Archive for Oktober, 2010

Mt. Rushmore + Custer, South Dakota – Giant sculpture and tiny tunnels

Sonntag, Oktober 31st, 2010

Terry really wants to get a lift with the Unimog. Heather accompanies us with her car to Mount Rushmore to make Terry happy. Mt. Rushmore is another example of American gigantism – a sculpture masterly performance nevertheless. The faces of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln were immortalized into a rock in the Black Hills. Between 1927 and 1941, the 20 m high heads were blown, hammered and chiselled from the granite of Mt. Rushmore – the highest elevation between Rocky Mountains and Swiss Alps. The four presidents were selected on the condition that they especially influenced the fate of the United States of America. There were critical voices regarding sense or nonsense of such a mammoth project from the beginning. But they mainly criticized financial issues or the disfigurement of God’s Creation. It was not really a matter of interest that this is a sacred place of the Sioux Indians – neither then, nor today.

In protest the Sioux started just a few miles away an own project. Since 1948 the sculpture of the legendary Sioux warrior Crazy Horse is being created there, who will be including horse more than 170 m high and therewith higher than the four presidents altogether. There is not much more finished yet than the head. Since the Indians refuse any governmental support, the project that is financed just from funds is only slowly making progress.

The Iron Mountain Road called hwy # 16A from Mount Rushmore is said to be the most beautiful feeder to Custer State Park. To overcome the enormous elevation differences the road is partially built on wooden bridge constructions in a 270°-angle and imminently disappears in a tunnel like in a fantastic model railway landscape. The three rectangular tunnels are just big enough for Arminius; even oncoming drivers want to keep us from going through them. The tunnel measures are correct, we fit in without any roof damage, but for higher vehicles there would be little leeway. The Visitor Centre is closed, but at least they left some maps that supply us with additional information of the much more critical part of the drive: the Needles Highway. This road passes an area with steep rock needles, bizarre granite monoliths that attract climbers from all over the world. The crucial point of the highway is three tunnels that scale down in north-western direction of travel. The first one is pretty o.k. Tight, exiting, but sufficient. The second one is a problem, since it is in height and width extremely cramped. The indicated tunnel measures seem to allow thoroughfare, but we aren’t really sure if the measures tell the maximum allowed outside measurements of passing vehicles or the minimum tunnel’s headroom and clear width, what makes a big difference. We fold the side mirrors, otherwise there is no chance, and I walk in front to pilot Joerg through. To make it brief: It was the inner tunnel measures. The whole thing was especially thrilling since the tunnel is fairly long and narrows and widens three times. A couple of times I hold my breath when a slight movement of the steering wheel does not turn out as I thought. Then Arminius is gone through, without any scratch, and I am sure the next tunnel is at least nine inches too low for us. Fortunately another road escapes us from this trap.

We have a breather at Sylvan Lake, a very picturesque pond framed by granite precipices. Behind Custer City we find the National Forest Comanche Campground whose restrooms, garbage bins and pay station are closed for the winter but who allows complimentary overnight stay.

Wall, South Dakota – That’s also America: missiles, bombers and mega-drugstore

Samstag, Oktober 30th, 2010

The village Wall halfway between Badlands and Rapid City offers a very American attraction. It boasts about owning the world’s largest – and oddest – drugstore. This might have been the intention when founding it in the 1930s, but nowadays there is not much left of a drugstore, the whole area is more or less a souvenir shop. Strange is it though, because old figures, wood benches, pictures, photos, and stuffed animals are displayed between the small shops, what lends Wall Drug the expression of a kind of museum. The founders wanted to attract customers in those days with complimentary ice and coffee for five cents, and this tradition was kept until today.

Ellisworth Air Force Base lays a few miles further, command centre of long range bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles that are daily kept at the ready, partially equipped with nuclear weapons. At the side of the Air Force Base the South Dakota Air & Space Museum is situated, an exhibition of discarded military airplanes and missiles. The entrance to open air exhibition and museum is free of charge, a bus tour to a missile silo bearing to charge is only offered in summer. Besides many older models the still used B1-B bomber and the huge B52 with more than 56 m span are most impressive.

In the evening we are back to Terry and Heather in Piedmont where Indian chicken with rice, several chutneys and Naan bread is on the menu – everything homemade, including the bread!

