Journals, Photos and Videos

Cooper Landing, AK to Gakona, AK (289 Miles)

We’re on our way. Our objective was Gakona, AK and we made it around 5PM. 300 miles is our daily objective.

Gakona is a small town about 20 miles from Glennallen on the Tok Spur highway. It sits right on the Wrangell-St Elias National Park border. This National Park is 13,000,000 acres and is larger than Switzerland and higher as well. It contains 9 of the tallest 16 peaks in North America. We’ll bring you more about Wrangell-St Elias another day.
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We were on the road by 9:45 this morning after a pleasantly uneventful hookup. We went through our checklist and all went according to plan with no issues. We went down to Wildman’s before driving away and said some challenging good-byes to old and new and great friends.

It was very difficult going down to the store for the last time this year and cutting the umbilical cord leaving our “other family”. The folks of Cooper Landing have become our second family and support system. You start with Cheryle and Jerry then Carrie and John, Heather, Sue, Pat, Linda, the Testosterone Table regulars…..OMG…..must stop now as we would have to mention all the 350 winter time residents of the community. Thank you all for your friendship we treasure it.

As we departed, we noted the pertinent information like time, temperature (47˚). It was overcast but there was brightness in the sky. There was also “termination dust” (snow) on all the higher mountains around Cooper Landing and those we passed as we progressed north toward Anchorage.

It was a great day for sights. First - swans on Tern Lake, a beluga whale and 2 eagles as we rounded Turnagain Arm. Then all that was put to shame by the foliage as we proceeded along the Glen Highway from Anchorage to Glennallen.

We did encounter a few showers along the Seward Highway, but after Anchorage, although it was cloudy, the day was bright and beautiful and the scenery extraordinary.

Oh, we did have one unscheduled adventure. While we were setting up the camper, Angus who was on a leash, decided to go on a “walk about”. We could not find him for a while and then we found him down about a 30 degree steep hill in the muddy edge of the Copper River. George rescued him from the glacierly cold water!

It was hard to leave such great friends but we couldn’t delay without putting us at risk for snow and that was something we are determined to avoid.

Thanks again to all the Wild folk and especially Jerry and Cheryle!
We’ve had another great summer in Cooper Landing at Wildman’s but the time has come to head home. The fireweed have lost their bloom and the higher mountains around us have gotten a coat of “termination dust”. We’ve delayed our departure a couple of days since we’ve been working on a rebuild of Wildman’s Web Site.

We are eager to get on the road and get back to Colorado to see our grandkids and kids. They must have suffered with us being gone for so long.

As I mentioned, it was a great summer with a few unpleasant challenges that slowed us down when we arrived, but folks at Wildman’s and in Cooper Landing made our arrival and stay extraordinary. We will be posting anecdotes, photos and videos about the summer as well as our progress back to Colorado.

Here’s our planned itinerary, subject to change of course:
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Gakona, AK to Tok, AK with side trip to Chicken, AK (300 Miles)

A cold, bright, sunny day greeted us when we got started at 10AM in Gakona. We only had a 125 mile day ahead of us because we were hoping for a quick trip up the Top of the World Highway to Chicken and beyond.

When I say cold, it was 34º at 10 AM. Based on how often the furnace came on, I would guess that the temperature dropped below 30º over night.

It was mostly sunny as we wound through the mountains heading generally north to Tok. The snow-topped peaks of Wrangell-St Elias were ever-present in the east. It was a very scenic morning.

We reached Tok a little later than expected due to some road construction and a general slower speed because of the rougher road.

We got setup up at the Tok RV Village, ate some lunch and departed for Chicken, AK and the Top of the World Highway. This is an alternative route to Canada and takes you through Dawson, YT and finally to Whitehorse.

The upside of this route is the incredible sights and the vastness of Alaska. You can look around 360º and not see any evidence of mankind - not even wires. What we could see was acres and acres of the results of the 6 million acres of the 2004 forest fires.

On the downside is that just before you enter Chicken, the road becomes gravel and continues for at least 40 miles to the border. Some of this section of the road is a bit treacherous for RVs. It also adds 137 tough miles to the journey.
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Tok, AK to Haines Junction, AK (via Destruction Bay 290 Miles)

It was 30º when we started rolling this morning. We got a 9AM start with a bit of anxiety about the day's drive. The first 100 miles of the Canadian portion of the Alaska Highway from Beaver Creek to Destruction Bay (hmmmmm……wonder how this highway got its name!!) were, in fact, destructive on our way up in April.

