Sunday, August 31, 2008

Day 46...Friday, August 29, 2008...Taking the "High Mountain Road" to Vancouver...With a Slight Detour to B.C. Wine Country

I did not want to leave Canada without checking out the wine country around the Okanagan made a slight detour this morning. Instead of continuing on the Trans-Canada Highway, I swung south on Route 5, hooking up with Route 97c into the town of Penticton, B.C.
Route 5 was a pretty decent road...four lanes all the way to the town of Merritt. At Merritt, I switched over to Route 97c which is described as a "High Mountain Road"...that means that you drive "up" into the mountains and travel on top for a hundred miles or so before coming "down" into the Okanagan Valley. Lots of warnings about ice, snow, dangerous curves, fog, etc. I didn't encounter any ice or snow, but there was plenty of rain and fog along the way.
I arrived in Penticton around 11:30AM with the last fifteen miles or so on a narrow winding road several hundred feet above the edge of Lake Okanaga. I stopped first at the La Frenz Winery and, after taking a few minutes to let my palms dry and allow color to return to my knuckles, I went in for a "tasting". La Frenz produces a pretty full line of wines...Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet, Merlot, etc. I tasted several of these, and they were all very good. Right down the road was the Red Rooster Winery...I had their "Meritage" blend with my elk dinner in Banff, so I wanted to be sure to make a stop at the Winery to try their other wines. I have to say that everything that I tasted there was excellent, and I ended up buying six bottles each of their 2007 Pinot Gris and 2005 Meritage.
My tastings finished, I had a decision to make on the route to Vancouver...take the southern route on the "Crow's Nest Highway" or back up 97c/5 to the Trans-Canada Highway. I opted for the latter after being told by several people that it was less "mountainous". All that I can tell you is that the route that I picked was plenty mountainous! And...this is the best part...I got to drive all 150 miles of it in an absolutely driving rainstorm whipped further by heavy wind gusts off the mountains. I saw a lot of accidents...just west of the town of Princeton, a semi jackknifed in the middle of the eastbound lanes and had traffic backed up for 15 miles. Up here, they often put small white crosses at the sight of fatal accidents...before Princeton, I drove through a stretch of highway where there were so many crosses that I thought that I was driving up the driveway to "Vlad the Impaler's" castle.
Finally, about 50 miles east of Vancouver, I put the last of the mountains behind me and, shortly after that, the rain stopped and the sun peaked out.
I finally arrived at my hotel shortly after 5:00PM, that last 150 miles having taken well over four hours to drive.
I expected to like Vancouver, and I was not disappointed. It's big and spread out with different parts of the city separated by water. For a city of it's size, it's also amazingly clean...very little litter on the streets. It's also incredibly diverse...a bubbling "stew" of nationalities, particularly Asian. And, best of all, it's a food lover's dream with every conceivable cuisine under the sun available.
Many years ago, I read about a Malaysian dish called "Singapore Pepper Crab" (also called "Chili Crab"). In the years since, I've looked for that dish everywhere without success...the closest I came to finding it was at a small restaurant in Pattaya, Thailand, but they were out of crab. So, figured that if there was a place outside of Malaysia that had it, it would be here in Vancouver. As it turned out, there were dozens of places that served it.
I chose a restaurant called "Tropika" based on a Zagat review that I found on-line.
Singapore Pepper Crab was everything that I imagined...and more! Spicy, garlicky and slightly sweet, it was absolutely delicious as was an appetizer of shredded pork stuffed "sticky rice" steamed in banana leaves...Wow!
I'm also being "spoiled" at my hotel...the Delta Suites Vancouver. I've got a great view of the city, a big comfy bed, a jacuzzi tub and not one, but two, big-screen televisions. So, between my hotel and all the great restaurants, I might be a bit tardy on my next several blog postings...bear with me.
I'm really looking forward to tomorrow. I'm having "dim sum" at a place in Vancouver's Chinatown, then I'm heading over to a sports bar next to my hotel to watch (hopefully) the UM/Utah game. For dinner, I'm having sushi at a place called "Tojo's" which has been widely described as having the best sushi in the world outside of that's going to be something!

