Day 37 August 11 Hinton to Jasper NP and the worst moment of the trip

boondocking north of Hinton on Highway 40We woke this morning to misty drifts of fog slipping in and out of the hills around us and by the time we dropped down to the town of Hinton for fuel, the fog was so thick it was hard to find the gas station.  Even early in the morning, there was considerable traffic on Canada 16, where Hinton is the gateway town between Edmonton and Jasper National Park. 

down into Hinton on Highway 40We were in no hurry, though, and as we climbed into the massive Rockies, the fog lifted, exposing a higher level of cloud cover above us.  When you enter the National Park, if you don’t plan to stop, they will wave you through without a fee.  We told the agent that we wanted to kayak a bit and then find a place to camp somewhere between Jasper and Banff and she smiled and charged us a little over 16 bucks for a pass to both Jasper and Banff that was good until 4PM tomorrow.  Perfect.

magnificent limestone Rocky MountainsWith a park map in hand, we decided that Maligne Lake looked like a perfect spot for kayaking and turned east, crossing the Athabasca River to travel beyond Maligne Canyon to the lake.  About half way there we found a great empty turnout and parked the MoHo, thinking we could save a bit on gas if we just drove the baby car.  I am so glad we did that, because the parking situation at the lake was tight to say the least, and while there was plenty of room when we arrived at 10am or so, by the time we got off the lake it was an entirely different story!

Athabasca River and the RockiesWe launched the boats in cloudy skies, but after a bit of time on the lake the sun peeked through, warming us and making everything in view just sparkle. Maligne Lake is famous for the island at the far end of the lake, Spirit Island.  It was a photo of this little island that made me want to put my boat on this lovely water.  The only problem is that once again, we are in a very popular national park, and concession boat rides to Spirit Island are the only way most folks get to see it.

The cruise boat traffic was busy, with a boat leaving about every ten minutes and another one returning.  The lake was beautifully calm, so the big swells from the wakes from these boats were dramatic, and we just rode along with them.  The lake is more than 7 miles long and we really didn’t have the time for a 14 mile paddle, so we traveled along the west side of the lake about half way before crossing over to the eastern shore for a break.  The water was perfectly clear, and Abby loved her swim while we walked a bit along the shore.

It was a beautiful day, a beautiful moment, a beautiful time on a beautiful lake.  Ahhhh.  Day 37 to Jasper

When we arrived back at the launch dock, we were surprised to find it crammed with people.  They were all hanging around in the middle of the boat launch taking photos, standing around everywhere, and there were so many cars in the parking lot that we knew there was no way we would manage to get the car down to the launch.  Instead, we picked up our 34 pound wonder boats and carried them up to the lot for loading.  The rental RV’s were bumper to bumper trying to find parking, and one lucky person in a sedan had managed to park in the ditch and was stuck.  We just loaded up the boats and got out of there as quickly as possible.  By this time the sun was out in full force and it was actually hot. 

breathtaking vertical limestone mountainsWe were happy to see the motorhome peacefully waiting in the one turnout that wasn’t occupied, hooked up the baby car and made some lunch before heading back out the Maligne Lake Road to the highway.  On the way we saw several wildlife traffic jams, but one of them was actually worth stopping for, and I joined the crowds taking photos of a very unconcerned bull elk.  Mo said she had never seen a rack as big as this guy, and I don’t think I have ever been that close to a bull elk ever.  Probably not very smart.  Back in my soil survey days, we had stories about encounters with bull elk, but usually that was in the fall during the rut.  This guy was pretty darn tame, I guess.

To Jasper Day 37_4898We ambled on through the park, enjoying the views and the animals and decided that stopping in Jasper for cute little shops wasn’t worth the effort to park.  Instead we drove slowly with all the other tourists, and I took photos out of the window cafes, and stores, and tourists.  Jasper town was really quite nice, with many old homes converted to B&B’s, and lovely gardens.  I could enjoy staying in Jasper for a week or so and taking more time for hiking the many trails and kayaking the many lakes.  The maps looked so enticing.

the downtown strip in JasperInstead, we were getting into the home mode, and after six weeks traveling magnificent Alaska and the Yukon, this lovely little park full of tourists was a bit less exciting than it might be if it were our planned destination.  We continued on south along the Athabasca River, planning to stop at any of the campgrounds along the Icefield Parkway that had room for us without a reservation.