Badlands National Park, South Dakota – Thriving life on bad land

Freitag, Oktober 29th, 2010

The first Europeans and settlers called this piece of earth bad land – impossible to cross and unsuitable to cultivate. And really: Hot summers, icy winters and merciless winds whose sandstorms carry the seeds away have the flushed out prairie landscape under control. But like often inhospitality does not exclude beauty. Uncounted hills with saw-tooth-like peaks, combed through by deeply submerged canyons, rise up out of the lunar landscape. The odd sandstone formations are based on coloured horizontal layers in rose, grey, gold, and green. A seabed, a primeval forest, several layers of volcanic ashes, and in-between repeatedly erosion rock that’s washed up from the Black Hills and the Rocky Mountains form the colourful mixture. The layers hardly settled when rain and wind started their destructive works on the newly created landscape. Still today, the Badlands erode with incredible one inch per year. Anyway, they are a sanctuary of life, especially beyond the brim where soil isn’t washed away yet and prairie grasses spring up. Rattle snakes coil their way through the meadows, even the only one we see today paid for trying to cross the park road with its life. Prairie dogs build complete underground cities. The squirrels though are favourite food for one of the rarest mammals on earth: Black-footed ferrets were already exterminated when they were successfully settled again here. Like rattle snakes they don’t only eat prairie dogs, they occupy their burrows. Black-tailed deer and antelope-like pronghorns busily jump around. Approaching bighorn sheep the bucks get themselves to safety and abandon their herd, during mothers and lambs to a large extend ignore vehicles. Great guard. A coyote disappears in the high grass, but in the evening we will hear them barking and howling. Driving up the gravelled Sage Creek Rim Road into the north-western corner of the National Park we are allowed to complimentary use the primitive campground. On the way there and on the campground hundreds of buffalo peacefully graze there, unimpressed by cars and tent inhabitants.

Rapid City, South Dakota – Rescued from Wal-Mart parking lot

Donnerstag, Oktober 28th, 2010

Two days with computer and maintenance works at the Wal-Mart parking lot finally end at Terry’s and Heather’s place just outside the city. Terry makes us delicious Pasta Arrabiata and garlic bread – everything homemade. Terry himself has done a couple of crazy things in his life, for instance he crossed the States on a bicycle from east to west.

Rapid City, South Dakota – From Devils Tower to the Black Hills

Dienstag, Oktober 26th, 2010

The Devils Tower National Monument in the north-eastern corner of Wyoming was declared the first national monument in the United States. Devils Tower, a conical flattened mountain from column basalt, rises up 265 m / 867 feet clearly visible out of the prairie. Molten magma was forced into sedimentary rocks above it and cooled underground. As it cooled it contracted and fractured into columns. Over millions of years, erosion of the sedimentary rocks exposed Devils Tower. Wind and weather gnaw at the mountains, and the columns break off piece by piece. You can follow a two kilometres long loop around the tower, where you can watch climbers during summer.

In the afternoon we can’t resist to buy cowboy boots in Spearfish that’s already in South Dakota. A short detour guides us through 25 km long Spearfish Canyon. The road parallels a small creek that carved the canyon years ago. The canyon is part of the Black Hills, a low mountain range between Wyoming and South Dakota. Here you can find many of the attractions in this area, but best starting point for tours is Rapid City, with 62,000 inhabitants the largest city within a radius of some hundred miles.

Buffalo, Wyoming – In the blizzard

Montag, Oktober 25th, 2010

There was a heavy storm last night, but the sun is shining innocently this morning. If there wouldn’t be the huge cloud structures around us… In Thermopolis is the Wyoming Dinosaurier Center. Not only prehistoric bones are dag up here, prepared and assembled. Dinosaur skeletons in all sizes – own finds as well as some from other institutes – and fossils from around the world are displayed in the museum that belongs to the institution. The laboratory is glazed and you can watch the technicians when exposing and treating the bones. They offer tours to the excavation sites during summer. 10 $ entrance fee for the museum isn’t a small amount, but at least it is for the benefit of the institution.

The Bighorn Mountains are glowing in the sunlight. But what is falling from the clouds to the earth is snow for sure. The Bighorn Mountains are said to be as high and at least as beautiful as the Rockies, but more lonesome. Cloud Peak is more than 4,000 meters high. The landscape is dramatically, but we can’t enjoy it for long time. Snow starts falling, the street covers slowly, and with increasing elevation the temperature sinks from +10 to 0° C. At Powder River Pass in 2,950 m elevation the driving snow gets so dense that we can’t see the road any more and we stop at a pullout. Then the chaos starts. In-between three minutes the temperature drops to -10° C, wind speed rises to more than 100 km/h, and snow flakes move horizontally above earth’s surface. Wind chill factor should be around -35° C, as we calculate later – cold enough to cause frostbites. We better get back into the driver’s cabin. The blizzard puts on an impressive, in fact frightening performance. A snow plough continuously drives up and down the road. Fortunately the snow storm doesn’t last very long and we resume driving downhill the now icy road. All wheel drive and differential lock render a good service now when seven and a half tons (8.3 US t) push downhill. At the foot of the mountains the situation subsided. Endless pastureland lies peacefully in then sun.

Cody, Wyoming – Buffalo Bill, a legend in his lifetime

Sonntag, Oktober 24th, 2010

Via Chief Joseph Highway #296 with incredible views to mountains and canyons we leave Yellowstone National Park via two passes down into the prairie. Buffalo Bill, THE American western hero, founded the town of Cody. William Cody, that’s his real name, had to start working as eleven year old child without father: as mounted courier, trapper and gold panner. Later on he distinguished himself as exceptional rider working for the legendary Pony Express Service that transported letters in ten days the 3200 km / 2000 miles from Missouri to California. After the civil war Cody worked as scout for the army and temporarily supplied 1000 railway workers with tons of fresh buffalo meat daily. From these days he’s got his nickname. Writers were impressed by his shooting skills and wrote articles and even a stage play about him. He acted in the next play and scored a big success. He built up his own Wild West show with overwhelming response in the United States. Eventually he shipped hundreds of extras, horses, cattle and buffalo to Europe and introduced the amazed audience to the life of the New World. When cinema was invented his lavish shows started to show a loss and in 1913 he went bankrupt. But Buffalo bill continued working on the myth of the living legend in circuses and shows until he died 1917 with 70 years of age.

There are five museums in Cody where you can learn about the life of the legend, the prairie Indians, arts and history of the West. A two-day pass for all exhibits costs 15 $.

Mammoth, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming – A dependable geyser

Samstag, Oktober 23rd, 2010

From Firehole Canyon Dive via Lower Geyser Basin and Firehole Lake Drive up to Midway Geyser Basin: There are colourful hot springs everywhere or steam and water bubbles surprisingly from somewhere. Many kilometres of hiking paths were set up to walk around between the boiling, steaming and spitting attractions. Bison herds are spread out all over the park, and walk around between the geysers and along the roads without caring too much for people or cars. The main commercial infrastructure with hotel, restaurant, souvenir shop and thousands of parking spaces is situated at Upper Geyser Basin around Old Faithful Geyser and the largest area of thermal activities. Old Faithful erupts more frequently than any of the other big geysers, in the average about every 90 minutes. Its fountain is up to 55 m / 184 feet high. Not the highest in the park, but impressive anyway.

In Mud Volcano area instead of clear water a grey sludge of rainwater, melted snow, and residue gurgles. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is completely different to what we have seen so far in the park. Yellowstone River races down two waterfalls through a 30 km / 20 miles long and more than 300 m / 1000 feet deep canyon. Each at north and south rim there is a road with several view points. The lower falls with 93 m / 308 feet are most impressive. Here you can see from where the name Yellowstone comes. The walls of the canyon are formed by intense yellow limestone, interrupted by orange, brown and green layers – an image of rare beauty.

Madison, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming – Hot water, steam, and spitting geysers

Freitag, Oktober 22nd, 2010

We arrive at the northeast entrance of Yellowstone via Gardiner. Here the world’s first national park was founded in 1872 and became role-model for thousands of nature reserves in many countries on earth. In the park you find the world’s highest concentration of geysers, hot pools, fumaroles, and mudpots, powered by magmatic heat from deep underground. Three huge volcanic eruptions, the last one 640,000 years ago, spewed out millions of tons of debris and formed a 30 to 45 miles caldera that’s nowadays in the middle of the park.

