Week 1

From Hebron, Illinois
to Hinton, Alberta, Canada

Day 1

July 1, 2019. We left our home in Hebron, IL on Monday, July 1, 2019.  The objective on our fist day was to get to Raymond, MN to stay over night with our niece & nephew, Melanie & Marc Sheets, and their family.

We stopped at Famous Dave’s and both enjoyed BBQ sandwiches for lunch.  As we got near Raymond, the hot and humid day turned cooler and it began to rain shortly before we arrived at their home around 6:00 p.m.  Melanie and Grace had made a wonderful meal of home-made enchiladas, salsa and guacamole.  Dessert was strawberry shortcake, the ripe, succulent berries handpicked that morning by Melanie and the kids (Matthew, Grace, Samuel and Isaac).

Day 2

July 2, 2019.  Melanie had a plate full of delicious oatmeal banana pancakes topped with strawberries and brown sugar syrup waiting for us when we got up in the morning. After breakfast we said goodbye to the Sheets’ family and were off again on our journey.  They are a wonderful family and we are grateful to have them in our lives.

North out of Bismarck to Route 2 we drove by field after field of beautiful bright yellow to lime green shades of mustard.  (According to Purdue University’s Horticulture Department, mustard is currently grown on approximately 250,000 acres annually in the United States, and North Dakota has the largest share of domestic production. We had previously learned this fact when we visited the Mustard Museum in Madison, WI with Andy and Luanne, Schroeder.)

The drive through the beautiful undulating hills of North Dakota was so relaxing, until we started to have a few problems with the truck.  On this hot and humid day, the air conditioner started to run only intermittently, and mostly not at all.  So our main concern was, would we be able to get our truck fixed the following day, and at what price?

Camping that night was at East Totton COE (Core of Engineers campground), on Lake Audubon in North Dakota ($9/night for seniors with a National Parks Pass).

Day 3

July 3, 2019.  We awoke to a beautiful sunrise. After quickly dressing, we drove to Minot Ford (58 miles) to see about getting our car problems resolved. Three hours later we were on our way to Montana.

Ruby’s Issues – The Details . . . On Day 2 while driving thru ND from the Sheets’ house in Raymond, MN – Ruby’s AC went out. We were listening to an audiobook via Bluetooth from my phone so I decided to turn off the book, but the media controls would not work. To get the book to stop we had to shut it off on the phone. Then Ruby started providing messages on the dash such as BLIS system fault, Cross Traffic fault, Tire Pressure monitor fault, and a picture of a person in a seat with an air bag in front of them. Then all that went away and the AC came back on. A couple of minutes later the AC went off again. ME rolled down her window, as did I. The breeze was nice but loud. The AC came on again for several minutes and when we went to roll up the windows ME’s window went up but mine would not. Then the AC went out again and we gave up.

When we got to Bismarck, ND we went to the Ford dealer. I went in and a service manager (22 yr. old McKenzie) came out to Ruby to assess the issue. He went thru all the screens on the dash and could make no progress, so he went inside the service department and spoke to a tech who told him to disconnect the battery. He came back with wrenches and disconnected the positive battery cable. We waited 5 minutes and he reconnected it, but no difference. Then he went to speak to a different tech and came back with a battery tester. The battery tested great for a 2-year-old battery. Bottom line in Bismarck was that McKenzie could work Ruby into the schedule NEXT WEEK. He suggested that I call ahead on my travels to another Ford dealer that may not be so busy . . . Thanks McKenzie.

We rolled on to our next campsite at East Totten-COE on Lake Audubon, ND. A beautiful place. As soon as I had Ollie parked and hooked up I called the Ford dealer in Minot, ND. Spoke to Clarence. He suggested that we drop Ollie on the side street between the New car lot and the Used car lot and be at the Service desk when they opened. That is exactly what we did. Meantime, I called Salim Hijazi one of my best CA pals. Salim has always been a car guy. He said that with some cars if you don’t disconnect the negative side of the battery things will not reset. So I disconnected the negative side and waited 30 minutes. That did not work either. So we got up at six and were waiting at the Service desk in Minot at 7:30 when they opened. I spoke to Clarence and he checked Ruby in. Next it was into Ollie for coffee and breakfast. It was a cool morning and a nice day to read and write in Ollie while Ruby was in the shop. I got a text from Clarence saying “Ruby is ready” at about 10:15. We were back on the road before 11:00 a.m.

