This is the start of our trip across Canada from Seattle to the Great Lakes, returning through USA. We had left Seattle last October, so had spent 9 months in England (apart from our trip to Cuba in January).
The big excitement during this time was the birth of 2 little grand- daughters in April, to Simon & Laure and to Paul & Nicky.
Simon and family had spent the last 6 weeks in Europe, and we had had several wonderful family meetings. Most were in fine weather, but the last one, at Paul & Nicky’s house ‘Longview’ in North Devon last weekend, was in miserable weather and we had been very glad of their large polytunnel to sit in! Now Paul and Nicky and little Louisa are in the process of moving to Chetnole near Yeovil, as Paul has a job in Dorchester.
Simon and Laure with Manolo & Millie had spent this last week at a cottage in Otterton, a couple of doors away from Emma, Ruby & Felix (8 last Thursday), but sadly the weather had been most unpleasant, and yesterday had rained non-stop all day.
Tom had come over from Spain for one weekend earlier, when he had been Best Man to his friend Alex.
Once again, it wasn’t the greatest start to our trip!
The taxi arrived at 5 o’clock, with the ‘spiviest’ young driver imaginable. We were a bit concerned that we had told him that we would be away for 3 months!
The sun was rising gloriously into a clear sky as we were driven down to Newbury. We were travelling to Gatwick by train this time, as the bus times didn’t work out. We arrived early at the station, so made our way with our bags to the small shelter beside Platform 3, where the indicator said the train would go from. When a train pulled into platform 2 at about 5.30, we thought that it might be ours. Adrian went off to investigate, and sure enough it was! ‘Oh’, said the driver, ‘does it say Platform 3? I’m not going to manoeuvre the train there!’
It was a stopping train to Reading, and from here we caught another stopping train to Gatwick. The announcement said ‘the train pulling into Platform 4 is not scheduled to stop here’. We laughed, as the line didn’t go any further!
At 8 o’clock, we joined the seething hordes at Gatwick Airport, and joined the ‘double maze’ of people waiting to book in at Thomas Cook. After half an hour it was our turn, and it was with dismay that we heard that our flight would be delayed 3½ hours! This meant that we would not be able to catch our booked bus from Vancouver to Seattle. Adrian sent the bus firm an email to hope that we can catch a later bus, but if we aren’t able to catch the next one, we would be arriving at Seattle at midnight their time – not a nice prospect after a long journey!
We were given vouchers for ‘breakfast’, so later both enjoyed this at ‘Est’. The food was good, but how can you justify £1.60 for a tea bag in a cup of hot water?
The time didn’t drag too much – I had started reading the autobiography of Rabbi Lionel Blue, who we had gone to hear talk last week, and Adrian had bought some magazines to read.
We took off at 1.30, watching the take off on our personal monitors for the first time. I watched 2 entertaining films – ‘Juno’, and ‘Enchanted’, then we were delighted to see that they were screening ‘Shirley Valentine’, which is always such fun to watch. We’d missed the beginning, but were in time to hear the part when Shirley gives the answer as the wheel being man’s greatest invention, and the teacher replying ‘someone must have told you’. The flight was pleasant enough – it was cloudy for much of the time, but we did see some of very cold looking Hudson’s Bay and far north Canada.
The horrible bit was the dreadful turbulence which we went through as we began to descend to Vancouver, which took everybody by surprise, including the Captain, who was just making his friendly announcement! I grabbed Adrian’s hand hard, as the stewardess came around with sick bags! My problem was the terrible pain in my ears as we descended.
The view of course was beautiful – we thought back to our last landing here, in 1989, and the wonderful welcome then from my cousins.
No welcome for us this time – we just hoped that we would get through the long maze to passport control, and then collect our luggage and be able to catch the 4 o’clock bus – we had landed at 3 o’clock after our 9½ hour flight.
We made our way to the bus stop with all our stuff – at least we had our luggage this time! Now we had the anguish of hoping that there would be room on this bus, as we had been booked onto the previous one. There were lots of people standing around, and more kept arriving, so we were feeling quite anxious, as we didn’t relish another 4 hour wait. The bus was a bit late arriving, but to our relief, it was a large bus, and not many of the people standing around were actually going on it! It was now 4.15 local time – a quarter past midnight to us, and we’d been up since 4.00 a.m.
We headed for the U.S, border, through heavy traffic. It took about an hour to go through the formalities here. We had to get different visa forms, but all went well, and 2 of the 3 men were very pleasant. The third just said ‘put your bags on the roller’ I said ‘all the bags?’ and he just repeated ‘put your bags on the rollers’!
We were out of the building first, as our genial driver had sent us in first because of our different forms. Despite our tiredness, it was lovely sitting in the warm sunshine waiting for the other passengers.
After that we dozed a bit on the long journey to Seattle. Mt Rainier looked magnificent, and we enjoyed seeing some of the sights we recognised from last October, including the Needle.
We alighted at the airport, and after some problems managed to contact Days Inn Hotel at Kent (named after our Kent, as they used to grow hops here), which we are booked into. Apparently we should have booked the shuttle yesterday, so had to pay $10 (it would have been the wrong time anyway, even if we had booked, as we had been delayed).
Finally the shuttle arrived, and the driver silently drove us to our hotel. We got to bed at 5.30 a.m. our time!
Friday 11th July Back to the Bam 105 miles
We were awake early, but felt better for some sleep!
It was lovely to see the blue sky again. We had a good breakfast – fruit juice, tea/coffee, toast, fruit, muffins and waffles (which you cooked yourself). Also a newspaper to read. Great for a budget priced hotel!
We sent an email to our ‘kids’ to say that we’d arrived, then at 9 o’clock we left to collect the Bam from ‘Sharon’s Storage’. Once more we had a silent taxi driver.
It was good to be back with the Bam. We enjoyed getting ourselves sorted, with no rush. We said hello to Sharon, who looked like a white version of ‘Bloody Mary’ from South Pacific.
We had to say goodbye to our number plate, No 1 Hugs (N01 HGS), and replace it with the boring CYH 786 (you have to change your number plate every 6 years in Texas!!).
We received an email on the phone from Simon, who had arrived at Elm Gable for the weekend from Devon, before flying back to Calgary. By the time we’d filled the water tank, and checked that everything was in working order after 9 months, it was 11.20.
We drove north towards Seattle, stopping at a large ‘Fred Meyers’ store to stock up. We noticed a difference from our previous visits – there was more organic produce, plastic bags were used more stringently, and recycling was more obvious.
After eating lunch, we found our way northwards again, remembering how long you have to wait at traffic lights in U.S. At least we’d had practice in Hermitage recently, with all the roadworks!
It was very busy as we headed north past Seattle. We turned off the motorway to an ordinary road, but this still had plenty of traffic, and traffic lights too!
At Arlington we headed east into the Cascade Mountains. We’d seen the snow-covered cone of Mt. Baker ahead of us. The road was not as rural as we’d hoped, but at about 4.30 we found a lovely spot just off the road, above the Sauk River. It was on the ‘Concrete Sauk Valley Road’, which didn’t mean that the road was concrete, but that it went to a town of that name!
We walked across the iron bridge and back, and then found our way down through the steep woodland to the sandy/pebbly river bank.
By the Sauk River
It was hot and sunny here, and we enjoyed relaxing for a while. When we came to return to the Bam, we couldn’t find our way back from the beach – lucky that it wasn’t dark!
We sat outside with a beer, enjoying the trees which surrounded us, and the foxgloves and pretty grasses. We came in to eat prawns for supper (actually called prawns, not shrimps on the label, but we’re still not sure if there is a difference).
It was lovely to be back on the road again!
Saturday 12th July A glorious day in the North Cascade Mountains 47 miles
We’d lasted out until 9 o’clock last night, so were awake early, after quite a good night’s sleep. It had quickly turned cool in the night, and was still cool in the morning, especially as the sun hadn’t come up over the mountains.
We drove on the few miles to Rockport, where we turned into Howard Miller Steelhead Park to have breakfast. By now the sun was reaching us. The park was situated beside the wide Skagit River, which the Sauk River had joined. It was the old ferry point, and there was an old wooden ferry and a more recent one, beside a wooden ferry cabin. There was a pleasant campsite here too. We spent some time enjoying the early morning by the river.
We were in dire need of petrol, as prices had been jumping up at each petrol station we had passed yesterday, so Adrian kept putting off buying any. We couldn’t wait any longer, as we were heading into the mountains, so had to pay an even higher price at Rockport, just as we joined the North Cascade Highway.
We soon stopped beside the road to take in the wonderful scenery, and not long afterwards stopped again at tiny Wildwood Chapel, which seats just 9 people. A plaque said that it was to refresh travellers of any religion as they stopped on their journey.
Just after we’d driven off, we saw 2 deer beside the road – at first we thought that they were plastic ones, as many Americans have models of deer in their front gardens, but these were real.
We turned off to the North Cascades Visitors Centre just outside the small habitation of Newhalem, which had been built to house workers when dams were constructed in this valley in the early 1900s.
