Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreation Area (October 2018)

Each year, we try to gather a group of friends and/or family and head down to the Outer Banks for some fun, fellowship and food. Usually, everyone who comes has a 4wd or AWD vehicle so that our fun includes some time riding the beaches of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and north to the Currituck County beaches beyond Corolla. Our trip has expanded to five nights to take advantage of an off-season special rate at the Cape Pines Motel in Buxton.

This year, thanks to an error in judgment, my truck was disabled and in the shop so all the vehicles were AWD Subarus!

Friend Bruce (North Carolina) and his friend were driving his 2017 Outback, Neighbor Paul (Maryland) and his friend were driving his 2016 Forester and Betty and I were in her 2017 Impreza sedan. It should be noted that Betty made it quite clear that her Impreza would NOT be going on the beach, a wise call. The Outback and Forester have the X-mode for better off highway traction plus the Impreza just does not have the ground clearance for when the sand gets soft and deep.

We left home around 9:00 Wednesday morning and the traffic was surprisingly light with Paul and Carol following. We stopped, as usual, at the Waffle House in Ruther Glen, VA for breakfast. As we neared the 295 turnoff around Richmond, Paul followed the wrong red car off the exit ramp. We recovered and were back together by the time we got to I-64. A minor chuckle moment with no real consequences.

The drive across the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge tunnel (I-664) was bright and sunny making for great views of the Hampton Roads harbor and the convergence of the James, Elizabeth and Nansemond Rivers. The bridge tunnel is named for the first ironclad ships which fought nearby in the Battle of Hampton Roads in 1862 as the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (which had been rebuilt from the wreckage of the Merrimac). Local lore had once said that the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, Hampton Roads Tunnel and Monitor-Merrimac Bridge Tunnel were built as tunnels so that an attack on the bridges would be unable to bottle up the significant Navy Fleet at Norfolk in port. Considering the size of the fleet (both numbers and individual ship size), drawbridges or very tall bridges would be disruptive to any hopes of road traffic or a security threat to the ships themselves as they passed under.

We continued on past Suffolk, Portsmouth and Chesapeake reaching our next scheduled stop at the Border Station. Border Station is located on the state border between VA and NC, taking advantage of tobacco sales taxes in NC and lottery ticket sales in both states. Its also a good stop for reasonably priced gas and to stretch our legs.

We crossed over the Currituck Sound on the Wright Memorial Bridge into Kitty Hawk blending with the Wednesday afternoon traffic rush. Some sights to see along the way, including the Wright Brothers Memorial statue marking the site of their 1903 flight, the old Putt-putt Golf castle poking its head up at Jockey Ridge, Bodie Island Light and arriving at the Oregon Inlet Bridge where the new bridge (to open in January 2019) looked substantially complete although some work still remained. This weekend would be our last time crossing the old 1963 bridge which is beyond its 30 year expected lifespan but survived throughout the numerous court challenges to its replacement.

Just south of the Oregon Inlet Bridge is the Oregon Inlet Lifesaving Station at the north end of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, a portion of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Recreation Area. We continued south through the tri-villages of Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo on Rt. 12 which follows the barrier island of Hatteras and eventually transits to Ocracoke via the ferry. Between the villages, low dunes lie to the east separating us from the ocean and scrub forests lie to the west separating us from the sound. DSCF7636We pass Canadian Hole, so named for the Canadians who trek down for a long weekend kite-surfing and parasailing. We finally arrive in Buxton around 5:00 and find our accommodations at my favorite local motel, Cape Pines. Shortly after getting checked in and settled, we hear from Bruce who has arrived with his guest at the rental house in Frisco, just a bit further south on the island and located right on the sound.

After we got those logistics, we met at the Diamond Shoals Restaurant in Buxton for our first get-together with introductions and food sampling. Based on the amounts eaten, sampling is probably not the right word but real fresh local seafood is a treat too long withheld. While not exactly a foodie roadtrip, a big part of our adventure is the consumption of much food and I’ll try to include the names of the restaurants.

After a hearty meal and a couple of drinks, we all headed back to our respective lodgings with plans to meet at Diamond Shoals for breakfast before heading towards Ocracoke for the day. CHNS requires purchase of vehicle passes to drive on the beach which all had purchased before arrival.

The trip to Ocracoke requires a ride on the free ferry from Hatteras although a passenger-only pay ferry is due to come online soon. This time of year, the ferry leaves each half-hour for the 75 minute ride to the northeast ferry terminal on Ocracoke Island. Depending on volume, you may have to wait for a while. DSCF7515DSCF7516This particular Thursday morning saw us waiting for the second ferry to leave but the weather and the company were pretty nice for conversation while we waited. Part of the abnormally high traffic for that time of day and year is related to the Blackbeard Pirate Jamboree in Ocracoke that coming weekend.

DSCF7520The ferry crew directs you on based on their optimal loading so we got split with Paul to port and Bruce to starboard. After the ferry gets moving, you can wander around and up to the passenger lounge for a better view. DSCF7522 Every time we looked around, Bruce was still sitting in his car talking (Surprise! Not really.) We enjoyed the ride and off-loaded in Ocracoke (to wait for a pilot car to take us through the hurricane dune and road reconstruction zone). But no Bruce? There’s nowhere to get off, where is he? In a few minutes, the crew walks over to his car and lifts the hood and he drives out to meet us. Turns out he was in the car talking because he’d gotten boxed in too tightly to get out of the car and so left the key on to listen to the radio – which also left his auto headlights on and pulled his battery down just a bit too much to restart. He’s always having adventures of some sort!DSCF7534

Reunited, we headed southwest for lunch to Howard’s Pub, just past the airstrip. Howard’s is another favorite must-stop spot when visiting Ocracoke. In addition to great food and a wide beer selection, they have a second level open air deck to view the lower end of the island. The ladies went up to see the view while the guys tended to airing down and other things with the vehicles.DSCF7541

After lunch, we turned across Hwy 12 to Ramp 72 to ride out to Southpoint, one of our favorite spots on the island. Southpoint Road is just under 2 miles of mostly graded dirt and sand which leads to the beach. An off-road permit is required for this area leading down to the beach. At the end of the Southpoint Road, you pass the dunes and the vista opens to the beach and the ocean. Breathtaking! You turn right towards the point and drive past the fishermen and beachgoers through soft sand and hard pack. The soft sand here is why the Impreza stayed at the motel.DSCF7543

But the view! We drove to the southern-most part of the point and parked. The view included boats coming and going, Portsmouth Island and the taller buildings in the village, fishermen, pelicans and other sea birds. Carol had never been to the Outer Banks and spent some of her time collecting shells which were plentiful following the recent storms. One of the boats we saw going by was a US Army Corps of Engineers Dredge. DSCF7544DSCF7545DSCF7553DSCF7559DSCF7567DSCF7572DSCF7582After a couple of hours just enjoying ourselves in the sunshine and breezes, we loaded back up with plans to cross back to Hatteras. Communications (and Bruce’s Adventurous streak?) led to the Forester heading into town while Bruce’s Outback headed towards the ferry. Since we were in town, we passed some of the Pirate Festival folk who remained in character, questioning what manner of witchcraft Carol was using in that (iPhone-shaped) box she kept pointing at them. We also swung by the Ocracoke Light which we had seen from the point.DSCF7585DSCF7594

We ended up on two different ferries and decided to just meet up in the morning. Paul, Carol, Betty and I decided it was a good night to dine at the Sandbar and Grille in Buxton. They went for the prime rib (over a pound!) split between the two of them. As we neared the end of the season, the beer selection was somewhat limited from their usual variety but it was more than adequate.

Friday’s forecast had been for rain since before we left home and was getting worse every time it was refreshed. We started with breakfast at the Captain’s Table in Buxton. A favorite dinner spot but first time we had tried them for breakfast. Not bad, just not memorable. We’ll stick to going there for dinner. The predicted rain had not yet started so we detoured by Flambeau Road to get a quick look at the shipwreck there. As sometimes happens, the sand had pretty much covered the entire thing and only one spike showing through a couple of inches.DSCF7596DSCF7597DSCF7598

We had decided this would be a good day to visit the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, an eclectic collection chronicling the reign of Blackbeard, original settlement of the area, the involvement in early European settlement of North America, and participation in the War of 1812, the Civil War, and the two World Wars. The area has a history of sportfishing, commercial fishing, and hunting going back 100 years and more. This is in addition to the long history as Graveyard of the Atlantic for the many shipwrecks around the Diamond Shoals which stretch out into the Gulf Stream. DSCF7601

As you walk in the front door, the overwhelming display is a partial Fresnel lens from the Cape Hatteras light. During the Civil War, the light was disassembled and hidden in various places around the island to prevent its capture by invading troops.

Other displays include several canvasback duck decoys. Wood was scarce on the islands so the locals developed a method of building hunting decoys using recycled canvas. While we were there, an artisan craftsman was working on making one and we got to watch him for a bit.

German U-Boat activity is well-presented in one display as are numerous bits of equipment and discussion of various diving systems and a display on the lighthouses.DSCF7600

The local sportfishing industry is presented with several record catches and a bit of the history on the developing industry.

Admission to the museum is by donation ($5 is suggested) and includes a gift shop. Also at the information desk that day was Mary Ellen Riddle, the Museum’s Education Curator and Volunteer Coordinator who answered some questions about a particular shipwreck we had spotted. She also has a book on that subject, Outer Banks Shipwreck: Graveyard of the Atlantic. Signed copies were available in the gift shop.

We were all invited to the beach house for dinner that night, provided we helped prepare so the remainder of the day was spent shopping and prepping under the watchful of one of the Carols. Delicious salad, spaghetti with a choice of meat sauce or a vegetarian sauce with garlic bread, Key Lime pie and a selection of wines severely blunted the effects of the cold rain blowing outside the windows. We were joined at dinner by friends, Richard and Becky, she’s a local wildlife rehabilitator and he is involved with the local rescue squad’s communications systems.DSCF7603

The wind-whipped rain did make the drive back to our motel exciting though.

Saturday morning dawned dry but still cloudy, a fine day for touring by car. Bruce and friend decided to spend their time clearing out the beach house while the rest of us decided to take the tour option.

We started out at the Cape Hatteras Light, Cape Point and the old Ligthouse beach. DSCF7607DSCF7609DSCF7611DSCF7613DSCF7614

Next, we headed back by the museum and went out Ramp 55 towards the point. We looked for the Ramp 55 wreck (several theories but no conclusive decision on what it was or when it wrecked) which is sometimes visible in the narrow beach between the dunes and the ocean. DSCF7624 We managed to find it back behind the first row of dunes, not sure whether the dunes had moved or if it had. In any event, it was very much exposed and visible. DSCF7626We got out and walked around and took pictures and more pictures. It was exciting for us, with the part we’d asked Riddle about clearly evident. DSCF7627DSCF7630DSCF7631

Back in the car we cut back to the pole road which follows the powerline poles leading to Ocracoke off the end of the island. We wound up at the tip of the island and noted the road ended sooner compared to previous years (as did the island) with less shallow sandbar extending into the inlet.

