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  1. Default SoCal to Jasper and back

    First Drive Day – OC to Sacramento

    We headed out early on a Friday morning. This was still a work day, so we hit the road at about 7 am, and headed north out of the OC towards the Central Valley. Most of the traffic in LA ebbs and flows each day like the tides at rush hour, heading to downtown LA, Santa Ana/ Irvine, and the LAX airport area. To avoid this, we headed up east of the metropolitan LA area, on the 605 freeway, which follows the path of the San Gabriel River from the beach to the base of the San Gabriel mountains. Traffic on this path was fairly light, and we took advantage of the Carpool lane which runs most of the length of the freeway.

    From the end of the 605 freeway at the base of the mountains that border LA on the north, we headed west via Pasadena on the 210 “Foothill Freeway”. This freeway skirts the edge of the northern mountains around LA so we passed through Pasadena and edged along the side of the San Fernando Valley to the start of the “Grapevine” route out of LA.

    This passage out of LA is the old historic northern route of LA. If you know where to look there are still some of the old stagecoach ruts and cuts through the hillsides north of LA, as the stagecoaches would take the steep grades out of the San Fernando Valley, and then head west towards Santa Barbara. However, around the turn of the 20th Century, a road was cut over the mountains down Taejon pass into the Central Valley. This rapidly became the main route between LA and San Francisco, and the route was nicknamed the “Grapevine” due to the many turns and twists the road took (like a grape vine) coming down out of the coast range mountains into the flat, long central valley of California. Today however, the old “grapevine” road is abandoned and unmaintained, although much of it is still drivable as a Forest Service road in the Angeles National Forest.

    At the top of the Tejon Pass, where the road splits with routes north, south, west and east there’s an old US Army Fort. Today it’s a state historic park, and primarily used as a meeting spot by Civil War Reenactors, but its an interesting stop to tour. I used to stop here to stretch my legs and look around, but the State has redone the entrance and put the picnic tables and restrooms behind the “pay to enter” kiosk, so you can’t legally enter to use the bathrooms without paying.

    From Tejon Pass, you head down a steep grade which is still called “the Grapevine” in memory of the old route, and then into the flats of the Central Valley. The I-5 through here is quite flat and travels through large orchards of fruit trees and rows of grapes. This area can be treacherous in the late spring and early winter, as its possible to get very thick “Tule” fogs which reduce visibility to only a few feet, and potentially freezing fogs which can make the roads dangerously slippery. The many drivers taking the route north and south between LA and San Francisco are usually concentrating on making the drive in minimal time, so its not uncommon to encounter drivers trying to travel at 80+ miles per hour. In combination with the Tule Fogs or other inclement weather, this can be a recipe for disaster, with multiple-car pileups not uncommon in those conditions.

    But on this trip, the sun was shining and we sped up I-5.

    About 3-4 hours out of LA on I-5 you pass by the little crossroads of Lost Hills. It’s not well known but the south western part of the Central Valley was a very intensive oil producing area. Huge gushers which ran for weeks, and even lakes of oil were found here. Today, most of the easy to get oil has been pumped out, although there are still quite a few grasshopper pumps still pulling oil out if you look around. Just west of Lost Hills there is a “reef” structure where there are several hundred grasshoppers still pulling oil out of a buried geological structure – hundreds of oil wells in a very small, very well defined area.

    Another interesting stop near Lost Hills is the Kern National Wildlife Sanctuary. This is about 10 miles from Lost Hills, north east of the crossroads. When the early explorers entered the Central Valley, they found a very large, very shallow lake in the area which can be seen on old maps as “Tule Lake”. At the time, this was the largest lake in California – larger than Lake Tahoe. By the 1920’s farmers and ranchers had drained almost all of this lake and turned the rich soil around it into farmland. Today, most of Tule Lake is invisible, although on an exceptionally wet year it will come back for some weeks, when the fields and irrigation canals overflow the roads and a faint trace of the huge old Lake reappears.

    Kern National Wildlife Sanctuary is in the midst of the old Tule Lake area, and even in the heat of the summer the area still has marshlands and wetlands home to ducks, birds and even Pelicans. We typically stop here since its usually quite deserted, has some rudimentary bathrooms and picnic areas and is a nice quiet stop for lunch.

    Temperature when we left the coast in OC was expected to be a high of around 70 F, but the Central Valley was heading for 100 F or more. We hurried up the I-5 through Santa Nella and into Sacramento. We arrived at our evening stop east of Sacramento about 3 in the afternoon, and after dealing with some last minute issues with our reservation headed for the room, and then the pool at the hotel in the 101F heat.

  2. Default Day 2 -- Sacramento to Shasta Via Lassen

    Second Drive Day - Sacramento to Mt Shasta via Lassen

    Instead of heading for the Canadian border in a 2 day speed run, this trip we picked to go via a slightly more meandering route. From Sacramento we headed back north on the I-5, continuing into the northern half of the 600-mile long Central Valley. The valley has a southern section which feeds the San Joaquin River, and a northern section which feeds the Sacramento River. The two rivers come together near Stockton, and then flow out to the Pacific through the river delta, and then San Francisco Bay. The entire length of the Central Valley is highly productive farmland, and as you drive through at 70 mph you pass through mile after mile of orchards and vineyards and cattle ranches. North of Sacramento you see more nut crops (pistachios, walnuts, and almonds) as well as vast expanses of olive orchards and rice fields.

