On the Road Adventures

Monday, August 31, 2009

August 29 - On the Cassiar Highway

The answer is – we field dress it out.
--But it’s still a small canoe and even field dressed it’s a honking big bunch of meat.
--Ah but she’s a big canoe, you betcha.
Yeah, you betcha she doesn’t look like a big canoe to me, but they seemed confident. I guess they’ve done this before.

The day started off with sunshine, but we ran into clouds and showers. One of the windshield wipers started flopping around so we pulled off to deal with it. The wisdom of one of the guys on a motorhome list came in handy. He maintained that you only need three things in the way of tools for the motorhome. WD40, duct tape and a hammer. If it’s supposed to move and it doesn’t, use the WD40. If it moves and it isn’t supposed to, use the duct tape. And if neither of those work, hit it with the hammer. We used the duct tape and it worked just fine.

The landscape we drove through today looks a lot like Colorado, with big trees and wide valleys framed with mountains. There were lots of small lakes, prime moose territory, but the moose are on strike. Or they know it’s hunting season and they’re in hiding. Anyway, we didn’t have any wildlife sightings and we were going slowly enough to get a good look if anything had shown itself.

We didn’t make very good time because we were dealing with more bad road construction. There’d be paved stretches with lots of bouncy parts, or gravel.
There was about a 20 mile stretch of construction where we were following a lead truck that really wanted us to move along faster, but in all the loose gravel we poked along at the speed that made us happy. We kept saying we were glad we decided to stop last night at Dease River and not try to go on to Dease Lake, another 45 miles down the road, because it took us almost 2 hours to do that 45 miles. As result, when we got to Kinaskan at 3 in the afternoon, and looked at the book which said our next camping option was another 70 miles along, we decided to stop here. It’s another of those magnificent front window views we’ve kind of become used to at the provincial parks here. Kinaskan Lake is a big blue lake with mountains and the occasional ducks, loons, and float planes passing by. We took a nice walk in the woods by the lake and Gypsy got to jump in the water to her heart’s content. The water’s icy but crystal clear and clean, so we didn’t mind her getting wet.

August 27 and 28 Playing Catch-up

August 27 – Not in Whitehorse

We got our shopping done quickly at the Real Canadian and then buttoned everything up and hit the road, with great glee, I might add. As we went down the highway we kept saying, “Oh look. I didn’t see that last time.” Of course we didn’t see whatever it was, rivers, lakes, mountains, because we were following Cleo on the flatbed truck that was doing 85 and creating white-out conditions from the dust he was throwing up behind him. This was a much nicer ride.

We stopped at the Tlinkit Heritage Center in Teslin and looked at their displays of carvings and beadwork. The totems in front of the center represent Eagle, Beaver, Wolf, Frog and Raven, the five clans of the nation. The narratives that went with the displays talked about how the people had kind of lost their way after the highway came through, but some of the young people are learning to carve and drum and dance again and there is a resurgence of the traditional skills.

After lunch there, we drove on until we got to the Rancheria at Traditional Mile 710, the scene of our big breakdown last June. It was nice to talk to Dennis and meet his wife, Linda. We are spending the night here in their RV park, and enjoyed Linda’s good cooking for dinner.

August 28 – 104 miles down the Cassiar Highway

I took a walk around the Rancheria Lodge this morning. When we were here in June I was so fixated on Cleo that I didn’t even realize that there is a lovely little lake behind the cafĂ©, so I took pictures of it this morning in the sunshine. We stopped at the overlook where the terrible radiator leak happened and got pictures of a healthy Cleo and a nicely paved road. No dust. Amazing.

Once we got on the Cassiar, our speed decreased significantly. Like, 5 mph in many areas. There was a long stretch where the province had prepped for construction and then there was a landslide that took priority, so the road’s pretty much as bad as everyone said, at least for that first stretch. But once we got through that it got better. Still not great, but better, and we’re pretty much the only people on the road so we can take it as slow as we wish. We saw a mountain goat and a fox, but no moose or caribou, even though signs said to watch for them. We watched, but the critters didn’t cooperate.

