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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Things are Hotting Up!

I generally avoid answering questions regarding when we will be returning to Australia, as we have no desire to pinpoint an end date and then feel obligated to keep it. Hence a visit from my parents has diverted any feelings of guilt I may have felt regarding time between catch-ups and the possibility of missing my Mum’s 70th Birthday! So thanks to their initiative we’ve dodged a bullet!!

They would cruise the Pacific for a few weeks before arriving in Seattle, have a wander around San Francisco and then head for a reunion with us in Flagstaff!

Sounds like a good idea!

I know I will sound spoilt, but we were quite envious of the few weeks my folks spent cruising! Yes, we spend time as ferals in the scrub, but we can also use cutlery in the correct order and have no problem undertaking the arduous task of eating, drinking and relaxing aboard a 5 star moving Hotel!!

Reunion hugs dealt with, we proceeded to smash our way through a mountain of smoked ribs and other samples of local cuisine at the “Bigfoot BBQ” in Flagstaff before the 4 of us headed out toward the Grand Canyon.

Welcome Bear!

Welcome Bear!

We had a lovely log cabin booked about 80km from the South Rim sporting great views across the Arizona plains and it proved to be an idyllic location to catch up and relax!

South Rim - Grand Canyon

South Rim – Grand Canyon

The next few days passed easily with another visit to the Grand Canyon South Rim, (which never gets old), along with a journey to the picturesque towns of Sedona and Jerome where we again practiced stomach extension exercises devouring lunch at the Haunted Hamburger!

Sedona.

Sedona.

Lunch in Jerome!

Lunch in Jerome!

Williams.

Williams.

Valle - Arizona!

Valle – Arizona!

 

Our time under one roof ended with a road trip to Seligman on the old “Route 66” and then into Las Vegas via the Hoover Dam.

Seligman - Route 66!

Seligman – Route 66!

An original Route 66 House

An original Route 66 House

The tourist trap

The tourist trap

Dead Chicken sounds appetising!

Dead Chicken sounds appetising!

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More Sustaining than Meat!!!

More Sustaining than Meat!!!

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam

Downstream

Downstream

Linq Hotel in Las Vegas had a perfect location and provided my folks with the next few nights’ relaxation whilst Jen and I settled into the Circus Circus RV Park within walking distance of all things bright and shiny on the strip!

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I guess you could call Las Vegas a bit of a zoo but we absolutely loved it. From the tacky kitchiness of the souvenir shops to the upmarket hotel end of town it was a truly liberal party zone with entertainment to suit all expectations from the seediest imaginable right through to Broadway shows and 5 star cuisine!

People watching takes on an almost professional level of intensity, and at times the lack of clothing can be rather nice – at other times, however, it’s a little startling! Hard to believer that it’s possible to expose skin in such large cubic meterage but when you are 150kg, I guess the wrapper has to go with it! Goggling tourists and stress relief seeking locals had the overall effect of a pretty friendly vibe, maybe the giant Pina Colada was helping!

Ahhh I needed that!

Ahhh I needed that!

Wrap it up!

Wrap it up!

The Bellagio Fountain gracefully enhanced the strip during its regular choreographed performances and The Venetian Hotel was another standout with amazing spaces created to replicate Venice! Some may think it’s a tasteless reflection of the real thing, but I beg to differ. It has the clear advantage that if you fall into the canals in Las Vegas, you won’t die of an incurable disease!

Bellagio Fountain

Bellagio Fountain

The Venetian

The Venetian

Gondola's of Venice?

Gondola’s of Venice?

The attention to detail is amazing but they forgot the disease ridden water

The attention to detail is amazing but they forgot the disease ridden water

Amazing ceiling art! The Venetian

Amazing ceiling art! The Venetian

Gondoliers - you would think this was outdoors!!!

Gondoliers – you would think this was outdoors!!!

Alcohol is a wonderful sightseeing tool

Alcohol is a wonderful sightseeing tool

Paris?

Paris?

New York?

New York?

Venice?

Venice?

Las Vegas Strip

Las Vegas Strip

Las Vegas Scum pretending to be homeless!!!

Las Vegas Scum pretending to be homeless!!!

