Sunday, September 30, 2007

Rainy Day

When we wake up in the morning we see that the snow has been inching its way down the mountains

Homework .......... at my age???

It is actually nice to have a quiet day once in a while. We do love to be moving and exploring but, when the weather says “take a break”, we listen. Some days we have been out early and back late. Not yesterday! Strong winds, which blew up dust storms out in the dry lake bed areas, were a precursor to a weather change which brought an “all-day” rain, sorely needed in the area. Today is back to sun, warmth and exploring.

Because we are traveling we are not immune from the requirements of “home life”; paying bills, washing clothes, etc. Yesterday was the day. Also, I have enrolled in a distance learning program in Viticulture from UC – Davis. The odd rainy day allows me to stay on top of that. Meanwhile, I think Brenda has memorized every word of “1000 Places to See Before You Die”. Rainy days have their place.

Tomorrow, we are heading to South Dakota on the way home.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Salt Lake City

A great view at lunch - The LDS temple (with spires) in the foreground constructed between 1853 - 1893 with the domed Tabernacle in the background (built in 1867). I suspect that the shiny metal roof is a modern embellishment

One of Brigham Young's 2 homes. Not too shabby for someone who just crossed half the continent in an Ox cart.

Since I left my camera at home, I had to grab this picture of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from the Internet. It's exactly what we saw.................. and heard!

Remember those smog inversions I mentioned a few days ago?

Salt Lake’s downtown is dominated by LDS church buildings, all with a unique and artful architecture, creating a homogeneous, open, airy city, surrounded by mountains ……… very “visual”. The Mormon history and their accomplishments since arriving in Utah are admirable and, much celebrated. I wouldn’t mind having the men’s “white shirt” franchise for Salt Lake City ….. everyone is in a white shirt!

We were fortunate to be in SLC on a Thursday as we were able to attend the Thursday concert of the 360 member Mormon Tabernacle Choir, along with the President and a delegation from the Czech Republic. We’ve seen the choir on TV and, heard their recordings but nothing could prepare us for seeing them live, in front of that booming organ, in what appeared to be the perfect acoustics of the Tabernacle. They sang both religious and secular music, stirring the audience with each song and, ended with a rousing Battle Hymn of the Republic. As you might imagine that got a long, standing ovation from “the red, white and blue set”! It WAS amazing. The concert was far too short. I foolishly thought that cameras would not be allowed into the Tabernacle and, left mine at home. Not only were cameras allowed but, people were walking back and forth all through the concert! Then there were the ubiquitous “backwards” baseball caps. Don’t get me started. I’m getting old!!!

Being in Utah during the Warren Jeffs trial and reading local newspaper articles on the case is interesting (to say the least)!! Not quite as much outrage as elsewhere.

Brigham Young’s two houses in SLC are both very large, ornate homes with almost dormitory looking wings to house his many wives and children. Wives with children and childless wives lived apart from each other within the homes. (My witty editorial comments have been censored!!!)

Ski towns without snow are just towns but, the drive up to Park City and Deer Valley was well worth the effort. There is a small amount of snow at the summits however the autumn foliage made the trip worthwhile. It won’t be long!!! Our ski-boarding waitress at lunch said that many of her friends have been climbing to the north facing valleys off the peaks to get in those first few runs in September. Oh to be young again!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Oregon Trail

One can almost visualize the Prairie Schooners rolling over this vast land

The 1882 LDS Meeting House, now presiding over a ghost town

Downtown Salt Lake City from outside our door

We were unaware how important Idaho was to the opening of the American West. Not only did Lewis and Clark transit Idaho on their quest for the western ocean; they crossed the Continental Divide in Idaho and headed “downhill” to the Pacific from here. Also, both the Oregon and California Trails passed through Idaho, splitting from each other at Fort Hall (now Pocatello, our Idaho location). Many Conestoga Wagons and Prairie Schooners passed through this very area on their way west. Those people were tough!!

Chesterfield was an early LDS (Later Day Saints – the Mormons) village, established in the area of Fort Hall (Pocatello) in the 1880’s. Today it is a ghost town. What is interesting to the current visitor is that the occupants lived in log cabins and simple wooden homes, with one or two “wealthy” merchants or church officials occupying brick homes. However, all of the church’s buildings, including a tithing office and a tithing grain elevator were grandly constructed of locally produced brick. The contrast in construction is striking!

