Postcard from Prescott

October 16, 2021

We got back to Prescott September 30, coming  home to evidence of a wet and wild summer, with wisteria colonizing the lawn furniture, and mud covering the patios and the driveway. In 122 days on the road, we drove 15,758 miles, 400 hrs 39 minutes, all at an average speed of 39 mph, with average gas mileage of 17.8 mpg, and an average day of 129 miles.

Although we never made it to Newfoundland, this was still our most ambitious trip to date. While lacking the clear arc of the 2019 Alaska/Yukon adventure, this trip was memorably full of surprises. All those “Wow, what a great place!” moments in parts of North America familiar to many of you, yet foreign to us. We are truly lucky to live in such a beautiful place, and to have health, along with the time and the means to  explore it.

The Carrot Men, Rangely,, Colorado

We continued to be surprised as we meandered home from Bozeman, via Yellowstone, Cody, Grand Teton, Flaming Gorge and Hovenweep. 

These moose near Warren Bridge Campground were as surprised by us as we were by them. Green River, Pinedale,Wyoming.

One important tip I forgot to share. It’s about ticks. Once we entered Nebraska, we started seeing ticks and tick warnings.  Throughout the Midwest and Northeast, we tucked pants into socks, did daily tick checks, discovered and removed as-yet-unattached ticks. In Rockland, Maine, we sprayed boots and sneakers with permethrin. Although the tick warnings continued, we never saw another tick.

Until next time!

Toni

P.S. Mary wants you to know our trip by the numbers.

  1. Home visits, i.e. driveway camping in friends’ driveways: 28 nights
  2. Harvest Hosts: 12 nights
  3. Private campgrounds: 3 nights (in one awful campground)
  4. U.S. Public Lands: 29 nights
  5. State Parks: 24 nights
  6. Canadian National Parks: 9 nights
  7. Canadian Provincial Parks: 15 nights
  8. Craft breweries visited: 23
  9. Books read (we listen): 10
Toby and Mary on the Flaming Gorge rim
Gates of Lodore, Green River, Dinosaur National Monument,

Postcard from Northeastern Montana

September 16, 2021-  Day 108, 13664 miles

Yesterday morning we were in Saskatchewan. Today we are camped on the south bank of the Missouri River, just below its Wild & Scenic section and just upstream of the lake created by the Fort Peck Dam.  Before my mind wanders off into thoughts of the public works projects of the 30’s (inspired by Ivan Doig’s “Bucking the Sun”) or of Lewis & Clark and the Corps of Discovery (inspired by Stephen Ambrose’s “Undaunted Courage”), I’ll use this rainy afternoon to send you another postcard from Canada.  

Foggy morning on the Missouri River, off US 191, James Kipp Campground, Montana

Three and a half weeks ago, we were still in Nova Scotia, chilling with Bob & Janice on the shore of Lake Annis. Since then we have been to Fundy National Park (New Brunswick), north to the Saguenay Fjord (Québec), south to Saint-Frederic for a few Safari Condo repairs. September 1 we began the journey home, through Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, finally crossing back into the States at Morgan (Montana).

Just as our travels east hugged the border areas, so too have our travels west. Once again we skirted the great Lake Superior, this time along its true north shore. We enjoyed Superior and Sleeping Giant Provincial Parks. Little-known Pukaskwa National Park stood out. Further west, Quetico Provincial Park (the Canadian side of the Boundary Waters) was a delight, as much for being well-managed as for our spectacular lakefront site.  As we crossed into Manitoba, woods and lakes gave way to prairie. Our trans-Canada journey concluded with a stay in Grasslands National Park (Saskatchewan). 

Parks Canada red chairs overlooking Hattie Cove, Lake Superior, Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario, Canada. These inviting Adirondack chairs are carefully placed in stunning park locations.

Although we won’t miss what Mary calls “rocks and roots” trails, whether in Minnesota or Ontario, the North Woods took root in my heart. I hope we return.   

Sunset over French Lake, Dawson Trail Campground, Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario.

Entering the East Block of Grasslands National Park, we crossed the Continental Divide, and that night heard coyotes for the first time since mid-June. After a visit to Bill & Katie in Bozeman, for one last “homestay,” always a highlight for Toby, we’ll pass the final two weeks of this, our longest van ramble yet, meandering south through the familiar terrain of the mountain west.

Mary & Toby at Parc National des Grand-Jardins, Québec.
Lava flow at Middle Beach, Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario.
Badlands, East Block, Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan

Before this post goes out, I have a few camping thoughts to share. Scroll on through if camping’s not your thing. 

