Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Home again home again, Jiggity Jig!

Tuesday, August 17, 5 PM
8,567 miles

HOME! What fantastic 5 weeks. The past 3 days have been long drives, with a very different kind of scenery; wheat fields, oil rigs, swollen rivers and streams and flat farm land.
On Monday, we did 630 miles, North Battleford, Saskatchewan to Carrington ND, where we stopped at a rest area in the rain, thunder, lightening and wind. Tuesday we drove home, just over 400 miles.

Some of our observations -
  • The mosquitos in Alaska were nothing compared to those in the Wal-Mart lot in North Battleford, Saskatchewan! We never even used any mosquito repellant in Alaska.
  • There seem to be lots more stormy weather in the lower 48. Alaska had some cool, misty rain, but no storms.
  • food and gas are much cheaper in the Lower 48 thank goodness, we're almost out of $$
  • There is none of that beautiful fuschia fireweed in MN or WI, yet! Jean and I have seeds....
  • "free WiFI" does not necessarily mean  reliable or fast WiFi
  • Highways in the lower 48 are sooo much better than "up north"
  • Everything in Alaska is big!
  • Highlights: Bob - the town of Chicken; Lowell - Kenai River Fishing; Jean - Fairbanks and Skagway, for the shopping; Jackie - probably Skagway, but I am having a tough time deciding!
  • Next time:  more time to pan gold in Chicken,  catch fish at the end of the trip and just bring a freezer in the camper! Hike more, in Denali & other places, raft one of the rivers, try some halibut fishing, more time in Dawson city,  a bigger notepad for keeping score of card games!!
We're better friends now than when we left 5 weeks ago! We certainly know alot more about each other now :-) We're even planning our next trip (look out Stockholm, WI!)

Monday, August 15, 2011


August 12, 845 AM, Leaving Skagway, 46 degrees and raining. 
@ 5904 miles
Tuesday was a “road day” We left Dawson City and drove … miles to Skagway, a 9+ hour drive. Again, the scenery was beautiful, we even drove past Lake Laberge!! The Koch family will recognize that name.  The rest of you need to read (or hear) The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service, the Yukon Poet.  We missed getting to his cabin in Dawson City, next time!
After a long day in the truck, and another trip thru customs, we arrived at Skagway & camped at Mountain View Campground – right next to the railroad tracks (again!)  Fixed dinner and took a walk after a long day in the car.  Most stores were closed by the time we walked “downtown”. Skaway is a quaint little town with wooden sidewalks. It’s about 7 blocks long and 4 blocks wide!  The town’s current purpose seems to be catering to cruise ships.  On Wednesday night we watched 3 ships leave, only to be replaced by 3 more by Thursday morning. While walking back we heard a splash in the small stream next to the sidewalk. Salmon! 
 From the fall of 1897 until the spring of 1899 it was the beginning of the White Pass Trail leading to Dawson City and the Klondike Gold Rush.   There’s soooo much history here!  The miners made their was to Skagway via ship, from San Fransciso, Vancouver, etc. and then faced 100 miles or so hiking on either the Chilkoot Trail or the White Pass Trail. After that, they boarded or built boats to float up the Yukon River to Dawson City. 
The White Pass Trail laws known as a trail for pack horses and left from Skagway, the Chilkoot Trail was a hiking trail and left from Dyea, just over the hill.  Skagway was particularly violent and corrupt town, many miners lost their newfound fortunes there before they return home.  The stories about these people are incredible. 
Anyway, back to our trip!  Wednesday morning we were awakened by the trains going into town, The White Pass & Yukon Railroad runs tours in and out of town as well as passenger trails up to Whitehorse, YT.  Fortunately they don’t begin for 7 AM and are finished by about 7 at night. On Thursday we walked into town to sample the shops – a great quilt shop and lots of souvenir shops, little bars, etc.  During the Gold Rush, there were 81 bars in this town.  Now there are at least 81 jewelry stores!!!  I guess cruise ship people buy lots of jewelry.  In the late afternoon, we decided hike a trail that Lowell & I had seen not too far from our campground.  Someone in town told us it was an easy walk to a pretty lake.  Wellllllll, it was a mile and a half – almost all UP!  Actually it wasn’t terrible, just more climbing than we expected.  But it was a beautiful lake, nice views of town from the beginning of the trail and a great workout.   When we got down we headed straight to the Red Onion for pizza and beer.  Actually, Jean and I had the best margaritas of the trip at this place.  Fun little spot with bedpans and portraits of the “Good Times Girls” decorating the walls!  While we were walking back to the RV Park, we watched the salmon working like crazy to get up the stream for spawning.  These were Pink Salmon or Humpies.  Boy they looked rough!!  It also started raining…
On Thursday morning, Lowell and I took the White Pass & Yukon Route train to Summit Pass.  Jean and Bob took that trip when they were here in 2003.  The rain was still coming down and the clouds were hanging low, but it was really kind of a cool train ride. Lots of historic tidbits and some (more) amazing views, the clouds even added a mystical air to the mountains.  After lunch we headed downtown again and checked out several mining museums that are part of the Klondike National Park.  We took in a musical “the Show of 98” that gave us a little more background about Skagway and Soapy Smith.  On to dinner at the Skagway Brewery – great little microbrewery.   Finished the evening with a quick trip to the Gold Rush Cemetery. The last resting place of good guys & bad guys, miners and their families.
  We spent our last night in Skagway playing cards and washing clothes. It rained all day Thursday and most of the night.  By the time we left Skagway Friday morning, the rain had mostly stopped. 

