Why is Alaska not considered part of Canada?
News and stories about the SpaceCamper
Canada, Alaska, USA
1 - Arrival in Canada
On May 6th we reached Halifax by plane via Philadelphia. A week ago it was still wintry here, but now it got warm in a short time and spring is everywhere.
While our car on the RoRo ship was still swimming from Antwerp on the way to Halifax, we were able to take a rental car from Halifax along the Lighthouse Route, as well as a multi-day trip to the north of Nova Scotia to the Cabot Trail in Breton National Park. It's still pre-season, the park hasn't had any visitors yet, the views were wonderful, and we had everything: sun, fog, snow and blue skies again. The first 1900 km drove - without our VW Spacecamper.
The car has now reached Halifax on the Atlantic Companion's ro-ro deck. Today, on May 20th, we cleared the customs formalities and can pick up our car at the port tomorrow morning at 8.30 a.m. Then the journey continues via Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa to Toronto, where we plan to arrive on Friday next week.
2 - The Four Cities Tour
We have now been in Canada for more than two weeks. Our car got off board without any problems and went through customs formalities. On May 22nd, we left Halifax directly for Quebec, having lost two days due to the ship's delayed arrival: 987 km. No problem on Canadian roads, because on the Transkanada Highway you are allowed to drive 100 - 110 km / h and there is little traffic - at least none that prevents you from keeping your speed constant. With breaks to refuel and for small meals, the on-board computer showed an average of 95 km / h. We reached Quebec around 7:00 p.m. The old town is small and can be hiked. It is surprisingly European in terms of architecture and structure. The French language here contributes to this impression. The photo shows our car in front of the Montmorency waterfall just outside the city.
From here it goes to Montreal. It's a long, big city and started almost 40 kilometers before we got to its origin in the old city center. Long weekend with Victoria Day on Monday, everything was cordoned off for pedestrians. A space camper allows easy parking in a secure multi-storey car park, check-in at a B&B in the middle of the city center and participation in the wonderful holiday. The very old part can also be hiked, but you need the Hop On / Hop Off bus to conquer the more distant parts of the city and above all to get the view from Mont Royal over the city.
Ottawa is on the border of the French-speaking province of Quebec and the English-speaking Ontario. It became the capital of Canada for this reason, but also because it was further away from the United States than Toronto. In the 19th century, there were great fears that the United States might incorporate what is now Canadian provinces. Ottawa is a very lively capital, in a beautiful location, its history museum gave us a good basis to understand the origins and history of the country since the year 1000. Here, too, an accommodation in the middle of the city.
Toronto, completely different again. A real metropolis, very international and modern, but also with the lovable, small-town and yet international flair that we found in all four cities outside the business centers. This flair is not "multicultural" as people like to propagate it in Germany. It is somehow natural, in spite of all the differences, when you move seamlessly from the more Italian to a more Indian or Chinese or Arabic part and without these appearing ghetto-like closed. We meet a mix of people from all over the world. In addition, the university and its 80,000 students shape the city.
Since leaving Halifax we have now covered almost 2000 km.
After the cities and stays there in a hotel or B&B, from now on it goes across the country, long daily routes, towards Calgary. We will get to know the Camp Grounds, where it is now slowly getting a little warmer. So far it has been rather cold as spring.
3 - From Toronto to Dawson City - the Alaska border
After the “Four Cities Tour” with all the comforts of hotels and B&B, we now had the actual part of the journey ahead of us. With day trips of 700 - 800 km we crossed Canada to Calgary. First past the large lakes, with Lake Superior in the bays still frozen over, while we had between 12 ° and 18 ° C during the day. Until shortly before Winnipeg it was rather slightly mountainous. Suddenly it became flat and agriculture began with its endless areas.
