Dawson City Architecture

Dawson City Architecture

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With a bit of effort, we managed a great campsite near a public gold panning area along Bonanza Creek where Jen spent all of her time in search of that elusive treasure, and elusive it was to remain! Another hopeful punter did manage a couple of small flecks however!

Gold Panning

Gold Panning

A local guy by the name of Stan that we got chatting to, gave Jen a few pointers on how to pan, all of which may have come in handy a little later on, but you’ll have to wait to hear about that!

I asked him about any grievances between mining leases and so on in the area as we had spotted 2 fairly new machines that seem to have been vandalised!

Gold Feuds

Gold Feuds

So it was that the equipment had indeed been vandalized and burnt as the result of a feud over mining rights!

But it gets better. Apparently just down the track there had been another rather vicious dispute over a claim resulting in one miner emptying his 45 calibre handgun into his opponent which resulted in his death and a 15 year jail sentence for said assailant. He served his time and is now back on his patch! Yep that’s gold fever for you!

Departing Dawson City, a car ferry transports you across the Yukon River where you can begin the “Top of the World Hwy”. A good quality seasonal dirt road that really feels like it’s the Top of the World at times! It’s along this road that we re-entered the USA and began our exploration of Alaska!

Top of the World Highway

Top of the World Highway

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Cheers till then…

Justin

 

Canadream

On Canadian soil and the Cowboy Trail led us to a great little campsite! Plenty of locals were out and about enjoying the lovely wilderness camping available which was no surprise given the scenery although the weather enroute was rather awful.

Weather looking ominous

Weather looking ominous

First nights camp in Canada

First nights camp in Canada

Cowboy Country

Cowboy Country

The Cowboy Trail

The Cowboy Trail

We even pulled over for a while to let the worst of it pass as did a few others. However, many continued through torrential rain and huge gusts of wind with their 5th wheel caravans doing their best to track behind their tow vehicles at no less than the speed limit (maybe it’s a target) no matter what the conditions. When you have to get to the campground, you have to get there as quickly as possible I guess. Hahaha

We spent a little time loosely planning our onward journey for the next few weeks! Unfortunately, the US considers Canada (and Mexico for that matter) to be the US! They might not say as much but they continue to count your visa time in Canada as time spent within US borders! So we needed to allow enough time to enter Alaska and make it back into Canada before our initial US six month visa expired.

Anyway – enough bleating! The rules are the rules and yes we are always versed on those agreements in advance but sometimes you just have to shake your head and wonder what it’s all about really…

Pushing north a little harder now we made for Calgary and arrived at David and Alison’s stunning home just after lunch!

Alison, David and Us!

David, Alison and Us!

So who are these people? Well, we really have been lucky when it comes to meeting friendly, hospitable and like-minded souls along our journey and we’d met these guys at Overland Expo!

They had made the trip down to Arizona for the event as a research opportunity for their own overland travel aspirations and invited us to visit should we be in their hometown!

After a few messages back and forward on “Whatsapp” they informed us of the fact that they had 2 spare tickets to see Peter Gabriel and Sting live in Calgary and thought we might like to join them!

Sting in Concert

Sting in Concert

That sets the bar at a new height for anyone else we meet looking forward! Hahaha…

This kindness was added to by an amazing guest quarters for us to relax in for a few days! We are thinking about changing our email and phone number however, as how the hell will we ever top that experience should they wander down under???…

The concert was amazing, we were treated to sightseeing trips, stunning food and the loveliest of company and departed a few days later indebted once more to the kindness of people met along our journey!

Elbow Falls near Calgary

Elbow Falls near Calgary

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Out of Calgary late in the afternoon we only travelled about 100km and began campsite hunting eventually finding a sneaky spot to squirrel away in!

Very cold and raining all I wanted to do was jump into the camper but as the Patrol sat idling she began running rough and the check engine light came on!

Always a pleasant experience late in the day…

Anyway back in Colorado we suspected we’d picked up a dose of bad diesel. We had had some rough running associated with power loss and white smoke, generally at higher altitude – an indicator of a fuel issue!