Friday’s drive was a long one – Skagway to Liard River Hot Springs. We passed out of the magnificent mountains of Skagway, into and out of the Canadian Rockies. Bears and buffalo wandered the roadways toward evening. In fact there were 2 herds of buffalo that were on the road just before our camp!  Probably a couple hundred wandering all over the road and ditches. 
We are on the way home now, so we’ll have long days of driving. There is no Internet connection at Liard, so I’m not sure when this will get posted. (No trains here either, however a helicopter did land in the parking lot to refuel!)

Saturday – 562 miles from Liard River to Grande Prairie, long, but continuing beautiful scenery.  As we left the campground we saw a few more buffalo – and one decided to cross the bridge right in front of us…SLOWLY!!  We got to Grande Prairie’s Wal-Mart about 10, just as a huge thunder and rainstorm rolled in.  
Sunday -  Another long day and today the scenery changed. We are now on the Canadian prairie, which certainly is pretty in it’s own right, but coming from the majestic Alaskan mountains and Northern Rockies, the ride is kind of boring.  We stopped in Edmonton for lunch and met Ed and Ardyth – friends from Casa Grande. It was so nice to see them and catch up a bit.    Stopped at North Battleford tonight about 9:30.  We ran into WallyWorld before it closed and got ice cream for dinner tonight!!  After another game of Farkel and one of Hand & Foot, it’s time to crash.  We have a thousand miles to go, so two long days of driving.  We plan to stop at McDonald’s for breakfast and get this posted, so that you can read it before we get home!
 It’s been a spectacular 5 weeks. Truly the trip of a lifetime. However, now that we are on the way home I think we are all ready to get home to see our kids and grandkids & sleep in our own beds again!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fairbanks to Dawson City

Riverboat Discovery
August 10   Day # 32    @5,850 Miles

Stopped here in Skagway, AK last night - oh my, what a spectacular drive!  But we'll save that for later and try to catch you up on our adventures from the past several days. We're not sure if anyone is still reading this, but I need to keep doing it as my journal so I can organize pictures when we get back home!

On Saturday morning we left Fairbanks (49°!) for the 275 mile drive to Chicken, AK, another mining town.  As we left, the skies were clear and we saw Mt McKinley again!  It was so beautiful we stopped at several viewing areas and took lots of pictures.  After 50 miles or so, we realized it wasn't McKinley, but Mount Haines!  Oops - well, that young German couple will go home thinking they finally got to the "the Mountain", but that's ok, isn't it? 
Futher along the route we stopped to see and learn more about the Alaska Pipeline. It is really an amazing feat of engineering and pipefitting work!

  • The Trans Alaska Pipeline System was designed and constructed to move oil from the North Slope of Alaska to the northern most ice-free port in Valdez, Alaska.
  • Length: 800 miles.
  • Diameter: 48 inches.
  • Crosses three mountain ranges and more than 30 major rivers and streams.
  • Cost to build: $8 billion in 1977, largest privately funded construction project at that time.
  • Construction began March 27, 1975 and was completed May 31, 1977.
  • First oil moved through the pipeline on June 20, 1977.
  • More than 16 billion barrels have moved through TAPS.
  • First tanker to carry crude oil from Valdez: ARCO Juneau, August 1, 1977.
  • Tankers loaded at Valdez: 19,625 through April 30, 2008.
  • The mission of Alyeska’s Ship Escort Response Vessel System is to safely escort tankers through Prince William Sound. 

