Health Checks for Betsy at Harrisburg and Grants Pass, Oregon

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Besides the previously-reported interior modifications, we had done to our coach at Dave and LJ’s Interior Design, some other mundane mechanical issues needed to be addressed as well.  Southern Oregon seems to be a mecca for quality RV maintenance and repair shops, perhaps because it’s an area where several RV manufacturers reside.  We took a tour of the Marathon Coach factory in Eugene, which is where “high-end” coaches are built at $1,000,000+ per unit.  But some other manufacturers either used to or continue to build coaches here.  The result is that there are several shops around with highly-qualified mechanics to perform engine, chassis and coach repairs. Continue reading

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.

 

 



Wrangell-St. Elias National Park – Pristine Mountain Wilderness

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Our trip into the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park was a real eye-opener.  We thought Yellowstone was big – this park is 6 times larger!  It’s America’s largest National Park at 13.2 million acres, and it holds 9 of the 16 highest mountain peaks in the U.S.  Vast is the correct term for this park, and yet it is one of the least-visited in the country.

There are no designated campgrounds here, and most “accommodations” are simple wilderness camping with no permits required.  However, folks are required to use the provided National Park approved bear-resistant food containers.

Mt Wrangell, Alaska

That huge snow-covered mountain is Mt. Wrangell

Due to its massive size there is no realistic way to experience all or even most of this park within a reasonable amount of time.  There are only 2 primitive gravel roads into the park, and it takes several hours on either one of them before you come to a place where you can even begin to explore.

The only way to enjoy a short trip here is to fly in for your adventure.  Did someone say fly?  We’re up for that!  We took a 30-minute flight into the heart of the Wrangell-St. Elias mountains, to the remote town of McCarthy.

At the McCarthy airport (Cessna 206 used for the flight), Alaska

At the McCarthy airport (a Cessna 206 was used for the flight)

During the flight we were awed with the park’s vastness, and astonishing views of the highest peaks, massive glaciers and pure wilderness.

Mt Blackburn, Alaska

Mt. Blackburn

We skirted around the major peaks of Mt. Sanford (16,237 ft), Mt. Drum (12,010ft), Mt. Wrangell (14,163ft) and Mt. Blackburn (16,390ft).

Stairway Ice Fall, Alaska

Stairway Ice Fall

We flew over Root Glacier, Stairway Icefall and Kennicott Glacier, and along the wide rocky moraine.  Even from the plane we saw only a tiny section of this park.  Incredible!

Kennicott Glacier, Alaska

Just your average 25-mile long glacier (Kennicott)

Flying into the park allowed us to spend most of the day exploring the remote towns of McCarthy and Kennecott.  Kennecott originated with the establishment of the Kennecott Mines Company in the early 1900’s.  During those years, nearby McCarthy grew as a town that provided illicit products and services such as alcohol and prostitution, which were forbidden in the mining town.

Today, McCarthy’s population consists of only 51 brave permanent residents.  Kennecott and McCarthy have no central water, sewer or electrical systems.  Generators provide power, and water is pumped from wells or hauled by hand.  The remoteness, historical buildings and magnificent scenery are what continue to draw most visitors to this place.

Kennecott Copper Mill, the building on the hill to the right is huge!, Alaska

The huge complex of wooden buildings on the hill comprise the Kennecott Copper Mill

There was a very interesting copper processing mill in Kennicott which is the most popular attraction here.  Built in 1907, the mill is a complex of wooden barn-red buildings.  Today, many of them are unstable and in the process of being re-vamped by the Park Service, but several are open for the public to check out.

The film at the Visitor’s Center was a great place to start, as we learned how the very high-content copper ore was discovered, followed by the massive effort it took to construct a mill in the wilderness.  A 200-mile railroad to the nearest port in Cordova was also built at the time.

The area’s copper-rich history is celebrated as a National Historic Landmark and is part of the the National Park Service system.

Kennecott mill,Alaska

Part of the Kennecott Mill complex which is being “stabilized” after many years of neglect.  Workers and their families basically walked away from this town in 1938 when the company shut down their operations

We followed a trail out to Root Glacier, which along with Kennicott Glacier has dumped massive dirt and gravel flows through the nearby valley.  It was incredible to stand near the flows and listen to the cracking ice and dirt in front of us as far as the eye could see.   This mass of material is continually melting and moving very slowly down the valley.

Hiking to Root Glacier, Alaska

Hiking to Root Glacier

We think flying in and out of the park was a good decision, since it gave us fantastic views of 16,000-foot peaks, massive glaciers and icefalls.  We talked to a man and his daughter who had backpacked in the park for a week, and they told us they were only able to see a tiny fraction of it.  Did I mention this place is VAST?

Our base camp for this stop was at Kenney Lake RV and Mercantile park.

This was a wonderful stop that we’re glad we made.  The cost of the flight was well worth it, as we were able to see so much beauty from the air.  And the relaxing day in these remote towns really got us to thinking about what a life out here might be like.  We highly recommend this trip!



 

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!



 

Rivers of Ice, Knik Glacier – Palmer

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From Portage we drove to the east on the scenic Glenn Highway and spent a few days in Palmer  located 42 miles northeast of Anchorage. This town is  considered as the garden hub of Alaska due to its microclimate which produces amazing giant vegetables but we missed seeing most of them since it is too late in the season.

