A week after leaving Alaska we're physically back in the Lower 48
-- but are we really "back" mentally and psychologically? That might
it's good to be back home in the Lower 48! Even Malmstrom feels a
little bit like "home" because it's the fourth time we've been here. It
made a nice staging place for both Alaska trips and it's a nice place to
land and spend a few days after returning from the Far North.
We plan to be here for a week so we can rest up, get a lot of things
done, enjoy the long bike path, and take advantage of the low weekly campground rate.
We drove 387 miles from the Walmart in Olds, Alberta to the Gateway
FamCamp on Malmstrom AFB in southeastern Great Falls, Montana.
map shows our route: CA 2 through Calgary to Fort McLeod;
CA 3 to Lethbridge; CA 4 to the US-Canadian border at Coutts, AB/Sweet
MT; I-15 to Great Falls; US 89/3 to 57th St.;
and 3rd Ave. to the campground, which is a couple blocks from the main
gate into the base:
We left Olds at 7:45 AM and got to Malmstrom's Gateway FamCamp at 3:45 =
We had five stops or slow-downs -- a traffic wreck in Calgary
took 20 minutes for us to go about a mile; we stopped at a rest
area south of Calgary to eat some cereal; got through the border
in only 3-4 minutes total (more below); rest area at Sweet Grass,
MT to fix sandwiches; and fuel station in Shelby, MT, where we
should have filled up but got just 10 gallons at $2.48/gallon minus 5%
with our Visa discount.
We assumed diesel would be less in Great Falls but it's $2.53-4 here and
gasoline is $2.65 at most stations we saw. In some states gas is under $2
We knew about the accident in Calgary before reaching it but had no good
alternative at 8:45 AM. Traffic was much heavier than we expected
through the city at that time.
What's amazing is that it's only the second wreck we've seen this entire
trek to and from Alaska. Oh, sure, we heard about plenty of them in
Anchorage, the Seward Hwy., etc. but we never saw them.
The border crossing back into the U.S. at Sweet Grass, MT was quick and
the easiest we've ever had. We waited a couple minutes for the truck in
front of us, then pulled up to the window.
Creek north of Great Falls
Casey-pup worked her wiggly magic on the older male agent, who came back
with bones for both dogs after checking our passports. He asked only
three questions -- how long we were in Canada, whether we have
any alcohol or tobacco, and if it was OK to give the dogs a treat!
Yes, sir, and thank you for making it so easy!
I was less concerned about this crossing than the one into Canada last
week but still, you never know when some random cosmic number comes up
and it's your turn to be searched thoroughly like we were in New
Brunswick last summer.
WEATHER & TERRAIN
The weather was near-perfect all day -- mostly sunny, dry, some moderate
wind while we were driving through farmland in Alberta and northern
Montana with signs warning about potential strong winds.
Above and below: fun with silhouettes in the
early morning sunshine through Alberta
It was 51 F. overnight in Olds and in the mid-80s F. when we got to
Great Falls. That's higher than normal but it was even higher in Great
Falls last week (90s).
We were happy when we got back here after our
first Alaska trip and it was in the 80s for several days in
mid-September. That was an even wetter, colder summer in Alaska than
this summer and we needed to dry out the camper ASAP when we got to
We don't have that problem so much this time but we sure do appreciate
the warmer, drier weather. Even if Alaska has a warm, dry summer --
for them -- it would feel cool and damp to us!
I think this is hay that needs to be baled in Alberta.
Tomorrow should be warm and sunny in Great Falls until late afternoon,
when a cold front is bringing much-needed rain to the area.
That's not such good news to us but
it is to Great Falls. The whole Northwest region of the U.S. and western
Canada has been in a drought this summer. Grass in fields and yards is
brown and crunchy from lack of rain, and wildfires are rampant.
The terrain was mostly flat all the way from Olds to Great Falls. South
of Calgary we could barely see the Rockies in the distance -- Banff
and Jasper area -- because they were under storm clouds:
Rain, high winds, snow, Labor Day crowds -- all good reasons we
didn't go down
the Cassiar Highway and through those national parks on our way back from Alaska.
GATEWAY FAM CAMP
Jim was concerned that the campground at Malmstrom AFB might be full but
at least half the sites are empty so we were able to get into the same
site we occupied in May.
We like it because there is plenty of room for all three of our vehicles
and no one is on our doorside. In fact, our "front yard" is a whole
field! The door faces north and is shaded most of the afternoon and evening.
The front cap (no windows) faces west into the afternoon sun -- and
wind, if it gets as bad as predicted. The orientation is perfect for warm
weather but could be chilly if it gets cold.
The daily rate for full hook-ups and free WiFi is $24. The WiFi is
pretty good, the phone signal is strong, and we get NBC, CBS, ABC,
and PBS with our own TV antenna. The weekly rate is only $130 =
Since MWR is closed today and tomorrow, we have until Thursday to decide
if we'll stay a week. Except for the weather, this is a good place to be
for the Labor Day holiday weekend.
It may rain several days this week and it's supposed to get
rather chilly (50s and 60s F. for highs in a couple days). We figure we'll
do outside things and shampoo the rug tomorrow while it's hot and dry,
then do other things when it's cold, rainy, windy, or otherwise less
pleasant to be outside.
The campground host said most sites were full every day in July and August,
until this past week. Folks can't reserve here, so we lucked out in both
May and now with a good selection of sites.
The air quality is also good today. It's reportedly been pretty bad
since mid-July, with wildfires in WA, OR, ID, and western MT causing
hazy skies and worse. It's nearly dark here by 8:30, which is a
surprise. That's because the sun is down, not because of smoke. Sunset
was about 8 PM.
We've been so far north all summer, with very long hours of daylight, so
this is a bit of an adjustment for us.
ALL TOGETHER NOW
After we got set up we got the car out of storage on base. It's good to
have the Odyssey back!
It was dusty but nothing bad happened, like hail damage or someone
running into it. We put mothballs under the hood and under the vehicle
to keep rodents away. Jim used a solar battery charger to keep the
battery well-charged. The car started right up.
On the way home we washed both the car and truck at a car wash on base. It was
just faster and more thorough than washing them at our campsite.
didn't have time today to begin organizing the items that are in the
back of the van. We left a bunch of things there to save weight in the
camper during the long drive to and from Alaska. I can't even remember
most of what's back there! Jim says that means we really don't need it
. . .
This 2002 car has 127,093 miles on it and it's still in great shape
-- best vehicle I've ever had. It's sometimes a pain to travel
with it plus the RV and truck (have to drive separately in
transit from one campground to the next, costs extra to park it at some
campgrounds/RV parks, extra $$$ for maintenance and insurance, etc.) but
it's so handy to have that we plan to keep it for a while longer.
Above and below: Jim plays ball with Casey in
our large "front yard"
I walked Cody in the large field between the campground and highway. Jim
played ball with Casey (photos above) and took her for a run with the
bike. All four of us will be getting more like our normal amount of
exercise now, instead of riding all day for days on end.
We're tired of that and glad to be in one place for a few days again.
There are two nearby huskies both our dogs want to
meet. Jim noted two other RVs with South Dakota tags so tomorrow we'll
get out and meet some of our new neighbors.
Next entry: our activities in Great Falls
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil