Date: Sunday, May 20, 2001 2:06 PM
Subject: We're Off Again!
Just a note to say we're hitting the road tomorrow A.M. for Alaska via the Alaska Highway. We plan to be home sometime around the Fourth of July. We'll be visiting places made famous by Jack London and others and expect quite the adventure. We hope to see wonderful scenery, animals and find some great fishing along the way so Anne and I can see how much we learned in our fly-fishing class. We will be out of cell phone range most of the trip except for parts of Alaska but our cell phone takes messages and the number is 206-356-7380. We'll make an appropriate response whenever we have a message. E-mail is apt to be scarce also but we hope to keep in touch a bit via that medium if we can raise our ISP in the North. The camper and truck are almost ready to go, the past couple of weeks have been spent planning, packing (how to get 10 pounds in a five pound sack) and trying to protect the front of the rig from rock damage that we've been told to expect. I have a hardware cloth (wire) mesh tied to a brush protecting bumper to try and keep rocks out of the lights and radiators. Hope it works.
Hope your summer is an adventure also.
Don & Anne+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Date: Sunday, May 27, 2001 11:35 PM
Subject: We're Having a Great Time!
Sorry for this group e-mail but this is the first chance we've had to go online since we left home and we wanted to stay in touch.
The trip has been fantastic from day 1. The scenery in British Columbia was great and now we are in the Yukon and it's supposed to be stupendous here, especially north of us. We have seen many animals: deer, black bear, elk, caribou, Stone Sheep, moose, bison (free range!), coyotes and more bear. We have seen some eagles and ospreys and some magnificent trout, even hooked a couple and got them close to the float tube before they became unhooked (catch & release). We will definitely do some more fishing.
Tonight we are in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and the capitol of the Yukon. We plan to drive to Skagway, Alaska tomorrow and then take the White Pass & Yukon RR back to the Canada border and return to Skagway. We will come back to Whitehorse for at least one or two more days and then head for Alaska again, this time Anchorage. We will explore the Kenai Peninsula and then go to Fairbanks and see where our roads lead from there.
Last night we were in Watson Lake, Yukon and saw a planetarium display of the Northern Lights. We hope to have some clear nights and the ability to stay awake past midnight to see this marvel of nature. We also saw an exhibit on the building of this incredible highway across the North American North! As you probably know, the US Army built the Alaska Highway in 1942, taking about nine months. Its original purpose was to provide military supplies to the defense of Alaska and the Aleutians. It was "rebuilt" starting in 1943 and turned over to the government of Canada after the war in 1946. Since then it has been modified many times eliminating treacherous hills, curves, etc., until today it is a pretty good road but only two lanes, paved except for numerous places where it is under perpetual repair due to the ravages of the winter freeze. So far it has been a pretty good road and the only casualty from rocks has been a front marker light on our camper.
We have had a few loose screws to replace and that is the extent of our problems except for the loss of some coolant, which we will have corrected when we have the truck serviced in Alaska. So far we have called the camper home for a whole week, a new record for us. It has been warm, comfortable and "spacious" for us and we continue to have a wonderful adventure. We have taken few pictures but have basked in the wonderful scenery and will come this way again, next time maybe even to dip our toes in the Arctic Ocean in the Northwest Territory.
Gas has been available but expensive, paying up to $3.44 CDN per gallon. Even in USD that is expensive.
Since we left the US we have not had cell phone service so we have not been able to check for messages yet. Maybe we can do that when we get to the Anchorage area.
We hope you all are well and we will be in touch as we can.
Don & Anne
Date: Saturday, June 2, 2001 7:35 PM
Subject: Travel Update
Yesterday, we left Tok, Alaska and headed towards Anchorage. About 100 miles into our drive we decided to "detour" south to see Valdez. We had an easy drive as it was a detour of just over 100 miles and the roads are fairly good for this area. We saw much wonderful scenery, including some mountain passes and numerous glaciers. Alaska has over 100,000 glaciers! We passed along huge snow fields where there was still snow mobile activity and descended into Valdez. We passed by many wonderful waterfalls with each turn being more spectacular than the one just passed. Valdez is at the tip of Prince William Sound and surrounded by high, jagged peaks covered by snow and ice.
Our RVs are parked right right on the edge of the channel to the marina. The views in all directions are breathtaking. We heard an eagle screeching during lunch and I went out to find it perched in the top of the tree right behind our camper door, about 30 feet up! We took pictures but they won't do justice to the experience.
Last night, about 10:30 PM, Anne and I walked to the shower building which was about 50 yards away from our camper. It was still daylight and an eagle flew overhead and the Alaska ferry was at the terminal a short distance away, all her lights ablaze. I don't think it ever got dark as it was reported to be light at midnight and 2:00 AM.
The Alyeska pipeline terminus is directly across the harbor from us. There is a large complex of holding tanks, each one holds over 500,000 barrels. There are many buildings, piers, etc., and we watched a tanker being escorted in to her mooring this morning, attended by three tugboats. There is another tanker at the pier that must be about ready to sail as she sits quite low in the water compared to the one that came in today.
We saw the pipeline several times on our way in to Valdez, some places it is elevated and some places it is buried. It is truly an engineering marvel, all 800 miles of it!
A large cruise ship sailed yesterday and we have seen numerous working boats on their way to the fishing grounds. The harbor has been fairly busy. The park has been pleasant, quiet and peaceful and a nice rest for us.Anne would love to spend the summer here!
Tomorrow we will depart and climb back through the beautiful mountains and snowfields and head again for Anchorage. It is about 300 miles so it won't be a difficult drive. Then we will proceed to explore the Kenai Peninsula, probably going to Seward and Homer. We may try fishing for King salmon in Homer and might also get some halibut.
Gasoline is about $1.95 a gallon here in Valdez; it seems expensive for a place that ships over a million barrels of oil every day but I don't know what the current price is at home. It was even more expensive during our transit of British Columbia and the Yukon.
We appreciated the notes we received after our last posting. We still do not have cell service, our carrier having zero coverage in Alaska and most of the part of Canada we have been in. We are able to receive messages on our cell voice mail so can be reached that way and of course, we can receive messages via e-mail. Our phone cards do work when we have access to a line so we can reach the rest of the world when needed.
