South by West- camping from Alaska to Nicaragua

United States-Travelogue  |  Travel time: January 2003 - January 2008  |  by Jerry Bazant

This journey in our pick up truck camper took us West from Ontario to British Columbia and Alaska, then South to Nicaragua. Later we trailered a sailboat and cruised the coast of BC, Alaska and Sea of Cortez in Mexico.

1-Michigan to Wyoming

Easy border crossing; Tornado; .452 Magnum Carol; Flat Nebraska; Chimney Rock; Silver cup find; Scenic Wyoming; Shopping Shock; Fort Bridger;
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We crossed the border to the US at Sault St Marie,  Michigan with the US custom wishing us a good trip to Mexico. Nice surprise as we were expecting the camper would be turned inside out. We were heading to New Richmond in Wisconsin to visit our friend Carol. Northern Michigan and Wisconsin are beautiful in the fall, yellow, red and green colors everywhere.

The town of  Ladysmith looked like a war zone. Many buildings had their roofs blown off, collapsed walls, streets with broken trees and torn up pavement. The local McDonald's restaurant had all of its windows boarded up with plywood but they were still selling hamburgers. Apparently a month ago tornado ripped through the town.

The deer in Wisconsin had some brain disease and their carcasses were littering the highway. Nobody would pick up the road kill. Turning on the radio reminded us that we were in a different country: The sniper in Washington had killed a fifth person, talk shows were beating war drums on Iraq,  three murders in Michigan in one day, a local firebug was burning down houses,... We decided that the safest place to spend the first night in the US would be a hospital parking lot.  

...We started our trip with a big camper. It was too big to tow a sailboat...

...We started our trip with a big camper. It was too big to tow a sailboat...

First impressions about US: gas is as much as in Canada, groceries have same price stickers but in more expensive US dollars, the ATM machine doesn't give you balance and shuts down after three tries.
 
Carol is a 'sweet' little lady we met in Florida a couple of years ago. Her husband was killed in a car accident and left her a condo in St. Petersburg. She smokes like a chimney, drinks like a sailor, swears like a trucker, drives a big Lincoln and sleeps with .452 magnum under the pillow. Otherwise she is very nice and has a heart of gold. In the summer Carol lives in her cottage on a lake near New Richmond and in the fall drives to Florida. "Takes me only two days", she claims proudly, even though she can barely see over the steering wheel.
We spent three days with her. I cleaned the garage,  raked leaves, cleaned gutters and other such fall cleanups. She is a compulsive shopper and the garage was full of unopened boxes with gadgets she bought years ago and never bothered to use.

It was end of October and the weather was  turning cold and so we said Good Bye to Carol and were heading south to Nebraska.....
 

...and we downsized to a home built camper. With the roof up, there is standing headroom inside......

...and we downsized to a home built camper. With the roof up, there is standing headroom inside......

Nebraska is FLAT, flat country with endless fields of corn, irrigation pipes and corn elevators. And there are trains, very long trains, maybe half a mile long, five engines pulling cars loaded with coal. Driving is endless, monotonousness and boring. Then a little finger, sticking out of flat landscape, appears on the horizon. It is the Chimney Rock, a 300 foot high, slowly eroding, pillar of hard clay. Later Scotts Bluff and many other formations begin to rise above the land. Suddenly it is a different, very picturesque countryside with white bluffs, towers and hills.

It is interesting to watch the change of the landscape at 80km/hr. I tried to imagine what it was like some 150 years ago for the pioneers to see the Chimney Rock appear. They were traveling for weeks at 20-30 km a day through flat dusty prairie, without water, firewood or shade. Then the Chimney Rock became visible, slowly growing larger every day, promising fresh water to drink, bath and rest. The worst part of their journey was behind them.

...300' Chimney Rock was the lighthouse for tired pioneers...

...300' Chimney Rock was the lighthouse for tired pioneers...

