Onward to Canada

Monday, 10 July 2017 15:30
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vanc2 leadInto the Rockies

The main issues with the car roadtrip-wise were a fairly large hole in the driver’s side floor (which I’d been driving around with just a piece of carpet over), and the questionable remaining lifespan of the old Ohtsu tires. These issues could be remedied fairly easily by using the red car as a temporary organ donor, so when I got home, I got to work. First, I had already acquired floorpan repair panels for the red car, so I grabbed one of the drivers side pieces and trimmed that to fit over the rusted out area. I didn’t want to weld it in because I want to do a cleaner repair at some point in the future, so instead I just cleaned up and rust-converted the bad areas, sandwiched a ton of RTV silicone between the repair panel and the bad floor, and pop riveted the whole thing into place, which gave me a solid leak-free floor that should be relatively easy to remove once I’m ready to do a real repair.

The rest of the car isn't this rusty Post-patching. That oughta hold it for a while. Back to the Tetris trunk pack


From there, it was largely a bunch of little things—I swapped the Panasports and BF Goodriches off the red car frame and onto this car, swapped in a bunch of the red car interior (including carpets, door panels, and a bunch of the vinyl panels), replaced the window weatherstripping to try to cut down on squeaks and rattles, cleaned up the trunk floor and removed the spare tire, and swapped in the tachometer, speedometer, and clock from the red car, all of which were working a lot better than the originals in the orange car. I also engaged in a small suspension experiment—with an Alaska trip still in my future, I’m looking for improved ride quality while still maintaining most if not all of the handling sharpness you get with the competition front springs. The experiment was to combine the competition sway bar with stock front springs, so I swapped out the stock bar for the thicker competition one from the red car. With the motor swap already complete, the car wasn’t perfect, but it was more than good enough.

All of that prep work took me up to late afternoon on April 28th, and I tossed my bags and tools in the car, closed up the house, said farewell to the neighbors, and headed northward. The general idea was to go straight up through central Nevada, into southern Idaho and up to the Sawtooth Range, then hook a right over to Glacier National Park, double back to Coeur d’Alene, head north into Canada from there, wander around the Canadian Rockies for a bit, then go west to Vancouver in time to make it to the job.

First stop was Tonopah, NV, where I stayed at the purported-to-be-haunted Mizpah Hotel for the evening. The Mizpah dates back to the days when Tonopah and the surrounding towns like Goldfield and Silver Peak were booming gold/silver rush mining outposts, and it’s got a lot of that old west character to it. After a good nights sleep with no ghostly visitations, I headed north out of Tonopah over some of my favorite desolate Nevada highways. There are several little towns out here that are well past their heyday. Most got their start as mining towns, then became fuel and rest stops along State Route 95, but much like historic Route 66, the towns slowly dried up as alternate routes became available and the need for motorists in more modern cars to stop for gas and service gradually diminished to the point where they could just stop in the major cities and skip all of the small towns in between.

Roadstering into the desert Downtown Tonopah, NV It's a good idea to keep an eye on your gas gauge
Nevada is a big place Middle-of-nowhere grafitti No gas available here

After passing through Mina and Luning and making pitstops at a few of the abandoned gas stations, I cut over on Highway 361 and headed north for Austin This route takes you to Middlegate, which is still a functional and popular stop on Highway 50, albeit pretty rustic. I stopped in for lunch and had a burger and a nice chat with a guy traveling from New Zealand, and the bartender regaled us with tales of “like twenty or so special forces guys” who had come in out of the blue the previous evening for beers and food after being out on some sort of top secret exercise in the desert. That’s not that far out of the realm of possibility, as the area sits just north of the Nellis Bomb Range and the Nevada Test Site, and only about 190miles from Area 51, so one never knows what’s really going on out there and who (or what) may show up.

