Our Alaska adventure parting thoughts and stats

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Above is Our Alaska Adventure Route, the red pins on our way in and the purple ones on our way out.

Exploring Alaska on our first year of full-timing was considered ambitious and brave by some of our friends.  But we’re so glad we did it!  The experience taught us so much in a very short time.  We learned to navigate tight spaces, deal with rough roads, make due with minimal utilities and live in remote campgrounds with like-minded adventurers.  We have synchronized to perfection our tasks of moving in and out of tight sites and hooking and unhooking the tow.  We feel more than ready to live on the road full time from now on.

The road to Alaska via British Columbia and the Yukon Territory in Canada can not be taken lightly.  No matter how many long hours and hundreds of miles of driving, you will never get tired of the endless views of incredible scenery.  Coupled with the scenic drive are unavoidable road hazards; unending road repairs with lovely female road workers waving at you, frost heaves, dips, gravel breaks and so on.  These hazards were realities that we were prepared for and dealt with as part of the experience.

As much as we tried to cover most of Alaska, it is just not possible.  Alaska is immense and super-sized;  we covered only a fourth of it.  Mountains are higher (Mt. Mckinley aka Denali) and parks larger (Wrangell-Elias National Park).  Check these stats: Alaska is 2.3 times larger than Texas and the size of Texas, California and Montana combined.  It’s home to the biggest this, the highest that and the most of these – with less than a million residents (about 700,000) enjoying all of it.

And the fishing – oh yeah!  To all my fishermen/women friends, this is the place to be excited about the fish.  I don’t fish, but I hooked a Halibut here.  As long as you know how to navigate the complicated fishing regulations,  you’re in for the tastiest and freshest Salmon and Halibut you’ve ever had.  Fishing is well managed here, and its monitored to support subsistence living for Alaskan residents.

Glaciers, glaciers everywhere!  There are approximately 100,000 glaciers here, with only about 600 named.  We never got tired of gawking at them, hiking to them (Portage and Exit Glaciers), driving to them (Mendenhall Glacier), flying over them (Kennicott, Root GlaciersGrewingk Glacier), landing on them (Mt. Mckinley) and sailing to them (KnikAialik, Holgate, Meares glaciers).  Many time we just drove by them while enjoying their beauty (Matanuska Glacier).  They were always unbelievably pristine and beautiful.

Wildlife, yes.  Alaska is where the wild things are!  Wildflowers adorned highways, mountains and homes, wild animals roamed around and across roads.  Birds chirped and/or just hung around, tart but tasty wild berries grew everywhere.  We never got tired of enjoying all of these things in their natural habitats.

Hiking and biking trails galore.  They were all there for the taking, with scenic views and often some wild animals along the route.

Alaskans live in a different frame of mind.  They are relaxed, hardworking, resourceful and rugged.  They are surrounded by such beauty, yet they thrive in the harsh nature of their environment.  We hung out with two couples – Wilma/Randy and Gemma/Steve – who had lived there for two decades.  Amazing people! Are we planning to go back to Alaska?  We can’t wait!

                                                                                                                             

Our trip stats:

Arrival in Canada, start of trip  =  5/30/12

Departure from Canada, end of trip  =  9/17/12

Miles traveled (including 410 on inland passage ferry)  =  5,722

Miles driven in Alaska  =  1949

Miles driven in Canada  =  3773

Days of trip  =  110

Days in Alaska  =  73

Days in Canada  =  37

Gallons of diesel burned  =  648

Border crossings between U.S. and Canada  =  8

Campgrounds/RV parks visited  =  37

Animals squashed while driving  = 1 squirrel and 2 birds of unknown species (obviously not fast enough flyers).  We had some close road encounters with moose, deer and a couple of bears, but fortunately they didn’t get together with Betsy.

                                                                                                                       

For those planning a driving adventure into Alaska, here are some must-haves:

  1. Milepost – it beats a GPS hands-down.  Order one in March for the latest version.
  2. Passports- you are going in and out of Canada, whether by ferry or driving.

