Road trip: Austin, Texas to Fairbanks, Alaska - May '13 to August '13

August 17 - ...

Since this page is getting a bit long, I started a second page for this roadtrip.

Click here for part 2


Comments

  • The road from Alaska to Argentina totals 47.958 km (29,800 mi)Als dat zo is , dan is dat een roadtrip die kan tellen !!!! Vertroken in Austin, TX , naar Alaska , dan naar Buenas Aire , Argentina , dan terug naar omhoog ... Amai nog ni ... Ik had er zo graag bij willen zijn !!!!!

Write A Comment


 

August 11 - 16, 2013

Fairbanks

We left the Chena river on Sunday morning. This is a nice area to go camping when in the Fairbanks area; we unexpectedly spent 4 nights here.
We arrived in Fairbanks around lunch time and checked into the RV park for a week ("River's Edge Resort"), right on the Chena river.

In the afternoon, we visited the Alaska State Fair. Ever since we visited Alaska (for 10 days) back in 2009, we had wanted to be able to visit the State Fair here, to see the 'big' vegetables. Thanks to the long hours of daylight in summer, the vegetables grow very big here.
We thought we wouldn't be able to visit the State Fair on our long visit this year, as we thought it was held in Palmer near Anchorage. Lucky for us, Alaska is so big that the State Fair is held in 3 locations, and today (Sunday) was the last fair day in Fairbanks.
Well, we visited the State Fair and saw the big vegetables ... but were not that impressed. Good thing that we didn't go out of our way to be able to visit the State Fair, as the rest of the fair is pretty typical and similar to the Texas State Fair (lots of food stands, car dealers, ...).

Monday through Friday, I'll be working again for ESP, the company in Austin, TX.

Monday: after work, we visited "Pioneer Park" (previously known as "Alaskaland") in downtown Fairbanks, a park highlighting the history of the region with some old buildings, a museum, an old river steamboat, etc.

Tuesday after work, we went to the Creamer's field refuge. Here, a lot of birds spend the summer before migrating back south.

On Wednesday afternoon, we visited the local farmer's market (there were some huge vegetables for sale) and hiked a trail at the Creamer's field refuge.

An interesting quote I read: "We all have a limited amount of time on this Earth. You can dream all you want but sometimes you have to just get out there and do it." Definitely true in our cases.

On Thursday afternoon, we went to the movies and saw "Elysium" (we didn't like it).

We've been trying to see the Aurora Borealis (northern lights) but it's still too bright at night. Fairbanks is in an ideal location to see the aurora, but of course, it has to be dark at night. Even in mid August, it hardly gets dark. The sun sets around 10 PM but it doesn't go far below the horizon. We're hoping to see the aurora on this trip.
The University of Alaska here in Fairbanks has an "aurora forecast": click here. Tonight's (Friday) forecast is "active": now only if it'll get dark enough and if there are no clouds ...

Click here for pictures of our stay in Fairbanks

We've been doing some research regarding the "Pan-American highway": the highway system that runs from the Arctic Ocean in Alaska all the way south to Ushuaia, Argentina.
We've done the portion from Texas up to Alaska these past 3.5 months ... now it's time for the journey all the way down, through Central and South America, to Ushuaia?
The road from Alaska to Argentina totals 47.958 km (29,800 mi) ... quite a drive! Also, it's not really "1 road". For example, between Panama and Colombia, there's no road (the "Darien gap") and requires placing your car in a shipping container on a boat.
Someone described the Pan-American Highway as "a system so vast, so incomplete, and so incomprehensible it is not so much a road as it is the idea of Pan-Americanism itself".
It would be a great and unforgettable journey if we get a chance to do it; now or sometime in the future ... let's see. We'll definitely have to start learning Spanish on the drive down from Alaska! :-)


Comments

  • How many kilometers around the world? 7,901 miles or 12,715.43 km. Distance from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Fairbanks, Alaska USA. Flight duration time ... ( 13356.9 Kilometers / 7207.4 Nautical Miles ) Quickske , dit zijn gegevens voor Airplanes ....met de Auto is dat natuurlijk wat anders ...maar is het werkelijk zo'n verschil , Dit is mogelijk daar de wegen die gij zult volgen niet drekt recht naar Argentie gaan ....The road from Alaska to Argentina totals 47.958 km (29,800 mi) ... quite a drive! Also, it's not really "1 road". For example, between Panama and Colombia, there's no road (the "Darien gap") and requires placing your car in a shipping container on a boat. Someone described the Pan-American Highway as "a system so vast, so incomplete, and so incomprehensible it is not so much a road as it is the idea of Pan-Americanism itself".

Write A Comment


 

August 7 - 10, 2013

We filled up on gas at the Yukon River camp on Wednesday morning and drove the final 96 km (60 miles) of the Dalton highway. The road has stretches of pavement but mostly it's dirt road. We left the Dalton around lunchtime.

Conclusion: I'm guessing the road is easiest to drive in late summer when the potholes and worst stretches have been repaired after the long and harsh winter. If I were to drive it again, it would probably be without Airstream, but it is doable to take your camper until Coldfoot and that allows you to sleep and eat in the Airstream (as opposed to sleeping in Coldfoot or Wiseman which is rather pricy for the type of accommodations).
It's definitely worth the drive: very scenic.
We did have a problem with 1 tire on the Airstream: at "5 mile campground" I discovered a screw sticking in the tire but luckily the tire wasn't deflating.

We arrived in Fairbanks mid afternoon to repair the Airstream tire and we also got 4 new tires for the Jeep. We stopped by a car wash to wash away the mud from the car and Airstream.
We left Fairbanks in early evening and headed northeast into the Chena River recreation area. We placed the Airstream on a gravel bar next to the Chena river (at mile 37.7 of the Chena hot springs road): very nice and quiet.

Click here for pictures of our stay along the Chena river

Thursday: early morning, Sophie started barking. A moose came walking by our Airstream while we were sleeping!

Today, we spent the day relaxing at the river. We saw many large salmons in the river: some alive, some dead. They spawned here and died shortly after the 'job' was done. The ones that were still alive looked discolored and appeared very calm (or tired, which is more likely). Sophie could even walk in the shallow river next the swimming salmon! She was trying to smell them but of course couldn't smell them as they were underwater.

Wildlife on Thursday: moose

Friday: we hiked the trail to the 'Angel Rocks' this morning. These are granite rocks sticking out of the hills: it reminded us a but of a combination of Enchanted Rock (near Austin, TX) and City of Rocks (in New Mexico), but less impressive than either of those.
We had lunch along the river and in the afternoon visited Chena Hot Springs.

Back at the campsite, a river otter swam by as we were having dinner.

It still is weird to think about the climate here: in summer, it's nice and warm with temperatures around 25 C (80 F) in Fairbanks and wild flowers everywhere (typically 'fireweed' flowers); but around mid September the first snow falls; come October, the Chena river freezes until April or May; in the long winter months the sun barely makes it over the horizon with average temperatures around -25 C ... Life in Alaska is definitely one of extremes, which also explains why you don't find wildlife here in big numbers: the arctic climate doesn't support it by not creating enough food.

Wildlife on Friday: river otter

Saturday: on our morning walk at the river, we discovered raspberry plants so we collected some to eat: very tasty.
Sophie found another dead salmon in the river: again discolored and bruised up looking after it's long journey back from the ocean and then spawning.
In the afternoon we hiked a trail into the hills along the Chena river.

Write A Comment


 

August 3 - 6, 2013

The Dalton Highway.


Map part 14: Dalton highway, Alaska

On Saturday morning, we drove onto the Dalton highway.
The 'haul road' between Fairbanks and the Arctic Ocean at Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse. 667 Km (414 miles) of emptyness, headed straight up north towards the Arctic and the oil fields.

The road was built in 1974 to support the oil fields up in Prudhoe Bay and to maintain the pipeline. Along the highway the entire way is the oil pipeline, transporting crude oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez in the south (Valdez is Alaska's most southern harbor, free of ice year round).
The road is built for big trucks to transport (haul) supplies to the oil fields and isn't in the best condition. The main rule of the road is: big trucks have the right of way.
It's the only American road into the Arctic so we decided to go for it...

Click here for pictures of our trip on the Dalton highway

We entered the highway around 10 AM. The first 50 miles are very hilly, mainly gravel road.
At lunch time we arrived at the Yukon River camp, at mile 56. The Dalton crosses the 'mighty' Yukon river here.
The Yukon river is mighty indeed: a very wide and impressive river. We filled up on gas, ate lunch and visited the BLM visitor center with info on the Dalton highway: road condition, things to see and places to camp.
Just north of the Yukon river crossing, at mile 60, is the first campground and the only one with a dumpstation. We filled our RV with water and dumped our tanks.

In late afternoon, we visited 'Finger rock' next to the highway and a few miles further north, at mile 115, we arrived at the Arctic Circle. This is the 'line' where, north of here, the sun doesn't set in summertime for a day and doesn't appear in wintertime. Growing season is only mid June through mid August, after which the frost arrives. Temperatures plummet to minus 80 F here in Winter with hurricane force winds on the tundra landscape.

We camped on the Arctic Circle. The BLM has a small free camping area there with no services.

The first day of driving went well: the road is in decent condition (mostly dirt/gravel) with great views along the way. A lot of taiga initially with a lot of small trees ('taiga' is Russian for 'little sticks') and going over into tundra with permafrost.
Other than arctic ground squirrels, we didn't see large wildlife.

We left the campground on Sunday morning around 10 AM and headed north into the arctic. The road here is paved and contains many fixed potholes. Not sure how this stretch of the Dalton looks in June, right after the winter and before they have a chance to fix winter's damage.

About 2 hours of driving later, we arrived in Coldfoot: halfway between Fairbanks and the Arctic Ocean. Coldfoot is an old gold mining town and today it serves the truckers who work on the Dalton (food, motel, gas). We filled up on gas and placed the Airstream in the Marion Creek campground just north of Coldfoot, for 2 nights.
This BLM campground has the "furthest north public campground host". Very spacious, wooded and quiet.

In the afternoon we visited the visitor center which shows a movie about the Arctic; displays information about Gates of the Arctic national park (which meets the Dalton highway here) and the Arctic national wildlife refuge (which meets the Dalton highway about 70 miles north of here).

Coldfoot is located in the Brooks mountain range. Behind these mountains starts the flat land that goes to the Arctic Ocean. From Coldfoot, it's another 390 km (244 miles) north to Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay and the ocean. Along the way, there is no gas or any services (food, lodging).

The mountains are bare: because of the cold temperatures, the tree line is at 700 meters. The area is very nice: taiga and tundra.

