Great Alaskan Adventure - Summer 2009
(Items in white and underlined are links to more information)
We are planning to spend the summer in Alaska we will be posting pictures and a blog when we have access to the internet.
We should leave Greenfield, IN about June 7th, we are planning to go thru St Paul, MN then across N Dakota thru Minot over to Shelby MT on US-2 then up to Calgary Al. We will then go to Jasper, AL passing thru Banff National Park. Then to Prince George BC and up to Watson Lake where we will put out our sign on the signpost forest. We will continue to Tok, Alaska and on to Fairbanks. After visiting the Arctic Circle we will head to Denali National Park and on to Anchorage. We plan to visit Homer and Seward (perhaps Valdez) then head back to Tok by Sept 1st. We will come down the West Coast thru Vancouver, Seattle and Portland before heading thru California on US 395. We will visit Yosemite National Park. We are planning to cross Death Valley about mid October and then to Las Vegas for a short stay. On our way to Flagstaff we plan to visit the Grand Canyon. We will continue thru Phoenix to Tucson where we plan to spend the winter. WOW...what a trip!
June 11, 2009 -- We left S& H Campground in Greenfield, IN at 10:00 am Sunday, where it was sunny and 75 degrees. We drove north through Illinois and stopped for the night at the Smokey Hollow Campground in Lodi, WI, a nice, family-oriented 5-star campground. However, we forgot to take a picture of the campsite! Monday it was 53 degrees and rainy as we drove through Wisconsin where we saw picturesque farms with large red barns and dark, fertile soil. In Minnesota we saw an elk farm and later a buffalo farm along the interstate. We stopped for the night at Simonson Truck Stop in Grand Forks, ND. Tuesday it was 47 degrees and cloudy as we headed west on US 2 through North Dakota where we crossed the geographical center of North America. As we crossed into Montana it is easy to see why it is called Big Sky Country because we saw such panoramic views of the sky with soft fluffy clouds. We spent Tuesday night at Rancho Campground in the Ft. Peck Indian Reservation. Wednesday it was sunny and 58 degrees with very few clouds. We saw four herds of mule deer grazing in fields along the highway through MT, lots of wheat fields and big grain elevators. Most of the trains we’ve seen are livestock or grain haulers but we did see an Amtrak passenger train as well. We saw several distance bicyclers heading east along the highway, a few snowcapped mountains in the distance and very rocky terrain. We arrived at Lewis & Clark Campground in Shelby, MT where we will spend 2 nights catching up on laundry and other necessities and reviewing our route further north. The campground owners are very helpful with Canada and Alaska information.
June 18 -- We left Shelby, MT on June12, heading north into Alberta, Canada. After passing through customs at Coutts, our first stop was the information centre, where Danielle was a wealth of information. We decided to visit the Devil’s Coulee Dinosaur Museum and nest site. This was the first dinosaur nesting site found in Canada. Amanda at the museum and Lisa at the nest site were both very informative and actually exploring the nest site and finding dinosaur bone and tooth fragments was fascinating. Unfortunately, our home on wheels was covered inside and out with dust after driving on gravel roads but it was really worth it! Next stop was Ft. Macleod to visit the Fort-Museum of the North West Mounted Police, then west to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and interpretive centre. After viewing a short video of the hunting culture of the Plains people, we were able to walk to the area of the buffalo drive lanes and the kill site. The scenery alone was beautiful!
After driving north through Calgary enjoying the snowcapped Canadian Rockies, we stopped at a turnout at Lac des Arcs for a beautiful view, ate lunch at Dead Man’s Flats and arrived at Banff National Park where we camped for 2 nights. What a beautiful park! We visited Lake Louise and it was certainly as beautiful as everyone told us. It is very blue and we were able to see the Chateau and mountains reflected in it. We had warm apple strudel in the Lakeside Lounge with a stunning view of the mountains. We saw grizzly bear tracks at Fenland Trail along Echo River, bighorn sheep and elk at Lake Minnewanka. At Lake Minnewanka we saw several scuba divers taking advantage of the clear water to dive...the water temperature was about 40 degrees!....Burr!!! The park has made large mammal overpasses over Highway 1, with fences to guide the mammals across the overpass rather than across the busy 4-lane highway. They really look quite natural although we didn’t see animals crossing while there.
