FRIDAY, AUGUST 4, 2006
Today was a very busy day and a most rewarding one. We broke camp and headed a short way down the road to the Alaska Native Heritage Center on the outskirts of Anchorage. When we had tried to go here before, it was raining and many of the exhibits are outdoors so we had passed on it. Today it was threatening rain and the sky was dark with clouds, but it wasn't raining when we arrived. We unloaded the handicap cart and it was a good thing. The outdoor exhibits had a gravel walkway around a lake and would have been very difficult in a wheel chair provided by the center.
We first watched a half hour performance of a native dance troop do dances of the five different areas and basic tribes represented. It was very interesting. Then we saw a film about the natives who live a subsistence existence on what is called the North Slope. The most famous town in this region is Barrow. After the film we toured the outside which had five different areas--one representing each area of Alaska. The first was the Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian Village site and it contained a large wood building representing a meeting house and a smaller log building which was a carving shed. The next area was the Aleut, Alutiq village site and it contained earth lodges which were built into the hillsides and used as homes by these tribes. The third village site was that of the Inupiaq and the St. Lawrence Island Yupik. It has a community house built of logs and also built into the earth. The fourth site was the Yup'ik, Cup'ik Village Site and it was again earth lodges built into a hillside. The fifth village site belonged to the Athabascans and it contained a large log meeting house. We spent a total of three hours touring this fascinating museum, and we were thrilled that the rain had held off long enough for us to do it.
Next we headed out Highway 1 (the Glenn Highway) east towards Glenallen and Valdez. But before we had gone very far, just outside of Palmer, we turned off to visit the only domesticated musk ox farm in the United States. The tour here was a little over a half hour and it too was fascinating. These animals are raised for the under fur, quivet, which is extremely soft and extremely warm. This is picked out of them in May and June using the same kind of picks women do on their hair. It is then shipped to natives living a subsistence living on the North Slope and these native women knit these into beautiful scarves which the farm buys back and sells in their shop and elsewhere. It's an interesting cooperative arrangement. The musk ox themselves are very shy and skittish, except for one who was bottle raised. Our guide was able to feed him fireweed, the most frequently seen wildflower in Alaska, as a treat. This plant is evidently sweet and like candy to the musk ox. Once again the handicap cart was invaluable and did the job it needed to do. We traveled over lawn and gravel paths and it held up fine. A wheel chair couldn't have handled the same terrain. I know it is a pain for Jack to load and unload, but it sure makes a difference in what I'm able to see and what I'm not; and I definitely appreciate his efforts.
We hadn't been back on the Glenn Highway very long when it started to rain. We felt very lucky to have gotten through our two tours without being rained upon. The scenery on this highway is fantastic. At dinner Jack made the statement that he thought the scenery we had seen on this highway was every bit as spectacular as what we had seen in Denali. The mountains are gorgeous and the Matanuska River running alongside is wide and covers a large plain with many fingers. The farther east you go, the stronger this river becomes. You cross many beautiful rivers which empty into it. This area is called the Mat-Su Valley and it is known for its agriculture and huge vegetables. Towards the end of our drive we came to the Matanuska Glacier which practically comes down to the highway. You can actually drive right up to this glacier. Shortly after the glacier, we stopped for the night at a spectacular place called Grand View RV Park and Cafe. We had traveled 110 miles on the Glenn Highway to this point. We still have close to a hundred miles to travel to Glenallen tomorrow, and then a hundred more miles from Glenallen to Valdez. This RV Park is surrounded by mountains and Dall Sheep are often spotted on their hillsides. The Cafe was also great. We had a wonderful dinner there before we parked the motorhome. After watching a little TV to unwind from such a wonderful day, we headed on to bed. The weather forecast is for more rain tomorrow, but sunnier days on Sunday and Monday. We are getting sick of rain and we're anxious for a nice day.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 5, 2006
Today was a wonderful day of driving through gorgeous country again. We are continually amazed at the beauty if this state. The scenery just seems to get more and more spectacular as we go along. We had heard from many people that the Valdez area is absolutely gorgeous, and they weren't kidding.
