QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “If you can walk away from a landing, it’s a good landing. If you use the airplane the next day, it’s an outstanding landing.” ~Chuck Yeager
On Monday, May 29th, we had a relaxing start. Before leaving the park, we chatted with a couple of our neighbors. One young family was on their way to the Chicago area in an Air Force relocation. Another couple from New Hampshire was headed to Alaska to help a friend work on a golf course. I wouldn’t have thought golf was big in Alaska with such a short playing season. We headed out about 9:15 AM, and just a few miles up the road, the next in an ongoing series of irritations for this trip happened. I was looking up something on my phone, so not facing forward, when there was the loudest POW I’ve ever heard while driving/riding. It scared the heck out of me, and I counted my blessings when I looked up. The impact hole in the windshield was about 1-1/4″ across, and the swirls went out for 8″ or so, and it was right in front of my face! Thank God for sturdy inside windshield coating! You couldn’t even feel it there, but outside the glass was crushed and the hole, really deep. Needless to say, Mr. Wonderful’s (MW’s) mood was soured. Our first concern, after the initial “oh sh*t heart attack”, was that we were beyond the larger towns and in much less populated areas for the next several weeks. Will we be able to get a new windshield? Believe it or not, temperatures are expected to be in the mid-30s for the next few nights, and going below freezing with a little precipitation is not out of the realm of possibility. You know how that messes with cracked glass. Plus, that big blob could interfere with my picture taking! I jumped on the phone and found Service Glass, Ltd. in Fort Nelson, British Columbia, our next stop. They had the replacement in stock and an opening for Tuesday to install it. That, my friends, is God’s silver lining! Somewhat relieved, we made our first stop of the day just a couple of miles further at The Shepherd’s Inn, where we had a little breakfast. While there, we saw our New Hampshire neighbors pass by. Later as we continued north, we passed them in a rest area. We also passed through thousands of acres of recently burned forest. For a while there was a cool car following along behind us. At our gas stop, it pulled in, and I found out it was a 1928 Bugatti! The lady said they were the lead of a 4-car group headed to Alaska…two other Bugattis and a 1925 Bentley. What a neat way to make the trip, although it was pretty chilly for driving with the top down. Continuing north, we started seeing the Rocky Mountains again in the distance to the west. A bit further up the road, New Hampshire passed us for a second time when we stopped for a quick leg stretch. By the time we made it to the Triple G Hideaway in Fort Nelson, British Columbia, they were right in front of us. You can tell we have reached the point of fewer options, because there were three other RVs from our previous campground there, too. We find that most of the people now are just doing overnights in an effort to get to Alaska fast. We are enjoying our pace, though, and getting to explore a bit at each area. After setting up, I spent some time on the phone with one of the Boogers, then we had dinner at the campground restaurant (basic good food, plus a lot of ice cream flavors) before settling in to relax.
On Tuesday, our first stop was the Visitor Center to find out about local trails, then we spent a bit of time in the woods around the Demonstration Forest on the edge of Fort Nelson (which is named for Lord Nelson of the Battle of Trafalgar fame). Although we saw evidence of a large animal, we didn’t see anything more than a skittering squirrel here and there. There were lots of wildflowers, though. Two interesting ones: 1) A ground cover with a beautiful, white flower that reminded me a little of our dogwoods back home. It turned out to be Creeping Dogwood. 2) A shrubby plant with a crowning head of four-petal flowers. That, too, turned out to be a dogwood variety…Red Osier. It is considered an invasive species, but beautiful, nonetheless.