Hope you're having as much fun as we are.
Don and Anne
Date: Monday, June 11, 2001 8:42 PM
Subject: Don & Anne Rothfuss' Excellent Adventure!
We're now on the Kenai Peninsula. Monday we drove "down" here from Anchorage where we had a pleasant two-day stay at a lovely RV park. It was large, 195 sites, but had trees, space and telephones! I was able to go on line from the camper! The park had several signs alerting campers to the presence of moose. Are they kidding, in the park? Apparently not! While we did not see any moose, our traveling companions did manage to spot one on a city street, albeit in a remote part of the city. The RV park rules warned against getting too close to the moose and the bears. BEARS????! Fortunately in my solitary treks to the showers in the early and late hours of the day I encountered neither.
The drive to the Kenai was beautiful, the road following the shoreline of beautiful Cook Inlet and snow clad, sharp rugged mountains on either side. Except for the broadness of the water I imagined that it must be like Scandinavian fjords although I have not been to that part of the world. We traveled south past the famous Kenai River, reknowned for the large king salmon that return there to spawn. The world record for a salmon caught by a sportsman is about 97 pounds and was caught in that fishery. We also encountered the Copper River while going to Seward. This river has some notoriety in the Seattle area at least. The Copper River is one of the season's earliest king salmon runs and the Seattle markets vie with one another to see who can have it on their shelves first, at pricey levels too! Well, we discovered that the Squirrel River empties into the Copper River and so far there hasn't been a big deal about Squirrel River salmon. We figure that we could tie up the market and compete with the Copper River fish with our own label, "Salmon From Squirrel River". Since some of the fish labeled as "Copper River" are undoubtedly headed for the Squirrel River, we figure we will have some trademark infringement, which could result in a nice settlement!
Our destination on the Kenai was the small town of Ninilchik. We found a nice RV park and are here for a week. Tuesday (yesterday) we awoke and headed to the beach to dig razor clams, something we haven't done in Washington in some time due to scarcity of the clams. We found several, mostly large clams, some as long as my hand, but we did not get our limits. We are allowed 45 clams a day per person as long as you have a sport fishing license. We left the beach prior to low tide as we had signed up for a day of fishing on a charter for salmon and halibut. We "boarded" the charter boat about 1:30 PM and were launched by a large tractor that pulled the boat, trailer, and passengers down the steeply sloped shoreline and left us in water deep enough to maneuver the boat. We went down the coast several miles where we trolled for king salmon for about three hours. As it was we just turned gasoline into noise, as we had not a single strike. It was now close to the tide turn so we proceeded to a halibut bed. We fished for halibut for the rest of the day, returning about 10:00 PM. There were six clients on the boat and everyone caught their limit of halibut, two per person. They weren't large, probably between 18-25 pounds, but they are excellent table fare. We took some fresh fillets back to our RVs and the rest was vacuum packed and frozen so we can ship it home. Matter of fact, we had halibut tonight and it was delicious, although a little pricey!
Today we went back to the beach for another episode with the razor clams. This time we went to Clam Gulch where the digging was supposed to be easier. We got limits but much smaller clams! Since we have another minus tide tomorrow we will go again, but this time I shall have rubber gloves to protect my hands as my fingers are red, raw, my nails cracked and cut and a mess! Came home covered with dirt and sand and soaking wet; sounds like a perfect playground for boys, no?
We have seen moose here, one this afternoon on the way to the General Store for supplies and a cow and twin calves last evening on our way home from the boat. We had seen a cow and calf on Monday evening also and we are told that they venture into this RV park during the morning and evening hours. Since it does not get dark, I found that 11:30 PM - 5:00 AM is the best time for a moose sighting. We have seen several large eagles, however, and the place is serene, quiet and peaceful.
The village of Ninilchik seems to have sport fishing as its primary (solitary?) employment source. There seems to be a charter boat parked in almost every yard.
Prices are a bit steep here but that is to be expected considering how remote this area is. We are about 40 miles from Homer, the southernmost village on the Peninsula.
The scenery here is beautiful; there are three semi active volcanoes across the inlet. One of them last erupted in 1989, and another erupted in 1992. We hope they can keep their lava cool at least until we depart for places north of here.
We plan to leave here Monday to return to Anchorage and then head on up to Fairbanks. From Fairbanks we planned to go back to Whitehorse in the Yukon but learned that there may be extensive road damage to the highway that may cause us to replan our route. We'll have to get the news before we commit.
We have reviewed several disks of digital images that Don and LaBurta took and a few are appended to this message.
We have been told by one correspondent, that "NO, they are NOT having as much fun as we are", but we still hope that your summer is wonderful. After over two weeks on the road our little camper continues to provide us a safe comfortable haven and we are learning to cope, having had to find the circuit breakers this morning after losing power due to a conflict between the heater, toaster and the refrigerator. It was a tough repair, but hey, someday had to do it!
Love from the land of the midnight sun,
Don and Anne
Date: Monday, June 11, 2001 8:06 PM
Subject: The Excellent Adventure Continues
Greetings from "The Last Frontier"!
We have been in the small community of Ninilchik, Alaska for a week now and are leaving in the morning to return to Anchorage and then on to Fairbanks. We will leave here with great reluctance, as this has been a tranquil setting, has beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife. We have also had the opportunity to use our camp as a base of operations for several side trips to other communities.
Friday we drove to Seward. To get there, we had to drive north, and then head back south; it took about three hours. We had booked a cruise with Kenai Fjords Tours. Seward, as Valdez, are two communities that were hit hard by the earthquake in 1964. You may recall that Alaska became a state in 1959 and on Good Friday in 1964, the worst earthquake ever recorded in North America struck. It was about 9.2 on the Moment Magnitude scale, which is similar to the Richter Scale. That means it was 1000 times more powerful than the recent quake that struck Seattle and shook our house. Between the quake, fires, and ensuing tidal waves, these communities were hard struck, to put it mildly. In the true spirit of Alaska, they endured, rebuilt, and here we are.
Seward is the home of Kenai Fjords National Park. It is a fantastic area full of majestic mountains that plunge sharply into the sea. The fjords are wide as the area is vast, but they are fjords! Marine life is abundant and we saw much. We had a late start as the train from Anchorage was late and there were cruise customers aboard so we waited. The "captain" explained how we were going to get a better deal since they would go faster and we would still see everything and they were just going to expend more fuel, their hardship, not ours. No one was buying it but we did get away.
The wind on the water was brisk and cool and Anne & I buttoned up and put on headbands and gloves. Then the good times began to roll. We encountered a lone Sea Otter in the middle of the channel. The otter rolled and cavorted for us as the boat drifted 10 yards away. They are beautiful animals and everyone was delighted. We motored away to encounter our first glacier of the day, Bear Glacier. The long moraine it had created was clearly visible and all that dirt will be deposited sometime, either on land if the glacier recedes, or in the sea if it continues to advance. After the glacier we saw several gray whales at a distance of 100 yards or farther, many spouts were visible if you just watched any open patch of water for any time at all. We then came upon a pod of Killer Whales (Orcas) and they swam past both sides of the boat for some distance, some getting quite close. We watched them for about 10 minutes until they appeared to take a group nap. We then headed back to sea. We soon came upon another tour boat from the same company that had radioed that they were watching two gray whales. The whales were there, closely circling the other boat as we approached. They had been there 45 minutes by the time we arrived! After our arrival, the other boat left and we were instantly adopted. These magnificent creatures swam back and forth around and under our boat for another 30-40 minutes. I probably took over two rolls of film and only hope that a few pictures turn out. The whales would spout, roll, lift their pectoral fins, raise their heads and look at us and just amazed us as long as we were there. The crew reported that they had never experienced this behavior before and knew of NO ONE that had. It was truly a once in lifetime experience. We went whale watching and left feeling like the whales had gone people watching. By the way, gray whales have foul breath!
Not far away we passed close to some large rocky outcrops that were coverd with Stellar Sea Lions. These huge animals were basking in the morning sun. We watched one large male lumbering to the edge and launching himself in a belly flopper as he entered the water.
We continued to the farthest point we would reach, Holgate Glacier. This glacier has a huge ice front about one-quarter mile wide. The area in front of the glacier was filled with floating chunks of ice, some probably weighing a couple of tons. We were told that this glacier advances about 6-8 feet per day and of course, that much ice falls into the sea as the glacier overruns the shoreline. We were in front of the glacier for about 15 minutes and while we were there the glacier calved. There was a loud crack and an explosion of ice particles and a couple of tons (at least) of ice sloughed off the face of the glacier and dropped into the sea creating a sizable wave. It was an experience to remember! We finally headed back to Seward where we had a nice seafood dinner and a long drive back to our comfortable homes! We saw six moose on our way home as well as many cars headed south from Anchorage. The fishermen were descending on the Kenai for a weekend of river fishing for the legendary kings. Thursday, the last day we clammed, as we returned from the beach we saw a large eagle standing on a shoal in one of the nearby streams. This same stream was covered with fishermen later; this fishery was was closed during the week. Further upstream, I'm sure, the bears are beginning to collect on the streams, and of course, further out in the ocean, the sport and commercial fishermen are plying their lines and nets. All of these predators have a common goal, to get the salmon that are ending their lifecycle as they return to the rivers where they started, this time to spawn and die. Even after death, they will provide meals for many other animals and birds. It is a remarkable resource and saga and one that I hope will continue for many eons.
Yesterday we drove to Homer, a picturesque town at the southernmost tip of the Kenai Peninsula. By the way, we learned that half of the state population lives on the Kenai! Homer is described as a "drinking town with a fishing problem". I think the major industry on the Kenai is centered on fishing. We saw some large halibut at some of the piers and wish we had taken our charter from there as they have a reputation for catching the big ones.
Well, the hour is late and the camper is ready for an early departure. We have had a chronic leak from our radiator (defective hose clamps) so we plan to make an early morning stop at a local Ford dealer and see if we can get a repair and an oil change. We have driven well over 3000 miles in the past three weeks and have as much in front of us as we have already seen. We hope to find some good stream fishing around Fairbanks and want to try our hands at grayling. We will report if we are successful.We wish you a happy and fun summer.
Don & Anne
PS Again, all photos were taken by our companions and good friends, Don & LaBurta.+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Date: Wednesday, June 13, 2001 9:10 PM
Subject: Travel Report
Yesterday we departed Ninilchik for Anchorage. Anne and I headed for the little town of Soldotna because they have a Ford dealer and we have been plagued with a leaking cooling system since we left home. At 2000 miles the radiator hose clamps started breaking and due to a creative design goof they are difficult to replace with an aftermarket clamp since the defective clamps are vulcanized to the hoses. That was not a better idea, Ford! We showed up at the dealer at 7:30 AM and asked for a warranty repair on the hoses and an oil change. Since the camper was on the truck we were told they could not change the oil and then they told us the hoses needed to be ordered from San Francisco and they couldn't have them for a couple of days. We have found that Alaskan businesses advertise RV parts but all they have when you go inside are catalogs and a phone! So it also seems with automobile parts as well! I did not get the new factory hoses (after telling the service manager I didn't want the old design at any price) and was advised to try a larger dealer in Anchorage. Worthington Ford is a much larger outfit (remember Cal Worthington?). However, they said take the camper off, bring the truck in and we'll have a tech look at it in the morning. I asked if they had the hoses in inventory and was told they needed to send a tech out to get the old part numbers. I said, "do it", and then found all the techs had gone home. I was told to bring the car in tomorrow. I offered to get the part numbers myself and was told a tech needed to get them. I think I played this game before! The dealership was nice enough to give me the name of the dealer in Fairbanks so since we planned to stay there for a few days I decided to cast my lot with that. I then found that the same outfit owns the Soldotna AND the Fairbanks dealership! I may get home on my "emergency" repairs and get the truck fixed there! Jiffylube did give me an oil change with the camper ON the truck. They asked me how high my rig was and I didn't know. They said, "we'll check", and while I drove into the bay, one of the techs stood on a highboy tool chest to look at my air conditioner. We cleared by inches, barely squeaking through their 12-foot doors. The side mirrors had about 2 inches clearance on each side. Now I know better than to go under overpasses that are less than 13 feet! I just have to learn what 13 feet is in meters so I can get through Canada.