We started the day with breakfast at the cafe at the campground. We packed up, broke camp, and parked outside the cafe. We ended up getting their morning special which was two eggs, two pieces of bacon or sausage, and a large buttermilk pancake. This was way more than either of us usually has for breakfast and, as a result, we didn't eat lunch at a decent hour. Not a good idea for this diabetic. By afternoon I was feeling the results of low blood sugar.
Our drive east on the Glenn Highway continued through beautiful mountain country. When we reached Glenallen, we turned south on the Richardson Highway and headed towards Valdez. We hadn't been on this highway very long before the Wrangell Mountains of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park became visible to our east. Beautiful rivers appeared along the road or we crossed them. Before long, we saw a moose in a shallow lake full of water lilies. In fact, that appears to be what this moose was eating.
Next we found ourselves looking at the Chugach Mountains straight ahead which have the most snow cover of any mountains we've seen. In fact, Thompson Pass through these mountains holds several snowfall records, e.g. 974.5 inches for season (1952-53). As soon as these mountains became visible we became aware of the many glaciers they contain. Every mountain seemed to have at least one. Most has two or more. They were obvious by the blue cast of their ice against the whiteness of the snow. Once again we came upon a glacier that came down practically to the highway. The name of that glacier is Worthington Glacier and it is at Thompson Pass. I found it interesting that the mountains were green right up to where the snow started. Jack commented that they appeared similar to what he always believed the Swiss Alps look like, and I must agree that they were quite similar to the pictures I've seen of the Alps. I can't figure out why Valdez doesn't advertise itself as the home of a thousand glaciers or hundreds of glaciers, or some such thing. They are truly letting an advertising gimmick get away from them.
In addition to all the snow on the tops of the mountains, there were many cascading waterfalls coming down the green sides of the mountains. The mountains are mostly above tree line, so you have green brush right up to the snow. Two spectacular waterfalls that reach the highway are called Bridal veil Falls and Horsetail Falls.
When we reached Valdez we ended up at the small boat harbor as we looked for our campground, Sea Otter RV Park, which is right on a peninsula which has the small boat harbor on one side and the ocean on the other. The park is on the ocean side of the peninsula. We booked a campsite for two night right on the beach or shoreline. We were both tired so Jack went out for dinner and when he came home he spotted two sea otters floating right behind the motorhome. He came in and told me to look out the back window. They were having a gay old time. They would go under the surface from time to time, but they spent the majority of their time floating on their back with their head and their feet out of the water.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 6, 2006
We are finding the weather colder the farther into August we go. The forecast for last night was a low of 48 and a high in the fifties for today. It was long past time for us to be doing laundry, so Jack spent the early afternoon doing that. We had planned to do some cleaning as well, but we never did get around to that.
Next we decided to take a drive to see more of the town and to view some areas close to town. We started out by going back to the small boat harbor and investigating the approach to the Stan Stephen's Cruises. We were considering a cruise tomorrow to Columbia Glacier and around the Prince William Sound; but after talking to the lady at the booking office, we weren't sure if I would be able to walk the distance required to board the boat. Once we looked at the approach to the boat, we realized that it wasn't the distance that would be a problem, but the steep pitch of the ramp to the boat level. There was no way I was going to be able to handle that either going down or up, so we decided against the cruise. After driving much of the town areas, we headed out of town to find the salmon spawning viewing site at Crooked Creek. Valdez, like Seward, has a lot of construction going on. Unlike Seward, it stops when you hit town. We managed to miss the spawning site due to the construction, but we did come to Dayville Road which has Allison Point on it--a popular fishing area and one that has great views of the harbor.
