Everett – Washington

Shoot out at the border.

We spent three nights in Vancouver at a very nice RV Park, but when we got ready to leave yesterday morning, I found out that it was only a couple of miles from the border crossing. “Great,” I told Anne, “We’ll get a late start, I’ll buy gas with the remaining Canadian money, and still be in Seattle by noon.” Since it was early on Wednesday morning, we really didn’t expect much traffic, there was little reason to go eleven miles out of our way to the smaller port of entry on BC15.

Peace Arch
While you’re in line to cross the border at Interstate 5, you get to enjoy this lovely park. Just don’t get out of your car.

As it turns out, BC99 is Interstate 5 after crossing the border, and very few customs stations handle more traffic than this one. It was ten lanes wide with traffic backed up for a quarter of a mile. We were committed now, so I picked a slow lane. It really didn’t matter, because which ever lane we would have chosen, would wind up the slow lane.

After about a half hour, we finally made it to the customs agent (or are they TSA? maybe border patrol . . . whatever), who turned out to be Edwina (Holly Hunter in Raising Arizona). She rattled off the standard questions; Where do you live?, How long were you in Canada, Why did you go to Canada, did you buy anything in Canada, are you carrying any meat or produce with you . . .

“Well, we have some bacon, but we bought that in Montana, and some steaks, which we bought at the Anchorage Costco. We don’t have and citrus.” (I knew that citrus is a very bad thing to have.) “We just have a tomato, a couple of potatoes and an onion.”

Hearing that, Ed’s eyes narrowed and her lips pursed and she filled out an orange slip and slapped it on the windshield. “Follow the yellow arrows to the building over there, then take the form inside along with your passports for further inspection.” We obediently followed the yellow arrows and went inside.

Inside, there was a very long line, which as it turned out, was for the bathrooms. Relieved (in a different kind of way), we entered the main hall and saw a much bigger line snaking its way to a very large counter. Forget what you know about TSA lines, this was worse. There actually were two lines, one said Nexus, Agriculture, Meat. That line was empty, so it couldn’t possibly be the right one. The other line was for everybody else and everybody else was already in that line.

We stood for a moment trying to figure out which line we belonged in, when a sweet young customs woman walked up and asked if she could answer our questions. We explained what Ed had told us and we were just trying to figure out which was the correct line.

“Oh, this is for produce, you’re here to see me, come up to the counter over there.” That was a first, but who was I to argue. We met her at the counter and handed our passports and orange form to her and explained about where we lived, why we went to Canada, how long we were there, where we left the States and did we own the truck and trailer. She slipped a declaration slip across the counter for us to fill out and sign.

“We’ll need to inspect the produce, may I have the keys please?”

“Sure, I show you,” I offered.

“No, you and your wife take a seat on the window sill over there and we’ll call you when we’re ready. Is this the trailer key?”

I explained that it wasn’t and told her where the trailer keys could be found in Fritz. Then we took our place on the window sill, with all the other smugglers.

After what seemed like an hour, but was probably only half that long, she came back in and summoned us to the counter. She showed us a bag of evidence: the remaining beautiful beefsteak tomato and five small Yukon Gold potatoes we bought from Michael in Clinton. “I’ll have to confiscate this produce.”

Anne actually blurted out, “Can I at least have a bite of the tomato?” That didn’t go over very well, and she moved the bag out of reach then bid us a safe trip and handed back our passport and signed orange slip. As we left, she said something curious, “Be sure to check the trailer and lock it.” So, once outside, we did.

It was now noon-thirty; two and a half hours later. We got into Fritz and headed out the exit with our orange get out of jail free card. The gate guard examined it and lifted the barrier. Once again, we were free US Citizens.

We stopped for lunch and then headed for our new camp site. After checking in and parking the trailer, we opened the door. Aah! It looked like two pigs had a cat fight in there. The doors and drawers were all left opened and all of their contents spilled out on the floor. Neither one of us knew how to react. I felt so . . . violated.

