Chapter 1. Texas to Canada
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 1998 All rights reserved.
Day 1- May 12, 1998 - Milepost 292 (292 miles today) - Lake Arrowhead State Park, TX
(Bert) Some dreams never become reality. Some are lived but once. A precious few live a second time. Our Alaskan dream emits a magnetic pull that tugs at our adventuresome spirit. The dream became real in 1996 and now, two years later, we will live it again. Texas to Alaska - the Encore!
Ten months ago we set our sights on a May departure, three months ago we committed to May 12, and three days ago we nailed it down to 10 a.m. As the deadline approached, the amount of remaining work seemed insurmountable. Leaving for a 4 to 5-month trip requires a lot of planning; adding the wished sale of our house during our absence and the necessity of packing all our belongings in boxes, compounded our workload by an order of magnitude. We toil to the deadline with only a few minutes to spare. Everything is done as we pull out of our driveway at six minutes before the hour.
We leave the Heart-of-Texas, our home in College Station / Bryan, heading to Waco where we link to I-35, the major north-south artery through Texas. Coursing through its veins, Texas commerce, semi by semi, plies its trade along I-35 and we struggle to maintain our lane as we surge through pulsating traffic. Approaching Ft. Worth we curve west on US 287 just in time to avoid a 2-mile blood clot knotting on the interstate. The traffic thins, we cruise easily and have a chance to see the scenery - grassy ranch lands, almost treeless with large estate homes reminiscent of J. R. Ewings home of Dallas fame. Subtly we climb, perhaps a few feet per mile into the High Plains of Texas. The endless plains robed in spring green colors stand in stark contrast to the snarled myopic traffic we leave behind. Late afternoon brings us off road to hidden Lake Arrowhead State Park, a short distance from Wichita Falls. Here we spend our first night in a campsite shared with a town of Black-tailed Prairie Dogs.
(Shari) What does one do when he wants to take off on a 5-month trip to Alaska and a "FOR SALE" sign sits in the front lawn? Empty the closets, cabinets and drawers and strip the beds and the walls of course. All this stuff needs to get packed in boxes in case the house sells while we are gone. After labeling 271 boxes, we finally come to the "Last Box." It is time to leave and head north. We make our predetermined 10 a.m. meeting time with Don and Jean just 20 minutes late and all four of us are on a high without help from any drug. Bert sets up the camera on a tripod right in the middle of the Texaco parking lot and takes a beginning picture of the four of us in front of our rigs. After a few Aggie whoops and hollers we enter RTENT (my name for our motorhome) and boogie on down the road. Finally Fort Worth is behind us and the wide-open spaces of Texas beckon us forward. The hot sun of summer has not yet parched the land and the landscape is still green. This is the Texas of cowboys and cattle. We finally arrive at Lake Arrowhead State Park about 10 miles south of Wichita Falls. We are assigned two shaded spots and after enjoying a champagne toast to the beginning of our trip we stroll to the lake. Quite a few people are on the fishing pier and are catching crappies. Unfortunately they have to throw them back since most of them are under the legal size of 11 in. In Wisconsin these beauties could be kept. Too bad, but the people do not seem to mind and enjoy the action.
Day 2 - May 13, 1998 - Milepost 652 (360 today) - Ute Lake State Park, NM
(Bert) Leaving Wichita Falls, we continue our slow climb westward. Very few trees break the broad rolling plains blanketed with soft yellow-green grain stalks. Randomly, oil wells appear, some in motion as they remove the black gold, others idle. We pass a town aptly named Plainview. Now the yellow-green are juxtaposed with rusty red patches of tilled soil and the redness crescendos until we encounter the Red River, rusting dryly as it serpentines through the flattened valley. Majestic trees have long since yielded to scraggly mesquite and lowly juniper. Meadowlarks adorn fenceposts like brass knobs on wooden bannisters, the larks nattily dressed in brown feather coats and jet black vests stretched across glowing yellow breasts. Some stretch their necks skyward, mandibles parted in a silent song deafened by our tightly closed windows while we race by. Is he singing the melody line from the Eastern or the Western songbook of Meadowlarks? As we near the New Mexico border, woody plants transition to spiny cholla and yucca and the landscape takes on a drier, browner decor. But the roadside is adorned in clusters of purple Spiderwort and patches of yellow Black-eyed Susan, Texas Dandelion and tall stalks of Goldenrod, adding color to an otherwise subdued environment.
(Shari) I awake at 5:15 a.m. and cannot sleep longer. Bert wants to know if I am turning over a new leaf. He too gets up and goes outside to see if he can hear any owls. He comes back for a jacket and his telescope and a little while later asks if I want to see four moons around Jupiter. Of course I do. Later, I piddle the morning away and we finally hit the road at 8:30. As the day progresses, so the wind increases and the landscape turns more barren and rugged. At 3:30 we finally say goodbye to Texas and hello to New Mexico. Our stop tonight is Ute Lake State Park about 20 miles north of I-40. I miss the tall trees of my central Texas home, especially out camping. It is much too hot and windy to even sit outside. Oh the beauty of the RV lifestyle: if you do not like your home for the night, just pack up and leave the next day!
Day 3 - May 14, 1998 - Milepost 988 (336 today) - Red Rock State Park, NM
(Shari) It was so nice sleeping last night. We had the windows open and the soft breeze cooled us all night. We again battle the wind as RTENT takes us west across New Mexico. The engine lumbers a bit as it tries to fight the wind and climb the hills to another elevation gain of 3,000 ft. We stop at a Flying J in Albuquerque to gas up and get e-mail. The truckers break room has new phones with nonstandard jacks, not the familiar RJ-11 jacks I know. I ask where we could get e-mail and one clerk has no idea, but another directs us to the bar in the restaurant. Sure enough, there we can plug in and we retrieve and send e-mail without trouble. I must ask my RV friends if I can go to a Radio Shack and just buy an adapter to fit the new jack or if the electronics are all different. As we pull out of the gas station we wonder if we can go around the building. I say to Bert, "If you cannot see a path, there probably is none." Too bad Don and Jean did not hear my comment, because a few minutes later we see their car unhitched, a result for a dead end from which they could not back out. Since it is noon, we are very hungry and the next rest area is 50 miles down the road, we decide to pull into one of the truck parking spots behind the Flying J and eat our lunch. The trucks remind me of a colony of leaf cutter ants as they make single file paths in and out of the Flying J. Between the trucks and the wind we are ready to stop our driving for the day when we reach Red Rock State Park. Good Sam rates this park a 7 (out of 10) on visual appeal, but I find it a 5. Its haphazard layout and small, uneven gravel spots are unappealing. We take a walk and notice a beautiful rock formation reminiscent of cathedral spirals. At sunset the spirals radiate light as the surrounding rocks seem to absorb light. Although no TV station can be picked up (I miss the season finale of ER and the last episode of Seinfeld), we listen to radio. Looks like I will finally get my wish to cool down; temperatures may go as low as 25 degrees tonight.
(Bert) At 6:30 a.m. a brisk bone-dry breeze rolls off the leaden waters of Ute Lake as I photograph a breeding plumaged Red-headed Woodpecker testing the cottonwoods for insects. Shortly after 8 we begin traveling I-40 through New Mexico from its eastern border to the western edge. Fierce winds broadside us, requiring a tight grip of the steering wheel with both hands. But through our windows I view a landscape where God used up his red paint (with what little was left after finishing Utah). Broad red swatches canvas the dry earth and splash up the coarse rocky foothills. Then, as an afterthought, God dabbed green spots and called them junipers. Wedged between the cliffs west of Albuquerque, as if choking on the red paint, the earth belches up thick furrows of black lava, big enough to match those plowed by Babe, the Blue Ox. For the night we stop at Red Rock, looming ponderously above our campsite, and Shari and I walk with Don and Jean toward steeple-shaped Church Rock in the fierce wind as it throws up desert sand. The temperature is plummeting and will dip below freezing tonight, a sharp contrast to the Central Texas heat we left a couple days ago.
Day 4 - May 15, 1998 - Milepost 1267 (279 today) - Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
(Shari) We had a plan. I was to drive RTENT from the Flying J in Winslow, AZ to Flagstaff and then turn onto US 180 and look for a grocery store. But on 180 we do not see anything promising. We pass a shopping center with an auto parts store and a pizza place and a store with flyers in the window that advertise prices. That must be a grocery store. However, by now I am already past it. Soon we seem to be leaving town so I make a right hand turn to try to double back to the shopping center. Fortunately, Im on a very convenient post office turn around and we are headed back. But Ive had enough of the flustering city traffic, so at the stoplight I switch driving with Bert. He turns into the shopping center, finds a big place to park for two 55-ft. vehicles and I hop out. I get to the store and read the signs in the window announcing the prices of glue, picture frames, dried flowers and the like. Not a grocery store here. I ask a pleasant young man where there is a grocery store and he directs me back. Rather than fighting more city traffic we decide to unhook the car and drive it to the store and let the men stay back and take a nap. We arrive at the Grand Canyon, Mather Campground, at 3 p.m. and find campsites still available. I guess I didnt need to make reservations after all. We find our spot, put down our jacks and notice we forgot to get water - these sites have no hookups. I notice a water spigot across the road and down a bit and figure we can string four hoses together and fill our tanks. As we are about to screw the final hose onto the faucet, we notice it has no standard thread. Time to use our water thief, but its opening is too small to fit nicely over the faucet end. For the next hour we take turns holding the water thief onto the faucet as the water slowly runs into our tanks. We quit at half tanks for each of us and decide it is Happy Hour somewhere, so why not here too. Later we drive to the Blue Angel Lodge and I have a trout dinner which sounds better than it tastes.
(Bert) We cross into Arizona in early morning, continuing to travel through the southwestern desert. By lunch time we are in Flagstaff and begin a steep incline through dense pine forests - quite a contrast to the treeless desert. We expect wildlife to jump out at us as we curve our way through their homes, but only a scurrying Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel reveals itself. At Mather Campground in Grand Canyon National Park we find convenient pull-thru campsites nestled in a Pinyon Pine forest, although its dry camping tonight (sans electricity and water for all you non-RV readers). After cocktails beneath our canopy (the sun is intense, even though the breeze is cool), we drive a short distance to get our first view of the canyon. Actually, its our second view since we visited the canyon when our daughter was a toddler. Even though it was at least 20 years ago, the setting is familiar. But I had forgotten how simply awe inspiring is the view: at twilight, a tranquil sight of dark shadows and bright, sunset illuminated rock formations.
Day 5 - May 16, 1998 - Milepost 1267 - Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
(Bert) "No language can fully describe, no artist paint the beauty, grandeur, immensity and sublimity of this most wonderful production of Natures great architect." - C. O. Hall, Grand Canyon visitor, 1895. Over a century later, this visitors words are still apt; they capture my feelings admirably. If you havent already seen the Grand Canyon, words or even photographs will fail to transfer to you the awesome wonder of this natural phenomenon. The aspect I find most interesting is the flatness of my perspective. As I stand on the South Rim of the canyon, my view of the North Rim is 10 miles distant and all the terraces, pinnacles, plateaus, bowls and gorges compress into a two-dimensional backdrop suitable for a western movie. Only when I view the incredible drop offs and rough-hewn cliffs on my side of the canyon can I gain an appreciation for the immensity of it all. Looking down seems like a few hundred feet, yet it is nearly a mile from our 7,000-ft. elevation to the Colorado River eroding the rocks below us. With binoculars I follow hikers switch backing the trail down toward the flatter plateau below. Except for the human life so prolific here as tourists, the natural life clings to a fragile environment. Utah Juniper torpedo roots into crevices, endure numbing winds, yet adapt to a raw life at the edge. A few whiptail lizards hide in the rocks, as do Rock Squirrels. In the air, ravens and vultures soar among White-throated Swifts which sometimes buzz a few feet above our heads. But everything else is still - silent for a dozen miles in three directions. Throughout the day we move along the East and West Rims of the canyon, each stop giving me yet another perspective, always changing, always appealing.
(Shari) My eyes seem to play tricks as I view the wonders of the Grand Canyon. Physically, there are sheer vertical cliffs, and terraced hillsides and sculptured eruptions of all sorts of shapes and sizes, but I see the Roman Coliseum and the Baths and I can pick out an Aztec god carved in the top of a rock. Vast expanses of greenish flat lands look as if they were cultivated and planted. Every turn is a different view; Ooh and Ah are appro-po. Even the same place changes as the sun casts different lighting on the landscape below highlighting and darkening as the earth moves around it. Looking across to the brightly lit North Rim is like staring at a painting on a huge canvas. The three dimensions are lost at this magnitude. Suddenly, the sun casts shadows and the formations spring to life. Rusts and reds and purples and browns and yellows and creams and pinks and blues, all painted and sculpted like no artist could reproduce. The park forces us to take the shuttle system to view the West Rim, but that turns out to be a blessing. We have no hassle with parking and can walk from stop to stop periodically. Two hours after catching the shuttle we eat our packed lunch at a stop halfway through the loop. We skip a few stops since we still want to travel the East Rim this afternoon with our car. My binoculars pick out hundreds of people hiking the ribbon trail down to the river and once I glimpse seven mules with their lucky passengers riding the trail up. Temperatures at the bottom reached 86 degrees yesterday: hard to believe when temperatures in RTENT this morning were in the 50s.
