December 31, 2010

Mountain Lake is a camping resort about 45 minutes from here. It’s stocked with trout, and Randy and Jack have had good fishing there. So yesterday morning we all got up before 4 am and drove up to the lake (apparently trout bite best in the early, early morning). The lake had been stocked the day before but it didn’t make any difference to us - we couldn’t catch anything. It didn’t help that the temperature was almost freezing and the wind blew hard down from the mountains - and some of those mountains had snow on them. Then Randy caught a big beautiful trout.

But none of it’s fishy friends showed up to join us, so we packed up and came back home to get warm. California has been unpredictable lately. By the time the rain let up, Teresa’s backyard was so soaked that the morning sun caused it to steam.

And this morning it was so cold that the water line to the RV froze! What happened to to California sunshine?

Tonight the extended California Booth clan gathered to ring in the new year, but Randy and I called it a night early. 2011 will arrive just fine, and we'll greet it tomorrow.

Happy New Year to all!

December 30, 2010

The Sunday before Christmas we joined members of the Central Church on their drive to downtown LA to serve the homeless. They serve food to these guys every Sunday and provide clothing whenever possible, but for Christmas they give out backpacks, stuffed with all sorts of things. Church members filled several hundred backpacks with non-perishable snacks and things like socks, gloves, hats, toothbrush, etc. This year someone donated a semi-truckload of snacks - chocolate covered cherries, chocolate covered graham crackers, Lindt chocolates, Rocco chocolates, powered drink mixes, carmel corn, seasoned crackers, and more. We joined our relatives to pack these goodies into 250 additional backpacks, leaving just a little room at the top for a jacket to be stuffed in. Sunday night over 500 homeless or low-income people lined up to get a backpack, worried that we would run out before their turn. What a blessing, that there was enough for everyone - there were even some left over!

For the record, it does rain in Southern California. The Sunday before Christmas it started to rain and didn’t stop for a week. There were mudslides and road closings everywhere, but Wednesday we joined cousins Teresa and Mike driving to a Mexican orphanage that was started by and is supported by Central Church. When we turned into the small town near the orphanage, the dirt roads had been nearly destroyed by the rain, with big gullies cut through them.

We almost didn’t get there, but Teresa is a good driver and we made it. There are about 20 children in the orphanage, ranging in age from 6 to 17, plus 13 babies. Not all of them are without parents; some are without a stable home. They are well behaved and well off, especially compared to the surrounding area. The church sent them lots of presents and they were allowed to open a few that day - it was typical Christmas mayhem! The church has also said that everyone who completes school can go to college, and one young lady is already attending college in Portland, Oregon. This church is really making a difference.

We left the orphanage around 4 pm and headed home, just barely avoiding getting stuck in the terrible roads. But a couple of miles outside the border, traffic literally stopped. It took over 2 hours to go that last 2 miles, just because of the border checks. But it wasn’t boring; this traffic jam is such a staple of life that vendors set up push-carts between the traffic lanes, and walk up and down trying to sell their wares. We avoided buying anything until we were almost at the border. Then we gave in and got some churros - freshly made and delicious! Such a weird thing, to shop in the car in a traffic jam….

Now that Christmas is over, we are open for other adventures. This week we went to the LA Art Museum where I saw one of my favorite pictures of all time - “The Magdalen with the Smoking Flame” by Georges de La Tour. I just love its clean lines and beautiful use of light and shadow.

Randy was impressed by the modern art, but for a different reason. It’s impressive what some people can sell as art. Here is a piece of “art” on display in the same museum. It’s labeled “Single basin sink” - seriously!

Christmas 2010

Merry Christmas. I hope all had a blessed day. We spent the day with the Booth family and as you may guess it was a great time. The day started at Tara and Dennis's home for breakfast and to watch the boys open a few gifts. After that we came back to Teresa and Jack's house and got things ready to go to Mike's. At Mike's there was the usual feast. The dessert table was groaning from all the choices. As we have said before there does not seem to be a bad cook amongst the Booth/Burns clan.

The highlight of the day is the White Elephant gift exchange. Some members of the family take this vey seriously and thank goodness Jackie is one, because she was able to procure me a bottle of Grey Goose vodka. There were a few other nice gifts but there were also some stinkers. Apparently Jackie Burns doesn't take home White Elephant gifts she doesn't like because there was more than one gift that she had received some previous year that was left and therfore wrapped up for this years event by Mike.

