Travelling to Xanadu! A Year in the USA..PART 3

North America
June 28th 2003
Published: June 28th 2003
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What I most liked was the strong connection maintained with the sea in Salem. We went aboard the dinky little sailing ship the “Friendship”, maintained by the National Parks. We didn’t go into the old Customs House (once run by Nathanial Hawthorne) as it cost! There was a craft fair on the waterfront where old-timers and new enthusiasts demonstrated maritime model making, knot tying, scrimshaw etc. Just great! Capstan shanties were being sung by a folk group which included “Bound for South Australia!”. The whaling fleets from these areas established some of the earliest connections with Australia from the 1790s, and this was a pleasant reminder that made me a little homesick.

We saw the “House of Seven Gables” and then shot through to the north, to get caught in a traffic jam on the coast. New Hampshire has only about twenty miles of coastline, and it was packed with summer vacationers. We couldn’t get accommodation so we headed inland to a trusty State Park. This time though we arrived too late and were confronted with closed gate. So it was a truck stop!

We are now poised for Canada.

(20-25 July 2001)

After staying at a small and very nice waterfall called Beaver Ponds Falls, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, we climbed up into the fog, avoiding the odd moose, to a quiet international frontier post to go into Quebec.

It is a tribute to the freedom and maturity of both the US and Canada, that this little frontier post was so small and low-key. It, of course, represented the longest undefended and just about open border in the world. Just two border “guards” (if that is really a suitable term): one armed one on the US side, who we didn’t meet and one unarmed one on the Canadian side, who we had difficulty escaping, he being so friendly!.

A minute or two gave us all six-month stamps in our passports, then it was a forty-minute discussion of “life, the Universe and everything!”. The genuine friendliness and open good humour of this fellow became typical of what we could expect from all the Canadians we spoke too. He did however allude in his conversation to Canada’s on-going linguistic/ethnic problem. What he said was the more amazing because he was posted in Quebec and spoke French as part of his job. He called himself a Scots Canadian, which is very like the American idea that you are an Irish American etc, and I suspect a little perpetuating of divisions. I think it fair to say that if people think this way at all, they should be Canadian or Australian etc. first i.e. a Canadian of Scots descent. Anyway it may explain the problem, as this fellow then said that the British, when they had the power, should have kicked the French out of Quebec, as they had done with the Achadian French (Cajuns) in Nova Scotia. He conceded that it was probably too late now! All this from a Canadian immigration fellow working in Quebec! Anyway, as I have said, I hope that this attitude is more in the minds of a few, than a real and widespread phenomenon.

I found out later that the population of Quebec is about (aboot?) seven millions, of which one million are Anglophones. Francophones are found elsewhere however in Canada. I get the impression that the differences between the Anglophones and Francophones is exaggerated by the media, as relations seem businesslike and at least polite to me, even if there is no real love loss between them.

Quebec province and its people are something special. We had our third mechanical hiccough with HaRV. On a back road just over the border, a mysterious knocking developed in the front end, so we found our way to a small garage. The problem was diagnosed as worn front break pads and replaced by very friendly Francophone Quebecois mechanics, who genuinely and happily chatted to us to practice their English. Evidently the legendary disdain for English in France does not apply to “New France” if you are sensitive to their language and apologise for your lack of knowledge of the same. I said something like:"”Je swe (sp!) Australien. Pardon a moi, non parlet Fancais”. The crappy grammar (and spelling) didn’t seem to matter to them as it showed perhaps a lack of arrogance about speaking English. They all want to learn good English in order to travel, but I suppose must feel ambivalent about it. We were invited to the fellow’s home, and the bill was very reasonable, compared with what we had previously paid below the border.

The Quebec countryside has similarities with the US and many of the same stores (such as the ubiquitous Wal-Mart), but it is refreshingly different to be working in kilometres again and see signage almost exclusively in French. It’s the little things, like now being able to use a real “toilette” again, rather than having to do it in a “washroom” (this is still the preferred translation on the bilingual signs however!)

Quebec City is very French but transposed to the New World. It is a beautiful old city with interesting topography. We parked for a tourist-friendly cost, high above the city on the Heights of Abraham. This is now a beautifully maintained and extensive city park overlooking the wide Saint Lawrence River. In the 1740s, it had been the site of the battle that decided the fate of Canada, when the British under General Wolfe climbed the heights from the river and defeated General Montcalm’s French garrison. Both commanders were killed but the Poms won and proceeded to expand the Citadel (which is restored and still an active army base), to keep the Quebecois who had come to Canada a century before under subjugation. It worked, and when the US attacked Quebec in 1776, they were driven off (though not in Montreal, which they occupied). When Quebec rebelled against the Brits in 1837, they too were defeated.

An Anglophone Canadian told me of course that this was “unfinished business” with the Quebecois as they are taught in their schools that the cursed English beat them, and he believed that this created a wonderful opportunity to exploit the chip on the shoulder for political purposes. I rather hope not, as there have been plenty of antidotes to this. The very year that the Thirteen Colonies rebelled to the south, Britain was giving the Quebecois more autonomy and the right to their own language and schools etc. It was Quebec militia who were one of two units who repelled the American invasion in 1776, and to this day French speaking Canadians make up the bulk of the Canadian army, being imbued with British style drill and discipline. Finally I think about six of the most recent Canadian Prime Ministers (including the current one Jean Gretchin and the Governor General) have been French Canadians. The Quebecois know that if they “went it alone” they would be the weakest link in any NAFTA agreement or free trade arrangement with Canada, the US and Mexico. So my guess is that separation just won’t happen.

Below the citadel is the Old Town of Quebec City, which is the only walled city still existing in North America. It is picturesque indeed, ancient and very French. There is a British Imperial overlay in the town from the last century, with monuments to various Governors. One of the earliest was an American Loyalist born in Massachusetts in the 1750s, who came to Canada after the American Revolution. Loyalists (35 to 40 % of the population south of the border) were the first of a long line of émigrés from the US to Canada (escaped slaves and draft resisters in this century) and says something about Canada’s freedom (notwithstanding the earlier Imperial context.)

There are also monuments aplenty to the Quebec before the 1740s when the French were pre-eminent. All these monuments are bilingual, and any differences between Francophones and Anglophones have been put aside or filed under “unfinished business” in the interests of the tourist dollar!

We were thoroughly entranced by the sights and sounds of Quebec, and the food is wonderful. Baguettes, the cakes and even escargot.

In all the Canadian cities, Jessie and Raymond were a sight to see. We had purchased two little “Chinese special” scooters for them in the US and they scooted everywhere on the pavements. When Daggi and I got a little tired, we were known to borrow them. That was an even more amazing sight!

