Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Homeward Bound via Shaver Lake

Monday, July 27, 2009 – Brett called us as we were hooking up to leave the campground and asked us to meet them for coffee before we left. Through a series of lost calls and bad cell phone reception we settled on the meeting place and met them for coffee and good-byes. We left Paradise and continued south to Fresno where we took the cut-off to Shaver Lake. Steve gave us directions to a largo park and ride lot just before the 7-Mile Hill going up to Shaver. We disconnected the car, parked the motorhome and headed up the mountain to spend the night with Steve and Janice Mitchell. Their new home turned out beautiful and they are very excited to finally be in after almost two years of building. Janice made a delicious pork tenderloin for dinner and we had a great visit with them.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 – We had a light breakfast of Shaver Lake’s Chunky Bread and fresh fruit smoothies. After breakfast we took a little walk around their new neighborhood to see some of the houses and properties near them. We said our good-byes and got on the road just before 10:00 AM. It took us about 20 minutes to get to the park and ride lot where we hooked up the motorhome and headed for home. After 70 days and 10,539 miles we arrived back home in Murrieta around 6:00 PM. Trips are always great but there's no place like home!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Visit with Brett and Sarah

Saturday, July 25, 2009 – We left Yreka and continued south on Interstate 5 and state 99 into Chico where we planned to spend the night and have a short visit with Brett and Sarah. The campground we had planned to use was full so we came into Paradise and stayed at the Quail Trail RV Park where we stayed last year when we were here. Since we did not know our plans we could not give them any notice so they are both working today. We were able to see them each for a short visit but we will be able to spend more time with them tomorrow before we head home with an overnight stop at Shaver Lake to see our good friends, Steve and Janice Mitchell.

Sunday, July 26, 2009 – We met Brett and Sarah at their home in Magalia and went to breakfast at a little diner they have discovered near them. Brett worked until after 2:00 AM and then didn’t get home until almost 4:00 so he was exhausted and Sarah had to work at the Boot Barn so after breakfast we went back to the motorhome for the day. Around 5:00 we drove over and picked up Brett and we drove to Chico and met Sarah when she got off of work. The four of us went to dinner at the Sierra Nevada Brewery Restaurant. We had a good meal but most of all it was great getting to see the kids. We went back to their place after dinner and visited and showed them some of the photographs from our trip before leaving them around 11:00.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Back in the "Lower 48"

Friday, July 24, 2009 – Once again we spent several hours at the repair facility only to be told they cannot replace the bad cooling sensor. They assured us that it will be fine to drive with the fan turned on all the time until we get home. We left Eugene around 11:00 AM and continued on towards home via Interstate 5 South. When we crossed the border into California the border inspection asked about fruits and vegetables and we told him we had a few apples, some blueberries, and a partial head of lettuce. He asked if we had any cherries and I had forgotten that we had a box in the refrigerator. I showed him what we had and he told us that for future reference cherries from Washington and Oregon are not allowed in California but since we had been so forthcoming about declaring them we could keep them but not to throw the pits away indiscriminately due to the threat of fruit fly contamination. Who knew? We continued on into Yreka and got a space at the Yreka RV Park for the night. We drove around Yreka and stopped for a few groceries. The campground host recommended the Puerto Vallarta Restaurant and since I never turn down Mexican food we went there for dinner. The food was great especially my molcajete which is a spicy Mexican stew. I had never had it before but immediately went online and found a recipe because it is a dish I will want to cook at home. At the end of the meal the waiter brought us each a complimentary tequila shot. I was reluctant to try it but it was surprisingly smooth and did not have a strong alcohol taste at all.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Overheating, Bad Tires, Worn Out Wipers - What's next?

Monday, July 20, 2009 – We pulled out just after 6:00 AM to fill the motorhome and have it to the Freightliner shop for our 7:00 appointment. They checked out the radiator cooling fan, the thermostat, and coolant levels and everything appears to be in working order. Due to all the dirt and gravel roads in Alaska the air filter was completely clogged with dirt and dust so they changed the air and fuel filters and did an oil change and sent us on our way. We finally pulled out of Prince George just before noon and headed south towards Vancouver. Just as we got on the road we came across a young couple, Samuel and Kate, who were trying to get to Kelowna which was right on our route so we gave them a ride. We continued down Highway 97 and it took very little time to discover that the heating problem persists. We had to stop several times for the engine to cool down and finally told Samuel and Kate that they might be better off and get home quicker on their own so they left us. Fortunately, they got picked up by someone else in just a few minutes. Since we had already been held up for 4 ½ days we decided to make it a long driving day. We finally pulled into a rest stop about 9:00 PM and stayed there for the night.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 – We pulled out of the rest stop about 6:30 and by going very slowly up the grades we were able to get to Surrey without overheating. The drive is a beautiful drive along the river passing through relatively low mountains and forested areas. Along the way you pass through 7 tunnels and a series of small towns. We arrived at the Dogwood Campground in Surrey by 10:00 AM and as soon as we got set up we got maps and drove about an hour into Vancouver. We got tickets for the Hop-On and Hop-Off Trolley and took the narrated tour around the city. We learned that Vancouver is a huge city with 2.2 million people and the third largest population density just after Mexico City and Manhattan, New York. We also learned that Vancouver is a huge filming center being third after New York and Los Angeles and that my favorite movie, “Pretty Woman”, was filmed there. We returned to the campground and took a quick orientation drive to figure out the location of the caterpillar repair center as we have an appointment with them in the morning to try once again to find out why we are overheating. We made dinner at home and tried to cool off – it was 103 inside the motorhome when we got back from Vancouver.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 – We left the campground early for our appointment at the CAT repair center in Surrey, BC to try and repair the continuing overheating problem. They determined that the diagnosis from Freightliner in Prince George was completely wrong and that the sensor that controls the cooling fan is not working. They did not have the part but were able to disconnect the sensor and allow the fan to run continuously and keep the engine cool so we could continue on our trip. The US/Canada border was only about a 15 mile drive from Surrey and after a 30 minute wait we crossed the border at Blaine, WA. We had heard so many horror stories about border crossing but with a total of 8 crossings during this trip we had not one single problem. We continued to drive south on Interstate 5 all the way through Washington and into Junction City, Oregon to the Country Coach factory. When we arrived we discovered that the on-site factory campground is no longer available and their operation reduced even more than we imagined after their recent bankruptcy. We ended up parking in the parking lot at the company headquarters and quickly drove to a Mexican restaurant where we had eaten on our last visit. We “dry camped” in the parking lot overnight and were able to get a satellite television signal for the first time in weeks so we were able to watch our local hometown news before going to bed.

Thursday, July 23, 2009 - When we woke up this morning before 7:00 AM we were told that Country Coach no longer offers any kind of service and we were directed to some other businesses in the area. We called a couple of the repair companies and could not get an appointment for today but we were able to get one for 8:00 AM tomorrow. I had noticed that our front tire looked a little worn on the outside edge so we stopped at Les Schwab Tire Center and had it inspected. We were told that we needed to replace at least the two front tires very soon and since Oregon does not have sales tax we would save well over $100 by getting the tires while we are here so we had it done. They said the wear pattern on the tires indicated an alignment problem so they sent us to a brake and alignment company nearby. Unfortunately they had no appointments available for almost a week so we decided to wait until we get home for that service. We dropped off the motorhome at a very nice campground called the Premier RV Resort where we will camp for tonight and then headed off to take care of some errands. In addition to the overheating problem we wanted to take care of some small do-it-yourself type repairs. We needed to replace clips for two of our drawers so they don’t open while we drive and we needed new wiper blades. The drawer clips were easy but it took several stops before we were able to get the right size of wiper blades. We completed our projects once we got back to the campground, went to the Jacuzzi for a while and made some of the halibut we caught in Ninilchik. If we can get the other repair done in the morning we will once again be on our way home.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Waiting and Waiting ... 4 Days in Prince George

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 – We have not seen nearly the amount of wild life we thought we would see in Alaska but this morning we saw two bears and for the first time ever we saw a wolf. As we drove we continued to have trouble with overheating which means we will have to get it checked as soon as possible. We traveled as far as Burns Lake when the guys decided they were tired of driving and ready to stop for the night. Unfortunately, as we pulled into the campground Bill Dickey discovered that he had lost the tread on his tow vehicle and the flapping of the rubber had damaged his truck. We both disconnected and quickly set up then we followed him to the dealership to get a new tire. We stopped at the store for a few groceries and picked up KFC for dinner before returning to the campground for the rest of the evening.

Thursday, July 16, 2009 – The first thing this morning Bill called Country Coach and the Caterpillar hotline for repair referrals. He got the number for a Freightliner repair center in Prince George and made an appointment. However, they cannot see us until Monday at 7:00 AM which means we will be held over in Prince George for at least the next 4 days. After we got set up we all left together to get some lunch and go to Costco. We finished our shopping and returned to camp for the rest of the evening.

Friday, July 17, 2009 – Both guys went to play golf this morning and had a good time. Pam and I went to the mall and went grocery shopping. Corey called to tell us that our dog, Lady is vomiting, not eating, and quite lethargic. He will take her to the vet in the morning.

Saturday, July 18, 2009 - Bill and I drove to the downtown section of Prince George and went to the Farmer’s Market. We got some fresh cherries and also found a special housewarming gift for our good friends Steve and Janice. When we returned home we received a call from Corey with bad news from the vet. Lady has terminal kidney disease and will be hospitalized over the weekend with IVs and medication. We had some rain this afternoon which helped wash some of the grime off the car and motorhome. The time in camp gave me a good opportunity to get caught up with labeling all of our photographs from this trip. We had a simple dinner of leftovers and Bill and Pam came over to play games for a while.

Sunday, July 19, 2009 – Bill and Pam left this morning and continued on their trip since we are stuck in Prince George until at least Monday morning. Bill and I tried to go to a movie but there was very little we were interested in seeing and our timing was all off for what was showing. At the suggestion of the campground host we went to the Bonnet Hill Pub for dinner. It was a good recommendation because the food was good, the prices were reasonable, and it had a relaxing and casual atmosphere. I was able to finish labeling all of my photos and got the banking and bill paying up to date.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What, No Bears in Hyder?

Monday, July 13, 2009 – We continued on down the Cassiar Highway through beautiful scenery along a well maintained road. We have been having a little problem with overheating so when we got to a pull-out near Bear Glacier we stopped and Bill and Pam continued on to Hyder, AK to secure campsites for both of us. After a short time we completed the remaining short drive into Hyder and our site at Camp Run-A-Muck. Hyder, Alaska is an interesting spot consisting of all dirt and gravel roads, several abandoned businesses, a couple of gift shops, the Glacier Inn and Bar/Restaurant, the Sealaska Inn and Bar/Restaurant, the General Store and the campground. Suzi, who runs Camp Run-A-Muck is very friendly and helpful proudly circling points of interest in and around town as we registered. After we settled in, which was no small feat given that it took four or five attempts to get leveled, we drove up the road to the Fish Creek Bear Viewing platform only to discover that we came all this way to see the bears who have not yet arrived due to the fact that the salmon run is late. As we got out of the car Bill noticed one large black bear in the rear view mirror and by the time the rest of us saw him he was almost across the road and into the bushes not to be seen again. We stayed a short time at the viewing area before deciding to go to “The Bus” for dinner. We have heard nothing but rave reviews about The Bus as the lady who runs it is married to a commercial fisherman and she cooks all the fresh seafood in a bus. It is supposed to be delicious but we will have to wait and see because when we arrived we were greeted with a hand-lettered sign saying it was closed for the day. Oh well, we thought since seafood was out of the question we would go have some pizza at the Sealaska. We drove the equivalent of a block or two and parked in front of the place and went inside only to be told the kitchen was closed. So as a last resort we drove over to the Glacier Inn and Bar. When you step inside you notice that all of the walls, every square inch of them, are covered in bills with messages written on them. This is a common theme in Alaska as we saw it at the Howling Dog Saloon in Fairbanks, the Salty Dog Saloon in Homer, and now here in Hyder. The bills starting appearing in 1956 and in some places hinged panels have been installed making the layers of bills 3 deep. According to the waitress there is over $80,000 worth of bills on the walls. In addition to the bills there is an assortment of animal trophies and hard hats mounted throughout the place. The Glacier Inn’s claim to fame is that the bar was used as The Eternity Bar in the filming of the movie Leaving Normal and tourist are reminded to go there and get “hyderized” before leaving town. We all had the halibut nuggets with fries and found them to be good but not fantastic which we are finding to be pretty much the norm. After we had dinner we returned to the Bear Viewing platform where we saw no bears but we did see a pair of beavers, several spawning salmon, and some bald eagles.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009 – We headed toward Salmon Glacier with a stop at the Fish Creek Bear Viewing platform only to be told that there had been two bears a little earlier but they were now gone. We continued on up the gravel road toward the glacier and the farther we went the foggier it got. At about mile 13 on the 20-mile drive it was apparent that we were not going to see any part of the glacier since we could barely see the side of the road. We turned around and returned to camp with another stop at the viewing platform only to be told once again there are no bears. We kept an eye on the sky and when the clouds and fog cleared late in the afternoon Bill and I once again headed up to the glacier. Our persistence paid off with one of the most spectacular views we have ever seen. Although we have seen dozens of glaciers we have never had the vantage point of being up above the glacier and looking down upon it. The sky was completely clear and some young visitors we talked to said that it is rare for the sky to be so clear and that very few people get the view we got. Up until this point in all of our travels Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon have been the most awe-inspiring views we have seen but the Salmon Glacier is certainly at least their equal. After spending about half an hour at the top we made our way back down the mountain to our campground. When we got back we told Bill and Pam that they absolutely had to drive up there and see the view for themselves because our words could not begin to do it justice. While they drove up we went over to “The Bus” for our seafood dinner. We had halibut and since it was our last night in Alaska we also splurged on an order of Alaskan king crab legs to share. We shared a table with four men traveling by motorcycle from Illinois and Alabama. During dinner we asked them if they had seen the glacier and they had not. After hearing us rave about it they really wanted to see it but did not have enough gas in their bikes and the gas station was already closed so we loaned them our car. We walked the short distance back to camp and about two hours later the bikers returned with our car. They were as awed by the view as we were and we very appreciative that we had insisted they go and take our car. After they got their bikes and checked into their hotel one of them came back and gave us his card and said if we are ever in Alabama to be sure and look him up. In the morning we will leave Alaska and continue south on the Cassiar Highway toward Prince George, British Columbia.

South Klondike and Cassiar Highways

Saturday, July 11, 2009 – We drove to the main part of Skagway and did a little shopping before stopping for lunch at the Sweet Tooth Café. We checked out of our campground just before 2:00 PM and then headed north on the South Klondike Highway. We crossed out of Alaska and into British Columbia about 20 miles north of Skagway. The crossing went fairly well with the usual questions about alcohol, tobacco, and firearms. In addition, the border agent asked if we were retired, what our jobs had been, if we were full time RVers, and whether we had more than $10,000 in cash. We answered all of his questions and then he asked to come on board. He wanted to see what alcohol we had and asked if we had a safe for our valuables. We told him we had no safe so he wanted to see where we kept our money. I showed him what he wanted to see, he thanked us, and we were on our way. The South Klondike Highway is a well maintained road through picturesque mountains and past several beautiful lakes and rivers. We took the Carcross Road cut-off which rejoins the Alaska Highway a little south of Whitehorse. We stopped at Yukon Motel and RV Park for the night. It is a nice campground right on Teslin Lake in Teslin, BC. Tomorrow we will continue retracing our path down the Alaska Highway to the junction with the Cassiar Highway.

Sunday, July 12, 2009 – We woke up early so got on the road by 8:00 AM continuing to retrace our route on the Alaska Highway to just west of Watson Lake. We stopped for lunch and fuel at Nugget City before starting south on the Cassiar Highway. We have heard wildly varying stories about the driving conditions on this particular highway so we were not sure what to expect but given some of the roads we have traveled it couldn’t be worse at least. As expected the first 16 miles was under construction and had numerous gravel breaks. From there the road continued mostly narrow paved roads with an occasional gravel break or frost heave but overall a decent road. We made a couple of stops at Jade City which claims to produce and export 90% of the world’s supply of jade. We also made a short stop to look at some moose in one of the numerous lakes, ponds, rivers, and creeks along the route. It was approaching 5:00 PM and both guys were tired of driving so we pulled in to the Dease Lake RV Park. It is a nice enough park with water, electric, and free wi-fi for only $22 and best of all very few mosquitoes. Alaska is notorious for their mosquitoes which are jokingly referred to as their state bird and British Columbia is almost as bad. We have all come to hate the nasty things as we are covered from head to toe with nasty bites and welts and will be surprised if we don’t come down with malaria or West Nile Virus.

Ferry to Skagway

Friday, July 10, 2009 – We didn’t have to be out of the campground until 1:00 so we took advantage of the time to clean up the motorhome and get all the laundry done before we leave Alaska and head for British Columbia. We filled up with fuel and headed about 8 miles out of town to the ferry terminal where we checked in about 1:30 in the afternoon. The ferry wasn’t scheduled to leave until 8:30 PM but rather than fight the road construction back to town and then try to find a place to hang out we decided to wait in the motorhome. Bill and Pam came over and we made some snacks for lunch and played cards until it was time to board the ferry. By the time we boarded, made the short trip to Skagway, unloaded and drove to our campsite it was almost 11:00 PM. Since we hadn’t eaten all day Bill and I drove downtown to see if anything was open. All we found was a couple of bars so we stopped in at one of them that seemed to have a lot of people inside. The kitchen was closed so we ordered a drink and listened to the music for a little while. The band was really horrible and the first song they performed was a profanity laced song they screamed into the microphone. It didn’t take long to get our fill of them and we returned to camp and went to bed.

Back to Haines

Thursday, July 9, 2009 - This morning the four of us went downtown to visit the shops and see Haines. We walked along Main Street and down to the waterfront and then drove over the Fort Seward. We took a self-guided walking tour of the old fort including parade grounds and the outsides of barracks, fort headquarters, officers’ quarters, and the captain’s house. In the old fire house Bill noticed several old fire helmets so he set out on a mission to try to get one. We drove over to the Haines Volunteer Fire Department and they told him although they could not sell the helmets if he would make a donation he could have one. He made a $20 donation and returned to the old fire house to pick out the helmet of his choice. We decided to get some lunch but the restaurant of choice, Mosey’s Cantina was closed until dinner time so we returned to the campground. At around 6:00 PM we picked up Bill and Pam and the four of us went to Mosey’s for another great dinner. After we came back we played Mexican Train dominos until about 10 PM and then turned in for the night.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ferry Adventure Along the Inner Passage

Sunday, July 5, 2009 – First thing this morning we moved the motorhome to a less expensive site in the campground since we will be gone for several days. Bill and Pam drove us to the ferry terminal in time for our 8:00 AM check-in time for the 9:00 AM ferry to Juneau. As we were in line to board the M/V Malaspina we met a young man with a bicycle loaded down with gear and adorned with flags. We asked about the flags and discovered that he is the young man we have been hearing about throughout Alaska who is traveling all the way from Anchorage to Argentine by bicycle. His name is Axel Miguez and we talked to him a little about his trip as we were boarding for the 4 ½ hour trip to Juneau. We got settled in the forward observation lounge where we read, watched the scenery, and listened to short presentations by the on-board interpreter from the U.S. Park Service. We had planned to check into a hotel and stay in Juneau for the night and then re-board the ferry at 8 AM for the trip to Sitka but when we arrived at the terminal we found out from other passengers that the ferry that usually leaves at 3 PM had been delayed until 10 PM with a scheduled arrival in Sitka at 7:30 AM. In what we initially thought was pure genius on our part we decided that rather than pay for a hotel we would change our tickets to the 10 PM ferry and sleep on the ferry for free and have an extra half day in Sitka! We got a cab into town and at the recommendation of the driver we had lunch at the Hanger. We both ordered fish and chips and found that although the cod was good the halibut was much better. The restaurant is right on the waterfront and you can see all the cruise ships docked and watch the float planes taking off while you eat. After lunch we walked around a little and looked at some of the dozens of jewelry, fur, tee-shirt, and gift shops. When we were dropped off we scheduled an 8:30 PM pick up time with the cab driver to take us back to the ferry terminal and the driver arrived right on time. As soon as we boarded the M/V Matanuska we headed up to the solarium to secure a lounger for the night before they were all taken. The 10 PM departure turned into 11:45 PM by the time we finally pulled away from the dock so the arrival time should still be around 9:30 AM right? Wrong! Because of the currents and tide changes our arrival time was almost 2:00 PM the following afternoon. We slept part of the night on the lounge chairs in the solarium and then at different times abandoned those to find more comfortable sleeping on the couches in the observation lounge. In spite of the delays it was a good experience as Axel was on the same ferry again and we spent most of our time with him and got to know him. He is very interesting and has a good command of the English language and we both really enjoyed his company. Through Axel we met a young Australian woman, Emma who is bicycling from Anchorage to San Francisco with a friend. I never realized there were so many bicycling adventurers in this world. In addition we saw the most beautiful full moon and many whales during the trip.