More red chairs. These overlook Point Wolfe Cove, once the site of a busy lumber mill. Shiphaven Trail, Fundy National Park, New Brunswick.
Camped at a Harvest Host. Wilkridge Farm, a fully robotic 75-cow dairy operation. https://farmersforum.com/eastern-ontario-ontario-farm-couple-built-robot-dairy-barn-for-next-generation/ Fournier, Ontario.
  1. We had no problems finding available campsites, even during this summer of crowded campgrounds. Once we left the public lands of the west behind, we did start making reservations. That required both time and smartphone signal, as most state and provincial parks offered campsites by reservation only. 
  2. Most states and provinces have their own reservation system. Reserve America includes some, but not all, states’ parks. Recreation.gov is just for federal lands, i.e. National Park, Forest Service and BLM campgrounds. If you plan a trip east and/or north of the border, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with each state or province’s park reservation site. While you’re there, create an account.
  3. Speaking of saving, this was easily the most expensive van trip yet.  If you’re used to spending $10-20 a night to camp ($5-10 for those of us in the 62+ crowd), prepare for sticker shock at state and provincial parks, and at Canadian National Parks. You’ll generally pay not just for a campsite (~$30),  but also a reservation fee (~$10) and a park entrance/day use fee (~$10).  We saved a bit by purchasing annual passes for Minnesota, Michigan and ParksCanada. 
  4. We often camped next to folks who had booked their lakefront sites the first day reservations became available. They were shocked to hear we had booked just a few days, at  most a week, earlier. It’s often possible to reserve a campsite for one night, partly because most people seem to look for 5-10 day reservations, and partly because relatively last-minute bookings allow us to take advantage of cancellations.
  5. We’re longtime members of Harvest Hosts, an organization that pairs self-contained  campers with wineries, museums, microbreweries & farms willing to host self-contained campers in exchange for a purchase of wine, beer, produce, or an entrance ticket.  Harvest Hosts is not our favorite way to camp, and yet, sometimes it’s our best option (for example, on busy summer weekends or in areas without public lands). On this trip, we’ve visited a dozen Harvest Hosts, half in Canada and half in the States, ranging from a dairy farm in eastern Ontario to a winery in the Finger Lakes to microbreweries in Nebraska, New Brunswick and Québec.
  6. Per Mary, we spent close to a month of this trip camped in various friends’ driveways. We’re lucky to have a far-flung group of friends, and love deepening those friendships during homestays. Huge thanks to everyone who said “Yes!” when we asked if we could bring our bedroom to their homes.
  7. Key to our travel success is allowing enough time to enjoy the journey. Time to meander, change course, stay an extra night.  On a long trip, we average around 120 miles a day.  Some days that means 300 miles; some days, none.  Some days we see a lot and do a lot; some days, nothing. Once we  travel for  more than  a week or two, we need to shop, do laundry, find a CVS, clean the van, etc. We have many really good days, and some perfect days. We also have days where we drive too far, it rains all day, we get a flat, or our campground is a disaster. Sometimes all of the above. 
The Wawa Goose marks the 1960 completion of the Trans-Canada Highway, and is intended to lure visitors into the town of Wawa. Because of the challenges posed by following Lake Superior across the Canadian Shield, construction of the Sault Sainte Marie to Wawa stretch was postponed for decades. The Goose is 28 feet tall, 22 feet long and has a wingspan of 20 feet.
View from campsite #130, Moore Lake, Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park, Ontario. This park includes a stretch of the Mattawa River, until 3,000 years ago the spillway for the Great Lakes, and into the 19th century, a major highway for the Algonquin and fur traders.
Swainson’s Hawk, Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan

Thanks for following our travels. Reading your comments, whether via this blog or via email, has been one of the many pleasures of this trip. 

Love, Toni

Overlooking Horseshoe Cove from the Southern Headland Trail, Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario.
Toby in the Little Rocky Mountains, Zortman, Montana.

Postcard from Nova Scotia

August 23, 2021 Day 84, 9915 miles

Hello! Bonjour!

Mary and I are in Nova Scotia, visiting friends Bob & Janice on lovely Lake Annis, not far from Yarmouth. It is now two weeks since we crossed the border at Calais (say it “callus”) Maine, August 9 being the first day Canada opened to non-essential travel from the States. 

Lake Annis, Nova Scotia.

How, you might ask, did we drive 2500 miles to get from Acadia National Park to Yarmouth, a mere 122 miles by sea, or 296 miles via highway and ferry? Well, like most of this trip, via long switchbacks, meandering only generally north and east. From Winter Harbor, Maine to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Back Downeast, then, negative Covid tests in hand, on to New Brunswick, and, via two ferries, White Head Island, off Grand Manan Island, and the home of John & Brenda. From there it was north to Québec’s Gaspé Peninsula, then south to Nova Scotia. And that’s how we turn a relatively short trip into 24 days and 2500 miles.

Along the Wild River, White Mountain National Forest, just inside Maine, and where LL Bean developed the Maine Hunting Boot.
Mary had never been to the top of Mt Washington (at 6288 ft, the highest point in New England), so we took the Cog Railway. In operation since 1869, the Cog climbs 3 miles from the base station to the summit. Average grade is 25%. Our steam locomotive required something like a ton of hand-shoveled coal and a thousand gallons of water to make the climb.

We’ve enjoyed it all. Not including time with friends, the Gaspésie was the standout destination.  Some places just take your breath and steal your  heart, and, for us, that was Forillon National Park.  In Nova Scotia, the experience of walking the ocean floor at Burntcoat Head, on the Bay of Fundy and home to the world’s highestt tides, is not to be missed.

This porcupine appeared both evenings, just a few steps from our campsite at Des-Rosiers Campground, Forillon National Park, Québec.
Evening light on Cap-Gaspé, Forillon National Park, Québec.
Looking north from Cap Bon Ami, Forillon National Park, Québec.
Northern Harrier off Cap-des-Rosiers, Forillon National Park, Québec.
Flower pot at Burntcoat Head, Nova Scotia.