From Quebec we drove to Montreal. Quite a different city to Quebec, but also very French (or “New France” perhaps) and equally appealing. Montreal is truly cosmopolitan (with so many immigrants, it reminded us of Melbourne!). We drove down the guts of the city, through narrow cobblestone streets and wound up of all places, right at the old waterfront. We took out a $15 parking permit from the automat and proceeded to the tourist information down the little streets. There we were told that we could stay if we wished in the heart of the city, overnight. How civilised and welcoming is that? In Melbourne you’d get clamped! Daggi counted twenty-two mobile homes/RVs parked at the waterfront carpark. These were mainly vehicles with Quebec numberplates, who knew about this cheap over-nighter.

This meant that we could see Montreal’s nightlife. The city is amazing and doesn’t seem to sleep. Various acts, free concerts, jugglers, magicians, portrait artists, little stalls selling bits and pieces to the tourists, and even music groups and cultural displays from Africa, and so on, all on the streets until the small hours. The kids particularly thought it was great as they scooted about!

Earlier we had wandered to the main cathedral, feeling rather wounded after an “all you can eat” buffet in Chinatown for $6-50 each. Vaguely I made out an Australian accent on the steps of the church. Here was this fellow drumming up business for a show later that evening.

After talking with him for a moment, I realised his face was very familiar, (I have always been reasonable good with faces but crap with names). I asked, “Aren’t you Lano?” (You may remember the Lano and Woodley comedy series on the ABC (that’s Australian Broadcasting Corporation for our American correspondents )). They were very funny indeed with plenty of mine and new spins on the straight bloke (not meaning “heterosexual”!) and the funny bloke.

Anyway, I got it a little wrong as it was the “other” one, Frank Woodley to whom I spoke. He is a good guy, very down to earth, and quite happy to be recognised. They were doing a show here in one of the main Montreal theatres on the way to the Edinburgh Comedy Festival. We suggested that it was a shame that their TV show had been canned as we were some of their greatest fans. Jessie in particular was rather star-struck and quite in awe to meet one half of the duo. Anyway we scored free tickets from him and went to see the show that evening. It was great, and here we met two other Aussie girls studying law at McGill University in Montreal (they had paid for their tickets!)

Then off to Ottawa. I didn’t think Quebec or Montreal could be matched. How wrong did I turn out to be! We had a bit of trouble getting there though, as there are just too many other wonderful attractions to hold us up!

We decided that, rather than go straight to Ottawa, we would check out the Gatineau National Conservation Park, a little way north of the city in Quebec. Disaster seems always to be averted, and we seem to turn trouble into triumph! We got a little lost; arrived late in the heat, to find that there were absolutely no “hookups”, let alone campsites to be had. It was the holiday season and the whole place was booked up. (Raymond read a T-shirt the other day that said: “If it’s called ‘The Tourist Season”, then why can’t you shoot them?”)

Anyway, the Quebec Parks fellow told us that we were welcome to stay in the carpark near the office, free of charge for the night. Isn’t that generous spirited? The following day, still no spaces, so we bought a day pass with the intention of doing some walking. During the day we met some wonderful Canadians who amongst other things, made the offer for us to park at their place, gave us stacks of tips, drew maps and so on. They are such openhearted people. One of these fellows told about the Lusk Cave system inside the park. So for a spot of spieliology!

A five-kilometre walk to the caves left most of the throng behind. You descend into the caves, which are actually an underground river of quite warm water, and squeeze through a passageway under the mountain. A torch (flashlight) and a little courage were essential. Jessie particularly loved it, and went through the mountain three times. At one point, it is necessary to hold your breath in the dark and submerge, as the space between the roof of the cave and the water is just too small. I don’t think there were any rock-spiders in the cave.

Then off we went, out of the park under a beautiful covered bridge, and onward to Ottawa. For a capital city, it too is very welcoming as we found an inexpensive campground very centrally indeed. It was actually next to a gorge of the Ottawa River, with parklands nearby, where we were able to watch wild ground hogs and black squirrels quite closely.

Ottawa is so picturesque, with such a stately setting, and is well laid out. Apparently Queen Victoria herself settled the argument over where the Canadian capital was to be in 1867, by giving it to Ottawa because it was “smack dab” on the language border between French and English speakers. The Ottawa River (a tributary of the Saint Lawrence) runs through the city, with Francophone suburbs like Hull and Gatineau to the north and Anglophone to the south.

The imposing public buildings, most dating from the 1850s, are set out on Parliament Hill, a cliff top high above the Ottawa River.

The view from above, down to the river and the interesting Rideau Locks is brilliant. This series of locks linked Ottawa with Toronto to improve military communication due to fear of American invasion in the 1830s.

The most impressive building on Parliament Hill is undoubtedly the Parliament itself. It is very English, with its own Big Ben looking very like Westminster, but with many classic extensions, wings and offices in a retrained pseudo-Gothic/Gallic style with gargoyles, flying buttresses and towers. All rather breathtaking and in a lofty and pleasant setting. Tower Hill as they call this precinct, is well laid out with a rotunda, wonderful views and great public statues. They even have a little enclosure where volunteers feed stray cats, and to the great amusement of the tourists, wild raccoons come in at night to steal the cat food.

At ten on Sunday morning, I watched the Changing of the Guard (Canadian Grenadiers resplendent in busbees and red tunics, military band and pipers). The ceremony was more elaborate than the British counterpart (doubtless catering for the multitude of tourist). The drill was mesmerising, being of the more precise and I think, much better British variety. It was almost identical to the Australian Army but for a few minor points.

We went on the free tour through the House of Commons and the Senate. Raymond went temporarily missing in the bowels of Parliament and we thought that he may have ended up in the Prime Minister’s office. While we waited for him, we met a very knowledgeable student teacher who was working as a guide at parliament and we talked about the differences in our two systems. It is interesting that the Canadians still have a non-elected Senate appointed by the Commons, however the Senate still has the power to reject Money Bills. Probably not being elected may make this less likely due to less partisanship, but maybe not and so there is still the possibility of the Australian scenario of 1974 happening here too.

In Ottawa we also saw the interesting modern National Gallery of Canada and I visited the Canadian War Museum. The latter was fascinating, covering as it did the days of General Wolfe; the US invasion; right up to the Canadian Peacekeepers and their contribution to NATO. Highlights for me was the treatment of World War One, and notable Canadian support when their soldiers and the First Australian Division broke the Hindenburg Line and save Amiens on 8 August 1918 (Ludendorff called it “the Black day for the German Army”). The displays on Dieppe and Arnhem in World War 2 were also very interesting.