We turned north and drove back up to the Canadian Hole to watch the kite-surfing for a while. As we watched them setting up, we discovered that the kites’ frames are blown up like a balloon or inner tube. They stiffen the frames by increasing the pressure. So we learned something as well as being entertained for a bit.DSCF7634DSCF7635DSCF7636DSCF7637DSCF7645

Moving further north, we hit the oceanside beach and rode to the visible part of the wreck of the Pocoantas just offshore. The Pocohontas was a Federal ship involved in the transport of horses for the army fighting the Civil War. Reports vary whether she carried 90 or 110 horses belonging to the Rhode Island Reserves. The Pocohontas was in poor repair and had been battered by the rough seas. In danger of foundering, the captain and crew deliberately beached the wounded vessel after having jettisoned many of the horses at sea. Twenty-four of the horses survived the trip ashore and arrived at Hatteras Inlet the following day with five of the crew. Still visible today is part of the metal supporting structure for the side wheel above the water. The ship is also known as the Richmond.DSCF7653

We traveled further north looking for signs of the G.A. Kohler which is sometimes visible above the surfline. The Kohler went aground in a storm in 1933. She was beached above the normal high tide line where she sat for 10 years. The Kohler was a popular gathering spot for the locals, hosting parties and dances on her decks. In the 1940s, the Kohler was burned to enable salvaging the metal for the war effort. The lowest parts of the ship are sometimes exposed but nothing to be seen today.

We traveled back to Hwy 12 and continued north through the Pea Island Refuge and over the Bonner Bridge and Oregon Inlet to Ramp 4. The area at Ramp 4 is the northern side of the Oregon Inlet channel and is popular with fisherman and beachgoers coming from outside the National Seashore. DSCF7658DSCF7659DSCF7661DSCF7674This particular day, there were several fishermen but the area was not crowded at all. We rode around to a spot almost under the double bridges, the new and the old Bonner Bridge. After some time there, it was time to head south for dinner and back to the motel for the night.

On Sunday after breakfast at Diamond Shoals in Buxton, we made our way north to the Bodie Island Light next to Oregon Inlet. Although the light was not open for climbing this late in the year, the bright sunshine made for some excellent views.DSCF7678

Next we are headed far north to the beach at Carova. We stopped at Uncle Ike’s for lunch and then onto the beaches of Currituck.

These beaches are not part of the National Seashore. A separate parking pass is required (from Currituck County) to ride these beaches during the summer season but we were late in the year for that. The pass is a new requirement (2018) and is supposed to account for the additional costs to patrol the area and cut down on some of the traffic during summer season. The pass system fees have ontributed to a convenient (and effective) airing station at the old Corolla site next to Currituck Light. (In the past, you either brought your own and risked feeding quarters into ineffective gas station filling machines.) The new restrictions also incude signs that Four Wheel Drive is required as is airing down tires (as opposed to recommended in the National Seashore).

In this area, the beach is the main (only) access road to the houses north of where the pavement ends. In the 1960s, the development was laid out to eventually connect to Sandbridge VA via a paved road along the coast which never materialized. The road would have needed to go through the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Today, a permanent fence line runs along the boundary of the NWR into the ocean to ensure that vehicles and horses do not pass between the two areas.

Oh, did I forget to explain the horses? Historically, the horses likely came to the Outer Banks as shipwreck survivors or as freight to help the Europeans colonize the Atlantic Seaboard. They are feral now after generations and limited to the 1800 acres between the fences at Corolla and at the NC/VA stateline. They are protected by law and supported by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, a non-profit. Protections for the horses include legal minimum distances (sound like a restraining order?) and prohibitions on feeding. While horses may like people food, it doesn’t like them. There are also commercial tours to see the horses running from Corolla.

The beach runs from the end of the pavement for around 10 miles. Compared to past years, the beach was narrower between the dunes and oceans and the houses were closer to the water. DSCF7683DSCF7690 DSCF7686We eventually worked our way up to the stateline fence where we got out and stretched and looked around.DSCF7689 We hadn’t seen any horses yet, not unusual for the cooler weather but we did see something we’d not seen before. Coming south along the water from the direction of Sandbridge VA were 3 bicycles! They stopped just north of the fence and the lead rider, a young man, walked through the fence and said in a heavily accented voice. “Can I ask question? Are we in North Carolina?”

We assured him he was in North Carolina as soon as he had come through the gate. The young man was with his family, a boy about 9-10, a girl around 5-6 who had been on the bike with the man, and a woman. It turns out they had ridden down from where they left their car in Sandbridge, a distance of 10-11 miles. The little girl pointed out the “crab hole” to us in her accented second-language English.

The man asked about the trail and looked as to whether it would be an easier route back north but decided the beach, while softer, was flatter and probably shorter. The man asked about a nearby restaurant where they could feed the kids but we informed him the next town was Corolla, about the same distance as returning to Sandbridge. We didn’t have anything to share but I was concerned about their ability to make it before dark so gave them a pocket LED flashlight. The little girl offered me a potato chip in return, which I accepted. I asked if I could take a picture of them and they were a bit reluctant, asking why and such but consented. I debated sharing the picture here with their faces blurred but decided it was more in keeping with their wishes to just save it for my personal collection.

After wishing the biking family well on their travels, we headed off the beach into the houses to see if we could show Carol some horses. They wander about the houses and can often be found near the Carova Beach Townhall and Fire Department building. We passed the firehouse and no horses. DSCF7694 (2)Just beyond that though we hit pay dirt. Well, we only found two but it was enough to say we had found them.DSCF7695 (2)

We headed back out to the beach and south. Along the way, we passed the stumps of the old maritime forest. The barrier islands are constantly moving. Some years ago the sand drifted over the forest and killed the trees. As the island continues moving, it exposed the stumps of the old forest on the beach.DSCF7696

DSCF7698We connected again with the pavement and made our way to the Historic Corolla Village to air up and decided to visit the open Currituck Light. Not enough time to climb before closing but Carol and Paul did go inside and look at the cast iron stairway and some of the fixtures.DSCF7703 DSCF7707We also walked around the lake and checked out the Whalehead Club from the water.DSCF7704

Traveling south into the National Seashore and through the underbrush at dusk, the local deer population was active with several sightings along the way darting back and forth. We managed to avoid any direct contact and stopped for dinner at Oceano’s Bistro in Avon before returning to the Cape Pines in Buxton.

Monday morning arrived too early and it was time to head for home after breakfast at Oceano’s again. Our trip home included the mandatory traditional stops at Border Station and also at Pearce’s Pit BBQ in Williamsburg.
More photos online here

It had been another great trip with familiar and new friends. Now to wait for spring when we do it again.

Summer 2014: Alaska via the AlCan; Flight 93 Memorial and Home Again, Wrap Up

We are often given to rushing the last part of the trip wherever we go. A trip to visit family In Florida will sometimes turn into a marathon one day ride home. A trip to the beach will find us looking at each other late in the evening and saying “let’s just go on home” and arriving at midnight. Aware of this tendency, we tried not to do it this time. One consequence of that behavior is that we often don’t visit the places closer to home while telling ourselves we’ll visit as a day trip from home and then keep putting it off until later.
This time, prompted by pictures shared by our friend Tra Maslar, we stopped instead of driving past the Flight 93 Memorial in Stony Creek township, 2 miles north of Shanksville PA. We stopped for lunch in Shanksville and then followed the signs to the Memorial.
Being recent history, most of us remember where we were and what we were doing when Flight 93 crashed on September 11, 2001. Briefly, of the four aircraft hijacked by terrorists on September 11, Flight 93 is the only one that did not reach its intended target, presumed to be the US Capitol building in Washington, DC. Several passengers and crew members made telephone calls aboard the flight and learned about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The passengers decided to mount an assault against the hijackers and wrest control of the aircraft to prevent it reaching its target. While successful, all 44 people onboard (including the four hijackers) died in the process.
We have visited the memorials at WTC and Pentagon sites. Flight 93 crashed in a field in the countryside. The memorial itself is predominantly built but the supporting structures (visitor center and grounds) are still under construction. Since our visit, a fire at the NPS administration building has destroyed the flag that flew over the Capitol that day but most of the remainder of the memorial collection is safe.
Each of the 40 heroes are named on one of the white stones at the right above. Looking at the site from this vantage point, you are looking along the path the airplane took as it crashed and went along the ground, stopping near the boulder shown in the picture below.
Although it’s been 13 years, the memorial still tugs at some tender spots and memories of that awful day. The memorial is a fitting tribute to those 40 brave men and women who sacrificed themselves for others.

11,704 driven miles later, we are home. Looking forward to sleeping in our own bed. We appreciate how truly blessed we are to live in such a beautiful place and to have the time, money and health to make this trip together.

  • We live in a great and beautiful country. Get out there and see it while you can.
  • Schedules and reservations have their advantages but the spontaneity of driving until you’re ready to stop will lead to some worthwhile surprises. If things aren’t going according to plan, revise the plan instead of spinning up. It may work out even better than planned.
  • It was a surprise to us how many places have WiFi. Although of varying quality, its often free. Some places don’t have food nearby but have WiFi.
  • Cell phone coverage is pretty good even in sparsely populated areas but the cost of using your phone internationally can be steep. Surprisingly, the OnStar phone in the truck was the lowest per minute price while in Canada although it was high-priced for US usage.
  • Most hotels are non-smoking these days but it was surprising to us how many of the large chains had smoking rooms.
  • People are friendly. If you take the time to talk to them or make yourself open to conversation (in some cases that means a willing listener), its easy to be part of a conversation even when you don’t know anybody. Everyone has a story if you’re willing to listen to it.
  • Preparing for the unexpected is a plus. Two spare tires are not too many. Two batteries are not too many. A refrigerator/freezer with some food comes in handy.
  • A suitcase full of clothes for all kinds of weather proved to be superfluous.
  • I still think that tollroads need to have an option for pay as you go with cash.
  • A supply of cash is handy but using a credit card with the credit union making the conversions can be economical.
  • Hotels may vacuum daily and wipe down the horizontal surfaces but the carpets need to be cleaned (shampooed) once in a while.
  • Take the time to poke around the small town off the interstate even if you’re just stopping for gas or food.
  • We stop about every 2 hours and get out, even for a few minutes. We both feel better at the end of the day.
  • It bears repeating – Get out there and enjoy it now.

You can see all of the pictures from this leg of the trip here.
Don’t forget the trip calendar we put together at CafePress. We think it turned out pretty well and would make a great holiday gift. calendar
Thanks for following along and your comments. We hope its been worth your time.
Where shall we go next?

Summer 2014: Alaska via the AlCan; Prairie Knights, Ft. Yates, On-A-Slant Mandan Village