Our drive on Dayville Road started with a bear citing at a stream on the side of the road where there were lots of salmon spawning. The area was full of seagulls eating both dead and live fish, and the bear was fishing in a shallow area of this stream for fish as well. It was a good size black bear. Then as we continued on we noticed all the seagulls and what appeared to be fish fins in the water. We stopped and got out to look and sure enough, the harbor water appeared to be boiling with fish. It reminded me of the hatchery ponds down at Bennett Springs State Park. While we were stopped, we spotted at Stellar sea lion and a seal fishing in the area along with the gulls. The sea lion had lots of gulls on its back as it floated along. They only dispersed when the sea lion made a dive. At one point, he made a spectacular dive out of the water allowing us to identify him as a Stellar sea lion. Before that we wondered it we weren't seeing part of a whale out in the ocean.
We stopped by some people fishing; and Jack talked to a fellow who told him the salmon were pink salmon, and they were as thick as could be. Pink salmon are good eating, but they don't freeze well. It appeared to us that some people were doing everything they could to let the salmon get off. In fact, they were taking them off their line and putting them back into the water. We decided they had probably caught all they could eat at one time and were just enjoying the fun of hauling them in even though they didn't intend to keep them. The limit is six a day, but it would take a lot of people to eat six of those salmon. They sure gave you a good fight, leaping out of the water and fighting like crazy.
As we headed back to Valdez, we found Crooked Creek and the salmon spawning viewing area. We stopped and got out to look at the spawning salmon and it was something to see. Pinks are known as humpies because they get humps on their back which develop as they get close to spawning. You could definitely see the humps on the back of these salmon. Some of them were huge, as big as you would expect a red salmon to be. The coloring on their sides was also turning pink in a rainbow-type pattern, which is another characteristic of pinks. We did not drive up to the Valdez Glacier because we've seen so many glaciers up close and personal that it didn't seem worth the effort since we were getting tired and ready for supper. Jack stopped at the Alaskan Halibut House and got clam chowder for both of us and halibut for me and a roast beef sandwich for himself. He had the halibut from there last night. The chowder was out of this world and really a meal in itself. I was unable to finish my halibut, but Jack helped me out.
MONDAY, AUGUST 7, 2006
What a day! This has been one of the best days of our trip and all we were expecting to do when we set out this morning was to drive to Tok or farther on our way to Skagway. We broke camp rather early for us, and we were probably on the road by 10:00 or earlier. We stopped by the post office to pick up our mail and then we headed out of town. I was pleased to receive an invitation to the twentieth reunion of Sparta's class of 1986. This was one of my favorite classes at Sparta High School, and since the letter stated that they were only inviting their favorite faculty members, I felt quite honored. Unfortunately, it will come before we return home.
Seventeen miles out of Valdez we stopped to get pictures of Bridalveil Falls and Horsetail Falls. At lunch time we stopped at Willow Lake which has the Wrangell Mountains behind it and is quite scenic. By the time we stopped for lunch, the sun was out and we were getting that beautiful day we had been promised by the weatherman in Anchorage. It was also getting warmer which was a pleasant change. It was once again short-sleeve weather.
About 2:00 in the afternoon we took a turnoff to a loop that goes past Copper Lodge, a historic lodge in the area. It also crossed the Klutina River which was supposed to be a good river for sockeye salmon. Immediately across the river is a campground and fishing charter service, and then there's a general store. Jack stopped at the store to get milk , and I told him to ask in the store how the fishing was for sockeyes (reds). The fellow in the store told him that the guide next door was taking people out every day, and they always returned with their limit (3). So next we pulled into the campground and Jack talked to the wife of the guide and then the guide himself. He was told that they only do half-day charters and that he could go that afternoon or in the morning. Since this would be Jack's last chance to fish for red salmon, he decided to take it and to go that afternoon at 3:30. That gave us about an hour to set up camp and get Jack ready to fish--which was plenty of time. He left the campsite at 3:00 to walk the short distance to the office.
The guide and Jack used a jet boat to go about five miles up the Klutina River to an area which is inaccessible except by boat. Erick, the guide, kept telling Jack that it wouldn't take any half-day for Jack to get his limit. Jack said he had his first fish within ten minutes. In an hour he had his limit. After that they fished catch and release for the next three hours. Jack came home with three beautiful fish, the largest probably weighed around ten pounds according to the guide. The guide also caught three and offered them to Jack since they already had so many in the freezer. We are having 14 pounds of salmon fillets sent by Fed Ex to friends in Springfield who will then run them out to our freezer in Highlandville.
