Report from Elkhart on US 20

We made it through Chicago or rather around Chicago.  We were of faint heart and elected not to try to trace US 20 through the surface streets of Chicago and environs.  We came through Rockford and continued south to I 80 and, despite dire warnings from a trucker we bypassed the big city at around noon with no effort and nary a stop.  Easing on to the Indiana Toll Road (I90/I80) we continued on to Elkhart arriving just after Duncan RV Repairs closing time of 5 PM.  We were delayed 12 minutes at the toll booth when a trucker got stuck in the Zoom Lane without a valid pass and no one could get the gate to open.  We backed the coach and car, with me holding the steering wheel of the car, about 20 feet to clear the barrier and use the other lane.

We parked in our assigned slot #6 and rapidly realized that there was a major rail yard across the street and next to the repair facility is a scrap metal recycling yard that was on 24 hour schedule.  It was noisy although free.  We seem to have joined a long term club “Waiting for parts at Duncan RV”  One couple who work part time for Fantasy RV arrived a week before us and parts for their refrigerator arrive a day late and then fail immediately so new ones must be ordered.  Almost everyone needs glass repair, Duncan’s specialty.  We didn’t on arrival, but after our first day in the shop where they only did an oil change and lube, we too need a new driver side windshield, a stone chip turned into a crack before our eyes. . .

Days pass, it is now Friday, we arrived on Monday afternoon.  We have camped at Elks and Walmart, only staying over in Duncan’s lot Wednesday night in hopes of getting some work done first thing in the morning.  The new windshield is fine, but the tape needs to be removed and everything cleaned up.  Oy, the gasket is not right, “its OK we have it in stock and there will be no cost.”  Finally at 11:30 we leave the grounds for the last time, we hope. We have a new driver windshield and new topper awnings on our slides with new hardware to keep them from rubbing as well as fresh oil in the engine.

Next stop Sam’s Tire on the road to Cleveland.  We arrive at 11:50.  The Michelin truck has come and gone and they have forgotten our XZE 245/70R 19.5 LRG tires!  I express myself in words best not repeated and we set out down the roads on tires I have not trusted for the past 500 miles.  Only 800 miles to Rochester.  Here’s hoping they hold together for the trip.  So far they are showing no signs of overheating so I guess we are OK.

We resume our travels on US 20 with the GPS complaining bitterly “take the next right – recalculating” trying to get us into the OH Turnpike.  Finally, as we tangle with Toldeo, OH traffic and complexity we succumb to the siren song and get onto the Interstate.  Can’t wait to see the toll bill.  Having decided that Google knows best, we follow blindly into a back entrance into Punderson State Park that is marked “Authorized Vehicles Only”  Oops!  A groundkeeper greets us and explains that the road does indeed go through although it is a bit narrow and has some low hanging wires.  Oh and he acknowledges that many vehicles including semis have made this same wrong turn thanks to GPS.  We loop around out onto the main road and following his directions find our way to the main entrance.  When we called earlier we were told that all the full hookup sites were taken but there would be no problem getting a 20 amp electric site.  A review of the campground map shows there are 5 fhu sites (fhu = full hook ups) and 195 sites that mostly have 20 amp.  There are plenty of open sites so we settle down in this surprisingly beautiful state park just east of Cleveland.  We will stay at least two nights while we visit the Slepians and catch up on some sleep.

We may make one more stop before Rochester although we are only about 5 hours out. 

Report from US 20

From the excitement of discovery along 20 in Nebraska to a long drag across Iowa where we only stopped for two nights, one in Sac City.  It surprised us how the nature of the route changed at the state line.  Our first disappointment was right at the line, South Sioux City in Nebraska meets Sioux city IA.   We followed signs and GPS to a water front campground in South Sioux City only to be met at the entrance by clear evidence that the camping area was still underwater from the flooding in June!  There was no room to turn the entire rig around without some backing and filling which meant disconnecting the car, maneuvering and then reconnecting.  We are getting good at this, second time in two days. 