In the visitor centre – one of five – we get to know which roads are already closed for winter season. The first attraction is Mammoth Hot Springs. Hot thermal water becomes enriched with calcium carbonate on its way to the surface and the white limestone is deposited in the form of travertine as terraces and other forms. Besides the continuously changing limestone terraces – the world’s largest – there are three more hydrothermal formations in the park: A big accumulation of the fumaroles called steam vents are found 20 km south at Roaring Mountain. Hot pools are the most common phenomenon. The most impressive creation is geysers, hot pools with narrow spaces in their plumbing, usually near the surface. These constrictions prevent hot water from circulating and cause boiling water and steam eruptions.

There are many small pools and geysers in Norris Geyser Basin a bit more south on the western park road. They are habitat for different heat loving microorganisms. Those are mainly bacteria, Achaea that were assumed in former times to be bacteria, but have a different genetic structure, and viruses. There are Eukarya as well, single- or multi-cellular plants, animals or fungi. Different thermophiles live in different temperature ranges and have different glowing colours: The hottest areas between 140 and 181° F can be recognized by their yellow colour and their smell like rotten eggs when hydrogen sulphide is converted to sulphur. Iron processing bacteria and Achaea with brown to red colours live in water below 140° F. You can determine the coldest parts below 133° F based to their emerald-green colour from algae and bacteria containing chlorophyll, exchanging sunlight into energy.

The most spectacular geyser called Steamboat is at home in Norris Basin. It is the world’s tallest active geyser. It throws more than 100 m / 300 ft high, followed by thunders of steam for hours. Unfortunately the eruptions are entirely unpredictable and Steamboat can sleep for days, months, or even years. The last time it happened was 2005.

Bozeman, Montana – Snowbirds on their way south

Donnerstag, Oktober 21st, 2010

They eyes sting, the throat is dried. The drought hanging over the prairie is perceptible. As continuing to the south slowly wheat fields appear among the extended pastureland. The grain harvest is partially not yet gathered in – in the second half of October, pretty late. Huge grain silo give rise to the supposition that wheat plays a grand role here. Slowly landscape changes, there is a river or lake from time to time that partially allows irrigation. Trees turn up, and some buttes interrupt the monotonous appearance of the prairie. Buttes are eroded table mountains, if they are somewhat bigger they are called mesas. We leave Great Falls, Montana’s largest city, on our left. We put up with the short detour to continue in I15 whose route is said to be especially attractive. And really, only miles further, the highway follows the valley of Missouri River into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains that are called Big Mountain Belt. The granite formations are sparsely wooded and soft-focused by erosion. We pass Helena, Montana’s capital with 25,000 inhabitants. Again and again snowbirds overtake us, migrants in cars or motorhomes from cooler northern areas like Alberta, British Columbia or Alaska, who hasten away from the winter. Elk Pass guides us to nearly 2,000 m elevation, but it stays warm. Via Butte we eventually land in Bozeman, the last bigger city before Yellowstone National Park, where we want to take some food on our journey.

Browning, Montana – From the mountains to the prairie

Mittwoch, Oktober 20th, 2010

Glacier Park has, unlike its name promises, hardly any visible glacier, but the typical Rocky Mountains’ panoramas. Together with Canadian Waterton Lake Park they make up the International Peace Park. At Avalanche Creek we follow the canyon of the same name to Avalanche Lake. The weather is marvellous; the beautiful weather period doesn’t leave us although morning comes up with fog. The nights are frosty, and even in daytime Celsius temperature stays one-digit, but the bushes coated with hoar frost let the landscape appear even more peaceful. Lilac and turquoise stones lay on the path, but the creek cut its curvy way through deep-red rock and smoothed it. Water rushes over many rapids downhill; it is blue-green and clear as glass as if somebody poured spruce needle bubble bath into it. Cedars lay hither and thither in wider areas of the brook bed, felled by storms or sicknesses. Some trees are covered with lichen and moss and look like they already donned their winter pullover. In the very end of the lake, as no thermal wind started up yet, the surrounding mountains are perfectly reflected with the sun in the back on the surface of the water. And the best is: We are alone. During summer real mass migrations shall take part.

We leave the park and circumnavigate it eastwards on Hwy #2. After some pass crossings we land on an endless seeming plateau that starts in 1.600 m elevation. Hills, treeless prairie, and dried grass steppe extend to the horizon. It has abruptly 20° C. Cattle, bison and horses are bred on huge expanses. We drive through an Indian Reserve that belongs to the Blackfoot. There is nothing remarkable in the main town Browning except the casino. Most Indian Reserves own casinos nowadays since they may open them according to their sovereignty even if state laws don’t allow. To improve tourism it is even allowed to camp there free of charge. Still we think there’s too much bustle and follow a rarely frequented highway to the next rest area where we overnight lonely and legally as well. We acknowledge the beautiful sunset and the affiliated plunge in temperature.

