We're finally on our way to Alaska! We haven't seen any jaw-dropping
scenery or big critters yet but we know we will in another day or two.
We're following the same route northbound through Alberta, British
Columbia, and the Yukon that we took three years ago.
This isn't the exact route described in the North to Alaska website above,
which includes the Icefield Parkway through Banff and Jasper National
Parks. We plan to return that way in the fall, via the Cassiar Highway.
That's what I'm talkin' about!
"Alaska or Bust," per this SUV with an enthusiastic family
from Texas that was in
the line next to us at
the Sweetgrass-Coutts border crossing. (5-31-15)
The next six entries will include trip notes through Canada for each day from Great
Falls, MT to Whitehorse, Yukon, where we plan to spend a few days.
I'll include photos and information about routing, road conditions,
terrain, crossing the border into Canada, interesting sights along the way,
campgrounds where we stayed,
and activities we did each afternoon after getting set up for the night.
ON THE ROAD TO CALGARY,
It was exciting to pull out of Malmstrom AFB this morning and have all four of us
in the truck together again, like we used to travel with the camper
before selling our house a year ago:
Puppy love: Cody is 12 now and Casey will be
3 in August.
We left the Odyssey minivan in storage at Malmstrom until our return
to Great Falls in September. It's handy to have in the Lower 48 but
would be ridiculous to take all the way to Alaska since we'll have the
truck to drive.
Jim's happy to have his navigator and co-driver back and, as you can
see, the dogs settled right into their familiar comfy positions behind our
seats and slept most of the way.
US 87 through Great
Falls to I-15; north across rhw border at Sweet Grass, MT - Coutts,
AB; NW on AB 4 to Lethbridge; north on AB 5 (Mayor McGrath
Dr.) in town; west on AB 3 to Fort McLeod; north on AB 2
to Calgary (same way we went in 2012, the Eastern Access Route to the
Alaska Hwy. described in
The Milepost book)
Map section from East Access Route page of
DISTANCE: 323 miles in 8 hours (8:45 AM to 3:45 PM
Mountain Time) with stops at two rest areas, the border crossing, and to
fuel ($2.99/gallon diesel at Sweetgrass, MT)
ROAD CONDITIONS, TRAFFIC, TERRAIN:
extremely light on I-15 once we cleared Great Falls. Also light until we
got to Lethbridge, AB, a city of 88,000+ people. Moderately light from
Lethbridge to about 30 miles out from Calgary, where traffic increased
but moved at or above the speed limits.
Everything was four-lane until
we were about 30 miles from Calgary, when it became six-lane. The roads
aren't really freeways; there is some limited access with exits
like freeways but most of the way was unlimited access for intersecting
roads and driveways.
Rolling Montana rangeland
The speed limit
was 75 MPH in Montana and 68 MPH/110 km for much of the distance in
Alberta. Jim averaged 62 MPH with the 5th-wheel in tow. This route is
all flat to rolling terrain, mostly through rangeland. There was no road
construction -- none! Our only slowdowns were for
Fantastic! It was sunny and clear enough to
see the Rockies and Continental Divide to the west from Lethbridge to
Calgary. Temps ranged from the mid-60s F. to the low 80s. The solar
panels charged the batteries all day so we used the Fantastic Fan and
ceiling fan to stay cool in the evening in the parking lot at Walmart.
THE BORDER CROSSING
We were a little concerned about this, after our annoying, time-consuming search last
summer going into New Brunswick. We did the same prep as always, with
everything we thought we'd need in the truck -- passports,
drivers' licenses, vehicle registration and insurance, list of produce
and poultry/seafood, dog vaccination papers and health certificates,
We reached the border
about noon and waited 27 minutes behind more than a dozen vehicles, including
several smaller RVs. Soon vehicles were really backed up behind us. After about
15 minutes a second lane opened up so we reached an agent a little
We saw one car pulled
over for an apparent inspection but no RVs in front of us were searched.
We figured they might pick us, but nope, we got through in just a couple
The Canadian border
agent was young and more personable than some we've met. He asked us
only for our passports (not drivers' licenses), where we live (just
nodded in understanding when Jim said we're SD residents but travel full
time in our RV), where we're going, how long we'll be in Canada, whether
we plan to sell anything in Canada, if we have tobacco or alcohol, and
if we have weapons (bear spray OK; he didn't want to see it).