We decided to cross the Missouri into Sioux City, IA  and visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Site on the eastern bank.  It is right next to a casino which was fortunate as the Interpretive site is currently underwater.  In neither case was there any signage to tell the unwary stranger about the flooding, sure we knew the area had flooded, but that was two months ago and we would have no idea that these specific sites were involved.

As we tried to figure out how to continue east we learned that I 29 was closed due to flooding to the south, someplace, the information was not particularly useful to us and we struggled with 2 GPS and maps to return to US 20 in a very industrial part of Sioux City.  We located a public campground outside Sac City, Hagge Park, which was almost full, but had one clear site for us.  It is a beautiful, quiet place and we were sad to move out in the morning, but move we did.    We stopped at Walmart in Cedar Falls, IA for the night. The only truly memorable stop in Iowa was Fort Dodge at the recreation of the original fort, well of a fort that might have been but never really was.  The recreation has stockade walls that never existed.  Given our experience with the Missouri in Sioux City we were concerned about trying to find anything in Dubuque above the Mississippi, but found that the area was in much better shape, flood wise in any event.  We decided to press on to Grant River Park, a Corp of Engineers park on the river above Dubuque in Wisconsin.  By now we had contacted cousin Mimi in Madison and decided to venture off 20 for a family visit.  Grant Park is lovely, right on the river with extensive area to explore.  It is, however, bordered by a busy freight line with a grade level crossing at the entrance to the park.  Having crossing bells, and whistles within 100 feet of your window may be fun for serious train buffs, but it does make for disturbed sleep and conversations broken while waiting for a 100 car coal train to clear the area.  We moved on again in the morning. 

Our first extended stop in eight days is Mendota Park in Middleton, WI just outside Madison.  We have been here twice before to visit Cousin Mimi.  We have enjoyed Shabbat together at the home of a member of their congregation who welcomes guests four times a year for Shabbat dinner and experience.  We enjoyed the Shabbat immensely and on Saturday we went to Madison’s wonderful farm market and after a kayak on Lake Mendota we enjoyed the bounty of the farm market.  Great corn and other vegetables as well as fresh rainbow trout for Mimi and me.  Sunday, as I write has been quiet.  Weather permitting we will attend an outdoor showing of the 1920’s silent “The Golem” with live music performed by Yid Vicious.  I may report on that in a later post.

Tomorrow’s plan is to move on to Elkhart IN, assuming we can get through Chicago, where we plan to stop for some routine maintenance and six new tires for the coach.

Report from US 20

Please note I got the right word in the title this time.

Today we covered just shy of 160 miles with two extended stops.  We got a rather late start as we wanted to get the inside of the coach cleaned up and catch up on some email before rolling.  The Alaska dust is still everywhere, I suspect I will be cleaning it out a year from now. 

Our first stop was at Johnstown NE.  I am not sure it will show up on your printed map, out FMCA atlas has a fine dot with 2 point print.  It was founded in 1982, although some of the buildings clearly predate that time.  John Cherry bought the land and started ranching in 1982, he apparently set aside the land that makes up the village and dedicated it to create the village.  In 1992, Hallmark came along and used the village to film O’ Pioneers a Hallmark presentation.  That is its claim to fame.  According to Ruth who owns the  L Bow Bar the town has stagnated ever since.  Although they do show a growth from 53 in the 2000 census to 64 in the most recent census, she says some young people moved in and started having kids.  There is the Sandhills Sage & Co which according to the sign on the door expects to be open 4 days this year.  There is bank that never was a bank, just painted to look like one for the movie.  There is not a lot else.  Ruth provides food to a group of locals who work nearby and come in for lunch.

We moved down the road to Stuart where we found the White Horse Museum graces the road with its large white house and grounds, not quite enough room for us to turn around so we again had to break the tow and turn the vehicles separately, we are getting good at this.  This building was put up in 1913 and has served as a private house, a hospital, a home for the aged and now a museum.  The White Horse name comes from the White Horse Troop which was a touring company of well trained and matched white horses performing group and individual tricks.  This museum, like others we have toured along the road is an accumulation of the belongings of the townsfolk that no longer have a place in their daily lives but are to “valuable” to be discarded.  There is a treasure trove of material including the guest registers from the local hotels, the entire output of the local newspaper and I am sure, someplace the collection of medical records of the period when it was a hospital.  There is an Alumni Room with photos of every graduating class from the high school, with the exception of 2006 – 2010, 2011 was there.  It seems that every trophy that was ever awarded is stuffed in a box or on a shelf in every nook and cranny. 

