Saturday, July 30, 2011

Big Cats and Juicy Cherries

We’re in Spokane (SPOKE-ANN) in eastern Washington. Where the western part of the state has the Cascade Mountains, here in the east are rolling hills and miles of farmland. Up the road from our campground is the Cat Tail Zoo, which is privately-owned collection of big cats, and one black bear. The zoo is a rescue facility, taking animals from defunct circuses, from people who didn’t realize a Bengal tiger wouldn’t make a good house pet, and other sources, and gives them a home.


We were there in the middle of a hot afternoon, and like most cats, many of the residents here were sound asleep. One of the white tigers and a couple of the Bengals were kind enough to walk around a bit so I could get some pictures. I prefer to see zoo animals in habitats rather than cages, but considering what their fate might have DSC_0129 otherwise been, these kitties don’t have it too bad. According to signs in the zoo, some local house cats come by to visit their big cousins on occasion, but we didn’t see any while we were there.

This part of Washington is also a major producer of cherries, and this happens to be cherry season. DSC_0131 Our favorite cherries are the Rainiers, and this is the first time we’ve ever seen them on the trees. The non-commercial farms in this area are mostly U-pick, but being basically lazy, we found a farm that was selling the Rainiers already off the tree. The farm also had several varieties of red cherries, but those Rainiers are soo good, those are the ones we bought. But in case you are a red cherry fan, here’s a picture of those.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Cascades

Mt. Rainier, as well as Mt. St. Helen’s, Mt. Hood, and a bunch of other mountains, are in the Cascades Mountain Range, which runs south from Canada through Washington and Oregon. It may go into California or Idaho too, but I’m not sure.

I erred in my previous post when I mentioned that Mt. Rainier is a dormant volcano. It’s actually an active volcano, and visitors to Mt. Rainier National Park are warned about what to do in case the mountain becomes very active. Basically, they tell you to run away.

I also made another error. In my previous post you saw the photo at the Boeing plant and Mt. Rainier hovering in the background. The next day we drove to a state park just 12 miles from the National Park. We set up camp there and took a walk along Alder Lake, which is also the name of the state park. There was Mt. Rainier in all it’s glory, right there above the lake. My error – I didn’t have my camera with me because I figured I could get a good shot of the mountain the next day. I also forgot that Mt. Rainier is actually visible about 20% of the time. The rest of the time it’s hidden behind fog and clouds. So the next day, when I took my camera to the same spot along the lake, the mountain was gone.

So we drove to the national park to see what we could see. What we saw was dense fog. DSC_0120 Fortunately, there are many viewpoints in the park overlooking waterfalls and rivers. The viewpoints that look out at the mountain weren’t providing a  view of anything. The top third of Mt. Rainier is covered with snow and ice pretty much all year and the water in rivers and waterfalls comes mostly from melting ice and snow. We visited in late July, and due to the fog we drove only as far as Paradise, which is a tourist center part way up the mountain. The primary activity at Paradise is skiing, snow boarding and ice climbing, even in July. The roads are clear at this time of year, but the snow fields and glaciers are quite impressive.


One of the snow fields is right along the edge of the Paradise parking lot. I estimate the snow behind Penny in this picture to be about 10 feet deep. Can you imagine how deep it was in February? We had lunch at the lodge in Paradise, and decided to head back down the mountain. We were originally planning to continue on, but the road is narrow and twisty, and with the fog, didn’t seem to be worth the risk.

Aside from the snow capped mountain, the lower sections of the National Park consists of beautiful virgin DSC_0122forests, so even though we didn’t see the mountain close up, the visit was worthwhile.




Our campground was near a little town called Elbe, and there’s a unique hotel/bar/restaurant in Elbe. DSC_0123

The Hobo Inn celebrates the history of the men and women who used to ride the rails without tickets. But if you want to relive that part of history, you can sleep in a caboose rather than a freight car. The Hobo Inn has a half-dozen vintage cabooses repurposed as motel rooms. DSC_0125 The cabooses don’t go anywhere, but breakfast in the dining car is included in the room rate. We had dinner there, and we strongly recommend the smoked beef ribs. We didn’t try the hobo stew.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Back in the US of A

The ferry ride from Vancouver Island to Anacortes, Washington was uneventful. The ferry, according to the Washington State Ferry website, was refurbished in 1981. That leads one to wonder when it was built. The BC ferry we took the the island was a floating palace compared with this one, but the crossing with the truck and trailer also cost more than $100 less, so I guess you get what you pay for.