For lunch, we decided to check out Boston Pizza, a chain we had been seeing all over Canada. Their menu says “A Canadian company with an American name founded by a Greek sailor serving Italian food.” Who wouldn’t want to try that?? Everything was very good including a terrifically fresh salad, and MW’s pasta bowl was ridiculous! After lunch it was time to drop Brutus off at Service Glass Ltd, for a new windshield. When we set up the appointment, the guy said he had a loaner car for us to use, but it wasn’t there when we arrived. They didn’t really have a setup for waiting, and the campground was a couple of miles away, so the young lady said she would get someone to drop us off. She disappeared and returned a few minutes later, handing us keys to a company pickup truck. That thing had been through the wringer and looked like it was regularly driven down dirt roads with the windows down. It got us to our next stop, though, which we appreciated, although I did feel a little dusty for the rest of the day. I found a bit of humor in driving around town in a truck with a glass company logo on the side…with a broken windshield. LOL
We had been trying for weeks to find someone to notarize our signatures on a document to finish up the land deal back in Sneedville. That service in the U.S. costs about $10, if the notary charges at all. Requirements vary by state, and Tennessee currently lists adult, state resident, citizen or legal permanent resident, no prior revocations or law practice issues on theirs. Those interested fill out an application and then the Governor gives you an appointment for a 4-year term. There are no classes or exams involved. I can’t remember the requirement back in the day in Georgia, but my Mom and I were both notaries there at one time. It isn’t that simple in Canada, and today I found out a bit more. We had given up in the larger towns when everyone we called wanted to charge $150 per signature. That’s just crazy to look at a driver’s license and verify we are who we say we are! MW found out earlier at the Visitor Center that there was a notary in Fort Nelson, so we gave her a call, explained the situation, and…YAY…she could do it and would only charge $40 total. (Putting that “only” in there tells you how hard this has been.) We arrived at her 2-room office, where she worked with an assistant, and my curiosity was piqued. The sign outside just said “Notary Public”, but Olive McLean’s desk was COVERED in files, and there were stacks on the floor, too. What exactly was she working on? You know I asked. Turns out, notaries in Canada are not just verifying signatures, but are responsible for the content of the documents they sign and for ensuring that the signer is aware of what is happening with that document. In some provinces, lawyers are automatically notaries, but in others, they have to take an extra course to be a notary. British Columbia is totally different, though. Notaries here perform the same functions as our real estate attorneys back home, handling the closing and transfer of property. So that’s what all the paperwork is for!! She said that, when settlers were first coming west, notaries arrived before lawyers and basically performed all legal functions. When the first lawyers finally showed up, they tried to pull back those responsibilities. The notaries would have none of that, though, and won the battle. It is the only province in Canada where notaries handle property transfers. Hmmmm. You’d think that would make her the expensive one, wouldn’t you?! With that chore FINALLY complete, we popped in at the IGA for a few groceries, then headed back to Petunia. Later MW went to pick up the truck while I did a bit of writing.
Wednesday morning I got a birthday package and some other stuff ready to mail, and our first stop was Canada Post. Like in the U.S., this is a much more pleasant experience in a small town, and I made it out without issue. Next we headed back over to Boston Pizza as I wanted to try their baked wings…yum! Later we checked out the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum. This was a pretty cool place with a LOT of stuff from the area. They had a main museum building, a few buildings moved from other locations, a lot of old cars, and equipment, too. If you are a “look around at the flea market” kind of person, or someone who likes just looking at history and old stuff in general, it is your kind of place. Unfortunately, as I started writing this, I found that the pics I took are not here. There must have been a glitch somewhere, probably in my brain when I erased stuff early. Guess that means you’ll have to drive up the Alaska Highway and check it out yourself. Back at the campground, I browsed at the gift shop, took a few pics, then finished up the latest blog post.
Triple G Hideaway was a really nice RV park. Located on the north end of Fort Nelson, British Columbia, it is convenient to everywhere in the area and has a lot to offer onsite. There is a very good restaurant with a bar and patio (summer months). They also have an ice cream shop with both hard and soft varieties. Other amenities include a nice gift shop, a store with minimal RV/camping supplies, 24-hour laundry, clean showers, electric car charging station, a coin operated RV pressure wash station, and free wifi. The campground includes tent and RV sites, including back-ins and pull-throughs. There are a few 50-amp and plenty of 30-amp, all with water and sewer. The front part of the campground is treed and shady, and the back area is more open. As is typical along the Alaska Highway, most of the traffic is overnighters, so there is a lot of coming and going. Cell signals were fine there for both Verizon and AT&T, but still no over-the-air tv. We would stay again. For this stay in May 2023, we paid $109.00 for 3 nights.