Hurricane Henri permitting, we’ll leave Nova Scotia Tuesday, then, after a couple days at Bay of Fundy National Park, north and west to Québec’s Fjord-du-Saguenay, Grands Jardins, and Frontenac parks.  By then it will be September 1, and we will move more purposefully west through Ontario to the north shore of Lake Superior, then on through Manitoba to  Saskatchewan, where we will  somewhere turn south towards home.  Hoping to catch some fall color along the way, if not from maples, from aspen.  Current ETA is October 3.

Fireweed on the Le Castor trail, Forillon National Park, Québec
Toby prowling Lake Annis, Nova Scotia.

Love, Toni

Sunset from White Head Island, New Brunswick.

Postcard from Maine

July 30, 2021  Day 60  7393 miles

Hello out there,

Our North Country adventures continue. Since July 4, many states have been traversed and sampled- Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, and Maine. Time to send a postcard before it all become a blur of waterfalls, lighthouses, and rain. 

On the Coastal Trail at Quoddy Head State Park (Lubec, Maine)

Just as we released all hope of a 2021 foray into eastern Canada, the August 9 reopening was announced, resulting in a flurry of rethinking.  Now, instead of waving  across the Bay of Fundy, then pointing the van west, we are idling. By August 9, we will have been three weeks in Maine and New Hampshire, enjoying beautiful scenery while strategizing Covid tests, border crossing timing, etc. If we make it into Canada, our first stop will be on White Head Island (New Brunswick), home of friends John & Brenda. We can almost see it from here.

Monarch on milkweed on Flying Mountain (Acadia National Park, Maine)
Early Fall? (Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park, Maine)
Wonderland (Acadia National Park, Maine)

It’s been more than scenery and weather. As our route shifted, we added visits with friends, long unseen beyond the limits of Facebook and Christmas letters. With friends of 30 years or more, “speech after long silence” felt as if the last conversation occurred mere weeks ago. Perhaps because of the pandemic, perhaps because of our inexorably advancing years, we sense the fragility of connection, and savor this opportunity to bridge the gaps of distance and time.

Jeanne Mackey & Mary Trevor. Together again. (Ann Arbor, Michigan)8

Two stories dominated our travels through Minnesota, Michigan and New York: 

At almost every waterfall, we read some version of the same origin story: Long, long ago a vast inland sea deposited limestone, shale and sandstone layers. Then (a much later then) there were glaciers. Glacial retreat created valleys, which eventually became the Great Lakes, the Finger Lakes, etc. When water carved through the softer shale, headward erosion created   gorges capped with harder sandstone. And voila, waterfalls.

Copper Falls of the Bad River (Mellen, Wisconsin)
Upper Falls (Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Paradise, Michigan)
Middle and Upper Falls in the “Grand Canyon of the East” (Letchworth State Park, New York)
Taughannauck Falls (Ithica, New York)

Story #2 is memorable for being unlikely, yet a true tale of tragedy.  On Lake Superior, Lake Huron and Lake Erie, we stopped at many lighthouses.  Each was lovely, each had a story, each proclaimed its area of protection the “Graveyard of the Great Lakes,” and bolstered this claim with a list of ships lost and number of crew perished.  

Point Iroquois Lighthouse (Brimley, Michigan)
Quoddy Head Lighthouse (Lubec, Maine)

Lighthouses are a reminder that the Great Lakes and other waterways were, at least until the mid 1800s, the interstates of North America. People and goods were transported from Montreal to New York via the  Saint Lawrence and Richelieu Rivers to Lake Champlain to Lake George (a 3 mile portage), and finally to the Hudson River (a 12 mile portage). In the 1700’s, during both the French & Indian War and the Revolutionary War, control of the portage to Lake George was the reason for thousands of deaths in battles for Fort Ticonderoga.  In the 1800s, the Erie and Cayuga-Seneca Canals made Seneca Falls a manufacturing hub where, in 1848, the First Wonen’s Rights Convention could be convened by, among others, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and attended by luminaries like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. 

Fort Ticonderoga (Ticonderoga, New York)
Sunrise over Sheldrake Point (Cayuga Lake, Finger Lakes, New York)

In the Adirondacks, not far from Lake Placid, we were surprised to find John Brown’s farm & grave, where we learned the story of abolitionist Gerritt Smith, and of Timbuctoo, a long-forgotten pre-Civil War community of African American families. https://www.adirondack.net/history/timbuctoo/  Lucky for us, we happened on the 125th Anniversary Commemoration of the gifting of the John Brown Farm to New York State, including music from the Plattsburgh State Gospel Choir and a keynote speech by Cordell Reaves on the Lessons of John Brown: empathy, mission, and justice/corrective action.

Since leaving Minnesota, we’ve seen so much- Michigan’s Upper Peninusla, Mackinaw Island, the Finger Lakes and the Adirondacks, and now the incredible downeast Maine Coast, including a Puffin Watch Cruise around Eastern Egg Island, and a spectacular hike at Quoddy Head (ME), easternmost point on the U.S. mainland.

Atlantic Puffin near Eastern Egg Island (Bristol, Maine)
Arch Rock (Mackinac Island, New York)

We’ve camped mostly in state parks.  We also made use of our Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome memberships, and camped in two National forests, one National Park, and a handful of driveways (thanks Jeanne & Pattie, Doug & Ellen, Christopher & Kim, and Annie). 

