Saturday, July 30, 2011

Valdez to Chicken, July 24, 2011

Woke up to rain in Valdez the morning of our departure. We were hoping to stop and get some photos of the area as we traveled back through Keystone Canyon and along the Thompson Pass past Worthington Glacier. We set off and stopped at the Forest Service shack to check on the arrival of the salmon…none yet. We hooked up the tow car and got on the road. We did stop at the Worthington Glacier visitor center and walked up to the observation area. It is actually most spectacular from up on the road looking down on the entire glacier. It was cold and spitting rain. Wanted to get back where it was dry. The area was still beautiful even though we had rain and clouds and fog. This road to Valdez on the Richardson Highway may be the most spectacular drive of our journey.
Our plan is to get to Chicken, AK, to drive the Top of the World Highway to Dawson City, YT. This part of the trip will take us back on the Richardson Highway connecting with the Tok Cutoff to Tok, AK, heading down the Alaska Highway and cutting off on the Taylor Highway to Chicken. We’ll see what it’s like when we get along further up the road. Don’t know where we will stop to camp.
We actually drove all the way to Chicken and camped at the Gold Camp RV Park and Outpost. There is really nothing in Chicken but this camp and another and three or four other business in the “town” of Chicken…a merchantile, a bar, a café and maybe another. Jim and I parked the rig in a no hookup pullthrough and walked to the “town”. We walked through the merchantile (souvenirs) and continued on next door to the bar. It had to be the smallest bar I’d seen with junk all over the walls and ceiling. The bartender looked like one of Jimmy’s friends and was from Philadelphia. One of his mother’s cousins owned the bar so he worked here last summer and this summer. We talked to a miner who had formerly worked as an oil hand in Louisiana….small world. It is so much fun meeting all these colorful people.
We ate in the motorhome and settled in for the night before we tackled the Top of the World Highway.

On to Valdez, AK, July 22-23, 2011

The morning was clear and bright and a great day to travel. It was interesting to see the mountains illuminated by the sun from the east. Different look altogether. We took our time but still got on the road early. We ran into some construction right away and had to wait for about 10 minutes to be guided through it. It gave me some time to take some photos of the mountains. The roads were full of frost heaves so the ride was a little like a roller coaster. No major problems. We stopped at Wragnell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve on the Richardson Highway. Watched a film about the park. It was made by a man who came to the park for the first time when he was six years old. He came with his dad and family. It was a very good film about the park and the mountains in the park. Wish we could explore more of the park but we don’t have time.

We talked to a native Alaskan who made the fish wheel and he explained how they work. He actually uses one on his property which fronts the Copper River. He has four deep freezers at his home to hold all his catch for the winter. So glad we stopped to talk to him. He’s getting ready for hunting season. He can have two caribou and one moose. I love meeting the local people.

The drive to our campground was beautiful. First we crossed an alpine meadow mountain top with snow still sitting in the low areas. Then we went through Keystone Canyon…very deep with waterfalls coming over the walls right by the road. Finally came out to roads surrounded by snow and ice covered mountain tops. Glaciers were visible everywhere. Our campground is right on the edge of Valdez, the Eagle’s Rest RV Park. Just a large gravel parking lot. We came to the park without reservations but had no trouble getting a spot. When cars drive through the sound reminds me of a drive-in movie. We have full hookups with WiFi (some) and cable. We set up camp, listened to our audio book for awhile then set off to explore. We drove to the other side of the bay to a place called Allison Point. There is a fish hatchery on the road so we stopped when we saw lots of people around a fish weir. There were tons of salmon and sea lions, seals and otters feasting on the fish. We stayed for awhile and I took some photos and film. Amazing to see those animals so close feeding in the wild. Someone there said a bear usually comes later in the day to fill up on salmon. We left there and went to see Valdez Glacier. The road to the glacier went right beside the airport. We were just going along when over the top of trees was an airplane right over us coming to land. Wish I had my camera ready. We arrived at the glacier driving up a dirt road and parked at the edge of a glacier lake with icebergs in the water. The glacier was high up in the mountain so I don’t know where the icebergs came from. We came back to the rig for the night. We’ll go into town to the visitor’s center in the morning.
Had a wonderful and cool night at the campground. Had breakfast then set off for a day of touring. We stopped first at the Valdez Museum and looked at all their exhibits. I always think I can’t look at another museum but we always find new and interesting things in each one. There was lots in the Valdez Museum about the gold rush, the Alaska Pipeline construction and, of course, the Exxon Valdez spill. I still can’t believe how the people of the gold rush survived the conditions they found here. There was also a special annex which housed information about the 1964 earthquake. Old Valdez was complete destroyed…buildings did survive with damage but the whole town was moved to a new location. We saw a miniature model of the complete town of Old Valdez before the earthquake. The gentleman who took our tickets walked around with us and explained all about the model and showed us the homes and businesses which had been moved to the new town. His grandmother’s home was one of them. He shared lots of information about the people, the day the earthquake hit and the aftermath and creation of New Valdez. Well worth the visit. We finally made it to the Visitor’s Center. We couldn’t find it before because the sign had been removed during painting. The girl there told us about a hike to a viewpoint in the city. It was near Ruth’s Lake. Jim and I parked at the trailhead and started climbing the steps. Caution tape was all over the handrails with a note to be cautious because of bear activity! The steps seemed to have been rocked by an earthquake…a little bit leaning and uneven. At the top was a covered area with picnic table. There was a good view of the bay and the city. The girl at the visitor’s center also mentioned a scenic drive above the city. We decided to take the drive. We had to go through streets with homes and finally got to a dirt road and went on. We soon came to a board bridge over a creek but continued on up the road…just a one lane path. I started to think we shouldn’t be driving up there. Finally we saw where some other cars were parked up ahead so we parked as well. There were kids and dogs playing in the water coming across the road. Actually the water had broken down the road and there was no way across with a car. We crossed at the foot of the waterfall on a broken wood footpath. Talked to some ladies picking berries…salmon berries. I took some pics then we left and headed back to town. We parked down at the docks and walked along the shops until we found somewhere to stop for lunch. It was a beautiful day so we sat outside. I ordered halibut with fries but when they came it was cold. I took it back and had to wait for another. The next meal was hot…not the best I’ve had on this trip but it satisfied my growling stomach. We walked back to the car and decided to head back to Allison Point to see the sea lions again. This time the tide was out so I could walk out far on the rocks. The salmon were actually jumping up the fish weir trying to get to the ladder. There were still otters and sea lions around. We saw one big sea lion coming close to where we were to feast on the fish. I’m sure he just had to open his mouth to get a fish. He must be enormous…he looked big from what I saw but can imagine what was lurking under the water! I met a young man who was there from Palmer, AK. He is in the military, originally from Washington, DC, and getting ready to be deployed to Afghanistan. He loves Palmer and Alaska…he said he might never want to leave. Jim and I also met a couple from upstate New York. It was their first trip to Alaska too. We compared stories on our travels and had a nice time visiting. We left there and stopped by the Forest Service shack to see if any silver salmon had come to the spawning area…not yet! Went to town and found a place to have a beer then went back to the rig for the night. We had a full day and a good one in Valdez. We’re leaving in the morning and headed towards Tok and our way out of Alaska.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Anchorage Again, July 21, 2011

Made the trip back to Anchorage from Seward along the Seward Highway. We awoke to rain this morning but it was clear and beautiful by the time we left our camp at 8 AM. We’re hoping to get to Anchorage early so Jim can take the tow car back into the shop and have them check the struts and suspension. There was not much traffic as there just about never is on the roads in Alaska. Only in the larger towns have we found traffic. There are lots of lakes and other waterways along this part of the highway. All the hills and mountains are covered with green until the snow and ice at the tops. All the rivers are running fast with glacier melt. The water looks like very thin concrete because of the glacier “flour” mixed with the water. Along the roads I am amazed to see how the mountains come right down to the road or straight down into the lakes. Lots of undisturbed land. Most of the homes we see, which are not many, are log homes or homes made of wood…no brick like at home. The fireweed is abundant along the sides of the highway and sometimes covers open areas of land. The roads have been good…no frost heaves or potholes. Some of the roads are narrow and we’ve crossed many of one-lane bridges.

We did get to Anchorage early…about 10:30 AM. We parked at the Sam’s Club on Old Seward Highway and Jim took the car to the shop. I stayed at the motorhome and had some salad to eat. I made some calls and just relaxed until Jim returned with the car and said the service group could not find anything wrong with the car. It has mysteriously lost the rattle and squeak in the rear. I guess we’ll just go on towards Valdez. We stop to refuel the motorhome and then headed out of Anchorage on the Glenn Highway. We’ve decided to stop midway and find a camp to stay the night.
We did find a campground, Grand View RV Park, to stay tonight. It was just in time as we had to recover from the trip from MM 80 to MM 109 where the campground is located. The road follows along side the Matanuska River and sometimes at a great height. Jim drove on some pretty narrow roads which were up and down and curving all around with steep drops and no guardrails! I was on the steep drop side so tried to keep looking straight ahead. Amazing sights but a little scary too. Our campground is set right in the middle of mountains and just past Matanuska Glacier. Too bad we didn’t feel we could pull over anywhere to get some photos. Just trust me that it was breathtaking to say the least. We could have unhooked the tow and driven back but we were tired and ready to settle down for the night. In the morning we head to Valdez.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Seward, Alaska, July 19-20, 2011

Woke up to another beautiful day in Homer. We took our time getting packed up and on the road. As I was getting prepared to “back” Jim out of our site I noticed that we were still plugged into the power. Man…one little thing can upset out procedure! Jim came out and unplugged us and packed away the power cords then we were ready to go. Had to go to the dump on the way out…no full hookups at the site. We also tried to top up the fresh water tank but had a little trouble so we didn’t bother. We will have full hookups in Seward. We took the motorhome to fill up with fuel..hooked up the tow car..then hit the road. WOW is it a beautiful day!!!
We had to double back up the Sterling Highway to get to the junction with Seward Highway. We went back through Soldotna. Saw no wildlife on the road the entire way. The only sad thing was that a US Senator from North Dakota was killed in a car accident at MM 104 a couple of days before. He had been in Alaska for a fishing trip to Homer. Don’t know if we passed him on our way there. So sad.
No problems traveling to Seward. The mountains were beautiful and the sky is so clear. Temperature is mild too…a little windy but that’s not a problem right now.
We found our campground, Stoney Creek RV Park, easily. We set up camp and headed to town. Stopped by the Visitor’s Center to pick up maps and brochures. First stop was the Alaska SeaLife Center. It has large fish tanks full of all kinds of local fish…halibut and salmon, of course. They also have enormous tanks with seals, sea lions and birds. We’ve never seen a bird exhibit like this one. Puffins, red-legged kittiwakes and others I can’t remember. We were there when the trainer was doing tricks with the sea lion…funny! We looked all through the exhibits and left to explore the town. We drove through the small town and found all the city rv campgrounds. Right on Resurrection Bay…but no hookups. We parked the car and went into a restaurant on the docks for a beer. While we were sitting there a young man came and sat beside us. Jim asked him if he ran one of the fishing boats…he had been talking to the bartender so we thought he was. In fact, he does captain one of the private fishing charters. Jim asked him a few questions about fishing and also if he was from Alaska originally. Turns out he was from Mississippi and graduated from LSU!! Of course, we had to sit there awhile and talk to him. He was very nice and told us a little bit about his family back home and what he does and how he became a boat captain. It was a good evening.
When we left the restaurant we walked down to the docks where all the boats were coming in with fishermen. Fish…mainly halibut…was everywhere. There is a long processing table with lots of stations. I stopped to watch a young woman cleaning a halibut and cutting fillets. She was pretty handy with the big sharp knife.
We headed back to the motorhome and ate our leftovers…red beans and rice. It was very good!
The next morning we drove to the Exit Glacier. There is a trailhead right near the glacier and they have guides lead people on hikes to the edge of the glacier. We were there just in time to take the guided hike. I knew we were in trouble when people came up all covered in netting and the guide was spraying herself with bug spray. We went on and started the hike but whenever the guide stopped to tell us something I was covered in flies! They were all over me. Everyone knows I’m a bug magnet!! I tried to keep going but finally gave up. I got the car keys from Jim and went back to the car…Jim went on with the guide and the group. I got to the car and decided I wasn’t going to miss the hike so I took off my black jacket (bugs like dark clothes) and put on a baseball cap and sprayed myself silly with bug spray. Loaded up my backpack with water and the spray and also a knit cap just in case. Off I went…I just kept walking briskly..never stopping to let the bugs get me. That was the key…keep walking. I was hoping to catch up with Jim and the group but I never saw them. I got to the edge of the glacier and the group was nowhere to be found. I took some pics and decided to head back. I was afraid Jim would worry if he couldn’t find me anywhere when he got back. Anyway, I headed back down the trail. Not long down the trail I looked ahead and saw a group with the guide and there was Jim. They were just getting to the edge…they must have gone a different way. I never passed them on the trail I took. I sat down and waited for them to see me. Jim was so surprised I was there. “Where did I come from?” I can’t believe I beat him up after going back and spending time getting ready to begin my hike. I was really moving up that trail! I went back to the edge with Jim and someone took our photo. We went back down as fast as we could move but the bugs finally found us. It was a race to get back in the open air as quickly as possible. It was all good really and I’m happy I decided to brave it! Bugs and me don’t get along at all!!
After the hike we drove up Nash Road to see the view of Seward across the Resurrection Bay. It was very beautiful and Seward looked so small against the mountains. When we got back into town we found a place for lunch then headed to the Library and watched a film about the 1964 earthquake. Scary!! The film had conversations with survivors and also film footage and photos of the devastation. Part of Seward just dropped into the Bay. The tales about the tsunami afterwards were unbelievable. One man said after the quake there was no water in the bay and then they heard the wave…a 30-40 foot wall of water heading right to the town. Amazing!
We visited the Seward Museum after that. It was in a little building with lots of displays. All the displays had written explanations and stories about the people and the lives they led in Seward. It was a tough life. Really personal museum.
When we left the museum we drove out to Lowell Point. It was a dirt road along the edge of the bay with a wall of rock and trees on the other side. No place to be during another earthquake. The road led to Lowell Point where we found Miller’s Landing…a campground with fishing charters. Beautiful views … we could even see Seward at the head of the bay.
Time to find a place for a little drink before we head back to the motorhome. We tried a different place tonight. Not as much fun but just as quaint and beautiful located right on the docks. We’ve enjoyed Seward. The weather has been perfect.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Homer, Alaska, July 16-18, 2011

