Saturday, July 30, 2011

Friday and Saturday

Friday morning we got an easy start by carrying our laptop to the laundry area for a WiFi connection to send/receive some e-mails.  Then we hit the Alaska Highway south-bound and found it to be quite good.  We had a late morning stop for groceries in Whitehorse, then had an early lunch at one of the 2 Tim Hortons in town.  We must be back in civilization now!!

After taking on fuel at big-city prices, we headed SouthEast on the Alaska Highway again, this time seeing the same stuff as last month but out the opposite windows.  We didn’t stop at nearly as many rest areas or overlooks as last month.  We considered stopping at the same campground we did on June 18, Teslin Lake, but learned they had a caravan coming in that had booked all of their 30 amp sites.  They only had 20 amp sites left.  I have a conversion adapter, but had left it in Minnesota, so this wouldn’t work.  We went another 7 or 8 miles farther and found a really nice place called Dawson Peaks which was on the water that flows into Teslin Lake.  There we met a nice couple from northern Wisconsin (between Wausau and Green Bay) who are just now on their way up to Alaska.  We traded some stories and some food with them.

Saturday morning was a re-tracing of our June route once again.  After an early lunch stop, we turned South onto what’s called the Cassair Highway.  This is new ground for us.  One of our guidebooks mentioned that this route was considered when the Alaska Highway was being planned, but the fear was that it is closer to the Pacific coast and could be more vulnerable to a Japanese air attack.  This route was skipped over for a long time, and wasn’t completed until 1972.  Some parts are even unpaved now, but the ones we were on today were better than some pavement.  We had an afternoon stretch at Jade City, a wide spot in the road where jade jewelry is sold.  We saw a demonstration of how the rough rock is cut into useful-sized pieces.  We also learned that 90% of the world’s jade comes from mines near here.  We didn’t purchase any jade, because, as we are now homeless and unemployed, we need our money for diesel fuel! 

Here is a picture of our poor little Saturn!  It is badly in need of a bath!  That’s what comes from on/off showers all day.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Since we last posted, we travelled from Kenny Lake to Tok on Wednesday.  We stayed at the Sourdough Campground which is where we stayed on our way into Alaska.  We had time to do laundry, get our mail from the post office, and get some groceries.  We also were able to have dinner at Fast Eddie's where we shared another huge plate of their fried mushrooms with another travelling couple we met.  We've pretty much filled up on mushrooms now.

Today we left early and headed to Canada on the Alaska Highway, the section we skipped on our way north.

Last month we followed the Alaska Highway from its start to Whitehorse, then took a slight detour north (on the Klondike Highway) to Dawson City and into Alaska by way of Chicken and Tok (on Top of the World and Taylor Highways).  We had heard other people's horror stories of the section of the Alaska Highway we missed: things like frost heaves and repair work, so we were wondering what we were in for. 

Turns out it was no big deal.  All it took was slowing down when we saw the flags.  Here is Kluane Lake, it is prettier than pictures can show

We ended up driving about 300 miles in 9 hours (which included stops for Customs, a State Tourist survey, Lunch, and a couple of stretches).  Here is another view taken from near our campground:

We just now sent an e-mail to our dinner partners from last night telling them of what to expect.

We will continue on our trek through Canada.  We don't have cell covereage and Internet access can be spotty.  We'll post a blog again when we can. 

Here I come Tim Horton's!!!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Ever heard of this National Park?  It is the largest in the USA, 13.2 Million Acres, created in 1980, and has only 2 roads into the park.  On Monday we came back here by leaving Valdez and traveling north on the Richardson Highway,
then we went east on the Edgerton Highway to Kenny Lake, a total of less than 100 miles for the day.  We got a parking site for 2 nights, allowing us to catch a 15-passenger shuttle bus into the park to the end of the road early Tuesday.  This road has about 30 miles of pavement and 60 miles of gravel on top of an old railroad line. 
This is about a 3 hour trip that ends in a parking lot.  After crossing a pedestrian footbridge, we caught another shuttle for about 5 miles to the Kennecott Copper Mine.  We spent most of the day there, returning to the RV park about 730PM.

A tour guide described the geology, chemistry, and history of this area as we walked through the company town and up a hillside to the top of a 13 story processing building.
The ore came down from the mines at higher elevations here to be ground up and separated from the limestone it was found in.  The copper ore was bagged and transported to the coast by rail, then by steamship to be smelted in the lower 48.  The guided tour led us down inside the old buildings, following the path of the ore as it was processed.  When the ore played out, the mine closed in 1938, and most all equipment was left behind since the cost to salvage it was more than it was worth.  The Power Transmission distributors Bob used to support would have got a kick out of seeing this 1900-1910 level of technology.