Yesterday Jackie and I accepted a position for the summer in Nova Scotia. We will be working in a park called Five Islands Ocean REsort and RV Capground. It is right on the Bay of Fundy with some of the world's largest tide changes. We will be there from the middle of May to the begining of September. It should be a great summer.

The day was great and really a blessed time spending Christmas with a great family.
Remember the reason for the season... and thank God for all his blessings.

December 11, 2010

This week we visited a place just across the Saltin Sea, called Slab City. It seems unique - a place where you drive out to an unoccupied spot in the desert, put the RV in park, and stay for as long as you want. No electricity, no running water, no sewer dump. No streets, no stores, no police. It’s not a pretty place because some of the long-term residence have been very, very sloppy. But you can see the rudiments of a society. There is a radio station, hidden under a camouflage tarp (I don’t know why the tarp is needed or wanted).

There is an open-air theater for entertainment, with old sofas lined up as seating.

There is a church, and one area is full of clothes that are available for anyone who needs them.

And at the entrance is its claim to fame - Salvation Mountain. This 3-story "mountain" is classic folk-art, one man's life work. He's still working on it. There are supposed to be rooms or tunnels inside, but we didn't go inside it.

But mostly there are RVs and old buses in various stages of repair, or rather dis-repair. They are clustered around in small groups, or set off by themselves. And an awful lot are surrounded by trash.

On the edges of the main area are sections where newer RVs are parked, and those areas are still neat and clean. These are probably short-timers - people who are staying here to save money on a short stopover, or people who want to experience this “off the grid” lifestyle.

Personally we found that just driving through Slab City was enough for us. We headed back to our clean RV park with tidy grass lawns, clean paved roads and full-hookups.
To those of you in the middle of a cold winter with freezing temperatures and snow warnings, today’s blog may be hard to take - it’s hot and sunny here! And today Lonnie drove us out into the nearby desert, where the sun is really blazing. You might think the desert is a boring place, since it doesn’t rain there and it looks like almost nothing grows. But it’s amazing. Several areas are filled with ancient sandstone formations of all shapes and sizes. They are clustered around in odd groups, making the landscape look like another planet.

Some look so perfectly formed that is seems they must have been created by people, but they are the result of natural processes. The black ring at the bottom of this picture is my metal detector, which shows how big this sandstone ball is.

The larger ones remind me of the tragic statues of ancient Pompeii.

In some places there are dry washes wide enough to drive through, and we used them as roads when possible. But just because they are wide enough doesn't mean they are drivable - most of the washes and paths don't deserve to be called roads, regardless of the tracks that mark them. They are full of drop-offs, ravines and swells. But Lonnie knows how to drive his 4-wheeler, and he navigated through some of the roughest terrain I've ever been on.

At some recent point there must have been water in the washes, because it left mud which has dried to the point where it curls up like chocolate. (Yes, everything reminds me of chocolate!)

This desert also has Mud Pots. That’s what you get when a combination of gas and water which is trapped below the surface finds a way to seep up slowly. There is very little water, just enough to form some mud and keep it wet. The gas escapes slowly, causing the mud to bubble. It looks like it’s bubbling because it’s hot, but the water is cool to the touch. (Yes, I had to stick my finger in it to find out).

December 6, 2010

Hmmm, it seems I managed to delete a post. Don't know how I did that, but I will take this opportunity to put it back.

December 6, 2010

Although RVing is a great way to see new places, there is also something nice about revisiting places we’ve been before. We have been enjoying our 2nd stay in southern California, and this week we moved back to the Oasis RV Park at the Salton Sea., where we were in March. This time we’re here to visit with Lonnie (Randy’s brother) and his wife Chris, who are snow-birding from the northern Illinois. We hiked into the Painted Canyon again, but this time we went with Lonnie and Chris and hiked further. Way back in the canyon is a place called “The Ladders”, where someone packed-in some aluminum ladders and left them strategically placed so everyone can climb up to the higher levels. And since they were there, we had to use them…

Oh, and we met some of the local wildlife - a tarantula. He was really not happy to see us.

Today we drove south towards Yuma. The landscape is dry desert, but it’s beautiful in it’s own way. We passed the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, which has amazing dunes on both sides of the road.

There is a lot of what I call random-RVing around here, aka boon-docking. Just find a likely spot and park. When responsible RVers do this, they make sure they leave the spot cleaner than when they arrived. When irresponsible RVers do this, the locals pass laws against it. Here's hoping these folks are responsible!

