The High One

This part of the trip is all about Denali and crossing our fingers that we get to see THE mountain in all its glory.

Nenana

We have a very short driving day to get to our Denali campground, so we take our sweet time.  Right about lunchtime we’re at the little town of Nenana (pronounced Knee + short name for Grandma).  Right before we stop, I’m reading all about their claim to fame – the Nenana Ice Classic.  You buy a ticket and guess the exact day and time, to the minute, that the Tanana River ice will break up at Nenana.  They put a tripod on the ice connected to a clock that stops as the ice goes out.  I know it sounds hokey, but the 2017 jackpot was $267,444 and they had guesses from all over the world.  Thousands and thousands of guesses!

So we pays our money and takes our chances as they say.  I’m putting in a ticket for my good friend Barbara and Pat is entering ours.  The date range from past years is April 20th through May 22nd, so I picked Ethan’s birth date and time – 4/25 at 12:36pm.  We’ll be watching that river cam in 2018!  And Yes, Pat’s head is chopped off.  I’ve been trying to figure out the issue with some of my pictures.  Well, the ones on my cell phone seem to creatively crop themselves when I transfer them in a smaller size.  Dang new phone.

A really cute town and RV friendly.  We could park on the road anywhere.  Took a walk around and saw the Nenana bridge over the Tanana River with the ice tripod.  Also had a nice lunch at Rough Woods Cafe and shared the dining room with Earl the Burl.  I tried some reindeer sausage and Pat had sourdough pancakes.  Sourdough is big up here.  In case you didn’t know, a burl is a deformed tree growth.  They are prized up here and used to make mailbox posts and such.

Denali RV Park & Motel

Our campground was a crowded spot right off the road which is being repaved.  The road crew is working 8pm to 8am with huge trucks full of asphalt driving by.  And they are striping the finished sections which means they grind out a strip of new pavement, then follow with a truck spraying in reflective paint filler that looks a lot like marshmallow creme.  We figure we have to listen to it all night, so may as well learn a thing or two.  The road crew guys and gals are very friendly and one gave us a restaurant recommendation while we waited for the pilot car.

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Our friend the pilot car & the asphalt trucks

It is a pretty spot though.  The whole area is gorgeous and we spend a morning hiking behind the campground.

This is Antler Creek and the other shot showcases the fireweed against the mountains.

The tundra makes for interesting hiking.  It’s spongy and Jackson has to get used to how it feels.  Like you are walking on lumpy carpeting with lichen, moss and rocks all mixed in.  Some of the rocks look like marble.

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And the prickly roses are everywhere.  They are bigger shrubs, prefer the riverbanks, and have a very sweet, strong smell.  You smell them on the trail even if you can’t see them.

Denali National Park

We opted for camping outside the park since the campgrounds inside don’t have services.  They do have a great visitor’s center, Wilderness Access Center, and dog kennels for the sled dog team.  The dog kennels were highly recommended, so we took the free tour.

The dogs are Alaskan huskies and aren’t recognized as an official breed since they come in all colors and sizes.  Beautiful dogs.  S’more struck a post for us.  Happy and Cupcake, 2 year olds, enjoyed a little playtime and the ranger loves on their best lead dog who is retiring at nine years of age.

The summer training cart.  I was a little disappointed that they only made one lap for us.  I wanted to see more mushing!  The dogs really want to run, too.  They were described by the ranger as the most enthusiastic government employees you’ll ever meet.

Of course if you want to see anything much in the park, you have to take a bus tour.  The road into the park is only open for the public to drive for the first 15 miles.  We did that, but also took a 6 hour shuttle to mile 56.  You can only go 92 miles in by road, but that is a 12 hour bus ride.  Six hours was plenty in my opinion.

We picked a gorgeous day to ride in the park, but it was the middle of the day and got warm out.  We hoped for a lot of animal sightings, but not so many we think because of the heat.  The views were stunning, so we weren’t disappointed.  But, you really can’t see Denali from many spots on the drive which surprised us.

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Gorgeous Alaska Range

As for the animals, we saw a raven,  two caribou – one faaaar away and one closer.  Pat spotted that closer one and I hollered stop for the bus driver.  Also saw a few ground squirrels, Dall Sheep from even farther away, and mew gulls on the river.  They look just like sea gulls.

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I was happy to see the Dall Sheep, even from so far, since they are one of the reasons that the park exists.  Naturalist Charles Sheldon lobbied for lands to protect the sheep who have hooves almost like suction cups to traverse the steep rocky cliffs.  Today they are up high to escape the heat and predators who are not quite as sure-footed.

A fabulous day for views in the park, but bust as far as large animal spotting goes.  No bear – black or grizzly, and particularly no moose.  But, we have a surprise on Saturday night.  I read that the local Catholic priest holds Mass at the Wildlife Access Center on Saturday evenings and we figure that’s a cool place to worship.  Right before Mass was to begin, the former Park Ranger turned Catholic priest waves us over to the back porch.