We drove the Icefield Parkway from Banff to Jasper which is absolutely breathtaking! You can see snow, mountains, glaciers and wildlife from the road and there are frequent turnouts for viewing and photography. At Bow Lake we met another couple from Greenfield, Tom & Patty, who were schoolmates of Kathy’s—what a small world! Bow Lake still has some ice on the surface. It is so clear that the reflection of the mountains in the lake is perfect! Along with the breathtaking views, we saw Bighorn Sheep, Elk, Black Bear and Ravens. We spent the entire day on the parkway and drove only 174 miles.
We are now in Dawson Creek and spent yesterday exploring the town. We visited the Royal Canadian Mounted Police department to get a patch for Mike. They were nice enough to tear one off an old uniform shirt! We had lunch at the Hug a Mug, which reminded us of The Bread Ladies in Greenfield, then we toured the Alaska Highway House, and watched a DVD of the building of the highway by the US Army in 1942.
The weather has been great so far, usually sunny and upper 60’s to low 70’s. We have met so many nice people from all over the US and Canada and look forward to continuing on the Alaska Highway tomorrow.
July 7—We left Dawson Creek on June 19 and headed north on the Alaska Highway. We took the loop road that allowed us to drive a portion of the original old Alaska Highway and cross the historic curved wooden Kiskatihaw River Bridge, the only original timber bridge built along the Alaska Hwy that’s still in use today. We’re glad we watched the DVD about the highway construction because we have better understanding as we drive along. After we arrived in Ft. Nelson that afternoon, we decided to take a day trip to Ft. Liard, Northwest Territory, so we could say we’d been there. We left the 5th wheel at the campground which was a good decision because most of the Liard Hwy is gravel! We saw a rabbit, a fox, a Black bear and several bison as we drove along. In Ft. Liard, which seems to be primarily a First Nations settlement now, we visited the Acho Dene Native Crafts shop and bought some souvenirs, then headed back the 130 miles to Ft. Nelson.
On Father’s Day we left Ft. Nelson to head northwest towards Watson Lake. Before leaving the Blue Bell Inn & RV Park in Ft. Nelson, we visited with our neighbors, Trish & Malcolm from Toronto, Ontario and another couple, Heather & Tony from England who have been full-timers in the US for 5 years. It was interesting to talk to everyone about what we’d seen and where we were each going next. We saw a gray wolf and more bison along the way as well as beautiful scenery. The highway often follows rivers as it winds through the mountains. The temperature fluctuates greatly in the mountains, so it’s best to layer clothing. We spent the night in the Downtown RV Park in Watson Lake, a block’s walk from the Sign Post Forest. At last count there were over 66,000 signs in the forest but we were still quite overwhelmed at the magnitude. We went back Monday morning to post our sign. Sorry Roger & Joyce, Nan & Larry and Andy & Patty, we didn’t find your signs but we really did look! We found a Greenfield, IN sign and some other very interesting ones.
Our next stop was Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territory. We spent three nights at the Pioneer RV Park which we would highly recommend. It is definitely a full-service RV park with very friendly, helpful staff and everything you might need, including an RV wash where Bob was able to wash the worst of the grime off the truck. We’ve had to use the Laundromat because we haven’t been able to get 50-amp electrical service, but it’s a great place to meet people and swap information. One couple was celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with a trip to Alaska and was on their way back to Florida, so they were very helpful. Before we left the campground to head further north, we met a gentleman from Australia who with his family and 3 other families had been RVing North America for the past 11 months and would continue to do so till the end of the year. Amazing! While in Whitehorse, we were able to witness the start of the 2009 Yukon River Quest, a 740 km canoe race from Whitehorse to Dawson City. We walked through town, visited the MacBride Museum of Yukon History, and toured the Yukon Wildlife Preserve where we saw elk, stone sheep, dall sheep, moose, caribou, wood bison, lynx, musk ox, blue birds and prairie squirrels. Roslyn, our guide was full of information and willing to stop anywhere we wanted close up views and pictures. It is well worth the time and money.