Monday: today we drove further north and we left the Airstream behind at the campground. We headed into the Brooks mountains and up Atigun pass, the highest point of the Dalton highway. Definitely not easy to drive a big truck here; especially on the frozen road in winter.
As you go north, the scenery changes into the arctic tundra: low grasses; no trees or even bushes. Very nice with open views.

We drove from the brooks mountain range into the flat tundra, which continues 200 miles north until the ocean. We saw 3 caribou: they are a part of the herd that lives here which has 30.000 caribou!
Along the way we also saw countless arctic ground squirrels.

A joke that we heard whilst staying in Denali: people in Texas brag about how big Texas is. People in Alaska think Texas is small. An arctic ground squirrel sometimes stands on its hind legs, like a bear, to look around. Thus, Alaskan's call an arctic ground squirrel also a 'Texas grizzly'.

On the way back south to our campground, we visited the small town of Wiseman, a few kilometers north of Coldfoot: another gold mining town but definitely with more charm compared to Coldfoot.

This would definitely be a nice area to return to in winter; when the temperature can drop to minus 70; to see the polar bears, the muskox, the big caribou herd. Big problem however is that the sun doesn't rise for a long time in winter so we wouldn't see much ... Plus, the polar bears live more north of here, around Barrow (America's furthest northern town) and in remote areas of the Arctic national wildlife refuge; so it would take a small plane to be able to see them.

Wildlife on Monday: 3 caribou

We started the drive back down the Dalton highway on Tuesday. Since Deadhorse in the north doesn't provide access to the ocean unless you take a tour and since the 390 km drive up there (from Coldfoot) is looking at the same landscape (arctic tundra) as the area we visited around Galbraith lake, north of the Brooks range, we decided not to head further north.
Plus, there is not even 1 single gas station along the way so our Jeep might not be fuel efficient enough to get us there.

We filled up on gas at Coldfoot camp in the morning. Along the highway, we saw 2 moose standing and eating in Grayling lake.
Heading south, we passed the Arctic circle around lunch time and had lunch at Finger mountain. We spent some time after lunch picking blueberries.
In late afternoon we arrived at "5 mile camp", 100 km (60 miles) north of the start of the Dalton highway. This is an is an old camp from the seventies to house the workers who built the highway. It is called "5 mile camp" since it's located 5 miles north of the Yukon river crossing.
The unpaved highway here was wet so our car and Airstream are covered in mud.

It's a very nice and scenic area here, as usual in Alaska. Some animal tracks (moose) around the campground. Four other RV's are spending the night here.

Wildlife on Tuesday: 2 moose

Write A Comment


 

July 31 - August 2, 2013

We left Denali on Wednesday around 11 in the morning. Our 4 night stay at Riley Creek was the longest stay without water/sewer hookup this far, plus we each took a shower every day (to wash away the Deet against mosquitos).

We visited Healy around lunch time, a small town just north of the Denali park entrance. The movie "Into the wild" was recorded in Healy and the bus used in the movie is standing here. The movie is based on the true story of a young American guy who hiked into the wilderness here, to try and live a life without money and completely rely on his own skills to survive. Unfortunately for him, he died 4 months into the undertaking ...

About 60 km north (40 miles), we drove to the very small town of Anderson and parked our trailer for 2 nights at the campground on the river. Very quiet, (fairly) cheap and (hopefully) safe: three qualities you look for in a campground. A fourth quality - scenic - usually doesn't match up with the 'cheap' quality, but this campground is definitely in a nice environment: next to a cold, glacier fed river and surrounded by aspen trees. Plus, we're almost alone here so the two cats and Sophie can run around free.

We relaxed on Thursday by walking around the campground and the small town.
Sitting at the river makes you feel what it's like being in a remote bush town in Alaska where the only way in or out is by air or river boat.

The landscape here is remarkably flat: apparently the entire area, including Fairbanks, between the Alaska mountain range in the south and the Brooks mountain range in the north, is relatively flat (there's some hills but no mountains). Due to the mountains it's also the hottest area in Alaska in the summertime. Average summer days in Fairbanks are surprisingly warm: around 25 C (80 F).
The opposite is true in wintertime when this area is much colder than the region south of the Alaska mountain range (Anchorage, Seward, Homer, Valdez, ...) and the average temperature is around minus 20 C, combined with little or no sunlight for several months.


Map part 13: Anchorage to Fairbanks, Alaska

We left Anderson on Friday morning and visited the town of Nenana on the way up north. Nenana is a link to several bush towns (= no roads) thanks to the river that connects the towns.

It's famous for the 'Ice Classic' lottery were they place a tripod on the river ice, connected to a clock. Whoever guesses the date and time when the river ice will melt (which makes the tripod drop into the river, which trips the clock), wins a cash price. This year it took until May for the river ice to melt!

Click here for a few pictures of Nenana

We arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska's 2nd largest city, in early afternoon. Fairbanks has a population of 80.000. We filled up on supplies and headed north up the Elliott highway. We slept on BLM land close to the gold mining town of Livengood.

Write A Comment


 

July 24-30, 2013

Denali national park.

Click here for pictures of Denali National Park

On Wednesday morning, we drove into Denali national park.
We had made reservations to stay at the furthest RV campground in the park: Teklanika campground.
Denali national park & preserve is big: 19.000 square kilometers, compared to Belgium's 30.000 square kilometers. There's only 1 road in the park: the 144 km (90 mile) park road with a speed limit of 35 MPH. Only the first 15 miles can be driven by car. If you want to go further into the park, you need to take a bus tour. The national park service uses old school buses for the tours. A tour all the way to the end of the road (and back) takes 12 hours. There are no stores along the park road so you need to take your own food on the bus.
The only exception to the rule that a bus tour is needed to go past the 15 mile mark, is if you stay at the Teklanika campground. This campground is located at mile 29. There's a 3 night minimum stay and you are only allowed to drive your car into the campground when you check in, and drive out upon check out. During your stay, your car cannot move.
Since this campground allows you to stay inside the wilderness of the park, we decided to stay here (for the required 3 nights).

We drove into the park in the morning and drove slowly to our campground. We saw 2 caribou and a moose.
In the afternoon and evening, we hiked around the Teklanika river and on the park road. A very peaceful and scenic area.

Wildlife on Wednesday: 2 caribou, moose

Thursday morning we hiked around the campground and the Teklanika river.
In the afternoon we took a park bus and drove, through Sable pass, until Polychrome pass where we got off. Sable pass is prime grizzly bear habitat and we did see one in this area. Along the way we also saw a moose and several dall sheep.
Very nice scenery, especially in the Polychrome pass. Very open landscape with few trees.

In the evening, someone saw a grizzly bear walking around in the campground but unfortunately we missed it.

Wildlife on Thursday: moose, grizzly bear, dall sheep

Friday morning, we took an early park bus and drove to Toklat. Along the way we saw 2 grizzly bears, a moose with baby, many dall sheep and a caribou.

From Toklat we hiked towards Polychrome pass; got back on the bus and then got off again at Sable pass to hike through the bear area. Since there are so many bears here, hiking is only allowed on the park road. Unfortunately, we didn't see any more grizzlies today on our hike.

Wildlife on Friday: moose with baby, 2 grizzlies, dall sheep, caribou

Saturday: we left the Teklanika campground in the morning. On the drive back to park entrance area, we saw a caribou.

We checked into another campground in the national park; Riley Creek campground; for 4 nights. In the afternoon we went to the park visitor center and watched the movie 'Heartbeats of Denali'. In the evening, I went for a drive in the park around sunset and saw a moose and nice sunset on Mt. McKinley.

Wildlife on Saturday: caribou, moose

Sunday: this morning we drove the park road to the Savage river and saw a caribou. Afterwards, we visited the sled dog kennel. Park rangers use sled dogs to get around the big park in the long winters (October to May). At the kennel, the rangers explain why, how, etc., and demonstrate some dogs (Alaskan huskies) pulling a sled.

We drove around the park again around sunset and saw 2 caribou and a moose with baby.

Wildlife on Sunday: 3 caribou, moose with baby

Monday: we visited the Murie learning and science center in the park.
Interesting fact: even though Denali is several times bigger than Yellowstone and thus you would think Denali has a lot more wildlife, that's not the case due to the cold climate in Alaska and lack of year round food. If you add up all the animals of the 'big 5' living in Denali (=bears + wolves + caribou + dall sheep + moose), it matches the number of elk living in Yellowstone.
Looking at the size of Denali and the lower number of wildlife supported, it's amazing you see any animals here at all!

Tuesday: we hiked along the park road in the Savage river area and saw several caribou up close.
This was our last day in the park; tomorrow we head further north.

Wildlife on Tuesday: caribou

Write A Comment


 

July 22-23, 2013

We left the Kenai peninsula on Monday: Portage >>> Anchorage >>> Eagle River >>> Wasilla >>> Willow >>> Denali State park.

We filled up our propane tanks and stopped for groceries along the way.
The weather was sunny again and as we made our way up north on the Parks highway (which connects Anchorage and Fairbanks), we had amazing views of America's highest mountain: Denali ("the high one" in native Indian language) or Mount McKinley.

It is said, when you visit Denali national park, that there is only a 25-30% chance of seeing the mountain (as it's usually hidden in the clouds) but a 95% chance of seeing a bear. I'm glad that, even though we aren't in the national park yet, we already got great looks of Denali.

We slept at the Byers Lake campground in the state park.

On Tuesday, we continued our drive up north for 2 more hours and we reached the entrance to Denali National Park and Preserve. We bought our bus tickets and got our campground registrations done. Starting tomorrow, we'll be staying in the national park for 7 nights.
Tonight, we're sleeping in a commercial RV park just outside of the park.

Write A Comment


 

July 19-21, 2013

On Friday, we left the Russian river area and headed north to the Portage glacier. Here we camped for 3 nights at the Williwaw campground: beautifully located in between high mountains with glaciers and next to the Portage glacial lake. The campsites are very private. Highly recommended.

We almost had an accident on the way over: a mother moose with 2 calves came out of nowhere and ran across the road. I hit the brakes but I still don't know how we managed to avoid the mother moose!

The rest of the day we relaxed at the campground and walked the trail to Portage glacier lake (with some small ice chunks floating in the lake).

We visited the small town of Whittier on Saturday. To reach the small town; which is situated at the ocean (Prince William Sound); you need to drive through a long tunnel. The tunnel is a one way road so they only allow traffic in one direction at the same time (15 minute intervals). It's a left over from WWII when most of Whittier was developed as a an army base.