It isn’t often that we go 200 miles and every moment of the drive is breathtaking, but that is how Thursday turned out. We headed north on the Alaska Highway a little before 8 AM on a crisp, clear morning. Just a few miles up the road, we got our first surprise, a black bear crossing the road. As we passed, we got a glimpse of her cub ahead of her at the tree line. A little later, we saw a couple of deer. One first, then another down a ways that stepped out like it was looking for its partner. We also saw something smaller right at the edge of the pavement, which we both initially thought was a beaver (same shaped head and a glimpse of a flat tail). However, a little later we saw another one and realized what it actually was…a porcupine! We ended up seeing TWO MORE of them, plus another black bear! About 50 miles up the road, we made our first stop at Tetsa Lodge, better known as the “Cinnamon Bun Centre of the Galactic Cluster” Why? To check out their buns, of course! Holy smokes!!! That thing was a big hunk of nirvana for cinnamon lovers! I had a few bites, then saved the rest for later. For lunch we stopped in at Toad River Lodge. The windows face out over the lake, and as soon as we sat down, MW said “Is that a horse over there?” Nope. It was a MOOSE!!! Finally one I could get a good pic of. A few minutes later a larger one was visible in the trees, so I think it was a mom and little one. Just before making this stop, I mentioned to MW that I thought it odd that we hadn’t seen any swans. My memories from our Alaska trip many years ago are filled with them. After lunch, we took a little walk down the edge of the lake, and lo and behold, a pair of trumpeter swans. One was in the water, and the other was on the nest. Awesome! One of the employees told us that they are very territorial, so you will never see two mating pairs on the same pond. He also said that, if a moose or anything else gets too close, they WILL run it off. Interesting! They have a small campground there in a peaceful location on a lake that I’m going to note for a future stay on our next Alaska adventure.
About an hour after getting back on the road, we finally caught sight of a herd of stone sheep. They were odd looking and several only had one horn. Gas stations are more spread apart here, so we top off at almost every one. That is why we stopped at the Northern Rockies Lodge. While MW pumped, I walked down to the lake to take a pic of their seaplanes. Our drive had begun in the rolling forest land around Fort Nelson, but we could immediately see snow-capped mountains in the distance. As the day progressed, we climbed further through the mountainous areas, with the jagged Rockies off to the west. The forest was very dense, and this has to be one of the most remote areas we’ve traversed. With the exception of a handful of lodge areas, there was NOTHING. No power lines, no cell towers, no houses, no gas stations…nothing but millions of acres of trees. Except for the road, signage associated with that, and the occasional fiber cable coming above ground to cross a creek, you honestly wouldn’t know that people passed through. (Apparently getting fiber to the remote areas is a priority.) It was totally amazing, plus the weather was just gorgeous and wonderfully cool. The road was much better than we expected, too. There were a couple of short, unpaved sections, but nothing too harsh. Anyone who thinks so needs to spend a little time in Louisiana or Montana. LOL.