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It’s mama moose munching on a tree!  To the left you can see the stilts under the building.  We’re up that high and almost eye level with this big gal.  They weigh almost 1800 pounds!  This time of year they have calves and are all around this area.   Finally get the close view and we’re probably only 30 feet away.  I told the priest it was the best Mass ever.  He says this place is heaven on earth.

Denali State Park.

We’d read that people thought the state park was even better than the national park.  After visiting both, we totally agree.  Of course the national park has Denali, but what good is that if you can’t really SEE it!  The statistic you always hear is that only 30% of visitors ever see the entire mountain.  We were afraid we’d be in that sad 70%, but our weather luck came through and we basked in the mountain views from K’esugi Ken Campground in the state park.  A brand new park, opened less than a month before our arrival, with truly spectacular views of the Alaska Range and Denali.

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Jackson was tired when we arrived, so Pat sat at the campsite while I took a quick walk to an overlook.  Oh my gosh!  I couldn’t believe how beautiful Denali is.  At first a cloud blocked the peak, so I sat on a rock and waited.  In less than 30 minutes I was rewarded with this shot, and these….

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A spiritual experience.  I had a hard time sitting in the presence of the mountain and kept standing back up.  Just majestic, spectacular, stunning and any other grandiose adjective you can think of.  I just read a quote from Robert Service poetry that describes it perfectly.  “It’s the beauty that fills me with wonder, It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.”

We had lunch two days in a row at McKinley View Lodge just down the road.  Fantastic fresh grilled halibut sandwiches and baked goods.  We learned from the first day that you need to purchase your brownies, cookies, cinnamon rolls, 7-layer bars, etc. right away.  If not, a tour bus or two will pull in and wipe them out.  I missed out on a giant cinnamon roll the first day, but we scored on day two.

This spot was the homestead of Mary Carey.  She came to Alaska to teach and write after her husband died.  She said that the National Park was in the wrong place, and the best views to be had were here.  No doubt!  The view off her side deck is spectacular as is the one from the campground and formerly part of her homestead property.  Her daughter regaled us with tales from her mom and convinced me I needed to read Mary’s book – “Alaska – NOT for a Woman”.  I’m working on it now.

K’esugi Ridge Trail

One of the best hiking trails in Alaska and should be on everyone’s “life list” says a website review we read.  We only completed 6.2 miles of this trail, but it was a fabulous 6.2.

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This shot was taken by a kind hiker passing by.  We’re not even to the top yet, but have a grand panorama of the Chulitna River, Ruth Glacier and of course, Denali, which is the Tanaina Indian word for ‘the high one’.

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Denali is the 20,320 ft peak to the right.  Mt. Hunter at 14,573 to the left, and Ruth Glacier flowing in a curve between the two.  The Chulitna River “braids” its way through the valley.

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We hiked down the other side of the ridge to Lake 1787, named for its elevation.  There was a huge beaver dam to the left.  A completely unspoiled, undeveloped lake.DSC00456

The Tokosha Mountains in front of Denali caught our eye.  Like giant teeth rising out of the bowl of snow.

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Another favorite of mine.  Looks like a floating mountain in the sky.  One of the reasons people have a hard time seeing the peak is because Denali is tall enough to generate its own weather.  The park information boards describe it as playing hide and seek with the clouds.

The Day With No View

Of the 3 days in the state park, two of them were stunning.  The other was socked in completely and it drizzled all day.  Days like that don’t bother us, and it gives us a good excuse to get some chores done.  I made a bunch of cards since I have a few special friends with birthdays in July.  Pat read one of his favorite Jim Butcher novels.

We also managed to get some things done on the days with views.  I used gorilla tape to completely seal out the light from the bedroom windows.  Since then I’ve had some marvelous sleep!  Pat on the other hand picked 40-50 bees out of the radiator and installed protective mesh.  He also lubed the slideouts, added water to the batteries and fixed a broken tab on the sewer cap.

If you made it this far I applaud your fortitude.  Long post, but I just couldn’t leave anything out.  Next up is Talkeetna and what to do about bears and moose.  See you on the way!

 

 

 

Arctic Expedition

This was my splurge side-trip.  I had to do some fast talking since Pat was ok with just crossing the Arctic Circle.  Me?  I HAD to get all the way to the Arctic Ocean.  Just had to.

The Options

There are a few ways to do this, and we investigated them all.  You can drive the Dalton Highway, better known as the Haul Road.  Also famous for the show Ice Road Truckers.  It’s a 414 mile gravel road, that was built for the oil industry.  About 160 trucks travel this road daily and anyone driving it in a car is encouraged to carry survival gear.  Given the cracked windshields and flat tires on top of all that, we nixed that route for both Lucy and Bitsy.