We left Medora and headed east on I-94 towards the Missouri River and Bismarck. We called a couple of hotels but found no rooms available without a reservation. Someone recommended the Prairie Knights Resort. Since it was about 50 miles off the highway, we called ahead to check on room availability. They told us they had plenty of rooms so there was no need to make a reservation. Mmmmmkay?
We drove south with the Missouri River to our left through a couple of very small settlements and passed the Ft. Lincoln State Park entrance. It really is 50 miles and there is virtually nothing until you reach the Prairie Knights Casino and Resort. Prairie Knights is a casino and lodge located on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. It is operated by the Standing Rock Indian Tribe. The casino offers high stakes gaming options, along with 725 slot machines, blackjack, craps, among other games. The lodge portion of the casino consists of 200 guest rooms.
Once we finally get there, we see that they have a landing on the River, the lodge, a restaurant (buffet style), the casino and a small gas station with prices comparable to what we’d seen in Bismarck.
When we go to check in, the clerk asked if we were members of the Prairie Club. Uh, no. Before we get registered, they suggest we go into the casino and register. The registration is free but it knocks $25 off our room rate and gives us $10 to spend in the casino. We are now Prairie club members! We walk around a bit, get some dinner at the buffet and call it a night.
The next morning we head back north towards Mandan and the Ft. Lincoln State Park. Although we didn’t use them, it should be noted that the park has primitive and developed campgrounds and rental cabins near the riverbank. We didn’t go to those areas of the park to check them out. There are also hiking and biking trails.
The visitor center building contains a display that includes exhibits from the Lewis and Clark expedition and from the Mandan Indians who had a village there.
This is where the tour starts for the On-A-Slant Mandan Indian Village. Parts of the village have been the subject of archaeological research and some restoration. Their society was matriarchal with families dwelling in the same lodge including daughters and sons-in-law. The lodge would pass to the eldest daughter on the death of her mother.
The lodges were circular with a fire pit in the center, venting through a hole in the roof which could be covered in hides in times of bad weather. The lodges were also built into the earth with dirt and grass on the outside and over the roof which provided insulation from the temperature extremes. The guide told us of the lodges maintaining 60 degrees even in the coldest parts of winter and they were cool on this hot day when we visited. Generally, the lodge was entered from the side with a partition wall separating the entrance from the main room for weather and defenses. Sleeping pads were around the circumference.
The Mandans were stationary people with language similar to the Sioux. They grew crops and hunted animals while trading with the nomadic tribes. A typical Mandan village consisted of 12 to 100 of these dome-shaped lodges. Their oral traditions indicated they had once occupied the eastern North America.
Their villages were often stockaded for protection and they hosted many of the European explorers, including the Lewis and Clark Expedition and Prussian scientist Prince Maximillian.
In 1750 there were nine large Mandan villages, but recurrent epidemics of smallpox, pertussis (whooping cough), and other diseases introduced through colonization reduced the tribe to two villages by 1800. In 1837 another smallpox epidemic left only 100 to 150 Mandan survivors. Some of these accompanied the Hidatsa to a new settlement near Fort Berthold (northwest of Bismarck) in 1845; others followed later, as did members of the Arikara tribe. The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara eventually became known as the Three Affiliated Tribes (also called the MHA Nation).
In the mid-20th century, the Three Affiliated Tribes lost a considerable portion of their reservation to the waters of Lake Sakakawea, which rose behind the newly built Garrison Dam. With the flooding of the river bottoms, on which had been the best agricultural land, many tribal members shifted from agriculture to ranching or off-reservation pursuits.
In the 1870s, at the same location where the Mandan tribe had established their village, a military post was built in June 1872 by two companies of the 6th U.S. Infantry under Lt. Col. Daniel Huston, Jr., as Fort McKeen, opposite Bismarck, Dakota Territory.
Standing today are two of the watchtowers that overlooked the juncture of the Heart and Missouri Rivers and the town of Bismarck.
The three-company infantry post’s name was changed to Fort Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1872, and expanded to the south to include a cavalry post accommodating six companies. Among the 78 permanent wooden structures at Fort Lincoln were a post office, telegraph office, barracks for nine companies, seven officer’s quarters, six cavalry stables, a guardhouse, granary, quartermaster storehouse, bakery, hospital, laundress quarters, and log scouts’ quarters. Water was supplied to the fort by hauling it from Missouri River in wagons, while wood was supplied by contract.
By 1873, the 7th Cavalry moved into the fort to ensure the expansion of the Northern Pacific Railway. The first post commander of the expanded fort was Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer, who held the position until his death in 1876.
Several buildings remain at the post, including Custer’s restored (and furnished) house, the commissary (now the souvenir shop) and some stable and storage buildings.
Custer’s house is open to guided tours. The tour is conducted by a man in period uniform in the role of one of Custer’s aides. The tour is alternately conducted by a woman who was in period dress. The setting is 1875 so the tour does not address the Colonel’s demise at Little Big Horn. Guests are shown through the house as arriving guests for a party to be given that evening by Colonel and “Mrs. Colonel” Custer.
The tour includes a discussion of some additions to the original house that were ordered by Col. Custer following fire damage as well as some entertainments provided to help make the rugged outpost more pleasant for Mrs. Colonel Custer.
One point on the tour is the cellar where the Colonel’s pet wildcat was kept. We also toured the billiards room upstairs which served as something of an officer’s club.
As we returned from our visit to 1875, it was time to load up the truck and continue east to our next night in Fargo, ND. Our knowledge of Fargo was initially limited to the movie starring William H Macy which was somewhat gruesome. We were somewhat disappointed to find that the movie seemed to occupy a large part of the tourist industry with Woodchippers being the local drink at the bar and directions to go take pictures at the chipper in all the tourist literature. Fargo is the largest city in North Dakota at just over 113,000 people. Opposite Fargo and across the Red River of the North is Moorhead, Minnesota. The Fargo area is growing with much construction along both sides of the interstate with much of it devoted to housing, hotels and support of the petroleum industry. Some of the news stories and features of the area talk of the shortage of housing and the boom being fueled by petroleum.
After breakfast the next morning, we made tracks across Minnesota finally stopping in Hudson, Wisconsin just across Lake St. Croix from Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Hudson appears to be a small touristy town which is also a distant bedroom suburb of the twin cities. Our late lunch was in a small (but very friendly) pub style bar where we also called my nephew to see about meeting up with him as we passed near his home north of Chicago. We drove late that night, finally stopping in Loves Park, Illinois for the night.
We did connect with my nephew (whom I hadn’t seen in over 10 years) and met him for breakfast but didn’t get the opportunity to see his family due to other commitments and the short notice we had given them. Our visit was short but it was good to see him.
We continued on and spent the night in Maumee, Ohio.
You can see all of the pictures from this leg of the trip here.
We invite you to continue along with us and hope you enjoy the account!
Don’t forget the trip calendar we put together at CafePress. We think it turned out pretty well and would make a great holiday gift. calendar

Summer 2014: Alaska via the AlCan; ND Badlands and Teddy Roosevelt NP

A young and skinny Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. made his way to the North Dakota from New York in 1883 to hunt bison. His time and experiences there shaped his perspective and the national conservation policy for decades to come. He was traveling to a place where he was an unknown and would not likely be warmly welcomed as he was an outsider, an Easterner and a “city slicker” to boot.
During his hunting trip, he expressed an interest in cattle ranching and eventually made an investment in that endeavor. In that year, the men who tended the cattle investment also built the Maltese Cross Cabin. Roosevelt’s investment of $14,000 (more than his annual salary at the time) was seen as an admission ticket to a different way of life in the wide open spaces. Dakota-grown cattle were seen as a solid investment partly because of the variety of grazing foods available and also because of the efforts of the Marquis de Morès to establish a meat packing industry to packing the meat in the Dakota territory and ship the meat in refrigerated rail cars to the markets in the east.
Roosevelt suffered double personal tragedies in February of 1884 when both his mother and his wife died the same day. The tragedy struck him hard (as to be expected) and he returned to his Dakota cabin for a period of mourning and introspection. He wrote a book about his hunting exploits and becoming a cattleman and expanded his holdings. He threw himself into his cattle raising business, becoming president of the Cattleman’s Association and stepping out to make peace with his neighbor, the Marquis, who was in jail on charges of murder. He also expanded his land holdings to include the Elkhorn Ranch.
Despite his personal warnings about overgrazing the territory, he also expanded his herds. In 1885, thieves stole his boat and he gave chase with two others eventually capturing the thieves downriver. He chose to walk the thieves back to authorities in Dickinson. The story is told in some places that he did so for the reward money or that he did so because they deserved a trial. In either event, his multiday walk to Dickinson with the perpetrators added to his reputation and helped dispel the view that he was a soft Easterner.
The seasons of 1886-1887 would prove disastrous to the cattle industry in Medora and eventually the town itself. The summer was brutally hot and dry with temperatures reaching 125F. Then after the grasses had been so devastated by the heat, the winter was equally extreme with temperatures as low as -41F. The cattle starved or froze that winter.
Although Roosevelt had been hit hard financially, he had grown tremendously in the eyes of the locals and eventually the nation. His embrace of the cowboy life contributed to his formation of the Rough Riders which brought him fame during the Spanish-American War and his experiences with the cattle contributed to his beliefs in conservation and management of our natural resources which carried into his Presidency. Although he would not return often or for long periods after 1887, the experiences shaped his actions later.
During Roosevelt’s presidency, the Maltese Cross cabin was exhibited at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, MO and at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, OR. Later it was moved to the state fairgrounds in Fargo, ND and then eventually to the state capitol grounds in Bismarck where it remained for 50 years. In 1959, the cabin was relocated to its present site and renovated. The most recent preservation work occurred in 2000.
Fellow travelers onboard the SS Matanuska, the ferry we rode along the Inland Passage recommended that we include the North Dakota Badlands as part of our journey east as they are indeed different than the South Dakota Badlands.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is really three geographically separated areas of badlands in western North Dakota. The park covers 110 square miles of land in three sections: the North Unit, the South Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit.
We visited only the park’s larger South Unit which lies alongside Interstate 94 near Medora, North Dakota. The smaller North Unit is situated about 80 mi (130 km) north of the South Unit, on U.S. Highway 85, just south of Watford City, North Dakota. Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch is located between the North and South units, approximately 20 mi (32 km) west of US 85 and Fairfield, North Dakota. The Little Missouri River flows through all three units of the park. The Maah Daah Hey Trail connects all three units.
We started our visit in Medora at the South Unit Visitor Center. Located outside the visitor center is Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross cabin. The cabin has been expanded since its original building to include an upper half story and additional rooms on the main floor.
From there, we drove along East River Road alongside the Little Missouri River through the buttes. The topography of the North Dakota badlands seems almost to rise above the surrounding landscape while the South Dakota badlands seem to drop down into valleys and canyons below the surrounding landscape.
Generally the road was paved although we were stopped early on for construction ahead and the wait for a pilot car to guide us through the single lane in the dirt.
In our first stop, we were in the prairie dog area and they showed up for a few pictures. As we moved on again, we wound down to the waters edge and very soon were stopped for a view of the bison alongside the road.
As we continued on, we were stopped further along by more bison along both sides of the road and in the road itself. There were several calves in the group and the interest at this particular spot seemed to include the water alongside the left side of the road. There were probably about 6 cars stopped to wait and it seemed almost as if the bison were playing.
Three or four would be in the road and would finally start to move off to one side but before the first car could move, one or two more bison would come from the side. As they would move on, a couple would come from the other side of the road. Eventually, we would move on to more scenery.
The earth showed the layers of different colors. The reds reflecting the iron content, the grays of granite-based soils, the blacks and browns of the thin layer of topsoil. There are veins of black coal. Fires in the veins of coal over the years have baked the sand and clay to a substance much like a clay brick in appearance and hardness which helps to hold the buttes and spires in place even as the lower, softer soil is eroded through the action of wind and water.
The road is a 36 miles long scenic loop which climbs and dips through all kinds of scenery as well as passing near recreation areas and hiking trails. Near one of the overlooks, we saw a quartet of horses off in a field. Chances are they were feral (of domesticated breed yet born in the wild). Towards the end, it drops again down near the river and a field where bison and prairie dogs seem to rule. The field, of several acres, included some dust wallows where the bison rolled around. You could also see that the older larger bison ruled, often causing the younger smaller ones to leave as they saw the large ones coming.
We circled on back to the visitors center where we got involved in conversation with other travelers. One was from northern Virginia and was just making their way west for this trip. Another was an old sub sailor who had served on the Nathaniel Greene and was meeting his former shipmate in the campgrounds later.
We went into Medora in search of a meal and to peruse the shops and then continue on our way to Ft. Yates for a night on the reservation.
You can see all of the pictures from this leg of the trip here.
We invite you to continue along with us and hope you enjoy the account!
Don’t forget the trip calendar we put together at CafePress. We think it turned out pretty well and would make a great holiday gift. calendar