Day 6 - May 17, 1998 - Milepost 1507 (230 today) - Glendale, UT
(Shari) According to the ranger at last nights program, the Grand Canyon cannot be seen since cubic space measures canyons and space is air. It would take all of the dirt in Florida, Maine, New Hampshire, New York and part of Delaware to fill the space of the canyon. So, to see it would be to lose it. The Grand Canyon is not even the biggest canyon in the world (that notoriety goes to one in Tibet or is it Nepal?). It is not even the widest or the longest. Nevertheless, it deserves its place as one of the seven natural wonders of the world for no other canyon is so esthetically pleasing in its assembly. This morning as we head out of the park along the East Rim, we see yet more facets of its beauty. We stop at Desert View and this view is my favorite. The early morning light plays music with the colors of the canyon walls. To my right I can see part of the Painted Desert and straight ahead is the greenish ribbon of the Colorado River. The canyon here is not as rugged; its smoother cliffs show more colors at the different levels. Indians set up ramshackle booths along Hwy. 64 every five miles or so. I wonder why they do not do a better job of merchandising to sell more. We stop at Little Colorado River Gorge and again communities of shacks are lined up selling crafts. I buy a beautiful hematite necklace and earring set for $25. So much for merchandising! I buy anyway. The view at the gorge is a deep, sheer drop-off. Don gives another Aggie whoop and it echoes back to him threefold. It seems we have gone from Canada to Mexico in a little over an hour. Last nights cool campsite had beautiful Pinyon Pines and Utah Spruce, but todays landscape at Cameron is hot sand and sagebrush. Sand dunes of varying colors dot the landscape as if many dump trucks of different sizes dumped their loads here. We descend and climb, descend and climb until we reach Kanab. Our intention is to stay at the Kanab RV Corral, a park highly rated by Trailer Life. As we traverse the cute town I am planning to take a walk to the neat shops, swim in the clean pool and relax in the nicely landscaped RV spots. Much to my surprise the park is full. A Country Coach rally is taking the whole place. So we travel to Glendale passing the vermillion cliffs and then the pink cliffs and then the white cliffs. Our destination is Bauer Camper Park. Not as attractive as Kanab RV Corral but pleasant nonetheless and the laundry and e-mail facilities are decent.
(Bert) Last night as we returned from the Park Rangers presentation a coyote crossed our path, illuminated only by our flashlights. Now again this morning, as we leave the park in our motorhomes, I spot a coyote and a few miles further a third coyote, this one feeding on a large carcass beside the highway. At the far eastern edge of the national park we make one final stop at Desert View. Unlike our previous views of the Grand Canyon, this time we are at the deserts edge and we can see the flat arid land stretching for miles to the horizon. But right in front of us it plummets a couple thousand feet. Nothing subtle about this geography!
After exiting the park we begin a long 5% grade descent to the desert and to our left we can see a narrow crevice cut by the river. When we stop at Little Colorado River Gorge we see the crevice intimately. Even though this narrow canyon is only a quarter the depth we viewed yesterday, it seems a more dramatic drop off because we can stand within feet of the edge and peer straight down. I gather a handful of pebbles and toss them over the edge. Jean and I listen for the them to hit bottom, but the sound never reaches us. Near the cliffs, Indians set up their wares in ramshackle sheds. When White Man first came to America he traded beads for food and furs; now the Indians are trading back the beads for greenbacks. Back on the road again we turn north at Cameron and enter the Painted Desert. Starting as windswept dunes of earthy browns and grays, miles later the landscape hardens to sandstone etched in streaks of red. As we continue, the cliffs on our right grow taller and the land to our left tilts skyward - evidence of prehistoric mountain building. Now they erode at their crumbling edges, a constant cycle of building up and tearing down, the geologic equivalent of what man has done to our inner cities. Near the Utah border we make a rapid 2,500-ft. ascent along the cliffs edge to a breath taking view of the Painted Desert. The reds transition to pink, an unusual color for mountains, then to vermilion ( Vermilion Cliffs), then salmon shaded sand ( Coral Sands State Park), then white ( White Cliffs) and finally to green when the rocks are hidden in juniper. As we near our campsite tonight, the valley follows a pale blue stream, watering its lush borders, and the trees grow higher, yellow green with new leaves. We camp beside an orchard with buds in full bloom.
Day 7 - May 18, 1998 - Milepost 1507 - Zion National Park, UT
(Shari) RTENT smells of lilacs. Don and Jean noticed lilacs in bloom at many houses along the way. To them it is reminiscent of childhood (they also grew up in Wisconsin). The huge lilac bush across the street from our camp was too much temptation for them. They went across the street and knocked on the door of the house next to the bush. Don introduced himself and asked if the owner (by now 89-year-old Mr. Spencer) would mind if he had a few blooms. Mr. Spencer not only did not mind but got a knife and cut him a whole bunch. Don and Jean then shared them with me hence the lilac fragrance greets me this morning. Our schedule has us at Zion National Park today. It is a geological wonder and a kaleidoscope of color much like, yet different from, the Grand Canyon. Unlike the Grand Canyon, Zions canyons can be driven and hiked with relative ease and they comprise only one type of rock: calcium carbonate colored with iron oxide. Iron oxide is so prevalent that the roads are "rust" top instead of black top. I feel as if Im Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz following the red brick road. We stop at the entrance to a mile + long tunnel and climb the moderately strenuous path that takes us to the overlook. Every huff and puff is worth the view from the top. Although the walk up is only 0.6 mile long, it takes us two hours. We follow the trail guide and stop to read and admire the descriptions for seven overviews. At the top we are treated to a panorama of colors that spreads for miles. I see the canyons wiggly red road below. Cars and trucks and motorhomes look like ants. This picture is framed by the steep richly-colored canyon walls looming upwards toward the heavens. Our hike down only takes 30 minutes. We stop at the visitor center and view a video on the canyon that describes the stops along the 9-mile scenic drive. 4,000 to 5,000 cars visit the park every day and yet there are only 400 designated parking places along the drive. Of course it is crowded even though it is not even Memorial Day. We lunch at the picnic grotto, then drive to the falls at the end of the road. We retrace our steps and take the hike to one of the emerald pools at the base of a waterfall. I stand behind the falls and feel the welcome cooling of the water splashing onto the rocks below me. It is now getting hot and we are all tired. I spy a man changing his hot jeans for some cool shorts right in the middle of the parking lot. We comment that he must be European; they can strip to their underwear with as much ease as we take off our outer jacket. I envy that culture at this moment since it is nearing 86 degrees. Time to return to rest. We started this morning at 8:00 a.m. and returned at 5 p.m. We had put in a good 8-hour day of work with a break for lunch. My pedometer said we walked 4.02 miles, not much until you realize half those miles were up.
(Bert) This is our second major excursion into Utah, one of our nations most scenic states and least known. Two years ago we visited Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. Today it is Zion National Park, yet another variation on the theme of red rocks. I find it amazing how different are the three parks. Right from the start, we see a rock formation I havent found before. They call it "Checkerboard Mesa," an enormous - maybe 20 stories high - sandstone rock grilled with a checkerboard pattern, the horizontal lines formed by layers of cemented sand dunes and the vertical lines from surface cracks. For a mile, the rocks beside the road look like the plowed contours of a steep rock farm. Except for the surface contours, the red rocks are bald smooth, each a thousand feet in a dimension. Further into the park we take a hike up a steep rocky path, walking on the edge of a rock formation that, except for the hand railing, would allow us to plummet hundreds of feet to the ravine below. The trail brochure is invaluable as an aid in helping us identify Western Whiptail, Manzanita, Canyon Wren, Box Elder, Cliff Chipmunk and Thin Leaf Yucca (Ill leave it to the reader to identify what families of plants and animals these represent). Back in our car we enter the 1.1-mile tunnel completed in 1930. The maximum height is about 13 ft., so RVs must be passed through in single file while a park ranger holds up the traffic at the other end. This, and the steep roads on the other end, make me glad we chose to take our Pathfinder today rather than the Pace Arrow. Zion Canyon is another marvelous sight with its steep walls enclosing a flat Cottonwood grove but a few city blocks wide. The ancestral river, a wilder version of todays remnant, washed the soft shale sides of the walls, weakening them, and causing large blocks of the rock walls to shear from the sides and plummet below, only to be worn down and carried away by the torrent. Because of the softness of the Navajo Sandstone and its weakness for vertical cleaving, the walls shear straight up and down, creating enormous walls to a narrow canyon. At several points we see rock climbers clinging to the smooth vertical surfaces, but so high and distant as to resemble ants on a fireplace chimney. I feel young and vital, but watching these youthful men exerting incredible energy to climb straight up humbles my ambitions.
Day 8 - May 19, 1998 - Milepost 1560 (53 today) - Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
(Shari) It is purporting to be the easiest trail in Bryce Canyon: one that takes a gentle slope to the Queens Garden only 0.8 mile down into the canyon. I knew I was in trouble when I look at my watch and wonder just how far this trail goes. I am still walking DOWN. I ask a couple huffing and puffing on their way up how far it was to the end. They say I have only gone two-thirds of the way but the view is worth it. Jean says we have gone this far so why not the rest of the way. I think to myself, "Well if Jean can do it (she is 13 years older than I am) than I can do it too." Onward I plod. Down and around and down and around and through little tunnels cut into the red limestone I walk. Hoodoos are all around me. Hoodoos are pillars of rocks of fantastic shapes, and sizes left by erosion. Each turn has another view and more varying shades of colors, reds and pinks and oranges and whites and blues and purples. I learn that the minerals in the limestone have been oxidized leaving an array of colors made even more striking by the play of the sun on the shapes. Sometimes I see masses of steeples and turrets and other times fanciful people standing in a row or animals playing in the windy sky. At the bottom I am surrounded by the hoodoos and notice Queen Victoria sitting on her throne gazing at her majestic garden. The way up is different from the way down. I had descended more than 1,000 ft. and, looking up, I think I will never make it back. I take one small step at a time usually counting 50 steps and then resting. Fifty more steps and resting again. Finally I make it to the top to a chorus of "Shell be coming around the mountain when she comes" from Bert and Don, who had been up and rested for a good 10 minutes before I even saw the finish line. We never intended the walk to be so long. We were just going to take a little stroll before lunch and then eat at a picnic table at Sunset Point. We finally eat, but it is now 2 p.m. None of us are up to another hike and we are often too pooped even to get out of the car to look at the various overlooks. I know we missed some good sights that we will just have to leave for another time. Would I take that long arduous walk down that canyon slope again? YES. It was fantastic, though tiring. This is the way to experience the wonders of Gods creation. I have encountered the hoodoos and I have won.
(Bert) Dons words are apt, "God is making sand castles at the beach." We get our first look at the "sand castles" when we reach Red Canyon, quite a contrast from the drab green foothills we have been driving through for an hour. At Bryce Canyon the view is more spectacular: pinnacles, spires and towers etched in red-orange sandstone. Unlike Zion where all the rocks were big as a city block, here just thin remnants remain as fins jutting out from the cliffs. Further erosion breaks the fins into separate towers, called hoodoos, rendered in all shapes and sizes. At the higher elevations the winters snow and ice fill the crevices, forcing wedges that separate and break apart the sandstone. Part of the snow still lies beneath the Ponderosa Pine when we reach the summit at 9115 ft. From the cliffs they say we can see a hundred miles and we must have been seeing most of that distance in todays clear blue skies. Near the edge the wind is brisk and I have to hang onto my hat, but away from the wind the sun is hot and we get sweaty during our hike down the cliffs along Queens Garden Trail. Uinta Chipmunks scamper across the gravelly surface, running between patches of Manzanita; the chipmunk is a new mammal species to me and I try to photograph them, but they are too fast for me to follow with my lens. We dry camp at one of the National Park campgrounds, nestled in pine trees, and I build a warm campfire that keeps away the chill of sunset.
Day 9 - May 20, 1998 - Milepost 1875 (315 today) - Willard Bay State Park, UT
(Shari) It is still dark as I grope my way to the closet to retrieve my clothes. We want an early start to beat Salt Lake City rush hour traffic and arrive in time at the campground for a spot as we head into the Memorial Day weekend. We reach Willard Bay early in the day and find plenty of spots for two or three nights but none for the whole weekend. Three nights will be enough for Don and Jean to go to see LDS grounds and Bert to bird. We park RTENT and attempt to disconnect the car. I cannot get the car in gear and we are dead in the water. No matter how often I push and pull the drive-shaft-disconnect lever in which it will just not push all the way. I try the procedure numerous times. Bert decides it is time to peer under the car. Now those of you who know Bert, know he is not mechanical nor does he claim to be, nor does he even like to try. He gets a plastic sheet from RTENT so as not to dirty his clothes, lays it carefully on the ground and scoots onto of it under the car. He calls to me, "Push the lever in." A few seconds later I hear, "Now pull the lever out." A little while later there is another "Push the lever in." Again another, "Pull the lever out." From my vantage point in the car, I see no change at all. I feel like my 14-month-old granddaughter playing with her busy box pushing a lever that goes nowhere and does nothing but move back and forth. Finally he says, "Go through the connect-for-driving procedure." I put the four-wheel drive in the "2H" position, the gear in neutral and start the car. I then push the lever in, fully expecting nothing to happen since I had just done this many times before with no results. Low and behold, much to my surprise, it works! My nonmechanical husband fixed it. I always did think he was faking that nonmechanical stuff anyway and just would rather be birding than maintaining broken equipment. Apparently a cotter pin had worked loose and the lever was not contacting my mechanical lever in the car. He jury-rigged a piece of wire to act as the pin and all is fine. What a doll he is!
(Bert) Our predawn departure a few minutes before 6 a.m. necessitates head lights for the first half-hour. Just before we turn onto Hwy. 89, we cross Sevier River and glimpse two beaver working at waters edge. We follow the river all morning and see other wildlife along the river: Canada Geese, Mallards and three Mule Deer. The "river" appears to be a manmade canal shored up on the downhill side. It threads its way through the narrow valley between low red-violet and pastel green hills on the west and browner, rugged and barren hills on the east. At one point a 26-wheeler, a semi pulling three trailers, shoots past us. This is soon followed by another Consolidated Freightways 26-wheeler traveling at least 70 m.p.h. I dont recall ever seeing such a long truck train on the highways before. The valley broadens to 10 miles across and we see a sign for Provo 50 miles ahead. From here I can easily see the snow-covered peaks bordering Provo, a distance marker for the clarity of todays Utah air. As we cross through Provo, I am reminded of our last visit two years ago and Shari and I again comment on how Provo would be a pretty place to live with the snow-covered peaks on the east and expansive Utah Lake on the west. But this time we just keep on trunkin to Salt Lake City and penetrate the noontime traffic snarled on the citys expressways buried in a haze that prevents seeing the Great Salt Lake, definitely a city low on our wish list of places to live. Another 50 or so miles north we pull off the highway at Willard Bay State Park, built at the edge of the Great Salt Lake. Here
the salt water mixes with the Bear River pouring in fresh water, so the bay is much more pleasant for water sports. Memorial Day is coming up and we dont have reservations, but we are fortunate to find a site we can have for three days. The bird life here is prolific and I discover a pair of Bullocks Orioles have suspended their nest on a low limb just over RTENT. A few steps away I find a pair of robins feeding three chicks in an eye level nest, the chicks soon to fledge. Mosquitos are also abundant and I need a liberal coating of repellent before I set out birding. Our EZ-Up shelter with mosquito netting walls is a welcome camping accessory this evening when we enjoy charcoal grilled sirloin and corn-on-the-cob, sitting on Don and Jeans collapsible picnic table inside the shelter.
