Search This Blog

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Open borders!

Sunday 8/25/19
Since we decided to spend two nights at Fox Lake Campground we opted to take a drive out in the truck.  We stopped in Carmacks for lunch and found a good burger at the Carmacks Hotel Restaurant.  We enjoyed a serving of poutine in place of the fries.  If you have never been to Canada you may not know what “poutine” is.  Well it is french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy, and it is very good, similar to fries with debris.

After lunch we drove another 15 miles to the Five Fingers Rapids Recreation Site.  “Five Fingers Rapids” was named by early miners for the 5 channels, or fingers, formed by the rock pillars in the Yukon River.  The riverboats would have to be winched up since the water was frequently a 1-2’ rise.  They are a navigational hazard.  Looking down at the Yukon River the site is a nice overlook with information boards and 219 stairs down to a 0.6 mile trail leading down to a closer view of the rapids.  Well we climbed down those stairs and walked the path and back and UP those stairs!  These old knees and legs were feeling it, but we made it.  On our way back home we stopped to fill the gas tank and treat ourselves to a $7 pint of chocolate ice cream (we did share it), our reward for all those stairs.  

It was a nice drive and a relaxing day.  Monday we will complete the Klondike Loop and return to the Alaska Highway taking us further east and then south onto the Cassier Highway.  Another new route to follow.

Our drive from Fox Lake Campground to our fuel stop in Whitehorse was a smooth one.  We knew we would need fuel before leaving Canada so opted to fill up before heading down the Cassier Highway, Hwy 37.  Cindy drove from Whitehorse for a few hours and we switched back before reaching the Cassier.  We knew the first 20 miles of the Cassier Highway would not be a good road but were told past that point would be a good paved two lane road.  Our plans were to spend the night at Boya Lake Campground and continue the next day to Stewart.  After recalculating our miles we decided to pass Boya Lake and go a bit further since it was early in the day.  As it turned out, the Cassier Highway was not what we would call a GOOD paved two lane highway.  It was in fact quite narrow with no center line and NO shoulder.  It was not smooth and had quite a bit of poor surface and curves.  NOT a good road.  We stopped in Jade City to visit their store which carries all sorts of Jade carvings and Jade jewelry.  The Jade is mined there.  Some is shipped world wide and some is carved or made into jewelry right there in Jade City.  They offer free overnight parking and we considered staying but it was still early so onward we continued.  The weather was cloudy and we had drizzle on and off, the road was wet and there were no lines or markers on the road.  We finally decided we had gone far enough and found a decent pull-over for the night at the Eastman Creek rest stop.  It was nice and dark with little traffic, we slept well.

We continued our drive down the Cassier, still looking for the GOOD two lane road.  Just more boring scenery!  After lunch Cindy wanted to help out with the drive, the road had improved a little, so she took over.  Well that lasted all of about 10 miles and her help was done for the day, good intentions but no real help this time.  One hundred eighteen miles took us to the turnoff for Stewart, B.C. on Hwy 37-A.  Well the surface for Hwy 37-A was a much wished for improvement over Hwy 37.  This drive took us thru the Bear Creek Canyon and into the Coast Range mountains.  About 15 miles down we reached the terminus of Bear Glacier.  The volume of water rushing from the glacier was stunning.  It was a beautiful drive through the canyon with waterfalls and rushing creeks all along the way.  We arrived at the Bear River RV Park in Stewart late afternoon and were plugged in and ready to rest from the last two days drive down the Cassier.  We will use this location as our base to visit Stewart and Hyder, Alaska (only 4 miles down the road).