We got a late start this morning after yesterday's run-around. Our friends, Don and LaBurta, were preparing to leave when they discovered that their "slide out" on their motor home would not retract. After a bit of investigation we found a probable cause, a sheared drive pin. Don suggested calling his RV dealer and asking that they send a "WIDE LOAD" banner by express mail, and when asked why, would reply, "BECAUSE YOUR DAMN SLIDE OUT WON'T RETRACT!" We did get the slideout in by pushing one end while the motor pulled in the other end. Don has an appointment for repairs on Friday! We will spend some time in the repair shop while visiting lovely Fairbanks!
The drive north from Anchorage was lovely; we passed through some remote and beautiful country. The road was good in most places but services were as far apart as anywhere on the trip, and that on the road connecting Alaska's largest two cities! We passed by Denali National Park, which happens to contain Mount McKinley or "Denali," the highest peak in North America at 20,320 feet. We did not see it as the peak was shrouded in clouds and the entire area was highly overcast. We hope to have better weather when we get to Fairbanks as it is supposed to be one of the best places from which to see the mountain.
Due to our late start, we stopped about 50 miles outside of Fairbanks at a little village called Nenana. It has a nice RV park with electricity, water, restrooms, showers and MOSQUITOES! We have been lucky so far and have not had a problem with insects but that luxury may be gone. The weather is warmer and the mosquitoes are out and they are hungry. They are large enough, too, that about 10 of them could pick you up and carry you away.
Nenana holds an annual ice classic, an event that awards cash prizes to the lucky persons who can guess the exact time that the ice breaks up on the Tanana River. A wooden structure or tripod is built and placed on the frozen river with wires connected to a solid object on shore. When the spring breakup causes the ice to move a predetermined distance, a clock is stopped and the lucky guessers collect their money. This tradition has been going on since 1917. There isn't a lot to do here in the winter so they have come up with creative ideas to fight boredom!
Tomorrow we will head into Fairbanks and then find where we can get a chance to fish for grayling at a bear free stream. Anne threatens to carry a squirt bottle of honey to douse me with so she can make a getaway if we encounter bears! This came up after I said I planned to run if we encountered bears. Anne said, "You idiot, you can't outrun a bear"! I smiled and replied, "No Sweetie, but I can out run you"!
Living on top of a pickup is still tolerable but we hope things stay together for the duration. Be well.
Don & Anne=========================================================================
Date: Thursday, June 14, 2001 10:15 PM
Subject: Fairbanks and vicinity
Hello One & All,
The last blurb I posted about repairs wasn't the end of it. Anne opened the cabinet door under the sink and remarked, "It's wet in here!" Oh boy! I looked and there was about a 2-inch gap between the sink drain line and the p-trap. I started looking for the "missing parts" and realized that the drain line had "settled" about 2 inches due to the pounding from the rough roads. It was going to happen sooner or later! I made an unflattering remark about the builders (Anne had never heard that particular expression before) and then mapped out a repair that might eliminate any future problems. As it was, a trip to Fred Meyer's plumbing department and procuring an extension for the drain line solved the problem and it appears to be a much better solution than the original design. It can't settle further, it's bottomed out! Then today, one member of our party happened to close the car door on a Sage fly rod tip. There are two Sage rods here, wonder which of the two Dons did it? Fortunately, Sage has a good "lifetime" warranty to the original owner!
We got a late get away this morning and went east about 40 miles to visit Chena Hot Springs and Lodge. We bought another 3-day fishing license and tried our hand fishing for grayling in the Chena River, using both flies and spoons. The Chena is a catch and release fishery but that wasn't much of a problem, as we didn't catch anything! Don did have a fish follow his spoon after one cast, but no bites. At least someone saw a fish! We did see three moose on our way back. Two of them obligingly posed for our cameras but the third one was definitely shy! So far we haven't seen any antlers so we have been wondering where Bullwinkle hides out. Until today, we have had a three-day absence of animal sightings and this is prime country for moose. We still haven't seen a grizzly bear on this trip and actually, have not seen ANY bears in Alaska. We were told while we were in Ninilchik that there were lots of bears around and that they were a real nuisance, but we didn't see any.
While returning from the Chena, we saw a number of "sled dog crossings." Now that is something you don't see just everywhere. We have seen several kennels recently and there are a number of Iditarod winners living in the area. Susan Butcher, two-time Iditarod winner, gives tours of her dogs and training area, turning her fame into income! Racing sled dogs is not exactly big time professional athletics.
The weather continues to be overcast and we still have not seen Denali. We are optimistic we will have a change of luck before we leave. Tomorrow we hope to have the slide out repaired on Don & LaBurta's motor home and Saturday, we will celebrate LaBurta's birthday.
This trip continues to be a wonderful experience and Anne and I are already talking about returning, next time to tarry for a while in places we especially liked like Valdez and Seward. There is still much of this vast state left to explore and we would like to get above the Arctic Circle sometime. I read that we are close; it's only about 60-70 air miles north of Fairbanks. We will also miss the Northwest Territory this trip and I would like to leave footprints there also at some time. A trip when the silvers are in the river is also clearly of interest as long as the bears don't want our fish!
Anne & Don+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Date: Tuesday, June 19, 2001 8:13 PM
Subject: South By Southeast
When I was in college, I met a young woman from Richmond, Virginia who informed me that I, being from Michigan, was a "Damn Yankee." Later in life I married another young woman from Richmond who, after several years of marriage, informed me that I was a "Damn %&$##@!*&!$$." That, definitely, is another story. A Yankee is a Northerner, and that is where I have lived all my life, in the "north." I spent my youth in Michigan and my adult life in Washington, both states bordering Canada and that definitely is north. I got used to late summer days and early morning sunrises but all of that did not prepare me for truly being in the North. We have not had a true night for quite some while. I mean, at night it does get dark, right? Daytime is the light time and night is the dark-time, ask any kid, they'll know. Recently I have experienced a brilliant full rainbow arcing over the "night sky" at midnight. Last night we went out for dinner and theater and afterwards (11:00 PM) we drove to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Campus because it was a clear "night" and Denali was clearly visible. Up until then we had been Denali deprived due to overcast skies. It was a magnificent sight! Returning from our "photo shoot" of Denali, we saw two hot air balloons ascending into the "night" sky for a flight of at least a couple of hours, I would expect. Not to worry, it doesn't get dark until maybe September? We have talked to one business that stays open late at "night" (11:00 PM) and one of their employees had a softball game beginning at 3:00 AM the following day. Yes, it is light enough to play softball, golf or anything else at 11:00 PM or 3:00 AM or even the hours in between. We can read all night in the camper without lights even with the shades pulled.
Fortunately, we can sleep when we get tired and I'm sure being here in the fall and winter would be even more difficult. In December, there will be days when the sun does not rise above the horizon and other days it won't stay up for very long. Yeah, I know it's dark during the daytime, ask any kid about that and they'll think you're crazy unless they live up here.
Alaska has been an experience. We left Fairbanks this morning with the grayling still in the rivers, uncaught. We will have to return for them and the silver salmon another year. We headed down towards Delta Junction where the end of the Alaska Highway is. Remember, the start of that highway is in Dawson Creek, near the border of British Columbia and Alberta? We then proceeded on down the road and left Alaska, returning again to the Yukon. Tonight we are in the small town of Beaver Creek, YT, and the western most community in all of Canada.
As though to say goodbye, we sighted moose on our drive today on two occasions. They are such magnificent animals, so large and ungainly but they can run though woods at 35 mph with surprising agility. We shall never tire of sightings such as these. We also had a magnificent view of the Alaska Range, the range of mountains that is home to Mount McKinley. We could see Mount McKinley this morning but later it disappeared from our view while we ended up with a magnificient view of several other significant peaks. We passed by miles and miles of north woods forest that reminded me of Northern Michigan, woods full of bogs, lakes, all beautiful.
The mosquitoes are thick now, much worse than four weeks ago when we were headed up. We are encountering much more traffic on the road and the RV parks are fuller, even though peak season is still to come. We definitely beat the rush and have had a more pleasant journey due to the scarcity of "Lower Forty-Eighters." Yes, they refer to the Lower Forty-eight as though there is no difference between Florida, California or Rhode Island, it all is just an ill defined mass of geography of which they seemed pleased to remain ignorant, except for those enlightened ones that look for sun in places like Hawaii when the throes of winter have Alaska icebound.
We have left Alaska without experiencing the Aurora Borealis because that is a phenomenon that occurs in the wintertime, sometime between September and April.
We want to come back to take a train through the snows of winter and fish the rivers of autumn so we have at least two more memorable trips to make to this enchanted land.
Alaska, we will return!
The slide out has been repaired and the WIDE LOAD banner won't be needed for a few days. The Ford seems to be keeping the green fluid inside the radiator but it still doesn't like passing a gas station. Now that we are back in the Yukon, the gas is noticeably higher again and we have many miles to go before we cross the US border. We are returning through Alberta to enter Montana before turning west to Washington. Life on top of a pickup truck remains comfortable and the air conditioner will keep us cool this evening, the first time it has been really needed on this trip.
Don & Anne
Date: Thursday, June 21, 2001 8:09 PM
Subject: Farewell to the Yukon
We headed east this morning from Watson Lake, Yukon Territory. The highway crosses the border between the Yukon and British Columbia about seven times in the general vicinity of Watson Lake but today we left the Yukon behind. We never did see any of the moose that the Yukon is supposed to be famous for but we did see our grizzlies in the Yukon. Today we arrived in Fort Nelson, BC. We had a "long" drive of about 340 miles and passed over miles and miles of gravel roadway. The Alaska Highway is supposed to be paved along its entire length but the road repairs are graded gravel that gets oil added and compacted by the thousands of tires that pass over it. Eventually it starts to look like real paving but still has a great number of rough spots. Today we encountered many miles of newly repaired road, hence the gravel. We also encountered a detour where the roadway had been washed out a couple of weeks ago, after we had passed that way going north! A culvert collapsed and it was a big one, about 25 feet in diameter. As soon as the collapse occurred, the river took out the bridge and left a wide empty void behind. The highway department had a temporary bridge trucked in and a parallel roadway constructed in about two days, we heard. Traffic is only one way at this time but at least it moves. It will be a long while before the bridge is rebuilt. They have regraded the roadbed and are in the act of removing the debris but no construction of supports for the bridge is underway. The old bridge was only a few years old and was guaranteed for 80 years!
Today we saw miles and miles of beautiful country; it all looks different going south. We also saw animals: four black bears, one red fox, two buffalo, one owl, one buck deer in velvet, one doe, two moose, one with antlers in velvet, one caribou and about thirty Stone Sheep including one magnificent ram with a full curl on his horns. A full curl means the horns make a complete circle when viewed from the side, the tips are even with the horn base on the skull. We would have to go to a zoo to duplicate these sightings. Some, but not all, of these animals obliged us with photo opportunities!
Tomorrow we will head south and east to Dawson Creek, BC. That is where the Alaska Highway starts and when we get there we will have traveled the Alaska Highway from end to end in both directions except that we missed the part between Tok, Alaska and Delta Junction, Alaska on our way north. It is 1422 miles from Dawson Creek, BC, Milepost 0, to Delta Junction, Alaska, Milepost 1422. It has been a tremendous experience and I am ready to do it again. Tomorrow will be our last day in British Columbia, as we will pass into Alberta Saturday morning, headed for Jasper, Lake Louise, Banff, Calgary and then Montana. Wonder if our cell phone will work in Montana? We have this wonderful "North American Neighborhood" free long distance plan but have found that it excludes Alaska and almost all of Canada. Evidently, North America means some of the "Lower Forty-eight".
