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Road Trip: Perth-Exmouth-Perth - It's a Bloody Long Way!

Road Trip: Perth-Exmouth-Perth - It's a Bloody Long Way!

Jul 5th, 2010, 10:41 PM
  #21  
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Day 11 – Exmouth - Coral Bay (approximately 152 km, ~2 ½ hours with stops)

We woke to gloom, the humidity so thick you could cut it with a knife. We picked up a few provisions at IGA before leaving town; I’d read that food options in Coral Bay are scarce and expensive.

As our groceries were rung up by a surly young woman who should seriously re-think working with the public, it dawned on me how unfriendly most of the people we’d encountered in Exmouth had been.

After a coffee stop at the Exmouth Escape Café, we left town the way we had come, hoping to explore the east side of Cape Range National Park as we worked our way to Coral Bay. The overnight rain put the kibosh on those plans…we took one look at the sloppy unsealed road leading to Shothole Canyon and decided our poor Corolla had suffered enough – we weren’t up for that particular 13 km slog.

The Charles Knife Road looked more promising, so we turned off and worked our way along the rim of the gorge. It’s certainly pretty through here…it reminded me somewhat of the Grand Canyon…albeit a very shallow version. Eleven kilometers later the road went to s***, so we turned back. Just as well…I was getting a little freaked out by the sheer drop offs and the shortage of guard rails.

Back on the highway, the skies opened and we found ourselves in the middle of a serious turd floater, barely able to see the road, let alone any hapless sheep that might jump out in front of us. Before long we were pulling into the tiny settlement of Coral Bay, which made Exmouth look like a thriving metropolis. There’s only one road into town, and it was flooded, but passable.

We checked into The Ningaloo Reef Resort and set off to see the town (insert guffaw here). My review of the ‘resort’ (that word again) can be found here:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Rev...Australia.html

I’d read that Coral Bay consists of nothing more than a supermarket, a dozen homes and a smattering of accommodation. That description isn’t far off, but it also has a caravan park, a few tiny cafés and shops, a bakery, a petrol station, a handful of tour operators and a DEC office. Needless to say, it didn’t take us long to explore town.

We called in at the only dive operator we could find, hoping to arrange a scuba trip for Bill. The employee we dealt with was disinterested and less than helpful (what is it with this part of WA?). There was only one scuba option on offer for the next two days, a snorkel/dive combo, Bill’s least favorite. The weather forecast was bleak; the visibility wasn’t good, so Bill took a pass.

Tiny Coral Bay was hopping and full of kids, and this outside of WA school holidays. I was amazed at the number of people flocking to this unappealing little village; I didn’t (and still don’t) understand the attraction.

It was Tuesday, one of the two days of the week The Ningaloo Reef Resort offers Happy Hour between 5:30-6:30. We convened to the alfresco bar where Bill claims to have had the cheapest schooner of beer that he’s ever had in WA ($3.80). We had dinner at the resort’s café, which is right next to the bar – decent potato leek soup, nothing special ($9.50 each). As we ate, we watched an alarming amount of chips (fries) leave the café…no food, just big boxes of chips…making me wonder (not for the first time) if chips have become the national dish of Australia.

Okay, I won’t belabor the point. We didn’t care for Coral Bay. We found ourselves wishing we’d spent an extra day in Exmouth, which would have given Bill time (and more options) for diving. One full day in Coral Bay would have been plenty.

Day 12 – Coral Bay

The night brought a deluge, and with it worries that we’d be trapped in this sad little town indefinitely. We woke to more gloom, perfect weather for laundry and reading.

That afternoon we set out to explore the stretch of land that fringes the bay and extends into the sea like a crooked finger. We couldn’t find any information; we had no idea how far it went or whether it was even possible to reach the tip on foot. The tide prevented us from walking on the beach, so we took to the dunes, scrambling up and over the sand and through the bush. From this vantage point we could see the entire township and the inviting turquoise blue of the bay. We spotted a few rays, one of them absolutely huge…this proved a nice spot for landlubber marine viewing. We walked until we ran out of land, reaching the very tip, which we later learned is called Maud Point. We retraced our steps, walking back along the beach and over the rocks this time because it was low tide. We thoroughly enjoyed this challenging walk (2¾ hours, five miles). Back in town, we walked to the overlook near our accommodation for yet more views of the bay.

