Thursday, July 30, 2009

30-2009 Ferry Ride to Sitka and Ketchikan Alaska

Ferry to Ketchikan Alaska.
Tour of Sitka Alaska

I packed up and pulled out of my campsite in Skagway, kind of sad leaving. It’s another one of those places that I could stay for a much longer period of time, but I have my reservations and I need to head on down through the Inner passage. For that I was so excited, I got to the loading dock a couple of hours early, had time to wonder the streets of Skagway one more time.

The last time I went to Starbucks for coffee, it’s not part of the chain and is locally owned, I was talking to the cashier and a lady (as one might say a stout woman possibly of German heritage). Her eyes got as large as saucers as she was captivated by my description of the full timers lifestyle. She was one of the many passengers on the cruise ship and would spend one day in Skagway. I think she was a bit in awe of we campers who can wonder into an area like this and actually stay a week or more if we so desire. Not that she didn’t have a pretty great way to travel as well. I think the concept of the free lifestyle does capture many who first come in contact with our mode of living. Perhaps one that never occurred to them before.

Before driving the truck and camper onto the ferry, I met a group of bikers. One had almost a case of wine and other booze in a box he’d just gotten at the duty free station. Offered a couple of us a glass of wine and there we were, watching the ferry dock, waiting to go on board, toasting to a lifestyle that celebrates those who follow their dreams and go to the edge sometimes.

As I drove the camper and truck onboard, I was directed to swing around and then back up the entire length of the ship for parking. Did pretty well too. Even had a guy complement me on my ability to back up the length of a footwall field, staying pretty much in the lane I was supposed to.

I’ve got a cabin on the 5th deck, there are 8 decks to the ship. Two twin beds a sink and separate shower and Lou. I’ll be on the ship for 3 days before exiting to Ketchikan.

Got a picture of a short stout waterfall that was one of the most powerful ones I’ve ever seen. One of the workers onboard told me that a lumberjack once owned it. At the top of the falls was a large pot shaped lake. He would dam it up and cut lumber and logs to folks specs marking each with the owners name. When the lake was pretty full with the orders, he would break the dam and let all the lumber fall over the waterfalls and the customers would pick up their lumber in the fjord below.

I’ve been onboard now for the evening and into the following morning listening to the constant low hum of the engines. The ride is smooth as we travel along Tayia Inlet, watching the scenery slowly go by. Fog envelopes the early morning scenes but breaks up by mid morning. I talk to a Coast Guard Capt. Who tells me about maintaining the buoys throughout the channels. He once saw four whales breach the surface at the same time near where his boat was pulling out a buoy for maintenance , quite a scene to behold. We’re traveling between many of the outer islands between some fairly narrow channels on our way to Sitka, it faces the Pacific ocean. We had docked in Juneau around three in the morning. I had awakened when we docked and looked out on a night scene, lights along the dock, a strange orange glow coming from each light pole in the misty night air.

The ferry I’m on is called the Columbia and is only about a year old. By 8:30 we had arrived in Sitka, which was once the capital of the eastern Russian Empire that stretch from Alaska though what is now Washington, Oregon and part of California. I joined a three hour tour of the town, it was only $12 and included the 7 mile drive from the ferry terminal to the center of town.

We received a ton of history regarding the Russian occupation as well as information on the Inuit tribe and others. The tour included the Russian Orthodox Church and if I remember some of the tour information correctly has two artifacts that are considered miracles. One being a Painting of A saint, sorry I can’t right of the top of my head remember which one. The painting on a wood panel had along with the ship it was on, sunk in a terrible storm. The ship was broken apart and was a mess on the bottom of the sea. Many days later, the painting had worked its way through the wreckage, around an island and floated ashore, in front of the Greek Orthodox Church completely intact and unharmed. I saw the painting up close and can say it looks in perfect condition. The other miracle involves a fire the church went through, where the towns folk were able to get all the religious relics, painting and a 250 pound brass chandelier. The chandelier being the miracle. It was the last item to get out of the burning building. One man got up on a stand and was able to unhook the chandelier by himself and lower it to two waiting men. They then carried it outside, not realizing the weight of the thing.

I then went over to the only Finish Lutheran church across the street. A plain building, it had burned down before the Greek Orthodox Church did. In the Lutheran Church a single religious painting was pulled out before burning… the wooden cross was badly scorched and burned and now hangs in the entrance to the new modern simple church. The Orthodox Church had stored the painting for the Lutherans and then had to save it from their own fire. Over 150 years later, it was returned to the Lutheran Church. I’m very proud of my Finish and Swedish heritage and found much of this history fascinating.

How the Lutherans got to Sitka is quite a story (which I don't have time to tell here) as well as their leaving with the Russians on the day the Russians signed over Alaska to the U.S. Seward’s folly eventually became the wealthy State of Alaska, the Russians not realizing that the land contained not only gold, but oil. The Russians had raped the land, killed most of the seals and marine life and figured it was no longer worth anything to them. Because they hated the English, not to say much about the French and Spanish who were also moving into the area, the Russians had decided to try to sell the land to the young U.S. country. They had to wait with their proposal until after we were done with our civil war, but here we are, with the 49th state of the union and here I am exploring it’s exciting and daring history.

