Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Trip Home July 16 – July 21, 2016, Days 77 - 82

Cassiar Highway - British Columbia
“To the lover of the wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world” 
John Muir
“For sheer majestic geography and sublime scale, nothing beats Alaska and the Yukon”
Sam Abell

Impressions…” the things we carried”
The beauty and majesty of the Great North is bewitching.  Given sufficient time, it seeps into your pores, wraps around you, and holds your heart like a tentative lover.  The further one
Cassiar Highway - on the way home
travels from the populated enclaves, the more beautiful she becomes and the more precarious is the path on which she leads you.  Winter, I’m certain, adds yet another dimension to her beauty…and uncertainty.  Having lived in the north in years past, I recall how beguiling the beauty could be…and how dangerous.  In the lower 48, mistakes without contingencies can be an inconvenience…in the north they can be fatal.  Even so, the risks might be worth it.  Those that I’ve met living off the grid in the north, possessing incredible resourcefulness, are content with their lives and fully recognize and accept these risks.  Nature, outside forces, circumstances, all can change in an instant. 
Cassiar Highway...Chip rock, no lines...major link to U.S.
Andrea, Maggie, and I are aligned in our conviction that sharing this adventure together has been a highpoint in our lives.  Seemingly never cramped for space while living and traveling in our 25-foot RV for 80+ days added to this adventure.  Torrential rains, winds, sleet, with the added risk of snow posed little inconvenience as we snuggled warm and content in our little home.  Taking side trips in our dinghy (tiny 2-door Toyota Yaris) allowed us to see and do so much more than if we had been constrained to the RV alone.  For those considering such a trip, should you own your own RV, I have kept meticulous records and such a trip can be done with little or no inconvenience for less than $110 per day.  This includes, camping fees, fuel, food…the whole works.  If interested,
Iskut, British Columbia
we would gladly share this information with you.  Of the things we carried, we focused on the following:  Good RV with the bugs worked out, new tires equipped with tire pressure monitors, small RV compressor, 160-watt solar cell, up-to-date records for our dog Maggie, passports, toolkit, maps (Milepost and Traveler's Guide to Alaskan Camping were extremely useful), GPS, SPOT (pinpoints exact location for family following your trip), and a willingness to expect the unexpected.  WE CAN GUARANTEE THAT YOU WILL HAVE AN EXPERIENCE LIKE NO OTHER!!!

Alas, leaving the north…
Andrea...pretending to be bear bait
Leaving Whitehorse after servicing vehicles, washing laundry, and restocking supplies, we retraced our earlier path along the Alaska Highway until catching the Cassiar and Yellowhead Highways to Prince George.  Then it was on to Highway 97 to Cache Creek and then Highway 1 to the U.S. Border.  The Cassiar Highway was not completed until 1972 and it, from our observation, seemed more a little unlined, two-lane backroad than a highway.  Beautiful, paved with chip-rock and possessing a minimum of potholes/washboards, it was fun but slow traveling.  The area brims with wildlife but
Bear Glacier - Near Stewart, British Columbia
there are minimal amenities due to the “highway’s” relative newness.  This seems to be the route taken by those in the Lower 48 who reside on the West Coast.  It is a shorter route, compared to the Alaska Highway, and therefore popular.  It is remote!!  Our first stop was in Boya Lake Provincial Park, followed by a private campground (Mountain Shadow RV Park - Iskut, BC), and then Meziadin Lake Provincial Park that we used as a home base for a visit to Sterwart-Hyder on Highway 37A.  This side-trip abounded with resplendent natural beauty: tumbling waterfalls, glaciers, rivers, and wildlife.  Hyder, Alaska, NOT monitored by a U.S. Border crossing, is popular for its brown bear (grizzly) monitoring platforms where one can watch these bruins feeding upon the migrating
Waterfall everywhere on the road to Stewart, British Columbia
salmon from mid-July until August for a modest fee of $5.00 per person.  We were too cheap to spend the money watching bear when we have been seeing them for free all over the north country and avoiding them on trails.  Bear and moose sightings are no longer a rarity for us.

Once leaving Meziadin Lake we truly were hit with the realization that our North-Country travels were coming to an end.  The Yellowhead Highway was modern, loaded with amenities, and screamed of “you really are going home…ugh!).  Beautiful nonetheless, our stays in Beaumont Provincial Park (Bulkley-Nechako, BC) and Lac Le Hache Provincial Park (Cariboo, BC) were filled with beauty and interesting fellow-travelers.  On Highway 1 we were able to visit the Thompson River, wh
ere 20+ years ago I had one of the most harrowing and wonderful kayaking trips of my life.  In those days I was a pretty good kayaker and viewing the
Thompson brought home just how good I must have been because this was HUGE white water on a monstrous river.  At the time I remember seeing hordes of migrating salmon in the “raised” eddies, watching rafting groups tip over in their rafts, and yet being able to kayak this proficiently.  Oh, those were the days!!