Whittier's environment is similar to Valdez and Seward: oceanfront with high snowy mountains, but Whittier might be the most dramatic of the three.

We spend the better portion of the day walking around the small town and harbor.
In the afternoon, we hiked the trail up to Horseshoe falls with beautiful views of the town, harbor and surroundings with several glaciers coming down the mountains.
We were definitely lucky to have mostly blue skies and warm temperatures during our visit. Like Seward and Valdez, it's cloudy and raining most of the time here as clouds get stuck between the mountains.

On Sunday morning we visited the Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage, at the end of the Turnagain arm. This center raises animals that can't live in the wild (for example orphaned animals) but instead of keeping them in cages, it holds them in large enclosures. We saw the difference in size between a 'regular' grizzly brown bear and a coastal brown bear: the coastal version is much bigger!

They are also raising a wood bison herd for reintroduction into the Alaskan wilds (2015). The wood bison; a species of bison that currently lives in Canada and which we saw on the Alaska highway around the Liard River hot springs; has been extinct in the USA for over 100 years.

We drove to Girdwood for lunch. The Seward highway follows the Turnagain arm of the ocean in southeast direction (starting in Anchorage towards Seward). There's one side road before reaching Portage: the 3 mile Alyeska highway heading west to the small ski town of Girdwood.
We visited the Crow Creek mine (tourist trap) and then walked the Crow Creek trail into the mountains to an old mine: beautiful mountain scenery and highly recommended. There was hardly a cloud in the sky and very hot, but worth the steep uphill trail. The mine itself is just some old rusty equipment leftovers, but the views getting there are magnificent.
This trail is part of the historic Iditarod trail between Seward and Nome.

Click here for pictures of the Kenai Peninsula

Write A Comment


 

July 17-18, 2013

We left Homer on Wednesday and headed north. We camped at the Russian River campground for 2 nights (nearby Cooper Landing where we stayed last week), in the hopes of seeing the salmon run here and potentially brown bears trying to catch them. In this river, sockeye (red) salmon return from the ocean to spawn.
The salmon are expected to arrive around July 20 so we're a little early. There's some salmon present but not in big numbers yet.
In the afternoon and evening, we hiked around the park but didn't see any bears; we did see a bald eagle.

We relaxed on Thursday at the campground and did more hiking at the Russian river. We saw some salmon and a bald eagle but no bears.
Warm weather, even at night. Almost no mosquitoes here, like the other places we stayed at on the Kenai peninsula.

Write A Comment


 

July 9-16, 2013

On Tuesday, after a job interview in Anchorage ("should I stay or should I go?" or better "should we stay here or keep going"), we headed south. We stopped by Potter's Marsh, just south of town. This was the last place we visited on our 10 day Alaska trip back in 2010 before heading to the airport to fly back to Austin, and since then, I had been dreaming about one day returning here by car and with plenty of available time. Done! (Next mission: becoming a photographer, with no more day job sitting behind a desk ... work in progress ...)

The area south of Anchorage is known as the "Kenai peninsula": surrounded by ocean on 3 sides and with high snowy mountains in the middle, including the Harding icefield containing 40 glaciers! The drive onto the peninsula is right next to the ocean and is (of course) very scenic.

I'll be working for the company in Austin again between July 10-16, so we needed a good campground with cell phone reception and Internet access. We camped in the Kenai Princess Lodge RV Park, in the small town of Cooper Landing.


Map part 12: Anchorage to the Kenai peninsula, Alaska

Click here for pictures of the Kenai peninsula

Wednesday: work 9 AM - 5 PM Austin time, which is 5 AM - 2 PM Alaska time.
After work, we hiked the 2.5 mile trail to the Russian River falls. Here we saw salmon jumping up the river and falls! Too bad there were no (brown or black) bears in the water!

Wildlife: salmon

Thursday: work. After work, we hiked trails in the campground area, to the Kenai river.
Sophie is always with us and usually off leash on trails. After reading a few news articles about wolves killing dogs on trails in the Anchorage area, that might change ...
Click here for article 1, article 2

On Friday after work, we drove the 19 mile scenic 'Skylak lake road', west of Cooper Landing: a dirt road that actually wasn't very scenic as most of the road went through forests so you didn't have a clear view of the surrounding mountains.

We visited the nearby town of Seward on Saturday. As usual, the drive from Cooper Landing to Seward was very scenic to say the least.
Seward is situated at a bay on the ocean: "Resurrection bay", which is a part of the "Kenai Fjords national park". A few years ago, on our first visit to Alaska, we took the cruise into the national park to see the wildlife, so we skipped the boat cruise on this trip (although it should definitely be on your list when you visit). We explored the town and walked around in the harbor. Around lunch time, the clouds cleared up and we got to see the beautiful mountain scenery, surrounding the bay and the town (very similar scenery as Valdez).
In early afternoon, we visited the Exit glacier (part of Kenai Fjords national park): very impressive.
A little further up the road, we drove to Bear lake, where the coho salmon were spawning in the river. Many salmon were swimming around and a few had already died in the water.

Wildlife: salmon

On Sunday, we decided to leave the Cooper Landing campground. Since I'll be working for the company in Austin for 2 more days on Monday-Tuesday, we decided to move south to the small fishing town of Homer ("the small drinking town with a fishing problem").
The drive from Cooper Landing takes you west and then south next to the ocean. This road is great as it provides amazing views of the snowy peaks of Lake Clark national park across the ocean (the 'Cook Inlet') towards the west.

Homer is located at the end of the road. We set up our Airstream in a campground in town, right at the beach, facing the snowy mountains in the east across the ocean.

We drove the skyline road in Homer with great views of Homer, the ocean and surrounding mountains.
We visited the most famous tourist attraction in Homer, the 'Homer spit'. This is a long piece of land that sticks out into the ocean for 7.2 km (4.5 miles). There's a road that goes all the way to the end. Along this road, you find restaurants, hotels, bars, the Homer harbor, etc.
A little too touristy for my taste.

Wildlife: 2 moose and 2 babies

Monday: work. In the morning, during work, I spotted a whale swimming in the ocean!
While doing research whether Anchorage would be a place where we would want to live, we found out the following:
- Positives: scenery (unbeatable), wildlife (unbeatable, with bears, wolves, moose ... even in the streets of the city occasionally!), long summer days (close to the arctic circle, the sun hardly sets at night in summertime)
- Negatives: location (very far to go anywhere; for example, flying anywhere means flying to Seattle for 4 hours and then connect to where you want to go; except for Hawaii which during Winter has a direct flight from Anchorage and Fairbanks ... for good reason), climate (almost 2 meters of snowfall per year, 5 months where it doesn't get above freezing; even during the day!), winter darkness (the sun hardly comes over the horizon during a few months of the winter and on the shortest days in December, the sun rises around 10:30 in the morning and sets around 3 PM in the afternoon).
Both Haichong and me love sunny days (Austin, Texas has over 300 sunny days per year; problem with Texas is that it gets unbearably hot). One of the reasons I don't like living in Belgium (other than the fact that it's too small and overcrowded) is the climate. Belgium has about 200 rainy days per year with about 160 days of cloudy / sunshine. Anchorage does even worse with only 120 days of sunshine per year!
Based on this, it looks like a location in the "lower 48" (as Alaskans call the United States south of Canada) is more suitable for us.

It's funny the mixed reactions you receive from Alaskans when you speak to them about living here. Especially how some of them say that the winter darkness isn't so bad when you have a 'happy light': this is a light fixture that, during the dark winter months, replaces the sun. It hangs in the house and some of them sit in front of this artificial light in their home, during the dark days of winter. It's supposed to make them feel less depressed and happier.

Wildlife: whale, bald eagle, seal

Tuesday after work, we visited the Pratt museum in Homer: interesting displays of local history and animals, including the disastrous consequences of the Exxon Valdez shipwreck. We also watched a documentary about the McNeil river sanctuary, an area across the cook inlet just north of katmai national park.

In Alaska there are a few different places where people go to see the big brown bears. This is where you get to see a bunch of bears fishing for salmon; waiting at the falls for salmon to jump into their mouth or bears fishing in the river. Brown bears that live in the Alaskan coastal areas are bigger than brown bears that live in land; the reason being that the coastal bears have easier access to high protein and fatty food, such as salmon. Coastal brown bears are referred to as brown bears; in land brown bears as grizzly bears.

The number one place to visit, to see brown bears, is the McNeil River Sanctuary; number two is Brooks Camp in Katmai national park; number three is probably a toss up between Hallo Bay (on the Katmai coast) and Kodiak island (where the biggest bears live). All places guarantee numerous bear sightings, at least if you go at the right time of year.
All locations are only accessible by small plane (or charter boat) and are pretty expensive, plus require advance reservations. McNeil is even so popular that there is a lottery in place to select the lucky few who get to go (applications are due by March for a given year; only 10 people per day or so are allowed to visit).
To see places like Brooks Camp, Hallo Bay or Kodiak, overnight stays also require advance reservations. However, you can do a day trip out of Homer but due to the length of the trip (2 hours one way), the cost and the possibility of bad weather, we decided this was not worth it. Maybe next time we'll make it to one of these places when we plan a trip far in advance.

After the museum, we walked along the shoreline.


Comments

Write A Comment


 

July 7-8, 2013

We left Palmer on Sunday morning. The city of Anchorage is surrounded in the east by the Chugach mountains and in the west and south by the ocean. I bet it's hard to beat the kind of scenery that Alaska has to offer.


Map part 11: Tok to Anchorage, Alaska

We camped in the Chugach state park in the mountains for 2 nights, on the Eagle River campground.

We hiked in the gigantic park (it covers about 2.000 square kilometers or 490,000 acres) and went shopping in the town of Eagle River, to stock up on food and supplies.
We met Roy Corral, a great writer/photographer (look up his work on Google) who also recently made the move from a house into an Airstream!

Wildlife: bald eagle

Monday: we hiked a trail into the state park in the morning and went to the Eagle River Nature Center in the afternoon, where we spotted moose and a bald eagle catching a fish in the river (of course I wasn't paying enough attention to take a picture! Live and learn).

Write A Comment


 

July 5-6, 2013

Friday: today is 2 months since we left Austin to go on our trip. Time goes fast no matter what you do, but it is definitely better spent traveling (with lots more memories) than sitting behind an office desk! I'm sure the reality will set in soon and remind us that at some point, we will have to get an office job again ... but until then, we're still traveling!

We had partly cloudy skies this morning with great views of the town of Valdez, the harbor, the ocean and surrounding snowy mountains. We again saw many seals and sea otters.