Monday, July 6, 2009 - When we arrived in Sitka there was a shuttle bus waiting who charged only $10 per person round trip (way cheaper than a taxi) and the driver agreed to hold our luggage until we had to re-board the ferry at 3:45 AM. Sitka is quite small and doesn’t even have the large number of shops that most port cities seem to have. We were starving at this point so stopped at the Agave Mexican Restaurant for a very tasty lunch. After lunch we did the little tour of town with stops at St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian Bishop’s House, the small boat harbor, and the Sheldon Jackson Museum featuring the Eskimo and Tlingket cultures. The weather was very hot and by the time we had finished at the museum the prospect of walking further to the Historical Park to see the totem poles and the nature walk seemed very unappealing. We walked back into town to find someplace to get a drink and after talking to one of the residents we were given directions to walk to McDonalds – cheap drinks that are refillable! We walked about 1 ½ miles through a pretty seedy section of town along the commercial fishing docks before finding our destination. By the time we arrived we were both completely dehydrated and drank about 5 glasses of iced tea apiece. We really got more than our money’s worth for the $2.74 we spent on drinks. When we finished we walked back into town and although it was still early there was not a cruise ship in sight so the town had rolled up the sidewalks. We still had hours to go before the bus driver was going to pick us up so we bought movie tickets for the 7:30 PM showing of Transformers. The show has great special effects but as usual in that type of movie most of the time I didn’t know what was going on – those robots all look alike to me but it did take care of almost 2 ½ hours. After the movie was over the only place open in town was the local Subway so we got a sandwich and then waited in the lobby of the Westmark Hotel for the bus driver to take us back to the ferry terminal.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009 – We boarded the M/V Taku back to Juneau at 2:00 AM and promptly found a place to sleep for the night. Although we were sleeping in recliner chairs we fell right to sleep and slept until almost 10:00. After we woke up we read and explored what little there was to see on board which wasn’t much since this ferry was quite small. When the cafeteria opened we got a little lunch on board to save time when we got to Juneau. We arrived back in Juneau at 1:00 PM and called for the free shuttle van to the Driftwood Lodge where we planned to stay for the night. The van arrived very quickly and we checked into the hotel. The rooms are clean but lacking in basic amenities such as shampoo, lotion, and Kleenex. As soon as we checked in we walked down to the cruise ship docks and arranged a narrated city and glacier tour. The tour took us past the touristy section of Juneau where we learned that most of the shops are actually owned by the cruise lines themselves. Further up the street is the historic section of town that was the site of bars, brothels, and boarding houses servicing the miners during the Alaskan Gold Rush. We went past the Governor’s Mansion, a very small Russian Orthodox Church, and the State Capitol building. We then headed out of town and stopped at Mendenhall Lake where we had a good view of the glacier. After a short stop at the lake for photographs we headed to the Shrine of St. Terese. The Shrine is a simple wooden church on a beautiful little island. There are stone monuments depicting the Stations of the Cross along a wooded walking path. The view of the mountains and water was spectacular and was complemented by sightings of a stellar sea lion, a pair of humpback whales, and several bald eagles. When we got back to town it was about 5:30 PM so we had dinner at the Twisted Fish. It was a good choice for dinner and specializes in sea food as the name implies. After dinner we walked through a few more shops to pick up a couple of gifts we needed for friends back home. We stopped in at the Alaskan Bar for a drink and found that it is more authentic, less touristy, and much less expensive than the famous Red Dog Saloon where all the cruise passengers stop. We walked back a short few blocks to our hotel and both enjoyed a good night of sleep in a real bed for after our two nights of sleeping on the ferry.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009 – We took our time getting ready this morning and then walked down to the Sandpiper Café for breakfast. The restaurant is recommended in the Frommer’s Alaska Guide and its reputation is well deserved. They serve a very good breakfast, give generous portions, and are reasonably priced. After breakfast we made a last quick trip to town and then took the free van shuttle back to the ferry terminal back for our return to Haines. We boarded the ferry and got settled in the front observation lounge for the 4 ½ hour trip. Along the way we spotted a few whales and a Dall Porpoise and the onboard interpreter from the U.S. Park Service gave talks on bald eagles and the towns of Haines and Skagway. We arrived right on time and Bill and Pam were there to pick us up. We dropped them off at the campground, opened up the motorhome and then headed over to Mosey’s Cantina for Mexican food. The food is a little pricey but it is great. The restaurant is in a converted house on a hill just up from the cruise boat dock. The décor is colorful and charming and the staff was very nice especially considering that we arrived only ten minutes before closing time. We arrived back at the campground and did a little reading and catching up before going to bed. The ferry trip along the Inner Passage was an experience but is good to be back in our own bed.

Happy Birthday, America

Saturday, July 4, 2009 – The town of Haines had a full day of activities planned to celebrate Independence Day so we set out from the campground in time to see the big parade down Main Street starting at 11:00 AM. The parade featured fire trucks, kids on bikes, tractors with trailers in tow, and people and dogs decked out in their red, white, and blue regalia. Virtually every unit in the parade was showering the parade goers with candy which was a delight to children lining the route who came armed with bags for their loot. After the parade we followed the crowd to the city park where they had a craft sale, pies by the local women’s club, and a barbeque. Other amusing activities included mud volleyball, a fire hose competition to move a buoy suspended from a rope between two tractors, a pie eating contest, nail driving competition, and a variety of foot races. Virtually the whole town showed up to celebrate and it really made you feel that you were seeing Americana at its best. We watched all the different activities and then returned to the campground where we grilled steaks and had baked potatoes and corn with Bill and Pam. At 11:00 PM the town hosted a fireworks show but since we have an early morning date with the ferry we passed on the show.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Heave Ho and A Broken Windshield

Thursday, July 02, 2009 – We left Kenny Lake heading for Tok via the Tok Cut-off. Although paved, the road was about as bad as any we have seen on this trip. There were frost heaves, pot holes, pavement breaks, and gravel stretches for most of the route. When we reached Tok we made a brief stop for fuel and then rejoined the Alaska Highway. We continued about 80 miles to the Canadian border where we crossed with no problems. It was close to 5:00 PM by the time we crossed the border so we stopped at the first RV Park we came to which is next to the Westmark Hotel at Beaver Creek in the Yukon Territory. The park doesn’t have much in the way of amenities but it is conveniently located right on the highway. In the morning we will continue on toward Haines.

Friday, July 03, 2009 – Since we had a fairly long drive today to get into Haines we left Beaver Creek and continued south on the Alaska Highway. As bad as the roads were along the Tok Cut-off they were worse today! All the way from the Alaska/Canada border through Destruction Bay and even a little beyond the roads were a never-ending series of potholes, frost heaves, and gravel breaks. At about mile marker 1079 near the Quill Creek Mine Road we got hit with a rock from a passing motorhome. The impact made a loud crack and you just had to know it did something but on my initial check from inside the coach it looked OK. However, an hour or so later the sun hit the window in such way that I could see “the curse of the Alaska highway,” a large crack making its way across the lower part of the windshield. I marked the spot with a sticky note and noted the time and within an hour it had grown another 3”. When we finally made it to Haines Junction we stopped for lunch and put a strip of clear tape on the crack in a fruitless effort to stop the crack from spreading. The good news is that from Haines Junction south into Haines the drive is quite scenic and the roads are good paved roads with not a frost heave in sight. The Haines Hitch-Up RV Park is a little expensive but it is the nicest park we have stayed in probably since leaving West Yellowstone. After dinner Bill and I drove down to the ferry terminal to get information on routes and rates to Skagway, Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan. What we found is that trying to do a loop to all of the various towns is not as easy as it might seem and the travel time between the stops varies from a few hours to more than a day depending on whether you take the regular ferry or the fast ferry. To complicate the situation even further the schedules are overlapping and don’t all run daily so you have to plan for layovers in each town. From Haines you have to go 4 ½ hours to Juneau and then another 4 ½ hours on to Sitka and then from there it is a 24 hour trip each way between Sitka and Ketchikan. Since we were in Ketchikan several years ago on a cruise we have pretty much decided to skip it this time. We also found that when leaving Haines we can take the ferry from Haines to Skagway for less than the cost of a tank of gas and save close to 200 miles of driving and not have to retrace any of our routes. Sounds like a good plan to me.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