Hugs and sad faces were inevitable as our time together drew to an end! My folks continued their own adventure via Los Angeles and then made the long flight back to Australia. We had spent a great week together and despite the internet technology that keeps us so easily in touch, a personal rendezvous can’t be undervalued.

The Gang!

The Gang!

Death by Cheese!!!

Death by Cheese!!!

Farewell!

Farewell!

The mercury had been rising constantly whilst we’d been in Vegas and was pushing 40 degrees C when we departed. Adding to the oppressive heat, it had also been Memorial Day Weekend, which was reported to have brought in somewhere in the order of 330,000 extra hot and sweaty visitors to the desert metropolis! It was certainly packed and yet I thought the overall feel had been enhanced by the inundation of weekend revelers.

Departing Vegas and an hour or so later we were camped upon the shore of Lake Mead and by ourselves once more.

Camped on Lake Mead

Camped on Lake Mead

Ahhh The Serenity!!!

Ahhh The Serenity!!!

Basking in the glow of Las Vegas

Basking in the glow of Las Vegas

Zion National Park is a stunning gorge with sheer rock faces enclosing a lush, almost tropical, valley. Climbers dangle here and there from cams jammed into cracks as they defy gravity! You have to submit yourself to mass commercial tourism at this heavily visited wonder; an official bus the only way to access the numerous locations within the park assuming you can even find a parking space on the bus route!

A great campsite enroute to Zion NP

A great campsite enroute to Zion NP

Zion NP

Zion NP

Zion NP

Zion NP

Can you spot the climbers?

Can you spot the climbers?

It was all a little too much for me. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit but after a few hours of what was really comparable to wandering around a large supermarket on Christmas Eve trying to get those last minute items, we bailed out! I’d lost the ability to concentrate on the marvellous scenery, not able to see anything past the sea of “North Face” clothing being worn by the unquantifiable number of adventure seeking visitors.

I think I’ve had it on my own terms for far too long now. The smothering effect of the masses is something I need to prepare myself for. Visiting Vegas and other such destinations, you just expect it and I guess, as such, don’t really notice it. Then again, in those destinations it’s the people, in a way, that make the experience, where as a National Park for me is an interlude with nature and solitude rather than a trip to Walmart!

A Day out at Zion National Park

A Day out at Zion National Park

The drive east from Zion NP was spectacular. A vista of ancient creamy coloured sand dunes turned to stone with the obvious windswept patterns that we see so often in shifting sands, now laid bear after centuries of nature’s chiseling efforts.

Ancient Sand Dunes

Ancient Sand Dunes

Sand Lines

Sand Lines

Onward to the south through the rather attractive little town of Kanab and a stop at the visitor info centre bore fruit! On their advice we backtracked a few miles up the highway before we deflated the tyres and drove a long sandy stretch of arid landscape and descended into a dry riverbed. A little while later and we were camped right at the entrance to Peek-a-boo slot canyon! We had our own private slot canyon for the afternoon and relished in the cool environment that lay within.

Peek-a-boo Slot Canyon

Peek-a-boo Slot Canyon

Camped outside Peek-a boo

Camped outside Peek-a boo

Cooling off in our own private slot canyon.

Cooling off in our own private slot canyon.

National Forest camping is as easily located near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon as it is on the South Rim but with sites even presenting on the rim itself! At around 800ft higher than the South Rim, it does have a different feel! Having had the privilege of spending time at each geographic location, I’d have to say they both have their own attraction and if you’ve the chance and time, then I’d suggest you indulge in a visit to both!

The edge of the Grand Canyon North Rim

The edge of the Grand Canyon North Rim

Deep Contemplation or waiting for a beer?

Deep Contemplation or waiting for a beer?

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Art!

Art!

Picking our way into the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, (GSENM) we were looking for Buckskin Gulch, a photo of which we’d seen on the cover of a Utah tourism publication! After a long dusty drive, we found the Wire Pass car park with a full quota of cars resting in the blazing sun whilst their occupants were out and about exploring various trails in the area!