We left Valdez this morning (the beautiful drive reminded us of the Alps in Switzerland) and visited the Worthington glacier. The glacier is easily accessible of the highway. We walked to the glacier and had lunch here afterwards.

In the afternoon, we drove the Glenn highway between Glenallen in the east and Anchorage in the west. A very scenic highway with the Chugach mountains running east-west in the south. We camped (free!) at the Little Chiltina river.

Wildlife: sea otters, seals

On Saturday we continued our drive on the Glenn highway towards Anchorage. Very scenic with the Eureka mountain pass, Sheep Mountain and the Matanuska glacier (another easily accessible glacier). We drove into the Mat-Su valley and slept in Palmer.

Click here for pictures of scenery along the drive

Wildlife: moose

Write A Comment


 

July 3-4, 2013

On Wednesday, we headed south to the 'end of the road' and the town of Valdez.
The scenery here is as pretty as it gets: a beautiful ocean bay surrounded by snowy mountains. Only negative: lots of cloud cover and rain here as the clouds get stuck in between the mountains.
We camped for 2 nights at Dayville rd (ocean front), next to the Alyeska pipeline terminal. This is where the 800 mile long pipeline ends coming from Prudhoe Bay in northern Alaska. Valdez of course is also famous for the oil tanker disaster with the 'Exxon Valdez'.

While walking around the bay, we saw many seals, sea otters and bald eagles. We hiked to Solomon Gulch (but unfortunately, the salmon weren't running yet).

Wildlife: sea otters, seals, bald eagles

Click here for pictures of Valdez

Thursday, July 4, Independence Day. We visited Valdez town today with its harbor and fishing fleet. We bought fresh fish (salmon and rockfish).

In the afternoon, we drove up Mineral Creek road: a beautiful dirt road (4x4) in between cloudy mountains with snow next to road in some places. The views here reminded us of the cloud forest in Costa Rica (of course, Costa Rica doesn't have snow).

Wildlife: sea otters, seals, bald eagles

Write A Comment


 

July 1-2, 2013

Monday: Tetlin NWR >>> Tok.


Map part 10: Whitehorse, Canada to Tok, Alaska

The Alaska highway technically continues between Tok and Fairbanks, but we left the highway here and headed southwest via the Tok Cutoff highway >>> Glenallen >>> Copper Center >>> Chitina.
We were pleasantly surprised by the gas price in Tok: $3.99 per gallon. More normal prices again compared to Canada (where it usually was over $5 per gallon).

The Tok Cutoff highway is beautiful (even though it's in much worse shape than the US portion of the Alaska highway) with the high peaks of the Wrangell Mountains in front of you as you make your way south.
We drove through the small town of Copper Center where many people were salmon fishing in the Copper river. Some people fish with big nets and catch dozens of fish in a day. The subsistence law allows Alaskans to catch (a certain number of) fish to be used as their food.
Shortly after leaving Copper Center, we took the Edgerton highway to the small town of Chitina, at the edge of Wrangell St. Elias national park. We camped here for 2 nights on a campground next to the small airport (from which bush planes leave into the national park).

Wildlife: female moose with 2 babies

On Tuesday, we drove the McCarthy road into the national park. A 96 km (60 miles) dirt road. Many many people were fishing with fishing wheels in the Copper river and we spotted 4 bald eagles.

Click here for pictures of Wrangell St. Elias national park

The road ends in the very small town of McCarthy, in the heart of the national park. You park the car and walk into the small town via a bridge. We visited McCarthy and the nearby mining town of Kennecott (old copper mine). Very pretty scenery: Kennecott is situated right next to a glacier and the old mining buildings are still there (many are currently being renovated by the national park service).

Video of Kennecott:

Wildlife: bald eagles

Write A Comment


 

June 27-30, 2013

Thursday: the famous (or infamous) Alaska highway.

The Alaska highway (or the "Alcan": short for Alaska - Canada highway) starts in Dawson creek, British Columbia, Canada. It was built during World War II (1942-43) by the US army. With the threat of a Japanese invasion in Alaska, the US army needed a road to get to Alaska. It took them 8 months to build the connection between the existing Canadian roads; which reached Dawson Creek; and Alaska.

Since we left Austin, we drove 8.800 km (5,500 miles) to get here.
It's been my dream to drive to Alaska for a long time and now is as good a time as any!


Map part 8: Jasper National Park to Dawson Creek, Canada

We filled up the propane tanks in Farmington, just north of Dawson Creek. Today we drove the first portion: a beautiful, empty road 300 miles north into Fort Nelson. The road is surprisingly in good condition: it's a road with one lane going in each direction and no deep pot holes worth mentioning.
We slept at a campground west of Fort Nelson, at milepost 357: there's no electricity here, other than via the generator which runs between 5 AM and 9 PM. Lots of mosquitoes.

If you're planning on driving the Alcan, definitely buy the latest version of the "Milepost", the guidebook for the highway with a mile by mile description (parking pull-outs, gas station, campground, ...).

Wildlife: coyote, moose

Friday: continue the drive.
Starting west of Fort Nelson, the Alaska highway passes through the Rocky Mountains (west to east). We drove through Stone Mountain provincial park >>> Toad River >>> Muncho Lake provincial park >>> Liard Hot Springs provincial park >>> Watson Lake >>> Nugget City.

We filled up at Toad River: this was so far the most expensive gas along the Alaska highway at $1.69 per liter ($6.3 per gallon, compared to the 'usual' price of $3.50 per gallon in Texas).

We went to the hot springs in the Liard Hot Springs provincial park: the pools are basically sections of the river. Very interesting to sit in warm water in a river this far up north (with mosquitoes buzzing around your head).

In Watson Lake, we visited the "signpost forest": started in 1942, this is a small area next to the highway were people put up all kinds of signs, usually from their hometown. There are currently over 72.000 signs here!

We slept in Nugget City (which is named after gold mining: the Yukon province is famous for gold mining and the gold rush into the Klondike).

Wildlife: 1 stone sheep (similar to Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, but smaller and darker), herd of wood buffalo (similar to bison found in Yellowstone, but smaller), 1 black bear

Saturday: Nugget City >>> Teslin >>> Whitehorse.
We went to the Wal-Mart grocery store in Whitehorse. This is the biggest city of the Yukon, where 2/3 of the population in Yukon province lives.


Map part 9: Dawson Creek to Whitehorse, Canada

We camped west of Whitehorse in Otter Falls Cutoff. Very hot here and almost no darkness at night: we are getting close to the land of the "midnight sun" (and vice versa: the land of "no sun" in winter!).

Wildlife: 1 moose

Sunday: Otter Falls Cutoff >>> Haines Junction >>> Kluane NP >>> cross the border into Alaska / USA.

So far, the highway has been in very good condition. However, once you pass Kluane national park, the road goes from bad to worse. Lots of frost heaves (bouncy) and portions of gravel/dirt road. Once you pass into Alaska, the road is almost perfect!

Starting in Haines Junction, the Alaska highway follows Kluane NP and the Kluane mountain range. Beautiful snowy mountains with a big lake (Kluane Lake). This is the most scenic portion of the highway. Right next to the Kluane mountains is St. Elias mountain range, with Canada's highest mountain: mount Logan (19,544 ft or 5.959m). The St. Elias mountain range continues west into Alaska and into Wrangell St. Elias national park there.

In the Kluane national park area, we visited Silver City: a ghost town; the ruins of a small town that grew here during the Kluane gold rush of 1903.

Click here for pictures of the Alaska highway

Again, no problems crossing the border. We slept on a campground in the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, nicely located on a big lake. Again hot weather and long hours of sunshine so I went swimming in the lake.

Write A Comment


 

June 24-26, 2013

I got up early on Monday to watch the sunrise at Lake Louise.

Click here for pictures of Banff national park

We left the Lake Louise area and headed north into Jasper national park. This road is considered by many as the 'most beautiful road in the world': the Icefields Parkway, which runs from Banff national park into Jasper national park (between the small towns of Lake Louise and Jasper).

We Left Banff national park / Lake Louise - area around 9 AM. It surely is a beautiful mountain road, between high mountains with several glaciers and many lakes. It's around 240 km long and very quiet, with no towns or houses along the way, just the occasional campground or lodge.
We made several stops along the parkway to see glaciers and waterfalls. We spotted 1 black bear.

We arrived in the small town of Jasper in late afternoon and camped in the Whistlers campground, in the national park.


Map part 7: Kootenay National Park to Jasper National Park, Canada

In early evening, we drove around and visited 2 mountain lakes: Pyramid and Patricia lakes. We saw a herd of elk just outside of town. Also, on the campground, there were several elk walking around.

Wildlife: black bear, elk

On Tuesday, we explored some of the highlights of Jasper national park: Mount Edith cavell with the Angel glacier. An awe inspiring environment.

Video at the Angel glacier:

We drove to Maligne lake and canyon in the afternoon and saw a black bear and mule deer along the way.
At night again, there were several elk walking around on the campground. While I was taking pictures (too close to the elk most likely)one female elk charged me: scary! Again a reminder that buying a bigger telephoto lens might be a good idea, so that I can take pictures from further away. The cost of a bigger lens is worth less than getting killed or badly injured! (simply not taking the picture is not an option)

Click here for pictures of Jasper national park

We left Jasper national park on Wednesday and headed north (again, via the scenic rather than the fastest route): Hinton >>> Grande Cache >>> Grande Prairie >>> Dawson creek.
Beautiful, scenic, quiet ... through mountains, forests, almost no towns. For example, 2 hours of driving without any towns or houses between Hinton and Grande Cache. Once getting close to Grande Prairie, the scenery changes from a mountain into a flat prairie environment.
As a side note: even after having lived in Texas for the past 10 years, Grande Prairie is actually the first town where I saw a regular store selling oil derricks; must be big business up here.

We slept in Dawson Creek.

Wildlife: elk, mule deer

Write A Comment


 

June 22-23, 2013

We headed north on Saturday to the small town of Golden at the entrance to Yoho national park. We stopped by the visitor center to find out about the roads and saw pictures of the washed out road south of Banff and the flooding in Calgary. The road between Golden and the Lake Louise area in Banff national park had reopened.
We drove through Yoho national park into Banff national park. Along the way we saw a black bear eating flowers next to the road.

Video of the black bear:

We set up the Airstream in the "Lake Louise trailer campground". This area is frequented by grizzly bears and there is no tent camping allowed. Tents need to stay in a special campground which is surrounded by an electric fence for safety.