Jack, needless to say, had a wonderful time; and I enjoyed seeing him so excited about his fishing trip. I took it easy and read a little and napped a little while he was fishing. Our camper has a gorgeous view of the river which is very pretty. It is much the same color as the Kenai, a turquoise blue caused by light refraction on the glacial silt. In addition to catching fish, Jack was also able to take pictures of very large grizzly bear tracks, and he said they saw a lot of eagles. He has a picture of one in the top of a tree.
It took Jack a while to calm down enough to eat supper. We had a very late supper of
sloppy Joe's, chips, and salad. The cupboard is getting pretty bare in this motorhome and we are going to have to stop to do some serious grocery shopping again soon. It was probably midnight before we toddled off to bed with sweet dreams of salmon bakes to come at the Peacher abode.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 8, 2006
We started today being four days behind our scheduled itinerary--which isn't a problem, but I suspect we will make up a few days along the way. Today we drove from the Klutina River Campground at Copper Center to Tok. It was a beautiful drive but we ran into an awful lot of construction. We had the Wrangell Mountains in view most of the trip.
We started out by taking a smaller loop off of the loop we were already on to the historical
Copper Center Lodge. We found a couple of restaurants, the lodge, some gift shops, a post office, and a bed and breakfast that were all businesses at Copper Center. Later we read in the Milepost that there is a Princess Wilderness Lodge in the area also. We were looking to see just what facilities were here in case we should want to return for more fishing. Jack much preferred the Klutina River over the Russian River which is so popular but is terribly crowded when the fish are running.
As stated earlier, we seemed to spend most of the day either waiting for a pilot car or behind a pilot car. We took what is known as the Tok Cutoff from the Richardson Highway to Tok. It seemed to have almost the entire road under construction. To make matters worse, it rained a lot and the construction all involved dirt roads which turned to mud. Our vehicles look awful; they are so covered in mud. At home we used to think our vehicles would get dirty, but you haven't seen anything until you have seen a vehicle which has traveled over Alaskan dirt roads in wet conditions. Literally, we saw cars that the only thing not covered in mud were the windshields because they had been using their wipers. Your headlights and taillights become impossible to see because of the caked on mud.
We arrived in Tok about 4:00 P.M., but we were exhausted from all the construction so we decided to call it a day. We stayed at the Sourdough Campground about a mile and a half outside of Tok on the Tok Cutoff. They have a cafe and that night they were having reindeer chili or beef stew in a bread bowl. The chili didn't sound good to either one of us so we opted for the beef stew. The cafe was too far of a walk for me, and Jack didn't want to unhook the pickup; so he walked up to the cafe and came back with carryout. We had the stew in the bread bowls (which were sourdough, of course, and quite good) and we each had a piece of pie. The total bill was only $20.00 and we were quite satisfied. I did make a large tossed salad to go with the rest of the meal, and that helped us too get more vegetables into our diet. There was no TV here, so we turned in early in the hopes of getting an earlier start tomorrow.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 9, 2006
We certainly didn't get an early start although we did get up earlier than usual. We decided the motorhome could not go one more day without a thorough cleaning and we'd better do it while we had electricity to run the vacuum. I did mirrors and the bathroom. Jack did cabinets and the floors. Before we knew it, the motorhome was looking good again on the inside. Of course, the outside was still filthy. So we next went to the car wash at the campground at tried to get off enough of the dirt on the outside of our vehicles to make them look halfway presentable.
After washing the motorhome and car, we went into town and stopped at a big Alaskan gift shop. We were able to find several of the items we were looking for there, and then we went on to the Three Bears grocery store. Three Bears is a chain we have run into more than once in Alaska. We had a large list as the pantry was bare; therefore, it took Jack some time to find all of the items. After he returned to the motorhome, the problem became where do we go with all that he bought. We finally managed to get it all put away in the proper cabinets or the refrigerator, and then we needed to find gas. We were lucky and managed to find gas for under $3.00. We filled up and by this time it was 1:30 in the afternoon and we were getting hungry for lunch. Right next to the gas station was a little reindeer hot dog stand which also sold subs. We ordered two subs and had to wait while the girl filled a previous order. We finally had lunch about 2:00 P.M. which we ate as we headed down the Alaskan Highway.