Next stop,  Delta Junction for lunch, a quilt shop and gold pans at the local sporting goods store!
On to Tok, for a heart-to-heart conversation at the Visitors Center about the Top of the World Highway.  This is where we have to make a decision about which way we'll drive next - back the way we came into Alaska, or north to Dawson City.  We keep hearing about the drive from Chicken to Dawson City - terrible road, very slippery, no guardrails, narrow lanes, etc.  The nice ladies at Tok said "Go for it!!  It's a beautiful drive, it's been dry so shouldn't be slippery and if you go on Sunday, you shouldn't see many big trucks. Just take your time, be aware, drive slowly and enjoy the scenery!" Decision made - on to Chicken!
The town of Chicken was, of course, an old mining town.  The prospectors wanted to name it after the state bird, the ptarmigan, but couldn't spell it, so they went with Chicken, the slang name for ptarmigan! The town currently consists of a post office, 2 RV camps, a strip of buildings called "downtown" and lots of old rusty mining equipment! At the Chicken Gold Camp you could dig in their pile of gravel and pan in their sluice for $15 for 4 hours or for the same price they would take you up to their claim and you could pan for the day.  Both interesting options, but we decided to get the drive to Dawson City out of the way on Sunday and try our hand at panning in that area.  
The Taylor Highway turns into the Top of the World Highway.  The Taylor was interesting as 1.3 million acres burned in 2004. As the highway climbs, the views are absolutely amazing!!!  We didn't meet much traffic and it was a smooth drive.  It was 51 miles from Chicken to the Canadian border - the drive took 2 1/2 hours with just a 10 minute stop in the "town" of Boundary, AK. Another abandoned mining area with lots of old rusty equipment to look at! From the border to Dawson City was another 64 miles, but the road was actually blacktopped, and there might even have been a centerline painted on part of it!  So it only took 2 hours and 15 minutes to make that drive!  
So, when you get to Dawson, you have to cross the Yukon River...on a ferry.  There is no schedule for the ferry, it operates 24 hours a day when the river isn't frozen (if it's frozen you just drive across!).  We got in line at 3:21 PM (PDT) and got across at 6:39 PDT.  The ferry can haul 2 camper/RV rigs and 3 or 4 cars. It only takes about 5 or 6 minutes to cross, but semi's get to go on pretty much when they get there, and some locals apparently buy a pass so they can get on right way too.  Anyway, it was a bit of a wait, but a beautiful river to watch and of course some interesting folks to chat with while we were there!
Sourdough Joe's was our choice for dinner in DC, after getting the camper settled.  DC is a great little historic town, it was of course pretty quiet while we were there since it was Sunday evening.  Lots of old buildings and history about the Gold Rush in 1900.  On Monday morning we headed up Bonanza Creek for a little "free" panning.  We spent about 5 hours panning and found just a bit, Bob did the best. Then we did a tour at Dredge #4, the biggest wooden hulled dredge in North America.  The dredge had a big arm with buckets that would work their way slowly down a creek or valley, sort the gold through a big sieve and return the gravel to the side of the river bed.  The process resulted in large piles called worms. Those piles are what folks are digging in today to find small flakes and gold dust.  And I know why it's called "dust"!  Dang that stuff is tiny!! We missed a few things in town, but we'll need to see them another time I guess!
So, Tuesday it was the 444 mile drive from Dawson City to Skagway - 10 hours, but the drive between Whitehorse & Skagway was just plain awesome!! We haven't downloaded pictures from yesterday, so you'll need to see them in the next post.  Dinner, a long walk to the docks to watch 3 HUGE cruise ships leave and then crashed for the night.  Today we'll explore the town a bit.  We do have pretty decent WiFi here, so we might get another post up before we leave town. 

Just a side note for any one planning to travel to Alaska, the Milepost Magazine has been invaluable! It gives us information about what to see, what to look for and all these interesting tidbits like how Chicken got it's name!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Denali National Park & Preserve

August 5,     Day # 27      4,458 Miles
Our only view of Mt McKinley
It's already Friday! We haven't posted all week, we'll try to catch up today.
Lots of rain  in Talkeetna. After breakfast on Sunday, we took the 10 minute walk downtown and checked out a few shops and an outdoor craft fair before the rain chased us into the Denali Brewing Company.  It rained hard for a long time and when it let up Bob headed back to the campground for the truck, Lowell, Jean and I walked to the river - Talkeetna's claim to fame is that it is at the confluence of 3 rivers, The Susitna, the Talkeetna and another one - can't find the name right now!  It was a pretty area, but the clouds were hanging so low there wasn't much of a view.  Other than that, it was a relatively quiet day - Lowell and I took another walk in the afternoon, got a 1/2 mile or so from the campground and it started pouring again.  We waited for a bit at the train station.  The Alaska Train terminal is right behind the campground, you can feel them go through the terminal!  Fortunately there aren't too many overnight trains.