Besides the history, we also visited the only temperate rain forest in North America. The Tsongas forest covers a large area of south eastern Alaska. I believe it's 16 million acres. We walked through just a tiny portion of the forest on the edge of town, with it’s huge hemlock and Sitka spruce trees, wild vegetation, ferns, orchids and berries that we were able to eat right from off of the bushes in the park. Surrounding the Centennial park were original and recreations of many Totem poles that all tell a story of family, history or even possibly the wrong doings of a particular scoundrel in the Tlingit tribe.

What a whirl wind tour. I now know how the folks on a cruise might feel, trying to pack it all in in one day. Of course the cruises quite often stay for the full day and sometimes evening, where as we were on the ferry schedule and had to get back on board for the next leg of the journey sometimes giving us as little as 2 to 3 hours.

I’ve been on the ferry now for three days. With each day the weather has continued to not only improve, but one would have to say it’s superb. Even the staff on board the ferry are commenting that it’s the best weather they’ve had in a long time. Crystal clear blue skies. To the point the last two days, everyone has been migrating to the outside decks, sitting, laying, lounging on all the rectangular orange boxes containing the life preservers. They don’t have lounge chairs like a cruise ship, but we passengers are completely happy. Everyone has smiles on their faces knowing that somehow the gods have granted us a couple of days of perfect weather. I think that even though we don’t live up here, we too recognize the joy of a sunny warm day and we celebrate it as much as the locals do.

I'll have much more on my final destination in Alaska, Ketchikan in the next report.

Lots of photos on my picasa site.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

29-2009 Skagway Alaska

Skagway and Ferry Ride

I just learned that Skagway is at the end of Alaska’s longest and deepest fjord. I’m looking forward to heading out on the ferry in a couple of days to see it. While wondering around town, I stopped in the visitor center and was talking to one of the employees. A 30 something gal who lives here year round. She told me how she’d come to finding a job as house sitter during the winter months and also checks on a couple other places as well, making it possible for her to live here full time. Said it’s pretty expensive to live here. I mentioned how I was shocked at the price of food in the only grocery store, the Fairway Market. She said she doesn’t even look at the prices, just picks up what she needs and buys it. When you only have one choice, I guess that’s what you do. Though she does go into Whitehorse, a couple hours away, occasionally to buy groceries and supplies to stock up when possible. Housing is expensive. A small efficiency apartment goes for $600 a month. The cheapest house for sale, $99,000 is a Yurt and is not heated for winter use.

It must be interesting to live here during the winter. Lots of snow, most business close up for the winter. Quiet time to reflect, go cross country skiing and other outdoor sports. They do have a school and I understand all the graduating class are going onto college. Total 1st grade to 12 grade, 98 students. That’s probably 6 or 8 graduating.

I will tell you one thing that is not correct. Skagway advertises itself as the Garden City of Alaska and it is not. I’ve driven most all the streets in and around town and there are only a few private residences that have a wonder display of flowers…. The rest of the town, not so much. As I recall from my journey so far, I’d have to give the title of Garden city to Anchorage. They really know how to put on a wonderful display of hanging flower baskets, patches of flower gardens everywhere throughout Anchorage. Now that’s a true Garden city.

But overall, I must say I’m smitten with Skagway. Now I will admit the weather has not been completely cooperative as it’s been very overcast. With low lying clouds moving across the sky, hugging the tops of all the mountain ranges. But just watching the clouds light up with sunlight highlighting them from the inside out, watching the clouds roll over the mountains in a slow ballet of tumbles and pushing against each other, creating new forms has been a delight.

Today alone I visited the Gold Rush cemetery, deep inside a thick forest of evergreens and ferns. Beyond it I hiked up a pine nettle covered trail and viewed a water fall. Peaceful and contemplative thinking about the thousands of adventurers traveling here in the 1880’s looking for a fortune and hopefully finding it within themselves since most of the gold had already been found or claims made on the land. Walking around the historical town and talking to the locals, learning about life in this remote part of the world which is opened to the public via cruise ships, Rv’ers and explorers finding their way over White Pass. But at the end of the day, it returns to it’s origins. A town at the end of the road, or the beginning of the road depending on your point of view. A place where rugged individuals have found their home and the rest of us just stay a while and then leave.

I had a sunny day in which I retraced much of my steps from the previous couple of days, just to capture some pictures with blue sky and sunlight.

I’ll spend today preparing for my ferry ride tomorrow and enjoying this gold rush era town one more time.

Interested in reading more about the Klondike Gold Rush click on this link.

Or to see historical pictures from the Rapuzzi Collection click on this link.

The next report will be from Ketchikan Alaska.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

28-2009 Whitehorse Yukon Canada to Carcross to Skagway Alaska

Whitehorse Yukon revisited.