    Corning California, about 2-3 hours north of Sacramento calls itself “The Olive Capital of the US” and its always fun to stop there to pick up some of the local Olive oils and specialty nuts which are hard to find elsewhere. California is on the only state in the US which produces olives, with about a half dozen different species of olives being grown, and produces about 70 to 80% of all ripe olives sold in the US. Most olive oil and canned olives come from overseas where costs are lower, and olive production is subsidized in some areas. But if you know where to look you can find some amazingly good olive oils in California – Corning being one place. There’s a largish facility in town called “the Olive Pit” which advertises along the freeway for miles. They have a restaurant and gift store and sell olives and olive oils, but are pretty touristy (“Olive Girl” hats, for example). We typically stop at the smaller “Olive Hut” on the south end of town since they only carry local olive products and aren’t as touristy. We loaded up on dried fruits and nuts, several different types of olives and olive oils (including some very spicy, but very good, chipotle pepper-stuffed olives), rices and rice snacks, and hit the road again.

    Not continuing to the end of the Central Valley, we headed north east at Red Bluff, starting up towards the mountains from the flat plain of the Sacramento Valley, taking the road up to Lassen National Park. You can see the snow on Mt Lassen on the eastern edge of the Central Valley for hundreds of miles, but the National Park is not heavily traveled. About an hour out of Red Bluff, after driving across miles of old lava flows we reached the National Park.

    Even in the middle-end of June there was significant snow on Lassen. The road was clear, but there were large snow banks along the road at higher elevations, and several of the lakes along the way were still frozen over.

    Mt Lassen was home to large, explosive volcanic eruptions in 1914-1915. These explosive eruptions were larger in scale than Mt St Helens and continued over a period of about a year, through 1915. Fortunately, the area was sparsely populated, so almost no lives were lost. And today, 90 years later, the remains of the eruption are almost completely covered by green forests and sparkling lakes. But even today, there are sometimes jarring reminders of the volcanic pass. On the main road through the park, there are 2 areas of boiling mud points and steaming ponds, heated by the heat of the earth below. About a mile or so off the road, is a larger valley of bubbling hot ponds, mud pots and a large stretch of sulfur and mineral streaked hillsides called “Bumpass Hell”. But this time, the trail down into the valley was still covered with snow, and the parking lot for the trail head was filled with picnickers, so we didn’t stop to take the couple of hours needed to hike down into the active geologic area.

    We continued up over mount Lassen, stopping to several lakes to take pictures and to have lunch, and continued north. The old Emigrant Trail into California came into the north end of the Central Valley after passing near Lassen. We found an old trail marker indicating we were in the right area, and the road generally follows the path of the trail on the north side of the park, but other that what might have been a glimpse of the old wagon road, we didn’t seem much evidence settler's path.

    [Photo by Jon R. Vermilye]
    About an hour north of Lassen is another interesting volcanic-based feature in the landscape. This is Burney Falls in the McArthur Burney State Park. The falls are large, falling about 130’ and are about 50 yards wide. What’s different about them, is only about one-half of the water actually goes over the falls – the rest goes through the rock face of the falls, spurting out and falling in a series of smaller falls along the entire rock face the water tumbles over. This is due to the porous volcanic lava that underlies the water’s course, which lets the water down through the rock, instead of tumbling over the top. It’s quite interesting and unique. Teddy Roosevelt called these falls “the 8th wonder of the world” when he viewed them a hundred years ago.

    Today the area is a developed state park, and after you pay your $6 for day use of the park to the ranger, the trail down to the base of the falls is well established and paved – although its still a moderately steep walk down. The pool at the base of the falls and the river below are also known as good fishing grounds, and we saw several persons fishing in the river below the falls. I even talked to a young man who attempted to snorkel in the large pool at the base of the falls. He reported seeing very large fish in the pool, but quickly gave up the attempt to swim due to the rather cold water, the turbulence from the thundering falls, and as he reported: “getting dive bombed by these big fish!”

    But while the MacArthur Burney State Park has a nice campground, we headed another hour onwards to the north west to Mt Shasta to spend the night. Had a nice room in a Best Western with Mt Shasta looming in front of us as we ate in the motel's dining room. What was interesting was the “Redwood Empire Mini Cooper Club” was having a weekend run, and staying in the motel. But then, finding 20 highly polished and brightly colored Mini Coopers all parked next to each other in the front of the motel was a good clue to this....
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 07-26-2007 at 12:42 AM. Reason: added a link to our article and a photo

  3. Default Day 3 Shasta to Crater Lake and Beyond...

    From Mt Shasta we continued on around the north side of Mt Shasta (a side not seen too often in my travels) to Klamath Falls and then past the large Klamath Lake and old Fort Klamath to Crater Lake National Park. I had sort of hoped to stop and visit the Mitchell Monument near Bly, Oregon, but we didn’t have time on this trip. Back in 1944-1945 during World War II, the Japanese launched about 9,000 incendiary bomb-carrying balloons towards the US and Canada, carried across the Pacific in by the jet stream. The remains of hundreds have been found from Mexico to Alaska and east into Michigan, out of an estimated 1,000 or so that made it across the Pacific, each armed with a combination of incendiary and high explosive bombs. The most recent was found in 1992, in Alaska.