In conclusion:  What a trip!!  Our advice…VISIT ALBERTA, BRITISH COLUMBIA, THE YUKON, AND ALASKA…have fun, be safe, and enjoy.
"You all come back now...and maybe I'll meet you on the trail."

Friday, July 15, 2016

To Haines, Skagway, and revisiting Whitehorse, Yukon Territories July 9 – July 15, 2016, Days 70 - 76

Wrangell Mountains
“Haines is only 15 miles by water from Skagway but it is 359 miles by road.”  Alaska Marine Highway Ferry operates year-round connecting these two historic locations.  “Skagway owes its birth to the Klondike Gold Rush” of the 1890’s.  It is here that the horrifically steep Chilkoot Pass had to be negotiated multiple times conveying needed provisions before gold seekers could start their trek to the Klondike Gold Fields.  Notorious, overpopulated, and crime ridden, Skagway during these times was described as “little better than Hell on Earth.”  Milepost
Mary Frances Dehart

All roads pass through Tok, Alaska
Traveling the Glenn Highway and connecting to the Tok Cutoff, it was from here that we would once again connect to the Alaska Highway for our return home.  Upon reaching Glennallen, located at the junction of the Glenn and Richardson highways, we felt compelled to stop and explore.  Camping at Porcupine Creek State Recreation Site for our first night, we transferred to Hart D Ranch so that we could meet Alaskan bronze sculptor Mary Frances Dehart.  Mary Frances had done it all!   Moving, as a young college graduate, from Ohio and making her home in Alaska more than 60 years ago, she has immersed herself in all things Alaskan. 
One of Mary Frances' bronze works
Pursuing her art, not limited to bronze-work, she built a power station that provided the community’s power needs, owned and operated a big-game guiding business, raised horses for the guiding venture, built and operated the post office, a bed and breakfast, RV park, and to this day maintains the grounds at Porcupine Creek State Recreation Site.  If not busy enough, she raised and raced sled-dogs.  When asked why she tackled so many projects she responded that diversity was and is the key to entrepreneurial survival.  Nearly losing everything when Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve was established in 1980, much of enterprise was leased from BLM, her guiding endeavors all but disappeared.  This required forays into just about anything that
Haines Highway
could turn a buck in order to hold on to her investments.  With no living relatives to help carry the load, difficulty in finding competent help, she at 70+ years young, solely manages her enterprises from sun-up to sun-set (don’t forget that this is the land of the midnight sun).  It was our pleasure to dine with Mary Frances, learn about the inner workings of her small Alaskan community, and see her exquisite art first-hand.  We were charmed by her poise, openness, talent, and tenacity.  WHAT A LADY!!  We could have spent a month with her but alas, we had to move along on our journey.
Haines Highway
After a side trip in our Yaris on a very rough gravel road visiting Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve we came to the conclusion that this trip would have to wait until our Yaris grew up…into a monster 4-wheel drive!  After 25 miles, though the view of the Wrangell Mountains was breathtaking, we turned and retraced our steps looking for better roads.  Departure found us on the Tok Cutoff for fueling and commissary resupply.  Tok, a central stopover for most travelers, is at the junction of the Glenn (Tok Cutoff), Taylor, and Alaska Highways.  Short of taking a ferry via the Inland Passage, all roads pass through Tok.  Commercial and not of particular interest to us, we continued on until encountering
Packed into the Ferry
frightening rain and thunder storms.  Spending the night at a roadside stop near Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, morning found us crossing into the Yukon.  Million Dollar Waterfall Campground on the Haines Highway was our target as a jump-off for a Haines/Skagway/Whitehorse circular trip.  Parking the RV, our Yaris took us through stunning vistas along the Haines Highway.  By sheer luck, we arrived in Haines just barely in time to be placed on “standby” for the Haines/Skagway Ferry.  We were the last to be literally packed into what seemed a very small ferry!!  Positioned “just-so” by the crew, we had barely inches on all sides of our car.  If we were any larger than 12 feet by 5 feet, there would have been no room for us.  Being packed into our little Yaris finally paid off. 
View from the Ferry

The trip on the ferry was a thrill.  Waterfalls cascading off peaks that vaulted seemingly straight into the Heavens, reaching the azure waters of Portage Cove, Lynn Canal, and Taiya Inlet was our view.  Arriving in Skagway we found four huge passenger liners docked and a town full of tourist.  This gave a flavor of what days of old may have been like when gold seekers flooded Skagway.  With sunset around 12:30 AM, the threat of moose, bear, and other fender-bender wildlife on the road after sunset, we felt it prudent to start our 300+ mile drive back to the RV.  The Klondike Highway offered no disappointments with
View from the Ferry
regard to scenery.  Beautiful!!  We thoroughly enjoyed the dive, and near Whitehorse we reconnected to the Alaska Highway and then on to the Haines Highway where the RV was parked.  This loop is, in our opinion, well worth the effort for those who may consider this trip.

The Crew from Jiffy Lube - Thank you Guys
Back in Whitehorse the next day, we needed to attend to “Moo” (our RV) with an oil change, washing, and check to see how many nuts and bolts were loose or lost.  The fellas at Jiffy Lube were GREAT!  They did our oil change on the way up and we were so impressed that we had them attend to our needs on the way back.  Everyone in the North we have found to be very polite, obliging, and resourceful.  The Jiffy Lube crew was no exception.  Thank you for taking such good care of us.

Whitehorse, with its great cell reception, will be our home until we are assured that Emily (our youngest and very pregnant daughter) makes it home to Denver back into the arms of her husband and daughter.  While in Missouri she started to experience some contractions and has put the whole family on pins and needles.  Once she is home safe and sound, we will turn off our
Andrea..."tell the captain to get closer to shore"
cellphones (no cell reception anyway), head down the road and connect with the Cassiar Highway and on to Seattle via British Columbia.  We will post as WIFI is available.  We have logged over 10,000 miles so far and we have a lot more on the agenda before we finally reach home.

Ships docked in Skagway


View from the Klondike Highway

View from the Klondike Highway

View from the Klondike Highway

The rainbow ends on the Klondike Highway

It would be tough to look out at this everyday!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Homer to Valdez, Alaska July 1 – July 8, 2016, Days 62 - 69

Valdez - Dockside
Old Valdez was built on sand and gravel and when the shock from the 1964, 9.2 earthquake struck Valdez the sediments under the waterfront began to spontaneously liquefy thus causing 2.4 million square feet of the delta to slump into Port Valdez.  The Valdez Port Facilities were sent to the bottom and this caused a huge volume of water to generate a 40-foot tsunami. All of this occurred even before the shaking ended so with no warning all who were on the docks were killed by the tsunami.  Union Oil Company tanks ruptured spreading fire over the entire waterfront. All was lost.  This was in the era of the cold war and many thought that it was an atomic bomb attack.  Later they learned that it was mother nature that caused this devastation.  When the town was rebuilt, it was moved to firmer ground that just happens to be the terminus of the Alaska Pipeline.
Matanuska Valley

Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site, Mile 101 Glenn Hwy

Driving northeast from Anchorage through Palmer, Alaska, we then twisted along the Matanuska River Valley.  Palmer is particularly interesting in that in the 1930’s Franklin Roosevelt, as part of the New Deal, helped establish the Matanuska Colony.  It was here that more than 200 families were assisted in relocating from the depressed Midwest (mostly Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota) to this area to establish an agricultural base.  Each family was given 40-acre tracts on which to farm in this very fertile valley.  Transitioning from tents to homesteads, some families made a go of it while others packed it in and returned to the lower 48.  It was this venture that established Palmer as an agricultural base. 
Big Auto Wreckers
To this day, family owned enterprises raise grain crops, hay, fresh produce, and livestock.  There is even a muskox venture where they harvest the VERY SOFT undercoat for clothing.  Meat is also harvested and the breeders are working on developing a more docile strain of animal to best accommodated this sort of venture.

Sandwiched among the Alaska Range, the Talkeetna, and Chugach Mountains, the Matanuska Valley was shaped through glaciation and abounds with lakes, streams, and wildlife.  The scenery is breathtaking.  With the 4th of July celebrations upon us, we decided to find a beautiful little corner to hole up in before proceeding on to Valdez.  Traveling the Glenn Highway to our camping destination we nearly hit a moose that scared Andrea to death.  Cool and calm as always, I assured her that we had a good ¾ of an inch to spare once the event was past but I did stop to take a moment to clean out my pants.  Moose are HUGE!!  Averaging 1400 pounds, they have the capability of turning a “street-legal” vehicle into a “junk-yard” bonanza of semi-salvageable spare parts.
Matanuska Glacier

Matanuska Glacier and the surrounding area were resplendent in their beauty. Unique among Alaskan glaciers, scientist say that “flowing at a rate of a foot per day, there is little change in its terminus.”  On the other hand, spending the morning with the manager of Matanuska Glacier Adventures who has lived in the area for 25 years, he begged to differ.  Displaying photos of the glacier in years past while overseeing this operation seemed to indicate a big change from its present location in proximity to his lodge 25 year ago.  Who knows?   In any event, this whole area is gorgeous, and it was in this area that we celebrated Andrea’s 46 anniversary of her 21st birthday.
Blueberry Campsite
Blueberry Lake State Recreation Site, Mile 24, Richardson Highway to Valdez
I am at a loss for words in my attempt to describe the beauty of the Richardson Highway as one travels to Valdez.  Pictures, nor all the adjectives in the English Language, simply do not suffice in capturing the immense beauty of this area.  Passing over Thompson Pass on our way to Blueberry Lake was stunning and will remain etched in our memories long after this trip is over.  Cascading waterfalls, jagged peaks, lush carpets of vegetation sprinkled with wildflowers, and rushing streams can be seen in every direction.  Camping 20 miles out of Valdez, we enjoyed stunning beauty, great fishing, and watched, with our binoculars, bears roaming on the hillside just across the valley from us.  What a sight to behold!
View from Blueberry Campsite

At Valdez, a site where ferries transport travelers along the Inland Passage, we watched the fishing trawlers and were stunned to see a young bear just crossing the street in downtown Valdez.  What a place!  "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."  With such beauty, we were reluctant to leave but alas, we did have to move on.  Next stop…Tok, Alaska for caribou sausage, sourdough pancakes, and rejoining the Alaska Highway.
Valley Road to Valdez


Andrea looking from Thompson Pass

Andrea at Worthington Glacier
Thompson Pass
Road to Blueberry Campsite

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Kenai Peninsula, Homer, Alaska June 28 – June 30, 2016, Days 59 - 61

Overlooking Homer, one can see snowcapped volcanos that give credence that Alaska is in the midst of massive change:  Augustine (4,000+ft) last erupted in 2006: Illiamna (10,000+ft) constant plumes of steam and gasses; Redoubt (10,000+ft) erupted in 2009; and Spur (11,000+ft) erupted in 1992.  This coupled with the great earthquake of 1964 justifies that Alaska is NOT a land at rest.

Johnson Lake State Recreation Campground, Mile 110.5, Sterling Highway
Tenderfoot Creek Campground, Mile 46, Steward Highway

Being connected is now the limiting factor in keeping the blog up-to-date.  When WIFI is available, there are time limits, data limits, and the whole process is VERY SLOW!!  This being the case, blog updates, while sporadic, will include multiple sites of interest.
Road leading to Homer

One could spend a month on the Kenai Peninsula and never see it all.  Nature abounds and there is always something more around the corner.  We are becoming “wilderness snobs.”  We pull into a town with more than 10 non-eclectic residents, we then feel that we have left the WILDERNESS and anything that the community might have to offer is beneath us.  As usual with such snap judgements we are entirely wrong and show ourselves to be total “Cheechacos” (Northern rookies-newcomers) that we really are. There is always something interesting!  The ride, via the Sterling Hwy, to Homer was no exception.  Located in the Kenai Peninsula on Kachemak Bay, the town was named after Homer Pennock (a local prospector) in the late 1800’s and is renowned for its halibut fishing. 
Nikolaevsk Chapel

Johnson Lake Campground was used as our home base and we used our Yaris dinghy to visit Homer.  Along the way we stopped in Nikolaevsk, a settlement of “Russian Old Believers.” Consisting mostly of Russian Orthodox, family oriented residents who live a self-sufficient lifestyle, it is an interesting and picturesque setting.  Chatting with one elder resident, we learned what it was like, from her perspective, growing up in this community.  Now 82, as a child she remembered that the community was very tight-knit.  The children, many from large families, would go to school (near where their church stands today) that was on the hill overlooking their community.  At lunchtime she and the other children would go down to their homes to eat and climb back up to the school and in the winter it was “ever so cold.”  The community worked together and helped one another as needed but her family depended on trapping, fishing, and gardening to supply their needs.  Her father would be gone for days on end checking his trap lines, sometimes on foot and sometimes by dog team.  When she grew up she married within the community but her children left to pursue a life down in the “48” with one becoming a physician and then returning to Alaska.  Sadly, time has taken her husband, some of her children, and the community is in decline.
Bald Eagles soaring above Homer

Sterling Hwy descends “Homer Hill” through a series of twists and turns that offer “expansive views” of Homer Spit (a popular peninsula that juts into the bay), Kachemak Bay, and snow-capped mountains that rise out of the bay with breathtaking sheerness.  Bald eagles abound throughout the area as they soar catching the updrafts of the surrounding cliffs.  Once down this 6% grade the traveler is greeted by this modern and “tourist oriented” community.  It is here that many cruise ships dock so that their passengers can get a feel for a “real Alaskan fishing community.”  Perhaps this is a stretch but it is a fun town with adventures for all, a welcoming community, and beauty without bounds.  This area is famous for halibut with some of the catch as large as 300+ pounds.  That is a lot of Friday dinners for someone!
Near Homer

Tenderfoot Creek Campground, alongside Summit Lake, was to be our home for one night but due to the beauty and good fishing, we ended up staying two days.  Returning to Anchorage for groceries and a tire repair, we then ventured on to Palmer and beyond on our way to Valdez, Alaska.

Augustine??  Near Homer

Andrea enjoying it all!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Kenai Peninsula, June 23 - 27, 2016, Days 53-57

Turnaround Arm, Kenai Peninsula
“In June 2000, Alaska’s Seward Highway, linking Anchorage with Seward, was designated as an All-American Road, an honor reserved for only the most outstanding highways in the nation.  The overall scenic, recreational, cultural, historic, and geologic qualities of the highway corridor are virtually unmatched anywhere.  It is simply one of the world’s great drives.” America’s Byways

Leaving Anchorage journeying to the Kenai Peninsula, Turnagain Arm on Cook Inlet is enveloped by colossal peaks so steep that only vines and shrubs can gain a foothold and even these disappear from the rock and snowcapped peaks.  The Chigmit and Chugach Mountains bolt from the valley
Tunnel to Whittier
floor so precipitously and with such grandeur that the spectacle leaves the traveler incredulous that such beauty can exist.  The entire landscape is stunning and exhausting…there is too much beauty to absorb.  One magical spot after another…
Whittier, where one travels through a one-lane 2 ½ mile tunnel to arrive at this little town at the head of the Passage Canal on Prince Edward Sound, is nestled in among stately mountains that line the Canal.  Twenty Mile Glacier greets the traveler on the left as they exit the tunnel, the Sound is directly ahead, and mountains ring the entire setting.  BEAUTIFUL!!
Town of Whittier
Granite Creek and then Bertha Creek were our basecamps and homes for five days before moving on to Porcupine Campground in the little town of Hope.   There were no amenities at any of these sites thus no blog, cellphone coverage (our daughters were certain that we were dead), but the beauty of the area was the only amenity needed.  Hope, a small town at the end of one of the roads, seems straight out of the TV setting of “Northern Exposure.” A little CafĂ©, featured in this television series, sits picturesquely alongside the road.  Hope was destroyed by an earthquake in 1964 (9.2 on the Richter Scale) and what the earthquake didn’t get the
Passage Canal...overlooking the Whittier Area
resulting Tsunami did.  Game is plentiful in this area, especially bear, and the Kenai campgrounds are a jumping off point to the Russian River where salmon runs occur at frequent intervals…it is here that fisherman are fishing, and bear are fishing as well along with the inevitable encounters.  Salmon, and hopefully not fishermen, are a major food source for the grizzly (brown bear per Alaskans) and one of the reasons that bear are so much larger here than in Denali…far more protein in their diet.  The bear’s diet in Denali consists of 80% vegetation whereas those that can access the salmon runs are less dependent upon vegetation.

River Flowing into Whitttier

Kenai Pond
Granite Creek Campground

                A visit to the town of Homer and it is back toward Anchorage where we will cut across on the Glenn Highway to connect to the Richardson Highway in order to visit Valdez.  This is the southern terminal of the 800-mile Trans Alaska Pipeline that originates in Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay far to the north.  Valdez, situated in a “majestic fjord where the 5000-foot-tall Chugach Mountains rise from Prince Edward William Sound” was all but destroyed in the 1964 earthquake.  One of Alaska’s many pristine sites, it is often referred to as Alaska’s “Little Switzerland.”  It is here where Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989 spilling millions of gallons of oil that set off a storm of environmental repercussions both in Alaska and elsewhere in the country.  With heavy dependence on tourism, fisheries, and oil, Valdez was heavily impacted by the resulting environmental fallout.  It will be interesting to hear the perspective of the residents as they relate to this event.  We will share what we learn.
Bear abound in this area
Elk were deer, this is not their area
Wood Buffalo have been reintroduced
Hummm....I wonder what there is to eat...maybe a hiker?...or a biker?...meals on wheels....

Scenes along the Kenai...