Summer 2014: Alaska via the AlCan; Little Big Horn National Monument

Little Big Horn National Monument sets in south central Montana far away from any large cities. We stayed overnight in Hardin, MT about 16 miles away on the edge of the Crow Agency land.
Paralleling (roughly) the highway between Hardin and the monument is a railroad track which might not generally be notable but this particular day there was a convoy of track maintenance equipment on the move and we got a couple of pictures since we usually see this type of equipment waiting to go rather than moving down the track.
Little Big Horn National Monument memorializes the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry and the Sioux and Cheyenne in a famous battle. During the course of our visit, we heard about the actual battle as well as some perspective on how the battle came to be.
For the most part, the battlefield is just the landscape. There are markers, a road, the visitors’ center and a veterans’ cemetery. It is a place where quiet introspection and retrospection is possible.
The map above is from the NPS information sheet. I suggest you enlarge it in a separate window or tab for reference.
At our hotel the night before, one of the other guests told us about the interpretive ranger presentation and recommended we attend. Ranger Interpreter Adelson gave quite an animated presentation of the battle. So animated that at the conclusion, he needed to sit down and recuperate a bit before fielding questions. Very impressive.
The Battle of the Little Bighorn was fought in a landscape of ridges, steep bluffs, and ravines of the Little Bighorn River. The combatants were warriors of the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes, battling men of the 7th Regiment of the U.S. Cavalry. The Battle of the Little Bighorn has come to symbolize the clash of two vastly dissimilar cultures: the buffalo/horse culture of the northern plains tribes, and the highly industrial/agricultural based culture of the U.S. This battle was not an isolated soldier versus warrior confrontation, but part of a much larger strategic campaign designed to force the capitulation of the nonreservation Lakota and Cheyenne.
In 1868, many, but not all, Lakota leaders agreed to a treaty, known as the Fort Laramie Treaty that created a large reservation in the western half of present day South Dakota and required that they give up their nomadic life and settle into a stationary life, dependent on Government-supplied subsidies. The stationary life on the reservation would have the added benefit of avoiding conflict with other tribes in the region, with settlers, and with railroad surveys. Lakota leaders such as Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse rejected the reservation system as did many roving bands of hunters and warriors and felt no obligation to conform to the treaty restrictions, or to limit their hunting to the land assigned by the treaty. Their sporadic forays off the set aside lands brought them into conflict with settlers and enemy tribes outside the treaty boundaries.
Tension escalated in 1874, when Lt. Col. Custer was ordered to make an exploration of the Black Hills inside the boundary of the Great Sioux Reservation. He was to map the area including identifying a suitable site for a future military post. During the expedition, professional geologists discovered deposits of gold. Word of the discovery of mineral wealth caused an invasion of miners and entrepreneurs to the Black Hills in direct violation of the treaty of 1868. The government made attempts to keep the settlers out of the Black Hills but that was unsuccessful. The U.S. negotiated with the Lakota to purchase the Black Hills, but the offered price was rejected by the Lakota as the land was sacred to the Indians. The climax came in the winter of 1875, when the Commissioner of Indian Affairs issued an ultimatum requiring all Sioux to report to a reservation by January 31, 1876. The deadline came with virtually no response from the Indians, and matters were handed to the military.
General Philip Sheridan, commander of the Military Division of the Missouri, devised a strategy that committed several thousand troops to find and to engage the Lakota and Cheyenne, who now were considered “hostile”, with the goal of forcing their return to the Great Sioux Reservation. The campaign was set in motion in March, 1876, when the Montana column, a 450 man force of combined cavalry and infantry commanded by Colonel John Gibbon, marched out of Fort Ellis near Bozeman, Montana. A second force, numbering about 1,000 cavalry and infantry and commanded by General George Crook, was launched during the last week of May, from Fort Fetterman in central Wyoming. In the middle of May, a third force, under the command of General Alfred Terry, marched from Fort Abraham Lincoln, Bismarck, Dakota Territory, with a command comprised of 879 men. The bulk of this force was the 7th Cavalry, commanded by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.
It was expected that any one of these three forces would be able to deal with the 800-1,500 warriors they likely were to encounter. The three commands of Gibbon, Crook, and Terry were not expected to launch a coordinated attack on a specific Indian village at a known location. Inadequate, slow, and often unpredictable communications hampered the army’s coordination of its expeditionary forces. Furthermore, it must be remembered that their nomadic hunting put the Sioux and their Cheyenne allies constantly on the move. No officer or scout could be certain how long a village might remain stationary, or which direction the tribe might choose to go in search of food, water, and grazing areas for their horses.
The tribes had come together for a variety of reasons. The well watered region of the Powder, Rosebud, Bighorn, and Yellowstone rivers was a productive hunting ground. The tribes regularly gathered in large numbers during the spring to celebrate their annual sun dance ceremony. The sun dance ceremony had occurred about two weeks earlier near present day Lame Deer, Montana. During the ceremony, Sitting Bull received a vision of soldiers falling upside down into his village. He prophesied there soon would be a great victory for his people.
On the morning of June 25, the camp was ripe with rumors about soldiers on the other side of the Wolf Mountains, 15 miles to the east, yet few people paid any attention. In the words of Low Dog, an Oglala Sioux, “I did not think anyone would come and attack us so strong as we were.”
On June 22, General Terry decided to detach Custer and his 7th Cavalry to make a wide flanking march and approach the Indians from the east and south. Custer was to act as the hammer, and prevent the Lakota and their Cheyenne allies from slipping away and scattering, a common fear expressed by government and military authorities. General Terry and Colonel Gibbon, with infantry and cavalry, would approach from the north to act as a blocking force or anvil in support of Custer’s far ranging movements toward the headwaters of the Tongue and Little Bighorn Rivers. The Indians, who were thought to be camped somewhere along the Little Bighorn River, “would be so completely enclosed as to make their escape virtually impossible”.
On the evening of June 24, Custer established a night camp twenty-five miles east of where the battle would take place on June 25-26. The Crow and Arikara scouts were sent ahead, seeking actionable intelligence about the direction and location of the combining Lakota and Cheyenne. The returning scouts reported that the trail indicated the village turned west toward the Little Bighorn River and was encamped about twenty-five miles west of the June 24 camp. Custer ordered a night march that followed the route that the village took as it crossed to the Little Bighorn River valley. Early on the morning of June 25, the 7th Cavalry Regiment was positioned near the Wolf Mountains about twelve miles from the Lakota/Cheyenne encampment along the Little Bighorn River. Today, historians estimate the village numbered 8,000, with a warrior force of 1,500-1,800 men. Custer’s initial plan had been to conceal his regiment in the Wolf Mountains through June 25th, which would allow his Crow and Arikara scouts time to locate the Sioux and Cheyenne village. Custer then planned to make a night march, and launch an attack at dawn on June 26; however, the scouts reported the regiment’s presence had been detected by Lakota or Cheyenne warriors. Custer, judging the element of surprise to have been lost, feared the inhabitants would attack or scatter into the rugged landscape, causing the failure of the Army’s campaign. Custer ordered an immediate advance to engage the village and its warrior force.
At the Wolf Mountain location, Custer ordered a division of the regiment into four segments: the pack train with ammunition and supplies, a three company force (125) commanded by Captain Frederick Benteen, a three company force (140) commanded by Major Marcus Reno and a five company force (210) commanded by Custer. Benteen was ordered to march southwest, on a left oblique, with the objective of locating any Indians, “pitch into anything” he found, and send word to Custer. Custer and Reno’s advance placed them in proximity to the village, but still out of view. When it was reported that the village was scattering, Custer ordered Reno to lead his 140 man battalion, plus the Arikara scouts, and to “pitch into what was ahead” with the assurance that he would “be supported by the whole outfit”.
The Lakota and Cheyenne village lay in the broad river valley bottom, just west of the Little Bighorn River.
As instructed by his commanding officer, Reno crossed the river about two miles south of the village and began advancing downstream toward its southern end. Though initially surprised, the warriors quickly rushed to fend off Reno’s assault. Reno halted his command, dismounted his troops and formed them into a skirmish line which began firing at the warriors who were advancing from the village. Mounted warriors pressed their attack against Reno’s skirmish line and soon endangered his left flank. Reno withdrew to a stand of timber beside the river, which offered better protection. Eventually, Reno ordered a second retreat, this time to the bluffs east of the river. The Sioux and Cheyenne, likening the pursuit of retreating troops to a buffalo hunt, rode down the troopers. Soldiers at the rear of Reno’s fleeing command incurred heavy casualties as warriors galloped alongside the fleeing troops and shot them at close range, or pulled them out of their saddles onto the ground.
Reno’s now shattered command recrossed the Little Bighorn River and struggled up steep bluffs to regroup atop high ground to the east of the valley fight. Benteen had found no evidence of Indians or their movement to the south, and had returned to the main column. He arrived on the bluffs in time to meet Reno’s demoralized survivors. A messenger from Custer previously had delivered a written communication to Benteen that stated, “Come on. Big Village. Be Quick. Bring Packs. P.S. Bring Packs.” An effort was made to locate Custer after heavy gunfire was heard downstream. Led by Captain Weir’s D Company, troops moved north in an attempt establish communication with Custer.
Assembling on a high promontory (Weir Point) a mile and a half north of Reno’s position, the troops could see clouds of dust and gun smoke covering the battlefield. Large numbers of warriors approaching from that direction forced the cavalry to withdraw to Reno Hill where the Indians held them under siege from the afternoon of June 25, until dusk on June 26. On the evening of June 26, the entire village began to move to the south.
The next day the combined forces of Terry and Gibbon arrived in the valley bottom where the village had been encamped. The badly battered and defeated remnant of the 7th Cavalry was now relieved. Scouting parties, advancing ahead of General Terry’s command, discovered the dead, naked, and mutilated bodies of Custer’s command on the ridges east of the river. Exactly what happened to Custer’s command never will be fully known. From Indian accounts, archeological finds, and positions of bodies, historians can piece together the Custer portion of the battle, but not with absolute certainty.
It is known that, after ordering Reno to charge the village, Custer rode northward along the bluffs until he reached a broad coulee known as Medicine Tail Coulee, a natural route leading down to the river and the village. Archeological finds indicate some skirmishing occurred at Medicine Tail ford. For reasons not fully understood, the troops fell back and assembled on Calhoun Hill, a terrain feature on Battle Ridge. The warriors, after forcing Major Reno to retreat, now began to converge on Custer’s maneuvering command as it forged north along what, today, is called Custer or Battle Ridge.
Dismounting at the southern end of the ridge, companies C and L appear to have put up stiff resistance before being overwhelmed. Company I perished on the east side of the ridge in a large group, the survivors rushing toward the hill at the northwest end of the long ridge. Company E may have attempted to drive warriors from the deep ravines on the west side of the ridge, before being consumed in fire and smoke in one of the very ravines they were trying to clear. Company F may have tried to fire at warriors on the flats below the National Cemetery before being driven to the Last Stand Site.
About 40 to 50 men of the original 210 were cornered on the hill where the monument now stands. Hundreds of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors surrounded them. Toward the end of the fight, the soldiers killed their horses and used their bodies as defensive shielding. In the end, the warriors quickly rushed to the top of the hill, cutting, clubbing, and stabbing the last of the wounded. Superior numbers and overwhelming firepower brought the Custer portion of the Battle of the Little Bighorn to a close.
The battle was a momentary victory for the Sioux and Cheyenne. General Phil Sheridan now had the leverage to put more troops in the field. Lakota Sioux hunting grounds were invaded by powerful Army expeditionary forces, determined to pacify the Northern Plains and to confine the Lakota and Cheyenne to reservations. Most of the declared “hostiles” had surrendered within one year of the fight, and the Black Hills were taken by the U.S. without compensation.
General Custer has often been portrayed as arrogant and somewhat foolish for starting the attack and maybe he was. We were somewhat shocked to overhear a woman telling the child with her to put back the Custer souvenir “You don’t want that. He’s an asshole.” . In the War of Northern Aggression/War Between the States/Civil War (mixed audience here), he was noted for fighting against the odds and winning. His widow was given the table used to sign the surrender papers as testament to his role in ending the war militarily. The National Park Service has a discussion of General Custer’s military career here. There is also a discussion of Chief Sitting Bull here.
In 1879, the Little Bighorn Battlefield was designated a national cemetery administered by the War Department. In 1881, a memorial was erected on Last Stand Hill, over the mass grave of the Seventh Cavalry soldiers, U.S. Indian Scouts, and other personnel killed in battle. In 1940, jurisdiction of the battlefield was transferred to the National Park Service. These early interpretations honored only the U.S. Army’s perspective, with headstones marking where each fell.
The essential irony of the Battle of the Little Bighorn is that the victors lost their nomadic way of life after their victory. Unlike Custer’s command, the fallen Lakota and Cheyenne warriors were removed by their families, and “buried” in the Native American tradition, in teepees or tree-scaffolds nearby in the Little Bighorn Valley. The story of the battle from the Native American perspective was largely told through the oral tradition.
In 1991, the U. S. Congress changed the name of the battlefield and ordered the construction of an Indian Memorial. DSCF9009
In 1996, the National Park Service – guided by the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument Advisory Committee, made up of members from the Indian nations involved in the battle, historians, artists and landscape architects – conducted a national design competition. In 1997 a winning design was selected.
Note the term Indian. Its used a lot out here rather than Native Americans or individual nation names. It’s not my intent to offend.

