Steve is smiling for he can now check one off from his bucket list, the Columbia River Gorge. The Columbia River Gorge is an impressive river canyon carved by the Columbia river as it flows into the Pacific Ocean. It stretches over 80 miles and is shared by the states of Washington and Oregon. Mt Adams to the north and Mt Hood to the south flank the gorge and the mighty Columbia River runs through its middle. The bridges that connects the states are: The Dalles to the east, the Hood River in the middle and the Bridge of the Gods to the west. The Gorge is recognized as a destination for exploring the natural beauty and cultural richness of the Pacific Northwest. Geologists must love this place with all its cliffs, rock formations and rugged terrain. Continue reading
After the Customs officer at the US border confiscated some vegetables we had purchased in Kelowna, we went straight to a gas station and filled Betsy up. The diesel price as we know now was a tad higher as we travelled south but much cheaper than Alaska or Canada. The change in scenery is quite dramatic, reminding us we are back in the Lower 48 with Washington state as our gateway.
As we drove along the highway we noticed the mountains are dry, with parched forest, dry brush and grass. Interspersed are acres of orchards and vineyards. Remember, red delicous apples from Washington – that’s where they are grown. Nearing our destination we noticed smoke and fires coming from the mountain tops and noticed that a haze was already covering the valley.
We decided to forego our original destination, Alta Lake State Park, as it was really close to the wildfires and the area was already smoky. We drove further and found Lakeshore RV park at Lake Chelan and fortunately they had a site available for us. Lake Chelan is a pristine 50.5 mile glacier-fed lake, is 1.5 miles at its widest and 1486 ft. at its deepest point making it the third deepest in the U.S. behind Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe. The Lake Chelan valley is nestled in the North Cascades National Forest.
The haze was quite visible around the town and lake. Despite that we followed their Riverwalk Trail around the lake and downtown area. We learned that Lake Chelan is a destination resort as it is known for its 300 days of sunhine and lots of things to do all year round. The sunset by the lake while we were there was beautifully enhanced by the smoke and dust in the atmosphere.
After three days we decided to move on for the smoke was getting thicker and we could really smell it. But then after continuing for more than a hundred miles, the smoke still covered the mountains and valleys. We learned that the fire started on Sept 7, caused by lightning and the fire still has not been contained. The smoke is blanketing much of central Washington as wildfires remain uncontained with the dry conditions and no rain in the forecast. The highways we were on were supposed to be scenic and picturesque with the view of the eastern Cascades and the peaks of Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams, but visibility was low. We arrived at Yakima with a layer of smoke lying over the city.
Washington ranks second in the United States in the production of wine, behind California. Here in Yakima is where 40% of it is produced. In addition, the Yakima valley produces an abundance of agricultural products where the famous Washington apples and cherries are grown. We went wine tasting in one of the wine appelations here, the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail, where we noted acres of orchards and vineyards enterwined in the land. Various fruit stands were also visible on the highways and byways.
We also visited the neighboring town of Toppenish located within the boundaries of the Yakama nation and is quite rich with Native American history. We did a short walking tour to view and to admire some of the 73 murals around the city. This is the town where walls can really talk for each mural has its own introduction. Below are few of interesting mural stories.
Yakima also boasts their 10 mile paved pathway called Yakina Greenway, which parallels the Yakima river and in some stretches parallels the highway and overpasses. We enjoyed this walk/hike while our Honda was in for some maintenance work. At the end of the walk we burnt 1200 calories, yeah! And the best part was that the RV park had a nice pool and Therapy Pools (as they called it) where we could dip our tired and sore muscles for a while.
And here is Steve’s good deed for the day.
So we will move on now, hopefully to where the air quality is much better. Columbia Gorge, here we come!
Going into our next leg was something we weren’t excited about and can not to be taken lightly. Driving back over the Alaska Highway and particularly on the long stretch from Tok was jarring, tortuous and induced crankiness and a few expletives due to the many remaining un-repaired frost heaves. (Frost heaves are still an unresolved problem.) We learned from the first time driving here in June that going 6 long hours and 226 miles of rough road in one way was not a great idea for us and Betsy. So we sliced this stretch into three manageable segments.
Sure enough, after two months the highway had improved very little. It was quite funny that right after crossing the border into Canada, the road deteriorated very quickly. Our average driving was 15 mph for the gravel road and 30-35 between the frost heaves, dips, rough pavement and potholes. We were really slooooow, and that is the key thing to preserve Betsy from any damage. We heard from other adventurers that a few RV ‘s encounter issues along this stretch. We dont want this to happen to Betsy now that we are winding down our trip. A note to other adventurers – don’t let us scare you – a 40 ft RV towing a car will get tossed around much more (and possibly damaged) by frost heaves than a smaller, more nimble class-C motorhome or a trailer. Most people can drive this stretch of the road more easily and faster than we could.
The only thing that remained unchanged on this stretch was the beauty of the scenery which Steve unfortunately could not really enjoy as he focused on the road. Fall colors on the mountains and flowers along the highway are now starting to emerge.
The second time around brought us back into the history of the Alaska Highway and these are areas we missed the first time in June.
Our first stop was White River RV park in the Yukon Territory situated next to an airstrip and we stayed for two nights. Bob and Amanda are both great park owners and made us comfortable while we were there. In fact Bob, who is a history buff and collects antiques and artifacts, gave us a free private tour . He rounded up a few guests and off we went on his 1942 Dodge group hauler – which was originally used during the Alaska highway construction. This guy is quite a character and drove his truck literally over shrubs and small trees! He pointed out the remains of equipment and tools used during the highway contraction, which were literally just left behind when the project was completed. He took us to the White River and showed us the original Alaska highway as it was in 1942. As you may recall from our previous blog, the Alaska highway was built and completed in just under 10 months for military purposes. But it wasn’t the road we drive on now, it was basically just a bulldozed single lane road built over the top of timbers and gravel. It is amazing to learn about how tough those people were who completed such a massive project.
Our second 2-night stop was at the Cottonwood RV Park, situated along fabulous Kluane Lake. The park afforded us with stunning views of the lake, which is the longest in the Yukon at 43 miles long. Forget Tahoe, these lakes are huge! Five miles from the park is Soldier’s Summit at Mile 1053, where the highway was officially dedicated and opened on Nov 20, 1942, on a brisk -35 degree day. Did I say these people were tough? While we were there, a convoy of historic military vehicles pulled into the parking lot. We learned that they are currently celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Alaska Highway by driving it in original military convoys. Very cool!
Now the topper for Steve – we saw the Northern Lights!!! Bob at the White River Park mentioned that the Aurora Borealis lights are now visible as it is getting darker in August. We were so upset that we had missed them, so we set our alarm clock for 1:00am the next night to see for ourselves. Unfortunately the clouds were moving in so it was not to be. We tried again the following night but there was a storm moving through. Then on our first night at Cottonwood, Steve got up at 2:00am and there they were! Fantastic glowing flames of green dancing light shooting across the sky. We were prepared to come all the way back to Fairbanks this winter just to see the lights, but got extremely lucky on the 23rd and it was a good show. Check that one off the bucket list!
The last stop on this segment was the provincial campground at Million Dollar Falls, where we dry-camped for two days. Here we met two women, Nancy(Birdie) and Liz driving their own RV’s alone. We first talked to them at Kenny Lake then met again at Cottonwood RV Park and then here at the campground. We think they are quite adventurous and brave to be driving alone even if they were a part of a bigger group of women(Womenrv.com/fprum).
Our next and final stop here will be Haines, our jump off point to explore Southeast Alaska.