White Smoke

White Smoke in Colorado

At that time, I hadn’t changed the fuel filter as the situation cleared itself and I was being a little tight as I’m not in possession of many replacement filters in my stock of spares!

Cutting to the chase, now I had to change the bloody thing when I was less than in the mood but a beer took the edge off (just the one!!) you can see from the photos that we certainly had taken on a dose of bad fuel! It has to be said that in over 80,000km across 40 odd countries, I never expected to have a problem with poor quality diesel in Colorado!!!

Gunk in Fuel

Gunk in Fuel

There is a main tourist route that runs through Alberta and the Rockies and it starts with the town of Banff! A typical tourist town – picturesque and appealing with alpine architecture and many stand out character buildings.

Banff

Banff

I imagine a few days spent here in winter, with nights around the log fire, a nice malt and a little skiing (not in that order!) would be rather pleasant! Not really the destination for us on this visit however with only a fleeting transit and a stop at every pedestrian crossing in order to let the endless stream of Asian tourists pass by as they wander en masse from souvenir shop to souvenir shop!

Like penguins in the winter – I suppose none of them wants to be on the outside of the group for fear of getting cold or possibly being picked off by a predator! They are funny to watch and in some ways, more entertaining than the wildlife…

Continuing along the Bow Valley Parkway, we spotted big horn sheep and our first Canadian bear, which turned out to be an elusive Grizzly!

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep

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Our first Canadian Bear sighting - a Grizzly!

Our first Canadian Bear sighting – a Grizzly!

In peak season, there is not a snowballs chance in hell of finding a campground with any space along this National Park route which to be honest didn’t really bother us!

We have to confess to being camp snobs and hate being in close proximity to generator riddled plastic fantastics that drown out the sounds of nature with the noise pollution that comes with campground life.

I’m not actually that negative on campgrounds although I certainly sound like it I guess! We do use them when they suit or there is an attraction requiring their use but deep down we really do prefer our own space and solitude! Certainly the national park and forest campgrounds are way ahead as far as a more rustic nature experience is concerned whilst commercial campgrounds often resemble glorified parking lots right on the side of the highway.

So it was that we headed west from Lake Louise in an attempt to find a campsite outside the park, listed on one of our navigation and camping apps, at Wapta Falls. Long story cut short, the GPS coordinates given, compared to the actual location, were woefully inaccurate as were the written directions provided so with darkness approaching , we gave up and camped in an average spot for the night!

Camped here but only 1.5kms away was....

Camped here but only 1.5kms away was….

With a fresh start the following day we managed to locate the Wapta Falls campsite about 1.5 km away and worth the effort it most definitely was! We had ignored the obvious sign the previous day, as its location was so at odds with the Internet info. Just goes to prove that you can’t believe everything you read on the net!!! Hahaha

Wapta Falls

Wapta Falls

Our Wapta Falls Campsite

Our Wapta Falls Campsite

The Sign...

The Sign…

Long weekend descending on us, we decided a few days relaxation was in order to relieve the hassle of campsite hunting when all the locals are trying to do the same. Not to mention that we were not going to find a more stunning camp!!

Wapta Falls Campfire

Wapta Falls Campfire

The weather is not always perfect but still great to watch

The weather is not always perfect but it is always great to watch

Us

Us

Shortly after our arrival, solo motorcycle traveller Marshall arrived. He had just finished setting up camp about 15km away, in a pretty average location, and upon seeing what was on offer in our locale, he was back on his bike and off to break camp and relocate. Whilst gone we moved some of our gear to a site suitable for him, hence securing his real estate. And just in time it was, as a steady stream of campsite hunters began wandering through!

Marshall the Hawaiian???

Marshall the Hawaiian???

 “So where are you from Marshall?” (We expected an answer from one of the lower 48 states…)

 “Hawaii!”

 Well I wouldn’t have picked that and I doubt you would have either!