  • 7 December 1886: The site was proclaimed National Cemetery of Custer’s Battlefield Reservation to include burials of other campaigns and wars. The name has been shortened to “Custer National Cemetery”.
  • 5 November 1887: Battle of Crow Agency, three miles north of Custer battlefield
  • 14 April 1926: Reno-Benteen Battlefield was added
  • 1 July 1940: The site was transferred from the United States Department of War to the National Park Service
  • 22 March 1946: The site was redesignated “Custer Battlefield National Monument”.
  • 15 October 1966: The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[4]
  • 11 August 1983: A wildfire destroyed dense thorn scrub which over the years had seeded itself about and covered the site.[5] This allowed archaeologists access to the site.
  • 1984, 1985: Archaeological digging on site.
  • 10 December 1991: The site was renamed Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument by a law signed by President George H. W. Bush

Custer National Cemetery is located at the National Monument grounds. These veterans are from later wars. They stopped accepting new internees in 1978 due to space constraints.
Here are a couple of other Battlefield maps. Open in another tab/window From Smithsonian Magazine
From Mohican Press
You can see all of the pictures from this leg of the trip here.
We invite you to continue along with us and hope you enjoy the account!
Don’t forget the trip calendar we put together at CafePress. We think it turned out pretty well and would make a great holiday gift. calendar

Summer 2014: Alaska via the AlCan; Butte Montana

Butte, Montana is a city of about 35,000 these days and is the fifth largest city in Montana. Its history revolves around the mining industry and was a boomtown during the early 20th century with all the stages of development from camp, to boomtown and mature city. It shifted to a town of historic preservation and environmental cleanup. Butte is unlike other mining towns in that the mining operations are woven within the fabric of the city itself.
We arrived from Missoula and stopped on the west side of town for fuel. We knew we wanted to see the Mining Museum so we spun the GPS roulette wheel and decided to take a ride by to see if they were still open. I call it the GPS roulette wheel because sometimes the route the GPS gives may not be that workable. In this particular case, it routed us via Bluebird Trail, or the back way, into the World Museum of Mining. A bluebird could follow the trail easily but it was a bit rugged for us, just a dirt road with deep ruts that wandered up and down a few low hills past some unused equipment and a dog that seemed interested in chasing the interlopers away.
The road had cross ruts and was among the worst roads of the entire trip. It did lead us up to the paved parking lot of the World Museum of Mining’s paved parking lot (which was closed for the day) and onto the city streets of the Montana Tech of the University of Montana campus and thus into downtown Butte.
We found and checked into our motel for the night. As we had seen in several other places, some of our fellow guests were motorcyclists which made for an interesting show the next morning as we sat eating the complimentary breakfast. They were loading up and carrying a fair amount of luggage with them. Each piece had a particular place and set of tie-downs leading to an interesting game of 3D Tetris as they loaded up. One of our fellow diners was also taken by the show and remarked how she used to ride a scooter to the market and had her own adventures tying down a watermelon. She also shared that she was a widow who had learned the value of duct tape for a myriad of uses after her husband’s passing.
We left and headed back to the World Museum of Mining (using the smoother paved way through town).
The World Museum of Mining was established in 1963 and one of the few in the world built on the top of an actual mineyard, the Orphan Girl Mine. The Orphan Girl operated from 1875 to 1956, an exceptionally long time for any mine to operate and speaks to the richness of the ore there. Over the course of its life, the Orphan Girl was a copper/zinc/gold/silver mine and very profitable for Anaconda Copper Mining Company and providing employment for its workers and supporting the Butte economy.
The World Museum of Mining is open daily from April to October and gives underground tours of the mine, also something of a rarity. The Hell Roarin’ Gulch town located on the property is composed of actual buildings from the boomtown days and authentic memorabilia. The town can be toured on your own or with a guide.
The website,, lists the World Museum and Hell Roarin’ Gulch as sites of sightings of visitors from the past who haven’t crossed over. (We did see some international tourists but none that we determined to be paranormal.) It is believed that some buildings moved from other sites or displays from other locations may have attachments that came with the physical building or object.
The Museum exhibits include geology and mineral exhibits in addition to furnishings of the day.
Hell Roarin’ Gulch buildings continue to be restored with the Orphan Girl head frame being restored in 2006. There are currently 15 buildings and include a couple of churches, a school, post office, various stores and professional offices.
One of the buildings is Peterson’s Sauerkraut Factory. The operation used steam operated equipment to cut and core the cabbage and then it was moved by hand into barrels for aging. Peterson with his brother and their wives operated the factory for 50 years beginning in 1883 and produced over 350 barrels of sauerkraut per year at 400 pounds per barrel which he delivered throughout the area.
Doc Ironsides, the dentist, was a traveler and would set up in different towns or at different mines. Some of his equipment was on display in the office. The foot operated drill seems barbaric, to say the least.
The largest and fanciest building was the mine superintendent’s home.
We left the World Museum of Mining through the campus and returned to the downtown area to the Copper King Mansion built for and by William Andrews Clark beginning in 1884. Construction was completed in 1888.
Mr. Clark was born in Connellsville, Pennsylvania in 1839. He worked his father’s farm until he was 14 and then went away to school, attending law school in Iowa. He taught school in Missouri in 1859 and 1860. In 1861, he joined the Army of the Confederacy but deserted in 1862 to pursue mining. With a couple of successful claims, he decided he would do better providing support to the miners and took advantage of the laws of supply and demand to increase his fortunes. He bought a team of horses and a wagon and sold supplies to the miners and later began making loans based on the potential value of mining claims. At one time, his income was reported at $17 Million per month!
Clark was rich enough that he built (and financed) his own railroad. His business interests stretched east to New Jersey. He pursued his interest in politics, and served as President of Montana’s two constitutional conventions. He served in the US Senate from 1901 to 1907.
Perhaps his greatest legacy to Butte was that he built the beloved Columbia Gardens, a 68-acre playground and amusement park for the young at heart of Butte and the region. Thursdays were set aside to transport children for free to the Columbia Gardens on his electric trolley system. Other charitable efforts of Clark include a Girl Scout camp in New York state named for his daughter Andree. He also funded the Paul Clark Home, an orphanage in Butte that provided sanctuary for the sick and the indigent, and the YWCA home in Los Angeles for homeless girls and their mothers.
After his death, Columbia Gardens operated until 1973 did not pass to the people of the town as some said Clark had indicated it would. The Anaconda Mining Company wanted to rid itself of the maintenance burden (as the park was deteriorating) and to mine the land. While the matter of ownership and intent was tied up in bureaucracy and lawyers, fire struck and the Columbia Gardens was destroyed.
It should also be noted that Mr. Clark was instrumental in the founding of Las Vegas, selling off 2000 acres as lots and making a significant fortune in the process. He is the Clark for whom Clark County Nevada is named. Following his stint as US Senator, Mr. Clark moved to New York City until his death in 1925.
One unique feature of the mansion is a custom made shower that sprays water from around a complete circle and the top. The guide told us that it had some issues with keeping an even temperature from all the spray heads but that it worked as designed.
On the top floor is a ballroom for entertaining, complete with a pipe organ. Unfortunately, Mr. Clark’s design was ahead of its time. Playing the organ generated such a loud sound that it literally knocked over furniture in the room and was only played once!

After Clark and his second wife passed on, the mansion was inherited by Clark’s son. The mansion was sold to an outside person, who sold all the existing furniture that was in the mansion. After becoming this owner’s private residence, the mansion was eventually sold to the Catholic Church and it became a home for the town’s Catholic nuns, who turned part of the top floor into a chapel, in the rooms off the ballroom area. The nuns didn’t appreciate the fresco which was painted on the ceiling of the master bedroom, so they painted over it. The mansion was put back on the market when the nuns moved out some years later, and stood vacant for 3 years.
The new owners started at once to clean out the cob-webs and dust, and began to renovate the mansion to its former glory. While the owners were able to buy back some of the original antiques owned by the Clark family, many other antiques similar to the ones which existed in that era were purchased.
In an effort to preserve the history of Butte as well as restore the mansion, the new owner collected pieces from church buildings being destroyed and developed a collection of stained glass as well as church vestments and furniture which occupies another room on the top floor.
Also the owner loved to have collections, which today are still here on display, including dolls, hats, toys, clocks, demitasse cups and steins.
To raise some money, this owner opened up a restaurant in the main dining room which she ran for many years. The mansion has stayed in the family since then.
The staircase includes these wooden carvings representing each of the states (at the time) in flora and fauna.
The Copper King Mansion operates today as a B&B and also gives tours to visitors. Much of the tour is devoted to the restoration of the mansion.
After the Copper King Mansion, our next stop was the Historic Dumas Brothel. It operated as a brothel from 1890 to 1982 for the purpose of catering to the predominantly male population associated with the mining industry. At one time, it had hidden alleyways and tunnels to permit rapid egress in the event of a police raid.
The brothel boasts 42 rooms ranging from barebones to opulent. Its current ownership saved it from tax sale in 2012 and is attempting to save and restore it. They finance this effort in part by giving tours and operating a store. We dropped by with the intent of seeing the tour but were turned away as the tour guide hadn’t come in that day and the backup was out the door on the way to his other job. We just got a glimpse of the outside and the front rooms and had to leave. It strikes me that the only car parked in the area other than ours was a black Cadillac. There’s a bit more info and some photos at
In a dramatic shift of focus, we also saw the statue “Our Lady of the Rockies”, a 90 foot statue erected in honor of mothers everywhere. The statue sets atop the Continental Divide at an elevation of 8500 feet, which is 3500 feet above Butte.
The statue’s genesis was in a promise made by Bob O’Bill who promised to erect a statue of the Virgin Mary if his wife recovered from cancer. His wife did recover and the project grew with input from others. The statue is lit by night and a bus tour goes from the town to the statue twice per day during the summer. There is also talk of a tram to ride to the top but expansion plans for access have been challenged by property owners in the area with concerns about the potential traffic.
We didn’t ride up close but we did get a chance to see the statue from below.
There are many more pictures from the World Museum of Mining and the Copper King Mansion here.
We invite you to continue along with us and hope you enjoy the account!
Don’t forget the trip calendar we put together at CafePress. We think it turned out pretty well and would make a great holiday gift. calendar