Spellbinding is the only description I have for this treasure. I’ll admit it was quite difficult getting motivated to hike the exposed mile and a half to the start of the canyon after soaking in the Patrol’s icy air con whilst outside temperatures stayed in the high 30’s despite the late afternoon hour! We stood outside with solar radiation microwaving us as we loaded up the backpack and staggered off along the dry red sandy track in a style akin to Lawrence of Arabia!

Interesting Formations

Interesting Formations

Baby Rattlesnake

Baby Rattlesnake

Coiled ready to strike!

Coiled ready to strike!

After a couple of kms, the track narrowed and the sandstone rose skyward. Just like that, you’re in a slot canyon! Cool and shaded, it was like diving into a clear blue sea on a hot summers day! Ahead of us lay around 25km of the most stunning slot canyon in the US! It’s able to be hiked end to end if you’re prepared and have a ride organised at the other end, but for us a few km was enough to be subdued by it’s beauty.

Perspective

Perspective

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Buckskin Gulch

Buckskin Gulch

Narrow and high, strewn with rounded formations along its sandy base, it twists and winds its way along the desert floor! From above it must appear as a maze, a groove threaded through the inhospitable red desert landscape whilst down below it’s truly magnificent.

A few hours later, the Patrol was a welcome site after the shimmering return stumble along the baked sandy track. In need of a campsite, we’d not seen much in the way of shaded offerings in the area, but fortunately a chat with a great BLM officer pointed us in the direction of Pareah Townsite a little further north!

BLM Officer Kara

BLM Officer Kara

With a little maneuvering, we were able to camp within the limbs of a huge foliage laden cottonwood tree, even indulging ourselves with a swim in the clear running creek just behind the camper! We were grateful for the fortuitous meeting with Kara as a sun soaked campsite with glaring heat by 5 in the morning was not something we had been looking forward too! In complete shade with a cool breeze we’d arsed the perfect site!

Layers

Great Layers

Treehouse

Treehouse

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A not so ancient petroglyph!!

A not so ancient petroglyph!!

Great Scenery

Great Scenery

Grosvenor Arch

Grosvenor Arch

Kodachrome State Park

Kodachrome State Park

Dusty washboard roads and capstone before again popping out on the black top – Bryce Canyon luring us in for a visit!

The professional pictures seen constantly in tourist brochures really do show many natural wonders in a manner that seems quite alien to their actual appearance – Bryce a victim of this style of art! Much like an airbrushed anorexic pale-faced super model that in person looks more like a starving homeless person than a sexy example of what we all apparently strive for!

Absolutely stunning and with amazingly eroded sandstone spires, particularly due to the light altering effects of sunset, but for me there was only really one overlook that made Bryce a must see.

Bryce Canyon NP

Bryce Canyon NP

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Stunning!

Stunning!

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A good picture of us thanks to a passing photographer

A good picture of us thanks to a passing photographer

Every location/state/country has it’s list of scenic attractions but when you put them all together in global terms, attractions that could be perceived magnificent in isolation may pale against greater world comparison. With the unfortunate problem of that perspective, it’s pretty easy to cherry pick the magnificent from the amazing and the “really? -that’s it?” When travelling for a shorter duration or to single destinations, I don’t really think the comparison angle comes into it!

We chose to drive the Burr Trail – around 100km of more ridiculously lovely natural landscape. I’ll have to lay off the descriptions as I’m running out of ways to describe such beauty without constant repetition!

Waterfold Pocket South - Capitol Reef NP

Waterfold Pocket South – Capitol Reef NP

Waterfold Pocket North

Waterfold Pocket North

Our Office

Our Office

Another lakeside camp, although on this occasion, found with a lot of U-turns and dead ends! It felt as though every gap along the shoreline of Lake Powell that was available to camp in was filled with some form of camping equipment!

Lake Powell Camping

Lake Powell Camping

Watersport Playground

Watersport Playground

Lake Powell is a large watery playground fed by the Colorado and San Juan Rivers in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and extends from the previously visited Page in the south, northeast for 185 miles. Houseboats tethered to moorings in their hundreds, jet ski’s and ski boats providing noise pollution like a swarm of hornets and kayaks in every nook and cranny! If the Bass Pro Shop sells it then it’s to be found here!!! With miles of navigable canyon formed by the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam, there is without doubt a truly relaxing waterborne journey to be had wandering downstream and exploring the water filled canyons. Might put that on the bucket list!