Day 9 - A Readers Comment
(Bert) When we traveled to Alaska two years ago the trip eventually became lonely since we were without travel companions and snail mail took 3 to 5 weeks to catch up with us. This time, with the addition of e-mail exchanging every 2 to 3 days, we feel even closer to friends and relatives than if we had stayed home. One exchange which Shari and I found entertaining came from my younger brother Jerry. His reaction to "Day 9" is so delightful, we thought wed share it with our other readers. Here goes:
Date: Sun, 24 May 1998
Subject: Bert "The Mechanic"
I just want you to know that I totally enjoyed your last letter "Bert the Mechanic."
I do have some comments that I have added to the letter. These are my thoughts as I read your letter.
(Sharis original) Bert decides it is time to peer under the car.
(Jerrys comment) It's okay to peer under the car, it gives the impression that you are "trying" to be helpful, before you call the mechanic.
(Shari) Now those of you who know Bert, know he is not mechanical nor does he claim to be, nor does he even like to try.
(Jerry) It's not only Bert, as his younger brother, Jerry, I have followed religiously in his steps on this subject.
(Shari) "Push the lever in." A few seconds later I hear, "Now pull the lever out." A little while later there is another "Push the lever in." Again another, "Pull the lever out."
(Jerry) This is good, Bert, it again shows you are "trying."
(Shari) From my vantage point in the car, I see no change at all. I feel like my 14-month-old granddaughter playing with her busy box pushing a lever that goes nowhere and does nothing but move back and forth.
(Jerry) Bert this was great, you had her exactly where you wanted her. She realized it was totally useless to try any longer.
(Shari) Finally he says, "Go through the connect-for-driving procedure." I put the four-wheel drive in the "2H" position, the gear in neutral and start the car. I then push the lever in fully, expecting nothing to happen since I had just done this many times before with no results. Low and behold, to my surprise it works!
(Jerry) Big mistake, Bert, you will never live it down. People across the country will now know you truly are a great mechanic. Wives from every state in the nation will soon be calling for your help in teaching their husband the "magic mechanical touch."
(Shari) My nonmechanical husband fixed it. I always did think he was faking that nonmechanical stuff anyway and just would rather be birding than maintaining broken equipment.
(Jerry) Now look what you have done, Bert, all these years you had her partially convinced, and then in one weak moment you changed life as we know it today.
(Shari) What a doll he is.
(Jerry) Yes, this is a nice complement, and it makes it all worth it. After all isn't that what it is all about, you are truly a hero!
Have a great trip,
Jerry (The other non-mechanic)
Day 10 - May 21, 1998 - Milepost 1875 - Willard Bay State Park, UT
(Shari) What a treat! I am able to roll over and go back to sleep. I do not even hear Bert when he gets up to go birding. I expected to sleep until 10 a.m. but I am wide awake at 7:30 planning my day of leisure. Jean says I am getting old because I cannot sleep. Oh Hush. I clean up, write journals, add numbers to the budget in Quicken and try e-mail on the cellular. That is a frustration. Each time I try to connect I get a little further, connect, logging on to mail server, verifying passwords, retrieving e-mail. But it eventually gets stuck on some aspect of the process. I finally give up and do something I know and like: bake. I make a cherry coffeecake and 12 cilantro-corn muffins. It is cool outside and the muffins will go good with chili tonight. I take the bike to the entrance gate and pay tonights $11.00 camping fee. It starts to rain and I run for cover. My poor cherry tomato plant looks bedraggled outside and falls over from the stiff wind. I run outside to retrieve it and the wind is so strong, the rain comes sideways. How do they say a tornado sounds? Do they have tornados in Utah? I hear something like a train coming toward me getting louder and louder and the wind is so strong RTENT rocks on its springs. I let go a sigh of relief when I see a train in the distance making its way north. I am still snug in my little home. Bert comes back at 3 p.m. and we head for yet another Flying J. This one allows e-mail to our delight and we savor our news from friends near and far. Our daughter Missy got her haircut. I wish I could see it since she has not had short hair for almost 20 years when she still was in early grade school. What a shock that must have been for her husband! It still is raining when we go to bed but it does not keep us from sleep.
(Bert) As I climb out of RTENT in the dim predawn morning, I see a Striped Skunk nosing
around our picnic table. He ignores me and continues his search for food. Today is my day
to bird Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, one of the best birding spots in North America.
The refuge is a haven for migrating waterfowl in fall and supports an amazing number of
nesting birds during the spring and summer. And I am not disappointed today. Although the
number of species I see (59) is not unusual, the quantity of nesting birds is amazing:
1100 American Avocets, 660 Marsh Wrens, 1400 Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Yes, I count them
one by one! The highlight of the day is finding three Red Fox kits playing atop their nest
hole. I stop the car, grab my camera and 420-mm lens and use almost a roll of film
snapping shots of them at play. Later I see an adult Red Fox, but he is quicker than my
camera as I watch him sprint across the marsh. But I do get a half-dozen photos of a
Striped Skunk (my fourth sighting for the day). I finish the loop drive around 1 p.m. and
head back just before some heavy rain catches me. For the birding enthusiasts in the
audience, here is a list of the best birds for today:
Day 11 - May 22, 1998 - Milepost 1875 - Willard Bay State Park, UT
(Bert) The past two days, except for the camp host and ranger, we had the campground to ourselves. Today the Memorial Day weekend campers descend upon us. RVs, pop-ups, sports utility vehicles towing speedboats and jet skis circle the wagons around designated campsites. Out pour dogs, kids, tents, ice chests, lanterns, lantern posts, mosquito torches, charcoal grills, firewood, bicycles, tricycles. Coleman would be proud of these camping consumers. You could hardly say they are roughing the rugged outdoors, but then again, neither are we in our comfortable motorhomes. Hundreds of campers now surround us, fires are blazing, conversations are animate, a great weekend in store. Almost all the sites are filled; only the stormy weather kept it from being unanimous.
(Shari) Another drizzly rainy day! We vegetate around RTENT. We start a bike ride and it rains. We start a walk and it rains. We decide to take down our screen patio and it starts to rain. I guess it is time to vamoose and head north to a better clime. The sun peeks out a little late in the day and Bert and I find a long dike to bike along. It goes on for miles and miles. I do not know how far we traveled before the wet gravel clinging to my tires and strong wind force me to turn around. Tonight is date night and I ask Jean, our camp host where we could find a good restaurant. She suggests Maddox Ranch House. We can see oodles of cars in the parking lot and lots of people waiting. I go to the hostess and am surprised that the wait is only 15 minutes. I look at the menu and realize that no beer is on the menu. Beer is Criteria 1 for me on a Friday night. Well, not to disappoint everyone and force them to leave, I decide that a Sarsparilla might suffice. I order the famous fried chicken and I am not disappointed. The four chicken pieces come with a crab salad, rolls to die for, baked potato, and carrots. I am so full that I take one of the chicken pieces home with me for tomorrows lunch.
