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.

 

 



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.