With the wobbly pops flowing, we all settled in for a few days of great conversation and laughs, with interludes from other travellers coming from near and far.

Jen, Will, Helly and Marshall

Jen, Will and Helly from the UK and Marshall

Lovely Swiss Family

Lovely Swiss Family

Tyler and Voo-Doo from Edmonton

Tyler and Voo-Doo from Edmonton

Wapta not only provided us with a respite from the holiday crowd, but also provided our first fleeting glimpse of the Aurora Borealis! Peering over Marshall’s shoulder late in the evening around the campfire and there it was, a feint curtain of white shimmering across the sky! I won’t bother elaborating because in a follow up post we have photos of the Aurora in all of its true beauty.

All of those who came and went over the next few days, generally wandered into our site as we had, by far, the most outstanding views of the falls and conversations were generally started by those who visited!

I must recount one of the latter between Jen and some Indian (dot not feather) visitors!

Visitors – “Have you seen any wildlife?”

Jen – “Not much but there have been some sightings of Grizzlies in the area!”

Visitors – “Are they dangerous??”

Jen – (in disbelief) “Well yes – you need to be careful around them!”

Visitors – “Like if you touch one or pat the cubs!”

Jen – (again in disbelief) “Ahhh well they will probably kill you in that case…”

If it weren’t a truthful recount I’d think it was a comedy skit! Almost topping that exchange was when they told us they live in Calgary! Some people shouldn’t be allowed out…

The hike down to Wapta Falls

The hike down to Wapta Falls

Below the Falls

Below the Falls

We ended up spending nearly a week at Wapta Falls before hitting the road north again!

Takkakkaw Falls

Takkakkaw Falls

Due to the overwhelming lack of available campsites in the National Park, our option for the next night was a ski lodge carpark! Ended up camped with Shanti and Kasia who were also at Overland Expo and who we had since crossed paths with at Glacier National Park – small world! Another great night of travel stories as we wasted the hours relaxing in their camper and solving world problems!!

Shanti and Kasia

Shanti and Kasia

Camped with Shanti and Kasia in the ski lodge carpark

Camped with Shanti and Kasia in the ski lodge carpark

We intended to visit the town of Lake Louise but quickly gave up on that idea. I can only describe the traffic chaos by comparing it to driving home after the Sky Show on Australia Day!

Moraine Lake was our real destination and that involved a wait of about 30 minutes, queued at the start of the 14 km drive in to the lake due to the fact the carpark was full!

Stunning Moraine Lake

Stunning Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake Panorama

Moraine Lake Panorama

Still travelling north within Banff National Park, we needed to exit the Park again in order to find a wild camp for the same reasons we’d headed to Wapta – it’s just a pain in the arse trying to camp within the park! So off east along the Saskatchewan River and with a little bit of exploring found another great site.

Saskatchewan River Camp

Saskatchewan River Camp

A quick 50km detour then had to be undertaken in order to find a phone signal so that we could send our location to Alison and David from Calgary. They had decided that as we’d not moved north more than 300km in the 10 days since we’d left them, they would head on up and camp a few nights with us!

Finally got signal!!

Finally got signal!! If you left the bridge the signal dropped out – can you spot Jen?

Camp claimed for Australia!!

Camp claimed for Australia!!

Our improvised rain enclosure

Our improvised rain enclosure – it bucketed down!

Saskatchewan River Panorama

Saskatchewan River Panorama

Sakatchewan River Camp

Sakatchewan River Camp

Saskatchewan River Vista

Saskatchewan River Vista

Saying goodbye...

Saying goodbye…

Re-entering the national park, the “Icefields Parkway” drive was next enroute to Jasper

Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier

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Athabasca Falls

Athabasca Falls

Valley of the Five Lakes Hike

Valley of the Five Lakes Hike

We arrived in Jasper and it was as busy with tourists as all the other sites enroute and after restocking, it was quite late in the day to be looking for a campground where there aren’t any vacancies! Fortunately we’d heard from a Swiss couple met on the Hwy that we could sneaky camp right in the dead centre of town at the cemetery – we had it all to ourselves!

Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake

Black Bears can be brown in colour

Black Bears can be brown in colour

Hinton next and a quick visit to the local visitor centre revealed an Aussie behind the counter originally from Broken Hill! As with most of us sarcastic Aussies, she relayed some hilarious interactions with tourists!

Questions such as “what time do they let the animals out?”

“What time do they turn the Aurora on?”

A few days later we arrived in Dawson Creek, Mile “0” of the famed Alaska Hwy!

Mile "0" Alaska Hwy

Mile “0” Alaska Hwy

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One interesting campsite was Inga Lake, not so much for the camp itself (which was very nice) but for the three First Nation folk that stopped by our site! It turned out that they had been camped in the same site a week earlier. One of their group thought he’d seen the Wildlife Officer coming and had therefore hidden his rifles and a bottle of Captain Morgans in the bushes near the camp just in case an inspection occurred!

Unfortunately when they had left the next day, he forgot to retrieve them!

Of course it didn’t help that, by his own admission, he was “really drunk” at the time of the stashing and those synapses that should have connected in his brain to record the location of said stashed firearms and alcohol had failed.

It was all rather humorous for us as he retold that and other stories whilst he spent more than an hour knocking back amber ale and his counterparts looked under every shrub in the vain hope of a reunion. It was not to be. Probably for the best really???

Historic Kiskatinaw Bridge - a curved timber bridge on the original Alaska Highway

Historic Kiskatinaw Bridge – a curved timber bridge on the original Alaska Highway

Slippin' and slidin'...

Slippin’ and slidin’ while we look for a camp

Next we make for the Arctic Circle.

Justin.

The Rockie Route

A couple of coffees, a six pack or a bottle of red! This is a long one! I’m blaming it on a lack of sufficient internet…

Moab! Favoured destination of the rock crawling 4×4 community along with every other type of powered ATV you can imagine! But this town doesn’t rely on the off road fraternity alone, it’s also the gateway to any and all adventure sports – kayaking and rafting, rock climbing and hiking – it’s all there.

RV parks on acres of land announce you’re arrival in this centre of outdoor adventure! Loaded with fifth wheel campers neatly parked in rows like a freshly planted crop, their associated trailer loads of toys and shiny heavily modified rock crawling jeeps released from their tow vehicles and ready for action, it really is a sight to see!

This interesting town is rooted amongst red sandstone of all shapes and sizes and has its own appeal but adding to the impressive location is Canyonlands and Arches National Parks located just outside the township.

A little research at the National Park office produced the news that the White Rim Trail was washed out part way along its 160km loop! Regarded as one of the best 4×4 loops in Canyonlands National Park, it requires a few days to transit, a permit and campsite bookings. We were all geared up and ready to get underway but the heavy rains and rising creeks had taken their toll on the track. Whilst disappointed at the time, with the benefit of hindsight and after having wandered all over southern Utah, I’d have to say that you really can’t go wrong. All of the 4×4 trails provide superb scenery and camping! Now I have the very valid reason that I may need to justify a second visit to this off-road paradise.

The scenery around Moab and Potash Road

The scenery around Moab and Potash Road

The Potash Rd, just out of Moab along the Colorado River was another of Utah’s famed 4×4 trails and whilst only mildly corrugated with the odd rocky section, this gravel road traverses scenery that is just superb.

Potash Road

Potash Road

Colorado River Scenery - Moab

Colorado River Scenery – Moab

More Petroglyphs - Potash Road

More Petroglyphs – Potash Road

"Thelma and Louise" Point from the Movie

“Thelma and Louise” Point from the Movie

Arriving at the terminus of this trail sees you enter Canyonlands National Park just below a section of steep road known as the Shaffer Switchbacks. Driving this road you quickly ascend above the canyon via a series of exhilarating steep narrow switchbacks where, once on top, you join the main scenic drive through the National Park.

Shaffer Switchbacks

Shaffer Switchbacks

Canyonlands NP

Canyonlands NP

Camp...