Summer 2014: Alaska via the AlCan; US Border to Butte, Montana

We started heading southeast from Everett and into Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and eventually climbing up to Stevens Pass. There was a ski lodge resort there that appeared to be open all year, even when there was no snow, but it had closed for the day before we arrived and took a break in their parking lots. We saw bicyclists coming up and over from the east side. I admire their stamina and determination but didn’t share their interest in bicycling the area.
As we started down the east side of the pass, we were starting to see smoke from wildfires but didn’t know exactly where they were. As we exited the National Forest, we entered Leavenworth, a small Alpine town like several in the area. A tourist town, maybe winter ski area but busy as we drove through.
Our friend, Pattie, told us she had stopped in one of those towns several years before and left a dollar bill which would be tacked to the wall with a note indicating Fuquay-Varina where they lived at the time. The town she visited may or may not have been Leavenworth but it was typical of the area.
On new pavement, we were passed by a truck headed west and managed to catch a rock from him with our windshield. After the warnings of rocky roads and potential damage in Canada and Alaska, it was somewhat ironic that we did get the crack on fresh smooth pavement in Washington.
We drove on to Wenatchee and stopped for the night in the first place we found available, Inn at the River. The smoke was now very noticeable and it was hot as it would be for the next couple of days. We crossed the river to find our lodging but it took a bit to find the river from the inn as it was on the other side of the freeway and the railroad tracks. We overheard someone at the desk talking about having to be careful in choosing route to Seattle due to the fires and the smoke. Many of the hotel guests were firefighters.
Inn at the River sits across the street from Valley Mall. We went in to replenish the vitamin supply at a GNC store and then had dinner at Shari’s Restaurant and Pies. Shari’s is a chain similar in concept to Denny’s, Perkins, etc. We had eaten one in Bangor for the sub reunion as it was across the street from the hotel where we stayed there. The food was good and the pastry looked tempting but we passed.
We continued east towards Spokane through miles and miles of relatively flat land given to orchard agriculture. Through much of the area, the crops were identified by signs alongside the road. It helped us see the variety of crops and helped with the “What’s that?” questions that always seem to arise as we go through farm country.
We dropped down and picked up Interstate 90 into Idaho and stopped for lunch in Wallace. Wallace is in a pass with mountains on both sides with the interstate highway squeezing through. Wallace turned out to be about 4 blocks wide, all on the same side of the interstate.
Wallace had been a silver mining town and the restaurant where we stopped for lunch had a gift shop with silver jewelry on display. The restaurant was pretty quiet with the hostess/waitress/cook all being the same person.
There was an accordion festival scheduled for the coming weekend. Wallace also has a brothel museum but we didn’t find out about it until after we had already left. There were numerous references to bicycle races as Wallace is a major stop on several annual cross-country races.
As we left town, the entrance and exit ramps overlapped each other at different elevations in order to fit it all in.
We continued to Missoula, Montana where we discovered that ZZ Top was playing that night. Lodging was filled for most of the chains near town with concert-goers but we did manage to find a place for the night.
In 1877, construction began on Ft. Missoula, destined to become home to the 25th Infantry Regiment, one of four companies known as the Buffalo Soldiers formed after the Civil War with Black Soldiers serving under white officers. The 25th was one of the first called into action when the Spanish American War broke out in 1898 serving bravely in the Philippines and Cuba but was reassigned to other posts after the war. During WWI and WWII, the site was used to inter Italian aliens and later Japanese persons. The site has been used for training, for prison and holding cells and was eventually decommissioned in 2001. Much of the original post’s land is under the control of the Interior and Agriculture departments as well as the Missoula County which uses it as an historical museum.
The historical park includes displays of trains from the steam era as well as sawmills equipment of the type used to build the original fort.
The next morning, we headed north to Dixon Montana and the National Bison Range (NBR), under the direction of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The NBR was established in 1908 as a home for the dwindling bison herds in this country. Bison are believed to have once numbered in the tens of millions but were down to about 100 by the late 1800s. Bison were found in all the states except Hawaii. Settlement and irresponsible hunting dwindled the numbers extensively so that the initial herd was in the low hundreds when the 18,000 acre reserve was established. The original herd released in 1909 was purchased by the American Bison Society and donated. This is not the only herd still found in North America (as evidenced by some of earlier parts of our travels) but this herd was established expressly for preservation.

Bison herds in the Mission Valley date back to the late 1800’s when a Pend d’Oreille man of the Flathead Reservation returned home from the plains of eastern Montana with four bison calves. The herd quickly grew to 13 animals. At that point, partners Michel Pablo and Charles Allard bought the herd. The Pablo-Allard herd thrived in the Mission Valley’s open grasslands. It became one of the largest private bison herds at the time when bison were most threatened with extinction. However, when it was announced the Flathead Indian Reservation would be opened for homesteading in 1910, surviving partner Pablo began making arrangements to rid himself of his herd. The US Government declined to purchase the bison so Pablo sold them to Canada.
Just after this, the American Bison Society pushed the US government to set aside land to protect and conserve the American bison. The National Bison Range was one such area. And after its establishment, the American public pitched in to provide funds to purchase bison to place on the new Refuge. The American Bison Society, under the direction of William Hornaday, solicited donations throughout the country. Over $10,000 was raised, enough to purchase 34 bison from the Conrad herd. Located in Kalispell, Montana, these bison were descended from the famous Pablo/Allard herd. To supplement this, Alicia Conrad added two of her finest animals to the effort. The Refuge also received one bison from Charles Goodnight of Texas and three from the Corbin herd in New Hampshire. These 40 animals, all donated to the Refuge and coming from private herds, form the nucleus of 300-400 bison roaming the Range today. from

Before arriving at the visitor center, we passed under a land bridge which had been constructed over the highway. The land bridges allow animals to cross without being endangered/bothered by the traffic.
We entered NBR through the visitors’ center which had much information about the bison including a display about a white bison which had been part of the herd which has since died. There was another white bison born on a bison farm in Connecticut in 2012. The white bison holds particular spiritual significance to the American Indians. The rare white bison made news coverage at the time and draws crowds to see it. We also learned the difference in antlers and horns on animals. Antlers are shed on a regular basis but horns are permanent, perhaps this is one of those things we “should” have known but it was new knowledge for us.
The NBR has a dirt road that winds through and covers a range in elevation of 2600 feet above the visitor center. There is a shorter track which covers less distance and elevation for larger vehicles like buses or large RVs. We took the longer winding route and saw bison, pronghorns, mule deer and a chipmunk. The dirt and gravel road would be easily traversed in a standard sedan.

After leaving the NBR, we got back onto I90 heading towards Butte, MT. Just outside the gate is a small general store and café but it wasn’t open the day we were there.
You can see all of the pictures from this leg of the trip here.
We invite you to continue along with us and hope you enjoy the account!
Don’t forget the trip calendar we put together at CafePress.

Summer 2014: Alaska via the AlCan; Vancouver BC

Our destination for the next couple of days is Vancouver, the city, not the island. The city has a population of over 600,000 with the greater Vancouver area topping out at over 2.4 million people. That makes it third most populous in Canada and most populous in western Canada. It’s also one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse with over 52% of its population having a language other than English as their primary language. Vancouver was also the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics and 2010 Winter Paralympics and many structures from those events remain today.
The journey west took us through farmland and the increasing signs of suburbia with housing developments and shopping centers until we were obviously into the edges of Vancouver, complete with summer road construction. The freeway added and subtracted lanes while increasing the density of orange construction barriers until we were funneled onto the Port Mann bridge and into town.

Just a moment to vent my feelings on toll roads and bridges. The Port Mann bridge over the Fraser River on Canada’s Route 1 is a toll bridge. Toll bridges are not unusual and not unexpected. For the traveler though, it is a bit of a surprise to find the toll is collected only remotely. There are no toll takers. There are signs telling you to log on to the internet, so in addition to watching for disappearing lanes around those construction cones and the guy with the trailer who seemingly is unaware of just how long that truck-trailer combo that he wants to put in your lane NOW really is, drivers need to take note of a website address so that they can log on (hopefully later) to pay the toll and avoid the administrative add-on charge for mailing you a bill. Really? There is a way to avoid this and that would involve pre-registering your license number and setting up an account to automatically charge the vehicle’s owner for crossing over. In fairness, this may be part of a network of tolls rather than a one-off for this one bridge but even EZPass seems a significant improvement over this system. Either the NAFTA countries need to adopt a universally accepted system such as EZPass (are you listening Florida and Texas?) or there should be a requirement that an option for just stopping at a manned tollbooth and handing over cash needs to exist. If that’s too much expense and trouble, then maybe a toll isn’t the best way to go.
We did manage to note the relatively simple internet address and supplied a credit card number to yet another potentially-hacked website to enable the identity thieves.