We stopped in Newhalem, and set off across a ‘Capilano’ type bridge to walk the ‘Trail of the Cedars’, reminding us of walks a bit further north in the Canadian Rockies. We walked along to the Hydro Electricity Power plant, where we followed the ‘Ladder Creek Falls walk’, up lots of steps with views of splendid falls. There had been wonderful gardens here in the 1930s, kept up by the generating station employees. Visitors had come to see the gardens, which used to be lit up until 11.00 pm. The gardens were now in need of restoration, but it was still a pleasant walk, and it was now very hot.
We continued along the road in what is justifiably known as the American Alps. There were occasional huge areas of compacted snow beside the road.
We stopped after a couple of miles at Gorge Creek Falls, where we had another delightful walk above the dam. Like Lake Louise, the water of the lake and river is an unbelievable turquoise green.
We drove down to the small village of Diablo, close to the next dam, and had our lunch sitting beside the river, in the shade because of the hot sun. We had a quick peep at this dam before driving on to Colonial Creek campsite. The chap at the Visitors Centre had said that there was plenty of room there last night, but we found it pretty full. Luckily we found a spot for us in a more open situation than most (I hate to be in the deep dark under tall trees). There were fallen trees from a recent flooding in the stream bed.
We almost immediately set off to walk to the top of ‘Thunder Knob’ and back. We had difficulty in finding the start of the walk, but after that gradually climbed up and up, until we finally reached a point high above Lake Diablo. With magnificent peaks all around, with ‘all year’ snow engraved in them, it was really lovely and walking back down was even better!
On top of Thunder Knob
Now it was time for our first campfire. We enjoyed our meal and sat out until 9.30.
We are really on our travels again!
Sunday 13th July Another lovely day in the North Cascades 43 miles
The sun had just come over the mountain when we ate breakfast at 8 o’clock, so we were able to sit outside, although it was still chilly.
We drove to the other end of the campsite, and had a lovely walk above the Thunder Arm of Diablo Lake.
It was 9.30 as we drove on up the eastern side of the lake, stopping by the viewpoint to Diablo Lake. We left here 3 hours later!
Apart from the stunning scenery, the reason was our meeting up with 2 other couples who were doing the same sort of thing as we were!
We first met up with Roger and Mary – I knew that he was English when I first saw him. Mary was actually from South Africa. They were on their first trip driving around USA in a motorhome. We were aware of someone else listening into our conversation. This was Patrick, originally from New Zealand, but living in Australia with his English born wife Liz. We all had so much in common, that chatting was easy. We shared travel stories and experiences, and enjoyed each others company. Having exchanged email addresses etc, we finally left (the 2 young rangers who had chatted to us, wondered if we would ever go) and continued on our way.
We stopped by a viewpoint to Ross Lake, formed by the last of the 3 dams. We noticed lupins beside the road as we drove on to Rainy Pass, where we stopped to have lunch. After lunch we had an enjoyable walk to Rainy Lake (which it wasn’t). It was an easy walk, supposedly wheelchair accessible, but the two fallen trees across the path would have made that rather difficult! We saw lots of yellow violets as we walked to this exquisite glacial lake.
A patch of snow on the way to Rainy Lake
Now 3.15, we headed on to Washington Pass (5477ft). On the ‘overlook trail’, we met up with a delightful couple from Wisconsin, who travelled to Europe every year. The views from here were fantastic, but we noticed how much drier everything was.
At Washington Pass
This wasn’t surprising when we saw that we were now in Okanogan County – we had only associated this with Canada before (as the Okanagan). We actually discovered that we had crossed this route in June 2002. We were in the rain shadow of the Rockies.
We reached Lone Fir campsite, and drove in and found a suitable spot to stay for the night. It was now 4.15. We walked around the campsite, enjoying the many wildflowers – aquilegias, dogwood and tiger lilies (or something similar) and many others.
We discovered that there was a walk out from the campsite, so set off on it. It was pleasant enough, but we did have the hazard of a river crossing which was just a flattened log across the river.
We lit the campfire on our return. The scenery and the situation were fantastic, but the annoyance of flies on our earlier arrival now became the distress of mosquitoes, which can ruin anything. We didn’t envy the camp host, who was here until October!
Monday 14th July The Grand Coulee Dam, no less! 131 miles
The night was very cool, and the sun didn’t quite reach us in time for us to eat our bacon sandwiches outside.
We set off and were very soon out of the National Park/Forest and following the ever widening Methow Valley. We became increasingly aware of the amount of watering taking place. We drove through the attractive little touristy wild west town of Winthrop – so unexpected in this remote area.