West Glacier, Montana – Winter camping with internet reception

Dienstag, Oktober 19th, 2010

Between Purcell and Cabinet Mountains, passing Salish Mountains and Whitefish Range, we drive along the Canadian border eastwards. Hwy #2 guides us through the wide valley of Rocky Mountains’ foothills. The surrounding is lovely, with not very rugged and high mountains grown over with trees that are mirrored in the crystal clear lakes.

We decide to look into a Verizon mobile phone provider’s outlet to solve the problem with the internet connection. Although you can find open Wi-Fi nets in most cities, it might not always be the place you want to overnight, and valuable travelling time has to be invested in daytime. Furthermore unlocked Wi-Fi nets involve a considerable safety risk when entering sensitive bank or credit card data. Unauthorized persons could hack into your computer and abuse the information. The same could happen when using an internet café’s computer. Besides, open hotspots become less. Even at supermarkets, fast-food restaurants or airports internet connection costs money more often than before: up to 10 $ per day. This is a probably avoidable issue on a short trip, but not on a long-term journey.

Verizon has no problems with foreigners, but instead of the worldwide GSM net that’s very widespread, this company uses the so-called CDMA standard. This means for us we have to buy a new internet stick. We get it including activation for 150 bucks. In return Verizon promises – compared to other providers – nearly complete area coverage in the entire US except a few unpopulated areas in high mountains. We will see.

In the afternoon we have to realize that the park road through Glacier Park is already closed for the winter season. Still we are allowed to go up the road for quite a bit before we have to turn. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is generally not allowed for vehicles exceeding 21 feet length and 8 feet width since narrow curves and rock overhangs curb the road. In summer there shall be vehicles bumper to bumper. For today we stay on one of the few “campgrounds” that are still open. The pick-nick area at Lake McDonald serves as campground during the winter. There is no water or other service, but pick-nick tables, fire pit, and even fire wood is provided. For 10 $, around half of the regular price. We think that’s really fair, and the place is very scenic. A first mobile internet test is successful: During my AT&T phone of course does not work in the park, Verizon still provides me with acceptable reception.

Sandpoint, Idaho – No internet for foreigners

Montag, Oktober 18th, 2010

At the gas station of the village we draw much attention. People make bets what kind of vehicle Arminius is. Is it from the United Nations, a kind of test vehicle, or even a camper? Some of them embrace us spontaneously, for them a trip like this is just unbelievable.

We spend a couple of hours trying to activate the internet connection with the data SIM card from AT&T we received in Sequim. After many trials – phoning, going to a shop, phoning, shop, phoning again – we have to realize: AT&T will not connect us to the internet without having an American ID card. We are just travellers, so of course we don’t have one. No internet connection for us poor foreigners. We postpone this problem since we might have to buy a new internet stick when working with a different mobile phone provider, and who knows, will they connect us as travellers?

A short hike brings us to Kootenai Falls at the river with the same name. The scenic combination of waterfalls, rapids, and pools protected from the current invites to swimming on summer days. A group of kayak drivers with short, duck-like boats paddles – one after the other – to an eddy where they skilfully remain against the current nearly without paddling or even twist pirouettes.

After reaching Montana we rest at a truck stop in the town of Libby. We park between two trucks, but our happiness doesn’t last very long: Soon more trucks squeeze in and the tanker besides us keeps its engine running for any reason although the driver quickly falls asleep in his berth. Perhaps he hasn’t got a parking heater, and the night seems to become cold. But we can’t ask him because he’s already asleep. Anyway, we change position after supper to a quieter corner of the area.

