01-15-2015 Joshua Tree Heaven

Current Location: Rocky Point Oregon Current temperature: 45 degrees F and clear

Joshua Tree Morning (50 of 54)Can you see all the magical people in this pile of rocks?  Look close. 

When Judy (bird lady of blogland) and I were visiting, we talked about our blogging habits and one of the thoughts that came up was how important it is to write when everything is fresh.  Some folks are diligent about this, writing everything on the same day in first person present tense.  Others are the opposite extreme, waiting sometimes months to get back to a special trip with tons of information and magnificent photos.

Joshua Tree Evening (8 of 31) I fall somewhere in between.  If we are traveling, I try hard to keep up, but on almost every extended outing, I’ll get behind.  Such is the case today.  I am once again at home, sitting at the office window looking out through the forest, trying to slip back into how it felt to be camping in the dry sunny almost warmth of Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree Evening (14 of 31) Mo and I love to visit Joshua Tree.  In 2008, when we first brought the MoHo home to Oregon from Texas, we stopped for a a bit of exploring around the Joshua Tree campgrounds, and almost got ourselves into a tight situation on one of the Jumbo Rocks campground loops. 

Joshua Tree Evening (15 of 31) In 2013, even though we were camped at Desert Hot Springs, we spent some time exploring the National Park and loved every minute of it.  I made a mental note that we should try to camp in Jumbo Rocks campground on our trip south in 2014.  My planning wasn’t too great, however, since we arrived on New Years Day, and the campground, which has no reservations, was jam packed for the holiday.

We solved that problem with a terrific time boondocking outside the park just south of the southern entrance, within view of I-10. What a great way to see in the new year.

Joshua Tree Evening (28 of 31) This year, we saved our Joshua Tree time for last.  It was hard leaving Arizona after such a short time, but miscellaneous home issues required that we get back on the road north in short order.  Finally, after all these years, we managed a night of beautiful dry camping in the Jumbo Rocks Campground at Joshua Tree National Park.

I somehow expected that in mid January, after all the holidays were over, the park would be quiet.  While it was much quieter than last year, there were still many people exploring, and we were lucky to find a spot long enough for the MoHo when we arrived around 3 in the afternoon. With a short stop in Quartzite, I was still drooling over some of the new Class A rigs that we toured at La Mesa RV.  In spite of all that glass, and all that space, I still love tucking my little 26 footer into tight spaces in national parks, state parks, and forest service campgrounds.

Joshua Tree Morning (52 of 54) The campground is long, with winding roads and a few side loops, but the majority of sites are sized for tent camping.  Sites that are large enough for bigger rigs are built parallel to the road, and require some forethought and jockeying to settle in properly.

Joshua Tree Morning (51 of 54) We figured out that in order to get our slide out on the private side away from the road, we would have to park facing the opposite direction and accept the slight inconvenience of the doorway opening directly into the road.

It worked out just fine, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be any longer.  There were a few big rigs in some of the areas at the far end of the park, but I would imagine that they had to wait around to get a site big enough to accommodate their size.

Joshua Tree Evening (17 of 31) Both of us have always wanted to camp among the beautiful boulders, and with our windows opening up to a giant jumbled pile of wonderfulness, we watched the evening light shifting colors on the granite, and the next morning enjoyed the changing light of sunrise.

Joshua Tree Evening (6 of 31) The night was cold, with frost on the car when morning broke.  There were people in tents nearby and I was reminded of days camping in cold tents and warm sleeping bags, trying to keep warm making coffee over the fire.  Such luxury.  I snuggled back into the down comforter, enjoying the morning with no hurry to beat the sunrise.  I planned to hike, but I didn’t need to do it while the frost was still hanging around.

The other interesting tidbit about Jumbo Rocks is the generator rules.  Generators can be run from 7 to 9 am, from 12 to 2 pm, and from 6 to 8 pm.  Different.  We still had a good charge, even with our furnace running, but it was nice to top it off with an hour of generator time around 9 am before we took off hiking.