100 Miles of Gravel - The Road to Kennicott

Tuesday, June 30, 2009 - We left Valdez and retraced our path north on the Richardson Highway. After hearing from several different people that McCarthy and Kennicott were worthwhile stops we changed our minds and decided to go see for ourselves. We only traveled about 100 miles to Chitina which is the gateway to the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. As mentioned before, the road into the park ending at McCarthy and Kennicott is a gravel road in fair to poor condition so we stopped at the Kenny Lake Mercantile and RV Park and dropped off the motorhome. We then drove on into Chitina to the Copper River where we watched dip netters and fish wheels fishing for Copper River Red and King salmon. The only fishing permitted is subsistence fishing for Alaska residents who are allowed 300 fish per year. We drove down through the river bed and talked to two guys who were checking their catch in a fish wheel. The fish wheel is owned by one local woman who makes up a schedule during the season and local fishermen can sign up for 3-day blocks of time. Approximately 100 fishermen sign up to use the fish wheel without charge other than sharing equally in all maintenance and repair costs. The owner reserves about 1/3 of the time for herself and also gets any unused time from fishermen who either don’t show up or catch as much as they want and then leave early. The fishermen are allowed to give salmon away to friends and family but may not sell or barter with the salmon but we talked to some local women who said that she thinks a lot of people do. We figured they probably have a lot of “friends” who just happen to do brakes, repair appliances, cut hair, etc. We did not have enough time to drive all the way to Kennicott so returned to camp and made dinner together.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009 – We left this morning about 9:00 AM for the drive to McCarthy and Kennicott. Although it is only about 90 miles, due to the road conditions it took a little over 3 hours to make the drive. We arrived at the end of the road and walked about ½ mile over a couple of foot bridges to the somewhat restored ghost town of McCarthy. From there we took the shuttle van about five miles on to Kennicott and got our tickets for the tour through the 14-story copper mill. The mill operated from 1911 until 1938 when it closed abruptly with only a few hours notice. We hiked up a wooded hillside to the top of the mill and then made our way down a series of boardwalks and narrow steep staircases to get a good view of the mill used to concentrate and process copper ore before bagging it and shipping it off by railroad cars. Considering the condition of the mill it is a little surprising that the National Park Service allows tours but the guide said they have determined that it is in a state of “arrested decay” and therefore safe enough to allow tours. It was an interesting tour and afforded excellent views of the Kennicott Glacier and surrounding area. At the end of the tour we took the shuttle back down to the foot bridge and walked a short distance to the car for the 90 mile drive back to the campground. When we arrived we were met with a note on our windshield telling us that we were supposed to have checked out by noon so they charged us an extra night. The only problem with that is that we had already paid for the extra night before we left this morning. We immediately went to the office and found the problem to be a classic case of the “right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing” so they apologized and refunded our money for the extra charges. We stopped at the little diner in the campground and even though it was about 5 minutes after closing time the owner told us to come in and she made us hamburgers for dinner. Tomorrow we will head back to Tok to begin the last leg of our Alaskan Adventure by heading down to Haines which will serve as our base camp while we use the Alaska Marine Highway (ferry system) to see Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Skagway.

Bumps, Curves, Hills and Beautiful Scenery - Glenn Highway to Valdez

Saturday, June 27, 2009 - We left Girdwood and headed back north on the Seward Highway through Anchorage where we stopped for fuel. Outside of Anchorage we took the Glenn Highway heading toward Valdez. The highway which is designated as a national scenic by-way passes through beautiful mountains and forested areas, and passes the Matanuska Glacier. Although it is a beautiful drive it is strenuous due to steep inclines and declines, winding roads, and several areas with construction and frost heaves. We stopped for a break in Glennallen and decided to stay there for the night and go onto Valdez in the morning. We took advantage of the early stopover to do a little grocery shopping and laundry. I made a big pot of chili for dinner and after we ate we just relaxed for the evening.

Sunday, June 28, 2009 – Next stop Valdez. We left Glennallen and headed south on the Richardson Highway. Our first stop was at the ranger station of the Wrangell St. Elias National Park which is the largest park in the National Park System. This park is different from most national parks in that it is mostly wilderness, there is a sizeable amount of privately owned land, and subsistence hunting is allowed within the park boundaries. There is a single sixty mile long gravel road leading into the park with another ranger station and an historic copper mining town and mill. Since we have all had our fill of gravel roads we decided against driving all the way into the park. We continued driving down the Richardson Highway through amazingly beautiful mountains known as the “Switzerland of Alaska.” We stopped at the Worthington Glacier which is right off the highway and has interpretive signs and a path leading to a view platform. At your own risk, you are allowed to walk up to the glacier but it is not really advised and none of us was feeling particularly daring so we looked from a distance. There are many waterfalls throughout the mountains and we stopped and took pictures of one especially pretty one called Horsetail Falls. We got into Valdez around noon and checked into the Sea Otter RV Park. We have waterfront sites right on the Port of Valdez. We have seen barges and tugboats and there is a large cargo ship docked right near us. All evening we have watched and listened to thousands of birds feeding in the water. Bill and I drove around town a bit this afternoon and other than the mountains surrounding the town no one would ever describe Valdez as picturesque. The buildings are small, mostly older, and functional but not attractive. We had planned to go salmon fishing which is why most people come to Valdez but the salmon have not arrived so we will spend tomorrow taking a glacier and wildlife cruise aboard the LuLu Belle and perhaps be able to fish for salmon later in the trip.

Monday, June 29, 2009 – We had 2:00 PM reservations for a Wildlife and Glacier Tour aboard the LuLu Belle so we decided to go into town and look around before the trip. We visited a couple of stores and then met Bill and Pam at the Totem Restaurant for breakfast. The food was good, the portions generous, and the prices reasonable so you can’t get much better than that. Around 1:45 PM we made our way to the boat dock and after a few words of welcome from Captain Fred and his warning to wipe our feet before boarding so we don’t get his oriental rugs dirty we boarded the boat. With its oriental rugs and polished teak woodwork the LuLu Belle is a yacht more than a cruise boat. In addition, she is a smaller boat than those used by most of the other glacier cruises so it was easier to get up close to the shore to view sea life. We saw stellar sea lions, otter, porpoise, and horned puffins but despite the captain’s efforts we never saw any whales. The most awesome part of the trip was when he navigated the boat through a field of icebergs in Columbia Bay to get as close as possible to the glacier. We were able to get within 7 miles but were blocked from going further by the size of the icebergs. To stand on the deck of the boat and be surrounded on all sides by icebergs was an amazing and unforgettable experience.

The Seward Highway in Reverse - Ninilchik to Girdwood

Friday, June 26, 2009 – We spoke to our friend Chris about having our halibut shipped to her house since we won’t be home for a few more weeks. She agreed and made the shipping arrangements at the office. We spoke to Bill and Pam and made our plans for the day to head back toward Anchorage with a couple of stops on the way. We packed up and started on our way around 10:00 AM. Our first stop was at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. The center is a research and rescue facility for large animals. We saw elk, musk ox, bear, moose, bison, red fox, and great horned owl. It is not quite the same as seeing the animals in the wild but it was neat to see them up close and personal and see all the babies. From there we drove back about ½ mile to the Portage Glacier turn-off. We drove to the Visitors’ Center and discovered that to really see the glacier you have to take a boat tour. I thought it would be fun to do but I got outvoted so we took a couple of pictures and headed on to Girdwood. Girdwood is the foremost ski- area in all of Alaska. There is a nice hotel, The Alyeska Resort, as well as condominiums, shops, and a tram ride to the top of the mountain. The hotel allows RVers to dry camp in their parking lot for $10 per night so that is where we are staying. I heard about a restaurant called The Double Musky Inn that has been rated by Food Network as one of the top ten restaurants in America. They specialize in Cajun cuisine which we both love so we went there for dinner. We shared our entrees of French Peppercorn Steak and Crab Stuffed Halibut. Both of the dishes were superb! At the hotel gift shop I bought the Double Musky Cookbook and the lady said I should take it back to the restaurant and have it autographed. We drove back to the restaurant and the owner’s son who is the executive chef signed my book. We drove back to where we are parked and just relaxed for the remainder of the evening.

Kenai Peninsula - Halibut Fishing

Thursday, June 25, 2009 - We got up at 3:15 AM and notice I said got up as opposed to woke up to go fishing. At the suggestion of the office staff we took a motion sick pill before we went to bed so it would be into our systems before the boat trip. Well, apparently the pills have something in them that keeps you awake because at 2:00 AM we were both still wide awake. If we slept at all it was some dozing between 2:00 and 3:15 AM. We met at the office with 5 other people and loaded into what looked like a paddy wagon for the ride down to where the fishing boats are launched. They do not use a launch ramp but a large tractor hooks onto the trailer and launches right off the beach. The captain of the boat took us about 40 minutes out into Cook Inlet and anchored the boat. The deck hand gave us a quick lesson on technique then handed us fishing rods and turned us loose. We all started catching fish immediately and released many more than we kept. Each person is allowed to keep two halibut and the average size is about 20 – 25 pounds so anything smaller than that we let go. One lady caught a 57 pound halibut and I caught the second and third largest fish of the day. The two I caught were close to 30 pounds each and the two Bill caught were a little smaller. We ended up with 43 pounds of halibut fillets that will be vacuum packed, frozen, and shipped home for us. We got back to the camp around 10:30 in the morning and picked up Bill and Pam to drive down to Homer, AK. We drove down to Homer Spit and stopped at the Salty Dawg Saloon to take pictures and get a couple of shirts. The Salty Dawg is an interesting place with dollar bills on every inch of wall and ceiling space – that seems to be a common theme up here in Alaska. We couldn’t stay for long because the place reeks of cigarette smoke and the pool room had some other odor that I thought smelled like urine. I guess the drunken red-necks who hang out there either don’t notice or don’t care. The whole Homer Spit area is lined with small shops, galleries, restaurants, and fishing charters built along boardwalks. We didn’t walk around because it was cold and windy and the shops and small towns are all starting to look alike at this point not to mention that Bill and I were almost falling asleep on our feet. We headed back to our camp and stopped at a little Chinese Restaurant. The food was OK and we had the whole place to ourselves. Hopefully there are other nights when the place is busier or they won’t stay in business for long. Earlier today I received a text message from Amber telling us that Farrah Fawcett had died after her long battle with cancer. Then this evening as we were driving back from Homer, I got text messages from both Amber and Corey telling us that Michael Jackson had died suddenly. When we got back to camp we watched a little news which was non-stop coverage of Michael Jackson’s death and by 9:00 PM we were in bed and sound asleep.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rain, Rain, and More Rain in Seward

Monday, June 22, 2009 – As forecasted, it rained all the way down the Seward Highway and continued for several hours after we arrived in Seward. We are camped in a city campground right on the beach facing the water at Resurrection Bay. It took three attempts to get set up – the first space was too sloped and we could not get level so we backed into the space across the driveway, after we were all set up the camp host camp by and told us we were hooked up to the wrong utilities, so we pulled out and then repositioned the coach head in facing the water. Finally on the third try we got level, hooked up to the right utility pole, and had a great view of the bay out our front window. We have had problems with our steps off and on for about a year now and Bill has worked on them several times. Every time he fixes them it lasts a short time and then the problems return. Today the problems returned again so we found a hardware store and bought some new connections and he replaced them so hopefully that will take care of the problem once and for all. Since it was already mid-afternoon and raining we stayed home where it was warm and dry. Bill and Pam came over and we played Mexican Train for most of the afternoon. Hopefully tomorrow will be clear but even if it’s not we’ll go explore Seward.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009 – We left camp and drove the short distance to the end of town to the Alaska Sea Life Center. This marine aquarium is highly recommended by all of the guide books as well as other travelers and it did not disappoint. The center was built using funds from the Exxon Valdez court settlement and is a rescue and research facility for sea life. Like most aquariums there were tanks of fish and sea life, seals, otter, and sea birds. There were also films and ranger talks on the Exxon Valdez oil spill and archeological finds in the Kenai Peninsula area. We spent several hours there and by the time we left it was raining again. We drove down to the small boat harbor and had clam chowder at Chinooks Restaurant. It was served in a bread bowl with a salad and was very good but a little pricey. We went back home for the rest of the evening.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009 - We finally had clear enough weather that we could walk around Seward and visit some of the shops in the downtown area. Bill and I walked a couple of blocks over to the Alaska Shellfish Hatchery. They don’t really give public tours but we went in and asked and the manager showed us around. It was very interesting to see how they grow the algae first in beakers and then in larger and larger batches until it fills huge vats about 6’ across and 5’ high. The algae is then pumped into tanks holding various types of shell fish including scallops, oyster, clams, and sea cucumbers. The shellfish are allowed to grow until they can either be released back into the oceans or sent to farms to be grown and sold commercially. We took a few pictures around the small boat harbor and then packed up and headed toward Homer. We arrived in Ninilchik, AK around 4:30 and after we set up we went to the office and made arrangements to go fishing for halibut in the morning. I made a roast and vegetables in the crock pot while we were driving today so Bill and Pam came over for dinner and we played a few games of Rummikub. After they left we cleaned up the dishes and just relaxed for the rest of the evening.

Anchorage - Crossroads of South Central Alaska

Saturday, June 20, 2009 – Bill and I left on our own this morning to go do some exploring in Anchorage. Our first stop was the Open Air Market and Festival in downtown Anchorage. We walked through the booths and it was not much different than any other street fair you might find. There were the same booths of sunglasses, handmade jewelry, t-shirts, hats, and many many food booths. There were a few unique booths carrying Alaskan Ulu knives, ivory carvings, and furs but overall just another street fair. From there we drove a few blocks to the Snow City Café for breakfast. Year after year the citizens of Anchorage vote this as the best place in town to have breakfast and it was good and the prices pretty reasonable. Our next stop was about 45 minutes north of Anchorage in the town of Wasilla at the Iditarod Trail Race Headquarters. We watched a short video and played with some 4 week old sled dog puppies but there was not much to see. Fortunately there is no admission charge and we passed on the two-minute $10 ride being pulled by a team of sled dogs. The campground is hosting a potluck BBQ this evening so we will go there for dinner.

Sunday, June 21, 2009 – We woke up to a cold and cloudy day so our plans to go hiking at Flattop Mountain and Ship Creek Trail were scuttled in favor of an activity that would be warm and dry. We drove into town and stopped at the Visitors’ Center for information and suggestions. We took a one-hour trolley tour around Anchorage with sights that included the train station, statehood monument, Cook Inlet, Earthquake Park, and the airport. The airport was very interesting because it was a mass of small private float planes docked on a series of canals and lakes. It was kind of like a boat marina except instead of boats it is for airplanes. There is a 12 year waiting list to get a slip but then it only costs $100 per month. There is a huge demand due to the fact that 1 out of every 61 people in Alaska has a pilot’s license. After the trolley tour we had some lunch and looked at some of the other suggestions and decided they were either too touristy or too expensive so we returned to the campground. Bill is trying to fight off a cold so he took a nap and rested for most of the afternoon. Around 7:00 the four of us drove the short distance over to the Moose Tooth Pub and Pizzeria. It is a wildly popular local favorite and there was a 45 minute wait but it was worth it. The pizza was really good. When we got back home Bill and I took our evening walk around the campground and talked to a guy we had met back in Hinton, BC. He is part of an RV Caravan group so we talked to him about their experience. He said they are very pleased with the tour because it is quite well organized and they are getting to see and do lots of fun things. Since we are supposed to have clouds and rain for the next couple of days we will head to Seward and hope the weather clears so we can go fishing when we get to Homer.

Leaving Denali and Heading to Anchorage

Friday, June 19, 2009 - We left Denali in a pouring rain storm that started shortly after dinner last evening and continued throughout the night. As we drove south on the Parks Highway there were several turnouts for viewing and photographing “the mountain” but unfortunately the cloud cover completely obscured any view of Mt. McKinley. Since we have now moved beyond the area where it is visible we will just have to trust photographs and paintings showing the beauty and grandeur that is Mt. McKinley. As we continued further down the highway the rain stopped and we took the short 14 mile Talkeetna turn-off to the quaint little town of Talkeetna, Alaska. It is very small with numerous historic buildings, cafes, and gift shops. The town was established at a mining and trading post before Wasilla or Anchorage existed. The name of the town is an Indian word meaning, “Where the rivers join.” We walked out on the beach where we could see the convergence of three rivers: the Talkeetna, the Chulitna, and the Susitna. After we left Talkeetna we retraced our path back to the Parks Highway and continued on to Anchorage some 80 miles away. We arrived after closing time so went straight to our sites and then discovered that the campground was hosting a free chili dinner complete with live entertainment. The musician was entertaining but hopefully he won’t give up his day job because he wasn’t a great singer. We had dinner and listened to the music for a bit and then returned home for the rest of the evening.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Denali, Denali Wherefore Art Thou Denali?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009 – On the way to Denali National Park we stopped in the small village of Nenana. The town’s heyday was in the early 1920s when it served as a construction base for the Alaska Railroad. In 1923 President Warren Harding drove a golden spike marking the completion of the railroad. The town is now mainly a shipping center for tugs and barges taking cargo along the rivers of the interior of Alaska. Every winter the town hosts the Nanana Ice Classic. In February a tripod is built and big festival is held where the tripod is placed on the ice of the frozen Tenana River. The tripod is attached by a cable to a clock in a tower on the bank of the river. Between February 1st through April 5th people from all over the state pay $2.50 to make a guess of the exact date and time to the minute that the break-up of the ice will occur. Every guess is recorded in a book and kept in the local train station. These books are about 3” thick printed front and back with two columns on each page. In the spring usually in late April or early May when the ice starts to crack people line the banks of the river and yell, cheer, and wait for the exact moment of break-up. When the ice breaks the tripod tips into the water and pulls the cable which stops the clock in the tower. The average pot is approximately $300,000 and is split between the winners who guessed the correct date and time. This year there were only 3 winners who split the entire pot. We continued on to Denali and got a space in the Denali Rainbow Village RV Park. After we got set up Bill and I walked around the village and visited some of the shops and galleries. Pam and Bill suggested a dinner show called Alaska Cabin Nite which they had seen when they were here three years ago on a cruise. The theater was just across the street and we had half price tickets in our Tour Saver Book so we made reservations for the evening. The menu consisted of ribs, salmon, corn, salad, and blueberry cobbler served family style. All of the waiters were also the entertainers and put on a very enjoyable show.

Thursday, June 18, 2009 – When we arrived in Denali yesterday I asked the clerk in the campground office about bus tours into the park and thankfully she gave us some very good advice. She said she did not recommend any of the tours that are organized by the hotels because they use the same type of buses, take the same routes, and see the same sites as the shuttle buses but cost almost three times as much. Based on her recommendation we made a reservation for the 6:45 AM shuttle bus to Wonder Lake about 85 miles into the National Park. I set an alarm and also left the black out shades open so we woke up extra early, packed a lunch for the day, and arrived at the Wilderness Access Center before 6:00. We checked in and asked if they had space on the earlier bus, which they did so we left at 6:15 for the 11 hour round trip out to Wonder Lake and back. Apparently Mt. McKinley is only fully visible about 20% of the time and the odds were definitely NOT in our favor today. It was cloudy, foggy, cold, and rained off and on all day. We saw four caribou, three bear, one moose, a small flock of Dall sheep, a Tundra Swan, and dozens of Snow Shoe Hares. In addition to being a bit disappointed in the number of animals, we were also somewhat disappointed in the scenery. Besides the fact that we could only see about the bottom 4,000 feet of Mount McKinley, most of the park is arctic tundra above the tree line so there are either very dwarfed trees or no trees at all. One very interesting thing we did see was huge areas of willows and shrubs where the snow shoe hare have killed the plants by eating all the leaves and bark. All of the plants were barren between about 2 feet and 5 feet off the ground. As the snow gets deeper during the winter the hares sit on top of the snow and eat higher and higher on the plants. The magnitude of destruction caused by these cute little animals is unbelievable. Our bus driver was very knowledgeable and we learned quite a bit over the course of the trip but it was a very long day. Bill and Pam did not take the bus trip with us because they had already taken the same trip 3 years ago when they were in Alaska on a cruise. When we got back we had a message from Pam telling us that she had made dinner and since it was cold and rainy all day the big pot of homemade stew she made was not only delicious but greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Long, Long Days in Fairbanks

Sunday, June 14, 2009 – It’s our first day in Fairbanks and it seems that everything is closed. We thought we might go to Gold Dredge #8 but it is closed for the season for renovations; Ester Gold Camp is closed permanently; Museum of the North is closed on Sundays. We considered driving to Prudhoe Bay until we found out it is well over 450 miles on all gravel roads and then you have to pay to take a tour if you want to actually get to the Arctic Ocean. Furthermore, since September 11 most of the area is restricted so you don’t really get to see much. You can fly to Prudhoe Bay and back at the bargain price of $989 per person which is definitely not in our budget so all things considered we decided we didn’t need to see it that bad and shelved that plan. Instead we drove downtown and found that most everything was closed except for the Visitor’s Center. We stopped in there and they suggested Pioneer Park which happens to be only a short distance from our campground. We went to Pioneer Park and walked through an assortment of restored and relocated historic buildings, a Gold Rush Museum, and an Aircraft Museum. The admission to the park is free but since most of the buildings and exhibits seem to be in varying stages of disrepair it might serve them well to charge a small admission fee and put the money toward renovations and upkeep. As we were driving back from downtown we noticed a restaurant called the Bakery. It had lots of cars in the lot so we thought it must be one of two things either it was the only place in town that is open or the food must be good. We stopped in and fortunately found it to be the latter and we had a good breakfast. Bill and Pam stayed behind in Tok one additional day to wait for their mail and they are meeting us here in Fairbanks this afternoon. Since they will most likely be tired from driving all day we decided to make a spaghetti dinner for all of us. We stopped at Fred Meyer for a few groceries and then went back home for the rest of the evening.