We’d earned some sugar, so we shared a slice of Malteaser caramel cake in the resort’s café (yum). The employees at the resort were unfailingly friendly and helpful, a nice change after Exmouth. We returned to the café for dinner, Bill sampling the fresh grilled Goldband Snapper (served with chips of course $32).

Note: We didn’t find the resort’s food prices any higher than the rest of NW WA, but we were routinely shocked at the price of seafood on this trip, especially considering we were right on the water.

Day 13 – Coral Bay

It was another gloomy overcast day. We hadn’t seen anyone in the pool yet, it’s probably not heated. There were some hardy snorkelers in the ocean though, most in wetsuits.

We enquired about more walk options at the DEC office and were told there was only one…the walk to the boat ramp…so we set off. We walked to the elevated, derelict looking cemetery, past the town’s three wind turbines (which I’ve read supply Coral Bay with 45% of its electrical needs), and up a lonely road. There wasn’t much to look at until we reached the boat ramp, where we gazed at an amazing assortment of fish from the pier and looked for Merv, Coral Bay’s resident groper (didn’t see him). We walked back to the resort (4 miles return) and whiled away the afternoon on our patio, reading, sipping wine and swatting flies.

Dinner that evening was grilled chicken breast sandwiches in the resort café (not bad, $9.50 each). The bar has live music on Thursdays, in this case a rock band of four skinny guys with hilariously long afros, who looked like they were having seizures on stage. It was entertaining, I’ll give them that. What they lacked in talent they more than made up for in enthusiasm.

Next up: An unexpected ~300 km detour
Melnq8 is online now  
Jul 6th, 2010, 02:33 PM
  #22  
 
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You do have a way with words! I almost spit out my lemonade I laughed so hard when I read that.
Toucan2 is offline  
Jul 6th, 2010, 03:58 PM
  #23  
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Melnq8 is online now  
Jul 6th, 2010, 04:22 PM
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Me too - is that an Aussie expression or from your native land??
tockoloshe is offline  
Jul 6th, 2010, 05:28 PM
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Thanks for writing up the great details even if the trip was not as great as you would have liked. I understand your feelings about Kalibari. It was the farthest north we went and we were intrigued with the desert and cliffs. It was dry when we were there and we did not have any issue driving on the untarred roads. We only did a little bit of the hikes. I'm looking forward to reading more about your return.
travel4flowers is offline  
Jul 6th, 2010, 07:45 PM
  #26  
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tockoloshe -

Let's just call it a Billism.

travel4flowers -

Were you there during wildflower season?

I'm not sure which is longer, the drive or the trip report...
Melnq8 is online now  
Jul 6th, 2010, 08:50 PM
  #27  
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Day 14 – Coral Bay – Carnarvon (normally 237 km, but thanks to a wee flood...528 km, 5½ hours)

We retrieved our car, which hadn’t moved since we arrived, and left Coral Bay under the first blue sky we’d seen in days. As we joined the Minilya-Exmouth Road headed south, we saw something ominous…a sign advising that the road was closed due to flooding…it hadn’t rained for two days and other cars were headed the same direction, so we kept going, hoping that the sign wasn’t up-to-date. There was no other indication that trouble lay ahead until the driver of a school bus going in the opposite direction flashed his lights at us. Uh-oh.

Sure enough, 64 kilometers south of Coral Bay, we came upon several people out of their cars and milling about. The Lyndon River lay directly in front of us, completely covering the road, nearly a meter deep. We parked and woefully walked to the water line. One guy was trying to determine if the water was receding by using a rock, another guy confidently assured us the road would be passable within three hours (easy for him to say, he had a high clearance 4x4). Some other folks had set up camp, pulling out their chairs, stoves and tea kettles and hanging their laundry on a clothes line. It was simultaneously funny and depressing. Someone later told me that WA stands for ‘wait around’, particularly fitting in this case.