We drove through Stewart to the Canada-U.S. Border and on into Hyder, Alaska.  The border crossing back into the good ol’ USofA is unmanned!  Nothing, not a wall, not a guard post, nothing!  There is a Canadian border guard.  Just about 4 miles past the border is the Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Area.  It has a raised boardwalk along the Fish Creek and Marx Creek where you can observe the Salmon spawning in the shallow waters.  Of course the real reason for going here is to see the Black and Grizzly bears feeding on the Salmon.  There has been over a week of rain in the area and the rivers were high and the waters were muddy, so the Salmon were not coming in.  Things are improving and more Salmon are coming.  There was one Black bear spotted early this morning so we patiently waited in hopes of seeing more bear as the morning went on.  Without seeing any, we finally left to grab a bite of lunch.  We met up with a few people at the most popular lunch spot in town, THE BUS.  It had been highly recommended by many and we were advised that service is slow, so we planned to be there early.  We arrived about 11:40 and YES, it was a bus.  An old school bus, gutted and converted into a diner with outdoor seating (seats were the seats from the bus) and a separate indoor seating area.  All of the cooking is done by Diane in the bus and the fish she cooks is freshly caught by her husband.  So the fish of the day is whatever he caught.  Today was a choice of Halibut or Salmon.  It comes fried, grilled or sautéed and is served with french fries.  We opted for Halibut, one grilled and the other sautéed.  Both were very good.  After enjoying our fresh Halibut and visiting with the other diners, we drove around town and found a little gift shop to visit.  Who knew, they also had fresh FUDGE.  We just love fudge!  We also drove out to a boat launch and were able to spot a seal swimming out in the channel.  Now time to return to the bear viewing boardwalk.  One of the girls we had seen earlier at the boardwalk was there, don’t know if she left and came back like we did or if she just had not left yet.  She told us there was a black bear that came out and caught a salmon but took it back into the brush and another one further down that was eating berries.  Go figure, they came out while we were having lunch.  We hung around for about an hour and called it a day.  We will go back out tomorrow to see if we get lucky.

Oh Canada!

Dawson City
Thursday evening we walked the town a bit and had dinner at the Jack London Grill.  Dawson City is an old time Western Movie throw back.  There are dirt streets, wooden sidewalks and old wooden buildings each painted a different color.  The town is filled with hotels, diners and shops.  There is a paddle wheeler and helicopter tours available.  We enjoyed just walking the town.
Friday we explored the town a little more and took the drive up to “Midnight Dome” at the top of the mountain.  It is an overlook giving a panoramic view of Dawson City and the Yukon and Klondike Rivers.  We had dinner and enjoyed the Can Can Show at Diamond Tooth Gerties.  It was a cute show with “Gertie” and her four “Girls”.  Music was provided by the pianist and his drummer side kick.

Saturday morning was our departure from Dawson City.  The Yukon River Campground was a good location for our visit but we knew the departure through the campground would be a slow one, the road was pretty bad, lots of deep potholes.  It took us 13 minutes to maneuver through the campground back to the highway.  The next hurdle would be the ferry.  Our first time to cross on a ferry with the coach.  All of our worry about getting on and off was, thankfully, not needed.  It went fine!  Now we could breath easy again, we were across the Yukon River and survived the ferry crossing.  Onward down the Klondike Highway!  

We had decided to end our day at one of two Provincial Parks and with both of us doing some driving we would make a couple of stops on the way, no need to rush.  The road was pretty good, picture the Brule road but with hills!  The first stop was for a little snack at the Moose Creek Lodge.  There were homemade pastries and coffee, perfect for a late morning stop.  As always there was also a little gift shop with neat local made items for sale.  We did make a small purchase to add to our stash.  There was a meat filled pastry and 4 different tarts to choose from.  Three of the tarts were berry filled and the forth was filled with “a pecan pie filling but with no pecans”.  OK.  Forest of course needed the meat filled and a berry and of course Cindy needed the pecan-less pecan pie filled.  They were all delicious.  So when the lady rang up our one cup of coffee and four pastries and the total was $51+ we were both shocked!  Forest figured Cindy must have asked for pecans to be added to her pastry.  OH!  Sorry, those two gift items on the counter included with our total were NOT our items.  No problem, once those were backed out our total would be quite digestible.  

About 100 miles into our trip for today and after over 7,800 miles and over 3 months of traveling over unfamiliar road, we took our first wrong “y” just before the Stewart River Bridge.  We realized almost immediately but were now headed down the wrong gravel road, too bad because it actually was a really good road.  Checking the log book right away, it looks like there will be a turnout in about 10 miles where we will be able to turn around and get back on our route.  No sooner did Cindy find that in the book, Forest spotted a little road to the right which he knew would give him just enough room for a “U-TURN” towing the truck!  OH NO!   YEP, he did it!  In no time we were back on our route down the Klondike Highway.