Our constant companion on this trek has been "The Milepost," 53rd Edition (2001), published by Morris. The Milepost contains mile-by-mile logs and detailed maps of all Northern highways including the Alaska Highway. If there is anything along the route of interest to travelers, it is in the Milepost. We did find one discrepancy, however. We relied on the Milepost to find a store to sell us fishing licenses when we drove up the Chena River in Fairbanks in pursuit of the elusive grayling. We found the place OK but couldn't get licenses since the place had burned down. The fire just occurred on Memorial Day so I'll bet next year's edition has noted it is no longer in business!
Well, its time to see if there is a phone line available. Hope you're having a great summer without mosquitoes, unlike us!
Don & Anne
Date: Thursday, June 21, 2001 8:09 PM
Subject: Herds and herds and ....
Hello from Watson Lake, Yukon Territory!
One of the things we have noticed on our journey south is that there are herds and herds and herds of Winnebagos and related critters. They travel in bunches going north and south and are quite unpredictable, often stopping in the road because some other critter has crossed there. They are bedecked with a broad assortment of coverings to ward off rocks and bugs and other grime associated with herd migrations and some even come adorned with tattoos like "Alaska or Bust!" They are accompanied by an assorted lot of tourists, most identifiable by binoculars, cameras or both. There definitely weren't that many out a month ago!
The roads have changed in the time since we came this way on our way up. Construction areas have moved and I believe that the permafrost has finally melted in some areas that were still frozen four weeks ago. There are many more frost heaves, potholes and dips than before and some major road adjustment construction areas. They continue to straighten out curves, make grades more constant and eliminate areas that have been habitual problems due to permafrost, adjusting the "mix" to provide better insulation to the frozen areas so that they can remain frozen. Anything that holds heat can alter the freezing zone and when the permanent permafrost layer is impacted, heaving occurs as the land shifts and settles after years of being frozen in place. Homes have to have pilings drilled though the active layer into the permanent layer and then the floors are elevated above ground so that the "crawl space" is open to conduct heat away from the ground. Horrible things happen if the ground melts, very expensive repairs ensue.
There clearly is a shortage of money here. We have seen many modest buildings that are inhabited but unfinished, bare plywood walls showing weathering from several years. It makes me think of Appalachia.
There are many novel solutions to the rock/bug problem. Some are obviously do-it-yourself projects and some are expensive custom creations. I have some hardware cloth across the front of the pickup, attached with cable ties and protected from the "Brush Buster" grill using insulation tubes. It looks Rube Goldberg but I believe I have won the prize for bug kills. There are hundreds of insect carcasses on the screen, many butterflies, moths, dragonflies, huge bumblebees and a myriad of undefined insects. Mosquitoes have colored the front of the camper and pass right through the screen so that we have a textured paint job. Several pounds of bugs have NOT made it to the radiator and most have missed the windshield but NOT the camper. We have had two rock casualties so far. Our camper had a front marker light broken and the motor home has a rock impact "star" on the windshield. I have heard a few stones rattle off the front but cannot assess how the screen helped. I trust that it has.
Another difference in our trip south is there are millions of wildflowers in bloom. There are blues, purples, whites, yellows; they brighten the roadside. There are millions of dandelions and we have determined that the bears love dandelions.
We drove back into Alaska to the seaport town of Haines and spent a night there. We saw our first grizzly bears on the drive to Haines. The road to Haines starts at Haines Junction in the Yukon. It is about 150 miles south to Haines, Alaska and you are first in the Yukon and then pass into British Columbia before finally getting to Alaska. It is a beautiful drive and I would recommend it to any of you that may venture this way. We had a grizzly sow and last year's cub about 50 yards from the road dining on a salad of dandelion plants and roots. From their zeal in pursuing these plants they obviously enjoy them. The cub was content to lie down and roll from plant to plant but Mom was on her feet. We also saw some black bears on our return trip from Haines.
Getting back to permafrost, some of the power lines that abut the highway have many, many poles that list and lean like they are drunk. The cables used to brace them many times are slack and ineffective due to the settling into the ground of the poles, some sinking several feet. Others are in imminent danger of falling over, being held mainly by tension in the power lines in some places. Some of the poles have a large horizontal pole attached about 3-6 feet above the ground and having diagonal braces from the end of the horizontal to the vertical forming a triangle. When the power pole starts to list and settle, the end of the horizontal member contacts the ground and then helps to stabilize the pole and start moving it back to vertical. Draw a picture!
The mosquitoes are out in force now. We thought they were bad before but they have continued to multiply and are aggressive feeders.
We saw a humorous T-shirt in Fairbanks. It shows a tour bus of tourists disembarking at an area frequented by wildlife. Of course, there are several bears watching all of this from the perimeter. The shirt is captioned, "Another tourist becomes part of the food chain!" We did not follow any grizzlies into the willows for the sake of pictures!
I have been "impressed" with the absence of deer sighted on this trip. We have traveled in the vicinity of 4000 miles at this point. They remain scarce. We did see a bull moose way out in a lake feeding on aquatic plants. The antlers were small and in velvet so I assume they are just starting to emerge. That may explain why so many of the other moose we've seen appeared to be cows! The ones with calves are obvious but we've seen three large animals together, too.
We stopped for the day at 1:00 PM at a park we stayed in on our trip north. Most of the pull-through sites are taken two hours later and we did not have much choice when we arrived. Yesterday, for the first time on the trip, we found an RV park that had no sites available with water and electricity. We expect it will worsen as the season progresses. We are headed towards Jasper and perhaps Banff and expect throngs there. Living on top of our pickup we have come to appreciate having electricity and water available. What would we do without air conditioning, our microwave, our electric heater, hot water, hot showers, indoor plumbing and all the rest of our soft living necessities? Our refrigerator keeps ice cream frozen as well as the one in our kitchen at home!
Well, the laundry is finished and its time to find dinner, this time at a local diner.
Hope all is well where you are.
Don & Anne
Date: Tuesday, June 26, 2001 10:44 AM
Subject: Loonies & Toonies
The one dollar coin is readily accepted and used here in Canada, unlike the experience we in the US have had with the Susan B. Anthony dollar and the current Sacagawea coin recently introduced. The Canadian dollar is brass colored (or coloured as they say here, eh?) and a little larger than a quarter; it fits in a 35 mm film canister. The requisite picture of Elizabeth II is on the front and a loon is on the back. They also have a two dollar coin which has a brass colored center about the size of a dime with a nickel colored ring surrounding the center and the overall size is just larger than the dollar; it also fits in the aforementioned film canister. There is a picture of Elizabeth on the front and a polar bear on the back. Canadians affectionately refer to the dollar coins as "loonies" and the two-dollar coins as "toonies". Some of the showers at the RV parks require coins to get hot water and they are often marked, "Insert a Loonie."
