Posted by: glenswatman | April 11, 2007

200208 Canada-BC Alb USA-Wyo Mon SDak NDak Kan

Thursday 1 August 2002  Head towards Vancouver stopping at Cruise Canada to view their motorhomes for sale.  With the exception of one discontinued model they are all cheaper in the States.  Visit cousin Chris at the hospital where she works.  Having not seen her for 13 years there’s a lot to catch up on.  She takes us out to lunch at "Seasons in the Park" a very nice restaurant where President Clinton entertained Boris Yelsin.  We have a super view of the city and a very entertaining waiter who goes to great lengths to describe the meals.  Chris has to get back to work so we drive out to the clothing optional Wreck Beach but this time get the wrong directions to it.  Scramble down a steep slope beside a pretty waterfall to emerge about 1/2 mile east of the stretch we want and in a boggy area.  Give up trying to walk across when it starts to rain.  Sit in the car by a nearby beach until our 4.30pm rendezvous with Tom and Nadia who live by Kitsilano Beach.  We have made a tentative arrangement to do an exchange with them next year but during the course of the meal plans change.  We’re a bit annoyed that they have said nothing about their intentions to bring their Golden Retriever dog with them and also didn’t know that it would have to go into quarantine.  The swap with our English motorhome is not feasible but they are quite keen to borrow our camper in Australia so we leave that option open.  Return to spend the last part of the evening with Auntie Joan and John.
Friday 2 August  Monday is BC day holiday making this a long weekend and everyone says that if we don’t get out of town and on our way by noon we might as well wait until Tuesday but that’s too long.  It’s been great to see Auntie Joan again and John has been really great showing us around, kiting us out with books and things so we’re sad to say Good-bye.  The Trans Pacific Highway 1 takes us up into the mountains to drizzle and cloud.  $10 (£4.25) toll on the Coquihalla Highway which cuts up towards Kamloops.  Just past the highest point we notice the trailer brake light flashing.  Pulling up we find the trailer brakes are not working at all.  In the middle of nowhere there is nothing we can do but continue slowly and carefully.  The garage in Kamloops finds two problems.  A cable which connects has worn away and of the 4 trailer wheels only one has brakes and judging by the rust on the magnets the other 3 haven’t for quite some time.  So much for Pat having everything checked over before we arrived.  We have little choice but to agree to the 3 brakes being repaired and hope that Pat will honour her side of the agreement and reimburse us.  Canada also have Wal Marts and Customer Service tell us we are welcome to park overnight but we can offer them little custom as the Canadian stores don’t sell fresh fruit, veg or meat and only have a very small food department.  Rain again at night.
Saturday 3 August  In Kamloops they are holding a Pow Wow, the biggest one in Canada and it lasts 3 days.  $7 each (£3) 1 day admission.  There’s a big entrance parade with hundreds of "native Americans" dressed in fantastic costumes.  Next a drum competition with different groups pounding a huge drum and wailing loudly in unison.  Throughout the day there are many different dance competitions broken down into age and dance type categories.  Hoop dancing involves a dance with up to 50 hoops being balanced.  Jingle is where the costumes have lots of bells on, traditional, shawl and chicken are some of the other varieties all accompanied by loud wailing and drumming.  We witness a special event where one young boy is given a tribal welcome into the group. I particularly enjoy seeing all the fascinating and magnificent costumes.  Sample an Indian Bannock which is a kind of donut mixture spread flat and deep fried.  Late afternoon we feel we have seen a good sampling of the different dance routines and definitely have heard enough music to pound through our heads all night.  Move to the Riverside car park on the Thompson River where 2 different wedding parties are having their photographs taken.  Sit on the man made beach where a few kids paddle in the river.   Throughout the summer they have a free concert in the park at 7.00pm and it starts off quite well with Brass Roots playing classic rock songs but they are not so good once they start playing their own songs.  Back on Wal Mart car park we are entertained when the wind gets up and trolleys begin dancing around the car park.  Quite a heavy rain storm follows.
Sunday 4 August  It’s a pleasant journey passing the Shushwap Lakes as we follow the river and even see a few waterfalls.  Snow capped mountains begin to dominate the scenery especially as we drive through Glacier National Park.  The main highway runs through many National Parks in this area and unless you intend parking your vehicle or doing any of the trails you don’t have to pay to enjoy the scenery of the Rockies.  The road peaks at Rogers Pass where we have to put our watches forward 1 hour (BST – 7 hours) to Mountain Time.  Golden is a nice little town and the Municipal Campsite offers basic pitches at $13 (£6) night right on the banks of the Kicking Horse River.  The water is a fantastic milky blue colour and it’s quite a sight watching the rafts floating down with the Canadian Pacific railway passing on the opposite bank.  Steve finds a pub in the village where he can watch the end of the Commonwealth Games with Australia winning, England second.  Usual rain in the evening.
Monday 5 August  A really cold night and morning and for the first time we need the heating on.  Pass through Yoho National Park where we pause to look at the Spiral Tunnels.  A clever engineer found a way of reducing the rail gradient from 4.5% to just over 2% by cutting a 1 km spiral track into the mountain.  It’s fascinating to see a very long train going into and coming out of the tunnel all at the same time.  Having bought an National Park $12 (£5) family day pass we are entitled to visit all the National Parks in the area until 4.00pm tomorrow.  An annual pass is $75 (£33). Cross into ALBERTA Province (Wild Rose Country) and straight into the vast area covered by Banff National Park.  Lake Louise is extremely busy as today is a public holiday in Canada.  The Lake is really pretty with lovely glacial blue water and surrounded by snow capped mountains with a glacier at one end and the Chateau Lake Louise at the other.  Information tells us that even in summer they get frost here 1 night out of 3 so maybe that explains why it is so cold.  Set off on the 3.7km each way walk to Lake Agnes.  It’s a tough walk almost totally uphill but we get a good view of the Lake and then reach Mirror Lake.  The final ascent takes us past waterfalls then up some steps to suddenly emerge by a wooden tea house.  We’re at a small mountain lake and it’s like Clapham Junction in the rush hour with the tea house doing a roaring trade.  I succumb to a hot chocolate with marshmallows but then have to fight off the friendly squirrels to be able to drink it.  Having slowed Steve on the uphill to keep my asthma at bay I have to slow down going back as Steve has aching legs.  Reckon if we both went along at our own pace we would get back just about the same time – what a pair of old crocks we are!  Take the scenic Bow River road to Banff in the hope of seeing wildlife – not a prayer as the road is chock a block with people enjoying the holiday.  Banff itself is heaving and not easy to park at the best of times.  Visit Canada Place with lovely gardens and information about Canada’s history.  Bow Falls are quite spectacular as is the adjacent Banff Springs Hotel.  Crawl with the traffic through the attractive main town area then head out on the Lake Minnewanka Loop.  Settle onto Two Jack Main Campground $15 (£6.50) where we are handed bear warning leaflets and instructions on how to avoid contact.  Sadly many bears are having to be killed as they have been encouraged by some humans in the past and now expect to be fed.  The least sniff of food and they may attack to the extent that this campsite can now only accept hard sided vehicles and no more tents.  Reckon we have just had 2 out of 3 frosty nights as it’s very cold again.
Tuesday 6 August  An even colder night with Steve and I having to squeeze into bed together and combine our two thin duvets.  This may be beautiful countryside but for us it’s time to head back to the sunny States.  Skirt round Calgary with good views of the skyline which is enough to put us off going nearer.  Heading South on Alberta 2 we soon get to the prairies and sunshine at last.  A sign to "Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump" raises our curiosity.  It’s the cliff under which a young Indian stood to watch the buffalo as they were herded over.  On this particular day there were rather a lot of buffalo and he got buried underneath the corpses with his head smashed in – hence the name.  Nearing Lethbridge the plains start to undulate and form coulees which are eroded slopes. Around 5.30pm cross back into USA to MONTANA (Treasure State) from where it’s about 100 miles drive to Great Falls.  Just settling down for the night when the rain catches up with us, bugger.
Wednesday 7 August  Well the rain may have caught us but at least it is not so cold.  Enjoying the scenic highway towards Livingston we start to smell diesel.  Fuel is pouring out under the truck so we make for the nearest town White Sulphur Springs.  Fortunately the problem is just a cracked fuel filter and easily remedied and only delays us by an.  Lots of prairie dogs at the side of the road standing on their hind legs.  Park up just north of Yellowstone Park in the Gelatin National Forest Canyon site opposite the Yellowstone River.