Caribou herd in the valley
On Monday (8/1) we took a bus tour into Denali National Park.  Personal vehicles can only drive in about 15 miles, so you choose from a variety of tour accommodations to go in any further.  We bought tickets to go into the Eielson Visitor Center, 66 miles into the park.  It is an 8 hour trip!  Of course the scenery is breathtaking, but everyone's wish is to see wildlife.  We were not disappointed!!!  We saw Dall Sheep, caribou, grizzly bears, a moose and even a wolf!  The highlight of the trip was watching a Mama Grizzly with her two cubs.  The were in a river valley and we watched them cross the road, then mosey on down the river.  At one point Mama decided to cool off, so she plopped down in the middle of the stream and sat awhile as the cubs splashed through the water. She got up, shook off, led them further upstream and decided it was time to cross again.  By now they are 400 to 500 yards away from the road and the water was much deeper.  Mama swam across and the cubs stood on the other bank looking after her like "hey, that's too deep for us!"  After a little wandering along the shore and whining, one of the cubs took the plunge and joined Mama on the other side.  The second cub was much more hesitant. He ran up and down the shoreline, watching Mom and big brother (or sister), whining, and looking very much like a little kid.  He even stood on his hind legs and cried for Mom.  At this point there are 3 busloads of tourists watching the drama.
Tuesday Lowell and I planned to do a Nenana River raft trip, but it was cancelled for lack of participation (on the 8 AM trip!)  We were not able to reschedule so we went instead back into the Park and to the Sled Dog demonstration - which was fascinating.   The park uses dog sled teams to patrol the park in the winter, so they have a regular kennel and we were able to meet and interact with the dogs - right now they have 31 adult dogs and 3 puppies were born a week ago!  We learned a lot about how they choose dogs for different positions on the teams and the difference between these dogs, who are bred to work vs the dogs that participate in races like the Iditarod and Yukon Quest.  The session finished with a group of dogs pulling a wheeled sled (and ranger) around a track.  The dogs seemed to know when it was almost time to get hitched and started barking and getting all excited as the ranger finished his presentation.  Then about 4 or 5 handlers hooked up the 5 dogs in about 3 minutes!  Once they started getting ready, the dogs really went nuts - fun to watch.  When they get the dogs from their kennel, the handler grabs them by the scruff of the neck and pulls their front 2 feet off the ground, effectively putting them in "2 wheel drive" and making them easier to handle.
Wednesday was a travel day - Healy to Fairbanks. On the way we were treat to our only views (so far) of Mt McKinley!  From the highway north of the park we could turn around and see it.  It was pretty magnificent, even at that distance.  We decided to stop at Skinny Dick's for lunch on the way.  Oops, no food! They were out of frozen pizza...   But the place provided for lots of laughs and some very funny pictures - none of which will show up on the internet!!!
By Wednesday night we we were getting settled in to our new campground on the Chena River in Fairbanks. Beautiful campground and beautiful river!  A night to wash clothes, etc.  Yes, we do have to pay a bit of attention to reality and wash clothes periodically!
Thursday was a beautiful blue sky day in Fairbanks! 75 degrees and sunny, the warmest weather we've seen since our first week in Alaska down on the Kenai.  We took a River Tour on the Chena - great tour that touched on the various industries that built Fairbanks, dogsledding and a visit to an Athabascan Native "village".  The dogsled information was provided by Dave Monson whose wife, Susan Butcher, won the Iditarod 4 times.  The boat stopped by their kennels and he gave a short presentation about racing sled dogs and then of course the demonstration ride. This team pulled a 4-wheeler.  Again, the dogs seemed to sense when it was almost time to pull and started going nuts again.
Today was cooler, I'm not sure we hit 60 degrees, but we didn't have any rain. We had a very busy day! First we went to the El Dorado Gold Mine and had a tour of what the old mines were like, as well as a working mine today. AND, we learned to pan for gold -- and even got some!!!  Lowell and I pulled out 13.5 grains (480 grains = 1 ounce) worth $65.  Jean and Bob had a little bit less. Both Jean and I are now sporting new necklaces with lockets of gold flecks.  Both the El Dorado tour and yesterday's boat tour are run by the same company and they do a really nice job. After the mine, we made a stop at the TransAlaska Pipeline Viewing Station. Another interesting spot - 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. Fairbanks is as Mile 450.  Since pipefitters from Local 455 (St. Paul) worked on it, Lowell was particularly interested.  Amazing engineering and work.
From there it was a short stop at Santa's House in North Pole, Alaska,  basically a huge Christmas store. Then on to the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks. The museum was really very nice, lots of history about the settlement of Alaska, fishing, the native Alaskan tribes and so on.   We tried a "nice" restaurant and the cheapest thing on the menu was a burger at $18.00. Then we stopped at another bar & grill, but it seemed a little questionable - and you can still smoke in the bars here, so that kind of settled it!  Off to Chili's-tried and true! And then home to play cards for an hour or so. 
 I have have some pictures ready topost .  I haven't done the pictures from yesterday and today yet.  I will try to get some more pictures uploaded and posted in the next day or so.  Tomorrow we will head out again, toward Tok and then I think up to Chicken, Alaska.  We may stop and do a little more gold panning (kinda got the fever now!).
It is now 12:20 AM, Saturday. It's just getting to be dusk, there is a frost advisory overnight (honest!) and I'm getting tired!

Good Night!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Independence Gold Mine

Saturday, July 30
Wasilla is pretty much a suburb of Anchorage although it takes 45 minutes to get back to Anchorage. All the big stores have a spot in Wasilla - Target, Lowe's, Walmart, pizza hut, etc. We met some Minnesota folks on our cruise in Seward, they suggested we drive to Hatcher Pass while we were in this area, so off we went! On our way up the mountain we passed several riders who were participating in the Alaska Challenge hand cycle race. It was a 7 stage race, this was their sixth day.

Independence Mine State Park, near Hatcher Pass in the Talkeetna Mtns, is an old hard rock gold mine. Hard rock mining is when the gold is in granite and other rock and the rock has to be crushed before the gold is recovered. This mine was open from @ 1937 to 1943 and then closed during WWII. They tried to reopen in the early 50's, but couldn't make a profit so it was abandoned until the 80's when it was donated to the state of Alaska. They have done some renovation on the building's foundations and roofs and now offer tours and several nice hikes. It was an interesting afternoon. 
     The clouds rolled in and out and in again while we were at the mine, so we had to make a decision about driving through the pass which is advertised as "an old time Alaska road--narrow, bumpy, dirt, and gravel" for 20+ miles. Well, it didn't really take too much to decide, of course we went! Jean and Bob have done some gold panning, so we borrowed a couple of pans from the campground. There were several places to pan on the road up to the mine, but we decided to get there and do our panning on the way down the mountain. Funny thing, while there were several spots that looked good, but they each had signs "No Mining", along with posted permit numbers for "Active Mining".  Apparently there were active claims, and we saw several creekside mining camps. Oh well, we'll have to try somewhere else! Stopped at Summit Lake, a beautiful glacial moraine lake at the pass. While we were there we watched a young guy parasailing from the parking area down into the valley.  We stopped for pizza in a little deli in the town of Willow. Back to Wasilla for another evening of cards and a good night's sleep!
     This morning (Sat) we packed up and drove to Talkeetna.  We got in about 1:30, set up the camper and headed over to Trapper Creek.  The two towns aren't more than about 5 miles apart, as the crow flies. But the Susitana River runs between them, so you have to go back 15 miles from Talkeetna and then north again on the Parks Highway another 15 miles to get to Trapper Creek.  We mentioned earlier that we met a young musician who was playing today at the Trapper Creek Fireweed Festival and we wanted to hear him play.  Well, this festival is billed as a family affair - there were some crafts & foods for sale, lots of kids "hands on" activities like painting pottery, learning to start a fire (survival skills) and making native music sticks.  There wasn't a beer to be had! But there were several good musicians, so we listened to that most of the afternoon, our new friend, Paul, played as well.  Nice afternoon of music and people watching!  A very local feel to the afternoon.
     So we're back in the campground in Talkeetna for the night.  Jean and I are both going to look at pictures and maybe we can post this tonight.  We have WiFi here, and will be here for one more night.  Then we are off to Denali and I have a feeling we'll be off the grid for a few days!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Soldotna to Homer to Seward to Hope to Wasilla!

