August 2 day 28 Tok to Kluane Lake boondock

on the road againThe night temperatures have been in the low to mid 40’s for most of our trip, so when we have hookups it’s nice to use the small electric space heater to keep things cozy.  Last night the winds blew a lot but it never rained.  I took my time and read blogs and wrote some more while Mo cooked a good breakfast.  The nearly empty park was almost full this morning when we woke.  I’m glad that we have managed to do this trip so far with no reservations, but we usually get off the road by 3 or 4 in the afternoon and that seems to be the magic time for getting a site.

Tanana River crossing Alaska HighwayThe route to Haines through Haines Junction is more than 400 miles so we knew that we would choose to find another boondock site for tonight somewhere along the way.  We also knew there was a border crossing into the Yukon and it would be time to turn the phones to airplane mode to avoid lots of hefty charges.  It’s been great having the iPhone available for email when I don’t have full internet on the computer in addition to Google Maps since our GPS charger won’t connect.  Once back in Canada, I’ll have to rely on paper maps again.  Whew! I surely do like my satellite imagery of where I am traveling.

piece of the old bridge crossing the TananaWith a stop for groceries at the Tok Three Bear Market, a propane fill-up at the Chevron station next door, and a gas up stop at the Three Bears station at 4.06 per gallon, we were ready to roll.  The skies were cloudy, but not so bad that we couldn’t see at least part of the landscape where we traveled. 

new Tanana River bridge completed in 2010Within a few miles we came to the junction with the Taylor Highway, our route a couple of weeks ago when we first came into Alaska.  What a difference some traveling makes.  My perception of Alaska now is very much different than it was on that previous cloudy day when we passed through Tok.  Someone recently mentioned in a blog that Tok is the place we all have to visit at least twice, one entering Alaska and once leaving.  It’s the only way through from Canada if you are driving into Alaska.

still noone here but usNot far past the junction is the new bridge across the mighty Tanana River.  “Mighty” seems to be the word of the day when describing these broad, braided, glacial rivers with their heavy load of silt and debris roaring to the Bering Sea.  The Tanana is a mighty river, and the new information rest area on the east side of the river did it justice.  Since the new bridge was only completed in 2010, the center was new, and had informative signs with natural and human history of the river and the bridge and the world the river travels.  The highway was quiet this morning, and we had the entire area to ourselves while I took photos and marveled at the river. 

Tanana River information centerI am really enjoying all the interpretive signs that are along the roadways, both in Alaska and in the Yukon.  People have developed some beautiful art and told wonderful stories.  Somewhere I am sure there are glossy brochures with the same information, but I really love having the photo record of those stories right with my photos.  I take a lot of photos of those signs, a habit I just developed in the last couple of years.  In fact, sometimes if an information area is too crowded, I’ll photograph the signs and read the information later in the photo at my leisure.  It works for me anyway.

hand crafted from reclaimed old growth spruce from the firesI was in charge of reading the Milepost and deciding which areas needed our attention.  There were so many rest stops and interpretive areas along the way that we weren’t making very much progress toward our destination.  I almost skipped the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge Information Center.  What a sad loss that would have been.  We stopped in at the beautifully crafted spruce log building and enjoyed every part of this beautiful place, including the native people there telling stories and showing their craftsmanship.

everything in this center is touchableThe center had signs everywhere saying, “Touch Gently”, something I really loved since I always want to touch things to “see” them.  I felt the incredible softness of a lynx pelt, the hollow haired warmth of a caribou coat, the smelly stiffness of dried fish, and played like a kid with the molded animal feet making prints in the sand to identify.  Then we watched the 15 minute movie about the Great Migration of the Tetlin Valley.  This movie was so beautiful it made me cry.  In fact, writing about it first tried to catch him with the regular lensright now I feel that sting behind my eyes of emotion.  The native music and voices that narrated the story of the refuge were haunting. They told of the birds that rest  and nest here, the history of the place, and the beauty of the fall migration and the winter snows.  I’m so grateful that we stopped instead of saying, “Do we really need to see another Information Center?” as we almost did.