It's not as monotonous as we imagined. The Trans Canada Highway often has sections of up to 50 km without a curve. The farms are, however, well protected from wind and prying eyes within wooded small islands. There are also trees here and there along the road, and every now and then a long moraine stands in our way (20-30 m ascent, then down again for 2-3 km), which all adds up to a change during the journey. As already reported, the cruise control is set to 100 or 110 km / h and an average of about 90 km / h can be achieved with breaks. The 2500 km across Canada let you feel how much the world depends on a good harvest in Canada and the USA. Even a drive through agriculture in eastern Germany, on the other hand, appears to be small-scale.
Regina and Winnipeg are the two big centers, nice, bustling modern cities for a drainage area of about 400 km each. They are not stretched out as far as other cities. The big agriculture ends, so to speak, at the city gate, the cities are square, practical, good. We reach Calgary after driving 100 km only through hilly, extensively farmed plains where the oil pumps are. Around the metropolis of Calgary is already fountain. It is barely 150 years old, has a modern design and a lot of green, like Winnipeg and Regina.
From here it is only a short distance to Banff and its national park. It gets really touristy, Germans and Dutch with rented mobile homes, Chinese, always in bus-led groups. This covers 80% of all foreign tourists. We are repeatedly asked where the USI is, how to get the car across the pond, etc. - and we are glad that we have more than 2-3 weeks to spare. However, many Canadians also travel with their own mobile homes, some of which are more the size of a city bus - with their own car on the back.
We drive up the impressive Icefield Parkway to the Athabasca Glacier, where we have snow on our roof when we get up in the morning after it had thundered, rained and finally snowed throughout the night. We were then able to ski on the glacier in the bright sun.
From here we continue via Jasper to Dawson Creek, where the 2,400 km long Alaska Highway begins, which the USA built with Canadian consent in just 8 months (!) In 1942 to ensure supplies for the defense of Alaska against the Japanese after the loss by Pearl Habor. Accordingly, the road layout did not take into account inclines and declines. Many sections are still extremely steep, others have meanwhile been "defused" and straightened. It leads us through wonderful and varied landscapes. However, after Jasper we hardly see any foreign tourists. We are essentially with traveling Canadians and Americans. The Canadians had received free development from the USA in these areas, which today serve tourism on the one hand, but even more so to exploit the important oil and gas fields.
You see animals again and again. However, what you get to see changes depending on the region. But moose, bear, bison, deer, fox, wild sheep and goat, countless species of birds and small animals have crossed our path. Up to this point we have crossed four time zones and driven 7,100 kilometers in our own car. Canada is the second largest country in the world after Russia.
A lot is transported by road in Canada, but even more by rail between the Atlantic and Pacific. We see endless trains with up to 150 wagons and containers, stacked twice, regularly driving parallel to the highway, also at 90-100 km / h, each replacing a good 300 trucks.
Now we face Alaska, Fairbanks, Denali, Anchorage and then the southern waters near Homer, until a ferry takes us on June 30th from Haines / Alaska to Bellingham near Seattle, where we will be in time for July 4th on the national holiday.
4 - Dawson City, Canada - Haines, Alaska
We arrived in Haines and toured Alaska. Certainly only a very small part if you look at the map. But a lot if you look at the kilometers of road, because most of the country is simply not developed. There are the so-called highways, something like federal highways, but still next to nothing else.
Places are only along the highways, with no real center and no real back roads. One wonders what people live on here. There is no agriculture. Tourism remains in the short summer (gas stations, road houses for a stop), there are pumping stations along the Alaska Pipeline that certainly don't need more than ten employees. And of course the maintenance of the road network. There are only 3-4 months left in summer for this. Many roads are wavy and uneven as they are built on permafrost. A warmer summer then quickly creates waves and faults.