Day 45...Thursday, August 28, 2008...Banff to Kamloops

I left Banff a little late heading west and south again as I continue my route back to the U.S. I got to Kamloops, British Columbia around 5:00PM after another "mountain drive", do these mountains ever end?! I have to say that the big difference here (Alberta/British Columbia) is that the quality of the roadways is excellent...all paved, nice guardrails, divided for long stretches, etc. It was a pretty drive, particularly the area around Salmon Arm, B.C. where the Salmon River flows into Lake Shuswap...lots of boats (particularly houseboats) and pretty views of the river/lake.
I didn't keep my camera handy when I blew out of Banff, so I've only got one photo...of Kamloops.
My hotel was a few miles out from downtown Kamloops, so I walked around my hotel area in search of a spot to have dinner. The first place that I came to was "J & K Sushi", and I had to make a decision...was Kamloops, B.C. a place where I wanted to try some sushi? I thought, "hey, why not", and I was amply rewarded for that decision. The sushi at J & K was great! I had the freshest sockeye salmon ever and toro (belly tuna) that melted in my mouth...washed down with some nice sake served at room temperature. I ate heartily, now firmly back to civilization.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Day 44...Wednesday, August 27, 2008...A Quiet Day in Banff...Plus!...An Elk Sighting, Right in the Middle of Downtown Banff!!!

Today was a nice quiet and relaxing day in Banff. I slept in late and headed over to the "Cascade Coin Laundry" to wash, dry and fold clothes...very exciting. Take note...I am, in fact, back in civilization as evidenced by the Lush Cosmetics store. Ahh...I know what many of you are thinking as you look at those photos of the Lush store and, yes, I miss those Lush Balls too!!
After laundry, I headed back to the Bow River Lodge and did some reading. So far, I've finished Ann Coulter's "Godless" and I'm about to finish Stephen King's "The Stand" (yea...I know it's not "Pulitzer Prize" material, but I like The Stand, and this is probably the sixth time I've read it) and "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony hero!
Later in the afternoon, I stopped in at a local pub with 40 beers on tap and had a few pints of Sella Artois...very good.
For dinner, I went back to the Maple Leaf Grille and it was there that I had my Elk sighting. Up here, you have to be prepared for wild animal sightings at any time. Anyway, I'm sitting at the bar at the Maple Leaf Grille and, all of sudden, there it was...Elk! Partially obscured by a pile of mashed potatoes, a perfectly grilled piece of Elk tenderloin was bathing in a red wine reduction sauce...good thing that I had my camera! A great meal addition to the Elk, I had a bottle of 2005 Red Rooster British Columbia Meritage (excellent!) and two servings (three scoops each) of their house-made ice cream (maple walnut, chocolate and white chocolate vanilla)...civilization is good...very good!
Tomorrow, I'll be off early on my way to Kamloops, British Columbia...hopefully, my last "mountain drive" for awhile. From there, I'll be swinging south and east through British Columbia's "wine country" before heading into Vancouver.

More later!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Day 43...Tuesday, August 26, 2008...A Spectacular Drive from Jasper to Banff via the Icefields Highway