We wandered this wonderful city, along the banks of the Ottawa River; to their colourful market where we had very French cakes and cappuccinos. We also ate Lebanese, which reminded us of home!! Interestingly there was a peaceful demonstration going on in one main street by assorted anarchist types against the G8. Possibly a similar “rent-a-crowd” that were in Melbourne last year. So many other sights and sounds in Ottawa, but we had to tear ourselves away. So we headed southwest towards Toronto and Niagara.

The journey was an interesting one as we eventually followed Highway 33: “The Loyalist Parkway” on the north shore of lake Ontario. The route commemorates the hundreds of Loyalist who fled the American Revolution, lost their lands and came to settle here with land grants from the King.

All this is fascinating and there is a little museum along the way, operated by of all groups, the United Empire Loyalists, which still exist here and continue to fly the old British flag minus St Patrick. In 2001, they sound a little like the idiot fringe or at least mild fruit cakes. They may have had a place in the last century, although I’m not even sure of that, as the UEL actually existed in Australia in the 1890s and opposed Federation.

All this points to the Canadian conundrum. After leaving Quebec and entering Ontario, the similarity with the US was even more striking, with the same cityscapes and chain stores. Quebec at least did not have a McDonalds on every second corner. It seems to me that the more alike the Canadians seem to the Americans, the more Canadians copy American ways to try to illustrate the differences. For example, on the Loyalist Parkway, there was an echo of the Colonial Parkway at Williamsburg and Yorktown, complete with the little “Stations of the Cross” plaques with historical explanations. Also in this part of Ontario, so close to the US border, there are as many Canadian Maple Leaf flags flying as you see Stars and Stripes in the US. The Canadian flag is everywhere and in all sizes. They seem to be trying to say that they are proud and different, only to confirm their very similarities to the US in doing so! A Canadian told me that it had nothing to do with the Americans, but was merely to inspire the many New Canadians and give them a sense of identity. There are as many migrants here as there are in Australia, but we don’t do this, so I’m not too sure of his explanation.

Tomorrow Niagara!

25 July
We sit in another superlative Conservation Park near Niagara Falls, having spent a wonderful day exploring the environs. Thank goodness for the digital camera, as there were so many wonderful photo opportunities that it has saved us a fortune in processing!

The Falls were indeed impressive, but not as high or grandiose as all the hype had led us to expect. Nonetheless we thoroughly enjoyed our day there in spite of the thousands of tourists and the traps to ensnare them.

We arrived last night after battling the Toronto traffic. Toronto is a little like Melbourne, complete with trams. It’s a big, modern city with a gigantic tower. We took the advise from the Canadians we met to give it a miss, so we didn’t stop.

This morning after a late start (as usual), we followed the QEW (Queen Elisabeth Way) freeway, and then drove along the southern shore of Lake Ontario to the quaint and historic little town of Niagara-On-The-Lake. From there we took the Niagara Parkway south through the most gorgeous scenery.

One of the highlights of the Parkway was the great Brock Monument with its two hundred andthirty five steps which we climbed, to get a wonderful view. This column is a little like Nelson’s Column, and marks the site of the Battle of Queenston Heights, which effectively ended the US invasion of Canada in 1812. Nearly one thousand of their troops were trapped on the Canadian side by the cliffs and captured. Interestingly, the Canadian-British force was composed partly of Negro militia who, many being ex-slaves, were loyal to the Crown as slavery was long abolished in the British Empire.

Then we hit the big attraction. Supposedly the best view, and so all the development and hustle and bustle is on the Canadian side. Since the smaller American Falls and the Horseshoe or Canadian Falls both form, flow and fall from the US side, the best view is to be had from the Canadian side.

The Canadians have had a National Park there since the 1880s and so the gardens are well established and quite magnificent. New York State is trying to catch up since the 1960s with a State Park, but suffer from geographical and topographical disadvantage.

Linking the two Niagara Falls towns is the imposing Rainbow Bridge, which is testament to the close relations today between the two countries. We walked the bridge and went through the passport control (very low key), to view the falls from the US side. I think the beauty in many ways here is easier to appreciated simply because the US side is not so touristed, nor so frequently photographed and is more subtle.

Earlier, on the Canadian side, we had paid a king’s ransom to spend fifteen minutes with scores of other gullible types on the famous “Maid of the Mist” boat (boot) that takes you up to the Canadian Falls. At least we did it and so have no regrets on that part, and we got some “bottler” photos. I suppose that it was only a matter of time before we were to become true tourists and succumb to these temptations.

According to the guide book, we are now sixteen hours straight driving from Minneapolis. We won’t be doing that though! We shall head north to Lake Superior, crossing to northern Michigan at Sault Ste. Marie Ontario instead of battling through the crowds of Detroit and Chicago. The distance should be about the same and should take another few days. This then should be my last correspondence “on the road”. When next you hear from us, it should be from our home away from home in Minnesota.

(30 July 2001)
Whew! We made it back to Minneapolis!
Seven weeks and over seven thousand miles or about twelve thousand kilometres. The places we’ve been and the things that we’ve seen!

We kept going north on the way home. After Niagara, we initially wanted to head back to Minnesota through Detroit and Chicago, but on reflection decided against travelling through these two big cities. So we went north to the interesting nickel-mining town of Sudbury and it is as well we did, because as you leave the more fertile areas of the big cities in Canada, after literally only one hundred and fifty or so kilometers, you enter the Canadian Shield.

The shield is an ancient geological formation of inhospitable rock that prevented major settlement. Canada is even more underpopulated here than comparable distances from the cities in Australia. So it is pristine. The scenery is truly breathtaking.

Once at Sault Ste. Marie, where I sent a world record e-mail from the library that was closing in fifteen minutes, we picked up a hitchhiker. (we didn’t see hitchhikers, nore many foreign tourists in the US). He was an interesting fellow, fifty-sh and a bit like an aged hippie with a story. Professionally he was a social worker on vacation, hitching to BC to meet with his son. This fellow recommended that we didn’t cross into the US at Sault Ste. Marie, but drive the “North Shore” of Lake Superior. And what a great decision this turned out to be!

About this time we realised that we were about half way across Canada on the Trans Canada Highway. The highway is well maintained and has some magnificent scenery. Little rock mounds or cairns point the way on the sides of the roads, following Indian tradition, but added by travellers.

The North Shore was great with nice state parks to stop at and plenty of extraordinary viewing points overlooking rapidly running rivers and vistas of lake and mountain. We actually saw a black bear in the wild just before the US border.

After a very friendly and laid back crossing into the US, we visited the impressive Grand Portage Historical site, with its recreated Seventeenth Century trading centre for the early fur traders. This has been accurately rebuilt, including palisades, Great Hall and Indian village, based on archaeological, historical and anthropological records. Knowledgeable volunteers in period costume completed a very fascinating picture.