I had one of those moments today. I was wondering around Whitehorse, taking a few pictures and just absorbing the Yukon territory, when I came across a statue in town. Thinking I’d take a shot or two of it, a miner holding his shovel and his faithful companion dog next to him. Then I looked down at the plaque and read, “Dedicated to all those who Follow their Dreams”. Wow, talk about getting a lump in my throat. A statue dedicated to me and the rest of those who have followed their dreams.

And this wasn’t just a simple platitude that was just thrown out there. To me this statue spoke to me. You see, ever since growing up in Northern Michigan I was encouraged to follow my dreams to where ever they would take me. And the first dream I followed was of living in a tropical setting where I could bask in the sun, swim in the ocean and watch the palm trees swaying in the breeze. I had an opportunity to go to Florida on vacation and when I got there, I stayed. I’ve been following my dreams ever since. Making each one a reality in time.

I’m completely stunned to have traveled this far to read a message dedicated to following ones dreams. Awesome man, just awesome.

Funny too that I’ve seen all of the Harry Potter movies in such exotic places, having just gone to the small theatre in Whitehorse. Imagine, I’ve seen these films in as far away places at Marathon Florida in the Keys to as far north as up here in the Yukon. Pretty cool if you ask me.

Carcross to Skagway Alaska

I headed out on Tuesday for what I thought would be a short drive of 109 miles but there was so much to see, it took me about 5 hours to drive. I had to stop at Carcross Yukon which is the terminus for the scenic rail ride from Skagway. It has one of the oldest continually operated general stores in the Yukon. The town, like so many small towns, played a part in the gold rush days. A neat stop in the country where folks who like a remote existence in a beautiful country wouldn’t think of living any where else. For us photographers there are just a ton of buildings and scenes to take pictures of. I love the old buildings in a place like this, add a bit of water, boats and mountain ranges and I could take a 100 pictures in a very short amount of time and I did.

But I couldn’t stay there all day so I headed on down the Klondike Highway towards Skagway. I’ve got to tell you, the road between Carcross and Skagway has the most striking scenery I’ve ever seen. Majestic mountains, long Alpine glacier fed lakes that go on for miles. The highway luckily bordering all of this. The scenery changed constantly around every curve. An interesting terrain developed where the thick boreal forests were replaced by rugged rock outcroppings covered in liken and mosses stained white, copper and greens with small stunted trees and brush trying to survive on little to no soil. Small lakes and ponds mingling among the solid rock landscape reflecting the clouds and tinny blue skies.

Crossing over into British Columbia and then to the U.S. boarder where they do a real thorough check on each person. Took them a short while to check my records on the computer and then I was off. Crossing over White Pass and into Skagway. At one point I was on level with the clouds before the descent. Crossing a unique cable bridge over a steep rapine, catching a couple waterfalls on my right hand side. One of them was huge as it’s white water crashed down literally on the edge of the roadway. Really caught me by surprise. These are the types of things one just can’t get a picture of. There’s just no way to stop jump out of the truck and get that shot. Especially when the road is pretty narrow and descending at about a 6% grade. But what memories they create.

And Tah-Dah, I’m in Skagway. A narrow spit of flat land between two huge snow capped mountain ranges on either side. The bay directly ahead of me at the end of the road. The tall cruise ships visible from many block away.

Low lying clouds shroud the tops of the mountains. I’ve had an opportunity to experience what the locals have to do when ever they need supplies or medications. In my case, I’d run out of one of my eye drops for my glaucoma. There is no drug store in town. The local clinic in town did not have the medicine on hand so they showed me how to order it from Juneau. Basically I needed to contact Wal-Mart and have them fill the prescription. I then called a currier service in Juneau to have them pick up the prescription and deliver it to Wings of Alaska who flew it to Skagway. Even the local news stand has national papers delivered daily from Seattle. The papers are flown to Juneau and Wings of Alaska flies them into Skagway. And their current, not yesterdays newspaper.

Had a great lunch at the Skagway Fish Company. I had Halibut Fish and Chips. Really really good. The restaurant is right on the railroad dock where I got a chance to look at the huge cruise ships up close. A Norwegian cruise ship was the hugest one I’ve ever see. Looked like they’d stuck two ships together. I’ll try and post a picture of it. There were 4 big ships in dock today, but fortunately many people take the bus or train tours so they’re not all in town at the same time.

The tour trains and busses comes right up to the waiting ships to scoop up the tourists for their adventure into the Yukon for the day.

I joined a group at the Klondike Gold Rush National Park and viewed an exceptional film on the Klondike Gold rush that created Skagway and helped populate and change the Yukon and Alaska forever. Imagine word of gold being discovered up in Dawson and 100,000 desperate people looking to getting their lives back on track (there was a great depression back in the late 1890’s). By the time they got up here, all the gold had already been discovered and all the land had mining claims already on them. Only about 10,000 actually made it as far as Dawson City in the Yukon.

After the film, I joined a Park Ranger led tour of the town. The National Park owns 22 of the historical structures in town and is continuing to restore and rent out many of the structures. Our Ranger told us about the people who created Skagway and they all went by the name of “entrepreneurs”. Quite a history lesson in how an individual with a dream and great ideas can make a go of it. Even women who came to make a decent living and ended up becoming rich in their own right. Their stories make the town come alive. Including the stories of the scoundrels like Soapy Smith and the red light ladies of the evening.