    The Japanese military had conceived the idea they could set the forests of the pacific North West on fire with incendiary attacks. They tested this with 2 attacks on the forests of Oregon in September of 1942, from a float plane launched from an offshore submarine. The pilot reported setting significant forest fires, although in reality the fires were quickly doused. The balloons attacks were triggered by a timer sequentially releasing the bombs when it was calculated the balloons were over North America. To track the success of the bombing, the Japanese planned monitor the expected news reports about balloons and forest fires. But when the first balloons and fires had appeared, the US and Canada clamped down on any news article about balloons, on any Japanese involvement with forest fires, very aggressively pursued fighting any of the fires generated by the bombs, and launched a highly secret program to track and intercept the balloons before they could drop their weapons. From a few early press reports, they were certain at least a few had made it across the Pacific. But with no information from public sources they had no idea how many the balloons were making it to North America or if they were causing fires, which produced a lot of uncertainty about how well the bombing campaign was working.

    The production of the weapons was not given a priority, and plans to ramp up production were never carried out -- although the Japanese continued to send the balloons east into the middle of 1945. A plan was pursued to send bacteriological weapons to North America via the balloons, but this plan was circumvented by the forced surrender of Japan.

    Of the entire balloon bombing campaign, there was only one deadly attack. That occurred in 1945, when Ethel Mitchell and 5 children were killed at a church group picnic near Bly Oregon when they found a bomb dangling from a tree. There’s a monument about 10 miles east of Bly on NF-34 (national forest road 34). Bly is about 50 miles east of Klamath Falls. But we didn’t have time on a long driving day to make a 3-4 hour detour.

    From Klamath Falls we drove north to the rim of Crater Lake. Like Mt Lassen, Crater Lake still had a significant amount of snow on it – in fact, only the western half of the loop road around the crater was open, and most of the picnic areas and campgrounds were still closed. The lodge was open, but most of the concessions, such as the boat tour around the lake were closed until at least the middle of July, if not the first of August. Campgrounds lower down in the forests around the park were open, but none of the higher altitude campgrounds were. The skies were a vivid sapphire blue and you could see several large snow-capped dormant strata-volcanoes looming over the mountains around us – from Lassen in the south to other peaks to the north. There wasn’t a lot of traffic at Crater Lake, so we found a nice turn off along the rim road, and had a picnic lunch and enjoyed the quiet and beautiful views over the lake.

    From Crater Lake we headed back north west again, taking highway 58 back across the Cascade Range to catch I-5 near Eugene, Oregon. From here, it was a straight run north on I-5, averaging around 70 mph on the road. I-5 up the Willamette Valley is flat and straight into Portland. Temperatures in the valley were in the 80’s with the freeway busy with folks heading back into town after a weekend in the mountains or a lake. We were passed by several large RVs towing boats, which much have been traveling 80+ mph.

    Since we were running a little behind schedule, we bombed straight through Oregon into Washington. I should note that gas prices where we started in SoCal were around $3.05 a gallon for regular gas when we departed. Along I-5 in the middle of the central valley, they were around $3.25 or so, and down to around $3.10 in the Sacramento Area. Up in the mountains, prices were a bit higher, up to around $3.30 or so, and up to $3.60 in a couple of remote small towns. Most of the price of any gallon of gas in the US is taxes – state, county and local so you can see significant variations when you cross a state line. Crossed into Oregon, gas prices immediately dropped $0.10-0.30 a galloon. Moreover, in Oregon you can’t pump your own gas, so you have to have the attendant take the hose out of the pump, put it in your tank, and start it up. And then wait for him to take it out, and hang it back up before you can close the transaction. Nothing wrong with that – but it’s different than the “pump your own” process in California or Washington.

    Dinner on this leg was in the small town of Kelso in Washington. We pulled off the freeway, figuring to find a gas station and restroom and spotted a small family-owned Mexican restaurant. Well, after living in the Seattle area for a couple of years and having a hard time finding good Mexican food, I had to try this place. It was excellent – a small, family-owned restaurant, with the mom and 2 daughters busing tables, and everyone speaking Spanish to each other and English to the customers. Very good food, very reasonable priced, friendly, and a good dinner overall. Although driving to Washington State and having a Mexican dinner wasn’t quite what I had in mind, while driving up.

    We had been wondering what traffic would be like through Seattle. My 2 years in Seattle had taught me that Seattle had traffic as bad as anywhere else in the country, and its very unpredictable due to the layout of the roads. But even though it was pouring rain as we drove through it went very quickly. The Seattle area has apparently revamped their carpool lane system, so that you could pick up the carpool lane near Tacoma on the south side, and continue in the car pool lane to near Everett on the north. And at least on I-5, they’ve given up the really stupid idea of putting car pool lanes on the outside lanes of the freeway (this was the rule on the 405 freeway in Seattle, which I didn’t drive on this trip). Putting the car pool lane on the outside is a hazard – if you’re stopped in stop and go traffic, and then have to make your exit, you have to accelerate out of a dead stop and pass across the carpool lane, where folks may be going 60-70 mph. Not good, particularly considering they may be coming up on you out of your blind spot behind the back passenger seat.

    But this trip, the carpool lanes through Seattle worked very well – we stayed in the car pool lanes and just cruised through the metropolitan area. My only complaint is that Seattleites, like folks everywhere else, seem to confuse carpool lanes with “speeding lanes”. When it’s pouring rain, traffic is fairly heavy, and you’re going 5-10 miles over the speed limit already – coming up behind someone in the carpool lane to tailgate them, and then flashing your lights to go faster and then flipping them off because they won’t go 85 like you want to – it’s uncalled for. Lay off the coffee, is my opinion... you’ve had enough caffeine.