Too slick Not your average artwork More grafitti
Vacancy Still no gas, although the price is right Good thing I've got a new motor

Leaving Middlegate, I took a side route to one of Nevada’s more scenic highways, Route 722. This goes through some lovely basin and range areas, where you can go from snowy mountains to hot dry lakes and back in the matter of a few dozens of miles. The highway rejoins Route 50 just outside of Austin, another former boom town that sits at 6600’ and is trying to reinvent itself as a desert adventure destination (hiking, hunting, mountain biking, etc). So far, the reinvention doesn’t seem to going that great, but they’re still around and kicking. I got gas (one gets gas at every opportunity way out here) and headed for Ely, NV. This unfortunately included a short stint on Interstate 80, but that would be the last time I needed to see a multi-lane divided highway for a while. 

Middlegate Station Minimal maintenance Dry lake

I jumped on Route 93 into Idaho, heading for Twin Falls, which was that evening’s stop. Due to all my previous wandering around, I got there a lot later than I’d intended to, but eventually found my way to some lodging. The next morning, I visited Shoshone Falls (which I was assuming was one of the twin falls in “Twin Falls”, but I couldn’t locate a twin, so…who knows), and like most of the rivers and waterfalls in the area this time of year, it was raging from the spring melt-off. The weather wasn’t especially good, but the falls themselves were impressive.

Shoshone Falls on a semi-gray day Another view of the falls

I continued north on 93 up to Route 75, saw a sign for Mammoth Cave, and I couldn’t resist. A short drive down a dirt road took me to what appeared to be sort of a combination junkyard/bird sanctuary, where there were equal parts junked cars and noisy peacocks scattered around. Mammoth Cave itself is actually a very large and very old lava tube that runs back underground for over half a mile. The ceiling of the tube is over 50’ high in some areas, and it’s definitely the largest lava tube I’ve ever hiked through…according to the Idaho tourism website, it’s the “largest volcanic cave in the world open to the public.” There was a guy hanging out near the entrance to both the cave and a somewhat bizarre and eclectic natural history collection (“some call it the Smithsonian of the West”), and if you handed him $10, he’d hand you a lantern and wish you luck.

Idaho & Roadster Headed to Mammoth Cave Entrance to Mammoth Cave

There was some signage in the cave, but like a lot of similar privately owned natural attractions, it was all a little makeshift and you were pretty much on your own. While not necessarily as informative or organized as, say, a national park, there is a certain charm to that kind of thing, and the ‘Smithsonian of the West’ was equally awesome, with a seriously eclectic mix of natural history items from all over semi-randomly tossed into the back room. It was $10 well spent.

Looking back at the cave entrance Inside the cave A cave in its natural estate
Inside the Smithsonian of the West Yes, that's a giraffe And, of course, weird fish
Sheep? Goats? Demon skulls? But wait, there's more A cuddly alligator gar

I continued north toward the mountains, where I stopped for the evening in Ketchum. This town is located in prime Idaho ski country, home to the world famous Sun Valley resort. Luckily for me, I was there at a really good time to visit—too late in the season for skiing, and too early for mountain biking, so it was largely deserted. Although ski season was over, the mountains still had plenty of snow on them, making the whole area postcard-perfect. It’s a lovely drive up through the Sawtooth Range from Ketchum to Stanley (which is a drive I’d done before, but without the snow), and from Stanley I cut right on Route 75 (which was a new road to me—the more I wander around, the harder it is to hit roads I haven’t been on before) along the raging Salmon River. After about an hour of driving and sightseeing, I came across a sign that read “Bayhorse (Ghost Town)”, which as you’d imagine was irresistible, so I wheeled the car onto the steep dirt road up to the town.

More Idaho adventure Sheep Bridge, over the Wood River North of Sun Valley
Driving through Sawtooth National Forest near Galena, ID It was good timing--enough snow to be scenic, not enough to be a problem Looking over the Sawtooth Range
More Sawtooths The Salmon River The road to Bayhorse
Lovely mountain views Always obey the road signs The snow was still pretty deep

When I got there, a gate was closed across the final bit of road up to the ghost town, and another sign said the area was closed for the season (the town isn’t totally abandoned like a lot of the Nevada ghost towns, it was purchased by the state of Idaho in 2006 and incorporated into the state park system in 2009). However…there it was. As with many questionable decisions in my life, I figured “better to ask forgiveness than permission”, parked the car outside the gate, climbed over, and walked in.