Next stop, Alaska! There’s lots of highway reconstruction due to the frost heaves, and each area of reconstruction requires long distances of gravel (and dust) but the sights are certainly worth it. We saw the Kluane Icefield Ranges, a wolf, swans, the International Border and crossed U.S. Customs into Alaska at 4:55PM on Thursday, June 26. We stopped at a scenic turnout for the night, with beautiful views of the mountains. We met a couple from near Vancouver, BC who were heading to Tok and then to the Top of the World Hwy. We saw our first moose in the wild; a mom, calf and a little later another female; our trip is complete! We arrived in Delta Junction and the end of the Alaska Highway (Mile 1422) on Friday, 10 days after we started our journey. We received a certificate of completion and headed north on the Richardson Highway. A short distance north of Delta Junction, we saw our first view of the trans-Alaska pipeline, up close and personal, where it crosses the Tanana River. WOW, what a sight! We drove on to Fairbanks, where we will stay at the River’s Edge RV Park for 6 nights while we explore the area. The campground is large, we have 50-amp electrical service and it’s right on the Chena River. We stopped at the Santa Claus House in North Pole to tell Santa what we’d like for Christmas.
Yesterday we took the Northern Alaska Tour Company’s Arctic Circle Drive Adventure tour. The company’s shuttle picked us up at the campground along with Otto and Penny from Edmonton, Alberta at 5:45 AM. There were a total of 13 on the bus for the tour, including a lovely couple from New Zealand and a family of three from San Jose, California. We became more acquainted with them throughout the day, especially their 3 year old son, Ballu. Ian, our tour guide, has lived in Alaska for ten years and currently lives in the back country. He was a very interesting and informative person. Along the Dalton Highway (or Haul Road as it was first known), we stopped in Joy, Alaska to visit the facilities (outhouses) and shop in the general store if interested. Next we stopped at the trans-Alaska pipeline and learned some interesting information including why there are so many curves in the pipeline, what it’s both above and below ground, and that it puts off just enough heat that caribou can be seen lined up underneath it in the winter. We had lunch and dinner at the Yukon River Camp, the only place between Fairbanks and the Arctic Circle with running water, Finger Mt and finally, we crossed the Arctic Circle! The weather improved throughout the day, so it was sunny and low 60’s when we arrived about 3:30 PM. On the return trip we had the opportunity to walk across tundra, which is very spongy, feel permafrost that was about 15 inches below the surface and touch the trans-Alaska pipeline. We saw a rock face that actually resulted from an earthquake, walked in a field of fireweed, received certificates for surviving an adventurous journey through the northern wilderness, and returned to the campground at 12:30 AM Tuesday. And never once did we see darkness! What a great trip!
While in Fairbanks we also visited The Great Alaska Bowl Co, where we watched them make bowls and purchased a few more Christmas gifts; the Fairbanks Farmer’s Market which was more food and craft booths than produce but was quite interesting; visited the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum of the North; walked the Boreal Forest trail at Creamer’s Field where we saw various trees and wildflowers and learned about the ecosystem. WE SAW MOOSE—lots of them; our trip is complete! We drove the Chena Hot Springs Road and first saw a moose cow with two calves right along the road. We spent July 4th weekend boon docking at the Chena River State Recreation and meet Sandy & Ed from North Pole, who were also spending the weekend there. They took us driving along the road Sunday evening and we saw at least 12 moose, including 2 bulls and 2 calves. We got some great pictures as you can see. Thanks to Sandy & Ed for being our own personal wildlife guides. As a special treat, we saw a porcupine crossing the road although we weren’t able to get pictures. We learned a lot about bear and moose habitats and hunting from Ed and more about the area from both. Monday we headed south to Denali National Park where we’ve decided to stay for a week. There is a fire somewhere because we saw and smelled smoke most of the way from Fairbanks to the Denali RV Park and Motel.
July 12 -- Denali National Park — Thanks to advice from Ed and Sandy we stopped at Rose’s Café in Healy on our way from Fairbanks for a delicious lunch. We’ve spent the past week about 4 miles north of Denali National Park at the Denali RV Park and Motel. We have a lovely view of the mountains out our windows and the staff is quite friendly and helpful regarding both the area and the National Park. We’ve had pretty weather with only one day rainy and cooler, so we’ve had GREAT sightings of Mt McKinley when we’ve been in the park. As Mt. McKinley is only fully visible or, according to the locals, “The mountain is out,” 20% of the time we feel quite fortunate to have seen it on 2 consecutive days. This is a link to a live Mt McKinley webcam so you can see if "the mountain is out". When we talked to Ranger Ken in the Denali Visitor Center to plan our trip, he suggested we take the shuttle to at least Eielson Visitor Center, marking on the park map areas we might want to look at more in depth on the way back, then get off and on the bus as we wanted on the return trip. We took the 6:30 AM shuttle bus from the Wilderness Access Center to the Eielson Visitor Center, a 66-mile, roughly 8-hour round trip. We rode through the drunken forest (so named for the leaning trees due to the permafrost), saw the braided Savage River, Dall Sheep far up on a hillside (thank goodness for binoculars and telephoto lens!), Polychrome Pass with beautifully colored mountains, and a recent earth slide where we could see a very large “V” in the side of a mountain. We enjoyed our picnic lunch at the Eielson Visitor Center with Mt. McKinley looming just over our shoulders, still 30 miles away. We hiked a bit, walked on the tundra and enjoyed the displays in the visitor center which was opened in June, 2008 and is built into the hillside with the roof as an observation deck so you mainly see and enjoy the scenery. We could not have picked a better day to visit because Mt. McKinley was fully visible when we arrived, but by the time we boarded our return shuttle bus an hour and a half later, clouds were closing in. On our return trip, we saw a grizzly about half a mile from the dirt bus road, and later two separate caribou.
Another day, we visited the Denali National Park dog kennels and saw a dog sled demonstration. It was interesting to be able to see and pet the dogs and learn about their training and life expectancy as a work dog. The kennel is not accessible by private vehicle, so we took the shuttle bus in, then hiked Rock Creek Trail, a moderately strenuous 3.5 mile trail back to the Denali Visitor Center. It was so peaceful, with great views of the creek, mountains, and various trees and plants.
Monday we head further south towards Anchorage.
July 22—Anchorage—Driving south along the Parks Highway towards Anchorage we were blessed with several more sightings (and pictures) of Mt. McKinley and lovely scenery. While in Anchorage we visited the Qiviut Shop. Qiviut (pronounced "kiv-ee-ute"), the downy-soft underwool from the Arctic musk ox, is shed naturally each year during the spring months. Eight times warmer than wool and extraordinarily lightweight, Qiviut is one of the finest natural fibers known to man. The Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers Co-Operative is owned by approximately 250 Native Alaskan women from remote coastal villages of Alaska who knit each item by hand. We visited the Ulu Factory and watched blades and handles being made. The traditional ULU was an Eskimo cutting tool made of slate and bone, with a sharp edge for cutting or carving. We watched salmon fishing in Ship Creek and were able to see the silver salmon run as we stood on a viewing bridge. The flowers seen throughout the city are beautiful due to the long daylight hours.
We took a day trip to Whittier, about a 2-hour drive south of Anchorage along the Seward Highway. The drive along the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet is quite pretty even though it was cool and overcast. We stopped at the Begich Boggs Visitor Center on Portage Lake where we saw the Bear, Burns and Byron Glaciers. We also saw a couple of icebergs in the lake, one which actually floated to shore before we left. We drove through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, the longest combined vehicle-railroad tunnel in North America. It connects the port city of Whittier on Prince William Sound to the Seward Highway and South-central Alaska and opened to vehicle traffic on June 7, 2000 after extensive conversion from a World War II railroad tunnel. The tunnel is 1-lane and allows a 15-minute traffic flow each direction, unless a train is entering, then all traffic stops for the train, and then waits for the purging smoke from the tunnel after the train exits. It was quite interesting driving through a rock tunnel, on railroad tracks, and exiting on the Whittier side where there was drizzle and a definite temperature drop. We had lunch at Swiftwater Seafood Café on Prince William Sound, were we ran into Malcolm & Trish, a couple from Toronto, Ontario we’d met at the Ft. Nelson Campground a few weeks earlier. We shared a table and visited during lunch; afterward we wandered along the waterfront before making our journey back to Anchorage. The climax of the day was a bald eagle sighting.