    We spent the night at a friend’s place near Bellingham, arriving about 930 at night. The next morning we stocked up on groceries in town, and took one of the ferries out to the San Juan Islands.

  4. Default The San Juans and Relaxation...

    In my opinion, the San Juan Islands are wonderful places to visit. These are the islands in Puget Sound, north and west of the Seattle area. Their sister islands on the Canadian side, the Salt Spring Islands, go north of Vancouver along the coast of Vancouver Island. The islands a rocky, popping up out of the water with sometimes very high, steep granite cliffs, and are covered with tall forests of pine and cedar. They are very close together, with some a stone’s throw apart and others up to 10 or so miles apart. It’s an excellent area for fishing and boating, although you can see some amazing rips and eddies as the tides and currents bend and meet around the islands.

    We have some friends who own a home on one of the San Juans, with a cement patio that overlooks one of the straits where the Inland Passage starts from, and a steep path down to a rocky beach and big sand bar accessible at low tide. It’s a very nice place to stop and visit, and their hospitality is wonderful. But being on an island, a ferry ride away from town, we always stop and pick up a full load of groceries and what nots from town to take out to them, so they don’t have to pay for the ferry ride to get from town out to the Island.

    Depending upon where in the San Juans you are too, you can see significant differences in the local weather. Some of the islands are in the rain shadow of Vancouver Island, and they see significantly less rain than those farther south. When we arrived the weather cleared, and I got to spend a couple of days relaxing on the patio, reading a book, or beachcombing.

  5. Default Day 4 North into Canada

    From the Bellingham area you have 3 basic routes across the border to Canada. The most popular and the busiest is the I-5 crossing at Blaine Washington. It’s not uncommon to wait 45 minutes or more to get through customs going either direction. The advantage of this route is it’s on the most direct route to Vancouver.

    The next most popular route is the Meridian Ave route up to the crossing at Aldergrove. This is the one which most of the trucks use, since it’s somewhat less busy, and there’s a fairly quick linkage onto the Trans Canadian Highway. But it can also be busy, and Guide - Meridian is not an interstate – you will stop at stop lights along the way.

    Since we were heading east, we took the third option. To go north east of Bellingham to cross at the little border crossing at Sumas, near Abbotsford in British Columbia. I always enjoy this route – when I was growing up I had a cousin near Linden, Washington and I would spend a week or two at her farm every couple of summers. Also, Linden Washington, which you pass through on the way to Sumas, has become an area quite popular with Dutch-Americans, and it’s always fun to see what new things there are in this little town. The Sumas crossing was uncrowded, and we were across into Canada in just a minute or two. But yes, bring your passport.

    The Sumas crossing is very close to the Trans Canadian Highway – it’s only about 2 miles from the crossing to the highway. If you need to get Canadian currency, you’re very near Abbotsford, and it’s pretty simple to drive another little bit to find an ATM at a local bank, and use your ATM card to withdraw some local currency. We found we didn’t need much Canadian currency at all, since VISA or Master Card work just about everywhere. The exchange rate between US and Canadian money is pretty close these days – a US dollar exchanges for about $1.05 Canadian. In most cases, you can purchase things “at par” meaning that if you pay with equivalent US dollars, you’ll get it for that, with the shopkeeper keeping the 5 cents difference for their hassle to exchange the money at the bank. The ATM lets you beat this somewhat, although you’ll probably still pay the usual ATM fee of a couple of bucks per transaction to use the ATM system.

    After crossing the border, we headed up the Trans Canadian Highway to Hope, and then took the newer toll road (5 – the Coquihalla Highway) towards Kamloops. This is a fairly new road, in very good shape and shaves off at least an hour compared to the free Trans Canadian Highway. Toll is $10 Canadian, for a couple of hours of driving time. Just that there aren’t many services on this section of the road, to make sure you’re gassed up before heading out. We stopped for lunch at a rest area and then continued north.

    At Kamloops, the 5 joins up with the TransCanada Highway again, which we followed east towards Mt Revelstoke National Park and Glacier National Park. Kamloops is a nice small town, of reasonable size for central British Columbia. There are hotels and services and a WalMart and a Costco, as well as the usual strip-mall stores. I heard good things about the local micro-brewery, but didn’t have a chance to sample anything.

    But our goal for the day was the Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks. To really see these parks you have to get off the road and get into the mountains. East of Kamloops you quickly head into the start of the Rocky Mountains and the mountains start to loom around you with tall peaks covered with glaciers. We stopped the car in Mt Revelstoke at the Giant Cedars Trail, and bought a 3 day pass for the Canadian National parks, since we might be visiting 4 of 5 of them. The Cedars Trail is on a boardwalk and goes up a hillside from the parking area to do a short, but very scenic loop around a grove of giant cedar trees. But our destination that night was Rogers Pass in the Glacier National Park, about an hour farther on.