We’re spending a couple of days in the Seattle area to restock, regroup and to visit some dear friends living here. After that we’ll be traveling over the Cascades to Yakima, the center of Washington wine country. We could use a bottle or two.

jw

Victoria – British Columbia

It was our last day in Canada, so how could we not visit British Columbia’s capital city, Victoria? Of course that means taking the ferry from Vancouver and a bus ride downtown. The cost of a walk-on ferry ride is $16.50 (Canadian) each way, and an all day bus pass is $5.00 (Canadian), so the trip wasn’t expensive. Riding the bus, however, doesn’t allow you time to dawdle and take pictures, and when I have to take public transit, Weird Al Yankovic’s, Another One Rides the Bus constantly runs through my brain.

Since we had limited time to spend in Victoria, I asked her majesty what she most wanted to do. Unequivocally, she answered that she’d like to have lunch at the Empress Hotel. “That’s where the Queen stays when she visits, and so I should appear there too.” She offered to buy, so why not.

Queen Anne and Empress Hotel
Anne’s overwhelming desire, was to have lunch at the Empress Hotel. Since it’s where royalty stays, she felt obligated to follow tradition.

When the bus dumped us off at the inner harbor, I thought to myself, “Wow! This is the closest I’m going to get to Monaco.”  Like the famous principality, the inner harbor is rectangular, with the Legislature building on the left flank, some other grand buildings on the right flank, and the Empress Hotel commanding the center two blocks.

The harbor is full of yachts of all sizes, and is very busy with water taxis, float planes, and the Ferries from Washington. Adding to the festival are street artists performing for coins in a hat. There was even a man crocheting a scarf with a hat out for donations. That was a new one for me.

Anne Picks Out Our New Fishing Dingy
After her delusions on the hotel veranda, we went boat shopping, and Anne picked out this one.

If there isn’t enough activity there to keep your attention, fisherman’s wharf is a few blocks in one direction, while Chinatown a few in the other. Food? It seemed that every other store front was a restaurant. I did a search on TripAdvisor.com and in Victoria, there are over eight hundred restaurants to choose from.

As for lunch, we had an excellent experience on the Empress’s front veranda. I am so going to steal that recipe for a simple grilled chicken sandwich, with a side of dill seasoned French fries. The down side was that I had to keep dragging Anne back to our table, because she kept trying to wave to the passing crowd from the head of the stairs. If you want to eat at the Empress, let me warn you, the bill comes in a white envelope. Class, real class.

Harbor Seals at Fisherman's Wharf
One of the entertaining things to do at Fisherman’s Wharf is to watch people feed cut up mackerel to the harbor seals.

After our two-hour lunch, we walked around the harbor and strolled down to fisherman’s wharf before calling it a day and catching the bus back to Swartz Bay (and another gets on . . . ) to catch a ferry back to Vancouver. To top off an already great day, there wasn’t any traffic on the drive back to the RV Park . . . perfect.

Ferry and Mt. Rainier
There are lots of ferries to see when crossing to the BC islands. This happened to be going by Mt. Rainier as we cleared a small island.

jw

Vancouver – British Columbia

I hate Vancouver, and I love Vancouver.

We’ve been in Vancouver for two consecutive days and at the end of each day, we’ve been caught up in traffic that, in each time lasted over an hour and one half. As I explained in the last post, the jam was due to a freeway construction closure, today there was an accident in the tunnel. As the traffic crawled along (my average miles per hour for the day was 15 mph), Queen Anne found an alternate route on the map.

We took the off ramp and sped away from the caterpillar of cars and within a half mile, caught the end of another caterpillar. The radio announcer updated the traffic report. “Traffic on the 99 is dead slow due to a head on collision in the Massey Tunnel. If you’re in that mess, just stick it out because traffic everywhere else is worse.” Jeez! We were trying to make our way back to camp after having a marvelous day in Vancouver.

It started in the morning when I came back from the camp office and told Anne that the air smells of west coast. It’s a pleasant smell of moist cool air with a hint of ocean. The last couple of days, the mornings are not quite cool enough for a light sweater, and shorts and tee-shirt are perfect in the afternoon.

Trying to figure out a schedule for the day, we came across an online debate comparing the famous Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, and the gardens at Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver. They’re both stunning rock quarry gardens, but one is open to the public and doesn’t need a ferry ride. So we decided to check it out.