We enjoyed some of the parks in Anchorage, including Earthquake and Kincaid. Earthquake Park is the site where huge tracts of land slid into the Inlet on March 27, 1964, destroying 75 homes and now features an interpretive display explaining the quake, along with the area's geology, flora and fauna. We also enjoyed views of the city and Cook Inlet. Kincaid Park is a 1400-acre forest which sits atop an old glacial moraine and offers one of America’s top trail systems as well as Anchorage’s largest moose population. We hiked a portion of the Coastal Trail, following the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet but didn’t see moose until we were driving back towards the campground. It’s still surprising to see them in the city!
We saw the bore tide at Beluga Point on the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet. A bore tide occurs when the tide rises in Cook Inlet and it fills the narrow, shallow, gently sloping basin of Turnagain Arm, causing the incoming water to collide with the outgoing water. Either our expectations were too high, or we weren’t sure what we were seeing but it wasn’t as dramatic as we expected. But it was interesting standing on a rocky point watching the tide change.
Tomorrow, we head south toward Seward. We’ve apparently finally met the “normal” Alaska summer, cool and damp. Oh well!
July 30 -- Seward — Due to an unexpected broken spring on the 5th wheel, we spent a couple of extra days in Anchorage, so here are a few more pictures. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of needing RV repair work while in Anchorage, we highly recommend A&M RV Center on 5th Ave. The staff is professional, courteous and honest. We unfortunately visited them on our arrival to and as we prepared to leave Anchorage for 2 unrelated issues and they were able to look at and diagnosis our problem immediately. We were even allowed to spend a night in their parking lot as the 5th wheel was not towable.
We stayed at Stoney Creek RV Park just north of Seward, a peaceful campground on the Stoney Creek. While in Seward, we visited the Alaska Sea Life Center, walked along Resurrection Bay on the Iditarod Trail, watched sea otters play in the bay, walked along the small boat harbor, saw the Benny Benson Memorial and had lunch at AK Nellie’s on 4th St. In 1926, as a 7th grader, Benny Benson entered a contest to design the Alaska flag which he won, earning a $1000 scholarship; quite a fortune at that time. We spent an afternoon at the Kenai Fjords NP Exit Glacier Nature Center, the only area of the national park reached by road, where we enjoyed a ranger-led walk along Exit Creek to Exit Glacier. He pointed out a tree with bear claw markings where a Black bear had apparently climbed the tree and another tree where a moose had rubbed the bark off with his antlers. Kenai Fjords National Park, a 607,805 acre park, is over half covered by The Harding Icefield. The park is primarily accessible by boat tours, so we took the Northwestern Fjords tour on a 70-foot catamaran, the Aialik Voyager. It was rainy, windy and about 60 degrees so the water was a little rough, but wow, what a tour! We saw sea otters, 6 humpback whales in 3 different sightings, stellar sea lions, Dall’s porpoise who were much too quick to get decent pictures, a harbor seal, horned & tufted puffins, cormorants, gulls, common murre, fork-tailed storm-petrel, a mountain goat and 2 pairs of eagles. We met our goals for the day and then some! Because of the rougher seas (and several seasick passengers, fortunately not us!) we visited Holgate Glacier rather than Northwestern Glacier, but it was still pretty amazing, a one-quarter mile, 200 ft thick glacier that calved while we were there. We had dinner one night at Chinook’s Restaurant on the harbor and the food was delicious. Kathy had grilled wild Alaskan salmon and landlubber Bob had a fillet in mushroom gravy. Both were delicious, the service was good and the atmosphere was fun.
We decided to spend a couple of days dry camping on Resurrection Bay in Seward at the municipal campground. We were able to back within 100 ft of the bay, right along the Iditarod Trail and watch the otters play, the boats and ships enter and exit the harbor and just enjoy the beautiful mountain view. It was interesting to see the tide go in and out since we had never spent much time in a high tide area. Thursday morning as we prepared to leave it was quite foggy and we could barely see boats in the bay, but 90 minutes later, as you can see in the pictures, the fog lifted and we had an absolutely gorgeous view of the mountains poking through the clouds. It was also the first day in a week it wasn’t raining!
The drive to Homer was pretty and Bob actually donned his sunglasses for a short distance! We stopped in Moose Pass and visited Estes Brothers Grocery, “the same store that supplied the miners during the gold rush” according to The Milepost. We stopped at a turnoff with a view of Mt. Iliamna, Mt. Redoubt, Mt. Augustine and Mt. Spur, but it wasn’t clear enough to see across the water. We stopped at the bluff above Homer for a beautiful view of Kachemak Bay, Cook Inlet, Homer Spit, glaciers and mountains. We arrived at the Ocean View RV Park, right on Cook Inlet where we will spend a couple of nights while we tour the city.
August 21—We spent a few days in Homer, on the southwestern Kenai Peninsula on the northwestern shore of Kachemak Bay although it was actually established at Homer Spit in 1895. Homer is known as The Halibut Capital of the World, but also is believed to have over 400 million tons of coal in the ground. While in Homer, we spent an afternoon on the Spit, which juts out from the Homer shore for 4 miles. We saw several large vessels in the boat harbor, visited the well-known Salty Dawg Saloon, and did some shopping. We visited the Time Bandit Store made famous by the "Deadliest Catch" TV show. We enjoyed scenic drives and magnificent views including a drive to Anchor Point, where we drove to the most westerly point in North America accessible by continuous road system. We were able to identify the Pacific “ring of fire,” four volcanoes including Mt. Redoubt. We saw a couple of eagles, one in flight, and a moose cow and 2 calves. We had dinner at Crabbies Seafood & Steak, an interesting pirate-themed restaurant with delicious food. The rain finally lifted and the weather was great—sunny and 65-70 degrees. Next we drove north on the Kalifornsky Beach Road to Kenai, located on a small bluff overlooking the mouth of the Kenai River where it empties into Cook Inlet. We had an absolutely beautiful view from the campground, including a great view of Mt. Redoubt (Bob was disappointed there was no evidence of volcanic smoke) although it is still listed as exhibiting signs of elevated unrest above known background level according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory. We enjoyed a drive toward Captain Cook SRA where we saw offshore oil platforms and an oil tanker at a loading platform, visited an old salmon cannery on the Kenai River, and looked for more wildlife. Unfortunately, even though we stayed at Beluga Lookout RV Park, we never sighted beluga whales…oh well. We are now headed northeast toward Palmer & Wasilla as we begin our slow trek out of Alaska.
We spent a few days camped between Palmer and Wasilla. While in the area we looked for Sarah Palin in Wasilla, but didn’t find her although we visited Alaska’s largest Wal-Mart; we’d been to the world’s largest Target store located in Anchorage, so what more can we ask? We visited the Vern Halter Dream A Dream Premier Iditarod Kennel where we met Vern and enjoyed his informative presentation and video. Vern is a veteran Iditarod and Yukon Quest musher and his wife Susan, a veterinarian, is a Yukon Quest veteran. While there we took a hike with the 12-week old pups, Hickory, Dickory & Doc, and enjoyed a sled-dog ride. Vern and Susan have developed a great facility. Kathy apologizes in advance for the picture quality; she forgot the camera and took these with her phone. We spent an afternoon at the Matanuska Glacier, first at the State Recreation Area where we could see the glacier and hike a 1-mile nature trail with frequent information panels about glaciers and the surrounding natural environment, and then driving to and walking on the glacier itself. What an experience! We took a container to bring home some glacial ice, although it melted before we got back to the campground. It was a bit muddy but worth the trek. We kept seeing signs about a wedding, and as we were returning from the glacier, we encountered the nervous groom and the minister and wondered aloud how the bride would arrive and how she’d be dressed. As we got closer to the parking lot, we encountered the bride and her party; all in their wedding attire! The bride was lovely, and very brave to wear her beautiful gown across the mud to the glacier. We noticed she and her attendants had on boots and most of the groomsmen had cleats on their shoes. We learned that the couple became engaged at the glacier and decided to be married there as well. After our glacier visit, we had dinner at the Long Rifle Lodge where we had delicious food in a rustic atmosphere with a great view of the glacier and Chugach Mts. We decided to go “wildlife viewing” along Hatcher Pass Rd, a 49-mile loop road that is both paved and unpaved. We had beautiful views of the Little Susitna River, the Talkeetna Mountains and the Chugach Mountains. We saw a beaver, dam and lodge along the way, but when we turned onto the narrow, bumpy, dirt and gravel portion of the road, it became quite smoky so after about 600 feet we turned around as we weren’t going to be able to see anything and the road really was quite rough with no guard rails and a big drop off to the side. We visited the nearby Musk Ox Farm, the world’s only domesticated musk ox farm. Hannah, our tour guide told us about the Oomingmak Cooperative, domesticating the musk oxen and harvesting the Qiviut or under wool of the musk ox. We’d read that it was harvested by hand but didn’t realize they actually use a hair pick about the size a woman uses for her hair! We enjoyed getting a closer view of the musk oxen, which ranged from calves to yearlings to adults.