From there we visited the famous Split Rock lighthouse, built high above Lake Superior.

Then Gooseberry Falls, where we knew that we were back into populated areas. It was just so crowded with people, which did spoil it a little for us. Or were we spoilt after travelling so far and generally avoiding the throng? The only places we really found crowds were in the cities and the two times that we strayed too close to the sea. Tourists I think may avoid the South this time of year.

Then to Duluth and Minneapolis.

We shall spend a couple of days gardening, washing, bill-paying, seeing neighbours and fixing the RV and then off again for a couple of weeks only this time. Perhaps a smaller circle to BC and the Canadian Rockies and then back via the Dakotas etc. More to follow as the saga continues!

(07 August 2001)

Yes, we’re off again is search of adventure! We said good-bye to Minneapolis last Saturday, having caught up with all our nice neighbours; letters and bills and Raymond mowing the lawn. Unpacking, washing and repacking, and then we took off again last Saturday 5/8 on our second odyssey. We have to make it back as promised this time, as the Minnesota State Fair begins around 24/8 and I have to be back at work three days later. Oh well, I shouldn’t complain as no one else anywhere has the long summer break that I have been given here.

We left Minneapolis and followed Interstate 94 towards Fargo, staying at the Buffalo River State Park that evening. As we have joined State Parks Minnesota, this saved us $4-00 in camping fees. The park was pleasant though not spectacular and rather empty due to the heat (well into the late nineties with high humidity) and the high petrol prices which have kept people home.

The US, with their “States Rights” imperative, means that there is no reciprocity between states in terms of membership or tie-up between state parks. As a lot of their states are not much bigger than postage stamps, this is not very good for the few overseas visitors silly enough to put up with the present exchange rate. You see such variations in everything between the states, from electoral rules to the wearing of motorcycle helmets, all controlled by parish politics. If it’s not actually “democracy” or even federalism as we know it (being more of a confederation here) it is certainly what they mean by “liberty”. Liberty is paramount and seems to mean the liberty to make sometimes quite strange political decisions (when is a chad not a chad?!) or potentially harmful personally decisions such as not wearing a seatbelt. Perhaps because there is no effective government health schemes, the latter doesn’t matter to the politicians as the taxpayers won’t have to pay for any motorcycle quadriplegics as they do in “socialist” (a really dirty word here) countries. Oh well, viva la difference!

Then North Dakota… miles and miles of flat, boring wheatbelt prairie with un-impressive little towns a long way apart, much like our Wimmera and Mallee. US and Canadian country towns on the Interstates lack any charm if they have not retained any historical character. They are like some of the worst commercial bits of any city (fast food outlets, petrol stations and retail strips) picked up and magically dumped amongst the fields. At least you know what to expect in the next town I suppose. How all these merchants make a living beats me, but the towns tend to be the same from Mississippi to Montreal. The more interesting little hamlets are those bypassed by “progress”.

The country roads are generally excellent, with comfortable wayside stops complete with picnic tables, tourist information and clean and well appointed toilets.

Numbers of American families seem to be moving for the vacation, but the travellers are dominated by retirees fleeing the empty nest. One wonders whether a life time of few holidays, hard work and material acquisition has really left them with enough time or health to see “the world” i.e. generally North America. Mostly they are elderly couples with a little yapper or a cat in a thirty five footer: a so-called “five wheel” with names like “Vagabond”, “Prowler” or even “Sundowner”. These monsters are “the third heart attack waiting to happen” when it comes to manoueverability. They have everything that opens and shuts including satellite television automatic awnings, side steps and leveling. Some stick little maps of the US states on the vehicle to show what they have done. As Raymond says: “been there, done that, can’t remember it”.

Of course the real worry in Canada and the US is that many of these people are on the road at all in their forty five-foot machines, some towing cars. We have been cut off by some whom forget that they were towing a vehicle. In Australia to drive anything approaching these lengths, you need to sit for a “heavy” endorsed licence. But not in North America. Personal liberty taken to an extreme to threaten the rights of other road users.

In quite a contrast are the bikies (or as they are known here, “bikers”) on the move. Most of them are late middle aged. Ninety percent ride Harleys, sans helmet and dress in leather cowboy chaps and bandanas. There is a big bike meeting in Sheridan Wyoming, and many are heading there. They do seem much freer spirits.

In North Dakota we “rough camped” at the southern part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The area is the famous Badlands and is picturesque and full of interesting wildlife. According to Daggi is a little like a less grand version of parts of the Grand Canyon. I thought it a little like the Flinders Ranges. Highlights here were the wild bison and the prairie dog “cities”.

Before I write about the bison I fell the iconoclastic urge coming on again.

Theodore Roosevelt has a museum dedicated to him at the park gate, and of course everybody apologised, excuses and mitigates that he was a product of his time and was a great American president who charged up San Juan Hill, established National Parks and this and that. Another American icon complete with his face on Mount Rushmore.

It appears that Teddy Roosevelt was really a bit of a “bastard”, yet he has the park named for him. We saw his “log cabin” (Maltese Cross Cabin)… log cabin to president life most of the rest with the fortune his family made in trade in New York. He was a myopic, self promoting demagogue who bought a place in the US army for the unjust war against Spain in 1898, given a honourary rank of Lieutenant Colonel with none of the hard work and not to be trusted with any real military authority. Then he promoted himself as a hero after the run up the aforementioned hill. The Republicans made him vice-president to get rid of him, which backfired when President McKinley was gunned down. He rewarded his friends by, for example making his hunting guide the Federal Marshall of Montana.

So Teddy loved the badlands. To slaughter game! Bear, wolves, buffalo, bighorn sheep etc. and he was such a poor shot that local guides were employed to set up “unsportsmanlike” shots for him. Even when he helped set up the National Park Service as president, mostly this was to help conserve game species for hunters that he had contributed to wiping out. In the Badlands the Bighorn sheep species was brought to total extinction and a related but different species was re-introduced this century from Canada. All the bears, wolves and the bison herd were totally wiped out in the Badlands as well.

The bison were re-introduced to the Badlands in 1958, and the herd now numbers over three hundred. We saw and photographed part of it and an impressive sight it was. Before leaving on our first big trip, we went to a Native American festival at Stillwater, Minnesota. There, an elderly Indian gentlemen told us that in Montana he helped try to bring back the bison by beginning the many private commercial herds on the Reservations. Apparently the local cattlemen didn’t like this competition and screamed “bruscillosis”, claiming that the bison were giving it to their cattle. So in the 1980s, one of these cattlemen “got the ear” of the State Governor, who authorised the slaughter of the herd. The old chap and others have now rebuilt their herds but there are still problems in this regard, notably around Yellowstone National Park.