The Problem and the Resolution . . . There was water inside the right tail light lens which is where a PC board lives that controls all the above-mentioned accessories and warning lights. The tech took the lens off and dried everything as best he could, and when reassembled everything was back to normal. Clarence gave me a paper with the P/N for the lens and the PC board in case they act up and I wish to replace them. Bottom line in Minot, one hour of labor at $155.00. So glad it did not delay our trip.

The Cause , , , 2 weeks ago in preparation for SFG & the Alaska adventure I washed Ollie and Ruby with the long brush and RV soap/polish. When I was rinsing Ruby I noticed there seemed to be some water inside the right tail light lens. It was likely my spraying with the hose that forced the water into the lens. If it lasts until we are home I may take the lens off to inspect the gasket to determine if I need a new $400+ lens.  JMS

North out of Bismarck (Route 83) and US Rt. 2, miles and miles of mustard fields (N.D. largest mustard grower in US?) found out at Mustard Museum in Madison, WI. Among oil fields.

We stayed at Downstream COE at Fort Peck, MT.  Ten dollars per night for the old folks, and it was absolutely wonderful, with a stunning view of the lake.  There is a very nice memorial to all the men who gave up their lives in building the dam..

“The Fort Peck Dam is the highest of six major dams along the Missouri River, located in northeast Montana in the United States, near Glasgow, and adjacent to the community of Fort Peck. At 21,026 feet in length and over 250 feet in height, it is the largest hydraulically filled dam in the United States, and creates Fort Peck Lake, the fifth largest man-made lake in the U.S., more than 130 miles long, 200 feet deep, and it has a 1,520-mile shoreline which is longer than the state of California’s coastline. It lies within the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. The dam and the 134-mile-long lake are owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and exist for the purposes of hydroelectric power generation, flood control, and water quality management.” 

The Fort Peck Project
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

After checking into the campground, we took a drive to see the area.  Turning left out of the Downstream campground we drove past the power station and up to the top of the dam.  After reading at the memorial to all the men who had given up their lives during the years of construction, we took pictures from the great vista, then turned right and drove across the dam.  There are beautiful views on both sides; the lake on the left side, and the valley, town and campsites on the right.  We also drove through the quaint little town of Fort Peck before returning to the campground for the night.

Day 4

July 4, 2019.  On the 4th we spent the day driving through Montana. With its beautiful patchwork of lime green and yellow mustard fields, dark green meadows, golden grasses rippling in the breeze, and herds of cows grazing or lazing in the pastures, I feel privileged to be able to experience such magnificence. So many people get on planes and never see the beauty and vastness of this country.

Traveling by road can be more fun than you ever expected, if you open yourself up to your inner child. I spent the day mooing at cows, whinnying at horses and looking for animals in the clouds overhead. I have never before seen as many clouds as I did in the Big Sky Country of Montana. And when we saw an antelope  on the 4th of July, we’re pretty sure we could hear him singing, “Home, Home on the Range.”

In North Dakota we could see Russian Olive trees throughout the countryside, but once we entered Montana, they could be seen everywhere. Jim loves what he calls their “sweet scent” and I hate what I call their “stinky smell.”

Driving on US Route 2 through Montana, we could see the Bears Paw Mountains to the south and conical volcanic mountains to the north, with storm clouds forming in the distant sky. What a site!

Jim has been talking about the “world-famous” tomato soup we had in Havre, MT about 25 years ago, so of course that’s where we headed for lunch. I was amazed at his recollection of the landmarks. “On the left-hand side of the street, across from a tire store . . .” Of course it’s no longer there; an Exxon gas station has replaced it, so we got gas there instead, and ate at a combined KFC/A&W Root beer fast-food restaurant.

Stopping at every historical marker provides a lot of interesting information about the local area. For example, in 1919 the Duluth, MN Chamber of Commerce sponsored the building of the International Theodore Roosevelt Highway, to cross 4,000 miles of the northern United States, from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon. Seven hundred and fifty miles of the highway spanned Montana, none of it paved. In 1926 the Roosevelt Highway was renamed US Highway 2. We drove from the eastern edge of Montana to Selby on the Roosevelt Highway. About 25 miles east of Selby we came upon a stretch of 3-4 miles that is once again dirt, as the road crews prepare for the annual construction season. We expected our share of dirt roads in Alaska, but not in Montana.