We were greeted with a horrid patch of dirt road just after crossing the border. It wasn't long (1/2 mile at most) but had serious washboard. On the way up, there were several gravel sections but this one was the only one we encountered today. The Canadian construction folks have been busy this summer.

We were ok by the time we got off the gravel washboard, but shortly hit a dip that only affected the driver side. I glanced at the mirror and saw the top of one of the slides extend out about 6 inches and then bounce back. At that point we were prepared for a mess in the RV.

When we finally stopped at Canadian Customs and were asked to allow for an brief inspection, we got what we expected. The cabinet doors had popped open and contents were strewn all over the inside. The poor Canadian inspector was not quite sure what to do when he saw the mess. He just mentioned he wanted to take a peek into our freezer to make sure we were not bringing fish back for sale. He took a quick peek and pronounced us OK to leave. Think he felt sorry for the mess we had to face.

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We cleaned some of the mess but opted to wait until we got to Haines Junction to deal with most of it since it was likely we could encounter more bumps and surprises.

The rest of the drive however showed that they had not only fixed the gravel sections, but had fixed the vast majority of the worst potholes and frost heaves. We had to avoid some rough spots but, compared to other trips, this one was a walk in the park.

We need to mention that this section of highway runs along the eastern side of Canada's Kluane National Park. It has majestic snow covered peaks and shares the border with Wrangell-St Elias. With the sun cooperating today (as opposed to snowy in April), the sights were striking. This shot, from the parking lot of the campground, shows how far the fall foliage has progressed and the awesome look and feeling of the mountains as the clouds circle their tops.
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We lost an hour due to time zone change and drove very conservatively the rest of the way arriving at the Kluane RV Park at 5PM.

We need to give a plug to Sirius Satellite Radio. While we couldn't get any reception in Cooper Landing due to mountain interference, we actually got a steady signal as far north as Chicken and even better reception when we left Tok.

Amazingly, we were able to listen to the CU-CSU football game yesterday and the Broncos game and the Bears game today. It's really a great companion since the programming is diverse and entertaining and there are great stretches of highway with no alternative.
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Haines Junction, Yukon to Whitehorse (101 Miles)

We got a late start for a short, easy jaunt to Whitehorse. It was cloudy and chilly when we finally got under way at 11AM. The Alaska Highway from this point on to Dawson Creek, BC (Mile 0) is in excellent shape and it was a relief to reach here.

Haines Junction, Yukon sits on the edge of Kluane National Park and has snow capped peaks as a back drop. It's the 2nd time that we stayed here and it doesn't disappoint.

We got to Whitehorse in time to do a little shopping. We enjoy Whitehorse because it is a lively, beautiful city that is the capital of Yukon Territory. It is also the home of Sanchez Cantina - one of the best Mexican restaurants that we've ever eaten at. It is a bit expensive but it's in Whitehorse.

We are staying at the Mountain View Motel and RV Park. It's not the most elegant parks we've encountered, but the management are thoughtful and pleasant and it has all the hook-ups. We have an awesome internet connection, cable TV, and running water. This is the first time that we're staying at an RV park that hasn't turned off the water for the winter. The night temperature generally gets below freezing.

A latitude perspective:

Colorado Springs 38 degrees
Cooper Landing 60 degrees
Whitehorse 60 degrees
Tok 63 degrees
Chicken 64 degrees

Each degree is about 69 miles so you can see that we are still a bit north.

We're actually staying an extra day here in Whitehorse to make our second side trip. This one will be to Skagway. However, the Skagway weather looks a bit ominous so we'll see...

Top of the World Highway & Chicken, AK from George & Maureen Poirier on Vimeo.

Please join us while we give you a glimpse of the drive on the Top of the world highway and Chicken, AK.

As we drove past miles of burned out forest, we remembered back to 2004 when we entered Alaska and smelled smoke. 6 million acres of wildfires scorched the vast forests.

We were awestruck by the sight of the forests that went on forever after we went beyond the burn area.

The condition of the dirt road turned us around before we reached the border, but we came away amazed.