SIDE NOTE: When I was young in the southeastern U.S., we had snow days. That meant that there was either white stuff on the ground or forecast during the school day, and they didn’t want the busses running or the kids out in it. Now we often hear during the winter that the weather is going to be too cold, so they are closing the school or starting on a delay. Honestly, the snow I understand, because southerners aren’t very well versed in driving in it, but I just don’t get the cold thing. About 15 years ago when we were in Alaska, I asked our bus driver if they had snow days. He laughed and said “we don’t close our schools here for bad weather”. In both talking to people and reading stuff, I found out a little about the schools in this remote part of British Columbia and thought I’d share. Students come from as far away as 50 miles, and get to school on foot and via bus, horseback, snowmobile, ATV, car, and AIRPLANE! On the school’s website, the bus cancellation section says that there may be occasions when it is necessary to shut down bussing, but the school remains open. What causes that? A temperature or wind chill factor at or below -40C (which is also -40F). However, they will check the temp a second time at 8AM, and if it is above -40 then, they will run an hour late. If they still aren’t able to make that run, they will check again later to see if they can go ahead with the kindergarten run after lunch. You guessed it…above -40 and those babies are going to school! So apparently this is where all of those old people live who talk about walking to school 20 miles uphill each way in 12 feet of snow blindfolded.
By about 2 PM, we arrived at Liard Hot Springs Lodge. We checked in, seeing a “boil water” notice at the counter. No worries. Do you have a dump station? “Yes, it is $15 extra.” What?? At the site, we found that the 120v plug was not operational. Okay, we can deal with that. After setting up, we walked back up to the office to find out about the showers and laundry, a bit concerned that the building marked as such was taped off and looked like it was sorely neglected. “No, we don’t have showers or a laundry. That building is in transit.” What?? Having specifically looked at laundry options for every Friday stay, I was a bit irritated. Finally, I asked about wifi. “We have it free for lodge guests, but RV guests have to pay $6 PER DAY for it.” Really? Although we had already paid for 4 nights, I asked if we could get a refund on three. Thankfully, she said yes. Now to figure out if we had somewhere else to go. I paid for wifi so that we could check out the next RV place up the road. It would barely load a site, and would not do reservations or allow my internet phone call. I mentioned to one of the employees that the router might need to be recycled. Her response was “yeah, there are about 400 people on it, so it’s really slow.” So, you just charged me for internet that you knew was going to barely work. Now I was completely ticked off. I worked hard to keep my tongue, though, which was a mighty struggle. We decided to drive the 30 miles to the next park to see if they had availability for the weekend. A little ways up the road, our irritation at having to make the drive dissipated…we passed yet another black bear and big signs to keep an eye out for wood bison. Oh, and there was another porcupine right at the edge of the road. A few miles further we saw a herd of wood bison grazing by the road. They are a subspecies of the American bison and live in northwest Canada and Alaska. Larger and heavier than their plains cousins, with large males reaching 2,600 lbs and 6.69′ at the withers. Although they look lumbering and slow, these great beasts can swim well and run up to 33 mph. They can also get up surprisingly fast from a resting position. Although young bulls are with the herd year round, large ones are more solitary except during mating season. These were part of a herd that stays pretty much right along the Alaska Highway, grazing in the easement. Finally, just before Coal River, we saw the first grizzly bear of this trip! (Sadly, no pic of him. I’ll get you one, though!) I think I’m going to have to start keeping a wildlife tally!! At the lodge, Diane was wonderful and booked us a full-hookup site. They were having hot water issues, but a laundry was available, so I can work with that.
On the way back we saw a really large black bear, and the same herd of wood bison. Remember that stuff about getting up fast and running? As we came around the curve, there was a guy standing maybe 30′ or so away from the closest bison in a herd that included females and babies, one particularly small. He had parked his motorcycle behind him and walked closer, leaving no distance and absolutely nowhere to go if one of those bison took offense! While bison aren’t particularly aggressive, during rut or when there are babies present makes them much more leery. I’m filing that under “Stupid Human Tricks”. We might see that guy in the news someday…Tourist Killed By (insert dangerous animal name here)! Before making it back to Petunia, we saw yet another mother/cub black bear combo. Wow! MW said it felt a little like we were in one of those safari parks I enjoy riding through. Of course, if one of the bears put his head through the window for food, I would have a heart attack. Having resolved our issues, we were ready to put our feet up and relax.