If you want to know more about our meandering route, our destinations, or where and how we camped, just ask. Tomorrow we’re off to the White Mountains.  Later next week, Calais, where we’ll wait to, as our friend Mabelle put it, “pounce on Canada.”  Wish us luck.

Love, Toni

Mary and Toby at Quoddy Head. That’s Grand Manan Island (New Brunswick, Canada) on the horizon.

The family on Flying Mountain (Acadia National Park, Maine)
Jordan Pond (Acadia National Park, Maine)




Cobscook Bay State Park (Demnysville, Maine)

Postcard from Minnesota

July 4, 2021- Day 33- 4271 Miles

This is a short post from Spirit Lake, Aitkin, Minnesota, where we are visiting friends who summer here. If you’ve been following our travels on Facebook, the photos will be familiar.

Mary Lake, Itasca State Park

Tomorrow we leave Minnesota, first for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, then upstate New York, then Maine. The Canadian border remains closed to us through at least July 21, and that closure may well extend another month.  Whether the border opens or not, we are so enjoying visiting parts of the country that are mostly totally new to us. 

High Falls of Tettegouche State Park (photo by Mary)
Toby & I cross the Mississippi River in Itasca State Park. It takes this water three months to reach New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Mary.

In 17 days of wandering around the upper half of Minnesota, we have driven 1300 miles.  That should tell you how relaxed our time here has been.  In addition to two wonderful stays with friends, each in their “cabin on the lake,” we have camped in half a dozen Minnesota State Parks, exploring the spectacular North Shore (Lake Superior from Duluth to the Canadian border), Lake Itasca (headwaters of the Mississippi River) and the borderlands of Voyageurs National Park and Lake of the Woods.  

Mary & Toby relaxing at Zippel Bay State Park

Minnesota has been a complete and delightful surprise. Rugged coast, waterfalls, interesting history, nice campgrounds. Because we have reached a more densely populated part of the U.S., one with less public lands than we are used to, we have done more campground planning than usual, and made more reservations than usual, generally a day or two ahead of our arrival.  In Minnesota, and I think in Michigan and New York, state parks are by reservation only.  Although normally this would aggravate the heck out of me, the Minnesota State Parks website was helpful and easy to navigate, and we never had a problem staying where we wanted to stay.  Fingers crossed our luck holds as we head further east.

Sunset at Wooden Frog Campground, Kabetogama State Forest.
No reservations here.

We got to watch the largest boat on the lakes pass under the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge. These “lakers” carry limestone, iron ore, coal, and grain. While we marveled at ocean-like Lake Superior, Toby appreciated the absence of salt. We learned about iron mining in the Iron and Vermillion Ranges, and gained a better understanding of 18th century fur trade in the borderlands (from northwestern Canada to Grand Portage in northern Minnesota).  Plus, despite a serious-for-Minnesota drought, so much green, forest and water.  We stumbled on one more center, this time in Itasca State Park, apparently the geographic center of the North American continent.

MV Paul R Tregurtha (1013 feet, 6 inches), capable of loading 68,000 tons of bulk cargo. This day she was hauling limestone. Turn up your sound!

Woops! Almost forgot the larger-than-life sculptures of northern Minnesota

World’s largest Smokey the Bear statue. International Falls, MN.

Willie the Walleye. Baudette, MN
Paul Bunyan & Babe the Blue Ox. Bemidji, MN.

I’ll leave you with a couple of birds.

Love to all, Toni

Loon on Lake Itasca
American Redstart at our Temperance River State Park campsite.

Postcard from the 100th Meridian

June 16, 2021- Day 15- 2353 Miles

El Morro National Monument (Ramah, NM)

We left Prescott June 2, and have been meandering ever since. To use a word I learned from Wayne Ranney, we’ve been coddiwompling- traveling in a purposeful manner towards a vague or as-yet-unknown destination. Our trip in a nutshell.  Although heading vaguely northeast, we have, as-yet, no destination. Perhaps the Maritime Provinces. Perhaps Maine. Perhaps not.

Belle Fourche River Campground, Devils Tower National Monument (Devils Tower, WY)

Our first week was more visiting than exploring- Alaska Ferry friends Carla & Ralph in Los Lunas NM, Paul and Marilyn Trevor in Trinidad CO, long-lost San Diego friends Jeff & Joe in Denver.  

Quarai, Salinas Pueblo Missions (Mountainair, MM)

Carla & Ralph took us on a grand tour of Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, three pueblo ruins that tell a story of 17th century exploitation, conflict, and natural disaster that lead to the abandonment of both pueblos and missions. 

Pawnee Buttes, Pawnee National Grassland (Ault, CO)

With Jeff & Joe, we visited the Pawnee National Grasslands of northeastern Colorado. There a hike to Pawnee Buttes was our first dip in the inland sea that 90-million-years ago covered much  of North America, including what are now the grasslands of the Great Pains. 75 million years ago, the uplifts of the Rocky Mountains caused the sea to drain, and the ocean floor became a subtropical jungle, later a savannah.  Fossils of long-gone Eocene and Oligocene mammals (hyracodons, enteledonts, stylemis, etc.) are preserved at Pawnee Buttes and Toadstool Geologic Park.  All are reminiscent of current-day mammals (rhinoceros-like, pig-like, etc.), yet wildly different.  

