Summer Travel Map

Friday, July 31, 2009

A simple day's drive - NOT

July 31, 2009
Whitehorse, YT

The plan was simple: make the 250+ mile trip from Dawson City to Whitehorse, taking our time and stopping at some scenic overlooks along the way. Well, for the most part, it went according to plan: all three coaches left on their own with the route and end point in mind, but traveling separately along the road, free to stop wherever the mood hit us. It was still pretty smoky as we traveled south, although the sky seemed to be clearing the farther we drove, especially when the headwind picked up. We left first, and Rod & Jean passed us at our breakfast stop. We caught up with them at a scenic overlook for "Five Finger Rapids", a particularly treacherous section of the Yukon River where (duh!) there are five separate channels through the rocks.

Then, Bob & Marlene pulled in and we soon noticed that something was amiss: the front passenger's side window on their towed car was way too clean (we're all covered with dirt and dust from the roads). They left the window down? Uh, no - it imploded along the road! Glass and dirt everywhere inside the car. Ouch! After the most basic clean-up and a temporary repair with a garbage bag and some duct tape (the RVer's friend!), we were back on the road for Whitehorse. Although it cleared up somewhat later in the day, we could still see smoke plumes from nearby forest fires dotting the sky. This smoke will probably haunt us for some time, as we've heard that there are fires all over southern British Columbia.

Anyway, Bob's temporary repair held up and was replaced with a heavier plastic piece at the Whitehorse WalMart, but not before a runaway shopping cart tagged the side of his coach - definitely not a good day!

Click here for pictures.

We decided to move on tomorrow, having already spent a couple of days in Whitehorse on the way north. Rod & Jean are backtracking for Haines, and the rest of us are moving south to Skagway.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Finishing Up Dawson City

July 30, 2009
Dawson City, YT

In the hopes that I'd get some better pictures, I headed up to a closer overlook, but the smoke was still interfering with the view. Not to be deterred, I did get a few shots of some interesting plants, then headed back into town to visit the Dawson City Museum. This museum presented several interesting themes, starting with the ice age forces that shaped the land, depicting the First Nations people that first inhabited the area, and carrying forward to the gold rush era with a lot of old photographs and memorabilia. There was also a separate building housing some of the railroad equipment used in the local area to haul supplies and support the commercial mining operations that existed from the early 1900s through the 1960s.

In the afternoon, I tagged along with Bob and Rod as they made a trip to the "sternwheeler graveyard" on the other side of the Yukon River. We took the ferry across the river and drove through the provincial campground to get as close as possible, then walked along the river bank for the rest of the way, about ¼ mile. There are four hulks up in the woods along the river, the remains of several boats that were hauled out and left to decay after river travel went out of favor after railroads and roads were built. The ravages of time and tide (well, in this case, floods) have definitely taken their toll, and it won't be too many more years until there's essentially nothing left. We got our photos and headed back on the ferry, ready to call it a day.

Click here for pictures.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A tourist's day in Dawson City

July 29, 2009
Dawson City, YT

Today was the day for doing all the tourist stuff in Dawson City. In the morning, Rod and I went on the guided walking tour of historic buildings. Parks Canada has done a wonderful job of buying up properties and restoring them to their state in the late-1800s or early-1900s. Well, they're restoring most of them; some are simply "stabilized" (meaning they're still standing, but barely).

In the afternoon, we took a drive up to "The Dome", the highest point overlooking the city. Unfortunately, smoke drifting in from forest fires in Alaska made the view difficult to see, but we enjoyed the overlook, and made a stop at the various cemeteries on the hill above town on the way up.

They have a rule in Dawson City: you can't pass through without taking in the Can-Can show at "Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall". OK, it's not enforced but it was only C$6/person to get in and we had a 2:1 coupon from the TourSaver book. We went, we saw, we had a glass of overpriced wine, we didn't stay for the later shows. It was one of those things you've "gotta do". Check.

All in all, a nice "touristy" day.

Click here for pictures.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Gold Fields

July 28, 2009
Bonanza Creek, Dawson City, Yukon Territory

Once we were settled into Dawson City, it was time to check out the local area. Since this place is all about gold, it made the most sense to check out the gold fields. Since most of the land is privately owned, there are only a few ways to get a sense of the way things played out here.

Basically, as the story goes, gold was discovered on Rabbit Creek (soon to be renamed "Bonanza Creek") in 1897. As word spread, something like 30,000 Stampeders headed for the Yukon, only to find that a) it was difficult and time-consuming at best to get there and b) all the claims had already been staked by the time outsiders arrived. The population of Dawson City swelled by thousands and then diminished just as quickly once the newcomers realized that there were no claims left -- and another strike was reported in Nome, hundreds of miles away.

Over time, individual claims were consolidated and technologies improved, and by the 1920s commercial mining companies controlled everything. They built huge "dredges", essentially land-locked barges floated in a man-made pond along a creek bed with a proven claim. They had three sections: a arm with large scoops and a conveyor belt to dig up the ground, an on-board mill that ground everything up and sifted/washed out the gold, and a trailing arm that deposited the ground up "tailings". They drove a giant spike (a steel pole 8" in diameter and 40' tall) into the bottom of the pond, and started swinging the dredge around in a semi-circle. When they finished an arc, they winched it forward 4 feet and did it all over. They even processed the tailings left behind by original prospectors because improved methods yielded more gold. Suffice it to say that the various tour companies claiming to help you pan for gold these days ("...and you get to keep the gold!") are mining the tourists, not the ground. The gold's long gone.

Anyway, we had an informative tour of an original dredge, and learned quite a bit about the history and the process of gold mining.

Click here for pictures.

I'll post more about the hardships of the Gold Rush journey in subsequent entries. We're kind of doing the path the Stampeders took backward, so we're seeing the gold fields before the trail they used to get here...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Heading south, slowly

July 27, 2009
Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada

Don't forget: you can click on any picture thumbnail to see the full-sized image...

Today, we left Alaska and entered the Yukon Territory of Canada. We definitely know we're on the way "home" at this point. We may (or may not) dip back into Alaska once or twice on the way back, as the southeastern part of the state hugs the coast just west of British Columbia. We might make the side trip of several days down to Haines and Skagway, and we might visit the small town of Hyder further south. On the other hand, we might not, since we're both feeling a bit of "tourism overload". Part of me wants to see everything there is to see, and another part says "enough, already - let's get back to the lower 48 in time to have a break for a week before we do the wine country caravan". Not sure what plan will win out - stay tuned!

Today's drive took a lot out of me: 6+ hours of essentially gravel. Two hands on the wheel time! It was beautiful country, though, following the Taylor Highway from Chicken, then the Top of the World Highway (you can see why they call it that in the picture above) to the Alaska/Yukon border and on to Dawson City, a total of just over 100 miles. Dust? You bet!

We had the quickest Border crossing ever:

"How many passengers"? "Two, plus two dogs".

"Do you have firearms"? "No".

"How long will you be in Canada"? "Two to three weeks as we transit to Washington State".

"Have a nice day and a safe trip".

I'm sure our return to the US won't be so simple.

We saw all of 4 vehicles traveling in our direction all day, so a) we're out in the boonies and b) the summer is winding down. We did have a little fun on the drive, though. Soon after we left Chicken, we met a couple of RVs heading the other way. Both were moving fast and had caravan signs in the windows, with the lead vehicle designated as "Staff", probably the caravan leader. We'd explored the idea of joining a caravan when we were planning the trip and decided against, primarily because we wanted to spend as much time as we needed in each place, not be driven by a schedule. So, we knew that there were a bunch of caravans leaving Washington or BC in early July, and that their route did the "loop" opposite from ours (they head for Fairbanks first, then Denali, Anchorage, the Kenai, and back to Tok and the Alaska Highway).

Anyway, being a good citizen, I slowed and pulled over to let them pass (we're on a two lane wide gravel road at this point, but why throw a bunch of dust and rocks at them). Pretty soon, we came upon the second batch of the caravan, moving slowly toward us. From a short distance away, I could see that the first RV was weaving wildly from side to side and moving slowly, and had accumulated a queue of about 8 vehicles behind, including a couple of cars and a tractor-trailer. I pulled over as far as I could and came to a full stop to let them pass. Apparently, the guy in the first RV was trying to avoid every pothole and rock in the road, and screwing up progress in the process. I waved and smiled to everyone as they went past. Funny, the people in each vehicle going by were a little less friendly and enthusiastic than the one before them, especially the trucker. I just smiled and waved. After a few minutes we were back under way, thinking "glad that's over".

Well, not so fast, buckaroo. We were almost to the border, maybe 45 minutes later when I saw the dreaded orange signs: "Road Work Ahead", "Be Prepared To Stop". Well, how bad could it be? Around the next bend, after the road narrowed to about 1.5 good lanes, I came upon a road grader moving slowly in the distance. I figured that this was a good sign, as maybe the road ahead would be smoother. Well, not so much. This guy was clearing the water troughs on the side of the road, with the blade at a 45 degree angle and the curb-side wheels down in the ditch. He was pushing a pile of gravel about 2' high and 2' wide up onto the roadway. Hmmm, I wonder if he has someone trailing him and clearing that up? My answer was around the next curve: Nope.

I came face-to-face with the rest of the caravan, about 10 rigs driving down the middle of the road next to the grader guy's mess of gravel, rocks, roots, and debris. The first guy started having a coronary and stopped dead in his tracks, then made his "navigator" get out and wave her arms. I couldn't tell if she was waving at me or "hubby", so I just stayed put for a minute or so. After a bit of a stand-off (none of us wanted to back up, since you can't do that with a vehicle being towed "4-down" as it'll jackknife almost instantly), the oncoming traffic all started to creep forward and to the right, crowding up on top of the gravel debris. At least they had solid road under the pile; all I had was a 2' deep ditch.

Finally, I saw the "tail gunner" of the caravan (an experienced hand, assigned to bring up the rear and make sure nobody gets lost) waving me forward. I slowly crept past the group, keeping my mirror about 2-3" from the side of each rig. At one point, I felt my right front tire start to slip into the ditch, but was able to catch it in time. After about 5 minutes of them shifting right and me creeping along, we cleared the group. I thanked the tail gunner as I went by, and was immediately kicking myself for not taking pictures (Geri was in the back, not having fun), but this was definitely the time for focus on the road. (Get it? Focus? Pictures? Oh, well.)

We stopped for lunch and a break just before Dawson City, and took the opportunity to get our bearings after the long drive. The rest area was decorated with faux gold rush buildings, which was clever. The interpretive signs at the site spoke about the diminished caribou herd that used to roam in the area, along the Forty Mile River. As late as the 1920s, there were over 500,000 caribou in the herd. They were hunted almost to extinction (these are specialized "barren land caribou", apparently), but are making a slow comeback. The signs at the overlook propose that there will be a great view of them "someday". In the meantime, the overlook is so overgrown with brush that there could be caribou in the valley below and we'd never know it!

Our next adventure was getting to Dawson City itself. Dawson City is a fairly compact gold rush-era town on the banks of the Yukon River. On the east bank of the river. As in, on the other side of the river. Over which there are no bridges in this area. But wait, there's a free ferry! Runs 24 hours a day. Excellent!

After a long descent from the Top of the World Highway to the river level, we got in queue for the ferry. There were about 5 cars already in line (where they came from I have no idea, since none of them passed us on the TotWH). There's a sign indicating maximum vehicle length of 83+ feet (what happened to the whole metric thing?), so we knew we were OK. They took the cars on board and made us wait for the next trip, but it's only 10 minutes so we relaxed a bit. Actually, I got out and looked around under the coach, since we picked up a screeching noise in the front end coming down the hill, which must have been a small rock caught in the disc brakes on the front. The ferry arrived and we slowly loaded on, dragging the tow bar a bit but none the worse for wear. It's always interesting to cross a fast-moving river on these small ferries, since it's pretty easy to feel like you're being swept downstream. And, as we learned yesterday, "downstream" in this case is almost 1,000 miles to the Bering Sea. Anyway, the pilot did a good job of aiming far enough upstream that we vectored back to the proper point on the other shore and were soon on our way through town.

Dawson City looks exactly like I'd expect a gold rush town to look: newer than the "old west" from movies and TV but all multi-colored wooden buildings and gravel streets laid out in a nice grid. We decided that we'll stay a few days and explore the town and the area, which still thrives on gold fever, these days aimed at the tourist trade.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Day trip to Eagle

July 26, 2009
Chicken, AK

We toured the area today, braving the gravel roads. We looked over all of Chicken, which took all of 15 minutes. Then, we headed for Boundary, 41 miles, just to check out what we're in for when we leave in the coach. It wasn't anywhere near as bad as people pretend. In fact, two caravans of RVs on commercial tours showed up going in the other direction before noon.

We backtracked a few miles and headed north to Eagle, historically and mining and trading center on the Yukon River. We saw the Yukon River before, as it flows right through downtown Whitehorse. What we didn't realize is that its headwaters are less than 50 miles from the Pacific Ocean, southeast of Whitehorse, yet it flows 1,500+ miles on the north side of the Alaska Range and empties into the Bering Sea. Fascinating...

Anyway, it was an interesting, albeit long and dusty, drive. Wildlife sightings were slim (a hare, 2 chipmunks, and a couple of young moose), but the scenery made up for it. Much of the drive crossed an area impacted by fire in 2004, and the sight of the hills covered in purple fireweed was eyecatching.

We made it back to Chicken late in the day (early in the evening?) and were extra glad that Geri had set a slow-cooker of beef stew to perk while we were out. Excellent!

Click here for pictures.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ready to head south

July 24, 2009
North Pole, AK

We're fully rested and ready to roll. It's hard to believe we're already heading south, back to the "lower 48" (or the "real world" as Bob Rea calls it). We'll head for Chicken (yes, that's the name of the town) tomorrow morning. Rod & Jean and Bob & Marlene have decided to stay in Fairbanks a couple of days, so we'll press on and report back on road conditions. From Chicken, we'll cross back into Canada and stop at Dawson City, then head south toward Whitehorse. We may cross over our route back to Haines Junction and down to Haines for a few days; we'll make that call when we get closer.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A quick trip to North Pole

July 23, 2009
North Pole, AK

Wednesday was project day. Geri did laundry and I did a few fixes around the coach, changing the air filter (it's 24" long and 13.5" in diameter - not something I wanted to carry around with us) and replacing one of the motors in the blinds that had stopped working. All in all, a productive day.