We turned around and headed back north, disheartened at the prospect of adding another ~300 km to our day, but thankful that there was another option, as that’s not always the case out here in the sticks. We detoured to Coral Bay, hoping the flood hadn’t created a run on petrol, much relieved when we had a full tank. We left Coral Bay for the second time and repeated the mind-numbing drive north. Eighty-five kilometers south of Exmouth we found the turnoff for Burkett Road, and settled in for the drive. There was suddenly more to look at - tussocks, trees, ridges, relief - a welcome change. The ubiquitous floodway signs had more meaning now, and we tensed up every time we saw debris strewn asphalt, evidence that this road had flooded too. Pools of water encroached upon the road in some areas, making me wonder if we’d be spending the night in our car.

Rejoining our old amigo, the North-West Coastal Highway, we breathed a sigh of relief at having finally reached it. It wasn’t yet noon, but the wallabies were out, dragging my attention from the pink-tinged clouds and deep red termite mounds back to the road. The landscape had greened up after the rain…it certainly wasn’t lush, but it looked a lot less thirsty.

For several kilometers we dodged large chunks of wood scattered on the road; presumably someone had lost their load, one piece at a time. We briefly stopped at the Lyndon River rest area…no flooding here, but plenty of standing water near the road…and some enormous birds…hawks…eagles?

We waved as we passed the still flooded Minilya-Exmouth Road that we’d diverted from some 3½ hours earlier. The Minilya Roadhouse was finally in our sights, 4¼ hours and 291 kilometers after leaving Coral Bay, a drive that would take less than an hour under normal circumstances.

Lush green banana plantations began to appear as we approached Carnarvon, the southernmost point of the Ningaloo Reef, arriving 5½ hours after leaving Coral Bay the first time. Famished, we headed directly to The Coffee Cup for another dose of those tasty souvlakis and a nice slice of warm chocolate cake…ummm.

After getting settled into the Wintersun Caravan and Tourist Park, we set out to explore as much of Carnarvon as we could before they rolled up the streets at 4 p.m. We made it up to the “the big dish” (OTC), minutes before they closed the gates. This massive satellite dish is perched on a hill overlooking Carnarvon, offering some nice views of the surrounding plantations. The OTC dish had a pivotal role in the Apollo 11 moon landing and was used for tracking Halley’s Comet.

We reached Bumbak’s Plantation shortly before closing. The shopkeeper was in no mood for late arrivals; he gruffly told us we had five minutes...so we hurriedly bought a few jams and sauces. The guy didn’t let the door hit him in the butt on the way out…he was long gone before we even reached our car. I’m all for getting out of work on time, but geez, would it have killed him to be a little more accommodating to time short, paying customers?

Note: Bumbak’s offers a plantation tour at 10 a.m. M-F. I’d have liked that, but it was impossible given our drive schedule.

Ever curious, we wandered for a bit, ogling the plantations; bushes laden with red capsicum, row after row of Roma tomatoes, bananas, etc.

As we returned to our chalet to relax and enjoy the sunset, we came across a flashing road sign notifying drivers that the Minilya-Exmouth Road was still closed, confirming that we’d made the right decision. I wondered if those trapped drivers were still out there, perhaps having a flood party...

Next up: A scenic drive and some fabulous cake
Melnq8 is online now  
Jul 6th, 2010, 08:52 PM
  #28  
 
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Yes Mel, thanks for such a detailed report. So glad that you enjoyed Quobba. I'm pretty sure that we too, stayed at the Wintersun Caravan Park in Carnarvon.

It's often in places such as caravan parks that you pick up little tips about places to visit, places that you might not have heard about otherwise. This was the case for us with Barn Hill about 100klms south of Broome.