We moved on down the road with the promise of FREE CAMPING in Plainview NE.  As we turned the corner to Chilvers Park in the center of Plainsview there we beheld four concrete slabs clearly labeled, “Campers Only” and there are the promised electrical boxes at the back of each site.  Further reconnaissance located a sign that said that the camping is indeed free as is the tour of the town along with a bottle of water.  Wow!  Furthermore the camping sites are directly across the street from the High School and they have left their unsecured wifi running for the summer, although school does start on August 18.  We took a walk through town and found most of the businesses empty and buildings for sale, prosperity has not found this town but they are still welcoming to passing strangers.

More of US 20 as we roll on tomorrow maybe all the way to Iowa.  Check in to see if we make.

Report from US 20

We rolled along into Caspar WY where we stopped at the National Historic Trails Interpretative Center which is located at the junction of the Oregon, California, Mormon Trails and the Pony Express Route.  In this area US 20 follows the general route of the those trails as they started in St Louis and ran roughly together until they reached Independence Rock about fifty miles from the Center at which point they diverged to reach California, Salt Lake City or Oregon.   This is another extraordinary presentation using historic materials and recreations to tell the several stories of these emigrations. 

A local charity was having a fundraiser at the Center the in evening and had set up a tent across the driveway which rather flummoxed us as there was no way to turn around without that piece of driveway unless we disconnected the car.  After touring we came out and had lunch on the coach then we set about breaking down the tow and turning everything around, we were closely observed by the local herd of Prong Horn Antelope who were curious about our activities. 

Rolling along we found that US 20 joined I 25 for a while and then to our relief it departed the expressway, and us with it, to continue on to Lusk WY.  I suppose I could say nowhere and be almost as accurate.  Lusk had two features for us, first was the report of free camping in a city park and the second was The Stagecoach Museum.  We called ahead to be sure the museum would be open, to confirm directions and possibilities for parking.  We were warned that if we had driven two  blocks we would be out of town and that there was plenty of parking.  The first was a bit of an exaggeration, the town must have extended 10 blocks east to west and we passed a substantial Elks Lodge (at least the building was substantial) on our way to the museum.

The museum turns out to be a Grandma’s Attic of everything the towns folk did not know what to do with when they moved, died, ran out of room.  It includes one of the last two stage coaches that actually were in use in eastern Wyoming before the railroads and cars pushed them out.  It was made on the east coast and shipped around the Horn to the west coast and placed in  service there before being sold and driven cross country to Wyoming to serve out its existence there.

After spending the night in the Elks lot we got an early start on 20, along with many of the motorcyclists leaving Sturgis, SD and migrating back to wherever they had come from.  Don’t ask, I have yet to figure out how they were on US 20 when Sturgis is a couple of hours north, but they are bikers and can do anything.  We missed Fort Robinson in Crawford although we stopped at the Crawford Visitor Center to get Nebraska Information.  We decided we have seen enough forts, including Niagara and Ticonderoga so chose to give this one a miss.  Next time we will reconsider given the information we have, that this fort was in active use through WWII when it served as a POW camp for captured Germans!  We did stop at the Museum of the Fur Trade which was established in the early ‘50s on the site of a fur trading post and its location seemed great as it is right on US 20 (this was before Interstates).  It is now in a backwater, but it is definitely worth going out of your way, if you are not staying on 20, for a several hour visit.  It details the fur trade on the North American Continent from the first trading with the Indians in the east to the discovery and conquest of the west by the fur traders and their explorers.  We dragged ourselves away after a couple of hours.  Once again I chose not to examine the hundreds of original weapons collected in their weapons gallery.  As we rolled west we realized that it was Sunday and most of the museums we might have stopped for were closed.