This afternoon, we visited Moraine lake: a beautiful mountain lake surrounded by high snowy peaks. We hiked the 6 km trail to the Consolation lakes. On our earlier visit in 2011, we couldn't do this trail since (back then) it required a minimum of 4 people to hike together (bear safety). Since it's only June now, the requirement wasn't there (even though it was still recommended) and we could do the trail, even with Sophie joining us! Big difference with national parks in the United States where dogs cannot go on any trail. Here in Canada, dogs can go with you on every trail ... much better.

Wildlife: black bear

We woke up early on Sunday morning to see the sunrise over Moraine lake. We walked the lakeside trail. On the way back to the campground, we visited Lake Louise.
We had hiked in the Lake Louise area back in 2010 so we pretty much skipped it on this trip. If you're in the area, the trail to the tea house high in the mountains is a must.

In the afternoon, we drove around in Banff national park and spotted 2 grizzly bears!

Wildlife: 2 grizzly bears

Write A Comment


 

June 20-21, 2013

When we woke up on Thursday at the Walmart parking lot, it looked like a campground: about 30 other RVs where parked there; most likely they arrived after we did, all coming from the Waterton Lakes campgrounds that closed last night.
The rain had been bad throughout the Canadian Rocky Mountains: the road between Banff national park and Calgary washed away (!) and most of the roads going in/out of the mountains were closed. The only option we had to go north, was a detour by taking Highway 3 to the west via Crowsnest pass and then north to the small town of Radium Hot Springs, at the entrance to Kootenay national park. We saw a herd of elk along the way.
We arrived in Radium in early afternoon and camped in Kootenay national park.


Map part 6: Glacier National Park, Montana to Kootenay National Park, Canada

When we walked around the campground, we saw a herd of male bighorn sheep.

The roads from Radium to Banff and Lake Louise into the mountains were closed (mud slides, debris on road), so we decided to wait it out ...

When we checked on Friday morning, the roads were still closed. Advice we received at the visitor center: go to the grocery store and buy food since no delivery trucks can get to town either.
We did laundry in town and walked 2 trails: one next to the Columbia river (which goes all the way down into Oregon and into the scenic Columbia river gorge next to Portland) and another trail with views into the valley. Radium is located in a narrow valley oriented north-south, surrounded by high snowy mountains. We saw many mule deer. The weather cleared up in late afternoon with some patches of blue sky and sun. Hopefully enough to dry up some water over the next days so that the roads will reopen.

Wildlife: mule deer

Write A Comment


 

June 17-19, 2013


Map part 5: Gardiner, Montana to Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier national park (Montana) is located right on the border with Canada. The park stretches into Canada: the Canadian portion is called Waterton Lakes national park and together (Waterton Lakes and Glacier) form an "international peace park".

This morning (Monday) we crossed the border into Canada. We were afraid the Airstream would get checked at the border (not that we're carrying anything illegal) but we passed the border without problems.

We setup the Airstream in Waterton Lakes national park for the next 3 nights at the Crandell campground. Waterton Lakes has 2 mountain roads into the park: the Akamina parkway (which goes to Cameron lake) and the Red Rock parkway (which passes by Crandell campground and goes to the Red Rock canyon). During our visit in 2010, we stayed at Crandell campground (in a tent at the time) and we loved it, so we wanted to come back here. The campground is located in a wooded area, next to a river and surrounded by mountains: very quiet and pretty.
After setting up the Airstream, we decided to drive around the Red Rock parkway in search of animals. It wasn't long until we found a black bear, sitting about 20 meters (20 yards) next to the road in the high grass; digging and eating the vegetation.

In the afternoon, we hiked the 4 km (2.5 mile) trail between the campground and Crandell lake, a glacial lake higher up in the mountains.

Back on the campground, we saw a big mule deer with antlers still covered in velvet. As we walked between the campground and the nearby river, we noticed something small and black in the distance, on our side of the river. Turns out it was a black bear heading our way (walking slowly)! We walked back to our campsite and watched the bear walk by. The national park rangers were on the look-out for him and chased him away.
Turns out it was a 'problem bear' as he was coming by the campground frequently in search of food. The ranger told us that they were going to try and catch the bear (in a bear trap), followed by releasing him whilst making a lot of noise, in order to scare the bear enough not to return to the campground. If that wouldn't do it, their last 'solution' would be to shoot the bear ...

We also met other Airstream owners in the campground; they live in Calgary. Canada does have a short camping season during which you can go camping. Big difference with Texas where you pretty much go camping year-round.

We went for a drive around sunset and walked the trail around the Red Rock canyon (35 meters deep).

Wildlife: black bear, mule deer

On Tuesday morning, several deer were walking around in the campground, along with the park rangers looking for the problem bear.

We drove the Akamina parkway today and encountered 4 female mountain sheep walking on the road.
At the end of the road, we visited Cameron lake and walked the lakeside trail. The lake is nicely situated against steep mountains, right on the border with the United States.
On the way back to the campground, we spotted bears in a tree! A mother black bear and her 2 cubs had climbed an aspen tree and were on their way down again. When I got out of the car to take pictures, the mother bear (while she was climbing down) looked at me and growled loudly. Time to buy a bigger (higher focal length) lens!

In the national park, there's a small town: Waterton townsite with the famous big lakes and the "Prince of Wales" hotel. We saw male mule deer and a fox in town.

Wildlife: black bear with cubs, mountain sheep

Rainy day on Wednesday. In the morning, I drove around the Red Rock parkway in search of wildlife and spotted a black bear with 2 cubs: very cute.
After eating lunch on the campground and getting ready to leave the Airstream, I first looked outside and saw black bear with big cub walking around in the campground! Good thing I checked before opening the door.

We headed to Waterton townsite; and spotted 1 black bear along the way; to see Cameron falls and hike next to upper Waterton lake. It had been raining all day at this point and it was still raining hard. When we returned from the hike, Cameron falls' water had turned brown (muddy)! On the drive back to the campground, there was water on the road.
At 9 pm: a knock on the Airstream door. A park ranger to inform us that the campground was closing and being evacuated because of high water and more rain on the forecast!
We hooked up the Airstream and drove to the campground at Waterton townsite, but due to rising lake and river levels, that campground had also closed before we got there!
With nowhere else to go, we left the national park and headed to the nearest town; Pincher Creek; where we slept on the Wal-Mart parking lot. (Wal-Mart, a big grocery store chain, allows RVs to camp free on their parking lots)

Wildlife: black bear with cubs, mule deer

Click here for pictures of Waterton Lakes national park

Write A Comment


 

June 15-16, 2013

On Saturday, we left gardiner. We decided to skip the Interstate (boring) to drive the scenic highway 89, which goes all the way up from Gardiner to Glacier national park. It's a very quiet road, through valleys and over mountain passes. Along the way we saw many pronghorn, some mule deer, elk and an owl sitting on a fence post.
We went shopping in Great Falls and stocked up on supplies, as it was going to be a while before we would pass by another 'big' town/city.
We arrived in Glacier national park in the evening and camped in the park at St Mary's lake.

Wildlife: pronghorn, elk, mule deer, owl.

On Sunday, we explored Glacier national park. The park is famous for its mountain scenery and the central mountain pass that cuts through the park: the "going to the sun road".
Unfortunately, due to heavy snow at the top, the entire pass hadn't opened yet (even though it was mid June!). We could drive the pass up to Logan pass and saw 2 mountain sheep along the way.
Even with half of the pass being open, it's worth it: the scenery is amazing. We hiked around in the snow at the top of the pass. The weather was great: warm and sunny.
We didn't mind too much as we were able to drive the entire pass on our first visit here in 2010.

Click here for pictures of Glacier national park

Write A Comment


 

June 2 - 14, 2013

Yellowstone national park.

My favorite park in the US: it has (almost) everything; from wildlife to mountains, the grand canyon, the hydrothermal features ... Even after 5 prior visits, it's still worth a visit. In this case, a lengthy visit of almost 2 weeks.

We left Grand Teton national park on Sunday, passing by Jackson Lake and driving the "Rockefeller Memorial Parkway" into Yellowstone. Along the way, we spotted bison, elk and pronghorns.
We parked the Airstream in Yellowstone, on the "Fishing Bridge" campground for 2 nights.
This is grizzly territory and thus only RV's are allowed to camp here: tents are not allowed. Upon arrival at the campground, the first piece of paper that needs your signature is a warning that you're going to be staying in bear country. The ranger told us that 2 grizzly bears were seen on the campground the night before! No campfires allowed or storing food outside of the RV, in order not to attract bears.

In the afternoon, we visited the "Grand Canyon of Yellowstone". Great views, beautiful colors in the canyon.

We spotted a bear right before driving into the canyon's parking area. A black bear who payed zero attention to us; he simply continued browsing the forest floor for food.
A little later, we saw a male elk (with antlers covered in velvet) laying next to the road.

On the way back, we visited some mud pots and fumaroles (hydrothermal features in short) and drove through Hayden Valley.

Video of some of the mudpots:

This valley is, together with Lamar Valley, one of the best places to spot wildlife in Yellowstone, especially during dusk and dawn. We got lucky and spotted a wolf with a puppy in her mouth! According to others who were watching, this was the third pup that she 'transported' to a new location in the forest. Each time she dropped of one of her pups, it took about 30 minutes for her to go back to her den and pick up the next one. We were satisfied with seeing the one pup and didn't wait for her to return with the 4th one (if there was a 4th one).

At night on the campground, we did laundry and walked around outside (but didn't spot any more bears). It's definitely warmer here compared to Jackson Hole.

Wildlife: bear, wolves, bison, elk, pronghorn

Monday: my birthday, 39 years young/old. My first birthday so far on which I got to see my favorite animal in the wild: the elk.

We visited some of Yellowstone's highlights today: Old Faithful geyser, Grand Prismatic Spring and the Midway geyser basin, Castle geyser and the Norris basin, ...

Video of Old Faithful erupting:

On one of the viewpoints into the Grand Canyon, we spotted an osprey sitting on a nest. Along the way, we saw lots of wildlife.

Wildlife: bison, elk, fox.

We left the Fishing Bridge campground on Tuesday morning for the drive up to the northeastern entrance of Yellowstone. We filled up the propane bottles as we were planning to do wild camping ("boondocking") for the next few nights.

The drive took us over Dunraven pass; with great views; and through Lamar Valley into Cooke City, a very small town just outside of the northeastern entrance to the park. Pretty high altitude up here and chilly.
We spotted a lot of wildlife again on the drive this morning: 3 (!) black bears, elk, bison, pronghorn and a fox.

Upon arrival in Cooke City, we noticed that most of the campgrounds were still closed. Because of the altitude here, the snow and low temperatures, campgrounds in this area only open mid June. After searching for a place to stay, we found "Lulu pass", a dirt road / mountain pass which is part of the National Forest and thus is open to camping (free!). We decided to stay here for the coming 3 nights.