According to the Ranger at Theodore Roosevelt NP, the latest is that bison don’t carry bruscillosis at all! The bison herd there he says is perhaps the purest in North America. Currently they are doing genetic profiling of this herd and others, and proving that most bison have inherited a DNA strand from some ancestral “funny business” with cattle, and it is this DNA strand that carries the disease. Bison are innocent! All very interesting. The wonders of modern science and all that!

Theodore Roosevelt NP held plenty of interest. We joined the other “rubber necks” to photograph the majestic bison herd (including an old fellow very close to the road) and the endearing little prairie dogs (or more correctly, barking squirrels.) They actually live in “villages” or “towns” of several hundred mutually supporting individuals. Their burrows are elaborate, many-chambered and deep and come right up to the road. The little individuals stand on their hind legs and bark at the cars to give warning to their fellows. Very cute.

Someone said that when you cross the Missouri River the farmers stop wearing baseball caps and start wearing Stetsons. This is a bit of an exaggeration, but there is a sense of difference, and that we are “West”. Medora, at the gateway to Theodore Roosevelt NP was such a place. An old cattle town, now with mock Western facades to trap the tourists!

12 August 01

CATCH-UP TIME! We sit in a comfortable RV park at Lake Louise, British Columbia having been in “the Bush” for several days… no electricity or showers for that matter, so this is the first opportunity that I have had to catch up on our travels. And the places we’ve been and the things that we have seen!

From North Dakota, we ventured into Montana and to the Little Bighorn National Historic Site. Poor old General Custer was certainly a collapsible American historical figure, but it turns out recent history has actually done him a bit of a dis-service. Archaeological research has recently shown up that although there was no “Last Stand” but rather a rout, there were also sorts of mitigating factors in Custer’s favour, such as poor command and intelligence higher up. I’m reading a fascinating book on it at present!

The sight was wonderfully evocative, being virtually unchanged prairie with a great museum and interpretative centre. Outside “The Custer Battlefield Trade Store” run by the Crow Reservation is also interesting, and really demonstrates who persevered. The Crow Reservation looks prosperous enough apart from some “Springervilles” amongst it.

“Springervilles(?)”… Throughout the US you see these curious oblong dismounted trailers. Just simple cabins, all the same but in various colours and conditions. This is were the rural poor live, and they are everywhere, especially in the South and on Indian Reservations. During the Great Depression, the shanties where the poor lived were called “Hoovervilles”. Today they might be called “Springervilles”, after the famous American TV Host and philosopher, Jerry Springer esq.

Anyway Montana is an amazing place! Superlative scenery that keeps getting better as you travel west and north towards the Rockies and wonderfully hospitable locals! The people here are particularly friendly, and everywhere we went, we were made just so welcome. It is really quite a contrast to the Easterners. I’m certainly generalising a bit, but this was very much our experience. The Hardin Trailer Park near Little Bighorn we could hardly escape, then we found ourselves at a fishing access to a beautiful river north of the state capital, Helena, with some very friendly Montanans with whom we shared the fire and discussed the world.

From there we were off to Glacier-Waterton Peace Park on the US Glacier National Park side of the border. Here I was particularly glad I had the digital camera, because it is not possible to take a bad picture. At Glacier we drove through the most sublime mountains, up to about 3,000 metres high, topped with glaciers and surrounded by mirror lakes and pristine forests. We saw a black bear in the wild again, which created a traffic jam on the approach to the park.

The old RV was two feet too long to be allowed to drive right through the park, so we went half way to camp and later skirted it and went in again at the northern end.

Settling in to our camp site we were welcomed by the camp deer and did some bush-walking up to the Avalanche Lake and Glacier. A small walk of only four miles and about three hours, but this walk defied superlatives. It was positively mind-blowing. We walked past mountain torrents into a hidden Shangri-La: a mirror lake surrounded by high cliffs, waterfalls and melting glaciers. Walking around the lake, Daggi and Jessie spotted a deer, and as I fumbled to get a new battery for the camera, I turned to see another deer a metre behind me, not the least bit perturbed, probably never having seen or heard a rifle.

From here we crossed the border into Alberta, and the second half of the Peace Park, the Waterton National Park. This too was quite impressive and very crowded, but not quite as large as the US park at Glacier. Here we walked fifteen kilometres in about five and half hours to the picturesque Goat Lake. The walk did follow a real goat track, which seemed to rise a thousand metres in as many kilometres. But it was breathtaking. Leaving the park, we again saw bison.

For us the border crossing was not a problem, although a much more serious crossing place than when we came into Quebec earlier. We were not apparently supposed to bring in firewood to Canada, because of Dutch Elm Disease. We did, but we weren’t told about it! The vehicle before us, high school employees from Illinois, were picked at random, and to their embarrassment, the Canadian customs went through everything in their vehicle. They too had firewood, which was confiscated. At the campsite later we found out that they had to wait over an hour for the required interview that is mandated under the circumstances. The cause of the delay apparently was a US citizen who had a criminal record and was being held to be sent back to the US and refused entry.

Once in Alberta we had a near-religious experience! We went shopping in the Co-op of a little one horse town with a dead horse, known as Pincher Creek. And guess what I found in their bakery… sausage rolls, just like home. I excitedly bought out the store and we were in rapture eating them for lunch and feeling homesick.. quite pathetic really!

From here we climbed over the Great Divide at Crowsnest Pass, following the route of the Canadian Pacific Rail. The rivers to the west of the divide flow to the Pacific, and those to the east flow into Hudson’s Bay. The pass was intriguing and a monument to Nineteenth Century courage and ingenuity. We spent quite a while at the ruins of the Leitch Coal Mine on the pass. Set up, of course by Scots, it folded by the end of the First World War, Interestingly the partner was one William Hamilton, married to Ellen and with a daughter, Jessie Hamilton, who rode her pony around the mine. Nearby, there was an interpretive centre on the Frank slide disaster, when much of this town was buried by the landslide. Times were tough.

We wended our way up the scenic route west of the Rockies, to Kootenay National Park above Lake Louise. Delightful! We entered the park and travelled through deep gorges replete with Bighorn or Rocky Mountain sheep, high mountain passes and perfect lakes such as Olive Lake fed by a spring and crystal clear.

That night in the park, Daggi and I both awoke at about 2-00 AM to an inhuman growling or grunting. I thought it may have been a bear or a moose very nearby. It wasn’t of course. It was just Jessie snoring!

We did however hear wolves howling at night. Packs of wolves move up and down the corridor from Jasper to Yellowstone, but they are apparently still a bit gun-shy as the odd US farmer still takes pot shots at them. Similar unspeakable (c.f. Oscar Wilde: “The Unspeakable hunting the Uneatable”) individuals come up from the US to hunt grizzly bears here. The Canadian government does charge them a small fortune for licences, and claim to use some of this money for conservation.

Then Lake Louise! How do I begin? It’s just SO wonderfful! Anyway I’ve run out of puff and we have to go off to Banff to find a Laundromat, so more on that in the next installment.

(19-23 August 2001)

When we were still fifteen hundred miles from Minneapolis in the middle of British Columbia we realised that we have to give Vancouver a miss and start back south. Everybody is philosophical about this, as you can only see so much, and we have seen plenty. We have to leave something for next time!

The Canadian Rockies! Where can I begin. This has been the absolute highlight of all the places we have travelled. Daggi regrets somewhat not having done this first and spending more time here. With plenty of bushwalking in a “gob smacking”, very special and idyllic setting, and a decided lack of “development” or so-called progress, it has been wonderful and we are rather sad to be leaving to return to reality. We have seen nearly every wild creature on the walking tracks including black bears. Although we have not actually seen wolves, we heard them. We have climbed magnificent, nearly four thousand metre mountains and walked glaciers.

If parts of the US were nine and a half out of ten, then the Canadian Rockies have to be fifteen out of ten. At the risk of “stirring the possum” again, all in the name of free speech, here goes! (Gee, but I can’t keep my mouth shut).. unlike the Canadians, American Wildlife Management has a much harder time due to problems with the attitudes of SOME Americans who seem to have the ear of “the powers that be” who seem deaf to a much larger sensible silent majority. The big exception seems to be the wonderful Yellowstone National Park, but plentiful wildlife here creates other problems because of greater human population in the US than in Canada.

Quite simply, the attitude of this noisy minority of Americans to Wildlife (generally) is quite backward. There seems a lack of democratic will to change and an indulgence of the personal liberty of the hunters at the expense of wild creatures. When you drive through Wyoming, the roadside warning signs are not “Wildlife Crossing”, but rather “Game Crossing”. It’s a psychological difference.

There are plenty of examples: everywhere the pawnshop and the gun shop; the hunting outfitters; the taxidermist; animal parts from stuffed alligators and bears to deer antlers and an exploitative frontier mentality which has little place in a developed and modern society. You see this a little in Canada too, but to a much lesser extent, and they apologise for it, saying for example, that these stuffed animals are from an earler time when attitudes to wildlife were different! Hunters are given game permits by greedy state governments here (and in Canada as well for the almighty dollar.. but they are mostly hunters from the US) I have heard some of these individuals use spurious excuses like the deer will starve to death in winter so it’s better to shoot them. At best I shrink away in quiet disgust, and on a generous day feel sorry for their lack of enlightenment.

Even the Parks people seem to allow culls and let dogs and powerboats into some pristine areas. Jessie suggested to one Park's person that if they restricted powerboats, the loons might come back. The parks people in the US have had to restock wild populations south of the border from Canada. Between hunters and these people being indulged by the authorities in the name of liberty and revenue; and the encroaching of the housing requirements of two hundred million people, this is no wonder.

The “best practice” the US might learn from with Wildlife management is probably their Northern neighbour. Unfortunately most Americans seem to know little about Canada! But as President Kennedy said, “the boundary between Canada and the United States is a typically human creation; it is physically invisible, geologically illogical, militarily indefensible and emotionally inescapable.”

Apologies for my candour, but as you can see this has got “under my skin” and it can be a little annoying and upsetting at times.

Glacier National Park, on the US side of the border is a magic place and really is a credit to the US National Parks Service. In Glacier National Park we had walked four hours to Avalanche Falls and Lake. I think I told you how wonderful this was in my last letter: the classic Sir Edward Landseer image of the wild deer on the shoreline of a mirror lake surrounded by towering glacial mountains. One of the few indescribably superlative images in your life that prints, like a photograph, indelibly on your brain.

The seven-hour walk at Waterton National Park, up the mountain to Goat Lake was also good preparation for our future walks, and how wonderful they would be.

Lightning strikes had created forest fires, so we were lucky to be amongst the last vehicles through the beautiful Kootenay National Park before they closed the road for several days. After crossing the Kootenay National Park, through one of the extraordinary passes that cuts the Great Divide, we arrived in Lake Louise. It is everything that it is cracked up to be! The Trailer Park was well appointed, catered for hundreds, and was run by Canada Parks. Even then we had to queue to get a place, and had to be lucky! A wonderful idea was the free busses that ran from here to the village and lake to avoid congestion on the roads. Our neighbours in the camp sight were a very nice older couple, Gill and Anne from New Brunswick driving a 45-foot motor home. We had a few drinks with them and they highlighted what we already knew, that we need to see the Canadian Maritime Provinces one-day. We will be back to Canada! (if Daggi goes missing one day, we are sure to find her in Banff or Lake Louise climbing a mountain!)

Gill and Anne highlight one of the great attractions of travelling in Canada. You actually meet people! Unlike the US, with its crazy exchange rate, people travel in Canada, and the nice thing is to make the acquaintance of someone you have met earlier further along the track (trail). (We met Gill and Anne later again at Banff).

We met numerous Australians travelling and working in Canada and so many very friendly Canadians, many of whom have been to Australia. You also meet some very interesting Americans. These tend not to only be the family groups who have come up for a cheap holiday, but older people as well, who are quite travelled themselves.

In Banff we met Alex and his wife, in a new 26-foot RV. They were from Memphis Tennessee, and had been coming to holiday in the Canadian Rockies for ten years. Alex was an eighty-one year old retired lawyer with a healthy fatalism and sense of irony, who had had several heart attacks and the big “C”. He was still full of beans and a mad keen photographer.

They were Jewish (although, unlike his wife, Alex did not seriously practise his religion). He told a wonderful story about one of his lawyer acquaintances who followed one of those Christian evangelising sects where you get “a bronze star in heaven for an ordinary conversion, and a gold star for converting a Jew”. Anyway, this fellow kept badgering old Alex to come to his church and be “saved” (this fellow of course, claiming to have the correct and exclusive solution to the Hereafter). After a while he became quite a pest with his badgering so Alex fixed him! He asked this fellow if he had any children, to which he replied that he had two lovely and god-fearing teenagers. Alex then said that he had a friend he had met through the law who lived in one of the rougher areas of Memphis. This fellow was a Black Muslim who conducted education programmes for young people at the Mosque during the week. Alex said that if he could get a written invitation from the Mosque inviting the fellows kids to attend and they went, HE would go to the fellow’s church. The response was…”ARE YOU MAD”, to which the old fellow replied, “Why? How the shoe hurts when it is on the other foot”. Apparently the young evangelist was too dim witted to understand the lesson on hypocrisy he had been dealt, but he at least stopped pestering Alex. We met this interesting couple again at Bow Falls, Banff.