Cities with 1000-4000 inhabitants are considered large. And what is a medium-sized city with us, like Nuremberg, Osnabrück or perhaps Lübeck or Kiel are metropolises there, of which there are two: Anchorage and Fairbanks. The capital Juneau, which lies south in the archipelago, is small and can only be reached by sea. It has absolutely no land connection and is not the only city in Alaska that is so located. Dawson City, the last city in Canada, is a living museum, 2000 people in winter, a little over 4000 in summer. It is the center of the Klondike gold rush that began in the 1890s, quickly peaked, and left only a few successful ones. At its peak, the city had 30,000 inhabitants in the middle of what was then inhospitable and difficult to reach. Those who got really rich were actually the ones who set up pubs, hotels, shops, etc., because the gold diggers needed food and materials and the little gold they found was spent on it. Some entrepreneurs then invested their money in better gold fields and their economic yield with large equipment instead of digging with a pan. The landscape around Dawson City looks accordingly. Everything in the climate overgrows very slowly. After a hundred years it almost looks as if gold was mined a short time ago. The place itself has retained some of its charm. The pubs are quaint, and there are also guys among the 2000 who spend the winter there and somehow still have a say in the flair despite the large number of guests.
From here it goes over the Top of the World Highway, which is only open in summer. A great road over the ridges of the mountains with a US / Canada border station 2/3 of the way. The road is wide, partly steep, unpaved, but in good condition and without potholes. But at the beginning we had rain that came from high clouds, so that the landscape experience remained, but the car was completely breaded. It got sunny on the Alaska side and made the breading a layer of clay on top of the varnish. The border crossing at an altitude of over 2000 m was quick and easy.
Our first campsite near Tok had a high pressure wash station where you could clean your car. We only chose the place based on this criterion, and it was okay. On to Fairbanks, a modern business city with no skyscrapers. The oil business dominates with its companies from service to supply, as well as the US Army with huge properties. It's a long way to the Bering Sea, but logistically you can't get much further north if you need a lot of logistics. And at the top, Russia and the United States are only 85 kilometers apart.
On the way to Anchorage we stay two nights at Denali National Park, where the 6000 m high peaks of Mt Kinley protrude. We get cloudless blue skies during our 280 km bus tour through the park. You are not allowed to drive your own car there. Landscape and animals great. It is so warm that we see caribou lying on the remains of snow to cool off. And finally we can watch a grizzly for quite a while.
On the way to Anchorage we see Mt Kinley sticking out again and again. When we are then led through forest fires on the left and right of the road with pilot cars, the prospects are over. Because of the long drought, there are obviously a lot of fires this year.
We only stay in Anchorage for shopping and a city tour in our own car. An unbelievable 31 ° C is no fun and, like Fairbanks, the city doesn't offer much. Of course we checked out the small aircraft port for seaplanes. Up to 800 planes take off and land here every day. An atmosphere like a marina. You can just drive along there if you follow the advice: planes have priority.
From here we continue to the Kenai Peninsula. The natural campsite at Cook Inlet is only 27 ° C, and it cools off nicely by the water during the night.
We visit Kenai, with its Russian past, which can still be seen most clearly in the Orthodox churches. They are in function and the congregations are still growing, as a priest tells us, whose origin was obviously that of the original population. Many place names are still coined in Russian. Less than 150 years ago the USA bought Alaska from the Russians for 2 cent / acre. Good business from today's perspective. Oil and tourism make money. And every place, no matter how small, had its RV campsite, where the US monsters of camping buses, in the sense of the word, with a car on the back, connect to electricity, water and sewage. Fortunately, people are happy in their companions. You never see them outside. We now like to go to such sites if they still have tent sites. We register there. There are hardly any campers, so we usually have good washing and showering facilities for ourselves. Because the others have them in their rolling houses. Another advantage for us is that we don't need to keep bathrooms clean and yet we only pay a fraction of the accommodation costs. Another highlight on the Kenai Peninsula was the place Homer, with a great location on a narrow peninsula in the fjord with snow- and glacier-covered mountains. In Seward we visited the beautifully designed maritime museum with its aquariums. We also booked a day trip by boat into the fjords and to the huge glaciers ending in the sea, saw dolphins, whales, sea otters, an infinite number of birds on the rocks of the islands, to which we were driven within a few meters.
