Riding the Rails to Yesteryear

MRSR 4 227In high anticipation, we gathered at the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad depot (MRSR) in Elbe, Washington. With a mournful whistle, the train, consisting of a steam engine pulling four cars, click-clacked its way toward us.

The longest continuously operating steam train in the Northwest, the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad is a big attraction to this tiny town. Elbe, established by German immigrants in the late 1800’s, was named after the Elbe River Valley near Hamburg, Germany. The town is also known for its famous historical Lutheran church, Evangelische Lutherische Kirche.

We had our choice of seating and our family of six adults chose the last of four cars which happened to have windows with no glass, the better choice to hang out to take pictures. Some cars had glass windows. We sat on bench seats; the car before us had tables, much like a dining car.

Bill, our conductor, made his career on trains for 41 years and in his retirement volunteers with MRSR. He coached us to signal the engineer that it was safe to move the train forward, a signal known as “High Ball” followed by the train’s engine number. Together we yelled “High Ball 17!” and the train’s whistle immediately responded. With a blast of steam, we were on our way.

A train’s whistle, originally referred to as a steam trumpet, is an efficient means of non-verbal communication and each cadence has its own meaning. One whistle indicates the train is ready to go. When we passed a crossing, we heard two long, one short, one long cadence, other times it blew in greeting as we passed various landmarks. The gentle swaying of our bench seats and the nostalgic whistle made me think of what traveling one hundred years ago must have been like. Sitting by the window, I often felt the spray of steam condensation.

The train’s maximum speed is about 10 miles per hour giving us plenty of time to view a few back yards, then wide open space with grazing cattle and horses, meadows, a spectacular beaver dam, and mountain streams cloudy with glacier runoff. At one point we were on a trestle, high in the air.

As we climbed a grade, our sturdy little train chugged what sounded to me like, “I think I can, I think I can.” As we traveled Mount Rainier’s forests and foothills in October, we viewed fall’s colorful changing leaves, mixed with brilliant green conifers. At one point, as we crossed the Upper Nisqually River, we got a peek of the great mountain, its top capped with clouds.

We pulled into the small unincorporated community of Mineral for a scheduled museum visit. Mineral originally began as a mining town, then turned into a logging camp and sawmill, neither of which are currently in operation. Today Mineral claims to have the most comprehensive collection of steam logging locomotives in the world. The excursion schedule allows 45 minutes to visit the various exhibits which include individual buildings: Railroad Logging Camp, House of Gears, Rod House and Restoration Shop. A gift shop has railroad memorabilia, and a small concession has light snacks and beverages. Some people brought lunches and sat at picnic tables situated throughout the railroad camp.

When our conductor Bill learned I was a writer, he invited my husband Bruce and me to visit Engine 17’s cab. It was a high step up, plus three more steps to a space filled with boilers and the machinery needed to pull the train. A blast of heat–about 110 degrees–made me appreciate the work of an engineer. We were told that on a hot day the engine cab can climb to 140 degrees. No wonder we often see an engineer leaning out a window! A two-foot wide walkway the width of the train gave access to two pressure gauges and about 30 valve handles. Rather than wood or coal used in the old days, this steam engine is fueled by diesel and a large fuel tank is also in the engine cab. There are no ready-made parts for this American Locomotive Company Engine 17, originally built in 1929. In its renovation, all parts had to be machined from scratch out of blocks of steel. The rebuilt engine has been in use for about 1500 hours.

The MRSR excursion takes about two hours. We rounded out our day with a late lunch at the Mount Rainier Railroad Dining Company, an old train which has been turned into an Elbe restaurant. We enjoyed our meal and our group of six had a dining room to ourselves.

For more information about the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad and Museum, visit www.MRSR.com or call (360) 569-7959.

View from the Top: Seattle’s Great Wheel

Gerry Hall Photo

Gerry Hall Photo

Ever since it was erected, I have had my eye on that magnificent Ferris wheel on Seattle’s waterfront. On a recent sunny Sunday, our family made a day of going out on the town by visiting the heart of Seattle.