The entire area here is flooded with warning signs: again, since this is an area in which grizzlies live, only RV's are allowed to camp.
I remembered reading about a bear attack a few years back here in Cooke City, in which one camper was dragged out of his tent and eaten. Click here for the article

In the afternoon, we drove up the Lulu pass dirt road. Great views of the surrounding mountain tops and lots of snow on the ground.

Early evening, during sunset, we drove into the Lamar valley (in the park) to look for wildlife. We saw a lot of bison, who seem to have taken over the valley. We also saw elk and mule deer.

At night, we had a campfire to fight the low temperatures.

Wildlife: 3 black bears, elk, bison, pronghorn, fox, mule deer

On Wednesday, we drove what is known as one of America's most scenic highways: the Beartooth highway, which goes from Cooke City (technically, it actually starts at the northeast entrance of Yellowstone, a few miles to the west of Cooke City) all the way to Red Lodge. Both Cooke City and Red Lodge are former mining towns.

The views are amazing: the road goes from the Absaroka mountain range (northern Yellowstone) into the Beartooth mountain range. Amazing viewpoints and scenic mountain lakes. Even the ski resort was open at the top of the mountain pass!
Along the pass, we spotted a fox.

During sunset, we drove back into the park into Lamar valley: lots of bison, pronghorn and mule deer.

On our evening walk with Sophie on Lulu pass (with Mimi, one of our cats who decided to follow us), we saw an elk, mule deer and a porcupine. The porcupine was surprisingly large: it was about the size of Sophie with long needles on its back. We got to see it up close as Sophie had the porcupine cornered in a rocky area!

Wildlife: fox, elk, bison, pronghorn, mule deer

On Thursday's morning walk on Lulu pass, Sophie found and chased a marmot. These little furry creatures, about the size of a cat, can be found all throughout the mountains.

We decided to drive the other scenic road in this area: the Chief Joseph highway, between Cooke City and Cody, the town named after Buffalo Bill Cody.
The highway itself is named after Chief Joseph, leader of the Nez Perce Indians who used the road to flee from the US cavalry in 1877.
Although less dramatic than the Beartooth highway, the highway still provides nice vista's.

Wildlife: mule deer

We left Cooke City on Friday morning and drove; via Yellowstone national park, through the Lamar valley and Mammoth Hot Springs; into the small town of Gardiner, Montana. The town is located at the northern entrance to Yellowstone and this is where the famous Roosevelt Arch is located: the oldest entrance to the national park.
We saw a black bear along the drive and many bison and pronghorn.


Map part 4: Flaming Gorge, Utah to Gardiner, Montana

We set up the Airstream in a campground ("Rocky Mountain RV") in Gardiner, with view of the Roosevelt Arch, and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the warm temperatures. It's definitely warmer here than in Cooke City.
I was also able to watch the Belgian national soccer team beat Serbia.

We'll be staying here in Gardiner until next Saturday, June 15, since this coming week, I'll be working remotely for the company in Austin again.

Wildlife: black bear, bison, pronghorn

Saturday. A few days ago, while we were visiting the Grand Prismatic spring (one of Yellowstone's highlights), we noticed people standing up on a hillside for a better view of the spring. Some quick internet research today and we figured out which trail they used. This morning, we drove down there and walked the trail and climbed the hill. Beautiful views of Grand Prismatic spring; much nicer than taking the boardwalk in the Midway geyser basin!

Grand Prismatic Spring video from the viewpoint:

While walking the trail, we had a close encounter with a bison who was resting right next to the trail!

On the drive back up to Gardiner, just before Mammoth Hot Springs, we saw 2 big grizzly bears! They were walking and running in an open area. Very exciting to watch and definitely an animal you don't want to run into while hiking a trail!

Wildlife: 2 grizzly bears, bison, elk

Today, Sunday, we visited the Mammoth Hot Springs area (in Yellowstone): a very beautiful hillside, made up of travertine, covered with hot springs.
This is also the area where the army was stationed; back in the late 1800s; to protect Yellowstone, before the national park service was formed. "Fort Yellowstone" is now used by the national park service and houses for example the main "Albright visitor center". Albright is the name of the first superintendent of Yellowstone national park.
Elk hang out in this area a lot. While watching some elk, Sophie was barking non-stop and one of the female elk decided to attack Sophie and me! She came running towards us and we had no choice but to run away from her (she followed us around a building)!
A little while later, as I was taking pictures of 2 elk laying down next to one of the old Fort Yellowstone houses, a park visitor came to close to them which made one of the elk charge him! Definitely best to keep your distance from wild animals...

In the afternoon, we drove the dirt road into the national forest next to Gardiner. After driving for about 7 km (5 miles), there's a few people living there in a very small town: Jardin. We walked a trail into the mountains here with nice views in the distance of Mammoth Hot Springs.

Wildlife: elk

Monday, after work, we explored the area around Gardiner and drove the "Old Yellowstone road": the original dirt road leading into the northern entrance of the national park. We saw 2 pronghorns with 2 babies.
Back in Gardiner, on the local high school's football field, we saw 3 elk with 2 babies (fawns).
As if that wasn't enough, on our evening walk with Sophie next to the campground, we spotted 5 more elk!

Wildlife: elk

Tuesday after work, it was still hot in Gardiner so we drove into the national park to higher elevations. We walked around Indian Creek and afterwards visited Yellowstone's main visitor center (Albright) in Mammoth Hot Springs. Very interesting as they have movies and an exhibition displaying the early history of the region and how it became the world's first national park back in 1872.
Many of the early explorer's names are now attractions or place names in the park or nearby area, such as Hayden valley (Hayden led the expedition into Yellowstone which convinced US congress to protect the area as a national park), Jackson Lake (in Grand Teton; Jackson was the photographer on the Hayden expedition), Moran junction (south of Yellowstone; Moran was the painter on the Hayden expedition), and so on.
We saw a female elk with 2 babies in the area.

Wildlife: elk

On Wednesday after work, we drove into the park and walked part of the "Blacktail plateau drive". We saw many elk.

Now that we have electric hookup and WiFi here on the campground, I've been busy adding pictures and videos to this blog. So far, the pictures and videos are updated and available above until Grand Teton.

Click here for pictures of Yellowstone National Park and surrounding area

Thursday after work we drove into the park and walked around in the Norris area. We saw several bison and elk.

Wildlife: elk, bison

On Friday after work, we drove to the Tower area of the park and drove the Blacktail Plateau drive, a dirt road. We saw a mama black bear and 2 cubs!

Wildlife: black bear and 2 cubs, elk, bison

Saturday: check-out from the campground as today we leave the Yellowstone area. We're heading up north towards Canada!


Comments

Write A Comment


 

May 28 - June 1, 2013

Grand Teton national park.

We left the Flaming Gorge on Tuesday and entered Wyoming to the north.
We visited "Fossil Bute national monument" before lunch. A long time ago, 50 million years to be precise, a lake covered this area and it has left behind an 18 inch layer of rock containing lots of fossils. Amazing how detailed! The visitor center gives you the opportunity to observe a national park scientist at work, cleaning the fossils.

In the afternoon, we drove north through the foothills and forests into Jackson Hole: the famous valley with Grand Teton national park. We parked the Airstream for 5 days on the "Gros Ventre" campground in the park.

Wildlife: a few bison (buffalo) in the national park

Today, Wednesday, we explored the national park. This is my 4th visit here and it is definitely one of my favorite national parks in the US. It was voted "best national park to see wildlife" and that title is well-deserved. Every day, we saw many wild animals, especially on the valley floor.
We drove the park road and stopped at the viewpoints. The Teton mountain range has no foothills and rises dramatically from the valley floor. Add to that the fact that it's a 'young' mountain range (very pointy looking) and you've got something worthy of stopping by for a visit.
We hiked the trail between String Lake and Jenny Lake; 2 mountain lakes.

We drove around in the park until sunset and saw many animals, for example, a herd of bison with several babies (calves), called "red dogs".

Wildlife: many elk, bison, pronghorn antelopes, 1 coyote, 1 moose

Thursday morning, I discovered an elk carcass on my morning walk with Sophie. The elk was most likely killed by a bear or wolves. The carcass was laying across the Gros Ventre river, about a 5 minute walk from the campground.
As I approached the carcass, a wolf (!) ran away when he saw me (luckily he didn't come running towards me). Shortly after, a coyote appeared to eat from carcass.

Videos of the carcass across the river and coyotes eating:

After observing the carcass for a while, I returned to the campground and saw a herd of pronghorns.

Early afternoon, we drove the 4x4 road next to the Snake river in the national park. We spotted a herd of elk, a herd of bison and a moose.

After returning to the campground, I went back to the elk carcass in hopes of seeing a bear of wolf. While sitting there (hidden away between the sagebrush), I observed 2 coyotes stopping by the carcass. Also interesting was that I saw a small herd of bison crossing the river a little downstream.

Wildlife: wolf, many elk, bison, pronghorn antelopes, 2 coyotes

I woke up early on Friday morning to look at the sunrise. Our first few days in the park had been pretty cold and cloudy. Today however was great: sunny and warm with clear views of the entire Teton range.
On my morning drive, I went to Mormons row: an old barn which lights up as the sun rises over the mountains, with the Teton range in the background.

After I returned to the campground and took Sophie for a walk, I noticed that the carcass had been moved overnight; a few meters (yards) to the right. The carcass is heavy; I wonder who moved it: a bear or wolves?

We continued our exploration of the park in the afternoon. We drove up Signal Mountain for great views. On our way down, we spotted a fox.

We paired up with a couple from India to hike the 10km (7 mile) trail to Lupine Meadows. They were worried to run into a bear and were looking for hiking partners (as a bear is less likely to attack a group of people).
Shortly after starting the hike, we heard from returning hikers that a bear was hanging out next to the trail higher up into the mountains. Unfortunately, by the time we reached the spot, the bear was nowhere to be seen ...

On the way down, we spotted a herd of elk. On the way back to the campground, in the small town of Moose, we spotted a female moose and her baby (how appropriate!).

Wildlife: elk, bison, pronghorns, coyote, moose

Blue skies and no cloud cover definitely make the temperature dip overnight at this altitude! It dropped down to minus 2 Celsius (28 F). The propane heater in the trailer blew so much that I had to get up (and go outside) in the middle of the night to switch the propane bottles!
I got up early again for sunrise on Saturday morning. While driving around and taking pictures, I spotted a male moose, a herd of bison with 2 calves and a herd of pronghorns.