SIDE NOTE: Saw a news clip on my feed that was interesting. Apparently a black bear was roaming around Salem, Missouri, so the police put a notice on their Facebook page reminding residents that, should they encounter a bear…do not try and feed or interact with the bear. Thank you!” Almost as a post script, they added “Please do not wrestle the bear if you come in contact. Bear wrestling is illegal in the state of Missouri per statute…” What? As someone who has recently seen quite a few bears, I can honestly say wrestling one of them never even crossed my mind. What kind of person thinks that way? Hmmmm. If MW suddenly jumps out to wrestle one, you can bet I’ll get pics for you, though!
You already know that I was not impressed with Liard Hot Springs Lodge. I’m not certain who we talked to when the reservation was made, but I absolutely know we confirmed a laundry and bathhouse. (A few days later we talked with a couple who said they, too, were told there was a laundry and bathhouse when they booked, so I’m not crazy. Well, I am crazy, but not wrong about this.) The manager’s brusque tone and attitude when I asked about it was enough to send me away. From the road, you get a view of a nice, log lodge and store in a separate cabin. Behind that, though, everything is rough-looking and seems to be falling apart and there was a lot of junk sitting around. The restaurant got regular traffic, and the store was said to have snacks, camping gear, and basic vehicle maintenance supplies, as well as gas and diesel. (We didn’t go in there or eat.) The lodge has 12 rooms, and there are 4 off-the-grid cabins. The campground offers 33 fairly level, 30-amp, pull-through sites, 13 small 15-amp back-in sites, and 9 grass tent sites. Although they note “public washrooms” in the campground section of their website, the only bathrooms are in the lodge building out front and have toilets and sinks only. The wifi cannot be considered reliable. There was no phone service, which is typical on this part of the Alaska Highway, and of course, no over-the-air tv. We would definitely NOT stay here again, although if you are just pulling in to rest and head out again in the morning, it will work. For this stay in June 2023, we paid $27.35 for 1 night.
Friday morning we headed out about 10 AM to go check out Liard River Hot Springs Park across the street. There was a line to get into the campground, and we weren’t sure we knew where to go, so we headed down the road a ways looking for a different entrance. Just before the river, we pulled into the bridge overlook to check out the view. There was a tiny house in the edge of the woods that looked about 100 years old with a small barn and another old foundation. As we rode slowly past, I was thinking about what it must have been like to live on that bluff overlooking that river that long ago. Then I caught a glimpse of a giant face looking back at me. “Stop! Back up!” Sure enough, a HUGE bull wood bison was grazing in a grassy area just beyond the barn just 15′ or so away. At that point, we decided that looking at the bridge wasn’t as important as staying in the big, steel truck. As we backed into the clearing to turn around, we got a better look at the big guy. Wow! As I was taking a pic, I whistled to get him to lift his head from grazing. MW told me to quit trying to tick him off. I was pretty sure we could outrun that big guy in Brutus, but if he did catch up with us and put a dent in it, wouldn’t that be a GREAT story to tell back home??!! MW was not amused.
We headed back to the park entrance, passing yet another large black bear about 1/4 mile short. I’m telling you guys, this place is covered up with them! At the entry gate, we were given directions and bought a day pass. By then it was time to get out of our site at the campground, so we took care of that first, then parked Petunia across the street and walked over. You know I checked down the way, too, making sure our bear friend wasn’t any closer. The campground doesn’t have hookups and fills up fast, with some reservable sites and other first come, first served. It, plus the day use parking, and employee quarters are all surrounded by an 8′ high, electrified fence to keep out bears, bison, moose, and any other large wildlife. It doesn’t extend out to the hot springs, though, so you are pretty much on your own there. The boardwalk is about a mile round trip, and there are lots of wildflowers along the way.