The Seattle Great Wheel is a wonderful destination, and on a clear day the view is spectacular. The wheel extends 40 feet beyond the end of Pier 57 over Elliott Bay. Our party of six filled one of the 42 gondolas and our 20-minute ride was three full revolutions of the wheel.

The day was particularly beautiful with Puget Sound sparkling, and we could see as far away as Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountains. Our closer view of Seattle’s waterfront and the city’s skyscrapers was fun, too. We enjoyed identifying the many buildings, including the Smith Tower, a building that has stood for 100 years. Now dwarfed by other buildings, it was once the tallest building on the West Coast.

This latest Seattle icon was built in less than a year and opened to the public in 2012. The wheel, manufactured in Europe and the United States, was assembled right at the end of Pier 57. Standing 175 feet tall, Seattle Great Wheel weighs 280,300 pounds. Its foundation consists of 550 tons of concrete.

The Seattle Great Wheel’s enclosed gondolas are climate-controlled, allowing twelve-month operation, no matter the weather. From inside, passengers have a 360-degree view.

At night, the wheel is lit up with white gondola lights. On special occasions, such as the evenings of University of Washington or Seattle Seahawks home football games, or on holiday evenings, the wheel features an LED light show.

The Seattle Great Wheel is the third in North America with this design, following Niagara SkyWheel in Canada, also 175 feet, and the 187 foot Myrtle Beach SkyWheel in South Carolina. The Seattle Great Wheel is the only one of the three to be built over water.

The United States’ first Ferris wheel appeared in Chicago at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 and was a creation of George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. It was the largest attraction at the World Fair and was hugely popular. Today, the Ferris wheel is a major attraction at county fairs, large and small. It’s a grand way to look around the fair itself and nearby countryside.

The Seattle Great Wheel. It operates daily. Consult their website for hours, prices and announcements: www.seattlegreatwheel.com

Take Time to Make a Friend

Tonga M rowing ashoreSP_T2_21 CropNote: On a small sailboat at sea, you take the bad with the good. Over a 14-month period, Bruce and I sailed 13,000 miles on our boat Impunity, journeying from Seattle through the South Pacific and home again. There were many serene moments with fair winds and calm seas, and also tense moments with violent midnight squalls and even a cyclone in Samoa. I’ve written a memoir of our adventure, Sailing with Impunity, and will share on my blog some of these stories of life at sea and our intriguing landfalls.

In the Kingdom of Tonga, we anchored Impunity near one of many tiny islands. This particular island had a long protected point with only two houses on it. From our boat we could see a woman walking to a well and home again. I rowed ashore in our dinghy to meet this older woman whose name was Marie. Rather than conversing, our exchange was really more of a mime since she knew very little English and I knew no Tongan. Much of the week Marie, a widow, lived a simple, quiet life alone on the island, but on weekends others came to gather coconuts and to dig clams. I gave Marie gifts of a packet of sewing needles and a card of pretty buttons, and from her broad smile I could tell she was pleased. These items were not readily available in Tonga.

Marie signaled for me to wait and she stepped into her square hut made of palm fronds. She emerged with a string of reddish-black beads and offered it to me as a gift. Showing me the tree from which the berries came, from the ground she picked up a fallen one and a rock. Rubbing the berry against the rock, she showed me how she polished the dried berry to make the beads. The necklace was threaded on a strong, thin vine.

The old woman asked if I liked oranges and we walked to a small orange grove. Oranges indigenous to that area are green when they are ripe, have tough skins and many seeds. Reaching for a knife from a holder at her waist, she whittled away the skin and handed me the orange to eat while she fixed one for herself. She asked me to call on her niece, a public health nurse, who lived in Neiafu. I promised her I would.