At Twisp we went into a store called Hanks, where the people were pleasant enough, but the food was rubbish. We tried in vain to get some ‘unsweet’ bread. Adrian got chatting to one of the workers, who said ‘No, you won’t find any here, dreadful isn’t it?’
We drove through another section of the Okanogan National Forest and pulled into a pleasant little campsite for early coffee. The weather was already hot. We continued over the Loup Loup Pass(4020ft), which would appear to be a Winter Sports area.
We by-passed the town of Okanogan, but stopped at nearby Omak to top up with cheaper fuel. It was very arid and hot by now, and I seemed to be feeling the effects of the heat.
Our route now went through the Colville Indian Reserve. At Nespelem we noticed that there was a sign about Nez Perce Chief Joseph, who we had followed last year on our Lewis & Clark trail. He was actually buried here, and we managed to find his grave, which was a real bonus.
We drove on down to the Columbia River near Elmer to have lunch, before driving on to the Grand Coulee Dam. The construction of the dam commenced in 1933, and was completed in 1942. It was the largest concrete structure in the world – the concrete in it could go around the earth almost twice, in a 4 ft wide, 4 inch thick band!
The Grand Coulee Dam
Having driven across the Columbia River, we walked back onto the bridge to view and photograph the dam, before going into the Visitors Centre and then driving right down to the river below the dam for another view.
Having made our visit (and getting a surprise internet connection and sending a message to our kids – P&N moving today, and S&L flying back to Calgary,) we drove on to Spring Canyon campsite on Lake Roosevelt.
Having found a spot, we walked down to the lake (151 miles long, formed by the Grand Coulee Dam) where we could see many children having fun in the lake. We tried the water, and pronounced it definitely cold, but both had a refreshing swim!
After a swim in Lake Roosevelt, above the Grand Coulee Dam
When we returned to our spot, a small camper had come in nearby and was running a noisy generator!
We rejoiced when this was turned off, and lit the campfire, not that it was needed for warmth! We cooked our T-bone steak, which the lady cashier in Hanks had said was ‘pretty’!
Tuesday 15th July More of Lake Roosevelt 168 miles
An early morning walk above Lake Roosevelt
We were up early, and walked a nice trail through the adjacent hilly prairie before breakfast. Today it wasn’t a case of waiting for the sun to reach us for breakfast, it was finding a place to sit in the shade!
We’d been surprised to get an internet connection here, and assume that it came through the campground host. We received an email from Tom, saying that he had been to Madrid.
We did the ‘emptying and filling’, and were on the road before 9 o’clock.
Initially we drove south-eastwards to Wilbur, across rolling hills of wheat. At Wilbur we filled up with even less expensive fuel, and also got some propane, so with full tanks of petrol, propane and water, and empty dirty water tanks, we felt well equipped!
We missed the turning back towards Lake Roosevelt – one of many wrong turns today! After finding our way back to the lake, we passed through an attractive gorge. We turned off to drive 3 miles down to the lake at Seven Bays, which unfortunately turned out to be just a marina and a housing complex! We had to sit on the edge of the marina carpark to have our coffee!
We drove on to Fort Spokane and went into the Visitors Centre. The fort dated from 1880, when it was built as a protection from the Indian tribes. In the early 1900s it was turned into a boarding school for Indian children. The white people mistakenly believed that the Indians would benefit from learning white man’s ways, and the children were punished for speaking their native language. The school didn’t last very long (not that the attitude towards Indians had changed), and was then turned into a sanatorium for TB sufferers.
There was a pleasant lakeside campsite here, and also at Hunters, a bit further on, where we stopped in a picnic area under tall pines for lunch, beside the lake. Afterwards we both refreshed ourselves with a swim in the cool waters of the lake.
We had lovely views of the lake as we drove north as far as Rice. Here we turned off and took a cross country route to Colville, which we saw more of than we intended as we tried to find our road out!
Travelling now northwards towards the Canadian border, we stopped by pretty Crystal Falls, right by the roadside. Continuing on, we reached a quiet little campsite at Lake Leo at around 4 o’clock, and thought that it would make a nice stopping place for our last night in USA for a while.
Lovely Lake Leo
In fact it turned out to be a ‘Top Spot’. It was so quiet – just 2 other campers. We watched 2 ospreys across the lake, and a red necked grebe. We watched the male first, then saw the female with about 7 young ones.
We lit the fire, needing to burn all our wood, as were crossing into Canada tomorrow. We didn’t have much left to cook, but cooked our salmon, and toasted ‘English muffins’. We didn’t come in from this idyll until 10 o’clock.
Wednesday 16th July Lovely scenery as we head into Canada 207 miles
After having our breakfast in this beautiful situation, we left by 8 o’clock. It was after 10 o’clock when we crossed into Canada, about 30 miles further on.