Not far south we saw a campground down along the river, missed the turn somehow, and pulled into another turnout to retrace our steps.  Mo said, “Wow, that is a great mountain”. I stepped out of the rig with the camera in hand to get a good photo, and Mo said one minute I was there and the next minute I was nowhere.  With my eyes gawking at the mountain and my camera pointed up, I stepped into a deep hole in the asphalt and went down with a very hard crash.  All I saw was broken glass and plastic strewn out in front of me, and I didn’t give a whit about whatever was going on with my body.  There were half a dozen people in the parking lot who must have thought I was nuts, screaming, “It’s thousands of dollars, it’s thousands of dollars!!”

testing the camera after the fallI was a bit skinned and bruised but that had nothing to do with the sick feeling in my stomach.  Deanna’s lens. The super fast, super heavy, (later I found out it is $1539 bucks of super) lens took the full brunt of the fall.  Not to mention my brand new camera. The lens filter was splintered and the metal edge of the lens was bent, the mechanism was stiff and acting funny.  Duh.  I clicked. Nothing.  Clicked again. Nothing.  I am so sick I can’t even cry. I put one of my other lenses on to see if it was just the lens.  Click. Nothing.  Then I look a little bit closer and see that the on/off button has shifted in the fall.  Turn the camera on.  Click. IMAGE! I put Deanna’s lens back on. Click. IMAGE!!

testing the camera after the fallI think it must have been the heft and solidity of that fancy NIKON lens that took the hit and saved the camera.  I tried several shots with Deanna’s lens, and except for a bit of stiffness in the zoom, it seems to still have perfect auto-focus and the images look fine.  Incredible.  Of course, I have to replace her lens, and insurance is $1000 deductible, so it’s coming out of my pocket.  The good part about all this is that I never would spend 1500 bucks to get that lens for myself, and now I have one.  Maybe a bit bent, and maybe not perfect, but still working and now mine.

By the time we backtracked and settled in to Mt Kerkeslin campground, $12 for a dry site, I wanted nothing more to do than sit and drink a beer on the sofa.  My body hurt, my mind hurt, and I was a wreck, even with the reasonably good outcome. I felt like any step I took was going to put me on the ground somehow, it was definitely disconcerting!  Mo took Abby for a walk, and we canned any plans to hike Athabasca Falls. I sat there alone on the sofa saying a ton of “thank yous” to the powers that be for letting the worst moment of our trip not be any worse than it was.

Capture 73 milesMiles driven today (in the MoHo): 73

The rest of the photos are linked here

July 29 Day 24 Seward to Glennallen or somewhere close

Radiance of the Seas lands at SewardI tried hard to keep my expectations in check before we left on this journey.  I didn’t want to be disappointed and was afraid that maybe the reality might not live up to the hype.  I expected a bit of what Mo has experienced; some disappointment that much of the wildness has been tamed.  What has happened in the last few days, however, is a growing appreciation of this beautiful state with all its diversity and magnificence.  The hype IS the reality, and at last I have accepted that even with the smoothed highways, the many RV’s plying the roads, the lack of the “Big Five” game animals around every corner, Alaska is still a magnificent place.  While it may not be an epic journey, I think it may fit the billing as “The Last Great Road Trip”.

The Chugach Mountains north of Seward looking southToday on an interpretive sign for the Chugach country I saw a quote: “There is one word of advice and caution to be given to those intending to visit Alaska…If you are old, go by all means.  But if you are young, wait. the scenery of Alaska is much grander than anything of is kind in the world, and it is not wise to dull one’s capacity for enjoyment by seeing the finest first” Written by Henry Gannet, Harriman Alaskan Expedition, 1899. I guess that said it all more than 100 years ago, and I think it’s still true.