Swimming in the lake was akin to sensual pleasure as that evening, the mercury strayed no lower than 26°C! Our little “swampy” aircon in the camper, whilst a welcome relief against the stifling oppression, was providing a breeze akin to laying in front of an exhaust fan in a fish and chip shop!

Car ferry across the Lake and the journey led us onward to Natural Bridges National Monument.

Natural Bridges National Monument.

Natural Bridges National Monument.

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We ascended the “Bears Ears” peak to find ourselves aloft the hot desert landscape in a cool forest respite perfect for camping. We explored a 4WD trail to Beef Basin for a bit more Ancestral Puebloan Indian history! A fairly rough track with constant rock steps requiring some concentration, I was rather keen on keeping the oil in my diffs rather then returning it to the earth via the actions of a rock encounter, so it was a slow journey and I wasn’t overly sad to complete it.

Cool Forest Camp!

Cool Forest Camp!

Beef basin Ancient Indian ruins.

Beef basin Ancient Indian ruins.

A slow travel day.

A slow travel day.

The heavens opened the following day with torrential rain and thunderstorms – care would be required whilst off the beaten path now as without doubt there would be inundation of tracks traversing low canyons and creeks!

A cool change afoot!

A cool change afoot!

Creeks filling quickly after the heavy rains!

Creeks filling quickly after the heavy rains!

Receiving our first taste of Canyonlands NP with a visit to the Needles District, it already seemed as if the descriptions of the inspiring terrain ahead were understated.

The storms vanished as quickly as they had arrived and the dust reappeared unfortunately.

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Canyonlands NP – Needles District

Needles overlook.

Needles overlook.

Newspaper Rock Petroglyph site.

Newspaper Rock Petroglyph site.

Picture Frame arch!

Picture Frame arch!

Needles overlook pics cave houses pics and hole in rock bridge cave thing pic.

Approaching Moab, we again looked for high, forested ground for the night. The cooling effects of camping at altitude are addictive and fortunately the Manti La-Sal National Forest in this part of Utah provided the opportunity to retreat thousands of feet above the hot desert floor to camp providing a much cooler nights sleep.

The following day we continued up the scenic forestry track to around 11000ft with the cold demonstrated by a good covering of snow. Unfortunately the trail surrendered itself to a rather large snowdrift as we approached the pass that would see us descend into Moab on the other side. Judging by the lack of wheel tracks in the snow beyond our location, I felt we’d reached the limit of our travel on this trail and a U turn was required.

U-turn time!

U-turn time!

Walking the snowy section, I was quite relieved that I’d called it when I had. There was no way past the snowy blockage without shoveling for hours or foolishly trying to drive over the snowy obstacle no doubt resulting in an exciting slide down the near vertical pine tree laden scree that awaited.

I’m sure the intrepid driver before us found himself vacuumed onto his seat given the near death location of his tyre tracks. He’d obviously come to the same realization as I only 50 meters farther along the track before precariously reversing out!

Straight down under those shrubs!

Straight down under those shrubs!

We later discovered, via the Forestry Service Office in Moab, that all of the high trails in the area were completely impassable having received a completely unseasonal and late dose of snow!

Hmmm – that would have saved us some time! Funny how you always find out after the event…

Cya – Justin.

 

The Overland Affliction!

We ventured along Comb Ridge, an area of around 100km in length that exhibits the obvious results of an ancient upheaval of the Earth’s crust. As with much of southern Utah, the forces that have been acting on our tiny planet over millennia are stark and so very obvious!

Aerial Photo of Comb Ridge courtesy of a San Juan Chamber of Commerce Publication

Aerial Photo of Comb Ridge courtesy of a San Juan Chamber of Commerce Publication

A constant display of Ancestral Puebloan dwellings are to be found lining almost every canyon wall with an undercut along this stunning geological formation. A couple of days easily vanished as we wandered valleys, explored caves and relaxed below brilliant night skies.