After crossing the Pelly River on a pretty BLUE bridge, our next stop was the Selkirk Center.  We visited the Selkirk Heritage Center, a replica of the Big Jonathon House.  We spoke with the young lady working there who was able to answer our questions and tell us a bit about the displays.  There were several artifacts which had been found in the area.  There was a skin boat which had been constructed by (or attempted to be) some students under the direction of some of the elders.  It was a nice attempt but not completed.  It did bring to mind the canoe we watched being carved back in June in Carcross.  The museum also had several examples of woven items and bead work done by the First Nations People.  And of course another small purchase was made.  

We were in Canada and sometimes the person behind the counter does not know the exchange rate for the currency as was the case here.  “Only Cash”  “NO I don’t know how much it is in US money”  “You will need to go to the store next door to exchange to Canadian, OH and to do that you need to make a purchase there”  OK, so I go to the store (a small grocery) and buy a candy to be able to pay with US dollars and get Canadian change to go back to the museum and pay for my purchase.  Well that didn’t work because the clerk gave me change but not the exchange rate.  WHAT?  Oh, she says the register will automatically tell her how much change to give back….  So I know about what it should be.  NOW purchase a “penny gum” for 10 cents Canadian and pay with a $20 and get back $25.15 Canadian.  Now I have enough Canadian money to make the purchase at the museum.  That will be enough for the day, now on to the campground.  

It was another pretty drive on the Klondike Highway with mountains, rivers and lakes along the way.  We noticed a “white layer” in the dirt all along the highway.  About 1,250 years ago a third of southern Yukon was covered in white volcanic ash and it is still visible in some of the road cuts.  “It has been theorized that the ash may have been deposited during a single violent volcanic eruption from a source now buried under the Klutlan Glacier in the St. Elias Mountains in eastern Alaska.”  “Materials found below this major stratigraphic marker are considered to have been deposited before A.D. 700, while those found above the ash layer are postdated A.D. 700.”  Interesting!

We finally reached the Twin Lakes Campground.  The map shows 26 sites and there should be 9 pull-thru sites.  So we make our way around the loop, no pull thru, so continue down to the right where the map shows a large area with sites around the perimeter, must be the pull-thru sites.  Well it is NOT as large as the map indicates and the sites are tiny.  We attempt to swing wide to circle out….. not enough room for the turn (we are towing) and we are jammed up.  Now we will NEED to disconnect the truck, not easy to do with the position of the truck after attempting the turn.  Finally it is free and we will move on to the NEXT campground. 

Checking the location, the Fox Lake Campground is another 60 Km down the road.  It is a larger campground (43 sites) and we are hoping with larger sites.  So Cindy in the truck and Forest in the coach, we head on down the road.  As we pull in there is a pull-thru site right away which Forest stopped in while Cindy drove through the loop to see what was available, not too much and not big sites, all back-in sites.  Forest tried the pull-thru but too un-level to work.  SO, Forest drove the coach around the loop and did find one back-in site to squeeze in.  Enough for the day, we will stay here.  It is a pretty lake and the campground is heavily wooded with picnic tables and fire rings at each site.  Since it is Saturday there are lots of families and one group was even roasting a pig!  Boy did it smell good.  We will stay two nights and do a little sightseeing in the truck on Sunday.
The stars are incredible here in the wilderness

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Back to Fairbanks

8/17 Saturday
After our trip up the Dalton highway to the Arctic circle, we planned a “down day” for Saturday.  Mid morning we changed our minds and decided to take the “Gold Dredge 8” tour in the afternoon.  The tour began with a presentation on the Trans Alaska Pipeline.  Our time here in Alaska has taken us up and down the pipeline from Valdez to Galbraith Lake on the Dalton Highway (just 140 miles from Deadhorse).  For someone flying in to Fairbanks and taking this tour, I am sure it was very impressive to see.  For us, who have seen mile after mile after mile of the pipeline, not too impressive.  Besides after spending my career on pipelines, not interested!
Next was a ride on a narrow gauge train up to the Gold Dredge 8 which took us past some of the equipment used in the gold dredging industry.  The ride included an explanation of the equipment and how it was used.  The end of the line took us to our chance to “pan for gold”.  Everyone was given a poke filled with pay dirt and guided on how to pan.  We did not walk away rich but did bring home another taste of gold.
We then had time to explore the Gold Dredge 8 which is a retired dredge.  It was very interesting.  Over time over 3.5 million ounces of gold were recovered by dredges in Alaska.