To Tok Day 27_3286Not long after Tetlin, we arrived at the Canadian border, but the actual customs entry site is about 27 more miles down the road.  We slid quickly through the check station: “7 bottles of beer, 1/2 a bottle of wine, we will be in Canada one night on our way to Haines, and no we don’t have any guns or weapons.” “Welcome to Canada”.  They didn’t even ask for the pet papers this time.

this is what I thought might happen on the Alaska HighwaySomehow we managed to get behind 3 rigs, all pulling fifth wheels and trailers, and the gravel and frost heaves were starting in earnest.  Mo followed the slower rigs for a lot of miles and I felt like I was in an RV train.  Somehow this was my bad expectation for this trip come to life as I watched the rear end of a huge Montana fifth wheel bounce around in front of me. 

they mate for life, but there are only three hereWe were in a wild part of the Yukon in a cluster of rigs and no one was giving up their space, including Mo!  The only thing that saved me at last was a triad of beautiful trumpeter swans below the road on a small lake.  Finally we had to pull over to the side and let the two rigs we had passed go by.  I got the photos, and the nice part was that it was a long time before we caught up the the train again.

how far does the road go and can we turn around?As the afternoon progressed, we decided that with nearly 200 miles behind us it was time to look for a boondock site of our own.  There are some rest stops near Kluane Lake that are signed and fairly well known as stopovers, but I wasn’t really excited about the idea of 7 or 8 rigs joining me for the night.  A few miles past Discovery Bay, we saw a big gravel pit on the west side of the highway, and then found the road leading back in to a perfect site all our own.  We are off the road a quarter mile or so, with plenty of space when Mo turned around to face the sliver of Kluane Lake that is visible from here.

Klaune Lake east of the highway from our boondock siteThe skies are almost clear, the wind is blowing but we are protected by the forest on the west side of the rig.  I cooked some tender and tasty boneless chicken breasts on the weberQ and they turned out juicy and perfect.  I sure do like that little bbq.  Funny thing is that while it is small enough to pack around, the grill itself weighs more than the entire bbq! 

Tomorrow we will travel back into Alaska to Haines where we plan to spend a couple of days exploring and hopefully at last seeing the big brown bears fishing for salmon.

CaptureMiles traveled today: about 225

Road condition: Good until we entered the Yukon, then it got very rough with lots of frost heaves and gravel and some construction

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here

August 1 Day 27 Valdez to Tok

(Not sure if you have noticed, but if you hover your mouse over the photos, my captions show up.  I just discovered this myself recently.  Also, as usual, you can click on any photo to enlarge it)

rainy morning as we backtrack up Keystone Canyon from ValdezIt rained hard all night at Valdez, but the MoHo was cozy and dry and we both slept really well after our day on the cruise boat. As we packed in to leave, the rain was soft but not terribly cold and we dumped the tanks, took on fresh water, and hooked up the baby car for the trip back north.

tunnel for the unfinished railroad from ValdezThe drive through Keystone Canyon was subdued and I was so glad that we had the chance to see it in the sunlight. Even in the rain the landscape was lovely, but there was no real hint of the spectacular scenery that surrounded us as we crossed Thompson Pass, passed Worthington Glacier and again followed the route along the Copper River north.

A side visit to Copper CenterLike many other small settlements in this part of Alaska, Copper Center has a fairly recent history.  It was founded in 1896 as an agricultural experiment center, and was the first white settlement in the area. When the gold rush hit, the miners traveled over the glaciers and joined the Eagle Trail to Forty Mile and on to Dawson. The post office and telegraph station were both built in 1901, and the historic roadhouse began in 1897 to be replaced in 1932.  It is still in operation, with a bright neon sign on the historic building proclaiming, “OPEN”.

historic roadhouse still in operation at Copper CenterWe just ambled through town along the loop road before ascending back up to a viewpoint of the great Copper River, only 300 miles long but carrying a load of glacial silt larger than rivers many times its size.  I loved seeing this river, the home of the best tasting wild salmon I can buy back in Oregon when it comes into season, just three weeks each year.  Now of course, I have tasted Prince William Sound sockeye salmon and that Copper River fish has some competition.

Copper River toward the northWe again stopped in at the Hub to gas up and upload photos from the free WiFi while we waiting in line for a pump.  It is certainly a popular place. Before long we reached the Tok Cutoff, the Alaska 1 road that takes us directly east to Tok rather than following the Richardson Highway all the way to Delta Junction.  As soon as we were on the cutoff, the road construction began in earnest, with many miles of gravel and some serious frost heaves almost all the way to Tok.

good thing since the gravel went on for milesThere were a few viewpoints along the way, and we stopped for photos, but the gray day and monochromatic light didn’t inspire me much.  I knew that some truly gorgeous volcanoes were just out of reach in the clouds and could only imagine what I was missing. 

To Tok Day 27_3215We arrived in Tok, deciding to stay at the Tok RV Village because they advertised WiFi and Cable television.  I am not sure how long it’s been since we saw the news, but  hookups, TV, a laundromat, and some internet time were big on the list.  The folks at this RV park weren’t particularly friendly, and WiFi was that dang Tengo thing that costs 6.95 per day, the washers were 3.50 per load, and there were something like 5 channels on the tube.  The place was set up nicely though, with big pull through sites and when we arrived around 3 it was basically empty.

Part of Jeremy's routine is to ride out with the slideWithin an hour it started filling up and we saw the lineup for the rig wash and wondered if it was free.  There were 3 and 4 rigs at a time waiting to get all that grime off their shiny paint.  We waited too, and around 8 Mo said, “Let’s GO”, and we disconnected and drove the MoHo and still attached Tracker across the way for a good wash.  The charge was just 15.50 for unlimited time for both rigs so I think we washed for about half an hour before everything was shiny again.  Who knows how long it will last, but at least we got the salty layer from the sea air removed before we add another layer of dust and dirt.

Home for the night at Tok RV Village number 82The news predicted a big storm for Valdez, with 80 mph winds in the sound and once again we were star blessed to be in the right place at the right time and missed the worst of it.  The predictions for tomorrow include rain and gloom, but I have figured out that most of the time that shifts a bit and so far we haven’t really been socked in with hard rain for any length of time since that stretch between Talkeetna and Anchorage.

A good simple day on the road.

CaptureMiles traveled: about 250

Road condition: Valdez to the Tok Cutoff, reasonably OK, with just some frost heaves and a bit of gravel here and there. Tok Cutoff is a pain, but not unmanageable if you keep your speed down.  Knock on wood, we still have no chips in the windows or big dings on the rigs.

There are a few more photos for this day 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