Alaska is becoming a memory, as it is now many miles and several days behind us. We are now in Alberta. Saturday we stayed in Hinton, Alberta in a rice RV park just outside Jasper National Park. After getting settled in, we learned to cope with 15 amp electrical service. The motor home is wired for 50 amp and the camper for 30 amp so we popped some breakers learning what we could have turned be on at the same time. Then, we headed into Jasper to sightsee. Barely past the gate where we purchased our entrance pass we encountered several large bull elk with magnificent antlers, still in velvet, foraging or resting by the side of the road. We stopped, as most tourists do, and expended some film and then drove on into the town of Jasper, encountering several more elk, coyotes, and a black bear in the process. The bear wasn't overly social and didn't want to pose for the camera. We had a nice dinner at a local hotel and then headed back towards our camp. We spotted four elk standing on a sandbar in the river, three cows and a young calf. They were about 150 yards from us and oblivious to our presence. They were obviously intent on crossing the river which was about 80-100 yards wide with a swift current. Two of the cows and the calf suddenly plunged off the sandbar and were immediately immersed with only theirs heads above water. They began moving downstream at a rapid pace, being swept by the current. We were all fearful that the calf would not fare well as river crossings are a major cause of mortality for these young elk. It seemed like minutes later one and then the other cow emerged on the far bank and we all craned our necks looking for the little one who appeared about 30 seconds after Mom and promptly scampered up to rejoin her. The third cow had stayed on the near shore and finally also plunged into the river on a slightly different course. This elk found the fastest water, as it was about 100 yards downstream of the others when it came up the far bank.
Jasper is a magnificent place. We have been in awe of the incredible mountains we have passed through in Alaska and then British Columbia. It is hard to say which are the most magnificent but it is hard to beat the grandeur of the Rockies. They emerge abruptly with huge chunks of nothing but exposed rock, some with intricate striations as you can follow the layers from ancient magma flows. There is snow still falling at high elevation and wonderful rivers and valleys and forests. Each turn of the road brings another magnificent scene into view and you start to become selective about just how wonderful it has to be to rate a delay to take another photo.
Yesterday we drove past Lake Louise into Banff National Park where we are still today. The highway between these parks is lined with elk proof fences to keep these large animals off the highway. There are many miles of this fence. They have built two large overpasses across the highway to allow the animals' passage from one side to another. Automobiles and the trains have taken a large number of these animals over the years and the fences help immensely but they do cut down on animal sightings, which is one of the reasons tourists flock to this area.
Our RV park is part of the Banff National Park and we have large spacious sites with power, water and sewer hookups. We are also several yards from our neighbors, unlike some of the gravel parking lots we have stayed in and which have been called RV parks. I believe our site is about 40 yards long by 20 yards wide! There is an ample supply of elk droppings all around the site, which caused us to remark that the elk must frequent the area in winter. Winter, phooey! We found a large bull lying under a tree next to an empty campsite. He was calmly chewing his cud and watching the tourists! Speaking of chewing his cud, it was interesting to see a mass of fodder move UP his throat as he finished chewing the previous mass.
Anne and I attended a parks interpretive program last night and learned that one of the reasons that the elk were so thick around the campground and village is that they have learned that they are safer from the predators there that stay away from people, like wolves. There had been one wolf pack in this area and now a second larger pack has moved into a nearby drainage. This larger wolf pack has 18 members, 11 adults and 7 pups, and is much bolder than the older resident pack. The bolder group has begun to foray down near town and has killed an elk there quite recently. It looks like the wolves are going to make the elk move back to their traditional habitat!
Today we drove back to Lake Louise to see the lake. It is a wonderful place with a large lodge. We hiked almost to the far end of the lake and looked back across the water to the lodge, a lovely sight. There are glaciers in the mountains around the lake and they supply the water which today was a lovely green but in areas at the far end there was the distinctive milky color of glacial runoff. Lake Louise is a place everyone should experience at least once. There is another beautiful lake nearby, Lake Moraine. It too, has a lodge but not on the same scale. The lake is surrounded by rugged mountains and is a magnificent sight.
Today, LaBurta drove into Banff and on returning to the campground found a coyote partly in the road and quite still, as if on point. Suddenly a small ground squirrel popped up and the coyote leaped as though a coiled spring had just been released! The drama was the sort of thing you expect to see in a nature documentary on public television and here it was being played out in real life.
Anne and I went for a walk around the park this afternoon and we were returning towards our camper when we saw a pickup truck with a ranger holding a radio antenna and slowly turning it in a circle while listening to the signals though headphones. We have seen elk wearing transmitter collars and know that they tag grizzlies this way so I went up to him and asked what he was tracking. Wolves! He pointed off across the valley with an immense piece of granite behind it and said, "out there, about four kilometers!" It wasn't that far from town!
Tomorrow we pick up and head for Calgary where we hope to find a phone line to send this and some pictures. Looks like we have two more nights in Canada before we're back in the USA!
While we were in Dawson Creek, we visited the Milepost Zero monument, the official starting point of the Alaska Highway. Another couple asked us to take their picture and we obliged. We then asked them to reciprocate and take a picture of the four of us. Don, meanwhile, remarked, "That guy sure looks familiar!" We asked his name and it turns out he WAS a co-worker of ours at Boeing; we had last seen him about 27 years ago! What a small world it is!
Wishing you all could see this country,
Anne & Don
Date: Friday, June 29, 2001 6:57 PM
Subject: Going, Going, ....................