If you make it to Skagway, don’t pass up the opportunity to take a Ranger guided tour and see the film. You’ll learn not only the history of the town and it‘s people, but something about the locals who live and thrive here today. Some, ancestors of those first pioneers. And it’s my favorite price….. Free. To learn more check out the Klondike Gold National Park Site. or more Klondike history.

I’m thoroughly enjoying my stay here in Skagway Alaska. There are great places to hike and

tour. I drove along the Dyea Road which leads into another portion of the Klondike Gold NP. It’s where the second trail, the Chilkoot Trail began. You might have seen pictures of the Klondike gold miners where they were climbing up the mountain pass in winter, looking like a trail of ants climbing their way to the top of the pass. The NP now owns this land, once a part of the 1st Nation Tribe of Indians trading route. After driving along the well maintained dirt road, which hugs the side of the mountain range along one of the long narrow inlets, I arrived at the park. Just a few signs to indicate where to begin my exploration of the area. Numerous groups were gathering for bike trips, hiking and horse back riding. So many options. Since I pretty much knew what I was doing, I went on and started my hike. There are a couple of tails in the area, I took a loop trail around the original Dyea settlement. Little is left of the boom town settlement that sprang up overnight, only to be abandoned two years later. Amazing how nature will reclaim the land so quickly. Darn, I missed seeing the bears along the river near the end of the road. I may have to go back to see them as they hang out in this area quite often.

This is another seaside port that I’m completely smitten with. I plan on staying here for 4 more days to continue exploring the area, maybe ride my bike around town. A bit more traffic here than in Valdez, but I think it will be safe as I can take some of the side streets, rather than the main street to ride around on.

I’ve posted more pictures on my picasa web site to go along with this report. Ps, the current weather up here is very cloudy, but when the sun peaks out it’s just magnificent. Temp has reached a high of 70 today, with evening temps around 54 degrees.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

27-2009 Cook and Whitehorse, Yukon


Cook, Mile post 1164, Yukon

Whitehorse, Yukon

Campground: Burwash landing Resort. Mile post 1093. 15 amp and water. $23.00c. Nice view of Lake.

Campground: Pioneer Rv Park, Whitehorse. Elect/water w/cable tv. $28.00c. 2nd time at this park.

Yippee! Even though I had to drive over the many miles of rough road again, this time it was a breeze. All of the construction vehicles are gone and the gravel road is as smooth as can be with minimal dust. Well for me anyway. As I look behind me I see a light plume of dust billowing behind the camper. If there had been more traffic on the highway I’m sure the dust would have been horrendous. Further, it was dry out so I didn’t get quite as much dust on the camper and no mud.

Heading out from Tok Alaska, I’m following the Alaskan Highway once again. There are many Mom and Pop stops along the way and after driving about 100 miles, I stopped at one called Cook’s. It’s owned by Jim and his wife who’ve had the place for 40 years. I love a place like this, as the owners are super friendly and will chat with you at a drop of the hat, or in my case a cup of coffee made in an old coffee pot on the stove. They call it cowboy coffee and it was good.

Now Cooks is at mile post 1164 (using the Mile Post Book as a reference). Jim had some pretty strong opinions regarding both Bushes and Sara Palin, feeling she’s been done wrong by the media. It’s the first time I’ve had an honest conversation with someone on politics without tempers flaring or ending up with bad feelings. The Cooks winter in AZ and currently like the Yuma area the best. We both agreed in the end that we hoped who ever was in office would just do the right thing.

We sat in the center of their store surrounded by groceries, lots of gem and mineral displays and stuff, all for sale including some unique pieces that Jim makes out of rail road spikes. It’s a warm and homey place and the conversations covered everything from travel, weather, health to yes, even politics. Though I told Jim I came this far just to get away from all the news and politics. But even up here, people have a passion for what’s going on in the world at large.

Before I left, Jim showed me around their garden and green house. Their generator humming in the background. There’s no power out this far. They haven’t been able to weed the main garden due to his health this year, but the green house is doing real well and the rhubarb is growing like weeds. His wife makes rhubarb bars and pies all the time. They have everything from tomatoes, pole beans, beets, strawberries and one ear of corn. He’s trying to see how corn would do up here with their short growing season.

His wife was telling me Jim has been a collector all his life. She was finally at the point of telling him recently that he needed to get rid of some of the “stuff“, when a road worker (they make really good money) came by and offered $20,000 for three antique items out front (I think one was a car) …. What she considered junk…. She’s taken a different outlook on his collection these days.

It’s interesting traveling along some of the same Alaskan hwy that I’ve been on before. The scenery to some would be monotonous, the constant views of black spruce, tundra ponds and lakes, the mountain ranges that go on forever, but to me it all changes with the light, clouds, traffic patterns along the rolling perma frost roads.