I stood to leave and Marie walked me back to my dinghy. I had in the boat an empty green, four-liter wine bottle. In this strongly Christian community, I wasn’t sure that an empty wine bottle would be an appropriate gift, but I hated to throw it away and had left it in the dinghy. When I asked her if she would like to have it, her eyes lit up. “Oh, yes. Wonderful!” For the next several days, from the boat we saw Marie walk back and forth to the well with her green bottle.

The next morning I rowed the dinghy to Neiafu and found the public health nurse’s home. Marie’s niece answered the door, expecting me. I was surprised when I saw two shiny needles pinned to her collar. Ruth spoke English and told me her aunt had shared my gift with her. She also mentioned how pleased she was that I had called on her aunt and thanked me for my kindness in taking the time. I knew Ruth had children and I’d brought gifts of an inflatable world globe and a few packages of dried fruit. The children squealed with delight when they saw the globe. The nurse, too, was excited. Her husband was a teacher and he’d be able to show it to his students.

The next evening, we heard a loud knocking on our hull. The nurse’s husband, Nuku, stopped by in his skiff to invite Bruce to go fishing with him the next day. We invited him aboard. Nuku had never been aboard a live-aboard sailboat and was curious about everything—how we cooked, navigated, the engine, the sails. He was a handsome man, tall and strong with sparkling eyes and good humor. Nuku taught school on a neighboring island and fished on his way home from work. The next day he swung by to pick up Bruce and they trolled in Nuku’s skiff for about an hour and caught four fish, two barracuda and two tuna. The teacher tried to give all four to Bruce, but Bruce declined saying we had no refrigeration, but that we would enjoy one of the tuna.

As it turned out, my little trip to see Marie developed into three friendships and enriched our stay in Tonga. I was so glad I’d made the effort.

Book Review: Flight to Destiny

flight to destinySarah Byrn Rickman has again demonstrated her knowledge and expertise in young women aviators who flew military aircraft in support of World War II. In Flight to Destiny, Rickman has fictionalized the story of the patriotic talented pilots, closely following the original WAFS (Woman Airforce Ferry Pilots), later renamed WASP (Woman Airforce Service Pilots).

On December 7, 1941, Anne Gwynn and her student pilot are on their way back to John Rogers Airport, next to Pearl Harbor Naval Base, when they spot hundreds of Japanese aircraft attacking Pearl Harbor. Landing her small Cub among flying bullets, Anne is aware that the Naval Base for the U.S. Pacific Fleet has suffered mortal damage. What she hasn’t yet realized is that her destiny has changed forever.

Flight to Destiny closely follows the actual careers of several women aviators, among the 1,102 women who served their country by ferrying airplanes from the factories to modification centers and to Newark, New Jersey, freeing male pilots for flying in battle.

The fictionalized story is well told with believable characters and situations. Two characters, Nancy Love, head of WAFS, and Jacqueline Cochran, head of WASP are real-life characters in the fictional story.

History buffs interested in military aviation history will find this book a wealth of information. The author, herself a pilot, has described in some detail the various aspects of flying numerous types of aircraft under sometimes dicey situations.

Sarah Byrn Rickman has been researching the WASP for 23 years, interviewing many retired WASP and researching the aircraft they ferried. Flight to Destiny is her fifth book on the subject, joining three works of non-fiction and another novel.

I loved this book and was again impressed with Rickman’s rich knowledge of early women aviators and the important role they fulfilled in World War II.

For more information about the author, visit www.sarahbyrnrickman.com/


Book Review: American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America

American Nations 2Colin Woodard’s American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America is a scholarly study of the eleven “nations” that make America what it is today.

We often think of the forming of America as immigration developing from east to west, expanding from the English beachheads of Massachusetts and Virginia to the shores of the Pacific. In truth, the European culture first arrived from the south, borne by the soldiers and missionaries of Spain. From American Nations, the reader discovers that many of the things learned in history classes were not quite accurate; in some cases, far from reality.