On our 12 month trip we were on a mission to bush camp as much as possible but in the end our time was pretty much evenly divided 50% of the time in caravan parks and 50% in free bush camps.

You also mentioned how tiring it can all be and on our trip we had days where the kids and I would wake up and say to my husband 'can we please have the day off today' - it can be tough being a tourist!

Now for the 300klm detour please - that's so typical of my husband.....'let's just go down this road and see where it leads'...........
stormbird is offline  
Jul 6th, 2010, 09:09 PM
  #29  
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Hi stormbird -

Our detour was unavoidable (save sleeping in our car), but we did briefly toy with the idea of making a detour up to Onslow. Bill was curious about the Wheatstone LNG plant going in up there until he discovered how many kilometers it would add. Sanity prevailed.
Melnq8 is online now  
Jul 6th, 2010, 09:23 PM
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Oh I see what hit the submit button around about the same time. I can see now why you had to detour. Oh well I will now wait to hear about the yummy cake. I love/hate it when you describe your meals- I will have to stop reading your posts at this time of day - my mouth just waters. Stop it Mel - Stop it !
stormbird is offline  
Jul 7th, 2010, 03:15 PM
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Where's this cake then??? - how did you know that's the sort of vital info I like to have!
tockoloshe is offline  
Jul 7th, 2010, 03:26 PM
  #32  
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Okay, okay...the cake is here:

http://www.worldisround.com/articles...8/photo70.html

Details to follow shortly.
Melnq8 is online now  
Jul 7th, 2010, 03:41 PM
  #33  
 
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GPS co-ordinates anyone?
tockoloshe is offline  
Jul 7th, 2010, 04:14 PM
  #34  
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LOL tockoloshe. This might help:

http://www.perthnow.com.au/lifestyle...-1225840208626
Melnq8 is online now  
Jul 7th, 2010, 04:58 PM
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Day 15 - Carnarvon – Geraldton/Greenough (approximately 478 km, 5½ hours)

And here is where I realize that this trip was actually 17 days, not 15. Oops.

We were up and out the door early, wanting to re-visit the Grower’s Market for more of that lovely hot chili relish before hitting the road. Where there are Aussies and a grill, there’s a sausage sizzle, so we wolfed down a sausage with grilled onions (power breakfast) before saying goodbye to Carnarvon. As we left town, we passed a sign advising that the Minilya-Exmouth Road was open for 4x4 vehicles only…I’m sure glad we didn’t Wait Around.

As we gassed up at the Overlander Roadhouse…again…we saw a cop and realized it was the first one we'd seen in nearly two weeks. Wow.

We were back in the land of passing lanes; the further south we drove, the prettier it became. We blew past the Billabong Roadhouse, opting not to revisit the asylum. Once again, our eyes were peeled for the elusive Principality of Hutt River, hoping it would be easier to find from this side. Sixty kilometers north of Northampton we thought we’d found it. We turned right on Chillimony Road, left on Ogilvie Road and then we drove…and drove…and drove…Twenty kilometers later we threw in the towel and gave up on ever finding HRH Prince Leonard, who really should consider improving the signage (and giving some indication of distance) if he wants visitors.

The Indian Ocean came back into view as we neared Geraldton. We hadn’t seen much of the city on the way up, so we left the highway and took the local scenic drive along the waterfront, hoping to find a nice little café. Quite by accident we stumbled upon L’attitude 28, a lovely café overlooking Champion Bay, where we had a leisurely late lunch. (Warning to stormbird – I’m talking food again). Bill ordered the bangers and mash; Bratwurst sausage, cheese potato mash, caramelized onion and red wine jus ($21.50). More sausage, uh-oh. I chose the soup of the day, somehow knowing it would involve pumpkin even before I asked…yep, Thai pumpkin soup with a toasted baguette ($12). Both meals were very good, but I had a hankering for cake (imagine that), so we shared a delicious piece of chocolate tuxedo cake that was almost too pretty to eat, served with freshly whipped cream AND vanilla ice cream ($9.50). No calories there.