We went to the Yuma area so we could cross the border into Mexico. There have been a few changes since the last time we were here (March 3). For example, now they are enforcing the “no parking” laws on the US side, so we had to pay $5 to park near the border. But that’s not a bad deal, since it’s for all day. As we did in last spring, we visited a dentist to get our teeth cleaned. Last time we paid $15 each, but this time we paid $30 each. I'm not sure if it cost more because we went to a different dentist, or because this is the middle of snow-bird season and March was the very end of it.

We got some prescriptions filled and bought some souvenirs, including Coca Cola Light. As noted before, it tastes better than Diet Coke. We walked around sight-seeing for awhile; we only had a few hours to spend there, but fortunately a few hours in Algodones is enough. Everyone you pass tries to talk you into buying their wares. If you keep walking, they call towards you down the street, trying to get you to turn back. And if you actually pause to look at something, they are right at your elbow, pushing items into your hands and ignoring the word “no”. So it's hard to actually shop. But it's always interesting and we get some good deals.

Hey, how about this redneck bike we saw near Yuma? Flashlights duct-taped on!
Wow - The Booth/Burns/Lamberts can really cook! Thanksgiving they loaded the table with roast turkey, fried turkey, baked ham, chinese ribs, smoked pork loin, tri-tip beef, smoked ribs, smoked prime rib and baked prime rib. Plus all the trimmings! You want desserts? How about apple pie, coconut cream pie, banana cream pie, German chocolate cake, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheese roll, nut tarts and a huge fruit basket.

It was an awesome feast, but shortly after it was over we called it a day. Most of us had been up all or part of the night before, working on the church dinner. This year the church served dinner to about 3,500 people, and over 3,100 of those were hand-delivered to the people’s homes! The church that hosts the dinner only has about 200 members but they get a lot of volunteers for this event. Aunt Jean and another lady made all the dressing, cousin Teresa worked all night prepping the massive amounts of vegetables, and they both cooked several turkeys. Randy spent most of Wednesday night cooking potatoes (roughly 1200 lbs), and I used my particular skill - I washed dishes. All in all it was an exhausting but absolutely wonderful experience.

November 24, 2010

We've been RV-ing over a year now, and for the first time we returned to a place we'd been before. We drove into Riverside California and parked in our cousin's driveway again. They hosted us in the spring, and have welcomed us back again. Our first few days here we visited wineries and apple festivals.

We have also visited Lance and his family in Turlock., and took a day trip with them to Monterey, California. The bay area is beautiful; we picked up shells and beach glass (glass bits that have been rolled in the surf until they are smooth); Jordon upped the ante by finding a dollar. We ate lunch at an English style restaurant, then enjoyed the sunset at a very quiet cove, where we watched the waves for over an hour. On the way to and from Monterey we stopped at Casa de Fruta, a road side fruit stand that has been successful enough to expand into several buildings. They have a huge selection of fruits, nuts, candies as well as sandwiches and drinks. The day was a wonderful time, but we left early the next day as Jordan had school and both Lance and Marla had to work.

So we headed back to Riverside, where Teresa, Jack and Jackie had been watching our dogs for us. Teresa and her mom (Aunt Jean) are exceptional cooks, so Randy is just about in heaven. They've all been cooking up a storm here. They've fixed lobster, steaks, chicken cordon bleu, lasagna, ribs, and too many other things to mention. Uncle Jack, Cousin Jackie and I have been doing our level best to keep up the eating side of things!

Saturday we went to 2 football games where Jack and Teresa's grandsons were playing. Both Ian and Riley are in playoffs with their respective teams. They both played great and both of their teams won. Saturday they will be playing the next level, and hopefully they will both win again.

Sunday evening we joined their church outreach program, feeding homeless people in LA. It's about an hour drive to get there and they have a spot they always go to. When we pulled up around 10 pm there were a lot of people already there, waiting for us. They all lined up and were very polite to us, as we handed out PB&J sandwiches, oranges, and homemade chicken-vegetable soup. It was unsettling to see how many homeless people were there - they were all ages, all races, and both men and women. I talked to one guy who looked like he was about 30 years old. He well spoken and articulate and I wondered why he was there, but after a short time I understood - he was clearly schizophrenic. After the meal a couple of them helped clean up the area. It was a privilege to be able to do something for them.

Yesterday we went to see the La Brea Tar Pit. I love this place! No dinosaur bones (unfortunately) but lots of animals from the time of wooly mammoths and sabertooth cats. (Yes, I coveted the mammoth tusks but they were watching so I couldn't sneak one out!) Since its discovery there have been over 100 tons of bones extracted from the tar pits. The tar is often covered by a thin layer of water or leaves from nearby trees. Animals would wander into the tar pits and become trapped. Tar doesn't work like quicksand - animals did not sink under the surface to die. Instead they either died of starvation or their cries and struggles drew in predators of all sizes, from the big sabertooth cats and Dire wolves to vultures and smaller birds. But the predators would often become stuck themselves, and a whole series of animals would die together. After a few years the bones would become covered with more water or tar, and the cycle would repeat. The work there is ongoing and fascinating, and they do a great job of identifying, cleaning and reassembling all the bones. . If I had my life to live over again, I think I'd work as a paleontologist.

Today (11/24/10) we are getting ready for Thanksgiving. Tomorrow at Jim Booth's house is the Booth family celebration. We expect to have Roasted Turkey, Deep Fried Turkey, Ham, Prime Rib, Chinese Style Ribs, Smoked Ribs, Smoked, Pork Loin, Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Root Vegetables, Rolls, Salad, and more desserts than I can describe. In other words, huge amounts of food. But before all that we will be over at the church tonight helping cook food for over 4,000 people who are either elderly, handicapped, homeless, home ridden or many other conditions. This is such a privilege and we are both really glad we have this chance.

To those of you who read our blog; Thank you for reading it, and we hope you have a safe and Blessed Thanksgiving.

November 7, 2010

What a wonderful week! Our close friends Aaron and Dezina flew in from Illinois to spend a week with us in Las Vegas. This was their first visit to Vegas, so we had a lot to cover. We walked the Strip to see the Mirage volcano and Bellagio fountains. We checked out the Venetian’s canals, MGM’s lions, and the Luxor pyramid. We drove to the old downtown area to watch the Freemont Experience. And we fed the slot machines in several casinos, but nobody won the jackpot.

The weather here couldn’t be better. It’s hot during the day – high 80s – a desert hot that warms you all the way through to your bones. In the evening it cools down 20 or 30 degrees, and the next morning you wake up to sunshine all over again.

During the week we ate at Binion’s Café (OK), MGM Grand (really good), Rio Buffet (extremely good) and Pampas (excellent!). One night Randy fixed halibut, and truthfully that was as good as anything we had in a restaurant.

One of the first things we did was go to Gold and Silver Pawn, which is featured on the Discovery TV show “Pawn Stars”. In this pic, Randy and Aaron are in the shadows under the sign.

On TV the building looks big outside and spacious inside. NOT!!! It’s just a small, one story building. Inside is the main room with a cattle-rail like the ones you find at Disneyland, to direct people down one side of the store and back up the other side. They are enlarging the building now, and although the outside is still being framed-up, the inside of the addition is being used to double the size of the main room, but it’s still not nearly as spacious as it looks on TV. The main characters weren’t there, but Chumlee did show up. He said he could only stay about 10 minutes, so everyone could take pictures and if they had something to be autographed, bring it to the counter. He was very friendly and nice to everyone, posing and signing as much as possible, but it’s odd that everyone was lining up to get a picture with him, just because he’s on TV.

One night we went to the Terry Fator show. He is amazing! He’s a very talented ventriloquist and a wonderful comedian. He works with a series of puppets, giving each a different personality. His bit with a member of the audience was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. And he seems to be a very nice guy, because the profits from his memorabilia was is donated to the military. Terry seems to know he’s blessed and isn’t greedy about keeping every dime to himself.

Since none of us were hard-core gamblers, we went looking for other things to do outside of Vegas. One day we drove out to the Hoover Dam, which is less than 30 miles away. Highway 93 used to run over the dam but recently they build a new bridge that bypasses it, so you have to turn off the highway to get to it. From the new bridge you get a great view of the dam. It’s not possible to get a picture of the dam without a bunch of cables in the way, but this is a working landmark, and not concerned with such things.

Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful dam. I love the way the curves of the dam work with and against the curves of its surrounding structures. Lake Mead, behind the dam, is really low now. The valley sides look whitewashed, but that’s the demarcation of how much the water level has dropped.

The next day we made the 280 mile drive to the Grand Canyon. It look over 4 hours to get there and the same to get back, but it was worth it! Words can’t describe it, and pictures will never do it justice.

One fun thing that happened there is that we found a herd of elk, and they are so used to tourists that they totally ignored everyone. We didn’t see the sign that said not to approach them until after we’d approached them, but they ignored us anyway.

Closer to the buildings some deer were milling about, looking for something to snack on. This buck is checking out the hay that is stored for the mules that tourists ride.

People in Las Vegas will do anything to make a few dollars. Folks dress up in super-hero costumes pose for pictures for tips, some do magic tricks, and one guy offered to let you take a picture with his boa constrictor for $5. I ponied up the money and loved it!

Hello from the Motel 66

Well we are in the motel tonight and probably tomorrow night as they put the new radiator in the coach. We were fortunate to find a place at a reasonable rate that would allow pets. We found this place quite by accident. We were driving around the town when we stumbled upon it. The hotel is basic but very clean.

Hopefully we will be back on the road on Friday. If so we will still have time to make it to Las Vegas by Monday to meet Aaron and Dezina.

We are moving up in the technology world. We have a new IMAC and I got a Smart Phone (Sprint Epic). I have been driving the guys at Best Buy nuts asking questions, making them teach me and by just being a pain. The guys have been great and very helpful. So now I am able to receive text messages, pictures, download apps and all the things the cool people can do. LOL

More later.

Monaco Factory Coburg, Oregon

Hello from beautiful Coburg, Oregon. We arrived here last Saturday to get some work done on the coach. Monday they did the estimate and contacted the extended warranty company. Tuesday the inspector arrived and did his work. Wednesday they got approval and ordered a new radiator. This radiator has to be built and will take anywhere from 4 - 7 days. That means that they will have the parts either on Tuesday (our hope) or Friday. In either case it should only take 2 days to complete the work. If we get it Tuesday we will make it to Vegas in time to meet Aaron and Dezina. If it doesn't get here until Friday then we may not get to see them. We are praying that it gets here Tuesday.

The Coburg area is nice. There is an antique district down the road with a very interesting shop featuring Chinese and Japanese items. The owners took over the shop from her parents 40 years ago. They travel to the far east to buy items and they said it is getting harder and harder to buy because the Chinese don't need the money as much as they used to. Neither of them speak the language but apparently some of their great granchildren do.

We have found a great place to find RV parts that has allowed us to do some little fix up jobs on the coach. We have replaced an air conditioner cover, fixed a bay door handle and replaced the headlight assemblies (the lenses wer all yellow).

We also found a woodworking shop where they were doing lathe demos. Jackie turned an ink pen on the lathe that will be sent to a service man in Iraq. She thought it was pretty neat working with wood.

We don't get to do a lot of sightseeing because we have to be close to the coach in case they need inside. The reason of course is the pets.

Pray that we will get out of here by Thursday or Friday next week so that we can make it to Vegas on time.

Monday October 11, 2010 or Food, Food and more Food

Let's start by talking about our favorite subject... FOOD. Our friend Glenn from Alaska stopped by on October 5 and we went to dinner with him. We went to Sushi Chiyo. The concept was new to us. We sat at a counter and the various types of sushi went by on a conveyor belt. You have a "cheat" sheet to tell you what each thing is and what it costs. On the cheat sheet you determine the cost by the color of the plate and then you identify the item by the picture. You choose the items you want and at the end of dinner the waitress counts up the plates and charges you accordingly. The food was good and the experience was a lot of fun. I must say it was good to see Glenn again and look forward to the next time we are together.

On Friday we went to Bob's Red Mill factory for a tour. There were only four people there for the tour and we were given an extra long tour and were able to ask a lot of questions. We learned a lot about whole grains and different grains such as Quinoa, Amaranth, Chia and the surprising benefits of Flax. We are now seriously looking at incorporating more Whole Grains in our diet. After the tour we went to Bob's Red Mill store for lunch and to buy some supplies. The food was very good and the store is a great place to visit. The one really interesting thing I bought was a Myrtle Spurtle. A Spurtle is an item that is used to stir oats in Scotland. The proper use of it requires that you always stir in a clock wise direction. The one I bought is made of Myrtle wood, hence a Myrtle Spurtle.

Saturday we went to the Portland Saturday Market to speak to a gentleman about a product we may market in the near future, more on the product later. We had a good meeting and learned a lot. After the market we were going to a place called "Otto's Sausage Market" but on the way we saw a place called Edelweiss Sausage and Delicatessen. As it turns out this was a stroke of luck. Edelweiss had a little sandwich counter and a dining area. We saw some of the sandwiches people were eating and decided to have lunch there. We had a Corned Beef on Rye and a Chili-Cheese Sausage. Both were great. The meat counter was extensive and very busy. I believe this is a much better find than Otto's. But since were had set out to find Otto's, finding Otto's is what we did. Otto's fame comes from having been on Food network. The assortment of sausages was small and the prices were at least $2 per pound higher than Edelweiss.