We camped at Scotts Bluff for three days in spite of cold weather. There are nice hiking trails around bluffs. The last day we visited the Chimney Rock Museum. It was amazing to look at pictures made 150 years ago and see how wind, water and frost erosion changed the Rock.

We were walking along a path marked with sign "Danger look out for rattlesnakes!" Sue was looking out for a rattler and noticed a small lump of rocks on the path. She kicked it over and something shinny appeared. Maybe a quarter, so she picked it up. Some scraping and scratching revealed an old pocked watch case. After more scraping I managed to pop it open and inside was a small, collapsible, cup!  "It is an antique collapsible silver cup from the pioneer days, carried by gentlemen to take a shot of whiskey", the museum curator told us. It laid in the ground for hundred years, thousands of people walked over it until Sue kicked it.

...gentleman used to drink whiskey from this silver collapsible cup...

...gentleman used to drink whiskey from this silver collapsible cup...

The grocery shopping in Central City's IGA was a shocker, prices were much higher than what we paid in Canada. We didn't bother to buy anything and walked out of the store to look for better deals. Fortunately the town had a Wal-Mart superstore with groceries prices that were more comparable to Canada.

The next day we drove to Wyoming. The weather forecast called for snow, up to 4" so we started early, at 6 AM. It turned out to be a good driving day, cold but sunny with strong tail wind. Southern Wyoming was endless, flat country covered with sage brush. Later, the countryside was changing to rolling hills, broad valleys, with rocks, cliffs and bluffs. Along the road we were passing windmills, open pit mines, oil derricks and towns consisting entirely of trailer parks. No trees or green grass, no river or sign of water. Only two colors in sight: sage grey and sandy brown, it was desolate and picturesque at the same time.

...Scotts Bluff looks like an ancient fortress...

...Scotts Bluff looks like an ancient fortress...

We stopped in Fort Bridger to rest and to buy groceries. Fort Bridger is famous in the history as the junction of Oregon and Mormon trails. Hordes of pioneers passed through on the way to gold  fields of California, to Mormon settlements in Salt Lake or to farmlands of Oregon. At Fort Bridger they could get supplies and rest. The army garrison in the fort was supposed to keep the Indians in line. The pioneers are long gone and Fort Bridger is now a rundown village of 150 souls. Only the restored fort recalls its fame.

A camping sign directed us to a dilapidated motel with RV hook ups. The campground was closed for the winter, so the girl in the office gave us a key to one motel room to use the bathroom. We had a campsite with a motel room, cable TV and bathtub for $19!  It was snowing in the morning but the micro furnace kept the camper warm.

...Five years and some 20 000 km later...

...Five years and some 20 000 km later...

So far the driving was very good. We tried to avoid interstates where possible, taking less congested roads through back country and small towns. Coming into a big city came as a shock. Out of the blue there was heavy traffic, eighteen wheelers, big billboards, truck stops, factories, strip malls, mobile homes and turnoffs. Ugly and chaotic. And there were US flags. Painted on buildings, billboards, hanging beside houses and mailboxes. Old, worn out cars with flags stuck in both windows. The largest flag was flying at Chrysler dealership, the company now owned by German Daimler. Was this flag waving a sign of 9/11 patriotism or Iraq warmongering? NPR- National Public Radio was excellent. It was possible to follow the broadcast from state to state by changing the dial. Surprise: In the evening we listened to CBC "As it happens"!!
It was cold and snow was in the air so we were heading south to Utah....

...on the road again, towing the sailboat from Ontario to British Columbia and to Mexico...

...on the road again, towing the sailboat from Ontario to British Columbia and to Mexico...

© Jerry Bazant, 2009
You are here : Overview The Americas United States United States-Travelogue
The trip
 
Details:
Start of journey: January 2003
Duration: 5 years
End of journey: January 2008
Travelled countries: United States
Mexico
Guatemala
Belize
The Author
 
Jerry Bazant is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 11 years.
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