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!