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A day in Whitehorse

We chose to forego our plans to go to Skagway due to a truly ugly weather forecast by all the weather services that we follow. We had some important things to accomplish so we weren't horribly disappointed. Also the weather in Whitehorse became sunny and pleasant.

I had to repair a wiring issue that we discovered when we arrived and Maureen had to bake an apple pie. What better reasons could there be for chilling in Whitehorse?

We also met a couple in a Bighorn that we had parked next to. They were full-timers from Wasilla and headed for Washington state. They were fighting some issues with their truck. A sensor had failed on the truck and they were waiting for the part to arrive.

They had made some nice improvements to the RV that we are going to evaluate and copy if it makes sense. The main one was a catalytic furnace that was highly efficient. Additional insulation, and a small lighting change are others that sounded appealing. In fact, they gave us a light fixture that we will use to significantly improve the lighting above the stove.

While grocery shopping, we drove around town and we were amazed there were no "for sale" signs. We were told that there was nothing available in town and if you were lucky you could rent something for $1800/mo. We did however, find this sculpture on someone's from lawn. As you can see it is made entirely of bicycle wheels. One of several sculptures they had on the front lawn.

We ended up having a busy but pleasant day and were ready to get back on the road to Watson Lake in the morning. Oh, did we mention it was windy?
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Whitehorse, YT to Watson Lake, YT (281 Miles)

Today we drove a a fairly easy 281 miles. The biggest challenge was the it rained for the first 140 miles. As a matter of fact, there was a meteorological anomaly today that was intriguing.

After raining for 140 miles, as soon as we entered British Columbia, it stopped. No big deal. Our stay in BC was all too brief since we swung back up into Yukon where, of course, it started raining again. We thought that this was pretty weird. Fortunately it cleared up soon enough and by the time we arrived, it was in the mid-50s and sunny.

Despite the rain, the scenery was excellent. We have gotten south far enough the the birch trees that were leafless since we arrived in Tok, now were full of golden foliage. And it went on for miles.

There has been an interesting change since 2009. There seems to be a significant increase in vehicles on the Alaska Highway, We certainly can't call it traffic since it's seldom that we see more than one or two vehicles on the road at any one time. But we don't feel the isolation that was present 2 years ago.

Watson Lake is the home of the Sign Forest. It's a large patch of land in the center of town with acres of signs of all sorts from all over the world. There was even one from Latvia.

In 1942, a simple signpost pointing out the distances to various points along the tote road being built (to transport supplies and equipment for the war effort) was damaged by a bulldozer Private Carl K. Lindley, was ordered to repair the sign, and decided to personalize the job by adding a sign pointing towards his home town, Danville, IL and giving the distance to it. Several other people added directions to their home towns, and the idea has been snowballing ever since. The latest count was 70,000 signs in the Forest.
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Watson Lake, YT to Fort Nelson, BC (323 Miles)

Sensory Overload. That's what happened today.

We pulled out of Watson Lake knowing that we had these ahead of us:
  • challenging mountains - the Northern Rockies
  • famous buffalo herd
  • Liard Hot Springs
  • Toad River Crossing

It was 323 mile of almost nonstop "Look at that!". We were in prime foliage season and the sun was shining so that we constantly being barraged by golden, shimmering sights.

We haven't passed this way without encountering the buffalo herds that can line the highway (and sometimes block it). One time we measured the start and end of traces (buffalo poop) and it stretched for 160 miles. We were 100 miles out of Fort Nelson before we encountered our first herd. It was larger than we have seen and was in the process of moving from the right side of the road to the left. We certainly didn't miss this photo op. We maneuvered just past the herd and pulled over to digitally catch this sight.
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After we had our share of photos and videos, we moved on 20 miles for a stop at Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park. We've stopped there before and it is a really pleasant break in the day. It's the second largest hot springs and is very well enhanced with stairs, benches and even sluices to run the hot water over a couple of small waterfalls that you can sit under. We spent more than an hour here including a quick lunch. We only wished that it could have been the end of the day.

Back on the road again and the climbing started at Muncho Lake. This is a large lake at around 3,000 feet and is always frozen over on our way up. We had to wind through a narrow stretch of road with a rock wall on our left and the lake on our right. Negotiating past oncoming truckers was an inhaling experience.

