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
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 Glaciers, Grewingk Glacier), landing on them (Mt. Mckinley) and sailing to them (Knik, Aialik, 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:
- Milepost – it beats a GPS hands-down. Order one in March for the latest version.
Passports- you are going in and out of Canada, whether by ferry or driving.
Be prepared for sticker shock; e.g. Halibut and Chips $16-$21 (but worth it), lemons $1.79 each.
For RV’rs, the campground /RV parks are just that, nothing fancy – live with it.
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.
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.
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.
During the flight we were awed with the park’s vastness, and astonishing views of the highest peaks, massive glaciers and pure wilderness.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Our drive continued over Lowe River (Steve smiled), four beautiful waterfalls and through Keystone Canyon where we saw some gorgeous 5,000 ft. peaks.
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.
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.
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.
We visited two museums while here. Both the Valdez Historical Museum and the Old Town Valdez Museum were excellent and a great learning experience.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 !
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.
We pigged out one day to enjoy local fresh seafood!
First, some tasty sweets at Two Sisters Bakery, recommended by my fishing friend Sarah.
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!
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.
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.
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.
And this is what’s for dinner – home-cooked fresh caught halibut, spinach and tomatoes. The freshest halibut ever….YUM!
We stayed at Heritage RV Park on the Homer Spit, pricey but with awesome views.