Day 12 - May 23, 1998 - Milepost 2066 (191 today) - Idaho Falls, ID
(Bert) Don and Jean are doing jumping jacks, waving furiously and shouting "Over hear!" Its noontime at the Flying J north of the Utah-Idaho border when we finally catch up with our lost travel companions. The instructions seem simple at 9 a.m. when we leave Willard Bay, "Meet at the Flying J a few miles down the road." We leave the underpass next to the campground at the same time, pass the first Flying J and three miles later when I exit I-15 for the second Flying J, in my rearview mirror I think I see dBus (Don and Jeans RV) coming over the rise. But as Shari is pumping gas and Im transferring e-mail, dBus doesnt show up. Twenty minutes later we face a decision: Do we go forward or backward? Shari elects forward, but after 10 miles we pull off the exit, unhitch and Shari heads back with the car while I stay with the phone, CB and RTENT. "RTENT to dBus, do you read me?", I call to no avail. Another 20 minutes later and Shari returns alone. We rehitch and continue north, uncertain where we will meet again. Shari is napping while I drive. I pass smoothly rounded hills, fuzzy like a green tennis ball. Sunlight and shadow play fancifully on the distant hillsides, causing shades of lime gold, forest green and artful mauve arranged in carefully edged patches reminiscent of a paint-by-number drawing. Low, rain laden clouds with wispy tendrils cling to the tops of dark mountain peaks. On the flat meadows fat Herefords and muscular Black Angus graze. The road climbs steadily as we cross the Idaho border and windows in the clouds now reveal snow-covered peaks. As Shari sleeps and I drive in serenity, the CB startles me, "dBus to RTENT, do you read me?" At the same time I grab the microphone and swing my head around, "dBus, where are you?" Don answers, "At the Flying J eating lunch." Sure enough, heres yet another Flying J, but I cant see any RVs. "Ive passed this turn but Ill make the next and come back to you," I announce in my CB. Little did I know that the next turn is 10 miles down the road in this largely uninhabited farmland. I exit in Inkom, a little Idaho town, but drive another mile of village roads trying to find a way to double back to the interstate. Another 10 miles and we see the Jumping Jacks performing in front of dBus. A few hugs later and an animated discussion of the things they did to find us while we followed an opposite plan, we decide to plan better in the future.
(Shari) "Wait for Don," I tell Bert as he pulls out of the campground on our way to the Flying J. "He does not know where it is." We pull next to the pump and I fill the tank as Bert goes inside to retrieve e-mail. No Don and Jean. I finish filling the tank. No Don and Jean! After 15 minutes Bert is finished getting e-mail. No Don and Jean! Now what, I wonder! We pull out and I expect Don to have realized he passed the exit and to be at the next exit waiting for us. After 10 miles of travel north: no Don and Jean! We pull off the interstate and unhook the car. I take the car back to the campground and ask the host if our friends have come back. "No," he says. I ask him to tell them, should they come back, that we went on to the KOA in Idaho Falls. I then pull into the Flying J at the campground exit. No Don and Jean. I go back to the Flying J where we got gas. No Don and Jean. I travel the 20 miles back to where I left Bert hoping to see two motorhomes waiting but no Don and Jean. We hook up and travel on hoping they decided to do that. I look at each motorhome traveling in the opposite direction. I look at each exit and at each rest area for a Southwind pulling a little red car but No Don and Jean. About an hour later our CB crackles and I hear RTENT, "Is that you?" We respond with an excited "Yes, where are you?" Don and Jean are at the Flying J just off the right on the interstate. They had been looking for us. Bert tells them he will take the next exit and double back. Some 20 miles later we finally come to an exit. It doubles into town, in and around construction. We go around a loooong block to turn around and head for the Flying J. Finally we see Don and Jean. They are doing jumping jacks in the parking lot. What a sight for sore eyes and we give them a big hug. We did not lose them after all. The rest of the trip to Idaho Falls is uneventful. We arrive, do our wash and take a swim in the pleasant warm pool and top it off in the hot tub. Drinks are served and we laugh about the experience of the day.
Day 13 - May 24, 1998 - Milepost 2346 (280 today) - Helena, MT
(Bert) St. John Lutheran Church is an old, established congregation worshiping in a traditional spired church built in 1949 with antique stained glass windows and the hard wood pews of a previous generation. With a traditional liturgy accompanied by organ and sung by stoically suited parishioners, my expectations were for a cold, unfriendly self-focused reception. To my surprise, just the opposite occurs. We are greeted by ushers, the "greeter" couple, the pastor and a dozen other members. And not just "Hello," but friendly conversations that show a genuine interest in our visit. We are handed an introductory packet complete with a clear explanation of Christianity in general, Lutheranism specifically, and St. John in particular. It also comes with a free CD of Christian songs. What a welcome!
Following services, we are on the road again by 10:30. We soon exit the rolling farmlands of Idaho and cross the Continental Divide at 6,870 ft., entering Montana. The first sign to greet us is "Speed Limit - Reasonable & Prudent," quickly followed by the second sign "Speed checked by radar." No problem from us! I cant reach 45 m.p.h. going uphill and I keep it in second going downhill to ensure I can stay centered on the road. Yet the gentle mountains through which I-15 passes are not challenging for RVs and we are entertained with a different visage each minute. Ten miles beyond on the road before us I see blackened clouds leaking streamers that tether cloud to earth. Ten minutes later the temperature drops suddenly, gusts of wind buffet RTENT and a few drops of rain grow to a downpour. Three miles further the faucet turns off, the thermometer rises and soon we are again bathed in sunlight. Beyond Butte the road climbs and we begin to drive nearer the tops of the mountains, rimed by newly leaved aspen which transitions at higher elevation to dense spruce forests pitched against step hillsides. Hours later we descend into Helena positioned in a wide flat valley ringed by mountains on all sides.
(Shari) We search the phone book for churches and find four Lutheran churches from which to choose. We drive to town and stop at St. John, the first Lutheran Church we come across. Low and behold, it is Missouri Synod, our flavor of Lutheranism. It is a beautiful church with stained glass windows and the altar is just glowing with the sun streaming through the colored glass. I also find it is the friendliest established church I have ever had the privilege to attend. Just everyone, and I mean everyone, introduce themselves to us and welcome us. Young and old, men and women alike. Usually churches with such a welcoming attitude are mission congregations and certainly not ones with a 50-year history. The service is traditional Lutheran from the Lutheran Book of Worship. (David, you would be proud). The more contemporary worship setting is to be held at the 11 a.m. service: much too late for us. We have 280 miles to travel today and need to get an earlier start. We arrive at Lincoln Road RV Park in Helena, MT, about 5 p.m. It is pleasant, clean, friendly with grassy patio areas and picnic tables at each site. This is our last night of electricity for a while so I make use of it and cook soup and bread to eat over the next few days.