The drive again, along the Sterling Highway, was beautiful. We went through several Moose Danger Zones but only saw a mom and baby in Soldotna. Nothing along the way from there to Homer. One of the people we met in Kenai told us to stop at the viewpoint stop just at the top of the hill before we get to Homer. We did stop and saw the awesome vista down to Homer and the Spit. The backdrop was the mountain peaks across Kachemak Bay and the glaciers and ice flow from the Harding Ice Field. Our campground is at the tip of the Homer Spit…hence the name Homer Spit Campground. Our campsite looks out over the Kachemak Bay and the mountain peaks beyond. Unreal!
Homer is a big fishing village. Actually, they have bumper stickers which say it’s a drinking village with a little fishing problem. If you ever want to go fishing…this is the place. Lots of charters out of the harbor. Salmon and halibut are the fish of choice. They have a fishing derby every year. You must buy a derby ticket to have any catch entered into the derby. It lasts the entire season. Every restaurant has halibut as a special. We ate dinner one night at The Wasabi Restaurant. Halibut was the special so we had that. It was delicious and a huge chunk of halibut. Couldn’t not have been fresher than right off the boat!
We also visited the Alaska Island and Ocean Visitors Center, the Pratt Museum and had a dock tour through the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies. On the CACS tour Jim found a true star and was able to pick it off the underside of the dock…it was eating a mussle. We had a guide and he explained everything we saw. So happy we went on that tour. We learned a lot about what lurks under the boat docks. We also took a bus tour for “wildlife” around the town. Mostly we saw sand cranes, eagles, swans, black legged kittiwakes and some others. We went to the Land’s End Restaurant for a beer one night. It is right on the end of the spit and has a great view. We got to watch the fishing boats coming and going. We even saw a guy fishing in a kayak. It was bad weather and rough seas but he was still out there fishing. Brave guy. I also saw a seal playing out in the water. We drove all around the roads in Homer. Found the Bear Creek Winery and had a tasting...good Alaskan fruit wine. We bought four bottles. It's so much fun meeting people everywhere we go. The same story..."I came and never left"...holds true most of the time. I was hoping to see whales but never did. The last night there I could see Sea otters fishing in Kachemak Bay from inside my motorhome. This could be addicting! Next stop is Seward, AK.

The Kenai Penisula, Alaska

Picked up the car from the shop in Anchorage and went back downtown to hopefully see Mt. McKinley. It’s a beautiful today after a day of rain yesterday. We didn’t see McKinley this morning but did see mountains across the Cook Inlet. The weather is perfect for travel to Homer. The drive was amazing. The Sterling Highway followed Turnagain Bay with mountains all around. We saw some surfers using parachutes to move them through the water. Also saw plane refuel a helicopter in midair. There is no way to capture the beauty of this drive.
We were planning to stop in Soldotna but there was traffic..traffic..traffic! We pulled into the Fred Meyer’s and it was full of motorhomes, fifth wheels and all kinds of Rv’s. I called and found a campground a little further down the highway at Kasilof…The Decanter Inn and RV Park. Not very busy there. We went to the restaurant/bar after setting up and had a beer. The owners are from Louisiana!! Go figure. We went back into Soldotna and had Mexican food…too much to eat but very good. We parked at the Visitor’s Center and walked on the boardwalk along the Kenai River. There were people there cleaning very large salmon they had caught. Not many others fishing. We found the local brewery…Kenai Brewery. Went in to have some “tastings”. Very nice beer and a very nice guy serving! Met a lady who came in for some tastings too. She is on her way to Kodiak...she’s with the Coast Guard. After that we went back to the rig. We are planning to leave the next morning to finish our trip to Homer and hope to visit Kenai before we pull out.
Got up the next morning and set out for Kenai.
Drove to the city and found a little park on a bluff overlooking the mouth of the Kenai River. There were at least one thousand, maybe two, standing along the mouth and even into the water. It was prime time for the running of the reds…Sockeye Salmon. The only people allowed to dip net salmon are Alaskans…we couldn’t do it. It was amazing to see. The nets were large…some five feet in diameter on long poles. The tide was going out and people just stood on the banks or in the water with these nets catching salmon. Each head of household is allowed 25 salmon and each other member is allowed 10 each. A family of five could go home with 65 salmon! After the big morning run we went down to the beach and met a guy netting. He was originally from Arizona but had moved to Alaska years ago. That’s the normal story…they visit and never go back! After doing some more exploring around the area we got back on the road headed toward Homer.