Along the way we saw the following
  • Caribou
  • Sheep
  • Elk
  • Moose

We arrived in Fort Nelson worn out from what may have been the most scenic drive we've ever been on.
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Fort Nelson, BC to Dawson Creek, BC (278 Miles)

We are now at Mile 0 (or 1422 if your heading south). We got the RV set up and drove into town to see the Mile 0 marker. We felt like we had really accomplished a lot and yet we are barely half way.

The Alaska Highway (also known as the Alaskan Highway, Alaska-Canadian Highway, or ALCAN Highway) was constructed during World War II for the purpose of connecting the U.S. to Alaska through Canada. It begins at the junction with several Canadian highways in Dawson Creek, British Columbia and runs to Delta Junction, Alaska, via Whitehorse, Yukon. Completed in 1942, it was 2,237 km or 1,390 mi long, but is becoming shorter due to rerouting. The historic end of the highway is near milepost 1422, where it meets the Richardson Highway in Delta Junction, Alaska, about 160 km (99 mi) southeast of Fairbanks. Mileposts on the Richardson Highway are numbered from Valdez, Alaska. The Alaska Highway is popularly (but unofficially) considered part of the Pan-American Highway, which extends south to Argentina. Remember Watson Lake? No, better go back and see why it is famous!

We have actually driven the highway several times now from mile zero to milepost 1422. Each time they seem to have improved the road….except the Destruction Bay area, that is!
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The drive did include going over 2 serious mountains including our old friend - Pink Mountain. The truck climbs these challenges with no problem.

Let's check the status:
Cooper Landing to Colorado Springs………3393 mi
Cooper Landing to Dawson Creek………….1677 mi
Dawson Creek to Colorado Springs……...…1716 mi

Also - it took 8 days to get here and we should be back in Colorado in 7 days (9/30). We are spending an extra day in Edmonton because it's a fun city and we can do some RV and journalling catch-up.

It was a pleasant day, but after yesterday, it was difficult to get excited about ordinary beautiful scenery and no wildlife.

The most noticeable thing for us was that we rapidly reentered civilization. The closer that we got to Dawson Creek, the more towns we passed through.

Agriculture also became a bigger part of the landscape. And with it, the businesses that have to support agriculture.

The biggest eye-opener occurred upon entering Dawson Creek. We've been here twice before and it was a sleepy small city. Now it is a burgeoning city that is so busy, it is astounding. The RV parks are almost at capacity. There are no home or apartment rentals and when you find one, it's exorbitant.

Why? It's oil and gas. Yukon, BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan are all busting at the seams with jobs and opportunities in the energy field. We stopped at a pub that we had visited before and had a fun conversation with a manager at one of the companies here. He couldn't stop talking about what was happening in Western Canada.

Tomorrow it's a longish drive to Edmonton at 377 miles. Edmonton is a fun city including the famous West Edmonton Mall - at one time, the largest in the world.
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Dawson Creek, BC to Edmonton, AB (360 Miles)

We're in Edmonton. After a 360 mile drive that took from 8:45 AM (BC time) to 5:15 PM (Alberta time). We now have entered the Mountain Time Zone……2 hours earlier than Alaska and back to Colorado time zone. The change took place about 26 miles outside of Dawson Creek which was near the Alberta border.

The weather was threatening as we left Dawson Creek with a few sprinkles and the temperature was a brisk 43º but the outlook for the drive was good. At 11:30 we entered cloudless skies and the temperature started rising in a hurry. By the time we arrived in Edmonton, it was 73º. As you may imagine, this felt like the tropics since we can't recall a day this summer that we reached the lofty 70's.
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Today's drive took us in a southeast direction The trees are a few days before peak color but are still gorgeous. We drove through lots of agriculture and, by far, the most towns and cities since April on our way to Alaska.

Another interesting phenomenon occurred as well. The truck mileage (pulling a 38' RV at close to 16,000 lbs) has been averaging around 11.7 MPG. This is very satisfactory when compared to many other tow vehicles and is significantly better than the 8 MPG that those big Class A motorhomes are getting. Today we pulled into Glowing Embers RV Park with a lofty 12.7 MPG. Our first inclination was to attribute the increase to a gradual drop in elevation. But that was not the reason since we actually climbed a bit. Wind could have also helped but that was not the case. We believe that the answer lies in the highway improvements (much smoother) and less strenuous climbing. Whatever the reason, we are grateful.