Today we covered a section of the Alaskan Highway that we had missed on the way up by taking the Klondike Loop to Dawson City. This section of the road had a lot of loose gravel patches and quite a few pot holes that hadn't been filled in yet. We crossed into the Yukon and the road seemed to get even worse. We probably averaged between 40 to 45 mph because the frost heaves and pot holes prevented you from going any faster. It was a very scenic drive, however, so we just relaxed and took it easy. We were surprised at how few people were on the road. Those gravel patches aren't bad if no one is coming toward you while you're on them. Rarely did we meet a vehicle from the opposite direction. We also rarely had anyone in front of us or behind us. We had noticed in Tok that fewer people seemed to be in town than when we came through here in July. A great many of the tourists seem to have already gone home.
Once again our drive was gorgeous. We spent the first part of it with the Wrangell Mountains again in view. Then we hit an area of muskeg with black spruce being the only tree which can grow on the land. This area was also loaded with small lakes. We were really surprised not to see any moose on this drive. We were not very far out of Tok, I think about 40 miles, when we crossed out of Alaska and into Canada. We went through Customs very quickly. The only thing we were asked was where we were from and, of course, we showed the agent our passports.
When the Wrangell Mountains were no longer visible, we started seeing mountains that were covered in green and very pretty. These turned out to have higher mountains behind them which are snow covered. This is the Kluane Range. Finally we came to Lake Kluane which is the largest lake in the Yukon. It is very pretty with the turquoise color associated with lakes that have glacial silt in them. We followed the lake shore for miles until we turned into the Congdon Creek Campground which is a Yukon campground and the sites are only $12 a night; of course, there are no hookups at the sites. They are very pretty; we were even able to get a fairly level pull-through site so we didn't have to unhook the pickup. We turned the generator on just long enough to heat up some TV dinners in the microwave, and then we both turned in. Jack went right to sleep while I read for a while. It was quite cool outside although the day was quite warm. We had a few little sprinkles today; however, most of the day was sunny and warm.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 10, 2006
Today we drove from Destruction Bay in the Kluane National Park in the Yukon to Skagway, Alaska. This was such a beautiful drive that we're not sure whether the one to Valdez or today's drive was the best of our trip. This one certainly was right up there at the top. We didn't stop to take a single picture because we got off to a late start and Jack didn't want to pull over at any of the turnoffs. We will repeat part of the trip on our way back,; hopefully, we will stop for some pictures as we're leaving.
I take that back, Jack did take two pictures out of his window as we were stopped for construction. We were at the end of Kluane Lake and we had to stop to wait for a pilot car. The woman holding the sign had a big German shepherd with her. Jack thought the dog might be a drug dog--wrong, he was a bear dog. That's right--a bear dog. He raises a ruckus if there is a grizzly bear around and chases them off or at least warns her to get into her vehicle. He has been specially trained to smell bears. We saw a woman at the end of the construction site who also had a dog, presumably for the same purpose. Our lady told us that that area of Canada, we suspect she meant Kluane National Park, has the largest population of grizzly bears anywhere in the world. We were surprised to hear that. I will try to remember to post a picture of the construction worker and her dog.
As we left our campsite at Congdon Creek, we again found ourselves following the beautiful Kluane Lake shoreline with mountains of the Ruby Range far on the other side of the lake. We followed the lake for quite some time seeing one mountain range after another. Those closest to us were not snow covered; sometimes they still had a few patches. They had higher, snow-covered mountains behind them which you could occasionally see in the valleys between the closer mountains. The closer mountains are home to many Dall sheep, but we didn't manage to spot any on our drive. We passed through Haines Junction and purchased $200 in gas there. We didn't even have an empty tank. Gas may be high in the United States, but it is worse in Canada.