Like this morning, when I started to head out of Burwash Resort. A heavy downpour had let up, but it was still overcast. As I got back onto the Alaskan Highway, the scenery was all silver gray. Close to the highway the only color was the fireweed which at times was like a carpet of dark pink to almost a lavender color spikes. The rest of the scenery was the water soaked black Spruce, those tall thin evergreens with dark green foliage and black branches and trunks that appear almost ghost like across the landscape. Beyond the trees, slivers of lakes and rivers would appear, reflecting the gray sky above. The lake on my left hand side, Kluane Lake, was all silver gray with a spot of sunlight off to the north east side of the lake. The sun completely diffused by the misty clouds, making the spot of light on the lake a blur of shimmering yellow gold, rippling silver bands stretching out from that one spot of light. The lake reminds me of an inland sea it’s so large. Surrounding the overcast lake on the northern side, the mountain ranges were layers of dark silhouettes going from medium to dark grays and finally smoky black. A layer of low soft off white clouds formed “cloud mountains” in front of the real stone arches behind them. A pallet of monochrome grays.

Something that is impossible to capture on camera. The vastness and size alone are impossible to capture.

Completely different than when I had driven past here over three weeks earlier. A silent landscape that just goes on forever. The only thing changing are the shapes of the mountain ranges on each side. Yet I’m never bored looking at its immensity or simplicity. Mile after mile, occasionally pulling over, just to stretch my legs and listen to the silence or the occasional car passing by it’s engines noise fading the further it travels down the road. Then silence again. Getting back in the truck and driving down the highway, seeing the ripples in the pavement off in the distance, calculating how much I’ll need to slow down before resuming my normal pace again. Occasionally passing a closed way side business. Was that the second or the third closed business I’ve passed in the last 90 miles.

I hope that gives you a snap shot of what it’s like to drive along the Alaskan highway.

I’ve arrived once again in Whitehorse and will stay here for about a 6 days before heading to Skagway Alaska. People tell me it’s very touristy but like so many places I’ve gone too, I have to experience it for myself.

I like the idea of being in the Yukon. On the edge of a vast wilderness that stretches to the Artic. Life seems to be stripped down to the basics and no more. Even watching local Tv the perspective is totally Canadian. There are a couple of Native Indian Tv stations where the programming is done in a couple of the Indian native tongues, like the Inuit and Athabascan. My friend Bob would love being here to listen to all the French speaking Tv and radio stations and I like getting a different perspective on the what’s important to the people up here and their views of world events.

I’ve been catching up on some chores, including trying to decide how to store part of my awning that goes over the large slide out. The metal cover that goes over the awning during storage, literally fell off. I should have expected it, as I had wanted to get it fixed before leaving on this trip, but unfortunately was not able to get someone to work on it before I headed out on this wondrous journey. I’ve attached it to the roof for now (it’s about 18 ft long), but I’m not sure I’ve secured it good enough for the long journey back into the states where I should be able to get the whole thing fixed. I may end up storing it inside the camper… we’ll see.

I could share tons more, but hate to have these reports drag on endlessly, as you know, I could talk on for forevvvver.

I’m working on another report on lessons learned along this journey and will publish it shortly.
They have a small theatre in town and it’s showing the latest Harry Potter movies. Since I’ve read all the books and have seen all the other films, I think I’ll go check it out tomorrow.

Monday, July 13, 2009

26-2009 Valdez to TOK and exiting Alaska

Valdez Alaska

TOK Alaska

I spent my last couple of days just riding my bike around new Valdez and having lunch at a couple of the local places. At Mike’s Place, I ordered a pizza which took forever to arrive, but I had struck up a conversation with a guy from Quebec. He’s a French teacher and is traveling on his own just like me. We got into a conversation with the staff at the restaurant and found out four of them came from Turkey to work for the summer. Later on at another local place, I overheard the cashier introduce a local to one of their workers who had come all the way from Peru. They sign up for these jobs in their country and then fly over and work and experience a different culture and way of life.

The town subsists mainly on fishing, the Oil pipeline terminus station and of course some on tourism, though I wouldn’t really call this a tourist town. There are very few tourist shops, but if you like the water, fishing, hiking and biking, I’d say this is the place to visit.

Exiting Alaska’s Mainland.

I can’t believe my time is up here. I suppose I could have stayed a little bit longer, but I’ve seen most of what I was interested in seeing before heading down to PART II of my Alaskan Adventures.

The one place I would have liked to have gone into was the Wrangell St Elias National Park. It’s the largest park in the U.S. but alas, being one of the newest parks, it has only two dirt and gravel roads into it. Can you imagine driving about 59 miles on an abandoned rail line with the occasional rail spike popping up. Mountains that are 18,000 feet in height and the almost ghost town of McCarthy and the defunct Kennecott Mine site accessible only by that 59 mile gravel road or one could rent a plane ( $250) or take a bus in for $99.00. I asked one of the Rangers about whether the park will be paving the only two roads leading into the park and he said they probably will one day, but that he hopes they wouldn‘t. He’d prefer to make it a bit difficult so that only the ones who really desire wanting to get into the park will make the effort. Forget about some of us who would love to go, but are also concerned their back may go out on a 3 hours rough drive in and another three hours out of the park. And then one would only get to see perhaps 1% of the park itself during the couple of hours you’d have to look around.

