After arriving back in the lower 48 we settled into a 2 night stay in Shelby Montana. We began our return by spending several hours getting rid of the bug splatter, road mud, road tar and other grime on both vehicles before they finally looked normal again. Our first stop after leaving Shelby took us to Hardin, Montana where we headed over to Little Bighorn National Battlefield to watch a film, walk through the battlefield museum, listen to a park ranger describe the battle in detail and finally take a tour through the battlefield by bus with a Crow Indian acting as our tour guide. The Crow Indians were allies with the US at the time and many of their guides were killed along with Custer and his troops. The day was full of new information as many facts were brought to our attention that we had no idea about. The next day we returned to the battlefield for some time on our own. We drove the full length of the 5 mile road that goes through the battlefield, walked many of the trails and took lots of pictures. It really was a great take and we both enjoyed learning so much more about the history of the battle and of this country at the time. Our next stop took us to Rapid City, South Dakota where we started things off with a visit to Mt. Rushmore. My first impression was how small the monument looked while Claudia didn't think it was small at all. My impression changed as we took a hike along the "Presidential Trail", a half mile path and boardwalk that passes beside and below the monument. This trail provided great views of the monument, stops along the way with storyboards describing the construction of the monument and a building containing artifacts related to the construction. Following our visit to Mt. Rushmore we headed off to the Crazy Horse Memorial. This is a monument that recognizes Native Americans of all tribes and will be beautiful when completed. Unfortunately, Claudia and I will never live to see the completed project but our grandchildren probably will. It's enormous in size with Crazy Horse's head larger than all 4 Mt. Rushmore heads combined. We took a bus ride out to the construction site for a close up view and received a lot of great information from our driver who explained the entire project. Next we took a 2 hour drive through Custer State Park and some gorgeous areas of the Black Hills. Traffic was thick at times along some very narrow roads and through single lane tunnels but the trip was worth it because of all the great views. Next it was a trip into Deadwood where we took a bus tour of the oldest city in South Dakota. There was plenty of history including a stop at Boot Hill to see the grave of Wild Bill Hickok, who was shot dead playing cards in town. After a lunch in one of the historic buildings we were treated to a parade that came through town to celebrate the "Days of 76". The parade was a typical small western town parade complete with lots of horses, wagons, and people dressed in western garb along with a couple of local bands. After a brief stop back at the campground, we headed out one last time to Mt. Rushmore for a nighttime show. Following a film about the 4 president's on display, the lights came alive and we were able to see the monument lit up. It was a beautiful sight on a beautiful evening and well worth the trip. Next it was a stop in Interior, South Dakota. We spent our first day there, a gorgeous, sunny day exploring Badlands National Park. We drove through the park, stopped at just about every turnout for breathtaking views and enjoyed watching buffalo roaming free, as well as goats, prairie dogs & all sorts of birds. The following day we returned to one of our favorite areas of the park and took a couple of hikes into the badlands themselves. One of those hikes was only a half mile round trip but the first half was straight up and the second half straight down. We both agreed that the hike was well worth it and that we would be returning to both Montana and South Dakota on a future trip. Ed and Claudia
Our return trip through Canada started off great and turned out to be a sign of what was yet to come. After only a couple of hours on the road we were entertained by a grizzly bear on the side of the road with a show that lasted for more than 5 minutes giving us plenty of time for lots of pictures. This grizzly wasn’t huge and was probably a young one but he had massive claws and didn't seem fazed by us or any of the other vehicles who stopped to watch him. After an 8 hour drive we eventually arrived in Haines Junction, Yukon for a brief overnight stay. Over the next few days we traveled 3 hours to Whitehorse, 8 hours to Watson Lake and then 8 hours to Fort Nelson in British Columbia before finally taking a day off. Although tiring, we made a lot of progress towards home. Also during those trips we saw dozens of black and brown bear, a great view of a moose, a couple herd of bison and many stone sheep, all of which we were able to capture some great photos and videos. Next we traveled about 7 hours to Dawson Creek which was less than 1000 miles from the Montana border. It turns out that we left the wilderness that we've come to love and enjoy behind us that day since from this point forward we started to drive on roads that had many trucks, through areas that were developed and we only saw a single black bear and a couple of deer from this point forward. We definitely got spoiled during those last few weeks. We were still enjoying our travels but as we got closer to home, we were getting a bit anxious to see everyone again. At this point, visibility began to suffer because of many forest fires that were all around Canada. All the beautiful scenes that we knew were out there were obscured by hazy clouds. After another 8 hour drive we finally made it to Acheson, Alberta. We were reminded that day of what it was like driving along interstate roads with loads of traffic rather than the quiet wilderness roads we've gotten used to. We also had very few scenic views because at