When we got there we found that there was a rather nice restaurant next to the park, and that called for lunch. The restaurant, Seasons at the Park, looked pretty swanky, so when we walked in I asked about a dress code. “We have none.”  Planners built The Seasons on the highest hill in Vancouver and our window table had a view of downtown with the coastal mountains in the distance. Up close, the window overlooked the gardens. It was hard to concentrate on lunch, which by the way, was excellent.

Table Side View From the Seasons
The Seasons is situated on the highest Vancouver hill so the views overlook downtown and the distant coastal range.

Afterwards, we took a leisurely stroll among the flowers and trees. I’ve been to a couple of renown gardens, and I can’t believe this place is free to the public and so immaculate. If you don’t care so much for formal gardens, the Vancouver Botanical Gardens is next door. You could OD on plants in one day, if you had the mind to.

Queen Elizabeth Gardens
The Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver has two quarry gardens for the price of none.

Anne wanted me to see the Gastown District. In 1886, Vancouver, like San Francisco, suffered from a catastrophic fire, which destroyed large sections of the original town. The Gastown was spared of the fire, so  the historic buildings left now hold fashionable stores, sidewalk cafes, boutiques and galleries. All of the things that draw tourists, and they were there in droves. Although the district is about three blocks wide, the good stuff is on Water Street. If you miss it by a block, you’ll find yourself in the mission district, but there’s spill over anyway.

Gastown District of Vancouver
Gastown is Vancouver’s Scottsdale. All the right shops, bars and boutiques . . . and all the tourists.

We walked the sidewalks and came across a crowd hanging around an old brass grandfather-style clock with four faces. I noticed the time was a few minutes before three, so I guessed the crowd was waiting for the clock to chime. While we hung around, I read the clocks plaque. It’s a steam clock! I thought it was a relic of the 1800’s and it’s still working . . . amazing! At the stroke of three, the top whistles began to play the Westminster Quarters. This was way too cool, and to prove it, the crowd applauded as it finished.

Steam Clock
The steam-powered clock in Vancouver’s Gastown.

I’ve learned since then that Raymond Saunders built the clock in 1977 because the city needed to do something about a steam vent on a crowed city sidewalk. The clock is steam-powered, except for an electric motor driving a wheel that controls the chime notes. Wikipedia also mentions that the clock was on Nickelback’s album Here and Now.

After a great day the Queen and I got on the freeway for camp . . .

jw

Fraser River – British Columbia

It happened all too soon.

Since we left Prince George yesterday, we’ve been following route 97 that parallels the Fraser River. Its source is in the Canadian Rockies and it’s mouth is Vancouver. The Fraser is the major drainage system for British Columbia.

Most of yesterday’s highway climbed from Prince George to Clinton located on the three thousand foot Fraser Plateau. Following the river downstream and driving uphill all day confused me. I knew we were climbing because of our poor fuel mileage. Today was different.

As soon as we left Clinton we began to descend. As the road plunged off the plateau, and the vegetation changed. Instead of the trees, we entered a dry high desert, like around Reno, Nevada. Scrub brush and low sage covered the hills. The BC coastal range removes moisture from the air just as the Sierras do in California, creating a rain shadow on their downwind side.

Chainsaw Wood Carving
Hope has an annual contest for chainsaw artists. The winning pieces are displayed as public art throughout the town.

We stopped for lunch in Hope. It’s a pretty little town along the Fraser. They hold chainsaw wood carving contests here and the town shows off the winning pieces as public art. While we walked around looking at them, we came across some nice hot rods parked outside a diner. I guess a car club was out for a Sunday road trip.

Chevy Parked Outside the Diner
The hot rod club made it to town and this was a nice example of the rods parked at the curb.
Different Interperations On A Theme
I thought this was an interesting comparison of value changes as one ages.

At Cache Creek we left Hwy 97 and picked up Canadian Route 1 which follows the river’s edge through Fraser Canyon and Hell’s Gate. Route 1 is a Trans Canadian Highway, but this section even intimidated me. The highway and Canadian Railroad run along the steep mountainsides above the river. Like the train tracks, there are a series of tunnels you have to go through. They’ve named them. The worst was the one called Hell’s Gate. I didn’t like it, because it’s narrow, dark and has a couple of curves in it. I held my breath as I hurtled through it with the trailer chasing me.

