USA and Canada, 1986


Another trek to the USA, this time including a part of Canada: the Pacific Northwest !

With past experience (much to see, a lot of driving) in mind, this time I invested even more time in preparation. An evaluation was made between the rental of a motorhome and a car; costs of a rental car and staying in hotels proved to be more cost efficient. But, not to forego the pleasure of camping, we decided to bring a small tent too.
The result of all this planning (done on a "word-processor" for the first time) resulted in a demanding itinerary, with a tight schedule and the end saw 5500 kms been driven by us in 18 days.
A Martinair DC-10 brought us in 09hrs15 (4hr45 delay) from Amsterdam to Seattle,WA and the rental car (Chrysler Reliant SE , model 1986) was picked up with Ajax: the show was on the road !

After our arrival at Sea-Tac airport we noticed it was 13:00 local time (nine hours later in Amsterdam), and what does one do at that time ? Lunch, that's right ! After we collected the car we went straight to BurgerKing for a few juicy whoppers.... We had not had one in years (McDonalds and BurgerKing did not have their franchise started in the Netherlands then) and felt satisfied getting reacquainted.
The weather was excellent: a balmy 25 C (76 F ). We decided to clear the city limits for the Snoqualmie National Forest, where we pitched our tent at the Silver Springs Campground.

On this trip I still had my Hasselblad, which proved to be too ambitous for this photo amateur (I could not afford a single item except the camera, lens and filmcassette). I also had a Nikon FM-2 and an Olympus OM-1 with me. Photography on these vacations has always been important for me, taking my time with a tripod and shooting many films.

When we arrived at Silver Springs Campground, we found that the Mobil Camping Guide had us wrongly informed: there was no store ! Having left the city in a hurry, and only having brought a tent and sleeping bags, we found ourselves without food, drinks, matches for a woodfire, no cups for water to hold....
Well, since it was 20:00 by the time we were done with our tent, meaning 05:00 for our body clocks, we decided to call it a day and went to sleep. Sure glad we had to hamburgers earlier that afternoon !


On a clear day you can see forever ! Little did we suspect that the August nights could be just as cold... We found our sleeping bags required us getting dressed again to conquer the shivering during the night. We also noticed how pitchdark it could be between all the gigantic trees and of course we had not thought of bringing a flashlight with us.
Hungry and cold, we had out first US breakfast with Crystal Mountain Sky Resort and that brought us back on our feet.
We had a good hike at Mt.Rainier (a volcano covered with glaciers), the trail not being too hard on us. I took lots of photos and we took our time, still feeling a bit hungover from the jetlag and the uneasy night. We commented how things would have been different had we brought our son, aged 2 almost, with us.
After the hike we drove east, to Richland, to visit friends we had met on the Kenya trip. Along the way we bought some of the items we had found lacking in our campinggear.

From Richland,WA we drove through northeast of Oregon and entered Idaho by way of Highway 84. It was a first for us to notice that large stores were open on Sundays.
We slept on a mosquito-ridden campsite near Old Fort Boise and had breakfast in a cow-town named Caldwell; we enjoyed the cattlefolks, their conversation and the breakfast was big enough for four ! We did not care much for Boise, as I had my mind set to visit some ghost towns.

We drove on to Idaho City, which was everything we had hoped for: not quite a ghost town, but hot and dusty every breath a "frontier town". No faking here.
In the bar we witnessed a girl and her boyfriend talking to the bartender; the girl had escaped Idaho City a few years ago, to live in Montana and was ecstatic to be on her way to California: Hollywood here she come ! The bartender did not appear to be much impressed.

We visited Placerville, Centerville and Pioneerville: true ghost towns. Not as nice as Idaho City, where we enjoyed historic dwellings such as Idaho World, established in 1863. After a quick visit to Boot Hill, we headed for Sawtooth National Park.

In 2014 we revisited Idaho City again! Click HERE..


Sawtooth National Park allowed for a very scenic drive and reminded us of the Clint Eastwood movie "Pale Rider", which was filmed here.
We stopped briefly in Stanley, but found hiking impossible due lack of time (no small hikes here). We continued to Craters of the Moon, where we arrived by the end of the day.
I had some difficulty adjusting to the speed limits here and slow way of driving of other traffic. Everybody seemed to travel in slow-motion, very different from European traffic. We needed some adjusting for the distances I had expected to complete every day !
But fair is fair, driving 80-90 miles an hour through this kind of scenery would be a waste.

In 2014 we visited this area again (including Craters of the Moon), see my page USA 2014 Northwest (4)


After a good night's rest in Arco's "Lazy-A-Motel" and a local breakfast, we drove through the enchanted Targhee National Forest, heading for the Teton Mountains.
The weather was gloomy and we enjoyed a "thin 'crispy" pizza in Jackson, while the rain started to come down.
We tried to get a cabin in Grand Teton NP, but they were all booked or taken. We pitched our tent at Colter Bay Campground instead. Campgrounds filling up early in the day made us decide to stay 2 night on this campground and only 1 night in Yellowstone NP.
Campgrounds in the US were a revelation to us: so much space, freedom of movement, barbecue pit on every site.... wow !
We had not thought of bringing an axe (greenhorns !), so it took a while before we had a good fire going.

We spent a full day doing various small hikes, getting up early. That is why we got to see the moose and its young.
Getting up early was no problem, because we still felt cold during the night. We walked trails at Oxbow Bend, Emma Matilda Lake and Jenny Lake ("Hidden Falls").
Except for the moose, we also encountered a snake (trying to get warm in the sun, just like us). The weather had surprised us by showering plenty of sunshine, during the evening the rain returned.


The mountainrange is quite unique here in the USA, resembling the Alps in Europe I would say.The mountains rise up from the prairie and reach a height of over 4.000 meters. The fact that there aren't any foothills to speak off, makes the effect even more dramatic.
Everywhere you go you get warned about the bears. We felt quite uneasy walking the quiet trail. The Ranger had told us of people reciting poems aloud or people singing: I am no good at poems and me singing would be an act of cruelty (so I am told).... so we just kept talking !
The scenery is quite breathtaking and this park deserves better than a 2nd place next to Yellowstone NP.

Next stop was Yellowstone National Park. As you can see the poor weather wasn't over yet. But fortunately we were able to book a "Frontier Lodge" at Canyon Village.
After some pie and coffee we were ready to face the weather and explore Mother Nature's wonders in this park.
We went to the geysers and admired Old Faithful, sniffed at the penetrating sulphur smell and in spite of the bad weather I kept working the camera, getting some moody shots on film.

Geysers, hot springs, fumeroles, the earth is cooking everywhere in this park ! Some 10.000 thermal features have been counted in this park. Magma (molten rock) sits only 3-5 miles below the surface, providing the heat for all this spectacle. Fortunately, the next day brought exceptionally good weather.

Yellowstone NP is a very large park and one can easily spend days here. It is the largest National Park of the US, outside Alaska, as well as the oldest.
Our time was limited, but we had to see the "Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone". The day had started with a thick fog, but the sun burned it away rapidly. While we drove up there we encountered a bear, a little away from the road. Rangers were needed to direct traffic, everybody wanted to have a photo of the small bear away in the distance.
The yellowish color of the rock has been responsible for the name giving.

The sun had warmed the day considerably and hiking became a pleasant affair again.
While compiling this webpage, almost 20 years after the fact, I noticed my weight had gained some 20+ kgs. I don't know if that railing could still be trusted with my present weight....

The "North Rim" of this canyon had a very quiet trail and while it followed the rim it also went through a wooded area and was quite cool. We had decided to stay a second night and felt more relaxed with our time after that decision. The photo was taken from "Red Rock Point" (so much for Yellow Stone...).

We revisited Yellowstone NP in 2014, have a look!


We were quite fortunate to see some wildlife; this deer ("Elk") we saw while we walked a trail, it stood very still, watching us, and then suddenly raised its head.... but there was no sound ! Still, it must have been a signal as its two young gathered and they ran off.... We felt quite privileged to have witnessed this.

Near our cabin we encountered some more wildlife: several bisons were grazing stoically, while a number of cars had stopped beside the road. These are very impressive animals, as big as most cars !
While daylight was fading quickly among the trees, we also ancountered a large bull Elk and a bull Moose. The day had been good to us.
There is something very impressive about encountering these animals alive and free in their habitat, we were the visitors and treated the animals with the utmost respect.

Mammoth Hot Springs is also a unique feature, having a similar feature only in Turkey I am told.
These are literally "hot springs" and have been known to suffer dry spells (for years sometimes). A trail took us along these springs, with names like "Palette Spring", "Minerva Spring", "Jupiter Springs", "Angel Terrace", "White Elephant Terrace", etc. So many beautiful, enchanting features !

Unfortunately, this concluded our visit to this park and we made for the exit, vowing to return some day.


We took the west exit and drove along the Madison River Canyon, where a landslide had blocked the river and formed a lake ("Quake Lake"), with dead trees sticking out of the water; a sinister picture.
But Montana was to provide us with some cultural aspects, a return to the history of The West !
We drove to Virginia City, Montana's best known and most popular historical site (according to the guidebook). It was settled in 1863, high in the Rocky Mountains in a bowl along Alder Gulch, where gold was first discovered (1863), during the Civil War. Within a year the town grew to over 10,000 and became the Territorial Capital in 1865.
We explored the main street, which provided examples of commercial architecture from the late 1800s. We felt like we had travelled back in time, especially since the streets were rather quiet, not crowded with a mob of tourists (people like us...).

Gold was the force which created Virginia City and which controlled its history and made it strategic during the Civil War. But there was a darker side too: the Vigilantes ! One can learn here about the Vigilantes, who hung the sheriff (absolutely nothing to do with that he was a Democrat and the Vigilantes were Republicans) during the Civil War, and several others who were accused of being his henchmen. Heroes or Villains ...? They make for exciting history, that is for sure...

Next stop: Nevada City.
The train played a major role in opening the West. When the Continental Congress named Benjamin Franklin the first Postmaster General in 1775, the United States was a weak confederation of colonies scattered along the eastern seaboard. The postal system that the Congress created helped bind the new nation together, railroads went west, following trappers and early settlers, claiming land, forging infrastructure.
The discovery of gold brought many prospectors into this area in the 1860's, and Montana became a territory in 1864. The rapid influx of people led to boomtowns that grew rapidly and declined just as quickly when the gold ran out.
Indians lost access to their traditional hunting grounds and conflicts grew. The Sioux and Cheyenne were victorious in 1876 at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce won a battle in the Big Hole Basin (1877). But we know how that ended.
Miners weren't the only early settlers in Montana. Cattle ranches began flourishing in western valleys during the 1860's as demand for beef in the new mining communities increased. During the 1880's railroads crossed Montana and the territory became a state in 1889.

Crossing the Continental Divide, crossing the mountains where water would flow to the ocean instead of inland, we suffered through one of the worst hailstorm and lightning I had ever encountered !
But just before that storm hit us I was just in time to get my camera out and able to get some last light on that field while those threatening black clouds were racing towards us and I knew I had taken advantage of a fleeting moment...
Admittedly I have taken some liberty with the photo, unleashing Photoshop on it and desaturating the clouds to a black&white effect. But I have not exaggerated the light, I swear !

We moved on: a quick visit to a remote ghost town (Garnet), a meal with Pizza Hut (they served beer, great !) and a night in Missoula.
The next day we drove through the Bison Range, but we didn't see much, not up close anyway.
We ran 2 days behind schedule and had to make a choice between Glacier Nat'l Park and Waterton Lakes...

Glacier National Park ("big, rugged and primitive!") provided us with impressive vistas, some very scenic driving ("Going to the Sun"-road !) and easy trails. A trail into the backcountry is not our cup-of-tea, not just because of the time, but a pleasant hike for an hour or two we found very satisfying.
We stayed in the Vista Motel, just outside the west entrance.
We spent only 1 day in the park, but we had rather stayed for 3 or 4 days (especially since the weather was very nice and suitable for more outdoors activity).