The drive to Salt Lake City was uneventful. We are back in shorts and T-shirts; the pool is open and, we just might use it. After being in the crisp clean air of the mountains, it was a shock to see smog sitting in inversions in mountain valleys 60 miles outside of Salt Lake City. At one point it looked like we were coming to the end of the world as the scenery just disappeared into a veil of smog. Progress!!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Hello Winter - Goodbye Winter

Heading up into the Targhee Pass

I wonder if that "Let sleeping dogs lie" thing also applies to Wolves??

The Radio Shack in West Yellowstone also rents and sells Ski-Doos and associated equipment. In fact the majority of the store is taken up with large, new snowmobiles. When I asked if they carried Canon printer cartridges, the clerk greeted me with a knowing smile and replied, “What? In this town!!”. I took that as a no. However, I could have picked up a dandy snowmobile suit.

The weather in Yellowstone has consisted of warm, sunny days and cold nights, with the evening temperature dropping like a stone as soon as the sun is down, to just above freezing. Yesterday it rained and, by morning there was a light “skiff” of snow on everything. So, it’s time to head south into the land of computer printer cartridges and lower altitudes. The locals here all claim to love the winter but ........... only for the first six months!
It’s forecast to be in the mid to high 70’s F° in Salt Lake City consequently ………. let’s go there. We waited for the snow to melt and headed south to Pocatello, Idaho. We were no more than 15 minutes out of Yellowstone and only about 500 feet higher, heading through the Targhee Pass, when everything became covered in REAL snow. I think we are “getting out of Dodge” in the nick of time. We have booked a spot in Salt Lake City to leave the motorhome when we fly home for Thanksgiving. So, our next week will be about exploring southern Idaho and northern Utah.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yellowstone and Grand Teton

The "88" fires killed or consumed millions of trees

Finding the wildlife is easy..... look for the guys with the "spotter scopes". One couple, who shared their scope with us, had been watching a single Grizzly for 3 1/2 hours!!!

I think there is a Wyoming State law that requires one to visit "Old Faithful" if you enter Yellowstone

Geothermal activity is everywhere - in the hills; in the valleys; in the meadows. BTW that black spec is a lone Bison. Double click if you don't believe me!

Our first view of the Tetons through golden Cottonwood and Aspens

We finally added "Meeses" to the list

I am at a loss as to how to describe Yellowstone. It is a special place! It is classified as an active volcano although there have been no lava flows of any kind for 70,000 years and, the last eruption was 640,000 years ago. However, with a caldera measuring 50 miles by 35 miles, it has a huge area of geothermal activity including geysers, mudpots, fumaroles and hot springs. Lots of steam wherever you look! In 1988 several fires united to burn over 36% of the park’s 2,200,000 acres (about the size of Connecticut) leaving are eerie legacy of skeletal trees, most of which have not fallen in almost 20 years. Because it is such a high, dry environment (average altitude 8,000 ft), the wood does not rot quickly.

Oh…… and there are a few animals!! In one day we saw grizzly bears, black bears, rutting elk, pronghorn antelope, mule-deer, wolves, coyote, bison, bighorn sheep and a 40 year old eagles’s nest (the nest is 40……not the eagle). What …….. no moose yet?? There is rushing water everywhere although, like many places lately, water levels are dangerously low. We have been surprised at how much of the area is high mountain meadow and grassland but, now we know what attracts all the wildlife! Hide in the forests, graze in the grasslands ……. A perfect life! Also…… it’s mating season ……… Hubba hubba!

The town of Moose, Wyoming was so named for the abundance of ……….. (how many guesses will you need for this one?) …….. moose in the area therefore, on day 2 we had no difficulty filling our moose sighting quota. We again saw herds of elk, bison and pronghorns (the locals drop the “antelope” and just call them pronghorns ……. gotta be cool and in-the-know). We have never seen such abundant wildlife anywhere! The tour guides call it the Serengeti of North America. We damn near hit a red fox as it jumped in front of our car.