Thursday 8 August  Drive under a huge stone arch at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park $20 (£14) and again use our annual pass.  The bulk of Yellowstone Park is in WYOMING (Equality State) with the north edge in Montana and the western edge in Idaho.  After collecting information in the visitor centre the first point of interest is Mammoth Hot Springs.  A large area is covered with travertine limestone terraces coloured by the hot flowing water.  Take a boardwalk and although it’s all fantastic we especially like the small area of Canary Spring which has a bit of everything.  Heading south we pass Roaring Mountain with steam hissing from crevices.  At Norris Geyser basin we set out on a walk well wrapped up as it has gone quite chilly.  Reach Echinus Geyser which used to erupt every 60 – 80 minutes but more recently has been every 2 or 3 hours.  Judging by the crowds we have timed it just right.  The basin slowly fills and then the water spills over and runs into a stream.  At this point the geyser should erupt.  Having waited for 2 hours we are frustrated when the water level begins to drop and the bubbling stops.  Too cold to wait we set out on the walk which takes us past hot springs, vents and pools.  Chat to a Ranger to ask about what happened with Echinus and she excitedly tells us we have just witnessed a rare false eruption.  After this has happened you may get a very small eruption or the cycle will all start again.  Meet up with people who waited and told us we missed a very small and disappointing eruption.  Just get back to the car when hail stones start falling and as we drive off this becomes snow – no wonder we were cold.  Check onto Madison campground $15.90 (£10) then continue south.  Detour on the Firehole Canyon Drive which takes us past steaming waterfalls.  The whole park is dotted with steam funnels.  At Lower Geyser Basin we find lots to see at Fountain Paint Pot.  The colours on the rocks are fantastic but the sulphur smell is a bit off putting.  Upper Geyser Basin is the main area surrounding Old Faithful.  The visitor centre lists the approximate times of the major geysers and we set out on a brisk walk to try and catch Daisy but miss it by a few minutes.  We are lucky to catch Grotto Geyser and have a lovely walk back along the other side of the river passing magnificent blue hot pools, lots of steaming geysers and other fascinating areas.  Pause directly opposite Old Faithful to watch her erupt just 4 minutes after the predicted time.  We get a good perspective of the height of the water in relation to the crowds of tourists and buildings in the background.  We’re sat behind Anemone Geyser and get a bit of a start when it begins it’s own eruption to coincide with Old Faithful.  After tea we set out on the long hike back to Daisy.  She erupts for 3.5 minutes to a height of 80 feet with an average interval of 126 minutes.  Our timing is perfect.   From here we follow the trail to peer into Morning Glory pool which unfortunately is losing it’s colour.  Many visitors have been throwing stones and coins in to check the depth but this is clogging up the "plumbing" and the water is no longer as blue as it used to be.  The problem is so bad that once a year the park have to suck out the debris.  Riverside Geyser erupts directly across the river shooting 75 feet of water for about 20 minutes every 5 hours 56 minutes.  Like all the geysers it seems to have a few false starts but once she blows it’s brilliant.  The water shoots over the river then falls like rain into the water.  Definitely the most spectacular one we have seen today.  By the time we have driven back to the campground it is almost 10.00pm and we are both feeling very weary after what must have totalled almost 10 miles of walks.
Friday 9 August  After a bitterly cold night we dress in almost every item of clothing we possess.  Our early start pays off and straight away we see bison grazing in the meadows. The difference between buffalo and bison being that you can’t wash your hands in a buffalo!  Actually they are exactly the same thing.  Just afterwards we see some very large wildfowl which may be teal or mallard.  On Firehole drive we wait less than 1/2 hour to see Great Fountain erupt.  With a 9 hour 48 minute gap between eruptions our timing is definitely getting better.  This geyser is in the middle of a pool surrounded by terraces.  As usual we get a number of false starts beginning when White Dome erupts behind it.  There’s no doubt when she does blow as water spurts 70 – 200 feet into the air in gushes.  Our next bit of luck is passing Pink Cone in full flow as that one only goes every 18 hours.  Having had our fill of geysers we explore Midway Geyser Basin where the huge and colourful Grand Prismatic Spring  flows as many waterfalls into the river.  By Biscuit Basin we are shedding a layer as the sun attempts to break through.  This is a lovely spot with lots of thermal activity in small basins.  Black Sands Basin is different again with large blue pools Sunset Lake being especially nice.   The whole park is just brilliant and packed with many different thermal features each one unique.  Drive east to Grant Village where we get our laundry done as we have run out of clothes having worn so many this last week.  At the small area of West Thumb Geyser Basin there’s an interesting one called "Fisherman’s Cone".  It’s on the edge of the lake and when they caught a fish they lowered it into the cone to cook whilst still on the hook.  Take the lakeside drive up to Bridge Bay getting very blasי about the elk and bison that we pass.  Stay on the $15.90 (£10) campground near the marina.  The 9.00pm ranger talk is excellent covering the history of Yellowstone which was Americas first National Park, it’s development and high visitor problems today, wildlife and geology.  He finishes by pointing out many star formations and the start of a meteorite shower which should climax in 3 days. 