Anchorage, July 12-15, 2011

Woke up in Denali NP and it was raining. We did OK getting out of the park and getting on the road but we had rain and clouds all the way. We stopped at a large turnout on the way (would have seen Mt. McKinley if it was clear). We set up the camera on Jim’s workbench under the cover of an umbrella and took a photo of us both in front of the rig. A couple in a little Class B stopped and asked us what we were doing…you see, it was raining. When we told them we needed a Christmas card photo with Mt McKinley in the background the man commented that he knew we were either crazy or doing something fun. A little of both I thought!
We drove into Anchorage looking for a campground called Midtown RV Park. It was midtown alright…right in a busy part of town. We found the campground…what a dump. We drove around the block and tried to get out of there. I was looking in the campground book to find something else. We headed back north towards Golden Nugget RV Park. I called the office to see if they had space for us. It was funny because the guy in the office started the reservation process “what’s your name, etc.” I asked him if I could do that when I got there as it would only be a few minutes. He said come on! We paid a little more than we wanted to but we were needing a camp. We had an appointment at the Honda service for the tow car in the morning. Anyway, it was good…full hookups, WiFi. Jim took the car in the morning and came back to the rig to wait on good/bad news about the tow. We did laundry and caught up on some things. Went back and picked up the car to wait until they ordered parts. We went downtown and parked the car at the JC Penney’s downtown. Went to the Visitor Center and took a trolley tour around the town. Very good tour guide…she was raised in Anchorage and she knew all about the history. Took us to Earthquake Park and told us all about the quake which happened on Good Friday 1964. There was a tsunami and everything. Quite amazing! Our guide finished our tour by singing the Alaska State Song. It was worth the $15. After the tour we walked all the way to the Snow City Café. Tom, the courtesy car driver, recommended it. It was very popular…we had to wait about 40 minutes to be seated. It was worth the wait. We drove around the area. Went back and walked thru Earthquake Park. Drove past the airport where we saw moose and saw some more. Cannot believe there are moose right in the town! We also stopped to take pics of FedEx planes taking off right over our heads. Next day took the tow back into the shop and had the courtesy car take us downtown. We took a free shuttle to the zoo. Very natural surroundings in the zoo. Saw lots of native animals…brown bears, Dall sheep, wolves, eagles, etc. Returned to the city and visited the Anchorage Museum…saw lots of beautiful art work and historical displays. Stayed for a beer in the lounge waiting for Tom to pick us up. Car will stay in shop for the night. Hope to pick up car in the morning and get out of town to Homer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Denali National Park, July 9-12, 2011

We drove the Parks Highway all the way to Denali National Park. We crossed over the Tanana and Nenana Rivers. The Nenana will travel alongside us all the way to the park. The weather and the road was very nice. Of course, we had a few frost heaves and bumps but nothing dramatic. I had to travel backwards through The Milepost as the mileage was measured from Anchorage. The entrance to the park was after crossing the Nenana River and at milepost A 237.4. Our campground is right near the entrance so we pulled right into the registration office. While registering for our site we were given a “B” site just like the young man had told me on the phone. I didn’t think that was right and even called back to confirm we would fit.
Well….when we checked in we were told we probably would not fit in a “B” site and there were no “A” sites left. We were able to unhook the tow and drive through the loops to see if one of the “B” sites would fit. We found a great pull-through, B103, in the Caribou Loop. Perfect! After getting set up, which was easy since there are no hookups, we drove to the Wilderness Visitor Center and checked in for our tour in the morning. We were given our tickets and told where to meet the bus. Since it was early in the afternoon we drove as far as we’re allowed in our car…the Savage River bridge and trailhead. On the way we stopped at a turnout just in time to see Mt. McKinley. Yes…we’re one of the lucky ones. The weather was clear and sunny and we had a nice showing in the distance. When we arrived at the Savage River bridge we were able to see one large male caribou on the riverbank just grazing on grass and shrubs. We considered a hike but thought it would be best left until later…it was too late to begin a hike.
We drove into “town” to check out where we would meet our tour tomorrow and found a cute restaurant, Pioneer Pizza, to eat. After stuffing ourselves with pizza and beer we eturned to our campsite and I took a little walk. There was a moose and her baby in our campground just walking through sites and munching on shrubs. I got some good close pics. I actually had to warn a couple that a moose was headed for their campground. They were turned away and had no idea what was coming towards them. That was very exciting.
For our first full day at the park we had scheduled a Tundra Wilderness Tour which travels by bus 53 miles into the park. Our appointed departure time from the Princess Denali Hotel was 7:40 AM. We arrived about 6:15 and waited in the hotel lobby. It was full of people taking one tour or another. Our tour bus pulled into the loading zone and then left…the bus had bad brakes and needed to be checked out before hitting the Park Road. We finally departed one and one-half hour late but were given a $50 voucher for the delay. It says we can redeem for cash…we’ll see.
The tour was great. Our driven was very professional and answered all our questions and seemed to know all about the park and the animals. We saw moose, caribou, grizzly bears and Dall sheep…and, of course, the most beautiful scenery. Mt. McKinley was not visible today but we had already seen it yesterday.
We only saw the bears because when the tour was at it’s end another bus driver told our driver that there were bears a little bit further down the road. He extended our tour just a little bit so we could see them. On our way back we saw caribou again. Our driver gave each of us a Tundra Wilderness companion booklet of photos and information. Our driver actually has about 5 pics in that booklet…one of the best photos, showing a pack of wolves fighting off bear from their moose kill. I consider us fortunate to have gotten him as our driver. After this tour we were exhausted…at least 8 hours on the bus bumping over the gravel roads and navigating around steep ledges a thousand or two feet up the side of a mountain. We got back home and collapsed.
The second full day we got up later in the morning and drove back out to Salmon River to do the loop hike. On the way we saw a mama moose and her baby walking not far from the road. We stopped a took more pics and just watched them move on by. We made it to the trailhead for the loop hike but could not find a place to park. We parked up the hill on a turnout and walked down to start the hike. We saw some grouse…it looked like a little family. One was on one side of the road and all the others on the opposite. “He” kept calling “lookout”! At least that’s what it sounded like to me. We finally made it to the beginning of the loop. The path follows the river to a footbridge and back down the other side. The WIND was BLOWING hard. It was not a hard walk and we made it around with no problems. We saw a family of ptarmigans. We were also able to see the old caribou again on the other side of the big bridge and he had two other caribou with him. On our drive back down the park road we stopped at the viewpoint and, yes, there was Mt. McKinley again. We are living right! We checked out the railroad depot and also the Savage Cabin on our drive back to the rig. We also made a trip to the bridge over the Nenana to take some photos of the water and the rafters. It was so windy we didn’t stay on the bridge long. It started raining after we got back home so we stayed in for the night and prepared for our next journey to Anchorage. It rained on and off all night. Denali was beautiful and it was fun staying in a campground right in the park. Next time we’ll need to stay at Teklanika Campground which is accessible only by permit and has a 3 day minimum stay. No hookups but it’s on the edge of the Teklanika River. That would be exciting!

Fairbanks, July 7-9, 2011

Another fabulous night camping. Last night a huge motorhome towing a trailer holding a very nice Jeep and a full size boat on a top level maneuvered carefully through the trees into a pull-through just near us. He was very patient. The interesting thing was watching him, all alone, load the Jeep back onto the trailer in the morning. He’s obviously done that a few times before.
We left the campground and got back on the road and headed to Fairbanks. We plan to spend a full day there and have a look around. We saw some more fire remnants in the forest areas and more swans on the water. We went through some rain and saw a beautiful full rainbow spanning the road before us. That’s the second rainbow I’ve seen. The road is about the same…some gravel repaired bits and potholes.. a few dips and bumps. No real problems. There are many places to pull off the road along the way. One rest stop had a telephone booth! We crossed the Robertson River and there was still ice on the sandy areas where water was not running. No time for a pic of that. I even saw a MOOSE! At first sight I thought it was a cow (I am from Texas afterall). Then I saw the ears! Can’t believe I finally saw one. I wanted to call my friend, Kay, but had no phone service. I’ll need to do that later. We did stop at a large rest stop for Jim to stretch his legs and to eat some lunch. It was right beside the Tenana River which was moving very fast. We got out to take some pics and walk around. There was a work crew there having lunch so I talked to one of the girls. They were Americorps! They pointed out that we could see Mt. McKinley from where we were. There were too many clouds covering the top but we could see some of it and several mountains along side. Too bad it wasn’t perfectly clear. We will be going to Denali in a couple of days so we’ll hope to see it then. After getting back on the road it wasn’t long before we arrived in Fairbanks. I told Jim it looked like Texas. I couldn’t see any mountains for the trees and the road looked flat…it was definitely warmer and very sunny. I may not have know we were that north in Alaska if I had just been plopped down in that place. We stopped at Sam’s Club first to shop and then found our campground. We’re at the River’s Edge RV Park right on Chena River. Motorboats and kayaks and jet skis go down the river. I even saw some ducks with ducklings last night. The bad news is that we had some trouble with the tow car. It was making the most horrible noise when braking…I thought it was grinding, Jim thought it was whining. Anyway, we called and took it into the shop this morning. They brought us back to the motorhome and we were back in time to take a city tour. It was perfect to fill the time until the shop called to say our car was repaired. Turns out it was rocks in the brake system. After we picked it up we went into the city and toured the Ice Museum. Fairbanks hosts an International Ice Sculpture competition every year and the Ice Museum has a film about it and also has refrigerated display cases with ice sculptures. We could actually go into a display room where ice sculptures were standing…it was 20 degrees! Cold but not unbearable for the short time we were in there to take pictures. There was a Chinese young man who did a demonstration for us too. It was worth the time and $11 fee. We left downtown after that and went to Pioneer Park, formerly Alaskaland. It’s a free park with lots of old buildings from early Fairbanks days. There is a playground and a train. We didn’t stay there long enough but saw lots while were there. It looked like a storm was coming so we headed home. Not long after getting back to the rig it started raining…a nice rain with lightning and thunder. Jim cooked some stew in the crockpot so we will eat well tonight. Tomorrow we will go on to Denali National Park. We have two days there in Riley Campground and will take the Tundra Wilderness Tour. Until next blog…hope you are having a great summer.

Road to Tok, Part 2, July 6, 2011

Destruction Bay, YT, to Tok, AK

The Cottonwood RV Park was a very nice place to stay. The lake was amazing and the color of the water was unbelievable…so green and deep blue. The lake is fed by a glacier and is so clear. Jim and I sat outside in the sun and watched a storm on the opposite of the lake. It just rolled along dropping lots of rain but not on us. The wind did begin to pick up as it moved and it was frigid. We kept looking around and waiting for the resident grizzly to show up. The owner of the park said one had been coming through the park in the last few days so we should keep our eyes open. He/she never showed up.
The night was great sleeping again…so cool. The morning was brilliant…opened the front window drapes to see the sun rising over the mountains…it was blinding. Almost hate to leave this place but we must travel on. We had heard some scary stories about the road from now until the Canadian/Alaskan border so we’re a little tentative. We did see more construction and came through a long patch of muddy gravel. Stones were flying everywhere. We could hear them hitting under the rig. We did hit a couple of very hard bumps. Thankfully no tires blew and no axles snapped. It got a lot better once we past through customs and back into the US. The scenery was a little different…we saw lots of areas which had been burned in previous years. New growth was apparent but in some places it looked like the trees had just burned. We did see lots of little waterways along the way and some had swans swimming. The Milepost said there would be and we did see swans. We came into Tok in the afternoon and headed straight to Young’s Chevron to fill up the motorhome. We could have stayed there for free overnight with a fill up but we thought we should find a proper campground. We found Tundra Lodge and RV Park on the Alaska Highway just past the fuel station. Very nice wooded campground with a rv and car wash. I’m sure they make a pretty penny since everyone making it that far has probably come through the muddy gravel too. We washed the tow but not the motorhome. Didn’t even have to unhook the tow…we just settled in for the night. I even did some laundry. So happy we have a small washing machine/dryer in the motorhome. We can only do small loads but it’s great! We’ll get up and head to Fairbanks in the morning.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Road to Tok, Alaska, July 5, 2011

We are leaving Haines Hitch-Up Campground. The lady in the office came out to wave us goodbye. Very nice campground. We headed out early in the morning and got on the Haines Highway which took us to Haines Junction where we connected with the Al-Can Highway. The most beautiful drive is from Haines to Haines Highway. Drove right alongside the Chilkat River and the Chilkat Range of mountains. Very good roads. We stopped at some scenic viewpoints and took pics but there is no way to capture the beauty of this area. You will have to see it to believe it. We even saw a phone booth all decorated with flowers! Crazy.
We went through Canadian Customs about 40 miles out of Haines. They asked lots of questions and came in the rig to check out our wine. We went through just fine. That stop took several minutes but it was no problem. The road started climbing up through Chilkat Pass(3,510 feet elevation). We got above the trees. There were some lakes and creeks and some snow and high peaks. We even saw swans! It started raining along this stretch when we got higher elevation. It was still fantastic to see. After passing through that part of the Haines Highway we went from British Columbia to Yukon Territory. From this place until Haines Junction we saw bears! Five in all! They were not together just by themselves on the side of the road. We think 2 black bears and 3 grizzlies. The roadside was also full of flowers…purple, white, yellow and even some bluebonnets!
We made the turn on the AlCan with no problem. It was right before you enter Haines Junction. We didn’t have far yet to go to the campground and the roads were OK. We saw a couple of cyclists…not together but on their own. We had seen a young man on each of our ferry rides who was riding a bike. Wished I would have asked him where he was going but I didn’t. Can’t believe someone would travel all through Alaska on a bicycle!
We had some construction on the highway just before our campground. Went through with no problem. We are camping at Cottonwood RV Park on the shore of Kluane Lake near Destruction Bay, Yukon Territory, Canada. Very nice lady at our campground. We have a site facing the lake. I need another word for beautiful…but it is beautiful. We’ll be on our way again tomorrow and hope to make it safely through any rough roads. We’ve heard all kinds of different stories about road conditions but feel sure we will see some tomorrow.

Haines, Alaska, July 3-July 5, 2011

This trip we were on the M/V Malaspina.  I saw a whale breeching!!! Too bad it wasn’t close enough for my camera. It was fantastic! We saw other whales but they were just swimming along taking breaths and blowing. They were all around us. I kept looking down into the water to see if one was there looking up at me.
We did go through some rain and ended up seeing a full double rainbow. Everyone was scrambling to get a pic….the whole thing would not fit into the viewfinder of the camera. Had to settle on bits. A man out on the deck took my pic and I took his with the rainbow in the background. It was so cool seeing the rainbow ends literally submerge themselves into the water. I will probably never see anything so amazing again.
We arrived in Haines about 9 PM and drove directly to the campground. Haines is beautiful driving into the town from the ferry. Small town at the foot of mountains. Magnificent! We ate red beans and rice at about 10 at night and did not go to sleep until midnight or after. It was still light!
Happy 4th of July! We woke up on the 4th and had a full day planned. We drove first to Chilkoot Lake. We spoke to State Trooper who was getting in a boat to check bear bait sites around the lake. Bear hunting is allowed by permit and hunter put out bait. They should have all been cleaned up by now and that’s why they were checking. We also met two ladies from Mississippi. They were traveling together through The Yukon and parts of Alaska. One lady had done it every summer for years and wanted to bring her friend. There is also a fish “dam” set up across the Chilkoot Lake and it is worked by a man who counts salmon going upstream. We stopped and talked to him for a while. He explained what he did and how the salmon run over the years. It’s fun to meet people like that. There were a couple of people actually wading into the water to fish. The area is famous for bear but we did not see any.
We headed back into town for the 4th celebration. We made it in time to watch the parade and then went to the park for the party. People were everywhere! They had games, food, book sale for the library and other things like a nail driving contest (they were using railroad spikes). We didn’t see the pie eating contest. We did buy lunch for $3.00 each…hot dog, chips and drink. It was all delicious. We sat at a picnic table with a couple originally from Colorado. They came to Haines on a tour about 8 years ago and ended up buying a house and moving there. They do have children in Anchorage but I’d understand why even if they didn’t have that reason. Haines is so small and quaint. Very laidback feel to it. After our conversation we went and bought some pie, sat down in the grass and enjoyed!
We left there and toured around the area and went back to the rig for a little rest. We ate some dinner and then headed to Ft. Seward for the music. We sat down on the grass and listened to the music and watched the people for a couple of hours. It was in the most beautiful setting….mountains all around. We finally got cold and tired and decided to go back home. It was a most perfect 4th of July in the most perfect setting. We leave tomorrow and head inland towards Fairbanks. We will stop in Destruction Bay for the night and go on again the next day. We have reservations at Cottonwood RV Park on Kluane Lake. Praying for good weather.

Juneau, Alaska, June 30-July 3, 2011

It’s June 30th and our last morning in Sitka. Since we were able to see about everything we wanted in the couple of days before we took it easy this morning. Our ferry to Juneau leaves at 1:30PM. We are taking the M/V Fairweather…the fast ferry. We should get to Juneau at 6 PM. The weather is overcast but it did clear a little by the time we left. It was another beautiful ferry trip. We got to Juneau on time and found our campground easily. It is a little run down with several permanent residents but the ladies who manage it are delightful. So helpful. When I checked in they went over local maps in detail and made several recommendations on what to see and where to eat. We did have sporadic internet and no cable TV. The campground is just down the street from Mendenhall Glacier. You can actually see it from the road driving to the campground. I can mountaintops from our rig. Bob and Pat are camping her too. We spent the evening getting settled in and planning the next day.
In the morning we got started as soon as possible and headed right to the glacier. I could not believe we could see it from the road. It’s right there! The weather was cloudy but not raining. It was perfect to see and photograph the glacier. We even took the trail to Nugget Falls right beside the glacier. We did have to cross some small creeks using stones to step on. All along the lake in front of the glacier were little bits of ice which were parts broken off the glacier. There were lots of “calves” in the water. The falls were loud and beautiful. We loved being able to get so close.
When we got back to the visitor center we went inside and saw the film and looked at the glacier and falls through several telescopes. Bob and Pat were there too! On our way into town we stopped at the Hatchery and took a small tour. Saw some salmon already coming back. They will harvest the eggs and fertilize with male sperm. They will grow the babies and tag each one before they release in a couple of years. Since the weather was nice we went into Juneau and picked up a map of the city from the visitors center. A very nice lady answered lots of questions and gave us lots of advice on what to see and where to eat. Everyone here is so nice! We walked over to the State Office Building and heard an organ concert on the 8th floor. This concert happens every day at lunch time. We left there and walked to the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. We went to the State Capitol Building and had a tour. The young man who gave the tour was from Ketchikan. We got to see both house and senate floors. Heard all about how they work and how the districts are handled. One of the public galleries is named for a woman who fought for the equal rights for native Alaskans. Left there and needed lunch. We found the Sourdough Bakery and had sandwiches. Walked back down to town and looked around. Finally made it back to the car and it was starting to rain again. Decided to go back to the rig. Juneau is a very beautiful city…surrounded by tall snow-covered mountains, glaciers and water.
Next day we drove through the city and toured the State Museum. A volunteer gave us a tour and had lots of good information about early Alaska. Once we finished there we headed out Thane Road. We went to the very end and came back stopping at Thane Ore House restaurant for lunch. We had fish and chips…beer battered haddock with French fries. These were the best beer battered fish I’d ever had. We sat at a table right beside a huge fireplace. Nice! Left there and parked back in town at that end of town and walked around the shops. We stopped at the Alaskan Brewery Depot shop and looked around. There is a tour at the brewery and free samples. We decided to stop by there on our way back to the rig. The place was packed with people “sampling” the beers. Jim and I tried a few ourselves. Jim wanted to buy a case of Stout. After he got the goods we had a tour…didn’t really go anywhere but heard a very good talk by one of the employes. The amazing thing was the first run was all done by volunteers. Every year they did it that way until too many people wanted to volunteer…that’s when the owners set it up officially with paid employes. Very good beer. They sold the glasses we got in Ketchikan for “free” at Fat Stan’s. We paid $6.00 for those beers! The glasses sell for $5.95! We got a good deal…glass with a free beer! Left there feeling very satisfied and went by the Fred Meyer. Very nice store! Need to shop here more. Went back to the rig and just dropped off what we bought. Went on a drive out Glacier Highway to the end. Beautiful scenery on the way and took lots of pics. Saw a black bear on the side of the road on the way back to the rig. Read in the paper that a man had been arrested for feeding black bears…he lives near where we saw the bear. We were leaving tomorrow so we went back to plan. It will be the last trip on the ferry. I’ll miss the water once we start traveling on the mainland.
In the morning we got everything ready to leave and took off. We wanted to get propane and fuel before checking in at the ferry. Did that and headed to the terminal. We were able to check in early and park the rig in a staging lane and still go into town in the tow car. We went in and had lunch at Tracy’s King Crab Shack. Heard about it on the internet. It’s a little food trailer on the dock near the cruise ships. The line was long and it was cold and windy. We went ahead and ordered a bucket of pieces…$50! It was worth the wait…2 lbs. of king crab legs. Delicious! That was it for us in Juneau…time to head back to the ferry terminal to wait for boarding. We left the dock at about 4:30 PM headed for Haines.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

On to Sitka...24 hour ferry, June 26-30, 2011

Got to the ferry early, checked in and parked in our lanes. That gave us time to do some more walking and driving around the town. Made our last stop at Fat Stan’s and had our farewell dinner. We left Ketchikan on June 26th at 11:45 PM. We were again traveling on the M/V Taku.  We were beginning our longest ferry ride..24 hours to Sitka. We would make three stops on the way..Wrangell, Petersburg and Kake. Some of the people we met on the first ferry were on this one too. We were all traveling together. Jim and I got on just fine with no worries and Jim managed to get us a cabin so we could get some sleep. We were prepared to sleep on the deck if necessary but the cabin was nice. Full private bath too. We only slept until Wrangell..6 hours. We got up to see the sights on the way to Petersburg. Very narrow passage with mountains all around. Saw some whales too! Tried to get some pics. We did find some time for breakfast...french toast with bacon. Very good and price was OK. Everything is more expensive. Made all the stops…Kake was the smallest. Lots of people got off the ferry and just started walking. I found that to be weird. Just before the ferry was to depart here come all those people walking back. I guess they just wanted to see a little of the area and stretch their legs. We finally made it to Sitka in the dark. Our campground is near the ferry terminal but we managed to pass up the entrance. Jim pulled over while I drove back to find the campground entrance. It all ended up fine. A couple of friends we met were camping there too. We all set up in the dark. Time for bed!!
Got up the next day and it is raining. We set off anyway headed to town for a walking tour on our own. Found a map and started with Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center and Sitka National Historical Park. Looked at all the exhibits inside but decided to wait on the outside as it was still raining. We drove nearby to the Sheldon Jackson Museum. If you ever go to Sitka you must see this. Small museum but brimming with exhibits. Cabinets and walls were full as well as drawers with more. We saw lots about the Tlinget people and how they lived in this area. Next we walked to the Russian Bishop's House...built in 1842 for Alaska's first Russian Orthodox Bishop. Downstairs had lots of explanation about Russian-Alaska history and upstairs was still set up with furniture etc. from the Bishop's time. Some of the furniture was made by the first Bishop. We were guided by a ranger through the upstairs.
We walked around a little bit then drove through downtown and parked down at Totem Square. We found a nice restaurant for lunch. I had delicious halibut tacos and Jim had a seafood salad. We decided to walk after lunch and first came upon the Pioneer's Home. Beautiful large building with statue and lush gardens. We went inside and found out it was the Pioneer's Home...a rest home for veterans. We thought we should go on and find somewhere else to see. We went to downtown Sitka and tried to see St. Michael's Cathedral but it was locked. We went through some shops then decided to go back to the camp and plan our next day. On the way we stopped at a grocery store in town. I checked out the avocados…almost $5 each!!!! No guacamole for us.
The next day we got started early it was a little cloudy but no significant rain and some blue skies. We wanted to drive up to a viewpoint high above Sitka. Harbor Mountain Road was nearby and paved for the first mile. Then it became gravel but still OK. After about 5 miles it became very narrow and twisty and steep in some places. We even came to a big (and I mean BIG) puddle in the middle of the road. Jim managed to drive around it so we continued on. We made it to the trailhead but the trail up was 6 miles and we didn’t want to walk that much. We drove back down a little ways to another trail and hiked over planking to the viewpoint. It would have been breathtaking if there were no clouds but we still managed to see forever when the clouds rolled by. It was well worth the drive and hike. Going back down was easier…we had already seen the road and knew what to expect. We met several cars coming up. So happy we got there early. When we got back on the main highway we headed all the way to the end of the main road to see the Fortress of the Bear. Nice drive all the way...beautiful scenery. We stopped at Whale Park to look for whales. We didn't see any but it was worth the stop. I imagine it is fantastic to look out and see whales feeding during the migration. I guess we'll need to come back then.
We continued our drive and finally made it to the end. We passed up the entrance...not very good road signage we seen so far. Anyway, we went in and bought a ticket. This place raises orphaned bears..mostly grizzlies. When they can they ship them to other wildlife habitats. Right now they have five grizzlies...three siblings in one area and two siblings in another. I took lots of pics and movies. There area also eagles flying all around. They like to get the scraps of fish away from the bears. It was a pretty amazing feeding frenzy. The man who talked to us told us lots about bears and how they take care of the cubs they get. Lots of work involved.
We left there and went back to town to walk through the Sitka National Historical Park, visited St.Michael's Cathedral, climbed Castle Hill and visited the Alaskan Raptor Center. We've enjoyed it all and met lots of very nice people. Even though the weather has been rainy in Sitka we've managed to see lots and learn about the history of Russian America and how Alaska was purchased by America. There is so much history that is never heard unless you travel to the area.