The drive to Valdez was beautiful with more mountains, rivers and lakes. Kathy still enjoys the fireweed which has definitely changed in appearance since we arrived in June. She read that when the bloom reaches the tip it signals the end of summer and it is getting there. Now it has a more feathery, softer appearance and is still quite pretty along the roadside. We had great views of the Wrangell mountain range along the Richardson Highway, waterfalls and glaciers as we drove closer to Valdez. The scenery here is beautiful and after 2 months we still marvel! From our campsite we can see at least 8 glaciers. We’ve visited the Old Valdez town site, which was condemned after the 1964 Good Friday earthquake and moved to the present location, we visited the Solomon Gulch fish hatchery where we saw thousands of silver salmon, and saw a Black bear fishing for salmon along the road, and walked along the small boat harbor admiring the boats. The Alaska portion of our trip is winding down as we will begin our drive northeast to Tok next week. What a wonderful summer so far!
One of the things we’ve learned as we’ve traveled Alaska is the extent of the Good Friday, 1964 earthquake and ensuing tsunami damage and devastation. According to the West Coast & Alaska Tsunami Warning Center the epicenter was in the Northern Prince William Sound between Anchorage and Valdez. The most structural damage occurred in Anchorage but most coastal towns in the Prince William Sound, Kenai Peninsula, and Kodiak Island areas, especially the major ports of Seward, Whittier and Kodiak were either heavily damaged or simply vanished, and evidence remains yet today. The town of Valdez was condemned and moved to its current location within 2 years after the earthquake. The town of Portage is no more.
Aug 27 --We left Alaska August 27th, 63 days after we arrived. We spent an extra night in Tok hoping to see the Northern Lights, but it was too overcast. That experience and Beluga Whales are probably the only sights we missed during our stay. People always ask: what was your favorite place, what was your favorite sight? Our answer: everyplace and all of them! After 63 days we were stil in awe of the mountains, the water, the wildlife, and the people. Pictures and words just can do Alaska justice -- AWESOME!
Leaving Tok, we headed east along the Alaska Highway to the Cassiar Highway, Route 37 southbound through British Columbia. The first day of the drive was intense for Bob as the highway was narrow with no shoulders, no center line, and often no guardrail, as well as gravel with frequent construction areas. We stopped at Jade City and the Cassiar Mt Jade Store. It was interesting to see how they cut and polished the Jade. After the first day, the road improved dramatically and the drive was very pretty. We had a close encounter with a grizzly bear and saw several Black bear as we headed for Stewart, BC and Hyder, AK, small sister cities on the Canada-Alaska border. We spent a day driving to Salmon Glacier 25 miles north of Hyder on a narrow, sometimes single-lane, very rutted and cratered dirt road. But the view was well worth it! The Salmon Glacier is the fifth largest glacier in North America. Looking down upon the Salmon Gacier and along the valey below you can see how the glacier is continually transforming the landscape and itself. it is the only glacier in the world where you can look down on it from the road, which we did while enjoying our picnic lunch. On our way back down the mountain, we stopped at the Fish Creek Wildlife Viewing Area where we watched salmon in the very clear creek. We also watched a beautiful bald eagle feeding on salmon on the shore but didn't see any bear fishing.
As we drove southwest through British Columbia, we decided to forego Vancouver as we visited there about 5 years ago, and stop instead in Bellingham, Washington. We arrived back in the lower 48 on September 3, and spent the Labor Day weekend at the Bellingham RV Park, a nice park a short drive from the Pacific Ocean. From there, we took a day trip to Victoria, BC through Victoria San Juan Cruises and took the train to Seattle for a day. Both areas were interesting and we’re glad we included them in our trip.
As our Great Alaskan Adventure comes to a close, continue to follow our trip down the west coast of the lower 48, as we head to Tucson, Arizona, our winter home this year (Fall 2009 link).