This is an ongoing journal of the trip as it takes place. The trip began on Wednesday, June 16, 2004 as we left our home in the mountains of north Georgia headed for Lansing, Michigan for the Airstream International Rally. From there we'll travel west to Havre, Montana to rendezvous with a caravan of 34 other trailers and motorhomes. The "Maple Leaf" Caravan will spend a few days in Glacier National Park, then move to Calgary, Alberta, Canada for the big stampede - a rodeo of world renown. We'll then go to Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper, and down through British Columbia to Victoria on Vancouver Island.
Wednesday, June 16th - After a few problems of little consequence, we got away about 11:00am for what would essentially be the maiden voyage of our new Airstream Land Yacht. We drove about 250 miles to Corbin, Kentucky and stopped for the night in a nicer than most KOA. The trip was without incident, though driving the motorhome is taking some getting used to. It's not as comfortable and quiet a ride as with the Suburban pulling a trailer. Dishes rattle, door creak, and there's some air noise. The latter can probably be located and fixed. Those things probably went on in the trailer too, but we weren't inside with the noises.
Thursday, June 17, 2004 - We were back on the highway (I-75) early for another 250 miles to Findlay, Ohio and the same campground we shared with the Schumakers in 1990 on the way to Notre Dame. We ran into a little rain just north of Cincinnati, but the weather was good for the most part. Found gasoline priced at $1.699 per gallon and filled up in Middletown. Gas consumption was just over 9.1 mpg - a somewhat pleasant surprise. Just driving the motorhome around home and back, it was down around 6 mpg. If it holds around 9 mpg, it won't be much different than with the Suburban pulling the trailer.
Friday, June 18, 2004 - The last few miles to Lansing just flew by, and we were there before noon. They were lining trailers and motorhomes along a dirt road near the airport to await parking. It was obvious though that there was a serious problem in the area that had been set aside for parking - an open, hilly grass field near the runways. Rains of the past few days had the area soggy. Tractors were busy getting people in. A decision was soon made not to park anyone else out there for a couple of days, and apparently the parking committee was hard at work scouting alternate places in town. After a wait of about an hour, we were escorted to the parking lot of a bowling alley. Unfortunately, the bowling alley was closed to business. We weren't sure how long we'd be staying there, but the rumor was that it would be until the following Monday.
Saturday, June 19, 2004 - We learned that others on the caravan committee were back over on the little dirt road they were calling the "bull pen," so we elected to drive back over there. It wasn't long before everyone was moved over to the bowling alley. After another night there, we learned that we could go as a group to a city park in town where for a few extra bucks we could get water and electric hookups.
Sunday, June 20, 2004 - Most of the units representing the caravan committee moved to Marshall Park, the city park in town. It was also a lot closer to the Lansing Center where rally activities were to take place. The first meeting of the caravan committee was held on Sunday afternoon. There were a lot of new caravan leaders and many new caravans in the planning stage.
Monday, June 21st - Caravan committee meetings all day this day. My assignment was to create an updated promotional video, so I started buttonholing the leaders getting their pictures and short summaries of the caravans they were leading.
Tuesday, June 22nd - Arranged this morning for the caravan video promotion tape to be shown on the large screens before announcements and evening entertainment each night of the rally. Then, Ann and I visited the capitol building and walked over to the State Historical Museum to see where Michigan had put their version of the Liberty Bell. The girl at the capital visitation desk didn't know at first, but she went back to ask someone. It turned out that the bell is in the snack room of all places.
Lansing was not Michigan's first capitol city. It was in 1805 that Congress created the Territory of Michigan, making Detroit the territorial capitol. Detroit remained the capitol when Michigan attained statehood in 1837. Lansing was named the capitol in 1847, even before there was even a village here. The present capitol building was completed in 1879 and served as the center of all state offices for over 100 years. After renovation in the late 1990s, many of the offices moved to new buildings, leaving only the legislature and governor's offices in the beautiful building. The architecture is extraordinary. To save money they created artificial marble and wood paneling with plaster and paint, but it was done with amazing attention to detail and looks elegant. There are nine acres of artwork, portraits of former governors, glass enclosed displays of battle flags, elaborate chandeliers, 976 pieces of glass in the floor of the rotunda, and a dome that reaches upward from the floor some 160 feet inside - all told, a beautiful structure.
Wednesday, June 23rd - We awoke to cloudless skies - a welcome sight after all the rain. It was windy and cool with reports of a cold front due later in the day. The caravan leaders were all headed for the Lansing Center to set up their display and sign-up tables. Rally registration began at 1:00pm. We went over to the Lansing Center about 1:30pm and found a long line of folks waiting. It moved along at a good pace though, and we were soon officially registered. Saw a few folks to greet from caravans past.
It rained hard again during the night. The wind blew, rocking the motorhome. More mud at the airport to cause havoc out there.
Thursday, June 24th - There were reports of many mud problems out at the airport. Tractors were at work early pulling tow vehicles out to the road. The sun reappeared to give hope of a better day. That only lasted a couple of hours, however. Then, the rains came again. What a mess! More trailers and motorhomes are coming in all along. This is the most disjointed rally we've attended. There are at least eight different parking sites besides the main site at the airport. At the airport there are a dozen little groups scattered around, most located on hillcrests to escape the low wet areas.
During a lull in the rains, Ann did the laundry while I bought some supplies at the local Lowes store. Other than one trip to town to the Lansing Center to post the web site and get our email, we just hung around the motorhome reading and relaxing. Not much else to do with the rain until evening when we went with the Larsons - Jerry and Joan - out to dinner. We were with the Larsons on two caravans, Oregon Trail and Southwest, and consider them the best of friends.
Friday, June 25th - It was 38 degrees at 7:00am - cold! And this is almost July! The sun was shining though with the promise of warming things up. The Airstream store opened for business this day along with a dealer's display of new trailers and motorhomes. More people arrived for the rally, filling up lots all over town. With mud problems continuing at the airport, it was a scramble to find spots for folks to park. We welcomed the arrival of electric for the first time. Newcomers will have to wait awhile.
Saturday, June 26th - Spent the morning washing and waxing the motorhome, then attended the Caravan Leaders banquet in the evening. There were about 100 people attending with awards given to everyone contributing to the caravan program. My award was for videography.
Sunday, June 27th - Attended church services in the Lansing Center hall with probably 1,000 others, then joined Frank and Ruby Schumaker for lunch at Clara's, a restaurant located in the old Lansing train depot in town. Later in the day, I met with George, the man in charge of the projection equipment at the Lansing Center. We ran a test of the caravan promotion video to familiarize George with the tape and to see how it would look in the meeting hall. The two huge screens - 9' x 12' - are activated by rear projectors that project the image in reverse. Even with all the hall lights on, the video showed up well on the audience side, so all was set for the showing every night before the evening entertainment.
From reports, there are about 1200 units in attendance for the rally. That's way down from past rallies. The leadership is quite concerned with the decline both in rally attendance and club membership. It's significant that despite these declines, the caravan program is enjoying real growth. There are more caravans running than ever, many of which are booked up for two or three years.
Monday, June 28th - After more than a week in Lansing, we're beginning to learn our way around town. Lansing has a bewildering system of one-way streets. More than once we've had to think twice before trying to turn the wrong way, but it's beginning to make some sense. At times one has to drive a block or two in the opposite direction than desired to find a cross street to use to get on the one-way street going in the desired direction.
Our parking site is two or three miles from the Lansing Center. We're on level, dry ground with water and full 30 amp power. There are about 200 trailers and motorhomes parked here. The only downside is that we're right on a busy road with considerable traffic noise. Only a 3' chainlink fence and a sidewalk separate us from the roadway. That's really only disturbing when emergency vehicles pass with their sirens going full blast.
This was the official opening day for the rally with ceremonies starting at 10:00am. It all went well with an impressive display of pomp that lasted about an hour and a half ending with a flag procession representing all WBCCI units.
It was Lansing night at the evening's entertainment. The first performer was a 10 year old girl who belted out three songs with flair and enthusiasm, ending with God Bless America. She was followed by a quartet - Three Men and A Tenor. The tenor was a man five foot tall singing and dancing with three six-footers. They were professional and very energetic, performing for a full hour.
The hall is greatly suited for our programs - more so than any other international rally we've attended.. Sound is excellent; seats are comfortable; view of the stage is good from anywhere, those two huge screens are very useful, and the Lansing Center employees are sincerely dedicated to making everything work right.
Tuesday, June 29th - The weather warmed up nicely, and the skies were clear for several days in a row, though it was still windy. Attended several seminars this day - Weingard TV antennae, solar power systems, Blue Ox towing equipment, and public relations. The WBCCI band performed for the evening entertainment, and they were excellent. There were a dozen or more young people participating with the band, one a clarinet player from Texas who did a solo of the first order.
Wednesday, June 30th - Attended a Workhorse chassis seminar in the morning, then met with others that will be going on the Maple Leaf caravan. Leaders Al and Gracie Buchanan previewed the caravan and passed out drivers manuals. We will be with several couples that we've traveled with before.
The evening entertainment was a little disappointing - a rock group claiming to be playing fifties numbers. Only a few of them were recognizable though, and it was too loud.
The Lansing Center is right across the street from a baseball stadium - the home of the Lansing Lugnuts. The Lugnuts are apparently a minor league team in the Detroit Tigers organization. The story goes that a contest was held several years ago to select a name for the team. Since Lansing was the home of GM's Oldsmobile assembly plant, "Lugnuts" was the winner. That Oldsmobile plant is now closed.
Thursday, July 1st - This was Canada day with most folks dressed in red to honor our northern neighbors. We bought a supplemental braking system for our Saturn "dinghy," and spent most of the day with the installer. The system is supposed to add 35% to the braking ability of the combined rig, so it directly enhances safety.
We entered a Joker tournament during the afternoon. There were some 80 people who started play, drawing straws to establish partners. Play began at 20 tables. Half the group was eliminated after each game so that at the end there was on game between four finalists to decide the championship. Ann was eliminated in the first round, while I lasted three rounds. There were several games going out in the hall with players that had been eliminated. It was fun, but the rules are pretty strict. There can be absolutely no talking, so the room was deathly quiet. Some of the folks take it pretty serious.
Entertainment in the evening was a Canadian singer with her three piece band accompanying. This was a far cry from the elaborate shows the Canadians used to put on. That was back when there were 3,000 or more rigs in attendance, so they had more money to spend on the show. 94 year-old Bruce McLain - a former WBCCI president from Canada spoke for about 15 minutes recalling the "good ole days."
Friday, July 2nd - This was wash day and some other chores, but not much doing at the rally. We did go to a reunion with others who had done the Oregon Trail caravan a few years ago.
Saturday, July 3d - We spent the morning at the big rally flea market. Sold some video tapes and DVDs, and some Joker boards. The two-player boards sold best. Guess it was a novelty as most folks already had four-player boards.
Saturday night entertainment was the best of the rally featuring 77 year-old Boots Randolph with his saxophone - an amazing talent. Following that, all the new international and region officers were installed amid a lot of pomp.
Sunday, July 4th - We pulled out about 8:45am in the rain. The rain had mercifully stayed away for most of the week, but now it came down in buckets. We drove in the rain all day. Traffic was light though, and the driving was easy. The only tense time was driving across the Mackinac Bridge with light rain, fog, and wind making the crossing a little touchy. The motorhome handles nicely.
We need to cover 1550 miles in the next five days to get to our rendezvous point in Havre, Montana by the 8th. We drove 330 miles this day before settling for the night near Manistique, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula in a campground right on the northern shore of Lake Michigan. The wind was kicking up some pretty good waves for awhile. Then it shifted to a land breeze and the lake flattened right out. A lot of the folks here in this campground are here for fishing, and the weather is not cooperating with them.
Monday, July 5th - After 354 more miles through the wilderness of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and northern Wisconsin, we stopped for the night just west of Duluth, Minnesota. The weather was good to us this day with only a threat of rain in the morning. We stopped on the side of a pretty little lake for lunch to enjoy one of the benefits of a motorhome - just stop, walk back, warm up some soup, and eat without getting out in the weather. The sun came out later in the day to improve the looks of everything, though it was chilly, in the 50s. Traffic was light in the Superior/Duluth area due to the end of the holiday.
Tuesday, July 6th - We drove 337 miles this day, crossing Minnesota and entering North Dakota. It rained and rained and rained, only clearing after we were 50 miles into North Dakota. Failing to find a campground, we spent the night in the little town of Devils Lake in a Walmart parking lot along with several other RVs. One of the latest to arrive was Fred and Julia Lyon, Airstreamers bound for the same rendezvous point we were. We'd not met the Lyons before, but soon became acquainted and wound up in their trailer for three games of Joker.
There's lots of open flat country in this part of North Dakota. From the top of the occasional hill the landscape was visible for miles in all directions. Two hundred years ago, these plains were home to millions of buffalo and a few indians. Now the Indians have their casinos at almost every road crossing. The one nearest where our boondocking stop is called Spirit Lake Casino.
Wednesday, July 7th - We were on the road by 6:30am, heading further west on US2. Passing through Rugby (the center of the North American continent) and Minot, we were soon in open prairie with small hills all around, similar, but not as striking as the North Dakota badlands. The weather was good for a change with only a few drops of rain at one point. We covered almost 400 miles before stopping for the night in Glasgow, Montana at a parking spot behind a motel.
Thursday, July 8th - With less than 150 miles to go, we arrived at the Great Northern Fairgrounds in Havre, Montana before noon. A few trailers were already there, including our leaders. We were now on Mountain Time, two hours earlier than back home. With the afternoon free, we took the Saturn for a ride down to Great Falls. The rolling plains of north central Montana have a wide-open beauty all their own. The Bearpaw Mountains are clearly visible in the distance from Havre. The most distinctive characteristic of the landscape is the distant visibility. From atop the hills, one can see for miles in any direction. On the way to Great Falls, we stopped at a high point overlooking a horseshoe bend in the Missouri River near the spot where the Lewis and Clark expedition had to make a critical decision regarding which way to go. That was back in 1805. Except for the highway, long power lines, and maybe the lack of a buffalo herd, the sights those explorers saw weren't a whole lot different than what we were seeing this day.
Our first meeting with the other caravaners came in the evening when we gathered at a local restaurant - The Duck Inn - for dinner. There were 67 of us (34 rigs) in a large dining room. Aside from the great meal, we introduced ourselves, and our leaders gave us a preview of the caravan
Friday, July 9th - Havre is the largest town in this area, but still, it's just a small western town. It's grown some since we were last here in 1991. It's history probably parallels that of many towns of the west in the wild days of the late 1800s. Havre was, and still is, a railroad town. Back when the railroad was being built, there were many Chinese laborers housed here. As in other places, they stayed off the streets by digging what amounted to an underground city. Once the railroads were completed, the Chinese left and abandoned the underground. Some time later a fire destroyed most of the above ground buildings in town, and until they could rebuild, many businesses moved into the underground. Ten years ago a portion of that underground complex was restored and is now called "Havre Beneath The Streets." A tour guide from the museum showed us through the restored portion where they now have replicas of an old post office, a mercantile store, a dental office, an opium den, a bordello, a barber shop, a blacksmith shop, a meat market, a game room, and several other interesting things.
Right across from the fairgrounds is a 2,000 year old buffalo jump, called by the Indians, the Wahkpa Chu'gn. It's an archeaological site discovered in 1961. It's a cliff - probably 100 feet in height - where buffalo herds were stampeded and forced to tumble over the cliff in a slaughter that provided food. Many artifacts have been recovered which tell the story of the people who camped at the base of the cliff to harvest the meat and skins. The view of the river valley below from the top of the cliff is breathtaking.
Havre was once called Bull Hook Bottoms, not sure why. In an effort to clean up its reputation as a honky-tonk town, the name was changed. To acquire some culture, a committee chose to name it after a small seaport town in France - LeHavre, but shortened it to Havre, now pronounced "Have' er."
Our first GAM (get acquainted meeting) was held at the Skipper's motorhome (Jim and Shellia). The Hargedons (Joe and Barbara) were there along with Ken and Nancy Davis, Frank and Julia Wagner, and ourselves. We spent an hour together then assembled with everyone for ice cream provided by our leaders. After that we had a drivers meeting to prepare for the trip to West Glacier on the edge of Glacier National Park.
Saturday, July 10th - We left the Havre Fairgrounds at 8:00am teamed up for the drive with the Larsons. The trip went well till we arrived at the little town of Browning where the highway was closed temporarily for a parade. We learned that "Indian Days" was being celebrated while we waited on the highway for a full hour for it to be opened again.
Browning is in the center of the Blackfeet Reservation, and it was pow-wow time. Indians on horseback were all over the place. These native people have lived in the area for thousands of years. The reservation lies along the eastern side of Glacier National Park.
We missed a turn in the confusion of the Indian pow-wow and celebration, driving some 9 or 10 miles on the wrong road before finding a place to turn around. Other than the problems at Browning, our trip was uneventful. Our campground for the stay at Glacier National Park was in West Glacier on the western side of the park. We were deep into a forest of Hemlock and Cedar.
By the time we got settled in, the campground cook was already hard at work barbecuing ribs, steak, and chicken over an open fire in the pavilion. The meal was especially good. More campgrounds should offer this. It's a natural accomodation.
The deep woods around us blocked out all traffic noise and all TV signals, leaving only the sounds of nature. A young buck deer wandered by without fear just as we finished eating.
We played a few games of Joker with the Lyons before retiring for the evening.
Sunday, July 11th - Our leaders do a fine job of communicating with everybody. Gracie comes on the CB at 8:00am every morning with announcements, and Al does the same every evening at 9:00pm. The sun was out with clear skies as we entered the park for the short drive to the Lake McDonald Lodge, but the clouds began gathering shortly thereafter. Our first caravan excursion was a boat ride on Lake McDonald. The boat held about 80 people, some below in an enclosed cabin and some above on an open deck. Rugged mountain peaks, some reaching 10,000 feet, surround the lake. The boat captain kept up steady narrative about the history of the area. McDonald Lake is the largest lake in the park - about 9 miles long and about 3 miles wide at its widest point. It's the lowest of the lakes at 3,150 feet elevation - which makes the mountains look that much higher - and it's some 400 feet deep with crystal clear water - a beautiful place.
A forest fire swept through the area in 2003 leaving many dead trees which appear as a mosaic of green and brown along the lake shore. By the time we got back to the dock, rain was threatening. Folks began scattering with plans for other excursions into the park on their own.
Glacier National Park lies along the border between the U.S. and Canada in northern Montana. Together with the adjacent Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, the two make up the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
The common boundary of the two parks lies along the 49th parallel. These rugged, snow-capped mountains are not the tallest along the Rocky Mountain chain, but they appear huge on the landscape. Grizzly bears, wolves, and mountain lions, once nearly hunted to extinction, now roam the woods and live at peace with humans. There are many other species of wildlife roaming freely - elk, deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, moose, cougars, and some 70 other mammals. There are also 250 kinds of birds and 25 varieties of native fish. Established in 1910, Glacier is one of our nation's true wonderlands.
Later in the day we drove over to the Visitors Center at Apgar Village, also on the shore of Lake McDonald. Not far from the village we spotted a black bear ambling through the woods. Mentioning this to the ranger, she immediately made a report of the sighting.
Monday, July 12th - This was a free day with no group activities planned. We took the occasion to drive the Going-To-The-Sun Road which crosses through the heart of the park passing some of the most rugged and beautiful terrain. This road is billed as being one of the world's most spectacular highways, and that is not an exaggeration. It's some 50 miles long from Apgar Village on the west to St. Marys on the east. It crosses the continental divide at Logan Pass at an altitude of 6,646 feet. Riding with the Larsons, we stopped at several scenic overlooks and at Logan Pass. At the pass three mountain goats - a mother and two little twins - were munching on evergreen shrubs, and eight bighorn sheep were just lying in the sun.
From St.Marys we drove north through the little village of Babb, Montana and on to Waterton on the Canadian side of the border. We exchanged our Canadian Pass Voucher for an Annual Pass. Hanging that on our rear view mirror authorized us to enter any Canadian Park for a year. After a stroll through the Prince of Wales Hotel, we found a little cafe for lunch in town.
We had been warned to expect a much stricter inspection at the border due to 9-11 conerns, but the border guards were nice as could be, asking only the usual questions about alcohol, firearms, mace, and money. They asked Jerry to pop his trunk, but only gave it a cursory look. The only documents they wanted to see were our drivers licenses. Coming back into the U.S. was even easier.
On the return trip, we detoured over to the Many Glacier Lodge where we had such a good time with our kids back in 1976. The lodge was being renovated, but they were full with guests anyway. Located on Swiftcurrent Lake, this is one of the prettiest locations in the park. The conical shaped mountain directly across the lake where we once watched mountain goats jumping around on the steep cliffs hadn't moved in the 28 years since.
It was a beautiful, clear day - a little cool - and a great day for picture taking. Waterfalls, mountains, lakes, streams, and wildlife make awesome subjects for pictures. The one thing missing was snow. There were patches of snow on the mountains, but nowhere near the amount we've seen here before.
We arrived back at the campground at 6:00pm just in time for our second GAM followed by a drivers meeting in preparation for the trip to Fort Macleod in the morning. This GAM was at Jean and Pete Carroll's trailer with Don and Marilee Morris, and Howie and Zoe Lefkowitz.