times our visibility was sometimes less than a mile due to the smoke from the forest fires blowing into the area. The next morning we headed out of Acheson with plans to be in Canmore, just outside Banff National Park by the end of the day. Once we hit the road however, we started talking about an alternative destination after seeing for ourselves how terrible the visibility had become due to the fires burning just west of us. We decided that Banff can wait for another year when we will return and visit the area again, hopefully with much better scenery to see with more than a half mile of visibility. We ended up arriving in Lethbridge, Alberta, about 68 miles north of the Montana border. It was here that Claudia and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. We celebrated with a great dinner out at a very nice local restaurant. It's hard to explain how lucky we both feel. Neither one of us can imagine living any other life with anyone other than each other. The next morning, we arrived safely back in the lower 48 after our 5,432 mile trip through Canada and Alaska. The trip was excellent and we have so many stories to share but we were glad to be back in the states with the knowledge that we are slowly but surely heading east and that shortly we'll be seeing our family and friends again. Ed
As we headed out of Fairbanks, we immediately noticed the change in landscape. We were on our way to a national park and preserve that was over 6 million acres in size. That’s 9,375 square miles. Another way to picture it is if lined up end to end, 9,375 square miles would stretch from California to Maine - three times. After a few hours of driving and with many of those miles on roads with the asphalt removed, we finally arrived at Denali RV Park in Healy. Although it was cool and rainy during most of our stay at Denali, we lucked out with the weather for our Tundra Wilderness Tour into Denali National Park. The day started out with fairly heavy rain at times and was coming down pretty good right up until we boarded our tour bus at 1:30. The tour turned out to be excellent. We had our doubts about 8 hours and over 100 miles on a bus over gravel roads but the time flew by. The rain pretty much stopped shortly after we started the tour and really became a non-factor. It turned out we saw plenty of wildlife including a grizzly, Dall sheep and lots of caribou. Our tour guide was great. He's been doing these tours for over 30 years and was a wealth of knowledge. He also had a great sense of humor so we spent a lot of time laughing. Unfortunately, because of the rain, this was our only visit into Denali National Park so we never did get to see Mt. McKinley. Our next stop was in Anchorage. Although the weather still wasn't perfect, we were able to enjoy better temperatures and some sunshine. While we were in Anchorage we enjoyed a Trolley tour of the city as well as a walk through the Farmer's Market and a visit to the Ulu Factory. We also took a trip to the Alaska Zoo. While we were there we enjoyed a pizza at one of Anchorage's most popular eateries, the Moose's Tooth. Our next stop was in Homer which turned out to be a great little village. It was one of the most beautiful places we've visited. Of course, having great weather helped. We spent plenty of time at the beach, especially at low tide with Stella where she was able to run and had the time of her life. We were also able to see many golden and bald eagles while we were there. We spent some time in the village and out on the spit and also took a couple of drives up to scenic overlooks to get some great views of the mountains and glacier's that surround the area and Kachemak Bay. Our next stop took us to Seward where we enjoyed our last extended stop in Alaska. While there we took our Kenai Fjords Day Cruise. We were so fortunate to have picture perfect weather all day. The sky was deep blue with only an occasional cloud and the water was calm, at times, like glass. We saw glaciers, snow covered mountains and hundreds of beautiful islands jutting up out of the sea, each unique in its own way. We also saw a variety of whales, porpoises, sea lions, sea otters, and all kinds of birds including bald eagles and puffins. We drove through a sea of ice before stopping only a few hundred feet off the Aialik Glacier where we watched chunks of glacial ice drop into the sea. We passed close by dozens of sea lions and watched as a bull sea lion made his presence known. We also took a slow pass around an enormous island of rock, covered in cracks and caves, home to tens of thousands of birds. That 6 hour tour was definitely one of the highlights of our entire trip to Alaska. While in Seward we also enjoyed walking around the historic area and having a great lunch at a local diner. We also spent a nice sunny day there by hiking out to Exit Glacier. It was a great 2 mile hike out to the bottom of the glacier where we could feel the cold air and see the ice up close. After Seward we made our way back to Anchorage for a 2 night stop and a chance to prepare for our long trip back to the lower 48. We then made our way from Anchorage to Tok Alaska where we spent 1 night. While at the Sourdough Campground in Tok we participated in a pancake throwing contest. The prize was a free breakfast the following morning which I won by flipping my pancake into a bucket about 20 feet away. Claudia missed the bucket but took advantage of my winnings by picking up a free breakfast to go as we headed out at 7am the next morning for an 8 hour drive into Canada. We've enjoyed our time in Alaska and Canada but now it's time to head back east. We still have some great stops along the way and with over 5000 miles still to go we’ll continue to enjoy this great adventure but we’re getting more and more excited about seeing everyone again. Ed
Ed and Claudia always dreamed of retiring and travelling the country in their motorhome. They retired in 2013 and this is the continuing story of their adventures on the road.