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Hidden in every alcove

Hidden in every alcove

More Ruins

More Ruins

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The grooves in the rock are where the original inhabitants used to grind corn into flour

The grooves in the rock are where the original inhabitants used to grind corn into flour

View from inside the ancient cave

View from inside the ancient cave

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Ancestral Puebloan Ruins

Ancestral Puebloan Ruins

A great little lizard enroute

A great little lizard enroute

The grey rippled piece is 800 yr old pottery

The grey rippled piece is 800 yr old pottery

“Monument Valley” had been visible in the distance when at elevation for some time now and we really had the feeling that we were entering an area of special beauty as we pushed west. “Valley of the Gods” sits around 45 minutes drive north-east of “Monument Valley” and we had high hopes that stunning scenery awaited our senses as we turned of the highway! I’ll let you be the judge based on the pictures below…

Monument Valley in the distance

Monument Valley in the distance

Driving in to Valley of the Gods

Driving in to Valley of the Gods

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Camped at Valley of the Gods

Camped at Valley of the Gods

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Awesome Formations

Awesome Formations

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We immersed ourselves in stunning topography that really requires a personal visit in order to fully appreciate it! The ability to wild camp amongst and wander below these magnificent monuments to Mother Nature make this valley an absolute must see!!

At the western end of the “Valley of the Gods” drive, “Moki Dugway” is a stunning switchback road that elevates you from the valley floor containing the aforementioned monoliths up into cooler air and yet another sensory overload. You gaze out over an ancient sea floor with the knowledge that millennia of exposure to the forces of nature has created such a marvel and it’s still quite hard if not impossible to comprehend it.

Moki Dugway

Moki Dugway

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Back on the canyon floor and “Gooseneck State Park “awaits which contains a riverbend formation that follows the San Juan River for 6 miles or so whilst only moving 1 mile as the crow flies. Such is the meandering power of this river as it sculpts its path onward and downward throughout time and sandstone.

Gooseneck State Park

Gooseneck State Park

Aptly named Mexican Hat

Aptly named Mexican Hat

We moved into Arizona with “Monument Valley” absolutely dominating the view!

Approaching Monument Valley

Approaching Monument Valley

Thousands have visited this famous location and judging by the never-ending stream of tour buses, RV’s and selfie sticks, it would seem the allure of red sandstone spires is as strong as ever!

The queue for Monument Valley

The queue for Monument Valley

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I must admit that we found “Valley of the Gods” to be more to our liking. With its own notoriety and stream of keen visitors, it still affords you a personal visit whilst receiving the protection and management from the authorities that it deserves.

Monument Valley, however, is a little more touristic as it is located in Navajo Nation land and every effort is being made by them to capitalize on the natural wonder in their midst – an up close visit was not for us, especially as it’s majesty is visible from miles around.

Such observations are not meant to detract from the experience; I’m just really cynical!

There will always be a good argument and imperative requirement for intensive management at such heavily visited sites. It’s just the murmurings of my mind as I observe locations the world over that easily lend themselves to being locked off from public access to become an attractive and juicy business model!

The town of Page appeared and a Laundromat was first on the list followed very closely by the thirsty desire to restock the alcohol supplies. The Navajo Nation is a dry community and rather hot!!!

The smell of soap powder, wet underwear and grey balls of lint is an atmosphere that only a communal clothes-washing establishment can provide and is always a pleasure! Adding to the experience, I was asked to provide a little liquidity to a local whilst waiting for the dryer cycle, he was out of cash and also quite thirsty but alas I’d used all of my quarters on the wash cycle!

Page is an unusual but pleasant town. It was built in the 60’s for the purpose of supporting the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River which is a carbon copy in many ways of the Hoover Dam. Located in such an arid and inhospitable location, the dramatic changes to the landscape due to the damming of the river are quite astounding. Viewpoints provide striking colour combinations of pinks, reds and creams in every direction with the desolate rocky landscape protruding from the absolutely azure blue of the dammed water upstream of the concrete blockage. This area is now a boating playground known as Lake Powell. A truly man made oasis in the desert easily describes Page!

Lake Powell

Lake Powell

Glen Canyon Dam

Glen Canyon Dam

Colorado River as it winds its way toward the Grand Canyon

Colorado River as it winds its way toward the Grand Canyon

Our First Slot Canyon

Our First Slot Canyon

Very photogenic!