We took a river cruise on the Riverboat Discovery III on the Chena River.  The cruise took us past the Trail Breaker Kennel where we saw a few young pups beginning their training to one day be a part of a dog mushing team.  We were told how they are trained and watched a team of dogs harnessed to pull.  The dogs are so excited and ready to work when they are given the voice commands.  This kennel was established by the late Susan Butcher.  She was a 4 time Iditarod Champion (1986, 1987, 1988 and 1990).  In 1979 she, along with four others, made the first dog-sled ascent of Denali.  Her husband, Dave, still runs the kennel.

Further down the cruise we came to the  Athabascan Indian Village.  We all got off the boat and were able to walk around the village to see the exhibits and learn a little about the Athabascan way of life.  There was a fish wheel in operation and a demonstration on how the fish are cleaned and readied for smoking.  A little about the different Salmon and which are more desirable for human consumption and which are prepared for the dogs.  Sled dogs are very important and are very well cared for.  We saw typical cabins and camps set up for the hunters.  There was an exhibit showing the pelts of different animals and we were told the specific uses for each and why.
We also saw a bush pilot take off and land in the Chena River just ahead of out boat.
It was a nice 3 hour trip on the Discovery III.
Monday we visited the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum - 95 pre-World War I &II automobiles, horseless carriages, steamers, electric cars, speedsters, cyclers, midget racers and 30’s classics.  I was amazed at the technology that was invented back then that we are only now seeing.  Hybrid cars, automatic transmissions, 40-80 mpg’s!

Cindy enjoyed the vintage Fashion collection of clothing from the 18th to the mid-20th centuries.  Alongside the automobiles are beautifully preserved and staged men’s and women’s outfits and accessories to match the auto’s place in time.  They even let me drive one!  but would only let Cindy ride….


Moving day started out with rain but cleared and we were ready to leave by 10am.  Looked to be a good drive but quickly got in to rain again.  We pulled over to let the rain pass then continued on and had to pull over again for more rain.  Finally made it to Delta Junction where we stopped at the Delta Meat & Sausage.  We had to pick up some Yak and Reindeer steaks, sausage and slab bacon.  Then it was back on the road with our next stop in Tok to fuel up the coach.  Our final stretch of the day took us up the Alaska 5/Taylor Hwy which would take us to Chicken.  Since we got a late start and a couple of pull overs for rain, we decided to stop for the night at one of the pull-outs.  It was a quiet stop with panoramic views of the mountains and valleys in every direction.  Good end of the day.  With clear skies and no towns nearby it would be a good chance to see the Northern Lights.  Forest was up before 1am with his camera shooting pictures of the night sky.  Guess what?  He did get a view of the lights!

When we first entered Alaska in June we spent a couple of nights in Tok and drove the truck up to Chicken one day.  The Taylor Highway which will bring us to Chicken is a part of the Klondike Loop which we will be traveling in the coach.  The Taylor continues past Chicken but the pavement does not.  From Chicken to the Jack Wade Junction the road was a narrow dirt road with hair pin turns for about 30 miles called the Goat trail.  Then another 30 mile section called the Boundary Road which took us to the US/Canadian Border.  This was not a bad section.  The next part of the Klondike Loop is the Top of the World Highway which is Yukon Highway 9.  The road surface was much better than the section out of Chicken!  The views were even better!  We followed the TOW Highway all the way to the Yukon River.  

Our stop for the night was just before the ferry which will take us in to Dawson City.  We will spend a couple of nights at the Yukon River Government Campground and use the ferry to visit Dawson City before continuing on down the Klondike Loop. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Heading north, way, way, north!