Okanogan, Washington – Frozen water on the mountain, sweet fruits in the valley

Sonntag, Oktober 17th, 2010

First night frost stroke us: Thermometer shows -4° C in the morning, but it must have been much cooler at night. Small waterfalls and trickles covered the rock slopes with a layer of ice. The road leads up to Rainy Pass and Washington Pass to nearly 1700 m elevation and down to the valley where water from irrigation plants immediately freezes on the grass, if not the whole plant is frozen over with many small icicles. After crossing even the foothills of the Northern Cascades we finally reach the climatically mild dry valley that nearly has the same name than on Canadian side: Okanogan. Lovely dry-brown grass hills and irrigated valley embrace us where many kinds of fruit, but only little wine is grown. Some of the villages gave themselves a picturesque wild-west outfit, even when it is not always related to their history. The legendary Indian Summer with its dramatic fall colours is withhold from us since this is exclusive to the Eastern States, but still hardwood trees change appearance here as well.

In the evening, right after passing the border to Idaho, we reach a dump with many churches. We look for one that’s still busy and ask if we might stay in their parking lot, and we are not refused to do so.

Colorado National Monument, Colorado – A last view back

Sonntag, Oktober 17th, 2010

Colorado’s sun does what it is expected to do on 300 days per year: it is shining. A good last day in this state and a good day for Colorado National Monument, just a few miles outside Grand Junction. The broad canyon landscape with high precipices and odd stone sculptures towers above Colorado River Valley by more than 600 m. Variously coloured stone layers testify for many millions of years of most different climatic conditions. Glowing red, violet, orange and brown tones result from iron and other minerals in the rock. Erosion power of water, wind and ice worked for long time on sandstone, slate and other sediment layers. Harder stratums resist to erosion better than softer ones and influence which shape the rock will take. From the elevation of this semi-desert we look back to a Colorado that charmed us with its unadulterated diversity. In the extremely clear air we discover the city of Grand Junction, the Colorado River Valley, Grand Mesa, and the Rocky Mountains.

On I 70 we head into Utah and take from Cisco Hwy # 128 that follows the now narrow Colorado Canyon. The washed out deep-red limestone landscape is so dramatic that you can think about skipping famous Monument Valley – and even without entrance fee. A particularly beautiful spot are the Fisher Towers called rock formations half-way between I 70 and Moab, to be reached on a gravel road. The monoliths and walls tower fantastically jagged into the steel-blue sly, mildly floodlighted by the evening sun.

North Cascades, Washington – Wild creeks and waterfalls in Washington

Samstag, Oktober 16th, 2010

We say goodbye to Wallace, Sequim and the Olympic Peninsula, and go to Port Townsend, am astonishing pretty historic town. The ferry has got an engine failure, has to be repaired first and we are sent away for the moment. But then the midday ferry departures on time after successful test drive, and brings us to Whidbey Island. After getting advice we decided to take the most northern rout to Yellowstone National Park since this seems to be the most varied one. Hwy # 20 leads us on the island through a pretty piece of rain forest and over some rivers. Once passed the bridge to the mainland, we land in a densely populated area with heavy traffic that fortunately decreases beyond the coast. Soon we are crossing the Northern Cascades, a picturesque landscape that charms us with freshly snow-covered mountains, racing brooks, small waterfalls and green reservoirs. No parking lot where we stop to stretch our legs where we don’t have to conduct conversations to satisfy curiosity. Despite the glorious sunshine, in the evening it soon gets chilly, it has only 3° C above zero. After leaving North Cascade National Park we enter a National Forest where dispersed camping is permitted with few restrictions. We find a trail head parking lot where overnight parking is not forbidden. Having the interagency annual pass “America the Beautiful“, user fee is dropped.

Sequim, Washington – A budding start

Freitag, Oktober 15th, 2010

We finally manage to get ourselves a stock of food, some store cards, a road map, a mobile phone connection and half of an internet connection that does not yet work.

Wallace is unbelievably kind and swamps us with self-caught and home-preserved salmon, salmon pâté, clams, and chicken salad for the next weeks. One more start that couldn’t be more promising.

Sequim, Washington – Talking until hoarseness

Donnerstag, Oktober 14th, 2010

Actually we have planned to organise our life for the next months in a new country. There is a lot to do, since the USA are the third largest country in the world – after Russia and Canada – with 50 Federal States and more than 300,000 inhabitants. But eventually we end up in showing Wallace our photographs from Egypt and the Arabian Desert. In the evening, he invites his friends again, and we make a slide show about our hiking trip through the desert from Red Sea to River Nile and our years in North Africa. But most of the listeners have a very interesting life story themselves! Many of them spent half or three quarters of their life in Panama; as teachers or engineers for instance, as the States still were the operator of the channel.

Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia + Port Angeles, Washington – Farewell and new beginning

Mittwoch, Oktober 13th, 2010

For our farewell Canada shows itself at its best. On our last day in this country a shining sun on a perfectly blue sky sais goodbye. We ourselves have to say goodbye to Branca and Anton whose hospitality we enlisted such a long time. From Victoria we take the Ferry to Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.

The US Border Officers are very friendly and uncomplicated. I may even keep the rest of the apples that I still have from Ludwig in the Okanagan Valley, just citrus fruit would have been a problem, but we don’t even have meet or fish. Even our main problem, the wrong 3-months-visa from Alaska, is solved here: They just issue a new visa for six months, beginning from today, and we don’t even have to pay for this new visa. After one and a half hours ferry trip, we have to pass the border control another time. After answering two questions and 30 seconds everything is done and we are in the United States of America.

30 Miles later, right after Sequim, Wallace is waiting for us. He had invited us when we met him in Alaska. His wife Bev is gone for visiting her relatives, but Wally has organized a finger food party for us, where we tell all his friends and neighbours about our travels.

That was Canada: Width, woods, wildlife – we love it!

Mittwoch, Oktober 13th, 2010

In more than five months in Canada and Alaska we drove unbelievable 35,000 kilometres, got nearly 7,500 litres diesel, slept all in all four times on a campground, rotated our tyres three times, made two oil changes, bought one set of new injector nozzles, and had zero police controls. Canada is a beautiful country with magnificent nature and real friendly people, and we loved travelling through.

One of our favourite destinations was the Maritimes, the Atlantic Provinces in the north: Nova Scotia with Cape Breton Island comes up with different scenery behind every corner and still record less tourist masses than the west. The coasts are sometimes lovely and sometimes steep, sometimes steep and sometimes shallow, green, stony, or sandy. Newfoundland and Labrador score with rough, untouched nature, many moose, and the probably most hospitable people. Prince Edward Island seems to polarize more: Some people think it’s fantastic, our enthusiasm kept within limits, although the forest-free potato field scenery and the sand dunes in the north are a welcome change to the rest of Canada.

Québec’s deserted north is relatively inaccessible, but the ice-cold St. Lawrence River in the south creates a distinct landscape. And, not to forget, Québec City is Canada’s most beautiful town. The never-ending Ontario with many forests and lakes convinced us anyway with spectacles of nature – but not only – like Niagara Falls and the respectable but cosy capital Ottawa. We don’t consider the prairie provinces Manitoba and Saskatchewan as the highlight of our journey, but even here you can find some national parks worth to see. The lake district in the north shall be interesting, but we didn’t have enough time for that.

Alberta is, besides the Maritimes, another favourite. The range of different landscapes from flattest prairie over the badlands, lovely foothills up to the rugged Rocky Mountains (with its wonderful parks in Kananaskis Country, Banff and Jasper) is probably the largest. Calgary is a pretty town with “Alpen view”. There are sites of cultural interest everywhere, and the northern ranch and farmland are again another world. The north of the country became our very personal most-loved area. We couldn’t get enough of it. Yukon, North West Territories, northern British Columbia – and Alaska, knowing, that isn’t part of Canada – won our heart with their numberless mountain ranges, dramatic views, rivers, lakes and plateaus, deserted solitude, the wooded tundra and the treeless taiga (although we are actually warmth seeking lovers of the tropics). We loved each kilometre, from Watson Lake to Whitehorse, and from Dawson City to Inuvik (and from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay). Even when British Columbia is the declared favourite destination of most Germans, we do not completely share this opinion and think it’s a bit overrated. Its touristic infrastructure is very developed, with corresponding prices and the willingness to make a tidy sum on each corner. Still, central and southern BC has its absolutely beautiful sports like some smaller parks in the Rockies or the Okanagan Valley. Although –Vancouver is a city worth to bee seen, we would prefer Calgary or Whitehorse as a starting point for a Canada trip. But that’s only a personal opinion.

Generally you have to expect a lot of forest in Canada, what is naturally not always associated with the best views. Driving on gravel roads is simply a part of a Canada journey, as well as the not always predictable weather. Despite Canada is the country for outdoor activities, you should always have a “plan B” for rainy days up your sleeve. The very low crime rate and the Canadians’ friendliness, openness, and overwhelming hospitality are very welcome. You can clearly feel that humans feel better and are more relaxed when having more space for living. Happy Canada! We go to bat for the truckers whose driving behaviour is better than their reputation – as long as you behave accordingly thoughtful. In spite of more than 5,000 km gravel road we still have our original windshield, even without glass repair.