We explored the national forest today, on the eastside of the Jackson Hole valley. We hiked a trail into the mountains with great views of the Teton range across the valley. Plus, we discovered another (eaten) elk carcass.

We also drove through the little town of Kelly, nearby our campground. Pretty pricy here: $7 million for an average looking house? The views of the Teton range and the fact that Kelly is in the middle of the "national elk refuge" are definitely contributing factors.

On the way back to the campground, we spotted a male moose and a herd of bison.

Click here for pictures of Grand Teton National Park

On my walk with Sophie, I went back to the carcass but didn't see any activity. I did find a beaver lodge, next to the Gros Ventre river. When I approached, the beaver ran out of its house and dove into the river right in front of us!

Wildlife: 2 moose, beaver, many bison, pronghorns

Write A Comment


 

May 26 - 27, 2013

We continued our journey up north on Sunday. We stopped for groceries in Vernal (where we didn't visit Dinosaur national monument, as we had visited this on earlier trips a few times). We camped in the national forest, a few hours north of Vernal, in the Ashley national forest at the "Flaming Gorge national recreation area".


Map part 3: Canyonlands, Utah to Flaming Gorge, Utah

I was expecting a dry, bare environment (similar to southern Wyoming, which is very close to here), but in fact, the area has a lot of (big) wildlife and big trees.
In the afternoon, we drove around the national forest on dirt roads: very scenic, especially the viewpoints into the flaming gorge: a 90 mile long canyon made up of fiery red rocks and with the Green river at the bottom.

Wildlife: mule deer

On Monday, we visited the "Sheep creek canyon" in the national forest: a very scenic canyon road that starts in the mountains and goes down to the valley. We stopped at the viewpoints and hiked around.

Wildlife: mule deer

Click here for pictures of Flaming Gorge

Write A Comment


 

May 25, 2013

On Saturday morning, we left the Needles area and headed north, passed Moab.
The landscape changes drastically north of Moab from the red rocks to a more normal mountain environment. We visited the small town of Helper, where the mountain pass starts which goes up to 2.700m (9,000 feet). Very nice, but especially the steep downhill part a bit scary with the Airstream pushing behind us.

We arrived at "Starvation state park" in late afternoon, a park which surrounds a reservoir (a lake created by a dam) with great views of the northern Utah mountain range in the Ashley national forest.

Wildlife: 1 mule deer in the mountain pass

Write A Comment


 

May 23 - 24, 2013

Thursday started with doing laundry in a laundromat in Bluff.


Map part 2: Santa Fe, New Mexico to Canyonlands, Utah

We hooked up the Airstream and headed north around lunch time.

In between Monticello and Moab, we turned left towards the "Needles" section of Canyonlands national park. We have visited Canyonlands a few times in the past, but always the more touristy "Island in the sky" section, closer to Moab. Canyonlands national park actually consists of 4 sections: Island in the sky, Needles, Maze and the (Colorado and Green) rivers themselves which divide the park in the 3 sections.

The Needles section of the park is more remote so we made sure we filled up the gas before we left civilization. (We later discovered that there is a private campground right outside the park that sells gas, the "Needles Outpost")
We set up the Airstream on BLM land at "Indian creek": a dirt road a few miles east of the national park entrance which leads to a very basic campground (read: no water or electricity). Bonus: very quiet and desolate. At least until a group of rowdy students decided to set up their tents next to our campsite (good thing a travel trailer is easily moved to another - quiet - site!).

The area here is typical of what you would expect being this close to Moab: red sandstone buttes and mesas.

Video of the campground and surrounding area:

We spent the rest of the day exploring the area on foot.

We visited the national park on Friday morning. The Needles district is famous for its rocks in the shape of ... needles.
We started our visit by driving the 4x4 road to the Colorado river overlook. The ranger at the entrance didn't think we could make it with our stock Jeep and he was right. The road was a mix of driving through sand (no problem) and rocks. The sandstone sections got worse and worse and after about 5.5 miles, we decided to park the Jeep next to the road and continue by hiking.
The overlook is worth it: the drive alone is nice enough, but the overlook provides a great view of the Colorado river as it makes its way through the Needles district down in the canyon.

We arrived back onto pavement around lunch time and we drove the (only) paved road through the park, with different viewpoints towards the needle rocks and an interesting one towards an arch shaped like a wooden shoe.

Click here for pictures of the Needles district of Canyonlands NP and surrounding area

The Needles district is mainly a backpackers park. The few 4x4 roads are not suited for a stock Jeep Commander unfortunately.

We returned to our Airstream in early afternoon and hiked around the area, with a lovely sunset and full moon rising over the red rocks.


Comments

Write A Comment


 

May 21 - 22, 2013

On Tuesday morning, we explored Bisti some more.

We headed northwest around lunch time towards Farmington > Shiprock (where we passed by the very unusual rock in the shape of a ship) > into Colorado for a few miles > into Utah, where we set up the Airstream on the Cottonwood RV campground in Bluff.
In the afternoon, we hiked to the San Juan river to cool down. The town is nicely situated; as the name implies; between high scenic bluffs. Altitude: 1.400 meters.

Only negative: lots of no-see-ums (gnats)!

Wednesday is roadtrip day.
We left the campground early in the morning and headed west to visit "Valley of the Gods": an area, similar looking to the more famous Monument Valley. Valley of the Gods is managed by the BLM, is free and not very well known it seems: there are not many visitors here. Although the dirt road might have something to do with that.

Video in Valley of the Gods:

We took about 2 hours to drive the 27 km (17 miles) dirt road which provides very nice views.

"Goosenecks state park" was next on the agenda, a few miles south of Valley of the Gods. Here, the San Juan river has carved out a gooseneck-shape path in the rocks. The viewpoint is high up and very impressive.

After lunch, we headed into the small town of Mexican Hat, appropriately named since a rock nearby resembles a Mexican hat!
We cooled off in the San Juan river which passes through town.

The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent at Monument Valley.
Even though the Indians are trying hard to squeeze every last dollar out of the tourists (as Monument Valley is located in an Indian reservation) and sometimes it feels like Disneyland with all the pickup trucks driving tourists around in the valley, it's still an impressive sight to see. It definitely has the 'wow' factor.
We drove the dirt road through the valley and visited the highlights. We stayed until 8:30 PM to see the sunset over the valley: very beautiful as the setting sun colors the rocks in a deep red.

Click here for pictures of Valley of the Gods, Gooseneck and Monument Valley


Comments

  • You have been visiting many of the places that I would have suggested. I may be too late to suggest Canyonlands, which has the most tolerable weather this time of year. I enjoyed the cozy, peaceful photo of the Airstream and campfire. Could it be that you are the same couple that my brother, Ed met a year or so ago, in the four corners area?

  • We stayed a few nights on BLM land outside the Needles district, I think 2 weeks ago. I'm updating the blog over the next few days. In the past, we visited the Island in the Sky section; very nice. I don't think we're the ones; we haven't stayed around four corners in our Airstream prior to this trip. Jorn

  • Good job finding Bisti and Valley of The Gods. I'm in northern NM.

  • The couple that my brother Ed met, didn't have an Airstream. He mentioned a very nice couple that he spent a little time with, and you matched the description.

Write A Comment


 

May 20, 2013

After the window fiasco driving into the park, on Monday morning we decided to try and take the other dirt road to leave the park, hoping it'd be better ...
The southern road is a little better, but it still takes forever to get to pavement when you're driving very slow with an RV. We managed to reach the paved roads again with no damage, after bouncing around for about 2 hours (30 km; 20 miles).

Click here for pictures of Chaco Canyon National Historic Park

Next stop: Bisti Wilderness, about 36 miles south of Farmington (the 'big' city in this region).
The Bisti Wilderness is BLM land so we camped free on the parking lot (no hook-ups or any facilities of course).

Bisti Badlands:

And a 360 degree view:

Even though I have visited this region many times, I had never heard of Bisti. Even the Lonely Planet guide book doesn't mention it.
Very surprising since this is a beautiful area. "Bisti" means "bad lands" in the local Indian Navajo language and it's definitely a good name: the wilderness is made up of colored hills and rocks in all shapes and sizes. Very unique.
There are no official trails in the park, so we climbed on rocks, walked into small slot canyons ... until sunset.

A quick video at sunset: the wind was blowing too hard in the microphone so I replaced the sound with some free music from YouTube:

At night, we noticed that we were all alone on the parking lot / campground. Very quiet and dark, with great views of the stars.

Click here for pictures of Bisti Badlands

Write A Comment


 

May 18 - 19, 2013

We got up early on Saturday to visit the canyon in Bandelier national monument.
The campground is high up and to reach the old Indian ruins, you need to descend into the canyon.

We walked the trail on the canyon floor and visited the main old buildings, dating back to around 1250 AC. The buildings are built right into the cliffs, somewhat similar to Mesa Verde. Many rooms are only accessible by climbing ladders. Very nice and peaceful, since we got up so early.

Back in 2002 when I was planning a trip from Belgium to the USA with my uncle, I saw a picture of Indian ruins only accessible by climbing high ladders. Since I have fear of heights, I was always wondering where these ruins were located. Over the years, I've been to many Indian ruins, but never found the 'high ladders'. Until now.
The "Alcove ruins" in Bandelier national monument are the ones: the ruins are located about 40 meters (140 feet) above the canyon floor and require the climbing of 4 ladders to be reached.
Both Haichong and me managed to climb up them; they were less scary than I had imagined.
The Alcove ruins themselves however aren't very impressive.

Click here for pictures of Bandelier National Monument

We packed up and left Bandelier around lunch time to head west over the mountain pass, via Jemez Springs onto the Colorado plateau. It's fairly flat here but the entire area is about 1.500 meters above sea level.

We took County Road 7950 towards "Chaco Culture national historic park".
The park ranger had warned us on the phone about the road condition, but we thought we'd try anyway. Well, she didn't lie. The road was horrible to drive with an RV: about 30 km (20 miles) of 'wash board' dirt road. Result: one of the windows on the Airstream broken. We fixed it temporarily by taping it with plastic and duct tape.
After an hour or 2 of bouncing around on the dirt road, we arrived in the national park and set up our Airstream on the campground (no hook-ups, wild camping).

We spent the rest of the day relaxing: the area here is very remote and quiet. Chaco canyon is a long, narrow canyon in between high canyon walls which looks similar to Canyon de Chelly (which isn't too far from here).

Wildlife May 18: 4 mule deer

I got up early on Sunday morning to take sunrise pictures of the Fajada Butte in the canyon. Very pretty and I listened to some coyotes howling as the sun came up over the canyon cliffs.