This will be our last transmission until we return home. This morning we bade good-bye to the Mother Ship and her Excursion Module, the Saab that goes where its towed to go, and went our separate ways. It was a nostalgic moment as we have been in frequent radio contact with our traveling companions every day we have traveled through the magnificent north. The silence today was noticeable but we did know when that big diesel fired up this morning as we were trying to get a couple extra hours of sleep. We enjoyed many pleasant evenings dining on the mother ship and playing "Sequence" and had many, many miles in the Excursion Module as we explored away from our camps.>
We have spent the last three days in Montana, two of them in Great Falls and today driving west through some beautiful mountain country. We saw a number of places where it would be nice to have a place to live. Most of western Montana that we saw can be described as, "A River Runs Through It!" I saw many places where I would have loved to cast a fly and see what lurked beneath those beautiful streams. Maybe tomorrow we will find such a spot as we return to Washington where we DO have fishing licenses.
In the Great Falls area, we visited a spot that is referred to as a Buffalo Jump. It is in an area of rolling prairie except that in one area there is an abrupt cliff about a mile long with drops of up to 50 feet to the rock strewn ground below. In the days before the Indians had horses, which were brought to North America by white explorers long ago, the Indians lured an unsuspecting buffalo herd near the cliff and then caused a stampede so that the herd would fall to their death on the rocks below. A single warrior would drape a buffalo calf robe over his back and slowly work into the herd near the lead cow. This brave individual would then bellow like a calf in distress and get the attention of the lead cow, which would start to move towards the "distressed calf." The brave would then quickly move towards the cliff which might be a mile or so away and the herd would slowly follow the movement of the lead cow. These distress calls were repeated until the herd had moved close enough to the cliff where stone cairns had been built along the path that the herd had been following. These cairns hid other braves and women who had blankets and hides covering them so they would not be detected. Other braves were draped in wolf skins and kept their presence visible around the sides and back of the herd to make the buffalo nervous and stay together in a close group following the leader. At the critical moment when enough buffalo had passed the first cairns, the Indians arose and startedyelling and waving their hides and blankets to start a stampede. The caller who was in front of the herd now had to run for his life as the buffalo began to run towards the cliff, kept from turning by the line of cairns with their attendants waving blankets and shouting and closely followed by a pack of "wolves." The caller raced for his life towards a known spot where he would jump off the cliff onto a ledge below and then hug the wall of the cliff as the huge buffalo began to fall to their demise. Any buffalo trying to turn or stop at the last moment was simply crowded off the edge by the stampeding mass following. Other Indians were hiding behind huge boulders below the jump and their job was to finish off those animals not killed outright by the fall. They did this with spears, lances, arrows, clubs, and knives, all fashioned with points made from wood, bone or stone. They had no metal at this time. This was a pretty effective way to kill buffalo but it had its hazards to the Indians. Another famous buffalo jump we passed on our route near Calgary, Alberta was named, "Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump." Pretty descriptive about what happened to at least one of the participants. Years later with the appearance of white settlers, the demand for hides created a huge slaughter of buffalo. Also assisting their demise was the end of about a 300-year period of high rainfall on the plains and the beginning of a protracted period of drought. This had a dramatic impact on the enormous numbers of wild animals that had previously flourished on the plains.
We found a quiet little RV park tonight in Osburn, Idaho. The part of Idaho we are traveling is only about 70 miles wide so we will be in Washington in another hour of driving and have only a six hour drive to reach home.
This has been an amazing trip. We have traveled far and seen much and it has whetted our appetite to do it again as well as spend time at all of the wonderful places that were bypassed on this trip. I want to go the North again and this time also see The Northwest Territory which seems to have about two major roads. I would also like to see Deadhorse, which is almost to Prudhoe Bay. I need to find a way to increase my gasoline carrying capacity, as 30 gallons at 10 mpg just won't be enough! We have spent several hours shopping for things that would make living on top of a pickup truck more enjoyable. We have tested our "Arctic Fox" and now know what works and what does not. Our water heater invariably has the pilot light go out when there is a breeze blowing so we have had to deal with that nuisance but we find that others must share this problem as we have found there is a baffle available to help remedy this problem. Our "new" truck was serviced before we embarked, again in Alaska and now is a few hundred miles overdue. We will take it to our dealer for this one, as there are some things that demand attention. All in all, our equipment has worked well and the problems encountered have been manageable. We now know better what we need to have and what we need to leave behind. Now if I just knew what happened to my sunglasses!
We have enjoyed sharing our trip with you and hope that these messages have been fun for you. We have also appreciated the notes which we have received from some of you while we have been away. Now the task remains of organizing the hundreds of pictures into a meaningful album.
Have a safe and sane Fourth!
Don & Anne
Date: Tuesday, July 3, 2001 10:10 AM
Subject: Alaska Pictures
Anne and I are now home and the arduous task of getting ready to go on the road again has begun with washing, repairing, replacing, storing and everything else related to an RV. Did I mention paying?
A number of you that received our travel updates sent back a variety of comments about the pictures that were forwarded. These comments ranged from "Great!" to "Don't send any more!". My favorite after the explanation on "zipped" files was, "I think my zipper is broken!" I apologize for sending unwanted "Spam" to those of you that were not interested. I have put the pictures on my web site for those of you that were unable to view them previously and think that you would like to see some of them. This will not clutter up your e-mail program to view them. Just point your Internet Browser (Internet Explorer, Netscape, AOL, ?) to the following URL: http://www.eskimo.com/~redfoot/Alaska/ . That should produce a page displayed on your browser entitled "Index of /~redfoot/Alaska". The index gives the name of the pictures and the size of the pictures. The larger pictures will take more time to display than the smaller ones. You can decide if it is worth your time to view these. Just click your mouse on the name of a picture to display it. I displayed, "Black Bear Eating Dandelions", one of the larger files on my computer and it took about 12 seconds to display. My modem is a 57600 speed so it would take approximately twice that long on a 28800 modem. It would take MUCH less time if you have DSL, cable modem, ISDN or T1. If those terms are unfamiliar, don't ask. You'll probably know if you have one of them.
For those of you who were able to see the pictures in the originals messages, I apologize for sending you more "Spam". I was using Anne's e-mail and AOL when we were traveling and now I am using my own ISP, Eskimo, from home. That should explain the different e-mail identity.
No Longer Living On Top Of A Pickup Truck,
Don & Anne
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