Fraser Canyon
Tracks one either side and a major highway run along the mountains above the Fraser River.

The river finally bottoms out into a delta as shown by the farms and produce stands along the road sides. And then, miraculously it became a freeway, or interstate . . . or inter-province . . . I’m so confused. You know what I mean, one of those roads with four lanes with broad grassy dividers and off ramps.

Fritz was happily speeding along and holding up traffic when everything came to a stand-still. “No! Not now, my GPS says I only have two and a half miles to go.” It took an hour and forty-five minutes to get there. The freeway (whatever) was under repair, and closed on Sunday. No warning, no lane merging markers, only three pylons at the exit and a highway truck parked with flashing lights. I knew I needed to rehabilitate myself to traffic, but I didn’t need to be thrown in the deep end.

I was fortunate enough to have programmed my GPS before I left this morning, otherwise I would have tried to find a way back to the highway without detour signs. The good news is now I know where the Mercedes, Porsche, BMW, Ferrari and Lamborghini dealers are in Vancouver.

Vancouver Camp
If you look closely, the white blur through the shrubbery is our campsite.

We obediently followed the GPS lady’s instructions to our RV park. One of the sights we wanted to visit in Victoria was Butchart Gardens. As we drove into the park, it looked like we found the back gate. We’ve never stayed in such an ostentatious place before . . . we’re not sure how to act. Anyway, they separated us from the regulars, and we got a spot in the overflow parking lot but required to have the local mobile RV wash guy come by and “clean that filthy mess you call a trailer.” Listen, if it saves me the cost of a ferry ticket, it’s worth it.

jw

Clinton – British Columbia

We’ve driven about two hundred and fifty miles south of Prince George today (‘about’ means they measure things in that demonic metric system here, so you can’t trust those commie numbers). It’s only another four hours to Vancouver, but we stopped here for the evening, because . . . well, we could. Besides, in the travel catalog we’ve gone by, we found a RV Camp that looked interesting, so we stopped to check it out.

It’s like any other camp we’ve grown used to over the past two months, except it has grass and shade trees. We pulled in and parked. I got out and tried to follow the maze of signs to the office. I wandered about for a while before finding a full size cut out of Donald Trump, wearing a baseball cap and holding a sign that said, “Welcome to Clinton.” After catching my breath, I ventured further and somehow, I wound up in a kitchen when a voice bellowed, “Can I help you?” I replied that I was looking for the park office. The rather large gentlemen responded, “Well, you’ve found it. If you took off your sun glasses you’d be able to see that.”

Donald and Michael
Never one to pass up press, Donald and Michael pose for a photo under the yellow awning in Michael’s restaurant in Clinton BC.

Anne had followed me in, and assuming from the press blurb that he was the proprietor, asked if he was Michael. “It’s Sir Michael to you.” That’s all it took, we were staying. As we checked in, he told us about the on-site restaurant named the Road Kill Grill; “You kill it, we’ll cook it.” If you haven’t dragged in something of your own, there is a choice of several protein mains to go along with an all-you-can-eat side dish buffet. I know it doesn’t sound appetizing, but the food was really good. The flavors were complex and in spite of his demeanor, he knows how to cook. You have to bring your own wine or beer to the table, otherwise alcohol isn’t allowed in the restaurant.

Because the evening was still early, Michael had time to join us at our table. As I suspected, he’s a world traveler, and explained that he spends time in the Philippines when the park is closed for the winter. Even though his sense of humor is gruff, it didn’t take long to realize that it’s his public face and he’s a wealth of local information when you get beyond that facade.

I’d recommend dessert when you come. Ours was a hot crisp with rhubarb and wild berries (picked from the surrounding hills) topped with black cherry ice cream. Even rhubarb haters will find something to like in this.

If you happen to like the fresh restaurant vegetables, they’re for sale.  They’re grown in the park’s garden (except the tomatoes). There’s a stand at the entrance where you can select what you want. We couldn’t help but buy some onions, potatoes, tomatoes and one of the monster zucchini from the bins. I haven’t a clue where or how we’re going to cook them, but we’ll figure something out.

