Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wednesday, May 30: Had breakfast at our motel in Lethbridge Alberta with a nice couple from Holland, then headed for the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden--replica of a traditional Japanese home surrounded by lovely grounds, ranked 22 out of 130 similar gardens in North America. We took a nice two-mile walk around Henderson Lake next to the Gardens, and then were ready to settle in for the drive to Banff AB. It wasn't long before we got our first glimpse of the Canadian Rockies and a huge wind generator farm on its flanks. Ron spotted some buffalo grazing, then we drove through lots of open plains and small towns before we had to negotiate our way through Calgary AB, population one million plus. Like traveling through the Twin Cities. Spotted the Olympic Ski Jump as we turned west toward Banff, and soon there was a chill in the air from the snow-covered mountains all around us. Finally had to stop at Lac des Arcs, Lake of the Bows, (where the natives cut saplings for their bows) and shoot some photos and take it all in. Stupifying! Banff and Jasper AB (our next destination) are both within the many-thousands-of-acres Banff National Park; they must use the park fees to keep up the roads. They are really great! We passed some burned over sidehills on our way through the park and Ron spotted some elk--how does he do that and drive too? (We are sure glad we didn't bring the 5th-wheeler; some of the roads have been challenging and we aren't even to the Yukon yet!) Settled in our little motel in this tourist city that reminds me of Stillwater--fancy hotels and restaurants, quaint shops and art galleries--but mountains every where you look. Wow! (Didn't use the wipers today!--yeah!)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday, May 29: Hope everyone had a nice Memorial Day holiday! Left Havre MT about 9am, stopped to refresh supplies (sorry--went to the "W" store) then headed for Lethbridge Alberta. Didn't get far before we we were stopped for road work--blasting a huge outcrop to prevent rockslides on the highway. The plains have really flattened now, few cows and more horses, and extensive planted green fields and golden-yellow expanses of wheat stubble. We saw mountains with snow on them far to our left, along the Missouri River, and then in the distance on our right, three clumps of the Sweet Grass Hills at about 7ooo' each (hills?!). The hills were sacred to the Blackfeet; young mean did their vision quests there, and they served as a look-out for game and intruders. We have seen lots of white crosses on red poles along the Hi-Line (what the locals in Montana call Highway 2 as it follows the railroad) signifying a road fatality. Saw pronghorns in the fields and and a huge wind farm (there should be more the way the wind never stops here!). We had a little picnic lunch at Shelby MT before the rain hit again, then we turned north to cross the border into Canada. Just outside Lethbridge AB we saw a yard full of wind generator parts. Maybe they will come! (Ron says we have used our windshield wipers everyday since we left on 5/23; that means we are due for some sunshine any day now!) Oh, thanks to the givers of the electric cooler! It has worked wonderfully!
Monday, May 28: Our "free day" at Havre MT (they say "have-er) looked bleak in the morning, still rainy and cold. But as it turned out, our day in the land of buffalo, dinosaurs, forts and railroads turned out great! We made a reservation for an indoor activity, "Havre Beneath the Streets." We gathered at the one of the best railroad museums we've ever seen. James J. Hill designed the railyard here as a big repair area; it was the center of his empire (St. Paul to Seattle). So thousands of Great Northern and other rail artifact reside here; Amtrak still stops here. Then we walked outside and around the block to enter "Havre Beneath the Streets." In the 1880s the city was much like Hurley and Iron River all rolled into one. The first few brick buildings built had basements that were linked together and used for many clandestine activities. In 1904 a fire, started on a gusty day by two men who had a disagreement with a bar owner, burned six blocks of the city. As a result many more businesses moved into the basements connected by tunnels while the city was being rebuilt. Several stayed and thrived through Prohibition undisturbed by the law--an opium den, a bordello, and a saloon. On the way back to our motel we drove by the site of a "buffalo jump." Lo, and behold, there was someone there and the sun came out for our visit to the most extensive and well-preserved buffalo jump in the northern Great Plains--"Wahkpa Chu'gn," refers to the Milk River along which the site is. We were guided through the archeology dig where, for over 2000 years, three different Native American bands devised a scheme to stampede selected buffalo over a steep bank, and then harvest the fatalities. (This meant all of them, because they believed if one got away it would tell the other buffalo not to come near here anymore.) The natives didn't have horses or guns of course, so they used bows and arrows, and spear throwers called "atlatls." (We got to try one!) Couldn't leave Montana without a taste of all that Angus we've been seeing. A great treat after what's been a pretty Spartan menu. (The first picture is for Cameron--SCORE!)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sunday, May 27: Even in the rain the low hills and plains of Montana are beautiful. Not as many potholes (ponds) but more horses in this Northern Plains country. We see our first, of many, oil rigs and scattered pods of temporary housing for the crews working around Williston ND. The town itself is extremely busy, with trucks at every crossing and people everywhere. How do all these folks get fed? We were puzzled about the snow geese, pelicans and gulls flying over the highway until I looked at the Nuvi screen and realized that over the hills to our left was the Missouri River! Took a little sidetrip in Culbertson (oldest city in MT--1867) to go down to the river and see "the breaks"--high, steep hills close to the river. Enjoying the new blacktop on Highway 2 till it turned into 14 miles under construction! Expected in the Yukon, but not here. Saw a monument to a band of Assiniboine who lost 94% of their band to small pox brought by furtraders in the late 1830s, and a massive "Sleeping Buffalo Rock" at the spot where the Cree used to cross the Missouri. We traveled along side a "long drag" train for miles; never saw traincars from China before! Saw a ring-necked pheasant too, but the most welcome sight was the Super 8 in Havre MT after a long day on the road.