Day 14 - May 25, 1998 - Milepost 2602 (256 today) - Glacier National Park, MT
(Bert) Leaving Helena, we enter a ravine cut through steep rock and then follow the Missouri River. A couple years ago I read a book paralleling Lewis & Clarks journals with current commentary of their expedition. Their exploratory party followed the Missouri River through these ravines and into the open country. Sparsely populated, with grasslands supporting cattle where bison once trod, I cant help but think that I am an explorer viewing a land formed by God, as yet untouched by humans. Near Great Falls, a sight also viewed by Lewis & Clark, farmlands dominate the prairie: strip cropping alternating with golden brown grasslands. Little towns sprout from the smoothly contoured rolling land, rising prominently with grain silos and elevators announcing a farmers co-op. At Cut Bank we get our first view of the snow-capped mountains of Glacier National Park to the northwest. We eat lunch on picnic tables at a grassy city park basking in warm noontime sunlight. Although the mountains are clearly in view, it takes us 1.5 hours to traverse the 50 miles to their base. Then begin steep inclines and declines, construction zones and winding curves for another 50 miles before we reach Saint Mary, a small Blackfoot Indian village in the mountains. We stop for groceries and smell the burnt rubber of brakes overworked on the downhill. Another mile brings us to our campsite inside the National Park. Here we are greeted by Clyde and Sarita, friends from home who have been full-timing now for one year. We trade stories and past times before a pine fire and hamburgers cooked on an outside grill, basking in the glory of snow streaked mountains and lush meadows.
(Shari) Don and Jean get a little taste of the Alaskan Highway as we travel Hwy. 2 and then 89 toward Glacier. The road is under construction for a few miles. The gravel, potholes and washboard slow us down to 35 m.p.h. After that we come to a narrow winding up and down a road that also keeps our speed low. Finally we come to a large long descent into the town of St. Mary. I am a nervous wreck by the time we get down and can smell brakes. Had I known it was to be so long, I would have unhitched. My mountain directory does not have this descent listed. Glacier lacks clear signage. I am uncertain if our 35-ft. motorhome can fit into the spaces since the TL book says limits of 30 ft. The ranger at the entrance to the park does not mention we are too long so we head onwards. At the entrance a sign said St. Marys campground 500 ft. ahead. We travel about 500 ft. and another sign has only a picture of a tent on it with the number 500 ft. Does that mean St. Marys is only 500 ft. ahead or is it another campground? We turn into it (here again no label is indicating what campground this is) and see a dump station. That always is a good sign. As Bert fills our tank with water, I take the car into the campground and notice only two others here, with every site a pull through and plenty long. I wish the books were more accurate. I pick a spot next to the mountains and close to our friends, Clyde and Sarita Brothers. We keep in touch with them via e-mail and arranged this meeting at Glacier weeks ago. We grill hamburgers and sit around the fire until it starts to drizzle. I notice it is already 9:30 p.m. and still light outside. Our days are noticeably getting longer. Much to my surprise, I pick up a TV station here. The weather report is "rain, rain, rain" for the next two days. That is exactly the time allotted to the area. Looks like we will have to come back again to really see it.
Day 15 - May 26, 1998 - Milepost 2602 - Glacier National Park, MT
(Bert) At sunrise a heavy mist hangs wetly over the aspen meadow where we are camping. Two Mule Deer watch as I exit our motorhome. I stare at them through binoculars; they watch me with moist brown eyes, neither of us moving. From a grassy perch a Savannah Sparrow buzzes its morning welcome. Other birds retain territorial posts, announcing boundaries with spring songs: a Gray Catbird singing its mockingbird-like song, Ruby-crowned Kinglets calling prettily from a high post in dense leaves, and MacGillivrays Warbler singing a new song for me. Canada Geese honk distantly. I hike toward the river connecting upper and lower Saint Mary Lakes. Immensely thick ancient Black Cottonwoods grow near the water, displaying deeply furrowed bark on trunks too big to allow two tree huggers to touch fingertips. Rushing pell mell, fresh with last nights rain, the icy water is transparent as I watch the current-swept grass ribboning below its surface. A fat beaver paddles across and enters the reeds. The early morning mist gropes over the marsh as the sun struggles to pierce the gray clouds. I can faintly make out the edges of surrounding cliffs, but in another direction snow on charcoal mountains drips down crevices like wet white paint, the mountain bellied by a skirt of gray fog. At 7:15 the sun spikes its shroud and beams diamond rays across dark clouds. The hillsides glow in the yellow green of reflected Quaking Aspen leaves. A Mule Deer doe watches her yearling sprint across a grassy meadow. But now the sun hides and the scene changes once more. Rocky cliffs hang ponderously from the clouds, separated from the earth by a horizontal cloud stretched just above the meadow. The birds begin a new chorus as if to coax the sun to again show his face. Yellow Warblers, bright against green backgrounds, announce a sneezy "Hey! Hey! Whats with you?" Black-billed Magpies scream a sharp retort just as a Ring-necked Duck flies in and out of the fog above me. On the river a hen and two drake mergansers float downstream, but upon seeing me they take flight with feet slapping the waters surface to gain altitude. Brown-headed Cowbirds squeak at me as they fly by and Red-winged Blackbirds clack from the marsh. I hear a familiar "witchedy witchity witchedy," to which I respond with a pishing sound. From the underbrush out pops a yellowthroat, quickly followed by three Yellow Warblers anxious to check out the intruder. The suns disk shows dimly behind gray clouds, but again hides. Ahead on my path, two Snowshoe Hares lumber awkwardly on enlarged hind legs. One stops to munch grass and I get a chance to study its black ears, chocolate brown fur and winter remnant white boots. As I approach, he rotates his ears like dual periscopes searching for sound waves. A Yellow Pine Chipmunk jumps out and scurries within inches of my feet and then comes the hare, but he detours 5 ft. in front of me. Now a White-crowned Sparrow alights on a bush 8 ft. from me. The wildlife seems uncommonly tame. A Violet-green Swallow begins his days work of insect catching and it reminds me its time to see if Shari is awake yet. At 7:50 the sun again tries piercing through the clouds. I hike back rapidly, scarring up magpies and flickers in my path. As I near RTENT, a Columbian Ground Squirrel chirps and I see the drapes are pulled open: Shari must be awake.
(Shari) I know those mountains were there last night when I went to bed. I cannot see them this morning through the soupy fog and haze. I think to myself, "Poor Bert, he got up so early this morning to explore and will be unable to see anything." So much for sight seeing today! After my coffee I notice the clouds breaking up and patches of blue widening in the sky. I see the mountains playing hide and seek with me through the clouds. I see the meadow, all lush and green, as the fog lifts its nighttime covering. We take our bikes down the hill to the visitor center and again up the hill to a few turnouts along St. Mary Lake. We pack a lunch and drive the 14 miles of open road, not quite to Logan Pass. The 50 ft. of drifted snow have not yet been completely plowed and the road is closed beyond this point. At one turnout I notice an animal moving in the meadow. At first I think it may be a mountain lion, but upon closer inspection I decide it is a coyote. It stands perfectly still, tail straight out, stalking a rabbit. The rabbit is hidden in the grass, not far from the coyotes nose, and also does not move a muscle. For at least 15 minutes, we watch but see nary a twitch from either animal. We lack the patience of our coyote friend and move on. We come to Swift Gorge and walk the short distance to the viewing spot. The rushing waters make a sharp 90-degree angle and shoot down a narrow, long square passageway covered with moss laden rocks. We rest our weary feet at the picnic area in full view of a glacier and munch our sandwiches and fruit with a hungry Columbian Ground Squirrel begging at our feet. After a nap we start a fire and the six of us prepare to settle in for some food and fellowship. I feel rain and hear thunder and after a bit we head inside RTENT. All of us cram in and eat a delicious beef and rice dinner that Sarita prepared.