Day 11 July 16 Driving the Klondike Highway

we drove up here before the rain hitWhen Mo and I first started planning this trip, one of many choices had to do with choosing whether we would leave the Alaska Highway to travel the North Klondike Highway through Dawson and over the Top of the World. We heard varying reviews about the pros and cons, and after we listened to a young woman at Boya Lake who made her husband drive all the way from Ontario because she wanted to see it one more time, we finally decided we wanted to see it.  Mo also had some fond memories of Dawson City from her time there as well and thought it would be fun to go back.

~~~

Fox Lake heading northKlondike Day 11_1224The day started overcast and dreary, but things perked up when we got a 3 percent discount for gasoline for no reason whatsoever. The first impressions as we drove north was that there was so much water, so many lakes.  Thanks to our friendly Alaskan guys at the boat launch yesterday, we knew that Fox and Little Fox Lake would be wonderful for kayaking, but by the time we got there, it was still fairly cold and gray and neither one of us was particularly up for stopping so quickly and undoing the kayaks.  We passed Lake Laberge, made famous by Robert W. Service in his poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”. 

the famous cinnamon bun from Braeburn Lodge 9 bucks of sugarThe cinnamon buns at Braeburn Lodge are a tradition we didn’t want to miss, so in the dreary rain we pulled over for a bun.  The owner of the place ignored me for awhile before he grudgingly got up to sell me a $9. roll that took up nearly half the passenger seat.  Mo and I ate on that thing for days before finally giving the last of it to Abby.

Braeburn Lodge in the rainWe continued north through the broad lush landscape, seeing the only bear of the day as a blur of brown along the roadside.  Even though he was brown, it was probably just a brown black bear, but he was a bit bigger than the two cubs we had seen previously on the Cassiar.  Again, there was no way to stop on the road, no place to pull over, and when Mo finally stopped and I got out to try to backtrack to where the bear was, he was nowhere to be seen.  I didn’t really want to tromp around in thick wet vegetation to find him either! I’m not completely stupid. So once more, no photos of our bear sighting.

Klondike Day 11_1235Just beyond the bear was the historic Montague Roadhouse, with logs mossy and nearly hidden by the thick vegetation.  I loved comparing Mo’s photos from her 74 trip to what the roadhouse looked like today.  When she passed, there were no trees around and today it was nearly hidden in the forest.  As we continued north, we passed the beautifully colored Twin Lakes, one on each side of the road, with that gorgeous turquoise color so characteristic of glacial meltwaters.

Klondike Day 11_1247We stopped for the interpretive signs about the community of Carmacks, fully intending to stop in and walk along the river and explore the town.  Somehow we missed the turnoff and were on the bridge over the Yukon River before we realized what had happened.  We watched Carmacks in the rear view mirrors and decided, Oh Well. 

Klondike Day 11_1259The Klondike Highway is the historic route to the Gold Rush world of Dawson City, and the Yukon River is the heart of the Klondike Gold Rush.  I loved this huge river, and our stop at Five Fingers Rapids was the highlight of the day.  We hiked down the 218 stairs to the boreal forest along the river to overlook the historic rapids.  The Klondike Day 11_1274Yukon has impressive parks and interpretive signs about the history and landscape of the area.  It was gorgeous.  It was hard to imagine the old sternwheelers navigating those wild rapids through the channels on their way to Klondike Gold.

Farther north I was thrilled to see deposits of white volcanic ash from the White River ash deposits from 1,250 years ago, the source possibly buried beneath the Klutlan Glacier in the St Elias Mountains in southeast Alaska.  The ash covers more than a third of the southern Yukon.  I studied volcanic ash soils in the northwest throughout my career, so this was a delight, and of course I had to get out and collect some to take home.

the terminus of continental glaciation!  I had no clueSomewhere along the way, we came to the boundary marking the end of Continental glaciation in the Yukon and the beginning of what is called Beringia, an area of the far north that was not ever under the great ice sheets during the last ice ages. This area under what is now the Bering Sea was the land bridge between North America and Siberia facilitating the migration of animals and humans from Asia to North America.  Somehow, even with all my training in earth history and geology, I had missed the fact that all of the north wasn’t under the glaciers.

Klondike Day 11_1329At the historic Pelly Crossing overlook, we stopped for lunch in warm 80 degree sunny weather, without a single bug to trouble us.  The beautiful weather and lack of gnats, flies, and mosquitoes has been quite a surprise. Another beautiful crossing at the Stewart River, and then we started climbing to a large, rolling plateau with scraggly spruce and not much else.  It wasn’t until we reached the Tintina Trench rest area, that things started to look interesting again.

The Tintagel Tranch, largest fault in North AmericaThis huge trench extends hundreds of miles across Yukon and Alaska and is the largest fault in North America. We also began to see hordes of buses from Holland America, coming and going on the road, and stopping at the rest areas.  Up until now, we had been almost alone on the highway, so it was a shock to suddenly have to share a rest stop with 60 people at once! In spite of the crowd,  I really enjoyed once again learning about more earth history.  That feeling of learning something completely brand new and unknown is so delightful to me.

The Yukon River flowing north from DawsonWe decided that rather than going in to the town of Dawson City, we wanted to dry camp at the Klondike River Campground, a Yukon Territory site that was just $12 for the night.  Neither of us wanted to fight the music festival crowds in Dawson so it was a good choice.  Even on Saturday night, there were plenty of sights and we settled in easily.  The storm clouds were coming in, but the rain held off long enough for us to drive to the top of Dome Mountain to see the classic view of the beautiful Yukon.  We drove down into town to see what was going on, and stopped in at the visitor center to get our bearings before returning to our quiet dark campground in the evening rain.

Miles traveled today: 331

Capture

Road conditions: Almost all the Klondike Highway was good paved 2 lane road, however there were enough rough areas that it required constant attention.  There were also several sections of construction and bridge work, but no delays.

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

Day 10 July 15 Whitehorse

I fell in love with the Yukon today. It is a magnificent land with a mythical story of Klondike Gold and a legendary river with the longest salmon run in North America. We walked in the rain, viewed the fish ladder in wet jackets, hid from the storm in a great museum, drank perfect cappuccinos, toured a brewery, sampled great beer, walked the downtown shops, hiked in the afternoon sun along the mighty Yukon, did piles of laundry at 5 bucks a load to wash and dry, swept and wiped and shook and polished the MoHo, and it’s still broad daylight at 9:30pm.  I am just tooo tired to even think about blogging, but we are going off the grid now for a few days as we travel north to Dawson and the Top of the World Highway.  Stay tuned.  I think this is what my blogging friend Erin calls a “teaser”.

And to the commenter who asked: Abby is a rescue dog, we think Cocker Spaniel and Blue Heeler Cow Dog

The Yukon River

Days driven today in the MoHo: ZERO