Toadstool Geological Park, Nebraska National Forest (Harrison, NE)

Leaving Colorado, we entered the middle of the United States, variously placed just south of Red Cloud NE (the 48 contiguous states) and just north of Belle Fourche SD (the 50 states). Here we’ve wandered back and forth across the 100th Meridian, a boundary of sorts marking the start (or end) of the American West. East of the 100th Meridian is generally wetter and lower; west arid and higher. We’ve been teetering on this knife edge for about a week now, wobbling back and forth and vaguely north. 

Pavelka Homestead, National Willa Cather Center (Red Cloud, NE)

We visited the National Willa Cather Center in Red Cloud, and enjoyed a wonderfully muddled tour of the town, in which our guide mixed fictional characters and locations from novels like My Antonia, Oh Pioneers and Song of the Lark with actual buildings and residents of Red Cloud, then stirred in stories of her own.

Smith Falls (Valentine, NE)

Although I’ve loved being in the grasslands of the High Plains, my camera eye has not known what to make of them. I’ve only captured small details- a bird here, a waterfall there. I’d like to return to the Sandhills of Nebraska, the largest grass-stabilized sand dune formation in North America. It’s a beautiful area, with shallow lakes, and prairie rivers like the Dismal, the Loup and the Niobrara, all fed by the vast Ogallala Aquifer. Waterfalls emerge where the sandstone base of the Valentine Formation meets the siltstone of the Rosebud Formation.

Boxwork, Wind Cave National Park (Hot Springs, SD)

Today we left Wind Cave National Park, near Hot Springs SD. Tonight we’re in Wyoming, at Devils Tower National Monument, enjoying the view from our cottonwood-shaded campsite near the Belle Fourche River. Tomorrow we turn decisively east towards Minnesota.  

Prairie dogs, Wind Cave National Park
Bison,Wind Cave National Park
Columbian Mammoth, Mammoth Site (Hot Springs, SD)

The peripatetic journey continues. 

At Smith Falls State Park
Wind Cave National Park

Love, Toni

P.S. For those of you who worry about Toby, he’s fine. Doesn’t like the heat (who does?). Loved Smith Falls State Park and Wind Cave National Park.

On the Centennial Trail,Custer State Park (Custer, SD)

Postcard from Barker Lakes

It’s August 1, the 12th anniversary of our finally-making-it-legal California wedding. Last year we celebrated at Boya Lake, having just left the Yukon and headed south on the Cassiar Highway. Toby had recovered from his splenectomy. We had the biopsy results, knew the prognosis was bad, and were determined to make his last days as good as possible.

Fast forward a year. Toby is still with us.  We’ve kept hemangiosarcoma at bay long enough for him to develop arthritis in his hips and knees, kidney disease and high blood pressure. At the moment,Toby’s still recovering from a muscle pull/sprain in mid-July, and keeps letting us know he prefers short flat walks. He’s an old timer.

And then there’s the pandemic.  Like all of you, we hunkered down for a few months, feeling lucky to live in Yavapai County, with so many fine places to be outdoors. Then, after Memorial Day, we decided to test the camping waters.  The rest of this post will be an attempt to share what we’ve learned and experienced.

So far we’ve been on three 8-10 day trips- one to New Mexico, one to southern Colorado, and one to southern Utah, where we are now. 

Top of the Pinks Trail.  Navajo Lake, Utah

They’ve been short for a variety of reasons, two of them COVID-19 related:

(1) It’s a changing landscape, and we’ve been wary of finding ourselves too far from home;

(2) 8-10 days is about the limit of our fresh food and water carrying capacity. Also about how long we usually go between laundries.

Foot soak on the Barker Lakes Loop.

For us, the van has been the perfect way to leave home while staying home.  We’re self-contained, yet small enough to tuck into remote campsites and friends’ driveways.  We sanitize our way in and out of toilets, and love having the ability to wash our hands after potentially risky contacts (gas pumps, water spigots, etc.).  On the rare occasion we enter a building, or a campground host approaches, we put on a mask.  So we feel good about our ability to keep ourselves and others safe.

Pronghorn near Mammoth Cave.  Duck Creek, Utah

And there’s the rub.  For us, one of the big pleasures of travel is interaction with people, both for the connection and for the local knowledge.  We love conversations with rangers, baristas and cashiers, and absorbing a town’s atmosphere in libraries,  microbreweries and coffee houses. Add local laundromats to the list. Yet, for now, unless we’re meeting up with friends, that connection piece is mostly missing from travel, and until it returns, we’re less inclined to visit new places.

Like many of you, we’ve read about the big boom in RV sales and rentals.  So far, we’ve not knowingly encountered it on the road.  Perhaps the newcomers are more oriented to RV parks than to public lands?  On this trip, we spent two nights alone on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, one night in an empty campground not far from Bryce, and two nights sharing the 13 sites at Barker with just two other parties. Probably helps that all three spots were down dirt roads.