Lake Louise, Banff and to a lesser extent, Jasper, are just so full of tourists. You hear just so many languages spoken. Americans and Germans are well represented, but the biggest group seems to be the Japanese. The Canadians cater brilliantly for them, going so far as employing Japanese shop assistants in most of the stores. These Japanese make up about ten percent of the residents here! There is just so much work available in tourism that, had circumstances been different, it would have been a wonderful opportunity for us to make some money so our trip wouldn’t have been so financially disasterous.

Just like at home in Queensland the Japanese arrive. They get but a few days vacation, and fly into Calgary or Vancouver to spend it in the Canadian Rockies. The Japanese dress in designer walking gear that you see them wearing on Mount Fuji, and Japanese guides employed by Parks Canada shepherd little groups of them on short walks around Lake Louise like Border Collies. They don’t go much further than the beautiful Lake Louise Chalet/Chateau.

The Chateau is chocolate-box picturesque, with Japanese weddings out the front, and luxury shopping inside. One of the more interesting shops was “Sergeant Preston’s Mounty Shop.” Quite a scandal was created a few years ago when this national “icon”, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, sold for about seven million dollars their marketing rights to Walt Disney. So today Disney owns these stores, and at Lake Louise at least, hires Japanese shop assistants to run them.

At Lake Louise we walked! Daggi and I took about six hours to climb up above the lake to the Plain of Six Glaciers. On or return Daggi took another two-hour detour up to Lake Agnes. I decide not to add to my already long walk and return to the Chalet. Raymond had Christened Daggi on the walking track, “the Energizer Bunny”, because she just goes on and on!

On the trail (track) we met an American fellow on vacation who was an optical fibre expert and who worked for Bill Gates in Oregon. He had just flown in from a week in Alaska where he learnt all about bears. He was panicked and wouldn’t walk any further up the track, as a ranger in Alaska had told him that bears eat berries along the track, and he pointed out to us that the berries were gone from the bushes. He also pointed out the fresh bear dropping on the track. Gently, and trying not to fall over in a giggling heap on the ground, we pointed out that the dropping were actually fresh horse manure as the track was also a horse trail, and that birds have been known to eat berries. Although he was still doubtful and said he had to catch a aeroplane back home from Calgary in just two hours, he continued on the walk after we assured him it was quite safe, with all the people on the track. He may have known the difference between a megabyte and a kilobyte, but he didn’t certainly know the difference between bear shit and horse shit. I’m happy to say that he was perhaps a little wiser having met us!

I can’t afford to be too smug myself however! Smart Alec me a few days later went to the wonderful Cascade Gardens in Banff, where I saw whom I supposed to be a Japanese couple in one of the beautiful gazebos there getting wedding photos taken. With my six words of polite Japanese, I inquired as to whether I may take their photograph: “Konban wa, Sumimasen, Photo Okay?”. In perfect English they answered, “sure, it was all right, but (grinning), we’re not Japanese!” The guy from Oregon may have had identification problems, but so did I!

From beautiful Lake Louise, we went on to Banff. How wonderful! Again full of Japanese tourists, but plenty of other nationalities including Australians! The little bars, restaurants and tourist traps were all interesting. The Cascade Gardens above the town are very special indeed. The Banff Springs Chalet near Bow Falls was a wonderfully imposing early twentieth century structure, but so touristed, we couldn’t even find a park.

We visited one of the finest little museums that any of us had ever seen: The Whyte Museum of Banff. Apart from fascinating exhibits on local history, they had a special exhibition on North American Bears for “The Year of the Bear” brought there from the University of Minnesota. Most of the stuffed specimens were “illegally killed” or “killed in defense of life and property” (“..he’s comin’ right for us!”).

It was well that Daggi and Jessie took note of what to do if you meet a bear in the wild! More on this later..

Just out of Banff we drove to Lake Minnewanka. Although it is very beautiful it was really just because of its name! Locals understand the connotation put on this by Australians and Brits and insist that it be pronounced “Minni-WONKER”. I think it sounds more like something out of an Austin Powers movie. Interestingly there were no “Lake Minnewanka” signs anywhere. Either they had been souvenired or someone was afraid they would be. Instead, I sought out some postcards containing the name for my friends. I said that I would probably only need two, to which Raymond replied, ..”and one wouldn’t need any postage!” Thanks Raymond.

Then the “Icefields Parkway”, north to Jasper. This was probably the penultimate part of our journey. Parks Canada bill this as “the Most Beautiful Highway in the World”. A big claim, but certainly not far of the mark. The Icefields Parkway passes two hundred and thirty-odd kilometres through four superlative National Parks: Kootenay, Banff, Yoho and Jasper National Parks. These form a critical link in the Y2Y (or Yukon to Yellowstone) wildlife corridor. The magnificent glacial mountains, climbing to nearly four thousand metres, the alpine valleys and swift rivers defy adequate description.

The south of the parkway is fenced to protect wildlife and the Canadians Parks Service has constructed tunnels and bridges for animals to pass safely. These concrete bridges are most impressive, at over a million dollars each, they are wide, fenced and covered with turf, vegetation and trees. Apart from bonafide researchers, humans are forbidden on them.

A real highlight of the Icefields Parkway was the Athabasca Glacier. This glacier is part of the Columbia Ice Shelf, which is the lowest part of the Arctic ice sheet. It is accessible to all by special, wide wheeled bus tours. We walked. Disclaimers warn you to be careful, as in 1994 a tourist fell down a crevasse and froze to death before he could be rescued. We went carefully! It was overwhelming with its sheer scale, alien beauty and the melting glacial streams.

A century ago all the numerous glaciers here extended much further. They have greatly receded possibly through global warming.

From here we drove north towards Jasper and visited the impressive Athabasca Falls. Plenty of tourists and buses. By the falls, a Canadian character was dashing off acrylic “sketches” of the falls and surrounds. Each took him about half and hour or so, and he would do about four a day and sell each to the tourists for eighty dollars. Not a bad little earner.

Jasper was also an great little town geared to tourism and the Canadian Pacific Railway, Luxurious looking railway carriages with bubble window roofs and names like “The American Orient Express” were met by buses at the station to take the tourists to the resort hotels. We stayed in the RV Park which was better! Really. It was very comfortable and wild elk (mother and calf) paid us a visit to Jessie’s particular delight the following morning.