Next we stopped at Canyon Creek which was a scenic pullout for lunch. There is a replica there of the original timber bridge that carried the Kluane Wagon Road over the Aishihik River. The original bridge was built in 1904 and Sam McGee (immortalized in Robert Service's poem The Cremation of Sam McGee was one of its builders. It really is a small world, isn't it? From Canyon Creek we traveled through the St. Elias Mountains and finally reached Whitehorse. Here we turned south on Highway 2 towards Skagway. We were once again surrounded by mountains and we either drove past or followed the shores of gorgeous lakes. One of these lakes, Emerald Lake, receives its color from the way light reflects on its white marl bottom. White marl is a sediment of broken freshwater snail shells. Tagish Lake is that beautiful turquoise color, as is Nares Lake and Tutshi Lake, which the road follows in that order. Summit Lake is turquoise at the beginning but becomes clear closer to the creek end. It's a two-colored lake. This road passes briefly into British Columbia and then you cross into the United States shortly before you hit Skagway. We came down such a steep mountain for miles coming down into Skagway that we can't help but wonder what that will mean when we leave here on Sunday. It will be a huge climb for the poor ole' motorhome. Both the Chilkoot Trail and the White Pass Trail start in or near Skagway. The Chilkoot Trail starts seven miles out of town and it was the shortest but steepest route to the Klondike gold fields. The White Pass Trail was longer but not so steep. Pack horses and mules were used on the White Pass Trail and a large percentage of them died horrible deaths on the trail. On that happy note, I'll sign off for today.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 11, 2006
Jack got up and went to get hair cut and to find out where he can get the oil changed in the motorhome. He came home with the news that he had gotten me a four o'clock appointment for a haircut and that there was non place in town to get oil changed. This is surprising for a town of almost 900 people. There also appears to be only one beauty shop. At 4:00 I went to the lone beauty shop and got my hair cut. It is awfully short--I hope there is some of my original perm left. I hesitate to have a stranger give me a permanent, so I'm hoping to make the one I had right before we left last the entire trip.
While I was in the beauty shop, Jack did some souvenir shopping and gift shopping. He had some success, but we went back to town to do more after my appointment. Jack shopped until the stores closed at 6:00 P.M. We had a coupon for a jade bear with a salmon in his mouth, but that store was closed by the time we were able to get there. We decided to eat supper downtown, so we drove around and looked at the various restaurants. We finally decided on Bonanza Bar and Grill which was recommended in AAA. We both ordered the meatloaf and it was huge. My stomach has been touchy for days now, and I wasn't able to eat very much of my dinner. We took the rest home in a carryout carton.
We went to bed relatively early for us in the hopes that we can leave at a decent time tomorrow. We would like to get as far along as we can tomorrow. It's an awfully long trip from Skagway to Hyder and we'd like to make it in two days.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 12, 2006
We started towards Hyder, Alaska, today. The drive from Skagway to Carcross was rainy and we were in the clouds for a long time. This made vision very difficult. The first part of the drive was up that huge mountain, but the motorhome took it all in stride. The first town you come to on this road is Carcross. We stopped and filled up with gas and propane. We were able to get a few pictures on our way to Carcross, but not a whole lot because it rained a lot during this trip. At Carcross we took a new road, a short-cut, that had just recently been paved all the way. It was very scenic--we drove along Tagish Lake for some distance and then through very scenic mountains.
Our drive took us to the Alaskan Highway. From this point on until we reach Highway 37, the Cassiar Highway, we are covering old ground: highway we've already traveled upon. We stopped for lunch at a rest area we'd stopped for lunch at going the other direction at the beginning of our trip. There was a motorhome which seemed to be permanently camped there and since there are all kinds of no camping signs, we can only assume that they are having some kind of technical difficulties.
We made it to just outside of Watson Lake where we stopped at the Baby Nugget Campground. It is very nice and not very crowded. We had leftovers for supper and then watched a little television since we had cable and a few channels to pick from. All the major stations were from Detroit, of all places, so we were never able to hear the local forecast.