The town is fascinating, and big portions of it are largely intact. There’s an enormous stamp mill that’s almost 100% standing, and also what appears to be a small hotel or rooming house, a smelter and the charcoal kilns for said smelter, a barn, and the remains of several homes. Apparently the people who formed the town were originally looking for gold, but then found silver instead and set up the mill in 1877. They had a good run for about 12 years, during which time the population grew to about 300, but then the vein stopped producing and the town rapidly declined. As I generally enjoy attractions that are as uncrowded as possible, I had a great time wandering around, as I was the only human being there (and probably the only one within about a 10 mile radius or so). Ghost towns tend to feel more ghostly when they’re completely silent and uninhabited.

The old Bayhorse stamp mill and associated junk Check out the roof tiles One of the old homes of Bayhorse
Some great texture in the wooden walls The bridge into town Another view of the stamp mill

After that little trip into the past, I continued up 75 to 93 and pit stopped in Missoula for the night. It was time for a shower, so I got a hotel this time, where I was regaled with stories of just how miserable Missoula is by the girl holding down the front desk. I wasn’t staying long so I didn’t get to see the misery in person, but I can absolutely imagine a Footloose-esque, “gotta get out of this town” vibe among the younger generation there.

Although I knew that most of the roads in the park at Glacier were still closed, I still wanted to see the park when there were more snowflakes than people around. Glacier is one of the ‘big’ national parks that tends to attract busloads of tourists during the summer season, but at this time of year (and mid-week, at that) it was likely to be mostly empty. I headed up Route 83 (another new-to-me road) past Swan Lake and up into the Flatiron National Forest toward Kalispell. The area had received a dusting of snow the previous evening, and there was a very distinct snowline on the mountains along the way. Arriving at Glacier, I stopped at the entrance to a) bundle up, and b) put the top down on the car, as it wasn’t brutally cold and there was sightseeing to do. After a wave-through from the bemused Ranger at the entry station, I headed up toward the lodge where the park website had indicated that the road was closed to further travel.

Snowline Into Glacier, top down

Going-To-The-Sun Road is one of the more impressive drives in the lower 48 states, as well as an impressive bit of civil engineering in itself, but unfortunately all the really good parts get started after the lodge, so that was not going to be on the itinerary for the day. Instead, I parked near the lodge and went off on the Fish Lake hike, which is about a 6 mile in-and-out trail that goes up to (you guessed it) Fish Lake. There’s a lot of elevation gain, and a couple of really pretty creek crossings. At this time of year, there was also a good bit of snow still up there, enough that I wished I’d brought crampons or small snowshoes, but I trudged through it anyway and tried my best to stay upright. Unlike the summer months, I saw two other humans on the entire hike, so it was remarkably peaceful.

Still some snow on the trail A view of Lake McDonald More Lake McDonald

Post-hike, I hung around the lakeside at McDonald lake to catch the sunset and look at the always-lovely multicolored rocks and pebblesthat line this moraine lake. Once the sun set, I wimped out and put the top back up on the car, then headed into Kalispell for the evening. I am pretty sure I was the only person in the park during those last few hours, as I saw no cars and no people anywhere along the road and lodge area.

The colorful shores of Lake McDonald Multicolored stones More stones
Looking east And looking west. It was a pretty bright sunset. One more of the stones

I did a little laundry in Kalispell in the morning, and then headed back westward toward Coeur d’Alene. I’d stopped here on the big road trip in 2013 and really liked the place, and it seemed like a good spot to visit again before heading into the Great White North. I booked a room in a little bed and breakfast near the lake while en route, and traveled there along Route 2 through the Kootenai National Forest. The B&B was great, and in keeping with the trend on this trip, mostly deserted being off-season/mid-week. They also upgraded me to a better room since things were a bit slow, which was really nice. The restaurant on the lower level was great, and there was also a bar that served what I was told were award-winning drinks, of which I had a few. Due to it being a slow evening, I actually ended up hanging out with the staff and chatting/drinking until well after closing, after which I headed up to my room for a good nights sleep.

Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge over the Kootenay River More Kootenai Falls. Pretty pumped up from melt-off View from my room in Coeur d'Alene

My mission for the next day was to get across the Canadian border. I headed sort of northwest out of Coeur d’Alene into Washington state, and then north up routes 20 and 31 through the Colville National Forest along the Pend Oreille River to Nelway, BC, where I stopped in to chat with the border guard.

Nelway is one of the smaller US/Canada border stations, essentially just a guy in a shack with a badge and a gate. It took a little bit to explain that I was actually entering Canada to work in Vancouver for a couple of weeks, and that yes I had a work permit but that it hadn’t been processed yet, and yes I was aware that I was quite a bit east of Vancouver, and yes it was a little strange that I’d chosen to take that route and this car to get there, but eventually we got it all sorted out and he let me in, along with advice about which border station to visit near Vancouver when I needed to get my work permit processed (as this station was too small to provide that service).

Welcome to Canada!


I actually had almost no plan on a route once I’d entered Canada, so I consulted the map to figure something out for the next day or two. I had originally contemplated visiting my friend Dave in Calgary, but I had spent a little too much time wandering around Idaho and Glacier to do that and still make it to Vancouver on time, so I opted to shoot for the Canadian Rockies. I had already visited the Icefield route up through Banff on my previous trip up here, and while that would no doubt be beautiful, I decided instead to hit the west side of the range which was both a little more on the way to Vancouver, and a place I hadn’t visited before.

It was a lovely day, so I decided to drive up to Balfour and then take the ferry across Kootenay Bay, which turned out to be a good move as the scenery was amazing. From there, I went around the east side of Kootenay Lake, through Creston, and up to Cranbrook. Unwisely, I had already booked a room in Banff for the evening, which was still a pretty long way away. I briefly contemplated blowing it off and staying someplace else, but instead I decided to go for it and make the drive. This took me up through Radium Hot Springs, which is an older hot spring resort on the east side of Kootenay National Park. By the time I got there, it was dark, but luckily I had an almost-full moon lighting up the terrain. I normally try to avoid driving at night as there’s a lot less to see in the dark, but tonight the whole of Kootenay was lit up by moonlight, and it was amazing. I stopped a few times to gawk at the scenery, but for the most part tried to keep an eye out for elk and moose and get to Banff, which finally, I did.

View from the ferry across Kootenay Lake Car on a boat Just outside Cranbrook
South end of Kootenay Lake More Cranbrook area More Kootenay Lake


I hit my first rain of the trip in Banff, but thankfully it was short lived, and the car didn’t leak too much. I had decided the previous evening that if Kootenay looked great in the moonlight, it probably looked fantastic during the day, so I decided to backtrack and wander west back through the park instead of going north along the icefields and glaciers. This turned out to be a good choice, as the rain stopped and the sun broke through shortly after I left Banff, and as I’d seen the previous night, the Canadian Rockies were in their full snow-covered splendor.

I worked my way back through Kootenay National Park (east to west), stopping in several places along the way to take in the jaw-dropping scenery. The Canadian Rockies are sort of like Colorado on steroids—still big snow covered mountains, but rougher, taller, more wild, somehow more…untamed. It’s kind of hard to exactly put your finger on, but there’s a general sensation that everything is about 20% “more” than any stretch of the Rockies in the US.

The Canadian Rockies Just jaw-dropping around every corner Hiking back to the ochre/paint pot area
Just one of hundreds of scenes like this along the way More Rockies More awesomeness


On a whim, I stopped at an area that was called the “paint pots”, thinking that it’d be something like the paint pots at Yellowstone, but it turned out that this was a more literal use of the label. The Yellowstone paint pots are bubbling mud pots, but these in Kootenay are actually a naturally occurring yellow ochre source that was mined for used as yellow and orange pigment around the turn of the century—literally paint pots. It was an easy and lovely hike across the ochre area, and now my shoes are permanently yellow due to the pigments in the mud.