July 25 Leaving Pete and Ed's place, grudgingly, this morning, we have put 3855 miles on the camp since we left. The salmon run still didn't seem to be going in full force, but we have plenty of fish.
Yesterday's trip to Homer was fun, but a little bit soggy! Homer is at the end of the Sterling Highway, to get any farther south, like to Seldovia or Kodiak Island, you need to take a ferry or a water taxi across Cook Inlet to the Lake Clark. The spot to be in Homer is The Spit. It's a long piece of landed formed by glacial tailings long ago. We wandered the "spit", spent a bit of time in the Salty Dawg Saloon and had some lunch. There were lots of eagles around. A huge nest was in an old dead tree across the street from the Safeway store!
Our first stop this morning was Ed's Kasilof Fish Processing, where we shipped another 125# of salmon back home.  The drive to Seward was beautiful, as is every drive!  Seward is another port/fishing community located on Resurrection Bay.  It's also home to Kenai Fijords National Park and Exit Glacier.  In Seward we camped at Resurrection Municipal Campgrounds - right on the beach and in the middle of town. Walking distance to the docks, restaurants and the Alaska Sea Life Center.

July 26  We hiked up to the edge of the glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park.  Of course were amazed by the stunning blue color.  In Alaska there is not charge for going to national parks.  So this was a beautiful hike for free!  There were lots of flowers and trees until we got close to the top and then it got really cold.  Fortunately there was very little rain that day and we got some decent pictures.  When we got back the girls needed to at least see the quilt store in Seward and of course we parted with more of our money.  We will have plenty of projects to keep us busy until the end of winter.  On the walk home from downtown it started to mist and then rain and we had to make a decision about going out on the Star of the Northwest cruise ship.  Because we could see light in the distance, we decided to take our chances!  It turned out to be a fun 4 hours.  We got a wonderful salmon and prime rib dinner and opportunity to see lots of wildlife, stellar sea lion, puffins, humpback whales, etc.  The walk home from the harbor was a little wet, but we survived.

July 27  After showers and pastries from the local bakery, we spent some time at the Sea Life Center in Seward.  There we got more photos of the some of the same animals we saw in their natural habitat the night before.  Later we ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant that looked good until the tour bus came in sometime between the salad and entree.  We needed to wait quite a while for the line to disappear.  Then there was not a lot of food left.  Good thing Jean and Jackie had beer to mellow us out while we waited.  Later in the afternoon we packed up the camper and headed to Hope.  This was a suggestion from our neighbors from the campground who were traveling around in a little Scamp trailer.  He is a singer/musician performing around Alaska and Canada.  They told us Hope was a beautiful little spot.
The campground was a little rustic, but they had a bar next door and beautiful view of the water.  Lots of people catching fish and we ran into our new friends from the previous campsite.  For a couple of beers they gave us a CD and invited us to hear a performance at the Trapper Creek festival on Saturday night, so you will probably hear more about that later.

July 28  Woke up to an earthquake at 6:00am, which none of us felt, but other people told us about.  Discovered a bear had been in the garbage overnight and left a deposit by the garbage cans.  Other than that the night was pretty uneventful.  Packed up our camper and headed to Wasilla for the next adventure.  Stay tuned for more exciting tales.  Just finishing the wash - this is a fancy campground, flush toilets, large, clean showers and WiFi - at our camper!!  So this will get posted tonight and maybe we'll even get another one posted before we head up toward Denali.
Just finished the wash - time to grill some salmon!!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

"It doesn't get any better than this!"

Saturday, July 23
It seems like a couple times each day someone says, "It doesn't get any better than this!" Whether we are having smoked salmon and cream cheese on bagels for breakfast by the river, catching and cleaning salmon or finishing the day with grilled salmon and cold Alaskan Amber and a bonfire by the river! All six of us are counting our blessings!
It's been an incredible week, we have been catching, cleaning and freezing salmon all week. We have close to 175 pounds of salmon fillets to ship home. Ed was gracious enough to share his techniques with us, as well as some equipment and the vacuum packer!

Fishing activities took up most of our days this week. Here is the process for catching Red Salmon (aka sockeye) on the Kenai River. 