We also drove south of Yellowstone into Grand Teton National Park. There is not so much wildlife here except for the town of Moose, which is outside the southern park gate however, the beauty of the Tetons is all that is required. The highest peak, Grand Teton is majestic and, we got to see it just before the forecasted bad weather arrived and the clouds began to shroud it.

Thank you Ulysses S. Grant (not Teddy Roosevelt as many think) for having the foresight to designate this place as the first national park. It’s special!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Through Montana

As mountain climbs go, this one was easy!

Through the Gallatin Mountains

For my lawyer friends - The City Court in West Yellowstone

News flash …….. In an effort to keep readers fully informed of pivotal events in the west ……… Within 24 hours of its unveiling, Seattle’s bureaucracy has moved quickly to rename their new transit system. The system is now officially named the South Lake Union Streetcar. However, retailers cannot get enough “Ride the S.L.U.T.” T-shirts to keep them on their shelves. That horse is out of the barn!!

Montana is one big state! In fact geographically it is the 4’th largest state in the Union with the 44’th largest population. The residents number ..... 920,000 people and, over 3,000,000 cows. What if cows could vote? The drive to Bozeman started with numerous “up and down” runs through mountain passes in the Rockies but, quickly transformed into a “cruise control” drive through the rolling pastureland where all those cows live. After a quick overnight stop in Bozeman, we turned south to head for the community of West Yellowstone, Montana, smack on the border of Montana and Wyoming. Most of Yellowstone Park is located in Wyoming.

We have seen some spectacular scenery on this trip but, neither Brenda nor I wanted the drive from Bozeman to end. Climbing into the Gallatin Mountains, following the course of the swift Gallatin River all the way, we passed through deep mountain canyons and climbed into mountain meadows where the Aspen were providing their last golden show before winter and, the mountain meadows were ablaze in the colours of autumn. The route took us through Big Sky, a favourite ski hill from a past ski trip. A nearly cloudless sky silhouetted the skeletal remains of trees left from earlier forest fires on the hilltops, with a next generation of forest springing up at the base of their trunks. Lone fly fishermen were spaced along the river at discrete distances from each other, providing the only human input to the scene. It was a great drive and…….. we made it to West Yellowstone at an altitude of 6,666 feet. Now if only the Grizzlies and Big Horn Sheep will co-operate over the next few days.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Back in the USA

Did anyone know that the "pot-of-gold" at the end of the rainbow is an old RV?

The Columbia River below the Grand Coulee Dam

I missed this branch by 1/4 inch. It never touched the RV. Lucky!

The grain fields of northern Washington

There is "history" everywhere in Wallace (Double click to read the signs)

Crossing the border on Monday morning, south of Osoyoos BC, required over ½ hour to allow the Customs Inspector to search our motor-home for treacherous and evil substances such as chives, COOKED corn-on-the-cob, canned beef bullion, canned beef chili and other wicked items. Were I American, I would sleep well knowing that my government was protecting me from such terrible stuff. We could have had a radioactive “dirty bomb” in storage below, but they would have confiscated our chives!!!!!!!!!!

To close my wine whine about Okanagan (Okanogan south of the border) wines, we purchased a bottle of award winning California Chardonnay as soon as we crossed into the US. We tried it for dinner. It was as good as, or better than, any Chardonnay we sampled in the Okanagan. And…….. it was 4 bucks!!!! ($4.49 to be precise) A case of this stuff would be equivalent to the price of a bottle of good Okanagan Chardonnay. The Okanagan vintners are playing with us!!!

When we stopped in Grand Coulee, Washington to take pictures of the namesake dam, I parked on the side of a tree-lined street. Unbeknownst to me a low hanging branch was less than ¼ inch from taking off our large side awning. It’s great to be lucky!!!

Crossing northern Washington State was a surprise to both Brenda and me. The interior is starkly different from the coast. After crossing a few small mountain ranges through low passes, we drove for mile upon mile through grain fields stretching to the horizon and rolling, rocky grasslands reminiscent of Saskatchewan. Once into Idaho, we encountered low mountain ranges and entered “Silver Country” where many historic silver mines were founded. Some still flourish to this day. Last century over 1 billion ounces of silver were mined from the hills around Coeur d’Alene, Idaho (Core de Lane in American), the ancestral home of the Shoshoni and Nez Perce Indian nations and, the largest deposit of silver in the world. This century will see at least that much again taken from these hills. The town of Wallace, near where we are parked, focuses their historical presentations on silver and bordellos. We have been focusing on silver!!!

We’ve just been watching a Seattle TV news station and, I’ll bet anyone $10 that they will soon rename their new transit system, now the South Lake Union Trolley. What do you think?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

"Ridin' Inta Hell"

He's ridin' inta Hell

The wine is OK but the view is fantastic

Every building in Silver Star is painted with at least 5 different colours

As we were enjoying lunch and a glass of wine on the outdoor patio of a winery/bistro overlooking Lake Okanagan, a groom and his attendants arrived for a brief lunch before his “big day”. After quickly finishing their meal, the group prepared to leave when the groom, resplendent in cowboy boots, silver spurs and, a western motif suit, produced a saddled horse, mounted up and prepared to ride the 2 miles down the hill to a large marquee set up on the lakeshore in anticipation of his wedding. As the horse twisted to leave, the Best Man turned to the audience and proclaimed, “He’s ridin’ inta Hell”! A loud protest erupted immediately from the female diners on the patio. The men however, all seemed to think it was very funny. Go figure.

In the words of the old Buffalo Springfield song – “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear…”. The Okanagan Valley produces some good wines. We did not taste any great wines or, even any special wines. But, try telling that to the people around here. Admittedly all their good stuff seems to sell out in minutes after it is put in a bottle but, for the wine that is left, $30, $40 or $50 a bottle is NUTS. The wines here are selling for at least double what they’re worth anywhere else and, I mean ANYWHERE else that we have ever been; North America, South America, or Europe. I’m glad that we are still stocked with some really good $20 - $25 California wines. But…….. it’s a very beautiful wine producing area. Compromise, compromise….. And, watching kids swimming and playing on the beach when it is still 29°C at 5:30 P.M. is OK too.

Today, we got together with some more Brockville transplants. Dave and Pat, former Brockville neighbours of ours, left five years ago to settle in the Okanagan at Silver Star and, are living their dream lifestyle. Silver Star is located at an altitude of over 5,000 feet and is modeled on an 1880’s silver mining town. Dave claims that they will have snow before the end of September and, will be skiing before the end of October. The mountain has no snowmaking equipment and, based upon the marks people put on trees to indicate previous years’ snow levels, none is required. Every residence in town is “ski in – ski out” by by-law. Another by-law requires that each building be painted with a minimum of 5 different paint colours. Very unique. We had a great visit and a great lunch with Dave & Pat before returning to the valley floor.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Something New

What the hell ..... other people got here first!!!

Life in the Vineyard - I don't think anyone in this picture was picking anytime recently!!

Picking stopped for pictures

The famous "Burrowing Owl" Winery

So…….. when was the last time you toured a wine region in which you couldn’t buy wine? In our case……. today! It’s called the Okanagan Valley!! This area is so hot (Think Paris Hilton...... popular …. not temperature …… although the temperature is very warm .. ie: 80°F) that many wineries are sold out of their best wines. We went by one that was sold out ….. period! The 2005 Estate grown Shiraz at Burrowing Owl Winery sold out in 30 minutes after it was released on the internet. And, the good wines are expensive ( ie: $45 - $75 per bottle). Is this a good business model or what!! Prime grape growing land here is going for $100,000 - $120,000 per acre. In Niagara it’s $80,000 per acre. In Prince Edward County it’s $3,000 per acre. That is for raw land with the POTENTIAL to grow grapes. So buy a few acres, spend $15,000 per acre to prepare and plant, wait 3 years for your first meager crop and guess what……. you might end up with plonk!! Too bad!! Seriously though, the region is beautiful and, it is said that the grapes love the near desert climate. We, on the other hand, love the wine (that which can be had).

The Vendage (grape picking) started here yesterday for the earlier maturing grapes and will stretch for the better part of a month until the later grapes are all snug in a stainless steel vat somewhere. Grape growing regions always seem to come alive during the Vendage so, our timing was great!

We are always impressed when a sense of humour is exhibited on signs. As we drove through the mountains yesterday on the way to the Okanagan, we were passed by a septic tank pump-out truck emblazoned with “Yesterday’s Meals on Wheels”. We also passed a B&B for horses – “Bed and Bale”. So much more fun than the usual business signage!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Knick Knack Chilliwack


By mid morning the "early morning fog" lifted from "our beach"

The main town dock in Ucluelet ... the fog bank was at the harbour mouth all day!!!

Bob was very "crabby"

Every Vancouver Island resident we have spoken to has said the same thing, “This is the best weather we have had all summer”. OK by us! Every day has been bright warm and sunny without a cloud in the sky. We continued to explore the island, spending more time in Tofino, hiking through a temperate rain forest where only 5% of the available sunshine gets to the forest floor, and touring Ucluelet, which strikes us as being the next Whistler. Somebody is spending a ton of money to open up new residential development sites and……….. these babies won’t be cheap!!!! There is an overriding feeling on the island that you are in someplace special. And, you are!!

We wound up our island visit with a return to Nanaimo and a wonderful dinner at Bob & Karen’s palace overlooking the Strait of Georgia. I foolishly left taking pictures of their location until the light was too low and, the resulting photos do not do their location justice. It is spectacular …….. on a hillside overlooking the Strait and the mountains of the mainland on the other side. Walking distance to the left is a marina and, walking distance to the right is a Country Club. Good move!!!

Bob & Karen cooked up a feed of Dungeness Crabs which we thoroughly enjoyed along with an education on some wonderful Vancouver Island wines. The most “Burgundian” Canadian Pinot Noir I have ever had! They’re not suffering!!

After a relatively early start we made the 10:15 ferry from Duke’s Point to Tsawwassenn (just south of Vancouver). I am always a bit apprehensive driving onto these boats where the 18 wheelers are six inches to either side but, all went well. We made it to Chilliwack for the night and just vegged. Tomorrow………the Okanagan.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Surf's up dudes

Tofino - a beautiful little harbour

Brenda "and friend" after 3 hours on the water

"'s quiet............"

If you "double click" you will see a surfing dude zooming past the rocks

The decision not to drive the RV across Vancouver Island to its west coast may prove to be the best decision we will make on this trip. We were cautioned against bringing the RV and, heeded the advice. It’s a beautiful trip surrounded by snow capped peaks, groves of “old growth” Douglas Firs, crystal clear mountain lakes, interesting little towns like Port Alberni (on the coast …… yet in the middle of the island) and, even a grazing bear on the side of the road. We did see 18 wheelers on the highway but, those drivers were working! If you are not going up or down, you’re turning ……….. for 2 ½ hours. Lots of 20, 30 and 40 km/hour curves. My palms get sweaty descending an 8% grade. We went down an 18% grade!!!!! Never saw one of THEM before. Break out the defibrillator!!

Tofino is everything we were told it would be. It’s gorgeous, it’s nature at its finest, it’s quiet and, it’s one of Canada’s major surfing capitals. Our surfer-waiter at lunch came here for a weekend, from Montreal, four years ago and never left. He’s not unique! Lots of tree huggers, artisans, hippies, surfers and nature lovers. The coast is rugged and untamed however, the outstanding sand beaches stretch for mile upon mile, mostly uninhabited.

3 hours of bouncing and being blown around in a Zodiac yielded sightings of numerous Humpback Whales, Harbour Seals, Steller Sea-Lions and Harbour Porpoise. When we asked our boat-driver/guide how often the conditions were as perfect as we experienced (flat seas, hot sun, no haze/mist, and lots of sea life), he replied……..never. Lucky us! In Tofino, August is known as “Fogust” and, in January/February visitors are coming to storm –watch. Picking your time for whale watching is important.

Much of the accommodation in Tofino is the “full meal deal”; high-end lodging with excellent service and wonderful menus. Our room looks out over the beach, allowing the sunsets to stream in over the pounding surf. Getting Brenda back to the RV may require some rope!!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The East Coast

How many Canadians do YOU know with Palms in the front yard?

The view out our "back door"

These guys were VERY unfriendly............ wouldn't even say hello!