Tomorrow, we reach Vancouver, where we’ll be able to stop and visit for a couple of days. I’m searching for a meal that I saw on Triple D. If I find it, it may well be the last thing I ever eat . . . heart attack city.

jw

Prince George – British Columbia

Be careful what you wish for, it may come true.

It was raining when we left Stewart yesterday. Except for one day in Homer, we’ve had rain every time we’ve visited the coast. There’s a message somewhere in there.

When we left Stewart, we hoped that BC Highway 37 would continue on as  a good road, and our hopes were realized. Since the little resort town of Tatogga, the road stopped being a two lane back road and widened enough to make room for the trucks coming out of Stewart with oversize loads. The rest of Hwy 37 to the Canada 16 junction, was noisy chip seal, but wide with a center-line and shoulders. For the two and one half hours we drove, I believe I counted the traffic we passed on one hand.

As we continued south, we began to notice how British Columbia differed from Yukon. Here you don’t get the broad expansive vistas, because the tall trees crowd the road. Besides being taller, we began to see a wider variety of trees, both broad-leaf and conifer mixed together. The mountains were still around us, but we could only catch them between the trees every so often. The drive was relaxing.

When we reached Kitwanga and turned east on the Yellowhead Highway (BC-16), we reentered modern civilization . . . and traffic. There are eight or nine little towns along that road section, each with the annoying 100 Km – 90 Km – 70 Km – 50 Km – 70 Km – 90 Km – 100 Km speed change pattern. They were well-kept cute little towns, some with a stoplight, some only a block long. The houses were clapboard sided one story cottages. After each town, more cars appeared on the road.

We had to get around large RV Riggs coming out of Prince Rupert, because they were going slower than what I had the cruise set at (I’m sorry officer, you mean those signs aren’t in miles per hour?). Least you think I was the speed demon, all the commercial trucks passed us.

We entered Prince George just in time for 4:30 rush hour. The cars packed the highway going in all directions. We missed our turn for the RV park and went past the Wall-Mart and Costco before we could find a place to turn around. The road drops off a bluff and has Jersey barriers in the center. For a moment, I had Pasadena Freeway flashbacks.

We plan to leave in the morning. We’ll start south on Hwy 97 for the two-day trip to Vancouver. After driving the last month in the wilderness, I’m having to relearn how to deal with these people on the road. I’m going to have to do it quick, because I’ve got to get around Seattle, the Bay Area and (shudder) LA. Maybe we should just stay here, it’s a nice enough town, although I’ve been told that most of the town moves to Quartzite for the winter. Or maybe, I should just turn around now, and find one of those abandoned log cabins to live in. All I need is a satellite dish and internet. After all, Amazon delivers anywhere.

jw

Hyder – Alaska

And you thought we left Alaska. Well, we did. Except, we made a side trip to Stewart, which is in British Columbia and Hyder, an Alaska town. They could conceivably be the same town, but there’s an international border in the middle of main street. There is only one way in to Hyder and it’s also the only way out. The US Customs doesn’t even man the border here, only the Canadians do. They really asked us if we bought anything in Hyder, which is funny, because it’s essentially a ghost town with one closed general store.

The tourist attraction of Hyder is the bear observation platform built and maintained by the Forest Service. You’re probably thinking what I had. It’s that place where they filmed the brown bears catching salmon in mid-air. It’s not.

Here, the service has a deck along Fish Creek, where you can watch the salmon make their journey upstream, spawn and die. All of this is very interesting . . . to a fisherman or biologist. Today we saw pink and chum salmon nesting while steel-head kept pestering their courtship.

Salmon Spawning in Fish Creek
A female pink salmon has dug a nest while a couple of courting males wait with anticipation.

Occasionally, a bear will wander on the set, and grab a meal. That’s what gets the tourists excited . . . including us. I admit, I paid five bucks to watch a bear grab a salmon out of the creek. It would have been worth it . . . had one showed up, but we didn’t get the schedule.

Each day, at the ticket window, there is a list of the most recent bear sightings. They start at around 6am and the last one shows up around 10am. Six is when the ticket window opens, so nothing happens before then. Our camp host told us that late in the afternoon was good too, but for the last week, sightings we of bears in the morning. So, when you get here, come early.