Monday, June 15, 2009 – We got up early this morning and called for reservations for the El Dorado Gold Mine and the Riverboat Discovery. Before we left home both Pam and I ordered the Alaska Tour Saver Book and we had half price coupons for both of these attractions. We arrived at the El Dorado Gold Mine along with numerous tour buses full of visitors and were loaded onto open cars on a narrow gauge train. The train moved through a permafrost tunnel and past several stations showing various methods of gold mining including dredging, sluicing, and panning. At the end we were herded into a large area that resembled a cafeteria but instead of tables there were troughs of water, benches and gold pans. On the way in each person was handed a small canvas bag of pay dirt so you could try your hand at panning for gold. Between the two of us we got 8 grains of gold worth about $24. The operation is very commercial and touristy, but the gold panning was fun and since we used our Tour Saver coupons the price wasn’t too bad. On the way back to the campground after the Gold Mine experience we stopped at a turnout where you can view a small section of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. We had a little bite of lunch at home and then immediately headed to the Riverboat Discovery dock. We boarded the boat at 2:00 PM along with even more buses full of tourists. As we cruised along the Chena River there were several activities to watch. The first was the take-off and landing of a bush plane on the river. A little further on the boat stopped in front of the home and kennels of Susan Butcher, four time winner of the Iditarod. It was interesting seeing the huskies and hearing about how they are trained. Since it is summer the dogs are hitched to a modified tractor instead of a sled. It was especially fun to see how excited the dogs got when they were hitched up, they could not wait to run. Continuing down the river, the boat docked alongside a recreated Athabascan village. We saw reindeer which are domesticated caribou, hunter and trapper cabins, a food cache, and the fish camp where salmon is caught, dried, and smoked. Like the Gold Mine, the river boat is commercial and touristy but it was very enjoyable and educational. When we left we went to the Pump House Restaurant which is built on the site of the Chena Pump House used to pump water from the river up to Chena Ridge to be used for the dredging of Cripple Creek. The restaurant came highly recommended in the Frommer’s Alaska Guide and it did not disappoint. Bill and I both had Chicken Diablo which was a chicken breast topped with king crab, artichokes, mushrooms, and a delicious sauce. All four of us thoroughly enjoyed our meals.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 – After doing some clean-up and maintenance on the RVs we left to go to the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska. The museum displays were very good and it was quite educational. There were two movie presentations, one on the Aurora Borealis and the other on winters in Alaska. One particularly unique display is called the “Great Outhouse Experience.” The artist built a large replica of an outhouse and filled it with an assortment of objects and mementos. On the way back to camp we stopped at the Howling Dog Saloon in the nearby town of Fox, AK. The walls are covered with dollar bills with messages written on them and there is an assortment of women’s bras hanging from rafters and lights. According to what I read about the place it is a local favorite frequented by a diverse crowd ranging from college students to bikers, to glacier scientists. It is an interesting place and probably really wild and fun on the weekends. We returned to Pioneer Park and had dinner at the Alaska Salmon Bake. The food was good enough but not worth the price in my opinion. As has been our habit in the evenings Bill and I took a walk around the campground. We went out at 10:30 PM and had to use our sunglasses. We passed a young boy with rod in hand heading to the river to go fishing and there were three kayaks of people rowing down the river. It is about 5 days until the summer solstice which is cause for great celebration in Alaska after seven long, cold, and dark months of winter. As the summer solstice approaches each day gets about 7 minutes longer and currently there are approximately 22 hours of daylight every day. It is pretty neat but thank goodness for black out shades or we would never get any sleep.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Meeting New Friends - The Adventures of Phillip & Chris

Saturday, June 13, 2009 – Last night we got our first substantial rail storm since leaving home. Just before the rain started we noticed two young men sitting outside at a picnic table in the cold. I went out and talked to them and asked if they would like to come inside where it was warm and have some hot chocolate. They eagerly accepted and a short time later they knocked on the door. Their names were Phillip and Chris and they are two young men from Germany. They both just graduated with engineering degrees and before they start their careers they decided to take an adventure. They saved their money and sold their cars and belongings then packed up their mountain bikes and flew to Anchorage, Alaska. They are going to bicycle 4,500 miles from Anchorage to Ontario, Canada. Along the way they are writing freelance articles for a website, a Bicycling Magazine and for a newspaper at home in Frankfurt, Germany. They are very interesting and have done a lot of traveling most of it with the Boy Scouts starting at the age of 11. It was interesting and fun talking to them and before they left we exchanged email addresses so that we can stay in touch as we travel our separate paths. Just as we were leaving this morning they stopped by to have a photograph taken to include in their article and website and to say goodbye.

We got on the road about 9:00 AM heading towards Fairbanks with several planned stops along the way. The first stop was at the Delta Meat and Sausage Company. We got a short informal tour of their butchering and packing operation and got a couple of packages of reindeer and yak sausage. The next stop was at Delta Junction at mile marker 1422 and the official end of the Alaska Highway. The site houses a very mediocre visitor center and a pathetic farmer’s market so after I took a couple of photographs of the “End of the Alaska Highway” marker and we were back on the road. The next stop was historic Rika’s Roadhouse. The roadhouses were stops for miners coming to Alaska and this one is well preserved with several restored buildings and a small collection of tools and implements. Their restaurant is billed as the “best food on the entire 1,422 miles of the Alaska Highway” but we decided the soup of the day and about half a dozen or so sandwich offerings wasn’t anything that appealing so we passed on the restaurant and made lunch on the road. Our next stop was just outside of Fairbanks at North Pole, Alaska. It is really just a large Christmas themed gift shop with Santa and reindeers which we never did see. Every year they receive thousands of Santa letters from children. Local school children answer the letters which are then postmarked North Pole and mailed back. After all our stops along the 200 miles drive between Tok and Fairbanks we finally arrived at the River’s Edge RV Park just after 5:00 PM. Shortly after we arrived we had a brief but impressive thunder storm with heavy rain that lasted for only about ten minutes. We had dinner at home and reviewed all of our literature and flyers to plan our activities for the next few days here in Fairbanks.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It's No Joke - We're in Tok

Wednesday, June 10, 2009 – Today was a short 81 mile drive into Tok where we registered at the Sourdough Campground. It is a nice campground, set in a heavily treed area and a big improvement over the gravel parking lot style campgrounds we have been in lately. Driving the Top of the World Highway left both our car and motorhome cloaked in a thick layer of dirt. Think of an abandoned car sitting in a field for a year or so and then double the amount of dirt on it and you might have a good idea of how dirty they appeared. When we checked in at the campground the owner told us they have a coin operated car wash on-site. Well hallelujah that was the best $8.00 we have ever spent! Pam and Bill helped us wash our car and motorhome and then we helped them with theirs. With all the vehicles looking somewhat clean we settled into our sites. The “Milepost” has a description of Tok that says it should be known as the car wash capital of Alaska because of all the travelers stopping by to wash their vehicles after the drive from Dawson City. Once we got settled in I gathered up all the laundry and headed to the laundromat while Bill did some vacuuming and dusting inside the coach. The campground has a dinner each night featuring reindeer chili in a bread bowl and a piece of homemade pie for $7.00 so we decided to give it a try. The chili was good but nothing in it tasted any different than any other chili you have had so fortunately we didn’t pay a premium for the fact that it is made with reindeer sausage. After dinner we stuck around for the big event of the evening – the Pancake Toss. The staff brings out a stack of old pancakes left over from breakfast. The pancakes are placed on a bench in the dining pavilion and about 20’ ahead on the stage they place a bucket. Each guest gets two chances to toss a pancake into the bucket. Those guests who are successful earn a free breakfast for the following morning. Bill tried and got close but did not get his into the bucket. I was hesitant to try because athletic is not a word anyone would use to describe me and I really didn’t want to embarrass myself by missing the stage entirely or having the pancake end up behind me or something. Bill insisted I try saying, “You don’t know any of these people and you might earn us a free breakfast.” Well I put on my game face, tossed the first pancake and got close but missed, then tossed the second one straight into the bucket! I was one of only four people to get it in the bucket and the only woman. I was awarded my token for a free breakfast – a tiny little pancake about the size of a half dollar. Hopefully the breakfast will be worthy of my newly acquired athletic prowess.

Thursday, June 11, 2009 – We had the breakfast at the campground this morning and it was pretty good, especially the pancakes. After breakfast I went into “town” for a couple of errands. Their Visitor’s Center is very good and I was able to get a lot of information on activities and sites along our itinerary. I stopped at the Three Bears Market and did a little grocery shopping for the next few days. The food seems a little expensive up here but it’s still cheaper to eat at home than go out for all of our meals. Around lunch time Bill and Pam joined us to go into town and see what Tok has to offer. We no sooner got on the highway than we noticed what looked like a community picnic so we pulled in. It turns out that the local power company was having a Customer Appreciation Picnic with free hamburgers, hot dogs, sodas, and ice cream. They also had their Volunteer Fire Department people and their ambulance service at the event giving demonstrations. Bill and Pam Dickey and I had lunch while Bill became absorbed in talking to the Tok firemen. After we ate we continued on down the highway to find Mukluk Land. It is apparently the big attraction here in town and they even have a flyer about it in the Visitor Center but I couldn’t convince the other three that it was worth spending $4.50 (the senior discount rate) to check it out so we returned to the campground. We are having a layover here in Tok for a day or two while we wait for Pam’s mail to arrive. If it arrives today we will head for Fairbanks in the morning.