We stopped for the night in Selby, Mt at a Good Sam’s campground. It didn’t have what you would call “ambiance,” but it did have great showers. It’s good there was something we could enjoy, since we paid three times the amount we had paid for the beautiful lakeside campsites the previous two nights.

Shortly after we arrived, the sky opened up and we had a torrential downpour with lots of wind, putting a damper on finding a place to watch fireworks. We went to bed early instead, excited to be entering Canada in the morning.

Day 5

July 5, 2019.  We got up early so I could take a shower and still get going early enough to miss any backup at the border, which was only about 25 minutes away.

Border Experience #1

Day 5 started in Selby MT, cereal for breakfast, buy gas and take $$ out of a credit union so we have some US $ to change to Canadian $. Then off to the border.

First the US side.

Since we were bringing a shotgun on our trip we had to have a Permit to take it into Canada and another for getting it back into the US. I looked at the Customs and Border Protection.gov (CBP) website several times trying to find out exactly what was needed by the US. I found the page that said firearms were a restricted commodity., but nothing on what was needed to bring a firearm into the US. I went to the forms page and searched on the word firearms and got the same page that told me they were restricted. It also returned many articles about how CBP has seized firearms during drug raids. All nice information but not what I needed. So the evening while in Selby, I called the CBP border station at Sweet Grass MT where we would be crossing into Canada. The agent told me I needed a form 4457. Also they could help me fill one out if I stopped in the export parking before crossing into Canada. He said just walk up to the American flag and come in.

After parking in the Export parking area I started walking up toward the American flag. I had all the paperwork for Canada and an extra sheet with a copy of the Cabella’s receipt for the shotgun, a copy of my Illinois FOI card, and my IL driver’s license. After about 50 yards I realized I did not have my passport and they may want to see it as well. Back to the truck to get the passport.

Upon entering the building I saw about 5 people sitting in a waiting area. There were about 7 agents in a desk area all behind desks and talking to each other. I stood there for maybe 5 minutes before one agent asked what I needed. After explaining he pulled out a pad of Form 4457s and gave me one, asked that I fill it out., and he took my passport and returned to his desk. In a few minutes he came back and took the 4457 I had filled out, and returned to his desk. After entering information into his computer he looked up at me and said “This shotgun better not come back as stolen.” I replied you are right, it better not come back as stolen.

Again after a couple minutes he came back to the counter gave me my passport, he signed/dated and stamped the 4457 and gave to me. He said this for was good for as long as I owned the shotgun. Then he said lets go see the shotgun, I will meet you outside. We walked down the hill to Ollie. I unlocked the gun case, went to hand him the shotgun. And he said just read me the serial number. I read it to him. Then he said “Have a great trip.” And left. I locked up the shotgun again.

On the Canadian side.

Waited for the car in front of us to finish, then we pulled up to the window. Gave the agent our passports and answered his questions. When he got to firearms I said yes I have a shotgun I am bringing in for bear protection. He said park to the left and bring in your paperwork for the shotgun. Upon entering the Canadian Customs building I saw a cashier, and 4 agents. One agent was helping 2 girls and I chose the agent on the other end. The agent next to him said ,”You chose wisely, it’s only my third day.” I stated my business and pulled out the forms I downloaded, filled out and printed in triplicate as instructed on the Canadian Customs website. He took my passport, gave me one of the forms back and said “I only need 2.” I went to the waiting area while he went into the back. When he returned he had me sign and date both copies of the form, he did likewise, gave me one of the forms and said “Pay the cashier and you are done.” The cashier wanted $25 Canadian. I asked if he would take American money, he said yes. I gave him a US $20 and he gave me 40 cents Canadian in change. Off we went into Canada.  JMS

Our audio system doesn’t work again today, but the air conditioner does. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

After a long day driving across Canada, we got to Banff National Park and found that all of the campgrounds in the park were full; however, a very helpful woman at Lake Louise Information told us about 50 sites that were on a first-come basis. We headed over and snatched up a site for the next two nights. Tomorrow we are going exploring and picture taking.