In the development America, virtually no consideration was made toward the people who already resided throughout the land, the Native Americans. The indigenous cultures before immigration often had a higher standard of living than their European counterparts. They tended to live in a healthier environment, some had public water supplies fed by stone aqueducts. The Native people had organized continent-spanning trade networks. Epidemics brought by foreigners, warfare, and their being forced to live in unsuitable areas diminished Native American populations and influence to only a small fraction of what they once were.

The states as we know them today do not define America. The eleven nations, or regional cultures, more clearly define the United States of America: Yankeedom, New Netherland, The Midlands, Tidewater, Greater Appalachia, The Deep South, New France, El Norte, Left Coast, Far West, First Nations. Some of these nations now spread into Canada and Mexico. The book contains a map which clearly defines the regions, as does the book’s cover.

Each of the founding nations are steeped in their own cultures and cherished principles, often contradicting one another.

American Nations delves into the different philosophies of our country’s regions and what it is about the dissimilarity that causes the challenges we face today in uniting our country.

I found American Nations fascinating. Woodard presents compelling explanations of the regional differences that make up America’s cultural and political landscape. It becomes clear why twenty-first century northern Democrats and Republicans have far more in common with one another than with their counterparts of the south. Values that one region holds dear aren’t necessarily shared in other parts of the country.

To learn more about Colin Woodard, award winning author and journalist, visit colinwoodard.com

Today’s Guest: Anne Schroeder

Last week I featured Anne Schroeder’s novel, Cholama Moon and today have the pleasure of reading her first-hand account of writing a historical western.

Anne Schroeder:

Anne croppedWriting an Historical Western, as with other historical romances, involves two equally important processes—research and story. I recall seeing Isabel Allende posed beside dozens of books she used to research one of her novels. At the time I was impressed. Now, not so much because I realize that all historical fiction writers do the same. We’re just not all savvy enough to have our publicist capture the pile of oversized books we lug home.

As with every genre, storytelling is king, but historical authors rely on actual places, people and events to provide a stage for the storytelling. It’s part of the fun for both reader and author. Because setting has such a prominent place in Westerns, it’s tempting to let the scenery steal the scene. One of my reviews on Amazon  http://www.amazon.com/Cholama-Moon-Anne-Schroeder/product-reviews/1610091299 mentions that very thing about Cholama Moon, my first historical western. In this story a fictional pioneer family settles in a remote section of Central California bordering the GreatValley. Ginny Nugent’s mother dies young and her father emotional abandons her in a downward spiral of addiction. In 1870s Central California, amid Mexican vaqueros, desperados and earthquakes, young Ginny fends for herself with a little help from an Indian cook and a half-crippled cowboy until a Southern gentleman sends her on a journey of self-discovery.

The young girl’s struggle to find family and belonging begins with her Cholama Valley roots and  takes her by stage, railroad and streamer through coming-of-age Central California to the coast at Santa Cruz and San Francisco—and home again. Although Ginny is a make-believe character, the historical figures, homesteaders, politicians, events and the times she lives in are true.

I have great passion for this era and setting. The nineteenth century saw great changes for the few inhabitants who called Alta California home. By 1878, Ginny is 11 years old. The great Mexican land grants are being broken off. Public land is being offered to homesteaders and preemptors. Discouraged Yankee miners replace the native Indians and the Californios Mexican land grants are nullified by the American courts, just as, fifty years earlier, the Mexican government secularized the Spanish Mission system and evicted Spaniards when they were unable to produce written proof of their Spanish land grants. Under American rule, population brings a railroad, which means towns, trade and transportation. Within seven years Ginny’s world changes from strict isolation to relative social opportunity.

CholameValley –pronounced Show-lam Valley—is only five miles wide. In 1878 it was a three day trip by horse, mail stage and train from San Francisco or Los Angeles. Rugged, remote and filled with natural beauty, the valley has played host to Indian tribes, Spanish land grants, Mexican bandits, wild mustangs and earthquakes. It is today known as the epicenter for the San Andreas Fault.