the Chugach Mountains east of the Seward HighwayThis morning we found the free dump at the park and left town by 9:30.  With 300 miles planned for today, it wasn’t fair for me to keep procrastinating.  On this journey, I have had a very few places that made me really really want to stay longer and Seward was one of those places.  I could hang out in this town, exploring the trails, wandering the charming streets, finding the hidden nooks and crannies, exploring the museums and searching out the beautiful murals tucked away here and there.  I could sit in the campground along the water watching the cruise ships come and go, and spend some time finding the small lagoons and bays on a quiet windless afternoon in my kayak.  I was hooked by Seward and would love to spend more time there.

approaching Portage on the Seward HighwayInstead we are traveling the return route to Anchorage, with an entirely different perspective, and some great memories of our time on the Kenai Peninsula. As we traveled again through Turnagain Pass and down to Turnagain Arm, we had enough sunshine and cloud free skies to see the snow and glacier covered mountains across Cook Inlet.  The Arm was wild today, with its heavy load of silt, even in the sun it looked dark and spooky only today the tide was coming in and the winds were blowing up whitecaps on the dark murky water.  I was surprised that it really didn’t look as lovely in the sunlight as it did shrouded in cloudy mystery.  After a couple of attempts to pull into the turnouts in heavy traffic we just gave up and were happy for the photos from our previous day of traveling this route.

Jeremy is not impressed by Anchorage trafficGasoline at the small station on the arm was 2c less than in Anchorage, so we filled up again to be ready for the jaunt to Glennallen.  Traffic in Anchorage was thick, but we made it through town quickly enough and were soon on the Glenn Highway exit toward Palmer.  I once looked into a survey job available in Palmer and considered going there so I was interested in seeing it, as well at the lush agricultural MatSu Valley surrounding the area. The valley is named for the two mighty rivers that intersect and form it, the Matanuska and the Susitna Rivers.

farms and fields in the MatSu valleyAn interesting story about the MatSu Valley tells about the US government offering free land to immigrants to help develop the agricultural resources of the rich valley. More than two hundred families were hand chosen from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, assuming those hardy folk could handle the rigors of farm life in the cold climate.  Many failed, but several remained and their descendants populate the valley to this day.

The Matanuska RiverOnce again, Mo and I managed to hit a very small town during some kind of very busy festival and decided that we needed to just get through rather than taking the time to fight the crowds and traffic.  Palmer was small and in a lovely setting, but certainly didn’t have the ability to capture my heart the way Seward did.

We then drove east along the Matanuska River, a wild, wild, braided river fed by the Matanuska Glacier to the east.  The road was initially just fine, but after milepost 60 or so, things started to change and I was a bit white knuckled as Mo negotiated the tight curves and narrow road while I looked down over the very steep, no shoulder drop offs to the river far below.

the glacial matanuska RiverWe originally thought to make it over 300 miles to Glennallen for the night, but also really wanted to boondock.  By the time Mo finished negotiating the curves and construction on that stretch of the highway, she was ready to call it a day.  We started looking for a boondock site around mile 80, but it just so happened that the construction started about there as well and all the pullouts were filled with equipment.  Finally, at mile 118.8, we found the site written up in the Milepost and even though the construction was still evident, we decided to stop.

Glenn HWY Day 24_2776It is a beautiful site overlooking the river valley and we stopped just in time for the rain to start in earnest.  Tomorrow the plan is to drive all the way to Valdez, but with our Jell-O plans, who knows exactly where we might land.  Our waste tanks are empty, our water tank is more than half full, we have a new battery and anything else we might need. Of course, we don’t have internet, but even in this crazy wild place I have a cell phone connection. I also have a good book to finish on my kindle which is now fully charged after our last night in an electric site so I am ready to go.  The traffic is now almost non existent, with an occasional rig pulling into the turnout for the view, but that should stop once it is dark.

I think we will park right here for the night at marker 18.8 on the Glenn HighwaySunset now is around 10:30 and the darkness, while not total, is still plenty dark enough to sleep comfortably.  Another perfect night out.  I love these sites with views that go forever out my window, and nope, not a telephone pole or a power line to be seen.  I guess that is my personal test of the wild.

seward to glennallenMiles driven in the MoHo: somewhere around 200

Road condition: still excellent Alaska highways to Palmer, and then some very scary, narrow winding miles on the Glenn Highway near the Matanuska River.  No shoulders, steep drop offs.

The rest of the photos for this day of travels are linked here