The hot springs and surrounding environment are pretty cool. While they aren’t totally sure what is happening, scientists believe that water seeps down through the rock layers and is then heated by gases, increasing pressure. The pressure pushes the water back up, where it finds an outlet above Hanging Gardens. Along the way it strips calcium carbonate and other minerals from the rocks. Near the outlet, the water is a very hot 125 degrees, and is just about 98 in the Alpha Pool, where everyone comes to soak. Below that pool, the warm water drains into a swamp, which is filled with lake chub and lots of vegetation you won’t see anywhere else up north like chara. Although we didn’t see anything but fish, birds, and squirrels, it isn’t uncommon to see wildlife there, attracted to the warm water and things that grow around it.
After enjoying the walk, we headed back to Brutus. On the way, there was a raven having a fit as they emptied the trash dumpster. I used to think that ravens and crows were very similar, but ravens are much larger, about the size of a hawk. They also have more of a croak and scream, instead of the caw we are used to in crows. On the short drive up to the Coal River Services campground we got to see two more black bears! After getting set up, we had bison burgers in the cafe, then I took care of a little work and writing. Later the laundry was calling, but it was a pretty laid back day. One thing I haven’t mentioned is daylight hours, so I’ve included the graph below.
Saturday was also pretty quiet. I spent the morning finishing up the laundry, and we walked over to the cafe for breakfast. Later we took a ride to check out Whirlpool Canyon a few miles north, which was pretty cool. That would be some great water for kayaking, but you’d have to be a professional! On the way back, we did see another black bear eating something along the roadway. Back at the campground, I did some writing, and visited with a couple of people passing through. Then we finished out the evening with a movie.
Sunday was rainy and cold and grey; the perfect pajama day weather. Except we were unusually in the mood for breakfast again, and I didn’t think they’d appreciate me showing up in the cafe that way. LOL. There we talked to two couples headed to Alaska. One was staying for a month with friends, and the other was a young couple from Austria who were finishing up a year of traveling in North America. Too cool! When I was their age, something like that never occurred to me. I finally caught up on writing in the afternoon, and we watched a little Untouchables. They also have pies in the cafe…apple, blueberry, strawberry rhubarb…and we’ve resisted the urge for days. In the evening we decided it was time, so Diane hooked us up. The blueberry was yummy! I don’t know what it is about Diane, but I feel like we were meant to meet. One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about traveling is meeting new people; all of them. But every so often there is almost an instant connection, and my tribe expands. I feel that with her, and hope we’ll meet again.
Coal River Services Lodge and RV is one of the friendliest places we’ve ever stayed. The lodge was originally built in 1949, but burned down and was rebuilt in the 1970s. Located where the Coal and Liard Rivers come together, the entire facility has been undergoing a slow renovation since the new owner purchased 4 years ago. Amenities include a lodge with six newly-remodeled guest rooms, a gift shop, store, and restaurant combo with darned good food, gas and diesel, wifi, a playground, fire pit gazebos, a horse pen, and dump station (which is not a given up here). The campground offers 8 fairly level, gravel, full-hookup sites and 2 electric-only sites all with 30-amp, plus an unlimited number of dry camping locations stretching out to the river. Be warned, though, moose and bear like the field, too. Then again, they like everything in this part of Canada! LOL Until now, this has been a seasonal facility, which comes with challenges. During our visit they were battling water issues at the opening, so hot water was unavailable until the day we arrived and the small laundry was useable but a bit disheveled. They were also in the middle of renovating the bathhouse, but there were toilets and already done showers available. A huge new building onsite is the future location of a larger cafe site, a small bowling alley, a car museum, and other entertainment options. I also learned that they will be moving the RV camping area into the woods along the edge of the field out back, spacing them out a bit for privacy. The current RV section will become parking for the new building. Lots of interesting changes coming that I hope will be good for them. Top to bottom, the staff are amazing and make you feel like family. While there was a lot they were working on here, I’d definitely come back. Of course, the bison burger alone is worth that. Like much of the Alaska Highway, there is no cell service of any kind or over-the-air tv. For this stay in June 2023, we paid $103.13 for 3 nights.
Well there you go, another week down. Next up…into the Yukon! See you on the path!!
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