At the edge of Ginny’s valley a small mountain called the MiddleRange was born—technically, the southwest slippage of the North American plate against the Pacific plate at a rate of six centimeters a year.  To a girl of the nineteenth century, tectonic science was unknown—its results, mere curiosity. Her world was bounded by her DevilMountains and La Luna Cholama, the moon that illuminates her fractured valley.

My writing explores the social and political events of an era. But as with all novels, the story is key. Romance is important in the context of the challenges that the heroine must overcome. The sequel to Cholama Moon is a novel entitled Maria Ines. It traces the Salinan Indian cook in Cholama Moon back to her roots at the Mission San Miguel de Arcángel in Alta California where she was born. A third novel, Son of the Troubles, is already underway.

My hope is that the emotional scenes in this fictional series will leave a permanent impression on readers that will create curiosity about California’s turbulent and colorful history, its Missions and historical places.





Book Review: Cholama Moon

Cholama MoonWhen she was three years old, Ginny Nugent’s mother died, and so did her loving home. Cholama Moon by Anne Schroeder tells Ginny’s story in this late 1800’s novel which takes place in a remote section of southeastern Monterey County, California.

Ginny has a loyal friend in an old cowhand, Sancho Roos. When her father, Charlie Nugent, doesn’t provide the nurturing his daughter needs, Sancho is there for her. What is lacking–a well-kept home, proper clothes, schooling, the things a growing girl needs– is at least partially compensated by Sancho’s attention and teaching.

When Jeremy Larsen, a stranger from Virginia, comes along bearing greetings from Ginny’s mother’s relatives and friends, he’s appalled by Ginny’s lack of education and refinement. The ranch is in ruins and her father absent much of the time.

Cholama Moon brings to life how homesteaders struggled amid harsh conditions. When the burden becomes too great the weak succumb, but the strong rise above the hardships. Sometimes change takes a creative approach and Jeremy may be just the person to change Ginny’s destiny.

Author Anne Schroeder has the gift of bringing the reader into the grit and dust of a run-down ranch, of rocking with the frequent earthquakes in what was and still is the center of the San Andreas Fault. Schroeder shows how a caring person can change the course of what could be a hopeless life.

Cholama Moon is an excellent novel written by a writer with an obvious passion for the West and its people. This is the first of the Central Coast Series.

A Trip to Our Future

B&M Termite hillFrom: Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

Left: Mary & Bruce standing by a termite hill.


Toward the end of our first month in The Gambia, while we were still in training, we took a three-day trip with George Scharffenberger, The Gambia’s Assistant Peace Corps Director, to what would be our assigned village, Mansajang, near the small town of Basse.

A word here about how the Peace Corps operates. Before sending a volunteer to a village, the Peace Corps first talks to the village chief, the Alkala. They determine the need and discuss the work expected of the volunteer and where he or she will live. In Bruce’s case, the UN had determined they would continue the UNICEF well-digging project and Bruce would serve as a mechanical advisor. In my case, the Health Department said they could use a health worker in the Basse area, the closest town to the village of Mansajang. So our visit at this time was expected and many of the details worked out beforehand.

We were excited to see where our future life would be. George picked us up in the Peace Corps’ small Peugeot truck. The first 120 miles were paved, but for the next 125 miles we bumped along on deeply rutted roads with potholes that could easily break a truck’s axle. It was a long, hot drive.

Along the way, we stopped at several volunteer homes so George could deliver their mail. It was interesting to see how they lived. Some lived in round grass-thatched roof huts, but most lived in row houses. These row houses, much nicer than those we saw in the capitol city of Banjul, normally housed two to four families, commonly an extended family. In most, each “apartment” had two rooms, but some only one. I found the row houses much hotter than huts with thatched roofs. Without a ceiling, heat radiates from the corrugated roofs. Some row houses, and huts too, had dirt floors; others had concrete.