Very photogenic!

That crumpled bit of stuff at the bottom is actually a car!!!

That crumpled bit of stuff at the bottom is actually a car!!!

Who doesn’t love dinosaur footprints! The opportunity to tangibly see and in some cases touch imprints left by creatures of such ancient history has to be a draw for anyone fascinated with such creatures! Well, west of Tuba City on the run south from Page, there is an area a few acres or so in size that is littered with not only the clawed prints of huge creatures but also the remains of – would you believe – Dinosaur eggs! You can’t help but imagine how the Earth must have appeared all of those centuries ago!

Dinosaur Footprints

Dinosaur Footprints

Dinosaur Eggs!!

Dinosaur Eggs!!

Following the Colorado River, we turned west into the Kaibab National Forest and camped just shy of the Grand Canyon South Rim National Park entrance in another free dispersed/wild camping area! Have to give credit to these national agencies (Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Forest Service) for allowing such free and easy access to camping in the wilderness where solitude enhances the interaction with nature.

Kaibab National Forest Camp

Kaibab National Forest Camp

Moving slowly along the South Rim, we caught our first views of the magnificent Grand Canyon! No need for words other than to say that it is bloody huge!

First View

First View

West of the South Rim Visitor Centre there is a section of National Park, rarely visited by tourists, right on the Rim. We had booked one of only 3 campsites at Havasupai Point about a week earlier and needed to pick up our National Park “back country” camping permit before heading out there. A stop at the permit office resulted in a 45 minute information session to receive instructions on how to access the area via Native Indian land and a description of the rather harrowing, possibly impassable, terrain that lay ahead of us.

We were also advised not to use GPS mapping, as GPS units don’t work out there because of high levels of iron in the ground! Maybe the ranger uses a magnetic GPS – ours works off satellites but I thought I’d let that slide… Anyway we were finally permitted and underway with a list of instructions and a mud map drawn by the ranger, which turned out to be really handy as there were some confusing turns.

A mild section of track to Havasupai Point

A mild section of track to Havasupai Point

Our GPS mapping system concurred with the mud map and after a long afternoon of quite slow track work and the odd uncomfortable angle just to keep you on your game, we arrived at our campsite on the rim of the Grand Canyon! The track was a very skinny trail and I suspect quite nasty if it was wet! With a great deal of thickly trunked trees on either side sporting limbs stretching across the track above, it created a tunnel effect and likely restricted access to anything much larger than our vehicle in places (noted by the smashed wing mirrors on the ground here and there).

In an aside, we made the journey to Havasupai Point much longer than it needed to be, as Jen thought she had found a trail that would bypass the Indian lands and hence save us the US$25 to traverse the 5kms of Indian land before once again emerging back into the National Park. Needless to say that the trail shown on the maps no longer existed, petering out as we thought we were getting close, and proved to be a sheer waste of time as the car suffered way more overgrown track work than was necessary. When we finally did reach the Indian Lands Boundary, the gentleman that greeted us was so nice and amiable that paying the $25 seemed more than fair. Jen learnt her lesson!!!!

Driving right on the edge

Driving right on the edge

It still amazes me that we were able to camp in complete isolation without the interference of a light anywhere. We had the Grand Canyon completely and utterly to ourselves except for one lone KTM visitor.

Just enormous!!!

Just enormous!!!

Camped at Havasupai Point

Camped at Havasupai Point

A KTM Visitor - Ralph

A KTM Visitor – Ralph

Our lovely camp on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Our lovely camp on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon from our Camp

Grand Canyon from our Camp

Flagstaff sits below snow-capped peaks and just north of Mormon Lake – the chosen location for Overland Expo. We’d been keen to attend this event for some time and had arrived on schedule with a day to kill before registration – primed and ready to enjoy the company of other liked minded travellers.

In need of a restock and a pressing desire to upload a post, as we’d been off the grid for some time, we sat in a shopping centre car park with good coverage and began the task of refreshing our blog! Glancing in my side mirror, I observed a ridiculously large Winnebago making a B-line for us! Must want a chat I thought? The clown driving swings along side with inches to spare between his mirror and my vehicle and immediately put me on the defensive. Ready to get out and attack the occupants, I looked over at the Muppet driving and was met with the laughing Dutch mugs of Erik and Mieke!