You really see wildlife in this part of North America. The farthest north that we got was Mietta Hot Springs past Banff. These are delightful thermal springs that feed open air swimming pools set in the most idyllic mountain setting a little reminiscent of spas in rural Japan (also with plenty of Japanese and other tourists). Admission to the pool is very reasonably priced and there is a wonderful little café. On our drive to Mietta, we saw several bull elk of various ages by the road, complete with a tourist traffic jam of shutter clickers. I tried to keep at least two tourists between me and the elk, and save one picture for the classic action shot when the elk got really annoyed! It actually bluff charged one silly lady who went too close. The car park of the springs had a herd of mooching bighorn sheep who posed for photographs more willingly!

Raymond and I decided to let Jessie and “The Energizer Bunny” (Daggi) go on their four to six hour (they took four) mountain walk to Sulpher Ridge, high up above Mietta Springs whilst we would laze by the pool! This was quite okay really, but Jessie and Daggi were in for a real treat, according to the locals, seen perhaps by one in a hundred travellers.

Only after a ten minute walk along the track they saw a black bear cub on the track. Luckily, having seen the Whyte Museum exhibition on bears, they knew what to do. Mamma bear had to be nearby, and after a few minutes she appeared with two other cubs. The first little cub, curious, ventured down the path towards our girls. Mum sniffed the air. The normal reaction at this point would have been for Daggi and Jessie (now furiously operating the camera) to be shocked into stunned silence. This would have been positively the worst thing to do, apparently because the bear equates silence with the stalking behaviour of a potential predator. But, now educated “bear experts”, our girls knew what to do! You literally talk to the bear in a non-threatening way. As the curious little cub wandered towards them down the track, Daggi spoke to its mum saying something like: “Go away.. take your baby away, we don’t want your cub!” So she did. Calmly our little family of bears turned around and wandered away down the track. Jessie took about a day to stop talking about this amazing experience!

From Mietta we returned to Jasper and again crossed the Kootenay National Park going over the Jasper and the Yellowhead Pass and down the magnificent valleys past Mount Robson and the McKenzie River Valley of British Columbia. The McKenzie river is named for Alexander McKenzie, a Scot, and the first to cross Canada and North America in the 1790s, nearly twenty years before the much more celebrated Lewis and Clark (or were they Lois and Clark?).

Finally we made our crossing back into Washington State at Oroville. We managed to find quite a good little Duty Free shop on the Canadian side, and made the most of the cheaper fuel prices on the US side.

Then to the town Republic, Washington, with mock Western architecture, and establishments like “The Loose Blue Moose Bar” and “Billy-Bob’s Pawn and Guns” (that’s “pawn” with an “aw”!). The surrounding countryside was beautiful, and we stayed in an idyllic State Park called “Bonaparte Lake” (another republican!) We met some very friendly locals and shared a drink with them. And the lake had loons!

Loons are almost magical as they are ethereal. Their sound is haunting, almost like a wolf’s howl, and they are shy and allusive, which makes them all the more appealing. A family will claim a lake and nest there for generations. There is something “other-worldly” about them.

When we first camped in the wilds of North America, there was something that I missed. It was just too quiet. What was missing was the morning greeting of the magpies, and the evening kookaburras. I think the presence of the wonderful little loon now more than makes up for that.

We then wended our way through Spokane Washington, into Idaho, Missoula Montana and then back into Idaho towards Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.

That’s another story indeed!!

You’ve probably heard of the vehicle “mishap” by now. The following is the letter that I sent to all our American friends on a “need to know” basis, whilst keeping Australia in the dark as we didn’t want to unnecessarily worry them until things were sorted.

We've run into a little bad luck four days from home. We also might count it as good luck as someone was looking after us! Please don't stress, and PLEASE DON'T let anyone in Australia know yet (including Dave, as it will get back to our family there!). I don't want to worry them unnecessarily until we need to.
Coming down Teton Pass into Jackson Hole Wy. our brakes melted and we ended up going fifty yards up an emergency truck ramp. The vehicle did not tip and sustained no damage apart from front tyres and all brakes! Daggi, who was driving was the only injury. She sustained a compound fracture of her right wrist (called a "Smith Fracture" apparently). She was operated on last night here at JH St John's Hospital, and had to have two pins inserted and there being observed for how long we don't yet know. The pins will stay for two months and she will really be out of action for that long. The main thing is that she is in good spirits and is okay. The car is under repair.
We really are okay and will come through this all right, so don't worry at your end. This is just to let you know that we may be a little late back to Minneapolis and Hidden Oaks MS. I will try to keep you posted via email.
We are okay!
Fond Regards
Rowan (and family)

Every good story has an introduction, climax and denouement. Teton Pass. Jackson Hole, Wyoming USA is a bit the climax to the story of our odyssey…
God, Fate, Kismet, Causality, Khama, Chance, Luck or Chaos Theory: it’s all a bit the same! Who really knows?.. but it wasn’t Our Time and we live to tell the tale, not forgetting that Someone must have been looking after us. As I look at our photos taken from the top of the pass before “Mr Toad’s incredible ride”(that people pay big money for in amusement parks), I am reminded that Life has no “fast rewind” and it can be all over in the batting of an eye-lid. You only get one chance. We, in the end, were very lucky indeed to survive this little adventure!

Causality without blame is a good way to go. So here I go…

1. Teton Pass cautions a 10% grade and recommends trucks to use a lower gear.(we did!) It’s more than 10%. Probably over 12%. Warnings are not adequate for people who don’t know the road and even locals get into trouble. It was far steeper than any other of the numerous passes that we had travelled without problems elsewhere in the Rockies.
2. Teton Pass is notorious for many accidents and fatalities, including many locals. ( a fellow, two days before us went over the other side, wasn’t discovered for seventeen hours, and ended up a quadriplegic. Most truckies (truckers) die on these ramps, which are there really just to protect other road users!)
3. Later we found out that our rear drum brakes were leaking brake fluid, tranferring all braking to the front discs.
4. Our handbrake didn’t work, as (we thought) who really needs it when you have an automatic with a Park gear? Save money!
5. We have a three speed automatic weighing at least two and a half tons, and not more useful (with regard to engine braking) four speed auto.
6. The vehicle is not a manual transmission. Then the problem could not have occurred.
7. I was always under the impression that First gear was merely to start a vehicle, not as an engine brake as this would rev the motor too much. We were perhaps too concerned with nursing an old motor and not doing major damage to it by using First. Maybe we were misinformed.. I don’t know. Second, however in a three speed auto was too fast for the conditions.
8. The brakes and second gear were not enough to slow the vehicle.
9. The brakes pads melted, the brake rotors became red hot and the brake fluid boiled.
10. Although we tried, selection of first gear under these circumstances is nearly impossible unless the vehicle is nearly stationary. It’s too late otherwise

Additional photos below
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