  1. Master the Kenai Flip to drag your lure thru the water and catch a salmon;
  2. Fight the salmon up to the dock and net it;
  3. Whack the salmon on the head to put him out of his misery;
  4. Make a slit in the gills, put it on a stringer and throw it in the water to “bleed” the fish;
  5. Make another 10-15 more flips while you’re waiting for the fish to be ready to fillet;
  6. Fillet the fish – ending with 4 nice chunks of salmon;
  7. Wrap in Cling Wrap and put them in the freezer for 3 or 4 hours until they begin to freeze - unless you are going to eat it for dinner, then put it in the marinade in the fridge!
  8. Use a vacuum sealer to package each piece individually;
  9. Buy big ol’ insulated shipping boxes at the Trustworthy Hardware and Fishing Store
  10. Try to figure out how much salmon will fit in a box for shipping;
  11. Bring the box to the processor for overnight FedEx (and be eternally grateful to your children who will receive the box and get it to your freezer!)

Jean, Pete and I did manage a trip to the Robin’s Place Quilt Shop in Soldotna though.  Ed took us for a boat ride up the river.  Their cabin is at Mile #42 – measured from where the river empties into Cook Inlet.  Lots of other folks fishing on the river, we have a premier spot to fish with exceptional facilities!

We also drove into town for dinner on Thursday evening and stayed to listen to Hobo Jim – Alaska’s Official Balladeer.  A fun show with music, a bit of Alaskan culture & some slightly off color songs and toasts thrown in!
Pete, Ed and Kodi are headed back to Yelm, Washington on Saturday.  Thank you! And safe travels, we'll miss you. 
Today we are driving up to the town of Kenai for a little sightseeing, tomorrow we'll go down to Homer. The traffic and business in Soldotna is crazy busy today, seems like that will be the case for the next two weeks. Stores are sold out of cling wrap, shipping boxes, and vacuum seal bags.
On the way to town we saw 3 moose, nothing close enough for pictures, but they are here.  On the way back with saw a moose with her calf eating in the ditch and we were able to get a few pictures before the traffic behind us piled up too badly. 
In Kenai we drove to an overlook where we could see hundreds, no thousands, of people camped and fishing in the mouth of the river.  The technique there is called dip netting – you must be a resident Alaskan to get a permit for dip netting.  Long lines of people are lined up along the bank and it looked like they slowly made their way downstream with what look like HUGE landing nets in the water trying to scoop up fish – and it works!  These nets are about 5 feet across, I can’t imagine dragging them through the river or pulling a fish out with one! 

We’ll stay here at “Fish Camp” again tonight, make a day trip to Homer tomorrow (Sunday) and on Monday go down to Seward for a couple of days.
Sunday Night - just back from Homer. Jean and I are sitting in McDonalds' while the guys gas up and make one last visit to the Hardware Store.  Will write about our Homer visit and more in the next few days.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011


July 19 – Soldotna, Alaska
Our trip from the Yukon into Alaska went pretty well. There were rough roads and ice heaves, but it seemed to be less treacherous than we expected.  Kluane Lake is a gorgeous area.  The Alaska Highway is an amazing feat of engineering. I should have been writing about it more as we traveled. The basic information is that it was build by the US Army Corps of Engineers as a supply route during World War II, in about 10 months in 1942-43.  There were really neat stories about it all along the highway.  It followed lots of prospecting and hunting trails. 
 We had lunch on the porch at Buckshot Betty’s – the inside tables were reserved for our Bus tours friends from Liard River!  A swell group of senior citizens from Virginia….
We pulled into Tok at 5 PM, got  some groceries and decided to keep driving.  At 7 PM, the rest area at Milepost 24 was our stop for the night, the beautiful pink fireweed was blooming right outside our window. We had the parking lot to ourselves and you couldn’t even see (or smell) the outhouse from our spot!
Bright and early on the 17th (because Jackie didn’t reset her watch),  we left for Pete and Ed’s in Soldotna, less than 400 miles to go! We have been on the road for a full wekk and have gone through 3 time zones. The weather was cool and overcast. But the scenery is still awesome.  We had breakfast at a roadside café, decent food, but not 5 star in the cleanliness department!  We saw the Matanuska Glacier outside Palmer – spectacular!  Drove through Anchorage and on to the Kenai Penninsula. The Kenai is huge – and being Sunday afternoon, there was lots of weekend traffic returning to Anchorage. There was also some road contruction. Had some dinner at the Taco Bell next to Fred Myers in Soldotna.  Arrived aat Ed and Pete’s about 6. It’s a cute little A Frame cabin with a great spot for the RV right in the driveway.  Ed warned us they had not gotten any salmon yet, but the guys fished for trout for a bit – can’t be on the Kenai River and NOT try to catch something!!!  Pete made ribs and p[otatos for dinner and we ate again!  Early to bed, and what a great feeling to know that we didn’t need to drive in the morning.
So, the 18th was our first full day here at the Kenai River – what a great day!! Beautiful sunshine, clear blue skies and the salmon run started!!  I don’t even know where to begin.  The river is the most amazing shade of turquoise blue. This area is part of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and the Kenai River is a state park. In addition to watching Lowell and Bob master the “Kenai Flip”, we watched eagles and gulls and grebe (waterfowl) on the river all day.  Ed’s dog Cody kept us entertained as well. She loves to stand on an old tree stump next to the fishing dock, watch the fishermen and “help” land the fish.  For ab out 3 days before we got here, there was a grizzly bear showing up across the river to feast on a moose calf that had drowned and floated down. We are watching, but haven’t seen him yet.
After lunch, Pete took Jean and I to the Kenai Fabric Center – OH MY!!!!! I have never seen so many beautiful batik fabrics all in one spot. It was almost too overwhelming to shop! But shop we did, all 3 of us found “a few” things to add to our project stashes. We also stopped at the Laundromat and got a few groceries. Later in the week we’ll need to find the Soldotna shop as well. 
In addition to Pete and Ed’s exceptional hospitality, their neighbors are showing us true Alaskan kindness as well. We were invited to Scott’s for deep fried salmon appetizer’s – melt in your mouth – fresh – salmon cubes deep fried with a light coating of batter mix.  We never even made dinner after that!  More fishing and an early bedtime again.
Today (Tuesday the 19th) I am writing this sitting at the picnic table, looking at the river and learning to net salmon.  Lowell, Bob and Pete ran into town after breakfast to get more flyrods, a box to ship salmon home and a few other supplies.   For dinner tonight, Ed is grilling salmon!  
 OMG! Talk about melt in your mouth - that was the best and freshest salmon ever!! The fish are still biting and the sun it still shining - it's 10:30 PM and we are all exhausted! Time to hit the sack.
Today we (the girls) went into Soldotna for additional fishing supplies and the quilt shop!  We are at McDonald's doing the technology thing!  
One interesting fact for your fisher-people, each day Ed calls the fish # and gets the report about the number of salmon that have entered the Kenai, when we arrived, only 90,000 had been reported over about a week or 10 days.  On the 18th, they reported 230,000! Yesterday it was over 150,00 (2 record days in a row). It takes about 3 days for the fish to make it to the area where Pete and Ed's cabin is, so fishing is picking up!  I'm not sure how we'll get Lowell and Bob to leave!  We will be shipping fish home. 
Just about time to get back to the cabin, I need to sit by the river again and look around at this amazing country!  I have to pinch myself at least a couple of times a day to make sure this is all real. I feel like I’m walking around in an 8 X 10 glossy coffee table book!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Traveling the Alaska Highway-Dawson Creek to Haines Junction