We didn’t see any orcas on the crossing through the San Juan Islands, just a lot of sailboats. According to a map we saw, the ferry went right through the middle of orca feeding grounds. We didn’t see any seals either, which could explain the absence of feeding killer whales.

We spent this morning on Boeing’s Future of Flight tour, which takes visitors through the huge (they claim its the largest building in cubic feet in the world)  assembly plant, and saw 747s, 777s. and the new 787s being put together. The new 787 is expected to be released to its first customers very soon. Some of the planes are sitting there waiting to be delivered after certification. They don’t  permit cameras or any electronics in the plant, and I forgot I had my cell phone in my pocket, so I had to run out to lock it up.

Since cameras aren’t permitted, there are no pictures of the planes being made. DSC_0111 The assembly plant, in Everett, WA, is on Paine Field, which is where every 747 ever made took off from for the first time. The 787 Dreamliner is a two engine wide-body constructed of 50% composite material instead of metal. It’s lighter and stronger than aluminum, so the plane, which is about the same size as the 767, can go further on a tank of gas, and is less expensive to fly. Another interesting factoid about this plane is that components of it are manufactured by subcontractors around the world. The plane is then assembled here. DSC_0110 The big components are brought to Washington in the Dreamlifter, which is an expanded 747 with a fuselage big enough to carry the fuselage sections of the 787. Boeing is dreaming that the Dreamliner represents the future of commercial aviation. Hmm. Didn’t the Concorde consortium think the same thing about supersonic commercial airliners?

Anyway, the weather is so unusually clear and sunny in Seattle that Mt. Rainier is plainly visible on the horizon.  That’s the mountain hovering over the airfield in this picture. On a clear day DSC_0115 Rainier is a presence in Seattle. Some may consider it an unsettling presence, since its a dormant volcano predicted by some volcanologists to become active in the near future. Hopefully, that won’t be too soon, because that’s where we’re headed tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Vancouver Island

We’re at the westward end of our journey, near Victoria, BC, on Vancouver Island. Getting here was fun, since the only way onto the island is by ferry. The BC ferries have added several new ships recently, and we were lucky enough to get on one. It was like a cruise ship for cars and trucks, Its got several levels of vehicle decks with enough headroom to stack two of our trailers. It also has several passenger decks with restaurants, bars, wi fi, and lots of comfortable seating.


As you might be able to tell from this photo, our cruise was a bit windy. This trip lasted an hour and 25 minutes.  When we return to the mainland we’ll be travelling on a Washington ferry directly to a terminal north of Seattle. That trip will be 2 hours and will go right through the middle of orca feeding grounds. Wouldn’t it be cool to see an orca or two?

Today we visited the Victoria Butterfly Garden which is a neat tropical enclosure with all sorts of colorful tropical butterflies, moths,DSC_0064 birds, and plants. Here are a few pictures. Don’t ask me to name the flutterbys since we didn’t spring the $2.99 for the picture card. BTW, butterflies in flight are really hard to photograph.
















Victoria Island is quite large, more than 300 miles from end-to-end. This morning we were chatting with a fellow camper at our campground who noticed our New Jersey license plates. He actually lives at the north end of the island and came here with his RV on vacation. BTW, we’ve noticed very few US license plates on our cross Canada trip. Americans are missing out on a really great country to visit.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Alberta Ice

It seems that on each of our trans-continental trips we come across one or two locations or events that truly make the entire trip worthwhile. We visited such a place in Jasper National Park, at the end of a long, winding, narrow road up the side of a mountain. In the Park information packet, Edith Cavell was described as a place with hanging glaciers and mountain meadows. The official description turned out to be understatement.


The first overlook we came to on Cavell Road reminded us of the Swiss Alps. A sweeping glacial valley carved millions of years ago by the glacier the remains of which can be seen between the distant peaks.


Then , as we continued up the road, Penny spotted a flash of turquoise beyond the trees. Yes, that’s the actual color of the lake. We learned on our previous visit to the Canadian Rockies that mineral silt in the glacial lakes reflects light in various shades of green and blue. The color seems to depend on those minerals and the angle of the sun, but whatever the technical cause, the result is spectacular.