Here in Kenny Lake we have no radio (AM or FM), no TV, and no WiFi.  Except for cell phones and texting we are almost “off the grid”.  On Wednesday we plan to head back north to Tok on the Alaska Highway, near where we entered the state.  We had Internet service when we were there just over a month ago, so we will post this note then.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Weekend in Valdez

Friday night and Saturday morning we had great internet access.  We caught up on a lot of blogging and decided to search for a local geocache – our first in Alaska.
We found the first at a closed roadhouse, but gave up on a second try at the National Park.

We spent a lot of the morning at the Visitor’s Center for the country’s largest National Park (6 times larger than Yellowstone).  Nine of the nation’s sixteen highest mountains are right here.  Can anyone name it?  We plan to stop in again when we come through here early next week, so we will leave our readers guessing (researching?) until then.  We traveled south on the Richardson Highway with the big pipeline beside us most of the way, past Worthington Glacier

  and through Thompson Pass.

Some of the hardest work on the pipeline was done in these areas. This drive was one of the prettiest yet.  The road goes past where Valdez used to be before the 1964 earthquake.  The entire town was destroyed in 1964 from an earthquake and tidal wave, but was rebuilt 4 miles away where the road now ends at the ferry terminal onto Prince William Sound.  The Alaska pipeline ends at a tanker loading terminal just across from the harbor
Another interesting thing about this town: there is no horizon, no matter which way you look.  It is totally surrounded, quite closely, by large mountains.


Sunday was a “touristy” day, when we took a 6-hour tour to the Columbia Glacier icefields on Prince William Sound.  The morning was foggy and cool.  Winds during last night had pushed many of the floating icebergs back toward the shallow water and our very experienced captain took us as close as he could.  The captain pointed out that the colors of the icebergs are more pronounced in the cloudy conditions.  They were beautiful!

We took more pictures than we can post here. The captain and crew also pointed out every marine animal and bird we came across: seals, puffins, otters, porpoises, orcas, eagles.  Six orcas gave a great performance for us; it looked like synchronized swimming.  Unfortunately, they didn’t pose for the camera so we can’t show you all of them.

Monday’s plans are for a later departure from Valdez and a short driving day, back up and over Thompson Pass to Kenny Lake and the Edgerton Highway/McCarthy Road.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Leaving Willow – again

Friday morning started with a visit from our new pet moose, Clover.  She stops by Phil’s frequently now.  Phil promised to give us updates on her after we leave.

We left Phil, Elsie, and Lorraine around 10:30 this morning.  We had a wonderful visit and will miss the wonderful scenery, Clover, cribbage games, and camaraderie! 

Our first stop was to Starbuck’s for Internet access.  Then we hit the road for Glennallen where we’ll stop overnight on our way to Valdez.  It was a beautiful, sunny, warm day so I’ve included a couple of pictures of the wonderful scenery we experienced.

Frequently we see words written in the dirt on the side of the road.  Rocks are used to make these words.  Here is an example of what we see.

We are parked overnight in a simple gravel parking lot.  Calling this a campground would be misleading!  It does have Internet access, electricity and it is cheap, for just one night.  We’ll be spending a couple of days in Valdez next, so we can rough it now.  Then we’ll slowly head back North to get to the only road to the lower 48!           
Wednesday began early with a trip to the airport in Anchorage to pick up Elsie's daughter, Lorraine, whose flight got in at 5:00 AM from Hawaii.  Phil was pre-registered for his procedure, so he got checked in quickly while we tried to find a way to get Elsie's prescriptions.  By early in the afternoon, Phil was released and we all headed back to his place in Willow.  Just as we got to town we stopped to snap a photo of Denali from the Parks Highway.  It was "out" this afternoon in a big way.

Thursday was a day for "visiting":  First, we all went to visit Phil's hunting buddy and neighbor, Ed.  Later in the day, Ed returned the favor by coming over to Phil's place.
Another neighbor, Marie, also came by for a short visit, but we didn't get a photo of her. By late afternoon, yet another neighbor, a young orphan who we nicknamed "Clover" also stopped by for a snack and ended up spending the night.

While we took an evening boat ride around the lake, Clover visited some other neighbors.  It was a beautiful evening!

But when we came back, so did she. Here she is bedding down for the night (photo taken in natural light about 1030PM).

This morning, we found Clover snacking on some shrubs again and even take a look inside Phil's shed.  We think she'll be around their place for awhile.  She's young; probably about 3 months old according to Phil. There is no sign of her mother as she's been wandering around alone.

Today we're leaving Willow and heading toward Valdez.  We'll post again when we have wi-fi.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Flexible Plans

Tuesday started with another nice sunny morning.  We began with yet another visit to the same coffee shop in Soldatna, complete with WiFi, then we made a quick stop at the grocery store to re-stock our refrigerator.  We were loaded up, packed up, and hooked up by 10:30 and on our way back to Anchorage.

