Notes from My Father


Hey Good People,

Well, here it is, the long-ago promised and highly sought-after follow-up to my dad’s earlier notes about my parents and my recent trip together here in the US. I’ll post it below, only this time, for integrity’s sake, I’ve interspersed a few points along the way, to verify and clarify some of his words. The prequel to this, tales from the first part of our trip, can be found here.

Final Jottings on Our North America Trip

My apologies for the delay with the second instalment. Unfortunately I had some serious affairs of state to attend to, and if you knew how serious our state’s affairs are, then you would understand. Another factor was my agonising over what to buy my wife for Xmas, but I think she really liked her Mars Bar (candy bar) – and it was the extra large size.

*** I think the delay really had more to do with the technicalities of sending an email than anything else. My dad, who has all the computorial acumen of a frill-necked lizard, hasn’t bought mum, or me, anything for Xmas in years. ****

We were sorry to read all about Carl’s worries since our return, with his van breaking down on his first Fall/Winter solo trip; his calf injury on the glacier; the icy cold fall weather; then being banished to a shack out in the frozen wilderness where he has to cut down a forest every day just to keep warm. I have to say, Australia’s looking good at this time of the year, Carl!

Anyway to continue, we picked up our motor home from Cruise America at Everett, near Seattle, and soon settled into what was to be our new home for the next 19 days.

*** Against my wishes, I had to be part of the RV scene, for the final time on my life. I’ve no idea why I yield to such blights on my personal ideals. It can only be because I love my parents.***

After stocking up with supplies we headed off for the Canadian Rockies. I’ll swear some days we stocked up twice a day; once for food essentials and once for chocolate for Carl. The first evening Carl pulled up about 11.00pm to camp for the night, at the crest of a high mountain peak, onto a little sidetrack. The fog was a real pea-souper but by the head-lights Colleen and I could see a large sign which read, ‘DANGER, FREQUENT AVALANCHES’. Somewhat alarmed we hastily suggested we were ok to go on a little further.

*** ‘Colleen and Neil’ were both sleeping soundly after 9pm, so this part of the story remains somewhat, uhmm, incredulous.***

After a couple of weeks in Alaska and the Rockies Colleen and I were surviving a bit better in the cold climate. By now we were getting a little used to wearing 4-5 layers of clothes, and that was just in bed. After arriving in Jasper we checked into the campground. Late that afternoon I had occasion to visit the bathroom/toilets and to my great delight I found they had heated bathrooms; it was the warmest I had been since I got off the Cruise ship. I hurried back to the motor home and was in the middle of rolling up my sleeping bag when Carl asked what I doing. When I told him I was going to sleep in the bathroom he was horrified, saying something about ‘attracting the wrong sort of attention, and other campers might think it rather strange.’ Reluctantly I allowed myself to be dissuaded, but from then on I spent as much time in any heated bathrooms I came across as decency permitted.

*** Actually, I was all for it .. that way I might sleep peacefully through the night in the RV without the rumblings that seemed to nightly eminate from the far end of the vehicle.***

While on the subject of bathrooms I would make two negative comments re some of the toilets in North America. SINGLE-PLY TOILET PAPER IS ‘TEARABLE’ and I hope whoever made the decision to install it in toilets comes to a sticky end! Also the design problem where often there is inadequate space between the toilet door and the toilet bowl. This situation is compounded by the lack of a cover seat on many of the toilets. On more than one occasion I almost fell back into the bowl when I went to open the door to leave, yet I am not a big person. I reflected on this matter in some of my idle moments in this environment, and began to wonder how some of the very big American people actually ever got out of the toilets. This train of thought led me to contemplate the origin of the term “Super Bowl” but I decided not to pursue that any further.

***Well, no comment here> My dad would know, better perhaps than anyone, on the state of the public toilets in Northwestern US .. He insisted we stop at virtually every one we passed. And, as a side note, this section of his notes inspired my photo posting today .. I called it “the View from Out My House”. From the unheated “Little Shack”, near Shaq.***

We found Jasper a lovely little town and we spent a few days around that area, taking photos of the animals and the breathtaking scenery, It was great to hear the bull elk bugling and we got a number of great shots of them and also some of the young elk. One morning we woke up in our motor home to see a bull elk and his herd walking through the campground in the snow. We visited Patricia Lake and then enjoyed a walk along Maligne Lake in light snow. Our routine was to get up before dawn so Carl could get to a place to catch the first dawn light. Of course Carl would not allow us to have the furnace on to warm up the motor home, as this would ‘fog up my lens’.