Camp… 

Satisfied with our visit, the following day we headed over to Arches National Park and I’ll admit, I almost turned around at the entrance! The queue was about a km long and after days and days of relaxed solo travel, it’s always a smack in the face when you find yourself amongst high-density tourism. Of course, often the reward is worth the wait and that was definitely the case in this instance.

Arches NP

Arches NP

The iconic "Delicate Arch"

The iconic “Delicate Arch”

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After a spell of sweaty hot weather, we headed back up into the mountains east of Moab for a cool nights camp enroute to the town of Grand Junction in northwest Colorado. Jen had found a nice dirt alternative to the F1 track that seems to hold attraction for most travellers. Not only a great relaxing campsite, but we were also rewarded the following morning with our first view of a wild Black Bear! The photo is not the best given we were chatting away in the Patrol as we rounded a corner and saw this wonderful creature. It’s rather staggering we got a pic at all as we were in shock really!

Our First Bear Sighting!!

Our First Bear Sighting!!

Into the town of Grand Junction and we headed for the UPS office to collect our replacement Clear View Mirror parts – Mike and Jay from Clear View Mirrors, that we’d met at Overland Expo, had stunned us with an offer of sending out all the parts required to repair our mirrors! We’d managed to damage one way back in Mongolia and the second in the narrow lanes of Cornwall!! Given the whack it received in Mongolia, I’m still amazed it hadn’t taken the door off the car let alone survive the impact and it remained completely serviceable! It was such a generous offer and we were quite humbled by it.

As with Moab, Grand Junction’s geographic location leads to a rather severe northward traverse of the thermometer during the summer months and our visit to both locations landed right within a slightly unseasonal heat wave! Fortunately, as with Moab, just outside of this township, the terrain rises dramatically and campsites amongst the dwindling remnants of snow are available within an hour or so of travel. We spent a few relaxing nights catching up on chores and soaking in the clear air.

Repairing the Clearview mirrors

Repairing the Clearview mirrors

Mountains, canyons, gorges, rivers and picturesque towns provided the entertainment for our run south on what is known as the “Million Dollar Hwy” due to its stupendous views!

Scenic Colorado

Scenic Colorado

Ouray

Ouray

Abandoned "Yankee Girl" Silver Mine

Abandoned “Yankee Girl” Silver Mine

Silverton

Silverton

Silverton has the old “Wild West” feel in spades and is great for a wander with plenty of old-world shops and establishments to keep you entertained. It’s also the start point for the Alpine Pass 4×4 trail! Old abandoned mines litter the terrain around this historic town and allowed for a never-ending stream of interesting stopping opportunities.

We’d decided to head west up and over Engineer’s Pass to Lake City on the Alpine trail and it proved to be a really interesting drive. Not only for it’s history as an original horse drawn stagecoach route (with a daily service over the mountains all of those years ago), but the fact that it had about half a dozen very nasty sections along its length!

Animas Forks Ghost Town

Animas Forks Ghost Town

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Engineers Pass - 12800ft

Engineers Pass – 12800ft

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Reaching 3950m, it’s only 700m shy of our high altitude run through Tajikistan on the Pamir Hwy! On that occasion we spent a considerable amount of days at altitude rather than up one side and down the other but it was strangely nice being up amongst the ethereal heights again!

Cresting the pass, we began our wander down toward Lake City, an interesting little township with timber sidewalks and quaint period style shops. An effort has really been made to retain the look of a mining hub in the 1800’s and achieve that result they have!

Lake City

Lake City

Lake City

Lake City

Western Colorado is laced with mountain ridges and high peaks. Roads dart along the lower terrain and often along the banks of boulder-strewn rivers that gurgle with opaque cold-water streams that power their way down from the mountains. Every now and then, the highways rise up and over the high ridges with many passes above 10000ft! Balmy and warm one minute and amongst snowy crests the next, even during summer.