Young Western Bluebird

If you’re thinking about a trip, beyond leaving pavement and avoiding popular destinations like Bryce and Zion, we have a few suggestions:

(1) Work the phones.  Public lands websites are often out of date.  Find local numbers for the areas you want to visit and call.  Although Forest Service and BLM offices are closed to the public,  rangers have been glad to answer questions, return phone calls, etc.  They can tell you which campgrounds and roads are really open and closed, where you’ll find water, vault toilets & dumpsters, etc. 

(2) We’ve always saved the water in our 18-gallon tank for boondocking and waterless campgrounds.  Perhaps overconservative in normal times, and a perfect strategy for Covid times. Carry containers you can easily fill at campground spigots and pumps, and take advantage when you find them.

Rain approaching Monument Point. Grand Canyon, Arizona.

(3) Bring Clorox wipes. Carry one in a snack size Ziploc in your pocket. Perfect for cleaning your way into a vault toilet (or two). As an aside, thanks to Covid, vault toilets are generally cleaner than we have ever seen them. 

(4) Be just as cautious as you are at home. Too many people seem to view vacation as vacation from masks and physical distancing.

(5) More people than usual aren’t showing up for their recreation.gov reservations. Don’t get me started on what’s wrong with that system, and for us seat-of-the-pants travelers, this is a great opportunity to take advantage of forfeited bookings.

View into Death Hollow from Hell’s Backbone Bridge.

I’m writing this in my phone, so photos are all from this trip. Lovely time, with more miles off pavement than on. Added a few squeaks to the van, and worth it.

Love, Toni

P.S. Please share your camping experiences. It’s a learning curve for all of us.

Postcard from Prescott!

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Toby at Fish Lake,Steens Mountain Loop, Frenchglen, Oregon

September 10, 2019

On August 30, after 16 weeks, 12,914 miles, and 357 hours 40 minutes of driving, we arrived home. Our average speed was 36 mph. Average gas mileage was 17.6 mpg. And no, I didn’t track all these numbers. The van’s trip computer did it for us. In all that time, the only damage to the van was a windshield chip that was easily repaired in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Not bad!

Most of our camping was in National Forest and BLM campgrounds, or the Canadian equivalent. We camped in seven national parks, three in the U.S. and four in Canada. We particularly appreciated all the Yukon Government campgrounds ($12 CAD, or about $9 USD). We spent nine nights in private RV parks, most of them dry camping, thirteen nights parked in friends’ driveways, and six nights at Harvest Hosts. We only boondocked a few times.

Much as we enjoyed our travels, it was good to leave the land of the Varied Thrush for the land of the Canyon Wren, and to return to the familiar landscapes of the Indian Country map.

PSX_20190821_205202
Stellar’s Jay (NOT a new bird)

Speaking of birds, Mary saw 13 new birds, and heard 14 (all those trees!). Highlights include the Gyrfalcon, Grey-cheeked Thrush, White-winged Crossbill, and Arctic Warbler.

We read (i.e. listened to) eight books- Anne Hillerman’s The Tale Teller, Donna Leon’s Unto Us a Son is Born, Charles Frazier’s Varina, Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, John Straley’s The Woman Who Married a Bear, Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone, Mary Doria Russell’s The Women of Copper Country, and Hampton Sides’ Blood and Thunder. We’re still working on Louise Penny’s latest, A Better Man.

This was quite a trip, and we finished it pretty much as eager to meet each new day as when we started. Some thoughts about how we make it work:

(1) Unlike vacation travel during our working years, we move at more of a daily life pace, generally averaging a hundred miles a day. On this trip, it was 114. Although we occasionally drive 300 miles or more, we often drive less than 100 miles, or not at all.

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Boondocking above Stanley, Idaho

(2) Closely related to (1), unless absolutely necessary, we travel with no reservations. On this trip, the exceptions were ferry reservations for the Inside Passage, campground reservations at Denali National Park, and holiday weekends in friends’ driveways. No reservations allows for dawdling, serendipity, detours. If we picnic at a lunch spot we really like, we might call it a day and camp there. If a campground charms us, better yet, if it offers access to hiking trails, we often re-up for a second night.

(3) We visit ranger stations and visitor centers in areas we want to explore. A few are

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Lunch at Lamoille Lake, Ruby Mountains, Elko, Nevada

duds. Some, like the one in Dawson City (YT), are gems. We love enthusiastic rangers and volunteers who engage with us and our interests, then shower us with maps, suggestions, and opinions. We are also quick to accept suggestions from Facebook friends and fellow travellers. These connections often lead us to unexpected delights.

(4) Our travels are more meandering than they are destination driven. If there’s an inviting winding line on the map, chances are you’ll find us on it. In general, we have no pre-planned itinerary for the day or the week, and almost never use interstates or major highways. That included the Alaska Highway.

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Kiger Mustangs, Steen Mountains Loop, Frenchglen, Oregon

Finally, a few tips:

We had absolutely no problems finding gas and fresh food. Once the gas tank was around half empty, we took the next opportunity to fill up, and didn’t fret about the price. We also didn’t sweat the price of food. These are remote areas, where food arrives by ferry or by air. Of course it costs a bit more.

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Bristlecone Pine, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

We had no problem finding campsites we enjoyed. If it seemed campgrounds might fillup, we made camp around checkout time. This worked even in crazy-busy Jasper and Banff.