Our plans were intentionally loose, which turned out to be a very good thing.  Elsie’s medical issues had been resolved and she was being released from the hospital in Wasilla in the afternoon.  Phil has a procedure scheduled for Wednesday at a hospital in Anchorage.  We met them in the evening in the parking lot of the Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage where we both boondocked for the night.  The hospital is very accommodating when it comes to parking motorhomes in their parking lot.  There are a couple of others here also. 

We will drop off his motorhome for servicing later today.  Depending on the outcome of his procedure, we’ll leave sometime today for Willow.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A quiet last day in Soldotna

The Kenai River is quiet since no fishing is allowed from motor boats on Mondays; the only fishermen are casting from shore or from row boats.  Our Monday morning began, as usual, at a local coffee house, using their WiFi to blog and catch up on emails.  We have almost become “regulars” here, and will miss their high speed connection.  In the afternoon, we made another visit to cousin Bill’s place making a trade of handmade knit socks for Pam’s canned and smoked salmon.  We should be fixed for quite awhile now.

In the evening we met with Jon and Jackie at a local pizza shop to say our goodbye’s for the time being.  We plan to head back to Willow and be around to help Phil and Elsie with some health issues for a few days.  We will post this blog Tuesday morning and hitch up for the slow drive back to the mainland.

It is now the middle of summer, and the middle of our trip.  We can’t get any farther West or South on this peninsula so this is the start of our turnaround.  There will still be plenty of side trips and sightseeing on our way back to the lower 48.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Our Weekend in Soldatna

Sunday July 17

Our day started very early, with a 4:00 alarm.  Jon was taking us fishing on the Kenai River, and we were pushing off at 5:00AM.  The weather was cloudy and 49 when we started and turned to rain as we got off the river at 11:30.
Paige’s cousin Bill and one of his friends met us at the boat launch.  We dropped them off along a shore to focus on Red Salmon, while we drifted for King Salmon upstream.  They were successful
while we weren’t: Bob caught one small King, but released it.  Jon hooked a Red, which we kept.  Paige got an early morning boat ride (not a bite).

The first part of the afternoon was spent napping to make up for our early departure.  We had invited Jon and Jackie to our place for dinner and we had to pick up the BBQ’d ribs from the smokeshack at the edge of town.  We learned quickly why locals stay away from the 2 lane roads on weekends.  Everyone is heading back to Anchorage for work on Monday.

Saturday July 16

We spent most of Saturday morning at a local coffee shop, using their internet connection to catch up on reading and writing of blogs, plus handling e-mails and electronic bill statements/payments.  Jon happened to catch us here and delivered two weeks worth of our mail.  The weather was great, resulting in crowds at the nearby chainsaw woodcarving competition.   Here are some entries:

Later we went to the town of Kenai, just north of here, to see the crowds lining the banks of the Kenai River, where it ends at the Cook Inlet. 

Both shores are packed with state residents who are allowed to use large dipnets to haul in their salmon.  It was a beautiful day to be outside – sunny and warm!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Daytrip to the end of the road (Homer, AK)

Friday was our “tourist day” when we took advantage of a discount fare on a 3-hour cruise around Kachemak Bay and Halibut Cove.   Alaska Highway #1, the Seward Highway, has its southern end at the town of Homer. On our way south, we had a couple of scenic stops to view the volcanoes on the other side of the Cook Inlet.

A little farther down the peninsula, we stopped at a beach access near Anchor Point, which is as far west as it is possible to go by road in North America.

Homer is a combination fishing/artsy tourist town.  Here is a view on the boardwalk:

We had a great time on the 3 hour cruise.  The weather was perfect today – sunny and mostly clear.  We got to see some sea otters, which are endangered.  This is an older one who just floated around on his back; very relaxed!

The Salty Dog Saloon is a landmark

After the cruise, we took a ride through the town and stopped at a great winery.  We then took a ride up to the Skyline Drive.  Here is another view of the spit, taken from Skyline Drive showing the sand bar (or Spit) going off into the bay:

When we got home, the campers were still waiting for the “reds” to come in.  July 15th is the average day for their arrival so everyone’s getting pretty anxious.

Here is a PS, since this is being posted on Sat AM

Happy Birthday Mom!

The "Reds are Coming": Sat AM a neighbor in the campground is cleaning his catch of over 100 salmon:

We won't be posting tomorrow morning, since Jon will be taking us fishing for Kings on the Kenai at 5 a.m..  I'm sure we will have lots of photos once we get back to shore.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Quiet Day in Soldatna

Jon told us about a local coffee shop which also has wi-fi so that is where we started our Thursday.  It was a very nice coffee shop with fast wi-fi so we got caught up on our computer tasks.
A good deal of the afternoon was spent re-stringing the day/night blinds above the couch.  This is a complicated task which requires a ton of patience.  We got the job done eventually but I said that the next time we have problems with any of the blinds, we resolve it by selling the motorhome!