We stopped at a store called Jade City. I didn’t know that 90% of the world’s jewelry grade jade comes from here, so that lovely jade pendant I bought in Hong Kong a few years back probably came from right around here. We drank their free coffee, took a picture of a giant jade boulder and looked at the jewelry but didn’t see anything that wanted to come home with us.

We’re at Dease River Crossing RV camp tonight. It’s another of those places that makes up for the lack of hook-ups by providing a spectacular view out the front window. Two tent campers next to us came paddling up in their canoe. They said they had been moose hunting but only saw two cows. I wondered but didn’t ask how one brings home a thousand pound bull moose in a canoe. I may have to go over to their camp later and ask them.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

August 26 - Whitehorse One More Time

Good news! We went to the Real Canadian Superstore and they had the ginger snaps. (Pam, I got you a bag. Now if I can just keep from eating it before we get home.)

Oh, yes, and the part came in. Mike the super-mechanic popped it in and everything came to life and we have ice crystals forming in the ice tray. So tomorrow it’s another trip to RCS for the refrigerated and frozen things and then down the road! Hurray!!!

Last night we made another trip up to Takhini Hot Springs and soaked ourselves into prunes. It was cold and rainy all day and we were just chilled through, so it felt really good to get superheated.

Today, for a change, was sunny so we made another trip up to the top of Grey Mountain while we were waiting to see if the part made it. Some of the aspen higher up the hill are beginning to turn yellow, and there’s a little low shrub that is the most gorgeous shade of red.

So now I have good, clear views of Whitehorse and the Yukon valley from atop the viewing platform at the very top of the mountain.

Tomorrow we’ll try to get to the Junction of 37 and from there, we’ll be heading south along the Cassiar Highway. I have references from other travelers for good provincial parks there, so we may be out of wireless range for a few days. Be assured that we’re having a good time and seeing new scenes.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

August 25 - Yes, still in Whitehorse

If we stay here much longer, I’m going to have to get a job just to keep myself entertained. The board for the refrigerator wasn’t the problem; it was another board, which hopefully is on its way by air to arrive tomorrow. If that doesn’t work, we’re buying a cooler that plugs into 12 volts and hitting the road.

Day before yesterday the clouds thinned out and there were a few rays of sun, so we drove up Grey Mountain which is on the other side of the river overlooking the Yukon Valley and Whitehorse. The clouds, however, being very friendly, decided to come down to meet us as we went up and somewhere short of the top of the mountain the visibility went down to near zero. We did get a view of the valley for a short time, though, at a lower view point.

By the time we got back down the mountain, the clouds had lifted again and as we drove by the Peace Park next to the river, I saw this little storage shed built like a log cabin. The old settlers built their cabins with sod roofs and this one had a flower roof in full bloom.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

August 21 and 22

Yesterday was still cloudy but the rain let up so we took a walk along Miles Canyon. This is the narrows above Whitehorse that gave the city its name for the “white horses” of the rapids. There is a dam below it now so it is calmer, but the waters of the Yukon still rush through it. We crossed the footbridge, which was not Gypsy’s favorite part of the hike. She splayed her legs apart as wide as she could and waddled over the bridge as quickly as Gerry would let her go. Once on the other side there was a mile or more of path and she checked out every inch of it.

This is the Yukon looking upstream from Canyon City.

The path led to Canyon City that the gold rush stampeders founded above the rapids as a staging area for supplies. The hopeful gold miners could either pay a guide to get their boats through the rapids or pay for a tram to take their goods. Now the only things left of Canyon City are some of the rotting tram cars.

It was a lovely day for a walk in the woods. The only sounds we could hear were an occasionally splash of water and the tsks and twitters of juncos, warblers and chickadees. Two grey jays kept us company for a time, hoping we had something tasty to share, and the red squirrels taunted Gypsy. “Ha, ha, can’t catch me! You’re just a dog, you can’t climb a tree.”

Miles Canyon where it gets narrow and the wide river has to squeeze through. The color is amazing and the water is so clear you can see the rocks below the surface.

As we drove back to the RV park we passed the lake just above the dam and saw two loons swimming. We stopped and they obligingly swam over close to the edge of the lake so I could take their picture.

