Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Glacier and Selling our Camper!

We arrived back in the lower 48 after being north of the border for 3 months and 18 days. The crossing went without incident and we added a new state to our “Traveled to” map as we had yet to spend any time in Montana since hitting the road fulltime. Since this is the last few weeks of our “Camper Adventure” we are getting ready to list it. I have included some details in the last paragraph for anyone who is interested.
 Because of our accelerated route through Canada we were now 10 days ahead of schedule but our stop at Yellowstone will eat up part of that and now we hope to hit the Tetons and maybe stop at a favorite trout stream for a few days as we pass through Wyoming.

We stopped in Columbia Falls, did laundry, washed the truck and made our way towards Glacier. Since it was later in the afternoon we decided to see if we could find a remote quiet campground outside the park before heading into Glacier.  We saw that there were several National Forest Service Campgrounds just south of Hungry Horse on the Hungry Horse Reservoir.


The first one we stopped at was full but we found a nice site at Lost Johnny Creek Campground ($13/night). There are a total of 6 sites at this campground, nice and quiet with deer walking through the area. Exactly what we were looking for.

This one has it's tongue out!
Our site at Lost Johnny

View from shore
The next day we got up early and headed into Glacier NP. As we approached the check-in station we saw a sign displaying the status of all the campgrounds. About ½ were full already but Avalanche, the one we hoped to stay at still showed availability. Since it was well before check-out time we were pretty confident we would get a site.  We stopped at the Visitor’s Center, Barb got her National Parks Passport stamped, saw that Avalanche still had openings and we headed up the Going to the Sun Highway. As we approached the entrance for the campground we saw the “Full” sign had been posted. Driving each of the loops anyway just in case, we stopped and talked to people who seemed to be packing up only to find out someone had already snagged their spots. I guess “Full” meant full. We did walk the Trail of Cedars since we were there, a short but scenic hike through the cedar forest.
Avalanche Gorge
One thing I will say about Glacier was that it was not nearly as busy as Jasper or Banff. The roadside pullouts were not packed to capacity and the Visitor’s Center was not nearly as crowded. The other thing we noticed is that most of the tourists were English speaking visitors whereas in Canada it seems like they were in the minority. Up there we noticed a lot of European, Asian and Middle Eastern visitors as well as French speaking Canadians. After thinking about it we figured it had something to do with the current status of the Canadian dollar. A lot of tourists from foreign countries are traveling to Canada this year since their dollar is so strong comparatively and the Canadians are not traveling out of country for the same reason.

After striking out at Avalanche we went to Plan B which was to stay at a remote campground on the northwest edge of the park. #1 we like remote and #2 we figured there were be availability there. To get to Bowman Lake Campground you actually have to leave the park on the western edge, drive north about 25 miles and then east again back into the park. The first half of the trip is on paved roads while the last ½ is all gravel. You reenter the park just outside of Pole Bridge and then you take a narrow switchback road 6 miles to the park. Some of the switchbacks were really tight and the road is so narrow we had to pull over if we ran into another vehicle. I personally would not take anything bigger than a very small travel trailer down this road.
Narrow windy road all the up
The 6 mile drive took us about 25 minutes and we arrived at the campground to find it only about ½ full and after getting set up and walking the park we were glad that Plan A did not work out. This place was awesome! Bowman Lake is nestled between mountains on all sides, the water is crystal clear and the area had some great hikes.

More deer right in the campground
Over the next two days we kayaked, hiked and relaxed getting out in the kayak a few times.
Does it get any better than this?

Daisy did not fall in once!
I don’t know what it is with us and hikes but unless it has some significant elevation changes we don’t like to hike them. We discussed this as we hiked the Lower Quartz Lake Trail with it’s 1,200’ elevation change in about 2 ½ miles. About ½ way up I asked Barb why we just didn’t hike the Bowman Lake Trail which only had an 80’ elevation change. Switchback after switchback we headed up the trail taking a breather now and then. At one point we heard a shout down the trail below us and every 30 seconds we would hear it again a little closer and a little closer. Eventually a young girl came jogging up the trail shouting every once in a while as a bear alert. She jogged by us as Barb and I were huffing and puffing. If I could have gotten off the log I was resting on I would have pushed her over just for spite! Determined, we eventually made it to the top. The return trip was much much easier.

One of the many swtichbacks on the way up

Lots of different berry plants along the way

View from the top
Headed back down
We left Glacier the following morning, again vowing to return in the off season so we can do more exploring within the interior of the park. Bowman Lake is a great little campground and I am glad we did it now with the small camper as there is no way to even get close with anything big.