Today we had the most beautiful, sunny day we’ve had in a long time!  It was in the high 60’s.  We sat outside and visited some with the neighbors here who are very friendly.  They gave us many ideas for sight seeing in the area.

One of the campers here said he saw some “reds” in the river (red salmon, that is).  The excitement level has escalated a bit but no one has caught one yet.  The average date for the “reds” coming in is about 7/15. 

Here is a picture of the river from our campground.  It’s very scenic!

Tonight we met Jon and Jackie at a local bar, Hooligans, where an Alaskan icon in the music industry was playing.  Hobo Jim is a native Alaskan who performs locally as well as nationally and internationally.  Jon made him a guitar a couple years ago (his first attempt at making a guitar!) and Hobo Jim has used this guitar ever since – putting his Martin guitars away in favor of this new one!  It was great to see Hobo Jim and this guitar tonight!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Getting Together With Family

Wednesday started out with laundry – a necessary task to be done at the Laundromat.  We had a ton to do so it is nice to get a bunch of machines going and get it done quickly.  Also, we tend to meet other travelers and share experiences which makes the time there go faster.
We tried to find a coffee shop with wi-fi without any luck.  So we packed up the Chocolate Éclair ring and the Butterscotch bars and went out to Paige’s cousin Bill’s house.  Bill has wi-fi which helped us out.

Uncle Phil and Elsie brought about 20 pounds of King Crab legs for a wonderful dinner at Bill’s.  Again, Paige hadn’t seen Bill in over 40 years so it was great to reconnect.  We got to meet his wife Pam who we had heard so much about and her mother who has an apartment above the garage.  They hosted a delicious dinner at their great house!  Uncle Jon, Jackie, and cousin Dawn also came so there was a lot of catching up do to.  And, of course, cribbage to be played!!

Bill’s house started as a cabin on a hill overlooking the Kenai River.  For the past 11 years they have lived in this cabin that is now a very beautiful and cozy home.  Pam loves to garden and the results are beautiful beds of wildflowers and potted plants.

This is a view from one of their balconies.

Here are Jon, Bill, and Phil kicking back.

It was a great day!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Catching Up

Tues, July 12                            Another Moving Day to Soldotna
A  rainy day was forecast for this area, but it turned out to be fairly light showers this morning, with cloudy skies until mid afternoon when the sun came back out.  What a difference the sun makes up here!  We got to Soldotna about 11:30 and met Paige’s Uncle Jon at his ice cream stand, which is next to the carousel with hand-carved animals (Jon carved the fish and caribou).

  Here we are, two old people in a rocking chair.

Jon gave us a tour of town, as well as the town of Kenai.  He had a campsite held for us at a friend’s place that is right on the banks of the Kenai River – a prime spot when the salmon are running.  The fishermen are waiting for the red salmon run to begin any day now.  The guys in the campground check the river fairly often.  We’re anxious to see what happens when they spot the salmon!!

While following Bob in the RV who was following Jon to the campground, Paige saw a moose in someone’s back yard – right in town!  It was a Northern Exposure moment and she didn’t have time to stop and get the picture!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Mon., July 11                           A Day-trip to Whittier

We took the car for a day-trip into Whittier which is on the eastern coast and was not accessible by highway prior to June of 2000 when the railroad tunnel was modified to allow cars, trucks, and RVs to straddle the tracks.  They have quite a system in place to make sure traffic is one way only, and to sort the vehicles by priority.

 We had been told that a sunny day in Whittier was rare, but we got a beauty: mild, sunny, and warm.  We saw one of the state ferries come and go while we had an early lunch and chatted with a couple from Tennessee

Later in the day we took a boat ride to the face of the Portage Glacier.  When Paige was here in 1968, the glacier could be seen from the parking lot.  It has receded so much that you need to go on the boat to see it now.

The evening’s entertainment was sitting around a covered campfire sharing stories with other travelers.  The campfire was a nice thing to have as there is no TV here and it was a rainy evening.  We met many of the campers at this fire pit.

Sun., July 10                             Moving Day

We moved out of Anchorage only 52 miles to Portage Valley, closely following the same railroad tracks we were on yesterday.  The nearby town of Portage was destroyed during the 1964 earthquake, but quite close by is a small RV park nestled into a hollow in the mountains.  There were very beautiful views of the mountains just looking out the front window of the RV.  After getting setup we back-tracked with the car to Girdwood and the Alyeska ski area.  Paige rode a chairlift to the top over 40 yrs ago (when she was very young) but today that has been replaced by an enclosed gondola.

At the top of the ski area we watched people parasailing down (we chose to ride the gondola both ways).