After dinner we drove up to Takhini Hot Springs west of town. The springs are not sulfur like Liard and China Hot Springs, but they are rich in calcium and iron, leaving everything dyed a light orange, including the white parts of the design on my bathing suit. We moved back and forth between the hot and hotter pools, and had some interesting discussions with some of the locals who were there for a soak. As we drove back to Cleo, the rains started again, and it was sure good sleeping last night between the relaxed muscles and patter of rain on the awning outside the bedroom window.

Today we hoped to drive up to the top of the mountain overlooking Whitehorse but it has rained steadily and the top of the mountain is in the clouds. So I took Gypsy over to a wash-your-dog place and tortured the poor baby. This is, of course, the same dog that was delighted to be wet up to her chin wading in the icy cold river yesterday, but spraying her with warm water is just a terrible thing to do a poor dog. But now she’s clean and we left a LOT of hair there.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

August 20 - Whitehorse

Ah, another exciting day in Whitehorse. Yesterday I did laundry, today I cleaned. We made a run to The Real Canadian Superstore for non-perishables. I specifically wanted to get several packages of the house brand of ginger snaps. We got them in June from there and oh, were they ever good. To my dismay, there were no ginger snaps. There were other kinds of the house brand cookies, and I did find Tim-Tams. If you don’t know what Tim-Tams are, then good. That leaves more for the rest of us who do. But no ginger snaps. I’ll stop back before we leave and if they are still out, then I’ll just have to wait until Prince George. ~~sigh~~

We ate dinner at a place recommended by someone we met along the road a while back, a restaurant outside of Whitehorse called the Wolf Den. It’s owned by a couple originally from Switzerland, so there were some traditional Swiss dishes. I had the grilled lamb chops and Gerry had spare ribs. Good, good, good! I will be marking that one down in the Milepost and recommending it as a stop for anyone coming up or down the Alaska Highway.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

August 19 - Whitehorse

Again. The brain of the refrigerator has gone wherever dead silicon chips go, and a new one is on order and will be here on Saturday. Which means installation on Monday if the fates are kind, and a day to make sure it actually works for more than one day, which puts us out of here on Wednesday next week. Ah, another week in Whitehorse.

We did see a fox strolling casually across the highway in front of us. My camera was in the back of the car and out of reach, of course. The fox was sleek and shiny with a coat the color of a fiery Irish colleen’s hair and a totally blase attitude about the traffic that was screaming to a halt around it. Once I could get to my camera I kept it in my lap at all times, thereby insuring we didn’t see another wild thing all day.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

August 18 - Skagway to Whitehorse

It was 5 years ago when Gerry and I went on our Alaska cruise. We were on the White Pass and Yukon train out of Skagway, going up the pass and one stretch of the railroad is on the opposite side of the gorge from the road going to Skagway. We saw campers and RVs driving that road, and said, “That’s what we want to do.” So today that wish came true.

There were 4 big cruise ships in port this morning, so the town was packed with people. There were ladies of dubious virtue hanging out of upstairs windows, luring customers into the Gold Rush show, and horse drawn carriages just waiting to give the cruisers a ride. We walked up to the Post Office, weaving in and out among the horde of shoppers. There were even people in some of the multitude of jewelry stores. Gypsy added to her fans, especially among the dog owners who were missing their puppies during their vacation.

Then we headed out of town up the White Pass road. We could see the railroad on the other side of the gorge although we didn’t see any trains during our trip. We did see bicycle tours that were bused up to the summit and then they coasted down the whole road. Gerry thinks that would be fun. I, personally, would just hang out at the bottom of the road and wait for him.

As we went higher, the vegetation got more dwarfed and gnarled and the glacier-scrubbed rocks were covered with lichen. We drove into the clouds, so we actually didn’t see much of the summit of Chilkoot Pass, just dense fog. The Stampeders of the Yukon gold rush who came through Chilkoot Pass called the land at the top of the summit the Tormented Lands. I wonder if they were referring to the barren, scoured nature of the land, or their own torment from having to cross it again and again as they relayed their year’s supplies weighing a total of a ton across that rugged land 75 lbs at a time.

We finally started down the other side of the pass and as we descended we came out of the clouds and wind and into sunshine. The landscape started looking a lot more like Colorado with tall pines and spruce and large, deep blue lakes.