Saturday 10 August  The cold night is confirmed by the ice on the truck windows when we make our early start.  We’re going on a bear hunt but don’t hold out much hope.  Stop by the roadside to do the walks in the Mud Volcano area where stinky mud bubbles up in pools and caves.  Crossing the Hayden Valley we see herds of bison many which stroll over the road and right past our truck.  Boy are they big and ugly.  Plenty of other wildlife but no sign of bears.  The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is magnificent.  We walk to get great views of both the Upper and Lower Falls, into the canyon itself with coloured and unusual rock formations and also to the brink of the falls.  It’s not surprising that there is a wedding being held here at 10.00am, they are sure to get some fabulous photos.  Heading North past Mount Washburn is our best chance of seeing bears.  The wildflowers are splendid with vast areas a carpet of pink blooms.  Superb views in all directions but no sign of a bear until we hit a big traffic jam.  I hop out and hurry along following the crowds.  In the forest by the stream area there are a bear and her two cubs but by the time I get there they have left.  At the NE corner of the park Tower Falls are pretty good as are the Silica Springs nearby.  We were so impressed with Mammoth Hot Springs we stop again on our way out of the park.  This time we explore the lower terraces with great colours in Palette Springs and the best Travertines we have ever seen at the big Minerva Terrace.  Back into MONTANA to exit by the North entrance and both agree Yellowstone is now our favourite National Park above Bryce.  It really seems to have it all, superb thermal features, scenery, wildlife, wildflowers and lots of walking trails with the best area surrounding Old Faithful.  Our Free Campground books guides us to the Bureau of Land Management site of Carbella Recreation Area.  On the banks of the Yellowstone River it’s a great spot to settle down and sunbathe.  Steve lights a wood fire in the evening and having cooked our tea on it we sit around gazing at the stars.  A welcome warmer night.
Sunday 11 August   We are long overdue a day off as tourists and make the most of it by getting up late and not even having breakfast until 10.30am.  Sunbathe in the morning then fester the rest of the day when the clouds come over. 
Monday 12 August  Checking then engine before we leave Steve notices movement and a short tail.  He traces it to a small mouse in a nest and removes both.  The mouse is docile and reluctant to move off so we keep prodding it with the brush to make it move away from the vehicles.  Check out Albertsons supermarket in Livingston.  As with Kroger, Safeway and Tom Thumb you sign up for a card (using our UK address) to get special offers and discounts.  I90 to Laurel then North to the Canyon Creek Battlefield and Nez Perce National Historic Park.  We’ve recently read a book called "Song of the Warrior" by Georgina Gentry based on the true Nez Perce story and we’d like to learn more.  This is not to be as we are very disappointed to find just a roadside marker.  Foiled again in Billings where the museum we want to visit is closed for 2 days.  The annual Montana Fair is taking place at Metra Park and we investigate.  It’s a mixture of an agricultural show, crafts, funfair, side-shows and demonstrations.  $7 (£4.90) admission but if you buy a ticket to one of the evening events that’s all you pay.  It’s Comedy Club tonight so we buy the $14 (£9.80) inclusive tickets.  It’s quite busy and we take a brief look at the livestock.  It’s all being taken very seriously with cows having their fur shaved then vacuumed!  In between wandering through the exhibitions we catch an informative show with chimpanzees and another with acrobatics (not that there is much difference).  After nipping back to the van to eat we take our seats for the 7.00pm Comedy show.  We don’t rate the first two acts, a combination of us finding their accents difficult to understand and their jokes not funny.  The third act more than makes up for it.  Ree (the Indian) and Williams (the white man) are terrific with lots of quips about the native Americans, turning Indian songs into rock and telling great jokes. Return to the Fair which is busier than ever and very pretty with the rides all lit up.  I’m amazed by an American mobile home which comes in two parts and has 2 sitting rooms, 2 dining areas, kitchen, 1 bedroom en-suite, 2 more bedrooms and a bathroom – bigger than our cottage in England. 
Tuesday 13 August  It’s a nice sunny day as we travel the short distance to visit Little Bighorn Battlefield.  It’s on the Crow Indian Reservation and a National Monument admission $10 (£7) free with pass. Listen to Ranger talks about the cavalry in general and then the main battle.  In June 1876 Custer’s entire company of over 260 soldiers were wiped out by Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians who themselves lost less than 100 men.  Walk up to the Cavalry Memorial on Last Stand hill, the spot where Custer met his death.  Many of the soldiers were hastily buried in the field before being moved to a mass grave on this hill.  Later the Army erected 249 headstones markers across the battlefield to show where the men had fallen.  From this vantage point we see the vast battlefield with marble markers dotted around then walk down amongst them.  A 5 mile drive follows the ridge with information boards detailing the crucial parts of the battle.  At the end of the drive is Reno-Benten Battlefield site where we take another walk.  It’s surprising how famous this battle and particularly Custer is considering how few people actually died here.  Continue East on the 212 passing through the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation.  Many derelict buildings and rusted cars can be seen here.  America is still having a problem settling disputes with the Indians (now known as Native Americans) over land ownership and it seems that many don’t look after the things they have been given and abuse the social security system.  Very much like New Zealand with the Maori’s and Australia with the Aborigines.  We may have our problems in England but at least land ownership is not one of them!  In the Custer National Forest we find a nice spot on Red Shale Campground near East Fork Otter Creek and grab the last of the sunshine.  Steve makes a fire so we can be warm sat out watching the shooting stars but we see very few.
Wednesday 14 August  Day off to sunbathe and tat around.   Rain at night.  Just settling down to sleep when the van moves.  It feels like something has bumped against us.  Steve ventures out armed with the Mace spray and a torch, I wait in the van with the broom, a knife and the fly spray – (whilst we are not expecting the culprit to be a swarm of flies it does say on the tin dangerous if squirted in the eyes so vilains beware).  We find nothing but keep an ear open for the rest of the night.
Thursday 15 August  Packing up to leave we find the answer to last nights bump.  The rain had washed some of the gravel away and disturbed the leveling boards making the van lurch slightly!  Nice hot day.  Good job we took a day off yesterday otherwise we would have been at Mount Rushmore today and caught up in the crowds listening to President Bush’s speach from there.  Pass across the NE corner of WYOMING then into SOUTH DAKOTA famous as the setting for many western movies.  Since Alaska and Hawaii became American states the Geographic centre has moved to Belle Fourche which gives them something to boast about.  In the Black Hills Deadwood is one of the West’s wildest Gold Rush towns.  Many famous characters visited including Wild Bill Hickok who was murdered here and Calamity Jane, both of whom are buried on Boot Hill.  All day parking $2 (£1.40) by the visitor centre which is a short stroll from the re enactment’s staged on Main Street.  Catch the 3.00pm murder of Wild Bill Hickok at the #10 Saloon Bar, followed by a 3.30pm jail breakout and a 4.00pm shoot out in the street.  Between these events we meander around the casinos (many of which offer free drinks and cheap food) and the old bars.  Midnight Casino is owned by Kevin Costner and he has big plans for further development here.  Enjoy a $1.99 (£1.40) all you can eat soup, salad bar, desert plus tea and coffee in a casino and finish off by watching a dancing girl show.  Great place for a visit.  Park just outside town.
Friday 16 August  It’s 25 years since Elvis Presley died and we listen to a musical tribute on the radio as we drive along.  Prompted by the sight of the Rushmore monument the Indians appointed Korczak Ziolkowski to create a monument of Crazy Horse on horseback.  $9 (£5.60) gets us into the complex to view an informative video explaining this is a self financed on going project.  The end result will the biggest figure in the world at 563′ high and 641′ long. An estimated 4000 people could stand on Crazy Horse’s outstretched arm and all four Rushmore heads could fit into his head with 9′ x 18′ eyes and a 27′ long nose.  Awesome doesn’t come into it!   The visitor centre is 1 mile from the mountain but for an extra $3 (£2.10) you can take a bus ride much closer.  We get a superb view of the completed head and the area below where they are blocking out the horse ready for carving.  Spend about 3 hours in the area visiting the old homestead, artists workshop, viewing areas and exhibits.  Just 17 miles away is Mount Rushmore which is free to visit but $8 (£5.60) to park.  Gutzon Borglum’s world famous rock carving of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt looks just like it does in the pictures.  You approach down an avenue of flags, one from every state of the USA.  We get a great view from the terrace but on the Presidential Trail you get close enough to see each face in greater detail.  Lincoln’s face has an 18′ nose, 11′ wide eyes and a 16" mole.  Quite different from Crazy Horse and both enjoyable.  Heading towards Rapid City we realise what a tourist area the Black Hills are, amusement parks, RV parks, caves, zoos and motels line the highways.  It’s a very hot afternoon so we chill out for a few hours in Rapid City at Roosevelt Park.  Shortly after we move onto Wal Mart car park the wind begins to build up and dust swirls around.  The TV warns of high winds with gusts of 62 mph already recorded in Rapid City.  The motorway has been closed as the roadwork stuff got blown all around, stalls at the local show have been blowing away, a fire just south of the city is getting out of control  and worse is expected.  We put the rear steadies down and hope for the best.  Today was a record high of 101F the highest since 1969 but it has already dropped to 51F.  As the wind dies down we are rocked to sleep.
Saturday 17 August   Heading E on the I90 we see billboards blown over and quite a bit of damage.  However there wasn’t enough wind to remove all of the 500+ billboards advertising Wall Drug store in Wall.  Famous since the 1930’s when they advertised "Free Iced Water" to tempt customers off the motorway.  From then on business boomed and the small drug store has now become a huge Emporium encompassing a whole block of shops.  It’s all been kept in the traditional style and with huge collections of photos and memorabilia is like a museum as well.  Just South of the town we enter Badlands National Park $10 (£7) free with pass.  This is the area often featured in movies with huge windswept gullies, sculptured rocks and canyons.  The land here is layers of clays and rock which wind and rain have eroded into magnificent formations.  Start out on the prairie from which the edges drop away into badlands.  From each lookout we think we have seen the best part and also the last of it but as the road winds along we see more.  In one area the layers are yellow, green and red but most of it is pink rocks with grey clay layers in between.  We just love it and stop at all the lookouts to marvel at the scene before us.  At Big Foot Pass we drop down into the valley to travel between the formations until we reach Cedar Pass Campground $10 (£7).  Walk up to the visitor centre for the film followed by a Ranger guided walk telling us about the Prairies and the Badlands.  After tea we visit the amphitheatre for a talk about "Leave No Trace".  Tutors are touring America trying to educate people on minimising their impact when visiting parks.  Although we know most of the things we do pick up a few new tips.  Straight after a Ranger takes us on an astrology walk into the badlands.  I am lucky enough to spot an excellent shooting star and easily pick out the Plough formation which the Americans call The Big Dipper.
Sunday 18 August  Heading out of the park we do the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail then Door and Window Trails.  This park is unique in having an open back country policy which means you are free to walk away from the trails and clamber over the formations, wonderful for the kids – us included.  Prairie Homestead at the edge of the park is an original homestead complete with outbuildings and farm machinery.  They also breed rare white Prairie Dogs to sell as pets. Back on the I90 we pass into Central Time Zone putting our clocks forward 1 hour (BST -5 hours) then turn south.  Entering the Rosebud Indian Reservation we are back to the modern version of Tee Pee’s with horses grazing around – tatty mobile homes with rusty vehicles in the garden.  In true Indian style the centre of the reservation is Rosebud Casino!  The first town we come to in NEBRASKA (Cornhusker State) is Valentine.  Popular on 14th February when they receive lots of mail for forwarding.  Big Alkali Lake offers free camping but the entrance from the road is narrow and then we almost get stuck in the sand.  With nowhere to turn round we continue warily but emerge at a simple fishing area with cabins and a primitive campground.  We can’t get onto the sandy campsites but reverse onto the gravel car park beside the lake.  Paddle then laze around for the afternoon.  Battery problem in the trailer.  We have nothing turned on but the level is dropping past despite solar power going in.   Can’t find or figure the problem and by early evening are sitting in candle light and the fridge is off.
Monday 19 August  Had planned to chill here for awhile but with the battery completely flat we have no choice but to move.  Encounter our first problem when the truck starts to slip in the gravel and won’t tow us out.  We put boards down but just sink in deeper.  I suggest we raise the trailer on blocks to take the weight off the truck in the hope that as it grips and moves forward it will throw the blocks out.  This doesn’t work so it looks like we will have to unhitch the trailer.  Unlocking the hitch we notice that the runaway brake cable for the trailer has come undone.  I sit in the truck whilst Steve fits between the trailer and the truck to push the truck.  I manage to get traction and think Steve is shouting to me to keep going.  Suddenly I realise he is screaming for me to stop.  I find the trailer collapsed on top of the truck and Steve on the ground in between the vehicles.  He’s knocked about a bit and has cut his knee but not as bad as he could have been.  In our frustration I had forgotten to open the tailgate of the truck and as I moved forward the trailer came out of the hitch then caught on the tailgate.  This dragged the trailer off the blocks to crash down onto the back of the truck where Steve was pushing.  Fortunately he had already lost his footing and fallen before the trailer dropped or it would have hit his head and trapped his hands.  However as the truck was still moving and dragging the trailer he was in danger of being run over and had to try to roll into the centre of the trailer.  Having established that Steve is not too bad I crank the trailer up to lift it off the truck and over a period of time with Steve banging and bending at things we manage to get the trailer out, open the tailgate then re hitch it. Think we will have to go to a trailer place to get the hitch sorted out but the rest of the damage may not matter as Pat has done this sort of thing before and we have just added to the dents and scratches which she did.  Once we sit down and think things through we realise that both the battery problem and the fact that we couldn’t pull away are all down to the runaway brake cable being unhooked.  This has drained the trailer battery and when we tried to leave it caused us to slide as the trailer brakes we on.  With Steve’s knee cleaned and bandaged we settle for the day for him to recuperate.  I make the most of the water supply to give the truck and trailer a thorough clean. Feeling guilty for causing the accident and nearly running Steve over I figure this will at least reduce the cleaning work he has to do once we get back to Dallas.  Unfortunately although it is cloudy for most of the day I end up burning my back so we spend a poor night with Steve in pain with his knee and me with my sunburn!
Tuesday 20 August  Having backed onto boards yesterday we have no problem pulling out.  We try to find a town with Internet, Laundrette and garage but give up at the second one as Steve’s leg is hurting, he feels sickly and very tired.  Fortunately despite having none of the facilities we are looking for Stapleton City Park does offer free camping.
Wednesday 21 August  Buying diesel in North Platte I spot a Chinese restaurant which looks very busy.  The Golden Dragon offer a $4.98 (£3.50) lunch time buffet and we get a table as many people are just leaving (Americans eat early, anytime from 11.30am).  It’s an excellent meal, good choices, hot and tasty.  At McCook not only do they offer free camping at Karrer Municipal Park but also hot and cold showers plus electricity.  Watch some TV and chuckle at the many adverts for drugs complete with disclaimer.  "Take these pills to reduce your flu symptoms instantly – warning these tablets may cause headaches, back ache, sickness or fever!!!" 
Thursday 22 August  Crossing back into KANSAS we stop at the small town of Oberlin to buy bread.  At the local store all the staff and customers speak to me.  They have a wide variety of goods at reasonable prices tempting me to buy much more than intended.  At the checkout I am offered paper or plastic packaging then may groceries are carried to the car.  Steve’s spotted a sign to "The Last Indian Raid on Kansas" museum.  It’s only £3 (£2.10) admission to the Decatur County Museum which tells all about Prairie Life with displays through 13 buildings and one room dedicated to the raid.  It’s brilliant with exhibits of everything you can think off and most stuff laid out for you to pick up and look over.  There are traditional buildings, crafts, photographs, videos and stacks of memorabilia and we easily pass 1 1/2 hours and could have stayed longer.  Just driving into Sheridan State Fishing lake when we spot a sign saying it has been drained and from August 19th they are working on the dam.  Continue anyway and find ourselves a lovely secluded spot overlooking the mud pan with lots of bird life.  Late afternoon a car arrives, locks in the 4WD and sets out across the lake.  We can’t believe what he is attempting as it felt very soft when we walked on it.  Sure enough about 1/3 way across the car is bogged down half way up the tyres.  Walk over with boards and sticks to try and help but it’s beyond what we can do.  Suggest almost completely deflating the tyres as is common practice in Australia but they are not keen.  The girl telephones her Dad to come and tow them out but we think it’s even too bad for that.  A passing car drives down to look and comments "anyone stupid enough to drive on there deserves to get bogged!".  He reckons it’s going to need at least a tractor to get them out.  Dad arrives along with another family vehicle.  Dad begins to reverse onto the lake and gets himself stuck – what a surprise.  They then attach the tow rope from Dad’s car to Mums at which stage we suspect they are going for the triple.  Fortunately the tow rope is long enough for Mums car not to have to go onto the lake and they are very lucky to get Dad out.   We watch with amazement as Dad backs onto a different part of the lake but unbelievably from this point he manages to pull the car out from the middle – show over.  More entertainment after we have gone to bed when a storms hits with almost continuous lightening followed by a brief spell of rain.
Friday 23 August  Lazy day making the most of our private spot to sunbathe before retiring to the shade when the temperature goes over 100F.  A longer storm at night climaxing in a crack of thunder which makes the trailer shake.
Saturday 24 August  Head south to Ford Country Lake where we find a nice parking spot.  The flies obviously think it’s a nice area also (good practice for Australia) and even with us using repellent they win and force us to leave.  The famous Wild West town of Dodge City has good parking opposite Boot Hill.  Here there’s a small replica frontier town and museum but we’ve seen plenty before.  Embark on the self guided town historical walk past a few interesting building and a huge longhorn statue.  We had expected it to be better than Deadwood but it pales by comparison.  Golden Corral are offering an all you can eat steak and cat fish buffet which we succumb to at $6.49 (£4.50).  It’s so good that Steve almost makes himself ill.  Parked up at Wal Mart the news has weather warnings for severe thunderstorms in NW Kansas (where we were last night) and tornadoes just to the west of there.  Looks like we will have to make our own way to Oz as we escape both!
Sunday 25 August  Just outside Dodge City is the old fort from the late 1800’s.  Soldiers from here guarded goods being transported on the Santa Fe trail.  Following it’s usefulness as a military post the buildings became homes for war veterans and still are today.  A self guided walk points out some of the more interesting buildings and explains what they were used for.  Just west of Mullinville on the 400 we suddenly spot lots of strange metal figures and shapes on poles in a field beside the road.  Walk back to find literally hundreds of weather veins, figures, shapes, and political slogans all worked in scrap metal.  An eccentric chap in his 70’s (who has a law degree) has been making them for years and has often upset locals with his comments.  Recognise President Clinton with Monica, Margaret Thatcher, Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Much better than the attractions of Dodge City.  On the edge of Greensburg is a lovely State Fishing Lake where we camp with a view of the lake.  Again the flies are quite a problem.  No storm to wake us a night.  Instead we’re disturbed by the noisy freight trains which hoot at each of the many road crossings as it travels round the far side of the lake.  
Monday 26 August  After visiting the town library we cross over to the recommended Hunter Drug Store.  Built in 1917 it still has the original soda bar.  We sit at the counter and Steve has a cherry soda and I a lemon milk shake.  There’s a long row of pumps with different flavoured syrups.  After putting the syrup in the glass either soda is added or ice cream and milk which is then blended in a machine.  The drinks are good and my milk shake fills more than 2 glasses.  The milk shakes are $1.85 (£1.25) and sodas 50c (35p).  The assistant tells us that when he started working here 50 years ago soda was only 5c (3.5p), guess he’s not a terribly ambitious guy!  Other tourist attractions in the town are the Big Well, the deepest hand dug well in the world and at the same place a huge meteorite rock.  Further south we come to Coldwater Lake with good camping sites.  Most of  the ones with electric and water are grouped together but we find a nice basic spot away from everything.  The lake is lovely, sandy on the bottom with pleasantly warm water, perfect for basking on the airbed.  A fairly strong breeze keeps the temperature down.  Nice sunset over the lake.  The wind get stronger and once again by the time we go to bed we are in the midst of a storm.  The lightening is almost continuous but interspersed with fork lightening and loud claps of thunder.  It pours with rain and the van is buffeted by the strong wind.  It lasts for many hours and we get little sleep once again.
Tuesday 27 August  Campground host Don comes and introduces himself and says we must move to another site as this one is for tents only, strict council regulations.  As there are no other tents here at all it seems very petty but he is most insistent and we end up on a much poorer site  next to a caravan. Walk around the perimeter of the lake, a good 3 miles.  Basic sites here are $5 (£3.50) night and the ones with electric and water $10 (£7) night or $200 (£140) month.  Explains why so many vans look settled for the whole season, one even has a mailbox!  Council vans are round clearing up the debris from last nights unexpected storm.  Had a severe storm or tornado been forecast the police would have come around and guided us to the shelters.  Like air raid shelters they are underground and have basic seats inside.  They tend to get used about once a year.  Dodge City took the brunt last night with winds gusting up to 95 mph.  Fortunately we seem to be staying ahead of the freak weather. Whilst on our walk we see 1 very small turtle, 1 snake and 1 dead baby bird and only 1 oil derrick operating whereas all 4 were yesterday.  Settle by the van for the rest of the day and decide we actually prefer our new spot with a grassy area by the water.  At last a quiet night.
Wednesday 28 August  Nice quiet lazy day
Thursday 29 August  It’s Labour Day holiday here on Monday but people often take Friday off to make a long weekend.  By late afternoon many arrive and noise builds up on the lake with boats and jet skis. 
Friday 30 August  Early rain becomes haze before the sun breaks through.  The tents are getting a bit close for our liking so we head onwards.  The highway from Coldwater to Medicine Lodge is the Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway.  For a very short stretch the monotonous landscape is broken by rolling hills, pine tress, mesas and buttes.  Free camping in Medicine Lodge at City Park and you can use the Municipal Swimming Pool for $1.50 (£1).  It’s nearly lunch time so we walk to Pizza Hut and using a voucher get the pizza, pasta and salad buffet for $3.99 (£2.80).  Phone up to wish our grandson Daniel a Happy 5th birthday.  Walking to the Lake we get a bit lost.  Few people walk in America so it’s hardly surprising that the one I approach is the town nutter.  She can’t explain directions but insists on walking us there.  We get an inconsistent and what must be a very exaggerated life history.  She’s 42, been married 3 times (first husband died of cancer aged 17) and has 10 girls all born in August but they don’t live with her.  It’s a long hike in humid heat but the lake does offer nice primitive camping spots.  At the moment the free electric in City Park may be better as we can run the air conditioner.  We can’t seem to shake Martha off until we get to the Library where the librarian suggests it’s not worth her waiting as we may be some time on the Internet.  Make it back to the van after our 5 1/2 hour outing.
Saturday 31 August  Make good use of the facilites to enable us to start cleaning up the van for return.  Even with the air conditioner on I end up with sweat pouring off me.  My hands sweat so much that my rubber gloves slide off.  Having earned a break we spend the afternoon over at the swimming pool.  A group of 12 year old lads are curious about our accent and come over to chat.  None of them has been out of America and most don’t even get any sort of vacation.  Medicine Lodge is still the sort of low crime town where people park cars and not only leave them unlocked but with the keys in the ignition.  Drugs and alcohol problems don’t exist (to their knowledge) and the only crime they knew of was when one girl stole her Mums car for a ride out.  Unfortunately they tell us we won’t be able to swim tomorrow as the pool is closing today for the season.

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