  3. Be prepared for sticker shock; e.g. Halibut and Chips $16-$21 (but worth it), lemons $1.79 each.

  4. For RV’rs, the campground /RV parks are just that, nothing fancy – live with it.

  5. A spirit of adventure and plenty of patience.  You don’t want to rush this trip!

 

A word of advice and caution to be given 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 else of its kind in the world, and it is not wise to dull one’s capacity for enjoyment by seeing the finest first. –Henry Gannet, Harriman Alaska Expedition 1899.

 

 



Bald Eagles, Bears and Totem Poles- Haines

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Our final stop in Alaska was Haines, and also our base camp as we explored Southeast Alaska.  From Tok we had  to meander through the Yukon Territory and a little bit of British Columbia in Canada (and of course U.S. Customs) before getting back to Alaska again.

Location of Haines, AK

Location of Haines, AK

Haines, Alaska

Beautiful mountain side along Haines highway.

Chilkoot Inlet, Haines Alaska

Haines viewed from Chilkoot Inlet

Haines has been tagged as the Valley of the Eagles due to the congregation of about 3,500 Bald Eagles starting in November when they feast on the late run of Chum salmon.  A 48,000 acre sanctuary has been formed by the state for the national bird. But we did not have to wait until November, as we saw the baldies perching on trees by the dozens and  just hanging out on the beach.  It was quite an awesome sight for the gathering of the white heads.

Haines, Alaska

More Bald Eagles on the beach

Bald Eagle

This is an injured Bald Eagle and the foundation is permitted to take care of it.

We were told that Bears hang out at the salmon weir by Chilkoot river. So off we went early in the morning to watch bears catch salmon.  We were not disappointed for the three times that we went there, they were there feeding on the running chum salmon.

Grizzly Bear, Alaska

Hi, I’m BJ, so we were told

Grizzly Bear, Alaska

He smelled us, so it looked straight up and we drove away.

Grizzly Bear, Alaska

Aha, there you are or he could be pooing.

Grizzly Bear, Alaska

Bear catching salmon for breakfast

Grizzly Bear, Alaska

This is how tourists get attacked by a Bear

Walking and driving around Haines we noticed several Totem poles.  They signify Alaska’s native legacy. They were carved to perpetuate Tlingit (pronounced Kling-it) cultural practices.

Friendship Pole, Haines alaska

Friendship Pole

Eagle Family Totem Pole, Haines Alaska

Eagle Family

A private pole by Chilkoot river, Haines Alaska

A private pole by Chilkoot river honoring a family there.

There were lots of hiking and biking opportunities at Haines, but man, the wind and the rain were unrelenting once again.  Instead we just checked out museums and historic sites.  First we went to Fort William H Seward which was established 106 years ago as a symbol of US Army strength.  The fort was decommissioned and is now a historic landmark.  Most of the building are now privately owned and local businesses reside there.

Fort W.H. Seward, Haines Alaska

Fort Wh Seward, a National Historic Sight

Soapsuds Alley, Haines Alaska

Soapsuds Alley, used to house non-commissioned officers, now houses stores and shops

Officers Row, Haines Alaska

Officers row before now privately owned

We watched the feeding of a Bald Eagle at the American Bald Eagle Foundation.  There were also more than 200 specimen of  local fish and wildlife.  The founder gave an engaging and interesting presentation of wildlife stories.

Haines Alaska

Porcupine and Mountain Goat one of the many displays

Haines Alaska

A captive Red Tail Hawk

Next stop was the Sheldon Museum, which houses collections of Native art, gold rush mementos and a display of  the  answer to the question “Whose Border is it?”

Haines Alaska

Answer to the question “Why isn’t Southeast Alaska part of Canada ?”

Next stop was the Hammer Museum where an impressive  display of 1,800 pounding implements is showcased.  Now that’s a lot of hammers!

The only place where you can see over 1800 hammers

Haines Alaska

It was quite a collection of different kinds of hammers

Haines Alaska

Due to its quintessential Alaskan look, Haines has also been a favorite of filmmakers.  The 1991 Disney movie “White Fang” was filmed in Dalton City as is “Gold Rush Alaska”  at Porcupine Creek.

White Fang set Haines Alaska

Movie set of “White Fang” now used as small stores and for state fairs

Haines Alaska

At the movie set, Steve got his growler at Haines Brewery

We could tell that the season is winding down as the RV park we stayed in, Haines Hitch up RV park  was pretty sparse.  We liked it for we had the west section to ourselves. It was a level grass site with full hook ups.  We liked it here even if the laundry cost $3.50 per load.  What can we say, everything in Alaska is expensive.

Haines Alaska

Harbor decorated with flowers

Haines Alaska

Outrageous gas prices

Haines Alaska

Almost empty RV park

We prepped Betsy, and the Honda for our departure from Alaska on a three-day ferry trip through the inside passage to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada.

Upnext: Leaving Alaska

Island hopping via ferry – Skagway, Juneau and Hoonah – Southeast Alaska

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We left  Million Dollar Falls campground and  headed back into Alaska.  Alas, we had to go through another border crossing into America.  For the first time, we were asked to pull over and step out of the motorhome after our passports were checked and we answered some questions.  The lady officer checked Betsy, opening several cupboards/cabinets and the refrigerator.  We were asked if we had any fur, feathers, wild animal souvenirs and so on.  After 15 minutes of inspection we were cleared to go.  Whew!

We set camp at Haines, which is the terminus of the Alaska Marine Highway,  a state-run ferry system  operating passenger and vehicle ferries between cities.  Access to towns and cities in Southeast Alaska is either by float plane or via Alaska Marine Highway  ferry  for there are a few roads through this region.  We booked our ferry rides for Skagway, Juneau and Hoonah as soon as we arrived.

Skagway, Juneau, Hoona

The towns we visited – Skagway, Juneau and Hoonah

Alaska Marine Highway Ferry Boats

Alaska Marine Highway Ferry – MV Matanuska

We first took the 45-minute fast ferry to Skagway one rainy day for a day of exploring.  When we arrived there four (4) cruise ships were already docked pouring hundreds of tourist into the little town.  We took a stroll around town viewing false-fronted buildings of the gold rush-era, now converted into various stores.  This town is known as the gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898 and its colorful history is still evident with the preserved buildings.  Next we hiked 4 miles round trip to the historic Gold Rush Cemetery and Reid Falls. This is a famous cemetery where the infamous characters such as “Soapy Smith” from the gold rush days were buried.

Skagway, Alaska

Historic downtown Skagway

Skagway, Alaska

In the left corner is the Red Onion Saloon – Skagways best known water hole.
-The A B facade is made of 8,883 pieces of driftwood nailed to the front wall.  5,300 are originals successfully preserved since 1899.

Skagway, Alaska

Skagway is also known as the “Garden City of Alaska”

Skagway, Alaska

Story about who’s who in the Gold Rush Cemetery

Skagway, Alaska

Gold Rush Cemetery

Skagway, Alaska

Soapy Smith, the famous outlaw during Klondike gold rush

Skagway, Alaska

Skagway is one of the major ports of call for cruise ships

The following day we took ourselves and the car on another ferry for a beautiful 4 1/2 hour ride to Juneau.  As you probably know, the only capital in the US  not accessible by road  is Juneau and it claims to be America’s most scenic state capital.  We agree with that claim as we have seen its beauty first hand.  This city has a different feel compared to the other two big cities – Anchorage and Fairbanks.  It has its own charm, and being an active port city with an inspiring wilderness setting it is also a port of call for cruise ships.  There is a lot to do but we did what we could during our limited stay.  It is here that we tasted the freshest and sweetest Alaskan King Crab ever!  We took time to visit the Alaska State Museum which has excellent displays talking about the native Alaskan people and their culture.  There is also a description of the political history of the state and the various claims of ownership.  It was well done.  Finally, we rode the Mt. Roberts Tram up to the 1800 ft, platform where we did some hiking and enjoyed the fantastic view of the airport and city.