Palmer Alaska

Record of giant veggies in Palmer through the years

Palmer Alaska

A sampling of these giant veggies at the Visitor Center

During our stay at the Mountain View RV Park we found out about the Knik Glacier tour via a brochure, which advised that we would be whisked away via 4-wheel-drive van, airboat and jetboat to the glacier.  Airboat was the magic word for Steve, who wants to experience every form of transportation known to man before he dies.  It was a fairly short trip (3 hours) and very affordable, so off we went. On our way there a mama Moose and calf crossed the highway.  We didn’t have to pay extra for that!

Knik Glacier

Mama moose showing baby moose the right way to get hit by a car.

We met our guides Tom and Tom, who split up the group and took us in 2 vans over some very rough roads and across streams that were at least a couple of feet deep and quite wide.  That part of the trip was exciting, but it was only to get us to the boats.  Then half of the tourists got in the airboat (us included) and the other half in the jetboat.  Off we went for a 20-minute ride to the Knik Glacier where Tom  skirted several large chucks of ice as we got to the edge of the glacier and then we turned to dock at the camp.  The drive was beautiful as the riverbed was adorned with pink and white wildflowers, and the sight of ice in front of us from the boats was amazing.

Knik Glacier, Palmer, AK

The airboat

River Bed at Knik Glacier, Palmer

Drive onto a river bed

Knick Glacier, Palmer

Driving around the icebergs

Knik Glacier, Palmer

Flowers looking like ice or snow

Knik Glacier

Icebergs are actually clear, not blue.  But in large chunks you will see blue in the parts of ice that have been compressed to the point that hardly any oxygen remains.  This allows only the color blue from the light spectrum to reflect into our eyes.

Once on shore, we were served hot drinks and snacks while relaxing across from the glacier.  The icebergs were too numerous to allow us to get right up to the glacier, but since the boats were so small we were able to navigate closely around them to check them out on our.  Pretty cool to be able to actually reach out and touch an iceberg!  Knik is stunning, so vast and quite different from the other glaciers that we have seen on previous tours or hikes.

Knik Glacier

Amazing iceberg formation

Knik Glacier

Venturing out into the bank of glaciers

Knik Glacier

Rivers of Ice, Knik Glacier

Rivers of Ice, Knik Glacier

After kicking back and exploring around the area for wildlife (we saw only one black bear from a distance), we switched places in the boats so we could ride the jetboat and headed back to “headquarters.”

Looking for wild animals, Knik Glacier

Looking for wild animals

It was a fun trip and the weather was decent.  A nice way to spend an afternoon on a bit of an adventure in yet another beautiful part of Alaska.  If you are in the area, check them out at:   www.knikglacier.com

The RV park we stayed at has mountain views and the sites were grass.  While there, we had company one day, 20 motorhomes and fifth wheelers on an Alaskan Tour caravan.

Mountain View RV Park, Palmer Alaska

Mountain View RV Park

Fun on the spit, Homer Spit that is…

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Homer Alaska

Homer is at the “end of the road”  of the Sterling Highway in the Kenai Peninsula.  And Homer Spit is a 5-mile long narrow finger of land jutting into Kachemak Bay and that’s where our RV park is located.  We have heard good reviews of Homer from locals and tourists before arriving here and  we were not disappointed.  This town is nestled on the shore of a glistening bay, glaciers and mountains.  Just beautiful !

Homer Spit

Homer Spit

We had a great time doing touristy activities here despite the rain and cloud covers.  There is so much to do!  Homer is the Halibut capital and this town is really all about fishing.

This haul is from only one of the charters!

Fishermen play up to the tourists too!

Homer Spit

Most of these boats will take you out fishing, for a price.

We pigged out one day to enjoy local fresh seafood!

First, some tasty sweets at  Two Sisters Bakery, recommended by my fishing friend Sarah.

Steve had a difficult time making up his mind what to get. 🙂

For lunch we had the local Halibut fish and chips ($16)  and Halibut tacos at Fresh Catch Cafe.  This place serves awesome food, and we recommend it highly!

Fresh Catch Cafe.

Delicious lunch at Fresh Catch Cafe.

Kachemak Bay Oysters

Kachemak Bay Oysters, sweet and fresh.

Then a mandatory stop to the oldest and most historical landmark in Homer, a saloon originally built in 1897, Salty Dawg to get a cold drink.

Salty Dawg

Salty Dawg

Money hanging everywhere and I mean every nook and cranny!

We try not to pass up a good biking trail, especially when it has fantastic views.  On our third day there the sun finally came out and we followed the bike path and pedestrian walkway for 10 miles into town and then back out onto the spit.

Arctic Lupine adorned the trail

Homer Spit

Scenic biking trail

Steve has been wanting to fly in a floatplane, and even though he planned to do it later in our travels the weather was perfect.  He made an appointment and was able to see some fantastic scenery in the mountains and glaciers around Homer.

Sea Plane Tour

And away they go

Happy man after his water landing.

And this is what’s for dinner – home-cooked fresh caught halibut, spinach and tomatoes.  The freshest halibut ever….YUM!

Fresh halibut for dinner

We stayed at Heritage RV Park on the Homer Spit, pricey but with awesome views.