    Rogers Pass is the old summit pass over the Rockies which the Canadian transcontinental railway passed. This ocean-to-ocean railway was completed in 1885. Even from the beginning, tourism to the Rockies has been a consideration in putting the rail way, as well as passenger and freight travel. About 10 years prior to the completion of the Trans-Canada railway, the Northern Pacific Railway had had a partnership with Yellowstone National Park in the US, which has proved to be very profitable for both the park and the railway as visitors and supplies were brought to the park. The Government of Canada established Banff National Park in 1885, and then Yoho and Glacier National Parks the next year. The government provided tourism development money for Banff, but left the development of Glacier National Park to the Canadian Pacific railway. The railway built a dining station at the top of Rogers pass (so they didn’t have to drag the weight of a dining car up the mountains), and added a hotel and hiking trails into the local mountains, and hired Swiss guides as mountaineers. This provided to be very popular. In the early years of the 20th century, Glacier House was considered one of the best hotels in North America, and was the inspiration for the famous Chateau Lake Louise, later built in Banff National Park.
    However, the snow and winter at Rogers Pass ended up triumphing. Keeping the railway open over Rogers Pass, particularly in the winter, was a Herculean effort. Even today as you drive through you drive through multiple snow and avalanche sheds to protect the road. Back at the turn of last century, this was a dangerous and extremely difficult job – every year workers would die in avalanches and the railway would be closed every winter for some times. In 1910, a massive avalanche almost wiped out a working crew who were clearing a previous slide, killing 58 people. The Canadian Pacific company looked for alternatives to Rodgers Pass and decided to tunnel under the mountains instead of going over them. Today, the rail traffic goes through several long tunnels through the area instead of over the mountains.

    The time between 1885-1911 is called “the Snow War”. Over 200 people died keeping the railway line open. Today as you drive through you still pass through multiple long avalanche/ snow sheds to protect the road. And if you look along the road, you’ll note circular concrete pads in several places along the road. These are actually gun positions used by a unit of the Canadian Defense Forces in the winter when they attempt to trigger controlled avalanches with a 105 mm howitzer.
    But the loss of direct rail service doomed the luxurious and famous “Glacier House”, and the newer Chateau Lake Louise took much of the visitors away.

    We stayed at the only accommodations today at Rogers Pass, a Best Western Motel. This was put in when the Trans- Canada Highways was completed through here in the early 1960’s. As Best Westerns go its not bad – not great either. The room was clean, there was hot water in the shower, a TV and phone in the room, and a small restaurant on the premises. But it looked like the hotel hadn’t been updated since the 80’s or earlier. But the Glacier National Parks visitor center was next door, and the whole area was surrounded by high granite mountains covered with glaciers. It was worth the stop for the scenery.

  6. Default Day 5 -- Lake Louise and Ice Fields Parkway

    The weather on this leg of the trip had been excellent – fluffy clouds in a blue sky, with temperatures during the day in the low 70’s. But this day dawned with the clouds starting to increase.

    From Rogers Pass to Lake Louise in Banff National Park is about 2 hours, plus you lose an hour as you cross over a time zone. We arrived at Lake Louise about 10:30 AM to find the parking lot full, with hordes of visitors and tour buses. I’d first been to Lake Louise about 30 years ago, and remembered it as the lake and glaciers and the old hotel. Obviously I hadn’t remembered all the visitors....

    We walked from the parking area to the edge of the lake, and enjoyed the scenery for a bit – but the grounds and lake shore were just too crowded to stay. We didn’t even stick our heads in the hotel to look around, but headed out for the Ice Fields Parkway and then up along the spine of the Rockies.

    Ice Fields Parkway is extremely scenic. It follows a valley that is close to the crest of the Rockies. On both sides you can have high, glacier capped mountains. It’s about 150 miles long from Banff to Jasper. The road is a very good quality 2 lane road. Figure on 3-4 hours to go along it, plus stops (and you will stop!). We hit the road a couple of hours later than we wanted – I wanted to start up it more towards the morning, but we didn’t get started until closer to noon.

    We did a lot of stopping to take pictures; there are lots and lots of scenic views. About half way along the road is the “Columbia Ice Fields Center”. Here you can take a tour out onto the Athabasca Glacier. The tour is about $25 per person, and takes about an hour. You travel out from the visitor center on a bus and then switch to a large 4 wheel drive “snow bus” which will drive you out onto the glacier itself. The company which operates this concession for Parks Canada has smoothed out a football field sized area on the glacier so you can get out and walk around on the ice sheet without fear of crevices and the like. They give you about 20 minutes to walk around, check out the glacier surface, and take pictures before they usher you back onto the buses. They claim you’re on 1000’ thick sheet of ice, and you are surrounded by glaciers hanging on the mountains on 3 sides. If you go, take good quality shoes (I used hiking boots with lug soles) since you are going to be standing on a sheet of ice, and in the heat of the day it will be wet and potentially slippery. There were a couple of people on our bus who were wearing ‘flip flop’ sandals with bare feet. Even though the temperature of the air was in the mid-60’s, their feet were about a quarter inch from a sheet of wet ice, and they started to feel it pretty quickly.

    It was also amusing that the next bus to pull in was full of Japanese tourists in an organized group. There was a tour guide with a tall pole and flag on it so they could always find him, most folks had matching tour group hand bags, and there was even a videographer with a huge video camera filming everyone – to provide a souvenir DVD of their trip when then got back, I presume.

    One of the interesting points on this was how the glacier has changed over the last 150 years. In 1844 when the first explorers came through this area, they found the glacier at about its longest point. But over the last 160 years of so, it has been slowly shrinking – you can see signposts placed along the road to the edge of the glacier showing how it has retreated over the last century and a half.

    From here we headed to Jasper. The day was getting late, and the clouds had come down very low. We stopped and photographed big horn sheep, and mountain goats grazing along the road for a while, but kept moving for Jasper.

    When I had looked at hotels in the area, Jasper had a good selection of hotels but they were quite high priced. However, there are 2 campgrounds very close to the town (within 2 miles or so) where you can camp for about $30 Canadian per night. We stayed that night in the Wapiti campground, just south of Jasper.

    Good campground, although they were VERY slow in checking people in. We waited for more than 30 minutes for the check in folks to check in the 2 people in front of us at the campground entrance, using check-in stations.

    We set up camp and made dinner. After dinner a young female elk came through the campsite to nibble on flowers and plants. After hanging around a few minutes, she wandered off. .The staff at the campground had warned us about elk in the area – as well as there had been a bear sighting in the campground the previous day. We cleaned up the campsite and put everything away back in the car that could be attractive to a bear or elk.

    One of the things you notice traveling north is the change in the length of the days. Back home in SoCal, it was dark by about 8 pm. Up here, at latitude approximately the same as southern Alaska, the sun didn’t set until 8 and it remained light until about 10:30 or 11 pm. Made it a bit harder to fall asleep – and then it started raining about 11 pm.

  7. Default Day 6 Jasper to Cache Creek

    Sun sets very late, and it comes up very early – the night was very short. And it hadn’t helped that it had rained pretty hard from about 11 pm until about 4 am. Oh well – the tent had kept us dry, and we had put everything away in the car the night before. So everything was dry the next morning when we got up, except the outside of the tent and the tarp under it. We made a sketchy breakfast (oatmeal, instant coffee & chocolate, and fruit) and packed up the wet tent and tarp in a big trash bag and hit the road.
    Gas prices, even here, hadn’t changed much since we had crossed the border. Even in Jasper, prices were only about a penny a liter higher than we had found on the Trans-Canadian outside of Vancouver.

    From Jasper we headed west, and then turned south again at Tete Jaune Cache, back on 5 – the Yellowknife highway. Just outside Jasper we found a large 7-point male elk, with his antlers still covered in fur, cropping his breakfast along side the road. And of course we stopped and filled a memory card with pictures of him.

    The road down from Tete Jaune Cache is a very nice road – and if it wasn’t near the Ice Fields Parkway it would be listed as a scenic drive. The vistas aren’t quite as wide, nor the views quite as spectacular – but it’s a nice drive. There aren’t many stops along the way – a few rest areas and small towns. There was a “Safari Jet Boat Tour” operator on the Blue River which looked interesting, but it was pouring rain when we drove by and the boats had open cockpits. The area is isolate enough that unless you have satellite radio there’s nothing to listen to except CDs or Books on Tape. Since we didn’t have audio books or satellite radio, I think we listened to the 3 CDs we found in the storage compartment 3 or 4 times each day on this trip..... Haven’t listened to them since we returned either....

    We did see a black bear which had ambled out into the middle of the road and had stopped to look at us. But while we pulled over and were scrambling to find a camera a truck came down the road in the other direction and blared his horn at the bear. The bear looked at him, and ambled on into the underbrush along the highway and disappeared before we could get a picture. .

    Instead of continuing down to Kamloops, we turned west at the small cross roads town of Little Fort on 24. Again, the road was a good quality 2 lane which climbed back up into the Fraser plateau and wound its way through the trees and dales past multiple lakes over to 97. From here it was a quick dash south to Cache Creek.

    Cache Creek was notable for a couple of reasons. One, was the area was much more arid and closer to the high desert plains than the usual heavy forests of British Columbia. This was a bit surprising. The second was there was a winery in town, the Bonaparte Bend Winery named for the local Bonaparte River. The winery doesn’t make grape wines, but specializes in fruit wines made from locally grown fruit, including Apricot, Boysenberry, Apple, Rhubarb, and Blueberry
    Last edited by W. Larrison; 07-24-2007 at 12:50 AM.

  8. Default Day 7 -- Cache Creek through Whistler and Vancouver back to the Border

    From Cache Creek, we continued west and south towards the Pacific Coast. When I was planning out the trip I noted that you could continue west through the mountains to come into Whistler from the back side. Since Whistler is going to be home of the 2010 Winter Olympics it seemed like a shame not to visit the area before everything was rebuilt for the Olympics.

    One of the first lakes you pass is Pavilion Lake. About 10 years ago a sport scuba diver came into the University of British Columbia and dropped off a video he had taken while diving in Pavilion Lake. The images showed what looked like large coral outcroppings, which had never been seen in fresh water lakes. The researchers from UBC originally though these were fossils which had been exposed on the bed of the lake, but when they came up to visit they found the large masses had been formed by living organisms. Coral is a larger, plant-like organism, but after investigating they determined these large (up to 5 meter in size) masses had been formed by colonies of microscopic bacteria over thousands of years. This occurrence appears to be unique, and appears no where else in the world – not even in other British Columbia Lakes.

    The lake is now highly protected, although you can obtain permission to dive it in, and there is an active research program to investigate the microbiate growths in the Lake. We stopped and looked around a bit, but there wasn’t much to see from the edge of the lake – most of the coral-like growths are several meters below the surface.