You'd think that, after all that great scenery in Alaska and the Yukon, nothing could match up...wrong.
The Icefield Highway is a stretch of about 130 miles running from Jasper south to Banff...weaving between and around the Canadian Rockies. Best of all (for me anyway), it follows the valley floor between the peaks so there's not a lot of steep ascents or descents. In addition to the magnificent peaks, there were also a number of glaciers as well as the Columbia Icefield...all in all as beautiful stretch of road as there is in the world.
You might ask what road hazard I've found to be the most dangerous in my travels...animals, no...steep curvy mountain roads, no...gravel patches and no center line, no...the single greatest hazard has been humans. Yesterday was a good example, I come barreling around a curve and there's some guy stopped in the middle of the road taking pictures...not on a pull-out or on the in the middle of the road. It's been that way all over...somebody sees their first moose or their first mountain, and they have to stop for a photo...never mind that there's no place to pull over.
I got into Banff mid-afternoon and headed for the Bow River Lodge...nice place...on the river and conveniently located on the edge of downtown. Banff, regrettably, is like most other "tourist towns" food, souvenir shops, one-hour get the picture...still...the scenery is beautiful. I scouted around for a place for dinner and, all of a sudden, I was overwhelmed. A month or so "in the wild" and now there's Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, Indian, Korean...Wow!
I stopped at the Maple Leaf Grille (Contemporary Canadian) for a few glasses of wine (great Shiraz!) before heading to Masala for Indian. It wasn't the greatest Indian I've had, but it was decent. I had all my favorites...butter chicken, saag paneer, nan, and a draft Kingfisher beer. It was a nice change of pace after four weeks of meat...mainly prime rib.
I'm spending another day/night here in Banff. Even in the midst of paradise, however, the more mundane parts of life, I'll be doing laundry here.
I got so many great photos driving down here that I'm posting a few "extras".

More later...

Day 42, Monday, August 25, 2008...Dawson Creek to Jasper, Alberta

I left early this morning bound for Jasper, Alberta. Weather was good...sunny, certainly warmer than the Yukon.
The first 150 miles or so of road was a flat winding ribbon through the prairie land of western British Columbia into Alberta. The next 150 miles or so took me into, over and around the foothills of the Rockies.
I got to Jasper around 3:00PM in the afternoon and checked into the Tonquin Inn...a nice place except for the very slow Internet connection. I walked into town...lots of souvenir shops...fudge shops, etc. I did find the Jasper Brewing Company where I enjoyed several glasses of their excellent pilsner. The best steak place in town was right next to my lodge, so I stopped in there for prime rib...that made probably the 20th prime rib dinner that I've had over the 42 days that I've been gone.
I'm looking forward to tomorrow's drive. I'll be taking the "Icefields Parkway" about 130 miles from Jasper to Banff right through the heart of the Rockies.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Day 41...Sunday, August 24, 2008...Liard Hot Springs to Dawson Creek...Back to Civilization!

I headed out this morning early...eager to put as much distance as possible between me and the Liard Hot Springs Lodge. One final note on that place...I forgot to mention the rough and heavy roof beam strategically located right outside the front door at forehead level...a triumph of architectural design!
Weather was pretty nasty this morning...drizzling rain and very heavy fog...perfect conditions for driving over the Northern Rockies on a less than perfect road. I decided last night to skip the Cassiar Highway because I would have to backtrack over 120 miles to take that route. So, instead, I continued back south on the Alaskan Highway all the way to Dawson Creek.
Four hundred or so miles later (as well as several "construction" delays), and I made it back to Dawson Creek. I stayed at the Ramada again, and I had a great dinner at the local steakhouse...civilization never seemed so good! I finally had cell phone service, Internet access and, best of all, satellite radio again! And none too soon on the Satellite I expected, there was a "situation" somewhere in the world, and they had Wolf Blitzer right in middle of the "Situation Room".
Tomorrow's drive should be fun...I'm heading out of Dawson Creek to Jasper, Alberta. That means some time driving through the plains as well as the foothills of the Southern Canadian Rockies.

More later...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Day 40...Wow!...Have I Really Been Gone for Forty Days!...Saturday, August 23, 2008...Liard Hot Springs!