Downtown Juneau, Alaska

Downtown Juneau

Juneau, Alaska

Juneau is one of the favorite ports of call for cruiseships during summer

Juneau, Alaska

Glacier Botanical Gardens

Juneau, Alaska

Pose at Mendenhall glacier which is accessible by car from Juneau

Juneau, Alaska

A piece of 200 year old glacial ice displayed at the Visitor Center

Juneau, Alaska

Juneau viewed from Mt Roberts

Juneau, Alaska

Pricey but the freshest, tastiest, Alaskan King Crab legs

Juneau, Alaska

Entrance to the Native American History at the Alaska State Museum

The following day we caught yet another ferry for another 3 hr trip to Hoonah, which has a population of 868  and is also a cruise ship port.  Aside from tourism, fishing and logging are the main industries there.   We visited my high school classmate Wilma and her husband Randy.  They are really Alaskans for they have lived here for 20 years!  They are both commercial fishermen aside from teaching.  In seven hours they fed us Wilma’s killer Halibut Chowder and grilled King Salmon,  gave us a tour where we saw two whales near the harbor, two bears just a few minutes from their house and most exciting of all we went blueberry picking.  One of the summer pastimes of Alaskans in August is berry picking and we picked blueberries from the roadside.  In an hour we managed to picked two galloons of wild tart Alaskan blueberries.  Steve and Randy watched for bears, since blueberries are one of their favorites and we didn’t want them to see us stealing their food!

Hoona, Alaska

With my Alaskan girlfriend, Wilma

Tlingit Totem Poles

Impressive Tlingit Wall wood carvings

Wild Blueberries for the picking Alaska

Wild Blueberries for the picking abound

Wild Blueberries for the picking Alaska

Showing off our harvest – ML, Randy and Wilma.  Steve took the picture while watching out for jealous bears.

Wild Blueberries for the picking Alaska

Our bear security force – the rifle is in the back of the truck, just in case

Wild Blueberries for the picking Alaska

A bear doing some blueberry picking of his own

Wild Blueberries for the picking Alaska

Yet another grizzly bear

Wild Blueberries for the picking Alaska

These two Humpback whales were playing close to Hoonah harbor

After four days of city/town hopping we boarded our car and us via MV Malaspina back to Haines.

From peaks to port – Valdez pt. 1

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Leaving Glennallen, our adventure to Valdez (pronounced Val-DEEZ) began on the Richardson Highway.  We crawled along at a slow pace, negotiating 17 pavement breaks (yes I counted them) with abrupt edges, dips and frost heaves.  That meant Steve had to slow way down for every encounter so we wouldn’t empty our cabinets of their contents as Betsy displayed some serious hip action.

Richardson Highway

One of the 17 pavement breaks on our route

We climbed to the 2,800 ft. summit of Thompson Pass, where we encountered rain and fog. Visibility was so bad that we decided to pull off and take a break for lunch at the top. Thompson Pass received 26 feet of snow during January 2012, and there was still plenty on the mountain during our August visit.

Thompson Pass

Snow still on the mountaintops in August

Thompson Pass

Valdez is the snowiest place in Alaska.  Notice how tall the snow markers are here – they look like streetlights!

Our drive continued over Lowe River (Steve smiled), four beautiful waterfalls and through Keystone Canyon where we saw some gorgeous 5,000 ft. peaks.

Lowe River

This sign put a smile on Steve’s face

Keystone Canyon, Alaska

There were waterfalls all along the road at Keystone Canyon

As we entered the town of Valdez, the lush Chugach mountains and shimmering clear water were just breathtaking.  The sun was shining during our four-day stay here, allowing us to hike, bike and take a walk around the quaint town to learn a why it is called the “Switzerland of Alaska.”

It was also here that we enjoyed the amazing sight of salmon running at Solomon Gulch.  I’ll give more details about that fascinating experience in my next blog.

Town of Valdez

Valdez is surrounded by the lush snowcapped Chugach Mountains

Port of Valdez

Yet another place to go fishing

Lowe Street,Valdez

Steve also has a street named after him!