You can rent a car, but it is still a significant time commitment and still all that bad road risk.  You can also book a tour to get to Prudhoe Bay, but there are only oil fields there and no Arctic Ocean access.  So, fly we must.  Plus we can get to Barrow, see the Arctic Ocean, and visit the Northern-most city in the United States.

Coldfoot

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The flight leaves Fairbanks around 8am and takes us to Coldfoot, AK and the city closest to the Arctic Circle.  The pilot dipped the wings to let us know when we officially left the Tropics and entered the Arctic.  Here we are at the Coldfoot airfield.  This city was named for the gold rush folks who got cold feet and headed back south.

Fashionable in our headsets to drown out the engine noise and to hear the pilot’s commentary.  I know I look maniacal and you can see up my nose, but that’s the best shot I have.

This trip came with a risk.  We had to have good weather in Barrow to make it all the way.  The pilot took us to Coldfoot to add enough fuel to ensure we could turn around and make it back if the coast took a bad turn.  Todd, our pilot, was constantly checking on weather reports right up until landing.  Fortunately the weather was bad in Fairbanks coming and going, but fabulous in Coldfoot and good enough in Barrow.

Brooks Range

The Arctic Ocean was the goal, but I was completely taken with the stunning Brooks Range.  This mountain range spans 700 miles and was incredible from the air.  These are a few of my favorite shots:

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The last one is a great view of the Yukon River with the Alaska Pipeline and Haul Road running side-by-side and criss-crossing the river.

As we neared the coast, the mountain range gave way to the frozen tundra.  Completely different look.

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Utqiaġvik

Barrow is now back to a variation of its original name.  Inupiats, the native residents, call it Utqiagvik and it involves rolling the ‘g’ when you say it.  We had an Inupiat guide in Barrow and I tried, but couldn’t duplicate her pronunciation.

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The original name means “the place where we hunt snowy owls”.  Phoebe told us they no longer hunt the snowy owl, but it is part of their heritage.

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The native residents still hunt the bowhead whale in Spring and Fall to provide their main food source all year long.  Pat’s telling his big fish tale next to a whale skull.  The community whaling teams go out on the ocean and kill up to three whales at a time.  After that, they call a cease fire so the whales can be butchered and the meat put up properly.  They eat everything except the brains and share it all equally among all the residents.  We’re amazed at how collaborative and tight-knit the community is, but then their lives depend upon that way of life.

We discovered from the town sign-post that we were closer to France than to Florida at this spot!  Pat was amused by the Arctic Pizza place and we made it to the Top of the World Bridge.  No longer in service, but a historic spot nonetheless.

 

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Scenes from Barrow.  They have leftover quonset huts from the military that have been re-purposed for housing.  Also, the houses and the town buildings are on stilts.  We thought it was for flooding, but no.  It is to prevent thawing of the permafrost.  That permafrost is what provides the firm foundation, so no buildings touch the ground.

Arctic Ocean

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And here we are!  I’m grinning like a fool and so happy to have made it to the frozen Arctic Ocean.  I wanted to dip toes in, but it was not to be.  This water doesn’t thaw until around the 4th of July.

The lagoon across from the ocean is home to the “summer cabins” used to hang out on the weekends, and they have their own palm trees made from driftwood and whale parts.

All total, we were in Barrow for about 2 and a half hours.  A short stop, but it’s roughly a three hour flight each way.  Alaska is so vast, and this trip helped us to really understand that firsthand.  We landed and it was cloudy, 31 degrees with light snow flurries.  When we left, the sun was shining and it was gorgeous.  Still a biting wind, but a lovely day in this part of the world.  The pilot said we picked a great day.  Indeed!

The Return

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The return flight was back towards stormy Fairbanks.  Made for grand cloud formations and different lighting to showcase the Brooks Range once again.  Just couldn’t get enough of these mountains.

Jackson’s Big Adventure

This trip involved some risk of weather delays.  The kind that could keep us in the Arctic overnight.  So, we found a great kennel for Jackson for two nights.  Holy Dog Kennels took great care of him.  He hung out with the other “seniors”, got playtime outside, treats, and a manicure.

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They call this the Holy Dog hangover.  I’d say a good time was had by all!

Next up – Denali!  See you on the way!

 

Cold, Hot & Finally Fairbanks

We have some unscheduled time before our next set of reservations in Fairbanks.  A nice soak in the hot springs sounds about right, so away we go.

Chena Hot Springs

This stop involves a 60 mile or so drive where the first 20 miles is uppy downy the whole way.  That rippled roadway I told you about.  That’s ok since we’re getting used to it and we hope to at least see some wildlife.  Pat actually gets the first moose sighting, or so he thinks.  I’m texting and miss it – drat!  This resort has a lodge, but also a campground.  No frills, no services including cell or wi-fi, but we are right by another babbling brook.  And by right by, I mean about five feet away.

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First the cold – about 25 degrees in the Aurora Ice Museum.  I’m seated on snuggly caribou hide covering barstools made entirely of ice.  In fact, everything in here is made from ice.  A couple carved everything in the place.  They win ice carving awards every year and maintain the exhibits.  Phenomenal work and I’m sure gives them something to do during the dark, cold winters.

We’re mesmerized by the gal carving the martini glasses out of ice blocks.  If you want, you can pay extra for an apple-tini served in one of these babies.  We’re not martini fans, so we just watched that part.  Apparently this is super popular in the Winter and they have to make 150-180 of these glasses a day to stockpile for the busy season.  This is a great Aurora Borealis viewing spot.  Not so much now since we don’t get any darkness!  A few of our favorite ice items – the expressive face, ice wall, jousting knights and the flowers encased in ice.  So interesting to hear about the carving techniques.  They had a sticker in there – “Alaska Chainsaw Club – 1 and 1/2 thumbs up”, plus an amazing array of carving tools and, of course, chainsaws.

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The Aurora Ice Museum – amazingly, this is not a permanent structure.  It is a giant greenhouse looking thing with canvas walls that are insulated to protect the ice sculptures inside.

Next – the hot!  We had to take a soak in the hot springs.  I am not a water person at all, but did break out the bathing suit for this part.  The springs are 165 degrees, so they actually have to cool the water down for the outdoor soaking pool.  Some parts of the water are so hot there is steam rising from it.  We steered clear of those spots and had a relaxing soak.

This place is proud of the fact that they are off the power grid and make their own electricity using the natural geothermal energy.  They offer free tours of their power plant and on site green houses.  Not only do they make their own power, they grow all the lovely plants used to decorate the property, and grow all the tomatoes and lettuce for the restaurant.

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It’s all grown using hydroponics.  We ate in the restaurant and enjoyed the super fresh tomatoes and lettuce in the salads.

They are also raising animals in the hopes of providing all their own meat eventually.  They have a small reindeer herd with a one month old baby reindeer.  Such a cutie, but I didn’t take a picture of him when I had the chance.  There are also chickens and goats who were not fans of Jackson, and neither was mama duck who steered her nine babies away when we got too near.  We didn’t tour the sled dog kennel, but we could hear them.  All in all, a very interesting place and we did see a big moose cow on the way to Fairbanks.  I wasn’t fast enough for a picture.

Retail Therapy

Fairbanks is a big enough city to finally source a few replacement items.  I now have a new cell phone, and we managed to ditch the old microwave/convection oven and buy a new microwave/grill at Wal-Mart.  We’re also able to eat a few meals out and buy our Alaska Tour Saver book.  This has some great two for one deals in it, and everyone says you much have one.

We saved our first few dollars at the theater.  The live production at Pioneer Park’s theater was hilarious and showcases how Fairbanks came to be, and how the full-time residents live.  We hadn’t been to an “act out” as Ethan used to call them in ages, so it was a nice evening out.  Plus, when else can you exit the show at 9:30 pm and still have broad daylight for the drive home?

Riverboat Discovery

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We saved again with a 2 for 1 deal on the Riverboat.  It was a few hours on the Tanana River complete with some other sightseeing moments.  We got to see a bush pilot take off and land on the river.

There was also a stop alongside the dog kennel that belonged to Susan Butcher – 4 time Iditarod winner.  This is the rugged 1100 mile dog-mushing race that takes place every year in the dead of winter.  She passed away from cancer, but her family maintains the kennel and they showed off the very enthusiastic dog team.

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One of the many dog kennels on the riverbank.

Finally, we stopped off at an Athabascan Native American village replica.

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This young lady told about her Athabascan heritage and described her family’s fish camp up river.  They still spend the summers there catching salmon and preparing them using their family recipe.

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She demonstrated preparation of the salmon for dogfood.  The dog teams need lots of fat and good protein to maintain their energy in the winter.  The people salmon is usually the better quality fish, but all are initially dried this way.  On the return boat ride, we got to try a scrumptious salmon dip.  I’m not a fan of cooked salmon, but have to say that dip was awesome.  I’m not ashamed to say I went back four times!

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They Athabascans are also great trappers and the guides showed off the fox pelts – four different breeds – red, gray, silver & arctic.  Isn’t the Arctic Fox gorgeous?

The North Pole

We actually stopped here on the way to Chena Hot Springs and again before departing the Fairbanks area.  Our campground technically had a North Pole address, so we can say we’ve lived at the North Pole – at least for a week!

The visitor’s center is great fun and they directed us to see a group of authentic log cabins complete with sod roofs.  The residents in this little area live in them year round.

20170408 Santa Claus is on duty full-time in this town.  Well except when he is busy on Christmas Eve.  I figured it didn’t hurt to get in a good word early this year.  Next to Santa’s house is a reindeer herd and the Police Department is located at One Santa Claus Lane.  The streetlamps are all striped like big candy canes and the church?  Well that would be named after Saint Nicholas.

Fairbanks was also the starting point for our big Arctic Expedition, but I’ll save that for a post all its own.  It was that awesome!  See you on the way!

Million Dollar Falls & The Recovery

Spring was just beginning to show itself in the Yukon after we left Haines.  We still weren’t feeling too hot, but were determined to move along as planned.

Million Dollar Falls Campground

Next stop was Million Dollar Falls Campground, just south of Haines Junction, YT.  Another lovely Yukon Territory campground and a short driving day for us.  It’s quite a scenic drive, complete with trumpeter swans on the lakes, but we weren’t too interested in many photo stops.

We did pull off at the Haines Highway Summit at the top of Chilkat Pass.  Barren and another spot I’d call a lonely beauty.  This was the route used by the Dalton Trail during the Klondike Gold Rush.  Some really unforgiving territory for sure.

The campground got its name for the $13 million dollar price tag associated with the Haines Highway, built in 1943.  (That’s 140 million in today’s dollars).  Mile 103 where the campground is today was the site of one of the road construction camps.

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Our campsite was nice and private with the sound of Takhanne Falls in the background.

We walked the quiet campground road with Jackson and he managed to find and eat some moose poop.  Also checked out the rugged rocks at the falls.  The woods looked like a colorized black and white photo with the gray sky and dead Spruce trees mixed in.

We spent two nights here with no services – cell or wi-fi.  Not our smartest move considering how bad we felt.  Time to move on and we’re still feeling puny, aaaand Jackson has an accident in the night.

We Mush On

Onward we go and we’re shooting for Beaver Creek in the Yukon for the next stop.  We’re still pitiful and don’t make that since we had a slow start with the rug scrubbing required before leaving Million Dollar Falls.  (Jackson is very sorry…)  We see caution signs for an active forest fire, and in fact, a helicopter with a water bucket takes off right in front of us.

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Pat slowed down for this one in case the bucket took a bad swing.

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We also get a look at Kluane Lake – largest in the Yukon at 154 square miles.

Since Beaver Creek was just too far for us this day, we stopped at Discovery Yukon Lodgings.  It really isn’t in a town, so they have a generator they run 24×7 to power the place.  Interesting and a little noisy.  We had our own airstrip at this spot.

The Holding Pattern

This attempt to keep on schedule despite the flu is folly we decide.  We’re going to the next place with full services and stay until we die or feel better.  Such a shame to pass all this great scenery and say ‘meh’.  We cross back into Alaska and surrender to the rest we need for four days in Tok – rhymes with poke.  Fast Eddie’s is within walking distance for mediocre food since the cupboards are almost bare, and they have laundry since everything is yucky sicky dirty.

We had the most interesting experience at the Tok Medical Clinic.  I was worried about pneumonia and it seemed like a chest thing by now.  The focus here seems to be for the Native American community and I am grilled by nurse #1 on my issue before they agree to see me.  I fill out a clipboard full of paperwork, and then nurse #2 comes out to tell me they can’t see me until Monday unless it is an emergency.  It is Friday at this point.  Hushed talk ensues at the desk and nurse #2 does not seem happy at all.  In the end a nice young doctor from Chicago examines me.  He’s been there three weeks he says and essentially apologizes for their humble clinic while rubbing his forehead.  The x-ray machine has to be 35 years old he tells me. (Which would be older than him!)  Northern Exposure was based on such a premise.  Anyhoo, turns out I am going to live and just need more rest.  Still not sure if there was just some nurse power struggle going on there or if I was not the minority that was supposed to be there.  I was a “traveler” after all in their words.

Delta Junction

We are fit to travel again and stay one night in Delta Junction, the official “end” of the Alaskan Highway.  Normally people start at the beginning of the Alcan in Canada and finish up here, but we are doing it backwards.  We won’t actually do the “start” until the way back to the lower 48.

 

They have some fun stuff at the visitor center.  Fortunately we haven’t encountered any big wildlife in the road, but we have seem plenty of BIG mosquitoes.  I thought they were big in Florida until I went to North Dakota.  Then we made it here, and Alaska wins the prize!

Here’s one of the buggers I killed just tonight!  And my secret weapon – a bug zapper shaped like a tennis racket.  I cannot tell you the pleasure I get from this thing.  Zzzt!  Zzzt!

The Breaking Streak Continues

Yes, more “developments” to report.  When we arrived in Tok, I opened a top bin and wham – a ceramic flower vase came flying out and crashed on the counter.  I was so happy it didn’t break.  When I looked again I realize that it didn’t break because my phone broke the fall.  Argh – broken phone screen.  It still works, but is a little hinky, especially when I try and actually talk on the phone.  I slap a piece of packing tape over the top and we put it on the list of “stuff to do” in civilization.

When we’re leaving Tok, the car external brake isn’t “talking” to the monitor in the RV.  We had trouble with the connector cable and it seems to be the issue.  We put it on the list to order a new one.  Honestly.

Frost Heaves

We read about these before out trip and how they will jangle your teeth out.  They do indeed jangle you, the dog and everything in the RV.  Not quite what I pictured though.  Apparently the permafrost beneath the road thaws, and that causes the frost heaves, or waves in the pavement.  As you’re driving you can see the road literally rippling.  Road crews work tirelessly this time of year to repair the frost heaves.  That means asphalt haphazardly slapped on in the Yukon,  whole sections replaced in Alaska, and miles of it reduced to gravel road as they rip it all out and start again.  All you can do is slow down and hold on.

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Here’s a spot in the Yukon that doesn’t look promising.  The whole road is blocked with a big pile of dirt.

But good news.  You just go around the pile off the side of the road.  We can’t decide if a dry dusty road that chokes poor Bitsy is better or the wet, muddy stuff.  The best, or should I say worst, potholes and heaves are marked with orange cones.  Or lately they’ve resorted to paper plates on sticks.  Use what you got I always say.

Our next driving day takes us past the Alaskan pipeline.  We round the corner and there it is suspended over a bridge.  Pretty impressive sight.  Then we drive past a military base and four fighter planes land along side us as we pass by.  You just never know what you’re going to see on driving days.

The Midnight Sun

We come from the Sunshine State and are big fans of the sun, but we wish it would go away, at least for a few hours.  Right now sunset is at 12:40 am and sunrise is at 3:04 am.  I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around sunset on a different day.  And even when the sun is “down”, it’s twilight.  There is no true darkness, and it seriously messes up your sleep schedule.

We’ve tried a few things to darken the motorhome.  I started with a towel over the shower door to block the skylight, then progressed to a blanket with pillows stuffed in the gap between the door and the ceiling.  A few stops ago we took down the skylight cover and wrapped it in tinfoil.  Light still peeked through the cracks so I sacrificed some of my black craft paper and taped it to the skylight.  You need the light on to take a shower now, but at least we have our little hibernation chamber in the bedroom.

Next up – Fairbanks and vicinity.  And a special appearance by St. Nick!  See you on the way!

 

 

Haines & The Wheels Come Off the Bus

This was one of the Alaskan cities I didn’t think we’d get to, but so glad we did.  Another beautiful Southeastern Alaska gem, with a vigorous hike, another “development”, more new friends, and then it all unraveled…..

The Journey IS The Adventure

For Haines, getting there truly was the adventure.  The drive to Haines is about 350 miles in a roundabout way.  The ferry, however, can do the same trip in 45 minutes by water through North America’s longest and deepest fjord.  It amounts to just a few miles of driving.  We’re calling it our longest “mileage” day even though Pat only drove about 5 miles in total from campground to campground.

It was one of the few “grumpy” days we’ve had so far weather-wise and seemed like a good day to do it on the ferry.  Before we departed, we managed to squeak out one more meal with our friends Cheryl & David.  Then it’s off to wait in line to board the ferry.  I’m at the head of the line in lane 1, seated and ready to pilot Bisty aboard the Fairweather.  Pat is back in lane 3 and behind the wheel in Lucy.

They guy on the dock starts waving people in a specific order.   Those going to Juneau drive aboard first and disappear.  Then those of us going to Haines queue up.  I’m bringing up the rear and the guys says that way I get to be first off.  I’m behind this bigger truck and can’t see Pat ahead of me at the end of the dock.  We wait and wait and finally I see Lucy’s nose pull around…to BACK on board the ferry!  Holy smokes!  I’m dying and taking all kinds of pictures from my vantage point.  There are no less than 5 people circling the motorhome and putting down pieces of wood and picking them back up as Pat inches over transition points on the ramp.  Turns out all those going to Haines have to turn around to face out, but Lucy’s too big for that inside the ferry, thus the backing on.

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Pat is my hero this day!  I give him high marks for this park job.  He says he just did what the guy told him.  Took about 15 minutes at least to get him in there so the rest of us could come aboard.

I’m still all jazzed about Pat and his backing up.  People are getting out of their cars so I do, too, and go back to talk to Pat.  He is parked with the door and steps right next to a big pole.  He doesn’t think he can get out since the stairs are automatic and would clang the pole.  I agree and he hands me money out the window so I can get him a snack.  Pat had planned to stay with Jackson anyway, so no big deal.

I go up to the passenger deck and browse around the snack bar as we start cruising.  I’m delighted to find ice cream bars as well as candy bars.  Pat will be so pleased.  I’ve paid for my purchases, but now can’t find the stairwell that goes back down to the auto deck.  “Excuse me”, I ask the clerk.  “Where is the door back down to the cars?”  She proceeds to tell me that I can’t go back down, and I proceed to show my ice cream bar just waiting to be eaten by my husband who is down below in the RV and cannot get out I explain.  Anyone figured out where this is going yet?  A flurry of walkie-talkie talk ensues and she trots me over to a control room to yet another stern-faced woman.  NO ONE can be down in the cars she says, and dons her very official safety vest.    She unlocks a cryptically marked door (why I couldn’t find it), and shoos me down the stairs like the bad little kid.

I knock on Lucy’s window and proudly hand over the ice cream bar to Pat and we tell him he has to come out.  Frown.  Ok, but he doesn’t think the stairs will allow it.  While he’s putting on his shoes, the lady says to me “How did YOU get out?!”.  I was driving the car I say.  Oh.  Pat slowly eases the door open and the stairs come out just inches from the pole.  Ta-da!  She marches us back up stairs and we apologize profusely.  And that is the story of how we got into hot water on the ferry, and I ended up with zero pictures of the voyage and fjord.

The Development

So big day on the ferry and we’re tired.  How about we bake that pizza in the convection oven Pat suggests.  Capital idea and I start pre-heating the oven.  Zzzztt and off goes the oven.  Or some noise kinda like that.  I think we’ve tripped the breaker, but Pat checks and says no.  Out comes the multi-meter and Pat works his electrical magic.  We were just extolling the many virtues of the microwave/convection oven to our Texas friends over lunch.  Seems the magical creature picked this moment in our journey to die the big death.

Have I mentioned that we have never. ever. ever. used our regular oven before?  Well, we now have a thawing pizza on our hands and no wherewhithal to scrounge up anything else.  Pat proceeds to light the gas oven so the baking can begin.  I don’t think the people who owned the motorhome before us ever used the oven either, so smell with me the odor of all that dust burning off the element.  Yes, we did eat our dinner and it was fairly evenly baked pizza.  And thus ends day one in Haines.

Haines

This is a beautiful spot and seems to prove what our Hyder host said.  All the prettiest places in Alaska are along the coast.  So far that’s pretty much all we’ve seen so we can’t argue.   We originally timed the trip over here to coincide with the Alaska Craft Beer & Homebrew Festival.  After getting here we learn it is completely sold out, but also that it is flat expensive.  Since I’m only going to drink the equivalent of one beer total and Pat doesn’t even like anything with taste, we’re ok with skipping.  Instead we set off to see the sights.

I regret that we didn’t go to the hammer museum, but I’ll explain why in a bit.  We did go to Battery Point to take Jackson on a short hike.

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I can’t say enough about the different variations of blue in the clouds, water and cliffs.  Patti – that sailboat shot is for you!  You need to be sailing up here!

The woods are just what I pictured with big tall firs, and a carpet of moss to blanket everything from the roots to the rocks.

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Nice, easy softball hike for Jackson.  From there we grab lunch out and then head over to the fairgrounds where they have the set of Dawson City from the 1989 movie White Fang.  Disney built the set, but the citizens paid to move it here to outfit their fairgrounds.

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Mt. Ripinsky

Now we’re ready for a real hike and we stopped by the visitor center to get the scoop on where to go.  The Mt. Ripinsky summit is a full day affair and still snow-covered.  We are waived off of that one, but the tower hike is an afternoon option.  As I’m leaving, a guy tells me about a short half-mile extension and promises a stunning overlook of the city at the end.  We’re sold and off we go.

This was only a four mile hike total, but not well-marked after the first mile or so.  It was extremely strenuous and we did as much climbing and clambering over things as we did actually putting one foot in front of the other.  Also the first time we had to stop multiple times on any hike and retrace our steps as we realized we were no longer on the path.  At one point I asked if we were on the path or in a runoff area.  Perhaps both Pat declares.  Fortunately we found markers that other hikers had tied to tree branches to steer us clear.

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I almost suggested we turn back at the two hour point and then, wow!  That guy did not lie.  We had a view of the bay over my left shoulder and further out the Chilkat River.  Haines sits right in between.

More shots from the top of the rock.

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That rocky outcropping right above Pat’s head is where we were overlooking the city.

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Zoomed in you can see the campground below.  Lucy is the backed in motorhome to the far right at the end of the horseshoe drive.

The Rest of the Haines Experience

We originally had 3 days planned for Haines and then I found this wildlife center I just HAD to see.  Expensive, but I was willing to spend the money on that.  They had a playful wolverine after all and a moose you could pet.  So day four, Sunday, is added on.

