Tuesday we drove from Missoula to Great Falls to pick up Hubby's gun,which he had to drop off at a gun dealer to hold for him because one can't bring revolvers into Canada. We then drove south to Helena, the Montana state capital. Being too crowded in town to have a camping site available, we drove almost fifty miles east to find a very nice KOA campground at Canyon Creek.
Since Montana and South Dakota are the locations of so many historical sites, we decided to go to the place of one of the US Army's greatest losses outside the Civil War, Little Big Horn. I did not know the back story of this battle, so the museum gave us a lot of interesting tidbits. One thing that struck me was a photo of Sitting Bull, the famous chief involved in this battle, wearing a large crucifix on a chain around his neck. The placard read that the crucifix was given to him by Fr. DeSmet, the famous Jesuit who toured all over the mid-West. I needed more information as to why. It just so happened that in the car I had a book of short stories with Catholic themes. I reviewed the table of contents and it just so happened that there was a letter in there from Fr DeSmet regarding his meeting with Sitting Bull in 1868 when he convinced a council of Indians to sign a treaty with the US government. Of course, the government wanted their land, promised them food, clothing, lodging and a reservation. They got only a little land, in the end. Sitting Bull and his people decided to go to better lands. The government objected. Hence the battle, in 1877, when Custer and his men caught up with them. The land consists of rolling hills in a semi arid environment with very few trees, mostly just some brush. One could get easily lost because it all looks the same. There is no place to hide a horse, much less a battalion. Sitting Bull was a very spiritual man who wanted peace and justice. He was assassinated by his own people in 1890.
Learning about the Sioux and the Lakota and the other western tribes made me realize how awful the US has treated those who are not Anglo-Saxon Protestants through the past centuries. And now the government is causing harm to the Iraqi Christians by not doing enough for them. There are many things Washington could do without sending soldiers over.
Thursday night we stayed in Sturgis, SD. Sturgis, outside of Sioux Falls, is the site of the nationally famous "Sturgis Motorcycle Rally" in August and Oktoberfest in September. The RV park is designed for RVs towing motorcycle vans, so the pull-through sites are 100 feet long. The city itself is lined with saloons (yes, that is what they are called out here!) and souvenir shops. Of course, we couldn't help ourselves. We bought gifts for several people. And the grocery store was much cheaper than we have been paying so we stocked up and had steak on the grill for dinner! We met a storekeeper who had moved from Alaska to South Dakota in the past few weeks. He was still settling in. Hubby and storekeeper exchanged stories and compared knives, of which the new transplant had quite a few. He also had an eclectic collection of Bibles, silver flatware and Alaskan memorabilia. I found a copy of "Story of a Soul", which doesn't fit in with the rest of his stuff, but he made a buck off me.
We were so close to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monument that we just had to go. They are within 16-17 miles of one another in the Black Hills. The artist of the Crazy Horse monument never finished even after 35 years and his children are now working on it. The amount of money required for the project is astronomical! The Lakotas own the land and are planning for a university, a tech research center, a medical center and a museum (this is already in place) all on the site. The feds offered them millions to help build it but they refused, remembering all the trouble they got into 125 years ago when they agreed to accept something from them. I had no trouble paying for the admission so that they can continue their work.
Mount Rushmore, although more famous, is not as impressive as the Crazy Horse site. Perhaps because I commiserate with the Indians, perhaps because the finished monument will be so much larger. Perhaps because this is one thing the feds don't have their hands in and I am good with that.
We had to get back on the road and were driving along Rt 80. Signs started to pop up along the side of the road. "Free Ice Water...Wall Drug", "Hot coffee 5 cents...Wall Drug", "Something to crow about...Wall Drug", Free coffee and donuts to honeymooners...Wall Drug". Every mile or so for 30 miles!Well, we just had to stop in Wall, SD to see what this was. It is not so much a drug store as it is an event. A train depot and corral to take pictures in. A loud dinosaur head which screeches for two minutes every so often,trinkets, souveniers, chocolate shop, bed and bath products... On and on. The series of buildings takes up two blocks. It is the stop to take bus tours to! It was fun to look around and take a few photos. But it was getting late and we had used up our shopping joy in Sturgis, so we started looking for a place to stay for the night.
Our cousins actually live outside Vancouver, in the greater metropolitan area, in the Tswassen area of Delta. It is an upscale suburban area with new houses, beautiful condos and many boutiques and sidewalk coffee shops.
Tswassen is on a peninsula bordering the strait of Georgia. Due to the treaty of the US and Canada in 1925, the peninsula is cut in half by the 45th parallel, south of which is US territory. So, there is about 6 square miles of US at the tip of the peninsula. And the only way in and out is through Canada. The RV park is on the US side and the cousins are on the Canadian side. So, we were constantly going through border guards during our stay.
Beverly and Don live in a lovely, spacious first floor condo on a cul de sac. There is a sizeable deck in the back, alongside the morning room. Roses and evergreens grow together in the lawn adjacent to the deck. Lovely.
The reception of these two people for a couple they have never met was overwhelming. On Tuesday they had us for dinner, chicken and potatoes, plus dessert. We exchanged stories of the families, Beverly and Don explained their visits to the family origins in Italy and compared family pictures. I had brought a family scrapbook.
Wednesday we had lunch together. Dear Hubby was over tired from all the driving, so he took a quiet break while we three took some sun in at the beach. Then Beverly and Don hosted a cousins pot luck dinner to introduce us to the others. We met Maureen, Rick (brother and sister) and Diana, plus Rick's wife, Lisa, and daughters Clare and Grace. They are cousins of Beverly (thus, of mine) who also live in the Vancouver area. All were gracious, had questions, looked at the scrapbook, and declared who looked like whom. Apparently everyone has been to Serra San Bruno but me! Dinner was great! Rigatoni, sausage, meatballs, salad, several desserts and a variety of beverages. We chatted for several hours before the evening ended with photos being taken of the new-found cousins.
Thursday morning, Hubby and I went for a walk to the beach on Point Robert. One restaurant, Brewster's, had a "fresh fish today" sign. That gave us an idea for dinner. In the afternoon, Beverly and I went out for coffee and a little quiet time, then I suggested dinner on the point instead of her cooking. We went to the quaint little place we had seen in the morning with the sign in front. We had crab cakes, or fried oysters or baked salmon. We hated to say goodby at the end of the dinner, but all good things must come to an end. But we will be talking to each other. Beverly gave me copies of letters from cousins in Hartford and will be sending me pictures.
Friday and Saturday nights were spent in a very nice KOA park to wind down from a few very intense days. Sunday morning we went to St Stephen the Martyr church. This was one astonishing place. The church, a one story, flat roofed affair on a 20 or so acre campus. There were extra buildings housing the housing office, the bottle collection, the food pantry. There are little picnic pavilions and a grotto. Plus three parking lots. And there are 4 weekend Masses, including one in Spanish. The church easily holds 500+ and was almost full. Ushers had to help people find a place to sit. The bulletin was even impressive. So many activities that it is 8 pages long!
Since we got a late start on Sunday, we figured we would only go as far as Spokane, 200 miles. We got off Rt 90 for lunch at the Pancake House in a pass in the mountains. Got lost trying to get back on and took a detour down a crazy mountainside with switchbacks. Took almost an hour to get back to where we were supposed to be. Then we decided to get off 90 and take a smaller more local road. Unfortunately, the map did not indicate a lake that was in the way of a right hand turn. Going 30 miles before we realized the problem, we lost another hour. So, needless to say, we ended up staying in the middle of the state instead of the far eastern section. After the Cascade Mountains, the middle of the state became semi-arid. Very sandy and rocky. Mostly for cattle, but in the areas irrigated, there are many orchards. Fruit stands abound.
The trailer had been making a sound since we got the new tires. We decided it was one of the driver's side wheels. So, getting into Spokane on Monday, we found an RV service center. They didn't have time to see us. So, Hubby took the wheel off in front of the place, found the broken spring mechanism and took it in to the parts department. "We don't carry that kind of stuff!" was the response. Hubby took it out to the lot and asked a worker where a parts store might be. The fellow took one look, took Hubby for a ride on his golf cart and down to a junk yard where they found an old axle with the exact right part still attached. So, we lost the sound and it cost nothing. Why? The worker said, "Just say a prayer for me". Honest!
Spokane is about 4 hours from Missoula, Montana. Beverly's daughter, Gia, lives there. I had spoken to her a few years ago via ancestry.com. Now I got to meet her! Lovely. Looks like the Amatos, same eyebrows. Very gracious and hospitable, she made dinner for us and invited her mother-in-law and brother-in-law over. Turns out they had lived in Cortland until her sons were high school age. It was like old home day, talking about central New York, in addition to family. We spent two hours with them. I enjoyed speaking with Gia. She, too, has been to Serra San Bruno. Guess my next trip should be to Serra! I am the only one who hasn't been there!
Originally posted while on the road 9/11/2014, traveling through the northern US to Alaska and back.
Finally, three days late, we were on our way again! and just in time, too! Wednesday morning we looked out the windows of the trailer and saw a dense coating of snow on all the cars in the yard. Too cold to walk the mile into town when you only have sneakers and a velour hoodie. So I sat tight and hoped the part went in fast.
The new part fit fine and we were on our way before noon. All was well all the way to the border crossing. But by 4pm we got another flat tire. No problem! We had a spare. The first hundred miles on the Alaska highway into the Yukon suffer from upheavels and gravel-only zones. It's the area where we had the two flats before. But Dear Hubby fixed it quickly and we were on the road in half an hour. The only problem was that the road was not finished with us and by 5:30, we had another flat, but this time we had no spare. Luckily, there was a turnout within feet, we rolled in and spent the night in the wilds again.
Next morning, Hubby left at 6:30 and drove thirty miles to find a tire. Found two radials after talking to a territory contractor who pointed out a house down the road. Hubby had to wake the tire dealer up. (Up there everyone wears several hats; this man was also a tow truck driver.) Customer service is quite different in the Yukon. Hubby was served coffee by the wife while the man took his time getting ready. Three hours later, Hubby was back with 2 radial tires. Max and I were entertaining the other travellers who were stopping by the turnout. We met a group who had stayed in Haines Junction for several days watching
the Northern Lights at night.
Late afternoon we arrived at Whitehorse where we bought two more tires so that the four tires on the trailer were all heavy duty radials. This should last us a while, I hope. We picked up supplies at a Walmart. It just amazes me that the hub of the Klondike Gold Rush, the tiny village of Charlie Chaplin's movie, Gold Rush, is now a town of 21,000 with a downtown and tourist attractions! To keep on our time schedule, we did no tourist stuff this time, but got to an RV park, ate and went to bed.
Early in the morning we drove out. Our goal was Muncho Lake. We had 6800 miles on the trip odometer. And we put another 400+ miles on that day. Mucho Lake is a lovely little lake in the middle of the Canadian Rockies. The Northern Rockies Lodge is in the middle of nothing but mountains and lakes. They operate totally off the grid, like so many other places along the way, thus you hear the hum of the diesel generator all the time. This lodge, with its accompanying RV park, is in a wooded setting. The lodge itself is a beautiful structure with pine timbers going up three stories, making an atrium of the lobby. However, you have to be in the lobby to get wifi, somewhat annoying when it is raining, since it is several hundred feet from the trailer. And, like most places in the north, the wifi band width is tiny. All you can do is email and post comments on facebook, but no pictures, no videos.
About 20 miles outside Muncho Lake we ran into a very windy descent with an 8% grade. We looked down to a white lake. White lake? Never saw one before. Couldn't be ice. Not cold enough! It was about 40 degrees, F. As we descended further, we realized it was fog. We drove through and then under it. Fascinating experience. Never saw fog that dense except in an airplane!
Gas is very expensive in Canada. Along the Alaska highway, it runs $1.34 to $1.52/ liter, making us go through about $100 or more a day just in gas money! I am shocked at the expense!
We spent the night in Dawson Creek again. Being as it was a Sunday morning we went to Notre Dame for Mass again. The same priest again. Another great sermon. The epistle was about trying to correct a member of the community who has sinned, including all the steps that should be taken, in order. Well, Father presented each step and described the correct method to use. Taking a 2000 year old document and explaining it up to date is a gift!
The church itself is very modern. It is built in the round, with a rectangular addition for the parish center. Entering the building, there is a hallway that follows the contours of the exterior and you have to walk around a bit to find the seating. The pews are arranged in a 250 degree arc facing the altar, which is on a curved dias. The tabernacle is away from the altar by about 25 feet, with a candle, off the dias, closer to the entry into the auditorium. This Sunday was a special day of harvest for the Indian community (from India). So, many of the women came in lovely saris and three were dressed in white silk ones with gold trim and they brought up the gifts. Very international group!
After Mass we went to Stuie's Diner. Few breakfast choices, but ample amounts. But the coffee was a little weak. The omelet is made one way...with everything. Filling!
We then left for Prince George, where the gas is a little lower, $1.29.9/liter.
The RV park was a little better than the previous one we had stayed at in Prince George. We found one on the south side of town called Bee Lazee. Satellite TV and fair WIFI! Since we had traveled a little faster and further than we expected to, we got to sleep in a little and left after 9am to head on our way south. I got Dear Hubby to stop in William Lake so I could do some gift shopping. Any place that advertises they have the biggest piece of jade around, I want to see! It is 2850 lbs!
Finally the terrain stopped being so high and reminded me more of the Catskills. The flat areas were like going north and south across the Mohawk Valley. The further south we went, the more arid the land became. It became almost desert-like, with cactus, for a while.
Tuesday morning was an adventure as we drove through the Fraser River Canyon. Great heights! We drove along a narrow two-laner, with arid cliffs on one side (accompanied by signs reading "avalanche area") and sheer drops to the river hundreds of feet below on the other. Hours passed as we drove with our mouths agap at the scene. We were later told that few people take that route into Vancouver anymore. Wish we had realized that before we drove!
At last we got past the Cascade Mountains and into the Vancouver area. All is new and industry is booming there. The city and its suburbs are built on bays and the Fraser River delta. The mountains are in the distance and the water is warm and shallow at the beaches. I can understand why real estate is so high. Everyone would like to live here. Weather is lovely. I haven't seen so many roses since we left Wisconsin!
Elizabeth A Martina is a historical fiction writer, but the history is true and the characters are real. Her aim is to get people to see life from another perspective, using history as the venue.