We settled for the night In Valentine, NE at Wacky West Camp Ground.  We may actually stay a second night as we have been on the roll for more than two days without a break and there are things to do here.

Rolling East

I haven’t had time to prepare a post for a while.  since the last we have been in Waterton Lakes NP (Canada) Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. I have posts and photos from all and they will be published soon.

In the mean time we picked up US 20 in Yellowstone and having driven the western end in Newport, OR and the eastern end in Boston, MA we have decided that this will be our route to Rochester.  It is as good a conceit as we could determine given that we have focused on specific route since leaving Los Angeles.  Pacific Coast Highway, Ice Field Highway, Alaska Highway, Klondike, Top of the World, Taylor Highways.  You get the point.

We have always preferred 5 and 20 for crossing NY when time permits.  William Least Heat Moon gave it homage in “Blue Highways.”  So  find ourselves having stopped in Cody, WY where we attended our first western rodeo.  It started off rough when the first cowboy out of the chute on a bare back bronco was thrown and had to be carried off on a stretcher.  We stayed on and saw some interesting rides and events that we have heard of but not seen live, for rodeo buffs it probably was a mediocre performance but we saw all the usual events in the home of Westeren Rodeo.  In the morning we went to the Buffalo Bill Historic Museum and tore ourselves away after 4 hours without even looking into the Museum of the Plains Indian and the Museum of Weapons. The Draper Art Gallery has a wonderful collection of Western Art and i t includes a reconstruction of Frederic Remington’s studio.  If you think you might be near Cody, which is the eastern gateway to Yellowstone, plan at least a full day in the museum, the entrance price includes two days, just to give you an idea.

We moved on at 1:30 and followed US 20 to Greybull and then on to Thermopolis.  there is a direct road to Thermopolis, but we are following 20 to see where it takes us.  Thermopolis looks like a great place to spend some time.  It is near a center of dinosaur fossil beds and it has a major hot spring which we chose to avoid as it appears to be quite commercial.  We stopped for the night in Wind River Canyon at Boysen State Park right on the river.  Nice park although it is jammed between the highway and the river with a rail line on the other side of the river.  We also had as bad a mosquito experience as any we had in Alaska.

Saturday morning finds us traveling east on 20 to stop in Caspar, WY and then on to Lusk or wherever we decide to stop for the night, maybe even over the border into Nebraska.

Our exit from Alaska and some Bear Pictures


First the bear pictures taken at the head of Chilkoot River where it exits Chilkoot Lake.  The salmon are so many that they can be seen from the shore and there are plenty of fishermen catching them, mostly not in conflict with bears. 

After two days in Haines we drove the car and coach down to the ferry dock for departure.  To save a few bucks since they charge by the foot, I removed the tow bar mechanism from the back of the coach.  It adds two or three feet to the overall length.  In doing so I discovered that the battering of the Alaska Highway had resulted in bending the bar on the drop hitch (used to equalize height between the car and the coach).  That bar is intended to carry a 400 pound tongue weight not the 40 or 50 pounds it carries and it is a solid two inch bar of steel!  The bend is not so severe as to hinder its use, but I will have to find a replacement with a different design.  For my fellow RVers, I will disclose the manufacturer if they fail to make good on this design flaw or at least make me whole. 

As we sat in the ferry line it occurred to me that arriving in Skagway at 10 PM with no campground reservation could be a bit of a problem so I made few calls and got a reservation at Pullen Creek RV Park just a hop skip and jump from the ferry landing (not that you can get very far from the landing, Skagway is 4 to 5 blocks wide and 20 blocks long). 