A surprising number of campgrounds had no potable water, often even when all our information sources said they did. Sometimes the well had failed the latest quality test, so the pump was disabled. Sometimes the pump worked, but a sign said to boil water for five minutes before using it. Sometimes supposedly potable water was simply undrinkable. It was usually easy to find an alternate spot to fill water containers (other campgrounds, gas stations, ranger stations, town pumps). The few times that wasn’t an option, we used our freshwater tank.

I really wished I had brought a tank suit and goggles. Many small towns we visited had surprisingly nice recreation centers with impressive pools. For the price of a shower, I could also have swum.

If signal is really important to you, consider having two phones, one with AT&T and one with Verizon. Still, no matter what your plan or carrier, you will encounter vast areas with no signal whatsoever. Don’t count on finding WiFi. I was pleased with my Verizon Unlimited plan. Since it includes coverage for Canada and Mexico, when we did have signal, I didn’t need to worry about how much data we used.

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Naptime, Thompson Canyon, Ruby Mountains, Elko, Nevada

Don’t skimp on paper maps and resources. Mr. Google will probably not be available when you need him. If you plan ahead, some of my favorite apps (AllStays, iOverlander and Avenza) work pretty well offline.

Toby’s enjoying his homecoming tour, as are we. He’s particularly enthusiastic about his anti-cancer diet, which includes liverwurst-encased capsules, a sauce of antioxidant vegetables and fruits, and plenty of meat. That said, the prognosis has not improved. When we asked Dr. Batt about Toby’s annual shots, all due next month, she said not to bother. Meanwhile Toby continues to be his cheerful self, and is mostly full of vim and

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Final selfie at Cascade Falls, Duck Creek Village, Utah

vigor. Although watching him, it’s easy to feel optimistic, we’re focused on enjoying him one day at a time.

Whenever you do decide to head north, we’re happy to consult, and to lend you books and maps.

Love, Toni

Postcard from the Canadian Rockies

August 10, 2019. 9873 miles.

Driving the Icefields Parkway this morning, we crossed Sunwapta Pass, and left the Athabasca River, which flows into the Slave River, then the MacKenzie, and finally the Arctic Ocean, near Inuvik in the Northwest Territories.

Two weeks ago, we too flowed north along the Dempster Highway, although we didn’t get as far as Inuvik or Tuktoyaktuk. Next time!

Dall’s Sheep off the Dempster Highway

The Condor parked off the Dempster, near the Continental Divide.

Canada Parks Red Chairs, at Silverhorn Campground, Banff National Park. Hard to see Toby and Mary. They’re there too.

American Tree Sparrow in Tombstone Mountain Park, Dempster Highway.

We are at Silverhorn Campground in Banff. Surrounded as we are by the busyness of the Canadian National Parks, we feel lucky to have found this special spot. By Monday we’ll be in Sandpoint, Idaho, where we will retrieve remedies for Toby, sent to us care of General Delivery.

Although Toby is literally a happy camper, that Splenic Mass was malignant. It’s Hemangiosarcoma, and 2-3 months is the average prognosis. Shock and heartbreak would describe our emotions for most of the last two weeks. Meanwhile Toby is enjoying life, and we aim to keep him feeling good for as long as we can.

Toby at Boya Lake, a Provincial Park on the Cassiar Highway.

Conventional medicine doesn’t have much to offer him, so without any real expectation of a miracle, we’ve turned to other approaches. As luck would have it, we located Toby’s longtime vet, Dr. Batt, in a holistic practice. The cancer fighting remedies, Chinese herbs and musroom extract, now on their way to Sandpoint, come from her. Next challenge, getting Toby to embrace the capsules.

Toby at Salmon Glacier, not far from Stewart/Hyder.

Meanwhile we’re meandering slowly homeward, and expect to arrive around Labor Day. While waiting for the biopsy results, then dealing with them, we’ve been in some really lovely places. From Dawson City to the Dempster Highway. From there to Whitehorse, Carcross, and Atlin. We left the Yukon, heading south on the Cassiar Highway, with a sidetrip to Stewart, BC/Hyder, AK. Hyder is another border oddity, a gold rush port at the head of the Portland Canal.

Grizzly at Fish Creek Viewing Platform, outside Hyder.

Next we headed east towards Mount Robson (highest peak in Canada) and the Icefields Parkway. Mount Robson was the northernmost point of our 2013 trip. At the time it felt remote. Far north. Now it feels like we’re practically home!

Mount Robson

Angel Glacier from the Edith Cavell Meadows Trail, Jasper.

Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park

It’s not all gloom and doom. Toby is very cheery, and as charming as always. We are enjoying some spectacular places, and looking forward to another three weeks of road trip with Toby.

“Are you coming or what?” Toby on the McCabe Trail, Babine Mountain Park.

Selfie at Salmon Glacier, Stewart/Hyder

Love, Toni

Toby and Mary contemplating glacial retreat from Parker Ridge. That’s the Saskatchewan Glacier, Banff National Park, Alberta. Waters here eventually flow into Hudson Bay!

Postcard from Eagle

Toby on the Denali Highway

July 25, 2019. 7281 miles.This will be our last postcard from Alaska.Tomorrow we leave the smoky Interior for the probably-equally-smoky Yukon. Stands to reason, as we’re pretty much camped on the border. Eagle, at the end of the Taylor Highway, on the west bank of the Yukon River, once had to keep the customs house open 24 hours a day. Now Yukon floaters arriving from Dawson City use a dedicated phone outside the laundromat to check in with customs.

The Yukon River by the Fort Egbert parade ground, now the landing strip for Eagle. Breakup here in May 2009 created an ice jam that scoured and flooded the waterfront area.

Eagle was the first incorporated town in the Interior, home to Judge Wickersham whose Third Judicial Division encompassed 300,000 square miles, a hub for would be miners in various Gold Rushes (Forty Mile, Klondike, Nome), site of Fort Egbert (near where we’re now camped), destination of the Valdez- Eagle Highway, and a major stop for steamboats heading up the Yukon to Dawson City and Whitehorse. It was also the site of one of Alaskas first telegraph stations (WAMCATS). In 1905, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen traveled 500 miles by dog sled to use that telegraph to announce his completion of the Northwest Passage. Amundsen stayed two months, then reurned to his icebound ship, the Gjoa.

Amundsen in Eagle

Now Eagle’s a quiet place, with a population of less than 100, a K-12 school with 24 students, and, of course, a nice library.

The walking tour heading to the lovely Mule Barn. The top was filled with bales of hay. Trap doors allowed direct drops to each stall.

If you visit, don’t miss the daily walking tour. You won’t forget. Every person we’ve talked with since we started up the Taylor Highway has told us about it.

The Well House. Everyone in Eagle, including us, gets their water here.

Despite dense smoke from distant fires, we’re spending two nights here at the BLM’s Eagle Campground, where last night ours was one of only two occupied sites. Running by site #3 are remains of the pipeline which supplied the fort from nearby American Creek. Water was pumped uphill by a boiler and warming huts, in which soldiers fed fires that kept the pipe from freezing.

Arctic Ground Squirrel

In Alaska, highway does not necessarily mean paved. We’ve been on graded gravel road since Chicken, 95 miles back. Many towns and villages in Alaska can’t be reached by road, paved or otherwise. Six months of the year, roadless includes Eagle, as the Taylor Highway is not maintained once snow starts falling in October. Year-round, all supplies and mail arrive by plane from Fairbanks.

Arctic Tern at Potter’s Marsh

Since last I wrote, we’ve been in Anchorage (Potter’s Marsh, the Mount Marathon Race in Seward, the wonderful Anchorage Museum, Earthquake Park, South Anchorage Farmers Market, the Girdwood Hand Tram, a Tidal Bore), Denali State Park, Denali National Park, the Denali Highway, Isabel Pass, and Fairbanks (Museum of the North, Angel Rocks Trail, Chena Hot Springs, World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, UAF’s Large Animal Research Center where we saw Muskox and Reindeer, EsterFest, and mostly Toby). More about Toby later.

Marmot

Willow Ptarmagin chick

Moose in Denali National Park

More moose, this time off the Chena Hot Springs Road (near Fairbanks).

Our visit to Alaska has been marked by records- record rains in the rainy Southeast, record heat in Anchorage, record smoke from fires all over. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve had a great time, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, all that. And, between rain and smoke, it’s distant vistas that have been few and far between.While in Alaska, we’ve also listened to the drumbeat of budget cuts, which now seem to be a done deal. The Alaska Ferry, public radio, University of Alaska, all are sorting out how to survive 40% plus budget cuts. It’s not a pretty picture.

Me on a the suspension bridge over College Creek in Isabel Pass

Still beautiful are the Fireweed (state flower of the Yukon), the wildlife (we saw Moose, Bear, Caribou, etc.), and the big empty spaces. Alaska did not disappoint, and we would love to return, both to visit more remote places, and to experience Alaska in a different season.

Two-foot High Kick, one of many events at the World Eskimo- Indian Olympics

On to Toby. He turned 12 while we were in Denali National Park. Somewhere around there we started noticing stuff, and explaining it away- it’s hot, Toby’s getting older, he only wants to walk if we’re both here, the new dog food might be upsetting his stomach, etc. In Fairbanks, we finally said, “Whoah, something’s up. Let’s find a vet.”Lucky for us, we were in a, for-Alaska, big city, and home to family connection and dog lover, Trey Simmons, who could recommend a good veterinary practice. At first we and the vets thought we were dealing with a persistent digestive upset (diahrrea and vomiting). After a day of testing, retesting, and waiting, it became clear Toby had a Splenic Mass. Toby’s spleen was removed the next day, and he’ll be recovering from the surgery for a couple of weeks. Meanwhile we’re waiting to hear whether biopsy results show a benign or malignant tumor (50/50 odds). Of course we’re anxious. We feel lucky to have been in Fairbanks where the tumor could be diagnosed before it burst (the usual point at which a Splenic Mass is discovered). Fingers crossed for a full recovery.

Fire weed, State Flower of the Yukon

We’ll keep you posted on Toby and our peripatetic wanderings.Love, ToniP.S. This is coming to you from Dawson City. Yukon Territory. Great place to visit! We camped at a Yukon Government Campground just across the Yukon. Free ferry to town. Less photos than usual in this post. Between smoke and Toby worry, my camera has been mostly stashed away. On to the Robert Service and Jack London cabins!

Toby is feeling pretty good, thanks! Back to telling us what to do and when. A healthy sign!