This guys going to hit us!!! Good one Erik and Mieke

This guys going to hit us!!! Good one Erik and Mieke

Stunned, speechless, akin to being in shock, is the only description that I think covers this event!

We’d been in touch regularly via “whatsapp” and these sneaky Dutch folk had been sending erroneous messages with the intent of making us think they were still hard at work in Holland, not to mention sending those messages on Dutch time whilst they were cruising the states in Minnie Winnie!!!

Apparently they had arrived in Flagstaff and were just about to order lunch when the “whatsapp” beep on their phone alerted them to the fact that we were only 1km away. Menus dropped and they made straight to our location! WOW!!

Lunch in Flagstaff - still in shock!!

Lunch in Flagstaff – still in shock!!

To add another level of treachery to their planned surprise, we had spent a week together in the UK over Christmas and, you guessed it, they had already planned and booked their journey with tickets to Overland Expo! How they kept that a secret is beyond me…

We managed to find an isolated campsite in a forested area that night that accommodated the Minnie Winnie mere metres from the bitumen and settled in for too much alcohol and a lovely campfire.

Minnie Winnie and us in our forest camp

Minnie Winnie and us in our forest camp

The next morning we convoyed the last few kms together and booked into Overland Expo.

Allotted a location amongst a few other vehicles on their own world travel adventures, we set up our camper and 30 seconds later had a frosty beverage, found Erik and Mieke, and began a preliminary wander of the event!

All set up - a2a expedition with their Land Rover 130 and roof top tent

All set up – a2a expedition with their Land Rover 130 and roof top tent

There was an interesting mix of equipment on display with a reasonable spread of RV’s such as Sportsmobile, All Terrain Warrior (from Queensland, Australia) XP campers and the list goes on! Of course modified jeeps were in abundance – rock crawlers to tourers – they were all there.

All Terrain Warrior

All Terrain Warrior

XP Camper on a Toyota Tundra

XP Camper on a Toyota Tundra

Sportsmobile

Sportsmobile

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Humvee Conversion

Humvee Conversion

Classics!!

Classics!!

Another XP Camper model

Another XP Camper model

Rover Lander Discovery

Rover Lander Discovery by Phoenix Pop-up Campers

Phoenix Pop-up Campers

Phoenix Pop-up Campers

Classic 60 Series Land Cruiser

Classic 60 Series Land Cruiser

We were provided with a bit of a show during the afternoon when a Ford F350 with a massive slide on became bogged whilst attempting to find a camp spot. An attempt to retrieve the poor souls was made with a backhoe by the organisers but unfortunately, it seemed as if the operator of the earthmoving machine had, well, frankly NO BLOODY IDEA how to operate it! Hence with the recovery attempt abandoned, the machinery operator informed the stricken owners that he might be back on Monday if the ground dried out a bit and have another go! (It was Friday!).

We were all becoming more and more miffed as time passed and we consumed a little more relaxation juice! Right alongside the bogged Ford was the Land Rover Test and Recovery Course!! Land Rovers smothered in Camel Trophy livery with drivers sporting all sorts of Land Rover branded outfits and Disco’s partying their way around the pre-tested obstacle course!

Alas, it would seem that only staged recoveries were to be undertaken during this display of Land Rover prowess – wouldn’t want to attempt an actual recovery …???

Anyway as the afternoon ran on, the Aussie in me couldn’t stand it any longer. I was becoming more and more mystified as I watched double locked, twin winch toting , maxx trax carrying, 40 inch mud tyre wielding, off road, ready to go anywhere Jeeps and the like cruising past with no intention of helping one of their kin! I guess that’s how they keep their recovery gear so clean and shiny, they never get it out…

In Australia, if you get stuck in the process of an attempted recovery it just becomes a bit more of a laugh! Anyway, I’m digressing… in the end, it was 2 Aussies, 2 Dutch folk and a German in an F250 that resolved the situation, with a large crowd of onlookers, I might add! Anyway, no Jeeps were harmed or got dirty during the production of this story so that’s a positive… Must also be said that 2 locals in an enormous ex-military truck were preparing to assist as the events were drawing to a close. These guys were camped next to Erik and Mieke and were an absolute laugh!! We nicknamed them Wanker 1 and Wanker 2 which they thought hilarious, whilst they camped separately in truck and tent to dispel rumours that they might be intimately involved !!! Which they are not. Hilarious guys!!!