Also we've found the diesel prices very pleasant. They've dropped to $4.20 per gallon. Up here they price it by the liter like 112.9 per liter. Thank you Google for finding that conversion.

We're going to relax couple of days to take care of a few issues and get caught up on some journal related projects. We will also go to the West Edmonton Mall for the best oriental grocery store the we've ever seen. We will also go to a serious RV parts and accessories store. They take their RVing very seriously here.

We'll also luxuriate in the toasty climate of Edmonton. We suspect that isn't a common thought.



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Edmonton, AB to Airdrie, AB (168 Miles)

Well, this was going to be an easy day with a quick drive to Calgary. It appeared that we were on plan when about 13 km before Calgary a car pulled up beside us and the passenger was frantically waving and pointing to the wheel area on the camper. George looked in his outside mirror and saw the RV skirt flapping in wind and immediately pulled over onto the shoulder.

When we got out, lo and behold…..we were missing the wheel! Not just the tire but the entire assembly. We limped along the highway to the next exit which was about 8 km down the road. Fortunately there was a Canadian Tire (a big box department store) and we were able to park in their lot.

We went into the store to explain our predicament and the manager could not have been nicer! She took me to the automotive department and introduced me to Dave the manager who could not do enough to try to help. He could not repair the damage but came out to see what the damage was and to talk to the 2 tow truck drivers.

The decision was made that we would not make a decision that night but re-evaluate the situation in the morning. They suggested that maybe the RV dealer might have a way to transport us to their lot.

So we settled in for the night in the camper in Canadian Tire's parking lot.
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We called our road side assistance and they responded immediately and 2 hrs later they sent an 80 ft truck to take us to the RV dealer. As it turned out, he needed a 2nd truck to get us on the bed of the truck. As it turns out, just as the other tow truck arrived, he told us that the roadside assistance company would not pay for the second truck. It seems his truck was going to be $,1000.00 and to get it on that one we needed the 2nd at ?$?/hr and it would take 4 hours at another $200/hr. We also discovered that the RV dealership was on the other side of the highway…..maybe 1.5 mi from where we were parked. In fact, had we known, we could have turned left instead of right and had been able to drive right into their lot!
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Airdrie, AB (Thurs)

After doing the math and realizing it might be a challenge to find a place to stay and if we did it would be expensive….so we decided to purchase 4 50qt coolers and pack the contents the freezer and any items we would need at home or would spoil before we got back to rescue them.

So after breakfast we bought the coolers and set to packing our salmon and halibut and collecting the items we would need at home and cleaning out the fridge. This process took around 4 hours and was no small task. As we were ready to go into the shop and tell Mark we were on our way to Colorado and would be back when the RV was repaired…..we met him in the parking lot.
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The roaming charges for the phone were outrageous so for the most part we kept the phone off. We forgot to turn it on this am and Mark had tried to phone us. ARRGGGGHHHHH………it turns out that he tried to call us to let us know that the part would be ready on Friday and it would be delivered that pm. He felt that they could work Monday and have us on the road on Tues.

Another decision…….do we go heading out again and try to find a place to stay….or….what???

We decided to ask Mark if we could stay in the RV and, to our pleasant surprise, he said YES! As you might guess we spent the next 3 hours UNPACKING the truck and refilling the freezer….another big task.

After all was said and done and we were satisfied we had the freezer stocked properly and the rest of our items back in their places… I decided to go in and give Mark some salmon as he was doing his best to get us on the road and letting us stay in the camper. After he accepted it and thanked us for the gift he said "I have some good news for you… the part will be here tomorrow (Friday) and they could probably get it repaired and we could possibly be on the road Friday… Sat am at the latest.

As I got back to the camper, there was a gentleman standing by his truck and on the back of it was an axle! He said "I have your axle here….what should I do with it?"

I kept my composure but thought…..I would like it installed on the bottom of the camper!

'nite…..we get to sleep in the camper tonight.