Joshua Tree Morning (7 of 54) The hike to Skull Rock from the campground is well marked, however it was easy to wind between the rocks from our campsite until we intercepted the trail meandering east toward the attraction.  At only 1.3 miles, when we found Skull Rock, we weren’t ready to quit, so Mo and I wandered around the boulders for a time, enjoying all the shapes and shadows of the crazy beautiful landscape.

Joshua Tree Morning (23 of 54) What a wonderful place! In all our years passing by this trailhead, we had never actually seen Skull Rock.  I had no clue until we almost ran into it that the famous face is very close to the parking area right on the main park road. 

Joshua Tree Morning (37 of 54) Joshua Tree Morning (30 of 54)This section of Joshua Tree is filled with fantasmagoric boulders that people young and old love to climb and explore.  It is almost like a giant jungle gym for grownups, or maybe not so grownups.  We saw some teenagers doing scary things on high boulders that made me wonder if this park has a high incidence of injuries and rescues. We everything from old folks meandering around the rocks to the aforementioned teenagers, to professional free climbers with some equipment, and other climbers with a ton of equipment.  Joshua Tree Morning (33 of 54)

Once again, we passed many sights on our way out that reminded us to put at least a week of dry camping here on the agenda the next time we travel south in the winter. Joshua Tree Morning (14 of 54)

As I was walking along behind Mo in the morning sunlight, I felt myself slip into a state of wonder that is a bit hard to fathom or explain.  I was just so incredibly happy, so very much in that moment, so high on the light and the rocks and the sandy trail in front of me.  I hope I can remember that moment at times when I am feeling low or bored with the everydayness of life in general.  Moments like that are rare and wonderful.  Most of the time I am in good spirits, but this was somehow different.  Call it Bliss, I suppose, I was there! 

Joshua Tree Morning (12 of 54) We had a wonderful breakfast, a wonderful hike, and a wonderful morning to slip under the belt before we had to leave the clear beautiful desert behind us and head west into the foggy dreariness of the Central Valley of California.  Only thing that made the drive tolerable was the anticipation of spending time with friends on our way home.

Joshua Tree Morning (46 of 54) Next:  Visiting Jimmie and Nickie in Nevada City!

East to the Desert


In spite of the fact that we could have continued traveling south along 101, we decided to take the quickest route to the desert.  From our overnight at Camp Roberts we turned east at Paso Robles toward the dreaded Interstate 5.  For the first time, the central coast was thick with dirty air, something I had never seen in this area, and as we continued east toward the Great Valley, the pollution got worse. 

gray brown dull hills of California east of Paso RoblesHighway 46 was busy with traffic, and a surprising number of RV’s were headed west. The landscape was dramatic in it’s lack of drama.  The annual grasses of the California grassland zone were shades of tan and gray, with nothing to punctuate the hills except a few cattle here and there.  With the brown tinge to the air, it made the grasslands all the more drab.

Travelin south_162Ugly is relative, however, and when we reached the Lost Hills area just west of the I-5 onramp, we saw landscapes that were impressive in their ugliness.  The alkali flats west of Bakersfield would be bad enough without man’s intervention, but the forest of oil wells made it breathtakingly ugly.  I felt a bit guilty complaining about the ugliness while I rolled through it in an RV sucking gasoline.  How to reconcile that disconnect?  I haven’t a clue.  I hate what oil does to our country, the wars fought over it, the landscapes destroyed by it, but I love my RV and the freedom to travel.  Hypocritical as heck, but I probably won’t stop traveling!

the smog is thinning as we begin the climb up the famous GrapevineOnce on the five, the pavement again deteriorated while the air pollution got worse as we approached the Grapevine.  I reminisced with Mo about the days back in the 50’s when my family would leave Duarte at 2 am to drive the Grapevine when it was truly a grapevine of curves and steep hills, traveling north on Highway 99 for our annual camping trip to Yosemite.  Good memories!  I also remember driving the “new” Grapevine in my Volkswagen bus as a brand new driver scared to death and surrounded on all sides by semis.  It was the same today, semis on all sides.