From here it went towards Valdez. About 100 kilometers from this city it goes into the Wrangell Mountains to an abandoned, but preserved as a museum copper place Kennecott. Almost 100 km of gravel roads in each direction were worth it. Spend the night at the outflow of a huge glacier and during the copper ore processing established in the town at the end of the 19th century. It is about 300 km from the nearest port, to which a railway line was built within two years. The copper was 70% pure. As the purity levels decreased over the years, the transportation costs became too high. The facility closed in 1932. Wrangell together with Elias and Kluane were declared a Unesco World Heritage as the largest contiguous nature reserve in the world. There is no road into it except at Kennecott.
In Valdez, the Alaska oil pipeline ends in large tanks. The 1984 oil spill in Prince Williams Sound is well remembered. With the compensation payments, a large research project on the ecology of the region was initiated. You can learn a lot about it in the museum there. The cleaning work has not yet been completed. The earthquake of 1964, which devastated all of Alaska, washed away Valdez. It was completely rebuilt 7 km further west. This event is also present everywhere in the place. Otherwise we saw the largest halibut that you can imagine here - caught by sport fishermen.
From here we had to drive another few hundred kilometers through Canada before we got to Haines. We have two wonderful days right by the fjord. Berthe played two rounds of golf, we picked up our tickets for the ferry to Bellingham, north of Seattle. For three and a half days and four nights we drive through the archipelago, and similar landscapes as you can experience with the Hurtigrouten in Norway. We are looking forward to it.
5 - From Haines to San Francisco
We leave Alaska on July 29th. by ferry from Haines to Bellingham, north of Seattle. We spend four nights on the ferry. Every night gets shorter than we drive south. The weather is wonderful, the sea calm. The trip saves us around 3000 km by car and takes us through beautiful archipelago and fjords, always with the Rocky Mountains in the background.We have a simple cabin, it's not a luxury steamer. Many others sleep in the armchairs or have pitched their tents on the upper deck or just hung up a hammock. There are several stops. Some only at night. In Sitka and Ketchican we have a few hours to go ashore. Very un-American places, a lot of influence from our Nordic countries and also Russia, which can still be seen in the few existing Orthodox churches.
Bellingham, we land in the pretty suburb of Fairhaven, from where we go to Camano island, where we will celebrate July 4th with Carol, she was au pair with us in Worms 1987, and her family. Then a trip back to Canada to see Vancouver. Due to the drought there had been violent forest fires in the last few days and so we could not see the mountains around the city. Nevertheless, we enjoyed it, the life there in its old part, the gardens and views of the water. We visit Seattle, see the first Starbucks restaurant there, which probably enjoys cult status. We don't stand in line for a coffee, but meet up with Frankie, Berthe's “sister” from her exchange time in 1968. She was here for a class reunion, which turned out well. Have a nice reunion. From here a lot of landscape. Mount Rainier National Park, then over to Oregon past Mount Hood, through the National Forests in Oregon over to Umpqua and Rosberg, where the wine grows here. Oregon produces, among other things, a very good Riesling. Small roads and gravel roads lead to the Pacific coast, which we now follow to San Francisco. We have a lot of sea fog and therefore it rarely gets warmer than 20 ° C. after 10-15 kilometers in the country the sun is shining. Every now and then, and the way there, leads through huge forests and collections of redwood.
San Francisco welcomes us with a cold wind at the Golden Gate. In the city itself it will be pleasant. For a change, we have booked a hotel in the middle of it and can conquer the city on foot or by bus. Our car fits in every standard garage in a hotel. We enjoy the time, see Frankie again, who lives here at Nappa's, and have a nice evening with her.
We have now covered a good 14,000 kilometers. From now on it will go through the national parks until we have Yellowstone Park behind us in about three weeks and reach Mount Rushmore.