We got to Whitehorse late in the afternoon, got set up and went to check out the town. We went to the fish ladder where we saw enormous Chinook salmon that had made their way all the long way from the Bering Sea up the Yukon to the fish ladder here. Groups had decorated salmon shapes to form a new sculpture at the ladder to honor the salmon.

The sky is clearing and it will be dark tonight, so we are hoping to catch a glimpse of northern lights.

Monday, August 17, 2009

August 17 - Haines to Skagway

This was a most interesting day. We “drove” from Haines to Skagway. There is a road we could have taken to make the trip – 400 miles of it. Or, the way we did it, on the Alaska Marine Highway by ferry, for a 16 mile, 1 hour trip. This was the view from Haines harbor off the back of the ferry.

The storm hadn’t lost any of its ferocity when we got up this morning. We watched as a Holland America cruise ship tried to dock. It had diverted from Juneau because of high winds, and when it got to Haines it found the winds had come with it, so it was hanging out in the bay, or as the pilot said on the marine radio, they were “standing off smartly.” So we were kind of wondering about the ferry. But those Alaskan ferrymen are tough and they ain’t skeert of any high winds. The ferry was tied up snug when we got to the loading station.

The agents told us which lane to park in to load. I was driving Little Green Toad and was put in lane 2 with the other passenger cars. Gerry and Cleo were in lane 9. They loaded the cars first, so I drove into the bowels of the ferry as directed and it was enough of a squeeze that I couldn’t see how Cleo was going to fit at all. I went up to the very top deck of the ship and stood watching as they loaded the rest of the cars, then the smaller campers and motorhomes.

And then there was just Cleo and one other large MH. The agent waved Gerry up and then I saw him maneuver to back it in! A long, long back-up over a very narrow bridge into the ferry. So the pictures are not Cleo coming out, they are of her going in!

The trip up the Lynn Canal was very nice. I don’t know why they call it a canal, when it’s obviously an arm of the inlet, but that’s its name. There were sheer cliffs on either side, and waterfalls so spectacular that if they were accessible, there would be tours to see them, but we had them all to ourselves.

An hour later, we were docking in Skagway.

Cleo was the first one off, or as Gerry said, no one was getting off that ferry until he got off the ferry. He was at the RV park in town and in place by the time I got off the boat.

We walked through Skagway. We had been here five years ago, and it seems like the jewelry stores have proliferated amazingly. I wonder how many people on the cruise ships actually go in and buy stuff. I don’t think I saw a customer in any of them, but in talking to a local lady who ran a snack shop, three of the expected five ships had not docked because of the winds, so she said it was very quiet. She was actually getting ready to go home when we made her last sale of the day. A tasty cherry Danish for Gerry and a home made piece of blueberry pie for me. Once the ships get ready to leave, the town is completely dead. So much for seeing Skagway after the crowds. It’s locked up tight after the cruise ships leave. Besides, it’s cold and windy and rainy so we’re all snug in Cleo, watching the clouds go by and the rain on the window.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

August 16 - Haines

The rains in Haines fall mainly on the …. town, Cleo, the bay, and anyone foolhardy enough to stick their heads out the door. After the wind has ripped the door right out of their hands. What we are having today is Weather, with a capital W. Sustained winds at 25 knots with gusts to 40, except we heard the harbor master come on the marine radio at one point and announce that the gust of wind that just left everyone rocking and rolling was 72 knots. Gerry says it feels like a giant gorilla is on top of Cleo, hurling himself from side to side. And the rain is washing across the front window horizontally at times.

I was going to walk through the town and take pictures of all the flower boxes. They are beautiful, and there is one long stretch of railing that has a solid mass of tiny little flowers that are so intensely, pulsatingly purple that I feel their true color is so far into the ultra-violet that my eyes can’t even begin to see it. However, since the rain has defeated that plan, you’ll just have to take my word for it. Maybe tomorrow if the weather gods cooperate.

We were reduced to visiting the museum – basically one large room that took us 15 minutes to go through, and that was reading every word of explanations. We couldn’t go to the Hammer Museum, because it was closed today. That’s not the name of the museum owner – it’s the name of the subject of the museum. One can only imagine.