This was partly because of the unexpectedly delightful scenery, and partly because of road works just before the border, which held us up for a long while.
Our phone had logged in, and we received messages from Simon to say that they were safely back in Calgary, and from Nicky to say that their move on Monday had gone well.
We were following the beautiful Pent Oreille River (which flows into the Columbia River). We stopped at Eagles Nest viewpoint, and didn’t see any bald eagles, but did see hundreds of swallows flying around their nests in the cliffs.
At Eagles Nest viewpoint
At Sweet Creek Falls there was a newly tarmacked picnic area nicely laid out, but the walk to the falls was very dodgy!
Now on to the border with Canada, and after the roadworks, it was 10.15 when we crossed and drove on north for 10 miles before repeating our route of June 2002 over the Kootenay Pass.
We soon stopped for coffee beside Lost Creek, before continuing on the long ascent to the summit, where there was an attractive lake. A little ground squirrel was collecting grass and bobbed into his hole.
We remembered the never ending descent from last time. At Creston we stopped at a fruit stall, but only bought cherries, nectarines and a long cucumber (for Adrian). These complemented our lunch when we stopped at a warm but windy rest area soon afterwards.
We stopped again after Moyie Lake ( we had been following the Moyie River), and for the first time since we’d been away we saw real clouds, and had the first of several showers, one quite heavy.
At Cranbrook we stopped to top up with petrol. We’d thought it an unattractive town before, and Lonely Planet had nothing good to say, but it served us well this time. We pulled in to get an internet connection so that we could send a message to Simon to tell him when we were arriving, and found that there was a free dump station. Very useful to us, as we will be outside Simon’s house for the next few days. The view of the mountains ahead perhaps improved the image – the weather had been bad last time we travelled this way, which is partly why we wanted to repeat it.
We continued towards Fernie, through dramatic scenery with steep mountain sides. Just before the town, we found a suitable layby above the Elk River to stay in for the night. The only problem was the noisy traffic going by.
As we had moved our watch on one hour to Mountain Time, it was soon time for a drink.
Thursday 17th July We make way to Calgary 179 miles
The sun had come over the mountain and shone on the van as we ate bacon pancakes for breakfast. These weren’t too successful, as the pancake mix had been left in the van and had gone solid!
By 8.45 we were on our way, and drove on into the former mining town of Fernie, now known as a winter ski resort. A fire in 1908 meant that most of the buildings were rebuilt soon after that, and the town looked very attractive. Like many towns, the flower displays were magnificent.
Adrian went into a supermarket and bought a fresh loaf for lunch, which pleased him very much.
At Sparwood we stopped as we had done before by the ‘big truck’, supposedly the largest in the world. It was warmer than last time we were here, and we had a pleasant walk around the mining exhibits displayed beside the road.
The World’s biggest truck
We now ascended Crowsnest Pass, and were surprised when we realised that we had reached the summit. We stopped here to have coffee, sitting on the concrete road barrier above Summit Lake. We were now in Alberta. We stopped again at Crowsnest Lake, where we’d stopped for coffee in 2002. This was supposed to be a mountain sheep area. We didn’t see any here, but we had seen one licking salt from the road yesterday, and had also seen several deer then too, including two young ones.
We began our descent, passing by several former mining towns, but not stopping at the sobering site of the Frank Slide as we had done last time. It appeared that the Visitors Centre was closed anyway.
The road north towards Calgary was much prettier than we remember it, with lots of wildflowers beside the road.
We stopped for lunch in Chain Lakes Provincial Park, sitting outside by one of the lakes.
We turned off to Bar U Ranch, a National Historic Site commemorating the history of ranching in Canada, but didn’t actually visit the ranch.
We drove on through the one-eyed town of Longview, travelling very slowly, as this is where last time a policeman had stopped us for speeding (at 30mph) past the school.
Just north, at Black Diamond, Adrian had found a route on the computer which didn’t appear on any of our maps. It did bring us very pleasantly into Calgary, and was mostly a fine road, apart from the track through a large ford ‘travel at your own risk’, which we negotiated safely.
Will we get through?
We arrived at Simon and Laure’s at Calgary about 3.20. Laure and Millie arrived soon afterwards, and later Simon with Manolo. They’d only been back from their 6 week European trip for a couple of days, and Manolo was taking great delight in rediscovering all his own toys, and Millie was smiling and cooing.
After supper eaten on the patio, we came out to sleep in the Bam.
Friday 18th to Monday 21st July
We spent the next few days with Simon and Laure, enjoying Manolo and Millie.
Here are a few photos for those who’d like to see them.