Day 16 - May 27, 1998 - Milepost 2768 (166 today) - Calgary, AB
(Bert) Im guilty! At least thats the way I feel. She asks me all the routine questions: about my citizenry, home state, liquor and guns. At each I hesitate momentarily. Is it a trick question? Is this the right answer? Is this the answer she wants to hear? Everythings going smoothly when out of the blue she nails me, "Why are you entering Canada?"
I answer, "To do some volunteer work and then go on to Alaska."
She pauses. She jots down a note. Then she raises her eyes to meet mine and in a slow steady voice she drills, "What kind of volunteer work?"
I answer without stammering, in my most honest tone, "A bird survey."
I could tell from the frown forming on the inside of her eyebrows that I was in trouble. Im guilty! Shes onto me now. My mind races. What did I say? Is there a Canadian law against counting birds? Does it violate the International Migratory Bird Protection Act? Im guilty! She leaves her post to consult with her supervisor and I hear her whispering something about volunteering and him mumbling a question and her saying something about birds.
"Where?" she retorts on her return.
I answer, "Lesser Slave Lake," but I can see the answer didnt strengthen my case.
"Please pull over your vehicle and both of you report to the border agent upstairs," she orders.
As we leave our vehicle, Shari grumbles, "You should have waited until after we entered Canada before you started growing your beard." We climb the stairs and Shari says she didnt carry her drivers license. I mumble back that I hadnt either. We pass a sign informing us not to leave the area unless told to do so. The waiting room holds three other detainees, college kids, obviously guilty of smuggling drugs or booze. The officer interviews one of them behind closed doors, then returns and escorts them downstairs. Sounds like a vehicle inspection is forthcoming.
Our turn is next and we flunk the first question, "Could I see your drivers licenses and passports?" Four minutes later we return with IDs in hand, but another officer mistakenly assumes we already passed the interrogation and stamps our entry form. It sounds too good to be true and it is. Officer #1 catches the mistake and in a flash Im hauled into a small office with a big Packard Bell computer screen from which they can probably search the FBI, CIA, IRS, IBM and AARP databases. I try not to look guilty and to answer confidently, but I cant help but stare dumbly at some questions. I remember my birthplace, guess at my social security number, fumble through my wallet for my auto insurance company, but Im stymied on all the financial questions. I dont know my MasterCard limit and cant even guess. Im guilty of not having an American Express card. I tell him $600 when he asks how much cash I have but when he asks me to prove it, my wallet only reveals $32 plus another $20 when I check the hidden compartment. I weakly mumble that my wife has more. He asks if I have an ATM card and I answer affirmatively. Im beginning to see where he is going with his questions. He must think Im trying to get into Canada to become a provincial pauper. So when he asks how much money I have in my checking account, I retort, "Twenty-thousand dollars." He looks up from the form he has been filling out and asks, "Do you have a bank statement to prove that." Does he think everyone travels around carrying their bank statements with them? I guess you never know when someone might ask you to prove how much is in your checking account. I offer a lame excuse about how my wife tracks expenses on her computer and we could bring it in and she could look it up, but it is clear I am on the losing end of this interrogation. And it goes downhill from here on. I dont have a job, Im unemployed, I just travel around the country forlornly, I have a half-grown beard.
Hes whipped me enough, so now its Sharis turn. From the waiting room, through the closed door I hear Shari laughing and carrying on. She must be better at this than I am. In a third of the time it took me to answer the questions, Shari is escorted from the room and quizzes me, "Wheres the extra $10,000?" I mutter something about how I have no idea how much money is in our checking account and Officer #2 stamps our entry form again and sends us on our way. Im reprieved! They didnt get me this time. Im free!
(Shari) The wind whips RTENT with its cold breath and whistles through the windows. Don and Jean return from the visitor center and determine we have seen all of Glacier National Park open to cars. We say goodbye to Sarita and Clyde, promising to meet them again at Johnson Lake, Alaska, and head toward Calgary. It is only 40 miles to the Canadian border where we stop for customs inspection. The lady in the booth asks Bert a few questions and then tells him to sit back so she can talk to both of us. She asks where we live, where we are going, how long we will be staying, do we have firearms, alcohol or pets with us. One more question "What kind of volunteering are you doing in Canada?" She gives us a yellow piece of paper and tells us to pull up along the side the road and go upstairs where an agent can ask some questions about this volunteering. I TOLD Bert he should have started to grow the beard after we got to Alaska. He looks so shady we have to get interrogated. We take our yellow slip up the stairs and into a drab room containing nine vinyl, metal-armed chairs arranged in a U, with a table holding outdated magazines in the corner. No one greats us but since I am a sign reader, I notice the one posted on the wall proclaiming "PLEASE BE SEATED. AN AGENT WILL BE WITH YOU SHORTLY" I also notice "DO NOT LEAVE WITHOUT PERMISSION" on the door we just entered. I feel like I am about to be put in jail. Finally an agent comes and wants to see our drivers license and passport. Of course we left them in RTENT, so must go back to get them. The agent looks at the passport and asks "Who is driving today?" I nod at Bert and he agrees, so I am told to wait outside. Bert is taken to another little room. After what seems like an eternity with not much to look at or read, I am called into the little room with the agent and Bert is told to wait outside. We are being separated so that our stories jive. Why in Canada? Where was I born? What is my birth date? Where do I work? (I feel a little foolish here admitting I do not work). Have I ever been arrested? Fingerprinted? In court? (Ah, Oh - I have to tell him about the time I had to go to court when I was 18 years old and let John S. drive my car. He gets in an accident and has no license. I get fined for letting him drive. I wonder if they want such a criminal in Canada.) Now some financial questions. How much money do I have with me? Do I have any more in the motorhome? Do I have charge cards? Can I see them? What is the limit on each one? Do I have an ATM card? How much money is in that account? Is it also a savings account because your husband said you have more money in it than you indicate? (Ah, Oh, what did Bert say? He does not even balance the check book so how does he even know what is in there? Maybe they want to make sure no riff raff unemployed women traveling with scruffy looking men get into Canada.) Is that all the money you have? Why are you going to Canada? How long will you be here? Finally he stamps the little yellow sheet of paper and tells me to go. I meet Bert and yet another agent initials the yellow sheet of paper and tells us to take it downstairs to the customs office. I want to know if we passed their test. Are we allowed into the country or not? Why all this third degree? We go downstairs and yet another agent looks at the initials on the yellow sheet of paper and says OK. OK what? I ask, "Is that it?" He responds with a short, "Yes." We are on our way and I wonder why they never charged us liquor tax for the extra bottles of booze we told them we had. I was not about to ask. We were ready to vamoose and we did. Three hours later we arrive at Pinecrest RV outside Calgary. This is the park we stayed in two years ago and got snowed in for two days. This time the precipitation is rain instead. Nevertheless, it is a pleasant place to relax and with the exchange rate of 0.68 to a dollar it is a bargain.
Next Day Table of Contents