California landscapes aren't always gorgeousWe took a quick exit off the highway for signs claiming “fresh sweet oranges” and the small family farm store and petting zoo.  The Murray Farm had 20 varieties of citrus, all from their own groves, and the navels were just in.  The owner said that they were six weeks late this year. There was a cooler with samples for all varieties including Meyer lemons and a very strange looking fruit called Buddha’s Hand, actually citron.  I had no clue that the stuff in fruit cakes came from something that was this strange.  I settled for a six buck bag of incredibly sweet navel oranges and we were again on our way.

truck traffic on the GrapefineAs we climbed the grade, the smog began to thin a bit, and we were spared the worst of it by turning east on Highway 138, a direct road to the desert and the town of Lancaster.  I lived in Lancaster in the 60’s, for just a few months, and for the life of me I couldn’t find a single thing that looked familiar.  This sleepy town that once was barely 50,000 has now exploded to a strip mall metropolis of more than 150,000 people.

In the Desert_007We thought about boondocking somewhere, but the landscape was broken up by private “ranchette’s”, and we didn’t have a BLM map with us.  I pulled up the AllStays web site and began searching for campgrounds.  There are surprisingly few places to camp in this area, but we found a state park due east about 17 miles from town and decided that 18 bucks for a dry campsite would be a close second to camping for free somewhere in the desert, and probably safer.

see Mo at the base of that tree?  That is one big Joshua Tree!!It was a great choice.  Saddleback Butte State Park campground was completely empty except for a camp host.  The park had shelters for the picnic tables, fire pits, water available, and even a dump station. We chose a spot near the northern part of the park, farthest from the camp host ( whom we never saw) and settled in.

time for a walk before the sun setsAn evening walk before sunset was perfectly quiet and we found beautiful Joshua Trees bigger than any we have seen.  The park is a haven for desert wildlife, including the desert tortoise, various snakes and rodents, coyotes and even mountain lions. As night fell, the silence was  perfect, the skies dark with a new moon, and the stars were brilliant.  I brought some soup from home that made a perfectly simple supper and we settled into to complete darkness and silence for our first night in the desert.

For the rest of the photos, including several shots of the Saddleback Butte campground, click here.

Day 37 August 11 Hinton to Jasper NP and the worst moment of the trip

boondocking north of Hinton on Highway 40We woke this morning to misty drifts of fog slipping in and out of the hills around us and by the time we dropped down to the town of Hinton for fuel, the fog was so thick it was hard to find the gas station.  Even early in the morning, there was considerable traffic on Canada 16, where Hinton is the gateway town between Edmonton and Jasper National Park. 

down into Hinton on Highway 40We were in no hurry, though, and as we climbed into the massive Rockies, the fog lifted, exposing a higher level of cloud cover above us.  When you enter the National Park, if you don’t plan to stop, they will wave you through without a fee.  We told the agent that we wanted to kayak a bit and then find a place to camp somewhere between Jasper and Banff and she smiled and charged us a little over 16 bucks for a pass to both Jasper and Banff that was good until 4PM tomorrow.  Perfect.

magnificent limestone Rocky MountainsWith a park map in hand, we decided that Maligne Lake looked like a perfect spot for kayaking and turned east, crossing the Athabasca River to travel beyond Maligne Canyon to the lake.  About half way there we found a great empty turnout and parked the MoHo, thinking we could save a bit on gas if we just drove the baby car.  I am so glad we did that, because the parking situation at the lake was tight to say the least, and while there was plenty of room when we arrived at 10am or so, by the time we got off the lake it was an entirely different story!

Athabasca River and the RockiesWe launched the boats in cloudy skies, but after a bit of time on the lake the sun peeked through, warming us and making everything in view just sparkle. Maligne Lake is famous for the island at the far end of the lake, Spirit Island.  It was a photo of this little island that made me want to put my boat on this lovely water.  The only problem is that once again, we are in a very popular national park, and concession boat rides to Spirit Island are the only way most folks get to see it.

The cruise boat traffic was busy, with a boat leaving about every ten minutes and another one returning.  The lake was beautifully calm, so the big swells from the wakes from these boats were dramatic, and we just rode along with them.  The lake is more than 7 miles long and we really didn’t have the time for a 14 mile paddle, so we traveled along the west side of the lake about half way before crossing over to the eastern shore for a break.  The water was perfectly clear, and Abby loved her swim while we walked a bit along the shore.

It was a beautiful day, a beautiful moment, a beautiful time on a beautiful lake.  Ahhhh.  Day 37 to Jasper

When we arrived back at the launch dock, we were surprised to find it crammed with people.  They were all hanging around in the middle of the boat launch taking photos, standing around everywhere, and there were so many cars in the parking lot that we knew there was no way we would manage to get the car down to the launch.  Instead, we picked up our 34 pound wonder boats and carried them up to the lot for loading.  The rental RV’s were bumper to bumper trying to find parking, and one lucky person in a sedan had managed to park in the ditch and was stuck.  We just loaded up the boats and got out of there as quickly as possible.  By this time the sun was out in full force and it was actually hot. 

breathtaking vertical limestone mountainsWe were happy to see the motorhome peacefully waiting in the one turnout that wasn’t occupied, hooked up the baby car and made some lunch before heading back out the Maligne Lake Road to the highway.  On the way we saw several wildlife traffic jams, but one of them was actually worth stopping for, and I joined the crowds taking photos of a very unconcerned bull elk.  Mo said she had never seen a rack as big as this guy, and I don’t think I have ever been that close to a bull elk ever.  Probably not very smart.  Back in my soil survey days, we had stories about encounters with bull elk, but usually that was in the fall during the rut.  This guy was pretty darn tame, I guess.

To Jasper Day 37_4898We ambled on through the park, enjoying the views and the animals and decided that stopping in Jasper for cute little shops wasn’t worth the effort to park.  Instead we drove slowly with all the other tourists, and I took photos out of the window cafes, and stores, and tourists.  Jasper town was really quite nice, with many old homes converted to B&B’s, and lovely gardens.  I could enjoy staying in Jasper for a week or so and taking more time for hiking the many trails and kayaking the many lakes.  The maps looked so enticing.

the downtown strip in JasperInstead, we were getting into the home mode, and after six weeks traveling magnificent Alaska and the Yukon, this lovely little park full of tourists was a bit less exciting than it might be if it were our planned destination.  We continued on south along the Athabasca River, planning to stop at any of the campgrounds along the Icefield Parkway that had room for us without a reservation.

Not far south we saw a campground down along the river, missed the turn somehow, and pulled into another turnout to retrace our steps.  Mo said, “Wow, that is a great mountain”. I stepped out of the rig with the camera in hand to get a good photo, and Mo said one minute I was there and the next minute I was nowhere.  With my eyes gawking at the mountain and my camera pointed up, I stepped into a deep hole in the asphalt and went down with a very hard crash.  All I saw was broken glass and plastic strewn out in front of me, and I didn’t give a whit about whatever was going on with my body.  There were half a dozen people in the parking lot who must have thought I was nuts, screaming, “It’s thousands of dollars, it’s thousands of dollars!!”

testing the camera after the fallI was a bit skinned and bruised but that had nothing to do with the sick feeling in my stomach.  Deanna’s lens. The super fast, super heavy, (later I found out it is $1539 bucks of super) lens took the full brunt of the fall.  Not to mention my brand new camera. The lens filter was splintered and the metal edge of the lens was bent, the mechanism was stiff and acting funny.  Duh.  I clicked. Nothing.  Clicked again. Nothing.  I am so sick I can’t even cry. I put one of my other lenses on to see if it was just the lens.  Click. Nothing.  Then I look a little bit closer and see that the on/off button has shifted in the fall.  Turn the camera on.  Click. IMAGE! I put Deanna’s lens back on. Click. IMAGE!!

testing the camera after the fallI think it must have been the heft and solidity of that fancy NIKON lens that took the hit and saved the camera.  I tried several shots with Deanna’s lens, and except for a bit of stiffness in the zoom, it seems to still have perfect auto-focus and the images look fine.  Incredible.  Of course, I have to replace her lens, and insurance is $1000 deductible, so it’s coming out of my pocket.  The good part about all this is that I never would spend 1500 bucks to get that lens for myself, and now I have one.  Maybe a bit bent, and maybe not perfect, but still working and now mine.

By the time we backtracked and settled in to Mt Kerkeslin campground, $12 for a dry site, I wanted nothing more to do than sit and drink a beer on the sofa.  My body hurt, my mind hurt, and I was a wreck, even with the reasonably good outcome. I felt like any step I took was going to put me on the ground somehow, it was definitely disconcerting!  Mo took Abby for a walk, and we canned any plans to hike Athabasca Falls. I sat there alone on the sofa saying a ton of “thank yous” to the powers that be for letting the worst moment of our trip not be any worse than it was.

Capture 73 milesMiles driven today (in the MoHo): 73

The rest of the photos are linked here

August 8 Day 34 Muncho Lake to somewhere along 97

leaving Muncho Lake at 8amI suppose days like yesterday only come one at a time.  We woke at Muncho Lake this morning, same place we went to sleep last night, but it didn’t take long for the magic to dissipate as we traveled east and south, leaving the Rocky Mountains behind and moving onto the great inland plateau that makes up a large part of British Columbia.

South of Muncho LakeWhen we settled in for the night, Mo wanted to load the kayaks, but I had visions of a silent morning paddle on that beautiful lake.  Instead morning brought strong winds, even in the early light, and we loaded up the boats and were on the road by 8am. This part of BC is gorgeous, and the road passes through Muncho Lake Provincial Park and then through Stone Mountain Provincial Park.  It’s a narrow road, but not bad, with a few curves here and there and a natural, meandering kind of mode that was fun to drive.

Ft Nelson Day 34_4495We saw more Stone Mountain Sheep at their namesake park, all standing in the road along the highway and in the highway, looking almost exactly as they do in the Milepost photo.  Very cute critters, but I’m not sure what it is that they find along the road that is so interesting.  Once beyond the park, the road dropped down to follow the Tetsa River, and the views in all directions were wonderful. 

We pulled into the Tetsa Campground with the promise of fresh baked bread, and I checked in at the camp store to find perfect round loaves of fresh sourdough bread and a warm cinnamon bun that was hands down ten times better than the famous buns on the Klondike Highway.  On the counter in the crockpot, was a bubbling pot of incredibly good smelling soup, so I bought a bowl of that as well for our supper to go with the bread.  The owner was charming and conversational, with that far northern accent that I am getting used to.

the Macdonald RiverContinuing east we crossed the last of the Northern Rocky Mountains as we moved onto the plateau.  The trees were thick and the aspen and birch was dark green, but there wasn’t much else to see all the way in to Fort Nelson. Some agenda items: get water, dump, get gas, get money, get food, wash the rigs.  We succeeded in the first few, with a stop at the visitor center that yielded information about where to find an ATM.  Right next to the ATM was a pizza place, and we haven’t had pizza in more than a month, so we ordered one to go. 