6 - The National and State Parks of the Western United States
After a nice day in San Francisco, we go on July 17th. on to the impressive Mono Lake and cross Yosemite Park, which we already knew to a large extent and therefore now passed it over a route not yet known to us. Mono Lake will discharge less water to Los Angeles as part of a long-term program and will slowly fill it up again by approx. 10 m over decades in order to preserve the uniqueness of this salt lake and its flora and fauna. A challenge for California, which is suffering from a lack of water.
In Death Valley we had a sunny and, as expected, hot day, followed by an unusually heavy rainstorm with thunderstorms during the night. It remained overcast and rainy all the following day, which made the mineral colors of the mountains shine incredibly.
We pass Los Angeles to visit friends in Irvine south of it. Irvine is a city created on the drawing board, which therefore reminded us very much of the residential areas in Dubai. We enjoyed the evening and sunset on the Pacific in San Clemente.
All parks in the US are special. It will hardly be possible to say that this national park looks like another. They all stand for themselves. This is also the case with Joshua Tree Park, where these special trees, which only grow between 900 m and 1,200 m above sea level, are located.
Las Vegas cannot be left out, of course. One night was enough, but we had it in a luxury suite for comparatively little money - we could pack our car in these rooms 15 times. For a change it was nice to have a lot of space.
Grand Canyon in beautiful, clear weather. The rain from Death Valley had supplied all mountains beyond California with a lot of rain. That also brought pleasant warmth. We only had it really hot twice: once in Death Valley and once in Moab near Arches National Park. But before we got to the latter, we drove to Monument Valley, where we didn't have to get into a tourist jeep bus. Our all-wheel drive VW bus mastered the slope and the inclines without any problems.
Then we visited the Indian settlements in the Mesa Verde caves. These houses, which were abandoned about 700 years ago due to a 25-year drought, housed over 40,000 people and were never settled again, made a great impression on us. It took a lot of climbing to get there - one of the few places in the US that a wheelchair can't get to.
Bryce National Park has a unique and huge erosion structure that you can't get enough of from the various vantage points.
Unfortunately, Zion National Park was a big tourist circus. It is a relatively small park that simply had no room for the onslaught of people between its mighty mountains. The only side valley could only be reached by a bus from the park. All parking spaces in the park and in front of the park were also full. So we decided to drive through, with the appropriate stops at the roadside to enjoy this otherwise beautiful landscape.
How different was Capitol Reef, a small park, an oasis in the arid mountain environment, where fruit trees grew, the deer grazed on the campsite and you could get good fresh bread from a small shop next door.
Salt Lake City Center was, of course, dedicated to visiting "Mormon Headquarters." Very American, only put the good in the foreground, a little simple in the statements and the representations - naive art. The city itself is big and modern and has a few very nice corners in the old center.
Here, too, the rain caught us later, the heaviest and longest on our entire tour - a whole day. On the way over the Teton National Park, with its very alpine mountains, then to and later in Yellowstone Park, the weather stabilized somewhat, but remained inconsistent. The advantage, of course, was that there was no heat. We devoted three days to Yellowstone and drove almost all of the motorable roads. It was a good 700 kilometers. The geysers and the huge bison herds were of course impressive. The bears avoided the hustle and bustle, we didn't see any.
We continued via the western town of Cody, where of course we had a beer in the bar in the hotel where Buffalo Bill was performing. Next up was Bighorn State Park, which we crossed and had a campsite in its forest where we were the only guests - it only had a toilet, nothing else. Here we also watched three huge bull elk for quite a while doing themselves in a swamp on the bushes.
Of course you have to see Mount Rushmore too. The four sculptures of the presidents are impressive, also how they were technically blasted out of the granite, 95% with dynamite, and yet appear anything but crude. However, the surrounding area, the architecture at the entrance, was colossal and could easily compete in shape and taste with Franco's Valle de los Caidos. In any case, in our eyes, America could have created something unique and special here instead of this monstrous display of its values. The citizens who were there, however, seemed to see it differently.