We crossed the border into Canada and drove a scenic route for visit to Yoho National Park, which proved to be a little gem.
We stayed the night at a campground near Golden along the "Kicking Horse River", next to a railroad track. There always seems to be a railroadtrack nearby a campground ... I admired the passing slow-dragging trains, huffing and puffing for the steep slopes.

In Yoho NP we took a canoe out on Emerald Lake, which resulted in this photo. It was a warm day (after another cold night) and a trip on the water felt really nice.

We also went to visit Takakkaw Falls and generally drove around, taking things easy. We felt a bit weary, driving to Golden the day before we hardly could keep our eyes open. We were also growing tired of the hamburger-diet and same-o same-o breakfast (not eggs again !). So we took things easy and enjoyed the day.
After our visit we drove to Banff.


Banff proved to be crowded and the accommodation expensive; we diverted to a campground.
We returned to Banff for dinner and bought beer to drink at our campfire. During the night I woke up to the howling of coyotes or wolves, a very new experience for me !
The next day we drove to Sulphur Mountain, went to the top by a gondola and enjoyed the spectacular, unlimited view. Big Horn sheep roamed around freely. The top photo was taken from this location.
In the fall of 1883, three Canadian Pacific Railway construction workers stumbled across a cave containing hot springs on the eastern slopes of Alberta's Rocky Mountains. The park started as a ten-square-mile reserve around the Sulphur Mountain Hot Springs, established in 1885. From that humble beginning was born Banff National Park.
Later, we drove around for more scenic vistas and enjoyed a very interesting museum on the "Plaines Indian", such as the Blackfoot, Cree, Stony, etc.
The photo on the left, taken at Lake Louise, came out quite good. The light wasn't at the right angle, but it resulted in a less obvious picture. This time we did not rent a canoe.

Time to move on again.... We drove north, on the Icefield Parkway. Unfortunately the weather had brought in the clouds again and many of the glaciers were hidden in low clouds.
The glacier photographed here is the "Crowfoot Glacier". The distance to these glaciers makes one to underestimate the size of these glaciers: the thickness of the ice at the foot of the glaciers is some 50 meters !

The splendour of the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93) can hardly be overstated: a 230-kilometre road from Lake Louise to Jasper through the heart of the Rockies. It ranks as one of the world's ultimate drives. It is an unending succession of huge peaks, immense glaciers, iridescent lakes, wild-flower meadows, wildlife and forests capped by the stark grandeur of the Columbia Icefield. Fur traders and natives who used the route as far back as 1800 reputedly christened it the "Wonder Trail", though in practice they tended to prefer the Pipestone River Valley to the east, a route that avoided the swamps and other hazards of the Bow Valley. Jim Brewster made the first recorded complete trek along the road's future route in 1904. The present highway was only completed in 1939 and opened in 1940 as part of a Depression-era public-works programme.
Although it is a popular trek, we found the drive relaxing. Commercial traffic (lorries and trucks) is not allowed on this highway and everybody seems to be there for one reason only: to enjoy the scenic wonders left and right.


We found the accommodation in Jasper very expensive and it did not help that we arrived during Labor Day weekend ! Having arrived late and with rain coming down, we did not like to go to a campground and payed the huge amount of 80 Can.dollars for a single night in a modest hotel. There was no other town nearby, so there was little alternative.

We spent a day in the park, visiting Maligne Canyon and Medicine Lake (another canoe trip). The second night was spent on Whistlers Campground.
We also visited Mt.Edith Cavel and hiked to Angel Glacier (got spooked when the ice cracked which at first we mistook for a gunshot !).

This concluded our holidays. We made haste in returning to Seattle, spending one more night en route in Kamloops. We found camping during this trip a revelation and were to repeat it many times over the consecutive years.



External links:
A brief history of Montana
Virginia City, Montana
British Columbia
National Parks - United States
National Parks - Canada

And That's All For Now, Folks !

 

 

 
Last updated 28.8.2005