The area around Nanaimo B.C. is said to have the warmest winter weather in all of Canada and, should any proof of this fact be required, the numerous palm trees around town should do it! We have had an opportunity to explore the south east coast of Vancouver Island (what the locals call the Central Island) including the communities of Nanaimo, Chemainus, Duncan, Qualicum Beach and several others. The Strait of Georgia is almost always in view as the land climbs away from the water and, giant west coast cedars and other coniferous varieties lend majesty to the scene.

The west coast native tribes figure prominently in the flavour of the region. Duncan, for example, has totems carved by significant native craftsmen distributed all over town providing a singular uniqueness to the community. Chemainus has its historical murals and, there is always the “sea and sky”. Nature and the great outdoors are omnipresent on “the Island” and, greatly appreciated by the residents. In our current campground (it’s not an RV Park), overlooking a small bay with Nanaimo in the distance, we are viewed with distain by the “real campers” who are communing with nature in their tents. But……..I’ll bet they don’t have chilled martini glasses in their freezers! Hell……… I’ll bet they don’t even have freezers. We’ll take all the distain we can get ;-)

Bob and Karen, who moved here from Brockville a year ago, met us for dinner last evening. It was great to see them and get caught up. We now have no problem understanding why they moved. Today we switch island coasts for Tofino.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Tourists again!!!

In goes the new part.........the mechanic too!!!

The little green houseboat might be a bit cramped

The sun sets on a "cute little harbour ferry"

After learning more in the past two days than anyone needs to know in order to lead a happy and productive life, about diesel engines, their electronic control modules and the many sensors that make them work, we now have a certified working engine!! Yippee!!

We’re back into solid tourist status. Victoria is as beautiful in the late summer as it is in the spring. Just different flowers!! We hit the Royal British Columbia Museum, another of the picks in “1000 Places to See Before You Die”. This museum outlines the history and art of the west coast native tribes in a First People’s Gallery with magnificent examples of totems, masks, an entire longhouse and, thousands of examples of artwork. There is also an extensive west coast natural history gallery and, the traveling Titanic exhibit is here too.

Fisherman’s Wharf is an eclectic collection of houseboats sheltering an even more eclectic collection of residents. And………the world famous Barb’s Place (owned by a guy named Ian????) is here, serving the best fish and chips we have ever had. Their clams and mussels were pretty decent too!! It is hard to know if there are more boats or floatplanes entering and exiting Victoria Harbour however, it makes for interesting viewing while chomping on the mussels, clams and fish on the harbour edge.

We met some great diesel mechanics but …….tourism is our preferred activity.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

........... Go ............ (sort of) .......

Not the "Vancouver Island vista" we had planned for today

Jim (our new best friend) is under the rig trying to find the problem

Jim & Michelle drove us to the Ottawa airport; flights were great and; Victoria is just as beautiful as when we left. Our car was in the storage yard where the staff had kindly reconnected the battery and, we were off to get the RV. The repair of the door that I crunched last year was very well done. The RV dealership had the rig plugged in to top up all the batteries; we hooked up the car and headed for our first night’s stop. But, we stopped a bit sooner!!

As we were driving back into Victoria the “check engine” light came on in the RV and a loud, piercing buzzer immediately brought this fact to our attention. We pulled the rig over to the narrow shoulder on the side of the road. The passing 18 wheelers shook the RV from side to side as I secretly hoped they would shake whatever demons were in the engine into submission. Not today!! The check engine light magically went out but, as we carried on, the RV had no power at all, causing us to limp up a small hill like the Little Engine That Could. We struggled the short distance to our RV Park and called roadside assistance. So endeth day I.

Day II has also endeth and, it was spent in the company of a great bunch of diesel mechanics at the local Cummins Diesel shop. We were greeted bright and early this morning by the biggest damn tow truck I have ever seen. We now know that our problem is a faulty manifold pressure sensor (which are not native to Vancouver Island!!!). One is hopefully winging its way to us overnight from the “mainland” and, our new best friends will install it in the morning. That’s the plan! Thank God for warranties and road-side assistance.

In the “always look on the bright side” department, the oil change, after which we have been lusting all summer, was kindly worked into today’s schedule by the “Cummins boys”. Our engine may not run well but…….. it sure is clean!!