Happy Birthday, Geoffrey!!
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Airdrie, AB to Lethbridge (154 Miles)

Up and at 'em by 7:30AM and preparing the camper for travel and actually for repair. We set out to find a place to get some breakfast and figure out how to kill many, many hours while they repaired the 5th wheel. After breakfast we found a mall and, although we are not shoppers, we did manage to find a bookstore and "kill" several hours there as well as walking the mall.

We then decided to head toward Western Willy and check on the status of the repair. Hmmmm…..need to find something else to do… we had seen a sign for a do it yourself dog wash. Poor Angus spent the summer on a leash and slept in the dirt under the camper and was more than in need of a wash. It seems we did get the top layer of dirt off him and made him more comfortable and when we get home we will get him a proper bath.

Impatience brought us back to the dealership around 1ish and Mark thought it would be around 3 before the RV would be ready. So we settled in their waiting room for the completion of the repairs.

Around 2:15pm we had 4 wheels on the camper as well as a new electrical component (which had also gotten damaged and potentially presented a serious problem) and were pronounced ready to continue the journey to Colorado.

What a strange wonderful feeling…..4 wheels and brakes!

It made us think again how lucky we were with the problem we had with the wheel. We could have lost the shell on the Alaska Highway with no way to communicate with the world and no services. We were frequently hundreds of miles from civilization while Airdrie just happens to be an RV mecca and had many RV dealers.

We can only hope it did not put anyone else in jeopardy with the bouncing, out-of-control wheel. We retraced our travels looking for the wheel for at least 10 miles and we did not find any trace of it. Although we did this several times and Dave from Canadian Tire and the tow truck driver did the same none of us ever spotted it. We thought it was so awesome that the 2 gentlemen would take the time to look for the tire and very appreciated and unexpected. We have no idea of how long we were traveling on 3 wheels. This we decided, really speaks well of our Ram 3500!
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Lethbridge, AB Canada to Great Falls, MT USA (187 Miles)

It is wonderful to report that the days travel was uneventful! We passed through US Customs without any problem……remember how the Canadians quizzed us about how much and what type of fish we had….and then pulled us over for an inspection? Just for fun we timed our entry back to the US……5 minutes from start to finish.

Along the way we saw many herds of antelope, a few buffalo and many cows and horses. We also noticed the trees were just beginning to show traces of color. How lucky we were able to enjoy the fall colors in AK and Canada and now we get to experience them in the lower 48.
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Adios amigo! Thanks for the great service.

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Great Falls, MT to Billings, MT (219 Miles)

As we were preparing the RV for travel several F18's went overhead and were so loud and low that we are still ducking our heads! By the time I grabbed the camera, as you can imagine, they were long gone. This photo was as they were doing maneuvers overhead. The campground was not only next to the International airport but an Air Force Base as well.

Despite its interesting location, Dick's RV Park is one of our favorites. Great Falls is a nice small city with the Charles M Russell Museum. He was one of the foremost artist of the old western frontier. Also the RV park is located next to a beautiful park next to the Missouri River.

As we drive through MT we realize what a vast country we live in……you can see for miles and miles and just see the rolling hills of the prairie and the antelope roaming freely.
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Billings, MT to Wheatland, WY (389 Miles)

We're on the glide path, finally under 1,000 miles. This leg was a bit longer at 389 miles because we wanted to avoid later afternoon Denver traffic on the next day.

The day was perfect and the scenery continued to be awesome. We went through and by some small prairie towns that have to have some interesting history. We added a revisit to this area to our bucket list. We also went near the Custer Battleground that also deserves a revisit.

Wheatland RV Park felt like a small, 1 day stopover kind of park. We had stopped there in 2009 on our way to Alaska and it worked out well.
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Wheatland, WY to Colorado Springs (238 Miles)

We got off by 8:30 AM for our last leg. We stopped in Cheyenne to fill up because the fuel prices in Wyoming were best that we'd encountered in a year. ($3.36/gal for diesel). Soon after that, we entered Colorado with 150 miles remaining.

We made an unplanned stop in Frederick to see Greg at his Air Methods base. It right next to I25 so it was a timely stop as we headed south.

We arrived in Colorado Springs at 2:30 and backed the Bighorn into its parking place in the woods next to our house.

Dimas was home to welcome us and give us a bit of a hand in getting us safely backed into our little grove. We unloaded a few of our essential items and then went up to our house and open it up.

It felt great to be home after another incredible summer in Alaska.
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