We made our way south as Barb searched our route for free campgrounds along the way. It is amazing the number of free campgrounds in some areas. Montana seems to have more than many states we have been in. Most are State Recreation Areas with campgrounds in them. Most free campgrounds don’t offer a lot of the amenities you get in your fee based parks but it seems like the ones we have run into in Montana do. Picnic tables, fire pits and vault restrooms. Sometimes you have to put up with a cow of two wandering through your campsite but it all adds to the adventure! Our personal criteria for a free site is that is has to be within 5 miles, 10 at the most, of the road we are traveling anyway. After all, it does not make a lot of sense to drive 20 miles (40 round trip) off of your route to save $15-20. With the fuel you burn getting there that just does not add up.

Over the course of the next several days we worked our way south towards Yellowstone staying at free sites along the way. Inez Lake only ¼ mile off highway 83 was a great site where we spent the afternoon swimming and relaxing.
Another site with a view
Of course there is always the Walmart which is what we did in Helena where we stayed for a day while Barb took advantage of the strong WiFi and did some work.  Then it was on to Toston Dam site right on the Missouri River where they have 5 free sites right next to the dam. The water did not look swimmable but we did get out and do some hiking in the surrounding hills.
More Open Range country

It is amazing what trees will grow out of

This little guy was peeking out at me from a stump

A cave I explored on the way up

View from the top, our camper is the little white dot just right of dead center

There's Barbie and Daisy down by the truck!

I climbed to the highest peak on the right side
This was great little spot right on the river and really quiet except for the occasional train. The trains were actually peaceful as well with one coming by every hour or so. That is until it was time to sleep…. A train every hour or so ALL NIGHT LONG!
Our last stop before entering Yellowstone was Carbella BLM Rec. Area off of Highway 89 just north of Yellowstone’s north entrance. This is a dispersed campground situated right on the Yellowstone River. Although there are trees right along the river, it is an open area with sage, cactus and antelope. It was very windy the day we were there but a great place to hang out before heading into the park. I talked to a BLM employee who was doing some maintenance who said that normally this area is packed with campers, tubers and fisherman but all water activity is prohibited right now due to a parasite in the river. We read recently where this is killing a lot of fish in the river as well and hurting the local economy. Hopefully they will get that figured out soon.



Tomorrow we head into the park for 5 days, cannot wait!

We will be listing our camper as soon as we get back to Salt Lake the 2nd week of September. It is a 1998 Lance Legend 945, 11’3” extended cab. Features include, AC, storage tote mounted on top, built in propane generator, microwave, side awning, 3 way fridge/freezer, stove/oven, thermostat controlled furnace, fantastic fan, bathroom/shower unit, power jacks, jack extensions for a dually and lots of storage. It is in great shape and has been stored inside by both previous owners.  We have not had any problems with it whatsoever. We did have a minor drip during a hard rain around the skylight but I sealed everything tight and have not had an issue since. We are asking $6,900, anyone interested can send us a note in our comment section (I will not publish the comment) and we will get back to you.




Sunday, August 21, 2016

Headed for the Lower 48

Sweet corn, ribeye steaks, a good pizza, any restaurant hamburger that is less than $16. Direct TV, our comfy love seat and our spacious (relatively speaking) shower…..These are just a few of the things we have been missing in the past few months since embarking on this Alaskan adventure.
As we make our way through British Columbia and Alberta we are have been thinking about some of the things we are looking forward to when we get back in the lower 48. We arrived in Alberta’s Jasper National Park and were quickly reminded why we avoid National Parks during peak tourist season. There are people everywhere! Bikers, backpackers, hitchhikers, RV’s of all sizes and people of all nationalities. If it was not for the beauty of the Jasper and Banff National Parks we would have turned around and found another route south. But instead we took a deep breath and plunged in with the masses.

We had preplanned much of our activities for this area, most of which involved hiking. Our first hike was Valley of the Five Lakes. It was described as a moderate 2 hour hike around 5 lakes of varying colors. I don’t know if it was the 80 degree weather or the fact that we have not been doing a lot of hiking but we were whooped by the time we returned to the truck. The hike was pretty cool, the views incredible and the varied colored lakes looked cool and inviting. There were quite a few other people on the trail, rarely a minute went by that you did not see the group in front of you and a group heading towards you.
Lake #1

Daisy needed to take a break.....
.....and then go for a swim!