Wow...Forty days...I can't believe that I've been gone that long!
I headed out of Watson Lake around 11:00AM bound for the Liard Hot Springs Lodge...about a one hundred and fifty mile trip.
I had called the lodge from Watson Lake to make sure that I had a room reserved...ah, I had no idea what would await me.
A nice drive down through some beautiful mountain areas (saw an Elk...see photo)...arriving at the Lodge around 1:30PM. "front desk", you check in to your room in the restaurant. The waitress/hostess/desk clerk is very nice...Hi, I'm checking in...Sure, no problem. Forty-five minutes later, I'm still waiting to get checked in because she is unable to maintain the concentration to check me in...Oh, I'll look in the reservation book...oh, you're not there, I'll have to get someone else to help with this...meanwhile, I'll count receipts, look for a key for you (darn, no key!)...check on the kitchen...oh, I'm sorry, you're checking in, aren't you? Pretty soon, a guy comes in to help...hey, I'll put you in a cabin instead of a, if I can just find the key (darn, no key...still). Another person comes to help...and the (now) three of them spend fifteen minutes complaining about how people aren't putting reservations in the reservation book. Wait...I'll get your key...hey...nobody is putting the keys on the right just wait another fifteen minutes while all of the keys get put on the right pegs...hey, your key isn't here (still!!!)
OK...I'll be honest with this point, I'm worried about the Hot Springs...I'm thinking that all of these people have been bathing in the springs and maybe, just maybe, there's some ADHD-inducing chemical in there...some backwoods "meth lab" guy has dumped chemicals in the river...or...some tanker truck with pharmaceutical waste jackknifed up the highway a few weeks ago...or maybe some alien chemical-filled meteorite has fallen here.
Finally, FINALLY, I get to go to my cabin...dirty...back to the restaurant...Oh, I don't know what's wrong with our cleaning lady..she's taking hours to clean each room (gee really...has she been spending time in the springs!?)...I promise, It'll be clean in an hour...tops. Three hours later, I dump my stuff into the still-dirty cabin and head for the VERY wary.
The Springs are wonderful...see photos. Unlike the springs up in Chena, these are right in the "wild", so to speak. They're in a Provincial pay $5.00, drive to the parking lot, then walk on a wooden boardwalk through the marshes, through the the springs. The springs feed into a river, so you can go in and decide how hot you want it...closer to the springs (hot) or further away. It's warm, sulphury and very, very relaxing. Still, I'm exercising some caution...doing mental exercises, getting out and doing puzzles...anything to make sure that my concentration is not being affected by the "chemical" that I'm sure is in there. It's OK, I'm not affected...apparently, it requires prolonged exposure.
Relaxed now, I head back to my cabin...somewhat famous for having been used as a set for "Texas Chainsaw Massacre IV". I have a few beers, then head over to the Lodge for dinner...they mess up my order...are you sure you ordered soup?...hey, didn't I see you over at the springs this afternoon?...then have my worst meal of the trip...gristly burger, stale bun, greasy and cold French fries...I'll definitely need more beer! I'm reading "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain (my hero) by the light of a single bulb hanging down from the center of my cabin...I'm tired...I go to sleep...not very well.

Day 39, August 22, 2008...Back Down the Alaskan Highway to Watson Lake

I was up early this morning to head out from Whitehorse back down the Alaskan Highway to Watson Lake.
Weather was absolutely gorgeous...sunny but still a little chilly.
I stopped at an Art Gallery on the way out of town to buy several pieces of Inuit art (sculptures of bears and moose)...very nice. The owner enjoyed my story about how I saw the Fritz Mueller photo of Tombstone in the window of her shop, and how it motivated me to actually go there and see for myself.
The drive was uneventful except for several caribou who,being shy by nature, darted back in the woods before I could get any photos.
I arrived in Watson Lake late in the afternoon, stayed at the same hotel as on my way up, had an unremarkable dinner, and headed to bed.
Tomorrow, I'm heading to Liard Hot Springs (a late "Executive Decision")...that means that I'll be heading back down south on the Alaskan Highway instead of the Cassiar Highway.

Day 38, Thursday, August 21, 2008...A Relaxing Day in Whitehorse

I enjoyed a much-needed day of rest today in Whitehorse.
I had time to reload/re-ice all of my coolers, rearrange all of the stuff in the Escape, and sleep in late.
Not a lot to report other than the fact that I had a great pizza at a place called Bocelli's...the owner is from Montreal, but she spent a summer or two working at a pizza place in New York City. I would never expect to find great pizza in the Yukon, but this one was pretty darn good...thin crust, fresh mozzarella, tasty homemade sauce.
After dinner, I stopped back at Flipper's for a few "pints" before bedtime. I didn't run into my friend, Darcy, again, but that's a good thing...I need to get an early start tomorrow.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Day 37...Tombstone to Whitehorse

A relaxing five hour or so drive down from Tombstone to Whitehorse. I drove about 24 miles back out the Dempster Highway, and the rest on the Klondike Highway...not a bad stretch of road...paved with only a few "loose gravel patches".
I got into Whitehorse around 5:00PM, checked in to a hotel and immediately took a thirty+ minute shower...ah, the things we so often take for granted. Now fully "clean", I set off for dinner at the Cellar Steakhouse and Wine Bar in the Edgewater Hotel. That photo shows me very contented after polishing off two martinis, a Caesar salad, a half pound of crab legs, a "large-cut" piece of prime rib, two glasses of pinot blanc, and two glasses of a malbec/syrah blend...pure gustatory bliss! And...for dessert, I was able to persuade my bartender, Sandra, to make one of my famous rum milkshakes, albeit a "toned down" version.
After dinner, I headed over to "Flipper's", the local watering hole conveniently located next to my hotel. There I drank a large quantity of the local beer, Chillkoot Lager...and...met a new female friend, Darcy, who explained and allowed me to "understand" (in the fullest sense) the Yukon's very liberal "controlled substances" laws.
Thus sedated, I retired to my hotel for a great night's sleep.
Not entirely as a result of Darcy's "explanation" and all of that Chillkoot Lager, I decided to spend an extra night here in Whitehorse to rest, relax, and perform a little "travel maintenance" (clean out coolers, plan the next week or so of travel, etc.).
From here, it looks like the following for a travel schedule...

F 8/22...Watson Lake
S 8/23...Down the Cassiar Highway to Stewart
Su 8/24...Prince George
M 8/25...Jasper
T 8/26...Lake Louise
W 8/27...Banff
Th 8/28...Banff
F 8/29...Kamloops
S 8/30...Vancouver
Su 8/31...Vancouver
M 9/1...Seattle

I also took a few photos of some posters for local bands, etc. You haven't really listened to music until you've heard a performance by "Sasquatch Prom Date"...awesome!

More later...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Day 36...A Cold Night...A Spectacular Hike Along Mt. Goldensides got really cold last night (30's). When I bought my sleeping bag, I figured that this was a summer trip, so I got a "+50" bag...figuring that should do fine. Fortunately, I had the foresight to also buy a liner that converts my bag to a "+35"...good thing because I needed it last night.
It's fall here already...they're a good four or five weeks ahead of us back home. That's why the colors here are so vivid...they're fall colors.
I got up early this morning (7:00AM) and promptly moved to the Escape where I turned up the heat full-blast. I made coffee and cooked a full breakfast of scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon, fried potatoes and toast...I'll need the energy for my hike.
After talking to the staff at the Tombstone Information Center, I decided to hike up and along Mt. excellent choice! I drove about two miles north on the Dempster Highway and then another two miles or so up an access road to the start of the trail. All that I can say is that the views were stunning. I hiked for about four hours with the weather clear and in the mid-50's...perfect for hiking.
Again, I regret that my photos don't give you the full impact of the colors...there's green from moss, pale green to white from lichens(?), and reds, yellows and purples from the wet tundra underbrush...add the greys and blacks from the mountain stone, and you've got a tremendous palette of colors! I enjoyed my hike in Denali, but this was so much better. Denali is all brawn, this was all finesse. There wasn't another person on the trail or, for that matter, miles around. I've been to some really beautiful places in my life, and I'm sure I'll visit more...but they're going to have a hard time beating this because Tombstone has set the bar pretty high.
When I returned to my campsite, I built a roaring fire...the temperatures started to drop in late afternoon. For dinner, I used one of my "camp cookers"'s two concave metal pieces that clip together so that you can toast things (like bread) over the fire. With the help of some French butter, potato bread, Tillamook cheddar cheese and some ok peppered bacon, I was able to fashion a crude version of my "famous" grilled cheese sandwich. Eating that as the sun went down around and behind the mountains, I was sure, absolutely sure, that I never made or ate a better grilled cheese.
Tomorrow, I'll be up early and on the road to Whitehorse...civilization...a shower...a shave...a few of Bill's "helpers", a martini or two (definitely two) and a big steak...I can't wait!

More later...

Day 35...A Little Gold Panning...The Dempster Highway to Tombstone...and...A Postscript Regarding Last Night's Meeting with "Tradition"

Well...first a word about last night. There is a Dawson City can read about it by "googling"...Dawson Jack London cocktail severed is so "tasteless" that I am unable to write about it here. Nonetheless, you can see my "induction" into a club of approximately 30,000 equally crazy people in the attached photos.
Today, I set out at 10:00AM for Claim #6 on Bonanza Creek Road. It was along Bonanza Creek Road that George Carmacks and two others discovered the gold that set off the Klondike (and, later, the Alaska) Gold Rush. Claim #6 is owned by the Dawson City Tourist Association, and you can pan there for free. I went back in the hills, dug out some dirt with my pick and trowel, and panned for about an hour and a half. Alas, I was not successful in finding any gold...but the experience alone was fun and relaxing.
After the panning, I set off for Tombstone Territorial Park on the Dempster Highway (all dirt and gravel). As I approached my campground, I could see the colors that amazed me in the Fritz Mueller is truly spectacular here!
I regret that the photos just don't do it justice...the colors are so much more vibrant when you're actually there.
I'm camping here tonight and, tomorrow,I'll be hiking the surrounding area in search of some great photos.

More later...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Day 34...Tok to Dawson City, Yukon...A Six-Hour "Root Canal" of a Drive

I left Tok at 7:30AM under the cover of very heavy fog. Twelve miles south of Tok, I turned onto the highway to Dawson City. The first twenty miles or so weren't too bad despite the fog. The next forty-five or fifty miles were increasingly scary, but I just convinced myself that the road would get better. At around 11:00AM, I went through Canadian Customs, and the road immediately got better/worse...the road surface wasn't so bad, but the height...the just got higher and higher...and it stayed there...for seventy-five miles!
For those of you who know of my fear of heights, this was pretty much my ultimate nightmare.
As to why I, with that fear of heights, would take that road, I can not say.
What I can say is that the "Top of the World Highway" was the scariest, most frightening, no guardrsils, precipitous drops, loose gravel, white knuckle, stomach churning, pants wetting, gut wrenching...let's see, have I left anything out? hundred mile piece of highway that I have ever driven. It took every ounce of driving skills, acquired over these last fifty-seven years, to complete that drive. know what...I made it...I made it...I'm in Dawson City and not at the bottom of some mountainside. So...tonight, I'm feeling pretty good because there is nothing and I mean, nothing, that can compare with the sheer terror of that drive. The rest of the trip is, that is.
Tonight, I will be celebrating my drive by partaking in an unfathomably disgusting Dawson City tradition at Jack London's bar involving a severed human digit, a shot of Yukon Mist and a pair of lips...mine. It's just something that I've got to do.

I'm posting photos of the drive but, believe me, they don't do justice to the experience.

Tomorrow, I'm taking my sluice box, classifier and gold pans to pan for gold outside of Dawson City...should be fun.
And then...ah, then...I'm driving about fifty miles north to Tombstone Territorial Park. The photographer Fritz Mueller has a famous photo of the Park...I saw that photo, and I felt that Tombstone was a place that I just have to go to. Maybe you can see that photo by "googling" Fritz Mueller and Tombstone (see not, don't worry, I bought it, and I'm bringing it back. more thing...I'm in the Yukon, so no cell phone service until I get back to British Columbia in seven or eight days or so.

More later...from me...Top of the World survivor...