Today, we went to explore North Pole. It's actually a pretty small town, so that didn't take long. After a stop at the Post Office (have to return the window blind motor to get the warranty), we found Santa Claus House (tourist trap alert!). Click here for pictures.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Riverboat Cruise

July 21, 2009
Fairbanks, AK

Sunday was a driving day; we made the half-day trip from Denali to Fairbanks, and found a nice spot at the local Wal-Mart. There were 20-30 other rigs parked there, and they even have two sections of the parking lot that are lined off for RVs. Gotta love that.

Monday was a "down day", filled with relaxation and a few errands. We caught up on email and bills, and I made a run to a local truck supply shop to pick up a new air filter for the coach (the dusty driving sent the restriction gauge to almost to the "change me now" spot, and this will be the last place I'll be able to get one for a while).

On Tuesday, we decided to do a little touristy stuff, heading for the Riverboat Discovery tour in the afternoon. The same family has been working the rivers in this area for five generations, four of them schlepping tourists around. Although the 3.5 hour tour didn't travel that far down the Chena River and back, there were several interesting stops along the way. Click here for pictures.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Land Tour of Denali

July 18, 2009
Denali National Park and Preserve, AK

On Thursday, we started the day with a big breakfast at a local restaurant in Talkeetna. Geri and I split a "full" order of scrambled eggs (no substitutions) and home fries, and we almost had leftovers to take home. We got on the road later in the day, continuing our trip north along the Parks Highway toward Denali National Park and Preserve. This is a huge park, created in 1917 and enlarged several times over the years to its current size of 6+ million acres. We stopped at the Park's visitor center before finding a campground just outside the Park's entrance.

Friday, we began our exploration. I signed up for a shuttle bus tour of the interior of the park for early Saturday morning. There is only one road into the Park, which travels about 65 miles to a secondary visitor's center, then continues on for another 30 miles to a privately-run mining camp. Private vehicles aren't allowed past the 15-mile mark in order to minimize congestion and the impact on the wildlife.

Once the plan was set, we watched the two films presented at the visitor's centers (there are two separate buildings), and took in the sled dog demo. The Park maintains a group of 30+ sled dogs, both for historical preservation and as the primary means of winter transportation. They have a special shuttle that takes you 3-4 miles to the kennels where you can see the dogs up close, listen to a ranger talk (guy reminded me of the illegitimate son of Father Guido Sarducci), and watch the dogs haul said ranger around on a sled equipped with wheels. I've gone soft in my old age, since I feel for the dogs at this point.

I was up early on Saturday for the Park trip. Actually, Geri and I were both up, on and off, for most of the night with Maya Lynn, who had an upset stomach and yakked all over. We did our best to calm her and keep her hydrated, and she settled down toward morning (can't say "dawn" since it never gets dark this time of year).

There are two different kinds of bus trips: "shuttles" and "tours". Shuttles are basic school bus vehicles that drive along the road, stop for wildlife, and have a driver who makes commentary and answers questions. Tours are school bus vehicles with better seats and a porta-potty that drive along the road, stop for wildlife, and have a driver who makes commentary and answers questions for twice the price. Hmmm. This was an easy decision: shuttle for me. I signed up for the 7:00 departure (they actually start at 6:00 AM, but I'm a wuss).

The bus was almost completely booked full, with only 2 seats open. I found a spot in the last row. We saw our first wildlife, a moose, about 3 miles in, but he was in the trees and there was no photo opp. About 9 miles in, there's a viewpoint where we could see the peak of Denali, which is rare since the clouds generally obscure the view most days. We were surprised to see the mountain clearly, which was quite a treat. From there, the road winds across a section of tundra, crosses several rivers, and ends up at the Eielson Visitor's Center. We were quite surprised, and very pleased, to have a clear view of Denali from base to summit. We were told that this only happens several days a year. Woo-hoo!

In addition to the potential views of the mountain, the other main draw of the trip is wildlife. We saw several small groups of caribou, grizzly bears, ptarmigans, snow hares, arctic ground squirrels, Dahl sheep, golden eagles, and a wolf. Not bad for 8 hours on a bus and $32!

Click here for pictures from the bus trip.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Excellent Flightseeing Tour

July 15, 2009
Talkeetna, AK

Talkeetna is a transportation town. It's located at the confluence of the Susitna and Talkeetna Rivers, making it an important stop in the early days. The Alaska Railroad passes through town, which served as a management hub during construction. Talkeetna's primary function these days is to support the tourism industry, mostly for mountain climbers and air tours of Denali (aka Mount McKinley - tallest peak in North America).

We got spots on the 9:00 flight (using the 2-for-1 coupon and saving $240), and had a great flight. I'll post pictures to an album - click here - don't miss these!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Back for the MRI

July 14, 2009
Talkeetna, AK

One of our tasks for the summer was to stop somewhere and get Geri's follow-up MRI done. We were able to do that in Wasilla today, so that's done. We'd stopped at the imaging center when we passed through Wasilla before, and were able to call last week to schedule her for 9:15 AM today. We were done there before noon, and used the afternoon to make the drive to Talkeetna. Other than finding a place to park ($20 dry camping at the boat launch - ouch!), there's not much else to report. The "park" has an interesting take on supplying water, though.