After dinner we went back to the Chilkoot River to see if there were any bears, and sure enough, there was a brown bear snacking on salmon on the near side of the river, so we got some good shots. I didn’t photoshop that smile on the bear’s face, either!

What's that I smell?

Caught that slippery fish!

One happy bear.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

August 15 - Haines

It is, as Pooh would say, a very blustery day. As protected as the inlet is, there are whitecaps and from listening to the marine radio it is apparent that outside the waters shielded by mountains conditions are, as one of the wildlife cruise captains said, “rather nautical.” We also had to deal with the fact that the refrigerator has decided to go on strike, and neither electric nor propane modes work. So I got large blocks of ice to turn it into a big ice chest, and cooked up all the remaining hamburger. Later I’ll throw all the few still mostly frozen chicken breasts we have left into the crock pot with soup stock and make chicken soup. Fortunately, we’ve gotten down to just a few items left in the fridge with the idea that I’d stock up when we get to Whitehorse and the Real Canadian Superstore, which is Canada’s version of Walmart. Ger found a guy in Whitehorse that works on our brand of refrigerator, so we’ll get to enjoy Whitehorse some more. We know the town very well already.

Friday, August 14, 2009

August 14 - Haines

Here is a photo of our camp hosts, Joyce and Ben, with the freshly caught and boiled Dungeness crab we had for dinner last night. It was so delicious!

We drove down the road to the ferry last night, and continued on to the Chilkoot River that flows into the inlet here. The salmon were fighting their way up the river, and we watched a bald eagle snacking on one of them. Then we went a little farther to a weir where they count the fish, and watched some fishermen trying to catch the salmon. That is, until a brown bear decided to relieve them of their catch. It was too dark (dark!) to get pictures, unfortunately.

Today we drove back up the Haines Highway to a bald eagle preserve by the Chilkat River (yes, different rivers.) During the winter chum salmon come in to spawn and thousands of bald eagles winter here where they can get plenty of food. Best viewing time, we are told, is October to January. We won’t be here then, so we went looking today, and found a nest and saw several eagles either in trees or flying overhead, all of them far, far away.

After dinner we drove back to the ferry, got our tickets for Monday, and went up to the Chilkoot River again. Once again, there was a bear fishing on the opposite side of the river, with a crowd of people watching. The photos aren’t great since it was getting dark and I had the ISO set really high, but in the second one the bear got its salmon. Then it went off in the bushes to eat it in private.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

August 12-13 Tok to Haines

On Wednesday we left Tok after another very cold night. We breezed through customs to get into Canada, and then dealt with the horrible road between the border and Destruction Bay. If they are referring to the state of vehicles after traveling that washboard road when they called the place “destruction” then it is well named. It was fun to see the landscape again and remember places we’d stopped and comment on the changes the season has brought. One main change was, of course, the fireweed that so fascinates me. It is really turning white along the road in the Yukon.

We spent the night in a nice government park next to Kluane Lake. Tent camping was forbidden because of a bear that was hanging out there. We, of course, didn’t see so much as a footprint.

And then we started down the road to Haines. All those superlatives I’ve used for the mountains and landscape? Just take them as a given – they all apply. We didn’t make good time because I kept telling Gerry, “stop up there.” We saw alpine meadows with fireweed everywhere; glaciated peaks, some jagged and some just worn down to a nub by the ice; mountains wrapped in clouds and vast vistas. There was a Provincial campground called “Million Dollar Camp,” that had a boardwalk out to a waterfall and rapids, so we made that stop, too. After we came back into Alaska we passed through a stretch of road that ran beside the Chilkat River that has been set aside as a bald eagle preserve. We spotted two eagles, but plan on going back there tomorrow for a more leisurely visit.

We’re staying at Oceanview RV Park, right on the inlet with another one of those wonderful out-the-front-window views. The couple who run the RV park are having a crab feed of freshly caught Dungeness crab tonight, so that’s what we’re having for dinner. Yum!

This is the view out our front window. We just saw a cruise ship go by leaving Skagway, which is around the corner and up the inlet.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

August 11 - update

Little Green Toad does indeed have a new window, so we are off tomorrow. We'll be in Canada for a day and then back in Alaska as we go down to Haines. So I'll check back in a couple of days with an update.