I will never forget Lake Edith-Cavell. I think we got there well before dawn and walked down to the lake. It was bitterly cold. My hands were numb, even with gloves on, and Colleen’s feet were freezing. I still shiver even when I think about it. However with the first rays of the sun hitting the snow-covered mountain top, and the reflection on the lake (with ice floating on the surface), it was so beautiful I just had to keep taking photos, especially when three wild horses came down to the other side to have a drink – they must really love a cold drink to come down at that time of the morning. Of course this meant my gloves had to keep coming off and then on again, which didn’t do a lot to warm my hands any. I said to Colleen I thought I was suffering from a touch of ‘altitude sickness’, but Carl thought it was more a case of ‘attitude’ rather than ‘altitude’.

*** Indeed, it was a glorious morning. The temperature, I believe, was around 32F. Which means, I might add, my morning of minus 46F last week was SEVENTY EIGHT DEGREES colder than the Edith Cavell trip. So stop whining.***

Late one afternoon just outside Jasper Carl and I walked a little way off the highway where we were fortunate to come across a bull elk protecting his herd of cows from three other bulls that were keen to assist him. While we were watching a black bear came out of the forest nearby and stood up to survey the scene. This caused great excitement all round, with Carl and I probably being the most excited of the lot. I couldn’t help reflecting that it was a real scene being played out by wild animals in the wild, yet it was only about 200 yards from the main road and about a mile from Jasper. I felt a bit sorry for the other tourists who couldn’t see any of this from their buses and cars on the main road.

From Jasper we travelled to Banff National Park, another lovely drive, and stayed in a resort at Canmore for two nights to have a break. We spent some time around the area taking in the beautiful scenery but we had to go into the town of Banff on one day so Colleen could have her nails done. I will never understand women. Back in Australia in the busy period of planning the details of our upcoming trip, Colleen spent about two whole days on the internet searching for a place where she could get an appointment to have her nails done during our holiday. You would have thought all her Xmases had come at once when she not only discovered there was a place in Banff but she could also make an appointment on-line. I’m sure this was one of the highlights of her trip. While at Banff we visited Lake Louise, had a quick peek inside the Chateau (which should never have been built right on the edge of the lake), then Moraine Lake, and we agreed with Carl that we preferred the latter.

*** I think this was the only time in the last 30 years they’ve agreed with me. Certainly publicly.***

After leaving Banff we went down through Kananaskis country and then attempted to cross back into the U.S. True to form Carl got us to the little border crossing about five minutes after it had closed for the night, so we got to spend another night in Canada, about a hundred yards from the border. The next morning we doubted at first whether the Customs Officer was going to let us past the border. He seemed to take an instant dislike to us, and gave Carl a bit of a hard time because he didn’t have his U.S. passport with him – maybe he had been talking to the park ranger at Katmai – but finally he let us through and then wished us a very pleasant holiday. Once over the border we continued on through the plains country, which was an interesting change of scenery for Colleen and I, down through the Glacier National Park and Lewis and Clarke Forest. It snowed at Kingshill Summit, at the top of the pass, instantly turning the forest into a fairyland scene.

*** The customs officer was a typical clown who clearly had too much regulation as a child. The fact that, as I reminded him ever so clearly (and courteously) I wasn’t REQUIRED to have my passport on me at the time seemed not to matter to him. As for the late arrival the previous evening, remember what I said above about stopping at each toilet along the way? Also, can you say “glorious sunset over Chief Mountain”, just north of the US/Canadian border? ***

Somewhere along the way Carl decided to teach his mother how to make real coffee. It was a classic case of the blind leading the lame.

*** (did you just call your wife, my mother, ‘lame’? ***

The result was a sort of soggy, grey mixture that looked as though it might have come from the grey water tank. The dregs in the bottom of the cup tasted better than the coffee itself. I drank each cup in stoic fashion but at every opportunity, subtly tried to steer the conversation round to the health benefits of tea over coffee. In case any of you might think I seem a little tough on Carl, I expect more from him, as I remind him from time to time, because he was born in the U.S.A. and therefore cost twice as much as our other two boys.

*** You get what you pay for. ***

We had three great days at Yellowstone Nation Park, staying at Madison Campground. Yellowstone was fascinating and the highlights were the Park itself, the geysers of course, a black bear with two cubs, the bison, and a grizzly bear which ran across the road in front of us. I hate to admit it but Carl made the stay much more rewarding than it would have been without him, as he knew his way around and seemed to know where we would be likely to see particular species of animals. The next day we went down to the Grand Tetons. It was cold and wet, but the mountains were still magnificent. The only moose we saw was a bull moose at the aptly named Moose Junction. After an overnight stay, with the weather still a bit unkind we travelled back to Yellowtone for one more night. The next morning we awoke to find Yellowstone blanketed in about 4 inches of snow, so we spent a magic day driving through the snow-covered Park. It was lovely to see the animals in the snow, particularly the bison.