More of the 5 lakes....this one was greenish blue

It was about 5:30pm when we finished our hike and jumped in the truck to find a campsite. Big mistake. Campground after campground displayed a “Full/Complet” sign. We finally found a spot in the parking lot of the Icefield Centre which had an overnight RV section for $15.80/night. Not the wooded site we had in mind but it still had incredible views out the backdoor!

Looks like a plate just lifted out of the earth

 Our next hike was a much shorter to Mistaya Canyon. This is an area where Mistaya River dumps into a very narrow channel much like the slot canyons we hiked in Arizona and Utah. Watching the water rush through these narrow slots you can see how dangerous it can become in a hurry when rain hits those dry canyons in southern Utah. No wonder people drown every year during flash floods, there is no way to hide and the water is so incredibly powerful.


We smartened up and found a campsite about 2:00 that afternoon at Waterfowl Lake ($21.50 + $8.80 for a fire permit) where we built a fire and spent the afternoon reading and relaxing our sore muscles. We also met a couple from Saskatchewan who had been vacationing in this area for over 30 years. They gave us the scoop on sights to see and the best route to take south. Based on their information we changed our route away from Calgary and onto more remote roads that will get us to Glacier.
Our Waterfowl Lake site


Lots of glaciers throughout Jasper and Banff

And lots of rugged peaks
Speaking of changing our route, I had eluded to speeding up to make up a few days on our last blog as we were adding another stop on our way back to Utah. We are going to stop and spend a few days with our friends Dino and Lisa who are workcamping in Yellowstone! We realize it is another busy park during what will still be their busy season but Dino and Lisa are worth it.  

After leaving Waterfowl Lake we hiked the Peyton Lake Viewpoint. It is a rather short 10 minute hike up a steep grade again with LOTS of people. This hike actually made us feel a little better as we were passing most of the other hikers going up the trail. Maybe we are not as out of shape as we felt the other day. Although the picture below looks peaceful and tranquil in its beauty, don’t let that fool you. I had to stand in line for 10 minutes to get this picture and had 15 people waiting for me to take my spot.
Peyton Lake
Our plan for the day was to drive to Lake Louise, walk the town, post a blog then carry on to Radium Hot Springs and spend the night at a campground. After fighting for a parking spot, getting the blog posted and fueling up spending all but the last $10 of our Canadian cash, we got out of town and headed to Radium. One thing that we found fascinating was that they actually built crosswalks for the animals to cross the freeway. Complete with trees and grass so they would feel comfortable using it!
I would highly recommend the drive on Highway 93 whether you are heading into or out of Banff.

Animal Overpass

The town of Radium itself is very cute, but again crowded. It was also incredibly hot at 87 degrees (hiking is out of the question) and would you believe the hotsprings were packed? Who would want to sit in a hotspring in almost 90 degree weather with a bunch of sweaty strangers? Instead of partaking in that joyous activity we got an ice cream (there goes the rest of our Canadian cash), walked some of the shops and continued south on 93. This section was equally as beautiful as the last but it transitioned from totally mountainous to mountains with rivered valleys and croplands. Our goal for the day had transitioned to getting a campsite near Radium to driving until we could find a remote campsite to spend the night. Barb searched her AllStays app for just such a spot and noted quite a few free remote campsites south of town on the route we were going to be heading anyway. The first spot was about 30 miles south of town and about a mile down gravel two track road where there were supposed to be 6 sites on a quiet little lake. The sites were there all right, along with 6 campers and about 20 people. No worries, there is another spot on the other side of the lake that has 10 sites. You guessed it, it was packed as well. So we jumped back on 93 south and Barb found another promising spot about 40 miles down the road in the direction we were going anyway.

This next spot was listed as having three sites, picnic tables, fire pits and an outhouse. We turned off of 93 onto a gravel road ¼ mile up turned on to another gravel road, went by a couple of farms and turned again on a two track leading through the wood. After a few hundred yards it opened up to a small little lake with the sites, picnic tables and fire pits as promised and the best part there was no one around! No a single soul! There was however a few Hereford cattle wandering the campsites! We laughed and found a site to our liking and set up for the night. We felt right at home with the cattle as it reminded us of the cattle we raised back in Wisconsin. Although a different breed, they were still curious and cute as they wandered around the campground grazing on the grass. It was great to be alone (except for the mooing)!!!!!

Finally Alone!
View from the back of the camper

View from the front of the camper!


This is what we raised back in the day!
Vowing to return, we said goodbye to Canada, we will return to Banff sometime in the future, during the off-season when the temperatures are cooler, the kids are in school and there are less people.  How does that saying go? For everything lost there is something gained? In that case…. There ought to be a sweet corn stand somewhere in Montana!