There were lots of
other questions he could have asked or information re:
truck/camper registration, insurance, food items like raw eggs and
chicken that are banned, etc. but he didn't. Maybe it's a
good thing when the line is long!
Or maybe it was because Casey-pup
charmed him . . .
1) We passed many massive
agricultural operations in both Montana and Alberta -- huge
ranches, big bright green planted fields, great big silos waiting to be
filled with grain.
Silos in Alberta
2) Streams were full but
not flooded in MT and AB. There was some standing water in fields. Both
Montana and Alberta are usually relatively dry in the summer so everything will probably be
tan or brown on the return trip in September.
3) We saw some large
lilac shrubs in bloom in the towns and cities. I didn't notice very many wildflowers
along the roadways, even dandelions.
4) We enjoyed
the views of the Rockies; some peaks have snow on them. I hope
we'll be able to drive through Banff and Jasper parks on the way back in
OVERNIGHT IN CALGARY
This is our second
time staying at the same Walmart in southern
Calgary (exit 247 on AB 2). On this Sunday afternoon and evening the parking lot isn't
very full. There are several small, old Class Cs and two vans parked
near each other that we assume are seasonal workers who are living here.
We've seen that at other Walmarts in Canada. We appear to be the only
RV just staying overnight.
Jim went to
McDonald's inside Walmart to get online (more about our use of WiFi in Canada
below) to find campground information for tomorrow night, update weather
forecasts, and check e-mail. We can get several TV stations, including
Global local and national news.
Deep greens in the median,
shoulders, and fields that have been planted in northern Montana
Since we came
across the border with almost no fruits, veggies, eggs, or poultry (so
nothing would get confiscated) we restocked at Walmart this evening to
the tune of $85 CA.
Jim unhooked the
truck to get diesel. We saw prices ranging from .959/liter to
$1.049/liter today. Jim went about 1/2 mile to the Calgary Co-Op and got
diesel for $0.989/liter = $3.74/gallon Canadian, or about 25% less
in American dollars.
Visiting Canada is
interesting because there are enough differences to realize you aren't
in the U.S. any more
-- e.g., currency
(loonies, toonies, no pennies, translucent inserts in paper bills), spelling
(centre, litre), the use of kilometers, liters, and Centigrade
-- but Canadians speak the same language (mostly!), often look and
sound like U.S. natives, and have many of the same chain stores, music, etc.
As in prior visits
to Canada, however, we've had to make some financial modifications for the time
we'll be in the country, including temporary health insurance and the use of
our cell phones, MiFi, and credit cards.
When we're in the
U.S. we pay for almost everything with cash-back credit cards and pay
off the balances every month. We plan to pay cash for everything in
Canada, including fuel, so we don't incur credit card foreign
transaction fees. Withdrawing Canadian currency from ATM machines with
one of our cards is almost free. That plan worked well last summer in
the Maritimes for a month.
exchange rate is much better this summer than in 2012 and 2014 -- to our advantage, not
theirs. $400 CA from the ATM today = only about $310 withdrawn
from our account in U.S. dollars.
Pretty lake in Alberta
our phone and MiFi in Canada is still too expensive with our Verizon
plan to use the MiFi so we'll get on public WiFi when we can and
avoid any financial dealings while on unsecured internet. We paid all
our bills for June online while we were in Great Falls. There are other
internet plans but they are too complicated for the relatively short
time we'll be in Canada in June and September.
Jim called Verizon to
modify our plan for phone calls as we were driving toward the border
this morning. Previously we've paid $15/month for each line to use our
phones in Canada, with more limited minutes allowed, and we could go
back to our regular plan at any time.
The fella who talked
with Jim first had him on hold several times for a total of about half
an hour, which was very frustrating.
The rep finally transferred him to someone in the "global" unit that
told us that A/O the beginning of 2015 our antiquated flip phones may be
of limited or no use to us in Canada because of new technology that's
incompatible with the old phones.
Farmland in Alberta
The rep offered to send us
a smart phone on loan while we're here for $20 shipping and we'd return
it when we're done with it . . . but that's not real practical
because we'll be in and out of Canada three times over four months. We
We agreed to try the
modification for $10/month with 100 minutes on each phone, including
calls to each other, which are unlimited in the US. If we can't use our
basic phones in Canada, we can get our money back.
[Addendum a few days later: When we did use our phones in
make campground reservations, they worked just fine as long as we had a
decent signal of 4-5 bars.]
Next entry: the drive from Calgary to Whitecourt, AB
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil