Tuesday, June 30, 2009

23-09 Denali to Anchorage Alaska

Denali, Alaska
Mount McKinley
Anchorage Alaska

Campground: Black Spruce Travel Camp. Ft Richardson AK. First night, $13 elect only. 6 nights @ $16 a night Water and Elec. They also have full hookups but none were available for me at the time I got here. Available to Military, Retired Military and DoD Civilians.

Lots of additional photo's at: My Denali Pictures

I left my recent home of Fairbanks this morning. Rising along Route 3, leaving the flat valley that Fairbanks and the Chena River reside in. At one point, the views out over the mountain ranges give me the feeling of truly being on top of the world, as the landscape appears to be curved on the horizon. Everything is covered in heavy vegetation, surprising considering the very short growing season up here.

I pass by Skinny Dick’s, deciding not to stop in, after all it’s only 9:00 in the morning. I’m just about to cross over the Yukon River, when the Alaskan Train catches my eye. I’m able to pull over and get a few shots of the tour train as it passes by. It travels between Fairbanks to Denali to Anchorage. I was sorry to see the train cars almost completely empty, though the train conductor tooted his horn and waved at me along with a couple passengers out on the small deck between cars. Even the sky cars had no passengers in them.

Now I’m not expecting to see Mount McKinley while here. Even one of the workers at the visitors center said I have a 30% chance of seeing it. He hadn’t seen it yet and he‘s been here for over a month. The Native Athabascan’s call it Denali “the High One“, so I’ll refer to this awesome 20,320 ft mountain as Denali and not Mt McKinley. It continues to grow at one meter per year.

You will be able to see a new show on Denali as a part of a new PBS special series this fall called America’s Best Idea. Look for it in Sept. Denali was the first park specifically created to preserve wildlife. Not a bad idea, since my last report indicated that the Musk Oxen were eliminated in Alaska due to over killing and we all know about the fate of the vast bison herds. Creating Denali has helped to preserve the Dall Sheep. I’d say 6 million acres should do the trick.

On my second day in Denali, I took the 8 hour shuttle bus tour. It’s a lot cheaper than the commercial tour buses and the shuttle bus driver doesn’t have to give a continuing tour speech. Most of the ride is over dirt roads leading to my destination of the Eielson Visitor Center. There’s only one more drop off about another hours drive to the end of the road in the park. I like 70% of the visitors was not able to see Denali Mt itself, as it was a very overcast day, with occasional short showers. But talk about seeing wildlife. The bus driver/guide, wasn’t overly optimistic that we would see all that much. The first couple of hours on the ride, we were able to see Caribou far off in the distance as well as a brief glimpse of the Dall Sheep high up on a grassy mountain side. Then we stopped and saw a most awesome sight. We saw a couple of white wolves chasing a single caribou along the slopes of a lower mountain range. The caribou easily running ahead. The wolves low to the ground, chasing after the caribou, occasionally weaving back and forth. To see all this live action played out in front of us was just amazing. A Short while later, the mother wolf, as stark white as can be, herded her four dark brown cubs along for the chase. They were all too slow for the fast moving caribou, who finally stopped far ahead of them up on the green hillside. The caribou continued to graze now that it was far enough away for safety, as the wolves gradually went back down towards their den near the rivers edge.

About 4 hours into the trip, someone shouted stop, bear at 3 o’clock. That’s how we know which direction to look. Wow! Not more than about 40 yards away were two blond grizzly bears. The whole bus was beyond excitement. Loud chatter, opening of windows and clicking of cameras one after the other. The bears oblivious to all of our excitement as they chomped on berries and foraged on new growth brush in the area. I’m sure I took at least 50 shots myself. (later when I downloaded my shots for the day, I had taken 380 pictures)

After reaching the visitor center deep in the heart of Denali we got out and searched in earnest through the dark clouds and little downpour for a glimpse of Mt McKinley. But it was not to be. Still, the immensity of the park, mountains that seemed to go on forever, glaciers, deep valleys between each mountain range and wildlife easily made up for not seeing the Big One. I was mesmerized by the colors on the sides of the mountains, many different shades of green, copper, rust and golden coloring of the liken, mosses, grasses and small micro organisms that cover this high tundra region.

On our long drive back, with windows and bus covered in tan speckled mud and dust we saw everything from golden eagles, many more caribou as well as high on a mountain range covered in various shades of green were dozens of pure white Dall Sheep. Even our two blond grizzlies were still in the same area we had left them on our way in. Seeing caribou cooling off on snow packs as well as a way to get away from the mosquitoes was a real treat. Caribou really show up easily when standing or lying down on a snow pack. Our bus driver even pointed out all the willow trees stripped bare by a huge population of hares. Rabbits gone wild. As he pointed out, this cycle of high hare population also means that all their predators will increase in size, wolves, coyotes, even eagles. So exciting to see raw nature in a this untamed wilderness habitat. Even the chipper ground squirrels popping up between their underground dens on the sides of the roadway watching us as much as we were watching them.

Heading out the following morning down hwy 3 toward Anchorage (they basically have Hwy’s 1,2,3, and 4) , I can’t help but stop at almost every scenic pull-out. The sky is turning blue and the enormous mountain ranges are looming around every turn of the road. I’m following the eastern side of Denali for over 175 miles. Listening to Patsy Cline singing “ I’m Movin Along” on my MP3 player, as the weather continued to clear up, I start to see glimpses of what I think is Denali. Finally after stopping at a couple of Denali viewing stops, there it is! I was able to see the Big One on my last day in the area. It’s easily 75 miles from the closest viewing area along hwy 3, but it still appears magnificent from this vantage point. Gives me goose bumps at having viewed Denali. You can’t get much closer to viewing God’s spender than this.

Notes: While on the tour bus through Denali, a family was visiting from Anchorage. The husband mentioned while eating an orange, that during the recent Volcano eruption that they had to suspend all air traffic in and out of Anchorage where his family lived. Apparently this went on for a couple of weeks as ash from the volcano descended throughout the region. Looking at his orange, he told us how they really missed all the fresh fruit and vegetables during that time, as all perishable arrived in Alaska via FedEx.

Here in Anchorage I stopped in a local restaurant called The Lucky Wishbone. It’s been in operation since the 50’s specializing in pan fried chicken. I happened to sit at a U shaped counter with about 6 seats. Within minutes the rest of the seats were filled with members of an extended family that I later learned was 65 members strong. Had a most wonderful chat with the members of this family, the two seated opposite me were in fact the owners of Lucky’s. The Husband now probably in his 70’s was doting over his wife who was now very close to being an invalid, as he helped her gently with her drink and food. Becky sat next to me and introduce everyone including her soon to be 13 year daughter. As I left, Becky came running after me and caught me in the parking lot to see if I had anyone in the area to check up on me. I said no and she told me where she worked and if I needed anything to stop on by. She works in the local hospital. She said she felt so bad I was on my own and would have invited me over to a barbeque but unfortunately they were going out of town for the week. Now that’s true Alaskan hospitality for you.

US 1, the Glenn Highway dumps right into the heart of Anchorage forcing all the traffic in and around the area to descend on the city.

Fort Richardson where I’m staying is 6 miles outside of Anchorage. A military man doing laundry the same time as I was, told me there are 6 black bear that live on base. Imagine. This is wilderness living next to us. He also gave some great advice as to what to see in the area. There is so much, I don’t know what I’ll be able to take in, but I’ll try.

Friday, June 26, 2009

22-2009 Last few days in Fairbanks Alaska



As a full timer, the simplest things can make me happy. It rained out for 24 hours and today, the sun came out, the air is fresh and crisp and I feel wonderful. After a quick breakfast I headed out to Chena Hot Springs about 60 miles east of Fairbanks. Talk about a drive into the wilderness. 60 miles of heavy wooded countryside filled with marsh land, lakes, numerous tributaries of the Chena River and remote cabins and homes tucked away down dirt and sometimes very soggy roads. The road dead ends at Chena Hot Springs.

Side note: There are very few roads throughout Alaska. If you look on a map, you’ll see that well over half to 2/3’s of the state has no roads at all. Guess that’s why they have so many float planes.

I noticed a big Lincoln continental behind me and it finally passed by. Well, it passed and passed and passed by me. It was the biggest stretch limo I’ve ever seen. Way out here in the middle of no where. Shortly after that, a huge Chinook helicopter came buzzing by. When I got to Chena Hot Springs I found out it was carrying a General most likely from the Army base in Fairbanks. The staff at the resort said there were military surrounding the grounds as well. Now I didn’t see any others that were that important in the area and there were only a half a dozen of us in the hot springs, so I’m unable to report on what he was doing out here.

The hot springs were well worth the trip out here. I stayed in the natural hot springs outside, though they do have additional swimming pools and hot tubs inside. I would not recommend the resorts dining room. Food was not well prepared and a waste of money. However, while I was having lunch there, a gal pointed out the window at a moose that was drinking from one of the springs ponds. I of course jumped up, ran outside with camera in hand and got a couple great shots of a young moose buck. His rack just beginning to grow into a nice sized set of antlers.

My last day in Fairbanks, I still can’t believe I made it this far up north. Just amazing to me that I’ve been able to do this. I took a leisurely tour of the Pioneer Village, considering most of the buildings and shops weren’t open when I got here around 9:30. I was hoping the Presidential Warren G Harding train car would be something worth seeing. Unfortunately, the car was not open and looking inside as well as the outside, it appears to be in pretty bad shape. The interior was mostly gutted to the bare walls. I did enjoy seeing all the original log cabins from the Fairbanks area. Amazing that there are still so many more around town. Really gives Fairbanks that frontier feeling mixed in among all the newer buildings in town.

Since I had plenty of time, I went back to the University of Alaska Fairbanks to their Large Animal Research Station where they have Musk Oxen, Caribou, Wood Caribou and Reindeer. The Musk Oxen had become extinct in the late 1800’s in Alaska due to over hunting as well as in Europe and Scandinavia. The only remaining location where Musk Oxen remained, was in Greenland. Greenland helped repopulate Alaska, Canada as well as areas in Scandinavia and Europe. The Musk Oxen are the last descendants of the dinosaur era. They can only survive in this cold environment. They were first brought to Nunivak Island where they continued to repopulate before being reintroduced throughout Alaska. Quite an experience to see these unique animals back in their original habitat.

Also learned that the caribou run in very large herds of as many as 120,000 in one herd. That’s a lot of caribou ay. Where as the musk oxen usually are in groups of 20-30. The musk oxen do have predators after them and they defend themselves by forming a tight circle facing outward, with the weaker oxen in the center as well as the young. With their horns, they are able to defeat most predators. The caribou don’t really use their antlers to defend themselves and can run for long distances to get away from their predators. Ok, that’s your history lesson for today.

I’m off to get some pizza at Pizza Hut.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

21-2009 Living in Fairbanks Alaska

Picasa Pictures

Fairbanks Alaska

How exciting, I’m living in Fairbanks Alaska for 8 days. My actual address here at The Roads End Rv Park is actually the North Pole, but I think I can say I’m living in Fairbanks, only 6 miles up the road.

On my entering the area, the first thing I noticed were the two military bases, Eielson Air force Base and Ft. Wainwright with their military fences and signs posted saying “do not stop, do not take pictures”. Though I must admit, they are quickly swallowed up by the heavy vegetation in the area. Fairbanks is surrounded by lush thick forests, to the point that a couple of bears have been sighted in the past couple of days along the cities walking paths. One gal was chased by a bear just two days ago. Wild country.

This is not a tourist town. The majority of the buildings and shops are geared towards the worker and normal shopping needs of the locals. Oh, an interesting note, there are fields of wild blue Iris all along the highways up here. Mainly in wet marshy areas, they grow in thick and are quite easily seen while driving along the road. Major stores are Fred Myers, Safeway and Wal-Mart’s.

My first full day in the area, I went into town and had lunch at a very nice restaurant, Lavelle’s Bistro, very upscale I might add. Had my first Alaskan Salmon over a Caesar salad. Odd how they had me order my lunch at the bar, paid for it up-front and a 15% gratuity automatically added. Then after sitting where every I wanted (out side on the front facing main street) the waiters and waitresses come by and fill my drink and bring the meal when ready. It works, just a bit different you know. I had to take advantage of a sunny day, temp 73 degrees. Awesome for being in the heart of Alaska.

On the business side, I purchase a larger set of mud flaps and installed them on the back end of my Chevy truck. Hoping they might help keep some of the mud and oil off of the camper. We’ll see as I head down the road the end of next week. Note: discovered that WD-40 works great for getting tar and road oil off of the camper. Spray it on and wipe it off, clean as can be.

It’s the 50th anniversary of Alaska becoming a state. In the local news, there’s an article about the transfer of land from the BLM to Native Americans. Over 105 million acres is supposed to be transferred. To date, 98 million acres have been transferred from the BLM, to the State of Alaska and then it is transferred to the Native Indians. Lots of land and of course mineral rights are being transferred. Oh, and $962.5 million in compensation as well.

The Daily News-Miner reports that Palin is upset by the 18 grievances filed against her so far has put her in $500,000 of legal debt defending herself. Most have been denied. All of the complaints have been brought by Alaskans except for one. She has a swirl of controversy following her where ever she goes

Alaskans are very proud of their state and it’s independent frontier attitude. They love to rib Texans that Alaska is over two times larger than Texas and Minnesota can boast about it’s 10,000 lakes, but Alaska has over 3 million. They don’t mention that they are all mosquito breeders . There are over 100,000 glaciers in Alaska as well. This is a BIG state.

There is no limit on the number of mosquito’s one can kill in Alaska and no license is required.

It’s Sunday, June 21 and Summer Solstice. Up here it’s known as Land of the Midnight Sun. Being the longest day of the year, the sun only sets for less than 4 hours. Fairbanks has the biggest one day celebration in Alaska and I attended it for a couple of hours. It goes on from Noon till about Midnight and it’s still light out. Easy to find a place to park, since all the office type businesses are closed. Lots of vendors and food to be had. I loved the Wild Salmon ride. Like a bucking bronco except it’s a fish. I would have tried it, but it was mainly for the kids, darn. I think I could have stayed on the bucking salmon for at least two minutes. The day started out rainy and a bit dreary, but by noon the sun came out and it warmed up to a high of 76. Perfect day. Three stages with music and dance. Heard the State song about the Flag.

Alaska's Flag
Written by Marie Drake
Composed by Elinor Dusenbury
Eight stars of gold on a field of blue -
Alaska's flag. May it mean to you
The blue of the sea, the evening sky,
The mountain lakes, and the flow'rs nearby;
The gold of the early sourdough's dreams,
The precious gold of the hills and streams;
The brilliant stars in the northern sky,
The "Bear" - the "Dipper" - and, shining high,
The great North Star with its steady light,
Over land and sea a beacon bright.
Alaska's flag - to Alaskans dear,
The simple flag of a last frontier.

Kind of cool. The day before I was in a store and the sale lady started to explain the meaning of the flag and recited the entire Poem/song. It means a lot to the folks up here. Nice to feel the passion of the Alaskan’s.

The next day, which weather reports indicated was going to be cloudy and rainy, turned out to be partly cloudy, sunny and warm. So I headed over to the Riverboat Discovery to take a three and a half hour tour of the river, Susan Butcher’s Iditarod sled dog team and Chena Indian Village. A most high tech and extremely well presented river tour. HD cameras throughout the boat, a sound system that any geek would be proud of and flat screens everywhere. The pilot who flew the float plane, to the dog trainers and Capt. All were connected via video and audio. So, along with the 5 decks of glassed in cabins and open decking, one couldn’t miss a singe minute of action. Besides, I love being on the water. Saw Senator Ted Stevens home though they no longer point it out on the tour. Still can’t figure out how he got off scott free. Learned a little bit about the Athabascan Indians and dog training, afterward, I had lunch at Pikes Landing, where a road dead ends at the water. During the winter months it becomes a short cut across the river and all the locals use it like a regular road.

By the way, Fairbanks is very easy to get around in. It’s surrounded by express ways and is on a simple grid pattern. I drove over to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, UAF, today to check out their Museum. It’s housed in a gorgeous modern building but the exhibit space is a bit chopped up and not well planned for. To the point that their exhibit of famous Alaskan artists is currently in a room originally designed as storage space. $2 for parking, $10 to enter the museum, $2 for the audio (which I would recommend in any museum) and $2 for the film show on the aurora borealis and winter in Alaska. Whew, well after paying all those fees I finally got in.

Overall the museum collection is more than worth the entry price. Both the natural history and native history are well represented and the artwork really captures the essence of Alaska. The film on the aurora borealis was like being back in a college course, thank God there wasn’t an exam at the end of it. Although I did learn quite a bit about the phenomenon. But not enough to be able to bore you with the details. The one thing I guess I learned was that the Inuit and Athabascan Indians incorporated art into everyday life. Their knives, sewing tools, utility items and clothing were all done with artistic design incorporated into each item. Of note as well, the young native Indian women are most beautiful. Having an Asian influence in their look as well as an almost coco color to their skin tone.

Oh, and they had a room where you could listen to the atmosphere. The sounds were created by the changing atmosphere, clouds, light, sun and moon coming up. An eerie sound as I looked at a wall of subtle color, blue band on the bottom and yellow on top. Both changing with the sounds.

I couldn’t get into the “I love the cold weather” theme of what it’s like to live in Alaska with -40 degree winters and “I think it’s cold when it reaches -20 or lower, etc”. Really people, cold is cold. When many “cottages” are dry cottages. Meaning they don’t have running water or sewer, mainly because both will freeze up at -40 below anyway. Running to the outhouse has got to be a trip. On of the comments was, “But I get to see all the stars” And Styrofoam seats are a must, as plastic will crack in below freezing temps. I understand many Alaskans bring the seat indoors until they have to go. Smart.

It started to rain around noon yesterday and has continued throughout the night and into this morning, so I’ll send this report out and hope for better weather in the next day or so.

Friday, June 19, 2009

20-2009 Entering Alaska to Fairbanks

Burwash Landing, (Destruction Bay) Yukon Canada
TOK Alaska
North Pole, Alaska
Fairbanks Alaska

Campground: Burwash landing Resort & Rv park. $23.10c 15amp electric and water. View of Largest Lake in the Yukon.

Campground: TOK Rv Village: $33.30 per night, Elect., water and cable Tv. Included is a free evening music show. (highest price paid so far) TOK Alaska, all prices are now U.S. dollar.

Campground: End of the Road: $15 per night, Passport America. Full hookups. 8 over the air local tv channels.

On down the road for a 174 mile journey today. I’m heading to Kluane Lake, Destruction Bay and Burwash Landing. I’ll be paralleling The Kluane National Park and Canada’s highest mountain peaks. St Elias Mt’s consist of peaks that are 19,545 feet high and six others that are over 16,000 feet. Definitely the biggest I’ve ever seen. I’ve already seen some wild horses along the way, but the rest of the wildlife scene has yet to appear. Destruction Bay was named after a violent storm blew down the few buildings in town. The wild flowers are in mass profusion this time of year and bright pink Fireweed, which is the Yukon’s official flower, is everywhere along the Alaskan Highway. It gets it’s name from the obvious fact that it’s one of the first plants to thrive after a forest fire.

Passed through Haines Junction…. Has the only Government liquor store and Public Library in the same building. What a concept.

Kluane Lake is impressive, with a few islands out in the middle. After setting up camp at Burwash Landing, population: 84, right on Kluane Lake, I noticed that the lake is very rough. My Milepost book warns fishermen that strong winds can come up very quickly on the lake. I’m seeing whitecaps as well. Burwash Landing is one of those tired resorts on a lake. The hotel along with it’s huge old dining room. When the waitress walks by, the whole floor bounces, not because she’s heavy, but because the wooden floor under the tired carpeting is not too secure. Nothing quite matches after years of minor renovations. The three openings from the entrance/gift shop area are all different sized openings, with the last and largest looking like they just knocked down the wall and put up a burl wood post to hold everything up.

Although I don’t usually drive long distances, I am getting used to it up here. Especially with such great distances between services, one feels compelled to just keep driving. Although they do have a number of scenic pull-offs along the highway along with many wayside stops with garbage cans and some with restrooms (pit toilets), most of the scenic pull-outs are poorly marked and I’ve missed stopping at a number of them because of that reason.

Wow, I saw my first wolf on the side of the road. He looked tired or maybe just wary as he waited for me to move on before he crossed the highway. Had shifty eyes too.

While at Burwash Landing, it started to rain lightly throughout the evening. When I woke up, this morning, it was still a light rain. Not having any internet or radio/tv service I was unable to tell what it would be like down the road. But since the traffic has been light on the ALCAN highway, I decided to go on ahead.

After about an hour or so, the light rain to drizzle let up, but I then had to contend with the worst section of road so far. It’s between Destruction Bay and the Alaskan/Canadian boarder. Lots of permafrost damage, many sections are gravel/oil roads which are smoother than the asphalt roads as they are really bumpy. Speed limits are between 35-55 max. The other thing is that the camper and truck really look like they’ve gone through hell and back. What a dirty mess.

I was wondering about seeing more wildlife and then out of the blue (ok, blue and some clouds), sky came an eagle. Soaring lower and lower. The eagle flew low ahead of me, turned sideways, showing off the huge wingspan and landed on the other side of the roadway. What a magnificent bird. Thank goodness Benjamin Franklin didn’t get his way, since he wanted the Turkey as our National bird. I was absolutely stunned as I continued on down the road. Looking back in the rear view mirror I could see him looking back at me. Awesome, just awesome.

Crossing the boarder, back into the U.S., Alaska, there was a short line of 3 vehicles ahead of me. When I got to the check-in and handed the agent my Passport, Drivers License and Insurance, he was all friendly and talkative. Only asked me if I had any firearms (which are illegal to carry between countries). The agent then said, it might be a good idea to "sign" my passport. Opps. He and the younger agent behind him both asked about the camper and my fulltimer experiance. They having some wonder lust themselves.

Having crossed into Alaska, the feelings are running high. I've made it to another dream that's become reality. Just one mile at a time.

After another 60 miles, I arrive in TOK, the first town in Alaska, on the only road in and out of Alaska. Yes, it’s the Alaskan Highway. To jump ahead, I took advantage of a free show here at the TOK Rv Park. Dave Stancliff performed, playing guitar and singing many of his original songs about Alaska. You can check him out at ALASKAARTIST

Dave provided his unique perspective of Alaska through his great story telling and music. Even quoted the entire poem about The Cremation of Sam Magee, by Robert W Service. I’d encourage you to read it. It’s a great story with a fun ending, go to: THE POEM Robert Service is a revered poet and well liked up in these parts. He as well as Jack London had homes in Dawson City Yukon where they both wrote about the things they saw and experienced.

Dave Stancliff also talked about those who live in TOK, the coldest place on the planet, having reached a jaw chilling, toe chilling, frozen breath chilly -80 degrees and also reached a high of 100 degrees one year. The good thing being they have no taxes in TOC and no elected officials nor do they have any regulation of any kind not even for building. Not a single lawyer and not a single police officer. Course you have to put up with an average winter temp as low as -40 degrees. Said, one does not go out when it’s -40 below, which could last for about 10 days. Talk about cabin fever. Also on the down side, their electric utilities are very very costly. These are hardy independent people.

I enjoyed hearing from a local who obviously loves living up here. I’m definitely getting a feel for what Alaska is all about right here on my first day in the State.

We now have only 4 hours of darkness per night. I’ve arrived in Fairbanks Alaska and going to a big Solstice party downtown on Sunday. As I drove north to Fairbanks, I had to stop in The North Pole just outside of Fairbanks. Saw all of Santa’s reindeer too! I’m actually staying 6 miles up the road at The End of the Road Rv park.

Only saw two brown bunny rabbits on my 200 mile journey up here today. Big ol floppy ears and big furry hind legs and feet for hopping. I’ll be in Fairbanks for 8 days, as I need to get my mail delivered. I have important mail that must be delivered before I head on to Denali park.

I’m enjoying my first experience with the all Digital Tv stations. In Fairbanks we get 8 over the air channels and of course they’re all crystal clear. Wonder how many people will realize that they don’t need cable or satelite tv to get really good tv reception. Great way to save a few $$.

There’ll be lots more to report from Fairbanks, as this is the furthest I’ll be traveling with my camper.

Final note: The roads once I got into Alaska are fantastic. Smooth with very few patches, lots of good smooth blacktop. Lovin it.

Till my next report, Have a super day.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

19-09 Whitehorse Yukon Canada


Dawson Peaks Resort and Rv Park, Yukon
Teslin Yukon
Whitehorse Yukon

Campground: Dawson Peaks Resort, Teslin. $28 Good Sam price. Elect. And Water. Great views of lake and wildflowers along the slope down to lake.

Campground: Pioneer Park. $28 Elect/Water/Cable Tv & wi-fi. . Nice wooded sites on the hill otherwise you can have a concrete parking lot site near the highway.

The fires were all put out and I headed on up the road into Yukon territory. I continued driving quite a distance, passing another road construction area, with a delay of about 30 minutes, but otherwise the Alaskan highway has been a great drive so far. I have not seen any caribou yet, but others have seen herds of them right on the highway… luck of the draw you know. I’m sure I’ll see them eventually.

Dawson Peak is owned by Dave Hett and Carolyn Allen and I must say if you ever head up the Alaskan Highway stop in for a night or even a bite to eat in their restaurant. A true story of grit and determination to build a life in the Yukon. Clearing the land, building the Rv sites, cabins and main buildings. Building dreams that become reality. And it all started with a 14’ x 32’ canvas tent cooking on two Coleman stoves for the passers by. Now they’re able to travel to exotic places like South America during the winter months.

I liked it so much, I decided to spend an extra day here. Peaceful.

By the way, many of these way-side stops which usually consist of a gas station, food and motel/Rv campsites are closed. I would have to say at least a 1/3 of them were closed as I traveled along the Alaskan highway from Dawson Creek to Teslin. In other words, if you see a filling station, top of your tank, the next one may be closed. The Milepost Guide book will not tell you if they are closed. I passed three in a row that were closed.

By the way, many of these way-side stops which usually consist of a gas station, food and motel/Rv campsites are closed. I would have to say at least a 1/3 of them were closed as I traveled along the Alaskan highway from Dawson Creek to Teslin. In other words, if you see a filling station, top of your tank, the next one may be closed. The Milepost Guide book will not tell you if they are closed. I passed three in a row that were closed.

Since I stayed an extra day in the area, I drove into Teslin, population 411. The native Indian tribe is called Tlingit (Klink-it). I went to both museums, The George Johnston Museum and the Teslin Tlingit Heritage Centre. The Mile Post, which is the mile marker guild for the Alaskan highway and everyone uses it like a bible, highly recommends the Teslin Tlingit Centre which was supposed to have information on the native Indians, but was to me anyway, a large building with one alcove dedicated to a local artist who did the totem poles outside and a series of Indian masks which I must admit were some of the most beautiful pieces I’ve ever seen. That and a couple dugout canoes out back and that was that. The rest of the space being an open room for meetings etc. Now the George Johnston Museum which tells the life of the Native Indian, George Johnston was not only well presented, but also well worth the $5c entry fee. Great displays of his photography 1910-1940. Capturing the life of the tribe around him. He was a hunter and quite the business man as well. Bought the first automobile, a 1928 Chevy and brought it to Teslin. He had to build his own 3 mile road, so that he could use the car. After building the road he then charged two dollar taxi rides to his store. During the winters, he would paint the car white and take in out on the ice for fishing and hunting.

A note on the Native Indians. The Canadian Gov. decided that the children needed to be educated and took them from the tribes throughout the Yukon and put them in boarding schools. Where they were to learn everything except anything that had to do with their heritage. By the 1980’s they were permitted to go back home and are only now trying to regain some of the knowledge of their heritage.

To my disappointment, Mukluk Annie’s Salmon Bake was closed and is not expected to reopen for at least a year.


I had an easy 100 mile drive today to get to the capital of the Yukon. Population: 23,511. An easy day to set up camp, have a quick lunch in town, tour a bit, then head back to the camper and watch nothing on Tv…. Gad, is there really nothing to watch on Tv? No wonder I haven’t missed it. Wonder how the Digital Tv conversion has gone on in the states?

Travelers Tip: If you go into their visitors center here in Whitehorse or the City hall, they’ll give you a free parking pass for anywhere in town good for three days. The MacBride Museum is pretty nice. $8c. Lots of history on the development of the area, the gold rush, mining, the characters that made the place. The town is a modern town with hints of it’s past existence scattered here and there.

As I finally turn off the Tv and begin to read a book, having already perused all of the travel brochures, I notice the sun is still quite a ways from setting and it’s already 10:10 pm in the evening. Well, folks up here sure don’t have to use their lights at night for reading or for driving. At least in the summer time that is. But it’s time for bed and I’ll just have to pull all the night shades as tight as possible before heading of to “blanket movie time” as Mother used to call sleep and dreams.

Side note: Along the Alaskan Highway through the Yukon, there are many cut through hills with many rocks left over from the glacial period. Travelers have become creative and make signs by lining the stone up to write their names, towns, states they’re from and even a number of designs like pin wheels etc. Kind of like graffiti, but so much more ecologically mindful of the environment.

I think the one thing that I’ve become aware of is the vast space. There is sooooo much space between towns of 200 people or between the next gas station. While driving along the Alaskan highway, there have been many times that I’ve felt like I was the only one on the highway, as everyone pretty much observes the speed limit of 100 Km/hr (62 mph). Although others are on the road, they seldom speed up and pass me. (quite a concept eh Ms Ruth Hemrick). . So while heading on down the road, we are all like a giant chain stretched out and moving at the same speed, never seeing each other. Just miles and miles of scenic ancient forests, lakes and mountain ranges.

Back in Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon, I’ve been enjoying this small town on the Yukon River. Life seems to be at a bit slower pace, maybe it’s all the space I’m not really sure. Took a tour of the SS Klondike, one of the dozen or more paddlewheel boats that brought supplies up to Dawson City and back until the mid 50’s. It’s last years were as a passenger ship, since the railroad and Alaskan Highway pretty much took all it’s freight business. But what a way of life for the years it was in operation. These steam ships with their huge paddle wheels on the back of the boat, a draft of only 44” allowing them to ply the shallow waters along the Yukon. Learned about the Klondike gold rush that brought as many as 100,000 people searching for their fortunes up here. There are few mines remaining in the immediate area, but it helped establish Whitehorse which became the capital of the Yukon over Dawson City.

Their museum chronicles the interesting characters that helped to make the city, including the ladies of the evening…. I’ll post a few pictures (how scandalous).

Oh, and I also took a tour of the largest wooden fish ladder in the world. Fun to see the snook, climbing the ladders created to bypass the dam which now has 4 hydro-electric generators. Producing virtually free electricity to the area. Canada has lots of hydro-electric dams. The salmon would begin their climb up the ladders in Aug. Sorry I’ll miss that even, it must be really something.

Getting closer to the Alaskan Boarder... Wha hooo.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

18-09 Dawson Creek, British Columbia Canada (Mile marker 0, Alaskan Highway)


Note: I have post more pictures on my Picasa web site. Please see pics at:

Dawson Creek, British Columbia Canada (Mile marker 0, Alaskan Highway)

Fort Nelson, BC

Liard Hot springs Provincial Park

Campground: Grande Cache
Municipal Park. $20 elect. & water. Country style campground in wooded setting. Many sites are on incline. Free wi-fi available though you may need to bring computer to front office area.

Campground: Alahart Motel and Rv. Dawson Creek. $24 per night full hook-up and 50 ch Cable tv, and free wi-fi. Note, this is not the prettiest campsite, but is on edge of town and is convenient location. There are three other campgrounds in the Dawson Creek area that would be much nicer, but not have all the extras.

Campground: West side Rv Park. Fort Nelson. $30.50 per night, Elec. & Water, Cable Tv. Free Wi-fi available. Convenient, right off of the Alaskan Highway. Next door to Ft Nelson Museum.

Campground: Liard Hotsprings Provincial Park. $19 per night, no hookups. Bonus, with campsite, access to hot springs is free.

Well you know it, from my last post I was heading out of Jasper, I went as far as Grande Cache the first day, then headed out for the 200 mile stretch too Dawson Creek. The start of the ALCAN highway, also known as the Alaskan Highway. I am so excited, I was singing along with my MP3 music in the truck. Can you imagine me listening to Willy Nelson singing
“Hello Walls”, and me singing back “hello, hello walls” in various accented voices, some high
some low some a bit squeaky. It even made me crack up laughing out loud.

The road from Grande Cache to Dawson Creek was all curvy and grades going up and down at just about every turn, but overall the road which isn’t on the regular designated route ended up being a short cut and was a pretty decent road. Lots of evergreens and Aspen trees with their lighter new spring growth. The closer I got to Grande Prairie, the half way point on today’s journey, the land started to open up and actually became a prairie, albeit one that has been put to farming use. Though they must have the shortest growing season ever around here. Many farmers were just beginning to plant their hay or grains. Oh and along the route
were a number of natural gas and oil wells dotting the landscape. The natural gas wells with their exhaust pipes flaming yellows and orange, against the blue skies and surrounding forests. When I got to Grande Prairie a really nice sized town, the locals told me that after the recent Oil bust, all the oil workers abandoned the area and theirs a bit of a glut on housing now. However, I did notice a number of places had “help wanted” signs.

Finally a little after noon (later if I hadn’t changed my clocks) (yet another time zone change) I arrived at the town limits of Dawson Creek and immediately was stuck in traffic. My first major road construction and I still had 2 more miles to go before touching the Alaskan Highway. Hope this doesn’t portent tons of major construction along the highway. Wow, and a Wal-mart at the edge of town. Which I later discovered wouldn’t accept my Visa Debit card… hmmm, should have tried it as a credit card, I think it would accept it that way.

History Lesson: Ok, this is your history lesson for the day. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. By March 9 1942 both the US and Canada undertook to build the Alaska Highway as a way to protect the interests of the US and Canada. Alaska had not been declared a state at this point. It took 11,000 military, three of the regiments were of African American heritage. Plus 16,000 US and Canadian civilians! Listen to the sound of cheers from all my fellow civilian Navy employees I used to work with…. <> And in all of 8 months, yes 8 months, 1,528 miles of roadway was built. Including 133 major bridges and 3000 culverts. Cost: 140 million dollars.

And yes, I’ll be heading out on those 1,528 miles of roadway tomorrow as I spend one more day in Dawson Creek preparing for the Big Journey. Oh and just a note, the post in the center of the town marking the beginning of the Alaskan Highway, mile marker “0” is not the actual start. It’s at the visitor center but you get the idea. This IS the start of the highway.

The Alaskan Highway.

Well with the sun coming up so early in the morning, like 5:30 am, I was up and ready to go by about 6:30. With the Highway right at my doorstep, I headed west onto the Alaskan Highway. The first 100+ miles was through some pretty steep grades, from 7% to 10% grades. I’d never gone down a hill with a 10% grade, but with the exhaust brakes and the manual shift mode, the Truck and camper did very well. There were tons of signs for wildlife, and I finally saw a Moose with it’s big rack on it’s head loping across the highway in front of me. His gate was almost poetic in the rhythmic yet clumsy gate. Sorry, I wasn’t able to get a picture of it. The traffic is steady but well spaced this morning, but still, there was no way to pull over and get a pictures.

A short distance on down the road, I saw a Mama Moose come out of the thick forest of Black Spruce, look surprised to see traffic on the highway and quickly turned around and headed back into the forest. Speaking of those Black spruce, those tall evergreens that form a narrow spike with a slight flair at the base are becoming smaller and smaller as I head closer to the Northwest Territory boarder. They also appear to be almost fuzzy in appearance or almost feathery.

A most unique look. I’ll see if I can get a picture for you.

I know it may sound strange, but I’m not used to driving long distances. (I know, I’m traveling from Tucson AZ to Alaska for heavens sake) However, as I may have mentioned, I usually only travel about 150 miles per day, sometimes even less. However, for this leg of the journey, I’ll be traveling between 200 and 250, maybe close to 300 miles per day. I have over 1,500 miles of territory to cover along the Alaskan Highway and much of it, I’m expecting, to be pretty mundane and without much of interest to stop for along the way.

I did hit a few slow downs along the way today, a convoy of 5 industrial trucks carrying some sort of equipment for the oil and gas or other mining operations. The speed limit on the ALCAN highway is 100 Km/h or about 62 miles an hour. Although the occasional truck or camper passes me, I’ve actually passed a number of convoys and trucks myself. Still, all in all, very light traffic particularly if you get an early start Like I did today.

At the campground here in Fort Nelson, I was settled in around 12:30 in the afternoon, having already driven for about 6 hours. Seeing lots of campers arriving in the late afternoon. Most all heading to Alaska. Come to find out, they were directed off the highway, as there is a large forest fire about 220 miles north of hear.

Thought I’d have to stay in Ft Nelson for a couple of days, but with 88 firefighters, 6 helicopters and a sprinkler truck, they were able to get the fire under enough control to re-open the Alaskan Highway, so I’m off again this morning. Now this was surprising to me. I
expected the landscape to pretty much flatten out by now, but nooooo, 7 to 9 degree grades and stunning views of the final northerly most section of the Rockies. The Rockies, bordering Muncho Lake which is touted as being the most beautiful lake in the world and I can’t argue with them. Even though it was overcast, with low clouds and fog hugging the mountains, the Emerald green to the lightest turquoise blues popped out. Difficult to capture on camera as the light kept popping in and out.

What a sight to drive along the eastern edge of this very large Alpine lake. The road was
barely a foot or two above the water line and a shear mountain bordered the other side of the roadway. Small sections of the road were being eaten way by the wave action and I’m sure the ice action during the winter months.

Along the way I was able to stop and get a couple great shots of a moose foraging in a pond near the roadway. The moose was able to hold it’s breath for minutes while digging underwater with it’s head deep into the muck and weeds on the bottom of the pond. What a site to see. Glad I was able to pull over and just watch this huge beast for a while. You know they are one of the largest animals in North America.

A quick stop over at Toad River Post where they have something like 7,000 baseball caps plastered to the ceilings, I had to get a good cup of coffee and what my eyes couldn’t believe, they had Date Bars. Elsa (my Mom) used to make THE best date bars in the world and I discovered that the Toad River Post must have gotten her receipt. I was in heaven. Love the taste of those date bars. Decided to fill up at $1.219 a liter. Yikees, that’s about $4.80 a gallon. $52 for a half a tank of gas.

Oh, and a I saw another black bear walking along the edge of the wide grassy areas next to the forest. I’m sure the British Columbia road crews realized years ago that having a wide open area instead of having the forest right up against the roadway enabled the public to see if wildlife was in the area or near the highway. Gives one just that little extra foresight to be able to slow down and avoid hitting the wildlife. Even saw a couple of Wood Buffalo along the way. Magnificent animals. They must have been re-introduced into the area a number of years back. They’re much larger and darker than the plains buffalo.

Ekk! I hit my first big road construction on the Alaskan highway where the roadway was completely torn up and wouldn’t you know it, it had rained just enough to create Mud. What a mess it made of my Camper. Looked like a great mud pack but I don’t think it helped make my camper look any younger. Kept thinking what a lot of work it was going to be to clean the mess up, but then later on down the road, it rained out for a bit and completely washed the entire mess up. Yippee!

After a good 4 hours of driving I arrived at Liard Hotsprings. (sorry Laird, you almost had a hot springs named after you) After dropping off the camper I was ready to head to the springs. The short rain shower stopped, the sun came out and I headed on down. Compared to all the other hot springs I’ve been to recently, this one is in a natural setting (no swimming pool). Just a long boardwalk leading through a low marshy area into a canopy of trees and large ferns and then the natural hot springs. Nice wooden deck surrounding one side of the springs, with four or five stairs leading down into the springs. Nice gravel bottom, with the hot springs percolating up through the bottom. Too hot, just a walk over and down to the river below and the hot springs becomes a waterfall warming the river with perfect warm swimming water temperature. The smell of sulfur and other minerals wasn’t bad at all and added to the experience.

What a grand way to spend an afternoon and then be able to walk back to my campsite.

Hoping to be able to post this tomorrow when I head into Watson Lake my first town in the Yukon. Later on down the road,,,, there wasn’t much to see in Watson Lake, except the 7,000 thousand signs left by folks. It’s where a lonely Army guy put one of the first signs up, pointing to his home town and giving the distance to get there. Back when they were first building the Alaskan highway. Since then, everyone has been adding their own signs. While I was there, folks were hammering and screwing their special signs to denote they had been there. I took pictures and headed on out.

I traveled 273 miles today and ended up at Dawson Peaks Resort Rv Park. What an enchanting place. Gorgeous campsites nestled in the pines and paper birch and balsam poplar. Lupine and wild roses cover the ground everywhere. The Lake is down the hill, with a dock that gently sways with the lapping of the waves. The aluminum boat bangs against the side of the dock making a clunking and banging sound in rhythm with the waves slapping against the dock. Just sitting on one of the benches is heaven.

PS, saw 4 bears, one brown and the rest were black bears. A couple more moose and that was it for wildlife sightings.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sunday, June 7, 2009

17-2009 Heading to the Alaskan Highway

Lake Louis to Jasper
Jasper National Park
Icefields Parkway

I was eager to begin the next leg of my journey which would take me along the Icefields Parkway hwy 93 heading north west. I’m not sure what is more exciting, heading north into the unknown (at least for me anyway) or knowing that one of the stops was going to be the Columbia Icefield. I’m almost getting used to the enormity of the Rocky Mountain range up here, but with every mile I drive, they seem to become bigger and more awesome. I’m able to see the dozens of glaciers that sit high on many of the mountains, too numerous to list them by name.

There are so many turn-outs along the way, that I’ve started out fairly early this morning so that I don’t feel rushed and will have the time to stop and check out as many of the points of interest as possible.

One of the first turn-outs was for Crowfoot Glacier. The glacier once had three toes, but now is down to two. Even with that it’s one impressive sight. I pass over Bow Summit which is the highest point for the park way road at 6,785 feet. I assure you the mountain ranges are much higher. I passed the weeping wall, a huge black granite wall with layers of water dripping down it’s sides. But the excitement builds knowing I’m getting closer to the Icefields.

Before I could get to them though, I had to endure mile upon mile of smoke filled parkway as they have been doing a prescribed burn along the route. The smoke was thick and if it is wasn’t for the fact that the scenery seems to go on without end, I didn’t feel I had missed much going through the miles of misty smokey mountainous terrain. Keep in mind that except for the three Park towns and a few Chateaus along the pristine lakes it is all wilderness along the 230 km of parkway.

I keep passing signs that say, “You are now leaving Avalanche terrain”… when did it begin? I never did see the first sign. Before I knew it, there was another sign, “You are now leaving Avalanche terrain”. Well not to worry, most of the snow is off of the mountains directly against the highway.

Finally I reach the Columbia Icefields where I took one of the large snowmobiles rides onto the Athabasca Glacier. A bit pricey at $49c but it’s something that’s definitely been on my things to do before I die list. The Glacier has receded considerably from mid 1800’s when it once covered the valley, parkway and current parking lot across the valley. The vehicle with it’s tires that are almost 5 feet high drove us up and onto the glacier which is over 1,000 feet thick, past the lateral moraines (those are huge piles of stone and rubble deposited by the glacier as it receded). It was an unusually warm day as we walked out onto the ice field, which was puckered with the melting of the surface ice. Small streams ran along the boundary where we were safe to walk around on it. We were even told we could drink from the clear glacier streams. How cool is that. A cool breeze descended on us as the colder air was pushed down along the glacier. I could hear small avalanches high up along the sides of the mountains that bordered the glacier and was even able to see a few puffs of snow as the avalanches tumbled down and over the rocks. Not big enough to get a good picture of, but still exciting to hear and see.

Ok, so that was really exciting for me. I continued along the Icefields Parkway, stopping numerous times to view alpine lakes, the longest stretch of unbroken Rocky Mountain range in the Americas and past a half dozen waterfalls. My favorite was Angel Falls which wasn’t even listed on the Points of Interest map that showed just a ton of things to see along the route. It dropped from a rock precipice creating a sheet of water that dropped down away from the rock wall,

creating a perfect wall of water until finally hitting bottom and then cascading down yet another cliff.

Tip for Campers: I discovered that my Visa Debit card appears not to charge an exchange transaction fee when making purchases. My Visa Credit card does, which could wipe out any dollar to Canadian dollar exchange rate benefit especially on smaller purchases. Check yours out the next time you enter Canada. It could end up saving you a bit of money.

Today was one of those days when everything worked out perfectly. To start, after checking with the Visitor Center here in Jasper, I found out that unlike Lake Louis, almost all of the ATM’s accept Visa cards. I walked over to the CIBC bank and was able to use their ATM to get cash out with my Visa Debit card. Cost for using their ATM, 69 cents. What a deal. And you know I love a good deal.

A couple days later I tried another local bank, Canada Trust. I was able to get money out of my Visa Debit card, but I noticed my bank in the U.S. charged me a $2 transaction fee. Something you only find out about after you use a banks service. For me, CIBC is my best choice when getting cash out of an ATM machine. Good to know.

Then I was told of two places where I could get Internet access, the local Library and LouLou’s Pizza. Since it was early morning, I decided to check out the Library first. They had access for $2.50c for one hour. Worked out pretty well as I was able to upload my Blog, check mail, bank accts etc. And it did take a full hour.

For lunch I hit LouLou’s and as long as you order a meal, the Internet access is free. Wow, that’s my price. So after having lunch, I was able to upload all my pictures from the past week and a half to my Picasa site. Felt really good to get those pictures up and loaded so you could see some of them. And no, I didn’t upload all of them, there are just to many.
Did a bit of shopping in town and will do my grocery shopping tomorrow as well as laundry since I found both places today. Life is so hectic. There’s always something that has to be done eh. When will I get to do more touring? Well it’s actually nice to do some ordinary projects once and a while.

Have I mentioned that it really stays light out late into the night. The sun sets around 9:30 and it’s still light out until about 11 pm.

You know the other day when I was visiting with Laurel we talked about the towns that are a part of the National Park of Banff, Jasper and Yoho. She was telling me that in Yoho National Park, the town is called Field. To live there, one has to have proof of need I think is the way she put it. In other words, one has to have a need to live in the area due to a job or other circumstances to be able to purchase or lease a place. All the land is of course owned by the Gov. One of the reasons this is the case is so that the wealthy, super rich, don’t move in and take over the towns, leaving no place for the workers to live. She gave an example of some friends who split up, the husband has a job in the Park and the mother has a new baby. He has the right apparently to keep the house, so what does the mother and child do?

While I’m here in Jasper for a couple of days, taking care of all those chores one has to do, like laundry ($4c for wash and $2c to dry), grocery shopping etc. I’ve been noticing that the town almost seems too perfect. There are no run down buildings or homes. All the shops and restaurants are tidy perfect little places. I’m not used to that. Somehow life isn’t that perfect and it seems out of place. And oddly not perfect like Disney World either. Beautiful to be sure and I love the buildings with there large log and field stone construction.

It is nice to see the Canadian Pacific Railroad so active throughout this area. Both for freight as well as passenger service. Jasper has a large train station right opposite town and it is kept busy with trains coming and going all day (and probably all night). Banff and Lake Louis do as well.

Sometimes one wants to get the best pictures one can but it doesn’t always work out. This morning on my mission to get some chores done, I was heading out of the campground I’m staying in, and their were a couple of Elk near the entrance. I’ve got an eagle eye and see these things, especially when everyone is parked and standing around with cameras in hand taking pictures. Well as it turned out, the tourists, and it appeared to be many were Canadians though I’m making assumptions that may not be true, were all getting as close as they possibly could to get their pictures. Don’t they have zoom lenses? I was staying back across the street trying to get at least one good shot and about all I got was a lady’s butt along with the shot of the Elks butt. And they were both less than 8 feet from each other. Geez, people, upon enter the park there are signs everywhere warning that this in rut season and to stay away from the Elk in particular as they get very uppity about strangers getting close to them. I think it must have been too early in the morning for these elk and they probably hadn’t even had their first cup of coffee and weren’t really awake. Because they just gradually moseyed along back into the forest. Personally I would have liked to have seen some butt kicking myself.

As I headed out of Jasper, heading east for a bit, towards Hinton and Edmonton a couple hours further east, my mind was thinking of those hot springs, Miette Hot Springs which are about 30 miles out of town. I hadn’t asked anyone about the roads leading into the hot springs and ended up taking my 5th wheel camper and truck along a super winding road though some mountain regions for about 12 Km. But not to worry, the truck handled those mountain grades with ease and before you knew it, I was at Miette Hot Springs. They have a newer facility containing two large swimming pools with concrete benches along the pools edges for sitting and absorbing those wonderful mineral rich hot springs. A must for anyone heading up to Alaska.

Ahhhhh, the deep heat of those hot springs is just what I needed before beginning my North North West journey with a stop in Grande Cache. My last views of those magnificent Rocky Mountains. One of the last great mountain peaks I would see is the Grande Roche Miette which appears to be the tallest and biggest looking mountain I’ve see to date. It is however only 2,316 Meters high, (many of the others were in the 3,000 to 3,500 meter range) actually not the highest by any means, but perhaps the way one comes across it along hwy 16, those sheer dark granite walls look so massive, I just can’t help but be impressed. Then along the highway, I once again had my eagle eye on the lookout and sure enough, after stopping along the side of the road (where about 4 other cars had stopped) there were about 8 mountain goats scampering along the steep cliff. A couple of young goats were jumping and dashing around so much so, they were stirring up quite a bit of dust and rock. Fun to watch.

Taking the “scenic” route hwy 40, which is quite redundant to say around these parts as every view is scenic. I’m starting to really get that way up north feeling. I did see two elk with their antlers just starting out, so I’m assuming they were young bucks. There’s supposed to be large numbers of Caribou but I haven’t seen any yet. By the way, scenic also usually refers to smaller country roads and this one fit’s the bill. Tons of logging operations along through here, but it doesn’t appear to have scarred the landscape like so many logging operation can do. Probably because there are just so many stands of those Douglas Firs and Lodge Pole Pines that one hardly misses a patch of them here and there. I’ve stopped overnight at Grande Cache on top of a plateau, a small town with a surprisingly active shopping mall. 4 long buildings around a large square parking are. Each building is like an inside strip shopping mall. Gas stations and Motels with restaurants line the main drag.
I’ve got 196 miles to go and I’ll be at the start of the Alaskan Highway, Dawson Creek. It’s just over the Alberta/British Columbia boarder. The excitement is really building. I’ll be switching over to my British Columbia maps and camp guides ready for the big push up into Alaska.

The Adventure Continues....

Friday, June 5, 2009

16-09 Banff, Lake Louis and Yoho Alberta Canada


Banff Alberta Canada
Lake Louis
Yoho Provincial Park

As I started to report in last weeks Blog, Banff is one awesome place. Banff and Jasper combined make for 220 miles of parkway. And I’ve only seen 20 miles of it so far. They have
to be the crowning jewels of the Canadian Park system. I’m staying in Banff and then heading onto Lake Louis to visit with a friend, Laurel for
a couple of days and then onto Jasper. She’s a fellow snowbird from Desert Trails AZ and works up here in another park called Yoho during the summer as a Park Ranger.

I’ve driven around and gotten my bearings in this Alpine wonderland. Driving over to Lake Minnewanka.
One can take a boat tour on the lake, but for me, just walking along the shore line is more than enough. The views are spectacular in every direction. I took the loop tour and came across a group of Big Horned Sheep grazing along the road and one, just laying on a rocky overhang, looking soooo bored with us tourists. Four or five deer were foraging around Lake Minnewanka and had the same reaction. Appears much of the wildlife has gotten used to the tourists.

I love being back in forested country. The huge Douglas Fir, Spruce and lodge pole pines really make for some dramatic scenes. Marching up the sides of the Rocky Mountains in such thick profusion, I can hardly distinguish one from the next.

Oh and I decided to go over to the
famous Fairmont Banff Springs grand hotel. You’ll recognize it when you check out all the pictures I’ll be posting on the Picasa site. It’s be
en the site of a number of World
conferences and is just the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever seen. I ate out on the patio of their pub which sits below the hotel, near the river, waterfalls, golf course (Ray and Ruth would love it hear). The eighteenth hole starts out on one side of the river and traverses to the other side. It’s been super sunny and warm the last couple of days and each scene seems to be cropped in brilliant Technicolor. My photo’s won’t do justice to the scenery, but I‘ll try my best to capture some of it for you.

By the way, I’m able to get an occasional free wi-fi connection at the hostel next door. Have you ever stayed at a hostel…. What a great idea for saving money. However, most hotels and caf├ęs charge between $7c and $13c for internet access. Hard to pay when your used to free. Of course I will use my Verizon air-card, but sparingly, as
there is a per minute charge when out of the States. I was listening to five young souls discuss getting an apartment and working here. Making plans on the fly, maybe a one
bedroom, no lets get a two bedroom for five people. One volunteered to
sleep on the couch, is already used to it.

So far I found the prices to be what I expected and not that terrible. Meals range in the $10c to $15c (lunch) range and diesel fuel is between 74 cents and 79 cents a liter. Cheaper than the 98-99 cents a liter for regular gas. Campsites are averaging around the $28c to $34c range in the parks. All doable prices at this point. Of course it’s wise to watch your pennies when on the road as spending can get out of hand very quickly.

The following day I took a drive up to the Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain. Sat in a gondola car with a couple visiting the area after working in Thailand for the past couple of years. Every language imaginable was spoken while hiking along the summit of Sulphur Mountain. French, Japanese, Polish, you name it. It does seem odd to hear French being spoken flawlessly by someone with a Japanese background. Oh and listening to the radio stations, the local DJ’s especially on the CBC stations, are very self deprecating, saying things like, we aren’t the best but we try hard, and we don’t always get it right so call us if you know the whole story, etc. Kind of refreshing to hear real banter and not perfectly canned material. But then hearing rap music in French is quite unsettling or enjoying a Canadian composed classical piece about the cowboy lifestyle, the last movement of the piece was called the Hoedown. And a whole mix of original, folk, country and proudly featuring Canadian artists.

Sorry, I kind of got off the subject didn’t I? Well after viewing the weather station and cosmic ray station (no longer there) on top of the mountain, I headed back down the mountain. I had the gondola to myself on the way down and it really began to sway back and forth with the heavy afternoon winds picking up. It was a steep swinging ride, down, down, down, looking out the window seeing those tall narrow Douglas Fir and lodge pole pines swaying in the heavy breeze, not to be forgotten anytime soon.

For lunch may I recommend Tommy’s Pub. It’s on the main street one flight down. I had the best Bison burger ever and the Canadian draft beer was pretty darn good too. They also have Elk and Salmon burgers. Nice crowd, where the locals go.

A special note about the people who work and live in this area…. They are so very kind and friendly. The workers all have smiles on their faces and are more than helpful. I don’t think
I’ve ever been to a tourist area where the working folks are as happy as the visitors. To the
point that a couple of the waitresses were actually bubbly with joy. I think it really is the
magical specialness of the place that does it.

It must be terribly hard for so many of the tourists who come in for only a day or two and then have to go back home to work and their normal ordinary lives. The campground I’m in, I see them coming in in their Class C campers (many are rented). They tour, bed down for a night and are gone the next. A few pictures to remember a place that is so special. Maybe one posted on their cubical to remember that there are places out there that are beyond the normal and ordinary work a day world and life.

Places like this, where you don’t even have to drive. Many walk from the campground or their homes into town, or walk across the street and meet up with a trail that goes off into the woods and surrounding mountains. Or they ride their bikes along the trails into Banff or down
to the river or lake nearby to fish. Such a simple life. Clean fresh mountain air.

I know I’m rambling again but this is the kind of place that frees the mind to wander, to
ponder to think about what is really important in life or not. To explore or just sit and contemplate life itself. To look out at the mountains and be awed. To turn around and see
another scene that captures the imagination and lifts the spirit to new highs. That’s what I’m experiencing while here in Banff. Experiencing the moment. Glad your along for the ride.

My last day in Banff and I had to tour a bit more and then head off to the hot springs. What a perfect way to end my stay in Banff and I might add, the best deal in town. Only $7.50c. The water is a perfect 39 Centigrade which I believe is 110 F. Another gorgeous sunny, breezy day. I met a Czechoslovakian woman who had immigrated to Canada with her husband back in 1968 when the Czech republic was invaded by Russia. They’ve lived here ever since. She told me her and her husband had come to this area to hike and ski before they decided to move
after the Russians invaded their country. She does miss home and was back there a couple of
years ago before her husband passed away. Now she enjoys the hot springs each week. The life guard told me that during the winter months, people of course continue to use the hot
springs, but their hair quickly freezes in the cold air, so the patrons usually spike their hair up or give themselves instant frozen Mohawks. She said it’s quite a site.

Got back to the camper and met my next door neighbors who are originally from England and Holland. They moved to Canada on business and plan on staying. They can apply for citizenship after three years and plan to do so. The gal who is English said it’s very hard for them to even visit the U.S. Our Visa program is so tight. Maybe once they are Canadian citizens it will be easier.

I of course treated myself to lunch in town. Discovered one of the indoor malls, a three story
affair with Louis Vuitton , the Gap and some other high end stores. On the lower lever I discovered a food court with some great small fast food shops with great food and even better prices. I had a large veggie Pizza slice, Caesar salad and drink for $7.50c.

Lake Louis. I drove north along hwy 1 through the heart of Banff National Park, past the great Rocky Mountains, each unique in it’s shape and height. Vast stands of spruce and Douglas Fir. The highway following
the same path as the Bow River . The deeper I go into this country, the
more rugged it becomes. The four
lane parkway narrows down to two lanes, though they are in the process of expanding it to four lanes further north.

I reach the Lake Louis sortie and head towards the campground which is very close to the Canadian Transcontinental railroad. I’m given the very last campsite at the end of the park. It’s surrounded by those tall Douglas Firs and the ground is covered in a mat of moss and spongy low vegetation. Primitive in it’s beauty.

I read the pamphlet they handed me at the entrance gate. All the tent sites are surrounded by a high electrified fence to keep the grizzly bears out. This is wild animal country and they try very hard to keep the bears away from humans while keeping the animals safe to roam. The Rv section in not protected. It’s assumed we know how to keep any items that would attract a bear well secured and out of harms way… and we should be safe inside our campers.

As soon as I set up camp, I drove over to Lake Louis. Much of it is still
covered in a thin layer of ice, which some of the staff were trying to
break up by paddling their canoes across the edges of the remaining ice…. Lots of laughter and encouragement as they repeatedly rammed the ice. Trying to hurry spring and summer along. The water is an unimaginable emerald color, created by the sand particles coming off of the mountains with the snow melt. Nice easy hike along one side of the lake. Lots of Chinese and other foreign speaking tourists, all eager to have their pictures taken against this stunning backdrop of huge mountains and glaciers that rise up from the edges of the lake.

I had planned on eating at the grand hotel that faces this awesome scenery, but the lunch buffet was $35c and the other restaurant had some pretty high prices too. Of course they did have a harpist playing in the grand salon overlooking the lake. Making for a really elegant setting.

Instead I had lunch in the small hamlet of Lake Louis and headed out to Johnson’s Canyon. Took the scenic Bow Valley Parkway which is the original road through this part of Banff. It’s a much more winding road closed in by the tall tightly packed Douglas Firs and spruce. The speed limit is 60 km or about 45 mph. At the Canyon, I took the lower water falls trail which is a series of cat walks that hang over the edge of the fast moving river leading to the falls. The cat walk being the best part of the journey.

I’ve noticed that a number of places in Banff have Tea Houses, many that were built over 100 years ago. Wonder what the history is behind that tradition way out here. I’m imagining that the first visitors would have their guides take them on long grueling hikes, rock climbing horse back riding and afterwards would get back to the tea house in the later afternoon for tea and crumpets. Hmmm. Found out from Laurel that many were built in conjunction with the railroad, giving the gentry a place to relax and have their cup of tea, out here in the wilderness.

I met up with my friend Laurel on Tuesday and we proceeded to go into Yoho National Park (A Cree expression of awe and wonder). Yoho is where Laurel is a seasonal worker and she provided me with a wonderful tour of the places that were accessible. Many like the Takakkaw Falls and Burgess Shale site where they have found fossils over 500 million years old were not open due to snow.

The short drive from Lake Louis brought us over the boarder into British Columbia where right on schedule, Laurel had said to look along the railroad tracks to see it any bears were there. Sure enough a black bear was on the tracks. They are often found along the tracks as freight trains often drop grain along the tracks. It’s supposed to be vacuumed up, but isn’t always done in a timely fashion. Creating a free meal for the bears.

But what we did view, such as the natural Bridge along Kicking Horse River, the Spiral Tunnels and Emerald Lake were more than enough for one day. We took a few hikes, one to Laurels private beach along the Kicking Horse River. About the only place in Yoho that has real beach sand. The day turned out to be another sunny warm day, so unusual for June, which is usually their rainy season. Now two trekkers came by with their GPS in hand and asked us if this was the nude beach? We both
looked up and said, if you want it to be it is. Now Laurel denies that it is a nude beach, but I have to wonder, when no ones around does she
fancy a frolic in the buff? Hmmmm.

Emerald Lake where we were able to see some of the 28 mountain peaks in Yoho.

We had lunch at their restaurant and of course sat outside, overlooking Emerald lake on both sides of the patio with it’s bright yellow umbrellas and clear blue sky above. Laurel treated me to lunch showing off the wonderful Rocky Mountain Hospitality. Our waitress had recently moved from Toronto and she admitted she’s a real city girl trying to adjust to the country. Went into a small town nearby to purchase an I-Pod and found one in of all places a Furniture store/Electronics store. She was blown away to find an I-Pod in a furniture store. Still trying to adjust to the rural life.

To work off lunch, we took the 5.2 Km (2 hr) hike around the lake. Besides those awesome views of the glacier covered mountains, we also saw wildflowers like the Venus Slipper (also called Calypso) orchids and a the Glacier Lily along the trail. They come up right after the snow melts. I think I got a couple good shots, so check out the Picasa site where I’ll post them as soon as I get a good Internet connection. The Emerald color of the lakes is awesome and seeing a few canoeists on the lake added to the picturesek quality of the scene. At the far end of the lake we sat on some log benches looking out over the lake, small streams running down from the mountains creating a flat wetland section. A most peaceful setting to see the grand mountains, lake and the small details of water running crystal clear through this low marsh area. Having the time to appreciate every blade of grass and sandy bottom of the streams with the occasional rocks causing the water to bubble and surge around them.

Back at camp, one of the Wardens told me that they had sighted 3 grizzly bears in the camping area today and to be careful. One has a tracking device on it, but the others don’t. I had noticed they patrol the area quite a bit. He also mentioned that they are considering putting the electric fence around the RV section of the campground. Oh and he said he saw a grizzly that had pretty much been cornered, run right through a portion of an electrified fence that was used to direct the bears away from the camp area. The small town of Lake Louis is in a bear warning area because of all the sightings. So far, this is the only National Park to have the electrified fencing.

I’ll end this report even though it’s only mid week and begin my next report Tomorrow.