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.