Tuesday was our moving day, on to Fairbanks.  The day started out with clear skies and a nice drive.  For lunch we called ahead and pulled over at Turnaround Arm Pitt BBQ.  We were in and out and back on the road in no time.  Our plans for the day were to switch out driving every 2 hours or so and make the drive all the way to Fairbanks.  Next stop was to fill our diesel tank in Houston.  As the afternoon progressed the clouds began building and then a light rain began to fall.  About 4pm we still had another 3 or 4 hours before reaching the campground.  After talking it over, we decided to call the campground and let them know we would arrive on Wednesday rather than Tuesday.  The Veterans Memorial POW-MIA Rest Area near Trapper Creek was a good free and quiet stop over for the night.  

Wednesday morning we left out in a light rain just as when we stopped the evening before.  The drive in to Fairbanks was not a bad drive and we stopped to top off the propane tank in Fairbanks on our way to the campground.  We arrived at the Riverview RV Park mid afternoon and got settled in for the next two weeks.  Time now to catch up on laundry and cleaning the coach inside and out.

Thursday was grocery day and time to wash the coach.  Since “washing vehicles” is not allowed in the campground it was to be a “dry wash” job.  The Wash Wax product we use is a waterless wash.  While Cindy did the grocery and Walmart run while Forest washed the coach.

Friday we drove out to North Pole to visit Santa and his Reindeer.  We walked in to the Santa Claus House and were thrown into Christmas in August.  We did a lot of Christmas shopping while we were there and then…. we visited with Santa and Mrs. Claus.  They were kind enough to take pictures and a video with us with a message to our grandchildren.  We left the Santa Claus House and went over to the Antler Academy where we spent time with Santa's Reindeer.  We were able to go into the pen to meet each of the Reindeer and spend time with them.  Well, except for Rudolph, he was getting an upgrade to led lights.  Very interesting and educational.

Be nice Prancer!

The Reindeer hooves are well adapted to walking the soft tundra

Sunday afternoon we drove out to pan for gold at the Gold Daughters just north of downtown Fairbanks.  We spent about three hours with dozens of other people panning for gold.  We enjoyed ourselves and did walk away with a little gold.  We had worked up quite an appetite and had been told of a very good restaurant not far away.  So we drove out to The Turtle Club to feast on their Prime Rib dinner we had been told was quite good.  We arrived early so had to wait a few minutes for them to open.  To start, we ordered the Halibut appetizer which came with 4 pieces of lightly breaded and fried fresh Halibut.  Their prime rib dinner included the salad bar (which was fresh and very good) and choice of Baked Potato or Rice (no gravy! just plain white rice).  It was one of the best Prime Ribs we have had.  We both walked away fully satisfied and too full to even consider dessert.  Even came home with some prime rib to enjoy later.
The restaurant was decorated with lots of turtles but no real turtle on the menu.  The only “turtle” I saw on the menu was “Stuffed Turtle Tails”.  It was an appetizer “made fresh, with cream cheese stuffed jalapeños & deep fried”, we did not try it.  So I don’t know how they picked the name for this restaurant but it sure does have great Prime Rib.  Are there even any turtles in Alaska?

Monday we visited the LARS, Large Animal Research Station in Fairbanks.  It is a 134 acre research station just north of the University of Alaska Fairbanks situated on land deeded to the University in 1963 by the Mike Yankovich family.  The facility is used for research on Muskoxen and Reindeer.  
The Muskoxen are found only in the arctic regions including Alaska, Greenland, Canada and Siberia.  They were reintroduced to Alaska in 1930 when 34 young muskoxen were captured in Greenland and brought to the Fairbanks area.  They were moved to Nunivak Island where there were no predators and their numbers grew to over 700 by the late 1960s.  At that time small herds were moved back to mainland Alaska and their numbers have continued increasing to over 4,000 in Alaska and 140,000 in Alaska, Greenland, Canada and Siberia.
We learned they are more closely related to goats and sheep than to cows.  Their undercoat is called Qiviut and is shed each year.  This Qiviut can be harvested and spun into yarn.  It is warmer than wool and much lighter.  
The Reindeer were domesticated in northern Scandinavia over 2,000 years ago.  They were raised for food and transportation.  Not native to Alaska they were brought in around 1900 to provide Alaska Natives with a stable food source.