We visited the working places of two volunteers, one at a clinic and one at a hospital. As it happened, the volunteers we visited were health workers.

At one point we gave two women volunteers a ride to the next village. We three filled the truck’s small cab, so they sat in the open back of the pickup. The weather had been very dry and clouds of red road dust shrouded the truck. When the two women climbed out, they were covered with red dust. They just laughed and brushed off themselves, and each other, and went on their way.

We had fun traveling with George. His quick sense of humor and his vast knowledge of West African culture impressed us and helped put us at ease. At one point he pulled off the road and pointed to a cone-shaped mound. “Do you know what that is?”

The mound looked solid, was about eight feet tall and about five feet across at its base. We hadn’t a clue.

“A termite hill. They’re as hard as concrete. I knew a fellow who died when his car plowed into one.”

After George pointed them out, we continued to see them in rural areas.

We passed many people walking with loads on their heads, the women often with babies slung on their backs. The men often stopped and waved. Hitching for a ride isn’t done with a thumb, but rather the whole arm extended with a limp hand waving up and down. We picked up two men and gave them rides to the next village.

We were thrilled with the trip. Finally, we saw African life more like what we imagined it would be: family compounds, peaceful village scenes and friendly people. Chickens, goats, sheep, cattle, horses and donkeys grazed near family compounds. Amazingly, the sheep, bred for meat, didn’t have wool coats like in America. It took us awhile to tell the difference between sheep and goats since their coats were so similar. On the road we saw monkeys in trees, swinging from branch to branch and scampering around on the ground, and even saw a troop of baboons.

Finally, we arrived at what was known as the UN (United Nations) Compound. The currant volunteer, Howard, whom Bruce would replace, happened to be downriver at Yundum overseeing equipment repairs, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

We would live in two structures. One, an oblong mud-brick building, about 10 feet wide and 30 feet long, with a corrugated tin roof, had been built by Howard’s predecessor and had three small rooms, one used for cooking, the middle as a dining-living room and the third as a spare bedroom. One of the drawbacks of this structure was that flying insects could easily enter in the space between the top of the wall and the corrugated roof. Just a few steps away stood the second structure, a traditional round hut.

Because travel at night was difficult, UN people coming and going from Banjul to Mansajang needed to have a place to spend the night, so they slept in the oblong house which was already equipped with a bed covered with a mosquito net.

Howard used the round hut as a bedroom, as would we. The large round hut, about twenty feet across, had double-wall construction with perhaps four feet of space between walls, two fully screened doors, and was topped with a cone-shaped grass-thatched roof. We loved the arrangement. Actually, we probably had the best volunteer housing in The Gambia.

Besides our two structures, there were three other huts. A UN project mechanic and his family lived one. The other two were empty but often temporarily housed UN drivers who needed a place to stay for the night. None of the structures in the compound were painted or whitewashed, but were all made of mud-brick smoothed over with a thin layer of concrete.

Everyone in the compound shared one latrine. About one hundred feet from our hut, the latrine had been dug as a practice well. A deep concrete-lined hole, it was actually quite nice by local standards. The few latrines I’d used had dirt surrounding the hole. No outhouse, but krinting, the fencing commonly used consisting of coarsely woven reeds, provided privacy. Naturally, upon arrival, my first stop was to the latrine. One simply squats over the hole, and when I did perhaps 200 flies buzzed out of the hole, banging against me. I shuddered and wondered if I’d ever get used to that.

Krinting also surrounded the entire compound, as in other compounds we’d seen. The fencing provided privacy but its real purpose was to keep roving stock, cattle, sheep and goats, out. Chickens wandered about and I saw no chicken coops. A few sparse patches of grass poked through the sandy soil.

We walked to Bruce’s shop a short distance away, and met a few of the crew who weren’t downriver working on equipment. George left Bruce with them and took me to the home of Sister Roberts, my future boss. After greetings and introductions, George left to visit friends.