Saturday, May 26: Left early hoping to get to Lewis and Clark State Park in time to see some sights before dark. Saw a fence that ran the length of a forty with a boot on every fencepost! We needn't have rushed. Unloaded into "Clark" cabin in the cold, blustery wind and rain. Nice view of the Missouri (actually Lake Sakakawea created by the dam at Garrison) out our front door though, and saw a new bush-like tree with silvery leaves, Russian olive, considered an invasive but hardy and grows fast. There are some beautiful trails through the low hills along the river--maybe tomorrow? Ron picked up a barbeque grill "some assembly required!" (see picture) He put the whole thing together with his Leatherman's--who needs a Swiss Army Knife? The grill needed to be "seasoned" for two hours before using; it was too rainy and windy outside to keep it lit, and we didn't want any fumes in the cabin, so we put it in the outhouse! It was good to be warm and dry in such wild weather! "No-o-o-o-o-o-o-rth Dakota where the wind comes rolling 'cross the plains..."
Friday, May 25: Tidied up our little cabin then on the road before 10am--destination, International Peace Gardens on the USA/Canadian border (such a lovely sentiment). Pretty much straight north for an hour. The weather got cooler and wetter (some snow in the air). Saw a spot where wind generators were scattered all over the hills by the highway, and then a marker for the geographical center of North America in Rugby ND. Not much to see by way of flowers at the Peace Gardens (too early), but the entrance was grand, especially the Peace Towers (a 911 monument)which we could see from many points throughout the park. We enjoyed the two 3-mile loop autotour (too cold and wet for a hike). Saw some neat birds (white pelican, ring-neck duck, buffle head, loon and a red-necked grebe), then brought our lunch into the Peace Gardens Restaurant--with their blessing and a bowl of hot, homemade chicken soup! Also had a nice chat with the IPG director about the extensive cactus greenhouse on site, with cacti from all over the world. We bailed on camping in Williston ND for a warm, dry motel room in Minot ND with a hot shower. (Lucky to find a room in Minot because the oil shale boom in Williston has brought thousands of workers to the area.) It was a great chance to get our blog site set up for the family and friends back home.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Thursday, May 24: After spending the morning getting settled into our cozy cabin, we decided to take a trip around Devil's Lake. We again were amazed at the carnage from the rising lake--groves of trees bare and bleached white, and many more farms surrounded by water! Our first stop was historic Fort Totten, built in 1860 to control the Sioux. (Custer and his ill-fated army left from here for Little Big Horn.) It was later, ironically, a Native American School and then an industrial school. It is very well-preserved and our guide was very interesting. Feeling the need for a walk we headed for Sully's Hill, a nature preserve, with a high look-out where we could see buffalo grazing in the far hills. There was a cute, little prairiedog town and a beautiful interpretative center run by US Fish and Wildlife. I loved the praire garden there, but little was in bloom and there was poison ivy along the walk. We saw lots of cool birds--cormorants, redhead ducks, Franklin gulls, yellow-headed blackbirds and a cute little ruddy turnstone! Our old Coleman stove puked on us, but our kind camp host brought over a spare grill so we had hot food after what turned out to be a chilly day.
Wednesday, May 23: On the road by 11am. Ron had lots to do since he was gone most of the day Tuesday, including last stops at Terry Hooper's, the church and to fuel the car. Had a great lunch in Grand Rapids MN: Dottie's--a "mom and pop" with great food and hard ice cream! Drove out of the rain into clouds, then sun--and into the wind. Pretty straight road to Devil's Lake ND--lots of ducks, geese, large fields and potholes. Every farm has a windbreak; they tell us the tree of choice is cottonwood--grows fast and grows tall. We are amazed when we start seeing the first bays of Devil's Lake; it is huge, largest natural lake in ND. 1993-1999 it doubled in size displacing 300 homes (see picture), and continues to rise! As we cross the lake to Grahams Island where our cabin is, there is work going on to raise the road from the encroaching water. After a quick supper of leftovers from home at "Bass" cabin, we take a little walk and see the closed roads and paths as a result of the lake rising. This is going to be a facinating place to see!

Friday, May 25, 2012


Tuesday, May 23, 2012: A new adventure--60 days to the Arctic Circle in Alaska and back! Meeting friends for a couple of weeks in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Denali--some bed-and-breakfasts, some motels, some camping. Big list of gear! Finally finished packing everything but the cooler and headed for bed. Ron wants to make an early start tomorrow. Will all this really fit in the back of the Passat? Wednesday night in Devil's Lake ND!