40 Rockies' East side
ROCKIES’ EAST SIDE Aug. - Oct. 2008
Hit by a Big Rig!
At Dawson City we crossed the Yukon river once again – by ferry this time.
We travelled back on the Alaskan Highway - Elk and Bison grazing next to the road -to Mile 0 at Dawson Creek.
It was autumn but there was still tourist traffic, like cyclists, motorbikes with trailers, huge motor homes towing a car and big trucks pulling a large caravan (trailer). We met a couple on a bike travelling with a small dog in a padded kennel at the rear!
Our travels became meaningful again in Edmonton, Alberta when we looked up good friends from 30 years ago. They arranged for us to have our own deluxe suite in their complex.
On the way to the Canadian Rockies we once again had a close shave! Behind us a truck driver was on his cell phone when he found himself about to hit us from behind. He braked hard (Jan saw smoke coming from all 26 of his wheels in the rear view mirror) and veered off – his 2 trailers swerving all over the road. Fortunately he caught Dipli just on the left spare wheel, giving us a nudge forward while we were doing about 90 km/h…
The beauty of Jasper and Banff National Parks was not overstated. The brown banded mountains had fresh snow and contrasted with the intense turquoise lakes. Waterfalls cascaded from glaciers into streams and canyons. It was out of season but Labour Day long week end and the lovely lodges and historic hotels were jam-packed.
After a soak in Radium Hot Springs we came across Kimberley a mining town named after the South African one, but now revamped to resemble a Bavarian Alpine village.
In Sandpoint, Idaho we knocked on the door of a couple who had left a note on our windscreen in Chile 2 years ago! We were grateful for their hospitality and enjoyed a jaunt in their boat on Pend Oreille lake.
In the town of Missoula, at The Smoke Jumpers’ Centre we learned how the National Forest Service trains people to parachute from planes to fight forest fires. They land with heavy packs which have to be carried out on foot afterwards. Montana’s big sky was blue and there were horses and cattle grazing on the undulating grasslands. After visiting Butte, historic mining town with its copper baron mansions, we found a riverside spot where J could replace wheel bearings.
In a freezing wind we waited for Old Faithful geyser to erupt and blast hot water 30m into the air. The next days we saw all the fascinating geothermal features of Yellowstone National Park:. Bubbling mud pools, clear blue hot springs, hissing fumaroles; green, yellow, brown and red deposits of thermophiles. We wondered how long before the massive caldera under the park would erupt!
We spotted pronghorn sheep, coyote, bison and a wolf. The lodgepole pines were regenerating after the devastating fires of 1988.
We had to make a detour to Rugby to find the Geographic Centre of the Continent of North America. There was a monument in the town, but the actual centre was 30km outside of town in the middle of a small lake, which meant we could only get to about 150m of it at N48º 10,06’ W100º 10,03’
The town of Rugby also has the remarkable Prairie Village Museum with reconstructed historic buildings and exhibits of the Scandinavian settlers in the area.
“Amazing USA!”, we said when in close proximity we came across Badlands National Park, Reptile Gardens (‘largest collection in the world”) Bear Country USA (nearly all US mammals on view in natural settings) and one evening a Chuck wagon dinner and cowboy music show.
In the Black Hills is Mt Rushmore, the awe-inspiring, carved rock faces of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt sculpted by G Borglum from 1927 to 1938 (by using small charges of explosives).
A current project is the world’s largest monument: A 170m sculpture of the Sioux leader Crazy Horse.
Near Chadron there is an old trading post where as many as 2000 Sioux Indians would have camped trading tanned buffalo robes for all sorts of manufactured goods. The Museum of the Fur Trade exhibits a large collection of the trade goods. One buckskin was worth $1. From there the term “buck”.
We passed agricultural lands with sorghum and corn, stretching to the horizon. Hay was being rolled and baled. There were problems back home and at Ogalla library we could do some urgent email. The librarian’s beau was a South African – who comes each year with a team of 30 to harvest. Hay at $80 - 200 per ton is exported to Japan!
Fields of sunflowers were ready to be reaped. The centre of this industry is Goodland. In the middle of the city was a 10m tall reproduction of van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”.
We had a plane to catch and prepare for, so we went rapidly south passing through the OKLAHOMA panhandle.
NEW MEXICO again
We met up with our good friends on their farm near Santa Fe where we could repair and prepare in peaceful surroundings. We watched hummingbirds in the day and shared companionship in the evenings around a piñon wood campfire. We also met their most delightful neighbours who had personally built their stylish large adobe house.