At the end of Cavell Road, on which, incidentally, trailers andDSC_0046 vehicles over 7 meters long are prohibited, is a scenic viewpoint beneath the glaciers. Since I don’t know how long our truck is in meters, I decided it would be okay to drive up the road.  It turned out to be okay since there were a number of small motor homes in the viewpoint parking lot. DSC_0048

There is a walking path up to the glaciers, a hike we would have made were we 30 years younger and 75 pounds lighter. But even from below, the view of the glaciers was breathtaking. I don’t think the photos do the scene justice, so if you want a better look at the glaciers, go to Jasper National Park and look for Cavell Road.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rocky Mountain High

We did some exploring today around Jasper National Park. The Canadian Rockies contain 5 or 6 national parks, the biggest of which are Banff and Jasper. Both parks, and some of the others as well, have remnants of some of the glaciers that formed the valleys and lakes in the mountains. The most accessible one is the Columbia Ice Field, which we passed on the way to Jasper. This is an extremely popular tourist attraction, since visitors can actually walk on the glacier, but the parking lots were overflowing when we passed, so we didn’t stop. The last time we visited the Canadian Rockies, something like 20 years ago, we did visit the ice field and did walk on the glacier. It was cool. (Sorry.)

Diesel prices have been dropping since we started this trek. In the Maritimes, we paid about $1.32/liter. Outside of Calgary we paid just $1.10/liter. Then we got to the Rockies. The last fill up was $1.60/liter. This area is pretty remote, so I assume the price reflects the cost of delivery. I had a cheese burger for lunch in Jasper today and it was $16.00, but that was with fries.

We did come across a couple of “elk jams” today – that’s when tourists jam up the road to get a look at an elk. I generally don’t like to participate, but I just had to get the picture. So here it is.


We also spotted a coyote on a ridge above the road, but so far no bears. That’s probably a good thing. BTW, I bought a can of bear spray and a couple of whistles to carry when we hike in the woods around here. Most bears don’t like noise, and will allegedly run from the sound of a whistle. The bear spray, which is a strong pepper spray (and illegal in New Jersey), is for those bears that haven’t read the manual.

We saw a sign in a gift shop somewhere on this trip that said something like “when hiking in bear country you should always carry a whistle and pepper spray. You should also learn to identify bear droppings.  For example, black bear droppings will contain berries. Brown bear (AKA grizzly bear) droppings will contain pieces of whistles and smell like pepper.”

Below are some more photos of these amazing mountains.














Friday, July 15, 2011


We’ve left Saskatchewan and are now in Alberta. We spent a few days near Calgary at a nice campground on a lake, but it didn’t have wi fi, which explains the absence of posts the last few days.

In fact, the campground we’re in now, which is in the Canadian Rockies near Jasper, is supposed to have wi fi, but it’s not working. If you are reading this, it means that we managed to get on line at the local McDonald’s, which we’re told has wi fi.


If you’ve ever wondered where canola oil comes from, it comes from the yellow flowering plants which seem to be a primary crop in Saskatchewan and Alberta. BTW that paved road beyond the stop sign is the trans Canada Highway. Canola is a really important crop here, DSC_0002 and in some places the striking fields of yellow flowers continue all the way to the horizon. Now, we’re 99% sure the crops in the photos are canola, but mustard is also grown in the area, and mustard also has yellow flowers, and since there are no signs identifying the flowers, we’re going with canola.

We had a great time at the Calgary Stampede. We spend most of a day there since the rodeo is just a small part of the show. There was a terrific agricultural exhibit which included lots of horses of all sizes and shapes. The Stampede Park is open until the wee hours of the morning for all types of musical shows, an ice show, a midway with carnival rides an lots of food. You’ll find no photos of the Stampede here since the forecast was for rain and I didn’t want to juggle the raincoat and the camera. As it turned out, the weather was fine. 

The rodeo is an invitational meet with very high prize money. The participants are all champions on other rodeo circuits, and about half the bull riders are currently on the PBR tour. The famous chuck wagon races take place every day at 8:00 pm, but you need a separate ticket for that event. We realized that the way the track is laid out, we would only be able to see the start and finish of the race, so we didn’t see the chuck wagons. No matter, since local TV carries highlights of the races every night.

As I mentioned above, we’re now near Jasper in the Canadian Rockies, which defy description. So here’s a photo. And yes, the water is really that color.

DSC_0008 The campground rules and regulations includes the following: “Please be aware that deer and elk frequently wander into the campground during the evening. ALL deer, elk, bear, cougar and coyotes are WILD. Please DO NOT FEED or APPROACH any wildlife that may wander into the campground.”