    The road from Cache Creek over the mountains is a pretty good road, although it winds up and through the mountains for the entire distance to Whistler and includes some strong grades (up and down) and some narrow bridges. The road into Lillooet (a small town) follows the steep Fraser valley, then passes the large hydroelectric project at Seton Lake/ Bridge Lake, and heads through the mountains. If you drive this area be prepared for multiple narrow one-lane bridges along the road. The road wasn’t very busy, but you still have to be careful when the road necks down from 2 lanes to over going over one of these narrow bridges. There are numerous places to stop and picnic along the road and beautiful stands of trees along the river. But, be prepared to slow down and follow a truck or RV through the winds in the road up or down over mountains from ridge to another. And, if there is any question, have your brakes checked first – this is the only section of the trip when we smelled very strong brake smells from the vehicles around us and we saw a couple of RVs pull over on one particularly steep downgrade to cool their brakes before continuing.

    It’s a bit under a half day’s drive from Cache Creek to Whistler via this route. We got into Whistler just before lunchtime under dark cloudy skies with a slight intermittent drizzle and temperature in the mid 60’s. There were folks walking around Whistler Village in shorts and t-shirts, although to our Southern California tastes it was a bit cool. There’s a fairly good sized public parking lot in the middle of Whistler Village which is within walking distance of most places, and a free shuttle bus service to move people around. We did a quick look around and noted that there were only 2 chair lifts running, out of the multiple ones which run in the winter.

    The one on the south side of town (on your right from Whistler Village, since you’re looking south up the mountain) was running for the mountain bikers. There was a line of folks in pads and helmets with their bikes waiting to catch the chair lift up, and every minute or so one or two would come rushing down the mountain, bumping down the muddy trails.

    The other chair lift, over nearer the Four Seasons was also running. Cost was about $25 to ride it to the top. The guy selling tickets looked us over and tried to rent us a winter parka. I guess we didn’t look prepared – although we had windbreakers and long jeans and hiking boots. What he didn’t know what that we had sweaters, rain suits and extra gear (10 essentials, +) in our day packs - although I was to regret I hadn’t thrown my gloves in as well.

    The chair lift was a gas – its actually 3 chair lifts, which lift you up by stages to the top of Whistler/ Blackcomb. The first two chair lifts were up through a slight drizzle, although it became to get heavier and a bit colder. The chair lift did have a weather shield on it, which we pulled down when things got too damp. Between the second and third lifts, there was a short bus ride, taking us over to the “Seventh Heaven” lift. Waiting for the bus we noticed we were being joined by a group toting snow boards and snow suits. And when switching from the bus to the last chair lift, there was an entire line of youngsters (early teens) carrying skis and fully outfitted.

    And by this point, the drizzle had turned into a light snow. From here up, the chair lift was up over snow and through trees dusted with snow, and upwards into a heavier and heavier snowstorm. At the top, it was 27 F, with about a 20-30 mph wind, and snowing steadily. Quite cold. We had at least come somewhat prepared, and pulled on sweaters, and windproof pants to match the wind & rain jackets we had on, and were able to cover our heads. My hands were quite cold (the missing snow gloves, back in the car...), but they were warm in my pockets. But the looks on some of the other visitors, particularly the young gentleman who arrived at the top wearing board shorts, sandals and a light sweatshirt were priceless.

    We had a late lunch at the lodge on the top. It was out of the wind, heated, and had hot food, although this was the most expensive lunch we had on the entire trip -- $24 for bowls of chili with bread, chips and water bottles. But, then to find hot food in a blizzard on the top of a mountain – why not? There were at least 2 ski and snowboard schools going on the glacier on the north side of the mountain, but as we had our leisurely lunch I think they called it a day due to the worsening visibility, and they all came up on the T-bars from the glacier, and headed down the hill. It was somewhat disappointing as the visibility had deteriorated to around 30-40 yards in any direction, and I had been hoping for a clear summer day. After lunch we walked around a bit, dodging the skiers as they slid across the trails, and then took the chair lift back down.

    Since the Olympics are coming to Whistler in a few years, there’s a lot of construction underway. There were signs noting this was where the Olympic Village was going to be built and several other projects underway on the outskirts of town. And the road from Whistler to Vancouver has multiple areas where it’s being widened or improved. This was now a Sunday afternoon, and the road was fairly busy with people heading home to Vancouver after the weekend, but the traffic was moving along.

    Now, if you’re going to drive north to south through Vancouver, give some thought to how you’re going to do it. The 99, the route we were following comes across Lion’s Gate Bridge, goes through Stanley Park, and then descends into city streets until you get down near the Vancouver International Airport. These streets are busy, narrow, and you need to make at least a couple of right angle jogs in the route to follow it. Not recommended... although Granville St. is always fun to wander along. Just not with transit buses and heavy traffic.

    An alternative is to stay on the TransCanada Highway, which the “Sea to Ski” Highway turns into, as it comes down from Whistler, and then take the 13 route south from the Trans-Canada to cross over the border at Aldergrove, and continue down Guide-Meridian into Bellingham, to meet up with the I-5 there. If you’re near heavy traffic hours, this is probably a quicker and less frustrating route.

    But we took the 99 through downtown Vancouver, battling our way through late afternoon traffic, and continually referring to maps to make the several turns needed on this route, until we were finally south of Metropolitan Vancouver. From here it’s a straight shot on a freeway to the border. But this border crossing at the “Peace Arch” at Blaine Washington is always the busiest. There was about a 40 minute border crossing queue going north or south across the border,

    Once across, you’re on I-5, and it was a short drive back to Bellingham, and then out to the San Juans to return to our friend’s place.