Sufficiently stuffed, we continued the scenic drive, which led us through the town center via yet another narrow WA road. We found ourselves surrounded by Norfolk pines, an abundance of flowers, churches and historic buildings; I had stab of regret for not allowing more time to explore Geraldton.

We continued south, locating our digs for the night, the Greenough (pronounced ‘grin-uff’) Riverside Bed and Breakfast. Technically, the B&B is on Cape Burney, overlooking the Greenough River and the adjoining sea. We loved this place…the accommodation, the location, the hosts…my full review can be found here:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Rev...Australia.html

After getting settled, we walked across the road to the start of the Greenough River Walk Trail, a 17 km path that circles the river. It was twilight, so we walked as far as we could before it got dark, managing about five kilometers (return). Then it was back to the B&B to chill out and enjoy our surroundings.

Next up: Sand dunes and limestone pillars
Melnq8 is online now  
Jul 7th, 2010, 11:02 PM
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Mel

Perhaps there's a silent "last" in the naming of some of those resorts!
margo_oz is offline  
Jul 7th, 2010, 11:07 PM
  #37  
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You could be on to something there margo.
Melnq8 is online now  
Jul 7th, 2010, 11:53 PM
  #38  
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Day 16 – Greenough – Cervantes (approximately 258 km, 3¾ hours)

We woke refreshed, having slept in the most comfortable bed we’d encountered in two weeks. We enjoyed a leisurely cooked breakfast with hosts Jon and Joan, talking for hours while gazing at the river from their dining room and watching the birds on their patio. They were excellent hosts and all-around lovely people, full of interesting stories, local information and entertaining tidbits.

We finally tore ourselves away and drove out to the Greenough River Mouth, where the Indian Ocean meets the river, the venue for a local market held the third Sunday of each month. We poked around the market, wolfing yet another sausage with grilled onions at the ubiquitous sausage sizzle.

Back on the highway (the North-West Coastal Highway becomes the Brand Highway at Geraldton) we worked our way south, driving the stretch of road we’d missed on the trip north due to the accident-related highway closure. We drove through the pretty countryside with its rolling hills and windmills. We toyed with the idea of stopping at the Greenough Historic Settlement, but we wanted to reach The Pinnacles by sunset, so we carried on. It must be mighty blowy through here, the trees are permanently bent.

We turned at Dongara-Port Denison, finding ourselves at the Irwin River Estuary once again. We continued driving along the waterfront, stopping to walk up the Fisherman’s Memorial for some fantastic views of the ocean and the harbor. I liked this little town and could see myself spending some time here. We were soon detouring again, this time to sea grass strewn South Beach, which seemed to stretch on forever. Our meander continued, following the Dongara Coastal Road past more beaches and streets with names like Sea Ripple. We unexpectedly came upon a series of sparkling white sand dunes accentuated with spurts of greenery, set against a spectacular bright blue Western Australia sky.

We rejoined the Brand Highway, eventually turning onto Indian Ocean Drive, the scenic coastal route toward Jurien Bay. It wasn’t long before we were detouring again, this time to the quiet seaside town of Leeman, where we explored the Ti-Tree Point Scenic Lookout for more glorious ocean views.

More of those startling white dunes appeared as we neared Jurien Bay, where we got sidetracked yet again. I’m not sure what surprised me more, the row after row of Norfolk pines, the abundance of big boats and even bigger houses, or the size of the town. Jurien Bay is a crayfishing town, and by all appearances a rather successful one.

Twenty-four kilometers later we pulled into Cervantes, where we sought out our accommodation for the final night of our long WA road trip, Windbreak Bed and Breakfast. My review can be found here:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserR...Australia.html

After a quick snack in the garden of our lovely B&B, we made the 17 kilometer drive to Nambung National Park, hoping to see the infamous Pinnacles in their best light. We arrived 10 minutes before the Discovery Center closed (4:30), so we had a rushed look around inside before heading out to view the Pinnacles.