From here our last National Park was the Badlands. They were so called because they were so difficult to cross because of their training as a barrier from the Rockies, not because the country as such was bad. Good farming took place on its heights.
From now on we went back east through the plains: South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois to Chicago, where we are now. Then we continue via Ohio to Wilmington and Washington, where we will meet many friends again. A little less than 2,000 kilometers, a piece of cake, because we have already covered more than 25,000 kilometers.
When the car is delivered to the port in Baltimore on September 9th, we'll just fly to Dallas to visit our former neighbors. Then it goes via New York, where we have planned three days to fly back to Frankfurt on September 15th. Our vehicle should be ready for collection in Hamburg on October 5th or 6th.
7 - Chicago - East Coast and Home
Our last report came from Chicago five weeks ago. With this e-mail we will be back in Germany and at home. Rainy weather and cool weather welcomed us here, as well as a non-functioning internet and telephone. During our absence, our telephone was switched to Internet telephony, which then probably had an effect on the whole system. With this e-mail we also inform you that we can be reached again.
Chicago was impressive and an architectural tour of the city by boat across the river was highly recommended. We are happy to pass this recommendation on. After San Francisco we had a big city flair again and our hotel in the middle of the city was ideal for excursions on foot. One should not miss the house and studio of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose architectural influence one encountered again and again in the city. It was this visit that encouraged us to make a stop on the drive east in Falling Waters in Pennsylvania. Here he built a house for the Pittsburgh department store owner Kaufmann over a waterfall in the middle of a forest, which was designed like a park around the house. With the honest argument that we had come completely from Germany to come here, we got admission to one of the tours that were otherwise completely sold out.
From here it was not far to our friend in Wilmington, who welcomed us warmly in Baltimore for the days until our car was returned. It's been nine years since we left Wilmington. Not much had changed. However, Nemours Mansion and Garden, under renovation at the time, was now open. Our guide was the sister-in-law of a deceased colleague I knew well. The world is small here.
We made one or two visits to friends, including in Washington DC to Berthe’s host sister from her exchange time in 1968. But we also hiked some well-known local trails.
Then it was time to drop off our car in Baltimore. We had good and correct documents, as well as a German gentleman on site, 80 years old, who, as he said, in order to keep his head fit, specializes in handling port and customs matters for people like us, among other things. So he shipped three motorhomes that day, ours was by far the smallest, and he “decipitated” a veritable Unimog. The good man was also the one who had the authorization to drive the vehicles in and out of the port area a few kilometers away, which he did with great agility in order to then drive us in his Mercedes (his Swabian was still well present after 50 years) Baltimore Airport to drive.
From here we went to Dallas, where we visited our former and English neighbors. We spent two beautiful full days together and got one of their cars to drive into the center of the otherwise typically American city that spreads over 100 kilometers. Here, of course, the “Sixth Floor Museum” was to be visited, the floor of the building from which the attack on Kennedy took place. It is touching to see this place in its everyday life, of which one heard so much at the time and did not see much because of the unusual television set.
From here we flew directly to Newark, where the New York skyline greeted us when the sky was overcast. We took the train to Penn Station and from there it was half a mile to our hotel between Times Square and Bryant Park. We were able to get tickets for the musical Matilda for the same evening. It was unbelievable how the children between 9 (Matilda) and 13 years of age acted and sang together with the adults. Otherwise we use the subway and our feet to visit Battery Park, Central Park, New World Trade Center, Times Square, Fort Tryan Park with The Cloisters, the ecclesiastical medieval exhibition of the Metropolitan Museum, the Neue Galerie. The almost three days went by as if in a flight with actually good weather, before Amtrac took us from Penn Station to Philadelphia, and Lufthansa took us to Frankfurt overnight.
At home we found everything to be fine - except for the communication technology. Flowers, a little poem, pancakes from our dear neighbors were waiting for us when we opened the door. Everything seemed very big to us - we hadn't had so much space and comfort around us for a long time.
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