A solemn planning factor for travelling Canada is the high price level: It is an expensive destination. Maybe that altogether lower cost of living, caused by fewer taxes, a nearly complimentary health-care system for residents, far-reaching lower real-estate prices as well as energy and water costs, and cheaper cars, make living in the country quite comfortable. This has no effect on the average traveller and he is soaked. Whether entrance fees, eating out in a restaurant, accommodation costs, food, or alcoholic beverages: most of it is clearly above German price level. Fuel is a bit more inexpensive than at home, but not as inexpensive as some years ago. Thanks to the size of the country – Canada is after Russia the earth’s largest country – and the huge distances the slightly lower prices for gas or diesel qualify and easily become the most important factor of the travel budget, where it is simple to miscalculate. Generous planning is recommended!

The world isn’t perfect anywhere, not even in North America’s north. Pollution and other environmental sins especially in the denser populated southern belt partially interfere with pleasure of travelling. It starts with the man of common people who leaves his beer bottle in the nature, litters the forest, or drives a pick-up with a very poor mileage. Idling is a very widespread bad habit among private persons as well as truck drivers who tend to keep the engine running for the whole night – for whatever reason. Industrial plants like for example paper mills are equipped with inadequate filters in some places, what makes itself felt with poor visibility and a certain smell. Clear-cuts in the forests are sometimes shocking, and the food’s chemical’s content verges on bodily harm. You can draw your own conclusions about an astonishing high cancer and Parkinson rate.

Personally we didn’t have any negative experience; hence Canada was a marvellous destination during the past 25 weeks. We will miss the stop-slow-sign turning pretty blonds that regulate the traffic in construction areas. Because no roadwork’s’ traffic light can substitute those “lollipops”. Thanks to the unfinished Happy Valley-Goose Bay Road, to Dempster and Dalton Highway, because they cared for a little bit mud on the tyre. It was fun. Many thanks to the lovely people who contributed to successful outcome of our journey and left incomparable impressions to us. Our special thanks are meant for the following dear friends for their exceptional hospitality:

Ian and Claire
Vivian and Wally
Carmelita and John
Edgar and Darnell
Marron and Simon
Leslie and John
Pat and John
Mike and Mélie
Dan and Myra
Claude and Lynda
John and Lyndel
Archie and Torrie
Ursel and Udo
Rita and Ingo
Ludwig and Irene
Kerri and Simon
Carolyn and Craig
Branca and Anton
Dave and wife

Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia – Last preparations

Dienstag, Oktober 12th, 2010

Today’s tasks are cleaning the truck, polishing it till it shines, and hoisting the US flag to freshly and neatly enter a new country. USA, we are coming!

Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia – Well-done test drive

Montag, Oktober 11th, 2010

After three weeks rest from driving we are going for a test drive: The engine starts at the first go, and Arminius runs as he never did something else. We are ready to start!

Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia – Beloved jam

Sonntag, Oktober 10th, 2010

We are organising ourselves and try to store everything including all glasses of homemade jam in our limited space. (The jam from the stores is just too sweet.) Thanks to all who kindly supply us!

Frankfurt, Germany + Vancouver, British Columbia – Simulated worst-case scenario

Samstag, Oktober 9th, 2010

The worldwide biggest flight catastrophe simulation takes part on Frankfurt Airport today of all days. Two scrapped airplanes portray a crash on the new runway that’s not yet in operation. There shall be 500 injured, played by actors. All rescue units like fire brigade, ambulances, teams of doctors, and hospitals, all of them are involved. The emergency exercise shall bring insights for Europe’s air traffic for the next years. Not even the airport employees new before which airline would be “affected” by the accident. In the airport, it is obvious that Lufthansa is the one. The queues there are even longer than in Vancouver. Poor passengers. But Condor is checked in separately, so we do not have to suffer from this.

The flight, however, is not a pleasure at all. The space for my legs between the seats borders on bodily harm, the air is warm and stale, the food is unreasonable. I am wondering how I can survive a flight without getting claustrophobia and a thrombosis. But is it the airlines’ immeasurable profit aspirations? Or is it us, who want everything cheaper and cheaper, including the flights?