August 11 - Tok - last day here, hopefully

It was 34 degrees when we woke up this morning, and there was a frosting of snow on the mountains to the west. Brrrr. And it's AUGUST! The first snowfall is called “termination dust” because that’s when the summer folk terminate their trip and head home. Maybe it is a good thing we are heading in a southerly direction. Little Green Toad is at the glass guy’s getting a new driver side window today, so we’ll be able to roll out tomorrow, all things going well.

So, the saga of the window. We found a guy here Saturday evening who said he could fix it if he could get the window and he was planning on going to Fairbanks on Monday to pick up stock anyway. So he called his supplier in Fairbanks (at home) on Sunday. She got up early Monday morning and went in to the shop to check inventory, found she didn't have on, so she called her supplier in Anchorage. He checked his inventory, found a window, and sent one of his people with it up the Parks Highway toward Fairbanks, while the lady in Fairbanks headed down the Parks Highway. They met somewhere in the middle, made the switch and she headed back to Fairbanks. (Round trip between Anchorage and Fairbanks, 704 miles) Our guy by this time was loading up his order in Fairbanks and waiting for her to show up. Then he drove back to Tok, (round trip between Tok and Fairbanks – 412 miles) got in about 9 and because our phones are being so squirrelly he couldn't get us on the phone to tell us he had the window, so he came to the RV park and drove around until he found us and knocked on the door. This morning we drove the 10 miles out of town to his homestead and he brought us back to Cleo. He'll come pick us up when the car is done. To get the window here involved driving a total of 1116 miles. I'm glad they aren't charging us by the mile.

There is a cardboard cutout of Sarah Palin in the office of the RV park, so Gerry had to have his picture taken with it.

August 9-10 Tok

Sunday was rainy all day, which was wonderful. It stomped down the forest fires, or at least discouraged them, and we just snuggled down in Cleo and read, watched a movie, and I did some painting.

Monday is sunny with scattered clouds and the sky is still blue, so no smoke is rising yet. A caravan of 20 rigs came in yesterday and we talked to one of the people for a few minutes. He wasn’t sure where they’d been and had no idea where they were going. Amazing. Why bother? They all cranked up and rumbled out of here about 8 this morning. We listened to them from the warmth of our comfy bed, then turned over and went back to sleep. I like our style of travel better.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

August 8 - Valdez to Tok

We left the clouds and fog of Valdez and headed for the smoke in Tok (that rhymes – they pronounce the name of the town “Toke” as in “poke”.) The fires are still burning in the interior between Tok and Fairbanks and you know, it kinda smells like home in the summer. The sun is that sullen red-orange that comes from being filtered through wood smoke. But there were still some beautiful scenes, like the overlook above the Copper River as it snakes and braids itself down to the sea. All these Alaska rivers are running down what was once the bottom of immense glaciers, so they have a whole lot more room to roam than they would if they had carved the canyon out themselves.

While I was doing research for this trip a year or so ago, I ran across a quote from someone saying that the time to leave Alaska for us summer birds is when the fireweed turns white. I figured that meant when it snows on the fireweed, it’s time to go, but I saw a fireweed plant at one of our stops and all of a sudden the saying made sense. All those skinny stems that remain on the stalk as the plant blooms its way toward the top contain the seeds that are on silky parachutes, much like a dandelion. As those open up, the plant turns white! So I guess we are headed in the right direction (but don’t count on seeing our smiling faces all that soon!)

Especially when we get some enforced delays. When we got to Tok and checked in to the RV park, I went around to unhook and ~~GASP!!~~ the window on the driver’s door was gone! Shattered into a pile of really lovely aquamarine crystals. How it happened, we have no idea. It was fine at lunch when Gerry did his walk-around, so some time along the way, something impacted it hard enough to break it into a gazillion pieces. Poor little Toad! Luckily, there is a glass guy here in Tok who is going to Fairbanks on Monday to pick up stock, and he is confident he can fix it, so we’re here until Tuesday. Otherwise, we’d have to tape it up and head to Whitehorse. So I guess we find out what there is to see and do in Tok. I wonder if they have a museum.