McDonaugh Reservoir Camp

McDonaugh Reservoir Camp

Colorado is known for its ghost towns – relics from a bygone mining era. Whilst many lay abandoned and neglected, we chose to visit St Elmo – repaired over the years to preserve its history, the town is very much original in its appearance and effortlessly takes you back a century the moment you enter its main street.

St Elmo

St Elmo

St Elmo

St Elmo

Hummingbird

Hummingbird

Unfortunately torrential rain and thunderstorms joined us for the duration of our visit. With the weekend approaching we were on the campsite hunt once more! The locals would be eager to slip their collars and head into the bush for some R&R over the weekend, hence we endeavored to find ourselves a campsite that would do for a few days! Generally after the weekends have slipped into history, finding campsites becomes considerably easier, especially in these more accessible areas

Salida, Colorado

Salida, Colorado

Woodpecker

Woodpecker

Drifting northerly, we wound our way down the Boulder River Canyon into the town of Boulder. Lying on the fringe of the Rockies, the area beyond descends into spirit level flat terrain as far as the eye can see.

Boulder River Canyon

Boulder River Canyon

I’d have to say, Boulder was quite a refreshing visit! The pleasant Pearl St pedestrian mall cuts its way down the centre of town with lovely shady areas to relax and while away the day! “Foolish Craig’s Café” for lunch capped off a great visit!

Boulder, Colorado

Boulder, Colorado

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With the 4th of July looming, we had to work pretty hard in order to locate a campsite that would do for a few days! It would seem the only way the locals can secure a site is to head out a day or 2 before the expected throng of campers and set up their chosen area to claim it and then return home until the weekend. Technically you are not allowed to leave your campsite unattended for the first 24 hours but I guess, with the pressure for a good spot rather pressing, everyone seems happy to flaunt that law! Anyway we succeeded in attaining one of the last reasonable sites amongst the flag waving locals.

The 4th of July weekend was slightly reminiscent of a Sunday at the gun club. The only thing separating the spirited celebrations from those you often see on television in the Middle East was that the rounds were going into targets and trees rather than vertically released which has to be marginally safer!? All in all it was great to see such Nationalism and on our departure a few days later, we were greeted with the Red White and Blue laced through fences and displayed proudly upon houses in every form imaginable. I really enjoyed the display.

Patriotic Red Lodge, Montana

Patriotic

Across Wyoming and into Nebraska, the latter gave us our first real taste of the Great Plains east of the Rockies. Picture perfect rolling grassy hills stretching to infinity; you could just imagine the Bison careering across the terrain all those years ago. Generally fenced for cattle and farming these days. it’s still a spectacle.

Nebraska

Nebraska

I’m constantly amazed at the amount of fossil sites that have been discovered all throughout the mid west, spewing forward our history back to the days of the dinosaurs and beyond. Seeing these sites and observing actual bones seems as alien as anything Hollywood could invent.

Dinosaur Footprints near camp

Dinosaur Footprints near camp – Utah

Fossilised Redwoods preserved by volcanic ash - Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument Colorado

Fossilised Redwoods preserved by volcanic ash – Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument Colorado

The Daemonelix or Devils Spiral. Actually the fossilised remains of a gopher like animal's underground housing - Agate Fossil Beds - Nebraska

The Daemonelix or Devils Spiral. Actually the fossilised remains of a gopher like animal’s underground housing – Agate Fossil Beds – Nebraska

Mammoth Site in Hotsprings, SD. An intact bone bed of Columbian Mammoths - 120+ so far identified

Mammoth Site in Hotsprings, South Dakota. An intact bone bed of Columbian Mammoths – 120+ so far identified

Mammoth Molars

Mammoth Molars

The Black Hills of South Dakota, also home to Mt Rushmore, really are quite stunning! The township of Keystone is the gateway town for your visit to the famous mountain sculptures. Nearby Mt Rushmore, an enormous depiction of Crazy Horse is slowly emerging from the Mountains. Privately funded and with some time, it will no doubt be an overdue and endearing statement!