  9. Default Day 8 -- Bellingham to Mt Shasta

    After recuperating a few days, which required naps on the patio furniture during the sunny afternoons, a good book to read, and repeated applications of cabernet or chardonnay, we headed back south for SoCal. It’s a long 2 days drive south, but it’s a route I’ve taken many times.

    There’s not much to say about the drive south. The roads are in very good shape, there are lots of services along the roads, and if you can dodge rush hour traffic through Seattle/ Tacoma and Portland its a fast drive. Lots of RVs in Oregon.... part of this may be there are several RV manufacturers with plants along the I-5.

    Stopped for lunch at the Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. About 3 miles off the road if you know where it is. We had found it some years back with the help of an Audubon Society guide. Had a nice relaxing lunch on under some trees on a small knoll overlooking part of the Willamette Valley. Picnic Table, pit toilets, and no one else around (a couple of cars drove by). Not much going on at the Wildlife Refuge this time of you – but you could watch as local farmers were reaping a field down below, and hear some songbirds singing in the trees. Stretched the legs reading the descriptions of the birds and layout of the Refuge, and had a nice leisurely lunch. Then hit the road again.

    Spent the night again in Mt Shasta. To make a two days drive between Vancouver/ Seattle and LA area, you have to travel around 600-700 miles per day. Half way in between the two cities puts you south of the California border somewhere between Yreka and Redding. At some point I’ve stayed in hotels in just about every town along here, but the biggest concentration of hotels being in Redding. For our trip, Mt Shasta is almost exactly half way.

    One of the amusing things I always look for when we get near Mt Shasta are the inhabitants of Mt Shasta. Mt Shasta has a reputation as being one of the mystic mountains of the world. Back in the 40's and 50's there were a rash of sitings of people and creatures who lived on Mt Shasta. The theories went around that Mt Shasta was actually the last remanent of Lemuria, amd there was a race of god-like people who lived inside the mountain and who would show themselves to those they found worthy outside the mountain. There are also theories that there are hidden flying saucer bases inside the mountain, guarded by yeti. So.. every time I pass by, I always look for the inhabitants. Never seen any, but then I'm always hopeful.

  10. Default Day 9 - Mt Shasta, back to the OC

    Coming out of Mt Shasta we hit our first major traffic surprise of the journey. The bridge over Lake Shasta, about 10 miles north of Redding, is undergoing repair and upgrading. I-5 is down to one lane over the bridge in both directions, and traffic can be disrupted if they’re moving heavy equipment or materials across the road. If they’re working, you can see a hour’s delay coming through here on a bad day, I understand. However, they don’t start working on the bridge until 9 am and are supposed to knock off by 5. We weren’t aware of this, and hit the bridge about 9 am – but the work crews weren’t out since this was too close to the 4 July holiday.

    Heading over the bridge, we saw the sign to Mt Shasta Caverns but didn’t stop. That’s supposed to be an interesting stop—the caverns are actually on the other side of the lake, so you have to take a boat over to the caverns to see them.

    The Central Valley was starting to heat up as we headed down out of Redding. We made another gas and olive stop at Corning, loading up with dried fruit for the drive and more olives and olive oil – this time including gifts for friends.

    I did get a chuckle at a rest area, just south of Redding. One of my traveling companions wondered out loud why there weren’t any people sitting at the rather nice and clean picnic tables in a little wooded area, next to a Valley Oak covered hillside. I nudged him and pointed to the “WARNING: RATTLESNAKES!” signs on each picnic remuda. His reply... “Oh yeah.. that would spoil lunch...”

    Then it was just the long day’s drive south through Sacramento, then Stockton, and then down the west side of Central Valley. Temperatures were around 100 F, and traffic was moving fast all the way to the grapevine. Gassed up, had sandwiches at a rest area, and kept going.

    Coming over the grapevine was fast, with cars doing around 80 mph once they hit the flats at the top of the pass. But this was a bad day for traffic. There were 3 significant accidents or events (including a wild fire burning beside the road) coming north of LA on the other side of the I5, and there was an overturned truck on the southward lanes I was following. When we hit Magic Mountain near Valencia traffic slowed down to a 20 mph bumper-to-bumper crawl. Time to just sit back, find a good station on the radio, and have a soda while traffic inched ahead.

    When you hit traffic like this, you always see people trying to get some little bit of advantage in going faster – changing lanes continually, trying to move back and forth across stopped traffic lanes, or whatnot. You know their blood pressure is up, and they’re spending lots of adrenalin and energy trying to get “just one more car length” ahead on the road. And half the time, you realize that the guy who just cut you off by pulling into too short of an opening in front of you and then spent 5 minutes trying to get into the next lane, is now a couple of car lengths behind you and now trying to get back into the lane he left. For something like this, where a lane up ahead isn’t closed, and where there aren’t any real alternatives other than low speed surface streets with stoplights every block, usually the simplest thing to do is about the fastest. It’s just that it’s sort of against the grain to not try to do something more than just move ahead slowly.

    Today, after about 10 miles of stop & go, and about 20 minutes crawling, the I-5 reached the 14 and 210 junction and traffic broke wide open. Speeds went back up to 60 mph or more, and it was a straight speed run home.

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