You would think by this point we would be done with food but we're not. Today we went to the Oregon Culinary Institute on Jefferson St in Portland for lunch. We had a 3 course lunch for $9 each. They also serve a 4 course dinner for $18 each. The food was excellent, the service was impecable, the restaurant was spotless and the company was the best. What more can you ask for. If you are ever in the Portland area check out the Oregon Culinary Institute you will not be disappointed.

We have found Portland area to be a great place to visit and the 99 RV Park in Vancouver, Washington to be a great place to stay. The weather was beautiful today but there is a real hint of cold in the air and we will be leaving shortly to head south to get work done on the coach. Tomorrow we will be touring up the Columbia River gorge.
We scheduled some work on the RV in Coburg, Oregon later this month, so we need to stay in this area a few more days. But that’s no hardship – we are enjoying relaxing and being tourists. We had lunch at Old Town Pizza in Portland, which is supposed to be a very haunted place because it’s situated over the old Shanghai Tunnels. We didn’t see any ghosts but we did get some good pizza. We also enjoyed a trip to the Grotto; the area is well cared for and it’s very relaxing to walk through the beautiful grounds. And Portland has a Leonidas store – in my opinion, that is some of the best Belgium chocolate in the world. I was very, very good, and only got one candy bar. The Outdoor Store and Oregon Leather Store were cool – they are a nice change from the cookie-cutter stores we find in supercenters and malls.

When we drive into the north side of Portland, we go through an area that has a lot of vagrants. There are so many young people on the streets with cardboard signs that I did some research. Apparently a lot of them are out there by choice, having decided to join the culture of street-life. One lady wrote that her 19 year old son had a car, room and college fund waiting for him at home, but he took off to join the homeless cult in Portland. I am old enough to remember the 1960s when something similar happened in the hippie movement, sending lots of young people to live in the streets of Haight-Ashbury. Apparently history really does repeat itself.

We were excited to meet up with Andy and Jodie, compatriots from Skagway. We had a great dinner at BJs and caught up with life after Skagway. Hopefully we can continue to keep in touch!

For lunch today we went to the Screen Door restaurant. It is now on our list of “don’t miss in Portland”. Their specialties include fried chicken on a sweet potato waffle, and praline bacon. No matter if you think that sounds good or not, I assure you that it is very, very good! The portions are big and the taste is great - thanks to Andy for suggesting this one.

Another “don’t miss” the Portland Saturday Market (thanks again, Andy!). It’s actually a couple of markets – Portland Saturday Market and Skidmore Market. They have a ton of handmade items, and it's a very enjoyable way to spend a few hours.

Voodoo Doughnuts was a bit of a disappointment. The doughnuts are really pretty good, but the place is so famous that the line to get in goes around the block – and they’re just doughnuts! Fortunately there is a second Voodoo Doughnuts that isn’t as packed, so we went there for our doughnuts.

The longer we stay here, the longer is our list of things to do here!

September 29, 2010

We made the 2-hour drive to the north side Mount St. Helens, and it was definitely worth the trip! We went to the Johnson Observatory, which is about 5 miles away from the mountain. It has a lot of information, as well as a spectacular view. The “before” photos of the area show a beautiful, classic cone-shaped mountain surrounded by old-growth forest. Oddly enough, before 1980 although most of the mountain was owned by the Forrest Reserve, the top of the mountain was owned by Burlington Northern. When the crazy seismic activity started in 1980 reporters and curiosity-seekers arrived in droves, so Burlington Northern turned control of the mountain top over to the Forest Reserve, who could better keep people out.

Mount St. Helens is really beautiful and impressive. The whole 5 miles of plains in front of it are covered by the landslide that was part of the 1980 eruption.

In that eruption the top and most of the north side of the mountain were part of the massive landslide which moved about 90% of the mountain's mass. That triggered super-heated pyroclastic flows (powerful explosions of gas and rocks). The nearby trees didn't burn; there wasn't enough air around them during the eruption. The heat caused the trees to explode from the inside. Trees that were far enough away to avoid exploding (maybe between 5 and 15 miles) were snapped off and flattened by the tremendous force. In the picture below, Randy is on the road at the bottom of the frame.

After the pyroclastic flows came huge ash clouds. There was no big lava flow but the landslide was so hot that the ground became sterilized – nothing was left alive in those 5 miles. The area was designated as a National Monument to let it recover naturally and scientists are surprised how quickly it is recovering. The landslide area has significant ground cover now and a big herd of Roosevelt Elk have moved in.