Ketchikan, Alaska, June 23-26, 2011

We set out on the M/V Taku.  The ferry trip to Ketchikan was 6 hours in the early morning. So exciting to see everything along the way. Met some people on the ferry and some are following our destinations…Mark and Mary (and their two big dogs) from Michigan and Bob and Pat from Mississippi. Got to Ketchikan and off the ferry and found our campground, Clover Pass RV Campground. It is a fishing marina and our site was back behind the little hotel. Not exactly the water view I thought. We only paid for one night in anticipation of finding something better. We did get out and looked at some other camps but decided we were hooked up and decided to stay. It helped that I could see bald eagles from our rig! Some of the ferry people were camping there too.
Ketchikan is a big cruise ship port. There were four ships in port when we got there. The town is very touristy...lots of shops selling trinkets right alongside shops selling diamonds and furs. We got a walking tour map and set off. Saw Creek Street...formerly the area for brothels now full of t-shirt shops and such. A creek with waterfall runs right through the middle. Very interesting. There are also boardwalks all through the town. Of course, it's built on the side of a mountain! Jim and I walked up lots of stairs and down many streets with homes. Saw lots of bald eagles flying all around. We even found a little back street near the docks and found eagles catching fish in the water. Nice pics and movies of that. We ate fish and chips on the dock one lunchtime and Mexican food for dinner at the Oceanview our last night. Found a little bar (coupon in visitor's book) named Fat Stan's the first day. We used the coupon for a free glass with a beer. The beer was $6! The glass is nice. We managed to visit Fat Stan's every day and collected 6 glasses! We figured we needed a set.
One day we drove out past the town all the way to the end of the road. Saw some waterfalls and open water with lots of fishing boats. Saw lots of people stopped on a bridge so we decided to join them...they were watching a tree full of eagles. If only my eyes were cameras I would have some amazing shots. Did take some pics but I'm not as fast as the eagles. Some were flying all around us and right overhead. I saw several fly down low right along the road and around a curve through the trees. Looked like a movie! We met a man who had come just for fishing. He stopped and talked to us for a while.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hyder to Prince Rupert and the ferry, June 20-21, 2011

I can't believe the last time I wrote here was June 19th. We were in Hyder, AK, looking for bears. We did find them...a mama grizzly with one 2-year old baby. We were able to watch them feed on grass and look longingly into Fish Creek for salmon. We also saw a black bear in our campground raiding someone's trash. It was fun watching until someone came and shooshed him (or her) away.
We also took an exciting drive up to Salmon Glacier...the road was gravel and full of holes. Some of the places were very narrow and steep. Finally made it to the top and met The Bear Man. This man has been camping at the Glacier for the last 30 summers. He has written books and has a photo album with lots of pics of the glacier and wildlife he's seen. Very interesting to talk to. We were the only people up there so we had a nice conversation and I took his pic with Jim. Jim also bought one of his books on bears.
After Hyder we went back through Stewart and the same road we came on and across the wooden bridge spanning Nass River. Saw some bears and deer and a family of grouse...the mom must have had 15 tiny chicks with her. Traffic was stopped in both directions to let them get off the road.
We made it to Prince Rupert on June 21 and camped at the Prince Rupert RV campground near the ferry terminal. We will get on the ferry, our first, on June 23rd. We have to check in at 3:30 AM for our 6:30 AM departure for Ketchikan.
All the scenery to Prince Rupert was beautiful. Followed alongside the Skeena River, a very fast river cutting through the valley. It was all so beautiful to see.
We got to Prince Rupert and looked around the town. We went to the ferry terminal to make sure of what we needed to do the next EARLY morning.
Did manage to get some sleep that night. Jim slept on the couch to make sure he heard anyone else leaving. There was only one road out of the campground and we were sure many of the people there were going to catch the same ferry as us. We left around 2:30 am and got to the ferry just fine. The crews were already beginning to wake people sleeping in the approach. We were shown through to the terminal, checked in and got in line. Next thing we were boarding. We were loaded with no problems...and all that worry for nothing.