Armed with our research and the recommendations from the desk clerk in Prince George, we made our way into town and secured lodging at the Sandman Hotel. The Sandman is next to the former Olympic stadium near the harbor. Underground parking is available but it was a tight fit for the truck. Luckily we didn’t plan for much in and out so got parked in a space that just barely had enough vertical room for us.
As the picture shows, it was only inches. Our room was cozy but nicely furnished and with something of a view.
On the harbor side of our hotel, you could see the BC Arena, formerly used in the 2010 Winter Olympics. The athletes’ village was primarily located across the Cambie Street Bridge over False Creek.
There were sidewalks and stairways to facilitate getting down to the water’s edge. As we crossed over late on this sunny afternoon, there were rowers, skaters, runners and bikers as well as dog walkers and families shuffling along. As we descended and ascended the long stairways from the bridges to the water, we were passed (and re-passed) by the same runners heading up and down. There are a couple of parks right along the water’s edge and the athlete’s village is primarily apartments and condos now with terrific views in an urban landscape.
Here we saw the first of several large sculptures on display, the human pyramid. Our dinner was delicious salmon.
We set out the next morning for Stanley Park on foot. We had seen enough of Vancouver traffic the day before to know it would be more pleasant to walk it and the weather was suitable for it. We packed the pedometer in a pocket. We started walking on W. Georgia Street which would end at the park entrance.
The sidewalks were busy but not crowded as we made the 1.5 mile walk to the park’s entrance. Along the way were several smaller public areas with flowers in bloom either provided by the town or by the condominium buildings. As we entered Stanley Park, the way curved around to the right with walkways, bikeways and roads for traffic. We stopped on the first bridge to watch four sea otters at play which came out on the stony shoreline as we watched.
The path then continued around to the Vancouver Rowing Club. The Rowing Club is an athletic club with activities in rugby, hockey, rowing and yachting. The facility included an eatery and dock space with a view of the harbor and the near skyline.
As we entered Stanley Park, there was some construction which seemed to be geared towards modifying the area where one could join a buggy tour of the park.
On the walk around, the next sight is HMCS Discovery, a Royal Canadian Navy Reserve division and shore facility. Created during World War II, Discovery was used for recruitment and training, and provided almost 8,000 personnel during the war. Discovery continued in its training role following the war, and also serves as headquarters for several Reserve and Cadet units.
The stone frigate takes its name from HMS Discovery, the ship used by George Vancouver to chart most of North America’s north-western coast. Originally based at the Stanley Park Barracks, in 1944 the Discovery moved to its current location on Deadman’s Island, in Coal Harbour, adjacent to Stanley Park.
We next crossed the road to head inland toward the totem display. The nine totem poles at Brockton Point are BC’s most visited tourist attraction.
The collection started at Lumberman’s Arch in the 1920s, when the Park Board bought four totems from Vancouver Island’s Alert Bay. More purchased totems came from Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) and the BC central coast Rivers Inlet, to celebrate the 1936 Golden Jubilee, the 50th anniversary of Vancouver. In the mid-1960s, the totem poles were moved to Brockton Point area of Stanley Park.
The Skedans Mortuary Pole is a replica as the original was returned home to Haida Gwaii. This pole represents the chief’s hereditary crests and held his remains in a small compartment at the top. Other poles are a house pole representing the family of the owner, another reflects a village tribe’s origins and lore. Still others are to honor a particular event in a person’s or village’s life.
In the late 1980s, the remaining totem poles were sent to various museums for preservation and the Park Board commissioned and loaned replacement totems. The ninth and most recent totem pole, carved by Robert Yelton of the Squamish Nation, was added to Brockton Point in 2009.
Continuing along the walk, we came upon the 9 O’clock Gun which is still fired every day at 9:00 pm to permit synchronizing clocks. The gun has been used in the past to alert fishermen of the closing of fishing time at 6:00 pm on Sundays. After being stolen and held for ransom by University of British Columbia students as a charity fundraiser, the gun has been enclosed by an iron cage. It also has its own Twitter account which tweets “boom” each evening at 2100 hours. Although the gun has only an electrically detonated black powder charge, in the past it has had pebbles thrown into the barrel which led to moving the Esso fuel barge anchored in the harbor and previously in line with the barrel.
The seawall walk continues around Brockton Point to the harbor light. From the seawall, we can see much activity in the harbor including the sea planes and the Lions Gate bridge headed north across the harbor entrance. We can see snow-capped mountains in the near distance.
We walked back to our hotel as we needed a rest after our 7 mile hike. Next we went to the harbor’s edge to visit the Olympic Cauldron site. It’s been moved to an open plaza near the City Centre and overlooking the water. We also saw the Lego whale marking the cruise ship landing. We think it’s part of the giant sculpture display in Vancouver.
This takes us through the older part of town and to the old train station. It’s no longer in use for trains but has been partially restored and displays several paintings of the north country.
The original part of Vancouver is called Gastown. Here the streets are much narrower and the shops are crowded into smaller spaces.
Gastown was Vancouver’s first downtown core and is named after “Gassy” Jack Deighton, a Yorkshire seaman, steamboat captain and barkeep who arrived in 1867 to open the area’s first saloon. The town soon prospered as the site of Hastings Mill sawmill, seaport, and quickly became a general center of trade and commerce on Burrard Inlet as well as a rough-and-rowdy resort for off-work loggers and fishermen as well as the crews and captains of the many sailing ships which came to Gastown or Moodyville, on the north side of the inlet (which was a dry town) to load logs and timber. The Canadian Pacific Railway terminated on piles on the shore parallel to Water Street in 1886.
This low-lying swampy area eventually filled in with bridges and dumping of refuse. In 1886, the town was incorporated as the City of Vancouver. It fell victim to the “Great Vancouver Fire” that same year, losing all but two of its buildings. The area was completely rebuilt and continued to thrive.
Gastown found new life as the center of the city’s wholesale produce distribution until the Great Depression in the 1930s. It also was center of the city’s drinking life (there were 300 licensed establishments the twelve-block area of the former Granville, B.I.) After the Depression Gastown was a largely forgotten neighborhood of the larger city and fell into decline and disrepair until the 1960s. It was a continuation of the Skid Road area with cheap beer parlors, flophouse hotels, and loggers’ hiring halls.
In the 1960s, citizens became concerned with preserving Gastown’s distinctive and historic architecture, which like the nearby Chinatown and Strathcona were scheduled to be demolished to build a major freeway into the city’s downtown. A campaign led by businessmen and property owners as well as the counterculture and associated political protestors, pressured the provincial government to declare the area a historical site in 1971, protecting its heritage buildings to this day. A riot between the hippies and the police in 1971 over marijuana has gone into legend. The Gastown was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2009.
Gastown was served by a central steam system for heating and other purposes. But it wasn’t until 1977 that Raymond Saunders’ first steam clock was built to solve the issue of a steam vent in a popular sidewalk for the renovated Gastown district of Vancouver. At first glance, one supposes it to be much older, after all, it is steam driven. Wikipedia has an explanation of its workings including micro switches and electric motors here .

The pedometer said we’d walked over 10 miles today.

The next morning had us back in the truck (after jump starting it since the fridge had been running a couple of days off the main battery in very warm temps even in the underground garage) and making a final pass around town. We passed Sunset Beach Park with its giant sculptures including a whale’s ribcage, the rock Inuit and the outsized engagement rings. (The Inuit was used as a symbol/mascot for the 2010 Olympics and historically by the Natives to point the way to the hunting grounds.)
We turned inland and drove through a neighborhood of one and two story houses and the occasional low-rise condo building to make our way to Granville Island and past the flats of the industrial areas with their warehouses, docks and casinos heading towards the border.
While still in the Vancouver metropolitan area, we arrived at the border crossing. On the border itself is a Peace Arch built in 1921 to celebrate the Treaty of Ghent which ended the War of 1812. The arch is in an international park and flies the US and Canada flags.
The approach to the border crossing was a bit different than others we had used, partly due to the volume of traffic crossing there. The cars and trucks moved as a group from spot to spot along the way rather than idling along in a continuous line. This system was devised to cut down on the air pollution of the idling engines.
Our pass through US Customs and back into home territory was routine with the standard questions of where we’d been, how long we’d been there and what we were bringing in with us.
You can see all of the pictures from this leg of the trip here.
We invite you to continue along with us and hope you enjoy the account!

Summer 2014: Alaska via the AlCan; Prince Rupert to Vancouver

We pulled into Prince Rupert amapPrinceRupert-Vancouverfrom the ferry and waited in line for Customs. Since this was the end of the line for the ferry, the Customs station was busy with the whole ship trying to get through Customs at the same time. As we left the ship in 6 lines, we merged into 3 to pass. All told, it really moved along rather quickly. We drove out of the Customs gate and up into the fog to make the drive into Prince Rupert. We had called ahead to the Prince Rupert Hotel and made arrangements for two nights stay.
The next morning we set out to find Totem Park. Our map showed it to be a short walk away. Our map didn’t show the change in elevation though. Totem Park could be reached following a trail which looked to be little used and a bit overgrown. Luckily, a lady passed by walking her dogs and told us we could also take the public path between these houses to get there.
The public path was stairs. The stairs climbed up the 10 feet or so to reach the houses’ front yards and then continued up above their second stories and then still continued higher. I would estimate the climb was near 45 degrees and rose 100 feet in about 200. Then the stairs ended and the path climbed just a bit further. We finally reached the top after availing ourselves of several opportunities to stop and admire the view off the bluff and out to the harbor.
There are only three totems in Totem Park. You can see where there were two more that are no longer there. These totems are reproductions of authentic ones created by First Nations people.
We had thought there must be some universal code in totems and had tried to decipher but it just wasn’t to be. It starts with the totems having different purposes. Some are to celebrate a life, some are to commemorate an event, some are to give praise and some are to condemn or shame such as the one in Valdez meant to shame Exxon for wrongs no made right. Individual figures on the totem can also have meanings such as the frog meaning prosperity. As in other art, there is no universal key of this always means that.
We walked down a different way than we had come up to see more of town. There were a couple of other totems standing by themselves and we also found two by city hall.
After setting on the ferry for 40 hours and the short drive to the hotel while powering our DC refrigerator, we had to jump start the truck this morning. We had been running the refrigerator off the truck battery rather than the spare battery we brought along and had used in Anchorage to jumpstart the stranded motorists. The spare battery started the truck instantly and we recharged the battery as we made our way to our next attraction.
The maps and list of attractions listed the North Pacific Cannery and North Pacific Historic Fishing Village out past Port Edward. Since we had seen the cannery at Haines, we opted to go to the fishing village instead. The paved road led us toward the mouth of the Skeena River and we passed the cannery museum but then found only what looked to be private property as the road became a driveway. We carefully retraced our path but still found nothing other than the cannery museum so we went there instead.
The cannery is built out over the water, probably to protect the buildings from bears and also to facilitate cleanups.
This cannery had a collection of much of the canning equipment, some from this facility and some from other locations. The tour guide described the process of making the cans from sheets of metal. This began several weeks before the fishing season so that there was an inventory of cans available to process the catch. The salmon was placed in the cans and the lids were attached and went through a heating and cooling process much like someone would can things at home. Finally the cans would be sealed with lead and a label would be placed on the cans.
According to the guide, all the salmon that was canned here was the same and just had different labels placed on the cans. Marketing secrets of the salmon industry. The museum also had much of the equipment for the more modern vacuum-packed lead-free method of canning.
The cannery took the fish from the boats, cleaned them and then canned. Manual labor was a large part of the processing. Some of the steps required strength, some required dexterity while others just required labor. The jobs tended to be done by ethnic groups based on what we might refer to as stereotypes today. Asian women tended to do this job, First Nations men did that job and so forth.
The dock included cabins that were used to house the workers during their temporary employment stints. These also tended to be segregated by ethnic groups. These were in varying states of restoration and preservation, too. This turned out to be the historic fishing village we had sought.
Separated from the processing building and the housing were the fuel storage tanks and pumps. There were also some administrative buildings for the cannery company.
The train tracks run between the cannery and the road for shipping the finished product. The displays also include a rather extensive model railroad and items from the time of the cannery’s productive days which was founded in 1888 and was in seasonal operation until 1968, the longest running cannery in BC.
We tried to find Canadian post card stamps while in Prince Rupert but the long weekend holiday had the post office closed.
We did find a great lunch at the Captain’s Table restaurant above the train museum park and with a great view of the water in Prince Rupert. We enjoyed it enough that we had lunch and dinner there.
We left Prince Rupert on the Monday of a long holiday and the three day weekend had other vehicles on the road heading home but it only got heavy as we came to traffic lights or bridges. Rt. 16, Yellowhead Highway, roughly parallels the Skeena River and stayed along it all the way into Prince George, 450 miles away. This was a long day for us and the weather had gotten hot (98*).
We stopped for lunch in Smithers at the Riverhouse Restaurant and then took a short detour down Main Street to see the Alpine Village which included an Alpenhorn player in the median of Main Street and a decorated bandstand.
As we continued on, we became more aware of smoke in the air from the wildfires that were ongoing. When we arrived in Prince George, it turned out that many of the hotel rooms were taken by firefighters who had been brought in from other areas to help with that effort.
The hotel in Prince George was the first we had seen electrical outlets hanging outside the first floor overhang for winter vehicle heaters and chargers. We also discovered that all the “Do not back in” signs were to limit the exhaust from idling cars entering into the motel rooms. The misalignment of the front wheels on the truck had finally gotten to the other front tire so Keith replaced it while Betty went in search of postcards.
Some of our research includes checking out the postcard racks to see what local attractions are included there. Sometimes it helps, sometimes not so much. In the office of the hotel, Betty got involved in conversation with the desk clerk. She was born in Germany and had settled here with her husband several years ago after spending several years working here during the summers. She asked where we were headed and was disappointed that we would not be visiting Banff and Lake Louise. Betty told her we were feeling we had seen a lot of great scenery already and were headed to Vancouver to see a Canadian city instead. She did have some tips for our coming travels though, including recommendations for sights and a hotel in Vancouver.
We left Price George headed south on Rt. 97, the Cariiboo Highway. Towns (settlements?) along the way were 150 Mile House and 100 Mile House named for the way stations along the way from frontier days.
Generally, the scenery looked arid but there were signs of forestry in the lumber yards and pulp mills along the way. There was also a cairn erected to commemorate Ft. Alexandria, the last Northwest Fur trading outpost west of the Rockies.
The area had been the site of mining operations in the past and when we next checked into the news, we discovered that a tailings pond had broken in Williams Lake and was in danger of polluting the drinking water and fishing waters with the toxic mess left over from the mining operations. That story was still breaking as we left the area.
We stopped for lunch at The Sugar Shack, a side of the road eatery that looked to be in a building that could just as easily have been a large two car garage made from logs, complete with rollup doors. The special that day (and probably most days) was a Canadian delicacy, poutine. Originating in Quebec, poutine is a fast food dish sold in “greasy spoons” and roadside food wagons, made with French fries, topped with a light brown gravy-like sauce and cheese curds. (Can’t you just feel your arteries clog just reading that?) Easily large enough to be a meal by itself, it came as a side order to a brisket sandwich. They were also pushing maple sugar products but we passed on those.
We continued on to Cache Creek for the night. When we pulled into town shortly before sunset, the thermometer was at 104! The room’s air conditioner got a workout but it quickly cooled to a more reasonable temperature after the sun went down. The room décor included a mural surrounding the clock on the wall, a large flower in the bathroom and a mesh drape hanging over the bed. As it was Monday night, the crowds had dissipated with only a couple of the other rooms being taken in the small motel.
We went to the post office the next morning to get stamps for a couple of remaining postcards. The post office was tucked on a ledge into a little space between the Old Cariboo Road, a creek and a high bluff of rock. We left Cache Creek on the Trans-Canada Highway (Route 1) heading towards Frasier Canyon.
The scenery through Fraser Canyon was beautiful with the river leading the way. The landscape was greener than the day before.
There are 7 tunnels built on the high banks of the river to allow the Trans-Canada highway to pass next to the rock bluffs and the railroad tracks.
One unusual thing here is that there are single railroad tracks on each side of the river. One set of tracks was built by the US government and one set was built by the Canadians. Each was asserting their presence and ownership of the territory and not cooperating at all. The US trains ran on one side of the river both north and south, the Canadian trains ran on the other side of the river both north and south. It’s only been in the last 15 years that agreement was finally reached to allow cooperation so one set of tracks is used for northbound and one set is used for southbound, increasing the efficiency for both.
We noted that the steep drop offs from the highway are protected by guardrails in only some areas but not others. While we aren’t certain, it seemed that the places where a vehicle going off the road and hindering rail traffic was a concern, there was a rail. Where going off the highway did not endanger the tracks below, there was no rail. Hmmm.
The Fraser Canyon is popular tourist territory with water activities like rafting and fishing and the mountains on either side hosting winter snow activities along with hiking and climbing.
The canyon narrowed down to funnel us past the city of Hope where we took a break for lunch. Hope is a scenic little town with the river banks and an abundance of carved wood statues.
The statues are carved where the tree grew with the root structure. One story we read said that the trees were falling victim to blight and the chainsaw carvings were seen as a way to make use of the dying trees. Other chainsaw carvings were commissioned works. One of my favorites was the troll with the mouse in his beard.
Shortly after passing out of Hope, we turned west through farmland backing to low mountains and made our way toward Vancouver.
You can see all of the pictures from this leg of the trip here.
We invite you to continue along with us and hope you enjoy the account!

