August 24th – January 20th 2015 – It’s back to Bonanza Gold Campground at Dawson City for a few days, before we set out along The Top of the World Highway for Alaska. We share our Dempster Highway journey with camping neighbours Tom and Nancy who invite us into their comfortable camper to sample some of Nancy’s delicious banana cream pie. A kind thought and safe and happy travelling to you both!
Once their camper had left we meet up with a very special couple in the next trailer. Norman and Dottie and I’m sure they won’t mind me sharing the fact that they are both over 80 but still have the enthusiasm and strong spirits to keep travelling in both Canada and the USA. They have 2 fascinating maps, one on each side of their trailer, the first is almost completed with stickers showing states that they visited before they were 80, and the second showing stickers of where they have visited after their 80th birthdays. We think you are both wonderful and admire your sense of fun and adventure. Have a great winter down in Mexico and thank you for a lovely evening with wine and nibbles and the chance to meet up with more neighbours, Fredy and Ruth from Switzerland.
We are shocked and saddened however, to hear of Ruth and Fredy’s recent bad experience when travelling up the Dempster. We had a very lucky warning from travellers Ike and Bethany that we met on this highway, not to stop at the gas station at Fort McPherson because of suspected bad fuel. Unfortunately, Ruth and Fredy filled their tank there and within a short while were going nowhere, except to return to Dawson on the back of a breakdown lorry. Their big Ford is now in a garage here, waiting to be taken by another truck to Fairbanks in Alaska, where they hope their engine can either be repaired or a replacement fitted! We try to help them sort out this disaster during the next couple of days by helping with phone calls and letters……..we wish them luck, will be thinking of them and will keep in touch.
Back on the road, we leave Dawson City by taking the short, free ferry across the mighty Yukon River as it continues its way across Alaska and out into the Bering Sea. We are now following The Top of the World Highway, a gravel road that takes us above the low cloud and mist that was covering Dawson when we left.
These surrounding hills were once home to thousands of Fortymile caribou herds but sadly, heavy hunting and severe winters have caused their numbers to drop drastically over the years. These migratory caribou travelled long distances between their winter and summer grounds. Recovery has been very slow, but it is hoped that one day, these caribou may once again occupy this area in large herds.
105 km to the US border and we have an unexpected shock in store. The border officer refuses to give us an extended time on our 3 month visa which has expired. He is unfortunately, not a very pleasant guy to try and reason with and after giving us a lecture on illegal immigrants, he suggests we fly to Belize or back to the UK and then on our return, we can be given more time! We were assured by officials at the US border with Mexico that our 3 month visa could be extended, but now we are being told that this is quite incorrect and apparently we are the 5th vehicle that he has turned away today. There’s no way this guy is going to change his mind so we have no choice but to turn around and head back.
Disappointed but determined not to give up, we will head back south to Vancouver and apply for a B1/ B2 multiple entry visa at the American Consulate there…….fingers crossed of course!
It’s a long way back and it takes us just over 2 weeks as we retrace our journey through Whitehorse, turning south again at Watson Lake and once more at Prince George. At Williams Lake, a fruit stall is selling frozen cherries and whilst we are contemplating the unusual way to eat these fruits, we meet Tarver and Sally, more keen travellers from Georgia. What a wonderful way to live, by spending their winters in Florida and their summers in beautiful Montana and Wyoming! If we are passing through Georgia then thank you, we would love to call in and see you.
Continuing to Whistler, then Squamish and on to Vancouver, but we are never short of spectacular scenery, exciting wildlife and beautiful lakes as we pass from the Yukon back into British Columbia, described as ‘A Land without Limits’, with its mountains and glaciers, lakes and rivers, ocean fjords and canyons and much more!
Just one of the many lakes that we pass, Gravel Lake in the Yukon, the Yellow Pond Lilies now completely finished……..
a male Spruce Grouse showing off his feathers to a nearby female…….
Teslin Lake, a reflection of the sky, taking us back into beautiful British Columbia….
a grizzly trying his luck at catching salmon at Hannah Creek, soon after Meziaden Junction.
spectacular Seton Lake…….
a black bear is about to cross the road in front of us……
and the clear turquoise waters of Lower Joffre Lake where we meet some great guys who love our Land Rover…..Jorge and Alvaro both from Spain and Mike from Quebec.
The Tantalus Viewpoint gives us a spectacular view of the Tantalus Range with its jagged and impressive peaks clad in icy glaciers, towering above the Squamish Valley. Home to generations of Squamish people, the beauty of these vast lands and the power of these mountains are held in great respect, just as they consider sacred, the fresh waters of the rivers and creeks that flow from them. There is an old story that tells of some mountain goat hunters and their dogs caught in a ferocious blizzard on these mountains. It is said that they were transformed into the Tantalus Range, forever covered with a blanket of snow. Some of the jagged peaks that can be seen today, are considered to be the hunting spears and the foothills of this mountain range, their dogs.
This area provides an abundance of wildlife, including the Bald Eagle who returns every year to feast on the wild salmon that arrive in these rivers to spawn. We plan to visit the Sqamish River a little later on, as it is famous for these eagles that return every year.
Squamish has provided us with not only some good camping but also a very popular Visitor Centre with informative staff and an excellent coffee shop with tempting home made goodies and access to wifi. There is also a craft shop, where I one day get chatting to Jack and Alice. On hearing about our travels, Jack insists on buying both Bill and I a pocket spirit each, to keep us safe. Little metal discs with a Squamish Nation carving…….Wa chayap yuu stenamut – We wish you well on your journey. This is just one more example of the kindness and generosity of the people that we have met throughout our travels in North America…….and they are very special. Thank you Jack and Alice, we will make sure we keep them safe and always with us.
Leaving Sqamish we start the last 64km or so to Vancouver, on a road that has been carved out of the mountainside……sheer rock and forests dropping sharply down to the still, blue water of the Mamquam Blind Channel with numerous, small islands. This opens out to the Howe Sound where the Squamish River ends its journey as it passes through the Squamish River Estuary, a unique eco-system of tidal canals, mud flats and wetlands, which not only provides a home for thousands of ducks and geese, as well as many other species of birds, but also the perfect environment for young salmon, as they prepare for their huge ocean journey.
It’s not easy to adjust to the busy streets of Vancouver but the Plaza RV Park in Surrey will be a good place to stay again whilst we wait for our US visa interview. We hardly need to use our Land Rover whilst here, as good supermarkets and other shops are all within walking distance, as is Bear Creek Park, a green haven with forest walks, carefully tended gardens, an art gallery and athletics track. We also have a good bus service close by (which for us is free) and which will drop us off to catch the Skytrain, an excellent way to travel into the city, high on elevated rails flying past the traffic below!
Bear Creek Park
During our stay here we visit The George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Delta, nearly 740 acres of ponds, natural marshes and low dykes in the Fraser River Estuary, all of which provide important protected resting and feeding habitats for flocks of various migratory birds.
Each year, the Sanctuary is visited in the fall by some 20 – 50,000 Snow Geese with black wing tips. We watch large, noisy flocks beginning to arrive after having travelled some 5000km from their nesting colonies on Russia’s Wrangell Island in the Arctic Ocean…….an amazing journey!
Pumpkins lay scattered in the surrounding farm fields as we near Halloween.
Granville Island is also definitely worth a visit, its Farmers Market a fascinating assortment of colourful stalls, selling homemade products and the very finest of gastronomic delights. Everything fresh from the ocean, the oven or the field!
If you like fresh seafood, then a trip to the waterfront at Fisherman’s Wharf, Steveston is also the place to go. Whether your choice is fish and chips, crab cakes or the delicious fresh lobster cakes that we tried, it’s once again, all fresh from the ocean.
We find Vancouver’s Chinatown disappointing however, so much poverty there, many people sleeping on cardboard with their life’s belongings in shopping trolleys, and I have never seen so many people in wheelchairs. Literally around the corner, there is a big Gucci sign and the luxury shops begin.
We breathe a sigh of relief as we are successful in obtaining our US visas at the American Consulate in the city and pick up our passports with them in a few days later at the Loomis Office in Richmond, close to the airport. Now we have to hope that when we cross back into the USA we will be allowed to stay for at least 6 months, as there are still many places that we would like to visit.
It’s getting colder now however, and we have to make some plans so that we are not caught up in Canada’s freezing winter weather. How lucky we are to find a house sit in Parksville on Vancouver Island, where their winters are much milder. We will have a warm home to stay in and care for, as well as looking after two lovely cats, whilst their owners are away in Arizona, hoping for sunshine and warmer weather. Our house sit doesn’t begin however, until toward the end of November, so it’s a great opportunity to leave Moby in storage and fly back to the UK to visit our family for 2-3 weeks. Lovely to see everyone again after such a long time!
We find freezing temperatures on our return to Vancouver however, minus 6 at night with heavy frosts and ice that linger until late morning, so it’s a few warm nights in the Best Western Abercorn Inn in Richmond.
We have one last visit to make before taking the ferry to Vancouver Island and beginning our house sit. Each Year, between November and January, Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park in Squamish, plays host to one of the largest congregations of wintering bald eagles in North America. These majestic birds migrate from northern British Columbia, Yukon and Alaska to the Squamish River Valley, where the Squamish River watershed provides them with an abundance of food in the form of salmon, and the surrounding trees offer the necessary security for roosting and perching….an ideal habitat! The eagles will stay until the salmon finish spawning in February. Although our visit is a little early we are fortunate in seeing some of these beautiful birds at close quarters…….a real highlight!
And so we have a beautiful home in Parksville on Vancouver Island, behind a ‘real’ door and with two lovely cats, to enjoy for 2 whole winter months! It will be our second visit to the Island as we were here earlier in the summer. Now however, we have many days of rain and grey weather, which this island is well known for in the winter and yes, even some snow! But we visit many places.
Beautiful nearby Rathtrevor Beach, a gently sloping, sandy beach that recedes 1km at low tide leaving behind fascinating driftwood shapes and providing many long and interesting walks…….
…….the seals at Fanny Bay, here now for the salmon and returning later again for the herrings – they know what’s good for them! It’s also an excellent place to buy fresh oysters.
Qualicum Bay in late afternoon cloud……..
….the beautiful Comox Valley, stretching about 50km along the eastern side of the Island from Fanny Bay north to Saratoga Beach. The wharf at Comox Harbour has grown into an extensive marina…….
Mount Arrowsmith, largest mountain in the southern part of Vancouver Island at 1819m and part of the Mount Arrowsmith Regional Park. This is where we find most of the remaining snow, not deep and only a sprinkling on the mountains but intense cold in the tree shaded valley with uphill tracks quickly turning into a sheet of ice. This is where we experience a lesson well learned, that you do not begin to climb the hills without a good set of winter tyres or snow chains! We know that we need to get new tyres as soon as we get into the USA.
And the winter warnings have begun across Canada. Frost bite warnings in Ontario. Warming centres opening in Toronto due to freezing temperatures. A number of British Columbia’s highways have closed due to snowstorms, whilst the Okanagan is experiencing its worst snowfall since 1899. And in the USA, there are people climbing the massive, granite monolith in Yosemite National Park, sleeping on its sheer sides in freezing conditions, using ropes in case they fall but hands to aid their climb! We later learn they all eventually made it to the top….incredible!!
And so our stay on Vancouver Island comes to an end and we must thank all those people in our small community here in Parksville, that helped make our stay a memorable one. Thank you Phil and Jan for a lovely meal, we hope Quinn is well. Our next door neighbour Ivan, who gave us lots of advice on where to visit and Carol on the other side of us, for a very nice evening with drinks and nibbles. Marie and her plates of delicious home cooking in return for helping with her little dog Beau and Connie and Jim who live next door to her. Thank you also to all those people in the community, who simply stopped to talk to us, as so many Canadians have done everywhere we have travelled in this spectacular country.
A special mention must also go to Eileen who came over to ask about our Land Rover whilst we were parked by the harbour at Comox. After a long chat she invited us to an ‘Open House’ lunch at her home the following weekend. Thank you for a lovely meal and the chance to meet your family and other friends, particularly Sandra, who then later invited us to her home for Christmas. Although we spent that day making sure the cats had their Christmas dinner, we appreciated her very kind invitation.
We are fortunately not leaving Canada for good however, as after heading down the west coast of the USA to California and then along the deep South to Florida, we will be heading north and up into Canada once again. We look forward to that!