For those unfamiliar, the Pinnacles Desert consists of thousands of odd limestone formations that mysteriously rise from yellow sand. To say it’s bizarre is an understatement. Nothing could have prepared me for my first glimpse of these freaky pillars as we set out on the loop trail that starts behind the Discovery Center. This is an incredible place…all the more so as the sun goes down, drawing long shadows behind the pillars; it's a photographer’s dream. And yes, there were plenty of flies.

After completing the loop trail, we plopped down on a brick wall near the Discovery Center and settled in to watch the sun go down. Kangaroos began to appear near the parking lot, a reminder that our drive back to town would be a slow one.

We popped into Ronsard Bay Tavern that evening for dinner, but nothing on their menu appealed, so we ended up at the unassuming Sea Breeze Café across the street. We weren’t optimistic, but we were just too tired to scout around for other options. The service was slow (only one person working, but she eventually called in reinforcements), but our food was surprisingly tasty and fresh… a chicken kebab for Bill and a Margherita pizza for me ($21 total).

Next up: Our long journey (and this long trip report) finally ends
Melnq8 is online now  
Jul 8th, 2010, 04:57 PM
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Yes, we were there during wildflower season (end Sept) although it was not a great year for wildflowers around Kalbari. We enjoyed the flowers more around the Jurien/Badgingarra area. I realize now we must have missed the sand dunes near Jurien because we took a detour through the Leseur Park hunting wildflowers. We enjoyed driving in that area and to the east a bit. The Riverside sounds like a nice find.

Thanks for posting the pictures. They are great. Francois Peron National Park does look interesting. Did you feel it all started to look alike after a while?

The roadhouses in the Badgingarra area wasn't too much better than what you ran into farther north. We had lunch at one and they were rather surly.
travel4flowers is offline  
Jul 8th, 2010, 05:22 PM
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Day 17 – Cervantes – Perth (approximately 245 km, 3½ hours)

We had another comfortable night in another comfortable bed, followed by a nice breakfast and a long chat, this time with Lynn, a UK transplant (as was Joan). If this is what UK B&Bs are all about, welcome to Australia! I hope this type of accommodation and hospitality spreads and will eventually make its way across WA.

Lynn told us about the new road being built (a continuation of Indian Ocean Drive) that will reduce the drive time from Perth to Cervantes by close to an hour, potentially increasing weekend visitors. If that’s the case, I think Cervantes is going to need more accommodation, as pickins’ are slim.

Before leaving the area we drove to Hansen Bay, our 70 step climb to the lookout rewarded with expansive views of town, Lake Thetis and some neighboring islands.

We continued on to Lake Thetis (part of Nambung National Park), where a boardwalk led us to a viewing area overlooking more stromatolites. There’s a trail here the circles the lake, but we were both anxious to get pack to Perth, so we took a pass.

We left via Cervantes Road, our car vibrating as numerous construction trucks filled with dirt blew past us in the opposite direction, driving entirely too fast on such a narrow road.

We followed a patchwork of roads through green rolling pastures, past the massive Emu Downs Windfarm, Badgingarra National Park and several reserves. Banksia is prolific through here and appeared to be in early bloom.

We rejoined the Brand Highway some 50 kilometers after leaving Cervantes, noticing a gradual increase in traffic; caravans and their tailgaters once again making passing a challenge.

The landscape became even prettier as we neared the Perth Hills. We took the turn off to Gingin, thinking an encore break at CU @ Park was in order, but they were closed (open weekends only), so we opted for the only other game in town, the Gingin Bakery. Bill was in the mood for breakfast, choosing the eggs, bacon and toast ($9.50). I went for a toasted sandwich ($6.50), followed up with a slice of chocolate cake and a flat white. Surprisingly good.

We were soon on the Brand Highway again, but not for long; as happens often in WA, the highway abruptly changed names, this time becoming the Great Northern.

At long last, we were home.

Photos here:

http://www.worldisround.com/articles/359878/index.html
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