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.