July 14 Tetsa River to Liard River Hot Springs
"Best Cinnamon Buns in the Galaxy" from the outfitter

After a delicious breakfast of fresh from the oven cinnamon buns, we left Tetsa River and enjoyed a beautiful, but short driving day – only 122 miles. Over Summit Pass in the Northern Rockies, at 4250 feet, it is the highest point on the Alaska Highway. Today we saw lots of wildlife, Stone sheep, another type of sheep (which I can’t identify just yet!) and caribou. We pulled into the Liard River Campground about 12:45 PM and had a very relaxing afternoon. It has been quite warm all week, in the 80s this afternoon, which we really didn’t expect. Lowell and I walked to the hot springs in the Provincial Park across the highway. The park worker said that a moose had been seen several times today off the boardwalk.  A very neat area, although the copper sulfate smell was really strong.  There weren't many people there when we arrived, the spring was VERY hot, we only spent about 10 minutes in the lower pool.  The water is vey hot where it comes out of the ground, and cools as it gets toward the place where the water goes out to the Liard River.  We stayed in the lower areas and even there it was hotter than a typical hot tub.  We put our feed in the water at the higher pool area, but could not go any further into that area. We saw two people in that pool. Then a busload of southern senior citizens arrived, mostly to look at the springs. We figured the moose wouldn't be showing up anytime soon! Back at the camper we had a great grilled steak dinner, then walked backed to the springs with Jean and Bob. This time we saw the moose! 75 or 80 yards off the boardwalk a huge bull moose was feeding in the swamp.  I took a couple hundred shots before we headed to the pools to join Jean and Bob in the water. The water was considerably cooler and more crowded tonight.  Maybe the number of people in the pool cooled the water? We were all able to walk much higher in the pool area tonite.  When we walked back the moose was still there, but laying down in the marsh, just a few shots now.  
We continue to be amazed at how long it stays light at night. At 11:30 the skies were still somewhat light, even tho there was thunder, lightening and rain.  Light Rain all night. 
July 15, 2011 Liard River to Haines Junction, Yukon Territory
Today was a driving day, time to put some miles behind us and get to Alaska!  It was cloudy this morning, with light sprinkles off and on all day.
Signpost Forest in Watson Lake was amazing, signs from everywhere, we found River Falls right away, but never did find and Oakdale, St Paul or Mpls. We did see Tower, Ely, Pine River, Harlingen, TX and lots of other familiar names.
Gas in Watson Lake. $1.339/ltr; $164.20; q122.63 liters/32.44 gal.
The scenery was spectacular as we drove to Whitehorse and on to Haines Junction.
As I type this, it is 12:02 AM, July 16, Yukon Time (2:20 CDT) and it is still light out!! REALLY!!  Well, it’s not completely light, you’d be turning your headlights on, but it isn’t dark – I can still see the mountains and glaciers from our camper window – amazing!  This part of the world has an average of 20 hours of daylight in July! 
 We've traveled 2,590 miles so far.
Tomorrow (today as I post this) we will tackle what we hear is the toughest 125 miles of the trip!  Lots of frost heaves, probably 30 MPH all the way to the border , all of the travelers we’ve talked to have said to just drive slow and watch out!!  We should be in Alaska by tomorrow evening!! 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Alaska or Bust... or maybe Walmart or Bust........