In the meantime, I have my hair cut and colored by a delightful woman named Judith.  Yes, karma I think.  She’s lived here for 20 odd years and just loves it all.  Although she says if she’d known how hard she’d have to work to live here full-time, she probably wouldn’t have made the move.

We also find a nice little Catholic church and attend Mass.  Imagine our surprise when Father Perry asks if we’d like him to come and bless our RV?  I don’t think there’s a way to turn that down, do you?  So we put him in our car, drive him over to the RV park, and he blesses us inside and out, including Jackson.  Holy water all around!

Finally, we get a chance to join some new friends, John & Debbie for dinner.  They’re also from Florida and on a similar trek as us.  Former live aboard sailors, turned full-time RVers.

And this is where the wheels come off the bus my friends.  By that evening, I’m running 100+ fever and Pat is not fairing much better.  Sunday dawns and we are absolutely not going to the wildlife center.  I am disappointed, but truly feeling so bad I don’t care.  And also the reason we don’t see the hammer museum.  That was only $5, by the way.

So that’s the Haines saga.  Next up – Million Dollar Falls and our strategical error.  See you on the way!

 

Skagway

We’re feeling like bears just coming out of hibernation and slowly getting ready to jump start our travels again.  I don’t know what got a hold of us, but it has been the lost week of our lives.  My friend Barbara dubbed it the AAWF (Alaskan A**-Whooping Flu)  “Right on!” as they say in Canada.

Got My Reflections

The lakes along the way have been just stunning, but I’ve been hoping for an opportunity to capture perfect reflections of the mountains.  So far that stillness is only early in the morning and I haven’t been inclined to get my butt up to take pictures at that hour.  The drive to Skayway was another beautiful day and I got my wish for reflections at Tagish Lake.

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This one was my favorite.  Even some locals stopped to take pictures with their phone since they said the water is never this calm.

Lunch timed out right at the Carcross Desert.  An interesting mix of the typical snow-capped mountain views with northern sand dunes at the base.  Yukon boasts this as the smallest desert in the world.  It’s the work of the last glacial period when glacial lakes deposited silt, and lots of it.

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Back Across the Border and Gear Down!

Back in the USA again and the border guard is all business.  Still only interested in alcohol and weapons, so no big deal for us.

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We are loving seeing all the tippy tops of the mountains.  Cannot ask for better weather for this drive into Skagway.

The sub-alpine area is so interesting.  Stubby trees and lots of snow and rock.

Pat crosses the road and climbs up the hill to take the shot of Lucy, Bitsy, Jax and me.  Jackson is flatly refusing to get back in the RV at this point and Pat has to start the engine and threaten to drive away to get him back on board.  He’s a little travel weary at this point.

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It’s a windy steep roll right down the mountain into Skagway.  The signs for truckers say to gear down!  And we do the same.  Pat doesn’t get to see much when the drive is like this since he’s focused on the road.

White Pass Railroad

When we were in Skagway on a cruise back in 2000, we didn’t ride the train.  It is touted as the thing to do when in town, so this time we made it our big outing.

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Early on the in the ride we are able to look back at Skagway in the distance.  You can even see a few cruise ships in port.

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It is all green and full of waterfalls until we get up to White Pass.  Tons of snow and a 150ft deep glacial lake is at the very top.  Also, quite the crack in the earth.  This ride took a bit longer than expected since we were chugging along on one and a half engines.  It was very stressful for quite a few cruise ship passengers who were supposed to be pulling out before we were due to get back into the station.  Fortunately they had safety in numbers and we had all the time in the world.

Different Than the Cruise Ship View

We opted to stay at the campground on the opposite end of town and not in the middle of the port.  It was a quieter spot in the middle of regular neighborhoods.  Jackson liked the walks and we saw some fun things along the way.

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Get a load of Sleddie Van Halen!  Someone has a sense of humor.

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Great garage door painted as the Alaskan State Flag.  Skagway is known for very high winds, especially in the Winter.  We found it to be windy for us, too.

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We’re finding it fascinating how everything gets used and re-used here.  Building materials and everything else are at a premium we’re guessing.  Loved this example of the trailer room off the side of the house.

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And a sign you don’t see everyday.  Fortunately no tsunami scares while we were there.

Finally, a look from our side of town on the left with the Skagway River and the tourist side of town on the right.

We also do a little shopping since I’m hot on the trail for a replacement bracelet.  I bought one here when we were on our cruise and I loved it, but lost it.  It was made of amber, jade and wooly mammoth fossils.  So far no luck finding that combo, but I’m hopeful at some point during this trip.  We also manage to have dinner again with our friends Cheryl & David who overlap with us at the campground.

At this point we’re so excited since we’ve booked all our worldly goods on the ferry to Haines.  Stay tuned for tales from the ferry and how we got ourselves into a little hot water….

See you on the way!