Friday, June 12, 2009 – We are held over in Tok for one more day so Bill and I made the 2 mile drive into town and went to a couple of gift shops. We didn’t really need anything but that is about all there is to do in the town of Tok. We did end up with a nice “Alaska” cap for Bill and then stopped at Fast Eddies for lunch. The food was pretty good and the waitress gave us a little bit of a picture of life in Tok. We learned that they never close the schools here for bad weather but when it gets to -30 the kids don’t have to go outside for recess and when it gets to -50 the parents have the option of keeping their children home from school. The waitress told us that it is kind of sad for the kids who live here because there is absolutely nothing to do. There are no bowling alleys, movies, sports leagues, or any of the things most kids enjoy doing. In the summer they have six weekends during which they can drive 108 miles to Delta Junction and go swimming but for anything else they have to drive over 200 miles to Fairbanks. When we returned to the campground I went in to pay for our extra night and learned from the owner that her husband was killed just over a year ago in a tragic snowmobiling accident. She and her youngest son are now running the campground and trying to carry on her husband’s vision. We have discovered that you have to be a very hearty soul to survive in Alaska in general but this is particularly true if you live in a place like Tok.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Top of the World Highway - Dawson City to Chicken, Alaska

Tuesday, June 09, 2009 – Wow what a drive today! We left Dawson City and took the free ferry across the Yukon River. I had read that you should watch for the fox where you get off the ferry but sort of forgot about it but sure enough while standing there watching the ferry and waiting for Bill and Pam to cross with their coach there was the fox. I got several good pictures of him and he was really very tame. Bill actually fed him a few pieces of ham – gee I wonder why he is so tame? Our destination for today is Chicken, Alaska by way of the Top of the World Highway. Although it is a mere 114 miles drive, the roads are AWFUL from Dawson to the U.S./Canadian border and they get worse from there into Chicken. You have to drive all over the road just to find the best parts of the gravel and washboard surface. On the bright side however, the views are pretty incredible and after three weeks on the road we finally saw the “Welcome to Alaska” sign! We pulled into the town of Chicken, if you can call 4 or 5 buildings and a population of about 30 people a town. We registered at the RV Park and got a Passport America discount so we only had to pay $12.50 for our site. We got our souvenir pins and a Chicken Fire Department t-shirt for Bill and then visited the Chicken Gold Camp and Beautiful Downtown Chicken. Downtown Chicken consists of a Mercantile Emporium (their name for it), a liquor store (about 6’ square with a few shelves), a saloon, a café, and a four door outhouse called “the Chicken Poop.” The saloon is like something you’d see on television with hats, cards, t-shirts, bras, and what remains of women’s’ underwear after they shoot them out of a small cannon hanging from every wall, ceiling, and solid surface. The town of Chicken was supposed to be named after the state bird the ptarmigan but the original miners who settled in the area could not spell ptarmigan so they called it Chicken. Chicken, Alaska is really someplace you have to see to appreciate.

Klondike Highway - Whitehorse to Dawson City

Sunday, June 07, 2009 – We left the Alaska Highway today and took the Klondike Loop toward Dawson City. The road was paved all the way but there were numerous frost heaves, potholes, and gravel patches. We stopped at the Braeburn Lodge for a cinnamon roll which is large enough to feed all four of us. Another stop along the way was at the Moose Creek Lodge which is a quirky little roadside stop with lots of interesting attractions. There are several moose and a giant mosquito made from stumps, roots, and wood and there is a telephone mounted 12 feet up in a tree with a ladder to reach the phone. Inside there is an antique stove and a variety of Klondike memorabilia. It was a short stop but it was fun to see. We stopped at Stewart Crossing and thought we might stop for the night but the RV Park was pretty pathetic and it was only 107 miles on to Dawson City so we decided to go all the way. We arrived just before 4:00 at the Bonanza Gold RV Park. It’s not much to look at but it has full hookups, internet, cable and it’s close to town so we took it. Bill and Pam came over and we had some snacks and watched the Lakers win game 2 of the NBA Finals – Go Lakers!!!

Monday, June 08, 2009 – The town of Dawson City is caught in a time warp and all of the buildings and streets look as if you have turned the clock back to the late 1890s and early 1900s. None of the streets are paved and the sidewalks are all boardwalks. There are lots of original buildings including several that are quite tilted. Apparently when the buildings were heated it caused the permafrost to melt and turn into slosh and mud and caused the footings to sink. We stopped by Sourdough Joe’s for lunch and Bill “helped” the waiter with the drinks and in the process knocked one over and made a huge mess. I’m sure he was a little embarrassed but it was pretty funny. We returned to the campground until about 7:30 PM when Diamond Gertie’s Dancehall and Casino opened. We watched the first and second shows, played some black jack and left $300 richer. We left Diamond Gertie’s at 11:00 PM and drove up to Midnight Dome. It is a mountain top where you can go and watch the sun set at midnight and then rise again within an hour or two. People in town told us that at summer solstice on June 21st the sun just dips down and rises again but doesn’t really go out of sight. We only stayed until 11:30 because there were swarms of mosquitoes but when we left it was still full daylight.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Alaska Highway - Watson Lake to Whitehorse

Thursday, June 04, 2009 – We left Watson Lake with our destination for today being Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory. The route traversed forested areas dotted with lakes and rivers. Surprisingly, we saw no wildlife on the trip today. We made a stop at Dawson Peaks Resort for lunch which is known for their rhubarb pie. We ran into several patches of gravel and road construction totaling about 12 miles. After filling our fuel tanks we pulled in to the Hi-Country RV Park for a couple of days. After dinner we drove into Whitehorse but except for Wal-Mart and the grocery store there was nothing open. We continue to be amazed at the long days – as I write this it is 10:15 PM and still not even dusk.

Friday, June 05, 2009 – Both Bills decided to take the day and play a round of golf which gave Pam and me a free day as well. She went shopping and I used the day to upload and label all the photographs I have taken so far on this trip. After they got home Bill and I got tickets to the “Frantic Follies” show and the four of us went downtown to the Klondike Rib and Salmon BBQ. The food was a little expensive but very good. Bill had salmon with a very tasty glaze and I had musk ox stroganoff. Pam and Bill had already seen the show two years ago so they returned to the campground and we went to the show. It was a vaudeville type show with musicians, jokes, singers, and can-can dancers. Parts of the show were a little corny but overall it was a good show and we enjoyed it.

Saturday, June 06, 2009 – Bill and Pam joined us on a tour of the S.S. Klondike, an historic paddlewheel boat moored along the Yukon River in Whitehorse. The guide was terrific in her knowledge of the boat’s construction, operation, crews, and passenger and we all really enjoyed the tour. After the tour we walked around downtown Whitehorse and did a little shopping before returning to the campground. After having a little lunch Bill and I drove back downtown and visited the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. It was a pretty good museum with lots of mining equipment, animal displays, and implements of life from the Klondike Gold Rush days. Both of us are really exhausted today, apparently the 20 hours of light each day and going to bed way too late is catching up with us.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Alaska Highway - Dawson Creek to Watson Lake