We saw four elk on the way here and heard on the news tonight that a grizzly bear was hit by a car in the area last night. I guess we’re not in New Jersey anymore.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Odds and Ends

On the last post I forgot to add the photos we took at the mint. Actually, photos aren’t permitted on the tour, so I don’t have any images of coins being coined. However, the gift shop has on display a 28 pound, 24k gold bar, chained to a table and guarded by a guy with a gun, and we were permitted to take pictures there.


Visitors are permitted to lift the bar off the table as far as the chain will permit, which isn’t very far. I’m not sure of the purpose of this display, since Canada doesn’t make gold coins. But it was fun to heft more than a million bucks of precious metal. With the price of gold through the roof and fluctuating almost by the minute, the exact value of the bar when we heisted, er, hoisted it, isn’t known, but it was fun anyway.DSC_0323

After Winnipeg, and after a one night stop in a partially flooded campground in eastern Saskatchewan, we spent a day in Moose Jaw, another of those exotic sounding towns that turned out to be nothing special. However, Moose Jaw has a tunnel system below downtown that an enterprising entrepreneur has turned into a tourist attraction. There are two tours, and photos aren’t permitted on either, so no pictures here. The first tour starts in the basement of a laundry of the late 1800s, and depicts the deplorable working and living conditi0ns for Chinese “coulee” laborers of the period. The second tour is a bit of a spoof related to Moose Jaw’s role in bootlegging during prohibition. The town was known as Little Chicago, and Al Capone was reported to run a bootlegging operation there.

Tonight we’re at a campground in Medicine Hat, Alberta, and tomorrow we’ll be in Calgary. I was able to get good tickets to the Calgary Stampede, which is something we’ve always wanted to see. After that, we’ll be off the the Canadian Rockies, and we’ll be on the lookout for bears.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

More Manitoba

Winnipeg is a neat city. We just had dinner at a restaurant named Fude (Rhymes with Dude. Get it?) They specialize in Manitoba cuisine. We had the menage a trois, which is bison ribs in a raspberry barbeque sauce, chicken skewers in chocolate sauce with hot peppers, and a pork fillet with rhubarb chutney. It was a great meal. If you’re ever in Winnipeg, Fude is a must. The owner told us he doesn’t advertise very much in New Jersey, so he asked us to spread the word.

I’ve mentioned the Canadian people before, and I need to reiterate – everyone we’ve come in contact with has been extremely warm and friendly. And not just folks in the hospitality business. At the RV dealer where we were having the landing gear fixed (again), staffers came by just to chat while we were waiting. It was the same at the Ford dealership where we had the truck serviced. Just warm, friendly conversation. Maybe they don’t see too many Jerseyans in Winnipeg. But it was great.

Today we visited the Royal Canadian Mint in Winnipeg, which was an interesting tour. We watched coins being made and learned that when the US coin-making capacity gets bogged down, the US Mint contracts with the Canadian Mint to work on US coins. They would do the intermediate steps here, like plating the blank coins, but the actual stamping of the coins is done at the US Mints. 80% of the coins made in Winnipeg are for countries other than Canada. The Canada Mint is actually a profit center for the Canadian government. While we were touring Ethiopian coins were being packaged for shipment to Africa.

Tomorrow we head west to Saskatchewan. One night on the road then a couple of nights in Moose Jaw where we plan to tour the famous Moose Jaw Tunnels.

It looks like we’ll be able to get to the Calgary Stampede next week. It starts tomorrow, and tickets are still available. More on all that later.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Moody Manitoba

We finally made it through Ontario and are now in Winnipeg, Manitoba. This province is north of North Dakota and has a similar terrain – flat, lush farmland. It also has challenging weather. While driving around the city we were hit with a huge thunderstorm, including hail. When we got back to the trailer and the TV, we found out that the storm system kicked up tornado warnings in the area. No reports of actual tornadoes on the ground.

We’ll spend a few days here having the oil changed in the truck and having the landing gear on the trailer service. Anyone who’s followed this blog may remember the four or five previous times we’ve had the landing gear serviced. Well, it’s slipping again, so we have an appointment to bring the trailer to a local repair shop tomorrow morning. Hopefully, they won’t need to order parts.

And it just started raining again. BTW, The flooding being widely reported in North Dakota is impacting southern Manitoba also. It looks like our route west will take is a few miles north of the flooding, once we get back on the road.