I immediately liked Sister Roberts, who was not a Gambian, but from Sierra Leone. The “Sister” title, the equivalent of Registered Nurse (RN), was the result of her training in England. She spoke beautiful English. I would learn more about the details of my job later, but she made it very clear she wanted me to take over record keeping. “Other than that, Mariama, you should do what you want to do. There’s plenty of work.” It felt good to be welcomed and have something solid to work toward.

Bruce didn’t come away with that feeling, however. No one he talked to at the shop seemed to have a grasp of the situation. Those who were knowledgeable were no doubt downriver at Yundum.

This worthwhile upriver trip gave us many insights so that we could prepare with confidence for when it was time to live there.

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Not a Pretty Sight

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Basse Health Center


From Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps


A mother and her daughter, perhaps ten years old, came into the hospital led by the dresser dispenser (pharmacist). He spoke with Sister Roberts, the head nurse who had been educated in England. The four of them went into the treatment room and the dresser dispenser left.

I heard a piercing scream and, much to my amazement, saw Sister Roberts, still screaming, run out of the room, hands flapping by her head. I left my work station and rushed in, just in time to see whitish pink roundworms pouring out of the girl’s mouth and nose. The girl continually gagged while the mother held her daughter’s head, steadying her.

Apparently, this wasn’t the first episode and was the reason the mother brought her daughter to the health center. The girl, crying, stopped gagging for the moment. About the time I entered the room, a nurse mid-wife also came in. I admired her calmness; it was a terrible sight. She asked me to stay while she talked to the dresser dispenser. I gingerly patted the girl’s back, murmmering words of comfort, but all the while terrified that she would have another episode. The nurse soon returned with piperazine tablets that the dresser dispenser had folded into a scrap of paper. The nurse gave the girl six tablets, together with water. Only this one treatment would be necessary.

The nurse explained to the mother that worms could be prevented by washing hands often, especially after using the latrine. Although this sounds pretty basic, it’s a challenge when there is no running water.

When I returned to my work station, Sister came back into the room and apologized to me. “I’m sorry, Mariama, that was terrible of me. It was just so awful. I’m already queasy with my pregnancy and….” Her voice trailed off.

I tried acting nonchalant. “I’ve never seen anything like that. Just one treatment will take care of the worms? That’s impressive.”

“Yes, just one treatment. I hope my child never does that. But if she does, I will not scream and run away. Not again.”

On Yukon Time

About this time of year, my husband Bruce and I begin to dream about where we might go for our summer vacation and reminisce about past trips. Yukon Territory is high on our list of special trips taken. Canada’s Yukon Territory is still as wild as it sounds. Look at this region on a map, and you’ll find precious few roads. The main highways–some paved but many still gravel–are well maintained.

Driving this loop tour, we often traveled for more than a hundred miles before encountering another vehicle. And this was in August–the peak of Yukon Territory’s tourist season. If you like privacy, you will love the Yukon, where it’s said that caribou outnumber the people five to one.

We were thrilled to see an abundance of waterfowl, deer, bear, caribou, stone sheep, a variety of squirrels; a pair of red foxes; a cow moose and her calf.

The number of lakes in the Territory is astounding. These sparkling jewels often are surrounded by shimmering aspen trees. We saw forests of white spruce, sometimes interspersed with the more scraggily black spruce. The trees are small due to a short growing season.

As we traveled around Yukon Territory, we noted the “On Yukon Time” icons, signs of special attractions worthy of visitors’ attention, an invitation to slow down, explore and enjoy.

Our 750-mile loop, two-week tour began at Watson Lake. From there we traveled northwest on the Campbell Highway to Carmacks. We then headed south on the Klondike Highway through Whitehorse, then drove southeast on the Alaska Highway from Whitehorse back to Watson Lake. Here are some of the highlights:

Robert Campbell Highway was completed in 1968 and closely follows sections of the fur trade route established by Robert Campbell. In the 1840s, Campbell explored this region and named virtually every major river in the Yukon. The highway bearing his name parallels several major waterways, including the Frances, Finlayson, and Pelly rivers. The distance from Watson Lake to Carmacks along this route is 362 miles (583 kilometers).

