26 June, 2013

Movin' along

Location: near Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
Position: N 43 56.122 W 103 24 043

After 3 weeks, 3890 miles, 6 states, 4 National parks, 21 nights of camping and many scenic highways – we're heading back east.
It's been a great trip, not exactly what we'd planned but awesome all the same. Due to limited time to see our granddaughter, Tigerlily, and the cold weather we decided to forgo Canada and instead spent some quality time in the NW US exploring places we haven't been before.

We've had an amazing time and Wanda has performed fantastically. 
In our last khronicle we talked about being cold. We'd hoped that this would improve, but unfortunately it didn't. We worked our way up the spectacular California and Oregon coasts, we've never seen coastline quite like it. Huge rocks just sitting offshore, rivers flowing out to sea in competition with the incoming tides and currents cause enormous sand bars which the rivers wind through trying to make their way out into the ocean. 

We decided to head inland and spent the night near Crater Lake National Park. With morning temperatures below 30 degrees F we got up early and headed up to Crater Lake. Due to low clouds making it virtually impossible to see the lake down inside the volcanic crater, high snow banks and ice covered trees it didn't take us long to 'explore' the park. We were cold and definitely underdressed. A stop at a thrift shop in Bend, Oregon was in order where we purchased more warm clothes, socks and an additional blanket. Being in the van at night wasn't too bad but the evenings and mornings when we were cooking and eating outside we just weren't having a lot of fun. 

Good friends who used to live in the Mt Hood/ Columbia River area of Oregon had sent us a list of their favourite hikes, drives and stops. We spent 6 warmer days happily exploring. What a magical place, we see now why they love that area so much. The most spectacular hike took us up through dense forest, suddenly bursting out onto a very narrow path that skirted the slope of Bald mountain. Steep on both sides, one up, the other down, abounding with wildflowers. We rounded a bend and in front of us, so close we could almost touch it, was Mount Hood, shrouded in snow. Breathtaking.

The drive down from Mt Hood National Forest into the Columbia River Gorge took us quickly from dense forest to a lush valley filled with orchards and then we spilled out into the Columbia River. Our friends had said we should stop at every waterfall along the river. We're glad we did as they were all different. A lovely evening spent in Portland visiting with our friends family, they were so welcoming and we were treated to “Pacific Northwest fish and chips” consisting of grilled Columbia River salmon with baked sweet potato home fries – delicious!

Our next stop was Mt. Saint Helens in Washington to see the devastation and change caused by an eruption in 1980. The visitors centre looks right into the cone of the volcano and has a great film depicting the eruption and how the vegetation and wildlife have slowly recovered. We spent the night in a dispersed camping area nearby. Luckily there wasn't another eruption.

Next we took another scenic route past Mt Ranier, then down out of the mountains to the wheat filled high plains of east Washington state and into Idaho. We drove up the Lochsa river for 100 miles winding up through this amazing gorge, a favourite spot for white water rafting and kayaking. It's amazing how much water is transported down these rivers in the spring from the melting snow above. Over the top of the Lolo pass, 10,000 feet elevation into Montana. We certainly have a heart felt respect now for the pioneers who travelled through these mountains on wagons.

Other friends from Missoula, Montana had sent a list of places to visit there. Julie especially loved the carousel. 

After stopping at 3 historic ranger stations and the fire jumpers museum we feel like we've expanded our knowledge and appreciation of forest fire fighters.

Next it was south and east to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, the weather was finally warming up and we were much happier. Yellowstone was the first national park. Created in 1872 it covers 3,472 sq miles. We spent 4 days exploring and didn't even start to see everything. Of course we covered all the high spots Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone Lake, more “geothermal features” geysers (geysers including Old Faithful and many hot springs, mudpots, and sulphur springs) than you'd want to see in a lifetime. But we also managed to get off the beaten path and enjoyed hiking and wildlife spotting. The amazing part is that even though 3 million people visit the park each year as soon as you get off the main roads and the most popular tourist spots you can really be away from it all and enjoy the park as it is meant to be.

We left Yellowstone and spent another spectacular day driving over the scenic Beartooth Pass back into Montana. The 70 miles of switchbacks took us to an altitude of 11,000 ft, luckily the pass had just opened up the week before. We made many stops to fully appreciate the breathtaking and varied scenery.

Our last stop was Mt Rushmore, South Dakota. Not what you would call a natural beauty but we couldn't pass by without missing this American shrine.

So you can see we've driven a lot of miles, seen amazing and varied scenery and lots of sights. The best part is that we've spent almost 95% of our time on scenic highways, passing through small towns, stopping to see as many scenic views and points of interest, like the Teapot Dome Gas Station in Zillah, Washington, 
and the St. Ignatius Mission, Montana. 
We can't possibly tell you everything but we're posting lots of pictures on the blog for you to enjoy.

The varied scenery, the wildlife and the profuse spring wildflowers have both taken our breath away and filled our hearts with joy.

10 June, 2013

Land Cruising

Location: Near Eureka, CA
Position:  N 40 29.352 W 123 58.725
We've been visiting Julie's son Dan and his family in Redding, CA. Dan is a master mechanic and helped us find our new land yacht “Wanda The Honda".
Wanda” is a 1997 Honda Odyssey van. The old kind with regular opening rear doors (not sliding like most minivans) and regular opening rear windows. This is important for ventilation if you're planning to sleep in the vehicle. She has a little 4 cylinder engine (based on the Accord) that all Dan's friends and all the reviews say is pretty much bulletproof. We don't think we could have found a better vehicle for our use (especially for the price we paid). Everything's a bit tight compared to Rachel, but we think we'll manage just fine.
Yesterday Dan spent an extra 3 hours after work while Mark helped him put on and balance two new tires, change the oil, change the radiator and heater hoses, install new front axles, and generally give Wanda a good going over to make sure she'll make it all the way across North America over the next month or so.
Mark built a raised platform in the back we can sleep on and stow our stuff under. It's in two pieces so we can remove the forward piece and still use the two middle seats for passengers if we need to. We have a cooler, a porta potty, two folding chairs, mosquito screens, rain covers, a galley (pots, bowls, plates, silverware, food, coffee, etc.) in a Rubbermaid container, and a single burner propane stove. Everything we need and we can still sleep in her with all of it stowed. So now we're ready to go.
It's not been all work and no play, however. We managed to make time to relax in Dan's pool, celebrate Mark's 61st and Dan's 30th birthdays, go wake boarding in Dan's boat with several friends, and just generally hang out.
We left Redding yesterday, Sunday, June 9, after celebrating Dan's 30th birthday on the 8th. Our first day on the road was great!! We drove 10 whole miles to Whiskytown State Park and walked up to Whiskeytown Falls in 110 degrees F (whew!). Then we were westbound over the mountains to the coast and Eureka, the town we've heard is the pot capital of the US. Coincidentally, it also happens to be on the shortest route to the West coast from Redding, so don't be getting any ideas as to our motivation for passing through here.
Our first night camping was spent a bit south of Eureka next to a big redwood. We had a great nights sleep and everything so far is working really well. A bit of reorganizing the galley and the stowage area addressed some early “access issues”. Over time we're confident we'll get all the packing and unpacking down to a science.  
The only problem we've had to date is that it is quite a bit colder here on the coast. We're all geared up for summer travel and only brought one pair of jeans and one fleece each. All this cool, damp weather is beginning to get to us. We may have to go clothes shopping.
Chilly but having a good time.

 Banana slugs are rampant here, apparently if you lick them your tongue goes numb - we didn't try it!!