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