Yellow ochre Close up of the ochre One of the locals

I continued through Kootenay, stopping here and there, and then through Radium Springs, a historic (and still in use) hot spring area on the east side of the park. My general plan was to make it to Revelstoke that evening, and I got as far as the east side of Golden, but then news came (in the form of a giant traffic jam) that Highway 1 through the rest of Glacier was closed due to avalanches, so it was back to Golden for me. I figured everybody else would have that idea too, so I made a quick pitstop and internet browse to make sure I had a place to stay that night when I got there.

Rockies Clear skies, big rivers Hard to convey the scale of these things
Post-avalanche traffic jam A lot of trucks use the Trans-Canada Avalanche area, post-cleanup

There’s not a whole lot to do in Golden, but it is pretty. It’s got a long history as a timber and railway town, and lately it’s been picking up on tourism as it’s located on the Trans-Canada Highway roughly halfway between Glacier and Kootenay National Parks. That night, it was a giant parking lot for 18 wheel trucks, as everybody was either getting turned around or stopped there due to the avalanche cleanup. I got checked into my hotel, and then wandered downtown into a small bar for some dinner. It turned out that it was also “Hockey Night in Canada” and Edmonton was playing Anaheim in the playoffs, so when the friendly guys at the bar found out I was stuck there for the night, they made me an “honorary Canadian” as they figured I qualified—being stranded by some sort of snow event and drinking beer in a bar while watching hockey are apparently the major requirements for becoming Canadian (or at least British Columbian), and I had all of those nailed.

The next morning, I kept an eye on the BC Highways road conditions feed, and the time for the highway opening kept pushing out further and further, so there was quite a bit of just sitting around going on. The truck population had roughly doubled overnight, so once things did open it was probably going to get pretty interesting getting all of those out on one little road, but finally at about 3pm they started letting traffic go, and I filtered into a long line of vehicles back onto the road west.

We made it about halfway through Glacier National Park (about 30 miles from Golden), and traffic stopped again. This time, it was a major accident, sadly with a death involved as well. The truckers around me seemed to think this was pretty normal—the highway gets closed, people are in a hurry once it re-opens, and you get accidents. With that, it was back to Golden for another night, as cleanup was going to be extensive for this one. I was lucky enough to score another hotel room, and all things considered, I was having a much better day than others on that road.

The extra day proved to be a good thing, as the weather the following day was bright and clear, and it made for some really wonderful travelling through Glacier. The scenery there was even more spectacular in some areas than it was through Kootenay, so it took me most of the day to get through there with all of the side trips for sightseeing and hiking. I had been hoping to camp there at some point, but all of the designated camping areas hadn’t yet opened for the season, so I continued through to Kamloops and stopped there for the night.

Entering Glacier, a recurring theme on this trip Big mountains, and lots of snow Beautiful weather
It doesn't stop A postcard around every turn ...and more
Roadside waterfall Natural Bridge Falls The avalanches didn't really need any help avalanching


A little vehicle scale comparison

By this time, I was only a day away from the time that I needed to be in Vancouver for work, so the next day I went straight for the border so I could get my work papers sorted out. On the advice of the border agent that I met coming in, I went for the smaller border station at Aldergrove, where I was directed to do something called a “flag pull”, where I drove about 100 feet away and crossed the border back into the US, said hi to the border agent, then did an immediate U-turn and re-entered Canada. This time, they had me park and go into the office where they could process my work permit papers. That actually went really smoothly, as I was the only person in line for anything (as opposed to my workmates, who were busy pulling their hair out at the airport trying to get through the same process).

Now that I was officially an honorary Canadian (at least for work purposes), I finished my drive up into downtown Vancouver, parked the car, and got ready to go to work.


Next: Back to Nevada, the long way


#1 Nell Diamond 2017-07-11 07:55
You could have defected! Like White Nights, but less exciting.

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