Day 6

July 6, 2019.  Jim set the alarm to get up early to drive the 48.7 km to the Fairmont Hotel at Lake Louis so that we could get there for breakfast before the parking lot was filled. Success! Jim dropped me off near the entrance to the hotel and went to find one of the far away parking spaces, because that’s the only place spots were available.

We ate a wonderful breakfast buffet at the Chateau Fairmont. Many changes have been made to this luxurious hotel and its grounds since we were last here 17 years ago. One thing that hasn’t changed is the magnificent lake, with its milky turquoise water that seems somehow otherworldly. The unusual color comes from “rock flour,” which is caused by the glacier rubbing against the mountain underneath it and creating a very fine powder that washes down from the mountain into the lake.

As the Transcontinental Highway passes through Banff National Park, a post and wire fence has been installed on both sides of the highway to keep the wildlife off of the road. About every 10 km they have constructed vegetated pathway bridges over the highway so animals can get from one side to the other. A great way to protect the animals and still allow them full freedom on the park.  Underpasses have also been constructed, which is favored by black bears in the area.

After breakfast we went into the town of Banff to get some groceries. Every pullout on the road beckoned to us, and like moths to the fire, we couldn’t resist. Everywhere you turn there is something that begs to be photographed: abundant flowers of all sizes and colors, the diverse yet similar size, shape and color of the trees in the vast forest, and the mountains, some with snow on the tops.

“. . . after I became better acquainted with mountains, camped and tramped and lived among them, I found a power and majesty and a wealth of experience at nature’s summit which no travel-folder ever expressed.”

Lawren Harris
Canadian Artist and
Member of the Group of Seven

We found an IGA and resupplied our refrigerator with milk for breakfast and meat and cheese for lunch. As we were driving through town we saw so many unusual shops and stopped into one that sold items made by indigenous people. Bought a few gifts, including a lovely pair of earrings for me.

On the way back to the campground for lunch, the clouds started getting darker and more abundant. Just as we arrived back at Ollie, we heard thunder. We made it inside just in time before the clouds opened up and we had a nice rain. Thunder continued and the sound of the increasing rain sounded wonderful on the rooftop. It made just the right sound for a great afternoon nap. By the time we got up the skies had cleared and Jim wandered off to take pictures.

Jim never seems to like to play cards with me; however, he loves Cribbage, so I suggested we play a game before bed.  It had been so long since we had last played (29 years ago on our honeymoon), that we had to have a refresher of the rules.  He won three games out of four.

Day 7

July 7, 2019.  Our last day of Week 1, and it went by so quickly!

Unlike Yosemite, with its sharp granite and sheer drop-offs, this place makes me feel protected and hugged by the vegetation. There are so many trees with tall straight trunks.  Yosemite has my heart because we were married there, but Banff National Park has replaced it as my favorite place to visit.  Trying to explain the beauty of this place is almost impossible because it is a visceral experience.  Jim and I both got tears in our eyes as we looked upward and downward and skyward.  There is so much majesty you just get choked with emotion.

On the way to Jasper we drove by the Columbia Ice Fields.  We parked in the RV area and ate lunch, looking out the dinette window at the glaciers until a guy pulled up in his RV and parked so close to us that we weren’t sure we’d be able to get out our door. Don’t know what that was about since he walked around to see where he was in relation to us and there were many other parking spots, but he parked there anyway.  After lunch we drove off to hopefully find a good spot for the night in Jasper.

Goats on the Road

Driving along Ice Fields Parkway we saw a small herd of molting mountain goats just north of Sunwapta Lake, along a rock cliff coming down to the road.  Like deer at home, they were eating minerals under the rocks along the roadside.  Jim speculates its salt.

When we got to Jasper it was just like Banff and Lake Louise, with thousands and thousands of people and cars, and hundreds of RV’s and campers driving through town.  While we had cell coverage (hadn’t had it for the past two days), we tried to make camping reservations for the next two nights.  Nothing was available then, and probably not the following day either.  So we looked at our map and found that we were going to turn north at Hinton, AB and they had a KOA there with openings with full hook-ups, wi-fi and a laundry.  We’re in heaven!  The woman at the front desk also told us that Hwy 40 north is a beautiful drive but you have to be very careful of wildlife.  Just what we were hoping for.

Another round of Cribbage before bed.  I won two out of three, so I’m keeping our score sheets for posterity!


The End of
A Wonderful Week 1