The city operates a free dump and water station near the museum, so we took advantage of that, planning to boondock somewhere tonight and wanting to be sure we had enough water for baths.  I still have sulfur in my hair and it does feel a bit weird.  While parked at the pizza place, I discovered a hot spot and managed to upload a few photos and a single blog post while checking email and doing some more banking.  Mo was anxious to get the rigs washed, so after I stopped into the IGA for supplies, we headed over to the car wash.

Ft Nelson Day 34_4500It’s hard to explain just how these kinds of chores can seem to take so long, can be so tiresome and can really take the shine out of a day.  Before we washed the rigs, we needed fuel, and I paid the highest price ever at 1.46 per liter. I put 225 Canadian into the tank and it was still only 3/4 full.  Trying to get out of the station added more frustration as some woman from Alaska seemed to think the middle of the driveway was the place to park while she shopped and took on water.  When I asked her to move so we could get out, she pulled forward a few feet and then got out to do more stuff.  Duh!  Excuse me, but please, we would like to GET OUT OF THIS PLACE!

from steamboat mountain summitNot so fast, we still have the rigs to wash.  Just a couple of doors down from the FasGas was a car wash with a bay big enough for both rigs and we just slid into position without a hitch.  I went to get loonies, and the proprietor informed me it used only toonies, with each toonie giving one minute of wash time.  I looked at Mo, we looked at the MoHo, and thought about just how far ten bucks would take us in that filthy mess.  Maybe not.

We pulled out of town in a ton of traffic, lots of pickup trucks driving south to work the second shift on the huge natural gas plant south of town.  In 1957, Fort Nelson didn’t even have power, but now with oil shale and natural gas the place it starting to really boom.  It was actually hot for the first time since we left the lower 48, with a humid 90 plus degrees showing on the thermometer.

leaving the northern Rocky Mountains behind usWe are now driving south on the Alaska Highway, BC highway 97.  Advertised road condition says wide road, 2 lane good pavement all the way to Dawson Creek.  As the miles pass I think we are both feeling a bit better.  It does make me wonder how things will feel when we have to deal with reentry into traffic and the frustrations of a populated world.  For the time being, we plan to find another wide place in the road to boondock tonight, eat our pizza and drink a well deserved beer.

Later:  Around 4 pm, maybe 40 or 50 miles south of Fort Nelson at an unnamed creek, Mo suddenly said, “Hey, this looks good!”.  We crossed the little bridge and turned down the tiny road on the east side of the highway toward a nice wide area along the creek.  Perfect.

utter boredom as we leave Fort Nelson, although I see mountains in our futureIt was hot.  After settling in we made sure the fan was on before taking Abby for a walk down to the stream.  Not sure why, but the stream was a dull brown color, hopefully not some sort of runoff from the oil fields.  We heated up our pizza and relaxed with dinner, turned on the water heater for a good shower, and then, bam.  Two big rigs saw that little narrow road as well and rumbled down into “our” campsite, jumped out, hollered at each other while backing and proceeded to set up their nice little camp, chairs and all, right out our front window.

stop for the night at an unnamed creekOk.  Right.  I’m a jerk.  It’s NOT my campground, it’s not my creek, and they have just as much a right to be here as I do.  Bummer.  I have been spoiled rotten, and its time to get back to the real world.  ugh. Little black flies are buzzing around INSDIE the MoHo, and I’m not sure how they got here.  Big black spruce beetles are hanging out on the screen.  Did I mention that it’s hot?  Mo is hiding away in her book on the sofa, oblivious to my grumblings.  Smart.

Capture2Miles driven today: about 230 from stop 20 to stop 21 on the Streets and Trips map to the left.

Road conditions: variable, but mostly good 2 lane highway.  A bit of construction in BC, a bit of narrow stuff here and there, some frost heaves here and there, but we still traveled at 50mph most of the time.