Since the 1980 eruption, a big dome has been forming in the center of the crater. It’s completely surrounded by a glacier – probably the newest glacier in the world because it didn’t exist before 1980. The plains get 10-14 feet of snow each winter and the mountain probably gets more. The crater rim protects the glacier from melting, as do the rocks that crumble and fall onto it. Because it's covered in rocks, the glacier is almost completely black. I couldn't to get a clear picture, but the photo below is the crater with the new dome in its center, and lying across the front of the dome is the black glacier. With binoculars we could see that most of what looks like snow on the dome are active steam vents.
We've spent a few days south of Seattle, recovering from our dash across the border and deciding where to go next. We have been staying at Rainier View Adult RV Park in Graham, Washington. It's a nice place, reasonably priced, and you can't beat the view behind our RV!

Memories of Alaska, Part 1

There are many, many things we will miss about Skagway. For example, there is no significant crime. The most that could happen is someone may borrow your bike without permission, but it's a small town so they are sure to leave it somewhere nearby when they are done with it!

We will miss the amazing beauty of the area – mountains just outside our door and long hiking trails. Fishing, bear-watching and mushroom hunting. Watching for Northern Lights, and realizing that the night is so beautiful that it won't make any difference if they show up or not.

And the resourceful way of life here. We got by just fine without Wal-Mart or malls (although I am enjoying them now). People walk more in Skagway, and are just as likely to ride a bike as drive a car.

But mostly we will miss the people we met and worked with. Friends that we hope to see again, somewhere on the RV circuit. This part of RVing stinks - we get to know people in an area, make some good friends, and then have to leave. If we stop RVing, it will probably be because of that. But for the time we had with good friends in Skagway, we are very grateful.

What won't we miss? Well, there's the mosquitoes. I thought the old references to mosquitoes killing horses was an exaggeration, but it’s not. During a hike our neighbors’ German Sheppard was bitten so many times that she just laid down on the trail, ready to give up. Her owners carried her back down the trail and she recovered just fine, but her face was swollen for several days. Fortunately the people in the Park didn’t have that severe of a reaction. But there are also something known as "no-see-ums". Several people developed severe allergic reactions to these, including Randy. His hand and arm swelled up so much that he had to go to the local clinic (no doctor in town) where they gave him some meds (no pharmacy in town).

And, of course, the grocery store . . . we won’t forget that, and won't miss it, either!

The trip from Skagway through Canada

During our last week in Skagway, Dennis and Nancy Corrington gave a very enjoyable farewell dinner for all their employees. We all had a good dinner at the Skagway Brewery and the Corringtons gave us gift certificates for one of their stores. On Friday we had another farewell dinner at RV park; everyone grilled their own entrée and we shared side dishes.

We left Skagway on Saturday morning, but we didn’t get too far. At the Canadian Border we were the (un)lucky random vehicle to be searched – again! We had to pull off the road, put out both slides, unlock all the bays, unlock the car and wait. We were traveling with John and Diane again but they didn’t get searched, so they pulled aside to wait for us. Eventually we did get through and cruised on down the highway.

Shortly afterward we saw three bears in the middle of the road – a mama bear with two large cubs. Mamma trotted off the road when she heard us coming, but the cubs decided to run away from us – straight down the road. They kept looking over their shoulders at us as if they couldn’t understand why we were following them! Finally they veered off to the side of the road where Mama was waiting for them - probably shaking her head and wondering where she went wrong.

We used the Milepost again on this trip, and as usual it was very helpful. But this was trip had sort of a “Through the Looking Glass” feel because we were going backwards through the routes. I would get to a mile marker that said “look for steep grades in the next 10 miles” only after we’d already covered those miles.

This trip we didn’t get to travel very far with John and Diane. We parted ways at the head of the Cassiar Highway because they were heading out a different direction. So they went east and we turned south onto the Cassiar. The Cassiar is noted for being beautiful but rough; we’d heard varying stories about how rough, and decided to give it a shot. The beginning of the Cassiar was probably the roughest; it's packed gravel with lots of potholes. Eventually we did hit pavement but the road was always narrow and bumpy. At the end of the first day we boon-docked at the Rabid Grizzly rest area – not a comforting name, but we slept well. The next day we headed out as early as possible because we were focused on getting back to the USA. It would not have made sense to dawdle anyway, because not much seemed to be open. We didn’t see many services or RV parks along the way, and most of what we did see looked like they hadn’t been open for a long time. The road, even where it was paved, was not very good; there were a lot of steep grades, narrow turns, and no shoulders at all. But the view was really beautiful! Mountains rose up close to the highway, and the aspen had turned to such a bright golden yellow that they made the mountains look like they were covered in pollen. And there were big swatches of red fireweed along the road.

When we finally turned off the Cassiar and onto Yellowhead highway, we were very glad to find that it was a fully-paved road with shoulders. Sunday night we boon-docked about 120 miles outside of Prince George. During our trip we encountered many construction sites and at many of those sites we had to travel on temporary, narrow, gravel roads. This led us to discover that Canada has 2 seasons – winter and road construction. All the construction slowed us down so we couldn’t cover as many miles as we’d hoped in a day.

On Monday the goal was to get to Hope so we would be able to cross the border Tuesday. We stopped at Tim Hortons restaurant, which is a common Canadian fast food restaurant. There we had a good lunch and a needed break.

The final part of the trip was through Fraser canyon, where the road curved along the side of the canyon. It rained that day, which made it even less fun to be on a cliff-side road, but we made it through fine and boon-docked one more time around 8 pm, just outside of Hope.

Our final assessment of the Cassiar: it is indeed beautiful and it knocks about 200 miles off the trip; parts of it are still enough rough to add to the wear-and-tear on the RV; there are no turnoffs to get to another highway if you decide you don't like it and services such as fuel are very limited. So we would say it’s OK and we have seen the Cassiar.

September 17, 2010

Last night we joined our fellow-RVers for a bonfire. We grilled hot dogs, but with a Skagway twist; the grocery store didn't have any hot dog buns so we had our dogs rolled up in tortillas.

Afterwards most of us stayed outside, waiting for the Northern Lights. It was a clear, starry night so the odds seemed good. And sure enough, they appeared! The Northern Lights photograph green, but in the sky they are pale white lights with a hint of green. They change shape, spreading out into bands across the sky, then coalescing into beams like searchlights that reach high in the sky. At one point we saw a strong, white beam of light directly overhead that reached from one horizon to the other. To the north a big curtain of lights appeared and stayed for a long time:

Wednesday was our last day at Corrington's Alaskan Ivory, and tomorrow morning we will hit the road again. We'll be going south through part of Canada on a different route than the way we came up - we decided to try the Cassiar Highway. It's supposed to be very scenic but more rugged. There are different stories about how rugged it is because the recently there have been efforts to improve the road. We'll see; on our way up here a passing car threw a rock on and cracked our windshield, so it has to be replaced anyway.

There is a lot about Alaska that I haven't put on the blog yet. I don't want to forget it, so I will add it later. We will probably not be able to access email, blogs, or the phone for a couple of weeks. But for now, the weather is great and the road beckons. South, to the land of big, well-stocked, grocery stores!

September 5, 2010

What a wonderful day! Randy and Glenn hosted a brunch for everyone at the RV park. They fixed biscuits and gravy, fried potatoes and scrambled eggs. The starting time was posted at 10:30 but there isn’t any sense being in a hurry, so someone mixed up some margaritas, someone else brought a couple of coffee cakes, and everyone just relaxed and visited while they finished cooking. Everything turned out great!

After brunch we met with John and Diane (the friends we caravanned up here with) and went zip-lining. They bought a zip line package deal at a recent auction for the local day-care center, and invited us along.

Our guides were Jeremy and Billy – Billy, at 29, is the oldest member on the zip line team; Jeremy couldn’t be more than 22. During the winter he’s going to college to major in Physics, and during the summer he takes tourists on zip line and rock-climbing tours.

Our tour started with climbing up rough terrain to get to the ladders that would lead us to the zip lines. The ladders were a challenge all by themselves. The first one was a rope bridge with slats, but the slats were randomly placed, with some pretty big gaps. The second bridge was another rope bridge, with no slats – just the ropes! And the third bridge was a rope bridge with a 2x4 in the middle of it, like a balance beam.

Once we got across the bridges we hooked up to the first “baby” zip line. It’s a short trip, probably just to get people used to the feeling. They have a good system – our harnesses had 2 lanyards so when we were on the platform we were hooked up to the safety line with one lanyard while they were hooking us up to the zip line with the other. After the baby zip, we went on to the next five zips. The recommended take-off process is to either sit down and raise your feet (if the take-off platform is really small) or to lean forward and walk off the edge. I was not able to walk off the edge – I really wanted too, but couldn’t make my feet do it. One time I just gave up and asked Billy to push me off. But everyone else could do it just fine. It was such a great feeling – zipping down the line – it felt like we were in free-fall. It was absolutely amazing - one of the best experiences we've every had! It was so much fun that we did the last 3 zip lines twice! The first 2 pics are me (Jackie) and the next two are of Randy: