Travel Journal USA 2009

by Claudia and PJ Potgieser



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April 2009 - USA
1 - 15 April 2009
We enter the USA through Arizona and the desert is blooming!




We are cruisin' through Arizona and New Mexico to meet old travel friends, relatives of Claudia and relatives of PJ. In Santa Fe we see lots of Adobe buildings which are inspired by the clay houses of the Indians. 
                                               Painted Desert, Arizona                                                Santa Fe, New Mexico


With PJ's Dutch uncle and his family we travel south bound again to visit the white dunes of Whites Sands National Monument.


In the desert of Arizona we boondock for a couple of days and work on our tan.
Only two days later we are parked at a Laundromat. In the machines our summer clothes are getting clean, but outside winter has begun again. We see snow and a hail storm.


April 2009 - Yellowstone, USA
16 - 30 April
We are ready for it. We have picked up our winter clothes at Claudia's cousin in Utah, which were stored for the winter in her basement. We also picked up a thick sleeping bag and have bought a fleece sheet. The dump tanks are filled with ice melt, to prevent them from freezing. What the heck are we going to do? We are going to Yellowstone National Park, which is on 6500 feet and where spring is probably still far away.
The park is indeed covered in a blanket of snow, sometimes 1 feet deep, on other places 3 feet. But the skies are blue and during the day it warms up to the low sixties, but during the night it cools down to mid twenties.
It is amazing how lucky we are with seeing and shooting wolves, normally a very illusive animal (for pictures see recent photos).


                              During a photo shoot it is only 21 Degrees F but guess what it feels like...             PJ, Lyn en Jenny 

I am holding my breath. Four wolves just crossed the road in front of our camper. But instead of disappearing, they come back and cross the road again at the back of our camper. They are making a big circle and cross again in front of us. For the first time we can make close-up pictures of wolves! They circle us three times. What a strange behavior of these animals. For two and a half hour we watch them in a snowy landscape and regularly they approach us. Very exiting.


For more than an hour we observe and photograph a young grizzly bear who is digging for voles. We see him disappearing into the forest for a nap. It is sunny and his nap lasts 5 hours. In the mean time PJ also takes a nap, while Dave is keeping guard. But when the bear returns is was worth waiting for: he somersaults in slow motion from a snowy hill!


Every 70 minutes the Old Faithful geyser burps steam and a hot fountain out of its belly.


The action with the wolves just does not stop. Right in front of us a bison cow is grabbed by three wolves. While they are holding on to her sides, all four of them fall from a steep hill. The bison must be sick, because she buckles through her knees and let the wolves eat her alive. Normally a bison fights for her live for about ten hours. Only for an hour she stares with moist brown eyes at the wolves before she dies.
If you want to see pictures of this, click on the following link: wolves on carcass

More drama. Twice a pack of wolves dig out the den of a coyote couple. The little coyotes are so brave, and are barking their hearts out. But all in vain, the new born pups are killed by the wolves.


The snow keeps coming down. This frustrates us, because we are watching a grizzly on a bison carcass and a grey wolf who tries to steal a bone, but we cannot make pictures!


                                                                            grizzly and wolf tracks in the snow

May 2009 - Yellowstone, USA
May 1st, finally a bigger part of Yellowstone National Park opens. But there are still heaps of snow everywhere, so we don't see much wildlife in that part of the park.


But in the next weeks this is going to change. We see more and more grizzly bears, even good ol' Monkeyface also known as Circus Bear. He entertains us for six hours, falls asleep next to the road, takes a bath in the partly frozen Lake Yellowstone and trotters along our camper through the snow.




Lots of time we dedicate to a fox den with six pups just outside the park. The vixen has dropped her babies underneath the hundred year old hunting lodge of Buffalo Bill!! They are not shy and are probably fed regularly by tourists. Fortunately the parents also bring real food to the den like ground squirrels and even rabbits.


June 2009, British Columbia, Canada
Nine years we have been looking for
the rare illusive Kermode bear, a black bear with a white fur that is unique to British Columbia, Canada. This Spirit Bear is not an albino bear.
When we receive an e-mail from friend Doug - who lives in that area - that he has seen a white bear twice, we decide to travel from Yellowstone 2000 miles northwest to Canada.
After four long days driving, we arrive in the area where the Spirit Bear sometimes is seen. Already after one and a half day Doug finds us a small Kermode Bear, just along the highway, in the middle of the day, while it is 85 degrees Fahrenheit!! She is with a black male bear. After only a disappointing sixty seconds the bears disappear. We hang out in the area for three days, hoping to see them again, but in vain.


Doug has seen a Kermode twice along a gravel road, 60 miles from here. We are looking for better pictures, so we will give this road a try. But there is not much traffic on the gravel road and the black bears are skittish and bold as soon as they hear us coming. Mostly we are still 150 yards away from them. This is not going to work, there is no way we can make pictures when we see a white bear. On a stretch of only 3 miles Doug has seen a Kermode twice, two wolves, four grizzly bears, a couple of black bears and two different lynxes! Right in the middle of that area PJ parks the camper along the road and the waiting game begins. It are long days when the sun rises at 4.30 a.m. and the twilight starts at 10.30 p.m. The temperature is also not helpful; the day starts at 50F and rises everyday to 85F. We stay inside all day so we won't scare any bears. Slowly we are cooked inside the hot camper. We read half a library and watch DVD's on the laptop.
We see a cow moose with her newborn calf, a young bull moose, a glimpse a wolf, a couple of black bears and five minutes of a yearling black wolf. The latter we can shoot through a partly open window while hundreds of mosquitoes are flying inside.


After three days we give up and drive to Hyder, Alaska to visit friends, take an Internet shot and look for grizzly bears. On the Cassiar Highway we are entertained by a bear family. The big three year old cubs are very playful and curious. One stands up against the hood of our truck and sucks on the red wooden shoes! The other one takes a bite out of the rear light of the camper!




Back to the gravel road for another try. It takes another three long days of waiting before the white bear appears out of nowhere! We can watch him for twenty minutes though the camper windows (most of the time he is hiding behind tall grass). He is immense, white, beautiful, but shy!

We could have booked a C$1000,- per day tour to the Princess Royal - of Gribbell Island where a bigger population of white bears lives, but that is not our style

We drove back to Utah to fly back home to the Netherlands for 3 months.

October 2009

1 - 15 October, USA
We have arrived in the USA and will spent some time in Yellowstone National Park. Because of the cleaning up of the forest fires the south entrance only opens sporadically. We decided to drive around the park and enter from the North. That's a long way, but at least we could tax-free shop in Bozeman first.
The first day in Yellowstone it was freezing cold. The temperature dropped to 8 Fahrenheit! But therefore the scenery was gorgeous with frozen grass and steaming geysers everywhere. But where was the wildlife?


Dave and Jenny arrived, our American friends who where here also in Spring when we were chasing the wolves. They were no luck charm either. A day later our 'fossil' friends Bob and SueAnn came along, but still no animals.
When we woke up it was 17F outside, but only 26F inside! That was a bit too chilly, it takes hours before the ice on the inside of the windows melted. The next night we left the heater on low.


We kept on trying it in the park, but we just could not seem to find the wildlife. Let along seeing bears. We did enjoyed watching a hunting coyote, steaming bison's, playing river otters, a bugling bull elk, fresh bear tracks in the snow and Mother Nature at her best.

                                          Grizzly tracks in the snow


          steaming herd of bisons                               bugling bull elk                                      hunting coyote

              unattentive tourist                                 playing river otters                                 coyote still hunting


After only five days we gave up and traveled south bound to warm up at Claudia's relatives in Utah. We re planning to go to the East coast.

October 20
It was 1.30 am when the camper started shaking and we heard a big bang. PJ thought that we were being hit by a truck and shouted: "Heeee!". Next thing we heard, was a loud knocking on the door. When we saw the bleu flashing lights we knew we were in trouble.
PJ jumped into his sweat pants and opened the door for the police officer.
We are parked on the parking lot of Staples, where we can always pick-up wireless Internet. We are here already since noon. The temperature was a nice 60F but at 10pm it started snowing and it still does.
"Why are you camped here?", the officer asked.
"I thought is was a nice and quiet place", PJ replied.
"I don't want to ruin your night, but you are parked on private property and you have to move 50 yards to that department store".
PJ thought: "Well, you just ruined my night anyway", and he started the engine, wiped a heap of snow from the hood, cleaned the windows and drove 50 yards.
What a joke!

           the Interstate

October 31
Only when you are born on Halloween, you can get away with a birthday cake like this. Claudia has celebrated her birthday with long time friends and some weird creatures that came knocking on the door.

Spontaneously we decided to book a flight to South Africa and rent a camper for a month. Click here to read all about this trip.

December 2009, USA and Mexico
Colorado. On December 4th we arrived after a very long flight from South Africa at the Denver Airport and were warmly welcomed by Julia (Jenny's younger sister). That warmth was really necessary because it was only 3F! Julia and Todd were so nice to let our camper parked in their barn for a month. The engine did not start, but we slept warmly inside our camper. After a day on the charger the batteries were fine again.

  for a month parked warm in the barn                  charging the dead batteries           it was 'just' a little colder in  Longmont

Two days later we drove to Longmont to say hi to our fossil friends Bob and SueAnn, who are living in a trailer next to the Baptist Church. There was a snow free parking spot and an electrical extension cord ready for us: another warm welcome! We plugged into the church and took a shower in the locker room of the gym.
After a couple of days we were ready to leave but the engine  would not start. We were not surprised because the temperature had dropped to -20F and an arctic wind was blowing over the USA.  Bob did some counting for us and we did not like to even think about it because we had gone from + 114F to -20F.  Again, we put the batteries  on the charger and on the night before we left Bob got permission for us to park the camper inside the school bus garage where it was 60F. 

In New Mexico we could not let it pass to put some new African wildlife stickers on our camper. In Soccoro the truck got some well deserved maintenance, all the fluids were replaced, new batteries and the tires were balanced and rotated. We could not wait to get into Mexico!


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click here to read all about winter 2009 - 2010 in Mexico