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here

August 7 Day 33 Irons Creek to Muncho Lake

on the road at dawn from Irons creekIn life sometimes there are good days. Sometimes there are really great days.  Then sometimes there are days that are written in golden memory, shining and brilliant for the rest of a lifetime.  This was just one of those days.  Since I woke this morning beside a creek in British Columbia, time seemed to crawl along in some sort of slow motion.  Every single moment of this perfect day was drawn out long and still, a gift I suppose from the land and the water and the skies, a gift so that I could savor it.

we are in and out of the fog along the Llaird RiverOur boondock site last night along Irons Creek was still in an area of road construction, so we thought it would be a good idea to get on the road early enough so we didn’t need to worry about falling in line with a pilot car.The skies were still light when I woke at 11:30, but by 1:30 when I again woke and checked for northern lights it was dark enough to see stars.  I haven’t seen stars since we left more than a month ago. It was 31 degrees when we opened the back blinds at 5:30 the only one we had closed during the long quiet night. After heating a pot of water for tea, we closed up the rig and were on the road before 6. 

whirlpool rapids on the Llaird River ValleyThe drama of the morning light was accentuated with mysteriously beautiful drifts of fog lying in the low lands along the Llaird River.  We drove for awhile looking for a nice level pullout to stop and cook Mo’s favorite Sunday morning treat, poached eggs on toast.  Then another stop for a walk down to the river to view the Whirlpool Canyon rapids was rewarding with cool fresh morning air and the roar of the river.

sloooooo wifi for five bucks but a cute little placeAt Coal Creek, there was a small café advertising WiFi, and I thought it might be a good place to try to upload the backlog of blog posts, but even with the $5. fee, I couldn’t manage more than a simple update post with no photos and a quick check of email and bank accounts.  That was really all that mattered anyway, the blog will be there when we are eventually.

another massive faceWithin minutes of leaving Coal Creek we encountered the first of many buffalo grazing along the highway.  Most folks traveling this route will see these buffalo, and they seem to congregate along the wide highway shoulders thick with grasses.  I wondered if they were native to this area or if they have been transplanted here by the BC Parks.  Of course, with no internet, I will have to find that out later. We enjoyed taking photos of the huge bulls with their massive heads and the little ones protected by their moms as they moved along with heads down, grazing. 

To Muncho Day 33_4315The reality of cars and wildlife hit home hard as we passed a dead buffalo beside the road, and saw her little one grazing alone along the highway.  Huge signs warn of buffalo in the area, but still many are killed.  In all, we saw at least 4 dozen buffalo, many bulls and many babies, so even with the sad moment it was encouraging to seem them. Later I found out that these are “wood bison” and that the herd was once completely decimated.  Only in the recent decades has the BC government protected them and the herd has grown to nearly 100 animals.

toward Llaird Hot SpringsThe wide road opened up before us, dropping down off the Yukon Plateau to the valley of the “mighty” Llaird River.  Yes, it is another mighty river, according to the Milepost. I do love the mighty rivers of the Yukon and British Columbia.  It’s a good word.

One of my important “todo” lists for this trip was a visit to Llaird River Hot Springs and it was less than 80 miles from our night camp to the provincial park.  At first I thought we might stop and camp here for the night, but then decided that it was worth the ten bucks to dip in the springs and then continue down the road to Muncho Lake, another big “todo” on my list and camp there.  I wanted to dip my kayak in those famous turquoise waters.

To Muncho Day 33_4374We settled into a parking space and turned on the fan for the animals since Abby couldn’t go out on the hot springs trail.  They have a boardwalk that passes through hot mud flats and wetlands, through the forest, to the first pool.  The second pool is now closed due to an endangered animal that lives there.  There was construction going on, with a new dam being built, but somehow it still felt silent and calm around the pool. There were a few people around, most of whom seemed incredibly respectful of the special beauty of this place. 

To Muncho Day 33_4385I slipped into the mid zone of the pool, knowing that 126*F would definitely be too much for me at the source of the spring.  It was heaven, just pure heaven.  There is a bit of sulfur, but not too much, and there is every variation of temperature in the water, from bathtub comfortable at the lower end of the pool, to too hot for me to handle at the upper end.