As I write we are sitting on the shore of Lake Atlin in the unincorporated settlement of Atlin.  Remember back to May when we made a side trip to Carcross YT just because it was there? well we chose not to go to Atlin, which is only 60 miles away, because the middle third of the road is under construction.  After hearing from those who took that road we decided we had to come down this essentially 60 mile dead end to see what it is all about.  Of course it was founded in the search for gold.  Then White Pass and Yukon RR punched through a 2 1/2 mile rail line to link two passenger ships it owned and built a hotel to house the many very rich who were looking for something different from Yet Another Grand Tour of Europe.  They were very successful and the wealthy and the potential gold seekers filled their boats, trains and hotel for 20 years, then came the Depression and BUST. The MV Tarahane sits on the shore restored to a semblance of its former glory for us tourists to tour.  The village at the end of the road has remnants of its former self preserved and restored.  There is a warm spring (not hot, warm) there is a glacier to fly out to see, and of course some interesting residents to talk to.

The middle third of the road is still under construction and they water it constantly to keep the dust down.  Mud on the other hand!!  We are coated, well the underside of the coach and the entire car anyhow.  Of the middle third where no active work was being pursued it is sold dust free gravel.  I believe they use a calcium compound to keep the dust down.  The third at either end is paved and reasonably good.  I would advise anyone thinking about making the trip to do it.  The scenery is as impressive as any we have seen on the trip.  Our campsite looks over the lake to mountains on all sides with snow and ice and green growth as well.  The weather forecast is not great so we will have moved on well before you get to read this.  There is no phone or internet service available.

Plan: tomorrow tour the historic sights in Atlin that were closed when we got here and then move on out to the Alaska Highway to retrace to the Cassiar Highway which is just before Watson Lake ( see back to late May postings).  Not sure how far we will get and probably will stop in a roadside turnout overnight.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.


Saturday night, July 29.

We have been on the move constantly.  Thursday night after leaving Atlin we indeed found a very nice roadside Recreational Area with a lovely trail along the Rancheria River.  then we moved on to start down the Cassiar Higway finally, I’ve been reading about this road, like the Alaska Highway  since I first dreamed of making this trip.  It is a wonderful two lane road, narrow and winding with plenty of hills to keep the drive exciting.  There are few distractions such as roadhouses along the ay.  The biggest, Jade City, is a full fledged roadside attraction with more jade items than I care to think about.   The road is 475 miles and we started 75 miles from the northern end along the Alaska Highway.  We planned to turn off for Stewart/Hyder so we planned a stop near Iskut at the Red Goat Lodge and Campground. It was very nice and especially so because we were the only campers present.  The wifi was not wonderful and we continued to have a total lack of connectivity.  When we left Skagway we had fallen though a hole in the connected grid and three nights later we have not found our way out of it. 

During the drive today we were a bit discouraged about seening any roadside critters.  Much time had passed since our last interesting encounter.  this state of affairs did not last to lunch time.  By then we had seen four or five black bears along the road, including one that walked up to the side of the coach without seeming to be aware there were people in it.  By the time we reached Stewart we had seen a total of eight black bears including a sow with two cubs, and we had not gone to the wildlife viewing area yet!  Stewart sits on the most northerly ice free port in BC.  Just 2 1/2 miles across the water is Hyder, AK which of course is a mining community.  They were connected by bridge then and now by a highway cut into the the wall of the mountain that is in the way.  There are no custom formalities crossing into Hyder as the road only goes on to Canada eventually.  For some reason the Canadians maintain a customs post for returning from Hyder to Stewart.   We did get a Hyder Alaska stamp in our passports from one of the shopkeepers.  The reason for the drive was to go to Fishcreek viewing area which is a raised boardwalk over a stretch of stream that has a large annual run of salmon which attracts a large number of bears, both black and Grizzly which attracts a large number of people to see them.  We saw one black bear and there were very few salmon in the stream which explains the lack of bears.

Still no internet connection.  Tomorrow we plan to try Yellowhead #16 to turn east toward Jasper.  Unfortunately BC has a ban on overnight parking in turnouts and rest areas unless specifically marked.  How civilized, how boring!

INTERNET for a day!!  I have included bear pictures near the top, there are more pictures in the Album Alaska 02. soon there will be an album YTBCAB 2011 (that is Yukon Territory, British Columbia, Alberta for the non Canadians among you) with pictures from our trip south from Alaska.

Click here for all the Photos