Wanker 1 and Wanker 2

Wanker 1 and Wanker 2

Their enormous army truck!!

Their enormous army truck!!

Unfortunately, the next few days were to deliver gale force winds in a non-stop fashion! Tents and marquees slowly disintegrated into tattered shreds of Chinese manufacturing! Nonetheless, all of the visitors deserve full credit, as they arrived in their droves and admirably wandered the displays in the face of the sand grit bath that blasted them all day! It was also great to see the determination of the exhibitors as smiles remained and laughs were had!

Happy Retailers

Happy Retailers

An interested visitor to our little display sported a Clearview mirrors baseball cap and Mike turned out to be the owner of Clearview Mirrors Australia! Seeking American business opportunities, he and his business colleague Jay had been wandering the show and had spotted our Patrol with their mirrors fitted! That definitely called for a chat!

Mike and Jay from Clearview Mirrors

Mike and Jay from Clearview Mirrors

They couldn’t believe there was an Aussie Patrol parked in the middle of a 4×4 show in Arizona sporting Clearview Mirrors! Meeting these guys was fantastic. We spent some time relaying how impressed we were with their product as they’ve saved us numerous times by providing such an excellent field of vision (not to mention a great step up from the factory fitted Patrol Ute mirror) whilst being almost indestructible! I know that for a fact having had a Mongolian Bongo van bounce off one amongst other tests of their construction. Check them out at clearviewaccessories.com.au

The style of travel we have chosen is an amazingly rewarding experience if you’re into it! But it can be a little isolationist as well. Apart from a little contact here and there via the Internet, we really are very much on our own and generally for a very long time, often with a rather large language barrier.

Events such as this help you realise that you are not alone in your travel desires. Approaching the event, you see the odd other intrepid traveller, descending on the same location with a big grin ear to ear and an equal desire for a bit of traveller to traveller time!

The Earth Roamer in the middle belongs to Rob and Nina from whiteacorn.com

The Earth Roamer in the middle belongs to Rob and Nina from whiteacorn.com

Jan and Leone have been travelling the world in their Forward Control Land Rover Camper on and off for 18yrs!!!

Jan and Leone have been travelling the world in their Forward Control Land Rover Camper on and off for 18yrs visiting 69 countries and counting!!!

Mitsubishi Fuso Overland Truck

Mitsubishi Fuso Overland Truck

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The first thing that comes to mind when I meet others on their own world journeys, is the strong sense of character they all seem in possession of!

Amazing sessions of story swapping were a highlight of this event! Collective understanding nods when tales of travel woes, experiences and highlights float amongst the group. It does happen to all of us after all!!

The opportunity to also meet an eclectic range of prospective travellers was not to be forgotten with many people stopping for a chat and a look over the map. A high percentage were in the process of planning their own departure from normality and were attending the event in research mode!

Discussions with travellers old and new

Discussions with travellers old and new

A final night was enjoyed with Erik and Mieke! I’ll say no more about their amazing visit, they know! San Francisco was their destination before they returned to the Netherlands.

Farewell to great friends

Farewell to great friends

Group Hug

Group Hug

The whole experience provided us with a fresh intensity around our travels and we really hope to meet some of our newfound family elsewhere on Earth… Our neighbours at the event were a family of 4 South Africans who have been travelling Southern Africa, South America and the USA for 4yrs. Australians and South Africans are such kindred spirits and I know we will see these guys again!!! Check them out at a2aexpedition.com

Graeme, Luisa, son Keelan and daughter Jessica from a2aexpedition.com

Graeme, Luisa, son Keelan and daughter Jessica from a2aexpedition.com

Last night drinks with travellers

Last night drinks with travellers

Flagstaff and a few days out of the camper in the next instalment!

Justin.