Monday, June 01, 2009 -This morning on the 13th day of our trip and a little over 2,200 miles from home we arrived in Dawson Creek and the start of the Alaska Highway. We took the obligatory photos at Mile Marker 0 and visited the Welcome Center for information and brochures. We made our way through the maze of road work in front of the Welcome Center and continued on following our route in the latest edition of Mile Post. Even though I had looked at it at home you don’t realize just how detailed it is until you start following your route through its pages. It didn’t take long to see that the descriptions of campgrounds and services as written by the owners are in many cases quite a stretch from reality. The Mike and Terri Church book, Alaska Camping, is much more accurate and using the two books together seems the best way to go. Just outside of Dawson Creek we made a short 4 mile loop onto the Old Alaska Highway to see the historic Kiskatinaw River Bridge. It is the only remaining wooden bridge left from the original highway. It is quite impressive to see and definitely worth making the small detour. We stopped for fuel at Shepherd’s Inn (mm 72) and paid .0879 per liter for diesel, the most we have paid so far on this trip. Based on the recommendation in Alaska Camping, we stopped for the night at Sikanni River Campground and RV Park (mm162). As the name suggests, it is located along the river and surrounded by trees. It is not fancy but the scenery is pretty and it is quiet and peaceful. For the first time on this trip we felt like we were really camping – we even roasted hot dogs and made s’mores on a campfire! The owners are nice and welcoming and the prices for camping were the best we have paid at only $25 for full hookups. After dinner we got a quite unexpected surprise when the owners came to the door and refunded our full camping fee because we won their nightly door prize drawing. Apparently every night they have a drawing and one camper gets a free night. If you are heading up this way stop and stay a night with these nice people. As for road conditions, there was a little construction right in Dawson Creek and about a mile of construction in Fort St. John otherwise it was smooth sailing on fair to good roads.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009 – The Alaska Highway is full of old historic lodges, diners, and quirky little places to see and today we got a taste of several of them. We got on the road about 8:15 and stopped at Buckinghorse River Lodge (mm175) for breakfast. Their ads say, “Good food, over 1000 truckers can’t be wrong!” We think they should change the ad now to say, “… over 1000 truckers and 4 campers can’t be wrong!” The food was good and it had a very homey atmosphere complete with 3 truckers that we enjoyed talked to over breakfast. The next spot we came upon, thanks to Mile Post, was the Trappers Den. It is a small sort of trading post run by a family of trappers. There was quite a selection of pelts, moccasins, leather shirts, and other interesting attire. I ended up buying a pair of moose leather moccasins that are very cozy and comfortable. We continued on northward on the highway until we came to mile marker 422 where we made a brief stop at the Toad River Lodge. They have an impressive collection of hats covering the entire ceiling of three rooms. The note on the board says that the current count is over 7,400 hats. We considered staying there for the night but made the big mistake of continuing on a little further, as I will explain. We thought we might go on to Liard Hot Springs but Bill Dickey was getting really tired so we pulled in to the Northern Rockies Lodge at Muncho Lake. Their advertisement says if you stay there they will give you a .10 per liter discount on fuel. We were both at about half full so the guys pulled up to the pump and starting filling the tanks. Somewhere midway through the process Bill noticed that the pump said $1.699 but since the most we have paid anywhere is .88 per liter he thought it must be something other than the price and they both continued to fill the fuel tanks. When they finished Bill came inside and asked the lady to confirm the price and she said it was, in fact, $1.69 per liter. He asked her how on earth she could justify charging twice as much as anyone else in the country and she actually got very defensive and tried to justify the price. At this point we just didn’t want to go any further so we got a camping spot – another big mistake. They charged us $48 for a space with 20 amp power, very poor water pressure, no sewer, no television, no wi-fi and it was so uneven we couldn’t even level the motorhome. In addition, they charge an extra 12.50 to park your tow car in your space so we had to disconnect and leave the car up at the office. Then to top it all off, after we got set up Bill went over to the washroom and discovered that they charge an extra dollar if you want to use their showers. I told the cashier at the desk that she needs to tell her boss that RVers have a huge network of websites, forums, blogs, and internet bulletin boards and that we plan to post notices on as many as possible as well as tell everyone we meet not to stop at this location.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009 – We left Northern Rockies Lodge and continued north to Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park. There is a ten-minute walk down a boardwalk through beautiful tropical vegetation. Although the guide book says it is frequented by wildlife we only saw a few Canada Geese. The hot springs area has a nice deck with benches as well as restrooms and a changing area. When you enter the pools you start at the far left which is about like bath water with a few cold patches throughout. As you climb the steps into the next pool and continue moving toward the right end the water gets warmer and warmer until at the far end it is uncomfortably hot. We stayed at the springs for a little over an hour and as we were leaving we were told that there was a forest fire just up ahead and traffic was dependent on a pilot car. We were only detained briefly and then directed through the area where we saw quite a bit of burned area and a few areas with small fires and lots of smoke. We decided that today would be a short day with our destination being Watson Lake, home of the famous Sign Post Forest. On the way we saw several buffalo and about six bears including a mother with two cubs. We pulled into Watson Lake about 2:15 and headed to the Downtown RV Park. It’s not much in the way of looks but it has full hookups, is very centrally located to everything we want to see, and it is only $26.50 per night with a Good Sam card. Bill and I walked over to Hougen’s Department Store located in a log building right on the highway. It is not a department store like JC Penney or Macy’s but it had an interesting assortment of merchandise. I noticed a post office and mailed a letter I have been waiting to mail then we stopped at the small market on the way back to the campground. It is very interesting to see the different brands and packaging compared to at home and instead of seeing packages in English and Spanish everything is in English and French. After dinner we walked across the street to the Northern Lights Center to see the program on the Northern Lights. The program was OK but not great. From there we walked over to the Sign Post Forest which is really interesting. While there we met a very interesting couple who currently live in Alaska. The man and all of his four sons have completed the Iditarod, and he and two of the sons have won the race. Several years ago they built a truck stop 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle and encouraged us to go at least that far and said that driving all the way to Prudhoe Bay is quite doable. When they were living in California in the mid to late 90s they put together several luxury tours to Alaska so they had a lot of good information for things to see and do on this trip.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Kilometers to Miles We've Got But Liters, Meters, and Kilograms - Not So Much!

Sunday, May 31, 2009 – We left Hinton about 8:30 AM on Highway 40N toward Grande Cache and Grande Prairie. The scenery was pretty but not as beautiful as we have been seeing the past few days. We stopped in Grande Cache to top off our fuel and continued on to Grande Prairie arriving just before 1:00 PM. We had planned to go to a rodeo this evening but it was cold and windy and it started raining shortly after we arrived so we all agreed to skip the rodeo. I had a pot roast cooking in the crock pot so while it finished up we drove over to Costco and did a little shopping and then had dinner together. After dinner Bill decided he would go take a long, hot shower at the campground’s washroom. This should have been a non-event but turned into a comedy that should have been recorded for television. He gathered everything together and walked over to the washroom only to find out he needed a dollar. He came back and got a “loonie” and returned to the showers. He put in his dollar, got in the shower, and soaped up his hair and his body. Even though he turned off the water to save time on his dollar, just about the time he got everything all soaped up his time ran out and the water turned off! Now what? He peeked around to see if anyone was looking and then dripping wet and covered in soap he ran back and forth from the shower to the sink gathering everything he had brought with him. He had to make three sinks full of water to get all the soap off. All of this was so he could take a longer, more leisurely shower than in the motorhome. I guess that will teach him!

We have been on the road now for 12 days and we are 2, 139 miles from home. In the morning we will arrive in Dawson Creek and the start of the Alaska Highway. Now that we have been in Canada for about a week we are pretty proficient in converting kilometers to miles but we’re still working on the meters to feet, liters to gallons and kilograms to pounds. Figuring out our mileage is a real trick – at this point I wouldn’t want to bet the ranch that it’s accurate but it’s probably pretty close. As for the exchange rate between U.S. currency and Canadian who knows? Apparently it changes every day and it is somewhere between 8.5% and 10.0% depending on where you exchange and how much they charge for the privilege of changing your money. Our best rate so far was today at Costco where I got $110 Canadian for $100 U.S. Just about the time we get it figured out we’ll be in Alaska and not have to worry about it for awhile.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Beautiful Canadian Rockies - Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper

Thursday, May 28, 2009 – As we were leaving Calgary this morning by way of the Trans-Canada Highway there was a young man hitchhiking right at the on-ramp. He was young and clean-cut looking so we picked him up. His name was Zoe and he was an 18 year old college student traveling across Canada for a summer adventure. He was very sweet and appreciative of the ride and we found him to be interesting. He had left Ontario on Saturday and had taken rides from a college professor, a man and wife, and a trucker that he rode with for two days. He is going to school to study motion picture and television production and was keeping a video record of his adventure. He traveled with us as far as Lake Louise which was our destination for the day. We let him out at the off-ramp and he continued on his way toward Vancouver. We pulled into the Lake Louise Campground which is a very peaceful and beautiful park surrounding by pine trees and mountains. After we got set up we rode with Bill and Pam about 30 miles back to Banff and walked around the town, had some lunch, and visited the magnificent Banff Springs Hotel. It is an enormous grey stone building that is unlike anything we have seen before not only in its size but also the beauty of its surroundings. We returned to the campground where we met some very nice people. Across from us was a young family from Holland traveling around Canada for 19 days. They have two young children, Ellen and Devin, who came across the street to visit which was quite brave of them considering they were from another country and spoke very limited English. Shortly after, their parents came over and were in awe of our motorhome since apparently they never see bus type RVs in Europe and ours is quite a bit larger than the one they have rented for their “holiday.” A little later we met a great couple from Ontario, Canada who are traveling across the country to deliver a small older model motorhome to their son who plans to live in it. Their names were Di and Keith Thomson and it turns out that he is a firefighter from the London Ontario Fire Department so he and Bill really hit it off. We exchanged phone numbers and contact information with them and hopefully we can keep in touch.

On the subject of nice people – while we were pulled over at a gas station waiting for Bill and Pam to fill up a couple in a truck and pulling a horse trailer pulled into the parking lot and saw that we were from California. They came to the door of our coach, introduced themselves and asked if we would like to join them for breakfast. We told them we were with friends and just waiting for them to get gas so we couldn’t join them but it was such a nice gesture on their part and came as a very pleasant surprise to us. It is really too bad that the worst element of society gets so much attention in the news and press because we always meet the nicest people on our travels across the country. Whether it is helping us buy subway tokens in Boston, directing us to discounted show tickets in New York City, helping us get into a broken door lock on the motorhome or just sitting around a campground and visiting one of the great benefits of traveling the way we do is meeting so many fantastic people from all walks of life.

Friday, May 29, 2009 – We drove the short distance from the campground over to Chateau Lake Louise. The Chateau is a large elegant hotel set within the most exquisitely beautiful surroundings I have ever seen. The Canadian Rockies really defy description and as beautiful as our Rocky Mountains are these are more so. Lake Louise is still largely frozen over so we could not even see the crystal clear water and the reflection of the mountains that is shown in photographs and postcards but it was beautiful nevertheless. After we left the Chateau we drove up to the Mountain Lodge and got our tickets to ride the gondola up to the top of the mountain. At the top there was a wild life interpretive center with a film and very informative displays about the animals found in the area. On the way back down in the gondola we saw two grizzly bears on the hillside just to the right of our path. We returned to the campground and while we were sitting outside talking the Dutch family across from us returned from their day’s activities and they came over and visited for a short time. Around 6 PM Bill and I took the Dickey’s truck and went back to the Lake Louise Village Grill to have some dinner and watch the Los Angeles Lakers win the NBA Western Division Championship.

Saturday, May 30, 2009 – We left Lake Louise and traveled on the Icefields Parkway toward Jasper. We passed through some of the most beautiful mountains and glaciers we have ever seen. The Canadian Rockies are truly breathtaking in their beauty. About half way between Lake Louise and Jasper we stopped at the Columbia Icefield. We took an excursion on a large snowmobile type vehicle out onto the Athabasca Glacier. It was cold but not unbearable and the sights were spectacular. The guide gave us a lot of interesting facts about the glacier and the icefield including: the depth of the ice where we stopped is approximately 1000 feet, the glacier grows about 45’ in the winter and shrinks about 75’ during the summer, the icefield gets about 21 to 30 feet of snow every year, and the Columbia Icefield is 95 times larger than Central Park in New York City. Along the way we saw three bears, one of them right at the edge of the road; a mountain goat right at the side of the road; a moose and her very young baby grazing on the banks of the Athabasca River, and an eagle. We pulled in for the night in Hinton at the Hinton/Jasper KOA. It is a nice park with good facilities. I went into town and did some grocery shopping then came home and did the laundry while Bill made dinner. After dinner we sat down with Bill and Pam and planned out our route for the next couple of days. We decided to skip going to Edmonton to see the World’s Largest Mall because it would add several hundred miles and at least a couple of days to the trip. Instead we are going to take a more direct and scenic route to Dawson Creek and the start of the Alaska Highway.