After Haichong got out of bed, we drove the 9 mile loop road in the canyon and visited all of the big Indian ruins (1250 AD).
Chaco used to be the ancient Rome of this area: 'all roads lead to Chaco'. The canyon here housed many big villages and an expansive road system has been found leading into the canyon (allowing for trade).
It's very impressive to visit the ruins: most of them are huge and are not built in or against the cliffs, like at Mesa Verde or Bandelier.>

If you visit the park, make sure to hike the trail to the Pueblo Alto: the trail starts at the canyon floor and via a narrow crack in the canyon wall, the trail goes steep upwards up to the canyon wall. Once you're there, you have a nice view of the canyon with Pueblo Bonito.

Video at Pueblo Bonito:

In the afternoon we relaxed on the campground and then hiked another trail up to the canyon wall with a nice view towards Fajada Butte.

As I heard there's an elk herd living in this area, we decided to drive around the canyon around sunset and we found 3 elk.

Wildlife May 19: 3 elk

Write A Comment


 

May 17, 2013

On Friday morning, we re-filled the propane gas at the campground (thanks to the very friendly campground employee Richard) and left Santa Fe.
About 30 minutes north of the city, we headed northwest into the mountains: via Los Alamos (where the atomic bomb was invented during WOII) to "Bandelier national monument", where we set up our Airstream to camp for the night. It's a very nice, wooded area high in the mountains.
The rest of the day was spent on relaxing and walking around the forests, where we saw a coyote.

Wildlife May 17: 1 coyote

Write A Comment


 

May 9 - May 16, 2013

Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Map part 1: Austin, Texas to Santa Fe, New Mexico

After arriving and setting up camp on Thursday, today Friday is my first day of working remotely. The WiFi is slow, but works most of the time. So far so good.

On Saturday, we headed back into the mountains on a day trip. We decided to visit the ski area, northeast of town. The road starts to climb in town and to reach the end only takes about 30 minutes. A great getaway during the hot summer months (to cool off) or winter months (winter sports) for local residents.
We walked around the ski area in the national forest and to our surprise, it started to snow! Apparently the rain in the city came down as snow in the mountains. Cold and very appropriate for the snow that was still left on the ground from winter.
After eating lunch close to the ski area (it was sunny and hot again: the weather changes here every 30 minutes it seems), we drove down the mountain pass again and visited the "Hyde Memorial state park". This state park is located halfway on the mountain and is great for mountain hiking. We hiked a trail to nice waterfalls and saw many mule deer.
On the way back into town, we passed by the famous hot springs of "10,000 Waves", which we visited on an earlier trip. These hot springs are nothing special as far as I'm concerned, even though they are listed in the book "1,000 places to see before you die". But then again, that book is another story: why some places (like Lake Tahoe) aren't included and others (like 10,000 Waves) are, remains a mystery.

Wildlife May 11: mule deer

We got up early on Sunday morning to take the short drive southwest to the Cochiti Indian reservation. This is the location of the "Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument". Unfortunately, Sophie couldn't join us as the monument is off limits to dogs (for whatever reason).
"Kasha-Katuwe" means "white cliffs" in the traditional local language. As the area isn't well-known or famous, we weren't expecting much. However, this place is definitely a must-see if you're in the area. The area is dotted with beautiful, white, cone-shaped rocks. Very unusual!

Upon entering the national monument area, we first drove the 4x4 route to the scenic overlook (we saw a coyote and a fox). Then, we drove back and walked the trail into the slot canyon: very beautiful. You're walking in between the cone-shaped rocks and through a slot canyon (very narrow in some locations, where there is hardly enough space for 1 adult) which reminded us of Antelope Canyon (near Page in Arizona).

Click here for pictures of Tent Rocks National Monuments

A quick video that I shot at the end of the trail:

After driving back to Santa Fe and eating lunch in the Airstream, we visited downtown Santa Fe in the afternoon.
Santa Fe is unlike any other city in the US: all of its houses and commercial buildings are built in the old "pueblo adobe" style. Apparently, about 100 years ago, the locals decided to write this into the building code in order to attract tourists.
Today, it looks nice but at the same time makes the city looks a bit bland, where every building is built in the same architectural style and is painted in more or less the same color. Even the local McDonalds and Home Depot have to follow suit!

We visited the old downtown area around the plaza where most of the tourists flock. Lots of museums, old churches (including the Loretto Chapel with the famous staircase) and lots of stores selling native Indian art.

Wildlife May 12: 1 coyote, 1 fox

Monday through Thursday, I'm working for ESP. 8 AM - 5 PM Central Time, which is 7 AM - 4 PM Mountain Time here in Santa Fe.
On Tuesday after work, we drove southwest just outside of the Santa Fe city limits. We visited the "La Cieneguilla Petroglyph Site". An area where many petroglyphs have been found on the rocks, placed by Indians living here around the 15th century. The site is freely accessible, it's on "BLM" land which means public land managed by the "Bureau of Land Management". The location of the petroglyphs isn't clearly marked so it takes some searching to find them, but we did. After hiking around the area, we barely made it back to our car when a rain shower hit. The climate in Santa Fe is kinda funny: sunny most of the day but when you look towards the high mountains northeast of town, you almost always see clouds hanging there. These clouds tend to roll across the city in late afternoon with a chance of rain showers.

Click here for pictures of Santa Fe and surrounding area


Comments

  • Quickske and Haichong , I follow you thanks to modern IT . I hope everything shall going wel ... Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover ... :-)

  • De regio van de White Cliffs lijkt ook wat op Bryce Canyon en de Navajo trail omgeving.

Write A Comment


 

May 7 - 9, 2013

We visited Roswell several times on earlier trips. It's a small town in the middle of a flat, dry area. Not much to see or do, other than visit some UFO related museums and stores, so we drove straight through this time. We headed north towards Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Early afternoon, we arrived in Santa Fe and headed east into the mountains of the "Santa Fe National Forest". We parked our Airstream on a national forest campground (free!) north of the small town of Pecos, next to the Pecos river, which looks like a mountain stream here (it starts a little north of here).

You definitely feel the altitude here: 2.100 meters (7,000 feet). The sun burns during the daytime but at night the temperature drops to around freezing. We walked around in the mountains in the evening and saw a male elk, several mule deer and some hummingbirds.
It's a very nice, quiet area. We're all alone on the campground and see no one other than the occasional fisherman who comes to try his luck in the river.

Wildlife May 7: 1 elk, 4 mule deer, several hummingbirds

We took it easy on Wednesday, taking long walks before and after lunch. A small town up the road (Tererro) has a hummingbird feeder hanging outside its General Store: many hummingbirds fly around here.
Very scenic area. Springtime hasn't arrived here yet at this higher elevation (even though it's May). Most trees have no leaves.

Wildlife May 8: herd of mule deer (about 10), hummingbirds

Thursday morning, we took another walk in the mountains and again saw several mule deer.
On the campground, a national forest ranger stopped by to release several fish in the river. About time someone did something, since I haven't seen any fisherman catch a single fish yet.

After lunch, we left the campground and drove into Santa Fe. I agreed to work part-time for my previous company ESP during the 10th-16th of the month. Tomorrow is the 10th, so I need a campground with WiFi access and a cellphone signal.
We checked into an RV campground along Cerillos road, one of the busy roads heading into downtown Santa Fe.

Click here for pictures

Wildlife May 9: 6 mule deer.

Write A Comment


 

May 6, 2013

Another day of driving today.
We left the state park around 9 AM and headed northwest. A few miles west of Lubbock, after passing through towns and counties with colorful names like 'Glasscock' and 'Coke', we drove out of Texas. Yes!

We ate lunch in the Airstream across the border in New Mexico and were visited by 2 pronghorn antilopes. The male was very curious (or agressive about us being there).

Early afternoon, we set up camp at "Bottomless Lakes state park", east of Roswell. The entire area here is similar to west Texas: dry and hot. It was a pleasant surprise to find the state park, with plenty of (cold) lakes and rivers! We relaxed the rest of the afternoon at the lake.

Click here for pictures

Wildlife May 6: 2 pronghorn antilopes


Comments

  • Quickske , Do you have a Gun ...it's necessary out there in the Wild..... :-)

Write A Comment


 

May 4 - 5, 2013, Start of our Roadtrip: Austin to the Arctic

Yesterday, Friday, was the final day of working at ESP (Emergency Service Partners). Scary. No more 'day job' (for the time being). Why would someone do such a crazy thing: quit your day job, sell your house, drive into the unknown?
Wanderlust!

Although I usually don't like quotes (psychobabble), my uncle Marc keeps sending me a good one: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you did not do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover". Easier said than done, but, we're trying.
After 10 years of living in Austin, Texas, We have decided to leave Austin and head up north.

We will try to keep this blog updated with our latest travel experiences, as long as we find a WiFi signal.
Pictures can be found here: http://vangophotos.zenfolio.com/austintothearctic

Today, Saturday May 4, we drove to San Antonio. We placed the final items in storage in Haichong's parent's garage, where we keep our furniture and some personal items in storage (until we find a new 'permanent' home).
At night, we took her parents and sister's family out to dinner, and then drove back to Austin (for the last time?).

Sunday morning, May 5: departure.

One Jeep Commander (2006), one Airstream travel trailer (1995), Jorn (1974), Haichong (1975), Sophie (dog, 2011), Rosie (cat, 2008), Mimi (cat, 2008).

Destination: anywhere but here (preferably a cooler mountain environment).

Since we came back late from San Antonio yesterday evening, we slept in and left the campground around 11 AM.

After we sold our home 3 weeks ago, we have already been living in our Airstream, on an RV campground in Lakeway, Texas (just west of Austin, Texas). It's amazing the people you meet on a campground: people from all over the US and Canada, most of them came south to escape the cold winter up north. Many of them are 'full-timers' (meaning they sold their home and now live & travel non-stop in their RV).

We drove about 4 hours today, through the Texas Hill Country until we reached the small city of San Angelo. Not much to do here. We setup our Airstream in the "San Angelo state park": a quiet park west of town with a very dry lake.
We stayed here a few times before (on different, shorter road trips), but to our surprise, had never noticed the prairie dog colony that lives here. Sophie had a blast chasing them and trying to dig them out of their holes (although we quickly stopped her).

Wildlife spotted on Sunday May 5: prairie dogs


Comments

  • Mooi verhaal en met een Airstream, heb er 3 gehad toen we in Texas een camping hadden, woon nu sinds 3 maanden in Spanje. Succes

Write A Comment


 

Want a copy of our pictures ?

Order your favorite pictures today !

Browse Pictures

To The Top