Generally we found the tourists in the national parks to be well behaved and considerate of the animals, although we did observe a few instances where the animals were better behaved than the humans. There were one or two times where the animals gave a clear warning that enough was enough, which were ignored by the offenders. I don’t envy the rangers their task of trying to balance the interests of both the human visitors and the native inhabitants, particularly in Yellowstone. We were there in Fall but I can only imagine how crowded it must be in Summer. The problems there are exacerbated by the narrow, windy roads with ever-increasing traffic, especially motor homes, and of course everyone wants to see and photograph the exciting animals such as wolves and bears. I hope they have a long range plan to deal with these problems.

Then it was time to head back to Seattle. On the way back we went off the freeway just past Coeur D’Alene, much against Carl’s wishes, and travelled on a lesser road towards Everett. This proved to be a great success. We celebrated Colleen’s –th birthday at The Broken Arrow Café in a quaint little town whose name I can’t recall. The food was fine, the décor was most interesting, and so were most of the other customers; we had a great night. We stayed at Leavenworth on the last night and as we drove up the eastern side of Stevens Pass the next morning we were treated to a display of the most brilliant fall colours I have ever seen. It was a great way to finish a wonderful trip through the North American Rockies, and they certainly lived up to our expectations.

*** I think the town is Deer Lodge. As for mum’s -th birthday, didn’t we celebrate it in many towns, over 4 different states, 2 countries, and for the entire 6 weeks? As for the fall colors, you forgot to mention how SOMEONE wasn’t allowed to stop and take any photos, as “we have a schedule to keep”.***

I should report that we thoroughly enjoyed the trip in the Cruise America motor home. We had no trouble with it the whole way; the service at both pickup and return was friendly and efficient; and I managed to stay on the correct side of the road most of the time when I was driving. Happily Carl’s driving has also improved since our last motor home trip with him in 1992. He now actually slows down when he exits a freeway; he always used to speed up on the exits and brake heavily when we got to the roundabout. As you can imagine this caused some problems in a motor home. Then it was a case of all hands on deck as we endeavoured to keep everything in the cupboards. Now we were sad to say goodbye to our ‘new home.’ We were also sad to say farewell to Carl at Seattle airport as we prepared to go our separate ways, he back to Alaska, and we off to Eugene, Oregon, for a couple of days, then San Francisco for three nights before flying home to Australia.

*** I’ve also gotten faster. We actually topped 80mph going over the continental divide .. lewis and clark WISH they had these mad skillz o’ mine! ***

Our stopover at Eugene was for nostalgic reasons. Colleen and I are both alumni of the University of Oregon; we lived there for two years in the turbulent late 60’s, Carl was born there,

**** One wonders if those last 2 things aren’t related? ****

and we were there again for the academic year in ’83-’84 with the three boys, with all five of us studying at various educational institutions. We regard Eugene as our second home. We had a great time revisiting our old stamping grounds, and even managed to fit in a drive up the McKenzie River, one of our really favourite places. We also love San Francisco and enjoyed our stay there, particularly the cable cars, and the ferry trip out to Sausolito. It was also great to see some more wild animals on the last night of our holiday; they were on the streets of San Francisco! Then it was off to prepare for the long flight home.


We had not planned to do that trip last year, but we are very grateful to Carl for persuading us to do so. It was a wonderful trip all round, the trip of a lifetime. The scenery was magnificent, as were the animals; I don’t think we could have gone at a better time of the year; we met lots of lovely people; Carl planned the trip very well; and it was great having our own personal guide. However I have to say the real highlight for us was catching up with our son, and being able to spend such a great time with Carl doing what he loves, and in the magnificent environment that he so obviously enjoys.


Neil Donohue

*** And, I might add, I did insist they come over and visit this area, at this time of year, because (a) I know how amazing the place is, and (b) I so wanted to share with my parents some of the experience of travel through the Rockies. And I’m SO proud of you both for your fortitudes, getting up early, drinking my coffee, sleeping in my van, and camping in the rain at Katmai .. you’re not so mild as you pretend.

The only other note I might make is one of my favorite times of the whole 6 weeks was walking along Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park one afternoon, just walking along the lake’s shore, by the forest, talking and spending time with you both. That was a beautiful afternoon, thanks.


Carl (the expensive one)

14 thoughts on “Notes from My Father

  1. Musa

    Ahhh, Carl, you can be sentimental, Kebs is all misty eyed, not me but Kebs is…..though Kebs also now knows where you get your cold feet from… as he contemplates the -60 floor he might be sleeping on soon…..

  2. Carl Donohue

    Hey Musa

    Keba must surely be getting all excited about his upcoming road trip and opportunity to visit Wrangell – St. Elias. As for me, I’m not sentimental and nor do I have cold feet – unless the temperature drops back down to minus 40-ish.



  3. Chris Kayler

    I don’t know what to say, man … the end though, whew, how sweet of you. 😉

    On a serious note … I love showing my favorite places to people too.

    Stay warm,

  4. Musa

    I don’t know Carl, Kebs is now muttering about some guy named Shakleton and asking why are we trying to recreat his journey….I keep telling him no no we are going to the Shack, not Shakleton, whereever that is…. and he gets to play Buck to my White Fang….then he mutters something underneath his breath about wolves and conibear traps and me little me being all on my own if I get into trouble, and how the complete season two of Footballer’s Wives, all 9 and half hours, has just arrived…but don’t worry a couple of pigs ears and he’ll be ready to go…..

  5. Carl Donohue

    hey Chris

    I try, what can I say? 🙂

    It’s great to have places you enjoy so much that you get a thrill out of sharing them with people. The Rockies are one of mine, but every year that number grows and grows!

    Musa, I’m sure Keba will be fine – he’s a big strong healthy dog, able to fend for himself.



  6. Neil Donohue

    You try to be nice and what do you get in return? I deliberately left out that Carl literally had to be prised out of the motor home on our return to Seattle, and he WAS photographed leaving the Chateau at Lake Louise – definitely some Yuppie leanings there beneath the wilderness adventurer exterior.

    And there was no mention of the missing mobile phone saga. We actually spent more time in the North American Rockies searching for someone’s missing phone, than we did in sightseeing. Frantic calls were made to every tourist and park office from Vancouver to Seattle, looking for his ‘security blanket.’ It was eventually found hanging in a tree, presumably left there by some kindly bear.
    Neil Donohue

  7. Carl Donohue

    Hey Ron,

    I knew you’d get a kick out of this. 🙂

    Dad, I know, you really did try to be nice. And I appreciate your patience whilst I went through the rigamarole of getting my phone returned to me. I think it’s a little unfair to refer to it as my “security blanket” though.

    Speaking of “security”, I am currently secure in McCarthy .. well, “Stuck” in McCarthy. I left the park briefly on the weekend to pick up my friend Charlie to come visit for a few, and we drove, in my van, all the way in to the park, in to the end of the McCarthy Rd, down to the Shaq, and as I stopped to put chains on the tires for the last 75 yards in to the unplowed driveway, my van died. I, well, “We”, managed to get it in the driveway, where it currently sits. I’m not sure what my plan is from here. Either way, it may be a while before I make another post here. Until then, I’ll be dealing with this issue – and it’s precisely the same problem it gave me 3 months back, when I was stuck in Glennallen, and assured all my readers that though I was leaving for Anchorage, the problem had indeed not been fixed. And, of course, it appears it wasn’t.

    We’ll see where the sage goes from here.



  8. Neil Donohue

    It was only a little unfair if I had meant it, which of course I did not (its called poetic licence). Colleen and I both realised you needed your phone for your work, and it was no hassle to us; actually we enjoyed the opportunity it gave us to sleep in a bit longer some mornings. What was a bit unfair was your comment about me stopping at every toilet, as you knew I was doing research for the Dept of Interior.

    Sorry to hear about your latest van troubles though – I’ll email you soon. Meanwhile,what about a sled team?

  9. Ron Niebrugge

    Carl, can’t you just run your van over to one of the automobile dealerships there in McCarthy, or maybe a NAPA authorized service center – I think any of them could help – just take a quick look at your Greater McCarthy area phone book. 🙂

    Seriously Bud, that really sucks! It is one thing to get stuck in there for a few days because of snow – this is going to be a real pain.

    Good luck Bro!

  10. Musa

    I rest my case is all I will say. Yet, with no small degree of trepidation on our part and me thinks on Carl’s part too, he did get us out of what is a very lovely corner of the great land. Ms. D. happy to report there is now one wine glass, alas not leaded crystal, but still glass, at le shack, should you venture over to see what the sourdough son of yours is calling home…

  11. Carl Donohue

    Hey Ron,

    Greater McCarthy is completely closed. 🙂

    Seriously, I’m amazed I got outta there .. after the way vehicle just died, and then died again the following morning when I tried it again, I figured I was toast. Miraculously, it got us out yesterday.

    Dad, you’ll be glad to know my “Security blanket” in McCarthy is actually a minus 20deg F synethetic filled North Face sleeping bag, currently sitting on the back seat of my van in case the next time the vehicle dies we’re a little beyond walking distance of my cabin. 🙂

    Musa, now why’d you have to go and tell the whole world my mother is somewhat of a wine-o-holic? Hope you had a good visit to the Shaq!



  12. Beth Lunsford

    What a great family! You can love & belittle each other all at the same time! I love it!! What a TRIP!!!

  13. Carl Donohue

    Hey Beth,

    I don’t belittle dad – I’m still too fearful from the whippings he used to give me, usually for no apparent reason, with whatever small trees he managed to fell with his chainsaw. 🙂



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