July 10 – The plan was to leave early Sunday morning, AND we actually left Oakdale by 11:00 AM  Our first day was fairly uneventful – until Jackie set off the truck alarm in the Walmart parking lot at 10:30 PM!   Who knew your couldn’t open the truck with the truck key!!????  We had plenty of food in the camper, but chose to save it for another day. KFC at noon and pizza for dinner  in the Walmart lot.  Because of the recent flooding Minot is still pretty much a disaster area, some of the displaced citizens are living in their campers in the Walmart lot.  Our waiters/waitresses all had stories to tell.  Walmart was out of ice their deli was closed because of municipal water issues.
July 11 –  Happy Anniversary Richard and Connie!  Happy Birthday Kellen!! 
This morning we opted for breakfast at Denny’s – bad idea…  NO coffee, juice in Styrofoam cups, pancakes on paper plates and plastic forks!  Well, it wasn’t bad, just different, and we left saying “Thank God it wasn’t us!” 
We left Minot about 9 AM and were in Portal, ND by noon to go through Canadian Customs.  We told them we had pepper spray (bear spray) and it was in the camper, not in the truck, so that of course initiated a search.  45 minutes later they gave the pepper spray back and we were on our way – Have a Nice Day, eh?  As we headed north we saw lots more remnants of flooding and at one point had to drive through a foot for more of water.  Lowell had the window open and Jean got wet in the back seat!  Drove through a very congested rush hour in Saskatoon at 5 PM. It was a much bigger city than any of us expected.  We pulled into Walmart in North Battleford about 7 PM, This time we even got to park in a grassy area. Burgers on the grill, some Capt & Coke, a few games of cards – and we called it a day!
July 12 – Happy Birthday Jackie (Thanks!)  Left N Battleford about 9 am and are traveling through Edmonton now. Gas prices in Canada are @ $4.50/gal. ($1.129/liter)
Hopefully we’ll find someplace with WiFi today or tonight so that we can post this.    It’s been a great trip so far, we anticipate getting almost to Dawson Creek, British Columbia, tonight.   Not sure when we’ll get to update this, Canadians are apparently not as hooked to technology as we are!!  WiFi is not easy to find. 
Well, no WiFi yet, it’s 12:29 AM (7/13) Central Daylight Time, and we are in Dawson Creek, BC, where it’s only 10:30 PM, and it isn’t even dark yet!  We traveled over 600 miles today – through lots more prairie and we are beginning to the see foothills now.  We tried to camp in a little town named Beaverlodge, but the campground was full.  We did however take a few minutes to get out pictures taken in front of the towns 15 foot beaver statue!  Then we trekked another 50 miles down the highway and landed at…Walmart in Dawson Creek!  Tomorrow we’ll try again for WiFi and a “real” campground.  Although this Walmart deal isn’t bad!

Wednesday, July 13.  We have traveled 1700+ miles so far.  We have an "iffy" connection this morning from the Days Inn across the parking lot, we'll get this posted, have some breakfast and head for the Liard Hot Springs-google it!   AHHHHHHHHHHH

 *If you double click on the slide show, it will take you out to a Picassa website and a larger slide show.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

North to Alaska

Well, I think we're ready! Tomorrow morning (7/10) we leave for Alaska with our friends Jean and Bob Wise. Jean and I worked together in the Early Childhood Special Education program in North St. Paul and Jean retired a year after I did. One of the last posts I did for this blog was from their house in Big Sky, Montana.

So, Jean and Bob have a pickup and great 5th wheel camper that will be our home for the next 5 or 6 weeks. We visited them in Casa Grande, AZ last winter.

We'll be heading up the Al-Can Highway - St. Paul to Fargo, Minot, and into Canada - Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Fort Nelson, Whitehorse and then into Alaska near a town called Tok. Then we'll head down to the Kenai Peninsula and meet up with my high school friend, Paulette (aka Pete) and Ed. Eventually we'll work our way up through Anchorage, to Denali Park, Fairbanks and then back to Tok and home again. We are looking forward to beautiful scenery, big-time fishing, lots of laughs and fun!
I will try to keep up this blog (with Jean's help!) and every few days we'll share some of our photographs and adventures with friends and family, although, we are not sure how good our internet connections will be.

Just to get you in the mood -

"North to Alaska" by Johnny Horton

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Walking with Boreal Wildflowers

It's been almost 2 years since I've used the Retired Road Blog! We have certainly been traveling, but I guess Facebook was just a little easier. Decided it was time to get busy again, since we are heading to Alaska in about 2 weeks.
First though, I figured I'd better get familiar with the blogging process again, so decided to share some photos from the last week. Many of you have seen these either on FB or on Shutterfly, so you can skip the slide shows!
I took a photography workshop last week from some wonderful photographers up in Ely. We traveled up the Echo Trail, Fernberg Road, down to Lake Superior and out into the Superior National Forest near Isabella. It was a great weekend I learned lots. While I was there, Lowell did some fishing on Milles Lacs and then we met at the cabin for our last week on Birch Lake until sometime near the end of August.

This first set is almost 100 pictures. If you double click on the pictures it will take you out to the Picasa site and you can see the pictures in a larger size ☺ Enjoy!

Meanwhile, back at Birch Lake