The communities of Ross River and Faro, situated along the Campbell Highway, obviously were built to withstand the winter more than provide visual aesthetics. Ross River, population approximately 350, is located at the junction of the Ross and the Pelly rivers. From there you can walk across a suspension foot-bridge that spans the Pelly River.

We found very few people inhabiting Faro, the next town along the Campbell Highway. Apparently, this town, named after a card game, comes to life when the nearby lead-zinc mines are active, but when we visited, they were closed.

An RV campground is located across the street from Faro’s Campbell Region Interpretive Tourist Information Centre. The center is well worth visiting for its historical displays. Faro is ideally situated for wildlife viewing and hiking, not to mention golf: The town offers an unusual nine-hole urban course that plays through the town’s green spaces.

Klondike Highway. The Campbell Highway terminates just north of Carmacks. We turned south on the Klondike Highway (Route 2) and traveled to the town of Carmacks, a good place to stop for provisions and services.

Carmacks was named after George Washington Carmack, who set up a trading post in the 1890s. Carmacks’s post went bust in 1896, so he settled elsewhere. It was a good thing he did. He later found more than a ton of gold in Bonanza Creek, and word of his discovery launched the Klondike Gold Rush.

From Carmacks we traveled south on the Klondike Highway toward Whitehorse. We stopped for the night at Lake LaBerge, named after Western Union Telegraph explorer, Michael LaBerge of Quebec. Our lakeside campsite was secluded and serenely quiet. As we sat on Lake LeBerge’s shore, Bruce recited from memory Robert W. Service’s wonderful poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” a tale that brings Yukon’s rugged history to life.

Only 15 miles south of Lake LeBerge via the Klondike Highway is Whitehorse, Yukon Territory’s capital city since 1953. Whitehorse was named for turbulent, frothy rapids on the Yukon River that resemble the flowing manes of white horses. A hydroelectric dam on the river has since harnessed the “horses,” making the waters more placid.

In addition to provisions and several RV supply and repair shops, the city offers opportunities to view architectural, art, and gold-rush memorabilia.

Alaska Highway. The final part of this loop tour involves taking the Klondike Highway to Jake’s Corner, and then turning east toward Watson Lake on Route 1, the Alaska Highway.

The Alaska Highway was built jointly by military and civilian personnel from Canada and the United States, and was to serve as an important access road to Alaska. It is now mostly paved and, compared to yesteryear, easy to drive.

The Alaska Highway dips briefly into British Columbia, then continues on to Watson Lake, where the loop is completed. For more information about the Yukon Territory, visit www.touryukon.com or call 1-800-661-0494.

Tips for Yukon Travel
● Place a mesh screen over your radiator to protect your vehicle from rocks and to filter out insects. Consider protecting your towed car with a rock shield.
● Be sure your spare tire is reliable and ready to install.
● Bring plenty of insect repellent. To keep mosquitoes at bay, wear lightweight pants and tops with long sleeves.
● In August, we found nights can be cool, but daytime temperatures quite warm. Be prepared for these extremes.
● Take advantage of all fuel stops. In some cases, there may be long distances between gas stations.

Camping in The Yukon: Many privately operated campgrounds are available in Yukon Territory, but we stayed exclusively at the government campgrounds, and found them to be delightful and reasonably priced. You must purchase a camping permit before you arrive at the campground. Permits are readily available at visitor reception centers as well as at retail outlets throughout the Yukon.

Most Yukon government campgrounds do not offer hookups. Most locations do have picnic tables, campfire pits, firewood and at least one picnic shelter. Outhouses and hand-pumped water are the norm. At many of the campgrounds, signs indicate that the water should be boiled before being consumed. For your convenience, you might want to carry your own drinking water if you choose to stay at these camps.