Mt Rushmore

Mt Rushmore

Crazy Horse Monument still under construction

Crazy Horse Monument still under construction

Wherever basalt columns are exposed from below the earth, some form of spectacle is normal and Devils Tower is right up their as an example of these amazing formations! So out of place amongst its surrounds and for it’s movie notoriety, it really requires a visit. Who hasn’t seen “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” after all, although if you’re a little younger “Paul” may do it for you!

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Apparently it was also beckoning everyone else within a large circumference as the queue to enter was well over a km long and not moving at all.

The Queue for Devils Tower

The Queue for Devils Tower

When finally we arrived at the head of the line we were staggered to see only one little old lady handling incoming visitors. In an amazingly slow droll, she performed the rehearsed and repetitive tourist spiel, took payments or checked park passes with seemingly oblivious disregard to the line of cars waiting to enter. Meanwhile, other park staff stood chatting in groups rather than display any form of initiative. Staggeringly inept organization in my opinion but hey what can you do! Hahaha

Devil's Tower of "Close Encounters" Fame

Devil’s Tower of “Close Encounters” Fame

With a flush of gentle grey springing forth, Jen awoke on her 45th Birthday and we celebrated with a brownie and slice of cherry pie in the little town of Hulett and well that was that. Wonder where we will be next year! Yep it was very romantic…

Jens Birthday

Jens Birthday

Western South Dakota and Montana really were out of the bag for us. I didn’t have much of an idea what to expect but often it can be the best way to experience any new destination! Plenty of opportunities to explore back roads, slow down and peruse the surrounds.

The Little Big Horn National Monument preserves the battle site probably better known as “Custer’s Last Stand”. A treaty with Indian tribes back in the 1800’s saw the Black Hills of South Dakota (home to Mt Rushmore), set aside as part of a large area to be recognized as tribal lands. However, after rumours spread of gold in the mountains, the US government wanted to open the land up for settlement and reneged on the treaty.

Custer was one of those empowered with the task of removing the Indian folk (even though he’d previously vowed never to go to battle against the Cheyenne again and smoked a peace pipe to cement his word). There is a lot more to the story but that’s certainly part of the reason that Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and other Indian chiefs along with their people, the Lakota, Cheyenne and others came into conflict with the US cavalry.

Completely preserved, you can observe the land as it was on the day of the battle. a rare thing to be able to stand on hallowed ground and actually picture the gruesome events taking place all around you.

Custers Last Stand...

Custers Last Stand…

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Custer broke his promise...

Custer broke his promise…

Battle of Little Bighorn

Battle of Little Bighorn

Up and over the famed Bear Tooth Hwy into Yellowstone was the plan but unfortunately, we camped on our way up to the high pass and by the time we ascended 2 days later, we were met with sleet and snow and a big barrier right near the summit informing us the road was now closed! (Turned out it had only been closed about 2 hours earlier, but would not be opening again that day) 

Beartooth Highway Closed

Beartooth Highway Closed

A detour via Chief Joseph Hwy was now to be our path into the park, and a lovely drive it was!

Into Yellowstone and the Lamar valley is a favored section of road renowned for animal sightings! We did see a few mountain goats and a black bear, but all were well beyond comfortable viewing distance! Bison were common.

Bison

Bison

A Big Fella

A Big Fella

Yellowstone is a really large park. It’s about 200km to drive around the ring road within the park center and it would seem an unending stream of tourist vehicles felt the drive was more like the Nuremburg Ring in Germany than a wildlife spotting scenic drive! I’m sure many visitors drive from scenic point to scenic point expecting to see all the park has to offer in those individual locations – truly ridiculous!

Time and time again we were passed, although we were generally at the speed limit (or speed target maybe). Usually, if you see cars stopped near the road an animal has been spotted, so slowing down for a look is the general idea!