Summer 2014: Alaska via the AlCan; Inland Passage via Ferry

In looking carefully at a map of Alaska, one first notices the size of the state and its coastline and how much vast space with no roads. In the interior, the distances are covered by bush and float planes like we saw in Anchorage. This works on the rugged coast between the islands but is remarkably inefficient in moving freight or if you want to use a vehicle to proceed beyond the landing spot.
In 1948, three Haines residents Steve Homer, Ray and Gustav Gelotte, purchased a surplus US Navy landing craft and began providing ferry service for up to 14 cars with very crude provisions for passengers. After a couple of years, it proved to be economically unsuccessful and was subsequently purchased by the Alaska territorial government. The service proved useful and was expanded with bigger and better vessels and more towns served. As we mentioned in the Haines posting, the distance by water between Haines and Skagway are only 20 miles apart by water but hundreds of miles distant by car. Other cities in Alaska, including Juneau, the capital, are totally unreachable except by boat or plane.
The Alaska Marine Highway System over the ensuing decades now transports folks, vehicles and freight over the broad range from Bellingham, Washington over 3500 miles to Dutch Harbor, Alaska in the Aleutian Islands.
As I was working on our itinerary, I had us in the Wrangell-St. Elias area with plans to go down towards Washington and the ferry seemed to be a perfect way to give us a break from the drive, fuel and hotel costs and let us see the Inland Passage. My haste didn’t allow me to see that there was no direct road route to Haines for our trip, another case of serendipitous planning taking us to a particularly enjoyable part of our journey.
Our ferry ride took us about 475 miles by water in 39 hours to cover what would have been 915 miles by highway over perhaps 3 days. Had we driven to Prince Rupert, we would have seen some parts of British Columbia that we didn’t but we would have missed the Inland Passage and all its beautiful sights. You do miss things in the truck as you’re making miles and watching for signposts and directions. You also miss some of the conversations and people watching opportunities.
We drove onboard on a ramp which took us down to a lower level of the ship or the car deck. The car deck held all manner of vehicles. There were passenger cars and pickups like ours. There were tour buses and motorcycles. There were huge RVs, both motorhomes and fifth wheel campers. There was a truck pulling a boat on a trailer and there were the trailer halves of tractor trailers that were traveling unaccompanied and maneuvered about by tractors at their embarking and disembarking ports.
While at Homer, we had seen the MV Kennicott loading but it had a vehicle elevator and turntable for ports that don’t have facilities for the ramps. The car decks are secured and not accessible to passengers while underway. Folks traveling with pets bedded them down in the vehicle and went down to check when we pulled into port.
After securing the truck, we went upstairs to the purser’s desk for our cabin assignment and keys. We had reserved an outside cabin but some folks had plans to stay in the common areas or even to pitch a tent on the upper level sundeck (which has heat lamps under the roof).
The three bunk outer cabin has an upper and lower bunk on one bulkhead and a single lower bunk at right angles and against the outer bulkhead with a square window above. There is also a fold down desk in one corner. There was a small head with a shower stall, a sink and a toilet angled into the corner. While usable, it required a bit of thought about what you intended to do in figuring the way you entered.
The deck above the cabins has a forward observation deck with comfortable chairs and a panoramic view. There is even a small kids’ play area and some tables for games and cards.
Immediately aft of the observation lounge is a bar and lounge which sometimes has a musical performer. Over the course of our trip, we only saw a few folks here. Continuing aft, the line for the cafeteria runs along the starboard side and the cafeteria was open all day except for an hour before each meal change. Overnight, sandwich service rather than hot meals were available. Aft of the cafeteria’s serving line was a dining area that was open around the clock.
Each deck also had an open area on the stern. There were two or three areas on the outer decks where smoking was permitted at times.
Our route included four stops before our final destination of Prince Rupert BC.
Our first stop was at the ferry docks outside of Juneau. The dock is located north of the main part of town in Auke Bay like the dock in Haines so we didn’t really see the town. We were in port a couple of hours and there were vans waiting at the dock to take folks into town for a tour. We chose to stay near the dock and enjoy the warm sunshine.
Juneau was established in 1880 by Joe Juneau and Richard Harris. They discovered gold in nearby Gold Creek. The mine eventually became the largest operating mine of its kind and operated from 1880 to 1944. The capital was moved to Juneau in 1906 from Sitka. Points of interest besides the mine include the Mendenhall Glacier and the Capitol Building which is trimmed in Tokeen marble mined in SE Alaska.
After we left Juneau, we threaded our way south towards Ketchikan. Late in the afternoon, we made our way to the observation lounge where we were delighted to see whales out in front of us. There was a tour group in the observation lounge at the same time and the group would call out when one was sighted making it easier to spot them. We also saw seals on a chunk of ice and boats fishing.
Later, we had a conversation with one of the crewmen whose job includes steering the ship. He told us that the whales were humpback whales and orcas. Environmental concerns force the ship to slow or change course to avoid them, at times even coming to a dead stop when there are just too many whales to safely proceed. He told us that the ships sonar setup allowed them to see and identify the whales even underwater. He also told us of watching a humpback whale on the sonar once that was being pursued by orcas but that the humpback is able to dive deeper and more steeply and escape the orcas if the water is deep enough.
The scenery throughout our trip continued to be breathtaking and the sunset over the mountains and on the water was captivating.
Another conversation we had with fellow travelers gave us tips for our return trip home. This particular couple had traveled part of the AlCan as we had but their trip had taken them further north into Yukon Territory and on the Top of the World highway. He shared that their trip had been over less friendly roads and had probably more closely resembled the conditions found by my family in their trips over the AlCan in the early 1950s. These folks were from North Dakota and asked about our route home. They recommended that we consider the North Dakota Badlands on our return route. We took their recommendation and were glad that we did.
Our conversation with the woman working the cash register for the cafeteria line told us a bit about their jobs as well. The crew, depending on the route and ship assigned, may leave home and stay onboard for 2 weeks. When they reach the end of their two weeks, they have two weeks off before repeating the cycle. Depending on the job, they work 12 hours per day, perhaps split into 2-6 hour shifts.
We retreated to our cabin for the night and slept well, only waking when we pulled into our stops in Petersburg and Wrangell during the night. From our cabin window, we could see buildings that looked like they belonged on a pier, some type of warehouse or terminal and bright lights in the darkness.
The next morning, we were back walking around on deck watching the scenery roll by. As we approached Ketchikan we saw several lighthouses and even a USCG helicopter land at one of them. We pulled into a busier port at Ketchikan than we had been seeing.
The Tongass Narrows, the waterway leading to the town’s docks, was in use by fishing boats and working boats of all sorts. This was also the channel that served as the local seaplane strip. On the opposite side of the channel from town was an elevated airport on Gravina Island. The airport is connected to town by a small ferry which takes about 7 minutes to cross from side to side. You may remember the Tongass Narrows and Gravina Island as the “Bridge to Nowhere” which gained notoriety as an earmark in the 2005 Federal budget. Perhaps I should also ask whether you remember Federal budgets and appropriations bills as opposed to “continuing resolutions”? Gravina Island has only 50 residents and the bridge (at an estimated cost of almost $400 million) was labeled as a particularly egregious example of government waste in the form of pork barrel spending. Proponents of the bridge said it was not just for the benefit of the 50 residents but to allow development of Gravina Island.
Our stop in Ketchikan was scheduled for 4 hours to allow the ship to take on diesel fuel to continue our trip into Prince Rupert. Since we had been unable to find postcards since leaving Haines, we disembarked and went into the commercial area near the dock. We tried a hotel and a restaurant and finally found the postcard at an A&P (Alaska and Proud) grocery store.
We went back onboard for lunch and asked the purser about mailing our postcard. She told us that it wouldn’t go out until after the ship went back north the following week but told us the post office was at the edge of the ferry dock parking lot so we went back ashore to the post office.
Leaving Ketchikan, we stayed within the Tongass Narrows for some time and got to enjoy some inland scenery from the water.
We were going to be landing in Prince Rupert around midnight and didn’t have reservations. We overheard some folks talking about driving on to Prince George as they expected it to be hard to find rooms in Prince Rupert. Prince George is 9 hours from Prince Rupert and while the fog would surely dissipate as you left the coast, it didn’t seem like a palatable alternative to us. The purser did have a list of hotels in Prince Rupert though with phone numbers. One of our fellow passengers was a German woman who was traveling without a vehicle and she was also trying to make arrangements for lodging but the language was creating a barrier for her getting recommendations. It wasn’t clear about how to get from the docks to the hotels and she was getting frustrated. We did share that the list was available and gave her one. We didn’t see her again and hoped she made a connection that was suitable.
We pulled into Prince Rupert in a heavy fog and the line at Customs was slow as the whole ship unloaded at once. We passed through relatively quickly (considering the line) and found a room just a couple of miles away at the downtown area of Prince Rupert.
You can see all of the pictures from this leg of the trip here.
We invite you to continue along with us and hope you enjoy the account!