To Muncho Day 33_4391 I marveled at the feeling of incredibly hot surface water, with cooler water at my feet.  Perfect for hitting that lower back spot without getting too hot!  Mo doesn’t like sulfur water so I swam alone while she rested on the benches. I’m not sure how long I stayed, but while I was in that water, nothing hurt, just nothing.  You know how it is when the years catch us, something somewhere always seems to be hurting.  Nothing hurt at all while I was in that pool, and as I sit here by the campfire tonight, still nothing hurts.  I could use one of those springs in my own yard!

Janet from Healy AlaskaOnce again I met an Alaskan willing to tell her whole story.  All it takes is a hello and a simple question, and they are off and running.  I met Janet, a woman who has homesteaded at Healy near Denali for 29 years.  She is driving back to the ‘lower 48” for the first time since then.  Her daughter is in Colorado and needs her.  She is afraid of dealing with the city, laughingly telling me that in all her time at Healy she only had to deal with one crazed bear.  She hates the idea of dirty snow and of paying for water.  But her daughter needs her.  She quit her two jobs and is going to Colorado.  She last dipped in the Llaird pools 29 years ago when it was all free, but promised herself this one stop on the Alaska Highway.

Muncho Lake from our campsiteNot far beyond Llaird Hot Springs the view opened up to the lovely blue water of Muncho Lake.  I think I expected it to be a bit more colorful thnt it looked at first because it has been touted so much in all the literature.  Still, it was a respectable blue with edges of turquoise and emerald in the shallows.  There is a campground listed in the Milepost at the southern end of the lake, with 15 rocky beach sites.  On the information map for the park, however, we saw another campground on the northern end and decided that might be more to our liking.

campsite 14 at Muncho LakePulling in to Macdonald Campground we found 15 beautiful sites, each with it’s own perfect small gravel beach, a table and a fire ring.  It was still early in the afternoon, and it was warm and clear.  We set up in our private, perfectly level gravel drycamp site, opened the awning to shelter our chairs against the afternoon sun, and looked forward to a long, quiet afternoon of beautiful views, gorgeous water, and peaceful quiet.

electric chain saw hooked up to the MoHo with the generator going!For the first time on this trip, Mo had a chance to plug in her little electric chain saw to cut up the pallet lying near our site in addition to a couple of downed dry spruce logs.  She discovered that with the generator going, the chain saw would only run on the outlet set up for the microwave, and run it did. We had enough wood for a great long fire after supper into the evening.

great campfireI can’t explain why one day might be more perfect than any other.  The litany sounds like any other day on the Alaska journey.  I know we have seen more spectacular scenery, done exciting things all along the route, traveled more dramatic paths.  But something about this day seemed golden, slow and perfect.  I sat in the lounge chair for a long time just looking up at the light filtering through the aspen leaves listening to the lap of water on the shore.

moonrise over Muncho LakeEarlier in the day I relaxed for a long time in a clear warm pool surrounded by green peacefulness, and later in the day I silently paddled along the shore of a perfect lake surrounded by perfect mountains.  We had a great home-cooked supper with simple chicken breasts, my favorite grated carrot and apple slaw, and some super sweet corn brought all the way from Medford Costco in our little freezer.  After supper I slipped out again onto the lake, and then while Mo relaxed with a book I took Abby for a walk along the shore.  I watched the moon low in the sky to the east and the long twilight as the sun set behind the high mountains to our west. 

I felt more quiet inside than I have on the entire trip, as if the accumulation of all the experience finally settled in to a deep place in my heart.  I guess that is why is was somehow the ‘perfect’ day for me on the Alaska Highway.sunset on Muncho Lake

CaptureMiles driven today: about 230

Road condition: beautiful roads most of the way with just a bit of construction here and there

The rest of the photos for this day of travel are linked here