I think if I ever come back, I’d plan on taking the plane ride. Definitely on the top of my list of things I’d like to do. For now I think the forest fires in the area would not make for good flying.

But for now I’ve arrived back in TOK, the town I first arrived in when entering Alaska, 90 miles from the Canadian boarder. If you come up this way, I strongly recommend Fast Eddie’s Restaurant in TOK. It’s about the last place in Alaska that you’ll be able to get fresh vegetables and fruit. Full menu with lots of good choices. I had the salad bar and a ½ croissant sandwich. They make their own fresh breads and buns.

Tomorrow I head across the boarder and back into Canada for about a week. I’ll then drive down to Skagway Alaska for my three plus days on the Alaskan Ferry, giving me a chance to see the Alaskan Inner Passage with a stop over in Ketchikan before arriving back in Canada at Prince Rupert.

I’m including a picture of the map I have hung up on my Mirror in the living room of my camper. It shows all the places I’ve (we’ve) been so far. I’ll also publish a copy on the Picasa site so you can download it “full size” and review off line. There’s still more to go, but we’ve traveled quite a distance and I thought this would be a good time to reflect back on that.

Note: I do occasionally add more pictures to the albums on my Picasa site, so please check back on some of the most recent albums. Check out the Valdez Album and others.

Friday, July 10, 2009

25-09 Valdez Alaska


Anchorage to Valdez Alaska

Campground: Boardwalk Rv Park, Glennallen AK. $20, Full hookups. Very basic, just a place to park for the night.

Campground: Bayside Rv Park, Valdez AK. $31 for a pull thru site, Full hookups w/cable Tv. Many Rv parks in Valdez, most within the city limits. Could have gotten a cheaper spot, but decided to splurge.

A couple of notes before leaving Anchorage. The highways in and around Anchorage are very rutted. What I mean is, that they have depressions just like the old wagon trains would have made, only on asphalt. Hard to see, but you sure can feel it. The first time I experienced the ruts, it felt like I was driving on glass as my wheels kept drifting to the depressions in the roadway. Very uncomfortable feeling.

Mosquitoes. I’ve heard from many folks that the mosquitoes would eat one alive and to use lots of repellent. One of the visitor center guys asked me if I’d been eaten alive yet. I said no and he proceeded to pull up his pants leg and showed me all the mosquito bites he has. Guess I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t had any really bad experiences with the little vermin and haven’t come across any of the horrid horse flies that apparently take chunks of flesh when they bite you. Each persons experiences are different of course. I do use insect repellant if I’m going to be outdoors for long periods. Of course I’m keeping pretty covered up as well and haven’t put on my shorts even though many days they would be more comfortable. The extra coverage of keeping full length pants on does help and I don’t have to put on as much bug spray.

Leaving Anchorage.

I’m leaving my temporary home in Anchorage and heading out on hwy 1, The Glenn Hwy heading towards my next destination Valdez. I have become addicted to travel, to the point that while in Anchorage for 8 days, my last couple of days I was eager to get back on the road with my camper. The Glenn Hwy is a bit rough, having many perma frost dips along the way forcing me to go slower than I normally would go, even for me. 55 tops, with 50 being the speed most of these perma frost dips can be taken without dislodging everything in the camper.

I hadn’t seen any wild life along hwy 1 and just as I was thinking, wouldn’t it be nice to see a moose, I glanced over towards a pristine pond edged in a narrow band of green grass and black spruce trees behind it all. The moose was huge, just standing there at the edge of the pond. Probably trying to cool off. The last couple of days I’ve actually started to run my a/c in the camper. Today it got up to 90 while driving down the road. The campsite I stayed at overnight for $20 had signs everywhere, “absolutely no electric heaters”. Not a problem, I had the A/C running most of the evening.

As I left Glennallen AK, which is a cross roads town with all the basic services. Keep in mind, these “town“ with maybe a half a dozen buildings are usually 60 to 100 miles apart. So stopping to get gas etc are essential to make it to the next stop. I headed on down hwy 4, Richardson Hwy. Now my Mile Post book said the road descended and were they right. All except for an 8% grade, the other 75 miles was a constant gradual descent. Easy on the gas, that is until I take the return trip back uphill all the way. Only one road in and one road out of Valdez. The road was pretty bumpy as well from perma frost, but there was only one section of construction along the hwy.

Even with the smog and mist from the forest fires (there are 70 currently active fires in the state) the scenery continues to become more dynamic. From primordial forests and flat wet lands the scenery suddenly changes into mountain ranges as I continue to descend along the Richardson hwy. The mountain ranges with their numerous glaciers look so massive, at times, the closer I get to them, they completely block out my view of the sky. Even with them shrouded in mist from the forest fires, they occasionally peak out and I’m almost blown away by the size and number of mountains as I get closer to Valdez.
I’m able to see the Trans Alaskan Pipeline as well on my left side, gleaming in the diffused sunlight, between trees and the many lakes. Amazing to be going down a steep hill, looking over and seeing a lake along the side of a mountain range where it levels off just enough to have created a lake. I thought about starting to count the lakes as I passed each one by, but I’m not sure I learned how to count that high. And speaking of water, the Copper River and many tributaries follow along the same path as the hwy. A huge raging river, filled with acres of fallen trees being swept down to sea, many getting stuck on the vast shallow rock expanses of glacial debris along the rivers path. Everything seems to be bigger and more expansive up here.

Finally crossing over Thompson Pass and descending down into Valdez after numerous stops along the way, I pulled into the Bayside Rv park, right on the edge of New Valdez. You may remember back in 1964 when the earthquake hit, Valdez was the closest big town near the epicenter. It destroyed the Old town and swept away the shipping docks. They ended up moving the town a few miles west to safer ground, where I’m at today.

I’ve fallen in love with this seaside town the minute I entered it. I’ve heard from other travelers that there’s nothing here, just a small fishing port and that’s it. The big thing I’ve learned on this trip is to go find out for yourself. This is my kind of town. The Rv park where I’m staying is within walking distance of the harbor, less than a block away. I can ride my bike anywhere in town. The roads are wide and the traffic is light. We are literally at the end of the road. They even have some bike paths. I’ve already been out on my bike 4 times today.
Valdese, population: 3843.

Ta, dah…. I finally took a glacier tour here in Valdez. If you make it to Alaska there are many glacier tours one could take out of Whittier, Seward, Valdez and a number of other places. The timing was right and it was a perfect day for a tour so I took the Stan Stephens Glacier and Wildlife cruise. They have 6 hr and 9 ½ hour tours and I decided to go all the way and take the 9 ½ hour tour which included two fiords leading to the Columbia Glacier and the Mears Glacier.

I know my friend Linda Hill from work who will be taking a similar tour in a couple more weeks will really enjoy it. My tour was on a double hulled ship which was smooth as butter on the water. Right off the bat I met a couple named Doug and Peggy who know Ed and Sandy (Desert Trails campers) from Spokane Wash. Small world.

We all thought there’d be some down time during the 9+ hour tour, but we were kept busy the entire time viewing wildlife, scenery and the two main glaciers. Oh and the lunch and later on they served clam chowder as a snack. What a deal. I was exhausted running from one side of the boat to the other and back to get as many good shots as possible.

I won’t bore you with a blow by blow description of the tour. Just know that it was great to see all of the wildlife. It was almost as if it was timed perfectly throughout the tour. I guess seeing the hump back whales was the most exciting. The sea otters were the cutest. Eagles fly overhead every once and a while. Wish I could have gotten a good shot of the puffins, but they fly off as soon as the boat got close to them. Though if they eat too much, they have trouble taking off.

And the views of the glaciers up close was as expected, awesome. We only saw one small section calving off the edge of the glacier, but just sitting there with the engines turned off, listening to the creaking, groaning and popping sounds of the ice, then if you were lucky, seeing some ice calve off was pretty darn cool. Occasionally seeing small avalanches of ice and snow billowing off of the glacier, creating puffs of snow clouds. Just one of those experiences in life that has to be seen to appreciate it fully.

That’s it for today, I’m sending out this report and celebrating my B-Day, though I don’t know why. I’ve reached that age where everyone assumes you’re a senior citizen… the face does not lie. But I will tell you, I feel young inside and my spirit has soared just by being on this adventure. So all in all, it’s a good day.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

24-2009 Anchorage Alaska

Anchorage Alaska
Kenai Peninsula

I thought I’d start out by giving a brief description of costs for the past couple of months, for those who may be considering a journey to Alaska. The month of May was spent in Idaho, Montana and Alberta. The Month Of June was spent in Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon and Alaska.

May: Camping, monthly: $538.15, Daily: $17.94. Diesel Fuel: $353.46 Misc. Expenses: $887.93 (purchased a small generator)

June: Camping, Monthly: $686.26, Daily: $22.88. Diesel Fuel: $860.95 Misc. Expenses: $491.58

As you can see the diesel fuel and Misc. expenses can jump wildly. Fuel was expected to be high, especially with traveling much further distances while in Canada and along the Alaskan highway. The high Misc expense in May was due to my purchase of a small generator as I thought I would need it…. As it turns out, I didn’t… Oh well, I have additional backup power now. Campground prices in Canada are very consistent and around the $28c price range. U.S. prices fluctuate wildly and can be anywhere from a low of $18 to a high of $38+.

Touring: I decided to tour today and drove approx. 150 miles south to the Kenai Peninsula to the coastal town of Seward. It was a long day, but enjoyable. The drive started by going through Anchorage, south along the Cook Inlet. The road hugs the edge of the mountain ranges and the Cook Inlet. I must admit the enormity of the mountain ranges, many covered in glaciers like the Spencer Glacier and the Sargent and Harding Icefields was almost too much to take in. Each mountain range was bordered by the most beautiful lakes and marshes which the roadway traveled along. These mountains are once again heavily covered in thick green carpets of dark green spruce trees and grasses and making for an enormous Alpine setting to travel through.