We stopped at one of the local "flightseeing" operations (there are about 8 of them here) and booked a trip for tomorrow morning, so that should be fun. Downtown Talkeetna? Well, that's a small area of gift shops, tour booking offices, and other "tourist stuff". It's a stop for all the cruise ship tours; people arrive by bus and walk around for a bit, then run for the bus before it leaves. Many of the cruise ship companies offer land tours in addition to the sailing, so they use the busses to schlep people from lodge to lodge for that part of their trip.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Anchorage - check

July 13, 2009
Palmer, AK

When we were in this area before (a couple of weeks ago), we didn't have a chance (or the inclination?) to visit Anchorage. Since the trip down and back on the Kenai required us to return via the same path, we decided to spend a day seeing what we'd missed.

We didn't really do a lot of the tourist-trap stops (not our thing, per se), but did catch a few sights. Our first stop was the Aviation Museum along Lake Hood. They had interesting displays focusing on the 1920-1960 timeframe. Considering how early that was in the overall history of the airplane, it's amazing how commercial things got so quickly, with numerous companies being formed to fly people, mail, supplies, and whatever would fit to remote areas. Of course, in the early days, many of the highways we've traveled on this trip didn't exist, so "remote" meant something different.

After lunch by the lake watching the seaplanes take off and "land" (is it really a "landing" if you touch down on water?), we did a drive-by of the "old town" area, which is basically several blocks full of souvenir shops and bars - pass, thank you. We did cross a couple of bridges to find the salmon viewing station (reds were running) and stopped at the Statehood Monument. It's intriguing that Alaska's younger than me statehood-wise, although I was too young to remember. Maybe I'm just getting old...

Click here for pictures.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


July 12, 2009
Eagle River, AK

Today was an easy day, as we simply drove. We haven't had a day like that in quite a while! We left Homer in moderate fog and low clouds (I suppose that's what fog is, right?), although we climbed above it on and off as we traveled north. We stopped in Soldotna for a break (baked goods from the Moose is Loose, plus I couldn't resist taking a picture of the sign in the parking lot at Fred Meyer), and then pressed on toward Anchorage. Since we wanted to get on the other side of the heavily-populated area to avoid traffic (Anchorage is Alaska's largest city), we pressed on to Eagle River, about 10 miles north. After a fuel stop, we parked for the night at the Fred Meyer store.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

On a clear day...

July 11, 2009
Homer, AK can see forever. With haze and a marine layer, not so much. We thought we might get a clear day for photos, but it wasn't to be - this time. At least we haven't had any rain for a while. Oops, probably shouldn't have said that!

Today was our last day in Homer so, what else, we took a drive somewhere else. In this case, that somewhere else was only 15 miles back up the Sterling Highway to a wide spot in the road called Anchor Point. An explorer centuries ago lost an anchor here, and it's been called Anchor Point ever since. In modern times, the local claim to fame is that it's the farthest western point in North America that you can reach solely by road. Sure, there are a lot of roads in areas west of here; there's still a lot of Alaska out there - but - you have to take a ferry to get there. So, we've captured both east and west, as two summers ago we got to the most eastern point on our trip to Nova Scotia. Not bad for two old farts roaming around in a "camper".

We started out with a stop at the local Farmer's Market (like many, light on "farm" but plenty of "market" - trinkets and crafts). On the way back, we stopped at the Norman Lowell Gallery and saw many nice (and spendy) paintings from over 50 years of work by the artist. Since we couldn't afford the art, we got a few free pictures in the garden before heading back to Homer. We wrapped up with a few shots of the local boat (and more) graveyard, basically a junkyard by the sea.

Click here for pictures...

After dropping the pups back at the coach, we headed out for a late lunch: a dozen oysters on the half shell. They're local, fresh and reasonably priced - who knows when we'll see that again? From there, it was picture processing time, grilling steaks, posting backlogged blog entries, and packing up for tomorrow's departure.

We'll head back up the Sterling Highway past Soldotna (possibly with another stop at the Moose Is Loose Bakery), then north to the Anchorage/Palmer area. We'll see the sights in Anchorage on Monday, and then have Geri's follow-up MRI (from the kidney operation in April) done in Wasilla on Tuesday morning. From this point, we're pretty much "headed home", as we're on the downhill side of the trip. We still have quite a bit to see in Alaska, though, and our next stop after Palmer/Wasilla will be Denali National Park and Mount McKinley. From there, we'll head to Fairbanks with a possible side trip to the Arctic Circle. Then it'll be back on the Alaska Highway at Delta Junction, headed for The Yukon, BC, and the "lower 48".

Friday, July 10, 2009

A routine day - except for the mead

July 10, 2009
Homer, AK

Today was a quiet day with a little shopping thrown in. We went to the Safeway, we went to a local bakery (Two Sisters), we went to the wine shop, and we went to the meadery. Meadery? Yep, there's an artisan shop (Ring of Fire Meadery) here that makes mead. Honey, water, yeast, and time - you've got mead. Add some juice from any kind of fruit and you've got melomel. Add juice and other parts of the plant (skins, stems, seeds, roots) and you've got meddyglyn. Oh, and you thought I wasn't paying attention?

We tasted a whole range of products, basically everything they make except the cysers (like cider except made with apples and - you guessed it - honey), and bought a couple of bottles to try over time. Since honey is the key ingredient, they source it from all over, especially Hawaii. In fact, there seemed to be a strong link between the 49th and 50th states throughout the shop. Maybe they're different kinds of snowbirds: Alaska in the summer and Maui in the winter. I can think of worse things to happen. In any event, Geri bought me a small jar of Macadamia Nut Honey from Hawaii, which I've never had (or even heard of) before.

On the way home, we stopped for a couple of pictures - hanging flowers and, well, you get to guess what kind of shop the other one is.

OK, it's a feed and animal store.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Great spot for a few days

July 9, 2009
Homer Spit, Homer, AK

We moved to the Spit this morning, and parked in one of the city-run "camgrounds". We use that term loosely because it's pretty rustic and the concept of "campground site" is open to a degree of interpretation. The section we're in is called "beachfront"; there aren't numbered, assigned spaces. You just pack in as close (or as far apart!) as you can. We've got a great spot looking out at Kachemak Bay, parked right near the water. Well, at least we're near the water at high tide. Low tide? not so much., as we're in an area where the mud flats extend out several hundred feet. No matter for us; we're just enjoying the view. We decided to stay here for three nights.

After getting settled in from the long drive (Elks to Spit: 6 miles), we headed out for a little tourist action. Well, we really headed out in search of lunch. Truth be told, Geri and I were on a mission to find local oysters, which we'd read about on the way down the Kenai. Bob thought we might be able to get lunch at the Salty Dog Saloon, but it turned out to be just a dive bar. The inside was dark and smoky, and the walls and ceilings were covered with tourists' dollar bills. Apparently, it's "the thing to do" to ruin a perfectly good dollar with a witty or raunchy (or, if you're clever, both) saying using a magic marker and then staple it to the building. I asked Bob if he brought any Monopoly Money; no way were we leaving legal tender. I was ready to have a beer but everyone else wanted food (apparently, hops and barley don't count), so we kept moving. We ended up at "Captain Patties" for lunch, starting with the oysters on the half shell. I had a halibut taco (good) and Geri had the rockfish special (battered and deep-fried - excellent), while Marlene had the seafood sampler (also very good). With a Moose Drool beer (good but not "authentic local" since it's imported from Montana).

Once fed, we decided to do some touring. Bob took us up into town and out East End Road along/above the Bay. With one moose sighting and a stop at the local winery, it was a great way to spend an afternoon. Click here for pictures.

We ended the day with a beautiful sunset around 11:00 PM. It's amazing how the days are already getting shorter, although still a little weird to be saying that close to midnight.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Easy drive to Homer

July 8, 2009
Homer Elks, Homer, AK

"Are Bart and Lisa there"? Nope, but we're in Homer, halibut fishing capitol of the world. You don't have to take my word for it. They have it on a sign at the scenic turnout on the bluff just before town.

Homer is like two towns in one. The main portion of the burg is located on the side of a hill, overlooking the water (Cook Inlet to the west and Kachemak Bay to the east). The rest of the town is on "The Spit", a narrow strip of land that extends 4+ miles out into the Bay. The town is part "artsy-fartsy" and part "hippie escape" (both nouveau and old school). The Spit is all about fishing.

We found a spot for the night at the Elks Lodge (thanks again, Bob and Rod!) and settled in. We'll explore the town and the Spit starting tomorrow. We'll probably be here for a couple of days.

Homer Visitor

July 8, 2009
Homer, AK

We arrived in Homer today (no, Bart and Lisa aren't here), and got a spot at the Elks Lodge for the night (thanks, Bob and Rod!). I know I have some updates to catch up on, but just wanted to post this quickly. Geri heard a noise outside this evening and looked out the window. This is what she saw...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Soldotna - Check

July 7, 2009
Soldotna, AK

As planned, we did the tourist stuff today. This area is big into fishing. Us, not so much, but we still had a nice day checking things out. We drove the Kenai Spur Road from Soldotna to Kenai, then looped back on a drive called Kalifornsky Beach Road. Even though we were near the water (Cook Inlet) all day, we rarely saw it, as the nature of the landscape (flat land and lots of trees) didn't allow for much in the way of scenic views. We did see a few clever signs and some more little churches.

Click here for more pictures...

After a day "on the road", we decided to do an easy dinner - take out from the Fred Meyer. Rotisserie chicken with fixin's, plus enough left over for sandwiches. Gotta love that!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Touring the laundromat

July 6, 2009
Soldotna, AK

OK, so once again life trumps vacation. We made the easy drive from Seward to Soldotna after dumping the tanks and taking on a load of fresh water at the city facilities near where we stayed. We knew from everything we'd read that the Fred Meyer store in Soldotna allows - even encourages - overnight parking, so we headed there. Soldotna's a big town by Alaskan standards, but still a pretty compact place, so we had no problem finding our way. We saw an ad in one of the travel guides for the local laundry, so Geri (reluctantly) agreed to get a few loads in. It was very crowded, but she was able to squeeze wrestle a couple of machines loose, and even called me to make a run with the rest of the stuff in the coach. She did towels, rugs, sheets, clothes - whatever wasn't nailed down. We'll be good for a while on laundry, and we'll have a full day tomorrow to get back into the tourist mode.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

North Pole to Chicken

July 25, 2009
Chicken, AK

We made the easy drive today from North Pole (Fairbanks) to Chicken. We made our first stop in Delta Junction, official end of the Alaska Highway to get photos to pair up with the start of the road in Dawson Creek. We thought about a certificate that said we'd completed the drive, but weren't about to pay for it. Besides, we weren't quite done, since we turned off at Tok (75 miles down the road) on the way up.

After pictures, we completed the highway and stopped in Tok for free fudge (had a coupon), a fuel fill, and lunch. We then headed up the Taylor Highway, aiming for Chicken for the night. This is the "alternate route" back to Whitehorse, a little longer but supposedly more scenic. We'll see. This route has long stretches of gravel as opposed to the frost heaves on the Alaska Highway. We'll definitely know which is better when we're done!

As the story goes, the founders of Chicken wanted to call it Ptarmigan, after a local bird species, but couldn't spell it and decided it looked enough like a chicken anyway. It's hard to believe that this are supported hundreds of miners in the Gold Rush days, since the population is less than 25 today.

Click here for pictures.

Happy Independence Day

July 5, 2009
Seward, AK

OK, so I'm a day late. Who knows when I'll be posting this anyway, since access is limited (the data card is slow and the library is too far away). It's the thought that counts!

We had a nice relaxing 4th, not straying too far from the campsite. After a tough night with Maya (no fireworks for her!), we found out that there was a repeat of the fireworks show scheduled for last night as well. We decided that Maya would get a tranquilizer around 10:00 PM and that, combined with the fact that the fireworks barge was moored across the bay much further away, made things much easier. Of course, the "locals" shot off fireworks near us until the police showed up about 2:00 AM, so we did have some puppy angst to deal with. As of today, she's getting back to normal.

We grilled some pork chops last night and Geri made sautéed potatoes and carrots. With a little Stove-Top, a brown gravy, and some applesauce (and a Barossa Shiraz), we had a fine meal.

Today is another bright and sunny day, warmer than the last few (shorts weather!). We'll relax today as well, getting things ready for tomorrow's travel day to Soldotna, on the other side of the Kenai Peninsula. After dinner, I'll pack up the grill and we'll get everything set up for an easy departure. Most people are already gone, with the exodus actually starting yesterday afternoon. The line at the dump station was long this morning, but shorter now. Most of the people here over the holiday weekend live elsewhere on the Peninsula or up toward the big city of Anchorage, so this is a weekend getaway destination. I've been surprised that we haven't seen much in the way of organized RV caravans (like the one we thought about taking but canceled), but not disappointed that we don't have to compete with them for parking spaces (they reserve spaces 2-3 years in advance).

Yesterday, they held the local foot race up Mount Marathon. I have no idea if it's 26.2 miles to the top (guessing it's not unless they start a long distance away) but it's got to be a grueling climb. You can see the trail toward the top above the tree line. Apparently, they run up the ridge and then stumble/fall down the side trail. "6 hours up; 30 minutes down" seems to be the slogan.

Around the corner from us are two competing burger shops (kinda like Pat's and Geno's in Philly?), and I had to snap a couple of pictures. "$8 and more" for a burger and fries at Red's, and "Al's Patty Wagon" speaks for itself (right, Pat & Al?).

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Wonderful Tour

July 3, 2009
Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward, AK

We took the Renown Tours Glacier Express cruise today and had a great time. The tour of Kenai Fjords National Park was just right in terms of length, and we saw quite a bit of wildlife along with a visit to a tidewater glacier "up close". We took quite a few pictures, so I'll use an album (click here) to tell the story.

In the evening, at dusk (remember, that's about 15 minutes after midnight here), they had a nice fireworks show. Everything was lit off from a barge in the harbor right near where we're parked, so we had a good view. I've never experienced fireworks like this before. The visual aspect was diminished a bit because it was still so light out, but the sounds echoing off the mountains surrounding the town was quite interesting. You could hear each large "bang" circle around town for 5-8 seconds. Of course, this was nice for me, but didn't sit well with the pups. Maya Lynn was especially spooked by the sounds, but we're sure she'll be OK - eventually.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A quick tour of Seward

July 2, 2009
Seward, AK

Today, we did a little driving around in Seward, which is about all you can do since it's a very small and compact little town. It's named for the Secretary of State who engineered the purchase of Alaska from Russia (not a contraction of the word "seaward", although it's only 17 miles out Resurrection Bay to the sea). We took a drive south of town to a spot called Miller's Landing, where there's a small neighborhood of houses. Geri found one that had patterns molded into the wooden siding of the house. Most of the residents in this area have some sort of clever sign hanging outside. "Penny" has a thing for confinement, and Geri got a photo of the "inmates" as well.

Just outside town, we passed a nice waterfall right on the side of the road, so we had to stop for pictures there. It was about 100' high, and had a pretty strong flow for this late in the snow-melt season. Once we were done touring, we headed for the harbor area to check out day cruises in the Kenai Fjords National Park, which is mostly accessible only by boat or plane. We liked the itinerary of the full-day cruise but not the duration (having to leave the pups in the coach too long), so we were thinking about a half-day version. The staff at the office told me to check with one of the other companies that had a 6-hour version of the full-day route (it would be nice to think they would recommend "the competition" until you find out that all the tour companies are under common ownership), which was great for us. With a two-for-one coupon from the Alaska Toursaver discount book (no, I didn't find the one I'd bought before we left AZ, so I had to buy another - we'll still be ahead by the end of the trip), we were quickly ticketed for tomorrow's sailing.

To celebrate, we decided that it was a good time to plan a dinner out. While I checked the fire hydrants for Albertville labels, Geri scoped out the menus and prices at the two most promising candidates in terms of restaurants, and we decided on Chinook's Waterfront. I had grilled salmon with a chipotle-mango-pomegranate sauce (yes, salmon again - I'm not a huge fan but try to indulge when I can get fresh Pacific salmon) that was excellent, and Geri had a pound of king crab that was wonderful. With a nice bottle of Simi Chardonnay, we were happy campers.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

There is no Hope

July 1, 2009
Seward, AK

Hope, Alaska, that is. We took the small side trip off the Seward Highway to the little town of Hope and found out just how "little" it is - we almost weren't able to turn the coach around! I suspect the town has some sort of claim to fame, but it sure wasn't visible when we were there. On the other hand, it was a very nice drive along the Turnagain Arm (a portion of the Cook Inlet that was a dead end and required explorers to, yes, turn again - kind of how we felt in Hope), and we had our "wildlife sighting" for the day when some sort of jay hung around with us while we stopped for pictures.

Once we arrived in Seward, it was time to search out a place to park. The city provides quite a few campsites along the waterfront, and we quickly realized that we should have arrived several days earlier if we wanted a good spot. With the upcoming Independence Day holiday weekend, things were pretty full and getting tighter by the hour on Wednesday morning. With a little help from the Visitors' Center, we were able to find spots in the overflow area - a converted baseball field. It was level and convenient, although there was a bit of grumbling about having to pay $15/night just to park (no services). There is a dump and water station across the way, so we'll be able to take care of that stuff before we leave. We found out later that the reason the city can offer all these sites in prime real estate is that they've designated this area as a "no build zone" because it was wiped out in the tsunami that followed the 1964 earthquake. Gee, thanks!

Once parked, we needed a plan. Our first priority was laundry, so we found out where the laundromat is (it's a 4-machine outbuilding at a B&B/cabin rental business about 3 miles from town), grabbed two rolls of quarters from the local bank, and packed up three loads. Since it was on the way to Exit Glacier (one of the few land-accessible glaciers in the area), I decided to do a little exploring while Geri did the laundry. Exit Glacier is just inside the limits of Kenai Fjords National Park, only a few miles off the Seward Highway. It was an easy 1/2-mile walk (half paved, half well-maintained gravel), and you get an expansive view of the glacier across a flood plain full of run-off streams. "Oh, you wanted to see the toe of the glacier up close? Sure, go ahead and walk out there". So, nowhere in the tourist guides did they say "bring boots". I was able to cross the first few streams OK, but got a shoe-full crossing the last one. Did you know that glacial run-off is cold? Thought so.

Anyway, not to be deterred, I pressed on and was able to get a few pictures. There was actually a black bear on the ice well above me, barely visible in the picture since I didn't have my long lens with me - and I wasn't about to go back to the car to get it at that point. I poked around a bit before heading back, fording the stream again (shoes and socks off this time - couldn't afford to slip on the rocks and fall while carrying the camera). I'm none the worse for wear, as everything but my shoes dried quickly. for those, it may take a few days.

I made it back to the laundry just as Geri was wrapping up, and we headed back home satisfied we'd put in a good day. We had leftover salmon and rice pilaf for dinner, but it had passed its prime while in the fridge - OK but nowhere near as good as when it was fresh from the river. We'll just have to savor the memory.