V
An otter scratches his head while resting on a downed pond log.

Disappointed about not seeing bears, we took solace in watching two otters playing in the water. They were tricky to shoot, because every time I got the camera ready, they submerged. I’m glad I’m not shooting film, because I would have wasted two rolls shooting water ripples.

Glacier Detail
Detail of an unknown glacier near Stewart.

The scenery is nice in Misty Fjord, home for this community. A couple of nice glaciers and several waterfalls decorate the mountainsides. The broad leaf trees are at the first stage of turning color and the fireweed seed pods have begun to open, releasing white feathery seeds to the wind. In another week or two, this place will be ablaze in color.

Bear River
The Bear River runs from the above glacier to the sea, a length of twenty miles, with more water than Phoenix uses annually.

Tomorrow morning we head further south towards Prince George and civilization. It has a Wall-Mart and (be still my heart) a Costco. It’s funny how your priorities change when you’ve been on the road for a couple of months.

jw

Stewart – British Columbia

While we were still in Carcross Sunday, I needed to get up during the night. It seemed pretty dark, but I didn’t really pay much attention, because Queen Anne made some black-out curtains for the windows. As I got back in bed, I peeked through the curtains, and I saw stars in the night sky. I’ll let that soak in for a minute. It was finally dark enough that stars were visible. I don’t know if we were enough south, or that much time has passed since summer solstice, but we’re beginning to have real nights. That does wonders for my sleep.

We hit the road early yesterday and made our way along the Alaska Highway towards Watson Lake. That section of road is in good shape and we made good time. The Canadians are good about putting orange markers along the road sides, indicating the bad sections. Either you slow down or drive on the left side around the road hazard. Since we were the only ones on the road, we could easily maneuver in any lane we chose.

Since I didn’t have to drive a slalom course of potholes, I drove relaxed, and that gave me a chance to look around. I noticed the willow leaves were turning yellow already. This is the beginning of August and fall colors are starting above the 60th parallel. The second thing I noticed was how beautiful the Yukon is. Sparsely dominated by black spruce and willow, where even with a modest grade, we rose above tree line. The mountains, separated by lakes, are not craggy, snow-capped and grandiose, like we’ve seen in Alaska, but they stand tall above the tundra. They also go on forever, range after range for hundreds of miles.

Unless we wanted to go back the way we came, we needed to take another road south, and that was Highway 37, about fifteen miles west of Watson Lake. We originally had planned to stay in the RV camp at that junction, but we had made such good time that we decided to press on. After driving south five miles we crossed the sixtieth parallel into British Columbia.

Have you ever had the feeling that you were sure you’ve made a mistake even though all the signs say you haven’t? That’s Highway 37. On the map it looks like a major road cutting south through upper BC, but through the windshield, it looked like a Kentucky back road. Barely two lanes wide, it cut between the bogs twisting every which way. The speed limit was 48 mph (80km), but only a lunatic would have driven that fast pulling a trailer. It had no center lines and no shoulders. As we drove further, the road began to widen and became what we consider normal. We had almost worked up the nerve to go the speed limit when we had to stop to let a black bear cross in front of us.

Dease Lake
The view from our campsite was so pretty that we had to clean the trailer’s back window.

We stopped in a dry camp for the night about a hundred miles into BC. A place called Dease Lake. Our camp site was on a bluff overlooking the lake, and the view was so pretty that we broke out the window cleaner and scrubbed the back window so we could enjoy it. We slept the night with the curtains pulled back.

As with every road we’ve been on during this trip, there was the usual construction sites and the dirty mess on the vehicles. This road was full of such projects and by day’s end, The Ritz was carrying ten pounds of mud on the front.

Old Stewart Boarding House
An old building in Stewart Alaska below the glacier towering in the mountains above.

Towards the end of day two and four construction zones later, route 37 finally turned into a real highway with center lines and shoulders. We have another day before we’re done with this road, but tonight we’ve made camp in the town of Stewart. I’ll show you why tomorrow.

Chevy's in Stewart
When was the last time you saw two of these parked on your street?

jw