Wednesday was our trip up the Dalton Highway.  This would be a long slow drive which would take us up to and beyond the Arctic Circle.  We left about 7am and reached the Arctic Circle about noon.  WOW the ARCTIC CIRCLE!  We have seen that line drawn on the globe all our lives but now we were able to actually walk around on THAT place on this earth.  After a few quick pictures we continued north on the Dalton to Coldfoot.  Coldfoot is 175 miles up the Dalton Highway and the only stop for fuel and food between the Yukon River crossing at mile 56 and Deadhorse at mile 414.  It is a truck stop which had diesel fuel and gasoline, Post Office (with mail delivery 3 days a week), restaurant and a very small “hotel”.  There is a very nice Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Coldfoot, it is only open from May 24 - September 16.  Although the Dalton Highway is open year round, not many visitors come through in the winter months.

bridge over the Yukon River, 2290' long with a wooden deck

When we stopped at the Arctic Circle we saw a guy traveling on a motorcycle heading north.  Another visitor told us he had traveled from Argentina and was continuing on to Deadhorse (the end of the road).  When we arrived at Coldfoot he was in the process of fueling up his motorcycle.  We had a chance to visit with him a bit.  Note sure where he is from but in his broken English we understood he has been on the road for 5 months already.  His trip will continue on through Canada, Quebec, New York, Chicago, then follow Route 66, California, Hawaii, China and continue his travels through Europe and beyond.  His trip is planned for about 18 months.  What an achievement!  We paid for his gas and lunch and wished him safe travels.  He thanked us with a couple of candy bars and took his picture with us.

From Coldfoot we continued on the next 13 miles to the little community of Wiseman.  We had reserved the Polar Cabin in Wiseman for our two night stay.  Wiseman was established in 1907 to accommodate the needs of gold miners and prospectors as they traveled by steamboat up the Koyukuk river.  Although the current population is only 11, at one time it had a post office, general store, roadhouse, Pioneer hall, telegraph office and school.  Now there are a couple of lodging facilities, a coffee/gift shop and a couple of small museums.  From late September to late April the temperatures normally drop below sustained freezing.  In late January and February 1999 they had 18 days with an average temperature of -47.5ºF.  The coldest day recorded was in January 2005 with a temperature of -68ºF.  I guess that is why there are so few winter visitors.

After a bite of lunch and a nap we walked down to the  Wiseman Creek and to the Museum.  There were all kinds of mining equipment and an old flat fender 1943 Jeep outside.  Inside was tons of stuff; collections of gems and rocks, newspaper articles, old pictures, books and magazines, etc.  Before long we were joined by Clutch, an old miner that owns this museum.  Clutch  was a treasure of knowledge that he shared with us over the next couple of hours.  He even invited us in at his 1 room cabin and continued sharing information on Wiseman and mining and growing up in Alaska.  Not only did Clutch share his knowledge but before we left he shared his “sourdough starter” with us.  WOW, the starter goes back to the late 1890's.  We promised to keep it going back in Louisiana.

Clutch made this base guitar out of an army gas can

Thursday we continued north past the last spruce trees and over the Atigun Pass of the Brooks Range.  We saw such a change in landscape from spruce trees to TUNDRA.  We had reached the North Slope.  In the Tundra beneath the ground is permafrost (permanently-frozen ground) due to the low angle of the sun.  All vegetation in the Tundra is very low growth so you can see hundreds of miles, if the air is clear.  

Friday we started back down the Dalton Hwy to Fairbanks.  We stopped at Coldfoot to take on another 5 gallons of gas at $5.499 per gallon.  Didn’t want to fill up at that price but didn’t want to run out on our way home.  After a couple of bathroom stops along the way, we had lunch at The Hot Spot Cafe at mile 60.  The weather was rainy and the road very slushy so it took us almost 4 hours to cover 133 miles.  It was a much needed break.

The trip up the Dalton Highway was an experience, not one we would recommend in a car much less a motorhome.  Having the truck for this experience was just what we needed.  Our weather was far from ideal, we had light rain going in both directions which resulted in a very slushy highway most of the way.  We expected to encounter a lot of heavy truck traffic and we pleasantly surprised at how few big trucks we saw.  This is not a trip for everyone, but a wonderful experience for some.