Bridal Veil Falls at Keystone Canyon

Hiking Goat Trail at Keystone Canyon – the trailhead was at Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls at Keystone Canyon

Looking down at Lowe River from a trail along the gulch

Biking at Valdez

Valdez is also a great town to bike around

Valdez Glacier

Valdez Glacier in the background

Chugach mountains

The towering Chugach Mountains surround the area

Valdez is rich in history that helped shaped this community.  In 1898, it was all about the gold stampede and railroad industry.  Then on March 27, 1964 a 4-minute, 9.2 earthquake triggered an underwater landslide which created a tsunami.  The tremendous waves washed away the entire Valdez waterfront.  Due to the fact that the town had been built on unstable soil, it was abandoned and a whole new town was built 4 miles to the east.

Gold Rush Days Story

Gold Rush Days Story

The 800-mile long Trans-Alaska oil pipeline was completed between Prudhoe Bay in the north and Valdez to the south in 1977.  And the town became a household name in 1989 when the Exxon Valdez tanker ship ran aground, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound.  Although the town was not direcly impacted by the oil spill, thousands of people arrived in response to the crisis.

Terminus of Trans-Alaska pipeline

Terminus of the Trans-Alaska pipeline at the base of the mountains

We visited two museums while here.  Both the Valdez Historical Museum and the Old Town Valdez Museum were excellent and a great learning experience.

Old Valdez now

Old Valdez now

Tsunami warning loudspeaker

A strange looking loudspeaker used for Tsunami warnings

The new Port of Valdez

The new Port of Valdez

Valdez Historical Museum

Valdez Historical Museum

We loved this town and the surrounding area so much that I couldn’t capture it all in a single blog.  To read about the rest of our adventure here, check out Valdez pt. 2!



 

Full Timing on the road- month one

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From Steve –

The editor-in-chief (Mona Liza) advised me that I am to write something about our first month on the road, and it is due today.  I will try to keep it from being boring, but if it is boring please let her know and then maybe she won’t make me do it again.

One month ago today we pulled out of French Camp, California to begin our multi-year journey of all the continental states (we’ll go through many of them repeatedly).  We will likely concentrate more time on the western states, since that is where we plan to settle next – whenever that is.  We are currently sitting at Lake Sawyer, Washington, about 45 minutes south-east of Seattle.  And to my dismay, it’s raining here!

To the topic at hand, this full-timing thing is incredible.  I must admit that I’m going through periods of disbelief that it’s actually happening, considering our life style just a few months ago.  I usually don’t know what day of the week it is, only on our “travel days” when I need to hook up the car and drive to the next destination.  We are finally falling into a pattern of planning only the next stop and making reservations there, then occasionally looking at the calendar to see if we are close to our plan of entering Alaska around July 1st.  Of course, we also spend time planning what we want to see and do at the next destination.  But most of the time my biggest decisions are what I need to get at the store for dinner, and the most daunting task at the end of each day – which bottle of wine to have with dinner!

We still have a lot to learn, but we’re getting better in our planning and more coordinated in what each of us needs to do to help the other.  So far it’s an amazing experience that I wouldn’t miss for the world.

From MonaLiza –

Amazingly after our first month of living in a very small place Steve and I are getting along  mighty well. For those of you who knew us during our working days, we had different working hours so much so that we only saw each other on weekends. Now we are hanging out together  24/7 !  Steve spends his alone time tinkering  around the motorhome or doing maintenance stuff  or going to the store. For me doing laundry is my alone time and reading a book. Other than that, we play scrabble, read books and continue to learn about the ART of DOING NOTHING.

Steve the Handy man, my all around fixer !

Wiping off Bird droppings

Checking Betsy’s underbelly

Trying to fix the rattling noise of the door latch, still a work progress.

Fixing the Central Vacuum System

Fixing the Fire Place squeaking noise

Rain or Shine, the Barbecue Master cooks fine. (This particular day it was raining really hard).

Having a diverse and ever changing backyard every time we move is part of the excitement. It ranges from living on a golf course, by the river, an ocean view, a forest, a goat marsh or beautiful mountains – or having  no view at all. The wildlife that we see and hear is very relaxing and makes you happy. Be it the chirping birds, a frog choral concert, geese honking or simply the peace and quiet.

Living on the road for the past month is just the beginning of more fun and amazement ahead. With God watching over us, we will continue to travel safely and in good health.