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Jen managed a marvellous bit of spotting on our second day – a large Black Bear about 30m off the road! Hazard lights on we pulled to a halt much to the confusion and ire of the cars behind, as was obvious by their overtaking maneuvers and rapid re-acceleration! So for a few minutes we had this remarkable creature to ourselves before a slowing passer by realised that we were in a National Park and that we had spotted a bear!! We ended up with about a 5km (no exaggeration) queue of cars slowing, stopping and jostling for camera positions! 2 Bears at the one location in the end… Awesome!

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Black Bear but brown in colour

Black Bear but brown in colour

At a guess, there is about 1000 campsites within Yellowstone and all were full every day we were there! Each afternoon we’d depart the park and camp somewhere, maybe 20km, outside before returning the following day! With all of those people you are not going to have it to yourself. It was truly diabolical and although I enjoyed our visit immensely, by day 3, I was chewing the steering wheel and couldn’t wait to leave it behind!

Old Faithful - Yellowstone NP

Old Faithful – Yellowstone NP

Only a few tourists waiting for Old Faithful...

Only a few tourists waiting for Old Faithful…

Mammoth Hot Springs - Yellowstone NP

Mammoth Hot Springs – Yellowstone NP

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Grand Prismatic Spring - Yellowstone NP

Grand Prismatic Spring – Yellowstone NP

One of our excursions from the park, in the hunt for a campsite, produced a great little spot with a few others along the shores of a lake with a consistent stream of fisherman coming and going.

Local Fisherman Bill and his dog Walter

Local Fisherman Bill and his dog Walter

This is where we camped!

This is where we camped!

It was here that Jen got talking to a Forestry Service Officer; he explained that he was checking fishing licenses as people were returning from their outings! A licence costs about $20 a day (or there is a cheaper annual licence.)

If you don’t have one however, the fine is US$230! Two punters learnt that lesson upon the conclusion of their fishing outing – ouch! They were laughing on the outside but I guess they were crying on the inside.

Get a licence!!!

Get a licence!!!

Onward through Montana and the lovely town of Bozeman! Big Bang fans might remember that episode…

Just north of Bozeman we camped on the Missouri river for a couple of nights!

With glorious blue skies and warm sun, the locals were out to play and lobbed anything that floated into the fast flowing river a few miles upstream from our location. Loaded up with refreshments and snacks, they’d spend the next few hours floating down to our site before falling overboard and staggering ashore to be picked up by waiting friends! It was an hilarious and inviting spectacle!

Our Missouri River Camp

Our Missouri River Camp

Locals enjoying the great outdoors

Locals enjoying the great outdoors

The second morning was the most interesting however. Nothing like the sound of a semi-automatic 22 caliber rifle being unloaded across the river (and just over his swimming dogs head) 20 metres away whilst Bon Jovi pounds out of the car stereo at 9am, oh and not forgetting a few Budweiser’s just to help the guy relax!, hey it was Sunday!

Later visitors were discussing time spent in jail! One wearing a correctional facility ankle bracelet whilst his counterpart had his very nice camouflaged hand gun in it’s holster… just in case a trout leapt from the river and attacked I guess! Really it’s just bloody hilarious; I can’t get enough of it…

Tags on legs

Tags on legs

Guns on hips

Guns on hips

Great scenery abounded throughout Montana as we continued the route north!

Awesome view from the kitchen window - Swan River Campsite

Awesome view from the kitchen window – Swan River Campsite

Mouse nesting under the bonnet

Mouse nesting under the bonnet

God Botherer's Unite here

God Botherer’s Unite here

Glacier National Park was our last destination of note before crossing into Canada and a scenic drive known as “The Going to the Sun Road” was absolutely stunning.

Panorama of "Going to The Sun Road"

Panorama of “Going to The Sun Road” Glacier NP

Wild Goose Island

Wild Goose Island

Justin liked the scenery....

Justin liked the scenery….

Selfie at Glacier NP

Selfie at Glacier NP

St Mary's Lake Campsite View

St Mary’s Lake Campsite View

The Maple Leaf flag greeted us as we arrived at the Canadian Border! Speed signs in Km/h and litres again – Oh Joy!!! Canada here we come…

Canada!!

Canada!!

Justin.