Alaska Trip Part V — Heading for Banff

This entry is part 5 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

June 13, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander

By Barry Zander, Edited by Monique Zander, the Never-Bored RVers

This is the fifth in a continuing series about our trip through Canada to Alaska

Scenery that gets us excited.  Grand views everywhere.

Scenery that gets us excited. Grand views everywhere.

All day long it felt like we were driving into a postcard.  Had there been more places to pull out of traffic, the 168-mile trip could have taken two days or more.  We envy the bicyclists chugging up mountains on their overloaded bikes.  They got to be in the moment for hours.

Visiting Luxury at Banff Springs Hotel

Visiting Luxury at Banff Springs Hotel

Monique called our route though the top of the Okanagan Corridor and into Canada’s Glacier National Park (not connected to the U.S. version) “Waterfall Alley.”  The melting snow streaming and tumbling down steep mountainsides fed into jade-green shallow rivers.  It seemed endless.

Gondolas - 6849Add to that the picture-perfect blue skies and you couldn’t find more beautiful scenery.  Last night as Monique and I sat around a campfire with four young travelers from Switzerland, we asked, “Why would you come here?  It looks like Switzerland.”  The response was, “There’s more of it here!”

Enough terrain-talk.  Now for a few comments.  I’m sure there are several readers who would like to have a map of our route included with these articles.  That was my original intention, but there hasn’t been enough time to work on one … and then it occurred to me that a map isn’t a good idea.  Going to Alaska is about exploring, and plotting a course based on our travels would diminish the adventure.

When you’re planning your trip, the first place to start is the book “Milepost,” which is an incredible source of information about every road and every stop along the way, plus lots more.  Canadian and Alaska tourism offices are glad to provide information, and, of course, there’s the web.  You can browse for hours finding out about what to see while moseying on up to Alaska and back.

And besides, traipsing along behind a caravan isn’t really fair to Adventure Caravans, is it?

Forget what I said yesterday about cellphone charges.  There are apparently more options I didn’t know about until this afternoon.  Check with your service for the right information.

Today we learned that the cost of a 7-day national park pass is $57.00 (Canadian) for seniors … and that’s per person.  Then, there are provincial parks that have different fees.  If no officers are around to put a ticket on your vehicle if you don’t have a pass, you can take a chance on stopping at some of the breathtaking sights.  Otherwise, you need to pay.

Rushing Jade Waters

Rushing Jade Waters

Speaking of cost, we’re still learning the conversions.  I stuck a speedometer sheet on my steering wheel, e.g., 100 Km/H equals about 60 mph in the states.  And, of course, all the distance signs are in kilometers, and everything has the French translation attached.  We have a pocketful of $2 coins and some pretty paper bills.  We’re using our ATM card when it’s more than $20 for fuel, food or a fishing rod & reel.

Our route today was dotted with massive construction projects, with heavy equipment operating even though it is Sunday.  The road-widening work is impressive and didn’t cause us any delays.

Enjoying Our Trip With a Circle of Friends

Enjoying Our Trip With a Circle of Friends

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

© All photos by Barry Zander.   All rights reserved

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Our Alaska Trip Part VI Banff & Lake Louise

This entry is part 7 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

June 15, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 4 Comments  

By Barry Zander, Edited by Monique Zander, the Never-Bored RVers

This is the sixth in a continuing series about our trip through Canada to Alaska

It’s been raining off and on all day, and speaking of off and on, we still managed to have an interesting day getting off and on a tour bus for about eight hours today as we toured the resort areas of Banff and Lake Louise in the Province of Alberta, Canada.

The Water at Lake Louise is Really That Blue

The Water at Lake Louise is Really That Blue

“Be aware!  Nothing’s for Free!” or as the locals abbreviate it, “B-a-n-f-f,” according to our tour bus driver.  Banff is your typical, quaint tourist town in the summer when the skiers have gone home.  We spent hours circling muat-see sights, including the hotel and falls, which were included in yesterday’s blog.  Today, most of the members of the caravan rode together on a field trip.

From Banff we traveled to the incredibly turquoise Lake Louise, where we spent almost two hours viewing the lake and chatting leisurely with people visiting the area.  Beautiful, of course, but since I still can’t find enough picturesque words to convey what we experienced, I’ll let a few pictures help and get on to other topics.  The photos are random shots, not the postcards you can see elsewhere.

First and related, as we trekked along Canada Hwy. 1, our driver explained that the entire length of the 4-lane is getting fencing on both sides.  This is because of how often migrating wildlife is killed on that stretch.  What they have done is build “wildlife underpasses,” which are favored by deer, elk and bighorn sheep wanting to cross the roadway, and “wildlife overpasses,” like bears and wolves.  Considering the investment, it had better work.

Juvenile Bighorn Sheep: Is "Sheep" Singular or Plural?  (Yes, it's a photo effect)

Juvenile Bighorn Sheep: Is “Sheep” Singular or Plural? (Yes, it’s a photo effect)

We find the construction underway amazing, and it brings up another point – VALUE.  Whether you embark on a trip to Alaska on your own or with a caravan, as we are doing, it’s expensive.  How expensive depends on your rig’s fuel consumption, your penchant for spending money for food and trinkets, what excursions including cruises that you want to take, where you plan to camp, etc.  You have to decide.  You’re still going to pay for fuel, food and shopping, but signing up with a caravan adds a hefty amount to your outlay.

With that in mind, I think your decision has to be made based on value.  Do research, including digesting what these blogs have to say, and then make up your mind.  We chose the group approach because it relieved Monique of the intricacies of planning each day including deciding what to do and where to go.  Today we found value in learning things that we found fascinating.

Despite the weather, this was another good day.  We did some touring we probably wouldn’t have wanted to do to conserve on diesel.  We hopped on the bus at 7:45 a.m., which was included in the cost of the trip, and that was it.

As I mentioned earlier, we are not a convoy; we have ample opportunity to do our own thing and don’t travel like ducks in row — there can be 10 miles or 50 between rigs.

Site of an Avalanche in the Making Above Lake Louise

Site of an Avalanche in the Making Above Lake Louise

In addition to explaining about the wildlife fencing, our driver told us that scientists predict that the glaciers, which are retracting, will begin expanding again in 10 years.  We are happy for any hopeful news along those lines.

If you come up through British Columbia, you might go through the Okanagan Corridor.  When we started the trip, we pronounced it “O-kanagan” until I changed to “o-KAN-nagan.”  I now think it is really “okan-NA-gan.”  If you’re not coming this way, don’t worry about it.

The Zanders in a Pergola at Banff

The Zanders in a Pergola at Banff

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

© All photos by Barry Zander.   All rights reserved

Comments

4 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part VI Banff & Lake Louise”

▪.  Sucie on June 15th, 2010 10:43 am  
To bad you missed the Valley of the 10 peaks (Moraine Lake), which is located to the Southeast of Lake Louise. It is absolutely breathtaking. Where you turned right to go to the Lake Louise Chateau, you turn left and take the Moraine Lake Road instead. It is about 10 miles or so. Next time you pass through, be sure to make the trip. You won’t be disappointed

▪.  hockeyguy on June 15th, 2010 9:34 pm  
I agree that Valley of the 10 peaks is spectacular with less development than elsewhere. I was there a long time ago and it still is vivid in my mind. It helps that the valley was the model for the back of the old $10 dollar bill at the time. 
I had a meal at the lodge that was there and it was very good by any standard. 
Everywhere else is still spectacular but the valley is unique. Another attraction to look at is the cliffs that are called Hoo-Doos. The best time to look at them is at night after the moon has risen. A little spooky but very striking. I hope to go again someday.

▪.  Bill Stanley on June 16th, 2010 3:43 pm  
Oh-ka-noggin

▪.  Old Grey on June 16th, 2010 8:27 pm  
I’m re-living parts of our travels in BC as you pass through. Wonderful mountains, lakes and waterfalls. Enjoy your travels!
We plan to head to the Yukon and Alaska in the near future. in our 13 ft. trailer. Alas! We will be unable to travel by caravan (great fun that is!) but we will enjoy our trip nearly as much as you are enjoying yours!

Our Alaska Trip Part XXX The Cost of Our Trip

This entry is part 33 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

12August 12, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 11 Comments

This is the 30th article in a continuing series about our trip through Canada to Alaska

We have kept daily tabs on the cost of our 58-day caravan tour through western Canada into and around Alaska and back.  The tough part now is to find a way to make our spending relevant to everyone else.  But, let’s give it a try …

Tour Company:  Our only set expense was the money we sent to Adventure Caravans to participate.  You might want to take the same trip or a shorter one if you decide to caravan, and you may, after comparing features, decide on another tour company.  There are too many alternatives to cost it out in a logical way.  Add to that each year the cost of enrollment will probably be different.

If you break it down into cost-per-day to caravan, that also has variables, e.g., what events and meals are included.  If the trip you select offers the cheapest cost, you will probably be getting a less enjoyable tour.  And since the Alaska trip is not something you will be doing often, you want to get the most out of your visit.

On the cheapie side, you may decide to do it on your own [see Part XXIX].  Staying in Canadian provincial parks or on pullouts available almost everywhere will save you lots of money over the caravan’s full-hookup choices.

This isn’t meant to dodge the issue.  You need to look at the various tour companies’ routes and features, pare the choices down to the ones that make sense to you, and then compare cost.  [Wish I could find a quick resource on the net, but gotta get off this borrowed computer]  From our research, the caravan rates are very competitive, taking into account the different features.

Fuel:  The next biggest single expense for us was fuel.  We traveled 6,171 miles at a cost of $2,373 (we get 10.5 mpg in our diesel GMC pickup with a 22-gallon tank).   Price of fuel varied from about $3.56 a gallon to a high of $8 a gallon (twice in very remote areas, so we only got enough to get us to the next station).  Most of the time it was between $3.87 and $4.00 per gallon.

We pulled our 10,000-pound Bigfoot trailer, plus, the bed of our truck is our garage, which lowers our fuel mileage.  On several occasions, when going to local attractions, we rode with others.  The back seat of our truck is used for storage, so we couldn’t return the favor.

Oh, and for all these expenses except caravan enrollment fee keep in mind you would be paying for many of these costs of traveling anyway.  Our RV park camping fees and some meals were included in the upfront tour cost.  On your own you might pay less, but it would still cost you some money.

Groceries, excursions and incidentals:  These will vary greatly to fit your personal preferences.  Monique is an excellent frugal gourmet cook (who buys better quality meat, organic produce, etc.) so we ate at restaurants only 19 times in 57 days – probably the fewest times of anyone else on the tour.  Five of those were at fast-food places.  Most of the others were with other couples or all the members of the group.  Add to that stops for coffee, pastries and snacks, and our total was $600.  You’ll be spending money for those no matter where you are on the road.

There's so much to see, so much to do.  Try to take your time to be in the present.

There’s so much to see, so much to do. Try to take your time to be in the present.

Our most important advice for Canada/Alaska visitors is participate in as many of the organized side trips, excursions, cruises, flights, shows and cultural opportunities that fit into your finances and time budgets, especially the cruises.  The scenery and wildlife are worth the arduous visit, but it goes to another dimension on these.  You’ve come a long way – go for all the gusto you can.

Examples of costs if going on your own:  A day cruise at the Kenai Fjords (an absolute MUST! to see humpback whales, orcas, puffins, sea lions and much more) $155 per person.  A train ride to see a gold mine replica and pan for gold, about $139 p/p (but you’re guaranteed to find gold flakes and maybe a nugget).  The 184-mile round-trip tour-guided bus ride into Denali National Park, priceless!

Groceries are expensive in the Far Northwest but cheaper than eating out.  Our tab was just under $1,000 or about $18 per day.  That included shopping for a few potlucks and taking snacks to the socials occasionally, a voluntary part of being on the caravan.

Incidentals [NOTE to our grandchildren:  Don’t expect much!]  We are not shoppers.  We bought a few t-shirts, a cap and some pins and hiking stick medallions to help us remember our journey, but not much.  Also in this category is laundry, car washes, etc., and the biggest part of “incidentals,” side trips and excursions not included in the tour cost.

I whitewater rafted once (a thrill), we rode the gondola up a mountain in Banff, I played golf at Top of the World Golf Club, we paid for a cruise to Seldovia (a highlight), and we forked over a few bucks for museums.  We bought a handmade wooden table for $60.  Total cost of Incidentals & Excursions:  just over $1,000.  Some of the things we did not buy that our fellow travels did were: jewelry, expensive apparel, fishing license (although I bought and never used a rod & reel), extra tours including flights, and extra fishing trips.

You’d probably be spending some money on these things in Alaska, Arkansas or Arizona, so it’s not as bad as it sounds.  And, again, we – as full-time RVers without a house — are far more fiscally conservative than most of our travelmates.

Repairs:  An additional expense you can expect on a trip like this is repairs and damages.  A bottle of wine and a bottle of balsamic vinegar broke early in the trip on a road heave, and the remote control for a radio was crushed when a recliner landed on it, but that’s the extent of our damage.  At least half of our group is getting windshields replaced this week, but several of those dings happened before we left the Lower 48 and others were on good roads.  It happens!

There were several mechanical problems encountered by members of the group, many of which could have just as easily happened on interstates.  We’re talking here of well over 110,000 miles compiled by the caravan as a whole.  That’s lots of opportunities for problems.

Finally, there were pre-trip costs.  Everyone needed a CB radio for the caravan.  We all had to replace any “questionable” tires, as our mechanic phrased it, and most bought spare fuel filters.  Some of us paid to jerryrig protection on the front of our trucks, towed or coaches, which were cost-savings rather than expenses.   We invested in a very expensive lens for my camera, but there will be more about that in an upcoming article.

Was all this worth it?  Looking at it one way, it depends on how you value your money, what are your priorities in life.  For us — and remember we’re conservative with money — this trip was life at its best.  For us, the overwhelming answer is:  “Yes, it was worth it!”

From the “Never-Bored RVers.” We’ll see you on down the road.

NOTE:  We are staying at provincial parks, often far from towns, so WiFi is a rarity.  We’ll have more soon.

Comments

11 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XXX The Cost of Our Trip”

▪.  Jerry X Shea on August 13th, 2010 6:46 pm  
Our costs. We took a trip for 4 months from the time we crossed into Alberta until we came out into Washington. Gas would have been the same if we did it in 30 days.
Between parking for free, State Parks for $10 a night and RV campgrounds, we had an average cost of about $22.50 a night. For 4 months that was $2,700 (one month would have only been $675). The one that caught us off guard was the cost of food. With the exception of buying a hot mocha in the a.m. and a Subway sandwich (which is not $5 but $7) whenever we could, we only went out to eat 6 times on the whole trip (oh come on now, it’s called a motorHOME trip, not a hotel resort trip). When you have to pay $22 for an uncooked chicken, $3.75 for one avocado and $6.50 for a dozen eggs you suddenly realize you have miscalculated your food cost “big time.” Oh yes, did I mention you can buy a 12-piece bucket of KFC for only $29.99? You get the idea. When you plan your trip, what you spend on food in the lower 48, just go times 4 and you will have your food costs.

▪.  Lee Ensminger on August 13th, 2010 8:03 pm  
We made an extensive trip in the summer of 2007, driving from Ohio to Montana, then up to the beginning of the Alaskan Highway, driving the entire length, going through the interior to Fairbanks, then to Denali, Anchorage, Homer, Seward, the Kenai Peninsula, other places I won’t mention, put the motorhome aboard the Alaskan Ferry System in Whittier, going ashore in Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Ketchikan before being put ashore in Bellingham, WA.
Camping costs: $;
Food: $$
Fuel: $$$;
Whale watching and glacier exploring tours various places: $$$$;
Ferry: $8,000.00+;
Seeing the beauty and majesty that is Alaska: PRICELESS!!!
We’re currently planning our next trip there. And we can’t wait to go back!

▪.  Lynne Schlumpf on August 14th, 2010 4:29 am  
First would like to say thanks so much for your triplog. For those who want an experience they will never ever forget and who love to ride in the front of every rollercoaster (like me), there is another way to experience the beautiful North. Travel up through Wyoming and Montana and cross the border at Lethbridge during the last two weeks of February. The border guards are friendly and not stressed. Stop all along the way and stay in hotels in places like Dawson Creek, Lake Watson, Fort Nelson (call ahead here because oil workers swarm there in winter). Stop and talk to everyone. They are relaxed and friendly and so many great stories you’ll hear. The wildlife you see in the winter is so much more plentiful and the mountain views would make a grown man cry. Spend the last week of February at the Fur Rendezvous (Let’s Rondy!) watching the world championship dog races right downtown 4th street. Ride a Ferris wheel in the dead of winter. See huge dogs in the world championship dog weight pull. See the start of the Iditarod in the first week of March right downtown. Drive north through the jaw-dropping Denali National Park with guaranteed views of Denali. Thought it was great during summer? It pales in comparison. See the Ice Castle carving championship in Fairbanks, the outhouse races in Chatanika. Drive north to Circle late at night to see Northern lights few ever see. Then drive back down the Alaska Highway, knowing you’ve shared in the lives of Alaskans in a way few people in RVs ever get to see. It cost us about $1,100 to drive one way, eat, and stay in hotels. It is something that will remain with me for a lifetime.

We did it in a Dodge Durango 4wd. Any 4wd will do. Studded snow tires not necessary but would be even better. Canadians know how to keep the roads plowed.

▪.  Dan Kapa on August 14th, 2010 7:09 am  
i just bought a used “Alaskan” truck camper (circa 1965) and am fantasizing about a road trip. this info is great and I would like some more ideas about joining a caravan. i am 63 y.o. and would appreciate the company since I am a newbie. Chime in about anything you think i should know or learn.
sincerely, Dan

▪.  Stan Zawrotny on August 14th, 2010 10:29 am  
Your expenses were quite similar to ours. We also ate most meals in our trailer and didn’t buy a lot of gifts for the grandkids. We took the Denali tour and the Kenai Fjords cruise (both priceless).
Here is a rundown of our expenses for a somewhat shorter stay (includes Alaska and Canada).
Fuel $2,720 (10.5 mpg);
Campgrounds $540 (19 nights, $25.00 – $41.41);
Dining out $218;
Food $396;
Gifts $165;
Admissions/tours $743;
Misc $252.
Hope this helps others with their planning/budgeting.

▪.  Rebecca on August 14th, 2010 7:06 pm  
I have a 41′ diesel pusher. Is this too big for travel through Alaska? I need a driver!!
I might have to do it by cruise but I would rather do it by RV.

▪.  Dr. Yaroslaw Sereda on October 26th, 2010 9:30 pm  
We recently purchased a 1979 Dodge camper van, and Alaska is our destination in mid-June 2011 for 2 months. There have been many comments in touring Alaska via Alberta, we live in Saskatchewan. My question and not mentioned by anyone is: what about gas stations? Close or far apart. We were told to have several full gas containers on hand. Comments appreciated.
Thanks [Actually, it was mentioned often in the blogs and in the comments.  While I think it’s a good idea to have enough spare fuel for maybe 50 miles, we never needed it.  This is a good reason to purchase “Mileposts,” which will keep you aware of what to expect on the road ahead.]