There was some road construction which slowed me down and once again covered my truck in a light tan colored spray of mud and sand. I will have to wash it tomorrow. Or, I could try and fit in and look like a local. Seward is a small town that has some great tour boats that go the Kenai Fjords and such. I should note that I decided not to take the tours (usually all day tours) as I will be taking the ferry from Skagway to Prince Rupert later in the month and should see much along the inner passage in southern Alaska.

I just toured the town and decided to spend my time hiking up to the Exit Glacier. It’s just outside of Seward. Took the mile of easy hiking trails to the glacier and got lots of pictures of course. On the way down, I met up with a 78 year man and his wife (who was much younger). They had both been volunteers here 10 years earlier. Said they saw many changes in the glacier, one being that it is now much smaller. As I continued my way back towards the parking lot, there was a bit of commotion. A park ranger told me two black bears had just been spotted in the woods next to the trail. Since I wasn’t sure which direction to take and wanting to go back to the main entrance, I asked if he would accompany me part way down. As we started walking down the path we heard a rustling of leaves and branches. The Ranger and I looked over at the same time. And there they were, a Mama brown bear and her fairly large cub not more than 10 feet from where the Ranger and I were standing on the walkway.

I quickly joined a group of about 10 other hikers and a park volunteer standing at the paths intersection. The Ranger stayed near the bears, as the bears began wondering in the opposite direction away from us. One of the park personnel called on a walkie talkie and asked for backup. The volunteer casually asked a woman if she was able to get her shots of the bear. The paths were starting to get very congested with people coming down from the glacier and many more heading up towards it. I didn’t hear any of the Rangers or staff telling folks to stay out of the area. Families with kids and all didn‘t have a clue. It just appeared to be a very unsafe situation to me especially since both brown bears were in a heavily wooded area between two of the main trails

that eventually converged on each other. Meaning the bears would have to cross over one of the paths to get out of the area.

I continued on back to the main entrance and just shook my head that most everyone was so casual about being so close to two wild bears. Passing numerous groups heading towards the glacier and the two bears, none having been warned about the bears in the area.

Well, it was exciting and I’m glad I was able to get out of the area safely. Imagine, being 10 feet from a bear. Wonder what happened after I left the area. This may be a warning to others, that no one tells you what’s up ahead.

Comment: Alaskans appear to love their coffee and ice-cream. They tell me that Alaskans eat more ice-cream than any other state in the union. I see a lot of coffee drive throughs which also sell ice-cream. And they are second in the consumption of Spam. Hawaii being the first. Who Knew.

Comment: I’ve had some of the worst meals in Alaska, probably due to my choosing incorrectly on the menu. While in Seward I ate at The Apollo Restaurant. (Frommers food award) I ordered one of the first things on the menu, “A Taste of Alaska”. It contained salmon, haddock, scallop and prawn. All were fried, which should have been a clue. The salmon and haddock were so small, smaller than a pencil in width and about an inch in length. Heavily battered as well. It was like eating a poorly prepared appetizer at a fairly high price I might add. I’m sure the rest of their menu items were better, unfortunately, I made a really bad decision on that one.

A few thoughts on Anchorage. Anchorage is a nice size city. Of course I always have a problem with parking meters, so I’m not thrilled about having to use them. At least they have a few parking garages which make paying a bit easier. July is the city’s best month to enjoy the area as the weather is usually warm 65 - 70 and sunny. I timed it perfectly. Don’t ask me how. During the summer, the city plants and puts out hundreds if not thousands of hanging flower baskets. Very colorful and welcoming. I’m told that after the flowers come down in the fall they encourage downtown buildings and homes in the area to decorate with white lights and use them all winter long. Nice idea. Temps in the winter are usually around 20 degrees. Locals say if you travel 30 minutes outside of Anchorage, you’ll be in Alaska. Sourdough refers to Alaskans, since after one arrives here, they are sour after 2 years and out of dough. There are over 2,000 moose who call Anchorage home. They can be seen in and around the numerous wooded areas around town and can often be found wondering the streets later in the evening and early morning. Population approx. 277,000 which is 42% of Alaska’s state population.

4th of July. I drove about 40 miles out of town to a small community called Girdwood. They have the Girdwood Forest Festival over the 4th weekend. Lots of local Alaskan entertainment, craft booths and food. I missed the small parade, waiting in line to get a parking spot on the other end of town. Enjoyable to wonder the booths, get a bison burger and listen to a couple local groups. The first one played some really cool jazz. The next group that I liked played down home folk music. Nice to see families, the usual hippies who seem to come out of the woodwork for these events, tie dyed shirts and all, always adding that cool factor to any event. Home spun good fun. As I left in the afternoon, I picked up the music being played live on 88.9. Glad I left at that time. The group playing couldn’t remember the words to the songs and during breaks between the music, one could here their conversation quite clearly. The young lead singer, saying, gee I forgot the notes and couldn’t remember all the lyrics. No kidding. Kind of interesting to be listen in on what should have been private moments, coming across the air waves.

I’ll be in Anchorage for one more day then heading to Valdez Alaska. Still in awe that I’m doing this trip.

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